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The studio was already crowded and lively by the time Ryan arrived. People complained loudly about the loudness of others. Coffee was passed around by bleary eyed technicians. Papers and sleepy 'good morning's were exchanged. Ryan hunched his shoulders. It was a lot to manage so early in the morning and he'd had a stressful evening.

Making straight for the coffee machine, Ryan poured himself a black coffee with just enough sugar for it to be drinkable. It steamed up his glasses as he drank, rendering him momentarily defenceless. Once his glasses cleared he was shocked to find Kelly stood inches from his face. He stepped back, knocking into the cabinet.

"Well?" She cooed, leaning in closer. Ryan's eyes darted side to side, desperately seeking an escape route. "Everyone's waiting to hear how it went!" Sensing Ryan was uncomfortable she leaned back, instead offering a warm smile. Ryan relaxed.

"Umm, how-how what went?" He stuttered. A small group was beginning to gather behind Kelly.

"Y'know." The look she gave Ryan told him he should know. "Your date with Craig!" A mumble of agreement came from his audience.

Ryan frowned, his face becoming adorably crumpled. "I-I didn't go on a date with Craig." The statement gave him butterflies. "It was just a business meeting. We talked about news and cameras and... Stuff." Craig's eyes were bright and beautiful, and in the candlelight Ryan could look at nothing else, but despite the romantic setting everything else was very business-like. Ryan had even brought a briefcase.

"What do you mean it wasn't a date? Of course it was a date!" Now Kelly was frowning. "Did he tell you it wasn't a date?"

When Craig had called him last week he hadn't told him it was a date, he'd simply asked him out to dinner. Naturally Ryan had assumed it was a business meeting. However they had gone to a nice restaurant; a small, homey Italian place with candles on each table and romantic music played by a live string band and... Oh God it was a date! It was a date, and Ryan had brought his brief case and his papers and all he'd talked about was work! No wonder Craig had looked so disheartened.

"Oh God!" Ryan fell back against the cabinet. The coffee machine burned his back. "Oh God! That was a date!" He knotted a hand in his hair and took shallow, uneven breaths. "A cute boy asked me in a date and... And I didn't even go on a date with him!" A sudden thought hit Ryan. "A... A cute boy asked me on a date!" He straightened his glasses and brushed his hair out of his eyes.

Not that Craig would ever want to go on a date with him again. At best he'd think Ryan simply wasn't interested, but he probably just thought him rude or annoying or too invested in his work. Probably all three.

Ryan felt tingly and sweaty with everyone staring at him. Now he'd embarrassed himself in front of Craig and the entire studio. They had such little respect for him to begin with he barely even dared do any work today. Let someone else deal with the rabble. Someone like...

"Chuck! Chuck!" Gary was calling him over, much to Ryan's dismay. "Guess what?"

"Oh, don't. Leave the poor boy alone." Kelly elbowed Gary lightly in an attempt to get him to shut up.

Ryan was torn between appreciation at Kelly saving him from embarrassment and indignation at being called a boy. "Thanks, but I'm not a little kid," is what he settled on. Gary continued to beckon Chuck over and Kelly stepped back.

"Chuck," Gary grinned, "Craig St Claire asked Ryan on a date and he didn't even realise it, so he acted like it was a business meeting!"

Chuck smirked and clapped a hand on Ryan's shoulder. "Good for you, kid. Confuse the competition, I like it. And who'd have known that St Claire was gay?"

"I-I wasn't confusing anyone. It was an honest mistake. An-and he's not gay, I-I don't think he's gay. I don't know." He sighed heavily. "I didn't mean anything, I just didn't know what he was asking! You're all stressing me out so much right now, I'm so hot!" Ryan fanned his face with both hands and tried not to lean so hard on the coffee machine. His skin prickled uncomfortably.

"Oh Ryan, it's ok," Kelly soothed. "I'm sure Craig will understand if you just explain everything to him." She began to gently guide him towards his office.

"Do you think he'd go on an actual date with me now? I'm so embarrassed." Ryan watched his feet as he walked.

"Of course sweetie, of course. Now, go on," she pushed him into his office. The crowed was now gathered around his window, not even pretending they were working. Chuck lingered in the background, uncomfortable and disapproving.

Hands shaking, Ryan picked up the phone and dialled Craig's number. Of course he knew it by heart. Craig answered almost immediately. "Hey." The word seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth. "It's Ryan."

"Oh." That wasn't a very pleasant 'oh'. It was overly cheery, hiding a lingering melancholy. "Hi Ryan. What can I do for you?"

Kiss me, fall in love with me, marry me, Ryan thought immediately. "Just, just a thing," he said airily. "A thing I wanted to ask. To ask you. I wanted to ask you a thing." Ryan was all too aware of how tongue tied he was becoming, and how disjointed his sentences must have seemed.

"Go on then," Craig chuckled. "Ask me something." Ryan leaned heavily on the desk; even Craig's voice was beautiful.

"You know how last week you called me?" He stopped. He didn't know why he'd stopped. But suddenly he couldn't carry on.

"Yeah, I remember," Craig prompted softly.

"And you asked if I wanted to go out to dinner?"

"Uh-huh. Of course."

"So we went to dinner."

"Yeah, we did."

"In this super romantic restaurant and there were candles and love songs and spaghetti." His speech was getting faster and slightly more panicked with each word. "And I was talking to Kelly and she thought it was a date and was it a date or not because I am so freaking out!"

Silence. Ryan could hear his blood pumping through his veins far faster than it had any right to be. He moved to perch on the edge of his seat, but the wheeled chair slid from beneath him and he landed on the floor. A jolt to the phone cable sent the receiver flying across the desk and into his lap. Laughter erupted from behind the glass.

"What's that? Are you ok?" Craig asked.

Ryan cradled the receiver protectively. "Yeah, that's just the sound of people disrespecting me."

"It was a date," Craig said hurriedly. "At least, it was meant to be a date. I even called Kelly to ask her, gosh this is awkward, to ask her some stuff about, where you'd like to go and stuff." He laughed to himself and Ryan imagined he was blushing. "She said you like Italian food."

"I do like Italian food," Ryan beamed. "But I'm really sorry I acted like it was a business meeting. I just couldn't imagine you asking me on a date. I'm sorry."

"Are you kidding?" Craig exclaimed. "Half the girls in my studio have a crush on you. Some of the guys too. They're absolutely in awe of you! Plus, you're super cute, so there's that."

Ryan grinned stupidly and screwed his eyes up in delight.

"So, correct me if I'm wrong, but does this mean you would like to go on a date with me?" Ryan had never heard him to hopeful and unsure. He decided it felt good making someone else flustered, rather than being the flustered one, for once.

"Well, I'm really, really embarrassed, so ideally I'd never see you again in my life to avoid a potential heart attack." Ryan was certain he never could've had this conversation face to face. "But also I really, really, really, really, really want to go on a proper date with you." Brilliant, he was back to being flustered.

"Great!" Craig seemed to dial his excitement back a little. "Great. So we'll have a proper first date, and I'll bring a defibrillator."

Ryan laughed uncontrollably, desperately trying to cover his mouth. He probably sounded crazy. "Sorry, sorry," he panted.

"No, you have a really happy laugh. I like it." He paused for a moment. "So, umm, you still like Italian food?"

"Definitely," Ryan nodded happily.

"Think you could eat more Italian food?"

"Ye-ah." Ryan would have eaten gravel it meant he could go on a date with Craig.

"Think you could eat more Italian food tonight? Can I pick you up after work?"

"That would be-" Ryan sighed dreamily and leaned his head against the desk, "So awesome."

"Great! Great. Great! I can't wait!" Craig paused and laughed lightly. "And this is a date, right Ryan?"

Ryan's cheeks glowed bright red. "Yeah, this is definitely a date."

"Amazing. See you tonight then."

"Yeah, cool." Ryan listened to the disconnected phone line for a little while after Craig hung up, basking in the glory of what had just happened. Craig has asked him on an actual, proper date, even after the disaster that was their last 'date'. And he was excited about it. So excited he wanted to pick him up tonight. Plus, he got more Italian food, and that was always a good thing.

Eventually he turned round to face the glass where most of the office was waiting eagerly, as if they hadn't heard half the conversation. Ryan gave an awkward thumbs up, causing the studio to burst into a round of cheers and clapping. Everyone seemed to be grinning, everyone happy for him. He smiled shyly. Maybe they respected him a little better than he thought.

Then he hit his head on the desk as he tried to get up and the studio exploded into laughter once more. So maybe they didn't respect him, but they certainly liked him, and that counted for something.

 

 

Chapter Text

Craig was ready and eagerly waiting to pick Ryan up by eight thirty. The rest of the studio had reluctantly returned to their desks by this time, but they took it in turns to peer into the hall and report to the others on what Craig was doing.

"He's straightening his tie."

"He's smiling."

"He's pacing up and down."

"He's just standing there, that's so boring, why is he just standing there when it's my turn?"

They fell silent when Ryan hurried out of the bathroom, dressed in a blue shirt and fancy jacket he'd stored in his locker for what he called 'manager emergencies'. When he was called to an impromptu meeting and he felt the need to wear a posh jacket. He'd put contact lenses in, but now regretted it as his eyes were red and watering. He only felt slightly sick.

Kelly was waiting by the door with a huge smile on her face. "Oh Ryan, you look lovely." She straightened his collar. "Have fun, ok?"

Chuck, who was stood behind her in the doorway, scowled. "Rough up the competition for me a bit, kid. You've got some muscle on you, I'm not against physical violence." He gave a weak attempt at a jab-cross in the air.

Ryan faltered. He didn't know what to say.

"Chuck, just leave him," Kelly snapped. "He's a young man and he likes a guy and they're going on a date. This has nothing to do with work."

Chuck stalked off, mumbling something about how he'd thought Ryan liked Montana. It made Ryan feel nauseous and not in a good way.

Kelly patted Ryan comfortingly on the shoulder. "Ignore him, I hope you have an amazing time." He nodded and thanked her, then hurried into the hall to greet Craig. Who looked stunning. Who was smiling at him. Who was making his heart beat at an incredible rate.

"He-ey," he exhaled shakily.

Craig leaned in and kissed him gently on the cheek. It made Ryan light headed. "Hi Ryan. I love your jacket." He stroked a hand down Ryan's arm, making him shiver. The urge to grab Craig's hand and never let go of it was almost overpowering.

Craig peered back into the studio, where people were still desperately trying to catch a glimpse of them. Ryan felt hot embarrassment at his co-workers burn in his chest. Now Craig would see that they didn't respect him, he had no authority, and no one had any regard for his boundaries. Not exactly the characteristics you'd want in a date.

But Craig just placed his hand lightly on Ryan's lower back, turning him away from the studio and walking towards the elevators. "Your studio looks like a riot," he chuckled. When Ryan just sighed sadly, he continued, "Don't worry, mine's exactly the same. And they treat people's love lives just like they treat the news; people want to know everything.

"Oh," was all Ryan replied.

"Hey, it's alright." They stepped into the elevator. When Ryan leaned against the bar he made sure his fingers overlapped with Craig's. "Everyone loves you." Ryan wondered if Craig was included in that everyone, but then he felt stupid. They hadn't even had a first date yet, of course Craig didn't love him. And he hadn't been very loveable so far: all he'd done was worry.

Outside was a dry, warm dusk. Craig had parked his car right outside the studio. He opened the door for Ryan, then offered to drop him off back at the studio to pick up his own car.

"Oh, thanks, but I don't drive," Ryan admitted. "Life just sort of jumped from one crazy place to another and I never had the time to learn." Craig's car was modest and simple, but it had the air of a family car. All it needed was a child seat in the back. Stickers on the window. A few toys strewn about. Ryan had always wanted a family car: a little messy, always with at least one bump in it, but a place his kids could safely fall asleep, exhausted after a long day out.

"Yeah, tell me about it. Life in news is hectic. And you have the hardest job, I admire you. You have to be so calm under pressure, how do you do it?" Craig took his eyes off the road for a moment to smile softly at Ryan. He turned away to hide his blushing cheeks.

"Well, you know, I'm just calm. Calm. Under pressure. Yeah, super calm." Even the question ad given him a mini panic attack.

Craig laughed musically. "You're hilarious!"

They stopped a few blocks from the restaurant and walked along the brightly lit streets. Ryan used the bustling sidewalk as an excuse to press his shoulder against Craig's, which made his skin tingle. Craig made no attempt to pull away as he chatted to Ryan over the noise of the crowds. "I feel like last time was kind of overwhelming for a first date, I'm sorry. It was a lot of romance. So this time I thought we'd go a bit more commercial, if that's ok."

