From the first day Shane and Ryan met as interns, Shane had the feeling they could be good friends. His expectations were exceeded, because he and Ryan became best friends in a matter of weeks. Except for their very different opinions about the supernatural, they clicked perfectly. Their sense of humor was the same, both loved clever jokes but also were capable of laughing about a fart way too long. They adored the same type of movies and loved popcorn even more than that, which ended with them organizing regular movie nights. Ryan’s special interest for Theme Parks might have been a bit much for him sometimes, but he still loved visiting those parks with his buddy and listening to him basically giving a presentation of the history of the place in minute detail. All in all, he really adored Ryan Steven Bergara, that clever, energetic little S.O.B.
There was only one thing that would truly drive him up the wall with Ryan, much more than any debate about ghosts ever could: Ryan’s consistent twitches of “no homo” when any sort of physical contract between them happened.
“Our hands just touched, that was weird.”
Shane looks over at him while Ryan is still talking and moving his hands through the air, explaining whatever they were talking about. Shane frowns and reaches out to slap at Ryan’s hand, tries to knock their fingers together almost aggressively and even grabs at the hand when Ryan tries to pull back. It does make Ryan laugh and Shane mostly does it to mess with him, but he still feels defiant when Ryan goes “okay, okay, that’s enough!” in between giggles.
Later, when the cameras are being stashed away it comes up. Ryan has been talking about something with excitement but he keeps his hands clutched together in front of him. Shane sighs as he looks at it and Ryan falters and loses his train of thought.
“Our hands are going to touch again, Ryan, do you really mind it that much?”
Ryan looks put on the spot. He shrugs softly and Shane feels a little guilty for being aggressive about it.
“No, it just… I don’t know, I’m not great with physical contact sometimes.”
It’s bullshit but Shane bites his tongue and doesn’t call him out. Ryan is like an excited puppy sometimes, ready to bump shoulders and elbows and give high fives and fist bumps to everyone. He has no problem hugging his female friends, but with his “bro”s he does the one-armed slap on the back thing instead. Shane has seen a lot of guys act like that and usually he just rolls his eyes and ignores it, but Ryan is actually important to him, so he won’t let him get away with it.
“I’m gonna get closer to you, I don’t care.”
Shane laughs an “okay” and watches Ryan scoot his sleeping bag closer till they are lying side by side. If Shane laid down, their shoulders would probably touch. He sighs and sits back on his haunches, ignoring how his sleeping bag tries to bent back into its rolled shape when he lets it go.
“Ryan,” he says quietly because Ryan is still freaking out over the wind rattling the window. Ryan looks at him, eyes wide and fearful.
“I still don’t get what you’re so afraid of, but if you are afraid that’s not shameful. And you don’t have to apologize for looking for comfort.”
Ryan makes a face. “Comfort.” He repeats as if he has a bad taste in his mouth.
“Yes, Ryan. Comfort.” Shane is surprised how calm he sounds. “People like comfort and feeling safe. Even guys. Don’t start that nonsense here. Also don’t you think it’s a bit insulting to imply that the only reason why you would hang out close to me is because you’re afraid you die otherwise?”
Ryan’s mouth opens in surprise. He looks more shocked than afraid now, clearly recounting some of the stuff he said to Shane in the last couple months. Shane waits for an answer, but when he gets nothing, he sighs and lies down next to Ryan. He purposely doesn’t lie down too close to Ryan, just close enough so he can feel the warmth from Ryan’s shoulder radiating out. Ryan’s eyes are on him and he feels it, but he closes his eyes and wills himself to ignore his friend.
He doesn’t get an answer. Instead he falls asleep and is soon woken up again by a panicking Ryan. He would give the shorter guy a hug, but he is sure that it would only make him more uncomfortable.
“We’re just two guys sitting in a tub!”
Ryan shakes his head in disbelief and despite the hint of discomfort Shane sits there, he still laughs at the situation. The tub is pretty warm, the water hot enough to cover the mirror on the back wall because the camera man would show in it otherwise. His swimming trunks move in the slight wave Ryan causes when he gets up.
“That was fucking weird,” he hears him say.
“Two guys in a hot tub would be less weird, huh? You had no problem getting in here with me, if I may remind you.”
He sounds a little angry and he doesn’t want that, but yet here he is. Ryan turns around in surprise, already half wrapped in a towel to hide himself from Shane.
“It was your idea!”
“Yeah, and you were fine with it. But now you’re all tense again. You need to fucking relax sometimes, it’s not like sharing bath water with someone is gay.”
