"To Do What He Knew Was Right"
"A man has only one life time. But history can remember you forever."
The sanctuary, which had been silent as of three hours ago, was now teeming with life. Whispers echoed off the wooden walls of Trinity Church, making the smallest sound seem significant. The muffled rumble of traffic on Broadway could also be heard, every so often making the stained glass windows above the large pipe organ shift in their mounts. The pews on both sides of the altar were filled with people; Abigail had a large enough family to make up for the lack of blood on Ben's side. Excitement was widespread throughout the members of both families, almost to be point of being contagious. However, there were two people in the church that morning that seemed to be unaffected; in addition, the excitement of others seemed to be putting the two even more on edge than they already were.
Benjamin Franklin Gates had been getting increasingly more nervous about the Big Day ever since about two months ago, when Abigail had picked out her wedding dress. At that point, he hadn't been sure exactly why he was nervous – he had been told that all members of the wedding party were nervous before the Big Event – all he knew was that he was. Now, on the day of the wedding, his jitters had reached an all time high; so much so that he had noticed his hand shaking earlier that morning. Despite being anxious enough to make himself shake, Ben wasn't the worst off of the group.
Believe it or not, the Best Man was even more nervous than the groom, if that was possible. Riley Poole had been anxious ever since waking up that morning, a feeling of complete dread hanging over him. Those first couple of steps out of bed felt like his last on the earth, like a man sentenced to death trudging the last couple of feet to the gallows. He had dressed in his tux silently, the lack of music playing in his apartment as conspicuous as the volume at which it normally played. The last things to go on were his Converses, at which he had looked solemnly for a few seconds before putting on. They had been a gift from Ben after writing the computer program to find the Charlotte. He had then straightened his bow tie in the mirror, grabbed his keys from the table in the foyer downstairs, and headed out the door. After all, he didn't want to be late to his best friend's wedding.
The wedding's rehearsal dinner had been yesterday, so there hadn't been much for the people involved to do that morning. The bride and groom, along with the best man and bridesmaids, arrived at Trinity an hour early in order to make sure that all preparations had been carried out. As the family had hoped, everything had gone according to plan, and before everyone knew it, "Here Comes the Bride" was echoing off the walls in the aged cathedral. Abigail had chosen a beautiful gown complete with long veil and train, and everyone attending would agree that she looked spectacular. As she walked slowly down the aisle, her eyes were for Ben only and his for her.
Riley looked back and forth between Ben and Abigail as the latter approached the altar. Ben looked very handsome in his tuxedo (he had finally found a legitimate place in which to wear it); he was the picture of perfection, the 'Mr. Right' that every girl dreamed of finding. Pulling at the cuffs of his tux, Riley tore his gaze away from his best friend, turning to face the priest who would be conducting the service. He was an older gentleman, one who did not have the gift of keeping one entertained with words, and before he realized it, Riley had zoned out. (He was hearing the words of the service, still completely awake, but not taking in any of the meaning. Had he been paying attention, he might have noticed the quick glances he was attracting from the groom.)
Despite not paying complete attention to what was going on around him, Riley noticed something. He noticed that the longer the priest spoke, the more ill he felt. It wasn't necessarily physically ill, but in a way, it was. It was that kind of sick feeling one experiences when he or she is upset and sad to the point of self-destruction. Finally, after what seemed like eons to Riley, they arrived at the part of the service that every bride and groom hates: the place where the priest asks if anyone has a reason why the two at the altar should not be wed.
"Speak now or forever hold your peace."
Time seemed to stop for Riley Poole. He glanced over at the happy couple, looking for a reaction to those dreaded seven words. Abigail seemed terribly nervous and practically exuded anxiety, but Ben…Ben almost looked…sad. Riley smiled at his best friend, a smile for encouragement even though he himself didn't feel much like smiling at all. Ben, seeing the gesture, returned it, but it was the same type of smile Riley had given him. Riley's eyes widened. He wasn't imagining things; Ben just…didn't look the way a groom should look on his wedding day. The happiness was there on the outside, but on the inside…only sadness.
"Speak now or forever hold your peace."
