A/N: Have I mentioned just how much I like one shots? Because, I really do. There is just so much less…commitment involved in them. No worries, though, I've been working on-and-off on both 'Perfect Christmas' and 'Binding' all summer, and should have the next chapters of both done shortly, along with my other fic 'Diamonds in the Dark'. I'm also keeping Riley's past the same in all my stories, as that is—to me at least—simply what it is until proven otherwise. However, for your convince, I'm restating it a little here.
This story was inspired by Jedi'Pirate Jaeh's story "Superhero", and so is dedicated to her.
Disclaimer: If I say I own them, will someone tell me the plot to the next movie? Oh, I don't own Campbell's soup, Microsoft Windows, WoW, Star Wars, or American Idol though. If I did, I wouldn't be in the housing situation I am right now.
Summary: Ben does some thinking while Riley does some cooking. BenRiley brotherly fluff, as usual.
There are certain things that you never realize you are grateful for until you are shown how wondrous it truly is. You cannot fully appreciate hot water, for example, until you had been stranded in the Arctic Circle and had to hike nine miles through knee deep snow all the while thinking you are never going to get warm again. The first hot shower after that particular experience was the most wonderful one Ben had ever had—and that was saying quite a lot as there had been several times in his life were hot water was just not a luxury they had and it had been sorely missed.
Today, the treasure hunter was learning of two things he normally didn't have time to be thankful for but would be every day from now on. Thing one was the fact that they had no neighbors. In a normal neighborhood the racket Riley was making in the ancient kitchen would have merited an irate swing-shift worker on his front step, at the very least. Since their nearest neighbor was almost a mile away in any direction, he wouldn't have to try and calm anyone down.
The second thing was sort of edging more towards the 'didn't appreciate it until it was gone' category more than 'suddenly realizing how wonderful it is'. Ben had never realized he would miss talking so much, but now that his voice was gone—due to a rather severe case of strep throat—he was starting to be thankful that on regular days it was easy for him to communicate.
Trying to get Riley to realize that he wanted peace and quiet without the ability to tell him to 'shush' was starting to seem impossible.
With a semi-defeated sigh, Ben leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and tried to think of a way out of this. One option was to write the instructions on the little pad of paper Abigail had given him yesterday—they were in fact already on there—but he couldn't seem to get Riley's attention to make him look at it. Any noise he made was drowned out by the orchestra of kitchenware the younger man had going.
He could have gone up to tap Riley, he supposed, or just gotten the pot himself, but the medication he was on had made Ben tired and gave him horrible vertigo when he stood up. As crazy as Riley was driving him, it just wasn't worth the humiliation he would experience when he collapsed after moving from the chair.
The last possible solution would have been to have Abigail tell him, but Abigail, unlike Ben and Riley, had a full time job that Abigail, also unlike Ben and Riley, really wanted to keep. So, sick boyfriend at home or not she had to go attend her duties at the Archives building, which was why Riley was over 'looking after him' in the first place.
So far looking after him had included almost an hour of deciding whether or not Ben's voice truly was gone due to illness or if it had mysteriously been kidnapped by elves. Ben was pretty sure that the one-sided argument had ended in Riley's conclusion that it was the doing of said evil voice-nabbing elves, but he sincerely hoped that the argument had purely been for the sake of annoying his sick friend and that Riley really didn't believe in such things.
Of course, it was always difficult to tell with Riley.
A stray piece of Tupperware rolled past Ben's feet, and he knocked it to the ground so it could get no further in its quest for freedom. Somehow, stomping on the aspirations of lifeless plastic seemed to make Ben feel better, and he chalked it up to some delirious sense of misery loving company. He was quite feverish, after all.
"I think I found it!" Riley called from the other side of the breakfast bar, and soon a hand clutching a worn pot was held up for Ben's approval. "This isn't some collectible I shouldn't be touching is it? If it is, I would recommend finding a better place for it than the bottom of your cupboard."
