(*singing*) Happy Birthday dear loremipsum, Happy Birthday to you!

Yeah, well, I found out it was my beta's birthday and had her choose what she wanted for a present, since I can't visit her wherever she is… The demand was a hurt/comfort/angst Riley fic (which I let her put down the initial plot… xD). I did my best, even if I'm more of a light, fluff writer. ^^

This story (*pats story*) gave me a hard time – halfway through my laptop's monitor decided do die by setting itself on fire (translation: it overheated. Totally my fault. .) and now it ended up 20+ days too late for my beta's birthday. Heh, heh, heh. I hope you guys like it!

Warning: Some parts are graphic in a gory sort of way and there would be an excessive amount of "blood" in this story. Please take caution. xD

Disclaimer: I'd give Riley Poole (well, a real breathing replica, anyway :p) to loremipsum for her birthday, but… alas! I do not own him or National Treasure! ;)


"Calm down dude, just let me go…"

"No! I'm not going to jail! I am not going to jail!"

"You should've thought of that man before you entered that store – "

"Thought I told you to shut up!" Pause, a sigh of desperation. "You don't understand – my little girl's sick and – "

"Robbing the store wasn't the way to go… just let me go and I'll help you."

"You'll help me? How could you possibly help me?"

"I… just trust me. You'll get out of this. I'll help you. For your little girl."

"Nobody else cared enough." The knife shook in the air slightly, the blade dipping towards his neck. "I... I thank – "

Sudden silence. He felt something warm hit his face, and he heard something metallic clang to the ground. He raised his hand, and traced his cheek with a finger.

Red. Bloody red. Warm. He closed his eyes, afraid of what he might find beside him.

"…well a crop circle is not necessarily made by aliens – it could be just a weird phenomenon explainable by weird weather disturbances." Ben mentioned, waving a hand to emphasize his point.

"Or a hoax." Abigail put in. "Riley, don't forget the 'human' factor in these arguments."

Riley Poole, the world's best conspiracy expert, shook his head. "Oh, ye of little faith. I don't argue the fact that half of the crop circles made are probably just hoaxes. But, how do you explain that – "

"Riley watch out!" Ben pulled roughly on Riley's hand. Riley grabbed on to Ben's shoulder and involuntarily stepped to his right.

The incoming biker glared back, muttering a nasty curse. "Woops." Riley gave a really sheepish look, and waved at the biker.

"Turn around and stop walking backwards." Abigail instructed. She stopped, her hands poised at her hips. The expression in her eyes battled between annoyance and amusement.

"Why? You're here to tell me if I'm going to hit anyone." Riley shrugged, grinning like he didn't see annoyance almost win on his adopted sister's face. Riley was about to say something when Abigail shot him a look that said "don't even think about starting again".

He continued his last argument anyway. "Anyway, how do you explain that none of the apparent pranksters are caught? Think about it. Besides, they are going to need the technology to make these sort of crop circles, and if these are simple pranks, they wouldn't have access to such technology." They reached the pedestrian lane, and waited for the light to glow 'go'. Riley checked the stoplight, and mentally calculated how many seconds until he had to walk again. He glanced at the movie theater across the road, and grinned. At the risk of sounding like a six-year-old, I can't wait to go and watch that movie. With butter-drizzled popcorn. Can this stoplight change any faster?

"Look Riley, I know it's your birthday, but that doesn't – "

Riley waved a hand dismissively, his feet stomping impatiently. "Actually, that's exactly what it means. It's a whole day of putting up with me, Abigail, and you can't do anything about it." He winked, and shot Abigail a wide grin.

Ben shook his head, chuckling. "I'm sorry honey, but it's his day."

Abigail gave a small huff of annoyance, and turned away. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, and she was determined not to let Riley know that she was just messing with him in the spirit of his birthday. Riley shifted on his foot, and thought he spotted a smile on Abigail's face. If it was possible for his grin to widen more, it would have.

The light finally switched to green. Riley faced Ben, still walking backwards, and opened his mouth to speak. Someone suddenly yelled behind him: "Crook! Stop him! He robbed my store! Thief!"

