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Busy Doing the Devil’s Work

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On Tuesday night, halfway through an episode of Law & Order, Ryan’s phone starts buzzing its way across the coffee table. The number on the screen shows as restricted, but there’s only ever one kind of call that comes in that way.

“Hello?” Ryan answers, using one hand to mute the TV.

The person on the other end of the line hesitates, like they weren’t expecting him to pick up. “Ryan?”

Ryan leans forward. It’s not a voice he’s heard in over six years, but it’s still familiar.

“Ryan,” the voice says again. “It’s Shane.”

“Shane,” Ryan repeats and Shane apparently misinterprets his tone as a question.

“Yeah. Shane Madej.”

Ryan doesn’t try to correct him. Instead, he says, “Hey, man. It’s been a while.”

Shane lets out a huff of laughter that crackles across the line. “Yeah, that’s an understatement.”

Ryan lets it hang between them for a moment before tentatively asking, “Are you okay?”

Shane laughs again. “I’m that predictable, huh?”

Based on how their relationship had left off, he doesn’t think Shane would voluntarily contact him, not unless he needed something.

“It’s not a bad thing,” Ryan points out and Shane hums quietly.

Eventually, he asks, “Are you still in the area?”

“Los Angeles?” Ryan asks, confused, because last time he’d checked, his sources had told him Shane had gone out of state. He hasn’t checked recently, but there’s never been a strong pull to keep Shane in California. He doesn’t know why he’d come back now.

“Sara and I bought a house in Burbank a couple years ago.”

The news stings more than he expects. They’ve been nearby this whole time, and yet this is the first he’s hearing about it. “Oh,” he says. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks. It keeps us busy.”

It falls silent between them.

“If you’re calling for a favor,” Ryan says, picking at a thread in the seam of his couch, “I’m not in the business anymore.”

“No kidding,” Shane sighs. “It took us two weeks to track you down.”

“I’m not hiding,” Ryan points out, and ignores the stack of utility bills on his coffee table — none of which are under his real name. “Who did you talk to?”

“The usual suspects. Steven’s the only one who’s seen you in the past year. He gave us your number and threatened us with the fact he knows how to hide bodies.”

“He’s full of shit,” Ryan retorts. “He couldn’t hide anyone even if he was given a shovel and a six foot hole in the ground.”

“I assumed if he thought he’d have to follow up on his threat, he wouldn’t have given us your number in the first place.”

It’s a fair point. Steven’s always been strangely good at judging characters. Shane’s about as safe as they come.

“So, am I right?”

“About what?” Shane asks and Ryan squeezes the phone.

“About why you’re trying to track me down.”

Shane sighs. “Can we meet somewhere?” he deflects, but there’s a sinking feeling in Ryan’s stomach.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Look, it’s water under the bridge,” Shane tells him. “What happened happened. We need to move on.”

“I was trying to,” Ryan says bluntly and Shane falls quiet.

After a moment, he says, “Sara wants to see you.”

“That’s not fair,” Ryan complains gently, rubbing a hand over his face.

“I’ve never been fair, Ryan,” Shane admits softly. “I’m offended you think I would be.”

“Shane.”

“I’m not gonna force you to do anything, Ryan. If you’re out of the business, then you’re out. We were just hoping we could have one last run with the gang back together.”

Ryan pinches the bridge of his nose and lets out a long breath, knowing he’s about to make a bad decision. “Where do you want to meet?”

“Oh,” Shane replies with enough hesitation for Ryan to know he’d never expected Ryan to agree to it. “How about the usual place? Say Thursday around ten?”

“Sure,” Ryan agrees. He’ll have to reschedule an appointment with the optometrist, but Shane doesn’t need to know that. This might be his only shot to see them again. His one chance to make things right.

It falls quiet again and Ryan worries he’ll have to make more awkward small talk, but eventually Shane clears his throat.

“Thanks for picking up,” he says. “We’ll try to make this worth it for you.”

“Sure,” Ryan says again because he’s afraid he’ll instead say something damning, like just seeing you will be worth it.

“See you soon.”

Ryan doesn’t bother answering because the line goes eerily quiet, a clear sign that it’s been disconnected. He locks his phone and tosses it to the other end of the couch, slouching enough to stare at the ceiling.

He knows they’re going to ask him to help with a job, and he knows already that he won’t be able to turn them away. They’re his weak point and it’s something he’s just learned to live with.

He sighs and shuts his eyes.

*

There’s a cool breeze coming in off the ocean when he steps out of his car. It’s enough to cut through the thin jacket he’s wearing, but he has a beanie he always keeps in the backseat. He pulls it on and looks around, wondering if maybe now, after all these years, Shane and Sara will have grown better at time management. It’s already fifteen minutes past ten and there’s no sign of them. His only company is a man digging through a nearby trashcan and a handful of seagulls that are watching cautiously, probably hoping for signs of food.

In the distance is a lifeguard hut. It used to be abandoned back when Ryan was in high school — he would sneak out there with friends to smoke weed — but he knows it’s boarded up now. Six months into working with Shane and Sara, he’d gone out there to clear his head, catch his breath, and he’d had to settle for sitting on the ramp instead.

It’s where he sits now, and it’s where Shane and Sara eventually find him again.

“Hey,” Shane says, loud enough to be heard over the wind, but not enough to try to spook Ryan. Ryan still startles; it’s just the kind of person he is these days.

He stands up, brushing sand off his jeans, and makes his way towards them.

Sara’s bundled up like it’s the dead of winter and not the middle of spring, and Shane’s wearing a button-up shirt and shades like it’s summer. They’re an odd mix, but his stomach flips at the sight of them. They’re still the same people he remembers from so long ago.

“Hey,” he says, and tries not to take it personally when Shane holds out his hand to shake. He takes it, because it’s not the time to make a scene.

Sara doesn’t hold back. When Ryan lets go of Shane’s hand, she steps forwards, arms spread to show her intention before she envelopes Ryan with them. She smells like the same soft-scented shampoo she’s always used and a hint of coffee.

“Hi, Ryan,” she murmurs, breath warm against his neck, and Ryan rubs her back briefly before pulling away.

“It’s good to see you,” he says, and is surprised by the fact that he actually means it. He is pleased to see them both, despite knowing they’re about to unload something awful onto him. “How are you both doing?”

“Can’t complain,” Shane replies. “Weather’s nice and work is steady.”

“You’re still working?” Ryan asks and Shane shoots him a smile, one he can’t quite interpret.

“We didn’t stop after you left,” Shane tells him, which Ryan knows for a fact is a lie. He’d heard through the grapevine that after Shane had healed, they’d disappeared from the scene for almost a year. Ryan isn’t self-absorbed enough to think he was the sole reason, but there’s no way he wasn’t at least part of it. “But I got a shiny new leg out of it.”

Shane reaches down and knocks with a closed fist against his left leg, just above his knee. It sounds unnatural, definitely not flesh. Guilt rolls uneasily through Ryan.

He nods awkwardly and Shane folds his arms. “I already told you it’s water under the bridge. It wasn’t your fault.”

Sara touches Shane’s elbow, a subtle reminder that she’s there. “We’re not here to talk about the past,” she tells Ryan, though she’s looking at Shane. “We need a favor.”

“I charge extra for taking people out.”

Sara blinks before laughing, finally realizing that Ryan’s joking. She glances at Shane again, “Maybe that would be easier.”

“We’d have to take out the whole department,” Shane murmurs and Sara double-takes.

“What? No, I wasn’t talking about the — never mind.” She turns back to Ryan. “We’re working with the LAPD again. Our point man was deported to Canada and we need a replacement.”

“Wow,” Ryan says, pretending to rock back with the admission. “Don’t hold back.”

“We didn’t know who else to contact,” Sara admits quietly. “We need someone we can trust.”

Ryan fidgets with his beanie. “I haven’t done any jobs in years. You need someone in the business.”

“You’re the best,” Shane says frankly. “You always have been.”

Ryan doesn’t know what to do with that. He folds his arms, tucking his cold hands into his armpits. “What is it?”

“An extraction,” Shane says, which doesn’t make sense.

“Anyone can do an extraction.”

“We’re not looking for anyone,” Sara insists, but she has a hard time holding Ryan’s gaze.

“What aren’t you telling me?” he asks and this time it’s Shane who glances at Sara.

“It’s Ellis Fitz,” Sara admits and Ryan immediately shakes his head.

“No,” he insists. “No.”

“Just hear us out,” Shane urges, but Ryan can’t believe they’re doing this right now after all these years.

No,” he snaps again. “I trusted him and he shot you.”

“If everyone in the business stopped after they’d been betrayed, there would be no one left,” Shane argues back. “We all trusted your judgement because he seemed like a good chemist. None of us saw it coming.”

“I can’t go through it again.”

“It won’t be the same,” Shane promises. “LAPD have been working on this case. They’re in a position where a simple extraction will bust him and they need a team. Not just Sara and I. All of us.”

Ryan takes his beanie off and cards his fingers through his hair. “Shane, you’re asking a lot.”

“You think we don’t know that?” Shane fires back, clearly upset. “We sorted through resumes for two weeks before we tried to contact you.”

“I’m your last resort,” Ryan says with a laugh, but the look Shane shoots him stops it almost immediately.

“You were our first choice,” he admits, voice low and even, and Ryan knows he’s telling the truth. “We tried to keep you out of this, because we didn’t want to be the ones to drag you back into something you hated.”

“Dream sharing?” Ryan asks and Shane shrugs.

“And our relationship.”

Apparently, today they’re having every possible heavy conversation they should have had almost a decade ago.

“Jesus, Shane,” Ryan sighs, pulling his beanie back on. He wants to call the whole thing off and head back to his car, but Sara steps closer, curling her hand below Ryan’s elbow.

“Ryan,” she says gently. “You disappeared while Shane was in the hospital.”

It’s not true. Ryan had actually left mere minutes after the paramedics had arrived at the warehouse where Shane had been bleeding out. Ryan had washed Shane’s blood off his hands in a Starbucks bathroom, ordered a venti black tea, and had gone off the grid for two years.

The only reason he’d known Shane was still alive was because he’d read every obituary in the L.A. county for a year and none of them had been him.

“We tried to contact you after,” Sara continues. “Maybe you just never received anything, but did you expect us to wait forever?”