It was fortunate for Riley that it was a safe pot, to Ben's knowledge at least, as the youngest of the pair didn't look up at his friend for confirmation before putting it on the stove and scurrying about to clean up some of the mess he had created. "You guys seriously need some organization in this place. Abby dusts every flat surface you have every other day, but we can't get all your pots and pans put in the same cupboard? That's just wrong somehow."
'This from the guy who puts his clean and dirty clothes in the same suitcase until he can't remember which is which' was hurriedly scribbled down on the pad and held up for Riley's inspection, but he either didn't notice or chose to ignore it. Ben was betting on the later, as he thought he saw Riley sneak a look at him out of the corner of his eye.
Then again, maybe he couldn't see it without his glasses. Ben couldn't be sure either way on this one, as it seemed to him that Riley often wore his glasses at random times. Maybe it was a deformity in his eyes from looking at computer screens too long, and he only had to wear them when staring at one. That was…probably possible…and he was really too tired and groggy to tell otherwise.
Ben groaned a little, realizing that half his thoughts weren't even making sense in his own head—never a good thing—and Riley looked up at him for the first time in almost half an hour. "Are you sure you don't need to go lie down or something while I do this?"
Ben shook his head, and fought back a wince from the pain it caused behind his eyes. Even though lying down was a particularly appealing option, he couldn't very well leave Riley alone in the kitchen. He'd just gotten moved back in to this house, thank you very much, and he wasn't keen to lose it in a semi-preventable but always predictable Riley created accident. He'd seen what kind of creative havoc his best friend could cause with some pieces of tin foil and a microwave, and hated to think what might happen were Riley given free range with something as complex as a stove.
Riley's reasons for insisting on heating up the Campbell's Chicken and Stars soup on the stove were still eluding Ben, but then, he'd almost stopped trying to understand Riley by this point.
The younger man frowned at Ben for a while, obviously having a debate in his head about something, before shrugging and continuing to pick up the escapees from his kitchen raid, "I could probably organize some of this for you if you want. I've been practicing it over at my house, getting ready to move."
He had, actually, been 'getting ready' for several months now, if Ben remembered correctly, as Riley's little condo had been up for sale for a while. It was sort of painful, the older treasure hunter realized, because he still didn't know where Riley intended to move to. Riley had always brought it up so casually that, until the day a few months ago when Ben had gone to see if Riley could help him break in to his house and seen the For Sale sign himself, he had always assumed that Riley was only tossing the idea around and had no intention of actually going through with it. After that, there just hadn't been an opportunity to talk much, and Ben hadn't yet gotten around to asking.
The older man sincerely hoped that it was someplace nice and not too far away.
"Speaking of organizing, I've been going through some of my old papers. Do you realize how much totally random junk I keep?" Riley glanced up at him, looking gleeful as Ben tried to tell him that yes, he knew better than anyone, but only a dry wheezing noise came out. Riley had probably done it on purpose, just to annoy him. "Anyway, I found this paper I wrote back in like, sixth grade. I'm not a dinosaur like you, but that's still pretty long ago."
Ben folded his arms across his chest and scowled, hoping that his displeasure at the unfair teasing when he couldn't respond would be felt in the air around him. He was certain this time that Riley was cheerfully ignoring him.
With most of the utensils now returned to their proper places, Riley turned his attention to getting the stove turned on as he continued talking. "I think it was probably my first A paper or something. Some sentimental reason I've always kept it in my stuff that I can't remember anymore. Anyway, it was some stupid paper we had to write on who our hero was."
Ben could remember writing a similar paper, he realized as he quickly scribbled down the instructions for the stove to throw at Riley's head. He had written about his Grandfather, much to his own father's annoyance—the resulting argument between Ben's Grandfather and Patrick was probably the reason Ben remembered it, actually.
