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putting it all on the line

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After the Bulgarian drives off with Brooks in tow, the plan becomes simultaneously simpler and more complicated. Simpler, in that everyone is basically in agreement that Max and Annie will hustle over to Brooks’ house, take the Stingray, and chase them to Conway. More complicated, in that it means the other four get left on the bridge to call an ambulance for Gary and figure out how they’re going to tell the truth about the night’s events without getting all of them getting arrested, either for breaking and entering (if the cops believe them) or wasting police time (if they don’t, which Sarah frankly thinks might be more likely). 

When she gets off the phone, an operator having assured her that an ambulance will be there as soon as possible, she’s met with Ryan crouching by Gary’s side, having taken his shirt off in the three minutes she wasn’t paying attention. She gets a second to wonder why he’s done yet another absurd, idiotic thing in a long line of similar instances that night before she comes closer and realises it wasn’t absurd or idiotic after all. The shirt is soaked with blood, pressed tight against Gary’s wound in an attempt to stem the blood flow as best as he can. There’s real concern on Ryan’s face as he puts pressure on the wound, and Sarah’s suddenly reminded that, as stupid and inappropriate and utterly out of touch with reality as Ryan is, he’s not actually an asshole.

“You’re gonna be fine, bud,” he says, Michelle squeezing Gary’s hand to punctuate the point. “They’ll get you a new heart at the hospital and you’ll be all good to go again.”

Kevin levels Ryan with a dead stare, first looking meaningfully at the wound on the right side of Gary’s chest and then back up at Ryan. “Ryan. Your heart’s on your left side of the body. And don’t say that shit to someone who just got shot, man!” 

“Sorry,” Ryan replies. His eyes are very wide, and the moonlight seems to catch in his hair as they all squat on the bridge beside two smoking cars, the faint sound of sirens in the distance getting closer. 

Much, much later - after they reunite with Max and Annie at the hospital and Sarah cleans Gary’s blood off her shirt, after they’ve all sat through hours of police questioning about every minute of that crazy night, after Brooks and the Bulgarian and Donald Anderton and everyone involved in the rich-people-fight-club at the mansion get arrested - when Sarah thinks back on that night, that’s what she remembers most distinctly. The sickly iron tang of blood, Ryan’s hands wet and stained over Gary’s chest, his familiar, exasperating deer-in-the-headlights expression. It carves itself a space inside her mind, and for some reason, it just doesn’t ever leave.

 

 

Life… goes back to normal, of course. She’s least involved in the legal mess afterwards as compared to the rest, because she doesn’t have any closer ties to Brooks and Max beyond her association with Ryan. She gets right back to her perfectly safe, perfectly mundane, absolutely non-life-threatening non-murder-mafia-whatever-related corp comms desk job telling everyone in her department what to do and everything is fine.

Two weeks after The Night, Ryan pops up in her office again with his trademark charming-slash-vapid grin and invites her to game night for the second time. “We’re doing it at the hospital, ‘cause Gary’s still recovering from his Nemo T-rex, or whatever. You wanna come?”

Sarah spends ten seconds parsing every word in Ryan’s sentence. “Do you mean pneumothorax?” 

“I dunno, I don’t think I have that. The doctor said I was STI-free this month,” Ryan replies, and Sarah gives it up. She shakes her head, trying to be nice about it. “I’ll pass on game night. Thanks.”

“Aw, what? Why?” 

She squints at him, and almost - almost - says something cutting and sarcastic about all the shooting and running and grievous injury that happened at the last game night he invited her to, and then she stops and really looks at his expression of puzzled surprise. Sarah sighs inwardly and reminds herself who she’s talking to. Ryan isn’t mocking her, isn’t deliberately trying to push her buttons. His asking her - all it means is that he genuinely wants her there because he appreciated her presence before and he thinks she’d like to join their friend group. For him, that last game night was an aberration in a regular routine of bonding sessions with people he cares about. In his own painfully unaware way, Ryan’s just trying to be nice. She takes a calming breath and speaks carefully and gently. “Look, the last game night was a little crazy, to put it nicely. Your friends are nice, Ryan, but I’m just not sure it’s a good idea. I just don’t think it’s my scene.” 

