I'll never let you go
If you promise not to fade away
(Muse - Starlight)
The words hung heavy in the air.
Yeah, kill him. Do your worst, I don’t care.
There was dust, and there were cobwebs, and there were the three of them. The building looked anything but safe—the wood looked rotten, and the ceiling could barely keep the moonlight out. One thing was true: it gave them the perfect atmosphere for the episode.
The words were still there, lost to the silence.
Ryan was smiling, lips pressed shut. His eyes were big and glassy as they usually were in places like this, but he hadn’t looked like the scared little boy for a long time. He looked relaxed, shoulders at ease, most of his weight on one leg. Shane was looking around, holding the camera with a steady hand.
It happened so fast. One moment, they were there, standing in a semi circle, waiting.
Ryan regretted it with such intensity, he felt sick. He could hear Mark nearby, talking on the phone, agitated as Ryan had never seen him. There was pain in his chest that he knew wasn’t from the dust he was currently inhaling with heavy gulps; if he looked down and saw Shane’s arm stuck underneath that block of concrete, he could feel his stomach lurching.
“Stay with me,” he was chanting, holding Shane’s free hand. He pushed the hair out of his forehead, feeling it cold, smearing it with dust and sweat. “Shane, please, don’t—Don’t you fucking dare close your eyes, please…”
“I don’t think I’m dying,” was what Shane said. But his voice was thin, a smidge of what it had been not two minutes before. “D-Don’t worry.”
Ryan had to press his lips shut to fight back tears. He never cried. Not in front of Shane, not in front of anyone, and he didn’t want to scare Shane even further, not when they were alone in an empty building that was probably about to collapse. But it was hard not to. The faint light coming from Ryan’s flashlight gave everything a fantasmagoric tone that he didn’t appreciate now. Moonlight was filtering through the dust that still hadn’t settled around them. How could he have been so stupid?
“I’m so sorry,” he said again, and didn’t even realize his voice was cracking. “I’m sorry, Shane, I’m so sorry, I didn’t—I never meant that, I don’t want them to kill you, I never did, I shouldn’t—”
“Hey, hey,” Shane gave him a tiny, pained smile. “It’s ok, this wasn’t your fault.”
“How can you say that?” Ryan cried out, and he sounded pained, too, even though he had nothing but shallow scratches. “Of course it was my fault—”
“Ryan!” Mark was back, and his own flashlight looked like a beacon in the darkness behind them. “Come on, we gotta get out. Help’s on the way—”
“No! I’m not leaving.”
“But they said—”
“I don’t care, I’m not leaving him!” He said again, firmer this time, glancing over his shoulder.
He turned back when Shane said, “Go. It’s not safe.”
“Ryan, please, the whole thing could come down on our heads—”
In that moment, Ryan’s regret was filling him whole. He watched Shane as he said those words with every last bit of strength he had; his lips were covered in dust, like the rest of his face, and it gave him such a strange pallor. It was as if Ryan could see death hanging around, waiting to take Shane away from him, to complete the job. It was all his fault. He taunted them, he dared them to do it. To hurt Shane, as if that wasn’t the very thing Ryan was most afraid of. As if his worst nightmares didn’t involve him losing Shane, watching him die like he feared he was doing now, every breath a painful reminder that this was real. This was real and Shane’s grip on his hand was getting weaker, and he was cold, so cold Ryan wanted to shed his own layers of clothing to warm him until something, someone could help them.
“I’m not leaving,” he said again, looking straight into Shane’s eyes. He didn’t care if he cried anymore. He didn’t care about anything except taking Shane out of there. “You can go,” he said to Mark, but his eyes never left Shane’s face. “Go, ask them to hurry, tell Devon to—To call Scott.”
“You’re gonna give him a heart attack,” Shane joked. Even his jokes sounded painful.
There was a pause and Mark said, “Ok, will do. Be careful, man.”
