A/N: Finally! Gasp! This chappie took forever to write! The fact that I had no time to write probably didn't help matters much. But anyways, so sorry to those of you who wrote beautifully awesome reviews and didn't get replies. Crazy. Ness. But I figured you'd want another chapter before you'd want me hurling gratefulness at your feet, so while I'm still mentally hurling (wait, that sounds gross), here's the next chapter. I'll so try to reply to you guys this time!
Footsteps sounded behind him. He didn't know who it was or what they wanted, but somehow he knew if he stuck around to find out, he'd be dead. So he ran, pushing rubbery legs to a dead sprint, pulse pounding, lungs convulsing, struggling to bring oxygen to weakening muscles. He couldn't see anything. Everything was dark, no lights, the cursed footsteps closing in on him the only sound reaching his straining ears. Suddenly he was falling. He could feel his mouth open, feel his vocal cords tightening, but still the only sound was the footsteps. He was on the ground. And a light lit up one thing. Rick. He was being hit over and over again by monsters, body mostly concealed by the gang of giants circled around him.
"Help him, Riley." He looked up. It was Ben. Just staring at him. "Help him. Why won't you help him?"
Riley was trying. But he couldn't move. Couldn't get there. Tried to scream. His voice still wouldn't work. Then the monsters were gone and Riley was standing next to his brother's body. Only there were no bruises. Only the hole in his abdomen, crimson blood in stark contrast with a ghostly white face.
"Rick." He'd meant to shout it, but it came out a whisper.
Riley turned back to Ben. "He's dead, Riley." Only it wasn't Ben anymore. It was Uncle Samuel. "You killed him. Like you killed me."
"No!" Suddenly his voice was back.
"Look at your hand." Riley looked down. His hand held the pistol. "Why did you do it, Riley?"
"No! No! Rick! I'm sorry!"
Lifeless eyes slid open. "Riley."
Riley bolted awake with a shout, jerking himself up so quickly the chair he'd been sitting in fell backwards. Riley was backing away, eyes darting around to find something solid to ground him. They finally landed on his brother, mind begging him to confirm that Rick was still there, still alive, still breathing. What he saw made his legs nearly go out, and he had to reach out and grab onto the nearby windowsill to steady himself. Rick's eyes were open.
"Hey, Riley, calm down. You're okay. You're safe." Open and full of concern and caring that he really didn't deserve.
"Rick! I...you're awake. Are you..."
"I'm fine. Promise. Come here."
Riley could only shake his head. "I...I should call somebody. A nurse or...someone. Where's Ben? Ben'll know..."
"Hey. Take it easy. A doctor was already in here. Everything's as it should be. Ben stepped out to get something to eat."
Riley swallowed. "Oh." He didn't move.
"That sounded like a crappy dream."
He jumped. "What? Oh. Was I talking? Um, I probably really should get someone. You probably need something. I'll...get it." He backed his way to the door.
"I need something." The words froze Riley in his tracks.
"What? What is it?" His voice came out almost panicked.Rick motioned him over. Riley stepped warily up to the bed, looking painfully conscious of the monitors and IV, his composure slipping a little. "What do you need?" he whispered. Without a word, Rick reached out and snagged his wrist, tugging him slowly closer. "Wh-what are you doing?" Riley asked nervously.
"Shh. Come here. I just...I need this for a minute."
Riley stopped himself from moving any closer, shaking his head. "I might hurt you or pull something out or...or mess something up."
"You're not going to mess anything up. You never have. We're fine, kid. You and me, we're okay. Right?"
Throat tightening, Riley could only nod as he was pulled into a hug. Riley stiffened, barely touching Rick, even as his older brother's arms completely encircled him. Riley's breathing quickened as he struggled to hold his emotions inside. It would be way too easy for it all to come spilling out now. Way too easy, and way too dangerous. Rick said they were okay. Riley really wanted that to last as long as it possibly could, and if he let all his pent up feelings just come all tumbling out now, Rick would realize a lot quicker how pathetic he was. The longer Rick didn't know how pathetic he was, the longer he'd probably stick around.
Rick squeezed him gently. "Hey. You all right, little brother?"
Riley clamped his eyes shut. That so wasn't fair. He couldn't just waltz in here and be all big bother exactly like Riley had wanted since he was eleven. Not the time, Riley. He's hurt and medicated and...
And no amount of logic or fear had any chance of defeating that tone from his big brother. "I'm sorry, Rick. I'm so sorry. I don't hate you. I really, really don't hate you. I was mad, and I didn't know what was going on, and I thought...ugh, I believed him, Rick! The stuff he said about you, and then when Ben was hit...But why would I believe Deacon? And I'm sorry about you and Uncle Samuel and Deacon and Mom, and finding the treasure and getting Uncle Samuel killed and getting you shot. And I'm just so so sorry." Riley was mortified as his voice broke over the rushed whispers. "I didn't mean for any of it to happen. I didn't want..."
