Ben helped Riley with his coat. It slid over the younger man's narrow shoulders easily. When Riley was wearing the black canvas pea coat, Ben leaned forward and brushed his lips to Riley's ear lobe. Briefly, he admired how the coat fit Riley.
"Yeah. You got the keys?"
Ben moved his hand around in his coat pocket and the keys jingled, confirming his thoughts.
"You going to tell me where we're going now?"
Ben looked over at Riley, and made a face that said "not likely".
"You never tell me anything," Riley pouted.
"It's good for you. Keeps you on your toes," Ben held the door open for Riley, who stepped outside and waited while Ben locked the door. "Keeps you young," Ben added. "I'm doing you a favor. Believe me."
"Oh, I see how it is. You don't think I can keep up," Riley hurried after Ben as he walked towards the car. Ben rolled his eyes. Riley was sometimes far too contrary, but he enjoyed it most of the time.
It was strange, how warm it was. The air was still cool and crisp, but moist enough that Riley didn't need the cherry chap stick he usually kept in his left pocket. Ben had tried to grab it from his pocket several times in the past, attempting to use it, but Riley had pounced. They had the same argument every time: Ben could kiss him, but couldn't use his chap stick?—that was Ben's argument. Riley used the "but what if I'm sick" tactic. In the end, they made up and it didn't really matter whether or not Riley was sick. The week before had been full of temperatures below ten (which was unacceptable in Riley's book, one of the reasons he had selective memory about finding em Charlotte /em ) and it had since rose to be fifty-eight today. It had cooled off, from the absence of the sun, but was still warm enough to not wear a hat or gloves. Ben chose to wear a beanie anyway and Riley wouldn't argue with him: it made Ben's cheeks all bright and red. Like the first time Riley kissed him.
Riley's birthday was on a Monday this year, so they were doing their annual (well, technically, they did this two times a year—once for Riley and once for Ben, occasionally one for Abigail if it was a "big" birthday—she hadn't appreciated her 30th birthday, which Riley had declared her 40th birthday would be pointless, as she was already "over the hill" and had been her whole life) fieldtrip on Saturday night. Today was February the sixteenth. Two days after Valentines' Day. Usually, they wouldn't combine the two "holidays"—who would give up a chance to celebrate twice within a week? But it was decided that this year, Riley would get two gifts from Ben and Ben would get one gift from Riley during their little (miniscule, for them) adventure.
After Ben had started the car, he reached over into the glove compartment—he referred to it as the Map Compartment, however, because he never had put gloves in it and was using a map more often than not—and pulled out a black bandana. He folded it several times—it drove Riley nuts that he didn't do it perfectly straight and neatly—and then handed it to Riley. Riley raised an eyebrow.
"Yeeees?" he asked.
"Put it on."
"Last time you insisted I wore a blindfold, we ended up in a club for drag queens. No way."
"Come on, Ri. It's not going to kill you."
"That guy…what was his name…Rollita? Norita? Mesquita? Whatever it was, he nearly killed me. So I won't wear it. No way in hell."
"Please?" Ben pouted.
Oh no. Not the Ben pout. Despite the fact that Ben could quite often ignore the powers of the infamous Riley Pout, Riley always lost to Ben's. He didn't use it often, and Riley figured that was why it worked so well. Riley overused his. He reminded himself then, to try not to use it often tonight.
Riley huffed. "Fine. But I swear, Ben…one more compromising situation…"
"I know, I know."
Riley put on the bandana while Ben switched gears.
"Can you see?"
"It would be pointless for me to argue all that time, lose and then pretend to wear it while actually peeking. I can't see a bloody thing."
When they had exited the driveway, Riley groped for Ben's hand and found it on the driver's seat armrest. He squeezed tightly. Ben moved their hands to between the two armrests so Riley didn't have to reach so far. He was, after all, much shorter.
"You're such a baby," Ben commented.
Riley grinned, blindly. "You love it."
Ben made a noncommittal grunt.
"So. Where're we going?"
