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Edit: big thank you to Killer-Kirby for this incredible fan art

* * * * *

 

It’s pouring with rain on Wednesday evening when they both slip from the office long after the sun has set. The cold is sharp and biting, and Ryan withdraws in towards himself against it with a telling shudder. Shane is at his side, holding a plain blue umbrella up above them both in his left hand, and Ryan has to huddle close to him just to stay dry. It takes all of the strength within him not to reach out with both of his hands and curl his fingers around the bend of Shane’s elbow just to make the angle a little less uncomfortable as they walk, briskly, across the parking lot.

 

“--but I’m still not sure if I’ll agree to it. I have so much other shit going on right now, I don’t want to risk over-committing again and then having something else I’m passionate about cut for time or budget reasons, because when that happened last time, it was extremely upsetting.” Shane is saying, gesticulating wildly with his free hand as he speaks; hunched forwards beneath the umbrella. “I have enough that I’m interested in right now. I don’t want to drop anything to make extra time.”

 

“Does that mean you’re not gonna be dropping out of Unsolved? Because while I have a lot of favours I can probably call in with Brent, I’m not so sure I can lure him out to a haunted house, abandoned mine, or empty psychiatric ward. He hasn’t got the nads you’ve got, dude.” Ryan looks up, a crooked grin framing his words.

 

Shane is smiling. “Don’t I know, man.” He remarks, dryly. “Of course I’m not gonna drop Unsolved.” He looks almost… affronted by the mere idea. “What else would I do if I wasn’t annoying you?”

 

“Yeah, you’d get bored.”

 

“...and no Hot Daga, either. Shit, how would you get your weekly fix, Ryan?”

 

“Trust me, dude. I think I’d manage without that.”

 

“I dunno that you would. I could just imagine you calling me up at midnight on a Friday, begging me wildly ‘ oh Shane, Shane; please. I must know more of the Plupples. I must know how Doctor Goondis fares, I simply must!’.”

 

Ryan tips his head back to laugh, and he reaches out with both hands to playfully shove Shane. He stumbles two steps aside, the umbrella tips away, and rain casts across Ryan’s frame. He ducks his head, and hurries back under the cover of the umbrella while Shane laughs; it’s a delighted sound that carries over the pitter-patter of falling raindrops.

 

“That’s not me, and you know it.” He mutters as they near his car, standing alone in the lot - two spaces away from Shane’s.

 

“Sadly so. Someday I’ll win you over.” Shane trails along beside him towards his car. “But, I mean that, you know.”

 

He pauses by the door beside Ryan, holding the umbrella aloft in an uncertain hand, while his other tucks carefully into the front pocket of his jeans, fingers steepled tightly together.

 

Ryan fishes through his pocket for his car keys, realising a moment too late that Shane is lingering to help him stay dry. He moves quicker, jamming the key into the lock with a pang of misplaced guilt.

 

“Mean what?” He pauses to peer back at Shane, over his shoulder.

 

“I’d never drop out. It means too much to me, now.” His thumb shifts against the handle of the umbrella. His gaze drops to the soaked asphalt between them. A familiar frown appears between his brows, his narrow lips set into an unreadable line. “Maybe it’s fucking corny of me, but that show is one of the best things to ever happen to me.”

 

His gaze lifts. It feels weighted and heavy, like it pins Ryan in place by the driver’s seat door of his drenched car. It stuns him. It leaves him speechless. He fumbles. The rain falls in sheets around them, until Shane has to raise his voice into an almost-shout just so that Ryan might hear him over the roar of it.

 

You’re one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.” Shane adds, with a thoughtless tilt of his head; a motion that brings a curl of auburn hair forwards to hang, loosely, against his forehead. His features are earnest and pliant, but still so guarded and cautious, as if he’s reading every single one of Ryan’s responses, as if he’s testing the water with nothing but trepidation and uncertainty.

 

...and Ryan just stands there. Cold rainwater trickles in from one of the prongs of the umbrella to run in a thin rivulet under the collar of his shirt, where it sprints down the steps of his spine, sending a deceptively cold chill through his frame that he doesn’t notice, too enveloped by the gentle warmth radiating from Shane’s rain-doused words. He can hardly breathe, he can hardly think, can hardly do anything other than stare, slack-jawed at Shane.

 

It feels like something passes between them, then; lost in the rush of the falling rain. Ryan thinks that he sees Shane drift closer to him, hears the soles of his boots scrape against the wet road beneath them, feels the quiet intensity of his burning gaze loom ever, ever nearer; until the warmth of his exhale drifts across the cusp of his forehead.

 

The silence lingers, excruciating; heavy with expectation.

 

There is something there, an opportunity that neither one of them takes, an invitation that neither one of them dares to extend, an unspoken admission that neither one of them dares voice aloud. Ryan knows it would be easy to lift up onto his toes, and to brush his lips into Shane’s own; with nobody around them to witness it, lost in the rain-forged fog, enclosed by the vibrant rush of outside traffic.

 

“Make sure you drive safe.” Shane says, when Ryan doesn’t speak; breaking that pregnant silence as if he hadn’t noticed the weight of it. “Low visibility, it’s one of the biggest causes of accidents on the road, especially in LA.” He bobs the umbrella. A fresh splatter of raindrops cast across the curve of Ryan’s shoulder, jolting him sharply back to reality with their arctic chill.

 

“I’m always safe. You drive safe, in that hunk of garbage.” He jerks a thumb in the direction of Shane’s car. “I’ll see you tomorrow, dude.” He pulls open the driver’s seat door, and Shane takes a step back.

 

Whatever it was, it slides out of his reach.

 

Ryan sees him lower his gaze, he sees something flicker through his expression, something sombre and sobering - something that is there and gone again quicker than Ryan could blink. When Shane looks up, that guarded expression is back. He lifts a hand to offer a single-handed wave at Ryan, before turning to lope, wordlessly, toward his car.

 

The door is pulled shut after him, and Ryan watches him out of the passenger side door, a lonely figure shadowed by the broad rim of a seafoam-blue umbrella, hurrying silently toward the last car in the lot.

 

He wants to follow him, to abandon his car here, and slip into the vehicle with him, to ride home with him and hide from the thundering weather on his couch, watching Mission Impossible over chunky slices of pizza and beer. His heart strains with it, it aches with want.

 

He could have kissed him there.

 

Shane’s car pulls silently out of the lot, flashes its headlights once at Ryan, and trundles away to turn into the burn of LA’s rush-hour traffic. Ryan watches him go, still- silently clinging to his words for all the solace they offer him.

 

You’re one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

 

* * * *

The first time that Ryan saw Shane, he didn’t look twice. He politely shuffled his belongings further across the desk to give him more room to move in to the previously-vacant space alongside him, and he’d been too busy to look at him properly. Then, Shane had introduced himself, he’d offered a close-lipped smile and a long-fingered hand out for Ryan to shake, and he had felt powerless.

 

It was a work crush, at first. He dressed better, spent more time styling his hair in the morning, spent longer deciding on the right fragrance of cologne to wear, on how short to shave his facial hair - found himself walking across the carpark at a quickened pace just so that he might see his deskmate sooner. His productivity elevated. He waited around the moment the clock hit midday, just to see when Shane would take his lunch, and if he’d ask Ryan to join him. He started bringing snacks, learning early on that Shane prefers a later lunch to normal. If Ryan has his too early, he could miss him entirely, and be shackled to his desk, alone, for an hour.

 

That crush blooms into infatuation when Shane begins bringing him coffee in the mornings, but only on Tuesdays; the day after their pay arrives. It becomes harder to contain the more they begin to talk to one another, the more those conversations begin to shape Shane into something more than just a passing fancy. They connect, they understand one another, they share the same self-deprecating, sarcastic sense of humour, the same passion for pulpy action flicks, the same fascination with the morbid and twisted things that most people find distasteful. Shane makes him laugh , sometimes so loudly that they’re scolded for distracting their coworkers. So his snickers turn into muffled giggles, and he feels like a schoolboy in detention with his best friend.

 

The term ‘best friend’ is thrown out there almost cavalier, by a tipsy Shane at Curly’s birthday party, when Ryan arrives an hour late and stone cold sober. It’s a day that’s embossed into his mind, how Shane had looked - all hard angles and sharp lines blurred into disarray by the condensation of the beer bottle in his grasp as he’d thrown a careless arm around Ryan’s shoulders and proudly declared, “My best bud’s here!”

 

It became a problem when Brent pulled out of Unsolved.

 

It’s the second sharpest memory Ryan has of their time together. How he’d slowly turned in his chair to face Shane, with clammy palms and an uncertain lilt to his tone as he’d offered “You-.. uh-... you wanna be in this?” and to his surprise, Shane had smiled.

 

“Yeah. Sure.”

 

At the time, he’d doubted Shane’s sincerity and his passion. He’d doubted his dedication, and Shane - as if he’d sensed that - redoubled his efforts just to prove Ryan wrong. He’s surprised by him constantly, by merch ideas, case ideas, research ideas, bit ideas, even The Hot Daga, that blossomed into something neither of them had anticipated; much like Ryan’s feelings for Shane. He’d been bewildered, blindsighted by this creative force of sheer will and determination that he now had the pleasure of calling his partner. He’d been left feeling as though he were the proverbial Indiana Jones, finding a diamond in the rough that had been criminally under-utilised in Buzzfeed until Ryan had stumbled upon him, and unearthed him.

 

It became a problem when the show came into the question. Unsolved is Ryan’s passion project, it’s his baby. When it had been offered to him as a recurring show, he’d sworn an oath to himself never to do anything that could jeopardise it; both for himself, but for its followers and fans as well.

 

..and then he started to fall for his co-host.

 

He realised it in Sierra Nevada, while the rain poured around them, filtering in through the dense canopy of towering trees that surrounded them on all sides, while they’d picked at the ruins on the perimeter of the Keddie area. He looked at Shane, and saw something different in his thoughtful expression- creased into a light frown with the hood of his fleecy jumper pulled up, and over his head; the buttons of his denim jacket ( that denim jacket) done up all the way, until the collar sat popped up around the cusps of his cheeks. A curl of dark hair hung over his brow, soaked by the rain. His cheeks and the tip of his nose were flushed pink from the cold. His jaunty steps toward Ryan were calculated and careful, navigating the dense undergrowth and its tapestry of roots with ease, one hand stuffed into his pocket while his other cradled his phone, head tipped down into a light hunch so that he could murmur to Ryan in a tone that wouldn’t be overheard by the crew, or the truck driver glaring at them from the edge of the road. He’d noticed it when he’d noticed how soaked Shane was, how icy the tips of his long fingers felt, how his cologne mingled so effortlessly with the rain, how he’d reached out to set a hand on Ryan’s shoulder to turn his back to the truck driver to utter in a low and reassuring voice, “Just don’t stare. He’ll go away.”

 

Ryan had done as he’d said, though he felt distinctly as though he’d been punched in the stomach. He had felt winded, and as if he couldn’t breathe. Crushed by the realisation, distraught with understanding, crippled with the knowledge that this couldn’t ever happen, and yet elated, addicted, hopelessly, hopelessly addicted.

 

It’s the idle brushes of their elbows during post-mortems, a hand at the nape of his neck to guide him into the right doorway after a long night of filming, a free coffee on a rainy Tuesday morning, the lifts home when Shane can sense that Ryan is too exhausted to drive himself back, take-out meals, shared pizzas, unfinished beers, movies whose credits sequence went on for a little too long because their knees were touching in the theatre, a rumpled shirt swept under his couch that isn’t his, a jacket taken out on a loan, a sports reference slipped in a place it didn’t belong-- just for Ryan. He learns to hold on to the small things, because they’re all he can have. These fleeting and meaningless moments are the only things he can hold on to. Shane gives him an inch and Ryan takes a mile, he cripples himself with the guilt of it all, and replays scenarios against the backdrop of his apartment’s ceiling at night when he cannot sleep. Of him confessing his feelings, luring Shane to his apartment for a beer and a blunt just so that Ryan can be honest with him.

 

Even his fantasies end with a soul-crushing punch of reality. Almost every time, Shane turns him down. It’s through smiles, through laughter, through an exhale of smoke or a mouthful of beer; rebuffed as casually as his confession in the back of the Uber after Kelsey’s party.

 

Shane doesn’t see him that way. Shane won’t ever see him that way.

 

Ryan falls asleep, clinging to that thought as though it may offer him absolution.

 

* * * *

 

He can hear music.

 

It’s drifting towards him like a slow breeze. It’s distorted and out-of-tune, off-tempo, filled with ill-timed beats, ringing and ambivalent, distant and mercurial. It feels out of reach, empirical, unfurling and gradual. It’s twangy and off-beat, but somehow, distantly, faintly, perplexingly familiar.

 

It feels wrong.

 

He remembers, when he was very little, his grandmother had owned a music box. If Ryan wound it back, and propped the lid open, it would play music. A little ballerina with a pink tulle skirt would rotate clockwise on a small spring, as if she was dancing to the mechanical tune. If he let the box expire, the tune would grow distorted. It would echo. It would grow twangy, and slow, the ballerina’s rotating twirls would slow to a jaunty halt.