There’s a moment when a completely foreign expression appears on Ryan’s face. They’ve worked at the same company for four years, crossed paths regularly for two, and Sarah has seen Ryan happy, curious, annoyed, confused (a lot), and totally lost (even more so). She doesn’t think she’s ever seen this, in his eyes, in every line of his face, and it takes her a beat before she realises he looks genuinely hurt. It makes something twist funny beneath her ribcage for just the second it takes before his expression clears again, reverting to his usual lazy, slightly dumb-looking smile. “Alright, cool. I’ll see ya around!” 

“See you,” Sarah replies, but he’s already gone. 

 

 

She finds out the next day, just from hearing the usual office chatter in the pantry - she definitely doesn’t linger at the coffee machine straining to overhear a conversation between some of the girls in R&D, not at all - that Ryan invited one of the new design interns as his date instead. Sarah idly thinks about some faceless younger, prettier blonde playing Scrabble and Charades with Ryan against Max and Annie, Kevin and Michelle, and sets her coffee cup against the counter far harder than is probably necessary. 

She doesn’t see Ryan around for the next week or so. Sarah tries hard to pretend she isn’t looking for him. It doesn’t really work, but at least there’s nobody around to notice. 

 

 

She finally swallows her pride (and jealousy, and the squirming discomfort and bewilderment that has her wondering why this matters so much to her anyway) and goes to seek Ryan out at his desk. When he sees her his eyes light up, and Sarah tells herself very firmly that it’s just an involuntary response to another person breaking up the monotony of a workday and not anything more. “Hey!” 

“Hi,” she replies. “Is this a good time? I wanted to ask you about something.”

“Oh, hey, if it’s about the porn in the Takumi group Google Drive, I didn’t do it.”

“No, it’s - I - what? Why is there porn on one of the clients’ shared Drives?” 

“I dunno,” Ryan says, looking every bit like he genuinely has no idea. Sarah can feel a headache coming on, and an increasing sense of doubt about whether this is a good idea. She pushes ahead determinedly before she can change her mind. “Okay, well, it’s not about that. I came to ask if - well, if another one of Max and Annie’s game nights are coming up?” 

“Yeah, Saturday evening.” He smiles back dopily at her, with no further clarification or offer forthcoming. Sarah suppresses another sigh. “I was just wondering if the invitation still stands.” 

Still no response but a blank stare that Sarah has come to recognise as some common turn of phrase flying way over Ryan’s head. Sarah closes her eyes briefly, praying for patience. “Ryan, would it be okay if I joined you for the next game night?”

Finally, the lightbulb seems to click on. “Oh! Yeah, sure! You should totally come. The others said it’d be awesome to see you again.” 

Sarah blinks, surprised - she genuinely didn’t expect that. She takes the address Ryan scrawls onto some scrap paper and hands over to her. “We start at 7-ish. Bring your own booze!” 

And that is that. She looks at Ryan’s incredibly messy handwriting and just manages to make out the Davis’ address. She wonders for just one second if this is really what she wants to do with her Saturday evening - considering Ryan is hale and healthy and, you know, alive, it’s not so much the fear of every Davis game night turning into a run from the mafia, but also… Sarah thinks about Ryan taking yet another R&D intern as his date again and finds her jaw clenching without her permission. 

She puts the appointment into her calendar and thinks about where she can get a nice bottle of wine to bring along.

 

 

When she arrives at Max and Annie’s home on Saturday, she quickly learns that Ryan wasn’t kidding around when he said the others would be happy to have her back in the group. “We thought you’d given up on game nights. It was such a letdown when Ryan brought Katie or Charlotte or whatever her name was last week.” 

