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“Since being the scene of those two, grisly double homicides in the early 1950’s, the Bringle House Bed and Breakfast has sat empty, waiting for the next couple stupid enough to try to stay all four nights.”

“Ooooooh.”

Ryan looked up from the script on his phone to see Shane attempting to waggle his eyebrows at him. He was perched on a sunken armchair with his face streaked long and waxen with the light from the lone lamp in the corner between their seats. On anyone else, the effect would be slightly creepy, but Ryan had known Shane too long to be truly disturbed at this point.

“What,” said Ryan, already starting to smile despite himself.

“That’s us then? The couple stupid enough?”

“Apparently,” Ryan said to the camera. TJ, one hand on the side of the lens, smirked, and Ryan quickly continued with, “now, we may not have any actual couples on Unsolved, but we figured the ghosts won’t be able to tell the difference if there are two people sleeping here.”

“Yeah, if ghosts want to kill someone, they’re probably not looking at the fine print to decide what kind of couple their victims are,” Shane said. “Because we are, obviously, a couple.”

“Wh—”

“A couple of ghosthunters.”

He winked dramatically at the left-most camera, and Ryan shook his head.

“You realize you just admitted to being a ghosthunter, right?”

“I—you—”

“Ha! He’s got nothing to say to that!”

They waited for TJ’s barely stifled laughter to quiet before Devin, peering into one of the close-up cameras at the side, beckoned for them to continue.

“Ya hear that, house?” Shane yelled. “It’s all a ruse! No real couples here! No need to kill us!”

“Really?” said Ryan. “This is usually when you start shouting for them to rip out your spine.”

“Oh, I can do that instead, if you’d prefer.”

“I think I’m good.”

Ryan shook his head and looked down at his notes.

“I think we’ve got it,” he said, looking from TJ to Devin to Amber with the boom mic. “We can record final reactions to the house after the actual investigation.”

“Is that enough of an intro to your first night here?” Devin asked. “For the whole ‘sleeping four nights’ gig?”

“I mean, if it isn’t, that’s what the sound booth is for, right?”

“Come on, Ryan, give us the ‘unsolved’ line,” Shane said, bracing his hands on the side of the armchair. “Maybe I have some gems I gotta say now in response to that that I won’t remember later.”

Ryan sighed and cleared his throat.

“Although there is no definitive proof that anything unnatural befalls people who spend more than four nights here, I think our experiences here this week show that the Bringle House is certainly disturbed in some way. That being said, the question of whether or not it is haunted will remain…unsolved.”

Shane gave it a beat, and then—

“Except the fact that we’re still alive proves that it is solved, and it’s not haunted. Case closed. Let’s go.”

Ryan laughed. “We’re filming this before the investigation, you dumbass. We could be dead in four days.”

Shane pointed at the nearest camera. “They don’t know when we’re filming this! You’re ruining the movie magic, Ryan, god, we’re supposed to be closing out the show.”

He stood up, fiddling with the mic clipped to his shirt. Amber pulled off one side of her headphones, grimacing.

“You’re such a dick,” Ryan said, grinning up at Shane’s back. “I’m going to be the thing that murders you after four days sleeping in the same room.”

“Are we calling cut?” TJ asked.

Ryan waved a hand. Shane was already on the other side of the room behind the wall of cameras, bent over his bag. “Yeah, yeah, we’re good.”

The finale for this season had actually been Shane’s idea. He’d been the one to find the story and email it to Ryan, saying he “hadn’t read much” because he didn’t want to mess up the show format of Ryan telling him the story, but that the urban legend around the house sounded interesting enough to poke into. Supposedly, any couple who slept in the house for more than four nights would be killed by the disturbed and murdered lovers who haunted it.

So now they were here, ruining a perfectly good summer week by hoping some ghosts would mistake them for a couple and try to murder them.

Ryan hadn’t really wanted to go to the Bringle House at first.

The good part about staying four nights was that they could really test out part of this season’s new initiative to try and figure out if cameras trained on an empty house might catch footage of a spirit that hid when they were around. The only thing they had filmed today was the sit-down story part, where Ryan unfolded the tale of the house. After they spent the night here, they were going to place cameras around tomorrow morning before vacating the house until nightfall. The plan was to film interviews about each night the next morning, but other than that, leave the house empty, only coming back to change batteries, throughout the next few days, and film the proper investigation on the day before their last sleep there, when activity was supposed to be highest.

“Yeah, it’s not as historical and iconic a place as some of our other locations,” Shane had said when they were planning the layout of the season. “But I think it’s the four nights that makes it, right? We haven’t done that before.”

Ryan didn’t have an argument in the face of that, especially since he was still kind of weak to Shane taking an active interest in the show—sometimes it felt like they were in this together, but others it was like he was dragging Shane behind him every step of the way. Sometimes, when Ryan was feeling tired or fanciful, he imagined that they’d grown up into such different heights because they were destined not to see eye to eye. That he was destined to always be on tiptoes, trying to peer into the world Shane lived in, where things stayed dead and nothing lurked in dark corners.

It was hard to pinpoint what exactly about the Bringle House story freaked him out more than other ones that were, on the face at least, much scarier. Two unsolved murders of couples in the 1950’s, both on the fourth night that they stayed in the place, both apparently killed in the middle of the night in locked rooms. But nothing about demons or satanic cults or even any proof that the urban legend was true. There had barely been any sightings of ghosts to hold up that legend. Ending the season here should’ve been a breeze compared to places like the Sallie house.

He didn’t know why the prospect of staying here for four nights wigged him out so much.

The crew was almost done packing up their things when Shane trotted back over to Ryan with a go pro in his hand.

“How do you feel about embarking on our first night here?”

Ryan looked straight into the camera lens.

“I would feel better if I had some proper company.”

“Ouch, Ryan, that really hurts,” Shane deadpanned. “Whatever happened to the bond of brotherhood between the ghouligans?”

“Bond is over. Bond is destroyed.”

“No fighting, boys,” Devin called from the doorway, swinging her bag onto her back. “After all, this is the first time you’ve spent longer than one evening at one of the locations—we need you guys alive at least until the last day.”

“What, so it’s okay if we kick the bucket then?” Ryan said. “Thanks a lot for that.”

“As long as we catch it on camera,” TJ said.

Past his shoulders, the darkness of the night was pressing in on the windows, and Ryan had to fight down a little thrill of nervousness. The house didn’t seem that scary when there were five or six people in the room, but now that all the lighting was being turned off and the crew were slowly filtering out through the door, he was beginning to feel the menacing promise of what sleeping here was really going to be like.

Devin was the last one to go, throwing goodbyes and promises to be there in the morning behind her. Distant laughter grew quieter outside the house. The lights on one of the parked cars flared to life. Ryan turned away from the window.

Shane was brushing his teeth in the bathroom that branched off from the living room, and his shadow reached out through the doorway until it touched the top of Ryan’s rolled-up sleeping bag. Ryan watched the edge of Shane’s elbow move in the sliver of the mirror he could see from across the room, and tried to banish the unease from his body.

Four nights. A breeze.

-

So maybe he actually did know a little bit about why staying here four nights was freaking him out.

Once in a blue moon when they slept in the same bed, Shane’s limbs would break through the pillow wall Ryan faithfully reconstructed every night. Ryan got it—Shane had a lot of leg and arm to deal with, and they were often stuck in double beds that really were not big enough for two grown men, or on the floor in a place so freaky that Ryan had to shuffle his sleeping bag as close to Shane as possible. It was a miracle that Shane slept as still and calm as he usually did, especially in the kind of places they frequented. Still, it was strange to wake up to a disembodied hand poking out from between two pillows to rest against Ryan’s ribcage, or Shane’s calves sticking out of his sleeping bag to nudge ever so slightly up against Ryan’s feet.

The kicker of it was that Ryan liked to press up against another warm body in bed. He liked sleeping tangled with someone—or at least touching in some way. Helen overheated easily, so they hadn’t exactly curled up like foxes together, but even if she slept facing away from him, she would always scoot towards him so their backs were pressed against each other. Her concession to his neediness, one of the little ways she made him know she was always there.

The first time Shane touched him on an overnight Unsolved episode after Ryan and Helen broke up, Ryan had woken so disoriented at the feel of an arm slung over his stomach that for a second he’d thought it was her. In the darkness, he’d laced their fingers and pulled the other hand higher up on his chest, over his heart, until the weight of it pushed him calmly back into sleep.

In the morning, he’d woken up to the hand being carefully pulled away, a finger at a time. When he tightened his grip instinctively, Shane had said his name, as soft as Ryan had ever heard it.

Shane had been leaning above him when Ryan opened his eyes, his mouth pulled into a strange little smile his eyes weren’t agreeing with.

“Can I have my hand back, buddy?”

And Ryan let him go, sputtered something about Shane almost punching him in his sleep and how Ryan had to restrain him just for his own safety, and then when Shane laughed and slouched away into the bathroom, Ryan turned his face into his pillow and bit down on the fabric until he could feel the threads pressing patterns onto his tongue.

The cold shame of it had stayed with him long after his immediate sadness over Helen began to dissipate. He and Helen had been over for months now, but she was still the last person Ryan had shared a bed with, apart from Shane, and he wasn’t exactly excited to be stuck sleeping beside Shane again, even if it was on a living room floor because the bed and breakfast hadn’t been furnished in decades. They’d managed to get through almost the entire season going to places where they weren’t allowed to stay over, and now he had to put up with four nights in a row.

It was in his head the whole time he was double-checking their night vision cameras and mics, making him twitchy and stupid every time Shane said the smallest thing, or a shadow seemed to move.

