Notes and disclaimers: Don't own, don't sue. This fic is set in a semi-AU world, in which the female love interests don't really play any part, and Ryan and Seth don't live together. It's inspired by two guys in my school in real life---everyone swears they're gay, and they swear they're not.
- - -
It all started with a seemingly innocuous question.
"So, you're gonna hang out with Seth after school today?"
Ryan was just standing around with the guys, killing time before the bell rang. They were talking about what they had planned for the afternoon, so the question seemed perfectly natural. Seth was Ryan's best friend, and they usually hung out together. Before he could answer in the affirmative, though, one of the other guys spoke up.
"Of course they're gonna hang out together! Don't they always? They're practically married!"
Ryan couldn't really contest the validity of that statement. It was true, in a purely metaphorical sense. How was he supposed to know the guy didn't mean it metaphorically?
"Yeah," one of his other friends said, "you two have been going steady for a looooong time."
And he couldn't really contest tha—wait. "What?!"
His buddy gave him a strange look. "You and Cohen have been going out for a long time," he enunciated clearly.
Ryan laughed. "Me and Seth? We're not going out."
"You're courting. You're in a meaningful romantic relationship. You're in a complex ritual of wooing that may someday culminate in a binding union. Whatever."
"Luke. We're not doing any of that."
All of his friends were eyeing him now.
"What? We're not!"
"Dude, you are," Luke assured him. "Everyone knows."
Just then, the bell rang, rescuing Ryan from the ridiculousness of the conversation. What the hell were they talking about? He couldn't believe that all of his friends thought that he was gay with Seth. Sure, they were close. Maybe they had the occasional, brief, vaguely suggestive, unintentionally homoerotic moment…but gay? Certainly not. No one could possibly think that. Just to be sure, though, he caught the arm of a girl passing by. "Anna."
"Oh, hey Ryan. What's up?"
"The question I'm gonna ask you might sound crazy, but you have to answer it honestly."
Ryan took a deep breath. "Do you think I have a boyfriend?"
Anna raised an eyebrow, then started laughing. "Ryan, that's insane!?
Ryan sighed in relief.
"Of course you have a boyfriend! You and Seth have been going out for, like, ever!"
Ryan spotted Seth at his locker, and left Anna without even deigning to answer. He jogged up to his alleged boyfriend.
"Seth. I've gotta talk to you."
Seth thrust his books into his locker and turned to him. "Something wrong?" he asked with a puzzled frown.
"Did you know that everyone thinks we're gay? With each other?"
"What?!?!" he screeched.
Ryan shushed him "Yeah. And I mean everyone. Watch." He tapped the shoulder of some kid taking a drink at the water fountain.
"What?" the kid asked, wiping water from his mouth.
"Is this my boyfriend?" Ryan asked, gesturing to Seth.
"Um, duh" the kid said, giving him an 'are you stupid?' look before walking away.
Seth's eyes were wide. "Oh my god, I didn't even know that kid!" He thought about the ramifications of this. "Ryan," he said seriously, putting his hands on Ryan's shoulders and staring into his eyes, "we have to do something about this."
A group of girls walked by, looking at them and murmuring "awww".
"Well, first of all," Ryan said, pulling Seth's hands off of him, "we've got to touch each other a lot less."
Seth, having gone into full freak-out mode, wasn't listening. "Oh my god, Ryan, we can't let everyone think we're gay! How will I ever get a girlfriend now? If all the girls think I'm gay, they wouldn't go out with me even if they actually liked me! I'll have to date outside of the school. Shit, you don't think the rumour's spread that far yet, do you? What if the whole district knows? What if the whole city knows?! Crap!!!" He paused for breath. "Wait a second, what am I saying? Gay guys are total chick magnets! If I can convince them I'm bisexual, I'll be irresistible!" He threw an arm around Ryan and purred "hey, baby" into his ear.
Ryan found it just a little disconcerting that no one in the crowded hallway thought it even slightly odd. He quickly stepped away from Seth. "That's not helping," he hissed.
"Right. Sorry," Seth apologized.
"What we need is a plan," Ryan said. "We have to think of something tonight, because this can't go on for another day."
The next day, in school, Ryan looked at Seth expectantly and waited to hear any schemes he might have come up with. They couldn't talk about it in front of Kirsten and Sandy last night, so Ryan had just retired to the pool-house to think of some ideas by himself.
Seth looked really pale and drawn, and he seemed a little shaken. Ryan put a hand on the back of Seth's neck and said, "Hey, are you okay?"
"Yeah. Um…I've just had a bit of a…shock. That is to say, a really, really big shock that's probably going to scar me for years to come, and all the psychological treatments and psychiatric help and aromatherapy in the world won't make it better. And get your hand off my neck; people are cooing 'aww' again."
