Disclaimer: you only gotta get the feel of this fic to know National Treasure isn't mine. But I guess for legality purposes; characters and concept and so on and so forth are so not mine.
A/N: Wait! No! I don't want it to be over! But it is my fellow fic-readers. It's been great writing this and I wish it didn't have to finish but it has been a bit of a strain (three school nights of staying up till 1am in order to satisfy my need for proper progress on this Side (soooooo worth it)) The final Side of Three Sides is finished; the trio is done; the trifecta completed. All those annoying questions that I left you with, including the life or death (for me, eep!) question of is Riley alright, are finally answered. Just done the final word count using my lovely pc and without the disclaimer, a/n and title, this Side is about 6,400 words, so as I predicted it's about the size of the other two Sides combined but goes beyond the attack and into a lot of 'detail'; you'll see what I mean, at least I hope so. Just gotta mention that the feedback for Ian's Side was a lot better than I had dared hoped; seems a fair few people want to believe he is a good man and I think I ought to apologise to those people in advance. Now, looking back at this Side it could easily been a fic in itself but I don't care. This is how I've done it and I don't care. Now, while I was writing, I got a bit muddled with what happened where so I split it up into the different parts of what I wanted to happen so that's why each part has a sort of title. Hopefully not too confusing, if it is let me know and I'll sort it out. Now here's the WARNING! This gets pretty damn angsty and I had to stop writing at some parts because I was starting to cry and writing while crying is not a good thing to do, believe me! Now it could be that I'm just really soft and nothing in here has that effect on you but just as a suggestion: having a box/pack of tissues handy will not be a move you'll easily regret. So gonna do my farewell thank-yous: thank you for reviewing and/or reading this, the feedback and response has been better than I dared hoped; thank you if you favourited or alerted it as well, I really appreciate it. I feel confident enough to give you an 'enjoy' for this Side but don't hold me to it okay? It's not a binding agreement.
Btw, would you believe I only 'discovered' National Treasure three weeks ago today? ¦D
Three Sides: Side Three
"So…" her smile spread as she left it for him to figure out.
Ben looked at her. He had missed Abigail; he had more than missed Abigail. She was a complicated person, always had been ever since he'd met her as 'Paul Brown'. Both of them had a passion for history, both of them loved to find and preserve it for mankind and both his mom and dad loved her. The two of them just worked; were like two pieces of one whole. He'd been hopeful they'd get back together because he honestly couldn't see his future without her.
The two of them leaned into each other and kissed just as the fireworks began to go off above Mount Rushmore. There was no need to say anything, no need to figure it out, it was obvious. She wanted to give them another go, to give him another chance and Ben Gates had never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Riley. Trust him to ruin a moment like this. Well he'd just have to wait; Ben was busy making up with Abigail and whatever it was the computer whiz had found, be it amazing souvenir or some random and complicated computer related object, the boy would have to wait.
A second time? Louder as well. It must be something "really" good. Frustrated, he pulled away from Abigail.
"He's a big boy you know." She always seemed to know what he was thinking which he wasn't ashamed to admit freaked him out sometimes.
"You know Riley. He won't shut up unless I-"
"BE-!" A sickening smack echoed off the hills followed by a high-pitched scream.
"-go…and find…out…what…" the sentence became lost as his worry grew.
The last yell had been cut off, that's what he'd been doing; Riley wasn't calling Ben over to see something, he was yelling for Ben. But why?
"What is it?" asked Abigail, obviously worried by Ben's lack of finishing a sentence.
Ben gazed across the crowd and saw a few people stumbling over themselves running from the souvenir stall where he'd last seen Riley. His brow furrowed; knowing Riley, the kid would be wherever they'd run from. Turning back momentarily, he pointed at Abigail.
"What?" If there was one thing Abigail hated it was being told what to do but Ben was already walking off. "Ben, what is going on?"
