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Fist and Foremost

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→→→   July, 2019   →→→

 

Ryan texts Shane at three in the morning.

This isn’t out of the ordinary. He’s an odd dude with odd habits and one of them happens to be waking up with a jumble of thoughts in his head and a need to share them with someone. That someone typically ends up being Shane, who sleeps like a rock and always has his phone on silent during the night so there’s no fear of Ryan disrupting his abhorrently mundane Circadian rhythm.

It means Shane usually starts the day with a wakeup message of whatever weirdness Ryan was mulling over when he randomly woke up for half an hour in the dead of the night. Ryan doesn’t always remember all the tidbits and commentary he sends Shane’s way, so more often than not it’s an adventure for him too when he checks his phone first thing in the morning. There might be a link to some article about the top ten cannibals no one’s ever heard of (fyi all these are lame except no. 4), a new brewery opening up nearby (hey man we should try this nitro place and it looks like theres free snacks!!!!), or just a borderline ridiculous question (so why don’t we ever hear about number 1 pencils?? Seriously tho number 2 isn’t that special).

Over the past couple months, his repertoire has extended to one-sided sexting. And, in Ryan’s humble opinion, his game is pretty on point even when he’s half asleep.

On occasion, though, he wakes up and doesn’t send anything at all, because Shane is right there next to him and that always makes it easier for Ryan to fall asleep again. Those nights are starting to give the others a run for their money. 

Shane rolls with Ryan’s late-night randomness the way he rolls with most of Ryan’s quirks, but generally doesn’t respond with much beyond one-liners and emojis. He’s pretty laconic, even via text, until he gets caffeinated and into work.

This particular morning is a little different.

Ryan wakes up to the dulcet tones of Fetty Wap’s “Wake Up,” because he’s a literalist and it’s a fucking bop, contemplates snoozing his alarm once out of habit, then hauls himself out of bed to get ready for the gym. That’s all par for the course.

He doesn’t notice until after brushing his teeth that he’s gotten a series of texts from Shane, all sent within seconds of each other. That’s definitely not the norm, considering Shane is a huge fan of sleeping in. Ryan isn’t exactly the biggest fan of getting up early either, but it’s worth it for the endorphin rush that comes from starting the day with a workout. The high he gets from a good training session easily carries him through the rest of the morning. He’s tried to convince Shane of this before, a feat he assumed would be easy enough since endorphins are scientifically proven and Shane loves things that have proof, but Shane had just dismissed scientific fact for once. The word hokum may have been used.

Basically, Shane would sleepwalk to work if he could. Today, apparently, is a bit of an anomaly.

Shane’s texts don’t make a whole lot of sense when Ryan skims them, but there they are:

Wow so this is what I wake up to on a lovely thursday morning huh?

What a question 

Never tried it to be honest 

Why, are you...open to the possibility?

Blearily, Ryan attributes his confusion to trying to read with only one contact lens in, so he pops in the other and scrolls back a bit.

And there it is, his own 3 AM text, large as life and bearing the most unfortunate typo ever. He actually has to close his eyes and shake his head a bit, like that’s going to rearrange the words into something less embarrassing. But when he rereads it, the text is still the same:

Hey so do you like fisting?

Ryan has no memory of sending that, but he has a pretty good idea what he intended to say. He texts Shane back in record time:

Fuck I meant FISHING 

Shane sends back an emoji laughing its nonexistent ass off.

lol seriously man, Ryan responds, adding on a string of fish emojis for good measure.

Shane, predictably, just replies with a fist emoji. Ryan supposes it’s no more than he deserves.

 


 

  

“Hey there, pal, still trying to bait me and reel me in?” 

“Shut up, Shane,” Ryan answers automatically.  

He doesn’t need to look to know there’s a triumphant grin creeping across Shane’s face as he drops into his chair beside Ryan. “A very good morning to you too, bud. Hi, Kelsey, what’d I miss?” 

Kelsey smiles at him, looking particularly angelic and not at all like she’s just been telling Ryan her newest plans for wreaking havoc in The Sims. “Oh, not much. I think I can make ghost Shane seduce ghost Ryan away from Mimsy. Just for fun, though.” 

“But I thought Ryan and Mimsy were endgame.” Shane actually sounds appalled. “We worked so hard to get them into that bush and now you want me to bust up their love?”

Ryan eyes him askance. “You’re worried about the relationship integrity of ghosts all of a sudden? I was just trying to make sure this wouldn’t be an In Control thing that goes up on the channel.”

“No, not at all,” Kelsey assures him. “I just want to see what happens.”

“Fictional characters based on ourselves are a lot more real than actual ghosts, which is a very easy standard to surpass seeing as there are no actual ghosts,” Shane interjects. 

It’s such a patented Shane response that Ryan barely spares the brainpower to process it. For some reason, the look on Kelsey’s face is making his shoulders tense and his stomach churn, and that requires much more attention.

“Okay, good, ’cause I don’t know if the world is ready to see the end of Mimsy and me,” he says, trying to sound lighthearted.

“Awww, you don’t think people would see Shane as an upgrade? Anyway.” She looks speculative. “You know that you guys racked up a ton of views when you came on. If you ever want to film another episode and see what happens…” She lets the possibility linger between them. 

The roiling in Ryan’s stomach intensifies. He wishes he could blame it on whatever Daily Harvest shake he pounded this morning, but he has a feeling it’s nothing so mundane. “Uh. Yeah, okay.”

“Definitely something to consider,” Shane says. “We’ll keep you posted.”

“Just think about it.” Kelsey gives them both a dazzling smile and disappears towards Tasty and their surplus of apple turnovers.

Ryan slips on his headphones as soon as she leaves, mutely shoving his own paper plate of turnovers in Shane’s direction.

For a little while, it works. Shane gives him a pat on the shoulder but doesn’t say a word, and he gamely eats one of Ryan’s pastries before pushing the plate back towards him. Ryan sinks into the solace of a nice mellow playlist as he reviews the shooting schedule for their upcoming Philadelphia trip. He responds to emails and needles Katie on Slack about why a true crime episode investigating the Disneyland deaths is both a great idea and an affront to the happiest place on earth. He doesn’t dwell at all on why the idea of going public with a ghost version of their relationship is enough to make him recoil.

Eventually, Shane swivels his chair enough to knock his knee against Ryan’s thigh. “Hey.”

There’s a cowlick at his temple where he’s been leaning his head on his hand. Ryan has a devastating urge to reach over and smooth it back down. Instead, he just slides off his headphones and lets his hands rest on the arms of his chair. “Hey hey.”

“So,” Shane says conversationally. “Are you ever planning to explain why you were asking me about fishing at,” he checks his phone, “3:17 in the morning?”

This isn’t the question Ryan is expecting, but he’s more than fine with that. “I’m planning a thing.”

Shane rakes a hair through his hair, doing all kinds of physics-defying things to it, and Ryan’s heart is suddenly full to overflowing with how ridiculous he looks. “Planning a thing. Very descriptive. And there’s fish involved with this thing? Because I’m not a huge fan of fishing, in case you’re still wondering.” 

Ryan gives him a smirk. “Maybe?” 

Ghost fish?” 

“Maybe!”

Shane’s lips twitch. “If this is about our vacation days, you had literally two rules and one of them was no ghosts.”

“Fine,” Ryan concedes. “There are no ghost fish involved. Ghosts and the unknown depths of the ocean is a terrifying combination.”

“Speaking of terrifying combinations. You don’t want to date me in The Sims?”

There it is. Ryan swallows.

“I’m dating you in real life, you big dork.”

“Ryan.” Shane’s face softens. “Obviously I know that.”

“Look, Kelsey can do whatever the hell she wants to do. I just don’t need it getting showcased for the whole internet.”

The words just leap out of him and Ryan winces. It’s not like they’re inaccurate, but there has to have been a more tactful way he could have phrased that. 

But Shane just bobs his head, unfazed. Ryan wishes his calmness was at least a tiny bit contagious. “Workplace relationships are weird, huh.”

Not for the first time, Ryan is reminded that Shane’s done this before. He and Sara always made it seem so chill and easy, and they were together for over three years before they amicably split up.

Every time Ryan catches himself waffling about wanting to peck Shane on the cheek or take his hand while they’re on the job, he ends up trying to recall everything he can about how he and Sara interacted during the time they were together as both a couple and coworkers. They just sort of let word spread on its own until eventually it became common knowledge they were a thing, then even managed to work their relationship into a few videos. Ryan still can’t imagine pulling off any of that. 

Then again, Shane and Sara didn’t have to work together while practically joined at the hip. They didn’t have fans combing video footage for proof of their friendship spilling into something else. And he doubts, even between the two of them, they had Ryan’s capacity for spiraling into anxiety cyclones. 

He still has so many things he wants to ask Shane about this, about balance and making sense of it all, about whether it’s normal to feel like everyone who walks past their desks is scrutinizing them a little harder. 

“Yeah,” is all he says instead, a rueful smile tugging at his lips. It’s borderline impossible to have intimate conversations in an open plan office. “Weird for sure.” 

Shane scrubs a hand through his hair again and Ryan automatically tracks the gleam of his watch as it goes sliding up his forearm. He’s not sure when the hell he started finding it so charming that Shane wears an old-school watch. “Wanna get In-N-Out for lunch?”

He brings his arm back down and Ryan follows the trajectory of his watch again, then keeps right on going, sweeping his gaze along Shane’s slim wrist, the ripple of his knuckles, and those long tapered fingers. It just takes a quick mental sidestep to recall his own mangled early-morning text and Shane gleefully sending him a fist emoji. 

Ryan’s breath shudders from his lungs in a sudden rush.

“I’m supposed to help Garrett film his thing at one, so we should go soon if you’re up for it,” Shane adds. If he’s noticed Ryan zoning out, he either hides it well or doesn’t consider it anything out of the ordinary.

“I’ve got a recording session booked in like fifteen minutes to finish voiceover stuff,” Ryan answers. “But I’ll text you as soon as I’m done. And no more asking about the fish thing, okay? Forget that even happened.”

Shane tips him a salute and Ryan very much does not perv on the elegant slant of his hand.  

 

 

   ←←←   February, 2019   ←←←

 

 

He really did have a point behind the fishing question.

Ryan didn’t lie before: he really is planning a thing, and it’s not even a ghost thing. He and Shane penciled in some nebulous idea for a brocation—Ryan’s word, he’s not ashamed to admit it, and at the time it was an accurate one—that just entailed not having cameras or ghosts around. It took a while to get things off the ground, since quite a few milestones have happened since then, his and Shane’s evolution from strictly bro status included. It wasn’t until around Shane’s birthday in May, when he started grumbling about California’s lack of weather yet again , that Ryan finally got his ass in gear and had them put in for a few vacation days over the summer.

He first floated the concept way back in February, not long after a sizable crop of their coworkers was suddenly scythed away. Somewhere in the midst of the LA office’s collective misfortune, Ryan came to two conclusions. The first one was damn, job security is a lie; the second one was damn, I need to make the most of my vacation time.

“You ever wanna just get away from it all?”

“As in, away from all the bullshit we’re drowning in?” Shane said, not looking up from his burrito bowl. “Or as in, away from the global snare of capitalism and greed slowly contributing to the downfall of business infrastructure and human empathy as a whole?”

“Uh, whichever one means using up some vacay days and traveling somewhere non-haunted for once.”

That made Shane’s downturned eyes crinkle at the corners. “Sort of a ‘the ghoul boys hit the road minus ghouls’ thing?”

Ryan snorted in spite of himself, a guac-heavy tortilla chip halfway to his mouth. “I guess that’s part of the appeal, yeah. But not as a video or anything, just as some straight-up time off. You wanna?”

“You have more vacation days saved up than I do,” Shane said matter-of-factly. “You don’t want to disappear for a month or anything crazy, right?”

“I’m not planning on anything like your big Iceland adventure. Just a few days to get away from everything, you know?”

“Believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to get away from all this crap,” Shane muttered. “I can’t swing anything too crazy time-wise or money-wise, just saying. Gotta keep some Chicago trips in the old budget or I might start going full-on LA.”

“Jesus, Shane, I’m trying to invite you on an epic but chill as fuck brocation with zero percent ghosts. Just say yes or no.”

Shane gave him the same long-suffering but amused look he always broke out when Ryan’s inner frat boy flared to the surface. “There’s always zero percent ghosts, you know. And yeah, I’m in.” 

 

 

→→→   July, 2019   →→→

 

 

In retrospect, Ryan knows now, he should have nailed down a destination way further in advance. 

He and Shane didn’t exactly set demanding parameters. And technically, just two of the criteria are Shane’s; his only requests were for something chill and ghost-free. The rest of his preferences are just things that Ryan has pieced together by conjecture. 

So all in all, they’re looking for something on a budget, something chill, something that’s not in the middle of the desert, something that doesn’t have a single waft of the paranormal about it, and something that’s not too far but proves southern California isn’t a monolith. 

That last part is very important to Ryan.

For all his disdain at the idea of going full-on LA, Shane has become enough of an Angeleno to refer to Chicago as “back east” and to have a preferred kombucha cafe. He still talks rhapsodically about the Midwest, has absurdly strong opinions about pizza, and gets the dopiest look on his face when there’s a rainstorm, but nowadays that just makes Ryan want to kiss him instead of rolling his eyes at him. Sometimes he even does both at once. 

It’s crazy how the most annoying things have somehow become a little endearing, even Shane bemoaning lack of rainfall and seasons and temperate climate schemes. As if all the angles and contours that make up the Shane he’s known for the past five years are subtly shifting, filtering through a new lens Ryan’s still learning how to focus.

Picking a vacation destination that fit the bill should have been easy. Shane's a mellow guy used to going wherever their schedule takes them, regardless of how little information Ryan elects to provide him about it. He would probably be happy to just hang out in a shack on top of a mountain as long as it had wifi and the potential for a little rain.

The thing is, Ryan sort of dropped the ball on this. They booked a few days off during the summer—Shane has a special resentment for LA summers—with the intention of doing something in that lazy stretch of time after the Fourth of July but before the Labor Day weekend rush. And Ryan has been immobile with indecision until approximately two days ago, when he literally googled “rustic shit to stay in near LA” and hoped the internet would magically deliver the perfect travel destination somewhere between the Bigfoot motel and the Dauphine Orleans.

He made the mistake of asking Shane if he trusted him to handle this. Shane, entirely too chill for his own good, had shrugged blithely and agreed.

Then this somehow went from a casual getaway to their first non-work trip since they’ve become a thing ,  and it feels important to tailor it to Shane as much as possible and not fuck it up. This is the reason Ryan has been trawling AirBnb for ideas like a madman. Shane sleeps on rickety beds, cramped cots and sometimes just bare floors in dusty haunted houses for him all the time. The least Ryan can do is take him somewhere nice.  

He’s not a romantic or anything. It just feels like the right thing to do. A sort of balancing of the scales.

This is why he’s sequestered away in a sound booth scoping out cabins in the southern region of Los Padres National Forest instead of finishing his voiceover work. 

The really tricky part has been finding a rental that’s remote enough to be away from all the hustle and bustle, but not all up its own ass about how woodsy it is. Ryan has rejected several options for being decorated with actual antlers and weird chipmunk statues everywhere. His two top choices are between one closer to a lake that’s apparently a fishing goldmine and one set further into the Pine Mountain Club woods to the point where it’s practically swallowed up by the trees. 

Shane, he knows now, is not a fishing fan, so it looks like they’re going with the more isolated one. 

That was Ryan’s preference too, even though according to the AirBnb description they have a possibility of seeing the odd bear wandering through the property. That should delight Shane to no end, even if Ryan faints. 

Between takes of his theory voice, which is steadily starting to sound more giddy, he finalizes the booking.

A confirmation email pops up immediately. They leave in three weeks and he just nailed it. 

Alone in the sound booth, Ryan fist pumps like a maniac.  

