Title: Not the End of the World
Pairing/characters: Ryan/Connor, Dan Robinson, Josh Barclay, Scott Tait, Abby.
Warnings/enticements: rape (offscreen), language, angst.
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 5700
Summary: Their hell lasted three days. The aftermath would take a lot longer.
AN: Big thank you to munchkinofdoom for the beta, and for telling me exactly what was wrong with the first draft!
Dan Robinson wasn’t surprised when Connor came marching determinedly down the corridor towards him. The fact that he was wearing nothing apart from a flimsy hospital issue gown, and looked like death warmed up, apparently meant nothing compared with the young man’s need to see Ryan.
Dan hated that he had to be the one to stop him.
“Where is he? Where’s Ryan?” Connor demanded. His eyes flickered to the door behind Dan. “Is he here?”
Dan moved to intercept and gently took hold of Connor’s arms. “You can’t go in there, Connor. I’m sorry.”
“I need to see him, I need to know he’s okay.” His soft brown eyes were pleading even more than his voice. Well, the one eye that wasn’t so badly bruised it wouldn’t open.
“You can’t. He doesn’t want to see anyone.”
“I’m not just anyone! I’m his partner,” Connor shouted. He turned to the door and shouted again, “Ryan! Ryan, I’m here. Tell them to let me in, Ryan.”
Dan shoved Connor further away down the corridor. Ryan did not need this right now.
“Listen to me, Connor,” he said quietly but firmly. “I know how you feel. I want to see him, but I can’t either. He doesn’t want to see anyone. He was very specific about not letting you or me or any of the lads in. Connor, I know it hurts, I know you just want to help him, but right now the best thing you can do is give him space.”
Connor looked like he’d been slapped, and for a moment Dan was certain he could see tears forming in the young man’s eyes.
“He said he didn’t want me?”
“No, that’s not what he said,” Dan replied as patiently as he could. “Connor, Ryan has been through a lot, okay? He’s pretty badly hurt, and he just doesn’t want to see anyone for a while, until he’s rested. You just have to trust me that he knows what he’s talking about.”
God, where the hell were the others? Dan was scared enough for his friend, without having to take care of Connor as well. He had barely slept for the last three days as it was, and it looked like he could kiss goodbye to getting any sleep for the next few hours on top of that. And now Connor. How the hell could he tell Connor that his lover, his hero, his great protector has spent the last three days being repeatedly beaten and raped in the cell three doors down from where Connor himself was being held?
“I know what they did to him,” Connor said in a quiet voice. A single tear escaped and he didn’t even bother trying to wipe it away. “I know what they did, because they made me watch.”
And suddenly the entire fucking mess got a hundred times worse.
They had found Connor first. They’d gone in with next to no intel, and had to systematically force their way through every single door in the building. Barclay handled the explosives, and Dan kicked the door open when they got to the second cell along the corridor. Connor was huddled on the floor in the far corner. He shielded his eyes against the sudden light, and Dan swore he heard the kid whimper.
“Connor? It’s okay, we’re the good guys.” He turned back to Barclay and silently mouthed, “Get Tait.” The young corporal was gone in a second.
Connor squinted at him, no doubt partly because of the light, and partly because the side of his face was a mess of cuts and bruises, and one eye was so swollen it could barely open more than a slit. What the fuck kind of sick bastards would do this to Connor, of all people? Why?
“Yeah, it’s me.”
Connor grabbed his sleeve and lurched forward suddenly, and Dan had to hold him to keep him steady.
“Have you found Ryan? He’s here as well.”
“We’ll find him,” Dan promised, knowing that he was breaking every rule in the book about giving false hope.
Where the hell was Tait? Dan decided he couldn’t wait for Barclay to find him, and used the radio to get hold of the medic.
“Tait, where the fuck are you?”
“Little busy, Sir. What have you got?”
“I’ve found Connor, he could do with checking over.”
“Seriously hurt?” Tait asked. Dan got the feeling the medic was already occupied.
Dan glanced over Connor again.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Then I’ll get to him second.” Tait paused, before he added, “We’ve found Ryan.”
Barclay had reappeared in the doorway, and Dan didn’t like the look on his face one bit. It looked like he was about to throw up.
“Connor?” He gave the young man his full attention. “Listen to me. I want you to stay with Josh. He’ll look after you and get you out of here. Do what he says, okay?”
“What about Ryan?”
“Let us worry about Ryan. The sooner we know you’re out of here and out of danger, the sooner we can concentrate on helping Ryan, okay?”
