I own only Reese and this sleazeball that I don't even want. :D I don't own National Treasure, Benjamin Gates or Riley Poole.
WARNINGS: Harsh stuff here. Underage molestation/borderline rape, consensual sex with minors, lots of cussing. F-word count is at 22. Be warned.
Here's to the Night
He knows that it's real because it makes sense and that's not how dreams operate. Dreams are silly and crazy and all-kinds of awesome, but most of all, they're safe. Safety is illogical. So dreams never make sense.
But this does.
It makes sense because it started out like all their summer afternoons at the pool. Reese loves to swim, even though she isn't the best at it. Riley, being the kind twin brother he was, walks with her and watches as she splashes the cute boys from next door. Riley hates the water – hates the suffocating isolation of being submerged. Therefore, he spends his time deck side, sitting in one of the chairs with a comic book in his hands.
This is where things deviate from the rule, but it still makes sense in the long run. It makes the most sense because all Riley really wanted was a kiss. But he didn't even get that much. Instead, he is forced on his knees in the utility closet of his neighborhood pool.
And he remembers everything.
So he clutches at his twin sister's shoulders in the middle of the sidewalk because he can't stop shaking as he replays the whole thing over in his head. He remembers the thick smell of chlorine burning the inside of his nose. He remembers closing his eyes because it was a little scary being this close to another boy – even though he can't really see because it's dark in the utility closet and he left his glasses outside with the towels. His mom won't let him get contacts and he remembers being a little bit thankful for that. Most of all, he remembers the lifeguard's hands – pulling, tearing at his hair – and the feel of him – heavy, choking on his tongue – and his voice – panting, moaning, God, Ryan, so good, so good. He remembers how his eyes stung as he thought, Riley, I'm Riley. Don't you even fucking know me? He even remembers the lifeguard's name.
Until he makes himself forget.
Reese is holding him, petting his matted hair, as he cries against her shoulder. His bare, scrawny chest is heaving and she keeps whispering and trying to calm him down. She cradles him close and it almost works until he smells the chlorine on her skin and he wants to be sick. Riley vomits into the bushes and Reese sits next to him on the sidewalk. She rubs his back and glares at any son of a bitch who laughs in passing.
After a few minutes, he's done. He sits up and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. He's shivering and he refuses to look at her. The twins wait, side by side, on the sidewalk for a little while longer. Reese studies her freshly painted sparkly-green toenails; they look pretty bitching against her bright yellow flip-flops. Riley tries to take deep breaths and soon, his heart isn't beating quite as fast. He still feels a little ill and itchy and unwelcome in his own body but he tells himself that that's normal for a sixteen year old boy.
Reese glances at her brother. He's drumming his fingers unevenly against his thigh and she reaches over to steady the staccato. She notices the scrapes on his knees that weren't there this morning but doesn't comment. "C'mon," she says as she pulls him to his unsteady feet, "let's go to Ben's." Riley doesn't protest as she guides him down the sidewalk. He stares down at his scuffed, torn Converse without actually seeing them.
Ben Gates is their neighbor. His mom used to babysit Riley and Reese while their parents were at the office (they both worked as attorneys for the same law firm) so the three of them practically grew up together. He turned nineteen a few months ago and goes to one of the local universities as a history major. Since the summer started, Reese, Riley and Ben have spent a good deal of their nights lying on Ben's roof, watching the stars and talking about the future.
He also happens to be the love of Riley's life.
But that's another story completely.
All the houses they pass look the same – like Monopoly properties in different colors of stone. Expressionless, Riley watches a small gaggle of kids kicking around a soccer ball. It goes rolling into the street; he stops it inadvertently with his foot. He gazes down at the black and white pattern without blinking. The kids stare at him, wondering why their game has stopped.
Reese, ever the peace keeper, steps around Riley to kick the ball back to them. Her aim is off but one of the boys catches it in his arms. His companions wave their thanks and Reese nods back before tugging on his wrist. "You okay?" She whispers as they continue shuffling down the street.
"I don't know," he answers truthfully.
"Do you want to go home?" Her voice is assuming without presumption. They're twins. It's impossible for one of them to hide anything from the other and Riley has himself half-convinced that she knows what happened. She's asking him to talk without actually asking him to talk but he wants to pretend that that isn't what she's doing. Even if he is grateful for it.
"No," he sighs and spits a sour taste out of his mouth and into the grass. It's the taste of the lifeguard mixed with bile and he shudders. "I don't want to go home."
"Okay," she doesn't push it. Who wants to go home when they still have the sunlight of the late afternoon shining through the cul-de-sac, anyway? Wrapping her towel tighter around her not-so-skinny waist, Reese grimaces. "Actually, I'm gonna head home first. I need to take a shower and change." Riley says nothing as he stares down the rows and rows of cardboard cut-out houses. "Is that cool with you?"
"Yeah," he clears his throat and looks at her for the first time since they left the pool, "sure. Tell Ma I'm at Ben's."
