“Yeah, I could see someone getting abducted here,” Ryan said, as they wrapped up the on-location part of the episode.
“Really? What makes this different from any other forest?” Shane asked, glancing around them.
“It’s, well, big. Secluded. It’s got a good atmosphere,” Ryan said. “Kind of eerie in the evening.”
Night had fallen gradually, swallowing up the vivid oranges and twilight pinks. They’d filmed through dusk, and then through the first part of the night, but were about ready to pack it up and head to the hotel.
“Yet, we saw no aliens dressed as Minions, or even a single extremely handsome man in a blue jumpsuit,” Shane said. “I gotta admit, I’m disappointed, Ryan. So much for Heber, Arizona.”
“I think we’re better at hunting ghosts than we are at hunting aliens,” Ryan admitted.
“I think we’re equally bad at both,” Shane said. “Or equally good, since we’re never going to find either. Ghosts don’t exist, and aliens don’t exist on this planet.”
“I still think there might be aliens on this planet. Or at least, there might have been in the past,” Ryan said. “I’m not ruling it out. But regardless, the abduction of Travis Walton is another case that’ll remain unsolved.”
That was it. That was the last of the footage they needed. TJ and Mark started packing away the cameras.
Ryan started wandering off a short ways back into the forest.
“Where are you going?” Shane asked.
“I’m just going to take some creepy night photos of the trees for Instagram,” Ryan said. “Maybe try and get a shot with some good moonlight in it. You guys can start heading back. I’ll catch up with you in a bit.”
TJ shrugged and started walking. Mark and Devon followed after him. But Shane started after Ryan.
“You shouldn’t go into the woods alone,” Shane said.
“I’m not leaving the path,” Ryan said. “And I’m not going very far in.” But he didn’t tell Shane to leave. Even though this wasn't a haunted forest, it still kind of creeped him out.
Sure enough, it wasn't long before he found a patch of moonlight between the trees that was perfect. He started taking photos, and managed to snap an excellent selfie of himself and Shane where they looked almost bathed in a blue glow, the dark shapes of the trees grainy and indistinct around them. It was exactly the aesthetic he was hoping for a promo image for an alien abduction episode.
"Okay, I think we got it," Ryan said, satisfied. He lowered the camera.
And that's when he noticed the light shining through the trees.
At first he thought it was the moon, but it was too bright, and too directed. It almost looked like a flashlight, but seemed brighter, somehow. "Teej?" Ryan called out. "Mark? Devon? Is that one of you guys?"
There was no answer.
Ryan immediately turned on his camera and started filming, stepping off the path to follow the light.
"Ryan, what—" Shane said.
"Shane, you can see that, can't you? This might be it! This might be our first piece of real, concrete evidence!" Ryan said, giddy with excitement.
"What if you get lost?" Shane called after him. "You can't just wander off into the forest like this! Ryan!"
Ryan didn't listen to him. He was too focused on not losing track of the light. The possibility of nabbing potentially the world's first genuine video footage of aliens was definitely worth the risk of getting lost.
He heard Shane running to catch up to him. "You're going to find the source of that light, and it's going to be some person with a flashlight, and you are going to feel very, very stupid," Shane panted.
Ryan wove between a few trees, ducking under a low-hanging branch. The light shone clearer, now. Less obstructed. He was getting closer.
He could almost make out the shape of something behind the light. Whatever it was, it was big. Ryan could see the gentle round of it against the backdrop of trees. He held the camera up to his face and started messing with the settings, trying to get a clearer image of it.
The light flashed brighter and brighter until Ryan couldn't stand to look at it anymore, and he shut his eyes.
There was a whoosh of air, like something was rushing toward him, then a wave of dizziness overcame him, and he felt himself start to sink down to the forest floor.
He lost consciousness before he hit the ground.
When Ryan woke up, there was a glass ceiling above him, then a metal one above that. Huh, that's different, he thought. They must've taken him to a hospital after he passed out in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. He started to sit up, but immediately felt woozy, and lay back down again. He turned his head to examine his surroundings, and found himself looking at a toilet and a sink. Both of them were made of a sleek metal. Beyond the toilet and the sink was another glass wall, and beyond that was another metal wall.
Slowly, Ryan sat up. He stared around him in open-mouthed confusion.
He was in what appeared to be a doorless glass cell. He had a bed, a toilet, a sink, and absolutely nothing else. He was still in the clothes he'd worn to the forest, but no longer had his phone, camera, wallet, or any other belongings.
Three of the glass walls looked to nothing. Only an unadorned, windowless building. But one of the glass walls was shared with another cell, identical to Ryan's, albeit mirrored.
And there was a person asleep on that bed.
Ryan got to his feet. He teetered unsteadily for a long moment, fighting off a wave of dizziness. Then he made his way over to the glass.
The person on the bed shifted in their sleep, and Ryan felt a sharp rush of relief.
He pressed his hands against the glass, and yelled "Shane!"
Shane didn't stir.
Ryan yelled his name again, and then again, then started banging his fists on the wall.
This time, he got a reaction. Shane startled awake, and immediately tried to sit up like Ryan had, but was clearly still too out of it.
Ryan gave him a moment to get his bearings, then started pounding on the glass again.
Shane's head turned, and his gaze landed on Ryan and froze there.
Ryan? his lips said. Ryan couldn't hear him, but he knew what the sound of his own name looked like.
"Shane!" Ryan yelled again.
Shane stumbled out of the bed, and made his way toward Ryan. He leaned up against the glass. Ryan! his lips said, his face wearing an expression of confused panic.
They shouted at each other as loud as they could, but try as they might, their cells appeared to be entirely soundproof.
Ryan sagged against the wall, then slid down to the floor, which was a smooth, clean tile surface.
Shane slid down the wall on his side of it, too. The two of them stared at each other through the glass.
"Where are we?" Ryan asked. "What's going on?"
Shane shook his head and shrugged apologetically. He said something, but Ryan wasn't good enough at reading lips to understand.
"What do you remember?" Ryan asked, speaking slower, this time.
Shane pointed at his lips and shook his head and shrugged again.
"Great. Neither of us know how to read lips," Ryan said. He sighed. "Well, I guess it's time to learn."
He didn't know how many hours of practice it took before they could finally start to understand each other. There were a lot of charades, a lot of frustrated cursing—fuck was one of the few words that Ryan could immediately read on Shane's lips without any practice necessary—and a great deal of attempting to trace words backwards on the glass and spelling things out with half-remembered knowledge of the ASL alphabet.
The whole time, Ryan kept waiting for something to happen. He expected bulbous-headed beings to emerge from the walls and crowd into his cell with knives and anal probes or whatever the fuck they were going to do to him. Or, failing that, he expected to see humans in scrubs, or in lab coats, or in military uniform. Humans arriving to interrogate him or experiment on him, or at the very least explain what the fuck was going on, and why he and Shane were here.
But there was nothing. Nothing besides the little world within their sealed glass enclosures.
At some point, Ryan's stomach growled, and he realized he was hungry. Just as he was starting to wonder if this would be what would finally prompt his captors to reveal themselves, he heard a sound, and he turned just in time to watch as one of the titles on the floor sunk down and slid beneath the adjacent tile, and a new tile lifted up to take its place.
There was a fist-sized gelatinous block sitting on it. It was brownish in color, and as he stared down at it, a horrified thought began to dawn on him that maybe this was supposed to be food.
He crouched down beside it and prodded it suspiciously with a finger. It was firm and slightly slimy to the touch. He shuddered and backed away from it.
A tap sounded on the window. He glanced up, and Shane was there, holding an identical gelatinous block in his hands. He jiggled it back and forth, laughing.
Ryan rolled his eyes.
Shane said something, then pointed from the block to his mouth. Do you think we're supposed to eat it? he'd asked.
"If we are, then I'm not going to be the one to try it first," Ryan said, making an exaggerated expression of disgust.
Shane shrugged. Then he lifted the block to his mouth, squinted at it, and bit off the teeniest possible bite.
Ryan watched his expression as he chewed it. Shane looked contemplative, like he was evaluating it to try and place its flavor, but he didn't spit it out, or act alarmed by the taste.
Shane swallowed. Then he looked down at the block and opened his mouth to take a bigger bite. He gave Ryan a thumbs up with his other hand.
"It's actually good?" Ryan asked, incredulous. "What does it taste like?"
Shane just shrugged. Ryan couldn't tell if it was an answer to his question, or Shane telling him that he hadn't understood the question.
"What if it's drugged?" Ryan asked.
Nothing we can do about that, Shane said. I'm hungry, and it's here, so I'm eating it.
Ryan watched Shane eat the entire thing. His stomach gurgled. He ignored it, and ignored the block of maybe food that sat several feet away from him on the floor.
His mood was not improved by the fact that he was also starting to feel really tired. He looked over at his bed, and wondered how long they'd been here. If he had to estimate it, he'd say he'd been awake in this room for maybe eight hours. But without any windows or any access to sunlight, he had no idea what time of the day it was. He glanced up at the lights on the ceiling—the real ceiling, above the glass one—and wondered if the lights in this place would go out to simulate night, or if he'd have to sleep under the harsh brightness of the artificial light.
Then, just like that, a terrifying thought crept into his head. What if they lost track of how long they'd been here?
Ryan walked over to the shared wall and pounded on it.
Shane got up off of his bed came over immediately, looking worried.
"Shane! Shane!" Ryan said. "You have to help me remember what day it is!"
What? Shane's lips said.
Ryan repeated it slower.
How are we going to keep track? Shane asked.
Ryan thought about it. They couldn't trust their bodies to stay on a perfect circadian rhythm in this place, especially with no exposure to natural light. So far, the only thing that had happened to break up the monotony was the arrival of the food bars. Ryan turned around and walked over to his food bar, which still sat on the floor of his cell. With a grimace, he picked it up. It felt cold and tacky in his hand.
He carried it back to the wall, then held it up for Shane to see.
"We're going to count these," Ryan said, gesturing to the bar. "This is day one." He held up a single finger.
One, Shane repeated, holding up a finger. Then he pressed the tip of his finger to the glass.
Ryan reached out and pressed his own finger against the glass over Shane's.
They both laughed.
E.T. phone home, Shane said.
Even without being able to hear him, Ryan could hear the inflection in his voice, and he laughed harder, almost verging on hysterical.
And then, just like that, he was crying instead of laughing, so torn up by the combined stress, hunger, and exhaustion that he thought he might actually be losing his mind. He slid down to the floor, and Shane slid down with him, hand still pressed against the glass.
