A/N: Just a little fun something that popped into my head one night and wouldn't leave me alone. Not much plot, but not much length, and hopefully a worthwhile read. Hope you enjoy!
When you become a gazillionaire overnight, there are certain things about your life that are suddenly different. Money worries? Ha. Thing of the past. That car payment? Please. Rent on your dinky, one-room apartment? …Okay, so I haven't actually moved out of the apartment, yet, but I'm working on it. Not everyone can find some amazing, historic, who-did-what-when? billion-room colonial castle that perfectly fits their every need and personality quirk. Ben keeps nagging at me to get a better place. And when Ben gets tired of the nagging, Abigail starts it up. It's easier with her, though. She's one of those people who talks whether anyone's listening or not. Well, she expects you to listen, but I've learned if I can manage to get my earphones up to my ears without her noticing, I can get some sweet, iPod-induced relief.
But there are other things that change, too. You start to kinda think differently. For example, if a crazy guy wielding a way too lethal-looking box cutter pulls you into a dark alley and threatens your life, there are certain things you automatically assume when you're rich that you wouldn't if you were still…you know…monetarily challenged. You'd probably assume A) the guy's a mad scientist who plans to use you to fund his plans for world domination, B) he's a professional kidnapper, and you're going to be ransomed within an inch of your life, or C) he's got this great, elaborate plan to get you to wire all your dough into his Swiss bank account or something.
These were the thoughts going through my mind as I was leaving this little burger joint a couple of blocks up from my place. I don't care how rich I get. That place has the best cheeseburgers in the world. And don't even get me started on the fries…
But anyway, it was sorta late, and everything was dark and all the buildings looked all shadowy and mean. I was just interested in getting home and going to sleep. But all of the sudden, a hand grabbed me and I got pulled into the alley and slammed against the hard brick wall, my head ringing with the impact. I got punched, a little harder than should've been strictly necessary, I thought, in the stomach. I was winded before I could call for help.
I struggled to catch my breath as my lungs got all seized up, and I got scared I was having a panic attack or something. I had to tell myself to calm down, because if I wasn't really having a panic attack and I just thought I was having a panic attack, and then I panicked and made myself actually have a panic attack, I would feel like an idiot later.
"Where's your wallet at?" a rough, scary voice asked.
I coughed and looked down at the fists the size of tire rims balled up in the fabric of my jacket. I followed the fists up two arms that would've put Popeye and his spinach to shame, up a tree-trunk chest, and straight into the face of the ugliest, bald, white guy I had ever seen. I was being held up by a freaking Buick!
Apparently I didn't answer him quickly enough because suddenly there was this extremely sharp box cutter held to my neck. I flinched as it poked into the tender flesh right under my jaw, just enough to send a few trickles of blood down my neck. "Ow, ah, hey, take it easy!" I said as I finally found my voice. "I…what do you want with me?"
"Wallet," he demanded again, and it hit me. I was being mugged. Not kidnapped. Not held for ransom. Not even being forced to hand over a million or two. This guy was after the thirty four dollars I had in my wallet and credit cards that could be canceled by tomorrow!
I admit that what I did next was stupid. I claim no prizes for brilliance that night. But it all seemed so freaking ridiculous! This guy had no idea who he had! I was one of the richest people in the world, and all he wanted off me was my pocketbook. So…maybe it was the adrenaline or the panic or the fear, or maybe I had just plain lost it, but…I laughed. Kinda, sorta…right in his face.
His face seemed to loosen as eyebrows went up and jaw went down, and I think in that first second he was almost scared 'cause he thought he might be dealing with a crazy man. But as quickly as his face loosened, it tightened all back up, screwing into an expression that still makes me want to run and hide just thinking about it. The box cutter was removed and stowed in a pocket, but we both knew he didn't need that thing to kill me. Those big, meaty fists tightened, and huge muscles on tattoo-covered arms quivered. Guy was mad.
I was slammed back against the bricks, hard enough maybe to knock some sense into me, because I stopped laughing.
"You find something funny, boy? You laughing at me?" he demanded. "How 'bout I beat the funny right out of you! What then, punk?"