Then he’s right back to thinking about Shane’s fist. Win some, lose some.

 

 

   ←←←   February, 2019   ←←←

 

 

Shane didn’t become endearing overnight. It was a stealthy, gradual thing. 

Ryan still can’t pinpoint when so many of Shane’s quirks started becoming less irritating. He just knows that by the time he realized it was happening he’d already gotten caught up in the domino effect.

A few weeks after the layoffs hit, someone, he doesn’t remember who, sent out Facebook invites for a sympathy pub takeover.

They’d both accepted. Work was feeling more dismal every day, the only bright spot being that Shane had just agreed to his haphazard vacation aspirations. Going out on the town and buying drinks for their fallen comrades sounded almost therapeutic.

“I told Teej we both owed him one,” Shane admitted, looking miserable in the back of their Lyft. “Or one hundred, y’know. After all the shit he’s been through with us. Oh, and Selorm, she came through like a champ for Ruining History.”

Shane seemed to be further along in the stages of grief than he was. Ryan was still having a hard time believing how many people were gone, even though he’d had plenty of time to let the reality sink in. It just still didn’t seem quite real. Selorm had helped rack up at least a hundred thousand views for As/Is and TJ was essentially the unseen third member of the ghoul boys. “Yeah, definitely. We’ve gotta make it rain for these guys.”

“And then pour one out for ol’ Ruining History,” Shane muttered. “No one and nothing is sacred around here.”

For a moment, Ryan had the most overpowering urge to reach over and squeeze his hand. 

At the bar, it quickly became very clear to Ryan that he wasn’t the only one seeing this whole thing as a boozy group therapy session. “It’s bullshit,” Niki was saying when he made his way up to the rooftop deck. “They cut our asses and they just put out an announcement for new fellowships.”

Garrett, standing beside her and looking for all the world like her bodyguard, nodded seriously. “Ohhhh  yeah, I saw that too. They want full-time fellows in the same departments that got hit the hardest. It’s pretty gross.”

“Can they...do that?” Ryan asked, feeling very much out of his depth.

Jared gave him a pitying look. “They can do what they want if you aren’t bringing in enough revenue.” 

“But they can still bring you on for short term stuff, like the other Kelsey,” Kelsey was insisting. “I bet we’ll still be seeing a lot of you around!”

TJ threw back his head and laughed. “Scully, I want to believe.” He patted Ryan on the back. “You better start looking for ghost-hunting sponsors, just in case.”

Involuntarily, Ryan gave a full-body cringe. “Um, you know what, I dunno how that would even work. Who needs a refill? I’ve got a tab open downstairs.” 

He lost count of how many people took him up on that offer over the next couple hours. There was a lot of hugging, lots of toasting, lots of clinking glasses and downing their contents in solidarity. By the time it occurred to him to switch to water, he’d already forgotten how to walk a straight line and even that was somehow a vibe-killer. 

Ryan normally considered himself a pretty fun drunk, but now he was wandering around in a sulk. The entire Buzzfeed office was being gutted and all the clinked glasses, mood lighting and twee fairy light decorations in the bar couldn’t change that.  

Eventually, he ended up slogging back up to the rooftop for air, absorbing snatches of seemingly all the most morose conversations on his way. 

...and then my friend in New York was on vacation when she found out they were laying her off

...bitches want their free shit, ain’t nobody gonna pay for that 

...it was just a matter of time, we all remember what happened to the podcasting department 

...my mom is being such a smug asshole, she never wanted me to go to film school

...baby, I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight

Well. That was different. 

He glanced over and there was Shane, sprawled in a wicker sectional and singing along to Cheap Thrills.

Andrew, standing a few feet away, was holding a throw pillow and looking as if he was contemplating the merits of smothering him. “What do you think, should I put us all out of our misery?” 

For the umpteenth time, Ryan took a moment to contemplate what an awesome serial killer Andrew would have been in another life. Or maybe this life, who knew.

Anyway, Shane didn’t have a bad voice, when he wasn’t deliberately trying to make it sound as ridiculous as possible. 

There weren’t any other open seats nearby, so he hip-bumped Shane over a few inches and sank down beside him. No biggie; they’d been in closer quarters than this. “What’s wrong, Ilnyckyj, you don’t wanna come on, come on and turn the radio on?”

Shane cackled. “Atta boy!”

Without changing his facial expression, Andrew chucked the pillow at both of them and walked away.

“He was being maudlin anyway,” Shane stage whispered, close enough for Ryan to feel the warm waft of his breath on his cheek.

Maudlin,” Ryan repeated, unable to stop himself from tittering. “You guys have an average age of, like, at least seventy.” 

The sharp scent of weed was unmistakable, working its way through the air to wreath the two of them in a sweet secondhand high. If anyone asked Ryan later, that’s what he’d cite as his reason for letting his head sink against Shane’s shoulder.

“Good evening,” Shane said dryly, but he didn’t try to move away either and for some reason that seemed like the most important thing in the world.

Ryan smiled up at him. “So hey, I’ve been thinking. What if we did Ruining History but like, we just filmed it drunk in your living room.” 

“Ryan, that’s genius. Except there’s already a whole series called, wait for it, Drunk History.”

“Shit. Right.”

“Also all you want to do when you’re drunk is giggle and dance.”

“That’s not true, sometimes I want to make out.” Ryan paused to yawn, then let his head loll back onto Shane’s suddenly very rigid shoulder. “I can be an executive drunk in front of the camera. Have a little faith in me.”

“Oh, you know I got you, baby,” Shane said, half singing along to Sia again. 

In an unexpectedly deep mental dive Ryan didn’t know the alcohol in his system was allowing for, he wondered if everything he and Shane did, all those jump scares and haunted basements, really was just rooted in what most people would consider cheap thrills. And apparently so was Buzzfeed, if they were so determined to lay off this many employees. Maybe TJ was right and they should start pitching Unsolved episodes to sponsors. Just to be on the safe side. He’d been to Knott’s Scary Farm plenty of times, maybe they’d want to cough up some Unsolved sponsorship money. And he and Shane shouted out Chipotle often enough of their own free will, maybe there was a ghost story about a haunted burrito factory they could cover. 

This was a very depressing road to look down, but even Kobe had to do Nike commercials and it didn’t make him any less of a professional.

He sighed. “Niki’s right. They’re hiring for fellowships and paying them less. Cheap thrills all the way.” 

Shane was looking at him, glassy-eyed and grinning. “Yeah. This whole thing sucks, but I’m glad I’ve still got you around. ’Cause like...I really wanna keep you around, you know?”

If Ryan had to pick a moment where his crush made the leap from lowkey to highkey, that would probably be it.

“I’ll be your cheap thrill anytime, big guy.” 

And for a moment, Shane was perfectly still and he looked like he might not mind it at all if Ryan kissed him.

Then his face was crinkling into laugh lines and he patted Ryan once on the arm and said, “Well then, go paint your nails and get your high heels on.” 

And winked.

Ryan didn’t kiss him that night, but he laughed until he choked and Shane’s big warm hand was rubbing circles into his back, and that was okay too.

 

 

→→→   July, 2019   →→→

 

 

Over the next few days, Ryan goes out of his way to avoid saying shit like “let me give you a hand,” but unfortunately no one else seems to get the memo.

Shane offers to give him a hand once while he’s reorganizing the desk in Ghoul HQ and Ryan has half a mind to just bend over it instead. Yes please, give me one right now, give me all you’ve got.

It’s a problem, and so are Shane’s long lovely hands.

Also the concept of fisting in general seems painful as fuck and Ryan is just not about that life. He still can’t shake this fixation.

On three different occasions, he pulls up vids on Redtube and has to click away before the dudes onscreen even get to the main event. Sex is supposed to be fun , how is this fun? And why does he lose all sense of rationality whenever he gets a glimpse of Shane doing something provocative, like having hands?

He works in a visual medium for a living, Ryan scolds himself. He really should be able to handle this. As if that makes any sense whatsoever; as if his time at Buzzfeed has prepared him to watch close-ups of waxed buttholes being penetrated. 

Since he clearly can’t handle it, he tries the next best thing: reading up on it. This results in possibly one of the most adventurous games of google roulette he’s ever played in his life. 

Eventually, though, he finds some informative advice from real live sites that end in .org and even a few blog posts that don’t seem like they’re going to flood his laptop with viruses. He keeps five or six of the most promising tabs open and, for lack of a better word, plunges in.

It’s possible he loses track of time. You really can find anything on the internet, including multiple articles on how to train your ass to take a fist. One of his roommates yells up the stairs— yells, like a heathen, like texting isn’t a thing—to ask if he wants to order food and Ryan very nearly yells back “I’ve never read the phrase ‘butt health’ so many times before."  

He restrains himself and puts in a request for beef lo mein. Then he dives right back into his research.

He spends the next hour reading up on fisting minutiae. It’s strangely lulling, the more he learns about how the whole thing relies so much on trust and patience and being taken care of. That part he thinks might be really nice, the fact that it would take so much time and devotion. Just imagining the level of intimacy that must come with all that is a little overwhelming. 

Ryan is great at being overwhelmed. And Shane is great at good-naturedly taking Ryan’s neediness in stride, has been for years now. This could be a fun experiment for both of them. Not to mention, if done right, it should be more than enough to have them both flying. 

He might need to pick up nicer lube before anything else happens, maybe figure out some way to treat Shane to a manicure. And probably bring Shane up to speed on this, that’s a pretty important component. All the articles he’s read emphasize the importance of being transparent with your partner, which seems like it should go without saying but also seems more daunting to Ryan than taking a fist up there in the first place.

Over the past several weeks, Ryan has become familiar with the feel of Shane’s cock inside him, the deftness of his fingers, the way his voice goes so low and rough and gentle all at the same time when he’s turned on. But there are still so many stumbling blocks he’s trying to navigate. Even though it feels like they’ve been together for way longer—in Ryan’s mind, they totally have—it’s only been about two months since they went out for Shane’s birthday and made actual mouth-to-mouth contact. And two months just doesn’t feel like a long enough time to spring the fisting conversation on your significant other. Not that Ryan would know. 

This all leaves Ryan left with nothing to do but discreetly scope out those hands and the weirdo attached to them. And, apparently, look up a bunch of tutorials because he can't help feeding this obsession he's caught in even though it's just making everything worse. 

He almost jumps out of his skin when Shane texts to ask what he’s up to.

Ryan eyes his phone with suspicion, then blithely texts back nm eatin chinese and dicking around online. Which is technically true. 

And because Shane has a preternatural ability to know when Ryan’s trying to slide something past him, he replies with, Please define dicking around and a smirking emoji.

Ryan considers telling him the whole truth and a rush of heat trips straight up his spine, leaving his head swimming and ears burning. Lol how about I come over tomorrow and show you?

On impulse, he attaches a picture of one of the butt plugs he invested in the other day. Shane already knows he’s kind of a hedonist; he doesn’t need to know just how big Ryan’s arsenal of toys is or that his latest late-night purchase was a whole set of training plugs. It’s not his fault there’s seriously nothing Amazon Prime won’t do. Shane also doesn’t need to know he’s made it his own private mission to try and work his way up to the largest one in the set, the one that flares so wide it makes him wince to look at it but also makes him want to sink it inside himself and let it stretch him until he aches. 

Judging by the number of exclamation points Shane sends him, knowing about the smallest one is more than enough. 

Fuuuuuuck I did not know you were into that 

That sends an unexpected ripple of guilt through him. They’ve known each other for five years; why the fuck should he have any reservations about Shane knowing things like this?

Shane is still going:

How big is it? 

Is it weird if I think it’s kind of cute? 

This is fair enough question, Ryan thinks. The plug is hot pink and glittery, part of the training set he impulse bought because it was on sale and available in the colors of the bi pride flag. He was weak and he regrets nothing whatsoever about it.

What else are you sitting on??? Shane demands. Then, as if he needs to clarify, Pun intended :P

Grinning like a lunatic, Ryan sends him another picture of the same toy, this time with a dollar for scale . Guess you’ll have to wait and see. Sweet dreams :D

The three dots disappear and reappear beside Shane’s name for an interminable length of time. Ryan is expecting a text tirade on what a jerk he is, but what finally pops up instead is, I’m really close to breaking my rule about not sending dick pics, just saying. 

Ryan is an asshole. He sends Shane an eggplant emoji, then follows it up with a kissy face emoji before he can overthink himself. 

He rides a wave of euphoria straight to cloud nine when Shane sends one back, accompanied by a crotch shot of just how much his hard-on is distorting the stripes of his pajama pants.

Ryan’s mouth goes dry. Woah there rule breaker

He can practically hear Shane chuckling. Yeah well fuck you for being hot 

The dots hesitate beside Shane’s name again after that. Ryan wonders fleetingly if he’s jerking off.

Then Shane’s next message appears: Facetime me? 

And Ryan does.

“So.” Shane’s face fills his phone screen. “You wanna tell me what you do with that thing?”

His pupils are huge and his voice has a timbre to it that makes Ryan’s brain go momentarily numb.

“Slot A, tab B, man. It’s not that hard.”

“Oh, I beg to differ,” Shane mutters. “And fuck off, you know what I mean. I’m trying to be alluring here. Do you fuck yourself when you jerk off?”

He sounds debauched. The giggle building in Ryan’s throat abruptly dissipates. “It’s...yeah, sometimes I’ll use one, if I need a little something extra to get me there.” 

“So you’ve got multiples, huh? You’ve been holding out on me.” Shane angles his phone downward, giving Ryan a nice long look at where he’s shimmied his pants off his hips and curled a hand around his dick. “Tell me more.”

Ryan swallows, pushes the heel of his hand against his crotch until his breath hitches. “I’ve gotta take a couple fingers first, get myself relaxed.”

“Fuck,” Shane breathes, stretching the word out like he’s savoring the taste of it. 

“That’s the idea.” Ryan’s fingers tangle in the drawstring of his shorts as he works them down over his cock. “You ever—”

Shane cuts him off. “Could I do that for you? I could get you ready and put it in.”

“You can put it in me whenever you want, big guy.” He means for it to sound corny and over the top, but Shane’s lashes flutter and his mouth parts and...wow. Okay then.

Ryan can’t tear his eyes off him. Shane is only visible from his collarbones up, face half-hidden in one of his pillows, but it doesn’t take a genius. “Shane...you’re that close, seriously?”

“You can’t just talk about letting me put things inside you and expect it to not have an effect,” Shane protests. The phone angle shifts again and Ryan almost chokes on his tongue at the sight of Shane’s long, elegant fingers stroking himself in a decadently measured pace. 

“Yeah,” Ryan hears himself whispering. “Yeah, baby, you can do it, push it in me, I want you to.”

Shane makes a strangled sound and comes all over his stomach.

He considerately keeps his phone trained on his lower body the entire time. Ryan almost dies.

“Fuck, I don’t even know how to deal with you sometimes,” Shane murmurs, soft and intimate. 

Ryan can’t answer. His cock throbs in his fist and he can barely keep hold of his phone with his other hand. 

“Ry? You okay?” 

Shane seems to be in no hurry to clean up or cover himself. As Ryan watches, he gives a slow stretch and trails languid fingers through the mess on his belly.

It feels like Ryan’s entire body convulses. He’s never wanted anything more than he wants to lick Shane’s fingers clean. That isn’t even a particular kink of his, it’s all because of Shane’s goddamn hand.

“Are you gonna let me see you come? ’Cause fuck, Ryan, I love watching you get off,” Shane says, as if he can just drop this kind of bomb on him.

And Ryan goes from balancing right on the edge of his orgasm to falling full-tilt over it, feeling desperately empty as his body clenches around nothing.

When his vision clears, Shane is grinning at him. Cheeks flushed and hair spearing out in all directions. “We’re pretty good at this, huh?”  He waves one hand vaguely, which Ryan supposes is meant to encompass all of their themness.

