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Por Favor, Sweetheart

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Ryan’s always been close to his cousin Daniela (Garcia, nee Bergara). She shared his appreciation for weird stuff, and being close in age made them natural allies at family gatherings. Dani, with her bright eyes and bushy hair, flitting from person to person like the ghost of a fox, with Ryan trailing along behind her. Their abuela, lifting Ryan onto her knee even though he was really too big to belong there anymore and telling Daniela to give him a break. Dani buying him his first legal drink, introducing him to her fiancé, hugging him tight and blinking happy tears from her eyes before she can smear her makeup.

So when Dani asks him to be godfather to her newly born daughter he agrees without even thinking about it.

I’m gonna be the cool uncle, is the main thought running through his head. The baby has Dani’s big brown eyes; Ryan would probably die for her.

Six months later, he gets a phone call from his father in the middle of the day – something that immediately makes his spine prickle with anxiety. Steven Bergara only calls on weekends. He answers the phone, and makes for a quiet area, away from the bustle of the office.

“Hey, Dad. What’s up?”

“Hi, Ryan. Are – are you at work?”

“Yeah,” He leans against the wall of a brightly-lit corridor, confused. “Dad? What’s going on?”

“I don’t-” He hears his dad sigh. “Your cousin Dani was in a car accident yesterday.”

Ryan can feel the blood leaving his face, the sweat springing up on his palms. “Dani?”

“She didn’t survive.” His father’s voice is barely audible. Ryan slides to the floor, hand shaking around the phone pressed so hard to his ear that it’s painful.

“She – oh god. Oh my god.” His voice cracks, and he buries his face in his knees. He can hear his father making soothing noises at the end of the line.

“I’m so sorry, Ryan, I know you two were close-”

“Is John alright?” He asks.

“No, Ryan. He – he was driving.”

“And – Izzy?” He doesn’t want to know, he doesn’t want to know please-

“She’s fine. She was with a friend…they were driving to pick her up.”

“Jesus Christ.” Ryan finally breaks down for real, sobbing into the phone. A small part of him hopes that nobody comes by and sees him like this; the rest doesn’t care. His best friend is dead, and his little cousin is an orphan.

“There’s one more thing, mijo.” Ryan’s dad hasn’t called him that since he was 12 years old, and that was when his dog died. This is bad.

“Dani named you Isabella’s guardian.” A final punch in the gut. His legs are going numb, crouching on the floor like this.

“What?”

“You’re her godfather.”

“I don’t – I don’t understand,” He says, running a hand anxiously through his hair.

“I’ve talked with Alex, and he’d be willing to take her.” His father’s words are barely penetrating the fug of confusion in his brain. “I mean, you live alone, you work full-time, none of us could have foreseen this when Dani asked you to be godfather-”

“I – what?”

“Your uncle. Izzy’s grandfather. He would take custody of her, you don’t have to do this.”

Ryan thinks of his uncle Alex, who is a widower, and also in a wheelchair. The loss of his eldest daughter is going to devastate him.

“Uncle Alex can’t look after a baby,” Ryan mutters. “His legs.”

“It doesn’t matter, Ryan.” His dad says, horribly gentle. “You don’t have to do it. It’s too much.”

Ryan stays silent for a long time, tears rolling awkwardly down his cheeks and dripping onto his shirt.

“I’ll take her,” He finally whispers.

“What?” His father is clearly bemused. Ryan would be offended, in any other situation.

“Uncle Alex can’t look after a baby,” Ryan repeats, resolve growing. “I’ll take her.”

“I – are you sure?”

“Yeah. No. Fuck.” Ryan runs a hand through his hair again. “I have to. I have to.”

Eventually, his father rings off, and Ryan is left alone in a corridor with wide windows that are a stark contrast to the fear and confusion and grief penetrating his gut. Eventually Shane finds him there, and hauls him to his feet, and wraps those long arms around him. Everything has changed.

***

Ryan takes time off work, and Izzy arrives on a clear March morning. The last time Ryan saw her, she was barely sitting up straight; now she looks around her surroundings with wide, intrigued eyes. She’s chubby, like most babies, with brown eyes and dark curls springing in every direction. She looks like her mom.

When the social worker deposits her in his arms, he feels the axis of his world shift and resettle so that she is the centre. He doesn’t want to scare anyone, but he would probably die for this little girl.

The box room in Ryan’s apartment, formerly full of an old television and books, is now full of a cot and toys and a changing table and various other baby paraphernalia.

His mother comes and stays with them for the first two weeks, baby-proofing his tiny apartment – Jesus Christ this is no place to raise a child what the fuck was he thinking – and changing diapers and heating bottles and hugging Ryan every ten minutes or so.

Izzy cries. She cries and cries, and Ryan cries quite a lot too, and his mother makes soft noises and rubs his back and then rubs Izzy’s back, and they both cry.

“She’s just afraid,” His mother says. “She misses her parents.”

“How am I going to do this?” He asks her, at 3am, rocking Izzy on his shoulder whilst she wails.

“You’re strong, honey,” She says, reaching up to brush his hair out of his eyes. “Every new parent is afraid.”

“New parents get nine months notice, generally.” Ryan mutters. His eyes are filling up with tears again – he’s so tired.

