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“Oh no,” says Ryan, popping off Shane’s dick with wide, panicked eyes. This is not typically the response Shane is trying to solicit from people gracious enough to give him blowjobs.

“What’s wrong?” he asks. “Are you okay?”

Ryan falls back onto his ass, staring up at Shane’s face with something that is akin to horror on his face. “Shit,” he says, “fuck. Shane. I think -- fuck. I think I want to date you.”

Shane blinks. “Well,” he says, after a minute. “This is unexpected.”

--

The thing is, they’d be a nightmare together. Ryan knows this. Shane knows this. This obvious truth was a core part of their initial discussion, when they decided that they were two consenting adults completely capable of having a sexual relationship without it getting complicated. They’d gone out for Chipotle and then for beer and then they’d been sitting too close at the bar and everything was feeling like it might get sexy, which was new and surprising for Ryan, who had looked but never really thought about touching before. And then Shane had said, “I mean. Ryan, I’m down, but surely we both know this is a real scorcher of a plan. I just want to be on record as having said it.”

Ryan had wheezed a laugh. “No, you’re right,” he said. “I mean -- for starters, you don’t want kids, and I want eighty.”

“That’s starters for you?” Shane had laughed. “Jesus, no wonder so many of your first dates never call you back.”

Ryan shrugged. “I know what I’m looking for, man,” he’d said. “What’s the point of getting serious about someone who doesn’t want the same things? And anyway, don’t pretend like you’re crushing it in the romance department. You don’t even have custody of your cat.”

Shane had pointed the neck of his beer bottle threateningly at him. “Leave Obi out of this, he is a perfect boy who has never once sinned and also, it’s called coparenting, look it up,” he’d said. “But that’s my point. We’d be a disaster. An absolute shit-show.”

“Two weeks in and we’d be homicidal and have to end Unsolved,” Ryan agreed, because he feels about BUN the way he thinks Shane probably feels about Obi. “It would be like, damn, were you two ... uh.”

“Just say the John Mulaney bit,” Shane had told him, fond and patient. “I absolve you of the theft.”

“Were you two in the Eagles together?” Ryan said sheepishly, because he hated letting a joke go unfinished, even one he stole. “But, no, uh, you’re right. Bad idea. We should -- not. Probably.” Against his better judgment, he’d given Shane an honest look of wanting, one that sent Shane reaching for a glass of water, and said, “It’s a shame, though.”

Shane been a little sweaty from the crowded bar, and was standing close enough that Ryan could smell his cologne, and he was wearing one of his stupid button-up shirts that made Ryan want to suck on the collar.

“We could set guidelines,” Shane suggested suddenly, face registering surprise as if he hadn’t known he was going to say it until he already had. “Friends sleep with each other all the time without it getting weird. We just have to promise to be open and communicate so that if it starts to get intense we put the kibosh on it and everyone gets off happy.”

“Goes home happy,” Ryan corrected.

“I said what I said,” said Shane, and Ryan had grinned.

--

The guidelines were these:

  1. No sex on set.
  2. No sex on location.
  3. No sex after the Lakers have won or lost a championship, because Ryan’s emotions are going to be all over the place and he’s likely to experience transference.
  4. No sex on holidays.
  5. No sex while Shane has Obi for the weekend, because he wants to be left alone to post instagram videos of himself singing to his sleeping cat.
  6. If either one of them experience the kind of heart-feelings that could get messy, they must own up to it immediately so that they can end it without anybody getting hurt.

“But -- we didn’t have sex during basketball stuff,” Shane tells Ryan, bewildered. “We didn’t have sex on holidays, not even St. Patrick’s Day, which we both thought was being overly careful!”

Ryan looks miserable. He’s rubbing his forehead with his pointer and middle finger, in a familiar way that Shane has seen eight million times while filming. “I know,” he agrees. “I don’t understand why this is happening any more than you do.”

Shane’s boner is rapidly fading, so he tucks himself back into his sweatpants and slides down off the couch until he is sitting on the ground across from Ryan, who looks so genuinely distressed that it makes Shane’s heart clench. He reaches out and puts his hand on Ryan’s ankle, wrapping his fingers around as much as they’ll go. “Hey,” he murmurs, “it’s okay.”

“Is it?” Ryan asks, not meeting his eyes. “I’ll be honest, dude, it doesn’t feel like it is. It feels like -- like I fucked everything up. We had rules. We put them on the fridge!”

He points in the direction of his kitchen, where indeed the guidelines are plastered to his refrigerator by a magnet of the mothman statue. They were scribbled on a napkin from the bar, in Shane’s handwriting, because Ryan had been laughing too hard to write.

“Are you sure you want to date me?” Shane asks, furrowing his brow. “Me? Personally?”

“What do you mean, you personally?” Ryan snaps. “Who else’s dick was just in my mouth?”

Shane sighs. “Don’t yell at me, I’m trying to help you,” he points out, and Ryan makes a face, abashed. “All I’m saying is, are you sure you don’t just want to date somebody, and my dick happened to be in your mouth when you noticed?”

Ryan is quiet for a long second, then his eyebrows rise. “I guess -- it’s not impossible?” he says, hesitantly. “I mean, I don’t think so. But -- obviously I wouldn’t think so, right?”

“Right,” agrees Shane, supportively. “Okay. So here’s what we do: you go out on a date, and report back.” He gives Ryan’s ankle a squeeze. “We’re gonna get you through this, buddy,” he promises.

--

Ryan calls a meeting of the Buzzfeed Zachks at the local Chipotle. Technically he guesses it’s the Buzzfeed/Try Guys Zachks, now that the Try Guys have struck out on their own, but that’s a mouthful for his brain.

