sparsenicjade
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Thanks: To untappedbeauty, boweryd, [Bad username: fallingintosilence] for running bandomstuffsit. Special thanks to untappedbeauty for betaing my fic and being such a good friend to me.

AN: Written for roga, used for my captivity square on hc_bingo.

***



If he lived, the guys were never going to stop giving him shit about this. Then again, the first clause in that sentence wasn’t seeming terribly likely, so maybe Ryan didn’t have to worry. But seriously, it so easily could have been Jon. Not that he would have wanted it to be Jon, obviously—but it could have been, and that was the point.

Ryan had just walked out of the club to get a little air. They’d finished their set, and as much as Ryan liked the guys in the headliner, if he had to hear their set one more time, he was going to deafen himself with a spork. It didn’t help that he and Jon had been fighting—again—about Ryan wanting to go see the first few shows of Panic’s tour. And Ryan got that Jon was still pissed, he did. But if Ryan could heal things between him and the other guys he was going to. Jon would just have to deal.

Then again, all of this was probably a moot point, as currently, Ryan was chained somewhere that might have been a sewer. He wasn’t sure, but it smelled horribly, and he was sitting in water. He tucked his knees in as far as he could. When he’d woken, he’d tried to figure out how far the chain that was connected to both his wrists stretched. The answer had been “not far.” Not that Ryan would have known where to go—it was pitch black, so he had no idea of the layout. But moving, if possible, had seemed like a first step.

Ryan’s face and head hurt and he thought maybe he had a concussion. He’d never had one before, but he’d never been pistol-whipped before, either, and if he was remembering correctly, that was the last thing that had happened before he’d woken up here. He said, “Um, I don’t suppose there’s anyone else here?”

Resounding silence was the answer, followed by some chittering that Ryan suspected signified rats. He’d never had rats in any of his houses, but he had had mice and he figured they probably didn’t sound all that different. He murmured, “Motherfucker,” and tried not to shiver too hard from the cold. He wished he hadn’t taken his jacket off after the set, but the club had been too small, too packed, and he’d been roasting.

He closed his eyes and tried to recapture the feeling. His imagination obviously didn’t run as wild as everyone seemed to think.

*


“Gear up,” Gibbs said. “Dead marine near Dupont Circle.”

Ziva slung her backpack over her shoulder and made for the elevator, Tony and McGee falling in step with her. Gibbs, of course, was already there, and holding the door.

On the way down, Tony asked, “Do we have any more information than ‘dead’ and ‘marine,’ boss?”

“There’s another dead guy. Not a marine. Looks like a shootout.”

“Are we sharing jurisdiction?” Ziva asked, almost cringing as she waited for the answer. She hated sharing jurisdiction. She hadn’t liked it when it had been her government with a foreign one, and she didn’t like it anymore now that it was just different agencies.

“Nope,” Gibbs said, but didn’t elaborate. That was fine by Ziva. She honestly didn’t care how the sandbox got cleared, so long as it was clear.

She wasn’t surprised, though, when Tony spoke up again. “We overrode the Metro Police?”

Gibbs just gave Tony a look. Tony was relatively undaunted. He swayed back on his heels and said, “I’m guessing there’s definitely more here than ’dead’ and ‘marine.’”

“Ya think, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked, and stepped off the elevator. Ziva smiled, and followed.

*


“Some kinda drug deal?” Tony guessed.

Ziva shrugged. Possibly—there were definitely all the signs of a classic shoot-out. That didn’t explain why there were four guys who’d been playing at the nearby club with a friend missing. Said missing friend’s cell phone was in the same alleyway with the dead marine. But what the hell kind of drug dealer kidnapped a random kid while pulling off a transaction gone wrong? Something seriously didn’t make any sense.

McGee had joined them by now. Quietly he asked, “You think the guy’s still alive?”

Tony looked over at where the other guys were huddled in a group, the one guy’s wife with her arms around as many of them as she could reach. “Doesn’t seem to be much reason why he would be.”

“Yeah,” McGee said.

“Let’s find him anyway, why don’t we?” Gibbs asked, sarcasm almost banked by a tension Ziva wasn’t used to seeing from him during run-of-the-mill cases. She looked over at the wife and wondered how close in age she and Gibb’s daughter would have been. Ziva started back for the car. There was nothing else here.

*


Spencer saw the news on fucking Twitter. He had to read it six times before asking Brendon, “Am I-- Bren, tell me that’s a joke.”

Brendon took Spencer’s phone from him, reading aloud, “Young Veins’ lead singer Ross disappears after show. Suspicion of kidnap— What the fuck?”

He moved into the other room and Spencer followed. Brendon opened his laptop and Googled Ryan’s name. The number of news hits that came up made Spencer nauseated. “Bren—“

“I’m calling Jon.”

“He won’t answer.”

“He’ll have to eventually.” Brendon pushed the number, still in memory despite himself. Spencer understood, he hadn’t removed Jon either.

To Spencer’s surprise—and Brendon’s as well, if his shocked, “uh, hi,” was anything to go by—Jon picked up almost immediately. Brendon didn’t falter for too long. “Jon, there’s, the news here—“

Brendon was quiet then, and Spencer could hear Jon on the other side of the line; his words weren’t clear, but Spencer could hear the tenseness in his tone. Brendon said, ”You’re in DC, right?”

And then, “We’ll be there by the end of the day. Just text me the address, we’ll take a cab.”

There was a pause, and Spencer could hear Jon saying something. Brendon said, “You don’t have— Okay. See you soon.”

He hung up and looked over at Spencer. “Book us tickets. One of them’ll come get us from the airport.”

“Ryan?” Spencer asked.

Brendon shook his head. “There are federal agents looking for him.”

Spencer couldn’t think about that. “Tickets. Right.”

*


Ryan was fairly sure his captors thought he was someone he wasn’t. It was pretty ridiculous, Ryan felt, to mistake him for someone who might know something about biological weapons, but they kept asking questions—with their fists—so clearly, this was a case of mistaken identity. Ryan decided that if he lived, and his jaw could be fixed, he would laugh about that later.

He was three-fourths sure the jaw was actually broken. The last time Ryan had broken something it had been his left wrist, diving into the shallow end of the pool when he was nine. Ginger had yelled at him about that something fierce. He couldn’t really remember how it felt. He let go of a lot of his memories from Vegas as soon as he got out.

He wondered if Ginger would yell at him about this. Probably not. He hadn’t spoken to her since the months after the split, and even then it had been awkward and wrong, and he had just stopped. He’d just wanted to remember her when she was his de facto mom.

