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we were wrecks before we crashed into each other

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-:-

 

The bell rings overhead as Ryan pushes open the door to the diner. Shane’s rumpled behind him, in that same sleep soft way he is every morning Ryan rarely gets to see him. 

It’s the morning of a shoot for Weird and/or Wonderful World. They’d driven in the night before to kill the six hours it takes to drive from LA to San Francisco. With some time to kill before heading to the location, the crew decided to get breakfast in the lobby of the hotel. Ryan opted for taking Shane to a hole-in-the-wall diner he’s been to many times in the Bay Area. 

Ryan rubs his eyes underneath his glasses with his knuckles until his vision turns into a kaleidoscope of colors he has to blink away. He stops walking as he fixes his glasses, and Shane bumps into him behind him, hand immediately coming up to touch gently to his waist, nudging Ryan forward. Ryan goes.

The hostess leads them to a booth in the corner, tucked next to a window that boasts the empty, sunlit sidewalk. When they’re seated, the waitress brings Shane coffee; Ryan’s fine with his glass of water. 

Shane peruses the menu and occasionally will read something out loud like he’s thinking about ordering something new, but Ryan knows he’ll get the same spread he always does. 

Ryan’s attention is split between the sidewalk outside and Shane. He glances between the two of them, taking the chance to just watch Shane for a moment, and then two and three and four—

Shane catches him looking, he always does, with softness at the edges of his eyes, a slow, sleepy blink, and the curve of a soft, gentle smile. 

There’s something within the fragility of this moment that makes Ryan think he can say it, say it, say it, but then Shane blinks, and the look in his eyes disappears, and Shane looks back down at his menu.

The moment passes and Ryan, instead, takes to shredding a torn piece of his napkin, balling it up with his fingers. 

Shane clocks him from a mile away, and when Ryan flicks the balled up paper at him, Shane tries to swat it away, but it hits him right above the eyebrow. 

Ryan grins, celebratory, and Shane’s laughter is gentle—still too soft from sleep to be big—but in this stolen morning moment, where the sun is barely awake itself, Ryan promises one day to find himself brave enough to say it. 

So when Shane asks, “Why are you like this?”, Ryan rests against the seatback, and shrugs his shoulders.

But there’s that smile again, and there’s that moment again, and today could be the day. Ryan doesn’t think spilling emotions like the stain of black ink is on the calendar for today, so he tucks away the sappy feelings that bubble up, and says, “I think I’m gonna get extra hash browns.”

 

-:-

 

As far as concepts go, the record store is one of the easier, more chill ideas Shane’s come up with. 

It doesn’t quite matter where Shane takes him, Ryan always has a good time. He loves the adrenaline of kicking Shane’s ass on a racetrack or watching Shane fall over on his roller skates—but things like this, too; walking around a shop filled to the brim with crates of records is nice. 

Shane’s face lights up as he runs his fingers over record backs as the cameras prep for shots while Cleo, the store manager, steps away to help a customer in the meantime. 

The shop, located on a busy walking street in San Francisco, has a storefront that owns the look of a quintessential, cookie-cutter San Francisco home. It’s pretty rad, submerged in dim lighting, hidden between stacks of music he’s never heard. It’s one of those neat places that Ryan thinks he could live in. 

The main floor is filled with ceiling—high shelves of records, categorized by “quote-unquote” feeling. Which is much too subjective for Ryan. 

Which is slightly hypocritical, considering his own questionable methods of organization.

“It’s like Spotify,” Cleo says. She flips her dreads over one shoulder, bracelets dangling when she drops her arm. “Feeling romantic? Sad? Chill? I can find something for you. The idea is not to come in searching for something you know, it's to leave with something you didn’t know before. Otherwise, you could visit the millions of other record shops. We’re an ‘open your mind’ kind of place.” 

Shane seems to love it, smiling at Cleo like they might be in on a bit of a secret. 

“Ryan’s not fond of the lesser known,” Shane muses. “It’s why I take him to these places.” 

“Watch your step when you get off that high horse later,” Ryan says, shaking his head.

Shane laughs, and Cleo gives Ryan a little wink, dark eyelashes tinged gold from the eyeshadow on her lids. 

“We also have a really neat bit to our shop, though. Sure we can find you a record, but we can also make them.” 

“Whoa, really?” Ryan says. “Like just cut vinyl and put a song on it?” 

“Yeah. We have a selection of label art to choose from, or you can bring a specific photo or file. A lot of couples do it for weddings, best friends for birthdays. There’s an option to record in the studio. You get set up with a ten minute play and you can say or do whatever you want. We just can’t print anything that’s copyrighted without permission.” 

“So, Shane and I can’t go ham on a sweet, sweet rendition of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’, then?” 

“‘Fraid not,” she says, her smile bright and blinding; eyebrows arched high. “But I’d love to see it.” 

Shane’s grinning when Ryan glances up at him, like there’s a string from Ryan’s brain to Shane’s, that shows them the same memory: microphones in hand, crooning a silly rendition of one of Ryan’s favorite Disney songs. 

When the filming cuts, Cleo leads them through the stacks and stacks of records, and through winding shelves and crates. 

“We have this really, really neat retro player that I swear is the most pristine way to listen to a record. It’s my favorite thing in the world, and the one reason I’ll have to work here for the rest of my life.” Cleo smiles, pearly white teeth and glittering eyes. “I’ve asked the owner to bequeath me the record player upon his demise, but of course, there’s a whole fuckin’ line of people.” 

She leads the way to a room tucked in the back. “If you guys pick a couple records—if you have time—I can play them for you.” 

“Yeah,” Shane says. “I know what I want to listen to.” 

“Oh yeah?” 

“Uh, ‘Weightlifters’. By—“ Shane gives Ryan an obtuse glance and says, “By Car Seat Headrest.” 

“Oh, I know that one. I’m fond,” Cleo says, her whole face lighting up. 

“Reminds me of party scenes in films,” Shane explains. “Actually, Ryan, I think you’ll like this one.” 

“We'll see about that, big guy,” Ryan says, even though he knows he won’t. It’ll be some screaming, scrambled mess of instruments and indecipherable lyrics. He and Shane don’t disagree on much, but their taste in music doesn’t have the biggest overlap. They’ve tried bridging it, and they’ve shared some artists and albums that they’ve each grown to like, but even then, that pool is small.

Cleo leaves them to find the record in question; Ryan’s sure she’s the only person that’d be able to find anything with the organization system they’d conjured up. Job security, he supposes.

“What’s your obsession with this band?” Ryan asks, turning towards Shane. “I mean it genuinely. I’m curious.” 

“Songwriting, Ryan. You only think they’re weird because they have a funny band name,” Shane insists. 

That’s fair, Ryan thinks. “Well, you probably like them because you have some weird enormous crush on Adam Driver and have taken to adopting his interests.” 

Shane laughs, with a slight air of exasperation. “Okay, so we’re just going to discount the fact that you’re in love with Bradley Cooper—” 

“I’m not in love with him. Just—muscles.” 

“Sure,” Shane teases, and Ryan feels hot underneath his collar. Years ago, he would have been uncomfortable about this. It wouldn’t have been something he would have talked about so casually, nonchalantly, without having to set the record straight that he wasn’t attracted to men. 

In the comfort of his own mind, he doesn’t find it difficult anymore. There isn’t an impulse to—there isn’t a record he needs to straighten. 

Cleo comes back, Shane’s request in hand. 

“Can I see?” Ryan asks. Cleo hands him the record; the cover art is a blurry painting of a streetlamp and an empty road. There’s a polaroid-esque addition on the left of an empty folding chair. Instantly, the artwork reminds Ryan of the seasons of Supernatural that would land them in the woods; their boots crunching over fallen tree twigs and dried leaves. It reminds him of the heat, the breeze that would rustle his clothing but do nothing to cool him off. It reminds him of Shane, in the simplest form. 

Ryan hands the record back to Cleo, looking up at Shane. As if in the few seconds he’d spent tracing his finger over the blurry streetlamp, he’d forgotten what Shane looked like. 

Shane is aloof in this moment with his eyes searching along the walls; he doesn’t catch Ryan watching him this time. 

Cleo plays the record, and of course it starts out weird; there's some sort of elongated beep-buzz, and then a man starts to sing. Ryan knows he should be paying attention, but all he can pick out is, I should start lifting weights.

All in all, not the worst song, but Ryan still doesn’t understand. When he looks up at Shane, Shane looks at him like he’s expecting him to. 

“It’s good,” Ryan says gently, like, for some reason, he doesn’t want to hurt Shane’s feelings here. “Not my scene though.” 

Shane smiles, but there’s something—Ryan can’t quite put his finger on it, but it’s like someone set the level to maximum on the sadness scale of Shane’s eyes. 

“Reminds me of you sometimes,” Shane murmurs. Before Ryan can question why, Shane turns back and looks at Cleo, and they sweep each other into an easy conversation, and Ryan tells himself it’s nothing. 

 

-:- 

 

In the basement is where the actual magic happens. They wear ear covers and watch the way vinyl shaped like hockey pucks is pressed between labels and forced into the shape of records. They’re all kinds of colors and different sizes, depending on the request of the order. 

Cleo takes time explaining their recycling process. How they use old, discarded records and repurpose them for new prints. There are tall stacks of records every which way, and bins of shredded vinyl that didn’t make the cut

After the tour, she leads them upstairs to the second floor where there are desks and a few glass doors that Ryan thinks must lead to sound booths. 

“All right,” Cleo says. “There are drives in a bin on the counter. All you have to do is plug one in, hit ‘start’, and then start talking. The light will flash once you have a minute left, then ten seconds. It’ll automatically stop when you’ve filled ten minutes. If you want to stop before then, there’s a big bright red ‘stop’ button you can use. Make sure to hit it before ejecting your drive if your ten minutes isn’t up, otherwise the data won’t save. Bring your drive to me, and we’ll have them printed off for you. I’ll have you guys fill out the forms so you can choose the color and labels and stuff.” 

“This is really cool,” Shane says at the same time Ryan asks, “How long does it take to have them ready?” 

“Usually, it takes four to six weeks to process an order.” Cleo waves a hand. “You’ll have them long after you’ve forgotten about them.” 

Ryan and Shane laugh. 

“So, what should we talk about?” Shane asks, leaning against a desk behind them glancing at Ryan when he looks back at Shane.

“What if we just—like our favorite memory? We can trade them,” Ryan offers with a shrug of his shoulders. 

“Okay, that’s—yeah,” Shane agrees. 

“Who’s up first?” Cleo asks, hands on her hips. She looks between the both of them. 

“I’ll go,” Ryan volunteers. 

 

-:-

 

The set up reminds him of the sound booths at BuzzFeed. It’s cramped, but one other person could fit in there with him. He looks up at the space beside him and imagines Shane there, big head and dumb opinions. He’s smiling when he plugs in his drive. 

He hits ‘start’ and the recording light illuminates. 

He clears his throat. “Ten minutes seem so long, but to be fair, I talk a lot, so once I get going, I’m probably not going to stop. You’re not in here with me, so there’s no exponentiated chance for a misguided tangent. Although, honestly? I can’t be trusted on my own not to swerve into a side-story or two. 

“I don’t know what memory to pick,” Ryan confesses. “I'm in here and I keep thinking about all the times you dunked on me in those sound booths back at the ‘Feed.

“This is going to be disappointing, oops.” Ryan laughs, a little self-deprecatingly. He takes in a breath and forces his mind to come up with something; anything that isn’t the image of sunlight in Shane’s hair that morning in the diner, glimmering off the clear frame of his glasses and filtering through his eyes so they lit up something like amber. “I guess if I had to pick, it’s that night we got fucking smashed. Not that—not that it narrows anything down, ‘cause we used to do that a lot.

“But you know. The One. After we all signed the papers and it was all, like, real. There wasn’t any stress, just happiness. You were happy, and I could actually see it on your face. I mean—” Ryan laughs. “I don’t get to see you like that, often. But I guess that’s how freedom feels. Even you forgot you have walls.” 

He quiets for a moment and thinks about the overarching course of their friendship; how the only fights they ever have are so miniscule he can’t remember any of them. 

“I’m happy now. You know I wasn’t before, but the pressure is different. We don’t have to compete with the Try Guys,” Ryan jokes. “Some days, I still can’t believe you said yes. I didn’t even have anything ready, only a tiny idea, and you just—you took my word for it. That’s a lot of trust you have in me, big guy.” Ryan sighs, grinning down at his hands. He glances out of the glass, finds Shane’s frame standing somewhat hunched as he talks with Cleo, like he might be able to shrink to her level. “I wouldn’t want to be doing this without you.

“Or Steven,” he tacks on, feeling his face grow hot, too close to emotions he shouldn’t be sharing in a recording. He looks away from the door and down at the desk; the recording light glowing. He thinks about that night, though, the night after they’d incorporated, after Lightweight Lim had been sent home in the back of the cab. He remembers when Shane had put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him in. Ryan remembers he’d smelt faintly like spice, pine—woodsy and home-like. Ryan remembers laughing and winding his arms around Shane. They weren’t much for hugging, but that night, it almost felt like they couldn’t get close enough. 

“Think about five years from now. Where do you think we’ll be? I know we’re supposed to be talking about memories, but—imagine all the stuff we do. Five years isn’t much time. You’ll probably be all grey and need a walker—” 

Ryan laughs at his own dig, shoving his hands into his pockets. 

“I hope we’re still happy,” Ryan murmurs. “I hope you get all the stuff you want. Fuck, I hope I’m married in five years. It’ll be depressing if I’m still running around looking for loose milk.” 

Ryan clears his throat; spares another glance through the glass door, finding Shane’s already looking at him. He grins and Shane gives him a wink. He looks down at the desk. 

“I don’t know what to say anymore. Thanks for bringing me here, Shane.” 

Ryan hits the button on the docket that reads ‘stop’ and ejects his drive. When he emerges from the sound booth, Shane is leaning back against the wall, and Cleo stands close to him. He’d clearly interrupted their conversation, and part of him doesn’t know how to feel about it. 

He wonders if Shane will get her number. She’s his type, Ryan thinks. Underground connections. Clearly intelligent. Passionate. Gorgeous. 

“That was fast,” Shane says. 

“That’s what all the girls say,” Ryan jokes. It makes Cleo laugh, tossing her dreads behind her shoulder. “All right, Shane, you’re up.” 

Ryan takes the place Shane had been standing in, shoving his hands in his pockets as Shane disappears into the booth. 

“Shane says you guys have known each other a while. You seem to be good friends outside of your show,” Cleo says. She folds her arms over her chest, bracelets clinking. She wears a ring on every single finger, chipped canary-yellow nail polish on long fingernails. 

“Oh, yeah,” Ryan agrees. “He’s a good guy when he’s not being so weird.” 

Cleo hums. “Weird huh? Weird is good, sometimes,” she muses. “Can’t be boring when you’re a little weird.” 

The sentiment makes Ryan smile. “You have no idea. I don’t know how his brain works, but—you know.” He can feel his face heat up again, so he doesn’t elaborate. 

Cleo’s smile is soft. “Shane told me his memory. What’s yours?”

“Less about memories,” Ryan says truthfully. “More about the future. Where we’ll be and such.” 

Arching a brow, she drops her arms, so she clasps her hands in front of her hips. “Where do you think you’ll be?” 

Ryan laughs. “Dunno.” He isn’t brave enough to say that he does know that Shane will be there, somewhere, wedged between the regular, the obtuse, the breathtaking, the wild. The generic and the extraordinary. The weird and the wonderful.

