hard, sometimes, so unbearably hard for Ryan to stay.
There 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.
It’s 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.
They’re 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.
They’ve 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.
Except, 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.
Those 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.
When 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.
When 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.
When 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.
When 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.
This 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.
It’s unspeakably hard, sometimes, for Ryan to stay, but leaving would be so much worse.