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Coming Home

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But I'd rather wake up beside you and breathe that ol' familiar smell
I never thought you could leave me, I figured I was the one
But I understand your sadness, so I guess I should just hold my tongue

But I'm comin' home





The smoke in the air makes Ryan’s eyes water. It’s miserable to be outside in this weather, but outside he has to be. The heat is merciless, not a breeze to be had for days now. The air is stagnant, stinking of burning and tasting of ash even through the layer of his mask. The pavement beneath his feet radiates heat. 

Across the parking lot, a door opens in the side of the building and Shane steps out, into the weak sun. 

The sight of his shadow across the hot asphalt makes a tangle of emotion and breath snag in Ryan’s lungs. It’s been so long since they were able to do more than wave at each other in passing, since they’ve been able to slide carefully around each other’s bubble of space, see each other’s smile behind a mask - and even today, they won’t be able to achieve this last. 

Shane looks both the same as he does on the screens Ryan’s been seeing him on for almost a year, and different. There’s something about the way he carries himself, something Ryan can’t quite pin down to a concrete change, but it’s not the same and Ryan wonders whether it’s just the year that was, or if there’s something else weighing on Shane, some different stress, something he hasn’t told Ryan about. 

There’s a lot more unsaid between them these days. It’s always been hard to get Shane to open up and without physical proximity, some of the intimacy of their relationship seems to have cooled, and Ryan’s not sure what to make of having noticed.

Shane’s wearing an old Unsolved t-shirt cut into a gaiter around the lower half of his face, shades pulled down over his eyes. His flip-flops slap against the ground as he makes his way over to Ryan. His hair fans out around his face, under the ballcap Shane’s wearing backwards. Using it, Ryan thinks, to hold his too long hair out of his face.It’s certainly a look. 

“Hey,” Shane says, when he gets close, close enough that their shadows cross and Ryan has to look up to look into Shane’s face. They haven’t been this close together in a long time. Ryan’s hands flex against his thighs and he shoves them into his pockets, to keep from doing something stupid and ill-advised like reaching out to grab Shane by the upper arms and haul him closer, just to feel the solidity of him.

“Yo,” Ryan answers. He thinks he’s managed to keep the ache out of that single syllable, and rocks back on his heels a little, just to make sure that anyone watching knows this is an extremely chill time he is having right now.  He’s not feeling very nonchalant at all about this. 

They stand looking at each other for a long, quiet moment. 

It’s both exactly what Ryan thought it would be and nothing like he’d secretly hoped. Shane’s as tall as he’s always been, still surprisingly broad in the shoulders, wearing a pair of shorts that on anyone else would land significantly closer to the knees, but on Shane, they offer an awful lot of thigh to anyone who wants to have a look. Ryan doesn’t linger on the border of cloth against skin, nor does his gaze spend any particular attention anywhere else before skipping back up to Shane’s face. He can just make out Shane’s eyes behind his sunglasses. Shane’s smiling behind the mask, eyes crinkling at the corners. 

“Good to see you,” Shane says, “you know, in real life.” He gestures with one hand, the flutter of his fingers catching Ryan’s gaze. 

“Same,” Ryan replies, absent. He’s still watching Shane’s hand move, thinking about how it’s been almost a year since the last time they were close enough to brush shoulders or reach out to tap each other on the arm, or for Ryan to insinuate himself into Shane’s personal space, in whatever way that he could. It makes him wonder if this Shane, months into isolation, will still let him do stuff like untie his shoes or dare him into pressing their palms together or stand close enough behind him that Ryan can feel the expansion of his chest when he breathes.

Ryan inhales, choking a little on the sudden lump in his throat. He coughs, clears his throat and presses a closed fist to the center of his chest against the burn under his ribs.

Shane frowns, eyebrows moving. “You okay?” 

Ryan lifts a hand to his head, pushing up the brim of his cap to shove his own too long hair back and then settling it back down onto his head. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he says, then, “you wanna eat?” 

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Shane says. “Let’s, uh, let’s do that.” 





“It’s not like I missed you or anything,” Ryan says, turning to pull a mug down from Shane’s cupboard. He grabs one for Shane, too. 

