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Shane dies in Arizona, less than a mile from the California border.

Honestly, he never sees it coming. He doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking of death. Though to clarify, he spends a lot of time thinking about other people’s deaths for work. He doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his own.

It’s not even exciting, which is the worst part. The least the universe could do is give him a kickass death — something dramatic and enticing enough to bring in thousands of new viewers to the channel so Ryan could monetize it.

Instead, it goes like this:

*

“I think something bit me in there,” Shane says, hand on his neck as he emerges from the prison cell after his solo session. The bats had been everywhere, swooping around close enough that he could feel the moving air beneath their wings. He’s pretty sure he didn’t see anything get close enough to bite him, but he’d certainly felt something against his throat. He’d have to watch the footage back to be sure.

“I'm not falling for it,” Ryan complains in a voice that says he's genuinely annoyed. “You always do this to scare me after your shut-ins and you're so full of shit.”

“No, I'm not — ” Shane starts, pulling his fingers away to glance down at them, but in the dark he can’t tell if there’s blood on them or not.

“I’m already scared, dude,” Ryan interrupts. “You don’t need to mess with me.”

Shane wants to continue arguing, but then Devon’s stepping in and helping to unbuckle the equipment from his body so they can put it on Ryan instead. He misses his opportunity and by the time Ryan’s disappearing from sight for his own solo adventure, his neck is beginning to sting. He rubs at it idly and wonders if he should start googling information about rabies.

*

The hotel they’re staying at is barely a five minute drive from the prison, but Shane, having apparently fallen asleep in that time, finds himself jerking awake as the rental car rocks to a stop in the parking lot. He feels cold and there’s pressure behind his eyes like a headache is brewing.

He helps carry equipment inside, because he's a polite, Midwestern boy at heart, but then staggers down the hallway to the room he and Ryan are sharing. It takes three swipes of the keycard to open the door because his eyes refuse to focus, but it’s different from the tiredness he usually feels after an all-night shoot.

He sits on the end of his bed and stares into the middle distance, his whole body seeming ten times heavier than usual.

“Whoa,” Ryan says when he steps inside, and Shane honestly couldn’t say if it’s a few minutes or a few hours later. “You look like shit.”

It takes more effort than he’d like to admit to raise his head and meet Ryan’s gaze, and then Ryan’s moving closer to press the back of his hand against Shane’s forehead.

“Oh, buddy; you’re burning up.”

“I am?” Shane asks, because he still just feels cold inside. Endlessly cold.

“Did you bring any Nyquil?”

“I wasn’t sick when we drove in yesterday,” he says, meaning no.

“Maybe the vending machine in the front has some,” Ryan says, though it sounds like he’s just talking aloud to himself.

When Shane blinks, Ryan disappears, and when he opens his eyes again, the room is tilted and he’s slumped against the floor with Ryan gently trying to tug him upright.

“Dude, you’re not okay.” Ryan says, beginning to sound panicked. “We should take you to urgent care.”

“No,” Shane grunts. “No, I just need sleep. I’ll be fine.”

He doesn’t think it counts as a lie if he honestly doesn’t know the answer.

He gets his feet under himself and lets Ryan guide him upwards. He’s never felt every inch of himself so keenly before, but he feels a little like what he thinks it must feel like to be a skyscraper in the wind; swaying from side to side enough to be noticed and create an air of general concern.

Gentle hands clutch at his coat and steady him enough to take two lumbering steps towards the head of the bed. He sits back down on the edge of the mattress and he thinks Ryan unlaces and pulls off his boots before lifting Shane’s legs and helping him sprawl out. He knows the sheets will be a little more difficult to unlodge from under his weight, but Ryan manages with a few unrelenting tugs without Shane having to make any effort, which is great.

He can’t remember the last time someone tucked him into bed, but it feels reassuring when Ryan nudges the sheets around him to the point where he can’t actually move his arms. He feels safe, like he’ll be okay with Ryan watching over him.

When Ryan takes the glasses from his face, the world turns blurrier, but it doesn’t mask Ryan's worried expression.

“My coat — ” Shane starts and then stops because it takes too much out of him.

“If it’s a fever, you need to sweat it out,” Ryan tells him. “You’ll survive sleeping in your clothes for one night.”

Shane blinks at him and Ryan presses a hand against his forehead again before sweeping it down to his cheek, thumb rubbing soothingly under his eye. He can't tell if it's meant to comfort himself or Ryan, but it's the last thing he feels before everything goes dark.

*

And that’s how Shane dies. He just shuts his eyes and disappears between one breath and the next. It’s boring and surprisingly peaceful.

Except that he doesn’t die, because he opens his eyes and he’s still in his bed in the hotel in Arizona, there’s sunlight pouring in around the crappy curtains, and — after he puts his glasses on — the clock on the bedside table says it’s a little after one in the afternoon.

Ryan’s snoring quietly on the other bed, but he’s not even under the sheets and he’s still dressed and wearing his ghost hunting boots. It doesn’t seem right.

Shane sits up, vaguely aware that he had his coat on when he fell asleep, but now it's missing and there’s a suspicious stain down the front of his shirt. Glancing over the side of the bed, he finds his coat crumpled into a ball on the floor, covered in what appears to be old blood.

“Huh,” he murmurs, and Ryan stirs but doesn’t wake. He doesn’t remember bleeding and he thinks he probably should. He hopes it’s not from Ryan.

He takes stock of himself, flexing various parts of his body, just to see if anything hurts, but he feels surprisingly okay for having suffered through what was apparently a ten hour fever. When he digs himself out from under the covers, he finds he can stand unassisted, and so shuffles his way into the bathroom for a closer inspection.

The light hurts his eyes when he flicks it on, but after they adjust he stares at himself in the mirror.

Apart from looking a little paler — which he thinks is to be expected after being sick — he seems about the same. His hair is a mess and there’s a red stain on his chin, which looks like more blood, but after a few splashes of water from the sink, his hair falls back into place and the bloodstain disappears.

Out of curiosity, he tilts his head, looking at his neck in the mirror, inspecting for any possible bat bites where he thought he’d been bitten the night before, but there’s nothing. There’s a splotch of blood on the collar of his shirt, but with no actual marks on his skin and other random bloodstains across his front, it’s inconclusive at best.

“Huh,” he says again and then makes the mistake of glancing into the bathtub.

There’s a layer of blood along the bottom and a handprint smeared over the edge. On the tile by the toilet, there’s another small puddle of it, and upon looking down, Shane finds he’s added a handful of bloody footprints leading from the bathroom door to where he’s standing.

Thankfully, there’s nothing outside on the carpet, which means they have more of a chance of not being charged a cleaning fee, but he ruins one of the towels by using it to wipe the soles of his feet.

“Ryan?” he calls out, stepping back into the bedroom, and Ryan bolts up like he’s waking from a nightmare. The bruises under his eyes hint that he hasn’t been asleep for long.

“Holy shit,” Ryan says and Shane thinks it might be an understatement.

“What the fuck happened in the bathroom? Are you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Ryan asks incredulously. “You had a crazy fever for like eight hours and wouldn’t stop bleeding.”

“Bleeding?” He’s still pretty sure he doesn’t have any wounds. “From where?”

“Your mouth.”

Shane turns and walks back into the bathroom, opening his mouth to stare at it in the mirror. He expects the worst — missing teeth or a mutilated tongue, but there’s...nothing at all. He even counts all his teeth just to be sure, but unless his teacher in elementary school lied about how many he's meant to have, they’re all still firmly attached to his jaw. They aren’t even sore, but as he swipes his tongue around, he realizes it definitely tastes coppery, like blood.

Ryan’s reflection appears beside his own as he lingers in the doorway and Shane stares at him.

“Do you have cameras somewhere? Is this a prank?” he asks, though he doesn’t quite believe it himself. Ryan’s pranks are usually good. “My mouth is fine.”

He turns to face Ryan and there’s a blood stain down his entire front. If it is a prank, he thinks Ryan ruined a pair of his favorite pants for it.

“This isn’t a — ” Ryan begins, taking a step towards him, one hand reaching upwards. Shane takes a step away, reacting before he can even think about what Ryan’s touch might entail. But Ryan doesn’t give him a choice when he follows him back, gripping Shane’s chin firmly and using the thumb of his other hand to push up Shane’s top lip. He’s looking for something Shane doesn’t think he’ll find, but he checks the other side of Shane’s mouth before letting go abruptly.

Shane licks his lips and tastes the saltiness from Ryan’s skin. Ryan just stares at him.

“You had — ” he starts as he frowns, apparently trying to work through an issue in the way that he does. “You had sharper teeth last night.”

Shane blinks. “Sharper teeth.”

Ryan touches his own mouth and frowns again. “I saw them.”

“Were we both sick?” Shane questions, only half joking when he reaches out to touch Ryan’s forehead. Ryan’s skin feels warmer than normal, but Ryan jerks away from Shane’s touch like he’s been burned.

“What the fuck?” Ryan yelps, staring at Shane’s hand with an accusation in his expression that he doesn’t seem to be able to vocalize. Shane glances at said hand, but it doesn’t seem to appear any different; he still has the same long fingers and broad palm as always.

“What?” Shane asks, because it wouldn’t be the first time he’s missed the obvious.

Still staring at Shane’s hand, Ryan reaches out again to grip his wrist, his hands slowly sliding up Shane’s forearm, but Shane has no idea what he’s searching for there.

Finally, Ryan looks up and meets Shane’s gaze, saying, “You’re so cold.”

Shane frowns and presses his own hand between Ryan’s, but his skin feels the same. Maybe a little dry from the Arizona air, but nothing to write home about.

“What are you talking about?” he asks and Ryan moves a palm to Shane’s forehead, just like the night before when he checked his fever. But Shane doesn’t feel sick now.

“You’re like ice.”

“I don’t feel cold,” Shane admits. “Maybe it’s just in comparison to last night?”

Ryan shakes his head, his palm sliding to Shane’s cheek. It feels oddly intimate in the closeness of the bathroom and Shane thinks his heart should be thundering in his chest, but there’s not much of anything. He frowns and Ryan’s hand continues its trail, sliding down to his jaw and lower still to his throat.

He pauses for only a moment and then jerks away, stumbling backwards enough that he hits the wall outside of the bathroom, staring wide-eyed at Shane.

“What — ?” Shane asks, raising his own hand to his neck, half expecting to find another head growing from it. But aside from a few missed hairs when he last shaved, his skin is smooth. “What am I missing?”

Ryan touches his own neck, weirdly appearing to take his pulse with two fingers under the hinge of his jaw, which seems a little dramatic.

“Oh, thank god. I’m alive,” he states, relief clear in his voice as his hand drops back to his side. Very dramatic.

“Is this a new bit you’re trying out?” Shane asks, but Ryan is practically vibrating with energy and Shane still feels he’s missing something important.

“Find your pulse,” Ryan gets out between unsteady breaths.

“My pulse?” Shane asks with a quirk of his brow. It’s not the strangest thing Ryan’s ever asked him to do, but usually he’d prefer a little more context. However, his hand is already on his neck anyway; it would take minimal effort to humor him.

He watches Ryan closely as he shifts to his pulse-point, waiting for the telltale thump-thump of blood beneath his fingers. Except it never comes. He shifts his fingers further under his chin, pressing into the soft flesh there, and tries again. Still nothing.

He tries the inside of his wrist instead, pressing hard to find the pulse he knows is there, but after a few long seconds tick by, he can’t feel a thing. Ryan looks at him expectantly and Shane narrows his eyes. He refuses to be so easily baited. He shifts his palm to rest directly over his heart, ready to tell Ryan to stop fucking around. Any minute now, he’ll feel the familiar thudding in his chest. Any minute.

“Did you do something?” Shane asks, because he can’t feel a thing in his chest, but that doesn’t mean anything. Obviously his heart is beating because he’s standing there talking. If his heart wasn’t beating, he’d be dead on the floor at Ryan’s feet.

“You don’t have a heartbeat,” Ryan says carefully, “and you’re too cold to be —”

“To be what?” Shane provokes. “To be alive?”

He says it incredulously because it’s the stupidest thing anyone could ever suggest, but then Ryan proves him wrong.

“To be human,” Ryan says. “I think you weren’t lying about being bitten yesterday.”

Shane blinks and then blinks again because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“What exactly are you suggesting?”

“Wait there,” Ryan says unhelpfully, and then vanishes around the corner in the direction of their beds. “I was googling last night.” His voice is muffled slightly by the distance, but then he returns to the doorway, apparently victorious as he clutches his phone. He holds it out towards Shane, who takes it skeptically.

There’s a picture of Nosferatu on the screen and Shane thinks about tossing the phone into the toilet and flushing it away, but he can’t decide if dealing with Ryan’s subsequent anger would be worth it. He settles on passing the phone back to Ryan and then shutting the door between them.

“Shane,” Ryan pleads through the wood, and Shane locks it for good measure.

He doesn’t know what the fuck happened in the bathroom, but one of them has to clean it and it might as well be him since he’s sane and not pretending his colleagues are vampires. When he turns on the bath faucet, the noise of the water drowns out Ryan’s voice and he settles on his knees to wash away the remaining red stain with one of the towels that’s a lost cause anyway.

The floor is a little harder to clean because the blood has settled into the grouting between the tiles. By the time he’s finished scrubbing at the worst of it and it looks less like they murdered someone overnight, two large towels and a hand towel are ruined to the point where Shane puts them into the plastic bag meant for the trashcan and plans to throw them into the dumpster behind the hotel himself. The cleaning staff doesn’t deserve to be exposed to such horrors or body fluids.

He thinks the effort from cleaning should have left him breathless and sweating. Climbing the stairs at work is enough to get his heart going these days, but his chest is still unmistakably silent and his brow and underarms are dry. He stares at himself in the mirror again, but it’s still the same reflection staring back.

He’s not dead. He’s standing in a bathroom in Arizona and his body has suddenly decided that it doesn’t need a heart to function. That’s all.

There’s a gentle tap on the door and he doesn’t know how Ryan does it, but it sounds apologetic.

“The crew just texted,” his muffled voice says. “They’re going out for food if you want to join.”

He knows he could face the situation head-on. He could leave the bathroom, tell Ryan he’s an idiot for even thinking about googling vampires, and he could get himself a burger and fries and maybe a shake and keep on living his life.

But he’s also a coward, which means he says, “I’m not hungry,” and then listens to the quiet sounds of Ryan sighing in disappointment and then leaving.

Shane emerges from the bathroom a few seconds after the front door bangs closed, and Ryan says, “You’re so predictable.”

He’s standing by the door with his arms folded and sometimes Shane really hates how much Ryan cares about the people in his life enough to fake him out.

“I’m not talking about this with you,” Shane tells him, heading towards the nightstand where his phone is sitting. It’s almost dead and it says a lot about the situation they’re in that Ryan doesn’t complain when he steals his charger to plug it in. He checks his emails and Ryan comes to sit on the bed opposite him.

He’s no longer wearing blood-stained clothes, but he still looks rough.

“You don’t have to talk,” he says. “You can just listen because whether you like it or not, I went through something really fucked up last night and you know how I feel about bottling things up.”

It’s true — Shane knows that Ryan despises bottling up his emotions. If Shane published his own dictionary, there would be a picture of Ryan next to the word metrosexual. He’s young and hip and very in-tune with his emotions. Shane knows from experience that it’s best to just let Ryan purge his feelings.

Shane sighs and glances up, pretending to listen for Ryan’s sake.

“You were really sick last night,” he starts, which isn’t really a grand announcement for Shane.

“Yeah, it was some kind of flu.”

No, Shane,” Ryan grits out, his face flushing, “it was not some kind of flu.”

“Okay,” Shane agrees quietly, because he thinks that’s what Ryan needs. Ryan takes a few calming breaths and Shane doesn’t try to interrupt.

“I thought you were going to bleed out in the bathroom,” Ryan tells him and his voice trembles. “I thought I was going to watch you die.”

He thinks there must have been a lot more blood than just the remaining stains he’s seen.

Shane waits because that’s what he’s supposed to do, and eventually Ryan meets his gaze. His eyes are undeniably wet, but he doesn’t think Ryan is sad, more that he’s endlessly angry. Most likely because Shane is so blasé about the entire thing. He lived through it, but it’s not like he remembers.

“Something happened to you last night. You've changed.”

Part of Shane wants to laugh because it's a ridiculous thing to say. It's dramatic and straight out of some kind of thriller movie. But he doesn’t, because Ryan wouldn't appreciate that.

“I’m still me,” Shane tells him when he thinks it’s safe, but Ryan shakes his head.

“You've always been the skeptic, but you're really fucking dense when you've been given actual empirical evidence.”

“Empirical evidence,” Shane repeats, like if he hears it twice it'll make more sense.

“You don't believe your heart has stopped. If you went to the ER, they'd consider you dead.”

“No, they wouldn't. Death isn't just when the heart stops; it's when the brain stops, too.”

“Well, your brain hasn’t worked in a long time,” Ryan jabs, which Shane thinks is a good sign. The chances of making Ryan cry are less when they're back to joking.

“Okay,” Shane says after a breath. “Let’s say my heart’s stopped. And maybe we’ve fallen into some alternate reality where vampires exist and I am one — what then?”

Ryan opens his mouth and then shuts it.

“Do I need to drink blood?” Shane continues, hoping to make a point. “Can I go outside in daylight? Will I ever again be able to eat garlic knots from that awesome pizza joint near your apartment?”

Just as he suspects, Ryan doesn’t seem to have any answers and Shane spreads his hands apart to say, there you go.

“I have pictures,” Ryan says nonsensically, and Shane curls his fingers back into his thighs, mostly to keep from using them to strangle Ryan instead.

“Yeah, I already saw your Nosferatu one.”

“I mean of you, asshole. I took pictures of your mouth.”

That’s weird, Shane doesn’t say, partly because they’ve definitely taken weirder pictures of each other to post on Instagram. He keeps his mouth shut and watches Ryan carefully swipe through his phone. Eventually, he holds it out to Shane.

The photos aren’t good. Not in the sense that they were taken badly; there are no thumbs in the shots and the lighting is good. But in the sense that Shane is looking at himself covered in gore and he doesn’t remember any of it.