"Word," she grins and his lips curl ever-so-slightly. She hesitates for a moment, debating whether or not she should give him a hug. Riley looks like he needs one but, at the same time, it might be the last thing he wants. She settles for bumping her fist against his. He returns the gesture but with little conviction. She keeps glancing over her shoulder at his as she limps home – she's convinced she nearly busted open one of her toes when she kicked the ball back to the kids. Riley doesn't notice, which is unlike him, so she worries more for her brother's state of mind than her state of foot.
In spite of being a sixteen year old girl raised in suburbia, Reese manages to act like a semi-decent person most of the time and get along with her twin brother. Unless he fucks up her morning routine by taking too damn long in the shower. Then it's on.
Riley wastes a good ten minutes sitting on Ben's front porch, back to the door, scanning the streets and adjacent houses. He knows most of the people who live in those homes. He can name all of them and probably some of their relatives. He knows their stories – enough about them to carry on a politely decent conversation for an appropriate length of time. They could probably say the same thing about him.
Except, really, they'd be lying.
This revelation makes Riley reconsider how much he truly knows about his neighbors. Names don't count for much. He and his sister went through a phase when they were eight where they refused to answer to anything other than the Prince or Princess of the Cotton Candy Jelly Beans. It was a mildly traumatic time for everyone involved. And, doesn't it seem a little presumptuous and rude to start conversations with "how are your folks doing?" or "what's your sister up to?" As if he is defined by his relationship with his parents and his sister – as if they always get along and smile like the white picket fence captives they appear to be. And he responds, every time, with a guarded smile and muttered, "they're good – keeping busy at the firm. They really enjoy their jobs," or "Reese is working hard at school. I'm proud of her." Do any of his neighbors even care? How would they react, if he deadpans, "I haven't seen my parents for more than ten minutes in the past week and I don't give a shit either way," or "Reese is really pissing me off with her fucking tampons all over the bathroom." Or, better yet, "I was forced on my knees by the lifeguard. I kind of wanted it, but he took advantage of me in the end."
Because that's really what happened and it feels a little empowering to be able to admit it to himself, even though he knows he will never tell anyone else. He refuses to become the tragic Poole son, molested when he was barely sixteen. It makes him sound like a victim and he is no victim, even though he can feel his eyes start to tear up again. Riley tries to make himself stop, which only makes it worse, but he really, really doesn't want Ben to see him like this. Because Ben is the love of his life, not that he would admit that to anyone either (Reese might know but that's only because she's a twin and there's the freaky twin factor at play) but it would still make for awkward times.
Despite his scrawniness, Riley convinces himself he is a manly man fellow, and manly man fellows do not cry. Especially in the case of molestation – unless they're the ones doing the molesting. Even so, Riley's pretty sure he'd cry after assaulting someone else. But only because he's a sensitive kind of guy who feels deeply for other people and their pain.
Not two seconds after he comes to this conclusion, he becomes aware of another presence on the porch. "Countin' fireflies, Riley?" Ben jokes as he sits down. Indeed, in the time he spent contemplating, a few fireflies had started their blinking dance in the yard.
"Nah," he replies and picks at the frayed hems of his cargo shorts, "more like disappointments." He says the second as an afterthought, more to himself than anyone else, but Ben hears and furrows his eyebrows.
"What?" It's an out-of-character observation for the usually upbeat teen and Ben questions him openly. He takes in the slumped posture and listless voice with slight trepidation. Maybe he got in a fight with his sister and is looking for a place to vent. Ben prepares himself for an onslaught of grievances but Riley shrugs off his question without looking up.
"It's nothing." Even so, he pursues his hunch of sister-related troubles. Rarely do the two fight, but when they do get into it, it's an explosion of snide remarks. It's possible that Reese went to far and left him wounded or even the reverse, and Riley hit below the belt and was feeling residual guilt over it
"Where's Reese?" There. That isn't too intrusive or random, seeing as the threesome have been spending most of their days in shared company. Riley tilts his head in the direction of his house next door.
"She's taking a shower. She should be back soon." He pauses before asking, "why?" and studying Ben out of the corner of his eye.
"No reason," Ben lies easily, scratching at his ear a little. Riley leaves the conversation at that, content to gaze blankly at the slowly sinking sun. Ben studies his profile – the thin, slightly down-turned line of his mouth, the glazed dull of his unfocused eyes – and worries for his young friend. "C'mon," he bumps his shoulder against Riley's, gently rousing him from his stupor. "Let's go inside before the mosquitoes start attacking."
It's like leading a puppet with snapped strings. Riley stares at his feet but he's not actually seeing them so his shoes scrape angrily against the rough wood of the stairs. Ben holds the door open for him and he shuffles past, almost tripping himself on the threshold. He straightens and he's kind of a clumsy kid so Ben isn't too concerned. He glances over his shoulder as he closes the door, waiting for a sarcastic comment about being too graceful for the door. Riley always manages to turn his faults into accomplishments – like he's so damn awkward because the world is jealous of his hidden elegance.