“I believe in you,” She says, firmly, and Ryan is almost okay.

Together, they go to Dani’s funeral, and everyone tells him he’s being “very noble”. He doesn’t feel noble, especially when Izzy starts fussing whilst the minister is speaking – she hates you, she’s never going to be happy again - and he has to leave the church altogether before it turns into a full-blown scream.

Ryan stares at the boxes full of formula that have cropped up in his cupboard, and the various tubs of goop in the fridge, and then he gets his laptop out and does a few sums. Once he’s done that, he cancels his Netflix account, his Sky subscription, and throws out his Chipotle loyalty card. Only one of those three makes him cry. It’s his own business which one.

He has four weeks off. The first two are with his mother’s help – you’re going to be useless without her - the second two he goes it alone. His mother leaves, and Izzy cries. Ryan shushes, and rocks, and changes diapers, and he doesn’t cry. He’s done crying; from this point on, the crying will be done solely by the baby. Eventually, she’ll fall asleep on his shoulder, and he’ll feel a little more like he might be alright.

When Izzy starts to reach for him to pick her up, he feels a little better. He stops wearing product in his hair, because she kept grabbing for it and getting her hands all sticky, and he starts to get used to floppy-haired Ryan staring back at him in the mirror every morning.

When the time comes for him to go back to work, he arranges for Izzy to go to a childminder who takes care of three other babies five days a week, strongly recommended by a co-worker. She’s crying when he drops her off – cars make her anxious, though how the fuck a six-month-old is supposed to realise her parents died in a car is beyond him – and the childminder gives him a wilting kind of look. Izzy quiets down when he passes her over to the older lady, which is both a relief and a slap in the face.

And then he spends the whole day at work fucking worrying about her. He’s been looking forward to going back, to getting some kind of normalcy in his life again, and he can’t even sit still in his chair he’s so anxious. He texts the childminder three times, before she replies that Izzy is fine and she will let him know if anything needs his attention in a way that firmly means leave me alone.

Shane is pleased to see him back, but subdued. Ryan is aware that he looks significantly more…train-wrecky, than he did pre-Izzy. There are bags under his eyes large enough to carry groceries in, and Izzy dribbled on his shirt when he was getting her out of the car that morning. But Shane brings him coffee, and gives him an awkward pat on the shoulder, and he feels a little better.

“It’s hard to imagine you as a dad,” He says. Ryan is affronted.

“What the hell are you talking about? I’m the – I’m an icon of paternity.”

“I don’t know, you just such a…frat boy,” Shane muses and Ryan wheezes.

“Yeah, well, I’m not her dad. I’m her second cousin once removed. Or her godfather, I guess.”

The second day, he manages to avoid worrying about Izzy until lunchtime, when he has to resist driving back into town and checking on her. That night, Izzy screams until she’s purple in the face, and Ryan bounces her up and down until his back aches and still she wails pitifully.

“Come on, Isabella,” He groans. “What’s wrong? You’re warm, and clean, and you’re not hungry – what more could you want?” Izzy just gurgles miserably, and he sighs. It wasn’t like he could call Dani and ask her for advice. Fuck.

On the third day, Ryan falls asleep on his keyboard. Shane shakes him awake before he can do too much damage.

“Look, go and take a nap, Ryan,” Shane says, hassling him out of his chair. “I’ll finish this up for you.”

“No, Shane, I can’t ask-”

“Nap, Ryan.” Shane gives him that look that’s usually reserved for when he freaks out on location – chill out, and Ryan chills. He finds an unused meeting room and falls asleep on the floor (probably a mistake) until Shane comes and finds him with another cup of coffee.

Despite Shane’s help, Ryan is still wildly behind on a lot of work. He sits on the couch, with Izzy under his arm, and tries to get some work done, but she fusses and burbles, and tugs on his shirt and dribbles. Ryan shushes her, and strokes her hair, and then gets up and changes her diaper, and then gets up and fetches her a bottle, and two hours later he’s barely gotten anything done. His phone chimes periodically, but he ignores it. Izzy is starting to sway in that way that usually means bedtime is rolling around – please god let her sleep properly tonight – but it’s no good, her brown eyes are filling up with tears.

“Oh, no, baby girl,” Ryan says, hauling her into his arms. “Come on, it’s alright, don’t cry.”

Izzy is ramping up – it’s your fault, you’re failing her - and he frantically shushes her. For possibly the first time, it has an effect, and she quiets back down, snuffling gently into his shoulder. He sighs, pressing a kiss to the side of her head. “That’s it, honey. I think it’s bedtime.”

There’s a loud knocking at the door, and Ryan jumps, and Izzy jumps, and she’s upset again.

“God fucking damn it,” He growls, “No, not you Izzy, it’s okay, shhhhh.”

He yanks the door open, ready to tear into whoever’s out there, but it’s Shane. So, he just stares, because honestly, he’s so tired he’s forgotten how to react properly to other adults.

“Hey, bud,” Shane waves awkwardly. “You weren’t, uh, weren’t answering my texts so I figured I’d come over and check on you, because, you know, you’ve been having a rough time - hey is this Izzy?”

Izzy has gone quiet, staring up at Shane. Ryan gets how she feels.