Ryan finds himself grinning back. “We really are.”

 


 

In the morning, Ryan shows up to work feeling like he might as well be wearing a shirt that says YEP, WE PHONE SEXED with an arrow pointing at Shane.

It’s a nice change from starting work with that weird, wavery feeling in the gaps between his ribs.

There’s a part of him that’s constantly stressing about something or other. He didn’t exactly go into this year with the aim of expanding his range of new and exciting things to stress about, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Sometimes these anxieties just beat away in the back of his mind like hammers on a piece of tin, scrambling his thoughts and receding his hairline bit by bit. He swears he’s grown a little more forehead since the layoffs happened, but it could just be psychosomatic. It’s almost like it’s not healthy, all this shit Ryan wonders about but is never going to bring up. 

He just can’t help the slow-burning paranoia that eventually the powers that be are going to start trimming away at the BUN empire the way they’ve trimmed away at so many other departments. Or that maybe there’s some kind of power imbalance going on here between him and Shane that neither of them fully realize. Or that Shane’s going to get sick of him now that they’re spending even more time together and decide everything about their relationship is a mistake. 

After all, Shane always deals with his extraness, and when does his high maintenance ass ever do anything for Shane?

And speaking of high maintenance asses, he still can’t stop stealing long, borderline creepy looks at Shane’s hands and wanting to jerk himself raw. He needs to either chill or confess, because there’s no way Shane isn’t going to pick up on this fixation if he keeps at it.

He plunks a cup of Keurig-fresh coffee down at Shane’s elbow. “Hey. Two more weeks and then vacation. You pumped or freaking out at what I’ve got planned for us?”

“Of course I’m pumped,” Shane says, like it’s absurd for Ryan to think there’s any other option. “I trust you. Especially when I think about what else we’ve got on the schedule.”

I trust you. It honest to god makes Ryan glow from the inside out to hear Shane say that. Ryan’s been trying to be good about keeping the details of their PMC trip as close to the chest as any Unsolved destination, and Shane is cool as a cucumber about it all even though he more than has the right to ask for additional information.

They fly out to film their Philly episode on Grumblethorpe in two days, then their Rhode Island episode at the White Horse Tavern five days after that. It’s going to be good to have a rest after it all, even if Ryan does end up getting mauled by a bear, the deadliest animal on the planet.  

“Yeah, same,” he says. “I’m looking forward to not having to deal with anyone but you for a few days.” 

For a second, he’s worried Shane might take that the wrong way. 

But Shane seems to be pleased and pecks him on the cheek right there at their desks. He’s never done that before, not at work. This is probably some kind of employment violation. Ryan tenses up in spite of himself.

“Excuse me, some of us are trying to work,” Jen says pointedly, even though she looks like she’s ready to whip out a bucket of popcorn and settle in for the show.

Ryan gives her his most innocent smile. “Really? Where are they?

She tries to glare at him and fails spectacularly. “We really created a monster, didn’t we? Curly’s gonna hear about you guys making out on the job if you’re not careful.”

Shane snickers. “I think he probably knows already. Curly has a sixth sense for whenever anything nonheteronormative is happening.”

He drops another kiss on Ryan’s cheek and this time Ryan just lets himself enjoy it.

 

 

←←←   May, 2019   ←←←

 

 

Jen and Curly aren’t the only ones who like to claim they had a hand in making Shyan a reality, but they do have some of the most clout.

Back in May, a handful of them took it upon themselves to show Shane a good time for his birthday. Weirdly, Sara was the first one to use the term “beautiful bisexual bonanza” and everything caught fire from there. Ryan was still kind of awed at what good terms she and Shane were on despite their decision to break up over a year ago.

Jen was the one who picked the location, insisting this one gay bar had the best drink specials and the biggest dancefloors.  

Curly, the sole non-drinker among them, was laying out a contingency plan as soon as they staked their claim at a bar-adjacent table. 

“Listen, you have a built in conversation starter that you only get to bust out once a year. Forget about ‘what’s your name, what do you do’ and all that shit. Just start off with ‘hey, I’m here with some friends celebrating my birthday,’ okay? It gives them something to respond to that’s not boring, and by mentioning friends you’ve basically established that you’re single. And, if you’re lucky, you’ve opened yourself up to them offering to get you a birthday BJ.” He adjusted his glasses, bangles clacking. “The drink or the other kind, no one’s judging. Just be safe, have fun, and get you some.”

“I didn’t know I was supposed to be trying to get some,” said Shane. “I would’ve worn my sexy plaid shirt if anyone told me.”

Andrew and Adam, of all people, gave him a once over in perfect unison. “Yeah,” Andrew said, “I guess we kind of forgot to mention Operation Lay Madej. Our bad. I bet we could make it blow up on Twitter though.”

“Please don’t,” Shane said mildly.

“When’s the last time you made out with a hot guy?” Adam asked. “Or just any guy, period?” 

Shane screwed up his face. “Um, maybe six years ago?”

“What?” Ryan blurted out, unable to articulate why this stung even though he hadn’t even known Shane six years ago. He’d heard Shane refer to ex-boyfriends on occasion and it had never gotten his hackles up before. And it wasn’t like he didn’t know there must have been makeouts involved. It just suddenly felt very important to learn more about this. “Were you still with what’s-his-face then?”

“Exactly,” Curly declared, before Ryan could badger him any further. “We gotta get your juices flowing again, boo.”

Shane looked amused. “Okay, wait, how old do you think I’m turning here? My juices are fine.” 

“We’re saying you’re out of practice and you should get back in the game.” TJ gave him a magnanimous nod, lounging back in his bentwood chair like a king. “And as a happily married man, you should be hanging on my every enlightened word. Now get out there and sow your wild oats.”

“Ryan, I know you’re always ready to shake it,” Jen said brightly. “Who else is in?” 

The rest of their little group stared back at her blankly. “I told Annie I’d watch her purse,” Adam said.

“I can’t with you straight boys.” Curly took Ryan by the elbow. “Come on, let’s see your moves.” 

“I never said I was ready to shake anything,” Ryan protested as they maneuvered him away from their table.

Jen laughed, not unkindly. “You were looking at Shane like you wanted to kill him for getting it on with some rando back before you even knew each other. I think you need a change of scene.”

Even though the club’s lighting was dim enough to be hazardous, Ryan felt weirdly exposed. It reminded him a little bit of the time he and Jen got looped into going to a morning rave and had to navigate the dancefloor totally sober and half asleep.

He must have looked particularly pathetic because Curly looped an arm around his shoulders. “Shhh, forget about that and just have a good time. We all get crushes, baby, you just crush like a pile driver. It’s gonna be okay.” 

The thing about the morning rave was that, by the end of it, he was pumped full of adrenaline and wound up having an awesome time. And that was without the added elements of booze, weird sexual tension, or anxiety about just how pitiful his friends thought he was. If Ryan could work with that, he could work with anything. 

He was already a little tipsy and the speakers were pulsing out some EDM remix of top 40 shit he barely recognized. If he got a couple refills and proved to Jen he really was ready to shake it, that was all in the name of self-care. Curly was right. Everything was going to be fine.

By the time Jen was getting glitter war paint dabbed on her cheeks by a girl in a glow-in-the-dark crop top and Curly was singing Ozuna into his ear, Ryan was riding the crest of his buzz to the limit and letting his eyes wander.

Clearly he wasn’t very smooth about it because Curly gave a low chuckle. “Somebody’s on the prowl tonight.” 

“I’m not prowling, I’m just trying to get some cardio in.” 

“Listen,” Curly said, giving him a cut-the-bullshit look, “I literally could have written the book on prowling by now if I wasn’t so damn lazy and I know a mente chuco when I see one in action. It’s okay to admit you want the D. Just be responsible about how you get it.”

Ryan’s mouth fell open. He cast a plaintive look at Jen, who was no help whatsoever. “It’s been six years for Shane, we already know that. How about you?”

“Nope, not having this chat,” Ryan said as good-naturedly as he could, trying not to think about Shane making out with anyone. “I’m gonna hit the bathroom.”

Jen and Curly exchanged glances. 

Ryan sighed. “And maybe mingle a little bit.”

“Dude, even I know that means you’re trying to fall on someone’s dick,” Jen complained.

“You should be mingling with the birthday boy, just saying.” Curly sounded way too glib about this. “If you’re gonna try and fall on a dick tonight, both y’all need to get some.”

For at least ten seconds, Ryan had no idea how to respond to that. “I will...definitely keep that in mind,” he choked out. Then he took a very long swallow of his drink and let himself get swallowed up by the crowd. If Curly had anything else to say about this, he wasn’t going to wait around to hear it.

Maybe it was Shane’s birthday, but that didn’t mean he had to be the only one sowing his oats.

Ryan didn’t have any illusions about his dancing ability. He wasn’t going to get spotted by any roaming talent scouts, but he could stick to a beat and he had on a shirt that made his arms look pretty good. No reason not to take advantage of the moment. And if anyone spotted one half of the ghoul boys living it up on the dancefloor, since presumably Shane was going to give it a wide berth, he’d deal with that when and if it happened.

What he got instead was some amiable nameless dude who asked, “Hey, are you here with anyone?” 

And Ryan, parroting Curly’s script, responded, “Just out with some friends for a birthday thing.”

It really did work like a charm.

That was all the communication he needed and he was more than okay with that. It was kind of nice to lose himself in the rhythm of some stranger’s body while the rest of the Buzzfeed squad was probably still knocking back drinks. The guy was a little taller than him, skin a little more tan, and he had eyelashes for days and was totally cool with letting Ryan slide a thigh between his legs and go to town.

Then someone spilled seemingly their entire drink down the guy’s back.

Ryan leaped back, head snapping up. 

So much for Shane giving the dancefloor a wide berth.

“Ryan, there you are! We didn’t know where you went.” 

“Where the fuck else would I be?” Ryan demanded.

But Shane had already turned his attention to the guy he’d just party fouled all over. “Sorry, man, I’m way too uncoordinated to be trusted in public, literally can’t hold my alcohol. Want me to grab you some napkins? Hey, maybe my pal could take off his shirt and clean you off! Have you seen him without a shirt on, by the way? Because wow, it's not a sight to be missed.”

“I gotta take care of this,” the nameless dude was saying, considerably less amiable than before. Ryan gazed after him until he disappeared in the crowd around the bar, then whipped around to face Shane, who was wearing a very poorly smothered smirk. 

“The fuck?” Ryan offered.

"Sorry I scared off your friend,” Shane said, looking anything but sorry and clearly in no hurry to offer an explanation. “Curly said you were getting your groove on. Wanna dance?" 

It was on the tip of Ryan’s tongue to demand what fucking planet he grew up on where dousing someone's dance partner was the best way to swap in. But he did have to grudgingly admit to himself that Shane had balls for going there, even though Ryan honestly wasn’t sure if it was balls or a fundamental inability to think things through. Which, on second thought, wasn’t a fair judgment, since Shane could be very devious when he wanted to be.

And now Ryan was starting to realize he probably did think this through. With a little help from Curly, from the sound of it.

So he did the one thing he could think of that might actually shake Shane off his foundations. "Fine."

It was really, really gratifying the way Shane looked like he was about to fall over sideways. “Whoa. Like right now?"

Ryan sighed. "No, at the square dancing convention next week. Yes, now.”

Shane’s skinny hips were rigid under his hands so Ryan gave him a little nudge, a silent reminder that Shane was the one who wanted to dance in the first place.

Shane looked almost shy, eyes lowered and that tiny half-smile tugging at his face. He was a little sweaty, smelling like salt and spilled soda, and Ryan still wanted to devour him. When his shirt rode up enough for Shane’s fingers to brush against a sliver of fever-hot skin, a strangled groan leapt out of him before Ryan could catch himself. 

And Shane kept his hand there anyway, almost petting. If Ryan arched into it a little too greedily, well, he’d been drinking and Shane should have known what he was getting into.

Ryan swallowed and rolled his hips a little harder, testing the waters.

Shane shuddered all over, gasped out a tiny ah like it was being yanked out of him.

And that just made him want to seal his mouth against Shane’s throat when his head fell back, get a good long taste of the blush spreading down his neck and below his collar.

Ryan was still gripping at Shane’s shirt, feeling the heat of his skin seeping through the cloth, and when Shane’s body pressed against him that was all the convincing he needed. The next thing he knew, he was working his fingers into Shane’s messy-to-the-point-of-just-been-fucked hair and going in for a kiss. Might as well give the birthday boy a treat.

It was just supposed to be a quick, chaste-ish peck. Instead, Ryan found himself moaning into Shane’s mouth like he didn't know the meaning of the word shame, riding down against where one of Shane’s thighs was slotted between his legs. He had no clue when that happened, no clue when Shane started kissing him back, but none of that seemed important. Then Shane bit him—not painfully, barely even hard enough to register—on the lower lip and Ryan uttered what was probably the most ridiculous sound he’d ever made in his life and plastered himself against Shane to keep from melting into the floor.

He didn’t care how many people might see them or that he had sweat beading everywhere, not since he was nudging in for another kiss and Shane not only allowed it, he gave back just as good, nipping at his lips and coaxing Ryan’s tongue into his mouth and holy fuck this escalated faster than Ryan expected. Which is to say it escalated, period. 

Then Shane slid his hand out from under Ryan’s shirt and sighed. "We should probably talk about this, huh?"

There was a sudden knot of terror lodged in Ryan’s throat. “Fuck, I’m sorry,” he blurted out, once he was able to untangle his words and pray they made some semblance of sense. "I shouldn’t have—we’re drunk and it just happened?"

“I’m not,” Shane protested. “Cut myself off after Annie bought those chocolate cake shots. I mean, I am a little, but I know what I’m doing and I’m okay with that. Are you?” 

Straight for the jugular, all soft-solemn, waiting for Ryan’s answer. 

And Ryan couldn’t just not give it to him, no matter how much he'd rather pretend their whole world wasn’t on the brink of collapsing. A breath tightened and slowly unfurled itself from his throat. 

“I’ve had a few,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t matter, I still—I would’ve—I didn’t do anything I haven’t been wanting to do.” 

He didn't know how much longer he could keep up this conversation without needing to crawl under the nearest table. 

And then Shane was taking Ryan's face into his own hands, which was definitely going to hinder any table-diving he might try, and kissing him, soft and smooth and more articulately than anything either of them could say. 

By the time they drew apart, Ryan could feel his heartbeat roaring in his ears.

“Jesus,” Shane muttered, his voice almost lost in the music. “You would have a tongue just as ripped as the rest of you.” 

“Gross,” said Ryan, pulling a face. “Wait. You think I'm ripped?”

“Wanna come home with me? I’ll tell you all about it.”

Ryan blinked. “Shane, man...you’ve got game.” 

“Is that a yes?”

Ryan grabbed his hand. “Yeah, yeah it is.”

“I should clarify that I just mean to sleep and sober up.” There was a certain wariness to Shane’s voice that Ryan wasn’t sure boded well. “I don’t want you doing anything you’re gonna regret.”

“I won’t, Ryan insisted. “C’mon get your phone out, you can record me saying it for...for insurance or whatever.”

Shane raised an eyebrow, but gamely produced his phone. “Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously.” Ryan cleared his throat and tried not to giggle. “Okay, here goes. I, Ryan Bergara, being of mostly sound mind, just want to state for the record that I know we’ve gotta talk about all this.” To clarify what this he was referring to, he leaned in and planted a quick kiss at the corner of Shane’s mouth. “But that doesn’t mean I’m changing my mind about any of it. Um.Happy birthday! Amen.”

“That was wonderful,” Shane said. “Very moving.”

“Your face is wonderful and moving,” Ryan retorted automatically.

Shane just grinned at him, wonderful face moving in all the best ways until it was practically overtaken by laugh lines. “Whatever you say, Ry-guy. Let’s go home.” 