 

It would sound much like this. Like a music box that has been left open for a little too long, like an exhausted pianist whose fingers weigh too heavily upon their keys.

 

The music drifts in like a rolling fog, filling his shanty surroundings with a coil of shifting white mist. He’s standing at the heart of a long hallway that unfolds into darkness at either end, as if it spans on for miles. There are no windows here, and no doors. The walls are stripped blank, with flaking wood, fraying paint, and splintered nails protruding from aged pine. The scent of dust hangs in the air like an aged perfume, acrid and sour and somehow familiar.

 

There is movement out of the very peripherals of his vision. He turns his head.

 

He looks down the dark hallway, swathed in a strange white fog, snaking onwards into the dark. A frown pinches between his brows.

 

A shudder slips down the steps of his spine.

 

Cautiously, he starts forwards. The old floorboards are silent under the weight of his bare feet. He reaches out to skim the tips of his fingers against the wall as he drifts past, tracing the notched and ridged wood as if to distinguish each panel from the next, so that his surroundings feel just the slightest bit unique.

 

The mist seems to follow him; trailing after his cautious steps like a veil, shifting across his surroundings that remain stagnant, no matter how quickly he moves. The darkness spans on, and on, and on - the hallway crawls on for what feels like a mile, bathed in mist, absent of windows, devoid of doors. He looks down at his feet, he counts the rows of nails as he passes them, he takes note of how the wood grains seem identical each time they repeat themselves every few feet. He looks up--..

 

He freezes.

 

There are a pair of eyes staring back at him from the darkness. They are deep and red, reminiscent of the globule-like eyes of the Mothman he’d poured over for hours before presenting his case to Shane. They are omnipotent and vibrant, burning like twin coals in the dark, staring back at him; mimicking his wide-eyed, blank stare in turn. They are vacant, permissive, desolate. Red like he’s never seen red before.

 

He can make out the very edges of a slender silhouette, too tall to be human, with arms too long to belong to a person, and a neck too narrow and lengthy to be anything close to familiar. It’s frozen in place, as still as Ryan, motionless and half-swallowed by the shifting dark.

 

The sight of it sends Ryan’s blood cold. His heart misses a beat. Fear begins to bubble in his stomach. It spirals outwards like a cold weight, spreading through his fingertips, and his toes. He holds still, as if hoping the figure might vanish, as if it might lose interest, as if it might run from him.

 

..but, it doesn’t. It’s as still as him. It’s entirely motionless.

 

Slowly, he takes a step backwards.

 

It doesn’t move.

 

He turns upon his heel, and he runs.

 

His feet are still silent against the old floorboards. The panelled walls fly past him in a blur. He runs until his throat burns. Until his breathing grows laboured. Until his knees ache. He runs until the raging beat of his own heart thuds louder than his own blind gasps for air, and he spares a desperate glance over his shoulder, at the haunting figure standing in the middle of the hallway.

 

It’s still there, drifting after him, cutting through the fog, but remaining well out of reach, indistinguishable, beyond his comprehension, seemingly led by the lethality of its own vacant gaze. Its movements are stilted and slight. It moves like a shadow, like a breeze; floating after him, hungry.

 

“Fuck-..” He turns away, he tries to move quicker, tries to run faster . He tears down the hallway, fumbling over his own footsteps.

 

It’s catching up to him.

 

He can feel it there, hovering just a foot behind him, pursuing him like a predator after its prey. Ravenous and murderous. He can see the glow of its lambent eyes, illuminating the darkness with ease, drinking in his fear, reveling in his panic, adoring the rush of his adrenaline. It’s hungry for him, for every inch of him.

 

“Fuck, fuck--!”

 

He can’t run any faster. The darkness is closing in. It’s spreading its greedy fingers against the edges of his vision, crawling inwards like smoke, closing around him with too much ease; as if the chase, as if the hunt was all part of some impossible game he was designed to lose.

 

“No, no--!”

 

It’s like a rug is pulled out from beneath him. Like the ground opens up to swallow him whole. He’s plunged into darkness, swept up into something cold and unknown - pulled away from reality with one fell sweep. His stomach bottoms out. He forgets to scream. He can see nothing, but an indistinguishable weight constricting about the base of his throat. Pulling, tighter and tighter and tighter until he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe . He struggles, he writhes, he panics, he claws at the base of his throat--

 

...and he jerks awake.

 

He sits upright, drawing in a desperate gasp, with his bedsheets matted to his clammy skin, and his hair soaked with sweat.

 

He’s in his bedroom, and it’s three in the morning.

 

* * * *

 

The nightmare follows him into the following day. It’s as though one of the dark clouds that had helped blanket the LA skyline has descended from the heavens to loom three inches above the crown of Ryan’s head. He feels exhausted; a familiar and bone-deep kind of tired. A tired that presses down on his broad shoulders, and curls its greedy fingers around his steady limbs. Every movement he makes feels like it takes a monumental effort.

 

He’s sitting at his desk with his head bowed forwards and his fingers laced together against the nape of his neck. His hair is a mess, his eyes are red-rimmed and shadowed by deep purple rings, punctured by a distant glaze. He doesn’t feel entirely grounded, and the idea of that awful dream sweeping back into his subconscious is formidable enough to keep him from stealing away into the meditation room for a half-hour nap.

 

“Hey, man..” He hears, uttered softly to his right. “...-is everything okay? You’re looking a little… pale, today. Not that you don’t look pale quite often, because you do. It suits you though, you know. The whole bug-eyed, fearful thing. So, technically I’m complimenting you.”

 

Ryan’s eyes creep open. He can see Shane’s feet, perched upon the legs of his wheelie chair, and angled towards him under their desks. His hands are loosely linked together, elbows resting against his parted knees, with his sleeves bunched up to his elbows.

 

Slowly, he lifts his head. His fingers peel back through his unruly dark curls, and his tired eyes draw upwards to peer at Shane, half-lidded and hazy with exhaustion.

 

“Yeah.” Ryan’s voice is gravelly and rough. He swallows, and he tries to clear his throat. “I just didn’t get a good night of sleep, y’know.”

 

“Oh.” Shane sits up a little straighter. “Did you have another bad dream?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Did I survive this one?” His features crease with concern.

 

“No. You didn’t star in this one.” Ryan reassures, a half-hearted smile puncturing his words. “It was just-... I dunno. It sounds bullshit, but. I think I’m still a bit-... you know…” He trails off, dropping a hand to prod at his mousepad.

 

“What?” Shane leans forwards, voice deceptively gentle.

 

Ryan grits his teeth. A muscle jumps in the cusp of his cheek. “I just-... think I’m still a little freaked out from what happened at the cottage. I know, you’ll think it’s bullshit. It was just a possum.”

 

There is a pause. His admission settles between them.

 

“I don’t think that’s bullshit, Ryan.” Shane’s voice is uncharacteristically firm, softened only by a faint and underlying swell of genuine warmth . “Fear is relative. You’re not scared by the things that frighten me--”

 

“--yeah, that’s ‘cause being injected with heroin by a batshit drug addict is completely unfounded--”

 

“..-but that doesn’t make what scares you any less valid. You felt those emotions. You felt scared . I saw it. I felt it when I held you. You also got hurt. The source of it was a possum, sure - but that’s not what scared you. What we do would terrify most normal people. The fact that you haven’t had a meltdown about it all before now is a testament to your strength. You see that, don’t you?”

 

Ryan pauses, fingertips dancing over the cusp of his own palm. He peers sidelong at Shane, who is watching him with a strange and unreadable expression. His honey-brown eyes are flooded with a kind of reverence that burns with vacant intensity. There is a name for this look, Ryan knows; but it’s a name he doesn’t dare utter aloud. That would make it feel real, as if it could ever be anything close.

 

“I mean-..” His brows draw together into a faint frown.

 

Shane inches closer to him. The wheels of his chair slide against the linoleum. Ryan swallows, dryly.

 

“Will you be able to sleep tonight?”

 

They’ve done this dance before. Ryan has seen Shane die a dozen-and-one ways in his dreams in the past. Each one is still embossed into his memory as plainly as when he had first seen them. Parts of his dreams fade, sometimes within mere minutes of waking up, but those parts never seem to leave him. When these harrowing events conducted by his subconscious are recounted to Shane, always, always-- he turns to Ryan with a concerned frown, and asks if he’ll be able to sleep that night.

 

His arms withdraw, and settle against the edge of his desk.

 

“I don’t know.” It’s an honest admission, uttered scarcely louder than a murmur.

 

“Do you want me to come over?”

 

Ryan’s throat feels dry. His heart lurches forwards, the desperate ‘ yes ’ that perches upon the tip of his tongue is bitten back. His fingers curl against the edge of the desk. His stomach curls into contorting knots. His silence cuts the offer in two, and Shane almost looks regretful.

 

“Yeah-... I-I mean, yeah.” He breathes it, hisses it-- sets it between them before the offer might be recanted, or played off as a harmless joke.

 

Shane draws away from him.

 

Ryan wants to pull him closer.

 

“How did you get to work today?” He asks, still watching Ryan cautiously.

 

“I caught an Uber. There was no way I was gonna be able to sit in traffic for twenty minutes and not fall asleep.”

 

“Good.” Shane nods, slowly. “I’ll give you a lift back, we can pick up my stuff on the way.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Shane looks away from him, and wordlessly lifts his headphones from his desk to settle back over his ears. His attention returns to his laptop, as if in silent indication that their conversation is finished. His elongated fingers tap quietly across the flattened keys, filling the ringing silence.

 

Ryan stares at him for a moment longer, before slipping from his seat to refill his mug with coffee.

 

* * * *

 

How many times has he ridden in a car with Shane? How many nights have they spent, driving toward a new location to film, blanketed by the cover of night? How many times had they swept into the parking lot of a supermarket to buy ingredients for dinner? How many times had they piled into the same car with laundry bags drawn over their shoulders?

 

Too many. Too many times for this time to feel so different.

 

Ryan is sitting in the passenger seat with one ankle tucked beneath him, his knee angled close to the gearstick. His elbow is propped against the bottom of the window, with his cheek cradled against the backs of his fingers and his eyes only half open. The gentle purr of Shane’s engine is soothing. The quiet old folk songs drifting from his filtered radio are background noise. His car is fragrant with the scent of spilled laundry detergent and worn leather.

 

LA rushes past them in a blur of tall palm trees and flat buildings. Headlights and streetlamps trail ribbons across the edges of Ryan’s vision as he peers out the window with a barely-present interest; too tired to thank Shane for driving him home, too exhausted to comment on the state of the traffic. Too spent to do anything other than revel in the fact that he’s here.

 

He drifts in and out through the drive, content to linger in the comfortable silence that spreads its fingers between them, for neither he nor Shane ever felt the need to fill every moment with meaningless chatter. He’s too tired for that, and he suspects Shane knows it. He still catches the concerned glances spared his way when they pause at a traffic light, or linger in front of a stop sign. He notices how Shane lowers the volume of his music, and switches off his air-conditioning when Ryan pulls the sleeves of his jumper down and over his hands.

 

There’s something strangely comforting about it; about sitting in the passenger seat with him, and nobody else crammed into the back seat with cameras and sound equipment precariously balanced over black bags and portable lights. It’s a strange feeling, for so often he’s the one behind the wheel, while Shane folds his sharp angles and long limbs into the passenger seat, tangled up in power cords and knotted shoelaces.

 

This feels inexplicably different. Unspeakably delicate. Like their moment outside the nightclub. Like their reprieve at the airport. Like yesterday, by the driver’s seat door of Ryan’s car.

 

His eyes drift closed as the orange glow of a street light tumbles in through the windscreen, and sweeps away again a second later. His fingers steal across the backs of his eyelids, and peel away. When he opens his eyes - Shane reaches over the gearstick for him.

 

Careful, cautious fingers drift over the cusp of his bent knee, offering a reassuring squeeze that’s as familiar as every other touch they have shared. Ryan’s stomach tightens nonetheless.

 

“You doin’ okay?”

 

That hand lingers. Warmth bleeds in through the thatched denim of Ryan’s torn jeans. Shane’s fingers fold in against the back of his knee. His thumb draws idle circles into the outside of Ryan’s thigh. He stares down at it, like it’s a puzzle piece that’s out of place, like he’s waiting for Shane to snatch it away again -- like he had the time he’d touched Ryan’s hair abroad their flight, like the time he had when he’d touched Ryan’s arm in the office.

 

This time, it remains. Shane’s eyes are still on the road.

 

Ryan’s chest hurts.

 

“Yeah.” His voice is as rough as gravel. “Yeah, I’m okay, big guy.”

 

Shane’s palm lingers there, bleeding warmth into Ryan’s thigh, tracing gentle circles into his skin, for the rest of the drive.

 

* * * *

When Shane comes over, Ryan ordinarily spends an hour beforehand cleaning up; stuffing his clothes back into his wardrobe, re-shuffling his blu-ray DVDs, packing up his rumpled jerseys, returning his pillows back to his couch, and clearing his fridge of expired food. He knows that Shane won’t judge him for having a pillow out of place, or a carton of milk a few days past its use-by date, but the childish and hopeful part of him still wanted desperately to impress him.