In the first photo, he's hunched over the bath and there’s a lot of blood — pouring from Shane’s mouth, dripping from his nose, and alarmingly, leaking from the corners of his eyes. He looks like something from 28 Days Later and not in a fun way.

In the second photo, he actually does look dead. He’s unconscious on the bathroom floor and there’s less blood, but it’s clearly Ryan’s hand reaching into the frame to raise Shane’s top lip. Ryan wasn’t lying earlier, because the photo definitely shows sharper teeth. Teeth that look like fangs that Shane shouldn’t have and doesn’t have currently.

He swipes his tongue along his gums again, but still can’t feel anything out of the ordinary.

The next few photos are blurry and red, presumably from blood, but the last photo is a close-up of Shane’s neck, showing off two, perfectly clean, surprisingly small puncture marks. It’s undeniably a bite of some kind, but even in the photo it looks half-healed already like it’s weeks old. Shane checked earlier — he no longer has a bite now. It’s somehow healed overnight.

“Why did you take these?” Shane asks eventually, unable to stop flicking between them. “You thought I was bleeding out, but still stopped to take pictures.”

Ryan looks at him as though it should be obvious. “I knew you wouldn’t believe me if I didn’t have them. It was after the worst of it. You were pretty stable when I took those.”

Shane hates to think what him being unstable looked like if that’s the case. He carefully hands back Ryan’s phone and Ryan tucks it into his pocket and scratches awkwardly at his jaw.

“Part of me hoped you’d listen without having to see those,” Ryan tells him quietly and Shane feels like an asshole.

“Me asking for proof shouldn’t be surprising. You’re trying to tell me I’m the next Edward Cullen.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Ryan says after a pause, like he's processing the joke. “You’re at least a Lestat.”

“Thanks,” Shane replies, the word turning into a laugh halfway through as he drops his head into his hands and groans about the entire situation. He really didn't need his life to be infinitely more complicated.

There's a beat of silence before Ryan says, “Does this mean you believe me?”

He sounds hopeful, and when Shane scrubs a hand through his hair and finally looks back up, he looks it too, his eyes bright and tracking every twitch and shift of Shane's body.

“Let's just see how things go.” It's the biggest concession he's able to give considering the circumstances, but Ryan nods like he’ll accept it.

Shane hopes he won’t regret it.

*

By the time they’ve finished packing and hiding the evidence — Ryan puts the bag of ruined towels inside a thicker Target bag to keep anything from leaking and takes it to the dumpsters around the back — the crew has returned from lunch.

Devon knocks on their door a little after two-thirty.

“You guys ready to head out?” she asks, peering into their room, like she’s double checking they’ve got their shit together.

Shane looks back at Ryan, who’s perched on his bed, checking something on his phone.

“Yeah,” Shane tells her. “We’ll come help load the car up.”

Shane doesn’t actually think anything about it when he’s got a camera bag slung over one shoulder and his backpack on the other, and heads towards the parking lot. But at the doorway in the lobby, Ryan catches his elbow.

“Hey,” he says gently. “Are you sure you should go outside?”

“Uh,” replies Shane. “Well, I don’t plan on living in this hotel, so I kind of have to.”

Lowering his voice to barely a whisper, Ryan says, “Yeah, but what about, y’know, the whole sunlight and vampires thing?”

Shane takes a deep breath and counts to three. It usually works when he reaches the point of wanting to tell Ryan he's a fucking moron. It barely works this time.

“Ryan,” he says as carefully as he can. “I thought we were going to see how things went first.”

“Yeah, but — ” Ryan starts and then seems to think better of it. “Don't make me say ‘I told you so’ when you die out there.”

“I thought you said I was already dead.”

“You know what I mean, dumbass.”

Shane thinks it's probably the best last words he could ever hope to get from Ryan, so he heads for the exit, Ryan tailing him like a nervous first time parent minding a child who's just learned to walk.

It's beautiful outside; the sun is shining warmly and there's not a cloud in the sky. It a perfect Arizona day.

Shane slips his shades on, because it does seem unnaturally bright, but it's not like Shane spends a lot of time outside in the sun on any given day. He also ignores the warm tingling of his arms because it's most likely just from the sudden change in temperature now that his skin is so cold.

He packs the bags he's carrying into the trunk of the car and glances over at Ryan, who's watching him like a hawk. He's probably waiting for Shane to either crumble to dust or sparkle and Shane's not sure which would be worse.

“Dramatic,” Shane tells him as he passes to go back inside and grab more stuff, and Ryan elbows him.

“Asshole,” Ryan mutters, and it's pretty fair.

*

The drive back to L.A. is uneventful, despite Ryan's unwavering nervous energy. It's like he's waiting for something to happen, but the only difference Shane's actually aware of is the fact he doesn't once get the urge to pee. He's not sure if he can rightfully classify it as a possible vampire superpower, or if he's just dehydrated.

They stop at a 7-Eleven just outside of Indio for gas and snacks and Shane lingers in the candy aisle and wonders if his stomach should be rumbling by now. He's had a couple of hours sitting in the passenger seat to notice how eerily silent his entire body is now. Ryan’s been shooting him glances like he still has a lot of points to make about whatever it is that’s happened to Shane, but Shane’s studiously ignored them all.

Coming back from the bathroom and wiping his wet hands on his pants, Ryan spots him and makes his way over.

“You want anything?” Shane asks, because he probably still owes Ryan for taking care of him the night before, but Ryan shakes his head.

“Are you sure you can eat?”

Shane side-eyes him, because he’s once again meddling when he shouldn’t.

“If I want a KitKat, I’ll buy myself a damn KitKat.”

“No, I just mean — what if you only drink blood now?”

“Firstly, we don’t even know if that’s a thing, and secondly, if it is, we have bigger issues than me eating some chocolate.”

The irony of Ryan rubbing his neck awkwardly isn’t lost on Shane.

“I'm not going to turn into a bat and sneak in through your window at night,” Shane adds with a sigh and Ryan looks over at him like the thought never entered his mind before, but now he'll be damned if he lets it go.

“Oh my god,” he says a little breathlessly and Shane clearly hasn't done himself any favors. “Do you think you can do that?”

Ryan,” Shane complains and Ryan does actually look a little abashed, but it’s clear he’s just saving up his questions for later.

“Sorry,” he mutters and Shane glances over at where TJ is paying for gas and a bottle of Coke. They should hurry it up to get back on the road.

“Do you want anything or not?” Shane asks one last time and Ryan shakes his head, so Shane grabs his KitKat and goes to get in line.

Ryan watches him go and Shane knows it’s taking every ounce of his strength not to continue warning him. If he wants to fuck his body up with chocolate, he’s an adult and it’s his own choice.

*

Throwing up on the side of some off-ramp on the 10 isn’t high up on the list of dignified moments in Shane’s life. Devon looks concerned, but Ryan’s practically vibrating with I told you so energy that Shane’s trying his best to ignore.

He’d only made it two bites into his KitKat before it had seemed to turn to ash in his mouth and forced its way back out of him along with what appeared to be old blood.

“I’m good,” he yells to the car, solely to keep anyone from getting out and seeing the murder scene-esque mess he’s made of the local flora.

He wipes his mouth on his sleeve, kicks as much dirt over the blood puddle as he can to try to hide it, and then clambers back into his seat.

“Bad breakfast,” he jokes, but no one laughs and Ryan’s looking at him like he really wants to say something.

Shane tosses the leftover KitKat into Ryan's lap, buckles his seatbelt, and stares pointedly out of the window to ignore him.

“Let’s get out of here,” he says, and TJ listens, shifting the car back into drive and checking for traffic over his shoulder.

It's not conclusive, but it's one hell of a coincidence.

*

In the comfort of his apartment with no one around to see or judge, Shane strips down and stands in front of the full length mirror hanging behind his bedroom door.

Unlike the people on the internet — and Ryan — he doesn’t have many opinions about his body. It gets the job done and he doesn’t have any complaints, but it’s still a little weird to stare at himself fully naked. He doesn’t make a habit of doing it, but he’ll make an exception for this special occasion.

He checks his body in a way he never could in Arizona, not with Ryan lingering and worrying. He takes his time carefully looking for any marks, obvious puncture wounds similar to bites, or bruises. If he was bitten by something in the prison, he’s going to find out. He has no clue what effect rabies has on people, but if it causes hallucinations, maybe he'll learn later that this whole experience has been a fever dream. Maybe he's still asleep in the hotel bed and is just waiting to wake up.

But as much as he’s hoping for any sign of something, there's nothing on his body that would suggest anything has happened. Weirdly, he thinks he’s actually more blemish free than when he first left L.A. In the office the day before their trip, he’d accidentally given himself a papercut on one of Ryan’s prop folders partway through reading the research notes. He remembers it vividly because Ryan had complained about him leaving a smudge of blood across his papers. Shane had been wearing a bandaid before his weird overnight episode, but his finger is bare now, and there’s not even a scab or a mark where the cut had once been.

He’s irrationally annoyed at having zero physical evidence and he knows if Ryan were there beside him, he’d be making shit up about magical vampire healing powers or something.

He moves onto his mouth again because there’s no way he can forget about Ryan’s photos. So far as he could tell, they hadn't been photoshopped, and Ryan had been too shaken up to be faking it. Shane can probably count on one hand the amount of times Ryan has played up his horror for the show, whether intentional or not. The majority of it is absolutely genuine, and back in the hotel room, that had been real.

But, much like his body, his mouth is unremarkable, and apart from becoming more aware that he's probably due a deep cleaning, he finds nothing. He doesn't know where his secret teeth have even gone apart from somewhere not visible, possibly within his gums, but they don't feel particularly bumpier now.

When he starts wondering how much it'll cost to get x-rays from his dentist and if he'll have to pay her hush money to keep it secret, Shane thinks he's probably hit rock bottom.

Ryan's put some ungodly idea in his head and now he's questioning his whole life. He thinks it says a lot about their relationship.

He has a lot of questions about the entire situation, but he knows without a doubt that a Google search will only cause more frustration. He pulls on a pair of sweats and an old work shirt, and despite his better judgment, he finds his laptop to start browsing Wikipedia on the couch.

He doesn’t know if it’s for the best or not that he’s immediately distracted by a series of texts from Ryan.

How u feeling? the first message says, punctuated by a row of sick-looking emojis.

Eaten anything? the next one asks, closely followed by, or anyone? lol

Ryan can be such a dick sometimes.

I’m fine, he texts back, knowing the vagueness will annoy him.

It’s the truth — Shane hasn’t had any cravings or even the slightest stomach grumble for food since the night of the prison shoot. Shane’s well acquainted with his body enough to know that’s weird. He usually only makes it about forty-five minutes after rolling into the office before he sculks to the breakroom for free food. He goes out to dinner with coworkers at least twice a week, partly so he doesn’t have to cook, but mostly because he loves good food and some days he feels a little bottomless.

He’s not proud of the amount of food he can put away, but it’s definitely unnerving when the urge to do it is no longer there.

All he can think about is the stupid KitKat and how he doesn't want a repeat performance.

His phone buzzes with a call and Shane sighs when Ryan's face appears on the contact screen.

“What do you want?” he answers, making Ryan laugh. Shane puts him on speaker and goes back to his laptop.

“Nice,” Ryan says sarcastically. “What do you mean you're fine?”

“Ryan, I saw you less than two hours ago. What do you think is going to happen if you're not here watching me like the idiot you are.”

“I'm not — ” Ryan starts before seeming to catch on that Shane's trying to deflect. “So you haven't tried eating anything else?”

“No,” Shane says, refusing to admit that puking once might be enough of a deterrent to never try it again, coincidences be damned.

“Have you tried drinking?”

“Ryan,” he warns, and Ryan sighs down the line.

“So, you're all about the scientific method until it actually means something?”

Shane's getting genuinely annoyed at Ryan continually using that against him. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes Ryan doesn't know when to stop pushing, and this is one of those times. It doesn't help that Shane's somehow got a photo of Tom Cruise as a vampire open on his laptop screen and he knows he'll never be as cool, even if he does somehow turn out to be one.

“Eating and drinking to test if I'm a vampire is not a scientific method, Ryan. Going to urgent care and getting blood tests done to see if I accidentally got rabies from an Arizona bat is though.”

“You don't have rabies,” Ryan argues, sounding equally frustrated.

“When did you go to medical school, Doctor Bergara? Last I checked, you had a BA in BSing me.”

“You're unbearable like this.”

“Does that mean you'll leave me alone?”

The fact that Ryan goes silent isn't good. It means he's too angry to speak and Shane's going to feel guilty later.

“You don't always have to be so defensive,” Ryan tells him coolly. “It's just me.”

The line goes quiet and when Shane looks down at his phone, he finds Ryan's ended the call. He sighs and stares at the ceiling, and he knows he should start drafting an apology text. But instead he shuts his laptop, puts it on the coffee table, and swings his legs up onto the cushions beside him.

Most things in life can't be solved by taking a nap, but he might as well try, just in case.

*

Ryan leaves him alone for the rest of the weekend, and on Monday, he rolls in later than normal, and sighs heavily when he sits down.

“You okay?” Shane asks, because he’s good at ignoring elephants in rooms, but he’s also not looking to completely destroy their friendship.

“I’m sorry,” Ryan says quietly. “I just got really frustrated.”

“I can be really frustrating,” Shane replies and Ryan looks at him with his ridiculously large, emotion-filled eyes, which Shane’s always been weak to.

“You just aren’t taking this seriously.”

“I am,” Shane says quietly. “There’s just no information about anything. I don’t know what’s happening and I’m trying to be cool about it.”

“You’re never cool,” Ryan shoots back and Shane sighs.

“I mean, I’m trying not to panic.”

Ryan shifts in his chair and his expression loosens, like maybe Shane’s managed to placate him enough for now.

“I know. I've been trying to help you. Will you let me do some research?” Ryan asks and Shane holds back the noise of frustration he wants to let out. He knows that Ryan needs this; he wants to feel like he’s contributing and it’ll be the easiest thing in the world for Shane to let him have it.

“Sure,” he agrees, and he can see the rest of the tension leave Ryan’s shoulders as he relaxes.

“Thank you,” Ryan says with enough feeling that Shane feels guilty for reasons unknown. “I’ll let you know what I find.”

Shane nods, but he’s not looking forward to whenever that happens to be. “Just don’t use Wikipedia,” he says. “It’s full of shit.”

“Wikipedia is for heathens,” Ryan replies, but then he’s turning to his computer to boot it up, and Shane thinks the whole thing has gone way better than expected.

He stares at Ryan a moment longer, just to the point of being creepy, and then turns back to his own screens.

*

Shane's invited out for drinks Wednesday night with the usual suspects from work. He makes up a lie about being on some new medication and not being able to have alcohol, and nurses a glass of water the entire night. He doesn't know where it goes, but it doesn't come back out and that's the important thing.

Ryan's getting better about not staring at him whenever he does something inevitably mundane, but he's clearly curious when Shane actually drinks and doesn't immediately puke. Shane shoots him a small shrug to say he doesn’t know either, and strangely, that’s all there seems to be to it. Ryan goes back to talking about sports and Shane stops paying attention because it’s boring.

Shane’s always liked drinking. He likes the social aspect of it in that it’s an easy excuse to get together with friends and hang out for the night, but he also like the physical aspect. He likes the relaxed feeling he gets after a handful of beers or a few strong cocktails, and he likes ordering shitty food after and having it taste like the best thing he’s ever had.

It’s only been one night with his friends without beer and food and he already misses it. He hates that TJ orders hot wings and Shane has to pretend he isn’t hungry, and he hates that when he looks at Ryan, he can see the flush on his face from the shots he’s been taking and knows he might never again experience that warmth.

At the end of the night, he’s actually glad to head home because it’s all becoming a little overwhelming. Ryan gives him a look that says he’ll probably text him later, but he doesn’t actually say anything and for that, Shane is grateful.

As he steps outside, there's a man lingering by the doorway, a cigarette delicately balanced between two fingers. He nods at Shane in a way that suggests he could be a fan of the show and recognizes him, but he's polite enough not to ask for a selfie. Shane smiles in return, pulls his coat closer around himself, and heads down the street in the direction of his place, which is only a few blocks away.

He makes it two blocks before his spidey-senses begin to tingle. L.A. has been kind to Shane for as long as he's been there and his neighborhood has always seemed safe, but he can tell there's someone lingering behind him and probably has been for a while. A quick glance over his shoulder when he stops to press a crosswalk button reveals it's the same guy from outside the bar.

Coincidences happen, he rationalizes. He's not the only person to ever need to head south from the same starting point.

But when he reaches the third crosswalk, not all of them having been in the same southerly direction, the man is still there, and Shane thinks coincidences are a conspiracy theory and he’s not going to drink the Kool-Aid. The issue, however, is that Shane is the least confrontational person he knows and now it’s going to get him stabbed in a back alley because he can’t bring himself to tell someone to leave him alone.

The only thing he knows to do in these situations, mostly from hearing horrifically similar stories from his female friends and coworkers, is not go home. So, instead of taking a right at the next street, he goes left and his new tail changes course with him. It’s unfortunate.

When he tries speeding up for half a block, he mostly just tires himself out, and when he tries stopping to check his phone, the familiar sound of footsteps just stops with him. The breaking point comes when Shane circles an entire block and is still being followed. His inability to confront people has limitations.

He turns without a word of warning, and he knows he catches the guy off guard because his eyes widen in surprise.

“Hey, man,” Shane says, trying not to sound too much like an asshole in case it actually is just an over-excited fan. “I'm just trying to go home.”

“You’re new to the area,” the man says, as though he could get any creepier. Shane wonders if he’s been watched for longer than he realizes.

“Uh, no, not really,” Shane replies, though he doesn’t think the guy was asking a question. “Did you want a photo or something?”

The guy watches him carefully and Shane has the stomach-dropping thought that maybe he's not a fan after all. He might have just confronted a possible attacker.

“Or maybe my wallet?” he amends, because if the guy tries to fight him, Shane already knows he’s going to lose. Shane was never made for fighting. He's halfway through reaching into his back pocket for his money clip when the man finally speaks.