Riley turned. A man tore through the way – Riley didn't even have time to step aside. The man plowed into him, almost taking him down. Then everything became a blur.

Someone yanked his arm around, twisting it behind him. Riley staggered, but recovered quickly enough to jerk his own arm back and attempt to run in another direction. He felt his arm being pulled, and Riley slammed into the person holding him back.

The next thing he felt was an arm restraining him across his chest, and a knife pointed at his neck. Riley froze. He wanted to struggle. He wanted to run. He wanted to get away from the blade, from the pointed edge, from this insane man who held him hostage.

I'm a hostage. Oh God, I'm a hostage?! Riley tried to shake himself loose from the man's grip. Why do these things always happen to me?

As he assessed his current predicament, one last random thought strayed into his mind. Oh God, I hope I don't wet myself…

Ben Gates was taken by surprise – or rather, Ben's mind vaguely corrected, Riley was taken by surprise. Everything was a blur – before Ben could even reach for Riley's shoulder to pull him aside, someone already had Riley.

He stared in horror at the man who held his best friend at knifepoint. He froze, and for a moment nothing but fear, fear for my best friend, flooded his mind. A scream from the hostage-taker himself woke him back to reality, making Ben involuntarily close his eyes for a second.

"Back off! Everyone back off or else I'll slit his throat!" The man's eyes darted around wildly. His hands shook, panic and desperation creeping into his face. He's scared. And desperate. Fear and desperation are a terrible combination – they make people do things. Things they'll regret.

"Look man, I prefer to keep my throat intact – "

"Shut up!" The man waved his knife closer to Riley's neck.

Ben stretched his arms forward a bit, and bent his legs, ready to jump the man when the opportunity arrives. "Settle down, and let him go…" He murmured softly, noticing the wild panic that settled into Riley's eyes, despite the calm on his face. Riley glanced at him pleadingly, his eyes begging Ben to do something. Anything.

"No! Back off man, or he's dead!" The man yelled, and Ben took an involuntary step back. Ben watched the man, determined to jump in when there is an opening.

"I'm not planning on dying today." Riley murmured, and the man turned to him, bringing the knife closer to his face. "You see it's my birthday – "

"I thought I told you to shut up!"

"Shutting up." Riley gulped, and closed his eyes at the sight of the sharp blade. He glanced at Ben again. I'm sorry Riley, there's nothing I can do. He had never felt so… helpless, ever, in his life. It was even worse than when they were stuck under the Trinity Church – he knew there was a way out. Worse than almost drowning in the Cibola – he knew he could sacrifice himself, anything for the safety of his family.

But this… he couldn't do anything here. Ben glanced around the street. A crowd gathered to watch. Some of the spectators had already stepped forward to push the crowd back so they wouldn't come too close. He spotted people whipping out their cell phones and calling 911. At least they could do something.

He turned to Abigail. Abby was frozen in her spot, staring at the chaos in front of her. Ben reached for her hand, and squeezed it reassuringly. Abigail squeezed back, and stepped closer to Ben. "Riley…" She whispered.

"I know. We… we can't do anything Abigail. Nothing that wouldn't ki-… injure Riley in the process." He almost said kill. Riley won't die Ben, he won't. He is going to walk away… dammit, why are you even thinking of him dying "The police…"

Abigail sighed behind him, and Ben moved back a bit and stood in front of her as a protective gesture. "Don't worry Abby. The police would be here soon. We are going to get Riley back. I promise."

Riley's mind rushed to form a plan, anything that would get him out of here. He knew that if he moved, or run, or do anything, that knife could slash him across his neck Sweeney Todd style, blood pouring out of his neck, soaking his shirt… Too morbid, Riley! Put a cork in it: you're not going to die.

"Man, please… I don't want to die dude. Please let me go…"

"Shut up!" The knife came a millimeter closer. Riley gulped.

But how can you be so sure? He asked the voice earlier, the one that bravely proclaimed that he wouldn't die. "Can I… can I ask your name?"


"Can I ask your name?"

