I entered a Spring fic exchange, and this is the first of three fics I wrote for it. This one is for one UltimateWarriorFan4Ever. Hope you enjoy it!
Back when it was a new development and the initial infatuation was still strong, Ryan felt like he had the perfect relationship. Stephanie was, at first sight, a godsend in his life. She was beautiful, smart, strong, shared all of his interests, and inspired him to keep pressing forward and improving himself every single day.
And then, everything changed drastically and for the worst when the demon known as reality TV invaded their lives.
During their (actually pretty impressive) run on the Ridonculous Race, Stephanie and Ryan's relationship went through hell and back, getting shattered and somehow reconstructed over the course of the show. And though they ultimately ended up staying together, Ryan couldn't help but feel like things would never be the same between him and Stephanie. He hated her over-competitive nature, and too much exposure to it left him exhausted and weary. He still loved everything else about her, though, so he started taking steps to actively avoid anything that would make her feel like she's in a competition.
This proved to be extremely difficult, as the Race only served to strengthen Stephanie's competitive nature, leading to what could have been a disaster on Ryan's very first attempt at distracting her. Surely she wouldn't get competitive while driving, he thought. She'd have to spend too much time focusing on the road for that, right?
What he forgot to take into account was the one thing that brings out the worst in everybody: road rage.
Stephanie had been driving them to the gym for no less than five minutes when things spiraled horribly out of control. "Thank you for letting me drive your car, babe," she said as she flipped a blinker on to take a turn. "I know you love this thing like it's your own child and all."
Leaning back and making himself comfortable, Ryan smiled. "Hey, no problem. I needed some time in the passenger seat anyway."
Stephanie laughed and nodded agreement. "I know that feeling, alright."
Ryan dared to close his eyes and chuckled along with his girlfriend. "Yeah, some time spent just kind of riding along is just what I needed lately. Maybe we could turn on some music and not even think abo—"
"Oh, you son of a...!" Without warning, Stephanie swerved into another lane and stepped on the gas, breezing past another car.
Ryan shot up in his eat, eyes wide and hands clutching his seat belt as if that would help him in the event of an accident. "What the heck was that all about?"
Stephanie grimaced as she slowed to a stop in front of a red light. "They were going too slow. I went around them."
Ryan raised his eyebrow, watching the car slow to a stop right next to them. "Well, now we're all at the same light. How does that make you feel? Kinda like that was pointless?"
Stephanie was about to respond, but their attention was caught by the sound of a horn honking right next to them. They turned to see the man in the car Stephanie had just passed making obscene hand gestures and revving his engine.
Stephanie's eyes were instantly filled with that fire that always appeared when approached with a challenge. "Oh, you wanna race, buster? Well bring it on!" Before Ryan could protest, the light turned green and they went roaring down the street. Even someone as buff as Ryan felt like he was being absorbed by his seat, as the sudden speed caused him to sink into the fabric a bit. The two cars roared down the street, keeping pace with each other and frightening passers-by until finally, Stephanie passed the other guy and got far enough ahead of him to beat a red light that he had to sit at. As she slowed to normal street speeds, Stephanie pumped her fist in the air, celebrating her win while Ryan shivered in the passenger seat. "Did you see that? I showed that guy who's boss!"
"Yeah...sure did," Ryan whimpered.
Once at the gym, Ryan spent as much time alone as he could, claiming it was because he was doing a different routine than Stephanie was that day. Once the gym day was over, the two left the gym, Stephanie tossing the keys to Ryan's car between her hands confidently. "Babe, can I drive home?" She asked.
Ryan laughed and snatched the keys out of the air. "How about no. I'll take us home tonight." As they approached the car, they found a slip of paper sitting tucked under the windshield wiper. "What's this, then?" Ryan asked, taking a closer look."
"Looks kind of like a..."
"A ticket!" Ryan barked in disbelief.
"Why'd we get a ticket?" Stephanie asked, playing dumb.
Ryan sighed and shot an angry look across the hood of the car. "I bet someone got our license plate and reported us for that little drag race of yours."
Stephanie giggled nervously, feeling her face heat up. "Heh...oops."
Ryan waved the slip of paper in Stephanie's direction. "This is comin' out of your paycheck, I hope you know."
