“I thought it’d be cool to do an episode on an ongoing case,” says Ryan, and that’s more or less where everything goes to shit.
He doesn’t realize it immediately, but there’s something to be said about the zero-to-sixty shift in Shane’s body language between him saying, “Yeah, cool, lemme see,” and looking at the small case file Ryan has started to compile.
Because Shane goes from calm and amused to— Ryan’s not exactly sure how to explain it. It’s like Shane closes off and fires up at the same time, a deer caught in the headlights trying to figure out its Hail Mary pass.
And, “sure,” says Shane, but in the three seconds he spends flipping through the articles Ryan printed out, it’s not like he would’ve had any real time to figure out what the case was even about.
What the case is about is a string of murders in California over the past several months.
Ryan remembers hearing about a few of them, the way they’d been presented as separate homicides committed by separate people—there’d been no connection between the victims, no similarities in the M.O., no solid motivation, and only after a while had the murders been tentatively linked.
Like somebody was killing for the hell of it, for curiosity’s sake, for the thrill. Like it wasn’t for the why?
It was for the why not?
Shane looks at the case file and shoves it back at Ryan and Ryan doesn’t see him for almost two days. Given that they sit next to each other at work, that should be...indicative of something. Should be suspicious.
But in Ryan’s defense, Shane’s— Shane’s kind of a weird dude, and that’s an opinion Ryan holds very fondly, okay; the guy’s quirky in a way that’s appealing somehow, and when it comes down to it that means Ryan just...doesn’t think about the whole thing too much.
He just develops the case and gets ready to record the show.
When Shane shows up to film the video, it’s like the incident from earlier that week never happened. Shane’s relaxed, bickers with Ryan a little in happy, gentle antagonism, and once Ryan sets the camera to record they settle into their usual seats on set with a familiar confidence.
Ryan clears his throat and takes on his Case File Voice, and he’s so focused on setting the scenes and exploring the theories that it takes a while for him to notice how stiff Shane is next to him.
“Detective Robert Young posits that this is in fact the work of a single killer, one that is unsatisfied in their field of work and is seeking ‘feral, violent pleasures,’ someone who is inexperienced and using this period to experiment, to discover an M.O. that suits their desires and needs as a neophyte in this—”
Shane shoves the table back a few inches in a single motion and Ryan starts.
“What the hell?”
Ryan shifts back, turns to look at him. This isn’t like Shane interrupting Ryan mid-sentence to add comedic relief or some off-the-cuff banter; this is real, this is—gonna have to be edited out, basically.
“A neophyte,” Shane echoes, laughing, shaking his head. “God, I thought I could get through this without opening my stupid mouth—”
Ryan is staring. “What are you talking about?”
Shane looks at him. Seems to deliberate. “I’m not inexperienced.”
“I’m not—” He stands up abruptly, walks around the table to pick up the camera and cut the recording. “I know what I’m doing, okay, I put a lot of thought into this.”
“Goddammit.” Shane slams the camera down on the table, then shuts his eyes and takes a breath. He shakes his head again. “I— Nothing. Nothing, never mind.”
“No, no, what the hell are you talking about?” Ryan presses, equal parts bewildered and tentatively amused. “Are you okay? Is this some kind of... Are you trying to do some kind of bit? You have to warn me—”
“Ryan.” Shane breaks off and sits down again, slides his chair closer to Ryan’s, stares him down. “God, fuck, look at me, okay, I did this. I did this, this is my case, this is mine, everything you’re talking about—”
Ryan can’t help it: he laughs. It comes out a little anxiously, but it’s a laugh all the same, because Shane can’t really expect him to buy into this, right?
And Shane looks—well, murderous is either the wrong word or the right one. “I’m not kidding.”
“You really want me to believe—”
“You entertain all possible theories, right?” Shane says, exasperated and angry, and Ryan notices it’s the first time he’s ever said that seriously. “That’s what this stupid show is—that’s what you do. So entertain this one.”
All at once, it stops being funny. Something the size of a golf ball seems to lodge itself high in Ryan’s throat. He realizes it’s alarm, fear, a caged bird thrashing against the bars inside himself. He’s waiting for Shane to break, to burst into laughter, to say it’s all a stupid joke, but it doesn’t happen.
“What the fuck,” he croaks out.
“Ryan,” Shane says warningly.
“What the fuck, Shane, you’re not serious, tell me you’re not being fucking serious right now.” Except he is, obviously he is, and Ryan’s entertaining the theory unwillingly, watching all the evidence slide perfectly into place behind his eyes. His muscles go tight, coiled, like he’s deep in the heart of another haunted place and finally ready to run the hell out.
“Calm down.” Shane seems to see the realization on Ryan’s face—the fear, too.
“I’m calm,” Ryan snaps, because what the hell else can he say?
Shane raises a single dubious eyebrow at him.
Ryan rubs at his eyes, a headache starting to form behind them. “Okay, I’m not, but I feel like I’m allowed a small amount of freakout time, you know, considering the circumstances, considering you’re telling me you’re a fucking—”
“You need to calm down,” Shane says, expression smooth and unreadable, “or you might end up forcing me to do something I don’t want to do.”
Fear spikes again, sharp and cold. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean.”
Shane’s expression doesn’t change. “It means you need to take a deep breath and calm down for me, Ryan.”
Ryan doesn’t realize he’s obeying until he sees the faintest hint of a satisfied smile on Shane’s face.
“There we go,” Shane says. “That’s better, isn’t it?”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Shane tells him, and Ryan wonders how he knew the question had been sitting on his tongue.
