A/N: Have I mentioned that I didn't write for like…a month? It's not good for me. I think it pent everything up way too much and now it's all rushing out. Not, I think, that you guys are complaining unless you have a particularly picky inbox.

I've been terribly conflicted since I saw Book of Secrets on opening day. I'm a Ben fan. I want to believe the best in Ben. But the writer in me can NOT forgive that he didn't read Riley's book. That is just not acceptable. I think I've finally come up with a compromise.

Disclaimer: I don't own National Treasure, or anything else I may mention that you recognize.

Summary: The last thing Ben had ever intended to do was hurt his best friend. BenRiley Brotherly Fluff. Major spoilers for Book of Secrets.

Stay Strong
Chapter 1/1

The last thing Ben had ever intended to do was hurt his best friend. He spent so much of his time making sure that Riley was protected; knew that someone cared for him. It tore him up inside when Riley got that look on his face like someone had just taken everything he loved and smashed it to pieces while he watched.

Ben knew that feeling. Remembered coming home one day and being told his Grandfather had passed away. He'd felt abandoned and betrayed. They were supposed to find the treasure together, and he'd left Ben behind.

Riley didn't deserve that punched-in-the-gut-insides-on-fire feeling. The kid had done nothing but prove time and again that nothing would make him leave Ben's side, even when everything logical in the world told him to. He didn't deserve to be betrayed like that.

This was exactly what Ben had done, though at the time he hadn't meant for it to be that. The thought that this, in some ways, was the ultimate betrayal hadn't even entered the older man's thoughts.

But once he heard Riley's disbelieving voice say "Did none of you read my book?" and turned around to see THAT look—that dreaded 'how could you do this to me' look—that a whisper of 'this plan may not have been the best idea after all' trickled through the treasure hunter's mind. It wasn't more than a whisper at first, just enough to make itself known.

"The eagle, touching the scroll…" Riley sounded a little breathless, a little confused. That look hadn't disappeared, and Ben could feel his stomach slowly knotting. Something…something wasn't right. He'd messed up. Messed up somehow in a way that really mattered.

"Do you know what it means?" He tried to sound like he didn't care. Because it was about the book. That book that he hadn't read on purpose. Hadn't read because he was protecting Riley.

"Yeah…but it's not something I can tell you." Ben suppressed a wince at the false happy tone in Riley's voice. This wasn't an 'I know something about history you don't' moment, though it probably should have been. This was all wrong. Riley was hurting, and somehow Ben was responsible.

"It's something I have to show you." A small, breathless laugh from his friend, and the treasure hunter could almost feel his stomach drop down to his toes. "In my book."

What he could have done didn't dawn on him until the disappointed "you didn't even… open it?" To the untrained ear, Riley only sounded slightly upset. Ben wasn't untrained. He could probably have written his own book on any and every thing Riley related. Riley wasn't whining. He wasn't complaining continually about how under appreciated his talent was. Every well trained instinct in Ben was screaming at him that this wasn't a good thing.

It meant that it hurt more than the kid wanted to admit to.

When it was superficial, when he knew that complaining about it would be viewed excessive by all parties, Riley would pitch the biggest fit possible. He loved over reacting to make people laugh.

When it really hurt, when something was a big deal to him but he could be less sure about anyone else, Riley got quiet. He had a near phobia of being viewed weak in some way. If there was even a slight risk that someone else would see his pain as not a big deal, he wouldn't speak of it all.

One step up from that was the 'I'm trying not to say this but can't help it' voice Riley had used when he saw the envelope. The one where it hurt too much for him to keep quiet, but he wouldn't let it show. Wouldn't complain just say…something, anything…as a way of reaching out.

Normally, Ben would try and reach back. Find something to say to try and ease it just a little bit. This time he had nothing. Because a small little part of him had wanted Riley to find out he hadn't read his book and be hurt by that fact. Because if he was hurt, then Ben would have succeeded.

It sounded awful, even thinking it to himself, but he couldn't back down. Because backing down would have been encouraging Riley to continue down this treasure hunting path.

Yes, they had found the Templar Treasure. Yes, there might even be treasure at the end of this one. But the life of a treasure hunter was time consuming. It cost you almost everything. It could cost you your life.

When Ben was there to make sure that Riley did make it out alive…he wasn't exactly fine with the fact that Riley was there, but it was better. The fact that he could end up facing things like this, or worse, alone made Ben sick to his stomach.

Riley had too much potential, too much life ahead of him, to chase treasure and conspiracies. Particularly conspiracies, because bad things happened to people who knew too much. His best friend had a bad habit of knowing too much.

It would not be understood this way by Riley. The younger man would protest, try and convince Ben that he could handle himself, that he wasn't stupid. The fact that he wasn't stupid being the very source of the problem would be totally lost on him.

He couldn't tell Riley all the complex reasons why he hadn't even opened the envelope. "I was moving."

It sounded lame, half-hearted, even to his own ears. He had nothing else. There were no really good reasons in existence that he couldn't have read Riley's book…except for the truth, and he just couldn't do that.

"Chapter thirteen," was the sighed response. Riley sounded like someone had winded him, something Ben forced himself to ignore.

Instead, he flipped through the pages. He didn't want to be doing this. He didn't want Riley to think he wanted this to continue. They were out of leads, though, and there was not reason not to. "The President's Secret Book?"

"The President's secret book," Riley answered, sounding almost excited. This was some how worse. He'd wanted Ben to read it so badly. All the more reason why he couldn't do that.

He sort of tuned Riley out as he listed all the things this book could contain. He may have responded, but he couldn't have repeated what he said. Was this what his father had always felt like? Hating to hurt him, but believing he had to to protect him? To keep him from throwing everything away?

He really owed his father an apology if that was so, because this was hell. He wanted more than anything to make Riley stop hurting. To find a way to reassure him that he'd read the book at the library, or something. Anything to get that betrayed, haunted look out of his best friend's eyes.

"Ben," the desperate, pleading tone in Riley's voice pulled him back to the present. "If it were you trying to convince me, you'd have less evidence and I'd already believe you by now."

He believed Riley completely. Was sure that he was right, because he'd seen Riley researching, and knew that—pretenses aside—Riley didn't believe in things he could not be sure of. Usually, one of those things was Ben.

If Riley said it existed, Benjamin Franklin Gates would have been willing to bet his entire share of the treasure that it did. He couldn't let Riley know that. Couldn't let him think that what he was doing was a good thing. Couldn't allow him to be happy doing it.

'Hurt him to save him,' Ben silently reminded himself, pushing aside the ache in his chest for later. He would make this up to Riley later, he promised himself. When they were all safe again and Riley had decided for himself that treasure hunting wasn't worth it. 'Hurt him to save him from what you've done to him.'

He had to be strong to keep his friend safe, and he could do that. He would do that.

Ben swallowed hard, closing the book and clenching a fist by his side, bracing himself the crushed look he knew Riley would be unable to hide, and more than a few steps backwards in the trust he'd fought so hard to gain. "I'm going to talk to Sandusky."