Shane wakes up first. He almost always does. He can barely see Ryan, huddled down beneath all the blankets beside him, and Shane spends a while just lying close to him. And he thinks about how the rest of Utah, the rest of Nevada are going to sprawl on and on, as they drive through the desert — that the scenery will be all haze and dust and Shane doesn’t know, exactly, what waits for him in Los Angeles. What waits for them. And he tries not to be scared about it.
Maybe Ryan knows. Maybe Ryan’s always known California and will always know California, while Shane… he’s not sure what he’s going to do. Not really. But he knows he wants to be… here — he wants to keep waking up next to Ryan.
Even in this shitty van where there’s not enough space to stretch out his legs and his knees hurt… that’s what he wants.
Ryan’s still too asleep to really respond when Shane finally gives in to the ache in his joints and pulls away from him, towards the door. As Shane struggles to get dressed without moving the mattress too much, Ryan makes a sound that’s not actually words, but has the meaning of what’s going on? and Shane says, soft, “It’s okay,” and Ryan falls asleep again, because he believes him.
Shane unlatches the back door as quietly as he can, but it still clunks loudly as it opens, and he slips gratefully out in to morning air. It feels like all his muscles are sore, but it’s a good kind of ache, except for where his knees protest against being curled up all night. He hasn’t put on his glasses, so there’s this… weird softness to the world. He reaches up and rubs his face, drags his fingers through his hair. His watch tells him it’s just past eight in the morning and, depending on when Ryan wakes up, they should be back in L.A. before the end of the day.
And Shane’s still not sure about work, or his leave of absence; he’s still not sure about his apartment which he remembers feeling so lonely, and he’s still not sure about how to fit back into that old life, or what it will change about him and Ryan and, he thinks, he doesn’t want it to change anything. He wishes they could just stay the way they are right now. He wishes they could just stay in this fucking van in this fucking desert in Utah. (And he hates Utah). But he knows that that isn’t how the world works, or how people work, and so he can’t even really wish it was. That’s impractical. That would make the universe chaotic. All topsy turvy.
When he’s starving and it’s starting to get too hot, and he’s been out there long enough to miss Ryan’s touch — even though he'd felt like he needed the solitude just as much, to sort of make sure he was all together — he climbs back into the van. He doesn’t bother with being careful or quiet this time, and just carefully but heavily drapes himself over Ryan, over the blankets, pinning him in.
“Let’s hit the road, Ryan!”
Those dark eyes squint open and fix on his, and Ryan frowns up at him. “Fuck you, dude,” Ryan says, and Shane smiles. It comes from nowhere, but it’s genuine, and he draws away, laughing. “Come on, get up! Let’s get the fuck outta Utah, baby!”
Shane spends a while texting people he doesn’t know from Ryan’s phone about whether or when they can pick up Ryan’s car, while Ryan drives.
“Hey, here we go, we finally made it out of Utah,” Ryan says, and Shane looks up as they pass the sign that says ‘Welcome to Nevada.’
“Heyy, the Silver State,” Shane reads, trying to drudge up some enthusiasm. It sort of works. “They say you can pick up your car any time.” He slips the phone back into the center console and thinks that it feels like all these familiar pieces are falling back together and he isn't sure he knows how to fit there anymore, in these pieces of his old life. Into their regular, everyday lives, and work, and Ryan’s familiar Prius, and Shane's apartment and… and he looks over at Ryan, at Ryan’s hands at ten and two on the wheel as always and Ryan’s eyes fixed on the road and Ryan’s neck, marked by Shane’s mouth, Shane’s teeth... and he really isn't sure he can just go back to the way things were. It's like he’s shed some old skin, some old life. It doesn't fit anymore, and he doesn’t know how to step back into it, or if he even wants to.
“D’you feel like we’re leaving everything behind?” Shane asks suddenly. “Like… just dropping all of it, out here, in the desert?” The side of the road, the Italian restaurant, the bathtub, seeing the firelight reflected in Ryan’s eyes in Illinois… how does he keep that?
“What do you mean?” Ryan asks, and Shane realizes he hasn’t put on any new music. He reaches for Ryan’s phone again and scrolls through the playlists, but he’s not pickng anything. He’s not even actually reading it.
“I dunno, like… I don’t know how to… transfer it? How do we fit all this new stuff into how it was before? How it’s gonna be, back in L.A.?” Shane asks. He looks over, and Ryan’s brow is knitted a little, and Shane makes it a joke — has to. “Wha— why do you look so serious!?” he exclaims.