Spencer would still yell at him, probably. Ryan liked to think that he knew Spencer, and that under all the anger, Spencer still gave a shit. It almost made him wish Spencer had been more angry the last time they’d seen each other, so he could keep telling himself that and believing it. The believing was a bit of an issue at this point, but Ryan was in a sewer with rats and a broken jaw, so he decided he was allowed to tell himself whatever the hell he wanted—even if it involved Spencer caring.

Brendon would care. Brendon never let go of a damn thing, even when he should. Ryan had always hated that when they were friends, bandmates, but now he kind of appreciated that it meant Ryan couldn’t fuck up quite enough to wholly lose Brendon.

Ryan shivered as a breeze came down from fuck-only-knows-where. As far as Ryan could tell, there was no outlet to the area, but then, people came and went, so there must have been. The shivering set off the bruising in his ribs, and Ryan concentrated on breathing through the pain. That he could do. He’d had his fair share of run-ins with guys who were bigger and more hopped up on steroids in high school. He was good at getting through basic pain. It’d been a while, but there were some things the body just remembered.

He leaned his head back against the wall—his principles about using something slimy and possibly-disease ridden for support had disappeared after the beating—and tried to think about how to write this experience out. He was going to keep at it until words stopped failing him.

*


The dead marine had worked on biological weapons. When Ziva and Tony had gone to interview his boss, the boss had taken them in his office and asked, “How much do you know about the Bubonic Plague?”

Tony’d lost some color and said, “More than anyone in our day and age should. Why?”

Ziva could see that it had cost him something to ask that last question, even more to sit there and listen while the naval scientist explained about the splicing they were working on. It was all to the end of a stopping agent—or so they said—but then, Ziva found that was often how Pandora’s box remained open.

Once they’d gotten free, Ziva turned to Tony and asked, “Are you all right?”

Tony was taking slow, measured breaths out in front of the building. He gave her a cavalier smile. She called bullshit on that, but had the grace to do so silently. After a while—Ziva hadn’t even bothered to head toward the car, just stood there and let Tony remember how his lungs worked—Tony said, “So, terrorists?”

“Probably.”

They’d gotten names of everyone who would have known about the project, but it was a short list, and Ziva doubted they’d find anything useful through it. Her instincts told her this was about money for the dead marine, and about principles for whomever they were tracking. It was a fucked equation.

Ziva looked at the sample Tony held, aerodynamically sealed into a container. “We should get that to Abby.”

Tony handed it to her. “You mind?”

She shook her head and didn’t even think about mocking him.

*


Abby was unamused. Ziva hadn’t been there for the whole thing where Tony almost died of plague, but she’d been there for enough of Tony’s near death experiences that she was okay with listening to Abby rant about the irresponsibility of attempting to reverse engineer cures instead of just seeking out and destroying biochemical weapons as the government would any other kind.

At one point, Ziva tried asking, “But scientifically, does it not make sense—“

And Abby had spewed a bible’s worth of numbers at her to make her point. Ziva kept thinking she knew better than to argue with Abby, but clearly she was still learning.

“Anyway,” Abby said, and Ziva was pretty sure she was about to make her real point, “it’s a dead end. I learned way more from the ballistics than the sample. The sample’s your basic biochem weapon—good for anyone, anywhere. It would be more effective in a hot climate, but not by enough to even start narrowing a target, and without knowing how much this guy might have, the knowledge of what it is is completely useless to us. You’re sure they didn’t have any missing from the lab?”

Ziva shook her head. From behind her came the question, “Where else could this stuff be manufactured, Abs?”

“It’s not meth, Gibbs, you can’t just cook it up in your basement. This kind of production needs serious equipment. If our marine was making it on the side, he had connections.”

“What kind of connections?”

Abby grabbed the Caf-Pow he was carrying. He let it go fairly easy for not having gotten all of his answers. She took a long sip and said, “Probably universities. They’d be the only non-corporate, non-governmental entities I can imagine having anything near this kind of hardware.”

“If this is about the money, why would he not have gone to the corporations?” Ziva asked.

“Quicker way to get caught,” Gibbs answered.

“Also, if he wanted to sell on the side, it probably would have been harder,” Abby said. “Academics don’t have the same kind of bottom line that corporations do. Or, when they do, they’re better about blurring that line.”

Gibbs nodded. “Ziva, Tony and McGee are doing survivor interviews. Call McGee, have him meet you at Georgetown.”

Abby said, “I know some people over there. I’ll make a few calls, get you in, ask about rumors. The science community isn’t that big, especially in D.C. If something hinky’s going on, they’ll know, even if it’s not happening on their turf.”

Ziva inclined her head and started to go. Before she left she asked, “The kidnap victim—his friends still say he didn’t know anything?”

Abby said, “I doubt he did. Not if it’s about this. Drugs, maybe, but this stuff?” She shook her head. “Nah, too much coincidence, and we all know how Gibbs feels about that.”

Ziva did, at any rate. She also now knew that whoever these guys were, they’d had an innocent victim for over twelve hours. Ziva pushed the thought from her mind, and dialed McGee.

*


No sooner had Spencer and Brendon stepped off the plane, then Nick said, “Hey, listen, evidently we have to go into the station for more questioning. Jon’s pretty sure that means they’ve got more info.”

Spencer nodded and held up his bag. “Carry-ons only, we’re good to go.”

The station, as it turned out, was on a Naval base. When Jon had said Federal agents, Spencer had kind of expected the FBI. He’d never even heard of NCIS. Brendon and Spencer, not having been asked to come, had to hang out in the waiting area.

Jon came over and hugged them awkwardly before being given a badge and taken upstairs. Once he was out of earshot, Brendon said, “Well, now I know. All I have to do to get Jon Walker to think about talking to me is have one of our mutual friends disappear.”

Spencer felt dizzy and tired from the long flight. He’d been unable to sleep, unable to do anything but think about Ryan, about how the last time they’d talked Spencer hadn’t even been able to tell Ryan he missed him. Spencer pulled Brendon to him and held on. Brendon didn’t even squirm, like he often did when Spencer held on for too long or too tightly.

Someone cleared their throat, but Spencer only noticed it peripherally. The second time, though, he looked over to see a tall, well-dressed man looking at them. Spencer pulled back from Brendon and ran a hand through his hair. “Yes?”

“Are you Spencer Smith and Brendon Urie?”

Spencer nodded. The man held out his hand. “Agent Anthony DiNozzo. Mr. Walker said you’d be able to help as much as any of them.”