Michelle elbows Kevin in the ribs. “Don’t be so rude,” she chides, but she gives Sarah a quick hug all the same. “But yeah, it’s great to have you here again, Sarah.”

She smiles back and hands her wine over to Annie, settles down on the sofa beside Ryan, feeling oddly flattered. He rubs his hands, looking excited. “Today we’re playing Taboo,” he informs her. “That means we can’t talk!”

Max sighs, sounding longsuffering. “For the last time, Ryan, that’s not how Taboo works. Just - just open up some chips and we’ll explain it again. Scoot over so there’s space for Gary.” 

Ryan obligingly scoots left a little, pressing up right against Sarah’s side, his thigh lining up right against hers. The fabric of his jeans is rough against her bare knee. When they exchange quick glances, Ryan looks almost bashful. “Sorry.” 

“No bother,” she says, shifting to the left herself so there’s a little more breathing space between them. There’s a half-second of slight awkwardness hanging in the air before Gary settles in, crutches and all, and Annie lays out the booze, chips, and an assortment of games. “All right, guys, we’ll start with Taboo for tonight. Since there’s seven of us we’ll do a coin toss to split teams in a bit, but for Ryan’s benefit, let’s explain the rules just one more time.” 

The coin toss puts her in a team with Ryan and Annie, and it’s an extremely spirited game. Annie is extremely competitive, ruthless, and takes no prisoners, even against - probably especially against - her own husband. Ryan, for all that he’s apparently needed the rules explained to him three times, is surprisingly good, even managing to get through six cards in under a minute. Between the three of them, they’re fairly evenly matched against Max, Gary, Kevin and Michelle. After seven rounds, they eke out a close victory, and there’s laughter and high-fives all around, accompanied by the other team’s good-natured groans and the requisite loser’s shots. Ryan grins at her and gives her a solid fist-bump. “You’re so smart, Sarah, that was crazy awesome.” 

Ryan’s perception of someone’s ‘so smartness’ is probably debatable, but Sarah takes the compliment in the spirit it’s meant to be given. Annie suggests Pictionary next and Max declares he’s going to beat her this time. The rest of the night proceeds in a similar fashion.

It’s probably one of the best Saturday nights she’s spent in a long, long time.

 

 

The week after, it’s apparently been decided that she’s going to be a regular attendant of the Davis’ game nights when she gets a text from Ryan informing her of the time and date of the next game night. 

This time, she doesn’t even hesitate. 

 

 

It becomes a new routine - something to look forward to at the end of a long work week. Outside of work, she’s never really had much to tether herself to. Her whole family’s back in Ireland, and the demands of the job have never really left her much time to get out there and build a new social circle from the ground up. It’s nice to sit in Max and Annie’s living room and just… take her mind off everything else by losing herself in competitive tabletop games. She chats to Kevin and Michelle about their attempts at DIY home renovation, and Annie tells her all about how she and Max met. She even has a long discussion with Gary comparing dog breeds once. She supposes surviving certain vaguely traumatic experiences together as a group make you friends for life. She kind of likes it. 

She finds a new routine of sorts with Ryan, too, because somehow he still hasn’t managed to stop surprising her. On one particularly stressful day where she’s spent the whole morning scrambling to put together a new press kit after some complications with the previous one, he appears in the doorway of her office with takeaway from the fancy Indian place down the street. He wolfs down some aloo gobi, leaning over the documents strewn over her desk and giving genuinely good suggestions all while chewing like he was raised by a pack of wolves. Sarah takes diligent notes, thanks him, then tells him to clean up after himself if he wants to be allowed into her office again. 

He appears to take this as an invitation, because he’s there again at lunchtime the next afternoon with yet another bag of takeaway, this time from the little Italian hole-in-the-wall across the road and down the right. He slurps his pasta, and when met with Sarah’s unimpressed stare, just raises his eyebrows and smiles wide with his mouth full. It’s absolutely disgusting, but Sarah finds herself laughing hysterically anyway.

