sparsenicjade
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In the beginning—and it really is a bit biblical like that--Brendon causes Ryan's head to hurt. Ryan tells himself it's because the guy never fucking stills, but really it's because Ryan doesn't exactly want him to, and that's like nothing Ryan has ever known before. Ryan hasn't trusted motion since he was four, and his dad came out of nowhere to hit him. His mom picked him up and took him away and it was all right, he was fine, thank you, but motion is tricky, and he prefers that others utilize it less around him. Except, evidently, for Brendon.

Mostly, Ryan just ignores the headaches until the day Brendon slings an arm over his shoulder and Ryan doesn't think, "Don't, don't, DON'T," and then it's a migraine that has him on the ground and there's nothing he can do except say, "Please shut the fuck up," to the other guys' frantic questions. There's the blessed cessation of noise and then, bizarrely, a cold, damp towel at the back of his neck, and without looking, Ryan knows Brendon has put it there, because he doesn't want to shake it off. A particularly sharp spasm of pain spikes in his head and Ryan can't help it—he passes out.

He wakes up in his room. Spencer is sitting at Ryan's desk, white as a sheet, Brent is looking out the window. Brendon is pacing, next to the bed. Ryan tries to say, "What happened?" or "What time is it?" or anything that might give him more insight into the situation. What he manages is, "Uh."

"Jesus Christ, man, you scared the piss out of us." Spencer looks a little bent out of shape about it, although not at Ryan. Ryan doesn't exactly blame him.

"We wanted to call an ambulance," Brent says, "but we weren't sure—"

Ryan shakes his head slightly. There's enough residue of the headache to make him cautious. "Nah." Spencer and Brent both know that Ryan's mom can barely manage the bills as it is. Brendon, shockingly, doesn't say a word.

Ryan says, "It was just a headache. Maybe I haven't been drinking enough. We live in a desert."

"You need to get on that, man," Brent says. "Having a lead singer who passes out is not hot."

"Having no lyrics isn't either," Spencer adds.

"Go away," Ryan tells them.

Spencer grins, "Attaboy, Ross," and collects the others. They close the door behind them and Ryan is safe in his bed in the quiet, early-dusk almost dark when he hears his door click open again.

Brendon says, "Look, man, I know I can be a little," and Ryan turns just in time to see his hands wave frantically, meaninglessly. "But I thought for a minute that I might have killed you, so if you don't like me, you could, y'know, be a little less dramatic about it, is all I'm saying."

Ryan says, "It really was a headache."

"You have them around me a lot," Brendon tells him and Ryan blinks, because people don't normally notice him, he makes it a point that they shouldn't, and he has never once seen Brendon watching him.

Brendon closes his hands around the doorknob even as he bounces on his toes. "I want this to work out. I like Brent, and you write lyrics that make me want to play music even when I'm tired and through with fighting with my parents, which is like, all we do anymore, but you were here first and I totally get that, so if it's gonna be—"

"Brendon."

A pause. "Yeah?"

"It's not like that."

Even Brendon's breaths move, jump, take less time than they should. "What's it like?"

Ryan closes his eyes. "Not like that."

*


The Smoothie Shack isn't the worst job Brendon can think of having, not really by a long shot. His boss treats him all right and gives him good hours, and except for the lunch rush, most of the customers are pretty laid back. He gets free smoothies and discounted food, and if there are the packaged sandwiches left at the end of the day, he can take those home for free. It pays decently, but Vegas is an expensive place, and Brendon really can't do more than thirty-two hours a week, not and still commit to the band.

He rents a room from this nice couple whose children have all gone off to have their own lives. They're perfectly hospitable, provided he gets them the check, but he knows they don't get the music thing, and sometimes when they look at him it reminds him uncomfortably of his parents. He'd kill for an apartment, even a studio, anything, but they charge him nearly fifty dollars less a month than anything else he found, and his trash is paid for. Brendon spends a lot of time in the dark when he's there. He would ask one of the guys if he could stay over a couple of nights a week, but they all live at home, and Brendon can't really take that sort of atmosphere just now.

