Saving, Day Lights and Days
Disclaimer: National Treasure doesn't own me - er, I mean, I don't own it. .
Author's Notes: A drabble that's done post!Book of Secrets. Ben x Riley hints abound. Hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading!
The summer has reached its zenith, and that means it's hot, sticky, and miserable. Ben spends as much of it inside as possible, buried within his protected documents, bookends, and the plentiful supply of iced tea and Kool-Aid ice pops. Heat doesn't settle well with Ben, who has grown up knowing gray drizzle and dour winters. Instead, he props his bare feet up on the antique coffee tables in the way that Abigail hates, and rereads his favorite autobiographies from the seventeenth century.
Well, at least, this is the plan. Which is why Ben can't fathom why he's not in his comfortable leather armchair and is, instead, sitting outside of a third-rate ice cream shop on a bench covered in dog hair. With a vanilla ice cream cone that's melting quite thoroughly all over his new shirt. Centuries of historical genius and no one to invent something better for ice cream spills than napkins. It figures, Ben thinks, and then he wonders when he started sounding like Riley. Who is here with him, of course. Who is the force that dragged him from the house in the first place.
Riley has a chocolate cone. He eats his with his teeth, not his tongue. Ben thinks that's what probably gives him such bad brain freeze, but when he suggests it, Riley just rolls his eyes and tells Ben he's not half as smart as his history quiz scores say. Ben doesn't take it to heart; firstly, it's Riley, and secondly, Riley has ice cream smeared halfway down his chin.
(But he's grinning, sharp and white in the sun. He doesn't look hot or miserable at all, and Ben sometimes thinks, times like these, maybe Riley is smart in a way he can't measure. Except Riley is crap at keeping secrets. Except Riley is always sharing things with Ben, so if it was doable, Ben is sure Riley would let him in on it.)
Riley does this a lot. He disappears for a few weeks and then shows up on Ben's doorstep, dragging his friend off to the strangest of places. Ice cream shop. Used book store. Radio Shack. The new Indiana Jones flick. A pawn shop with a white elephant sign. The "Mythical Creatures" exhibit at the museum. Some fancy party, simply to steal good shrimp and champagne. Some less fancy party, simply to scoff the lack thereof. Burger King; Riley gets toys. To the Laundromat. Usually, Riley has something to say, even if there isn't much point to it, so Ben goes along and listens. At the very least, it's always an adventure.
Today is hot, though, and so Ben asks for the first time. "What's going on, Riley?"
Riley takes his time answering. This is more to do with the glob of ice cream he's swallowing than reluctance. "Huh?"
"All this." Ben gestures, a semi-circle with his cone. They both know it means everything, though, not just the shop and bench and dog hair. "You could get ice cream delivered to your apartment by the gallon, you realize."
Riley shrugs. "It doesn't taste as good, then."
(This is another one of those Riley things, Ben knows. Like how Riley won't buy a bigger apartment. Like how Riley still wears Converse sneakers. He's bought a shiny, glamorous new car, but he still eats cheap Chinese takeout. Ben knows a little about this one. He still eats microwavable TV dinners when Abigail isn't around to see.)
"Okay, and what else?"
Riley makes a noncommittal noise. Then he says, "You wanna go back to your not-so-Beverly Hills mansion?"
Ben doesn't have to think about it. "No, I just want to understand what it is you think you're doing."
"Having ice cream with a friend?" Riley pretends to regard his cone in surprise. "Funny, that one totally went over my head, too! Wow, it's such a revolutionary idea. Imagine that, Ben. Ice cream. With a friend. What a peculiar—"
"Okay, okay. I get it," groans Ben, interrupting him. "But you know what I mean."
"I'll give you one hint: it's not a code."
"Nope. Simple, easy math." Riley crunches into his cone. A dab of chocolate clings to the tip of his nose. It makes Ben want to wipe his face down like he's a kid. It also makes him smile. "You. Me. Chocolate. This equals a great afternoon. In fact, we could narrow it down further through subtraction. Get rid of the chocolate. Still a great afternoon. In fact, you should be happy. I'm taking time to save you from your incredibly boring day. I am Daylight Savings for you. Questions, class? Concerns?"
"You want to hang out with me. I got that part, thanks."
Riley abruptly is serious; his gaze, unreadable and dark, like a deluge in the midday drought. It's so sudden that for a moment, Ben is profoundly jarred out of his place in reality. (In that in-between space, his breath is caught, his thoughts arrested. Riley is many things, but rare are the ones that catch his attention. It's not that Riley is unworthy of it. It's only because Ben is so lost in his own head that his appreciation of Riley's talents comes as hindsight, well after it's too late to do anything about it. But here, he is struck so hard that it is impossible to pull away. Riley is…)
"Does there have to be anything else, Ben?" asks Riley.
No. Yes. Something. Ben stirs uneasily and looks away, his mouth dry. He thinks about Riley's book resting in the drawer at home, unread, gathering dust. He thinks about wrapped white bandages and the stark red of the cut on Riley's forehead as medics cleaned it, well after danger had passed; the colors are incongruous, as are the limbs, the leg and the head and Riley's disgruntled frown. He thinks about Riley bopping his head to music, about the weird wallpapers he leaves on all the computers in Ben's home. He thinks about how he's never seen anyone else speak to Riley like a person. He thinks so long about it that before he's fully aware, Riley's heaved a sigh and leaned against Ben's shoulder.
It's the warmth that brings Ben back to the world again. Riley smells like citrus lotion and Pringles and ink. If Ben wanted, he could stretch his arm up and it would fit perfect over Riley's shoulders; they'd be a matching set of somethings instead of just two nothings eating ice cream.
(He's not making sense. Things don't make sense around him, though. And that's always been true of Riley Poole, as well. Infectious craziness. Common ailments. Someone who believes. Even Abigail never believed, not until after she'd been given proof.)
"Sometimes," Riley says, quiet-like, uncharacteristic, "I miss you and I don't know why."
"Oh." Ben wishes he had somewhere to put his ice cream cone. It's just melting over his fingers. He can feel Riley breathe, uncomfortably close, so much that Ben feels himself relax in sync with it. "I'm sorry."
"Well. Whatever. Fine."
That isn't the right thing to say. So Ben, as per usual, reaches out in the dark for something he's not even sure is there. "But I don't mind… this. I like this. Riley," and he uses his most earnest tone, "I think this is a great afternoon, too."
(He's telling the truth and that surprises him. It shouldn't, but it does.)
Riley's grinning, then, the way he should have all along. He shifts, but he doesn't move away, and Ben lets him stay there; he's too afraid to disturb their suddenly precarious balance as it hovers between them. "Let's go see a movie late-night on Saturday," says Riley. "Something with robots. A lot of robots."
"Yeah. Like, Johnny Five. Robocop. Transformers."
"Anything that will evolve into a legion of overpriced, bootleg-quality action figures. That means it'll be good."
"I never understood the appeal in robots."
"That," Riley grumbles, "is because you're a freak."
Ben laughs and drops his cone on the grass. The sun bakes his hair and Riley's t-shirt feels worn to the threads against his arm. Riley has never been able to convince him there's more to life than history—but sometimes, Riley reminds Ben that there's nothing wrong with making new history. Not something for the books, but small, quiet, and fierce.
(He'll stay a while longer. Until the breeze starts again.)