Ryan, Shane's mouth was saying, Ryan! Fuck!
Then Ryan buried his face in his hand, and he could no longer see Shane's words, only hear the desperate pounding of his fist on the barrier that separated them.
Ryan sat there and cried until his hunched over position made him uncomfortable. Then he sat with his back to Shane and ate the food bar, shoving it into his mouth messily, trying not to think about what he was eating or examine it too closely.
It tasted like a cross between a protein bar and fruit leather, but had the consistency and texture of neither.
After it was gone, Ryan walked over to the sink, cupped his hands, and gulped down drink after drink of water.
Then he lay down on the bed, pulled the thin blanket over him, curled up as tight as he could, and tried his damnedest to fall asleep.
It was just Day One, and he was already losing it.
The world felt too bright when Ryan opened his eyes. He groaned and buried his head under his pillow, seeking refuge from the light. While he'd been asleep, he'd been able to forget about this place. Waking up was nothing but a cruel reminder.
Someone pounded on the wall. Ryan emerged from beneath his pillow to glance, bleary-eyed, in Shane's direction.
Shane waved at him.
Ryan crawled out of bed and padded over to the wall.
Good morning, Shane said.
"It's a bad morning, actually," Ryan said. "Probably the worst morning of my life, unless you count yesterday."
Shane didn't catch all of that. Ryan spent a few minutes trying to convey the sentiment to him until he decided it wasn't important, and gave up. Bantering with Shane had always provided some measure of comfort to him, even when he was scared out of his mind, and this place wasn't even going to allow him that. Nothing ruined casual banter like needing to repeat yourself over and over again with the addition of charades and made-up sign language in order to communicate.
The day before, Ryan and Shane had spent many frustrating hours trying to communicate to the other all of their knowledge of what was going on. They'd been able to determine that neither of them had any recollection of anything that had happened between seeing the light in the forest and waking up in their cells. Shane knew no more about any of this than Ryan did.
Today, conversing without sound was easier. They'd gotten better at it. It was still slow, and it still required a lot of repetition and spelling things out, but it was achievable.
“Okay, so, we both agree that this is aliens, right? It’s got to be aliens," Ryan said.
We don't know that for sure, Shane said.
Ryan screamed in frustration. "This is the best fucking evidence we'll ever get, Shane! You don't believe in abduction stories? Well, guess what, you're in one!"
Did you just misquote Pirates of the Caribbean at me? Shane said. He laughed.
Ryan flipped him off, then turned his back to the wall, crossing his arms.
He heard Shane pounding on the glass behind him. "Fuck you," Ryan said, purely for his own benefit, as there was no way that Shane could read his lips from this angle.
The pounding persisted. Finally, Ryan sighed and gave in. He turned back around. "If it's not aliens, then what else could it possibly be?"
Um, the government? Shane theorized. This feels like it could be a shady military thing.
"Why?" Ryan asked. "What reason could the military possibly have to detain us like this?"
Shane rested his head in his hands, thinking about it. Maybe we stumbled upon something that we shouldn't have seen, he said.
"Like aliens?" Ryan said, dryly. He exaggerated his expression so that his tone would come through.
There’s just as much evidence that this is aliens as there is for this being Underwater Area 51.
Ryan sputtered with laughter. He had to wait for it to pass before he could say anything and have it still be intelligible to Shane. "Underwater Area 51? That's the theory you're going with here?"
Shane shrugged. Why not? We don't know anything about where we are or what's going on, so fuck it, it might as well be Underwater Area 51.
"Whoever they are, do you think they'll ever show their faces?" Ryan asked.
Shane shrugged again. Maybe if we're real bad boys and start doing something they don't like, he said.
"Like what? If one of us manages to impale ourselves on the bed somehow? Drown ourselves in our toilets? Strangle ourselves with our bed sheets?"
I was thinking escape, but okay, that works, too. Shane frowned, suddenly. Don't try it, though. Don't try and hurt yourself just to try and draw them out.
"Why not?" Ryan said. "Isn't that the strategy you employ on every single ghost hunt?"
That's different! Shane said. Whoever or whatever trapped us here is real, Ryan.
"Hang on." Ryan closed his eyes. "I'm committing this moment to memory so that I can replay it when we get out of this and you inevitably try and deny that it happened."
I'm not going to deny it, Shane said, after Ryan opened his eyes. I may not know what, exactly, this is evidence of, but it's evidence, all right. And I, for one, find it very compelling.
Ryan grinned. It was a pittance of a victory in a shitty fucking situation, but he was going to take it anyway.
By Day Three, they'd gotten even better at communicating nonverbally, and had additionally started developing a rough sort of Morse code that they could use to communicate simple things to each other by tapping on the glass. The first signal they came up with was something to tell the other person to look away for a bit, which was especially helpful for avoiding awkward moments when one of them was on the toilet.
Ryan hated pissing and shitting in a glass box, where he felt extremely exposed on all five sides. He was certain that their captors had cameras set up outside of the box that were capturing a live video feed of every single thing that he did.
He and Shane discussed ways they could rebel, weighing the pros and cons of each idea. Really, their only three options were: trashing their cells, injuring themselves, or attempting to escape somehow.
Shane was against self-injury, expressing a worry that their captors would just leave them there to die, and Ryan was against trashing their cells, not wanting to potentially have to live out the rest of his days in an even shittier environment than the one he was already in. They were in agreement over attempting to escape, but were immediately thwarted by the complete lack of any means to do so. They had no tools besides their own hands, and the glass seemed more than strong enough to take whatever they could throw at it. Both Ryan and Shane attempted to pry up the panels that lifted to dispense the food bars, but neither of them had any success.
As far as Ryan could tell, they got food bars at a rate of about one per day. Presumably, the gelatinous mixture contained all of their required nutrients and a full day's worth of calories. He was always ravenous when he got it, and already, by Day Three, he was scarfing it down immediately.
"Three days," Ryan said, to Shane. "I can't believe it's been three days already."
Already? I don't know about you, but these have been the longest three days of my life, Shane said.
"What day was it, when we were taken?" Ryan asked, suddenly realizing that he didn't exactly remember. "Was it the 29th, or the 30th?"
Shit. I don't remember.
Ryan started to panic. If he couldn't pinpoint the exact beginning, then even if he kept perfect track of the passage of time, he'd never know exactly what day it was.
Ryan, Ryan, it's okay! Shane said, tapping gently on the glass to get his attention. We only have an approximation of how long it's been, anyway. All we can do is keep track of the time as best as we can. We can find out for sure when we finally get out of this place.
"Yeah. Okay," Ryan said. He took a breath. "Three. This is Day Three. Three."
"You know what sucks?" Ryan said, the next day.
You mean, besides everything? Shane said.
"I'm going to lose all of the work I put in at the gym," Ryan continued, ignoring him.
Oh no! What are we going to do without your sick gains, Ryan! Shane said, in mock horror.
Ryan rolled his eyes. "It's more than that," he said. "It's just—I put a lot of time and effort into this, and now it's all going to trickle away, and there's nothing I can do about it."
You don't need a gym to exercise.
"No, but it helps."
Last I checked, pushups still exist. Shane was lounging on the floor, the cell barely wide enough in that direction to accommodate the full length of him.
"You know what? You're right," Ryan said. "Let's do some."
Wait, are you including me in this? Shane sat up.
"Yep, big guy," Ryan said. "Up and at 'em. It's only Day Four, so we'll start off easy. One day equals one rep."
He got down onto the floor and did four pushups, then looked up and watched Shane complete his pushups. Ryan felt a bit fired up, afterward, and surveyed his surroundings to see what else he had to work with.
"We could use the bed to do dips," Ryan said. He went over and demonstrated four of them to show Shane what he was talking about, then coached Shane through doing them himself.
They did a variety of other exercises, after that. It certainly wasn't the same as going to the gym, but it made Ryan feel better, and at the very least, it provided another way to keep track of the days.
He didn't know what they'd do when the number of days exceeded a number of reps that was humanly possible to do.
On the fifth day, Ryan dreamt that they escaped.
It was such a vivid dream, when he woke up and saw that same glass ceiling stretched overhead, those same awful lights boring down on him from above, he half convinced himself that the dream had been real, and this was the nightmare.
For the first time, when Ryan picked up his food bar, he had a moment where he briefly forgot what day it was.
"Shane!" he said desperately.
What? What's wrong? Shane asked. His face showed an expression of concern.
"Is it—is this Day Five, or is it Day Six? Oh god, I'm already losing track," Ryan said, panicking.
It's Day Six, Ryan, Shane said, instantly relaxing once it became apparent that Ryan's freakout was of a very minor nature.
"Day Six," Ryan repeated.
If you're so worried about forgetting, why don't you try creating a mind palace for each one? Shane suggested.
"A mind palace? Isn't that what Sherlock does in BBC Sherlock?" Ryan asked. He mimed swiping at words in the air.
Maybe? I don't remember how the show did it. But in real life, it's a technique for memorizing things. You basically create a vivid mental image associated with the thing that you want to remember. I think it works mostly with spatial memory, so, like mentally placing objects in particular locations. Some people create a whole house, or even, like, a city in their minds.
"Huh," Ryan said. "I guess I might as well give it a shot. What's a good image for six, then?"
He thought about it for a moment, then laughed.
"Six Thatchers," he said.
"There's an episode of Sherlock where someone's going around smashing six statues of Margaret Thatcher's head."
He closed his eyes, imagining the six heads placed all over his cell. Then, pretending he held a baseball bat, he walked around and smashed all six of them.
Having fun? Shane asked, after Ryan had stopped laughing and turned back to face the window.
"Yes," Ryan admitted.
"This is obviously an experiment of some kind, right?" Ryan said, after they'd both done their seven reps for the day.
Keeping us in these cells? Yes, it would appear to be, Shane said.
"I just can't figure out what it's an experiment of," Ryan said. "What are they testing?"
I mean, if it really is aliens, they could be testing any number of things that seem obvious to you or me.
"I thought you didn't believe this was aliens." Ryan narrowed his eyes.
I don't. But you clearly do, so I'm just playing in your sandbox for a bit.
"Maybe they're studying human needs, or human relationships," Ryan said, leaning back. "They've given us everything we technically require to stay alive, and have sort of given us human contact, so it's not like solitary confinement, but it's also not true contact, either. They might be testing the limits of our needs. Sketching out the exact bounds of Maslow's hierarchy."
If they're studying human relationships, they sure picked quite the pair of weirdos to serve as test subjects, Shane said.