Riley doesn't make a joke – he doesn't say anything as he expectantly looks at his Ben, who suddenly feels like he's trapped in a spotlight, like he's being expected to deliver some speech that he even hasn't written yet. Instead of saying something profound, he jams his hands in his pockets and mutters, "do you want a soda?" Riley shrugs. Ben takes that for an affirmative and escapes to the kitchen. Because that's what he's doing. He's escaping.
Riley watches him go, rubbing his palms on his shorts, and shakes his head a little. His bangs flop and hang over the lenses of his scratched glasses. Maybe it's time for a new pair; he's getting bored with the oval frames. A more rectangular style would look good on him. Square glasses are trendy, cool, in spite of their glassesness. One day, Riley tells himself, he will be trendy, cool, in spite of his defectiveness. He can hear voices, familiar voices, drift in through the open windows. Against his better judgment, he looks.
It's the lifeguard – the pretty redhead one, with the green eyes and freckles. He's walking with his arm around the shoulders of a young girl. She looks about a year younger than Reese, but skinnier with pale skin. The lifeguard laughs at something she says and pulls on a piece of her blonde hair and Riley feels just the slightest bit sick in his stomach because, even from here, he can recognize the look in the lifeguard's eyes. Hopefully, the girl has someone who taught her how to say no. Someone who taught her how to not end up on her knees. He wants to run out the door, jump over the steps and land right in front of them. He wants to rip the lifeguard's arm off the girl and he wants to yell and scream and make some fucking noise.
But he's too busy dashing into the hall bathroom, dry heaving and vomiting up nothing into the toilet. He hears someone come in behind him and he wonders why he didn't think to shut the door. Ben sets the soda cans on the edge of the sink and crouches down next to him, rubbing his back like Reese did. Riley tries to apologize, explain, anything, but he's a little occupied by his own hysteria. And he's sorry. He's really, really sorry and he wants Ben to know that but he can't tell him because of the terrible dying animal noises coming out of his mouth.
After he's done, Riley sits back on his ass with his legs spread-eagle and spasming. He leans on one arm and wipes at his face with his hand; his eyes are fever bright behind his glasses. Ben crouches next to him, all sympathy and kindness as he supports Riley with an arm around his back. Gently, he puts his palm to his forehead.
"No," he says slowly as Riley starts to breathe a little easier, "you don't have a temperature."
"It's just," Riley coughs on the dryness in his throat and Ben gets him a little Dixie cup full of water. There's a purple octopus on it telling him a "Water Fun Fact". Water is actually two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen! Fascinating, Riley thinks to himself and he swallows it all in one gulp. "Thanks," he rasps and throws out the purple octopus cup in the trashcan next to the toilet; he feels a little bad for it. "I ate something weird this morning," he fibs with a smile. "Haven't been feeling too great all day."
Ben doesn't believe him but he doesn't push it. In most cases, vomiting after consuming questionable food makes the afflicted better. Riley does not look better. He looks worse than he did when he first came over and he was looking pretty shaky then too. Something's amiss, Ben can tell as he helps Riley to his feet, but he'll wait until Reese comes over to investigate further. Ben cracks open one of the Coke cans and hands it to him. He accepts it with a nod and takes a long drink.
"Feel better?" Ben asks as he opens his own drink and takes a sip. Riley nods behind his can and makes a satisfied humming noise as he swallows. Ben tries not to follow the motion of his throat, because Riley is just a kid – he's barely sixteen – and Ben is nineteen and how fucked up is that, anyway?
"Yeah. Sorry," Riley says at last but it doesn't make him feel better. Ben waits, his soda held to his lips in expectation, as he raises his eyebrows in encouragement. Riley flushes, feeling stupid and weak and fragile and maybe just the tiniest bit loved, as he fills time by sipping from his soda.
"What is it, Riley?" Ben asks and Riley opens his mouth, thinking maybe he can say it. Maybe he can tell someone because it only happened an hour ago but it's already broken him. He can't imagine sleeping with this dirtiness so he's all ready and willing to talk but then Reese bursts in through the front door all laughing and loud. At her entrance, Riley realizes that what happened to him could ruin the summer for all of them so instead of talking he shakes his head with a grin so fake it hurts.
"Better go see what she wants before she blows up your house," and then he's on his feet even though Ben's repeating his name like he knows something's wrong. "Hey sis," Riley beams as Ben shuffles out of the bathroom behind him. "Good shower?"
"Sure," she answers uneasily, eyes shifting from her brother to Ben and back. "What were you two doing in the bathroom?" Riley blushes and tries to find an excuse – not that Reese will believe him but it would be a comfort anyway.
"Riley got sick," Ben answers smoothly and Riley instantly zeroes in on his shoes; he feels like he's three years old and he doesn't like it. "I brought him a Coke to settle his stomach."
"Huh," Reese takes her tongue between her teeth and narrows her eyes at her brother – the self-proclaimed stomach of steel. "He was feeling sick earlier today too – vomited in the bushes."