“It’s only night one. I’m sure they’ll save the scaring and murdering for later,” Shane said quietly right before they turned the lights off. “What are you so afraid of happening, little guy?”

It was a better question than Shane knew. Ryan still told him to shut up.

-

The first night, it was just a hand on his back, so soft Ryan could barely tell it was there at all.

It still woke him up, because Ryan slept on a hair trigger in these places. He’d gotten better since the Sallie House, when he thought he was having a heart attack just lying there beside Shane, but it’s still hard to forget that a malevolent spirit could be literally watching him and just waiting for the moment to strike once he’s asleep.

“Shane?” Ryan whispered, his entire body focused in on the one touch placed just between his shoulderblades. He wanted to leap up, but the terror had turned him to stone.

There was a familiar exhale from behind him, and then the slow grinding shush of a sleeping bag moving. The touch on his back firmed, spread, then eased all at once, drawing away to fingertips, then to nothing.

Ryan held absolutely still for a long moment, trying not to remember stories about people turning over at night and coming face to face with a grotesque being lying right next to them. He steeled himself, then looked over his shoulder.

Shane was lying on his side, facing Ryan, with one hand outstretched, curled palm up in the space between them. His fingers were held so perfectly that it was as if a tiny invisible globe was captured there in his grip. Ryan stared into the hypothetical space of its spin for a long, held moment.

Then he lay back down, his back to Shane. When the touch returned, he shivered, closed his eyes, and pressed back.

Shane is asleep, he told himself. He won’t know if you take comfort from this just for a moment.

-

The Bringle House was actually on the outskirts of L.A., which meant they could still go to work during part of the day. In order to preserve Shane and Ryan from seeing too much of the house before the proper investigation, they weren’t able to help out with most of the setup of the daytime cameras in the upstairs and the basement, though they sent the crew out with go pros on just in case they were witness to some daytime haunted activities. Extra camera crew came in just for that setup while TJ filmed Shane and Ryan’s morning interview.

“I was surprised, actually, how relatively easy it was to sleep here,” Ryan said. “I mean, I was still kind of freaked out, but I actually was able to conk out for most of the night.”

Shane shrugged. “I slept like a baby. If Ryan’s quiet, I’m good, so, thank you, Ryan, for a lovely night.”

“Feeling refreshed, are we?” Ryan said. In this light, Shane looked it, soft and rumpled, with only the slightest pillowy hint of bags under his eyes. It made Ryan smile—though that wasn’t unusual when Shane was around. He was such a funny looking guy it was hard not to.

“Yeah, I am,” Shane said, in that slow, calmly firm way of his. “Night number two, bring it on!”

At work that day, Shane hunched over his desk, listening to what looked like long streams of silence. He was supposed to be working on a new Ruining History, so the third time that Shane skipped the recording ahead, listened for three minutes, and let out a huff of disappointment, Ryan said, “are you listening to the audio from last night? Thought we agreed we wouldn’t listen or look at any of that until after the investigation.”

Shane was the only person allowed to look at footage and audio that Ryan had set aside for himself to edit personally. Unsolved was Ryan’s baby, so even though they had an editing team now, he always dictated which parts of the episode were edited by who so he could make sure anything potentially private or embarrassing caught on camera was only seen and heard again by him. Since the private or embarrassing thing might have been done by Shane in the first place, he didn’t count.

“Just thought I’d take a peek at it before you have a gander and decide you’ve heard ten million tiny shrieks,” Shane said, staring intently at his computer screen. “How powerful are our mics again? Like, they should be able to pick up whispers, right?”

“Yes,” Ryan said. He scooted his chair closer to Shane’s, trying to find a spike in the wave pattern of the recording. “Why, did you hear something?”

“No,” Shane said, and for some reason, he sounded confused. “Just a lot of you breathing.”

“Alert the presses—Shane Madej is starting to believe.”

“I am most certainly not.”

“Alright. I got you.”

“Don’t you—Do not wink at me, Ryan Bergara. Stop that at once.”

Ryan ducked, and the plushie Shane had thrown went sailing past his head.

“I’m not getting that,” Shane said. “This is your fault.”

“Whatever you say.”

“Ghosts are not real!”

The stuffed animal was eventually picked up by one of their coworkers and hurled unceremoniously into Shane’s face, but not before he had started smiling again.

-

Ryan was more nervous the second night, jumping at Shane standing too close, and watching the light on his knuckles in the greasy glow of the bathroom bulb. Being at work in an office all day had lulled him into a false sense of security, but then instead of going home, he and Shane had driven out here, to the asshole of L.A.

“We don’t have to stay all four nights,” Shane said as they crawled back into their sleeping bags.

He was using his slightly mocking, slightly sincere voice—the one that meant if Ryan took him up on the offer, he would laugh at him for hours afterwards, but wouldn’t truly think any less of him.

“I’m good,” Ryan said. “We’re only on the second night—no backing out now.”

Except trying to fall asleep was hell. The house seemed to echo more than it had the night before, and every tiny sound hit his ears like a thunderclap.

“Stop moving,” Shane grumbled.

“Shut up,” Ryan said. “I thought I heard something upstairs.”

“It was the sound of me murdering you.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“For fuck’s sake, Ryan. Does someone need to hold you down to get you to just sleep?”

Ryan sat up, glancing first at the nearest camera, then down at Shane beside him. Shane wasn’t looking, his face shoved into his pillow.

Trying to recover from what was probably a weird pause, Ryan said, “No. Asshole.” Threw in a laugh for good measure.

After a moment, Shane lifted his head up. “I wonder if this is the most a couple has argued in here that the ghosts have seen since they started their allegedly murderous streak.”

“Well, I doubt people who are actually dating call each other asshole all the time.”

“I mean, the word might come up. Some people are into some kinky things.”

Ryan groaned and the side of Shane’s face that was visible split into a squint-eyed, wheezing chuckle, his teeth cutting white though the darkness.

“Just lie back down,” Shane said. “No one’s going to kill you until Friday night, okay? These ghosts have rules. They’re law-abiding citizens.”

“Citizens of what?”

“Of the afterlife, Ryan, I don’t know. None of this stuff is real. Go to sleep.”

Ryan lay back down. He closed his eyes and tried not to think of anything except that number two was not the same as number four.

He didn’t know how long it was before the heat of a person shuffled up close and a long arm came down across his stomach. He was so far sunk into the trance-like state of almost sleep that this time, it didn’t jolt him awake. It was just Shane, he thought distantly—just Shane holding him down, safe and heavy.

He fell the rest of the way then, away from the house and into the warm blackness of sleep.

-

When Ryan woke up, Shane’s sleeping bag seemed too far away, leaving almost enough space for another person between them. He must have shifted across the floor in his sleep.

-

“Maybe the ghosts are homophobic,” Shane theorized in the second morning interview. Ryan tried not to spit out the coffee Devin had brought them.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, they see two men here and they’re like ‘can’t be dating, better leave them alone’. Explains these peaceful nights, doesn’t it?”

“We’re not dating,” Ryan said. Shane blinked at him, sloth slow, and then cut his eyes to the camera again.

“That’s—that’s not the point. We could be. The ghosts don’t know that.”

“Is that why you’ve been getting so cozy?”

“This is cozy for you?” Shane waved a hand between their chairs. “I had no idea. New info for all you Boogaras out there—Ryan thinks three feet of empty space between people is cozy. Wait, this is why you’re always so freaked out in these locations, isn’t it? A flashlight turns on two feet away and you start thinking a demon is trying to hit on you. Getting cozy.”

“Yeah, Shane, that’s it. I’m dating five ghosts right now. They just got too close to me and then I had to make it official because I’m an honourable man.”

“No wonder this bed and breakfast hasn’t tried to kill us yet! They know you’re already taken by one of their kind!”

“Are you implying the ghost of this house kills couples just so it can date them?”

“I mean how else do you widen the deceased dating pool?”

They both wheezed, and Ryan watched Shane through squinted eyes. He didn’t look so rested today, despite what he’d said in the interview so far, but he hadn’t mentioned the weird sleeping situation to Ryan. Maybe he genuinely didn’t know. Maybe he really did it in his sleep and Ryan was taking advantage.

“Are you going to start looking through the day footage of all the extra cameras yet?” TJ asked when he brought down the last memory card from upstairs. “We’ve got 24 hours of it on them now.”

“I think we were going to pass those off to one of the interns to give a look through and cut it down to anything they thought might be interesting,” Ryan said. “Just so the rest of us can focus on the main investigation footage.”

“Sounds good,” TJ said. “I can give them the excess night footage too, if that would take some pressure off of yo—”

“No,” Ryan said loudly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see one of the extra camera crew turning to look at him, and he pulled a smile up off of the floor. “No, I got all the night footage. Audio too. Feels kind of weird to have someone else look at footage of me sleeping before I even have a chance to, you know?”

“Ryan, two weeks ago you were filming a sniff test of different types of animal urine,” Amber yelled from across the room.

“But I said no to the video on drinking our own pee!” Ryan shot back. “A man has to have a line!”

He took the memory cards out of the camera bag at work later that day, and sorted them each into piles of night and day, piles of which ones he wanted to edit himself, and which ones were being passed along. He turned over one of last night’s in his hand, thinking about what he might see if he plugged it into his computer now—Shane shifting closer in his sleep, anchoring Ryan to him. It seemed too big an idea to exist on such a small black square.