He wouldn't even remember when he first met Lydia except that it happened right after he caught a sinus infection that had him laid out for a week. The one he ended up having to go to the free clinic for, and forking over the money for antibiotics, when he was out a week's worth of a paycheck. Spencer brought him soup. He said, "It's from my mom," and sounded sort of sorry to have to admit to that. The soup had real chicken in it, and was pretty much the first thing aside from day old sandwiches, smoothies and fruit that Brendon had eaten in nearly a month. He said, "Tell your mom I love her." Ryan brought him frozen yogurt, which was odd, but felt good on his throat, raw from swallowing more mucous than he was pretty sure any one person could produce on his own. Ryan looked like he wants to say something, but he didn't and Brendon was too tired just then to manage the coaxing involved in communication with Ryan Ross.

When he returns to work Lydia is there, a brand-new regular who looks like all the regulars. Brendon pegs her for a soccer mom the instant she orders the Banana-nana-fofana. She's nice enough, and attractive in that way that most of the regulars are attractive—a little too done up, a little too exposed, a little too everything, but it isn't precisely hard on the eyes. Girls aren't really Brendon's thing, but they aren't all bad, either. He lost his virginity to one, and the memory generally makes him smile.

Lydia asks him out the fourth or fifth time she comes in. Brendon says, "Oh, hey, I have a no dating customers policy. Sorry." He smiles his best, "what can you do?" smile. He doesn't have any such policy.

She says, "I'll pay for dinner," and her responding smile is knowing and just cold enough for Brendon to have no doubt that he should say no.

He's really hungry. "When were you thinking?"

*


At first it's just dinners and Brendon knows he shouldn't keep accepting but she takes him to good places, not fancy, but the kind of places where the meals are large enough that they can last for two meals, possibly three, if he is thrifty about it, which he is. But Brendon has heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and he suspects dinners are even less free in that respect. He's a nice guy, but he doesn't think Lydia likes him for his tendency to quip from little-seen movies or ramble about the song the four of them are working on. He knows she doesn't.

When she takes him back to a hotel after one of the dinners, Brendon is neither surprised, nor particularly able to refuse. He goes to work the next morning, vomits in the bathroom, and gets on with things. Ryan comments that his voice is sounding a little raw, "You're not getting sick again, are you, man?"

Brendon says, "I'll be good Friday night." They're recording for Volumize. He doesn't want them worrying, wondering if he's gonna come through for them. He may not be able to come through for himself, but he's got them covered.

He tries to break it off, then—food's not really worth much to him if he's just going to sick it back up—but she threatens him with a sexual harassment complaint. It's spring, when all the snowbirds are in town and college kids are looking for jobs and Brendon's certain he could land something else, he's just not sure how long it would take, and if it would give him the freedom to play with the band.

Brent pulls him aside after the show on Friday, asks, "Hey, you need some money, because—"

"Nah," Brendon says, "I'm set," but he doesn't argue when Ryan buys him a coke.

Spencer drives them all home, dropping Brent off first as he's the closest, and continuing on to Brendon's place. Brendon looks over at Ryan who looks out his window and just says, "He's taking me back to the hospital. After."

Brendon hasn't known. Normally he has some clue, and his ignorance makes him feel even worse than he did the moment before. "You come by the Shack, I'll make you that apple-orange thing you like."

Ryan smiles at him, a nice smile, the kind of smile Ryan gives people when he knows they need kindness and he's trying his best, really he is. Brendon thinks if Ryan knew about Brendon's latest profession he wouldn't be smiling at him, but he doesn't care, because Ryan is.

Spencer walks him up to his door and says, "The thing is, all Ryan hears is the way you fucking mainline his lyrics, but whatever it is that's happening with you right now, just—"

Brendon looks at him, waiting.

