Five Years Gone
A/N: Had this idea for a while. Gasp, can it be?? Ben angst…yes indeed. Yes. Indeed. Decided to shake things up a bit. Ben and Riley friendship!
Warnings: Dark themes ect. Very much angst. Some language. Nothing graphic. This is probably the angstyest thing I've written. If you don't like angst, don't read! Not sure how I feel about it, I just needed to finally post this thing because the idea has been festering around in my head.
Edit: I added the song "Hurt" by Johnny Cash. It fit well and I didn't feel like writing a whole new story to use it.
"I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt... "
It had been five years. Five whole years and the pain was as fresh as ever. When time unmercifully neared the anniversary he would feel the loss more acutely and drown himself in his work or anything else to escape.
But this night… he couldn't escape. It was one of those nights where every time he closed his eyes he saw her and another part of him died. And the pain was threatening to do more then linger…it was encasing him.
Strength was something he was grappling for now. Not that he would admit anything to anyone. As far as they knew, he had moved on.
After all, it was five years ago.
He sat up in bed, shaking from head to foot. The reality of it all hit him again and nearly suffocated him.
"Oh…God," he choked. He reached over to the nightstand where he kept a photograph of her. Her beautiful smile frozen forever in a memento. He would only have a ghost of her memory for the rest of his life. Leaning over it, he felt the teardrops slip from his eyes and splash onto the glass casing. His heart was too heavy.
"I…can't take this."
The bottles alcohol stared at him from the cabinet, enticing him to take a few drinks…. to escape...
Now it was one of his many means of removing himself from reality. It helped him with particularly rough nights like this but it always left him sick and emptier then before. But he needed relief, even if it was only temporary. It caught him in a vicious cycle and he hated himself every time he gave into it. Like now.
Feeling disgusted with himself, he took a bottle and slammed the cabinet closed.
"Honey," Riley called into the kitchen. He listened. No answer from Jackie. Sighing, he walked into the living room to see his eight-year-old son, Theo, mumbling over his homework while the TV droned in the background with Saturday morning cartoons.
"Do you know where your mom is?" Riley asked while looking at the cartoons on the screen.
"Uh, I think she went to get milk. She said you drank it all again."
"What? I did not…I just need a lot of it with my cereal…" Riley muttered, still looking at the TV screen. "What is this crap? There are no good cartoons on anymore. Whatever happened to Scooby-Doo or Pinky and the Brain…"
Theo rolled his eyes and sighed. "Dad, can you help me with this problem?"
"Sure chief. Let's see here…" Riley's eyes skimmed over the algebra problems.
Theo was only in third grade but he was mature and well advanced beyond his years. The school had told Riley and Jackie their son was a certified genius. Sometimes Riley thought their son behaved less like his parents and more like Ben. Jackie agreed because it seemed the sarcastic gene seemed to have skipped Theo completely.
Riley spent the next few minutes explaining out the problems to his son when his cell phone rang. He fumbled around in his pocket and picked it up. The call was from Jackie.
"Sorry buddy, I'll be right back," Riley apologized as he took the call. Theo sighed and turned back to his work.
"Hey you," Riley said into the mouthpiece. "I hear I drank all of the milk again."
"Yes you did and I'm getting more milk…and bran cereal."
"What? Aw, come on…you know I hate the stuff."
"All those fruit loops are going to make your teeth rot and fall out."
"You'd love me anyway."
"Pssh. You'd look like a tortoise."
"Yes, but I'd be your tortoise," Riley said sweetly.
"I'm getting the bran cereal Riley."
"Darn it," Riley sighed. "So…is there a reason you called besides rubbing bran cereal in my face?"
"Well, yeah actually…" Jackie said in a suddenly serious voice. Riley frowned and sat down at the kitchen table.
"Did you speak to Ben recently, Riley?"
Riley felt his insides squirm guiltily. "No…not in a while. I should probably check up on him more often, huh."
"Yes, he's your best friend. Did you look at the calendar recently?"
Riley felt a stab of anger quickly followed by hurt. He didn't even need to look at the calendar to know it was a week from November tenth. He knew the date like his own palm. It was engraved forever into him.