"Riley probably got on the wrong side of someone and if having a bit of trouble, is all." He'd turned and was calling to her while walking backwards, a smile on his face. "I'll go help him out." He indicated over his shoulder.
"Okay." She wasn't convinced, her expression was screaming it, but she obediently stayed where she was. "You be careful."
"I will. Love you."
The 'love you' was probably a bit too much; she'd know there was something up now for sure. There was no way she couldn't know with his over cheery attitude and quick answer. The truth was, he didn't know what was happening but the signs and the distinct feeling of unease growing in the pit of his stomach were not in any way reassuring him and were telling him that it involved Riley.
Another smack echoed through the air and gained the attention of more people who turned their heads in curiosity. The echoing of the sound made it difficult to pinpoint where exactly it was coming from and had he not seen more people running towards the direction he'd come from he would have had no idea if he was going the right way or not. Getting closer he saw the familiar outline of Ian Howe.
Ben's brow furrowed. Sadusky had assured him that Ian would be in prison for a very long time but Ben knew that if there was any way of breaking out Ian would find it and use it. It wasn't that he wasn't in prison that threw Ben; it was that he was here. Ian wasn't stupid, he knew that if he went to highly packed public places there was surely going to be someone who recognised him and he'd end up caught.
The felon was talking to something on the floor; or someone.
"I told Ben you were a waste of time." Ben shoved his way through the last few people as he caught a glimpse of the gun in Ian's hand.
"You were wrong." He looked Ian square on but his look wasn't reciprocated; his former associate hadn't turned from the huddled form of Riley that Ben could see out the corner of his eye. Ben wanted to look at his friend but he was waiting for Ian to look at him, silently daring him with his eyes.
"Hello Ben." Ian was laughing slightly as he turned towards him, but the weapon didn't falter from its target.
"Ian." He chanced a quick glance at Riley and took a deep breath to calm himself. The glimpse hadn't given him much of a chance to take everything in but the kid had blood on his cheek and there was a slight spray of blood to his side. "You okay Riley?"
Riley's mouth opened to answer but a cry of pain came out instead; Ian had kicked him in the back.
"Goddamit Ian!" His eyes flicked to the gun, afraid to move any closer; there was no doubt that if he was pushed Ian would shoot Riley.
"Oh I'm sorry!" It was difficult to remain still when Ian looked so smug and constantly on the edge of laughing. "Heard you found a new treasure."
"What d'you want?" There was no point throwing pointless banter at each other, neither of them really wanted it. Besides, it wouldn't be long before Abigail would come and investigate and there wasn't a chance that he was going to let her get involved in this as well, not that he could stop her if she decided to.
"I'm not quite sure, but finally shutting this son of a bitch up has been rather satisfying." A smile grew across Ian's face and, looking away, Ben knew he wasn't lying.
Instead his eyes fell on Riley; the kid looked broken and beaten. He was all but curling up in a ball as his breathing became wheezy and panicked; it was killing Ben to see him like that. "Let him go." The conviction was taken from his voice as he watched Riley.
"Or what Ben? You gonna turn me in?" Ben didn't move, didn't make any indication of what he was planning. In all honesty he was drawing a blank; all he had was to talk Ian into letting Riley go and both of them knew that Hell would freeze over long before that plan worked. "Well guess what…I don't care."
He took a step forward, reaching out for the gun hoping that his suspicion was wrong. "Ian."
"Not another move or I'll make sure attempted is taken off the murder charge." There was a sinking feeling in his stomach as he stopped.
"You can't do this!" It wasn't really a response; he didn't have one and it was only a matter of time before things really started to get out of hand.
"Why not? What have I got to lose?" Ben watched as Riley was roughly hoisted from his position on the floor and held up by Ian. "And what's to stop me from shooting him?" He stopped breathing as Ian shoved the gun against the side of Riley's head. "What's to stop me putting a bullet through his head right here?"
"Leave Riley out of this!"
"Why, Ben? You're the one who brought him into this. You're the reason he's here today."