But the thing is—Ryan’s not really sure he believes him.
“Why would you,” Ryan starts. Shakes his head. Takes another few deep breaths. “Why would you tell me this if you’re not gonna— Why’d you tell me.”
Shane looks at him for a moment, like he’s considering his answer. “Because I care what you think of me.”
That’s...not exactly what Ryan expected to hear. “What?”
“I’m not a neophyte,” Shane says, and this time he looks stubborn. “I’m not some reckless idiot killing for shits and giggles, you know, it’s hurtful to have your hard work put down like that.” Yeah, okay, he’s definitely pouting.
“This is so fucking surreal,” Ryan says, mostly to himself.
“Especially by your best friend.”
“No.” Ryan puts his hands up. “No, no, you don’t get to call me your friend after murdering, what, four people, okay, do not connect us, I am not your friend—”
Ryan blinks. “What?”
“Five people.” Shane shrugs when Ryan stares at him. “They haven’t found the fifth one yet, I don’t think.”
“Oh my god.”
“Also, I feel like telling the serial killer sitting next to you that you refuse to be friends is kind of— I mean, talk about having no sense of self-preservation—”
“You said you weren’t gonna hurt me!”
“And I’m not. Because we’re friends.”
Ryan shakes his head slowly. “How do you know I’m not going to go to the police?” he says before he can stop himself.
Shane shrugs. “Because you’re still sitting here talking to me.”
“But— Later, anytime, I could—”
“Will you?” Shane is looking at him, unblinking, calm.
“...No,” Ryan realizes, almost whispering it. “No, I won’t.”
Things almost...go back to normal, after.
Well, mostly things do.
Sometimes they don’t.
The most unmanly shriek Ryan’s ever uttered, surprisingly, doesn’t happen at a haunted location.
It happens in his apartment, moments after rolling out of bed and shuffling his way into his living room, debating whether or not to brave the rare pouring rain outside to go get a workout in.
So Ryan shuffles into his living room on a Saturday morning and shrieks like a two year old, and then he’s scrambling for his phone after doing a brief ‘what the fuck’ dance that mostly consists of turning in different directions in place and wringing his hands and cursing Shane Madej to holy hell.
Heading back into his bedroom to grab his phone just seems like a better course of action than continuing to stare at the fucking severed head currently sitting on his coffee table.
WHY, is all he can text Shane at first.
The response comes within seconds and is so contrived-innocent that Ryan wants to punch his wall. Why what?
The HEAD, Shane, Ryan types out furiously. The HEAD in my LIVING ROOM. The SEVERED HEAD on my COFFEE TABLE.
Why do you assume I had anything to do with that?
Ryan groans and slowly makes his way back into his living room. He peers at the head again with a cringe. It’s bloated, the hair matted with blood—he can’t even make out any defining features. God. He’s gonna barf. He’s definitely gonna barf. I have to call the police, he sends.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” comes a voice from his fucking kitchen, and, okay, that’s the most unmanly shriek Ryan’s ever uttered.
“Why are you in my house?!” Ryan demands as he skids into his kitchen in socked feet, maybe a little dramatically.
“I’m waiting out the rain,” Shane says, sitting at Ryan’s kitchen table, eating Ryan’s fucking cereal, looking entirely unbothered. “I don’t have an umbrella, and I figured you wouldn’t want me taking yours. You don’t want me to catch a cold or something, do you, Ryan?”
There’s a headache starting to pulse faintly behind Ryan’s eyes.
“Get it out of here,” he says, instead of punching Shane in his stupid, inappropriately chill face.
“You could say thank you, you know.”
Ryan stares at him incredulously. “Thank you?”
“No, shut up, you know I didn’t mean— Why the hell should I be thanking you?”
Shane gestures towards the living room. “I did what you said.”
Shane sighs heavily, like it’s Ryan who’s being the ridiculous one here. “Last week you went on that date with what’s-his-face, right—”
Ryan looks back towards the living room in horror. “Oh my god.”
“—and the next day at work you were talking about what an asshole he was, and I said, hey, you want me to kill him for you? and you laughed and said, yeah, go ahead.”
“I thought you were joking!”
Shane blinks at him, raises an eyebrow. “You thought— Ryan, I kill people. You know that.”
“Okay, look, just, goddammit, get it out of here before I end up arrested!”
“I’m the one who killed him.”
“I’d be...implicated, okay, I’m involved now—”
“Well, technically, you’ve been involved ever since you made the decision not to turn me in, so—”
“Get it out of my house, Shane—”
“It’s a gift,” Shane says, looking offended. “I did this for you.”
“If you want to get me a gift, get me, fuckin’, I don’t know, flowers, don’t break into my apartment and leave a head in my living room!”
“You gave me a spare key like three months ago,” Shane says, and then, “you want me to buy you flowers?”
“Why is that what you’re focusing on?!”
“That wasn’t a no,” Shane says, looking infuriatingly smug as he goes to take another bite of cereal.
Ryan storms over and snatches the bowl out from under him, ignoring Shane’s subsequent hurt expression.
“I wasn’t finished!”
“You don’t get to break into my house—”
“I had a key.”
“—leave a fucking head on my coffee table—”
“I put a tarp underneath it.”
“—and then eat my fucking Cocoa Puffs!”
“You were out of eggs.”
Ryan sets the bowl down, buries his face in his hands, and yells muffedly. When he stops yelling, he realizes Shane is laughing.
“What,” Ryan snaps.
Shane gestures at the bowl, still snorting. “Cereal killer,” he says.