This picks up during Mutany. I was going to start sooner but my brain had other ideas. Please review!

Do not own, make no money, as always...


Chapter 1:

Ben made his way through the halls of the school. He'd been looking for some books, feeling the need to find a place off to himself and read. He hadn't really had the chance to read much since he'd been back. His Dad had said there were some books in Scott's area, and he was planning to check there, to see if there was anything good. He had been trying to stay away from other people as much as he could. He was tired of the looks, and the whispered remarks, and just wanted a chance to be off to himself, soaking into a book and forgetting the world as it was, just for a little while. It was easier to hide from the tensions than it was to have to deal with it.

The activity at the school had been electrified the past couple of days. Talk about an attack on the Skitters and on their fortress looming over downtown Boston buzzed through the walls. With everything the 2nd Mass had been through over the past couple of days, having a chance to be proactive rather than reactive was stimulating for everyone. After Clayton's attempted abduction of their children, the adults needed to feel like they were finally able to take aggressive measures to protect themselves. Ben wished he could be a part of it, but there seemed to be nothing for him to do. No one wanted him around it seemed. He just didn't fit in. His Dad and Hal were busy making plans and he hadn't seen much of either of them all day. He thought they were going on a scouting mission, but he wasn't sure.

For the people of the 2nd Mass it had been six months of running and hiding, scrounging for food and supplies. Trying to acquire weapons and ammo and building up strength for a day when they could finally strike back at the beings that had attacked their lives, split families apart and destroyed any sense of hope and security for a future. It seemed it had been one worry after another up until now. As soon as one problem was dealt with another loomed over them, threatening. Most of them had stopped trusting, they'd stopped trusting people around them, and a lot of them even stopped trusting family and friends. Civilians didn't trust the military; the military didn't trust the civilians. No one ever agreed with the decisions made concerning either. They were constantly on their guard, always wary of everything around them, critical of others. Tensions seemed to be growing thick between almost everyone.

The whole situation with Clayton hadn't helped, with what a lot of people called an all-out attack on the 2nd, a blatant attack focused on their children. Clayton had lowered himself to the same level as the enemy they were fighting. He'd stolen their children and taken them to use as pay off to the Skitters in exchange for his own freedom and freedom for the few that were left of the 7th Mass. Still there were a few who seemed to think Clayton had the right idea and some even tried to reason the man's actions away. Maybe they were simply trying to make sense of it, or perhaps some of them actually believed the things they said.

Ben had overheard a lot of conversations about Clayton's actions over the past few days. He hadn't been trying to eavesdrop, but most people didn't seem to really care if anyone else overheard their words. Ben didn't understand how a person who supposedly cared so much about the survival of his people could be so willing to sacrifice them directly to the one thing that was endangering that survival the most. That's exactly what Clayton had done. He'd turned into what the aliens represented. There were other people who thought Clayton and the 7th Mass had taken horrendous measures and had sacrificed their own humanity. There were also those who tried to reason those actions away by saying Clayton and his band of survivors had cracked under the stress of being surrounded by so much death and destruction and had lost their ability to reason between right and wrong. He'd heard what they said about Clayton. "The man had cracked under the pressure." "He'd only been doing what he could at the time to save the few survivors of the 7th." "It wasn't his fault; he never would have gone to such lengths if he'd been in his right mind".

He'd also heard what other people said. The people who felt they would never be safe with so many children holding them back, making them targets, and there were some who even seemed to believe Clayton had the right idea. Maybe he had taken it too far, but he had the right idea. The same people who seemed to sway in favor of Clayton's actions were the same who managed make Ben feel the most uncomfortable any chance they had. They always spoke at a pitch higher than they needed to, as soon as they seen him walking by. He heard the words, "Razorback", "Coat Rack", "Part of a Skitter Litter", always linked together with words like, "Dangerous", "Get us all Killed", "Can't trust them". The talk about how the harnessed kids never should have been brought back to the 2nd, and that Clayton's idea, when applied to them, probably wasn't such a bad plan, it wasn't heartless, it was a way of protecting their kids and families. It was bad enough that he had been harnessed, but it seemed he was the target more often than the others because he was also Tom Mason's son, at least that was how it felt. He wasn't sure if any of the other formerly harnessed kids had ever heard any of it. He didn't talk to enough of them to ask. It was almost as if they'd all made an unspoken agreement not to spend much time around each other, and the fact that the other kids' needles had fallen out made them less of a threat for some reason. If they hung around Ben or Rick, it would only make other people talk. He knew that Rick had heard a lot of the same remarks as he had, but he'd been acting strange enough to cause a lot of it on his own, even Ben wondered about him most of the time.

