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6:34 A.M

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Shane propped his chin steadily with his hand, unknowingly moved to the side of his neck and scratching the stubble growing on his jaw. One of the disadvantages to being a professor: grading work. Usually, all of his assignments had been turned in online and his students would be able to turn in their homework to him electronically.

But—not to brag—he was a versatile man, he loved to read the work firsthand. His students were all young, from eighteen to their late twenties; students of different backgrounds, families, part-time jobs, and Shane knew that if he talked to them instead of bombarding them with work, they’ll get something out of the course.

In the two essays he’s scheduled to read, one of them was printed out to him. An essay that would be strictly confidential between himself and his students. For hours it would be him and—assumed by the name in the front cover, the exclusive way to plug the essay to the person in question—his student's work. He read stories of people that wouldn't have crossed his own if he didn't ask: if you could do back in time, what would you change? 

Before he got married, five years ago, Shane understood why professors quit and go back to school. It wasn’t his students, it was his colleagues or the short pay that he was granted by the district. But the enthusiasm upon seeing new faces, familiar faces or to be asked as a recommendation by somebody he taught was always worth it.

Yet, he was miserable. 

He had hoped (foolishly) that returning to school would change his perspective, achieve a higher degree to get him more credentials in his resume. Perhaps, learn from his professors with the way that they taught. (Although, there was little that Shane learned there, as he was the one who took their precious presidents and stories of bloodshed and crushed them.)

He wanted to be real, upright honest with people and researched the secret lives of the men that governed the country or brave women who dominated the seven seas.

And he was.

Then he was kicked out.

Yet, if he had the chance to go back in time, he wouldn't change it for the world. Because in the process of walking out of his campus, he ran into Ryan Bergara.

Well, Ryan Bergara-Madej nowadays.

A journalism major in his third year of university, carrying a camera and manila folders in hand who bumped into Shane in the administration building where Shane spent most of his time.

By golly, he remembers it, clear as day. Ryan, with short hair, gel stuck through his strands and black-rimmed glasses that sculptured his bronzed face. It was when he smiled—revealing those dimples and the crinkles of his eyes—was when Shane's curiousness turned into being infatuated by Ryan.

Since they bumped into each other (or Ryan bumped into him,) Ryan's things were scattered onto the reflective floor and Shane helped him pick up them up without question. He was shy, there was little word from him in the beginning aside from I’m sorry I didn't see you.

Shane didn't care, he reassured him and asked him out for lunch.

It was the best thing he’s gotten out from going back to school. And his life changed from then on.

He dated Ryan for years, and in said span of years, he taught and aided in the beginning of Ryan’s journalism business. He couldn’t say for sure that it fixed all his problems, but it did help what he was missing. Shane received help after meeting Ryan, talked about what bothered him with a therapist and how he planned to live in the future.

He got better, however (for the first time since,) he felt off this afternoon.

At five, USC would be empty; he didn't have any night classes on Tuesday in particular and he rarely noticed students roaming the halls after his last class at four. As promised, he spent the last of his working shift in his office if anybody needed him, they would be welcomed warmly.

He busied himself with grading the assignments from his lecture on the different types of popes in the 1400s to 1800s as he waited. Halfway into his grading, Shane felt the peculiar twinge of anguish creeping up inside of him. Marking it as anxiety, Shane tried to give himself a break and snack on the granola bar he had since this morning... but the gnawing, restless feeling lingered. 

He couldn’t explain it, almost seemed as if he didn't belong there. In that period of time, grading work from a lecture he wrote himself over Thanksgiving break. The opposite of déjà vu, of displacement. And the dreams. Those fucking dreams—nightmares that wake him in the middle of the night, grasping for air and his arms reaching for his husband desperately. And Ryan. Ryan's unfazed expression, as if he had expected Shane's episodes at night and memorized the routine by holding him throughout the night.

Rubbing his fingers over his eyelids, Shane sighed and leaned back on his chair. What the hell was this?

He hated this feeling. Suppose it was another form of anxiety he had yet to deal with, like an unlocked character of a game. He played his route and had yet to see all of the various opportunities to find another way to torment himself.

“You okay?”

Shane jolted upright, clutching his button down shirt, “jesus! You scared the shit out of me.”

“You seemed deep in thought. I was gone for ten minutes,” a bowl was set out in front of him, meticulously placed away from the folders of his own work and Ryan, his husband, sat in front of him. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, ‘m tired, what’s this?”

“Pasta,” Ryan replied joyously, his eyes sparkled as he folded his arms on Shane's desk and rested his chin with his palm, “you said you were hungry, I went out to get you some.”

Shane rolled his shoulder, letting out a half-laugh and half-sigh, “I did, didn't I? Thank you baby,” and his hand trailed to Ryan’s forearm, squeezing it to thank him for taking time to get him food. He didn't want to stop touching him, so, he left his hand close for Ryan to play with.

He fiddled with the ring on his left finger as Shane struggled to eat with one hand. He didn't oppose, otherwise he’d try to take his hand back from Ryan. If there was one thing that he found comfort in, was having Ryan beside him. Sure, this past year hasn't been the greatest, hell, all relationships have a phase in their lives where fixing their arguments only led to more of them. They weren't an exception. 

But Shane loved Ryan. And Ryan loved him, wasn't that what mattered most?

Speaking over a mouthful of rigatoni, Shane pointed at Ryan with his plastic fork, “you’re not going to eat? Did you not get anything for you?”

Ryan hummed, his fingers kneading his palm, “I ate earlier, I’ll eat at home.”

Shane digged through his pasta, his appetite followed his stress and he picked at the vegetables with his fork. As hungry as he was, he had zero energy to find its way to his mouth, “you should eat,” he remarked, not looking away from his plate, “you’ll get hungry on the drive home and it’s not good for you. You'll get a stomachache.”

Shane anticipated Ryan to object to him, argue that he was fine and that he didn't need to. But the second he glanced up to his husband, he saw him as spaced out as he was. “Ryan?”

Ryan blinked, fidgeting on the desk and inched closer to Shane’s free hand. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll eat. Sorry, I think I’m tired too.”

Couldn’t deny the dark bags under Ryan’s eyes, abnormally violet circles appeared even in the dim light of Shane’s office. Shane’s eyes narrowed, “we should go home, I’ll eat this in the car or something. Let’s call it early tonight.”

“Are you sure? Your work—”

“It can wait,” Shane stood, his hand to himself as Ryan stood from his own chair. “I’ll be up tomorrow morning to finish it, here,” he pushed the bowl of half-touched pasta to Ryan’s hands, “eat half of this or else you’ll pass out or something.”

Ryan looked at him, his forehead puckered as he hesitated, “are you sure you’re alright?”

Shane pursed his lips, now, he couldn’t say for sure. Certain that he was fine when he saw Ryan take a peek at his food, pasta that he specifically ordered to Shane’s taste, with lots of tomato and herbs, a few vegetables here and there. He wrinkled his nose at a piece of zucchini, and asserted: “I’m better now that you’re here.”

“That’s sweet of you to say, big guy,” Ryan quipped, a faint red tint gathered on the tips of his ears, “why do you hate zucchini? It's good for you.”

“It’s good for you, eat it,” Shane bent to reach for his husband’s backpack and his own briefcase, awed Ryan’s temple with a light kiss before he went back to packing his things for the day.

Maybe the feeling was temporary. He ignored it, going on with his afternoon and held onto Ryan as the night ended for the both of them.

(And maybe he ignored his anxiety blossoming when Ryan was around him. If he did go back to when he met Ryan and didn't, would he feel like this? 

He couldn’t say.)

 


  

“Wake up,” a voice called out to him. In whatever mindset Ryan was in, it grew farther away and as he straightened up in his seat, a generic coffee cup was set down on his desk. “You have to work. Maybe this could help.”

The corners of Ryan’s mouth curved into a smile, he rubbed the palms of both hands over his puffy eyes and looked up. “Thank you.”

The woman in question smiled back at him. Kelsey crossed her arms on-top of his computer monitor and rested her chin on her hands, it didn't seem to bother his monitor as she did. She always had been gentle. “No problem,” she uttered, “how are you feeling? I was told you stayed up extra late working on an article.”

“Yeah,” Ryan took a sip of the coffee he was given, smacking his lips together to savor the flavor of bitter coffee. “Brent comes in at ten, we’ll finish it up soon, I think.”

Kelsey hummed, scratched her nose with her finger and raised her eyebrow, “but did you sleep?”

Did he sleep?

Maybe. He slept sometimes when it was offered to him. However, sleep didn't come easy and other times he’d be out of the loop, staying up and pull off an all-nighter to finish the project he was working on with his team.

And Ryan didn't believe his job was nerve-racking. Actually, he loved it. Since he was a child, he dreamt of infinite amount of careers that could be attainable to him without thinking that he had to go through extensive amount of education to get there. (At twelve, he asked his father if he could be an astronaut, to which he was offered a chuckle and a you can be anything you want to be Ryan.)

Nonetheless, if there was one thing he hated… it was mornings.

Ryan was a journalist—a reporter who wrote articles on the mysteries of unsolved crimes. For years, he's worked his ass off, and it had gotten him on a few television shows, interviews and collaborations on the internet; it was all of Ryan’s livelihood. He loved doing it, he loved the research and the frustration that came with it too. (Sometimes he’ll try to solve them, in the dead of night listening to his playlist, he’ll try to solve the crimes he covered.)

Last month, Brent brought up a case they’ve worked on previously three years ago. The Black Dahlia case, where Ryan had been the one researching it from Wikipedia and somewhat presumptive news articles. At the time, he wanted to publicize it and write something his fanbase could read and follow up with further evidence. In the end, it was a story he told Brent at his birthday party and scrapped the idea afterwards.

Ryan finally would have the chance to revisit it and make an extended thread about the case. (Solving it wasn’t included.) 

Kelsey Impicciche was one of his best friends. She joined their rag-tag team of self-made investigators and bloggers the year he tied the knot. She was someone's plus one; a woman who showed up to him, tall and amiable, with her golden dress that reached to her knees, short blonde hair curled and with a handsome date by her side. She asked him if he wanted to join her network and suggested that if he ever needed a proofreader, she would be his gal.

