In many ways, Shane and Ryan were exactly alike. Their popcorn preferences, their appreciation for movies, their shared hatred of confrontation, their much-derided love of a good poop joke, their career goals, all of it lined up perfectly.
In others, they couldn’t be more polar opposites. There were the obvious ones, skeptic and believer, nerd and jock, tall and short, white and Asian-Latino. But it was the other, less noticeable differences that terrified Shane.
“Do you ever wanna get married?” Ryan asked with all the nonchalance of a rhinoceros on a random Thursday night.
“I dunno. I’m not against it, but I don’t think I need to do it, either,” Shane shrugged from the other side of the couch.
“Such a fucking non-answer. What does that even mean?”
“It means that I’m not interested in it for me, but I would if my partner wanted to,” he explained. “Also, Jesus Ryan, we’ve been dating like four months. I’m not marrying you right now.”
“I’m not asking!” Ryan rushed to say, kicking at Shane’s feet. “It’s just good to, you know, know where the other person stands on this stuff before things get too serious. It’s a pretty big deal if you’re not on the same page.”
Shane smiled. That was a very Ryan thing to worry about. “Fair enough. What about you?”
“I mean, yeah, I wanna get married. It’s something I’ve always wanted.”
“Aw, did baby Ryan have a dream wedding scrapbook?”
“Shut up. You knew I was a romantic before you shimmied out of those jeans and into my hotel bed,” Ryan reminded him.
“So…,” Shane drew it out just to make Ryan sweat. “I would be open to marriage with you. Someday. In the future. Far future. Not soon. If you’ve got a ring, take it back.”
Ryan pretended to rummage around in his pocket before pulling out his middle finger. “That’s all I’ve got for you right now, big guy.”
Laughing, Shane pulled Ryan over to his side on the couch. “I’ve got some nice places you can stick that.”
Ryan grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “You mean not-so-nice places.”
“Depends if I’ve showered or not.”
Ryan giggled, pressing his forehead against Shane’s shoulder while Shane slipped his hand into Ryan’s hair. This was quickly becoming his favorite version of Ryan, all laughter and softness melting into Shane’s body.
“I’m not ready, either, just so you know. Like at all,” Ryan told him, tapping his fingers on Shane’s chest. “So you don’t gotta worry about me getting down on one knee in a haunted house anytime soon.”
“If you propose to me in one of those disgusting hellholes, I will kill you,” Shane warned. “Or on a shoot in general. Or in public. Or in food.”
Ryan squirmed. “But on a shoot would be really cool, we’d have the footage.”
“Sure, but in front of our coworkers? That’s so awkward. No thanks.”
“But they’re our friends.”
“And? What if someone said no? That’s mortifying.”
Ryan sat up with a frown. “You would say no? After you just said you’re into marriage if the other person is?”
“I—Jesus, calm down Ryan,” Shane sighed in frustration. “I’m just saying, there’s a lot of, like, social pressure. Why add to an already stressful moment? Besides, isn’t it more special if it’s just the two of you?”
“I think it’s way more special if you can celebrate with your family and friends.”
“For you, yeah. Not for me.”
They stared at each other uncomfortably. This was one of those fundamental differences that scared the shit of Shane. How could two people at such disparate ends of the romantic spectrum figure this out?
“But, uh, maybe I’ll change my mind by then,” Shane added, trying to break the tension. “Whenever this far future happens.”
“When have you ever changed your mind about anything?” Ryan asked skeptically.
“Stranger things have happened,” he said, unhelpful.
Weeks and months and eventually two years went by. Shane had not changed his mind and neither had Ryan. Which made the ring currently hidden in the Professor’s satchel all that more of an issue.
How the fuck was Shane going to do this?
In Shane’s perfect world, he always imagined taking his significant other out on a long and beautiful hike, just the two of them. They would enjoy all the best mother nature had to offer, maybe smoke some of her best herbal medicine, and eat trail mix while looking for birds. And then, when they were all alone, looking out over a vista, Shane would take their hand and tell them he wanted to do this forever. No big to-do, he probably wouldn’t even get down on one knee if he didn’t have to. Just two people having a great day and making a commitment to each other.
But it was not Shane’s perfect world and the person he wanted to take on that hike would murder him if he didn’t make a big to-do of it. Ryan wanted the fairytale, the one knee, the ring, the surprise, the family and friends, video and photo evidence. He probably would even like a flash mob. Shane would give Ryan the moon, if he could. But a flash mob? No fucking way.