Viewers and coworkers might find it cute to see that Shane had unconsciously reached out for Ryan that first night, but Ryan was going to have to cut out so much of the second night’s footage, or at least choose angles that disguised some of how close Shane had gotten to him. At this point, it wasn’t just messing with Ryan’s head, it was messing with Unsolved itself.

Clearly, there were things Ryan needed to reevaluate about his life if he was lonely enough that he hadn’t pushed Shane away twice in a row. Fear and sleep-addled judgement only brought him so far.

Shane’s chair was empty beside him, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Shane standing at the entrance to the kitchen, engrossed in conversation with Jen, a paper cup in his hand. Ryan wondered if the cup was empty—wondered if Shane was lonely as well.

-

There was a memory Ryan had of Shane that he didn’t think about a lot—or at least, not more than would be normal. It drifted back into his head sometimes when he was bored, like the way someone might pick up a rubik’s cube kept on their bedside table to chip away at. Shane had been in a courtyard at one of the hotels they were staying at on a shoot, somewhere around midday and somewhere in the middle of America. The specifics outside of that courtyard hadn’t stuck with him, only the image of Shane sitting at a picnic table with his head ducked down between his shoulders so Ryan could only see a few fluffs of hair poking up past his collar, gone bright yellow in the hot sunlight.

One of their camera guys dropped something in the room behind them, and Ryan jumped, startled out of his reverie. He became aware that he’d been staring at Shane for long enough that it would look weird to anyone observing, and he quickly stepped off their room's cement porch into the courtyard itself, approaching Shane at the table. Shane had been looking at something on his phone, and he closed it when Ryan sat down across from him.

They talked about and around the shoot, the hotel, the hotdogs they’d had the night before. They had hours still until they needed to be somewhere to film, and Ryan felt adrift somehow, finding new things to ask Shane to make sure the conversation didn’t end. But his head was only half in it anyway, because he kept getting distracted by the stubble on Shane’s cheek—dark in the shadows under the tilted right side of his face, and golden bright where the sun was touching him, where he was closest to the sky.

“What did you mean?” Ryan blurted out eventually. “In one of our episodes, you said you wished you could like, get caught up in things. That you get too much in your head.”

Shane tipped one shoulder up. “Meant it like I said it. You get to scamper around being all energized by the idea of ghosts and I just…can’t believe in it. So I just look like the boring asshole.”

“It’s ‘cause you are an asshole.”

It was meant to make Shane laugh, and normally, it would. They had been a slow friendship to take off, too naturally different to gravitate towards one another, but Ryan knew Shane now, knew how the cogs and wheels between them clicked to keep their relationship going.

But this time, Shane just propped his chin on a hand and turned his face to the left, looking away, looking into where the sun was streaming down. Suddenly he was all golden.

“Well, that’s the thing,” Shane said. “Maybe I’m going to miss out on good things because I can’t bring myself to believe it’s actually there. Do you ever—” A pause. A shift in his eyes, from up to down, gaze lost somewhere in the sparse grass beside them. “Sometimes I think I sabotage myself.”

“Shane,” Ryan said, feeling way out of his depth and yet somehow pleased that Shane had said this to him at all, that Shane was here, glowing muted in front of him. “No one actually thinks you’re an asshole. You’re not sabotaging anything. The viewers love you.”

The edges of a smile peeked around Shane’s hand, but the rest of his face didn’t change, still blank.

“The viewers love me,” he said.

“Yeah, of course they do.”

Shane was quiet for a long moment afterwards, and he was still looking away, so Ryan was free to watch him, hoping he’d say something else unexpected.

But he just changed the topic to a movie they were both looking forward to, and the sun slowly faded from the courtyard until they had to leave for shooting, and it wasn’t until much later that Ryan slotted the last colour into place on the cube and realized he’d missed something big, that he’d misstepped and that Shane hadn’t been talking about Unsolved or anything recognizable to Ryan, that he’d almost gotten a glimpse into the world he’d been on tiptoes to peek at for months and that he’d messed up.

Ryan didn’t think about that memory that often though, honestly.

-

The third night, the lights had barely been off for thirty minutes before Ryan felt the soft presence of someone crowding up behind him. His eyes were open—too early in the night at a house that still freaked him out for him to even attempt closing them—but his back was carefully turned to Shane, and that was definitely a hand closing firm around his shoulder.

There was no way Shane was asleep.

Ryan’s body went very still, and he didn’t move—didn’t roll over or protest or say “what the fuck, man” even though Shane had to know that Ryan was still awake and knew he was too—as the form behind him slid closer and tucked itself all along his back.

When Ryan breathed, Shane breathed as well. Ryan stared blindly across the living room floor to the entrance of the blackened kitchen and tried to figure out how the fuck to confront Shane. Because they couldn’t use this in the video and Shane had to know that.

But the longer he took to say something, the harder it was to open his mouth, and god, it was fucking nice to be touched, even through a sleeping bag, when he was lying in the living room of a creepy ass haunted house. Feeling like more of a coward than ever before, he closed his eyes.

Some time later, Shane’s sleeping bag started rustling, pulling at the edge of the sleep that Ryan had managed to fall into. He was still lying pressed against Ryan, but even though Ryan couldn’t feel him moving, the bag was definitely crinkling somewhere past Ryan’s back.

“Shane,” Ryan whispered, throat like crumpled paper. There was no response but the sound of breathing close to his ear.

Ryan closed his eyes again, settling back against Shane’s body. A touch so light he couldn’t call it a hand moved up his side, across his shoulder, shifting cold and gentle towards the base of his throat.

A flood of sound punched through the air, and the light in the bathroom turned on.

Ryan lurched upright. There was nothing beside him but bare floor—Shane’s empty sleeping bag was three feet away, where it normally was, and the bathroom door was closed, light glowing in a rectangle around it.

“Shane?” Ryan said, and then he was yelling it, his arms shaking underneath him. “Shane?”

The bathroom door cracked open.

“What?”

“How did you get over there so fast?” Ryan said. The skin at his collarbone was tingling, hot and fast, like static over a screen.

Shane squinted at him.

“I just walked over here,” he said. “Sorry if I woke you up. I figured you’d still be awake.”

“No, you were just here,” Ryan said, waving a hand behind him. The air there felt colder, and oh god. “That had to be you.”

“Did you see something?”

“Did I—”

Ryan took a deep breath. He was getting lightheaded.

“Something was touching me,” he said. “Something—someone was lying right behind me, and it just touched my neck."

“Sure hope we caught that on camera.”

Shane flicked the bathroom light off and crossed back over to where their bags were piled by his sleeping bag. Ryan wanted to be on his feet, wanted to run from whatever was clearly in the room with them, but his body had skipped fight or flight and gone straight to freeze.

“Shane, I’m not joking, there was someone fucking curled up behind me a second ago. I could feel their breath.”

“I don’t know, Ryan, sounds like sleep paralysis to me,” Shane said slowly. “Especially if you didn’t immediately jump up and scream like you usually do when you think you feel a little ghost hand.”

“Well, I—I thought it was you.”

Shane paused, crouched over by his suitcase. The shape of his shoulders looked unsteady in the darkness, bleeding at the corners. Ryan’s heart was going a million miles a second.

“Me?” Shane said.

“Shut up, Shane, I thought you were cold, I don’t know.”

Shane stood up, and his hazy silhouette distorted outwards into a huge, bulbous mass. Ryan’s elbows skittered on the ground for a second before the shape resolved against the black of the room—Shane was pulling off his shirt.  

“You’re always on my back about getting my shirt back on for the cameras, and now you’re what—trying to give the viewers a show?” Ryan said unsteadily.

“No,” said Shane. He plodded back over to his sleeping bag and sprawled down on top of it, heat bleeding off of him from inches away. “It’s June and this place has no air conditioning. How am I meant to be cold here?”

He closed his eyes, and Ryan’s panic jumped. He scooted his sleeping bag over until the edge met Shane’s and pushed up into a tiny wall between them.

“Shane, I meant it, okay, if it wasn’t you, someone or—something—was touching me earlier.”

“It was probably your imagination.”

“I’m telling you, it wasn’t!”

“Okay,” said Shane, and his eyes were open again, fixed on Ryan. “Do you want to pack up and go to the hotel the crew’s at?”

Ryan had moved closer than he’d meant to, and when he dropped his head to the floor he could feel Shane’s side pressing warm against the top of his skull. He breathed out against the slippery top of the sleeping bag and tried not to die on the spot.

“We can’t,” he said, terror ratcheting up another notch at the realization. “We’ve still got one more night, and the legend is four nights in a row—it makes the whole investigation pointless if we leave.”

“I can stay,” Shane said. “You can go if you want.”

“Yeah, ‘cause leaving one person in an abandoned house totally matches up with work safety protocols.”

Shane had the audacity to laugh, and suddenly Ryan was mad, the belated humiliation of assuming Shane had wanted to curl up close to him mixing toxic with the fear of whatever it was that actually had. He thumped Shane on the shoulder, as lightly as he could make himself do it. Shane flailed slightly, somehow managing to catch Ryan under the chin with one hand, sending a sharp bloom of pain through his head.

“What the fuck, dude?” Ryan said.

“Why are you saying that to me?” Shane said, propping himself up on one elbow. “What did I do to deserve getting punched?”

Ryan rubbed at his chin, staring down at Shane. The dim light from the windows was cutting shards of brightness out of Shane’s skin just below his neck, and it was easier to look there than at Shane’s face, his dark eyes.

“You’re being an asshole,” Ryan said. “Like you always are.”

Shane stiffened.

“I said we could leave,” he said. “And you know what? Fuck you, man. You’re the one who has been keeping me up the past two nights, and now you want to complain about something blocking you getting any sleep?”