Ryan took off his headphones entirely, he had one over his ear as Kelsey talked to him with the sounds of melodious music flowing from his playlist. “Did you read through it?”

“I did,” Kelsey confirmed perkily, she removed her hands from his monitor for a moment and bent down to her own station. She began clicking away as Ryan stood from his seat, coffee in hand and observed at the computer screen. “See,” she slanted the screen for him to see, “I read it. I assume that Brent would comment on it?”

The screen was a pdf file of his drafted article, covered with red marks and yellow writing on the margins. He typed it electronically and Kelsey would read and edit it with her stylus like the professional she was. Articles in the process of publishing (both on the internet and if his readers wanted it: a hard copy,) went through broad research before he could think about writing a script to read out-loud. He had his draft, an edited version and the final cut. Kelsey was in charge of editing and proofreading, sometimes she had her own work outside of the office as she worked part-time for him. 

“There is,” Ryan gazed at the screen, he loved this part of his job. Criticism was something that he embraced and when it came from both Kelsey and another member of his team, as well as his audience, it motivated him to work harder. “Brent will have a few comments.”

Kelsey tapped her finger on her desk, “‘according to co-worker Brent Bennett...’” 

“He’ll hate this case,” Ryan joked and turned his head to yawn into the crook of his elbow, “he hates gruesome murders.”

“Who doesn’t?” Kelsey's finger moved to her down button, tapping on it to scroll down the pdf file. “I’ll make sure to edit his additions to this wonderful case. It is depressing, I’m curious as to what he has to say.”

“All our cases are depressing,” Ryan wanted to add, we should add more jokes? 

He couldn't say that Brent wasn't hilarious, he teased him before during cases as brutal as these. Though, Brent had a limit when it came to these types of unsolved murders and most of the time, Ryan wouldn't hear anything from his partner. 

He shut his mouth, took a sip of his coffee cup and the sound of the door of his office opened.

A few people worked with Ryan and Brent—one of which was Kelsey, who had her own station across from him and Brent who was beside him. Both of them didn't work full-time like he did, but other members of his teams did. He hired interns, college students, anybody who loved what he loved to do. (Respectfully, supplying them with benefits and flexible hours.)

Like all of his mornings, a few of his co-workers were already in their cubicles. Fixated on their computer monitors with their headphones on, typing away. It was a spacious department, surrounded by glass windows and a colorless brick wall, a kitchen on the second floor and the entrance lobby on the bottom floor. Whoever came from the lobby shut the door inelegantly and blatantly, announcing the presence of Ryan’s partner.

"Brent,” he sang into his coffee, turning to the frazzled man and sat in his computer chair, “it’s eight.” 

“I’m sorry—” 

“You are scheduled to come in at ten,” Ryan continued, looking at the schedule hung on the wall beside them. Kelsey took the initiative to get them a dry erase board for their work shifts. Brent's name was scheduled for: “Tuesday, January 20th, ten a.m.”

“Aw, dude,” Brent slouched his shoulders, the backpack he carried fell from his shoulder and he picked it before it reached the floor. “You wouldn’t believe the traffic I sat in.”

“Did you eat?” Kelsey and himself echoed in sync. He swiftly turned to Kelsey as she did. There was a joke of being the parent of the group and being married automatically makes you care about somebody as if they were your children without second thought.

“There’s a breakfast sandwich at the kitchen counter if you want it,” Ryan pointed out before he spiraled his chair away from his cubicle to gesture towards the kitchen area with his chin, “I think you’ll need it before the case we’ll talk about today.” 

“You’ve told me it before,” Brent threw his backpack on his leather chair, along with the car keys and strode to the kitchen. “I already hate it!” Could be heard from the upstairs. 

Ryan met Kelsey's eyes, jerked his thumb in Brent's direction and gave her a half-smile, “I told you.”

“He’ll get used to it,” Kelsey laughed, “it wasn’t like—”

Kelsey pursed her lips to shut herself up. Ryan's smile slipped from his face, turned away and fidgeted in his seat. Although Kelsey didn't say what she wanted to (in fact, didn't say a word,) Ryan caught the joke. His hands squeezed into fists and loosened them, the chill of his wedding ring mellowed him.

In the corner of his eye, Kelsey leered from Ryan to the computer, “I've been meaning to ask you Ryan, do you want to hang out this weekend?”

This weekend? Go out?

Wow… when was the last time he went out with friends? It’s been a while, he would think. Ryan didn't mind going out with friends sometimes, he did, plenty of weekends before. Drinking and watching basketball in a restaurant, or bar hopping, going camping and hiking. But… it’s been a while.

“This weekend? What’s going on this weekend?”

Kelsey drew her lower lip between her teeth, like she was anxious to tell him. Understandable, Ryan turned down most invitations—from dinner parties, to being a third wheel to one of Kelsey’s dates, to movie nights. Kelsey had a right to be nervous, “Brent and I were thinking about checking out this music festival. We’ll—”

“Are you telling him about the festival?” Brent’s voice chimed into the conversation, now in the room with Kelsey's breakfast sandwich in hand, “You should come Ryan, my girlfriend told me about it a few weeks ago. We didn't have the time to go though.”

“I mean, it can be just the three of us too,” Kelsey added, gesticulating at Brent and herself. Her eyes gleamed, “it’s a critically-acclaimed festival. I’m—”

“Right! Just the three of us,” Brent blurted out, “You love music, Bergara.”

“I… do?” Ryan cocked his eyebrow, his friends were intriguing. Bless their hearts though, they knew when Ryan was reticent and pulled him out of the situation without another word. Ryan hasn’t had an incident in a while fortunately; if he had one, Brent would be by his side.

(Even going as far as taking him to the hospital—to the E.R and tell the nurse that Ryan couldn’t breathe.

It happened a couple of times.)

“I... I’m good guys,” Ryan voiced, “I would say yes, but I have to finish this project before the next deadline.”

Kelsey and Brent shared a look, Ryan distracted himself by drinking from his coffee cup. He wanted to fool himself into thinking that they’ll buy it, however, they were in this project as much as he was and there was no deadline until two weeks from now. Besides it was Tuesday.

Still, his friends didn't push him, “if you’re sure,” Kelsey tried, giving him a look that read I won’t judge if you say no, think about it. 

There wasn’t much to think about. Ryan wanted to stay home and that’s pretty much what he was going to do. “Yes,” he echoed, “Brent, do you want to hear this case now or later?”

Brent didn't seem to mind the topic change, despite the abrasive noI don’t want to go out and please don’t ask me about anything else.

Nodding his head, Brent bit into his breakfast sandwich and took the case folders labeled B.D from Ryan's desk, “I can do it now, I’ll meet you in set?” Brent turned on his heel before Ryan could reply, reaching for the door of their furnished set, blending into the dimness of the room.

Ryan exhaled keenly, “I know what you’re going to say.”

Despite his hesitance to talk about it, Ryan knew that his friends wanted him to. Talking about it... didn't seem to help. Ryan felt hopeless whenever he meekly thought about his late husband, so talking about where he stood didn't help either. Wherever he was, Ryan knew that he was content.

Kelsey didn't meet his eyes, she kept them low and to herself as she spun in her chair. “I don’t want to pry, Ryan. It’s healthy to check up on you once in a while. It’s…”

Ryan braced himself, it was never easy to hear it out-loud from his friends either. He respected Kelsey, he trusted her too; she and Brent are two of the four people he could talk about it publicly. Still, Ryan ignored the conversation sometimes, tried to change the subject to anything that wasn't about him. 

“It’s been three months, Ryan,” Kelsey restated, muttering to him. Ryan shifted sullenly, cringing when Kelsey’s warm hand reached his arm, her fingernails, painted in a nude color, wrapped around his wrist. She did the same when he told her what happened, where he couldn’t stop wailing like a child.

“It will be, this weekend,” Ryan wondered how time remotely passed, slipping through his fingers. “I want to stay at home this time.”

Kelsey blinked at him, a frown appeared on her face as she rubbed her thumb on his pulse and let him go. “Of course. Don’t hesitate to call me, I won’t drink or anything—” 

“You should have fun, I’ll be okay,” Ryan gave her a toothy smile, reassuring her, “his mother called, if she has time, she'll keep me company this weekend."

Kelsey exhaled, smiled back at him before patting her hand on his back, “okay. Let me know if you change your mind. You shouldn’t keep Brent waiting.”

Ryan’s smile grew when he remembered, Brent is going to hate this.

 


 

By the end of the work week, Ryan found himself at the office on the phone with Kelsey. It was Friday and typically he would lock it up for the weekend. His other team members left for the day after filming a few of the videos they scheduled.

His co-workers didn't exactly do what he did. They filmed nonsensical videos, captured reactions from each other trying new things, joyful go-to stories about businesses and festivals. Ryan loved it too.

He especially loved it when he's thrown in one without a second thought.

Curly, one of his co-workers, set up a video where Ryan tasted 10 different types of jolly ranchers. What he didn't know was they were bizarre flavors. (Curly felt guilt after a while, apologizing to Ryan as he gagged.)

"Heard you had a great day at work today," Kelsey called him afterward, the sound of her boyfriend in the background, "who knew that you had colleagues trying to poison you any chance they can."

“You’ll like it,” Ryan scratched his nose, grounding his feet to the floor and spinning around in his desk chair, “it was Curly’s idea. How could I say no to him?”

Wrong, most likely Brent’s idea,” Kelsey’s voice was heard over his speaker, “there's no way he'll pass by an opportunity to prank you. He loves pranking you.

“Yeah,” there was more to say to that, Brent did love to tease Ryan a lot. He had toned it down lately, however, his mischievous rival (a skeptic versus Ryan, a lover of paranormal mysteries,) still kept his sense of humor around him. Although, he wasn't the first.

Whether the video idea was truly Curly’s was unknown, Ryan enjoyed himself anyway. It took his mind off of things. Tomorrow was a crucial day for him and he was heading to pick up Shane’s mother from the airport. Being alone for the weekend wouldn’t have been ideal and he was glad that she took time off to visit him from Chicago. 

Hey Ryan.”

“What’s up?” Ryan shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. It was nearing five in the afternoon, the sun almost completely set in the distance. From what he knew, if he left now he’ll get to the airport around six (without traffic) and he could get home past dinnertime.