“I brought a present. That’s what people generally do for new parents, right?” He waves a bag. Izzy is starting to whine again.

“Can I-” Shane reaches for her and lifts her into his arms. “Oh, she’s so cute! You’re so cute, Baby Bergara!”

“She’s Baby Garcia,” Ryan says, almost on autopilot. Izzy is wide-eyed, and when Shane tickles her cheek with one finger she…smiles. “What the fuck?”

“Ryan, language!” Shane admonishes, sweeping past him into his apartment and taking in the bombsite.

“Careful, if you drop her it’s a long way to fall,” Ryan follows, dazed. Shane sits on the sofa and bounces Izzy on his knee, making stupid noises, and the baby giggles.

“What the fuck?” Ryan repeats. His weird best friend is a baby whisperer. Why is he surprised?

“Are you going to take her ghost-hunting?” Shane asks.

“I guess, when she’s older,” Ryan shrugs. Izzy says something along the lines of “guh” and waves her fists at Ryan. “Looks like she wants to come now, though.”

When she’s older is a strange thought. Up to this point, his subconscious has decided that this was all temporary, really.

“She looks like you,” Shane says.

“I’m only her second cousin once removed,” Ryan says. Izzy shares his dark hair and olive skin, but she doesn’t have his Asian features. She’s only 1/16th Filipino. “I’m not her dad,” He says again.

Shane tuts. “I mean, you’re pretty baby-faced, and she’s an actual baby. Easy mistake to make.”

“Fuck you, dude,” Ryan says, but he’s laughing. He hasn’t laughed in – well, at least a month. Fuck, it feels good.

“Shouldn’t she be going to bed about now?” Shane asks.

“She was!” Ryan says. “And then someone had to knock on the door and scare the bejesus out of both of us!”

“I think it’s bedtime,” Shane says to Izzy, tickling her and making her laugh again. She’s fascinated with his face. It’s probably because he’s so...sloth-looking. Shane helps him give her a bath, and when Ryan puts her down she barely makes any fuss at all.

“How – how are you so good with babies?” He hisses, as Izzy’s eyes flutter shut, and her breathing becomes deep and even. He can see Shane looking around the room, noticing the neutral colour walls and the boxes piled in the corner – no wonder she’s sad, she doesn’t even have a bedroom to herself – to make room for the crib. Ryan hasn’t exactly had time to make Izzy’s room look permanent. He’s not going to get defensive about it.

“They’re people too, Ryan, it’s not hard.” Shane shrugs. “Have you eaten? You’re really pale.”

Ryan hadn’t eaten. Shane makes him grilled cheese, and he wolfs it down in three bites before passing out face down on the sofa. When he wakes up it’s morning, Izzy has slept through the night, and Shane is nowhere to be seen.

***

He wonders if he maybe dreamed it all – there’s a plate with crumbs on it on the coffee table, and someone’s put a blanket over him. At work, Shane brings him a burrito for lunch and doesn’t say anything about last night. Now that Ryan’s finally gotten an entire night of sleep, he can keep up an intelligent conversation with his co-workers and even get some decent work done. Izzy is pleased to see him when he picks her up. Maybe things are going to be alright.

He got optimistic too soon; after giving her a bottle, Izzy starts to fuss again.

“Please, Izzy,” He mutters, checking her diaper. It’s fine. “Don’t do this to me. It’s been going so well.”

He notices a flush in her cheeks, and one of the six books he read flashes through his mind. Her gums are red. Eureka!

“Okay, baby girl,” He says, hauling her into his arms. “I think I know what’s going on here. Hold on two seconds, Ryan’s gonna fix everything.”

Ryan hunts through her toy box for a teething ring, shoves it into the freezer for two seconds, and when he hands it to the baby she immediately jams it in her mouth.

“Yes!” Ryan crows. “Was that it? Were your teeth hurting you?”

Izzy stares at him as if to say duh. He’d take her sarcasm more seriously if she wasn’t dribbling all over her chin. The knock at the door interrupts his celebrating, and he swings it open with a wide grin to reveal Shane with an armful of food.

“Hey, bud. It’s quiet in here.” Shane comments, coming in and kicking the door shut behind him. Ryan is too pleased with himself to care about how easily he’s making himself at home.

“She’s teething! I fixed a baby issue! Parenting goals o’clock,” Ryan says, pointing to Izzy, who pops the ring out of her mouth and offers it to Shane. “Honey, no, that’s got spit all over it.”

Shane solemnly shakes the ring, and says “Good evening to you, Miss Isabella.” Ryan wheezes.

“I brought Chinese,” Shane says, hauling the bags into the kitchen and unpacking them onto the countertop.

“Shane, you didn’t have to-” Ryan protests.

“Ryan, you’ve been wandering around the office like a zombie all week.” Shane interrupts, gesturing to Ryan’s dribble-stained shirt. “You know you can ask your friends for help, right? Most people raise children in pairs, or some variation of that.”

“I don’t want to impose-”

“Bullshit,” Shane declares, and he practically holds him down and spoons egg fried rice in his mouth whilst Izzy goes to town on a bottle of milk. Eventually she starts to slump, and he puts her to bed, and Shane starts to gather up the dirty plates.