Ben hadn't done anything out of the ordinary, at least not in front of anyone. He hadn't been like Rick, staying off to himself, separating himself from other people. He had been working hard to fit in and be a part of the 2nd Mass as best as he could. Still, it seemed most people didn't want him around. He had tried to prove himself by getting help while they were running from Clayton, and it had worked with some of the kids. Jimmy no longer seemed to worry about whether or not he'd catch some kind of deadly disease from him if he came into actual contact. That didn't mean Jimmy was one hundred percent over his fear of what was different, but at least the younger teen was making some effort now and that was more than some.

What Ben didn't understand was how people could be so cold. He hadn't done anything out of the ordinary, at least not in front of people. He'd tried to hide the abilities he seemed to have acquired form wearing the harness. The way he could work out for hours without even breaking a sweat, and how he could run limitlessly without having to stop to catch his breath. He hadn't asked to be taken, and he sure as hell hadn't asked for the harness. He hadn't asked to have voices in his head, or to be manipulated into thinking and feeling the way the Skitters had wanted him to for all of those months. He had wanted to come home, to his family. He had yearned for it deep down, and nothing the Skitters had done could keep him from feeling that need for home. Now that he was home he almost felt as if he were an outsider, even with his own family sometimes. Okay, so the school was new, it wasn't the home he remembered, he'd never been there until after his father and brother managed to rescue him, but where ever his family was, that was home now. He'd come to realize and accept that fact. There was no house, no more 'normal' home. 'Home' was the feeling that warmed up his bones every night when he and Matt went to bed, knowing Matt was that close, and that his father and brother would be just as close at various times though out the night and day. Home was family and he was glad to be back. He didn't like hearing how people thought the harnessed kids could be given back to the Skitters as a mean to keep them from attacking. It made his home feel unsafe; it robbed him of his own security. He kept telling himself that his father and Weaver would never let anything like that happen, but there was a nagging at the back of his mind that if his father had to choose between the well being of one son as apposed to the well being of two sons, he'd have no choice but to sway towards two of them.

One thing Ben was certain of, the Skitters never would have sacrificed one of their own in order to escape their invaders. They weren't like that. And they wouldn't have disowned any of their own because they'd been kidnapped and held against their will either. They wouldn't have taken their anger and frustration out on any of the children; it just wasn't in them to do that. They cared too much to create more misery over the actions of others. They wanted the suffering to stop, and sometimes they might think that the best way to make the suffering stop was to submit to the will of others, but that didn't mean they blamed the innocents that were sucked into their ordeal with them.

That was one thing Rick had been right about. The words had sent chills down Ben's back at the time they were spoken; but standing there, next to Mike's grave, Rick had remarked how the Skitters would never kill there own, the way humans did. The words were true, Ben knew that, but it was the way Rick had spoken them, with no emotion, as if he had no feelings at all for the fact that his father was dead. Ben feared turning into something like Rick. He didn't want to feel nothing. Feeling nothing was what the Skitters had wanted, but he hadn't been able to do that. There were too many emotions inside of him to simply close them down. He didn't understand how Rick had done it, or why. Their feelings, what was inside, that's what made them human, and to some point the Skitters understood that, they had to. They understood too much not to grasp that one little piece of reason. That's why they had pushed them, daily, to close off their emotions, to lose their identity, who and what they were.

Letting his mind fall on the Skitters only brought confusion. He still didn't understand how he could miss them, and yet hate them so much. He almost yearned for that connection with them, and still the idea of it made him feel nauseous. Sometimes as night he dreamed about his time with the Skitters, and the peace that had filled him, most of the time. They were good dreams, until he woke up and realized how good those dreams had been, and then it would frighten him. He didn't want to remember that feeling of security that overwhelmed him when he'd been harnessed. He didn't want to miss it and he didn't want it back, not the way it had been at least. He wanted security now, with his family, in his new home. Still, with the feeling of threats gripping at every space in the school on a daily basis, it was hard to hide from that desire for the security of the harness. When he was with the Skitters there were no threats looming around him, except for the Mechs, and as long as he did what he was instructed to do, there was nothing to fear from them. As long as there was no outside threat coming at them, they had been safer with the Skitters than they ever would be at the school.

