A/N: More fun with teenage Ben! I hope he's acting like a teenager. I'm never sure I'm writing things appropriate to age. If you think I'm not, please let me know, with suggestions on how to fix it, if possible.
Chapter 3: Trust
If he let his head rest against the glass long enough, Ben was sure he'd melt into it. And life as a car window sounded more appealing than his own future at the moment. He was getting his little brother today.
People seemed to think he should be happy about this, but Ben couldn't understand why. Adopting a child wasn't his idea, or even something he particularly wanted. There were so many unforeseen negative drawbacks! For example, he'd spent days shopping with his father. Not only shopping, something Ben disliked generally, but for the first time they were shopping for things Ben would never use.
Always in the past, there had been no one else to shop for. He got to help pick what they had for dinner, and never had to worry that someone else might not want it. Now, he and his father had spent hours looking at and debating about sheets for Riley, clothes for Riley, toys for Riley, even SOCKS for Riley! If he had to look at one more pair of tiny shoes, Ben was going to snap.
In addition to that, every weekend of the last two months had been spent playing with the two-year-old. That had been bad enough. Now, he was going to spend every day doing just that. His Dad, and the orphanage head Ms. Louis, kept insisting that Ben was having fun and the pair of them were perfect together. Nobody seemed to care about Ben's protests that Riley was whiny, boring, and babyish. In fact, his father had once told him that those complaints were why Ben and Riley got along so well. Ben hadn't made those complaints out loud since.
"We're almost there, Riley," Patrick grinned into the back seat, using his rearview mirror. Ben shot a glance back to see the little boy squirming in his car seat. "Are you excited?"
"Uh-huh," Riley nodded, holding the stuffed bear Ms. Louis had given him as a going away present. "Is it a b'ue house?"
"No, it's white." Ben muttered into his palm as he continued staring gloomily out the window. "Plain old boring and white."
"It is big?" Riley asked, sounding a little more subdued than last time. Patrick glared at Ben as if this was his fault, something Ben ignored.
"Is it big, Riley," the teen corrected, getting some satisfaction out of the scowl his father gave him. Aside from annoying his father, the toddler's grammar really was driving him nuts. It is big wasn't a question; it was a statement. If he HAD to have a little brother, and at this point it was looking that way, it would be one that could speak properly.
"I don't know," Riley pouted back at him. "I asked you."
Patrick chuckled, and now it was Ben's turn to scowl. Little kids were so frustrating!
"No, Riley. You say it…"
Patrick turned sharply into the driveway, interrupting Ben as he clunked against the window and Riley squealed with delight. "We're here."
"Ben, it IS big," the toddler informed him happily as Ben rubbed his head and gave his father a dark look.
"Yes, thank you, Riley."
The teenager sighed, beginning a mental countdown of how many days it would be until he turned eighteen while his father put the car in park and turned it off.
Ben began deliberately moving slowly, having no real desire to help his father get the now squirming tot out of his car seat. This was part of the joy and satisfaction Patrick had been telling Ben about for weeks, after all. He should be allowed to enjoy every moment of it.
So, instead of going to grab something from the backseat, he stood outside the car, hands in the pockets of his denim jacket, as his father struggled to pick up both the excited toddler and the backpack carrying all his belongings from the adoption center.
"Thank you so much for your help, Ben," the elder Gates muttered once he could stand up right again.
"You're welcome," was Ben's cheerful response.
Riley's eyes, always abnormally large and bright, looked kind of like someone had replaced them with painted ping-pong balls. Ben couldn't decide whether the child looked more excited or terrified. Riley untangled one arm from around Patrick's neck and pointed at the house. " 'ots of a other peop'e?"
"No, Riley, it's just me and Ben…and now you, too." Patrick smiled, gently nudging Riley's forehead with his own. Ben suppressed a gag and mentally swore he was going to fix the little boy's problem with 'L's.
Riley looked puzzled at this information and put his head on Ben's father's shoulder. "But…there's 'ots of windows. Aren't there other friends?"
Ben felt his heart do something weird in his chest at the puzzled and almost frightened look on Riley's face. The little guy had never lived in a place that didn't have hundreds of other hyper active children falling all over the place—or it seemed like it, anyway, and Ben had never bothered to count them. The idea of living in a place that must seem huge to him without all those people had to be terrifying.
It was a moment of weakness, one that Ben would always deny if asked later, but he couldn't help it as he reached out and gently ruffled the toddler's hair. "No worries, kiddo. We'll have lots of fun exploring and stuff."
The terrified look on Riley's face was replaced with a hopeful one in record time. "Rea'y? Promise?"
Ben snatched his hand back and returned it to his pocket as punishment for betraying him. "Yeah, sure."
Riley smiled at him a little shyly as Patrick opened the door and shoved the backpack at his son. "Ben, why don't you show Riley where his room is while I go start making grilled cheese for lunch?"
"I 'ike gri'ed cheese!" Riley said happily, latching on to Ben's leg when he was put down.
"I don't," Ben muttered, reaching down to grab the small hand attached to his jeans. It wasn't strictly true. He liked grilled cheese fine when his mother made it. His father just had a tendency to think that black, not brown, meant it was done. "Come on, short stuff, let's get you upstairs."