 

Today, his apartment looks lived in. There are pillows on the floor. There’s a bowl with three popcorn kernels at the bottom still sitting upon the coffee table in front of his TV. There’s a stuffed bear on the floor in front of it, and a stained coffee mug abandoned upon his kitchen island, set precariously upon the note Shane had left the last time he’d spent the night, with his admonishments scrawled upon the back of a single sheet of poetry. Ryan had read and re-read it a hundred times, as if it might transport him back to that clear, cloudless night.

 

Shane ducks into the living room with a faint smile drawn across his parted lips, gaze drifting across Ryan’s familiar belongings. He pauses by a framed E.T. poster to straighten it where it hangs, grin appreciative and wry. His long fingers pluck the stuffed bear off the floor, and set it thoughtfully back upon his couch.

 

They order food in the end, and eat in silence. Shane continues sparing him those slight and worried glances while Ryan fumbles through his meal. It’s a struggle to stay awake, and the moment he’s done; he slips from his perch upon one of the stools crowded around his kitchen island, crumpling his food wrappings back into the In-N-Out bag between them.

 

“I’m gonna go to bed.”

 

“Are you sure?” Shane asks, turning his wrist to glance down at the scratched face of his watch. “It’s only eight.”

 

“Yeah. I don’t think I can keep my eyes open for much longer.”

 

“Okay.” Shane nods. “I might stay up for a bit longer. I’ve got some work to do.”

 

“It’s not another script for The Hot Daga, is it?” Ryan asks, features pained as he stuffs the wrappings into the garbage bin.

 

Shane just grins at him, knowingly. “Where d’you keep your blankets?” He asks, skimming his palms against one another, left thigh bouncing; restless.

 

“Oh.” Ryan pauses, realising then that Shane intends to sleep on his couch. “I-...”

 

“..and pillows, I suppose. I’ll need all the help I can get in your miniature-human-sized couch.”

 

He lingers there, fingers knotting together over the cusp of his sternum in abject indecision. He doesn’t know how to frame his request. He doesn’t know how to convey to Shane just what had transpired in his nightmare, and how the very concept of closing his eyes was too terrifying to stand.

 

“Um-... well, I can-..”

 

Shane sets down the remnants of his burger, watching Ryan with a thoughtful frown.

 

“I can-.. I can get them, if you want them, but I was kinda hoping-... y’know, if you wouldn’t mind-... my bed is big enough for two, and the idea of being alone isn’t-... it’s not-...”

 

“I can sleep there.” Shane nods. “I’ll come up when I’m finished eating.” He points to his burger.

 

Ryan hesitates. He lingers there, as if waiting for Shane to look up at him with a grin, and remind him that he’s only joking. Waiting for this to be taken away from him as surely as everything else had, waiting for Shane to recant his offer. But, he says nothing further, and he takes another bite out of his burger.

 

Slowly, Ryan turns - he heads back upstairs. He stands by the end of the bed, stomach embroiled with a fresh bout of anxiety. It wears at him, itching and desperate. Shane is going to sleep in his bed tonight. Shane is going to sleep next to him tonight. Shane is going to share the bed with him, and not because they’re ghost hunting or cryptid-stalking- not because he has to, not because the budget doesn’t allow them two seperate beds, not because he’s being paid to; Shane is here because he wants to be here.

 

Ryan strips off his shirt and changes into a simple pair of gym shorts with a fraying Adidas logo toward the hemline, he brushes his teeth and avoids his own gaze in the bathroom mirror, as if afraid of what unspoken confrontation he might find there. He washes his face, rinses his hands, and ventures silently back into his bedroom. He clambers into the left side of his bed, and covers his face with his hands. The simmering anxiety in his stomach continues to burn at a low volume for several long minutes, before the exhaustion creeps back in. It claims him swiftly, pulling him under, luring him into a fitful rest amidst some purgatory point that’s far from Shane and the possibilities that orbit him.

 

He wakes an hour later with a start, bleary eyes illuminated by the faint glow of a laptop screen. There is a figure beside him, sitting upright, legs crossed over at the ankles, back resting against the headboard. Shane’s gaze drifts towards him as Ryan rolls over, glasses reflecting the half-filled word document open before him.

 

“You okay, man?” He asks, voice soft; fingers poised over the keyboard.

 

Ryan’s eyes close, he shifts his chin up, he pulls the duvet higher, he rolls onto his side so that he’s facing Shane. “Mm. I am.”

 

Fingers skim through his hair, pushing those unruly dark curls away from his brow. He feels Shane’s touch dance across the crest of his cheek, and then slowly withdraw. He turns his face closer to him, silently hoping those idle touches will return, and yet half sure that he’d simply dreamed them up.

 

“Go back to sleep.” Shane says, voice gentle. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Ryan’s eyes remain closed. He falls asleep listening to the quiet tap-tap-tap of Shane’s fingers dancing across his luminescent keyboard, and the feeling of his warmth seeping slowly through the rumpled linen between them.

 

* * * *

 

His dreams are half-formed, presented like a flipbook of motley possibilities punctured by Shane’s smiles and his down-turned eyes. He feels fingers in his hair, he feels a warm knee skim against the back of his thigh, he feels a hand settle over his knee, a precarious palm rest at the center of his back, a hesitant pat to his shoulder, a firm grip surrounding his arm, pulling him close, into some many-splendored embrace that’s flooded with so much warmth and framed with everything Ryan’s ever wanted. It’s hazy and technicolor, as though his subconscious has gathered up every rogue thought he’s ever clung to, and thrown them onto a projection in the sky, illuminated with prismatic clarity for him to see.

 

His heart swells with it. His cheeks hurt from smiling so wide. His spirits soar as high as the pink-hued clouds.

 

Ryan wakes at dawn. Light creeps in under his blinds a dull and misty blue, too vibrant to be the work of the moon. The window is frosted with condensation, and despite how cold the air feels to breathe in, he feels so blissfully warm. He can feel the quiet rumble of Shane’s thinly-veiled snores just behind him, breathing against the nape of his neck. There’s a hand resting against the sway of his spine, with fingers notched loosely against the curve of his hipbone, burning with the quiet urgency that only skin-on-skin could offer him.

 

His skin prickles with warmth. It spreads its greedy fingers through him. It settles low in his stomach, ardent and thrilling and far too present. He knows without peeling down his bedsheets that he’s hard. He shifts, half-turning his head to peer over his shoulder at Shane, who is lying uncharacteristically close to him. There’s no makeshift pillow-trail between them, no knotted-up bedsheets, or articles of clothing. Shane is right there, warm and present and fast asleep. His features are schooled into that too-familiar expression of vacant redamancy; devoid of his characteristic rancour. His hair is a rumpled mess, and his lips are faintly parted.

 

Ryan shifts again, sweeping his hips back just an inch in an effort to alleviate the quiet ache in his groin, and he freezes when he feels his backside press flush into the cusp of Shane’s hips. Those snores stall, Shane’s breath hitches. His hand shifts, falling further forwards against Ryan’s side, but he doesn’t move any further. He doesn’t rouse.

 

A quiet, relieved huff falls past Ryan’s parted lips. He closes his eyes again, content to revel in this for a moment longer, content to lie here; with Shane a firm line of warmth against his back, holding him in his sleep. If he closes his eyes, and ignores their circumstances; he could pretend that this is intentional. That Shane wants him as much as Ryan wants Shane. That he’s touching him because he wants to, because he wants him, because he loves him just as much .

 

The urge to touch himself is tempting, settling just below the surface; indecent and lurid yet ever so alluring. He could do it quietly, he thinks - he could bite back his moans into his pillow, and relieve himself with Shane being none the wiser. It feels a little too close to dancing with the devil, indulging in something so unspoken while the source of his ardour slumbers just a few inches away. Where would he dispose of the mess? What would he say if Shane caught him?

 

He’s doing him a favour just by being here.

 

Ryan knots his hands into his bedsheets, and tells himself to behave. He’d learned a good while ago that the blare of his alarm is often enough to deflate any and all of his early-morning urges as surely as a bucket of cold water might.

 

So, he closes his eyes; content to revel in the fantasy he’s woven together out of a few accidental touches and a contentedly dreamless sleep, urged along by Shane’s splayed palm resting two inches below his sternum.

 

* * * *

 

His alarm blares at seven-thirty, jolting him back to reality with a harsh and ringing ache of urgency. Tired-eyed and reluctant, Ryan reaches out to fish his phone off the nightstand and to stop the tired sound, only to stuff it beneath his pillow a moment later. Wearily, he rolls onto his back, and extends a sleepy hand onto the other side of the bed, faltering when nothing but cold blankets answer his questioning fingertips.

 

The duvet is rumpled, and the pillow is still lightly fragranced by Shane’s shampoo. His glasses are gone from the bedside table, but the glass of water he’d brought with him is still there. Slowly, Ryan sits up; feeling the bedsheets pool at his waist. Had Shane left already? Had he woken to find himself in their precarious sleeping arrangement? Had he been disgusted--?

 

The sound of approaching footsteps coming up the stairs draws Ryan slowly from his thoughts, and he looks up to see the top of Shane’s head appear above the bannister. He looks over the railing, hair damp, eyes alight with a post-coffee kind of brightness.

 

“I’m making breakfast.” He says, grinning far too wide. “How do you like your eggs?”

 

“Uh-..” Ryan fumbles, tired thoughts struggling to process the request. “Sunny side up is fine.”

 

Shane bobs his head in a nod. “Go have your shower.” He instructs, loping eagerly back down the stairs. “It’ll be ready by the time you’re done!”

 

For a moment longer, Ryan lingers there. He reaches down to pinch the outside of his knee just to reassure himself that this isn’t a dream. A twinge of pain shudders up his side, and he nods to himself.

 

So this is real. This domestic bliss with Shane Madej.

 

Wordlessly, he slips from his bed, and fumbles toward his wardrobe to piece together his outfit for the day.

 

* * * *

 

The decadent scent of sizzling eggs, short-cut bacon, and lightly-burned toast answers him when he steps out of the bathroom in a swirl of steam; dressed in a simple pair of dark red jeans and a loose grey v-neck. His damp hair sticks to his forehead as he wanders back into the kitchen, feet cooled by the creaking floorboards. Silently, he slips back into the very same stool he’d abandoned last night after dinner.

 

Shane stands in front of the stove in a simple white crew neck with sleeves bunched up at his elbows, and a plain pair of blue chinos. There’s a spatula in his hand, being twirled artfully back and forth as the eggs sizzle and pop in the frypan in front of him. He bobs about lightly to the music filtering in through the lone bluetooth speaker on Ryan’s kitchen counter that still remembers the connection to his iPhone. Ryan thinks it’s Marina that Shane had chosen, but it isn’t a song that he recognises.

 

It fills the comfortable silence between them as Ryan taps open his emails on his phone while he waits.

 

“This is great.” Shane declares, after a moment. “I’m so used to having to wake up and scramble off to get to work in time with the traffic from my place. You live so close, we can leave so much later.”

 

“You’re welcome to take advantage of that any time.” Ryan says, quietly. “By staying here, I mean.”

 

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you. How did you sleep, by the way?”

 

Shane twists around to look at him, and Ryan lifts his head.

 

“Better.”

 

“You look better, man.”

 

“I didn’t have any dreams. If I did, I don’t remember them.” He pauses, peering at the firm line of Shane’s back. “Did you sleep okay?”

 

“Yeah, of course.” Shane turns his attention back to the frypan, pausing to flip one of the eggs. Ryan thinks he sees the tips of his ears turn a faint pink, but tells himself that he’s only imagining it. Shane Madej doesn’t blush. “I got to wake up before any alarms went off, that was nice. Do you think it helped?”

 

Shane lifts the pan from the burner, and carefully guides the eggs onto two plates already laid out in preparation alongside the cooktop. He sets the pan aside, adds on two slices of toast for each of them, and then turns to set one of the plates in front of Ryan.

 

It smells delightful.

 

“Yeah. Having you there always makes me feel better.”

 

“I thought that was only when we were in haunted houses…?”

 

“No.” Ryan plucks his knife and fork into his grasp. “It doesn’t really matter where it is, or when. It’s just-... just-... a Shane thing.”

 

“..a Shane thing..?” he hears him echo, his confusion plain.

 

Ryan doesn’t elaborate. He eats in silence.

 

* * * *

 

They arrive at work side by side, each with styrofoam coffee cups gripped in their hands, looking as tired-eyed as one another. Shane had the wherewithal to bring a change of clothes with him so that he didn’t end up arriving in the very same outfit he’d worn the day before.

 

It’s Friday, and the office around them is in a fluffy. Ryan’s phone buzzes without pause in his pocket, a common occurrence after the new release of a fresh episode. He realises belatedly that it must have been their witch cabin that went live today. He’d been too tired to watch it yesterday afternoon to check for changes.

 

They pass Devon. She smiles brightly at the pair of them.

 

“Good job, boys.” She chimes, happily.

