[identity profile] clayangel.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] wl_fanfiction
Title: Seldom Second Chances
Author: Clay
Pairing: Ryan/Colin
Rating: NC-17 (for earlier chapters)
Summary: When a freak accident drops an impossible opportunity in Ryan's lap, it's up to him to decide whether to squander it, or to change his fate by going after the one thing he's always wanted.
Word Count: ~6000
Prompt & Author's Notes: I wanted to give the last chapter all in one go because it's the kind of thing that builds up to the end. I hope you like it! Thank you so much to everyone who has read and commented over the last few months. ^_^ I really appreciate every single one of you. And one last time, for the Thon Prompt 33: Strangled by the red string. As always, betaed by [livejournal.com profile] asuka14.

Chapter 13

Early the next morning, Ryan stood outside Wayne's front door, his hand raised to knock. He'd been relieved to see Colin's rental car still parked outside, and the moment he shut off his own car, he'd leaped out and strode across the lawn before he could even consider hesitating. Now, however, the tiniest sliver of fear stilled his hand. What if it didn't work? This was his last chance to make things right with Colin, and he wasn't sure what he would do if he failed. But, he reasoned, stamping down on his fear, he'd never know unless he tried.

Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door.

Less than a minute later, the door swung inward, and Wayne stood there, giving him a knowing smile. The smell of coffee and pancakes wafted through the doorway.

Turning his head slightly, Wayne called, “Colin! It's for you!”

Ryan held his breath and waited as Wayne moved aside. Footfalls sounded on the hardwood floor, rapidly approaching, then Colin appeared, looking at him with wide eyes. The surprise faded from his visage after only a moment, however, and Colin gave Wayne a stern look before looking back to Ryan. He raised his chin and crossed his arms over his chest as he asked, “What are you doing here?” But despite his stance, the words held no malice. He sounded honestly curious.

“I had to see you,” Ryan answered.

“How did you know I was here?”

Ryan met Wayne's eyes, who smiled at him encouragingly. Bolstered, Ryan gave him a small, wry smile of his own in return. “I had a talk with your drinking buddy last night.”

Confusion crossed Colin's face for a moment as he looked between them, then his brow creased in thought. “You talked with Wayne last night?”

Ryan nodded. “I called him, and we met for a drink.”

Colin thought that over for a moment. “You called Wayne last night?” He looked at Wayne. “When did...okay.” Shaking his head, he let out a bemused chuckle. “I didn't think you had that kind of relationship.”

Wayne shrugged. “Turns out he has the same worries as you,” he said. He met Ryan's eyes again and gave a slight nod. “But why don't I let you two talk?” With that, he gave Colin's shoulder a squeeze, then seemed to melt back into the darkness of the foyer.

Ryan watched him go, then looked back to Colin. “You obviously trust Wayne,” he said. “Maybe I took a cue from you.”

Colin raised an eyebrow. “Okay...”

This cryptic approach seemed to be confusing Colin more than anything, so Ryan changed tactics. He just wanted to be honest. “Wayne said something to me,” he said. “Back in 2013, I mean. He said if I ever wanted to talk, well...” He shrugged.

Colin listened quietly. He hung back just slightly in the doorway, cast mostly in shadow. It reminded Ryan too much of the night at the lake, of the way Colin had become in the future—so cold and distant—so he hurried on, hoping Colin's silence would last long enough for him to get out everything he needed to say. He’d gone over what he was going to say a hundred times on the way over, but now that the moment had arrived, he found the words failing him.

“Even though Wayne and I...you know, we're not friends...he...I don't know...comforted me or whatever about Pat, and that got me thinking that maybe it's not just you I've been fucking over. Maybe I need to give Wayne or...god, I don't know, the world another go.” Colin was looking at him like he was insane, and Ryan just laughed and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Okay,” he said. “Let me try again. I've been an idiot. I've been an idiot for a long time, and I’ve been even worse lately, but now I want to see if...” He sucked in a breath, looking for the words, then let it out again and looked at Colin seriously. “What I'm trying to say is I want to try to do things differently this time around. I know I can’t just say or do one little thing, and suddenly you’re going to be convinced that I want to change. I know it’s going to take more than that to show you that I really am different.” Ryan smiled deprecatingly. “Or at least I will be. Just…I have to start somewhere, right?” As he finished speaking, Ryan extended his hand to Colin.