Spencer wasn’t sure. It had been so long since he and Ryan had talked about anything that mattered. “I don’t know—“

“Willing to give it a shot?” Agent DiNozzo asked, arching one eyebrow.

“Yes,” Spencer said at the same time as Brendon. They both started walking when the agent gestured the way.

*


The second after he said it, Jon could not have explained why he’d said that having Brendon and Spencer there was a good idea, but he didn’t feel like taking it back, either. And that was, perhaps even weirder, that he wanted them to be sitting in the room. But Ryan was missing, and as worried as Andy and the Nicks were, it wasn’t the same, and Jon could feel it. Spencer and Brendon had flown cross country despite the fact that Jon knew it was early days in truly rebuilding the relationship. They got it.

Spencer came into the conference room and took the first seat available. Brendon, though, took the one next to Jon. Jon didn’t know whether to smile at him or not. Before he could decide, Agent Gibbs said, “Mr. Walker here believes you might have further insight into our kidnapping victim.”

Spencer shifted uncomfortably in his seat and Jon didn’t miss the confused look Spencer shot him. Jon almost said, “I know,” but Spencer was already speaking. “Ry and I-- We grew up together, but we’ve been kind of distant these past few years.”

“So you wouldn’t know if he had become involved in black market biochem weapons sales?”

Spencer laughed. He covered his mouth after the sound came out. Jon had to look down to hide a smile. Spencer said, “I’m sorry, um, Ryan? George Ryan Ross IV of Summerlin, Nevada? Are you sure you have the right guy?”

“Friends and family can often be the last to suspect,” Agent DiNozzo said from where he was leaning back against the wall.

Spencer and Brendon shared a look. Jon had the feeling that at one time he would have known what it meant. Spencer took a breath and said, “Look, it’s not that Ryan hasn’t gotten himself involved in some stupid, stupid shit in his time, okay? But Ryan hates weapons, of all types.”

Agent Gibbs and DiNozzo were the ones to share a look at that. DiNozzo said, “We looked him up. His father was a Marine.”

“Yeah, George kept guns in the house,” Spencer nodded. “And sometimes, when he was wasted, which was most of the time, he’d do shit like shoot the TV, or threaten Ryan while waving one. Ryan can tear someone’s skin right off their body with his words, but I’ve never seen him carry so much as a Swiss Army Knife, okay? He doesn’t do weapons—not for money or protection or anything.

Jon flinched. Ryan might be his best friend, and he thought maybe he was Ryan’s, too, but there were things that Ryan would never say aloud, that Spencer could only know by way of experience, and this was definitely one of them. Jon thought about the careful way Ryan handled knives—the only thing he was careful about in his kitchen—and how he often made uncomfortable jokes when any kind of weapon was brandished during a movie.

“These wouldn’t seem like weapons,” Agent Gibbs said.

Spencer tensed. “He spent most of his teen years in hospitals, while his dad’s liver was disintegrating. They would seem like weapons.”

After a long moment, the agent nodded. “Okay. So, your friend was in the wrong place, wrong time.”

Brendon laughed, bitter and sharp. Everyone looked at him. He shrugged. “If that doesn’t describe Ryan, I’m not sure what does.”

*


On the plus side, after the third beating, Ryan’s complete inability to answer any of the questions they asked in between doling out the agony seemed to have gotten across the fact that he really didn’t know a damn thing. On the minus side, given his uselessness, Ryan wasn’t entirely positive they hadn’t just left him there to die and moved on. Certainly he hadn’t been fed or given water since being taken and he was starting to consider trying to lick the walls of the sewer, despite the pain of his jaw and his suspicion that doing so might give him Ebola.

He had no idea how long it had been since someone had last been there with him. He’d tried going through the entire Kinks catalogue, but his concentration kept wavering. He’d tried asking himself a few basic questions then: what were the primary colors, how many states were there, that sort of thing, but he couldn’t remember the answer to about one out of every three, and that was freaking him out, so he stopped.

After that, mostly, he did his best not to think. When he thought he had to feel cold, hungry, thirsty, alone, terrified, or hopeless, and none of those appealed to him. Instead he distracted himself with playing bits of scenes from his favorite movies or wondering what his favorite book characters would do in his situation—anything that didn’t require vast amounts of focus.

He drifted in and out of sleep, or maybe unconsciousness; he wasn’t sure. His dreams were full of sounds: Jon’s guitar and Brendon’s laugh and Spencer’s voice. After a while, he didn’t bother trying to stay awake much.

*


Georgetown didn’t turn up much of anything, but one of the researchers gave them a name of a colleague at George Washington, and that person knew their marine. The researcher, a woman in her early fifties, looked somewhat unsurprised to learn he was dead. She rubbed the back of her neck and said, “I’m sorry if this seems insensitive, but my big concern here is that the project is one person short at this point, and it’ll be nearly impossible to find someone qualified who can be read in and actually catch up.”

Ziva nodded sympathetically. She understood more than she wanted to admit. She asked, “Have you any idea to whom he would have sold the sample?”

“Officially? No. Unofficially, your boy was an entitled little fucker, pardon the language.
It would have been to the highest bidder, and in my experience? Having worked in this field for nearly thirty years? The high bidders are always the people who actually know what to do with this shit. Your garden variety terrorist is going to go for a nuke, something flashy. This stuff? These are people who were trained by us, or governments that have the same types of capabilities. Wealthy, well-educated, they aren’t the actual terror groups, they’re the…people who like to consider themselves idealists, but hand off the big jobs to someone else.”

Ziva looked at McGee, who asked, “You’re saying you think they’re going to hand off the weapon to someone else?”

“Almost certainly. They may have already. You said it’s been 62 hours?” She nodded. “Definitely within the next ten or thirty-two, then.”
Ziva tilted her head. “What kinds of equipment would a person need to travel safely with this sort of thing?”

The researcher smiled sharply. “Yeah, this person is going to have one seriously outfitted jet or van.”

McGee said, “Any details you can give us would help.”

She was evidently happy to help.

*


Spencer wasn’t sure why Agent Gibbs had allowed them all to stay in the offices, but he appreciated it. The thought of sitting in a hotel room waiting for someone to call, to tell him Ryan was okay—there was no alternative—made Spencer fairly panicky.

Jon hadn’t spoken to either him or Brendon since that first hello, so Spencer was a little surprised when Jon came and sat down on the floor next to him. Spencer had chosen a spot along the wall in the conference room, needing to fold in on himself. Brendon had let him go, and was pacing the full length of the room. Spencer knew Brendon was driving Andy and the Nicks crazy, having not had time to get used to him, but he didn’t feel up to making Brendon stop.

