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WARNING: This story contains graphic content such as sex, violence, death, and derogatory slang.  

Imprisoned - 9. The Talk

I understood why Grayson had to stay behind, but I didn't think it would suck this bad. I looked across the chopper at Riley who hadn't said a single word since we left, his hand still clutching Grayson's tags like they were the only thing keeping him grounded.

Poor Riley

I now understood what he was talking about back at the lab, how he knew what it was like to let someone slip through his fingers. That someone was Grayson.

The whole ordeal made me realize just how fragile everything was and that, regardless of the guilt I felt over having feelings for Ryan, I couldn't let him slip through my fingers either.

What would I tell General Dreyfus about why Grayson hadn't come back with us? I couldn't make it out to seem like he was a deserter, he would be imprisoned, or worse.

"Elliott?" Ryan’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts.

"What?" I gave him a puzzled expression.

"I asked if you were doing alright," He gave me a questioning look. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." I tried to convince him and myself, but even I didn't believe the words. The look on Ryan’s face told me that he didn’t either.

"I'll be fine, promise." I gave him a lopsided smile to try and ease the concern. Ryan flashed me a knowing look, telling me that he didn’t buy it.

Goddammit, how could he see right through me?

Ryan wasn't entirely wrong though, I didn't know if I would be fine. This mission wasn't like the other ones. Usually at the end of a mission I felt accomplished, high off the fact that I had done my job and I had done it well. But I didn't feel any of those things, I didn't feel accomplished instead I felt empty, I didn't feel that high instead I felt dead on my feet. I had been tortured, I felt sleep deprived and I didn't know if I would ever see one of my closest teammates ever again. Not to mention that I was left with more questions than answers like: Why didn't we have enough intel for this mission? How didn't the General know about The Colony, The Order? And how in the holy hell were they supposed to stop a terrorist plot to release a bio-weapon on an unsuspecting city?

I looked out the chopper door, a warm breeze blowing through my hair. We were flying over a small abandoned town, its buildings disheveled and falling apart from the elements, forgotten and neglected.

"We're forty-five minutes out from Bakersfield!" The co-pilot shouted over his shoulder.

I felt a pit in my stomach at the announcement. I gave him a curt nod and turned my gaze back out of the chopper.

I didn't want to go back to Bakersfield, back to stitching up wounded soldiers, back to running Medical and all the headache that came with it. I wanted to be free, free from the Army, free from all of this heartache and turmoil. My contract was coming to an end soon, and when that happened I would be gone, hopefully with Ryan in tow. But we had two more missions to accomplish and then, only then, would I leave.

I let myself drift off to a life outside of the Army with Ryan. I would wake up to the smell of that bacon that Ryan cooked so well, a cup of coffee, Ryan blurting out the correct answers to Jeopardy questions.

We would live in a small bungalow style house, with a nice front yard and deep porch to match. There would be flowers lining the walkway, the sound of chirping birds coming from the tall oak tree in the front yard. There would also be a dog, hell maybe even two dogs, because of course we would have dogs.

I smiled at the vision and how real all of it could be. I wanted that, not just for myself, but for Ryan too. He deserved something good and wholesome in his life, we both did.

I hadn't realized how much time had passed as Bakersfield came into view, the usual business of choppers coming in and out, construction still being done on the outer flanks of the city. I couldn't wait to be done with this place, why they chose Bakersfield for a joint military base was beyond me.

The chopper dropped in altitude to prepare for landing, I turned my attention to the rest of the team who all looked spent and in much need of a warm shower and some R&R.

"Take the rest of the day off. We'll meet tomorrow at ten hundred hours."

They all nodded in compliance as the chopper touched down on the tarmac. The engine was killed and they all hopped out, heading towards the hanger. I fell back a little to talk to Riley, who was still clutching Grayson's tags.

"I don't really wanna talk right now Ell."

"Fair enough, hey," I reached out and touched his arm as he went by. I could feel him immediately tense up, he was hurting, but in classic Riley fashion he wanted to be left alone to his brooding. "I know you wanna be left alone right now. Just know that I'm here, and I always will be, okay?"

Riley gave me a stiff nod before turning and heading in the direction of where his Camaro was parked.

"And don't drop off the grid either! I will break your door down again!" I called after him.

The thought of another repeat of last year ran through my head. I hoped it wouldn't come to that, I hoped he would be smarter this time. I hoped, which was all I could do for my best friend.

"He gonna be okay?" Ryan asked.

"Honestly, I don't know. He was like this last year too after his father died. He almost died from alcohol poisoning, but luckily I found him." I turned around and began heading towards Ryan’s truck, remembering that we had arrived at the airstrip together.