Connor nodded and stumbled to his feet, leaning heavily on Dan to achieve even that movement. Dan helped him to the door, and then quietly took Barclay to one side out of earshot.
“Get him out of here. Do not let him see whatever’s happened to Ryan.”
Barclay looked like he was about to say something, but then apparently thought better of it and let Connor lean against him as he led the young man out of the building.
Dan headed down the corridor to where Lewis was guarding a doorway. Where Barclay had looked sick, Lewis just looked angry enough to kill someone. Dan met his eyes briefly before slipping past him into the cell.
A moment later he found himself thanking all known deities on Earth that they had prevented Connor from seeing this.
Ryan stared at the door to his hospital room, willing it to stay closed. He could hear Dan and Connor’s voices in the corridor, and he couldn’t deny a tiny feeling of relief at finally having proof that Connor was okay, instead of just being forced to take Tait’s word for it. But at the same time the over-riding thought in his head was a constant litany: Don’t come in, don’t come in, don’t come in. Connor would want to hold him. Connor would want to hug and share mutual comfort, and Ryan had absolutely no fucking clue how the hell he was going to explain why he didn’t want the same thing.
Connor’s voice was suddenly shouting, calling out to him. Ryan turned onto his side and buried his head in the pillow, his arms wrapped around his head. Just fucking get rid of him, Dan.
He hated himself for even thinking that. He hated Connor for being a persistent bastard. He hated Dan for not doing the one fucking job he was supposed to be doing right then. Why the hell couldn’t everything just stop and leave him alone?
The voices suddenly became quiet. Perversely, now that he couldn’t hear them properly he was straining to make out what they were saying. Dan had promised he wouldn’t tell Connor, but what if somebody else had? Images of Connor’s face flitted through his mind, his expression morphing between horror, disgust, and pity. Ryan wasn’t sure which one was worst. He knew he would have to tell Connor the truth, and sooner rather than later. Right now it felt too soon, but how long would it be before it was too late? How long could he continue to push Connor away until he simply didn’t come back at all?
Ryan’s fingers twisted in the sterile white material of the pillowcase, and his eyes screwed tight shut.
Fuck.Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Dan steered Connor over to some seats from where he could talk and still keep an eye on Ryan’s room. He was still trying to get his head round what Connor had just said.
“Ryan doesn’t know that you know what happened,” Dan said carefully.
Connor gave a quick, jerky nod.
“They had cameras in the cells. And a surveillance room,” he blurted out.
Dan got the distinct impression that Connor was about to start talking, really talking about what had happened to him, and however cowardly the thought might be, Dan really didn’t think he was the right person to be dealing with that. For all that Connor had been going out with his best mate for months, Dan still felt like he barely knew the kid. But it was more than that. If Ryan wasn’t yet ready to trust him with the details of what had been done to him, then it felt like a betrayal to hear it from Connor, like he was rushing off to get the gossip as soon as Ryan’s back was turned. He knew that was just a fucking stupid way of thinking about it, but he couldn’t help it. At the same time, there was a part of him that didn’t want to know. Ryan was his friend, yes, but Ryan was also his commanding officer, and Dan didn’t want either of those relationships to be altered or at all compromised by knowing the intimate details.
He was saved from having to deal with it when Barclay and Abby appeared round the corner and rushed over.
“Connor!” Abby grabbed him and hugged him and after a moment Connor returned the hug, burying his face in his friend’s shoulder.
Barclay looked apprehensive.
“Sorry, Sir. I only left the room for a minute and when I got back he’d gone.”
Dan had neither the energy nor the inclination to yell at the corporal. Instead he waited for Connor to emerge from Abby’s embrace.
“Connor, you should go with Abby and Josh.” He held up a hand to forestall the expected argument. “I know you want to see Ryan, but you’re hurt, and you need to rest as well. I promise I will call you the second anything changes. When Ryan’s ready for visitors, you’ll be the first to know.”
Maybe it was simply Abby’s presence, but Connor acquiesced without causing a scene. He stood up, but then paused.
“If you talk to Ryan, tell him...” Connor hesitated, then shook his head. “Never mind. I’ll tell him when I see him.”
He turned and walked away, flanked by Abby and Barclay. Dan watched him go, relieved to have got away from the situation so lightly, and feeling just a tiny bit guilty for being relieved.
Then he sat down and resumed his vigil outside Ryan’s room.