Then he was gone, running out of the house. Ryan thought he could hear them talking outside, faint shouting and crying and whatever. He didn’t care. He was watching Shane’s face, holding his hand, praying to a God he wasn’t that close to to forgive his stupidity. It wasn’t Shane’s fault. He didn’t deserve this. Please, please let him get out of here. Please, relieve him from his pain. He didn’t deserve it; Ryan did.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, because they were alone, and Ryan was so close, there wasn’t any need to speak up. The only sounds inside the house were the cracking of wood, ever-present, ever-threatening.
“It’s ok,” Shane said. His voice was so beautiful, Ryan realized. So warm, and so alive, and so. “But you should really get out of here. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m not leaving. Not without you.”
“I appreciate the heroism of it but if this is because you think this was somehow your fault…”
“It’s not heroism, and it was my fault. I just—”
Ryan stopped. He felt out of breath. He wanted to touch Shane’s face, and he did, trembling fingertips brushing softly against cold skin.
“I just don’t want to leave you. Like, ever. Don’t leave me, Shane. P-Please.”
He cracked. The tears were hot in his eyes, stinging, and he dropped his head, hiding his face behind his arm. He felt the tiniest squeeze on the hand Shane was holding, and then another, and he forced himself to look at him.
“You’re gonna make me cry,” Shane said. Ryan laughed in a sob, trying to wipe the tears away. “It’s ok, Ryan, I’m ok. I swear. I’m not going anywhere.”
Ryan nodded. Not that he agreed to it, but he wanted Shane to convince him. He wanted to see with his own eyes how that was true, and he wasn’t gonna lose Shane, or watch him in pain for much longer. He didn’t think he could handle it, and he felt like a coward, because Shane must be in so much pain. His arm was still stuck under concrete, and he could be feeling pain like Ryan had never felt before, and yet. Here he was, trying to comfort Ryan.
“I’m an idiot,” he said, making Shane laugh.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve gone through this, we’re both huge idiots.”
In that moment they finally, finally heard sirens outside. The voices outside got louder, and Shane was still looking at Ryan, and Ryan was still looking at Shane, and he wanted to kiss him, and so he did; he pressed his lips to Shane’s forehead, the most uncharacteristic thing for them so far, and sat back. A group of people walked in towards them, asking a million different questions, and then asking Ryan to leave.
He didn’t want to, but he stood up anyway, letting go of the hand he had been holding until that moment. Shane gave him a reassuring smile, but Ryan had trouble following the instructions; he couldn’t leave. He stood to the side and had to be escorted out as paramedics and firemen clustered around Shane, assessing him and the block pinning him down.
As soon as he stepped out, someone ran over and hugged him. A flash of blonde hair hit him in the face and he recognized Devon, crying and cursing him for not coming out sooner. The world seemed out of focus for Ryan; he could see his friends and coworkers there, could hear them talking to him, but he couldn’t absorb anything. He was thinking of Shane still inside, still hurting, alone with a bunch of strangers, waiting.
“Did you call Scott?” He blurted out. Mark said he did. TJ was on the phone, and he looked so pale and frightened, it barely resembled the man with the cool demeanor Ryan knew. Devon was still quietly crying when a paramedic led Ryan to an ambulance parked a few feet away.
They touched him, measured this and that, patched him up where he had what he once thought were shallow scratches. They asked him another million questions, but were useless when he tried to ask them anything.
“I want to see him,” he said. The woman smiled tired but understandingly.
“I don’t think anyone can go inside just yet, sir.”
“But then when? When are they getting him out? Shouldn’t he be out already?”
“They need to make sure the structure can hold an extraction. As soon as—”
Ryan stood up, startling her and stopping her from finishing what felt like the 50th bandage on his right arm. “I need to see him.”
She didn’t fight him, but she didn’t have to, because no one would let Ryan get into the house again. He tried to walk past the officers in front of the building—when did the police get here?—but it was to no avail. He heard Devon trying to coax him to come back, but he didn’t pay her any mind.
