The Red October isn’t far from the coast, but now they’ve lost their pursuers, they’re taking it at a slower pace set by their navy escorts. Wounds have been stitched, bodies have been moved and the remaining crew and the men from the Dallas are dealing with the ship, showing the others what they need to know as best they can with the language barrier.
Jack listens, but doesn’t speak. He’s no submariner, so anything he did now would just be getting in the way. He sits in one of the empty chairs in front of a weapons station, out of the way of essential systems. He’s been living off coffee alone since he left home, and he's so tired now he can barely string a sentence together.
He doesn’t expect anyone to notice, and it takes a while but somebody does. Mancuso and Ramius have been talking, a little disjointedly but excitedly about the features of the submarine, occasionally pausing while they both teach the other their word for the technology. Jack doesn’t even notice that they’ve paused to watch him until Mancuso taps Ramius on his good shoulder and nods in his direction. Ramius walks over and crouches in front of him.
“You’re tired,” he says flatly, a glimmer of concern in his eyes. His tone leaves no room for argument, so Jack just nods. “We have enough spare beds for you to sleep, Ryan, your work here is done.”
Jack manages a slightly wan smile. “Can you show me to one of them?”
Ramius nods and offers him a hand up, which Jack accepts with a word of thanks. Ramius just knows he’s had a long few days and a fight, not that his old injuries had been aching even before the pipe of coolant had landed across his back, so he can’t know exactly how grateful Jack is for such a simple gesture.
Ramius shows him to some now-empty sleeping quarters and points him to the nearest washroom, then goes back up to the Conn. Jack is too tired now to even think about showering yet, even though he's covered in all the sweat and salt and grime of the last few days, he just strips off his dirty uniform and slides into one of the bunks. He's asleep almost the second his head hits the pillow.
The thin mattress of the bunk is no good for his back, and Jack wakes up because the pain gets too much, not because he's well rested. He’s made a habit of lying about how he’s doing, even to himself, and he’s done too good a job of it. It’s been a long time since he’s done so much, travelled so far in such a short space of time, and now his old injuries aren’t thanking him. According to his watch, it’s been a couple of hours; it could be worse.
“Next time, I’ll just send that memo,” he whispers into the empty room, already knowing he’s lying to himself, that if something like this comes up again he’ll do exactly the same damn thing.
He sits up slowly, trying (and failing) not to groan, then forces himself to stand. At least his headache has faded a little, even if his nerves spark like static through his entire body in protest when he straightens.
His clothes are on the floor where he dropped them and still wet with sweat and engine fluid. Maybe later he can ask Ramius or one of the others for something clean, or at least dry, but for now he’s stuck with these.
The door opens when he's only half dressed, only in his pants, and Jack almost jumps. He does his best to turn calmly, but whoever it is has just seen his scars and, well, he keeps quiet about his injury for a reason. People always treat him differently, like he's something fragile or he's weak, all except Skip Tyler who goes through the same, and he doesn't want that, not from the men from the Dallas and even less from the Soviet defectors.
It’s Ramius stood in the doorway. He doesn’t comment on what he’s seen, and not in the careful, evasive way that he’s used to people ‘not commenting’.
“I thought you might want some clean clothes,” he says, holding up a neatly folded shirt and pair of trousers with his good arm.
Jack hesitates for a second, then clears his throat. “Thanks.”
He takes the clothes from Ramius and immediately tries to shrug on the shirt, but moves his shoulder just wrong and freezes to the spot, paralysed by the pain.
Ramius raises an eyebrow. "If I didn't already know how little time you've spent on submarines, I would now. We all have scars, Ryan."
He takes a step forward and tugs Jack's shirt into place, starts to button it up as Jack slowly moves back to a position that doesn't hurt so much. If this was anyone else, he'd try to pull away, but somehow Ramius is different. This isn’t because Ramius thinks he can’t do it himself, this is something else.
"Not like mine," he says, trying not to shudder when Ramius' calloused fingers graze his throat, and failing. "People look at me differently when they find out."
Ramius smiles slightly in a way that makes Jack certain he knows exactly what he just did.