They ride, otherwise, for the next ten minutes, was silent. Riley would occasionally beg to know where they were going, Ben would say something that equaled a negative and Riley would try and figure it out by the feel of the car. He was a genius, after all…it was his job to figure this sort of thing out. But he wouldn't know for sure until they got there, and by then, they'd be taking the blindfold off and it wouldn't matter. He tried to think of events that were going on around town.
Half-way through the ride, Ben slipped a CD into the radio. Riley was slightly uncomfortable when Ben's hand left his and he squirmed.
"Oh, grow up, Ri."
Riley just pouted, forgetting his earlier resolution.
"Sorry I get a little uncomfortable when my best-friend-turned-whatever-it-is-you-call-us—"
"Right, because em boyfriends /em is just isn't good enough. I forgot. Anyway, sorry I get a little uncomfortable when the warmth is gone. Don't you remember what I told you about? When I was in high school?"
"Riley, that was years ago."
"It doesn't bother me any less."
"I'm sorry, okay?"
"Just have a little consideration, Ben."
"All I did was take my hand away so I could make a turn! Would you rather I turn with one hand and possibly kill us both?"
"Might be an improvement on your personality," Riley mumbled.
"What?" Ben hissed.
"All you do is sit around and read biographies of dead guys. And once in awhile you ask me to track some artifact that no one is even sure exists, when it's convenient for you."
"So you're saying I'd be better off dead, then?"
Riley could nearly hear Ben's jaw clench.
"No, Ri. I see how it is. I'll take you home. Then, I'll spend the night at Abby's. Okay? Will that make you happy? Life a little more exciting without me around?"
Ben made no move to turn the car around. He only pushed the accelerator down a little more. Riley crossed his arms, unaware of the thickness of tension in the air. Ben gripped the steering wheel harder, his knuckles turning an unhealthy white. The car whizzed past other drivers on the highway, and Riley could hear the engine. He, doing what Riley does best in times of awkward stress, estimated they were going somewhere around eighty-five or ninety miles an hour.
Ben couldn't help noticing Riley hadn't taken off the blindfold. The fact was flashing across his mind in big, red letters, forcing him to notice, making him feel guilty for everything he said.
em "He got up from the bench, and I could hear some rustling behind me, but I just figured it was someone else." /em
It was a miracle Riley didn't refuse the blindfold. He hadn't said a word about it since his original refusals. And Ben hadn't, to begin with, remembered Riley's least favorite childhood moment or that Riley would even have a reason to object to the bandana.
em "We had gone to the Mall. We were just eating pretzels—you know, the big fluffy ones with the mustard on the side?—on the bench. It was gorgeous out, and he had suggested we just sit on the ground, enjoy the soft grass. I said no, though. I mean, so much food around, there was bound to be some seagulls which means, you know…and then the ants…" /em
It had taken the two forever to admit they liked each other; Ben remembered Riley telling him. His name was Jacob, and Riley called him so. Just 'Jake' was unacceptable. It wasn't romantic whatsoever. And with a name like em Riley /em (a girl's name, according to Riley himself), they needed some kind of name-romance. It took Jacob months to convince Riley that it really was a beautiful and fitting name for the boy—and even more convincing that what Jacob meant didn't mean he thought Riley was at all girly, and even if he was, there was nothing wrong with it.
em "Then the others came out…Hank and Zack. Who names their kid Hank anyway?"
Ben was about to interject about some famous historical guy who did stuff and "had fun", but Riley continued.
"And then…" Riley had sighed, then. His breath hitched in his throat. Ben soothingly rubbed his back. It was okay, he didn't have to tell, if he didn't want to. Riley continued, like a trooper (according to Ben). "They uh…wound the tape around me and the back of the bench before punching me a few times. Then they…they /em moaned em and of course, I…well, uh…you know, responded, even though I didn't want to and they left me like that…It was about twenty minutes before the cops came and, well…when I got up, they said I had something written on the back of my neck. I went home and looked in the mirror…it said 'damn gay'. Which isn't really that bad, but, still…"
"I know…I just thought you should…"
Ben nodded then, and kissed him softly. /em
Riley leaned back in the passenger's seat and sighed. "I didn't mean it like that," he said quietly.