“I'm not mugging you,” he says calmly “My name is Sam and I'm with the VaMPS of SoCal.”

It’ll be the plot twist of the century if his stalker, apparently named Sam, tries to lure him into some kind of multi-level marketing scam. If he pulls out a knife now, Shane is going to assume he’s trying to sell it, not stab him.

“The what?” Shane asks nervously. “Are you some kind of missionary? I'm not really a, uh, religion guy.”

“We're the Vampire and Magi Protection Society of Southern California. VaMPS for short,” Sam says without a smile and Shane pauses as realization dawns on him.

He waits a beat or two, and when Sam doesn't break, he laughs, the kind of full-bodied laugh he usually saves for when he's watching dumb YouTube videos at one in the morning against his better judgment.

“Oh fuck, how much did Ryan pay you to tail me and say that?”

Sam isn't laughing, but he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a trifold pamphlet that he holds out. Shane takes it, tears in his eyes as he reads the cover, Vampirism and You.

“Oh my god, he must have spent hours on this. Well, I’m relieved you’re not actually here to murder me.”

“I don't know who Ryan is,” Sam tells him seriously and Shane opens the pamphlet the rest of the way and half expects the inside to say GOTCHA! in big, bold letters.

But instead, it has information about dental hygiene and the nutritional value of various blood types, and at the bottom is a list of psychologists for dealing with emotional support. It's less funny than he'd expected it to be. Shane looks up at Sam and lifts an eyebrow.

“Is he around here with a camera?” he asks, glancing down the nearby streets, but it's mostly too dark to see anything anyway.

“I still don’t know who Ryan is,” Sam says. “You’re new in town and our outreach program isn't as broad as it used to be, so we mostly rely on scouts to scent different regions.”

“Scent?” Shane deadpans, because this is getting weird now and sounding more like a cult.

“I can smell the vampirism on you.”

“Okay,” Shane says, taking a step back, “well I love a good joke as much as the next person, but it's cold and I have work in the morning, so I'm gonna head home for real now. Tell Ryan when you see him that this was actually pretty good.”

Sam sighs like it's an effort talking to Shane — though Shane will give him that because it usually is; he’s not an easy person and Ryan can vouch for him — but then he opens his mouth and Shane has no idea what's happening until his teeth change. He can't explain it. One minute he's showing off perfectly straight teeth, and the second, his canines lengthen and the rest of his teeth become considerably pointier.

Shane takes another step back and laughs, high-pitched and panicked. “What the fuck?”

He’s got the benefit of long legs on his side, which means he might be able to run a few blocks to escape, but he also hasn’t done any actual running since PE in high school, almost fifteen years ago. He’ll probably keel over before Sam even gets a chance to murder him for real.

His heart isn’t thudding wildly in his chest, the new norm, but his gums begin to itch, like Sam’s doing something to him. Or like that's his body's new reaction to being threatened.

“Okay, look,” Shane says, holding up his hands in surrender. “I’m new to this stuff. If there’s some sort of weird vampire territorial thing I don’t know about, I can leave. I’m not — I’m the least threatening person around, I promise. I just thought this was a joke by someone I know. I didn’t think you guys were, y’know, real.”

Shane is well aware that he’s panicking. It doesn’t happen often — much like his Unsolved persona, he doesn’t usually care enough about anything for it to bother him. But all he can picture is getting his head ripped off and his body set on fire, and he hates that out of all the vampire movies there are to choose from, his brain supplies Twilight.

Within another blink, Sam’s teeth return to normal and his expression shifts.

“Oh god,” Sam says, suddenly sounding a lot less menacing. “I wasn’t threatening you.”

Which is funny, because Shane sure a fuck felt threatened.

“You weren’t listening and I was just trying to prove a point,” Sam continues. “You haven’t met another vampire before. Have you even had your first feeding?”

Shane doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean, so he stays quiet.

“I was sent here to scope the area,” Sam explains. “We heard a new vampire had rolled into town, but we thought you’d be established and maybe have a nest already. We didn’t know you were a new reborn.”

“What the fuck is happening?” Shane can’t help but ask because his body is sending off all kinds of signals and his fight or flight reflexes are butting heads. “Are you here to kill me or what?”

No,” Sam replies, sounding aghast. “We have a community center nearby and we thought you might like to stop by and meet some kin. First-timers can be slightly more aggressive, so they told me to stand my ground. This is my first attempt at scouting — god, I’ve fucked everything up.”

From his other pocket, Sam pulls out a card. It lists an address not far from where they are and the hours of operation. It’s frustratingly vague and Shane glances down at Sam, who in a twist of fate Shane didn’t see coming, is now the one practically cowering.

“What the fuck,” Shane says again, but this time it’s softer. He rubs his forehead and looks at the card again before taking it. “Vampires are actually real.”

Shane’s not asking a question, but Sam still says, “Yeah, I thought you’d know that before I met you.”

“Goddamnit.”

“L.A. actually has the fastest growing reborn population of any U.S. city,” Sam adds, which sounds like the kind of fun fact Ryan would pull out during a ghost hunt and only serves to remind him that Ryan is going to be unbearable when he finds out about everything.

“I’m never going to hear the end of this,” Shane sighs, rolling his eyes skyward.

“The one you thought was pranking you — does he know?”

“Ryan? Yeah — kind of.”

He doesn’t know his stupid theories have been right all along and he’ll probably never shut up about being the best researcher on the entire internet.

“It’s good to have support,” Sam tells him. “We don’t get many non-consensual reborns, but I’ve heard it’s a lot more difficult to handle, y’know, emotionally.”

Shane thinks he’s holding up pretty well so far, all things considering.

“The community elder will want to speak with you,” Sam continues, which sounds vaguely terrifying. At Shane’s worried expression, he says, “She’s really kind, I promise. She’ll be able to help answer all your questions. But you can bring your partner along.”

Partner sounds suspiciously like significant other in this context and Shane feels he should correct him.

“Ryan’s a coworker. He was with me when I, uh, turned into this. He’s the one who first suggested I was a, y’know, v-word.”

“Sounds like a smart guy,” Sam jokes gently and Shane shakes his head.

“If he was right about vampires being real, I don’t want to know what else is out there. We host a ghost-hunting show.”

Sam laughs like it’s the punchline of a joke and says, “Ghosts aren’t real, I promise.”

Shane finds himself smiling because at least that part of his life hasn’t been flipped upside-down.

“I keep telling him that, but he’s pretty stubborn. I told him vampires weren’t real after I was bitten, so he’ll be really stubborn now. ”

“You can still bring him with you to the community center,” Sam points out. “He’ll have to sign an NDA, but they’ll let him in.”

Shane blinks, because that’s not what he’s expecting. “That’s a lot of bureaucracy for the mostly-dead.”

“We have a whole judicial system,” Sam explains. “We can help prosecute the sire who turned you against your will, if you’d like, but Charlie will have more information for you — she’s the community elder.”

“That’s — ” Shane starts and then stops. “That’s a lot. Can we do this one step at a time?”

“We can go as slow as you need,” Sam tells him warmly, which is actually comforting. “Look, we’re open tomorrow evening until seven. Why don’t you stop by with Ryan and check it out.”

Shane stares down at the card in his hand again and wonders how so much can exist without him even knowing.

“Yeah, okay,” he agrees, because he thinks he’d have to be an idiot not to accept the help that’s being offered. “I’ll ask Ryan if he’s free.”

*

“Uh, fuck yes I am,” Ryan answers a little too loudly in the office the next day. He lowers his voice to say, “How the fuck is there a whole secret vampire society and we had no idea? Of course I want to go with you to scope this place out. This is amazing. I told you, Shane.”

Shane has a headache already. “It was a yes or no question, Ryan.”

“Don't be a buzzkill. Let me have this.”

“You get one moment,” Shane threatens, but Ryan’s already making a face like he’ll do whatever the fuck he wants, and Shane already knows he's going to let him.

“Where is it?”

“Somewhere off Sixth.”

Ryan frowns, “Like right near your place?” Shane knows how hyper-fixated Ryan can get with coincidences. “Dude.”

“Yeah, weird, huh?” Shane cards his fingers through his hair and Ryan watches the movement like it means something.

“Did you want to meet there after work?”

“Sure,” Shane says with a nod. “Just don’t make me regret it.”

Ryan shakes his head and his cheek twitches the way it does when he’s trying not to smile. “I fucking told you,” he repeats, and Shane nudges his chair to spin it away from him, making Ryan laugh, loud and happy.

*

There’s no signage outside of the community center announcing what it is. Shane’s not really expecting it to, but then he does the thing where he questions whether he’s at the right place, despite Google Maps telling him he is.

“Do we knock?” Ryan asks, but it’s just a regular pull door, like the front of a Starbucks. “Do you have to be invited inside?”

Shane knows it’s another ridiculous bit of vampire lore and he frowns at Ryan because he’s not about to entertain the idea.

“No,” he says flatly. “I can get into work just fine.”

“Yeah, but you have a security badge and you’re employed there. That’s a pretty blanket invite.”

He’s not going to stand there and argue with him about it when he can just prove it. He reaches out and pulls open the door, staring at Ryan in a this is why you shouldn’t question me kind of way. There’s no invisible barrier when he steps through, and he spreads his arms wide to make his point. Which is around the time when Shane notices there’s a man perched on a stool, like a bouncer, near a second set of doors that lead further inside. He startles sideways, directly into Ryan.

“Watch it,” Ryan complains, stepping around him before startling similarly. “Oh jesus,” he says, and the guy just blinks at them blandly.

“We’re here for the vampire meet-and-greet?” Shane tries, though Ryan nudges him like maybe he thinks Shane could have worked on the wording a little more.

The man looks them up and down and then slowly raises an iPad. “I need to see some ID.”

*

It’s weirdly legitimate as they’re checked in and have their IDs scanned for apparent security reasons. Ryan has to electronically sign a non-disclosure agreement, which isn’t anything new — they’ve both had to sign them for work — but it feels a little surreal when the word vampire is in the title.

When they're finally buzzed inside, it’s not at all what Shane’s been expecting. In his mind, he’d pictured some kind of Twilight expo, but stepping in and looking around, it seems more like an ice cream social. Except that the ice cream is blood.

It’s a large open space, not unlike a bingo hall, with tables and chairs dotted around, and it’s surprisingly busy. In one corner, there’s a small kitchenette area where one or two people — Shane suspects they’re probably the non-vampires — are chatting and making themselves tea. In another corner, there’s a row of comfy-looking armchairs, in which are people hooked up to machines, and it’s unnerving because Shane’s donated enough blood to know exactly what they’re doing.

“What the fuck is this place?” Ryan mutters under his breath and Shane glances over at him.

This is so beyond whatever he imagined.

“Hello,” a voice says from Shane’s right, startling him once again to the point where he nudges into Ryan. It’s becoming a thing apparently and Shane's not used to the feeling of being the unnerved one heading into weird, unknown buildings. “I’m Charlie, the community elder for this branch.”

The woman beside Shane is as ordinary as any other stranger he’s met — she looks to be in her late fifties, almost the same height as Ryan, with shoulder-length, age-grayed hair — but she smiles warmly and offers her hand. Shane shakes it to be polite and watches the way Ryan stares at her hand when he does the same. Shane belatedly realizes that Ryan’s quietly freaking out about the unnatural coldness of her skin from her being a vampire. Apparently, Shane’s vampire mojo isn’t as strong as Sam's, because he can't smell out who the other vampires are.

“I’m Shane,” he says carefully. “This is my friend, Ryan.”

“Sam said you might be stopping by today,” she says. “He mentioned he gave you quite the fright. We were all surprised to hear you were a new reborn.”

“He scared you?” Ryan asks, turning on Shane instantly. “You never told me that.”

“What’s a new reborn?” Shane asks Charlie in an attempt to distract Ryan, despite knowing how he gets the second he smells weakness from Shane. “Sam said that last night, too.”

Quietly, Charlie sighs, like Shane's in for a bad time.

“We should go somewhere a little more private,” she tells them. “We have a lot to discuss.”

*

She ends up leading them into an office to the left. It’s small, but has a desk and enough chairs for all of them.

“I suppose we should start at the beginning,” Charlie says after they’re all seated. Ryan's chair is close enough to his own that their thighs touch. “Where were you bitten?”

“On the neck, I think,” Shane starts. “It was dark, though, and I wasn’t really aware of it happening. There were a lot of bats.”

Charlie clears her throat, smiling gently as she clarifies, “I mean, where were you when you were bitten?”

“You idiot,” Ryan laughs and Charlies glances at him, her expression warm, like she wants to join him in laughing but knows it wouldn't be professional.

“We were just outside of Yuma, Arizona,” Shane says with as much dignity as he can muster, because he can still see Ryan's stupid grin from the corner of his eye.

He's not expecting the heavy sigh that comes from Charlie, nor the way she reaches for a Post-It note and pen and jots down a quick memo to herself.

“We’ve been having issues with a sire in Yuma,” she explains, after she sets the pen back down and folds her hands on the desk. “A sire is a vampire who can turn humans and has the ability to transform — typically into a bat. Not every vampire is a sire, but those who are, are registered in our national directory. There's an entire workflow for turning a human, including consent forms from both parties involved, which are then reviewed and approved by a local board.”

“Uh,” Shane says intelligently, “I didn't sign a consent form.”

“No, you didn't,” Charlie agrees, and she looks at him as though about to deliver bad news. “We can't reverse what's happened to you, but we're compiling a case against this particular sire, which may provide you with monetary compensation should it ever be settled.”

“Class action vampire lawsuit,” Shane says blandly, and beside him, Ryan chokes on a laugh.

“Law and Order SVU. Special vampire unit,” Ryan returns and Shane grins at him. It’s one hell of a mental image. All he can picture is a courtroom full of people wearing capes and hissing at each other.

“It’s very rare that sires turn people non-consensually,” Charlie says, like she's trying to stop the situation from completely devolving. “I regret that this is your first experience with our community.”

Shane cards his fingers through his hair and sighs. “It's a lot to come to terms with. Vampires aren't meant to be real.”

Charlie smiles wryly and says, “If the majority of people think we're not real, that means our secret is safe.”

“Does an NDA about this even truly work?” Ryan asks. “I mean, who's to say I won't go and tell everyone?”

Charlie's gaze flicks towards Ryan like a threat and Ryan visibly tenses.

“Okay,” he agrees. “That works.”

Charlie's expression lightens almost immediately. “We can't stop anyone from breaking the contract, but most people know how far we'll go to protect our own. Plus, who would believe you?”

Shane wouldn't even know where to begin explaining the situation to someone else. His friends would laugh him out of the room if he tried telling them about a vampire community center. He’s always been thankful to have Ryan in his life, but now even more so. It would be tough to go through this alone.

“Who gets to decide which vampires will become sires?” Shane finds himself asking, which might be the most surreal question he's ever let come out of his mouth.

“No one decides it,” Charlie explains. “It's genetic.”

“So, theoretically, I could be a sire?” He shoots a sidelong look at Ryan, who glances at Shane with an expression that says he's thinking about it and isn't sure how he feels.

“Theoretically,” Charlie agrees. “But none of us can scent it from you, so it's unlikely. We'll test your saliva to be sure, though.”

“You can test for it?”

“Of course. Those who are sires need to be careful who they drink from. They typically use bags to avoid accidental turnings.”

“Bags?” Ryan says faintly, like he knows exactly what she's referring to but can't bring himself to believe it.

“Blood bags,” Charlie confirms and Ryan rubs a hand over his face.

“Is that what the people out there were doing? Donating to the cause?”

Charlie nods and Ryan touches his face again.

“People donate blood all the time,” Shane points out, trying to help.

“Yeah, but Red Cross doesn’t drink the blood after. It saves people.”

“This is saving people,” Shane tells him. “Well, vampires. Same thing.”

“It's true,” Charlie adds. “I've only ever seen a few vegan vampires in my time here.”

“How are they doing?” Ryan asks and Charlie glances between them.

“They're dead,” she say bluntly. “Drinking isn't a choice, it's a requirement.”

Shane doesn't know how to feel about that. Of course he's always known that vampires and blood go together like wine and cheese, but whenever he's thought about it before, it's always been theoretical. Vampires have never been real; except that now they are, and Shane has to come to terms with the fact that he will have to drink blood to survive.

He has faith that it probably won't be the worst thing he's ever eaten. He went to college. He's not proud of his diet during that period of his life, but it's definitely prepared his stomach for a life he wasn't expecting to lead.

“Who will I be drinking from?” Shane asks. “If I'm not a sire, I can drink from people, right?”

Charlie thins her lips like she's thinking of the best way to word what she's about to say. “Drinking directly from someone else is a personal thing. For some, it's a preference, but for others, they go their entire existence drinking from bags.”

“How will I know what I prefer?” Shane asks and the corner of Charlie's mouth curls up.

“Good, old fashioned trying.”

Shane glances at Ryan, his eyes briefly dropping to the smooth line of his throat where he can see the thin skin near his jaw shift in time to his heartbeat. If Ryan's so gung-ho about vampires, surely he'd let Shane feed from him. He'd probably talk himself into it out of sheer curiosity anyway. Shane puts a pin in the idea to address when he's not so totally overwhelmed by everything else.

“Typically, it’s friends and family who donate or agree to be fed from,” Charlie explains, drawing Shane's attention back to her. “But we saw an increase in interest around 2008 and it hasn't really stopped since then.”

“What happened in 2008?” Ryan asks, but Shane thinks he already knows.

“Twilight,” he says and Charlie nods grimly.

“Oh my god,” Ryan replies, laughing like it’s downright absurd, which it is. “Do you let them in?”

“If they’re unrelated to a vampire patron, the interview process is a lot more involved.”

Shane really wants to make an Interview with the Vampire joke, but holds himself back, just to prove he still has restraint.

“How do they find you?” he asks instead. “You just mentioned that people under your NDAs know better than to talk.”

“The internet is a weird and wonderful thing,” Charlie says, and really that’s all she needs to, because Shane gets it. He doesn’t know half of what their fans get up to online, and it’s probably for the best.