Looking over at his best friend, Riley realized how much of his life had been shaped by his friendship with Ben. If it hadn't been for Ben, he probably would still be sitting in that dark, windowless cubicle in the Library of Congress, working for meager pay with little to no friends. Since that day that Ben had approached him with the offer of a treasure greater than anything previously imagined, Riley had done so many things to help him reach his goal. Ben was his best friend, his mentor…the person he was closest to in the whole world. He would go through hell and high water to help Benjamin Franklin Gates reclaim the family honor and achieve his dream.
Two Years Prior
It was cold. Actually, cold was an understatement. Riley couldn't remember ever being this cold before in his entire life. Seeing as he was in the Arctic, there was a legitimate reason for it being this cold, but that didn't make him any happier. Also, he had volunteered for this trip north of where any trees grew, but then again, he hadn't known that -18°F actually felt this bad. Riley was sitting in the back of one of the two land rovers that were steadily plowing their way across the arctic plain, pushing snow out of the way as easily as if it had been water. His computer was open on his lap, beeping at a steady pace as they rolled their way across the deserted tundra. It had taken Riley three weeks to write and test this program; after all, he didn't want to get all the way up North only to find out that his math was faulty.
Suddenly, his computer started beeping incessantly, signaling that the Charlotte was nearby. The land rovers rolled to a slow stop, and one by one the team exited the monstrous crafts. Ben stood at the head of the pack, the arctic sun glinting off his glasses as he took them off. Looking around, he motioned for them to split up. Ten minutes later, they had found her. Before the team began using the land rovers to dig the Charlotte up, Ben stood there with his right hand on the stern and remarked how beautiful she was. Shaw, who seemingly didn't share the same respect for history that Ben did, said that it was just a ship. Riley privately agreed.
It took the land rovers about an hour to dig up the Charlotte. As the team descended into the bowels of the ship and eventually the cargo hold, Riley began to notice exactly why Ben found an old hunk of wood so beautiful. The ice hung off the barrels in long spikes that glinted in the flashlight, and if you ignored the couple of dead sailors in the hold, everything seemed very peaceful. Okay, so there were some things that were (kind of) beautiful about a ship frozen in time, but there was also a great deal (like the dead men guarding a million dollar pipe) that put Riley extremely on edge. After Ben discovered a clue on the stem of the pipe, Riley found out exactly why he had been feeling on edge this whole time. The team had gone from being friends to Riley having a gun pointed in his face. This was an entirely new experience for him, and one that would be repeated many times to come. (Not that he knew it. Yet.) Twenty minutes later, he and Ben were laying in (what was left of) the Charlotte, Ian having blown her to bits with dynamite and the gunpowder from the cargo hold. Thank god Ben knew about smuggler's holds in ships.
This was the first time Riley had risked his life to help Ben follow his dream…and it sure wouldn't be the last.
"Of all the ideas that became the United States, there's a line here that's at the heart of all the others. 'But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and provide new Guards for their future security.'
Riley and Ben, exhausted, sooty, and resigned to hard times ahead, managed to return to Washington D.C. without much of a hitch. However, something had to be done to stop Ian and his men from stealing the Declaration of Independence. They couldn't just ask Ian not to (after all, they had tried that), and it was a mark of how much Riley trusted Ben that he accompanied the older man to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and eventually the National Archives. The National Archives, being a place that Riley had never visited, soon became one that he never wished to visit again. After all, the National Archives is where Ben Gates met Abigail Chase.
Upon being let in to see Miss Chase, Ben (under the false name of Paul Brown) had set out to convince her of the reality that the Declaration was in danger of being stolen. Riley didn't blame her for being skeptical, but that didn't mean that she had to insult him.
"Did Bigfoot take it?"
Leaving the National Archives, Riley could tell by looking at his best friend's face that the wheels were turning in his mind. Sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Ben came up with a plan. (In Riley's mind, it was really one step short of lunacy, but after all, if Ben thought it could be done, he would go along with it.)
"I'm going to steal it. The Declaration of Independence," Ben said.
Riley just looked at his friend for a moment. It didn't look like Ben was joking, and since he wasn't laughing, the only other thing Riley could do was take him seriously (even if that wasn't such a good idea and didn't lead to good things).