She never, ever turns him away. He never lets her pay him back for the food, either, so she makes up for it by faithfully bringing six-packs of his favourite beers to Saturday game nights. Whenever he opens a can with the familiar click-pop, she remembers sunny afternoons behind her desk shovelling food into her mouth with one hand and answering emails on her laptop with the other, Ryan in the chair in front of her giving suggestions and updates, bouncing ideas off with her. The memories are warm, as if they were touched by the same sunlight that streams in through her window. They’re nice.

 

 

About a month after she becomes a regular at game nights, she arrives at Max and Annie’s a little earlier than usual to find them talking seriously at the dining table, groceries still piled up unsorted on the kitchen counter. They smile at her and Ryan when they finally notice they’ve arrived, but definitely not as wide and genuine as she’s become used to.

“What’s going on? You guys look stressed,” Ryan asks, straight to the point as ever. Max exhales sharply and looks to Annie, who shakes her head. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Ryan frowns. “Come on, we’re friends. You can tell us if something bad is going on.” His eyes suddenly light up. “Do we have to steal another fancy egg?”

“What? No, Ryan,” Annie says. “No. We were just talking about Brooks.”

“Did he steal another fancy egg?”

“Jesus Christ, Ryan, no. Nobody’s stolen any more Faberge eggs. We just got the news about his sentencing. He took a plea deal and gave up a lot of helpful information about the Bulgarian and everything else, so the good news is that he won’t be going to jail. The bad news is that he’s getting put on house arrest and he’s got a hell of a lot of fines to pay.” 

“Damn, that sucks,” Ryan replies, rather inanely. “But at least it’s not jail, right?”

“It does mean he’s not going to be allowed to leave the house,” Max says. He runs a hand through his hair, looking nervous. “We were going to suggest something to the whole group when everyone arrives, but since you’re both already here - we were thinking of bringing game nights over to Brooks’ place for a while. I thought it’d be nice if he could be included, you know. Have something to look forward to so he doesn’t die of cabin fever.” 

Ryan opens his mouth, and Sarah guesses he’s either going to say something innocently insensitive about Brooks’ fancy house or he’s going to ask if you can really die from ‘cabin fever’. Instead he says - “I’m cool with it if Sarah is.” 

She’s stunned enough that she turns to stare at him, mouth open, but he’s not looking at her, just facing Max and Annie with a resolute look. Max’s eyebrows are practically at his hairline, but Annie has this small, secret smile on her face, like she can see something they all don’t. “Great,” she says, without turning a hair. “What do you say, Sarah?”

It takes her a second to find her voice again, still slightly shocked by how Ryan completely subverted her expectations. Something is burning low and bright inside her, this warm spark of something she can’t name. “Yeah,” she agrees, slowly, turning from Ryan to nod at Max and Annie. “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.” 

When Kevin and Michelle and Gary arrive, Max and Annie explain the circumstances again. They all seem slightly hesistant, for good reason, but agree to give it a try. Once that’s out of the way, they jump right into some Scattergories that Gary’s brought over, and the strange tension of the moment before fades away, mostly. Nothing changes (at least, nothing changes then, and by the time she realises what has, everything’s already falling into place anyway).

 

 

Max sends all of them a new address for the first game night at Brooks’. It’s definitely not the fancy mansion they were privy to before, and might even be a little more cramped than Max and Annie’s place. But it’ll do for game night, and once everyone settles in, it just feels like any other night. Brooks is a little more subdued than Sarah remembers, but he still gets very much into the spirit of things and wins a few rounds of Werewolf. The third time Annie gets murdered right before she figures out who the werewolf is, she declares they’re done for the night and demands they all move on to another game. Brooks pulls out a set of Cards Against Humanity, to cheers from Max and Michelle, and sets up the play. Kevin complains that his cards suck, to no sympathy, and Gary stares very intensely at his, rearranging them in some order known only to him. Brooks assigns himself Card Czar for the round and lays out a black card, and the game starts. 

