Not ten minutes after the others had left the room, Lourdes had already packed away everything the kids had pulled out, lined the bags up against the wall, had Matt prepare Hal and Jimmy's to carry whatever the younger teens brought back and taken to sitting on the bed with a book she'd borrowed from Ann about the symptoms and treatment of food and water related diseases in her lap. Not that she could manage to take a word in. No, she was too busy alternating between worrying about the others, the kids, and calming Matt, who had taken to turning his head constantly, looking hopefully at the door and worriedly out the window.
"Matt, take it easy." She sighed, giving up on the book completely and setting it on the bed. "There's nothing to worry about outside and the others will be back soon. Just relax."
"If that's true, then why are you worried?" He countered, surprising her. She hadn't realised that she'd been expressing anything. She been working on her poker face since day one of medical school with the full intention of hiding her worry and any other negative emotion she knew that patients would be terrified to see and since the invasion, she'd gotten really good at it. She guessed that she'd dropped too deep into her own world and let her guard down.
Not like it's the first time. She admitted, smiling wryly as Matt waited impatiently for an answer. "I'm not worried about Skitters or your brothers getting caught. I know they'll succeed now, it's later I'm worried about. I do have to lead everyone through the forest you know. What if I take a wrong turn and get us lost?" She pointed out lightly, hoping that it was enough to satisfy him. It was the truth after all. Just not the whole truth.
"You'll be fine. The trail's easy to follow." Matt replied, nodding confidently. "And Jimmy will help out. Ben and Hal too eventually."
"Very true." Grinning back as Matt finally sat and waited, seeming satisfied both in Lourdes being right and in helping her through her stress, she decided that she'd keep what she'd heard about Jimmy and directions to herself. She'd only heard it in passing before the regiments separated, but Jimmy apparently had the world's worse sense of direction. You'd only follow him if you intended to drop off the face of the Earth. Most likely, she'd have to keep an eye out specially for him when it came time to run.
Matt wasn't quiet for long though. Lourdes hadn't even gone back to her own thoughts before a small frown crossed his face and his hand started tapping away on the armrest of his chair. Having been around kids all the time since joining the resistance, particularly Matt, she knew that he was stewing over something and it would only take a moment to or two for him to ask his question, so she just sat there and waited until he looked up at her again.
"Lourdes, the way Ben acted with Hal and Mike. Did you expect it to happen?" Now that was a shock to her system. They were thinking over the same thing, something that she never would have thought Matt would ask about. She'd just assumed that he'd associate it with Ben being his old self again. She hoped he would to be honest, she didn't really want to worry him.
Too late for that now. She sighed, rubbing her temples. Not answering would only confirm whatever his fears were and lying could have repercussions later. She had to be honest.
"No. I wasn't expecting it." She admitted, getting a loud gasp from Matt. "It was completely out of character for him. I was expecting something like that to eventually happen later, when your dad had spent more time helping him recover himself."
"...It kind of scared me." There was a slight tremor in his voice as he struggled out the words. The poor kid didn't like that he was always scared and she knew he hated admitting it even more. "But not of Ben! I wasn't scared he'd hurt me or anything!" He added quickly, suddenly quite happy to show fear. Lourdes couldn't stop the grin growing on her face at that. She found it cute how he always felt the need to protect his big brother. "I was scared for him. That something might be wrong with him. That I might...lose him again." He finished, his voice becoming harder to hear with every word. Ok, that took the smile off her face.
"Losing him? What made you think that?" Rising to her feet, she walked right over to the distraught boy and kneeled down to his eye level, caring dark brown eyes connecting into lighter, more fearful ones.
"He's never looked like that." Was Matt's sad response, gnawing at his lower lip. He looked like he was close to tears. "And he's never acted like that. Yeah, he fought with me and Hal all the time, but he was never like that! The look on his face, the way he talked, he reminded me more of Rick than anything else. And he doesn't hate the Skitters! He's doing this because he hates these people. What if he..." Grabbing a handkerchief from her pocket, Lourdes gently wiped away the forming tears as he lost the ability to speak and started panting. The poor kid was confused and terrified. She couldn't bear to see him that way.
"He's not doing this out of hate Matt. He's doing it for love." She whispered soothingly, making sure he wouldn't break eye contact and continuing before he could interrupt. "He's scared for you and me, Hal, all of us. He wants us to be safe and happy. He chose what we want over what the Skitters want. You don't have to worry about that."
"But what brought it on?" He persisted, desperate for an answer. He wasn't going to stop until he got one. Breathing deeply, Lourdes rubbed her temples again and conceded to tell him. she could only hope that she was right.
