This one just goes to show how my mind and fluff works. There is a DEFINITE line where you can see when the dark side of my imagination took over. Blugh.
One MORE thing – I know the concept of this story is a little out there thanks to an off-hand remark from Riley in BoS (damn you screenwriters!), but I wrote the skeleton before I went and saw the movie… so there it is. Don't flame me about it.
"Riley! You in there? Your car's outside!"
Ben paused, listened for a sound. Nothing. He hammered again, then took out his spare key with a sigh. Idiot's probably still sleeping.
He shoved open the door, headed straight to the bedroom. There were a million things Ben needed Riley to do. Today was not the day to sleep in. Riley knew that.
Before he got there, he turned and looked at the figure on the couch.
Riley sat silently staring at the cordless phone on the coffee table in front of him.
"…he was old, Riley. He passed away in his sleep, poor thing, but his last days were good. He was surrounded by people who loved him."
"Riley?" Ben stepped closer. Riley was still in his tracksuit bottoms, his hair tousled and sleep creases on his arms and face. His eyes shone with a combination of shock and utter desolation.
"Riley. You alright?"
Riley jerked out of his trance, looked up at Ben.
"Yeah." His voice cracked and caught in his throat. "Yeah. How did you…" Riley trailed off, then heaved a breath and tried to shake himself awake. "How did you get in?"
"You gave me a key," Ben said, sat down on the couch next to Riley. "Ages ago. I was banging on the door. Didn't you hear me?"
Riley's eyes averted, and Ben could see him drift back into his daze.
"No… no, sorry. I was, uh, a little distracted."
"Riley, you're not okay. What happened?"
Riley sniffed, trembled slightly. Ben shifted. Oh no. Someone died. His grandfather? Riley was always attached to his grandfather.
"Did someone," Ben paused, tried to phrase it as gently as he could, "pass away?"
Riley sniffed again, his eyes finally brimming, and nodded. He cursed himself for being so open with his emotions, so sensitive.
"Riley," Ben said, his voice soft, and placed a hand on Riley's bare shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
Riley nodded again, a single tear tracing down the side of his jaw. He lowered his head between his knees and cried.
Ben stared in terrible indecision. Do I leave him be, or do I comfort him before he cries himself into a headache?
Carefully, Ben pulled Riley into his arms and held him. Sobs racked Riley's body, heartbroken jerks that tugged at Ben's soul.
Riley sniffed mid-sob, pulled away.
"Sorry," he choked.
"It's okay. You can cry."
"I loved him." Riley's voice was squeaky, broken. "I loved him so much. And I wasn't even there for him."
"Riley. There wasn't anything you could do."
"But he was always there for me. When I was sad, or angry, he'd come and put his head on my knee and look at me with those eyes."
Ben frowned. That didn't sound like a very grandfatherly thing to do.
"I'm going to miss him so much, Ben." Riley turned back and buried his face in Ben's shirt, sobbed harder. Ben puzzled his brow again, wondered, and put his arms around his distraught friend.
"It's okay. I got you."
Riley cried on. He didn't care what Ben thought anymore. He'd lost the best friend anyone could ask for. His best friend since he was thirteen. He swung his legs over onto Ben's lap so he was huddled against him, and sobbed his heart out.
Ben didn't mind Riley's obvious oblivion, and held him tighter. Finally, when every drop of tears Riley had was wrung from him, and he was just heaving into Ben's chest, Ben ventured a question.
"Was it your grandpa?"
Riley pulled back slightly so he could look into Ben's face. His lashes were wet, his eyes confused.
"Who was it, then?"
Riley burrowed back into Ben's shirt. Ben couldn't tell whether Riley had let loose another sob or uttered a name.
"What was that?"
"I said Oz. It was Ozzie. Our Dane."
"Oh." That made sense. Kind of. "I'm sorry."
Riley closed his eyes, stayed in Ben's arms. It was warm. He felt better.
"You know, it's okay to cry," Ben continued. "I had a dog too, when I was younger. She was a cocker spaniel. Shirley. I loved that dog. She was run over by a car, though. I sat in the back all the way to the vet, holding her and crying and praying. I was seventeen. She was dead before we got there, though."