"If you needed help—"

"You can't help with this," Brendon tells him, but he leans in and hugs Spencer tight to take out some of the sting. Also because he knows Spencer will squeeze him back, hold him together so strongly that there's no chance he'll fall apart, and for one second, he'll feel like maybe he deserved Ryan's smile. Then Spencer will let go. Brendon doesn't blame him.

"I have to get him to the hospital."

"Yeah. You gonna stay with him?"

"He won't let me."

Brendon wonders if this is Spencer's version of hell, turned away from the chance to aid at every corner. If he could ask Spencer he would. He would. He says, "Bring him to the Shack. Seriously. I have a double tomorrow. I'll do that pineapple thing for you."

Spencer smiles a little. "We're gonna make it, you know?"

Brendon says, "Yeah, 'course."

Spencer huffs. "Somewhere in there you know, or you wouldn't be doing this."

Brendon nods. "I'm just tired. Don't worry about me. Drive safe."

Spencer says, "Don't worry. Sure," and walks off to carry Ryan as far as he can.

*


Normally, Lydia is pretty easy to get off, which is a blessing in a situation not terribly full of them. Brendon can be in her, thinking about anything, anything but her, and all it takes is his fingers and some pressure and she's done. Until the day that's not enough, and Brendon finishes before she does and she just looks at him with a look that promises a job search without the single reference he's got to this point. Brendon uses his mouth, desperate, but that's not working either, and when he literally can't move his jaw anymore, he looks up at her, hoping the effort has gotten him somewhere.

Despite the fact that it really doesn't happen all that quickly, he never sees the backhanding coming. Her wedding ring slices his cheek open. He doesn't feel it, not until the drip of blood catches his attention. Then everything else hits, the sting, the dull burn.

"You are such a worthless cunt," she tells him. Brendon can only hope that means she won't require his services anymore.

"You'll be better next time, right?" she asks, a sweet, inquisitive tone to her voice as she digs one of her acrylic nails into the cut. Brendon nods.

"Say it."

"Yes, Lydia."

"Good boy," she pats him on the head. Brendon wonders if she got blood in his hair.

He tries to sneak in the house when he gets home, but Lydia likes to rendezvous in the middle of the day, when her kids are in school and her husband is at work. Mrs. Darley, his landlord, gets a peak of Brendon's face and says, "Oh my goodness. Brendon, what happened?"

Brendon shakes his head and mumbles something about a guitar string, even though he rarely ever plays the guitar. Those things are sharp. She says, "Come here, we've got to get that cleaned up."

He goes because whether he has a mom anymore or not, Brendon's been pretty much programmed to respond to that tone of voice. She sits him down in the kitchen and applies some alcohol to it, and Brendon pretends that it's the sting of it that makes his eyes water, not her cool, unassuming hand on his chin. She slathers the cut with anti-bacterial cream and puts gauze over it. She says, "How about you join us for dinner tonight? Or are you going to be at work?"

Brendon thinks about lying, saying yes. He has the eight to two shift, which he likes. The clientele will be mostly hippies, college kids and aspiring writers, largely too involved in their own drama to bother him much. He knows that Mr. Darley will ask him questions about the band, about their music, questions that imply maybe he should think about getting himself back into school, but Brendon needs food that isn't stale, or bought with his dignity. "That would be nice. Thanks."

When he shows up to practice the next morning, Brent looks at him and asks, "Freak smoothie machine accident?"

Brendon dons his best amused smile, "Pretty much sums it up."

He thinks he's off the hook until Ryan corners him later in the afternoon, and asks softly, "Who hit you?"

If it were anyone but Ryan, he'd say, "What are you talking about?" He has too much respect for Ryan to pretend like he wouldn't know, like he probably hasn't looked in a mirror and seen this on himself. He shakes his head, "Don't worry about it. You should see the other guy."