"Jackie, I know," he said softly, a tone of sadness creeping into his voice. There was a pause on the other line.
"I'm sorry Riley…" Jackie said, he heard her sigh and could imagine her running her hand agitatedly through her strawberry blond hair.
"It's just…I'm worried about him. I haven't heard from him…you know how he gets around this time of year."
It was true. Ben withdrew from everyone, became quiet and didn't want to be bothered. He just buried himself in work. Yet when anyone talked to him he was almost painfully polite, assuring them he was okay.
"Yeah, you're right Jackie. I'm worried about him too. I'll give him a call today." Riley said firmly. "I should have called him earlier…but everything's so…busy." It sounded stupid even in his own ears. Some friend he was.
"I know, hon. Life and everything…oh, I have to go…the cashier is giving me a death glare. Love you!"
"You too," Riley said as he heard the click from the other line. He sighed and stared at the phone and listened to the faint drone of the dial tone.
Ever since that fateful day five years ago his friend wasn't the same Ben Gates. This fact broke everyone's heart…especially Ben's parents. He ended up pushing them away along with his friends. Sure, he would still get together with everyone…smile, laugh, give lectures at colleges, speak to the press…but something had gone out of him.
Riley blinked at the blank screen of his cell phone. Five years seemed like an eternity ago. He pressed down the speed dial and waited.
Come on Ben. Please answer. It went straight to the voicemail.
"Hey, you've reached Ben Gates, please leave your name and I'll get back to you as soon as possible…to leave a message, press one-"
"One, one, you infernal contraption," Riley muttered in annoyance as he pressed the button.
"Uh, hey Ben, it's Riley…sorry we haven't talked in a while…I'm just calling to see how things are going with you…so…when you get this message…please call me back Ben."
Ben looked blurrily at the bottle he clutched in his hand and then dropped it. It shattered on the tiled floor with a loud smash. Ben staggered to his feet and a wave of nausea washed over him. How much did I have to drink? His body suddenly protested violently against the alcohol and he threw up all over the kitchen.
"Well, that's great," he slurred. Mumbling to himself he clutched the table for support and stood upright. The alcohol would wear off. A part of him that was still sober knew that and he couldn't live with that fact. He had tried every means of escape possible. Except one…he had already failed twice…but he could always try again. He could use a gun this time. Fool proof.
It would be so easy too.
It would be selfish, Ben.
Shut up. I don't listen to you anymore. You died along with her.
Ben, what about your friends….your family.
You know what? I pushed them away because it kills them to see me like this. I'm dragging mom and dad down, I'm dragging my friends down…no more…I'm out of everyone's life forever.
You're an idiot. What about Riley? Remember, your best friend? You need to pull through this, if not for yourself for him.
Look, just leave me alone. I can't take this anymore...
Ben paused. His other self had a point. It would be unfair to do this without at least telling Riley. Ben felt a part him wanting to become emotional but everything just felt numb at the moment.
Riley sat on the front steps, watching the colored leaves falling off the trees. He had done mostly everything on his weekend chore list. Helped Theo with his math homework, check. Did the laundry without adding too much laundry detergent, check. He had even raked some of the leaves. Double check for that one. His allergies were beginning to annoy him. But there was one thing he hadn't gotten to yet and it was killing him.
Riley sighed, holding his cell phone loosely in his hand. Jackie still wasn't back from grocery shopping. And Ben still hadn't called back. Not that Riley was too surprised. He wouldn't want to speak to himself either after being such a lousy friend.
He stood up and made his way back into the house, not sure what he should do about the situation. Should he call Ben again? Wait for him to call back? Maybe if he called again it would seem too pushy and Ben would get angry and not call him back at all.
Then his cell phone began to ring, answering his questions for him.
Riley looked down at his cell phone and felt relief seep into him when he saw Ben's name on the screen.
He hit the answer button and greeted Ben cheerily.
"Hey man, how's it going? I'm glad you called back, we haven't talked in a while…me and Jackie just wanted to see how things are going with you."
Riley heard a strange sound on the other line like a sudden exhaling of air.
"Riley, I'm just calling to say…goodbye."
