Ryan didn’t often think about the first time he met Shane. They’d been through so much together in just a few short years, become so close, that the distant memory often laid in his mind, untouched and untarnished in favor of more recent memories. Like Shane making him laugh while they filmed a new episode in the office. Or Shane forcing Ryan’s stress levels up as he screamed for the ghosts to throw him into a wall, calling them cowards for good measure.
Shane, bringing him a cup of coffee after a long night editing, a fond smile on his face.
Shane, laughing in his apartment as they binged through Netflix together.
Shane, winking at him from across the table at the bar, a sly, shit-eating grin on his face.
Shane. Turned on his side, unmoving among the fallen beams and shelves.
Ryan sat alone on the floor of Shane’s living room. He’d spent the past couple nights there, keeping Obi company. He’d taken a week off of work, unable to stomach the thought of returning without Shane by his side. The show had been put on an official hiatus for the time being, so Ryan had little to do there anyways.
Without work to occupy his time, Ryan could’ve done anything. He could’ve visited his family, stayed with Jake or his parents for a little while to catch up. He could’ve gone bar hopping with his friends, downing shots like he wouldn’t live to see tomorrow. He could’ve book a ticket to anywhere he wanted, gotten away from everything entirely.
He hadn’t left Shane’s apartment in three days.
What was the point, Ryan often thought bitterly. Shane was his companion in life, his best friend, his… the person Ryan loved more than anyone else. Without him next to Ryan, everything felt hollow. Why was the world continuing to turn without the one person that made it all truly shine?
Obi walked over to him, laying himself down on Ryan’s lap. He curled up, head resting on his paws. Ryan’s hand drifted down to hover over the cat’s back. As his hand finally fell down softly, so did the tears he’d been holding back.
They’d met at a party, actually.
Ryan was 23, his birthday coming just a few months after he graduated from university. He had taken the holidays to decide where he wanted to go with his life before he eventually started his internship at Buzzfeed early into the next year. He made friends with some of the others that had started with him, the group sticking together in the world they’d now found themselves navigating. At the two month anniversary of their Not Quitting Yet, they were all invited to a celebration thrown by some of the interns who had been there longer.
Ryan had been at the bar, sitting next to Alex when a very tall, very smiley man walked in and headed over toward their group.
Nudging his friend, Ryan asked, “Who’s the tree?”
Alex had looked over his shoulder, smirking. “Oh, that’s Shane. He’s been here for a while, I heard he’s almost done with his internship, actually.”
Ryan’s eyes followed the taller man as he stood by a group of the older interns, grabbing a drink from one of them.
“You should go talk to him, dude,” Alex prompted. “He is pretty cute,” he said smugly.
Ryan’s head whipped over to glare at his friend. Alex appeared unbothered and made a shooing motion with his hand. When Ryan still refused to move, Alex rolled his eyes and downed the rest of his drink. “Fine,” he stated, getting up.
Ryan felt his stomach drop as Alex walked over to the group, smiles bouncing around at his entrance. He greeted Shane, gesturing vaguely behind him. Ryan quickly pretended not to have been staring as he kept his eyes looking forward. He saw Shane look over in his direction through the mirror at the back of the bar and dropped his eyes once more.
Shane began walking over.
Ryan had no idea what the hell he was supposed to do. It felt like everything in his life had suddenly been thrown around in a storm, leaving only damage and frantic cries for help in its wake.
He was lying on Shane’s bed, curled up on top of his blankets, dressed in one of Shane’s hoodies. He felt like he was drowning in the huge bed; big enough to comfortably hold someone like Shane in its embrace, but nearly suffocating to Ryan in its seemingly endless immensity.
He gripped the pillow in his arms tighter, shoving his face into it. Every time he took a breath, a smell that was undeniably Shane came with. Ryan had become accustomed to it over the years, he was around it so much that it had become normal, something that his brain didn’t take notice of any more. Now, Ryan craved every piece of that normality that he could get. He lay unmoving, breathing in the scent that smelled like home and safe and love.
Jake found him like that hours later, after the sun had risen, his face buried in a damp pillow that didn’t belong to him, eyes filled with tears as gasping sobs wracked through his body.
