So, I decided to post yet *another* story, even with "Lost" hanging over my head. Don't worry, though, I'll finish that one too. xD

This one's a lot different, and it's been hanging over my head, since I got the idea, so I went ahead to write and post it. It's too good to let goooo. ^^

Disclaimer: I own a collector's DVD set of NT2, but that's about it. xD

Fall Out

Summary: A harsh misunderstanding breaks a friendship apart... but when they run across the other's path years later, is it to late to mend what is lost? AU.


It all started one fateful noon on a fateful day in his faithful apartment on his not-so-faithful cell phone. Riley Poole got about twenty voice mail messages, ranging from "Call me NOW, Riley!" to incessant cursing from Ben Gates, his apparently pissed off best friend. Riley didn't know what it was about, but he was sure it was something he didn't do. Or didn't mean to do, if ever that was the case. He didn't want to call – he just woke up from his too-little sleep from another all-nighter, this time not from his fun job as a 'technical security adviser' (a.k.a white hat hacker/penetration tester) but from a night spent shamelessly on endless video games. He wanted Ben to join him last night, to teach the far-too-busy treasure hunter to unwind by doing something other than reading, but Ben was too busy (of course) with work – and probably with his wife too with things that Riley wouldn't want to hear about.

He stood, dropped his phone on the bed, and went into his bathroom to take a cold shower to wake himself up. He wrapped a towel around his waist immediately when his cell phone shrilled out the Indiana Jones theme he reserved as Ben's ringtone. Riley frowned at the phone, and pressed the green button.

He regretted clicking that button. Who knew a simple, green button would signify another huge change in his life and lifestyle? If he did, he wouldn't have pressed it.

When he did, what met him was an angry protest along the words of "How could you Riley?!" and "Dammit, Riley, you took advantage of our friendship!" And then Ben hung up, and Riley stared at the phone a little bit more.

It was something about Ben losing three-fourths of his money, inexplicably transferred to Riley's account. All that Riley knew was he didn't do it – he wouldn't steal from Ben, much less anyone else. If he needs the money, he would've asked. Riley knew he was almost-broke (down to his last spending dollar, even – barely making ends meet), but he would never stoop to that level. He had been living off instant noodles for a while, and had only recently grabbed a job to test a company's network security. His first paycheck in a while wasn't going to come until a week later, but he managed scraping together the last bit of his spending money (he refused to even dip into his savings) to live for the next few days.

He tried to defend himself, thinking that Ben would listen to his explanation that he didn't do it, but the man was unreasonably yelling in the background. It wasn't like the dude didn't have any money left in his account, Riley thought, and he shrugged it off. He was pretty sure that the whole thing would straighten itself out, and he went back to his job.

After a few minutes, Riley received a knock from the door, and Ben stumbled in, his fist flying at his face a little too fast. The next thing Riley knew was that he was on the floor, sporting a bruise on his cheekbone from where Ben had hit him.

Ben glanced at him with a hurt expression and said, "You took my savings from my account, Riley? I knew you were broke, but… I've known you for years, and I've never taken you for a thief, but…" Ben sighed, and backed towards the door. "I'm not pressing charges. But you know what? I don't think I want to see you anytime soon, Mr. Poole."

Something else stung, other than the cheek hit by Ben's flying fists of fury. Riley didn't even know what was going on. He was confused, and hurt, not only by the sucker punch but also because he was being accused of something he didn't do, didn't even know about, and he lost a friend because of it.

He promptly called the bank and waited for an explanation. They told him that they weren't sure what happened either, but they would get back to him soon.

Riley then hopped into his car, and drove straight to the Gates' mansion. He hoped that Ben would listen to reason, and if Ben did give a damn about their friendship, even just by pretending to listen, he would stay.

But he was met by harsh glances from Ben, and a look of pity from Abigail. Ben started yelling at him, telling Riley that he didn't want his explanations, and that he was too pissed off to care, anyway. There was something along the lines of never seeing each other again, and Riley took that to heart.

He gunned his engines straight out the mansion, and that was the last time Riley saw the huge house for ten years.