I'd die for you, Ryan thought. "Yeah, that's totally fine. Commercial places always have good garlic bread." He licked his lips slightly and giggled. Craig's eyes widened. He leaned in for a second, as if he was going to kiss him, then he laughed and straightened up.

"That's true," he smiled.

After rounding another corner they arrived. A warm glow spilled from the windows, illuminating the street and silhouetting the people inside. It was one of those chain restaurants where each branch was unique and still maintained a friendly ambience. And had great garlic bread.

The pair sat in the window, where Ryan thought the soft lighting made Craig look enticing and ethereal. He hid his gaze behind the menu, only risking a glance at Craig ever so often, but every time he looked up Craig already seemed to be staring at him. He was smiling widely, but not the fake smile he used to do the news. This one was gentle, warm, and loving. It gave Ryan butterflies.

"So, now I can finally ask you some first date questions, right?" Craig enquired, tilting his head endearingly to one side. The thought made Ryan nervous, but he nodded anyway. "Great! I want to know everything about you, so forgive me if the questions are boring." His hand inched tentatively across the table until he slid it in to Ryan's, looking shyly up at his date to make sure this was ok. Ryan just shrugged, but stared down at their intertwined hands. His hand was sweaty and shaking, but Craig's was sturdy and warm. It made him feel calm enough to take deeper breaths.

"So, umm, you from Pennsylvania?" Craig asked.

"I don't really know," Ryan said before he could stop himself. His heart began to race again. "Well, no, umm, no, I have lived here for a long time. But I don't know if I'm from here originally." Craig was frowning slightly, confused. "My parents died when I was really small," he continued quickly, only realising how much of a mood killer that was after the words had left his mouth. He was in too deep to stop now. "I didn't even have a name yet. Some drunk loser got to name me after an actor or sportsman or someone he liked. I think I moved around a bit before I got to California, but I don't really know."

Ryan waited for Craig to pull back, look uncomfortable, even leave, but instead he tightened his grip on Ryan's hand. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "But you got a nice family eventually, right?"

"That's how it goes in the movies, huh?" Ryan was gripping Craig's hand unbelievably tightly. "No, I've never had anyone. One of my parents, God I don't even know which one, was an immigrant, and you know how American's hate immigrants." His voice was bitter. His eyes burned with tears of anger and overbearing sadness. "That's-" He bit his lip hard as a tear crawled down his cheek, "That's something they don't tell you in the brochure!"

A young waiter began to approach the table, but after a glance at Ryan breaking down and Craig gently wiping his tears he panicked and rushed back to the kitchen.

"Fuck, this is even worse than the last date," Ryan said pitifully, trying to wipe his tears away without knocking his contact lenses out. "I'm really sorry."

"Don't be sorry." Craig tucked Ryan's curls behind his ear. "I shouldn't have asked. But you can tell me anything you like, even if it's something... Not so nice. You deserve a loving family." He took Ryan's hand again.

"Why-" Ryan sniffed and wiped his eyes once more, "Why don't you tell me where you're from for a bit?"

"Of course," Craig smiled. "I grew up in California, but it's not what you think. Poor little place by the sea where people grow marijuana on their terraces and teenagers tattoo themselves with pins. It was just me and my mum in this tiny apartment. And we had this really shitty old TV, and the only channel it consistently played was the news. This is going to sound so dumb, but the anchors felt kind of like my family, I guess that's where I got my passion for news from."

"That's not dumb at all. I think it's sweet." Ryan clung to Craig's words. He remembered all too well his wasted childhood in front of a television set, a different one every few months. How every character, every news anchor, every weatherman had felt like the only constant things in his life. He'd always assumed his passion for television was a waste of time, but after he secured an internship at the studio the speed with which he rocketed to manager proved him wrong.

Craig blushed and for the first time that evening looked away from Ryan. "Thanks."

Trying to turn the conversation to a lighter note, Craig asked Ryan about his hobbies. He told him he loved film and television, obviously, but especially current things. "I think people put too much emphasis on old movie," he said. "I admire things that were good for their time, but film is just getting better and better, I think we should appreciate that."

Craig loved team sports and swimming and sci-fi. Ryan admitted that he detested team sports, he could never grab anyone's attention, but he loved to box. He'd never started a fight but he could certainly defend himself if hassled. Craig was impressed but not shocked; he said he'd always been rather in awe of how broad Ryan's shoulders were.

The garlic bread was very good.

Growing up Craig had had a labrador he took to the beach every morning. Ryan laughed and said that no matter where he went there always seemed to be a chihuahua nearby; whether that was in the house or somewhere down the road, barking at three am. Despite that, he still loved dogs.

"Have you ever had a boyfriend before?" Ryan asked Craig, although his question was rally directed at the table.

"Yeah, I've had two actually. One was just sort of a 'I've just discovered my sexuality, let's hold hands' thing in high school. The other was a proper relationship a few years back." He gave Ryan a lopsided grin. "What about you?"

Ryan squirmed. "I've actually never had a boyfriend." His voice was soft and barely audible. "Don't worry, I'm not a complete loser, I've had a couple of girlfriends. And I've had crushed on guys before, but I'm not really the sort of guy to make a move on anyone. If you're not cool with that I totally get it."

"No, hey." Craig gently placed a hand under Ryan's chin and tilted it up, so that he was looking into his eyes. "That's fine, Ryan." The sound of Craig saying his name was comforting. He said it vibrantly, as if saying Ryan's name made him happy. "And even if you'd never had a girlfriend that wouldn't make you a loser. We judge people too much on how many people the dated."

Craig's eyes made Ryan's heart melt.

~

The sky had faded to a deep blue and the dry air had become sharp and cold. Ryan feebly tried to pull his thin jacket more snugly around him.

"Oh, here!" Craig slipped his own jacket off and wrapped it around Ryan's shoulders, then he pulled the shivering boy against his chest. "Your hair smells like cinnamon," he whispered.

Ryan rested his head against Craig's shoulder. "Thanks, I eat a lot of cinnamon. In coffee and on muffins and stuff, I don't just eat cinnamon." Craig kissed him on the forehead and told him he was cute. That, more than anything else, made Ryan feel warm.

In the car Craig turned the heat on, even though Ryan still had his jacket draped over his shoulders, which made Ryan feel drowsy. He sunk back into the seat and enjoyed the serene conversation, trying not to blink for too long.

Craig gently tapped his thigh when they arrived at his apartment. "I'll walk you to your door." His door was one meter of pavement and three steps away.

"Thank you so much. I had a super awesome time tonight," Ryan said, starting to slip Craig's jacket off. "I'd umm... If you'd like to... Yeah, umm, I want to..."

"Keep the jacket," Craig said firmly, pressing it into Ryan's hands. "And I'll come pick it up sometime soon. And, if you like, you can ask me on a second date."

Ryan nodded gratefully, clutching the jacket against his chest. "Thank you." He looked between the door and Craig, but made no move towards either.

"There is one more thing I wanted to say," Craig blurted out rapidly. A moment of silence. The street was still. "I really like you, Ryan."

"I really like you too," Ryan beamed. "Is-is that what you wanted to say?" Craig's hand was on his forearm now. He'd leaned in slightly. His lips were pursed and his eyes wide.

"No," Craig exhaled. He leaned in closer. Pressed his nose against Ryan's. "I actually wanted to kiss you. Is that ok?"

"That's, it's, umm, I..." Ryan took a deep breath. "Yes."

Craig tilted his head slightly and pressed his lips against Ryan's. Softly at first, then more deeply and passionately as he pulled Ryan closer, one hand tangled in his hair. "You're so hot, Ryan," he sighed.

"Sorry." Ryan shuffled back a bit. "I get really hot when I'm nervous. And kissing a cute boy makes me really nervous."

"No, not like that." Craig tugged on Ryan's sleeve and pulled him back against his chest. "You're attractive. You're cute. I like you."

"Oh. I like you too." He hopped on to the first step then kissed Craig on the cheek. "So, do I have to wait three days to call you or is that just a myth?" He took another step towards the door. Craig grabbed his hand.

"You can call me whenever you like. Don't worry." For a moment they just stood, holding hands, Ryan blushing down at the floor and Craig staring at him intensely. Then Craig stepped up beside Ryan, kissed him chastely, and jumped back down again. "Thanks for the best first date ever," he smiled, and then he was gone.

Ryan stood on the steps, Craig's jacket clutched in one hand, the other pressed against his lips, which tingled electrically. He hadn't had many first kisses, but that was certainly the best he'd ever experienced. Craig's lips were soft, one hand firm and protective on his back, the other gently caressing his hair. As Ryan clutched Craig's jacket to his chest the only thing on his mind was kissing Craig again.

 

Chapter Text

The office became almost eery when empty. It was usually such a lively and bustling place the silence just didn't seem to fill it. Footsteps echoed and the camera equipment cast misshapen shadows. Ryan found himself almost creeping around, trying not to make any noise.

He had plans to go over to Craig's after work, who had promised they'd do absolutely nothing at all, which Ryan was greatly looking forward to. The only problem was that he'd agreed to lock up that night and Chuck just didn't seem to want to leave. Ryan was too nervous to knock on his door and ask him when he was going, so instead he'd been dithering outside it for about an hour.

Ryan startled as Chuck's office door opened and he leaned out. "Can I talk to you?" He asked casually, as if the office wasn't deserted.

Ryan desperately wanted to say no. He wanted to yell at Chuck to get out and shove him like he always got shoved then he wanted to go over to his boyfriend's house and eat too much of his good cooking while he got cuddled and someone made a fuss of his hair. But he couldn't. "Y-y-yeah." He stepped in to the office.

Chuck sat down at his desk, head resting in one hand. Ryan wouldn't bring himself to cross the room and sit in Kelly's chair, so he lingered by the door. Nervous under Chuck's gaze, he hunched his shoulders and folded his arms.

"Ryan, you're a young man," Chuck stated. He nodded. "I recently seem to have acquired a daughter. Since I don't have much experience with young people I thought I'd ask you a few things, if that's alright?"

Ryan could feel himself growing hot. He squirmed. He just wanted to go home. "Sure."

"Great." Chuck made no attempt to engage with Ryan or even turn his way. It was as though he was talking to the room and Ryan was simply there. "How do you get along with young people? I feel like sometimes I get on amazingly with Gracie, but other times I can't even start a conversation. What can I do to get her to enjoy a conversation with me?"

"You should learn about what she's interested in, then talk to he about it," Ryan shrugged.

"Perfect! I'll ask Kelly about it-"

"No," Ryan interrupted tentatively. "No, umm, don't do that. You need to show Gracie you're interested in her. Ask her what she's interested in. Learn a bit about it. Talk to her about it later." That's why Ryan liked Craig so much. They had some interests in common, but anything Ryan liked that Craig hadn't heard of he instantly wanted to know more. Ryan didn't know whether he was just being nice or he was genuinely interested, but it made him feel wonderful.

"Y'know Ryan, that's actually great advice," Chuck said gratefully. He straightened up slightly and looked at Ryan for the first time. "We get on well enough, don't we Ryan?"

Yes, Ryan though. He was perfectly prepared to say yes. He fully intended to say yes. But then he broke. "No."

"What?" Chuck stood up and Ryan cowered into the corner. Shocked, Chuck held his hands up in surrender and sat back down again. "What?" His voice was softer now. Ryan stayed in the corner.

"It's just, you don't really know anything about me," Ryan started softly. "We know everything about you, but you never seem to want to talk to anyone about personal stuff. And when we're talking about work stuff you don't give me any respect. That kinda hurts. You've never treated me like your boss.

"And then..." He hesitated, tugging nervously at his sleeves. "You always yell at me and kind of push me around. I mean, I get it. I'm a big guy and you think I can take it, but it kinda reminds me of stuff I kinda never want to think about ever again. It makes me feel sorta-" Again he paused, "Shitty."

Chuck looked disgruntled, but he made no attempt to interrupt, so Ryan continued, "Also, there's Craig. I get that he's the anchor for a rival channel and you'll always be in competition, but I really like him. I've never had much of a family, and I've never liked anyone as much as I like Craig. I really, really, really like him. But when you get, I don't know, annoyed? That I'm bisexual, it makes me feel awful. For the first time I feel like I might even have a tiny, tiny chance at starting a family-" He rubbed his eyes quickly, before Chuck could realise he was crying, "And, this is going to sound so stupid, but every time you say something I just feel like I don't deserve it."