“So, they donate and we drink?” Shane confirms.

“It’s a little more nuanced. Everyone has a preference.”

“Like, for specific people?” Shane asks tentatively, because that sounds too codependent for his liking.

“For blood type. Think of them like wines — some people prefer certain flavors and bloods are no different for vampires. Each blood type tastes a little different to each person.”

“That’s another thing I’ll need to try to find out what I like?”

Charlie nods. “We’ll do a taste test shortly. We like to observe first tastes in case of any intolerances.”

Ryan laughs. “Vampires with blood intolerances?”

“I know,” she agrees. “A little counter-intuitive. I’ve only seen it a handful of times with certain blood types, but it’s better to be careful.”

“So, what does blood do for you guys?” Ryan asks and Shane huffs a laugh.

“Other than keep us alive?”

“Well, yeah. If you rely on it that much, it better do something.”

“It sharpens our senses,” Charlie confirms. “It’s been a long time since I was last human, but you’ll notice a few other changes in what you smell and hear after your first feeding.”

“I’ll be able to smell other vampires,” Shane assumes. “I can’t do that now, but you and Sam can.”

Charlie nods and Shane rakes a hand through his hair. It’s a little paralyzing to learn so much about his own life in so little time. He finds himself leaning back in his chair and glancing at Ryan, who meets his gaze and offers a supportive quirk of his mouth. Ryan’s usually the one in charge; for work, he calls the shots and tells Shane where he’s going to be and when, and honestly Shane’s feeling like he needs some of that direction now.

“What else should he know?” Ryan asks as though, wordlessly, he gets it. “How many of the vampire tropes are real? I’ve been doing some reading and there are a lot.”

“From the top of my head?” Charlie asks before making a thoughtful face. “The answer to most things is no.”

“Garlic?” Ryan asks and Charlie shakes her head.

“Not a problem. He won’t be eating anyway.”

“Not even if the person he drinks from eats a lot of garlic?” Shane glances at Ryan and wonders just how long he's been thinking about it in just a few days.

Charlie shakes her head again. “Still not an issue.”

“I have a crucifix in my apartment,” Ryan starts, and Shane laughs while Charlie just politely smiles.

“Unless you’re beating him with it, it won’t hurt.”

“Don't get any ideas,” Shane adds.

“And if I do?” Ryan jokes. “Where should he go if he needs to see a doctor?”

“We have our own clinics,” Charlie explains. “There will always be people to help here, but typically, a feeding will heal any major injuries.”

Ryan looks at him, both eyebrows raised. “That’s pretty cool, dude.”

“Yeah, well, let’s not put it to the test.”

“You can actually help heal Ryan, too,” Charlie says to Shane. “Nothing major, but vampire saliva stimulates cell regeneration in humans. It’s typically why we don’t leave marks on people after feeding.”

“I suppose it’s the least we can do after drinking their blood,” Shane says. “Might as well heal them after. It’s only polite.”

“Everyone online got it so wrong,” Ryan murmurs thoughtfully.

“Twitter dot com is not a reliable resource for vampire facts,” Shane retorts and Ryan nudges their knees together and makes a noise of protest.

“Look, I found some pretty legitimate looking sources.”

“They don’t count if they include glittery fonts.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Ryan tells him, but still laughs when Shane winks.

“If you have any other questions,” Charlie interrupts gently, “we have a helpline. You can call, text, or chat online — whichever you’re most comfortable with.”

She passes over flyers — one for each of them — and Shane watches Ryan carefully read over it.

“That’s not a blanket invite to call them and ask if vampires can get boners without blood in their bodies,” Shane jokes.

Ryan looks over at him, going a delightful shade of red as he begins sputtering out an attempted defense. He should know by now that the only reason Shane ever says shit to get him going is because he’s just too easy to torment. Shane laughs, feeling slightly better about the situation, and tucks his own flyer into his pocket.

“We’re happy to answer any questions you may have,” Charlie insists. “But if you feel you need something more, we have onsite counselors here for those close to the recently turned. It can be an emotional time, even if we don’t initially realize.”

“Maybe I’d be more emotional if I actually cared about this idiot,” Ryan says, tipping his head towards Shane. “But I’m okay for now.”

“As I said before, we have other humans here, if talking to them will be more comfortable for you.”

Ryan nods in understanding, and Shane knows the minute he’s let loose, he’s going to befriend every one of them, like the ridiculous extrovert he is.

“So, where do we start now?” Ryan asks after a pause, which is probably what he’s been dying to ask all along. He wants to get to the meaty part of Shane’s new life.

“We can’t do a first feeding tonight,” Charlie tells them. “We usually schedule an at-home experience because it can be a little overwhelming. We also recommend taking time off work, if possible. It’s a big transformation to deal with and sometimes new reborns can become food-aggressive for the first few days.”

“Business as usual for you,” Ryan jokes.

“Tonight, we can test for any signs of Shane being a sire, and find the right blood type. Unless either of you has any other concerns?”

Shane shakes his head. “No, I’m good. Let’s start there.”

*

Sire testing isn’t half as elaborate as Shane expects it to be. A man called Antonio, with human-warm hands, carefully takes a cheek swab from Shane and then puts the sample into some kind of machine that whirrs loudly.

“It’ll only take a minute,” he promises with a smile, already peeling off and tossing his disposable gloves into the nearest trash can.

It’s one of the longest minutes of Shane’s life, and he knows Charlie said she couldn’t smell it on him, but he can’t help the way his leg bounces nervously as he waits. Ryan, sitting beside him once again, reaches out to set a hand on Shane’s knee.

“You’re making me nervous,” he complains, but doesn’t move his palm away even when Shane stops.

It’s an honest-to-god relief when Antonio eventually looks up and smiles at him.

“You’re all clear,” he declares and Shane thinks it says a lot about the situation that he’s grateful to only be a vampire. The thing about perspective is that it’s always relative, and what’s relative has made one hell of a u-turn in the past few days.

Charlie pats his shoulder, like she’s also thankful, and says, “One less thing for you to worry about.”

“Bummer,” Ryan says from beside him as he finally pulls his hand away. “This would have been your one chance to be cool.”

*

It’s par for the course that finding the right blood type for him doesn’t go the way he’s expecting either. He has visions of them bringing in a selection of people to take fresh samples from in some kind of weird cult fashion. In actuality, a woman named Liza sets a tray in front of him holding three tiny, sample-sized cups of murky red liquid. Shane’s never been squeamish about blood, but seeing it and knowing he’s about to drink it, makes him feel nauseous. He’s probably the worst vampire to ever exist.

“It’s locally sourced,” Liza promises, like there’s some kind of farmer’s market for vampires that he’s going to be introduced to next.

“You’ll notice we don’t have every blood type,” Charlie says from Shane’s right, but Shane doesn’t bother pointing out that he hadn’t. Maybe at gunpoint he might be able to name all blood types, but honestly, it’s the kind of stuff that Google was made for. “We don’t accept rarer blood types unless there’s an emergency. Humans need it more than us.”

“So, which ones are these?” he asks cautiously.

Pointing at the cups from left to right, Liza says, “O-positive, B-positive, and A-positive.”

“And I just put them in my mouth and swallow?”

“I think you leave the cup behind,” Ryan jabs, making Liza laugh, which is worse because then Ryan looks pleased with himself.

“It’s not the most refined method, but it works for us,” Charlie says.

Shane stares at the blood, wondering if there actually is something wrong with him and he’s not cut out to be a vampire. He really hopes he doesn’t get a repeat of the KitKat situation.

Carefully, he picks up the first cup and raises it in a toast. “Cheers,” he says, and knocks it back before he can think too much about it.

Ryan’s watching him in open fascination, but the first thing Shane notices is the temperature. He doesn’t know how well blood microwaves, but Liza has definitely warmed it for him. He swallows, half expecting his body to immediately reject it, but instead, everything in his brain begins to zero in on the taste, and somehow it just feels right. It spreads a warmth in the same way that drinking bourbon does, and Shane feels his life tilt just a little bit more, just enough to make him feel off-balance.

He looks across at Charlie, who smiles gently, like she understands, and then he stares at the inside of the blood-stained cup.

“What happened?” Ryan asks, seeming to assume he’s missed something, but Shane can’t even describe it.

“Nothing,” he says. “It’s just not — it’s not what I expected.”

“Is it worse?”

“No,” he says carefully, finally looking back up at him, and Ryan’s always been perceptive. A slow smile spreads across his face and Shane knows what’s coming before he even opens his mouth.

“That didn’t take much convincing, Dracula. Do I need to watch my back now?”

Shane smacks his lips and says, “It’s your neck, not your back you need to worry about.”

Ryan’s grin widens.

“After Shane’s initial hunger wears off following his first feed, you won’t have anything to worry about,” Charlie adds, which Shane doesn’t think is necessary. He hopes Ryan already knows he would never knowingly harm a single hair on his stupidly perfect head.

“How did that one taste?” Liza asks, which is fair because it’s what they’re there for.

Shane rubs his tongue over his teeth to chase the flavor and it’s good, but he doesn’t have anything to compare it to.

“Tastes like blood,” he confirms, which doesn’t seem to be the right answer, because Liza gestures to the next cup.

“How about that one?”

It’s easier to drink the second blood now that he knows it’s not the worst thing he’s ever tasted. This blood is sweeter than the last and, strangely, makes him think of cold lemonade on a muggy summer’s day. It’s crisp and refreshing, and has none of the lingering heat that the other had.

“That one’s better,” he says aloud as he picks up the third and final cup.

Unexpectedly, he can smell this one before it even reaches his mouth, like it’s somehow stronger than the others. He only gets a moment to worry that it might taste grosser if it’s stronger, but then it touches his tongue and he knows with every fiber of his body that it’s the one for him.

Just a mouthful seems to overpower his senses, narrowing them down until it’s all he can focus on. It’s a different kind of heat from the first — spicier, like the burn of peppers, rather than alcohol — and it tingles on his tongue pleasantly. His body can’t usually handle spice, but it’s all about this one, his senses beginning to light up, like he’s had a cold since the day he was turned, but now one side of his blocked nose has finally opened enough for him to breathe.

He draws in a slow breath through his mouth and can smell the laundry detergent of Liza’s shirt, the gel in Ryan’s hair, and the remaining drops of blood in the cup he’s holding. He thinks seriously about throwing all dignity to the wind and licking them out, but then the cup is gently plucked from his hand by Charlie, who passes it to Liza.

“That’s it, huh?” Liza says knowingly, and Shane can’t even bring himself to nod.

It’s without a doubt the one he wants, but he can’t imagine what it would be like to find someone filled with blood that tastes that good. He never thought he’d ever have actual vampire instincts, but for the first time, he can picture himself sinking his teeth into soft skin, just for another taste.

“A-positive?” Charlie confirms and Liza nods.

“It’s a good choice,” Liza tells him, though Shane doesn’t think it was actually a choice. “That’s one we get a lot of donations for.”

“That’s my blood type,” Ryan pipes up from beside him and Shane’s gaze flits towards him, an unknown feeling swooping low through his stomach. For a fraction of a second, Shane’s gums ache like his secret teeth are threatening to break through, but a hand presses to his shoulder, and as quickly as the feeling comes, it disappears, leaving him blinking at Ryan with a sense of unease.

Ryan’s mouth opens slightly in surprise and he looks at Charlie, who turns out to be the one touching him. “Are you sure he’s not going to try anything?”

“Uhh,” Shane says awkwardly as he slowly comes back to himself, his senses dimming again and leaving him with the distinct feeling that he should apologize.

“People react differently to their first tasting,” Charlie explains, “but they’re not usually so visceral.”

“Does this make me a figurative and literal snack?” Ryan jokes, and it’s not at all helpful, mostly because now it's true. “Guess you’re setting the bar high, buddy.”

Ryan moves like he’s going to pat his arm and then seems to think better of it.

“I’m sorry,” Shane says quickly. “I don’t know what that was.”

“There’s no need to apologize,” Charlie insists. “I’m sure Ryan understands. There are a lot of instincts to compete with at the beginning of any transition. We usually suggest having a friend or relative nearby for the first feeding, but perhaps a little distance would be better until you stabilize.”

She glances between them and Shane gets the distinct feeling she’s coming to some very strong, very wrong conclusions.

“Is there anyone else that could support you?” she continues and Shane knows for a fact there are a lot of people who would for sure drop everything to come and help him if he asked, but he’s not the kind of person to ask in the first place. He’s not certain he’s ready to expand the list of people who know what he is now anyway.

“It’s okay if you don’t,” Liza adds. “We have plenty of volunteers who can help. We just think it’s nice to have someone familiar nearby.”

“I’ll think on it,” Shane tells them neutrally, but knows he won’t. “When should my first feeding be?”

“That’s entirely up to you,” Charlie insists, “but you’ll notice yourself getting weaker without it the longer you wait.”

“How long does it take?”

“Feeding doesn’t take long — it’s essentially just like any other meal you’ve eaten. However, for the first time, we like to use a block of two or three days to work on appetite and any lasting aggression.”

Shane rubs his ear and tries to picture his calendar in his mind. Apart from the first episode of the new season being posted, his schedule is fairly clear if he wants to take some time off.

“I could take next Monday off,” he suggests, “so maybe we can start on Saturday?”

Charlie pulls a phone from her pocket and taps away at it for a few long seconds before nodding. “Nadia and Max are available to help,” she says, but seems to be mostly talking to Liza, who makes a noise of agreement.

“They’ve helped a lot of first-timers,” she explains to him. “You’ll be in good hands.”

“Shall I pencil you in?” Charlie asks and Shane looks briefly at Ryan before nodding, because he doesn’t think he can actually say no. He can’t put it off or he’ll never do it.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” he says, and beside him, Ryan takes in a long breath, the same way he does before entering a location for their shoot, like he’s bracing himself for something big.

Shane really hopes everyone around them knows what they’re doing, because they sure as fuck don’t.

*

When the doorbell rings on Saturday morning, Shane wipes his palms on his thighs, not because they’re sweating — he apparently doesn't sweat anymore — but because it’s a habit.

“Hi, Shane,” Charlie says with a smile as Shane opens the door. “I’d like you to meet Nadia and Max.”

Nadia is almost as tall as Shane and has a firm grip when shaking his hand; Max immediately calls him sweetheart and reminds him of Curly.

“The couch is probably the best place for this,” Charlie explains as he welcomes them inside with a sweep of his arm. “And you might want to grab a couple of towels that you don’t mind being stained.”

Shane has no idea what’s about to happen, but his towel cupboard is on the way to the living room anyway, so he grabs two of the three he owns as he leads them through his apartment.

“How does this work?” he asks, eyeing up the small cooler Nadia’s carrying. It has a biohazard label on the side and Shane didn’t think they’d be so conspicuous.

Opening it reveals a neat row of blood bags and Shane’s never seen one up close before. He doesn’t even know what they contain, other than blood, obviously.

“Think of this as blood concentrate,” Charlie tells him, pulling out a bag labeled with a clear A+ sticker. “Transfusion bags don’t typically contain plasma or platelets, only red blood cells. We find the stronger dosage of red blood cells minimizes the amount needed for a feed to establish new vampires. After a few of these concentrated feedings, you can switch to a more diluted form, like your own personal donor, and your body will begin to stabilize.”

“How much do I need?”

“Part of this weekend is finding out what kind of appetite you have. We’ll start with two bags and see how much you get through.”

Shane remembers how good the blood had tasted back at the community center, but he can’t imagine having two bags of it sloshing around in his stomach.

“Make yourself comfortable,” Max tells him, gesturing to the couch, and Shane blinks and guesses they’re actually doing this.

He takes his usual spot, where the cushion is slightly dented from years of his sprawling, and Max carefully tucks a towel around him, like a barber about to give him a haircut.

“You’ll have to drink from a cup to begin with,” Charlie says, popping open the top of one of the blood bags and pouring a little into a paper cup. “Normally, we bite directly into the bag, but you have to wait for your teeth to come in.”

“They haven’t already?” Shane asks, because he remembers Ryan’s photos.

“Until after the first feeding, you won’t be able to voluntarily drop them. I should warn you that the first few times might hurt.”

“Great,” Shane says sarcastically, earning a closed-mouth smile from Nadia as she takes a seat beside him and passes him the cup of blood. “Should I be worried about what I might do during this?”

“It changes from person to person,” Nadia explains, “but you’ll be more interested in the blood than us, I promise.”

He stares into the depths of the cup and knows there’s no going back now. Part of him wishes Ryan could be there with him, just for moral support, but he chases the thoughts away by bringing the blood up to his mouth and beginning to drink.

It has the same sharp, slap-to-the-face taste from the community center, but now he gets to keep swallowing mouthful after mouthful, and a warmth begins to spread through him, the same way that drinking hot coffee used to. It trails down his throat before billowing out across his chest and down into his stomach, settling there like a low buzz of arousal.

For all that he teased Ryan, he’s ironically the first to find out if vampires can get erections, because he has an awkward half-chub, like his body knows it should put the blood it’s finally getting again to good use.

He’s dimly aware of someone — possibly Nadia — pushing another full cup into his hands and removing the empty one when he’s finished, but he barely comes up for air between deep drinks, needing more and more and more.

There’s an unignorable ache in his mouth the more blood he swallows, and when he finishes his second cup, he has to pull away to stretch his jaw in a yawn that he feels all the way down to his toes. There’s a spike of pain, like the hot ache he remembers from when he was a teenager and his wisdom teeth started growing in, and when he runs his tongue along his teeth, they’re a lot sharper than he remembers.

He wants to keep drinking, and Nadia’s holding out yet another cup for him, but he stops just long enough to press his fingertips against his fangs, unable to think about anything but how he knows Ryan’s going to be so excited when he finally sees them. It sends a buzz of adrenaline through his body at the thought of making Ryan happy, and he shuts his eyes and savors the feeling.

He makes his way through a little over one and a half of the blood bags before his stomach finally protests and he finds himself slumping backwards.

