Shane gets the call at 2:51 in the morning.
“Madej, I need you here immediately.”
In some other lifetime, it would have taken Shane at least twenty minutes to wake up from a call like this. But after seven years of working at a hospital, he’s almost coherent by the time the call hits the ten second mark.
“What happened?” Shane asks, pushing himself up with a groan.
On the other end, there’s a slight pause, and then Quinta’s strained, tight voice tells him: “There was a fire.”
As soon as the words pass her lips, Shane is wide awake. He throws the covers off and crosses the room to the closet in two large strides, hands already moving to open it and pull out a pair of scrubs.
Another pause. “It lit up an entire apartment complex. A lot of the residents are packed in here, and so are the guys.”
He yanks a t-shirt over his head and asks, against all better judgement: “Is he with them?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him yet. It’s a fucking circus in here.”
“I’ll be there in ten.” he tells her, and then hangs up, forcing the panic he feels ballooning to the back of his mind.
The whole process of waking up and leaving the house takes less than two minutes, between getting the call, getting dressed, stopping in the bathroom, and grabbing all of his necessities. It usually takes him five, but the added pressure of not knowing how bad the situation is pushes him into an overdrive of sorts. He’s in his car and speeding towards the hospital in record time, all thoughts on fire and ash and pink scar tissue.
When Shane arrives (after seven minutes, versus the usual ten) the waiting room looks like the fire followed them all to it. There’s more people than he can count crammed into every available chair, on the floor, and against the check-in counter, wanting to know what’s going on and where their people are. Many of them are crying, or visibly injured, and covered in everything from water to blood. Shane does a cursory glance around the room, but doesn’t see Ryan anywhere amongst the throngs of distressed civilians and a few bloody, sooty firefighters. He doesn’t know whether that’s a good sign or the worst possible.
Shane flies through the doors behind the check-in counter, forcing himself to stay calm and focus on the patients. The sight beyond the doors isn’t much better; the hallway is lined wall to wall with spare gurneys containing the civilians and firefighters who are in need of immediate attention, and everywhere there are nurses shuffling patients into other rooms and doctors speaking to them rapidly. A few feet away from Shane, a first shift doctor is checking out what looks to be a sprained wrist, and a few doors ahead, a woman is sitting on the ground with a young boy, crying quietly.
Two nurses--Sara and Devon--come flying by him, pushing a gurney. They’re headed towards surgery, and Shane’s heart flips over when he recognizes the matted blonde hair spilling over the sheets.
“Andrew!” Shane yells jogging to catch up to the girls. He’s glad to see that Andrew is still conscious. “What happened, man?”
Andrew turns to look at him and groans, eyes squeezing shut. It’s clear from the awkward bend of his leg that it’s been badly broken. “E-electrical fire. Bad wiring. Burned the whole--the whole complex down.”
“What’s the fatality count?”
“Four when I was still in the building,” Andrew wheezes out, pausing to cough. Sara shoots Shane a look, but he knows Andrew can take it. “Got stunned on the way out, so now I don’t know. Find Adam, I heard he was mostly okay. Last I knew, he had to pull some kids out of a laundry room they got shoved into. Stayed out after that.”
Shane nods and briefly presses his hand to Andrew’s forehead, silently thanking him and telling him to stay with them all in one go. But before he can step away to report to Quinta, Andrew reaches up and grips onto his wrist with sweaty, greasy fingers.
“Have you seen Steven?”
“No, I just got here.” Shane admits, swallowing heavily. He doesn’t have to see his own face to know that the looks they’re wearing right now are identical. “I’ll find him for you. I’m sure he’s fine, buddy.”
“Thank you.” Andrew grits out, and then lets go. Shane watches Sara and Devon push his gurney into surgery, the double doors swinging shut behind them like they were never there in the first place. He resists the urge to slam his fist into the wall or scream Ryan’s name up and down the hallways, and instead turns to head towards where Quinta is usually stationed during big crises events.
After throwing his stuff into the locker room, he finds Quinta checking a teenage girl over for signs of a concussion.
“Where do you need me, boss?”
Quinta doesn’t look away from her patient. “Go meet up with Curly in Wing B. He’s helping Daysha out with some of the civs.”
Shane heads to Wing B. He glances inside each of the individual rooms he passes, but finds only more civilians. He fights another wave of panic, knowing that Ryan could just be in one of their millions of rooms, that he’s probably where they put all the other firefighters for organization purposes, or is in surgery for a broken arm or something mostly harmless. He lets himself melt down for a handful of breaths, and then he plasters on his kind, helpful face and heads into Wing B.
Every single bed in the wing is filled with residents from the apartment complex. They’re all covered in various injuries, from bleeding head wounds to large, dark bruises running up and down their legs to 2nd degree burns on their hands and feet. Daysha and Curly are each standing in front of a bed, checking out two patients who seem to be married, if the drawn middle sheet and their pained staring at each other is anything to go by. Curly is checking the husband for a spine injury and Daysha is checking the wife for broken ribs.