Shane didn’t know what to do. As much as he was willing to compromise for Ryan, like subscribing to some hideously expensive NBA cable package, this was so much harder to find a middle ground on. And sure, of course Shane knew Ryan would say yes. That wasn’t what he was worried about. Shane was much more concerned about setting their relationship up for success in the long run. A proposal that Shane loved, but Ryan hated (or vice versa) might just be a sign of things to come. If they couldn’t get engaged without resenting something about it, what would that mean for the rest of their lives? For buying a house or possibly even having kids? Shane had to get this right, he had to figure out a way for them to start out on the same right foot.
Every idea Shane thought of, however, made his skin crawl. At a Bergara family dinner? Too much pressure, plus possible dachshund interference. At Knott’s Berry farm? Way too public. At a Lakers game? Shane’s worst nightmare. On a Watcher shoot? Too weird, involving their employees, even if they were also their friends. Nothing was private enough, nothing that just let them be them. Or, more correctly, let Shane be Shane. Because Ryan was himself around his friends and family, they were a huge part of his life. Shane’s own friends and family were important to him too, of course, but not in the same way. He could go months without seeing his closest buddies and pick right up where they left off, which Ryan thought was ridiculous. It was another one of their differences, although one they found easy to work around. A couple nights a week, Ryan was off with his friends while Shane enjoyed a quiet night at home with Obi. It worked for them.
The more Shane tried to plan the perfect proposal, the more he began to resent the whole enterprise. Part of the advantage of being queer was that you didn’t have to do this straight people bullshit. Why even get married at all? What was the point?
“Guess what?” Ryan asked, trying to hide his giant grin and failing.
“We’re going to the movies tonight.”
“Yeah? I thought we were going this weekend.”
“This is different. I rented out one of those small couch theaters so we—you—can watch Speed Racer.”
Shane blinked rapidly. “What? Why?”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Because our anniversary is in a week, dipshit.”
“B-but we’re doing stuff for that already! The Pie Hole’s booked!” Shane protested for no good reason.
“Yeah, but this is a surprise,” Ryan said, like he was explaining it to a five year old. “And besides, you’ve always wanted to see it in the theater.”
“I have,” Shane admitted, finally allowing the joy to run through his body. “Speed Racer on the big screen...wow.”
Ryan wrapped his arms around Shane’s middle. “Big screen for the big guy.”
Oh yeah, that was why Shane was going through all this stress. Because he loved this ridiculous sweet weirdo with all of his heart.
He decided to finally get some help, seek some outside guidance. Scott was his first bet, but Shane’s brother was even less of a romantic than he was and was little help. Next, Shane went to one of the more romantic people he knew, Steven Lim. But while Steven was a softie, he was also more obsessed with privacy than Shane was, so while his ideas were very sweet, Shane knew they wouldn’t line up with Ryan’s dreams.
Shane needed someone who knew Ryan as well as they knew himself. Someone who understood their differences and how to bring them together. Maybe even someone whose job it was to make the two of them get their shit together.
“Katie, can I bend your ear on something?”
Katie shrugged her headphones off. “What’s up?”
“Not here. The conference room down the hall is free.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “What is this about?”
“Officially, it’s about a possible Weird Wonderful venue,” Shane told her.
Katie raised her eyebrows. “And unofficially?”
“I’ll tell you when we get there.”
They silently walked towards the empty conference room. It was shared between all the businesses that were in their building and Shane had reserved a thirty minute window for it.
“Okay, what’s going on?” Katie asked immediately as Shane shut the door.
Shane’s instinct to beat around the bush was beaten by his desire to get any useful help from her. “I want to propose to Ryan, but I have no idea how because he wants something big and surprising and with his family there and I want...the opposite of that.”
“Oh wow. Okay. Well, first, congrats, buddy!” Katie grinned, playfully punching Shane in the arm. “Welcome to the married club.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. If we don’t get this right, we probably won’t make it that far.”
“And I thought Ryan was supposed to be the pessimist,” Katie teased. “C’mon, Shane, you know he’ll say yes. He’s crazy about you.”
“I’m not worried about his answer. I just want it to be right for us and I don’t know how to do that when we have such different expectations,” Shane explained. “I need a producer, for lack of a better word.”
“Well, you came to the right one,” Katie said kindly. “So, where do you want to start? Location?”
They brainstormed for the entire thirty minutes and then some. Katie’s experience at wrangling Shane and Ryan, along with her brilliant production mind, made her a fantastic accomplice. Every detail was perfect, down to the venue.
“You really think they’ll let us be there alone?” Shane asked her as they walked back to the office.
“You’ve done it before, I don’t see why not,” Katie said. “If nothing else, we’ll give ‘em a Puppet History ad spot.”
Before they stepped back into the Watcher office, Katie squeezed Shane’s arm. “Hey, I know you hate this stuff, but I’m proud of you.”