"This is…huge. Prison…huge. You are gonna go to prison. You know that, right?"
"Well, that would…bother…most people."
Riley had to try really hard to keep himself from smiling. Ben Gates was the one person in the world that could talk about going to prison and make it seem like no big deal. Maybe that was one of the reasons he and Riley got along so well; both eccentric in their own way. So, despite the fact that stealing the Declaration of Independence seemed pretty much impossible, Riley couldn't refute the fact that Ben's logic as to why they had to do it was just that – logic. It made perfect sense that the only way they could protect the Declaration was to steal it. So, Riley, knowing that Ben couldn't and wouldn't succeed without him, starting trying to figure out a way to successfully steal one of the most guarded documents in United States History.
"We're more like treasure protectors."
Normally, Riley had thought that the reason he was a little more of an outcast in society was because he was so much of a computer nerd. Today, he thanked whatever god had given him the brains to mess with these kinds of electronics because, without them, he and Ben would never succeed in stealing the Declaration. In preparation, Riley had hacked into the National Archives computer-camera system via the subway (which was a fairly easy task), and recorded snippets of blank hallway so that once Ben actually managed to get in, he would get in undetected.
Gala night started out rather smoothly…so smoothly, in fact, that Riley felt that something was bound to go wrong. By the next night, after they ('they' being no longer just he and Ben, but he, Ben, and Abigail) had found the treasure, Riley realized that his gut feeling had been correct. He had been held hostage, shot at, been shot at during a car chase, bargained with that traitor Ian to help get Ben out of FBI custody, almost been hit with a very large metal wrench, been forced down a creepy tunnel under the tomb first, and almost killed multiple times. All in all, Riley's gut had been right…many more times than one. However, they had all gotten out safely…but not necessarily the way he wanted it.
Standing in front of the large house that somebody important (in Ben's mind) in history had owned at one time were Ben and Abigail, looking very happy. Not just because they had discovered the largest treasure in national history, but because, as Riley himself had put it minutes earlier, "You got the girl."
"Enjoy your spoils."
As Riley started his Ferrari Spyder 360, he realized why he had suddenly felt depressed upon talking to the two of them. Chatting with Ben had always been fun; sometimes the topics had been a bit over his head, but they were always good natured. However, that had been before Abigail had come into the picture. Seeing Ben lean over and happily kiss the blonde had caused a wave of jealousy to sweep through Riley, an emotion he hadn't felt in a long time. After making the turn out of Ben's driveway, he gunned the Ferrari, hoping the sound of the engine revving would drown out the jealousy he felt, and the emptiness in his heart.
One Year Prior
Riley had known (he wasn't quite sure, maybe it was the jealousy still talking) that Abigail would be nothing but a source of trouble for Ben. This was proven when Ben showed up at Riley's apartment, asking for a favor. Normally, if one showed up at the other's apartment, it was because one of the two had made an important discovery, or was bored, or just wanted to chat over a cup of cocoa. (Riley had been fond of cocoa since he was little.) This time, however, the reason for the visit was different. Ben explained that he and Abigail had been fighting, and that she had changed the alarm codes. He needed to get back inside to get Abigail's badge so that he could take the missing page of the John Wilkes Booth diary to be processed, to make sure there wasn't any more writing on it. Riley was perfectly capable of disabling the alarm system, that wasn't the problem. The problem was Abigail. To be honest, he had termed her the 'scary declaration lady' for a reason. When angry, she made him really nervous. The last thing he wanted was for her to walk in on him and Ben in the house when she knew Ben shouldn't be there. But, of course, Riley wouldn't turn down his friend's request for help. If Ben needed help and Riley had the answer, he would help, no more questions asked.
"We have thirty seconds to disable the alarm," Riley said, glancing quickly at Ben as they stood on his back doorstep.
"Go," Ben said as he opened the door.
Being the computer genius that he is, Riley managed to disable the alarm in no time at all. Ben, as always, seemed impressed, and expressed it with his next thought.
"You did that in fifteen seconds."
"That's why I tell people to get a dog."