You’re quiet, are you okay?

Ryan kept his silence, “I… I was saving up the last of the articles before I left, we can go over the Black Dahlia article before publishing it on Monday.”

Okay Ryan,” Kelsey responded, “are you sure you don’t want to come to the festival tomorrow?

Ryan smiled to himself, even if Kelsey couldn’t see it, “I’ll be alright. I won’t be alone.”

Again, he heard from his speaker Kelsey’s boyfriend’s voice, as she spoke to him, Ryan turned to look at his computer screen. Two different pdfs opened, one labeled B.D case and the other was an application from a folder he hadn't looked into since October. Before he could stare at it, Kelsey urged: “can I visit you on Sunday? We can go out for lunch. 

“Maybe, I’ll let you know,” Ryan answered, “have a good night Kelsey.” 

Goodnight Ryanlet me know when you get home. ” 

The call disconnected, leaving Ryan to stare at the time they’ve been talking for. He… hated this part the most of his work day. He would get an uber if he had to, no matter the price. It took a while to drive, the anxiety that hid inside a part of his brain grew stronger when he was in a car, beside a car, or the mention of driving. Three months later, he continuously avoided roads he knew would worsen his anxiety, to no avail, he hated it.

Fortunately, as soon as he enclosed himself in his car, his mind shut down. He didn't think about anything and just drove. Either his GPS or his playlist would distract him— being a passenger was something he had to work back up to. 

He saved, closed his pdf file and turned off the monitor, took his keys and walked out of his office. Later, he found himself in the pick-up area of the airport in an hour, give or take the traffic in-between. Ryan stepped out of his car for both breathing room and to wait for his mother-in-law. She was a short lady, personality luminous like her son's. She was a copy of him, both kindhearted and humble, without a second thought would drop everything to help Ryan.

Ryan sighed, shaking his head to rid of the water droplets that fell into his hair, walking inside from the humid air and took in LAX. Familiarity pulled on his heartstrings, he had traveled a lot in the last few years, especially as a student. And said airport was yanked on the strings of his nostalgia.

Leaving his hometown to devote himself as a full-time film student was something he had wanted to do. More so that he wanted to explore the world around him than isolating himself in an apartment with ramen noodles as his breakfast, lunch and dinner. When he returned to L.A for good, his parents gave him the biggest hug he’s ever received; he wasn’t alone that time and happily introduced the man that served to be a constant in Ryan’s life.

Jiggling his leg, Ryan looked into the crowd of people. People who were arriving, hugging their loved ones as they picked them up, or saying their goodbyes from the holidays. It was crowded—

 

...

 

(“Baby?”

Ryan looked up, upon seeing the face of his boyfriend, his yellow scarf around his neck and in his hand... “are you—unbelievable, are you eating a hot dog right now?”

“I’m hungry, here,” Shane, who chewed on the hot dog in his mouth tossed Ryan’s luggage to the seat next to him, “I got your bag for you, what time will your folks get here?” 

“They’re not, we’ll be going to them," he glanced at Shane, blinking his eyes absentmindedly and rested his arm on the seat behind him, "eating hot dogs before my mother has the chance to stuff you with her own cooking herself is a mistake.” 

“I’m a big boy,” Shane smiled slyly, “I can eat for two. I’m expecting your child Ryan, they’re at the house. I bet Mickie and Dori missed you.”

“How are you expecting when they’re already… you gave birth to dogs?” Ryan stopped himself before thinking about it further, in fact, he didn't really want to think about it at all. “Stop talking, sit down.”

Leaving Chicago left Shane and Ryan to wrap themselves up in their own cozy attire. Keeping them warm from the frigid environment they’ve both lived in the past few months to fly down to sunny Los Angeles, where they were allowed to wear short-sleeve shirts in the afternoon.

Shane scooted Ryan’s luggage away from him and sat himself down next to him. His long legs rested on the coffee table in front of them as he pulled out his phone to scroll away, eating his regretful lunch next to him. 

Shane felt him cringe and reeled in surprise, “what’s up? You’re fidgeting.”

“Nothing,” Ryan shrugged his shoulder slackly, as close as he was to Shane, it didn't stop him from taking out his phone to see where his uber was and resting his head on Shane’s boney shoulder. “I’m tired.”

Shane hummed, his arm rose to drape around Ryan’s shoulder and placed his hand on his beanie. Ryan’s eyes closed naturally as Shane held him to him, paying him some attention as he continued to scroll through his social media. Seeing as their uber wouldn’t be around for another ten minutes, Ryan fell into Shane’s embrace and sneaked a few peeks to his phone to entertain him—) 

 

...

 

"Ryan?"

Stopping in the middle of his thoughts, he cocked his head to the side and glared back to the absurdly blinding lights that hung from the ceilings. People had been gathered inside of the airport, either sprinting away from the lines of people in restaurants and dragging their luggage behind them. As Ryan watched, he saw the split image of a woman in-between the crowd.

She stood tall, her hands hidden in her satin dress pants, however, as far as Ryan was, he saw that her lips matched her persona. One of bright red, a color that stood out from the visions hazed in Ryan’s mind as he saw pedestrians run around, scrambling over the faint music on the speakers. 

He knew who she was, and he stood without a second thought.

Filled with excitement to see him in her again, he didn't get a chance to stand before his mother-in-lawa sweet woman, who ran to him, threw her luggage effortlessly and hugged him. Greeting him in the way that she knew how, “look at you! Are you growing? A little cold, are you alright? We should get going… you must be hungry. I’ll make something for you.” 

Ryan shook his head, pursing his lips to keep him from crying. She looked a lot like him, her eyes drooped the way his did and her smile mellow. His eyebrows drew together when his mother-in-law stopped talking and… embraced him again.

“Oh,” she exhaled, tightening her grip on him. “It’s been a while, Ryan. I missed you.”

His arms violently shook, fingers gripping the fabric of her blouse urgently to hold himself together. His teeth grinded on each other and he was compelled to hide his face from public view into the curve of her shoulder. “I miss you too,” he murmured, not sure if it was towards her and somebody he knew.

If his mother-in-law heard him, she didn't comment, but her arms loosened and her own figure began to shake. Letting him go and pushing him an arms length from her, Ryan’s mother-in-law wiped her tears from her cheeks and smiled.

Laughing away the humiliation from crying in the Los Angeles airport, she sniffled: “I’ll make you your favorite alright? Let's get you home and we can continue bawling, darlin’, does that sound like a plan—oh, oh don’t cry again, you’ll give yourself a headache. Come on.”

Ryan let himself be pushed away to the exit, definitely lightheaded. He didn't know what to say about it, he gripped the keys of his car and let his mother-in-law take them from him.

Ryan knew why he was hesitant to see her.

He looks like her, and it surprised Ryan how effortless it was to forget what he looked like.

His mother-in-law was stern, particularly in feeding him. She had cooked for six and left tupperware of food for the next few weeks, but it served as a reminder of what could have been. He lived with his husband in Chicago for months after dating for four years and Shane’s mother would invite them to her house on Sundays. It brought Ryan happiness to see Shane’s stomach bloated with homemade food his mother cooked for him as a child and had the privilege to rub Shane’s tummy as if they were an old couple after dinner.

(“You’ll be doing this to me during Christmas dinner, I won’t be able to get up.”

Shane laughed, “okay, little guy.”)

"When Shane was younger," his mother-in-law began, drinking from her mug. A zany, over decorated mug that Shane bought as a joke, but one of Ryan's favorites because it was Shane's, "he would eat everything I gave him. Sometimes he would give it to his brother or the dogs. Either way, he'll ask for seconds."

Ryan rubbed the back of his neck, "he... he used to do that. He cooked for us and would scold me if I didn't finish everything on my plate."

"Caring boy," Shane's mother mused, lifted her head to his ceiling, "I wonder who he got it from."

Ryan remained quiet, they both knew that Shane grew up kind, unselfish and loving. And to hear Shane as a child, as a teenager, and what he's done for his family, his friends, his past girlfriends and boyfriends; everything that Ryan once knew, all lost in the confines of his mind as memories, he recalled each one after months of not seeing the man himself.

But... there was something always missing whenever Ryan thought about Shane. He didn't doubt himself when he told him that he loved him, is in love with him or his I do to seal their engagment. Still, in the back of his mind, there was something that didn't click, a piece of an unsolved puzzle. 

"Mom," Ryan started, taking a deep breath and looming forward on his kitchen counter. "Before I left, did Shane call you?"

"Did he—when does he never call me?" She drawled, eyes crinkled with her wide smile. Although she had Shane's features to the dot, this smile was one that didn't take Ryan's breath away. She left it at that, and turned to her tea with pale, lenient hands. Her movements relaxed, following the silence of the room and when Dori shook her body beneath Ryan's feet, he remembered that he was also in the room.

"Did he say anything weird?" He pressed, "act strange?"

"When is he not?" Shane's mother echoed, not looking at Ryan's direction, "Ryan, sweetie, I couldn't help but notice that you haven't folded your laundry."

"I—" Ryan jerked his head in the direction of the laundry room, its door wide open and spotting the view of both his washer and drier. A white basket, filled with his clothes and Shane's old sweaters on top. He had done laundry last night and tossed his clean clothes in the basket for today's chores, though he had been distracted to do it. "I've been busy, don't worry—"

"I'll help you," she insisted, "really, I'll help you."

Ryan watched her stand up, taking herself to his laundry room and picking up the basket, placing it on her hip. "Come on!"

He had little time to oppose, in the least tried to grab her arm as she walked past him. In the end, he had yielded to her and sat down on the foot of his bed with his clothes on the bedsheets. When he folded his laundry, Mickie and Dori would mess up his clothes by sitting on them, covering them in their dog fur—

 

...

 

(“Hey,” Ryan greeted, grinning as he folded his shirts into the drawers, “I left your clothes on the bed, get changed then we can sleep, I know you’re tired.”

“I am,” Shane yawned heavily, running his towel over his brown-ish hair and tossing himself on top of his clothes on the bed. The man wasn’t wearing anything, a towel tied around his waist as he looked up at Ryan. “You slept on me all day, I don’t think you’re tired.”