"What?" Riley asked, his voice catching in his throat. "What do you mean?"
"I mean just the way it sounds."
Riley thought he heard Ben's voice slur slightly. Was he drunk?
"Are you going somewhere…I don't…" Riley now felt his heart begin to pound. What in heaven's name was Ben implying?
"I'm not coming back."
Something was horribly, terribly wrong.
"Ben, you're scaring me. What's going…"
"Before I go I wanted to tell you…you're my best friend and... I'm sorry I'll have to hurt you like this but I can't take it anymore."
Riley's heart literally froze.
"Ben," he was surprised at how calm his voice was. "Ben, stay where you are. Don't do anything. Don't hang up the phone. Where are you Ben?"
There was silence on the other line.
"Ben, where are you."
"I'm at my house."
Riley knew it could take him a good twenty minutes to find him in that estate.
He was already fumbling for his keys and grabbing his coat. "Where in the house."
"I'm sorry Riley."
"Ben, don't you hang up this phone. I'm coming over there now. We'll talk about this."
"I'm sorry," Ben said again. There was a slight trembling under his voice. Then the line went dead.
"Ben! BEN!" Riley cursed and ran into the living room were Theo was staring at him worriedly.
"Dad?" he asked shakily.
"Call mom, tell her to meet me at Ben's house as soon as possible. Then lock the doors and call Mrs. Rosen from across the street. Tell her that me and your mom might be gone for a while and we need her to watch you."
"Is there something wrong with Uncle Ben?"
"I'm checking on him right now. Call mom Theo."
With that he threw on his coat and ran out of the door. Picking up his cell phone he called Ben's number again.
Even if he didn't answer, Riley would keep calling.
Ben listened to the incessant ringing of the phone. He couldn't answer it. He almost wanted to but he didn't. Riley would be on the other line and he couldn't face him.
He weighed the gun heavily in his hand and took another drink of the bitter alcohol. He hated the stuff. He never really drank much in his entire life, save for formal gatherings.
The gun was cold. He had never held a gun before. Well, his grandfather once let him hold an antique musket rifle. That didn't count did it?
What was the quickest way to do this.
Most efficient…through the head? The back of the mouth? He found himself chuckling bitterly…after everything it turned out that he was the coward…taking this way out. It was better then the mind-numbing pain day after day.
Don't do it. You're a Gates. You can't just throw everything away.
"Stop it," he groaned. His head was killing him. Just because he was a Gates didn't mean he was a superman.
It's RILEY! He's calling you because he's scared out of his mind. What would you do to him and Jackie and Theo, huh?
"Leave me alone."
So where was he… oh right, the gun. Killing himself. Doing away with himself. Essentially, flushing his life down the toilet. Or what was left of it.
God, his head hurt. That stupid phone. It wasn't even his cell phone. Riley was calling the house phone so about ten phones that went off at the same time. Great, even now Riley was annoying the crap out of him.
Benjamin Franklin Gates, don't do this to yourself!
"Dammit!" he shouted. "Shut up!" That only made his headache worse. Whatever. It didn't matter anymore.
He looked at the gun and placed it to his skull, his finger wavering over the trigger.
As soon as he was out of the car Riley bolted down the driveway and to the front door of the manor.
Plan A, he tried the door and unsurprisingly it was locked. He began to bang on it, ringing the doorbell although he knew there would be no answer.
Fine, Plan B . Riley took a few steps back and threw himself at the door. It resulted in an injured shoulder. Ben could have probably pulled that off nicely.
"Ow." Okay, Plan C, which is what he should have done from the beginning.. He took a lock pick out of his pocket and began to jimmy the door. It clicked open and Riley ran over to the alarm system and managed to bypass it in under ten seconds. A new record. The procedure reminded Riley of a long time ago when he and Ben broke into this same house…
Riley bit his lip as the memory faded away. He had to find Ben.
"BEN!" His voice rang into the still house. Only a frightening silence answered
Riley began to run, frantically slamming open doors, calling Ben's name. Please let nothing have happened…don't let me be to late…
What was he doing? This was crazy. He should have called the police!