“No,” Ryan murmurs. “I’m glad you moved on.”

“And now we’re trying to get closure,” Shane interrupts. “Putting Ellis in prison isn’t what I need, but it would be nice. Working with you again would be nice, too.”

“I don’t think I have a choice.”

“Ryan, you always have a choice,” Shane tells him bluntly. “You made it perfectly clear before. Don’t start pretending like you don’t now.”

Ryan nods and glances out towards the ocean. The waves are chaotic, seven or eight foot swells folding into one another, crashing against the shore. He feels like he’s caught in the middle of them.

“Can you tell me more about the case?” Ryan asks and Shane shakes his head.

“You need clearance.”

Ryan lets out a low whistle. “Look at you, following the rules.”

“I want to do this right,” Shane admits and Ryan nods. "I want it to be airtight when Ellis goes to court."

“Okay, I’m in.”

Shane scoffs. “All I had to tell you was that I’m doing things by the book?” he asks with a frown and Ryan shakes his head.

“I probably would’ve agreed to it if you’d asked me on the phone.”

Sara lets out a soft laugh and squeezes his elbow lightly. “I told him to ask, but he said something about being adults and needing to meet in person.”

Ryan rolls his eyes in mock annoyance, but offers her a small smile. Beside her, Shane reaches into his pocket and pulls out a business card. There’s an address and a phone number on it — both of which are familiar.

“Are you kidding me?” he asks, squinting up at Shane like he can’t quite believe him, but Shane just offers a quick twitch of the corner of his mouth. “Unbelievable.”

“We start on Monday,” Shane tells him. “Nine-thirty.”

“Are you actually going to be on time?”

Shane pulls a face, like Ryan will just have to find out himself and Ryan hates that it makes him laugh. Even after all these years, Shane still ends up being the funniest person he knows.

“Fine,” Ryan relents. “Monday.”

*

Back in the day, when they’d first started out in dream-share jobs, they’d rented an abandoned warehouse in Arlington Heights. It had been some kind of old storage unit before — the insides ripped out and barely functional — but it had been their base of operations for almost three years up until Shane’s accident.

Ryan hasn’t been in the area since he last saw Shane and Sara, but he doesn’t actually expect the place to still be standing, let alone available for use when he drives up on Monday morning to the address Shane had given him.

There’s a new keypad on the door that he doesn’t know the code for, but when he knocks, it doesn’t take long for someone to answer.

“Hey,” Sara says, a smile breaking out across her face. “You showed up.”

Something about her intonation hints that she might actually mean it and is surprised he’s there at all.

Ryan glances back towards his car as a joke, but Sara reaches out to grip his arm, holding on tightly enough for him to know there’s no escape now.

“Get in,” she says with a laugh and he lets her draw him inside and shut the door behind them.

The inside of the warehouse is different now. There’s actual drywall up, hiding the pipes that were once exposed, and the concrete floor has been stained and polished. He whistles, already impressed.

“Did you guys do this?”

“We started just after Shane finished physical therapy,” Sara explains gently and Ryan double-takes.

“You own the building?”

Sara laughs. “They didn’t want much for it. They said the bloodstain in the middle kept driving potential buyers away.”

“Eesh,” Ryan jokes. “Tough sell.”

There are desks in the middle now. Ryan tries not to stare too much at the last place he saw Shane clutching his leg to try to stem the bleeding. It helps that there’s a handful of filing cabinets in that space now, and next to them, a row of cots.

Shane’s perched on the foot of one, an iPad propped against his bent knee, his other leg — the prosthetic one — stretched out in front.

“Hey,” Ryan says carefully and Shane glances up as though he never even heard them walk in.

“Oh,” Shane replies. “You showed up.”

Ryan lets out a huff of laughter. “Did you coordinate? Sara said the same thing.”

“No, but we did get you coffee,” Shane says, nodding with his head towards a desk with a perspiring iced coffee on the corner. It’s one of Ryan’s favorites and it says a lot that they thought to pick up one for him, despite thinking he might not show.

“Thanks,” he replies gently, grabbing the coffee and taking a sip. “What's the plan?”

“Straight to the point,” Shane sighs, but it’s clear he’s teasing.

“I’ll grab my notes,” Sara tells them. “Pull up a chair, Ryan.”

Ryan instead chooses to sit on the end of the cot next to Shane’s, setting his coffee on the floor for later. Sara rolls towards them on an office chair, a notepad in one hand that she flips open when she stops in front of them.

“So,” she starts, looking at Ryan, “LAPD has had Ellis on their radar for a while now. His black-market chems have killed six people in the last four months. As you know, the legality of dream-sharing for law enforcement is blurry at best, so they haven’t been able to share any other case notes. We need to figure out a way to put Ellis in the same place as his chems in order to bust him.”

“You said this was an easy extraction,” Ryan says with a sigh, looking over at Shane, who shrugs.

“Did I? My memory isn’t as good as it used to be.”

“Asshole,” Ryan mutters under his breath, but the corner of Shane’s mouth twitches like he knows Ryan’s joking.

“If we pull Ellis in, we can extract what we need,” Sara chimes in, but Ryan shakes his head.

“I’m not going under with Ellis.”

“We have no choice,” Sara insists, but Ryan shakes his head again.

“Of course you have a choice. Ellis isn’t in this alone. He’ll have a team working with him. He needs distributors, drivers, muscle. Find the weakest link and take them under instead.”

Sara glances at Shane, who shrugs after a moment.

“Guess that’s proof of why we needed a point man,” Shane says and Sara begins taking notes.

“Do you know who’s working for him?” Ryan asks and Shane gestures to a white board where ten or so pictures are pinned with brightly-colored fridge magnets.

“We came up with an initial list.”

Ryan pushes himself up and walks towards the board to get a closer look. A few of them are familiar faces — people he once worked with in the industry, who have clearly made worse life choices than him.

“What do you know about them?”

“George on the right enjoys reading and long walks on the beach,” Shane says. “Sam took up jazzercise lessons last month.”

“Asshole,” Ryan says again, this time louder and meaning it a little more than before.

“I have notes for them,” Sara interjects, standing up and moving towards a desk piled high with papers. It takes her a moment, but eventually she pulls free a binder. “What do you want to know?”

Ryan shrugs. “Who’s the easiest target?”

“In what way?” Sara asks and Ryan scratches at his stubble as he thinks.

“Who has the least tactical dream-share training? Who made it onto the team because of who they know rather than what they know? Who has the longest rap sheet?”

Sara glances down into her binder, biting her lip in thought. Eventually, she looks back up at Ryan. “We might need to do some more research.”

Shane leans back and rubs at his eyes like the thought alone tires him. “Fuck,” he says, and sounds like he means it.

*

Shane picks up lunch for them around one, returning with three grease-stained bags from a burger joint. The smell alone makes Ryan’s stomach rumble loudly.

“Any breakthroughs?” Shane asks while Ryan begins working on the fries in his bag.

Ryan shakes his head. “Narrowed it down to four.”

“That’s not bad for one day,” Sara points out, accepting a bag of her own from Shane, and then glancing down at her laptop. “You can cross Franco off the list, Ryan. He has a side business training people in dream-share.”

“Three,” Ryan announces, crossing the name off his list. It leaves them with a small-time distributor, a bookie, and someone who appears to be in delivery.

He moves the list aside and stretches out his legs, belatedly realizing he’s been hunched over the binders for far too long. He’s going to ache later, but for now, he’s going to enjoy a delicious, free lunch.

“So,” Shane says around a mouthful of burger, “what have you been doing these past few years?”

His tone is casual enough that Ryan can almost believe he hasn’t been trying to find a way to work the question into the conversation since they met up. Ryan hums mildly and licks salt off his fingers.

“A few things here and there.”

“If you don’t want to tell me, just say,” Shane half-laughs, though Ryan thinks it might actually be a dig at him.

“Okay,” Ryan agrees, “I don’t want to tell you.”

Shane squints at him like he’s trying to decipher whether he’s joking or not. “Ouch.”

“We didn’t know you were still in the area,” Sara tries and Ryan shrugs.

“Feeling’s mutual then.” He lets the answer settle for a moment before sighing and leaning back. “I got into film production.”

“Huh,” Shane says at the same time that Sara says, “Makes sense.”

“I’m between projects,” Ryan explains. “You called at the right time.”

“Lucky us,” Shane teases with a smile. “Is Hollywood treating you better than we ever did?”

“Their dental plan is terrible.”

Shane’s smile widens into something genuine, the corners of his eyes crinkling. Sara touches Shane’s knee, the movement subtle, clearly not meant to be something Ryan notices, but it’s like she’s saying maybe this is the start of something good.

Ryan looks down at his fries and takes another mouthful. “What about you two?”

“We went corporate for a while,” Sara admits, a quirk of unhappiness appearing at the corner of her mouth. Ryan knows why. Corporate dream-share jobs pay well and they’d probably needed them to pay off medical debts, but they're soul-sucking. “We’ve been with the LAPD for almost two years now.”

“Cushy.”

“Shane hates it, but it’s stable.”

“We get to pick and choose what we work on,” Shane explains. “We know which cops are actually trying to make a difference.”

Ryan raises his eyebrows. “Not all cops?” he jokes and Shane blows out an exasperated breath.

“Fuck you.”

There’s no bite behind it and Ryan laughs, unable to help himself. He chews on another mouthful and tries not to think about how it feels so much like old times. How at any point, Sara could perch on the edge of his desk and casually card her fingers through his hair. How Shane could pat him on the back for some minor detail he’s noticed, letting his hand linger just long enough for Ryan to savor the warmth of his palm.

But that was a long time ago now and he knows, just from looking, that the Sara and Shane that sit before him today aren’t the same as the ones from back then.

He nudges his fries around. “Did you hear Steven got married last year?” he asks, and just like that, the elephant in the corner of the room grows larger.

*

“This is our guy,” Ryan says around four in the afternoon. His back is stiff and there’s a headache brewing behind his right eye.

Sara rolls her chair around her desk towards him, touching his arm to keep herself steady. “Who?”

“Milo Burch.” Ryan turns his binder so she can see the photo stapled to one of the pages.

“Who is he?” Shane asks, hand on the back of Ryan’s chair, a looming presence behind that makes Ryan’s neck itch.

