A Voice From The Stars Chapter 4: Ryan

He wakes up still groggy. He feels heavy, even his thoughts are slow and sluggish. He’s a little hungry, but its easy to ignore. It probably isn’t dinner yet. 

He goes back to sleep. 

He wakes a few more times, he’s probably going to be exhausted if he’s getting this little sleep. At least its easy to get back to unconscious bliss. 

A knock comes from the door. 

Ryan flinches. He hates it, he hates knocking. Nothing good has come of it. Only police officers and social workers and people come to see him in his fall from glory. Their eyes smug as they give false sympathies. 

The knock comes again. 

Ryan shudders. 

He drags himself up. He’s in a robe, his hair is…dry now…

His brow furrows. 

When…? How long was he…? 

The knock comes again. 

Right. Right. He needs to answer it. They don’t like to be kept waiting. He has to answer the door or they’ll mark it down. 

He staggers out of his bedroom. 

His hands shake on the knob, but he manages to turn it. 

The man is there. His neighbor. Standing straight and tall, as if he were never injured. 

Wasn’t he? 

Did Ryan just make it up? Was it all a dream? 

The man steps into Ryan’s apartment and Ryan blinks dumbly at him. “Uh.” 

The man stares at him. His eyes intent, they seem to pierce through Ryan’s skin and down to the shambling mess of his heart. 

“Get dressed,” the man commands. 

Ryan should…probably protest? He should probably ask what the man wants, why he’s in Ryan’s apartment. 

It doesn’t seem worth it, though. 

Ryan turns and shuffles back to his room to get dressed. 

As he pulls his robe back on, he realizes that he very well could be getting killed. He saw enough incriminating things that he’s a loose end now. 

He glances at his cell phone. He’s pretty sure its out of battery. He doesn’t bother checking. He just shuffles back out to the livingroom. 

The man is in his kitchen, making eggs. 

Ryan blinks at him. 

“Milk expired,” the man says. 

Oh. Ryan thought he had a couple more days before that. 

“Okay,” he rasps, he winces at the dry roughness of his throat. “…sorry?” 

Did the man want milk? Ryan doesn’t…understand what’s happening here. 

“Sit,” the man commands. 

Ryan obeys. The scrape of the chair over the cheap floor is loud. Far too loud. He winces. 

He feels oddly shaky and weak. More-so than normal. Maybe he’s coming down with something. 

A plate of eggs is set before him, and a fork. 

“Eat,” the man commands. 

Ryan obeys. 

They aren’t the best eggs he’s ever had, but as he eats, he realizes that he’s starving, and he cleans the plate. Not a bad last meal. A glass of water appears before him. 

“Drink,” the man commands. 

Ryan obeys. 

He fiddles with the empty glass–like his hunger, he’d realized how thirsty he was the moment it touched his tongue and he’d chugged the entire cup. The apartment is silent. 

“Um,” Ryan says hesitantly. “You..seem to be doing better.” 

He winces. 

The man snorts. “Two days of healing will do that for you.” 

Ryan stares at him, shocked. Two days? 

The man watches him with a blank face. 

Ryan looks at the table again. “Oh. I’m…sorry I missed dinner. I told you I’d bring you some, I–” 

“I managed,” the man says. 

“Oh. oh, Clem and the baby–” 

“They were fine too.” 

Oh. 

Ryan’s chest feels hollow. Its not that–its not that he wanted them to suffer, but it makes something ache in him that they were alright without him. That he isn’t really doing anything. 

“I got them something,” the man says, “she asked if you were alright.” 

“Oh,” Ryan says shakily. He doesn’t understand what this is. What this means. “Okay.” 

“You didn’t even realize how long it had been, did you?” the man asks. 

Ryan mutely shakes his head. 

The man sighs. 

“Nick.” 

“What?” Ryan asks inanely. 

“I’m Nick. You introduced yourself–the other day. Seems only polite to do the same.” 

“Oh,” Ryan says. “Nice to meet you Nick.” 

“You as well, Ryan Case.” 