They fall into a companionable silence, and Ryan takes the chance to bug Shane like he usually does, to berate Shane for taking his sweet, sweet time. 

Shane comes out and requests to start over, and despite Ryan’s protest, he disappears back into the booth for a long while.

Shane makes a funny face through the glass at Ryan, and Ryan cackles loudly, which makes Cleo laugh. Shane emerges another handful of minutes later. 

“What’d you say in there that you had to start over?” Ryan asks, nudging him with an elbow as they make their way down to the main floor. 

“It’s a surprise,” Shane says with a knowing smile.

 

-:- 

 

They used to be the kind of people that would go out on the weekends, spend Friday and Saturday nights binge-drinking with a handful of their friends. Now, Ryan finds that somehow, he and Shane have excluded themselves from get-togethers and impromptu plans for drinks. It’s just—he’s so tired by the time the weekend rolls around that even he isn’t much for socialization. And Shane doesn’t seem to care that Ryan has a specific spot on his couch when Ryan tags along and kills Friday nights in Shane’s living room. 

Also, he used to be a beer guy. Shane used to be a beer guy. Somehow, though, Ryan’s weaseled his way into Shane’s ordinary life and has tricked him into keeping bottles of chardonnay chilled in the fridge. 

Imagine Ryan’s surprise when one night, Shane busted out actual wine glasses instead of using whiskey glasses because that was all he’d had. Ryan felt something like pride in his chest, laughing when Shane had said, “It’s not that big a deal.” 

At that point, Ryan had realized that he spends far too much time in Shane’s apartment. Pieces of him are recognizable in certain places; the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room. It makes him warm in a way that breaks his heart, because realistically, it doesn’t mean anything. 

It’s addictive, though, to find himself scattered between the thises and thats of Shane’s life. To find himself nestled in places like he shares this space. Exhilarating to find he’s impacted someone’s life to a certain degree.

This Friday isn’t any different. It hadn’t been a particularly grueling week, really. The same as the previous, if not calmer. Their trip from San Francisco had been nice—not a vacation at all but it still gave Ryan the much needed deep breath he hadn’t known he needed. 

Shane busies himself in the kitchen and Ryan can hear the popcorn popping away as he sits on the couch and scrolls through the films in Shane’s Netflix account. He doesn’t know what he’s in the mood for, much less what Shane feels like watching. 

By the time Shane comes out with a bowl of popcorn for each of them, Ryan’s knee-deep in foreign dramas.

“Pick something yet?” Shane asks, handing Ryan the bowl, leaning over the seatback of the couch.

“Nope. Nothing looks good.” Ryan sighs, turning to look at Shane before Shane’s already doubling back towards the kitchen. 

“Just choose whatever,” Shane calls. “I’m not picky.” 

When Shane comes back with their wine—a weird combo, he knows—Ryan’s chosen something they’ve both seen before. 

As soon as Shane sits on his end of the couch, Ryan throws his legs onto Shane’s lap. Shane hasn’t pushed him off in a while. 

The film starts, and Ryan’s attention has already wandered, following Obi as he walks along the living room, looking for a spot to lay in. Shane’s lap is otherwise occupied. Sorry, Obi, Ryan thinks. 

After about ten minutes, Ryan hasn’t been able to settle into the film the way Shane has. He picks up a puffy piece of popcorn and decides to distract Shane away from the film. 

He’s picked up a bad habit of throwing things at Shane’s face recently. And then subsequently laughing about it, despite Shane’s playful exasperation. 

“You’re supposed to catch,” Ryan says, smiling. Shane rolls his eyes, but he opens his mouth, and Ryan lands another popcorn on Shane’s cheek.  

“I’d be able to catch if your aim wasn’t shit,” Shane retorts. 

“Fuck you, my aim is great.” Ryan punctuates his statement with a foul throw that hits Shane square on the forehead.

“Yeah?” Shane arches an eyebrow. “You’re scoring negative, pal.”

They get serious about it, Ryan aiming his popcorn deliberately, and Shane moves to catch the pieces. They cheer when they get it right. They blame each other when popcorn starts landing in Shane’s hair. 

Eventually, Shane starts throwing a couple of pieces in retaliation, and Ryan tries dodging them with his arms up, pretending like it doesn’t make him feel warm, warm, warm when Shane laughs, big and loud. Ryan rolls off the couch and hides behind the arm of it to shield himself from Shane’s attack. 

“You’re such a child,” Shane says, peering over the armrest to look at Ryan. 

“You’re one to talk,” Ryan says, huffing a laugh, reaching into Shane’s bowl and throwing popped kernels in quick succession. 

Shane’s face scrunches up, but he doesn’t do anything to block the attack. Not until Ryan reaches for his bowl again, his own forgotten on the floor, and Shane’s hand comes around Ryan’s wrist, stopping him. 

Something hot bubbles up in Ryan’s chest when he yanks his hand away, but Shane’s grip doesn’t let go. Over the arm of the couch, Ryan tackles Shane down onto the couch cushions; it makes Shane howl with laughter, his hand still secured around Ryan’s wrist. The bowl of popcorn is sent flying elsewhere, a mess they’ll have to clean up, but it’s the furthest thing away from Ryan’s mind when Shane’s laughing softens into breathing, and Ryan’s own smile fades. He’s got Shane pinned underneath him, one hand on Shane’s shoulder, straddling the narrow width of Shane’s hips. They aren’t pressed together, but Ryan can fix that easily. 

It feels like too much to stare so intently at each other, but Ryan doesn’t move, and Shane doesn’t ask him to, so Ryan lets himself have the moment where he can look at Shane’s eyes this close up. He acquaints himself with the modest fan of Shane’s eyelashes, the rosy blush over the bridge of his nose. Shane’s handsome, unconventionally, but he is. The sharp point of his nose, the downturn of his eyes. The flower-petal-pink of his mouth. Even with the dumbass moustache. It’s grown on Ryan. 

Shane licks his lips, and Ryan’s breath stutters in his lungs. 

Ryan’s stomach swoops, and Shane lets go of Ryan’s wrist. His hand falls to Ryan’s thigh, on the outside of his knee, and Ryan doesn’t dare take his eyes off of Shane.

Shane, like he can’t take it, turns his head towards the television. 

The rest of the world comes crashing back in, and Ryan pushes himself up to kneel and climb off of Shane, desperately wishing Shane had leaned up to close the distance between them instead of drifting elsewhere. Ryan could have taken Shane the rest of the way. 

For some reason, he needs Shane to step into the hot water first before Ryan can go in after him. As it happens, they’re both left shivering on the side of the shore, bone dry. 

Standing, Ryan stretches his arms above his head as Shane sits up, the moment losing its brilliance. Not that Ryan won’t tuck it away with the rest of their close calls regardless.

“I should go. I’ll help you clean up, though,” Ryan offers softly. 

Tell me to stay, please, Ryan thinks. Tell me to stay.

“Okay, yeah,” Shane agrees. “I’ll grab the vacuum.” 

 

-:-

 

A few weeks pass and summer makes itself known with intense heat, the temperature climbing over a hundred more often than not. Ryan wishes wistfully for it to rain. 

The package with their records is sitting on their shared desk space when they return from their lunch break on a Friday afternoon. 

Excited, Ryan cuts open the box and pulls them out. They’re in cardboard sleeves, the title frame of Weird and/or Wonderful used as the cover art. It’s not as snazzy as most album art usually is, not something visceral like that album art for the Car Seat Headrest album Shane requested they hear at the shop, but for them it does the job. Ryan finds his. 

He remembers checking the box for yellow on the form when they customized their records. 

When Shane shows him his, it turns out he’d had the same thought, because Shane had chosen a deep blue for Ryan. 

They smile at each other. 

“Nice,” Shane says. 

“Gimme,” Ryan says, handing over his record with ease. For a moment, Shane hesitates, and then sets it into Ryan’s grasp. Ryan wonders why that is. What’s on it that he might want to take back. 

“What did you say? Just give me a hint,” Ryan says. 

“You’ll see. It’s not like it’s anything special. You lived through it,” Shane says with a soft laugh. “Just a few words to fill the time.”

Shane tucks Ryan’s record away in his bag and gets back to work. Ryan, though, marvels over the smooth edge of the blue vinyl underneath the sleeve, begging for it to whisper to him.

 

-:-

 

There had never been a reason for Ryan to own a record player before now, but he ordered one specifically for this moment. It’s still sitting in the box it was delivered in two weeks ago. 

He sets down the wine he’d picked up on his way home onto the coffee table and heaves his bag onto the couch and gets to work. 

It’s nothing special, not like the really cool, ornate players with hefty price tags. He doesn’t think, even now, that he’d be the type to go on and listen to records instead of opting for his phone like most people do. It only made sense to opt for simplicity.

There is something about it, though, when it’s all hooked up and sitting in a spot he cleared on the entertainment center. It’s a bit wondrous to peel a record from its sleeve and lay it on the table, move the needle to the edge and drop it. The scratch sends a shiver up his spine. 

Glass of wine in hand, he kneels in front of the record player and pulls open his thread with Shane and sends a message. 

 I’m about to start listening 

Shane just sends him the thumbs up emoji. 

The record begins to play, and it starts with Shane’s dumb laugh, and Ryan’s whole body goes warm, sipping from his glass. 

So, I guess I’m going to have to ramble until my time is up which is probably going to bore you. I’m going to have to make a label for this, and fuck knows what I’m going to title this—” Shane laughs.

I don’t really have a memory. Fuck, I hope no one hears this—I drag my feet doing commentaries, I don’t know why I thought this would be a good idea. I hope even you, Ryan S. Bergara, never actually listen to this. But you will, and I don’t have a memory for you. It’s not that there isn’t one that’s good. They all are. Some exclusions apply, because you’re a little shit even on your best days, but it’s just been really good lately. Uh, things have been really, really good. Don’t know what to do about it. Do I have to do anything about it? Probably not. I mean, it’s a good problem to have. Life could end right now. Right now, and it’s been a really good fuckin’ day man. Can’t tell you why exactly, but. It just is.”

Ryan listens to Shane take a deep breath. The hair on the back of his neck stands up and he shivers again. 

Sometimes I think about Chicago and how I could’ve just stayed there. Would have never thought to trek all the way to the sunlit West Coast and make friends with you. Funny how we became friends isn’t it? You annoy me regularly and yet— 

And yet, I made this whole show for you. Just taking you places. Granted, our fans think we’re boning each other so it makes for great pseudo television, but even then. Even if there weren’t any cameras, you’d let me take you to these places. I mean. I like to think you would. You’ve had fun so far. I think I know you pretty well. 

I know you, don’t I?” 

There’s a break in the audio, and Ryan can’t hear anything other than muffled movements. Shane’s voice echoes in his ears and Ryan feels tense, frozen, like if he moves, something bad will happen. He keeps listening, intently, waiting for Shane to start talking again.

What is your obsession with being a pain in my ass, Ryan?” Shane sighs. 

There’s shuffling and then the sound of a door opening. Ryan remembers this, remembers the way Shane had walked out of the sound booth with a pensive expression on his face; the slight furrow of his brow, the purse of his lips. 

Hey, if I record something I don’t like, can I start over?” 

Sure! You’ll just have to eject the drive and plug in a new one. Do you need help?” Cleo asks.

No, no, that’s great, thank you,” Shane says.

Ryan can hear himself protest. “Shane, you can’t just start over—

The door closes, cutting off Ryan’s voice on the record, and Ryan takes a deep breath and holds it. 

Since I’m going to delete this, I feel like this is an opportune time to say things to you that I can never say to your face, because people like me do not say these things to people like you. It would create a situation neither of us are prepared for, so. 

You know I don't believe in fate, or superstitions, or anything that could be attributed to some other power other than humans just doing human shit. And I’m—you’re—I’m so annoyed at you right now. You always do this, rush me. I’m trying to make something beautiful for you. Can’t you just let me have my moment, so you’ll actually get something you like?

Unless—unless this is what you like. Carefully curated chaos. That’s what you like. The controlled risk. Well, here’s a critically calculated risk for you.

You’re infuriating. Like deep to my core you frustrate me. You do, but it’s good. You make me want to feel things—things I don't ever feel like I have the capacity of feeling. It’s so easy to say this to a microphone where you can’t hear me, and fuckin’ fuck if you’re ever going to hear this, but it’s been years. Been right there the whole time. You just—

I don’t like when other people smile but I like to see yours. Means you’re happy. You wear your emotions on your face. Right there. All of them. Every single one of them.”

Shane makes a frustrated noise, and something clinks against the desktop. 

“I mean, who the fuck harbors intense feelings for years and years and never says anything and just continues on with their life like they don’t want someone so badly? How can anyone believe me? I don’t make it a habit of showing strong emotions, Ryan. That’s just not what I do. And if, by chance, an emotion catches me off guard, I just let it pass. This cloud ain’t passing. Not that you’re a cloud, when you’re the whole goddamn sun. 

I can’t believe I just said that out loud—” Shane's laughter is nervous. He sounds unhinged, manic, crazed. “I can’t believe I said any of this out loud.” He sighs like he’s resigned to it. Ryan lets his breath out in a rush, feeling his heartbeat pounding in his chest. Carefully, he sets the glass of wine down on the entertainment center and wipes his hands on the legs of his pants. 

You want a memory? Sure. I got one. Got a million of them. Dumb ones, funny ones, the ones that we don’t talk about because they involved some format of oversharing which led to tears, which should make me uncomfortable when I think about them, but they don’t because they’re integral to our story. To be honest, I don’t know if we have a story. Do we? Do we have a story, Ryan? Sometimes you look at me, and you’re an open book, like I know I could just start writing my name all over you and you’d let me—

Man, I just—” Shane sighs, loud and frustrated, and there’s a tapping against some sort of surface. Ryan feels his heartbeat in his toes, his throat, in the tips of his fingers. 

“Ryan. You frustrate me, and I love it. You annoy me and I find ways to make you do it again. Feels good to get that off my chest. Was a bit heavy for a little too long. Do you think they listen to these before they ship them? They’d have to, right? Sound quality and that. Poor fucker who hears this is going to wonder what the hell my problem is.” 

Shane laughs. “Fuck, man. You’re a good problem to have. The kind that doesn't need a solution. The kind I don’t want a solution for.

The biggest risk I’ve ever taken, was right by your side. Isn't that wild? Signatures and all. And Steven’s but I’m not in love with Steven, so.” 

Ryan gasps so loud it hurts. No amount of anticipation could have prepared him for it. Not even a little bit. His chest burns from it, shallow breaths rushing past his lips, blood rushing in his ears, heartbeat unrelenting

Shane sighs. “I guess I should unplug this now and start over. You're expecting to hear a memory and all I did was whine about how much I want you. I’m taking longer than needed and you're gonna be so annoying about it. And I’m gonna let you poke fun and complain and we’ll laugh about it later when I edit the video and you look over my shoulder—

Shane makes a disgusted noise. 

The record stops, and Ryan sits there, stunned, blinking unseeingly. 

The air is heavy, and he feels like he can’t breathe right, like his breath is stuck in his throat. 

Carefully, quietly, he stands up. The joints in his knees pop, and he rubs his hands together like it might stop them from shaking. And even then, as he picks up the needle and restarts the record, he has to do it three times before he gets it right, so it starts again with Shane’s laugh.

 

-:-

 

Unable to stand still, Ryan roams his apartment, opening drawers and cabinet doors and closets, only to shut them without retrieving anything. He sits and stands. Starts reorganizing and then abandons. He sighs a lot. He smiles. He frowns. By the end of the night, he makes his way to bed without eating anything, and stares at the wall in the dark, replaying the echoes of Shane’s voice accompanied by the smooth scratch of vinyl.