Riley paused in his inspection as the little yellow paper bounced squarely off the back of his skull—Ben paused to congratulate himself on still having excellent aim—before he bent down and picked it up off the floor. Riley grinned, almost certainly at the instructions for finding the pot as well as the earlier comment that were on the same page. "Gees, Ben, why didn't you say something earlier? It would have saved me a lot of time."
Ben's attempts to mouth 'ha ha' as sarcastically as possible were as effectively ignored as everything previously had been, but Riley was kind enough to follow the directions given him and nothing exploded or lit on fire in the process.
"Anyway, back to this paper," Riley grinned; now digging through the nearby drawers for a can opener, the noise of which caused Ben to wince. "I wrote mine on Bill Gates, of all people. I can't believe I ever liked Windows! How young and inexperienced I was then, naive to the wonders that awaited me in the world of technology."
There was a muffled clunk as Ben let his head fall back lightly against the chair, trying to communicate to Riley that he thought the dramatics were a bit much. This was not as effective as Ben had hoped as two round blue eyes glanced over at him with concern. Ben shrugged lazily, finding he was much too tired to lift his head up, and waved it off with a vague hand gesture. Riley turned back to his cooking, though Ben could see him still watching out the corner of his eye.
"I just thought it was funny," Riley continued, as though he'd never been interrupted, "how much things have changed since then. I mean, now I'd have a completely different hero than I did when I was twelve…and a totally different writing style too, I hope."
Ben looked up, suddenly curious. Who would Riley pick as his hero now? Ben wasn't sure he knew the guy—or guys, or girl, or whatever—that had created the Apple computers his best friend loved so much, but he doubted Riley would have chosen them anyway. Selfishly, he hoped that Riley would pick him, Benjamin Franklin Gates, as his new idol. A hero was something Ben had always wanted to be for somebody.
This lead Ben to wonder, as there was no way he was going to actually ask Riley about it and there was nothing else for him to do but make sure no eyes were lost in the process of can opening, who was his own hero now after all these years?
He still looked up to his Grandfather a great deal, and every so often he would find himself missing the old man and wishing he could have lived to see everything that Ben had done to redeem their family name. He wouldn't consider him his hero, though. His Grandfather had been a great man, undoubtedly, but a hero was someone you wished you could be more like. As far as Ben could tell, he was enough like his Grandfather already.
That also ruled out Patrick, for though he and his father were closer than he'd ever been before Ben still could not say he wanted to model his life after the man. For all the things his father had that no one else in the family did before, he'd always seemed unhappy to Ben. This had lessened now that Patrick and Emily were on speaking terms at least, but he still seemed to be miserable at least ninety percent of the time.
So, who did that leave him with? A historical figure, probably, but it always seemed better to Ben to pick someone that you knew personally. It was much easier to judge their character that way, at least, and while it was all well and good to have that famous person you admired it was much better to have a personal private hero. The kind you wouldn't tell anybody about, probably wouldn't even write a paper about, but you still admired and wished you were more like.
The private hero, as Ben decided to call them, was a person who was making their mark on history in some small way, and though there may never be a book written about them they were just as important as the public heroes everyone knew. So, perhaps a better question was who did Ben Gates consider to be his private hero?
Riley, it seemed, had not noticed Ben wandering off into the land of musing, as he was still talking. "Most kids I knew wrote about their parents, but that just…didn't fly with me. The most my mom could do was make soup like this, and that was about it in the great accomplishments department. Even then I knew that it wasn't that impressive. Just add water and heat and you have dinner. Or lunch, in this case."
Ben smiled to himself, a little sadly. Riley didn't know that Ben knew a little about his history, because the younger man never talked about it. This was probably as close as he'd ever come in the five years he'd know Riley, actually. But, after that fiasco with Ian, Ben had had a moment of weakness where he'd had to know what Riley's past was. Not because he hadn't trusted the other man, exactly, but he'd simply had to know.
He'd found out from his quick and dirty report a very skeleton version of Riley's story. He'd been raised by his family until the age of eleven, Ben assumed as there was no record of him previously, when they had somehow lost custody of him. The young boy had become a ward of the state then, and Riley had been bounced from foster home to foster home until he'd been old enough to get out of the system—at least as far as Ben could tell as there was no record of him ever having been adopted.