Then he ran into the living room, and stopped short. The fireplace was burning and Riley began to tremble when he saw an inert figure lying on the couch. Oh Lord, no. Please, please, no…
Pure terror filled him as he rushed forward, expecting to see his best friend dead. But he wasn't. Riley almost began to cry with relief.
Ben hadn't killed himself. But he was almost incapacitated. He was laying on the couch, staring into the fireplace, the light reflecting off his tired face.
Riley slowly walked forward.
"Ben?" Riley said softly.
Ben didn't respond to him. He didn't even seem to have noticed Riley came in. As Riley drew nearer he observed a nearly empty bottle of alcohol on the floor and was clutching a half empty glass of the substance. It startled Riley. Ben had always been a stickler for that kind of thing…always wanting to be in control of himself. Now the alcohol was in his system and Riley wondered how much he was being affected by it…and how long Ben had kept this new problem a secret.
Now Riley was nearly right in front of him and he felt his heart skip a beat. In Ben's other hand that fell limply over the side of the couch, he clutched a gun.
Riley knelt down in front of him. "Ben, I'm here," he said blinking back tears.
Then it seemed that Ben looked older then Riley had ever imagined seeing him. The strands of silver in his hair shone bright in the firelight. His eyes had a faraway lost look. A single tear fell out of one and mingled with his beard.
"Ben…" Riley said softly and placed a hand on his shoulder. Now that he was here, he had no idea what he could do to help his broken friend.
Finally the older man turned his pain-filled eyes to look at Riley.
"Riley…" he muttered. "Why did you even bother coming."
Riley didn't answer him as he gently helped him sit up. It was now obvious he was intoxicated. Ben wasn't looking at him, the tear that fell earlier still staining his cheek, reflecting the orange glow of the fire.
Riley began to pry the gun out of Ben's hand.
"No…" Ben muttered, tightening his grip.
"Give me the gun Ben," Riley said quietly.
Ben shook his head. "No," he whispered.
"I lost a sister Ben…don't let me loose a brother too."
Ben looked at Riley, the firelight shining in his eyes.
Riley nodded at him. Slowly, Ben uncurled his grip around the gun handle. Riley gently plucked it away and put it on the coffee table, out of reach. He would have to find some way to dispose of it later.
They both sat there in silence, watching the fire burn in the hearth.
Ben began to study the glass of alcohol in his hands. He lifted the trembling glass to his lips and Riley gently pushed it away.
Seemingly defeated, both means of escape gone, the older man closed his pained eyes and leaned back on the couch. He was breathing a little shallowly which worried Riley.
"Why'd she have to die?" Ben asked in hushed broken tones.
"I don't know Ben."
Ben stared into the fire, tears streaming silently down his cheeks.
"It hurts so much on some days. I-I don't want to get out of bed."
Riley was silent, his heart aching.
"But you know me," Ben chuckled bitterly. "I can't afford to show anything. Respected and revered in the historical community. People watch me. I just go through the motions now Riley. Everything is so fake…."
Riley's blue eyes were trained intently on his best friend. He hardly dared to move or say anything. Seeing him like this scared him so badly. Ben had always been the one who didn't give up, who had strength for everyone around him. Riley wished Ben would get angry, because even that emotion had some fight left in it.
"The Templar Treasure…Cibola," Ben scoffed a little. "It doesn't matter anymore. None of it matters."
Riley couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Ben, it was your life…treasure hunting was your l-"
"SHE was my life!' Ben suddenly shouted. He sat up straight, momentarily coming out of his stupor. "Don't you get it? After she died, everything lost meaning!"
That was about the saddest thing Riley had ever heard. "Ben, what would she say? She would never like to see you like this…"
"It doesn't matter because Abigail's not here! She's not here and nothing matters-"
"I'm here Ben!" Riley suddenly yelled. "Don't I matter? Doesn't Jackie matter? What about your parents and other friends and relatives…there are people who care about you!"
He wanted shout at him more, yell at him for being so selfish and so self- pitying. He wanted to say that he wasn't the only one affected by Abigail's death. He wanted to be angry with his best friend for showing such weakness.
"You know Ben, for someone who is big on honoring memories…you're not doing a very good job at honoring hers."