Ryan laughed. "Yeah, I don't know how much of the data they'd get from us would be generalizable to humans as a whole."
They'll start to think that there are only two types of humans: Shaniacs and Boogaras.
"And they'd be right," Ryan said.
The gender binary is out, baby! The only true binary is the ghoulboy binary. Scientifically tested and verified.
By Day Eight, Ryan had discovered a new favorite pastime: fantasizing about all of the things he missed from earth that he might never get to experience again in his lifetime. Actually, it fucking sucked, but that didn't stop him from doing it anyway.
"You know what I miss the most about popcorn?" Ryan said. "The texture. I miss eating food that isn't mushy."
If you thought popcorn was good before, imagine how good it will be once we get out, Shane said.
"Oh god," Ryan whispered. "It will be the greatest thing I'll have ever tasted in my life. I'll probably cry."
Let's make a pact, right now, that popcorn will be the first thing we'll eat once we're out, Shane said. No matter how hungry we are, we'll accept no substitute. If we get nothing else out of all of this, at the very least, we'll get to experience the very best bag of popcorn we'll ever eat,
"Deal," Ryan said.
He held out his hand, and Shane held out his, and they both mimed a handshake.
As Ryan did his ninth modified pull-up using the bedframe to lift himself off of the ground, he pulled himself up a little too vigorously, and the bed jostled, and then he discovered something very important.
He didn't even finish his workout. Just wiggled out from under the bed and went immediately to the window to get Shane's attention.
"Shane!" he said.
What? What is it? Shane asked.
"The beds aren't actually attached to the floor!" Ryan said. "The feet of the bed are just kind of sunk into the ground a bit."
Without waiting for Ryan to reply, Shane turned around and walked over to his bed, testing it out. He visibly grunted as he lifted the frame.
Shane walked back over to the window. So, what do we do with this information? he asked.
"I don't know yet," Ryan said. "But it's something, isn't it? At least, it's more than we had. It means the beds are something that we can use besides our hands, if we have to."
Like, use them to escape somehow? A bed battering ram?
"Maybe. They're kind of heavy, which is good for busting down walls, but bad for my rapidly dwindling arm strength," Ryan lamented.
He spent most of his day daydreaming about possible methods of escape. Occasionally, he'd pitch an idea to Shane, but Shane didn't have the same enthusiasm for them, and eventually, his skepticism wore the enthusiasm out of Ryan, too.
On Day Ten, Shane took a nap. It was a very long nap, and Ryan was incredibly bored the whole time. He kept walking over to the window and lifting up his fist, his hand hovering just away from the glass, but he didn't want to disturb Shane's peace, so he didn't knock.
He tried going to sleep himself, but despite his boredom, he wasn't tired enough to sleep, especially with the omnipresent light overhead.
When Shane finally awoke, Ryan's face split into a relieved smile, and he immediately padded over to the window and knocked on the glass.
"Hey," he said.
Hey, Shane said back. What's up?
"Nothing," Ryan said. I just missed you, he thought. He wondered if Shane had gotten good enough at reading his words and face that he'd be able to read his unspoken thoughts, too. But Shane didn't acknowledge it, and Ryan didn't say it, and then just like that, Shane was reaching up and tapping on the glass, giving him the signal to look away.
The next day, Shane took a nap that was even longer.
Intermittently, Ryan sulked, and watched Shane sleep, and lay down on his own bed, and sulked some more.
Shane got up to eat his food bar and do his exercises with Ryan, but wasn't very talkative before or after, and that night—or what Ryan was calling "night"—he went to sleep early, before Ryan had even begun to feel tired.
This time, on Day Twelve, when Shane went back to bed immediately upon waking up, Ryan didn't let him sleep. He pounded on the glass until Shane sat up and looked at him. But Shane didn't get out of bed, and didn't attempt to talk to him or listen to what he was saying. He just lay back down, pulled the blanket over him, and turned onto his other side, the one that faced away from Ryan.
Ryan knew that sleeping was how Shane had decided to deal with the whole situation. That, in a sense, this was Shane giving up. Succumbing to the encroaching depression that Ryan battled every fucking minute of his life in this place.
Shane retreated into sleep purely to pass the time here, and Ryan envied him because he couldn't do the same. He needed a modicum of human interaction pumped into him on a steady drip or he would die.
For the first time, Ryan began to get an inkling of what true solitary confinement was like.
He made one last attempt to knock on the glass, and when it didn't provoke any reaction at all from Shane, Ryan yelled and cursed at him, then sat down on his bed and angry-cried until the veneer of frustration had washed away, and he was left with a feeling that was far more raw and delicate.
On Day Thirteen, Ryan lay down in bed, and was finally able to fall asleep when he wasn't tired. He woke from his depression nap feeling even worse than before.
Fucking lucky number thirteen, he thought. For a fleeting moment, he almost wished he could forget the day. Just let this place consume him.
Several feet away from his bed, food bar number thirteen sat on its tile. The sound of its arrival had been what had woken him. He stared at it from his bed, but didn't get up to eat it. He wondered what would happen if he left it for an entire day. Would they replace it? Give him two the next day? Or just leave it sitting there on the floor of his cell until it either rotted or he gave in and consumed it. Then he wondered what would happen if he tried starving himself. Would that force the aliens to intervene? But even if it didn't kill him, it would be a long, painful process. He'd rather do something quick and dramatic to get their attention instead. Slice up his arms, bash in his head, something like that. Something that would either summon them immediately, or kill him quick.
Once, while eating a food bar, he'd swallowed too big of a bite. The weird quasi-gelatin had gotten briefly lodged in his throat, and for a moment, he'd wondered if that was going to be it. Ryan Bergara: killed by way of alien food bar. Not even a death worth a haunting. But then his throat had worked, and the bite had gone down—roughly, but down—and he'd realized that perhaps he'd been given a food that was impossible to choke on. He'd wondered, then, if that had been part of the purpose of the food bar. It was a way to put nutrients directly in his body without giving him something that could be weaponized in any way. Just a block of harmless, disgusting jelly.
He stared at food bar number thirteen and listened to the sound of his stomach gurgling.
He only lasted a few hours before his willpower broke and he crawled out of bed and ate the food bar, and immediately afterward, he considered sticking his fingers down his throat and forcing himself to vomit it back up, but he didn't have the guts to do even that.
Eventually, all of his shitty thoughts crystallized into a great big shitty feeling that surged through him and took out everything else in its wake, and Ryan realized, with an amazing sense of freedom, that he just didn't give a shit anymore.
On that day, he skipped his daily exercises—though in all honesty, he hadn't done them since Day Twelve—then grasped ahold of his bed and hauled it out of the holes its feet were embedded in.
He hoisted it in his hands, and ran toward the far wall, slamming the bed into it with all of his might.
The cell wall shuddered with the impact. The bed didn't leave so much as a scratch on the glass.
Ryan stepped back. Again, he ran at the wall, ramming it with the head of the bed frame.
He did it a third time.
Then a fourth.
But when he reared back around for a fifth swing, his arms were shaking, and his grasp was weakening, and the bed slipped from his fingers and its legs clattered against the floor.
He looked up to gaze at the mark he'd made with his efforts on the wall, but the surface of the glass was entirely undisturbed.
With a cry, Ryan kicked at the bed, knocking it onto its side, then onto its back.
He felt at one of the legs, his fingers finding the rivet that held it together, and he yanked at it and twisted it, trying to pry it apart, but his bare hands were no match for soldered metal, and all he could accomplish was scraping up his fingernails as he dragged them, again and again, over the joint in the metal.
Finally, he just beat at the underbelly of the bed frame with his fists, screaming at it until his knuckles grew bloody, and pain bloomed from his hands through his body like a welcome release.
He paused to take a breath, and that's when he heard it.
It was Shane, pounding on the glass.
Ryan turned to stare at him blankly.
Ryan! RYAN! he yelled. Look at me! Look at me, please!
He was crying; Ryan could see the streaks of desperate tears on his face. He wondered how long Shane had been standing there, how long he'd been trying to communicate.
I won’t let you hurt yourself for this, Shane said.
“What if injuring ourselves is the only way to get them to show their sadistic fucking faces?” Ryan spat. He wiped at his mouth and tasted his own blood.
And what if they’re testing how long it’ll take before we kill ourselves? Shane said. I can’t watch you die, Ryan. I can’t.
"At least I'm doing something!" Ryan yelled. "I'm going crazy in here, man! Absolutely batshit! I'd rather die than be trapped alone in here for the rest of my life!"
But you're not alone, Shane said. I'm here, too. And I—I need you, Ryan. He tried to meet Ryan's eyes, but Ryan denied him.
"Not as much as I need you!" Ryan said, breathing hard. "I can't—I can't deal with this like you can. I can't just lie in bed and stew in my own thoughts until I wait it out. I need—I need someone, Shane. And you're all I have." His voice got choked up, suddenly.
I haven't been dealing with it, either! Like, at all, Shane said. I've been drowning over here, man. He rubbed at his face with his hands.
"I know! That's why I kept trying to talk to you!"
I'm sorry, Shane said.
"I'm sorry, too," Ryan whispered. "It's just—it's this fucking place."
He sat down in front of the window, feeling tired and in pain and just deeply, unbelievably sad.
How about we cry it out together, Shane said.
Ryan nodded, hopelessly. Then Shane placed his hand on the glass, and Ryan placed his hand against the other side of the glass, his fingers leaving a smear of blood of the surface, and then he cried until he felt completely empty, and it was maybe what they called catharsis.
The day after, Ryan felt kind of tender and shy.
His hands still stung a bit, but as Day Fifteen stretched on, the pain faded to nothing, and he could finally start to put that whole shit day behind him.
He and Shane did their exercises together for the first time since Day Eleven. Then they just sat in front of the window and talked. They didn't really talk about anything important; just kind of chatted about things that they missed from back home, speculated about what was happening in the world while they were away from it, ranted about movies they'd both hated, easy talk, basically.
Ryan was just so relieved to be interacting with another person again, he honestly couldn't've cared less about what they talked about as long as a conversation of any sort was happening.
Neither of them mentioned any of the events from Day Ten through Day Fourteen. It was all still a little too fresh for Ryan to talk about. He'd rather just pretend it had never happened, for now.
Maybe later, they could haul that skeleton out of its closet and prop it up between them and stare down into its hollow face. Ryan knew that both of them had dealt with bouts of depression before. But, at least on his end, it had never been this bad, and it had never involved acts of self-harm.
He wondered if being trapped in this place would eventually become a trauma that he couldn't come back from. If, someday, after all of this was over and they were back on earth, the whole thing would leave such a deep gouge in Ryan's soul that all of the therapy in the world couldn't patch it.