“Shane,” Ryan leans in the doorway to the kitchen. “Really, thank you.”

“This is what friends do,” Shane says, smiling down at the washing up. “Never be afraid to ask me for help.”

“Come here, big guy,” Ryan says, and he hugs Shane tightly. Shane is getting soap suds on the back of his shirt, but it’s covered in milk and Chinese and baby-spit anyway (his laundry bill has gone through the roof since Izzy arrived.)

“It’s nothing, Ry. Really,” Shane mutters in his ear. “Nothing any friend wouldn’t do.”

***

From there, things settle into some maybe variation of normalcy. Izzy gets two front teeth, on the bottom. Ryan catches up on his work. The childminder smiles at them when they arrive in the morning, now. Izzy starts eating solids, after a lot of agonising and phone calls with his mother.

They film another series of True Crime, because Ryan can’t exactly travel anymore. He expected that his career would suffer, because it would have been naïve to think otherwise, but it’s surprisingly fine; the views only drop a little, and they still manage to get two episodes out a week. Fans ask him questions about being a parent, and he’s happy to answer. When he posts a picture of Izzy on his Instagram – which he’s tried to avoid up to this point, but she’s so fucking cute – they go crazy. It’s nice.

He buys Izzy her first proper pair of shoes (tiny Jordans, he just about passes out at work because he’s so excited). He buys a blender and purifies just about anything he can find for her. She likes carrots and broccoli.

Shane brings Daysha over, and between the three of them they paint Izzy’s room a cute minty green. Shane is just the wrong side of taking it too seriously – when he starts mumbling about feng shui, Ryan puts a stop to it. But the room looks brighter, bigger, and Izzy claps her hands delightedly.

“Do you like it, baby girl?” Ryan ruffles her dark curls, and Shane gives her finger guns with hands covered in green. There’s paint smeared on his cheek (that may or may not have been Ryan trying to make him shut up about the room’s “flow of energy”) and his shirt is rolled up to reveal lean forearms.

“How can you tell me I’m an idiot when I say a haunted house has bad energy, and then complain about how I’ve positioned the crib too far north?” Ryan complains.

“You love it really,” Shane winks at him, and then puts green paint in Ryan’s hair when he tells him to fuck off.

After Izzy has had a bath in the sink and slopped water everywhere, and Shane has cooked them carbonara, Ryan comes through to the living room to find him conked out on the sofa with Izzy equally comatose on his chest. Shane’s knees are hooked over the arm of the sofa, and Izzy has a fist curled in his plaid shirt. He stops and watches them for a moment and wonders when his life became kind of alright again. It’s in no small part thanks to Shane’s help.

Eventually, he takes Izzy through to her room, and wakes Shane.

“Ugh, sorry, I’ll take off,” Shane mumbles, rubbing at his eyes. He needs a shave.

“No, hang on,” Ryan protests. “You can stay here tonight. It’s cool, you don’t look awake enough to drive a car safely anyway.”

“No, don’t wanna ‘mpose-” Shane’s eyes are drooping. “And I don’t fit on the couch.” He kicks his long legs out awkwardly to prove his point.

“You can share my bed.” Ryan says without even thinking. “You might not fit on that either but better than the couch.” It’s fine. He’s just helping out a friend.

He lends Shane a toothbrush, and he passes out facedown over the covers with his jeans still on. Ryan gets him up again, convinces him to take his pants off – entirely platonically, thanks – and the two sleep soundly.

***

He wakes up the next morning too damn comfy to not be suspicious. There’s an arm round his waist, and he’s so warm and nice…wait…too warm

Shane is lying entirely on top of Ryan, and Ryan thinks he’s about to die of heatstroke. Izzy has started fussing in the next room, but Ryan can’t convince Shane to get off him.

“Hey, big guy,” He mumbles. “We gotta go to work, before I asphyxiate.”

Shane just mutters gibberish and nuzzles Ryan’s neck. With a monumental effort, Ryan ignores it, shoves the bigger man off and rolls out of bed before Shane notices that he’s gone. For someone with the shape and length of a cheese-string, Shane is fucking heavy.

Izzy is standing up in her cot, clutching onto the bars.

“Morning, baby girl,” Ryan murmurs, wincing when he picks her up and she immediately latches onto his ear. “Careful there, I need those to hear you screaming. How else will I know you’re hungry?”

He gets her dressed, and deposits her in her high chair, before Shane finally emerges from the bedroom. With his glasses on, and his hair sticking every direction, he looks younger and softer somehow. Ryan’s belly goes a little…fuzzy.

Izzy utters a string of delighted nonsense and reaches for Shane.

“Good morning, sweetheart.” He smiles softly and ruffles her hair. Ryan wishes he’d asked him to stay the night earlier.

“You got any plans for tonight, big guy?” Ryan asks, throwing some cereal in a bowl and getting it everywhere because he’s too busy staring at Shane with morning fuzz.

“Not really,” Shane hums, letting Izzy grab his hand and wave it back and forth gently.

“Come on, you’re young and single in the big city,” Ryan says, making a point of focusing on his cereal. “Surely you should have more of a social life. Well, I’m one to talk, my best friend is a baby-”

“Every stud needs a night off,” Shane says, grabbing the cereal from him and helping himself.