The teenager left Riley in the newly converted guest room across the hall from his own, with instructions to put his things where he wanted them and then come down the stairs. He doubted highly that Riley had even heard him, as the two-year-old was too busy staring around in shock at all the things that were already there.
Ben sauntered downstairs, joining his father in the kitchen and hopping up to sit on the counter.
The older Gates sighed when he saw Ben alone, "you just left him up there by himself?"
"He's fine, Dad. We spent the last month baby proofing everything, remember. He won't hurt himself."
"That's not what I was worried about, Ben. This is a new experience for him, and probably very frightening. You could at least try and be considerate of his feelings."
Ben scowled at the reprimand, swinging his feet so they banged loudly against the counter. "You shouldn't baby him so much. He'll never grow up if you do."
Patrick sighed, shaking his head as he flipped the sandwich over. "I don't know what you have against the kid, Ben, but you need to get over it. If you're mad at me, that's fine, but leave Riley out of it."
Ben said nothing, just continued to let his feet hang. His dad was right of course. Riley hadn't really done anything wrong; he was only a little kid. Then again, if the toddler hadn't been so pushy about being friends, Ben might have been able to convince his father that this whole thing was a bad idea, like he'd been trying to do in the first place.
"Hey, I've got an idea," Patrick sounded pleased with himself, and Ben rolled his eyes. "Why don't you and Riley have a backyard camp out next weekend? It would be fun and great brotherly bonding time…"
"I'm going to Mom's next weekend." The anger in Ben's voice startled even himself a little bit. "I haven't seen her in months because I've had to spend every weekend with Riley."
"Ben, this transition period is crucial. Your mother will understand if you…"
Something inside Ben's chest gave way a little, and he jumped to his feet. His eyes were burning slightly, though he didn't quite know why. "Look, just because you're so eager to pretend that Mom isn't part of this family anymore doesn't mean that I have to be. I want to spend the weekend with her! Why don't you spend time with the replacement if you like him so much?"
"Benjamin Franklin Gates, you will not…" whatever he was not supposed to do, Ben never found out, as Riley choose that moment to wander into the kitchen, looking slightly lost. With a snort out of his nose, probably to signal that they weren't finished, the elder Gates turned around and picked Riley up.
"Come on, kiddo. Let's get you fed, okay?"
Riley just nodded, refusing to look up at meet Ben's eyes. The tightness in Ben's chest moved down to form a knot in his stomach. How much of that had the kid heard anyway? How much had he understood?
The chance to ask Riley about it, or to continue that conversation with his father, didn't come up as the rest of the day was spent getting Riley familiar with the house. They must have visited every room at least six times, and by the end of the day Ben was exhausted. He curled up in bed, ready to just sleep and think for a little while that this whole situation was some kind of bad dream.
He was hovering on the edge of sleep when the sound of someone opening his door snapped him awake. Ben remained with his eyes closed, feigning sleep. If his father wanted to talk about what he'd said, they could do it in the morning.
A weight on the end of his bed blew that plan out of the water, and Ben sat up so fast he made himself dizzy. "Who?"
"Ben?" Frightened blue eyes stared back at him, and it took Ben a moment to process who it was. He'd forgotten there was another person in the house.
With a groan, Ben fell back onto his pillows. "It's too late to play now, Riley. Go back to bed."
"Ben," Riley whimpered again, scooting closer. "It's quiet."
"Yes, Riley, it's nighttime. It's supposed to be quiet."
"Dark." The toddler protested, now nearly sitting in Ben's lap.
"Yes, Riley, it's bed time, so you're supposed to…" he looked up then, intent on dragging the kid back to his new toddler bed if he had to, and froze. Riley was trembling head to foot, obviously scared out of his mind.
Of course. He would never have slept alone before. Ms. Louis said Riley had been with them since he was eighteen months old, and the kids at the home always shared with at least one other person. The darkness and quite must have been huge and frightening for him.
Unhappy though he may have been, Ben wasn't heartless. He sat up and pulled the little one into his arms and cuddled him close. "It's okay, Riley. I'm right here, see? You're not alone, kiddo, okay? I promise you won't be alone."
"Ben won't 'eave me?" Riley whispered in response.
"Of course not."
"Even, though you is mad?"
"Mad?" Ben was momentarily confused before he remembered how Riley had probably over heard them earlier. He sighed, hugging the kid tight. That was probably why he'd chosen to come to Ben instead of his father. He wanted to make it up to Ben somehow. "I'm not mad at you, squirt. Not really."
"Mad at Dad?"
"Yeah, a little bit."
"Cause of me?" Riley's fists clenched tightly in Ben's night shirt, and the oldest of the pair smiled a little.
"Not really, Riley. I just…I miss my Mom, you know? She left when I was really little. I always hoped she'd come back, and we'd be a family again. But I guess…Dad just seems ready to accept that she's not."
Riley nodded, though Ben doubted he actually understood. "You're mommy nice?"
"Yeah, she is. I think you'll like her." Ben paused in thought. "You know…how about you come with me next weekend and meet her? I'm sure she'd like to get to know you."
"Rea'y?" Riley pulled back a little in his excitement so he could see Ben's face in the dark.
"Yeah, really." Ben smiled, ruffling the toddler's hair. "We'll talk to dad in the morning. For now, how about we try and get some sleep, okay?"
The toddler nodded again, burying his face in Ben's chest with a content sigh. "Night night, Ben."
"Good night, Riley."