"Why?" Honestly, he didn't know why he was asking the man's name. A part of him screamed, telling him that he shouldn't make friends, even acquaintances, with the dude who's holding him hostage. Another, a calmer facet, told him that maybe all the guy needed was someone to listen, to talk to, a friend… he didn't care that his mind was rationalizing like a second grader. The rest of his brain was frozen stiff anyway, and he was grateful for any course of action that he could take right now.

Anything but staring at that gleaming edge floating precariously near his neck.

"I make it a point to know who takes me hostage before I let them use my body for protection and insurance." He shot back. Riley knew this wasn't the time to be sarcastic, to joke, but he needed a way, any way, to inject even a bit of normalcy into this… situation.

He was never one to understate – but making your situation seem less dire kind of helps. Not that it always worked…

"M-Morgan. My name's Morgan."

"Can… can you please let me go?"

"No." Morgan's voice shook. Riley winced with concern. "I… I need to get out of here…"

"What made you do it?" His heart had finally stopped racing. If I could just get him to talk, maybe… maybe I could convince him to let me go…

"I… I needed money."

"For what?"

Morgan scoffed half-heartedly. His hands shook, and Riley turned away from the knife that inched closer again. "Do…do I n-need a r-reason?"

"You don't look like anyone who robs store on a regular basis, man." Riley replied. He was astonished – his voice sounded so calm. So collected. So steady.

His heart thudded faster, proclaiming he was anything but calm and collected.

"I… my…" Sirens interrupted Morgan's statement, and he moaned. He jerked Riley back against him, his grip on one of Riley's arms tighten.

"Police! Let go of the weapon and your hostage, or we will not hesitate to shoot!"

"Ah th-there would be no shooting involved please!" Riley screamed into the distance. He had just noticed the crowd around them, and the police taking their positions.

He turned slightly to Morgan. "Dude. Did you hear that? If you let me go, then we both walk away from here safe. You're going to turn yourself in… Don't worry, I won't press any charges… Just let me go…"

"No! I'm not going to prison!" Morgan cried. Riley winced – now he could feel the pressure of the blade against his neck. Not enough to make him bleed, but very, very uncomfortable…

"Mind the blade, Morgan." Riley shut his eyes, saying the man's name for the first time. He felt Morgan jerk away involuntarily, surprised at what Riley just called him.

"I'm not going to jail." Morgan repeated.

Riley sighed. After the stunt Morgan had pulled, he knew there was nowhere to go but jail. He didn't even want to think about the other option.

"Morgan, come on. This is never the answer." Riley exhaled.

"Police! Let go of the weapon and your hostage, or we will not hesitate to shoot! Now!" There was another announcement from the distance.

Riley spoke urgently now. "Come on Morgan, they won't hesitate to shoot you."

"I can't die my family needs me!" Morgan screamed again, the knife pressing uncomfortably on Riley's neck again.

"Calm down dude, just let me go…

"No! I'm not going to jail! I am not going to jail!"

"You should've thought of that man before you entered that store – "

"Thought I told you to shut up!" Morgan paused, and gave a sigh of desperation. "You don't understand – my little girl's sick and – "

"Robbing the store wasn't the way to go… just let me go and I'll help you."

"You'll help me? How could you possibly help me?"

"I… just trust me. You'll get out of this. I'll help you. For your little girl."

"Nobody else cared enough." The knife shook in the air slightly, the blade dipping towards his neck. "I... I thank – "

There was sudden silence. He felt something warm hit his face, and he heard something metallic clatter. He raised his hand, and traced his cheek with a finger.

Red. Bloody red. Warm. Riley closed his eyes, afraid of what he might find beside him.

He turned anyway.

The man's head was half blown to bits. He could see the eye flop on to the cheek – OhGodtheeyethebrainohGodohGodohGod – he thought he could identify every part of the face clearly, like the way he remembered in high school biology. He froze; he couldn't peel his eyes from the bloody mess.

Then he screamed.

Riley stumbled forward. The last thing he remembered was the ground rushing to meet him, and then everything else was a blur.

Ben watched in horror as the hostage taker's body collapsed forward, his head blown to bits by the man who aimed a shotgun at him.