His worst fear was always that something would follow him back home from a haunted place. He was afraid of the thought of breaking between these glass walls, but he was even more afraid of the thought of escaping this place physically, and then having it still find a way to break him even in his freedom.
But today, he wasn't going to think about that. Today, he was going to do his goddamn exercises, and eat his goddamn food bar, and talk to his goddamn best friend.
"God, I could really do with a hug about now," Ryan said. He'd never applied the phrase touch-starved to himself before, but after sixteen days of zero physical contact with another human being, the only thing in the world that he wanted was for someone to touch him and hold him.
Are you okay? Shane asked, concerned.
"No, it's not—it's not like two days ago," Ryan said. "I'm not feeling like especially sad or depressed or anything. At least, not more than usual. I just want someone to touch me. I just—fuck, I'm not made to be alone like this."
Wanna roleplay it out? Shane asked.
The thought of roleplaying a hug was so ridiculous, Ryan wheezed with laughter. "Like, sexting? Except without the sex. Just, I step toward you and hold out my arms," he said, in an exaggerated voice.
Shane was not dissuaded. We're back at the Sallie House, he said. No, scratch that, we've just left the Sallie House. You're freaking the fuck out, and I reach out and touch your shoulder. 'Ryan,' I say, 'it's okay.
Ryan let out a breath that he didn't know he was holding. This was actually working. He couldn't believe it was doing anything for him, but it was.
I grab your other shoulder and look into your eyes. You're staring back at me. I move my hands down to your arms, gripping them firmly—feeling those nice muscles of yours—
Ryan interrupted him by bursting into a laugh, causing Shane to grin and momentarily lose his train of thought.
Then I pull you closer, and my arms go up and encircle you.
Ryan wished he could close his eyes, but if he did, he wouldn't be able to read Shane's lips.
Your head is tucked under my chin. I can feel your heart beating. You feel so warm, and I don't want to let go of you.
Shane's face screwed up, and he had to pause. There was a tear slipping down his cheek. He didn't wipe it away.
"I hold you tight," Ryan said, taking over the narration. "Then I say something dumb, and you laugh, and then I laugh. And we just stand like that for a while, and I move my hand over your back, and I can—I can hear you breathing softly in my ear."
Shane had to look away, then, holding a hand pressed against his face as he cried.
Ryan reached out toward him, but his fingers only found the glass. He flattened his palm against the window, then leaned his head against the glass beside it and closed his eyes and focused with all his might on the thought of hugging Shane, trying his damnedest to will it into existence.
On Day Seventeen, Ryan sat down in front of the window to speak to Shane, and said: "Today, let's do something fun."
Like what? Shane asked.
Ryan shrugged. "I don't know. I was thinking we could play some games, or something. I'm just tired of feeling bummed out all the time, man."
Do you know of any games that we could even play?
Ryan had been thinking about it since he woke up. "Well, there are a few drinking games that don't require any materials," he said.
You mean, besides alcohol? Shane pointed out.
Ryan smiled dryly. "Alcohol would definitely make this whole experience a hell of a lot more bearable, but seeing as we don't even have the ingredients for prison hooch, I think we can find a way to still have fun without it."
When it's time to take a drink, you have to chug down a handful of water instead, Shane said. First person who has to stop and take a piss loses.
Ryan laughed. "Alright. It's on."
Shane clapped his hands and rubbed them together. So, what are we starting with?
"Ever played 21?" Ryan asked. "We'll have to modify the rules a bit—well, a lot, but I think we can still make it playable."
Shane had not, in fact, played 21. The game that Ryan played with him bore little resemblance to the game that Ryan remembered playing in college, but they both had fun with it for a handful of rounds, anyway.
How about we play The Name Game next? Shane suggested.
"Okay. You start," Ryan said.
"If we're just sticking to names that came up in cases that we studied, you are going to lose, my friend," Ryan said. "Elisa Lam."
Uh, fuck, Shane said. He thought about it for a long moment. Leonardo DiCaprio, he said, clearly giving up on Ryan's challenge.
Ryan kept going with the pattern on his end, but ultimately lost due to his own hubris when he named Wyatt Earp for an "E," having momentarily forgotten that "Earp" wasn't the man's first name.
After Ryan took his loser's drink, he suggested, "Let's Go Camping?"
They played that one until Shane started off one round with: I'm going camping and I'm bringing a spaceship, and not even three turns later, Ryan successfully guessed that Shane's chosen location was the Planet of the Plupples.
I knew it! I knew you pay more attention to the Hot Daga than you let on! Shane said, triumphantly.
"That was a trap. That was what that was," Ryan said. "Cruel and unusual punishment."
Shane got up and danced an actual, physical jig, and Ryan couldn't help but laugh.
"We don't even need any alcohol for you to act drunk," Ryan marveled, after Shane had sat back down.
So, what's next, Ryan? Shane said, wearing an expression of excitement.
"Um, Never Have I Ever?" Ryan suggested. He was running out of ideas.
Never Have I Ever got them drinking a lot of water in not a lot of time. Ryan and Shane had many things in common, but they also knew each other well enough to easily be able to come up with things where their experiences notably differed.
It wasn't long before the excessive hydration caught up with them, and both of them were doing the pee dance as they played.
Finally, Ryan was about ten seconds away from pissing his only pair of pants with no good way to wash his clothes, so he just said, "Okay, okay, you win." Then he made a mad dash for the toilet.
A few minutes later, they both settled back down in front of the window.
Got any other games? Shane asked.
"Well, there's always Would You Rather," Ryan said. "Alcohol and/or water not required."
And there's also its distant cousin, Will You Press The Button? Shane suggested.
They played the former for a good couple of hours, then switched to the latter after both of them started to tire of it. By then, Ryan had begun to feel sleepy, and he was yawning his way through the last few scenarios that Shane presented to him.
"I think I'm gonna have to call it a night," Ryan said.
You were right. That was fun. It felt like a sleepover, Shane said. I haven't had one of those in years.
Ryan just smiled at him, then got to his feet. "Goodnight, Shane," he said. He reached over and tapped their goodnight signal on the window, then headed for bed after Shane tapped an answering goodnight after him.
Have you ever had sex with a guy?
“Jesus. That’s a cold open if I ever heard one,” Ryan said. “Why?”
After a rather quiet morning, both of them were sitting on the ground and facing the window as they ate their food bars.
Shane shrugged. I didn't ask it when we played Never Have I Ever, and I've just been wondering ever since.
“No,” Ryan said, “I haven’t.” He looked questioningly at Shane. “Have you?”
Shane shook his head. Ever wanted to? he asked.
“Are you asking if I’m straight?” Ryan’s eyebrows rose.
On a scale of, say, 0 to 6, how often do you find men attractive?
Ryan laughed. “Is the Kinsey scale even considered valid anymore?” he asked.
Shane just gazed at him, waiting for his response.
“Okay, fine,” Ryan said. He took a breath. “Probably a 1? I don’t know. I haven’t thought too much about it.”
So, if the only people left on earth were just you and some dude, you’d be down to bone?
“Depends on if we have chemistry together, I guess,” Ryan said. “I mean, I—I’m not opposed, at least not on principle. Just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean I couldn’t fall in love with a guy.”
He stared at Shane for a long moment. “What about you?” he asked, softly.
I think I’m about a 2, Shane said. Almost kissed a guy, once. But couldn’t work up the nerve.
“Really? Who was it?”
It was before your time.
Ryan rolled his eyes. “You’re not that much older than me,” he said.
It was while I was in college, Shane said. Not really much of a story there, sorry.
"Tell it anyway," Ryan said, leaning back on his arms. "Even boring stories are better than just staring at the wall."
Okay, Shane said. So, there was this guy I knew...
The day after that, they got a little too deep into sharing personal stories, and had to back out. It simply got too intense, too fast.
But once that can of worms had been opened, it was difficult to close it again. There was a whole untapped well of thoughts that Ryan had never shared with another human being before, and he kind of really liked finally getting to voice them. They talked about some of their deepest fears, their bitterest regrets, their hidden hopes and dreams. It was a rich spring of new material, and it promised to keep them occupied for hours.
At one point, Ryan started telling Shane some of the secrets he'd sworn to various people that he'd take to his grave. None of them belonged to anyone that Shane knew, and none of those people were really in Ryan's life anymore, but he still felt a little guilty about it. Not guilty enough to stop, though. He justified it by telling himself that there was a not insignificant chance that he and Shane would both die in this place, anyway.
On Day Twenty, things took a bit of a weird turn. They found themselves back on the topic of relationships, and before Ryan knew it, he was sharing details from his sex life. Here, his and Shane's mutual insatiable curiosity just led them further and further into trouble.
But maybe the only weird part was that talking about it with Shane didn't actually feel weird. Was it a little invasive? Perhaps. But after the steady erosion of his sense of privacy during the time he'd been here, Ryan was becoming immune to the concept of invasions of privacy.
After a while, invasive started to feel more like intimacy.
When they were officially three weeks in, Ryan realized that he couldn't stand the thought of spending another day in unwashed clothes. So, he stripped down to nothing, used his shirt as a rag to wash his body with hand soap, then washed all of his clothes in the sink as best as he could.
He draped them over the bed to dry, then walked over and tapped on the window to get Shane's attention.
Shane turned, and his eyes promptly bugged out as soon as he noticed Ryan standing there all-full frontal.
Ryan tapped the glass again, lighter, this time, and Shane's gaze flicked up from Ryan's crotch to his face. "Hey, my eyes are up here," Ryan said, amused.
Shane full-on blushed, which Ryan found incredibly funny.
Why are you naked? Shane asked.
"I just washed my clothes in the sink, and now I'm waiting for them to dry," Ryan said. He turned and pointed at them.
Huh, Shane said. He seemed to be making a resolute effort to keep his eyes on Ryan's face. Aren't you—aren't you cold? he asked.
"Shockingly, no," Ryan said. The temperature in their cells was kept at a comfortable level. Sometimes, after Ryan had been exercising, he felt that it ran a little warm, but he appreciated it when he slept, because the thin blanket on the bed didn't offer much in the way of warmth. He might've preferred it to be a degree or two warmer while he was walking around starkers, but it was still within the range of bearable temperatures.
Alright, Shane said. Then, without indicating for Ryan to look away, he turned around and walked over to his sink. He pulled off his shirt, then undid his pants.
Ryan stopped watching, then, not wanting to intrude, even if Shane had, by omission, told him that he was allowed to watch.