“Delivery guy. He’s been arrested eight times in the past three months.”

“Sloppy,” Sara agrees. “He’s just a low-level pawn.”

“Yep,” Ryan agrees. “Ellis doesn’t give a shit about this guy. Easy target.”

“So, what’s the plan? Get him into a dream?”

Ryan nods. “He knows where the shipment is going.”

“What do we need?” Sara asks and Ryan shrugs.

“Not much."

“Doesn’t it matter?” Sara asks, turning to look at him with a frown.

“No, we’re going to tell him it’s a dream.”

From somewhere above him, Shane lets out a low, rumbling laugh. “Classic Bergara.”

Ryan turns his chair, forcing Shane to let go. “We go in as Ellis. Milo seems low enough down the chain that he’s probably never met Ellis for more than a few minutes. It’ll be an easy forgery for you, Shane.”

“You think I can’t do it?” Shane scoffs and Ryan shakes his head.

“Don’t be stupid. You’re one of the best forgers in the state,” Ryan says bluntly. “I just mean that it won’t take much to convince him.”

“So, Shane, as Ellis, is going to tell Milo they’re in a dream?” Sara questions with a frown and Ryan nods.

“We already know Ellis is paranoid,” Ryan points out, which is an understatement. It may have been because Ellis had been planning to screw them over, but he’d constantly assumed Ryan, Shane, and Sara were conspiring against him while they’d been working their final job together. “We’ll insinuate that Ellis kidnapped Milo and put him into a shared dream so they could talk in private. That’s the only place they can talk without being overheard. Sara and I can act as Ellis’ militarized subconscious.”

“We’ll make him run through the plan,” Sara assumes and Ryan nods.

“Like some kind of drug dealer audit?” Shane jokes and Ryan shrugs.

“We get the plan and send the cops to Ellis.”

Shane scratches his jaw and takes a moment to think. “You make it sound easy.”

“It’s never easy,” Ryan counters. “We need to find Milo and get him into a dream.”

“Leave that to us,” Shane says. “I’ll see if our LAPD contact knows anything.”

“Sure,” Ryan agrees before looking over at Sara. “You want to start building a dream for us? Keep it generic. We just need somewhere to sit and talk with him.”

Sara nods and makes a quick note before leaning back. “We can get together later this week when we’ve come up with something.”

Ryan stretches, hiding a yawn behind his palm. “Sounds good.”

“Tired?” Shane laughs as Ryan scrubs a hand over his own face.

“Forgot how hard research is,” he admits and Shane pats him on the shoulder.

“Go get an early night. We’ll call you when we need you.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Ryan says and Shane shoots him a look, like he’s not entirely sure Ryan’s joking.

“It worked,” Shane points out. “You answered your phone, so that’s on you.”

“Glutton for punishment,” Ryan tells him with a shrug and the corner of Shane’s mouth twitches up.

“Yeah, guess so.”

*

Ryan’s scrolling through his phone, trying to pick a playlist for the drive home when there’s a quick rap of knuckles against his window. He startles, dropping his phone into his lap as he looks over, finding Shane watching him. Shane quirks an eyebrow at him and Ryan sets his phone in the cupholder before rolling down the window.

“Hey,” he says, fidgeting with the outside seam of his jeans. “Did I forget something?”

“No, I — ” Shane pauses like he’s trying to make sure he picks the right words. “Thanks for helping. I know you don’t have to do any of this.”

Ryan feels his defenses soften. “Oh,” he says gently. “Sure.”

“I’m being serious,” Shane replies, which hurts, because it means Shane can no longer recognize when Ryan’s joking and when he’s not.

“So was I. We’re friends still, right? Friends help each other.”

Shane pauses, watching Ryan with a guarded expression, like he still doesn’t quite believe him. “Yeah, Ryan,” he says eventually. “We’re friends.”

Ryan shrugs. “Then this is nothing. Just helping where I can.”

“I don’t want you to feel like you owe me anything.”

Ryan stares forward out of the windshield for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. When he looks back at Shane, he says, “This’ll be closure for both of us.”

Shane nods in understanding and Ryan feels like maybe they’re back on the same page, just how they used to be. “Yeah,” he agrees. “We’ll let you know when we find out more.”

“Sure, you know where to reach me.”

Shane drums his fingers on the roof of Ryan’s car and then steps back. “See you around, Ryan.”

He turns away and Ryan watches him go, waiting until he finally disappears into the warehouse to let out a long exhale. He’s not sure if it’ll really be closure, but it’ll definitely be something. He just hopes it doesn’t blow up in their faces.

*

Just after ten in the morning two days later, Ryan gets a text from Shane’s number.

Come over for dinner tomorrow. We’ll run through the plan.

It’s followed up by a Google Maps link for a house that Ryan assumes is theirs. He stares at the quaint porch and blue mailbox for longer than he should before he replies.

Already have dinner plans, he lies. Would 8pm work?

It takes a few minutes for Shane to answer, but eventually Shane texts, Sure, see you then :o)

Ryan has to set his phone down. He used to complain to Shane constantly about his inability to use normal emojis. He could never just use the ones already on his phone. He always had to use his own. It’s a callback Ryan never expected to deal with and he lets out a heavy sigh.

It’s just one night. He’ll survive.

Maybe.

*

A little after seven forty-five, Ryan parks his car at the curb beside Shane and Sara’s mailbox. Illuminated by his headlights, he realizes it’s now painted a mint green, which means the Google pictures are outdated. He listens to the engine tick quietly when he turns off the car and wonders if it’s too late to bail.

His phone buzzes with a new text from Shane.

Waiting for an invitation?

He glances towards the house, but the blinds are drawn and he can’t see inside. He grabs his backpack and keys and gets out with a quick look around, a sense of unease washing over him. It comes with every job he’s ever done, but it never seems to go away. He locks his car and heads towards the front door.

He doesn’t have time to knock before the door swings inwards, Shane looming just inside, an almost empty glass of wine in one hand.

“Hey,” Ryan says. “Nice place.”

“It’s too dark to see,” Shane points out, ushering Ryan inside before shutting the door behind them.

“I was trying to be polite.”

Ryan glances around — there’s an open living room on the right and a couple of closed doors ahead that might be a closet and a bathroom. To the left is a 70s-looking kitchen and a hallway that must lead to the bedrooms. It’s small, but cozy; decorated with knick knacks and art that’s decidedly them. Some of it, he even recognizes from their old apartment, seven or eight years prior.

“Sara has everything set up in the living room,” Shane says. “Feel free to make yourself at home.”

He can see their PASIV device on the coffee table, ready to be used, and Sara’s on the couch, tapping away at her laptop. She looks up, as though sensing his gaze, and waves.

“Hey Ryan,” she says easily. “Come pop a squat.”

Shane lets out a breath of laughter. “I’m gonna get a refill. Want anything?”

A glass of wine would calm his nerves, but it won’t mix well with the sleeping agent — he already knows from too much experience.

“I’ll take a water,” he says instead and when Shane heads for the kitchen, Ryan makes his way to Sara.

A majority of the photos on their walls are recent, perhaps vacations from the past couple of years, but there are a few older ones scattered among them — one with Shane in shorts, both legs still there; another with Ryan and Steven in the shot, at the wedding of a mutual friend.

He remembers that night because it had been the first time he’d gone home with Shane and Sara. They’d all been tipsy on champagne and soft wedding vibes, and it had been so, so easy. He’d watched Sara ride Shane in slow, steady movements, and afterwards, Shane had fingered him into an unexpected orgasm. It had been the start of something great.

“Did you get lost?” Shane asks, already on his way back through, wine in one hand, a glass of water for Ryan in the other.

“Thanks,” Ryan says, taking the drink and pointedly avoiding Shane’s gaze, which shifts towards the photo Ryan had stopped to look at.

“What have you come up with?” Ryan asks, stepping away and moving to take a seat beside Sara.

Sara glances back briefly at Shane before looking at Ryan. “Might be easier to show you.”

*

Slipping into the dream is unnervingly familiar for not having done it for more than half a decade. It’s the gentle sensation of falling and then the sudden rush of waking up.

“I went with something simple,” Sara says beside him like they’d been in the middle of a conversation. “I thought it would be more to Ellis’ taste.”

Ryan finds himself seated at a desk, Sara beside him, gesturing at the room around them. It’s a small space, a clean and sleek office that Ryan isn’t expecting. He’d been imagining scuffed, 80s-looking furniture like in movies, but what he gets is a modern take that Ryan thinks is exactly what Ellis would create.

"Damn," he says. “Guess you’ve still got it, Sara.”

“You approve?”

“I doubt there’d be a situation where I wouldn’t,” Ryan admits and Sara laughs.

“You used to be a hard-ass. You got soft.”

Ryan hums noncommittally and gets up to poke around. There’s a filing cabinet in the corner that actually has files in it and an ashtray on the windowsill with a lit cigarette balanced on the edge. The level of detail is exactly how he always remembers it being whenever Sara was their architect.

“This really is good,” he insists, turning to look at her. She offers him a small smile, but her eyes seem sad.

“Maybe I'm trying to remind you of what you’re missing out on.”

Ryan doesn’t have a reply to that. He turns towards the wall, reaching out to straighten a picture hanging on it. It’s not crooked, he just needs something to do with his hands.

“We really did try to find you after everything,” Sara admits quietly, but Ryan doesn’t turn back around.

“I didn’t want to be found.”

“Yeah,” Sara sighs. “We got the hint after the first year trying. We kept in contact with your brother.”

“Jake?” Ryan asks, taken off-guard. He turns to look at her and she nods.

“We wanted to make sure you were okay. No one in the industry had heard from you. There were rumors you’d died.”

Funnily enough, Ryan had heard those same rumors. “I left the country,” he tells her. “I needed some space.”

“You got it,” Sara points out and Ryan nods again.

“I did.”

“Were you alone?” Sara asks after a pause, a question so loaded he might not survive answering.

“Sara,” he implores and she blinks calmly.

“We never replaced you.”

Sara,” he insists firmly, which seems to remind her where they are and what they’re doing.

“Guess it’s a bad time to show up, huh?” Shane says from the doorway.

Ryan knows it’s Shane because it’s his voice, but he’s forged to look like Ellis and it’s convincing enough to have Ryan take an uneasy step backwards.