“Yeah, you look sorta like you’re going to have to fight someone, Ry.” He’s laughing, but he doesn’t really feel like it.
“I just… I was just thinking— why does L.A. mean we have to go back to how it was before?”
“I dunno, Ryan, that’s just what happens.”
“I… what?” Ryan asks, and he sounds… sort of small and half-frayed. “I don’t want to forget this,” Ryan says, glancing over. “I’m not going to… Like— we should… keep moving forward, dude, not just forget all this— I mean… right?”
Shane’s stricken again, by Ryan’s bravery, and he looks away. “I didn’t say I wanted to forget, I just said— I just think it’s going to be easy to slip back into old habits.”
“So let’s not,” Ryan says. Like it’s that easy.
“I dunno,” Ryan says. “Just— anything. I mean… are we gonna tell people? About us?”
Shane looks back because of the hesitation in Ryan’s voice. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, if you want to.”
“So there’s that,” Ryan says. “That’s moving forward, right? And… I was sort of wondering… can you be there when I talk to my family about…?”
When. When. Shane’s eyes go a little wider. “Yeah. Yeah, Ryan, absolutely.”
“Okay,” Ryan says, and it’s almost all relief. “Good. So there— there’s that. So. Now you.”
“Me, what? Wait, you’re going to talk to your family because of me?”
“Yeah, no, I'm going to talk to my parents because of C.C. Tinsley,” Ryan says, already grinning. “But actually... I think it’s gonna be okay.” And he's so determined, so hopeful, and Shane is so… “You name something,” Ryan’s saying again. “We’ll— we can like, make a promise right now. That’s how we’ll do this. What'd you say? Transfer it.”
Shane panics a little, and he feels himself shut down, because that’s sort of what he does. “Maybe… I… I dunno, yet, Ry… I’ll think about it, okay? I promise.” And Ryan’s looking at him, and Shane’s not sure if Ryan believes him, but then Ryan nods, takes a breath, eyes back on the road.
“Okay,” he says.
“Okay,” Shane repeats. “Now let’s… I really want to stop being in cars. Let’s just get back.”
“Okay,” Ryan laughs. And so they do.
Ryan watches Shane fold himself into his Prius after they’ve done the trade — the van for his car.
“I’m a little sad to see it go, to be honest,” Shane says. He says it like a joke, but Ryan feels it in his bones. “Yeah,” he says. “But can you imagine driving that thing in downtown Los Angeles?”
Shane wheezes. “Your murder van?”
“It is like a murder van, isn’t it?” Ryan laughs.
After a while, they stop again for gas and snacks and five minutes not sitting down, just outside of L.A. Ryan’s already dreading the traffic. He pays for the gas with a mess of bills from both of them and is handed his plastic bag of snacks and drinks and other gas station miscellany. He turns and realizes he’s lost track of Shane in the station’s store and he wonders when it became such second nature to always subconsciously be looking for him.
Ryan pushes the door open and steps back out in to the lot. Shane’s leaning against Ryan's car, too tall and a little spaced looking, and Ryan still can’t get over how it feels to see him. He’s just seen him two minutes ago, and he’s already happy to see him again. He closes his fingers around the handle of the plastic bag harder and knows his heart shouldn’t be beating this hard. “You ready, big guy?” he asks as he comes around to the driver’s side, and Shane’s eyes meet his over the roof of the car. Shane just towers over it.
“Yeah,” Shane says, and he’s here again, present. “Let’s go.”
They both climb back into the car and Ryan tosses the bag to Shane before he pulls back out onto the road. “Open something, I’m starving.”
Shane pulls out the pop and puts it in the cup holder, then reaches back in for the chips and pulls out a brand new toothbrush instead. “What’s this?” he laughs. “Did you lose yours? I can't eat this.”
“No I—" Ryan catches up to what he said, and he laughs a little. "I bought it to leave at your place,” Ryan says, looking over at him, and Shane realizes all at once that this was planned, at some point, because of course. It’s Ryan. He slides his thumb over the plastic of the packaging and feels something shudder in his chest and he knows it’s so stupid to be getting emotional over a toothbrush, but he is. He laughs because he’s afraid he might start falling to pieces if he doesn’t. “Oh my God, Ryan,” he says. “You’re such a—”
“What?” Ryan asks, And he’s all nervous energy mixed with giggling, Shane can practically feel it radiating from him, and its infectious.