'I know!' he would have screamed it if he thought for a moment that Ian would believe him. 'I know.'
Instead he took a step back raising his palms to show he didn't mean any harm.
"Just let him go, Ian." Shouting hadn't worked and neither would reason, but at least the latter wouldn't alarm Ian.
"What you gonna do Ben?"
He had no response; what was he going to do? He saw Riley look away from him; what was the kid thinking? Maybe he was realising the same thing as Ben; there was nothing he could do, and Ian knew it.
"You know what? I think I'll keep hold of him." The butt of Ian's gun was thrust into Riley's gut making the kid bend double in agony.
"You see, Ben, you're trying to bargain with me, but I'm afraid you have nothing I want."
Ben was contemplating giving Ian a punch in the eye when-
-Riley straightened up quickly, smashing Ian in the face with the back of his head.
"Riley!" he reached out an arm, beckoning him over as Ian staggered with the impact and let go of the kid's arm. If he recovered quickly enough, he'd grab Riley again and they would end up back at square one, except Ian would be a lot more pissed off.
Relief was plastered over the kid's face as he ran towards Ben.
In his peripheral vision, Ben saw Ian recover from the attack and raise his gun.
A shot landed in the concrete to the side of Ben's foot and he was thankful that Ian wasn't as good a shot as he used to claim. It was short-lived.
Riley's legs crumpled beneath him and he'd almost hit the ground before Ben realised Ian had let off two shots. He reached out but was far too late. Straight away, Ben was on his knees and turning the boy over, partially lifting him up into his lap.
He was conscious, Ben didn't know if that was a good sign or not, and the boy's face was screwed up in pain. An ominous red patch was soaking through his white shirt and quickly spreading across his stomach. Riley's hands quickly found it.
"Aah!" The boy began to shake with panic, clutching desperately at the wound but flinching back as each time it hurt. Less than a few seconds passed before Riley's hands were covered in his own blood.
"No Riley!" Ben roughly grabbed at Riley's wrists as he continued to grasp at his side. "Leave it!" The boy's arms were tense as he struggled to clutch at it. "You'll just make it worse."
Someone was stood behind him. Please don't be Abigail!
"Ian?" Ben cursed inwardly as he heard the familiar voice. "Why-?" A shiver of pain ran through the boy as he tried to breathe in, causing him to cry out. "Riley!"
"The bullet…" Ben found each gasp horrific, worried each one might be the boy's last. "Bullet went through…"
That was good. It went through so there wasn't a bullet stuck inside him. It wasn't bad, Riley would be fine because no bullet was good…right? Warmth was seeping into the knees of his jeans and Ben knew that it was anything but good. Riley was losing blood from his front and back.
"You're gonna be fine."
"Such…" Riley's laugh was too weak, "a bad liar, Ben."
Ben could see Riley's injuries clearly now but he wasn't bothered by them; what was a graze, a cut and a possible black eye in the face of what the boy was fighting now?
"Aah!" Riley wasn't breathing properly, hungrily gulping air as though it was going to run out suddenly or his lungs weren't expanding to full capacity. "Ben!" Riley reached out and Ben shifted his hand on that wrist so he could hold reassure the boy.
"I'm here! I'm right here!" He didn't move as Riley snatched at his hand and squeezed it hard. Was he even aware he was doing it?
He could feel Abigail over his shoulder and wished she didn't have to see this; he wished he didn't have to see this.
"Look at me, Riley!" The boy's eyes snapped up to him and Ben's breath caught in his throat as he saw the glazed look in them. No doubt he was just a blur. "You're gonna be fine." He wasn't entirely sure if he was saying that for Riley's benefit or his own.
"Yeah. And there isn't really a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence." Either way neither one of them was buying it; they both knew what was happening. He was slipping.
There was a hand on Ben's shoulder. "Cell phone!" Abigail demanded of what was left of the crowd that had been surrounding them.
"Ben." Riley's neck began to go limp and fall to the side.