My next words I blame on the concussion. Plus, the fists clinched all tight around my collar were kinda cutting off my air. "You'd hit a guy with glasses?" I wheezed.
This first punch was really the most spectacular. Nailed me right in the cheekbone, and I saw lights. As I hit the ground I groaned, not just with pain, but also with the memory that in fact I wasn't wearing glasses. Stupid. What a night to opt for contact lenses.
It stopped being funny then. I mean, I suppose it still was on some level, but most of my levels were in great pain at that moment. Turns out Buick was a fan of steel-toed boots. Size thirteens. I know, because later I measured the print on my back where he stomped me.
When he was finally finished teaching me not to laugh (I think at some point he made me promise I'd never laugh again, but I'm not sure. It's still a little hazy), I felt him groping around in my back pocket. He found what he was looking for. The beat-up Buzz Lightyear wallet I've had since I was like thirteen. Oh, well. Ben had been nagging me about that, too. I bet if I was pitiful enough, I could get him to buy me a new one. With that satisfied though, I passed out cold.
When I woke up, it was still dark, so I couldn't have been unconscious more than a couple hours. My head hurt like crazy. I'd had concussions before, so the mind-numbing pain wasn't anything new. I was kinda scared to move though. I was in a happy place of not being able to think past the pain in my head, so I didn't exactly know how bad the rest of me was. Counting broken bones is so not a good hobby, so I didn't really feel like breaking into it. Huh, breaking into it? Is that a pun? Oh, man. I must be losing it.
Eventually, though, I knew I had to move. Sooner or later someone would come along, and since I had no way of knowing if that would be a good someone or a bad someone, and my luck hadn't been real assuring of late, I figured it'd be best to haul my butt up and get out of there. I was lying on my stomach, my cheek pressed into the cold, hard ground. I blinked. Eyelids were okay. Score one for Riley!
Wiggled my fingers. Ow. Pretty sure my left pinky was broken. Score one for Buick-sized criminal. But, nothing was sticking out of the skin, and I'm right handed. And another point for Riley. I continued to take stock of my injuries. I think the score ended up being Riley fifteen, Buick eight, which in my mind meant I technically won the fight. Yeah right.
Miraculously, most of my injuries consisted of deep bruises that would make it a pain to get around for a few days, but hey, I wasn't dead. Then I pushed myself up and pretty much wished I was. My breath caught in my throat as a burning, stinging pain in my side woke up, fiercely making itself known. I would've screamed, but I guessed that'd just make it worse.
I was pretty sure I had at least a couple cracked ribs. I leaned back against the wall for a moment trying to keep my breaths even, blinking back frustrated, helpless, angry tears. This sucked. Make that Riley fifteen, Buick twenty-too freaking mean.
Oh, well. I could do this. This might've been the most surprising beating of my life, but it wasn't my first. I'm a geek. We're usually pretty used to being pounded on. So I called upon all my inner geek toughness and dragged myself to my feet, biting down a moan and keeping my right hand glued to my side as if that could somehow really make it feel better. Then I did my Little Engine That Could routine with all the mental "I think I can; I think I can"s. When that started getting annoying, I tried to think of anything else to occupy my mind and ended up with the Meow Mix cat song stuck in my head. I think that was more painful than my ribs. Oi. Will the torture never end?
The door knocker woke me up. Typically I'd be thrilled with someone waking me up at—I looked at the clock—4:19 in the morning, it's just that…Wait, no, I'd never be thrilled with someone waking me up at 4:19 in the morning. I groaned quietly and rolled over, managing to get out of bed without waking up my wife. Abigail slept on soundly, dead to the world as I threw my robe on and went downstairs to find out who in the world would be banging at my door at a time of day most prefer not to witness. If it was someone selling something again, I swear. Why do people assume that if you happen to have money it must automatically mean you'll buy anything?
I opened the door, with the intention of using the primitive but usually effective "Get lost" that was already on my lips, but I stopped when I realized who it was. Riley stood there, hunched over, breathing through his nose. He had a horrible black eye, almost swollen shut, and there was dried blood making streaks down his neck. A split lip was probably the cause of the blood stain on the front of his Transformers T-shirt. I was shocked speechless.