Ben took a look at Riley before returning his eyes to the road. "No, Ri. You're right. I'm not much fun, am I?"
"Are we almost there, yet?"
"'Bout ten more minutes. If you're not…you don't have to wear that blindfold, if you don't want."
"Yeah, I do."
Ben bit his lip and kept his eyes on the road.
He noticed that Riley's hand still rested on the armrest, and, tentatively, he reached over. The first touch he snatched his hand back as if Riley was fire. Then he grabbed Riley's hand decidedly. Riley squeezed Ben's hand.
"So," Riley began, grinning. "You going to tell me where we're going, now?"
Ben rolled his eyes. The kid did know how to lighten the mood; that was for sure.
"Don't count on it."
"What are you? A flipping Magic Eight Ball?"
"I don't know, Ri, you tell me. I've been accused of being an encyclopedia on many accounts, if I remember correctly. Which is it?"
At that moment, he wished he could see Riley's eyes sparkle in reaction. Ben didn't make a whole lot of jokes, and Riley loved it when he did. Riley had made him want to be more jocular, but he knew if he joked more, it wouldn't be as special. So despite Riley's pleading, Ben remained quite reserved, especially in comparison to Riley and his pouts.
"Can't I at least have a hint?"
"You're not sorry, you…you…" Riley sighed, unable to think of a fitting insult. At time like this would prove that knowing some unknown and/or dead language could be useful. How hilarious would it be for Riley to call Ben some insult from like…centuries ago. Of course, chances were, Ben would know the word and it wouldn't be quite as satisfying, but it would be better than English, he supposed.
"We're almost there. I promise."
"Beeen," Riley whined. "It's killing me."
"I hope you're being killed slowly, otherwise, you'll never find out."
"You're just chalk full of the funnies tonight, aren't you?"
"Only for you, Ri."
"Shame only on my birthday."
The ride was beginning to get long. Ben refused to have the radio on unless it was AM, and Riley couldn't take the absolute torture of the idea of talk radio, so they usually left it off. The current CD playing bored Riley. Smelling stuff wasn't particularly amusing and there was nothing new to feel in the car. That left tasting and seeing. There was nothing to taste, unless he felt like licking the car seat or Ben's arm—which he was sure Ben wouldn't appreciate—and of course, he was temporarily blinded. It occurred to him he wouldn't have minded the blind fold when they were on those crazy stairs…or the time when Ian had the gun in the em Charlotte. /em Not witnessing that might have done him a lot of good.
So what was there left to do to amuse himself? The answer, when he thought of it, seemed painfully obvious.
"Red light!" he shouted.
Ben slammed on the brakes, and Riley felt himself get thrown forward, stopped only by the seatbelt. He almost wished he hadn't done it because he was pretty sure the belt nearly broke some ribs, but when Ben realized there was no light to be red, his reaction was worth the pain.
"Holy crap, Riley! You're such a moron!" Still, he couldn't help the small smile that formed on his mouth, despite his attempts to stop it. Not that it mattered, as Riley still wore the bandana. Riley sucked in deep, gasping breaths as he laughed.
"Oh my God, Ben. I wish I could have seen your face."
"You do that again and I'll super glue that bandana to your eyes!"
"Oh, you're such a stick-in-the-mud, Ben. No fun, no fun, no fun," he chanted.
Ben continued to drive for another few minutes and Riley felt the car lurch forward just slightly as Ben switched gears to park.
"I don't suppose I could convince you to keep the blindfold on until we're inside?"
"No, not likely."
"Fine. You can take it off now."
Riley reached behind his head, but the knot was tight. That was so like Ben. Riley may have been insecure, but Ben was under the 'trust-no-one' philosophy.
"Ben? Little help?"
"Sure thing." Ben undid his seatbelt and turned so he could reach the knot. Riley lowered his head, to allow Ben better access. When the blindfold was off, Ben tilted Riley's head up with his finger tips at his chin. Ben pressed his lips to Riley's briefly and then pulled away with a small smile.