'Really?" Ben comments, taking the topic into speculation.
"Okay you guys," Riley laughs and it's all high pitched and nervous. "Enough of that grossness. Like I told Ben, I ate something weird this morning. It's just working through my system." Reese opens her mouth, about to protest, but he hurriedly cuts her off. "C'mon kids, let's do something!" The two stare at him for a moment, unsure of his ability to contain his stomach contents while doing something. "C'mon!" He repeats, hopping on his toes a little.
"Whaddaya wanna do?" Reese slurs as she links her hands behind her back and stretches. Riley shrugs, hoping if he keeps on this facade of boundless energy, they won't notice that he doesn't actually want to do anything. What he wants to do is curl up in a corner or the closet or a dark hole in the sky and scream until he can't hear the world anymore. That sounds like a lot of fun right now. "Ben?" Reese asks, still poised on the heels of her new Keds sneakers.
"Dunno." He shrugs and Reese rolls her eyes as she elbows him none-too-gently in the ribs. Ben winces and rubs at his side. "What?"
"You're the exciting college man – what do you do for fun?" Ben snorts and ruffles Reese's wet hair. Riley watches them and feels something like jealousy even though that's ridiculous because his sister has told him without actually telling him that she knows he's into Ben and she'll never be into Ben, because ew.
"We hang out in libraries and debate things, Reese," Ben jokes and Reese rolls her eyes and then it's quiet. Riley can almost hear them thinking about him, why he's acting so strangely, why he's thrown up twice already and why he's so fucking off the wall in general. He doesn't like people thinking about him so he jumps in with something random.
"Let's go to the park." Because it's beautiful outside and it's a little less muggy with the sun fully set, Ben and Reese agree and for the first time since it happened, Riley thinks it might be okay. The park is on the opposite end of the neighborhood from the pool. Seconds before they leave the house, Reese remembers bug spray. She got a mosquito bite on the walk over from her house and she doesn't need anymore, thank you. She and the boys spray down – Riley gags a little because it gets in his mouth and he almost has a break down right then and there. Instead he swallows the rest of his soda in one go and smiles wide with tears in his eyes.
"Let's bounce," Reese suggests and she links arms with Ben and Riley and leads them out the door in a skip. Riley can't keep up with them so he breaks the chain and Reese drops Ben's arm not a moment later and she's off, twirling on the sidewalk like a ballerina. He and Ben watch as she flits and flirts in and out of the street lamps. Riley realizes, with a sudden start, that his sister is sixteen and she is awkwardly beautiful and he wants to protect her innocent happiness for as long as fucking possible. Because if anyone tries to touch her like they did him, he will not stop until there is nothing left of their bodies to find.
"What are you thinking about?" Ben asks suddenly as Reese does a cartwheel. Riley hopes that his thoughts don't show on his face as he tries to rearrange his expression into something resembling summer night-induced pensiveness.
"Stuff," he mutters enigmatically and maybe he feels sorta deep because of the way Ben stares at him. Like Ben's seeing him for the first time. Like he suddenly isn't little Riley Poole from next door anymore. Like he's the new Riley Poole, who has this weird ability to think about secret things without blurting them out all over the place. Riley almost starts crying when he realizes that isn't the Riley Poole he wants to be.
"Good stuff or bad stuff," Ben probes and Riley thinks that's sorta deep too. Or maybe it's just the way Ben's eyes look almost liquid in the not-light of the street lamps.
"Depends," and it does. It depends on a lot of things. The biggest of which is standing in front of them, with its hands on its hips.
"Guys," Reese stretches out as she leans forward dramatically. "Let's get going." She waits for them to catch up to her before she stops them. Reese spreads her arms out wide and grins a grin of trouble. "I'll race ya." And she does. And they do.
Ben wins first but he slows down at the last second so Reese passes him. Riley's a beat behind them when his shoe catches on a loose patch of gravel. He goes down hard but he manages to sit up in the same moment. He hisses as he assesses the damage; he tries to brush the rocks away from his ravaged skin but his fingers are too rough and it only hurts more. Reese and Ben are at his side and Riley stammers as he tries to brush off their concern.
"Oh, Riley, are you okay?" That's Reese, kneeling next to him and he's embarrassed as she gently examines his knee. Hopefully, she won't notice the bruises from earlier. The concrete floor of the utility closet was not kind to him. With a resigned sigh, Riley tips his head back to look at Ben standing behind him. His friend looks relatively bemused, but it's hard to determine when he's so upside-down and shadowy.
"You gonna live?" Ben jokes. Riley has to bite his tongue to keep from saying hope not and instead rolls his eyes. He braces himself on his hand and struggles to his feet.
"I'm fine, Reese. No worries, see?" He throws his arms out and slowly turns around like a model. He's wearing this disgusting I-just-want-to-please smile that makes Reese want to shake him back to himself. Ben has his hands in his pocket but he makes eye contact with her behind Riley's back. She nods, answering an unasked question. All of this is unnoticed by Riley, who has finished his little show. "Okay?"