“You gotta stop calling us that, man,” Zack tells him. “It makes us sound like a terrible boy band.”

“Terrible?” Zach repeats, affronted. “We’d be an amazing boyband. Have you seen me? I wear cat t-shirts, man. I’m the safe, sexually non-threatening boy of every fourteen-year-old’s dreams.”

Ryan frowns at him. “I feel like ... you shouldn’t say that out loud,” he says, even though it is kind of Zach’s whole vibe.

“You’re right but you shouldn’t say it,” Zack agrees.

Zach shrugs. He looks much less tired than he had the last time Ryan saw him, when he was so exhausted from stockpiling the first month of Try Guy videos that he’d literally made himself sick. “So why have you convened the Zachks on this day? What crisis has befallen you?”

“I need a date,” Ryan admits.

“And you called us?” Zack asks.

“This is genuinely a first for me,” Zach agrees.

Ryan drops his forehead to the table. “Look, it’s -- I need a low stakes date,” he explains. “I can’t really get it into it. Just ... someone cool. You both know lots of cool girls that you’re not dating, and when I asked Eugene if he knew any cool dudes he wasn’t dating, he said, ‘Anyone who would be into me would not be into you,’ which was true but like, really mean.”

Zack winces. “Ouch,” he says.

Zach is tapping his chin thoughtfully, gazing out at the street. “Actually, I think I do know someone,” he muses. “Her name is Heather, she’s the fuckin bomb, and she just dumped her boyfriend of six years because she found out he was secretly a Miami Heat fan. You can have her number if she says it’s okay.”

Ryan and Zack both gape at him. “Why didn’t you tell me about Heather before?” Ryan demands.

“I have a baby, Ryan,” Zach reminds him. “She’s called 2nd Try LLC and she has four dads and is all I think about. I don’t have time to arrange your love life.”

“That’s fair,” Zack points out. “Ryan, you gotta admit that’s fair.”

“Give me her number,” Ryan grumbles.

--

Ryan goes out with some girl named Heather, which is a stupid name, but whatever, Shane’s not the one who has to date her. She’s very pretty. Her hair curls. It’s dark brown. She’s also a basketball fan.

Shane is pretending not to be waiting up to hear how it goes, kicking around his apartment in his socks and glancing over and over at the clock. He’s feeling weirdly anxious about the date; it will decide, after all, whether Ryan’s bout of insanity is over and they can go back to having semi-regular and extremely fun sex, or if ... it isn’t, and they have a new problem on their hands.

In hindsight, Shane is too old to have thought that friends with benefits was something that the two of them would be able to pull off. He’s had friends with benefits before that worked beautifully, but they were not with people whose jobs were tied up in his own, whose friendships were as closely interwoven into Shane’s everyday life as Ryan’s is. He’d thought these were the very things that could keep it from getting weird, because they were such good buddies, Ryan would be solidly cemented as his pal that nothing could shift him.

This was a miscalculation, on Shane’s part.

Still: all is not lost. Maybe Ryan will like Heather. Maybe he’ll realize that liking Shane was just a placeholder for what he wants, which is someone to bear or adopt a million children and support his stay-at-home-dad lifestyle. Maybe he’ll send Shane a text that’s just some stupid gif of someone celebrating and say crisis averted!! and then take their guidelines down and throw it in the trash and that will be that. They’ll still be friends, and everything will go back to how it was, which is exactly what Shane wants.

It’s --

It’s exactly what --

“Oh no,” says Shane.

--

“What do you mean you want to date me?” Ryan squeaks, eyes wide over the bagel Shane has brought him as a preemptive apology. They’re in a soundbooth at work, pretending do be doing voice-overs but really just talking in the only place at Buzzfeed where they won’t risk being overheard. “Dude! What the fuck!”

“You started it,” Shane points out, waspish. “I was fine, you will recall, and then you had a crisis, and it made me have a crisis. Your crisis was contagious. You’re patient zero.”

Ryan pulls his glasses off and scrubs tiredly at his face. He’d looked tired when he came in, like he hadn’t gotten much sleep, and Shane was too fucking old for the way jealousy had spiked through him. He’d been stubbornly refusing to ask how the date went, because he didn’t want to hear Ryan say that it went well and they’d stayed up all night talking about Lebron James and how far they wanted to space out the ages of their litter of children.

“Yeah, fuck, okay,” Ryan acquiesces. “That’s fair.”

Shane waits a beat and then says, “So ... uh, in the interest of knowing what my next steps should be, how did -- ”

“Fucking awful. She was so nice and so hot and the whole time I was just like ... stop talking to me about sports, I want to argue about ghosts. I gave her Zack’s number at the end of the night. They have the same bad opinions about football.”

Shane knows that theoretically this is bad news, but he can’t help grinning anyway. “Aw, Ry-guy.”

“Shut up. This is a fucking disaster.”

“It’s not ideal,” Shane agrees. “But I think disaster may be overplaying it. We’re both adults. We can get through this using logic and reason, which I recognize are not your strong suits.”

Ryan gives him a very dry look.

“All I’m saying,” Shane soothes him, “is that this doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We can both acknowledge that there are feelings afoot, and agree to ignore them, and just not do anything about it. I know it’s anathema to Californians not to see a therapist every time you get a hangnail, but in the midwest it’s fairly standard.”

Ryan laughs. “Fuck you, dude,” he mutters, then goes quiet for a few moments, thinking. Shane lets him have the time, flicking his phone open and getting back to a game of Freecell that he’s been working on for the last few days. Eventually, Ryan says, “So, what? We stop?”

