HEART FOR TRADE: WEEK 21
Ryan jogged around the track in the gymnasium. Sweat ran down his face, tickling his nose. His new canvas sneakers squeaked over the shiny floor and his scrawny legs were already burning from the unfamiliar physical exertion. But he pushed on without stopping for the bottle of water he thirsted for. He wanted to avoid Jarum’s questions and the persistent nagging his friend had been doing for the past two days. And yes, it was his fault. Yes, he was being an asshole. However, Ryan didn’t want to drag Jarum into his mission. The less Jarum knew the better. Ryan knew Sam was growing suspicious and the time when everything came to light. It wasn’t going to be good and the less people involved the less people Sam could be angry with.
Two days ago, Ryan had barely tiptoed back to bed without being caught. Sam had sat straight up in out of a dead sleep and grilled him, even after he said he’d only been to the bathroom. It was evident Sam was edge from their previous encounter, and from work in general. He hadn’t known exactly how stressed until Sam got out of bed and went to check the secret hallway for himself. Satisfied Ryan hadn’t been back there, he got back into bed with a slew of apologies, which made Ryan feel even worse about what he was doing and a little untrusted. Still…he’d found the safe, just where he thought it’d be.
Feeling Jarum close in behind him, Ryan pumped his legs as fast as they would go, counting his tenth lap in his head. On top of all their new training classes, athletics included, Ryan was in the middle of a fight with Sam. He’d made the mistake of mentioning his trip to the Commissary and talking with Rick. He hadn’t thought Sam would take it so badly, but he did.
Sam practically growled at him and refused to elaborate on his relationship with Rick. He’d even taken a blanket and pillow to the couch, where he proceeded to sleep for the rest of the morning. Ryan had tried to talk about it the next day, apologizing and trying to make Sam see that Rick only wanted to offer comfort in Sam Sr.’s absence, but that got him nowhere.
Sam was so insecure about what his dad had thought of him, or rather the self-loathing his imagination had created. He pushed everyone from his past away, trying to prove them all wrong when he didn’t have to. He didn’t want to accept their pity or condolences or love. That would make him appear weak, in his head at least. He’d fashioned a wall so high, amidst his pain, that no one could reach him. Not even Ryan. In turn, Ryan felt rejected.
He’d thought about just telling Sam everything, getting it off his chest so they could mend the beginning of a void between them, but that sounded like a heartache waiting to happen. Instead, Ryan hid it all in a plastic bag under the bathroom sink and kept up his search. If he found the password everything would be okay. That’s what he’d thought in the beginning. Now he wasn’t so sure that was the case. Even if he did find the password, Sam would still think his father hated him. He wondered what it would take to fix his lover. What would it take to make Sam see?
“Dude!” Jarum clamped a hand on his shoulder, whirling him around. His friend held up a finger, catching his breath. “That’s it.” Jarum looked around before herding him towards the corner of the track. “Don’t give me any more bullshit. What is it?”
Ryan pushed Jarum off him. “What’s what?”
Jarum squinted. “Don’t play me, Ryan. You’ve been avoiding me. You’ve been jumpy. You’ve barely eaten and you’re always running back to your room.” Jarum’s nostrils flared. “Is Sam hurting you?”
“What!” Ryan grabbed Jarum’s shoulders, shielding himself from the looks around the gym. Once the game of basketball continued, he snarled. “Sam hasn’t laid a finger on me like that. Don’t start shit, Jarum.”
“Then you better tell me what’s going on before I go straight to Sam myself. I thought we were friends. I’ve tried everything I could think of, short of knocking you upside the head, to get you to talk to me. What the hell is your problem, Ry? I’m really worried.”
This was his chance to relieve a little stress from his shoulders. But Ryan couldn’t do it. He shook his head. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
“See? I knew there was something. You’ve never kept secrets from me before, Ry. What’s going on? Please, talk to me.” Jarum trapped him in the corner, sticking a hand to the wall. “Spit it out.”
“Yes you can.”
“Shit, Jar, don’t do this to me. I’m so close. I don’t want you to get in trouble. They could hear.”
Jarum looked over his shoulder, scratching his chest. He turned back to Ryan. “Come on.” He grabbed Ryan’s hand and pulled him along, walking to the locker room. “You’re going to tell me everything.”
“Jarum, stop.” Ryan kept his face blank as they passed Rajim, their athletics trainer.
“You boys still have another hour on my watch. Take a piss and get back out here.” He put his hands on his hips with his feet shoulder length apart, eyeing them up and down.
