A/N: Thank you so much to Loremipsum being an awesome beta and for giving me the idea for this fic! Inspired by a single line in "The Last Full Measure of Devotion" by Loremipsum.
Disclaimer: Even if they are my inspiration when it comes to writing fanfiction, that doesn't mean they're mine. I don't own Ben and Riley and National Treasure, and never would unless a miracle happens.
Warning: Angst and BenRiley FRIENDSHIP coming up!
"What? What do you mean you can't do it?" Ben gritted his teeth. He squeezed the pencil he had in his hand, almost making it snap.
Riley sighed and turned in his swivel chair, gesturing to Ben. "Ben, for the last time, they changed their security system. I can't just hack into their system without studying it first!"
"But Riley!" Ben ran his fingers through his hair. He got more and more anxious by the minute.
"Ben!" Riley massaged his temples. "It's not that easy!" Few days without sleep trying to hack into a new system didn't help keep his temper low.
"Riley, you said you can do it!" The pencil Ben was holding snapped.
"I said I think I can!" Riley's voice rose higher than Ben's.
"I really really need this Riley! You said when we first met you're going to help me no matter what-"
"BEN! THERE! Stop. Right. There." Riley clenched his fists, not looking at Ben. He breathed in and out, slowly, and said in a quiet voice, "I said I was going to help you. No matter what."
Ben fell silent. The low, quiet intensity in Riley's voice startled him. It almost scared him- it was different from the "scream fests" Riley and Abby had almost every day, and he knew Riley wasn't serious then- very different from right now. He looked away.
"I said that, didn't I?"
Ben couldn't answer. He didn't understand what else alarmed him other than the fact that Riley didn't sound like himself, so he stayed silent.
"Answer me, Ben."
"Yes." He wanted to turn his head, to see what the younger man's face reaction was, but he couldn't. He just couldn't. What he didn't know was there was no expression visible at all. Perfect poker face.
"I almost got blown up. Got shot at. Igot in trouble with the law and got chased by maniacs.I almost got killed by situations that I didn't even think IS possible and I NEVER EVEN DREAMED OF!" Riley's voice rose with almost each word. He then dropped back to almost a whisper. "I tried to save your life. Twice. And you didn't even read my book."
"I know you have done a lot of stuff for me, Ben. And I've thanked you over and over for it. I even showed you my appreciation by- good god; I don't know how many parties and little gifts and help along the way. And all the words of appreciation."
"And this simple little thing, Ben. Little thing that I can't do. And you're going to use that on me? "You said you were going to help me." Real nice, Ben, real nice."
Riley raised his head, and turned to Ben, who looked like he was ready to phase through the floor the way he stared at it. Riley deliberately shook his chair just enough to make a little noise to catch Ben's attention. And when his best friend looked at him, Riley stared into his eyes. "Ben. You," He laughed, his laugh sounding real bitter to his ears. It shook with a sob that almost erupted into tears, but didn't. "you hurt my feelings."
Something in the back of his mind told him that it sounded really childish and lame, and that made him laugh, but he didn't care. That sentence said, if not summed up, what he felt. All the anger, frustration, and hurt, pent up for so long flowed out. "You said you would help me no matter what…" He knew it wasn't fair to dump everything on Ben right this instant, but using that sentence against him? It was almost laughable. He knew Ben probably didn't mean much by it, but it meant something to him.
He meant what he said, and he never turned his back on what he says. No matter how old he said it. And unless he really can't do it, he'd try his best. He'd try his hardest.
And this simple thing he couldn't do… It just wasn't fair. And not right.
What did Ben expect to accomplish by saying that?
"Ben, how well do you know me?" Many times he asked Ben that question, and many times Ben seemed to know what to do next after that.
But now, he wasn't sure Ben ever knew him at all.
Awkward silence followed. Ben couldn't speak. He didn't know that Riley was going to react like that. Whatever he said was said out of frustration, and he didn't mean it. He didn't know Riley was going to take it like that.
It was like a bucket of cold water was poured on his head when various realizations dawned on him. Riley had just said what he honestly felt and toldhim off. Ben realized that whatever Riley said was true. Reading between the lines, Riley just told him that he was sick of all this. Sick of being behind the curtain and not being recognized and appreciated.
Well, who wouldn't be? Ben seemed to soak up all the glory, while Riley sat on the sidelines, watching him with a smile. For so many times Riley had been referred to as his "assistant", not his partner. And there had been no audible complaints, unless you count those times Riley would laugh and complain jokingly that he deserved more credit than that.