Tears quickly began to run down Ryan's face. Embarrassed, he looked down at the floor.

Chuck's mouth hung agape. He was unable to form a response, and too afraid he'd make things worse. But as Ryan continued to sob he knew he'd have to say something. "Look Ryan." He stood and placed one hand lightly on Ryan's shoulder. "I'm sorry about that. I know I'm a pretty self involved person, I'll try harder with you guys.

"And I didn't realise I pushed you around so much, I promise to try and stop that. I know you're my boss too, I always just thought we were messing around. Starting tomorrow I'll make sure the guys around here show you a bit more respect." He patted Ryan in a way he thought was comforting.

Ryan dried his eyes on his sleeves and took a step out of Chuck's grasp. He appreciated what Chuck had said, but there was still one thing weighing on his mind. Something that made his heart ache. His hands shook as he asked, "But what about Craig?"

Chuck looked tired and afraid. He ran a hand over his face and stepped back. "God, alright," his voice was strained. "I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable, Ryan. I'm sorry about anything I've ever said about you and Craig. It's just, although I hate to admit it, I'm an older generation, and when I was young we just never talked about things like that. I know that doesn't make it ok. I know. I'm sorry. But these things just come out. I do try, and now I know how it makes you feel I'll try harder."

Ryan didn't say anything. The air was heavy with tension and fear. He yawned.

"Come on, I'll give you a ride home," Chuck said. They left the office. Relieved, Ryan locked the door.

"Actually, could you drop me at Craig's?" His voice was tired and monotonous. "I'll give you directions."

Chuck agreed without grimacing.

They left the studio in silence. Walked to the car in silence. During the journey Ryan gave simple commands such as where to turn and Chuck responded 'ok'. They pulled up outside Craig's apartment.

"Thank for the lift. I'll see you tomorrow." Ryan got out of the car.

"Wait!" Chuck stopped him. He looked sincere. "I hope you have a good time with Craig tonight. You deserve a nice family, Ryan."

Before he could respond Chuck drove away.

Chapter Text

"Aww, your shirt matches your pants," Craig said affectionately as he welcomed Ryan in to his apartment, kissing him in the cheek. It was comfortably warm inside and each breath tasted like sugar cookies. Ryan allowed himself to flop against Craig like a rag doll, all the sullen anger having drained out of him.

"What's wrong with my shirt matching my pants?"

"Nothing, it's cute." Craig tried to lead him over to the couch but Ryan didn't cooperate, instead allowing Craig to drag him. He deposited Ryan on the sofa. "It's just, your shirt's bright orange."

People had been making snide comments and giggling about Ryan's outfit all day, but Craig's words were gentle and sweet. He took Ryan's collar between his fingers and pulled him in for a kiss. Ryan closed the gap between them on the sofa. It was a sleepy and slow kiss and Ryan was glad; he didn't think he could muster the energy for anything more passionate.

"How was your day?" Craig asked as he pulled back. "You seemed sort of gloomy on the doorstep, everything alright?"

"I think so." Ryan didn't feel so empty anymore. He felt warm on the sofa and pleased to be with Craig and although his tiredness wasn't ebbing he thought he could stay awake long enough to watch a film. Especially if he could curl up against Craig's shoulder. "It's been a long day, is it alright if I tell you another time?"

"Absolutely." Craig let go of Ryan, after letting his fingertips linger as long as possible, and pulled the coffee table closer. "Ok, so originally I made a spicy curry, but then I remembered you couldn't eat that because, y'know, you might asphyxiate to death and that's... Really bad. I had lots of chicken left though, so I made chicken nuggets and they don't really have a flavour so I've got ketchup too. And chicken noodles. This isn't really proper food, I'm sorry."

"I don't mind, I'm starving." Ryan took a bowl of noddles. Work was so hectic his lunch break was usually spent overseeing some sort of disaster. He didn't mind; he came to work to get things done not eat lunch and he could always eat when he got home. But now Chuck had kept him late and Craig's living room smelled wonderfully of chicken stock and Ryan was hungry.

"You can chew it, y'know," Craig said, kissing Ryan's cheek and turning the TV on.

"Yeah." He grabbed some chicken nuggets. He'd never eaten anything so quickly in his life.

"Just don't fall asleep, in your noddles, ok?" Craig smiled.

Ryan wasn't making any promises.

~

Ryan woke with a start and peered blearily at the TV. The video had clearly finished a while ago and the tape was now playing its obligatory static. It was dark outside. He was grateful to find he hadn't fallen asleep with a bowl of noddles in his lap. Craig was asleep on his shoulder.

"Hey Craig," Ryan whispered. "I think I've gotta go home now."

Craig blinked then sat up quickly. "Oh, sorry," he blushed, moving over slightly so he wasn't pressed against Ryan's side. He checked his watch. "God, it's two am. Don't go home, you can stay here."

"It's fine..." Ryan felt the rest of the sentence slip away from him as he started to fall asleep again. Everything felt fuzzy and he wasn't sure if he was actually awake or just dreaming. Craig tapped him on the shoulder. "Sorry." He rubbed his eyes, knocking his glasses off. Craig picked them up and tucked them in to his shirt pocket. "What was I gonna say?"

"That you'd love to stay over. Come on." Craig got up and started towards the bedroom, expecting Ryan to follow him, but instead he just flopped sideways in the couch. Craig smiled. "You'll hate me tomorrow if I let you sleep there, come on." He pushed Ryan back in to a sitting position then picked him up, balancing him on his hips. Ryan sighed sleepily and buried his head in Craig's neck.

"I'm not that tired. It's... Mm." He yawned.

"It's definitely not ok, you're falling asleep in the middle of a conversation," Craig laughed. "I'll get you some pyjamas then you can go to sleep."

He set Ryan down in front of the chest of drawers, who swayed a little and stared longingly at the bed. "No, if I'd put you down on the bed you'd be asleep already," Craig said, rooting through a drawer. "How about some Star Wars pyjamas? They're a bit old but, no offence, you're a bit short."

"I love Star Wars," Ryan grinned.

"I know." Craig pressed the pyjamas in to his hands, since if he put them down Ryan would certainly fall asleep looking for them. "You tell me several times a day."

"Sorry."

"I love you." He kissed Ryan on the forehead. "Now I'm going to... Do some stuff, so that I don't stare at you while you're getting changed... Because you're really cute... I'm gonna go now."

Craig had been saying 'I love you' a lot recently. Well, not a lot, maybe once a date; but to Ryan, who hadn't said it at all yet, it seemed like a lot. It wasn't that he didn't like hearing that Craig loved him, he really did, but each time Craig said it Ryan felt more and more pressure to say it back. Of course, he did love Craig, he just wasn't sure how or when to say it.

Ryan fumbled with Craig's pyjamas, his useless, tired muscles getting caught in the fabric, but eventually he won the battle and allowed himself to collapse on the bed. They weren't flattering, the pants were too long and bunched around his feet, but they were soft and they smelled like Craig (baking and sweet aftershave). He began to drift off again.

"Hey." Craig re-entered the room and grabbed a T-shirt from beside Ryan. "You look so cute."

"I look fat," Ryan whined. "And my legs look really short."

"I know, I just said that. You look cute." He turned his back to Ryan and took of his date-shirt, slipping in the T-shirt instead. Ryan stared, feeling intrusive but far too tired to turn away. It's not like he'd remember any of this when he woke up. When he stripped his pants to exchange them for shorts Ryan at least had the decency to drop his gaze to the bed.

"Alright, are you ok?" Craig asked. "I'll go now, get some sleep."

"What? Where are you going?" Ryan had never shared a bed with Craig before, but the thought of them not sleeping together that night hadn't even crossed his mind.

"To sleep on the couch. I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

Ryan wanted to tell Craig that he appreciated how gentle and slow their relationship was. He wanted to tell Craig he always felt comfortable around him; Craig went out of his way to make Ryan feel comfortable. He wanted to explain that they'd just fallen asleep together on the couch, so how was this any different? But all he could force out, in a sleepy garble, was, "Please staaay."

"Alright. I'd like that." Craig pulled Ryan up to the top of the bed with him and tucked the duvet around them both, then stayed still while Ryan decided to make himself comfortable on his chest. "Hey! Stop wriggling so much!"

"Sorry," Ryan mumbled. He grabbed a fistful of Craig shirt, to make sure he wouldn't lose him in the night. "Can I ask you just one thing?"

"Sure, anything."

"It's a bit, umm, weird, sorry. Did you and Kelly ever, umm, ever have... Umm..." At this rate he'd fall asleep before he even got the sentence out.

"No," Craig whispered softly. "We had the worst date ever, even worse than that date you thought was a business meeting, so after a while I left her with Chuck and went home. Then like three hours later she shows up and tries to seduce me! I thought we'd broken up! I sent her home, but I said she could tell Chuck we did it. I hate the bastard. Sorry, I know that it's a bit uncomfortable for you."

Ryan had met Craig for the first time the night he'd asked Kelly out, and although he'd been jealous at the time he no longer minded. He loved Craig and Craig had never loved Kelly. Plus, Kelly seemed ecstatic for Ryan every time he mentioned their relationship.

"One more thing," Ryan said softly. "I love you. And please make me pancakes tomorrow." He fell asleep before he could hear Craig say 'I love you' back.

 

Chapter Text

Ryan had hated Muriel. To him, she signified failure, a person to return to when another family realised they couldn't take care of him. Her and Albert had been the closest thing he had to parents, and for the sake of seeming 'normal' he called them so, but they didn't do any of the things parents were suppose to do, like teaching him how to ride a bike or loving him.

Muriel had taken food off him because she couldn't be bothered waiting to wash the dishes. She called him antisemitic slurs while brushing his hair, and on several occasions just shaved his afro off. Every time Ryan was sent back to live with them she liked to point out how many children had been adopted or found permanent foster homes, asking Ryan what he was doing wrong. Yes, he had certainly hated her.

But now she was dead.

And Ryan didn't know how he felt about her anymore.

Craig, who had come round early to help Ryan get ready, gently untangled Ryan's damp curls with a comb while he stared at the wall. Not only had he been invited to the funeral but he'd been asked to speak in front of everyone. Albert said he was the closest thing they'd ever had to a son, and since they were the closest thing Ryan had ever had to parents he thought he'd better go. The thought made his stomach clench.

"You don't have to go." Craig set the comb down and kissed Ryan on the forehead.

"Mm, I do." He leaned back against Craig, who looked dashing in his black suit. "But you don't have to go."

"I'm not going to make you go alone." Craig reached around Ryan's shoulders and began to tie his tie. "Besides, this is sort of a 'meet the parents' moment, right?" He tightened Ryan's tie and smoothed it down, then commented, "All your ties are unbelievably short."

As he got up from the bed Ryan ran a hand through his hair, undoing all of Craig's hard work from earlier. "I'm short," he stated.

"A little short." Craig picked Ryan's glasses up from the dresser and slid them on to his nose. "You're cute." He gently ran his thumb over Ryan's cheek. "Are you ok?"

Sighing deeply, Ryan rested his head against Craig's chest. A nauseous feeling made his limbs heavy. "I'm not sure. I feel a bit sick. And kinda sad. And kinda happy. I don't know." He felt fuzzy, like in dream. Maybe he just had to get through the day, then he'd be able to think straight again.

"Just do what you're comfortable with. I'll do anything want me to," Craig said reassuringly. He hugged Ryan.

"Make me some coffee then?" Ryan asked with a sly smile.

"Yeah." Craig kissed him softly. "Anything."

~

Ryan was glad there hadn't been much time for Craig to meet anyone before the funeral. Muriel was a horrible person who had surrounded herself with other horrible people and Ryan didn't want Craig to think badly of him. But Craig hadn't left his side since they arrived, keeping one arm around his shoulders and ever so often kissing him on the cheek or pulling him in for a hug.

For the first time Ryan realised that Craig really loved him. It was nice to hear him say it at the end of a date, even nicer when he'd casually say it as they watched TV, or when he mumbled it against Ryan's neck as they fell asleep, but to actually see it made him feel so wanted. They weren't having an enjoyable conversation or taking part in an even mildly entertaining activity, but Craig still wanted to hold Ryan close to his chest and play with his hair and stare at him as if nothing else in the world would ever be of interest. Despite the cold church it made a warm feeling pool in Ryan's chest.