He looked up at me and actually grinned. "There's a cab guy over there waiting for fare. I told him you'd take care of it." He turned the grin up a few more notches, the same way he does when he tries to get me to pick up the tab for lunch. I always end up picking up the tab for lunch.
"Riley…are you going to fall down?" It was a perfectly logical question. Kid looked ready to drop.
"No. No, I'm not." He said it like he was making it an order. The cab driver honked his horn.
I found myself nodding. "Don't move for a minute."
I ran in to grab my wallet. I don't even know how much I gave the driver. I just threw money at him, told him to keep the change and ran back to help Riley. If the look I caught on the driver's face was any indication, however, I'd probably just made his night.
Grabbing Riley by the arm, I helped him into the house. "Riley," I asked patiently. "What happened?"
"Do you know how hard it is to get a cab to pick you up when you look like this?" he was saying. "I mean, you'd figure they'd all be lining up to give a guy a break, but no…"
He shook his head slightly, obviously regretting the movement as he winced.
"Ben," he said blankly. "I need a new wallet."
After leaving a quickly-scrawled note on the counter for Abigail, I managed to get Riley to the car. The moment he realized we were leaving, he closed his mouth, not saying a word as I sat him in the passenger seat. I tried to buckle him in, but he pushed my hands away and shot me this wide-eyed, wounded look that confused the heck out of me. I was a little preoccupied at the moment more with getting him to the hospital and having him checked out than anything else, so I chalked it up to that independent streak of his that flares up every once in awhile and gave him a "Fine, do it yourself," before running around and starting the engine.
I noticed him shiver once, so I turned on the heat. I kept expecting him to start whining or telling me what happened or to at least say something. The only time I'd ever witnessed him be quiet this long was when he was unconscious or told to shut up at gunpoint…and even then, sometimes he talks in his sleep, and that gun thing didn't keep him quiet for long either. I glanced at him. "Are you still awake, Riley?"
I got that same wounded look. The black eye didn't help either. Kid looked like a kicked puppy. "Yes."
He gave me a look. "Take a wild guess, Ben. What's it look like happened?" Okay, a kicked puppy with some attitude.
I blinked, turning my eyes back to the road. "Looks like you got beaten and mugged."
"Good guess," he retorted, rolling his eyes to look out the window. He started to cross his arms, but winced and seemed to realize that wasn't such a good idea, settling for placing his hands carefully in his lap.
"I do pride myself on my powers of observation," I responded dryly, wondering as the car was once again silent what the deal was. The short, hurt glances he kept giving me when he thought I wasn't looking hadn't stopped, and I was getting worried. At the moment, I would've preferred the whining.
"You missed the turn," he said quietly after a moment, turning his head to look behind us.
"No I didn't," I said, more confused than ever.
"Come on, Ben. It's not like you've never been to my apartment before," he said angrily. "The turn is back there. Pretty sure I'd know." He suddenly crossed his arms again, forgetting it was a bad idea, immediately letting out a short cry of pain and throwing his elbow into the armrest in irritation. "Just…just let me out," he demanded. "Let me out and I'll walk."
"Not even counting how ridiculous it is for a guy with a Ferrari Spider who just got taken for thirty four bucks …"
"…and a wallet that was probably a collector's item somewhere to be walking in the middle of the…"
He was breathing hard and clutching at his ribcage, his eyes wide and shiny and staring straight at me with that same wounded expression that I just then understood. "What?" he hissed.
"Riley," I said softly. "I'm taking you to the hospital."
He froze, eyes shifting to stare at the dashboard then raising back to meet mine. "Oh. I thought…we were at your house and then we were in the car and I thought you just didn't want…I mean…" He trailed off and bit his lip before shaking his head.
That little twerp thought I was going to drop him off at his shoebox of an apartment because "You thought I just didn't want to deal with you." I met his eyes, always a dangerous thing to do when operating a motor vehicle, and said with all the force I could muster, "Riley. I'm always going to deal with you. Got it?"
I spared him and looked back out at the road. I didn't need to see him to know the exact look that was on his face. Probably that I'm-an-idiot, embarrassed look he wore when he got caught doing something stupid (and usually mildly entertaining) mixed with that shy look of pleasure at the reminder that he's got people who care about him. I heard him shrug.