"Jimmy didn't look very surprised." She started, only to stop for a moment as the door slowly opened. Fearful of who it could be and what they might have heard, she whipped her head up only to drop to the floor in relief as Hal's 'yes, I'm hiding hair gel somewhere in my bag' head popped through, the rest of him following and closing the door a second later. She only waited long enough for the door to seal before talking again. "That mean's Jimmy must have seen it before, when the Skitter attack them. Actually, he looked more surprise at himself, probably because he wasn't nervous. But that's beside the point. See, if I were to guess what it was, I'd say we saw Ben's fight instinct. Something, probably the need to protect, triggers it."
"And turns him into a self directed human again." Hal added, not bothering to ask questions as he sat on the bed. "He sure didn't ask me if he could spy on the barn, talk with Pope and plan a getaway and I know you wouldn't have let him do that on his own. He was acting entirely on his own, just like when he went after the Skitter at the school. I'm not sure if I'm thrilled for him or terrified for his safety."
"Thrilled for him." Lourdes stated firmly, leaving Hal flinching as she turned a seething look his way, darting her eyes noticeably towards his once again worried little brother. She did not expose so much of her theory to him to have Hal make him terrified with the possible consequences of this newly discovered side of the middle Mason. "If we could figure out how to merge the two sides of Ben we've seen, we'd have a perfectly normal teenager. This may mean that we'll achieve our goal much sooner than expected."
"Yeah, you're right." He nodded, smiling nervously. He hadn't seen an angry Lourdes often, but he knew that once you found the end to her amazing tolerance, it could be scary. Fortunately, Matt seemed to be satisfied with the answer though. His brow and breathing had relaxed and he was leaning back in his chair. He could very well fall asleep soon.
Not wanting to know how Hal's job went, Lourdes was quite happy to let the room fall back into silence after that and revise everything she'd said about Ben, documenting everything she'd seen into her memory for when she saw Tom again. She had no doubt that he'd be interested in what she had to say. Or, as Hal had put it, thrilled and terrified. Especially the implications. If nothing else, it proved one thing that would hurt Tom; Ben was destined to fight. Even if they completely removed his master/servant mindset, the urge to protect was too overwhelming in him. He would have a place in this war no matter what. They could only influence what role that might be, not prevent it. And judging from the dark, pained expression on Hal's face as his met hers, he'd noticed the same thing.
Mike had returned not long after, but after ensuring that both his and Hal's jobs were done well enough, he hadn't done much more than stare out the window, brooding to himself. The teens didn't make anything of it though. One glance at him spoke volumes of the deep feelings of betrayal, anger and sadness he was feeling. Both could tell that even after all that Ben had said, at least some part of him had hoped that his friend was still on their side.
Destroyed hope was not a feeling Lourdes would wish on anyone. Especially in a world where hope is the only thing you've really got.
Hal had other things on his mind anyway. He kept pacing, muttering to himself, only stopping now and then to glare at the door. Ben and Jimmy were taking longer than he'd expected and it was driving him crazy. Lourdes was just happy that Matt had dozed off. His...compassionate eldest brother would have set his fears off all over again.
"Maybe I should go look for them." He muttered, taking a step towards the door only for Mike to grab his arm, eliciting a growl from the overprotective teenager. "Mike!"
"You've got to learn to trust them the same way your dad trusts you." Mike stated, not giving an inch. "They'd have to move slow on the way back. The slightest movement with pockets full of loose metal could get them caught, they know it. And if they were discovered, we'd know about it. Did you see what Ben did to the wrist of the last guy who got aggressive with him?"
"And he wasn't even trying to hurt him." Lourdes agreed, placing her own hand comfortingly on the tense boy's shoulder. "It was pretty impressive damage too, brought on lots of screaming." She added encouragingly, though she flinched at the memory. "If Ben and Jimmy got caught, we'd be hearing a lot of that right now."
"You going down there will only draw more attention to them." Mike continued. "Be patient. Trust them to do their job. They can handle it."
"You bet we can." The trio jumped as the door swung open and looked around to find a very proud looking Jimmy walking into the room, followed quickly by a closed eyed Ben, closing the door behind them. "You worry too much Hal. Have a little faith. Oh, and keep your voice down next time. Even I could hear you just fine in that hallway."
"What took so long!" Hal demanded, though he took some of the advice and kept his voice low as he stalked over to the duo. "You guys had me worried sick!"
"Clayton caught us for a minute, don't worry, he just thinks we're going to bed." Ben added quickly, seeing all three of the older occupants growing nervous. "Then we had to hide in the bathroom when there was a sentry duty changeover. Nothing special."
