A/N: You may want to read "Hold Up" first. That's all I'm saying.
Disclaimer: Why would I write fanfiction if I owned the movie? Wouldn't I just like...write another movie?
Ben couldn't believe the intense emotions that poured over him as the object of his search came into view. Riley sat with elbows on his knees, head down, an old backpack at his feet. With earphones in his ears, he seemed completely oblivious to the bustling terminal around him. Ben wasn't sure if he wanted to hug him or smack him. The guy looked so incredibly clueless. The note Ben had found on the kitchen table that morning burned a hole in his pocket. He was not impressed. He marched up to stand directly in front of the little nightmare, waiting impatiently as the younger man registered that someone was there. Blue eyes slowly raised to meet his own. They widened slightly. "Ben, what are you doing here?"
The thoughtless, downright innocent question was too much to handle. Jaw stiffening, Ben yanked Riley up by the arm, attracting several stares, and walked him over to stand next to the payphones for some semblance of privacy.
"Ow, Ben, what the heck?" Riley protested. A glare from Ben silenced him.
Ben's voice was low as he asked slowly, "What in the world are you thinking?"
"Same question for 200," Riley retorted, wrenching his arm from Ben's grasp with an indignant huff.
"I've just spent the last three hours looking for you. You didn't even leave your cell phone on!"
"I didn't want to talk to you."
The brazenly spoken answer made Ben freeze for a moment. "What?"
Riley sent a self-conscious look around the terminal. "Ben, I hate it when you do this."
"Do what?" Ben demanded.
"This," he insisted. "What's your problem? I left you a very polite note. I told you I needed to go out of town for a few days or so. Should have known you'd freak out and ask a million questions. Well, I don't particularly feel like answering them right now, and contrary to what you may think, I am an adult, and if I want to do something on my own, you have no right to try to stop me. This has nothing to do with you. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back and sit with my bag before I get tossed out or arrested or tackled or whatever horrible things the airport police do to people for 'leaving baggage unattended.'" He moved to walk away, but Ben stepped in front of him, physically blocking his path.
"Riley, you don't just walk out of town without telling your family where you're going."
Ben watched Riley flinch the slightest bit at the word "family," but he quickly recovered. "I'm not walking," he said smartly. "I'm flying."
"Not funny. Something's going on with you, Riley. I want to know what it is. You don't take off like this."
Riley held up his hands. "I just have stuff I need to take care of, okay? Look, if this is about that presentation you needed for next week, it's done. I saved it on you computer. It's under..."
"Riley," Ben said firmly. The younger man wouldn't look at him. Ben reached out and lifted Riley's chin. Riley slapped his hand away, shooting him an offended look as he finally met his eyes. "What's wrong?" He held Riley's gaze, knowing his friend would be able to see every bit of concern and worry that he felt.
Riley glared back defiantly, and for a long moment, Ben was certain he wouldn't answer. But Riley must've read something in his eyes because suddenly his gaze faltered, and he looked down at the floor, sucking in a breath through his nose. "I just...have to go home for a few days," he told the floor reluctantly. "My uncle died."
Ben's eyebrows shot up, and for a minute, he had no idea what to say. He didn't even know Riley had an uncle. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked softly. It might've been a selfish question. But it did hurt that Riley hadn't told him. He was supposed to be the kid's best friend. And here he was hurting, dealing with a loss all on his own, and he didn't think to let Ben in on the situation.
Riley gave a quiet shrug, chewing his bottom lip. "I don't..." He gave a weary sigh and ran his hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, okay? Look, can we not talk about this? Um, I have a plane to catch in a little bit, so...sorry you had to waste all that time looking for me. Next time I'll leave a better note. Have a good week, Ben. I'll e-mail you later or something."
Ben wasn't sure if Riley had just assumed he wouldn't care or didn't want to find out one way or the other. Either option cut him deep. But this wasn't about Ben. "You and your uncle, were you close?"
Riley grimaced, a spark of real grief flashing across his face. "Yeah. Can we not talk about that, either?"
Ben nodded, a sad, ironic smile touching his lips. Riley could whine for months about a splinter, cry bloody murder about a paper cut, but when he hurt, really hurt, he held it in close. Wouldn't let anyone in far enough to see. Not even his best friend. And Ben had had enough. "You got it. We'll talk later, huh?"