 

Ryan frowns, and blinks after her as she twirls past them in her patterned dress.

 

TJ hurries past them with his laptop tucked under his arm, and his headphones dangling about his neck.

 

“The footage is doing great, fellas.” He says, flashing Shane a wink, before bustling out of sight.

 

Ryan’s frown deepens further.

 

He digs a hand into his pocket to slip his phone free, and distractedly - he unlocks it. He sees Shane doing the same thing out of his peripherals.

 

“Oh, shit.” Shane hisses alongside him. He locks his phone and slips it back into his pocket, before lengthening his stride. Ryan has to jog to keep up with him while he peers anxiously down at his phone as instagram struggles to load under the influx of new notifications filling his inbox.

 

“Mark, what the hell--?” He hears Shane say as they reach their desks. “I thought we talked about this.”

 

Mark looks up, and slips his headphones from his head, knocking the plain black baseball cap atop his head askew. He looks perplexed.

 

“Don’t look at me, Anthony had final touches. He isn’t in today.”

 

“We sent it to you for final approval.” Steven interjects from beside Mark. “You didn’t get back to us.”

 

“We can’t be late on uploading, and we figured-..” Mark trails off, looking anxiously at Ryan. “I-I mean-... usually when we send stuff for final approval, you’re fine with it, anyway. It was just-... it was good footage.”

 

Ryan’s profile is finished loading. The number ‘26’ pops up above his tagged photos list, and his brows pinch together into a faint frown. He taps on the number to open it, and he’s greeted by an influx of videos, gifs, still photos, sketches and edits of he and Shane in the living room of that gutted cottage, with their arms wrapped around one another, illuminated by tinny-green nightvision film.

 

“Shit.” He hisses, dumping his empty coffee cup onto his desk, and rubbing his fingertips across the backs of his eyelids.

 

“I made sure to flag it with Anthony. I told him it was not to make it into the episode.” Shane starts from beside him; his tone is measured and even, but uncharacteristically firm. Both Mark and Steven look like startled animals, caught in the headlights of an approaching vehicle. “I didn’t want that in there.”

 

“We can edit it out. I can take down the video. It’s only been up for an hour or so--” Steven starts, hands already flying across his keyboard.

 

“No, don’t do that. If we take it out, it’s just going to look worse.” Mark cuts him off.

 

“I flagged it.” Shane says, again. “I didn’t want that in there.”

 

Ryan covers his face with both of his hands. It feels as though the air has been forced from his lungs, as though he’s received a sharp blow to the stomach, as though his heart has forgotten how to beat. It feels as though a serrated knife has carved into the firm muscle of his chest, and it’s sinking deeper and deeper with every word Shane utters. His voice is so vehement, so heavy, so weighted with frustration. He must be so disgusted, Ryan realises, to be associated with Ryan in a context that could be viewed as romantic.

 

The voices around him have filtered out, they have become distorted, replaced by a distant ringing, a sharp static, overlapping upon one another until Mark stands from his seat, and Steven follows. Shane is gesturing beside him, and Ryan turns away without a word.

 

His hands sweep back through his hair, they settle against the nape of his neck as he starts moving, as he cuts sharply through the office. He sees people pass him by, blurred faces all washed with the same transfixed look of abject concern, and surprise. He hears his name being called from somewhere far behind him, but he doesn’t turn to look. He doesn’t want to see Shane. He doesn’t want to hear Shane’s voice. He doesn’t want to see yet another blown-up depiction of the pair of them intertwined, and highlighted in fluorescent green.

 

His hands fall to his sides as he turns into a narrow hallway riddled with meeting room doors. He continues until he finds one that’s vacant, and he turns into it - sweeping around sharply to snap the door closed behind him, and turn the lock into place so that he isn’t at risk of being walked in on.

 

Slowly, he backs up - drifting against the opposing wall until it meets the solid line of his back; reassuring and cold. He sinks to the floor, there, drawing his knees to his chest, and resting his elbows upon them.

 

Ryan closes his eyes, and realises only then that his cheeks are damp with tears. He wipes at them with the backs of his hands, furious. He pulls up his shirt to run the coarse material across the backs of his eyelids, and in this dark and silent room - the beat of his heart sounds deafening.

 

He can hear his own ragged breathing; desperate and loud. His ears are still ringing with a bubbling line of panic. Anxiety works his stomach into knots. There is a desperate and painful ache in his chest that is blooming into a sharp slice of pure agony-- and he knows why.

 

He’s been lying to himself. This whole time, he’s been lying to himself. He’s been allowing himself to believe that he has a chance with him, that there’s the possibility for something more, that they could be something more. He’s been making whole worlds and building entire fantasies based off a few artless touches between friends . He’s been reading into every look, every sidelong smile, every listless wink Shane has offered to him as if they could possibly mean something more than they do. As if he could possibly love him back.

 

He grips an open hand to his chest, and exhales hard. He’s heard thousands of songs, read dozens of books, seen countless films about what it’s like to have a broken heart. He never anticipated that he’d get to feel it like this, where it’s so visceral, and so all-encompassing. He feels as though he’s lost something more vital than a limb. As though he’s boarded a flight without any of his luggage, and realised a moment too late that he’s flying into the unknown with nothing.

 

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he doesn’t pull it out. What if it’s Shane? What will he say to him?

 

I’m sorry. I love you and I don’t want to.

 

A tremble runs through him at the thought, and Ryan sinks inwards upon himself; trying desperately to piece himself back together. A broken sob wrings through his parted lips. His splayed fingers sink into his dark curls, and curl inwards to pull at the hair follicles where they meet his scalp. Pain prickles through him, but it’s drowned out by the ache radiating from the core of his chest. His stomach has bottomed out, his muscles strain, they ache under the forceful shudders pushing through him.

 

The lock on the door scrapes, and it sweeps open a moment later.

 

Ryan jerks backwards, drawing in towards himself, running the collar of his shirt over his eyes again, and fumbling blindly to stand up.

 

“Ryan?”

 

He looks up. Devon is standing there.

 

Her eyes are wide, blonde bob a wispy mess of curls, with her laptop tucked under her arm, and the master key in her other hand. There’s nobody behind her, he realises - and relief floods through him a moment later.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah.” he insists, hastily. He sniffs. “I’m fine.”

 

“Just-...” She frowns, her hand withdraws from the key. Slowly, she inches the door closed behind her. “...are you crying?”

 

“No.” He lies, he sniffs again; avoiding her gaze.

 

“Look, I know the fact that the footage was included isn’t great, but-...”

 

“It’s not that.” He interjects, sternly. “I’m fine.”

 

“You don’t look fine.” She tells him, and he can hear the unbridled concern in her voice. “You should find Shane. He’s looking for you.”

 

Ryan’s chest aches as though his fresh wound has met saltwater.

 

“I-I… I think I’m gonna go home, actually.” He looks up at her, and her round face is creased with a look of worry. “...-please, just-... don’t tell him you saw me in here. Don’t tell anyone.”

 

She hesitates, and then she nods; her brown eyes owlish and wide. She steps away from the door, and Ryan slips past her, and out into the hallway. He makes a hasty retreat, feeling Devon’s eyes upon his back until he turns out of sight, and retreats through a fire exit at the back of the building, far away from where his and Shane’s desks are.

 

He catches an Uber home, and ignores the fact that there’s twenty-four unread message notifications lighting up his screen.

 

* * * *

 

The rest of the day is spent in bed. He watches re-runs of Parks and Recreation on Netflix just to fill the silence. He doesn’t laugh, doesn’t smile, doesn’t snort at a single joke. He lies face-down upon his duvet, and does his best not to think. His phone continues to buzz beneath his pillow, and he ignores it; half certain it’s more work-emails, more notifications from twitter and instagram with a screenshot of their embrace, embossed with the hashtag of ‘Shyan’, as though it might or could ever be real.

 

He goes for a run at five in the evening, when a cool and dusky twilight settles over his sleepy corner of LA, illuminating the sky with stripes of orange and pink, dusting the clouds like ice cream. He’s always found that running helps clear his thoughts, helps stave off stresses and anxieties. He’s written-off the events of the morning as an anxiety attack, convinced himself that maybe, maybe it hadn’t been as awful as he had thought. Maybe Shane hadn’t meant it that way. Maybe Shane is just concerned for the show. Maybe Shane is just concerned for him.

 

It’s an accident, and no part of Ryan blames Mark, or Steven, or Devon-- or any member of their crew. It isn’t the clip that has driven him to this point.

 

It’s Shane’s reaction to it.

 

His words ring through Ryan’s thoughts, sharp and obtrusive.

 

“I flagged it. I didn’t want that in there.”

 

His pace quickens. He bites down on the full curve of his lower lip. His calves begin to burn. The skyline is dotted with the golden glow of a thousand windows. The street is illuminated by the flood of a dozen streetlights. Cars drift past him, the sounds of their rubber tires against the dried asphalt a distant chorus to the jumbled mess of Ryan’s inner monologue.

 

He makes it to the lookout point; a rocky outcrop that’s become a favourite to tourists during the warmer months, where he can look down at the Hollywood sign, miles away but still so brightly illuminated against the backdrop of the mountain range, and the buildings below, artfully decorated by palm trees and coloured rooftops that catch the evening light with artistic splendour.

 

It’s there that he sits, with his knees drawn towards his chest, and his elbows resting upon them, listening to the breeze skim its careful fingers through the reeds in the grass, and the leaves of the trees behind him. He watches the headlights of a dozen cars wind through the tangled tapestry of roads. He inhales the hazy scent of exhaust and saltwater that flecks the air, and he thinks back to the time he had brought Shane here.

 

They had rented push bikes, because Shane had stubbornly refused to walk the distance required from Ryan’s apartment. They’d made it to the lookout, and sat here - close enough for their knees to touch - to watch the sunset. Shane was still new to Buzzfeed, still new to LA, still stalwart in his willingness to believe that Chicago was that much better than the city of angels. He still remembers it far too clearly, still remembers how Shane had looked at him against the backdrop of pink clouds, glowing like vibrant cotton-candy from a carnival stall, and said with a crooked grin, “Alright Bergara. I’ll give you this one. One point for LA.”

 

It had felt like the first burgeoning step of their friendship, when Shane had gone from colleague to friend.

 

It feels like a cruel twist of irony, for Ryan to be sitting in this very same spot, alone; a victim of the universe’s cosmic indifference.

 

The breeze turns cold. Ryan shudders, he runs his palms along the outsides of his arms, and remains there until the last hints of sunlight vanish beyond the horizon, and the only light remaining is that of the artificial glow of the city below him.

 

He stands, then - and he sprints home; determined to exhaust himself, determined to force the pain in his chest outwards, and into his limbs - where it’d be productive, where it’d make sleep that much easier to find in the evening.

 

The very idea of being alone with his thoughts is too awful to consider.

 

If there’s one thing Ryan is good at, it’s torturing himself.

 

* * * *

 

The weekend feels as though it drags on. He fills his time by running, by visiting the gym, by punishing himself for the mistakes that had led him to this point. He lifts weights, he bites back the hisses of pain that pulse through him. He amps up the speed on the treadmill. He adds weights to the elliptical. He works until his arms shake, until his lungs burn, until he cannot keep going. He collapses into bed without showering, and sleeps a full twelve hours. His phone has run out of charge, and it lies - dejected and forgotten - upon his nightstand.

 

It feels as though he’s tied to the bed in the mornings, as if his limbs are made from lead; the prospect of meeting the day feels like a monumental task in itself. He lapses into the well of depression as if it’s a comfort, a security blanket, as if it’s the only other way he knows to block out the rest of the world. It’s usually Shane to be the one to pull him out of these moments, to throw him a lifeline down the length of that dark well, and drag him back to reality - laughing through the promise of a marathon of old movies and horror classics.

 

But the deafening silence of his absence feels like a fissure, like a tumble of cold water intent on trapping him at the bottom of the well, with no way to fight for freedom, no rope to cling hold of. He thinks of jokes to send to Shane, of ideas to forward to Shane, of advertisements Shane would like, meal deals Shane would want in on alongside him; things he wants to share with him, things he wants to show him, things that would make him laugh.

 

It hurts. It keeps hurting. It doesn’t stop hurting.

 

* * * *

 

He plugs his phone back on to charge on Monday evening. He’d sent Mark an email to let him know he wouldn’t be in late on Sunday evening, citing the need to take a mental health day. He’d avoided technology after that. He’d gone for another run. He’d taken a shower (finally), and isolated himself to the company of his tangled bedsheets for the remainder of the day; with nothing but the soothing distraction of Netflix to keep his thoughts occupied while his phone struggles to turn on.

 

The barrage of messages are scarcely surprising; interwoven with notifications from twitter and instagram, and an influx of work emails. He sees Shane’s name fly by, followed by Devon’s, then Mark’s, and even TJ’s. Curly’s name pops up, only to be pushed down by a waterfall of other messages; concerned friends, all reaching out just to make sure that he’s all right. It is admittedly not like Ryan to go silent across all platforms.