“What can I do to help?” he asks Daysha, keeping all emotions except for calmness off of his face.
Daysha glances up; her face changes a little when she sees it’s him, and Shane knows exactly what it means. I haven’t seen him.
“There’s a patient getting X-Rays right now for a possibly fractured ulna. She’s this couple’s daughter,” she explains, gesturing towards the only open bed. “Go grab her from Maycie and bring her back here for evaluation so I can see if she’ll need surgery or not.”
Shane does as he’s told, hustling down to Radiology. When he gets to Maycie’s assigned room, there’s a child who can’t be more than ten sitting in a chair while Maycie processes her X-Rays, looking very scared and in pain.
“Are the scans almost done?” he asks upon entering.
“Yeah, they’re developing right now.” Maycie tells him, releasing a long breath. She looks exhausted, and Shane bets that she’s a handful of hours deep into an impromptu double shift. “I’m thinking it’s a yes, though.”
Shane sighs in return. He glances at the little girl before stepping closer to Maycie, bowing his head.
“Have you seen Ryan at all?”
Maycie’s face scrunches up, but she looks about as informed as Daysha and Andrew and even Quinta.
“He might have been in one of the rooms with Tania, but I’m not sure. I’ve only gotten the civilians so far. Sorry, Shane.”
The only sign of distress he allows himself to show is a brief, deep frown. But then his face smoothes out again, and he nods at Maycie, internally counting to ten.
“It’s okay. I know it’s been insane here.”
“The paramedics brought them all in around 2,” she says lowly, discreetly looking over at the little girl. “You missed the worst of them. All the civs you’ve probably seen hanging out in the hallways, rooms, and Wing A and B are just the ones who got caught up in the stampede to get outside. The first people they brought us are the ones with the third degree burns.”
Shane has seen countless people with third degree burns during his career as an ER nurse, but it’s one of the few injuries that still make him nauseous. He would never say it out loud, but he’s grateful that Quinta wasn’t able to call him in until most of them were already being treated. No one knows about his intense dislike of burns, but Maycie knows a lot of things that people don’t ever tell her directly, and judging by the look on her face, Shane guesses that this is one of them.
Because he’s a masochist, Shane asks her: “What’s the official fatality count?”
“Last I heard, it was four.” Shane sends a silent acknowledgement to Andrew. “But there were really extensive burns on some of the civs and firefighters, so that might change. I’m hoping not.”
It takes him a long moment to gather the courage to ask her the real question on his mind.
“How many of them were the firefighters?”
Maycie finally looks away from the girl and back at Shane. Her expression is pained, but not as pained as it could be, so Shane makes himself relax.
Mikey normally worked the opposite shift as Ryan, so he was usually never with their specific squad. Shane didn’t know him very well, but he remembers that Mikey was always cheerful when he had to come to the ER after a fire, even the time he had to get stitches in his leg from falling onto a broken chair.
“Do the guys know?”
“I’m not sure.” Maycie makes another face, even though Shane can tell that she’s trying not to. “It was really bad, Shane. A lot of people got hurt, and a lot of them are in surgery right now. The whole building burned down. The other three pronounced dead at the scene were a set of college kids sharing an apartment together. Their place was the origin of the fire. They were twenty years old.”
“Christ.” Shane pinches the bridge of his nose, feeling the beginnings of a very unpleasant headache.
“I talked to Jen earlier--she got wheeled in here for a broken foot. She said that it was one of the worst fires their unit has ever dealt with. Everyone was scattered and panicked and they had to drag some residents down six flights of stairs. They even--”
Maycie stops, so worked up that she can barely get the words out. Shane has a horrible, sinking feeling that he already knows what she’s going to say. He doesn’t deter her from finishing the thought, helpless to watch the words form on her trembling lips.
“They had to drag some of the fighters out, too. A few of them collapsed up on the fifth floor.”
“Who?” Shane whispers, like he’s watching a bullet being fired out of a gun in slow motion.
Maycie crosses her arms over her chest. “Keith had to pull Zach out from under a collapsed archway. Eugene had to kick his way through a bedroom wall to get to Ned.”
Shane feels his blood go cold, thinking about the four of them in that kind of danger. He can’t even begin to imagine how Keith and Eugene must have felt, watching their best friends disappear into a roaring fire and not coming out, how they must have felt knowing that they’d have to go into that same fire to get them back. If he thinks about it for too long, he’s going to be sick.
“Are they okay?”
“Ned is fine besides the usual cuts, bruises, and excessive smoke inhalation, but Zach’s in surgery right now for a broken arm and collarbone. He’s also got some fractured ribs and a really bad concussion.”