 


 

 

He woke up with a headache.

A headache and a series of texts from Shane containing the seriously cringey video from the previous night, a selfie of Ryan's mouth parted against the side of Shane’s neck, and the words Hey wanna go steady?  

Ryan sank back against Shane’s pillows and smiled.

He had to take a few minutes just to acclimate himself to being awake, having a mild hangover, and the knowledge that everything that happened the night before was actually real. Not a weirdly detailed dream, not an extended bout of extra-wishful thinking, not just a fluke instance of smearing rum-soaked kisses against Shane's mouth. 

It took another few minutes before he realized he was cocooned in Shane’s bed.

There was no sign of Shane, but someone had set out a bottle of water and a bottle of aspirin and Ryan was willing to bet it wasn’t a helpful house elf. 

He took advantage of both, then of the bathroom, then followed the smell of bacon out into the hall and past a bundle of blankets on the couch where Shane must have spent the night.

It wasn’t until he went tottering into Shane’s kitchen, bed-headed within an inch of his life and still in the clothes he’d worn to the club last night, that it occurred to Ryan maybe he should have tried a little harder not to look like a deranged squatter. But it was too late to reconsider anything because there was Shane, wielding a spatula and wearing too-short pajama pants, looking right at him. 

“Morning,” said Ryan, suddenly shy and dry-mouthed even though he was practically electric with adrenaline and had just downed an entire water bottle.

“Hi,” Shane said. He looked uncertain and sounded like he was trying to hide it. It was almost more than Ryan’s hungover heart could handle. “Feeling okay? Want some bacon?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. He lifted his phone. “To everything. Yeah.”

Shane smiled and turned back to the stove.

 

 

  →→→   July, 2019   →→→

 

 

The night before they leave for Philadelphia, Ryan sleeps over.

It’s a little sappy, but he loves getting to stay at Shane’s place. Unlike Ryan, Shane lives alone, and it’s domestic as fuck when it’s just the two of them. Also, he can be loud without worrying about being overheard. Ryan can’t begin to overstate how important that is. Having roommates is great from a rent-paying standpoint, not so great from a trying-to-get-some standpoint.

They don’t actually plan on things turning out that way tonight. Their flight is at 7:30 the next morning, so Ryan drags over his suitcase and they spend some time being absolute nerds by measuring the dimensions of their carry-ons to make sure they aren’t going to have to check them. After all this time, Ryan is still a chronic overpacker, and there are few things more frustrating than having to check a bag you packed with the express intent of not checking.

Both of them, by unspoken agreement, have every intention of making it a chill night and turning in early in order to avoid being complete zombies the next day. Shane finds a Doordash coupon for a good Thai place, Ryan turns on Vanderpump Rules, and they divvy up Shane’s stash of obscure craft beers with the express purpose of playing a drinking game they make up as they go along. 

Ryan still can’t tell if Shane’s affinity for Stassi is genuine or an elaborate troll, but by two episodes in they’re making out on the couch and nothing else feels very important anyway.

Sometimes Ryan wishes he wasn’t so aware of just how high-strung he is. He still gets agitated about the ramifications of messing around with a coworker, about messing around with Shane , about mentally referring to it as messing around when he already knows on a deeply intense level there’s so much more to it than that. Even once they’ve fallen into bed and he’s half asleep with his face tucked against Shane’s nape, when everything should be peaceful and right with the world, there’s a worry burrowing away at the back of his brain. The one that likes to point out that, eventually, Shane is going to come to his senses and back away from him once he realizes Ryan is too extra, too clingy, too himself for this to be a sustainable thing between them.

It doesn’t matter that he’s clinging to Shane right now, spooned up behind him with one hand resting on his belly, and Shane is out like a light. Ryan might only investigate one demon per Unsolved season, but the anxiety demon is always there and it doesn’t take kindly to the application of logic.

Shane shifts back against him and that helps a little. He isn’t as touch-seeking as Ryan, but he never seems to mind that about him. That really does go a long way toward soothing some of Ryan’s nerves. There are times when his limbs intertwine with Shane’s in his sleep and he wakes up ready to evaporate into a cloud of pure happiness when Shane’s arms are around him. 

He has to admit there are some benefits to being the lighter sleeper of the two of them. Getting to revel in cheesy moments like those is pretty high on the list.

It takes a few minutes for him to realize he’s been gently but steadily rutting against the back of Shane’s thigh. His hand is still splayed over Shane’s stomach, stroking in absentminded little circles there. Ryan winces to himself and tries to draw back. They’re supposed to be getting a good night’s sleep like responsible ghost-hunting adults; he shouldn’t be ruining Shane’s chances at that by accidentally grinding him awake. 

As if on cue, Shane squirms again. This time it’s with the apparent intention of telegraphing he’s very much aware of the press of Ryan’s erection swelling against him. 

“Shit,” Ryan mutters. “Sorry, didn’t mean to—y’know.”

Shane just hums, mumbling Ryan’s name in a thick, sleepy voice that rubs over Ryan’s consciousness like fine-grain sandpaper. Then he’s taking Ryan’s hand, long fingers wrapping around him so easily it makes Ryan smother a moan against Shane’s nape. Shane gives his hand a squeeze, guiding it down from his stomach and into his boxers, lower, until Ryan’s own fingers are closing around the slick hard heat of him.

"Shane, oh man, you’re dripping," he chokes out in an agonized whisper, as if Shane can do anything about it.

Shane twists around enough to nudge his stubbly cheek against Ryan’s. He doesn’t open his eyes, but there’s a needy little hitch in his voice. “Mm. It’s almost like someone was dry humping me and making porn sounds in my ear for fifteen minutes.”

Ryan is about to protest that he hasn’t been making any noises, thanks very much, but then he remembers how unaware he is of the things that come out of his mouth sometimes. “Hey, I didn’t know you’d get all turned on just from a little spooning and a belly rub.” 

“You got me. My newfound kink for being the little spoon is all your fault. Also don’t call it a belly rub, that makes me sound like Santa Claus or something.”

This isn’t even close to the weirdest conversation they’ve had while his hand is on Shane’s dick. Ryan squeezes him, slow and firm, reveling in the breathy moan that pushes its way out of Shane’s throat. “What else am I supposed to call it?” 

“I dunno, an ab grab?” Shane gives him a heavy-lidded smirk. “I might have actual abs someday, you might as well get in the habit.”

Ryan snorts and strokes him again, savoring the shiver that runs through Shane’s body. “Turn over, you idiot.”

Getting a good night’s sleep somehow translates to getting Shane on his back so Ryan can lap at his nipples and nuzzle the soft skin of his stomach and, eventually, grind his dick into the mattress while he sucks him off nice and slow. Shane hums, still sleep-dazed, loose-limbed and pliant, and lets his fingers play through Ryan’s hair. 

Ryan pulls out all the stops to make up for waking him, working him over until he feels Shane’s body go from being nice and lax to strung through with tension. Maybe getting off will be enough to send them both into a good solid sleep. Somehow he doubts it, though. 

His hands aren’t anything to write home about, especially not compared to Shane’s, but Shane catches at his fingers with his mouth like he’s never needed anything more in his life. He sucks on them with shameless abandon, matching the cadence of Ryan’s mouth on his cock, which is almost enough to make Ryan’s brain explode when he realizes it. Shane soothes him through it when he whines, pets through his hair and gives his fingers a final, lingering suck before he releases them. 

“C’mon, put one in,” he whispers, and it’s so easy for Ryan to guide his thin thighs apart and play with him, penetrating his pretty pink hole with a spit-slicked finger and making Shane moan thunderously into the darkness as he comes. 

“Shane...I need,” Ryan hears himself whispering against the inside of Shane’s thigh, hot-cheeked and so hard it hurts, spilling streams of precome that smear over his fist 

“Y’wanna fuck me?” Shane mumbles, a knowing sleepy smile on his face. 

There's slickness on Shane’s navel and his sharp hips are jerking against Ryan’s touch like he can't control them even though he just came, and that’s when Ryan gets hit by a sudden wave of emotion at just how good it feels to have him here. Good to be wanted and giving his boyfriend what he needs, good to have Shane smiling and reaching for him as Ryan slicks a condom over himself. So, so good to have Shane’s long fingers in his hair and long legs over his shoulders, ankles locking across Ryan’s back as he rocks into him. 

Ryan takes his time with it, humming soothing nothings into his flushed flesh until Shane is panting under him. He rolls his hips and puts the plump, twitching head of his cock right up against Shane’s hole, where he would be drooling precome right into his body if it weren’t for the condom, making him slick and messy with it. 

Shane tilts his hips and tightens his legs around him, urging him deeper. Ryan sinks in slowly, eases inside the sweet little center of him until Shane’s head falls back against the pillows. He’s still curving up towards Ryan, always so responsive even when he’s already gotten off. Under all those chinos and button-downs, Shane has the makings of a full-on sensualist and Ryan loves that he’s the only one who gets to see it.

It doesn’t take long before realizes he isn’t going to come, not like this, no matter how perfect and pliant Shane is underneath him. His frustration must be coming across loud and clear, since even sleepy and post-orgasmic Shane seems to be putting the pieces together too. He lays one of his ridiculous sculptural-flawless hands along Ryan’s cheek, a long swath of coolness against his burning face. It definitely isn’t Ryan’s proudest moment when that’s enough to make him practically sob, but it seems to make something click for Shane.

“What d’you need, baby?”

Shane rarely calls him that without being facetious and it wrenches a whimper out of Ryan in response. “Put your fingers in me,” he begs. “Please.”

Shane’s brows leap a little higher, which Ryan assumes means he must sound pathetic, but he’s past the point of being self-conscious.  

It takes a little fumbling through the sheets until they find the lube, and then Shane is kissing him, sliding his legs apart and sliding one of those gorgeous, fine-boned fingers inside him. Deep and sure and easy as a key into a lock. Shane doesn’t tease or make him work for it, he just gives him exactly what he needs, playing his body like an instrument Ryan never knew existed until Shane’s clever fingers brought it to life for him. He comes with three of them filling him up and Shane breathing hot half-muffled words into his shoulder.

Later, when they’ve cleaned off and Shane is passed out again, Ryan retrieves the tape measure from where they were checking the dimensions of their carry-ons and wraps it around the widest part of Shane’s hand. 

He double checks the measurement, making sure to memorize it, then goes the extra mile and types himself a note of it in his phone.

Just for science.

 

 

←←←   May, 2019   ←←←

 

 

The first time they did this was an unmitigated disaster. 

Shane was an abrasive bundle of nerves and Ryan couldn’t stop laughing. Even when they got to the point of Shane letting a fingertip drift into the cleft of his cheeks, he had to literally bite his tongue to keep from having a giggle fit. 

It should have been mindblowingly hot when Shane’s big hand was cupping his ass, when two of those long fingers were slipping inside him, curling and seeking out that spot that made him whimper

Usually made him whimper, anyway. Ryan was clenching up too tightly for Shane to work a third finger into him and when Shane asked if he was doing okay, all the laughs he’d been smothering came pouring out in a mortifying wave.

“Are you ticklish?” Shane finally demanded. His exasperation was so tangible it practically cast its own shadow. “What the fuck, who has a ticklish prostate?”

Ryan slid out from under him with a grimace, face burning so hard it was probably permanent. “Ugh, ’m sorry. This has never happened before, I swear.”

Shane shrugged and bobbed his head, which made him look even more oddly storklike than usual. Ryan took a moment to reflect on what kind of sorcery Shane must have at his disposal that made everything about him attractive. “It’s okay. A bad dress rehearsal means an awesome opening night, right?”

“Don’t bring drama club metaphors into this,” Ryan groaned, flopping onto his stomach. “My ass is not an opening night,” he added, acutely aware of how slicked up and empty he felt now that Shane’s fingers had slipped free of his body.

He could almost see Shane’s reply forming in his head before he said it and he knew he deserved it. “Really? Seemed like it was ready to open a minute ago, though.” 

“If I had a tomato, I’d throw it at you,” Ryan grumbled. 

Even though he was frustrated with Shane and with his own stupid body, there was a comforting familiarity in settling on separate sides of the bed and sniping at each other. Like they were about to turn in after a long night of ghost hunting. Only naked and with Shane’s hand hesitantly stroking Ryan’s back. 

“You think people at work imagine what we get up to?” Ryan asked after a few minutes.

“If they do, I hope it’s better than this.”

“Shut up, Shane.”

Shane folded his arms behind his head and drew a long, heavy breath like he was admiring a scenic vista. “Ah, some things never change.” 

“I haven’t told anyone, but I’m sure people are picking up on...y’know, us. Or maybe not.” This was something Ryan had been wondering about a lot since Shane’s birthday. The two of them had been joined at the hip for so long that realistically not much should change, but it felt like everything had.

Shane eyed him. “Is there a reason you haven’t told anyone?” There was a sudden coolness to his tone that made Ryan’s heart give an alarming lurch. He reached for Shane, wanting more than anything to warm him.

“No,” he said honestly. “I just kind of thought word would get out on its own, you know? I’m not, like, ashamed about it or anything dumb like that, but it’s not like I’m keeping a pie chart of who knows about us either.”

“I certainly hope not, because that would be a very ineffective data tracking method.”

Ryan didn’t have a response for that. He sighed and let his eyes drift shut as Shane stroked a hand up his back again, this time letting his fingers slide through Ryan’s hair. If the Buzzfeed thing didn’t work out, he could make a killing as a scalp massager. 

“Do you want to tell people?” Shane asked, almost too softly for Ryan to hear.

“Yeah,” Ryan admitted after a beat, just as soft. “We don't need to make a big deal out of it, it just feels like that would make it official, you know? Instead of just waiting to see who picks up on it. I mean, obviously everyone from your party knows we left together, and Curly is all up in our business seeing as he basically sicced you on me. I just haven’t discussed this with anyone and that feels...kind of weird. And I don't want to, like, lose my mind trying to be all secret agent about this. That just sounds exhausting.  

“Official,” Shane repeated. 

“I don’t really know how workplace stuff goes, though,” Ryan went on. “I’ve never done this with someone I work with but I know there’s, like, HR bullshit we have to go through, right? Also, I know myself, and one of these days I'm gonna bust out a ‘oh, that's not what you said last night’ in front of everyone so, uh, sorry about that in advance.”

When he opened his eyes, Shane was staring at him with the dopiest expression. 

Ryan frowned. “Dude. You okay?”

It was a testament to how distracted he was that Shane didn’t grimace at being called dude in bed. “You want us to be official ,” he said slowly, as if he was weighing every word in his mouth. 

Oh. Ryan bit his lip, but he could already feel a matching dopey grin overtaking his face. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Shane’s fingers were still in his hair. He curled them gently against Ryan’s scalp and shifted closer, until Ryan took the hint and let himself be guided into a kiss that left him breathless and bleary-eyed when it ended. 

By the time Ryan’s brainwaves remembered how to function, he was sprawled half on top of Shane. The dopey look still hadn’t faded from Shane’s face, which somehow wasn’t at all off-putting, and there was no way in hell he could miss the feel of Shane’s cock pressing hot and hard against him. Ryan couldn’t help giving him a smirk. “Does talking about relationship stuff always get you all hot and bothered?”

“So this is a relationship?”

“It’s been a relationship for years, you big dweeb. But yeah, anyone who invites me to go steady via text is definitely relationship material.”

And then Shane’s hands were stroking down his sides and over his hips, Shane’s mouth was opening for him, Shane’s voice was sighing Ryan’s name against his lips, Shane’s eyebrow was steadily arching higher and higher. “Second time’s a charm?”

Ryan palmed a condom from the bedside table and straddled him. “Just lie back and watch me work.”

“I always wanna watch you.” Shane sounded raw, his hands still stroking Ryan’s hips.

