A/N: So here's part two of the pre-"Homecoming" chronicles featuring everyone's favorite previously-harnessed, angsty teenager: BEN! And my favorite (and hopefully yours too) best friend of a previously-harnessed, angsty teenager: ALEX! The time in between the two episodes "Love and Other Acts of Courage" and "Homecoming" cried out for a filler so I'm bringing it to you. Next chapter will take place during the events of that episode, just an FYI. As always, I appreciate reviews and look forward to reading some. So please leave them. I'm not kidding.
After nearly breaking down in front of him, Alex took to avoiding Ben like the plague. She felt like she was being tugged back and forth—one moment she wanted to say something and the next she was biting her tongue. She longed to tell him, to just come clean and let someone in. Marc had known—he had been there when it happened—but he wasn't here now. There was no one to talk about it with. No one to cry with. And as much as she longed to tell him, she longed for his friendship and company more. There was no way she could have both. After her brother's death she'd been alone. She wasn't alone anymore, though. And she didn't want to be alone again. So she stayed quiet. She started working in the kitchen more, instead of serving food in the hospital cafeteria. It was all in a bid to avoid him. She knew he'd try (and most likely succeed) in breaking her if they had a moment.
So she stayed away. And it made her so desperately lonely, even in the company of others. Every look directed at her was suddenly judgmental in her eyes. They all knew. They had to know. She had been to obvious, too eager to tell someone about it. Had she talked in her sleep? Admitted to something she didn't know about? No one was friendly anymore, at least not as far as she could see. And it was just a taste of what life would be like if she confessed. And this strengthened her resolve to stay away from her friend at all costs.
She further justified the decision by trying to convince herself it would be for Ben's good. He was so weighed down, he didn't need one more thing to keep him up at night. He didn't need to worry about whether or not he could trust her.
She was sitting in her room, staring out the hospital window when she heard the hesitant knocking. She jumped, startled, and wheeled around expecting to find Ben standing in the doorway. Instead she found the youngest Mason—Matt—lingering there, eyeing her shyly.
"Alex?" he asked softly.
Alex hesitated before replying. "What's wrong, Matt?"
"Can I…can I come in?" His voice was much quieter than usual and a look of sadness crossed his face. She couldn't help but think that he was much too young to be looking like that.
"Of course," she finally answered, getting up from the chair and joining him at his side. "What's wrong?" she repeated.
"No one to talk to," the nine-year-old answered glumly.
"Well…where's Ben?" she asked, furrowing her brow.
"He's outside patrolling," Matt said.
"And Hal? And your dad?"
"Hal's on a scouting mission with Maggie and Dad's too busy trying to help everyone else. Anytime I want to just talk to one of them they push me aside…I wish I was bigger. Then they'd take me seriously." The boy's brown eyes remained fixated on the tiles on the floor. Alex's gaze wandered over them too. Despite alien invasion, he was still just a nine-year-old. And he still needed his dad and brothers.
"They do take you seriously," she encouraged, wrapping an arm around the boy. "But your dad doesn't want to put you in harm's way."
Matt protested. "But I can do stuff! I've done it already! I lured out two skitters so the Beserkers could shoot 'em!" He went silent for a moment before whispering, "Can you keep a secret?"
"Well…even though my dad told me not to…I helped on a few more Beserker scouting missions. I led skitters straight to Tector and Boone. They're really good shots! And a couple of times, they let me help them load their guns. The big machine gun kind, not the little rifle that my dad lets me use. I wish Dad and Hal could see me do stuff like that. Then they'd stop treating me like a little kid all the time."
She wasn't sure, but she thought she could see a tear gathering in his eye. "Don't worry, Matt," she soothed. "I know you're not a little kid anymore. But your dad and your brothers care about you…"
"Do you remember that one summer," Matt asked. "When Dad wouldn't let me go too far in the ocean because I was so little." Alex was amazed that he could remember such details but she nodded. There was a vague memory there. "I feel like that all the time now," he said, frustrated. "Ben's the only one who knows I can be a grown-up too." He sighed. "I don't want him to leave." Suddenly, the boy clapped a hand over his own mouth as he suddenly realized what he'd just said.