There’s blood down his front — thankfully contained within the towels — and he can’t seem to get his new teeth to go away, but for the first time since Arizona, he finally feels alert again, like he’s no longer in a haze that he never even realized he was in. He stares into the middle-distance, his new senses filtering into his consciousness. From his bedroom, he can hear the ticking of his watch that he left on the nightstand, and from next door, he can smell bacon being cooked in the oven. There’s a dog barking a few streets over, something big and gruff, and he suddenly becomes more aware that he really needs to clean out Obi’s litter box.

“How are you feeling?” Max asks gently, couching down to get in his eyeline.

“It’s a lot,” Shane admits, the words slightly slurred by the unfamiliar feeling of his fangs.

“Yeah,” Max agrees, a friendly hand on his knee. “There’s a reason they call us reborns — we have to learn the world all over again.”

“It’s not always like this, is it?”

Max shakes his head. “No, I promise it’ll get better as your body adjusts.”

“It’s a lot,” Shane replies, which he thinks he’s already said, but he just can’t get his thoughts in order.

He shuts his eyes and tries to think of nothing at all.

*

By Monday afternoon, Shane thinks if he ever sees another drop of blood, it’ll only be too soon. He’s the epitome of well-fed, but he doesn’t think he can actually get himself off the couch. It feels like he’s spent the entire weekend eating nothing but pizza and his body is holding a protest in retaliation.

“You’ve made good progress,” Charlie tells him patting his shoulder, and Shane opens his eyes long enough to watch Nadia pack away the empty blood bags into the cooler. “The only thing you need now is rest.”

He thinks he might not be the only one that needs it — none of them have had a full night’s sleep since they arrived, and he doesn’t know if it’s easier as a vampire, but they still look exhausted.

“Thank you,” he says. “For everything.”

The smile Charlie offers him is warm, her eyes crinkling in the corners. “I’m glad you came to us. No one should go through this alone. Come back to the community center when you feel hungry again and we’ll make sure you have what you need.”

Shane nods, but he can feel his eyelids drooping, and he knows he should show them to the door and lock up afterwards, but it’s just too much effort.

“We’ll see you soon,” Max says, and Shane lifts his hand in a wave and finds himself slumping into the throw pillows across the couch. He draws one of the bloodied towels around himself and lets himself slip into a nap.

*

Shane sleeps through his alarm in the morning. He knows this because when he wakes up, it’s just before noon and he’s still on the couch, his back aching from being curled up in one position for too long. He stays awake just long enough to shoot out a not feeling well email to the team at work, and then drags himself to the bedroom.

He doesn’t think he should still be tired, but the second he strips off his shirt and pants and rolls into the perfectly cooled sheets of his bed, he finds himself drifting off once more. It’s easy to let it happen as he burrows down deeper into the comforting embrace of sleep.

*

The next time he wakes, it’s dark in his room, like it's past six o'clock, and the doorbell is ringing incessantly. It’s not ideal.

He gives his brain a moment to catch up as he blinks tiredly at the ceiling, wondering if he ignores the ringing long enough, whoever is causing it will go away. But then he wonders if maybe it's Charlie and she needs something important, and he finds himself dragging every ridiculous inch of his body out of bed. He takes the comforter with him because the thought of dressing is too much, but it's nice to keep it wrapped tightly around his body as he pads his way to the front door.

When he pulls it open, he quickly finds out that it's not Charlie.

“Where have you been?” Ryan blurts out immediately, looking moderately distressed. “I thought you’d died.”

Shane peers down at him blearily and sighs.

“I’m already dead,” he reminds him, but opens the door a little wider and moves aside in a silent invitation.

Ryan takes it, stepping in and kicking off his shoes in a way that hints he’s staying whether Shane likes it or not. Shane shuts the door and throws the lock.

“You didn’t answer any of my messages,” Ryan continues, ignoring Shane's obvious jab, “and I called like ten times.”

“I was sleeping.”

Ryan's anger seems to finally subside enough for him to see the bigger picture as he glances at Shane, his gaze flickering over the way his comforter burritos his body and how his bare feet stick out the bottom.

“All day?” he asks meeting his gaze again and Shane nods. “Are you okay?”

Shane yawns, jaw stretching wide enough that it pops. “M’fine.”

Without a word, he turns and shuffles his way down the hallway, towards the living room, because if Ryan wants to yell at him, he might as well be sitting comfortably on the couch while it happens. It's strange now, but with his sharper senses, he can hear the gentle thudding of Ryan's heart and the soft noise his socks make against the floor as he trails behind Shane.

“Wha—” Ryan starts, but doesn't finish, and Shane becomes aware that he's stopped in the living room doorway, no longer following. He turns to look, but Ryan's focus is firmly on the scattered towels on the floor that are dark with blood.

“Oh,” he says belatedly. “Don't mind those.”

When Ryan drags his gaze away, back to Shane, he asks, “What happened?”

Flopping down onto the couch, Shane kicks his feet up on the coffee table and slumps down low, his head tipped back only enough to keep watching Ryan.

“That's not my blood,” he admits, but he's not sure that makes it better or worse based on Ryan's expression. “You saw me drinking it at the community center. I don't know what else you expected.”

“I knew you were going to drink it, I just expected something less — messy.”

“I've seen you eat street tacos,” Shane replies. “Get off your high horse.”

“I didn't say it was a bad thing.”

“Your face did.”

Ryan finally steps into the room, like he's trying to prove himself, but he still circumvents the towels before sitting carefully on the opposite end of the couch, keeping his limbs to himself.

“I won't bite,” Shane jokes and Ryan's ears go pink.

“Shut up,” he retorts, but it sounds weak. “You just — you look different.”

“Do I look like a man disturbed from his very peaceful sleep?”

“No, well, yeah, but I mean you have color in your face again.”

“What kind of color?”

Shane presses a palm to his own cheek, wondering if maybe he can feel some change in the warmth of his body, but his skin is still cold and dry, just as before.

“Normal color, you idiot. You're not green.”

“Now I'm self conscious about how I looked before,” Shane jokes and Ryan rolls his eyes.

“No, you're not. You know you looked good.”

Shane quirks an eyebrow and says, “Oh yeah?”

“You know what I mean,” Ryan complains, even as his flush darkens. “Did it go okay?”

“I don't know, I think I want to hear you compliment me more.”

Shane,” Ryan warns and Shane knows when they've reached the fragile edge of a joke pushed too far.

He shrugs loosely and says, “I didn't murder anyone, if that's what you’re asking.”

“Why would I ever ask that?”

“You’re right — if you don't know anything, that’s how you can maintain innocence if I’m caught.”

Finally, the line of Ryan’s shoulders becomes less tense and he lets out an exasperated laugh. “You’re ridiculous,” he scoffs and Shane smiles.

“I don’t know why you always expect the worst. It went fine. I ate a lot and I probably would have slept for a week if you hadn’t woken me.”

“Did you — ?” Ryan asks, baring his teeth and gesturing to them.

“My fangs?” Shane replies, feeling a little ridiculous calling them that aloud, but Ryan nods, leaning forwards slightly like he’s anticipating Shane showing them off.

He doesn’t even know if they’ll come out if he’s not feeding, but he finds himself wanting give Ryan what he wants, because that seems to be the way his life goes now. So he focuses on Ryan’s hopeful expression and tries to reach inside himself for whatever it is that forces his teeth out.

It’s unexpectedly easier than he imagines because it’s not long after trying that he feels the familiar tingling in his gums and his teeth gradually shift to become pointier. Ryan’s face lights up in fascination and he leans further into Shane’s space, one hand reaching for Shane like he can’t help it.

He pauses, his fingertips only a few inches away from his face, and asks, “Can I?”

Shane shrugs with one shoulder and says, “Knock yourself out.”

His hand is endlessly warm against Shane’s jaw and his grip is firm enough that Shane doesn’t try to move.

“Oh my god,” Ryan murmurs, tilting Shane’s face one way and then the other, like he can’t decide which angle is best. “This almost makes you cool.”

“You keep saying that,” Shane murmurs, “and I’m starting to think I am cool and you’re just not big enough to admit it.”

His fingers lightly squeeze Shane’s jaw, wordlessly telling him to shut up, but then he shifts his thumb to rub it over the smooth surface of one of Shane’s new elongated canines and it delves straight into the realm of being too much, but Shane lets him do it because it’s Ryan. He’s never been much good at telling Ryan no, but he’s not sure he wants to anyway.

“Are they sensitive?” Ryan asks, playing with fire as he prods at the sharp point of the tooth with the pad of his thumb.

Shane can’t answer in case he accidentally cuts Ryan, so he shrugs instead.

“Do they hurt?”

Shane shakes his head lightly and Ryan pulls his thumb away, but only so he can use it to nudge Shane’s bottom lip down to see the rest of his teeth. Shane doesn’t even know what they look like; he only remembers what he saw in Ryan’s photo. But Ryan seems anything but worried now.

It would be fine if Shane’s senses weren’t so keen now, but it feels like he’s slowly being suffocated by everything about Ryan. He can smell the deodorant under his arms and the onion on his fingers that he probably had for lunch and the warm scent that’s just him. Shane doesn’t know how to describe it, other than that it’s everything that reminds him of Ryan.

Carefully, he pulls back, slipping out of Ryan’s grip and letting him pull his arm back. He doesn’t look disappointed, but he doesn’t look deterred either, like he’ll be back at it whenever he’s given another chance. Shane’s teeth slowly reform into his usual, blunt ones, and he wets them again with a flick of his tongue.

“I want to be there next time you drink,” Ryan tells him, brooking no argument, but Shane doesn’t think he could come up with a convincing excuse anyway.

“It’ll be a while,” he admits. “I have to go back to the community center whenever I'm hungry again.”

Ryan tips his head like he’s thinking, but he doesn’t say anything, just nods in agreement.

“Does this mean you’ll leave now and let me go back to sleep?”

“It’s seven o’clock, old man,” Ryan ribs, “and you still haven’t told me about your weekend.”

Shane sighs and pulls his comforter closer around himself.

“Fine,” he says, and figures he might as well settle in.

*

Shane doesn't think he expects some kind of grand change, but the fact that everything just goes back to normal is a little surprising. He rolls into work just after eleven on Wednesday morning and Devon waves from her desk, as usual, Curly winks from where he's talking with one of their new editors, and Ryan doesn't take off his headphone to say hi, but tips his head up in greeting nonetheless.

It's familiar, but like everyone has taken a step to the left and his brain knows something is weird but can't pinpoint what.

So he does what he does best and doesn't question it. He just opens up his latest project and throws himself back into it.

*

Shane's stomach rumbles a week and a half later, in a way it never has before. It's loud enough that Ryan actually mutes himself on the conference call he's on just to look over and say, “What the fuck?”

Shane looks down at his own traitorous body and blinks.

“Was that your stomach?”

“I sure hope so,” Shane replies, “'cause I'm a little worried about what else it might have been if it wasn't.”

“Guess it's, y'know, time for food.” He raises his eyebrows at Shane in the most unsubtle way, but then someone must say something important on the phone because he unmutes himself and replies with, “Yeah, I agree.”

Shane doubts it's the last he'll hear from Ryan about it, but it at least gives him a moment to think.

He programmed the number for the community center into his phone a few days after his first feeding, which is helpful because he thinks he needs to call them. He picks up his phone, ignores Ryan's curious gaze when he stands up, and heads out the back entrance into the parking lot.

“VaMPS Community Center, Liza speaking,” comes the reply after three rings, and Shane was kind of hoping it'd go to voicemail.

“Hey, Liza,” he says awkwardly. “I don't know if you remember me, but this is Shane. Y'know, the new guy.”

He hates the way the emphasized words make him sound like an idiot. Or like he's attempting a drug deal. He checks over his shoulder to make sure he's alone and no one can overhear.

“Hi, Shane,” Liza says warmly. “Of course I remember you. How are you doing?”

“I'm good, thanks. I just thought I'd let you guys know that I'm starting to get hungry again. Should I stop by after work?”

There's a pause from Liza for a beat, and then another, and Shane worries he's said something wrong.

“I thought you were going to start home feedings,” she says, sounding as confused as Shane feels.

“I was? But where would I get the food from?”

“From your friend, Ryan.”

Shane's been pacing while talking, but he misses a step at Liza's response and trips enough to make him flail his arms.

What?” he asks incredulously.

“Ryan stopped by at the weekend,” she explains as Shane's brain comes to a screeching halt. “He wanted to know more about personal feedings.”

“Personal feedings,” he repeats blandly.

“As your donor,” she explains. “He wanted more information on how to be fed from safely.”

“Fed from?” he asks, voice so weak he has to clear his throat.

“Did he not — ” she starts, beginning to sound awkward, like she's catching on to why Shane's so confused. “I think this is a discussion for you to have privately with him.”

“Yeah,” Shane agrees numbly. “I think so, too.”

“But if things don't work out, you’re always welcome to come by. We'll have everything you need.”

“Thanks, Liza,” he says, actually meaning it and hoping she knows that.

“Take care,” she replies and the warmth in her voice hints that she does.

Shane stares at the ended call screen for a long moment before eventually locking his phone and slipping it back into his pocket.

Ryan's no longer on his call when Shane gets back to his desk, and Shane isn't proud of the way he intentionally uses his height to loom over him as an intimidation tactic.

“We need to talk,” he says, as mildly as he can, but Ryan still looks up at him like he definitely has something to feel guilty about.

“Yeah, sure,” he says faintly, seeming to know better than to put up a fight. “Let me just save my work.”

*

When Shane pushes the door of the privacy room shut behind them, Ryan leans against the furthest wall and says, “Okay, I think I know what this is about.”

Which is great, because it means Shane won't have to torture the confession out of him.

“Enlighten me,” Shane tells him, folding his arms to keep from strangling Ryan accidentally.

Ryan scratches the back of his neck. “Did you talk to Charlie?”

“No.”

“Liza?” Ryan guesses and Shane doesn’t reply, but tips his head up slightly. Ryan sighs, sounding regretful. “Look, I was just checking out our options.”

Our options?” Shane says with a huff of laughter. “Last I checked these were my options.”

“Well, yeah, I mean, they’re still your options, I just thought — ”

“No, you didn't,” Shane interrupts, “because you never think.”

“I did!” Ryan argues. “I thought I could help make this easier for you. That’s all. I don’t know why you’re so defensive.”

“So, there’s no particular reason why you didn’t tell me you were going to the community center?”

Ryan shuts his mouth with a click of his teeth and his face darkens with a blush, the way it does when he's either actually annoyed at Shane or he's been called out. Shane can't tell which one it is now; perhaps a mix of both.

“I thought you’d be an asshole about it,” Ryan says eventually. “I know what you’re like.”

“And you thought I’d just never find out?”

“I thought I’d have enough time to slowly warm you up to the idea.”

“The idea being?” Shane asks, even though he thinks he already knows.

“Uh, y’know, feeding from me.” Ryan swallows and Shane becomes very aware of the line of his throat shifting. “I mean, what’s easier: going to the community center every time you need blood, or just saying ‘hey, Ryan, I’m hungry’?”

That seems dangerous, because Shane thinks if he starts, he won’t ever stop.

“Blood bags would be safer,” Shane points out and Ryan shrugs.

“Not necessarily. Liza said it’s almost impossible for you to do any real damage, unless you actually try.”

“I can’t drain all the blood out of your body?”

Ryan shakes his head. “Liza said you’d be too full after the first pint. Unless you rip my throat out.”

“Good to know,” he says blandly and Ryan laughs.

Shane scratches his nose awkwardly. “Do I have to bite you on the neck?”

“No,” Ryan says quickly, like he can tell how close Shane is to saying yes, and doesn’t want to lose the opportunity. “They recommend starting with a hand or wrist. We can do whatever you want.”

“What about what you want?” Shane points out.

“I want whatever you want.”

Shane rubs his forehead and sighs. “Jesus, Ryan.”

“What?” Ryan retorts, like he doesn’t know what he’s offering.

“Can I think about it?”

“Yeah, of course, just, uh, don’t accidentally starve yourself.”

“Sure,” Shane says with a laugh. “I’ll keep you posted.”

*

The issue is that Shane does think about it. Except that every time he imagines sinking his teeth into the soft skin of either Ryan’s neck or wrist, his fangs come out. He thinks it might just be a hunger thing, because he had a little more control before, but it makes it awkward when he’s sitting at his desk, trying his best to hide them behind his lips.

Even worse, is that when he comes into work the next day, ready to tell Ryan they can try it later, he remembers they’re meant to be shooting the first Post Mortem of the new season.

“Oh, yikes,” Ryan says as Shane walks onto set.

The room’s empty apart from them, but Shane still looks around, wondering if Ryan’s talking to someone else. “What?”

“Your face.”

“Do you want the number for my parents so you can complain about what they created?”

“No, dude, I mean with the lights? You look really dead.”

Shane touches his own cheek and uses the screen of his phone to look at his reflection. He looks the same as always.

“Didn’t you go feed at the community center last night?” Ryan continues, and Shane shakes his head.

“No, I was thinking about what you said.”

“My offer?” Ryan asks, perking up, and Shane nods.

“I thought I’d have more time to give you an answer. Maybe no one will notice?”

“Fans are going to comment asking when your funeral is.”

Shane thins his lips. “Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Ryan agrees, but the look he gives, means Shane knows what’s coming.

“No,” he says before Ryan can open his mouth. “I’m not drinking at work.”

“You need to do something, ‘cause we can’t shoot with you looking like that.”

Shane rubs a hand over his face. He’s so not prepared to drink from Ryan. He was planning on saying yes to the offer, but it was under the assumption that he’d have time to come to terms with it before anything happened.

“What if we get blood everywhere?” Shane says, clutching at straws.

“We’re wearing merch for the Post Mortem,” Ryan points out. “That'll cover it up.”

“I can’t feed from you here. Anyone could walk in.”

“There’s a single stall bathroom upstairs,” Ryan answers so quickly that Shane knows without a doubt that he’s already thought about it.

Ryan.”

“Look me in the eyes and tell me you’ve never thought about getting your teeth into me.”

Honestly, if someone told Shane a month ago that this would be the discussion — borderline argument — he'd be having with Ryan, he would have laughed them out of the room. It's downright surreal. But he can’t do it. He can’t look Ryan in the eyes and say he’s never thought about sucking his blood, because it’d be a lie.