Ben suddenly whipped around and grabbed him roughly by the collar.
"Don't you DARE talk to me about that!" Ben shouted.
Riley met Ben's tear-filled blue eyes, not flinching. "Is it because you know I'm right? You risked life and limb to make sure Thomas Gate's name was cleared but now you're going to kill yourself because of Abigail…do you think this is honoring her memory? Do you think how you're living is honoring her? It's like everything you believed in is nothing now." Now Riley's voice began to shake as he angrily blinked back his own tears.
"She'd probably slap you in the face and tell you not to be stupid."
Ben released Riley as if he'd been burned.
"Riley…" he began. He was trembling slightly. Then he staggered to his feet and over to the fireplace, breathing heavily. He was staring at a framed picture on the mantelpiece, shaking his head. Riley stood and walked over to where he leaned against the wall.
"I'm sorry…I know I'm being a selfish bastard. I've always been a selfish bastard. "
"I'm so sorry…"
Ben leaned forward clutching the stone above the fireplace, tears falling freely from his face. Then he broke down completely.
Riley gently took his arm and maneuvered him back to the couch. He put one hand on his back, the other gripping his hand.
"It's all my fault," Ben moaned.
"No, it's not." Riley said softy.
"I could have stopped it…could have protected her…"
"You did everything you could…" Riley whispered. But even as he said these words he knew they would never comfort him.
It was a short time later when Riley heard a sound from the hallway. He looked up to see Jackie standing pale in the doorway.
"Get some water for him?" Riley asked quietly. She nodded and slipped out of the room and toward the kitchen.
"Why'd she have to die." Ben was whispering sadly.
Riley looked sorrowfully at the man whom he held in his heart as a brother. He was so broken…
"Why'd she have to go Riley…" Ben mumbled. Riley looked into the fire.
"I don't know…but I promise that you don't need to go through this alone."
Jackie appeared back in the room holding a glass of water. She approached Ben and gently put a hand on his shoulder.
"Drink some water Ben."
He looked up and took the glass from her with a shaking hand. He took a sip.
A little while later he began to drift off to sleep from exhaustion. Riley made sure he was laying on his side. He wanted to make sure he was still breathing.
"He threw up in the kitchen," Jackie informed Riley quietly. She shook her head and sighed. They both sat down in a nearby plush chair. "Riley, there were beer bottles all over..." she swallowed. "I don't know how much he drank... but we need to make sure he didn't get alcohol poisoning."
Riley nodded, and felt sick. Ben had an alcoholism problem? That alone was enough to scare the crap out of him. It was so unlike his friend. They both sat back to wait and watch and make sure they didn't need to call an ambulance.
Riley felt so scared and he drew Jackie close to him and they both held each other. The one person he had always known to be steadfast, could count on in any situation was lost.
How could he come back from it? How could he help the one person, his best friend, who had always helped him?
They next day Ben's hangover kept him couch-ridden. Riley and Jackie had stayed late into the night, checking up on him and made sure he was okay. Eventually Jackie had to go back home because Theo was anxiously waiting to know what happened with Ben. Riley had stayed, knowing that the next morning's hangover was going to be lots of fun.
Almost as soon as Ben woke up he retched again. Riley got a wet towel for him and cleaned up the mess. Ben groaned and put a hand over his eyes.
"It's too bright," he muttered.
"Yeah. It's one of the great perks of having a hangover," Riley explained sarcastically.
"Stop speaking so loud..."
"Here," Riley said to his miserable friend, handing him another glass of water and Tylenol.
"Thanks." Ben mumbled. He swallowed the pill and chased it down with the water. After a moment he closed his eyes and ran a hand over his face.
Riley had taken a seat next to him and was staring at him intently. "Do you remember anything from yesterday?"
Ben suddenly choked on his water and looked in horror at his friend. "Yes... not everything, but yes..." he put the water down. "I am so sorry Riley."
Riley just shook his head. Ben persisted.
"I'm sorry about everything. I wasn't thinking straight…all that alcohol." They both knew he was fumbling for excuses.