He stared in shock as the captor's knife fall to the ground, and everything appeared to slow down.

All he could do was watch as his best friend stared at the man's decapitated head, his fingers tracing his blood-stained cheek – blood not even his

Then he saw Riley stagger forward and Ben rushed to catch him, covering his eyes from the carnage and pulling him away.

"OhGodohGodohGodohGodyeathoughIwalkthroughthevalleyoftheshadowofdeathiwillfearnoevilforthoughartwithme…" Riley murmured, his eyes shut tight, reciting words that made Ben worry more. Ben wasn't even sure if his friend realized he was whispering to himself. Psalm 23 verse 4. Ben told himself. He's quoting from the Bible. The last time Ben remembered Riley like this was when his brother died. He remembered him repeating a bible verse, something about getting caught in the clouds…

He never liked seeing Riley break down like that.

Heck, Riley was so scared… All Ben could do was to hold his best friend and hug him close.

"Is… is it over?" A small voice whispered from under Ben's arms.

Ben nodded against Riley's head. "Yes, Riley. It's over."

Why does it always happen to you? Why can I never protect you as much as I like?

They sat in silence for a few moments, in the middle of the road: Ben's arms wrapped around Riley protectively, and Riley shivering in fright under him. The world moved around them: the police dispensing the crowd, the paramedics clearing out the body. But time froze for Ben as he comforted his best friend.

"Riley! Ben!"

Ben turned, and saw Abigail screaming at them, trying to make her way through the scattering crowd. A police officer kept on pulling her away from the crime scene. Ben wanted to reach for her, to make the officer release her, but he didn't want to leave Riley.

"Are you okay sir?" A paramedic stepped forward, and spoke softly into Riley's ear. The paramedic took Riley's arm, but he jerked it away.

"So much blood." Riley said, closing his eyes and rubbing them. "Oh God, there was blood everywhere. His face was falling apart…"

"Calm down sir." The paramedic placed an arm on his shoulder, and took Riley gently away from Ben. Ben nodded at the paramedic, and he ran towards the officer to retrieve Abigail.

He knew Riley could use all the friends he could get right now.

Riley followed the medic, his eyes blank as the medic whispered questions to him. "Are you hurt, sir? What's your name? Are you okay?"

"No, Riley, and of course not." Riley shivered. He turned, looking for Ben, for Abigail, for any familiar face. He saw them in the distance, talking to a police officer, Ben gesturing wildly at him and Abigail holding on to Ben's arm.

"Well Riley, let's get the blood off your face and shirt now." The paramedic handed him a small cotton pad. The sharp twang of alcohol's smell brought his senses back to reality, and he took the cotton pad and started wiping himself.

He started with his cheek, and traced his ear, down to his neck. He felt his hair, and what felt like clumps of matter came off as he ran his hand through. Riley's hands shook, and he brought the pad in front of him.

Red. Bloody red. Riley dropped the pad, gasping. He turned to one side, and vomited. He groaned, and glanced for anyone who might be watching. His eyes landed on the huge red stain left on the ground wear the Morgan used to be. He gagged, and started vomiting again.

The medic involuntarily jumped back and smiled reassuringly. He handed Riley a paper towel, and another cotton pad. "It's going to be okay Riley, it's all over now." The medic started to help Riley, taking the chunks out of his hair and dropping them in a small bag. "I suggest soaking it in cold water and sponging with ammonia. Bloodstains can be murder on shirts." The medic coughed awkwardly. "Uh, sorry for the pun. I didn't mean to be so insensitive."

"It's okay." Riley whispered. "I… I think I'll just burn it. I don't want to remember this… any of this."

Ben and Abigail had finally been released by the officer, and Abigail came running towards him, and gave him a hug, bloodstains and all. "Riley… Riley…" That was all she could say, whispering Riley's name over and over again.

Riley hugged back. "I don't want the blood to get all over you, Abigail." He whispered half-heartedly.

Abby smiled. "You're going to be alright Riley. Just sit tight. We told the officer that we're going to talk to him tomorrow about all this. Would that be okay?"