Instead, he says, “What’s your plan, since you obviously thought of one.”

Ryan doesn’t seem convinced by the distraction, but he also doesn’t call him out on it.

“You know which bathroom I was talking about?” he asks and when Shane nods, says, “Meet me up there. I’ll speak to the crew and buy us some time.”

“I love it when you take control,” Shane says, because deferring to humor is the one constant in his life. “It makes my body tingle.”

“Shut up,” Ryan retorts, but he sounds fond and the illusion is broken when he grins. “Get the fuck out of here.”

*

The bathroom is occupied when Shane gets upstairs, which means he has to linger awkwardly at the end of the hallway until it’s finally free again. By the time it is, he can already see Ryan stepping out of the stairwell and heading in his direction. He slips inside, keeping the door slightly ajar until Ryan nudges at it only a handful of seconds later.

The noise of the lock clicking into place is unnaturally loud in the silence.

“Are we having a picnic?” Shane can’t help but ask as Ryan drops a bag of who knows what on the counter by the sink. He can see a bottle of Vitamin water at the top and a handful of oranges.

“Liza said it’s like donating blood.”

“You’ve never donated blood,” Shane points out. “You don’t like needles.”

Ryan frowns at him. “You don’t have to donate blood to know the basics. I have to eat and drink after or I’ll feel worse.”

Shane shrugs. “Okay, so how do we do this?”

“They said I have to sit down until I figure out how my body reacts, so — ” He hops up on the countertop beside his bag and looks at Shane expectantly. “C’mere.”

He parts his knees as he says it and Shane feels the exact moment his mouth dries out and his brain gives up. It's fantasy material and Shane honestly doesn't know what to do to cope.

“What's wrong?” Ryan jokes. “Nervous about your first time with a guy?”

It's more than a little unfair of him, not that Ryan even knows what he does to Shane, but much in the same way Shane picks scabs even while knowing he'll make himself bleed, he finds himself needing to know what will happen if he prods at the sensitive parts of his life.

He takes two steps forwards, enough to put him directly between Ryan's legs, looks down at him, and says, “You're not my first.”

Ryan's breath stutters, fluttering against Shane's neck like he's the one about to sink his teeth into soft skin, and Shane waits just long enough for Ryan to glance up at him before saying, “How do you want it?”

It’s clear the tables have turned and the joke has backfired on Ryan, who makes a heavy noise like he doesn’t know how to respond. Shane was never meant to take the bait, he realizes.

“Uhh,” Ryan says and Shane knows he really shouldn’t push it; he’s done enough damage already, but he still finds himself opening his mouth to ruin his own life.

“What?” he asks. “You can give it, but you can’t take it?”

Ryan reaches out with one hand and presses it over Shane’s mouth, effectively shutting him up. Shane gets the childish impulse to lick his palm, but restrains himself.

“I’m doing you a favor here,” Ryan tells him with a pointed look before moving his hand away again. “Start with my wrist.”

He bares the soft inside of his arm to Shane, who can barely remember how to function. He stares at the unblemished skin of Ryan’s wrist, feeling the familiar ache in his mouth as his stomach rumbles impatiently.

“How does this work?” Shane asks, feeling off-balance by the fact that Ryan knows more about this than he does.

“You just bite,” Ryan tells him as though that much should be obvious.

“It’s going to hurt,” Shane points out, because as sharp as his teeth are, he knows bluntly pressing them into Ryan’s skin isn’t going to be pretty.

“Oh,” Ryan says, “Liza mentioned something about pain relief.”

“I thought it was healing saliva.”

“It might be both,” Ryan says with a shrug. “Guess we’ll find out, but you might want to hurry up; we don’t have all day.”

Shane hates feeling rushed, but Ryan’s right. They don’t have the luxury of time to figure out the fine print, he just needs to try it and see what happens.

“If it hurts too much, just say,” Shane tells him, waiting until Ryan actually acknowledges it with a nod before he lets his fangs drop.

Ryan seems just as mesmerized by them as he was the first time, but to his credit, he doesn’t even flinch when Shane steadies his arm with a hand on his elbow and brings his wrist closer to his mouth. Ryan smells like faded shower gel and, weirdly, permanent marker, and Shane finds himself shutting his eyes and letting the scents distract him as he carefully lines up his teeth.

It’s unnerving how little pressure it takes to actually break the skin, and at Ryan’s soft inhale, Shane snaps his gaze to his face.

“Oh my god,” Ryan says breathlessly and Shane thinks he should pull back and make sure he’s okay before continuing, but then his mouth floods with blood and he can’t bring himself to care.

It’s definitely more diluted than what he received during his first feeding, but the taste is perhaps even more addicting. It tastes the way that garden-grown vegetables taste when compared to store-bought. There’s a freshness to it that he isn’t expecting. He’s also not expecting the heat — physically, it’s hotter than anything he’s had before and it tingles against his tongue like a gentle burn.

“Oh my god,” Ryan repeats, and Shane is vaguely aware of him pressing his other hand to the back of Shane’s head, holding him right where he is. “That doesn’t hurt.”

Shane takes it as the go-ahead to dig his teeth in a little bit further, drawing out more blood as he sucks gently. Prodding around his teeth with his tongue seems to help encourage the bleeding and he can feel the heavy beat of Ryan’s pulse in his mouth. It’s faster than he thinks any resting heart rate should be, but he chalks it up to the whole weird situation and the way he’s drinking mouthful after mouthful of his blood and messing up his blood pressure.

He can feel Ryan’s fingers in his hair, clutching hard enough to pinch his scalp and ground him. It brings him back enough that he’s aware of the deep flush on Ryan’s face and how his mouth has slackened like he’s feeling too much all at once. Shane presses a hand high up on his thigh, just to keep himself steady, but Ryan rocks against him, a noise slipping past his lips that Shane would definitely classify as a moan — and not of the dear god, please stop variety.

It’s enough to remind Shane exactly where they are and what they’re doing, and he quickly pulls his mouth away, his fangs disappearing at the same time.

When he takes a step back, Ryan’s hand falls away from the back of his head and Ryan slumps against the mirror behind, hard enough that it creaks ominously. He’s a mess. Shane doesn’t think he’s ever used the word debauched for anything in his life, but he can’t think of a more accurate way to describe how Ryan appears now.

Shane wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and quickly glances at himself in the mirror. He hasn’t dripped blood down his front, which is good, but there’s an obvious crease in his pants from where his dick is insisting on joining in on the fun, which he’s not even going to try to defend. He adjusts himself inconspicuously and cards his fingers through his hair.

“Are you okay?” he asks carefully, but he’s not sure if even Ryan knows himself.

There’s a trail of blood across Ryan’s lap and the countertop from where he’s moved his arm to hang it over the sink, and Shane becomes uncomfortably aware that he’s still bleeding.

“Let me see,” he says quickly, and Ryan doesn’t fight him as he turns on the faucet and runs Ryan’s wrist through the water.

Part of the bite already seems to have healed, but the deepest part, where Shane’s canines were, drips blood sluggishly. He doesn’t know if it’ll work, but he carefully gathers saliva in his mouth before spitting it onto his fingers and carefully rubbing it over the last of the wound.

“That’s disgusting,” Ryan says, finally seeming to find his voice, but in front of their eyes, his skin heals the rest of the way, leaving him with an unmarked wrist again. Ryan presses his fingers to it, like he’s double checking the skin stays knitted together, but it apparently passes his inspection because he carefully washes away the remaining mess and reaches to Shane’s left for the paper towel holder.

“Are you okay?” Shane asks again and this time Ryan’s aware enough to glance over at him. His face is still flushed, but he looks a little less dazed than before.

“I think so,” he says carefully, but he’s not subtle in the way he tugs at the hem of his shirt to hide his lap. Shane realizes he’s not the only one affected, which should be comforting, but now only makes him more aware that they’ve crossed lines they probably shouldn’t have.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Ryan’s flush somehow deepens, but he shakes his head. “No.”

“Was it too much? We don’t have to do this again.”

“Can we not play twenty questions right now?” Ryan pleads, bringing a hand up to his face like he’s feeling the warmth of his skin. “Look,” he says eventually. “Let me clean up here and eat something and I’ll be back on set in a few minutes. You look less dead, so I guess something good came out of this after all.”

Shane doesn’t like being dismissed, but Ryan looks truly uncomfortable, and he’s not about to make that worse.

“Are you sure?” he asks, but the glance Ryan shoots him says enough. “Okay,” he agrees. “I’ll, uh, see you downstairs.”

He moves away carefully, feeling as though he can’t put his back to Ryan in case he spots another of his weak spots. It takes him two attempts to unlock the door and when he finally pulls it open, there’s an intern waiting on the other side. He doesn’t know her name, but he knows she sits behind Devon.

“Oh,” she says, glancing from Shane to the gap of the open door, where Ryan’s in plain sight, perched on the counter, looking borderline fucked. “Sorry.”

She turns without waiting for an explanation and hurries down the hallway.

“Fuck,” Shane says emphatically, looking over his shoulder, but Ryan just shrugs at him as though to say what can you do?

Shane scrubs a hand over his face and shuts the door behind him, leaving Ryan on the other side to do whatever it is he needs to do.

He’ll survive, he thinks. He survived being bitten and turned into a vampire. He can survive a little office gossip.

He straightens his shirt and heads towards the stairs.

*

Devon's getting coffee when Shane walks into the break room later in the week. The look she gives him makes him want to immediately turn around and leave, but he's an adult. He's pretty adept at awkward social situations now.

“So,” she says, stirring a sweetener into her cup. “I had an interesting conversation with Rose recently.”

Shane doesn't know anyone called Rose, but he has a sinking suspicion that the nameless intern from yesterday might not be so nameless. Shane hums in the back of his throat and pretends the water cooler is suddenly the most interesting thing around. He pours himself a cup and takes a loud slurp.

“I don’t care what’s going on,” she admits, which is good because nothing is going on, well, nothing that she’s probably assuming. No one in their right mind would be able to assume what’s actually going on. “But,” she says because there always has to be a caveat, “TJ and I have an ongoing bet and I’ll get sixty bucks if you guys first hooked up outside of California.”

“Sixty bucks,” Shane says weakly. “That’s a lot.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. “The bet’s been going on for a while.”

Shane turns to look at her, both eyebrows raised. “How long?”

She clicks the corner of her mouth in thought. “Year and a half? Give or take?”

“Jesus,” Shane complains and Devon takes a sip of her coffee.

“So, can I collect, or not?”

“No, Devon. Christ.”

“Does that mean I owe him instead?”

No,” Shane insists. “It means you stop making bets with each other. Ryan was just helping me with an emergency.”

Devon stares at him over the rim of her cup. “Is that the name of your dick?”

“Okay, I’m out,” Shane says, turning as a threat to leave, but Devon laughs like she already knew that would be the end of their conversation and heads for the door.

“Let me know if anything changes,” she tells him, halfway through the doorway. “I could do with some spare change.”

Shane wonders if his water would make it to her if he threw it, but figures the cleanup wouldn’t be worth it.

He takes an angry sip, but almost spits it back into his cup as he hears her retreating voice saying, “Oh, speak of the devil.”

He’d know that responding laugh anywhere.

“I hope that’s a good thing,” Ryan tells her over his shoulder as he steps into the break room, but then just looks confused as she throws her head back to laugh as she walks away. He glances over, finally seeming to notice that Shane’s there. “What was that about?”

With a mouthful of water, Shane can’t talk, so that’s exactly what he does, offering a shrug like he has no idea what Devon meant.

“Weird,” he says, and Shane can't tell if he's referring to him or Devon, but it's easier to not reply, so he ends up draining his cup instead. He still doesn't know where water goes in his body, but it's treated him well so far, and he's not about to knock it.

He tosses his paper cup in the trash and moves towards the doorway, planning on making a hasty retreat, except that the closer he gets to Ryan, the more aware he is that there’s something not quite right.

“What's that smell?” he asks, and he thinks he already knows, but it’s strongest when he’s right beside Ryan, where he also catches hints of the hand soap from the men’s room and the sweetness of a Pop-Tart he probably had for breakfast. “Are you hurt?”

Ryan turns then and shows off the hand he's been clutching to his chest. There's blood across the side and a trail of it heading down his wrist to the paler underside of his arm. Even with his newfound appreciation of blood, Shane thinks it looks gruesome.

“Caught myself on the underside of my desk,” Ryan tells him, which Shane understands completely, because he’s scratched his own knees more times than he can count. “It looks worse than it is.”

“Let me see,” Shane tells him, holding out a hand, but Ryan automatically brings his arm in closer to himself, protecting it. “I’m not Jaws,” Shane complains. “I’m not going to come after you at the first sign of blood.”

“It hurts,” Ryan admits, which Shane knows is another way to say be careful when Ryan reaches out to let Shane get a closer look.

Ryan is right — it’s not a bad wound, only an inch or so long, but about as shallow as a paper cut. It’s mostly superficial and just bleeding a lot because it’s his hand.

“You’ll live,” Shane declares. “There are band-aids in the first aid box by the door.”

Ryan takes his hand back and looks at it himself, appraising and slightly thoughtful.

“Or,” he says and Shane can tell from the tone of his voice that he’s about to ask for something, “you could heal it for me.”

Shane’s gaze immediately snaps back to the cut and he finds himself unconsciously licking his lips.

“What’s the point of having super powers if you don’t use them?” Ryan adds.

“They’re not super powers,” Shane says, like that’s the hill he wants to die on.

“C’mon, it’ll take two seconds.”

He raises his arm up towards Shane’s mouth and Shane one hundred percent blames the alluring scent of blood that makes him cave so quickly. He spares a single glance at the doorway and just prays that no one comes in as he takes Ryan by the wrist and pulls him the rest of the way up to his mouth.

The blood is salty on his tongue, but it’s just as good as he remembers from before. He prods at the cut with his tongue, just because that’s the kind of person he is now apparently, and when he looks up and catches sight of Ryan’s slightly dazed expression, he realizes he probably shouldn’t have put Ryan’s hand directly in his mouth.

He should have done what he did before to heal the bite by licking his fingers and smoothing them over it. This is a lot more direct in a way Shane usually isn’t, but it’s already too late to take it back. He knows he might as well press forward because back-peddling, at this point, might actually be even more awkward.

Ryan doesn’t make a move to stop him, so Shane focuses on licking away the semi-dried blood around the cut instead. It’s not as satisfying as the fresh stuff, like a day-old donut that’s gone slightly hard at the edges, but it still makes his teeth ache enough that he has to concentrate to keep them hidden away.

Ryan keeps watching him, his lips softly parted enough that Shane can feel every breath on the back of his own arm. Even while watching him, Shane doesn’t see him raise his hand until it’s already resting on his shoulder, his thumb and forefinger gently tracing along Shane’s neck. It’s the lightest of touches, and yet makes Shane’s knees want to buckle.

He thinks they’re both aware that Ryan’s cut has healed already, but Ryan doesn’t pull away and Shane finds himself dragging his blunt, human teeth across the skin, just to see what’ll happen. Except he doesn’t get to find out because there are voices close to the break room doorway and Shane steps back and Ryan drops both hands to his sides. There’s no blood on him anymore and Shane wipes his mouth with the back of his arm, just to make sure he’s safe too.

“Couldn’t let good blood go to waste,” Shane says as though he has to explain himself. Ryan’s flushed in the face and looks like he wouldn’t know what Shane was saying even if he screamed it into his ear.

Shane takes an extra step away and Ryan finally blinks as though coming back to himself. Shane recognizes the two guys who stroll in a few seconds later, but can’t remember their names. He nods at them in greeting and figures it’s a good time to flee.

“Great,” he says, a non-sequitur to cover them. “Glad I could help with your, uh, problem.”

Ryan makes a noise in the back of his throat like an attempt at a reply, and Shane leaves with the taste of his blood still lingering in his mouth.

He’s made a lot of bad life choices recently, but this might be the worst.

*

BuzzFeed holds a party the weekend prior to Halloween. Shane doesn’t plan on going until he’s enveloped in a group chat between a few of the regulars who keep trying to guess what people will be dressed as.

Shane doesn’t even have an outfit until the day before when he realizes he actually does, with a few minor additions.

“Who are you supposed to be?” Curly asks, and even over the thudding of music Shane can hear the judgment in his voice. “Phantom of the Opera?”

“Get that disdain out of your mouth,” Shane fires back. “Have you seen Ryan?”

“Last I saw, he was over by the buffet.” He gestures across the room where a row of tables have been set up, ladened with food. “But, you still haven’t told me who you are.”

Shane smiles at him, subtly revealing the sharpness of his fangs, and Curly actually takes a step back, hand pressed to his own chest.

“You’re about to ruin that man’s life.”

Shane laughs. “You think it’s too scary?”

“No,” Curly says, shaking his head. “Do you know how many times Ryan has seen Twilight? The kid totally has a thing for vampires, and you, looking like that, isn’t going to help.”

Shane looks down at himself. He’s wearing the pants and shirt of the tux he usually saves for fancier events, but has a cheap cape from the dollar store draped over his shoulders. He’d made himself laugh looking in the bathroom mirror at home, and figured it would do the same to Ryan, but now Curly’s given him something new to think about.

“Be gentle,” Curly warns and then he’s moving away, probably to find somewhere to refill his empty cup, and Shane’s left to pull his life back together again.

“Dear god,” a familiar voice behind him says, and Shane realizes now why Curly left. “Please tell me you’re not what I think you are.”

Shane turns to face Ryan, unable to keep in a laugh when he sees the strategic reuse of the Indiana Jones outfit. Shane holds up a hand and briefly puts his back to him again — he has a special surprise for him in the form of ninety-nine cent plastic vampire teeth, which he puts in his mouth before turning around.

“Ta da,” he says, slurring around the plastic, and Ryan immediately buckles at the waist under the force of his laugh. It's a wonderful sight.

“You’re ridiculous,” he declares in between wheezes and Shane’s fake teeth pop out the second he starts laughing with him. They drop to the dirty floor and Shane knows they’re never going back in his mouth, but were worth every penny even for just a few seconds of use.