“We’ll be right back, sir.” Jarum gave a mock salute and pushed his way into the locker room. It wasn’t busy. Everyone was still on duty. Still, a few half-naked bodies lingered around the lockers or in the showers.
Anxiously looking around, Jarum spotted a row of unoccupied lockers and continued to drag Ryan after him. He pushed Ryan onto the bench and crossed his arms. “I’m waiting.”
“It’s not that simple, Jar. I can’t…I don’t even know where to start.” Ryan hung his head.
“How about you start at the beginning? What are you so close to?”
Ryan flicked his eyes up. He waited a second to make sure Jarum wasn’t really angry. “The password,” he whispered.
Shooting to his feet, Ryan slapped a hand over Jarum’s mouth. “Will you shut up? Jesus.”
“The password?” Jarum rubbed his mouth, frowning. “Ryan, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re nuts.”
“No. I’m not. I think I know where it is, Jar.” Ryan craned his neck, searching out anybody that could hear. He crowded them back into the corner. “I shouldn’t be telling you this. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“I’m your best friend. You should be telling me this. And why would I get in trouble? Isn’t this what we wanted, Ryan, to help them find the password? This is great news.” Jarum watched Ryan’s face fall. “What exactly did you do so far? And let me guess, you haven’t told Sam?”
“Not exactly, I’ve kind of been going around behind his back.” Ryan’s hands fell away. “I don’t want him to be mad at me.”
“Well, he’s going to be pissed now that you’ve been sneaking around. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being in a relationship it’s that you have to be honest.”
Ryan’s brow arched. “Are you an expert now?” He couldn’t keep the grin off his face.
Jarum bit his lip. “Not an expert, but I’m learning.”
“Things going good I take it?” Ryan gave him a playful punch.
“Yes, and stop avoiding the password.” Jarum put a finger to Ryan’s chest. “I know how you are when you get nervous. I should’ve noticed sooner. I know we were dicey there for a second, but you never keep things from me, even when we fight. Now hurry up and tell me what you know before Raj comes looking for us.” Jarum slid an arm around Ryan’s shoulders, sitting them down on the bench. “What have you been up to?”
Ryan took a deep breath and told Jarum everything. He told him about the secret rooms, meeting Rick, the storeroom and the janitor, the safe he’d found…all of it. When he finished, Jarum sat there with his mouth hanging open.
“Sam is going to flip out, Ry. Benny told me about his dad and how Sam kind of went off the deep end when he died. He’s pretty touchy about the old Commander. And I thought I had daddy issues…”
Ryan put his face in his hands, groaning. “I have to tell him. I mean, what if he already knows about the safe and I go around trying to find the combination like a dumbass? I don’t want to lose him over this, Jar. I know it’s only been a short time, but I really love him. I won’t ever get another Sam.”
“I know.” Jarum ruffled his hair. “You won’t. If you go to him and be straight, everything will be okay. I promise.”
“What if he throws me out?” Ryan sat up with the realization. “What if he can’t stand me after I tell him?”
“Yeah. Right.” Jarum snorted, getting to his feet. “You’ve collected more information than he has in a lifetime. You were trying to help him, all of them. And he loves you back. He’ll never get another Ryan.”
“I have to tell him.” Ryan stood up.
Jarum followed. “Duh. I thought we already covered that.”
“No. I have to do it now.”
“Ryan, we have to finish with Raj. And Sam is still working.” Jarum tried to hold him back, but Ryan kept walking. He pulled open the door to the gym and kept going past Raj. If he didn’t do this now, he never would…until it was too late.
“Hey! Where do you think you’re going? You two owe me another hour.” Raj stormed after them.
Jarum stopped, shooed Ryan off, and crossed his arms. “He wasn’t feeling well. Do you want me to tell the Commander you overworked his boyfriend?”
Raj narrowed his eyes. “I did no such thing. A little exercise is good for you both. But if he’s sick…”
“He’s sick.” Jarum leaned forward. “And he’s not coming back for the rest of the day.”
“Then you’ll just have to do double the work for that arrogant mouth of yours.” Raj pointed to the track. “Get to it.”
Jarum lost his smile and groaned. “Come on. I was just trying to help him out.”
“Well you can remind Ryan that the next time he’s sick, you get to make up his training for him. Now go. Ten more laps before we hit the weights.”
“Damn it, Ry.” Jarum grumbled over to the track, shooting Raj the finger.
“That’s another five laps, Jarum!” Raj took a chair next to the track with a grin. “And don’t think I’m not telling Benny you shot your superior the bird!”
The door to their rooms was unlocked when Ryan got back. He frowned and pushed it open, nervous as ever. “Sam?”