It felt like a lifetime. Ryan couldn’t sit, couldn’t talk, couldn’t do anything but wait, anxiety and worry eating away at him. It may have been hours, because Mark fell asleep in their car, and TJ pushed a bottle of water into his hands, telling him to drink, but Ryan wouldn’t know. The only time he ever allowed himself to breath, or to speak, was when he heard the voices inside grow louder—closer. A couple of paramedics ran inside, and Ryan let out a shaky breath when he saw Shane being carried out on a stretcher.
He ran towards him—he had his eyes closed, and there was someone holding oxygen to his face. Ryan wanted to cry, but he didn’t know if he was more worried or more relieved to see Shane out of that place. His left arm was bloodied, bruised, a dark shade of purple that almost knocked the air out of Ryan’s lungs again.
“Is he ok? Please, tell me he’s ok…” He asked the people who were carrying him to the ambulance.
He never heard the answer because Shane opened his eyes, looking in his direction. He smiled, a tiny thing of a smile that was barely more than a corner of his lips twitching.
“Shane,” Ryan said, cried, he didn’t know. He was so relieved. “Shane, you’re gonna be ok.”
Shane raised both eyebrows, in that unmistakable joking manner of his, and Ryan felt like part of him was on that stretcher. A part of him that would never, ever be the same without Shane.
They carried him over to an ambulance, and Ryan had to plead to ride with them. Devon came to his aid, and her professionalism and firm tone came through once again. Ryan was allowed in, and was promised by the crew that they would follow him to the hospital.
The first thing Ryan did when he sat down next to Shane was hold his good hand.
Later on, Ryan would try to come back to this memory and try to come up with a timeframe; he would try to figure out how much time had passed between the moment he left the house, escorted by firefighters, to the moment he was allowed to see Shane in his room at the hospital, after hours of surgery and observation. He couldn’t. It had felt like time wasn’t real, and at the same time it had felt like every minute lasted an eternity.
His eyes, legs and back hurt. His arms burned when he stretched them, the result of a collection of scratches and the resulting bandages. He had coffee, and he had water, and he was even convinced to eat a cereal bar at some point. He may have blacked out for a good few minutes, leaning against the wall in his chair in the waiting room, but he had woken up as soon as he realized he was having a nightmare. Unfortunately, real life felt pretty much like a nightmare, too.
Scott got there in the morning, looking ragged and with huge bags under his eyes. He hugged Ryan, who couldn’t help but cry again, this time feeling all the guilt he had been harboring for the last hours.
“Hey, it’s alright. He’s a big guy, he’s fine,” Scott said, patting him on his back, hugging him. “I’ll go in see if he needs anything and then you go. Alright?”
When finally Ryan walked into the room, he felt some of the tiredness he felt leave his body. Shane looked so much better already. He was still a bit pale, sure, and his arm was bandaged, and he had his eyes closed, but he looked safe. There was color on his lips, and his hair had been brushed back, and Ryan wanted to just stay there, watching him forever.
As soon as he closed the door behind him, though, Shane opened his eyes. He smiled when he spotted Ryan; he looked sleepy. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Ryan replied. “How are you?”
“A bit high, actually.” And it was so ridiculous that a laugh bubbled up Ryan’s throat as he sat down in the armchair by Shane’s bed. “Whatever painkillers I’m in, man, they’re a ride.”
“You’re gonna have to hook me up sometime.”
“Sure. You watch the door while I unhook this bag.”
They laughed, and it sounded like everything Ryan ever loved. He felt so calm now that he could see for himself that yes, Shane was alright.
“And your arm?”
“Unless I’m mistaken, I think the doc said I’ll be fine. I don't know. At some point I thought I was talking to Alex Turner, so I may have been out of it.”
“Who knows, maybe he heard his biggest fan was here and decided to pay him a visit.”
“Now wouldn’t that be just fantastic?”
There was a moment of silence in which Ryan had to avert his eyes. He felt ashamed to look into Shane’s eyes, and he thought he knew the reason for it.