They let Ryan out the following day. They had kept him in overnight because of the blood loss and three days worth of practically no food and drink. Ryan normally had a deep hatred of hospitals, but on this occasion he had actually found it useful; it was far easier to stop people from getting in to see him from here than it would be once he got home.
There was one exception to that, however. Not long after Connor had tried to get to him, Ryan had been visited by two people from the government official investigation team. By the time he had finished giving his statement, Ryan had felt exhausted and emotionally drained. He hoped he would never have to talk about it in such detail again, but he doubted that he was going to get away with it that easily.
It turned out Dan had waited in the corridor all night. He had also got someone to bring a change of clothes as well, all soft and loose fitting, Ryan noted.
“Thanks,” Ryan said, hoping that Dan knew just how much that covered.
“I’m driving you home. No arguments,” Dan said in reply.
“How’s Connor?” Ryan asked when they were in the car.
“Physically, I think it’s just bruises and exhaustion. He should be fine in a couple of days. They discharged him yesterday.”
Ryan wanted to ask how he was handling it all emotionally, but he had a distinct feeling that Dan would just tell him to talk to Connor himself, and Ryan wasn’t sure he could handle that yet.
“Ryan, there’s something you should know,” Dan said, in a voice that told Ryan he was not going like whatever it was.
He waited for Dan to continue.
“Connor knows that you were raped. I’m hazy on the details, but he told me that they made him watch, I think on surveillance cameras or something.”
Dan glanced at him with a worried expression.
Ryan stared back, his insides turning over on themselves at this piece of news.
He turned and glared out of the window, not even seeing the streets go past.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Ryan had entertained ideas of protecting Connor from the worst of it, not just to make Connor feel better, but because he felt sick and humiliated by what those bastards had done. The less people who knew, the better, as far as Ryan was concerned. If Connor had been forced to watch then it changed everything.
Another thought suddenly pushed its way to the front of Ryan’s mind. He had no idea what had been done to Connor. His first coherent question to Dan had been to ask if Connor was okay. His second had been to ask if Connor had been raped as well. When the answer came back ‘no’, Ryan realised he had stopped asking questions. He had assumed that Connor really was okay, and he hadn’t even asked what had been done to him. Suddenly the fact that Connor wasn’t physically hurt made Ryan afraid to think of what the alternatives might be.
Neither of them spoke for a while until Dan said, “How long are you going to keep avoiding him?”
Ryan didn’t reply. He had no idea what the answer was anyway.
“He’s your boyfriend. You can’t shut him out forever.”
“So stop treating him like this and talk to him,” Dan said bluntly.
Ryan wished it was that simple. He wished he could just go home and curl up on the sofa with Connor in his arms and they could forget all about the last three days and pick up where their lives had left off. Somehow he didn’t think it was going to be that easy.
Dan came in with him when they got back to Ryan’s flat. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and Ryan didn’t particularly want to argue with him anyway. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to be on his own just yet.
The lights were already on, and Ryan froze for a moment. Either someone had broken in, or else the only other person with a key to his flat was here.
Connor appeared around the kitchen door, saw them, and came out to face them. He looked skittish, but never broke eye contact with Ryan.
“I know you said you didn’t want to see me, but tough. You’re my boyfriend, and there is no way on this earth I’m letting you go through this alone. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
For a moment it felt like the entire room was holding its breath. Ryan was aware of Dan watching him, waiting for a reaction. Then, entirely unexpectedly, Ryan felt a tiny smile twitch at the edge of his mouth for a second. Connor caught it as well, and after another moment he shoved his hands in his pockets and said, “Right. Three cups of tea, then.”
Connor turned and went back into the kitchen and Ryan heard the sound of mugs and kettle and domestic normality.
He glanced at Dan, who just raised his eyebrows and shrugged. Ryan followed Connor into the kitchen.
The bruises on Connor’s face were the only obvious sign of what had happened to him, but Ryan knew better than anyone that appearances could be deceptive.
“Are you okay?” Ryan asked.
“I’ll live,” Connor said. He looked like he was about to say something else, and then shook his head. “Bloody stupid, I was going to ask if you were okay. Of course you’re not. Neither of us are. But we’re home now, that’s a start. It can only get better from here, right?”
Ryan managed to hold Connor’s gaze. Connor’s eyes held only sympathy and affection and maybe a touch of fear, but there was no hint of any of the reactions that Ryan had been afraid of.
Maybe it was that easy after all.