Ryan dropped it hurriedly. "What was the shock?"
Seth turned to him. "My own mother thinks we're dating."
He waited until Ryan's fit of choking had somewhat subsided. "Last night, I decided to ask her for some advice. I started by saying, 'Mom, there's a little situation that Ryan and I need your help with.'" Seth paused his story for dramatic effect. "And she looks at me, and asked if we were having problems with our relationship."
"Maybe she just meant our friendship," Ryan suggested, rather desperately.
"No, she did not mean our friendship. She made that very, very clear when she gave me sex advice."
"WHAT?!" Ryan stared at him, bug-eyed. "Did you tell her we're not…"
"How was I supposed to face her after she told me to always use lubricated condoms?!?!"
"Great," Ryan muttered. "This is just great. Kirsten. Juuust great." He spent the rest of the period muttering darkly to himself.
At lunch, things took a turn for the worse.
"Is it true?" Luke asked him excitedly. All the guys were looking at Ryan with eager eyes.
"Uh, is what true?"
"You know," one of the other guys said. "Did you really bang Cohen in the broom closet?"
"It has to be true," another guy said. "I heard Sarah say to Jacquie that Brian told her that Tiffany said she overheard you and Seth arguing about which condoms to use in period one this morning."
"We weren't arguing—"
"So you agreed, then?"
"I hope you didn't go without. That's really dangerous. You could catch something."
"Watch what you say, you idiot! How's he gonna catch anything? Cohen hasn't been with anyone else."
"Oh. Sorry, dude, my bad."
Ryan just stared at them as though they were growing some particularly unappealing tentacles out of their foreheads right then and there. He looked away for a moment and saw Seth in the hallway up ahead, slamming his locker shut. "Sorry, guys, I've gotta go…do something. Later," he said, and got the hell out of there. He ran and caught up with Seth. He pulled him to a less crowded part of the hallway and said, "We have a problem."
Seth looked at him questioningly.
"Half the school thinks I had sex with you this morning. In school."
"What?" Seth sounded shocked, disgusted, yet thoroughly amused.
"Half of the school," Ryan said, enunciating clearly, "thinks I had mad, dirty, condom-free sex with you in some back room this morning."
Just then, some guy passed by and overheard. "You dog!" he laughed, giving Ryan a thumbs-up.
Ryan groaned. "Forget what I just said. Now the whole school thinks we had said this morning."
"Yeah," Seth mused, "gossip sure travels fast around here." He paused. "Hmm…"
"I think I might have an idea."
Ryan bit back whatever insulting comment was on his tongue. He was desperate here. "Lay it on me, man."
"Okay. We know from unwanted first-hand experience that gossip spreads like wildfire around here, right?"
"So how about we use it to our advantage? We let it slip that we're no longer 'an item'"—Seth inserted exaggerated air-quotes—"and we sit back and wait for the whole school to stop thinking we're together." Seth looked extremely proud of himself.
"Seth, I never thought I'd say this, but that's brilliant!" Ryan moved to give him a manly hug, but Seth caught sight of some people in the corner of his eye, and quickly stepped back.
"You spread it among your jock pals, and I'll tell all the loud girls, alright?"
Ryan agreed, and they split up to spread their rumours.
After school, Seth walked to his locker, humming happily. His plan was working. Already, people were whispering and looking at him out of the corners of their eyes with pity. He got what he need from his locker, shut it, and turned around to come face-to-face with one of Ryan's buddies.
"…May I help you?"
"I've been hearing rumours this afternoon…about you and Ryan breaking up."
Seth mentally cheered, but managed to keep his face appropriately solemn. "Huh," he said with a shrug.
"Are you okay?"
Seth blinked. "What?"
"Are you feeling okay? Break-ups can be tough. If you need to talk about it, I'm here. I know we don't really hang out together much, but I care, y'know?" He leaned closer to emphasize this.
Seth backed up a step and hit the lockers. "Look, um, Paul—"
"Mike. Whatever. It's really nice of you, but I don't really know you all that well…" Seth trailed off as Mike came even closer.
"We can get to know each other," Mike said. "I just think that now that you're not with Ryan anymore, you could use a…friend." He put his hand on Seth's shoulder and squeezed gently. "Think about it," he murmured before walking away.
Seth stood there, back pressed against his locker, stunned. He hurried to Ryan's locker.
"Ryan? A word, please."
"Seth? We're supposed to be avoiding each other."
"Yeah, unforeseen circumstances have come up."
Ryan turned to face him.
"Your friend, Mike? He just totally hit on me."
"Mike was full-on, unmistakably cruising me."
"Yeah, I'd say so. He was just like, 'oh, I heard about you and Ryan…if you wanna get a new guy, you know were to fine me,' nudge nudge, wink wink."
"I can't believe it!" exclaimed Ryan.
