Aw! (tears in my eyes) You like me. You really like me. Again, thanks guys for all the great reviews. And thanks also to LoremIpsum and Booklover Fanatic for betaing (yeah, I need two, I'm that bad) you guys are lifesavers!
Ben had a plan. It was rough and there were many things that could go wrong.
For one, they could see him sneaking across the tundra for everyone to notice. But it seemed that they had parked the two snow trucks to create a small, sheltered space, so it was unlikely that they would see him. Also, there were five of them plus Riley (who was most likely restrained and would be of no help) and only one of him. He had no idea how he was going to rescue Riley and take on five men who were obviously stronger than him.
But he had to do something. He started his sneaking, molding his plan as he moved. Every now and then he saw movement and would fall flat, in hopes that they wouldn't spot him. Finally, he made it. He stayed behind the wheel of a truck and peered under it. He heard voices, saw two upturned crates. Someone was sitting on one, facing the other crate. Ben saw two pairs of legs and figured the other three were sitting inside the trucks where he wouldn't see them.
"…give me a second." Riley! Oh, thank the good Lord, he's alive and fine. So it was Riley sitting on the crate, obviously working on his laptop. What was he doing? Were they forcing him?
There was a rustle of wrappers as someone opened something. The sound was pure torture. Ben was starving, his body begging for nourishment. He wondered what they'd to if he casually walked around the back of the truck. If he could pull it off…
It was the best thing he could come up with. So he did it.
There was a crunch of boots and Riley looked up from his computer as Shaw trained his gun on the back of the truck.
Ben appeared around the back, unsmiling, hands stuffed into his pockets. For a few seconds there was silence.
Then Riley fell off the crate and Ian stepped forward.
"Ian. Thanks so much for waiting."
"I thought you were dead."
"I very nearly was."
There was a staring match between them for a minute or two. Riley sat up, snow in his hair.
"Ben!" Riley hastily tried to stand up.
"I thought I lost you."
"You did. If you'd stayed where you were-" Ben started, his tone admonishing and relieved.
"Yeah, I know, I want to kick myself for not doing that. Sorry."
Ben looked around, taking in the three guns trained on him.
"You really think you'd be able to steal the Declaration?"
The four henchmen glanced at Ian, not answering. They knew who their leader was.
"It's not a question of morality. It's impossible. You can't steal it."
"You don't know unless you try, Ben." Ian's voice was ice. All the fake regret was gone. He gestured Phil, the only one without a gun, towards Riley.
"Hey!" Riley was yanked to his feet and forced back down onto the crate.
"Riley, give us the bearings, and we won't kill Ben."
Riley was shaking. Whether it was adrenaline, the cold, fear… he had no idea. But if he didn't do as Ian said, Ben was going to die.
"You're lost?" Ben asked casually. Ian scowled at him, grabbed the gun from Shaw and pointed it at Ben.
"I want to do this myself."
Every tap of a key shot pangs of painful sensation back up Riley's fingers. They worked faster, faster, until he was making so many mistakes his commands were useless. He had to start over.
"Riley…" Ian's voice was a warning. Riley tore his gaze from the screen, saw Ian's trigger finger flexing.
"I'm getting there, getting there. You're making me nervous, I'm making mistakes."
Finally he had an overview.
"Okay. Cape Kunaho is thirty miles away. We're closer to it than the Charlotte, but you travelled too far east. You see?"
Ian lowered the weapon, moved to see the screen. He could make out nothing from the readings and graphs. He couldn't even tell whether Riley was lying or not. He caught Riley's earnest, tense gaze, considered it for a while. It wasn't enough.
In two quick strides, Ian was standing next to Ben, the muzzle of the gun pressed to Ben's temple.
"Are you telling the truth?" he shouted.
"Yes!" Riley said, his voice registering alarm and surprise that Ian would doubt him.
"Riley, don't lie to me."
"I'm NOT, please, don't shoot Ben!"
Ian lowered the gun, slowly, held Riley's gaze. The kid had never joined them in a game of poker, always too busy with his computer, or broke. Ian couldn't tell whether he was bluffing.
Ben decided enough was enough. Adrenaline was coursing through his veins, and at Ian's hesitation, he acted.
With a deft twist of his arm, Ben grabbed Ian's gun hand. For a few seconds, they struggled. Gunshots rang through the air. Riley felt someone knock him off the crate as the others hit the ground to avoid the errant bullets.
Finally, Ben had the upper hand. He knocked the gun out of Ian's hand and it flew through the air, landing near the wheel of a truck, safely out of reach. Ben shoved Ian to the ground, where he lay still. Ben breathed hard for a moment or two, just staring down at Ian. Then he turned to the others.