As with most of the other games they’ve played, it’s fun. Gary wins a round, then Ryan, then Michelle, then the Card Czar position goes to Ryan and he flips over the next black card. “The results of a new study found that there is a direct link between blank and blank,” he reads aloud. “Two cards.” 

Everyone peers at their cards to decide which pair would be funniest. Sarah eventually decides on ‘penis envy’ and ‘a micropenis’, and is pretty proud of herself. Kevin actually laughs out loud when her pair of cards gets flipped over, so she’ll count that as a win. 

The last pair of cards gets turned to reveal ‘the Irish’ and ‘starving children on purpose’. Brooks cracks a grin, but Ryan stays his hand on the cards, looking around the circle and settling on Brooks. “Was this you?”

Brooks blinks, looking slightly taken aback by the departure from normal gameplay. The others wear similar looks of confusion. Brooks nods hesitantly when Ryan doesn’t say anything else. “Yeah, I picked those.”

“It’s not funny,” Ryan responds, so fiercely it makes them all jump. “The Great Famine’s a histrionically significant tragedy and a lot of people died. You shouldn’t joke about shit like that.” 

His outburst is so utterly unexpected that nobody even jumps to tease him about confusing ‘histrionically’ and ‘historically’. Brooks just sits there speechless, looking totally thrown and unsure of what to do or say. Without really thinking about it, Sarah places a hand on Ryan’s arm, keeping her voice level. “Hey. Ryan, come on, it’s fine. It’s just a game.” 

Ryan doesn’t reply, still looking at Brooks. There’s no visible anger on his face, but his stare is blank and cold. It feels like everyone in the room is holding their breath, Sarah most of all. When he eventually nods and turns back to study all the cards so he can pick a winner for the round, she catches herself exhaling in relief. Ryan picks Michelle’s pair of cards again, and she takes the proffered black card with a small smile, not more than that. Sarah quickly reaches to flip another black card over for her turn as Card Czar, wanting to move on. 

Most of the white cards for her round are hilarious - Annie’s card has half of them properly laughing, and it lightens the mood. Slowly the atmosphere shifts back to normal, Brooks even relaxing enough to start poking gentle fun at Ryan again, and Ryan responding like nothing happened. The night ends on a light note. Brooks thanks them for coming and everyone exchanges goodnights with the usual promise of seeing each other again next week. 

It lingers, though, like the image of Ryan with his hands bloody, eyes wide, that night on the bridge. When Sarah goes to bed that night, all she can think about is him - his fierce glare directed at Brooks, the way some of the tension had bled from his posture when she touched him. Sarah swallows, turning over and closing her eyes. Something she doesn’t dare to call hope is stirring in her belly, rising up into her throat, making it hard to breathe. 

She thinks he might have been angry because of her, for her, and she just isn’t sure if she knows what she’s supposed to do with that.

 

 

Game night comes around again, and the boys end up squabbling over the Monopoly board about whether house rules apply since they’re in Brooks’ house and not Max and Annie’s, and whether Max gets to collect rent while he’s stuck in jail. Annie rolls her eyes and gestures to the kitchen, both Michelle and Sarah gratefully following. She pours them some of the good wine that she and Max brought, tapping their glasses together. “To game night,” she declares. 

“To Max going bankrupt for the hundredth time,” Michelle deadpans. Sarah snorts, sipping the wine appreciatively and glancing back out at the living room. Ryan is busy turning through the pages of the Monopoly rulebook and Kevin is valiantly trying to explain to him what the term ‘house rules’ means. 

“Looking at your boyfriend?” Sarah hears from behind her and nearly jumps. She turns to see both Annie and Michelle smirking over their glasses. She feels her face flushing, glaring back down into her glass and taking a determined drink. “Ryan’s not my boyfriend.”