Some minutes later, Ryan heard a tap on the window.
He turned around, and sure enough, Shane was standing there naked, his own clothes spread out on the bed behind him.
For a long moment, Ryan let himself look. Despite everything, Shane still looked good. He had a leanness to him that might not have been there before, and his facial hair was unkempt, but otherwise, he looked about the same as Ryan remembered. Though, Ryan had never seen quite so much of him before.
Like what you see? Shane asked, his eyes twinkling.
It was Ryan's turn to blush.
"I mean, you're—you're still good-looking, if you were worried about that," Ryan said.
So are you.
They settled down on either side of the window. It was good, just having something a little different to look at. Something new.
Ryan had never really spent a lot of time looking at naked men before. He didn't really know how to do it. But today, he felt like he couldn't get enough of it. Or maybe, he just couldn’t get enough of Shane.
So, you come here often? Shane asked, jokingly.
Ryan laughed. He stretched his arms and leaned back a little, watching Shane’s eyes travel down to his chest, then back up.
The next time he slept, Ryan had a sex dream about Shane. He didn’t know if it was his first, but it was definitely the first one he remembered upon waking up.
It took place in the bed they'd shared at the Lizzie Borden House, and it started off with just lots of cuddling. God, Ryan missed cuddling. At some point, the cuddling became touching, and then the touching became, well, sex.
He thought about the dream as he ate his food bar and gazed at Shane. He tried to imagine what having sex with Shane would actually be like in real life. There would be a lot of leg. Ryan couldn't even begin to picture trying anal with him. But before that, they'd probably try and suck each other's dicks, and it would go very badly at first because neither of them knew what they were doing, but then it would get better, because that's what happened with sex.
Ryan thought about it, in detail, for at least ten minutes before he realized that he wasn't at all opposed to the idea of trying it.
I want to kiss you, Shane said. Just had to say that, had to get it out there.
“Really?” Ryan asked. “Why?” He sat up from his position of lounging on the floor.
It’s not just because you’re all that I have, Shane said.
“But that’s part of it,” Ryan filled in.
But that’s part of it, Shane said. He was silent for a long moment, just looking at Ryan, his gaze soft in a way that took Ryan’s breath away.
“Tell me the other reasons why you want to kiss me,” Ryan said.
Well, you’re hot. I didn’t notice until I saw you naked, but damn, Ryan!
“So, you just want me for my body,” Ryan said, grinning.
No, I want you for other things. Your body’s just a bonus, Shane said. A bonus that I get to admire from afar, but never get to actually touch, he lamented.
“Go on,” Ryan prompted.
I love you because we’ve spent twenty-three days with only each other for company, and I still can’t get enough of you. You’re funny and weird in a way that complements my funny and weird.
“You love me, huh?” Ryan whispered. His heart was pounding in his chest. It took him a moment to identify the feeling as giddiness.
Is that okay? Because I’m not going to take it back.
“It’s more than okay,” Ryan said. “I think I… I think I love you, too.”
He realized the truth of the statement as soon as the words left his mouth. Putting a name to it felt good. It felt like a new development, but he couldn't be exactly sure. But maybe the when or the why didn't matter.
Because I'm the only person left in the entire world? Shane asked.
"Because you're you."
Oh, Shane said.
They stared at each other for a long time.
"So what do we do now?" Ryan asked.
Normally, this would be the part where we kiss, Shane said. He smiled, and Ryan could see his happiness there, shining plain and bright, but there was a sadness, there, too, underlying it.
Ryan met Shane's eyes, then lifted his hand to his mouth and kissed the tips of his fingers. He reached out and pressed them against the glass.
Shane held his gaze. He lifted his own hand up and kissed it, then pressed his fingertips against the other side.
It felt good, being in love. Ryan had forgotten what that was like.
He went about the whole next day in a daze from it. For once, his predominant feeling wasn't loneliness or sadness, but a sense of warmth and wholeness. He resented the wall between him and Shane as always, but love helped bridge that gap a bit.
Ryan and Shane invented a new signal that they could tap to the other person whenever they wanted: it was a special series of knocks, and it meant I love you.
That night, before they both went to bed, Shane tapped it on the window, and then Ryan tapped it after him, and both of them were smiling so wide, Ryan thought his face might split.
If this is too forward, I sincerely apologize, but we should get naked again.
Ryan grinned. "Feelin' horny, big guy?" he asked.
A little bit, yeah, Shane admitted. Normally, being trapped in almost solitary confinement in a box that's all windows and no privacy doesn't really do it for me, but after adding a naked you to the equation, I've rethought my stance on exhibitionism.
"Maybe the aliens are voyeurs, and watching us is just a weird kink for them," Ryan said. "They've orchestrated this entire thing just because they want to watch us try and bone."
Okay, Ryan, during the time I've known you, you've said a lot of stupid shit, but that one might actually take the cake. And I know I must really love you, because even after seeing those words leave your mouth, I still want to kiss you.
"This is the most romantic way I've ever been condescended to," Ryan said, reaching to take off his shirt. He paused. "Wait, were you hoping for more of a tease? Because I can draw it out, if you'd like."
By the blank, stunned expression Shane wore, his mouth slightly open, he liked that idea more than he could express.
"I'd suggest we turn it into a game or something, but strip poker's out due to our lack of materials, as well as pretty much every other game in existence, which leaves us with..." Ryan thought about it, considering the games they'd managed to play while they'd been here.
Strip rock paper and scissors? Shane suggested. He barely got the words out before his laugh ruined any intelligibly.
Ryan dissolved into giggles. "God, can you even imagine?" he said, once he'd recovered enough to speak clearly. "It would be over so fast. Five minutes in, and we'd both be naked."
It's so dumb. We have to try it, Ryan.
"This is probably a first," Ryan said, holding out his fist. "I don't think any pair of human beings in history has played strip rock paper scissors before."
Oh, it's definitely been done before, Shane said. If there's anything that humans are good at, it's finding new and inventive ways to get naked.
"Exhibit A," Ryan breathed.
They played a round. Ryan's scissors lost to Shane's rock.
Then Ryan took a step back from the window, smiling coyly, and begun to peel his shirt off, undulating his hips in a way that he really hoped was sexy and not ridiculous.
When he glanced back at Shane, Shane was watching him with a spellbound gaze, and Ryan realized that it didn't matter if his striptease was any good or not; Shane was there for it regardless.
Round two, Ryan lost again. Same as the first: scissors to rock.
"I feel like this is unfair," he said, stepping back from the window again. "You're still fully clothed, and I'm going to be completely naked in—" he glanced down at himself "—three more rounds."
There wasn't really a sexy way to take off boots. Ryan had put his ghoul-hunting boots back on exclusively for the purposes of this game, but now he wasn't sure why he'd even bothered.
Round three went to Ryan. Rock against Shane's scissors. Fool me twice... Ryan thought.
He sat back and watched Shane put on a bit of a show for him. Shane, too, went for the shirt first, stripping it off and flinging it across the room.
Two more rounds. One to Ryan, and then one to Shane.
Ryan peeled off his pants before his socks. He could feel the weight of Shane's gaze as he slowly undid the fly, then pushed the waistband down past his thighs, then his calves.
Ryan was half-hard in his boxers, and there was no hiding that fact. Shane's face was flushed as he stared at him. Ryan just smirked and jutted out his hips a little, appreciating the noticeable bulge in Shane's chinos.
Shane chose to go socks before pants, but lost the round immediately after, anyway.
He was almost shy as he shucked his chinos. Which was silly, because Ryan had already seen him naked. They'd seen each other's dicks.
But not like this, Ryan thought, staring at Shane's hard cock, which strained against the fabric of his briefs.
Both of them were breathing hard as they raised their fists for another round.
Ryan lost. He sat down and spread his legs to remove his socks, and when he looked up, Shane was palming his cock through his underwear.
"Want to just call it a tie and take them off at the same time?" Ryan asked, once Shane's attention was on his face again.
Shane nodded vigorously.
As he reached down to remove his boxers, Ryan watched Shane peel off his briefs. He let out a breath as Shane's cock sprung free.
But Shane kept his hands off of himself. Is this okay? Shane asked.
"Yes," Ryan said. "If you can't tell, I'm just as into this as you are." To demonstrate it, he grabbed his dick and started pumping it, letting out a moan that he hoped Shane would be able to read on his face.
Alright. Okay, Shane said.
Then he started stroking his own cock, and those words were the last words that either of them managed to exchange for a good while.
Shane came, first. He closed his eyes as it happened. And the sight of him there, sitting naked on the floor in front of Ryan with cum covering his hand, dripping from his cock, was possibly the hottest thing Ryan had ever seen in his life.
"Oh, fuck," Ryan said. Then he came all over the floor.
His head was still spinning a full minute later. He just gazed quietly at Shane as he came back down from it, leaning on his arm.
Shane reached out and gently tapped I love you on the window.
Ryan tapped it back.
That was good. You were good, Shane said.
"The best live porn you've ever seen?" Ryan asked.
No. This isn't even in the same realm as porn.
"You're right. Porn is back on earth, and we are not," Ryan said, grinning.
Shane sighed, rolling his eyes. I'm instating a new rule where you're not allowed to talk about aliens before, during, or immediately after sex.
"Deal," Ryan said.
Right on cue, there was a sound behind Ryan, heralding the appearance of that day's food bar.
Shane glanced over his own shoulder at the floor of his cell. He turned back toward Ryan, looking pleased with himself. Twenty-five. That’s the sex number, Ryan!
Ryan giggled. “I think you’re about forty-four off,” he said.
No, twenty-five is the sex number because that’s the day we had sex, Shane said.
“I don’t think jerking off together with a pane of glass separating us counts as sex,” Ryan said.
Why not? Shane asked. It might be all the sex we can ever have, for the rest of our lives. I say it counts.
Fuck, that was depressing. Ryan just nodded, ceding Shane the point.
They tried not to talk about their imprisonment as if it was going to be a forever thing, always trying to keep an end of it in their sights. But Shane was right. Ryan did them a disservice by denying that whatever they had between them "counted."
“Day Twenty-Six is easy to remember,” Ryan said. “That’s how old I am.”
Happy birthday, Shane said. Wanna have some birthday sex?
Ryan laughed “It’s not even close to my birthday,” he said.
So, is that a no on the birthday sex? Shane waggled his eyebrows.
“I never said that.”
Ryan started undoing his pants. Shane quickly followed his lead.