Jon said, quietly, “We were fighting.”

Spencer looked at him. Jon looked away. “When Ry went out to that alley, we’d been arguing. He went to get away from me.”

Spencer wasn’t sure why he’d been nominated as the guy to make Jon feel better, all things considered, but while there were things he would gladly let hang on Jon’s shoulders, this wasn’t really one of them. “We’ve all walked away from each other at one point or another.”

Jon swallowed. “He was going to take a week off to come see you guys, once you were out on the road. He wanted to support the tour. He-- He really misses you. So, y’know, when we get him back, you shouldn’t believe any of his bullshit otherwise.”

Spencer didn’t say, no, I’m still good at calling him on that. It seemed unfair, petty, when Jon was clearly trying to give him something, here. Instead, he admitted, “We miss him, too. Both of you.”

Jon laughed, jagged and short. “Too much water under that bridge, Spence.”

“A lot,” Spencer agreed, because the look on Brendon’s face when he’d read Jon’s comments suggesting that Brendon couldn’t write his own music had just about killed Spencer. But then again, Spencer held the legal rights to songs Jon had written, and Jon didn’t. “Not too much.”

“Spence—“

“Tell me all this shit between us, tell me it would still matter if I got hit by a bus tomorrow.”

Jon looked at him again, then. “Maybe not.”

Spencer repeated, “Not too much.”

*


McGee had cross-referenced sales of the different items the researcher had told them would be necessary, but nothing had come up, so Ziva and Tony had left to do things the old-fashioned way: questioning the fences. It was tedious and unrewarding and in between the third and fourth stop, Ziva asked, “Do you think he is dead?”

“Oh yeah,” Tony said, not even looking at her. “Very, very dead.”

For the life of her, Ziva couldn’t imagine why she cared. She dealt with people who ended up dead all the time. Granted, usually they were dead at the beginning, rather than at some point in the middle, but she didn’t know this kid any more than she knew the marine on Ducky’s table, and she didn’t feel all that terrible about that corpse. “Yes, probably.”

She felt Tony look over at her. For a second she thought she would get lucky, he would make a joke or a movie reference, and let her off the hook. But that was the thing about Tony: he always knew when to actually dig. It was what made him a good investigator. He asked, “What’s bothering you?”

“I do not know,” she told him. “Perhaps the loyalty he inspires in his friends means something to me.” She shrugged.

“Those guys are pretty hardcore,” Tony agreed. “Normally I’d suspect something, but nobody’s gut is going off on that one, so I think they’re in the clear.”

“You’re a cynic,” Ziva told him.

“And you’re not?”

“Not without good reason.”

“You’re saying I don’t have good reason most of the time? How many cases have I been right about? The people closest to you always present the most danger.”

Ziva looked over at him. “Is that so, Tony?”

Tony tightened his jaw. “We’re almost there.”

*


The fourth fence was more informative than the previous ones—possibly because McGee had managed to put enough together on him to get a warrant, which in turn had lead to Tony and Ziva being able to bring him in. They gave him over to Gibbs, time of too much import now to mess around. Gibbs had him talking within the hour.

“That wasn’t even any fun,” Tony groused.

Ziva just headed for the car. The fence had given them a delivery address.

*


Ziva knew something was off about the place the minute they’d gotten inside. It was clearly deserted, but she couldn’t help the feeling that warehouse still held…something. She looked around, checking for bombs, other harmful devices, but there was nothing there, not that she could see.

She came up beside Gibbs and asked, “Is your gut bothering you?”

Gibbs looked at her, just barely masking his surprise. Ziva shrugged. She was developing a gut, okay?

“Guys, there’s something over here,” McGee called, and both she and Gibbs went toward his voice. When they got to where he was, both he and Tony were pulling up a floor grate.

Ziva shone her flashlight into the opening. “Sewer.”

“Boss,” Tony said, and the two men looked at each other, having a silent conversation to which Ziva clearly wasn’t privy.

Gibbs sighed. “Yeah.”

Tony winced. “Knew I shouldn’t have worn these shoes today.” He didn’t even hesitate to climb down inside. Ziva went after him. She didn’t like the idea of Tony down there without backup.

One sweep of Tony’s flashlight revealed the kid. Tony approached him carefully, saying, “Ryan? Ryan Ross?”

Ross didn’t respond and Tony reached down to touch his neck. Ziva asked, “Pulse?”

“Just barely.”

“I’ll go see about bolt cutters and an ambulance,” she said, shining her flashlight on the chains connected to the walls. “Then I’ll help you get him up.”

“I’ll just stay here,” Tony said to her retreating back. “That’s fine. I love dark sewers, no, truly.”

Ziva snorted, and climbed out.

*


Surprisingly (but thankfully), Ryan had at some point had the presence of mind to list Jon as his next of kin. As such, Jon was able to get the reports from the doctors to the extent the doctors were willing to tell anyone anything. An Agent McGee had called and told Jon they’d found Ryan and he was being taken to the nearest hospital. Since then, it had been fourteen hours of bad coffee and even worse food, hard waiting room chairs and a tv that clearly only got three channels—all of them related to the Home Shopping Network.

Brendon was lying across a couple of chairs, his head on Spencer’s lap, asleep when Jon finally came back with some news. Andy looked up blearily when Jon returned to the waiting room. The Nicks were both crashed out on the linoleum floor. It looked pretty painful.

Spencer spoke first, mostly because he was afraid Jon wouldn’t tell him anything if he didn’t actually ask. “Progress?”

Jon ran his hand over his face. “They think so. The swelling in his abdomen has gone way down, the bruising in his jaw is pretty extensive but isn’t a break and should heal without complications. The antibiotics seem to be working on the worst of the infected bites and cuts, and he’s taking to the fluids and nutrients. Now it’s just a matter of him waking up, so they can tell if there’s brain damage.”

Brain damage, right—no big. Spencer hesitated for a second before holding up his free hand. The other one was busy holding on to Brendon. Jon also hesitated, but he came over and curled up against Spencer’s free side. Spencer almost hated how familiar it felt, as if it had only been a few days since they were sitting like this in a van, on a plane, a bus, one of their couches.

Jon yawned so largely Spencer thought it might hurt. Jon muttered, “I wish he’d left you as next of kin. Then you’d have to do all this.”

Spencer rubbed at the back of Jon’s neck and ignored the spike of hurt being reminded Ryan had changed that brought with it. Instead he said, “I’m right here. If you need me to stand there with you, or anything.”

“I’m so tired. Has anyone called Cassie?”