“You’re such a sap,” Shane tells him, voice shaking with laugher and maybe something else, and his heart is beating so fast.
“How dare you, sir,” Ryan says, and Shane laughs harder, leans over his knees with it, one arm braced against the dash.
“The way your mind works— I mean,” Shane says, shaking his head, and he’s just— he’s just talking, really, because the words he needs already exist, they’re just — they’re taking a little longer to work out around the wild pounding of his heart. “All right,” Shane says. “Yeah, great. Great, Ryan, great.” Ryan’s already quipping something back but Shane can’t even hear it, because, “Move in with me,” Shane says.
Dead silence falls, and Shane looks over just to see Ryan’s eyes get all big.
Ryan apparently finally gets his brain to make words again and thank God, because Shane was starting to freak. “Are you serious, dude?”
“Yeah,” Shane says. “That’s what I can do… like my promise to you, or whatever. It’s how we can bring— uh, how we do this. I mean—” Fuck, what if it’s too much too fast? What if Ryan doesn’t want to?
Ryan looks at him. “Okay,” he says.
Shane pulls in a breath, trying to stay steady. It sort of works. “I said ‘with me,’” Shane tells him, “But I think I meant ‘with you’. I should. Move in with you.”
“Well… yeah— what the fuck am I supposed to do with the toothbrush then?”
Shane mimes chucking it out the window and Ryan laughs wildly.
“Actually,” Ryan says, “That’s good, actually, because I kinda think your place sucks.”
“All right…” Shane says, like he’s insulted. He’s not.
“The heat doesn’t work, Shane!”
“It works— it sort of works!” Shane argues, "You just have to crank it up real high—"
“Yeah, yeah, no it doesn’t.”
“Fine. Fine, Ryan, I’ll tell you what you want to hear: Your apartment is bigger anyway.”
Ryan’s wheezing. “Okay— all right, dude— just. Don’t ruin it.”
Shane’s still chucking softly, but then they both go a little quiet, lost in their own thoughts. In just a few minutes, Shane knows they’re going to be sitting in bumper to bumper traffic instead of flying down the highway, and then something falls into place. He doesn’t know why he understands it right then — he's just sitting there thinking about traffic, but there it is, all at once, like an epiphany. It doesn’t matter where they go. L.A., Illinois, his place or Ryan’s… even fucking Utah… it really doesn’t matter at all.
They both crave something the other has… Ryan is — always has been — drawn to these dark, haunted places, and Shane is drawn to things that are bright and warm, and he knows that that is bigger than the two of them, but — but…
And maybe Ryan can’t fully understand the darkness, not like Shane does. He probably doesn’t think about it the way that Shane does, anyway — trying to make some sense out of the connection of hearts and souls that goes beyond chemical and biological, because this— this thing he feels for Ryan goes beyond all that. He’s certain it does…
“We’re really doing this, right?” Ryan asks him softly, half-interrupting Shane’s thoughts. “I mean… we’re really—?”
Shane opens his mouth to respond, but his mind’s still running. Shane had always thought that he had to find a way to create all this light for Ryan. To even deserve him, but now he knows he doesn’t. Shane already holds the pieces of light that Ryan’s given to him. He holds them like a flashlight, a beacon — close to his chest. He’s been holding them for a long time and, somehow, against what Shane thought were all the odds, they’ve somehow connected there, where light and darkness meet, both of them operating like it’s the most natural thing in the world. They’re at the centre, and all of it — all the rest — can revolve around them. Dark, light, it doesn't matter, because they're supposed to be this way. They always needed both. He breaks the silence.
“Yeah,” Shane tells him, “We’re really doing this.”
“Okay.” Ryan glances over and their eyes meet. “All in?”
Shane takes a deep breath and feels it fill him, and it’s like the world floods back in, and he’s present, and Ryan’s beside him, and that’s more than enough.
“All in,” Shane answers, and when Ryan holds out a hand, suspended between them for a moment in the air, palm up, fingers curled loose and lovely, Shane reaches out like he’s thought about doing ten, a hundred, ten thousand times, and catches Ryan’s fingers through his, and holds on tight.
And Shane understands, has been slowly realizing for a long time now, maybe, even as they fly past the sign welcoming them to L.A. (again). He realizes that he’s found home already.
And it’s not a place.