Ryan followed, keeping pace with me even though I was walking a little fast. I just wanted to get home, take a shower, maybe drink a beer. Maybe I could drink a beer and take a shower at the same time, that was an idea.

"And what about you?" Ryan asked which warranted him an eye roll.

Here we go again. What did he want me to tell him? That I felt like shit that I couldn't help my best friend? That the cuts on my chest hurt, and that seeing them and feeling the pain made my brain flash back to that room, with Diaz and with me tied to a chair? Well I wouldn't, I had to stay strong for the team, for Ryan, for myself.

"Like I said before, I'm fine." I tried to hide the annoyance from my face, but apparently I didn't do a good job.

"You know what the word fine actually means?" Ryan’s face turned serious.

"Depends on who you ask I'm sure." I replied sarcastically.

"Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional."

"All that in one word huh?" I tossed my bag in the bed of Ryan's truck and turned to face him.

"Could you be less of a smart ass right now?"

"Ehhh probably not." I opened the passenger side door but Ryan pushed it closed. Leaving his hand on the frame, making it clear that he wanted some sort of answer.

"Oh god, you really wanna do this, right here?" I could feel the heat rise in my face, the anger bubbling to the surface.

"You can lie to me all you want, but I know there's something wrong. Why won't you just talk to me?"

"Maybe I don't wanna talk about it right now!" I raised my voice, and that seemed to be enough to make Ryan back off slightly.

He opened the door to the truck, his expression hard to read.

"What, that's it? You're not gonna press me for more?" I asked, not moving.

"All I wanted to hear was something other than "I'm fine" because I know you're not, and that's okay. But I know that when you're ready, you'll talk to me about it."

I stood there, silent, mouth open slightly like he had just said something so appalling. But instead what he had said touched something in my heart, melted that ice a little further. He respected me. If this were James or anyone else they would have just kept badgering me until I exploded liquid hot lava all over them. But not Ryan, how did I deserve someone like him?

I climbed into the truck, settling into my seat, still at a loss for words. Ryan climbed in and fired up the truck, her engine roaring to life, and drove off in the direction of my house. He didn’t say anything, keeping his eyes on the road. I could only imagine how tired he was, I don’t think any of them had slept in the past twenty-four hours, myself included.

Ryan had one arm resting on the console between us and I was so tempted to reach out and grab his hand in mine. My mind flashed back to the rooftop and my heart gave a painful twinge. What if he was mad at me? I know I had hurt him with what I said.

Better not risk it.” I thought, keeping my hands firmly placed in my lap.

We stopped at a red light and a bunch of tanks and transport trucks passed in front of us. Then Ryan did something I didn’t expect, he reached over and grabbed my hand, pulling it on top of the center console with his.

I looked over at him and he looked back at me, his face was stoic with a hurt behind his eyes that made my heart bleed. I had caused that hurt, that was me, and I would feel guilty about that until he forgave me.

I opened my mouth to speak but he turned his attention back on the road, making my mouth clamp shut. I wanted to apologize, I wanted to tell him that I was sorry, that I was a fool, maybe even a coward.

We pulled up to the front of my house and I looked up the walkway, it seemed large and empty looking at. I really didn’t want to be alone, but I also wasn’t about to ask Ryan to stay with me.

I reached for the door handle but Ryan surprised me again by speaking up, still looking out the windshield, but talking nonetheless.

“I need to run home and pack a change of clothes, but then I’m coming right back.”

I looked at him with a puzzled expression. “What?” Was this his way of saying that he was staying tonight?

He turned his gaze to me again, his face was stoic, that hurt still behind his eyes. “I don’t want you to be alone, you’ve been through a lot.”

I knew that he was talking about the… I couldn’t even say it, let alone think of the words. The cuts on my chest twinged and I was taken right back there, Diaz’s face looming closer to mine, scalpel in hand. I shuddered at the image and took a deep breath.

“I’m okay.” I gritted through my teeth.

“Clearly,” Ryan’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’m not taking no for an answer.”

Of course he wasn’t because he was Ryan, and regardless of how I acted towards him on the roof he was still going to be there. I gave him a nod because I was clearly not going to win this argument, and pushed the door open, climbing out of his truck and retrieving my bag from the bed.

I unlocked my front door and went into the house, Ryan waiting until the door closed behind me to drive off. It comforted me how he always did that. I leaned against the door in the tiny entry and took in my surroundings.

Even though it was daylight outside the house felt dark and suffocating. I began walking around the house, opening all the curtains, trying to get as much sunlight into the house as possible, as if that would help. I think the only thing that would help my anxiety would be if someone knocked me out with a high dose of ativan.