But then again, jokes are half meant, and this joke certainly had a deeper meaning to it. Like a clue, a riddle.
And Ben, "the famous riddle solver" as Riley would tease him, completely missed it. When it came to Riley, he forgot that there is always more under the skin.
He knew what sparked it off. That small statement sparked it off. Ben said the line Riley said then, "I believe you. Just say it, Ben, and I would help no matter what." Riley had this smile on, it was almost goofy. But when you stared into those blue eyes, in the midst of all that sparkle was the burning loyalty he hadshown all throughout the years.
Bendidn't really mean to say it. He just really needed that file he asked Riley to get, and that statement slipped out. All he wanted was that stupid file for some stupid project of his.
It wasn't fair of him to bring that up. He didn't even know why he brought that up. But the damage was already done. He knew Riley had, and still is, keeping his word. Whatever he said was, in simpler terms, really really stupid.
I know you have done a lot of stuff for me, Ben. And I've thanked you over and over for it. I even showed you my appreciation by- good god; I don't know how many parties and little gifts and help along the way. And all the words of appreciation.
But when he did all that stuff for Riley, he wasn't asking for anything in return! He loved Riley like his brother! He didn't want him to do anything "that wasn't really necessary."
"That wasn't necessary to help Ben." Ben mentally punched himself. He used him- he used Riley like a little wind-up toy, a toy he only enjoyed when wanted. He constantly pushed Riley aside when he wasn't needed, and only paid attention when Riley drew the attention to himself.
And Ben was supposed to be his brother, his best friend.
Ben felt weak. According to his logical calculations, and the insane amount of guilt he was feeling, he wasn't being a very good friend.
He kept on saying that Riley was a part of the family, but how close did he intend to keep him if Ben kept pushing him back and forth in all directions?
He was being a horrible friend.
Ben cursed himself inwardly, and if it was possible, he lowered his gaze down even more. "Why didn't you tell me?" He asked Riley silently in his mind. He didn't realize he just said it aloud.
"Tell you what, Ben?"
Ben looked up. "All this. Why just now, Riley?"
"What did you make out from what I said, Ben? What did that overrated mind of yours thought of, now?" Riley spat out. He skated dangerously near hate, but he could never consciously, or even unconsciously, truly hate Ben. He stared at Ben intently, waiting for him to say something.
"Why didn't you tell me that you wanted to be seen, Riley? Why did you stay behind the shadows all this time?" Riley could hear Ben fight the anger in his voice. Riley tried to make out who Ben was angry at- Riley or himself, but couldn't figure it out.
Riley, for the first time that hour, began to smile slightly. "Because you really did deserve all the credit Ben. And what else did you want me to say? 'Ben, you're a horrible friend. You keep forgetting that I'm around. You keep forgetting I'm more than your sidekick, Ben.' Would you have wanted me to say something like that out of the blue? Get real, Ben!" Riley's face dropped back to its former expression. "Sometimes I do want to be seen Ben, and I get enough recognition.
"But what I want is recognition from you." A single tear dropped from Riley's eyes.
"You're my best friend, Ben… You're like my brother. I just wanted you to be proud of me."
Ben raised his head, surprised. "What made you think I wasn't proud of you, Riley?" He put a hand on Riley's shoulder. "Riley, you helped me through every step of the way, stuck with me through everything. What made you think I wasn't proud of you?"
Riley didn't say a word. Somehow, Ben knew anyway. The way Ben treated Riley… He wasn't surprised Riley would think he didn't care.
"I'm sorry, Riley."
Riley exhaled, a sob shaking through his whole body. Ben drew him into a hug. He felt Riley shake and try to hold his tears in. Riley looked up to Ben, and smiled. He broke away from the hug, and wiped unshed tears from his eyes. "Forgiven. So… friends?" Riley held out a hand. Ben took it, and shook.
Ben felt a smile starting to creep in on his face now, too. He felt like a kid who just got back with his best friend again after a huge fight. Which just happened, although they weren't kids anymore. It felt so good, like all the guilt that he had been unconsciously feeling suddenly vanished.
"So... Ben." Riley started, which brought Ben back to reality.
Riley grinned at him like nothing happened. "About that file… I think after a night's study of the system, I could get it for you."
"Thank you, Riley." Ben placed a hand on Riley's shoulder again. "And take your time, okay?"
Riley reached out to place his own hand on Ben's shoulder too. "Will do."
So, what do you think?