“Hi there,” Shane said with a goofy smile.
“Hey,” Ryan responded, mercifully calmer than he felt.
Shane took the open seat next to him at the bar and ordered a drink. “So,” he asked, “are you one of the newer ones that we’re out here celebrating?”
“Yeah, just started a couple months ago, shockingly enough.”
“Nice,” Shane said, smiling as he took a sip of his drink. “You like it so far?”
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Ryan responded, a bit of awe seeping into his voice. “It’s kind of what I always wanted, you know?”
Shane hummed in response.
“Like, I always wanted to start my own thing, learn about directing and filming, and now… Now that’s my whole job. And if I’m lucky enough, maybe I can get my own thing in a few years, who knows?”
Shane laughed quietly. “Yeah, I get that,” he said. “It’s almost like a dream come true, huh?”
Ryan took in Shane’s face; the smile that made his eyes a little brighter, the hint of stubble that made him seem a little older, more mature.
“Yeah,” he replied softly.
They talked more that night, all soft smiles and nerdy geek outs. Ryan asked Shane if he believed in ghosts, to which the other laughed outright and said absolutely not with an infuriating grin on his face. As they got drunker, Ryan’s thoughts repeated in an endless loop of god he’s cute, but Shane didn’t make any overt moves, so neither did Ryan.
They met a few more times after that at work. They’d smile and catch up a bit, any awkwardness either felt blessedly disappearing early on. They were friends before Shane finished out his internship.
Soon, two years had passed, and Ryan became a full-time video producer. Shane had been in a few videos already, which they had mutually celebrated each time. They did Test Friends together and laughed their way through it, griped over some of the challenges they forced themselves through. Then Ryan got Unsolved with Brent and it was great. He was finally getting to do what he wanted all along.
When Brent had brought up not wanting to do it anymore with Ryan, he’d been worried. He didn’t know what to do. He needed another person on the show with him, that was the whole point. His mind drifted to Shane, but he wasn’t sure until Brent mentioned him as well. He’d sucked it up and asked the taller man, who agreed to join him with an easy smile.
From there, everything took off. They got bigger and more popular and Ryan could hardly believe what was happening right in front of him. He had the job he wanted, with the guy he wanted beside him through it all. They laughed, Ryan screamed, Shane laughed some more… Ryan could never repay the man for all of the comfort he gave him on some of their shoots. There had been dozens of times when Ryan had felt his heart pumping, filled with terror, but there was Shane, right behind him as always. He’d shout down all of Ryan’s fears until the other was too busy laughing to feel that heartstopping dread.
They spent all of their time together: at work, during filming and travel, off-the-clock hours spent at each other’s apartments. They’d slept next to each other more times than Ryan could count, each time bringing a hopeful spark in his chest as he woke up to see the other’s face in front of his. Sometimes he’d wake up in the middle of the night, fear making it difficult to breathe. Most of the time, just looking over at Shane’s sleeping face could calm him down enough to function, but when he needed more, he’d wake the other up and Shane would grumble, he’d groan, but in the end, he’d let Ryan fall into his arms, comforting the other against any outside force.
Ryan was so in love with what he had, but at the same time, he couldn’t help but want more. Every smile Shane sent him caused his heart to pick up for a moment, each laugh made him want to kiss Shane into silence, to feel the rumble of that chuckle under his hands and mouth. But he was afraid of losing what he had, and so he stayed where he was; content, but never fully satisfied.
They were filming a supernatural episode.
It was going normally, for all intents and purposes. A spooky old house, nothing they hadn’t seen before; Ryan was still terrified, Shane was making comments and mocking the spectors he didn’t believe in. They’d done it a dozen times.
They entered the grand library, getting a shot of the impressive two story room with its multitude of bookcases lining every wall. They stayed in the room for over half an hour, Ryan trying to collect proof of the spirits’ existence while Shane walked along with him, turning the otherwise unnoteworthy footage into humorous banter.
They’d begun to pack up, ready to fully leave the house, when Ryan felt a shift in the air. He stood up straight from where he’d been hunched over his bag, looking around perplexed. A loud crack shot throughout the room, causing Ryan to jump. He turned his head toward Shane, eyes wide, to see pure terror on the other’s normally calm features.