That was the last time Ben ever saw Riley again. He wrongly accused him of something; something that wasn't his best friend's – or rather, former business associate – fault. He found out that a bunch of his savings was lost, and found all of a sudden in Riley's account. The bank had said something about a weird wire transfer, and everyone jumped to the same conclusion: Riley's 'special' skills. The fact that the kid was broke didn't help either. Ben was so angry he couldn't see straight. It was his savings, something that he didn't dare touch until he and Abigail find something really worth spending on, and the kid took almost all of it. The bank immediately rewired it to Ben's account, and he just let it go. He was determined not to speak to Riley for a few weeks until his anger ebbed, and didn't contact the young man for a few weeks.

After a couple of days, he couldn't resist and called Riley's number. The operator told him the subscription had been cancelled. Ben drove over to Riley's apartment, and found that it was now rented out to someone else (the hard way: he opened the door with his spare key and the man who currently lived in it attempted to swipe his nose off with a hockey stick). He had no contact with Riley whatsoever – even when he asked the kid's few known friends, nobody knew where the young man had skipped off to.

Ben was, needless to say, shocked. And guilty. Most definitely guilty. He sent Riley away, and this was all his fault. He accused him before he listened, he… he was being irrational and stupid, and he didn't know what else to do. He decided to call in some favors, and found out that the name Riley Poole had suddenly slowly faded away to inactivity from the database after years of existence. There was nothing else on it after the day Ben called on him to declare his anger.

Ben didn't know what else to do. He tried looking for him, trying to get a message to him, but to no avail. And so he and Abigail went on with their life, but the truth was, he never really stopped looking for his best friend.

Riley didn't deserve that kind of treatment from Ben. What, seven years of putting up with his requests and his stubbornness isn't enough to merit a little trust? He didn't even try to hear out Riley!

He was being taken for granted. It was the downside of trust, and Riley knew it. It wasn't his fault that he kept running into people who took advantage of him. It wasn't his fault that he kept on realizing it a little too late, and that he kept on repeating it again and again until…

No. More.

Riley wanted to start over. He did that every now and again, moving from state to state, starting over with a relatively clean slate. This time, though, he also made sure Ben couldn't follow him – he was really hurt and would rather stay away from a friend who jumped to conclusions of betrayal far too quick. Besides, he remembered that the man did tell him to stay away. And he meant it, and Riley didn't want to disappoint, so Riley sped off.

Riley had found out years back that the easiest way to escape big problems is when you run from them. His spotty past had taught him that (and had made him practice it a lot back then, too). And so, he ran. It was a little harder with Ben and Abigail around, for they always held him back from running away. Riley liked his old life, and thought that Riley Poole would be the last life he'd ever lead. But when Ben was the one driving him away, his Ferrari was a little more than too happy to drive him four-and-a-half hours to New York.

Riley Poole wasn't always Riley Poole. He had been Danny Reynolds, Joshua York, and Peter Parker (no relation to Spiderman) – and had been Riley Poole (imagine going through all those names from the age of sixteen to twenty-seven – he figured that he shouldn't make running a habit). It was the first time since almost forever that he used his real name, Riley Poole, and it was the last time he probably ever would again. He erased Riley Poole from… everywhere. He was now Justin Carpenter, working as the head technology security adviser (do what you know, right?) in two big companies in New York.

Sometimes being a lowly sidekick has some perks. Not everyone – or mostly no one, recognizes you.

So they went their separate ways, one hoping to see the other again, the other trying desperately to forget. A close friendship broken after seven years was not something they could easily let go of, they both found out. Now they had their own lives, their own families, their own disappointments and joys… and those who had thought that the treasure protector-tech expert team would never be broken were proven irrevocably wrong. Both had thought they'd be at each other's wedding, every birthday, every Christmas – but hey, sometimes life has this way of disappointing you.

And so the ten years came and went, and Justin Carpenter found himself standing in Washington D.C., invited to a company dinner, staring at someone he knew once in another lifetime. Ben Gates.

review please :) and the next chapter's gonna come soon!