"Is this really worth it? Would you take an innocent life for treasure?"
Riley raised his head, gaped when he saw that it was Powell who knocked him down. Powell gave him a brief nod and stood up without offering him a hand. Riley started to lift himself up, then movement caught his eye.
Ian shot Ben. He lowered the gun and shot Ben in the foot. Ben cried out in pain, sinking to the snow. Already the snow around his foot was pink.
Riley was up, going at Ian. Shaw grabbed him before he reached Ian and flung Riley to the snow.
"I wasn't lying!" he sobbed. "I wasn't lying! You need to go north-north-west and you'll be there by sundown! How could you shoot your own friend?"
Ian laughed bitterly as Phil snapped the laptop shut and Shippen climbed into a driver's seat. Everyone was leaving, getting into the trucks. Ben winced, grasped at his foot. Ian kicked snow at Riley as he struggled to sit up in the snow.
"It's easy, Riley. You pull the trigger." Ian smirked, easily heaved himself into a truck. Riley glared up him.
There was a roar as the trucks started and a flurry of snow as they pulled away.
"Ben! Oh shit, Ben, this is all my fault." Riley sank into the snow where Ben sat, clasping his foot. "Oh, no, no, no, no-"
"Riley! Riley. Calm down. It's just a graze."
"Are you sure? Can I see?"
Ben lifted his foot. He'd already pulled the shoe off. The bullet had hit the shoe's edge, pushing it in and grazing Ben's small toe. For a small cut, the thing was bleeding like a river. Riley said as much, and Ben laughed.
"Is Ian always such a bad shot?" Riley grimaced.
"Ian's a great shot."
"He's a sadistic bastard."
Ben laughed again.
"Let's see your hands," he said, stretching out a hand. Riley surrendered them reluctantly. They were hurting like mad, pissed-off limbs.
"Can you move them?"
"Yeah. We can't let them refreeze, you'll get really bad frostbite. Take my gloves."
"Am I supposed to say 'aw thank you, that's sweet' now? 'Cause it's not gonna happen. You don't get to bring new meaning to 'I feel your pain'. I'm the hero here."
"I got deep pockets."
"So do I."
"I don't have frostnip."
"Neither do I."
Ben cocked an eyebrow. Riley stuck out his bottom lip. And took Ben's gloves.
Ben squeezed his eyes shut. It was obvious that somebody stolen a few bars of chocolate from a certain villain. Riley's core temperature had sprung back up and he had enough energy for the both of them. Ben was glad the hypothermia hadn't left Riley with permanent damage, but still, to go through this kind of verbal torture was…
"My hands hurt."
Silence never lasted long.
"Ben, look! Arctic bunnies!"
Ben ignored him as much as he could. If he wanted to waste his energy, let him. Ben was tired of telling him off.
Fifteen minutes after the arctic bunnies:
"Look what I found!"
Ben sighed, turned around. "More chocolate?"
"No," Riley sighed, purposefully missing the sarcasm. "I ate them all. Sorry. But you had three anyway, so you shouldn't be complaining."
"Riley. What did you find?"
Riley grinned, and his hands emerged from behind his back.
They'd been following the tracks the snow trucks left. Riley had given them the right direction, and they shouldn't have any trouble handling Riley's laptop now that he'd shut down the firewalls.
But it seems like they did. Riley hugged the laptop to his chest, grinning like a little boy at Christmas.
"Where did you find that?"
"Over there." Riley gestured to a point at least twenty feet away from the tracks.
"You shouldn't be running around. For Pete's sake, Riley, just stay behind me!"
Riley gave him a hurt look, then sat down onto the snow and opened his laptop.
"Riley! Get up, we can't stop now. We won't get there before nightfall anyway, do you want to walk in the dark?"
Riley shot him another look.
"If the computer works, we won't have to."
Ben let out a frustrated sigh, threw his arms in the air and sat down next to Riley with a thunk. Riley's brow was puzzled as he tried to boot up.
"YES! SHE LIVES!"
Ben jumped at Riley's sudden enthusiasm, leaned in to see what he was on about. Riley's familiar unintelligible screen was on, albeit cracked.
"Now… let's see if we have… connection with… the satellites… bin-go."
Less than a minute later, Riley had found that the area was riddled with Inuit villages. Ben grinned, ruffled Riley's hair and stood up. Riley gave him a disgusted glare and accepted his hand.
"If you'd listened to me when I told you we were going the wrong way, none of this would have happened."