“Goddammit,” Shane swears. “I bet Keith is really going through it right now.”
“They had to sedate him.” He watches as Maycie tears up, both horrified that Keith had to see something like that and horrified that Maycie had to see something like that. “He was almost out of his mind, wanting to know if Zach was going to be okay and who else had gotten hurt. It was pulling on his stitches, so we had to sedate him and put him in a room.”
He can’t think of anything to say to that, knowing that it won’t change what happened and what might happen still. So he lets them both stew in anger and fear while his patient’s X-Rays develop, trying not to race out of the room and through the whole hospital until he finds the person he can’t bear to think about being critically injured.
When the girl’s scans are done, Maycie puts them in a folder and hands them over. She grips onto Shane’s hands tightly for a long moment, trying to give them both strength, and then she lets go, already moving to prepare for the next patient. Shane puts on his best face and leads the girl back to Wing B, assuring her that they’ll take great care of her and her parents.
He gets lost in the whirlwind of helping other patients in the wing once they return, letting Daysha look over the girl’s scans and talk to the parents about what she recommends they do next. He does his best to put the patients at ease and assure them that Daysha will be with them when she can since their patient to doctor ratio is astronomically worse than usual. He hears Curly doing the same, talking in the calm, soothing voice that Shane has never known him to fake in the years they’ve worked together.
Eventually, Daysha and the parents agree that the daughter needs to head into surgery for her arm, and when a room opens up, she sends him and Curly with her down to surgery. Her parents kiss her and tell her she’ll be okay, and while the girl is obviously terrified, she puts on a brave face and agrees that she’ll be fine. Shane sees this kind of thing all the time, but tonight, he feels fragile, and the interaction leaves him on the verge of crying. When he looks over at Curly, Curly looks to be about the same.
“I’m scared,” she admits, as they’re pushing her gurney down the hallway. Shane’s heart melts when she reaches up and curls her small fingers around Curly’s. “Is it going to hurt?”
“Oh no, honey, it’s not going to hurt,” Curly assures her, moving his hand so that they’re properly holding onto each other. “I promise. You’ll just take a little nap and wake up all better, okay? It’ll be over before you know it. Doctor Ang will take great care of you.”
“Okay.” she says, and doesn’t let go of him until they get her settled and have to head back out.
On their way back to Wing B, they run into Sara and Devon rolling someone into a post-op room. Shane feels that same sharp, sick feeling he felt when he saw Andrew now that he’s looking down at a beat-up and unconscious TJ.
“What happened to him?” Shane asks, following Sara and Devon into TJ’s room. He has never seen TJ be quiet or take shit, let alone completely still and beat to a pulp.
Sara sighs, locking the gurney in its proper place. “He had to go back up to the third floor to rescue someone’s cat, and the staircase gave when he was on his way down to the first. Broken arm and ribs. Sprained knee.”
Devon looks extremely pissed off underneath the forefront expressions of worried and numbingly exhausted. “He could have broken more than that. Fucking idiot. Said he had to twist on the way down to keep from crushing the cat.”
“Dev--” Sara starts, and then stops, looking anguished.
“I’m sorry,” Devon says almost immediately. She takes a few deep, unsteady breaths, and tries again. “I’m sorry. It’s always hard when they come in. I love these stupid fucks more than I can stand, and it never gets easier seeing them as patients and not those loud, dumbass firefighters who just usually come in here to get stitches or a finger splint. Not to get a whole arm splinted, or treated for third degree burns from a burning door falling on them and pinning them to the ground.”
Shane looks over at Sara when she says this, heart lurching. Sara meets his gaze and tells him, obviously fighting to keep her voice steady: “Annie.”
“Shit,” he whispers, and can’t think of anything else to say. He feels the same horror he felt for Keith and Eugene, thinking about how Adam must be losing his mind right now knowing that Annie is in critical care for third degree burns. Then he remembers that Andrew is in surgery right now, too, and Steven has yet to be seen, and feels his headache climb steadily towards migraine.
Their pagers all go off at the same time; Shane’s is for a new patient in Wing B, and Sara and Devon’s is for a patient that needs to be taken into surgery from Wing D. They part ways with only a shared harried look, and then they’re off, doing their best to keep their heads.
Shane is nearing Wing B when he hears it: a familiar voice, yelling in a very unfamiliar way.
He ducks into room 158 without a second thought. Inside, Steven is propped up in bed, face badly cut and red from a combination of anger and shouting.
“Sir, I need you to calm down--”
“I’m not going to calm down! You’re refusing to listen to me and what I’m asking from you!”
“I understand that you’re upset about your partner, but there is a lot of activity going on right now, and I don’t have the time or the means to find out where he is.”
Steven bares his teeth. “I think you just don’t want to help me because you don’t agree with my meaning of the term ‘partner’. He’s not just my squad partner, he’s my partner! He’s my husband, my other half, the love of my life! I’m not going to sit in bed and wait around for someone to tell me whether or not he’s okay!”