“I’m sorry,” he said to Shane’s mattress. “This was my fault. Plain and simple.”
“How is that?”
“I taunted them. I said—” Ryan closed his eyes. “I said I wanted them to kill you. I shouldn’t have, and I shouldn’t have taken us there in the first place, and I shouldn’t have even started these bullshit investigations to begin with—”
“Wow, wow, Ryan, slow down. You can’t be serious.”
“I’m fucking serious, dude. You were there, you heard me. We have footage of it, probably, if we salvaged any of the cameras. I don’t even know if we did.”
“Ryan, this…” And here Shane gestured to indicate himself, and the room. “This wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all. You couldn’t have known the structure would collapse on us like that.”
“Maybe I should’ve known,” he said in a low voice. He met Shane’s eyes again. “You don’t believe in it, but I do. I know the risks. And I played them anyway, I put your life on the line. I’m really, truly, fucking sorry, Shane.”
“Ok,” Shane said, and Ryan recognized that. It was Shane’s ‘I don’t believe that’s true, but I believe you, and I don’t want to argue’-ok. He had heard it so many times before that even if Ryan felt awful, and guilty, and just the ultimate garbage fire that had ever stepped on Earth, he could feel comforted by the fact that he was there to hear it again. That Shane was there to say it again. “Just don’t beat yourself up over it. Ok, Ryan?”
Ryan chuckled, a little sad. “I don’t know if I can promise you that, buddy.”
Shane watched him for a second. “And how are you?”
“Me? I’m fine. Just tired, I guess.”
“Scott said you looked like shit, and he was kinda right.”
“Wow, thanks,” Ryan laughed, happy to see the smile grow bigger on Shane’s face. “I probably do look like shit, though.”
“You really do. Have you slept at all?”
“What? No. I mean, I took a nap outside.” That lasted about two minutes.
“Ryan,” Shane’s tone was stern, and it would’ve been way more effective if he didn’t look like the most beautiful thing in the world to Ryan in that moment. Even with the bandage covering a portion of his right cheekbone where Ryan remembered seeing a gash. “You should get some rest.”
“I’m fine. Although, I’ll be honest with you, this chair feels surprisingly comfortable.”
“You can take a nap here, if you want. I’ll watch over and make sure no ghosties pull another prank on us.”
“Jesus, don’t turn this into a joke,” Ryan chided him, but he did shift in place, bringing his legs up the chair and leaning his head back against it. “I’ll just take a short nap, you can wake me in ten, fifteen minutes tops.”
Ryan closed his eyes but opened them again immediately when he felt Shane’s hand on his. Shane took his hand and squeezed it gently. His grip was so much stronger, even if still weaker than usual, from what little experience Ryan had holding his hand. Shane had a smile on his face when he said, “We’re alright.”
Ryan smiled back and closed his eyes, “Yes, we are.”
He woke up later to a stiff neck and a numb foot. TJ was there, kneeling next to his chair, gently shaking him awake. “Ryan?”
“Yeah?” Ryan realized he was still holding Shane’s hand, but Shane was asleep. TJ seemed to politely ignore when Ryan slip his hand out of Shane’s grip. “What is it? Something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, I just thought you should come back to the hotel. Take a bath, eat something. I think having one of you hospitalized is more than enough.”
He was smiling, and he looked much more like the TJ Ryan knew now. Ryan glanced at Shane’s sleeping form—he looked peaceful and deep asleep.
“Alright, I guess I can do that,” Ryan said, standing up. His body was aching all over, and he realized sleeping all curled up in an armchair wasn’t his best idea. “Who’s gonna stay with Shane?”
“His brother is outside, and Devon. He’ll be fine.”
Ryan took one last look at Shane and nodded. It was close to 2pm, he learned, and that meant he had slept for hours in that oddly comfortable yet not recommended armchair. Tired as he was, he only had the energy to take a shower and eat a burger TJ had ordered from room service, and then he was out. When he woke up it was dark outside, and his and Shane’s room was empty.