Ryan freezes. He still hasn’t completely dried off.
“That’s it, right?” Shane says with some grim satisfaction.
Ryan mutters something about it not being like that but Shane isn’t really convinced. Despite the laughs they shared, they end the day with barely speaking to each other and sleeping in their two queen beds about six feet apart. Shane feels like he said the wrong thing, but then again he feels like he shouldn’t apologize. Why was befriending guys so stupidly hard sometimes?
“That makes us sound like we’re a couple, we’re not a couple.”
Shane shakes his head at that. Partially because he agrees with Ryan, partially because he thinks the claim is as stupid as the “are ghosts real?” question at the beginning. As if communication and compromise doesn’t happen in other types of relationships.
Ryan’s strict declaration almost hurts a little and Shane wonders if his ego is bruised from Ryan squashing the idea that he would date Shane so quickly. Probably. Probably just his ego.
They talk about it in the afternoon, when they are catch up on lunch which they had to reschedule because of the video. Shane empties his soda while staring at Ryan and finally, Ryan asks what is on his mind.
Shane clears his throat and decides that starting carefully and with kid gloves is probably not going to do it.
Earlier, when you said something about us sounding like a couple? You don’t have to say that we’re not dating like that, people are not gonna assume it so easily. And if they do, what is the big deal?”
“Well, I don’t want to lead anyone astray making them think something that isn’t right. It would feel like lying.”
“Nobody even mentioned us being a couple. You brought it up and then immediately denied it.”
“Well… but we aren’t a couple.”
“I’m not a couple with a bunch of people I’m on videos with and I never say anything like that when our shoulders touch or something.”
Ryan shrugs and stares at the table.
”Because I don’t think it’s because you don’t want to fool people, I think the thought of us being taken for a couple freaks you out.”
“Why would that be it, huh? Maybe you’re giving yourself too much credit, Shane. This is stupid. Even if nobody thinks we’re dating I still don’t want them to start to assume it.”
“Why? Are you afraid people think you’re not straight?”
“Th- okay come on, that isn’t fair.”
“Isn’t it? Because I think you’re very scared of that. And I know you’re an open minded and nice kind of guy so I’m a bit worried it might be some real horrible internalized homophobia.” He pauses a second or two before he adds “Bro” with a deep voice.
Ryan almost laughs. But there is a worried look in his eyes as he stares at Shane.
“You know I don’t have a problem with that. I mean look at Jen, she is one of my best friends.”
“Yeah sure. But you don’t have many gay male friends. And don’t tell me you just don’t happen to meet any. This is L.A. Fuck, this is BUZZFEED. There are enough queer people abound to answer your questions and help you feel less awkward. For fuck’s sake there are videos where Keith and others asked them anything they want to know. Did you watch them?”
“Because they made you uncomfortable?”
“Because I don’t have the time to watch all of them, Shane!”
Ryan looks mad. His nostrils are a flaring a little bit.
“Why do you care so much about that, Shane? I am not a bad person, I’m trying my best, why are you on my shit about this?”
“Because...” Shane starts softly and the seriousness in his face makes Ryan drop his defensive attitude. “Because I used to be like that when I was a teen. And I learned that it came from repression. My parents were never like that, but the place I grew up in was still super heteronormative. And I still learned what people considered “immoral” and “unnatural”. So when I started to question my sexuality – which by the way happens to the best – I developed a lot of self loathing and started to push people away. Especially other guys. So if you feel disgusted just because our hands touched, it might be something you unknowingly picked up that is now trying to ruin your happiness.”
With that, Shane takes his plate and empty can and gets up, leaving Ryan at the cafeteria table.
“Are you serious...”
Shane stares at the small fence of pillows Ryan has built in the middle of the bed, splitting the king size mattress in two.
Ryan doesn’t even defend it. Shane is too tired to ask him outright what he thinks the wall would prevent. Even if one of them were a sleep cuddler and would latch onto their friend at night, what was the big deal? They exchanged hugs when they greeted each other or said goodbye. They sat next to each other at work. And they slept next to each other in so called haunted locations. Ryan lies down with a huff, turns his back to Shane and scoots to the edge of the mattress as far as he can. Shane is sure Ryan is going to fall off in the night. Somehow, he would be fine with that.
With a huff, he drops onto the bed, limbs splayed out, pushing at the pillow wall as he lies flat on his stomach and stares at the pillow in front of him that blocks his view of Ryan.
This is so stupid. It’s high school parties all over again when his friends played rock paper scissors to decide who got their own space and who had to top-n-tails with another guy. Because of course, sleeping in the same bed as another guy was gay and weird and not something dudes did.