"Hey, hey. Buddy, come on. None of that was your fault."
"Yes, it was," Riley insisted. "It all was. Deacon said so. Uncle Samuel died protecting me. And you...you came way too close. You got shot, Rick!"
"I'm fine. Listen to me, Riley. Yeah, this whole thing sucks. I would do anything to be able to go back and change how things happened. I would've given anything to be able to be there for you growing up. But I couldn't. I left you alone. With Mom. Knowing every moment what you were living through, and not being able to do a thing to stop it. Knowing you were eleven and left with no choice but to take care of a woman who was mostly too high to care what happened to you, and knowing you'd still take care of her no matter what she did." The pain in his voice was all too obvious. "And yeah, I really blamed myself for that."
Riley shook his head. "That wasn't..."
"My fault. I know. I get that now. It was Deacon's. Just like everything else. If I don't get to blame me for leaving you behind, you definitely don't get to blame you for all the crap you couldn't control. Right?"
Riley took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. At the same time, both brothers decided, "I hate that guy."
A small smile touched Riley's lips as Rick let out half a laugh. Riley raised his head to look at his brother. "I really am sorry, though."
"I believe you," he said, unintentionally echoing Ben's words from earlier. "I'm sorry, too. But we're both going to have to get over feeling guilty. You mad at me?"
"Am I mad at you?"
"Right. So know what we do now?"
Rick Poole smiled as he felt his brother relax slightly. "Whatever the heck we want. It's over, Riley. It's all over. I don't have to hide; you don't have to run. It's done, and we came out okay."
As Riley relaxed, still conscious of the stitches on Rick's right side. His head wound up close enough to Rick's heart for him to hear it beating. Strong and steady. Every lub with its dup. He grinned, feeling a lot of the weight that had settled around his chest start to loosen up. "We did, didn't we? Hm. Weird for us."
"Says the man who stumbled his way onto the greatest treasure in the history of mankind."
"That was mostly Ben."
"Daylight Savings Time."
"Yeah, that was so me."
"Ben told me. Plus I read all your Uncle Samuel letters. I, ah, wrote some of them, too."
"Seriously? So some of the letters that were from him were really from you?"
"Yeah. That's probably weird. Writing letters posing as a sixty-nine year old man."
"Psh, that's nothing. You know that Ben Franklin wrote letters to his brother's newspaper posing as a middle-aged widow? When he was like fifteen. How awkward is that?"
Rick shot him a funny look. "And you know this because?"
Riley shrugged. "Because Ben Franklin Gates is Indiana Jones U.S. history style, and he lectures all the time."
"I do not lecture all the time," Ben protested as he entered the room, carrying a couple bags of takeout.
Riley stood and shot him a look. "At your wedding during your vows, you likened you and Abi's relationship to the American Revolution."
"It was a metaphor, and it was deep. Abigail liked it."
"Abigail thought it was romantic when you dropped her for a piece of paper." Arms were crossed, smirk firmly in place.
Before Ben could get really indignant about the Declaration of Independence being referred to as "a piece of paper," Rick interrupted. "So they tell you when I can get out of here or what?"
With a glare at the youngest Poole, Ben answered Rick's question. "Doctor said probably three or four more days before you're released with obvious restrictions."
"No marathons, huh?"
"Not for at least thirty minutes after you eat. Or something like that," Ben replied with a grin, setting the bags down on the bedside table. He pointed at Riley. "You. In the hall. Now."
Riley blinked and shot a nervous look toward his brother. Rick shrugged, offering absolutely no help whatsoever. "Sounds like you're in trouble to me."
With a thankless smirk in Rick's direction, Riley followed Ben out into the hall. As soon as they were out of earshot from Rick, Ben turned around to face him. Riley tried to preempt him. "Look, I was just kidding about the Declaration thing. Foundation of our government, I get it..." He was cut off as Ben grabbed him by the front of the shirt and pressed him up against the wall. "Whoa, Ben, seriously, I was kidding!"
"Good," the older man's serious face split into a grin. "So was I." He patted the younger man's face and released him. "Just wanted to see that look."
Riley let out an indignant huff. "Geeze. Give a guy a heart attack. What are we doing out here?"
"You and Rick seem to be okay. You guys talk?"
Riley gave a soft smile. "Yeah. I called him a dumb head, and he gave me a noogie. You know. Brother stuff. We're pretty much back to normal."
Ben smirked. "Good. 'Cause you know he gets out of here in a few days, and I figured it would probably be better for him to recover somewhere that...wasn't here. Away from all this, you know?"
