hard, sometimes, so unbearably hard for Ryan to stay.
are days and weeks and months when he doesn’t think about it, where
this crew is everything he needs, everything he could ever want, and
nothing on earth could tear him away. But then there are those
moments, terrifying and bleak and inescapable in a way the rest of
the crew will never really understand.
a paranoia that seeps through, ideas he can’t stop himself from
imagining. The way he thinks about the ease with which he could snap
Gavin’s neck, soft and vulnerable, already tucked underneath his arm
while the movie plays, explosions more than loud enough to cover any
sound. The way the ever growing bounty on Geoff’s head is burnt into
his brain, not temptation so much as reminder, this wanted man who
doesn’t even stop to think about the danger of falling asleep in
Ryan’s presence. About how easy it would be to mess with the
explosives Michael gets him to hold, how no one would ever suspect
anything but a faulty timer, a tragic accident. How Jack has him
check her parachute when she doesn’t have time, blind faith that he
would never let her fall. The unprotected slope of Jeremy’s back,
walking ahead down the tunnel, utterly unconcerned by the loaded gun
Ryan carries, unaware of the way his spine is in the sightline even
with the gloom.
not fantasies, there is no secret wish to hurt his crew, this
mismatched collection of disturbing affection, it’s
just the deep unshakable knowledge that he could.
That nothing and no one could stop him if he were so inclined, not
with how unsuspecting they are, how trusting.
forgotten, he knows, inexplicably forgotten all the ways that they
are different, the ways he is not the same. This pack of junkyard
dogs, who are scrappy survivors, downright vicious when they want to
be, but not savage. Feral, maybe, but not wild like Ryan is wild, the
wolf they have welcomed into their midst without truely understanding
what that means. What he is. What he will always be. They’ve let time
and familiarity blind them, dangerously desensitised by fondness,
like they can no longer see his ruin.
It’s not like it’s easy to miss. It’s not like
outsiders don’t notice immediately. Maybe
that sense of unknown dread, bone-deep wrongness setting off
primitive alarm, is what has the Vagabond’s reputation spreading as
far and wide and feared as it is. There’s something
heavy and inescapable in being a real life bad example, being the one
thing every man, woman and child is taught to avoid. To be known as
pain, as violence, as death, to be inevitable betrayal before you
even open your mouth. A relationship that ends in bloodshed before it
even starts. The kind of stain that never washes out.
Ryan has never really resented that part of
himself before - he made his choices after all, created the Vagabond
and relished in his rise; he’s only got himself to blame, but all of
a sudden it feels like it has cost him something. Like all the guilt
he refuses to feel has reformed into a different kind of punishment,
an awareness that he cannot keep the best thing that has ever
happened to him, that he’ll have to leave before this, too, is
tarnished. Maybe he
can play lost pet for a time but the wilderness in his blood is
always calling, the lonely cry of the hunt keeping him up at night,
relentlessly pulling him back no matter how hard he tries to resist.
Ryan knows, in those moments, that this can’t last. That no matter
how much he wants to stay eventually he’ll have to break away again
and leave them all behind.
whenever it comes up, whenever it’s all too much and Ryan is just
secretly working out what he has to pack before he leaves, his crew
goes and smacks him over the head with their feelings on the matter.
are the days when Gavin will look up at him, smiling so soft and
sweet and terrifyingly harmless that it takes Ryan a second too long
to recognise the blade pressing up between his ribs, or into the
hollow of his throat or the base of his spine, freezing with a
startling shot of adrenaline even as Gavin pulls back, eyes alight
with wicked mischief as he laughs and skitters away, singing gotcha
over his shoulder like
catching the Vagabond unaware is a petty party trick.
Geoff will take one look at Ryan and send him away on a long job, or
pull him off what he was doing and keep him close to base instead.
It’s incredibly frustrating; Geoff offers no explanation or remorse
and the orders rarely align with what Ryan wants to be doing, but one
way or another they always seem to be just the thing to make him
shake off the restless jitters.
Michael drags Ryan out to practise close combat and drops him to the
ground over and over, defies Ryan’s greater size and usual physical
dominance in a hurricane of fists and flashing teeth. The way he
laughs and jeers and riles Ryan into true annoyance, into drawing
blood, and still sends him crashing down as often as not, an oddly
comforting display of bloody competence.
Ryan turns that cold detached gaze on Jack and finds her already
looking back, eyes narrowed and calculating, thoughtful. A simple
look that sends the same flare of shocking panicked fear through him as
he gets when she lets a jet plummet from the air, laughing wild and
reckless, ruthlessly jolting Ryan back into himself.
Jeremy invites himself along on one of Ryan’s less savoury jobs,
matches him hit for hit, threat for threat, nudges Ryan away and
takes over when things get truly nasty. The way he leans into Ryan’s
side and looks for critique when it’s over, as calm and friendly as
ever, like this darkness isn’t the thing that defines them.
is Ryan’s crew. His pack of dogs demonstrating just how clearly they
hear the call of the wild, how violently capable they are of keeping
up. The FAHC, who fight tooth and nail and no regrets, who’ve dug in
their claws and don’t plan on letting go, who’d go toe to toe with a
wolf without an ounce of fear just to prove he’s already home.
unspeakably hard, sometimes, for Ryan to stay, but leaving would be
so much worse.
“What a pair we were—fatherless, frightened, but fiercely committed, too, to keeping our families alive. Desperate, yet no longer alone after that day, because we’d found each other. I think of a hundred moments in the woods, lazy afternoons fishing, the day I taught him to swim, that time I twisted my knee and he carried me home. Mutually counting on each other, watching each other’s backs, forcing each other to be brave.”