Benjamin Gates, pre-Riley/Ben
PG-13, ~2500 words
Not mine, making no profit.
"Five important dates Benjamin Franklin Gates didn't really enjoy before the age of forty-two." (takes place in the Labradoodle universe)
By the age of seven, Thanksgiving meant stress.
It meant listening to hours of arguing in the next room as his parents reached the stage he'd come to know as "Condition 1," at which point his grandfather would scowl and lead him out to sit on the front steps. He'd say, "they only argue because they don't know how to talk" and then frown and rub his face and tell whatever story Ben had yet to memorize, keep him out there until they were ready to eat. And then after they went in, even though there would be the usual dirty looks and short comments over the dinner table, Grandpa was always at his side, good at keeping his attention, amusing him, distracting him.
It was only one of a thousand ways in which his grandfather was always there.
There were talks with teachers, dentist and doctor appointments, random visits when Dad ran off and Mom was struggling with her school stuff. He helped with homework and craft projects, took him on field trips whenever he had the chance, had an answer for every question Ben could ask. He showed Ben the parts of a car and how to keep it running, shared stories from the Navy, opened old photo albums and read old letters that showed how big their family once had been.
His grandfather was there through the divorce and then there after, did everything he could while Dad started learning how to act like a dad and completely missed the point.
He was there until he passed away so suddenly nobody was prepared and so quietly there was no one to be angry at over it— except he did have somebody to be annoyed at since Grandpa wasn't dead two seconds before Dad was moving things around in Grandpa's house, making a mess of it. Then he started selling some of the stuff and Ben took to stealing whatever he could of his grandfather's possessions, tucking old photo albums and model ships into the depths of his closet where nobody would find them.
And if Mom's later opinion was right and Ben grieved too long, he didn't care, couldn't make himself.
His grandfather wasn't replaceable.
Dad wrapped the presents wrong.
At sixteen, with his life vaguely planned out in a way that his father disapproved of (like he was one to talk) and with his mother always waiting for a visit but unwilling to drop by because she didn't want to risk seeing Dad, it was just one of a thousand things Ben could not stop holding against his father.
Like the fact that Dad refused to finish his cooking his eggs and let the yellow run into the syrup while Ben tried not to gag on the other side of the table. Like the fact that he always said Ben needed to have a more responsible outlook on his future and acted like Ben had committed a felony when he stayed up too late memorizing Grandpa's old diary entries ("you need sleep, Ben, not some obsession.") Like the fact that he thought Ben wanting to learn how to dive was "ridiculous" and that Ben needed to do something "real" with his life instead of "acting like your grandfather" like that was a bad thing.
"You don't put the bow on the side where the paper seam is," Ben insisted a half-dozen times, too aggravated for words, and his dad nodded and muttered behind his paper and completely ignored him the way he did a good fifty percent of the time. (The other fifty percent was spent being overprotective to a degree that was smothering.)
The next Christmas, exasperated beyond words, Ben wrapped the damn presents himself.
If it took the fun out of it, he didn't care.
By twenty-five, New Year's Eve was one of the banes of his existence.
By then, Ben was still unsure how to use everything he knew and everyone recognized him as the "way too mellow guy who knew too much history." He swam constantly. He was sure that Grandpa had been right and that Charlotte was a ship instead of a woman, and he knew that it was possible to get an incredibly good blowjob from another man. (He also knew to keep that second fact quiet for the sake of everyone's sanity including his own.) He had a car about to give up the ghost that he loved desperately and he really wanted a dog but wasn't willing to get one because he was unsure he could really handle the responsibility (or the risk of the dog running off on him). He shared a few meals per month with his mother, sometimes ate one with his father, and spent the rest of the time learning what he didn't already know. When he dated, he dated the wrong people or was acting too "loose," and when he didn't date, he was acting like a hermit and needed to bring home a nice girl. (The request was always for a "nice girl" from Dad, always.)
Mom said, "Honey, please get out more" and Dad said, "you need to know more people your own age, Ben, please" because Ben spent ninety percent of his time talking to professors and historians three times his age. And when he did talk to people his own age, it was like nails on a chalkboard because they were all… confusing, didn't get anything he was talking about. So except for a few people who shared his musical taste, he vastly preferred the older generation to the young in all things. And contrary to what his parents thought, it really did work for him— as long as he didn't drink in public.
Because where sane people wore wastebaskets on their heads or puked on their shoes, he calmly said things like, "people say I'm great at oral" or "your ass is great, I've been watching it all night." Sometimes he let whoever he was interested in sit right on his lap in public, or just stared at whoever caught his attention so openly that it was possibly offensive, or did a hundred other absolutely horrifying things he wasn't supposed to.
So, no drinking in public even if it meant that he came off as even more standoffish than usual at group gatherings.
"Not even one drink?" he heard too often, but always shook his head until they gave up with one last uh huh look in his direction.
Because all things considered, he still preferred the way things were already.
By thirty-five, he had to recognize that Dad had a point about his reputation being ruined.
But since he refused to ask his father for money or a place to stay when he needed one, it would never come up in conversation anyway so he could avoid admitting that to his father. And it wasn't like Mom was going to call him up when Ben stayed with her for a few weeks, a fact that Ben knew and exploited on a level that was possibly shameful.
And contrary to his mother's belief, he was not completely pathetic.
Even if every last cent he could spare (and too often some he couldn't) went into airfare and traveling expenses, increasingly exhausting attempts to get someone with money he didn't have to sponsor his work. Once he got started, he knew, it would go fine. As it was, half of his wandering was about finding somebody with money who wouldn't hesitate to use it— but it wasn't like schools weren't willing to be flexible about his work with how much he had to offer.