"I was thinking the same thing. And I know I have responsibilities and stuff with you and Abi and all the museums and the historical societies and stuff about the treasure, but Ben, I have to make sure he's going to be okay. I mean, I just got him shot. I figure I'll take him to the coast, maybe find a condo or something I can rent for awhile. That way he can recover, and I can make sure he recovers right, and he won't have to think about any of this stuff. I'm sorry. I know I'm kinda bailing out on you, but if you have any presentations or anything you need, you can e-mail them to me, and I can get them done for you."
Ben was nodding. "So you have this all figured out, then?"
Riley nodded uncomfortably. "And...I mean, if you or Abi want to take a vacation or something, maybe your dad wants to get away...um, I can get a place with plenty of room. So...while we don't exactly have a fleet of private jets," he sent a pointed look toward the older man who didn't even bother rolling his eyes, "first class is almost as good. If you've got the time or something. I wouldn't...I mean, Rick likes you, and we'd probably drive each other crazy just us all the time. So, if you want..."
"Come visit you?" Ben supplied helpfully, when it appeared Riley might never actually get around to saying it.
Riley nodded gratefully. "If you want."
"I don't think that'll work out. Schedule conflicts, you know."
The younger man's face fell. He shoved his hands in his pockets, trying to rid his face of the obvious disappointment. "Oh. Yeah. I get it. Well, the offer's on the table for whenever. I don't know how long he'll be..."
"I have a better idea, though."
"Why don't you guys just come home?"
Riley's eyebrows creased, before blue eyes widened. "You mean...Ben, it's your house. I couldn't..."
"You live there. Your house."
"But this is a family thing, and he's my brother, and things are kind of screwed up..."
"I know. Which is why you should come home. We'll deal with this family thing as a family."
Riley didn't know what to say. They were a family, weren't they? Ben had been the big brother he needed through everything. Abi was his perfect big sister. Patrick was the father he'd never had. He nodded slowly. "Okay," Riley said softly. "Let's go home."
"Good, it's settled. Now come on. I'm starving."
"What'd you get?"
Abigail Gates sat stirring a cup of tea, feet tucked up under her as she leaned back into the cushions of her favorite over-stuffed chair, enjoying the silence. Her husband walked in and slowly lowered himself onto the sofa beside her chair, stretching out long legs and heaving a contented sigh, looking altogether pleased with himself. It had been a week since Rick Poole had moved into the guest room just down the hall, and so far the young man had proved the worst patient imaginable, second only to his younger brother who had suddenly turned more mother hen than he could ever accuse Ben of being.
"Rick asleep?" Abi asked.
Ben grinned. "When I left, Riley was all but fluffing his pillows while simultaneously worrying about Rick's meds, his appetite, his sleep, and whether or not the incision was healing the way it was supposed to, and 'should we elevate his feet?' or 'maybe his legs.' To which Rick graciously replied that Riley was being a 'Nurse Nazi' and clocked him with a pillow."
Abi giggled, knowing the exact look that would be on Riley's face. One of complete, hilarious, horrified insult. "What did Riley do?"
"He, ah, promised to seriously maim him once he was recovered. I think he mentioned something about having a really cool computer and for Rick to watch out for some serious identity theft."
"Aha," she laughed. "Sounds like our Riley." She reached out and took his hand, rubbing her thumb over the back. He smiled at her. "You know, you look happy."
"I am happy," he said simply.
"Are treasure hunters supposed to be happy and content? Shouldn't you be obsessing over some new treasure?" Her tone was lightly teasing.
"Oh, I'm sure my treasure hunting days are far from over. But now, right now..." He pulled her up from the chair by the hand he held and guided her onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her. "Right now I'm pretty happy being a treasure protector." His real treasure was right there in his house. And he felt honored by his role as protector.
Abigail leaned her head back on his shoulder, smiling softly. "You must be tired. You're never this introspective when you're awake."
He laughed and kissed the side of her head. "You...are probably right. How about you. You happy, Mrs. Gates?"
"Very happy, Mr. Gates. Rick is a sweet man. Riley adores him."
"Mmhm. He's a good guy. They're way too alike, those two. Probably going to drive us crazy."
"If that idea really bothered you, you wouldn't have gone off and adopted another Poole," Abi said lightly. She turned and kissed him on the lips. "I'm going to bed. You coming?"
"I'll be up in a minute."
She stood and nodded. "Okay."
He sat for a while after she'd gone up, listening to the quiet of the historic mansion, the little creaks and cracks, the unique life of the place. He smiled and levered himself out of the chair. As he headed for the stairs, he thought he heard something in the kitchen. He followed the sound and stopped in the entryway of the kitchen, leaning against the wall, watching a jammy-clad Riley standing on a chair unscrewing the vent on the wall above the cabinets. Intrigued, he watched as the younger man, reached into the vent and pulled out...a bag of frosted animal crackers...with sprinkles.