He checked his phone. It was past 9pm, and he took a couple of minutes to check his notifications. No one seemed to have heard about what had happened, and he felt a little guilty for not having checked in with his family. But he felt more like himself now, so he called Jake and explained everything. They were supposed to fly back the next morning, but Ryan wasn’t so sure Shane would be discharged by then. He had so many things to ask, now that his brain seemed to be working again. In the groupchat with the crew, he learned that Devon had postponed hers, Ryan’s and Shane’s tickets; TJ and Mark were flying back to LA tomorrow.
He also got a message from Scott saying that he could come over during the night, if he wanted. Ryan replied right away—but three hours after Scott had messaged him—to say that he would be there soon.
As he changed into the most comfortable clothes he had that weren’t pijamas, Ryan went through the last 24 hours in his head.
The filming of the episode, that involved plenty of jokes and stupid remarks, and that Ryan didn’t think he would be able to watch again.
The accident (?) that had nearly killed Shane, and the irresponsible jokes Ryan had thrown in just seconds before it happened.
Shane, lying flat on his back, left arm stuck under a heavy block of concrete that Ryan had tried with all his might to push off of him, to no avail.
Shane, weak and in pain, trying to comfort a crying, desperate Ryan.
Shane, being taken to the hospital, eyes barely holding open.
Shane, lying on his hospital bed, smiling at Ryan.
Shane, the last thing Ryan saw before falling asleep.
Regardless of whether or not Ryan was at fault, regardless of whether or not he had gotten what he had (stupidly) asked from the entities in that house, there was one thing he was absolutely certain of.
He just didn’t know how to deal with it.
Shane was in the hospital for another two days, as per doctor’s orders. He told Ryan his arm felt numb, and that it tingled from time to time, but that it was bearable enough for him to not think about it much. Ryan stayed with him most of the time; Scott was there too, only usually not in the room with them. Devon was taking care of car rentals, hotel stays and plane ticket reservations, and refused the offer to go back to LA before them. She wanted to make sure they all got back safe and sound, and at the end of the day, both Ryan and Shane were grateful for that.
When they finally did go back to LA, Ryan offered to stay over at Shane’s, helping him out around the house and with his arm. It was healing, but it still looked a ghastly, lighter shade of purple, peppered with green like a giant bruise.
“It looks gross,” Shane announced with wisdom one day, a week after they had come back. He was lounging on the couch, and Ryan was sitting at the dining table, laptop open in front of him. “Too bad Halloween’s still two months away. I feel like this would make a great costume.”
“Jesus Christ…” Ryan muttered under his breath, amused. “You can’t just use your very real wound as a costume.”
“Why not? It’s my wound. I’ve earned it.”
“You know what? You’re right. I think we should just go see a cartoon so you can scare some toddlers in the theater with it.”
“Now we’re talking,” Shane said, making Ryan laugh. “And speaking of talking…”
Shane’s tone had changed. Ryan glanced at him, but he was looking down, avoiding Ryan’s eyes.
“There’s something I need to say. Well, not need, but… No, yeah, need. I think I need to talk about this. With you.”
He looked up, meeting Ryan’s eyes. He looked… almost embarrassed, and Ryan’s breath caught in his throat.
“I was selfish,” Shane said, after a pause. “When I shouldn’t have. I should’ve asked you to leave the house, but I didn’t.”
“Uh, you did. You wanted me to leave.”
“Yeah, the rational part of my brain did, but I… I didn’t. Not really. I was terrified,” Shane said. “Just, mind-numbingly, out of this world terrified. I wanted you out because it was dangerous in there but I also, uh… I also was really, really scared to be alone. Which was just selfish.”
Ryan didn’t know what to say. He opened and closed his mouth before he could finally answer, “I mean, I think you were more than justified. That was an awful thing that happened to you—”
“Well, yeah, but I wasn’t pinned to the ground by a shitton of rock.”