I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, maybe a hot shower would calm me. I peeled off my shirt and stripped off my pants and boxer briefs, then climbed under the hot cascade of water.

I was right, the hot water calmed me almost immediately, making me wish I could stay under there forever. I closed my eyes and dipped my head under the stream of water, but when I closed my eyes I saw Diaz again, and my eyes shot open a gasp escaping my lungs, cuts burning like they were just inflicted.

“Fuck!“ I gasped. My hands began to shake, and then it was my arms, and then before I knew it my whole body was curling in on itself, air feeling like it was being pushed from my lungs.

“This is a panic attack. Breath.” The Doctor in me was saying. But the other, less rational side, was taking control. Before I knew it I was on the shower floor, in the fetal position, gasping, and frozen out of panic. I thought I was gonna die, which only made me panic even more.

“Get it together Pierce!” I commanded myself, but my brain and body apparently had other plans.


I tried taking a deep breath but I just ended up gasping again and it was gone, just as quickly as it came. My vision began to get fuzzy around the edges as my body tensed, not able to relax. I felt like I was gonna pass out and wouldn’t that just be a sight? Ryan bursting in to see me passed out in the shower from a panic attack, him giving me that “I told you so.” look.


I wished Ryan we're here, here to hold me while I went through this, tell me that it would be okay.


This time it wasn't my voice I was hearing in my head, it was Ryan’s. It was like he was right there, and that alone was enough to finally, finally, get the breath I needed to fill my lungs.

My body began to relax as I took in another shaky breath and another, and another, until my breathing was normal again.

I laid there for another minute, scared to pick myself up from the floor, thinking that I would get hit by another wave of panic. After a few minutes passed I climbed back onto my feet, steadying myself. I reached for the bar of soap sitting on the ledge and began soaping myself up.

My hands were still shaky and I dropped the bar of soap a couple of times, cursing at myself each time. But after a few minutes I was able to finish up and step out of the shower, grabbing a nearby towel and drying myself off.

When I got to my chest I noticed my dressings were soaked. "Fuck." I cursed to myself, those were gonna need to be changed.

I walked out of the bathroom and into my bedroom, pulling a pair of lounge shorts out of my dresser and slipping them on. Then I headed out to the living room where my bag was and dug out some dressings and tape to secure them.

I grabbed the small trash can out of my bathroom and set it next to the coffee table, along with the fresh dressings.

I sat down on the couch, and with shaky hands I pulled the wet dressings off, one at a time, having to breathe through it so I didn't go into panic mode again. I threw the soaked dressings in the trash can and then grabbed the dry rag I had retrieved from the bathroom. I patted the sutures dry, wincing slightly at the pain and shaking away the visions that crossed through my mind. I couldn't have another panic attack, I just needed to focus on the task at hand and that would get me through it.

There was a knock at the door and I whipped my head over to it out of reflex. Ryan must be back.

"It's unlocked!" I shouted and shortly after that the door opened and a warmth filled my chest as Ryan walked through the entry.

He was freshly showered, his hair still damp underneath his baseball cap. He had one of his signature three quarter inch sleeve t-shirts on, this one was gray with black sleeves, and a pair of nice fitting shorts that hugged his ass and thighs.

The whole house seemed to brighten up when he walked in, making it less dreary and lonely, and more warm and comfortable.

He set his bag down on the floor and looked around at all the drawn curtains, a look of curiosity crossing over his face.

“Why are all the curtains open”

I shrugged. “I dunno, just needed some sunlight in here.” Even though opening the curtains didn’t even seem to help, it only helped when Ryan walked into the room. I turned my focus back on my fresh dressings, taping the sides so they were ready to apply. I brought the first one up to my chest and tried covering one of the sites, but my hands had other plans, shaking and making it noticeably difficult.

“Fuck.” The words escaped my mouth.

Ryan crossed over to me and pushed the dressings aside, taking a seat on the coffee table in front of me. He placed one of his hands on mine and gave me a sympathetic look.

“Here, let me.”

I was tempted to argue, to tell him no, but instead I exhaled out of defeat and handed the dressing to him.

He took it with careful hands and placed it over the first cut, making sure it was secure. The entire time my eyes never left him, wanting to focus more on him, then what he was doing.

“Cody does good work.” He broke the silence.

“Yeah.” I replied just above a whisper.

He grabbed the next dressing and applied it underneath the previous one. This time it stung a little bit.


“No you’re fine, that one's just a little sensitive is all.”