Shane rolls his eyes at nothing. He has to do something before his memories of guys being dudes poison his friendship with Ryan. Because he likes Ryan. He trusts him. Even the whole ghost thing is fine because it’s fun to argue about, it’s fun to see his friend lose his shit over something as simple as a ball bouncing off of a wall. But this shit isn’t fun. It gets under his skin and annoys him immensely.
The hotel they are in isn’t haunted. It’s just a place to sleep after checking out the location. Which means that Ryan at some point dozes off, one arm hanging off of the bed, his body curled up as far away from Shane as possible. Shane lifts his head and looks at Ryan’s sleeping form. Slowly he hooks his foot under the pillow at the bottom of the little wall. When Ryan doesn’t move, Shane kicks the pillow off the bottom of the bed experimentally. Nothing.
Piece by piece he takes apart the wall, pushing the pillows down and off the bed. The final one he grabs and just rolls over to his side to drop it on the floor. Ryan has not stirred from his sleep once through the whole ideal. Feeling better, Shane sighs and relaxes, letting his arms lie on the now unoccupied space in front of him. Much better.
He wakes up after Ryan. The cushions are back in their original space, some on the little two-seater, some on top of Ryan’s pillow. The shower is running and Shane looks at the light flooding through the window, feeling like somehow, they made peace with each other again.
The wrap-up parties for Unsolved are like any other company party. You went for the free food and the free booze, hung out with the people you hang out with each day anyway and went home at one point, deciding that the parties still weren’t fun, but they were okay. The “Unsolved” theme is in the playlist someone put on and the crowd is laughing as Ryan and Shane redo their ridiculous dancing to the track definitely not made for dancing. When it’s over, they bow for the applause and then ditch the dancefloor to grab another beer. Shane contemplates finding someone willing to sneak his Hot Daga songs on the playlist, just to mess with Ryan, but he is sidetracked because Ryan asks him if he wants some fresh air. They are in Ghoul HQ and the basement’s AC can only do so much, so Shane agrees. They climb up to the second floor balcony and sit in two of the lawn chairs, watching the skyline of the city.
Shane thinks they are just going to sit and relax, shoot the breeze with some callbacks to this season, what they liked best, which episode they look most forward to seeing published, but Ryan takes a long drag from his beer bottle, clears his throat and fixes him with a look.
That makes Shane pause.
Ryan lifts his shoulders a bit helplessly.
“I… think so, yeah. I feel a bit weird.”
“Missing the filming already?”
“Maybe. I think this season just changed a lot of my perspectives.”
“So you finally realized ghosts are bullshit?”
He reaches over the arm rest of his chair to smack Shane’s arm and Shane has to maneuver his beer to his other hand to keep it from sloshing everywhere.
“I’m being serious, Shane, can you be serious for a moment?”
The tone in Ryan’s voice makes him pause.
“Okay.” He says quietly. “What perspectives did change for you?”
Ryan hums and takes another drink.
“I guess, it’s just all the time we spent together. And some of the talks we had.”
Shane lifts his eyebrows a bit but he doesn’t say anything.
“What you said after that one PostMortem… I think you were right. I was freaking out about the idea of people thinking we’re a couple. Or rather, of people thinking I might not be straight.”
He looks a little sad and Shane takes another drink to keep himself from interrupting. He simply makes a hum, trying to coax him into continuing.
“I didn’t really think about it before you pointed it out but… I guess I did get a bit too “no homo” with you which is stupid because I think that whole “no homo” thing is bullshit.”
He looks a little angry, picking at the label of the beer bottle. Shane puts his own drink down and reaches out to pat Ryan’s shoulder slightly. Ryan doesn’t flinch away, which is a good sign.
“It’s alright man. It hurts me to tell you this, but you’re just a bit of a fratboy.”
Ryan starts laughing and shakes his head.
“You’re such a dick.”
“Only if you need it, baby!” Shane says before he can stop himself.
Ryan splutters and his cheeks get a bit red.
“That’s what she said.”
“Or he.” Shane has to buy himself a muzzle he decides, he doesn’t know when to shut up. Also he had winked at Ryan when he said that, which probably makes it worse.
Ryan’s smile fades a little, but not completely.
“Or he, fair. Fair.” He sighs again and Shane wonders if there is more on his mind that bothers him.
“I know what you were doing the last couple months, Shane.”
Shane frowns. He isn’t even sure what Ryan refers to, but some part of him wants to joke that he never knows what he’s doing.