Ryan says, "I know that line as well as I know that look."

Brendon says, "It's all right. Really. I mouthed off. You know me."

"Not all that well," Ryan says. "But enough to know you probably didn't deserve that."

Brendon says, "I don't really want to talk about this."

Ryan nods. "That one's pretty familiar, too."

*


On his last day in town, Brendon sends an unsigned letter to Lydia's husband. He's seen her driver's license, knows where she lives. The letter is typed, and maybe the husband won't believe it, but maybe he will. Brendon doesn't think divorce is the best thing for kids, but he also doesn't think living with a mother who's a rapist is, so it's six-to-one, half-dozen-to-the-other, and Brendon springs for the fucking stamp. He's going to be in Maryland anyway.

He thanks the Darleys and Mr. Darley looks at him and says, "Good luck, son," and clearly means it and Brendon does his best not to sound choked when he says, "Thanks."

Mrs. Darley asks, "Is there any way we can send you anything? Four boys living on your own, I'll bet you all get hungry."

Brendon hopes she finds someone else to help with her clearly overwhelming empty-nest syndrome. He leaves town without saying goodbye to his family. They would have hung up the phone—shut the door in his face—anyway. He thinks. Maybe. No, they would have.

He's free, he's fucking free, and in the first two days Brendon drinks enough Red Bull to kill a not-so-small child and drives everyone in the apartment insane until Spencer sits on him—literally—for an hour and says, "If I get up, are you going to T.P. our rooms again?"

Brendon promises to be good. They are all giddy, though, even Ryan. Well, for Ryan. Which means that he lets Spencer tickle him once and sings in the shower and actually laughs at a few of Brendon's jokes. Brendon, who hasn't wanted to touch anyone in two months and seventeen days, thinks about wrapping a hand around Ryan's long, shockingly graceful neck but he doesn't, because he's made Ryan black-out before, and Brendon has his limits of what he can take from Ryan, no matter how fucking real the guy can be when he's trying.

Brendon doesn't fall that often, but when he does, it's always for the wrong ones.

Ryan, though, buys him another case of Red Bull—which Spencer has explicitly forbidden—and helps him find a place to hide it and says, when they're not looking at each other, tucking the cans safely out of sight, "I thought maybe you'd gone somewhere."

Brendon thinks about that. He can't really blame Ryan, not entirely, not even if Ryan really does have issues. "This band is my somewhere."

"Yeah." Ryan's breathing is short. "Me too."

Brendon already knew that, but he doesn't tell Ryan. He doesn't want Ryan to think he isn't listening. He doesn't want Ryan to think he doesn't have things of his own to say. Mostly he doesn't want to do anything that will make Ryan stop talking to him. With Ryan, conversation is almost as good as kissing at its best. Brendon remembers liking kissing before. He can do it again. Especially if Ryan will do it with him.

Brendon has always dreamed big.

*


It's supposed to be the four of them, one, two, three, four, but Spencer and Brent pull out at the last minute, largely, Ryan suspects, because they are assholes. Ryan thinks about calling it off, too, but he really does want to hear the band the club's brought in, and in spite of himself, the way that Brendon will act like everything is fine--shrug and smile the cancellation away--is something Ryan can't handle. He knows all about pretense, all about the things a person says to spare someone else guilt, and he's pretty sure it'll break him in ways he can't afford to be broken to do that to someone else.

Even Brendon, who gives him headaches. Even over something as stupid as going to a club. Ryan just can't. He slips on his vans and his most worn jeans and a t-shirt with a Billie Holliday LP cover peeling off of it and meets Brendon like he has said he will. Brendon's done his hair and Ryan's pretty sure he has lip gloss on. Jesus.

The band is good, so after a while it's easy not to regret coming. Brendon shows up with a red drink that he identifies as a virgin Tom Collins, which Ryan is well aware is another name for Shirley Temple. He steals some of it, mostly just to get at Brendon. Whatever else Brendon is, he's hot when he's got a little something under his skin.

