The first time, he doesn’t notice. Ben is a tactile person, he grew up with a father who would casually ruffle his hair when happy, a mother who would gently rest a hand against his cheek to show she cared. Touching is communication, is affection.
And so when he reaches out to place a hand on Carlos’ shoulder he doesn’t notice it. Doesn’t think much of the way Carlos tenses under his hand, how he curls away; attributes it to Dude and lingering traces of Carlos’ fear.
Ben doesn’t notice that first time.
Tourney means physical contact–tackles aren’t allowed, but checking happens frequently enough. It’s not so bad, everyone’s padded, but the first few times, Carlos makes like a turtle and huddles under his shield.
“No, you can’t just hide,” Ben says, pulling the shield away and offering Carlos a hand up; he hesitates before taking it.
“Well what’s the shield for, then?” Carlos shoots back, more than a little frustrated at their lack of progress. Scoring was easy to pick up–accuracy and speed something which came easy to him–but checking practice sucks.
Ben considers it, tries to articulate the thoughts that a culture of knighthood has instilled into him, “A shield protects you, yes, but it’s so that you can push forward and act,” he smiles, because that seems about right.
Uncertainly, Carlos smiles back.
“Why don’t we call it quits for now? You did well today,” Ben says. This time, when he reaches a hand out to Carlos, he notices the flinch and pulls back immediately. But he accredits it to checking practice and nothing more.
It’s not that Ben is watching Carlos–except for how he kind of is. He’s looking out for all of the Lost kids, really, wants to make sure they’re settling in okay. And if he focuses his attention on Carlos more than the others, well, that’s only because the other three seem to be handling the other students well enough on their own.
But as he watches, he begins to see a pattern.
Carlos has no problem picking up Dude and, for want of a better word, cuddling whenever he pleases. He also has no issues sharing personal space with his fellow Lost kids, drawing comfort from the closeness of his friends, or leaning in to share whispers with Evie–short white hair mixing with long blue. But it’s when touch is made that Carlos freezes.
The other Lost kids know it, too, and seem to accommodate in their own way. Evie flows around him, looping their arms together without any contact, until Carlos eases into it himself. Jay’s roughhousing is playful at heart, the way wolf cubs tussle and tumble with one another; even then, Jay will pause after initiating contact, to let Carlos adjust, before continuing. Mal and Carlos hardly ever touch, but in the rare occasions that happens, she looks him in the eye as a form of nonverbal warning before touching him.
It’s courteous, which isn’t a word Ben would think to use for the Lost kids, so it must be important.
I had been hoping to put it into Ain’t No Rest, but since that’s on hiatus, I felt bad about letting it languish unfilled… hence this drabble.
I know you probably wanted some cute flirty touching but all I could think about was how Carlos is unused to positive contact and would be very touch shy. So I guess this could be considered “pre-slash” Benlos…
edit: now posted on ao3 here