There was more to this, Ben was sure, but he could never bring himself to ask. Riley had never asked much about Ben's own past, either, which was kind of odd now that he thought about it. Usually, friends knew these kinds of things about each other, particularly friends that had known each other as long as he and Riley had.
But always on their camp outs together they had talked about history, or treasure, or things that were going on right then, or Riley had gotten him to try computer games like World of Warcraft or Star Wars. There had always seemed to be a hundred other things to talk about that weren't details about the people they'd left behind on this crazy quest.
When it came right down to it, it was all rather sad. He knew how far he could push Riley before the younger man would break. He knew Riley's favorite movie was Indiana Jones (the third one), that his favorite toothpaste was Crest, his favorite computer programs, and favorite person on American Idol for any season. He knew that Riley was afraid of spiders and dead people, was mildly allergic to dogs, and thought that brunettes were much hotter than blondes. He knew that Riley would follow Ben into whatever dangers Ben felt necessary. In short he knew facts about Riley…but what did that tell him about his friend as a person?
Were you even allowed to call someone you only knew facts about a friend?
It was more painful than Ben could have expressed to think that Riley might not be his friend in the true definition of the word. The two of them had visited almost every continent together, had gone through hell side by side, and it simply had to count for something.
Ben pulled himself away from the back of the chair, leaning forward with his elbows on the table for support, and started looking closely at his friend for the first time in far too long. They hadn't spent much time together lately, while Ben had been busy before the second Treasure Hunt trying to make his relationship with Abigail work, and Riley had been busy writing. In the months since then they just hadn't done anything together, really. It wasn't that Ben was deliberately ignoring his friend, it was just that Riley had seemed fine without him at the moment and there were a million other things that were demanding his attention.
So why did he still feel guilty about it? Ben didn't know the answer to that question, but he felt he should.
Riley had rolled up the sleeves of his hoodie to his elbows, obviously wary of the fire from the gas stove. As Ben looked closely he could see some thick scars on his friend's arm, starting about two finger widths below his elbows and ending a palm's length below his wrists.
He had seen these scars many times before. When you're sharing a tent with someone in the middle of the Amazon for weeks at a time, there is very little that can be hidden. They were stretched and faded, obviously quite old, and he'd never really paid them much attention before. He himself had several interesting childhood scars, and it hadn't seemed terribly important at the time because Riley had never brought them up either.
Now, however, they seemed horribly important because the longer Ben looked the odder they seemed to him. They didn't look like normal scars, but the reasons why seemed to be eluding him.
If Riley hadn't been standing at the stove, dumping the soup into the pot, Ben probably would never have figured it out. They were weird because they weren't straight lines, they were curved, and when Riley put the insides of his arms together they made a swirl exactly like the burner on a stove.
Something inside the older treasure hunter twisted rather unpleasantly. He racked his brain for some way, any way, that those scars could have been accidental, but one by one every idea was shot down. Normally, people didn't reach for something that way unless they were lifting it, in which case Riley's arms would have been well away from the burner, and no matter how small he'd been or how hot the stove was his arms would have had to have been held there for some time for it to do enough damage to scar like that.
Ben now officially felt a little nauseous, as the two options left open to him were both equally revolting. It was possible that Riley had done that to himself, but the more Ben thought about it the less likely it became. Riley, to his knowledge, had never shown the least bit of inclination towards being self-destructive. He had his down moments, certainly, and often offered himself up as the bait or sacrifice but that was more because Riley was selflessly loyal to the point it was a fault, and not because he actually wanted to die. Ben couldn't even count how many times Riley had expressed a strong desire to avoid that act, if possible.
That left the final option, and it was worse in so many ways. Before, Ben had never really had time to consider just how it was Riley's family had lost custody of him. He'd just been so relieved that Riley was in no way associated with crime that, at the time, he hadn't put any thought in to it. After that he'd been caught up in not one, but two treasure hunts and he'd quickly half-forgotten the issue.