And, of course, as Riley knew it would, things went wrong. The start of the hunt for the second treasure, the City of Gold, began with a fight between Ben and Abigail. Again, Riley found himself thinking that Ben would just be better off without her. He could sabotage their relationship easily – computers can do wonders in many situations – but Riley would never do that to Ben. If Ben was happy with her, then he'd let them be…and keep his unhappy feelings to himself.
"Ben, if it were you trying to convince me, you'd have less evidence and I'd already believe you by now."
At first, Riley couldn't believe it. Yes, he had written the book, but still! It seemed as if nobody (well, besides the FBI) had read his book – not even Ben – and suddenly, finding the City of Gold had to do with the President's Book, the Book of Secrets that supposedly didn't exist. Ben had managed to kidnap the President – add it to the list of felonies they'd committed; it was a miracle they hadn't been to jail yet – and find out that the answers they needed lied in the Book. The book actually existed. Riley had yet to get over that. However, time was of the essence; they needed to get to the Library of Congress before they were found by the Secret Service – kidnapping the President didn't stay a secret for long.
Getting into the Library of Congress with all of Washington D.C. on their tails was easier than expected. However, Ben, Riley, and Abigail didn't have much of a lead on Washington's finest. As Ben took pictures of the relevant pages in the President's Book of Secrets, Riley kept watch out the window.
"Oh look. My tax dollars at work, coming to arrest me."
Riley's gut, which had been screaming at him that there was trouble coming ever since the three of them had entered the Library of Congress, was once again correct. After a long car chase with the Washington D.C. police, they managed to escape (thanks to Abigail's crazy driving, and this was one situation in which Riley would not take away credit where credit was due). Their next stop, accompanied by Ben's mother and father (who made a very interesting pair, in Riley's opinion), was Mount Rushmore, the rumored location of the City of Gold.
The most recent time in which Riley had risked his life for Ben had been in the caverns under Mount Rushmore. The three of them had ended up on that 'tippy table of death,' as Riley had coined it, and in order to make it out alive, one of them had to stay on the table to counterbalance the weights of the others.
"Okay, I've been doing the math here, and…" Abigail trailed off, looking saddened while at the same time trying not to fall off the table.
"I know. One of us is going to have to stay behind."
Ben, as always when it came to situations like these, had that look in his eyes that plainly said, 'for the good of the team.' Riley, by this point in their friendship, knew the look well and wasn't going to let it happen. He'd volunteer, and even if it meant his possible death, it meant the survival of Ben and Abigail. If it would guarantee Ben's happiness and survival, that was good enough for Riley.
"Just promise you'll come back for me…I can do the math too."
Riley saw some of the normal gleam return to Ben's eyes as he nodded. Ben wouldn't let Riley take the fall; it wasn't his fault that the three of them were stuck on this tippy table in the first place. And it was a mark of their friendship, how long they had known one another that as Riley took the step back to counterbalance the weight that Ben pushed him forward, giving him no chance but to grab for the ladder hanging above the table. It left Ben last, making the worry in Riley's chest so bad (almost to the point of not being able to breathe; it might have been better if Ben had just left him for last) that he didn't leave the ledge until he could help pull Ben up to safety. Only true friends sacrifice themselves for others, and that's exactly what Ben had been thinking when he had pushed Riley out of the way and toward the cliff's edge. Riley took the action to heart as they walked together, and vowed to save him the next chance he got. Ben meant enough to him to be worth risking his life for because, after all, if he had never met Ben, where would he be now? Back in that windowless cubicle at the Library of Congress? It didn't really matter. All that mattered was that both he and Ben were safe.
Half an hour Prior
"One day, I'm going to wear this [tuxedo to a party where I'm actually invited."
Ben stood in front of the mirror, examining his reflection with a critical eye. Riley was visible in the bottom right corner of the glass; he was trying to stay out of the way, but at the same time, comfort any jitters that his best friend seemed to have. It was plain as day to Riley that Ben was nervous beyond belief; he didn't think he could remember his friend ever having this much to say, or so quickly.
"And in 1948, the British general adopted the – "
"Ben," Riley said, effectively cutting off the chatter coming from the older man. "Ian's told me to shut up many times. Now it's your turn."