"What?" Alex asked, shocked. "Why is Ben leaving?"
"I-I didn't say he was leaving!" Matt denied quickly.
"Matt…you just said…"
"No I didn't!" The girl shot the child a look and he finally gave in. "Can you keep a secret?" he asked again. Alex nodded once more.
"A few nights back—up on the roof—Ben told me that he might have to leave soon. He thinks he's putting people in danger here…"
"That's not true!" Alex broke in.
"Ben thinks so. And everyone else thinks so too. Like Pope."
"You don't know him, but he was a guy who used to be in jail. Dad doesn't like him and he doesn't like Dad. He left though. Maybe he's dead. I hope so."
"Matt, don't say that!" Alex was horrified at the child's wish.
"He was mean to Ben! And Dad! He tried to get Dad killed! But anyway, Ben thinks he might have to leave. Except I don't want him to. He's the only one who knows that I can help. He's the only one who gives me a chance around here."
The teenage girl frowned. It wasn't just true for Matt. Ben was pretty much the only one who didn't write her off as helpless or useless or needing protecting. Ben gave her a chance too. Why was he leaving? "I don't want him to leave either," she finally said.
"You gotta talk to him!" The child pled. "Please, Alex? He'll listen to you!"
"How do you know?" she asked curiously.
"Because he talks about you a lot. He says you're his best friend so he's gotta listen to you!"
"I don't know, Matt…" She felt a combination of happiness and sadness in her heart. She was glad Ben thought of her as a best friend but sad, also, because what kind of a best friend doesn't tell the truth?
"Please!" There were tears in Matt's dark eyes now and it was clear he was very frightened at the prospect of losing his older brother. "You can even tell him I told you so you won't get in trouble. I don't want him to leave, Alex!"
Alex sighed, sweeping her dark hair to one side, a pensive expression on her face. "I'll try," she finally promised. "But I don't know if it'll make much difference."
"Thank you," the nine-year-old said earnestly, getting up.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm gonna go see if anyone needs help. Maybe Jamil will let me help him with the tools. He lets me do that sometimes." Alex nodded dumbly and the child left. She was suddenly very afraid. What if Ben decided to leave? Then who would she have? Mr. Mason—Tom, Hal…they looked at her like something that needed protecting. Lourdes was her only other friend here but she hardly knew anything about the med assistant. Besides, Lourdes had more important things to do. Everyone else largely ignored her, looked through her, treated her like she didn't exist. But the thing that scared her the most was: what if Ben left before she came clean? Then who could she ever conceive of telling?
A/N: Alex is really attached to Ben. I felt that in order to set up the next round of action, the secret had to come out. Let's face it: little kids sometimes slip up. So what do you guys think? Will Alex confront Ben about it? Will she come clean while she still has the chance? I know you all are probably annoyed with me for teasing and teasing but I promise the reveal is big and emotional. Most of you probably figured out the general direction I'm headed with it by now. Kind of short but it's mainly exposure/filler material for where I'm headed next. Sorry for the uber-long delay. Classes started up and my course load is heavy (Physics, Precalculus, AP English, editor of the newspaper…it's a full-time job!) So updates will be slower out the gate from now on but I still write on the weekends and during study hall and whenever I find a free minute! I won't leave you hanging. Next up—updates for "Skies Shall Fall Again" and "Too Cold Outside For Angels to Fly." I'll be putting them up ASAP be patient. Shoutout to BulletsCoffeeFaith, an avid fan and twitter follower who pressures me to put these things up as fast as possible. Check out her work too. It's really good (and a bit dark, which is why I like it so much!) Anyway, that's all for now. PEACE!