“Well the alternative is we date each other,” Shane points out, and both of them laugh.

“Okay.” Ryan cuts a glance at him. “No more sex.”

“No more sex,” Shane agrees bracingly, and they share a look. “It, uh. It was fun, though. While it lasted.”

Ryan nods. “Yeah. I’m going to ... I mean, it sucks. But it’s definitely for the best.” His throat works a little as he swallows, and Shane watches it with interest. Then Ryan asks, “Are, um, are you okay?”

Shane does a full-body check. His stomach feels a little empty, his chest a little tight, but he supposes that's normal for when you have feelings for someone with whom you're too incompatible to ride off into the sunset.

“I’m a little sad,” he admits, in the spirit of honesty. “But I was also a little sad when they retired the IDK t-shirt from the merch store and I sailed bravely on then, too.”

Ryan wheezes and leans their shoulders together, a long and comfortable press. Shane is sad, but Ryan is right: it’s for the best. Ryan is his best friend. You don’t rock the boat when the boat is the only thing between you and sharks.

“Well, I’m pretty bummed too,” Ryan admits. “Wanna get a beer after work to commiserate?”

--

Here’s the thing: one beer in and Ryan maintains that they’re doing the right thing, the grown up thing. They’re protecting their friendship and their working relationship and their -- whatever. Feelings. This is the healthiest, open-communication-iest way he’s ever ended it with anybody, and one beer in he’s feeling kind of proud of that fact.

Two beers in and Ryan still feels proud, but also sad, because he’d liked having sex with Shane. He liked the way his hair went floppy and stupid when he was sweating. He liked the way his eyes wrinkled, in the low light. He liked the way his hands skittered along Ryan’s side, flexing, like he wanted to touch everything and didn’t know where to start.

At three beers Ryan is listing forward, toward Shane. To hear him better. Just to hear him.

By the time Ryan polishes off his fourth beer he is all but in Shane’s lap, his mouth wet against Shane’s neck, not caring that they came here to do exactly the opposite of this. Shane’s hands are tucked into the back of his rucked-up t-shirt. He’s laughing at something, Ryan doesn’t know what.

They have their fifth beer on Ryan’s couch, not saying anything, ankles tangled on the ottoman. Ryan watches Shane and doesn’t look away, not until Shane tips his head back and swallows the last of his PBR.

“You know they might be going out of business,” Ryan says.

“Yeah,” says Shane, visibly not caring about PBR’s business woes as he sits up and crawls forward and yanks Ryan on top of him, mouth crashing down, tasting like five different types of beer and the bar nuts he’d been picking at all night.

Ryan hadn’t wanted Heather and he wouldn’t want anybody else, either, and isn’t that the problem, fundamentally? That Ryan always knows exactly what it is he wants?

“This is the last time,” Ryan murmurs as Shane tugs at his belt buckle. “Lots of people have goodbye sex.”

Shane nods fuzzily, mouth smearing against Ryan’s shoulder. “Lots and lots,” he agrees. “Tons.”

Ryan settles down, arms on either side of Shane’s head, weighing him down, keeping him in place. Just for now. They’ll be grown up again in the morning, surely.

--

A week goes by. They film a post mortem and Shane can’t stop looking at Ryan out of the corner of his eye, and he knows he’s getting caught because Ryan can’t stop looking at him, either.

This is problematic, to say the least. Even Shane knows that most of what they’re doing here is going to be unusable.

“This is terrible,” Ryan groans, dropping his head into his hands and scrubbing his fingers through his hair. “Sorry guys.”

TJ’s head pokes out from behind the camera. “Yeah, what’s the deal?” he asks.

Ryan looks good and it’s distracting, Shane thinks.

“I think I have the flu,” he says, at the same time that Ryan blurts, “Shane keeps farting.”

They blink at each other, and then at TJ.

“I keep farting because I have the flu?” Shane tries, banking on TJ having a very limited understanding of flu symptoms.

Mark pokes his head out from behind the camera, looking deeply unimpressed, which is fair, but Shane is doing the best he can with the materials he has been given.

“Poor big guy,” Ryan says, a laugh in his voice. “Maybe we should try again later. Shane and I can do one from home, very low-fi, with him in bed. It’ll be cute. Viewers will love it.”

TJ and Mark share a look which suggests to Shane that they are getting away with exactly nothing, but then Mark gives a shrug and starts packing up the camera. When they’re gone, Ryan pushes away from the table in his chair and leans his head way back, bringing his hands up to stretch over his head. It makes his biceps bulge out, which is a direct attack.

“Oh come on,” Shane snaps. “Get out of here, Bergara.”

Ryan turns his head to grin. “Sorry,” he says, not sounding sorry. “Want to go back to yours and film?”

Shane sighs, pushing himself up on his palms and then pointing a finger at Ryan in warning. “Fine, but we’re going to film,” he insists. “We had an agreement.”

Ryan raises his hand in surrender as he follows Shane to the door. They don’t touch on their way out to the car, or on the drive back to Shane’s, or even once Shane crawls into bed and pinches his nose until it goes red and runny.

“Aw, you do look sick and pathetic,” Ryan coos, and puts the back of his hand on Shane’s forehead.

“You just watched me fake it,” Shane points out.

“Yeah, but it’s still cute.”

Shane decides to blame the warm feeling that’s overtaken him for how long it takes him to realize they’re just grinning at one another, and to recognize the softness in Ryan’s eyes for what it is. He’s shaking his head frantically when Ryan’s eyes widen and he pulls his hand back like Shane’s bit him.