Shane recognizes the nurse; she usually works first shift, due to her seniority, and rarely works with him. Which he’s definitely okay with, since Darlene is notorious for her distaste in any non-white and non-Catholic patient or hospital employee who is verbal about being so.
Right now, she looks ready to snap, nearly as red in the face as Steven. “You can’t leave this room until the doctor--”
“Darlene, I can take care of this.” Shane interrupts as nicely as possible. Darlene turns her glare onto him, lips thinning. “I’ll get him to calm down.”
Darlene starts to say something, but then concedes with an angry eye roll. “Be my guest.”
She stalks out of the room, and Shane goes to Steven, trying not to let his temper get the best of him, too.
“Have you seen Andrew?” Steven asks, flipping from angry to frantic in a second. “God, no one knows where he is! I lost track of him on the way out of the building and then I ended up passing out, and the next thing I know I’m waking up in this room with that rude ass nurse, who doesn’t want to help me find my fucking husband--”
Shane grabs onto Steven’s flailing hands, effectively stilling them. “Steven, calm down and take some deep breaths. Andrew’s okay.”
Just hearing those two words makes Steven deflate, and he sinks back against the bed, eyes slamming shut. He takes the instructed deep breaths and tightens his hold on Shane’s hands until his knuckles are white; his throat works like he’s trying not to sob, and the sight of it makes a lump form in Shane’s.
When the redness fades from Steven’s face and his breaths have evened out, Shane gives his hands a gentle squeeze.
“I saw him when I got here about an hour and a half ago,” Shane tells him. “He’s got a broken leg, but other than that, he’s fine. He’s probably still in surgery. He told me to find you and tell you he was okay.”
Steven lets out another long, aching breath and opens his eyes. There are tears clinging to his lashes, but he doesn’t break down or let them fall. Instead, he squeezes Shane’s hands back and smiles tightly.
“Of course,” Shane says, voice catching. “You were the first thing he asked about, after I asked him what had happened. I bet it’ll be the same when he wakes up.”
Steven laughs, sniffling a little. “I’m sure you’re right.”
Shane leans down to fold Steven into a gentle hug, careful of whatever injuries he can’t see but knows are probably there. “It’ll be okay. Just get some rest and let us work our magic, okay? You’ve done enough tonight.”
“Okay.” Steven agrees, like it’ll ever be that simple, and gets as comfortable as can when Shane lets go. “Thank you, Shane.”
“Of course, man.” Shane rests a hand on his shoulder and gives him a soft, tired smile. “I mean it, though. Get some rest. I’ll make sure someone wakes you up when Andrew’s out and coherent.”
“Thanks. You’re my angel.”
Shane snorts and then lets him go, finally heading out of the room and down to Wing B. When he gets there, Daysha gives him a look from where she’s checking someone for a concussion.
“Steven needed to know where Andrew is.” is all he says, and she accepts it with a nod and an expression of sadness that no one else in the room but him and Curly can see. He seamlessly falls into place in front of a new patient that needs attention, calmed by what knowledge he now has about a lot of the firefighters and the extent of their injuries.
Shane gets sucked back into the pattern of examine, assess, treat, and release. The fear and anxiety of not knowing where everyone is and how they are doing persists, but he’s been at this job long enough to know how to hide it from the patients, Daysha, Curly, and even himself. He keeps working and stays calm even though he feels moments away from having a breakdown. He doesn’t let anyone know how hard it is to see his friends injured and suffering. He doesn’t let anyone know how hard it is not knowing a single fucking thing about Ryan’s location or his condition. Externally, he is efficient and soothing, but internally he feels like Steven, screaming himself hoarse trying to figure out what happened to his partner.
By the time all of the patients in Wing B have been examined and treated, it’s pushing 6 A.M. Daysha is still talking to some of the patients, but Curly has been out of the room for around ten minutes on a brief eat-a-snack-drink-some-water-and-pee-quickly break. Shane goes to her to see what she needs him to do now that everyone is settled in.
“What’s next?” Shane asks once she steps away from an older lady with a sprained ankle.
Daysha lets out a quiet breath and looks down at her various sheets of patient information, assessing.
“Most of these guys are good to go home, but there are a few that I wanted to check in with again before I made a decision. Let’s talk to all of them and see who needs to stay.”
They get through three patients before Curly comes back from his allotted break time, looking as recharged as anyone can get in fifteen minutes.
“You go next,” Daysha tells Shane. “You’ve been working your ass off, and you’re not even supposed to be here. I’m not even going to mark it down as one of your two.”
“Thank you.” Shane says, fighting the urge to kiss her.
When he leaves Wing B, he completely bypasses the break room and goes right to the nurse’s station. Kelsey is there, puttering through a large stack of files. She looks up when Shane stops in front of her, eyes tired but unfailingly kind.