He had been so afraid that Connor would be needy and demanding comfort that it hadn’t occurred to him the opposite might be true; that Connor might be his rock. Suddenly his world view tilted so hard he had to physically hold onto the doorframe and close his eyes.
“Ryan?” Connor’s voice was all concern and worry, and Ryan heard him move closer. His eyes snapped open and he backed away a couple of steps. Connor stopped dead and the hand that had been reaching out dropped as his eyes registered shock.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan mumbled, unable to meet Connor’s eye any more. “I can’t. I just... I’m going to have a shower and go to bed for a few hours.” He was running away, and he knew it. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, you know?”
Connor nodded, even though it was clear he didn’t buy that as an excuse in the slightest.
Ryan avoided Dan as he headed for the bathroom and closed and locked the door against the two people who he needed most right then.
The shower was just over the edge into too hot, but Ryan didn’t turn the temperature down. He stood under the water, the power turned up to full, and braced himself against the tiles as the spray pounded his back and poured across his body. He knew it was damn near a cliché, but he wanted to feel clean again. He needed to know that his body was his own.
He closed his eyes as steam filled the shower cubicle. He didn’t want to look down at himself and see the damage. The black mess of bruises where they had kicked his ribs. The cuts on his wrists where he had struggled against the bindings that tied his hands behind his back. It all looked scary, but it was essentially superficial, temporary. It would all heal. It was the other wounds that Ryan was afraid of.
Ryan knew that soldiers got raped far more often than the general public would have believed possible. The fact that he wasn’t serving in an active warzone apparently didn’t mean he wasn’t at the same risk as anyone else. It happened, people got over it and got on with their lives. It wasn’t the end of the fucking world.
He really wished that he could believe that.
There had been awkward silence in the living room for a long time. Connor was curled up on the sofa, his hands cupped around a mug of tea that he occasionally remembered to drink from. Dan watched him from the armchair, his own tea finished and the mug put down on the table between them.
Ryan had gone to bed over an hour ago, although Dan suspected the chances of him actually sleeping were slim, and not just because it was the middle of the afternoon.
Connor looked almost as exhausted as Ryan did, but he had flat refused to go home, and Dan knew better than to argue with him.
“They wanted information about the ARC,” Connor said out of the blue.
Dan looked up sharply. He had suspected as much, but he knew practically nothing of what had actually happened to them both, only what he had seen in the aftermath.
“They wanted computer passwords and security codes and stuff. They bashed me about a bit, but I didn’t tell them anything.”
Dan suddenly had a horrible feeling that he knew where this was going. He wanted to tell Connor to stop going over it, that it wasn’t his fault. But he also suspected that there was nothing rational about what was going on in Connor’s head, and telling him wouldn’t achieve anything.
“They had this room with all video screens and stuff. There were cameras in the cells. They made me watch them beating the shit out of Ryan.” Connor wouldn’t look up at him, and seemed to be staring into his mug. “I still didn’t tell them what they wanted. I didn’t... I mean, I hated what they were doing to him, I wanted it to stop, but I thought... I thought...”
“You thought Ryan wouldn’t want you to give in so easily?” Dan said gently.
“It’s not your fault, Connor.”
Connor continued to stare at his mug.
“After the second beating they threatened to... you know, do the other thing. I couldn’t let them do that. Not to Ryan. So I told them what they wanted. Not all of it, and some of what I said was lies, I lied about the really important stuff, but gave them enough real information to make them believe the lies as well. I thought they’d stop when I did that. I thought they’d leave him alone. But then they went and did it anyway.” The last words were muffled by a sob.
Dan remained silent and let Connor get it out of his system. It was pretty much exactly what he had feared from the moment he had talked to Connor in the hospital, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do or say that would make the pain any easier to deal with.
“God, when Ryan finds out what I did... I betrayed everyone. I was trying to help Ryan but it didn’t even make a difference and he’s going to think I fucked it all up so much. I should have handled it better. I shouldn’t have told them anything.” Connor wiped his eyes with his sleeve but his voice was full of anger.
“Hey,” Dan warned, caught off guard by the sudden new direction. “You did what you thought was best in a fucking shit situation. You said yourself you didn’t give them anything important. No one can blame you for wanting to protect Ryan.”
“Would you have broken? If it was you there, would you have given in to them?” Connor said accusingly.
“It’s not the same, Connor. We’re soldiers and he’s my commanding officer. The rules are different.”
“Yeah,” Connor shot back. “I’m supposed to be his partner. That makes it even worse that I let him down when he needed me.”