The hand grasping his was losing its grip and his other hand had stopped struggling against Ben's restraint.
No, no, no!
"Riley!" immediately he let Riley's wrist go and started harshly tapping his cheek as the boy's eyes began to close. "Stay with me! Come on, Riley!"
'Stay awake! Don't go to sleep! Don't!'
Little by little, every part of Riley was going limp; except for his hand; that was still clinging desperately to Ben's. The historian put his arm around the boy's chest to shift him further up into his lap as his eyes closed.
"Come on! Stay with me buddy!"
"Ben…" it was barely a whisper but it sent a shiver through Ben.
"You just gotta stay awake." The tears he was holding back broke into his voice. He didn't care how scared he seemed, how weak or how stupid he sounded. Riley had to stay awake. He HAD to! "Open your eyes, Riley! Look at me!"
Riley didn't move; didn't make a sound.
Ben shook him but the boy remained lifeless.
Ben was sat on a small wall near to the information point watching the paramedics. The flashing blue lights of the ambulance kept obscuring his view of the gurney as they loaded Riley inside.
From what he could see there was a bloodied oxygen mask strapped to the kid's face and someone further inside the van shouted something about having to stop the blood.
Ben's eyes fell to the knees of his jeans, caked in blood; Riley's blood.
One of them approached him as the doors closed. It was a young girl, her long brown hair was tied in up in a simple ponytail that brushed the shoulders of her high-visibility jacket.
She said something like his friend would be perfectly fine and there was nothing to worry about. In fact, she and some of her colleagues were a bit more concerned with his well-being.
She started asking him some questions; they sounded to be standard health questions but Ben didn't know how to answer any of them.
How did he feel?
Was he alright?
Had he been hit?
Was he in any pain?
After she asked each question she waited to give him time to answer but he wasn't even looking at her, watching the ambulance carrying his friend drive off instead.
Had he seen what had happened?
He'd been found holding the limp, bleeding body of his young friend, kneeling in his friend's blood and trying to get him to wake up. The paramedics had had to physically uncurl Riley's fingers which were still clinging tight to Ben's hand so they could take a look at him properly while Ben was moved out of the way; and this girl was asking him if he'd seen what had happened?
Ten minutes later he was in the back of a car. The girl was driving him to the hospital. There was a man in the front passenger, it was his car, who kept turning in his seat and reassuring Ben that there was absolutely nothing to worry about and things like this hardly ever became fatal. Ben only really heard the 'hardly ever'. There was still a possibility.
Twenty minutes later he was sat in a private hospital room. The girl had shown him into here and suggested that he take some time to recover. Every so often someone would come in and talk to him momentarily before they left.
Half an hour after Riley had left Mount Rushmore in the ambulance, Abigail entered room. She rushed straight into his arms and hugged him, burying her head in his shoulder. He hugged her back, unbelievably hard.
There was nothing, absolutely nothing. Most of what they said didn't make it to his brain. It was drowned out by the horrible gnawing pain inside and it didn't matter what the officers or the doctor or even Abigail said; the pain wasn't going away.
He wasn't stupid. They'd fetched Abigail hoping that she would get a response from him but she didn't ask him any questions. They just stood there, locked in a tight embrace.
A cough at the door caused Abigail to draw back from him. It was the doctor; he signalled for her to come over; not Ben, Abigail.
She leaned in and they kissed momentarily; it wasn't like earlier; it was colder.
When at the door, the doctor whispered something to Abigail who nodded a few times before coming back over to him.
Ben tried to listen as Abigail spoke, really focused on what she was saying, he knew he wouldn't take it in otherwise. She mentioned Riley; she looked so sad each time she did. He was being taken into surgery; the bullet had gone through…one of his organs and they needed to operate…now. She was going to surgery with Riley because somebody had to be there for him; he couldn't go in on his own even if he didn't know it.
She was crying as she left.