“The way you look at him says different,” Michelle replies mildly. “I saw that same besotted smile on Annie’s face every single time we had a game night up until Max proposed. And anyway, if he isn’t your boyfriend, why do you keep coming for game nights with him?”

“Game nights are fun,” Sarah retorts, feeling a little defensive. “They’re great. I enjoy them.”

Michelle inclines her head in agreement. “Not gonna dispute that,” she says, while Annie visibly preens. “But seriously, think about it. Would you still enjoy game nights as much if Ryan wasn’t there to play with us?” 

Sarah sips her wine and doesn’t respond. She’s honestly never even considered the idea. It feels like a given, now, the game night group - Annie and Max, Kevin and Michelle, her and Ryan (and Gary, of course, and now Brooks). It scares her a little bit. She remembers the first time Ryan popped into her office and invited her for game night with his friends - how surprised she’d been, how flattered and quietly delighted. Sure, he’d never been the brightest bulb in the box, even at work - capable but not a star or anything - but he’d been charming and friendly and fun, and she’d liked that from the start. Then, of course, that ridiculous night had happened, and it had changed the way she’d looked at him in more ways that one, and now… she’s not sure any more. 

She sees Annie put her glass down, roving a more critical, curious eye over her now. “He’s important to you,” she says. It’s not a question. “You care about him.”

“Of course,” Sarah replies. “He’s my friend. All of you are my friends.” That, at least, is true - they’re the people she knows best outside of work, outside of Ireland. Michelle called Max, Annie and Ryan her family, that night in the car, before they illegally broke into a mansion - Sarah thinks that applies to her now, too. 

Annie’s gaze remains fixed on her. It’s piercing, almost uncomfortably so, and Sarah is reminded that she’s perceptive, intensely smart, that she knows them all. “We’ve known Ryan for a long time, and we’ve seen him bring all these girls over for every game night. They never lasted more than a session. But you’re different. It’s obvious, you know, to all of us.” She tilts her head, considering. “I think you’ve spent so much time looking at him and pretending not to that you haven’t seen how he looks back.”

“Boy’s crazy about you,” Michelle offers. “Just in case not knowing that was what’s stopping you from making this thing official.”

That’s not it, Sarah thinks, but doesn’t know how to continue. He’s my friend, and I don’t see him like that, she almost replies, but she isn’t sure if she can make that sound true, or whether it even is any longer. She drains the rest of her wine and lets the silence hang in the air. Annie and Michelle, bless them, don’t push any further than that. They’re her friends, above everything. They know where the lines are drawn. It’s up to her.

The silence is abruptly and blessedly broken by Max practically stomping into the kitchen, looking slightly wild-eyed as he pokes his head in, looking at Annie. “Sweetheart, will you please come out here and help me tell Brooks that it’s stupid and antithetical to the spirit of Monopoly to allow players to build houses without buying all the properties in a colour group? He’s insisting that it’s one of his house rules and I’m trying to - “

“All right, we’re coming,” Annie sighs, rolling her eyes theatrically. “Come on, girls, let’s go save the boys from themselves.”

Michelle laughs as she heads back out after them, and Sarah follows at a slower pace. She settles back down beside Ryan, feeling something squirm inside her when she realises it feels like the right place to be. He shoots her a quick grin and she feels him shift where he sits just so their knees are pressed together, just barely. 

Oh, she thinks, and it feels like that night when she lay out her last tiles on the Scrabble board and practically doubled her points, ultimate champion of that night’s game session. Bingo, jackpot, bulls-fucking-eye. 

 

 

It takes her three months, from the First Game Night Ever to the start of something new. It takes something else shaking up the new status quo of their group - Annie drawing a bun in the oven on the Pictionary easel and revealing to all of them at once the fact that she’s pregnant. Max wraps her up in a massive bearhug, laughing and crying, and Sarah sees for herself the way Ryan’s face lights up with real joy, mirroring the expressions on everyone else’s faces. He gets up and barrels into Max and Annie’s hug, and Kevin and Michelle follow his lead. Brooks goes to get the champagne and even Gary’s got the barest hint of a smile on his face while he claps for them. 

