A/N: My second NT fic, but my first ever involving foster care. Please, please, if you know anything abotu the system contact me. I have no idea, so I'm just making it up from things I've heard and read. As always, I don't own the story, though I'd be pleased as all heck if i did.
"The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began." Lord of the Rings
Riley Poole sat in the small, cramped room, trying not to fidget. He kept hearing Pop's voice in his head. "What's wrong with you, boy? You having a mental breakdown?"
Pop thought he was a real joker. It was Pop who had had a mental breakdown at Riley's birth when Riley's mother had died giving birth to him.
But right now, Riley was trying not to think of Pop. He went on his tip-toes and peered out the window, shoving his broken glasses back up his nose. He hated waiting. He already was…scared…about meeting these people. And going home with them. And staying with them.
Which was just cowardly. If Pop hated one thing, it was cowards, and a fourteen-year-old who's afraid of going to a new place --- a better place --- was definitely a coward.
Head in hands, Riley breathed in deeply. He wanted a computer. Or a book. Or something to take his mind off this endless waiting. He didn't even notice when Stephanie sat down next to him.
Stephanie was a social worker. For all purposes, she was his social worker. She had been with him from the beginning, months ago, when the game had finally been up and he got taken away from Pop. Stephanie was the one coaching him on what to say for the trial in a couple of months. She said that she personally knew the people he was going with.
"They're great. Famous, even. You might have heard of them --- Benjamin Gates, and his wife Abigail. They found a big treasure a couple of years ago."
One drawback to Stephanie --- who was a great person, sweet and all --- was that she insisted on talking to Riley as if he was about six. Of course Riley knew who Benjamin Gates was. Though he would never say it to the man, the treasure hunter was his hero. Riley had always dreamed of doing something important in his life, and finding a treasure that had been lost for hundreds --- thousands--- of years was important.
Not that Riley would ever be able to do that. He was just a computer nerd who happened to get in a lot of trouble because he was just too good at hacking into stuff. Important stuff. Like the school's main computer or, hypothetically, of course, the state records for juvenile charges, making sure his record was on top when he heard the Gates were looking for a foster kid.
"Stop fidgeting." For a second, Stephanie used the same voice Pop did, and Riley suddenly found he couldn't breathe. "Don't move, boy." Always, that same cold voice. "Here they are now."
The door opened, admitting two people. The woman was small, with blond hair tied in a tight ponytail. Her blue eyes seemed too big for her face, which instantly lit up into a glowing (genuine?) smile when she saw Riley.
But Riley was looking at Benjamin Gates. He was tall, and older than Abigail by at least ten or fifteen years. His hands kept moving --- first in his pockets, then folded in front of him, then at his sides, until they finally settled behind his back. He didn't look at Riley at all, in fact, he seemed to avoid looking at him.
Abigail was doing enough looking for both of them. Riley felt himself grinning at her insanely happy smile. She seemed to be trying very hard to stop herself from jumping up and down with excitement.
Stephanie placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed once, hard, which meant, "be quiet and let me talk, or you'll scare them off with your geeky-ness."
Okay, that wasn't exactly what it meant, but it was the general gist. And judging from the ferrety way Benjamin Gates was acting, it wasn't far off the mark. The scaring off, that is.
"Hello, Ben, Abigail, this is Riley." Suddenly, as he always did, Riley felt self-conscious in his too-white shirt and black slacks, state-issued. He wanted to be anywhere but here.
"Hello, Riley." The warmth in Abigail's voice startled and pleased Riley. No one had ever talked to him that warmly. Teachers tended to ignore him, or sigh when they looked at him like, There goes Riley again, who is a loser and no one will talk too. Maybe Pop talked to him sometimes in that tone, but it was always fake, and it was always because he wanted something.
But Abigail --- Mrs. Gates --- wouldn't get anything beneficial out of having Riley in her home, except for maybe positive press, famous couple adopts JD, or something along those lines. But no, she was smiling and had tilted her head slightly as she studied him, eyes kind and gentle.
"You can call me Abigail, this is my husband Ben." Maybe she thought Riley wouldn't notice if she elbowed Benjamin Gates in the ribs to make him look at Riley. "We're..well, we're hoping you'd let us take you with us for a while."
There was, as always, no suggestion of anything permanent. A temporary situation, one where he'd have to work his butt off to please and be liked, otherwise who knew how they'd act? That's how the other kids at the foster home described it, anyway. One of those kids was only eight years old, and he'd already been to eleven homes. Cute kid. A little scared, maybe, and twitchy, but a cute kid.
Riley tried to smile, he really did, he tried to put on a show, tried to please, but Ben Gates refused to look at him, and the act fell short. "Umm…" he tried to remember what Abigail had just said. "Umm…yeah. Yeah, I'd really like to stay with you." He didn't have a choice, of course, he was a ward of the state, they'd put him wherever it was most convenient.
Abigail smiled and, hesitantly, carefully, touched him on the shoulder. Though Riley had seen it coming, he couldn't' quite repress the shudder that ran through his body. Pop always touched his shoulders, though not always that gently. He was glad most of his scars had healed into dull strips of pain; it would have hurt worse if Abigail had unintentionally touched a fresh bruise.
As it was, Abigail jumped back, then turned to Stephanie. "You and I should fill out the necessary paperwork, right? Leave the boys to get better acquainted?"
Riley didn't like that one bit. He shook his head, slightly, imperceptibly, but Stephanie caught it. She knew, as most people in the home knew, that Riley did not like being alone in a room with a man. She was one of the few who went out of her way to avoid that.
"Maybe we should go over it all together? So everyone's clear on everything?" she nodded to Riley, who picked up his suitcase (it mostly was a place for his software, which he had managed to steal from various schools, and a couple of books, though it did have one old T-shirt), and followed the social worker inside.
The papers had been looked over on previous visits, ones that didn't involve Riley. He watched with fascination as his well-being was handed over in a few signatures. Abigail made a point to explain the process to Riley as they went through it, and Riley pretended to be interested even though Stephanie had done the same thing not two hours earlier. He was, luckily, sitting diagonally from Benjamin Gates, who still, in an hour, hadn't looked at him.
Then it was over. The Gates said they'd wait outside the building for Riley to say goodbye to his friends. He hadn't made any friends, and no one had been inclined to become friends with him. What was the point when everyone would be gone in a few weeks, in a few months? The only person Riley looked at now was Stephanie. He felt something in his throat looking at her, though he tried to pretend he had no idea what it was.
Luckily, it was Stephanie who made the first move. She leaned down so they were eye to eye, which for Riley wasn't even five feet off the ground. "You'll be fine. They're good people, and I'll visit you in two weeks. Deal?"
Riley nodded, though the lump refused to go away. Stephanie leaned forward, hesitated, then wrapped Riley in a hug that he didn't have the heart to shy away from. He was turning to mush of the inside. "I know it's terrifying, but you're so strong, little man, I believe in you." She released him and started to stand up, then looked back down.
"You're worth it." She murmured. "Don't ever forget." Then she turned, her heels clicking as she left.
Riley stared after her, stared at the back door, thinking, then started out front, where the Gates were waiting. With a sigh and a forced smile, he picked up the suitcase and walked away.
First chapter…what do you think?
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