"I would now like to ask Ryan Church, a long time foster child of the deceased, to come up and speak." Ryan's legs suddenly felt hollow and weak. He stood. He felt dizzy. Craig patted his arm reassuringly as he wriggled past, out into the aisle. A lot of people were looking at him. He felt hot.

He gulped. Pulled the microphone down to his height. It screeched.

Ryan took a square of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. He'd prepared a speech about how Muriel had been like a mother to him and how grateful he was that she took him in each time another family turned him away. A load of bullshit, really, but bullshit that this audience would lap up.

He hated speaking in front of people. There was a reason he managed the news instead of delivering it.

"Uuuuuumm..." Craig smiled reassuringly from the middle of the church. "Muriel was like a mother to me. I spent a lot of my childhood in her home." Where she beat me and yelled at me and punished me for things out of my control, he thought angrily. "She was such a loving woman..." Yes, she loved racism and making children cry and killing her neighbours' plants. "And..." Ryan looked around at all the bored faces. The ones he recognised he hated. The ones he didn't he was indifferent to. What did it matter what he said now?

"Y'know what? Muriel was a horrible, horrible human being. She was racist and homophobic and antisemitic and she hated me. She didn't deserve children and I would've rather lived on the streets than with her. She was a bully and she called me fat and took my stuff off me and made me sleep on the floor when she didn't have enough beds. I'm not gonna stand here and lie. I hated her! And you know what else? She made horrible lasagne!"

The room span. Ryan quickly realised all those bored faced had begun to scowl. "I have to go now," he said into the mic, before stumbling down the steps in a slight daze. People were slowly beginning to get to their feet. Ryan knew he needed to run, but he couldn't. Some part of his mind had convinced himself that he was still in a dream, and that if he just stayed still he'd wake up (preferably in Craig's bed, with their hands laced together, one of Craig's arms wrapped protectively around his waist as he felt his warm breath against his neck).

Craig was lacing their fingers together, but he wasn't waking up. Instead Craig was saying, "We've got to go now," and pulling Ryan quickly towards the back of the church. They picked up the pace until they were running; out of the church, through the headstones, on to the street. Turn left. Turn right. Wait for the traffic lights. Straight on.

"Wait!" Ryan cried suddenly. They stopped. Craig stumbled forward.

Ryan didn't feel tired, but his breaths were short and shallow and he still felt lightheaded. He pulled his inhaler from his pocket, took a puff, then breathed deeply. "Yeah, I'm ok now," he nodded.

"Are you sure?" Craig asked sincerely.

Ryan shrugged. He stepped towards Craig. "Just... Could you... Could you just..." He didn't know what to say. He wanted Craig to wrap him in a rib crushing hug until everything felt alright again and he'd had a happy childhood. That wasn't possible. "Just..." Ryan grabbed Craig's arms and wrapped them around his torso. "Do that?"

Tears were running down his face but he didn't feel like he was crying. His throat didn't burn and his ribs weren't shaking. He thought tears only came with strong emotion, but all he felt was a whole lot of nothing. His chest felt like a cavern and it ached, but it was a dull ache that barely felt like anything.

Craig hugged him in the middle of the sidewalk. He didn't say anything, but he kissed Ryan on the forehead and squeezed him tightly. As minutes passed he didn't complain, just held on to Ryan like he'd silently asked him to do.

Eventually Ryan stopped crying, as suddenly and as emotionlessly as he'd started. He leaned back and let Craig wipe the tears from his face, then took a deep breath. Everything was starting to feel more like reality again. He took his tie and jacket off. A cool breeze tickled his arms. He thought about untucking his shirt, Muriel had always told him it would make him look thinner (apparently something he needed to know at six years old), but then he thought 'screw her' and felt conflicted.

Craig had obviously noticed his troubled expression, because he said, "Your shirt looks smart," and smiled softly. "How do you feel?"

Ryan felt weird. He felt more awake than he had done all day, but he was tired. He was glad such an awful woman had died, but sad he'd lost his only mother figure. For the first time ever he missed his parents, who he hadn't even known. He felt like going back to the funeral and apologising. He felt like never seeing any of those people again. He felt like spitting on Muriel's grave. He felt like crying for his lost childhood.

"I'm hungry," he said to Craig.

"Well, at least that's something I can fix." Craig put an arm around his shoulders and started to walk at a gentle pace down the street. "Hungry like you want ice cream or hungry like you want lunch?"

"I dunno. Maybe both. I might just get some juice. I feel a bit funny." He rested his head on Craig's shoulder.

"Alright, I guess we'll see then." He paused for a moment. "I'm taking you to thanksgiving this year," he said.

"You didn't even ask if I wanted to come," Ryan smiled.

"No, because I'm just brining you. My mum'll love you, because you're amazing. And she can teach you how to make some really great food. Plus, she's all the family I have to offer you."

"You don't have to give me your family," Ryan chuckled. "It's alright. But I'd love to come to thanksgiving."

"I'm not giving you my family." Craig kissed him on the cheek. "I'm welcoming you into it."

Chapter Text

For weeks now the office had been decorated like a cheap haunted house. Gary's tinfoil bats had begun to unravel, Montana’s skeleton stickers clashed with the office decor, and Ryan's carved pumpkins were already starting to rot. In their prime they had been frighteningly misshapen, but now their mouths gaped and their eye drooped. Despite being masterful with technology Ryan clearly had trouble with a carving knife.

There had been little enthusiasm in the lead up to the Halloween party, but it was more an enforced business event than a social gathering. Ginger had suggested it as a bonding opportunity for the studio and when Ryan had gone upstairs to explain how stressed a party would make everyone (especially him) she had simply pinched his cheek, called him a ‘cute kid’ and reminded him how easily she could fire him. So he threw the party.

Craig was a late when he arrived, so assumed the small congregation of workers around the coffee machine was the party's ‘full swing’. He couldn't see Ryan, but assumed he was hiding in his office, preparing for the ‘big reveal’ of his costume. He'd been planning it for weeks and hadn't told a soul a single detail about it, so naturally the news crew was curious, as was Craig.

For his own costume he'd gone with a traditional Dracula; pale face, slicked back hair, a cloak, and some cheap clip-in fangs. Apparently Ryan was unreasonably attracted to a certain Welsh actor who excelled in the role, and Craig wanted to abolish the competition.

He stepped through the glass door, barely managing not to tangle his cloak, and again looked around for Ryan. Marsh was dressed as some kind of sportsman. Gary seemed to have come as a tired reporter. His wife was dressed as a dominatrix. Craig thought he'd stay well clear. There was no sight of Ryan though.

Craig caught Kelly in an over-worn witch costume and to ask where he was. "Oh, he's in his office," she said pleasantly. "He's really excited about his costume, he wanted you to be the first to see it." She paused, then smiled warmly. "He also says you'd better have made cookies."

Craig chuckled and patted the tub in his arms. "Don't worry, I do. Peanut butter cookies. And I have a tub of peanut butter too."

"Aw," she looked round warily before continuing, "I'm so glad you're taking care of Ryan. He's such a sweet young man, I've never seen him so happy."

Craig unwillingly checked to make sure Chuck wasn't around too. "I love him so much, Kelly. He's amazing."

Kelly clutched her chest, in awe. "Oh, you boys are so lucky," she gushed. "I wish I'd felt that way about someone. Go on, Ryan's so excited to see you."

Craig glowed and hurried round to Ryan's office. Ryan was so attractive the rest of the time he wasn't sure he was prepared to whatever fabulous costume he'd prepared. Heart racing, eye on the floor so he didn't peep through the glass doors, Craig entered the office.

Ryan was breathtaking. Craig froze for a moment, mouth slightly agape as he tried to order his frantic thoughts. No one in the entire history of the earth had ever looked so beautiful, he decided.

Ryan's hair was straightened within an inch of its life, surprisingly long without its natural curls, and slicked down with an entire tub of hair gel. He'd glossed his lips with the same deep red as his outfit; Craig longed to kiss him. The costume wrapped gently around his curves, offering a certain sweetness the original costume couldn't provide the character with. His cape flowed over his shoulder, held in place by a musket Ryan had strapped to his waist.

The real masterpiece, however, was the mask. White as real bone, detailed like a painting, perfectly contoured to Ryan's face. And beneath the mask Ryan's bright eyes, now wide and fearful, begging for Craig's feedback.

He pulled himself together.

"Ryan..." Craig ran a hand along the gold embroidery, took Ryan's gloved hand in his, "You're stunning. You look absolutely gorgeous. I'm blown away."

"You really like? Because for a second there you looked kinds spacey and I was worried." He squeezed Craig's hand a little.

"Definitely. Of course. I just can't believe how beautiful you are, Ryan. Not just now, all the time, I love you so much." He leaned in halfway to kiss Ryan, but paused, allowing Ryan to make the decision to close the gap. His lipgloss tasted like strawberries.

"So," Craig set the cookies and peanut butter down on the desk, "What do think of this? As good as your mister Evans?" He flashed Ryan a pointy-toothed smile, his fangs now askew.

Ryan giggled. "Yeah. You look super hot, I like it." He wrapped his arms around Craig, resting his head on his shoulder.

"Are you eating cookies over my shoulder?" Craig asked, lightly kissing Ryan's neck.

"Def'nt'ly nt," Ryan mumbled, cramming the rest of a cookie in to his mouth.

"You should start eating lunch at work." Craig passed him another cookie and offered him the peanut butter.

"Why?"

"It's good for you," Craig smiled. "You wouldn't be so hungry all the time." He watched Ryan make a peanut butter sandwich with two cookies. Well, he watched the Phantom of the Opera make a peanut butter sandwich with two cookies. He was irresistibly cute. "Come on. You asked everyone else to bring food, let's go get something. And you can show everyone how incredible your costume-"

"Ah!" Ryan shoved him behind the desk suddenly. He looked panicked and embarrassed, but offered no explanation, instead just leaning on Craig's chest to keep him down.

"Ryan?"

"Eeeh." His eyes shifted nervously.

"Are you ok?" Craig sat up, much to Ryan's distress, but made sure to keep his silhouette below the desk to appease him.

"Chuck just came out of his office. And, please, please don't be mad, but I couldn't tell him you were, you were coming because he hates you and I'm terrified he'll fire me." He let out a shaky breath, refusing to take his eyes off the floor.

Craig pulled him in to a tight hug. "Of course I'm not mad." He kissed the top of Ryan's head. "You taste like hairspray. And Chuck can't fire you, you're his boss! But I know he scares you, I don't mind sneaking around for the rest of the evening."

"You're the best ever, I love you so much," Ryan exhaled in to his chest.

"Now go on." Craig gave him a gentle shove. "You've missed enough Halloweens. Go show everyone your costume and get some food."

"But-" Ryan began to protest, clinging to Craig's suit.

"It's ok. I know you worked... Moderately hard on this." He pried Ryan from his chest. "Go have a good time, and when Chuck disappears I'll join you."

Ryan took the cookies and peanut butter, dramatically professing how they were 'to remember Craig by', but eventually headed in to the studio.

For a while Craig crouched in Ryan's office, ever so often risking a glance up. Chuck was dressed obnoxiously in his tennis clothes; he hadn't even bothered to dress up for his daughter. When he greeted Ryan he raised a hand, causing Ryan to flinch, and Craig almost stormed out the office to break his wrist, but he refrained.

Finally Chuck disappeared down the corridor and Ryan snuck out of the office. Ryan was talking excitedly with Gary, who was just grateful for the brief respite from talking to his wife, while trying to sit on a desk and drink from a bowl of melted chocolate. Craig picked him up and sat him on the table.

"Are you having a good time?"

"We need a chocolate fountain!" Ryan stressed, staring intently at Craig.

"Alright," Craig laughed, kissing him on the cheek. He'd lifted his mask up to rest it on his head, revealing the smoky eyeshadow that dusted his eyelids. Craig was impressed by how much his makeup technique had improved recently. "Or I could just melt you some chocolate in the microwave."

There was no alcohol at the party, but Ryan had decided to provide everyone with an assortment of milkshakes. No one was complaining. Ryan mixed milk and condiments in shot glasses and everyone joined in a game where they had to try and discern between the milkshake shots and the various sauce flavoured milks. Craig drank brown-sauce and milk and almost cried as the vile flavour clung to his tongue. He would have happily sulked for the rest of the game, if not for how happy everyone's disgust was making Ryan.