By the time Ryan sank down onto him, Shane was looking at him like he’d hung the moon and there wasn’t enough breath in Ryan’s body for him to even think of laughing now. He was out of practice at doing this with anything that didn’t come from his collection, but there was a rhythm to riding cock, to savoring the stretch of being filled each time he ground his hips down, and the rest of his body knew how to find it. It took him a little while to get there, to get used to Shane’s wide gaze drinking him in so blatantly it sent a flush scorching under his skin, but soon his head was falling back and his cock was pulsing in his fist and Shane was swearing under his breath, something like holy shit Ryan that sounded more like a prayer than anything.

Shane’s hands were splayed over his thighs, not so much guiding him as holding him steady like he always did, keeping him grounded every time Ryan was in danger of floating into the stratosphere. 

Inconvenient during a ghost hunt, but just plan bad manners during sex. Ryan almost tittered, but this time he caught himself.

And when he finally trembled apart, Shane was right there to catch him.

They didn’t speak at first. Shane was panting so hard that Ryan, crumpled in a messy overheated heap alongside him, didn’t know whether to be proud or concerned. Eventually he settled on some subtle preening and tried to find a cool patch of sheet to sprawl in.

“Hey,” Shane murmured after a minute. “Remember when we wrapped the Van Gogh episode?”

Ryan gazed at him groggily, searching for a tell, but he didn’t seem to be joking. “You’re not allowed to give me shit about post-coital ghost stories ever again, but yes. I was there, believe it or not.”

One of Shane’s unnaturally pointy elbows jabbed him in the ribs. “Don’t be a dick, I’m trying to have a moment here. I was all ready to put the moves on you then, I just never got around to it.”

“Excuse me, you what?”

“We were all bummed because shit kept going wrong every time we tried to record, remember? And you said something about how Teej would’ve given us such a hard time if he’d been around to handle this, so then I said something about how it was depressing so many people weren’t there anymore. And you looked at me like I just set your Paddington Bear hoard on fire.”

“I don’t have a Paddington hoard per se.”

“Again, trying to do this moment thing,” Shane said. “So anyway, I’d had this big plan where I was going to ask if you wanted to grab a drink afterwards, but I was stressing out about how to make sure you knew I meant as a date. Then I made you get that pitiful look on your face and I didn’t know how to backpedal from that without sounding like a douche. I had this whole speech ready, too. I’m like ninety-nine percent it ended with, ‘you and me, let’s Van Gogh for it, baby.’”

Ryan wheezed. “That’s horrific. I would’ve said yes, though.” 

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.” It was too warm to be seeking out any additional heat, but Ryan slid an arm around Shane’s damp waist anyway. “One hundred percent. I would’ve let you Van Gogh for it.”

 

→→→   July, 2019   →→→

 

 

Grumblethorpe, despite the name, is stunning.

It also bears a few faded bloodstains on the parlor floorboards, a souvenir from the Battle of Germantown in 1777.

Their guide is talking animatedly about Pennsylvania German architecture and Ryan is nodding along, hoping to hurry her into discussing the spooky stuff. Her name badge says Julie and she looks about fifteen even though she claims to have been working there for the past five years. Maybe she’s a ghost and they’re on the most literal ghost tour of all time right now. That makes Ryan perk up a little. He makes a mental note to share this thought with Shane once they’re alone together. 

“Grumblethorpe is a three-story colonial style stone house that was built in 1744 as the summer home Philadelphia wine merchant John Wister,” Julie continues as she shows them through the front door, which is painted a rather ominous shade of red in Ryan’s opinion. “The family maintained an avid interest in horticulture and in fact the Wister family is how the Wisteria vine got its name. They occupied the property for over two hundred years, including throughout the American Revolution. Although the Wisters were neutral during the war, Grumblethorpe was seized by the British and used as a stronghold by royalist troops during the Battle of Germantown.”

“And that’s what the bloodstains are from?” Ryan interjects when she pauses for breath, even though he already knows the answer.

Beside him, Shane is no help at moving things along whatsoever. He’s wearing the same pensive look he always gets on his face when he’s absorbing historical information, like the past just has the inevitable effect of making him all contemplative and maybe slightly aroused. He’d probably let Julie narrate all two hundred plus years and then some without complaint. 

Ryan still has the urge to kiss him until his glasses fog up. He wonders if maybe he could get away with it. It’s their first time filming an episode since they got together and there are still so many things he doesn’t know how to handle. Maybe it would send their ratings skyrocketing if they slipped in a kiss or two. Maybe it would send them plummeting through the center of the earth.

Resolute, he shoves these thoughts into a corner of his mind and stares hard at the bloodstains.

“Yep,” Julie says, gesturing towards the floorboards with a flourish. “Brigadier General James Agnew was shot in the back and bled out right here after being brought back to Grumblethorpe by his manservant. No matter how much scrubbing and bleaching this spot has gotten over the years, you can still see the stains.”

“I wonder if it would come out if you tried sanding it,” Shane says. His brows are drawing together. “But it’d be a shame to ruin the original hardwood.”

“Wow,” Ryan murmurs, ignoring him. It’s still light outside and the parlor looks innocuous enough, but a shiver skims up his spine all the same. "Where does the name come from, by the way?” 

Julie ushers them into the next room. “A Wister ancestor in the nineteenth century read it in an English novel and liked it so much he decided to name the house after it. It was just called John Wister's Big House before then.”

"Was that novel a very early draft of Harry Potter?” asks Shane, because of course he does. “Grumblethorpe sounds like the name of Dumbledore's evil twin."

If this is anything Julie’s heard before, she doesn’t act like it. “That’s hilarious! I actually don’t remember the name of it, so I guess it’s possible, isn’t it?” 

“Please don’t let Shane think he’s being witty,” Ryan begs. “Do you think we have a chance of seeing any apparitions here?”

“If you do, the one who likes to make herself known most often is Justinia Hemberger. She was an orphan taken in by the Wister family after she lost her father in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Usually she appears after sunset.” Julie dimples at them. “That should make this very exciting for you when you spend the night. If you notice the smell of bread baking, that’s probably a sign she’s around. Justinia loved to bake.” 

“What about you? Do you believe this place is haunted?”

“Absolutely,” she replies without hesitation. “There have been plenty of sightings by our volunteers, our operations manager, our education director, three different paranormal investigation teams...it’s not uncommon at all. The city used to do very interactive ghost tours where they provided divining rods and EMF meters, but then we lost the funding for it. Now if you’ll look over here, you can see one of the dining room mirrors where shadowy figures are said to appear...”

The rest of their tour passes. Ryan spends it in a mild state of horror and disbelief that the city would make budget cuts to divining rods. 

“Seriously, though,” he wails at Shane as they’re filming their intro scene shortly after nightfall. “This place is obviously full of ghosts. They really shot themselves in the foot.”

“I just can’t get over the name Grumblethorpe,” Shane muses. “Just. Why.”

“I think it’s cool you could just name your house whatever you wanted,” Ryan says with a shrug. “Maybe I should name my place.”

Unexpectedly, Shane reaches over and gives his nape a squeeze. “Yeah, Ricky Goldsworth’s den of sin. C’mon, get your exposition on so we can go inside.”

They’re standing under the awning out front, framed so Mark can get some good footage of them with the house looming behind them. If Ryan ends up looking a little shaky from the warm press of Shane’s hand on his neck, no one has to know it’s due to anything other than his usual nerves. “Right. So we are in Germantown, which is a neighborhood of Philadelphia, which is where George Washington got his ass kicked. Multiple times.”

Shane shines his flashlight on the huge tentacle-like limbs of the gingko tree out front. Julie had taken great pains to make sure they knew it was the oldest of its kind in the entire country. “This was where all the action was happening. Everyone wanted a piece of Philly since it was where the Continental Congress was based.” He shoots a lopsided, knee-liquifying smirk towards Ryan. “Heard of it?”

“Oh yeah!” Ryan chirps.“That's where they voted on what to name the continents, right? Big moment for the power of democracy.”

Shane stares at him, assessing.

“Yes, Shane, I know what the Continental Congress was,” Ryan says deliberately. “I did take a couple history classes back in the day.”

Shane merrily flicks him off and lopes through the courtyard too soon to catch Ryan going glassy-eyed at the graceful flick of his finger.

He pauses at a narrow doorway and Ryan automatically stands catty-corner to him so he can catch Shane in profile with his handheld. “Our guide told us that this is called the death door because you’re only supposed to use it if you’re in your coffin. People didn't use this like a normal door you could just come and go through willy-nilly. Official death business only.” Shane sighs. “This has been your Ruining History moment for the day and for the foreseeable future.”

It’s a rare moment of bitterness from him, one that’s just going to be snipped out of existence in the editing room anyway, and it slices through Ryan like an icy wind. He wants to ease his fingers through Shane’s hair, settle a hand against his back between the wings of his shoulder blades, and draw him into an embrace that bleeds the rest of the world and all its frustrations far away. He wants to notch their hands together and never let go.

He doesn’t.

They do all their usuals. Ryan fires up the spirit box in the kitchen to try and talk to Justinia. Shane baits General Agnew, stands right on the bloodstained wood where a black mist is supposed to rise and swirl through the parlor. Ryan loses his mind over one of the creepy mirrors and Shane dies laughing. They explore the carpentry shop at the back of the house, which looks like a straight-up torture chamber. They settle into bedrooms at opposite ends of the hall on the second floor.

“No funny business,” Devon sings as she packs up before leaving them for the night. 

“There is nothing funny about this business,” Shane says, straightening his spine as if he’s suddenly intent on defending the noble profession of ghost hunting. “Just good honest ghoul-stomping.”

“Just saying, I saw you giving each other heart eyes out front before. If the cameras suddenly cut out and we’re missing a bunch of footage, I’ll put two and two together.”

A sudden surge of static roars through Ryan’s brain. 

Devon is smiling, the very picture of lightheartedness, but Ryan is so paralyzed by paranoia he can’t think of a single retort. If he and Shane do turn off the cameras and steal a kiss, is it a violation of that stupid relationship contract they had to sign in HR? Is it unprofessional since they’re still on the job and this isn’t a relationship-focused show? Is it something that could be used against them the next time the Buzzfeed higher-ups start throwing darts at the layoffs dartboard? Did Ed and Lorraine Warren ever have this problem? Why is he comparing himself and Shane to the ultimate paranormal power couple?

Shane must pick up on his tension because he starts making wisecracks to try and diffuse it. All his usual jibes and jokes slide right off, ineffectual as opening an umbrella in a hurricane, but Ryan pretends every one of them lands because it’s easier than copping to the truth.

Come to think of it, he still hasn’t talked about any of this with Shane, and maybe he should. Is he even allowed to talk about this with Shane while they’re on location? It shouldn’t matter as long as the cameras are off and it doesn’t interfere with their work, right?

What he says instead, struggling out of his body cam once Devon leaves, is, “I don’t know why so many dudes think harnesses are sexy. Mostly they’re just annoying as fuck.” 

Shane is still shrugging out of his own, long fingers a distracting contrast against the straps as he works their fastenings loose. “Maybe we should wear these babies out on the town and do some fieldwork.” 

Ryan snorts. “A little hands-on research?”

As much as he’d love to get a little of that in tonight, it really is to their advantage that the two of them are sleeping in separate rooms. His body is so used to seeking out Shane’s in the night that having him lying just inches away when Ryan is at his neediest would be torture at this point.

Unfortunately, it also means he's alone with his thoughts and maybe a bunch of undead Grumblethorpe denizens. He tosses and turns for hours, which should make for a nice compare and contrast montage of him lying there freaking out and Shane being his chill self down the hall. This is shaping up to be a pretty solid episode overall, not counting all the overthinking that’s still giving him a mental breakdown.

He had just sort of assumed it would be easier to act natural in front of the cameras than it was. 

The last episode they’d filmed had taken place before Shane’s birthday. Ryan hadn’t fully registered just how much his interactions with Shane had changed since then. A kiss here, a touch there, maybe some fucking heart eyes every now and then, whatever. It’s all become so natural he doesn’t notice he’s doing it. And maybe it’s no big deal if he slips up and their crew notices, but maybe it becomes a big deal if everyone does. The more he dwells on it, the more he feels the same weird churning dread he’d felt when Kelsey was talking about trying to hook him and Shane up in The Sims. 

He dreams of being swallowed up by writhing masses of gingko branches that smell of fresh-baked bread.

 

 

←←←   June, 2019   ←←←

 

 

Ryan didn’t realize there was so much actual bureaucracy involved with dating a coworker. 

There wasn’t a ban on dating colleagues at Buzzfeed, but he’d heard there was literal paperwork involved if things got serious enough for employees to disclose their relationship. That was the extent of Ryan’s knowledge, and it seemed like such a weirdly intimate step to take he opted to just ignore it. 

At first, he just told himself he’d be extra careful to not even look at Shane too long. About ten minutes later, he realized how hard that was and how unnatural it seemed.

Some of the rules he set for himself were a lot more sensible.

Do not kiss Shane at work. Do not touch him more than necessary. Do not run yourself ragged thinking about what might happen if you go public with things.

Shane, for his part, was almost unfairly chill about everything. Ryan tried not to envy him. He was, after all, with Sara for a few years before they parted ways. But even when Shane and Sara were together, everything about them seemed so effortless. Nothing about their relationship interfered with their work. When word got out they were together, it was no big deal and everyone thought they were cute. Which, to be fair, they really were. 

Ryan just can’t wrap his head around how they made it work without getting their wires crossed.

He had actually considered broaching this subject with Sara, then just as quickly rejected the idea.

Instead, he tugged Shane into an editing room later that day and announced, “Hey, quick question. Do you think we’re official enough for work to know about?”

“I knew we didn’t have anything to edit,” Shane said. “What are you talking about? I thought we were letting people know.”

Ryan tugged his cap over his eyes a little more. “We are! It’s just, there’s a whole thing where we should see HR, right?”

Shane, to his credit, didn’t ask why this was on Ryan’s mind in the first place. A slow, sly grin spread over his face. “Ryan. Am I contributing to a nonproductive workplace environment for you?”

“What? No, dumbass, I’m talking about the...romantic disclosure agreement thing or whatever the fuck it’s called. We should be filling that in, right?”

“That’s surprisingly close to what it’s called, yes,” Shane said slowly. “I’m game if you are.”

“I think I am? don’t know anything about this. It’s what we’re supposed to do, right? If we’re dating? Because we are.” Ryan actually cringed at how plaintive he sounded, but he couldn’t stop. “I mean, we are.”

Shane gently tipped the brim of Ryan’s cap back with two fingers to look him in the eye. “I never had any doubts. I’ll get us a couple copies and we can look at ‘em during lunch, okay?”

“This is just procedure, right? It’s what everyone does if they start dating someone at work?”

“Sara and I did the same thing, it’s all good,” Shane assured him. “It’s just workplace ass-covering. Think of it like going through customs at the Buzzfeed border and having to declare me. Or like having to disclose a preexisting condition. Like hey, I’m allergic to peanuts and also this is my bit on the side.”

“C’mon, you’re not my bit on the side.” Ryan gave a salacious hitch of his brows. “You’re usually on your back.” 

“Bite me,” Shane muttered, and bent in to kiss him so quickly Ryan barely registered it until he was drawing away. “I’ll leave a copy on your desk, then we can hit up Del Taco later on and go over it together, sound good?”

They passed the next hour at their desks in companionable silence. Trying to work with his newly minted boyfriend just inches away was sometimes an extra challenge, but in Ryan’s opinion he was still being just as productive.

Then, when he returned from a bathroom break, a manila folder containing a few neatly stapled pages had materialized on top of his keyboard.

Shane was nowhere to be seen. He had graciously agreed to do a spot in one of Garrett’s off-the-wall Would You Rather videos, which gave Ryan plenty of time to get in some light reading.

Or heavy reading, because holy shit was this contract some serious business.  