"Okay," Reese affirms, but she's still staring at his knees. Ben doesn't comment at all, just squints his eyes like he's trying but can't figure Riley out. All the attention is starting to make him sweat and it's cold even though it's summer hot and his palms are clammy and he's breathing so fast he feels like he might pass out.
"C'mon!" He grabs Reese's hand and pulls her to the swings. "I'll push you!" Ben watches them with curiosity as Riley laughs a maniac's shriek and pushes Reese higher and higher. He winces as he leans forward and back with each push; there's blood smearing and trickling down his leg. His hair is flattened to his forehead, sticky with sweat. Reese is kicking her feet out – her green toes sparkle when they catch the sparse light from the street lamps. If not for Reese's stiffness and Riley's instability, the twins could be eight years old again. Ben plays with his cellphone in his pocket as he leans against the metal frame of the swing set. It's shuddering under the strain of a full grown teenage girl.
After a few minutes, Reese stops pumping her legs as hard and she starts to slow down. Eventually, she stops and bumps into her brother, who pretends the impact hurts a lot more than it actually does. "I'm gonna go on the slides," she informs him and she even sounds like she's eight again. There's an identifiable adolescent skip in her step as she flounces to the playscape.
Riley struggles to adjust himself on the swing closest to Ben. The toes of his Chucks brush against the wood chips carpeting the ground of the playground. He stares, transfixed by the contrast of the whiteness of the shoes with the dark earthiness of the chips. Ben shifts a little, about to say something profound (what do you want to do?) when Riley makes this defeated sighing noise and Ben somehow forgets to breathe.
In the deep light of the night, the youth looks tinted blue – ethereal and untouchable. His bangs, almost ebony, flop over his glasses. His eyes are half-hidden behind the fringe until he turns to look at Ben and he's all melting brown stare and, Jesus, how can a sixteen year old look so damn enticing?
"What?" Riley asks, genuinely confused, and Ben feels like a pervert so he fumbles out his phone. He flips it open and holds it to his ear to check for a dial tone.
"Up for pizza? My treat." Riley nods slowly, unsure disbelieving and all things skeptical. But food is food is free so he quickly informs Ben that his sister is going through a vegetarian phase so better stick with a large cheese for now.
When the pizza comes, they crowd around a picnic table to enjoy it. Reese is out of breath and glowing from revisiting her childhood; she talks eagerly, gesturing with her pizza-free hand, about some boy from her math class last year. He's a year older than her. They've been e-mailing and talking on the phone. Her excitement is nearly infectious, but Riley's too busy worrying about this guy taking advantage of his sister to get caught up in the romance of it all.
"What's he look like?" Ben asks around a mouthful of cheese and tomato sauce. Riley raises his eyes from his third slice. What's the probability of him actually knowing this kid?
"Well, let's see," Reese swallows and wipes her hands on a napkin from the pizza place. She dabs at her mouth and continues. "He's got the curliest red hair – it looks like fire when the sun catches it, I swear. He used to sit next to the window. I had the hardest time paying attention in class. And his eyes!" She puts her hand to her chest dramatically and Ben laughs. "Green as green can be! He actually works as a lifeguard; we should go visit him tomorrow. He works an early shift so maybe we four can hang out for the rest of the afternoon or something." Ben agrees, joking that he and Riley need to make sure he's good enough for Reese. Reese blushes and hides her face in her napkin.
Riley's a little preoccupied trying not to swallow his tongue. His eyes are wide – the pupils consume the ice blue of his irises. He stares at the ground as his hands form fists in the material of his shorts and he tries not to hyperventilate. Because, oh God, that piece of scum has been talking to his sister and his sister has been talking back and oh God they've been flirting. He'll want to take her on dates, that piece of shit, and he'll take her behind the restaurant where no one will notice and he'll fucking touch her. Riley feels the pizza-tinted bile rise in his throat but he swallows with a grimace. It burns.
"Reese," he croaks and she stops mid-sentence to grant him full attention. "Don't see him."
"Excuse me?" And her voice is dangerous because no one really tells Reese Poole what to do, not even her twin brother. But he's determined not to let her be destroyed like he was destroyed so he doesn't back down. Instead, he looks up from the half-consumed pizza and swallows again while blinking away tears. "What did you just say to me?"
"Don't see him, Reese." His voice is unsteady; he's started a losing argument. Ben can feel the tension as the air thickens. He entertains himself by enjoying another slice of pizza and looking elsewhere. Riley continues, not breaking eye contact, "he's bad news. I know you don't want to listen to me, but please, you gotta believe me. He's not gonna be good for you."
"How dare you?" She bites out, vicious and vindictive. "Do you even fucking know him, Riley?" And the attack is so close to his own tortured question from this afternoon that Riley has to shut his eyes and steady his breath. "That's what I thought."