“I’m not going to have sex with you in my parents house,” Ryan asserted, “I’m going to watch a game, put some clothes on, you heathen.” Ryan threw a shirt at Shane’s smirk, laughing when Shane fell back to their bedsheets, defeated.

Shane laid on the bed the way that he was for a moment, before: “we can be really quiet,” was said over the thin shirt.

“Stop! We’re—we’re not,” Ryan’s face flushed when he thought about it, despite him liking the idea of being intimate with Shane, he was tired and he didn't want to risk Shane falling asleep on him. “Go to bed, I’m going to get you some water, I bet your stomach is aching right now.”

“It’s bloated,” Shane agreed, finally dressing himself in front of Ryan. At this point, Ryan thought ahead and knew that his boyfriend wouldn’t care to be nude in front of him and locked the door just in case anybody burst in. “But that’s the baby, baby!”

“Stop! Go to bed!” Ryan laughed out loud, throwing another shirt of Shane’s at him. “Go to sleep, you're a whole idiot.”

“Doesn't change that I'm yours,” Shane stopped, shoving a pair of sweatpants on as he walked to Ryan’s side, who was grumbling under his breath and kissed the side of his head, “goodnight baby, don’t stay up too late.” With another kiss to his lips this time, Shane parted ways from Ryan and… shoved all of his clothes to Ryan’s side of the bed.)

 

...

 

"Can't say that he was perfect," Shane's mother remarked throwing Ryan out of his own thoughts and decided to fold the same pair of pants again. She had a pile next to her, some of Shane's own clothes tucked, all of his t-shirts and sweaters that Ryan kept for himself. It became a routine, stacking them in a separate pile for the top drawer of his dresser. She lingered on a specific sweater, a navy cotton type, one that Ryan stole from him. "But he was."

"I don't know how to thank him," Ryan's eyes followed her delicate, steadfast hands as she folded Shane's sweater, "that sweater kept me warm during the holidays in Chicago."

She laughed, handing the now folded sweater to him, "I've noticed. Even with his clothes, he cared for you. He knew what he was doing, loving you was effortless for him." 

Ryan's head lowered, the sweater in his hands felt heavier than before. 

"I can't delay the conversation," there was a dip on the bed as Shane's mother moved her arm behind him, scooting next to him. Dori was by her side, already knowing that it was laundry time and curled herself up on a pile of t-shirts. "I know what you meant to ask me."

Ryan sighed, "it's futile to ask about it now." But I want to know, "did he—was he—planning—" he stopped himself. The answer, did he want to know? Did he?

"To..." Shane's mother pressed, "to divorce you? Honestly, Ryan, I didn't know about it until you told me."

Ryan gave a mirthless laugh, set aside the folded sweater and stood up. "He never talked about it with me. I thought he would have told somebody. I saw him suffer, I ignored it."

"He didn't—I do love you, I love having you as my son-in-law, I would have told you," Shane's mother stood to stand beside him, "I would have told you."

I know, he wanted to say. That's not what I mean. 

Ryan didn't believe that Shane had another lover or fell out of love with Ryan. There was another reason as to why he would legally separate them from marriage. 

Again, because he refused to listen, his mother-in-law placed her hands on Ryan's intertwined fingers. Without him noticing, he had been in the middle of pressing, pinching and fondling his fingers until they reached a different complexion. She stopped him from hurting himself any further, "Shane always called me, Ryan. He called me to talk about you. He asked me how I was doing, if I was eating, then talked about you for hours. And I let him."

She looked heavenward, "if I knew—if I knew that he was considering divorce—"

"Not that," Ryan's head turned to her, his hands feeble and sore, "did he talk about anything else? Did he sound upset?" Questions blew up in Ryan's head, all of them couldn't be answered aside from Shane himself.  

Ryan thought he knew. Like... like a memory in the back of his mind, and no matter how long, how infuriating it was to think about it. He couldn't remember. 

"He had... he had seen a therapist in Chicago, right? Did he ever ask about their contact information?"

Shane's mother drew back in surprise, "he wanted to go back to therapy?"

"He talked about it," Ryan fretted, yet, did not recall when Shane told him. "He talked about having dreams that bothered him. He called me in London, he must of told me these things..."

"Ryan," Shane's mother whispered, "you should sleep. Okay? We'll talk about it in the morning. Don't fret about it anymore."

Nodding his head, Ryan watched as Shane's mother left his side, organizing his clothes on the top drawer of his dresser. He saw her pause for a moment, hands tightened around the sweaters before stacking inside the drawer. "I'll make you tea," her voice croaked, not looking at him, "it will help you sleep."

 


 

Ryan was busy packing away sheets in the guest room, or his old room when his mother-in-law left to wash up in the guest bathroom. It was after ten at night, where they both were filled of food and ready for bed, Ryan eventually got the chance to rest after his eventful day.

Thinking that it’s best to leave extra sheets for his mother-in-law in case she got cold in the middle of the night, Ryan went off to wash up for the night.

Sleep did not come easy for him.

Ryan knew his sleeping habits more than anymore—when he couldn’t sleep—he’ll sneak out of bed and from Shane’s arms to the living room, turning on the lamp light and watching videos on his phone until he fell asleep. (He was used to it; that way the light from his phone didn't bother Shane as he slept.) 

It became a routine whenever Ryan was anxious about going to sleep when he gotten a nightmare. Disregarding his mother-in-law’s troubled gaze when Ryan said that he’ll be in the dining room if she needed him, Ryan cozied himself on the dining table. Dori kept him company by planting herself on his feet as he propped up his head with one hand and the other held his phone.

Light wasn’t necessary but Ryan found a peculiar comfort in it. That, and surrounding himself with nothing but darkness could trigger any panic attack that Ryan didn't think of having. Around one in the morning, Ryan felt Dori leave his side as he yawned, his hand hidden in the heap of his black hair and the game he played began to blur his eyesight.

He remembered little as to what happened after; his phone continued to play the video with the lowest volume but his head was on the table itself. Resting his cheek on the cool surface as his eyes closed, breathing evenly, and greeted to the divinity of pitch black.

Then, Ryan’s eyes opened and his body trembled. He released a harrowing shriek and his arms wrapped around his chest to protect himself. Curled into himself on the kitchen table, he let himself breathe. Scrambling for his phone with quivering fingers, he unlocked it and dismissed the 6:34 A.M displayed.

Yawning, he stood from the table only to fall back to the chair. He was weak, cold, and desolate in his own dining room; a room where he once decorated with the man he loved. The man who took the idea to buy a few picture frames and place pictures of him and Ryan on one of their many vacations.

He didn't think about, really, he didn't. But he looked to the wall where the pictures hung, ranging from him with his hair down to his hair in a quiff. Some pictures he was outside in the wilderness with him, others inside of a restaurant, one where he was in a classroom he assumed was his—where he thought students with glee in their eyes about what he had to teach them, ruining the history they were once taught before him. It was he did.

People loved him. Ryan loved him. 

The routine that caused Ryan’s mind to fall apart in a heap of shattered fragments. Everything that he dreamt about when he first met him gone in an instant and anguish clouded his features as he nibbled on his bottom lip to stop himself from crying in his dining table. But... but there was always one thing. One thing that stood out the most.

In the heat of the moment, Ryan stood unreservedly, his knees locked together and he found the side of the tablecloth in time to catch himself from falling to the ground. Catching himself, he balanced what little energy he had left and ran across to the hallway of his house. If he remembered, his mother-in-law would be sleeping in the guest room at this time and he would be getting ready for an hour of restless sleep.

Opening the door of his bedroom, he spotted Dori and Mickie wrapped around his blankets. An empty basket underneath, with his ashen, muddy shoes that he was meant to clean earlier in the day. Ignoring everything he witnessed, he strut to his dresser, shoving the top drawer open and... and tossed all the organized clothes to the bed. 

It didn't take long to find it. The crumpled up piece of paper on the bottom of his drawer, wrinkled to the point of erasing the permanent ink. He didn't think to hide his cry in time, and before he could cover his mouth with his hand, he had already shouted his dread in realizing that it was there. Staring at the incomplete divorce application—the one Shane had already signed—Ryan closed his eyes and fell to the wooden floor.

Fuck. Ryan pressed his fist on the rug next to him and tried to relax. He had to go back, he had to return, he had to go back, he had to save him. Fuck him. Fuck him for thinking that this is Ryan's fault. He shouldn't—he shouldn't fucking—he should be here in this storyline, in this reality.

It's not real, he wasn't thinking right. Ryan was right, fuck him for not believing him. How could he go as far as—

HE HAD TO GO BACK.

IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO END LIKE THIS.

 


 

In the following days, Ryan had gotten at most five hours of sleep every night. After the weekend, his established routine was left in shambles. He woke up later than usual—around one in the afternoon where he’ll drag himself to work in order to finish the last of his work before the next day.

Ryan took his prescription, meditated, tried everything his mother had suggested he’d do.

Although, it rarely worked. 

Because he knew that he didn't try to control his glazed state of mind, he welcomed the sorrow, the heartache.

His co-worker, Andrew, had kept him company since. At the end of a work day, Andrew knew Ryan wasn’t in the mindset to drive, Andrew sat him down; and reassured him that he’ll be alright. Ryan liked Andrew.

Etched in his memory was him in tears for hours, or what it seemed to be like hours. Andrew didn't leave his side until Ryan had to. It was in the comfort of his own bedroom and the squeak of his front door, that Ryan figured that Andrew had left him too. (Andrew left to fetch him food. Still, he left.)

It was challenging to understand his co-workers honest opinions towards him. Every time Ryan mentioned him and that he missed him, his co-workers were hesitant to respond to him in fear that he’ll be offended or upset. Honestly, Ryan couldn’t say if he was thankful they didn't push him.

What brought him to work today though... his boss wanted to speak with him.

In the back of Ryan’s mind, plan A, plan B and a plan C were created simultaneously, if, and if, he was fired on the spot for the inability of doing work for weeks. He thought about working with his mother temporarily, she’ll be happy to have him around than him been alone for three months. She’s been asking for Dori and Mickie, too.

Maybe getting fired isn’t as bad as he thought. It was his company though, what would happen to Kelsey? To Brent? His employees? Nothing, perhaps. They had better jobs, they had their own deadlines, families, friends, other co-workers to worry about. With the right credentials, they would broaden their resume.  Ryan was only a speck of what they had to deal with, a side story in their own.