By the time Shane texted him about hitting up Del Taco together, Ryan had read the entire thing multiple times and completely forgotten the meaning of the word productive. “It says ‘I understand that I may consult with an attorney before signing this agreement,’ are they serious ?” he hissed.

“It seems a little nerve-racking at first because of all the legalese, but it’s fine.” Distractingly, Shane lapped some stray carne asada from his fingertips. “I’ve done this before, remember?” 

“How could I forget?” Ryan nudged their knees together under the table. “A regular Buzzfeed town bicycle. Everyone gets a turn.” 

Shane snorted. “Can I at least get with the times and be a town hoverboard?” 

“Shit,” Ryan muttered. “I’m fucking this up already. Number six: ‘I agree to behave professionally towards the other employee with whom I am in a relationship at all times while at work or at work related activities, even if the social relationship ends.’ You could report me for calling you a slut on our lunch break.”

Ryan.” There was a smear of salsa on Shane’s lower lip, which somehow didn’t make him any less of a calming presence. “This doesn’t mean you have to stop being yourself. C’mon, I only date people who are willing to charmingly insult me in public over burritos. I thought you knew that about me.”

Ryan swallowed a mouthful of chicken around the knot in his throat. “Don’t laugh, but does turning this in mean Buzzfeed has some kind of a bargaining chip against us?” 

Shane looked incredulous. “Against BUN? Get real, man. Everyone loves you.”

“Yeah, well, I thought everyone loved a lot of the folks who were laid off too.” Since January, that knowledge has been like a rock in his stomach. 

With quiet deliberation, Shane set down his drink. “Go on.”

And Ryan does. “Okay, maybe this is paranoid, but I read a bunch of stuff about how a lot of the folks who were laid off weren’t white and weren’t straight. Niki was killing it, Norb was killing it, Branson was killing it, and that’s just a few.” He scrubbed his palms against his jeans. “I’ve never dated someone I work with and I’ve definitely never made it official with any documentation.” 

Twin lines had etched themselves alongside Shane’s mouth. “So are you worried that if they’ve got it on file, then maybe that’s not gonna be great for you in the future?”

“Kind of? I mean, I want people to know about us.” He was stumbling over his words, but there was no stopping now. Under the table, one of Shane’s hands cupped the crest of his knee and rested there until the warmth of his touch eased through the fabric. “Like, I don’t think this is gonna paint a target on my back or anything, but I think Buzzfeed is super aware of how many minorities they hire. And that makes think maybe people are going to use me to prove the layoffs are okay, like ‘oh, Ryan Bergara’s still there and he’s a brown guy dating another guy, so everything’s chill!’ Or if BUN starts tanking for some reason, I don’t want to feel like I’m just being kept around because I’m a...a convenient bingo square or something.”

Shane gave his knee a squeeze “You’ve really thought about this, haven’t you?” 

Ryan grinned in spite of himself. “I do that sometimes.”

“I don’t think you’re paranoid.” Shane pursed his lips. “I mean, I do, but not about this. The whole thing sucks and it sucks even more you have to think about shit like that. It honestly didn’t even occur to me.”

“It makes sense, though, right?”

“There’s a difference between being together and friends at work knowing it versus...yelling it to the universe and trusting it with that kind of information. The universe can be an asshole.” Shane drew himself up. “And if it’s ever too big of an asshole, if you ever feel like you’re not safe, then we’ll lawyer up and kick its ass.” 

He paused, considering. “Or at least walk away and go start that Berry Boys LLC.”

The knot in Ryan’s throat untangled and reformed in a totally different configuration. 

Sometimes Shane just knew him too well. For a ghost hunter, Ryan spent an awful lot of time stressing about things being safe. Up until now, it was never an issue he had with dating, and definitely not with anyone he cared about as much as Shane. That was an element he couldn’t look at too closely yet. But this was a start. 

“Sounds good, big guy. Are you gonna eat the rest of your fries?”

Without taking his hand off Ryan’s knee, Shane nodded towards them. “All yours.”

 

   →→→   August, 2019   →→→

 

 

They have one week and one Unsolved trip left before their vacation, and Ryan spends the entire time obsessed with getting Shane’s fist in him. 

Ever since he creepily jotted down Shane’s hand measurement, he’s been very scientific about making this happen. There’s a notepad beside his bed where he’s inventoried the girth of every toy he owns. He’s incorporated sessions with his training plugs into his routine to the point where it feels like an extension of his fitness regimen. He has a spare toiletry bag fully stocked with essentials. He’s ready to do this.

Granted, he still hasn’t said a word to Shane about it, but he will . Eventually.

He doesn’t plan on that eventuality occurring while they’re hunkered down for the night in a haunted tavern. It just sort of happens.

Prior to researching for this episode, all Ryan knew about Rhode Island was that it isn’t even an island. Now, however, he’s well-versed in the creeptastic history of the White Horse Tavern. It looks like a huge red barn and has been running rum since the 1600’s, which is very cool from a distance and absolutely terrifying when you’re expected to spend the night in it. The most notorious ghost is of a man who checked in with an unnamed companion and was found dead in front of the fireplace the next morning. He was alone and the cause of his death was never determined. 

He and Shane are currently nestled in their sleeping bags beside that very same fireplace.

Shane, of course, has some thoughts on the matter. “All I’m saying is there’s a scandal here and no one’s talking about it. Maybe the dude was killed in a freak sex accident and they didn’t have the colonial forensics to figure it out!” 

“What, like Ben Franklin showed up and sex culted him to death?”

“Never underestimate the depravity of bored colonial dudes,” Shane says simply. 

Ryan giggles. It feels for all the world like they’re at a naughty middle school sleepover instead of a paranormal investigation. “They had dildos back then, right? Maybe he took on more than he could handle.”

“Oh, they loved to fuck. You know how much research I did on this? Dildos, strap-ons, fists, you name it.” 

Ryan chokes on absolutely nothing.

“Fisting is kind of weird, though,” Shane muses. “It’s basically punching someone up the butt. I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something.”

Then he actually lifts one of his exquisite fucking hands, all backlit and dramatic-looking in the lantern light, and curls it into a fist.

Ryan whimpers. He can’t help himself.

“I knew it.” Shane looks delighted. “You want to get butt-punched by me.”  

And Ryan can’t deny it to save his life. They’ve turned off the cameras, so he can’t even use them as an excuse. He just sinks deeper into his sleeping bag, sighing all the air from his lungs as if he can will himself into unconsciousness. Even now, just from Shane teasing him, his body clenches, desperate for something inside. “Shane. I love you, but please just shut up.”

But the smugness is rolling off Shane in waves and can’t be contained now. “I knew you wanted it. You’ve been staring at my hands like a weirdo even since you beefed that text about fishing. Why did—” 

He cuts himself off, pauses for a beat. “Wait. Did you just drop the L word on me so I won’t talk about butt punching?”

Ryan gives him a long-suffering stare from within the depths of his sleeping bag. “No, I dropped it on you because it’s true even though I really don’t wanna talk about this, but I guess we already are. Just please, for the love of god, stop calling it butt punching.”

“I love you too and we are so going to revisit this later. But first things first.” Shane surveys his hands. “How do you even...you can’t just run a marathon right off the bat. You need a training regimen.”

Ryan doesn’t mention he’s been self-enrolled in one for weeks and has perfect attendance. That set of training plugs just might be one of the greatest investments he’s ever made. “Taking a fist up the butt is just like running a marathon, you’re absolutely right.”

“You want me to compare it to, I don’t know, mounting Everest?”

“This is getting weird.”

“It sure is.”

“That really was just a typo,” Ryan says after a minute.

“But clearly a subliminal message nonetheless.” Shane is glancing back and forth between his hand and Ryan’s lower half. “I don’t think it’s gonna work, bud.”

“Challenge accepted,” Ryan mutters under his breath, not even caring if Shane hears. “I’ve got some data on that. We’ll discuss it more at home.”

“You sound like my mom,” Shane laughs. “Gross.”

“Young man, I will turn this ghost hunt around if you don’t fix your attitude,” Ryan continues, jabbing a finger at him.

Shane unzips his sleeping bag. There’s a softness in his eyes visible even in the dark. “Fuck it, wanna double up? Get over here.”

Once they’re situated with Shane’s sleeping bag spread out underneath them and Ryan’s overtop, Shane curls against him. “You could’ve said something sooner instead of just staring at my hands. You can tell me things. I don’t think you know that sometimes.”

“That I stare at your hands?” Ryan asks through a yawn. “Believe me, I’m very aware.”

“That you can tell me things.” One of Shane’s long, gentle hands settles into the dip of Ryan’s spine, keeping him close. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“What, I should’ve just been like ‘hey big guy, I think I’d like to try and fit your whole hand up my ass’ is that it?”

Yes,” Shane explodes. “You’re my boyfriend. You’re supposed to be able to say things like that. You’re not supposed to shy away from honest communication.”

Ryan has no rejoinder for that. It’s true. His biggest challenge should be trying not to jam both feet in his mouth every time he opens up to Shane. Opening up in the first place shouldn’t be a challenge at all. The two of them might make a living off Shane judging him, but that doesn’t extend outside the show. If Shane was going to get sick of him, he’d have done it a long time ago. 

“I know,” Ryan whispers. 

Even through the softness of the sleeping bag, the floor is rigid beneath him. Ryan lets himself be urged upwards a bit, Shane mutely folding the fabric under to make him more comfortable. For some reason that just has Ryan turning his face into his pillow, feeling his eyes burn. “I’m trying,” he says. “Maybe it doesn’t seem like it, but I’m trying.”

For a long time, Shane strokes his back and Ryan forgets about anything else, even the possibility of ghosts. 

“Speaking of trying.” Shane’s voice is a tiny bit rougher than usual, but it could just be from exhaustion. “You really want to try that?”

Something in Ryan releases and he finally lets himself smile. “Yeah. I’ve been practicing.” Ryan kisses him, slow and sweet, right there in the middle of the ghost tavern. “When we get home, I’ll show you. If you want.”

Shane looks glazed. “Yeah, I want.”

Across the room, something creaks.

Ryan bolts upright. “What the fuck, did you hear that?”

“The sound of a dead dude jealous ’cause he’s not getting any? Nope.”

“I’m serious!”

“Remember how old this place is?” Shane gives a light tug to Ryan’s wrist, drawing him back into their nest. “It’s the house settling.” 

“Exactly! This place is ancient, dude, how much more settling can it possibly do?”

Reluctantly, he lies back down. 

Shane settles against him with a sigh. “I meant it, by the way. I didn’t mean to sound so flippant.”

Something slow and heated spreads through Ryan’s belly. He gives Shane’s hand a squeeze. “It’s okay, you were distracted by butt punching.”

He can feel Shane’s smile against his nape. “So now that we’ve leveled up to being romantic as fuck, does this mean you’re going to chill out long enough to let me sleep?” Shane asks hopefully. 

There’s another creak, much closer this time. Ryan yelps. 

Beside him, Shane sighs again. “I withdraw my question.”

 

 

→→→   August, 2019   →→→

 

 

After they return from Rhode Island, Ryan gets organized.

They’ve had a little time to decompress and he has no plans for the evening. There’s no time like the present.

Once he’s made sure his roommates are out for the night, he texts Shane before he can lose his nerve. 

Hey got the place to myself if youre free. I can show you that stufff we talked about in RI

Shane replies right away. Say the word and I’m there.

Ryan goes full-on Marie Kondo meets Queer Eye. He takes a long thorough shower, he puts away his laundry, he chills some wine. He makes sure his toys are ready for action, since there’s no way to know what Shane might want to take for a spin. He puts clean sheets on the bed even though he has a feeling they’ll be in a sorry state by the time the night is over, then puts a clean pair of jeans and a button-down on himself even though...same. He vacuums.

It’s a nice change, planning to let Shane into this kinky little subdivision of his psyche instead of diverting him around it. If he’d known it would be this easy, he probably could have saved himself a lot of mental anguish. And if that’s not the title of a very long chapter in the story of his life, Ryan doesn’t know what is.

He texts Shane, hey ready to hang when you are

And he waits.

By the time Shane shows up at his door, bathed in streetlight, it’s like Ryan hasn’t seen him in months.

A tongue of heat curls in the pit of his stomach. "It's good to see you, big guy."

Shane’s arms wrap around him and Ryan loses himself in the subtle scent of his cologne, the scrape of his stubble, the softness of the hoodie he’s wearing even though it’s August. 

When Shane laughs, it engulfs Ryan like a living thing. “I missed you too. Even though I just saw you yesterday. Is that weird?”

“Sounds normal to me,” Ryan says, not bothering to add that he’s far from objective here. He threads their fingers together and grins. “Come on, let’s go upstairs.”

They make it halfway before he brings their joined hands up to his mouth and takes Shane’s middle finger into it. 

He might as well set the tone for the evening. Ryan lets his eyes slide shut, lets his teeth graze along the slim length of Shane’s finger, lets the pad of it stroke along the slick inside of his cheek. Then he seals his mouth around it and goes to town like he’s sucking cock. If Shane were to gently cup the back of his head and urge another finger between his lips right now, he wouldn’t hate it.

When he finally lets it drop from his lips, it leaves a trail of slickness in its wake. 

Shane is standing one step below him and they’re almost eye level with each other. Ryan gets a very nice view of the pinkness spreading across his cheeks and just how dilated his pupils are.

“Wow,” Shane says, his breathing heavy. “Is this what the inside of your head is like all the time?”

“When I’m thinking about your hands. So...yes, pretty much all the time.” Ryan clucks his tongue and gives said hands a reproachful look. “You’re a walking, gesticulating work hazard.” 

By the time they make it through the bedroom door, Shane’s stupid hazardous hands are undoing Ryan’s shirt buttons and Ryan is pushing the hoodie off Shane’s shoulders to get at the graceful arch of his neck. He’s having a pretty fun time letting his mouth map out the tendons there when Shane eases them apart.

“Okay then.” Shane kicks off his sneakers and actually rubs his hands together. “Let’s put this on hold and see what you’re working with.”

Ryan is suddenly, absurdly shy. He wishes he’d popped the wine before Shane arrived. “Really? Just like that?” 

“Yep! You’ve already planted the seeds, I’m ready to see some flowers.”

“What.”

“I’ve been thinking about what kind of treasure box you’re hiding ever since you sent me a picture of a sparkly pink butt plug.” A quick grimace scrunches up Shane’s face. “It’s...possible you’re not the only one who needs to be better about mentioning what they want.”

It’s such an unexpected revelation Ryan almost misses it. “You can check out all that and more, just don’t freak out, okay?”

Shane kisses him, and for a minute the rest of the world drops out of existence. “You’re so scared all the time,” he says softly. “That must be exhausting. You don’t need to be scared of me too.”

It's exactly what he needs to be told, and in this moment it’s so easy to believe it. Shane is all soft-eyed and lanky, hair mussed from Ryan twining his fingers in it. He’s possibly the least intimidating person on the planet.

“I’m gonna get us some wine first,” Ryan declares. “Then I’ll give you the grand sex toy tour.”

When he returns with a glass of Grenache blanc in each hand, he almost drops them when he sees what Shane is holding. 

“What’s this?” Shane asks, not looking up from the notepad. 

In for a penny, in for a pound. Ryan draws a slow, steadying breath and passes Shane his glass. “Not much, just a list of sex toy circumferences as compared to your fist.”

Shane’s gaze pans over to him with cinematic deliberation. “How, pray tell, do you even know the circumference of my fist?”

“I measured it.”

Ryan.”

Right. Honest communication. “I, uh, remember when we had out a tape measure to check our suitcases?”

“Jesus, Ryan.”

Ryan bobs his head, sheepish. “I know. But hey, you’re always saying I need to be more logical, right? Nothing more logic-based than cold hard numbers.”

“Logical about shit like ghosts and lizard people existing, not logical about…” Shane regards the notepad in his hand like he’s studying an artifact from another planet. “About covert sexual shit!” 