Riley smiled as Ben turned to face him. He looked nervous, pale, but he was smiling, so at the moment, Riley thought he was okay. He looked stunning in the tuxedo that he finally got to wear for the right occasion (all the other parties to which it had been worn, he'd snuck into); his hair looked nice, his eyes sparkled, and the shoes were so well shone that Riley could see his reflection in them. The only problem was the bow tie. It made the younger man smile, watching Ben try and tie his bow tie, using the reflection in the mirror as a guide. Ben was on his seventh try to tie the thing, and he was getting more and more frustrated with every passing second. Finally, Riley chose to take pity on him.
"Stop, Ben. Come here."
Ben turned around and cocked an eye in Riley's direction. Riley took three steps, placing himself mere inches in front of Ben. Taking the tie in his hands (and standing slightly on his tiptoes), Riley managed to make a respectable-looking bow tie in a matter of seconds. Ben shook his head in a cross between misery and wonder, chuckling at his companion.
"Where'd you learn to do that?" Ben asked, grinning.
"My mother," Riley replied, shrugging. "She said that if you were going to grow up in Washington with the chance of going out and needing to be dressed up, you needed to learn how to tie a bow tie without asking for somebody else's help. And what can I say? It paid off."
Riley clapped Ben on the shoulder, smiling at his friend. As Ben looked back at him, eyes twinkling, it hit him like a ton of bricks coming down on top of his head. How could he not have seen it before? It was so utterly obvious, no wonder Ben's father had asked Ben what he had.
"At least I had your mother, for however brief a time," Patrick Gates had said. "And what do you have? Him?"
Had it really been that obvious? Well, obvious or not, the thought was enough to ruin Riley's day, and maybe the rest of his life. However, he couldn't let Ben or Abigail see his pain; this was their day, not his. It wasn't his place to ruin it, but still…this was one hell of a time to discover that you were in love with your best friend. Turning towards the door, Riley noticed people starting to enter the sanctuary in groups. Doing the best he could to compose a good façade of happiness, Riley turned back to face Ben, a grin on his face that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"They're heading in," Riley said, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder. "So, what d'you say, lover boy? Ready to get married?"
Riley wasn't sure, but he could have sworn that he heard Ben sigh before putting on a smile and replying.
"Speak now or forever hold your peace."
Memories had flashed through Riley's mind like a filmstrip going at warp speed. It was because of Ben that he had become the man he was today. It was also partially because of Riley that Ben was who he was. Riley had always thought that they were just friends, people that might not comprehend each other's subject of interest completely, but understand everything else well enough that it made up for it. Here Riley stood, in a tuxedo and his Converses, at the wedding of Ben Gates and Abigail Chase. Ben was getting married. Riley thought things had changed since Abigail had entered the picture; things would only get worse if the two got married. But Riley had the power to stop the wedding, to change history. All he had to do was speak up. Suddenly, something Ben had said at the Gala to Abigail two years ago came back to him.
"So…here's to the men who did what was considered wrong…to do what they knew was right."
Looking up from his Converses for the first time in what felt like eons, Riley spoke.
"I have a reason why these two should not be wed."
As Riley knew they would, all eyes were instantly trained on him. Abigail's eyes seemed to bore holes into him, but Ben's – Ben's eyes seemed to have regained the light they'd been missing all day. IT was the type of light you'd see in his eyes upon finding another clue to the treasure, or uncovering some fact that nobody else knew; it was the light of discovery, excitement, and hope. Riley looked away from Ben's gaze for what felt like the first time in minutes (in reality, it had only been thirty seconds) and locked eyes with the priest, who nodded, giving him permission to speak. Turning towards the families seated in the pews, he began speaking.
"I, uh, am really sorry for interrupting the wedding. Probably not the smartest thing I've ever done, and probably the last bit of luck I'll have for a while," Riley said, managing a small smile, but only for a couple of seconds.
Riley paused and took a deep breath, trying to steady his voice. Even through all the treasure hunting, through all of the times he'd been held at gunpoint, he didn't think he'd ever been so nervous. After all, how often do you announce in front of a crowd of people, all of whom know you, that you're in love with the groom…and they're not marrying you? Taking another deep breath, Riley knew that he couldn't deliver this speech to the audience; he needed to speak to Ben. Turning around, he glanced at Abigail quickly before turning his gaze on his best friend. Taking his last deep breath, he began what would become the most important speech of his life.