They tried the equivalent of essentially sexting, but Ryan found that it was impossible to jerk off, concentrate enough on Shane's face to read his lips, and construct a vivid fantasy in his mind all at the same time.
They made do, though.
And afterward, they talked to each other through the afterglow, and Ryan couldn’t think of any other time in his life when he’d felt this desperately happy and this desperately sad all at once.
“Are you still going to be in love with me after we get out of here?” Ryan asked.
Shane tipped his head to the side, considering it. Yes, I think so, he said.
“I don’t like that you had to think about it,” Ryan said.
What else could I say, Ryan? I don’t know what I’ll think about anything once we get out. I might be a completely different person than I was before. Maybe you won’t want me to love you anymore.
“But the Shane that I’m in love with is the you that you are now,” Ryan said. “I’m in love with the Shane that’s seen me cry and fall apart, who once roleplayed giving me a fucking hug because you were that desperate to give me one in person.” He took a breath. “I don’t want things to be the same as they were at the beginning, because I’m not the same person. We’ve been here for almost a month of our lives. I don’t want that time to just amount to nothing. We’ve both grown and changed. Why not let it mean something?”
Of course it means something, Shane said. I just—I'm worried that you won't still want to have sex with me after we get out of here.
Ryan looked at him incredulously. "Shane, you've seen me get hard and jerk off while I watch you masturbate. If I was going to have a gay freakout, I'd have already had it. Of course I'll still want to have sex with you when that's actually an option for us."
What if you don't, though? It's easy to want something when you can't actually have it. What if you only want it in theory, when there's a glass wall keeping it from actually happening? What if we get out, and I still want to bone, but you don't, and it ruins our friendship, and this whole weird thing we've got going on—
"I promise you, right now, that I'll definitely still be down to fuck when I'm no longer trapped in an alien prison," Ryan said, interrupting him.
Don't promise that, Shane said. I don't want you to feel pressured into doing it if you do change your mind.
On Day Twenty-Eight, Ryan got an idea. He stood up and went over to his bed, then reached under it and lifted the feet out of their holes. He could feel Shane's alarmed gaze on him through the window, and turned to try and convey to him that everything was okay, then decided it would be easier to just show him.
With careful maneuvering, Ryan managed to lift the bed and rotate it sideways, situating it along the narrower wall that lay between his cell and Shane's. It fit a little awkwardly there, almost running up against the sink, with no additional headroom or foot-room between the bed-frame and the walls, but it did fit.
"How's this?" Ryan asked. He lay down on the bed, stretching out along the length of the wall. "I figured that even though we can't actually share a bed, we can still get as close as we can."
Oh, Ryan, you genius, you, Shane said.
He struggled with his own bed for a long time, straining under the weight and general unwieldiness of it. But eventually, after laboring over it for a good while, he got it orientated right, and managed to shove it into place against the window.
Then he collapsed onto it, rolling over to face Ryan.
They stared at each other from one bed to the other, heads nestled on adjacent pillows, separated by maybe an inch or two of glass, and it felt so close to actually sharing the same bed, Ryan almost cried.
Shane dragged a few fingers down the surface of the window, absently tracing out the shape of his longing, and Ryan reached out and pressed his own hand to the glass, gently stroking the surface with his thumb in an indirect caress.
That night, for the first time in twenty-eight days, Ryan had a good night's sleep. He woke up, once, in the middle of the night, and the first thing he saw was Shane sprawled out fast asleep beside him. His hand was still stretched out toward the glass. Ryan tapped the words I love you into the glass very quietly, needing to say it, but not wanting to disturb Shane's rest.
They stayed in bed, together, all day. Just lying on their sides and talking to each other. The whole thing felt painfully intimate, but at the same time, Ryan wouldn't have traded it for the world. If the aliens had offered him the choice of freedom, but at the cost of giving up this big, messy thing he'd forged with Shane, he would have refused it.
Ever been in a long-distance relationship before? Shane asked.
"Yes," Ryan said. "But I've never been in one where the long distance is less than twenty feet." He stared at the inch of glass between them, and thought it might as well be opposite sides of the planet.
What are we, to each other? Shane asked. Partners? Boyfriends? Ghoulfriends with benefits? I wanna know how to refer to us.
Ryan laughed. "Partner is too ambiguous. We were already partners on the show before we were...dating? Is that the word for what we're doing? Anyway, out of the options, I think I like boyfriend best. Ghoulfriends with benefits is just stupid. And also gives the wrong impression."
Someday, I'll take you out on a real date, Shane said.
"And what if we never get out? What if we die in here?" Ryan asked.
If enough time has passed and we're still stuck in here, then I'll ask you to marry me.
Ryan smiled. "And if I said yes, who would officiate the ceremony?"
Me, Shane said. I'm actually an ordained minister. There's a website where you can do that.
"Somehow, I doubt that's legally binding."
Do you see anyone enforcing laws in this place? We are the law, Ryan. Anything is legal here if we say it is.
"Happy Day Thirty," Ryan said. "It's our one month anniversary of being in Hell."
Technically, that could have been two days ago, if our month is February, Shane said.
"It's not February, though," Ryan said.
Shane laughed, suddenly. I can still tell that you're saying it weird, he said. Even without hearing you. Your face is making the wrong sounds.
Ryan rolled his eyes. "I was going to propose a toast celebrating us surviving this place for an entire month, but if you're going to be an asshole about it, I'll just eat this food bar by myself without acknowledging you."
No, I'm sorry, let's make a toast, Shane said. He fetched his own food bar, then sat back down on the bed facing Ryan.
Ryan held up his food bar. "To—to finding love in a hopeless place," he giggled.
Hey now, I thought we were being serious, Shane said.
He lifted his food bar toward the window. It flopped and wiggled in his hand as he moved it. Ryan giggled again.
To the world being bigger than I gave it credit for, Shane said.
Ryan's face broke into a smile.
And to us managing to get a fucking really good thing out of an unimaginably shitty thing, Shane continued. Ryan, I don't give a shit about what happens to me as long as we're together.
Ryan felt a knot form in his throat. "Okay, I'm going to have to eat this now before I legitimately start crying," he said. "Everything you just said—right back at you, man. The ghoul boyfriends are ride or die."
They both lifted their food bars at the same time, then brought them down and took a bite.
As Ryan ate, he started to feel kind of weird.
"Do you feel—" he started to ask. But then dizziness overcame him, and he started to pitch forward. As he fell down onto the bed, he could see Shane beginning to collapse, too.
"Shane!" Ryan tried to say, but he couldn't quite produce the breath he needed to say it.
Not that it would have mattered. They hadn't needed voice to communicate in thirty days.
Ryan stared at Shane as he felt himself starting to fade. He reached out and used the last of his consciousness to tap I love you on the glass.
There was a breeze, toying gently with a lock of Ryan's hair.
He could feel something cold and rough beneath him that felt almost like grass and twigs. His fingers twitched, and the little legs of a bug lifted up off of his hand.
Gradually, he opened his eyes.
Above him, a canopy of trees stretched overhead, the sky continuing up and up in between the branches, unobstructed. There was sunlight, warm and soft, rolling in the billows of clouds.
This is a dream, Ryan thought. Or maybe I'm dead. Maybe this is Heaven.
All around him, there was a ceaseless wave of noise. Insect sounds, bird calls, the wind moving through foliage. After so many ceaseless days of quiet, the noise in this dream almost deafened him.
And, ah, the smells! He could smell dirt, and rain, and that kind of gross, sticky smell that came with heat and wild places.
He felt overwhelmed by sensation. There was just too much of it, too much of everything.
Then a bug started crawling onto his neck, and that was really too much, so Ryan sat up and gave a full-body shudder, brushing off any and all creepy crawlies.
That was when he noticed Shane sitting up several feet away.
Ryan's breath caught.
He stared at Shane, knowing that this was just a dream, that Shane would look and feel as he always did in Ryan's imagination, that this would simply be an inferior, temporary replacement for the real thing, but every time, Ryan would run into his arms anyway, knowing that he would wake up only to glass and separation and sterile metal.
Ryan got to his feet. But before he could even start to run, Shane was there, throwing his arms around him.
Shane felt different, this time. There was a desperation in his embrace that felt achingly real.
"Ryan, Ryan!" he said, his voice softer than how Ryan had remembered it, a little rougher.
Ryan just gripped him back, holding him as tight as he could, closing his eyes and sinking into the feeling. "Shane," he said.
"I can't believe it," Shane said. "I can't believe that you're here, that we're here."
Shane was trembling in his arms. Ryan could feel Shane's tears on his skin.
"This is just another dream," Ryan said, out loud, directing the remark at his own subconscious.
"If this is a dream, then why am I here, too?" Shane asked. "Ryan, this is real. We're really back in the forest. We're free." He sobbed the last word.
Ryan didn't know when exactly he started believing it, but suddenly he was crying, too. Big, messy, ugly tears.
For a long time, they just clutched at each other and cried.
At some point, Shane leaned down and kissed him, and Ryan kissed him back, and it was an awful kiss, really, tasting of tears and quiet desperation, but Ryan's heart felt so full with it anyway.
Then they heard a voice.
"Hey!" it said.
Without letting go of Shane, Ryan turned to face the source of the sound.
An unfamiliar woman stood there, staring at them.
"People have been looking for you," she said.
The realization of everything he was going to have to deal with in the wake of his absence just now occurred to Ryan. "Oh, fuck, Devon is going to be pissed," he said. He let go of Shane to reach into his pocket for his phone, only to remember that he didn't have it anymore.
He looked at the ground where they'd woken up, but there was nothing. Apparently, whoever had captured them hadn't seen fit to return their belongings.
The women called the police to report that she'd found the two missing men.
Twenty minutes later, Ryan and Shane were waiting back at the entrance to the forest, and Devon, Mark, and TJ were getting out of their car. There were two police cars with them.
Devon ran over and gave them both a hug. "We've been so worried about you," she said.
Ryan hugged her tightly, still starving for any and all human contact.
“You’re still in Heber?" he said, shocked. "I thought you would’ve gone back to L.A. by now."
“What are you talking about?” Devon said. “You’ve only been missing for three days.”
“Three… days?” Ryan repeated, dumbly. He sat there completely frozen.
He’d considered the possibility that they’d come back and find out that they’d been missing for a year, or five years, or some amount of time that was far longer than it had felt on their end. That’s how Travis Walton’s story had gone. That was the abduction narrative.
It wasn’t supposed to be less time. It couldn’t be.
“No, that’s impossible,” Ryan said. “We were there for thirty days. It was an entire month of our lives.” He could barely breathe, suddenly, a pressure in his chest feeling so tight, he was sure he was teetering right on the edge of hysterical tears.