 

He doesn’t unlock it, and he runs his tired fingers across the backs of his eyelids, half certain that he isn’t up to the task of replying to every single one quite yet.

 

It begins to ring. It feels like reality is reaching out to him again, offering him a hand that will pull him from the bottom of the empty well. It mightn’t be Shane’s braided rope of safety and security, but it’s offering him an out, a breath of freedom, a reminder that there’s more to his life than Shane Madej and his cocky smiles.

 

Ryan squeezes his eyes shut as the sound cuts through his subconscious. Thoughtlessly, he sweeps his hand out from under the pillow, and his phone slides along with it, illuminated by Shane’s face; swept into a grin with a pair of sunglasses shading his eyes from the harsh sunlight, a thoughtless photo Ryan had taken before they’d left the Boysenberry farm.

 

His heart leaps into his throat. His head spins. The ache that rockets through him is sharp, and insistent. It’s so profound that he needs a moment just to steady himself.

 

By the time he does, the picture fades from view. A cavalcade of messages from Shane still riddle the lower half of his phone, and listlessly - he reads through them.

 

S: Answer me.

S: Are you ok?

S: It’s been days, I need a bit more from you at this point--...

S: Are you ignoring my calls intentionally? I can’t tell.

S: I’m going to come over if I don’t hear from you soon.

S: I mean it. This is a threat. Act accordingly.

S: Emotional terrorism at work.

S: I’m on my way.

 

The last message was sent ten minutes ago.

 

Ryan clambers out of bed. He switches off his TV and briefly considers locking the front door and insisting later that he just hadn’t been home, and he’d missed Shane dropping by. He drifts into his bathroom, and splashes cold water across his features; it does little to bring down the swelling in his red-rimmed eyes that all but scream I’ve been crying. His hair is a mess of dark curls atop his head, tumbling forwards against his forehead. He needs to shave, his facial hair has grown into scruff that’s on-par with his moustache prior to their hunt for Bigfoot.

 

There is a knock at his door. Reality is there, requesting entry.

 

Ryan looks to the window peering in at him from beside his bathroom mirror. He considers pulling the glass from its frame, and leaping out.

 

He shuts off the faucet, and he turns his back upon his reflection. He hurries down the stairs, listening to them creak every step of the way, and he wipes at his eyes a second time; feeling his damp hair cling to the cusp of his forehead as he stops in front of his front door.

 

His heart feels as though it’s caught in his throat. Every beat contorts and fills him with a fresh wave of dull agony. Dread and fear well up within him as he reaches out with an unsteady hand to curl his fingers around the doorknob. What will he say? What will he do? How will he excuse… any of this?

 

Slowly, he gives it a twist; and peels it open. He steps back, and lifts his gaze steadily.

 

Arms envelope him at once. They wrap around his broader shoulders, and settle above the sway of his waist with a gust of Shane’s too-familiar cologne riding heavily upon their curves and ridges. His pulse is racing under the cusp of Ryan’s temple, desperate and fearful. He stumbles back a step, eyes over-wide and disbelieving.

 

“Fuck, Ryan. Fuck. ” Shane hisses.

 

“Wh--?”

 

“You-... I was so worried, I was so worried, I thought something had happened. You’d had those nightmares, and you’d looked so pale, I thought that-.. I thought-... shit , man.”

 

He draws back a moment later, looking down at him with over-wide eyes that look as red-rimmed as Ryan’s had a moment ago in his reflection. His hair is a rumpled mess, as if he’d run his fingers through it one too many times for it to do anything aside from stand up at all angles. His jacket is rumpled and denim and much too familiar and Ryan takes a stiff step backwards, remembering himself, bumping into the wall behind him. He does his best it ignore how Shane reaches out for him again, as if to steady him.

 

It feels as if his heart is breaking all over again.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” His voice cracks, and strains - this is the first time he’s spoken in days. “You don’t have to stay.” He says, feeling distinctly as though he’s been the victim of a hit-and-run. As though Shane had come just to do more damage.

 

The hand at his side falls away, and the door is swept shut behind Shane as Ryan wanders into his cluttered living room without sparing a glance back. He knows he’s being followed.

 

“What do you mean? I’m here to--”

 

“Check up on me, right? I’m fine.” He says, voice cutting, and firm.

 

A beat of silence chases them.

 

“Ryan-..”

 

“I’m fine. Okay? Completely fine. Better than ever.”

 

“If-... if this is about the footage, man-... we can take down the episode if you want. It’s really not that big of a deal. People will notice, but we can say there’s other reasons for it. Blame it on technical issues, blame it on not wanting to look too... sensational , or fake.”

 

“Is that what you want?” Ryan turns around to face him.

 

“Isn’t it what you want?”

 

He lifts a hand to sweep through his dark curls. Shane is standing there, at the entrance to his living room, rumpled and dishevelled; with confusion and concern drawn haphazardly across his features in a look more profound and more expressive than Ryan has ever seen upon him. He’s not taking steps to guard his expression, to school it into a veiled look of half-hearted apprehension. His clothes are rumpled, his facial hair is in dire need of a shave, the set to his shoulders is hunched and strained.

 

“You said to Steve and Mark that you didn’t want that moment in the video.” Ryan presses on, refusing to allow his resolution to crack under Shane’s uncharacteristic concern. His heart is racing, beating rabbit-like against the cage of his ribs. Anger burns like a wildfire under his skin, itching and urgent and desperate to be recognised, built-up and contained over Ryan’s days-long self isolation.

 

“...-Ryan.”

 

“..and that makes sense, you know. You asked in the sound booth if I was going to keep it in there and I should’ve realised, y’know--... that this shit bothers you. It makes us look a certain way, and of course you don’t want that.”

 

“Ryan--”

 

“..and that’s fine! It’s honestly fine, why wouldn’t it be? We’re just- we’re just friends. We’re just friends, and we shouldn’t let anybody else feel like we’re anything more than that, because that would be ridiculous, it’d be horseshit--”

 

Shane is stepping towards him, but Ryan continues; eyes wild, voice hitching; eyes burning with a strange and too-familiar warmth. He moves closer, and closer - until he’s all but looming over Ryan, who stands firm and motionless, gesturing wildly with his left hand.

 

“..--and it wouldn’t be fair to you, or to me. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone. What would that mean for the show? It makes sense, too, that you’d be disgusted, I just--”

 

He’s cut off.

 

Shane’s fingers drift through his hair, skimming against the nape of his neck, notching a lengthy thumb beneath his chin to angle it upwards, to bring his gaze upwards as his breath catches in his throat, and stutters past his parted lips before they’re claimed in a sudden and greedy kiss.

 

It catches him off guard, with another sharp rebuttal perched upon the tip of his tongue. It’s hesitant, and gentle; as if Shane is giving him every chance to pull away. He’s hardly touching him at all.

 

It feels as though he is being flooded with warmth; as though it’s drifting through his limbs and settling, warm and omnipotent, in his chest. Filling that cavity where there had previously been a fracture, a break. It’s mending that fissure with its warmth. It’s filling him up, dizzying and wonderful, until he feels as if he might detach from gravity, and float upwards and away from the rest of the world. That fire prickling beneath his skin has been extinguished; as if the press of Shane’s lips had come with a surge of cold water that had douse the flames of his frustration, his resentment, his heartbreak.

 

His fingers knot in the front of Shane’s rumpled button-down, as if to pull him closer, as if to stop him from even daring to pull away. A muffled hum slips past his parted lips as his eyes slip closed, and a heavy arm sweeps back around the sway of his spine.

 

His kiss turns desperate, wanting, and half-convinced that this is another dream, a beautiful and wonderful dream that’s illuminated by the technicolor glow of reality. Shane smells real, he feels real, and Ryan draws him closer, pulls him inwards until he hears him emit another short moan, a quiet sound of surprise.

 

He feels light-headed, his lungs burn, and he breaks the kiss just for long enough to remind himself to breathe as the lip of his couch bumps against the backs of his knees. Shane pushes him into it, and they tumble backwards onto the rumpled cushions, knocking pillows and teddy bears tumbling onto the floor, but Ryan doesn’t care.

 

Shane looms over him, his hair a mess, his lips kiss-bitten and flushed a tempting pink, and Ryan leans up to kiss him again, his arms drift around those broad shoulders, and his heart feels as if it’s a moment away from bursting, a moment away from leaping out of his chest to spring about the perimeter of the room; delighted and overjoyed. His nerves sing, his lips curl into a smile he’s half-certain that Shane can feel .

 

After a moment, Shane draws away; he breaks the kiss- pressing his brow to Ryan’s forehead. Both of them are out of breath- breathing heavily into the lambent space between them.

 

“You’re an idiot.” He tells him, voice filled with that same warmth.

 

Ryan lets out a stuttered exhale, breath washing across Shane’s parted lips.

 

“I thought-... I-I thought I-... I thought-...”

 

“I know.” Shane draws back, lengthening his spine, straightening out of that half-hunch, bracing a hand against the armrest of the couch above Ryan’s head so that he might look down at him without going cross-eyed. “The reason I asked Anthony not to include that clip is because you said you wanted it to be private. I was trying to look out for you.”

 

Of course he was.

 

“But-... how did you know I was-...?”

 

“I figured it out.” Shane reasons, fingers crawling up the steps of Ryan’s spine against the press of the couch cushions beneath them, vertebrae by vertebrae. “I thought at first that you might be embarrassed, but then I thought back to the bird in the Queen Mary, or the time I scared you in the basement of the Winchester Mansion. The more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed. You never give a shit what people think, not unless it’s somebody important. You didn’t give a shit then. Why would you suddenly give a shit now? There was another reason for it. There had to be. But every single theory I had felt insane.”

 

Ryan’s eyes drift closed, his arms encircle Shane’s waist.

 

“You might be onto something there, big guy.” He says, words half-muffled by the collar of Shane’s rumpled button-down. “You came all this way just to debunk your theory?”

 

“No.” He draws back. His arms recede, and he eases back, smoothly shifting Ryan’s legs from the couch so that he might sit upright. After a moment, Ryan follows suit - folding one leg upon the cushion to face him. “I was worried about you. Devon said that she saw you looking like you had been crying in one of the meeting rooms. I had thought something had happened. Something really bad, Ryan. Like, maybe somebody had died, or that you had some kind of emergency.”

 

“I told her not to say anything-...” He mumbles.

 

“She said that, too. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. I waited it out. But your silence just made me worry.” His hands withdraw. Ryan stamps down the urge to tug them closer, to kiss him again. Shane skims his hand through his hair, and adjusts his glasses. “You should really message her. She’s as worried about you as I was. We all were, you know.”

 

“Shit.” Ryan pats his pockets in search of his phone.

 

“It took a lot of convincing. They almost all followed me here. This was very nearly a full inquisition. I should have worn red, or something.”

 

“My phone is upstairs. Can you text them?”

 

“Yeah. Sure.” Shane shifts, plucking his phone from his pocket. “Would it be presumptuous of me to stay for dinner?” He asks with an arched brow.

 

* * * *

 

Tuesday back at work is a strange and awkward affair. Everything in the office feels the same, but inexplicably different in a way that Ryan can’t place. It feels more vibrant, more alive, crawling with people who are so full of smiles and laughter, teeming with things he hadn’t noticed previously; streamers and balloons and personalised cakes.

 

There is a printed-out photo of he and Shane locked in their embrace from the cottage stuck to his monitor with a balled-up wad of bluetack. He rolls his eyes half-heartedly and utters a dry ‘ha-ha’ to his snickering coworkers as he tugs it free, and does his best to ignore how wide Andrew and Steven are grinning as he crumples it up, and tosses it into the trashcan by his desk.

 

Nobody outside of he and Shane knows of their-... their kiss.

 

He’s hesitant to give it a label, hesitant to jump the gun on what he wants it to be. He knows what he wants, but what Shane wants is still a relative mystery.

 

They’d talked through the Lord of the Rings together, and sat close enough for their shoulders to touch. At one point, Shane had draped his arm across the top of the couch behind Ryan, and it had felt unspeakably intimate in a wonderful and untapped kind of way.

 

He hadn’t pushed it, despite how little he had cared for the movie, despite how much he wanted to crawl into Shane’s lap, and kiss him until the Hobbits and Elves were nothing but background noise. Shane hadn’t stayed the night, but he’d asked Ryan if that’s what he wanted (‘You know, for the nightmares.’), but he’d refused him.

 

He wants to do this right.

 

This transition from friends to more-than-friends is a strange and precarious path for them to take. He doesn’t want to rush into anything. He doesn’t want to ruin this. He doesn’t want to drive Shane away.

 

He’d nearly lost him once. The scars of it still ache around the edges, even if they’re mended over.

 

But, he sees movement out of the corner of his eye. He turns in his seat to see Shane there, dressed in a plain and striped shirt half-tucked into a pair of blue chinos that elongate his legs to an impressive degree. He looks artfully dishevelled, carefully rumpled, with a faint air of casual elegance. His lips draw into a faintly knowing smile as he looks at Ryan.

 

“Coffee?” He asks, with a wordless quick of his brow.

 

“I-... y-yeah. Coffee.” Ryan nods.