“Keeping you up?”

“Yeah, muttering—things, stuff I don’t need to—”

“I slept fine the last two nights. Better than fine.”

“Well, I didn’t, because you were talking in your sleep!”

“Then you lied in the interviews! And I don’t talk in my—”

“Clearly, you do.”

“Look,” Ryan said, except neither of them were saying things anymore so much as yelling them. “Helen never mentioned me sleep-talking, so one of you is a liar and I don’t think it’s her.”

“Helen’s not here, is she?”

And maybe Shane didn’t mean it the way it sounded—his face screwed up for a second afterwards, like he was about to say something else—but god if it wasn’t a thumb dug into a bruise on Ryan’s heart anyway.

“Fuck you, man,” he said. Thumped Shane on the shoulder again just because he fucking deserved it. “Fuck you, okay—”

Shane recoiled and Ryan followed, surging over him—for all of Shane’s height, it didn’t matter when they were on the ground like this, when Ryan could get his hands on Shane’s chest and shove him back into the floor until Shane’s shoulder blades screeched against the wood and Ryan knew that if nothing else, at least Shane was here, at least he hadn’t left him, at least he wasn’t a ghost or—

Two things happened very quickly.

One: Shane grabbed the front of Ryan’s shirt and yanked him so close he couldn’t shove him anymore, so close Ryan’s chin knocked into that bright slice of collarbone.

Two: the temperature around them dropped so suddenly that the hair on Ryan’s entire body stood up.

They both froze, breath puffing out against each other.

“I guess it can get cold in June,” Shane said after a moment, strangled. “Get off of me.”

He didn’t let go of Ryan’s shirt.

Sensation ping-ponged around in Ryan’s brain, fighting to be felt—the edge of Shane’s knuckles and the warmth of him soaking into Ryan all down his body, because, god, Ryan was lying half on top of on him now—but all he could think about was the unsettling, unearthly chill against his back, settled on him like a weight pushing him down. Distantly, he knew he should be doing as Shane said, that staying on him like this was really fucking weird, but he was paralyzed.

“Do you see anything?” he asked, face still tucked down to Shane’s chest. When he shivered, it was a whole body affair, and he squirmed mindlessly towards the patch of skin under his mouth that he’d made warm and damp with his breath. “Is it out there?”

“There’s nothing there, Ryan,” Shane said. He swallowed, and oh—Ryan could feel that, and wasn’t that even weirder. Shane’s throat moving up and down against Ryan’s temple, his stomach sucking in on the edge of a breath and carrying Ryan down with it. Ryan felt like a boat on an ocean, ready to capsize at any moment.

His head was going wild. This is fucked up, it screamed. You gotta get off of him, get off.

“Get off me,” Shane said again.

Ryan didn’t say anything. Maybe if I don’t move, he’ll think I’m not here, he thought inanely. Maybe the ghost will think I’m not here either. Except then he was thinking of the thing that had fucking slept next to him for two nights again—wormed its way between him and Shane on the floor and made Ryan think that—

Suddenly Ryan was shivering again, uncontrollable.

“Ryan,” Shane said, and moved underneath him like he was about to throw Ryan off.

“Just—” Ryan bit out, and Shane went still again. They both listened carefully: Shane for Ryan to speak, Ryan for anything else moving in the room. The cold was easing. One of Ryan’s hands was braced against the ground beside Shane’s head, ready to push off, but there was no strength in his arm.

“I don’t think I can move,” Ryan said finally. “I don’t want to be fucking lying on top of you anymore than you want me to, okay, I just—I think I literally can’t move.”

Shane laughed uncomfortably, strained. Ryan was very aware of how stiff Shane’s body was beneath him, one arm trapped under Ryan, fingers still curled in his shirt, and the other flopped dead at his side. Ryan’s thigh was tossed over Shane’s hip; it was a miracle that it wasn’t touching Shane’s dick. And once he’d thought about that, it almost beat out the ghosts. Exactly how close to lying on top of Shane’s cock was he?

“You’ve gone a little topsy turvy before on these things, but this is really weird, Ryan,” Shane said quietly. He was clearly trying to sound light; it wasn’t working. “You get that this is really weird, right? I’m not a fucking—teddy bear.”

“Shane “Teddy Bear” Madej,” Ryan said, a hysterical giggle distorting the words.

Shane’s breath went shaky, like he was caught up in the ridiculousness of it for a second, thinking about joining in. Then he moved again.

“Feels like it’s gotten warm,” he said. “Guess the ghosty is gone. Time for you to get back to your own sleeping bag.”

Ryan imagined separating, settling into the sticky static touch of his sleeping bag with nothing but fabric and air around him, air that could at any second materialize into a ghostly hand reaching out to touch him.

“I seriously can’t,” Ryan choked out. Shit, he was not going to get emotional about this. “This isn’t just me thinking I heard something, okay, it was—it was touching me.”

Shane was quiet for a moment.

“Touching you how?”

“Not like that, just—look, I know you don’t believe me, but something fucking—cuddled up against my back two nights in a row and it was doing it earlier tonight, and if it wasn’t you, I don’t know what the fuck it was, and I’m freaking out, okay?”

“Okay,” Shane said. Then, quieter, “okay.”

He shifted his weight, and an arm dragged carefully up Ryan’s side and settled across his back.

“Dude,” Ryan said. “What are you doing.”

“I’m getting comfortable,” Shane said casually, like he hadn’t just turned this into him actually holding Ryan. “If I have to sleep like this, I’m going to make it as less awful as I can.”

“Okay,” said Ryan, trying to pretend this didn’t freak him out almost as much as the ghosts did. He tried to summon the strength to push himself off, but if possible, his body had gone even more determinedly limp than a moment ago.

“And hey, if anyone pokes you in the back,” Shane said. “You don’t need to have a fit, you can just—assume it’s me again.”

“You’re going to stab me with your giant fingers while I’m trying to sleep?” Ryan said.

“Only if I start actually suffocating. You are not light, Bergara.”

Something had eased in Shane’s body. He was still bony and unfamiliar and really, really weird against Ryan, but it was like an air mattress had suddenly had the plug taken out; he was softening more with every second. Ryan couldn’t help but soften with him.  

“Hey,” he said quietly. “I’ll try not to sleep talk.”

Shane hummed, sounding almost amused. His hand hung soft, unassuming on Ryan’s back. No thumb stroking, no patting, nothing out of the ordinary. They were fine. It was going to be okay.

Ryan hitched his leg up. The top of his thigh brushed against a rounded shape curving up towards Shane’s hip under his sweatpants. He went very still.

Shane let out a slow breath. Ryan did the same.

He definitely had not just touched Shane’s dick. Was still touching Shane’s dick. Which was feeling definitely firmer than it should have because somehow between them yelling at each other and Ryan climbing on top of him, Shane had popped a semi.

Or maybe he’d been halfway to hard since before they started arguing. Maybe he’d gone to the bathroom to try and get rid of it, and instead had been forced to come back to lie beside Ryan with his dick aching, waiting for Ryan to stop bugging him, poking and prodding at him, so his body would stop being confused and he could just get to sleep.

Ryan’s body felt pretty confused right now, heat pulsing out sluggishly through him. He was holding so still that it felt like all of him was dissolving except for where Shane’s hand touched his back, where Shane’s skin sat damp under his mouth, where his leg was still pushed up against the swell of Shane’s cock.

He waited for one of them to move away from the other, for disgust to rise up and beat out fear on his part and sympathy on Shane’s.

He waited so long he accidentally fell asleep.

-

They didn’t talk about it the next day.

Sometime during the night, they had separated slightly—when Ryan woke up with a jolt of sudden adrenaline at 8 a.m., he was curled up beside Shane with his face pressed into Shane’s bicep. Shane’s arm was still tucked around his back, so Shane had been pulled onto his side in the night when Ryan slid off of him, and now he was facing Ryan, his face smushed into the side of the sleeping bag.

He looked gangly and awkward, with a few hairs dotting his pale chest. Ryan glanced down at his crotch, but there was no way to tell if the fabric there was just folded or if he was actually looking at—if he was, Shane was soft right now. Which was good. So was Ryan.

What the fuck, Ryan thought to himself, because it was the only thing left in his head. He needed to stop thinking about weird shit and just chill.

He glanced quickly behind him at the doorway from the living room into the kitchen, wondering what he’d do if he saw it there—the thing in this house that had been sleeping beside him. But with the morning sunlight coming in through the windows above their sleeping bags, the empty house seemed just that: a house, nothing scary at all.

By the time Shane was up, Ryan had taken down most of the overnight cameras, quickly checked to make sure they’d all been recording last night—though he didn’t watch back more than 20 seconds of the footage itself—and was switching out the batteries. He was halfway through unscrewing an onboard mic when he looked up and saw that Shane’s eyes were open, aimed at him.

“Shit, you scared me,” Ryan said to cover up the sudden swell of awkwardness he felt between them.

“Not hard to do,” Shane said slowly. He sat up, a hand patting absently at his bare chest, and Ryan looked away quickly, staring desperately at the side of the mic.

He waited for Shane to say something, maybe call off the investigation, or the entire friendship.

“Still alive,” Shane said. “Guess we’ll see if the ghosts are real mad at us today for that, eh?”

Ryan stared down at him, and Shane’s face tipped sideways into an uneven little smile, almost apologetic.  

“Yeah,” Ryan said, and smiled back.