"Got it. But Ben?"
"I don't want to go to the hospital."
I groaned. "Riley...shush."
I figured out real quick that Riley was a lot worse than he let on. By the time I got him to the hospital, he was fading fast. He looked absolutely exhausted, could barely keep his eyes open, and I figured he had to have a concussion. I helped him inside and sat him down in the waiting room as I filled out his paper work. It was a very short wait. I wasn't sure whether I should count that as a good sign or a bad one.
Then we met the doctor and he asked us some questions. Riley told the guy he was beaten and mugged. The man wrote a note. "Really?"
Riley nodded sluggishly. "He was a Buick, though, not a mad scientist," he mumbled, in what I'm sure in his head was an explanation.
After x-rays which revealed two cracked ribs and a broken finger, and an ultrasound which revealed no internal bleeding (thank goodness), Riley had a splint put on his finger, and his ribs were strapped up good and tight. He whined through the whole thing, which made me feel a lot better. A whiny Riley was a much happier Riley. It makes sense if you know him well. He did in fact have a concussion, however, and the doctors wanted to keep him overnight for observation. That's when things got complicated.
"No way." I knew I was being stubborn. Didn't really care much. Some people say stubbornness can be a good quality in a guy. Well…nobody that I know. But I bet I could find somebody somewhere who says that. There's probably like a whole web site for people who say that to back each other up. I made a mental note to do an Internet search when I got home. "I'm not staying here."
"It's a twenty-four hour stay for observation," the doctor was saying.
I looked at Ben for help.
"Riley, it sounds pretty reasonable. You have a good-sized knot on your head."
I glared at him, feeling just a little betrayed. "There's nothing reasonable about it. I don't do hospitals. I want to go home." I started to cross my arms again, but Ben reached out and grabbed my wrist. He gave me a pointed look and I dropped my hands back in my lap with a sigh, grateful for the reminder. They'd given me some sort of a painkiller, but I guess I had some monster pain, because a lot of it just refused to die. "I don't want to stay here," I repeated, and chalk it up to the drugs, but it came out kind of pathetic, and there were sudden tears poking at the backs of my eyes. Pretty sure my face turned red. But good grief, I felt so freaking helpless, sitting there freezing in my boxers, shirtless, my ribs aching and wrapped up tourniquet tight, a whole crop of bruises from head to toe making my body feel all heavy and swollen and sick.
Then I felt Ben's hand on my back, warm and supportive. Oh, Geeze, Ben, not right now. He had to pick now, when I was this close to breaking down like some little kid, to get all sentimental-best-friend on me. I was not going to lose it like an idiot in front of him and this stranger. I wasn't. I blinked hard, forcing tears back. I used to be so good at that. Back in the day, you had to when all the jerks at school and stuff were taunting you. If you started crying or something, it'd just get worse, so you learn to hold it in. I could hold it in and mouth back with the best of them. Thing is, I have very few defenses against people who actually care.
I took a deep breath. "Please don't leave me here, Ben." Whoa. That's not what I meant to say. Geeze, what am I, six? "I mean, come on, Doc. Give me some pills or whatever, let me get out of here and actually get some rest. I'll be fine. I'll even get fluids and stay on the couch and eat nothing but chicken soup. Just let me get out of here."
"You shouldn't be alone," the doctor said in a really smart, logical kind of tone that was starting to grate. "You have a concussion."
"It's a mild one," I protested.
"It's a head injury. You were unconscious. There are certain procedures…"
"I'll take care of it." Me and the doc both looked up as Ben cut in. "Let me take him home. I'll make sure he's okay."
"As I said, Mr. Gates, there are certain procedures…"
"I'll deal with it," he said, determined. He looked at me and winked. I ducked my head to hide a smile. I knew right then he'd won. When Benjamin Franklin Gates gets that look on his face, there's no stopping him. And I know. Last time he got that look I helped him steal the Declaration of Independence. "I've dealt with concussions before."
Before I knew what was happening, I was back in my clothes, signing papers I didn't bother looking at, and letting Ben lead me back to his SUV. As I settled myself in the seat, I closed my eyes, realizing how overwhelmingly sleepy I was. I cracked an eye and offered a wry smile as Ben buckled my seatbelt for me. "Ben," I mumbled. "Thanks. You rock, man."