Craig pointed out half a tinfoil hat and, pretending it was mistletoe, pulled Ryan in for a kiss. There were several soft murmurs of 'aww' and 'what sweet boys' under people's breath. Craig beamed. He'd never been overly fond of PDAs, but he was just so proud of Ryan. As far as Craig was concerned Ryan was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he wanted everyone to know that.

For a moment Craig was so wrapped up in the warmth of Ryan's lips that he let go of that nagging tension at the back of his mind. That was until people started whispering harshly that Chuck was back he should hide. Reluctantly he pulled away from Ryan and curled up under someone's desk, hoping Chuck wouldn't stay long. In the studio he heard people scrambling to 'act natural'.

"What were you all doing?" Chuck asked.

Several different things were muttered. Ryan stuttered nervously.

"Oh, I get it." Craig could almost hear that self righteous smirk. "You were making fun of Gary, weren't you? Well, don't stop for me, I'll be back in a second." Craig waited until his office door shut.

"Thanks Gary."

"It was nothing," he said amiably. Craig would see Kitty eyeing him with lust. Apparently taking the fall for your friend, no matter how humiliating, was sexy.

Craig had barely made his way back over to Ryan when Chuck's office door opened again and they locked eyes. Chuck looked furious.

"What are doing here?" He said bitterly. "Going to steal our scripts? Recruit our crew?" He advanced menacingly. "I bet you let him in here!" He pointed furiously at Ryan, accusatory finger millimetres from his face. Ryan began to cry silently.

"Oh, just fuck off!" Craig snapped. He stepped in front of Ryan, who clung tightly to his cloak and sobbed trails in his makeup. "Who the hell is so up their own ass that they threaten an abused foster kid? That's just sick. If you ever touch him you'll be explaining to human resources why I've broken your fingers. I've heard they don't take kindly to interns they've placed in the system being bullied."

Craig could hear the hammering of his own heart when he stopped for breath. The rest of the crew were shocked in to silence, too riveted to even pretend they weren't listening. Chuck looked horrified. Kelly looked proud.

"You know what? You're just a sick bastard. What does it matter that we work for rival stations? My boyfriend works here and I want to spend Halloween with him. Because I love him. Because I'm not a disgusting creep who picks up people in their early twenties to bang every night. At first I thought you didn't like me because I was a guy, but I guess it's just because you're incapable of recognising a meaningful and healthy relationship.

"If it makes you uncomfortable seeing me then you can piss off, because I'm certainly not going anywhere."

Chuck looked surprised, all the fury wiped clean from his face, but he wasted no time dithering. He was out the door within seconds. Only then did people have their decency to pretend they hadn't been listening, quickly pretending to fasten a button or refill their drinks.

Craig turned around and cuddled Ryan against his chest. "You ok?"

"I just cry so easily," he wined. "I'm such a baby."

"It's alright." He stroked Ryan's rock solid hair. "You've had a traumatic life and you're a sensitive guy. Plus, this is like super mean, but you look so adorable when you cry. You scrunch your face up and your cheeks get all rosy and it's cute."

Ryan laughed and let Craig wipe his tears off gently, trying not to smudge too much more of his makeup.

"You want to get some more chocolate fountain chocolate?" Craig offered.

"I've eaten a lot of junk tonight." Ryan rested his hands thoughtfully on his stomach. "I feel a bit sick."

"That's ok, we can-"

"Hey! I didn't say no! I definitely want more chocolate," Ryan said.

"I thought getting you home sober would mean you wouldn't throw up in my car," Craig sighed. "Just don't make yourself too sick."

"It's ok." Ryan leaned against Craig. "You'll look after me."

"No. I'll protect you when you're vulnerable or when you want me to. You throw up in my car, that's your own problem," Craig informed him. Ryan huffed, but accepted a soft kiss from Craig as compensation. "But kiss me like that again and I'll reconsider!"

Chapter Text

It was dark when Craig came to pick Ryan up from the airport. He'd spent the past four days in Florida, supposedly working, but actually getting absolutely off his head drunk every moment of every day. Craig was armed with a bag of pastries and a basin in the front seat of his car. Ryan could barely handle one night or drink, never mind four days straight.

Ryan looked a mess; unkempt hair, poorly buttoned shirt, untied shoes. He was still completely hammered. All the same, his face lit up when he saw Craig and he stumbled over his laces to run and greet him. Craig grabbed him before he fell over, hugging him tightly.

"Hey Ryan." He kissed the top of his head, caressing his curls. "Did you have a nice time?"

"I'm sooo pissed right now," Ryan giggled, hanging off Craig's shirt.

"I can tell." Craig steadied him. "Here, I bought some muffins." He pressed the warm bag in to Ryan's hands. "Because I'd rather you weren't sick, but either way you always seem to want muffins."

Ryan gasped dramatically then beamed like he'd won the lottery. "I love you so much." He fumbled with the bag until eventually Craig had to help him, then happily failed to get most of a muffin in his mouth.

Craig sighed, smiling affectionately. "Come on, let's get you home. Or your stomach pumped. I don't know which yet." He wrapped an arm around Ryan's shoulders, certain that if he let him go he'd just crumple to the ground.

Ryan grabbed a suitcase handle and started for the door, but Craig pulled him back. He was laughing. Ryan was befuddled. "Oh Ryan." He pulled him closer to his chest. "Sweetie, that's not your suitcase."

"Huh?" Ryan looked between the purple, flowered suitcase in his hand and the annoyed couple scowling at him. He stared helplessly at Craig.

"Alright." Craig gingerly lifted his hand off the case. "Let's just give that back..." He flashed the couple an awkward, neutral expression. "A-and we'll be going." He grabbed Ryan's suitcase and guided him towards the door.

~

The cold weather had encroached quickly in Pittsburgh so Craig's apartment was cozy with blankets strewn over half the furniture. Ryan liked to pick them up and wear them like a cape whenever he got cold.

Craig left Ryan's suitcase behind the door and gave him some winter pyjamas. Ryan struggled to find the buttons on his shirt. Craig prised his hands away, kissed him on the forehead, and started to undo his shirt for him. Ryan yawned.

"Aw, you're tired, aren't you?" He mumbled in to Ryan's hair. "We'll just get some warm clothes on you..." He trailed off, inspecting a red slash on Ryan's side. "Ryan, did you get stabbed or something?" He asked, half joking. Ryan only shrugged. Tentatively he probed the wound, finding a thin cut covered in blood. "Aw shit." Craig tried not to seem too worried. Ryan was absolutely out of his mind inebriated and he didn't want to panic him. Plus, he didn't seem to be in any pain. He was calmly trying to eat a button off his shirt.

"Alright then." Craig took Ryan's hands and smiled brightly. "Why don't we just go in the bathroom for a minute and I'll sort this out?"

Ryan smirked and stared rather crazily at Craig, eyebrows raised and eyes wide. "Are we gonna have sex?" He slurred, laughing hysterically.

"No, we are definitely not." Craig sat him down on the toilet seat and rummaged for the first aid kit. "Because it would a literal crime to sleep with someone this drunk, that's despicable, but also because this is far more important." He'd taken a first aid course back in college but now he was struggling to recall anything. He tore open some antiseptic wipes then thought better of it and instead wet some bandages.

"I don't know those words you use," Ryan sighed, looking round the room like he was seeing a bathroom for the first time.

"Don't worry," Craig soothed. "This might hurt, ok?" Ryan didn't respond, fascinated by the shower head, so Craig began to gently dab at the cut. Ryan didn't protest, so he continued, revealing a thin, shallow wound, like he'd been scratched in a knife fight. His hands began to shake less, relieved.

"That's good," Craig said to Ryan, who wasn't really paying him any attention. "Doesn't need any stitched. Few steri-strips and a gauze patch, you'll be fine in about a week." He patched up Ryan's side and smoothed the gauze down. "There." He softly kissed his stomach.

“He-ey!” Ryan giggled. “Tickles!”

“Sorry.” Craig wrestled Ryan in to his pyjamas. “But you'd never let me do that if you were sober. I think you're scared I'll say something mean, but I'd never do that. I love you.”

Ryan gave a small smile, as if he actually understood what Craig was saying. “So… ooooo-“ He rapidly became distracted by the light reflecting on the tiles.
“So?” Craig prompted, turning Ryan's head towards him.

“So you don't mind that I'm fat?” It was slurred, garbled, and fast but the clearest sentence he'd said all evening.

“Mind? Oh Ryan, no, not even a little bit, no.” He took Ryan's face in his hands. Ryan just laughed, probably already having forgotten what they were talking about, but Craig was unperturbed. “I think you're absolutely wonderful exactly how you are now, I love you. So much.”

Ryan nodded thoughtfully, staring deep in to Craig's eyes. He reached a hand up to brush Craig's hair off his forehead, then said, “Pick me up. I'm tired.”

Craig chuckled and scooped Ryan up. “Of course. Come on, let's go to bed.”

Ryan allowed his head to loll on to Craig's shoulder and grabbed two handfuls of his shirt. Ryan smelled like coconuts and warm summer weather. Craig was glad he'd had a good time away, he'd received several illegible but very enthusiastic texts, but he'd also missed him and enjoyed having him home again. He thought it was about time he asked Ryan to move in with him, after all he barely spent one night a week at his own flat. Maybe he'd ask him soon,mid he could work up the courage.

Craig sat Ryan down on the bed and began to swaddle him in blankets. Ryan grabbed hold of his sleeve. “D’you wanna marry me?” He asked.

Craig breathed in deeply. “It's not like you'll remember this,” he muttered. “Yeah, I do want to marry you, Ryan. I love you more than I've ever loved anyone before and I'd do anything to spend the rest of my life with you. But not right now, if that's ok. In a bit. Maybe a few months. I'll see. But definitely yes.” He blushed with nerves.

Ryan seemed to mull this over, and Craig worried that even in his incomprehensible state he'd say no to a future marriage proposal, but all he said was, “When we get married, the wedding cake should be a muffin.”

“What?” Craig laughed. “Ryan, sweetie, I know we don't like that many people but I don't think that'll feed the whole wedding congregation.”

“No, no.” He shook his head and frowned like what Craig had said was genuinely stupid. “Like, a giant muffin.”

“A giant muffin!”

“Yeah!” Ryan rested his head on Craig's shoulder, who held him protectively. “But not some weak-ass muffin like lemon. We want a double chocolate or something.”

“Where will we even get a giant muffin from?” Craig chuckled, playing with Ryan's hair.

“I dunno,” Ryan mumbled sleepily. “Don't worry about it.”

But Craig did worry about it. In fact, it was all he thought about as he fell asleep. That and the cute way Ryan held on to a handful of his shirt as he slept. That was worth devoting a lot of thought to as well.

~

Ryan felt awful when he woke up. It was late afternoon and he was buried under a pile of blankets, eyes bleary, head pounding, and an unusual stinging pain in his side. He could hear Craig in the kitchen so he stood on unsteady legs and wandered through.

“Hey.” His voice sounded wizened and weak.

“Oh, hi Ryan,” Craig said happily. “I'm so glad you're up, I was afraid you were in a coma or something. Here! Have some water, and some pills.”

Ryan could barely take in what Craig was saying, but a glass of water and some hangover pills were placed in front of him. “Thanks for coming to pick me up. I'd still be lost in the airport.” The water did nothing for his headache.

“Don't worry, I was glad to.” Craig was working on something Ryan couldn't see by the stove. “How did they even let you on the plane that drunk?”

Ryan groaned and hide his face in his hands. “Let's just say I wasn't that drunk when I got on the plane. I feel horrible.” He reached down and pressed a finger against his side, then winced. “What happened to my side? I feel like I got stabbed or something.”

“You might've done, I'm not sure,” Craig replied. “Don't worry, I cleaned it and dressed it last night. I know it hurts but it's not that bad.” He finally abandoned his post at the counter to hug Ryan from behind. “Next time I'll just have to send you with a note asking people to kindly not stab you.” He kissed him on the cheek.

“Wait, you're gonna let me go again?” Ryan asked, shocked. “I got pissed and someone stabbed me!”

“You had a good time though, didn't you?” He returned to the work surface.

“Of course.”

“Then I’d be a piece of shit boyfriend if I said you couldn't go again. You know I'd never stop you doing something you enjoy. I think it's good for you, getting a break from your job and from the city. I would really appreciate it if people wouldn't stab you though. I do love you and would rather you didn't die.”

“I'm perfectly fine with that,” Ryan beamed. "I think I'd rather not die too." Craig nodded.