Oh God, what he would have given to cry about this, to let it all out; all the pain and the fear in a tirade of tears. All he wanted to do was curl up on the bed and pretend none of this was happening and to cry.
But he was too numb…
They weren't going to let him see Riley; they hadn't said anything about it but he knew they wouldn't.
Honestly, there was a part of him that actually believed he was going to wake up in a cold sweat in his bed at home with Abigail. Then he'd pick up the cell and dial Riley who'd moan at being woken at 4 am despite only having gone to bed about ten minutes beforehand.
A chuckle forced its way out his lips…
But it wasn't going to happen.
Shock, Ben had heard one of the doctors say to someone, possibly him, when they'd been in earlier, not taking it in. That was why they wouldn't let him see Riley; why he was here instead of going with Abigail. The diagnosis felt right but the treatment was all wrong.
He couldn't tell them though.
He didn't sleep that night.
He wished he could cry.
Two days had passed.
Ben waited and, staring at the wall opposite, his mind was lost in thought as he sat in the small make-shift interview room that had been hastily set up in the hospital. The officer who had been asking Ben questions had been called out by a doctor barely two minutes beforehand.
Everyone kept asking him the same questions, ones he didn't want to answer and more he heard them, the harder it got.
What was it that had happened?
Could he think of any possible motive?
Had he received any threats from anyone?
The officer entered the room and sat opposite him again; said something about taking a statement when he was feeling better. Ben could go back to the room he'd stayed in the last few nights. Abigail had asked for him to be moved to an open ward but the doctors had voiced their fear on the effect it would have on Ben. He still didn't understand their concern; Riley had been shot not him.
It was a lie. He knew precisely why they were worried, why Abigail was spending so much time visiting Riley instead of him. When she spoke to Riley he couldn't respond; Ben wouldn't.
Not a single word had passed through his lips since Riley had lost consciousness. To begin with everyone had attributed it to the sudden shock and worry but his nerves had managed to settle a bit after an hour or two left to himself; Ben still hadn't said anything though. That was why the interview was being postponed.
He wasn't sure why he was talking but Ben was fairly sure it all hinged on one thing. He still wasn't allowed to see Riley.
They'd actually told him now. Best to wait till he's better, they'd said. Abigail agreed with them and had spoken to him endlessly the day before in an attempt to get something from him. It hadn't worked.
He stopped by an open door as he passed by. Tentatively, he took a step in, trying not to startle the nurse stood in there. Laid beneath the covers of the bed was the last person he wanted to see right now looking very much the worse for wear.
There were various cuts and bruises covering Ian's face, especially where his forehead met his blond hair; his nose was swollen and his shoulder was tightly strapped in bandages.
He'd been there since early yesterday morning according to the nurse. A driver had hit him as he dashed into the road from a series of trees breaking his right leg, a couple of ribs, dislocating his shoulder and knocking him out cold. The doctors were baffled by the broken nose though.
Riley must have slammed into him pretty hard to break the Brit's nose.
If Ian had been standing, awake and alert, the historian would have slammed the Brit in the face over and over again until he was dragged off of him. But he didn't have to; shouldn't want to. He wasn't Ian, didn't get enjoyment at the suffering of others, but he felt satisfied that Ian hadn't got away clean. By the time Ian awoke the cops would know he'd been the one to attack Riley; his former associate wasn't going anywhere.
Once, when they'd been friends, Ben and Ian had been discussing different beliefs and when asked what he believed in Ian had simply said, 'What goes around comes around.'
Ben stood there for over ten minutes taking it in. He wanted to remember this; wanted this moment to be forever ingrained into his memory; wanted to be able to tell this to Riley when the boy woke up.
It had been a week.
Having been released from the hospital two days previously Ben was staying at the hotel that he, Abigail and Riley had been staying in for their planned visit. He still hadn't said anything and Abigail couldn't always hide her worry from him anymore.
Today his parents were coming to visit before swinging by the hospital. Neither of them really knew the boy but they were going to visit him. Sometimes Ben felt he had the best parents in the world.