Colin looked down at it, frowning. He tightened his arms around himself almost imperceptibly. “What are you saying?”

“Come with me.”


Ryan gave him a small, lopsided smile. “It's a surprise?”

But Colin still didn't look convinced. He shook his head slightly, not willing to meet Ryan's eyes. “I appreciate that you want to try and change. And, to be fair, you're not the only one who's made mistakes,” he said quietly. “And I'm sorry for my part in the way things played out, but maybe things happened the way they did for a reason. Maybe that was how we were always meant to be.”

“It's not, Colin. Please.” Ryan reached his hand out a little further.

Finally, Colin met his gaze again. “I...” he started, and Ryan knew he was going to turn him down.

Quickly he moved forward, putting both his hands on Colin's arms and looking directly into his eyes. “Please,” he said again. He smiled. “Come on. Have you ever doubted me before?”

That actually made Colin smile, however slightly. He huffed softly and said, “Obviously. We wouldn't be here right now if I hadn't.”

Ryan chuckled. “Fair enough,” he consented. “But has that ever stopped you?”

For a long moment, Colin searched his eyes. Ryan held his breath, waiting. Colin's eyes skipped back and forth, looking Ryan over, weighing the events of the last few days against what—Ryan hoped—his heart wanted. After what seemed like an eternity but must have been less than thirty seconds, Colin finally relaxed. He let his arms drop to his sides and smiled even as he let out a long sigh. “I'm going to regret this, aren't I?”

Ryan beamed at him. “What's life without a few regrets, right?”

“Fine, but where are you taking me?”

Ryan slid his hands down Colin's arms. He took Colin's hands in his and gave him and gentle squeeze. “I told you,” he said. “It's a surprise.”

Despite the relief Ryan felt at Colin agreeing to give him one more chance, his nerves got the better of him once they were in the car headed north. They spent the majority of the ride in silence, with Ryan chain smoking and Colin opting to look out the window. He glanced Ryan's way a few times, and though Ryan refused to look back and Colin didn't speak, Ryan knew what was on his mind. They were taking the exact same route they'd taken only a few days earlier when they'd headed up to Ventura. This time, however, they flew past the exit that had led to the Mexican restaurant and kept going. When they reached Santa Barbara, Colin turned to him again, but again they passed the exit they'd taken previously.

A couple minutes later, however, Ryan did pull off, and now Colin's eyes were glued to the window as they headed west toward the ocean.

“Where are we going?” Colin asked him, but Ryan still refused to answer.

He just smiled and said, “Don’t worry. We’re almost there.”

Despite still being in the Santa Barbara city limits, once off the highway, they quickly left behind any vestige of civilization. Lush green vegetation seemed to sprout up out of nowhere, replacing storefronts with vibrant green bushes and trees. It bordered both sides of the road, first as an accompaniment to a house here or there, but quickly even the houses faded into the sea foliage. Even in the distant, little was evident aside from a number of low rolling, tree covered mountains. It was like they had left L.A. and entered a whole other world.

After only a couple minutes of driving, they came to the end of the road, and Ryan turned left, but it was just more of the same. Another few seconds passed, and Ryan slowed down and turned onto an innocuous one lane road. There were no signs or markers of any kind.

Colin couldn't keep his curiosity to himself any longer. “Seriously, Ryan,” he said, drawing himself up in his seat and looking around. “Where are we going? I'm starting to think you're taking me to the middle of nowhere for a murder-suicide.”

“We're here,” was Ryan's only response.

They made their way along the path slowly. It ascended at a gentle angle at first, then more drastically the further they went, and the asphalt quickly gave way to packed dirt. Colin was still obviously intrigued by their ultimate destination, but even Ryan found himself surprised at the height of this little mountain; there’d been no evidence of it from the road.

The vegetation that had accompanied them along the way thinned out the higher they went, leaving an expanse of scrubby brush and sparse grass. Ryan continued along the path, which curved around a high, domed hill. There were a couple people dotting the landscape, but it wasn’t obvious what they were doing. Colin peered at them each closely, as though they were a puzzle he was trying to solve.

Eventually the road pittered out near the summit, ending in a small parking lot populated with a few other cars. Ryan parked, and Colin immediately got out.

