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Above Sea Level

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[backdated; took place in late summer, 2016]

Sam strips his backpack off and dumps it on the ground, taking a seat beside it and waiting for Ryan to join him. They're high up on a hill, hiking along a ridge, the valley open below them and it's fucking beautiful. Breathtaking. An amazing break from work. But Sam feels like he's barely taking it in, he's so exhausted. Christ. He blinks, struggling to refocus, nodding as Ryan hands him a wrapped sandwich and a juice box. "Thanks. Beautiful, isn't it?" He jerks his head at the vista.

"It's incredible," Ryan murmurs in agreement, his eyes wide and his smile awed. "And look! Hey!" He points to a spot just near the peak of the next rise. "You can see a sheep!" Although he knows that he really needs to get over his excitement along those lines, what with all the freakin' sheep in New Zealand... But he can't help it, it's just so cool to see the animals out ranging in the wild.

Sam chuckles. He can't help himself. "You'd think you'd never seen sheep before," he grins, nudging Ryan's shoulder with his own.

"Yeah, but–" Ryan gestures with his hand in attempted explanation, then gives up and just grins. "You mock me, sure. But I was talking to your Wardrobe Goddess the other day on set – what's her name, Deirdre? – and Sam, she doesn't believe me about wallaroos. Like, we were talking wildlife, and I just mentioned wallaroos in passing, and I swear, she thinks I made it up. And then," he says, poking a straw into his juice, "she started telling me some bizarre story about this American creature that's like, half jackrabbit and half antelope, and she told me she's even got a picture of one and she'd get hold of it to show me, and... I don't know. Is a jackrabbit even big enough to have antlers like that?"

"I don't think so, and I've seen that picture," Sam says, shaking his head and laughing, Ryan's enthusiasm about everything is infectious, banishing the fatigue he'd been feeling. At least for a few minutes. "I tried telling her it was photoshopped."

"Ah-ha." Ryan shakes his head in amusement and lays into his sandwich, sourdough spilling over with roast beef and Swiss cheese, and he put some avocado slices in there, too; he's always looking for new ways to sneak raw vegetables into his husband's diet. After a couple minutes of contented chewing, he gives Sam a friendly shoulder-bump. "Thanks for doing this with me today. I know you're shattered."

"I am," Sam admits, blowing out a breath. He's long since given up trying to hide things from Ryan. Mostly. "But I promised we'd get out here and now that we have, I'm glad we did. I wanted to do this." He smiles at Ryan, pausing for a moment before he continues, "I know it's a long road to go with this, but when I'm done, I want to take a break."

"Really?" Ryan's eyes light up at the prospect. "Are you thinking, like, a 'binge-watch the new Preacher' kind of break? Or more like a 'pizza tour of the 50 States' type of thing?" God, he well knows it might be even more years before Sam chooses to take a holiday. "Although, I suppose we could do both simultaneously."

Sam chews at his lower lip for a moment. "I was thinking more like a whole year off sort of thing."

The hesitant answer stuns Ryan. A smile spreads like sunshine across his face once he manages to get his breath back. "That would be amazing. That would be absolutely phenomenal."

"It might be hard for me to find work again," Sam points out. "It might end up being more like a year and a half or even two if I take a break after this."

Setting the remains of his sandwich aside, Ryan turns away from the view to the even more pleasing sight of his husband. "Sam. You'll always be able to get work when you want it," he says quietly. "Not to mention that you know damn well you never need to work for money again, so you could do whatever you fucking wanted. Or 38 different things you wanted. You know? Build driftwood furniture. Raise sea monkeys. Start the biggest no-kill mosquito shelter in the city. Anything, love."

Sam doesn't share Ryan's conviction about his work prospects but his husband's unwavering faith in him means the world. And he knows Ryan is right about one thing – he can definitely do whatever the fuck he wants. "What would you want to do if I took a year off?" he asks. "Travel? Settle down somewhere so you could write more?" He very deliberately doesn't mention kids because they've been treading strange waters on that issue ever since their talk. He wants them, Ryan agreed, but he thinks he'd have to prove he's able to come out, go public with their relationship, take some major time off before Ryan'd really give it serious consideration.

"Travel, definitely," Ryan replies with a nod, "but not the whole time." He wipes his hands on a serviette, then stretches out on his back in the grass, squinting up at the cornflower blue sky. "I've been all over the world with you, but we haven't even seen half the places we've visited. Touching down in Manila but then spending all of six hours in the Philippines before we get back on a plane so you can make your next press time. The inside of one hotel or conference room after another. I'd love for us to retrace our steps a bit, but actually spend some days or a week in one place, checking out the city or wandering the countryside. Getting to know it a tiny bit. But then," he continues, with a glance up at his lover's profile, "I'd also want to plan some serious time for us to just stay in one place. Relax, talk, eat. Fuck. Play Halo marathons." He grins.

Sam grins back. "That sounds brilliant," he says, watching Ryan, feeling so fucking blessed it isn't even funny. "Just the two of us."

"Of course." Ryan gives his husband a big dimpled smile. "You know how selfish I can be when it comes to you. Especially when everyone else in the world seem to think they've got rights to a piece." Taking Sam's hand in his, he brushes his lips over his knuckles. "Mine."