Ryan’s jaw tightened, lips forming a thin line. I knew what he was thinking about, but I didn’t want to bring it up, because bringing it up would cause more of those visions to pop up and like hell was I going to fall apart in front of Ryan. I didn’t want him to see me like that. But curiosity got the better of me.

"What is it?"

Ryan shook his head. "Nothing." He applied the third dressing, more softly this time. I gave a confused look, why did he care so much? Especially after how I treated him on that roof.

"What is it? Talk to me." I urged.

Ryan scoffed, picking up the last dressing. "You want me to talk to you, yet you won't talk to me?" He cocked an eyebrow at me.

"Okay, I deserved that." I admitted, and I did. I deserved his anger and frustration, especially after how I treated him on the roof and then again at the airstrip.

Ryan nodded in agreement and applied the last dressing. He rubbed his face, the bags under his eyes more pronounced than earlier.

"We haven't slept in twenty-four hours. We need some sleep. Then we can talk." His tone was flat and to the point. I really didn't like this side of Ryan, but yet I brought it on myself. I couldn't blame him for being frustrated, for being angry and distant, especially when I wasn't talking to him. Maybe some sleep would do us both good. Wait… sleep.

I dreaded that word. Before I would have gladly laid down for sleep. But now, I was scared to sleep, scared to close my eyes. What if I went to that place in my dreams, that room? I shivered at the thought and Ryan gave me a curious look.

"What is it?"

"I…" I didn't want to make him worry, didn't want him to make a fuss over something that would probably be nothing. But if that time in the shower taught me anything, it most definitely wasn't nothing.

"I… Don't know if I can sleep."

Ryan’s expression softened and he gave me a knowing look, indicating that he knew what was going on.

"I'll stay with you till you fall asleep." He placed a hand on my knee, which calmed my nerves slightly. I nodded, not having the energy to object. It would be nice to have Ryan there, maybe he could be like my human dream catcher, stealing all the nightmares I was sure to have.

I stood up and turned in the direction of the hallway, walking towards my bedroom, Ryan following close behind. I paused once I reached the bed, it's warm and cozy features looking more like a cold abyss, its blankets and pillows mocking me, looking to swallow me whole.

Ryan peeled off his shirt, his hat already gone, and then shucked off his shorts before climbing under the covers. The blankets settled down to his waist and he gave me a look of reassurance as I stood there, frozen in place.

"C'mon, you need sleep." He spoke to me in a warm tone, and just like that I was moving my feet, climbing into the bed that looked warm and cozy again, now with Ryan lying in it.

He wrapped his arms around me and brought me close, and I rested my head on his chest. I could hear the thumping of his heartbeat, his chest rising with every breath. It was peaceful, and calming.

"Try and relax, focus on your breathing." He had a calm tone to his deep voice.

I held onto him tighter, like he was a buoy in the middle of a storm, the only thing keeping me from being dragged into the icy depths.

Ryan seemed to pick up on that, because of course he did. One thing that I had learned about Ryan, among other things, was that he was very perceptive.

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Promise?" I whispered.

"Promise." He responded in his calm tone.

That seemed to be enough reassurance for me. Because one second I was lying there, listening to the sounds of Ryan’s heart and his breathing. Then the next thing I knew my eyelids were getting heavy and I was falling asleep.

"I'm gonna ask you again, why are you here?" Diaz held the scalpel up to me. I could feel the cold blade against my skin.

"I-I told you, we're here to escort Doctor Grimm back to LA."

"Are you a rebel scientist?" He asked.

"No." I answered.

I yelled as the pain from the scalpel cut deep into my skin.

It was real, it was happening again. My worst fears had been answered, I was trapped. Trapped in this room again with Diaz, no way out. No one could hear me scream and yell as he dug the scalpel into me, again, and again.

"Elliott!" I could hear Ryan's voice, he was there, but I couldn't see him.

“Ryan!” I yelled, looking around wildly for him.

Diaz’s lip curled upright into an evil snarl. “No one is here to help you.” and he dug the scalpel into me again.

"Elliott!" My eyes snapped open. I was drenched in sweat, Ryan clutching me tight to him.

"It's happening again!" I yelled, voice cracking from fear.

"No-no it's okay, you're here with me." He tightened his grip.

"No. I. Saw. Him!" I began gasping, my muscles tightening, my body going into full panic mode.

"It was a nightmare, it was just a nightmare." The calm never left Ryan’s voice.

I couldn't speak, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. My mind was still in that room with Diaz, the cuts he inflicted were on fire.

"Breathe Elliott." Ryan rubbed my back as I gasped, hyperventilating from panic.

"I…" Was all I could muster between gasps.

