Riley Poole was dragged out of a deep sleep on his best friend's couch by said best friend's voice cutting into his consciousness.
"Riley?" He summoned the energy to turn over and open his eyes slowly to survey the situation. Benjamin Franklin Gates was standing by the end table closest to his head, staring down at him, keyring still in hand, looking half confused and half concerned. "What are you doing here?"
"I broke in," Riley admitted, stretching deeply and sitting up. He ran a hand through his hair, not really expecting to make his bed head go away. It felt like more of a nervous tic than anything, a filler motion that he utilized when he didn't know what else to do with his hands, but he couldn't make them sit still, either.
Ben quirked an eyebrow at him, but only responded, very evenly, "Well is everything alright?"
"Um....yes. Yeah," Riley chuckled, ran a hand through his hair once more. "But my walls are paper thin, and my head was going to explode, and your house eats sound," the explanation tumbled out of his mouth without making too much sense. "You weren't here, but I know you keep a spare key in your garden even though you shouldn't, and Abigail doesn't know about it. And deactivating and your alarm system is easy once you know how."
In reality, deactivating the overly-elaborate alarm system probably wasn't easy to anyone except Riley, and he knew it. But who could blame him for wanting to be The Boy Wonder every once in a while? No one, he thought.
"Okay," Ben said, setting his keys down finally, and removing his jacket, but still seeming to be waiting for a proper answer. His own fingers played out a half-anxious rhythm against his leg as he waited. Riley noticed, but said nothing. "What did you mean your head was going to explode?"
"Oh, well," this time Riley tugged at a lock of his hair instead of running a hand through it, "Don't worry about it, Ben. I fixed it."
"Did you? Weeell," Ben drug the word out thoughtfully, as he was wont to do when he was thinking out loud--and Ben was almost always thinking out loud, "why don't you tell me about it, anyways? Maybe I can help."
"I don't see how you could," Riley said with a shrug, "unless you know how to stop the world from getting too loud for no discernible reason."
"What do you mean?"
"Some days," Riley shrugged and dropped his eyes to the ground, suddenly feeling silly. He couldn't figure out how to explain the way it felt on days when the world around him was altogether too much, and Ben was bound to think there was something deeply wrong with him. "Sometimes everything is just too loud, and it feels like I'm trying to walk through a swimming pool fully dressed. But. But! It always gets better, eventually. I can sleep it off or something, most of the time. That's why I came here. It's quieter than my apartment and," he grinned sheepishly. "You've got a better couch," he leaned back into the couch and snuggled deeply into the soft cushions in order to back up his claim. Compared to his futon, it was a dream come true.
Ben didn't speak for a moment, and Riley looked up at him nervously, then wriggled in his seat again, hoping to get a response, or at least break the tension.
"So you were curled into the fetal position on my couch because the world was too loud? That's not a very good coping mechanism," Ben pointed out.
"Do you have any better ideas?" Riley responded somewhat snappishly. He should have known that Ben wouldn't understand the way it felt, and that he would think that Riley was exaggerating. It wasn't that he didn't trust Ben, or didn't think that Ben respected him, but no one who he had tried to describe the sensation to before had ever seemed to understand.
"Noise canceling headphones help," Ben suggested, smiling a touch triumphantly. "Lots of blankets do, too. Loose clothes are better if they start to feel like sandpaper."
Riley blinked at him in quiet amazement, then rubbed at his still bleary eyes. "Does this happen to everyone, and I somehow missed the memo?" He recalled all the times he had received blank looks from people he had tried to explain the situation too, and wondered if everyone had secretly banded together to convince him that he was somehow damaged.
"No, but it happens to me," Ben said, his smile changing to the patented ambiguous Ben smile that Riley was still trying to figure out the meaning of.
Riley stared him down, shrugged defeatedly, and questioned, "Why?"
This time it was Ben's turn to run his hands through his hair. "I don't know if I can answer that for you, but--"
Ben seemed to toss the relative pros and cons of revealing whatever this secret was back and forth in his head, trying it on for size. And, if Riley knew Ben at all, phrasing and rephrasing it in his head until it sounded right.
