A/N: I updated a little faster this time. See? Reviewing does work! Thank you all for the motivation your words brought!
I couldn't look at him. Honestly, the guy can't bluff. What he's thinking is usually displayed for all to see, and I didn't especially feel like seeing what he was thinking right then. I was too scared of what might be there. So I stared at the suddenly blurry fabric I was scrunching in my fingers. I don't even know why I told him. He just has this way of...making me feel like he cares or something. And as pathetic as it may sound, I needed that right then. But with the silence filling the room, I was starting to feel like ten kinds of a moron. Guy probably thought I was as guilty as I felt, or that I was acting crazy childish for letting something like that still get to me all these years later. I wasn't even a hundred percent sure which would be worse. I was tired. I was hurt. I wanted him to leave me alone.
"How old were you?" he asked softly.
He nodded. "Well, that...sucks." That surprised a tired half-smile out of me. Ben's usually got such a way with words. Now if only he'd let me off the hook.
"Yeah. Well, look, I really am tired..."
"Ben, please." I finally looked up at him. That was a mistake. Because he was wearing his feelings right out there for me to see. And instead of disgust or pity or anything else that I knew how to deal with, something I could just lock away inside with all that other junk that I keep buried, there was something else that scared the heck out of me. He just...cared. And that freaked me out. Rick cared. Rick cared and he left. People who cared ended up leaving, and I wasn't completely convinced I could handle that.
"I'm sorry that happened to you," he said. He really meant it. I swallowed hard, blinking very, very quickly. "But it wasn't your fault. You were eleven. There was nothing you could've done to help your brother."
That wasn't true. I knew that wasn't true. I shook my head, wincing as a tear dislodged, sliding and landing on the stupid crispy sheets. "I could've tried. You don't think it would've made a difference if I'd tried? I bet that's why he left, Ben! He couldn't stand living with the guy who stood by and watched him get beat half to death! I mean, I...I don't even know where he went! Or what he did! I can't even tell you whether or not he's freaking alive right now!" I was breathing hard. Breathing, not crying. Rick had loved me. I know he had. He was my big brother. Things were always better when he was around. Until after that. After that he was only interested in not being around. He had to have blamed me. Enough to stop loving me. And if he could blame me, it was only fair for me to blame me, too.
But Ben didn't seem to get that. "Riley, listen to me. You were a little kid. You were scared. You did what your brother told you to do, and because you did what he told you, because you hid, you were able to call for help. What if you had come out of hiding, and you got hurt, too? Who would've saved you both then, Riley?"
I sat there, furiously biting at my botom lip, afraid that if I breathed again, someone might accidentally mistake it for a sob or something. "I don't know, Ben," I forced out. "Please just leave this alone. I don't want to talk about it anymore."
But he was relentless. "I know. But Riley, you have to understand this. What happened to your brother wasn't your fault."
"He didn't believe that."
"He's the one who told you to hide, wasn't he?"
I shook my head, something in my chest loosening. I wanted to believe him. I wanted it to be true. I did. But it just...it didn't make sense. If it wasn't me... "Then why'd he leave, Ben?" I asked quietly. "Why'd he leave?"
I sat there watching him. He was looking up at me, that look that still scares the daylights out of me. It was a look that begged me to have all the answers, to make things all right for him. It was breaking my heart. "I don't know," I said honestly. "I'm sorry, Riley. I don't know why."
He let out a deep breath and nodded once, eyes leaving mine as he ducked his head. "Me neither," he said softly. "I'm sorry, Ben."
Sorry? "For what?" I asked.
He shrugged his good shoulder. "Tonight. What happened. Freaking out." He shook his head and winced. "All of it, I guess. If I hadn't..."
"Riley," I said as gently as I could. "Shush."
He didn't. Which was nothing new. "But Ben, you know it was mostly..."
"Not your fault. Stop it. If you try picking up this load of guilt, know that it'd be as much mine, too. We can play the what if game all night. What if I had said no to you? I can do that, you know. What if we'd turned down the gala invitation? What if our driver had picked a different restaurant?"
"You got hurt." I realized there was real fear behind those words. Like the fact that he got more hurt didn't even fit into his little equation. I got hurt, so I was leaving. The amount of fear in his eyes was overwhelming to me.
"Riley," I said firmly. I waited for him to look up at me. "I'm not...I mean..." I trailed off as I searched for the right words, his words from earlier ringing in my ears, I couldn't just sit there and watch it happen again. It was hard for me to comprehend, but I knew what he was thinking. "I'm not...him, you know." He looked surprised and suddenly hopeful, and I don't think he realized that another tear slipped down his face. "You're my best friend," I said deliberately, my voice leaving no room for question. "I'm not going anywhere."
