an act of kindness is what you show to me
not more than i can take, oh
not more than i can take
kindness is what you show to me
it holds me ‘til i ache
overflow and start to break
- bastille, “act of kindness”
Ryan had known from the moment he saw Dr. Langdon walk past with Simon that something was wrong. They were walking too close, the medical examiner’s hold on him almost predatory, and the look on her face not something Ryan is comfortable with. More than that is the look on Simon’s face - he’s usually so hard to read, but right now, the moment that Ryan and his eyes had locked, he looked petrified.
Instincts running haywire, nausea suddenly churning in his leaden gut, Ryan’s been an agent too long to let this go by. He’s seen people wearing looks like the one on Dr. Langdon’s face as she essentially frog-marched Simon out the door. He’s seen how those stories end, how stone cold fury combines with raw terror and ends bloody. If it’s nothing and he intervenes anyway, he might embarrass himself a little. If it’s something and he stays inside, well. He doesn’t think he can live with that chance, so he follows them immediately.
As it turns out, it’s a very, very good thing that he does. He sees her hand behind Simon’s head, whatever thing she’s holding to the back of his neck, maybe a scalpel. He wants to do something, anything, but there’s nothing he can do, not from this far away, not with the unidentified weapon so close to Simon’s brainstem. So Ryan is reduced to watching Simon’s face as Dr. Langdon digs her fingernails into him, as she kisses him and walks away.
“I think you just saved my life,” Simon says, and Ryan’s heart lurches to a stop, a jolt of adrenaline running through his chest. Simon could have died. Almost died.
It had been a split second decision, leaving the bar after Simon and Dr. Langdon. If you asked him now, Ryan would be hard pressed to describe the thought process that went into it. Even less clear was why he’d been as fast as he had, breaking into a jog almost immediately, getting out of the bar and around the corner into the parking lot as fast as he could. And yet, right now, as far as Ryan can tell? It might be the only reason Simon made it out of that encounter in one piece, the only reason Dr. Langdon hadn’t taken one of Ryan’s friends away from him.
“Simon,” Ryan says, and he’s rewarded by the shellshocked trainee looking over at him. The expression on Simon’s face is enough to sober Ryan, swallow down his own late-onset fear at the death they’ve just narrowly averted and focus on making sure Simon is as okay as possible.
He looks… terrible. Simon’s eyes are wide and unfocused, flickering from meeting Ryan’s gaze and staring blankly off at nothing. Ryan can see that he’s shaking, tremors running through Simon’s hands every couple of seconds. His entire expression is one of horror and the terrified frozenness of a very near miss.
“Simon,” Ryan repeats, stepping closer to him. This time Simon focuses on him, though his eyes are still too wide, and he’s breathing raggedly.
“Thanks,” is what Simon finally manages to say, his voice thready and raw. “For, y’know. For saving me.”
The voicing of gratitude, the granting of the responsibility for Simon continuing to be alive on Ryan’s shoulders is just a little bit too much, and Ryan sucks in a breath, sharp and searing his lungs with how cold it is.
“C’mere,” he says, extending an arm and beckoning Simon forward. It takes a moment for Simon to coordinate his limbs into movement, to stumble over until he collides with Ryan’s chest, allowing Ryan’s arms to close around him in a hard, protective hug.
Ryan can hear Simon’s breathing get shakier, can feel Simon reach up and grip the back of his jacket tightly. He puts a hand on the back of Simon’s neck and gives it a light squeeze. Ryan hopes he can erase the feeling of the way Dr. Langdon had grabbed him, cover the feeling of her fingers on his neck with the warmth of his own palm. Erase the point of contact of whatever weapon she’d held on him that Ryan had been too far away to see. He wants to put a barrier, just for a moment, between the rest of the world and that horribly vulnerable curve of skin on Simon’s neck.
“You’re okay,” Ryan says quietly, his voice as steady as his hands, as the chest he holds Simon against, tighter than a normal hug. It’s like he thinks that if he holds his friend tightly enough, he can erase the memory of how helpless he’d just been. How if Dr. Langdon had wanted to kill Simon, she could’ve, and there wasn’t a damn thing Ryan could’ve done about it.
In response, Simon says nothing. His fingers are clutching Ryan’s coat rigidly, and they’re shaking enough that Ryan can feel it against his lower back. Simon is breathing like he’s just run a marathon. Not crying, not hyperventilating, just coming down off of a wave of fear so high it’d felt like being doused in acid.
Simon shakes and shakes and Ryan stands there with him in the parking lot holding him together.
By the time Alex comes out of the bar, having noticed Ryan’s absence, Simon’s pulled back, taken deep gulps of cold night air to steady himself. Ryan stands next to him, hand still on Simon’s back, as if to remind him ‘you’re not alone, and if anyone tries to lay a hand on you, they won’t get within two feet of you’.
“Is he okay?” Alex asks, directing her question to Ryan. “What happened?”
‘He’s fine’ is on the tip of Ryan’s tongue until he looks at Simon and decides that right now he just doesn’t want to tell Alex another lie.
“Let’s go back to campus,” he says instead. As they walk towards the Uber Alex calls for them, Ryan’s hand settles on Simon’s shoulder, still a reminder.
‘You’re safe. You’re not alone.’