He tucks them into his pocket as Ryan starts into another fit of laughter, and Shane gets the sudden feeling that Ryan might not be entirely sober.

“I'm a vampire, didn't you know?”

“You’re the worst — that's what I know.”

Shane laughs again and flashes part of his real fangs, just because he can.

“I have to carry the weight of this on my shoulders,” Ryan complains. “No one else knows how shitty this joke is. You did this to torture me.”

Shane did it to make Ryan laugh, but he’s aware now of how much his life revolves around trying to make Ryan happy. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just that when it’s laid out bare for him to see in moments like this, where the only person who could benefit from his actions is Ryan, there are a lot of very obvious implications.

“I need another drink,” Ryan tells him and Shane would agree if he could.

“Have one for me,” he says instead and Ryan snorts and tips his head like he’ll think about it.

Shane watches him go and wonders how big the elephant in the room can get before it crushes them both.

*

“Hey,” Ryan says, startling Shane from where he’s scrolling through his Instagram feed in a dark corner of the party. It turns out work events aren’t quite as much fun when he can’t indulge the way he used to. Ryan nudges into his space and Shane wonders where his hat has disappeared to. “What are you doing?”

Shane locks his phone and slips it into his pocket. “Nothing. I might head home. You?”

“I was thinking,” Ryan starts as though he hasn’t even heard Shane.

“Dangerous,” Shane jokes and Ryan presses a hand to his shoulder, balancing himself.

“If I’m drunk and you drink my blood, will you get secondhand drunk?”

Shane laughs because it’s such a Ryan idea to have. “How long have you been sitting on that one, buddy?”

Ryan squints at him. He’s got his usual alcohol-flush and there’s a mark on his neck from where his treasure hunting satchel has shifted up to dig into his skin. “Do you want to find out?”

It’s a tempting offer, but at least one of them has to try having boundaries. “I’m not really hungry,” he lies. He thinks he could always have a little more of Ryan's blood.

“That’s not what I asked,” Ryan says and his gaze is firmly on Shane’s mouth, like he’s half expecting Shane to drop his fangs right then and there.

Shane feels rooted in place and he’s dimly aware of Ryan’s fingers pressing into his shoulder, gripping like he doesn’t want to let go.

“This is a scientific method for you,” Ryan insists. “I had an idea and now you can try it. Unless you’re worried about what you might learn.”

“Ryan,” Shane warns, but Ryan’s already moving his hand from Shane’s shoulder to the side of his throat, like putting his wrist closer to Shane’s mouth will make him more inclined to bite. He is, but Ryan doesn’t need to know that.

“Let’s find out,” he pleads and Shane passes his gaze over Ryan’s shoulder. They’re fairly hidden where they are — it’s dark and most people are gathered either by or around the dance floor in the middle. And anyway, it’s BuzzFeed. There’s probably worse going on somewhere than two dudes huddled in the corner, sharing blood.

Maybe.

Even above the noise of the music, Shane can hear the interested sound Ryan lets out the second Shane grips his arm and pulls it towards his mouth. He drops his fangs as his lips brush the warmth of Ryan’s skin and it’s exactly how he remembers it. Except this time, Ryan’s not sitting down, which means he’s free to crowd into Shane’s space, nudging Shane two steps back to put his shoulders against the wall behind them. Shane feels pinned despite assuming — perhaps wrongly — that he’s the one in control.

He holds Ryan’s gaze as he swallows his first mouthful of blood, fully ready to pull away and tell him he’s been talking a load of bullshit. Except that it does actually taste different — it has a slightly bitter tang — and when Shane frowns, the corner of Ryan’s mouth ticks up, like he’s already won.

It takes three mouthfuls for Shane to feel anything, but when it hits, it hits hard and he feels like he’s sixteen again, getting drunk for the first time in his best friend’s basement. He immediately stops drinking, but knows better after last time than to just pull away from Ryan’s arm and leave him bleeding.

He tucks his fangs away and keeps his lips sealed over the bitemark, tonguing at it gently to try to get it to heal faster.

He knows he’s made a series of terrible mistakes that have lead to this life choice — the first being letting Ryan bully him into agreeing to bite him earlier in the week. But the mistake he’s abundantly aware of now and how much it’s about to fuck everything up, is defiantly holding Ryan’s stare while he cleans the last of the blood off his arm with careful swipes of his tongue. After all, it’s not exactly something one does with a friend.

When he’s sure Ryan’s completely healed, he pulls away, letting go of his arm and allowing it to drop back to Ryan’s side. Ryan still has him pinned with his other hand and Shane thinks it’s the only thing keeping him upright. He blinks and his movements feel lethargic in the familiar way that alcohol does — or did, or maybe even does again. Shane apparently isn’t sober enough to figure out up from down, let alone the biology of his own body.

Ryan touches his face reverently and then huffs a laugh. “You’re totally drunk right now.”

Shane can’t even argue, partly because he’s correct, but mostly because his tongue doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Ryan’s stupid idea was right and now he’s left wondering when it’ll wear off and if it’ll be before either one of them makes a decision they’ll regret later.

“Are you okay?”

Shane blinks again and has enough presence of mind to nod. “Yeah,” he gets out eventually. “It’s strong.”

“I don’t know if that means I’m more drunk than I feel or if you’re a lightweight.”

“Maybe both,” Shane replies because it’s a safe bet.

Ryan's hand is still on his face, the tips of his fingers high up on Shane's cheek. His palm is warm against the contrasting coolness of Shane's skin, and it really doesn't help.

“Did it taste good?” Ryan asks and Shane wonders if he's actively trying to ruin his life or if it just comes naturally. His thumb nudges at the corner of Shane's mouth and Shane parts his lips without even thinking.

He thinks he's getting a pavlovian response to any part of Ryan being close to his mouth because his fangs drop before he can stop them and Ryan rubs the pad of his thumb along the nearest canine. He meets Shane's eyes and Shane can already tell he's thinking about doing something stupid. He gets the same expression on his face and it typically ends with Shane being roped into some new ghost-hunting technique. He thinks the stakes are a little higher this time.

Shane doesn't move, not even to breathe, which means it's all Ryan's fault that he cuts himself on the sharp tip of Shane's fang. He can smell the blood before he tastes it, but then Ryan's tracing his thumb along Shane's bottom lip, spreading the warmth of it where Shane can't help but flick his tongue out to lick it up.

Ryan has some really bad ideas sometimes, but Shane's not exempt. In fact, it might qualify as the worst idea of his life when he closes his lips around Ryan's thumb and draws it into his mouth. If he were a better man, he might be subtle enough to play it off as attempting to heal Ryan's cut, but Shane knows no part of him is subtle. It's not helped by the fact that he's drunk on blood and alcohol and is right at the limit of how long he's willing to sit back for while Ryan pushes at him.

He sucks Ryan's thumb, flattening his tongue against the pad of it like he would if he dropped to his knees right then and there to get Ryan's cock in his mouth, and Ryan really doesn't seem to expect it. Shane would like to pretend the one time he surprises Ryan for real is planned, but it's not.

What's worse is that Ryan immediately pulls away, his thumb slipping from between Shane’s lips with a pop that should be funny, but isn't.

Shane opens his mouth, an apology on the tip of his traitorous tongue, but Ryan beats him to it.

“Shit, fuck,” Ryan gets out, but his hand is back on Shane's face like he didn't learn the first time. “I'm sorry.”

Shane doesn't even know what Ryan has to be sorry about, except that then he does, because he becomes very aware of how Ryan's leaning up into his space, sharing the air between their mouths until there's none left, and then their lips meet.

It’s the most tentative kiss he’s ever been the recipient of, but before he can bask in the feeling, Ryan’s pressing in harder, with more confidence, like if he’s going to go all in, he might as well make it worth it. That’s more like what Shane expects. He hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how it would be to be kissed by Ryan, but he’d be lying if he said he never had.

Ryan likes things his way, not selfishly, but in the sense that being in control seems to calm him. Which means part of Shane expects the way Ryan gets a hand behind his head and keeps him right where he wants him. Shane thinks he should pull away — this isn’t something they should do without talking about it first, let alone do at a work event in front of all their coworkers — but Shane wants it and unlike Ryan, he is selfish.

He lets Ryan lick into his mouth and drops a hand down to the strap of Ryan’s stupid treasure hunting satchel just to pull him closer and put them hip to hip, bodies flush the whole way down to their feet. He thinks the alcohol is already fading from his system, because he feels more alert and able to distinguish the fact that Ryan’s other hand is less on the small of his back and more on his ass.

When Ryan pulls away, his mouth wet and red in a way that makes Shane’s brain scream we did that to him, he half expects another apology.

“I want you,” Ryan blurts out instead, and Shane thinks this is how he dies: too turned on to even remember how to function. But then Ryan finishes the thought and it's somehow even worse. “I want you to bite my neck.”

Shane has too many things he wants to say and ask and all the words get jammed up behind his teeth and the only thing he can think to do is pull Ryan back into a kiss. Not that Ryan seems to want to complain — he hums into Shane’s mouth, a thoughtful noise that vibrates against his tongue, and Shane wants to find another, darker corner where he can give Ryan exactly what he wants.

“Not that I’m not enjoying the show,” a voice from behind Ryan says, “but you kids might want to take that somewhere where people are less likely to put videos of it up on Snapchat.”

Ryan pulls away like he’s breaking the surface of a lake. He draws in an unsteady breath and Shane keeps a heavy, slightly possessive hand on his hip. When he looks over, Curly’s taking a lazy sip from his glass, looking less judgmental than he probably ought to be.

“What?” Shane asks, despite hearing it the first time; it just feels like his brain is lagging and trying to keep up.

“Your dark corner isn’t as dark as you think it is,” Curly tells them. “Take it elsewhere.”

Ryan wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and suddenly seems to remember exactly where he is. He takes a step away from Shane, taking the comforting warmth of his body with him, and tugs at his shirt to fix the worst of the wrinkles Shane’s hands have put into it. Curly’s shielding them from view with the angle he’s standing at and Shane thinks he owes him a fruit basket or two.

“Yeah,” Shane gets out. “Okay.”

Ryan glances back at him like he wasn’t entirely expecting Shane to agree, but that he’s all aboard the express train to bad decisions-ville.

“Your place or mine?” he asks and Shane swallows.

*

Ryan’s apartment is closer, which makes it the better candidate, but the Lyft Ryan orders them, drops them at Shane's doorstep. Not that Shane's willing to argue about it. It means he can pin Ryan to the inside of his door and crowd in close, and the only witness is Obi, who trots over and chirps loudly at them.

Ryan's breath blows warmly against him when he laughs. “Forgot to feed someone?”

Shane stares briefly at his mouth and eventually takes a step back. “No, he's been fed. He's just being a cat.”

Ryan knows he keeps a bag of treats by the door, an attempt to turn strangers into a positive, and delicious, experience for Obi, which means when he slips from Shane's grasp, he knows exactly what he's doing.

“They'll make him fat,” Shane complains without heat and Ryan shakes a handful of treats onto the floor.

“They'll keep him quiet.”

As he sets the bag aside, he looks at Shane, his eyebrows raised slightly like he's waiting for Shane to argue. Shane has better ways to spend his time. He grips Ryan's elbow and pulls him through to the living room.

“Sit,” he orders and Ryan drops onto the couch like his knees have given out. Looking up at Shane, Ryan's neck is perfectly on display and now that Ryan's put the idea into his head, he can't get it out. “You know how you said before that you were doing me a favor by letting me feed? I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think I’m doing you a favor, too.”

Ryan goes redder than Shane's ever seen him. “Yeah?” he replies. “And what if you were?”

Shane shrugs and arranges himself on the couch beside Ryan with a little more care. “I'd still do it.”

Ryan brings his hand up to touch his own neck, just below the hinge of his jaw. “Here,” he says and Shane's teeth begin to ache, threatening to drop if he doesn't keep them in check.

“Is this more dangerous?”

“No,” Ryan says, and he doesn't sound like he's lying. “Liza said your saliva will heal anything before it starts being an issue. It's just — ”

“What?” Shane asks when Ryan doesn't continue, like he's trying to think of the right way to word it.

“They said it's how people feed when they're, y'know, more intimate than just donors.”

Shane glances briefly at Ryan's lips and says, “I think we're beyond that anyway.”

When Ryan reaches out for him, Shane half expects to be pulled directly towards his neck in an unmistakable offer, but instead Ryan kisses him. It's not a bad thing and he doesn't think it's entirely unexpected, but it still takes his brain a moment to catch up.

It's a much better kiss than the one from the party, and Ryan seems to know exactly what he's doing now and what he wants. Shane can't remember the last time he made out with someone on his couch, but he's more than happy for a refresher.

Ryan's hands are hot against his face, his palms slightly clammy, which might be from excitement or anxiety. Shane winds an awkwardly angled arm around his shoulder just in case it's the latter and he needs the reassurance that Shane's in this too.

Ryan draws back, both thumbs close to Shane's mouth like he just can't help himself. “C'mon,” he says, but presses back in for another kiss.

Shane lets the kiss continue for a beat and then another before he turns and trails his lips down to Ryan's jaw, his stubble abrasive, but not enough to deter him. He can smell Ryan's shampoo and the leather of his jacket, and he lets himself bury his nose against Ryan's throat for just a moment.

“Shane,” Ryan pleads softly and Shane feels it in the vibrations against his mouth.

He doesn't keep Ryan waiting, partly because he knows first hand how impatient Ryan can be. He drops his fangs enough to let them scratch along Ryan's skin without breaking it. The noise Ryan makes, pushed directly into Shane's ear, is something he never wants to forget.

He licks gently where he plans to bite and then grips Ryan tighter as he sinks his teeth in.

Ryan responds immediately, his body arching, a hand coming up to the back of Shane's head to keep him from moving, not that he plans to when his mouth fills with the richness of Ryan's blood. It goes directly south, warming his stomach, but more importantly his cock.

Shane,” Ryan says again and Shane can feel the rapid thumping of Ryan’s heartbeat in his mouth. His blood seems to taste sweeter than before, like the shift in Ryan’s emotions could possibly change that. “This angle — ”

Shane thinks he understands — it’s an awkward position for them and Shane’s definitely going to end up with a crick in his neck, but he doesn’t mind, not if it means being this close to Ryan and getting more of his alcohol-laced blood.

But before he can pull back and tell him it’s okay, Ryan shifts against him. He doesn’t move his neck enough that Shane’s fangs slip free, but he heaves his whole body up to slide into Shane’s lap, pinning Shane back against the couch and putting pressure right where he wants it.

It’s Shane’s turn to groan, and he tries to say Ryan’s name, but he’s also been taught not to talk with his mouth full. He slides his hands down along Ryan’s back, his jacket crinkling beneath his fingers, until he can get them on Ryan’s ass. Shane never thought a man in khakis could be so attractive, but Ryan’s proved him wrong about a lot of stuff already; one more thing can’t hurt.

When Ryan ruts forward, he presses an unmistakable hardness into Shane’s stomach, and Shane actually has to pull away to tip his head back and take a moment.

“Don’t stop,” Ryan tells him and when Shane looks back down, there’s blood running down Ryan’s neck and his clean white shirt might not be salvageable at the end of the night.

Shane leans in and laps it up with his tongue, healing the bite marks as he goes, stopping the worst of it. He’s already full and back to feeling the buzz of alcohol, but he can’t deny Ryan what he wants. He trails his mouth a little lower and sinks his teeth in, just to puncture, not to drink. He leaves an entire row of marks in a messy line towards Ryan’s shoulder, but his collar gets in the way, forcing him to double-back to clear up after himself.

Ryan rocks against him, his shoulders shifting as he blindly peels his jacket off and dumps it on the floor. The satchel follows soon after and Shane helps him with the buttons of his shirt, unfastening enough that he can push it out of the way. He can feel Ryan moving as he finishes up and tugs it down his arms and off, but Shane pays more attention to the thickness of his shoulders.

It’s a tougher area to bite, but Ryan makes a noise that’s less restrained than before, like he can’t help himself, and Shane gives him a few extra marks just because he wants to hear more.

When he pulls back, there's blood dripping down Ryan's chest and he's flushed and breathing hard.

“Is this what you've wanted this whole time?” Shane asks and Ryan reaches down for his own belt, unbuckling it loudly in the silence that stretches between them.

“I want you to touch me,” Ryan admits and as he gets his pants open, Shane knows he isn't going to deny him that.

He slides a palm along Ryan's thigh, feeling the tightness of muscle before he slips his hand into his pants, nudging his underwear aside with the tips of his fingers. Ryan's hard and already wet when Shane rubs his thumb over the tip, and it has Ryan bucking against him in response.

“Like this?” Shane asks, curling his fingers around him and squeezing. Ryan grips the back of the couch and fucks into the tight circle of his hand, nodding wordlessly. He does it again and Shane wishes he kept lube around his house to make it feel even better for him.

“Bite me again,” Ryan gets out between heavy breaths and Shane wants to make a joke about Ryan being bossy, but Shane wants it too.

As Ryan leans into him, Shane gets his mouth back on his throat, his teeth easily breaking the skin again as he licks around them. Ryan continues thrusting forwards and Shane can't help but wonder if he could come like that, with just Shane's hand and teeth.

When he heals Ryan this time, he lazily cleans up the blood with long swipes of his tongue and then sits back. Ryan touches his mouth with a free hand, his thumb running down to Shane's chin.

“You’re a mess,” he says, and Shane belatedly realizes he must have blood all over the lower half of his face.

“Does this count as me playing with my food?” he asks and Ryan groans — the familiar, annoyed kind — and drops his forehead to Shane's shoulder.

“You're the worst,” he tells him, but kisses Shane's jaw like he doesn't mean it at all. It doesn't stop him from continuing to push into Shane's grip either, and he seems more desperate as he pants against Shane's skin.

“What do you want?” Shane asks, his free hand gliding up Ryan's back, feeling the way his muscles shift as he moves.

“I don't know — this? I don't know what's on the table.”

Shane thinks about it for a moment and has a feeling he knows what Ryan wants but can't bring himself to ask for it.