Previously covert, thank you very much,” Ryan corrects. “It was worth a shot. And I don’t actually believe in lizard people, you know.”

Shane is looking at his list again, eyes widening ever so slightly. “Can you...handle these?” 

“Use your words,” Ryan prompts. He might be kind of a jerk. If Shane doesn’t know that by now, that’s on him.

He watches the shift of Shane’s throat as he takes a long drink from his wine glass. “Can these fit inside you? And you like it?”

“Some of them take more effort than others, but yeah. Come and see.” He tilts his head, urging Shane to follow him over to an unassuming two-drawer Ikea chest tucked into a corner of his walk-in closet. 

Shane crouches down in front of it, eyes narrowed. “I always thought that’s where you kept random junk.”

“Not quite.”

“Ah. And which one of these is your sex drawer?”

Ryan steals a quick sip of wine. “They both are.”

Without further ado, Shane pulls open the top one and peers inside. “Whoa. That is...quite an assortment.”

“I like to have options,” Ryan says, impressed with how casual he sounds. “You can touch, if you want,” he adds when he notices Shane’s palm hovering over a prostate stimulator. “Everything’s sanitary, I made sure.”

“Some of these look like art.” Shane lifts a dual-ended glass dildo that gleams iridescent in his hand. “I’m pretty sure my suitemates had a sculpture like this on the mantel in their dorm sophomore year.”

“Your suitemates might have been kinky as fuck, and I’m not even gonna ask what kind of dorm has a mantel.”

“This one has tubing,” Shane observes, moving on. He pinches the neatly rolled coil of it between two fingers. “Interesting.”

“Yeah, it’s so you can pump in lube,” Ryan explains. “Sometimes I’ll use that one and then something bigger once I’m all worked up and slippery, but sometimes all I need to get there is the feeling of…”

“Of someone coming in you,” Shane finishes. His voice is pitched low enough to send a thrill through Ryan’s skin and there’s a very evident bulge distorting the front of his chinos. “Fuck, you’re a dirty little thing, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Ryan admits, a little breathlessly. “Sorry ’bout that.”

“Never, ever apologize for that,” Shane says firmly. He scoots back a bit and pulls open the second drawer. “This is unreal. You know I’ve only owned two sex toys in my whole life? And one of them is technically broken, even though in my opinion vibrators don’t so much break as become dildos.”

Seriously ? That’s awful.” Ryan sinks to his knees behind him. His arms slide around Shane’s waist automatically, drinking in the slim solid heat of him.

Shane smiles. “Not really. Most of the time my hands are enough to get the job done.” 

“Oh, I bet,” Ryan murmurs, his mind helpfully supplying a barrage of images. “Anyway, it’s no big deal. I have enough to go around. I mean... clearly.” 

Shane must pick up on the self-mocking note in his voice because he makes a small dismayed sound. “Did you think I was gonna be an asshole because you have good taste in sex toys? Sure, it can be awkward talking about stuff like this, but you know I’d never be a jerk about it, right? I mean, maybe I want you to tie me up and call me a cock-starved strumpet. Maybe that’s my jam and I’m just not sure how to bring it up. But I know you wouldn’t be a jerk about it if I did. You’d be glad I trusted you enough to share that.”

Ryan raises his eyebrows. “Is that your jam?”

“My jam is many flavors,” Shane says cryptically. “Now let’s talk some more about you.”

“Uh, sure. Do you want to know more about anything? Any questions or comments? Requests for test drives?” 

”How about,” Shane says slowly, twisting in Ryan’s arms until Ryan can practically taste each word as he utters it, “you show me what you do on a typical night when you’re all turned on and aching for a good butt punching.”

“We are still not calling it that,” Ryan groans.

 


 

He has this down to a science by now. 

Doing it for a captive audience is a little stressful, but the steps are still the same.

He lays out all the supplies, scrubs his hands, sets his wine someplace he won’t overturn it. Tells Shane about the importance of busting out the good lube and going slow. “I like to start with my fingers, then the medium sized plug. I had to get used to the smallest one before I was ready to work my way up, but now I’ve got myself trained. Gotta get a good stretch before I can take the biggest one, though, that still takes some time. You can’t just be shoving anything up there without practice. Just like running a marathon, as someone once said.” 

The look on Shane’s face has him regretting his decision to wear jeans. His cock is aching already, trapped tight against the zipper.

“And that’s what it would be like if I used my...my hand?” Shane’s voice is steady even though his face is bright pink.

“You’d get your fingers in me and just keep going, yeah.” Ryan demonstrates, tapering his fingers together and tucking his thumb into the middle. “Apparently once you get past the knuckles, it just kind of naturally forms a fist. The human body is wild like that.”

“You seem...” Shane flounders for a few seconds, “quite well informed.”

“I’ll send you some links later,” Ryan promises. “Believe me, there’s some very educational stuff out there.”

Shane catches him around the waist and draws him down onto the bed until they’re so entangled Ryan barely knows which way is up. “Oh, you know me, I don’t go into anything uneducated.”

Ryan smiles as well as he can with the delicate slip of Shane’s earlobe in his mouth. Reluctantly, he moves back until he can look into Shane’s face without going cross-eyed. “Normally I use my own fingers, but since we’ve got the new and improved model with us...wanna do the honors?”

“Yes,” Shane breathes, already working through the rest of Ryan’s shirt buttons. “There’s nothing new and improved about me, but yes.”

Ryan’s hand finds the apex of Shane’s thighs and gives a slow, deliberate squeeze. “Trust me on this one, baby, there really is. So, so many things.”

He gets Shane’s shirt over his head and lets Shane toss his off the side of the bed. He lets Shane play-wrestle him into a struggle that’s half hot-mouthed kisses and half trying to work each other’s pants off. He wins when he gets Shane’s chinos and underwear shoved halfway down his thighs, but he graciously allows Shane to complain about Ryan’s skinny jeans being impossible to peel off without throwing out his back.

Then he turns over, pushing himself up onto his hands and knees.

“Spread your knees, baby,” Shane murmurs, his voice a lust-drunk rasp against Ryan’s shoulder blade.

And Ryan does, unable to keep from whimpering. There’s something about the sound of Shane uncapping the lube bottle that’s damn near Pavlovian, that makes him want to arch his back and beg for it before Shane even touches him. But when Shane does touch him, he knocks it out of the park, every time. No faltering or hesitating, just using those gorgeous fingers to give Ryan exactly what he needs. 

It helps that Ryan has a habit of sliding into amateur porn star territory when he’s being fingered. He loves the feeling of being gradually worked open and it’s always so much better when someone else is doing it to him. It feels important to let them know it. So he doesn’t hold back the steady stream of little sighs and whines that escapes him, and he presses his ass back against every slick little tease of Shane’s fingers, feeling a surge of pride when Shane swears under his breath.

No matter how many times he does this, he still goes slack-jawed and still at that first penetration. “Ohfuck. Yeah.”

Shane’s clean hand slides around his hip, lingering just centimeters away from his cock. “Yeah?” The grit of his stubble against Ryan’s neck makes him tremble. “Talk to me, Ry. How many fingers do you give yourself before you put it in?”

“Two,” he chokes out, willing himself not to shoot off like one of the stars exploding behind his eyelids.

At his back, Shane gives a contemplative hum. “Mine are a little thinner, should I give you three instead? Or you think you can take it from just this?”

“Now, I fucking want it in me now.”

“Want me to put your plug in you?” Shane croons to him. He loves making Ryan beg and Ryan, god help him, wouldn’t have it any other way. “You want me to get you all filled up and squirming for something bigger?”

Yes,” Ryan practically wails. “Please, I can handle it, just get it in me.”

A kiss brushes against his nape as Shane withdraws his fingers. His other hand closes over his cock, gives the length of it a maddeningly slow stroke as if in apology for leaving him empty even for this short time. “Okay, shhh, I got you. I’m gonna put it in.”

“Yeah,” he keens, not caring that he must sound pathetic and look like a summer-ripe tomato.

Ryan’s body is so well-trained that he opens right up for it when Shane places the rounded tip of his second-largest training plug at his entrance. It still feels so good, that novelty of being opened up and taken care of, the way the plug settles inside him just a hip-tilt away from grazing his prostate.

And Shane is right there with him for all of it. Running kisses up his spine. Sliding a hand around so his fingers can collect the precome from Ryan’s cock and bring it up to his lips because Ryan is a slut for tasting himself and Shane is a fast learner. Drawing back and letting Ryan’s skin prickle with the sensation of being looked at.

“Fuck, that’s.” Shane sounds like he’s at a loss for words  “That’s something,” he says finally. “Can I move it?”

“I wish you would.”

The first thrust of the plug has them moaning in unison. Shane freezes. “Jesus, it looks like it hurts.”

“It does, without practice.” Ryan tells him through gritted teeth. His arms gave out long ago and he’s clutching a pillow to his chest. “Just move this one in and out a little, let me get used to it, then you can swap it out for the bigger one. Just...go slow, let me relax into it.”

“How the fuck can you relax? You’re about to get a miniature traffic cone up your ass.”

“Please don’t make me laugh right now,” Ryan says blandly. “Also, traffic cones aren’t blue and sparkly. And that plug you're prepping me for, I’ll have you know, is just two millimeters smaller than your fist at its widest.”

Shane really is a quick study. Those long-fingered hands work their magic on him, easing the toy in and out until Ryan is writhing for it each time the widest part breaches his hole. By the time Ryan is begging for the largest plug, his cock is leaking steadily into the blankets.

Shane’s breathing is ragged. “On your back, okay? I wanna see you for this one.” 

Obediently, Ryan turns over. 

Shane looks drugged. It takes Ryan’s breath away all over again. There’s a mottled flush spreading all the way down to his chest and his eyes are huge. His cock is flushed full and dark, damp at the tip. Ryan is sure he’s been ignoring it on his account. He reaches out, trying to touch and take the edge off, but Shane catches his wrist and gives it a tender press of his lips. “Nuh-uh. Let me take care of you.”

And by the time Shane slicks up the largest plug and works it into him, Ryan is in no shape to do anything but sob. 

It’s big, so big the stretch of it makes him sob out loud. His entire body throbs, a dull ache radiating out from his rim, but in the best possible way. He thinks he feels Shane hesitate, thinks he hears himself pleading. Then the worst is over and his body neatly swallows the rest of it to the hilt, leaving Ryan with tear tracks on his temples and muscle spasms in his thighs.

He’s so fucking full and strung out he barely even needs to touch himself. Or would, if he was capable of moving from where he’s splayed across the bed. 

Shane handles that for him too, one hand gripping the base of the plug and twisting it inside him, the other slipping around his length and stroking in counterpoint. “Fuck, you’re so...I can’t even describe it, Ryan, you look like you’re on a whole other planet right now.” 

Ryan wants to tell him he’s close, but he’s beyond speech, practically beyond gravity at this point. When his orgasm ripples over him, it’s a searing cascade of pleasure that submerges him and leaves him gasping.

And Shane is still there, petting down his chest and finally, finally jerking himself off with a ferocity that makes Ryan whine in sympathy. 

He can almost feel it when Shane comes, when his cock pulses and his balls draw up tightly between his thighs. He must be so sensitive by now, he’s been neglecting himself all this time to put Ryan first, all so Ryan can be doted on and stretched wide and filled up so perfectly. 

Ryan loves him so fucking much he can barely breathe. 

He’s still floating back down to earth after his own orgasm. Seeing Shane shuddering through his sends him right back into the ether again, until he’s adrift in their commingled pleasure and the room around them dissolves into a swirl of stars.

Afterward, once Shane insists on cleaning him up and checking him over, they lie together in Ryan’s bed face to face with their limbs interlocked and their foreheads touching. 

“I have to admit, I still don’t get it.” Shane is looking at him, eyes more sleepy than usual and a small smile curling the corners of his lips. The lamplight from Ryan’s nightstand caresses every contour of his face, throwing the arch of his cheekbone into high relief, gilding the scruff on his chin into sparks. Ryan lets his fingers map the shadows of it, listening. 

“Why do you want this?” Shane continues. “Is it because you’re just wired to go pursue things that scare you? Like, every time we go on a shoot you’re a bundle of nerves and loving every minute of it.”

“Don’t you dare compare your sexy-ass hands to the fucking Sallie house,” Ryan mumbles. “Bad vibes.”

He can feel the huff of Shane’s laughter when he kisses him. “You’re such a charcuterie plate of neuroses.”

“And everyone loves a good charcuterie plate,” Ryan hums agreeably. “For real, though, I know I’m a lot to deal with. You deserve a trophy or a lifetime supply of Uniqlo chinos or something.”

“I don’t deal with you.” Shane sounds affronted. “You’re right, everyone does love a good charcuterie plate, and you are top fucking shelf. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of sad because it means you’ll bever be able to reach yourself.”

“Oh my god,” Ryan groans, laughing out loud before he can stop himself. Shane has a knack for making his emotions bubble up and over, unchecked, and Ryan never wants that to change no matter how awful his jokes get.

He feels the shift in Shane’s demeanor before he even speaks. Something about the way he kisses along Ryan’s knuckles, the long exhale that makes his ribs arch under Ryan’s arm. The way he brings a hand into Ryan’s sightline and loosely forms a fist with it. “I want to try and do that for you. Like I said, I still don’t totally get it, but I want to try.” 

Ryan has to close his eyes. A shiver racks through him, skimming his nerve endings, leaving him blissfully unmoored. “Yeah?”

“I like being able to make you feel good,” Shane says simply. “Just...I don’t want to hurt you either. I don’t want you to end up cancelling sessions with your trainer or limping around the office in the morning.”

“Well, then,” Ryan responds, feeling a ripple of incandescent joy forming in his belly. “It’s a good thing we have a few nice chill vacation days coming up, isn’t it?”

 

→→→   August, 2019   →→→

 

Finally, they’re off the clock and on the road..

And maybe it’s a little ridiculous, but the rush Ryan is riding is the same one he gets when he’s walking out of a demon house after surviving the night there. 

Finding the right location for this had taken him ages. At first, he was thrilled to discover so many possibilities that were all less than two hours away. He was feeling pretty good about himself for narrowing things down to a nice forest location, then got a very rude awakening when he registered just how big it was. Ryan might be a lifelong Californian, but sometimes the scale of this state still baffles him. There’s a lot he hasn’t experienced, like dune sledding or visiting a condor sanctuary. 

These were both options he was actually considering at one point, then vetoed almost immediately because staring at creepy birds and getting sand burn on his ass didn’t seem very romantic. He also vetoed yurt rentals because he remembered Shane once calling them insufferable.

The temperatures in Los Padres National Forest fluctuate like crazy between night and day, and there’s rain and wind and a fuckton of greenery. No deserts or wildfires in Pine Mountain Club, where he ultimately booked a cabin, just plenty of mountains and waterfalls and wildlife. There’s a village nearby with important stuff like bars, but the area is supposed to be easygoing and not overrun by screaming families trying to entertain kids on summer break. Ryan doesn’t mind screaming families so much himself; he visits Disneyland several times a year and it’s more than worth it. But this is their vacation and they deserve to kick back.

He can see Shane being super into this. He wants Shane to be super into this.

Fine, so maybe he is a little bit of a romantic, but that doesn’t mean he’s orchestrating a cheesy romantic getaway or anything. It’s just important to get this right.

At the moment, with Shane dozing in the passenger seat and his snores punctuating Ryan’s road trip playlist, everything feels pretty damn right. 

They’re gaining altitude and isolation by the mile. The late-morning sun hangs in the air like a bronze medallion, half-obscured by branches. With sugar pines spearing hundreds of feet into the air and stray splashes of late-blooming lupine, it really does feel like a completely different realm. Ryan has half a mind to jostle Shane awake so he can experience it, but he lets him sleep on. They have time.

Shane wakes up as soon as he parks. “Hey. So, uh, where are we?”