Andy said, “Murray handled it.”

“Mm,” Jon said. “’Kay.”

“Get some sleep,” Spencer told him.

“The NCIS people, they wanted a call when Ryan woke up.”

“I won’t let you sleep through him waking up,” Spencer promised.

Jon was tense for a moment longer, but then all the strength just flew out of him, and Spencer was pinned in on both sides. He didn’t mind.

*


Ryan awoke to the sound of steady beeping and a headache that had passed right through epic into apocalyptic. He groaned. “Nick, whatever you’re doing, stop.”

Or, well, that was what he meant to say. What came out were a few harsh, guttural sounds and then some coughs. It was then he noticed that he couldn’t feel his chest at all. Also, having opened his eyes, it was clear he wasn’t in the van or a motel and that-- Wait. “Spencer?”

Of course that came out clearly. Spencer grinned. “Hey, nice of you to join us.”

Jon said, “Hey, you need to try and drink,” and then there was a straw at Ryan’s lips, and, actually, water sounded fucking delicious. Ryan sipped until Jon took the straw away. Ryan might have followed it a little bit with his mouth, but he didn’t think either Jon or Spencer was going to tell anyone.

“Um,” Ryan said. Then he repeated, “Spencer?”

Spencer nodded. “Bren’s here, too. And the rest of your guys. They were only allowing one of us in at a time, but I learned hospital persuasion techniques from the master.”

Ryan looked down. Spencer had wrapped a hand over Ryan’s ankle. Ryan blinked a couple of times. “Where am I?”

“Hospital,” Jon said. “What do you remember?”

Ryan thought about it. Details came back with an undesirable clarity. He shivered. “How’d you find me? I was—“ Pretty sure they left me to die. He couldn’t say it aloud.

“Federal agents found you,” Jon told him. “The hospital has probably already called them and told them you’re awake. They’re going to want to talk to you.”

“I just went for a walk,” Ryan said, whether to Jon or Spencer he wasn’t sure. “I didn’t mean—“

Jon made a sound Ryan couldn’t determine, but it wasn’t happy. Ryan asked, “Jon?”

“I’m sorry,” Jon said, not looking at Ryan.

Ryan didn’t understand. “For not coming with me? We were arguing.”

Jon looked up. “About the arguing, dipshit.” He made the last a term of endearment.

“Oh.” Ryan shrugged. “You called them.”

“They called me,” Jon admitted.

“He took the call,” Spencer said.

“You came,” Ryan said.

“Jesus, Ryan. No shit we did.” Spencer’s eyes were wide and just hurt enough for Ryan to know how much hurt Spencer was actually hiding. It was weird, still knowing that sort of thing.

Ryan kept his eyes on Spencer and asked, “Can I have some more water?”
Jon ruffled Ryan’s hair and said, “I’m gonna see about getting the guys some lunch. Spence’ll stay with you.”

Ryan mouthed thanks, and when Spencer came near enough for Ryan to sip at the water, Ryan reached out, hooked his fingers in the waistband of Spencer’s pants, and held on tight.

*


Watching Gibbs with the three guys who wouldn’t leave the hospital—Urie, Smith and Walker—was interesting. Ziva hadn’t expected him to be quite as understanding. Gibbs normally wasn’t with men over a certain age. But whatever it was about the way these three stood by their friend, Gibbs seemed to respect it. In the end, though, Gibbs did manage to get them all to go back to their hotel and freshen up. This, in turn, gave her and Tony a chance to wait for Ross to wake up, and hope he remembered something important.

It had been about half an hour of sitting in Ross’ hospital room, reading a magazine, when he woke up to grumble, “I hate hospitals.”

“Show me someone who likes’em, kid,” Tony responded.

Ross took a sharp breath in and didn’t let it go. Ziva knew panic when she saw it. “Mr. Ross, we’re federal agents. Your friends are at their hotel, taking a shower and getting some decent food.”

How Ross managed to say, “Badges,” was beyond her, since he didn’t seem to be breathing and the entirety of his jaw was covered in bruising, but Tony and she both flipped theirs out. It took a second, but eventually, Ross took a breath.

She handed him the water from the side of his bed, because it seemed like the right thing to do, having sparked the beginnings of a panic attack after days of captivity and abuse. He said, “Thanks,” and drank slowly before handing it back.

Tony started. “I’m Agent DiNozzo, that’s Agent David. We’re sorry to make you dredge everything up, but we need some answers to catch these guys.”

“Who are they?” Ross asked.

“Chemical weapons dealers,” Ziva answered.

Ross blinked and then laughed a little, a shocked laugh that made him pale when the cracked ribs Ziva’d read about on his chart reminded him of their presence. “Actual, practiced chemical weapons dealers thought I knew something?”

She and Tony shared a glance and didn’t say anything. Ryan held a hand carefully against his torso. “Okay, what do you need to know?”

“Do you remember any physical characteristics?” Tony asked.

Ryan was silent for a few seconds. Slowly, he said, “They wore masks. But not gloves. When they were-- Their hands were Caucasian. And they had slight accents, some kind of European. They didn’t speak English when they weren’t speaking to me. Something, maybe Russian or Polish or Czech. I’m not sure. They seemed tall, but I wasn’t standing, so I don’t know. One of them had, like, scoliosis, or something. His back was weird.”

Ziva was surprised. “That’s a lot of detail for someone who was beaten into a concussion.”

Ross looked at her, his eyes dark. “Something I used to do when I was panicked. Focus on the details. Just let the details take over, the small things.”

She tilted her head. “Your dad was a Marine, yes?”

Ross frowned. “How’d you-- Oh, Spence? Or Jon?”

She nodded. “Your dad teach you that? How to focus on the details, drown everything else out?”

His responding nod was tight. She sympathized. “It’s hard to accept that for all the times they betray us, sometimes fathers really are trying their best.”

Something sparked in Ross’s eyes, some hint of recognition. He said, “Yeah.”

Tony was patient through their moment of silent connection before asking, “Anything else?”

Ross closed his eyes. “The one without the weird back was a lefty. And I think there was another one, one who never came down. Sometimes they would yell up.” He took another breath, but then shook his head. “That’s it, that’s all I can remember.”

“You did well,” Ziva assured him. “If you remember anything else, just tell one of your friends. They have our number.”

Ross’s head was already drooping when they left the room.

*


When Spencer, Brendon and Jon returned to the hospital, there was a woman who looked like a grown version of pretty much every goth teenie who had ever attended a Panic concert sitting in the chair next to Ryan’s bed. Brendon recovered his wits at the sight first and said, “Um, hi.”