Especially now, since Ryan was a hindrance in everyone's life. 

(Kelsey told him otherwise on the Sunday his mother-in-law was scheduled to return to Chicago. She looked at him dead in the eye and disputed that he was not a inconvenience.

Ryan was coerced to believe her, what else could he say to her? Shane wasn’t there to argue with him.)

However, plan A, plan B and plan C flew out of his brain when he heard the word: promotion.

“What?” Ryan’s eyes grew wide and gawked at his boss. Sitting across from him was a man older than him, dressed up in a navy suit and tie, a peculiar man that could have rivaled his lawyer with the briefcase he brought with him. He had papers in them too, all shown to Ryan in the meeting room they were escorted in.

The meeting room was used a lot by both Ryan and other co-workers of his. A sole oval table plastered in the middle of the room, white chairs neatly set all around it. There were windows and a glass door, both of which served as a saving grace just in case Ryan sought solace from Brent whose desk was across the meeting room.

(Brent believed the meeting would go poorly too, he’s standing a cross hair away from the meeting room where Ryan could see him. Ready to retort anything that was said about Ryan.)

The papers his boss had, all of them in the folder he shown him beforehand, were not to dull his contract but… an agreement.

“An agreement,” his boss reiterated, tapping his finger on the paper, “you’ve been promoted. This is an agreement for an optional trip. It’s a contract that covers your expenses, health insurance you may have, etcetera…”

His boss went on as Ryan picked the paper up, his hands didn't visibly shake but he was in awe. It was an agreement and Ryan didn't understand what it meant. “It says,” Ryan's jaw set, and his deprived mind understood what he was reading, “a trip to New York? All expenses paid?”

“Yes,” his boss nodded, and Ryan—as his boss was inattentive with his phone—peered his eyes towards Brent. On the other side of the window, Brent straightened his back, gestured a what? What happened? To him before Ryan turned back to his boss.

“Your article was a success. Alongside the work of your editor Kelsey Impicciche and co-host Brent Bennett, they’ll be sent out to New York to promote your upcoming show on our network this summer. All those details will be discussed in New York. If not,” his boss twirled the pen in his hand and rolled it across to the table for Ryan, “we may discuss them here.”

Ryan’s heard swirled with questions. A show? With Brent and Kelsey? On a network? And a free trip? He must have been dreaming, that’s it. He didn't get much sleep anyway, he was harboring a grimy beard, his walking flouncy and his hair was fucked, a haircut was due for him. And here he was, in front of his boss who is promoting him?

With everything that happened in the last half hour, Ryan lifted his pallid face, and uttered: “what article?” 

His boss cackled, genuinely dumbfounded that Ryan asked the least important question. “Ah, it was the... actually, a series that came about I believe,” glancing to the briefcase, his boss took out a set of printed scripts for him to see. “These are the scripts that Kelsey had emailed me, your name is on them. The Ruining History series. It skyrocketed, people wanted to see it filmed. An article from the series in particular—”

At that moment in time, tears shimmered in Ryan's eyes, his eyebrows raised towards the scripts and he turned his attention to them. Without another thought, his boss' mouth set in a hard line as Ryan's trembling fingers picked up the scripts. This can't be true. There's no fucking way he would do this to him. They… 

Those were Shane’s scripts.

This was Shane’s.

Shane, who wrote the series, turned them to Kelsey, then to Brent, finally turned to Ryan for publishing. This is Shane’s work, and he… he credited Ryan in them. There, on the bottom of the script had his name, Ryan Bergara-Madej, typed for everyone to see in person. But all the work was Shane’s— 

“This is Shane’s series,” Ryan gulped, flushed in the face of saying his name out loud, fought the tears welled up in his eyes as he blinked hastily. “This is Shane’s work.”

“We’re aware, us at the network,” his boss coughed, “since… you know… still, you were part of it; the article the adorable bear of world war two had quotes of both you and Shane Bergara-Madej. Also, he had credited you in the scripts before he left—”

“Alright,” Ryan interrupted, stacking the scripts into a pile, “why did Shane leave his work under my name?”

“Ryan,” his boss' mouth twitched, “you shared the same last name.”

Ryan’s hands squeezed into tight fists, damn it Shane, I hope you knew what you were doing. “This is Shane's work. This is for him, I cannot accept this. This trip—New York, the show, it’s all Shane’s work. And I’m asked to take his idea?” 

Tossing the agreement and the scripts away from his sight, Ryan tried to sit up from his chair and away from this. He saw Brent fidget, something that child would do when their parent was occupied. His boss stopped him, “Shane was a professor, Ryan,” he quavered as if it was going to do anything, “he had a career, we did not think that he would accept it. Before you left for London, we—” 

“I can’t accept this,” Ryan stressed, his breaths quickened, “I… I can’t, this is... his work.”

“Work he legally credited you in,” his boss insisted, his arms spread wide, “I can not stop you from denying the trip, the promotion, but Shane wanted you to take it in his place. He recommended you and he knew that this was you were born to do. Think about it, Ryan.”

There’s nothing to think about, Ryan shuddered, blood boiled in resentment, I know Shane planned for this to happen. 

Shane had to have refused their offer for him

And what the fuck was he supposed to do?

If he denied, Shane’s work would be deserted, unseen by the world that he wrote, the world he created. The stories that he researched in the middle of the night when Ryan was asleep, on days where Ryan would walk in with a tray of food for him, kissing him once before heading back to his work. (That is, if nobody in their right mind stole his idea or went against Ryan.)

He wasn’t here to speak for himself, and it was up to Ryan to continue his legacy. With his husband in his mind and the loose ring on Ryan’s finger, he conferred: “I’ll do it. I’ll sign it, but,” he stopped his boss before he began, “it will be under Shane’s name, not mine.”

His boss didn't have much to say to him afterwards, Ryan signed studiously. Read every letter of the agreement that took over an hour to memorize, something that Shane should have done in the first place. (And if Ryan let out a few tears, shaking them off harshly before reading the same paragraph again, nobody would know.)

When he was out of the meeting room, Brent waved his hand, “well, what happened?”

“My husband was an idiot,” Ryan gritted his teeth, “that’s what happened.”

 

...

 

Steam flew out of the tea he was drinking, an inch away from his grip was the piping hot green tea that Kelsey sent in before sitting in front of him. A few hours after his boss had left with the signed contract in hand, Ryan worked in a rage before he broke down in his own desk. Kelsey and Brent lingered behind, made sure that he didn't hurt himself before locking him in the lounge when they found him depleted from his panic attack.

Ryan sent his co-workers home, Kelsey and Brent stayed, both of them sitting in front of him with tea that was said to calm him. His mother-in-law, Shane’s mother told Kelsey that green tea will relax his tense mind, help him sleep and distract him for a few hours before he woke up. Nice of her to remember, what would he do without her, honestly?

The lights of their office were off now, leaving them in the bright lit meeting room with silence as their only friend. Ryan had his head ducked, slouched shoulders in guilt of what he experienced this morning. He was grim, outraged, pent up emotions towards Shane not mentioning to him what he did to his own work and left it all for Ryan to be credited for. 

Shane could of had it all, recognition, a show, a trip that would take him to the next step in his career. And he turned it down, for Ryan? For what?

Did he know that he wouldn't see his show through?

“I’m sorry,” Ryan apologized humbly, his eyes lifted to see the scripts in front of him. The apology served for both Shane and his friends, “I didn't mean to take it, but he would have wanted to see it filmed. I’ll try to be in good spirits until it’s done. I’m asking a lot from you both but it’s your decision—”

“Are you kidding?” Kelsey drew out a sharp breath, slowly transforming into a laugh, “I want to go with you! I want to be a part of this as much as you do, really. You didn't have to ask me.”

“I’ll go anywhere you go, Ryan,” Brent chimed in, “why would I refuse?”

“I didn't—” Ryan stopped himself, puffed his cheeks, “I didn't think or I wasn’t thinking,” he paused again, taking a sip of his timid tea. He let it warm his body, in the nippy meeting room where he decided to wear his hoodie and sweats, “I want to accomplish Shane’s dreams. This is the only way I could, I guess.”

Taking another sip, Kelsey flinched in her seat, “Ryan—”

“That’s another thing,” Ryan smacked his lips, “Shane didn't leave anything, much less a will in his name. How could they know that’s what they wanted? knew that what he wanted. Shane was a stubborn bastard, I told him, I told him, so many times—" 

Ryan threaded a hand through his hair, “I told him so many times that I could stay home with him. I didn't have to go to London, how could I have known that he refused the show because I wasn’t there to accept it with him?”

“Ryan, you couldn’t have known what he wanted to do,” Kelsey blurted, “none of us knew what he wanted. But he—trust me when I say that he wanted your input.” 

Ryan rubbed his hands over his face, giving her a bitter laugh in response. What harm could it have done, Ryan? Shane said to him, going to London is a luxury and I want you to enjoy yourself

“I enjoyed myself alright,” Ryan murmured over his hands, “I had a good time, to come home with—and now this? Now this?!” Ryan stood from his chair, taking the scripts in hand and throwing them across the room. All the anger he had previously resurfaced and he tried to stop himself from storming out like a child’s tantrum.

“Did Shane love his job at all? Did he love teaching? I don't know! He never told me that he didn't! What else don’t I know? There must be things that Shane never told me! Why did he do that? Why!? Why did he put me first before anything else?”

“He loves you, Ryan—” 

“He loved me,” Ryan sobbed, pointing at his chest, feeling immediately guilty for his insolence. Shane would have frowned at him, told him that it was uncalled for and something out of their control. “Sorry, I—it’s been a long three months.”

Silence returned them again, appreciating the unexpected quietness, Ryan took his time to breathe and walk towards the fallen scripts. He picked them up, stacking them like he done this morning before halting. On his knees, Ryan saw the script of the article Shane wrote with him.

He remembered what they were doing; in the evening of April 2017, where Shane sat him down and personally told him the story of Pirate Anne, the deadliest woman of the seven seas. Ryan knew what Shane had in his mind, what he wanted to type out in his computer for everyone to know. He knew before anybody else, the story where Shane had different voices for different characters.

