Title: Pieces of Starlight
Summary: Charlie doesn't understand Riley's knack for dwelling on things, specifically the mistakes he's never made.
A/N: Written for Ruuger for M/M Rares. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to finally write this pairing; I so adore them.
There were bruises covering Riley's torso as they rode Dead Reckoning off into the night. Charlie had noticed Riley's small wince, thank you very much, as Riley boarded both their ride and their home. Charlie was relieved that Riley wasn't more badly hurt and also that they were both finally going to Canada, but more so the former, since there would be no point in going north if Riley wasn't going with him. Instead of shooting Riley a look that Charlie knew wouldn't come across as he would have intended, even if Riley would know what he meant, he stuck close to his friend so Riley would know that hiding anything from Charlie was an impossibility.
Charlie would have said 'not yet' to Pillsbury's 'we can go now' if he knew Riley would not have blushed under the attention.
Riley would just have to deal with him later. Sooner rather than later.
When the two of them were away from prying eyes, Riley sat down on his small bunk and kept his hands out of the way as Charlie knelt down in front of him. There was something too familiar about Charlie lifting up Riley's shirt so he could inspect his chest and admire his shoulders, all while he checked for broken bones and the extent of the bruising.
It was a source of nothing but stress for Charlie as he could only watch and have Riley's back as his friend was thrown into one situation after another. He couldn't tell Riley to stop everything and move away from all this, even though Riley had reached that conclusion himself before Cholo messed everything up. He also couldn't tell Riley to stop fidgeting as Charlie tested him for everything from a sprained ankle to a concussion. It hadn't taken long for Riley to realize that this was something that had to be done to put Charlie's mind at ease, so sit back, relax and endure Charlie's thoughtful, careful ministrations was what he did.
It also gave them an excuse for intimacy and comfort.
If Riley was bold enough to shoo the others away, needing a moment to himself, he never told or - Charlie supposed - expected Charlie to do the same. Being with Charlie was like being alone, Riley always said to everyone who asked about their inseparability, including Charlie. Even though Charlie had never had a family, he wondered whether that's what family was: someone you could be alone with. Either way, Charlie wasn't about to question Riley's perfectly fine behavior that everyone labeled as completely not normal behavior. If he started questioning it then it might go away, and Charlie didn't want the time he got to spend with Riley and away from everyone else to go away.
If Charlie was lucky, and he usually was, Riley would remove his shirt and lie down flat on his back on the bed when Charlie was finished. Charlie would take that as his cue to remove his jacket and lie down next to him, staring up at nothing and waiting for Riley to do something else, not that he expected him to. This was what Charlie wanted: more days to just lie there on that bed next to Riley, not thinking about anything in particular, danger getting farther and farther away from them.
Eventually, Charlie would work to make up for the silence and start talking or ask a question here or there that came to mind. Riley would either answer or say nothing, which was all the same to Charlie. Riley's lack of words never disappointed him or made him feel like he was ignored. There was something in him that told Charlie that Riley was always listening.
Charlie didn't need an answer, he just needed Riley.
Someone he could protect. Someone who would blanket him from the rest of the world without question.
Sometimes, like tonight, Riley would turn over on his side and face Charlie. He would recognize this as one in a string of nights that he both hated and loved, hated because of the pain and guilt between them, and loved because he would feel anything with Riley, as long as he shared whatever it was with Riley.
A hand would land on Charlie's cheek, thumb brushing against the extensive scar tissue. Riley's eyes would reveal nothing at first, but Charlie could recognize the half-hidden love when it came from Riley. He recognized it because it was the same in him. The first time Riley had done this: touched him, stared so openly at him, Charlie had looked down and then away. He hadn't been able to understand why Riley would want to touch him, knowing that his skin wasn't soft or smooth and that there was nothing appealing about him that he could see, knowing that the very sight of him usually caused people to point a gun at him or gag when realizing his similarity with the stenches.
Riley never looked disgusted or like he wanted to pull his hand away. The words he chose always pained Charlie to hear. He hated when Riley wasn't extra careful but he hated it almost as much when he became sad and thought about the fire. Only Charlie should have to remember that, only Charlie should be forced to suffer the nightmares and the memory of the agony and the scent of his flesh burning.
Riley should never have to say he was sorry. Sorry for what? Sorry that he hadn't gotten to Charlie faster, a complete stranger that Riley risked his life to save?
That was his Riley. The Riley he protected. The one that no one, not stenches or Cholo, would take away from him.
There was Slack too and he liked her a lot. She always had a smile for him and never veered away when she realized that she was walking or standing next to him. He realized that if he and Riley were to ever split away from the group, that he would be okay with her coming with them. Riley seemed to like her and get along well with her, and Charlie knew that the three of them made a good pair. When he told Riley this he had laughed and handed Charlie his soup can to eat the other half of. He hadn't understood why Riley had laughed at that, whether the notion of Slack coming with them was laughable or whether the idea of Riley and Charlie both leaving the group together was.
It wasn't pity that played a hand in Riley agreeing to keep Charlie around, Riley was too smart for that. It also wasn't entirely the idea of someone to watch Riley's back either. That hadn't been sure to Charlie for a long time until Riley had stripped himself bare, both figuratively and literally, in front of Charlie and somehow without words, told Charlie everything that he wanted and every fear that he had that he was doing the wrong thing, leading Charlie where he had no right to take him.
Charlie had shushed him and Riley had stood stock still and stared at him, wide-eyed, not because he had been hushed but because Charlie was telling Riley he wanted him to lead him, in every way. In every way that didn't matter compared to the rest of the world but mattered to them.
Riley never talked unless words had to be said, but he always answered Charlie truthfully.
The 'I love you' hadn't come till later. Long after numerous apologies and nights of sitting up and listening to the silence around them, permeating the world in places where there were no stenches.
Riley didn't say it tonight, tonight was when he thought about his hands, burning, clutching Charlie's coat and pulling him out of the fire. Charlie knew what was eating at Riley because he had told him once, and now Charlie could always read it in the slight slump of his shoulders and the sharp line in between his brows.
"You saved me. Don't...," Charlie almost stuttered. "Don't say sorry."
"Some things you just can't help, Charlie."
"We can help each other."
Riley turned his head away and chuckled, never voicing the words 'not what I meant.' He knew what Charlie knew and would never assume otherwise. He never thought Charlie was stupid like everyone else said he was, like Charlie knew he was. The first time Charlie had asked him and every time after Riley had just said that he was 'different,' that was it, and Charlie really found himself liking the sound of that.
Right now though... right now he didn't have to think about any of those things. He made a motion for Riley to turn over on his other side and Riley did, but not before he smiled knowingly at Charlie and patted his cheek lightly, one of the very few gestures that always led to an erratic thumping of Charlie's heart. Charlie removed his own shirt then and pressed himself up against Riley's back, arm draping itself across Riley's chest, hand tucking under Riley's arm. They laid there, the last of the fireworks erupting outside the walls of Dead Reckoning. Charlie realized then and there that the fire, as bad as it had been, had lead him to this.
Had led him to Riley.
As Riley's head turned back towards him, Charlie could just make out in the near complete darkness that there were pieces of starlight in Riley's eyes. Starlight brighter than any star flowers Charlie had ever seen.