“You – you could come over again, if you’re really bored.” Ryan says.

“You don’t mind?” Shane looks up from shovelling Cheerios into his mouth.

“What? No, of course I don’t mind.” Ryan says, bemused. “You’re the only thing keeping me from going off the deep end. If anything, you should mind!”

“I don’t, uh, I don’t want you to feel like I’m imposing on your time with your daughter.” Shane hedges.

“She’s my second cousin once removed, and I get plenty time with her,” Ryan scoffs. “If you don’t want to come, just say, dude.”

“No, I do, I do,” Shane protests. “I’ll – yeah, I’ll come over tonight. I’ll cook, my treat.”

Ryan knows better than to argue with that.

Shane gets a lift with him to work, and they drop Izzy off together. When Ryan goes back to pick her up at the end of the day, the childminder – Nancy says, “It was nice to meet your young man this morning.”

“Yeah, Shane’s a good friend,” Ryan says, jiggling Izzy gently in his arms. “And Isabella thinks the sun shines out his ass.” She only raises an eyebrow when he swears in front of the baby, these days.

“It’s good that you’re still managing to date, even with the baby.” She says.

“Wait – what? No, Shane is just a friend.” Ryan splutters. She apologises, but she has that look in her eyes that says she’s not entirely convinced. Which is ridiculous.

***

“Look, just go, Ryan. We’re fine. I promise.”

“Are you sure?” Ryan asks, fiddling with his freshly ironed shirt. Something about the lack of stains on it is making him uneasy.

“Yes, I am sure.” Shane is balancing Izzy against his chest, with one arm around her belly, as she squirms desperately and reaches for Ryan. “Go to your thing. The thing that I wasn’t invited to.”

“It’s just drinks,” Ryan protests, checking his hair in the bathroom mirror one last time. Floppy-haired Ryan has been banished for one night, and one night only. Shane pats his quiff firmly with his free hand, quickly grabbing Izzy again before she can leap right out of his arms. “It probably won’t be that good.”

He throws his jean jacket on, and the two of them walk him to the door. “You’ve got the list?”

“It’s the same thing we do every night, Ry. I don’t need the list.” Shane scoffs, and Izzy babbles in agreement.

“I just wanted to cover all the bases. Babysitter.”

“Babysitter supreme. Isn’t that right, Iz?” Shane ducks his head behind Izzy’s and puts on a stupid voice. “Daddy, I love Uncle Shane!”

“Leave her alone, you’re going to give her some weird complex.” Finally, Ryan is facing his apartment door. He swings around to face them one last time. “You’re sure this is okay? You don’t mind?”

“I’m sure,” Shane sighs, and hikes Izzy up. “Say goodbye to Daddy, sweetheart.” Izzy realises that Ryan is going, and her face crumples.

“I’ll see you again tomorrow morning, baby girl,” Ryan says, slipping out the door before a full-blown screaming fit arrives. “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Shane responds, and Ryan doesn’t even register it until he’s halfway down the stairs. He shrugs it off – autopilot, or he was pretending to talk for Izzy, or. Something. Yeah, something. It’s lingering in the back of his mind even when he arrives at the bar, though, and well into his third beer.

He is actually having a nice time, though. It’s good to talk to real adults again (Shane doesn’t count as a real person). And he’s not even that worried about Izzy, because he knows Shane loves that little girl just as much as he does.

He lasts a solid three hours into the night before excusing himself. Turns out, people don’t complain that much about you leaving early when you have a nine-month old waiting for you.

When he gets back – a little tipsy, because his tolerance is shot these days – Shane is asleep on the sofa again. Ryan flops a blanket over him, then gets under the blanket himself because it looks cosy and conks out next to him with his jean jacket still on.

***

Izzy’s family on her father's side is Cuban, and Ryan doesn’t want her to feel disconnected from that part of her heritage, but the only solution he can think of is watching One Day at a Time with her. He speaks Spanish to her, though his knowledge of his grandfather’s language is limited. His uncle visits, although not very often, in his condition, and he brings photo albums of Daniela and Johnathan. Ryan flicks through them with Izzy on his lap, and he thinks she appreciates that he’s trying.

There’s a picture of Daniela and Ryan eating ice-cream on a beach, aged about six. He can see Izzy in the photograph, in five years’ time, and suddenly his eyes are filled with tears. Izzy makes an inquisitive noise, and he kisses the top of her head.

“You look like your Mami, Isabella,” He whispers.

She twists her head around to stare up at him, grabs him by the ear and burbles “Dadada.”

“What was that, baby girl?” There’s no breath left in his lungs.

“Dada,” She insists, bashing one fist against his chest. Ryan freezes.

In an effort to distract himself from freaking out, he gives Izzy a teddy and phones Shane. Of course, the clearly foreseeable outcome there is that he freaks out to Shane instead.

“She called me Dada,” He hisses into the phone.

“Ryan, that’s great!” Shane crows. “Most babies say their first word at about ten or eleven months! She’s advanced!”

“No, it’s not great!” Ryan runs a hand through his hair. He’s on the verge of hyperventilating. “I’m not her dad! What – what the fuck is she supposed to call me?”

“Oh, Ryan.” Shane goes quiet. “You know…for all intents and purposes, you are her dad.”