What Ryan doesn't count on is Brendon's form of revenge. It doesn't occur to him that Brendon might leave off the girls—pretty girls, Ryan can admit objectively, hot in their retro, hip-hop, this-ain't- exactly-the-forties garb—and say, "C'mon, dance with me."

"I can't," Ryan tells him. And he can't. Music might make sense to his head, but to his feet it's Greek or Japanese or something with letters he can't even discern.

Brendon rolls his eyes and tugs on Ryan's shirt. "So?"

Ryan pulls back, glaring at Brendon. Brendon is unphased. Ryan tries, "Any of those girls is more likely to get you laid than I am."

Brendon shrugs. "Not what I came for."

Ryan doesn't ask what he did come for. He doesn't want to know.

"Come on," Brendon says and he smiles the sort of smile that Ryan would bet good money doesn't get refused very often.

Changing tactics—since Brendon is a tenacious little shit, and this is already getting old—Ryan asks, "And what do I get out of it?"

Brendon doesn't even pause. "What do you want?"

Having not really expected Brendon to call his bluff—and really, he should have—it takes Ryan a second. "I get my way on the 'Sound of Music' reference. The chords I wanted."

"Done."

Ryan wonders if maybe he should have held out for more, but he isn't given too much time to think about it, because Brendon is dragging him out to the floor. Ryan says, "I actually, really can't do this."

"We'll start easy." One of Brendon's hands slides onto Ryan's shoulder, the other over his hip.

Ryan bites his lip and does not say, "Please don't touch me." He agreed.

Brendon says, "Hey. Look at me."

Ryan looks at him with his best, "what?" expression.

"We could just hold hands, if that would be better."

Ryan can't nod, can't admit that it would. Brendon's hands drop, catch Ryan's. Ryan takes a breath.

"It's just step, step, back," Brendon says, demonstrating, pushing into Ryan's space, but not too far. "Step, step, back."

Ryan tries it, and it's not as easy as Brendon makes it look, but it isn't hard, either. When he's caught the rhythm Brendon says, "I could spin you."

Ryan rolls his eyes, but he smiles as they're rolling. "Whatever, kid."

Brendon snorts. "Uh huh, o wise elder."

The spin is gentle, and mostly controlled by Ryan, and Brendon does not let go of his hand. Brendon says, casually, "You know what the number one rule of leading in swing or ballroom is?"

"Don't trip?" Ryan asks.

Brendon's spins him again, and when Ryan's facing the other way says, "Protect your follow."

*


Brendon isn't still when he plays the piano, of course he's not—he's playing the keyboard—but he sits and his fingers move, and he's so much the music, the music so much him, that it doesn't feel wrong for Ryan to sit next to him, press his knee to Brendon's and think, it's like this. Brendon smiles down at the keyboard and keeps playing. Ryan says, "Sometimes you hold back when you sing."

"Sometimes," Brendon agrees easily. Ryan was sort of expecting a fight, so he just stops at that, watches Brendon's fingers flow.

Brendon says, "Sometimes I think that if I give you everything it won't be enough."

Ryan's had it better than some people he knows. He has a mom who would have done—who has done—anything and everything for him. Who likes to make Ryan's good fortune in that clear to him whenever the opportunity arises. His father has simply never tried. As such it takes a moment to comprehend that someone might worry that he would not accept what he was given, would not take it as it was meant and that if he asked for more, would not necessarily expect to receive it. To say, "It would," sounds trite, so he says, "The words make more sense when you sing them."

Brendon skips a note. The mistake is heartening. It allows Ryan to tell him, "My fingers always manage to make them words on the page, but mostly they're just, you know, screams or sounds or something inside my head. And then on the page they're not that, not really, not until you sing them and then all of a sudden I know that I've done all right. No matter what other people say. I've done. . .all right."