“And besides, who wouldn’t be scared in your position? I’d have passed out in the first ten seconds.”
Shane laughed, but he still looked worried, a crease marking the skin between his eyebrows. “Yeah, I don’t know, I just feel like apologizing. I’m sorry. That wasn’t very nice of me.”
“And I think it was the fact that you were there, holding my hand…” Shane paused, looking down, and then up again at Ryan. “That’s what kept me sane, and awake, I think. So thank you. And I’m sorry.”
They stared at each for a second too long. Ryan didn’t know what to say to that. He remembered, vividly, what is was like for him to watch Shane in so much pain; Ryan almost wanted to argue that he was selfish himself, too, because he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Shane behind, that it would pain Ryan too much—as it did when he was eventually dragged out of the building. But he knew Shane wasn’t up for an argument, and honestly, neither was Ryan. He still felt terribly guilty, and he’d have to work long and hard on that for it to stop bothering him, but he never felt wronged by Shane, or for having stayed behind with him.
“If anything, holding your hand kept me sane, too,” he heard himself saying. It was mostly a thought escaping through his lips, but Shane smiled, and Ryan didn’t think it was so bad to share that, after all.
That night, as they cozied up to their movie night—now scheduled to a Saturday so they could start earlier and watch more shit until one of them fell asleep—, Shane offered his hand, palm up, in between one episode and the other. It was so sudden and out of nowhere that Ryan blinked, looking down at the stretched hand in confusion, until he understood and reached out to hold it. Shane’s hand was warm, and his grip was firm, but gentle at the same time. Ryan watched their hands for a second, and how they seemed to fit quite perfectly together.
It made him more certain than ever of what he had realized back in Utah. It made everything slot together inside of him, made his fear and guilt and regret die down for a moment, made his heart skip a beat as he wondered the meaning of the gesture. He looked up to find Shane watching his face; he looked so earnest and open, Ryan’s chest ached.
He didn’t think; he didn’t let his mind ruin this for him. He just leaned forward, catching Shane’s lips in a kiss. It lasted the eternity of a couple of seconds, but it ignited Ryan’s soul to its very core. He opened his eyes, wanting to see Shane’s reaction, but he didn’t have to, because Shane was kissing him this time, putting more intent into it. They kissed and there was nothing in the world but Shane’s lips, and shampoo, and hand holding Ryan’s hand with care and—
“I love you,” Shane said against his lips. The next words came out in a rush, like he was saying them before he could stop himself. “I love you, Ryan. I love you and your big brain. I love your stupidly big arms. I love your voice, your absurdly beautiful smile, your ideas, your—I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but your soul, too, I love your soul. I love it! That beautiful, bright soul of yours.”
Ryan was smiling so wide, he chuckled. “You’re corny as fuck.”
“I am. Look what I’ve become because of you,” Shane laughed, and Ryan kissed him again, long and hard. “It took me almost dying to grow some balls to say this.”
“It’s ok, I was pretty ball-less too.” They laughed at this, foreheads touching. “Oh, and I love you too, you big ol’ dork.”
“Good. I’d be pretty bummed if this were our first and last kiss.”
“Not even close,” Ryan said. He stopped laughing long enough to look Shane in the eyes, one hand coming up to cup his face; his thumb caressed Shane’s cheek, right underneath the band-aid covering the now mostly recovered wound there. “I can’t believe I almost lost you.”
Shane didn’t have an answer for that. They were aware of how close they had gotten to a real tragedy—loss and death hung heavy above their heads, but there was hope, too, outshining it all. Hope and happiness. Ryan felt giddy with it. But also painfully sober about what it had all meant.
“I don’t know what I’d do if you—If you had—”
Shane shook his head, pressing a kiss to the corner of Ryan’s mouth. “Don’t think about it. I’m here. We’re alright.”
Ryan brought his arms up and around Shane’s neck, hugging him. Shane’s good hand held him close, caressing his back. “Yes, we are.”