He turned toward Shane, looking for a stabilizing presence.
But Shane just looked at him and said, “Time doesn’t work that way, Ryan. We must’ve miscounted somehow.”
Ryan couldn’t breathe. Then, he was breathing too much, hyperventilating.
Shane reached for him, but Ryan shoved him away.
“We were there for more than three days, Shane! We counted them! Even if it wasn’t thirty 24-hour days, it was more than three. We lived that time. It was real.”
“Ryan, Ryan!” Shane said, desperate. “Of course it was real! I was right there with you. But maybe we—maybe we weren’t in our right minds, or maybe it was—”
“Fuck you,” Ryan said, his whole body shaking. “Fuck you, Shane!” He started sobbing.
It took a while before Ryan had calmed down enough to tell the Unsolved crew and the police what had happened to him.
The police wanted him and Shane questioned separately. Ryan was fully aware that he was about to give an account that sounded completely batshit, and he wondered what Shane was saying about what had happened to them, if Shane would try and undercut it so that, decades from now, when their own experience inevitably ended up on a show that was exactly like Buzzfeed Unsolved, Shane wouldn't sound exactly like the kind of people whose recollections he always made fun of.
"Did you find our cameras, or our phones or wallets, or any of our stuff?" Ryan asked.
"No," Devon said. "We—we searched pretty thoroughly, but it's a big forest, Ryan. You could have dropped it anywhere."
Ryan sighed. "Well, so much for the first uncontested evidence of aliens captured on tape," he said. "I'd thought—I thought maybe we'd finally get to actually solve one." He stared at Devon. "You don't believe us, do you?" he asked.
"Ryan..." she started.
Ryan turned away from her. "Fuck. I want to talk to Shane," he said.
As soon as Shane saw him, his face broke into such a relieved expression, Ryan couldn't help but smile back. He barely resisted the urge to bury his face in Shane's chest. Instead, he settled for just touching Shane's arm.
"I'm still mad at you, you know," Ryan said.
"I know," Shane said. "I'm sorry."
"I just, I get anxious when we're apart now," Ryan said.
"Me too," Shane said.
"And you're the—the only one—" Ryan took a breath"—who even remotely understands what I'm going through right now, and I just—"
"Ryan, it doesn't matter why or how any of it happened," Shane said, meeting his eyes. "It was real to us, and that's what matters. I still want to kiss you and hold you and never let go of you."
Ryan walked forward. He let his head sink down on Shane's shoulder. Shane's arm came up around him, and for a long moment, they just stood like that.
Then Ryan's stomach growled.
Ryan looked up at Shane. "Do you know what time it is?" he said.
Shane grinned. "Let's go get TJ to drive us to the nearest movie theater," he said.
As soon as they walked into the theater, Ryan had to stop and close his eyes for a moment. Just taking in that wonderful, familiar smell. He felt Shane reach over and grab his hand, and he squeezed back in response.
They sat down with two large bags of popcorn.
Ryan and Shane ate their first popped kernel at the same time.
"Oh my god," Ryan said, as the buttery, salty taste started to dissolve on his tongue. He chewed it, savoring the texture, and it was absolutely the best thing he'd ever tasted in his life.
He blinked back tears as he reached for another piece of popcorn.
"Fuck," Shane said. "I'm having a religious experience. This is transcendent, Ryan. I've transcended." He was crying, too.
"It's even better than I thought it would be," Ryan said, closing his eyes.
When he opened them to grab another handful of popcorn, he noticed Devon, Mark, and TJ all staring at him and Shane with expressions that were equally amused and flabbergasted.
"I'm not sure I would've come along, had I known that I was about to see Ryan come in his pants," TJ said.
Shane caught Ryan's eye. Oh, you haven't seen anything, he mouthed, adding a wink.
Ryan blushed and laughed. "Shut up," he said, directing the remark at TJ. "If all you'd eaten for a month was bars of jelly, you'd cry when you tried popcorn again, too."
TJ just kind of shook his head.
That day, Ryan tried to compile as much evidence as he could, knowing that the first twenty-four hours were essential. There were a few things that would have done a lot to help make his case, but he'd been maddeningly robbed of them. His beard, for one thing. Both he and Shane woke up with shaved faces and clean clothes. Perhaps a little more worn than they once were, but imperceptibly so, and clean nonetheless. Even their teeth and bodies were clean. Everything was, in fact, too clean, Ryan thought. Clean enough for the cleanliness to be evidence in itself.
It was like they'd been deliberately scrubbed and sterilized before they'd been returned.
Ryan had always wondered why didn't they test abduction victims for any number of various things that might've helped confirm their story? Well, the answer was that there were too many potential things to test, and not enough of a reason to test them. Ryan and Shane's psychological state and clear and obvious trauma were enough of a reason to examine a few things, such as whether or not there was any presence of drugs within their bodies, but besides that, it seemed that the local authorities were satisfied with chalking the whole thing up to a pair of minor celebrities getting lost in the woods for three days and going slightly crazy because of it.
Ryan and Shane also both had to make a handful of phone calls to their families and close friends who'd been worried about them. Each phone call sucked more than the previous one, and Ryan felt like the explanation he gave was entirely unsatisfactory, but he couldn't exactly give a better one without spilling the whole entire story all over again, and it's not like anyone would believe him, anyway.
Finally, they'd done all that they could do, and Ryan and Shane were both beyond exhausted, so they returned to the hotel where they had planned to stay that night so long ago.
"Are you going to be okay sleeping here alone tonight?" Devon asked.
"Yes," Ryan said.
"Okay, just—" Devon looked at him and Shane, "—next time, if you experience something weird, come and get us, okay? Don't go off on your own. We're here for you."
Then Devon left them to go to her own hotel room.
As soon as the door closed, Ryan exhaled. He sat down on the edge of the nearest bed.
Shane walked over and sunk down onto the bed beside him. He wrapped his arm around Ryan.
"I want to take a shower," Ryan said. "Change out of these clothes." But he didn't get up. Not yet.
"Do you want me in there with you, or would that be too weird?" Shane asked.
"I think I'm capable of being alone for ten minutes," Ryan said. "But thanks."
Reluctantly, he stood up and walked over to his bag. He unzipped it and stared down into the contents. It felt like a different person had packed this bag. Ryan remembered pulling clothes out of his closet, picking outfits to wear, but that version of himself was almost unrecognizable to him now.
Showering felt weird at first. Unfamiliar. But Ryan quickly got used to it again, and then he had trouble motivating himself to step out from under the spray. Goodbye, evidence, he thought, staring down into the drain.
Afterward, he slipped into a fresh pair of boxers, and brushed his teeth for the first time in a month.
Then he walked out of the bathroom, and made his way to the couch, digging out his laptop to pass the time while Shane took his shower. It was fucking bizarre to be on the internet again after such a long break from it. But it was even more bizarre to see news that Ryan had read a month ago still being talked about as if it were fresh. He kept automatically reaching to check his phone, constantly forgetting that he didn't have it anymore.
Already, entropy was taking effect. The universe strove toward equilibrium. As soon as Ryan was back in a more familiar setting, his old habits had begun returning, dispersing the messy new self he'd put together in its absence.
Eventually, the bathroom door opened, and Shane stepped into the room dressed only in a towel. He dropped the towel to change into something to sleep in. Then he looked up—catching Ryan staring—and said, "Which bed do you prefer?"
Ryan closed his laptop. "Whichever one has you in it," he said.
"Yeah, but there's still two to pick from," Shane said.
"Alright. Then the one my stuff's not on," Ryan said.
He walked over to the bed and pulled back the covers, marveling at the weight of them in his hands, at the dip of the mattress beneath his body as he climbed onto it. It was, believe it or not, a shittier mattress than the one he'd slept on in his cell, but he reveled in its shittiness because it meant that he was here and not there.
He felt Shane's weight sink onto the other side of the bed, and just that small indication of his presence—real and solid and here—caused Ryan to let out a gasp.
"Want the light on or off?" Shane asked.
"Off," Ryan said.
Shane flicked off the lamp, and the room plunged into a darkness that Ryan hadn't seen the likes of in a month. He just closed his eyes and let it sink in. And as Shane settled down into the bed, Ryan shifted nearer to him, and then Shane's arms were coming up around him, pulling him in close, and Ryan made a ragged sound and clutched him tight.
He wanted to take the time to really, truly appreciate finally getting to cuddle with Shane, but his body was so exhausted, and he was so at peace, he fell asleep almost instantly.
They were still tangled together when he woke up. Ryan's hand was clutching Shane's shirt with a death grip. Gradually, without opening his eyes, he loosened his fingers, then just started gently stroking Shane's back, just taking in the feel of him.
It was at that point that Shane begun to stir.
"Hey," Ryan said.
"Hey," Shane breathed.
"I'm kind of not ready for it to be morning," Ryan admitted.
"Don't you want to go back home?" Shane asked.
"Well, yeah, but—" Ryan sighed. "I just wanted a little more of this." He snuggled in a little closer to Shane, who immediately adjusted to accommodate him.
"Being held captive in a weird prison turned you into a cuddle fiend," Shane said.
"I was already one, but now I'm even worse," Ryan said. "I don't see you complaining, though."
"Oh, it turned me into a cuddle fiend, too," Shane said. "Do you know how many times I dreamed of this? Just this?"
Ryan grinned. "Me too. I dreamed of it, too. But, having finally gotten to experience it, the real thing is so much better." He opened his eyes, then, lifting up his head to meet Shane's gaze. "And isn't that proof? I don't know about you, but I can tell the difference between a dream and real life."
"Ryan..." Shane started. "I really don't want to fight over this."
"I don't want to, either," Ryan said. But Shane was already slipping away from him. Reluctantly, Ryan let him go.
Shane sat up. The light streaming in past the blinds over the hotel window illuminated him softly.
Ryan sat up, too, leaning against the headboard of the bed.
"Don't ask me to lie to you," Shane said
"I don't want you to lie to me," Ryan said. "I just want you to acknowledge that what happened to us, happened!"
"I am! I am acknowledging that!" Shane said, looking at him. "I'm acknowledging that every time I hold you, or kiss you, or read your fucking lips." Still holding Ryan's gaze, he reached out and tapped I love you on the headboard of the bed, and each click of his finger against the wood was like a slap to Ryan's face.
"Then why—" Ryan started.
"Because it doesn't matter, Ryan," Shane interrupted. "I don't fucking care which theory is right. We don't have enough evidence to conclusively decide anything, and I for one am okay with that. I don't want to go looking for more. I don't want all of this to just become part of a groundless argument for the existence of aliens."