"Remind me to reassert your definition of nothing special later." Hal sighed haggardly, though he did let the subject drop. "So how much did you get?"
"All of it." Jimmy grinned as they started emptying their pockets onto the bed. Gathering around, the others found them dumping four filled mags, three sealed bags and lots of free bullets of all different kinds, intended for at least five different types of guns. "They didn't have much. Just all this, a few extra pistols and a pile of knives. We raided two of each too." He added, he and Ben holding up their new toys. "Figured they'd come in handy."
"Speaking of which..." Ben started hesitantly, staring shyly back and forth from Jimmy to the floor, letting his eye linger on the gun in his hand along the way. "You said that you'd..."
"Oh, right." Jimmy nodded, leaving the others confused as he picked at the haul. It only took a few seconds before he had ten small bullets in his hand.
"What's going on?" Lourdes asked as she watched them move to the emptier side of the room, frowning at the gun. She didn't like that Ben was fiddling with it and she had a pretty good idea what Jimmy was about to do. Hal wasn't going to be thrilled about it either. It only encouraged her theory of the warrior future Ben was going to be drawn into.
"With everything going on tonight, it would be a lot safer for Ben if he knew how to use a gun." Jimmy replied, already demonstrating how to load the bullets and getting a sigh and a dark look from Lourdes and Hal respectively. "Hopefully he won't need it at all tonight, but he'll need one eventually anyway. It's only a matter of time before we're all stuck in the next dangerous situation."
"Hate to say it, but I agree." Mike shook his head before staring sadly at the room's sole blond. "Though many in the second are going to freak out even more if they find you carrying weapons. It'll probably make things more difficult for you."
"I'll accept that." Ben nodded, not taking his eyes off Jimmy's fingers as he showed Ben how to cock the gun and turn the safety on and off. "If it keeps everyone safe, then I can pay that price. The Skitters won't be happy with me if they see me with it either." He added, trying to sound nonchalant. However, Lourdes easily picked up the hint of shame in his voice. "But then again, they'd be unhappy with everything I'm doing now, so I don't know why I'd care."
No one had any response to that, verbally anyway. But that didn't mean the effect of his words wasn't apparent. The tension grew so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Lourdes looked at each conscious face in the room with a guarded expression. She was used to those lines and had long accepted that, at least for now, he was compassionate towards both sides, but none of the others had the experience or acceptance of it that she possessed. Mike had shook a little bit, his look turning pained, not that it was surprising. If even Ben still had that in him, then his hopes for Rick took a hit again. Hal looked a little panicked, clenching his teeth. He really didn't like what he heard. Jimmy admittedly looked a little nervous and squeamish, but his reaction was the best of the three. Despite how uncomfortable he was, he still patted Ben on the back.
"Being caught between sides can be difficult." Lourdes murmured, moving to wrap an arm around his body. "No matter what you do, you will be helping one side and hurting the other. Just know that every time you disappoint them, you make us proud."
Ben didn't reply, but he did let a grateful grin cross his face and relaxed into her for a moment before turning his attention back to his gun, making sure the safety was on before slipping it into his jacket pocket. Seeing how his words had effected those around him again, he went back to the pile of bullets without a word and started putting them into the bags set up for them.
Lourdes gave each of the other members a look to say get over it before heading to the door. If the kids were going to get any sleep tonight, they had to come up now. She did however, stop beside Hal to whisper in his ear.
"You need to stop the dramatic reactions to lines like that. They're only going to make things harder on him. You're his big brother, by his mindset and by blood, that means your opinion of him and your reactions will have a much bigger effect on him than you realise." With that, she poked her head out the door, ensuring that it was clear and took off. Hopefully everything would be packed up before she got back.
"He wasn't always like this you know." Mike muttered, drawing Hal and Ben's attention. He was still standing by the window, but his eyes had long left it, opting instead to stare at his son's head. Looking up at him, Ben saw just as much love and affection on Mike's face as he saw on his own father's when Tom looked at him. Only it was mixed with a look of heartbreak. "As sick as he was, I never heard him complain. Heh, he always knew how to make me laugh." He chuckled, getting lost in past memories. "He was always so optimistic, was so happy for every experience in life that he got to experience and never asked for anything more. It kills me to see him so miserable all the time." He sighed, quickly growing sad as brushed a few strands from Rick's face. "I'm thankful for you you know?" He added, smiling shakily at Ben. "You make him happy and if anyone gets through to him, I know it'll be you. Thank you."