Did Ryan tell him his full name? He doesn’t think he would have, he doesn’t use it these days. He’s just Ryan. 

“Did you…need something, Nick?” 

“Just wanted to check on you,” Nick says. “I’ll be back tonight.” and then he gets up and leaves. 

Ryan sits at the table and stares at the empty plate and cup. 

“Okay,” he says to the silent apartment. 

*** 

True to his word, Nick is back that evening. He comes through the door with plastic bags hanging from his wrists. 

“Got you more milk,” he says, dumping them on the counter. 

“Oh,” Ryan says, “thank you.” 

Its even the right brand of milk. 

Part of him thinks that maybe he should be wary of someone like Nick being sharp enough to note and remember that sort of detail. Especially since he’s been living next door to Ryan for years. Who knows what sort of information he’s gathered about Ryan in that sort of time. 

He can’t really summon up the energy to care. He just notes it with dull acceptance. 

“Got some other stuff too,” Nick says, “I’m not…the best cook, but I figured you would know what to do with fresh ingredients.” 

A halfhearted smile touches Ryan’s lips at Nick’s hesitation. He shuffles to the bags and pokes through them. The ingredients aren’t anything fancy, but its still better than he’s had to work with in three years. 

“I think I can whip something up,” he says. 

“Just tell me what to do,” Nick replies. 

*** 

It becomes a tradition. Nick brings him groceries, and Ryan cooks, and they bring the leftovers to Clem and the baby. Its..nice, to have company in the kitchen. Toni was never very much interested in cooking, but Nick watches everything Ryan does with the gravity of someone learning how to defuse a bomb. 

He’s a good student too, soon Ryan can do more and more complex dishes with a competent helper at his side. The ingredients only improve. Brand names, fresh fruits and vegetables, exotic ingredients that Ryan has to look up recipes for. 

Nick practically moves in, and Ryan doesn’t utter a word of complaint. Nick reminds him to eat more than just one meal a day, to clean and take care of himself, Nick keeps him out of his own head. 

He tells Ryan when he’ll be leaving on another Business Trip now. Its better, knowing when he’ll leave and how long he expects to be gone. The rare times Nick comes back injured, he does so quietly, slipping into his own apartment and fixing himself up. 

Ryan guiltily doesn’t mention it. He wants to help, he does. He doesn’t want his friend to be in pain but…

The thought of the blood. 

He can’t do it. 

So he stays silent, and cooks more extravagant dishes on the days when Nick comes back injured. It is a silent apology, and it is accepted in equal silence by Nick’s smile when he sees dinner. 

Ryan puts on weight. He still has bad days, but Nick doesn’t let him wallow in bed, he forces Ryan up, forces him outside, to see life and the sun. It helps. 

They don’t talk about Nick’s work. They don’t talk about Ryan’s past. A silent pair of companions, filling the empty chairs at Ryan’s table. But it works. They work. They fit seamlessly together, like they’ve known each other for years. 

Oh there are still fumbles and dustups. Ryan can be angry when he’s too deep in his own thoughts, Nick can go deadly silent when pushed too far. 

But they are better together than separate. 

“I’m moving,” Nick says, setting down his fork. 

Ryan’s heart, Ryan’s world, stops. 

His fork hovers in the air, the bite he was about to take falls off as his hands start to shake. He sets the fork down. “Oh,” he says softly. 

“I want you to come with me,” Nick says. 

There are a million reasons Ryan should say no. Nick is a criminal, a dangerous man, in a dangerous business. 

“I’m with you,” Ryan says. 

Nick smiles, and so does Ryan. 

“What about Clem?” Ryan asks, “and the baby?” 

Nick looks away. “I’ll give her money. To keep quiet.” 

Nick has, on more than one occasion, vetoed a dish in case it was bad for the baby. Has more than once played willing babysitter. 

Ryan imagines Clem will be getting a lot more money than is needed to ‘keep quiet.’ 

“Where are we moving?” Ryan asks. 

Nick looks at him again and smiles.


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