He decides to keep the mix-up a secret, because the second Shane finds out Ryan’s privy to his secret, everything will be different. Even though—even though Ryan feels the same, it would change things between them, and Ryan’s too used to what they have now to make that call. 

To put it simply, he’d live through a thousand lifetimes of Almost before he’d rush into the possibility of Never. 

In the morning, he shakes it off. He’d spent all night wishing Shane was sitting next to him and actually telling him these things rather than recording something he hoped Ryan would never listen to. It pains Ryan to think this is how Shane feels right now. All these feelings and not a place to send them to. 

Part of Ryan hadn’t known Shane could feel this deeply. Of course, sure, he has to feel deeply about some things. But about Ryan? Ryan who can’t pass up a good poop joke? Ryan who rubs his belly after eating? Ryan who says, “that’s a lotta quiche” and Ryan who believes in ghosts and Ryan who gets into arguments with people online about the design of his favorite theme park? Ryan who—

It’s a little understandable, kind of. Ryan’s been here this whole time. Ryan who allowed Shane to breach his weird friend-firewall. Ryan who was dead set on not making friends at work, and made one anyway, because it turns out, Shane loves popcorn, too! And films, and books, and places, oh, places. 

All these places. 

Ryan will have to admit, he can’t find anything romantic about go-karting, but it’s still somewhere Shane had taken him. 

Even without the cameras.

The best place Shane had ever taken him was home, on the couch, sitting side by side and laughing to themselves, laughing with each other. Ryan could spend an evening counting the goosebumps on Shane’s skin when their arms brush. 

He scrubs his face with both of his hands, and then reaches for his phone from the nightstand and calls Steven. 

“Hello?” Steven answers, the tone of his voice awake and alert. 

“Hey—I need a day.” Ryan flips back the blanket and steps out of bed, heading towards the bathroom. 

“Huh?” 

“A personal day. I have to take care of something,” Ryan explains. 

“Like what?” He can almost hear Steven’s eyes narrowing. 

“Like something personal,” Ryan says, deadpan. 

Steven huffs a laugh. “All right, geeze. Is Shane gonna be with you?” 

“No—why would you even—no.” Too much, Ryan thinks. “No, just me.” Like that’s any better

“Okay, goodness. Where one goes, you know?” Steven says. 

“I’ll text him and let him know,” Ryan says, even though Steven’s right. Ryan wonders if maybe it’s been obvious to everyone except for them. Have they been so wrapped up in themselves that they’d never noticed the other? Has it just been there, the whole time, a line in the sand, easily blown away with the simplicity of reaching for each other?

Ryan clicks off the call and gets out of the bed. For the life of him, he can’t remember the song that Shane had shown him when Cleo had played the records. He fights to remember, but something something lifting weights. 

He does a google search and comes up with a result. When he clicks to play the track, it redirects to his Spotify. He saves it to his library. 

 

-:-

 

Ryan really does enjoy driving. And with everything in him, he loves the overheated, drought-prone, over-populated, culture-saturated state of California. 

The highway is clogged with traffic, but he lives in it, drums his fingertips against the steering wheel. He knows most of the words to “Weightlifters”. He doesn't dive into any other music, gets stuck on a few other lyrics, like I’m just here about some tangerines

He doesn’t know if Shane likes tangerines. He feels like he should know if Shane likes tangerines. 

 

-:-

 

The record store is closed for lunch when he arrives. There’s a bench a step or two away from the front door, so he sits and people-watches, AirPods in to keep listening. He knows all the words now. All the musical cues. The pauses. He anticipates the breath intake before a verse. 

I kept my mouth shut and hoped that this would happen to me. 

He doesn’t know if he likes the song because he likes it, or if it’s because Shane likes it. 

He opens up his text thread with Shane. 

Do you like tangerines?

Yes.

All right. Now he knows. 

Where are you?

San Francisco.

His phone illuminates with a silly airport photo of Shane. Ryan answers the call. 

“Hello?” 

“What are you doing in San Francisco?” Shane asks by way of greeting. His voice is calm, but Ryan knows better, can feel the ripple of anxiety through his phone.

“Nothing,” Ryan says. He doesn’t have an excuse ready. He can’t make something up because Shane will know he’s lying. Because Shane knows him. Ryan bites his lip.

“Six hours is a long time to drive for nothing.” Shane pauses. “Did you hit it off with Cleo?” 

Ryan balks. “What? No.” 

“I thought you might have. When we did the interview. She’s pretty. Seemed into you. Also, she’s in San Francisco.” 

“What? I thought you were into her.” 

“I am most definitely not into her.” 

“Oh.” 

“Yeah.”

“Uh, okay.” 

“Okay.” 

“Well, I’m not—I mean, she’s pretty, but I’m not,” Ryan presses. 

Shane doesn’t say anything on the other side, and neither does Ryan, not for a moment, and then two, and then a third. 

“Are you coming back tonight?” Shane asks finally.

“Yeah, I just gotta wrap this thing up. Should be on the road again in an hour or so.” Ryan scrapes the toe of his sneaker against the cement. 

“Can I—can we—” Shane sighs. Ryan waits for him to finish, but he doesn’t. 

“I can swing by the office and pick you up, when I get back, if you want,” Ryan says carefully. 

Shane clears his throat. “I—yeah, okay.” 

“Okay.” 

Shane clicks off.

In his chest, Ryan’s heartbeat spikes and his stomach flips and— 

Ryan doesn’t have to remind himself that Shane is the reason he’d driven all the way out to San Francisco in the first place. He definitely doesn’t have to remind himself that because he knows the way Shane feels is the reason why that phone call had been so awkward. But he reminds himself anyway; he recalls the way Shane’s voice had sounded when he’d said, but I’m not in love with Steven, so

Indirectly direct. 

“Ryan?” 

When he looks up, he finds Cleo standing close by, a milkshake in one hand, keys in the other. 

“Hey!” Ryan stands up and shoves his phone into his pocket, earbuds into the other, not bothering with the case. 

“I thought it might be you,” she says, her smile bright and blinding, teeth white. “What are you doing here?” she asks

“I wanted to talk to you, if you have a minute.” Ryan shrugs his shoulders. 

“Sure! I—long drive for a talk.” Her brows knit together, and she eyes him curiously. 

“I need some help, and I think you’re just the lady to help me.”

Cleo smiles and she’s so, so beautiful; in another lifetime he might have gone for it, for her, with her chunky dreads and gorgeous brown skin. Green eyes the color of sea glass. He would have fallen for the sweet sound of her voice and the smooth questioning arch of her eyebrow. As it happens, his heart twists in his chest at the thought ‘cause he’s head over heels for the weird bird man he shares a desk with. 

 

-:-

 

Cleo takes him to that back room with the old record player. She waves at him to have a seat in one of the armchairs. Ryan sits, crossing his legs ankle to knee. 

“Was the drive okay?” she asks, sitting in the seat next to him. Someone else is on duty now, she’d said. She could spare a few minutes.

“Yeah. Long but it was good,” Ryan says, rubbing his hands on his pants legs, wiping them clean from sweat. 

“All right, so what can I help you with?” Her brows knit together, forming a wrinkle between them. She crosses her arms over her chest. 

“So, I think there might have been a mix-up,” he starts. “With Shane’s record.”

“Hmm? How do you mean?” 

“Do you remember when he came out of the booth and asked if he could start over? I think maybe the drives got mixed up.”

“Oh, no! That’s unfortunate. Also, my bad. I can—I can have the other one made—” 

“Ah, it’s less about—well, I mean, you don’t have to. It’s more that—you like that band, right? Car Seat Headrest?” 

“Yeah?” Her brows knit together. “What about them?” 

“Well, that song Shane showed me, and his record—uh, it was more of a confession than a memory, you see.” 

“A confession?” 

“He’s—uh. Feelings. For me. He has them.” 

Cleo laughs. “Okay? How do I help with that?” 

“I don’t know. I just—I guess I want to understand him. I haven’t told him I heard the—the version of his record he didn’t want me to hear. And I don’t just want to tell him. And for some reason, he keeps bringing up this band, like they’re significant in some way. I guess I just want to know some more.” Ryan clears his throat. “He said that song reminded him of me. And I guess I want to know more maybe? Or why—”

Cleo takes in a deep breath. She swipes her finger over an eyebrow and down her cheek, perplexed. “I have to admit, this is weird. Do you have feelings for him, too?” 

“Yeah,” Ryan says. Admits. Confesses. And looking at the softness of Cleo’s features, he feels weightless from it. Finally being able to say something to someone about it. It feels good. 

“All right. Well, you could have just told him that and saved yourself some gas money,” Cleo teases. 

Ryan rubs his hands over his face. “I don’t know if—I don’t know if we’re ready for that.” 

Cleo hums. “Uh, the song he showed you was ‘Weightlifters’. It’s a good one. While we were talking and you were in the sound booth, he’d told me his favorite was Twin Fantasy, and I thought, huh. That’s—that’s really gay.” 

Ryan bursts out laughing, and Cleo giggles. “What?” 

“Well, the singer, Will Toledo, wrote the album about a gay romance. At least, that’s what’s speculated. It’s a concept album, starting and ending with him singing about being in love with a guy. It’s all very fantastical in a sense. A love that’s too good to be true, if you will. If you liked “Weightlifters”, you’ll like the album, I think.” 

“Uh—” Ryan’s breath rushes past his lips. 

“Yeah.” She reaches over and pats his knee. “Not a bad spot to be in, knowing someone likes you and you like them back,” she reasons. 

“Do you have a copy I can take with me?” Ryan asks, steering them away.

Cleo laughs. “You know they’re on Spotify, right?” She stands from her seat. Ryan looks up at her, the shadowed features of her face. 

Ryan laughs. “Yeah, but it’s just—I don’t know. I think I’d like to hear it spin.” 

“All right, I respect that. I think you’ll like ‘Bodys’, and ‘Cute Thing’. My guess, Shane probably likes them for you, too. Although, fuck me, I don’t know the guy like you do, and I could totally be off base.” 

“I’d like to think you’re somewhere close.” 

“Oh, and the last song on the album. Fucking bangs.” 

Ryan stays seated in his chair as Cleo disappears, taking in a deep breath. His whole body longs to go home, to poke Shane in the chest and demand they be in love.

He wonders what Shane would do. He wonders what Shane is thinking right now; if there’s any longing of his own. If he misses Ryan. 

He must, to some degree, if that phone call was anything to go by. Maybe Shane knows that Ryan knows how Shane feels, and that’s why Ryan’s in San Francisco. Ryan wants to call him and ask. 

Of course, he doesn’t because there’s a part of him that thinks he’s keeping his knowledge a secret because he knows who Shane is. And to confront the barest, most naked of emotions will send him running. 

And then he’ll fall, scrape up his hands and knees in front of a bunch of concert-goers, and that just won’t be fun for anyone. 

“Gotta say,” Cleo says when she rings him up, “if anyone asks how my day went today, boy do I have one hell of a story.” 

Ryan laughs and takes his new record home. 

 

-:-

 

When he finally makes it into LA, he drives straight to Shane’s. It had been around six that Shane had called to check on him. Ryan let him know he was still cities away and told Shane to go home. 

Now, it’s almost eight and the traffic had been bad enough that it had delayed him an hour and a half. It’s late enough that he should just go home. He could see Shane in the morning. 

But then I put my arms around you and say, "Thank God that I found you". He doesn’t have a choice.

With his keys jingling in his hand, he makes his way inside and takes the elevator up to Shane’s floor. He knocks on Shane’s door instead of letting himself in. It swings open seconds later. 

The feeling that he’s arrived home drowns him so furiously he starts coughing. 

“Jesus, man, you okay?” Shane asks, hand on Ryan’s shoulder. Ryan lifts his arm and coughs the feeling out, like he can clear his lungs from how breathless he feels. 

“Yeah,” Ryan gasps, clutching a hand against his chest. “Just swallowed wrong.” 

Shane’s brows knit together, and he pulls Ryan inside. Ryan passes by him, and he hears the door close behind him. 

“Drive okay?” Shane wonders as Ryan kicks off his shoes. 

“Yeah, just traffic. There were two accidents on my way down so.” Ryan shrugs. “Just tired.” 

Shane stands in front of him, with his hands in his pockets. Tall and harmless, with his hair over his forehead because he hasn’t gotten it cut in a while. With his glasses on, the clear frames that Ryan likes on him. With an old band T-shirt and a grey pair of Chinos. 

And Ryan runs the risk of steering them too close to the edge of the cliff when he steps forward and wiggles his arms around Shane’s waist and just hugs him. 

“Oh,” Shane whispers. Ryan closes his eyes and Shane’s arms wind around his shoulders when he pulls his hands out of his pockets. 

For an indeterminable amount of time, Ryan just holds Shane, hands pressed against Shane’s back, until he feels better about not being brave enough to lean up and kiss him. Until he feels better about the fact that Shane doesn’t lean down to kiss him. Until the disappointment eases, because all he has for right now is this longing. 

He smells good, the same way he usually does, warm and smoky, faintly like weed and citrus. An amalgamation of all the things Ryan recognizes are Shane

“You all right?” Shane asks again, but the inflection of his voice says so much more. Ryan could do it, could say I know your secret. Maybe they’ll kiss. They’ll probably fight. So he just nods against Shane’s chest. 

“Yeah.” 

 

-:-

 

Ryan wakes up on the couch in the middle of the night. Shane’s living room is dark. 

They hadn’t talked about Ryan hugging Shane. They hadn’t talked about anything. Shane didn’t ask about San Francisco, but he did ask if Ryan wanted to change his clothes. And when Ryan had said yes, Shane showed up with clothes for Ryan to sleep in. Shane’s clothes that felt worn and soft, smelled like Shane. 

Ryan brushed his teeth with the toothbrush he kept in the drawer next to Shane’s sink, and sat next to him on the couch. They’d sat closer to each other than they usually dared right off the bat; their thighs almost touched. Their arms brushed. Goosebumps made themselves known on Shane’s flesh, and Ryan refrained from reaching out and touching his fingers over Shane’s skin. 

He blinks away the sleep, and he means to stretch, but he’s tangled up with Shane. The way Shane’s laid his head on Ryan’s stomach, and Ryan has his legs over Shane’s twisted hips can’t be comfortable for him. 

The TV plays the Netflix screensaver, switching through title cards.

Absentmindedly succumbing to the desire, Ryan runs his fingers through Shane’s hair—it doesn’t wake him, but as soon as he does it, he pulls his hand back like he’s been burned. 

He opts to shake Shane’s shoulder. 

“Hmm?” Shane grunts.

“Go to bed,” Ryan whispers.

“No.” 

Ryan huffs a laugh, his eyes drifting closed. “Give me my legs back.” 

“Also, no,” Shane says, his voice a quiet croak, but Ryan can hear his smile, can imagine the soft twist of his lips, lopsided. Shane sits up, stretching his arms over above his head. Ryan wants to gather him and hold him close. Right here in the dark, on the couch. Just let Shane rest against his chest.

“Go,” Ryan says, nudging his toes over his hip. 

Shane yawns, and it sets off Ryan, and they laugh. The blue glow of the television light makes Shane look ethereal. Ghostly, exactly in the way Ryan fears; like he might not truly be there with him.

Ryan pulls his legs back, shifting so he’s lying on his side. He draws his knees up, and yawns again. He closes his eyes. 

“You can sleep with me.” 