Jon followed up with, “Are you an…agent?”

The woman smiled and something in Spencer eased, because he’d seen enough Crazy Ass Fan smiles to know this wasn’t one of them. She said, “Hi! No, not an agent. Forensic scientist. But they said I could come sit with him.”

Okay. “Thanks?” Spencer said.

She was still smiling. “Ziva and Tony had to leave, follow up on the stuff he gave them, and when they got back they said it was just him here, so I thought I’d, y’know, go and stay with him for a bit. I wouldn’t want to be by myself after I got kidnapped. It’s happened a couple of times, so I’m pretty experienced at it by now, and afterwards totally sucks.”

“You’ve been kidnapped twice?” Jon asked.

“Perk of the job,” she said, only somewhat dryly.

Spencer was starting to reconsider the crazy issue. He said, “I’m Spencer.”

“Smith,” she said. Then, “I’m a little more pop-culturally aware than the rest of the team.”

Spencer had to laugh at that. Brendon said, “So, I guess you know who the rest of us are, too?”

She nodded. “Abby, by the way. Abby Sciuto.”

“Nice to meet you,” Spencer said.

“Sorry it had to be this way,” she responded. “But he was a really big help. Ziva contacted some people who probably aren’t supposed to talk to her anymore and they gave her some information and I think we’re pretty close. So your friend here is kind of a Big Damn Hero at the moment.”

Spencer felt something twist inside himself. He said, “I’ll mention that.”

Abby stood. “You do that. Oh, and I like the new album. A little light for me, but still, pretty schwank.”

Spencer blinked. It was Brendon who said, “Thanks,” bright and warm.

She gave him a high five as she passed, leaving. Brendon said, “If I went for girls, man.”

Jon nodded, “If I weren’t married.

“Guess she’s mine, then,” Spencer said, and crossed the room to sit down next to Ryan.

*


The phone rang in the middle of Ryan complaining to Spencer about the fact that the hospital had clearly lessened the dosage on his pain meds. Ryan stared at the phone for a few seconds and then reached out to answer. “Hello?”

“This is Agent David, is this Mr. Ross?”

“Um, Ryan, yes. It’s me.” Ryan resisted the urge to smack himself in the forehead. His face was still pretty bruised up.

“How are you feeling, Ryan?”

A little bit like I was beaten and left to die in a sewer or be eaten by rats, whichever came first. “I’ve had better days.”

“It was a stupid question,” she acknowledged. “Do you feel up to listening to some voices? An audio lineup?”

“Would I have to come into NCIS?”

“No, no, we’ll bring the recordings to you.”

Ryan closed his eyes and wondered whether he could stay awake long enough to help them out. He took a breath, keeping it shallow, cognizant of his broken ribs. “See you when you get here.”

“Thank you,” David said, and hung up. Ryan set the phone back on the receiver.

Spencer, Brendon and Jon were all clearly trying not to look curious. Ryan told them, “They need me to identify people. She called it an audio lineup.”

“Their forensic scientist, who is smoking hot, says you’re everyone’s hero at the moment,” Brendon told him.

Ryan wished he weren’t hurt just then, that he had full mobility and could pull Brendon into the bed with him, cuddle while Brendon still wouldn’t argue or call him on it. Brendon must have noticed, because he very carefully climbed onto the bed next to Ryan and snuggled in. Ryan caught Spencer’s eyes and noticed the wistfulness there. He said, “Spence.”

Spencer had long ago learned how to say no to Ryan, and Ryan almost expected him to, but instead Spencer just came around and sat on Ryan’s other side. There was no room for Spencer to crawl in, but it was something, for the moment.

Ryan looked back over at where Jon was standing. Jon eyes were shuttered but not in a mad way, just thoughtful. Ryan, who generally tried not to play dirty with Jon, threw Jon the most pleading look he could pull up. Jon gave him a smile and said, “I’m gonna go call Cass. Anybody need anything?”

Ryan smiled back at him. “Say hi to Cass for me.”

*


“Mr. Smith, Mr. Urie,” Tony said as he entered the hospital room. “Mr. Ross.”

“Ryan,” Ryan said, sounding tired. “They can stay, right?”

“Yeah, they can stay. They just can’t participate.”

Ziva watched Ryan release some of the tension he’d tightened into when they’d come in the room. She sympathized. He was handling the situation relatively well, given his age and life experiences. Even so, she got the feeling he would have been happy for them to just disappear with all their questions, and their intrusion on his life.

She set up the digital recorder and said, “The first time, we’re going to play each voice once. But anything can be replayed, just ask.”

Ryan nodded. Tony said, “Okay. Voice number one.”

Ziva hit “play.” The voice asked, “What do you know?”

Ryan shook his head. “Not that one.”

They waited a moment before going on to voice number two, which Ryan didn’t recognize either. On the third one he said, “Yeah, that’s-- I mean, he sounded more angry. But that’s one of their voices. The one who did the hitting, not the guy in charge.”

“You’re sure?” Tony asked.

Ryan’s shoulders went up an inch. “I haven’t slept without hearing that voice for about a week now. I’m sure.”

Tony smiled apologetically. “Okay, fair enough.”

They played the next voice, and another four before hitting a second one where Ryan said, “Yeah, that was the leader. He tended to be quieter, but that’s him. He toned down his accent.”

“We have to ask, Ryan,” Ziva started, but he cut her off.

“Listening is kind of part of my job, y’know? Not always to voices and not for meaning, but actual listening? It’s important. To me, this is more obvious than faces, it’s—kind of like a fingerprint for musicians, I guess.”

Ziva looked over at Tony who was giving her the, “oh no, this is all you,” look. She bit back a sigh. “Ryan, we know you have to travel for your job, but would you be willing to return and testify?”

“Will I end up being the target of the Russian mob, or some crazy ass shit and have to go into witness protection?”

Tony laughed. “You watch too much TV, kid.”

Ziva rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to him, he can quote every movie ever made.”

“Only the good ones,” Tony argued.

Ryan asked, “Does that mean I would have to?”

Ziva shook her head. “These men are essentially the fences—middlemen. I cannot tell you there would not be risk, but no more than, say, living in LA. Or, evidently, taking a walk after playing a concert in DC.”

It took a second, but Ryan smiled, rueful and a bit chagrined. “Okay, then.”

She didn’t know what caused her to, but Ziva reached out and gave his hand a squeeze. “Get some sleep. Some quiet sleep.”

Ryan’s eyes widened and followed her out of the room. Tony, uncharacteristically, placed a hand briefly at the small of her back. Equally out of character, she didn’t call him on it, just leaned in a bit.