“Fuck,” he complains, and Shane looks down at himself, patting at his chest.

“Too much?”

“A little warning would have been nice,” Ryan admits, to which Shane shrugs.

“Life comes at you fast.” He stretches out his arms and turns in a circle. “What do you think?”

Ryan worked with Ellis for a year before everything happened. He partied with him on the weekends and sometimes they got breakfast together before heading to the warehouse to meet Sara and Shane. The forgery is so accurate that if Shane didn’t use his own voice, he’d think it actually was Ellis. It unnerves him.

“Not bad,” Ryan says uncomfortably and Shane grins.

“High praise.”

“Can you — ?” Ryan asks, gesturing at Shane’s body, and Shane cocks his head, but seems to understand what Ryan’s referring to.

Shane’s body ripples, dropping the illusion until it’s just Shane standing there, his usual, long-limbed self. “I thought this was practice.”

“I can’t focus when you look like that.”

“You’ll need to get used to it if this is going to work,” Shane points out and Ryan shrugs because he might be right, but right now he just wants to run through the details.

“Sure,” he agrees, “but how is this going to work?”

Shane moves to perch on the corner of the desk beside Sara and folds his arms. “Our LAPD contact knows of Milo Burch. They’ve had him under surveillance in the past. He has a few regular haunts.”

“Such as?”

“There’s a bar near the coast that he’s seen at most Friday nights.”

“We could drug his drink,” Ryan suggests and Shane nods.

“That’s what we were thinking.”

“When are we doing this?”

“We don’t know when Ellis is going to try to move his shipment,” Shane points out. “We need to move quickly.”

Fuck,” Ryan exhales. “Tomorrow?”

Honestly, Ryan thought he’d have more time to prepare, but Shane nods. “We’ll set up the warehouse tomorrow morning. You’ll need to meet us later if you’re doing this.”

“I can’t back out now,” Ryan points out.

“Okay,” Shane replies, “then be at the warehouse by eight.”

“Should I bring anything?”

“Just yourself,” Sara says. “We have everything we need.”

“Including transport?”

She nods. “We have a cargo van for these kinds of jobs.”

“Remind me not to get on your bad side,” Ryan jokes, though it might be a little too close to the truth. Sara smiles politely and glances at Shane.

“Do we want to run through your plan? Maybe try out your Ellis voice?”

“That’s it?” Ryan interrupts. “That’s the entire plan?”

“It’s a simple extraction,” Shane reminds him and Ryan quirks an eyebrow at him.

“Kidnapping isn’t simple.”

“It is when you have the LAPD on your side.”

“So, what? We just drug his drink, get him to the van, bring him back to the warehouse for the extraction, and then dump him somewhere?”

“Basically,” Shane agrees, frustratingly calm.

“And if that doesn’t work?”

Shane shrugs. “We come up with a plan B.” At Ryan’s expression, he sighs. “Ryan, it’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, ‘cause that worked out so well last time.”

Last time Shane had said that, he’d been shot in the leg and left with a thousand complications.

“Well, if anyone tries to shoot me this time, I have one less leg for them to aim at.”

“You’re not funny,” Ryan complains, but Shane just grins at him.

“Let’s run through things,” Shane suggests instead. “If you want to come up with a plan B, now's the time.”

Ryan sighs and glances between him and Sara. “I don’t know why I agreed to this.”

“We don’t either,” Shane jokes, but it sounds too close to the truth to make either of them laugh.

“Let’s just get this over with.”

*

Sitting in the van around the back of the bar, Ryan feels conspicuous. It seems like anyone that looks their way must know what they’re planning, but Shane and Sara are calm and composed, crouched in the cargo area of the van as they do last minute preparations. Sara’s in the tiniest black dress he’s ever seen her in and she’s double checking her clutch to make sure she has the sedative.

“This’ll be easy,” she says. “I’ll text when I’m done. You’ll have about three minutes to get him in here before he’s out like a light.”

“No pressure,” Shane jokes before looking at her with a fondness Ryan can feel. “Be safe.”

She presses a hand to his shoulder for balance and leans in to kiss him chastely.

“Always am,” she says, pulling away and reaching blindly behind herself for the door handle. She spares a glance at Ryan, but just offers him a quick smile before opening the door.

Her heels clack as she steps out and she pauses to readjust the hem of her dress from where it has ridden up. Ryan tears his gaze away, back to Shane, who’s watching him neutrally. Ryan glances past him, through the window of the van’s cabin and out the windshield. He only does it to avoid Shane’s gaze, but he catches movement and quickly forgets about his embarrassment.

“Hold up,” he says quietly, lifting a hand. From where Sara is, she can’t see that the bar’s back door is swinging shut and someone’s staggering towards the dumpsters across the street from them. “Don’t move.”

It’s too dark to see much, but conveniently, the bar’s security light flicks on, illuminating a man who’s reaching for his belt buckle like he might be about to relieve himself. The light startles him and he looks up, long enough for Ryan to recognize him.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he murmurs. “That’s our guy.”

He points and Shane twists to look, blowing out a heavy breath and cursing under his breath.

“Stay there, Sara,” Shane whispers, but Sara just reaches down and silently takes off her heels before climbing back into the safety of the van.

“Is it him?” she asks, but Shane’s too busy reaching for the backpack he’d kept tucked in the corner.

“Yeah,” Ryan confirms. “Guess we’re gonna need to change our plan.”

Shane continues digging through his belongings, which really isn’t helping when Ryan’s trying to figure out if he’s going to need to go knock the guy out with a suckerpunch.

“What do we do?” Ryan asks at the same time that Shane pulls out a syringe and bottle of god knows what. “What the fuck is that?”

“Our plan B,” Shane tells him, pulling the cap off the needle with his teeth and spitting it aside as he measures out an amount that Ryan would quantify as a fuck-ton.

“Are you trying to kill him?” Ryan whispers and Shane glances at him before squirting a little back into the bottle.

“It has to be faster acting than the pills Sara was going to use,” Shane explains. “We have to be quick.”

Ryan glances back out the window and sees Milo has found a dark corner between a dumpster and a stack of milk crates, and is taking his time urinating on the bar wall.

“What a dick,” Sara mutters and Ryan grunts in agreement.

When Shane shoves his backpack aside, Ryan turns his attention back on him.

“Okay,” Shane says, keeping the syringe tucked at his side, away from everyone. “Ryan, you come with me. Sara, get ready to drive.”

“Jesus,” Ryan exhales. “How is this legal?”

“The lines get blurrier the more contacts you have with the LAPD.”

Ryan hates that Shane’s right, but there’s no time to argue before Shane slips out of the van and beckons Ryan to join.

“Be safe, boys,” Sara offers, halfway through pulling on a pair of flats. Ryan spares her a glance before stepping up to Shane’s side.

“Okay, let’s do this.”

Shane leads the way across the street, pausing nonchalantly to look at a parking meter while two girls pass by, though they don't even seem to notice them. Somehow, Milo is still peeing, and Ryan isn’t sure whether to be alarmed or impressed. It only takes a few steps to get closer and Ryan expects Shane to throw out an excuse to chat, like maybe hey man, do you have a light or do you have the time.

Instead, Shane just jabs the needle into the flesh of Milo’s semi-exposed ass and presses the plunger down.

“ — the fuck?” Milo asks, turning around, thankfully finished peeing and in the process of tucking himself back into his pants. “What do you want?”

He fastens his pants and belt, glaring at them with an intensity that worries Ryan.

“Three, two, one,” Shane says, which doesn’t make any sense until Milo’s knees buckle and he staggers towards them. Ryan barely manages to grab and support him, while Shane holds onto the syringe, keeping it out of the way. “He won’t pass out completely for a minute or so. Get him to the van.”

Ryan doesn’t need to be told twice. He hooks his shoulder under Milo’s arm and helps guide him, like he’s taking home a friend who’s had too much to drink. He can’t help but glance around, worried people will see, but the street is empty and Ryan manages to somehow get Milo around to the van.

“Get in and support his head,” Shane tells him, tucking the used syringe into a container beside his backpack.

With his hands now free, he guides Milo out of Ryan’s grip and keeps him steady while waiting for Ryan to settle inside, his back against the wall of the cab and legs spread out in a vee.

“Fuck,” Shane grunts the second Milo begins to slump further, the drugs finally kicking in and sending him unconscious. He lowers Milo onto the van floor, careful not to jostle him too much, and Ryan grabs the shoulders of his jacket and tugs until he’s safely ensconced between his legs, snoring quietly.

Shane climbs in after and slides the door shut. It’s dark inside, but Ryan sees him grip Milo’s ankles and pin him to the floor to ensure he doesn’t roll around in transit.

“Get us out of here, Sara,” he calls out and the van rumbles to life beneath them.

Ryan feels slightly seasick, swaying as Sara navigates the streets, and when his eyes finally adjust, he catches Shane’s gaze.

“This is fucked up,” he says and Shane grins.

“Just like old times.”

*

It’s easier to get Milo into the warehouse when there’s less chance of being spotted and there’s three of them to carry him to one of the cots.

While Sara gets Milo hooked up to an IV of fluids and a mild sedative, Ryan pulls off his own jacket and settles in the cot closest to the door.

“Ready for this?” Shane asks, handing him a line from the PASIV, which Ryan takes without hesitation.

“Guess we’ll find out.”

Shane smiles and moves a few paces over to press a hand to Sara’s back, checking in with her in a voice too low for Ryan to hear. He busies himself with getting the needle under his skin, something that takes a few tries since he’s still a little rusty. He stares at the ceiling of the warehouse, anxiety bubbling in his stomach — the same kind he always used to get before a dream during a job. There’s a lot of pressure riding on him, and he hopes he doesn’t fuck anything up.

“Ready?” Sara asks after a few minutes, and when Ryan looks over, both her and Shane are hooked up to the PASIV, on cots either side of Milo. She’s looking at Ryan, waiting for his approval, her finger poised on the deploy button.

“Yeah, let’s get this over with,” Ryan replies and the next thing he knows, he’s waking up.

*

“I need to know I can trust you,” Ellis says, and Ryan knows, logically, it’s just Shane, but he can feel the sweat building under his arms and on the back of his neck.