“Can you tell me where he is?”
She doesn’t need to ask who he’s talking about.
“Give me two seconds,” she says, and rapidly fills in the rest of her current report.
Shane barely has time to think of an excuse to give Daysha for exceeding his fifteen minutes when Kelsey switches programs and types in something else. She scans the computer screen, and then frowns; Shane feels like he might vomit.
“He’s not here.” Kelsey finally tells him, looking up. “He hasn’t been checked in.”
“The whole damn fire department’s in here!” Shane swears, pushing his hands into his hair.
“Maybe they haven’t had time to log it in. It took them almost an hour to send me Jen’s info and she was one of the first taken into surgery.”
Shane takes a deep breath, his millionth of the night, and then stands up straight again. He gives Kelsey the best apologetic look that he can manage.
“Sorry. Thank you for looking.”
Kelsey reaches up to poke his arm. “Go outside and get some air, dude. You’re working yourself up too much. You need to keep your shit together or Quinta will kill you.”
“You’re right,” Shane sighs, because she is, and scrubs a hand down his face. “Thanks, Kelsey.”
He heads to the doors that will take him back out into the waiting room. A large part of him wants to sprint back to surgery immediately and demand to know where Ryan is, or stalk up and down each row of individual rooms until he sees which one Ryan is in. He knows that Ryan is over there somewhere, since he’s one of the members who gets injured the most. He likes to call it ‘a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved’ but everyone else on the squad likes to call it ‘Bergara has a damning hero complex and protective streak rolled into one’ which Shane hates and adores at the same time.
But the more rational part of him, the one that has been at the forefront of his mind all his life until Ryan Bergara waltz in and fucked it all up, tells him that he needs these few minutes to calm down. That he can race around the entire hospital all he wants, but if he doesn’t get his act together right now, he’s not going to be able to handle whatever condition Ryan is in despite the relief he’ll feel upon finally finding him.
It’s these remaining shreds of logic and reason that force Shane to walk through the doors leading to the waiting room. It’s knowing that Ryan will need him at his best, and not whatever crazed idiot fool he’s acting like right now, that makes him walk further away from the guts of the ER.
When Shane pushes through the doors, he does another visual sweep of the waiting room. There are a lot less people than there were when he arrived, and he’s suddenly reminded of how much time has passed. Before, there was hardly any space not being occupied by someone from the fire, but now, there are plenty of empty chairs and no one sitting on the ground. The only people left are family members waiting on news of their loved ones, some civilians who are injured but not alarmingly so, and--
Shane stops walking so abruptly that he almost slams into a chair. He’s been panicking for three hours, has been asking everyone he knows about Ryan’s whereabouts, has been so goddamn sure that Ryan was on an operating table somewhere or being pumped full of morphine that he didn’t even stop to think about another possibility. There was no way that he wasn’t bleeding heavily or having his leg adjusted and put back into place. There was no way that he was even conscious. And yet--
He watches Ryan pace up and down the same aisle of chairs over and over again, gaze locked on the speckled hospital floor. His hair is an absolute disaster, and Shane has never seen him covered in so much soot, ash, and blood, but he looks--he looks perfectly fine. If not for the soot and blood, Shane wouldn’t have known he was putting out a fire at all.
His feet remain stuck long enough for Ryan to make five laps, and then, on his sixth, he finally looks up and meets Shane’s eyes across the waiting room. His strides stop just as abruptly, and he stares at Shane like he doesn’t believe he’s really seeing him. And then his face wobbles, practically turns inside out, and Shane is across the room without a second thought.
Ryan plows into him hard enough to make them stagger, and he just wraps his arms around Ryan’s broad shoulders, pulling him as close as he possibly can. Ryan makes a gutted noise and buries his face into Shane’s chest, hold tightening painfully. He smells acrid, like smoke and sweat and the gut-turning coppery tang of blood, but Shane still presses his nose to Ryan’s hair and breathes him in, not caring that Ryan smells like a fire because that means he made it out of the fire.
Shane feels himself choke on a sob and doesn’t try to stop it. He can feel Ryan trembling everywhere that they’re pressed together, can feel the hot slide of tears against the skin of his neck that isn’t covered up by his scrubs.
“I tried to find you earlier, but I couldn’t,” he tells Ryan, because he needs him to know. “No one knew where you were. I was losing my fucking mind, baby.”
Ryan takes a shuddering breath. “They wouldn’t let me come back there. I wasn’t hurt enough to rationalize taking me in with the others. I--”
He sobs loudly, and Shane slides a hand into the back of his filthy, greasy hair, eyes squeezing shut. His mind is still racing, trying to tell the rest of him that Ryan is okay, is safe, is going to be just fine.