“No,” Ryan mumbles, tears welling again. “I’m just her mess of a godfather.”

“Ryan,” Shane chides. “You’re doing a good job. I swear.”

The sound of that low drawl calms him a little – this must be how Izzy feels - and he starts to think rationally again.

“How did you know the stuff about first words?” Ryan asks, after a long, tearful silence.

“I read some of your books.” Shane says. Ryan can hear the shrug in his voice. “Do you want me to come over?”

“No, I’m good. Thanks though.”

“You’re doing a good job, Ryan. She’s happy.” Ryan rings off. He can hear Izzy babbling and squealing from the front room. When she arrived, she’d been quiet, aside from crying. Now she talked gibberish at will. He was so proud.

He thinks about his apartment three months ago, quiet and empty and with no applesauce stains on the table. There are pictures of Isabella plastered everywhere (more than a few of them also featuring Shane). He never has to suppress the temptation to phone his dad and tell him he was wrong, he can’t do it, who the fuck let him have a baby you need to come get her right the fuck now. He wouldn’t go back for all the money in the world.

Shane comes with him to get Izzy from the childminder the next day, and Ryan makes a point of not standing too close to him in front of Nancy. Izzy is delighted that Shane has come to fetch her, and when Shane points to Ryan she burbles “Dadadada” again.

“Yeah, that’s Dada,” Shane says. “He deserves to be your Dada.”

“I can’t decide if that’s an insult or a compliment,” Ryan jokes, throwing Izzy’s stuff into the boot of the car.

“How dare you,” Shane says, mock outraged. “Only the finest man in Los Angeles is worthy of parenting Isabella Bergara Garcia.”

“Yikes…you’d better hand her back to me, then.” Ryan says, and Shane sticks his tongue out at him.

They watch more One Day at a Time, and Ryan makes fun of Shane for being just like Schneider. They read Izzy a book about worms or some shit, the little girl sat between them. When Shane gets up to leave, Ryan and Izzy walk him to the door. Shane kisses Isabella on the forehead, and then Ryan, leaving the smaller man blinking in surprise.

“Shit – sorry,” Shane springs backwards, and out the door. “Autopilot. It’s late. I should – I’m going home. Bye.”

The door slams, and Ryan is left feeling confused, to say the least.

***

Shane stops coming over so often. Ryan tries to ignore it. He’s probably just busy; they’ve both been neglecting their jobs lately to goof off with a baby.

On Wednesday, Izzy fusses and cries and refuses to go to sleep. Ryan gives her the teething ring, he gives her another bottle, he sings her Fleetwood Mac songs, and eventually – after exhausting every last possible resource – he calls Shane.

“Dude, how do you convince Izzy to sleep?!” He demands.

“Hi Ryan, it’s good to hear from you. I’m fine, how are you?” Shane snipes, and Ryan is ready to tear his hair out. He’d gotten too used to Izzy being happy, and Shane being there, and now he’s grown soft.

“She won’t sleep,” Ryan moans. “What do you do with her?”

“Did you try Fleetwood Mac?” He asks.

“Of course I tried Fleetwood Mac,” He scoffs. Izzy is looking at him with wide, tear-filled eyes. “I think – I think she misses you, dude.”

“Ah,” Shane says. “Well, I’d offer to come over, but I’m kind of…on a date.”

“Oh! That’s cool, that’s – fine, I wouldn’t have wanted to impose,” Ryan stammers. “Who with?”

“A friend of a friend,” Shane says. “You wouldn’t know them. She’s, uh, waiting for me.”

“Shit, I’m sorry dude,” Ryan scrubs a hand across his face. “I’ll leave you alone, I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“It’s cool,” Shane assures him, and Ryan rings off. It’s good that Shane is seeing someone. He was pretty cut up after Sara broke up with him. It’s good. It’s fine.

Shane still stays away. Ryan figures he’s busy with this new girl, but Shane never mentions her again until Ryan asks him, and even then, all he’ll say is “it didn’t work out.”

“That’s too bad, bro,” Ryan claps a hand on his shoulder in solidarity. He hasn’t even looked at another person romantically since Isabella arrived. What’s the point? Nobody under 30 wants to date a single father. “What do you want for dinner tonight?”

“Uh, if it’s alright with you, I can’t come over tonight.” Shane says, scratching at the nape of his neck awkwardly. “I’ve got…shit to do. Work shit.” It’s clearly an excuse, and that definitely doesn’t get him right in the gut.

“Oh,” Ryan says. “That’s fine, dude. Totally.” He remembers Isabella screaming, and he’s fine. He’s fine.

“Sorry,” Shane says. “I mean, you two are probably sick of the sight of me anyway, right? I don’t wanna be like…like Schneider. That guy who sticks around when he’s not wanted.”

You’re never not wanted, is what Ryan should say, but instead he just nods awkwardly and fixes his eyes on his computer screen. Shane is just trying to let him down gently; he’s tired of having to sort Ryan’s life out for him, it’s obvious. Izzy will forget about him, she’s not even a year old. Ryan should forget about it too. And yet-

Eventually he overthinks it to the point of panic and confronts Shane over the coffee machine at lunch.