There was a pause. Ben hoped Riley would let go of his shirt and sit back. He didn't.
"Riley?" Ben looked down, tried to see his friend's face. Riley's breath was deep, even. Idiot fell asleep.
Ben sighed, tried to stand up and carry Riley back to his bed. The couch was low, too low for Ben to lift Riley and get to his feet. He tried to shift Riley away.
It was no use. Ben was trapped under a comatose Riley. There was no way he'd get out of this alone. He'd have to call in reinforcements.
Letting go of Riley, he struggled his cell out of his back pocket and wondered how he would explain this to Abigail.
Abigail started to knock, then realized that Ben wouldn't be able to open the door. She took out her library card, pried at Riley's doorbell. It sprang open and she removed the stashed key from inside the fitting, and unlocked the door.
She'd prepared herself for this all the way from work, but was still surprised when she saw Ben crane his neck to see her standing behind him.
Abigail frowned at the sight. Riley was quietly snoring into Ben's shirt, his legs hooked over Ben's lap. If she hadn't know better, she would have suspected ulterior motives.
"Why didn't you just wake him?" she said, leaning in to shake at Riley's shoulder.
"No, don't do that, you'll wake him!" Ben whispered frantically. Abigail gave him a questioning look. "And he'll start crying again."
Abigail looked down at Riley's tearstained face.
"He was crying? Why?"
"His dog died." Another puzzled look from Abigail. "Don't ask."
"Poor Riley. He really is sensitive, isn't he? What are we going to do if someone is his family dies?"
"We'll deal with it then. And now you need to get him off me without waking him, I need to go use the bathroom."
Abigail chuckled, received a stern look from Ben. She rounded the couch, carefully pulled at Riley. She managed to get his legs off Ben, and as soon as he was released, Ben shot up and sped to the bathroom, leaving Abigail with arms full of Riley. She struggled to settle him down carefully, and ended up draping him over her in much the same fashion as she'd found Ben trapped.
She briefly wondered what was taking Ben so long, then quietly wrapped her arms around Riley and looked down at him. He must have been really cut up to cry himself to sleep like this. Must have a pretty bad headache by now. Poor, susceptible little Riley. She smiled to herself, then pressed her lips to Riley's forehead.
"Ben, are you kissing me? Why do you have boobs?" Riley raised his head, saw that he was currently in the arms of Abigail, then lay his head back down on Abigail's chest. "Oh. Where's Ben?"
"You woke him," Ben stated with disappointment as he returned on hearing Riley's voice, albeit muted.
"He woke up by himself," Abigail countered. Riley started to say something, but his voice was muffled. He gave up and closed his eyes. He had the mother of all headaches stomping right behind his eyes.
"That's actually an effective way of shutting him up," Ben said, gesturing to Abigail's chest and walking over to the open-plan kitchen to put on the kettle. She gave him a poisonous stare.
Riley was speaking again. Abigail cocked her head at him.
"Wow. I should use these more often."
Finally, Riley heaved himself off Abigail, blinked at the sharp light.
"Abigail, I'm sorry love, but things would never work out between us." Riley struggled up from his deceptively low couch, saw the phone on the table in front of him and sat back down hard. Abigail placed a hand on his arm, a concerned look on her face.
"I miss him already," Riley said after a while, the agony returning to his eyes. He had no more tears left to cry, yet his headache doubled just of thinking about it.
Ben made tea, watching Abigail silently comfort Riley, pulling him into her arms again.
There were no words to be said.
A few weeks later
Abigail set the pot on the table.
The constant tapping of keys from the next room continued without interruption.
Ben ambled down the stairs, frowned at the absence of Riley.
"Where's Riley? He's usually first when you make chicken noodle soup."
Abigail shook her head in exasperation.
"I don't know. Riley?"
There was a pause in noise.
"Is someone calling me?"
"I said, dinner's ready!"
"Oh. Okay. Be right there."
Abigail sighed, looked at her boyfriend.
"This has got to stop."