“I’ve been out here for hours, wondering what the fuck is going on.” Ryan says when he can. “No one would tell me anything. They wouldn’t even tell me if you were working tonight. I’ve just been waiting and waiting and trying to calm the fuck down.”
Shane feels like it would be inappropriate to admit the same. Instead, he tells Ryan what he knows.
“I saw Andrew first, when he was on the way to surgery. His leg got broken pretty badly, but other than that, he was fine. Steven got really banged up, as far as I could tell. TJ broke his arm and some ribs and sprained a knee from heading down a staircase that collapsed. Jen broke her foot. Eugene--”
Shane has to pause, knowing that the next few pieces of information might do Ryan in. Ryan’s hands tighten where they’re clenched into his shirt, knuckles digging into his back.
“Eugene had to force his way into a bedroom Ned went into and pull him out, but they’re both fine. Keith… Keith had to pull Zach out from a collapsed archway and drag him down six flights of stairs. Zach is pretty beat up. Broken arm and collarbones, and cracked ribs. Wicked concussion. He’s going to be here for a while.” He breathes out against Ryan’s hair. “Keith was so worked up that they had to sedate him so he wouldn’t pull his stitches.”
“Fuck!” Ryan yells, the curse muffled by Shane’s scrubs. “Those fucking idiots! They’re always getting hurt!”
Shane swallows, trying not to hysterically reply with: Now you know how we all feel, you idiot! “Annie--she’s one of the worst. Third degree burns on her arms, legs, and back. A burning door fell on her and pinned her underneath it.”
Ryan finally pulls his face out of Shane’s neck; he looks absolutely furious, and terrified, and sick to his stomach.
“Where the fuck was Adam?”
“Carrying down a set of kids. The parents lost them in the chaos and Adam heard them screaming from inside a laundry room. Someone accidentally shut them inside it in the scramble to get outside.”
Ryan’s entire face screws up like he’s barely holding all the pieces together, and Shane wishes he could do anything in the entire world to take his pain away, anything but stand here and tell him everything that happened and watch it all come crashing down.
“Human beings are the dumbest, wildest animals I’ve ever met,” Ryan whispers, taking a few deep breaths. “They’d kill anyone to be able to live.”
Shane doesn’t know how to tell him the last part. He doesn’t know how to make his mouth form the words when Ryan is already on the brink of collapsing. He’s never seen Ryan quiet so volatile and ready to break apart.
He starts by cupping a hand around one of Ryan’s filthy cheeks. Ryan’s eyes flutter open, bringing another wave of tears, and Shane feels his own burning behind his nose like a blazing, roaring fire.
“Ry-- sweetheart.” Shane whispers his names, both of them, and Ryan freezes. Shane bites back another sob and Ryan just stares up at him, visibly begging him not to finish his sentence. “I--there were four fatalities at the apartment complex.”
“No,” Ryan croaks, face creasing. “Please don’t--”
When he can’t make himself say the rest, Shane fills in the gaps. He presses their foreheads together, releasing a shuddering breath, and tells Ryan, as softly as he can manage:
“Three residents. College kids, all staying in the room the fire originated from. The other was a… it was Mikey.”
“No,” Ryan says again, voice going hoarse. The trembling of his body picks up and Shane watches as Ryan begins to cry helplessly. “No, no, no--I just saw him a few hours ago, Shane, this can’t be happening--”
He loses the ability to talk as he dissolves into tears, and Shane hugs him as tightly as he can stand. Ryan makes a noise that is so agonized that it makes Shane cry helplessly, too, cuts him to the bone in a way he hasn’t felt in a long, long time. It’s something he hasn’t felt since he started working at a hospital and had to learn how to lose patients. He hates that Ryan has to go through losing someone he loves; Ryan loves everyone in his life with a relentless ferocity, like it physically pains him not to put everything he has into his relationships. He calls his parents weekly, texts Jake 24/7, forces Shane to take care of himself mentally and physically after long, exhausting shifts at the hospital, and regularly puts his life on the line to save his squad members.
They’ve had many conversations about Ryan’s particular brand of self-sacrifice. Shane knows that Ryan doesn’t deal well with seeing his team members injured, and takes care of that by making sure he’s the one who always gets injured. His old excuse was that all of his team members had people to go home to, but since he started seeing Shane, he’s realized just how much he has to lose, and how many people he hurts by getting hurt. But is hasn’t been an easy task, keeping Ryan safe and healthy, and an even less easy task making him look before leaping.
So he knows that losing a member of his team, his family, is going to scar Ryan worse than any fire ever could. He knows that Ryan is going to be one of the worst hurt out of all of his squad members and that recovering from it is going to be a journey equivalent only to crawling through hell and back.
Ryan cries and cries, hands clenched into Shane’s top and his entire front plastered to Shane’s, and Shane tries his best to hold Ryan together while he falls apart. Ryan cries for so long that Curly eventually comes looking for him, but when he sees them, he just gives Shane a signal meant to say Take your time, babe! before scurrying back into the ER.