-

He doesn’t even mention the encounter in the morning interview, sat there with Shane unusually quiet beside him. Ryan hasn’t looked at the night footage yet—if it wasn’t him going insane and he actually caught an apparition on camera, it’ll be one of the best moments of his life, but he can’t face it right now. He figures he’ll clarify in a voiceover that he was lying about having an ordinary night in the edit later. It’s easier to say nothing in the morning interview than suffer through having to dodge demands from TJ and Devin to see the night footage themselves and try and find the ghost.

They spend a couple hours at work even though it’s the official day of the investigation, and then the whole crew head back over to the house a little bit before sundown to start properly filming. And maybe it was because Ryan sort of spent the whole day at the office avoiding Shane, and maybe it was because their sleeping bags were still sprawled half on top of each other at the house when they arrived again in the evening, but something had changed in Shane from that morning.

He was quiet when they were setting up shots, almost on edge, and didn’t suggest they turn on the Disneyland song they usually played before filming. As soon as they were rolling though, he was jumping onto the offensive even when they were just in the kitchen, where only a handful of people had reported hearing voices.

“You know what I want?” he yelled at the walls,  “I’m sick of little noises and bullshit like that. I want to be touched by a ghost.”

“Jesus Christ,” Ryan said, forcing a smile.

“I want to feel the cold embrace of death,” Shane said. “C’mon, ghosts! Give me a hug! Hit on me! I’m single!”

“Don’t tell them that,” Ryan said. “They usually appear to couples, you know the legend.”

“Well then, maybe it’ll make them mad to know that this is a farce,” Shane said, a little too loud to be played off as a joke. He was staring Ryan down across the length of the kitchen, and out of the corner of his eye Ryan could see TJ swinging the camera back and forth between them, uncertain.

“We’ve probably got enough here,” Ryan said. “I think we can head up to the second floor now, where the real activity should be.”

Devin nodded, swirled a hand, and directed them all towards the next room.

Ryan had been more scared in investigations before, it was true. Nothing had ever felt so oppressive as the atmosphere at the Sallie house, and that moment when Timmy’s blue ball had stopped under his name was something he’d never forget. But he’d never been more certain that there was actually a spirit in a place before, had never come so close to it, and it changed how everything looked and felt. If he’d thought the living room and the downstairs bathroom were creepy, they were nothing compared to the rest of the house. The windows got skinnier and rarer the farther they went, as if the house was truly closing in upon them, and he found himself keeping up a running commentary on the case and the stories around the house just to fill the silence echoing past his head.

In the long dining room just before the stairs, there was a single painting still hanging on the wall at the end of the room, and when the beam from Ryan’s flashlight swept over it, he almost had a heart attack.

“That’s terrifying,” he said when he’d recovered. “Why is that the only thing in here?”

“Is it the original owner?” Shane asked.

The painting certainly looked old enough to be Mrs. Bringle, the original matriarch who started the business. In the frame, a stern looking woman sat at a piano bench, her hands folded in the lap of her dress, her hair pulled back sharply from her face and piled on top of her head. She was frowning. Over her shoulder was another figure, who had been partially disfigured by what looked like a stain on the canvas.

“Maybe. You think that’s her husband?”

“He is an attractive fellow for sure.”

“I doubt he looked like that in real life.”

“What, with a giant water streak over his entire upper body? You think he didn’t have that in real life? Really?”

Ryan smiled, unwillingly, and repeated Shane’s sentence back with his voice twisted all mocking, just to see Shane laugh and try to one-up him with an even stupider voice. It was almost normal for a moment, and then Shane’s hand knocked into his because somehow they’d swayed weirdly close under the painting, and Ryan was rocketing backwards.

Shane watched him do it, the smile dropping from his mouth. Ryan waited for him to look away first, and when he didn’t, Ryan eventually had to, nausea simmering somewhere other than his stomach. He could see the shoes of the crew members out of the corner of his eye, and he never, ever got used to that--trying to have a conversation with one person while a silent audience watched, especially when the last thing he wanted was to be having the conversation in the first place.  

Was it you who slept next to me for two nights? Ryan thought, staring up at the portrait. Was it one of you who made me think it was Shane, and somehow made that thought okay in my head?

They tried to prompt a reaction in the dining room briefly near the portrait, but when the only sounds were the shuffling of their own shoes, they continued on up the narrow staircase. Ryan went first, and he could feel Shane’s eyes on him the whole way up. By the time they reached the top, Ryan felt as though he’d been submerged in a thick, dark, cold water. The various bedrooms of the bed and breakfast all branched off of one long hallway that ended in a tall, blue-streaked window. A couple of the doors along the hall were open, black rectangles that barely let in any light when the beam of Shane’s flashlight passed over them.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Ryan muttered. “Fuck. It does not feel good up here. Do you not feel that?”

“I mean, it is kind of cold.”

Ryan shot Shane’s handheld camera a deliberate look of disbelief. “Kind of cold. Okay.”

He turned to look down the hallway again.

“Alright, I guess we, uh, we should go into the second from the left there. That’s where the couples died.”

As they approached the closed door, he looked back at the camera TJ had mounted on his shoulder to explain: “Now, we usually would spend our nights in the room with the most activity, but since we were saving our investigation for the last night we stay here, we decided to sleep in the living room until now to leave all the rest of the rooms untouched. Other people on our crew have been setting up the day cameras up here, so me and Shane are seeing all of these for the first time with you guys. And that means this isn’t just the room where the deaths occurred. This is where we’re going to be sleeping tonight.”

The crew went in first to set up a camera for a shot of them opening the door for the first time, and when the door tipped shut behind Amber, Shane and Ryan were alone in the hall.

Shane seemed an insurmountable distance away, his eyes finally not pointed in Ryan’s direction. He was shifting his weight, swaying, and the most Ryan could see of his expression was a slice of his cheek beyond his shoulder.  

“What is up with you?”

“Don’t know what you mean,” Shane said mildly.

“You’ve just been looking at me like—”

“What?” Shane had stopped moving, and he was turned to face Ryan now, standing loose and tall in the doorway. “What have I been looking at you like? Tell me.”

Like that, Ryan wanted to say. Like you are right now.

He opened his mouth, and then TJ was calling through the door that he was ready for them.

They got the shot of them walking in for the first time. Then they went straight back out and had TJ film them from behind as they went in again. Thinking about the mechanics of building the different angles for the episode helped settle Ryan’s brain somewhat and pull it away from Shane and the weirdness between them, away from the thing in the house that was lurking somewhere.

But the room itself was so clearly awful that even Shane was rattled.

“Yeah, this place is...not great,” he said, passing his flashlight over the deeply stained floorboards, the cracked, peeling wallpaper, and the dirty roof slanting down to a strangely small, wide window at the far side of the room.  

“You think?” said Ryan, slightly high-pitched, slightly thrilled. “I’m not surprised four people died in here. It looks like the place where someone would come to die. And god, we’re sleeping here. Shit.”

“Imagine coming to spend a nice night, nice little couple’s retreat—maybe the marriage hasn’t been going so great, so you and the missus head away for some quality time out of the house,” Shane said. “And then they show you this room. And instead of saying ‘Sorry, Mrs. Bringle, I’d rather die than sleep here,’ you look around and say ‘yeah, looks lovely.’”

“Isn’t it quaint, dear?” Ryan said, putting on a quavery ‘old-timey’ woman’s voice.

Shane barked out a short, harsh laugh. “Glad I’m not ‘dear’ to anyone who would bring me here.”

“Rude, considering I brought you here.”

“Yeah, that’s my point.” Shane turned away from the wall he was inspecting and aimed a shark-toothed grin at TJ’s camera. “I mean, if we’re talking about marriages not going so great, Ryan, you could’ve just talked to me instead.”

Ryan tried to find a laugh, but his throat was too dry.

“Just want the ghosts to sympathize with us, Ryan, you know how this works.”

“I think I like it better when you’re just trying to get them to kill you. At least then I’m not dragged into it.”

“Ah, but don’t you remember? We’re a package deal, baby.”

He stuck out his hand, and Ryan sighed.

“Do we really have to do this?”

“You agreed to it,” Devin said, and just hearing a voice other than Shane’s was so jarring that Ryan almost jumped from that alone.

Shane waggled his fingers challengingly.

“Come on,” he said, his voice low. “You think I’m going to give you a disease?”

Back at the office before they even set foot in the Bringle House, Devin and Ryan and Shane and some of the interns slated to work on editing had discussed the shoot in the murder bedroom for around half an hour. Devin thought playing up the fake “couple” aspect would be hilarious and would up views. Shane had been down for it. Ryan had been sure that it would be too weird, and that using anything fake for evidence wasn’t what the ghouligans were about. He’d been convinced to do some light hand-holding not by Devin’s talk of viewership and cross-community interest, but by Shane’s soft, slanted brow over the top of his coffee cup, and a shrug.

“How bad can it be?” Shane had said.

Ryan wanted to go back in time and tell himself to respond with “pretty fucking bad.” Instead, in the creepy murder bedroom, Ryan reached out and took Shane’s hand in his own as loosely as he could.

“Happy now?” he said to Devin. Then, for the cameras’ benefit: “To try and get the dead couples more comfortable with us, we’re going to hold hands for a little bit in here, just so they feel like we’re one of them.”

“One of them—you make the concept of dating me sound like joining a cult,” Shane said. He still didn’t sound the way he normally did, like every joke was one step off.

“Shut up,” said Ryan, before turning back to the camera. “For the record, I think this is stupid, but in the interest of science, we’re giving it a shot.”

He cleared his throat and looked around.

“To anyone who may have met a tragic end in this room,” he said loudly. “We are here—”

“As another loving couple,” Shane put in. Ryan dug his fingers into Shane’s palm.