“Did I do something wrong?” He asks, and Shane splutters into his mug.

“Like, recently, or in life?” He asks.

“Recently. You don’t come over to see Izzy anymore.” Ryan says, whinier than he would have liked.

“I just – I’ve been busy.” Shane hedges.

“I think that’s bullshit,” Ryan says. “I think you’re avoiding me. So, tell me what I did wrong, you coward.” He’s overcompensating, he realises, but he doesn’t want Shane to know how hurt he really is.

“You didn’t do anything, I swear.” Shane says, holding up his hands defensively. “I just thought it was appropriate for me to…remove myself from the situation a little.”

“Fucking – why?!” Ryan demands. He’s inexplicably angry.

“I was getting too emotionally invested.” Shane says, staring pointedly into his coffee.

“In Izzy? Bro, you know I don’t mind you spending time with her. It’s good for her to socialise, and she loves you-”

“No,” Shane says, and scrunches his face up weird. “In you. Emotionally invested in you.”

“Oh,” Ryan says. What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You know, jackass. But surely not Shane? They’re…just friends…who share a bed, occasionally…

They stand in the break room in silence for a long time.

“I’ve fucked everything up,” Shane sighs. “Feelings are – they’re so annoying, you know?”

“You don’t need to pull away,” Ryan blurts. “I mean, don’t pull away. I don’t want you to pull away.” Stop saying pull away, you idiot.

“Oh,” Shane says, and he puts the coffee down. “Okay. I’ll…stop pulling away.”

“Good. Fine.” Ryan nods, and turns around, and marches back to his desk.

“Ryan,” Shane catches up with him, grabs him by the elbow. “Do you – surely you don’t want to have to deal with me and my issues on top of the baby, and – all that.”

“Shane, you’re a grown-ass man.” Ryan scoffs. “I have zero intention of ever dealing with your issues. It doesn’t mean you have to stay away.”

“Are you sure?” The question carries more weight than it sounds like it does, he can tell.

“Yes, I’m sure. We’re both grown-ass men. Dealing with grown-ass feelings like…like grown-ups.” Ryan turns back to his computer. That was the most painfully awkward conversation he’s ever had the misfortune of surviving. And for someone who just made a pretty big deal about being a grown-up, he doesn’t feel like they actually dealt with any feelings at all.

But Shane starts staying the night more often. They shoot a one-off Supernatural episode and leave Isabella with Ryan’s parents overnight. His mother winks at him when she thinks Shane isn’t looking. Ryan rolls his eyes, but he smiles.

They take Izzy to Disneyland, because pre-Izzy, Ryan’s only thought about having children was that he would definitely take them to Disneyland. She meets all the princesses they can stand to wait in line for – those female role models, so important - and Shane buys him a hotdog before going on all the rollercoasters without him. When Ryan complains that’s he’s always left holding the baby, Shane offers to take Izzy whilst he goes on one (1) ride, but it wouldn’t be the same going on them by himself. Shane throws an arm round him so he can lean down and kiss Izzy on the top of her head, whilst she gnaws on one of those baby-cracker things, and then just leaves it there while they walk around. It’s…nice.

***

Izzy turns one, and Shane goes a little wild. There’s a party with all their friends and co-workers, and Izzy’s grandfather, and Ryan’s entire family – how did he contact them without you noticing? – and a pile of presents bigger than Izzy herself. Even the other babies from Izzy’s childminder are there, because his baby cousin has more friends than him. Yikes.

“Shane, you didn’t have to-” Ryan says, staring at all the balloons and the banner with HAPPY BIRTHDAY IZZY written on it.

“Bullshit,” Shane yells, sweeping Izzy into his arms and swinging her round. She burbles happily, dribble flying everywhere. “Nothing but the best for our best girl.” Ryan’s heart contracts a little at “our”. It’s probably heart disease.

They open Izzy’s presents, and it’s more toys and clothes and books than Ryan can possibly hope to keep in his tiny apartment. Shane gets her a book called Besos for Babies, in Spanish and English, which makes Ryan grin wider than the fucking Grand Canyon. He also gets them a photo album, full of pictures of Ryan and Izzy that Ryan hasn’t seen before.

“Where did you get these?” He asks, a little breathless. Shane is stifling a grin.

“I just…took ‘em on my phone. Over the last few months.” He says. Ryan isn’t going to cry. He’s very aware that he and Shane are staring at one another like there’s no one else in the room, and it’s pretty rude, but he doesn’t care.

Ryan’s mom made a chocolate cake, and Izzy immediately smears the frosting all over her face and looks smug. Shane takes at least 600 photos, not an exaggeration. Ryan is unspeakably happy. Shane has obtained a party hat from somewhere, even though nobody else has one, and Izzy tries to swipe it off his head. She giggles, and she says “Sane! Sane!”

The entire party whoops and cheers, and Ryan hauls his little cousin into his arms despite the frosting getting all over his shirt. “Yeah, baby girl. That’s Shane.”

“Sane,” Izzy claps, tucking her head under Ryan’s chin.

“She’s saying you’re insane, dude,” He laughs, but when he looks up, Shane is frozen. He’s staring at the little girl with wide eyes. Ryan hands her off to his dad and drags Shane by the arm into Izzy’s room (they can barely fit around all the things Izzy has been given today.)