“What is this place?” Colin asked as Ryan rounded the car.

Ryan opened the trunk and pulled out a couple jackets and pairs of gloves. “Elings Park,” he said. He offered Colin a jacket. “Here, they said you would need this.”

“Who?” Colin asked, shaking his head, though he took the proffered jacket.

Ryan just shrugged and smiled as he slipped his own jacket on. “Come on,” he said.

Colin, still bewildered, followed him anyway, but he didn't have far to go. As soon as he turned and started after Ryan, he spotted a young, tanned man in a bright red windbreaker heading their way. The young man raised a hand in greeting.

“Hi!” He called. “You guys my 11 o'clock?”

Ryan called back an affirmative as Colin asked, “11 o'clock what?”

As if on cue, a parachute came gliding into view at just that moment. Ryan and Colin stopped walking to watch as it drifted in off the coast, its pilot lowering himself to the grassy knoll a hundred yards away. The man walking toward them stopped, too, and looked over his shoulder to watch the landing. When he turned back, he was grinning widely. “Ready to get up there?”

“Ryan?” Colin asked, his eyes still on the man now disentangling himself from his harness. He was shaking his head slowly, as though he couldn't believe what his eyes were showing him.

His dumbstruck expression made Ryan laugh, and he fit an arm around Colin's shoulders, squeezing him in a brief, sideways hug as he said, “You said you wanted to go paragliding, didn't you?”

Colin snapped his head around so quickly that Ryan was surprised he hadn't broken his neck. “What?”

Ryan shrugged, his smile softening. “I said I had to start somewhere.”

Colin opened his mouth, but words seemed to escape him. Eventually he settled on moving forward and wrapping Ryan in a tight hug. “I can't believe you did this,” he whispered against the side of Ryan's neck. He laughed. “In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m still asleep.”

Ryan laughed again, hugging Colin back. “Oh, you’re awake all right. I wouldn’t be nearly pissing myself if this was a dream. Speaking of which,” he said, drawing back slowly, “we better get moving before I lose my nerve completely.”

Colin pulled back, too, fixing Ryan with a look that was somehow even more dumbstruck than the last. “Wait, what? You’re going paragliding, too?”

Ryan smiled and stroked one hand down Colin’s arm. He shrugged. “I'd go anywhere with you.”

Colin shook his head, bewildered but pleased. Ryan was sure he had something to say to that, too, but just then their instructor cleared his throat. “We are doing this, right?”

“Definitely,” Ryan said, turning to him. He hoped his false bravado would translate into some honest bravery, but it took every ounce of will power not to jump back in the car and bolt as the group started toward the field.

He had signed them up for tandem paragliding, each with a trained pilot. It didn't require any previous training, and the flight would take them down along the coast on a twenty minute glide. Ryan was terrified, and his fear only grew worse as they went over safety precautions and take off and landing procedures, but he just kept looking toward Colin, letting Colin’s excitement push down his own fear.

Ryan stood back and watched as Colin’s instructor strapped them both into their harness. He faced backward, toward the parachute, and gave it a deceptively easy looking tug. Despite the size of the chute, it lifted into the air readily, reminding Ryan of the way a child’s kite gets picked up by a breeze. As soon as the instructor was satisfied, he turned to face front and ordered Colin to run. Together they started down the hill, but they’d only gone a few yards when the wind grabbed them, lifting them off their feet. Ryan’s stomach dropped at the sight, but at the same time he could hear Colin laughing, and he knew he’d made the right decision in coming here.

He watched the two glide for a moment, then the instructor tugged on the controls, and the parachute lifted into the air like magic, heading out toward the coast.

“Ready for that?” Ryan’s own instructor said, coming up and clasping Ryan on the shoulder. Ryan’s only answer was a nervous laugh. Though it had only been a couple minutes since taking off, Colin was quickly becoming a small dot on the horizon. But there was no time to dwell on that at the moment, as Ryan’s instructor steered him toward what would be their parachute, saying, “Let’s get you strapped in!”

They repeated the actions of Colin and his pilot before them, getting strapped in, going over instructions, and then lifting the parachute into the air. At his instructor's command, Ryan started running, and almost immediately he felt himself jerked off the ground, his insides dropping as they boosted skyward. He gasped down a scream and clung to the harness, staring in horror as the ground fell away beneath him.