"If you hadn't run across a hidden crevasse and wandered off in a blizzard, we'd probably be sitting in a warm Inuit village right now."
"Well, if you…" Riley thought for a moment. "No, that about covers it. How come you always get the last say?"
"So am I."
"No, you're smartass."
"There's a difference?"
"Of course. The one needs to balance the other."
"…that doesn't really make sense, you know."
"…maybe. It seemed like the right thing to say."
"You're weird, Ben."
"So are you."
"Why do you do that?"
"That. You know what I mean. You always have to call the shots. You can't stand it if someone thinks of something before you do."
"That chocolate's gone to your head."
"You had some too!"
"You had at least seven bars before I could stop you. I don't know how many you've had after that."
"Okay, okay. I only had four more. You ate the rest."
Ben stopped, stared at his shorter friend. Riley looked up at him.
"You had eleven chocolate bars?"
"Riley, if you pass out from a sudden drop in blood sugar, I'm not going to drag you to Nukat."
"Is that the name of the village? How do you know that?"
"You said it was south of Cape Kunaho. Nukat is the only village big enough to show up on the satellites."
Riley stared down at the snow, muttered something Ben didn't hear. They stomped ahead in silence for a while.
"Look, it's the village!"
"Where, where?" Riley's head flew up, searched the horizon. "Is that it?" he asked, disappointed.
"Yes. That's it."
"So, what are we going to do?"
"Riley, shut up and go to sleep."
"What are we going to do about Ian?"
"I don't know."
Riley sat up, regretting the movement instantly. His hands had been wrapped in sterile dressings and he'd been told by the friendly Nukat villagers who offered them a room that they'd hurt for a while. They were right.
This place isn't so bad, Riley had thought during their reception. There was even a store here. About thirty tiny little houses surrounded the only store and the radio tower.
"You don't know?"
"Gee. That's… new."
"Riley. Please get some rest."
Riley rolled over, brushing against Ben. He paused, then attached himself to Ben's back with some force.
"Riley. This is awkward enough already. Get off me."
"I don't care. So are you. Use your own heat."
"No. You're… warm."
Ben lay in the dark, listened to Riley's breathing. It was slowing, the depth increasing. He was finally going to sleep. Ben turned over, carefully pried Riley off his back. As soon as he'd nudged Riley to the other side and turned back, Riley inched back until he was curled up against Ben, leeching off his heat. This happened a number of times and in a variety of ways. Every time Ben thought he'd finally gotten rid of the human parasite, Riley would moan in his sleep and shrink back to Ben's heat.
Just another of Riley's abnormal displays of affection. Or maybe he was just really cold.
At long last, Ben sighed and gave up. He didn't want to wake Riley and face the possible non-stop verbal consequences, but he would never get any sleep this way. He turned onto his back, shoved at the leech and waited for Riley to react. Riley sighed, huddled closer. And closer. Just when Ben thought Riley couldn't possibly invade his personal space by another inch, Riley flung a hand onto Ben's chest and rolled onto Ben's arm. The sudden impact made Ben shift and struggle to free his arm, and before he knew it, Riley had settled his head onto Ben's shoulder and wormed into the crook of Ben's arm, clutching at Ben's shirt like a lifeline. He snored faintly.
If Ben was in any other situation, he would have laughed himself sick at the thought. But here, with Riley snoring into his armpit, it was the single most embarrassing thing he could think of.
But Riley was warm. Ben shifted, tried to maneuver Riley's head into a more comfortable position. Riley sniffed, let his head roll forward onto Ben's chest. His breath was even, deep, and suddenly a waft of chocolate floated up to Ben. Ben almost chuckled to the night, but realized he might wake Riley with the movement. He lay there for a few moments, thinking that the experience wasn't altogether vile. It was strangely… comforting. Well, it must have been for Riley to affix himself to Ben like this.
Ben stared into the dark. He'd lied to Riley, hoping it would shut him up.
He knew exactly what to do.
A/N: I have difficulty with Ben and Riley's relationship, has anyone noticed? I mean, neither of the movies imply any kind of real brotherly tendencies, yet there are so many fics that portray just that. So I tried to bring Riley's obviously weird shows of emotion (eg the hug of the bluish-green man, I mean seriously; tears at the stairs) into the equation as an explanation. Let me know if it worked.
I don't really know if there are bunnies in the arctic. If there are, they're most likely not called snow bunnies. Arctic rabbits, probably. I have no idea…
Okay, there you are. My first completed NT fic. There'll be lots more. My overactive imagination hasn't let me down yet.