I smiled and couldn't help ruffling his hair, giving him a carefully light shove as I went around and got behind the wheel. "Riley," I said. "Who was the best man at my wedding?"
"Me," he answered without hesitation, eyes closed, the out-of-nowhere question doing nothing to phase his obviously drowsy mind.
"And who tried to talk me out of stealing the Declaration of Independence?"
"And who helped me steal it anyway, knowing how crazy it was?"
"Mm. Definitely me," he smiled sleepily. "Ben, I'm tired. Do you have a point?"
"One more reminder. Who is it exactly that showed up on my front porch at a horrible hour broken and bleeding and then assumed I couldn't be bothered with him?"
He sighed. "Sorry. You can be bothered with me. I get it."
Oh, I wasn't finished. I had to make sure he knew. Because while Riley could tell me the inner workings of every computer ever built, he has a difficult time understanding a very simple concept. Time to drive the point home. "Riley. Open your eyes for a second." He looked at me. I spoke pretty slowly, not in any kind of insult to his intelligence, but because I wanted to make sure he was hearing me. "You are my best friend. If you have a problem, I have a problem." I looked over at him. "Get used to it."
He was quiet for awhile, long enough for me to wonder if he'd fallen asleep and to start feeling like an idiot. He was tired, hurt, and concussed. Probably not the best time for a get-it-in-your-head-that-I-care lecture. When he spoke again I jumped a bit.
"You do realize I dropped the ring at your wedding, I had nowhere else to go after we blew up the Charlotte, and the first thing I did after you entrusted me with the Declaration was lose it to the bad guys, right?"
I smiled. "You made everyone cry with your toast, you could've easily left me high and dry after I almost got you killed on the Charlotte, and you risked your life to save the woman I love."
"Okay, okay," he finally gave up, smiling quietly to himself. "You win. I rock, too. Everybody here rocks. Please, let me sleep."
"Okay," I conceded, hiding my own grin. "Just making sure we're clear."
"Like a peaceful mountain stream."
He was out not two minutes later. I smiled.
When we got back to the house, I managed to get him up. The sun was just rising, streaking the sky with orange and pink and purple. The beauty was lost on my zonked out friend, as I helped him stumble his way through the front door. He shook me off at the bottom of the stairs. "I know the way," he said tiredly.
"Yeah. I think there's still some clothes up in your room from last time you stayed over. Try not to wake Abigail, will you?"
He snorted. "Woman wouldn't wake up if a tornado uprooted the house and landed us in the middle of Oz."
"Just keep it quiet, Toto," I told him.
"I will do my best." He started up the stairs, leaning maybe a little more heavily on the banister than I would've liked to see.
"Riley," I said seriously. He turned back. "Tomorrow we go get your stuff. The east wing is yours for as long as you want it."
He stared at me. I counted the seconds, wondering what in the world he was thinking. Finally he asked, "Can we eat at 'Uncle Joe's'?"
That little burger shack he likes so much. Of all the...that would be the first thing he thought about. "Sure."
Kid has fifty million. 'Half of a percent.' Whatever. "Sure. I'll buy."
He smiled then. A rare, grateful smile without a hint of sarcasm. "Should I argue?"
"Of course not. You're concussed."
He nodded. "Then we'll talk about it tomorrow. Night."
"Good night. I'll wake you in two hours for the concussion." He nodded and waved his hand in a "Whatever, Ben" gesture before continuing up the stairs. I watched him go, listening after he disappeared around the corner to make sure he didn't fall or something. My best friend. Heaven help us both. Abigail was either going to kiss me or kill me for this. Sometimes it was hard to tell with her. I sighed and made my way to my own bedroom, snatching up the unread note on the way.
Riley mugged. Went to hospital. Cell on. Love you.
Come to think of it, it was probably a very good thing she didn't read this first thing in the morning.
I wasn't really worried, though. She loves Riley to death. I'd definitely be on the receiving end of a lecture, however, for not waking her up. Oh well. Maybe Riley would let me borrow his iPod.