"You're welcome." Ben muttered, not quite sure what was going on. He felt quite happy that he'd managed to please Mike, it made him feel good, but at the same time, something about the situation didn't seem right. It felt a little foreboding, like something wrong. He didn't like it one bit.
"It's almost midnight." Hal stated, looking casually at his watch. Or at least he tried to. Ben could tell he felt the same thing Ben did. Their eye's met for an instant and they both saw the same worry flickering through them; Mike wasn't expecting to make it through this.
"Let's get this started then." Mike nodded, gently shaking Rick's shoulder. "Come on everyone, wake up, we gotta move."
Hal gently tapped Lourdes' side with his foot, waking her instantly as he moved to Matt while Ben moved to alert Jimmy and the kids near him. It only took a few moments before everyone was awake, most of the kids looking confused while the rest had already turned scared.
"Ben, you're up." Mike whispered, moving swiftly to the blond Razorback's side as Lourdes and Hal organised the kids, gathering their belongings. "We'll give you a two minute head start. After that, we're moving fast, so we need them gone."
"Not a problem." He nodded, handing his own backpack to Jimmy as the kid reached the front of the room before double checking that his weapons were in place.
"You're attacking humans?" Rick asked, startling both his father and Ben, the former by the fact that he'd spoken at all and the latter because of just how incredulous he sounded. Not that Ben needed to hear it, he could feel the emotion rolling off Rick in waves. "Why? You don't want to hurt humans. I can still feel that in you even now."
"Because these humans are risking the safety of everyone who's apart of the second Mass. Especially my siblings." Was Ben's response, before a mischievous grin crossed his face. "I'm going to quietly knock out the guards. Wanna help me?"
He didn't need the smirk that crossed Rick's face to know the answer. Rick could feel how threatened and angry these people made Ben feel and when that combined with his dislike of humans, he probably would have followed without an invitation, much to Mike's obvious chagrin.
"I suppose it could be fun." Rick exclaimed, heading straight to the door. Ben only waited long enough to send Mike an apologetic look and obtain a sad, but accepting one in return. it would have been hypocritical of him to deny Rick the chance to go and his son's help enhanced their chances of victory and Ben's safety, he couldn't say no.
Ben decided he would have to repay him and make Rick open up sooner though. He hated that such a nice person like Mike was always so sad. But he'd worry about that later. Right now, he had a job to do.
Moving stealthily with Rick proved far quicker and more effective than with Jimmy. With both of them wielding enhanced hearing and the ability to mentally warn the other of sound, they were likely to have remained fast and undiscovered even if the house was still lively.
Reaching the door to the balcony, Ben sent an urge to halt through their connection. A flare of irritation quickly surged back, but Ben paid it no mind as he focused his ears, making sure they were still good. One person was moving downstairs and the door to the room they'd been staying in had just creeped open again. Ok, that meant they were right on time. Hopefully the person below was one of them checking the coast was clear. Otherwise they'd have to take the person out pretty quick for the plan to work.
Can we go now? Ben almost snorted at the sheer impatience that came with those words. Watching him physically resisting the urge to hop from one foot as he gave Ben a demanding look and feeling, it took all the seriousness Ben had just to stop him from laughing. He'd never felt Rick nearly so excited before and definitely never seen it. It was something that he resolved to bring out of him again, preferably in front of Mike.
However, now wasn't the time to think about that. It only took him a second to push down all his thoughts and feelings. He had a job to do and he was going to do it right. Everything not related to his job could wait until it was done.
Let's go. He nodded as his face turned cold. Grinning darkly, Rick grabbed the knob, opened the door and slowly walked out onto the balcony, instantly drawing the attention of the guards.
"What are you doing out here?" The nearer one growled, marching right into Rick's face and staring down imposingly. "You're supposed to be in bed kid."
"I don't take orders from humans." The soldier had precisely one second to hiss in fear at the air of ruthlessness pouring off Rick's entire being before the dark Razorback's hand whipped out and clamped around his throat with a grip strong as steel.
"Hey, what do you-AH!" The other guard came rushing over the instant his partner found himself being strangled, a move that proved fatal. He hadn't gotten three steps before Ben ran through the door. Before the guard could react, Ben had already leapt over Rick and his victim, landed silently on the banister and delivered a sharp kick to the second guy's head, instantly knocking him out before grabbing the guy's arm. Letting him fall at that speed would have alerted someone inside for sure. Besides, in doing so, he'd just broke the guy's arm, could feel the bones separating. Even if he woke up, he wasn't going to be good to anyone for a while.
