Breed Book 3, Part 17

Ben could feel the grinding of the clock’s gears in his head, or was he grinding his teeth in time with it? It had been too long since they’d seen Cris, and Ben didn’t know what he’d do if he encountered even one more loss.

It seemed like a perfect gig, when Sonya asked him to take over listening to the radio. It gave him an excuse to be quiet, and spend time away from his friends. The quiet was hard, but it was worse, feeling isolated in a room full of friends.

Because every broadcast would sap Cris’ battery, they were waiting for him to make the first move. But it was taking too long. They all, idly, speculated about having to burst through the walls of the compound; Ben was the only one of them, though he knew better than to say anything, who knew a rescue wasn’t a chance to play the hero; they’d only find more death there.

“Ben,” Anita said, her voice softer than he could ever remember hearing it; lighter still was her hand on his shoulder. “I should take over.”

“Why?” he asked. “It’s not like I’ve got some place to be.”

“No, but you’ve got more than enough to deal with.” His eyebrows shot up. “You should let me take it from here.”

“You know,” he said, sounding defeated.

“If your goal was to keep it a secret, you’re doing kind of a lousy job. They all know something’s wrong. They don’t know what. I’ve kept your secret, and I will; it’s yours to tell, when you’re ready.”

“I don’t know how.”

“You’ve suffered an… unimaginable loss. It doesn’t need to be the right way or the right time. They love you. And they want to be there for you.”

“They need me to be strong. Especially while Cris is in harm’s way.”

“They need you to be present. Not a zombie. And not up your own ass with grief. And if I’ve learned anything with all of you, it’s that the world never really goes back to sanity. The next crazy thing comes at you before you can find your footing. One of us, maybe most of us, will always been in harm’s way. And… we’re all going to experience loss. I can’t say how, for sure, but I know there isn’t a one of us who won’t be right where you are eventually. And if we don’t figure out how to handle our loss while the world keeps on spinning, eventually our little world will break, or we will, into a thousand little pieces.”

She pulled him out of his chair and to his feet, then yanked him to her shoulder. The motion pushed most of the air from his lungs, and he exhaled raggedly against her neck. She put her arms around him and he enveloped her in a giant bear hug, before setting her down. “Fuck,” he said, “I needed that.”

“I know. And you’ll need a whole lot more before this is through. Trust me, as someone who has been a lone wolf most of her adult life, let people in. They want to be here for you just as desperately as you need them to be here for you. Just let them in.”    

“And what about you?” he asked. “You’ve been with us a long time. And… this is the most of the real you I think I’ve ever seen. Not that I don’t get playing the clown. Or understand your anger- I think we all do. But you’ve been with us for a long time. You’re one of us. You don’t have to keep… playing at being someone else.”

“I wish that were true. I wish I were just another classmate, another kid caught up in a world that isn’t ready for the change that’s coming to it; I’ve been on the other side of that fight, trying for all the world to keep things like they are. I don’t like me very much; moment to moment, I can be fun, but… to say I’m not proud of who I’ve been really doesn’t cover it. If I thought I could get away with just… stepping out of frame, I would. But somehow things get even worse if I’m not here. Which given my track record of monumentally making things worse is impressive.”

“Who cares?” Ben asked. “We might all of us be considered terrorists for the rest of our days, but we know that, when push finally came to shove, we fought back. For ourselves, for people who couldn’t. I don’t know what sins you think you’ve committed, but that kind of sacrifice compensates for a lot of mistakes.”

“Who cares?” Anita asked, pondering the question, a furtive little smile crossing her lips. She closed her eyes, and after a few seconds, she frowned, and sighed. “You will. I imagine most of you will. And that truth will out. Some days I feel like I’m… holding in a breath, but I can’t hold it in forever. The attempt is killing me; I’m pretty sure the failure will, too.”

“I think you think too much,” Ben said. “And should heed your own advice. I think people might surprise you.”

“They usually don’t,” she said. “But I’ll think about it.”

“No,” Ben said, “don’t think about it. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’ve done something so wrong, so unforgiveable, that I will be angry with you when it finally comes out. But that’s not the end of the story, either- and you’re not giving us enough credit by pretending it is. You think if Mira showed up tomorrow we wouldn’t greet her with smiles, hugs and a baffling amount of affection? We protect the people we care about. From the world. From themselves. From the things they can’t forgive themselves for. Because you might not ever forgive yourself, but I can.”

“But will you?” “Honestly? I seriously doubt anything you’ve actually done could be worse than what we’ve all been picturing. And even if it is… that’s just further proof of what it must have taken for you to crawl out of that hole. None of us are the worst thing we’ve ever done. But if we’re going to honor those who aren’t here to continue pushing for change, we have a duty to be better, to do better, every day. You have. I think you’ll keep doing that. So when I say, ‘Who cares?’ I say it because no one should care who you used to be, because what matters is who you are, and who you’re going to try to be tomorrow. And you get to decide who that’s going to be. And I think you’re going to be fine.”

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