The instructor was pulling on some strings just behind him, steering them up and out toward the open ocean, but Ryan barely acknowledged any of it. Fear made his mind numb, and it took every ounce of his will to not crap his pants as the hillside slipped away beneath them, followed by roads and thick copses of trees. Dimly he realized that he might be better off if he wasn’t staring straight at the ground, so, visibly shaking, Ryan lifted his head to look forward, and his stomach dropped again. .

The whole of the Pacific Ocean stretched out before them. It glittered under the late morning sun like someone had littered it with diamonds. The wind forced them higher, and now Ryan did let out an undignified squeak, but despite that, he found he wasn’t nearly as frightened as he had been only moments ago. It was hard to be afraid when the view was so fascinating. He could see the hazy line where ocean met sky, and it almost seemed like he was high enough to see the curve of the earth.

He had to admit that Colin had been right. It was scary as hell, but at the same time there really was something freeing about gliding through the air like this, and he couldn't deny the beauty of the world below them. They made a slow, sweeping turn toward the south, and Ryan looked back toward the city. Santa Barbara looked surprisingly green, the grid of houses cut with trees so that the city blended surprisingly well with the surrounding forests. Closer to the ocean, he could see cars zipping along highways and tiny people populating the beaches.

He felt a sudden pride at being part of the human race. Evolution denies us wings, he thought, and we find a way to fly anyway. Suck it, evolution.

He turned to look back at the ocean, then, the last of his fears dissolving. The wind was crisp and cold and burned his cheeks, but it made him feel honestly, truly alive. It beat out speeding along in the Aston Martin by a long shot, and he grinned and laughed into the open air. “Thank you, Colin,” he whispered.

Ryan had been sure that the twenty minute flight down the coast would have felt like an eternity of torture, but when the instructor pointed out the strip of beach that was their landing strip, Ryan actually felt disappointed. The flight had seemed surprisingly short, and immediately Ryan wondered when he would get to try it again.

When they touched ground running, Ryan's knees buckled slightly, and he tripped through the thick sand, almost bringing them down flat on their faces. But his instructor kept them up, and a second later he found his feet again as they came to a slow stop. The parachute immediately went limp behind them, and despite Ryan’s newfound interest in paragliding, part of him was still immensely relieved to be back on solid ground.

“Did you like it?” His instructor asked, moving his hands to unbuckle Ryan's harness.

Before he had a chance to answer, however, he was caught up in a tight hug as Colin—already free—barreled into him. “That was amazing!” he yelled. He pulled back, his cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling.

Ryan laughed, nodding as his instructor finished unharnessing him. “It kind of was.”

When he was finally free, Colin hugged him again, almost knocking the wind out of him with the strength of it. Ryan laughed and hugged Colin back just as tightly, almost missing his whispered, “Thank you.” Ryan wasn’t sure what to say; he wanted to thank Colin just as much as Colin was thanking him, but the words wouldn’t come, so instead they just stood on the beach in each other’s arms for a long moment.

A van would be coming to bring them back to Elings Park, where they'd left their car. There would be a short wait, so when they finally broke apart, Ryan and Colin moved off the landing strip to take a seat along the grass just past the beach. It had been surprisingly chilly in the air, but back on land, it was significantly warmer, and Ryan unzipped his jacket and stowed his gloves before leaning back to watch the to and fro of the waves. They crashed against the sand, then drew back and crashed again, loud and yet soothing like white noise. His wind burned cheeks tingled pleasantly in a light breeze that smelled of the ocean, and the sun beamed down at them cheerily.

“That was amazing,” Colin was saying. He'd repeated the sentiment a number of times since their landing, and seemed unwilling to say anything else.

Ryan laughed and looked over to him. “Was it amazing?” he asked.

Colin sat, his knees drawn up to his chest, grinning manically at the ocean. “Yes,” he breathed. He looked to Ryan, then caught his smirk and rolled his eyes. He smacked Ryan lightly on the arm. “Ass,” he admonished. “It was amazing. I have to do that again.”

Ryan nodded. “You know what? Me too.”

Colin gave him a surprised smile. “Yeah?”


They both turned back to the water, a comfortable silence falling between them. Ryan closed his eyes and tilted his head back, soaking in the noon day sun. “You were right,” he said. Then he gave a deprecating laugh. “You're usually right. I think I should start listening to you more often.”