Stephanie rolled her eyes and got into the passenger seat with a huff. "I know, I know. I was gonna pay it anyway."
When Stephanie was told she was no longer allowed to drive Ryan's car, that nightmare ended, but he knew the incident did nothing more than fuel her unhealthy competitive streak. Not long after the driving incident, the couple happened to be on a grocery shopping trip when the flames of competition sparked once more. It was the one place Ryan thought he'd be safe from having to suffer from competition, but he was proven dead wrong when he found Stephanie struggling to bring him two carts. "Er, are you alright, Steph?" He asked. "I don't think we're gonna get that many groceries." Stephanie smugly shoved a cart his way and snatched the list of groceries out of Ryan's hand. After counting the supplies, she ripped the paper into two neat pieces. "Hey, we need that!" Ryan protested.
"Relax, I'm not throwing it away," Stephanie assured him, handing him one half of the paper. "So here's how this is gonna work, big guy. I have half the list and you have half the list."
Ryan nodded and smiled thinking he knew what was going on. "Ah, I see. We're gonna make this go by faster, then."
Stephanie shrugged. "I guess that works too," she admitted. "But what we're actually doing is racing!"
"You heard me right," Stephanie said, the look on her face unmistakable. "We have the same amount of items on our list, so we're on even turf. First one to reach the checkout lines wins. Got it?"
"Wait, Steph, I don't—"
"What, think you can't handle it?" Stephanie's teasing look was infuriating.
Ryan grit his teeth and shook his head. "No, that's not it, I just—"
"Complain about losing after you've lost. Ready, set, go!" Like a rocket, Stephanie shot off into the store, eager to win this asinine competition she created.
Ryan, meanwhile, sighed and started the shopping trip he was already prepared for with no intention of going any faster than usual. It was a long, quiet trip that would have been relaxing if he weren't dreading the taunting and victory dancing he would have to suffer through when he finally found Stephanie again. While he shopped for the necessities, he decided that enough was enough. He was tired of getting dragged into meaningless competitions, and he was going to confront her about it as soon as he could.
But first, they were out of laundry soap. He realized he hadn't put that on the list at all.
Once he had finally exhausted his half of the list, Ryan reluctantly returned to the front of the store, where a very bored Stephanie was waiting for him. "Finally! I've been waiting here forever! I could have done my half of the list three times over in the time it took you."
"I'm sure you could, dear," Ryan said flatly. Let's get this over with."
Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Fine. I was gonna gloat, but you took so long that I don't even want to now."
"Oh no," Ryan sarcastically mumbled as he shuffled his way over to the shortest checkout line, followed by Stephanie, who was completely oblivious to the fact that something was off.
In fact, it wasn't until they had made it home and were putting everything away that something seemed off to her. "Hey Ryan?" She asked, earning a non-committal noise of acknowledgment in return. "Is something wrong? You seem off today."
Sensing an opportunity to air his feelings, Ryan faced her. "You know, Steph? I'm glad you asked."
Getting everything out in the open wasn't as hard as he thought it would be, but saying it felt like getting the weight of the world removed from his chest. Unfortunately, Stephanie's face when he told her replaced that weight with a stabbing guilt in his chest. Once he had vented, Stephanie slumped her shoulders and sighed. "I don't know what to say... I didn't know I got on your nerves like that."
And then began the backpedaling attempt of the century. "Uh, well, it's not...you getting on my nerves, it's just...your competitive...ness. Is that a word?"
"But my competitive nature is part of who I am," Stephanie explained. "I can't help it that I make everything into a contest, it's just how I make my life...fun, you know?"
Ryan gave up on the backpedaling, mostly because it got shot down, instead moving to his next point. "I get that, but I don't want my whole life to be a competition with you. I love you and I want to spend as much time with you as possible, but not if it means having to constantly be on my toes because I have to compete for everything."
Stephanie nodded. "I understand. I can try to tone it down from now on. I'm so sorry, Ryan."
Ryan opened his arms and took Stephanie into a tight hug. "It's okay, babe. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."
After several moments of just standing in each others embraces, they broke apart to finish putting the groceries away. "Hey, wanna see who can put away groceries the fastest?" Stephanie joked.
"I'll pass this time," Ryan said with a grin. "...But next time we go to the gym, you are so on."