“Maybe you should film from the door,” Shane suggests, “and claim that you don’t want to be near me to catch my germs.”

“Maybe I should shout at you from the other room,” Ryan agrees.

“That’s a funny bit.”

“You film on yours, I’ll film on mine, and we’ll edit them together after like a split screen.”

Shane nods. He chooses not to read too deeply into why Ryan has to be an entire room away to keep him from kissing him, because he already knows the answer, and that’s the problem.

Shane thinks that most people are fine, and he likes everybody who isn’t an asshole in a bland, vague way. But he doesn’t get attached to a lot of people. He can’t risk losing one of his favorites just because they were stupid enough to have sex with each other a couple or a few dozen times.

Even very good sex is only sex. Ryan is Ryan.

It’s no contest, really, which is, Shane supposes, the problem.

--

Only: Ryan comes in to high-five him and Shane hears himself say, “There’s juice on the fridge, if you want it,” and Ryan laughs and asks, “Why, because I’m so thirsty?”

Shane notices that they didn’t high-five so much as ... start holding hands.

“My nose hurts,” Shane complains.

“You pinched it,” Ryan reminds him, and bends down to press a kiss to the tip, and then to Shane’s cheekbone, and then his chin, and then Shane is pulling him down by their linked hands and saying, “Last time?” knowing it’s a bad idea, knowing every last time makes itself more likely to be at best second-to-last.

“Last time,” Ryan agrees.

maybe we’re looking at this wrong.

.... say more.

ok so stay w me

but maybe

staying apart & not having sex is actually WORSE for getting rid of our feelings bc it like

builds them up

aha. the classic “want what you can’t have” conundrum.

exactly

this is an interesting theory, ryan.

one of my favorites that you’ve posited so far, but it doesn’t quite resolve the issue of how indulging isn’t exactly likely to work, either.

maybe we could try just acknowledging that yes, there are feelings

but that doesn’t mean we have to DO anything about them

by no means! they’re two separate things.

hotdagas and hamburgers.

i take it back keep ur dick away from me

--

Ryan is concerned that maybe he’s losing his mind.

Because the thing is, right, the thing is ... he and Shane would be awful together. They would be, definitely, very bad.

“I mean, for one thing,” Ryan tells Curly, pointing a french fry at him, “that is -- in the first place -- ”

Curly blinks at him, one eyebrow raised. “Yes?” he prompts.

“Well,” says Ryan. “It’s obvious.”

“I agree,” Curly says, to Ryan’s relief. “It’s very obvious.”

Ryan nods, satisfied, and eats the french fry he’d been menacing Curly with a moment ago. It’s not until a few seconds pass that it occurs to him that maybe he’s being made fun of, which is odd because Ryan is typically very aware when there is a possibility that he is being made fun of. He’s often more aware of this than he is the possibility of other, much worse things, like the possibility that he won’t be able to make rent if he buys another pair of sneakers.

“Wait. What’s obvious?” he asks, narrowing his eyes.

“It’s extremely obvious to myself and anyone else with at least one working eyeball that you’re ass over tits,” Curly informs him. “I mean, like, no offense? But you are truly embarrassing to me right now.”

“I feel like maybe you do mean that offensively,” Ryan accuses. He eats five more french fries, all at once.

Curly sighs. “Listen, my tiny, buff friend. I agree that it is a complicated situation, involving your livelihood and the literal only person in the world who delights in all your many bullshit qualities -- don’t interrupt me, I’m right. So if you don’t want to date him don’t date him, but don’t come to me with this we’d be a disaster nonsense.”

Ryan takes a furious bite of his cheeseburger. “You’re a bad friend,” he tells Curly, who simply hums and reaches across the table to pat Ryan’s cheek.

“You’re buying my lunch for making me sit through this nonsense when I could have been watching my soaps,” he says, and Ryan makes a face but pulls out his wallet anyway.

--

“What if -- we break up?” Ryan asks quietly when as they cross the street back to the office. “What if it’s terrible and we break up and -- ”

Curly slaps a hand over Ryan’s mouth. “What if you don’t?” he asks.

--

Shane’s thighs are stretched across Ryan’s lap, sinking down onto Ryan’s dick with a long, soft sigh, when it hits him. He’s looking down at Ryan’s blissed-out face, at the way his hands are fisting into the loose material of the t-shirt Shane never bothered to take off, at the grin splitting his face open, and suddenly he’s so overwhelmed with how glad he feels to be exactly where he is that he can’t move.

Ryan, patient, soft, opens his eyes, looking at Shane like he’s the answer to a million questions, hand coming up thoughtlessly to pet along the side of his face. He nuzzles into Shane’s neck and murmurs, “It’s good, it’s always so fucking good, Shane, Jesus,” and sucks a kiss to the ridge of Shane’s collarbone.

Shane lets go of a shaky breath, even though he knows, suddenly, that he’s been incredibly stupid to think there was any world in which his feelings for Ryan wouldn’t bleed into his feelings about sex with Ryan. It’s too late into this round to do anything about it, so he lets himself reach up to pull Ryan’s mouth to his, rising up and then rolling his hips back down, feeling like his heart is getting yanked around in his ribcage with each drag.

“Shane,” Ryan is saying, like his name is an endearment all its own. “Head in the game, buddy.”

“Hey, we said no sports talk in the bedroom,” he scolds, the words catching as Ryan wraps his hand around Shane’s dick and pumps it in time with Shane, because he was a stupid sap who liked it when they came at the same time. “You said I wasn’t allowed to talk about history trivia. We had a gentleman’s agreement.”