 

Wordlessly, but with a smile that lingers, Shane turns to join the growing line at the machine, already pulling his phone from his pocket.

 

Suddenly, Ryan is ready to rush. He’s ready to muddle their path, and leap to the end - so long as it means he gets more of this.

 

* * * *

 

He’s pacing anxiously back and forth by the drawing board in the meeting room he’d booked. The very same meeting room that he’d barricaded himself within to have his panic attack. He tries not to look at the wall (and floor) by the door as he drifts back and forth along the faded linoleum, hands twisting together before him, hair mussed from the artless drift of his fingertips, prickling with thinly-veiled anxiety-- until the door clicks open.

 

Shane drifts inside, his brows raised and inquisitive, his hands holding the door open as if he’s expecting someone else to join them at any moment.

 

“What’s up?” He asks, frown deepening when he only spots Ryan. “Where’s TJ and Devon?”

 

“They’re not coming.” He answers, somewhat breathlessly. “Will you close the door?”

 

“Oh.” Shane starts, stepping inside the conference room. The door closes behind him with a short snap. “Uh, what’s this for? Should I have brought my laptop?”

 

Ryan manoeuvres around the chairs, he sweeps towards Shane, and reaches up to knot two hands in the front of his shirt. He gives it a single tug to bring Shane down to his level, and he claims his lips in a greedy and hasty kiss.

 

Shane lets out a quiet sound of surprise and, after a moment, indulges him. Fingers drift through his dark curls, settling against the nape of his neck. An arm loops about his waist, drawing him closer until Shane’s body is a firm line of warmth against his own. Ryan bites back a moan, feeling dizzy with warmth. It feels electric, it feels wonderful, it feels like a thousand and one fireworks have gone off against the backs of his eyelids, vibrant and colourful and as explosive and exhilarating as every kiss has always meant to be.

 

Shane breaks the kiss, after a moment.

 

“Ryan-..” He’s breathless, he’s laughing. “Did you book this meeting just to kiss me?”

 

“Yeah.” He gives the front of Shane’s shirt a tug, trying to claim him for another. “Is that bad?”

 

“No. No, it’s not bad.” One of Shane’s hands lifts to cover his own. “It’s just-... we’re on the clock.”

 

Ryan blinks.

 

“I know you’re a pain in the ass with making sure we don’t trespass, but I figured that was because you didn’t want a fine. I didn’t pick you for this much of a stickler for the rules, big guy. Are you gonna go tell on me? Go and get me fired for luring a coworker into a meeting room just to corner them and kiss them? I guess it counts as sexual harassment. You could seriously incriminate me right now.”

 

“No.” Shane is laughing again, features alight with quiet chuckles that radiate through his slender frame. The corners of his eyes are crinkled with his too-broad grin. “I had just pictured things going a little differently.”

 

Ryan pauses, hands smoothing out of their fists against the front of Shane’s shirt. For a moment, he is stunned that Shane has thought about this at all.

 

“What were you picturing?” he asks.

 

Shane’s hands drift down his forearms, and rest above the bends of his elbows. He ducks his head down until he can look Ryan in the eye. His expression is stern, but impossibly warm.

 

“Can I take you out to dinner?”

 

It’s such a simple request. One that’s been asked of him before a dozen times; but never with as much meaning, with as much possibility weighted behind it before now.

 

“Yeah.” Ryan’s answer is breathless and soft. A faint smile threatens the corners of his lips. “...-might need some beer, too.”

 

“What about wine?” Shane asks.

 

“That works.”

 

Those hands drift down his forearms, and capture his hands in a warm but reassuring grip.

 

“Come to my place at six-thirty.” He insists, words lit with a quiet kind of intensity that reminds Ryan of all the Jane Austen novels he’s never read. “I’ll cook for us. But, dress up? You always look nice when you do.”

 

He leans in, and presses his lips into the corner of Ryan’s own, before releasing him, and drifting back through the door, and into the hallway beyond.

 

It snaps closed after him, and Ryan lifts a balled-up fist to his lips to hide how wide his grin is. He’s giddy.

 

* * * *

 

The day feels like it trawls on after that. Shane is unusually focussed upon his work, seemingly too enthralled to notice the halting glances that Ryan spares his way, or the casual bumps of their knees beneath the table every time he whisks his chair back and forth. He leaves at five, pressing a lingering hand to Ryan’s shoulder in lieu of a farewell.

 

They’d be seeing each other soon, anyway.

 

If Devon notices, she doesn’t say anything.

 

Ryan makes it home in a flash, skipping through two stop signs without pausing, and only half-hearing the music drifting from his radio. He agonises over his outfit choices for a solid hour, changing his shirt four times before settling upon a plain black button-down that’s more fitted than his usual fanfare. He pairs it with the white pants that Ladylike had styled him in, that he remembers Shane liking, and a plain pair of shoes that don’t stand out. The last fifteen minutes before he has to leave feel as if they drag on the longest. He paces, checking his phone repeatedly for the time, rethinking his outfit (and almost changing entirely), staring down his reflection in the mirror for much too long -- wondering why Shane would ever want anything to do with him, before it’s quarter-past-six, and time to start driving.

 

The trip there doesn’t take long, it’s the traffic that Ryan has to allow extra time for, and at the tail-end of peak-hour, it traps him for a little longer than he would’ve liked. It’s six thirty-five by the time he pulls in to park on the curb in front of Shane’s building.

 

He sits there, in the driver’s seat of the car, looking up at the towering complex to see Shane’s window, three rows from the top of the building, his closed curtains are illuminated in gold. Slowly, he slips out of his car, locking the door after him, and smoothing out the fabric of his button-down with care. He runs a hand through his hair again as he slips his keys into his pocket, and starts up the stairs towards Shane’s door.

 

He knocks twice once he reaches it, still struggling to digest the knowledge that all of this is real; that the past two days really happened, that he didn’t dream them up - that Shane had kissed him earnestly in the middle of his living room, that he’d let Ryan kiss him again in the breakroom just a mere few hours ago.

 

His idle fingers skim across the bow of his lower lip, as if to mimic the warmth of his lips, as if to remind himself just how they had felt.

 

The door whisks open, the scent of basil and parmesan comes with it, and Ryan lifts his chin in surprise.

 

Shane is standing there, dressed in a plain white button-down with a hoodie pulled over it, and a simple pair of dark slacks. His features are drawn into a smile, eyes alight with excitement in a look that’s soothing and perfect. Ryan’s heart misses a beat. He wants to kiss him again. His stomach twists with excitement. He lingers there, nervous, uncertain -- so he says the first thing that springs to mind.

 

“You look like a fucking waiter, dude. Did I walk into some roleplay of yours?”

 

Shane laughs. The comment is too on-brand, too in-line with their version of bonding. It’s the least romantic thing Ryan could have said.

 

“Do I, really?”

 

“White and black. When I did bartending, that’s what I always had to wear. The hoodie is nice, though.”

 

Shane steps back, gesturing for him to enter.

 

“Should I change, then?”

 

“No.” Ryan adds, hastily.

 

The door sweeps closed after him, and Shane moves forwards quickly to lead Ryan through his apartment, and toward the jutting balcony that overlooks his corner of the city. It’s set up with a simple wooden table, and two chairs -- a space they’ve occupied countless times with beer bottles in hand, or a cheap wine between them; watching the hazy skyline, filtered with light pollution, and stars too faint to see, even at the darkest point of the night sky.

 

There’s a candle sitting at the heart of the table, with two glasses of cold water, and empty plates.

 

Ryan’s heart feels almost pained, lodged in his throat. His eyes prickle with warmth. He has to draw in a deep breath just to steady himself. It’s wonderful. It’s perfect. It feels too good to be true, like Shane will step in front of him, and insist this had all been some cruel joke that he and every member of the crew were in on.

 

But, that doesn’t happen. He feels foolish for believing that it might.

 

Shane’s features are earnest and hopeful, peering anxiously at him as if uncertain if Ryan approves, if he likes it. His hands knot together, wringing in a pliant example of his nervousness.

 

“It-... it looks great, dude. So do you. Not like a waiter at all. I’ll do my best not to ask you for a dessert menu when the food comes out, I swear.”

 

Another laugh tumbles past Shane’s lips, and he almost looks relieved.

 

“Sit down. It’s almost ready, I just have to-...” He lifts his hands, wriggling his fingers playfully. “..-spruce it up a little.”

 

Ryan nods, and shuffles into the same seat he always occupies when they sit here; though the context is impossibly different this time. Shane vanishes into the kitchen, and emerges a moment later with their meal in his grasp.

 

It’s pesto pasta with a side of roast mushrooms, and it’s wonderful. They eat there together, talking, laughing, piss-taking- it feels easy. It feels like it should’ve always been like this. It feels like the kisses and the intimacy are just a fortunate by-product of this new route their relationship has taken, but when their plates are cleared and Ryan feels contentedly full, it’s Shane who speaks up.

 

“I wanted to ask about your hair.” He says, when the silence between them grows comfortable. “You’ve stopped using product.”

 

A hand instinctively leaps into Ryan’s hair. He runs his fingers through it, skimming the wayward curls off the cusp of his forehead, looking apprehensive, self-conscious for the first time this evening.

 

“Does it look bad?”

 

“No, no, no.” Shane says, quickly - a smile softens his features. “No. I just-... I mentioned to you once, that I thought your hair looked better when you didn’t put so much gel in it. I don’t think I’ve seen you use any gel since then.”

 

Ryan’s hand slips from his hair. His elbow rests on the armrest, and his cheeks prickle with warmth. He’d done it without realising; he’d omitted it every morning since that fight when Shane’s fingers had slipped through his hair.

 

“Oh. Yeah.” He murmurs, brows twitching together into a small frown.

 

“Did you do that for me?”

 

Ryan watches him, eyes over-wide; uncertain of how much he wants to reveal. He doesn’t want to scare him away. He doesn’t want to say too much -- and convey his attraction, his affection toward Shane as anything close to obsessive. He’s ready to admit that to himself - that his behaviour, his thoughts, his internalised monologue skimmed the border of ‘obsessive’, and he had done his best to curb them. How much had Shane noticed?

 

“I-I-... ye-yeah.” He admits, freely. “I-... I just-....” His fingers skim through his hair again. “It’s fucking dumb, I know--”

 

“It’s not.” Shane interjects. “I wanted to ask about it last week. But, I-... assumed it was for another reason. A girl, or somebody else you were trying to impress. Or, maybe you were just trying something new, and it didn’t have anything to do with me.”

 

“I mean, it was time consuming as hell.” Ryan adds, with a small tilt of his head. “You saved me a shitton of time by telling me that. I can sleep in like… an extra four hours now.”

 

Again, Shane laughs - features crinkling up with delight in a way that makes Ryan’s heart stutter.

 

“When did you know?” Ryan asks, carefully - skimming his fingers thoughtlessly along the wood grains polished onto the table beneath him.

 

Shane tilts his head, surveying the rim of the wine glass in his grip.

 

“I had a feeling.” He starts, words chosen carefully. “You’ve never been really good at hiding your emotions. The staring was a little overt Ryan, I’m not gonna lie. I kept… trying to pass it off as just… odd Ryan things, like when you talk to yourself, or how to get when you’re extremely focussed. But, at Kelsey’s birthday, and I don’t know if you remember--”

 

“Oh.” Ryan tilts his head aside, and rubs his fingertips across the backs of his eyelids, already positive of where this is going.

 

“..--that’s when I knew how I felt about you. I saw that bartender talking to you, and she just-... she looked at you as though you were something that she wanted to devour--”

 

“That’s… visceral.”

 

“...--and-... I’m not a jealous person, you know, but in that moment. It overtook me. It was like, the only thing I could think about. I didn’t want her to have you. It was extremely selfish of me, and I felt so guilty when we got into that Uber, but it didn’t even seem like you cared. I thought it was just because you were drunk, you know.”

 

“I didn’t care.” Ryan admits, thankful that it’s that part of the story that stuck with Shane, and not what came after it. “I think, all I wanted that night was to be with you.”

 

“I heard you, you know.”

 

“When?” Ryan frowns, stealing another sip of red wine just to occupy his hands.

 

“You were talking to Curly. He asked you if you would ever play wingman for me. You said.. ‘I’d do anything for him’.” Shane’s smile is reproachful. It’s crooked, spared at him over the rim of his wine glass.

 

Ryan’s heart lurches forwards, and it lodges in his throat. He swallows thickly - looking away from Shane. He’d forgotten about that, amidst the haze that filled the rest of that night.

 

“That’s true.”

 

“Even when you felt this way for me?”

 

“Yeah. I would’ve done it.”

 

“Ryan.” Shane’s voice is gently scolding, and faintly surprised.

 

“I never thought there was a chance of this. Of us.” He admits, half positive it’s the wine, or maybe it’s just pure relief - the unbridled bliss of being able to be honest with him. Confessing this feels easy.

 

Shane’s chair scrapes against the tiles beneath them as he inches closer to Ryan. “You are the most delusional, most accident prone, most idiotic person I know. You are King Idiot of the Idiot Foothills, dumber than all of the Plupples in the galaxy.”