“Sure,” Shane agrees, agreeably. Ryan rolls his eyes. 

Ryan makes them both a cup of tea, shuffling through Shane’s cupboards ‘til he finds the box of decaf Earl Grey and then rummaging in Shane’s fridge for a lemon. 

“Just make yourself at home, eh?” Shane asks, from where he’d sunk onto his couch, and gotten as far as pulling off his shoes before deciding that a full day of airports and airplanes gave him the leeway to be less than a gracious host. 

Ryan pauses, box of tea in one hand, the lemon abandoned on the kitchen island in front of him. He sets the box down, but doesn’t let go right away and there’s no quip coming, Shane can see that in the way Ryan’s shoulders have gone up around his ears. 

Shane was only gone for two weeks, how could he have misjudged the playful banter this badly? He must be really slipping. 

“Ry? I was just kidding. Mi casa es su casa , and whatever. You know that.” 

Ryan blinks. 

“Buddy?” Shane’s halfway up off the couch. 

“Shit,” Ryan says, and he turns away from Shane’s gaze, his hands coming up to cover his face.

“Y’alright?” Shane pads into the kitchen, and reaches for the lemon, rolling it towards himself and then sending it back to the other side of the bench. It fetches up against the box of tea, having rolled off in one direction instead of straight back. 

Ryan sniffs, but when he turns around his eyes are clear. He plucks the box from the counter and flips it open, pulling out two tea bags and setting them on the counter next to the kettle and mugs. He shrugs when Shane catches his eye.

Shane nods. 

He’s been gone for two weeks, and sure they texted in that time and sure it’s not like they haven’t been out of each other’s sight for longer than that before, but it’s just, well, this is the first time since–since everything, and maybe Shane missed work, missed video chats, missed Ryan, more than he realized would. It was a good visit, and Shane’s happy he went and he’s happy he’s come home. 

Home. Where Ryan is, standing on the other side of Shane’s island, looking at Shane the way he sometimes looks at the front entrances of haunted locations. Like Shane’s something scary to be conquered, and like Ryan’s not sure if he can do it alone, but he’ll walk out on the limb anyway.

“I did, you know,” he offers, because most of the time Ryan is the brave one and Shane’s just along for the ride, but he figures he can take his turn now. 

“Did what?” 

Shane takes a deep breath and looks down at the countertop, fingers curled on the scarred surface. He looks back up at Ryan, who is looking back at him, face breaking into a smile before Shane even gets the words out. “Miss you.” 

“Me too, buddy, me too.”  





It’s raining in Los Angeles and Ryan’s avoiding puddles as he walks, with purpose and direction, head up, shoulders back, towards the doors to the complex of start up suites Breather rents out. 

The Watcher office is on the second floor, around the back side of the building, so no one in the office can see him coming. 

Figures that it would rain today, of all days. Ryan clears the door and swipes himself in through the tech incubator on the ground floor, so he can take a detour through their kitchen. He runs a hand through his wet hair, shaking the drips off his fingers. 

The tech incubator always has the best snacks, and Ryan knows Shane likes the little granola bite things, even though Ryan is convinced they taste of cardboard pretending to be peanut butter. He pops into the kitchen, nods a greeting at a green haired individual sitting on the counter, phone in their hands and a smoothie at their hip. Ryan is ignored, and no one questions him about his retrieval of a plate of the granola things and a couple of actual cookies for the people on their team who do not eat like bunny rabbits with no taste buds. 

He’s only a little damp when he gets up the stairs. He takes them two at a time, messenger bag banging against his hip as he goes, balancing the plate of goodies in one hand and holding the railing with the other. 

The stairwell door sticks, and Ryan has to put his weight into it to pull it open, but it gives with a click of the latch and then he’s into the carpeted hallway of the second floor. He slows as he approaches their door. 

It’s been more than a year since they’ve all been in the office together regularly. 

This isn’t the first-first day, but it’s still so new, to be able to swipe open the office door and walk in and find not just empty desks, but the chatter of conversation and the clatter of keyboards and the never-ending war of Shane’s playlist vs Brittney’s, and the boundless enthusiasm of Steven’s push to make! things! happen!