The feeling of triumph rolling off Rick almost made Ben think there was a Skitter nearby. Especially since one of the nearby hearts had stopped beating. Turning back to the other fight, he wasn't sure how he felt as he watched Rick drop the strangled man to the floor, only taking just enough care so as to prevent the thump of alerting everyone inside.
Why let him live? Rick didn't really seem to care either way, he was just happy to be taking down what he saw as the enemy. Why not just kill him? It would have been quicker, easier.
Figured the Skitters would like to do that themselves. Ben shrugged, physically and mentally as he watched the kids fleeing from the just opened front door. These people are scum, playing both sides to survive, selling out their own kind.
They're working with the Skitters? And you got me to help STOP them? Rick cried indignantly, whipping his head to his brother with an intense glare.
They would have turned on the Skitters just as quickly as they did their own kind. And besides... Not backing down, Ben returned Rick's burning look with a frosty one. We both feel the same way about these kinds of people. Those who are willing to hurt their own for their own benefit cannot be allowed to get away with it. Such an act is proof that they cannot be trusted and are a threat to us all.
Time was lost as they stared each other down, oblivious to all around them. It was a literal clash of wills, each determined make the other see their side and neither backing down. Ben had felt it happen before, among the Skitter brethren. They were intense, you could feel the waves of the participants' minds pounding into your skull like the ocean hitting a rock wall. The force was incredible and usually, everyone in range got drawn in, subconsciously joining a side until one finally overtook the other. It could take days.
Grunting at the pressure he felt in his head, Ben became grimly aware that if they kept this up, this one could go on for just as long. Ben's will and mind seemed more developed and complex, but Rick's had a single minded drive to it and it turned out that their stubbornness was equal. He couldn't let that happen! They'd be caught and used against Hal and the others. Shouts and running feet from inside and the front door were already flooding his ears. He had to get Rick to back down or he'd have to leave him behind and he would never do that!
"They'll kill your dad!" He stated sharply, hitting the one hidden nerve that he could. "These men will kill him and who knows how many other kids to get what they want from us. Do you really want that Rick? Do you really want to see innocent kids and the man who raised and loved you all your life die!"
They're human... Hope started to bubble in Ben's chest as Rick hesitated. His thoughts were strained, forced and unsure. As if he didn't know if he was ok with it. Or, more accurately, a part of him knew everything he was trying to say was a lie. I don't...why would I...
You care Rick. You've never stopped caring. Ben snapped firmly as the assaulting pressure pulled back from his mental defences. He's your father. Your first master. You love him, I've felt it the whole time. And even the Skitters care about children. They don't want them hurt. Help them get away from here Rick.
Gun shots and shouted arguments and commands were already going off like wildfire in the background, but neither boy paid it any mind. Ben merely held an image of a gruesome death, of Mike's, in his head for Rick to see whenever he prodded and waited as Ricked mulled it all over and scowled at the flickers of pain Ben's statement and the image brought him. It took almost another full minute before he finally came to a decision.
"You are not entirely right to do this. This is still traitorous to the Skitters, the very crime you are accusing these men of making to the humans." He started lowly. However, Ben was still allowing a grin to split his face. He'd felt it the moment Rick conceded. "But now that this has started, we might as well finish it."
Still refuse to admit how you feel about this huh?
Don't push it! Ben snorted as Rick snapped back. Of course he wasn't going to admit that he cared about even a single human, let alone the race. He couldn't stand the fact that he still did.
All sense of victory was gone a second later however as another gunshot went off. Accompanied by a blood curdling, familiar scream.
Father! Ben barely had time to register the word and the sudden bout of fear that came with it before Rick had jumped right over the banister, landing upright effortlessly and charging right for his dad. Through a group of three enemy fighters.
"Oh crap!" He cried, focusing his eyes back and forth from Mike to his son as he crouched down and grabbed the rifle of his victim. Mike had a serious injury in the side of his chest and had dropped his gun. He'd be useless and Rick was an open target, both to the fighters he was running at and the nuts convict he could hear swearing away up in a tree fifty feet away. Slipping the rifle over his back, he pulled out his pistol and jumped down after Rick. Hal was heading, albeit slowly, to a screaming Mike. That left him with saving Mike's son.
AN: This chapter was partially inspired by the fact that there isn't a single story on ff or anywhere else I've seen that focuses on Rick. Where's the justice in that? I implore all writers in this category to write a story focusing on the first Razorback. I would, but I've got enough stories to write as is, so I'm settling for making him a major character in this one.
Speaking of which, what do you think of Rick's reactions to Ben's actions and accusations here?