It’s a naked statement, softly spoken, quiet in the dark. Ryan looks up at Shane and bites down on the inside of his lip. Shane touches his ankle, the lightest touch fingertips could lend, and it sends a shiver up Ryan’s spine. 

When Shane stands, he turns off the television and leaves the living room. 

For a moment, Ryan just lets the air expand, and allows it to become too thick to breathe in. Then, he stands and leads himself down the hallway to Shane’s room, where the door has been left open. Ryan closes it behind him. 

Shane’s already in bed, off to one side and Ryan slips into the other, underneath the blanket on his side. He draws his knees up. When he closes his eyes, he can feel Shane shift onto his back, and Ryan shifts the same, too. Shane’s hand closes delicately around his wrist and Ryan’s body floods with nervous heat. Without a word, Ryan shakes his hand loose, but dives back in and sets his fingers in the spaces between Shane’s. 

They’re quiet. 

 

-:-

 

In the morning, Shane isn’t in bed, and Ryan swears he dreamt it. He swears up and down, as he brushes his teeth, and gets dressed, and Shane gives him a glass of orange juice since he doesn’t drink coffee anymore. 

 

-:-

 

“All right, fucker. Who are you?” Ryan mutters. He stares at the cover art of the album. It’s—he doesn’t know what they are. Wolves? Dogs? Nameless creatures. They share one arm, their other arms holding each other in an embrace. It’s not lost on Ryan, that one of the creatures is smaller than the other. Despite the hurricane of emotions inside of him, he smiles at it. 

Ryan sets the Twin Fantasy record onto the player, and gently drops the needle. He watches the record spin and spin. And spin and spin. 

The music starts gentle, with a heartbeat rhythm of a drumline. 

My boy, we don’t see each other much. 

Ryan lays on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, and reserves the next hour and change for ten songs. He’s left his phone and laptop in his bedroom. All he has is himself, his mind. He closes his eyes. 

Sometimes, the lyrics are jumbled. Sometimes there’s screaming. Sometimes it's just instrumental, and Ryan’s mind goes wild with it. 

This is all a guess. For all Ryan knows, Shane doesn’t actually like this band, doesn’t actually care about any of the songs or feel anything for them, only ever mentioning them to piss Ryan off. That seems like a shoddy rope to hang onto, though, when Shane had glanced down at him, eyes the smooth color of whiskey, admitting that it reminds me of you sometimes. 

Five years, almost six, and sometimes Ryan feels like he sees Shane and feels like they’re strangers who know each other. Acquaintances who once spilled deep fears and desires at four in the morning in someone’s backyard, cross-faded and vulnerable. Sometimes, despite feeling like he’s the only one in the world to see right through him, he can’t see Shane at all. Selectively imperceptible to Ryan’s most meticulous scrutiny. 

Shane’s worse than Ryan is with confrontation. Anything that could remotely have a negative outlook, Shane doesn’t—he just shuts down. Ryan wonders why. At the very least, if Ryan wants something badly enough, he thinks about it for a while and eventually goes after it. Shane doesn’t do that. Not unless there’s some sort of security in it or trust that he won’t be hurt by it. 

Where can I go? Go to bed.

Leaving BuzzFeed was kind of like that. Maybe if Ryan hadn’t assured Shane that he would be okay, he’d still be stuck there, wasting his life on four minute videos and having his projects shut down. People liked Shane’s weird mind, but no one gave him the chance to express it. Is that what Ryan did? Is that what Ryan actively does every day? Encouraging, pushing? Everything is easier when someone’s holding your hand. 

It’s not enough to love the unreal. 

To have a mind that craves to dive so deep into history and learn all of humanity’s quirks. That’s why he must be the way he is. To know the downfall of so much, so many, and realize a lot of it doesn’t have a happy ending. To think he doesn’t, at all, deserve one himself. To hold such a nihilistic point of view towards life. No, maybe the quick span of eighty or so years, give or take a tragedy, doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of thousands and thousands of years, but that shouldn’t matter when it’s all they have. It’s all he has. 

I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends. 

And his new obsession with being small. Has it always been there? Less space to take up; a smaller target. Harder to pin him down, to see him. 

Ryan flexes his fingers where they lay at his side as he remembers the middle of the night, Shane’s hands in his own. 

Lovely lovely, in your dreams, frenzied.

Except, that’s stupid, ‘cause Ryan sees him all the time. Especially the times when he thinks no one can see him. That’s exactly when Ryan catches him, that’s when Ryan finds him the most interesting; obsessively chasing his shadows, tracing the lines of his limbs of his body with his eyes; memorizing, and figuring out, and learning. Searching, coming up empty. He feels like, right now, in the middle of the living room—in the middle of Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh—like he’s found a treasure chest wrapped tight in chains. And he wishes he could break them. He isn’t strong enough; strength diminished by the antagonizing weight of his own self-deprecation. What if he isn’t the one? What if he isn’t the one that gets to see what’s inside?

What about Ryan says that Shane can’t share this secret? What about Ryan is so frightening that Shane could never say what he’d said on the record right to his face? Or hold his hand in the car, or lean up to kiss him, or, and--if--when--why--what is it?! 

He doesn’t know where the songs break; they all lead into each other, but by the time he reaches, you never showed me you’re inhuman, you understand, he stands up and fishes out the tin box he stashes his weed in and rolls a joint, and then another, because he knows he’s going to need it.

 

-:-

 

Ryan likes music enough. Soundtracks to films, Disney classics, the underground hip hop his friends link him, the pop shit that plays on the radio. Ryan has always been an anything-but-country kind of guy—Carrie Underwood notwithstanding. 

The sunshine is bright; it filters through the open blinds, blocks of light covering his shins. He lets the quick thrum of the guitar and the heavy beat of the drum transport him. He lets himself feel his own feelings, projects them onto Shane, closes his eyes and just lets himself feel all the unadulterated adoration that’s been tucked away in his spine, that has kept him standing for this long. 

But I remember you. You had a body. You had hands and arms and legs and etcetera. 

Ryan exhales towards the ceiling, revels in the smoke lingering in his lungs, in the back of his throat. It hangs in the air, unmoving, and Ryan just blinks through it, sluggish. He sits up and pulls his knees to his chest. 

In the haziness of his mind, he recognizes the want to call Shane. Not text him, or see him, just call him. Wonder what he’s doing, guess what he looks like, and put together an image in his mind based on the sound of his voice. 

He wants to call Shane and tell him, “I like that you’re weird.” Wants to say it and hear Shane laugh about it, dismiss the truth of it. 

Ryan will laugh, too, and they’ll fall quiet, and it’ll just be the sound of existing on the other side of the line for a little while. They’ll both start to talk at the same time, and they’ll laugh about that, too. 

But Ryan will have said it, he’ll have told Shane. 

And Shane will have heard it. 

And even then, nothing will change.

I could give you what you want, I could give you what you deserve.

When the album ends, there’s just the static of the record player for a long while. Ryan thinks about playing it over, but he doesn’t move, too heavy in his body, sinking into the carpet. He falls asleep there, just as the sun dips behind the horizon, lighting the walls of his apartment a thick, warm, neon tangerine. 

This is the end of the song. And it is just a song.

 

-:-

 

When Ryan wakes up in the morning, he guesses he’d made it to bed at some point, even though he doesn’t remember doing it. 

There’s a text from Shane on his phone. The weather calls for gloomy skies that sob all over his usually glimmering, sun-lit city. Grey light comes through the cracks in the curtains, and Ryan could turn over and fall back to bed, let the splatter of rain against the windows just drag him back, but he’s been awake for too long, so now he can’t. 

He looks at the text. 

You awake yet?

Barely

Come pick me up 

For what 

There’s a record shop DT I wanna check out

Also I’m hungry

 

-:-

 

Rumpled in a sweatshirt and jeans, Ryan shoves his glasses on and wishes he hadn’t ruined his body for coffee. 

He swings by Shane’s building, finds Shane sitting on the steps underneath the alcove when he pulls up to the curb. He’s wearing the mustard jacket and Navy pants. They’re done filming WWW, so Shane’s grown out his facial hair. He wears those glasses Ryan likes. There’s a bandana or scarf or whatever tied around his neck. Sometimes, Shane looks like he’s stepped out of one of those Instagram photos Ryan will find himself zooming in on from time to time, just to catch all the details.

The car door opens and Shane slides in, reaching for his seatbelt when the door slams shut. “Hey—” 

Ryan moves to turn the radio, slightly embarrassed that he hadn’t thought to change the music before arriving. He hates that he likes this stupid band now. 

Shane grabs his wrist before he can turn the music down, looking at Ryan with surprise etched into his features, his mouth formed into a small “O”.

“I like this one, shut up,” Ryan mutters as Shane lets his hand go. Ryan doesn’t turn it off. 

Shane smiles and shuts up and turns the volume up and they sit there in the song as Ryan merges into the lane and heads for downtown. 

As he drives, he wonders if Shane is thinking about him. He thinks about how easy it would be for Shane to take Ryan’s fingers and tangle his around them. Like that night he still swears he’d dreamt. How easy it would be for Ryan to pull onto the shoulder and let Shane kiss him in the loud echo of rain falling over the roof of the car. How easy it would be to just let themselves fall into it, into each other. 

He glances at Shane, for a second, takes in the faraway expression, the drumming of his fingers against his thighs as Will sings to them. Don’t worry, you and me won’t be alone no more.

Maybe he isn’t thinking about Ryan. 

“You ever think about driving away real far?” Shane asks, turning the music down. 

“Alone?” 

Shane grunts. “Or with someone. But just getting up and going; do you ever think about it?” 

“You wanna run away with me, big guy?” When Ryan looks, Shane’s grin is wry.

“I could make some room in this fantasy, for you.” 

“I wasn’t already the star of your dreams? I want my money back.” 

“Who are you even paying?” Shane says with a surprised laugh. It echoes above the music, dances around. It makes Ryan smile.

“Clearly, the star-of-your-dreams curator has been slacking.” 

Shane shakes his head. “You never did answer my question.”

“When things get hard, sure, the drop-everything-and-run fantasy is strong. But not so much when things are going well. Got you, so.”

Shane huffs. “I hate when you talk to me in song lyrics.”

Ryan bursts out laughing. “Sorry, probably should have tacked on like, a ‘dude’ or something.” A beat passes. “Why do you ask, though?” Ryan wonders.  

“Ask what?”

“The leaving thing? Got plans?”

“Nope. Just wonderin’.” Shane looks out of the window, and Ryan has to look back through the windshield, and the air is thick, and Ryan enjoys it. Because he doesn't know what it means, but he knows what he knows, and it accounts for something. Pennies, just pennies, but he feels all the richer with them jingling in his pocket. 

 

-:-

 

First, they eat. They tuck themselves away at a table for sandwiches and root beers. Had it been a nicer day, Ryan would have wanted to sit outside, let the sun blind him as its light bounced off the silver ring of Shane’s watch. 

They talk mostly about nothing; this and that to fill the air. Like usual, Shane lets Ryan fill in the quiet. 

They make it to the record shop, a quiet little joint Ryan thinks he’ll enjoy looking around. It’s not like Cleo’s store; nothing like it really, neat and organized alphabetically by technical genre. Shane makes a beeline for his indie rock, and Ryan swings around different tables, looking for nothing in particular. After a few minutes, nothing has caught his eye, so he sidles up to Shane, who’s already found a small stack. 

“Find anything?” Shane asks, attention still on the crate in front of him. Ryan sighs. 

“Not really. But these hipster vibes…Not for me, sir.” 

Shane laughs. “I’ll be done in a sec. I’m looking for something new.” 

“Something by someone you know?” 

Shane shakes his head. “Not in particular. Why? Got something in mind?” 

“No, but what if we blindfold each other and pick one at random?” Ryan asks. “I’ll come back to yours and we can give ‘em a whirl.”

“That seems like a waste of money. But fun, so.”

Shane unwinds the handkerchief from around his neck and hands it to Ryan. “I’ll go first.”

Ryan has to stand on the tips of his toes to tie the fabric properly. Shane smells good. Like his incense. Ryan brushes his hands over Shane’s shoulders as he lowers himself back down.

“Ready?”

“Sure.”

Ryan turns Shane around and around, and then leads him through the aisles, tentatively closing his hand around Shane’s wrist. He’s brutally aware they’re in public, but it’s innocuous enough that he swallows that particular brand of anxiety down. He watches as Shane’s hand reaches for the shelves, knuckles bumping into records, his fingers prodding and poking at the spines over various genres of music, like he could find a good one by touch. He wonders what Shane might be thinking again.

Shane finds one, nearly pulls it from the shelf, before pushing it back. “No, that one’s no good.”

“You can’t say that, you don’t even know!”

“I do, though,” Shane insists. 

After all is said and done, they end up in the Holiday section, and Shane chooses a Dolly Parton holiday special.

They’re still laughing when they pay for their records at the cashier stand. 

Ryan ends up driving home with Shane’s scarf around his neck. 

When they make it inside Shane’s apartment, they’ve called to have pizza delivered. They don’t listen to their blind picks. Ryan lets Shane tuck his Mariah Carey and the Dolly Parton next to each other on the shelf. Instead, they drink a couple beers and eat their pizza, listening to the ones Shane had actually searched for. 

Sitting on the floor, leaning back against the sofa, they talk, and talk, and talk. Forever it seems like, laughing and teasing and arguing and laughing. 

Ryan doesn’t go home that night, stripping down from his jeans and sweatshirt, just a little bit tipsy, as he dresses in Shane’s clothes again, climbing into Shane’s bed again

Shane’s lying on his stomach and Ryan rolls onto his side, facing him. There’s enough light in the room to make out the shape of Shane’s face, to know he’s looking at Ryan. 

The high he’d been riding all day peaks here, when he lets himself reach and touch, without asking. Underneath the comforter, Ryan draws his fingers up the back of Shane’s arm, spans the width of his hand over Shane’s shoulder blade. Ryan closes his eyes; his hand drifts upwards, fingers tentative, gentle over the back of Shane’s neck, sinking into Shane’s hair. 

He leaves his hand there. 

“Ryan?” Shane whispers. 

“Hmm?” 

Ryan falls asleep before he hears Shane say anything.

 

-:-

 

As the days trickle by, filming and editing, planning and brainstorming, putting out fires just as quickly as they start them, Ryan thinks something has changed. At least a little. 

For the most part, things are still normal. They text like normal. Hang out like normal. Work together and have lunch, and Jesus Christ, does he really spend all this time with Shane? He should be tired of the big guy, and yet, he supposes when you like someone, and they like you back, do you really want to be away from them?

Friday nights are still spent at Shane’s, crowding on the couch, watching films and talking over them, listening to records and talking over them. 

He doesn’t remember a time when they’d talked this much. Shouldn’t they have run out of things to say by now?

 

-:-

 

There’s something to be said for the way Ryan takes the emotions he feels, processes them, and breaks them down. 

On a Sunday morning alone in his bed, and his heart must be too full, so the excess of it all has just gone straight to his cock and Ryan wakes up hot, hard in a way that he hasn’t in a while. Had he dreamt? He doesn’t remember dreaming.

He rolls over onto his back and thinks about it, about just letting it pass, but his brain provides him fragments of thoughts, spliced memories that make his eyes flicker closed and let his hands do what they want to. 

His mind sticks to the image of Shane’s hands, long-fingered and neat, deceptively strong. Ryan slithers one of his own hands slowly down his stomach and underneath the elastic of his shorts, sighing heavily at the gentle teasing before he circles his fingers around himself, thinking about Shane’s hands touching him.