"I know!" Seth agreed.
"What kind of friend is Mike? He thinks you're my boyfriend, and he hits on you?!" Ryan fumed.
"That's what you can't believe???"
Ryan ignored him and continued. "You never touch a friend's ex! What if you're not my ex? The rumours just started this afternoon; what if they're not true? He could have been hitting on my boyfriend! What kind of guy does that?"
"Ryan, I'm not your boyfriend," Seth reminded him.
"That's not the point. He thinks you're my boyfriend, and he hit on you anyway. That is wrong. He is infringing on my territory."
Seth winced at being referred to as territory, but he knew that saying anything would be a lost cause. Ryan was too busy cursing Mike to listen.
"Son of a bitch. There were unwritten rules, and he violated them. I'm gonna have to go set him straight."
"And what do you mean by that," Seth asked, not sure if he even wanted to know.
"I have to tell him to stay the hell away from you, obviously," Ryan said as though this were perfectly logical.
"No, that is such a bad idea. Do not tell him to stay the hell away from me."
"Why? Do you like him back? Do you wanna date him? We just broke up two hours ago, and you're already with another guy?"
"Ryan, are you even listening to yourself? You sound like me, for crissakes! You can't confront Mike because you'll sound like some jealous boyfriend, and he'll think we're back together. Isn't that kind of counterproductive? We're trying to convince people that we've broken up, here."
"I have to, Seth. It's an honour thing, between guys. Besides, I can't let him keep harassing you if you don't like him."
"Aw, that's so sweet. You're willing to let people think you're gay in to keep his lecherous hands away from me," Seth said, only a little sarcastic.
"Yeah, well. I'm a good friend. Besides, I can't believe Mike would do that to a buddy. I thought I could count on him. Instead, I find out that he goes behind my back and—"
Seth couldn't hear the rest of his renewed ranting, as he walked out of earshot to find Mike.
"Yo, Ryan. What's up?"
"We have to talk," Ryan said, his voice hard.
"About what?" Mike asked.
A look of realization crossed Mike's face. "Yeah, I heard about it, man. How are you holding up? Did he dump you, or did you dump him?"
Ryan ignored the questions. "I don't appreciate you moving in on him."
"But why? I thought you guys were over."
"I just don't want you going after him, okay? Don't make me hurt you."
"Whoa, okay," Mike said, hands out in a gesture of non-hostility. "Whatever. I'll stay away from your boy."
"He's not my boy," Ryan growled.
"Hey, listen. You obviously still care about him, if my flirting with him bothers you so much. Just go make up with him, okay? You guys have been together for a long time; don't throw it all away."
Ryan's first thought was that maybe Mike wasn't such a crappy friend after all. And then he realized the implications of what he said.
"Um, yeah man. I'll…I'll think about it." Ryan bade Mike goodbye and left the school deep in thought.
The next morning, Ryan was tired, nervous, and therefore grumpy. He had spent most of the night thinking, and the conclusion he'd arrived at disturbed him so much that he couldn't sleep. He knew he had to talk to Seth about it, but he had to wait until they got to school before he had the chance.
"Good job on handling that whole Mike situation yesterday. I passed by him earlier, and he barely even looked at me!" Seth paused to look at Ryan. "Is something wrong?"
"Um, about that whole Mike situation…"
"Oh, no," Seth said, not liking Ryan's tone of voice. "You didn't tell him I have a venereal disease or anything, did you? Because that is definitely not cool."
"No, nothing like that. This is something entirely different." He took a deep breath. "When I went to talk to Mike, he gave me some advice. I thought about what he said all night, until I just kept coming to the same conclusion over and over again." Ryan paused and thought hard about what he was going to say. "See, Mike told me that I should make up with you. He said that we've been together for too long to break up now. And that's when it kind of hit me. There has to be a reason everyone thinks we're together. We're really good friends, and maybe that's why we don't see it. We're too good of friends. We're so comfortable with each other that we never even noticed what other people noticed. Maybe we were just too used to it to notice. And maybe we just needed a little hinting at the obvious to notice." Ryan wrapped up his speech and wondered if Seth was contagious. He was pretty sure he'd never gone on for that long before.
Seth stared at his best friend. He wasn't as surprised by this speech as he should have been. In fact, he was more surprised by the fact that he kind of agreed with it. "Ryan, are you saying—"
"This is what I'm saying." Ryan grabbed Seth by the shoulders, pulled him forward, and kissed him thoroughly.
Just then, a flock of cheerleaders passed by. "Look!" one squealed, "Ryan and Seth are back together!!!" the rest of them all took up the cry. "Everyone, LOOK! EEEEEEE!!!"
"oh hell," Ryan muttered.
"Don't worry," Seth assured him, waggling his eyebrows, "I hear the broom closets are very private."