*


The hospital released Ryan when the intravenous course of antibiotics finished. He still had about eight prescriptions to fill, but Andy had said he would take care of that, so the rest of the guys were free to help Ryan back to the hotel.

Spencer had expected there to be a pretty considerable fight between himself and Jon regarding what room to put Ryan in, but Jon had just asked, “You mind moving into our room? We have a couch, and Ryan’s stuff is in there.”

Spencer knew how to compromise. “Sounds doable.”

Ryan didn’t even complain when the nurse made him get in the wheelchair, which told Spencer just how shitty Ryan was actually feeling, since a Ryan who was mostly okay could complain about the sound of wind. By the time they finished the twenty-five minute car ride back to the hotel Ryan was sleeping a bit restlessly. Spencer really didn’t want to wake him—the last day or so of Ryan’s stay at the hospital, he’d been feeling better enough to be upset at being in the hospital, which meant his sleep hadn’t been great.

Brendon, who had a knack for reading Spencer’s mind just when Spencer really needed him to, said, “We’ll tuck him right back in.”

Brendon woke Ryan by taking hold of one of his hands. Ryan jerked, but when he saw Brendon he relaxed. Brendon smiled. “Hey, help us get your lazy ass into bed.”

Ryan grumbled a little, but let Brendon pull him out of the car. The Nick who had been driving went to go park, and the other Nick said, “I’ll be in my room if you need me.”

It was an unduly long elevator ride to the third floor, and Ryan’s room was further away from the elevator than Spencer would have preferred. Finally, though, they got him inside and on the bed. Jon immediately removed Ryan’s shoes. Spencer pulled back the blankets and helped Ryan underneath. Ryan held them up even once he was under them and looked at Spencer expectantly. Spencer laughed, but did as he was bid.

Ryan kept the covers up. It was only a queen, but Spencer knew they could all fit. They’d done it before. Ryan said, “My arm’s tired,” in the most pitiful voice ever. It worked, though. A second later, Brendon was at Spencer’s back and Jon was squeezing in to Ryan’s other side.

Spencer rolled his eyes. “Go to sleep, princess.”

“Yes, queen mother.”

*


Ryan awoke from a nightmare that was mostly darkness and fear. It wasn’t until Spencer said, “Hey, breathe,” that Ryan realized he wasn’t breathing.

The first couple of breaths were the hardest, and then his instincts caught up and it was natural again. Spencer was rubbing Ryan’s back. They were alone. “Where’re—“

“Jon went to go order some food. Brendon’s—“

“Taking a piss,” Brendon said, emerging from the bathroom. “Couldn’t stand to be away from me?”

Ryan opened his mouth to give back as good as Brendon was giving, and found that his chest hurt at the thought of saying no. Instead he asked, “How much pain medication am I still on?”

He must have sounded a little shaky, because Brendon got back in bed and snuggled in carefully. “Hey.”

Spencer nosed at the back of Ryan’s neck and Ryan fought not to close his eyes, not to be back in high school, safe for the moment in Spencer’s bed, or even on their first bus, crammed into Spencer’s bunk. It wasn’t like that anymore—Ryan had made damned sure of that. Spencer repeated Brendon’s, “Hey.”

Ryan said, “Hey,” back, and yeah, he could hear the shakiness, just a bit of a wobble at the end of the syllable. “Just a nightmare. Dr. Merl said they’re going to happen.”

“Sorry I left,” Brendon said, sounding genuinely apologetic.

Ryan took a breath and admitted, “I’m not sure why you came.”

There was a long silence, and even though it was dark, Ryan knew they were looking at each other over his head, talking in the way he had been able to do with each of them for so long. Finally, Brendon asked, “Wouldn’t you have come for us?”

“I don’t-- How am I supposed to know?”

“Jon said you were going to come to the tour,” Spencer said.

“Well, yeah,” Ryan said. “It’s-- I was working on remembering how to be a friend.”

“So, you’re saying you would have come to a concert to support us, but not shown up if we were kidnapped and missing?” Spencer asked.

“Put that way, it sounds—“

“Like you have brain damage?” Brendon finished.

“Be nice,” Ryan grumbled. “I was kidnapped and tortured.”

“Beaten, Ryan, not tortured,” Brendon said, like that made some kind of huge difference.

Spencer laughed. Ryan said, “Oh, yeah, it’s all fun and games when it’s only Ryan getting his eyes poked out.”

Spencer tightened his grip, just a little, not enough to hurt. He kissed Ryan’s shoulder softly and said, in a serious voice: “Nothing, nothing about this was fun-like or game-like.”

“Really not,” Brendon agreed. “You did not bring the fun, Ross.”

“I’m sorry,” Ryan said. “I didn’t mean—“

“We’re not mad,” Brendon told Ryan. Brendon’s lips felt so very close, and Ryan had to fight his memories of both of them being young and scared and knowing only one way to take the edge off, hiding in broom closets and hotel bathrooms and hoping nobody noticed they were kind of wearing each other’s makeup when they emerged.

“We have you back,” Spencer said. “Just-- Just don’t do that again, ever.”

Ever,” Brendon stressed.

“I’ll try my best,” Ryan promised. They seemed to take him at his word.

*


Jon came back with food while Ryan was on the phone with one of the agents, Spencer hadn’t caught which one. Ryan was mostly nodding his head and saying, “Okay,” every few seconds. Spencer hoped he shouldn’t be worrying about shit like Ryan’s vulnerable state and the undue influence of people with authority. (Alternately, how hot Ryan thought the two agents who had interviewed him were.)

To distract himself from whether or not he should be worrying, Spencer helped Jon unpack the food. He very politely didn’t point out that Jon had clearly decided to get every single thing Ryan liked to eat, ever. Instead Spencer asked, “What’s management saying about your tour schedule?”

Jon made a face. “They wanted Ryan to, like, give interviews about his experience.”

Brendon, who had come over to help, went still. Jon shook his head. “I said fuck no.”

“Oh,” Brendon said, but it took him a second to start moving again.

Jon snorted. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

Brendon scrubbed at his face. “What do I know, Walker? We haven’t spoken in years, if it wasn’t to say shit behind each other’s backs to reporters. So, y’know.”

Spencer tensed, waiting for the peace they’d all maintained to be off and off with vehemence, but Jon just swallowed and said, “Maybe, but I haven’t let him fall off any cliffs or allowed his house to cave in, so give me some credit here.”

“Point,” Brendon said in a somewhat apologetic tone.