"But for me, it's..." He continued to try out the phrase for a moment before ending the sentence sheepishly, as he always tended to do when he got halfway through and realized the person on the receiving end might not take it well, "autism"
Riley's brow furrowed, and he sat in silence for an extremely long moment, trying to figure out if Ben was joking or not.
He remembered Ben saying, once, that he couldn't bluff, and as far as Riley could tell he wasn't doing so now.
"What? But you're--I mean--" he spluttered out a couple of half-accusations, trying to recall everything he remembered about autism from his college psychology class, and mostly getting it mixed up with that one Dustin Hoffman movie he had forgotten the name of.
"Autistic," Ben supplied again.
"Well," he was carefully censoring himself from anything he thought he might regret later, and finally managed to say, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was going to," Ben insisted. "I told Ian. I thought someone needed to know, and I had known him longer. I thought I could trust him."
Riley snorted loudly. "And how did that work out for you?"
Ben grimaced in response. "After that, you can probably see why I didn't want to tell anyone else," He tossed back quickly.
Riley couldn't disagree. Then again, he hadn't trusted Ian from the moment he met him. "I thought autism was more like," he shrugged, at a loss for what he really thought autism was like. The truth was he had never considered it very deeply. "You--you know. So you're saying you think I'm--" he shrugged again. "You know."
Ben weighed his options again, then said, very carefully, "I think it's possible."
Riley stared at him, aghast, feeling like Ben had started to explain everything about him and then pulled the knowledge an inch or two out of his grasp. He snapped, "Ben you were so sure there was a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, and all you've got now is, 'it's possible?'"
"In my defense, Riley, that's not quite the same thing."
He was already googling "symptoms of autism," on his phone and he skimmed the Wikipedia article in silence before he mumbled, "huh," under his breath. Again, memories of his college psychology class flooded back to him, but the grocery list of behaviors seemed completely new when he was applying them to himself.
He glanced back up at Ben. "Oh."
"I think it's likely," Ben corrected himself. "But you'll know better than I will."
" I...guess it's pretty likely too," Riley admitted, even as a new wave of confusion hit him, followed instantaneously by a wave of anger. "Why am I just founding out about this now? Aren't they supposed to catch this stuff when we're kids? Try to start fixing it?"
Ben's stunningly long silence made him realize he'd said the wrong thing. Finally he said, "not everyone gets diagnosed. Sometimes people slip through the cracks. And you don't fix it, really. It isn't the type of thing you're supposed to fix," he had gone back to tapping out an erratic rhythm against his leg, the same type of thing Riley did when he was anxious and upset, the type of thing that he hadn't understood until just now.
At the moment, with his head still buzzing with all new information, it still felt like something that needed fixing. "Oh yeah?"
"You wouldn't try to fix the Liberty Bell would you?"
The metaphor was so deeply Ben that Riley couldn't help but smile, but he also wasn't going to let his best friend get off that easily, "They did try to fix the Liberty Bell."
"But it didn't work"
"The Liberty a Bell was a fluke. It--it was made wrong."
"That's your opinion, but you've got to admit it's got a lot more history to it the way it is," Riley was getting a little lost on whether this conversation was about their respective brains, or Ben's love and respect towards the Liberty Bell, so he decided to veer back on track.
"It's still a lousy metaphor, but I'll bite. So you--we--you just...live with it?"
"Well, you wouldn't be you without it. It's part of who you are, as much as working on computers--and occasionally hacking them--is. Maybe even more. Who knows if you'd do either of those things without it?"
"Who knows," Riley echoed. "I'm sorry, Ben this is a lot to take in. I feel like I should feel--broken now. No offense."
"But you aren't. Remember, you're one of the people who helped redefine history for all mankind. And even if you hadn't done that, you still wouldn't be broken."
"So you're saying you you wouldn't feel like a failure if we hadn't found the treasure?"
"First thing, Riley, my family had a long history of failure for me to fall back on. Second, nobody's perfect. I would still be who I was before. And you're still the same person you were when you crashed on my couch--what was it?"
"About three hours ago."
"You're becoming dangerous. Am I going to have to change the code again?" Ben threatened.
"Is it going to do you any good?"
"Well then, Riley, for what it's worth, you're always welcome to wind up here when the world gets too loud."
Riley couldn't help but smile at the offer. "Thanks Ben. A lot."