Ryan made a shushing noise as he continued to rub my back, as if trying to will the air back into my lungs.

"Concentrate on my breathing. We'll do it together." He said calmly. He began taking deep breaths, and I tried to concentrate on them, to feel them.

"You're gonna be okay. I got ya." He reassured me.

That reassurance, that warm and comforting reassurance was enough to make the air flow back into my lungs. I coughed and took in more shaky breaths. Then something happened that I didn't expect, I began crying.

This was my life now, never being able to sleep, never being able to close my eyes without picturing the torture I endured while on that mission. And poor Ryan, who was lying here, holding me tight, rubbing my back and convincing me everything was alright, had to endure this with me. That thought alone made me feel worse, this burden wasn't his to bear. But yet here he was, holding my shaking body as I cried, a sign that he truly cared about me. But why?

"It'll pass, just ride it out." He said, giving me a kiss on the top of my head.

That kiss traveled from my scalp and down to my chest where it radiated caring and warmth, all the feelings that I needed. How did he know what to say, what to do? It was almost like he'd been in my situation before. Maybe he had been.

After my body finally calmed down and my breathing returned to normal, Ryan released me from his tight embrace and climbed out of the bed.

"W-where are you going?" I stammered, fear rising in my chest.

"I'll be right back, promise." He said, giving me another kiss on the forehead before turning around and walking out of the bedroom. I knew he would be too, that was another thing I learned about Ryan, he always kept his promises.

He returned about ten minutes later with a steaming mug. I eyed it with curiosity.

"I don't think coffee is something I need right now."

"Your right, and it's not." He climbed into bed and handed me the warm mug. I stared at the contents suspiciously, it was some sort of tea, judging by the bag in the contents of the liquid. Whatever it was it smelled heavenly.

"Try it, it’s an old family secret." Ryan urged, sensing my hesitation.

I brought the cup up to my mouth and took a sip of the mysterious liquid. I was pleasantly surprised by what I tasted, it was definitely tea, but it was sweet and there was something else behind it too, something strong. The liquid filled my stomach and radiated warmth all over my body.

"Wow," I took another drink and Ryan gave me a lopsided grin. "What is this? It's amazing."

"Chamomile tea with honey, and a splash of rum. My momma made it for me when I was going through this same thing."

“What happened?” I asked, my curiosity peaked.

“Remember that fire I told you about?” I nodded in confirmation, taking another drink. “Well, after I got released from the hospital I used to have horrible night terrors. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, and my Momma would just lay there with me and hold me until I fell asleep again.”

"Is that why you care so much?" I asked.

"Partly." Ryan settled back against the headboard, his gaze never leaving me.

"And the other part?"

He rolled his eyes at me. "Do I really need to say it out loud?"

I didn't respond, instead I just blinked at him, showing that I was waiting for an answer. He stared at me longingly before he spoke.

"I care about you, alot, and not in a friend sort of way."

"Well I would hope not." I tried to smile, but I couldn't. I was still shaky, coming down from the panic I had just endured.

"It killed me when Diaz was torturing you. I wanted nothing more than to rip his fuckin' head off."

My body tensed and my eyes went wide from shock. "Did you…"

"Hear what was happening to you?" Ryan's gaze fell. "Yeah, I could hear. I heard everything…" His tone was somber, like his face.

"How?" My voice broke.

"There was a closet, right off the living area. Inside there was a vent, it must have been connected to the room you were in because I could hear the two of you. Heard as he…" His tone broke as his voice trailed off.

My mouth fell open from the shock of what Ryan was telling me. I cupped my hand on his cheek and he pushed into it, accepting it.

"I'm sorry."

Ryan scoffed. "You're the one who was tortured and you're sorry?"

"I don’t know what else to say to make it better."

Ryan grabbed my hand from his face, resting it between the two of his.

"Just knowing that you'll be okay is enough for me."

His words touched my soul, dancing around and making me feel slightly giddy inside. But there was something gnawing at me as well. Would I ever be okay?

"I don't know if I'll ever be okay. What if this never goes away."

"It will, with time." He responded and the look in his eye was enough to make me believe it. It was a look that he was sure, that he knew things would get better, and I believed no, trusted that look. If Ryan had gone through the same thing and came out the other side okay, then I should be able to also, right?

"Now," Ryan took the coffee mug out of my hand and set it on the nightstand, then he pulled me into him, wrapping me up in those arms again. "Try and get some more sleep."