“Ryan, LOOK OUT!” he’d screamed, sprinting toward him.
Ryan didn’t have time to make his body move, couldn’t do anything other than think about how fast Shane could run when he really wanted to before Shane was barreling into him, pushing him back surprisingly far. His head knocked against the hard ground, causing his vision to swim and his eyes to fill with tears. He groaned, rolling onto his side. As he pushed himself up, he looked back toward Shane in a daze, only to see a cloud of dust, dozens of books and broken wood littering the ground.
“Shane?” Ryan called out, voice cracking a little.
He heard shouts from the opposite end of the large room, where the others had been.
He saw a dark shape on the ground, covered in a thick layer of dust and debris. It wasn’t moving.
“Shane?” Ryan asked again, voice almost silent in the vast emptiness of the room.
Ryan tried to explain to Jake. He tried to tell his little brother how it was his fault, how it should’ve been him, and not Shane. He tried to express the crushing guilt he’d been carrying with him the past week. He should’ve noticed, should’ve gotten out of the way.
He told him how Shane had pushed him out of the way, how the broken shelf had taken a good chunk of the upper level with it. He told Jake how several pieces of the heavy wood had struck Shane’s head on the way down, causing a trauma that the taller man simply couldn’t come back from.
It was an accident, was Jake’s response. No one could’ve known it would happen.
Shane wouldn’t want you to do this to yourself.
Shane wasn’t there to give his opinion on the matter, Ryan had replied in a broken voice.
Jake now stood at Ryan’s side, a row behind Shane’s family. He’d once joked that he didn’t want anyone to come to his funeral. Yet the service had been filled with so many people- family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances from a well-lived life- that there almost wasn’t room for them all. But the burying of the casket was reserved for immediate family.
And Ryan. And Jake, because Ryan couldn’t do this without him.
Ryan had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t be there for the final burying, but Shane’s mom had pulled him close in the airport. Told him that Shane would’ve wanted him there as she clutched him desperately in her arms.
That he had cared about Ryan more than probably anyone else he’d ever met.
So he stayed behind them, giving them a moment with their son, their brother. They moved to the side, father and brother holding tight to either side of mother. Jake gently brought Ryan forward with him. As Ryan stared down at the matte black finish, their last moment together, he thought back to that night. He thought about their beginning and wished they could go back, that this wasn’t their ending. He wouldn’t be such a coward, if he had another shot. Even if he had nothing else, he’d maybe have Shane like he’d always wanted. And that would’ve been more than enough.
But as he laid a hand down to softly rest on top of his friend’s final resting place, he accepted that no one could go back. What’s done was done, the people that were hurting couldn’t be unhurt.
Jake was right. Shane wouldn’t want Ryan to live in regret and hollowness and pain. He’d want Ryan to be there for his family, to give them stories about their son and brother. He’d want Ryan to move forward; not forgetting but moving.
He said one more goodbye to the man he loved more than anything, feeling a phantom hand on his shoulder, lifting his eyes when the weight became heavier to see Jake staring gently at him.
Ryan moved back. After one more goodbye from his family, they lowered him into the ground.
Ryan didn’t forget. The pain didn’t stop. But he kept moving forward. He took care of Obi, grieving alongside the cat that couldn’t find his owner, no matter how much he mewled and paced and searched. They both spent nights crying out in their own ways for the man they had lost.
Eventually, he went back to show, Brent gently assuring him that if Ryan wanted, he would come back. Ryan agreed, and they moved forward.
Ryan kept looking for ghosts. He had always wanted to prove to people, to one person in particular, that they existed like he knew they did. Now, even though they still looked for the ghosts of long dead murderers and trauma victims, Ryan was always on the lookout for one specific ghost.
He felt him every time he was afraid of what the dark held, every time his heart beat too fast for him to keep up. He felt a gentle breeze (it’s just the wind, Ryan), a hand pressing lightly into his, a distant laugh that sounded like home.
And even if he never caught sight of it, with his eyes or the camera, Ryan was pretty sure he had finally convinced Shane the ghost are real. He was also pretty sure he was being haunted, but for once, the thought didn’t scare him. It brought him peace.
It brought him back to the night they’d met.