Ryan uses his free hand to drag his head down close enough to seal their mouths together. “Shut up,” he says, his lips catching on Shane’s as he laughs. “Gentleman’s agreement, you’re so fucking -- ”

Shane grins. He shifts again, and Ryan’s voice cuts out into an unsteady breath. “Come again?” he asks.

“I would love to but you’re going to have to give me a minute,” Ryan jokes, and Shane can’t bottle the laugh that spills out of him. His chest still feels tight, but as he grins down at Ryan he thinks: well, why not? Sure, sometimes they wanted to murder each other. but they’d found their way through so far. Who was to say they couldn’t find their way through in new ways?

Shane doesn’t — Shane so rarely likes people as much as he likes Ryan, so rarely feels about them during sex the way that he does when Ryan is making stupid jokes at him.

Maybe —

“Ryan,” Shane says, and then, carefully, “It’s ... that is, the sex rules. I — ”

Ryan rolls his eyes. “I know, I know,” he laughs. “I’ll take them down before the Ladylike crew comes over. It’s just that they still make me laugh every time I see them. You’ve got such bad handwriting, big guy.”

Shane raises his eyebrows. Instead of explaining that hadn’t been what he wanted to say, he protests, “Okay, people who can’t write cursive shouldn’t throw stones.”

Ryan glares at him, tightening his grip on Shane’s dick just enough to knock the wind out of him, and before Shane can say anything he’s coming all over Ryan’s hand and Ryan’s following after.

“... I’m right, though,” Shane mutters after, slumping down with his face mashed into where Ryan’s neck meets his shoulder. Ryan rubs slow circles low on his back and makes a soothing sound of what Shane knows but doesn’t care is only placating agreement.

I’ll test it first, Shane thinks. He’s always had a scientific mind, after all. He’ll test the Dating Ryan theory and just ... see what happens. If it goes well, he can bring Ryan the evidence and make the case.

“You spending the night?” Ryan asks after a moment, gently shifting Shane off him. “We could order Chinese?”

Shane grins.

The way Ryan sees it, it’s just like an investigation. He is investigating the possibility that he and Shane could date and not kill each other, not ruin Unsolved, not destroy their friendship. He figures he can get away with it if he just stays cool, doesn’t let Shane in on the fact that he’s conducting experiments.

Because ... well, actually, it’s just that Ryan has been trying to think up the list that had once seemed so obvious in his head, of all the reasons why he and Shane would be a bad idea. Unsolved, for one, and that’s -- well, that one is legit, but also it’s not like they’ll do it forever, anyway; the internet isn’t built to sustain long-term projects that way, and eventually they’re going to have to start doing other things. That’s just how content creation works.

All the other stuff -- that Ryan wants kids, that they spend too much time together, that it’ll require them to fill out paperwork with an HR department that consists of one really judgmental thirty-year-old named Ros who thinks Shane “dresses like a midwestern lesbian” ... they just don’t feel like the impossible obstacles that they had a few months ago.

Sure, maybe the kid thing, but Ryan has years and years before he wants to start thinking seriously about that, anyway. Why should Right Now Ryan worry about Future Ryan’s problems?

Anyway, what he does is he dates Shane.

Secretly.

Without telling him.

It turns out that dating Shane isn’t all that different from not dating Shane, except that he sleeps over at Ryan’s a lot more, and Ryan insists on paying for half their meals, and he has to come up with increasingly unbelievable reasons for why they should go on what he doesn’t call dates but are, in a very literal sense of the word, dates.

“So do you think the internet is right and Venom and Eddie are boning?” Shane asks, coming out of the theater with his hands in his pockets. Ryan is tempted to tug one out and hold it, but he thinks that might give him away even more than paying for the tickets and insisting that they share a popcorn.

“I think Venom is the name of the superhero, the slime dude is just called the symbiote,” Ryan answers, somewhat distracted by the scruff making its way along Shane’s jaw, that he hasn’t yet shaved.

Shane gives him a patient, amused look. “Okay, little guy. Do you think that Eddie and the symbiote are boning?”

Ryan’s instinct is to say no and make a crack about sexual deviance, but then he thinks about it. “I mean ... he can take literally any shape,” he muses. “Like. He can literally be everywhere at once. Kind of a bummer for Eddie if they’re not boning.”

“O-ho!” Shane crows. “Ryan Bergara likes tentacle porn, I’m telling everybody.”

He pulls out his phone and opens Instagram. Ryan makes a grab for it, laughing. “Don’t you fucking dare, dude,” he warns. “I get enough weird comments from people, I do not need them linking me to the fucking .... fanfiction dark web.”

“It’s very sweet that you think you aren’t already featured on the fanfiction dark web,” Shane tells him. His eyes are warm.

Ryan’s heart constricts. He steps in close, dropping his voice and sliding his hand down from where it’s clutching Shane’s twist to wrap around his hand. “Have you been reading about us on the fanfiction dark web?” he asks, cocking his head to the side. “Did you get any ideas?”

Shane blinks. His jaw goes a little slack, not used to this, maybe, from Ryan. They’ve been very buddy-buddy about it, until now, but this is part of dating, too: seeing the warmth that Shane is bestowing on him and wanting to spark it up to heat. “Some,” Shane murmurs. “They, like me, quite liked you in the Indiana Jones getup.”

Ryan grins. “I’ve still got it. Want to see?”

Shane tucks his phone into his back pocket. He doesn’t seem to notice when Ryan takes his hand and leads him back to the car.