“What're you doing?” He asked, peering up at the counter. “It smells really good.”

“Oh, just trying to bake a giant muffin,” Craig said casually. “Harder than it looks. There's a reject pile over there, you can eat as many as you like.”

Ryan grabbed a cake tin of chocolate muffin and dug in. He'd eaten nothing but fries for four days and he was pretty sure he never wanted to see a potato again. “Why are you making a giant muffin? It does sound great, but why?”

“No reason.” He turned to smile softly at Ryan. “Just thought I'd need it one day.”

Chapter Text

 

Craig's home town was decrepit, but in a homey way. It was the kind of disarray that you owned; that you talked about with a sarcastic pride while others bragged about the grandeur of their town's infrastructure.

As streets passed by Craig gladly pointed out where local drug dealers lived; where he'd gone to school; where he'd played soccer at the weekends. It wasn't much, a crumbling flat, a worn down building, a muddy square, but Ryan envied it. He was starting to feel at home in Pittsburgh now, especially with Craig whose flat he spent more time at than his own, but there was nowhere he could talk about with bittersweet nostalgia. He couldn't quite remember which memories belonged to which places, like the director hadn't been able to decide on a setting for his childhood.

The flat Craig's mum lived in was right on the beach front, something that would've cost thousands today despite its less than favourable surroundings. The bricks were a drab grey and most inhabitants still had their curtains closed. "She'd never let me buy her a new flat," Craig explained as he unlocked the door. "I think it's because this is her home and she wants to stay here until she dies, but I don't really like thinking about that."

The elevator was out, Craig said it always had been, so they climbed the dark, concrete stairs to the third floor where Craig had grown up. Ryan's insides squirmed and he couldn't think of anything suiting to say, but Craig had spent the past week assuring him his mum would love him, so he decided he wouldn't bring it up again. Still, he must've looked nervous, as Craig put an arm around him and whispered, "It'll be fine," before knocking on the door.

If they got married, Ryan thought, she would be his mother-in-law.

"Oh!" Before Ryan could even get a look at the woman she was hugging him warmly, caressing his hair.

"Aw, aren't you gorgeous," she cooed, stepping back. Her hair was dark like Craig's but greying at the roots. She had kind eyes, and soft features which Ryan could only assume were what people called 'motherly'. She barely even glanced at Craig.

"You must be Ryan, oh you're so sweet. I'm Erica, I've heard so many great things about." Craig got his crystal blue eyes from her. Ryan wondered if he could piece together what Craig's father had looked like from looking at the two of them. He doubted it; he didn't even know what his own parents had looked like.

"It's really nice to meet you," he said to Erica. She squealed over how adorable his voice was, then finally turned her attention to her son.

"Hi honey, it's lovely to see you." She leaned in to hug him and Ryan realised how short he must look hugging Craig. "Come in, come in."

Erica welcomed them in to the flat, which was small but perfectly clean and tidy. The lounge and kitchen-diner were all one room, the kitchen just a tiled area off to one side.

Ryan took his coat off and allowed his hands to slip out of his jumper sleeves, still red from the cold. Craig bundled him in to his arms, burying his face in his curls then wrapping his hands in his jumper. “Ah! Get off!” He squirmed out of Craig grip. “Your hands are cold!”

“Don't be so mean, Craig.” His mother waved him off. “The kettle’s boiled in the kitchen, go make yourself some coffee or something.”

He hung Ryan's coat up for him, with he ease and comfort of someone in their family home, and offered to make him a drink. Cold and still a little groggy, he wanted to say yes, but somehow ended up declining. It was something about being in someone else's house that made him feel uncomfortable. Also, everything else; everything else made him uncomfortable too.

Erica led Ryan over to the sofa, which was plain and comfortable-looking. When Ryan sat down it seemed to swallow him.

“So Craig told me you've never really celebrated thanksgiving before, I'm sorry we can't go all-out. It's just a little hard with three people,” Erica said. Her voice was soft like Craig's. Ryan could see how he'd developed such a gentle nature.

“It's alright, I'm looking forward to it. I like food,” Ryan said brightly.

“I have heard about your love of mini muffins,” Erica chuckled. Ryan leaned forward slightly, intrigued at the mention of his favourite food. “I baked some yesterday, you can have some later.”

Ryan's eyes widened. “I love you already.”

“Hey! It took you nearly a month to say that to me.” Craig said, returning from the kitchen.

“I'm sorry. I feel more comfortable being emotional now though.”

“Don't worry. I love you.” Craig sat down beside him and handed him a mug. “Here, I made you some cocoa. It's only a little out of date.”

“Craig, don't tell him that!”

“Thank you.” Ryan wrapped his slightly numb fingers around the mug, letting the steam warm his cool lips. They'd got up early that morning to finish their drive to the coast and Craig's little car had never quite worked up the energy to keep them warm.

“Well, I suppose we'd finished dinner off then,” Erica said, standing up again. “It's a small kitchen but I prepared most of the dished yesterday. There shouldn't be much left to do.” She started towards the kitchen. “The turkey’s nearly done.”

“Oh.” Ryan shook his head and shrank back in to the sofa. “I don't think I should help. I'm a terrible cook. I'll wash up or something.”

She smiled gently. “Don't worry honey. You've never had anyone to teach you. And Craig says you make some good mac and cheese.”

Ryan shrugged. "It's, it's just from a packet, it's not that great."

“This isn't Hell’s Kitchen, everything’s from a packet,” Erica smirked, glancing at Craig in an ‘aww, isn't he a sweetie?’ kind of way. “Come on.”

The tiny kitchen was absolutely packed in preparation for the festivities. Ryan couldn't open a cupboard without an avalanche of vacuum sealed chestnuts tumbling out. Erica bustled around the kitchen, passing Craig a knife and getting herself a potato peeler and setting a mixing bowl accompanied by several small tubs in front of Ryan. He felt overwhelmed already.

“Now just mix all these together and tell me when you're done, is that alright?” Erica breezed.

“Uhh…” Ryan looked at the tube in front of him. One looked like rice pudding. He took a spoon to taste if.

“Ryan, that's a bowl of cheese,” Craig hurriedly informed him. He stopped. Cheese that looked like rice pudding suddenly didn't sound appealing. “Here-“ Craig leaned over his shoulder, “try that powder. It's really good.”

Waiting until Erica had turned her back, Ryan stuck his finer in the creamy powered Craig was pointing to. “It tastes like vanilla,” he grinned. “What am I suppose to be making?”

“That is a pumpkin cannoli.” He kissed him in the cheek. “You manage?”

“I… I guess,” Ryan shrugged. “What if I do it wrong?” Failing in front of Craig was fine. He'd laugh a little, cheer him up, then try to do it himself. Often he'd also fail, then they'd laugh about it together. But this was Craig's mother. For the rest of his life she'd judge him from this first meeting. He didn't want to be branded as a failure.

“You'll be fine. But if you do it doesn't matter, we have muffins. Plus, it’s thanksgiving. No one’s hungry enough for dessert.” He placed his knife on the table so he could hug Ryan from behind.

“He-ey!” Ryan squirmed. “I know I'm soft but I have organs in there that don't appreciate being squashed!”

“Sorry.” Craig moved his arms up and kissed Ryan in the neck.

“Craig, no distracting the other chefs. Chop vegetables,” Erica commanded.

Craig laughed and let go of him, then went back to his ‘station’.

No one spoke, but it wasn't uncomfortable; it was warm. For Craig and Erica this was one of many thanksgivings, each one having been passed info he exact same manner. Ryan craved the domesticity. The repetition. The only similarities between his past thanksgiving was that he was always excluded; it was a family celebration and he'd never been part of the family.

The mixture was slightly lumpy, Ryan wasn't really sure if he was using the whisk right, but he decided that it was good enough and went to taste it. What was the use in making it if he didn't even get to eat it later? Plus, there was a lot of sugar in there, how bad could it be?

“Oh, Ryan!” Erica grabbed his hand before he could stick it in the mixture. “That's not finished honey, I wouldn't put that in my mouth if I were you.” She took a bowl of whisked cream from the fridge. “Mix it in with this, then you can taste some.”

“Sorry.” He took the bowl and began to dribble the mixture in.

“No, no, don't worry. I should've told you what you were doing before you started.” She watched him for a second, frowning a little. Ryan tried to whisk harder, but that only made the mixture spill over the sides if the bowl. “Oh, I don't want to sound mean,” Erica fretted, “but Craig, you need to come show Ryan how to whisk.”

“Oh, thank God.” Ryan dropped the whisk and flexed his wrist. “I am definitely doing that wrong.”

Craig wrapped his arms around Ryan, taking both his hand and the whisk, and started to stir the bowl. It spun and tilted on the table. “Ryyyan, you've got to hold the bowl,” he murmured in to his hair.

“Oh!” He pulled the bowl against his chest. The mixture was quickly becoming smoother and turning a pale orange. “Can I eat it now?” He tilted his head up, trying to get Craig to kiss him.

“In a sec, it's nearly done.” He did.

“Are you hungry, Ryan?” Erica asked.

He froze. He felt like a whining child at his friend’s house, when their parents asked if he wanted anything to eat and although he did he could never say yes. Blushing, he turned around and instead buried his head in Craig’s chest.

“It's ok,” Craig smiled. “Ryan just really likes Italian food. Have some muffins.”

“Now you're embarrassing me,” he mumbled in to Craig's chest, accepting the muffins anyway.

“I should be the one saying that, my mum could tell you all sorts of embarrassing stuff about me,” Craig chuckled.

Ryan's eyes lit up. He gripped Craig's jacket, standing on his tiptoes until they were almost eye-to-eye. “Tell. Me. Everything.”

“No!” Craig kissed him on the nose then picked the bowl up, sandwiching it between them.

“Don't worry Ryan, I’ll show you some old photo albums later.” Erica winked at him.

Craig looked mortified but didn't protest; he knew better. Instead he just continued to make Ryan's dessert for him. Ryan moved over to the counter and finished chopping Craig's vegetables. When Craig had finished smoothing out the cream he gave Ryan the whisk, which tasted delicious. It was homey, without the hints of plastic and E number usually found in processed food.

Once everything was prepared and beginning to cook Erica took Ryan to the couch where she presented him with a couple of leather bound photo albums. Craig sat opposite them, head in hands.

The concept of photo albums was wild to Ryan. People loved their children enough to document their lives, to capture and revisit moments, to share these memories with others. No one had ever loved him that much.

Except maybe Craig. He didn't take picture, he was surprisingly hopeless with a camera, but he asked Ryan how his day was and meant it. He remembered the stories he told. He noted down important things Ryan said to address then later. He'd even memorised Ryan's schedule, which was so hectic he intended forgot it himself. He supposed that's why Craig had memorised it.

Ryan leaned across he gap between the sofas and grabbed Craig's hands away from his face. “Come and look at the pictures,” he demanded, pulling Craig over to sit beside him. He rested his chin on Ryan's head and watched as he explored the album.

Right at the start of the album there was one picture of Craig's dad. Craig looked just like him, only younger, more attractive. Still, the similarities were blinding. Craig probably hated that. It was even like they looked happy together, him and Erica. He looked distant, only half there. She looked terrified and alone. Ryan clutched Craig's hand against his chest.

As a toddler Craig was tiny and wide eyed. He had long hair and chubby cheeks and a huge grin on his face in every picture. “You are so cute,” Ryan beamed. Craig was hiding his face in his hair.

Craig grew up quickly, a mini soccer star by the age of seven, the lead in his school play by ten. He looked like the stereotypical popular boy, sporty, dramatic, always surrounded by girls, but Craig seemed to be alone in every picture. Even his birthday parties were sparsely attended, dotted with two or three kids who looked like they were only really there for the cake. He mentioned this to Craig, hoping he wouldn't be offended.

“Oh, it’s fine, they just hated me,” Craig said in to Ryan's hair.

“Why? You're the best.” He leaned back against Craig's chest and wriggled until he was comfortable.

“I was poor. I looked poor. Kids don't like kids like that.”

Erica was watching him worriedly, trying to determine if childhood had left a scar, but Craig just smirked and reached over Ryan's shoulder to turn the page. “Look.” He whispered softly, lips next to Ryan's cheek. “We had a careers day at school and I went as a news presenter. What a nerd,” he chuckled.

