I was busy trying to get my brain to stop worrying about all the problems we had, and just shut off long enough for me to relax and maybe get some sleep, when I heard Riley’s voice.
“Coll – Lieutenant Gray? Are you in here?” he called loudly, letting himself into my apartment. We’d made it a rule that none of the apartments were allowed to be locked, in case anything happened and we needed to get into one for some reason.
“Riley, I keep telling you to call me Colligan” I chuckled, trying not to sound as tired as I felt. “What is it?”
"It's pretty noisy down in the lobby, and I have that squawky couple living with me" he said, stretching. "Oh! But don't tell them I said that!" he said, a little flustered, before pausing. "Can I sit down?" he asked, sitting down once I’d cleared a space for him. The way he sat made him look like a school girl or something, his knees pressed together. “You look really tired…”
"I'm fine" I smiled faintly.
He looked at me, concern washing over his features. "I have some sleeping pills in the medical stock... if you wanted them? Or I could make you something to eat? Or I could do guard duty for you… ah but I can’t shoot a gun… Or I could… Um…" he trailed off, frowning.
"Riley, don't worry about it" I said softly and he stuck out his bottom lip, pouting like a little kid.
"I'll make some food. You've lost weight."
I glanced at my watch. "We'll be eating in a few hours anyway, it's fine. I'm fine, stop worrying"
"Look, I'm not usually one to fuss. But you've been taking care of all of us for a while now. I can't just let you waste away - it's my turn to take care of you," he said, standing up, "So let me make you some goddamn food!”
I shot him an amused expression. "No offense, Riley, but you'd make an awful leader"
"You really think so…?" he said, his shoulders drooping and a pained expression marring his face.
I nodded. "You make a great nurse, though"
He shrugged. "I like to help people” he said, smiling fondly. "But no matter how hard I tried, in med school I knew I never had the potential to become a doctor. That's how I met Jack" he said and I nodded, not sure if I wanted him to continue or whether I wanted that to be it so I could try and get some sleep. Riley scratched the back of his head, smiling a little awkwardly. “I seem to be bothering you. I’ll go now” he said, getting to his feet and waving as he made his way towards the door.
"Riley" I said and he looked over his shoulder. "You know you can always talk to me if there's something on your mind, right?"
"Ah" he flushed. "No, no I can't" he laughed.
"It's alright. Times are tough, I know that as well as anyone else here. It just pays off to let out a little steam every now and then"
"Letting off steam isn't something I want to do with you" he chuckled softly and I arched an eyebrow at him slightly. He let out a sigh, before saying finally “Do you have a beer?”
I nodded, getting him a beer from my secret stash. Me and Robin had both taken a few cases of beer hostage before the other survivors had shown up, and as such, they’d become our closely guarded secret.
"Thanks" Riley said, nodding in appreciation.
"Don't mention it" I said, sitting back down.
"What... I meant to say earlier is that, I've never really had a reason to let off steam... and I still don't... My problems are my own, not anyone else’s and I can take care of them myself" he said, taking a sip from his bottle.
"Just try not to let it all get to you, yeah?"
"S'hard not to... sometimes... sometimes you need to. It's just... hard, you know?" he said, his voice cracking as if he was about to cry.
"Riley, talk to me”
"I feel... I shouldn't... I should've died right there for leaving him behind…" he trailed off, tearing up. “I can't forgive myself for running away like that... Jack… He… He" his head fell into his hands, as his body shook with each sob. I put an arm around him, not sure what to do. The closest I’d ever come to losing someone was my pet dog Rocky when I was a kid, and I’d been too young to really understand what had happened. He stilled eventually. "I watched him… And I couldn't… He died… I heard him screaming and I couldn't do jack shit to save him!"
“It's not your fault. There was nothing any of us could've done" I insisted, despite the fact I still held myself entirely responsible. After all, I was meant to be in charge, and he died on my watch. I guess maybe that was why I watched out for Riley as much as I did.
Riley shook his head restlessly. "No… I could have… Something… There must have been something… it hurts, Lieutenant Gray, I'm used to waking up… I hate being alone… I don't want to be alone again…”
"You're not as alone as you think you are. After all, you have me and Robin, and I know Rae thinks the world of you"
When she wasn’t holed up in the armoury, or busy doing Maria’s bidding, Rae could usually be found clinging to Riley like a lost puppy. I guess maybe she’d been most attracted to those nearer her own age, though neither Riley or Maria were that close to her age.
"You know it's not the same" he sniffled and I let out a sigh.
"I know. But Jack wouldn't want you to be sad, right?" I said and Riley glared at me.
"You can't say things like that. Don't you dare use him as a comforter against me"
"Sorry, Riley, I just..." I sighed but his anger seemed to evaporate as he shook his head.
"It's fine. I'm fine. Thanks, Lieutenant Gray.... but I can't do this after all” he said, standing up.
"Riley, just... Take care of yourself, okay? For me? You mean more to me than the others" I said, seeing his cheeks flush bright red before he scurried out of the apartment.