He cries and cries and cries, and then he makes a small gasping noise, like he’s coming up for air from the bottom of a pool.
“I hate when they get hurt,” Ryan breathes out. Shane feels it when he finally unclenches his hands and lays his palms on Shane’s back, pulling him impossibly closer. “I can’t fucking stand it, Shane. It makes me livid, knowing that they’re hurt and there’s nothing I can do to help them.”
“I know, Ry,” Shane says soothingly, trying to keep his voice steady. “But they got hurt for all the reasons you always get hurt, baby. Protecting the team and the civilians. I know how much it hurts you to be fine while they’re all in pain and injured, but it was their turn to take care of you, okay?”
“It was the worst fire we’ve ever dealt with!” Ryan half-yells, but it’s lessened by another broken sob. “They could have--it could have been more than Mikey. I should have done more, taken more of the hits. They shouldn’t be going through this without me.”
“Hey,” Shane says softly, and pulls away until they’re looking at each other again. Ryan’s face is a mess, between the soot, blood, tears, and snot, but Shane’s heart still stumbles at the sight of it, at the sight of his hands folded around Ryan’s dirty, damp cheeks and the sight of his thumb pressed to the corner of one of Ryan’s bright, beautiful eyes. He thinks, in another hot burst of panic, that if things had gone differently tonight, he might not have ever been able to hold Ryan’s face in his hands again. “They’re not going through anything without you. And you’re not going through anything without them.”
Ryan blinks up at him, but says nothing, seemingly unable to form more words. Shane loves him so desperately that it takes the breath he’s finally been able to catch away again.
“No matter what else happens today, or tomorrow, or any of the days following this one, you’re not going to be alone, and your squad members aren’t going to be alone, either. You’re going to help them with their injuries, and their fear, and then you’re going to help each other through losing Mikey.” Shane gently soothes his thumbs over Ryan’s temples, trying to calm him down and reassure him at the same time. “It’s going to be hard dealing with all of it at once--not being able to work, not being mobile due to injuries, feeling like you didn’t do enough to help everyone that was hurt or killed, trying to come to terms with the death of a teammate and how to deal with the hole their memory will leave behind. It’s going to be excruciating in a way that fire doesn’t even come close to.”
Ryan sniffles but doesn’t look away, so Shane knows he’s said the right thing. He smiles as much as he can manage and leans into the touch when Ryan’s hands slide up from his lower back to his shoulders.
“But you’re all the strongest group of people I’ve ever met. You’ve all dealt with so much in your time with the fire department, and so much outside of it. You’re all kickass in a way that makes the people who work here shake in their boots. And even though this is a different kind of hardship and fear, you’ll make it through it together, just like you make it through disastrous fires and battlefields full of smoke and panicking civilians. You’ll all be there for each other, work through the pain and anger together, and learn how to live with the absence.”
He pauses. Ryan looks like he could crack into a million ice shards at any second, but also like he’s already figuring out how to fit all the shards back together. It makes Shane’s heart throb, and makes say:
“If all else fails, I will always be there for you. No matter how hard it gets or how lonely it seems. I’m going to help you through this, just like you’ve helped me with losing patients, and I’m going to be there to remind you that it will get better, even if finding a way through the dark seems impossible. I love you, and am always going to love you, and I won’t let you go through this alone, no matter what it takes.”
Ryan sobs again, a painful mixture of agony and gratitude, and pulls Shane down to kiss him. Shane kisses him back deeply, can’t help the frenzied edge that he puts into it, because even if he’s convinced his head that Ryan is find, his body is still moving on autopilot, like it won’t be satisfied that Ryan is okay until he’s touched every single inch of him. Ryan melts, his body obviously reacting the same, always and forever in sync with Shane’s. He keeps one hand on Shane’s back and moves the other down to his chest, fingers pressing into Shane’s steadily beating heart.
When they pull away from each other, just enough to breathe, Ryan kisses his cheek, and then his chin, like he can’t help himself. Shane tries not to break down all over again.
“Thank you,” Ryan tells him. “Thank you for everything you do for me. You’re the love of my fucking life.”
“You too,” Shane whispers, because if he says any more on it right now, he’ll collapse.
Ryan brings their foreheads back together, but doesn’t break eye contact, wanting Shane to see all of his messy, broken pieces and the fear and the relief of being alive. “I’m sorry that you didn’t know where I was earlier. I know how horrible it felt. I’m so, so sorry.”
“I found you eventually. That’s all that matters. That’s all that’s ever going to matter, okay?” Shane kisses him again, swallowing back another round of tears. “Are you okay, though, besides everything else? Are you hurt? Do you need me to take you back?”