“I think you were trying to get me out of that whole… bullshit mindset that guys can’t be affectionate. Or hug their male friends. Or do whatever. And that being mistaken for gay is somehow shameful or weird and should make you laugh because “hey of course I’m the straightest guy around it would be so stupid for someone to believe I could be into a guy, right?” And that was.. internalized. I get what you meant by that. It was so deep in my mind that I didn’t even realized I acted like an asshole. A homophobic asshole on top of that. Or… biphobic. Both.”
Shane’s surprised, but then his gaze softens.
“You watched last months video.”
Shane had talked to Curley and the others. If they ever did a video with men who had dated men again, questions for queer people or whatever, he would be game. He was out to his parents as bi, but his workplace and his friends from work had never really asked and Shane had been in a relationship with a woman for a couple years before they broke it off, so his attraction to guys had never really come up. But it was 2018, or two-thousand and gayteen as the internet had dubbed it. They had fans and supporters who had cried when he had taken up the suggestions to add queer characters to the Hot Daga, because representation mattered for fuck’s sake. So why would he sit on his identity hiding it away from the world while his coming out could convince a kid like he had been once that it was okay to find people of the same gender attractive. And that you could be professional (more or less) and successful and happy and maybe even in love - pushing back against the world that told you you couldn’t.
Then Keith had approached him. A video talking about coming-outs, the second or third installment of the stories actually, had been a good way to be more open about who he was, Shane decided. The stories were split into different categories. The ones who were out and proud to everyone, the ones who had to come out over and over and over again and were still not done and the ones who were barely out because they never really talked about it. Shane had been in the last section. He had not expected Ryan to watch the video, but he had hoped he would. Maybe someone had told him. Talking about his bisexuality in the open had been weird but oddly liberating and Shane had made a point of saying that in the video.
Ryan looks at him guiltily.
“I’m really sorry. I didn’t do all that shit because I thought… I don’t know, you might grab me or try to seduce me or some shit. It was all my problem and my weird barriers.”
Shane feels his gaze soften. Any gripes he might have had about Ryan’s weird moments melt away in a matter of seconds.
“I know,” he says quietly. “I know how weird it can be. It’s really hard tearing down whatever has built up over years and years. But believe me, it...” He chuckles a bit. “It gets better.”
Ryan laughs softly.
“I want to, I really want to let myself be more open. It’s just really fucking scary.”
Shane gets up. He crouches down next to Ryan, who has swung his legs from the deck chair and sits on it sideways, hunched over and staring at his knees.
“I know it’s scary. If you ever have any questions, or need encouragement, or just someone to listen to you rant, you can always come to me, okay?”
Ryan still picks on the outside of the bottle, parts of the label fallen around his feet. Shane carefully takes the bottle from Ryan’s hands and puts it away. Then he takes Ryan’s hands and smiles when he doesn’t flinch back but rather squeezes Shane’s fingers hesitantly.
He finally looks up and Shane's smile widens when he looks at him. Ryan takes a deep breath.
“I have to thank you. I might still feel really confused and don’t know where I’m going, but I feel like it’s better than before. I feel more comfortable with myself. And you, I guess.”
Shane lifts an eyebrow.
“Well not in haunted locations.” Ryan grins at him.
“Alright. That’s fair.”
They smile at each other, still holding hands. After a while, Shane’s legs start to cramp.
“Maybe we should go back in. People could talk about where we snuck off to.”
Ryan looks up at the skyline again, then back at Shane.
“I don’t really care,” he says with a bit of effort but a soft smile.
Shane stands up, pulling Ryan to his feet.
“Good.” He says. “Good start.”
Ryan stops him as Shane wants to untangle their fingers and turn to leave.
“I… might read things wrong. But- If I have this figured out a bit more… would you like to go somewhere? For dinner or a movie? On a date, I mean.”
Shane stands on the balcony but feels like he is falling. After years of being friends, Ryan somehow manages to still pull the rug from underneath him and surprise him in a way he hasn’t expected.
His cheeks warm a little and he breaks into a smile, trying to reassure the man in front of him who has started picking at his fingers and twitching nervously.
“I would like that.”
Ryan carefully lifts his arms and searches for any rejection in Shane’s face. When he sees nothing but a reassuring smile, he wraps his arms around Shane’s shoulders and pulls him into a hug. Shane curls his arms around Ryan’s waist and they stand together for a couple of heartbeats, hugging tight and letting the tension drain from their bones.
“I could get used to this.” Ryan mutters into Shane’s sweater. Shane presses his head against Ryans and smiles.
“Me too, little man. Me too.”