He’s back in the office Sara created, standing to Shane’s right, watching Milo look around in confusion. Sara is on Shane’s other side, hand resting casually on the gun at her waist.

“Where am I?” Milo asks. “Did you drug me?”

“I need to know I can trust you,” Shane says again with Ellis' mouth. “I brought you here to talk privately.”

“You can’t just call me, you asshole?” Milo snaps and Shane tuts.

“I pay your bills. Talk to me like that again and I’ll have Dan here take your tongue.” He tilts his head towards Ryan and Ryan narrows his eyes in an attempt to intimidate Milo when he glances at him.

“They said you was paranoid,” Milo complains, “but I didn’t know you was insane.”

Shane lifts a hand as if to say well, what can you do? “I’m here to talk about the deal, not ask for your opinion.”

“You already know about the deal,” Milo fires back, frowning.

I know about it,” Shane confirms, “but I need to know you do, too.”

“I’m the fucking delivery guy,” Milo scoffs. “Of course I know about it.”

Shane pauses before folding his arms. “So it wasn’t you who fucked up my last deal?”

Ryan doesn’t know what Shane’s talking about, but Milo looks like he understands completely, his face shifting quickly from surprise to anger.

“That’s wasn’t my fault,” Milo complains. “I was given the wrong address.”

Shane hums quietly. “By who?”

Milo’s indignation shifts to belligerent defensiveness. “It was your guy that gave it to me!”

“My guy? The informant?”

“How the fuck was I supposed to know he was an informant? I’m given an address and I go. That’s my fucking job!”

“Three of my guys got arrested and apparently I have to do everything myself. Where is the shipment going?”

Milo folds his arms. “The Langham warehouse near Hawthorne.”

“When?”

“Normal time,” Milo says with a shrug, and Shane continues staring at him blandly until he breaks. “Midnight on Tuesday.”

“And what will you do?”

Milo rolls his eyes, like he’s a child being scolded by a parent. “I handoff to you and Fletcher, collect my payment, and disappear like a good boy until you call for the next delivery.”

Shane smiles, but it’s anything but kind. “Exactly. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“You kidnapped me just for this,” Milo says with a judgmental shake of his head.

“There’s a reason why the cops haven’t caught me yet.”

Milo actually laughs at that. “Do you think they tried to tail us tonight?”

Shane shrugs loosely. “Probably. But they can’t get in when we’re up here,” Shane says, tapping his temple. “Nothing from a dream can be used as evidence.”

“But they can steal your secrets and use them to find hard evidence topside.”

“Hence my militarized subconscious,” Shane says, gesturing at both Sara and Ryan. “Nothing gets in or out without me knowing.”

Milo sucks his teeth and tips his head. “Are they my way out of here?”

“Afraid so,” Shane empathizes. “You’ll wake up where we took you from.”

Ryan unholsters his gun, a finger on the safety waiting for Shane’s go-ahead.

“That’s it?” Milo asks and Shane nods.

“That’s it. Perhaps next time you’ll use the restroom.”

Shane glances at Ryan and Ryan doesn’t flinch as he puts a bullet between Milo’s eyes to wake him up.

“Like taking candy from a baby,” Shane says, shifting back into his own body as Ryan tucks his gun away.

“We still need to get him back without being seen,” Ryan reminds him.

“And get out of this dream before he starts fighting the sedative,” Sara adds, which is another good point.

“We’ll celebrate later, then,” Shane insists.

There’s always something about completing an extraction that puts warmth in his veins and after so long without the feeling, Ryan realizes he’s missed it.

“Sure,” he says before he can stop himself. “We could grab drinks.”

When Shane smiles at Ryan, it’s contagious because he finds himself returning it.

“That sounds good,” Sara agrees. “It’s been too long.”

*

The dumping of Milo’s body safely amongst the bar’s dumpsters is unceremonious. He may wake with a headache, but he should be grateful they didn’t leave him in the puddle of urine from earlier.

After switching vehicles at the warehouse, Ryan follows Shane, expecting to be led to a bar in the quieter part of town. Instead, Shane drives home, and like a schmuck, Ryan continues following.

“Thought we were going out for drinks,” Ryan says when he meets them on the driveway, but Shane just shrugs.

“We have alcohol here.”

Sara loops her arm around Ryan’s as they walk towards the front door and says, “We have bourbon.”

“You don’t like bourbon,” he points out and she smiles.

“We thought we might have to butter you up a little, but celebrating with you instead is much better.”

“It’s been a while,” he says and tries not to think about how hedonistic the celebrations in the past used to be, a mix of alcohol and sex. Sara squeezes his arm and draws him inside as Shane unlocks the door.

“I need a shot to get the taste of Ellis out of my mouth.”

Sara lets Ryan go so she can flick on lights around the house and Ryan startles as something brushes his leg.

“Jesus,” he yelps, immediately feeling like an idiot when he looks down and realizes it’s just a cat. It’s a small gray tabby that mrows quietly at him, like it’s confused at his shock.

“Oh, that’s Cecil. He loves anyone who walks through the door,” Shane says, pulling a jug of juice from the fridge. “He’s an idiot with no self preservation.”

“You two must get along great,” Ryan jokes as he stoops to give Cecil a quick scritch behind the ear. He doesn’t ask if he’s the successor to Obi.

“Obi’s probably on our bed,” Sara says, like she can read his mind. “He’s an old man now and hates visitors.”

“I can relate to that,” Ryan replies, moving further into the kitchen.

Shane’s mixing up an orange vodka for Sara, which Ryan knows is one of her favorites. He slides it across to her like he’s a bartender in a movie, and she laughs as she catches it, even though some spills across her hand. She licks it up and Ryan tries not to stare.

“Want a shot?” Shane offers, drawing his attention again, and Ryan thinks he’s mostly joking, but holds his hand out. Shane only hesitates for a moment before filling up a shot glass and passing it over.

Ryan swallows it in one before he can think too much about it, the alcohol burning the back of his throat pleasantly. He wants to take the edge off, still feeling too tense around the two of them. Shane watches him carefully.

“Another?” he asks and Ryan probably shouldn’t, but he nods.

“Sure, why not?”

Shane fills his glass again and Ryan raises it in a toast. “To a job well done.”

“To old friends coming in clutch,” Shane adds, drawing a soft laugh from Ryan.

“Sure,” he agrees, and throws back his second shot as Shane takes a draw directly from the bottle and Sara sips delicately at her screwdriver.

It might get them in trouble, but with enough alcohol, Ryan thinks he might not care.

*

They end up on the couch after enough drinks for Ryan to have lost count. Though, specifically, Ryan and Sara are on the couch and Shane’s on the floor, squished between them and the coffee table. The bottle of vodka, although having not been even halfway full when they began, is now almost empty and Ryan is feeling it in the heaviness of his limbs.

“This job was fun,” Shane says, cheek pressed against the table but gaze still firmly on them.

“What, the drugging and kidnapping?” Ryan deadpans and Shane snorts.

“I mean getting the gang back together for a reunion tour.”

Ryan huffs a laugh into his glass. “Reliving the golden years.”

“We do good work,” Shane says before pausing and frowning. “Did?”

“We still do apparently,” Sara adds as Shane sits up, leaning one elbow on the table and using it to keep himself upright.

“We could do this more often,” he says, looking at Ryan, who focuses on draining the last of his drink.

“I should order an Uber,” Ryan tries, but Shane shakes his head.

“We should talk about this.”

“I’m too drunk,” Ryan insists and Shane snorts again.

“You won’t talk about this even when you're sober.”

Ryan leans over and sets his glass on the coffee table, wiping the condensation off his palm onto his pants. “Then take the L and move on.”

Sara touches his knee gently and Ryan hates how much he likes the small, tender gesture. “Ryan,” she says and Ryan rubs a hand over his face.

“Is this why you brought me back here? To ambush me?”

“Ryan, you’re the one who suggested drinks,” Sara says and Ryan finally looks over at her.

“I meant at a bar. Not in your home.”

“What’s wrong with our home?” Shane complains and Ryan shakes his head.

“Shane, I’m not getting into this.”

“Is it because you finally have to think about us?”

Ryan looks down at his lap, trying to calm the rapid thudding of his heart. There’s a loose thread by his knee that he tugs at idly, but it doesn’t give. “I never stopped thinking about you,” he admits quietly and it hurts more than anything when Shane scoffs.

“Could’ve fooled us,” he says, but when Ryan looks over at him, he’s not mad. He looks sad more than anything.

“What do you want from me?” Ryan asks. “An apology won’t make us forget the past.”

“No, but it’s a great fucking start at another chance.”

Ryan swallows thickly. “I’m sorry.”

Shane actually sits back like he wasn’t expecting Ryan to do anything.

“I’m sorry that I panicked,” Ryan continues because he realizes that at this point, the most he has to lose is them. But he’s already lost them before and survived. He can do it again if he has to. “I thought I’d fucked up and got you killed. Ellis was my friend. I was the one who brought him in and told you he was trustworthy.”

“Ryan,” Sara says gently, “we all trusted him because he was a good guy. None of us saw it coming when he sold us out.”

“I couldn’t handle seeing Shane hurt and I left because I thought that if I didn’t have anyone in my life, I wouldn’t have to go through it again.”

The silence hangs between them and Sara gently squeezes his knee. “Were you right?”

“No,” Ryan tells them bluntly. “It just meant that I was alone.”

Sara’s hand moves up to his shoulder, rubbing in gentle circles that are more soothing than they have any right to be. “We missed you,” she says and Ryan leans into her without even thinking about it, just wanting the warmth of her.

He drops his head into his hands and lets out a shaky breath. “Did you mean it when you said you never replaced me?”

Sara folds him into her arms and it’s laughable with how tiny she is compared to him, but he lets her curl around him because it’s exactly what he wants.

“We only ever wanted you,” she murmurs into his hair. “You know that, right?”

“I do now.”

He forgets about the dress she’s wearing, which means when he shifts his hand to clutch at her leg, trying to keep her exactly where she is, he gets the warm softness of her bare thigh. He goes to pull away, but a hand, much too large to be one of Sara’s, covers his and pins it where it is. When he looks up, Shane’s watching them, his arm outstretched to reach them.

“You can come back to us whenever you want,” Shane tells him.

“Jesus,” Ryan hisses. “You can’t just say that.”