Everything inside of me resisted the thought of more sleep. What if I had another nightmare? What if I woke up and it wasn't a nightmare? What if all of this; us coming back, me lying here with Ryan in my own personal safety cocoon, wasn't real and I had just passed out from the pain that Diaz caused me. All of these irrational thoughts ran through my brain as I relaxed into his embrace, letting his warmth and the safety I felt in his arms whisk me off to sleep.

When I awoke it was morning again, Ryan had an arm around me, his hand resting on my hip. His other hand was holding a book, his eyes glued to it as they danced across the page. I didn't know he read, it was actually nice seeing this more relaxed side of Ryan. Something that I could get used to seeing every morning.

"Hey there sleeping beauty." He gave me a grin as he set the book down on the bed next to him.

"Is it morning again?" I asked, groggy from the amount of sleep I got.

"Yeah, it's six." He chuckled.

I looked around the room, the warm sunlight coming through the drawn curtains, shining bright highlights against the light gray paint on the walls.

"How long have you been awake?" I rubbed my sleepy eyes and yawned, further relaxing into Ryan, if that were even possible.

"Not long, maybe a couple hours or so." There was a smile in his voice.

"You should have woken me."

"You needed your sleep, you've been through a lot."

"We both have." I pointed out, and boy was that true.

Sure I was the one who had been tortured, inflicted by pain. But Ryan was inflicted by another pain entirely, one that was sure to leave psychological wounds. The pain of hearing someone you cared about being harmed, and not being able to do anything about it but sit there and listen, which begged another question. Did Diaz know about that too? Did he know that Ryan could hear somehow? It was highly unlikely, but it gave me more fuel for the fire of hatred that I felt for him.

"Stooop." Ryan let out a long groan. "I can practically hear your brain thinking."

"I can't help it." I admitted.

"Well then let's find something to take your mind off things." He gave my shoulder a squeeze and climbed out of bed. "Bacon and hashbrowns?" He gave me a questioning look.

"You seriously have to ask?"

"I'll take that as a yes." He gave me one of those lopsided grins I loved so much, before heading out of the bedroom.

I swung my legs out of bed and sat on the edge for a second. I did feel a little better after the sleep I got, and I had Ryan to thank for that. There were new feelings for him bubbling to the surface, feelings like, fondness if I had to put a word to it. There was something connecting me to him now, an almost invisible line that stretched from me to him, a strong line, one that felt like it couldn't be broken.

I stood up and walked out of my bedroom, following the sounds from the kitchen as Ryan pulled out the tools and ingredients he needed. The fresh aroma of coffee met my nostrils as I took a seat at the island and watched Ryan work.

His movements were so fluid, working around the space like he knew where everything was, like he'd spent his whole life in a kitchen. His Mom I'm sure had something to do with that. His back muscles flexed and rippled through his skin as he worked, watching him was like watching moving art.

The coffee maker beeped, signaling it was finished. I went to stand up but Ryan pointed in my direction making a downward motion with his finger.

"Sit, I got it." His tone wasn't commanding, it was more warm and caring. I settled back onto the stool as he poured me a cup of coffee and set it in front of me.

"Thanks." I grumbled, taking a drink. He just grinned and shook his head.

"So independent."

"Is that wrong?" I asked defensively.

Ryan gave me another grin before turning back to the bacon sizzling on the stove.

"No of course not. It's one of the things I like about you."

My heart jolted at that, Ryan has not just a thing, but things that he likes about me? That ice around my heart was in danger of becoming a puddle real quick.

I sat there drinking my coffee, continuing to watch Ryan cook in his underwear, which wasn’t a horrible sight. In fact it was homely, comfortable even, and that invisible line seemed to grow stronger at those thoughts.

He sat a plate in front of me that was piled with hashbrowns, bacon, and a couple of eggs. He went to the fridge and withdrew ketchup and a small bottle of Tabasco sauce, which were things that I loved to put on these particular breakfast items.

"How did you-"

"I've been a Cop for twelve years, I notice things." He gave me a wink and turned around, grabbing his own plate and his coffee and sitting next to me at the island.

"Twelve years?" I was shocked that he had been a cop that long. I mean he was thirty-four, just a year younger than me so it made sense. But even the fact that I've been a practicing physician for a mere seven years was a shock to me.

"Well, yeah." A confused expression crossed his face as he spoke. "I finished my Bachelors in Criminal Justice when I was twenty-one, then I joined the academy shortly after that. I made Sergeant at twenty-nine and I was up for Lieutenant last year before I left."

I marveled at Ryan as he spoke. This man had accomplished so much in his twelve years as a Cop, it made my ten years of medical training look like nothing.

"That's impressive." I took a bite of hashbrowns.

He chuckled and nodded his head. "You're pretty impressive yourself."