--

Shane decides their first date ought to be something cool, but also something that is passably Buddies. Something that on the one hand he can do date things on, but which won’t tip Ryan about the jig. The jig must stay down and never be up, not until Shane has enough evidence to decide his next step.

He looks up Lakers tickets, because that seems like the obvious choice -- Shane’s never exactly been what you’d call a man’s man but he has seen movies; he knows that sporting events is a very buddies thing to do but also a very Date thing to do, if the kiss cam is any indication.

“What the fuck, Ryan,” he says, out loud, looking at the prices of even the objectively worst tickets. He thinks he’s got maybe like, an ethical problem with how expensive they are -- which is definitely not something he’ll be able to keep his mouth shut about if he does decide to bite the bullet and buy two, so sports are maybe out, for now.

His second idea is a haunted house, which was a classic Shane Madej move in high school, because he was never afraid and his dates were always either genuinely terrified or had enough game to fake it.

The problem, of course, is that going to haunted houses is kind of their job, and when Shane suggests it Ryan accepts with enthusiasm before promptly turning to TJ and asking when the crew has an unscheduled day so they can get good footage. Shane makes a gesture at TJ behind Ryan’s back, but he just cocks his head with a furrowed brow and asks, “What’s -- what are you doing?”

Ryan twists to look at him and Shane drops his hands to his sides, shoving them into his pockets. “Me?” he asks. “What? Nothing.”

“You were gesturing,” says TJ, helpfully.

“Were you giving me like, bunny ears or something?” Ryan asks, frowning.

Shane glances over at Devon, who is grinning at him with unbridled delight and offering absolutely no help whatsoever. “...Yes,” he says. “I was giving you bunny ears.”

“Shane is notorious for his bunny ears pranking,” Devin chimes in. “You just don’t know because we’ve protected you until now, Ryan.”

Ryan’s brow is furrowed. “Weird bit, man,” he says. “Real weird.”

TJ opens his mouth to say something but Devon, giving in for once to her better angels, slings an arm around his shoulders and steers him out of the room, talking loudly about rabbits.

“We could go today,” Shane suggests, not at all smoothly. “Uh, as the advanced guard. You know, check it out, see if it’ll be good for filming.”

Ryan gives him a look he can’t read, but then shrugs. “Sure, I’ve got time,” he says. “Let me grab my ghoul hunting boots, they’re at my desk. Good idea, man.”

Shane grins, jogging to the men’s room while Ryan does his costume change. He runs his hands through his hair and straightens his collar, but otherwise doesn’t change much; he doesn’t want it to be obvious that this is a date, especially because he’s going to try to trick Ryan into eating at an extremely date-like restaurant that’s nearby.

He is just cleaning behind his ears with a paper towel when he notices the top half of Curly’s head, poking up over the edge of the stall.

Shane’s not easily frightened by jump scares, so though his heart turns over he doesn’t startle. He does, however, drop the paper towel so fast it makes a fwoop sound as it falls.

He and Curly blink at each other. Then Curly’s eyes narrow. “Hello, Shane,” he says.

“Uh, hey,” Shane answers. He likes Curly, but he’s always been more Ryan’s friend than Shane’s. “What ... whatcha doin ... there?”

“Nevermind that,” Curly snaps. “What are you doing? Are you washing your ears? At work?”

“No,” says Shane, who was absolutely just washing his ears at work.

Curly’s head disappears and the stall door swings open, revealing the rest of him, hands on his hips. “Shane Alexander,” he scolds, “don’t lie to me.”

Shane know when he’s been got, so he sighs and holds his hands up in surrender. “Okay, yes, I was washing my ears,” he admits. “It’s — I like to have clean ears. Can’t a man wash his own ears without getting the third degree?”

Curly comes in close, observing him with narrowed eyes. “I’m onto you,” he says.

“Onto what?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’m on it, and I’m gonna stay on till I figure it out.”

Shane, despite knowing he isn’t actually up to anything, feels his hands get clammy. He’s getting ready to blurt out that he’s going on a secret date with Ryan when Curly leans back suddenly and laughs. “Nah man, I’m just fucking with you. I mean — you clearly are on some intriguing bullshit right now, but do your weird Chicago shit to your heart’s content.”

He spins on his heel and walks out, leaving Shane to say weakly, “I’m from Schaumburg,” to his retreating back.

Ryan knows how to seize an opportunity when he sees it, so he switches out his shoes and spritzes himself with fresh cologne before going to wait for Shane by the door. He tries not to make it obvious that he’s freshened up, because he has no intentions of admitting to Shane that he’s about to Shanghai this work outing into a date, but it’s only polite to smell nice when you’re getting into someone else’s car, right?

Shane emerges from the bathroom looking — well, the same as when he’s gone in, except he’s self-consciously tugging at his ears. Ryan considers giving him shit for it but it’s hard to tell sometimes what will land and what will miss, so he keeps his mouth shut.

“Ready?” he asks.

Shane grins at him, hands going into his pockets to pull out his car keys. “Let’s get on the spook train, buddy.”

They fall into step together, shoulders brushing. Ryan waits until they’ve pulled out of the parking lot to suggest as casually as he can, “Oh, hey, I was thinking, uh, maybe we could stop off for dinner, after? I had an early lunch and I’m kind of starving.”

Shane glances over at him, grinning much more widely than Ryan really thinks is warranted. “Sure!” he says. “Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m hungry too. There’s — actually, there’s this great little place kind of on the way, if you want to eat first? It’s a little fancy, but.” He shrugs. “They’ve got really good pasta.”