“Why not?” Shane asks and Ryan doesn’t really have an answer.

“Aren’t you both still mad at me?”

Shane sighs, his body sagging. He takes his hand off of Ryan’s in order to card his fingers through his own hair. “Ryan, we stopped being angry at you a long time ago.”

“We can’t go back to how it was.”

“Why not?” Shane asks again. “For someone who didn’t want to come back, you sure have thought up a lot of rules for what we can and can’t do.”

“It’s not the way life goes.”

“Everyone fucks up, Ryan,” Shane tells him. “Sometimes people deserve a second chance.”

Ryan doesn’t reply and Sara unfolds just enough to get her hands on his face, forcing him to look at her. “You don’t think you deserve a second chance.”

It’s a statement, not a question and Ryan doesn’t bother answering because she already knows.

“Ryan,” she says so softly he has to strain to hear, even sitting directly next to her. “You’re the only person we’ve ever let in; you know that, right?”

Ryan lets out a slow breath and shakes his head because it’s news to him. “No one else ever compared to you two.”

“How long did it take you to realize?” Shane asks and Ryan avoids his gaze.

“I think I knew the moment I left.”

Sara brushes her thumbs across his cheeks, the touch so tender that Ryan can barely feel his face. “Would you come back to us?”

“I thought I already did,” Ryan tells her honestly, but when her gaze drops to his mouth, followed by one of her thumbs brushing along his bottom lip, he thinks he knows what she’s talking about.

He shifts his gaze to Shane, needing guidance, and Shane tips his head in the barest of nods. Ryan swallows, looking back at Sara, who’s watching, waiting for him to take the next step.

Her jaw fits perfectly in his palm, just as it always has done, and she drops her hands away from Ryan’s face, letting him take control. He lifts her chin just a fraction of an inch before closing the distance and kissing her.

He’s not expecting the way she immediately melts into it, her body sagging like she’s been waiting all six years for this moment again, like having Ryan back has lifted the weight from her and now she’s structurally unsound and needs his support. He curls an arm around her waist, pulling her close, and Sara makes a quiet noise, something low and pleased.

She parts her lips, letting Ryan in without hesitation, and it takes a moment for Ryan to remember how to kiss her. It’s like a half-forgotten dream — he knows what she likes, how she likes to be taken apart, but the practical side of it is fuzzy around the edges. He’s rusty.

He feels her smile against his mouth and she breaks the kiss, gently carding her fingers through his hair and laughing when Ryan immediately tries to kiss her again.

“How long has it been?” she asks, tone light, like she already knows.

“A while,” Ryan grunts and she grins at him.

She presses her hand atop the one Ryan has on her waist, nudging it down and down towards the hem of her dress.

“Want some practice?”

“Jesus christ,” he murmurs and she pulls him back in for another kiss.

The warmth between her thighs is unbearable. He tries to show some restraint, but it’s just too easy to trail his fingertips along soft, smooth skin under her dress. Her breathing turns heavier in between kisses, like the touch alone is driving her crazy, and Ryan never wants to stop.

When he rubs his thumb against the cotton of her underwear, she lifts her hips, exhaling against his mouth in a rush.

“Fuck, Ryan,” she says, opening her legs for him like it’s the easiest thing in the world.

Ryan takes full advantage, rubbing where he can feel the warm, wet heat beginning to soak through. She nips at his bottom lip and then slumps against the back of the couch, bucking upwards into his hand, apparently all she can focus on. Ryan leans in to press a kiss against her bare shoulder and rubs her a little harder.

She has goosebumps down her arms and he’s not sure if it’s because she’s cold or excited. When he glances down her body, he finds Shane rubbing her shin, his gaze focused between Sara’s legs, though Ryan knows between his hand and the shadows, Shane probably can’t see much.

With the tips of his fingers, Ryan nudges Sara’s underwear aside, needing to feel exactly how wet she is. She lets out a loud gasp, clutching at the couch and rocking into his hand as he gets a finger inside her. She squeezes around him and then looks down at Shane, her expression pleading.

“Show me,” Shane tells her and Sara immediately reaches for the hem of her dress, tugging it up until it jams around her hips, too tight to go any higher. Just as urgently, she tugs at her underwear, dragging them down her thighs.

Ryan’s hand gets tangled in the material in her desperation to kick them off and he laughs, gently grabbing one of her wrists so he can free himself.

“There’s no rush,” he promises. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“There is,” Sara argues, flinging her underwear aside. “I want to come.”

Ryan can feel his face heat, but he wants that for Sara too. He gets two fingers into her this time and Sara puts a foot up on the coffee table, letting the other leg fall to the side and giving Shane a front row view of exactly what Ryan’s doing to her. Shane leans forward and kisses the inside of her knee reverently, sliding a hand up the outside of her thigh while he rubs himself through his pants with the other.

Ryan curls his fingers and nudges his thumb against her clit, drawing a shallow breath from her as she tips her head back.

“Fuck,” she sighs. “You’re still so good at that.”

She grinds against his hand and Ryan slips another finger into her, just to hear her moan.

“The presumption,” Shane teases. “He doesn’t even ask, he just does it.”

Ryan gently thrusts them into her, the noise alone making him so hard it’s almost uncomfortable.

“He’s allowed to,” Sara gets out between breaths. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Ryan hums quietly and then leans in to kiss at Sara’s throat, unable to help himself.

“I want to feel you come,” he tells her and Sara actually yelps in response, her body rolling against Ryan’s hand. He keeps rubbing her clit with the same steady swirls of his thumb and Sara’s body begins to tense.

Fuck,” she says, sounding slightly surprised as she begins to shake, tightening around Ryan’s fingers as she comes. She goes silent as Ryan gently urges her through it, and finally she draws in a loud, ragged breath and drops her hand to his wrist, stopping him. “I can’t feel my toes.”

Ryan lets out a soft laugh, carefully pulling his fingers out of her, and drawing her into a kiss. She’s not as frantic now, her movements sluggish like her orgasm has zapped all her strength. But nonetheless, she gets her fingers into his hair and tugs firmly.

“I’m not done yet,” she promises. “Just give me a second.”

Ryan presses one last kiss to the soft pout of her mouth and tucks a strand of her curls behind her ear. “I can be here all night if you want me to.”

“We do,” Shane answers and Ryan turns his focus on him instead.

He’s still lazily rubbing himself through his pants, apparently happy to sit back and watch, but Ryan wants more than that for him. Shifting to the edge of the couch, Ryan reaches out for him and Shane goes like it’s second nature.

Up close, Ryan can see Shane has more laughter lines around his eyes and along his forehead, but he doesn’t let himself get distracted. He rests a hand on Shane’s shoulder and lets Shane lean in the rest of the way to kiss him. It’s so different from the softness of Sara, and he still hasn’t quite wrapped his mind around the fact he gets both of them again.

Shane’s facial hair is scratchier than he recalls it being — perhaps longer now — but Shane’s mouth is gentle, searching. Remembering.

Ryan can’t get enough of it, losing himself in the feeling of Shane relearning him, every kiss turning a little sloppier, a little more frenzied as the need builds between them. When Ryan can barely stand it, wanting more from Shane, he slides off the couch, settling into his lap to get even closer.

“Wait,” Shane suddenly says, “I can’t — ”

For a second Ryan isn’t sure what he’s talking about, until he sees the awkward position of Shane’s prosthetic leg, jammed against the couch in a way that can’t be comfortable for his hip.

“Sorry,” Ryan automatically apologizes, but Shane takes his face in his hands and kisses him again.

“Just give me a minute.”

Ryan sits back on the couch, watching as Shane levers himself up to sit on the edge of the coffee table. It’s a slow process as Shane begins to take his pants off. They get bunched around his prosthesis and Ryan reaches towards him.

“Do you need help?” he asks, but Shane barely spares him a glance and it’s Sara that pulls Ryan back.

“No,” Shane says firmly. “I’m fine.”

Ryan wants to apologize again, but a quick glance at Sara — who shakes her head — reminds him this is still part of them relearning each other.

Eventually, Shane manages to get his pants off, his body looking so much different from what Ryan remembers. He’s got a little more weight around his middle now, but most notable is the scarring along his left thigh.

Shane hesitates for just a second, hand hovering above it, before he seems to steel himself as he takes off the prosthesis. There’s a gel liner underneath that Shane leaves on, but he gives it a quick rub, a clearly-habitual motion before he glances at Ryan.

“Get your pants off,” he grunts, pulling his shirt over his head before reaching for his underwear.

“Don’t put your bare ass on the coffee table,” Sara complains, and Ryan can’t help but laugh. Shane bats at her thigh and Sara gives him a half-hearted nudge from her foot in retaliation.

“The things I do for love,” Shane mutters, but pushes himself towards the chaise section of their couch to sprawl out on his back.

He’s a sight to behold — something Ryan only now realizes how much he’s missed — and Ryan thinks he sets a new world record as he undresses, needing to be right there with Shane, who’s finally shoving his underwear down and off.

“How do you — ” Shane starts, but Ryan doesn’t give him a choice. He sprawls out above Shane, their limbs fitting together like muscle memory as he pulls him back into a kiss.

Shane relaxes almost instantly under him, seeming to realize Ryan has a plan for them and that he just has to sit back and enjoy. His kisses turn deeper, slower, and Ryan begins to grind against him, using one hand to line up their cocks and give them exactly what they both want.

It’s more languid than with Sara, and Shane’s hands are large and hot along his body, touching like he never wants to stop. It’s not the best sex Ryan has ever had — a little lube would help with that — but Ryan doesn’t care. He has Shane against him and Sara at his side, and he’s going to come quickly anyway. It’s been too long since someone else last touched him, and he doesn’t stand a chance against them.

“Why did you leave?” Shane asks suddenly and Ryan can’t think. All he can do is grind down against him and tuck his face into Shane’s shoulder. “We had it so good.”

“Shane,” he begs and Shane threads his fingers into Ryan’s hair and holds him right where he is.

“We needed you,” Shane tells him. “I needed you.”

Ryan comes with a sob so hoarse it doesn’t even sound like himself. It wracks through his body like the sharp snap of touching an electrified fence, and Shane’s there murmuring his name, like it’s all that matters. When Ryan finally slumps against him, exhausted but sated, Shane rubs his back and Ryan finds himself clinging to him for support..