'How did you get those scars?' Was scribbled down without Ben realizing it, but he couldn't bring himself to show it to Riley. It wasn't his business, really, but in some way Riley was, so didn't that make Riley's business his own?
Riley began talking again, and Ben was fairly certain the young man had forgotten he was there. "You know, it's kind of funny, but soup has played the weirdest role in my life. My mom taught me to read using Alphabet Soup. I remember asking her how I would know if my soup had all the letters, and we spent hours after that finding them all. She'd draw a letter, told me the name of it, and I'd repeat it as I dug through trying to find one that matched. It was a slightly holey alphabet, because some of the noodles were broken but…we had fun, back then."
There was something sad and far away about the expression on Riley's face and he was staring at the soup in the pot so intently it was almost like he could see the memory among the noodles and small vegetables.
Ben crossed out the question on the paper and laid down his pencil. He wanted to know, probably should know, but he could not bring himself to do it. Riley was in the middle of something obviously quite personal and he was hurting enough without Ben standing by throwing salt on the wounds.
Whatever had happened to give Riley those scars must have been horrible and fairly traumatic. He couldn't just bring them up like that. Of course, now that he thought about it, there was probably very little in Riley's life that wasn't somehow painful.
Emily may have left when Ben was quite small, but he had always had his Dad and even though they rarely agreed Ben could never question the fact that Patrick loved him. Not when his father had always tried so hard, and it had always been comforting to know that his father was willing to welcome him home whenever Ben was willing to give up his treasure hunting ways. More than a few times, when things seemed impossibly hard, he'd been tempted.
Riley had no family, as far as Ben could tell. Ever since he'd met that kid, Riley had always come over to his house for holidays and special occasions, and he never talked about them. There'd even been a time when Riley had been kicked out of his apartment, and he'd shown up with his stuff on Ben's doorstep apologizing because he had no where else to go but he hated to be a bother.
What would it be like to grow up and know the whole time that nobody wanted you? The very thought of being that alone made Ben go cold all over. Patrick had always had Ben's interests at heart, and had done his best to protect him. Who had been looking after Riley all that time?
From the look and sound of things, no one. Riley had been as alone as any one person could be. Yet he still had the strength to trust, to believe in people. Those scars were proof that he'd seen how awful others could be, but he'd been willing to do whatever it was Ben asked him to do because he had trusted him. True, it had taken some work to gain that trust, but it had been doable.
More than that, Riley had this ability to believe. Riley could trust in something that he had no proof of in a way Ben could not. Ben was a historian and he always needed facts. If he hadn't heard his Grandfather—a man he trusted and that had never lied to him before—tell him the story, seen his belief, and the work his family had done before then, Ben probably would have believed in the treasure about as much as Abigail had the first time.
Riley believed Ben, a total stranger, without the benefit of any of that, and in some ways Ben envied that ability. It allowed Riley to think in ways that Ben could not, and do things that Ben could not. There was no question, he admitted ruefully, that he was the smartest of the pair of them as far as book smarts went, but Riley was a true inventive genius. Ben learned things almost as a means to an end; Riley learned things simply for the pleasure of knowing them.
There were so many good things in Riley that people tended not to notice. His strength, unlike Ben's, was of the quiet kind that ran so much deeper than anyone realized. Riley may have seemed all nice and childish on the outside, but Ben knew better than anyone that he was steel underneath.
Something, probably the heat of the pot, seemed to bring Riley back to reality right then, and he quickly removed it from the burner and put it to the side. He looked over his shoulder at Ben, plastering a look of mock sympathy all over his face. "Since you're much too ill and fragile, I'll get you a nice bowl of this before it catches on fire. You know, since you couldn't possible do it yourself."
'My hero,' Ben scribbled down, even though he was sure that Riley had no idea what he really meant.