"Ben. You're so many things to me, I can't even put them into one sentence. You're the guy who rescued me from that dark, windowless cubicle at the Library of Congress. You're the guy who understood that age doesn't necessarily define wisdom. You're the guy that gave me the chance to go on not one, but two adventures of a lifetime. You're the guy that I'm closer to than anybody else in the world. You're the guy I would – and have – risk my life for, no matter what the situation. But most of all, you're the guy who saw past the geeky exterior to who I really am. You're the guy I fell in love with."
The audience, who had been sitting down, some silent, some whispering about how rude it was to interrupt a wedding, fell completely silent. Riley turned his gaze away from Ben's hazel orbs and onto Abigail, whose hateful gaze had softened somewhat during Riley's speech. Taking a couple of steps left on the altar, he spoke directly to her.
"Abby, I'm really sorry to interrupt your wedding, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't say something."
Riley paused, then smiled slightly, the type of smile one puts on when you're so close to crying you don't know what else to do.
"Thanks for hearing me out. I'll leave you two to your wedded bliss."
With another one of those half-smiles, Riley headed down the altar steps and began his walk down the aisle towards the sanctuary doors. Because he was heading in the opposite direction, he didn't see the look that passed between Abigail and Ben, or the slight gesture she made with her head that went along with that sad half-smile. He also didn't see the kiss he gave her on the cheek before bursting out in a huge grin that matched the sparkle in his eyes.
By this point, Riley had reached the sanctuary doors. Head tilted slightly down, half out of shame and half to conceal the tears that were slowly running down his cheeks, he pulled the door open as Ben shouted from the altar.
Riley stopped where he was, frozen, but lifted his head. Taking another deep breath, he made a move to walk out the door…but didn't even get his foot over the threshold before he was grabbed from behind and spun on the spot. It was Ben. Putting on that brave little half smile, he quirked an eyebrow.
"It's not like you to keep Abigail waiting. What's the holdup?"
Ben smiled back, the light having returned to his eyes.
Riley chuckled, at the same time wiping a tear from his cheek. Ben had never seen him this vulnerable, but after a speech like that one, what choice did one have? He put a hand on Ben's shoulder and smiled – a true smile this time.
"You don't need me. You got the girl. Enjoy your spoils."
Riley, very close to falling apart completely, had grown tired of this game. It was obvious to him that Abigail made Ben happy, very happy, and just wished that he'd go back to her and leave him alone. Quirking another half grin, Riley turned to walk away. This time, however, Ben wasn't allowing leaving to be an option. Spinning Riley around on the spot, he shoved him up against the sanctuary door, forcing their lips together in a bruising kiss. There were gasps and muffled curses heard from the guests, and when Ben ended the kiss, Riley opened his eyes (he never remembered shutting them in the first place) to find the object of his affection grinning madly at him.
"I don't get it," Riley said, somewhat dazed from the kiss and somewhat confused by the situation. "What about Abigail?"
"She understands. She had a feeling that there was a reason behind my jitters; she just couldn't figure it out…until now."
Ben was paying no attention to the guests or Abigail or anybody else in the entire church…other than Riley. Eyes twinkling, Ben grinned, speaking again.
"After that speech, I realized the person I loved wasn't the person I was marrying."
Riley's eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
Ben just laughed. Slinging an arm over Riley's shoulder, he brought him into a hug. When the two broke apart, Riley looked up at Ben with a question written all over his face.
"Always have," Ben replied swiftly, "and always will. As my dad said, I have you."
Riley grinned, a real grin for the first time that day. And suddenly, he knew everything was going to be okay. No matter how many more felonies they committed, no matter how many more times they were held at gunpoint, or just plain did something stupid, he'd be okay.
Thomas Edison once said, "I didn't fail, I found 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb; I only need to find one way to make it work." Riley Poole had found that one way. It only took finding two national treasures, being held at gunpoint more times than he could count, breaking up a wedding, and making a speech that nobody would ever forget. And in Riley's opinion, it was all worth it.