“Damn straight,” Colin quipped. There was a short silence, then he said, “But I'm not perfect.”

Curious, Ryan opened his eyes and turned toward him.

Colin was frowning, his eyes still locked on the ocean. “I think it's time for me to apologize,” he said.

Ryan sat up straighter. “For what?”

“For getting us stuck here,” Colin said. “In the past, I mean.” He looked at Ryan and sighed deeply. “I had no right to throw your phone in the lake. I don't even know if I had a right to be mad at you. Sure, you can be a prick sometimes—” Ryan smiled at that; it was true. “—but you had no way to know what I was thinking. I'd never told you how I felt, not about you or about any of the things you were doing.”

Ryan gave him a playful shove. “Shut up,” he said. “Water under the bridge.”

“But we're still stuck here.”

“And what if we are?” Ryan asked. He looked Colin over, a small smile playing about his lips. “I'm kind of looking forward to doing this over again.

“I might fuck it up again,” he admitted, “but at least I get to try.”

Colin was giving him a thoughtful smile, and Ryan pushed on, “I do get to try, right? With you, I mean? You and me?”

“Maybe,” Colin consented. But his eyes were sparkling playfully, and Ryan grinned back, taking that as a definite 'yes.'

Suddenly Colin's eyes went wide. “Oh,” he said, scooting forward and reaching into his back pocket. “That reminds me.” He pulled out an iPhone, and Ryan's heart leapt up hopefully until he realized it was Colin's phone, not his. He tried to stamp down on his disappointment, however, as Colin continued, “You were talking about watching videos on these things. I hadn't actually watched any, myself, but after you mentioned it, I wanted to see what was there.” He pulled up the video screen as he talked, and Ryan leaned in close to see. “After I left the other night, I started looking through them. There was this one from 2013.” He looked at Ryan somberly. “From your birthday.” He clicked on the video, and it started to play. It was the one Ryan had viewed in the cabin: the camera was moving shakily down a hallway as the camera man shushed some whispers in the background. “I don't remember taking this,” Colin was saying, “but I'm pretty sure I'm the one behind the camera.” He pointed to the hand reaching for the door knob. “That's my hand. But it gets to this point...” The hand on the video pushed open the door. “...then cuts—” The door opened on a bedroom. There was a view of a large bed, and obviously someone was sleeping in it. “...out...” Colin finished dully. He shook his head. “It didn't get this far last time.”

Ryan's eyes were glued to the screen, but he nodded in agreement. “Yeah, not when I watched it, either.”

They both fell silent, then, transfixed by the events playing out on the small screen.

The camera man—Colin, if his guess was right—approached the bed, and it rapidly became clear who its occupant was. Ryan’s greying mop of unruly curls was visible just above the bedspread. The camera swung around to show Mackenzie, Sam, and Luke gathered in the still open door way. Sam was holding a tray, and Ryan could see coffee and a cupcake with a single, lit candle adorning it. They were smiling and still whispering amongst themselves.

“Ready?” Colin asked.

The kids nodded in unison, and the camera shook again as Colin started to count down from three. When he hit one, everyone started to belt out an obnoxiously off key version of “Happy Birthday.” The camera swung back down to the bed, where Ryan was groggily waking up. He blinked, then looked over to the group of kids. After a beat he groaned good naturedly and ran a hand over his face. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered as Sam set the tray down over his lap.

“Seriously?” he asked, looking toward the camera.

The song finished, and Sam yelled, “Make a wish!”

Still grumbling, Ryan gave the camera man a smile, then blew out the candle to thunderous applause. Then the children all started talking at once; it sounded like they were discussing plans for the day, but the Ryan in the bed wasn't paying them any attention.

“You're an ass,” he was saying.

The camera man chuckled, and Ryan shifted. He reached out, saying, “Come here,” then grabbed the camera man and pulled him toward the bed. The camera shook and shifted, falling back to show a view of the ceiling. It was picked up a moment later by Luke, who immediately turned it toward the occupants of the bed.

Ryan still had his hand twined in Colin's shirt and had dragged him down for an exuberant kiss. Sam was making playful retching noises, and Mackenzie was cooing. A moment later, the video cut off, and the screen went black.