It took a minute, I think, for that to sink into his brain, past all of the stuff I imagine he's got packed in there, the stuff he doesn't talk about. "But..."
He blinked. A slow smile spread across his face. He knows me. He knows I don't make promises lightly. When I give my word, I follow through. I had every intention of following this through. "Yeah?"
I smiled back. "Yeah, kid."
When he rolled his still-bright eyes at the moniker, I knew he'd be all right. Not that this was over. Not by a long shot. I figured he'd still be needing lots of reminding. But that was okay. Reminders I can do. I couldn't fix what happened with his brother, but I could let him know it wouldn't happen again. Not with me. "Well, what if I set fire to your kitchen?" he asked, eyes sparkling.
"Not going anywhere," I assured.
"How about if I dropped your George Washington button collection deal in the Hudson?"
"Then I'd be taking you diving a lot sooner than I'd planned."
"Well, what if...what if I screwed something up royally, and you...you got hurt or something? Free walk-away rights right there." He looked at me, biting his lip, waiting for my answer, unable to quite pull off his I could care less face.
I reached out and squeezed the back of his neck, looking straight into his eyes so he'd know I was serious. "Then I guess I'd be taking you diving a little later than I'd planned."
He grinned, and I let go, unable to resist ruffling up his hair. He rolled his eyes again. "You're serious?" he asked.
"Okay," he said, nodding. "I believe you. Ben. Good night."
I was only slightly surprised by trust he handed me so easily. We'd been working on that trust for awhile. Apparently we'd made more progress than I thought. But that was my cue. He was going to be okay, he wasn't a fan of all this mushy stuff, and he actually wanted to sleep. I stood, making my way to switch off the light. "'Night, Riley." Come to think of it, I was exhausted myself. Concussions. Not only do they hurt. They suck the energy right of you.
As I laid down beneath the over-starched sheets, I breathed a contented sigh. Just before my eyes drifted shut, I heard it. "Ben?"
"Are we really going diving?"
"Oh." A pause. I closed my eyes. "Ben?"
"There aren't going to be, like, sharks or jellyfish or anything down there, right?"
I think I groaned.
I stood in the hotel room, trying to fold a t-shirt one-handed. It wasn't exactly working out. Then I realized I really could've cared less if my t-shirt was folded, and I tossed it into my duffel bag. It had been three days since the hold up. Me and Ben had been released from the hospital with all those hospital-type instructions about resting and recouping, and blah, blah, blah. Then it was a couple days of "This happened, then this happened" and "That one did this, and this one did that" with the police. They did find the bullet that went through my arm, though, and David, the one really nice officer, said he'd mail it to me when they were done with their investigation. Which was cool. In a creepy, disgusting kind of way.
But we were leaving today, for which I was most grateful. I was done with New York. Too many gunshot wounds for my taste.
But aside from the pain and the constant going over and over what happened with the police, the past couple days had been kinda nice. Abi fussed all over me, trying to look like she wasn't fussing all over me. If I winced she'd be practically jumping out of her seat, worrying over my meds and if I'd taken the right dose, and if the doctors had given me the right prescription and on and on. Then she'd say something like, "You're a mess, Riley," then she'd stick out her tongue at me, and then she'd go buy me churros. It was all very confusing and very entertaining. I found out I really like churros, though.
Then there was Ben. I really don't get that guy sometimes. He's like a...best friend, bodyguard, and surrogate big brother all rolled up into one. It's crazy weird for me sometimes, because I've been trying to convince myself since the day Rick left that I don't really need any of those things. And then here comes Ben, and it's like he's determined to prove me wrong there. Like he's going to give me exactly what I need regardless of whether or not I think I need it. These past couple days he just about annoyed the heck out of me. He's just as mother hen-ish as Abi, except he usually tries to be a little more covert about it. But I gotta admit, most of my complaining about it was just for show.
I finished zipping up my duffel, looking around to see if I'd forgotten anything. Nope. I was ready. I stepped up to the window and looked out over the city. It was...big. And gray. And kinda depressing. I stepped right up to the window and leaned forward, putting my forehead on the glass. The room was thirty-three stories up, so it was dizzyingly high, and I got that weird, I-could-fall-at-any-time feeling. This is bar none, the best way to look out a big window from high up.