Ben agreed. Riley had gotten more distracted by the day. He was bitter, his work was slow, he didn't crack any stupid jokes… it was abnormal and oozed into everything.
"You know what we have to do, right?" Abigail said. Ben gave her a solemn look. He did.
Riley tore his gaze away from the screen, looked at Ben expectantly.
"Would you come outside for a sec?"
Riley pulled off his glasses.
"I thought this was important. You couldn't wait to drag me out of bed."
"It is. So is what I have to show you. Outside."
Riley sighed, pushed the chair back, stood up. Whatever it was, it better be good. Riley had so much work to do, it wasn't funny. It was better this way. He could concentrate on the computer and nothing else.
"Abigail?" Ben paused outside the door, hoped she would know her cue.
A small brown puppy bounded past the door, bounced to a stop in front of them. Behind him, Ben could feel Riley freeze.
Abigail rounded the corner.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, she escaped and I couldn't catch her in time." She stopped talking abruptly, held her breath as she looked at the expression on Riley's face.
Ben turned to look at Riley too.
"What? What are you staring at me for? It's not mine!" his voice was defensive, confused. Abigail's heart sank to her boots. The puppy wagged her short stump of a tail, jumped up Ben's leg.
"Do you… want it to be?" Ben tried to fix. Riley stared. Then it slowly dawned on him. Abigail saw it in his eyes.
A quick flash of anger and hurt signaled through Riley's eyes.
"You think you can just… replace him?"
"No," Ben said, placed a hand on Riley's shoulder, his eyes piercing. "We don't. But something has to change, Riley. You carry on like this, you'll burn out before you're thirty."
The anger faded from Riley's eyes, replaced by grief. For a few seconds, Riley watched the dog paw at his Converses. Then he stooped, smiled.
"Hello, girl. What's your name?"
"We…" Abigail paused, trying to improvise. "We thought you could name her. She'll stay here, of course, but she'll belong to you. She's your dog, Riley."
Riley looked up. Ben saw the glimmer in his eyes. He saw hope. Then Riley glanced back down at the puppy, which had begun to lick his fingers in ecstasy.
"What kind of dog is she?"
"She's a brindle boxer. Quite a lineage, her father was a descendant of the dog that guarded the grounds of the-"
"Yeah, yeah, some special dog in history that had some relation to a president or something. Fun," Riley scoffed. "You're a little egghead, aren't you?"
Abigail laughed. The little puppy's head was exactly the shape of an egg.
"So…" Riley scooped her up, and she wriggled and lapped at his face. "What are we gonna name her?"
"Well," Ben started. "I thought that since-"
"Shut up, Ben," Abigail interrupted gracelessly. "I was thinking something cute. Energetic. Boxers are a really naughty breed. Cheeky."
"Hey, is that supposed to be saying something?"
Abigail laughed. It was good to see Riley back to normal.
"We were going to get a dog when we moved here from Germany, but it never happened. But I always thought Daisy would be a great name. Or Gina."
"I like Gina," Riley said, avoided being slathered with drool. "What do you think? You like Gina?"
Ben sighed, racked his brain for something interesting to connote to. He failed miserably.
"Gina it is."
Abigail turned into the house.
"Okay. Here are the rules. I'll feed her. But you need to come over at least five times a week, take her out for a walk or something."
"She can sleep over at my place sometimes."
"And urinate all over your couch? I don't think so."
"I'll housetrain her."
"Talking about training, you'll have to start taking her to lessons soon. They're on Sunday mornings, at the country club down the road. So no more sleeping in."
"…that sucks. Why does she need training? It's unnecessary."
"It's not. If she's going to be staying here, she might as well learn some manners."
Riley scoffed, sat down on the couch and tickled the puppy's tummy.
"You're a fatty. Fat fat fatty."
Then he noticed Ben sulking in the doorway, deposited the dog on the floor.
"She's cute. Thanks."
Ben muttered something.
"Let's continue," he said to Riley.
Riley grinned, hurried to his impromptu workstation. It was okay. Things would be fine. He heard Abigail yell at Gina already. Something about not even five minutes and already a little puddle. Riley chuckled.
Yeah. Things would be great.