Ryan stared at the darkened screen for a second, then pulled back and looked at Colin. Colin looked back at him, seemingly stunned.

“So...” Ryan said.

Colin nodded. “Is that our future?”

“It looks like it. Are you okay with that?”

Colin looked thoughtful for a moment, then slowly a smile crept its way across his lips. “It looks like I don't have a choice.”

Ryan grinned back at him. “We always have a choice.”

“Well, then this is mine,” Colin said. Mimicking Ryan from the video, he reached out, grabbed Ryan's shirt, and dragged him into a kiss. Ryan laughed against his mouth, then closed his eyes, surrendering to Colin's lips. He settled one hand over Colin's, still clutching the phone.

And then everything went white.

Ryan opened his eyes, gasping as a sharp pain shot through his palm. He stared, bewildered, at the expanse of beige carpet stretching out before him. He could feel the rough weave under his cheek, the hardness of the ground beneath him, and as he continued to lie there, more pain became evident. His limbs throbbed dully, as though they'd taken a bone jarring hit, but the pain in his palm continued to sting worse than anything else. Numbly, he brought his hand around, only to see a deep gash along the ball of his palm. Bright red blood welled up from the cut, seeping into the creases of his hand and running down his upraised arm. Delicate looking, curved bits of glass littered his flesh; they sparkled in the overhead light, and for some reason Ryan thought of the ocean.

Suddenly there were hands all over him, lifting him into a sitting position, taking his hand, patting his back. That was when Ryan heard the absolute din that surrounded him. People were talking loudly, calling to him and one another. Behind that was simply a sea of chatter, hundreds of voices talking like a backdrop of white noise or the push of the waves, and again, Ryan thought of the ocean. Why did he keep coming back to that?

Ryan looked back to his hand to see someone carefully cleaning the glass and blood away. He was still barely registering what was happening, his brain too occupied by trying to remember what he'd been doing a moment earlier and how he had gotten to this moment in time.

He tore his eyes away to explore his surroundings, and his stomach dropped. Beige carpet, shiny black floor, an audience of people back lit by neon lights—he was on stage, back in Raleigh Studios. He hadn't been here, had he? When had he gotten here? And then his eyes fell on Colin.

For a brief moment Ryan saw him sitting on a hill side under the bright sun; he smelled earthy sand and ocean salt, felt the softness of Colin's lips under his, and then it was gone. The trappings of the studio filled in around Colin, and a cold knot formed in the pit of Ryan’s stomach. He stared, horrified. Colin stood mere feet away, looking just as lost as Ryan felt. A toppled stool lay on the floor beside him, forgotten.

That was when Ryan knew what had happened: he was back. It was 2013 again. He had come back right where he'd left off, after Colin had pushed him away and he'd fallen onto the light, and that could only mean one thing. Despite everything, it really had been a dream, and nothing had changed.

“No,” Ryan whispered.

Colin—his eyes still locked with Ryan's—cringed slightly, his brow furrowing in confusion.

“No.” Ryan lunged forward, trying to regain his feet. The medics were grabbing at him, trying to keep him still, but he had to get to Colin. He tore away from them, pushing past Dan and Aisha and reaching Colin in a few long strides.

“I'm sorry,” he said, his voice catching and cutting off the second word. He breathed in a deep, shuddering breath and lifted his unblemished hand to Colin's cheek, stroking it cautiously, then moving back to sift his fingers through the hair at the nape of Colin's neck. “Please, Colin, I'm sorry,” he tried again, outright begging now. “I love you. I've always loved you, and I'm sorry. Give me another chance. Please, Colin, please.” And then he moved forward and pressed his lips to Colin's, trying to put every ounce of love and desperation into one kiss.

He was so caught up that he barely even realized it when Colin kissed him back, barely felt the warmth of Colin's arms surrounding him. He broke the kiss to breathe raggedly against Colin’s lips, then pulled back to look at him hopefully.

“Please,” he said. “Please.”

Colin, amazingly, was laughing.

It was little more than a soft chuckle, and Ryan could swear his eyes looked a little wetter than usual. Relief was written plainly across his every feature as he rasped out a soft, “It’s okay.

“It’s okay,” he said again, lifting his own hands to wrap them around Ryan’s neck. “I was there. I remember.”

Ryan's eyes went wide. “You—then—it wasn't a dream?”

