Six Months Ago

Ben was sitting on the couch in the living room, re-reading Common Sense. He had read the small book...oh, over a hundred times. He still found it hilarious.

It was November. Being in Pennsylvania in December meant snow. And it was snowing. Hard. Last night, Ben had found Riley at his front door, stamping his feet to get rid of the snow and the cold. "My heat went out!" The young man had said indignantly. "Can you believe it?"

What Ben couldn't believe was that Riley was still living in that dingy little apartment. But it didn't matter, Riley looked cold. His ears were red, his cheeks flushed, his hands blue. "C'mon in." Ben said, trying to keep the smile out of his voice. He stepped back to let the techie in.

"The shrew here?" Riley had asked, peering up the large staircase as if he expected Abigail to come tearing down it any second. Now Ben had to laugh, knowing that Riley was genuinely fond of Abigail.

The two of them had stayed up for the better part of the evening watching Giants vs. Patriots. Riley had been brought up a Patriot fan, and Ben's whole family loved the Giants, so there were more than a few bets going on during the first and second quarters. Of course, that was before Riley had fallen asleep on the couch, so out of it not even Ben's yells of frustration could wake him up.

Before going upstairs, Ben had slipped off Riley's coat and boots. He winced at the sight of the long scar down his friend's abdomen, one of the few scars left from their encounter with Ian months ago. As he drew a blanket over the man, Ben found himself musing about how young Riley looked in his sleep. Much younger that twenty-six.

Now Ben was curled on the same couch Riley had slept on, smiling wryly at the arguments Thomas Paine had made that persuaded the people towards revolution. He was nearing the end of the book when he heard a loud crash from the kitchen.

Ben looked up worriedly. He reached for the napkin he was using as a bookmark and called out, "Riley?"

There was no answer. Scared now, Ben headed towards the kitchen, a thousand thoughts running through his head, each more impossible than the last.

What he didn't expect to find in the kitchen was four large pots on the floor, surrounding the Riley and the startlingly scarlet blood that was pooled on the floor.

"Riley!" Ben knelt down, feeling for a pulse. Riley was clearly unconscious, the blood stemming from the back of his head. His pulse was strong, though, and Ben suspected he'd be waking up soon. Still, there was a good chance for a concussion, especially if one of the pots had hit Riley on the head. "Come on, Ri, wake up." He didn't notice his hand was covered in blood until he brought it up to his forehead and felt it smear on his face.

A low groan from the body on the floor made Ben want to leap for joy. "It's okay, you're okay." Ben murmured, moving Riley's head so it rested on his lap.

"Ben?" Riley attempted to focus on the man leaning over him, but the pounding in his head made it hard to see straight. "What happened?"

"You fell, I think." Ben said, glancing around the kitchen for a phone. He spied the base for it in the corner, but the actual phone was missing. That was the problem with cordless phones.

Riley groaned, his eyes starting to flutter shut again. He felt terrible, and tired. He tried to move his hand up to his head and found that it took an indecent amount of energy, so he stopped. "I think the pots might have had a hand in that." Riley muttered, referring to his fall. His eyes closed all the way now.

"Riley! No, you have to stay awake." Everything Ben remembered from the year he was in Boy Scouts told him that you should not, under any circumstances, fall asleep with a head injury.

"But I'm tired, Ben." Riley protested feebly, moving his head so it rested under Ben's arm. Ben tangled his fingers in Riley's hair, stroking his head, trying and failing to take the pain away while he desperately worked his phone out of his pocket.

"Riley..." Ben said, searching for a topic to keep his friend awake. "Do you remember Africa? Like, seven or eight years ago?"

Riley snorted. "How can I forget? You got shot, Ben." His eyes, which had opened a fraction at the question, closed again, and Ben saw Riley wince. Why was it Riley who always got hurt anyway?

Giving up on the questions, Ben dialed 9-1-1 on the cell phone with one hand while gently shaking Riley's shoulder with the other. "Stay awake , Riley." Ben ordered, waiting for the line to pick up.

"9-1-1, what's your emergency?" A female voice on the other end of the line asked. Ben shouted with relief, making Riley say, "Be quiet, Ben, I'm trying to sleep."

In the fifteen minutes it took for the ambulance to get there, most of Ben's arms and torso got soaked with Riley's blood. Two minutes before the ambulance arrived, Riley fell asleep. Those two minutes were some of the longest in Ben's life.

Present Day

"Riley." Ben breathed, his voice cracking. Another tear fell onto Riley's face and he blinked, his bruised face twisting into what could either be a smile or a grimace.

Ben's fingers strayed towards the call button for the nurse, but stopped. H e didn't want anyone else in here -- not a nurse or a doctor or even Abigail. After twenty-seven hours of waiting, Ben wanted Riley all to himself.

Riley's mouth opened to ask a question then closed again, his eyebrows coming together, confused. "They said you might not be able to talk for a while," Ben said. Then, before he lost his nerve, he said, "Riley, I'm so sorry."

Riley's raised eyebrows clearly said "what for?" and Ben continued, the words stumbling over each other. "You should never have gotten hurt. You didn't even know about the new treasure." He paused as Riley's eyes lit up. "That's not important now. Anyway, it should have been me with Ian, me getting hurt, not you."

This time when Riley opened his mouth, words came out. "Ben..." It was more of a croak than a word, but the sound of his name made more tears spring to Ben's eyes. " was better that way."

Ben tried to stop the wave of anger that rose inside of him as Riley had to pause for breath. He knew Ian was in custody again, but all he wanted to do was tear the man limb from limb for hurting Riley. His Riley.

When Ben tried to talk, Riley squeezed his hand again. "You have a family, Ben. A girlfriend." The look that came over Riley's face was one Ben could only describe as wistful. "You have so much to live for. If they had taken you and you had died, a lot of people would be upset." Riley's eyes closed, his breathing became more labored. Ben knew he should call a doctor but he couldn't. Not now.

"I don't have that stuff, Ben. If I had died...well, it wouldn't have made that much of a difference." Riley hadn't opened his eyes again, but a tear made its way down his bruised face.

"Don't ever say that, Riley." Ben said forcefully . He wanted shake Riley. Make him see that he was Ben's friend. His best friend. That Ben would have never been able to find the treasure or find Abigail without him. "You matter to me. And Abigail." Ben rubbed Riley's bruised fingers. "You're my best friend."

Riley's face twisted as he tried not to cry. Ben leaned forward and hugged him, letting his body press against the call button as he gently hugged his young friend. He barely registered the nurse running in, or even Abigail coming up behind him, crying. The only thing that mattered was Riley, shaking beneath his arms as Ben desperately tried to make him see how important he was.


A little depressing? Yeah. But I think anyone who was kidnapped and tortured would be depressed. Plus Riley didn't exactly have high self-esteem to begin with. So he doesn't believe Ben when he says he's important.

But that's the end. It's how it would end in my mind. Review and tell me what you think.