"I really am sorry about earlier, Ri."
"So," Riley pushed himself back in his seat, supporting himself with his palms momentarily. "Where are we?"
Ben grinned and spread his arm, as if presenting the building before him. Riley squinted at the sign on the building, written in several different fonts.
"The National Museum for Science Fiction and Fantasy Films. Holy. Crap. Ben…"
Ben's eyebrows rose. "They're having a em Star Wars /em exhibit."
"Then what the hell are we waiting for? Benjamin, unlock the car! We don't have all night. Let's go!"
Riley struggled with the lock on the door, while Ben tried to unlock it with the electrical system.
"Ri. Ri. Riley! Chill. Wait. Here." Ben pushed the lock button up and Riley could hear the click-beep of the locks doing their thing. He pushed himself out of the car, and bounced on the pavement while he waited for Ben to do the same.
"Come on, lazy bones."
"More like old bones, Ri. You forget I'm…how many years older?"
"Who cares? Now, let's go!" Riley marched around the car purposely, and grabbed Ben's arm with a firm grip.
"Wait! I have to lock the car."
"Ben, you're surrounded by a bunch of nerds, like me. Chances are, they can unlock the car with a remote from five hundred feet away. If it's going to get broken into, it's going to get broken into. Now, we have no time to waste. Let's go!"
Ben managed to press the "lock" button on his own car remote before Riley dragged him away towards the entrance. The older man noted that he had never seen Riley em skip /em before this night. It really was something else and he had to hold back his laugh.
Riley groaned upon opening the entrance door.
"The line!" Riley looked at his shoes. "We don't have to," he sighed. "I know you hate waiting."
Ben reached into his pocket and held up the tickets he had printed off line earlier in the day, when Riley was still sleeping. He had expected Riley to jump him and thank him profusely, but he merely raised an eyebrow.
"Looks like I rubbed off on you after all."
Ben shoved Riley playfully. They made their way to the front of the line, getting a few complaints from some people, to whom Ben just flashed the tickets to. They went back to minding their own business, their cheeks reddened slightly.
Inside, Ben nearly cringed at the em Star Wars /em diehards. Almost everybody in the room had some sort of costume on. His jaw dropped at the site of a man who wore an Imprisoned-Princess-Leia-Metal-Bikini costume. Riley noticed this, and taking it as Ben was interested in the man (which he most certainly was not), firmly grabbed Ben's hand and led him to the special effects part of the exhibit.
"This. Is. Somuchcoolerthanthe em LordoftheRings /em exhibit. Ohmygod."
Riley rushed over to a station that allowed visitors to "ride" in a simulated ship from the movie. Ben had no idea which ship—he was at least aware that there was more than one kind, but that wasn't enough for Riley, who was quite embarrassed when Ben didn't get excited that it was, in fact, supposed to be an Immobilizer 418—Frigate, six hundred meters, equipped with 20 Quad Laser Cannons and 4 Gravity-well Projectors—and who didn't know that? Whoever didn't deserved to be taken out back and shot. Ben bit his lip at any comments after that. em Enjoy your spoils/em he thought with a pseudo-malice.
Eventually, Ben had to drag Riley away to a new station when people in line started to complain that Riley's turn was up. The next station had a video that explained about costumes, which Riley wasn't all that interested in. After that, they visited a large cubicle-like area which was dedicated to all of the non-human characters in the series. A short aptitude test was offered which told you which non-human character you were most like. Predictably, according to the test, Riley was most like C3PO.
"Even I could have figured that out!" Riley paused before walking away. "What about you, Ben? You should try it."
"Uh…no. Thanks. Let's go check out the em human /em exhibit."
"But if there's a personality test there, we all know who you'll end up being."
Ben raised his eyebrows. "Who?"
"Luke. The hero of the day. Duh."
"Not necessarily. Maybe I'd be uh…what's his face's character…Um…Indiana Jones?" he tried to get Riley to see who he was talking about. "What's his name in em Star Wars /em ?"