He’s always known Shane to be overly aware of his body, but Ryan can imagine the height of him, the weight of Shane on top of him. It gives him desires for things he hadn’t paid explicit attention to. 

Being on his back like he is now with his legs spread wide enough so Shane can fit between them, using his mouth to kiss, leaving biting marks easily hidden by the fabric of his t-shirt. 

Ryan groans, sliding the foreskin of his cock down and back up over the incredibly sensitive cockhead. 

He wonders if Shane’s ever sucked a guy off, wonders if he’d be good at it, wonders how strong his tongue would be along the side, how hot his mouth would be sucking on his balls. 

As his mind crafts these images, his strokes become quicker and more desperate as he sees it in his mind, Shane’s mouth full of it, his eyes watering, Ryan with his hand through Shane’s hair. The Ryan in his fantasy though, is also experiencing an abundance of emotion since he sees himself gently swipe a thumb over one of Shane’s furrowed brows, then again over the apple of Shane’s cheek. 

He thinks about Shane underneath him, lying like he is now, on his back with Ryan’s hands tucked against the back of his knees, holding his thighs open as he fucks him. Maybe he’d have his eyes shut tight, mouth parted as he groans Ryan’s name. 

Ryan comes with a breathless moan. 

Shame doesn’t trickle in. It’s difficult to feel bad with Shane’s confession still on his mind. 

For old time’s sake, after he showers, he plays the record, sitting with his mug of tea on the couch. He listens to the hitch of Shane’s breath. Ryan closes his mouth around the words, having memorized the cadence of Shane’s voice. The way he laughs, the sighs. Down to the disgusted noise he makes at the end. 

“God, Shane,” Ryan whispers into the silence of the room. 

 

-:-

 

After lunch, he decides he’s just gonna fuckin’ do it. 

What’s the point of knowing if he isn’t going to do anything about it? At least he has this on his side. There was a time where he hadn’t known shit and was willing to put it all on the line, just to find out if Shane felt the same about him. 

But just in case this backfires and he ends up Mt. Vesuvius-ing the whole thing, he decides that he’ll give them one last day of whatever they’re doing now. He’ll hang on a bit longer, and plan something really nice for Shane, just in case. Just in case it all goes to shit, they’ll have had one really good day as friends

On the couch, he brainstorms. What the hell does Shane even like, anyway?

They’ve been doing the records and traipsing downtown for a while. There aren’t any film festivals they can crash. Shane might just kill him if he thinks about taking him somewhere that might be haunted

Well, Shane is always going on and on about a lazy river. And there are tons in Los Angeles. 

Humming to himself, he pulls up Chrome on his phone and searches for “lazy river la”. 

He gets enough results that he can filter through them, looking through photos to find the one that’s the most appealing. Once he’s found a few that don’t charge an arm and a leg for a night in a room, he lights a joint and figures he better get the calling part out of the way. 

Hilariously, like he’s in a film, all of the places he calls only have rooms with one bed. He books one for tomorrow, even though tomorrow is Monday. Steven will probably be annoyed, but this is important

 

-:-

 

In the morning, he wakes up at the same time he usually does for work. He packs his bag, and pulls on some clothes, brushing his teeth and packing his toothbrush. 

He drives himself to Shane’s and parks, letting himself into the apartment.

Everything is quiet, but he hears the shower running, so he ducks into the kitchen and starts up the coffee machine for Shane. He leans against the counter and waits, scrolling through twitter.

Shane walks into the kitchen, and greets him, like it’s a normal occurrence that Shane would find Ryan in his place unannounced. His hair is dripping wet over his shoulders. 

“Morning,” he says, rounding Ryan for a mug, and pouring himself coffee. 

“Hey. Wanna skip work?” Ryan asks, pocketing his phone. 

“For what?” Shane sips from his mug, eyeing Ryan over the rim. 

“I have a surprise for you.” 

“What kind of surprise?” 

“A really cool one. But you have to pack a bag, ‘cause we’re staying overnight, and you’re going to need a pair of swim trunks.” 

Shane arches a brow, grinning. “Where are we going, Ryan?” 

“I’m not telling you. Just go pack your shit, man,” Ryan says, excitement bubbling up, and he finds himself grinning, too. What’s the use hiding it? What’s the use hiding anything?

“Tell me,” Shane coaxes.

No.” Ryan pushes Shane and his mug of coffee out of the kitchen. “Toothbrush, bathing suit. Let’s go.” 

Shane laughs as he makes his way down the hallway towards his bedroom. 

“And something nice-ish for dinner!” Ryan calls after him. 

In the car, Shane asks a question or two but eventually lets it go after Ryan tells him it’s only a half an hour away.

When they get close enough to the hotel, where the lazy river is visible from the street side, Shane gets ridiculously giddy about the prospect of pruning his ass. 

 

-:-

 

Sometimes, there’s a moment of fraught pondering, some wondering, some general reflection on whether or not he’s in love with the person he thinks he’s in love with. For the most part, three months seems to be a good determining factor when he’s dating someone, and to be fair, Ryan’s only dated a handful of women. His longest relationship had begun in college and ended a few summers ago. 

Either way, there’s still a moment of, Do I really love this person

Looking at Shane, with that stupid dad hat, and his horrible Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned way too low, short shorts, and flip flops, Ryan’s heart flips over in his chest. 

Oh, God, he knows. There’s not much need for reflection here, not when Shane looks ridiculous and Ryan’s got to pluck out his heart eyes and put them in his pocket for later.

Either way, Shane’s carrying his bag, and Ryan’s grabbing his own from the backseat, and the second he looks back towards Shane, Shane’s got a hand around Ryan’s wrist pulling him into the lobby. 

At the check in desk, they hand over their IDs and sign the necessary paperwork. Ryan leaves his credit card on file and the clerk bids them a good day as she hands them their key cards. 

They don’t spend too much time in the room. 

Ryan watches Shane eye the single bed in the middle, made up and fluffy, and then toss a glance over to Ryan. Ryan laughs nervously. 

“They were all out of doubles. Plus, I figured you wouldn’t mind since we’ve done it a million times.” 

“We have not done it a million times,” Shane says. “We haven’t even done it once.” Shane’s grin is much too smug for a joke so stupid, but Ryan’s rolling his eyes and smiling anyway. 

“Come on, big guy, let’s get you into that lazy river.” 

“Ryan, I gotta say. I’m so happy, I might die.” 

Ryan laughs as they make their way down the hall to the elevator, fourteen floors down and into the section of the lobby that leads out to the pools. 

It’s swarming with people dressed a lot like Shane is dressed. A little ridiculous, but completely invested in the atmosphere. 

Setting phones and key cards by a couple of beach chairs they’ve claimed with their towels, they take a dip in the pool for a little while, until the drinks stand opens up and they’re able to order huge margaritas and grab a couple innertubes to lay in the river. 

It takes Ryan a minute to get onto his, flopping over a few times; Shane laughs as he holds Ryan’s drink, and Ryan would be annoyed, but it’s impossible. Even with sunglasses over his eyes, he can tell, he just knows, Shane’s got those soft crinkles at the edges. 

“Fuck, this is it, Ry,” Shane muses a while later, after they’ve floated down a ways. 

“Yeah?” 

Rather than hold hands, they linked their ankles. Shane tugs him in closer that way, so their innertubes bump together. 

“Yes. I love it here and I’m never leaving.” 

“Too bad, check out’s at eleven.” 

“It’s a hotel in California. You know we can check out, but we can never leave.” 

Ryan wheezes. “You’re a dumbass.” 

Shane adjusts his hat on his head, slides his glasses down the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, but you’re into it.” 

“Not even a little bit,” Ryan says, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. 

 

-:- 

 

Later that night, after soaking up as much sun and water as they could before admitting they were starving, they head up to their room and get ready for dinner. 

Shane comes out of the shower, dressed in dark pants and a button down he’s tucked in. His belt hangs unbuckled but nestled through his belt loops. 

“Hot date?” Ryan asks, mentally facepalming himself. Shane gives him a lopsided smile and uses his towel to dry off his hair. Ryan picks off imaginary lint from his jeans, waiting for Shane to finish getting ready. 

He wonders if Shane can tell. He wonders if Shane knows he knows and is fucking with him anyway. He sort of has the realization that maybe this, all of this, this whole day, could be seen like he’s fucking with Shane. But he isn’t, he just—he wants Shane to have good things. Good times, good memories. Shane said he had a million; Ryan just wants to spend his time adding to them. Make a billion of them. 

When Shane’s finished, he looks really good; scruffy but neat, hair a little long over his forehead, clear frames over his eyes. 

“Ready?” 

“Uh, yeah,” Ryan says, picking himself up off the end of the bed, brushing off his pant legs and following Shane out of their room. They’re eerily silent as they ride the elevator down. 

The restaurant in the hotel is intimate, dimmed lighting and candles on the tables. Ryan swallows thickly, because, of course, it certainly is quacking like a duck, and the duck is screaming, “Date!” But every time Ryan looks up at Shane, Shane’s face is empty of anything other than general pleasantness, his usual expression. A friendly face, but nothing that Ryan might be able to jump off of and push forward and stretch the boundaries of. 

Of course, that’s his own fault for expecting Shane to show any emotion. 

The hostess seats them at a table close to the windows that overlooks the beach. They’re high up enough that it’s just blue water from where he’s sitting, the very tops of palm trees. 

“Ryan.”

When he looks over, Shane’s looking at him, some kind of softness around the edges of his eyes, the corners of his mouth. 

“Yeah?” Ryan says. 

“It was a good day. You never said what it was for, though.”

“Just ‘cause. We work hard, we should be rewarded for it.” 

“Did you invite Steven or Katie?” Shane takes the napkin from the middle of his plate and unfolds it. He sets it over his lap.

“Oh, yeah, sorry, the four of us were just all supposed to share one bed, huh?” Ryan jokes. He picks up his menu. 

“Tight fit, but we could’ve made it work.” Shane sips his glass of wine. “But really. Any actual reason for all of this?” 

Ryan shrugs. “Just something nice, I guess. A new memory.”

Grinning, Shane sets his glass down. “You never told me what you thought of my memory.” 

“Well,” Ryan says, clearing his throat. “It certainly was a surprise. But it was a good one.” 

“I knew you’d like the Santa Monica pier story.” 

“What can I say,” Ryan treads carefully. “I love a Ferris wheel.” 

Shane hums. “I liked yours. You picked a good night to recount. I don’t think I said.” 

“You didn’t. But I figured you just—did what you usually do, and didn’t say anything cause it involved feelings,” Ryan says, keeping the sharpness to a minimum. Shane arches an eyebrow. 

“I’m trying, you know,” Shane says quietly, suddenly serious. Ryan looks away from him, down at his menu where everything may as well be printed in a different language. “It’s getting easier now.” 

“We’ve been spending a lot of time together,” Ryan offers. 

Shane hums. 

“You think that’s why?” 

“I think,” Shane says carefully, “some relationships have the capacity to change.” 

Ryan feels heat in his collar, in his face. “You think ours has changed?” 

“You tell me, Ry.” 

The use of his nickname was a bit of a slick move, Ryan can admit. Intimate. Ryan can’t help but smile. 

 

-:-

 

“I don’t really want to go swimming,” Shane says, standing outside of their room. The hallway is quiet, empty and Ryan looks at him, just a few steps away. 

You don’t want to go swimming?” Ryan asks, looking at Shane oddly. Shane shakes his head. They’d decided during dessert that they would, use the morning for sleeping in as long as they could.

With ease, he reaches out his hand, which Ryan takes, and Shane yanks him in close, enough that Ryan laughs, both of his arms caught between them, pressed to Shane’s chest. Shane pins him, loosely between himself and the wall. 

When Ryan looks up at him, his expression is peaceful, pink cheeks tinged from the sun, looking down at Ryan with clear eyes. Ryan swallows. 

“What do you want to do?” 

Shane shrugs. Ryan thinks about what he wants to do, about unlocking the door and leading Shane through. He thinks about Shane’s body, about undressing him, touching him. 

Ryan shivers. He takes a chance and grips his hands in the fabric of Shane’s button up, pulling the hem free from where he’s tucked it in. Keeping his eyes on Shane, he touches the palms of his hands to Shane’s stomach, feels him breathing, feels him shudder like he’s cold. 

Shane leans in, but not to kiss him. Ryan glances unseeingly at the wall on the opposite side of the hall as he feels Shane drag the tip of his nose along the line of his neck, breathing in deeply, a steady rhythm that coaxes Ryan to tilt his head to the side, and close his eyes. Ryan’s hands shift around Shane’s waist to his back, pulling him in closer. 

He swears he feels the hot touch of Shane's mouth on his flesh, and every nerve ending in Ryan’s body feels on, alive, pushing himself up onto the tips of his toes when Shane pulls back to look at him. His eyes are heavy-lidded, and Ryan feels the hot drip of arousal curl in his stomach, sharp, insistent. His calves are straining to keep himself up, but Shane’s leaned in, so close he can feel the heat of his breath. 

Ryan takes one hand from underneath Shane’s shirt and presses it to the back of Shane’s neck, encouraging him, trying to stand that much taller to meet Shane’s mouth. 

There’s something liminal about the hallway, a place that isn’t anywhere at all, a gateway of sorts. And there’s a lot of buildup in Ryan’s chest. Something about the sun all over Shane, echoes of his record, the details of the song Shane had shown him in the record shop, memories of the two of them. 

His brain works fast, quickly tripping over thoughts and sensations, so eager to go, to touch and say—he’s such a cliché to be intoxicated by this moment where their proximity has melted away into nothing, and just as Shane leans in, the brush of their noses, Ryan opens his mouth. 

“You’re right, I would let you take me anywhere, even without the cameras.” 

“Hmm?”

Ryan pulls back and looks at Shane, really looks at him like Shane might be able to see inside of him, like he might be able to, finally, read his mind. 

“Even without the cameras—“

“I never said that to you,” Shane says, lips downturned into a frown. 

“I—it was on the record—“

Shane pulls back, looking at Ryan with shock all over his face. “Excuse me?” 

“What?” 

“I never—Ryan—” 

Shane looks horrified, pale, even with his sunburnt cheeks. He rescinds his whole body and Ryan suddenly feels so, so cold; he looks at Ryan like Ryan isn’t Ryan anymore. 

“Shane, I—” 

“You knew this whole time?” 

“I didn’t want anything to change—and you said you never wanted me to know—” 

“But you do—oh, my god, you do know.” 

“Yes, but it’s fine, nothing has to happen, we can—” 

Shane shakes his head. “I have to go.” 

“Go?” Shane tries to walk past Ryan, but Ryan grabs his hand. Shane yanks his arm away, hard enough to surprise Ryan.

“Yes, go. Like away from here. Away from—” Shane stops, unclenching his hands. His posture wilts. He hangs his head.

“Please don’t,” Ryan pleads softly.

“Was this—what was this? What was today, Ryan?” Shane’s eyes are sharp behind the clear frames of his glasses, eyeing him expectantly. 

“I just—can we not do this in the hallway where people can hear?” Ryan asks. He reaches out again, but Shane steps back, too far away now. 

“No, I—I need to go.” Shane turns and walks down the hallway.

Ryan's left alone with the humming electricity of the overhead lights, the sudden burst of whispers from behind closed doors.

 

-:-

 

After he’s finished stress showering, he checks to see if Shane might be waiting outside, but there’s no such luck. When he checks his cell, there isn’t anything from Shane, which is to be expected, but he thought, maybe, sorta, there might have been something. 