"No," he counters at length, "I know him. He's..." But he can't bring himself to say the lifeguard's name, so he finds another train of thought. "He's not a kind boyfriend. I heard it from a friend of mine. She said –"
"Wait," Reese interrupts in faux-confusion, "you have friends? That's news to me. Is it news to you, Ben?" Instantly, Ben throws his arms up in standard I'm-taking-no-sides-in-this position. Reese rolls her eyes and turns back to her brother. "I'm sorry," she apologizes unapologetically with a condescending nod, "so, what did your imaginary friend tell you?"
"She was in my history class last year," Riley lies quickly. He isn't thinking. "She said he pressured her to ...do... things. Things she didn't want to do." Reese gives him an unimpressed, unconvinced stare. "What?"
"I was in your fucking history class last year, kid. And you didn't talk to anyone besides me and the teacher. So don't feed me your bullshit, okay?" She snorts and starts gesturing violently with her hands as she rants. "I can't believe you. You never want me to have a boyfriend. What are you so afraid of, huh?" She leans in close to him, her eyes mean and accusing.
"Do you think that, if I find some guy who likes me, I'll stop spending time with you? Are you that desperate, that jealous that you have to sabotage every good thing I have? That's fucked up, Riley. Really." She shakes her head in mock disappointment as she jumps off the picnic table. "Sometimes," Reese admits as she dusts off her shorts, "I really hate being a twin."
"Reese," Riley calls weakly in a broken voice, "wait."
"Fuck you, baby brother," she returns casually over her shoulder. Riley watches with a defeated slump in his shoulders as she walks away. He's convinced that he's accomplished the exact opposite of what he wanted. Tonight, Reese will most definitely call her soon-to-be-boyfriend and there will be nothing he can do to stop it. Riley bites down hard on his lower lip and soon he's tasting blood but it's not enough because if anything happens to his sister it'll be his fault.
"So," Ben comments weakly as he closes up the pizza box and tucks it under his arm, "that went well."
"Yeah," Riley agrees dumbly. He follows Ben to the trashcan and watches as he crushes the box in half. It's mind-numbingly mesmerizing how the cardboard bends and folds, creating unimaginable angles. He doesn't realize Ben is watching him back until he looks up and their eyes catch.
"Riley," Ben starts and Riley shrinks into himself, preparing for the worst of it. With a tired sigh, Ben throws a brotherly arm around his shoulders and starts leading him out of the park. "Let's go back to my place – give Reese some time to cool down."
"Okay," Riley lowers his head and stares at his feet. His ankles are from a fairytale – awkwardly skinny and breakable. He wonders if that's why the lifeguard went for him first, instead of his sister. He's the easier conquest; he doesn't look the type to fight when being forced to the knees. And he didn't. It's something that should make him laugh, but he's a little busy thinking about a hundred and seventeen ways to kill himself. As the shadows thicken around them, Ben tightens his grip on Riley and Riley almost leans his head against Ben's shoulder.
When they get back to Ben's house, Ben grabs them both fresh sodas. He sits on the counter as Riley huddles in a chair at the kitchen table. It's an oddly sterile feeling they share under the soft yellow light fixtures. Ben plays with the push-tab of his can, watching as Riley reasons with himself. The sixteen-year-old has his eyes closed and he's shaking his head. It's painful to see Riley negotiating his own break down. Ben glances at the clock over his shoulder; it's a quarter to eleven. Where did the night go? At three minutes to midnight, Ben pushes himself off the counter. Riley looks up at the movement.
"Let's watch a movie," Ben suggests and Riley follows him up to his room, cradling his still-full soda. Ben slides Fight Club into the DVD player, because Riley's read that book and he'll spend most of the movie trying to convince Ben to read it too. And there's something amazing about Riley's voice when he's really arguing. His earnest conviction – it's even stronger than that of Ben's colleagues, which is impressive in and of itself – is such a fucking turn on, Ben can't help but get him riled up for a debate.
It's twenty minutes into the film, and Riley has yet to say anything. He sits cross-legged against Ben's bed, his soda held between his thighs, and he hasn't made a comment. It's worrisome. This entire day has been worrisome. Ben, who is sprawled out on the floor next to him, raises his head a little. "Riley?" He asks the darkness.
"Not yet, Ben," Riley admits but there's a promise in his plea. An unspoken but soon so Ben settles back down, not quite content but willing to wait. He's patient, if nothing else.
Helena Bonham-Carter is scary, Ben deduces as she waxes poetic and describes the aftermath of a sex crime in comparison to a Christmas tree in comparison to a thrift store dress. Underwear inside out. Bound with electrical tape. She's quite possibly the most terrifying female actress he's ever seen and that makes her all the more spell-binding.
Riley shifts next to him, pretending to take a drink from his soda, but he's very-much not looking at the screen, very-much trying not to listen. Ben furrows his eyebrows, about to try and question his young friend but Riley shakes his head behind his closed eyes. Even so, Ben sneaks his hand across the carpet to touch Riley's. Their fingers brush and Riley jerks, pulling both his hands into his lap.
