Riley doesn't even know why he brought it up.
He does remember that he didn't disclose during the interview.
Not that the interview was much of an interview. What it had consisted of was: a job offer in the local paper (of all places). Riley wouldn't even have seen it except he was desperate for a new job and tired tired tired of cubicle work. Something incredibly wearying about cubical work; dealing with the same social rituals you don't understand over and over, in the morning, at the water cooler, having to act like everyone else and keep his hands still so nobody asks him why he's shaking them and he doesn't have to explain... Besides, there's no individuality to it. The manager won't even let him put pictures on his desk.
The ad had said something like, "Computer technician needed for expedition of historical importance. High risk, high reward."
Riley had laughed, put the ad down, and then picked it up again.
And emailed the address at the bottom, because, really, who takes out an ad like that? Who expects to get employees with an ad like that? Morbid curiosity, that's what it'd been. Curiosity killed the cat, he had muttered to himself as he'd composed an email, and then finished the saying - but satisfaction brought it back.
And as it turned out, he was the only one who applied, so he'd gotten it after some further emails discussing his qualifications and the job specifications, which, well, were pretty unbelievable. But after that kind of start you don't expect a conventional job.
So after a number of dead ends eliminated by Riley's focused research and Ben's peculiar flair for academic databases, spending time in the library looking up absolutely everything involving the name 'Charlotte' and the Artctic doesn't seem that odd by comparison.
Once during a break for snacks, he asks Ben why. "I mean, seriously, dude, aren't you always trying to legitimize what you do? Who were you hoping to snag with a phrase like 'high risk, high reward'?"
To which Ben replies, quite calmly, "You."
Riley stares at him suspiciously, and Ben waves. "Or someone just like you. For this kind of work I needed someone who could laugh at themselves. Besides, it's true."
"Yeah, risk of what, paper cuts?" Riley holds up a book and raises eyebrows. "I can't believe you're still messing around with old books. It's the two thousands. Isn't all this stuff online?"
"Nope," says Ben.
"Are you sure? I bet I could find it online."
"Look, be patient, the risk will come soon enough, I've just got to figure out where to look. And what to look for. How does driving around the North Pole on a snowplow sound?"
"Thank you for your insightful observation."
Riley grins and goes back to his book.
But they stay there so late that, when they're finally ejected by an impatient librarian, dinner-time has come and gone. "Want to go and get something to eat?" Ben says, stretching as they walk out the door. "I'll spring."
Riley usually eats chips or something for dinner. After work he rarely has the brain power to fix real food. But real food sounds nice after a day spent in quick snacks and intense studying.
So they go to a burger place and that's where the subject comes up.
He doesn't quite remember how he came to the conclusion. Something about the way Ben moves, the way he paces when he's thinking, his speech patterns, the way he carries himself - Riley doesn't do NT body language that well, but he can spot another neurodivergent person a mile off, by now. It's a survival skill. You find the people who are like you, because if you don't learn to, you just feel alone. You don't do anything about it, you just see someone on the bus putting a piece of their hoodie in their mouth and echoing a word over and over again, and you say, it's not just me, and it maybe helps.
But until now he's never had the chance to talk to one of his guesses.
This may account for the lack of tact he demonstrates.
Over his Five Guy's fries he blurts out, "Are you autistic?"
Crap. Not good. Crap, crap - he rushes to fill the awkward pause with words like bandaging over a gaping wound - "I'm sorry, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, um, it's just I am, and I don't know many other people who are, so I was just wondering...sorry, this is a bad idea, just forget about it, okay? It was unprofessional. Sorry."
But Ben puts down his hamburger and gives him a thoughtful look.
"I'm not sure," he says.
"Sorry, what?" says Riley. He notices there's a small pile of ripped napkin-paper on the table in front of him. It's something he only does when he's anxious, and he never notices until he's been doing it for at least a minute.
"That was badly phrased," says Ben, shrugging. "I'm pretty sure, actually. But I'm self-diagnosed. I've never really seen the point of having a doctor confirm it, you know?"
"Yeah. I mean, I know. Or at least I think I know. And I don't really need accommodations in my line of work, so why would I go through the hassle? Besides, it's expensive."
"Money you could be spending on treasure hunting," says Riley, absentmindedly tearing another napkin in half.
"It's not treasure hunting," says Ben, stealing one of his fries, and that's when Riley knows it's okay.
"I was diagnosed when I was little," he says, ripping the halfed napkin in quarters, slowly, "So I guess I don't know much about that." He's never talked about it before. It's always been something to hide.
"Well, believe me, it's a lot of hassle. And a lot of expensive. It's like, three thousand dollars around here, can you believe that?" Ben waves the fry.
"Pretty expensive. You could do a lot of treasure hunting with that," says Riley, and uses Ben's indignant to attempting to reclaim his fry. He manages to knock over his soda in the process, which causes a lot of alarmed squawks and some heroic efforts with napkins before the server comes by with a clean towel. She looks at the pile of napkins in front of Riley's seat and gives him a stern look.
When she leaves, Riley asks, "How did you find out?"
Ben shrugs. "I was in undergrad and I had to do a research project for a psych class."
"How about you?"
"Don't really remember. I do remember there was toe-walking involved. Everyone kept telling me to stop."
"You didn't do any of that stuff?"
"Some of it, I guess." Ben shrugs again. "My dad...wasn't too concerned. Or didn't know much. Or something. Anyway, I haven't told him."
"Mmmm. You're lucky. If I have to hear one more lecture about how I need to be more normal..."
Ben pats him on the arm and steals another fry. "Well, don't worry," he says, eating it and ignoring Riley's outraged expression. "You don't have to pretend to be normal here. Everyone thinks we're weird anyway."
"So, what, might as well be weird anyway?"
Riley opens his mouth to say something and closes it again, not sure where he wants to go.
"I don't think I'm weird," he says, defiantly. "I think that's what they tell us to keep us down."
Ben nods. "Point taken. Okay, so think of it as, you don't have to pretend to be anything you're not."
"Yeah, that's better." Riley rescues his last fry and eats it in triumph, and decides to bring his tangle toy to work the next day. It'll help him concentrate, and he wants to test Ben and see if he means what he said.
But he has a feeling it's going to turn out all right.
You know. If he doesn't freeze to death driving a snowplow through the Arctic.