 

“Dude.” Ryan tips his head back, a faint chuckle drifting from him.

 

Shane reaches out for him, and he skims two careful fingers against the crest of Ryan’s cheek. “..-and you’re the worst at picking up on hints.”

 

He leans in, breath tinged with the bitter scent of red wine, to claim Ryan’s lips in a gentle kiss. His fingers linger there, skating backwards along Ryan’s cheek to skim below the curve of his jawline, to angle his face upwards, to deepen the kiss into something that’s less chaste, and more indecent.

 

He breaks it before Ryan can lean into him. He feels breathless when Shane pulls away.

 

“I nearly kissed you outside your car.”

 

“When?”

 

“That day when it rained.”

 

Ryan leans in again, fingers curling through the front of Shane’s shirt to pull him closer, to claim his lips a second time, greedy and insatiable and uncaring of what Shane thinks of it. As if he’s trying to make up for all the missed opportunities, all the chances he didn’t take. All of the moments he could’ve claimed, but didn’t because he was afraid. His fingers pull through the short hairs by the nape of his neck, they fold under the collar of his shirt, prickling under the warm press of skin-on-skin, even if it’s chaste.

 

Shane sinks into him, leaning forwards to deepen their kiss, skimming his tongue along the seam of Ryan’s lips until he opens for him, until he wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. He feels like putty under Shane’s careful, cautious touches; though they are frustratingly tentative, maddeningly gentle. He breaks the kiss.

 

His words are murmured into the corner of Shane’s lips.

 

“I’m not gonna break, big guy. You gotta stop that.”

 

It’s as if a switch flicks. Something in Shane’s guarded expression shifts, something in the air seems to curl taut.

 

He stands, the chair scrapes back against the tiles, his fingers curl in the front of Ryan’s shirt, drawing him to his feet, twisting them both, and pressing Ryan up against the sliding glass door leading back into his apartment. He kisses him again - fiercely, desperately, deeply.

 

It surprises Ryan, it catches him off guard, it brings heat rushing to his cheeks, and low, low in his stomach. A subtle thrill slips down the steps of his spine. Shane’s hand dips below the hemline of his shirt, rucking the material as his greedy fingers crawl across the span of his stomach. He arches away from the glass, and into the tumble of his cool fingertips. His breath hitches, the kiss is broken, Shane leans in, and trails a searing line of kisses down the thick curve of muscle along the sweep of Ryan’s throat.

 

“Ah--.. fuck.” He hisses, voice clipped and rough.

 

Shane’s lips part, his teeth skim across the flesh beneath the hinge of Ryan’s jaw, and he braces himself, his fingers curl through a tumble of dark-auburn hair, almost-black in the cool night air, waiting for him to bite.

 

But he doesn’t.

 

He pulls away.

 

“Motherfucker.” Ryan hisses.

 

Shane is grinning at him in the lambent half-dark; eyes crinkled at the corners; alight with a wicked gleam, breath shallow but laboured. He kisses him again, fingers drifting down Ryan’s chest, down the sweep of his sternum, and toward the dip of his hipbones. He withdraws, he breaks the kiss, he catches hold of Ryan’s wrists, and gives them a gentle tug - pulling him forwards, away from the shuddering door, and into the relative warmth of his apartment.

 

The cool night air kisses at Ryan’s flesh, running its idle fingers along the sweat already gathered at the tilt of his sternum, and the sway of his spine. His shirt is open. He’d been so engrossed in kissing Shane that he hadn’t felt him get the buttons undone.

 

A short and disbelieving laugh is pulled from his parted lips, but it’s cut short as Shane turns back towards him in the heart of his living room, and kisses him again. His fingers rove through Ryan’s hair, they fold beneath the collar of his shirt, pushing it from his shoulders until it tumbles to the floor beneath them. Ryan feels himself step on it, but he doesn’t care.

 

He tugs at Shane’s hoodie, peeling it from his shoulders as they stumble backwards. Every one of his kisses is hungry, utterly, utterly ravenous. He doesn’t care where Shane is leading him. He could take him anywhere, just as long as he keeps kissing him.

 

They bump into a doorframe. Shane’s palms skirt across the cusp of his chest, his nails drag along the pebbled rise of Ryan’s nipples. His breath catches, the kiss is broken -- Shane leans in, and his lips meet the dip of Ryan’s collarbones. They part, canines skim his flesh, and he bites down .

 

Ryan cries out, loud enough that Shane’s thumb folds over the slender column of his throat, as if to cut the sound off part-way, only to stop himself short. He draws away again.

 

“This way.” He says, voice rough and urgent.

 

He pulls Ryan into the darkness of his hallway, in a direction Ryan knows will lead them into his bedroom.

 

It’s dark in there, too; but moonlight spills in from the bay windows that overlook his double bed - Ryan’s only been in here a handful of times, usually when Shane has been running late to work early in the mornings, or when he’s crashed on Shane’s couch late at night, after a long night of drinking. Never like this, never in this context. He’s wondered plenty just what it would feel like to be somebody that Shane led in here.

 

Now, he supposes, he knows.

 

It feels fantastic.

 

His skin feels like it’s on fire. His nerves are standing on-end, hyper-aware of everywhere the pair of them touch, of how Shane’s skin feels against his.

 

He crowds him into the door, he steals his lips in another kiss. He presses their chests flush together, and Ryan thinks he could combust from the joy of it, from how good it feels. His fingers fumble with Shane’s buttons, desperate for more, desperate to get rid of that last layer of fabric that’s keeping them apart. He gives up half-way, and balls his hands into the front of Shane’s shirt. One sharp tug , and the last four buttons tear from their threads, boncing uselessly across the room, clattering noisily against the floorboards. He pulls the shirt open, and folds it back against Shane’s arms, losing interest in it then, and leaning in to press his skin into Shane’s.

 

“Impatient--” Shane says, somewhere above him. “..-s’one of my good shirts.”

 

“Get a new one.”

 

“How else will I dress up as a waiter--?”

 

“Shut the fuck up.”

 

Their kiss is sloppy, open-mouthed, insistent; it’s debased and rushed. Shane draws him from the doorway, angles him slowly forwards; until the backs of his kneees bump into the end of his bed. He stumbles backwards; and falls into a breathless heap atop fresh sheets that smell of Shane’s strawberry detergent.

 

He lingers there for a moment, a silhouette in the half-dark, looming over Ryan as if he’s just as astounded to find himself here as Ryan is. He reaches out for him, fingers fumbling through the darkness for him - and Shane hovers over him, planting a knee into the mattress by Ryan’s hip to clamber over him, and to press his lips into a too-gentle, too-apologetic kiss against the flushed patch of skin that’s raised and red from his bite.

 

“Fuuuck you.” Ryan hisses.

 

“You’re so darn impatient.” Shane murmurs, his words breathed into the column of Ryan’s throat. “Be patient for once. We don’t have to rush absolutely everything. Not ghost hunting, not sex.”

 

“What, you want to wine and dine me a little harder before you fuck me?”

 

Shane shudders over him, his hips lower until they’re pressed flush to Ryan’s. A slow exhale of pure relief pours through him at the pressure, and his hips roll upwards, desperate to alleviate the ache in his groin.

 

“Don’t give me that southern-gentleman shit.” He hisses, and Shane’s hips hitch against his own, they rove forwards, and a greedy palm smooths up Ryan’s side, closing over the cusp of his pectoral, sweeping against his chest to settle at the base of his throat. It squeezes, and stars pop against the edges of Ryan’s vision. His head tips back against the twisted-up bedsheets, and he gasps.

 

“Fuck, Ryan-...” Shane draws back, his palms glide down the cusp of Ryan’s chest, toward the lip of his jeans, where long fingers fumble with the buckle of his belt while Ryan can only stare, slack-jawed, up at him.

 

His hair is a mess. There’s a flush to his cheeks that’s descended down toward the top of his chest where it blooms; vibrant and indecent. His arousal is plain against the front of his jeans, pressing forwards against the seam of his fly with a kind of urgency that makes Ryan’s mouth water.

 

His jeans are undone, and Shane’s fingers peel back the waistband of his underwear. His length tumbles unceremoniously free, hard and straining - a thick line of warmth against his over-heated flesh.

 

His head tips back, another short gasp is pulled from him. His hips strain upwards, and for a moment - Shane only looks at him, slack-jawed and something close to awestruck. Careful fingers crawl forwards to curl around the base of his length, and Ryan turns his head aside to bite back a quiet moan.

 

Pleasure coarses through him, slipping through his veins with a kind of vibrant insistence, settling at the base of his length, shuddering between his parted thighs, coiling low, low in his stomach. He jerks, and he jolts as Shane’s thumb drifts across the flared head of his length, and he shoots a hand out to grasp hold of his wrist.

 

“Fuck-.. I’m gonna-... I can’t, if you keep doing that, I’m not going to-..”

 

Shane nods in quiet understanding. His fingers trawl back to tug at Ryan’s jeans, to pull them down- along with his underwear -- and peel them from his legs. He tosses them aside, uncaring about where exactly they land. He folds over him again, pressing his elbow into the pillow by Ryan’s head, and he brushes a kiss into the cusp of his forehead, where his hair is clinging to his flesh; damp with sweat.

 

“Ryan.” He starts, voice low, layered with something he can’t quite name. “I want to-... I want to make sure you’re-... you’re comfortable, I just-...”

 

“Are you honestly asking for permission to fuck me?” Ryan asks, breathless, turned on, but too affronted to care for how he sounds.

 

Shane huffs out a laugh. “I didn’t want to assume--”

 

“Assume. Fuck me.” Ryan hisses. “I’ve wanted this for too fucking long for you to be holding out on me right now.”

 

Shane’s left hand lifts from his skin. He reaches over for the nightstand, and fumbles opening the first drawer. He reaches in to procure a stout bottle of lube that’s only half-full. Ryan makes a mental note to ask about that later, but for now - the implications of what that will be used for are too thrilling for him to care what Shane’s been doing in this room with his bottle of lube.

 

He shifts beneath him, Shane eases off him just enough to set a hand against his hip. Slowly, Ryan parts his thighs, spreading them against the soft duvet while Shane peers down at him, hooded eyes barely visible in the half-dark; pupils blown wide against the backdrop of brown that made up his irises, cheeks still flushed a deep-dark pink as he twists the cap from the bottle.

 

“Have you done this before?” He asks Ryan, quietly.

 

He considers lying.

 

“No.” He’s honest, in the end. “Never.”

 

“Have you been with a guy before?”

 

Again, he considers lying.

 

Ryan.” Shane breathes, reading his expression.

 

“It just never-... never happened, y’know? Would you stop looking at me like that?”

 

It’s an expression he can’t read; one that’s deeply conflicted, a mix between trepidation and unbridled want. A look that makes Ryan think Shane might think twice about this, and he can’t wait any longer.

 

“It’s hard for me to believe.” He reaches out, and his fingers skim along the cusp of Ryan’s length, stroking him slowly, drifting under the brush of his over-warm fingertips, roving with far too much patience. His hips hitch forwards, rolling upwards, shallowly fucking the thin ring of Shane’s careful fingers.

 

“Fuck.” He bites out, and his hand withdraws. He tips the bottle into his palm, and spreads a liberal amount of lubricant onto the tips of his fingers. The bottle is cast aside, tossed onto one of the other pillows as Shane reaches down to slot his thumb against the curve of Ryan’s thigh.

 

“It’ll feel cold.” He warns, softly.

 

Ryan braces himself. He feels two fingers skim over his entrance. He jerks instinctively, and sinks his teeth into the plush bow of his lower lip as he feels Shane’s index finger gently prod for entry.

 

“Relax.” He murmurs, voice reassuring, gentle, uttered in a whisper by the shell of his ear. He does his best to do as he’s told.  

 

That finger sinks into him. Ryan lets go of his lower lip. He breathes out a shuddering sigh. He swallows, throat bobbing with the motion, as that finger slips deeper, and deeper-- it twists and slowly withdraws, bringing no pain; only the strange and thrilling sensation that something isn’t where it should be.

 

He’s done this before, with his fingers, with a sex toy given to him as a gag gift by a friend (that he’d thrown away the following morning just because the fear of having it accidentally discovered was too great for him to bare), but it feels irrevocably different when it’s somebody else’s touch.

 

A second finger joins the first, and Ryan’s breath hitches. Shane’s free hand curls around the base of his flagging length, offering an encouraging squeeze, and a slow but lurid stroke while he shallowly fucks him until Ryan’s hips are pressing down and back into the slick press of his careful fingers.

 

“One more.”

 

“C’mon, big guy.” He goads, voice soft, broken, shuddering; cutting through his faux show of bravado with ease.

 

“Slow it down, Bergara.”

 

It brings a smile to his lips, a quiet peal of laughter, a grin that encompasses his features, contagious enough for Shane to reflect it back at him as a third finger sinks into him, this time -- with a dull ache upon its heels. His smile falters, and a shallow intake of air is hissed through his teeth. Shane’s fingers curl around the base of his length with an appreciative squeeze.