"Perhaps, but that's their problem, not yours. You shouldn't be ashamed.” He straightens Jack’s shirt. “And you would have told me if you didn’t think yourself capable.”
“Of course. I didn’t get this far to let my ego get in the way at the last minute.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Jack smiles at that. It’s so rare that he gets understanding instead of misplaced sympathy. “No problem.”
“Good.” He takes a step away, and Jack wants nothing more than to pull him back, pull him closer. “Your Captain Mancuso tells me we’re far enough up river that we can surface, and I’d like to see America for my first time as a free man.”
“Was that an invitation?”
He smiles, raising a brow slightly. “It was.”
“Welcome to the new world, Sir,” Jack says, then turns back to the river. Neither of them speak again for a long time. Ryan seems relieved that his part in this is mostly over, but for Ramius all of this is only just beginning, and he’s lost in thought beyond just that about fishing.
He frowns into the horizon, feeling the breeze on his face and the throbbing from his injured shoulder even after the painkillers he took and hopes what awaits him is good.
“Do you have anyone waiting for you, Ryan?” he asks, phrasing it like an idle question when it's anything but.
Jack looks up, turns to face him again.
“Not any more. I, ah,” he hesitates, runs a hand through his hair. “I was married for a while. Didn’t work out.”
It’s clearly a sore subject, so he doesn’t push any further. He has an answer to his question now, although it wasn’t precisely the one he’d hoped for. All the same, he’d been married. He still loves Natalia more than anyone else he’s ever encountered, though god knows she had always deserved better than he could ever have given her. He’s an old man now, and he’s still grieving, but they’d been married for thirty-seven years he supposes that will last for the rest of his days.
The way Ryan looks at him though… Well, Ramius isn’t quite sure what to do with that any more.
He hears the hatch down below open and footsteps clank away from them. They’re alone on the surface now, just him and the only man just reckless enough to trust him from the start. He tries to find the words to express to Ryan just how grateful he is for that, just how he’s feeling, but finds something else entirely.
“I didn’t hate your book, Ryan.”
He seems genuinely surprised by that, pride in his eyes, but his tone stays light and joking. “Glad to hear it. It took a lot of work.”
“I didn’t agree with your opinion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy your writing. Perhaps your man was foolish,” he continues, staring out at the dark water. “But so was I. Men do foolish things when they have nothing left to lose.”
“What have you got to lose now?” Ryan says.
Ramius turns back to face him sharply, sees only alarm in Ryan’s expression; he’s tired, he’s hurting, and he definitely hadn’t meant to say that out loud.
Ramius tilts his head slightly, tries to keep his face blank, but knows he’s not entirely successful. Jack still looks absolutely mortified but this is a revelation to him. When he speaks, his voice is soft.
“Nothing,” he says. “Absolutely nothing.”
He shifts closer to Ryan, very carefully rests a hand on the back of his neck as he stops just inches from his lips. “This is what you meant?”
Jack can’t answer, just nods, moves the rest of the way. Both of their lips are cool from the brisk night air, the feel of Ramius’ beard is unfamiliar against his chin. There isn’t much between them in height, but Ramius’ arms around him practically engulf him in his coat, his broad chest. He’s safe here, buried in his embrace, only falls further into it as Ramius deepens their kiss. Ramius has him pinned against the rails of the platform, but he’d let him go the second he decided he didn’t want this, if he ever did.
“You’re a cowboy, Ryan,” he says softly when they pull away from each other for a breath, but it’s affectionate this time instead of disbelieving.
“Can you imagine if I wasn’t?”
A smile that’s almost a smirk forms on his lips. “It hardly bears thinking about,” he says, and leans forward to kiss Jack again, just on the temple this time, not the lips. The hatch slams open a second later when they’re still pressed against each other and one of the Americans tells them that they’re finally close to their destination.
Ramius thinks that, for the first time, he might be able to see beyond just the land ahead. He’s already found his destination in the form of the young American optimist who dared to believe him. Perhaps it didn’t matter so much where he went from here, as long as he had this.