Colin shook his head, smiling a little wider.

Relief poured through Ryan, and he wrapped his arms around Colin and hugged him tightly. He was laughing now, too, tears pricking behind his eyes and his face buried in the crook of Colin's neck. He was so bolstered by the revelation that he didn't even care when the medics and crew managed to finally pull him and Colin apart. The medics had managed to get a bit of gauze around Ryan's palm before he'd taken off, but by now it had bled through. But none of that mattered. Colin was there, following as Dan started to yell at him. Colin had always been there, and Ryan knew then that he always would be.

“What in the world were you thinking?” Dan snapped. He had one hand pressed to Ryan's back, steering him off stage and then through the bleachers and out of the studio, an entourage of medics and Colin following closely behind.

Ryan, assured that Colin would be coming with them, finally dragged his gaze away to smile at Dan. It was just occurring to him that he'd outed himself and Colin in front of hundreds of people. They were going to have some explaining to do. “Well,” he said, pausing briefly as they figured out what order they'd take through a door that led to the back lot, then starting up again as he was pointed toward the studio infirmary. “Colin and I....” he looked back to Colin. Colin gave an encouraging nod, and Ryan turned back to Dan. “We're kind of a thing now. Lovers. Or whatever.”

Dan raised an eyebrow at him. “What? What are you talking about?”

“Colin and I—”

“No!” Dan waved him silent. “I meant what were you thinking about your bloody hand! Why are you snogging your husband when you likely need stitches, you idiot!”

Ryan stopped dead in his tracks, much to the frustration of the medics. “Wait, husband?”

“Yes, yes,” Dan snapped. “Oh, yes, I know you prefer to keep it low key, but honestly Ryan, you caused such a media frenzy when you left your wives for each other. I don’t think you’re fooling anyone.” He gestured back toward the studio. “Especially not after that display. Now come on!”

But Ryan didn't move. He mouthed the word “husband” in disbelief, then looked back to Colin, who'd come up beside him while Dan had been talking. Their eyes met and held, and that was when the memories started to flood back. He remembered that day on the hillside after they’d gone paragliding. It had just happened—he had just been there on that beach moments ago—but suddenly it had the fuzziness of a decade old memory, and the longer he stood there, the more distant it became as new memories started to file in over it. He remembered his divorce, he remembered Colin's, he remembered coming out to the public as a couple, and then retreating from the public eye for a couple years while the show was on hiatus. He remembered the two of them moving in together, sharing birthdays and anniversaries and building a family. He remembered being happy.

The memories of his old life were still there, but the longer he stood there, staring into Colin’s eyes and letting in the memories of his new life, the fuzzier they became. Somehow he knew that he’d never truly forget that old life; it would pop up every now again like the remnants of a dream, there to ground him and remind him of how things could have been, but it didn’t seem real anymore.

Standing here with Colin—with his husband—pissing off a couple of medics and Dan after stupidly tripping over his own feet and cutting his hand, that was what was real. This life here and now was the one that mattered.

“Come on,” Colin said, nudging him gently. He took Ryan’s blemish free hand in his, and together they started walking again, trailing behind Dan and the medics.

Suddenly there was a strange vibration in Ryan's pocket, and he started, then pulled his hand away from Colin to reach inside. Still walking, he pulled out a shiny black iPhone. “It’s a text from Mac. She’s going to be out late.” He groaned and rolled his eyes, not wanting to know what kind of guy she would be going out with that evening. But then he stopped, frowning, and looked back down at the phone. “Wait,” he said, “I thought I'd lost this.”

“You tried to,” Colin informed him, nudging against him playfully. “I found that in your pocket when I was doing laundry. I swear you're trying to break that so you can go back to your old phone.”

Ryan laughed, but for some reason that didn't sound right. He was sure that hadn’t been how it had happened. He thought hard, searching for the memory, but it danced on the edges of his mind, just barely out of reach. Well, he thought, looking down at the phone in his palm for a long moment, its sleek, dark screen flashing like a winking eye, it can’t be that important if I can’t remember. “I don't know...” he said to Colin. “I think it's growing on me.”

Colin raised his eyebrows in disbelief, but Ryan didn't waver. He just grinned at Colin and slipped the phone back into his pocket before once again taking Colin’s hand in his.

The end!
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