“The old PMC,” Ryan says, clapping him on the shoulder as he gets out of the car. “Pine Mountain Club, it’s this dinky little spot in the middle of the forest. Don’t worry, there’s wifi and TV and all that jazz, but there might also be bears.” 

Turning in a slow circle, Shane looks like he’s about to reenact the opening number of The Sound of Music. “It’s green.”

“Forests often are.”

It’s like Shane doesn’t even hear. His eyes are busy taking in the little two-story cabin. “That’s where we’re staying?”

“Yeah.” Ryan shifts from foot to foot, suddenly nervous all over again, like Shane is assessing him as much as their lodgings. He babbles, “Our closest neighbors are over a mile away, so we can pretty much do whatever. I mean, there’s hiking and a bunch of restaurants that are pretty close by, but we could spend the whole time out here making love under the stars or whatever and no one would know. Or we could get murdered, but how likely is that? Oh, and it has trees growing through the deck, I thought that was pretty cool.”

“That is cool. We’re still in California, right?

Ryan rolls his eyes. “Yes, but if I got you to question it, then my work here is done.”

“You know,” Shane points out as they lug their bags inside, “if we were counting, and who is, it looks like we’re coming up on three months. Did you want this to be an anniversary thing?

“It’s not an anniversary thing!” Ryan protests. “There just happened to be a good AirBnb available for these days. We’ve been working together for years, three months isn’t a big deal.

Shane squints one eye. “It’s a little bit of a big deal.

Ryan abandons his duffel bag and kisses him. 

 



“Making love under the stars, huh?” Shane says.

They’ve made themselves at home. Ryan had a shower while Shane made a stack of grilled cheese sandwiches, and they both took their time investigating the view, the hammock, and the novelty of a hot tub complete with genuine working jets. By mutual silent agreement, they’ve cracked open a couple of beers on the couch. Vanderpump Rules is on the massive flatscreen, on mute. 

It could be any other afternoon at either of their places, but it isn’t, and that makes all the difference. 

Ryan spreads his arms. “It’s southern California, we should take advantage of the stars while we can see ’em. They do get a decent amount of rain up here, though, I thought you’d be into that. The forecast says we should have some tomorrow.”

 “You really did think of everything.” Shane’s eyes are soft when they settle on him.

 “So you like it? It took forever to find the right place to book, man, you have no idea. I was freaking out.”

“I do like it.” Shane gives a slow nod. “You killed it, Ryan. But I shouldn’t have just let you do this alone and stress out about it. I thought you wanted to make it this big surprise, but that’s too much for one person.”  

He pushes up on one elbow from where he’s been reclining half on the couch and half across Ryan’s lap. “And seriously, you could’ve booked anywhere, as long as we got to be there together.”

“Yeah, yeah, happy three month anniversary to you too, you big dumb dork.” Ryan nudges Shane off him just long enough to stretch down next to him and pull him close. “You’re so fucking sappy, I hope you know that.” 

“Where better to get sappy than in the middle of a pine forest?” Shane demands. 

There’s a hint of a flush rising on his neck. Ryan wants to put his mouth on it, so he does.

When he thinks about it, becoming boyfriends was surprisingly simple. 

Maintaining a relationship is a lot trickier than beginning it, though, and Ryan wouldn't be himself if he wasn't anticipating problems in advance. “I want us to last more than three months.”

Shane tenses. “Um, were you thinking we wouldn’t? I thought we were doing okay.” 

“No, no, that’s not it.” Ryan pulls a face. “Bad wording. I just mean I want us to last. Period. I want us to keep doing okay even if Buzzfeed isn’t. I want us to outlast Unsolved.” 

It’s not easy to say this out loud. Ryan hates to think of Unsolved ending, but as much as he loves their work he knows it can't go on forever. Nothing has seemed as stable as it used to since layoffs, not even BUN. Ryan is still trying to formulate a backup plan, even though he’s not the hugest fan of trying to parlay his way into being a proper business networker and not a tryhard influencer. It’s not smooth sailing, but he'll take what he can get. 

He just wants to be sure he can take Shane with him.

“You did it again,” Shane says quietly. “You thought about stuff until it exploded when you could’ve said something to me sooner.”

Ryan has a bad habit of keeping things to himself and dwelling on them until he's worked himself into a quiet, indiscernible frenzy. He knows this about himself. He didn’t count on Shane getting to know it so well too.

“It’s a work in progress. How am I supposed to deal with the existential crises of the future when I can't even deal with you having hands ?”

For a long, silent stretch of time, they just lie there cramped against each other on the couch. “You could talk to me,” Shane offers at last. “Instead of internalizing everything. Just putting that newfangled notion out there.” 

“You’re not gonna like that,” Ryan warns, burying his face in the join of Shane’s neck and shoulder. The spice of his cologne is soothing for reasons he can’t explain. Shane’s fingers slide through his hair, rubbing lightly, and that is too. Some of the tension around Ryan’s ribs starts to unwind itself. 

“Oh, another thing,” Shane adds. “Stop worrying about how I'm gonna react. You shouldn't have to be like that with me. I'm not going to understand everything you feel or say, but I'll listen and try my best and I won't be a douche. You know I’m capable of that, right?

There’s a barely perceptible edge of vulnerability to his voice that makes Ryan want to hold him for hours. “I do. I promise, I do know that. I’m just...sometimes I feel like I need to prove I can handle my shit, and if you knew how paranoid I can get then you’d never think I was capable of handling anything.”

“Okay, I want you to think of me being a full-on jerk when you're trying to tell me ghosts are real.” Shane pauses, clearly waiting for Ryan to complete his mental picture. “If you come to me with something that’s worrying you, I will be the opposite of that. I won't just laugh at you and blow you off. So if you're silently freaking out about, I don’t know, some work drama or some new kink or whatever...put it out there before it turns into Mount Vesuvius.” 

Ryan tightens his arms around him until Shane grunts in protest. “I will. It’s not going to happen all at once, but I am going to try to make it happen.”

“And for the record, you’ve got nothing to prove. I don’t need you to plan my vacations and take my fist in order to prove anything.”

“Bad examples, man. Those are both things I would want to do anyway even if I wasn’t a neurotic idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot. Usually. And I like neurotic. A lot.” The kiss Shane drifts against his lips is brief and breath-soft. “All I’m saying is you don’t have to stress about things alone, okay? For example, you didn’t have to go through fisting preparatory academy all by yourself. I could have had some fun going there with you if I knew there was an opening.”

He cracks up halfway through the last word. Ryan politely waits for him to finish. “I was trying to make things easier for you,” he says.

“Why do you think I need you to make things easier for me? Why would I want that? I love that you’re a complex mess of a person, that’s part of why I’m with you.”

“Because I’m a trash fire of self-doubt,” Ryan answers. “I really am glad you like it here. I thought I was gonna screw everything up. I almost rented us a yurt.”

“Yeah, it’s gorgeous. Want me to fist you in it now?” Shane sounds perfectly calm, like he didn’t just switch subjects with all the subtlety of a chainsaw to the jugular. 

Ryan howls with laughter, then does his best 20’s gangster moll impression. “Easy there, mister, you’re coming on kinda strong.”

“Gotta make up for all that lost time. Besides,” Shane tips him a wink, “a lot of the best cheeses come on strong too.” 

Leave it to Shane to compare himself to a cheese

Ryan shifts until he’s overtop him, settling both hands to frame Shane’s face before he presses a kiss to that wryly quirked mouth. “Yes, I would love that.”

  


 

Another reason Ryan booked this particular cabin was the king-sized bed. He’s really proud of himself for making that a priority. It’s ridiculous how many possibilities he rejected for not having anything bigger than a full.

Definitely the worth it to end all worth its. 

“So tell me what you want,” Shane is murmuring as he mouths at Ryan’s nipple. He winces. “And ignore the fuck out of that accidental Spice Girls reference.” 

Ryan lets out a laugh that slides into a moan when Shane lets his teeth graze against him there. “C’mon, you already know the answer to that.” He tangles their hands together, then pauses, brow furrowing as he looks closely at Shane’s. “Dude. You got a manicure.”

Shane gives a droll little tilt of his head. “Huh. Guess I did. Sometimes you've just gotta treat yourself.”

Ryan is grinning so hard his cheeks hurt. “I can’t believe you.”

“What, you’re the only one who can read up on this stuff?” Shane says airily. One of his neatly groomed hands cups Ryan’s cheek, brushes a thumb across his lips. “I was serious when I said I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I’ll have a few days to recover. Besides, I brought a donut pillow for the ride home if I need it.

Shane shakes his head in disbelief, but there’s a fondness to it. “Of course you did.”

“Also some extra towels and more lube and ibuprofen. Oh, and wet wipes, lots of those.”

The levels of Shane’s fondness and disbelief both rise by several degrees. “You brought your own fisting aftercare kit with you.”

“I sure did,” Ryan agrees. “It’s the striped bag in the bathroom. And I’m fully expecting to spend a lot of time in the hot tub.”

When Shane kisses him, he’s laughing.

Every time Ryan moves, he gets a jolt of dizziness because each point of contact between their bodies feels so fucking good. Shane guides him onto his front, giving his ass a squeeze in the process, helps him arrange himself so there’s a towel-covered pillow situated under his hips. As much as he wishes he didn’t have to lose sight of Shane, it’s supposed to be easier this way.

Shane’s hands stroke down his back, over his ass, pulling the cheeks apart a little. A low groan claws its way out of Ryan’s mouth. Shane’s slim hand splays over his hip, Shane’s lips press a kiss behind his ear, and then Shane slides a finger inside him in one smooth motion. 

Ryan spreads his thighs a few more inches, already anticipating the sweet, perfect stretch of Shane slipping in another. It doesn't hurt, it's just his body making room for Shane inside him, just working itself up to taking Shane’s fist.

Their practice session with Ryan’s plugs seems to have paid off. Shane knows what he likes and he gives it to him, he just needs to trust himself. When he pleads for more, Shane actually listens, that's the main difference this time. He doesn't pause to ask Ryan if he's sure, he just probes carefully at him with a second and a third finger and, when Ryan presses his ass out and tries to muffle a sob, slides in a fourth alongside those three, slow and sure and everything Ryan needs right now.

Just Shane inside him, a nice soft towel beneath him, and the verifiable waterfall of lube Shane pours over his hand.

“Ryan,” Shane says in a broken voice that makes Ryan’s heart pound so hard it’s a wonder it doesn’t snap a couple ribs. “It’s not gonna...I can’t.”

“You can, baby,” Ryan reassures him, though he sounds so shaky he can’t gauge how much of an impact he’s having. “You’re doing such a good job so far, going nice and slow and giving me a lot of lube. Just like with the plug, okay? It feels so fucking good, babe, please don’t stop. Tuck your thumb in now, you can do it.”

Shane is breathing hard, his mouth trailing a hot smear of kisses along Ryan’s shoulders. “I don’t--you’re so tight, I don’t think I…”

Now Ryan is terrified they’ve made it this far only for Shane to shut down. “You can. I ran the numbers on it, I have data, now take all that empirical knowledge and shove it up my ass like it’s the Lost Colony zombie theory.”

That seems to work. Shane lets out a burst of near-hysterical laughter. His hand slides a little deeper.

The stretch is white-hot as Shane’s knuckles breach him. The room shimmers around them, ondoyant, and Ryan squeezes his eyes shut until he sees nothing but stars that scatter and reform themselves in time with his pulse. “Oh fuck, fuck, fuckyes, please.

Shane presses. In.

Ryan’s body opens for him, then clenches down hard around his wrist. Just like taking a plug.

The sound is obscene, they’re both so slick with lube.

Oh,” Shane exhales.

“Shane,” Ryan asks, between tiny hitching breaths. The pillow is damp under his face. He’s crying, an involuntary response to being pushed so far, but he hopes Shane doesn’t feel too alarmed if he notices. “Shane, fuck, h-how does it feel?

When he answers, Shane sounds just as wrecked. “ Hot. Just...so fucking hot, you’re burning up. And soft, like I’m gonna bruise you up inside.”

“You won’t, baby,” Ryan promises, wishing he could twist around and see him, kiss the fear from him. “You can move a little, just be slow.”

The first hesitant nudge of Shane’s knuckles against his inner walls makes him cry out. He has to force his body not to jerk away from the sensation. Just as quickly, Shane’s other hand is there, a firm smooth presence against the small of his back. 

“Easy there, Ry-guy, it’s okay.”

Ryan barely hears him. He’s steadily melting into the bed, heedless of anything but the place their bodies are joined. Shane rotates his wrist, making Ryan hiccup wetly into the pillow. The towel under him is damp, making him wonder if somehow he came and didn’t realize it. Surely he would have noticed that; it has to just be sweat and lube and precome, has to just be that he’s so drenched in his own depravity it’s literally pouring off him.

“Ryan, hey.” 

It takes a moment for him to realize Shane isn’t just crooning endearments at him. 

“You know, your bro cred is skyrocketing right now,” Shane says, massaging circles into Ryan’s lower back, and sounding for all the world like they’re having a chat over their morning coffee. “This has to be the ultimate fistbump. Let’s get this in your frat newsletter, stat. Wait, no, would you guys even have a newsletter? There must be a Facebook group, right?” 

Shane is practically delivering a comedic monologue while he’s wrist-deep in Ryan’s ass. Unbelievable. And yet, it has to be real because even the most self-respecting of Ryan’s sex-induced hallucinations would never dare to serve this up.

In spite of it all, he can tell he’s close. What the actual fuck.

“Shane, shut the fuck up, I’m gonna come.”

The fact that he can even utter a complete sentence seems to shock both of them.

“Ryan,” Shane starts, but if there’s anything more he’s trying to say, Ryan never catches it.

He comes in spurts that feel as if they soak the bed, a blistering wave of pure pleasure that scorches through him and leaves him convulsing around Shane’s fist.

It’s possible he passes out for a minute.

In the depths of his consciousness, he’s aware of Shane easing his hand out, going about it so slowly and carefully that the stretch and the tenderness both bring a new rush of tears to his eyes. It suddenly seems very important to warn Shane that he’s probably about to have a full-on post-fist meltdown.

“’M gonna cry, but I’m okay. You...y’did really good. Good fist.”

That’s all he manages before he shoves his face into the pillow and bawls.

It’s a good thing he doesn’t have the faculties to worry about Shane reacting negatively to this. He’s supposed to be not doing that. 

Shane just folds around him and takes him as he is and Ryan realizes, sudden as a lightning strike, that he can't ever get enough of that. Never. It breaks him all over again, makes him feel like Shane is so much more than he deserves. 

Shane turns him over and draws him close, lets him cry himself out until he’s a limp dishrag of a human being. And even then, Shane is still there holding him and kissing the tears from his cheeks. 

"Thank you," Ryan manages at one point, tipping his head up enough to land a dry little kiss of his own on the underside of Shane’s chin. And then he’s burrowing right back down into Shane’s arms, letting himself be held and taken care of and loved.

He drifts. Shane is saying something back to him, a slew of white noise and praises that wrap around Ryan like the softest blankets.

“You were so fucking good, can’t believe you let me do that to you. Let me know when you’re okay for me to get you some water, all right? I promise I’m not trying to be punny, but that really took a lot out of you.”

That shakes a giggle out of him. “You can go, I’ll be okay.”

As he lets himself sink back into a gauzy half-sleep, Shane flickers in and out of his awareness. Sponging him off, supporting his head while he takes a few sips of water, helping him relocate to a more unscathed part of the bed.

When Shane rejoins him in bed, they curl around each other, greedily seeking skin on skin contact under the chill of the air conditioner.

“Hey Shane,” Ryan mumbles, “can I tell you something?”

“Mm?” 

“You have really, really nice hands.”

And as he sinks the rest of the way into sleep, he thinks he hears Shane utter a soft laugh into his hair and reply, “Ryan...why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”