Ryan is wearing his ghoul hunting boots, which aren’t exactly fancy restaurant material, but on the other hand, it’s a huge stroke of luck that they’re going to be at a date kind of restaurant without Ryan even having to engineer it, so he shrugs. “Sounds good,” he says, super chill.

“Cool,” says Shane, beaming.

Shane during appetizers is pleased with how smoothly his plan has gone. Ryan chatters at him blithely, completely unaware that they’re on a date. The waiter asks if they’re celebrating anything and Shane gives Ryan a big, goofy smile before saying, “It’s our anniversary.” Ryan laughs at him, and the waiter says they’re a great couple, and Shane nods along seriously.

“Well, one of us is,” he says, and it comes out slightly too sincere. He’d meant to look at Ryan in a way that suggested he meant and it’s me but even he can tell that his face is giving off strong you’re so handsome and smart and funny and wonderful. He coughs into his hand. “Uh, and it’s not the little guy over there,” he covers, not very smoothly.

Ryan is looking at him with surprise and warmth, and he reaches across the table to tug on Shane’s very clean ear, affectionate. “See what I have to put up with?” he asks, going with the bit and grinning up at the waiter. “I looked and looked but all the good ones were taken, man.”

The waiter laughs. He brings them champagne, on the house, which Shane feels a little bad about but mostly delighted because Ryan’s eyes light up.

One glass of champagne in, Shane feels really pleased with how cleverly he’s engineered this whole thing. Ryan has really leaned into the “it’s our anniversary” bit, and is dumbly letting Shane hold his hand, like an idiot. He’s fiddling with the buttons on Shane’s sleeve cuffs. He’s giggling at all of Shane’s jokes, even the not-very-funny ones.

Two glasses in, Shane thinks that maybe he’s engineered this date too well, because he’s starting to feel almost a little morose -- it’s fun, it’s romantic, they’re both having a great time but of course it isn’t their anniversary because they both agreed that they would be bad together. Shane played himself.

By the time Shane and Ryan polish off the champagne bottle and order a new one, Shane has remembered that he’s collecting evidence to present to Ryan to prove why, actually, they’d be great together, and this date is the perfect example. He feels cheered by this.

Shane’s fifth, or maybe sixth, glass of champagne finds him saying, “Ryan, sports are -- they’re bad. The tickets to Lakers games are like four hundred million dollars and that means that the poor and disenfranchised are shut out of what’s supposed to be a community event. Games at the Coliseum were free.

Ryan frowns at him. “Well I know that, but why do you know that?” he asks. “Who took you to a sports game? Was it Zack? Did Zack fucking Evans -- ”

“I looked them up,” Shane interrupts before Ryan can get going, waving him away. “It’s criminal. It should be a crime.”

“Why were you looking up Lakers tickets?”

Shane squints one eye and finishes of the champagne he has left. “I forget,” he lies. “It was for a video. For Buzzfeed.”

Ryan points at him, accusatory. “Liar,” he says.

“That’s a very rude thing to say to somebody,” cries Shane. He’s laughing, for some reason. Ryan is also laughing. Shane leans across the table and kisses him, and he gets cheesecake on his shirt. He doesn’t care. He’s having a great time.

They don’t go to the haunted house; Ryan calls a Lyft to get them home, and they kiss frantically in Shane’s kitchen before promptly falling asleep on the couch.

In the morning, Shane lets Ryan sleep as he goes back to collect his car. He brings back bagels and coffee and sets them on the table, crawling into the space he’d left empty and nuzzling back in. Ryan is warm. Shane doesn’t have anywhere to be, because it’s Saturday. He closes his eyes and goes back to sleep and when he wakes up Ryan is there and they eat the bagels and he thinks: we were wrong. We couldn’t have been more wrong about how good this would be.

--

“Just so you know,” Curly says on Monday, swinging by Ryan’s desk with an extremely judgmental expression on his face, “Shane washed his ears for you. It was cute and distressing in equal measure.”

Ryan stares hard at his lap and tries not to smile too big. They’d -- they’d gone on a date, he thinks, a real date, a proper date, even though Shane didn’t know it. And then Ryan had gone home with him and they’d fallen asleep and spent the whole weekend just knocking around Shane’s apartment and arguing about which jokes Ryan should keep in the final edit of the finale episode.

And the thing is, that wasn’t ... weird. It wasn’t unusual. It turns out that maybe Ryan and Shane have been dating for like, many years, and it’s just that neither one of them noticed.

Curly doesn’t wait for a response, just ruffles Ryan’s hair and heads back to his desk, and Ryan spins himself around in his office chair. He tries to come up with the best way to tell Shane that they’re dating, and they’ve apparently been dating. He makes a list of all the evidence he’s collected and all the data and even makes a spreadsheet with projections. Then he sends a calendar invite to Shane, and waits.

Two minutes later, Shane comes back from getting coffee, sits down at his desk, and turns his chair to look at Ryan with his eyebrows raised.

“Ryan,” he says, “uh, what’s with -- ” he flaps his hand at the computer.

Ryan keeps his eyes on his own monitor. “I have some important Unsolved stuff to talk through,” he lies. “It’s -- I don’t want to do it with everybody there because it’s, um, more of a creative thing and -- ”

Shane frowns. “Am I ... worried about this?” he asks. “Are you creating a paper trail because you want evidence to give to HR after you fire me as your co-host?”

“No!” Ryan yelps, finally looking at Shane. He lowers his voice, glancing around. “No, Jesus, what the fuck. I just ... I wanted to block off the time in your calendar so we could talk about it uninterrupted.”