Students had a tendency to fight to get into his classes, and Ben had one of the best records when it came to students actually showing up and not dropping out. And he loved taking the teaching jobs when they came up, loved getting into the flow of a lecture and loved spotting the one or two kids spread through the crowd that he knew would go far in whatever fields they decided to go into. But when it came to his peers, there were the looks and the elbow nudges. The chin points and the short comments during a conversation that never let him forget just how well he actually fit into their circles. Ben was able to ignore it most of the time— which was sometimes a mistake.
"I can't believe you fell for it." He didn't say anything, focusing on finding one book on a shelf full of them, and heard the young woman sigh behind him, entirely too pitying. "It's April Fool's day, Mr. Gates. You remember last year, don't you?" Yes, of course he did. "How much did you spend on airfare?"
"Natalie." When he finally turned to pass her the book, he found her staring at him too closely, looking entirely too maternal for someone barely half his age. "Here you go," he said carefully, and watched her take the book, fold it very carefully into her bag. "I'll see you tomorrow—"
"You're like a puppy," the girl informed him tragically. "This puppy that keeps getting kicked while he's just trying to get his biscuit."
"A kicked puppy," his student announced very dramatically, but finally left with one last, "I'll get your book back next week" over her shoulder.
Ben borrowed what he needed from his mother to pay his rent that month.
"Mom always said the fireworks scared me out of her womb."
What? "Excuse me?"
"The Fourth of July," Poole explained, brow furrowed as he stared too hard at Ben's foot— Oh, lovely, it now matched how it felt, skin a mottled mix of purple and blue under Poole's fingers. "Okay, seriously, are you sure you didn't break it?"
Ben's foot ached where the crate had crushed it, combined with the calendar to make him feel his age. "You mentioned July Fourth…"
"Oh. Right." The kid (that was what he was, he couldn't possibly be past his early twenties, was entirely too young) shook himself, made a ridiculous face and turned the foot resting on his thigh with an easiness Ben didn't expect. "My mother went into labor during the fireworks, you know? Fifteen hours later, boom, there I was." Did he ever shut— Wait, fifteen hours? "And creepy Ian said it was your birthday so I wanted to say happy birthday."
In less than two weeks, Ben had already learned the hard way that saying, please don't say that about the man giving me money to chase my childhood dream did nothing to keep this computer technician ("hacker," Poole said every time like someone had just offended him terribly, "or computer whisperer. Not a technician") from addressing Ian as "creepy" as soon as his back was turned. "No, it was yesterday."
"It's only a little past twelve," Poole replied too easily, voice light even as he flexed fingers very carefully into the lucky-not-to-be-broken foot, examined it carefully. He had a better grip than Ben had previously thought, which actually probably made sense considering the computer habit. "I ate my last Twinkie today, so you don't get one of those. How about a cupcake?" Before Ben could formulate an answer— "How old are you now anyway?"
His foot— really hurt. And now so did his head. "Forty."
Poole made a fuzzy sound as he lifted Ben's foot and set it on the couch, pushed carefully up and wandered toward the small fridge on the opposite side of the suite. "Are you really supposed to be doing the heavy lifting portion of our incredible journey?" he wondered and Ben closed his eyes, unsure how he had come to be double-teamed by two vastly different people that made no secret of how much they disliked each other. "I mean, isn't this what the droids are for, picking up the big crates, doing the dirty work?"
"I was trying to help."
Looking entirely focused on the job of folding ice into a towel, Poole just said, "Uh huh."
The kid's voice did interesting things right then.
Interesting enough that Ben turned his attention away, grabbed the remote and flipped idly through the channels he could find on the hotel television. "So that means you're like… a Virgo, huh?" Still focused on the television, he managed to catch movement out of the corner of his eyes before his foot was picked up again, as ice was settled across the injury. After several moments: "So my aunt knows all kinds of things about the Masons…"
Ben focused pointedly on the badly dubbed soap opera he had found, refused to have this conversation while in pain and trying to avoid the fact that he had reached forty.
"Okay." A pillow was abused rather brutally, slapped down before the foot was shifted to rest there with a last nervous prod to the ankle. "I need to go check my e-mail and make sure creepy Ian didn't send someone to steal my Pringles." His hand hovered a last moment over Ben's foot, eyes worried. "If you need anything, just bang on the wall… or ring a bell… I have a bell if you need one."
It was like trying to talk to a wall. "Okay."
"Okay," Poole repeated again, performing something close to a sideways little scuttle for the door of the hotel. "Nice to talk to you without creepy Ian around," he added as he finally stepped out— only to waver in the doorway, pop his head right back in. If he was aware of the glare Ben was struggling to suppress, he apparently wasn't as easily ruffled as Ben had first thought he was. "I can bring some take-out," he suggested, tone now needling and Ben closed his eyes, reminded himself that the ice was helping, that the kid had been nothing but helpful except for his obsession with touching and looking at and asking questions about everything and following him around like a baby duck. "You know… talk, since we're going to be hanging out together…"
"Okay?" Ben glanced at him, half-lifting the remote in something close to a threat. Decided after a moment that he didn't know how to handle the way Poole just looked too pleased with himself as he came back to the couch, took his seat back. Continued prodding his foot. "So. They probably have Italian take-out in Germany, right? Or maybe some eggrolls… Hey, what about Chinese, do you think they have Chinese here?"
"Chinese food is everywhere."
"That's what my dad says." Ice was shifted, resettled, palm flat against the skin of his ankle as Ben thumbed the volume control, torn between turning it down and turning it up, unsure which option would provide the most satisfaction. "It's true, actually, no matter where we were, there was Chinese food, you could always find it, I don't think I ate anything for a couple years, you know?"
This didn't count as defeat. "Okay, Riley."