“We are here,” he repeated. “To hear what may have caused your deaths. Is there a malevolent force in this house that possessed one of you? Made you turn on each other? Or that killed all four of you in your sleep?”

Someone’s hand was starting to sweat. Ryan didn’t know if it was his or Shane’s, but it was growing slowly damp between their palms.

The walls didn’t answer.

“Or did Mrs. Bringle murk all of you?”

“Don’t call it that,” Ryan said.

“I’ll call it what I wish.”

“Maisie Evans,” Ryan said. “Your time of death was put ten minutes before your husband, and that case was eventually settled as a murder-suicide, even though there wasn’t conclusive evidence. Is that what happened? Did your husband murder you?”

He waited for a moment.

“Have you been trapped here since? Turning your pain on the next couple to stay in this room?”

The silence was somehow almost more unnerving than any response would have been. Apart from the breathing, his ghost downstairs had been pretty silent, and Ryan found himself gripping Shane’s hand harder, just out of anticipation of an alien touch landing upon his shoulder, his neck.

“Or maybe Maisie’s just into voyeurism.”

“What?” Ryan said.

“The second couple—the Richardsons, right?—maybe they were, you know, just getting a little funky, and Maisie wanted to take a peek, and accidentally scared them to death.”

“Right. That’s definitely why they were found with stab wounds.”

“Maybe they were into some like, blood stuff.”

“Blood stuff?”

“Yeah, they just had the knife in bed with them for a good time and then—oh, shit there’s a ghost in the corner!”

Shane threw up both hands to illustrate his surprise, and Ryan was yanked closer to him by their joined ones, on his toes and laughing helplessly, off-balance.

“Oh no, I’ve dropped the knife in shock!” Shane was continuing. “Oh no, it landed in your stomach!”

“This blood stuff sounds like it’s getting less and less sexy.”

“And then, of course, removing a knife from someone’s stomach is hard, so there’s going to be some more accidental stabbing, and then the other person’s knife gets brought into it—”

“Two knives? Why are there two knives?”

“Clearly you know nothing abo—about sexy, sexy blood stuff.”

Shane was laughing too much to really get the sentence out properly. It was like he’d forgotten it was Ryan he was holding hands with, because he’d wrapped his fingers around Ryan’s properly, warm and heavy, and it was making Ryan forget things as well: the cameras, the fear, what happened last night.

They sat down on the floor where the master bed used to be, still holding hands between them, and dug out the spirit box. Shane squeezed his hand when the box exploded into life. He hadn’t looked away from Ryan for the past few minutes, but his gaze had lost some of the sharpness, and gone assessing in a way that was almost as unnerving.

It was pretty standard fare at first—the box spitting out static and what sounded like half-formed groans. They asked for names, and tried to get answers to specific questions. Ryan thought he heard a couple voices, but Shane shot them down pretty easily, and they weren’t concrete enough for Ryan to argue the point.

And then Shane lifted their joined hands, said in a stupid, sing-song voice, “What do you think about my lover boy here, ol’ Ryan Bergara?” and the box dropped dead.

The whole room was quiet for a second. Shane nudged the box. “Is it out of charge?”

“Shouldn’t be,” Ryan said, picking it up. “It’s got fresh batteries and everything—”

He was just bringing it up to his ear when he realized all at once that there wasn’t nothing coming out of the speakers. There was the low, whistling sound of breathing. Breathing he recognized.

Ryan let out a yell and dropped the box, shooting to his feet.

“Oh fuck,” he said. “Oh holy shit, I heard breathing.”

Shane was standing then too, and Ryan hadn’t realized it at first, but he’d ripped their hands apart when he stood. His empty hand burned.

“Breathing?” Shane said. He stooped and picked up the box, bringing it to his ear. “I don’t hear anything.”

“Of course you don’t,” Ryan said. “I’m telling you, it’s the same breathing I heard the other night. It’s the same spirit.”

Shane turned to the cameras.

“Yeah, so Ryan didn’t mention it before, but he thinks a ghost got friendly with him last night.”

“I’m not thinking it, I know it. Something touched me, something breathed in my ear, and that something was just coming through the box.”

Shane flicked the box to off and then back on again. Fuzz and radio voices blared into life again.

“I fixed it,” Shane said, grimacing.

Ryan felt like the room was spinning around him. He braced his hands on his knees. The spirit box shut off again, and then Shane was saying, “hey man, it’s okay,” softer than he’d spoken all evening.

“Let’s just get the basement done with,” Ryan said. “So we can go to sleep. I’m ready for this to be over.”

When he glanced up, Shane was staring at the spirit box, his face twisted up into an expression Ryan had only seen once on his face before—back when he woke up to Shane trying to get his hand free, months ago.

“Yeah, me too,” Shane said.

At his side, the hand that had held Ryan’s was flexing slowly, fingers curling in and out, in and out.

-

The basement looked like hell, which was expected and would make for some really good spooky shots, but the worst that happened was a flashlight turning off unexpectedly and Ryan hearing what he’d thought were footsteps upstairs. It was the last room with rumours of paranormal activity connected to it, as people in the reddit thread claimed to have attempted to sleep there and been chased out by screaming on the third night, but they did a quick scan of all of the other rooms in the house before shutting off most of the equipment and hauling their sleeping bags upstairs to the bedroom.

Shane had lost whatever antagonistic thing had possessed him at the beginning of the investigation, and was back to quietly disparaging and comforting in equal measure. The crew stuck around while Ryan and Shane brushed their teeth and got ready for bed, checking and double checking camera equipment and loading up the car.

“You guys aren’t allowed to actually get yourself killed, you know that, right?” Devin said at the front door when they were ready to leave.

“We’d be the first official ones if we did,” Ryan said. “Since I couldn’t find anyone who actually has died here since the 50’s. So at least we’ll go down in the history books.”

“Still. We’d miss you guys.”

“Good thing we’re not an actual couple, so no real danger, right?”

Devin was already pulling away from the doorframe, her face passing into shadow. “Right.”

When the sound of their car had disappeared, Ryan turned away from the window and headed across the living room towards the entrance to the dining room, where Shane was fiddling with a bag to pretend he hadn’t been giving Ryan time to catch up to him. They headed up the stairs together and did their own final check of the cameras and their mics. Ryan laid out his sleeping bag closer to Shane’s than ever, and dared him to comment. He didn’t.

In fact, Shane hadn’t said much at all since the crew had left. Ryan didn’t want to draw attention to it, just like he didn’t want to think about sleeping pressed up against Shane last night, or the ghost that apparently had singled him out for special attention since the very first night they slept here.

It was too hot for them to actually be in their sleeping bags, so when Ryan lay down, he tossed the front off, keeping only his feet covered for the illusion of protection. Shane turned off the lights they’d set up around the room one by one, and Ryan watched his tall shape change as it grew harder and harder to see him. When the last light winked out and fumbling steps headed towards Ryan, he told himself “it’s just Shane. Just Shane,” again and again until Shane lay down next to him and accidentally elbowed him in the side.

“Sorry,” Shane said, pulling his arm back.

“It’s okay,” Ryan whispered back.

The air sat heavy between and around them. Ryan knew he wasn’t going to sleep, and selfishly hoped that Shane wouldn’t be able to either.

Beside him, Shane gave a sharp inhale, and then didn’t say anything.

“What?” Ryan said.

“Nothing.”

The camera lights pinned him like a moth to a corkboard. Of course they weren’t going to talk about it. Now wasn’t the time. Never would probably be the time. Ryan kept his eyes trained on the corners of the room and swore not to shut them.

-

He shot awake knowing only two things: that he’d been asleep, without remembering getting there, and that something had brushed along his arm to wake him up. Every muscle in his body tensed to the point where it felt like he was going to burst out of his skin.

“Shane,” he gasped. “Dude, are you awake?”

A low murmur came from his right, and then Shane’s voice, sleep-soaked. “I am now.”

“Did you just hit my arm?”

“I don’t know? I was asleep.”

Ryan squeezed his eyes shut, then instantly flung them open again, searching the room futilely. He was making so much noise, lungs like an entire furnace system. He grabbed his handheld camera and turned it on, holding it up to take in his face as he looked around.

“Are you okay?” Shane asked carefully.  

“What do you think?” Ryan said tightly. “I’m fucking shitting myself, okay? I do not want there to be something in here with us, but I can’t stop thinking that there is.”

The tiny window at the bottom of the far wall didn’t let in any light at all, and the whole room was so dark with the door closed that Ryan’s brain kept trying to find patches of the darkness that were lighter just to make sense of it all. The ceiling was shuddering in front of him, pulsing in and out, and he knew he wasn’t actually seeing anything, but it felt like he was looking at a seething mass of spirits.

He told Shane as much, and there was a crunching shift of fabric as Shane sat up beside him.

“Ryan, just, close your eyes, okay?”

“Close my—not being able to see is much worse, man!”

“Your eyes are playing tricks on you, okay? You need to calm down. Nothing’s gonna touch you but me, understand?” His voice went playful again. “I’ll fight all the little spirits away.”

Ryan managed a tiny laugh in response, and closed his eyes. Shane’s voice played in his head again “nothing is going to touch you but me,” and he shivered. He didn’t understand himself when he got this scared—not any of his reactions, not any of his thoughts.

“Okay, man,” he said. “Fine. Just—just don’t lie to me if you see something, alright?”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

It was a testament to how terrified Ryan must have seemed that Shane sounded almost serious. Ryan stared at the black inside of his eyelids and tried to think of something other than the sound of own heartbeat thundering in his ears.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted. “This is so dumb, we’re going to have to delete so much of this.”