"Ben," Riley suddenly sounded very young and very frightened. Ben looked tiredly at Riley and felt something he hadn't felt in a long time. Concern for his friend. It sparked something in him and he sat up a little straighter.
"I was so scared Ben." Riley whispered. "I can't imagine how much loosing Abigail hurt you…" his voice suddenly took on a hard edge. "But don't you ever do something like that again, okay?!" He blinked back angry tears as he glared at his friend "It was so selfish and I thought I was going to loose you along with Abigail!"
Ben swallowed. "I-I…know. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am….but…" he took a shuddering breath. "I just don't know how….to escape the pain. I've been drinking ever since…she died…"
"What?" Riley said in surprise. "You have? For five years?"
Ben nodded glumly. "Yeah, I have…" He suddenly found himself spilling everything out to Riley. He told him about the enormous pressure he felt and the fact that he couldn't deal with along his wife's death. It was too hard, and he felt like he was on some sort of tightrope.
Riley listened with tears in his eyes and Ben told him that attempted suicide twice before but never succeeded. And when he survived both times he felt like he had been given another chance at life, which he simply squandered.
"What happened this time?" Riley asked quietly.
Ben snorted. "Wallowing in self-pity I guess. And I went back to the bottle, thinking it would help... but it wasn't enough this time." He sighed and closed his eyes. "I had the gun to my head and everything. But…" a slight smile suddenly appeared on his lips. "I closed my eyes and in my mind's eye I saw her. And I knew I had disappointed her with sinking as far as I had. You were right Riley. She would have wanted me to be strong and carry on." He looked back and Riley. "I did that very well, huh?"
"You're allowed to feel like that…I just wish you could have told somebody so we could have helped you."
Riley's heart was broken because he felt this was all partially his fault. He should have checked on him more often. He should have pushed Ben to talk.
And as if reading his mind Ben smiled sadly and shook his head.
"It's not your fault Riley. Don't think that. This falls solely on me….I'm the selfish one here. You've been nothing but…supportive. Just wanting to help. I've pushed you away."
Riley didn't know what to say. He swallowed back a broken apology and instead pulled Ben into an overdue hug. Ben seemed surprised for a moment then returned the hug, sighing deeply.
Riley sat back and sighed as well, looking around the living room. His eyes fell on something sitting on the mantel place, the same picture Ben was looking at yesterday. He walked over and picked it up, smiling a little. It was a picture of a time that seemed forever ago. When they were all so happy. It showed the three of them after their hunt for Cibola, smiling and waving at the camera.
Sitting down next to Ben, he handed him the picture.
"I think she'd be proud that you stopped being stubborn and talked to someone."
Ben let out a small chuckle gazing at his late wife's picture. "She always told me she hated to when I was stubborn."
"Well, now we know why," Riley said softly. Ben stared at the picture for a long time, his eyes glazed over in remembrance of happier times.
A little while later Ben once again drifted off to sleep, his head slumping against the pillow. He clutched the photograph to his chest which was rising and falling steadily.
Riley sat back quietly, hoping that when Ben woke up next time his hangover would be totally gone. His thoughts drifted to about how much his friend had changed. He didn't know what he could do to help him back on his feet . But he would have to try.
He would have to be there for him and just love him (yes, love) because there was nothing else he could really do.
"...I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
What have I become
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way"
-Johnny Cash "Hurt"
ANGST. I told you :'( Sorry.
So whayda think? Nicolas Cage describes Ben in one interview as a "stiff" saying he doesn't smoke or drink. So I wanted the alcohol thing to show how kind of far Ben slumped. I was originally writing this as another Riley angst…but there are so many of those and it seemed kind of repetitive with my other story. I have it partially written but it's too depressing even for me :( I know I didn't explain what happened to Abigail... but it wasn't the main point of the story. I was going to have this whole thing where something terrible happened to her and Ben couldn't stop it and he is guilt-ridden. There are a lot of Riley stories like that but not a lot with Ben and Abigail. I had this one scene in mind where a drunk Conner is stumbles in on a lecture Ben is giving and accuses him of not being able to protect her. Weird. Something like that would have been a whole multi-chapter story in and of itself and I just wanted this to be a one-shot.