“Dude, are you okay?” He asks quietly. Shane is staring at the floor. “She just – she just said your name, Shane.”

“I don’t deserve her,” Shane mutters. “I don’t deserve either of you.”

“Don’t be fucking stupid-” Ryan protests.

“Ryan,” Shane sighs, scrubbing a hand across his face. “I’m sorry. It’s just – after Sara left me, I really wondered if maybe I’d missed my chance. For all that.”

“For all what?”

“You know, the baby, love, a big family-”

“You’re only 31, Shane-”

“It was irrational, maybe, but I wondered it. And now, I’m basically co-opting your daughter to fulfil my own – my own wishful fucking thinking, and it’s all vicarious. I’m not going to get this, anything like this, because I’m too busy elbowing my way into your happiness and your family.” The harsh tone of his voice is a sharp contrast with the hurt and fear in his eyes, and Ryan’s heart is breaking.

He steps in close, and puts a hand on Shane’s face, feeling the rasp of stubble under his fingers. “Shane. You’ve never ‘co-opted’ Isabella. If you hadn’t been around, I would definitely have had a nervous breakdown. We need you, I need you.”

“What if you decide you’ve had enough?” Shane whispers, grabbing Ryan’s hand and holding it there. He notices the tear slipping down his nose. “What if I fuck up and I never get to see either of you again?”

“There is nothing you could do, Shane,” Ryan says, fiercely. “Nothing that would make me send you away.”

Shane kisses him, desperately, and finally the pieces of Ryan’s life fall into place.

They re-join the party, and everyone definitely notices Ryan smiling like a big goof, but fuck, he does not care. He slips an arm around Shane’s waist, and leaves it there.

Eventually, the party starts to disperse – Izzy’s baby friends first, because they’re babies, and then Ryan’s work friends, and then Izzy’s abuelo, and finally his parents. His father says he’s proud of him. Ryan’s just doing his best, really.

They sit on the couch together – like they do every night, but different this time – and Shane puts an arm round his shoulders, stroking the hair at the nape of his neck.

“Hey, Ryan?”

“Yeah?”

“I hope ghosts are real,”

“You – what?!”

“No, don’t do that, I just said I hope. I still don’t believe, don’t get your feathers all fluffed up like that-”

“What are you talking about, you big doof?”

“I hope ghosts are real, because Daniela should know how well her daughter’s being taken care of. If she’s watching – if, you weirdo, if – she’d be proud.”

“Oh, fuck.” Ryan wells up, and Shane hugs him tight. Izzy babbles and flaps her arms at them, displeased by the lack of attention.

“I’m sorry, baby girl,” Ryan laughs through his tears. “Were we talking to each other instead of you?”

“Sane,” Izzy says, very solemnly for such a small girl, and then Shane is crying too, and they both cry-laugh together until Izzy starts to yawn, and then Ryan falls asleep with his head on Shane’s shoulder and Izzy tucked into his chest. His neck regrets it the next morning, but it's nice at the time.

From there, things don’t really change at all. Shane stays the night more often than he doesn’t. Izzy’s vocabulary expands rapidly, so she can coherently demand many more things from them. Shane leaves a toothbrush in the bathroom. Izzy can stand up and take a few steps when someone holds her hand. Shane starts leaving spare clothes in Ryan’s wardrobe so he has clean stuff to wear when he stays over. They make out sleepily, on the couch, after Izzy has fallen asleep, and everything is warm despite the oncoming winter. He’s happy. It’s good.

On a Friday morning, Shane is feeding Izzy scrambled eggs in her highchair whilst Ryan inhales coffee in an effort to wake up. It’s a combination of sleepiness, and Shane wearing one of Ryan’s plaid shirts, and the way Izzy burbles “Shane!” whilst smearing eggs in her hair that makes him blurt, “move in with us.”

It hadn’t even been on his mind – no, that’s a lie, it’s all he thinks about. He and Shane already share lives. They might as well go full out.

Shane purses his lips. “No.” He says.

“Oh – oh, shit,” Ryan stammers. “That’s cool, that’s fine, you’re right we’re moving too quickly, I wasn’t thinking straight-”

“No, no, Ryan,” Shane raises his hands and leaves Izzy to slurp her eggs down alone. “I – I fucked that up. I think you two should move in with me.”

“You – fuck,” Ryan collapses into the seat opposite him and puts his head in his hands.

“I mean, my apartment is bigger,” Shane says, pulling Ryan’s hands away from his face and making him look up. “It makes sense.”

Shane has never made any sense to him, but he agrees anyway. “You could have phrased that so much better, you dick,” He says, taking a big slurp of coffee.

“Dick,” Izzy says conversationally, and Ryan spits his coffee across the room.

“You need to watch your language, bud,” Shane laughs, mopping up the spilt coffee.

“Shane, up,” Izzy whines, lifting her arms to show them that she has successfully eaten half the eggs, and wiped the rest over her dress.

Por favor, sweetheart,” Shane says, with a fairly suspect accent, before hauling her out the chair and into his arms. Ryan appreciates him trying though. He thinks he may be in love, and the realisation doesn’t even scare him like it might have six months ago. He’s happy. It’s good.