It's not until the end of the movie, when the narrator comes to terms with his own insanity and effectively disposes of his other personality, that Riley speaks.
"Wonder what it feels like," he comments as he draws his knees to his chest. On screen, buildings are collapsing as Edward Norton and Helena Bonham-Carter hold hands.
"What?" Ben's a little slow, a little muzzy, at half past two in the morning. "Being schizophrenic?"
"No," Riley sighs and glances at Ben from behind his glasses. "Having a gun in your mouth. Bet it's better than giving head." Ben stares at him as he curls his hands around his toes, "bet you don't hate yourself afterward."
"Riley," Ben sits up and he's instantly awake and aware because what the fuck did he just say?
"I need to tell you something," Riley takes in deep jerky breaths and his eyes are panicking and his voice sounds hollow and detached. "And, it's kind of personal, so if you could not tell other people, I'd really appreciate that."
"Okay," Ben promises instantly, turning on a desk lamp. He pushes stop on the DVD player and sits down next to Riley on the floor. "What do you want to tell me?"
"This afternoon, today... Yesterday, now," he amends when the clock corrects him, "I... something happened to me. Something bad, that I didn't exactly want." He's curled up tight, rocking back and forth, biting on a thumbnail, all terrified and scared and embarrassed and humiliated and fuck he's about to cry. "You know how Reese and me went to the pool?"
"Yeah," Ben encourages with a soft voice, trying to be as gentle and nonthreatening as possible because Riley really looks like he wants to just run out of the house.
"Well, um, there was a lifeguard there and he... well, I... um. We kind of... He took me into the utility closet, you know, where they keep the chemicals and stuff," briefly, Riley looks Ben in the face before dropping his gaze back to his knobby knees. "And I thought we were just gonna... you know, make out a little, maybe. Because, um, well, I like boys... and I wouldn't have minded kissing him or having him kiss me."
His hands slide down from under his chin to curl around his shins. He presses his forehead into his knees and his voice is muffled but Ben can still hear him, God can he ever hear him even though he wishes he couldn't. "Except, he didn't want to just kiss me or have me kiss him so, um, he ... I... well. That is... it happened... He wanted me to... um... suck..." and then his voice died in a choked sobbing, "fuck," and Ben's heart breaks and he wants to grab Riley and hold him and hold him and hold him so he never makes that kind of defeated noise again.
"Riley," Ben tries to coax him out of his huddle because it's damned painful watching his shoulders shake like that. He makes a little whine of acknowledgment. "Does Reese know?"
"No!" Riley's head jerks up and his eyes are fever bright and his cheeks are blotchy and Jesus he's beautiful. "No, she doesn't, and I can't tell her... Ben, don't tell her, please. She already hates me enough and I don't even want to think about what she'd do if... God, no, please. Ben. Don't tell her." And his face crumbles like it used when he was nine and got tease at school for having glasses. He rubs at his eyes, knocking his spectacles crooked and askew. "I feel so dirty," he admits and it's too fucking much for Ben to bear.
So, carefully gently, he gathers Riley in his arms and cradles him gently to his chest. He sits with his back against the wall and Riley sitting across his lap with his head on his shoulder. "It's okay," he whispers, "you're not dirty, you're the purest, sweetest boy I've ever met." And it's corny and he feels a little stupid but Riley isn't crying as hard so maybe it's actually working. "Shh," Ben hums and presses a quick, fleeting kiss to his sweat-matted hair.
"It just hurt so much," Riley admits through hiccups. "I didn't expect it to hurt so much. I mean, it was just a..." He can't even say it so Ben nods because he knows what he means. He always does. That's what makes him Benjamin Gates.
"It doesn't always hurt," he says because it seems like the right thing to say even though it really probably isn't at all. "Not if it's done right, not if you're gentle." And that makes Riley go quiet so Ben thinks maybe he did really say the wrong thing. Riley's hand slides up Ben's chest and makes a small fist against his heart.
Without looking at him, Riley asks, "will you show me?" Ben wants to say no. And he does. He says no many many times in his head and finally, somehow, the word comes out of his mouth only it comes out as something else.
"Yes." A beat. "No." And Riley's face goes pale and he's almost climbing off of Ben's lap. "Wait, Riley."
"Is it because of what happened?" Riley asks and it's not even an accusation. He's still half-tangled in Ben's legs.
"No." A beat. "Yes, sort of. I don't want to hurt you."
"But you said it doesn't have to hurt. It shouldn't, that's what you said," Riley points out as he settles back down on Ben's lap and there's a broken sort of confusion on his face and his voice sounds all innocent and questioning and, maybe – just maybe, Ben falls a little bit in love.
"Physically, it shouldn't hurt. Not... that... anyway," he stammers. "But... I don't want you to think I'm taking advantage of you. Riley, you've just been... It's been a rough day for you."
"You're not taking advantage of me, Benjamin," and maybe – just maybe, Ben gets a little turned on hearing his name like that. "You can't rape the willing." And then he smiles and it's an awkward teenage showing of crooked teeth.