“I was scared to lose you,” Ryan admits quietly into the space between Shane’s shoulder and the couch.

“You lost me anyway, you idiot,” Shane replies, rolling Ryan gently onto his side.

Ryan, not expecting the insult, laughs before he can stop himself, looking up at Shane’s soft and slightly exasperated expression. “Yeah, okay,” he agrees. “I deserved that one.”

Shane leans in and kisses him again, and something deep within Ryan seems to settle. He gets the feeling that they might be okay after all.

He drags his hand along Shane’s stomach, his fingers now wet with come as he curls them back around Shane’s cock. Shane bucks into the touch, but his gaze rests somewhere over Ryan’s shoulder.

Ryan looks out of instinct and finds Sara unzipping her dress and pulling it off completely. She’s not wearing a bra underneath and Ryan’s cock gives a valiant twitch.

There really doesn’t seem to be enough room, but she moves towards them, using the back of the couch and Ryan’s shoulder to balance herself as she climbs into Shane’s lap.

“Hey,” she says softly and Shane slides his hands up to her hips, helping to steady her.

“Hey,” he murmurs and she folds at the waist to kiss him, their movements familiar, something they’ve done a hundred times before.

When she pulls back, she glances over at Ryan, who still has Shane in hand, thumb teasing at the tip.

“Want to help?” she asks, shifting downwards enough for Ryan to get the hint, and he angles Shane’s cock to rub the head between her legs.

Both of them moan quietly and Ryan nudges Shane back just enough for Sara to sink onto him. It’s a easy glide down, both from Ryan’s come and how wet Sara still is. Ryan lets his thumb rub her clit and Sara grinds into it, her movements loose and easy, clearly enjoying the thickness of Shane inside her.

They look so good moving together, Sara knowing exactly how to ride him to drive Shane crazy. She grins down at him and Shane looks at the ceiling, like it’s too much.

“You’re not gonna last, are you?” she teases lightly. “You like Ryan watching us?”

Shane’s chest heaves as he breathes, fingers digging into the soft skin of Sara’s waist. The noise of their bodies against one another is loud in the silence and Ryan can’t get enough of it. Sara moans when Shane shifts under her, changing the angle just enough for her to feel it, and she lets her head tip back.

“I’ve been thinking about this for so long,” she admits and when she looks back down, she catches Ryan’s gaze and holds it. “We missed working with you, but we also missed this.”

She reaches out for him, her palm against his cheek, and Ryan turns just enough to kiss the inside of her wrist.

“I learned a lot,” Ryan tells her, still gently working at her clit, getting her closer to falling apart again.

“Oh yeah?” Her breath catches when Shane moves his hands up, cupping her breasts and thumbing at her nipples.

“I learned that I was a dumbass for leaving.”

Her laugh seems to take her by surprise, and she half-collapses against Shane, catching herself with a forearm across his chest. “Yeah,” she agrees. “You were.”

Ryan kisses her wrist again because he can’t help it and watches her return to grinding down on Shane.

“God, Sara,” Shane murmurs and Sara pulls her hand away from Ryan’s face to rub it across Shane’s collarbone.

“Yeah?” she says. “You close?”

Shane nods, a hint of desperation to it, and Sara sits up, moving faster, clearly knowing what Shane needs to get there. Shane doesn’t seem to stand a chance against her. His jaw tenses and Ryan knows he’s losing control. He’s seen Shane come enough to know exactly how he looks when it happens. Shane slides his hands around to Sara’s back and clutches at her as he bucks upwards, grunting as he comes deep inside her.

She makes a noise of satisfaction, everything sounding so much wetter as she continues rocking down onto Shane’s cock, his come already starting to leak out.

“Make me come, Ryan,” she orders and Ryan doesn’t hesitate, just starts moving his thumb against her clit with purpose and loving the way she quickly falls apart.

She comes for the second time that night with a sharp cry, her body shaking as she drops down as far as she get onto Shane’s cock and lets her orgasm wash over her. Ryan thinks she looks beautiful all the time, but she’s even more so now, gasping for breath, her hair falling into her face.

“Oh, fuck,” she sighs, and as Ryan pulls his hand away, she slumps over, pressing her face into Shane’s neck. “I’m never going to move again.”

“That’s okay with me,” Shane rumbles from beneath her before turning to look at Ryan. “You’re staying, right?”

The question catches Ryan off-guard. “The night?”

“And forever,” Sara adds, voice muffled by skin.

Ryan laughs gently and watches them start to doze together, the alcohol and sex — and possibly old age — finally getting the better of them.

“Yeah, okay,” he agrees, though he’s not sure to which part.

“Good,” Sara sighs, and that seems to settle it.

*

Ryan wakes to the shifting of the bed under him. He has a brief moment of panic — his brain screaming a reminder at him that he lives alone — before he remembers he’s not at home and he’s definitely not alone. He’s tucked up in Sara and Shane’s bed, one arm dangling off the edge of the mattress.

“Ryan,” a voice whispers quietly beside his ear. There’s a waft of minty toothpaste and Sara’s perfume and Ryan breathes it in, savoring the moment. “We need to go meet our LAPD contact, but you’re welcome to stay. We’ll be back for lunch.”

Ryan sighs sleepily and turns his head towards her, finally opening his eyes and squinting against the early morning light. “Afternoon delight,” he says and Sara laughs and leans in to kiss him like it’s something they just do now.

“Maybe,” she replies against his mouth before pulling away, giving his butt a pat through the comforter. “Get some more rest.”

He hums happily and shuts his eyes. He doesn’t mean to fall asleep again so quickly, but he doesn’t hear her leave.

*

Wandering around their home unsupervised feels illicit. He’d found an old shirt and a pair of sweats on the floor of their closet, and although they don’t smell the freshest, they keep him from having to head into the kitchen naked.

Cecil’s sitting on a barstool at the high-topped kitchen table and he chirps when he sees Ryan.

“Don’t judge me,” Ryan tells him. “Your owners let me stay.”

It’s quiet while he makes himself coffee and toast, learning the layout of their kitchen — something that seems strangely intimate — before he makes his way down to the couch.

The first thing he notices is the sprawl of clothes still left where they’d dropped them the night before. The second thing he notices is Obi curled up in the fabric of Sara’s abandoned dress. He lifts his head at the sight of Ryan, ears pulling back as he assesses him, before he turns his head away like Ryan doesn’t even exist. It’s about as close to acceptance as Ryan could ever hope for.

“Hello to you, too,” Ryan grunts, kicking his feet up and flicking on the TV.

When he sips at his coffee and lets himself sink into the couch cushions, he has the terrifying feeling that he could get used to this.

*

Ryan wakes to the buzzing of his phone in his hand. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he’s sitting up and Netflix is asking if he’s still watching.

The number on the screen is restricted and he half expects it to be Shane.

“Hello?” he answers, but the voice definitely isn’t Shane’s.

“Ryan Bergara?”

“Depends who’s asking,” Ryan says, immediately wincing at the cliché of it.

“This is Officer Chen,” the man says, ignoring him. “I’ve been working with Sara and Shane. Your information was given to me when you received clearance to work on your current case.”

“Sure,” Ryan agrees. “You’re their contact?”

“I am,” he answers. “We had a meeting planned for today.”

“Yeah, they left earlier this morning to meet you. How did it go?”

Officer Chen pauses. “They didn’t show up,” he says, the words sinking like stones in Ryan’s stomach. “They’re not answering my calls.”

“Something’s wrong,” Ryan says and Officer Chen hums in agreement.

“I’ve worked with them long enough to know they’ll always be late, but they’ll always be there eventually if they say they will.”

“Fuck,” Ryan curses. “I’ll try calling them. Call me back in five.”

He doesn’t mean to be so abrupt, hanging up on Officer Chen, but part of him immediately begins to panic. He finds Shane’s number and dials.

“C’mon, c'mon,” he says as it starts to ring, praying that Shane will answer and it’ll all have been some kind of misunderstanding.

It goes to voicemail and Ryan stands up abruptly, Obi bolting out of the room in surprise. He dials Shane’s number twice more, though both times it doesn’t connect, but on the third try, someone answers.

“Bergara,” the voice says and Ryan’s entire body goes cold.

“Ellis.”

“It’s been too long, Ryan. You should have called sooner.”

“Ellis,” Ryan says gently, knowing he’s dealing with a ticking time-bomb. “What have you done?”

“It feels like I should be asking you that. Word around town says you’ve been interfering.”

“Ellis, you’ve been selling laced sedatives,” Ryan tries to reason, but Ellis just laughs.

“You’re not in the business anymore,” Ellis points out. “It’s not your problem.”

“No, but my friends are, so it is.”

“Have they been demoted to friends?” Ellis asks, voice filled with mock concern.

“Ellis, where are they?”

“Where would be the fun in telling you? I’ll hold the phone up so you can say goodbye.”

The call ends before Ryan can say anything else, but he tosses his phone aside and starts grabbing his clothes from the floor, knowing he needs to be ready to leave.

When his phone rings again, he’s lacing up his shoes with trembling hands.

“Any news?” Officer Chen says in lieu of a greeting.

“Ellis has them,” Ryan immediately blurts. “He wouldn’t say where they were, but I’d place my bets on them being at the warehouse.”

“Why there?”

“Because Ellis would think it was ironic to have Shane back where he almost killed him before.”

It hurts to say, but Ryan knows it’s probably the truth.

“I’ll call it in,” Officer Chen tells him. “Don’t try to save them.”

“Sure,” Ryan says, but it’s clear they both know he’s lying. “Make it quick.”

*

Ryan arrives before anyone else and already knows he’s going to make bad choices when he grabs his handgun from the lockbox in the trunk of his car. It’s been years since a job has required it, but he has no trouble loading it and relearning the weight of it in his hand. He takes a steadying breath and then begins to jog in the direction of the warehouse, having parked a block away to avoid being spotted.

There’s no sign of anyone outside, but Shane and Sara’s car is there, which seems promising. Edging around the building while circumventing the windows, Ryan worries he might not actually be able to get inside. He doesn’t know the code on the door, but when he rounds the corner, he realizes it won’t be a problem because the door is hanging off its hinges ominously.

Someone has definitely been there before him.