I heard the door open. I didn't move though. I was pretty sure I knew who it was. I was proven right as as a familiar pair of Dockers stepped up into my line of sight, and I heard his forehead hit the glass next to me. I grinned.
"Enjoying the view?" Ben asked.
"Yep. Abi ready to go?"
"Waiting downstairs for us."
"Oh yeah. There she goes." I pointed. "Is that her?" A little tiny blonde with a little tiny head was standing on the sidewalk next to a bellhop waiting with one of those bag carts.
"I don't know," he said. "I can't..." The little tiny blonde apparently said something to the bellhop, and the man started removing the bags from the cart and restacking them. Ben and I rolled our eyes toward each other and grinned. "It's her."
He pushed back from the window. "Hey, I got you something."
My favorite words ever. I stood up straight. "Yeah? What is it?"
He scooped up a paper sack and held it out to me. "Something better than an 'I heart New York' t-shirt."
I snatched the sack and set it on the bed, trying to tear through it one-handed. "You didn't seriously."
He just grinned. Oh my gosh. He freaking did!
I watched his face light up as he finally managed to pull the jacket out of the bag. He held it up. It was probably at least a size or two too big, but that didn't matter. He looked at me. "You got me an NYPD jacket?"
"Actually, all I did was make a call. David got you the jacket."
"That guy rocks! Thanks, Ben." He tried to put it on. Not a good move for a guy with his arm in a sling who wasn't particularly coordinated in the first place. I knew better than to offer to help, however. Try convincing an irritated Riley Poole he needs help getting dressed in the morning. I did. Two days ago. He threw a coffee mug.
"Well, you are the hero of the hour," I said. He snorted like I'd told a joke he found particularly lame. The news story the media had done on the hold up had made him the hero. His cell hadn't stopped ringing since the incident. Everyone wanted interviews. The way I saw it, he really was the hero. If he hadn't done what he did, we might not have gotten out of there. I'd told him as much. He'd changed the subject.
He managed to get into the jacket with minimal hisses and "ow"s, and he went over to the dresser mirror to check it out. "Sweet," he said. "I can't believe you actually did this." He looked happy, genuinely grateful. I'd watched him these last couple days, realized how much of that heartbroken kid who'd watched his hero walk away was still left in him. I don't know Rick Poole. I don't know what he'd gone through. I don't know what had been going on in his head. But I'd be lying if I said I've forgiven him. I couldn't imagine walking out on that kid. It made my blood boil thinking about it.
"Do I look like Joe Friday?" he asked, turning around in front of the mirror, and cranning his neck to see the yellow letters on the back of the navy windbreaker.
I looked at him. "Dragnet was in Los Angeles, Riley."
"Whatever. It's cool, though, right?"
"Way cool." I shouldered his bag. "You ready to go home?"
"Yeah." He smiled softly, an uncharacteristically open smile. As he walked past, he suddenly reached out and gave me a quick, awkward, one-armed hug. He pulled back looking embarassed.
I tilted my head to the side, grinning at him. "What was that for? It's just a jacket."
When he looked up at me, he grinned, mimicking my words from the other night. "It wasn't the jacket."
I nodded. I got it. He suddenly shifted uncomfortably. "Well, come on. We better go rescue that bellhop. If he hasn't strangled Abi with the shoulder strap of her purse, you should probably give him a big tip."
I laughed. "You two are horrible with each other."
"We're supposed to be horrible with each other. She's my best friend's wife. I'm her husband's best friend...this is how our relationship is supposed to be."
"You love each other," I said. Those two fought like brother and sister. But in the end it was because they were like brother and sister.
"Of course we do. Doi. She bought me churros."
"Come on," I laughed.
"You know," he said thoughtfully. "I never figured I'd get landed with a best friend who can name off all the Presidents' favorite meals, but thought a Blackberry was a fruit pie."
"Yeah, well. I never thought my best friend would wind up being a kid whose ideal woman is the redhead from Mythbusters." The mock glare and the elbow that embedded itself into my ribs didn't come as a surprise. Careful of his wounded arm, I draped an arm across the shoulders of my adopted little brother.
"You're hilarious, Ben. Freaking hilarious."
A/N: Well, that's the end of this baby. Hope it was satisfying enough for you, dear readers! If you have anything you want to see in another story or if you want to see more on Rick and that whole deal, please share, and I'll see what pops into my head. I would give you guys an idea of what I might write next, but we all know how wonderfully my predictions turn out (did you catch the sarcasm there?). So until next time! Blessings!