(To be able to lean into Shane’s space at their shared desk space, to be able to smell him when Shane leans back; woodsy spice and something softer and sweeter, to be able to tap him on the knee, punch him in the shoulder, sit close enough to be touching on the couch while they film Watcher Weekly and the Pluses. To see Shane looking back at him, without two screens in the way, from close enough that he can feel the heat of Shane’s body—)

Ryan takes a moment before he pushes open the door, takes a deep breath, and then walks in. 

The chorus of hellos that greet his appearance would make anyone feel welcome, but it’s really only the one smile that Ryan’s looking for. He finds it, waiting like it always is, in the corner of Shane’s mouth. 

“Hey, man,” Shane says, when Ryan sets the plate of goodies between their keyboards. 

“For you,” Ryan says, turning the plate so the granola bites are on Shane’s side. 

Shane’s gaze goes to the snacks and then comes back up to Ryan’s face. Shane’s smile blooms fully, and Ryan feels it all the way down to his toes.





Shane looks over just as Ryan’s locking his phone and catches a glimpse of the lockscreen. He’s pretty sure he knows that picture. In fact, he’s pretty sure he took it. Ryan looks up, catches Shane’s gaze and his eyes widen.

Ryan stuffs his phone deep into his bag, out of the reach of Shane’s hands. 

“Am I your lockscreen, Ryan?” Shane asks, trying to get through the flutter of Ryan’s hands and into the still unzipped bag. Ryan redoubles his efforts to get the bag out of Shane’s reach, but Shane’s got a much longer reach than Ryan ever remembers and he manages to snag the phone just as Ryan’s pulling his bag away. 

Shane presses the button on the side to wake it up, and there it is, in all its glory. Ryan’s lockscreen. 

“That’s me!” Shane says, brandishing Ryan’s phone at him. “Why am I on your lockscreen, Ryan?” 

Ryan doesn’t say anything but the flush that spreads, blotchy, across his cheeks says enough. 

“Am I on your homescreen too? Or just out here?” Shane taps in Ryan’s access code, and lo and behold, the same picture is Ryan’s homescreen too. 

It’s a nice shot, Shane will admit, one he’d taken on the trip to DC last summer. A selfie to remember going down to the Lincoln Memorial on The Mall late in the evening, to avoid the crowds. It hadn’t been a warm night,  but they’d found a decent spot to sit for a minute, and the lighting had been alright for taking a picture or two. 

It had been a good night, Shane remembers. Quiet conversation, and an easy affection between him and Ryan. 

Shane had posted one as a story on Instagram, the other, one with their faces pressed much closer together, had seemed too intimate to share with the public. This is the one Ryan’s using as the wallpaper on his phone. 

“Give me back my phone, please,” Ryan says, holding out his hand. 

“No, I don’t think that I will,” Shane says, reflexive. Ryan huffs and Shane’s pretty sure he’d stamp his foot if he thought he could get away with it, but he can’t, so he won’t. 

“Shane,” Ryan whines, “come on.” 

“Not until you tell me why you have this as your lockscreen. You know that’s pretty–” Shane cuts himself off. For all that Ryan is the one that usually rides the ‘no homo’ line, Shane was absolutely going to take that tack himself tonight. 

“Pretty what, Shane?”

“Uh,” Shane says, floundering. “Pretty–uh, pretty nice? It’s a nice picture. I like it.” Shane hands Ryan back his phone. 

Ryan grabs it back and locks it and stuffs it into the back pocket of his jeans.

“You weren’t supposed to see that,” Ryan mutters.  

“Well, obviously,” Shane says. “Are you embarrassed about it?” 


Shane gestures meaningfully in Ryan’s direction. “Well, like, that seemed like something someone who was embarrassed would do.” 

“I’m not,” Ryan says, “it’s just for me, not for you. Or anyone else.”

“It’s your lockscreen, Ryan. Anytime your phone lights up, whoever’s around’ll see it.” 

Ryan looks down at his feet. He mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like ‘I missed you’ but Shane is quite sure he’s heard correctly. 

“Sorry, what? These old ears ain’t what they used to be.” 

“I said I missed you, alright?” Ryan grits out like it hurts him to do so. 