"All yours," Sam nods, his heart squeezing tight. He smiles at Ryan and glances back at the valley. "I'm having a rough time with this shoot," he admits. He's sure Ryan knows on some level, that he hasn't been anywhere near as good at hiding it as he'd like, but it's the first time he's actually said something, put it into words.

Ryan grips Sam's hand tighter for a moment more, then lets go and glances around. He wants to move closer and take his lover in his arms and physically shield him from the world, and though it's unlikely any strangers will stumble over them here... Yeah. It's unlikely, but not impossible. He does shift position a bit so that he can face Sam more fully, and he nods. "Yeah? Tell me."

"The underwater stuff..." Sam shakes his head. "It's not like I can't do it. I am doing it. But I fucking hate it. He's doing so much other CGI shit, I don't see why we couldn't have done this too."

"I can't speak for him, obviously, but... I know. I know you hate it," Ryan murmurs, studying his lover's face. He's never really understood Sam's fear of being submerged – or his fear of heights, for that matter – but he's known for years that Sam was dreading this, ever since Jim Cameron first announced what he had planned for the sequel shoots. "But you're doing it and it's fucking amazing. What you've done, I mean: just having the courage you've shown for the bits you've already wrapped. Can I ask, is it just as hard now as it was when you first started?"

Sam nods. "I think some of it's knowing how long it's going to go on," he says. "And even when I'm not under, I'm thinking about having to be under again, or having fucking nightmares about it."

A shard of pain slices through him, and Ryan winces. "Sam," he says softly, "why didn't you talk to me sooner?" Worried that he might sound critical, he rushes on, "I mean, I know I can't help with the shoot. But I want to help. You don't have to deal with this shit on your own, love. You have me to lean on."

"I know, but there's nothing you can do about it," Sam says, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, "and I hate sounding like I'm fucking complaining when so many actors would give their eyeteeth to work with Jim." He pauses for a second then goes on, "But that's part of it too. When I did Avatar, I'd been around the block but I was still fairly new to American film-making, huge blockbusters... I was in fucking awe of him, and I still am, but now I notice more how he doesn't want to hear from anyone else, doesn't want our input on anything, not even our characters."

Ryan has gotten that impression a time or two. But he's in no position to say anything, and anyway, he never saw how it'd help. He watches his lover for a long moment, then asks softly, "Do you regret signing the contract? All three sequels at once?"

Sam's silent for a long moment and then finally he nods. "I should've realized the time had passed. I was so set on finishing what I'd started, on seeing things through..." He rubs his hands up and down his thighs. "I always follow my gut instincts and this time I didn't."

Lying back in the grass, Ryan shields his eyes with his hand, and squints up at the scattered fluffy white clouds. "It's not a prison sentence. We get to live here..." He lays his hand on Sam's knee. "We can be happy anywhere. And when your job wraps, we'll move on. It'll still be good, love."

"I know," Sam nods, picking his sandwich up again. He feels better now that he's told Ryan how he's feeling and it's not like he'd ever backtrack on a promise made. "And I am happy with you," he adds, just in case Ryan's not clear on that point. "It's not like every waking moment sucks."

"Good." As much as Ryan knows Sam wants to be with him, it's still wonderful to hear the thought spoken aloud now and again. "And I solemnly swear to do my duty as your husband and boy, and keep you above sea level at all times when you're not at work. Also, below the clouds."

"I'm not that bad with heights," Sam says, swatting Ryan on the side of the leg. "I went skydiving with you – and I liked it – and I don't really mind flying. I just don't like being cooped up."

"I know," Ryan whispers, watching his lover with an expression that could only be termed adoring. He nudges Sam with his knee. "Tell me what I can do. What can I do to make this job easier on you?"

"You can't," Sam says, shaking his head. "You're already doing everything."

Ryan grins, huffing a soft laugh. "I'm probably not doing everything... Oh hey, I've got something. If it's not too much trouble, you should think of something special you want to do during this shoot. I mean, just an idea: a place you'd like to visit, or a fantasy you'd like to try, or whatever. Tell me the barest hint of an idea, and I'll sort out all the details."

Sam smiles. "That sounds like fun," he admits. He doesn't have anything in mind right now but it's something to think about, something else to concentrate on for a bit. "You've noticed my... habits picking up, yeah?"

"Sure." Ryan nods amiably. Because of course he has fucking noticed. Even on a bad day he is well-attuned to his Sir-and-husband, and so when Sam starts lingering over tasks like checking that the front door is locked and then rechecking it twice more... Yeah. He's fucking aware of it. He trails his fingers along his lover's thigh. "I'm trying to make sure I shut the kitchen cabinets all the way, and the bathroom drawers and such."

"Thanks," Sam says, taking Ryan's hand and bringing it to his mouth, a kiss pressed to the knuckles. "I'm trying to curb them but sometimes it's really hard."

"I know, love." Ryan smiles at the kiss, and his eyes glint with mischief. "You don't scare me."

Sam laughs. "Good, because I think you're stuck with me."