I laughed at that and Ryan gave me an amused expression.

"What?" He asked, before placing a scoop of hashbrowns in his mouth.

"I did four years of Medical School, and three years of Emergency Medicine residency, all the while in the safe confines of an ER. That hardly doesn't add up to your twelve years on the streets Protecting and Serving your community."

Ryan shook his head before taking a drink of coffee. "I don't think so. You have literally saved lives, dealt with things that I don't even know how you deal with, and I've seen you work under pressure. Not to mention your Chief Medical Officer at the age of thirty-five, now that's impressive."

I thought about his words for a second. It was true that my accomplishments were impressive, and how he spoke about it, almost with a hint of pride, made me feel impressed by my own milestones.

"Thank you." I said in a humbled tone. Ryan gave me a smile before dusting off the last of his hashbrowns and wiping his face.

"I have something for you." He turned around in the stool and got up, crossing over to his bag. My eyes went wide with surprise, he got me something? Why did he get me something? I didn't need anything from him, just him.

He crouched down, balancing himself on the balls of his feet and unzipped one of the compartments. He pulled something out but I couldn't quite get a glimpse of it.

He stood up and turned around, hands behind his back, a wide grin on his face that reached his eyes sending a twinkle to them. He walked towards me and brought the object out from behind his back, and I couldn't help but smile at what it was.

It was a Seattle Mariners baseball cap. The teal and silver S on the insignia stood out against the navy fabric of the hat. I reached out and ran my fingers across the insignia, the memories of my first baseball game flooding in. Making that smile appear larger on my face.

"Do you like it?" He asked in a hopeful tone.

I nodded and smiled at him. "I do, it's awesome." And Ryan beamed at me, placing the hat on my head. It was one of those soft, flex fitting hats that didn't need velcro or a strap in the back. I hated messing with those things, which begged the question. How did Ryan know?

"Where did you get this?" I asked, taking the hat off and marveling at it.

"Remember that sports memorabilia store we stumbled upon in San Francisco?" I nodded and Ryan continued. "Well Riley and Gray told me that the Mariners were your favorite team, and that you couldn't find an original hat before they moved. So I figured it would be something nice for you."

"Yeah, after the earthquake T-Mobile Park was destroyed so Portland agreed to build them a new field if they stayed and changed their name to the Portland Mariners. These are super rare, you can't find them anywhere."

"Who knew the one place you could find them was in San Francisco." Ryan sat back down on his stool, facing me with a smile on his face as I gawked at something as simple as a hat.

“I love it, thank you.” I gave him a kiss on the cheek and his face flushed.

“I’m glad you like it.” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously.

I smiled at him, his nervousness was always so adorable. It reminded me of when we took that walk around the perimeter fence some two weeks ago. A lot had happened since then, making a new pit form in my stomach at the thought that we needed to talk.

“We should probably talk.” I said, trying to hide the somber tone to my voice.

Ryan nodded, the flush disappearing from his cheeks, and the smile fading to a thin line. He dropped his gaze to the floor, his tone equally somber.

“Yeah… We probably should.”

“I think I should start by apologizing.”

Ryan’s eyes snapped back up to meet mine, a puzzled expression on his face.

“For what?”

“The roof.” My mind flashed back to that moment, the moment I pushed him away, and I couldn’t hide the pained expression on my face at that thought.

Ryan fiddled with his coffee mug in his hands, not maintaining eye contact, instead looking pensively into its contents.

“Yeah... That hurt.” Ryan’s tone was flat, exact, and those words felt like a knife wound.

The fact that I had hurt this man, this man that was so perfect, and so good. The man that stayed with me all night while I battled with the trauma I had endured, who took care of me. The fact that I had done what I did to him on the roof made me feel like shit, and want to kick myself in the ass.

“I wish I could take it back.” And I did, I wished so much that I could reach back, pick that moment out of time and replace it with something better. But that wasn’t going to happen, so instead I have to mop up the mess I made.

“Well, you can’t.”

“I know, and I’m sor-”

“Stop… Stop saying your sorry.” Ryan held up his hands.

“It’s the only words I can think of to say.” And it was, I didn’t know what else to say to make it better.

“Why don’t you tell me what you’re afraid of instead?”

I swallowed hard at that response. My heart of ice wanting to form again, shut him out. But I didn’t want to this time, I didn’t want to shut him out anymore. If I was really hell bent on making things right with him, then I needed to also make things right with myself, and the only way I was going to be able to do that was being honest with him.

“I feel guilty.” I finally said.

Ryan gave me a confused look. “Guilty, about what?”