Dan leaned forward and gave Connor a hard stare. “Listen to me, Connor. I know there’s nothing I can say that will change the way you feel right now. But the only way you’re going to let Ryan down is if you keep on with this guilt trip that you seem so set on. Ryan needs you now. If you really want to be strong for him, now’s the time to do it.”
Connor looked momentarily surprised, but then he nodded. Silence descended again for a while, but this time it somehow seemed less uncomfortable than before. Dan had a suspicion that he was going to get to know Connor a lot better over the next few days, one way or another.
“I’m sorry,” Connor mumbled eventually. “I didn’t mean to dump that lot on you. I just needed to talk to someone, and you already know about it. Abby said if I wanted to talk to her it was okay, but I can’t, not about this. Ryan wouldn’t want everyone knowing what happened to him.”
“It’s fine, Connor. I don’t mind listening. And thank you for not telling Abby. I know she’s your best friend and it can’t be easy keeping secrets from her, but you’re right, Ryan wants it kept to as few people as possible.”
When Connor looked up, Dan saw real fear in his eyes.
“Do you think he’s going to be okay?” Connor asked in a quiet voice.
Dan searched for the most truthful answer he could give.
“I think he will be, eventually. But I think he’s going to need our support.”
“I would if he’d let me.”
“Just give him a bit of time. And give yourself time as well. Don’t let everyone focus so much on Ryan that they forget that you were there as well, and you went through hell just as much as Ryan did.”
Connor looked horrified. “That’s not true, though, is it? What they did to Ryan was way worse than what they did to me.”
“Connor, they forced you to watch while they raped your lover. If that isn’t psychological torture I don’t know what is. You may not have as many scars as Ryan, that doesn’t mean your pain is any less serious.”
Connor barely managed to get the mug onto the table before he crumpled completely. He curled in on himself and started to sob in earnest, his face buried in his hands. For a moment Dan was too stunned to react. Then he got up and moved over to sit next to Connor on the sofa. He tentatively put a hand on Connor’s shoulder, tensed to snatch it back if Connor didn’t want the contact. Connor tensed too for a second, but that was all. Dan slowly put his arms around Connor and held him until the young man finally cried himself into an exhausted sleep.
Ryan wasn’t sure if he had slept at all. If he had, it was only for short bursts in between longer stretches of time spent lying awake and staring at mundane, familiar things in the bedroom. Not just his own things any more. Connor had spent so much time here over the last few months that there was as much, if not more, of his clothes and books and CDs strewn all over the room.
He leaned out of bed, snagged one of Connor’s t-shirts that was lying on the floor, and lay back, holding the shirt close to his face and breathing in the unmistakable Connor-scent. If he stopped to think about it he felt like an idiot, but there was no one to see, and it felt strange to be lying here without his sprawling, cuddle-seeking partner taking up a disproportionate ‘half’ of the bed. For a second or two Ryan wondered whether he could just get up and go into the living room and hug Connor, and let himself be hugged in return. He wanted to, but at the same time he knew he couldn’t. It was still too soon.
How the hell was he supposed to explain that, though? He kept seeing the look on Connor’s face in the kitchen when he had backed away from him. Connor was smart, he would understand why, but he wouldn’t understand. Hell, Ryan wasn’t even sure himself if he understood the way he felt right then. One thing he did know was that if he carried on like this he was only going to succeed in hurting Connor and pushing him away, and wouldn’t that be fucking ironic, considering it had been his desire to protect Connor that had got them into this mess in the first place?
He hadn’t been entirely truthful when he had given his report to the investigators. Oh, he’d told them all the facts, but he had left out a few little details of the exact circumstances that had led to the main assault. If Ryan had his way, he would take those details to the grave without telling anyone; not Dan, and certainly not Connor. Connor would blame himself and that was the last thing he wanted.
At the time it had been a straightforward decision. Their kidnappers had threatened to rape Connor if they didn’t get the information they wanted. Ryan couldn’t let that happen, it would destroy Connor, it would shatter everything that Ryan loved most about him – his fun, his relative innocence, his optimism, his belief that all people were inherently good. Ryan had already been beaten twice by that point, what were a few more injuries on top of that? It seemed a small price to pay to protect Connor.