“Oh, well, you know. I try,” Shane shrugged.
She smiled, patting his arm. “I know. That’s why I’m proud.”
The official story was that they were going on a weekend hiking trip up in NorCal. Shane even let Ryan think it was his idea, planting the seed about wanting to see the redwoods once they both had a long weekend off. While Ryan booked the hotel room, Shane pretended to book the airplane tickets he’d already bought a month ago.
After flying into San Jose on Friday afternoon, they checked into their hotel and fooled around a bit. Traveling always got them in the mood, it was where they’d first gotten together, after all. Forrest Fenn may have been a shithead, but at least his treasure hunt had done one small bit of good.
Shane pushed the sweaty black hair off of Ryan’s forehead. “We’re gonna have to eat dinner somewhere fast tonight. We’ve got somewhere to be at eight.”
“Oh yeah? Where’s that?”
Shane debated keeping it secret, but he figured it was fine to let it slip. Ryan still had no idea what was coming. “Winchester. They’re gonna let us have the place to ourselves for an hour.”
“What?!” Ryan’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Dude! That’s terrifying!”
“No, it isn’t,” Shane lied. He wasn’t afraid of the notorious Winchester Mystery House, just the evening itself. “It’ll be cool! We haven’t seen the ol’ gal in what, two-and-a-half years? We can see how she’s doing.”
“Are they really letting us in there after hours, even though it’s not for a video?”
“Yup. I may have promised them an ad spot on Puppet History for it, but I think it’ll be worth it.”
Please let it be worth it.
“Do you think Sarah Winchester will remember us?”
“No,” Shane said, just to annoy Ryan. Sure enough, he rolled his eyes. “But I do wonder if that nice security guard who made you almost pee your sleeping bag will still be there.”
“That was terrifying, I am not ashamed of that.”
“Maybe you should be,” Shane teased, unable to keep himself from laughing.
Ryan tackled him, threatening him with unspeakable sex acts that just made them both laugh harder. Shane had half a mind to propose right then, but he held back. Just a few more hours.
The Winchester Mystery House was as Shane remembered her. A bit of a tourist trap, a genuinely interesting piece of historical architecture, and a place where Ryan had screamed his head off about ghosts on multiple occasions. Shane loved it here immensely.
They wandered the halls, sharing memories of their first ever ghost hunt and their later return visit. That had been an especially memorable one, as it was their first time on a location shoot after getting together. They’d been nervous that the chemistry would be noticeably different, that the show wouldn’t be the same. They’d even decided to sleep in different parts of the house to throw fans off their scent. It ended up being fine, but Shane still remembered the nerves. They were following him again, seeping out of the walls like the ghosts Ryan believed were there.
“The Witch’s Cap!” Ryan grinned, pulling Shane into the strange cone-shaped room. “Remember, we did a spirit box session here!”
“I do. Right on that very couch.”
Right on cue, Ryan plopped down. “I forgot the weird echoes in here, so cool. You slept in here, didn’t you?”
Shane sat next to him. “Sure did. And I did make good on my promise to fart in here, so take that, Witch’s Cap!”
Ryan laughed, that endearingly weird cackle echoing off the rafters. That was how Shane knew it was time.
He slipped his hand into Ryan’s. “I love being back here. This place holds a lot of history for us.”
“It does,” Ryan agreed, his thumb tapping against Shane’s. “First ghost hunt ever. We were so fucking bad at it back then.”
“Are we good at it now?”
“Well, we’re better. We should be after five years.”
“Can’t believe it’s been that long,” Shane said, pulling Ryan’s hand into his lap. “Feels like a lifetime ago and just yesterday, all at the same time.”
“I know what you mean,” Ryan said. “Imagine where we’ll be five years from now.”
“2026? I have a few ideas.”
Ryan laid his head down on Shane’s shoulder. “Tell me.”
“Well, I think Watcher will be going strong. Maybe we’ve sold some shows to Netflix or Hulu by then, so we can focus on newer creators and only have to do one or two of our own shows a year. I also think our ghost hunting days might be behind us by then, but knowing you, we’ll still make it out to a gross old building once or twice a year, just for the experience.”
“No demon places, though. I’ll only do that shit for money,” Ryan cut in.
“Duly noted.” Shane casually slid his free hand into his pants pocket. “As for us, I think we’ve finally got a house. It might be a little ways out of the city, but it’ll have a yard and a fence and I’ll try to grow vegetables until the squirrels you insist on feeding destroy them and I give up. We might even have a dog.”
“A dachshund, obviously.”