"You know that's how people end up with mice."
Riley jumped, nearly falling off the chair. He tried to cover a sheepish look with one of indignation. "Okay. Didn't realize I was living with a ninja. Next time you sneak up behind me, you mind giving me a little warning first?"
"What are you doing?"
"Late night snack." Ben kept giving him the same, you-know-what-I'm-asking look, until the younger man caved into giving him a better answer. "Abi kept stealing 'em. What was I supposed to do?"
Ben smirked and reached into the bag, seizing one of the frosting-covered treats and popping it into his mouth. He thought about telling his friend that it wasn't Abi that had been stealing the animal crackers. It was Ben. But now that he knew where the kid was hiding them, he saw no particular reason to reveal his newly-found secret addiction. Riley had been right about those things. Sweet ambrosia.
"You're not going to tell her where I'm keeping them, are you?"
Ben held up his hand. "Scout's honor. Not a word."
Heaving a relieved sigh, Riley hopped down from atop the chair, leaning against the counter. "Thanks. You going to bed?"
"In a bit. How you doing?"
"Fine." There was an uncharacteristic moment of awkward silence. The call had come that day. Riley had said he'd expected it; that it was no big deal. The stricken look on his face said he was lying. His mother. Deacon's funeral had been that afternoon. The fact that the man was a murderer, that in that folder there were pictures of Deacon at a drug deal that had gone notoriously wrong and directions to a gunsafe in Deacon's home that would contain the murder weapon, that he had torn their family apart, those were facts that hadn't quite permeated her mind. The fact that he was dead and she no longer had access to the "medicine" her body craved, that was what her mind zeroed in on. Ben didn't know exactly what words were spoken. Riley wouldn't say, had insisted Ben not mention it to Rick or Abi. But trembling hands and a mumbled excuse as he all but fled out the door were more than enough to prove that woman had wounded him deeply. He remembered that day at the funeral, when she had hit him. That made Ben really mad.
"Ben. I'm okay. Everything's okay. I have animal crackers. Things can't be not okay with animal crackers. They're so...happy."
"Your mother was..."
"And everything has to be okay because you're...here. And you don't let things be not okay. Ever. It's part of your...youness."
Ben crinkled his brow as Riley studiously stuffed his mouth with the animal crackers, not looking at him. "That so?"
"Yeah. And sometimes it's really annoying."
Ben felt himself shaking his head and smiling at the image Riley presented, cheeks full of cookies, pretending to study the clown on the circus-themed bag because heaven forbid he should look at his friend and share something he was feeling. "Well, sorry for the inconvenience."
Blue eyes finally raised to meet brown. "Thank you, you know. For everything. Not letting things not be okay. And...being there when things really weren't okay. You...I don't know...You've been my family for a long time. Even though I didn't really get it 'til this last week."
"You were out of practice."
"Psh, yeah. I know. But seriously. Thanks."
There was a moment of silence that was way more comfortable than awkward, and then Riley pushed off the counter. "Well, I'm going to bed. See you in the morning. I vote you make waffles."
"We'll see. Hey," he said as Riley turned left toward Rick's room instead of right toward the stairs. "You know he's getting more mobile every day."
"And you said he's slept all through the night these past three nights." The first few, Rick had awakened in the night in serious need of his pain meds.
"So wouldn't you be more comfortable in your bed instead of on the floor in his room tonight?"
Riley simply shook his head. "If it were me, where would you sleep?"
Ben felt his chest swell with pride at the question, knowing there had to be ridiculously goofy smile growing on his face and not really caring. A week ago, Ben knew, Riley wouldn't have thought to ask that question. And if he had, the younger man would've automatically assumed Ben couldn't or, more accurately, shouldn't be bothered with him. But sometime in the last several days, the kid had finally figured it out. This was his home. This was his family. "Make sure you grab an extra blanket."
Riley smiled. A real, genuine, beautiful smile. "Yeah. Night."
"Good night." He realized Riley was walking away with the bag of animal crackers. "Hey, aren't you going to...put those back? In the vent?"
With a way too snarky look on his face, Riley said innocently, "Ben, that's how people get mice."
A/N: Mmkay, was that satisfying enough? I think I tied everything up, but if I missed something really obvious, please tell me. Wow. And thanks all of you who stuck with me through this whole darn thing. I really hated this sucker sometimes, but all your encouragement kept bringing me back to it and wrestling into submission...which I think might be a pun if you look hard enough. Anyway, happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Even if I am a day late. ;)