There’s a raw, wounded feeling in Ryan’s chest; he never thought Shane would actually run away from him. He should have known; Shane runs away with anything that could be construed as a feeling. Ryan wishes it wasn’t the case, because it had to be obvious that Ryan was receptive to Shane, that Ryan was also somewhere in this Almost but Not Quite, wanting and wishing for an Absolutely, devastated that it was looking more like a Never in a Million Years. 

Ryan walks outside onto the balcony and looks down at the lazy river. It’s empty but he can hear the roar of the water running. 

The road to hell was paved with good intentions, they say. 

He turns and walks back in, and looks at the empty bed, still made, their bags still on the edge. Ryan clears their bags away and climbs underneath the blankets on the side closest to the door, because he hates the windows. 

But it doesn’t matter much if Shane isn’t lying next to him. 

 

-:-

 

It’s still dark when he wakes up; there’s light coming from the door and he twists his body to look, finding Shane whispering softly as he walks in. The door closes and the room is dark again.

“Where were you?” Ryan says, voice raw and gravelly. He clears his throat. 

“Walking.” He hears the thump of shoes against the floor, the jingle of a belt. He can make out the shape of Shane undressing, and then redressing. 

“Are you still mad?” 

“Yeah,” Shane says. 

“Do you—I can sleep on the floor,” Ryan offers, even though with his whole being, he doesn’t mean it. 

“Don’t be stupid.” Shane peels back the blankets. Ryan helps him, and Shane gets underneath them, shifting onto his side. He lays on his stomach, facing the windows away from Ryan. It calms Ryan, but he feels the panic rise. The horrifying thought that Shane wants nothing to do with him. 

“What time is it?” Ryan whispers. 

“Four something.” 

Ryan sighs, closing his eyes and willing himself to drift away. He knows Shane will find sleep easily. Because that’s Shane. 

“I’m sorry,” Ryan whispers instead. “I just wanted to do one nice thing. Like one last good day. One where it wasn’t different yet. Because it’s different now.” 

Shane doesn’t say anything. 

“I don’t know why you’re mad at me. Can you just tell me why?” 

“I’m not mad at you, Ryan.” 

“You said—” 

“I said I was mad. And I am. I’m furious. Mostly at myself. You weren’t supposed to—” 

“Why, though? Why not? Why couldn’t I know?” 

“You planned this whole thing because you anticipated a difference in our...friendship. You don’t think I anticipated the same?” 

“Will you look at me, at least?” He can’t see much in the dark, but he can feel Shane turn underneath the blankets. He can see the shadowy outline of Shane’s body, can feel his knees knock into his own when he turns onto his side. 

“What, Ryan.”

“Why are you so scared of feeling?” Ryan’s voice comes out more exasperated than he means for it to, but he’s exhausted. He’s tired because it’s the middle of the night. He’s tired because he loves Shane and doesn’t know what to do about it. 

“Because then I have to deal with it when it fucking sucks,” Shane explains. 

Ryan rubs his eyes at the same time Shane yawns. “Doesn’t have to suck.” 

“I don’t get to have you, Ryan. I’ve already made up my mind to keep that part of myself away from you.” Shane says it with such an air of finality, but Ryan makes a dissatisfied noise. 

“Part of you clearly doesn’t give a shit,” Ryan counters, “if that part’s confessing for the record. Literally.” 

Shane sighs. “You just weren’t supposed to hear that. You were supposed to—” 

“Can I touch you?” Ryan interrupts, clenching his fingers and letting go, ready to reach out. 

“What?” 

“I just—like my hand. Not—not anything unsavory—” 

“Unsavory, Ryan, what the fuck?” 

“Can I? I’m so tired.” 

“Ryan….” Shane sighs. “You can do whatever you want.”

Carefully, slowly, Ryan reaches out and the tips of his fingers hit solid flesh, the soft cotton of a t-shirt. The breadth of Shane’s chest. Ryan drifts up to press his hand over Shane’s shoulder, and down his arm. Find his hand. 

He laces their fingers together. 

“Just—” Shane disentangles their hands and reaches around Ryan’s waist and pulls him forward with enough force that Ryan’s immediately confronted with how close their faces are. 

Shane—” 

“I’m not going to kiss you, but this is what you wanted, isn’t it?” 

“Yeah. But don’t pretend you don’t want it, too,” Ryan mutters. “I don’t understand why I have to push you into everything. You’re always—everything—if the world could end tomorrow, why not just do what you want, even if that means being hurt?” 

“Why willingly spend time being hurt?” Shane whispers. “That’s what doesn’t make sense to me about you. You barrel into these situations, and you’re—” 

“What if I want you to kiss me?” 

“Do you want me to kiss you?” 

“Do you want to kiss me?”

“Two functioning adults should not have this much trouble. We just shouldn’t.” 

“It’s me and you,” Ryan reasons. “If we don’t find trouble, I’d be concerned.” He clears his throat. “And you’re avoiding the question.” 

“It’s almost five, we should probably sleep.” 

“Just kiss me, you idiot.” 

“No.” 

“Why not?” 

“Self-preservation.” 

“Shane—” Ryan’s breath is stolen, for a moment, when their foreheads press together, and he can feel Shane’s breath warm on his lips. 

“I don’t understand,” Shane whispers, “why it’s hard for you to grasp the fact that I don’t want to start something I’ll end up fucking up anyway.”  

“And I don’t understand,” Ryan whispers back, “why you can’t take a fuckin’ hint.” 

“Go to sleep, Ryan.” 

“Fuck you, kiss me goodnight.” 

“Neither of those things are going to happen.” 

“You’re horrible.” 

“I’m tired.” 

“You’ve got enough energy to keep arguing with me.” 

Shane makes a frustrated noise. “I need to think about this. I can’t just waltz into this, kissing you and shit, and not think of how it’s going to impact our life.” 

“You’re thinking too much.” Ryan touches his fingertips to Shane’s jaw. “Is this what you’re like when you actually talk about your feelings? Insufferable and unkissable?” 

Shane’s hand finds its way underneath Ryan’s t-shirt. Their legs tangle together. 

Ryan’s heartbeat takes off in his chest. 

Shane’s hand moves slowly, down and over until he’s pressed his grip against Ryan’s hip. Ryan curls his fingers through Shane’s hair. 

“Please,” Shane whispers. 

“It’s only an inch or two, Shane.” Ryan inhales sharp. “C’mon.” 

A breathless moment passes before Shane rolls them over, so Ryan’s lying underneath him, Shane’s body heavy. Ryan moves his leg so Shane presses in between his thighs. 

Tenderly, Shane lays his head on Ryan’s chest, and stays quiet. 

“You could have everything you want,” Ryan whispers. 

“I know.” 

Ryan runs his fingers through Shane’s hair and closes his eyes. 

 

-:-

 

Ryan experiences a quiet with Shane in the morning he hasn’t in a long, long time. It isn’t as though he hadn’t tried to get rid of the weird vibes; they’d woken up tangled up in each other like a pair of pocketed earbuds. Shane slipped right out of bed with a quiet good morning, and closed the bathroom door behind himself. Ryan laid in bed and waited for the alarm he’d set to go off. It was still fairly early, but they’d agreed to arrive at the office around noon. It was only nine thirty but considering Shane had barely slept for a few hours and Ryan was riddled with tension, it wasn’t going to be a good day for either of them. 

They spend most of the drive in quiet, the hum of music playing, something decidedly not Car Seat Headrest. Jay Z it is. 

When he drops Shane off at his building, Shane isn’t rude, or even mad. Not as far as Ryan can tell. He is reserved, though, leaving with a small, “See you later,” as he gets out of the car and takes his bag with him. 

Ryan drives home, but he sits in the car for a while, flipping through Twitter and Instagram, unwilling to look at his email until he gets into work. 

He can admit he’d messed up. But—but not enough for this. Granted, Ryan had planned on confessing differently, with actual words, instead of unfiltered sentiments in the heat of the moment. In Ryan’s mind, though, it should have made it easier. It should have made Shane want to be closer. Because Ryan already knew, Shane had nothing to be worried about, because Ryan felt exactly the same. 

They had five years’ worth of three-month-chunks of time. 

Is it because I didn’t tell you?

What?

Is it because I didn’t tell you
about the record?

No. 

Tell me, then. I want to know. 

There’s nothing to tell. It’s just
a bad idea. 

It wasn’t a bad idea last night

It absolutely was a bad idea
last night

Were you not there???

I don’t get it

Are we just going to almost
kiss forever?

Probably

Ryan frowns at Shane’s message, and locks his phone screen. But then he unlocks it and sees Shane’s bubble rise. He waits for Shane’s response. 

Why didn’t you tell me?

So it is because I didn’t tell you

Funny

I guess you’re the only one that
gets to keep things to himself

Shane’s bubble rises and falls three times before it stays down. And Ryan’s mad enough that he keeps going. 

Were YOU ever going to say
anything?

Probably not, Ryan. 

Look where we are now

Except we don’t have to stay here

Just say you want to be with me

Just fucking kiss me

Shane leaves him on read.

“Coward,” Ryan huffs, rolling his eyes. He locks his screen and gets out of the car. 

 

-:-

 

When Ryan gets to the office, Shane’s already made it in. He hasn’t said anything to Shane in a few hours, so he’s tense when he sits down, but Shane extends a Hey, and Ryan really, really doesn’t know where they stand. 

“Shane—” 

“No.” 

“I just want to talk—” 

“No.”

Shane—” 

Shane glares at Ryan, enough that Ryan just exhales hard, rolling his eyes. Ryan turns his attention to his monitor and starts answering emails. 

 

-:-

 

It’s almost three in the afternoon when Katie comes around to their desk. They’ve been working in silence, only exchanging words when necessary, only about the projects they’re working on. 

“Can one of you guys make a trip for these supplies?” she asks, handing Ryan the sheet of paper with a list of items. “It’s Britt’s birthday tomorrow and I want to put up some decorations. We’re having balloons delivered.” 

“Oh, right,” Ryan says. “Yeah, I’ll go.” 

“Shane, go with him,” Katie decides after a second. 

“I think Ryan’s got it,” Shane declares, his voice easy, but Ryan tenses. 

“If you’re not going to talk to me about it then get over it, Shane.” 

Get over it?” Shane stands up and claps his hands together. The sound of it echoes through the office. “Get over it, he says.” He looks at Katie, and Katie’s eyes widen, before she looks at Ryan. 

“Whoa—” 

“Shane—” 

“Let’s go, Ryan,” Shane says, snatching his phone from the desk and breezing past Katie and Ryan through the office. 

“What happened?” Katie asks, but it’s more of a demand to spill as she puts her hand on her hip, staring at him concerned. 

“I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I do,” Ryan promises, standing, grabbing his phone and keys, and giving her a sympathetic smile on his way out to follow Shane. 

 

-:-

 

Ryan finds him standing against his passenger side door, arms crossed over his chest. Ryan hates how the attraction bubbles inside of him, how badly he likes that Shane’s emotions are all over the place, uncontained. He likes that there’s a flush that creeps down Shane’s neck, falling hidden beneath his collar. 

“I can’t believe you told me to get over it,” Shane mutters when they’re in the car, driving towards Target. 

Ryan purses his lips and grips the steering wheel. He elects not to say anything. 

 

-:-

 

The cart is half full when Ryan spies a couple passing by the aisle, holding hands. It’s two women, and there’s a slight pang in Ryan’s chest when he looks at Shane, where he’s crouched over a box of Happy Birthday banners. 

“I just don’t get it, Shane,” Ryan muses. 

“Well, figure it out, Ryan. Because what you want isn’t going to happen,” Shane advises, his voice flat, his attention still on the box of decorations he’s sorting through.

“But aren’t you lonely?” 

Shane whips his head and looks up at Ryan, and Ryan’s standing there, expecting an answer. “What?” 

“Don’t you want to—I don’t know. Don’t you want to be happy with someone?” 

“I’m happy the way I am now,” Shane says, his voice careful. “And I don’t want to do this in the middle of a Target, Ryan.” 

“Well, you never want to do anything anywhere and I’m tired, and I just—I spend a lot of time thinking about you, Shane. Don’t you think about me?” 

“All the fucking time, and I just said I didn’t want to do this right now.” 

“Shane—” 

Standing up, he sighs. “It’s not going to work. That’s why I don’t want to do this. Look at what we’re doing right now—” 

“Oh, fuck you—God, Shane.” 

Shane keeps sticking decorations into the basket, haphazardly, and Ryan wants to grab his hands, just so he’d stop. He didn’t spend the better part of a month smoking weed and listening to a band, only to wallow in his feelings without the resolution he’d been looking for. There’s no way he spent this much time dissecting through the this and that of the two of them, only for Shane to stand in his way. 

“You don’t want to do this, but you know what you did,” Ryan presses. 

“It was an accident.” Shane rolls his eyes. 

“Accident my ass. You don’t go spewing all your feelings by accident. You said them because you couldn’t keep them in anymore and as a product, you got mixed up, and now I know, and you don’t want to deal with it, but I’m not going to let you give up because—”

“Because what?” 

“Because you’re scared of being loved or whatever.”

Shane rolls his eyes. “You’re such a pain in the ass, Bergara.” 

“Why are you so—why—just feel something, damn it!” Ryan smacks his hands against his thighs, his breath rushing into his lungs. 

Calmly, Shane steps forward and looks Ryan straight in the eye; Shane’s never been such a looming figure, but he is in this moment, standing tall, nearly intimidating. Ryan’s heart kickstarts in his chest, and he tries not to let it get to him. “The whole reason we’re having this godforsaken conversation is because I do feel something.” Shane’s voice is low, quiet. “You’re just upset because I’m not doing what you want. Take a lap, Ryan. Let it go.” 

No.” 

“I don’t want to be with you, because I know, I know, I’m not going to be enough. Ryan—you like grand gestures and sweet shit. You’re a goddamn romantic. And I’m never going to scratch that itch for you. I can barely deal with the fact that you know how I feel. And you want to be with me? How’s that going to work? You’re impossible to please.”

“I’m not impossible—”

“You could find a nice girl—” 

Ryan gasps, loud enough for the middle aged woman standing behind Shane to turn and look at Ryan. He ignores her. 

“Or guy—or whatever the fuck.” Shane shrugs his shoulders. “I won’t make you happy, Ryan. It doesn’t matter how I feel about you.” 

“For a smart guy, you’re so fuckin’ dumb. Like I didn’t already fuckin’ know all that about you.” Ryan shakes his head. “If I wanted to be with someone else, I’d be with someone else.” 

Ryan, petulantly, turns and stomps away, but he can hear Shane behind him. 

“Ryan—” 

“Leave me alone—”

“Ryan, come here—“

“No, leave me alone!” 

They make it into the parking lot, and Ryan thinks, if Shane would have wanted to catch up to him, he could have, considering his stupid sasquatch legs. He’s almost to the car, and when he makes it, Shane grabs Ryan’s hand, and before Ryan can yank it away, Ryan’s pressed between Shane’s body and the hard surface of the car door and Shane’s mouth is on his. 

All of the anger bleeds out onto the black tar, and all that Ryan’s left with is the weepy relief of finally

Shane’s lips are soft and warm, but his kiss is almost bruising, claiming. Ryan pushes up to the tips of his toes, hands coming around Shane’s neck. Shane’s fist presses against the small of his back, holding Ryan close, and a heat blossoms through Ryan’s body, he gasps into Shane’s mouth. Shane kisses him with everything, with every moment of the last five years. Ryan can feel every word, every feeling, every wistful, wishing, wanting sigh Shane’s ever made in the push and pull of his mouth, in the strength of his hands. It’s bullshit that they wouldn’t work. It’s bullshit because this? This is just the surface, an iced over lake that needs the pressure of both of their weight to give way. 