Part of the confusion came from the memories that had been robbed from him while he was harnessed. He knew it had happened. Most things he could remember better than he could before the harness, like his first day of school, and the first Harry Potter book his father had ever read to him; but every once in a while his Dad, or Hal or Matt would bring up something from before the invasion, something that he should remember with clarity, and he only drew a blank. He did his best to hide it, to cover it up. Most of the time, if he let them talk about what ever they were talking about, the memory would come back a little hazy, and he'd be able to fill enough to make it complete in his mind. It scared him though. He wondered how much he actually had forgotten. It was like their trip to Six Flags. He had the picture, and he was sure it had been a fun day, but the most he could remember from that day was throwing up on Hal. There was very little else about it that he could get to come back to his mind. It was the same with most of his memories about his mother. It was as if they were hiding somewhere in the back of his mind, and he couldn't get to them. He knew he loved her, he still did, but she had been closer to Hal. They had been so much alike. He'd been more like his father, and he didn't even feel as if he was enough like his father to make up for being so much like himself.

Ben had been born with two left feet, at least until the harness. He'd seemed to find stability and coordination once he'd been harnessed. His body seemed to have changed so much, as well has his mind. He thought about a lot of things differently now than he did before. He used to find pleasure in harassing Hal, making his life hell. A lot of that came from wanting to be more like his brother, knowing he couldn't be, would never be, and taking it out on him. Now everything had changed, he felt he could actually be more like Hal, and he didn't really want it like he used to. He finally wanted to be himself. Maybe after being confined in his own thoughts for so long he'd come to the realization that he wasn't so bad just as he was. He'd actually been pretty good company for himself during the long hours of working. He knew that sounded strange, that's why he hadn't tried to explain any of that to anyone else, not that too many people had bothered to ask him much about any of it. His Dad had asked a few basic questions, but he'd almost just gone back to treating him the same as he always had. Like the middle son who liked to read a lot. Hal just gave him long, drawn out stares most of the time, but never talked about the big issue looming over him.

The only person who had come right out and asked him anything was Matt. Matt, in his innocence had asked some of the hardest questions, and Ben hadn't really been able to give him the most honest answers. He didn't want to scare his younger brother. There was a time, before, when he wouldn't have cared if he scared Matt or not. He would have told Matt just how horrible it had felt, being alone, and feeling abandoned by everyone. He couldn't do that now. At some point in the past few months he must have grown up enough to let go of the childish sibling frustrations that had nagged at him his whole life. Some might say he had matured, finally. Maybe it was a part of growing up, and he probably would have grown up enough to get to this point if he hadn't been harnessed, but he was sure the harness had something to do with it happening now, being alone, and dealing with what was going on around him on his own had more to do with it than anything else. No matter what the reason, he'd been compelled to leave out the bad and scary parts when he was talking to Matt. He told him only the good parts. The Skitters had felt like family, they had cared for the kids and taken care of them. He'd felt safe with them. The conflict inside, and the aching he'd felt most of the time was nothing to tell his little brother. Matt didn't need that. He was facing fear every day. Fear of being captured and harnessed was something the adults could never fathom, no matter how hard they tried. Sure, parents feared it happening to their kids, but the kids were facing a life of servitude, with no free will, no mind of their own, no joy or happiness. How could any adult understand that? It seemed selfish, he knew that, separating kids form adults and trying to compare the differences in the fears they faced every day. He knew the adults faced a lot every day as well, especially the ones that carried the guns and went out to find the food and supplies they all needed to survive. It was different for the kids though, the fears that the adults instilled in them seemed to magnify one hundred times once the children had their minds wrapped around them.

Watching his father and oldest brother walk away every day, not sure if they would come back or not, that was more fear and worry than any kid Matt's age deserved, yet Matt faced it every single day. Ben promised himself he would keep a special eye on his little brother, protect him, and try to keep his mind off the worries that hung over him when their Dad and brother were gone. He would do his best at least. It was hard for him to get past his own fears, but focusing on Matt helped. If he could find some earlier Harry Potter books, he would start reading them to Matt, just like their Dad had done for him when he was younger. Maybe Matt could hide in them the same way he did when he was that age. Sure he'd be hiding from different things than Ben had, but still, the safe haven of a book was more than most kids attached to the 2nd Mass had.

He reached Scott's lab and stepped in. It took all he had to bring himself out of his thoughts. Scott looked up at him. "Did your father send you over to give me a hand?" He asked with a tone of hopefulness.

Relief hit Ben; at least there were still some people who didn't cringe at him when they saw him coming. Ben let a small smile crease his features as he looked past Scott to the books on the shelf. Maybe he could skip the books. Spending time with someone who didn't seem to get sick to their stomach just being near him sounded like a nice change, and Scott actually looked hopeful that he would stick around and help.