It pulled Ryan in every time, (even with the useless comments towards him,) he loved it. Shane loves him, there was no past tense here.

“I returned from London at six in the morning,” Ryan recalled, his mind flashed back to where he was exceedingly tired. Seeing his uber driver on the right side of the room for once and the familiar street to his own house; his luggage thicker now before he had left. With souvenirs for family and friends, many of them for Shane himself.

He walked out, tipping his driver and into his apartment complex. Shane would be asleep, he had to be. Ryan struggled to carry his luggage, he remembered, he dragged it upwards on the stairs and grunted when it stuck in one of the rails. He opened the door to see his family gathered in his own living room, even before he got a word in, the expressions on their faces he wouldn’t forget for as long as he lived. 

He knew.

Ryan knew the second his mother ran to him first, that something had happened to the man that was not in the room. The man he was expecting to see.

“Why did I leave him? I could have driven him home, he didn't have to drive,” Ryan echoed to himself, scratching the back of his neck ruthlessly. Arms reached for him before he knew it, drawing him close to a warm body, “he didn't have to drive. Was he upset? Did he have fun? Why didn't he call anybody?”

He felt himself fall into the embrace, then to the cooler surface of the office chair he sat in before. He didn't understand. He didn't know where to go. He couldn't ask Shane was to do next. He couldn't... he couldn't ask him anything anymore. And it left him wondering if he should be alive too.

It is my greatest mistake, Ryan felt hands on the back of his neck, leaving you alone. 

 


 

A pop of confetti startled Ryan as he maneuvered his heel into his dress shoes. They fit a bit smaller than he was used to wearing (sneakers) and the day of his fitting had him frowning at the agonizing blister on both ankles. He looked up, squatting on the floor of his hotel room with one hand on the outside of his shoe, "what—what's that?" 

Confetti flew from Kelsey's hand to his head, sinking into his styled hair and nose, the corners of her mouth twitched as she fiddled with the contraption in her hands. "I bought it at the airport," she gloated, "its a celebration! Congratulations on the premiere of your husband's show!"

Ryan's jaw twitched, lashes fluttered over his cheeks as he stared at Kelsey in dismay. Frozen on the spot, he let out a chuckle and shook his head, "you would find ways to throw confetti at me before the actual celebration."

"What can I say? I'm a sucker for these things," Ryan snorted and fiddled with his dress shoes again. He heard Kelsey walk back and forth around him before she reached for her stiletto heels on the side of the hotel room door. 

“I don’t know how you can walk with those,” Ryan squinted at Kelsey, who was focused on getting her heels on her feet. They were tall, an enormous size for her and she walked in them without caring about it. He’s seen her do it, back when they had office parties, Christmas parties or dinners together, she’ll wear them all night. 

Without sweating either, Kelsey was incredibly strong.

Kelsey laughed, bending over again to clip the strap on her heels, “I’ve told you. If you wear them enough, you’ll get used to them. Ready to go?”

Ryan adjusted his tie, “yeah, I'll check the room before I go, I’ll meet you out in the car.”

Kelsey saluted him, “I’ll be out there, scream if you forget anything.”

Ryan hummed, watching her leave his hotel room and out to the driver waiting for them. He liked wearing suits, before Shane’s passing, he wore them often. One of his co-workers had dressed him before, something that he wouldn’t think of dreaming of wearing but she had picked out his clothes for the day. 

Shane loved it at the time, complimented him and boosted his self-esteem. 

(Kelsey did it for him this time, said that it was a suit Shane was eyeballing for weeks.)

A week since his agreement was accepted and turned in to the executives for a trendy network. They green-lighted what should have been Shane’s show, calling it what it was initially as Ruining History, with Ryan as a co-host. In the contract he agreed to, they were to film the articles how they were written to keep its integrity.

However, Brent would film Shane’s quotes or anything outside of the article that counted as Shane’s original idea. The show was under Shane’s name though, and as Ryan would get ready to start filming next month in New York, he started to think about what kind of future he had for himself.

Moving to New York was an idea. Kelsey had it in her mind to do the same as her work would be exclusively in the office they provided for them. Who knew that Ruining History would have more than one season? Really, Ryan didn't even know that himself. 

In the end, Ryan didn't have much to think about on the trip to New York. On the flight, he talked about it with Kelsey, or as much as he could really, and left room for opinions from her and his parents back home. They didn't seem averse at the idea, but there was one thing bothering him from packing up and leaving. 

Shane’s things were in L.A and it wouldn’t be possible to take all of them to New York. He had furniture and antiques that Ryan would have to leave them in Chicago. Shane’s mother would willingly take them, but is Ryan ready to let go Shane from his life?

It’s true that Shane was buried in a different state than Ryan lived, it didn't stop him from visiting him anytime he had. There were harder days than others, but to not have Shane’s books? Graded essays? Photos of him? Was he prepared to push that away? 

He didn't know.

It was impossible to know. And it felt like this premiere would take what Shane created for the world to see and Ryan would move on.

That stopped him from walking out his hotel room, stepped backwards from the hotel room door and peered at the framed picture from his apartment. There, on his bedside table, in the dim light around him, he saw it next to his glasses. A cup of water beside his things and a picture that had been taken years ago.

A picture that Shane took of them, his arm extended to get both of them in the frame. With their height different it never worked, Ryan’s forehead would be in frame while Shane told him to lift his head upwards to him. (Shane did it on purpose, he did. Laughing as he took the picture with Ryan scolding him in the background.)

He had a beard like Ryan’s, a scruff and jackets to indicate that they were on vacation. He was always handsome, his husband, with a sharp jaw, messy brown-ish hair and eyes that crinkled when he smiled.

None of them were looking at the camera, Shane was looking at him, glancing down at Ryan’s impish expression; he remembered what Shane told him, come on, little guy, get in frame, I’m going to take it

“Shane,” Ryan spoke in the emptiness of his hotel room, taking a seat on the white sheets, “I’m going to the premiere of your show. It’s decent here, I think you'd complain about it or something. You should be here...” 

Why aren’t you here?

Ryan let out the breath he held in, taking his eyes away from the picture, “I don’t know what to say to them. Time passes so fast when you’re not here,” there was little he could do. Spiraling down the road to insanity in a hotel room, in New York, minutes away from leaving for his deceased husband's premiered show.

A show that should have Shane in it.

It happened so sudden, his death. There was little doctors could do, Shane was in a state of unconsciousness, practically brain-dead. But the impact was violent, devastatingly strong, there was minimal pain involved. Ryan was awake when it happened, on the other side of the country, texting Shane to sleep well and that he’ll be home the following night. 

He didn't have service on the flight home, his phone’s battery emptied by the time he arrived at his apartment. It was almost a nightmare when his mother whispered Shane passed away, honeycar accident to him. 

With a last peek to the picture on the bedside table, Ryan groaned and fell back to his bedsheets. Springs bounced him upwards as he stared at the ceiling. He can’t do this, he couldn’t move on like this.

He felt… this would be it, if he went this premiere, if he filmed the rest of the episodes for everyone to see. Everyone will know, Shane wasn’t in this world anymore and it would be like that forever. 

It wasn’t fair, none of it was fair. Ryan’s arm reached his face, covering his eyes, “I miss you so much Shane,” he sobbed in the sleeve of his tuxedo blazer, “I love you and I miss you. Why did you have to go? Why—”

As if it happened right after his words were murmured, Ryan held onto his wrist and groaned. The lack of Shane’s presence itself made it worse. Ryan’s head spun as he was pushed to the deeper into the bed, his head hitting his pillow and with Shane’s silent pleads of please be careful, have fun in London. I’ll be here.

Ryan fell into the darkness. 

When Ryan struggled with the dizziness in his head battling the reality of his situation, he began to wake up gradually. His eyes flickered open, though, all he could see was darkness in the room. Trying to let out a whine, Ryan shut his eyes and stretched his arms.

He touched silky sheets, so, he was in bed, covers on top of him and an arm over his waist. That’s… that’s strange, he doesn’t remember falling asleep. Less with somebody else.

Except—

Holding him close was Shane, he thought, because with the vertigo plaguing his head, he couldn’t find the strength to see if this was true.

For some reason, his senses grew louder, and what once was the silence of the hotel room turned into a plethora of sounds around him. He recognized the ticking of his alarm clock, a vintage antique that Shane bought as a joke that they actually turned to using. Concentrating on the ticking noise, Ryan turned his head, held his breath and prayed that when he moved, he wouldn’t puke. With his arm, Ryan pulled himself up as far as he could, (since someone was holding him) and faced the man he didn't expect to see.

Shane was sound asleep, his mouth parted and eyelashes kissed his upper cheekbones. In sleep, Shane was as peaceful of a person than he was awake. Shane was noisy, a teasing asshole whose freetime consisted of making up terrible jokes for Ryan to hear. Here, he was silent, as quiet as one can be and breathing into the back of Ryan’s neck.

This… this couldn’t be real. This was a dream. There was no explanation as to why it was so real. Why was Shane’s hands warm? His chest moving beside Ryan’s back? This was a dream; but why did it seem so real?

Assuming that he’s in a dream-like state, Ryan stirred his body and the reaction was immediate. Shane tightened his grip on him, soundly asleep. He exhaled noisily, eyes fluttered but continued in his slumber as if nothing had happened.

They used to sleep like this, and after a while, it grew old and Ryan would push him away. This time, Ryan couldn’t see the point to do it, instead drew in a shaky breath, turning back to his side and settling in closer to Shane. Looking at the alarm, nothing but Shane’s breathing and the tick of the aglow crimson numbers lured him back to sleep.

The scene changed, in an instant he was on solid ground. As if he was placed there by divine dispensation—choosing him for do their bidding. By the time Ryan opened his eyes, he realized that the void of light that he’s been looking at wasn’t because his eyes were closed.

In the distance before him, black street lamps illuminated a yellow-orange tint to the pavement, the trees surrounding him and the road straight ahead. It’s empty, wherever he is, and judging from its landscape, it’s a park. There’s nothing around him, not a playground set or picnic tables, only the lonesome leaves that fall from their branches.

There’s a pile of them all over the place, none seemed to be cleaned up or organized—then, this park has been abandoned?