Riley nodded. "Yeah." He felt Ben sit beside him, and he smiled. "Hey."

"Hey. You okay kid?" Ben asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"I will be. At least, I hope I will be." Riley shuddered, and turned to Ben. "You know… that… that every time I close my eyes… I see… I see him. I feel Morgan's knife press against my neck…"


"That's his name. I… I wish I didn't ask him his name. It… feels weird. I know his name, Ben, Abigail. God, I knew him. I knew Morgan." Riley closed his eyes. "I feel his blood spray, hear the thunk of the knife dropping on the ground, hear the unmistakable sound of exploding flesh. You just know it was flesh… and bone… and…" He laughed mirthlessly. "It was horrible Ben. Hell, it didn't sound like how it does in the movies. They always covered with the sound of the gun but no… you could hear… Oh God…" Riley shuddered and shook his head.

Ben and Abigail wrapped arms around him, Abigail making comforting circles at the back of his neck. "It's okay Riley. Talking about it – that's good, that's good."

Ben smiled reassuringly. "You're going to be alright, Riley. It's going to be alright."

They stayed like that for a moment, not moving, not noticing anything else. Riley sighed, and turned to Ben and Abigail.

"Well." Riley smiled, and wiped a stray tear from his cheek. "This was an eventful birthday."

Ben shook his head. "Not what we're used to."

Abigail placed an around Riley's shoulders. "Come on, let's go get you a change of clothes. And get some ice cream."

"Ice cream? I'm not four, Abigail." Riley teased, his voice still shaking a bit. "I just want to go home." He shuddered, and closed his fingers around Abigail's hand.

"I think that would be best." Ben said softly. He took Riley's hand, and guided him back to the car.

Ben watched as Riley stumbled wearily out of the car. He stepped out, wanting to help, but Riley had already run to the house and fumbled for his keys. After a few seconds the door opened, and Riley disappeared inside.

He was about to follow Riley when he noticed Abigail not moving inside the car. Ben went back in, and reached for Abigail's hand. They sat in silence. Ben squeezed Abigail's hand reassuringly.

"I…" Abigail started. Ben turned to look at her, and wiped a tear that slid down her cheek. "Ben. I'm worried about Riley… God, all that blood… I couldn't get it out of my head." Abigail squeezed Ben's hand. "It's just… Riley was standing beside the man, Ben. He… I couldn't even begin to imagine what's running through his head. There was just so much blood."

Ben reached for Abigail's shoulder, and gave her a fierce hug. "Look, Abigail, Riley's going to be okay. He'll bounce back – maybe after a few weeks or months of therapy. He's strong, Abby, I know he's strong." Ben pushed a stray hair out of Abigail's face. "Are you going to be okay?"

"I don't know Ben." Abigail shook her head. "I… I just don't know."

Ben gave her another hug. "You're going to be fine, Abigail."

Abigail sighed, and leaned back in her chair. "You know… down there in the Cibola… you almost died. We almost died. The nightmares… I kept dreaming you didn't make it, Ben. I kept dreaming that Riley slipped through the door and pushed you in, keeping him trapped back under. I kept dreaming that only me and your parents made it. I kept dreaming that when we came back to drain the place I… I saw your body Ben. Pale… blue… lifeless."

She shut her eyes, and sighed again. "For days, I kept on seeing your dead body floating around in my mind." Abigail turned to Ben. "Now… now I keep seeing that… that man's guts being blown all over the street. I keep seeing him slicing through Riley's neck and seeing all the blood pour out. Every time I close my eyes…" She shuddered. "I don't want nightmares again Ben."

Ben blinked at Abigail. He remembered this talk before, after they got out of the Cibola. Abigail repeatedly reassured him that everything was going to be okay, that everyone was fine. Ben reassured Abigail the same thing, holding her as they stared at the stars, talking about their nightmares and their fears.

Abigail never told him that they reoccurred a lot. That the nightmares visited her over and over again.