A middle school-aged Craig was dressed in an oversized blazer and pants, things clearly sourced in a charity shop. His tie was a cheesy Christmas number and an empty glasses frame, as glasses were obviously essential to be a news presenter, sat on his nose. Ryan didn't think he'd ever looked so happy.

“You look so adorable,” Ryan squealed. “Show me more!”

“Oh my god, no,” Craig blushed. “This is so embarrassing.”

“I'll show you some.” Erica took the book from Ryan and flipped through a few pages. “Ah! Here we go! Prom photos!”

“Oh my God. Oh my God.” Craig chanted it over and over, like a mantra, head buried in Ryan's shoulder. He was smiling though, the crooked, awkward grin of embarrassment.

Craig was dressed in a garish three piece suit, none of the pieces matching. His pants and jacket were both red, but each a slightly different shade of red. His waistcoat was orange and his shirt a pale yellow that he'd obviously hoped would pass for white. It was clear he had no date, but he looked jubilant anyway.

“I love it,” Ryan gaped, holding the photo as close to his face as he could get it. “I love it I love it I love it! You look like a flame!”

“Admit it, you wouldn't have gone to prom with me,” Craig sighed, daring to glance at the incriminating photograph.

“Of course I would have! If someone had asked me to prom, if someone like you had asked me to prom…” He was speechless. “Wow. It would've been awesome.”

“Who did you go to prom with, Ryan?” Erica asked.

He shrugged. “I didn't even go. Maybe if someone had asked me I might've been allowed but… Unlikely. I was a fat, bisexual, foster kid, who'd ask me to prom?”

“Me,” Craig replied immediately. “Because those all sound like absolutely wonderful characteristics I'd love my boyfriend to have.” He wrapped his arms around Ryan and lay back, pulling him on top of him. Erica politely shuffled to the end of the sofa and became very interested in the floor. “Let’s crash someone's prom,” Craig said, as Ryan flailed around in a half-hearted attempt to escape.

“Or we can get drunk and eat pizza rolls,” Ryan offered, finally breaking free to lie beside Craig on the couch.

“Yeah, that's a much better idea.” Craig straightened his glasses and kissed him softly.

“Um… Boys?”

They sat up instantly, Ryan could feel his cheeks beginning to heat up. He tucked his legs beneath him and sat up straight, trying to look as respectable as possible. Craig just chuckled and kissed him in the cheek.

“So Ryan, what were you like as a child?” Erica asked.

Ryan opened his mouth to reply, but found he had nothing to say. He didn't know what he'd been like as a child. He hadn't been like anything. Life had happened around him and he'd simply gone along with it. He'd never been in an environment in which he could develop a personality. Even now the only word he found suiting was ‘nervous wreck’ and that was hardly a personality. More the opposite.

Erica was waiting for a reply. Craig had an arm draped comfortingly around his shoulders, but even his head was titled inquiringly. So instead of responding Ryan reached in to his pocket, pulled out his wallet, removed a tiny photo from it, and handed it to Erica.

“I was like that,” he said, pointing to an ecstatic eight year old with missing teeth and soft features and bouncy hair, “Only less happy most of the time.”

Craig strained his neck to try and see the picture. “How come you never showed me this?” He asked. “It's ok, I understand if it's private, I'm just curious.”

“I don't know.” Ryan pulled at a thread on his sweater. Craig took his hands, stopping him before he unravelled his entire sweater sleeve. "It just felt a little egotistical, y'know? To have a picture of myself in my wallet. It felt dumb."

"Who are these two people?" Erica pointed to the two people on either side of Ryan, both grinning equally widely. "Your foster parents, or..."

"Yeah, for a bit I guess," Ryan said. "They were super nice, I loved them a lot. They took loads of pictures of me and let me call them mum and dad and bought me nice things. I wanted them to adopt me, so, so badly. Then he died and she couldn't handle it and, and I went back to the foster home. I took this with me when I left."

Craig peered over Ryan's shoulder at the picture. "They're... They're Italian." It was more of a statement than a question.

"Mm," Ryan hummed. He could feel a familiar pain in his throat and knew his voice would break when he spoke. "They made the best garlic bread."

An alarm went off on the oven. Erica kissed him on the cheek; it felt warm and loving. Then she got up to see to the turkey.

“Hey.” Craig tucked Ryan's hair behind his ear and smiled. “We’re going to have the cutest little kids, with chubby cheeks and curly hair and big, bright eyes. And we'll take them to the park and the cinema and you can let them call you dad. And they're going to be so fucking spoilt.” He brushed a thumb across his cheek. “Is that ok? We've never really spoken about the future before.”

“I love you!” Ryan hurled himself at Craig, knocking him backwards on the sofa. “I love you I love you I love you I love you!”

Craig clutched him tightly, fingers sinking in to his sweater. “Love you too.”

“Craig, come and help me plate this,” Erica called from the kitchen.

“Alright then, I gotta go.” Craig bridged his hips in an attempt to tip Ryan off, but he sprawled out on top of him, refusing to let him up. “Ryan, come on.” Craig flipped them over, so that he was kneeling over Ryan, then kissed him on the forehead and helped him up.

Craig didn't like turkey, an abomination in Ryan's opinion. Worthy of a divorce. They weren't married. Craig held his hand under the table.

Ryan ate spoonfuls of gravy when he thought no one was watching. It was rich and flavourful and warm. Erica recommended that he ate it with some potatoes and he became immediately flushed. There were three types of potato. He'd never been given that many options before.

Afterwards everyone helped to wash up, then ate Ryan's pumpkin cannoli. Everyone liked then, except Ryan who curled up on the sofa with rest of the muffins. Craig, exhausted from the long drive over the past few days, quickly joined him. They passed the rest of the day watching TV and drinking hot chocolate.

At eleven Ryan decided he couldn't possibly take any more sugar and excused himself to bed. To be honest he was just looking forward to seeing Craig's old bedroom.

Craig hauled their bags over. “After you.” He was smirking and Ryan worried for a second what he'd have in his room.

Newspaper clippings. They adorned the walls, some old and yellow and peeling, other still fresh, preserved in plastic wallets. The empty shells of old film reels and posters of famous newscasters from the nineties. His bedding was still adorned with rocket ships, as though it hadn't changed since he was in elementary school. The bed was small and his window overlooked another drab block of flats.

Ryan wanted to touch everything.

“Im gonna brush my teeth,” Craig informed him. “You can touch my stuff, if you like.” He winked.

Ryan refrained, although he was desperate to, and instead get dressed and flopped backwards on the bed. Craig's ceiling was littered with glow in the dark stars. He stared up at them, blinking increasingly slowly as his tiredness mounted. He'd always wanted a solar system on his ceiling as a kid, but the closets he'd ever got was a hold in the roof.

“Hey.” Craig sat down on beside him. “Gonna budge up?”

“No.” Ryan draped an arm over the side of the bed. “Your bed’s tiny.”

Craig lay down anyway, shoving Ryan until he was lying on his shoulder. “There. Now we both fit.” He ran his fingers through Ryan's hair. “You were such a cute kid.”

“Hey! I'm still cute now,” Ryan protested.

“Of course,” Craig laughed. “Ah, I love you, Ryan.”

“Mm, love you too.” He snuggled against Craig's chest and craftily pulled the blankets further over his side of the bed. “You're gonna be such a good dad.”

“So are you.” He could feel Craig's warm breath tickle his hair as he spoke. It was comforting.

“Yeah, the kids are gonna love me more,” Ryan smiled smugly. “G’night.”

“Well, I know how to use a whisk, so I've got that going for me,” Craig said defensively. They both laughed. “Night, Ryan.”

 

Chapter Text

The snow dusted the floor, creating a soft, white carpet spanning the streets of New York. Ryan watched Craig's awed expression, apparently it hadn't snowed much in California, as they weaved through the markets. The fairy lights hung from the stalls created a soft glow on his face that reminded Ryan of their first date and he couldn't look away. With Craig's arm around his shoulders and his stomach full of cookies he couldn't have been happier.

"I don't think I can even look at another cookie for at least two years," Ryan said, snuggling more closely against Craig's side. "I'm so fu- Oh my gosh, pie!" Ryan grabbed Craig's hand and dragged him over to a stall selling warm pie, taking in deep breaths of the sweet-smelling air. He turned back to Craig, whose face was almost unreadable beneath his layers of winter gear. Apparently it hadn't been this cold in California, either. "Can we get some pie?" He begged.

Craig lowered his scarf just enough so that he could reply. "Of course. I don't think I ever want to eat anything with sugar in it again, but you can have whatever you like." He patted the sides of his ski jacket with thermal-wear gloves. "I have no idea where my wallet is, though."

"I've got it," Ryan laughed, removing his gloveless hands from the pockets of his rain mac and plunging them into his pants' pockets.

With a warm slice of spiced pumpkin pie now clasped in Ryan's hands they continued along the street, towards the Rockefeller centre. Craig's mum was spending Christmas in California with some slightly more distant relatives and had reassured the boys it was a long way to come. New York was expensive, and cold, but neither of them were doing poorly in their jobs, and it was equally cold in Pittsburgh. Craig had made the case that it would be romantic in New York at Christmas, and Ryan had made the case that New York had European Christmas markets and he wanted some German gingerbread.

As they neared the Rockefeller the street was illuminated with even more glowing lights.

"Oh!" Craig's eyes lit up when he saw the ice rink. "Can we go skating?"

The rink was unusually subdued and looked so inviting surrounded by Christmas decorations. Plus, Ryan coule skate, so there was nothing to worry about. "Yeah, sure."

At this hour the rink was relatively empty of screaming children but was beginning to fill up with screaming adults. As soon as Ryan had his boots laced up he made his way to a fairly clear spot along the rink wall and waited for Craig. With his boots sloppily tied and only one coat shed Craig stepped on to the ice... And fell flat on his face.

"Oh no." Ryan rushed back over to him and helped him up, glad to find he was grinning.

"I suck at this," Craig laughed as Ryan guided him over to the wall.

"No ice rinks in California?" Ryan asked. If there were they'd never have been in Craig's part of town, anyway.

"Nah." Craig shook his head. "How come you know how to ice skate?" He clung fearfully to the wall.

"It's just like rollerblading, I guess," Ryan shrugged. "I used to rollerblade in the street with some of the other foster kids."

"That sounds dangerous."

"I only got hit by a car once," Ryan said casually. "It wasn't bad."

"What happened?" Craig let go of the wall for a moment but, feeling his feet slide from under him, instantly grabbed it again.

"I broke my leg." Ryan pulled gently on Craig's sleeve, allowing him to lean against his shoulder rather than the wall. He wobbled unsteadily and turned his boots at a strange angle just to keep upright, but didn't reach for the wall. Ryan beamed proudly.

"So, you gonna teach me anything fancy?" Craig asked. Ryan moved a centimetre and he grasped his jacket harder.

"No. Anyway, I don't know anything fancy to teach you. I guess I can show you how to skate." He looked between his shoes and Craig. "But I'm not a great teacher."

"Well I'm not a great skater, so that's perfect," Craig grinned.

Ryan attempted to show Craig how to glide along the ice, taking small steps and pushing off with each foot. Keeping one hand on the wall, just in case, Craig followed him, taking tiny baby steps.

Ryan giggled. "You look to funny! You have to kick off so you slide along the ice a bit." He ran a blade along the rink to demonstrate.

"Like this?" Craig pushed off from the wall, drifted a few meters, and stopped next to Ryan.

"Eh, good enough," Ryan shrugged.

For a while he guided an uncoordinated Craig around, laughing as they collided with walls and apologising as they almost collided with people. After a while Ryan's hands were beginning to grow numb, away from the warmth of his pockets, so he stopped Craig to shove his hands up his sweater.

"Hey!" Craig exclaimed. "You're lucky I have another sweater on under this one!"

"Just hug so I can get warm," Ryan murmured, snuggling against Craig's chest.

"We can go, if you're cold," Craig said. "It's not like I'm getting any better at this!"

"Mm, I could do with some more hot chocolate." Ryan ran his tongue over his lips, which tasted of sugary pie pastry.

"Really? I don't think I ever want to drink hot chocolate again, that Dutch stuff was way too sweet!"

"I'm chubby for a reason." Ryan pressed his now warm hands against his freezing cheeks. "I like sugary food. Also, genetics. But the sugar thing."

"You're wonderful, Ryan." Craig kissed him on the forehead. "Come on then, let's go. But first-" He looked out across the ice, "You'd better help me across here because if I try to go it alone I'll end up looking like finely chopped steak!"