"You can rape the underage," Ben points out.
"In this room, in these walls," Riley argues, "there's no such thing as age. Just you and me." And Riley presses his mouth against Ben's and maybe – just maybe, Riley falls a little bit in love too. Ben rests his hands on Riley's hips and Riley squirms so he's straddling Ben and there's friction. Sweet, fucking, delicious friction and oh God oh God oh God oh God Ben pulls Riley tightly against him with a hand on his ass and the other in his hair so he has to bend his knees completely to avoid kicking the wall but it's worth it to be that close.
Their mouths slide against each other, tongue and lip and amazing and Jesus where did a kid learn to kiss like that? Riley laughs as Ben moans and he doesn't sound as manic as he did just a few short hours ago so Ben thinks maybe he's really okay. Riley tries to unbuckle Ben's belt but Ben stops him easily. His eyes are serious as he holds Riley's hands in his.
"Not this time, kid." He counters with a brief kiss, pinning Riley's hands at his side, "right now, it's all about you."
And it is as, minutes later, Riley's leaning against the wall, nervously staring at the ceiling. Ben's on his knees in front of him, rubbing lazily at the back of his calf with one hand. Riley's belt is undone but Ben stops and looks up at him.
"Riley." He finally drags his stare from the cracks in the plaster to meet Ben's address. "I won't be angry if you say no," and he won't because something has him thinking that maybe the kid doesn't actually want this. Some things sound great in theory but in practice aren't that fantastic. Like Communism. And blow jobs. And life in general.
"No." A beat and Ben's pulling back, very much not angry. Riley panics, "I mean, I want this. Ben, I want you. I trust you. I just," and Ben's holding his hand, kissing his fingers, soothing him so he doesn't feel completely lame when he mumbles, "I don't want to hurt you."
"When it's done right," Ben explains as he drops Riley's hand and pushes his shirt up a little to press an open-mouthed kiss right below his navel, "it doesn't hurt." And Riley's shivering and trying not to gasp as Ben trails kisses down to the button his jeans. He uses his tongue and lips to undo the button and his teeth to pull down the zipper and Riley about dies right there.
Reverently, Ben frees him from the confines of his boxers and his jeans and it's the first time anyone else has touched him like that so maybe he makes a startled whimper. He has to bite down hard on his lower lip when Ben finally takes him in his mouth. He doesn't feel scared or dirty or cheap or anything beyond fucking adored as Ben licks and works him with his tongue. Not surprisingly, it doesn't take long and soon he's clenching his hands on Ben's shoulders and he's panting and cursing. "Ben, fuck, I... ngh, Ben, Jesus, so close so Ben, thank you thank you thank you." And he's still sobbing his gratitude when he comes and Ben takes it all because it tastes like Riley. And maybe – just maybe – Ben likes the taste and sound and feel and everything of him.
They spend the night tangled together under the summer sheets in Ben's bed. Riley is cuddled into Ben's chest with his hands tucked under his chin. His glasses are next to Ben's watch on the bedside table. Ben has one arm folded under his head and the other slung across Riley's waist. Neither of them have nightmares. They dream of flying and wind. When they wake at a quarter past noon, Riley has hitched a leg over Ben's hips and his face reddens until Ben kisses the blush away.
But it doesn't end there.
Because there's still the lifeguard to deal with.
Ben wants to take Riley out to lunch, right and proper. There's a sandwich shop down in the city they used to frequent every weekend when Ben was still in high school with the twins. On the way to the restaurant, Ben stops at the pool. True to Reese's prediction, the lifeguard is on duty, though she's nowhere in sight. Maybe she did heed her brother's wishes. The lifeguard's chatting up the latest jail bait of the hour and Ben tightens his hands on the steering wheel. He glances at Riley, who nods while staring at his lap.
"Hey," Ben coaxes him to smile and he kisses him at the corner of his mouth. "This won't take long, okay?" Riley nods again. "Then I'm gonna buy you the best damn sandwich you've ever had."
"All right," and Ben kisses him again simply because he can. He leaves the keys in the ignition and Riley turns on the radio as he shuts the driver's side door. He takes a deep breath and flexes his hands as he walks to through the pool gate.
The jail bait is giggling, blushing, as the lifeguard boasts some pretty lie. Ben puts a cordial smile on his face as he taps him on the shoulder. The lifeguard turns, confused but not alarmed, to address the interruption. It's more than a little difficult with Ben's fist in his face. The jail bait covers her mouth with her hands in shock.
"If you go anywhere near Riley or Reese Poole again," Ben promises as he shakes his hand to counter the pain of the punch, "I'll fucking kill you." He pauses and the lifeguard blinks at him with his green as green can be eyes. "You get me?" The lifeguard nods, terrified, with blood smeared all over his pretty little face. "Good." And he walks away. And he doesn't look back, because he has someone waiting for him. He doesn't want to be late, after all.