 

“You’re doing good.” He offers, reassurance gentle, but earnest. “Doin’ good, Ryan. Doin’ so good.”

 

He squirms against the sheets, his fingers knot within the blankets beneath him, rumpling them, knotting them. He reaches out for Shane, folding a knee against the back of his thigh, skimming his fingertips across coarse denim, wanting him closer, closer, closer.

 

Those fingers slither out of him, and a full-bodied shudder skirts through Ryan’s frame. They gleam in the moonlight, illuminated by the spread lubricant that coats the first three fingers on his right hand as he fumbles with his belt buckle, struggling to feed leather through brass as he unbuckles it until the denim of his jeans sits precariously low upon his narrow hips. His thumbs dive beneath the fabric, and his length tumbles free. He’s hard, and wet and heavy; flushed a deep red, and bigger than Ryan had anticipated.

 

For a moment, he’s struck dumb, breathless, silent - still struggling to believe that this is real, that it’s happening, that he’s here with Shane.

 

That heavy, hooded gaze remains on him as he retrieves the bottle a second time, and upends it to pour more of the slick stuff onto his fingertips, spreading it with his thumb before lowering his hand to his length to coat himself with it. Ryan watches, mouth feeling abruptly dry, half-blind with anticipation and only half-sure he can take all of him.

 

“We’ll go slow.” Shane says, as if he can hear his thoughts.

 

“You’re gonna have to, big guy.” Ryan breathes, aware of the double meaning that nickname now has.

 

Shane’s grin is wry as he reaches out to settle a hand against the back of Ryan’s thigh. He urges it back, pressing his legs apart as he settles more comfortably between them.

 

“Don’t forget to breathe.” He warns him. “You look good like this, by the way.”

 

His arm shifts as he strokes himself, a sight Ryan thinks he could get drunk off.

 

“Terrified?”

 

“No.” The flushed tip of Shane’s length skims against his entrance. His hips press slowly forwards, and Ryan’s head tips back against the bedsheets.

 

His fingers ball into a small fist against the duvet. He bites into the inside of his cheek. A dull ache rockets through him, splintering outwards, sharp and insistent, invasive and unpleasant. Shane sinks into him slowly. He feels himself stretch, he feels himself struggle just to accomodate him.

 

“Fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuck..”

 

“Taking my cock.” Shane says, voice measured and slow, something else for Ryan to focus on aside from the roar of his own heartbeat, and the sizzle of pain slipping through him. “..-with your legs spread so wide.”

 

“Ahhff--!” He arches off the mattress.

 

Shane’s hips press forwards, insistent, unforgiving, slow-- until he feels the scrape of denim press flush against the curve of his backside. The thatched zipper of Shane’s jeans catches against his flesh, cold and biting. It serves as a distraction from the pain.

 

A hand rubs soothingly at his flank, as if he’s a startled animal; and Shane looms over him - mouth dropped in a loose ‘o’, eyes only half-open, while the muscles in his stomach flutter against his skin, visibly fighting the urge to move.

 

“God-.. fuck. Shane-... fuck. Fuck you.”

 

A short laugh stutters from him, and he folds forwards, looming over Ryan’s smaller frame.

 

“Hold still.” He tells him, earnestly. “It’ll get easier.”

 

He does, and the pain slowly begins to ebb away. He listens to the slow drag of Shane’s breathing, huffed by the shell of his ear. He focuses on his warmth, bleeding through him from where they are joined - on how wonderful it feels just to be like this, to be so full of him, to be in this place he’s imagined, he’s fantasised about so many times.

 

The reality is absolutely nothing like his imagination had painted it to be. It’s a hundred thousand times better.

 

Shane’s hips roll forwards, carefully, temptingly.

 

A quiet shudder skirts through Ryan.

 

A hand presses down against his waist, notched beneath the shallow dip of his hipbone.

 

“You’ve got-..” He rolls his hips again. Ryan’s world spins. “...-no idea how fucking good you feel, Ryan.”

 

“You’re too fucking big, dude.”

 

“Am I hurting you?”

 

“No, I just-...”

 

Shane’s hips stutter forwards, jostling Ryan against the bed.

 

“Fuck--!”

 

A sharp surge of something sweeps through him. It isn’t quite pleasure. It isn’t quite pain. It’s something he can’t adequately name. Something that makes his vision swim, and his stomach bottom out. The hand upon his hip presses down, and Shane’s hips begin to move, drifting forwards and sinking backwards again; setting a gentle, and forgiving rhythm while the last of the pain ebbs away from him.

 

Ryan is still hard. His length is curved and damp with pre, settled below his stomach; forgotten for now, high off the feeling of Shane inside him, turned on just by his warmth, by being this intimately wrapped up in his scent, in his bedsheets, in his bedroom.

 

He’s lost in it, and he reaches up with a steady hand to plant a firm palm against Shane’s headboard. He uses it to press downwards, to push himself back down and onto Shane’s length in a movement that elicits a surprised gasp from the man looming over him.

 

“Ryan-- shit.”

 

His hips hitch forwards, his fingers grip Ryan’s hip firmly, and he begins to fuck him. It’s earnest, almost-punishing, sharp and eager. The springs on the bed beneath them begin to creak. The headboard rocks forwards with each press of Shane’s hips, only to sweep back to slam into the wall above them. The lurid slap-slap-slap of skin-on-skin fills the room, and Ryan’s broken gasps and muffled cries offer some quiet accompaniment. Pleasure soars through him with every press of Shane’s hips. It peaks and swells, settling low in his stomach, spiralling eagerly outwards, a sharp thrill that rides between the insides of his spread thighs, and ripples decadently outwards.

 

Shane claims his lips in a demanding and sloppy kiss that’s all teeth and tongue. His arm sweeps along the sway of Ryan’s spine to pull him closer , until they are all skin-on-skin, damp and sweaty and intertwined. It’s dizzying and wonderful, it’s wanton and messy; pleasure and flesh and the gossamer moonlight peeking in at them while Shane fucks him.

 

He’s lost in it, in this strange brand of pleasure that feels like no other sex he’s ever had, with Shane hunched over him with an open palm balanced against the headboard, while his other remains gripped tightly beneath the sway of Ryan’s spine. His teeth sink into the firm muscle leading along the slender column of Ryan’s throat, biting marks into his skin as if he never wants Ryan to forget that he’s his.

 

“Shane, Shane--... I’m gonna-- I-I--”

 

“You gonna cum?” He asks, tone almost challenging, gravelly and harsh and uttered into the damp curve of Ryan’s throat, riddled with budding bruises. “Go on, show me. Show me.”

 

He draws back, looming over Ryan still, with his hand braced against the headboard, and his hair hanging forwards against his brow, guiding Ryan onto his cock again and again and again .

 

It feels too good. It’s mounting and mounting, and that coil pulled low in his stomach is sweeping tighter and tighter. It ripples through him, sharp and urgent, it pulls him as taut as a harp-string until he’s trembling, shuddering, shaking against Shane’s rumpled pillows. His free hand curves around the cusp of his length as a dull thrill of pleasure settles at his base. His other curls at the nape of Shane’s neck, and sweeps downwards, over his chest, settling palm-down against his pectoral, until he can feel the quiet beat of his heart.

 

It’s racing just as quickly as Ryan’s.

 

It crashes over him with the suddenness of the first wave before high tide. It’s sharp and thrilling and dizzying in a way he won’t ever be able to name. It rockets through him, until his hips stutter, and his body shakes.

 

He comes in a white-hot rush; onto his curled fingers, onto Shane’s chest, onto the open fly of his jeans, onto his pristine bedsheets- he comes undone in a mess that cascades all over him, voice caught in his throat, breath tumbling in harsh and sudden staccato gasps, his heart is racing, and it’s stuck; gated past his lips like everything else.

 

I love you.

 

Shane lurches forwards, his lips find Ryan’s; and it’s earnest and sloppy.

 

“You’re beautiful.” It’s murmured into the corner of his lips as Shane fucks into his spent body, “You’re so fucking beautiful, Ryan. You’re everything--”

 

Shane’s breath hitches, it catches, his fingers curl against the nape of Ryan’s neck, his hips stutter, his body trembles, pulls taut; and Ryan reaches out for him, winding his arms loosely around Shane’s broad shoulders, pulling him close as he sheaths himself inside him, as his release fills the parts of Ryan that his length cannot reach; hot and wonderful.

 

His breaths catch, and falter; laboured and murmured into Ryan’s ear.

 

He wants to tell him. It burns at his tongue, at his chest -- it’s there and it’s so profound.

 

But, he holds it back, and loses himself to another kiss when Shane claims it.

 

* * * *

It’s impossible to hide by morning.

 

They arrive at work together, with Ryan dressed in one of Shane’s shirts, and the same pair of jeans he’d worn to his house the night before. There’s a trail of dark bruises down the column of his throat, and a distinctly tired look to his eyes. He moves stiffly, and rigidly - it hurts ever so slightly when he sits down, and he feels as if he’s just had the workout of a lifetime the night before, and his muscles are still sore in the aftermath.

 

There’s no denying the satisfied gleam to his eyes. The self-assured smile that’s plastered across Shane’s lips, the peppered bruises over his thighs and his hips, or how they seem to orbit one another for the entirety of the day. It feels like gravity is no longer what ties Ryan to the earth, but Shane.

 

Devon’s smile is incredulous and disbelieving. TJ’s glances are knowing and earnest, with raised eyebrows and faint head-shakes. Mark watches them through narrowed eyes, but his features are difficult to discern in most situations. He looks nonplussed.

 

Steven and Andrew set a framed and blown-up version of their moment in the cottage on Shane’s desk; who laughs and takes it in stride, proudly proclaiming that he intends to hang it up within his living room.

 

* * * *

 

They’re working late. It’s Thursday. Their next episode is due to go live in just a handful of hours. They should’ve gone home hours ago, but Ryan isn’t finished editing his final touches, and Shane lingers beside him to offer his aid; editing a soundbite here, fixing the opacity on a graphic there, doing menial and simple tasks just so that Ryan can make it home a little earlier.

 

“You never used to do this.” Ryan says, with one headphone propped off his left ear. “If I knew that all I had to do to get you to help me edit this shit was have sex with you, I might’ve done it sooner.”

 

“You make me sound like some kind of video-editing gigalo.” Shane mutters back, with a beanie pulled down over his mussed hair.

 

“Do you mean to tell me that’s not true?” Ryan asks without looking up.

 

“No. If you want me to start inserting all of my jazzy special effects, you’re gonna have to break out the real freaky shit, Bergara.”

 

“What’s that, then?”

 

“Cameras in the bedroom, bondage with reels of video tape for ropes, I need you to tell me ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’ any time I do something wrong, boss me around, y’know. Standard stuff.”

 

Ryan laughs, lifting a hand to his lips to stifle the sound, even though they’re the only ones left in the office.

 

“I don’t know why you’re laughing. I’m entirely serious.” Shane says, drawing back from his desk to shoot Ryan a sidelong grin.

 

“You’re an insane person.” Ryan tells him, reaching up to slide his headphones off.

 

“Yeah, but you put up with me. I’m still not entirely sure why.”

 

He reaches out with careful fingertips to sweep a stray curl of dark hair from Ryan’s brow.

 

It’s another one of those moments where his heart stutters, where it feels full, where he feels as though he might explode - like he had in the back of the Uber, outside his car in the rain, like he had every time they’d ever visited an airport, and been stuck for an hours-long layover.

 

But, this time he doesn’t hold it back.

 

“I love you.”

 

It’s a whisper, a half-murmured exhale, an admission that feels too heavy to contain. Uttering it feels euphoric. It's liberating. It's freeing. It's like confessing the single biggest secret he's ever kept. Like taking in a breath of fresh air, like shucking a great weight from his shoulders.

 

Shane’s smile is wide, and unabashed. It encompasses his features, it softens his edges, it engulfs him. He leans forwards, sliding toward Ryan on his chair until their knees bump against one another. He kisses him, chaste and soft; and his admission is murmured into the corner of Ryan’s lips.

 

“I love you. I’m in love with you. I don’t know how to be anything else.”

 

* * * *

 

He wonders often if it’s meant to feel this easy, if this progression is meant to feel so natural and intended. He wonders if this was the universe’s plan for them all along, or if the witch that had once owned that cottage in the woods had placed some spell on them; a spell that made Ryan turn into a blundering cesspool of emotions, and Shane as the only stagnant being left in his life that would ever be able to steady him.

 

Their colleagues find out over time; but Shane and Ryan stop trying to hide it after a week. Their brushes are less friendly, and more nuanced, fingers joined before meetings, lunches taken together, a reassuring hand set upon a knee, a gentle kiss to the cheek, a stolen reprieve in the dark corner of the break room, a bite mark, a bruise, a hickey here or there; somewhere obvious where others will see while Ryan slowly begins to realise that Shane has a real thing for marking him.

 

They don’t share everything, but they share enough. There are some secrets that Ryan still wants to keep, and what happens in the dark, after work is over, is always going to be something that’s only for the two of them.

 

Nobody else has to know what it’s like when they collide.