When they pull away, Ryan opens his eyes to find Shane looking at him, surprised etched into the high rise of his brow, the part of his wet lips. 

Ryan huffs a breath. “In the fuckin’ parking lot of a Target, Shane, I can’t believe you.” 

“Well, you wouldn’t shut up,” Shane mutters. 

“You better not get used to that, cause that isn’t going to work all the time.” 

All Ryan can do in this fragile moment is let it go, and pull Shane back in and kiss him again, right against the passenger door of his car, the long solid length of Shane’s body on his. 

 

-:-

 

They have to go back into Target and rescue their abandoned shopping cart, which, thankfully, is still in the middle of the aisle. As Shane pays for their things, Ryan puts the bags in the shopping cart. They keep looking at each other. They keep looking at each other, and when Ryan smiles, Shane tries to hide his own smile, but he can’t.

By the time all is said and done, there really isn’t a point to going back to the office. So, Ryan, instead, takes Shane home. And the ecstasy of the kiss hardens back into his anger, simmering underneath his flesh. 

When Ryan parks, Shane doesn’t immediately get out. 

“Come up with me,” he says. 

“No, I’m pissed at you.” Ryan looks out of the windshield and then back towards Shane. 

“Just come up, please?” There’s vulnerability there, and Ryan would be remiss not to notice, but he can’t just give in. 

“You don’t get to kiss me to win an argument, Shane.” 

“It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? For me to kiss you?” 

“Yes, and—” 

“Will you just come inside?” Shane interrupts, his voice loud and uncharacteristically authoritative. “Please?” 

Ryan looks out of the windshield and then back at Shane. “No. Go home, I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

“Is this how it’s going to be?” 

“Shane—” 

“What was all the fighting for? You got what you wanted.” Shane sighs. “This is what I was afraid of, Ryan. This is why I didn’t want to kiss you. Because I knew the second I did, I couldn’t take it back and—and I’d want to do it again.” 

“I swear to god, Shane.” Ryan unclicks his seatbelt and leans over the center console, grabbing Shane by the back of his neck and pulling their faces close. He looks at Shane for a moment, and then another, before Shane leans in, kissing him hard, bruising, enough that Ryan fists his hands into the fabric of Shane’s t-shirt to keep him close. 

They kiss for a long time, until Ryan’s hips ache from being twisted, digging into the seat buckle, until his lips are raw from the scruff of Shane’s beard, until he’s sure Shane’s hands have left bruises against his waist from how hard he grips Ryan’s flesh, until his hands ache to strip Shane from his clothing and acquaint themselves with blushing flesh. 

“Come inside,” Shane murmurs against his lips, a soft plea, and something inside of Ryan breaks, cracks wide open at the raw, confession-like sound of Shane’s voice. 

“I’m not mad that you kissed me,” Ryan says finally. “I’m mad at you because you keep telling me you’re not good enough for me. And I would fuckin’ hope, Shane, that you figure out very quickly that the only person that gets to decide what’s good for me, is me.” Ryan tightens his fingers in Shane’s shirt, looking him straight in those Tennessee whiskey eyes he adores so much. “And if I want you, it’s because I think you’re good for me.” 

Shane blinks and looks away. “Yeah, all right.” 

“You deserve good things too, dummy. What happened to make you think you don’t?” 

“Nothing,” Shane murmurs. “We waited too long.” 

“Too long?” 

“Yeah.” 

“What’s too long?” 

“Mexico.”

“Mexico?” Ryan blinks rapidly. “Mexico where we thought we were going to be murdered, Mexico?” 

“That’s the one,” Shane says with a wave of his hand. He looks at Ryan intently. 

“Why?”

Ryan expects Shane to look away, but he doesn’t. He looks right into Ryan’s eyes, and takes in a deep breath. His mouth cocks into a lopsided smile. Ryan untangles his hand from Shane’s t-shirt and touches his face, cupping his jaw so he can trace Shane’s bottom lip with his thumb. 

“Well?” Ryan’s impatience bubbles and overflows. “Tell me.”

“I was sitting on a boat, looking at your face, and I thought if something happened, and that’s how I spent the last few conscious moments I had, then I was good with that. And okay, we got home fine; what a trip, right? But—but that feeling never went away. We—it just stayed. And obviously got big enough to have us—talking about it, but—“

“Mexico,” Ryan says, dazed. “My face. Me.” 

“Yeah.” Shane leans in and kisses Ryan, and Ryan falls into it all over again before Shane says, “Come inside.” 

 

-:-

 

It takes them several moments to get out of the car, and when they do, Shane waits on the sidewalk for Ryan, and they walk inside the building after Shane lets them in. 

Part of Ryan still wants to be mad, but he can’t find it in himself. Not when Shane’s confession still sits between them. It isn’t even about the record anymore, but the truth of it all, how long it’s been, how they’ve been standing on opposite sides of that line, thinking there was a glass wall, when they could have reached through the whole time. 

They hadn’t been ready, is the only conclusion Ryan comes to now. They might not even be ready now, but who is when it comes to things like this? Ryan hadn’t ever thought that Shane would knock him over, right off his feet, and then offer him a hand and haul him back up. 

Inside Shane’s apartment, Ryan’s not even through the front door before he says, “We can’t have sex yet.” He kicks off his Vans and leaves them by the door. Shane mirrors him, dropping his keys on the table next to the door, shifting the deadbolt to lock the door. 

“That’s not exactly the reason I invited you in,” Shane says, his eyes warm, his features at ease; Ryan wants to crawl through his mind and find out if it’s real, if he’s just chill with it all. He watches Shane stuff his hands into his pockets. 

Ryan’s seen him stand like this half a million times, and all he can remember is that night, when all Ryan wanted to do was come home. Well, here. Right here. 

“I—sorry.” Ryan runs his fingers through his hair and wrings his fingers. Shane shrugs his shoulders. 

“We can still hang out like—“

“I just think that if we do it too fast then—“

“We don’t have to do—“

“I’m just worried we won’t be—“ 

They both pause and Shane sighs. “Come on.” 

Shane sits on his side of the couch, legs stretched out in front of him. Ryan claims his spot, crossing his legs. Then he uncrosses them and pulls his knees up to his chest. 

There’s a lot more space between them than Ryan has become accustomed to when there isn’t anyone around to see them gravitate towards each other. 

“I just really, really enjoyed kissing you. I already love it, so I know, I know, sex with you, because of the way I feel, is going to leave me hollow if you decide, ultimately, that you don’t want to be with me.” 

Shane blinks at him, his blush delicate over his cheeks before it overtakes the bridge of his nose, the flesh of his neck. Ryan kind of wants to move forward and touch it, touch him. It’s trouble, is what it is.

“We can do—we can just—whatever you want, Ryan. We can do whatever you want.” 

“I’m worried now. What if we did wait too long?” 

“What—“ Shane sighs, running his fingers through his hair. 

“Or should we just get it over with?” 

“Get it over—Ryan, no. What happened in the five minutes between your car and right now?” 

“Fear? It’s all-consuming. Like a virus.” 

That makes Shane smile and the tension eases, so it’s just the two of them sitting on the couch, sort of looking at each other, but also sort of not. A beat passes and Ryan looks down at his toes, still in his socks.

“I just want to feel like we have time,” Ryan says. “There’s just—there’s this pressure to be all over you.” 

“What are you scared of?” Shane asks. 

“The same thing you are,” Ryan answers.

“That’s not true.” Shane shakes his head. 

“It is. Because—you said you didn’t want this to be something you’d inevitably fuck up. You don’t think I’m scared of that? You don’t think—” 

Shane reaches across the space between their bodies and wraps his hand around Ryan’s ankle. 

“You’re working yourself up,” he says softly. “Don’t do that.” 

“I don’t know how to do anything else,” Ryan jokes. He stretches his legs out, setting them over Shane’s lap. He turns his attention to the ceiling, staring at it like he might find the answers he’s looking for.

They’re quiet for a while, which isn’t normal. Ryan wonders if they broke it. If it’s broken now, irrevocably so, to the point where maybe they can’t go back. 

Gently, Shane’s hand smooths over the expanse of Ryan’s shin, cupping the side of his knee. The pressure of Shane’s fingers against the back of his knee almost tickles. Ryan sits up, leaning his forehead on Shane’s shoulder. 

“All of this was easier when we didn’t know,” Ryan whispers. Easier when they touched without question, without consequence, when they existed with each other in small spaces and didn’t ask questions, didn’t seek answers.

Shane laughs quietly. “It wasn’t, though, really.” When Ryan shifts his legs over Shane’s lap, Shane touches his face. “It was never easy, Ryan. You gotta know that.” He swipes his thumb over the apple of Ryan’s cheek and it’s much too intense, too much, too much, too much. Ryan closes his eyes. 

“It didn’t feel like this,” Shane murmurs. “It’s out in the open now. We just gotta figure out what to do with it.” 

“What do you want to do with it?” 

“I have no idea, and right now I don’t want to do anything but kiss you.” 

Ryan blinks his eyes open, looking up at Shane through his lashes. “Yeah, that—please,” he says, nodding his head. 

They meet in the middle, leaning into each other until their mouths press together. Ryan kisses Shane’s bottom lip first, and then the top, falling into the feeling all over again. Every time they kiss can’t feel like the first time. Ryan’s sure it must have to get old; he’ll get used to the prickle of Shane’s beard, his harsh exhale, the way he swipes his tongue over Ryan’s top lip like a question. 

Ryan, though, meets him with an answer, touching the tip of Shane’s tongue with his own; Shane’s hand grips his waist and Ryan sinks his fingers in Shane’s hair. 

It’s a kiss with momentum, with gravity and heat, all those heavy emotions in Ryan’s chest coming out to play now, making him eager, chasing Shane’s mouth when Shane pulls away. 

“I thought you said you didn’t invite me up for sex,” Ryan pants, his other hand pushing its way up underneath Shane’s t-shirt. 

“I didn’t,” Shane mumbles, leaning in to kiss down Ryan’s neck. 

“Well, you’re kissing me like you did.” Ryan struggles to breathe, sighing when he feels the pressure of Shane’s teeth.

“I’m just kissing you, Ryan.” Shane says, voice smeared all along the flesh of his throat. 

“Are you thinking about it?” 

“What?” 

“Sex.” 

“Of course, I’m thinking about it.”

“Tell me what you're thinking.” 

Shane pulls back to look at Ryan. “You just said—“

“I want to know,” Ryan says, his voice low. Ryan shifts his body back, leaning up against the armrest on the opposite side of the couch. Shane follows, hovering over him on his hands and knees, his hair falling into his eyes. Ryan brings Shane down on top of him, and Ryan huffs a breath at the hot press of Shane’s body, the way their hips press together. 

Shane kisses him again, like they’d never stopped in the first place. Ryan gasps into his mouth, his tongue skating slick over Shane’s, thriving in the vibration of Shane’s groan when he pulls back, just to bite Shane’s bottom lip, dragging his teeth over it until he’s pulled back completely. 

“Tell me what you’re thinking about,” Ryan coaxes, rubbing his hands over Shane’s back, up underneath his shirt so he can feel the heat of his naked flesh. Ryan wonders if his skin is flushed there, if it matches the pink draped over the bridge of his nose. 

“Ryan…”

“Come on, Shane, tell me—“ 

Suddenly, Shane takes Ryan’s hands and pins them against the cushions, and Ryan moans, slightly startled, a sharp thrill cutting through him. 

“Why do you have to be so agitating? Hmm? Just provoking until you get what you want.” Shane’s brow pinches together. 

Ryan hums, pushing his hips into Shane’s, testing the grip Shane has on his wrists. Shane doesn’t give, doesn’t let go.

“You made a whole record telling me how you feel,” Ryan says. “I want to know what it looks like in your head when you think about touching me.”

Shane lets one of his wrists go, and his palm drifts from Ryan’s wrists down his arm, slow over his ribcage just to squeeze his waist. He takes a shuddery breath and Ryan runs his fingers through Shane’s hair. 

Shane lets him go completely. He leans up and sits back on his heels in between Ryan’s knees. He looks at Ryan, shaking his head. 

“I think—” he takes a deep breath. He stands up, running his fingers through his hair. Ryan watches him, the way he rubs his face with both of his hands after taking off his glasses and tossing them unceremoniously onto the coffee table. 

“Ryan—” 

There’s fear that Shane is seconds away from running. That Shane’s a moment away from asking him to go. Ryan stands up and Shane gathers him close, pulls him in by his hips. 

“It’s impossible to tell you what it looks like when I think about touching you. I just know—I just know that I want you to ruin me. I want you to—I want your mouth—marks—”

Ryan touches both his hands to Shane’s face, his heart beating so fast in his chest. 

“Where?” Ryan whispers. 

“Everywhere. I want you—I just want your body with mine. I know—it’s not dirty or sexy even, but it is what it is.” 

Ryan’s breath hitches. Shane blinks slowly. 

“I want to be underneath you. Just close my eyes and let you take whatever you want.” 

The world seems to pause as it waits for Ryan to respond. 

“Ryan—” Shane kisses him again, hands easily finding flesh underneath Ryan’s t-shirt. Shane crowds into him, pushing him up against the bookshelf where he keeps all his records. There’s noise, the clatter of something falling to the ground, but Ryan’s body flushes with heat. Shane presses his thigh between Ryan’s and Ryan shifts his hips, just to ease the ache of pressure built low in his stomach. It does nothing but heighten the want that courses through him. 

“It’s never been easy, Ryan,” Shane murmurs. “To want something so bad you feel like you can’t have it—”

Ryan groans, rocking against Shane, wrapping his arm around Shane’s shoulder. Sparks of electricity ricochet through his veins when he feels Shane roll his hips, grinding into him, grunting Ryan’s name. 

He doesn't want to stop. 

“We have to stop. We have to—“ Ryan cuts himself off when he finds Shane’s mouth with his own, setting a hand in the middle of Shane’s chest and pushing softly. And there he goes, stepping back, running his fingers through his wrecked hair, lips shiny and red, clothes askew, hard in his jeans. 

“All right,” Shane says, walking away, heaving a sigh. “Are you sure, though?” 

He isn’t. Not the least bit, cause looking at Shane makes his whole body throb, like a coded alarm that tells him he’s found his target. 

Ryan shakes his head. 

“Do you—“ Shane clears his throat. “—do you wanna talk about it?” 

“Fuck, dude, that’s so hot,” Ryan groans, and Shane laughs. 

“Is that a yes?” 

“We already talked about it. So, it’s either do or die,” Ryan says, crossing his arms over his chest. 

“You’re not going to die if you don’t fuck me,” Shane says pointedly. 

“Maybe not, but it’ll feel like I’m dying.” 

“Ryan.” 

“Okay, cons: we fuck, and you hate me, our friendship is destroyed, and we never talk again.” 

“Not gonna happen, but okay.” 

“Pros: we fuck and it’s really good, and we make this a thing, and probably adopt a dog.” 

“Why do you think I’m going to hate you? That doesn’t even make sense. I know you better than anyone else. Anyone. If I was ever going to hate you, I’d—we wouldn’t be talking about it.” 

Ryan sucks in a breath. 

“It’s quite the opposite actually. You know. Head over heels and the whole bit.” 

Stepping carefully, Ryan walks towards Shane, feels that gravitational pull, like he’s Shane’s moon. 

“For a while now,” Shane continues, eyeing him carefully. “A long time I’ve looked at you and wondered what it would be like to kiss you.” 