Riley looked visibly relieved at being let off the hook so easily. "Sure." This word, Ben knew, also could've been translated, "Maybe sometime after you can fluently speak binary and I'm elected dictator of the world."
Ben clapped him on the shoulder. "Great." He pulled Riley's ticket out of the younger man's jacket pocket and looked it over. He slipped it back in and patted the pocket. "Don't lose that, now."
Riley nodded dutifully, obviously chalking the darn-near-offensively-condescending comment up to another one of Ben's overprotective moments, though he probably wouldn't have if he hadn't been thrilled with the idea that the man was actually going to let this one go. Of course that didn't mean he could hold off on one snarky comment. "Yes, Dad. Sure you don't want to pin my name to my jacket?" Or did that count as two snarky comments? Either way.
"Nah. I doubt anyone would believe that's your real name." Before Riley could fire a comeback, Ben pulled him into a brief hug. Pushing him back, he said. "Have a good flight. See you soon."
A little thrown by the sudden display of affection, Riley stammered a "Sure, Ben."
"Next time leave your cell phone on," he instructed as he turned to walk away. He couldn't resist throwing over his shoulder, "And don't talk to strangers."
"I just hope you remembered where you parked the car, old man."
Riley sat in the extra-wide, well-padded seat. The usual joy of flying first class, in a window seat even, was lost on him as he sat quietly observing the other passengers. Across the aisle, a man in a pair of jeans and a name-brand t-shirt sat talking to his wife over the head of their six-year-old about their impending vacation. In front of him, a woman in a suit made casual conversation with a friend in the seat next to her about some convention or another. The air was abuzz with unspoken pre-flight jitters and destination-driven excitement. Riley was a little jealous. He liked to fly. He didn't particularly enjoy flying alone.
A sudden wave of loneliness surprised the heck out of him, and a small part of him wished he hadn't been so quick to chase Ben off. Don't be stupid, he told himself. What did he expect? He knew Ben would've waited with him if he'd asked. That was just Ben. But honestly, Ben had this way of making him spill his guts, and well, that'd be gross. It was probably better the older man had taken off early. What was he thinking? Of course it was better. It was exactly what he wanted. So why in the world was he feeling so...abandoned?
But that wouldn't make any sense. Probably nothing more than a side effect from the unexpected phone call he'd gotten the night before. His mom. Samuel was dead. She might as well have taken a sledge to his gut. He knew he was probably still reeling. He'd tried to convince himself that the idea of going home didn't terrify him. Hadn't worked so far, but there was always hope, right? On second thought, he was really, really glad Ben wasn't there. Not that he wouldn't welcome the guy's company. But with circumstances as they were, no way did he want his best friend getting a glimpse into the secret world of Riley Poole. But still...
He shook his head and cranked up the volume on his iPod, turning his head to stare out the window. He hoped he didn't end up sitting next to a talker. Normally, Riley made all kinds of interesting friends on flights. Like that rubber salesman from Toledo or the professional La-z-boy recliner tester he'd met on a trip to Nevada. But today he wasn't really in a talky mood. Any levity he had left in him after the sucker-punch phone call had been brutally ripped away with the luggage compartment fiasco. He made a mental note to grow about two feet before he ever attempted flying again. What was really embarassing was the six-foot-something gorgeous blonde who ended up coming to his rescue after maybe the eighth time his back pack had fallen on his head. He'd had to stand aside like an idiot as she stowed his bag. Woman made it look so easy. This really wasn't his day. With any luck, though, whoever was going to occupy the seat next to his would have a blessedly ginormous book they needed to have read by the end of the flight. In any case, he tried to put out all the right don't-talk-to-me vibes. Earphonesplanted firmly in ears: check. Gaze averted: check. Uninterested look pasted on face: check.
He felt rather than saw someone sit next to him. Riley resisted the urge to turn and look at the stranger. Eye contact could be misinterpreted as an invitation to chat. He thought he heard the person say something, but he wasn't sure over his music. He decided it'd be safer to ignore it. Then the person nudged his shoulder. Annoyed, Riley shifted his eyes to glare at the stranger. And they nearly popped out of his head. He fumbled his earphones out of his ears as he stammered, "Ben?"
His friend merely returned his gaze and pointed innocently at the panel over their heads. "Seatbelt light's on."