Ben and Abigail met them in the hotel's dining area before they sat down and Emily proceeded to tell them of some of her team's latest discoveries in Cibola. Her voice was fast and excited as she spoke enthusiastically about it but her words were just washing over Ben.
Patrick excused himself and asked politely for Ben to join him. Reluctantly he followed. Out of the corner of his eye he'd noticed his father glaring at him angrily whenever his mom turned to Abigail. There was a father-son talk coming and Ben had seen it bubbling underneath the surface of the tension growing between them.
Sure enough, when they were out of the ladies' earshot his dad rounded on him.
What the hell was he playing at?
Did he have any idea how afraid everyone was for him?
How could he do this to his parents?
How could he do this to Abigail?
Wasn't she going through enough already?
Did he want her to feel like she'd lost him as well as Riley?
Ben stared at his father. He was sick of questions. Everyone was always asking him questions. Always with the questions; and always the ones he couldn't answer.
His dad glared back at him waiting for a response. What did the man want? For Ben to magically forget all the mess that was still going through his head? For him to forget that, as far as he was aware, his friend was dying in hospital?
He lowered his head. That wasn't what his dad wanted; he knew it. Patrick wanted to hear his son say something; that was all. But every time Ben opened his mouth to say something the words would stick in his throat.
Patrick didn't understand. No one did.
There had been much discussion among doctors and second and third and forth opinions had been sought, but eventually Ben had been given permission. Today was the day. He was going to see Riley.
Abigail had spoken to Ben several times over making sure she explained perfectly clearly that he may not like what he saw; it may be a bit much; but he didn't have to worry because Riley was doing absolutely fine.
She led the way into the room and beckoned him in when he hesitated at the door.
Walking in, Ben had a clear view of Riley lain on the bed. His dark-haired friend was linked up to a heart monitor and connected to various drips through various tubes. Then there was the tube that ran into Riley's nose, no doubt feeding him oxygen. The kid's face was peaceful laid back on the pillow.
Ben stopped in the doorway.
He'd been wrong. He didn't want to see Riley like this.
It was wrong.
It was downright unnatural.
For one thing, Riley didn't sleep on his back, he'd learnt that when they were staying in that arctic village after the Charlotte incident; the kid either curled up in a ball or spread out taking up far too much room for someone so skinny.
The constant beeping from the heart monitor did little to reassure him either. Why did he need one? And why was he hooked up to so many tubes?
It was too much.
Abigail grasped at his hand reassuringly just as he was about to turn and run. Ben had to remember he wasn't alone in this.
She guided him to the chair at the side of Riley's bed and gently pushed him into it. She murmured something about him needing to do this before the doctor entered.
The two of them began talking but Ben wasn't paying them any attention. He'd catch the odd word like 'frantic' and 'ripping' and thought himself glad to be unaware of what they spoke.
Riley didn't like hospitals; although Ben had never met anyone who didn't dislike the thought of being in hospital. He'd said something about them smelling weird (kid had a funny sense of smell) and also being too clean. To Riley such cleanliness was unnatural; it had been evident in the state of Riley's apartment when he'd first met Ben; mess everywhere with eight day old pizzas festering in a corner.
The boy was practically white and looked like he hadn't changed position in far too long.
'He shouldn't be that still.'
Riley was always moving, or at least doing something unusual; like that time Ben had found him sitting on the couch with his head where his legs ought to be and his legs in the air, while reading a magazine. He just wasn't one to just lie there. Seeing him like this was horrible but still Ben couldn't cry.
Ben heard the doctor say his name and turned instinctively. He focused on the doctor trying desperately to take in what was being said.
Someone had been asking for him. Who? Riley! Kept saying Ben's name over and over, calling out for him.
The doctor said something about Riley not realising where he was to begin with.
He felt his gut twist uncomfortably as his head dropped into his hands.