“You could fuck me,” Shane says eventually and based on the way Ryan immediately hunches over like the thought alone is too much, he suspects he knows what his answer will be.

“Can I?”

“I don't know, can you?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Ryan tells him, pushing their mouths together again and forcing Shane to comply, not that he’s complaining. He tucks his fangs away and lets Ryan kiss him, pausing his hand on Ryan’s cock to give them both a moment to regroup. Ryan’s tongue is tentative this time, like he’s not completely sold on tasting blood, but isn't going to let it get in the way of their kissing.

When Shane eventually draws away, Ryan smooths his hands down the front of Shane’s shirt and leans back.

“Bedroom?” he asks and Shane’s dick throbs where it’s trapped in his pants.

Shane nods and wonders what it would be like if he could just pick Ryan up and carry him. Of all the tropes to not be real, he can’t believe he didn’t get the cool extra strength. Instead, he takes his hand out of Ryan’s pants and waits for him to shuffle backwards to his own feet. He looks ridiculous in just the khakis, the front tented with his erection, but the stains of dried blood over his shoulder and down his chest make Shane’s stomach flip.

When Shane pushes himself up, briefly swaying from the alcohol in his system, Ryan stares up at him and tugs at his cape with his thumb and forefinger.

“You look stupidly hot, by the way.”

“I know that probably hurt to admit,” Shane replies, “so, thank you.”

Ryan prods him in the chest and laughs like he can’t help it. “You’re an idiot,” he says. “I bet you made yourself laugh putting that costume together.”

Shane smiles because it’s true, and Ryan gives him another poke.

“I can keep it on,” Shane tells him, “if you like it that much.”

Ryan scoffs and doesn’t hesitate as he tugs at the string holding the cape around Shane’s neck. It drops to a puddle of fabric on the floor and Ryan shakes his head.

“No, I want to see all of you.”

“You sure you’re ready for that? There’s a lot of me.”

Ryan rolls his eyes and grabs Shane’s wrist, pulling him in the direction of the bedroom. Shane grins at the back of his head and lets him lead the way.

There’s nothing different about his room, except that now he has a half-naked Ryan in it, which means that everything is different. He pauses to watch Ryan toe off his shoes and socks, but Ryan turns to face him as he pulls his pants and underwear the rest of the way off, like he’s showing off. Shane knows he is the second Ryan cups a hand against his dick, pinning it against his lower belly like an invitation.

Ryan cocks an eyebrow at him and Shane can’t believe what he’s got himself into.

Slowly, he unbuttons his own shirt, holding Ryan’s stare the entire time because two can play that game. He doesn’t have anything close to Ryan’s physique to show off as he lets his shirt drop to the floor, but Ryan trails his gaze down his body like he’s still very much interested in what he sees. When Shane unfastens his pants and lowers his zipper, Ryan’s actively rubbing himself, thumbing under the reddened head with a teasing touch.

Shane doesn’t feel vulnerable around Ryan very often, but stepping out of his pants and boxer-briefs, all he wants to do is cover himself up with his hands.

“Thank god,” Ryan says, taking a step closer, setting one warm palm on the cut of Shane’s hip. “I really did worry you might not be able to get it up if you were a vampire.”

Shane looks down at his dick. “You thought about that a lot?”

“Only whenever I jerked off,” Ryan says and Shane's head snaps up. Ryan's grinning lazily and for once Shane can't tell if he's joking or not.

“You — ”

“Me?” Ryan asks, but Shane can't get his brain to work.

He settles for pulling Ryan back in, kissing him to give himself a moment to think. It doesn't work, because Ryan drags him in the direction of the bed.

“Where’s your lube?” he asks, and Shane's brain resets again.

“Top drawer,” Shane eventually replies after a handful of steadying breaths, tipping his head towards the nightstand, and that’s exactly where Ryan goes while Shane sprawls inelegantly on the bed.

When Ryan turns back towards him, Shane adopts the standard David Hasselhoff pose and Ryan laughs, just as he knew he would.

“The boner really sells it,” Ryan tells him and Shane waggles his eyebrows.

When Ryan crowds over him, pushing him flat onto his back and pinning him there with hand in the center of his chest, he’s no longer laughing and Shane enjoys the way Ryan stares down at him like a nuke could detonate down the street and he still wouldn’t look away. Ryan kisses him then and Shane knows it’s the best worst decision he’s ever made bringing Ryan home, and not just as a friend. They'll have to talk about it at some point, but for now, Ryan seems to be on the same wavelength.

The pop of the lube’s cap is loud in the silence and Shane’s cock jerks in anticipation.

“Sorry if it’s cold,” Ryan warns, but Shane doesn’t care because all he can focus on is the gentle way Ryan touches him and the unwavering slide of his finger when he slips it inside. He has confidence Shane doesn’t really expect, but it’s clear this isn’t Ryan’s first rodeo, whether with himself or someone else. It’s not the time nor place, but Shane gets the urge to grill him to sate his own greedy curiosity.

Instead, he lets Ryan finger him within a inch of his life because of course he has to be good at this too.

He clutches at the sheets as Ryan slips another into him, already knowing what he needs. It’s been a while since anyone other than himself has opened him up and he’s forgotten how good it feels and how much better the angle is to rock down onto steady fingers.

“You like that,” Ryan says and for a second Shane thinks it’s a question and he’s going to scoff loudly in response, but with the way Ryan’s watching him, he realizes it’s just a statement, like he never thought Shane would be underneath him, practically beginning for a third finger.

“I only suggested this because I’m selfish. This is all for me.”

Ryan makes a noise like it’s a joke he expects, but gives Shane the extra finger he’s been waiting for, like it’s some kind of punishment for being snarky. It really isn’t. Shane groans and reaches down to touch himself — not that he needs it. He’s still as hard as he was on the couch with Ryan in his lap, and he thinks Ryan’s presence alone could keep him that way.

“I’d be happy to do this all night,” Ryan tells him, shifting his fingers in a way that makes Shane feel like he’s slipping out of his body.

“As great as it is,” Shane gets out with difficulty, “a major part of you fucking me, is you fucking me.”

“Well, when you put it like that,” Ryan answers sarcastically, but he does actually pull his hand away, leaving Shane clenching around thin air. He goes from everything to nothing and it takes him a moment to collect himself.

Ryan rubs at Shane’s hip with his clean hand and watches Shane stroke himself faster, an attempt to compensate for the lack of physical contact elsewhere.

“Condom?” Ryan asks when he eventually blinks and comes back to himself. Shane pauses his hand and gives a small shrug.

“I think there are a couple in my nightstand, but y’know, I’m dead. I don’t think either of us is gonna spread anything.”

“Other than your legs.”

“Cheap shot,” Shane complains, but Ryan laughs and doesn’t move to grab anything, which means Shane might get what he wants.

“Okay, well how do you want this?”

Shane would be lying if he said he hadn’t pictured the many different ways in which Ryan could fuck him, but it’s been a long time since Shane was put on his knees and taken apart, and that’s kind of what he wants now.

He’s careful when he guides Ryan back enough to give himself space, but he can feel the moment Ryan understands what he’s being offered as Shane rolls onto his stomach and pushes his knees apart.

“Oh, fuck,” Ryan mumbles and Shane gets his knees and elbows underneath himself and then looks over his shoulder.

“Problem?” he asks, but he can feel the flush on his own face and finds a matching one on Ryan’s.

“Nope. No problem here,” Ryan tells him, but his voice breaks and gives him away.

When he uses both hands to spread Shane apart, Shane knows he’s looking at where he’s wet and loosened, and it makes him want to rut against the mattress and get himself off the easy way.

Instead, he folds his arms under his head and listens to the clicking of the lube bottle lid again as Ryan squeezes out more, probably putting it on his cock. Shane can’t bring himself to look, because he knows it’ll be too much. He takes a steadying breath and focuses on the feeling of Ryan’s hand shifting to his hip, holding him right where he wants him.

The blunt pressure against him isn’t anything new — he knows the feeling well. But knowing it’s Ryan’s cock and listening to his muffled, frantic breaths, makes Shane want to break apart.

“Shane,” Ryan pants, like Shane's meant to stop him from feeling whatever it is he's feeling. But Shane can't help because he can't even deal with his own issues, let alone anyone else's.

He rocks backwards, taking Ryan just a little bit deeper and drawing another needy, desperate noise from Ryan.

He feels so full and the stretch is perfect; he doesn't want it to end.

By the time Ryan bottoms out, hips flush against Shane's, Shane has his face buried in the sheets, unable to even think. He can feel both of Ryan's hands rubbing along the length of his back, probably trying to comfort, but Shane can feel lube smearing against his skin and it's distracting in a way Ryan probably doesn't even realize.

When Ryan presses a hand beside Shane's head and leans down, he half expects to be kissed, maybe in a gentle trail along the back of his neck.

Instead, Ryan nudges his nose behind Shane's ear and murmurs, “Fuck, Shane; you feel so good.”

The noise Shane lets out isn't dignified, but he can't deal with actual syllables to make words.

“Can I move?” Ryan asks, finally dropping a kiss to the corner of Shane's jaw, and Shane nods, the sheets burning slightly against his cheek from the friction.

The first thrust isn't so much of a thrust as it is a careful wiggle of Ryan's hips, like he's trying to figure out what he's working with. But even that has Shane pressing back into him, wordlessly trying to get more.

The second thrust is even better. Ryan keeps one hand on Shane's hip and the other on the mattress, and he's able to jerk forwards in what's probably less than an inch of movement, but feels like pure bliss for Shane.

“Yeah,” Ryan encourages, as though Shane is an active participant and isn't just lying there taking what Ryan gives him. “Yeah, Shane, just like that.”

Ryan's pace is ragged at best, his sense of rhythm shot to hell, but it's perfect and exactly what Shane needs. He pushes his knees a little wider and lets Ryan slide a little deeper.

The hand Ryan has on his hip shifts, rubbing across the flat of Shane's stomach and then down between his legs. His fingers curl around Shane's cock and Shane bucks against the touch, almost overwhelmed by everything.

He feels Ryan's warm breath against his shoulder before his lips press an unsteady row of kisses to the back of his neck. Shane turns into the touch, offering his throat for whatever Ryan wants.

It's not entirely expected when Ryan digs his teeth into him, but he'd be lying if he said didn't want it.

Ryan,” he forces out, but Ryan just bites him a little harder, still fucking into him like if he only gets one chance at this, he wants to blow Shane's mind as much as possible. And he's definitely succeeding.

When Ryan pulls his mouth away, Shane's neck continues stinging, and he wonders if having Ryan's blood in him will give him the ability to bruise again. Part of him hopes so because he'll wear Ryan's mark like a badge of pride.

He can’t really focus on anything else though, not with Ryan stroking him in time to the movement of his hips. He doesn’t know who the fuck he’s been practicing on, but it’s clear he’s no blushing virgin.

“Is that good?” Ryan asks, mouth back to brushing against Shane’s shoulder, and Shane grunts, because he’s still not sure he can use his words just yet. He pushes back against him, using his body to say what he can’t aloud, and Ryan blows out a heavy breath across his skin. “We should have been doing this months ago.”

The noise that escapes Shane — which could be classified as a whine if one were being pedantic — is his attempt to agree, but he can’t even begin to think about how different his life would have been if he’d had Ryan fucking him like this on a regular basis. He’d be a ruined man.

Ryan's hand picks up speed on his cock, and knowing Ryan and how everything he does is carefully thought out, he thinks it's probably a hint. He's probably going to come soon and Shane's right there with him. There's been a lot of pent up frustrations lately, mostly sexual on Shane's part, and now it's all about to break loose.

“I can't believe you've given me a biting fetish,” Ryan complains and Shane has no idea how he's able to put together rational thoughts, let alone a joke, but he laughs and hangs his head.

“Made for each other,” he retorts, and Ryan shifts backwards, taking his hand off Shane's cock long enough to guide him upright so he's leaning against Ryan's chest. It puts them flush together and Ryan doesn't seem to be able to thrust as easily, but he seems more than happy to grind up into him instead.

“Ryan,” Shane pants out, Ryan's hand picking up where it left off and driving Shane closer to the edge.

“Yeah, big guy; you gonna come for me?”

The bad news is that now Shane has to also pencil in stupid dirty talk next to his new list of kinks. His attempt to complain is lost amongst the consonants of a groan, but he reaches down to knock Ryan's hand away from his cock, needing to put his own hand there to stroke himself the last few times before he comes.

The feeling hits him solidly in the abdomen and when his body starts to bend forward unconsciously, Ryan keeps him pinned with a forearm across his chest. As Shane lets his orgasm roll through him, Ryan grinds raggedly into him, his breath hot against Shane's jaw.

“Shane,” he presses out, and the rest of whatever he says gets muffled against the skin of Shane's shoulder as he shudders and comes.

He shoves himself deeper into Shane for just a couple more thrusts before falling still and Shane can feel the way his chest heaves against his back with every breath. Ryan shifts more of his weight against him, and Shane figures it’s only fair to help support him after he gave Shane so much. He sets a hand flat on the bed and Ryan slumps against him, drawing a surprised wheeze from Shane.

“You’re heavy,” he complains and Ryan grunts like he can’t bring himself to care.

Shane gives him a minute, the absolute limit of his patience, and then gives Ryan a gentle nudge with his elbow. Ryan grumbles something about afterglow, but takes his weight off him and then carefully pulls out. It's wet and messy and Shane wants to reach back and feel, but he figures he shouldn't show his whole hand at once when it comes to his sexual preferences.

Instead, he sprawls out on his stomach and says, “I guess it's not so different from vampires.”

Ryan flops into the space beside him, watching with a careful gaze. “What is?”

“How you can just come inside without being invited.”

Ryan's expression does something complicated and then he reaches across to fold the nearest pillow over Shane's face.

“Oh my god,” he complains, even as Shane bats the pillow away and laughs. “You said not to worry about a condom.”

“I'm kidding,” Shane promises, just in case Ryan actually worries.

“You're an idiot. Have you been saving up any other stupid vampire jokes?”

“Like you haven't? Look, feel this.”

He takes Ryan's hand in his own without asking and rests it on his own chest, where the absence of his beating heart is obvious.

“What am I feeling?” Ryan asks cautiously. “There's nothing.”

“Yeah,” Shane agrees. “You fucked the life out of me.”

Ryan pulls away, his shoulders hunched like he's trying not to laugh, but Shane doesn't hold back, shaking with mirth even as Ryan rolls off the bed and stands on wobbly legs.

He points an accusatory finger at Shane and says, “I'm going to shower. You can stay out here and think about what you've done.”

“I'll lie here and think of more jokes.”

“No,” Ryan argues, but he laughs and gives himself away. “You dick.”

He turns and heads into the bathroom and Shane counts backwards from ten before following after.

*

It's almost two in the morning before they crawl into bed considering Ryan insists on changing the sheets.

“We've all slept in a wet spot,” Shane tells him as Ryan settles, one hand tucked under his pillow, the other resting flat against Shane's hip.

“Yeah, in college, maybe, when we didn't have the luxury of spare sheets.”

Shane grunts and casually reaches around him to switch the bedside lamp off. It's never actually dark in L.A., not with the light pollution, which means he can still see Ryan in the dark enough to steal an unexpected kiss.

Ryan pushes a tired noise into his mouth, but returns it before Shane flops back to his side of the bed. It falls silent between them, but Ryan's thumb continues rubbing gentle circles on his skin, which means he hasn't fallen asleep yet.

“Where’s this going?” Ryan asks, like turning off the light has stolen away his confidence. “Should we talk about what's happening here?”

“Didn't Charlie tell you?” Shane says against his better judgment. “Vampires mate for life.”

The comforter shifts as Ryan sits upright and Shane can only see the dark outline of him, but he knows there's a shocked expression on his face.

“What?”

“I'm kidding,” Shane admits, reaching up to tug at Ryan's shoulder. “Get back down here.”

Ryan hesitates like he's trying to prove a point, but eventually he settles next to Shane again. “You're such an asshole.”

“You already knew that getting into this.” At Ryan's pointed silence, he adds, “Look, we'll deal with this like any other relationship. This just has the added bonus of ruining everything in our lives if it goes wrong.”

Ryan thumps him on the shoulder. “Shane,” he complains. “Not helping.”

“We'll just start at the beginning,” Shane says gently, finally serious.

“Which is?”

“What are you doing tomorrow evening?”

“Tomorrow evening?”

“Yeah, we should go try that new Moroccan place you were talking about a while ago.”

Ryan's fist unclenches beside him as he relaxes, his fingertips brushing Shane's upper arm.

“Like a date?” he asks, voice cautious.

“Yeah, Ryan, like a date. So much like it that it actually is one.”

Ryan shifts a little closer, borderline snuggling, and Shane feels the press of warm lips against his shoulder like an apology and also something more, something hopeful.

“That sounds good,” Ryan admits. “It's a date.”

“We already established that,” Shane points out but can't complain when Ryan's mouth finds his own, effectively shutting him up.

He gets a hand behind Ryan's head and keeps him exactly where he is.

*

On Monday morning when Shane makes it into the office, Ryan's at his desk, head down and focused. Shane slides a piece of paper in front of him and waits.

“What's this?” Ryan asks, voice a little louder than expected before he pulls his headphones off.

“Class action vampire lawsuit.”

He'd found the letter when he'd finally checked his mailbox, the thin envelope stuffed in the middle of a thick stack of junk mail.

“What?” Ryan's says, and it's less of a question and more general excitement as he begins to read. “They want you to testify against this dude?”

“Yeah, but Ryan,” he dips down, lowering his voice as he hisses, “vampire lawyers!”

“You still have that cape from the weekend right?”

Shane blindly pulls his chair over to sit in as he devolves into laughter.

“I'm definitely coming with you,” Ryan continues. “I mean, partly to support you, but mostly because this is going to be the best thing I ever witness in my life.”

“Do you think there's a vampire equivalent of Judge Judy?” Shane asks and Ryan's eyes light up in excitement.

Shane honestly couldn't care less about the outcome of the lawsuit, he just wants to keep putting a stupid smile on Ryan's face, and he's got a pretty good track record, so he thinks they'll be just fine.

*