“All I have is some cuts and bruises, nothing worth getting checked out.” Ryan takes a big, deep breath, and then gives Shane the barest minimum of a smile that he can scrape together. “I’m better, now that you’re here.”
“I’ll always be here for you,” Shane says again. “No matter what comes next, okay? And--I know you hate this, being one of the only ones not hurt, but--I’m so fucking glad you’re okay, Ryan. I hate seeing you hurt, maybe more than you hate seeing the others hurt. I’m so fucking glad I got to tell you I love you again.”
Ryan sobs and laughs at the same time, looking exhausted and overjoyed and so gorgeous it almost hurts Shane to look directly at him. He croaks out: “I’m so glad I could say I love you again too, baby,” and kisses Shane softly.
When they pull away from each other, Shane sighs softly and glances down at his watch. He’s been gone for almost twenty minutes, and still has so much work to do back in the wing, but would rather do anything than leave Ryan right now. Ryan sees the glance at his watch, though, and his reluctant face, and smoothes his hands over Shane’s chest.
“I know you have to get back to work,” Ryan tells him gently, sniffling a little. “It’s okay. I’ll be okay.”
Shane wants to argue, wants to tear his scrubs right off and walk out to take care of his boyfriend, but he knows that the patients in need deserve more than his own personal wishes. So instead of storming out, he smiles tiredly at Ryan and nods.
“Are you going to stay here or head home?”
Ryan glances over at the doors leading to the center of the ER, and Shane thinks he’s going to say that he’ll stay, but then he gets a good look at Ryan’s face, at his bleary eyes and exhausted posture, and hopes for the latter.
“I think you should go home and get some rest.” Shane suggests, careful to not make it sound like an order. “You’re exhausted and sore and need to recover.”
Ryan looks like he wants to protest, but stops almost as soon as it starts. He heaves a sigh and nods, and Shane is eternally grateful that Ryan is going to let himself be taken care of for once.
“Yeah, I think I’ll head home.”
“Okay, sweetheart. I’ll call you an Uber and give you my key and meet you back home when I’m done here.”
Shane makes quick work of heading back to the locker room to retrieve his house key and bringing it back to Ryan, who doesn’t move an inch in the minute that he’s gone. When Ryan takes the key from him, Shane takes his phone out to order Ryan’s Uber, and then pulls him close again.
“You did an amazing job tonight, Ryan,” Shane says, hugging him tightly. “It’s okay to relax and focus on yourself now. All the others are knocked out, anyways. The exciting stuff can wait until tomorrow. When I get home, I’ll tell you all about Steven and his brawl with crazy Catholic Darlene, all right?”
Ryan giggles quietly. “Sounds great.”
Reluctantly (arguably one of the hardest things Shane’s ever done), he lets go of Ryan, putting some space between them. It takes every single tooth, nail, and ounce of self control not to cling to him and follow him out to the Uber, but Shane justbarely manages. Instead, he leans down and kisses Ryan on the forehead, hands cupped around his cheeks, and then he steps back.
“I’ll see you at home, okay? I love you.”
“I love you too,” Ryan whispers, turning to head for the exit. He looks back at Shane a few more times, like he wants to say something else, or wants to rocket back into Shane’s arms, but eventually just gives him a little wave and then slips outside.
Shane stares at the spot Ryan was just in for a long moment, and then he runs a hand over his teary face and goes back through the doors to the innards of the ER. No one comments on his puffy, swollen face, or his uncharacteristic silence, and he’s enormously grateful for the space. Everyone just lets him get back to work so that he can finish and get home to Ryan as quickly as possible.
While he works, he puts all of his energy into helping his patients, and either shares their pained, aching silences, or quietly talks with them to pass the time. For the few patients that ask about his swollen eyes, he softly explains that his partner was one of the firefighters at the fire tonight, and that Shane was just really worried about him, but is grateful to know now that he wasn’t injured. Those few patients smile warmly at him and tell him they’re glad that he’s okay, and Shane has to speak past the lump in his throat to tell them he thinks the same.
He just keeps on working, not straying from his end goal of getting home as soon as possible. In between the patients and the knowing, comforting glances that he shares with Curly and Daysha, he thinks about how insanely lucky he is that Ryan wasn’t hurt as badly as he’s prone to be during this particular fire, and how he’s ready to do whatever it takes to help him and the others through their recovery processes. He thinks that no matter what, this will end in him and Ryan becoming closer and stronger than ever, and it keeps the fuel going in his steadily dying engine.
He also thinks, with the same intense certainty, that when he gets home tonight, regardless of their states of health, energy, or even cleanliness, he is going to take the ring he bought out of his sock drawer and tell Ryan Steven Bergara that he doesn’t want to go another day without telling him exactly how he feels. That he doesn’t want to go another second without Ryan knowing that everything is better for Shane when he’s right beside him, and that he never wants Ryan to be anywhere else.