“Hm,” Shane says, brow still furrowed, but he shrugs. “Okay. Sure.”

Ryan lets out a long breath and goes back to editing.

--

Shane doesn’t panic.

Not just right now, just like, usually. Shane isn’t a panic guy. He’s calm in a crisis. That’s his whole entire brand, and it’s a pretty honest one. But sitting in his chair next to Ryan, whose eyes are boring holes in his computer monitor, is giving him heart palpitations.

A creative change to Unsolved? What does that even mean? Why did he send a calendar invite for it, like a psychopath, instead of just asking Shane to talk in one of the meeting rooms? He’d been less weird about wanting privacy when they were having conversations about Ryan wanting to put Shane’s dick in his mouth, but also in his heart.

Is Ryan going to work on other projects?

Is Ryan quitting Buzzfeed?

Is Ryan --

Shane stands up. He grabs Ryan’s wrist and drags him to the soundbooth, closing the door tight behind them, and says, “Okay. I’m going crazy. I can’t -- tell me. What is it. What’s the Unsolved thing, because if you’re quitting, I -- ”

“Dude,” Ryan interrupts. “What?”

“Just spit it out!” Shane says. “What’s the deal? What’s the -- is this about the date, because you should know that I actually think it went really well but if it’s going to push you to leave the show, I mean, God, that’s -- ”

Ryan slaps his hand over Shane’s mouth. Shane bites down on the instinct to make a joke about how much he has to reach.

“Shane, shut up,” Ryan tells him, but softly, his mouth twitching a little. “I’m not quitting Unsolved, or Buzzfeed, or -- any of the other extremely crazy things you seem to be thinking.”

Shane lets out a breath and slumps against the wall, scrubbing at his forehead as Ryan lets his hand drop. “Okay,” he mutters, and then, because he’s in for a penny: “Ryan, I gotta tell you, man, I think -- I’m pretty sure that we’re way beyond avoiding heart feelings that could be messy. Pretty sure I’m already in the mud bath.”

Ryan is quiet for a few moments, just looking at him. Shane shrugs helplessly; he doesn’t know what else to say.

“I made a spreadsheet,” Ryan says suddenly.

Shane blinks. “Uh .... neat,” he offers.

Ryan shakes his head, impatient. “No, I mean -- I’ve been dating you for like, a couple months now? Um, in secret. To prove ... or I mean, it started out as just -- like, a test. To see if, um ... to see whether we might have been wrong about -- the disaster thing. And I ... I made a spreadsheet, and I wanted to show you the spreadsheet. I thought I could do it like an episode, you know? And it would be -- fuck, I don’t know, cute. Or whatever. But I -- but the point is, I think we should date. Each other. On purpose.”

Shane tries to gather his thoughts around the loud and joyful buzzing in his brain, but he can’t; his chest feels like it’s cracking open and he’s dizzy with what could be relief or could be heroin that someone has snuck up and injected him with.

Eventually, he decides not to say anything: he yanks Ryan in by the front of his shirt and kisses him. He’s vaguely aware that the sound booth’s door has a window on it, that the office can see them, that he’s going to have to more deeply investigate why the idea of Ryan making a spreadsheet is giving him a boner, but he doesn’t care. Just for right now, all he wants to do is push Ryan against the wall and kiss him for as long as he can get away with it.

It turns out to be a very long time.

--

epilogue

Ryan takes the rules down, but he doesn’t throw them away. They’re -- kind of cute, in a deeply misled way.

“Maybe that should be our anniversary,” Shane suggests, upon finding them in Ryan’s closet while helping him decorate for Halloween. He’s dressed in a Ghostbusters costume, which Ryan thinks is a cop-out, but whatever. Ryan himself is going as Bob Ross, for no reason other than Ryan genuinely loves Bob Ross. “It would resolve The Problem.”

Shane is standing in Ryan’s living room, wearing his pajama pants with only go down to mid-calf. He has bedhead and his eyes are sleepy and squinted. Ryan’s told his family, and Jake had said, “Buddy, if you think that’s news,” which leads Ryan to suspect that maybe everyone knew they were dating before Ryan and Shane knew they were dating.

The Problem to which Shane is referring is that the question of what, exactly, their anniversary is, because Ryan thinks it should be when he started dating Shane in secret, and Shane thinks it should be when he started dating Ryan in secret, but he makes a good point that maybe the true start of it was that night at that terrible bar, Shane’s hand shaking with laughter.

Or maybe: “Probably we should just have it be our first day sitting next to each other at Buzzfeed,” Ryan suggests, feeling a little goopy.

Shane raises his eyebrows. “Your first thought when you saw me was that’s a tall man,” he points out. “Height observations do not true love make.”

“Yeah,” Ryan agrees, grinning, “but I’ve always really liked tall men.”

Shane laughs so hard that he has to sit down and Ryan thinks that maybe he didn’t know consciously -- maybe he had to go through that whole stupid rigamarole to figure out with his awake-brain that he was in love with Shane and wanted to figure it out, all the hard stuff, all the stuff that does, sometimes, make them a disaster together -- but, yeah. Day one. He’d thought that’s a tall man but he’d felt something light up in his chest all the same, something bright and eager and knowing.

You can know things but not know you know them.

“Okay,” Shane agrees as his laughter trails off. He shakes his head, warm and fond. “It’s absolutely mistaken but we’ll compromise and make our anniversary day one at Buzzfeed, you big soft nerd.”

Ryan grins. “There are no mistakes,” he says grandly, flopping down next to Shane and leaning in to kiss his cheek. “Only happy accidents.”