"Then what's the point?" Ryan asked. "We sacrificed so much to get the evidence that we got. And you just—you just want to throw it out? If we don't solve this one, no one will, Shane. Everything that happened to us, everything that we went through, it'll all just be a fucking waste."
"No," Shane said, firmly. "No, it won't be. Because I got you out of it, Ryan." He stared at Ryan, his gaze soft and intense all at the same time. "You're here, alive, and in bed with me."
Ryan reached up and grabbed his face and kissed him.
Shane made a sound in his throat and kissed him back.
It wasn't actually their first kiss, if you count the kiss that had happened immediately after they'd been reunited, but it felt like a first kiss. There was a newness there, an unfamiliarity. And yet, the whole experience felt deeply familiar, like they'd been together for much longer than they had.
Eventually, they broke apart, knowing that they needed to get ready to leave.
When Devon knocked on their door, Ryan caught her glance, briefly, at the single slept-in bed, the other one untouched, but she didn't comment on it.
The trip back home felt longer than it was. Ryan itched to be back in his own apartment, back in his own city.
He smiled when he saw his car again. "I missed you," he said to it, before reaching for his keys to unlock the trunk.
Devon, TJ, and Mark had been worried about letting him drive. Ryan had assured them that even though he wasn't fine, he was at least okay enough to drive the short distance back home. They'd offered to drop Shane off at his apartment so that Ryan didn't have to, but Ryan just quietly said that he didn't mind doing it, and after that, they stopped arguing.
"So, your place or mine?" Shane asked.
"We can do your place," Ryan said, pulling onto the road. "But I want to stop by my apartment, first. Just to, y'know."
"Yeah." Shane was staring out the window. Ryan wished he could take the time to really look, too. Gaze out and drink his fill of a place he hadn't thought he'd ever get to see again.
Soon, he was pulling into his usual parking space. He turned off the car, then got into the trunk and retrieved his bag.
Shane followed him up to his apartment. They didn't talk much. When Ryan turned the key in the lock to his door and stepped inside, he froze there for a long moment. Maybe, if he hadn't cried so much already, he'd be crying now, but as it was, his eyes were dry; the part of him that felt sad and relieved and homesick had only an empty reserve of tears to draw upon.
Shane stayed in the living room, and Ryan walked into his bedroom and set his bag down on the bed. Then he opened it up and unpacked it. He repacked it methodically, absently, just filling it with easy outfits. He didn't bring much with him besides the bare essentials. The time he'd spent in that cell had turned him into even more of a minimalist than he already was.
He didn't linger long in his apartment. He knew that the longer he stayed, the harder it would be to bring himself to leave it again, and he really did want to leave it, at least for tonight.
Then he and Shane descended the stairs and walked back out to the car.
Shane relaxed, imperceptibly, the moment he set foot in his apartment. Ryan could see the tension drain from him. They set down their bags, and then Shane went over to his couch and sunk down onto it with a long sigh.
Ryan sat down next to him. He reached for Shane's hand, curling their fingers together.
For a while, they just sat there together, recovering from all of the stimuli and stress of traveling on top of the stress from the whole traumatic abduction experience. Then Shane sat forward, removing his hand from Ryan's grasp. He turned to face Ryan.
"Ready to go to bed?" Ryan asked.
Ryan leaned forward and kissed him softly, and then they stood up and walked into the bedroom.
Shane sat down on the edge of the bed, and, facing him, Ryan started to remove his shirt.
"You don't have to—" Shane started.
"I want to," Ryan interrupted. He reached to unfasten his pants, then paused. "Assuming that you still want to, I mean—"
"Yes," Shane breathed. "I—yes."
Then, clothes still mostly on, Ryan was climbing onto his lap and kissing him. He reached under Shane's shirt, seeking skin-on-skin contact, and Shane obliged him, stripping off his shirt, then starting to wiggle out of his pants.
They fell backwards onto the bed. Right now, Ryan didn't have the energy to do anything too new or strenuous, but he knew at least the basics of getting cis guys off. His hand found Shane's cock, and he started stroking it, his mouth on Shane's lips, then his neck.
Shane moaned, pulling him closer. His hand closed around Ryan's cock, and Ryan let out a shuddering breath.
Then Shane's cock was right up against Ryan's, and Ryan had never done this before, but after spending days vividly imagining what it would be like to touch Shane's cock, finally getting to experience it was maybe the greatest thing he'd ever felt.
Neither of them lasted long.
Ryan came, first, biting back a soft cry. Shane followed after, nearly silent.
For a long moment, they lay there partially in each other's arms. Shane's fingers were in Ryan's hair, his lips pressed against Ryan's forehead.
"We should shower and actually go to bed," Ryan said.
"Yeah," Shane said. His fingers gently combed through Ryan's hair. "I still love you, by the way," he said.
"Me too. I still love you, too," Ryan said.
He thought about what it was going to be like to walk into work tomorrow, after all of this. After getting abducted, then falling in love with Shane, then arriving back home and immediately fucking him. And then just having to go back to their normal lives as if everything wasn't completely different now.
"Perhaps we shouldn't tell anyone we're dating yet," Ryan said, a little reluctantly. "I'm not, like, ashamed of it or anything, but also I don't want to walk into the office being like, 'what up! I know it only felt like three days to you, but I just spent a month in an alien prison, during which time I fell in love with my coworker, and now we're dating.'"
Shane laughed. "Yeah, it's probably best to give it a couple weeks," he said. "At least give the illusion that only one unexplainable thing happened to us over a three day stretch in Heber."
They moved the Three Bizarre Cases of Alien Abductions episode to the beginning of the season. The aired episode stuck to the script as it had been initially planned and shot, and did not mention anything that had occurred in those woods after they'd finished filming. Buzzfeed wanted them to downplay it, and to be honest, Ryan really didn’t want to do a full episode with animated and/or live action dramatizations of his own experiences.
He did, however, feel obligated to say something about it. Even though they had no video evidence for anything, it had happened to them, and it would be betraying the trust of their viewers if they left it out of the narrative.
They saved it all for the postmortem.
“So, normally we’d be answering questions about the most recent episode of Buzzfeed Unsolved,” Ryan started. “But this week is different. Immediately after we finished filming this episode, something happened that changed my life, as well as Shane’s life.”
Shane gave him a look, waggling his eyebrows, saying, I didn’t know we were going to talk about that.
“No, that’s not—” Ryan sighed. They’d talked about going public with the fact that their friendship had evolved into something else, but were in agreement that neither of them were ready for that, especially on top of the shitstorm that was about to brew after they unveiled the story they were about to tell here.
“The most frustrating part of all of this is that we can’t even tell you exactly why any of it happened, because we don’t know ourselves,” Ryan said. “All we can do is tell you what happened, as we remember it.”
“We’re still committed to our pledge that we’ll never make up evidence or deliberately lie to our viewers,” Shane said.
“The truth is...” Ryan took a breath. “After we filmed that episode, Shane and I went missing for three days. And/or thirty.”
Together, they launched into telling the account of their abduction. They stuck to the plain details, leaving out the parts where they were on the verge of losing it, the parts where they saw each other stripped bare—both physically and emotionally—the parts where they were so in love, and so desperate.
Ryan’s voice broke part of the way through his description. Shane took his hand under the table, squeezed it tight.
“So, that’s everything we know,” Ryan said. “Like I said, Shane and I lost our cameras, so we don’t have any footage of this, or any concrete proof. But we have our own theories about what happened to us.”
“I’ll start,” Shane said.
“Yeah, why don’t you start.”
“Okay,” Shane clapped his hands together. “Shane’s theory #1: the whole thing was a shared delusion between Ryan and I.”
Ryan looked at the camera. “I hate this theory, for the record. This is my least favorite theory.”
“We did get ourselves tested for mind-altering substances, in case we’d been drugged or injected with something against our wills,” Shane said.
“The tests were inconclusive,” Ryan added.
“Yes. Which leads me to my next theory: Ryan and I were in a shared dream together, Inception-style.”
“And that’s it, folks,” Ryan said. “Even after experiencing a supernatural experience himself, that’s the closest Shane will ever come to acknowledging that there might be something out there that our current science can’t hope to understand.”
Shane held up a finger, letting Ryan know he wasn’t done. “And my third theory is… we were held captive in Underwater Area 51.”
“I threw that one in just for all you Boogaras out there,” Shane said.
“Okay, that’s by far the least plausible theory,” Ryan said, through his grin. “You’re just trying to slander the Boogara name. Both of mine are way more credible than that.”
“Then spill, ghoulboy,” Shane said. “What’s your best explanation?”
“Well, my first theory is the most obvious one: we were abducted by aliens.”
Shane looked at the camera and shrugged.
“This is the only theory that explains the time distortion and doesn’t also make me want to throttle you for suggesting that it was all in our heads,” Ryan said. “Time is weird in space, right? Or, maybe the aliens have figured out some form of time travel—”
Shane was shaking his head.
Ryan just sighed and moved on. “My second theory is one that we actually both agree is plausible,” he said. “And I really hope that saying it out loud, on video, doesn’t get us abducted again, but… what if we were captured by the US military, or the CIA, or some other shady branch of the government?”
“So, if we disappear again after this video goes up, you’ll know why,” Shane said, to their audience.
“But the main weakness with that theory is that it doesn’t explain why it was thirty days for us, and only three days to everyone else,” Ryan pointed out.
“Unless they drugged us or conditioned our minds somehow,” Shane said.
“Yeah,” Ryan admitted, hating that they were back at it was all just a dream. “I don’t want that to be the explanation, though,” he said.
Shane’s gaze softened. “I know you don’t.” He turned back toward the camera, then glanced again at Ryan. “And this is why I’m okay with not knowing. It’s enough for me to accept that it happened, regardless of how or why. The more we try to dissect it, the more we risk uncovering something that’ll just hurt us more.”
Ryan nodded slowly. He forced himself to look away from Shane, directing his gaze to their audience. “In anticipation of a question I know we’re going to get, no, we’re not ever going back to Heber, Arizona, and we’re not going to try and investigate this further. I don’t want to ever end up back in that situation again.” He shuddered.
“But, we’re also not cancelling the show,” Shane said. “We’re going to keep digging into other mysteries.”
“It just might not be quite the same show that it was,” Ryan said. “Because we’re not the same people that we were, after that. So, if the new episodes seem a little different, or if we seem different during future postmortems, this is why.”
They left it at that.