Summary: On the night of Ryan's greatest triumph, he learns that some things are bigger than his name in lights on Broadway. (Post-college, obviously)
Dedicated to elvensorceress; Happy Birthday!
"You were wonderful!" Kelsi gushed, throwing her arms around Ryan's neck and hugging him to her chest.
"You say that every time you see the show," he replied modestly. It was opening night of the revival of "Damn Yankees" and Ryan's portrayal of Joe Hardy was so brilliant he was guaranteed a Tony nomination, according to Kelsi--and every theatre critic who'd seen the show in previews. "Where's that party?" They left his dressing room together, headed for the exit.
"Mr. Evans?" the security guard called as they passed. "Someone left this for you," he said, handing Ryan a white plastic bag. Ryan opened it and peered inside, then looked up at Kelsi.
"What is it?" she asked. Ryan pulled a red baseball cap emblazoned with an "E" out of the bag.
"Did he leave any message?" Ryan asked the guard, who shook his head.
"Here," Kelsi said, bending to pick up the business card that fell out of the hat. She handed it to Ryan, who read it and blanched.
"You go on ahead without me," he said. "I've got to make a call."
"Chad?" she asked softly. Ryan nodded and stuffed the hat back into the bag. She squeezed his arm and he smiled wanly before heading back to his dressing room. He changed direction, however, when he turned the card over and saw what had been written on the back. He ducked out of the theatre through a side exit to avoid the crowd outside and hailed a cab.
Chad was surprised when he opened the door and saw Ryan standing there. He smiled and stepped back to allow him into his hotel room.
"I thought you'd just call. Shouldn't you be at a cast party?"
"I wanted to see you," Ryan answered bluntly, turning to look Chad over head to toe. He'd apparently just gotten back to his hotel room. His jacket was thrown on the bed and his shirt was unbuttoned. Ryan's eyes lingered on his chest for a moment before returning to Chad's face. He looked good. He looked so damned good that Ryan was tempted to reach out to him immediately, but something in Chad's demeanor stopped him. "How long will you be in town?"
"With any luck, permanently," Chad replied, reaching for the jacket to hang it up. "I'm looking at a place tomorrow. If it's as good as advertised, I'll sign a lease. If not, I guess I'll be living here a while longer."
"You're moving east? To New York?" Ryan sputtered. That was the last thing he expected to hear. "I thought your company--."
"I've changed jobs. My new company has its headquarters here in the city," he replied. "More importantly, you said that if I ever wanted to be anything more to you than a pleasant memory I'd have to man up and--."
"I said that over three years ago."
"I know. I was twenty and confused about what I'd gotten myself into," Chad replied, recalling the brief but intense affair they had over winter break. They'd seen each other three or four times since then, inevitably falling into bed--and for each other--again. They'd lied to themselves every time, insisting it was just sex, but they both knew better. Ryan's ultimatum had never been an impediment; they were inexorably drawn to each other, two irresistible forces destined to meet.
"I never thought you'd taken any of that seriously."
"So you're withdrawing your offer?"
"The offer's still good," Ryan said, suddenly feeling lightheaded. But his curiosity was piqued and he needed answers. He sat on one of the chairs and looked up at Chad. "Why now?"
Chad walked over to the small refrigerator and pulled out a couple of beers. He twisted off the cap of the first one and handed it to Ryan before opening the second one for himself.
"I don't have a ready answer for that, other than to say that it's been on my mind from the moment you said it," he confessed, after taking a long swig and sitting down on the edge of the bed. "I just woke up one day ready to step up to the plate. I was ready to own up to who and what I am. So I went home to Albuquerque and came out to my parents and the few friends that mattered. Two weeks later I got the job offer and decided to come east. Hopefully to be with you, but with or without you, I'm here to stay."
"I'm with someone," Ryan said bluntly, averting his eyes to the untouched bottle in his hand. "I--."
"I never expected you to wait forever," Chad replied, nodding slowly. "Hence the hat," he added, gesturing toward the cap Ryan had dropped onto the table when he sat down. "Consider it tossed into the ring. I'm declaring my bid. No pressure; but if things should change…" Chad rose to his feet. "He's probably expecting you to show up at that party."
"Actually, he's in Hong Kong on business."
"Then he's probably expecting a call," Chad suggested. It was clear that he wanted Ryan to leave. Ryan reluctantly rose to his feet and picked up the hat.
"I'm not in love with him," he said after a minute of tense silence. He fingered the embroidery on the hat as he spoke. "He knows that. He just doesn't know why." He raised his eyes to meet Chad's. "I don't even think I knew myself until I walked in here tonight. I'm in love with you, Chad. I think I've always been in love with you."
"Then you've got some unfinished business to attend to," Chad replied. "When you've dealt with that, you'll know where to find me." Ryan looked slightly crestfallen. Chad sighed and reached out to caress his cheek. "Don't make me say it. Not until--."
"I've been waiting for three years to hear you say it."
Chad smiled and pulled Ryan into his arms. They held each other for a long time, conveying in shared heartbeats what they weren't ready to say out loud. Until Chad pulled away, that is, and looked into Ryan's eyes. He smiled and shook his head.
"All right. I love you, Ryan Evans."
Ryan grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him into a searing kiss before Chad had a chance to protest. Not that Chad was a bit interested in resisting. But he did break off the kiss long before either man wanted it to end. They pressed their foreheads together and held each other.
"I can't believe that all my dreams are coming true on one night," Ryan said.
"Just you wait," Chad promised, lifting his head to wink at Ryan.
"Give me a week. I don't want to have that discussion over the phone."
"I'm willing to wait, Ryan," he said, taking hold of Ryan's hands. "I didn't come here to overturn your life. I just want--you."
"I'm yours." Ryan picked up his fedora, which had fallen off when he kissed Chad. He tossed it onto the bed with a flourish. "Save me that spot."
"You're leaving your hat?" Chad laughed. "Is that even legal?"
"It's okay," Ryan said, reaching for the baseball cap. "I've got a spare." He winked at Chad. "I'll call you soon."
With that, he strode to door and turned back before executing a little dance combination. He doffed his cap and bowed. For the second time that night Ryan Evans left the stage to a standing ovation.