“Hey, I don’t have to edit these things, so it doesn’t bother me,” Shane said. His voice still sounded close, a small comfort.

“I’m not going to pull a Sallie house,” Ryan said. “This isn’t even demons, it’s just ghosts—ghosts that are supposed to kill us tonight but, still—just ghosts, right?”

“Right.That’s the spirit.” Shane snorted. “Get it—”

“Oh, ha ha, spirit, very funny.”

Something thumped, loud, right beside Ryan, and he shouted, eyes flying open. Except it was just as dark when he was looking, and he couldn’t see anything but his camera in his hand and a shape swimmingly hazily beyond it in the blackness above him—

“Who the—”

“Ryan. Calm down, it’s just me.”

“Did you hear that—”

“It’s just the house settling. Or something falling downstairs.”

“Didn’t sound like it came from downstairs.”

Ryan’s arm was shaking too hard to hold up the camera anymore, and he flicked it off, dropping it nervelessly onto his sleeping bag beside him. His eyes were closed again. His hands curled on his stomach, fingers twisting back and forth around each other.

“Hey,” Shane whispered. “I’m sorry about the Helen thing the other night.”

“It’s okay,” Ryan said automatically. “I was just—”

“I know you guys were—”

“No, it’s—we’re fine. Me and her, we’re okay. It was for the best, it’s just—”

A floorboard squeaked, and Ryan jumped again, a terrified little laugh leaking out of his mouth.

“Fuck,” he said. “Sorry, fuck.”

“Come on, get a hold of yourself.”

“You get a hold of yourself, asshole.”

Shane shifted on the sleeping bag—Ryan could hear his knees, knew it was him, and yet his brain felt like it was melting anyway. Something—Shane’s knee, definitely Shane’s knee—touched his shoulder.

“That’s you, right?” Ryan said.

Shane didn’t immediately answer, and Ryan started gibbering like an idiot.

“I’m serious, man, you have to tell me if it’s you touching me, or else I’m gonna shit my fucking pants, I swe—”

“Sorry, I didn’t know what you meant,” Shane said quickly. “My—my knee’s hitting your shoulder. I’ll move it.”

“No,” Ryan blurted. “It’s okay, you can touch me, I just need to know it’s you and not—”

He cut himself off. God, that sentence hadn’t come out the way he wanted it to.

“That sounded wrong,” he said, laughing nervously. And then suddenly, he was adding, “Last night, uh—that was the first time I’ve slept with anybody since Helen.” It felt like something was being drawn out of him, like the thing that had lain beside him nights before had crawled inside and was forcing him open. “I haven’t—not sex or sleeping or anything.”

Shane was silent for a moment.

“But I thought—the office party, you said—”

“I lied. I didn’t go home with her.”

Ryan remembered it only vaguely, even now: making out with a girl who was friends with one of his coworkers in a dark corner of the restaurant the office had rented out back in May, pressing her into the wall and trying to ignore the sinking feeling expanding in his stomach.

“I got sick in the bathroom instead and called Jake to take me home.”

“Oh,” said Shane softly. “I’m sorry. That sucks. Uh, that’s my hand. At your shoulder. I’m—patting your shoulder.”

The touch was hesitant and staccato, but warm. Ryan pushed into it mindlessly, and Shane’s hand stilled, cupped around the top of Ryan’s bicep.  

“And I don’t mean this in like, a weird way,” Ryan said, except it was weird, he knew it was weird, and he was going to say it anyway, here in the darkness with something unknown probably watching them and waiting for the right chance to kill them—“but when I thought it was you who was—fuck, just—fine, cuddling me for three nights running, it was kind of nice, okay? ‘Cause you—”

There was a sound then, one that could have come from Shane, but could just as equally have come from their soon to be murderer. Ryan lost the rest of his sentence, straining to hear. The hand on his arm slid back up to his shoulder, squeezing slightly.

“‘Cause I’m what?”

Shane’s voice had dropped low, closer to Ryan’s skin. He sounded wholly unfamiliar. There was silence between them for a long moment, but when Ryan answered in nothing but breathing, he spoke again.

“You’re going to hurt yourself,” and Ryan didn’t know what Shane meant until he followed it up with “I’m touching your hands.”

Fingers carefully slipped between the tight, tangled mess of Ryan’s own on his stomach. Ryan let go immediately, going limp, but Shane held on anyway, pinkie braced against Ryan’s wrist where his pulse was going haywire.

“Sometimes,” Shane said, and cut himself off.

Stranded in the dark, Ryan waited for more.

“What?” he said finally, letting his fist slowly curl into Shane’s touch. He wasn’t being weird if Shane did it first. This wasn’t that weird.

“That’s what I want to know,” Shane said in a rush. “I’m—I’m touching your neck.”

And the hand at Ryan’s shoulder moved, coming down feather-light on the side of Ryan’s throat. A thumb slotted into the space under Ryan’s adam’s apple, and suddenly swallowing was impossible. Ryan’s tongue felt instantly thicker, wetter, and he tipped his head back into the touch, his mouth falling open.

“Do you remember when I said I think I sabotage myself sometimes?”

“Yeah,” said Ryan.

“I think you do too.” The thumb was moving, a slow, up and down. Ryan remembered the phantom touch of the night before, and it was insane now that he’d ever thought that was Shane—this felt completely different.

“I think you get yourself so worked up about stuff you’ve heard about,” Shane continued. “That you think you see or hear it, and then even if you didn’t, you’re too scared to work out if it’s real or not.”

Ryan swallowed, and it pressed him into Shane’s hand. “You think I was making it up yesterday? That I would’ve crawled on top of you like an idiot if I hadn’t actually been dealing with a real presence?”

“No,” Shane said softly. “You’re not as stupid as I am.”

“What?”

“If it’s on the footage, okay, fine, you got me, ghosts are real. But can you believe me for just one minute when I say you’re going to be okay tonight, that’s nothing’s going to hurt you?” His hand tightened slightly on Ryan’s at his stomach. Ryan could feel one knuckle pressing hot against his skin where his shirt had ridden up. “I just don’t want you to have a heart attack, okay?”

“Okay,” Ryan said.

There was a pause, a moment where Ryan thought something was going to happen. He didn’t know what—just something—that Shane was going to get possessed and squeeze the life out of Ryan with the hand at his throat, that Shane’s safe grip on his body was going to get ripped away by an unseen force and the ghost who had staked a claim on Ryan in nights before was going to swoop in, that Shane was going to—that Shane was going to—

And then Shane let out a quick breath and started to pull his hands away.

Ryan came back to life and caught Shane’s fingers against his stomach before they could leave him. His head tipped back, and his neck pressed up against that thumb, pleading. Shane went very still.

“How am I not as stupid as you are?” Ryan asked.

The hand was gone from his neck.

The hand was on his cheek, flattening down clumsy and light, and Shane was whispering, “I’m touching your cheek.”

His presence beside Ryan shifted, dipping down so there was breath on Ryan’s chin, too warm to be any ghost. Ryan was still afraid, but it was something different now.

“You’re not as stupid ‘cause you wouldn’t do this,” Shane said, his voice coming from only inches above, and then there was the sound of movement, and something pressing gossamer soft on Ryan’s mouth.

Nerves strung tight, Ryan let himself press back, not thinking. The touch disappeared at once, lips clinging for a split second before Ryan was alone again in the darkness of his closed eyelids.  

“Shane?” Ryan breathed shakily. It had been Shane, right, it had to have been--

“Sorry,” came the voice across his lips. “I’m kissing you. Now.” And he was so close Ryan could hear it when he swallowed, the glug of it like a pebble dropped down a well, could hear the hitch of his breath as he said it again, “I’m kissi—”

The words folded into Ryan’s mouth, candy soft. Ryan caught them on his tongue and opened up for more. Shane’s bottom lip resisted, and then gave under the pressure all at once, allowing Ryan’s lip to skate in and discover the soft, wet inside of Shane’s mouth. Shane’s hand was still crazily gentle on his cheek, but their fingers were digging trenches in each other’s skin where they clutched each other against Ryan’s stomach.  

“Fuck, I’m kissing you,” Shane said, smeared and dazed against Ryan’s mouth.

Ryan’s free hand found the back of Shane’s head and lost itself in his hair, dragging Shane in closer so their noses bumped, harsh, and Ryan could stop him from saying anything else. Ryan could hear himself making noise, little sounds surprised out of him and into Shane every time Shane’s mouth twisted over his own. He kissed Shane harder to try and keep himself quiet, pulled on the back of Shane’s shirt until he got the idea and started clambering, awkward and long-legged, over Ryan’s lap to brace himself over him instead of beside him.

Their hands untangled and found each other’s bodies. Shane’s breath stuttered when Ryan touched the side of his ribcage, and Ryan was suddenly in a courtyard again, watching the golden light stroke down Shane’s torso where he never had. They were kissing so hard Shane’s nose was crushed into Ryan’s cheek and their teeth kept clicking; Shane’s tongue pushed into Ryan’s mouth in a slick roll and Ryan shuddered under a sudden wave of heat. It didn’t feel like this was actually happening, but he was starting to chub up in his sweatpants all the same.

Shane’s huge mouth and hands and face and too long legs on either side of Ryan’s hips, all of Shane around him, kept re-registering in his head, almost becoming too weird, and then slipping back into good with every nudge of Shane’s mouth. When Shane’s careful hands suddenly slid down around Ryan’s waist and squeezed hard enough to lift Ryan off the ground, Ryan gasped out loud, their lips knocked apart. He felt like he was being molded into a new person, like he didn’t know who or where he was. He squirmed up in Shane’s grip and suddenly that was Shane’s cock pressing against his, way harder than when he’d accidentally touched it last night, solid and real and impossible to ignore.