My heart rate increased as I prepared myself for what I was about to say, to spill my feelings out and hope that Ryan didn’t run the other direction.

“It should have been me…” I looked at the floor.

“What are you talking about?”

I took a deep breath, studying the knots in the wood on the floor boards. “It should have been me that died, not James.” My eyes stung slightly at the self revelation I had finally said out loud for the first time, the thing I had kept hidden for years.

“Elliott…” Ryan grabbed his hands in mine, but I shook my head.

“No, it’s true. Out of the both of us, he was the better one. He was a better person than me, a better Doctor, a better fiance.”

“Is that what this is about? You feel guilty for being able to live, to enjoy your life, and he doesn’t?”

“Partly. I mean maybe if I didn’t work so much, being exposed to so many sick people, maybe he would have never gotten sick.” It was a long shot, but it was something that I racked my brain with for the past eight years. Blaming myself seemed like the logical thing to do.

“If he was a Doctor too, then he would have been exposed eventually. You can’t blame yourself for wanting to help others during what was, at the time, a national health crisis.”

Ryan’s words made sense, they rattled around in my brain and settled in all the correct places, but it still didn’t help the grief I felt.

“But I increased that risk, by picking up extra shifts, sometimes sleeping there. Being in the ER we didn’t know who had it or who didn’t since there was no way to test immediately. So we had to go off symptoms, and it mimicked the flu so perfectly that sometimes we weren’t even wearing all the protective equipment. Just masks and face shields, which at the time, we thought was enough.” It was like I was trying to reason with Ryan why I was in the right frame of mind. My grief and guilt had warped my mind to make me believe that I was the cause of James’ death, not a deadly pathogen that we hardly knew anything about when it was ravaging the country.

Ryan shook his head. “That is not on you, and I’m sure James would agree.”

He was right, and all my logic and reasoning was telling me that he was. I turned my gaze to the floor again, fresh tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Well, I guess we’ll never know for sure.” I said somberly.

“Elliott, look at me.” Ryan cupped my chin and lifted my head. His face was stern, his eyes had fire behind them. “It. Is. Not. Your. Fault.” He enunciated every word, making each one a point.

I stared in his eyes, the fire behind them showing a man who knew the guilt I felt. I thought about when he told me about his brother David, and the guilt he felt over his death. Ryan knew exactly what I was feeling, which made his words that much more believable. The realization of that made a weight lift off my chest, this large cumbersome weight that I had felt ever since James died.

“What happened to James, he was one of the unlucky ones, and that is not on you.” Every word Ryan spoke seemed to lift more weight off, and I felt surprisingly lighter.

I took a deep breath and exhaled, wiping the tears from my eyes. “After James died I sorta, shut down or something. Everyone in my life has left or turned their back on me. My parents never accepted me for being gay, and neither did my siblings, and because of that I haven’t been home in over a decade. I figured that if I didn't let anyone get too close, then I wouldn't have to feel that pain again after they left. So I kept my distance from you. But I can't do that anymore."

And there it was, everything that I had been afraid of, my guilt over James, my fear of abandonment. All of it came pouring out, it's contents pooling around Ryan and I like a puddle.

I expected him to retreat, to let go of my hands, tell me that he couldn't handle this. But instead he kept hold of my hands, giving me a look that showed that he finally saw me, and he cared.

"Well… I can't do anything about the guilt, that is something that will get better with time. But as for the leaving part,” He squeezed my hands lightly before he continued. “I can tell you right now that I'm not planning on going anywhere."

I just blinked at him, I was stunned. Clearly I didn't give him enough credit, I truly didn't deserve a man like him. But maybe I did, maybe Ryan was exactly what I deserved, what I needed.

That vision I saw in the chopper seemed to look more clear, more concrete. My heart was warm, radiating heat that melted that ice surrounding it. Ryan had me, and any fear or reservations that I felt about him seemed that much closer to disappearing. I wasn’t gonna haul off and exchange vows with him, although that thought did make me smile. But I could admit that I was starting to fall for this man.

"So, where do we go from here?" I asked.

Ryan gave me another one of those lopsided grins I loved so much and kissed my hands. "Forward."

Copyright © 2020 zanoGreen; All Rights Reserved.

Thank you for reading! Please comment below and let me know where you would like to see the story go or what your favorite parts are so far. Please note that this story does not revolve around a killer virus, that's just what sets up the events that lead to the story.

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Chapter Comments

Poor Riley! I hope he will be okay with time, and that he doesn't use alcohol the same way he did last time.. 

I like the way Ryan slowly melts the ice around Ell's heart. They both deserve to love again. 

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