He felt Abigail squeeze his shoulder affectionately but it did nothing to alleviate his pain.
Riley had been calling for him;and he hadn'tbeen there. Kid must've been terrified.
Silence descended upon them and relief slowly flooded through Ben's chest.
Riley had woken up.
Alright, he'd been alone and crying out, but it was a sign that Riley was alive, which seeing the boy as he was wasn't.
Ben went to thank the doctor; the words caught in his chest as it tightened. He couldn't say it, it didn't matter how much he wanted to; the words wouldn't come.
Riley had woken up.
Riley had left the hospital a week after waking up. Apart from a slight limp and a cut by his ear, the kid was back to his normal sarcastic self. Ben threw the last of his clothes into the duffel bag. Now that this whole ordeal was behind them they were returning to Washington DC almost a month after they'd originally intended to leave. Abigail had flown back a few days ago desperate to return to her job; the boys were driving back.
His gaze rose to the window. The historian had thought that when Riley was awake and out of the hospital, things would be alright. They weren't though.
Ben still hadn't said a word.
It wasn't that he hadn't tried; every time he did the words stuck in his throat and he'd choke on them. It had been like this ever since the whole incident had happened except now he had didn't have his worry for Riley to distract him from it.
Abigail hadn't admitted it to his face but Ben had overheard her confess to his mother that she was worried he would never speak again; and, in all honesty, he was worried about it too.
Riley entered the room and leant against the wall while Ben zipped up his bag.
"You ready?" his familiar demeanour was understandably dampened somewhat compared to standard Riley, but it was definitely Riley.
Ben hoisted the bag onto his shoulder.
"Come on, then."
Riley went to pick up the car while Ben checked out.
Climbing into the passenger seat, he wondered how they would survive the awkwardness that was sure to arise.
He looked out the window but didn't pay much attention to where they were going until he realised Riley was going the wrong way.
"Yeah." Riley said as Ben looked at him. "We're taking a little detour."
A Cure for Almost Anything
"Here." Riley held out a strawberry ice cream cone to Ben who raised an eyebrow at it. "Just take it." He held a chocolate one in his other hand; trust Riley to go for the one with the most sugar. "It'll help." Ben took the ice cream and watched as Riley sat next to him, starting to eat his.
They were sat on the wall Ben had sat on as Riley had been taken away by the ambulance and the historian's gaze fell to his knees instinctively.
He expected Riley to say something but the kid just licked his ice cream. Ben did notice though that his eyes flicked to the blood-stained concrete about ten feet in front of where they sat. It had been scrubbed pretty furiously by the looks of it and was mostly faded but there was still a distinct outlines that was still darker than everything else around it.
"Brain freeze!" Riley's hand shot to his head as he screwed up his eyes. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!"
Ben laughed. It was good to have him back.
Riley lowered his ice cream for a moment.
"When I was thirteen, for some odd reason, I decided I'd had enough of my family. Figured I'd run away; live on the streets or something." Riley was staring at the stained concrete. "I was found six miles away from my house, walking round in a daze seven days later." He turned to Ben. "Apparently I'd been attacked or something and left in a state of shock to wander the streets." He took another lick of his ice cream. "I don't remember anything that happened that week but I found it difficult interacting with people after that. That's why my mom signed me up for computer club; she was hoping I would make friends. Instead, it was discovered I was prime geek material with a natural ability for computers."
Ben felt his own ice cream begin to run over his fingers as it slowly melted, so he lifted it up to his mouth and took a bite. It was cold, but sweet. Riley was always good at choosing things like that for Ben; knew what he wanted better than Ben did.
"If I hadn't tried to run away all that time ago, I never would have met you and this would never have happened." Riley was speaking between mouthfuls of cone. "So you could say it was my fault." He caught a glimpse of Ben's frustrated look. "Oh don't worry; I blame Ian all the way. My point is that it isn't your fault."
Riley looked directly into Ben's eyes and he could see the kid really believed it.