He pauses outside the doorway and waits, listening for signs of others. With the open layout of the warehouse, he can’t risk stepping inside without knowing what to expect. If he’s caught too quickly, he’ll lose the element of surprise and become just another pawn in Ellis’ game.

It feels like an eternity passes, though it’s probably more likely thirty seconds or so before someone says, “Check the perimeter.”

The voice is closer than Ryan expects, but it’s not Ellis, which means there’s possibly three of them. He takes a step back, knowing he’ll need to act fast if someone walks out in front of him. He slows his breathing and focuses on the doorway.

The man who steps out is about Ryan’s height but with Shane’s build, which makes it easier when Ryan throws out a punch, using the weight of his gun to his advantage. The man drops like a puppet with its strings cut and doesn’t move. Quickly, Ryan grabs him by one foot and drags him away from the doorway, praying he’ll stay unconscious long enough to not fuck everything up.

One down, he thinks, and returns to listening.

“Did you hear that?” someone from inside asks, and this time it’s definitely Ellis’ voice. “Fuck.”

Apparently, Ellis knows someone is there because he doesn’t speak again, probably using hand gestures to get his men to do what he wants to avoid being overheard. Luckily, Ryan hears the sound of thick-soled boots against the concrete floor long before the second man emerges, immediately looking over and catching sight of Ryan.

Ryan knows he’s caught and now it’s just a matter of keeping people out of his way.

Aiming his gun low and flicking off the safety, he shoots the man in the thigh, the noise so loud his ears ring and ring and ring. The man yells, grabbing his leg as he topples over to the ground, at the same time that another guy rushes out, his weapon up and ready.

Ryan aims his shot, but unable to control his momentum, the guy trips over the man already on the floor and sends himself sprawling, head bouncing off the ground and immediately knocking himself out. Ryan takes his pistol and tosses it towards the open dumpster behind him. It’s not an elegant solution, but it works for now.

He doesn’t know how many more henchmen are inside, but Ryan knows he can’t afford to wait any longer. He raises his gun and steps into the warehouse, knowing full well it might be the last thing he ever does.

He spots Shane and Sara immediately, both of them bound together with power cords near the cots in the back. They’re alive and well, and the relief hits so hard it almost feels like vertigo. Shane has a busted lip and the beginnings of a black eye, but Sara appears unhurt, her cheeks just ruddy from tears. Her face crumples in relief at the sight of Ryan, and Ryan knows he has to stay focused for their sake.

“Ryan!” Ellis says from where he’s perched on the edge of Shane’s desk. “The whole gang’s back together!”

There are two more armed men behind Ellis and Ryan feels his stomach begin to sink.

“You’re outnumbered, Ryan,” Ellis points out, tapping his own gun against his knee. “I don’t think you thought this plan through.”

“You don’t have to do this, Ellis,” Ryan replies, moving closer. Ellis waves his gun in a motion for him to stay right where he is, and Ryan pauses because he knows he won’t get the same warning twice.

“I thought you’d appreciate the reunion,” Ellis tells him. “We had fun last time we were all here together. I just wish they hadn’t painted over the bloodstain. I felt it really brought the building together.”

Ryan’s hand shakes with the anger trapped in his body when he levels his gun at Ellis, but Ellis just laughs.

“Don’t point your gun at something unless you plan to shoot,” Ellis says mockingly and Ryan nods.

“I know,” he threatens and Ellis shakes his head.

“Don’t do it, Ryan,” he says, voice low and deadly. “You know how this ended last time.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“You didn’t learn,” Ellis sighs. “This is a friendly reminder not to fuck with my business. The three of you can’t touch me.”

“We can,” Ryan argues. “We can stop you.”

“No,” Ellis says, “you can’t.”

He turns with an ominous kind of casualness and cocks his gun, pointing it directly at Shane.

“You’re all going to leave town,” he continues. “Or this time I’ll take more than just his leg.”

Ryan lowers his gun immediately, his heart jumping into his throat. “Let’s talk this out, Ellis. Let’s be rational.”

“You’re right,” Ellis agrees. “Shane isn’t the one I’m having a problem with right now.”

He shifts to aim at Ryan instead, and strangely, Ryan feels calmer about it. If Ellis shoots him, at least he won’t be left with guilt.

“Don’t do it, Ellis,” a voice says from the doorway of the warehouse and Ryan twists to look. He doesn’t recognize the man, but he has a strong suspicion it might be Officer Chen. He has a weapon drawn and there are uniformed officers behind him, waiting to secure the scene.

Ellis looks at Ryan, his face devoid of expression, and it terrifies Ryan. He knows it isn’t going to end well for any of them. “What have you done?”

“Ellis — ” Ryan starts, but there’s the painfully loud crack of a gun that echoes around the building and Ryan finds himself suddenly falling backwards.

He has no idea what’s happening. One second, he’s talking with Ellis, and the next, he’s flat on his back staring at the ceiling of the warehouse as someone — possibly Sara — lets out a scream of his name.

The pain hits suddenly, radiating out of his shoulder like he’s been slugged with a baseball bat. It hurts so much it feels like he can’t breathe, and as he brings his hand up, his palm settles against something warm and wet. When he lifts it to look, he realizes it’s blood and his brain starts screaming at him that he’s been shot.

It doesn’t seem to register. It doesn’t make sense.

He’s dimly aware of yelling around him and more gunshots, but his ears are still ringing from the last one. Everything is muffled, his vision out of focus.

Someone leans over him, and although he doesn’t recognize them, he immediately decides he hates them because they press on his shoulder, hard enough that his whole body shudders in pain.

“You’ll be okay,” the woman tells him, but he still can’t breathe and despite trying to stay alert, his vision begins to tunnel and he succumbs to the pain.

*

Ryan wakes up cold and alone, and it takes him a minute to realize he’s probably not dead, but in a hospital room. His left arm is tucked into a sling and when he tries to move it, the whole side of his body, from shoulder to hip, aches like he’s put himself through too many pushups.

He grunts and doesn’t try again, his attention caught instead by a coat on the chair beside his bed. It looks like one Shane owns; something light and olive-colored. He grunts again and knows he must be drugged because he doesn’t even startle when the door swings open.

It’s Sara and Shane, too busy talking amongst themselves to realize he’s watching them until they’re beside his bed, pulling their chairs together.

“Oh!” Sara says, eyebrows raising in surprise. She drops the takeout bag in her hands into her seat and moves closer, reaching out to take his face in her hands. “Ryan.”

His brain’s too foggy to realize she’s kissing him until she’s already beginning to pull away, her eyes bright with emotion.

“You asshole!” she complains. “You scared the shit out of us.”

He blinks at her and unsticks his tongue from the roof of his mouth. “You scared me.”

She lets out a noise of exasperation and pulls him in again, his brain feeling dizzy from all the sudden movements.

“Sar,” Shane says gently from beside her. “Go easy on him. He’s riding high on the good stuff.”

This time when she breaks the kiss, she tucks her face into his neck and stays there for a long minute. Careful of his IV lines, Ryan brings his uninjured hand up to cup the back of her head, his fingers accidentally tangling in her curls.

“Are you okay?” he murmurs, because when he shuts his eyes, all he can see is her panicked expression from when he’d walked into the warehouse.

“That’s my line,” she huffs against his skin and it sounds like she might be crying. “I’m fine. We’re all fine.”

“Speak for yourself,” Shane mutters and when Sara eventually pulls away, Ryan gets a better view of him.

His black eye has fully blossomed now, but up close, he can see it radiates all the way out towards his cheek. He has a fat bottom lip from where it has split, but it looks like he’ll live to see another day.

“I got pistol-whipped for back-talking,” he says with a half-hearted smile. “I have a hairline fracture.”

“Jesus,” Ryan says, immediately worried, but Shane shakes his head.

“They took x-rays while you were sleeping like a baby. I’ll be fine. Just no face-sitting for a while.”

Sara chokes on a laugh and bats at him. “Shane.”

Ryan lets out a snort. “Noted.”

Shane looks down at him fondly, reaching out to push the hair off Ryan’s forehead. “You gave us a scare.”

“How do you think I felt? Your LAPD contact called me because you didn’t show up.”

“Oliver wanted to meet near the precinct, but we stopped at the warehouse to get our notes,” Shane explains. “Ellis was already there waiting for us.”

“He’d heard you were back running a job,” Sara adds, shifting the bag on her chair aside so she can finally sit down. “He knew you’d only come back into the business for one kind of job.”

“To put him away,” Ryan assumes, and Sara nods.

“He threatened to have you killed if we didn’t tell him what we’d done, what we knew about him,” Shane says, pausing and swallowing thickly. “We told him everything.”

“I don’t think we have to worry,” Ryan points out. “He tried to kill me. That’s even worse than dealing bad drugs.”

Shane nods, but there’s still a tinge of guilt to his expression. “Oliver said he’s going to push for maximum charges and they’re already tracking the shipment of drugs we found in our research.”

“Happy ending,” Ryan grunts, but Shane shrugs like he’s not entirely sold.

“Would have been better if I hadn’t got you shot.”

Ryan lets out a loud breath and can’t help but laugh. “Guess that makes us even, right?”

“Our life is an Alanis Morissette song,” Shane says, finally slumping into his own chair and Ryan laughs again.

“Isn’t it ironic,” he mutters with a grin and Shane finds his hand to give it a gentle squeeze.

“I’m glad you’re still here.”

“Me too,” Ryan agrees. “Thanks for coming to visit.”

“We weren’t going to leave you alone,” Shane points out with a frown.

“And speaking of,” Sara interrupts. “You’re gonna need help once you’re out of here.”

Ryan blinks at her. “Yeah, I could probably ask Jake to come help out.”

“I was talking about us,” she explains with a gently-exasperated sigh.

“Oh,” Ryan replies, taken off guard, glancing between them. “Really?”

“We can’t stay with you because of the cats, so you’ll just have to come to our house instead.”

The thought alone fills him with the kind of happiness he isn’t expecting, and with a lack of self-control from the painkillers, he finds himself grinning, unable to hide it.

“I don’t think he’s up for it,” Shane deadpans, shooting at look at Sara, who laughs, her face flushed with delight.

“Worst idea ever,” she agrees, and when she reaches out to settle her hand above Shane’s, Ryan thinks the warmth from both of them will keep the cold away for as long as he needs.