“A dachshund mix,” Shane corrected. “And I dunno, maybe we’ll have a two-legged critter crawling around by then. Obi will hate it all, so I’ll buy him a ridiculous cat tree that you despise.”
“Two-legged, huh?” Ryan asked softly.
“Yeah. It’ll be hard and we’ll probably argue about everything, but it’ll also be the best thing we ever give to the world.” Shane eased his hand out of his pocket, the ring warm against his palm. “I can’t wait to find out what kind of person you’ll be then and every other day we’re together.”
Shane held his hand palm side up so Ryan could see the ring. He didn’t know how something so small could weigh so much. “Will you let me go on that journey with you?”
“What the fuck?” Ryan gasped, his eyes and voice watery. “Shane.”
“Is that your answer?” Shane asked, trying very hard to keep it together.
With trembling fingers, Ryan picked the ring up. “Y-you are…,” he stopped, shaking his head. “Yeah, dipshit, I’ll ‘go on this journey with you’. Jesus Christ.”
Unable to wait a second longer, Shane kissed him. They kissed and laughed and hugged and cried, all in one of the strangest rooms in a house that knew nothing but. It was Shane’s perfect proposal, down to Ryan putting his ring on the wrong hand at first.
Now, it was time for it to be Ryan’s.
Hands clasped tightly together, Shane led Ryan out of the Witch’s Cap and back to the entryway. Right on schedule, the Bergaras, three of Ryan’s best friends, and Scott were waiting on them.
“W-what? Mom?” Ryan gasped.
Immediately, the small crowd surrounded them, giving hugs, taking pictures, asking for details. Scott gently pulled Shane to the side, away from it all.
“You regret asking all of us up here yet?”
Shane watched as Ryan chatted excitedly with tears in his eyes, his arm around his mom’s shoulders.
“Nope. How did it look on the security camera?”
“Disgustingly romantic. Emphasis on disgusting.” Scott nudged his shoulder. “I can’t believe you pulled this off.”
“I owe Katie Leblanc a raise and a fruit basket of unknown proportions.” Shane nudged Scott’s shoulder back. “Thanks for coming. I needed someone who isn’t full of Californian feelings here.”
“Anytime, little bro,” Scott said. “Man, this is gonna make mom so happy and dad so pissed. I can’t wait.”
Shane grinned. “I can’t either.”
After a night of bar hopping and more celebratory drinks than Shane could handle at nearly thirty-five years old, he didn’t expect Ryan to actually want to go hiking the next day like they’d originally planned.
“You know I love hiking, but I have a better idea. We stay naked in this bed all day. Sounds great, right?” Shane suggested.
“We can do that any day. You got me all hyped up for nature shit, I still wanna go. And, as your fiance, I get to make all the decisions around here.”
“In what universe is that a thing?”
Ryan laid a big obnoxious kiss on Shane’s lips. “Mine.”
Despite having to down an extra cup or five of coffee, Shane ended up loving the hike. The Sierra Vista trail wasn’t too hard of a climb and it offered some decent, beautiful views. When they got to the end of the trail, overlooking the city, Shane breathed in the air, letting it regenerate him.
“You were right, Ryan. This was nice, I’m glad we came up here.”
“I am too,” Ryan said from behind him.
“You know, we have some time before our flight tomorrow, maybe we can fit—,” Shane turned around to find Ryan bending down on one knee. “Um. Did you drop something?”
Ryan pulled out a white box with black eyes drawn on to make it look like a classic boo ghost. “Shane, I love you so much.”
Shane’s heart was beating wildly against his chest. “What are you doing? We—I—we did this. We’ve done this. We are engaged.”
“Shut up, let me do mine!” Ryan hissed, smacking his leg.
Shane ignored him, his mind reeling. “Were you going to, this whole time?”
“Yeah. My parents knew, they’ve been losing it for a month, apparently.”
Shane laughed, half hysterical with tears. “Are they somewhere on this trail too?”
“Originally, they were gonna be. But I think today can just be us, now,” Ryan explained, his smile as bright as the sun overhead. “So, can I get back to it?”
Shane smiled back. “Yeah. Go ahead.”
Ryan took Shane’s hand, gripping his fingers tight. “I’m not as good with words as you are. But I know that you are the most absurd, kindest, most creative person I’ve ever met. And I want to spend every day of the rest of my life with you.”
He popped open the box to reveal a simple gold band. “Shane, will you marry me?”
“Yeah, dipshit, I will.”
Ryan slid the ring onto Shane’s finger before standing back to hug him. It was a repeat of yesterday, with somehow more laughing and crying. They were going to look ridiculous on the rest of their hike and Shane couldn’t have cared less.
They walked back down the trail, hand-in-hand, right foot first.