-

The further they got from Rockefeller the more the streets began to clear, and soon Craig and Ryan were the only people walking along the snow-lined street. As they passed a mirrored office window Ryan couldn't help but glare reproachfully at his reflection.

"Sometimes I... I gotta wonder if I look like my parents or not."

Christmas was always promoted as such a family orientated time of year. Usually this made Ryan exceptionally nervous and lonely, but this year he had Craig and he was family enough. Still, it always made him think of his parents.

"Like," he continued, "Do I have my mum's eyes? Or my dad's hair? Or when I do a certain expression am I a dead ringer for a certain uncle?" He sighed. "I don't know."

"Oh, umm." Craig looked conflicted. "I really don't know, Ryan. I'm sure they were very attractive though, to have such a handsome kid." He wrapped an arm around Ryan's shoulders. He smiled, but his eyes still looked downcast and gloomy. "And I'm sure at least one of your parents had this gorgeous, curly hair. And I bet they both had your chocolaty eyes. I know this is just speculating though, I'm sorry."

"It's alright," Ryan said cheerfully. "I know that I'll never actually find out what my parents were like, it's ok." Craig looked uncomfortable, desperate to help, so Ryan continued, "I always picture my dad as this really strong guy who could scoop me up with one arm who liked singing and baking and walked me to school in the mornings. And my mum as this smart, sharp business woman with crazy curls and thick glasses who could beat anyone at a game of trivial pursuits." He sighed. "Ah, maladaptive daydreaming!"

"That's really sweet," Craig smiled. They turned back on to a main street that was aglow with shop lights and still littered with people. "You know, one day you're going to have a little kid asking you what their real parents were like. Isn't that... How will you feel about that?"

Craig sounded apprehensive, but to Ryan that idea seemed wonderful. Not only could he care for a child but he could do everything in his power to tell that child about their culture and heritage. He couldn't think of anything better. "I won't mind at all," he said contentedly. "But what about you? You don't seem to sure."

"I just don't know how I'll feel about a child, my child, thinking of someone else as their parents. That's not what I mean that sounds selfish, umm... I just want them to know they're my kid and I love them. And that no matter where they came from I'll always be their dad." Craig shrugged his massive winter coat and looked down as his boots scuffed the snow.

"Of cours they'll know that," Ryan grinned. "Anyway, we're not even married, hey, we don't even officially live together, we don't need to worry about that for a while."

"Do you want to move in with me?" Craig asked quickly.

"Ok, maybe a shorter while than I thought." Ryan hugged him warmly. "Yeah, I'd love to move in with you."

They continued on in silence, each secretly planning their future together, stealing glances at one another ever so often. The air was crisp and refreshing; Craig tipped back his hood.

Maybe their children would only have one grandparent, and be severely lacking in the aunt and uncle department, but they'd have two dads to love them more than any extended family ever could. That was two more dad's than Craig had ever had and at least five less 'dads' than Ryan had had. Ryan smiled to himself. They were going to have some really lucky kids.

Chapter Text

January was always bitter in Pittsburgh, the sidewalks frosted and the sky heavy and grey. Today was no different, the cold even seeming to seep into the studio since Ginger was so frugal with the heating. Tired television workers huddled at desks and around the coffee machine, hoping to preserve body heat. Everyone except Ryan, of course.

"Someone turn the heat down, it's boiling in here," he snapped the second the he entered the studio. Having spent one last night at his own apartment gathering the remainder of his possessions, Ryan has woken up cold, uncomfortable, and with a very short temper. "And you-" He pointed to a new intern who had been warming their hands over a cup of coffee, "A juice box, please."

"Wh-what flavour?" They asked, looking like a deer caught in headlights.

"You know what I like," Ryan said airily, waving the intern away. They dithered in the centre of the room. It was only their second day; they did not know what he liked.

Ignoring Marsh's calls for his attention, Ryan squared his shoulders and continued towards his office. "Ryan-" Marsh placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Oh my God!" Ryan snapped. "I literally just got in, what do you want, Marsh? I don't want any sexist comments on the news today, and no irrelevant stories. You got that?" He stared intensely into Marsh's eyes, rising onto his tiptoes.

"Umm, umm..." Marsh glanced around, panicky, then pointed vaguely towards his office and hurried off.

"That's what I thought," Ryan yelled after him. He turned and walked smack into Chuck, who was watching his phone intently. He'd tried to start internet dating a few weeks ago and had done nothing around the studio since. Ryan wanted to tell him that he pretentious and selfish and undeserving of love; and that he had a face like toad. But he was always too skittish, despite the fact he was technically Chuck's superior.

"Hey Ryan," Chuck said to his phone. "Those glasses aren't good for much, huh?"

Ryan fumed. He was hot and uncomfortable and absolutely mad. He threw his jacket onto someone's desk, and squared up to Chuck. "Shut up! Don't mock me-"

"That's going to be difficult-" Chuck started, but Ryan continued before he could finish.

"No! Just listen to me! Someone got killed today. We need to report on that. Somebody died! And we're due more snow and global warming is crazy and there's been a new outbreak of a virus down south and rich people and embezzling taxes and WE NEED TO REPORT ON THIS!" The whole studio was cowering by the time Ryan was finished. He looked round, shocked and ashamed at how loud his voice was.

Chuck, however, was just laughing. "I'm sorry." He covered his mouth. "I just can't take you seriously in that top."

"Huh?" Ryan looked down at his top. Ok, so a tank top was more suited to pool-side Florida than a Pittsburgh office, but he was sick of being hot and sweaty and having to borrow other people's shirts. Especially Chuck's, who he was certain gave him too small shirts on purpose.

"It's just, you look like you're going to a rave or something." Chuck put a hand on Ryan's arm, pushing to one side and squeezing past, but Ryan shrugged him off. "Come on, Ryan," Chuck said good-naturedly. "That's a lot of skin to be showing for the office, and it's kind of tight."

"What? You think it's funny that I'm fat?" Ryan pointed an accusatory finger at Chuck, backing him against a desk. "You think that's hilarious, don't you? With your snide comments and your tight shirts and the way you'd dismiss me every time I got a date. You're disgusting, just like everyone else in media. God forbid we ever let fat people be anything but comedy, right? I have had it up to here-" Ryan held his hand next to his head, then realised that only came up to Chuck's shoulder. He raised it to Chuck's eye level. "I have had it up to here with you! Put your phone away, study your lines, and for God's sake leave Kelly alone, she doesn't like you."

Silence hung heavy in the air. This was usually the moment when Ryan panicked and apologised for everything he'd just said, but today he wasn't backing down. Instead it was Chuck who cowered against the desk. Ryan was aware that everyone was watching him but for once he didn't care.

Chuck tried several times to reply, but eventually melted under Ryan's gaze and hurried to his office. The second he slammed he door behind him Kelly opened it again. "Is everything alright? It sounds like a chipmunk's being strangled out here." She took in Ryan's flustered, defensive position. "Chuck's not being mean to you again, is he Ryan?"

"No," Ryan said brightly. "I'm ok."

"Alright, that's good," Kelly smiled. "I like your shirt, very summery."

"Thank you." Ryan's tone could've given a man diabetes.

Kelly ducked back into her office and Ryan whipped round to face the rest of the studio. "What do you think you're all doing?" He demanded. "Get back to work! Go, go!" People scattered, diving behind their desks to avoid Ryan's sharp glare. Once he was satisfied that everyone was working Ryan headed back towards his office.

"Umm, Mr Church?" A small voice behind him mumbled.

"Yeah?" Ryan turned to find the traumatised intern from earlier.

"Here are all the flavours of juice box we have." They held three small cartons out to Ryan. "Is that ok?"

"Aww." Ryan's face immediately softened as he took the boxes. "Of course, thank you. You're my favourite intern now, go take a coffee break," he said kindly. They scurried off.

Ryan remained in a mood for the rest of the day, intimidating Chuck and Marsh before they went on air, ordering the camera crew to actually focus their shots on the reporters, shouting at half the studio for bullying Gary. Ryan wanted to feel bad for being so short with people but the studio have never run so smoothly. He was not-so-secretly very impressed with himself.

At midday he excused himself for a lunch break for the first time since he'd started working there, telling everyone to listen to Kelly as he left. On the steps of the studio he ran into Craig.

"Oh, hey Ryan," Craig grinned. "What're you doing out here?"

Instead of replying Ryan just hugged, relaxing for the first time all day. Being in charge, properly in charge, felt good but it was also exhausting.

"And aren't you freezing? Very cute, though." Craig kissed Ryan on the cheek and ran his hands up and down his arms, but Ryan was warm to the touch.

"I took a lunch break," Ryan mumbled to Craig's coat. "And I'm boiling."

"I can tell." Craig turned and started to head back down the steps with Ryan. "You don't normally take a lunch break, though. I was just coming to ask if you wanted a sandwich or something."

"Pizza. And garlic bread. But not the kind that looks like a pizza because that's just like eating two pizzas, I want the slices that look like bread," Ryan said in his authoritative tone. "They taste better."

Craig smiled fondly. "You're grumpy today, huh? Course we can get some pizza." He placed a hand on Ryan's back, guiding him down a side street and towards a diner they frequented after work.

"I'm not grumpy," Ryan huffed. "I'm just... a reasonable level of frustrated."

Craig held the door for Ryan as they entered the diner. "Alright, well why don't you keep that reasonable level of frustration at the table so you don't piss off any wait staff," he suggested, absently pulling out a chair for Ryan then ruffling his hair.

"Yeah, that's fair," Ryan conceded.

Over lunch Ryan thawed, talking excitedly about everything they could do now they lived together. "We can go grocery shopping together. And stay up late watching movies! And bake cookies at three am oh my gosh!"

"We do all that stuff now, Ryan," Craig grinned.

"Yeah, but now we'll be doing that stuff and living together!"

A sharp wind blew as Craig walked Ryan back to the office and he shivered, the winter weather finally getting to him. "You cold?" Craig asked. Ryan shrugged, feeling like a little kid who hadn't listened to his parents. "Here-" Craig slipped his jacket from his shoulders, "Have my jacket."

Ryan reached to take it but stopped suddenly, looking away and opting to instead hunch his shoulders for warmth. "No, no, it's alright," he mumbled.

"Honestly, I have a sweater on underneath," Craig said, holding his sweater out to show Ryan before realising that was stupid; of course he could see it.

"I, I don't, I just don't want it," Ryan blushed, picking up the pace a little and wrapping his arms around himself. The wind chilled him to the bone and he'd begun to get those whole-body shudders that seemed to rattle his ribs.

"Ryan." Craig smirked and shook his head. "You're so stubborn sometimes, here." He draped his jacket around Ryan's shoulders and pulled him close to his side. "Better?"

"Mm." Ryan sunk into the jacket and wriggled a little closer to Craig. "It's just, I don't really like borrowing other people's clothes," he said softly.

"Fifty percent of your wardrobe is my stolen clothes," Craig replied with a chuckle. "What do you mean?"

"That's true." Ryan wished he hadn't said anything. "But I just wear those 'round the apartment and stuff, that's ok. I couldn't wear them out though because they don't really, y'know." Craig did not look like he knew. "Y'know, fit."

"Ah." Craig stopped Ryan and hugged him tightly. He appreciated the warmth. "Oh Ryan, you're silly. I love you so much." He kissed him on the forehead. "You don't have to worry about other people's clothes fitting you. They're other people's clothes for a reason. In fact, you don't even have to worry about your clothes fitting you, it doesn't matter." He looked over at Ryan, shivering and clinging to his jacket. "Is that why you're dressed for a beach party? So you don't have to borrow anyone's shirt?"

"I dunno." Ryan squirmed. "Maybe a bit. I do get super hot in the studio though."

They were back at the studio steps now, Ryan still wearing Craig's jacket like a cape. He reached to take it off. "No, it's ok. You can keep it," Craig stopped him. A huge grin split his face. "Then you can bring it back to our apartment tonight."

"Cool," Ryan giggled. "See you tonight, roomie." He hopped up a couple of steps to kiss Craig goodbye.

"Yeah, ses you later," Craig smiled. He waited for Ryan to continue up the steps a little before calling, "You look super hot, by the way!"

Ryan blushed and pretended to ignore him, but watched him leave the second he turned his back. Once Craig was out of eyeshot Ryan turned to the studio doors and pushed them opened dramatically. The security guard raised an eyebrow but said nothing. He'd seen much stranger things.

Ryan smirked. He was ready to manage some studio workers.