He had his share of nightmares too. And he told her everything. Maybe I should have asked her. I should have known. I should have… "Abigail." Ben stepped out of the car and went over to Abigail's side. He opened the door and took her in his arms, embracing her tightly. "I'm sorry. I should've been there to talk…should've been there to…" He kissed her on the forehead and on her nose. "Everything's going to be okay now. Just trust me… tell me everything. Wake me up after every dream, every nightmare…"

Abigail smiled. "I know you're there for me Ben. You don't have to – "

"But I do. I want to." Ben gave her another kiss on the forehead. "Come on. We better check on Riley." He pulled her up, and took her hand into his. They started walking towards the door. "I'm serious about talking, Abigail. Talk to me about everything. Anything."

Abigail stopped, and gave him a kiss on his lips. "I know."

Riley headed straight for his room and sat on his bed. It registered in his head that his clothes were still caked with blood, so he stood up immediately and headed for the bathroom.

His shirt came off first, and he threw it in the corner. His feet plodded wearily to the sink, and he splashed some water on his face. Riley glanced at the mirror, and closed his eyes.

He traced his finger on one cheek, and brought it around to his face. Red. Bloody Red.

Riley opened his eyes, and washed his finger. He scrubbed his cheek again with soap, and rinsed it with water. He shut his eyes to keep the soap out.

The man's face exploded beside him, the blood splattering on his clothes, his neck, his hair, his shirt, his hand, his face…

Riley looked into the mirror again, and thought he saw blood in his hair and on cheek, on his face… his hands… everywhere. Blood everywhere.

He leaped into the shower and turned it on. He scrubbed at his face, his hands, his body… He didn't even pull off his pants.

Riley just stood there, scrubbing at blood that wasn't there. Get it off me. Getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoff! He scrubbed until his fingers were numb and there were thin welts – some of them already drew a little blood – on his cheek.

He stopped, leaned against one corner and slid down. Riley panted from the frantic action that he was doing before. "Get it off me." He whispered.

That was when he started to cry.

He cried because he had been so scared. He cried because he felt so helpless. He cried because he thought he would never see his friends and his family again.

He cried because he saw and felt someone die beside him, and he knew that if the shooter's hand only shook a little he could have ended up dead.

Riley hugged himself tightly. He inhaled deeply, trying to calm himself down. The water from the shower mixed with his salty tears.

He shut his eyes again, trying to stop the tears from falling.

"You don't understand – my little girl's sick and – "

"I… just trust me. You'll get out of this. I'll help you. For your little girl."

"Nobody else cared enough." The knife shook in the air slightly, the blade dipping towards his neck. "I... I thank – "

Sudden silence.

Riley shook his eyes open. He didn't want to go through that again. His eyes burned, tears threatening to fall again.

He heard whispers outside the door.

"Do you think he's alright in there? It's been two hours already."

"He's going to be okay Abigail – he's just sorting through what happened. He's working through this."

"But Ben, what if – "

"Look, I'll knock and ask if he's alright, okay?"


The knocks that followed shook Riley back to reality. "Riley? Riley are you alright in there?" Riley heard a vague thump against the door, and figured that Ben leaned his forehead. "Hey kid? Riley?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. I'll be out soon. Don't worry."

"See, I told you he's okay. Don't worry. Let him work through this." "Okay Riley. We'll be outside if you need us, okay?"


Riley heard shoes shuffle outside, and then nothing. Riley sighed. Tears fell down again, unwarranted, and Riley wiped at them angrily. He wasn't supposed to feel like this.

He wasn't supposed to feel guilty.

He couldn't help it. His family was still intact; he knew everything was going to be fine after this. He knew that life would go on.

But what about Morgan's family? Morgan's dead – his little girl may as well be dead too. Riley sighed. He couldn't help but think that he could have done something…

What could you have done? You didn't know that cop already had his sights trained on Morgan. You didn't know he was going to shoot him.

But I could have yelled! I could have announced that Morgan was ready to give up; to surrender. I should have let everyone know that it was going to be okay…

You did everything you could have done. You're the victim here, Riley, not him.

But he is. He is a victim of his own problems. He didn't deserve to die. He only wanted his little girl to be okay…

"Stop it. Stop!" Riley yelled at the thoughts in his head. He stood up, and ran his hand through his hair. I'm going to take a nice, long shower and get some sleep. Then I'm going to do something. For Morgan. For his family who didn't deserve this.