Living room empty, Ryan looked to the kitchenette, finding it unoccupied as well. The bedroom door was wide open. Sam’s boots were lying next to the bed with his jumper. Ryan swallowed; a knot in his throat, seeing the bathroom door ajar. He had the sneaking suspicion he knew exactly where Sam was and he didn’t want to go back there, but he had to.Why was Sam home when he was supposed to be working? Ryan knew, but he couldn’t bring himself to think it. He just knew in the pit of his stomach this was it. Sam was going to kill him.
“Sam?” He called softly, entering the secret hallway.
Light moved into the hall from the last door, dancing against the concrete. Ryan knew what those lights were from. He heard Sam Sr.’s voice followed by Mona’s. But he kept on walking. He couldn’t stop himself. When he filled the doorway, he saw Sam lift a bottle to his lips before slamming it down on the side table. Only the Commander’s silhouetted back greeted him against the pictures moving across the screen. And that was all Ryan needed to see. He didn’t want to see Sam’s face because he could already feel the ire like cold fingers against his skin.
Sam’s hand curled around the label-free bottle, taking another sip of alcohol. “Get out.”
“No?” Sam laughed and not in a good way. He stood, stretching out his tall form before turning. “I went to wash my face this morning and dropped the towel. Guess what came tumbling down from under the sink, Ryan? And guess who hid it there? You. You lied to me this entire time. You’ve been going behind my back, sneaking around, digging into my family’s things! And for what? Is this what you hoped to accomplish Ryan!”
“I came here to tell you about it. I didn’t want to hide it from you anymore. I was trying to help!” Ryan cowered away. Sam still came at him.
“Help? You were hiding my family’s property under a fucking sink and that was your way of helping me? Who the fuck are you!” Sam’s face was red and splotchy from alcohol and tears. He slapped the doorframe.
Ryan dared a hand in Sam’s direction. “Let me explain, Sam. Please. I’m begging you. It’s not what you think.”
“It’s exactly what I think. You’ve been snooping around, talking with people, digging up old memories. Why? Did you want to piss me off, knowing that I don’t want to talk about my dad? Did you think you could fix me, that I’m so pathetic I needed to see that fucking video to know my daddy loved me?” Sam put hands on either side of Ryan’s head, pinning him to the wall.
“Yes and no,” Ryan admitted. “It didn’t start out about your dad, Sam, I swear it. I didn’t know you hated yourself this much.”
“I don’t…” Sam shivered, closing his eyes as he hung his head
“Yes, you do. And I don’t get it.” Ryan ran a hand over his cheek, terrified he would be hit. “He loved you Sam. He gave you the position over everyone else. Why would he do that if he didn’t think you could lead them all? He knew you could, Sam. And look at the incredible job you’ve done, even when you didn’t have all of his training under your belt. What you’ve done is amazing.”
“He didn’t give me the password. He should’ve left it to me, but he didn’t.” Sam’s shoulders shook. He tried to muffle a drunken sob into his shoulder. “What I’ve done means nothing without it!”
“That’s not true, Sam. They need you. They rely on you and you take such good care of them, of me, of everyone topside when you can.” Ryan thumbed the tears away, inching closer.
Sam shook his head. “No.”
“Yes. And your dad didn’t abandon you without that password.”
“Yes. He did. Do I have it, Ryan? Do you see it anywhere?” Sam flicked his eyes up, completely distraught. “No. You don’t.”
“I-I think I know where it is, Sam. It’s been here this entire time. He did leave it for you. He just didn’t get the chance to tell you where. Not because he didn’t want you to have it, but because he died before he could. Don’t you see that, Sam? He left you all the clues, right in front of your face, but until you faced him and your insecurities, to heal yourself and grieve properly, you wouldn’t have known where to look.”
“They’re just videos. They don’t mean anything.” Sam whirled around, rubbing his eyes.
“Of course they do. You have their love in black and white, Sam. I’d give anything to have my mother and father on a screen like that. I’d give anything to see her again. But I can’t. And you know what? When I’m feeling like I have nowhere else to turn, I know she’s right there with me. Maybe she can’t literally answer me, but she’s with me here.” Ryan wrapped himself around Sam’s back, placing his hand over the Commander’s heart. “And your dad is with you here. He always has been, rooting for you to succeed. If you need to validate yourself, this is your chance to make him proud and to let it all go, Sam. Now you have to let go of the pain. You’ve been in denial for so long that I know it’s hard to just admit it, but he loved you and you know it. You’ve seen it with your own two eyes.”