Shane said his name, small and urgent, and Ryan turned his face away so the next kiss landed on his jaw.

“Holy shit, what are we doing,” he said. The tiny lights of recording cameras blinked at the edge of the room, and Ryan planted a hand on Shane’s chest, pushing him back.

“Sorry,” Shane was saying at once, sitting back. Ryan couldn’t see his face in the darkness, had no idea what expression matched that cracked open voice. “I thought—”

“We’re fucking filming,” Ryan said. “We’re on a shoot, what the—what the hell.”

He sat up too, and Shane had to scramble backwards, off of him. Ryan put his hands over his face and tried to breathe. All the blood in his body was either in his face or his dick, and the rest of him had gone numb to cope.

“What are we doing,” he repeated.

“Sorry,” Shane said again.

“Stop saying that.”

“I—” Shane went quiet for a moment. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Nothing, okay! Can you just—”

Ryan ran his tongue over his teeth, where Shane’s tongue had been a minute ago. Shane had kissed him. Shane had bent over him and kissed him in the dark in this fucked up house like he was breathing life into him.

Or taking it away.

“Shane,” he said, suddenly overly aware of where Shane was still touching his leg. “Do you feel weird at all? Like, cold, or clouded or something? Be honest.”

After a pause, Shane started laughing. It wasn’t a laugh Ryan had heard from him before, but something dark and bitter, and he was suddenly scrambling backwards across the floor, doing anything to put distance between them. A hand grabbed his ankle, and he shouted, kicking out uselessly.

“It’s me!” Shane said. “For fuck’s sake, Ryan, you think I’m possessed? That’s what’s happening right now?”

“I don’t know!” Shane’s hand on his leg didn’t feel like a ghost, or like it was trying to hurt him, but then again, Shane had never touched him there before. Shane had never done any of this. “You’re acting weird, you’re not—you’ve always been into girls! Maybe it was you who was fucking—touching up on me the last few nights because some ghost got in you and you just didn’t remember afterwards.”

The hand let him go. Ryan fell back on his elbows, scratching harsh over the dirty floor. He could see nothing of Shane but a darker outline, hunched over the end of Ryan’s sleeping bag. Ryan heard his own words back and a rush of coldness cut through him.

“Sorry,” he said. “That was stupid, I—”

“You’re right,” said Shane. “It was stupid.” The dark shape of him shuffled, then melted down towards the ground.

“What are you doing?”

“We’re filming,” Shane said, his voice muffled into a pillow. “So I’m going back to sleep, because there’s nothing here except you and me and we’re not talking about this because we’re filming. You should go to sleep too.”

“Shane—”

“Theory #1 was that a malevolent spirit possessed one half of the couples and convinced them to kill their partner, right? Well, looks like you got the worse end of it. Possessed me didn’t even kill you. Sorry I couldn’t provide some good evidence for the video.”

A lasso had looped around Ryan’s ribcage, pulling tighter every time Shane spoke. Ryan could almost see the rope connecting them, and his hand was in the air before he knew it, reaching out where it would hang, as if he’d be able to feel it.

There was nothing there to feel, the same way that if there had been a ghost in the living room before, it wasn’t here now. He was sprawled out cold in the summer heat, and he’d never been more sure that it wasn’t because of a spirit.

“I’m sorry,” he said again. Shane didn’t respond.

Ryan had always been bad at rubik’s cubes.

-

He didn’t sleep, and yet somehow he still woke chalky-mouthed to Shane’s quiet voice.

“Looks like we made it.”

It was definitely to a camera and not to Ryan, but he stretched on the sleeping bag anyway so Shane would know he was awake, rolling to face the door to the room. There was the slow sound of breath meeting the stale air, and then the bag just behind Ryan’s back was patted twice, soft.

“I’m heading outside,” Shane said quietly.

Ryan kept his eyes squinted almost shut as Shane got up. A pair of feet walked past him towards the door, a strip of orange light painting a moving line across the knobbly part of Shane’s ankles. They were not attractive feet, definitely larger and weirder looking than Ryan’s own, and seeing them out of context, without the rest of Shane’s huge, gangly body to compare to, made him feel like he was looking at something otherworldly; an alien, a spirit. He watched the feet slip out through the door, and the door close behind them, the strip of light coming to a halt across the bottom of the frame.

Ryan lay there for a few minutes, listening to his stubbornly alive heart, before he got up. He took the memory cards out of every camera—because he wasn’t chancing anyone else seeing that footage—put them in his bag, and then followed after Shane.

The Bringle House was still creepy, but it was a different feeling during the day, the way an unnaturally still forest was calm and unnerving all at once. Ryan walked through quietly, so as not to disturb it. He hadn’t been hurt by anything in here, and god, it had had the chance.

Shoots for the supernatural Unsolved episodes always felt kind of unfinished, since half of the work was in watching and listening back to footage. He always left the shoot itself thinking that if only they’d spent another night, looked a little harder, they would’ve been able to peel back the layers of normality and find the crazy stuff underneath, find something to make Shane believe in him.

Four nights had been meant to build to something. Winding his way through the quiet house, he felt like the last few days had been a slow inhale to blowing out a candle, and that he’d flubbed the moment of truth, missed the wick and wouldn’t get another chance.

He paused in the dining room, looking up at the painting. He could’ve sworn that they couldn’t see the husband’s face last night, but the water smear seemed to have moved down his torso, and he was staring directly out of the frame.

Out of the corner of Ryan’s eye, something flickered in the entrance to the kitchen.

By the time he made it to the doorframe, there was nothing there. A floorboard creaked in the living room, low, and Ryan swallowed his fear and crossed the kitchen towards the sound. The room was empty except for one of Shane’s bags lying forgotten where their sleeping bags had been for three nights. At a glance, nothing was out of place.

Then the screen door slowly swung open by itself into the room, coming to a halt with its frame pointing directly at Ryan.

He stared. There wasn’t a single camera on him, or even a mic, and no one was going to believe that he’d seen that door move on its own without evidence. But instead of feeling cheated, the way he had in the London tombs when their equipment was off during the sound of footsteps, he just felt for a brief moment as if he’d been given something. A moment. A sign.  

Ryan went up to the screen door, reached past it, and opened the wooden door beyond to step outside.  

Shane was sitting on the bottom step of the porch, still in just his sweatpants and a t-shirt, and Ryan was pulled up short in the doorway at the sight of him. It was pure deja vu—he could see Shane from the courtyard overlaid with this one, hair sticking up between those slumped shoulders, one knee propped up higher than the other, and all of that sun hugging the side of his body like it loved him. Ryan knew this man—had known him longer than he’d known the new part of himself just starting to wake up.

He closed the door behind him.

“Hey,” he said, rough.

Shane grunted in response.

“What time is it?”

“It’s only seven,” Shane said. “Crew won’t be here for a couple hours.”

He unfolded himself with a slight groan of effort, and stood, glancing casually over his shoulder at where Ryan stood above him.

“You want to go to breakfast or something beforehand? There’s that coffee shop about five minutes from here.”

Ryan moved out from under the overhanging and into the sun cutting sideways across the porch.  

“You’re just going to let me get away with it?” he said.

“With what?”

Ryan stopped at the edge of the short staircase. Shane looked like he hadn’t slept either. “I mean, I wasn’t possessed.”

Shane snorted and looked away. “Trust me, I never thought that.”

“Shane.” Ryan waited until he met his eyes again. “Last night, I wasn’t possessed.”

He could see when Shane got what he meant, and a shiver ran through him just watching Shane’s face slowly change. Shane put a foot on the bottom step, hesitated, and then pulled himself up to stand on it.

“I wanted us to come here because the legend specified couples,” Shane said. “That’s what I meant when I said I was stupid. I was hoping just to hold your hand for a bit, ‘cause I’ve been wanting to do—to do what I did—for a long time now. I just never thought you would want it.”

Ryan remembered it—being kissed so carefully, like he was something Shane was scared of messing up. His heart shook as if in a strong wind.

“Is that going to be a problem for you?” Shane asked.

“Not unless you’re actually possessed right now and this is a ghost propositioning me.”

“No,” said Shane, and he was finally looking directly at Ryan. “It’s just me.”

And really, Ryan thought, the idea that it could have ever been anybody but him was ridiculous. Of course they were going to end up here, one foot away from each other and so close to finally fulfilling the point of these shoots: discovering something new.

“You don’t have to—” Shane blew out a huff of air in frustration, looking down at his feet, still bare. “I won’t hold you to stuff you did when you were scared. If you think it’s going to mess with Unsolved, that’s fine, I can take a step back. We’re done the finale, we don’t start filming for True Crime for a couple of weeks, I can just—”

Ryan put his hands on Shane’s scratchy, sharp jaw and kissed him. Held him safe and still while Shane caught up and pressed into the kiss, one hand pulling delicately at the edge of Ryan’s sleeve. And it was terrifying and new, but at this point, Ryan was used to facing his fears.

“The word is bisexual, by the way,” Shane said when Ryan pulled back. “In case you need to start using it.”

He was smiling now, half a shade between sarcastic and real. Yeah, Ryan knew him.  

“Oh,” he said.

“What?”

“I’m the same height as you right now.”

With Shane on the bottom step of the Bringle House and him on the top, they were finally seeing eye to eye.