Riley stared at the ceiling, and rolled over in his bed. He was so tired… He wanted to sleep, but sleep just wouldn't come to him. He sighed.

He didn't want to close his eyes again, anyway. He almost fell asleep earlier, but the nightmares that came were too much.

One second Morgan's knife was delicately pressing into his neck, and the next Ben jumped Morgan and ended up getting stabbed.

It was a scenario that Riley knew could have happened. He knew that Ben could have gone into "hero mode"and got himself killed. It was a horrible "what if", and it pained and annoyed him that his mind insisted on running over it again and again.

Riley sighed for the second time, and sat up. He rubbed his eyes, pulled on his slippers and slipped to the kitchen. Maybe a warm glass of hot chocolate…. Or milk… would help. Maybe even a sandwich…

Ben and a cup of steaming, hot milk met him on the kitchen counter.


"Hey." Riley answered back, and grabbed a huge cookie from one of the cookie jars.

"Couldn't sleep?" Ben pushed the milk towards Riley, and Riley smiled his thanks.


Ben nodded. "I thought so." He grabbed a huge cookie from one of the cookie jars, too, and nibbled on it. "I was trying to guess when you would finally give up on sleeping and slip in the kitchen for a glass of warm milk. I had to reheat the milk every five minutes."

Riley chuckled a bit. "Thanks."

They remained silent for a few moments. Riley didn't want to talk anyway. Just knowing that Ben was there beside him, living and breathing Ben, was enough to chase away the scene that kept on haunting him earlier.

It made him feel safe.

"Why can't you sleep?" Riley finally spoke up.

Ben shrugged. "I just can't."

Riley nodded. It appeared that Ben didn't want to discuss the matter further, so he let it drop.

He was content to enjoy his friend's presence in silence, anyway.

The truth was, Ben didn't know what exactly to tell Riley. "Well, I couldn't sleep because I kept on dreaming that your throat got slit and all I could do was watch as you bleed to death." That could be a good conversation starter, Ben thought, if it wasn't so gory and depressing. He smiled at his private joke, and sighed.

Riley turned to him curiously. "What is it?"

"Nothing…" He replied. Ben wasn't keen on talking about this to Riley, for he was certain the young man had enough problems of his own to deal with. Probably also running around in his head, like mine, he thought glumly.

Ben sighed again. The guilt that he thought he had dispelled earlier was coming back again. He just couldn't stop feeling that it was his fault.

If only he had pulled Riley away in time. Or, if only he did not insist that Riley would like going out better than holding a surprise party in the backyard (which, to his credit, Riley did like better, until the incident). Or if only he had jumped that man, just in time to save Riley from the trauma of having someone killed beside you, his guts splattering all over your face…

"You could not have done anything, you know." Riley had started quietly beside him.

"What?" Ben turned to Riley, blinking. How could he know…?

Riley shook his head, smiling a bit. "I've been your friend long enough, Ben, to know that if you could help it, you would protect everyone you love from harm. And that if you don't succeed, a crushing feeling of guilt would envelope your brain and make you feel so helpless." Riley chuckled softly. "I know you, Ben. I know you feel guilty about not doing anything. Well, let me be the one to say it wasn't your fault, and there was nothing you could have done."

"But I could have jumped at him! I could have pulled you away in time! I could have…"

Riley shook his head again. "Look, Ben, I have gone through the scenario a thousand times." He visibly shuddered, and turned away. "If you jumped him, he would've stabbed you, and I would have lost my best friend."

Ben stopped, and turned to look at Riley. "Is that… Is that what kept you up?"

Riley didn't answer at first. Ben opened his mouth to ask again, but Riley cut him off. "Yeah." Riley broke his untouched cookie in half. "It's no big deal, though…"

Ben shook his head, and moved closer to Riley. He took him in a bone-crushing hug. "It's a big deal, Riley. It's…" He sighed. "It's going to be okay. Nothing happened, we're all here, we're safe, we're okay…"

Riley returned his embrace. "I know. I know."