“It’s just so…”
“Hard? Yes. It is. Because they aren’t ever going to answer you back, no matter how many questions you want to ask. They can’t be there to tell you it’s all going to be okay. You can’t just reach out and touch them anymore. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. That doesn’t mean you can’t miss them. It’s okay to miss them.”
“I miss him so much, Ry.” Sam squeezed his hands. “Those videos…they hurt to watch. What would he have been like had she not died? Would he have told me he loved me? Would he have smiled? I think about it all the time. I wanted to fix him. I wanted my dad back.”
“He lost his heart, Sam. And yes, he let himself go, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t still love you very much. He did the best he could. But you can’t shut down part of yourself because they’re gone. I know what that does to you. You’ll never really get over the pain, but it’ll fade with time. I promise you.” Ryan hugged Sam tighter. “And I’m here for you. It’s okay to be sad. But it’s not okay to cut off part of yourself from me. I know I fucked up and I hid this from you. I should’ve come to you right away, but I did it and I can’t erase the past. I want to do to this together from now on. I want to see you smile. Don’t hide from me, Sam. You’re too beautiful for that.”
Sam whirled around. His breath was hot and reeked of alcohol, but Ryan accepted his fervent kiss. He sagged against Sam, only clinging to his lover’s wide shoulders with his fingers. The Commander expressed his emotions with his tongue, with his hands, and with every ragged breath that rolled into Ryan’s mouth.
“You are the best decision I ever made,” Sam whispered. “I think I would’ve given up soon. I really would have. I was losing it, Ry.”
“You’re not losing anything. You’re going to get through this. I’m going to help you, but you have to trust me.”
Sam exhaled. “I love you.”
“You’re not mad at me?” Ryan studied him.
“No. I know why you didn’t tell me. I’m an asshole.” Sam tried to step back, but Ryan clung to him.
“No you’re not. I’ve been where you are. Everyone grieves differently and I want you to know that I love you too. I’m just so glad you didn’t throw me out. I don’t know what I would’ve done.” Ryan looked away.
“Thrown you out?” Sam caught Ryan’s chin in his fingers. “I would have never ever given you up, no matter how angry I was. God, I am an asshole if you thought I would do that.”
Ryan shook his head. “You would have had every right.”
“Jesus, come here.” Sam hugged him, resting his chin on Ryan’s head. “I could have, but it would never have been the right thing to do and it never even crossed my mind. You’ve straightened me out more in a few weeks than anyone has in my entire life. I’m pretty into you if you haven’t noticed. And I’m kind of a mess.”
Ryan smiled, resting his chin against Sam’s shoulder. “Yeah, I noticed and I’m into you too, even though you are a mess. Nothing I can’t clean up, though.”
They were silent a minute before Ryan looked up. “The reason I snooped around was because I think I found the password, Sam.”
“You mentioned that.” Sam nodded. “Don’t get your hopes up, Ry. I know base life is exciting to you and you have all these dreams and I don’t want to squash your hope, but no one else has had a clue since he died. I don’t think you—”
“Hold on to that thought. I’ll explain it all after I show you.” Ryan wiped Sam’s face before tugging him along. “There’s something you should see.”
“Where are we going?” Sam’s voice was rather innocent for such a large man.
Ryan had to smile. He stopped in front of the second door and opened it, stepping into the dark room. He turned on the light, revealing the remnants of Sam’s family stacked in boxes and hanging from clothing racks around a few battered couches. The far, right wall was a bit of a mess where Ryan had pulled boxes away from the wood paneling.
“I watched one of those videos, with your parents in it. I don’t know which one you were looking at, but the one I saw made me think to look in here. Your dad hadn’t fixed the paneling and it fell off its hinges and your mom had a cow. She didn’t want you to get hurt. You were so little.” Ryan chuckled, squeezing Sam’s hand. “If I hadn’t seen tiny you, it would be hard to imagine you were ever a child at all.”
Sam smiled slightly. “We all had to be little at one point or another.”
“Yeah. I guess. But you…”
The Commander cleared his throat. “What did you find in here?” Sam was still a little touchy on the family subject, his memories haunting him from only moments ago.
“Right. Over here.” Ryan got excited. Sam had no idea about the safe. This was definitely what they were supposed to find. He hurried to the paneling and pulled it away from the wall. The safe sat there, waiting for them as it had all these years.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sam molded himself to Ryan’s back, putting his hands on his shoulders. “That’s been here this entire time, my whole life?”
“Yes.” Ryan turned around. “But we have one small problem.”
“Only a small one?” Sam continued to stare at the safe in awe.
Ryan bit his lip. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a combination, would you?”
Sam groaned, putting his head down. “Fuck.”
TO BE CONTINUED…