That was why he had told them that they needed Connor in one piece, because he was the one with the information. That was why he had told them that if they raped Connor they would get nothing because he would break utterly, he would become catatonic and completely useless to them. Ryan had known exactly what the likely outcome was going to be even as he had persuaded and goaded them towards an alternative that meant they left Connor alone. He had convinced himself he could handle it. He had convinced himself it was worth it to protect Connor.
Now, he needed to believe that more than ever.
Dammit, it was no good. He wanted to talk to Connor. Actually, that wasn’t true. He just wanted to see Connor, to know that he really was okay. He wasn’t entirely sure about the talking yet, but it was going to have to start sooner or later.
Ryan got up and changed into a new pair of jogging bottoms and t-shirt, wincing at the pain even though he tried to move slowly and carefully, and then went through into the living room. Connor was asleep on the sofa, curled up under a blanket that must have come from the airing cupboard. Dan looked up from the book he was reading when he heard Ryan come in. He put a finger to his lips and glanced at Connor, then nodded in the direction of the kitchen. Ryan followed him and they shut the door.
“He’s been asleep for a couple of hours, I think he needs it,” Dan explained in a quiet voice. “What about you? Get much sleep?”
“Some,” Ryan said noncommittally. He shifted about, trying to find a way of leaning against the worktop that didn’t hurt. “Do you think Connor’s okay? I heard voices earlier, you’ve talked to him, right?”
“I think you need to talk to Connor yourself instead of using me as a middle man.”
“Thanks, Dan,” he muttered. “Any other words of wisdom?”
“Have something to eat, you look like shit.”
Ryan couldn’t help smiling, and Dan apparently took that as encouragement and started opening cupboards and the fridge and freezer. “I’ll cook a spag bol for us,” Dan decided. “If I can find any of the ingredients. Bloody hell, Ryan, who does your food shopping? What is this?” He waved a half empty tub of cookie dough ice cream at Ryan with a faintly bemused expression.
“It’s Connor’s,” Ryan said. He had come home from a night out with the lads one evening the previous week to find Connor sat cross-legged on the sofa, watching Star Wars and eating ice cream straight from the tub. Connor had waved the tub at him, offering him some, while still keeping his attention firmly on the TV screen. Instead, Ryan had taken the opportunity, while he was distracted, to pounce on him. Connor had pouted about missing the end of the film right up until the point where Ryan had unzipped Connor’s trousers and proceeded to give him a very thorough blow job.
It was a good memory. Ryan wanted to have uncomplicated fun like that again.
The kitchen door opened and Connor stood in the doorway.
“I thought I heard voices.”
“Sorry, we were trying to be quiet,” Dan said.
“Bit difficult when you’re in the next door room.”
There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then Dan said, “Right, you two, go. Talk. I’ll be in here making food.” He shooed Ryan out until he and Connor were standing in the living room, and then Dan closed the door and started banging pans around rather louder than was necessary.
“Well, that was subtle,” Connor commented.
Ryan almost smiled again. This wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind, but if he was going to make a start with Connor, now was as good a time as any.
“Come on. He’ll only nag if we don’t do what he says.”
Ryan eyed the sofa, but then headed through to the bedroom. Even with the obvious noise, he wanted a little more privacy for this. Connor followed him, suddenly looking nervous and skittish again. They left the bedroom door open and Ryan sat down on the bed, trying to hide the pain that movement caused. Judging by the look on Connor’s face he hadn’t been entirely successful. Connor hovered for a moment before he eventually sat down as well, leaving a gap between them.
Then there was possibly the most awkward silence that had ever existed between the two of them.
They both spoke at the same time, and then stopped and looked sheepish.
“Go on, you go first,” Ryan said.
Connor fiddled with the duvet for a moment, but forced himself to look Ryan in the eye when he eventually spoke again.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here, Ryan.”
“That makes two of us.”
“Look, I know it’s going to be complicated for a while, but I meant what I said before. I’m not going anywhere. I want to help you. Whatever you need, however long it takes.”
“It might take a while,” Ryan admitted.
“I’ll wait. You’re worth waiting for.”
Ryan couldn’t speak for a moment. If he needed proof that it had been worth it to protect Connor, he suspected this was it.
“I love you, Tom.”
Ryan held Connor’s gaze until the threat of tears became too much and he had to look away. Instead he found himself focusing on Connor’s hand, still fidgeting with the duvet. Ryan took a deep, slightly shaking, breath and reached out and gently touched Connor’s fingers. Connor suddenly became still, as if afraid to make the next move. Ryan let his fingers close around Connor’s, and let that be enough for now.
It wasn’t the end of the world, after all.