Ben felt Riley's tears seeping into his shirt, and he patted Riley on the back. "It's going to be okay, Riley. It's over. It's all over." He vaguely noticed his own tears running down his cheek, as his mind registered on the relief that those words offered.

"It's all over, little brother. It's all over."

Riley used Google to look for a "Morgan Carter" online, and decided to call every number listed around the area to look for Morgan's family. He started on it after he woke up from his drug-induced sleep, something Ben insisted on giving to Riley so he could sleep last night.

He agreed only when Ben told him that he would be taking one himself.

Riley's hand shook as he dialed the numbers. He didn't know what to say. "Hi, I'm looking for Morgan Carter's family, the family of the guy who got shot earlier in that police hostage-taking incident yesterday." He sighed, and hoped that a nice person would answer the call. He was not in a mood to be shouted at.

He ended up telling the first person who answered everything – an old woman, who in turn directed him to the right Morgan Carter residence, which turned out to be beside the old woman's apartment. Riley smiled gratefully at the coincidence, and thanked the old woman profusely. He raced to grab his wallet and his car keys, and ran out of the house after leaving a note that he was going somewhere, and that Ben and Abby should not worry about him.

Riley headed straight to the Carters' apartment, and he rang the doorbell with a shaking hand.

The woman who answered him was clearly crying, her eyes red and tears staining her cheeks. "Yes?"

Riley stared at her, and fought down the desire to hug this woman in front of him fiercely and tell her that everything was going to be okay, and that he was here to help. He settled with a hi, and introduced himself.

"You were the guy who-who Morgan… What are you doing here?" The woman shot at him angrily. "He's dead – the police had already been here – why can't you people just leave us alone…"

"Mrs. Carter I'm here to help – "

"We don't need anyone's help. Just… just go away…" The woman tried to slam the door close, but Riley slipped in his foot first.

"Mrs. Carter, Morgan told me about his little girl."

The woman stopped, and with a wave of her hand, let Riley in.

"Mrs. Carter, I want to help." Riley went straight to the point. "During the… the incident, Morgan told me that he just wanted help for his little girl."

"Why would you want to help us? Morgan took you as his hostage. He… he held you at knifepoint… he… he… Oh God he died because of this…" Mrs. Carter cried, and all Riley could do was to pat her on the back and hand her the box of tissue on a nearby table. He led her to a chair, and they both sat down. "I told him to do this. That we could just sell some of our things for Tracy's treatment. But he would not hear any of it. He said he couldn't just sit around and do nothing."

Riley sighed. "Mrs. Carter, I would like to help."

"Tracy has Leukemia, Mr. Poole. We don't have the money to set her up for treatment. She's still in an early stage, and if only we could afford treatment…" The woman broke into tears again, and Riley placed a hand on her shoulder.

"I'll help, Mrs. Carter. I have the money to help your daughter."

Mrs. Carter looked at him incredulously. Riley blinked – he was expecting relief, gratefulness, not disbelief. "Why? Why would you want to help us?"

"Because you don't deserve this." Riley sighed. "Because Morgan only did what he did because he loved you. And I understand him."

Mrs. Carter gave Riley a hug. "Thank you. Thank you so much." She turned away, and called out her daughter's name. A little girl, no more than three years old, walked in, and smiled shyly at Riley.

"This is Tracy. Tracy, this is Mr. Riley Poole. She's going to help you get well."

Tracy climbed on to Riley's lap, which made him start involuntarily. The kid looked at his face, and poked his nose. "Misteh' Poole, do you think my daddy's goin' to be okay? Do you think I'm going to be okay?"

Riley glanced at Mrs. Carter, who smiled sadly at her daughter. Riley took Tracy's hand, and poked her nose back. "Call me Riley, Tracy. And everything's going to be alright."

For the first time since the past thirty-six hours, he was finally able to believe that statement.


PS: the "caught in the cloud verse" is from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. ;)

My longest One-shot to date. 6800+ words. Fun. ^^

Sooooo? What do you think? xD

-Jaeh ^^