Suddenly, as if it was the answer to his question, Ryan heard the sound of wheels on gravel. It renders him frozen, though he’s too far to see, he knows it must be some kind of car. He heard the screeching of wheels from the distance and with the sound of the car bumping on a crack on the street, Ryan jumped.

He physically jumped. His legs jerked and he swayed for a split second. 

What?

As if it's a miracle, Ryan held out his arms and kneaded his shoulders. They were his arms, hidden by a burgundy long sleeve shirt, but they were there. He doesn’t remember wearing this when he went to bed and it led him to look at himself. There wasn’t much to see, considering the limited light given, but these… these are not the clothes he slept in.

Ryan looks straight ahead and while all his flight-or-fight instincts told him to run, he couldn’t help himself but think about his husband.

Where was he? How did he get here?

Find him.

“Who—” Ryan trembled, the street. There’s bound to be people there, and maybe, maybe one of them would be kind to explain what was going on. Or he could be mugged, left for dead. It was a fifty-fifty chance, but the gravitational pull of his heart somehow told him that Shane was here and he had to find him.

Without thinking twice, Ryan let his legs walk him towards the cobblestone street and out of the park he was in. If there’s cars, then he was either in a downtown or... or... this… this is Los Angeles.

It wouldn’t make sense, I’m in New York. 

But he’s been in downtown, many times before. He recognized the roads because he’s driven through the highways, Shane on the passenger seat, holding his hand.

Thinking of Shane was like a stab through the heart and the second he was out of the park, the scene changed again. The street before him was narrow, townhouses of pastel and cream colors joined together by a river. It wasn’t guarded by a fence, opened for people to see or fall in. 

It didn't smell great either, Ryan wrinkled his nose as he walked on his own. There weren't any pedestrians around him too, maybe since it was late at night and he was the only idiot walking around on his own.

He tried his best and the urge to call out for somebody grew overwhelmingly stronger was he walked. Ryan never felt lonelier, sadness engulfed him as he continued his way through the city he grew up in.

The sound of a horn interrupted his thoughts. Ryan found himself whirling around and found himself face-to-face with a car. The car is dark in color, two small headlights illuminated the street before him. Ryan’s seen these kinds of cars before on television or literally any junkyard in L.A.

Panicked, Ryan’s mouth opened to shout, instead he covered his mouth with his hands. Watching the car drive by him, paying him no mind as Ryan’s muffled sobs rang in the street.

“S—sorry,” He whispered, afraid, his voice peaked through the empty spaces of his fingers. He was petrified. He didn't know where he was or how he had gotten there. He knew that he was in New York, he was one-hundred percent sure that he was in a hotel room with Kelsey waiting for him. And now he’s here? Back in Los Angeles?

Was he drugged? Is this the side effects of being drugged?

Ryan wanted to desperately cry on the spot, fall to his knees and wait for him to wake up. But this isn’t a dream, this was real. He was living in it, his physical form was here. And the longer he spent in L.A, he found himself pulled towards an unknown direction. A gravitational pull of some sort, working at a guide in Ryan’s not-so dream. 

He couldn’t find himself to reject it.

He tried his best to keep himself upright. Something told him that in whatever state he was in, in a city he knew, they wouldn’t be kind to pedestrians in their most vulnerable state.

It wasn’t soon after, recovering from a panic attack, he heard the sound of music from afar. He knew that he had walked a good distance, but Ryan couldn’t see much from where was. He walked. And walked. And walked— 

And walked to… a square. The scene changed drastically, sadness disappeared from him and he stumbled to the side to the nearest brick wall. His hand worked as leverage and Ryan covered his mouth again. The outward feeling of vertigo overpowered him as he coughed, bending down as he let it all out.

What is this? What are these mood swings— 

“Hurry the fuck up guys! Happy hour ends in twenty minutes!”

What’s that? 

It was laughter this time, followed by muffled words spoken. “Hurry! The… drinks!”

Ryan did his best to focus on the words, on the laughter. Though it only made him want to vomit in the street. Pathetic sight he was, really. In the middle of a plaza, music blasting in from god knows where, and him, coughing up his lung as if he was drunk.

Groaning, Ryan lifted his chin. Straight ahead was brighter, lights all around illuminated the pub he stumbled across. Made sense, would this be somewhere he had been before? Does that explain why he felt intoxicated?

Following the set of laughter, a pair of women ran into the pub. Wearing exquisite striped dresses and odd colored boots. Their hair pinned up, in braids or otherwise and holding each other tightly as they stepped into the pub. Oh so… 

Looking up was a mistake. Ryan’s eyes widened as he peered inside. He could… He could have sworn he saw—

It had to be him. There’s no mistaking him.

Ryan wouldn’t ever forget what he looked like.

“Shane!” He bellowed, unaware of the people around the pub, Ryan pushed his dizziness aside as he ran across the street. It wasn’t as busy, cars zoomed by and none of them enjoyed the presence of Ryan crossing the street like a maniac. 

Getting into the pub was easier said than done, he lost sight of what he thought was Shane. Until he staggered inside. Familiarity grasped his heartstrings; Ryan knows he’s never been in such a place before, but he couldn’t help but feel the power of nostalgia.

The pub was bright, wooden walls surrounded the drunken people inside. Pillars stood high, holding the building upright with stairs leading upstairs connecting them. He saw people do so, dragging their lovers or friends by the collar. He heard languages he did not comprehend, words he did not care for. All his attention served to find the man he thought would be Shane.

Shane.

God. This was it. He’s lost it. He’s gone insane. In the dream, or the nightmare that teased him with the sight of his deceased lover, in the middle of his trip for his show. In the five steps of grief, Ryan somehow added an extra step, insanity and squeezed it between denial and anger.

Then, Ryan turned his attention to the right of him, where the windows had been stained and the bar full. 

It was there, his husband stood beside the bar counter.

Shane didn't look younger. It was a given, he didn't age in the years he had been alive. He had his beard, fully grown and tangled from days of not shaving. (There were barbers in L.A, Shane, why wouldn’t you shave? Don’t you know that beard burns hurt like a bitch?) 

He wore a suit, from what Ryan could see, were layers of dark brown clothes. He took off whatever he wore to keep him warm and all was shown were the suspenders connecting to his waistband of his pants. His hair was a fiasco in itself, he must have been out for hours.

Ryan watched as Shane lifted the sleeves of his sweater, smiling vibrantly as the bartender walked to him. With a slap of his towel over his shoulder, Shane spoke to him what Ryan could assume was his order.

He… he was the same. Shane waited patiently for his drink, tapping his finger on the wooden counter and greeted friends around him merrily. He looked… 

“Shane…” Ryan couldn’t find the energy to call out to him. Shane’s demeanour didn't change, but he stepped further. He noticed as he called his name again and Shane’s eyebrows drawing together for a split moment, looking to his right.

Ryan hid behind a pillar when Shane looked towards his direction, and with the call of Shane’s name from the bartender and a thank you from Shane, Ryan tried to find a way out.

There was… no fucking way. 

Shane wasn’t alive. Shane was not in the same pub he texted Ryan about before he left for London. This was not… the same place where he left and drove home himself with liquor flowing through his veins.

Ryan’s body shook, he had to get out of here but as he tried to step outside, the sound of a laugh stopped him. It was Shane’s laugh, the one that he had when he couldn’t find the strength to genuinely laugh. It made Ryan turn around instinctively. 

There was no doubt about it. That was Shane.

Holy shit. That was Shane.

Hidden behind the pillar, he saw Shane drink from his glass and dance around the crowd of people. He laughed, there was the crinkle of his eyes and his flushed cheeks.

He watched Shane dance, his long limbs up in the air in case he pushed somebody on accident. It almost happened a few times as he tried to take a drink from his glass and it made Ryan smile. 

His eyes never left Shane’s form; he was drunk, plastered. And somehow, he kept himself stable enough to dance. He didn't cling, he didn't bump into anything, he continued to drink from his glass and sing along to a song Ryan has heard many times before.

What would happen in a few hours would change the scene and as Ryan patted down his jeans for his phone, confirming that somehow he was reversed to October 24, 2017, the day where Shane Bergara-Madej would drive out at one in the morning, be a victim in a fatal collision and pass away hours later.

Ryan’s hands tightened into fists on the pillar and and did what he knew to do. Adrenaline ran through his blood, and Ryan shouted louder than he’s ever done in his life, “Shane!”

Shane didn't seem to notice at first. When he chugged the last of his whiskey, he opened his eyes and narrowed them to the bar. Then Ryan tensed when Shane noticed him, and through the glass Ryan could see that his expression changed.

“Ryan?” Shane’s arm lowered, perplexity drew his features as he discarded his drink on the counter and ran to his side. The following moments where Shane was walking towards him, living, breathing, Shane, on the eve of his death, alive, was the oddest that Ryan’s ever felt.

His head lifted upwards when Shane was in front of him, unsure of what—then he was drawn into a hug.

“Baby! What are you doing here?” Ryan’s body was shaken, was it from him or from Shane? He smelled the cologne Shane wore, the alcohol that draped over him slightly and his body… he was fucking warm.

Shane pulled him away, observed him in with tears in his eyes. He placed his large hands on Ryan’s cheeks, a freelance thumb caressed Ryan’s jaw, “are you really here? Weren’t you in London?”

That—he was not expecting that. Ryan assumed that something, someone, must have reversed him back to the day that he was traveling back to London. A white lie didn't hurt anybody, “yeah—yeah, I… I got a flight early. Sorry I didn't call. Wanted to surprise you.”

“Surprise me? You… you silly man,” Shane slapped his cheeks gently, “you fucking did, I tell you what. I’m surprised.

Ryan’s lips shook as he gathered his strength to smile, “I’m glad. I missed you. I missed you so fucking much.”

They were still in the pub, people around him were on their own dancing to the beat of the music played in the speakers above them. They were probably drunk, Shane was probably on the urge of tipsy at best, but Ryan didn't give a shit about anything besides him at the moment.

He didn't have time to think about anything else when Shane drew him in for a kiss, his lips touching the side of Ryan’s mouth missing an inch of his lips. Ryan helped him, returning the kiss with the same fervor as he did. It felt like Shane’s lips did, warm and soft, sometimes he had that odd cherry chapstick with him that he carried around when he wanted Ryan to have the full experience of a kiss. 