"No, you won't. He's too sarcastic for you."
"I'm sarcastic! Remember that time on Mount Rushmore when I stuck my hand in that hole?"
"That wasn't really sarcasm. It was more irony."
"Which amounts to sarcasm."
"No, it doesn't."
"Wait. What're we arguing about again?"
Riley looked around slowly, trying to remember. He grinned at Ben. "You know what? I don't remember."
Ben enveloped Riley in a bear hug, and Riley noticed that this time, no one stopped and looked. It was nice, being among "geeks" who didn't care what your sexual orientation was, for they, occasionally, were turned on by a fictional robot. Riley grinned into Ben's shoulder.
"I love you, Ri."
Riley smirked. "I know."
"You ready for some birthday cake?"
"After we go to the gift shop."
"Lead the way."
Forgetting about the few other stations, Riley led Ben through the crowd to the only exit, which forced exhibit-visitors to go through the gift shop. Ben made a brief comment about how marketing in America was ridiculous and this was definitely pushing it, but Riley ignored him and stood in awe at the entrance of the shop.
"I didn't know you were Indian, Ri."
Riley shoved him distractedly, and made his way over to a Collector's Edition Darth Vader Action Figure With Twelve Catchphrases. He looked at the price and then at the floor.
Seventy-seven dollars and eighty-three cents.
Ben whistled, having caught up with Riley. "Good thing I got it on the internet. There was a slight discount. I hope you don't mind."
It took a moment for Riley to process what Ben had said. "No way. No effing," he lowered his voice at this, despite the fact that he wasn't using the actual word, because there em were /em kids around, "way. Ben. No way."
Ben nodded. "Yep."
Riley put his hand to his forehead. He was usually pretty good at finding birthday and Christmas presents. It had been a favorite pastime of his as a child. He didn't do it the conventional way, of course. Riley chose to use a whole bunch of homemade gadgets that worked, but not efficiently. Some of the better ones came from kits, but were still minimal technology compared to his more recent "toys".
Realizing what Riley was considering, Ben grinned. "I had them deliver it to Abigail's. It might not even be in yet, but it should be in the day after tomorrow."
Riley spun around and hugged Ben. "Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you."
"A kiss would do."
Riley planted a hard one on him quickly and then went back to admiring the detail on the figure. Ben turned around, wondering if there was anything to interest him—not likely—and found a poster bin.
"Hey, Ri. Want a poster?"
"They've got a nice one here with Leia in her bikini."
"Oh, look. Left over em Lord of the Rings /em ."
"Do they have any Legolas?" Riley asked with almost as much enthusiasm as he had thanked Ben with. The only thing that could pull Riley away from such an amazing piece of art—that being Darth Vader—was Orlando Bloom with a wig and contacts. According to Riley, that boy was the sexiest thing to hit planet Earth since…well, since the beginning of history. Ben accepted this fact, feeling that Riley might be right. Sometimes, Ben did place Riley in front of the elf prince on the list, but Legolas had his days.
"No, there's some Aragorn though."
"Ooo, grab it for me?"
Ben pulled the poster out of the bin and handed it to Riley.
"You about ready to go?"
"Uh, yeah. Let's go."
He took one last glance at the Darth Vader on the shelf and then followed Ben to the cash register. The cashier eyed the two with a raised eyebrow.
"Will this be all?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah." Ben reached into his back pocket, but Riley stopped him.
"But it's your birthday."
The cashier waited patiently.
Riley continued to reach into his pocket. When he opened his wallet, he found only two dollars, which wasn't enough to cover the discounted price of the poster.
"Let me get it, Ri."
"Fine," he sighed.
"Tell you what," Ben said, handing the money to the girl. "Next time we go out, you'll pay."
As they left the store, Riley turned to Ben.
"You know, I would have had more than two dollars if it weren't for you and your bloody one percent."
Ben rolled his eyes but laughed before wrapping his arm around Riley's shoulders and ruffling his hair.
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