It just takes a moment, a flash in time, before it falls into place - all of it. She knows what she wants. It’s like the last line in Pictionary that turns an incomprehensible mess of scrawls and scribbles into a real drawing she can understand. When she looks at him, she feels her heart settle the same way. She sees her friend, her teammate, her future. She sees the man she loves. 

She’s not the lead in some idiotic rom-com chick flick, so she doesn’t confess her undying devotion through a Pictionary drawing in front of all their friends, obviously. But when the night is over, after they’ve all showered Max and Annie with congratulations and all the games have been packed up, when they’re all leaving to head home, she follows him to his car and stops him when he opens the passenger side door for her. He looks confused, as ever. Sarah has a moment of indecision - what if she’s read this all wrong? What if Annie and Michelle saw something that didn’t really exist? What if this isn’t really what he wants, too? 

But then - they’ve been through so much, now. So many lunches at work, so many game nights, so many peaceful drives home where he’s dropped her off at her front door. He literally saved her life, that night in the mansion. Ryan is willing to go the distance for her, fight for her, take risks for her. Sarah thinks the least she can do is dare to take a risk on this, too - like gambling on a guess in Cluedo, like picking that one shaky block in Jenga. On that quiet suburban road, she leans up, takes Ryan’s face in her hands, kisses him right on the mouth, muffling his surprised exclamation. His arm settles around her waist, and she finds herself totally unsurprised that he kisses like a dream. 

He looks a little dazed when she pulls back, gauging his reaction, but she feels heartened by the fact that he doesn’t release his grip, keeping her flush against him. He looks very closely at her, and there’s a grave solemnity to his expression she doesn’t see often. “Does that mean you like me?”

She stares back at him, uncomprehending for a second. “What?”

“That wasn’t, like, a truth-or-dare dare kiss, right? Or a friend kiss?” 

Sarah looks at him, feeling a curious mix of emotions swelling inside her, each one battling to come out tops. Oh, Ryan, Ryan, she thinks, feeling helplessly bewildered and irritated and terribly fond in equal measure. How he graduated cum laude from Harvard she may never know. She just kissed him - properly kissed him, the faint taste of mint and cedar and maybe salsa still lingering inside her mouth - and that’s what he’s asking her? Seriously?

But it’s been three months since he asked her out and inadvertently threw her into one of the wildest, most dangerous, most thrilling nights of her life - three months now of getting to know him better outside of their floor of the building. She knows, now, that Ryan is unbelievably dim at times, frequently misses the forest for the trees, always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But he’s also honest, genuine, thoughtlessly loyal - he cares. Sarah lets herself really look at him - look at the wavering hesitance in his eyes, the slant of his mouth, his body language. She realises, suddenly, that he’s not asking her because he genuinely doesn’t know (well, not just because he doesn’t know). He’s asking because he wants her to have meant it. He’s asking because he wants her to like him back. 

“I like you,” she confirms, affection softening her words. The uncertain twist of Ryan’s mouth rapidly transforms into a beam, that same boyish, dopey smile he’s always wearing, but somehow softer and sweeter, something meant for her and her alone. Sarah spans a hand against his cheek, watching him smile a half-inch wider and lean into her touch a little more. “I like you too,” he replies. He draws her up into another kiss that says more for him than his words ever could, and Sarah lets herself melt into it. When he smiles against her lips and presses his forehead to hers, she feels it like electricity down her spine. 

She loves him. And judging by the way he reaches down to hold her hand, to tug her into the passenger seat - the tenderness with which he does it, his hand so gentle against the small of her back when she straddles his lap and deepens their kiss - he loves her too. He doesn’t need to say it. She knows it like she knows the curve of his smile, the sound of his laugh when he means it, the exact colour of his eyes. 

It’s the easiest solve in the world. The best game she knows how to play. 

She wins.