Ryan, who’d hung up while nobody was paying attention, made his slow way over and asked, “Who made a point? Was it a good one?”

“Jon pointed out that you’re life-disabled,” Brendon deadpanned.

“But still alive,” Ryan said, as though that somehow negated the previous statement. At this juncture, Spencer thought it actually might.

Jon rolled his eyes and pushed a plate with two pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, baked apples, fried potatoes and a biscuit toward Ryan. “Eat.”

Ryan looked mildly nauseated. Spencer pushed him gently into a chair and then sat down next to him. He gave Ryan a fork and took one for himself. “Here, we’ll share.”

It got Ryan to take the first bite.

*


Ziva was surprised to see Ryan step off the elevator three days after he’d been released from the hospital. He had Smith with him. She looked over at Tony and asked, “Did JAG get permission for a deposition?”

Tony shook his head. “No, he said he’d sign a witness statement.”

Ziva nodded and went over to greet the two of them, since they were currently looking a little uncertain as to where to go. The moment she caught Ryan’s eye his shoulders slumped a bit in relief. She held out her hand. “Ryan. You’re looking better.”

He shook her hand. “I’m on my feet, so.”

She smiled. “You’re here to sign a statement?”

He nodded. She said, “I’ll take you to the conference room.”

When they got there, Gibbs was there with pen and paper. He explained the process to Ryan and said, “Take your time,” before leaving.

Ziva thought about having to write up her experience in Africa and offered, “Can I grab you something to drink?”

Ryan asked, “Coffee?” He looked a little desperate.

She looked at Smith, who said, “Please.”

On her way to the coffee machine, Abby pulled her over and said, “Is the kidnapped kid really here? Ryan?”

Ziva pointed to the coffee machine. “I was getting him some coffee.”

“I can meet him, right? I mean, I sat by him for hours. I feel like I deserve some closure.”

Ziva grabbed a few creamers and some sugar packets. “I’m sure he’d appreciate meeting you.”

Abby took one of the coffees from her, and Ziva smiled her thanks. The two went back to the room, where Ryan was writing slowly, Smith speaking in low tones. Abby set down one of the coffees and said, “We meet again, Spencer Smith.”

“Abigail Sciuto,” Spencer Smith said.

“Again?” Ryan asked.

“You were comatose,” Abby informed him.

Ryan frowned. Smith said, “She was watching over you, while we couldn’t be there.”

“Thank you?” Ryan asked.

“Everybody should have someone with them when they’re feeling crappy, Ryan Ross,” Abby said.

Ryan was silent for a bit before he said, “Yes, but not everyone feels the need to be the person sitting with the sickie.”

Abby grinned at him. “Glad you’re feeling better.”

“Thanks,” he said again, more feelingly this time.

Ziva sat down as Abby left. “Do you mind if I stay?”

Ryan looked at Smith, but Smith shook his head slightly. Ryan made a small face, an expression Ziva couldn’t quite read. Ryan turned his attention to her and asked, “Bad things happen to federal agents, right? I mean, you get shot at and assaulted and, I don’t know, maybe—“

“I have some experience with captivity and ill-treatment,” Ziva said quietly.

“You probably weren’t-- I mean, I can’t imagine you shaking, or, uh, being scared of the dark or just, I don’t know, reliving it all the time.”

Ziva held Ryan’s gaze and made herself say, “Everyone who has experienced trauma goes through post-traumatic symptoms, Ryan. Everyone. Including me.”

Ryan blinked at her. “How, um, how long?”

“Until it gets better?”

Ryan nodded once, just a dip of his head. She motioned to Smith and asked, “Does he make you feel safe?”

“Safer,” Ryan admitted.

“And there are others who can do that?”

“A couple.”

“Then let that carry you until you can carry yourself.”

“Is that what you did?”

Ziva allowed herself a moment of remembering how late she had stayed at the office in those first days, how she had waited for Tony to show up early, had reassured herself that Gibb’s place was not so very far. “Yes.”

Ryan picked up the pen he’d been writing with and looked, once more, at the mostly-blank pad in front of him. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

*


In the plane on the way home, just loudly enough to be heard, Brendon asked, “Am I one of the people who makes you feel safe?”

Ryan looked at Spencer, sitting on his other side. Spencer shrugged. “You knew I was going to tell him.”

Ryan hadn’t really thought about it, but he would have known, had he thought. He struggled for a moment with whether he would have asked Spencer not to say anything, and if Spencer would have agreed to keep it quiet. In the end, though, Ryan was tired of keeping things from Brendon. Ryan wrapped his hand around Brendon’s wrist, not quite sure of how to take Brendon’s hand. “Yeah. You-- Yes.”

Brendon carefully worked Ryan’s fingers open and interlaced his own with them. “You make me feel like enough.”

Ryan didn’t look away from their hands as he asked, “Really?” He wasn’t sure he could look Brendon in the face as he asked the question. The realization made him feel about three, but he held on and at least didn’t turn away. Safe, Ryan gave it the intonation Agent David had, soft and knowing, in his own mind.

Brendon laughed, his thumb soothing its way over Ryan’s skin. “Well, you know me. Never one to make a wise decision.”

“Am I a bad decision?” Ryan asked, looking up for that. He’d always been able to take bad news with a fair amount of equanimity.

“No,” Spencer said from Ryan’s other side.

Ryan put his other hand on Spencer’s knee. He said, “I wasn’t asking you,” in the tone he’d reserved for Spencer, even over the year they hadn’t spoken.

“Sometimes we answer for each other,” Brendon said.

The statement made Ryan ache with things that were lost. Brendon added, “It’s easy to pick up again.”

Ryan’s mouth quirked at the thought of all the times Brendon had called him on something before Ryan had even really had the thought, and Spencer had known long before Ryan could even germinate an idea.

Spencer said, “You survived being kidnapped by terrorists. You can survive us.”

Ryan wasn’t too sure that was entirely true, but the fact remained that in between them, he was certain he would make it from one end of the country to the other without falling out of the sky. He figured Agent David was right, at least about this: he could fit himself in between until he had healed enough to where he could step away.

And maybe, just maybe, if luck held, when he was better, he would fit between them in a different way. Maybe, this time, he would notice that he hadn’t outgrown anything, just changed.

Ryan shifted around, trying fruitlessly to get comfortable. He rested his head against Brendon’s shoulder. “Tired.”

Spencer tucked the blanket under Ryan’s chin. “We’ll get you ginger ale when they come around.”

“And extra cookies,” Brendon promised.

Ryan murmured, “Promise I’ll share.”


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile