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Or Something Stranger Still

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Ryan has to admit it, to himself, admit something that he’s been denying for the past two hours. He’s lost. Not just lost, lost by himself, on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, at night. To make things worse, his phone is dead, so no GPS, and no final voicemail to his loved ones before he strands himself or gets mauled by a bear -- whichever happens first. Did this part of the state even have bears? If it did, he found one, hopefully his car could outspeed it. The only direction he can go in is forward. At some point he’ll hit civilisation.

It’s raining a little. Not enough to justify turning on the wipers, but enough to irritate him. The whole situation feels like the set up for a horror movie. He’s either about to find Frank-N-Furter’s castle or run into a satanic cult. He hopes it’s the former -- at least there would be more singing.
The radio’s on low volume, playing some late night talk show. It’s almost white-noise, meant to drown out the sound of wheels hitting dirt road. He winces every time he hears a rock hit the side of the car.

He’s been driving down the same stretch of road for so long, seeing nothing but barbed wire fences separating endless fields - punctuated only by the occasional tree - that what happens next came as a complete shock.

A figure vaults over a fence, landing on crouched feet in the road. Snapping into action, he slams on the brakes, the tyres screeching in protest. He’s thrown forward and caught by the seat belt. It takes him a moment to process the situation: the figure is a man. He’s hunched over a little, blocking the glare of the headlights out with his arms. He’s tall and gangly, and Ryan can make out floppy brown hair.

For a while he sits there, dumbstruck. His mind races for an answer. His thoughts jump from ‘cultist’ to ‘murderer’ to ‘complete fucking moron’ - seriously, did this guy have a fucking death wish? The man is a deer in the headlights, standing a few metres from the car that would have run him over if Ryan hadn’t reacted so fast: if he hadn’t turned on the dazzlers an hour ago, if he wasn’t still jacked up on caffeine from that third cup of coffee. Too many ifs for Ryan’s comfort.
The animal part of his brain screams at him to run, to get away. But where would he go? The road is narrow, so he can’t turn around, and forward isn’t an option. Instead he turns off the dazzlers. The guy puts his arms down, and Ryan can make out a pair of soft, brown, terrified eyes. The clothes he’s wearing are ragged and splashed with mud. The sleeve of his shirt is torn and Ryan can spy a streak or red blood. Dry, he hopes.

He thinks about opening the door and stepping out, then imagines being thrown out of his own car and watching it speed away into the night. He opens a window instead. He can hear crickets in the distance. He stops white-knuckling the wheel and turns the radio off. He sticks his head out of the window. The rain is refreshing against his clammy skin.

He stops white-knuckling the wheel and sticks his head out of the window.
‘Hey, are you OK?’ He calls out. The guys jumps a little. Can he see Ryan? It’s still pretty dark, even with the headlights. Unsure of what else to do, Ryan shifts so his entire head is out of the window, in full view. He waves at the guy, wiggling his fingers a little in what he hopes is a non-threatening gesture. He repeats, ‘Uh, hello. Are you OK?’

No response. It’s likes he’s talking to a child or a scared animal. He can’t tell if the guy is scared or sizing him up or what. A few moments pass, neither man speaking or making a move.

When Ryan can’t take any more - right before he goes to undo the door - the man takes a tentative step forward. Then another. He raises his hand, as Ryan had. With nothing else to go on, Ryan copies, spreading his fingers. Hell, if this went on long enough he might even do the fucking Vulcan greeting thing.
The guy keeps moving forward, movements slow and precise. Ryan pushes back the part of his brain that still telling him to run. Car jackers didn’t move this slow, giving their victims ample time to flee. They didn’t appear out of nowhere, either. Ryan’s foot is still resting on the accelerator. He can high-tail it if he wants. And yet he stays there, doing nothing but maintaining eye-contact and holding out his hands like a fucking moron. He can be a good Samaritan when he wants to, Damnit.

‘You really shouldn’t just stand in the road like that, you know. Do you need help? Are you lo-’ His babbling is cut-off when their hands meet. The guy intertwines their fingers. Before he has time to react, he feels something, like a shift in the atmosphere; the deep, placid calm before a storm. The chirping of crickets is clearer, the rain feels crisper. It’s the same scene, the same night, with the volume turned up. The man himself becomes clearer. There’s still fear in his eyes, but it’s mixed in with trepidation and curiosity. For the first time that night, Ryan is filled with a sense of calm.

The guy is shaking - from nerves or the cold, Ryan can’t tell. Ryan smiles, hoping it masks how fast his heart is beating. The corner of the guy’s mouth twitches by a fraction. Ryan feels a thrum of energy in his chest, like an adrenaline high. He feels alive, like he could do anything. He wonders, briefly, if this is how contact highs work. He swears he feels a twinge of amusement permeating from the guy, though how he knows that, Ryan has no clue.
An embarrassing amount of time passes before Ryan gathers his bearings. ‘Uh, hi.’ The words tumble out of his mouth. He clears his throat. ‘What are you doing?’

The guys eyes light up in recognition, and he finally speaks, ‘I can understand you.’

‘Yeah, same here. Can you tell me your name?’

‘Name,’ the guy repeats. He breaks eye contact, and looks intensely at nothing. ‘I...Shane. My name is Shane.’ And the guy looks so proud of himself that Ryan can’t help but crack up a little. Shane startles but doesn’t move away.

‘My name is Ryan. Do you need help?’

‘I need…’ Shane looks around. There’s nothing in the darkness. Then again, Ryan had thought that five minutes ago, when the only thing on the road was him. He looks back at Ryan, bright eyes pleading. ‘I need to get away from here.’

And well, he couldn’t say no to that.‘OK, Shane. Let me just…’ he moves his hand away and it’s like a tether has been cut. The energy he’d felt saps out of him. He tries not to let it affect him as he leans over to open the passenger side door.

Shane say something unintelligible.

Ryan looks back. ‘What did you say?’

Shane repeats, the same words, the same sounds. To Ryan, it sounds like nonsense, thought he can at least pick up on the emotions behind them: confusion, and a little bit of fear. So they’re both on the same page, then.

He gestures at the empty seat. ‘Come on, dude.’

Shane stands there for a moment, looking like he might cry, before obliging.

Was Ryan really doing this? He’d heard a million times before that you’re never meant to pick up a hitchhiker, in case they’re a serial killer. The inverse was also apparently true, though, and he wasn’t about to off Shane and throw his body into a ditch. He’s too squeamish for that.

Shane gets in and closes the door, his movements slow and deliberate. His eyes scan the console, the lights and dials and what-not. He soaks it all in as if it’s all brand new to him.Ryan drums his fingers against the steering wheel. Shane reaches out and puts his hand over Ryan’s. The energy comes back, and Ryan suppresses a shudder. He feels an inexplicable sense of gratitude from Shane.

‘Thank you, so much’ says Shane, half a second later.

‘You’re welcome,’ Ryan replies, relieved, though for what, he isn’t sure. He’s got the feeling that everything’s going to turn out alright. It took him a second to realise that, despite hearing Shane speak, his lips hadn’t moved.

‘Oh,’ thinks Ryan, and he swears that somewhere, in the back of his head, he can feels Shane’s recognition.
Shane smiles.

Oh.

 

-

 

So. Ryan has a hitchhiker called Shane. Shane, the guy that knows what he’s going to say before he says it, but can only do this - can only understand what he’s saying - when they’re holding hands. (OK, so not literal hand-holding. Shane does it a few more times, once on the shoulder, so he doubts it can only be done with his hands -- whatever it is.) He finds out that this is the only way Shane communicates the hard way.

An hour has passed since Ryan picked up Shane. They’re still on the same fucking road, though by now they’ve passed an isolated farmhouse or two. They’re getting close to a town, Ryan can feel it. He’s tired. Scratch that, he can feel the tiredness seep into his bones. Screw coffee, he needs plain old sleep. He needs a pillow under his head and a soft blanket...he needs to stop driving.

He glances over at Shane: he’s staring out of the window with rapt attention, like he might miss something. He does this despite the fact that it’s still dark out. Without his headlights, Ryan wouldn’t be able to see his hand in front of his face. It’s extremely late, or absurdly early, Ryan doesn’t know. Doesn’t care to know how long he’s been driving.

Shane says...something. The peak and dip in intonation towards the end of his speech implies a question, though it’s meaning is lost on Ryan.

He stifles a yawn before responding, ‘What? I don’t know what you’re saying.’

Shane reaches out, his expressive eyes asking what his words can’t. There’s a crease in his forehead, not quite a frown. Of concentration, perhaps. Or frustration. Ryan takes a hand off the wheel and meets Shane’s own.

‘I said, the sky’s getting lighter. Why is that?’

Ryan steals a glance out of Shane’s window. On the horizon, a sliver of lighter yellows and oranges are mingling with the deep blues of the night. Ryan guesses the sun will be up in about an hour. Shane won’t take his eyes off of the view.

‘It’s almost sunrise,’ he peeks at his watch and winces at the time. He yawns. God, he’s tired. ‘As soon as we find a place to stop, I’m going to sleep.’

‘Oh! Energy. You need to replenish energy.’

‘Yeah.’ And he felt so exhausted, he didn’t question how strange Shane’s choice of words sounded.

Chapter Text

Ryan considers himself both logical and open minded. He’s willing to admit that there are things in this world that he doesn’t understand. Things like ghosts, the Bermuda triangle, missing airplanes. He’s trying his best to think of why Shane is acting the way he is. This is not a normal hitchhiker encounter, not by any stretch of the imagination. No shady, black SUVs have come after them. So far.

He could also do without the forced physical contact, as small as it may be. He's not the type go on the defensive when another guy brushes past him, but come on. He hasn’t known Shane for long, and this kind of physical contact doesn't come easily to Ryan.

They’ve been sitting in silence for a while, which Ryan is happy about. He’s at the point of tiredness where concentrating on more than one thing is becoming a chore. This is undermined, of course, by something Shane does.

Shane scratches the back of his neck. He makes a show of it, craning his head forward and pulling down the collar of his shirt a little. Ryan looks over as he does it, and gets a good view of the guy's neck. Even Ryan will admit that that's a weird thing to say about a person. It doesn't matter, though. What he sees is numbers. Or letters. He's not sure. He swears he sees a hashtag at the beginning. (He hopes to God Shane isn't the basic white girl type.) Either way they're tattooed onto the back of the guy's neck. There's redness around the text, like it's a recent addition. He only gets a few seconds to stare at the thing before he remembers about the road. Priorities.

He shouldn't ask about it. Shane definitely has bigger things to explain than a weird tattoo. Ryan can think of a dozen other things he'd rather know about- should ask about, even. The last thing he wants is to piss of this weird stranger.

 

‘Hey, is your arm OK?’

A small part of him expects an immediate response. Instead, Shane puts his hand on Ryan’s shoulder.

‘What?’

‘Your arm. Is it bleeding?’

Shane looks at the offending limb. His eyes widen. ‘It shouldn’t be.’

Ryan rolls his eyes. ‘Well, yeah, no shit. Do you need a band-aid or something?’

‘Uh...no?'

‘Good. OK, that’s- that’s OK. I just- if you’re hurt you need to tell me, OK? I can try to help.’

Some of the tension leaves Shane’s shoulders, and he gives Ryan a look that he can’t quite pin down.‘OK.’

Good. It’s fine. This is fine.

-

It takes them an hour to find a town, and Ryan's never been so happy to see civilisation. He's flat out exhausted and wants nothing more than to get a solid eight hours of sleep. He thought, a few times, about pulling over to the side of the road and camping out. He got the feeling that Shane wouldn't appreciate that. Especially considering his insistence on high tailing it from...wherever it is he'd came from.

The town itself is tiny. There’s a few stores here and there, mostly mom-and-pop type places. Ryan spots a diner and at least two bars, which is good enough for him. When he spies a motel, it’s all the excuse he needs to settle down for the night - or morning. He’s tired and figures that Shane’s probably tired, too. During the drive, he rarely spoke unless spoken too.

The motel reception is a small room, built to look like a cabin. Shane's wearing Ryan's jacket. It's a little small, especially at the sleeves, but it makes him look a little more presentable. It's not like he could walk in all covered in dirt and dried blood.

Before going in, Ryan made it clear to Shane that the whole hand-holding thing wasn't going to work in there. Not if they wanted to be inconspicuous. He’d just have to...be quiet. Smile and nod, that sort of thing.

As they walk in, a bell goes off overhead. Shane jumps at the antiquated system.

'Good morning!' Says the woman at the counter. She smiles at them and waves. Shane copies her actions. It’s janky and rehearsed, like he learned how to greet people off of Wiki-How. How he’d greeted Ryan, he realises. Then, Shane spies a cork-board and immediately loses interest in the woman. It's covered in lost pet posters, outdated barbecue announcements, and local garage sales. Shane busies himself with the board.

Ryan walks over to the counter. 'Morning.'

'How can I help you?' Asks the woman. Her tone is chirpy without being saccharine. Ryan wonders how much coffee you need to be that eager this early. She has pink rinsed bob-cut., and is wearing a green cardigan with the sleeves rolled to the elbow. She has the kind of half-moon glasses Ryan has only even seen in movies. Her arm rests on a newspaper, giving the skin a grey tinge.

Her name tag says Maureen, and it's covered in tiny, scribbled stars.

'Uh, we're looking for a room?'

Ryan hashes out the details with her. He takes the first vacancy she mentions, a room with a double bed. He doesn't know how long they'll be staying there, and figures that he's paying. Somehow, he doubts Shane’s carrying cash or cards. He's not going to complain about the bed situation. He's spent more than a few nights sleeping in cars in back allies. He's not going to complain about bunking with a stranger.

He signs them in under pseudonyms, though only changed the surnames. Well, changed his surname.

‘Sir- uh, Ryan?’ Asks Maureen.

‘Uh, sorry, I zoned out. Did you say something?’

‘I asked how long you and your partner are in town for.’

'Partner? He almost baulks at the word before correcting himself. 'Oh, Shane.'

Ryan looks back at Shane. He's poking at one of those perforated tabs on a poster. Ryan can't tell if he's trying to pull it off, or if he's just bored.

'Oh, we're probably only staying for a few days. We wanted a bit of peace and quiet, you know?'

She gives him a look, like she’s just been proved right. 'You'll certainly get that here! We don't get a lot of visitors. Are you two doing anything fun?'

‘I hope so.’

‘Well, you’re welcome here. We get all sorts of folks in. They had a festival in the part last summer, you know.' She nods towards the cork board, and Ryan swears there’s a twinkle in her eye. It takes him a moment to find what she was hinting at: tucked away in the corner is a small flyer. Ryan can’t make out any text, but there’s no mistaking the rainbow flag.

‘Oh,’ he thinks.

As if sensing them, Shane turns around. He looks at Ryan, then smiles. Maureen grins.

Ryan clears his throat. ‘That- that’s nice.’ He isn’t offended or anything. He had signed them up for one bed, after all. And he isn’t the same idiot frat bro that crawled out of college. It had taken a lot of self-searching, but he had shaken off most of a lifetime of heteronormative thinking. He’d lived in L.A, for crying out loud. The whole 'no homo' attitude is pretty bullshit, and also pretty boring.

He's seen a lot of movies where the main male leads have real chemistry. Half the time it seems like they're half a second away from kissing one another. So if, some kind, middle-aged lady thinks he’s one half of a gay couple, he’s cool with it. He hopes Shane is too. Otherwise the situation will get real awkward real fast.

'Well, it's been nice meeting you, but right now I'd really like to go to sleep.’

-

When Ryan wakes up, the mid-day sun is shining through the blinds. He groans and tries to pull the sheets closer, only to meet resistance. He frowns, still out of if from sleep. He rolls over to get away from the sun, letting out a sigh.

He opens his eyes to see that he’s face-to-face with Shane, who’s staring right at him, unblinking.

Ryan flails in panic to get away, throwing off his side of the sheets in the process. The moment reminds him of a dozen horror different movies where the protagonist wakes up next to a ghost or zombie, or some shit. Shane isn’t any of those things (he’s pretty sure), so the hammering of his heart is a little (read: very) embarrassing. The covers land on Shane, who’s lying on his side. He’s now looking up at Ryan, still staring. Whatever Shane’s searching for in the other man, Ryan doubts he’ll find it. Ryan sits up and rubs at his eyes.

‘Jesus, dude.’

Shane puts his hand over Ryan’s.

‘Are you OK?’ Says Shane..

‘Yeah, I’m fine. You just- fuck, you scared me.’

‘I wanted to make sure that you’re OK,’ he frowns. ‘You weren't moving.'

‘Of course I wasn’t moving. I was asleep.’ He couldn’t have been out for that long. A few hours at the most.

‘You were so quiet. And still.’ There’s a glazed look to his eyes, and he looks away, gaze landing on the TV. His hand stays where it is. Concern washes over Ryan, along with a myriad of other emotions. Concern he knows isn’t his own, could only be Shane’s. He’s not going to pretend to know how or why this is happening. Accepting it earlier had felt easier. He had excuses: he was tired, it was late, Shane needed help. Whatever. That wouldn’t fly, now. He needed to know, to understand. Being able to analyse and assess a situation sits pretty high on his hierarchy of needs. If he can do those things, he might be able to help Shane.

'I'm sorry I scared you. It's just sleep, Shane. Nothing bad's gonna happen if I sleep. I promise.' For the sake of it, he tries to project calming thoughts at Shane. Getting in a zen mindset is an unnatural feeling for Ryan, who's so used to feeling like his brain is fried half the time. He's trying this new thing where he doesn't over analyse situations and instead let's things happen. This is probably how he ended up in a motel room with a stranger.

In spite of all logic, it works. He's never comforted someone through vibes alone, and it gives him an odd sense of accomplishment.

'I just- I wanted to make sure that...that...' Shane trails off, his nervous energy dissipating.

Ryan nods. 'I get it. (And he does.) It's unnecessary but I get it.' Whatever shock Shane is going through is making his brain do weird things, and he's OK with that. It's not like the guy tried to smother him with a pillow or anything.

They sit in amiable silence for a while. Ryan's hand is getting all sweaty, so he breaks their contact. He sits back against the headrest of the bed. Shane mirrors his movements. Ryan turns the TV up and he finds some nature documentary about marine life. Shane seems pretty invested, which gives Ryan time for his brain to wake up. He's going to need a lot more than a glorified nap to get back up to high gear. Like pancakes. A lot of pancakes.

Ryan thinks about Shane, of all of the bizarre things the man has done that Ryan has been rolling with so far. His desperation to run, the bizarre language barrier, his inability to give a normal greeting, the fucking sleep stare thing. Shane isn’t normal, that much is a given. Ryan feels he deserves to at least know why these things are happening.

He nudges his elbow against Shane's. Shane presses the edge of his knuckles against Ryan's bicep. ‘Shane, I need to know something.’

‘Need to know what?’

‘Look, I don't know what you need. But I want to. I want to help you, and to do that, I need to know what you’re running from.’

Shane’s reaction is physical. His shoulders tense and his head ducks down a fraction. His gaze shifts to the ground. Ryan takes in the minute details of the man in front of him. The faint but abrupt intake of breath, the twitch of his fingers, he sees these things and they fill him with guilt.

‘Shane, I need you to tell me. I want to help you, but I can’t do that if you’re not honest with me.’ Ryan feels the guilt writhe and intensify in his gut. He can hear the tone of his voice shifting into formality, the precision of the words. It’s an old, well worn habit. Great for his old line of work, awful for coaxing odd strangers. There’s a fine line between analysing information and dissecting it.

‘And if I do tell you?’

‘Then I’ll try my best to help you. But I have my limits, and I won’t make a promise I won’t keep.’

Shane contemplates this. ‘I’m...I’m running from people who- they figured out how I communicate, the things that I can do that...that they can’t. Things that...things that humans can’t do.’ Shane’s eyes bore into Ryan’s. It wouldn’t take a genius to see that Shane isn’t big on emotional displays. Right now, he’s completely serious. There’s a sincerity about him that confirms what Ryan already knew -- Shane is being open and truthful. In this moment, he trusts Ryan.

‘So you’re...not a human.’

‘No.’

‘So if you’re not human then-’

‘Just say it,’ Ryan thinks. He can’t.

‘Then, to you, I’m an alien,’ finishes Shane. It’s simple. Matter of fact.

‘Oh. Huh.You're an alien.’

‘You’re taking this well?’

Shane’s right. This should be a gut punch kind of revelation. Ryan should be losing his goddamn mind. He should be jumping up and down or celebrating or something. His brain is moving at the pace of a snail, and the information he wants to process isn’t getting through. Shane is an alien. It’s an objective fact. And yet he can’t- fuck, he feels like he’s floating.

'You're an alien,' Ryan repeats.

'Yes. Do you not believe me?'

‘Oh, I believe you.’ He laughs and runs a hand through his hair. He can feel himself going lightheaded. ‘So the people you’re running from. They knew.’ (The people are still 'they' for now. He’s getting some strong Stranger Things vibes and the conspiracy theorist in him is going nuts. Half of him wants to pin the whole thing on the government.)

‘Yeah. They found me and took me to a facility. This isn’t how I usually look,’ he gestures at his gangly self. ‘I can change how I look, if I want. I thought that if I looked like them they wouldn't be scared.'

Ryan outs his head in his palm. That Shane would even think to do that- to comfort complete strangers. He can't articulate what he wants to say beyond, 'oh fuck,' or 'fuck those guys.' Ryan’s seen enough first encounter movies to know where this is going.

‘They-they never stopped trying to figure it out. Figure out how I- fit together.'

'So they were scientists?'

'I guess. The scientists, they thought I was naive, that I didn't know what was going on.'

‘So you got the fuck out of there,' finishes Ryan. Away from those shitty, shitty scientists. A thought dawns on him. 'When I picked you up, how far were you from the facility?'

'I don't know, I just kept on going. I kept on changing so they wouldn't be able to find me.'

'So they wouldn't recognise you know?'

'No.'

'Good. That's- that's good.'

Ryan should have figured that aliens don’t look like lanky white guys. He has to question why an extraterrestrial being would want to have legs that long and eyes that droopy.

'And now I'm here.'

'We should both get some food. I need- fuck, dude, I need time to mull this shit over.'

Shane hums. 'So you're not afraid?'

'Of you? Fuck no. This is pretty exciting actually.' Shane is possibly the least threatening person he's ever met. There's no fight in the guy.

'There's somewhere I need to go, but I have no way of getting there myself. Ryan, I'm just running.'

The implication isn't lost on Ryan. He knows, honestly that he can't leave Shane by himself. If he doesn't get hit by a car, he'll wind up at the hands of some other malicious group. If he left the guy now, he'd never forgive himself, for a number of reasons.

He thinks about the tattoo, how an alien would get such a thing and why.

He smiles, his eyes full of warmth. 'Well, then, I guess we're both on the run. Together.'

(An alien and a human walk into a diner. There’s no punchline, Ryan’s just very excited. He’s giddy.)

Chapter Text

Ryan stares at the bottle of Sriracha in his hand. The flying goose logo stares back at him. He looks over at Shane, who’s standing in the freezer section, palm pressed against an icy door. He wipes away the condensation, then inspects the sheen it leaves on his hand. No one else is around, and the cashier is busy reading a newspaper, so Ryan leaves him be. If the alien wants to hang about between the ice cream and frozen vegetables, then he can. Ryan contemplates putting the hot sauce back: Ryan doesn't want to judge, but Shane seems like the kind of guy that can't handle spice. At all. He doesn't want to freak him out over food or anything. What would an alien even eat?

Shane seems to get the concept of ‘don’t open shit or take shit we haven’t paid for’. Right before they went in he informed Ryan that he’d mastered the experience of shopping (not his words), and that he’d only been thrown out of one once before. Needless to say, he didn’t fill Ryan with confidence. The supermarket is a decent size, and is, as far as he can tell, the only one in town. If he gets thrown out of the only place that sells hot sauce for miles around, he’s not above making Shane walk to get more.

Ryan turns the corner into the next isle and finds a basic homeware section. Ryan’s grateful that the store sells plates and cutlery because he had zero alternative plans. The plates are made of flimsy paper and the knives and forks are plastic, but it’s the thought that counts.

Ryan's limited himself to a single basket. If he got a cart then he'd end up buying too much, guaranteed. He's focusing his efforts on finding non-perishable foods. Things that'll survive being in the trunk of his car for days or weeks- however long this all lasts. Even before he picked up Shane, Ryan had only a basic idea of what he'd do once he found somewhere to stay. He's more or less winging the whole thing, which should not be how travel works. Ryan likes to consider himself a master of ‘fake it ‘till you make it’.

In first encounter movies, the characters are always on the move. They’re always either shooting up aliens, or the aliens are chasing them. There’s always some bumbling white guy who rises up to become the masculine action hero the movie needs. Ryan isn’t that guy. If someone handed him a gun or a phaser he’d drop it. If anything resembling a xenomorph ran at him he’d be dead in a heartbeat.

Shane is the antithesis of hostile. He's a chill as hell dude who also happens to be an alien. Ryan's stomach flips whenever he thinks of that fact. He'd managed to pick up an alien off the side of the road. You know, as you do.

He hears Shane make a disgruntled noise. He peeks his head around the corner. Shane has his entire forearm in the freezer. He’s wincing at the biting cold. As far as Ryan can see, he's reaching for a tub of ice cream. Ryan drops the Sriracha in the basket.

His fingers make contact with the tub - chocolate - and he looks triumphant. The second he fishes the tub out he fumbles with it. It slips out of his damp hands and hits the ground. It rolls down the aisle towards Ryan. Shane offers him a sheepish grin.

Yeah, Ryan thinks he's safe from hostile alien forces.

 

In broad daylight, after a shower and a change of clothes, Shane looks a lot more presentable. He’s wearing one of Ryan’s shirts, which is a snug fit. The blood on his arm is gone, and Ryan thought wearing a short-sleeve would reveal some kind of cut, yet the flesh of Shane’s arm is as pale and smooth as the rest of him. Ryan’s a little glad, at least, that he doesn’t have to bust out his first aid kit.

Every now and again Ryan will catch Shane inspecting something - a foodstuff or a street sign - as if for the first time. It hits Ryan, every single time, that Shane could very well be seeing those things for the first time. He doesn’t vocalise a lot of his thoughts, so Ryan has no way of knowing which things are brand new and which he happens to be taking a weird, renewed interest in.

He’s a tourist, Ryan realises. A cosmic tourist. Ryan can’t pretend to know what it’s like to experience everything brand new while pretending to be a regular citizen. He can, however, relate to being a tourist in a foreign country. When he thinks of it that way - as Shane as a guy with some serious cultural differences - the situation almost feels normal.

This train of thought ends when Shane almost walk in front of a car.

They’re waiting at a traffic light for the lights to change. Considering the time of day, the roads are busy. They’re on the main road into town, so every now and again a car shoots past. Ryan’s pretty sure he’s seen a few driving over the limit. He’s glancing down at his receipt - memorising the prices of things like bread - so he’s distracted when Shane steps out. It happens in a second. The shift from green to yellow, and Ryan can hear the rush of wind as a car barrels towards them with no intent of slowing down. He drops his grocery bags, resulting in a loud crack as glass shatters on the sidewalk. He reaches out and grabs Shane by the collar, yanking him out of the way just as the car goes past in a blur. Shane makes an undignified yelp as he’s hauled back, and the driver blares their horn at the two. Shane drops his bag too. The contents spills out. The stupid ice cream tub rolls out, stopping at Ryan’s shoe.

Ryan squares up to the taller man. He has to crane his neck to make eye contact. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Ryan blurts. It’s rude and sharp but he doesn’t fucking care.

Shane stares at him, shocked and silent.

'You can't- fuck, Shane, you can't just walk out like that. It's fucking dangerous.'

God, this must how be his mom felt when he was a kid. Teaching him not to do dangerous and stupid shit, shit never thought he'd have to explain to an adult man. A human man, he realises. Why would Shane know what the colours on a traffic light signify? Why would he even know what traffic lights are?

Ryan can feel a bundle of emotions, all tangled up and confused. As quick as it came, the shock of adrenaline that made him snap into action is dissipating. Ryan can feel his face heating up. He's clenching his fists, though he's not angry. Well, he is a little. It's more like concerned anger, the kind felt after witnessing something reckless. Shane isn't reckless, it doesn't take a genius to realise that.

'I'm sorry,' says Shane. And he means it. Shane's hit with guilt, and his own form of adrenaline-laced fear. If the blush on his cheeks in anything to go by then he's more embarrassed than scared. He looks away from Ryan and focuses on the spilt food at his feet.

'Just be careful. I can't help you if you're-' he cuts himself off. The whole thing reminds him too much of his and Shane's first encounter. He doesn't want to think about how different the situation would be if he'd reacted a little differently to a man in the road. If, if, if. He tries to push those thoughts down. It's all too easy for him to get lost in a maze of hypothetical, anxiety fuelled scenarios. These thoughts seem plausible at the time, though in retrospect are almost always irrational. Ryan doesn't think that it's irrational for him to be so scared right now.

Shane crouches down and starts to pick up their groceries. He keeps his head down, eyes laser focused on the objects he's picking up and storing away.

Ryan feels a pang of guilt. The poor bastard has no idea what's happening, does he? He's doing better than Ryan ever would, if their role were reversed. And here Ryan is, screaming at him like an angry dad. Ryan wants to comfort him, to reach out and-

It hits him: they're not touching. They're talking and there's no physical connection. He's projecting everything he's feeling onto the big guy, who's doing a decent job of keeping his own emotions reigned in. He knows he spoke aloud. Both of them did. Fuck.

Ryan crouches down and reaches for the broken jar. It's a clean break, one jagged piece, bleeding pasta sauce onto the pavement. Ryan fetches out the jar and throws it in a trash can. (He liked that brand.)

Shane looks up at him, a glint of recognition in his eyes.

Ryan gives away the faintest smile.

 

-

 

There’s...something happening in Ryan’s brain. A thread, a thrum of energy every time he looks at the Shane. Everything feels a little disorienting, like he's wandering around in a dream. Or that he's over caffeinated.

They don't talk about...it. Not at first. Shane's waiting for Ryan to say something, to react. And yeah, Ryan knows he should. But he doesn't want to have the 'You're probably telepathic that's so fucking cool???' talk in public. Not while he's hauling bread and toilet paper down the street. He tries not to think about it, because Shane's thoughts are right there. He trusts Shane not to go snooping around in his brain, but still. He doesn't trust himself not to think of something monumentally stupid.

When they get back to the motel, Ryan tells Shane to go back to the room. Even uttering the words feels weird. He's speaking in two separate voices, one of which would sound incomprehensible to him. If Shane can understand him, then there has to be some kind of filter on what he’s saying.

He heads to his car and unloads his shopping into the trunk by himself. It’ll only take a few minutes tops, but he wants this little moment to himself.

When Shane gets far enough away, Ryan feels the invisible connection between them cut out. It's as simple as a switch being flipped in his brain. He doesn’t know if he prefers having his mind to himself.

He focuses on packing shit away, just to give his brain something to focus on. He's bought mostly canned goods, dried foods and bottled water. Things that won't spoil He feels like a terrible Survivalist prepper. He doesn’t know what scenario his foodstuffs would be useful in. A suburban blackout, maybe. Or a hurricane.

When he's done, he goes to close the trunk before hesitating. He reaches back in and pushes some things aside. He finds a section in the material that's cut open and pulls it back. He keeps a few things there, in the layer between the trunk and the body of the car. Hidden away from prying eyes. He takes out his phone - a shitty burner - and his charger.

Ryan’s no sci-fi/action hero. Both he and Shane are the kind of guy who’d die first in a horror movie. But he is the king of being over-prepared. Yeah, maybe it is a good idea for them to stick together.

 

-

 

When he gets back to the room, he doesn’t know if he should tap Shane on the shoulder or mentally yell for him or what.

He’s standing by the blinds, pulling the drawstring over and over. The lights are off, so every time he pulls them shut the room goes dark.

The remaining groceries he left Shane in charge of are on the room’s small desk. They’re organised by size, with no regard for category, so there’s a packet of toothbrushes in-between an energy bar and that fucking tub of ice cream. It’s the kind of thing Ryan would do to keep himself preoccupied -- which is why he did it, he realises.

They’re doing all of this ass-backwards.

Ryan turns on the light, causing Shane to jump. The blinds stay closed.

‘We need to talk about- about this. About what happened out there.’

Shane’s expression stays neutral. He remains where he is, on the exact opposite side of the room to Ryan. And he can feel a shift as the connection returns. He can feel intent, the nonverbal request for permission. Ryan doesn’t know how to convey his own assent. Not in a way that doesn’t involve words, at least. He tries anyway, focusing on his own feeling of relief. He wants Shane to feel comfortable; to feel safe and not like he's being cornered.

‘I- look, I’m not mad or anything. I just want to know how I could hear you. Understand you.’ Ryan moves further into the room, giving Shane plenty of space. ‘Can you understand what I’m saying right now?’

Shane waits a few moment before responding, 'Yes. I can.'

Ryan sees Shane's lips move, but also hears his voice in his head. It’s almost enough to make his head spin. He sits on the edge of the bed. He

‘Why when we were out there? Why now?’

‘Because I can trust you. You want to protect me.’

And Ryan has nothing to say to that. Ryan likes to think that he has an answer to everything. Perhaps not the right answer, but he always has some comment up his sleeve, a comeback he can throw out. He likes explanations that he can wrap his mind around. He has a constant need to know why: why this, why that. (It’s the kind of attitude that infuriated the adults around him when he was a kid.) But right now? He's got nothing.

He stutters out a response. ‘I-It’s the, uh, right thing to do.’

Shane’s eyes soften. He tilts his head to the side. ‘Is that all there is to it?’

‘What do you mean? Can’t I just do something selfless?’

‘I mean is this all just for me? To help me?’

The implication isn't lost on him. ‘I don't know what you want me to say. Look, I don’t want your enduring memory of humanity to be that we’re all malevolent fucks. I mean, yeah, sure, a lot of us can be dicks.’
Shane makes a noise somewhere between laughter and mirth.

‘I don’t have an ulterior motive here,’ he continues. ‘I mean, I wanna know more about you. Believe it or not, you’re interesting as fuck. I have, like, a thousand questions. But that’s- I’m not gonna ask you to do something that makes you uncomfortable. If you wanna share then that’s great, but if you don’t then I won’t push it.’

‘For what it’s worth, I trust you because you’re honest. You’re very genuine, Ryan.’

He can feel the tips of his ears heat up. He guesses that’s really all there is to it.

 

-

 

Ryan’s phone is on the desk, charging. Every now and again he glances over at it, even though he knows he won’t have any notifications. Going off the grid, digitally speaking, is meant to be good for you, help you concentrate better and appreciate life more and all that shit. He’s starting to think that turning it back on was a bad decision.

Shane's attempting to eat his precious chocolate ice cream with a plastic spoon. His efforts to warm up the tub in his giant hands are slow going, but he seems content.
He bought them a shitty, grocery store sandwich each, so at least they won't go hungry. They really need to scope out a diner.

Ryan skips through the channels. Every channel he finds is on an ad break. He settles on one running ads for schlocky, low-budget sci-fi shows.

The ads end, and the logo for a movie studio plays. Well, at least he timed it right. The screen goes dark and stay that way for a while. The TV doesn't have a reflection, so it must be part of the movie (he hates that kind of thing).

White text fades in, and he grins.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

He laughs and Shane looks at him, puzzled.

'Dude, have you seen this movie?'

Shane looks a little irked. 'No? Why would I?'

Dumb question. 'Shit, sorry. It's- look, this movie is mandatory viewing for you, OK? This is, like, the quintessential first contact movie.'

'First contact?'

''It's like, uh, humans meeting aliens for the first time? It's a pretty popular concept in science fiction. This is one of the earlier versions of that. Wait, hang on,' he hops off the bed and turns the lights off. 'Gotta have the right movie atmosphere.' He insists.

Shane looks around, confused. 'The air is fine.'

'Shh.'

Ryan eats his terrible sandwich. Shane is going to town with the ice cream. Ryan doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth himself, and he’s feeling nauseous just looking at the guy.

Onscreen, Americans and Mexicans stand in a desert, arguing with the French. Ryan has to shush Shane a few times for crinkling the plastic sandwich container.

Shane doesn't have as many questions about the movie as Ryan would have expected. He doesn't have many questions, period. It's a little infuriating. It's hard to tell what he's thinking. His eyes are definitely focused on the screen. He's not one of those pushy movie buffs that insists on everyone loving certain movies...but come on. Is it too much to ask for an actual alien to like a classic sci-fi movie? It's like the start of a joke.

Shane moves across the bed towards Ryan.

He stage-whispers, 'I have no idea what they're saying.'

And yeah, that makes sense. Ryan's not going to pretend to know how this whole translation thing works, but a link not working on a prerecorded movie, especially an old one? That sounds about right. Without looking away from the screen, he reaches over and places his hand on Shane's knee. Ryan's own knees are tucked comfortably under his chin. They're at the foot of the bed, so with no backrest he's slouched over.

Close Encounters is full of long, quiet scene of people standing around in silent, contemplative awe, so he gives Shane a few minutes to adjust. Then, he asks, 'Is it working?'

Shane hums. 'I think so. It's hard to follow what they're saying. It's all so jumbled.'

Onscreen, Roy argues with his wife while their kids make a racket. It's loud and claustrophobic, and makes Ryan feel on edge.

'No, see, that's the point. It's all about communication- or failing to communicate, I guess. Like, in the first scene, everyone's arguing because they're confused. And they're confused because they all speak different languages.

(Well, to be more specific, they're confused because there's a series of World War Two era fighter planes parked in the middle of the desert, but Shane doesn't need to know that.)

'What do you mean, different languages?'

'Well, the Americans are speaking English, and the Mexicans are speaking Spanish. They're all stuck because of that language barrier. Then Claude shows up, right? He's French and speaks, uh, French. But he also speaks English. He kind of helps to bridge the gap?'

'Why don't- why are they all speaking different languages?'

'Because they're from different places.'

'But they're all human.'

'Yeah?'

Shane's quiet for a while, a slight frown on his face indicating his concentration. Ryan can practically hear the cogs turning in his head.

'How many languages can humans speak?'

'Fuck, uh, it depends. Most can only speak one, maybe two. I'm fluent in English - that's what we're speaking - and I can speak a little Spanish. I can understand more than I can speak, though. It's rare, but some people can speak three or more languages. There's a few common languages, but worldwide there's, I don't know, at least a few thousand.'

Shane stares, wide-eyed. 'Oh my.'

Ryan snorts. 'Yeah. We're kind of a mess.'

'So...Americans and Mexicans. What did you mean by that?'

'OK, so they're nationalities...'

Ryan proceeds to explain the concept of nationality, and the movie starts to fall into the background. He doesn't dwell on the concept for too long. He wants Shane to watch this movie, even if it kills him. On the plus side, the movie is over two hours long, so they don't miss much in their discussion.

They sit and talk through the film. There are a few scenes that Ryan insists on going uninterrupted by conversation, notably the ending. Shane seems less into the idea of the film and more into Ryan’s enthusiasm. A little like how non-sports fans treat sports fans. There’s something about the communication with the UFO that gets to him. The weird synth music, the even weirder light show, the collective triumph of the scientists. He loves every part of it.

At some point he lies on his stomach. His hand keeps on slipping off of Shane’s knee as he gets more comfortable. When it happens one too many time, Shane goes ahead and puts a hand between Ryan’s shoulder blades. This is how he finds himself caught off-guard. It’s nice. He can’t find a comfortable position for his head that doesn’t make his neck ache; his solution is to lean it against Shane’s leg. Shane responds by gently scratching at the nape of his neck, so he must be doing something right.

Chapter Text

Like everything else in the town of Greenville, the library is small. Cosy. Quiet. Libraries remind Ryan of childhood; of afternoons spent sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle at storytime. He remembers taking out book after book, reading them as fast as he could get his tiny hands on them. He remembers reading about magic and warriors and space and ghosts and...he can’t remember the last time he stepped into one as an adult. His library card, if he still has one, doesn’t cover Northern California anyway. He can’t see any kids in here -- there’s barely a children’s section. Poor bastards.

He’s sitting on a vinyl couch. Every move he makes is met with a groan of protest from the worn out fabric. The table in front of him is covered in maps: road maps; hiking trail route maps; routes through Oregon and further north. He got them from a display rack titled What to Do. The number of maps outweighed the number of pamphlets advertising local events. It’s a little sad, but he isn’t surprised. It’s a very passive aggressive way of telling people who patronise the place that they should leave - go and find a place with more (better) things to do.

‘Shane,’ he calls- thinks, rather. Is it possible to project your voice as a thought? ‘Shane, get over here.’ It comes to him easily: all he needs to do is will the thought and it happens - a little like sending a text message.

He looks around. There’s a few other people in there, all of whom remain dead quiet. Shane is...around. Their mental connection is open, and Ryan keeps on getting weird, sensory thoughts sent his way. Mostly of book textures. Shane won’t stop smelling the books. Ryan doesn’t know if Shane can understand written language this way - through the connection - but he hasn’t gotten any complaints yet.

‘I cant,’ Shane replies. ‘I’m stuck.’

That’s...not the response he was expecting. ‘Where and how?’

Ryan sees a vision that isn’t his. It’s Shane, in a bean bag chair, surrounded by books. He’s half-sitting, half-lying down. His knees are level with his eye-line. Every time he moves he only succeeds in sinking further into the chair. He looks up and sees a placard reading ‘CRIME’.

‘I can’t get up. Help?’ Shane tries.

Ryan snorts out a laugh. He clamps a hand over his mouth, stifling the sound. No one bats an eyelid at him, anyway, though he can feel Shane’s irritation.

‘I heard that. Stop making weird human noises and help me.’

Seeing an image through someone else’s eyes is pretty disorienting, and Ryan’s head spins a little. He stumbles to his feet, setting off to free Shane from his comfortable, bean bag prison.

So. Maps. Ryan’s charting potential journeys through the North of the state and into Oregon and beyond. He doesn’t want to finalise anything without Shane around. This is going to be his journey, too. He says as much to Shane, after showing him the maps.

‘If we stick to the west side of Oregon and really worked at it, we could be in Portland in a few days.’

Shane traces the route with an index finger. He hums in thought. He’s holding a thick hard back, drumming his fingers quietly along the spine.

‘We don’t have to go to Portland,’ adds Ryan. ‘There’s plenty of other places along the way.’

Preparing for the likely scenario of Shane coming with him, Ryan has tasked himself with an impossible conundrum: where do you hide and alien? Do you take him somewhere quiet and peaceful, or somewhere busy and heterogenous? Ryan knows that Shane’s knowledge of North American geography has to be nonexistent, but he’s determined to involve him in the decision making process.

Shane cocks his head to the side. ‘Am I coming with you?’

They’re back to handholding. They’re close enough for say, their arms or legs to be touching, but both went for the others hand as they sat down. The couch is low to the ground (though not as low as the bean bag), so Shane’s knees stick up a little.

‘Well, yeah. I thought we were clear on that. You said you needed to get somewhere, right?’

‘I did but- if-I don’t want to get in the way.’

Ryan stares at him. ‘OK, first off, even if I did need to get somewhere urgently, I wouldn’t just kick you to the curb. Second, I promised that I’d help you, Shane- that I’d keep you safe. You’re not getting in the way of anything, trust me. I barely even know what I’m doing.’ He runs a hand through his hair. It’s true. He’s winging it pretty hard at this point. ‘What about- what about you, Shane?’

‘What about me?’

‘Is there somewhere you need to be?’

‘I-I need to…’ He stares off into space, again. He gets a look about him - the same as when Ryan first found him -- the look of someone with no direction to go in. Not just confused or scared- completely lost.

He squeezes Shane’s hand. ‘Shane..?’

Shane scratches at the back of his neck with his free hand.

‘I need to find someone.’

‘And this someone…’

‘She was the only one I could trust. She helped me escape.’

Could trust. The phrasing isn’t lost on him. ‘So, you want to find her?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you know where she is?’

‘She-no. She got me out but we couldn’t-’ his voice grows quiet. ‘We were separated.’

‘Do you have any idea where she might be? What she would’ve done?’

Ryan can feel himself slipping back into his old role - one of a trusting confidant. It scares him a little, how fast it happens. It’s more of a mindset, really, a tool he used as a means to an end. Right now, he needs to be asking the right kinds of questions. To glean imperative information from what he’s hearing, that was his job- his purpose. And he was fucking good at it.

Shane reaches into the pocket of his jeans. He pulls out a small card - a business card, from the looks of it. ‘She gave me this.’

Ryan takes it. It reads:

 

Sara Rubin
Research and Development
Vista Dynamics

 

The card is thin and crumpled at the edges. The card has an email and a number. The former is a regular Gmail account, as opposed to a company handle. On the back, there’s a phone number, printed, with a red pen, in neat handwriting. An arrow points from the number to that name: Sara.

 

-

 

A few minutes later they’re on a library computer, with a Chrome Incognito tab - or three - open. The screen shows the sleek, corporate website of Vista Dynamics. The About page claims they’re some kind of pharmaceutical company. There’s a lot of talk about the betterment of humanity and the power of genetics, and Ryan’s starting to feel sick. As far as he’s concerned, they can fuck right off. At the very bottom it says, a subsidiary of the United States government.

‘I fucking knew it,’ thinks Ryan, though this is the one time he wished he didn’t know. A faceless corporation in the business of stealing extraterrestrial visitors is one thing, but one owned and controlled by the most powerful government on the planet? He’s more than a little fucked. The government could make the two of them disappear without a trace. It thrills him a little, to think that the Men in Black could swoop in at any minute.

‘How long were you,’ Ryan lowers his voice, ‘On Earth before they found you?’

‘Not long. At least, I think it wasn’t a long time.’

‘And Sara?’

‘It was her job to observe me - which is pretty fitting.’ He makes a noise of amusement.

‘What?’

‘That’s what I’m meant to do.’

‘What, observe?’

‘Observe Earth’s inhabitants. I’m doing a terrible job of it.’

Ryan snorts. ‘You could have fooled me. You literally never ask questions about anything.’

‘And you ask so many.’

‘I- shut up.’ He gently punches Shane’s arm, smiling.

 

-

 

‘Why do you never ask questions?’

They’re in a diner. Ryan’s ordered two stacks of pancakes. He has a notebook - taken from the trunk of his car - and his phone. He has no new messages or voicemails, but then again, he wasn’t expecting any. He takes a note of Sara’s number, then starts flipping through his contacts. He needs to find a number he hasn’t even had to think about in several years. He finds it jotted down on one of the middle pages, labelled ‘Worst Case Scenario’.

‘It’s not how I was taught to observe. I’ve never been to a planet like this. One with this level of intelligent life.’ Shane’s watching the steam rise from his cup of coffee.

‘I’m taking that as a compliment,’ jokes Ryan. ‘So what, you’ve been looking at barren landscapes?’

‘Something like that. I’ve seen life, but it was mostly microscopic bacteria. And you can’t really ask bacteria about their culture. It was a little boring.'

Ryan can't conceive of the idea of alien life - no matter how minute - being boring.

‘I liked them. They were simple. Humans are so complicated and unpredictable.’

‘Again, that’s a compliment. I’d hate to think the rest of the universe thought Earth was boring.’

‘Are on you, like, a science mission, or something?’

Shane takes a long sip of his coffee. A crease forms on his brow as he thinks. ‘It’s more complicated than that. We were sent here-’

‘Wait, we?’

‘The crew- was sent here to observe flora and fauna.’

Ryan's stomach does a flip on the word 'crew'. It makes it all the more real. He immediately thinks of Star Trek, of standing on the bridge and beaming down to planets...he can't even fathom what they look like. What Shane really looks like, he realises.

‘I guess that makes me part of the local fauna. Heh, is that why you were watching me sleep? Were you observing me then? Getting sneaky, convert intel.’ He’s teasing, but Shane takes him seriously.

‘Ryan, I’d never do that to you. I’d never treat you like that.’

Ryan’s next words die in his throat. There’s a severity to his tone; a desperation for something that Ryan can’t name.

Something is being lost in translation, and Ryan’s too scared to ask what that is. Shane has a...thing about sleep, Ryan gets that much. Shane’s been trooping on for long enough on zero hours of sleep for Ryan to know that he doesn’t need to do it. There’s something else there, though: an underlying thought that he won’t let Ryan see. The human feels a part of it, the feeling that he’s being observed, even though there’s no one else around. The parking lot outside is empty, the diner is empty. It’s fine. They’re fine. And yet it’s like there’s a dozen sets of eyes watching, analysing.

Ryan takes a sip of his coffee, then just keeps on going. His throat burns as he chugs the drink, but it means not having to talk. Because how the fuck does he follow that up? With an apology, probably.

If Shane is perturbed by the conversation, then he doesn’t show it. He continues, ‘Ryan, I’m not meant to be here.

Ryan puts down his notebook. ‘On Earth? Why? What happened?’

Across the diner, a door opens, and a waitress enters with their food. As she walks over, Shane says- thinks, ‘I was meant to stay in orbit.’

Hearing someone speak out loud while also projecting their speech into your brain is it’s own brand of weird. Hearing someone’s thoughts, clear as day in your own mind, while they don’t so much as open their mouth is somehow even weirder.

Ryan thanks the waitress and Shane, awkwardly, follows suit. He stumbles over the word ‘thanks’, the word tumbling out of his mouth. The waitress doesn’t bat an eyelid.

‘Oh,’ thinks Ryan. It’s all he can think to say. Literally. He immediately coats his pancakes in syrup. He tries not to think too much about what all of this caffeine and sugar is doing to his body. His hands haven’t started shaking yet. So far so good.

‘The scans we- the crew, I mean- took showed that the atmosphere is breathable. And, well, I wanted to see what it was like. It was a once in a lifetime type chance.’

‘Oh,’ ‘ thinks Ryan. ‘‘Oh fuck, Shane. You’re stuck.’

'Sort of. The ship is still up there. I can get back, it just won’t be easy.’

‘How has it not been spotted? We’ve got satellites and shit up there. How has no one from the International Space Station noticed a bunch of nerd scientists hanging around?’

Shane quirks an eyebrow. ‘The ship’s got a cloaking device,’ He says, as if that explains everything.

'Do you have a frame of reference for how long you've been down here?'

'It's been...a while.'

‘Do you miss them?’

‘The crew? Yeah. There’s only a few of us and I know most of them personally.’

‘Must be nice.’

Ryan feels a twinge of longing in the pit of his own stomach. To have a group of people - friend and colleagues - cared for your well being, missed you, who wanted you back home and safe...he’d give anything to have that sense of security.

‘Ryan?’

God, Shane’s not even speaking and his tone is still soft. Ryan doesn’t like dealing with his own emotions at the best of times, never mind having someone else experience them too. His gut feels likes it’s twisted into knots.

Shane reaches out and takes Ryan’s hand, turning it so his palm faces upwards. He runs the pad of his thumb over Ryan’s palm in a circular motion.

It’s...nice. It’s soothing.

Ryan doesn’t say anything. He finds that he doesn’t need to.

He picks his notebook up and flips it open to a fresh page.

‘OK, if we’re gonna travel together then you’re gonna need a fake ID. If we get stopped by the police or whoever and you don’t have identification? It’s game over.’

‘How do I get one?’

Ryan waves a hand. ‘Don’t worry about it. I know a guy. I can get it here in, like, two days, tops.’

He scribbles down a few notes. Because he can, he doodles a UFO by Shane’s name. It’s a silly little thing, but it fills him with a sense of childlike glee.

‘OK so. Fake ID. Then Sara? Then we get you back into space. You do want to find Sara, right?’

‘She’d want to know that I’m safe.’

And there's that feeling again. Last week he believed there's life out there, if only humans could find it. And now he's planning a road trip with an alien, and one he barely knows, at that. If Shane asked him to move Heaven and Earth, he'd find a way to do it. Ryan couldn't say no to Shane if he tried.

Chapter Text

i kind of hate when writer's leave notes like this, so here i am being a hypocrite.

i've mention in the notes of other chapters that i've got a lot going on in terms of work for university. as much as i love writing - both this fic and in general - i need to prioritise my actual responsibilities. essays on homer's epics don't write themselves. also, i really need to work on planning out the rest of this fic. i'm an idiot with a noodle brain and i didn't come up with a strong enough plan for the whole story. you'd think that, as a writing student, i'd know better.

i'm going to look over the chapters i've written so far. i might edit them, i might not. i'll definitely announce where i have and haven't. i'm not sure when i'll be back in black, but i really want to see this thing through. i'm sorry i can't be specific.

also i've been struggling a with my anxiety lately. i'm ok! i promise. it's just that anxiety can make the smallest thing seem like the end of the world. it sucks and can make life hard, but i'm managing. if you'd like to leave a little positive comment down below then feel free to. (you're absolutely not obligated, though.)

in the mean time, go and check out the fic your heart is as black, by LittleGhostAntenna. they didn't ask me to recommend it, i just really like it. the archive warning can make it seem like a squick, but it's there as a precaution. i'm a complete wimp who doesn't like seeing The Boys™ in peril and even i love it. it's one of my favourite fics written for this fandom. i don't know how to properly link on this site so there'll be a link in the notes (someone please teach me).