Shane’s at a loss. “I’ve been with you for like, three days. We’ve been filming and travelling and shit, what’s there to miss?” 

“Not now,” Ryan says. His shoulders slump. “Before.” 

He looks up at Shane, and there’s something in his face that makes Shane take a pause before immediately giving in to his natural impulse to further badger Ryan about missing Shane when Shane is standing right in front of him. It dawns on him that Ryan missed him during that long stretch of time where they and everyone else they knew were confined to their little islands of home and essential services only. 

“Oh, Ryan,” Shane says, once he’s realised. Facetiming is only so good. No wonder Ryan’s been more underfoot than usual this trip. He reaches up to rub the back of his neck. “I missed you, too.”





Shane checks his watch against the time listed on the arrivals board and sighs. It’s very late, or very early, but definitely a time that no sane person should be awake, and here he is. He’d napped earlier, to prepare for this long wait, but he’d forgotten how interminable the middle of the night in an airport can be. Other folks milling about waiting for their own arrival are talking in family clumps, or pulling out phones to check the time or for a ‘just landed!’ text. 

Shane’s own phone is held loosely in his hand, tapping against his thigh.

The hiss of sliding doors draws his eye towards the far end of the room, and he pushes down the anticipation ruthlessly, Ryan’s plane isn’t due for at least another fifteen minutes. He watches the stream of people, pulling baggage or carrying sleeping children or doing neither and striding confidently through the space and towards the outside gate. 

The arrivals board updates, and the colour change catches Shane’s eye. 

Not Ryan’s plane, but someone else’s, flashes as delayed. 

Shane’s phone buzzes and he nearly drops it. 

The text notification on the screen makes something squeeze in his chest. 

were landed
see u soon
miss u

Shane’s thumbs hover over the keyboard for a long moment. 

He’s missed Ryan, for the three weeks he’s been away, pitching investors and kitting out their New York branch. Watcher’s taken off in such a huge way. The close of the pandemic had really sent them pushing for dreams they’d never quite imagined they would ever achieve, and now, they’re setting up a satellite office and entertaining offers from Hulu and Amazon and Netflix. When Shane had left the office earlier, it had been on the heels of Steven, Katie and Nicole going into a meeting with the tourism board in Bali. 

Steven’s text, waiting for Shane when he’d woken up, had been a series of exclamation points and directions to check his email. Shane hasn’t, he wants to open the email with Ryan standing next to him, so he can find Ryan’s hand with his own, and squeeze those fingers tight, while they both watch a show they’d slaved over go international in a way that neither of them had ever dreamed.

Shane checks his watch again. 

It’ll be any minute now. 

He’s looking at the doors when they part ahead of the incoming group of people, and it’s by virtue of being taller than the average bear that he spots Ryan almost immediately. He’s bundled into a pink hooded sweatshirt, hair hidden under a ballcap pulled down over his brow and pulling his carry-on and his bag along behind him. His shoulders are slumped with tiredness, and he pauses as he nears the edge of the cordoned off area, looking up. He’s wearing glasses. 

Shane grins, and lifts a hand. 

Watching Ryan’s face when his gaze lands on Shane is one of Shane’s favourite things. He loves the way the smile breaks over Ryan’s face like the sun rising. It blooms warm in Shane’s chest, unfurling like tropical flower petals into a mass of affection that threatens to strangle him with the force of it. 

Ryan’s pace picks up and soon he’s standing right in front of Shane. 

He looks up, eyes softening. He sets his bags upright on their edges, pulling Shane in close. “Hey,” he says, voice scratchy from sleeping on the plane.

“Hiya,” Shane says, reaching up to graze one finger along the line of Ryan’s jaw, feeling the scrape of stubble.

Ryan leans up onto his toes, and Shane stoops to meet him. 

When they break apart, there’s a flush riding the highlights of Ryan’s cheekbones and Shane squeezes Ryan’s hips before letting him go. 

“I’m glad you’re home,” Shane says, and reaches for Ryan’s bag with one hand and for Ryan’s hand with the other. Ryan’s fingers tighten around Shane’s and they step out into the Los Angeles semi-dark.