But Ryan hadn’t felt his lips in such a long time—never forgetting what they felt like.

This wasn’t a dream. Shane was alive.

What the hell is going on?

Shane’s hand moved to the back of Ryan’s neck, squeezing it before leaving his lips, “hey, what do you say we get out of here? Maybe get something to eat on the way? I’m sure you’re tired right? Hey—little guy, don’t cry. It’s just me, I was a phone call away.”

But you weren’t.

You died. 

“Yeah,” Ryan keened, “I’m exhausted.”

“Okay,” Shane’s smile widened, “I brought the car, wasn’t sure if I was going to—”

“I can drive!” Ryan interrupted, reaching for the keys in Shane’s hands and ignored his heart beating out of his chest, “I can drive! I’ll drive us home. We can call a pizza or something—I’ll drive.”

Shane blinked, “okay? Wow, you must be tired, what you thought about me too much on the plane home? Ryan, I’ve been telling you that it’ll drain you.”

Ryan had no response to that; he thought that he’d reply with a shut up, Shane and walk away. He couldn’t, he was silent and Shane dragged him out with a hand on his shoulder, keeping him close.

How do you tell your husband that he’s been thinking of him for the three months he’s been dead?

 


 

Walking into their apartment on October 24, three months before the accident that would take (well, would have taken,) Shane’s life away was surreal. The drive home was decent, Ryan kept his focus, eyes straight on the road with the occasional smile towards Shane. Nothing was out of place, and if the deity that set Ryan in the timeframe wanted to mess with him by somehow killing his husband in front of him now would have a hard time since they would have to go through Ryan first.

Their apartment was rich with life, a lot of Shane’s old things on display whereas Ryan had packed them away because he couldn’t bare to look at them. Mickie and Dori greeted them, friendly barks and scrapes of their calves as if to say welcome home

Welcome home, alright. Ryan’s been living in the discreet apartment alone for months, but now he had his husband, his other half, stumbling in, mumbling nonsense under his breath. Ryan watched him, seeing as he tossed the car keys in the bowl in front of their front door and took Dori and Mickie into his arms and walked away.

Ah, he was drunk.

“Look at our babies,” Shane’s low voice spoke, Dori tried to lick his face in the process, “I’m tired. I’m going to sleep.”

“You…” Ryan didn't know what to say, married for a year, been together for over four, and he was speechless as to what to say to I’m going to sleep other than: “you’re not hungry?”

Shane didn't seem to mind, he merely shook his head, his hair stuck out as he did, “no, no, no, baby. Sleep.”

Turning on his heel, Shane’s feet stumped away from the living room and towards their bedroom. Disappearing from sight, Ryan took the time to look around—yeah, there were things he remembered buying weeks before leaving for London. 

A box of unwanted clothes on the side of the television that Shane was going to donate the following day. In the kitchen was the laundry hamper and Ryan tilted his head to see Shane’s navy sweater, something that his mother had washed and folded on the day of his passing.

Everything was neat, untouched, nothing was out of the ordinary and it almost seemed normal to say that Ryan never spend three months mourning. It fucked with him, it did, and he was expecting to wake up from the long-lasting dream that he didn't think about having to begin with. 

The longer time passed, the more he began to believe that it was real and he was actually back to October 24, 2017.

“This is insane,” Ryan uttered to himself, “this is fucking—”

Stopping himself, he reached for his phone again and tapped it. A photo of him and Shane displayed on the lock screen and he unlocked it, checking his incoming and missed calls. A few for Kelsey, most of them from Shane as facetime and a significant amount of time for each one.

As much as he didn't want to wake Kelsey up at eleven at night, he tapped on her name and it soon rang. What the hell is he doing? He’s going to be labeled crazy by his peers if he—

"Hello? Ryan?” 

Kelsey’s voice rang through his receiver and Ryan yelped, almost dropping his phone on the wooden floor before recovering it and pressing it to his ear, “hey, uh, hey. Sorry to wake you.”

"I… I wasn’t asleep, I’m at the airport. Is everything alright? You already landed? I thought you just left, we got off the phone 3 hours ago.

Oh.

Oh fuck.

“No!” Ryan choked, surprising himself with his tone and Shane’s voice echoed in the apartment with a Ryan, come to bed! He covered the speaker to his phone, enough to muffle Kelsey’s who is that? Is that Shane? 

“Uh, no, that’s the television. Sorry, I’m—my flight is delayed.”

Uh... what? Brent said that it left on time—”

“Great!’ Ryan hung up the call, if he continued to talk to Kelsey about anything, he would give himself away. Somehow? Or again, make him look demented that she’ll meet up with him. He could just pretend he didn't call her.

“Ryan,” at the sound of his name from the bedroom, “please come to bed. I’m tired.” 

As baffled as he was, Ryan’s feet led him to the bedroom that he and Shane shared. Turning off his phone, he was astonished by the sight of his husband face down on the bed. “Shane, you’ll get sick if you sleep like that.” 

“Maybe,” Shane mumbled into his pillow, one of his eyes opened as he smiled, “maybe if I lay on my side, you can cuddle me? You're not allowed to refuse.” 

Ryan pursed his lips, tossing his phone to the side of the beds where Dori laid. As long as a day was for him and with no possible reasoning as to what had happened to him in the past hour, Ryan set himself next to Shane and wrapped his arms around him.

I missed you.  

I love you.

“Sleep, Shane, I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“You always, always are. Hey,” Shane turned his head, squinted his eyes at Ryan, “just in time too, w' gonna call you...”

"You were?"

"Yeah," Shane swallowed, his eyes found Ryan's in their position on their bed, he snorted when Ryan's expression remained stoic, "I love ya, I do, I would do anything for ya. I think I should get better, to take care of you better. Lately... lately, you been acting like a different person and I don't—"

Pressing a hand on Shane's chest, Ryan tried to move away when Shane stopped him with a hand on his hip, "what—what do you mean I'm a different person?"

"I dunno, it's like you know what I'll say next or—I dunno," Shane shook his head again, closing his eyes before opening them again. "Dreams—say, Ryan. Promise that you won't leave me. Take me with you next time."

“I won’t be going on vacation any time soon, Shane,” Ryan promised, kept the promise near his heart. 

"Baby," Shane exhaled, rustled the sheets as he scooted closer to Ryan, "don't make promises you can't keep."

"I'm not leaving you," Ryan drew his eyebrows together, murmuring repeatedly into Shane's hair, "I'm not leaving you." 

Shane was asleep before he knew it, and his chest rose and fell in a unfaltering beat as Ryan laid there. If he slept, maybe the memory will fade and he’ll wake up in January, in the hotel room in New York with Kelsey screaming at him that they’re late.

Ryan couldn't help himself and before he knew it, he had placed his chilly fingers on the side of Shane's face. The smooth skin under his fingertips took him by surprise, his body succumbed to shivers, goosebumps raised the hair on both of his arms as his fingers trailed Shane's jaw. 

"I love you," Ryan gulped, "even if you don't anymore. You're the love of my life, people love you, you have to stay alive."

Shane's eyelids remained closed, his mouth parted as he slept, wearing his outdoor clothes. The clothes that were given to Ryan at the hospital when he had passed away, clothes that... 

The shirt wasn't green before? He had been sure it was—

Shane's head jerked as Ryan's hand pressed on his nape accidentally. Moving his hand away, his eyes found his husband, alive. Fuck everything, it didn't matter how he got here, let him be selfish for a moment. 

Unbeknownst of the time that had passed, Ryan closed his eyes and held onto Shane, tears that had gathered in his eyes fell down his cheeks and he fell asleep before they had time to dry.

He heard the light voices of his alarm clock as he dozed off, the sound of footsteps out of the living room. Ryan was drained, he closed off any sound around him and he let himself fall to the edge of the couch, resting his head on the cushion. He couldn’t deny that his eyes flew open when he realized that the footsteps were not his or Shane’s.

Before he had time to move, there was a voice in the living room he couldn’t make out. 

“I’m home! Sorry I forgot to text you! Crazy shit, I lost my phone and I couldn’t—” 

At first, Ryan couldn’t explain what he was looking at. Something told him to cover Shane’s ears from hearing the intruder, he took his arms away from his husband’s sleeping form, tossed his pillow and threw the blanket on Shane.

Only then, he wasn’t sure if he was the intruder.

In front of his vision of sight was him. Or what was him.

What Ryan looked like when he was out of the plane from London to LAX, the burgundy sweater with his gray scarf. His hair over his forehead and his luggage all around him as he carried souvenirs from his trip. Or their trip.

Past Ryan’s eyes rounded when he spotted him, mouth gaped like a fish underwater and as soon as Ryan was sure he would scream at him, he… he did the inevitable.

He began to melt.

Horrifyingly, Ryan’s howls were unheard as he reached for his disfigured face. His eyes swooped towards his cheekbones and the skin flared up before covering him in colorless gaps. His complexion wax-like before Ryan could acknowledge what was happening in front of him.

In a haste, he stood from the bed and plastered himself to the wall of his bedroom as his doppleganger reached for him. Dropping the handle of the suitcase, his doppleganger fell to his knees of his carpet and groaned. Something out of a horror movie, he slittered with the body he was left with. 

He was left with his right leg and his left arm. As the rest of him was decomposing before Ryan’s eyes, disintegrating into the carpet underneath with a heave. His doppleganger's face was the worst part of it, Ryan was seeing himself—somebody that came home from a trip—die.

This was him and he was fucking dying. 

Boney fingers reached for him before his doppleganger’s ear fell off, falling with a thud on the carpet and following his left arm. Limbless, his doppleganger let out a shriek before collapsing into the carpet in a heap of nothing and leaving Ryan back to the silence of his room, Shane’s snoring was all he heard. 

Before closing his eyes, he turned to his his bedside table, his alarm clock read: 6:34 A.M.

 

...

 

Then, Ryan’s eyes opened and his body trembled. He released a harrowing shriek and his arms wrapped around his chest to protect himself. Curled into himself on the kitchen table, he let himself breathe. Scrambling for his phone with quivering fingers, he unlocked it and dismissed the 6:34 A.M displayed.