Ryan bites down on his lip and steps into Shane’s space. Shane’s hands come up and touch his waist, the pressure of his hands insistent, like this time, he isn’t letting Ryan go. 

“Only wanna be with you, and all that jazz.” 

“This is—” Ryan puts a hand on the back of Shane’s neck and kisses him, really kisses him. Without a fragment of doubt or indecisiveness. He kisses Shane like he should be kissed; deeply, wholeheartedly, pressing his body close, close, close. 

Up on the tips of his toes, he ignores the strain of his calves in favor of the rough scrape of Shane’s mouth against his own. Ryan decides right there, it’s stupid to be scared of anything when he’s always felt safe with Shane. This wouldn’t be any different. The touch of Shane’s hands isn’t any different now, when they hold him, keep him upright. All Shane has ever done was keep him upright. 

“I listened to that album,” Ryan says, pulling back. He watches the flutter of Shane’s eyelashes as he opens his eyes, heavy lidded. 

“What?” 

Twin Fantasy. It’s sad.”

“That’s love,” Shane says gently.

“No,” Ryan says. “I mean, yeah, it is, but not always. Can I play it?” 

Shane blinks at him, lips curving into a smile. “Is this why you were in San Francisco?” 

Ryan grins. “Maybe. Go sit.” 

Shane steals a kiss before he goes. 

Ryan kneels on the floor, looking through the titles of Shane’s modest collection, touching his fingers along the worn sleeves, searching past their Saturday blind picks. He finds the white spine, the lettering he’s become familiar with. 

He kisses the artwork before pulling the record from its sleeve and setting it on the player. When he’d dropped the pin, he looks back over to where Shane’s sitting, hands behind his head. He’s— 

Indescribable. Sure, Ryan could talk about the gentle strength of Shane’s arms, the relaxed expression of his face, the way he licks his lips when Ryan spares him a glance, how inviting the length of his body is. But he doesn’t spend the time thinking about it, just soaks it in, takes a moment to look and memorize, this moment as My boy, we don’t see each other much, doesn’t quite ring true. Ryan likes it that way. He sees Shane now. 

“I listened to it, front to back, sideways, upside down. Wanna know what I learned?” 

“What’d you learn?” 

Ryan steps forward, kneeling on the cushions, straddling the width of Shane’s hips. “I learned,” he says, lowering himself, “that you really, really wanna sleep next to me.” He leans in, hands on Shane’s shoulders. “Naked.” 

Shane’s laugh is soft, a little vibration when Ryan sets his mouth at the juncture of Shane’s shoulder and neck, kissing upwards to kiss the quickening pace of Shane’s pulse. His hands come around Ryan’s waist, underneath his t-shirt, and Ryan shivers. 

“Love can be happy, Shane. I swear,” Ryan promises. He curls his arms around Shane’s shoulders.

Shane doesn’t answer him, but it doesn’t matter, because Shane’s kissing him like he knows, like he believes it. The needy gasp of Shane’s voice convinces Ryan. 

Kissing Shane for the first time in the parking lot hadn’t been this. There’s no need to hold back because it’s just the two of them, where they can touch and be touched without being seen by people who don’t understand them. 

Ryan has all the time in the world; he can afford to spend it kissing like this, with increasing fervor, with hands that don’t settle for too long, with shifting hips that makes Shane gasp into his mouth. Ryan presses his hand against the side of Shane’s neck, draws his thumb down the column of Shane’s throat, feeling him swallow, the groan that reverberates. 

They kiss through you were all looking around and I hoped it was for me. They touch through we were wrecks before we crashed into each other. They keep each other close through I am terrified your body could fall apart at any second. 

They find their way, shifting their bodies; Shane lays back against the couch, Ryan with his hips between Shane’s thighs, using his teeth and tongue to mark the pink flush of Shane’s throat. 

“Listen, listen,” Shane gasps, and Ryan’s ears zero in on the rough breath Shane draws, the scrape of their jeans, and then the swell of the music hits him in the chest. He knows exactly what’s coming. They were connected at the back of the head; they had a conduit, their minds were the same.

A rush of emotion floods through his body, like the crash of an ocean wave over the shore. Ryan leans up on his elbows and looks down at Shane, who’s looking everywhere else but at him.

“Hey,” Ryan whispers, pressing a hand against Shane’s cheek. Shane’s eyes close and his body trembles underneath him. 

“Yeah?”

“Look at me.” 

“Kinda don’t want to,” Shane confesses. 

“If you’re gonna tell me how you feel, you gotta look at me when you do.” 

Sighing, Shane’s eyes find Ryan’s and Ryan’s feels a tightness in his chest, lying on top of Shane, looking down at him, face burdened with all of his emotions, for the first time since Ryan’s known him as a friend. 

He’s handsome in his vulnerability. It’s looking at the sun and forgetting it hurts too much to, then walking off into the sun anyway. 

“You really feel like this for me?” Ryan asks. He brushes his fingers through Shane’s hair, where it’s flopped over his forehead. Shane blinks slowly. 

“Yeah,” Shane answers. 

When I come back, you’ll still be here. 

Ryan leans in, brushing their noses together, then their lips, just the faintest bit, just to hear the pained hitch of Shane’s breath. and then; a proper kiss, where Ryan can feel the wet of Shane’s lips, the rush of his breath, the sweet nudge of his tongue that Ryan meets with his own, accompanied by the grip of Shane’s fingers along his spine, the slow push of his hips. 

Now, they’re drowning in each other. Or, at least, that’s how Ryan feels, overstimulated with the feeling of Shane’s hands on his body. 

It’s the desperation of Shane’s voice that does it for him, the raw sound of Ryan’s name rushing past his lips. 

Knees in the dips of old couch cushions, he can’t help but hitch his hips forward, encouraged by the strength of Shane’s hand splayed across the small of Ryan’s back. 

The album finishes; there’s something in that, too, that it’s just them now, the sounds they make, the gasp and moans, simple pleas. Ryan wouldn't wish to change it, not a single thing about being locked between Shane’s thighs, draped over him, gripping the armrest of Shane’s couch as their hips collide. 

“I wanna touch you, I wanna touch you,” Shane says, scraping his fingers over the fabric of Ryan’s t-shirt, tugging it off when Ryan pulls back and lets him.

Ryan stands up, and looks at the picture Shane makes: his hands up over his head as he lays back on the couch, clothes a mess, hard in his jeans, breathing like he’s running, hair sticking up all kinds of ways, eyes glittering— 

“Three months, right?” Ryan asks, breathless, like he’s been punched in the solar plexus just by the way Shane looks at him. 

“What?” 

“It should take three months,” Ryan says. 

And Shane is silent as he thinks, and when he realizes what Ryan means, it shows all over his face. “Three months—Ryan.” 

“You said it in the record. Sort of. So, I’m saying it back. Sort of.” 

Shane rubs his hands over his face. “Come back here,” Shane mumbles through his fingers. 

Ryan grins. “Hang on, cause God, I wanna fuck you to this record.” 

The sound of Shane’s laugh carries him to the record player, setting the needle back to the beginning. There’s the scratch that comes from the speakers, and then, the record starts again. The thick bassline accompanies him back towards Shane, and Shane watches him, leaning up on his elbows. Something compels him to stand, though, tall with slouching shoulders, and Ryan sets his hands on Shane’s hips, lifts Shane’s shirt with a little help over Shane’s head. they kick off their jeans. 

Shane brings Ryan in close as the song hits its climax, Shane’s mouth falling against his, hips pressed together. Ryan pushes down the elastic of Shane’s underwear, and Shane does the same for him, and it’s exhilarating that they’re naked together, with intentions. It feels fearless.  

Ryan pushes Shane back onto the couch and Shane pulls Ryan along with a hand around his wrist. He winds up back between the hot press of Shane’s thighs. Ryan finds it difficult to kiss when he’s rubbing his cock along the crease of Shane’s hip, gasping into Shane’s mouth. Shane’s hips lift into his own, Shane’s fingers pressed into the spaces between his ribs, the other low on his back. Music winds all around his body, his mind half listening to words and drumlines and thinking about every moment that led them here. 

Here, where Shane’s so quiet underneath him, his mouth pressed hot into Ryan’s shoulder—muffled moans—twist the heat in Ryan’s belly into something fiercely aching. Ryan didn’t know what it’d feel like, but he didn’t think it would be this, breathless, bursting at the seams, heart pounding in his chest. 

“Ryan—“ Shane grunts as he shifts his arms, his hands pressed into Ryan’s shoulder blades. Heat cuts through Ryan, brutal and unforgiving, and Ryan leans into it, into Shane, pressing their foreheads together. “Ryan,” Shane says again, as Ryan digs his fingers into the flesh of Shane’s thighs, and then nothing else as they build something between them, something that creates the breathy sound of their begging moans, the slick slide of their skin. All Ryan can feel is hot flesh underneath the sweaty grips of his hands, the flex of Shane’s thighs as he keeps them pressed in tight at Ryan’s waist, the awful ache in the arches of his feet as he curls his toes. There’s the pounding of his heart, the burning in his lungs, that sharp focus on the feeling of Shane underneath him, allowing Ryan to ruin him. 

Ryan leans up with all the strength he can muster to look down at Shane, watch him for the barest moment before he curls a hand at the side of Shane’s neck. When he grinds down hard, Shane groans, louder than the record, and Ryan keeps it up, witnessing the way Shane leans his head back, baring his throat. Ryan’s so lost in the feeling, so lost, but the music wraps around his body, maybe Shane’s too, like a tether. 

“Look at me,” Ryan says. “Come on, Shane.” 

Shane does. 

For a moment, it’s just the two of them, the hard roll of Ryan’s hips, and greedy eye contact. Shane’s mouth curves around the consonants of Ryan’s name, the heady, raw tone of his voice sponsoring the harsh grip of Ryan’s fingers into Shane’s hips.

“I wanna be inside you,” Ryan whispers, leaning forward, foreheads pressed together. Shane’s hands grapple over his back, his waist, fingers digging into flexing muscle. “I want to fuck you Shane, god, feel you around me, grab your hips—“ 

“Ryan,” Shane grunts, clutching his thighs tighter around Ryan’s hips. “Ryan, please.”

“Wanna push your legs back and watch you take me,” he murmurs, gasping when Shane’s fingernails scrape down his shoulder blades his spine, sparks of pain urging his hips forward. “Want you to let me in; let me in, Shane—“

Shane comes with a gasping moan that Ryan feels. He clutches Ryan’s body, bowing into him, clenching his eyes shut. Ryan’s never seen anything like it, like him. It sparks his own orgasm, hard and tremendous as he presses his lips against Shane’s cheek, shuddering as he breathes Shane’s name. He combs his fingers through Shane’s hair, ducking his head down to pant against Shane’s throat. 

They shake against each other, Shane wrapping his legs fully around Ryan, and Ryan tries his hardest to press closer, like he might be able to melt into Shane’s flesh. 

Ryan,” Shane whispers, and even then, he sounds wonderstruck, surprised. Ryan doesn’t want to pull back yet, could fall asleep comfortably even with the mess they’ve made. “Fuck, Ryan.” 

“What?” Ryan tries to pull back, but Shane doesn’t let him. 

“No, you can’t look at me. I will crumble into pieces and it’ll be embarrassing for the both of us.” 

Ryan huffs a laugh into Shane’s shoulder. “But I want to kiss you,” he mumbles into Shane’s skin, pressing a kiss there in the meantime. 

“How can you just say things like that with your mouth?” Shane sighs. “Just—no shame.” 

Ryan laughs again, and this time Shane lets him go, enough so Ryan can lean up, look down at him. Pink cheeks and glassy eyes, and there’s a scratch in the back of Ryan’s throat he won’t let consume him. With a hand on Shane’s cheek, Ryan presses his mouth to Shane’s, gentle and sweet. 

“That’s what I see when I think about you,” Ryan says with a grin. “I want that with you. I want everything with you, Shane.” 

 

-:-

 

The record ends and Ryan’s half asleep on Shane’s chest. His heartbeat has since slowed, and Shane’s fingers are gentle along the line of Ryan’s spine. 

They’re stuck together, but neither of them have made a move to clean themselves off. 

“Sorry,” Shane says quietly. 

“For what?” 

He presses into Ryan’s skin, where Shane must have scratched him because it makes Ryan hiss. He grins, though. 

“I have a feeling you’ll be apologizing for shit a lot, but don’t ever apologize for that.” 

“Fuck you, man.” Shane says with a wheezing laugh, one that makes Ryan’s chest tighten, because he’s heard it so many times before. 

“Tell me what you’re thinking.” 

“Just thinking about you. It’s the first episode of Spooky Small Talk up here with all the replays.” 

Ryan snickers into Shane’s neck, feeling something like pride blossom in his chest. 

“That good, huh?” Ryan asks. He moves just so he can cross his arms over Shane’s chest, rest his head as he looks at Shane. Shane inhales and hesitates, glancing away from Ryan and looking back. 

“You know how, sometimes, even though you’re still living through a specific moment in your life, you can just tell it’s going to have an impact? It’ll become pivotal to the general historic line of your life. It’ll be something you’ll remember for the rest of your life, each and every detail intact?” 

Ryan stays quiet and Shane takes one of Ryan’s hands in his own, fingers loosely laced together. 

“Obviously not the first time I’ve had sex,” Shane continues. “Maybe, though, the first time it meant more than slot a, tab b, you know.” 

“They have a word for that,” Ryan whispers. 

“Yeah, but don’t say it, cause the earth might just open up and swallow me whole.” 

“Be brave, say it anyway.”

“It’s gross, Ryan I can't.”

Ryan snickers. “Fuck, man. You drive me nuts.” 

“I just—I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’m happy, but it feels like—“

“Hey,” Ryan interrupts, frowning. He leans up on an elbow, leveling Shane with a heavy gaze. “Is this—do I have to remind you that you’re allowed to be happy with the things you want?”

“Maybe? Ryan, you’ve been—someone important to me for a long time. Forgive me if it’s somewhat surreal that—I don’t know. I don’t know Ryan. I’m going to be insufferable and annoying and—there’s gonna be times where you don’t like me because I’m not doing enough to—I don’t know.” Shane sighs, lets his head fall back.

Ryan touches his hand to Shane’s face, makes Shane look at him. “Yeah and? It’s like you forget I know you. I spent a lot of time thinking about who you are as a person. I know that you aren’t magically going to be okay and tell me everything you feel when you feel it just ‘cause we’re fucking now. It’s gonna be difficult. But it’s gonna be good, too. You have to recognize that I’m here for you. I’m here with you. And when it gets hard, then we’ll work on it. And I’m going to be insufferable and annoying and take pictures of you when the sun is setting and dedicate songs to you and write you Valentine’s day cards. There’s a middle ground somewhere.”

The curve of Shane’s smile could light up a million cities. “Middle ground. Okay.” 

This is a version of me and you that can exist outside everything else. 

 

-:-

 

EARLY ACCESS // Shane & Ryan Visit a Record Shop ● WWW

Hey guys, Shane here. Back with another fascinating trip into California’s best kept secrets. This week, Ryan and I visit this nifty little place, nestled between what used to be old houses in the chilly bay area. Now, it’s got one of the most baller record spots imaginable. Pay a visit. Cleo’s fascinating. If you think you know anything about music, she’ll change that.

Copyright keeps us from really digging in, but in any case, I think we have some fun. 

If you can spare some time, you should pick a song, and show it to someone you like. Or maybe even love. 

See you guys next week!

 

-:-