"Ian would've shot me whether you were there or not."
Ben took another mouthful of ice cream to distract himself.
"We're the only ones who know what happened, Ben." Riley's voice was serious and his eyes were distant. "Lord knows, I haven't spoken about it and you haven't spoken about anything."
He went silent for a while watching Ben's reaction.
This was why they were here; back where it all began.
"Anyone can understand what was going through my head at the time but for you… We need to talk about it." His face was resolute and Ben sighed. "I get it if you don't want to, hell I don't want to, but the doctors all seem to think that it's something about that night which is making you unwilling rather than unable to talk. And, really, I'd rather talk to you about it because you were there."
They sat in silence.
Ben wanted to talk about it; had done for a long time; he just wasn't sure he could. Every single time he'd tried to talk, the words just wouldn't get past his throat.
"When I saw Ian I nearly wet myself." Ben looked at Riley and struggled not to laugh. "I'm just trying to start the ball rolling."
Ben thought about it.
What was it about that night that got him so upset?
He opened his mouth several times in an attempt to voice it but the words stuck in his throat just like every other time. Riley, meanwhile, sat there patiently waiting for Ben to say what he needed.
Ben hadn't thought about it since the night it had happened, not even when he'd seen Ian. He took a deep breath; he wanted to tell Riley.
"I-it took…" his voice cracked from being so underused. "…the doctors…" he stopped, half-expecting Riley to try and hurry him up but his friend just sat there patiently. Ben took a deep breath. "Four hours…to convince me…" he didn't want to say it; he wasn't sure that he could anymore. He didn't want to say it; but he needed to. "…to wash my…to wash the blood…wash your blood…off…my hands."
A tear rolled down his cheek and splatted onto his hand that was clasped around the ice cream. He felt Riley place an arm round his shoulders.
"Why?" it was quiet and non-invasive. He was saying Ben could take his time.
"I don't know." Ben shrugged; his chest was tightening with the threat of tears. "It was all…all I had. The blood on my hands. That was all I had left." The ice cream slipped from his hands as he began to shake with quiet sobs. The words were coming more easily now; everything he hadn't said was cascading out all trying to be said at once. "You'd been shot. You were shaking. You were scared; I was scared. One minute you were in my hands and the next you were gone. And I… and I felt…" the rest was lost as he held his head in his hands and the tears began to fall silently onto the sleeves of his jacket.
"It wasn't your fault." Riley said firmly squeezing Ben's shoulders in reassurance.
"It wasn't your fault."
They sat there, away from prying eyes, Ben silently crying out all the tears he'd held back these past four weeks and inaudibly sobbing out all his fears.
"I just didn't…" he took a shaky breath. "…I never thought Ian would actually shoot you."
"I did." Ben looked up. Riley was staring off into space with a frown on his face. Barely a minute passed before he snapped back. "D'you know what your problem is, Ben?"
"You have a hero complex." Ben raised an eyebrow. "You think it's your responsibility to save everyone, regardless of who they are or what they've done. And if you 'fail'," he indicated the inverted commas, "that's when your guilt complex kicks in."
Ben shook his head; it was still a bit muddled and he couldn't quite think straight yet. Something about all this stuck out though.
He was talking; he had cried; and the relief was overwhelming.
Tax Free… (Epilogue)
They'd stopped the night at a small roadside motel and Riley was spread out taking up the whole of one of the room's double beds. Kid tired out pretty easily lately so Ben thought maybe he ought to take over driving tomorrow.
Ben looked through the window, saw Riley shuffle about in his sleep and hoped the kid wouldn't wake up.
He dialled the number and placed the cell to his ear. It rang twice before being answered.
"Benjamin Gates." Said the voice on the other side. "I was beginning to wonder what happened to you."
"There was an…incident." He still had difficulty even mentioning it. It would pass soon enough and he wasn't worried anymore. "I know I have no right to ask you any favours Mr. President, but you see I have this friend who really loves his car…"