Brendon says, "Or maybe it's just that you won't expect enough from me. That I'm like all the rest and I just can't be counted upon."

For a second, Ryan thinks Brendon's ignored everything Ryan has just said. Then he catches up, hears the way Brendon has listened to every word. "If you fuck it up, I'll tell you. But you have to fucking try."

Brendon stops playing. He looks at Ryan. "For you, then."

Ryan says, "For the band."

There's a small shift in Brendon's expression, something that Ryan knows intimately enough to only be able to describe with one word: loss. It makes him feel like a total shit, particularly when Brendon wings a smile and says, "Sure. Of course. For the band."

And because until he has paper in front of him, his words are only sounds, inarticulate and entirely useless, Ryan tries something he has never tried before, something he would never have pegged himself as trying. He leans forward and kisses Brendon. He pulls back quickly. It is a soft kiss, a light kiss, an exploratory kiss. An apology.

Brendon cups Ryan's chin with one hand and says, "For the band, huh?"

Ryan tosses his gaze to the side, caught as his face is. Brendon says, "You don't have to say otherwise," and kisses him again. The kiss is equally soft and there's nothing expectant about it, nothing possessive. Ryan wants more. But that's all right. He knows this isn't everything Brendon has got.

*


Ryan should know it's going to happen—does know, really, but there's that space, that tiny, tiny space between knowing and knowing, and somehow that's always, always where Brendon inhabits in his mind. Because they've been kissing and they're both teenagers and of course Brendon is going to want more but usually he's pretty good about letting Ryan take the lead so it's something new when Brendon grabs him right out of the shower one night, grabs him and pushes him until he's sitting on the vanity and without any warning, any foreplay, anything, Brendon's mouth is on Ryan's cock.

It's perfect, beyond perfection, beyond what Ryan could possibly put into words or even music. But it's also his cock and that's a problem, because for all that Ryan has never had the choice of what to give and what not to give others, his cock has always been his own and until now, until this moment, he's kept it that way. It makes it all the worse that he probably could shove Brendon off, that he probably could send him sprawling. Ryan is small, but so is Brendon, and Brendon—unlike Ryan—never sees the violence coming.

Which is half of why he can't do it. Ryan can be all sorts of things, but he can't be his father, won't be. The other half involves the fact that Brendon is so careful with him, that despite the way his tongue and his cheeks squeeze Ryan to the point of breathless, aching pain, it is good pain. It is the kind of pain that he knows won't escalate, will become pleasure, and that is something that until now he didn't know he would recognize. He's never experienced it before, so how would he? Except that here Brendon is giving it to him, and he does. Maybe he just recognizes Brendon.

He comes without sound, comes biting his own lips, squeezing his arms to himself. There is silence afterward, silence except for his own breath, his own heartbeat in his ears. Brendon says, softly, "Should I have asked?"

"I would have said no," Ryan tells him.

"I know. Should I have?"

Without opening his eyes, Ryan shakes his head.

"It doesn't have to be... I don't want to take anything from you."

"That would be sort of unfair, wouldn't it?" Ryan still hasn't opened his eyes.

Brendon says, "I know that you get tired by looking at me sometimes, but I kinda need you to look at me right now."

That's pretty fair, so Ryan opens his eyes. "You just have more inside of you than I do."

"No, I have other things inside of me than you do."

"I could jerk you off."

"Ryan."

"I'm just saying—"

"Shut up."

"Because that was a pretty nice thing—"

"It was a blowjob, and you really need to shut up."

Ryan can't though, he just can't, not with Brendon standing there, looking like he maybe believes that he was only good while his mouth was still on Ryan's cock, so he says, "You don't take from me. You don't."

Brendon asks, "Is that gonna change if I let you put your hand on my cock?"

Ryan says, "I offered," because he doesn't say things to Brendon that he doesn't mean. He just doesn't.

"Sometimes you're a little metaphorical, my friend."

"Sometimes I'm not."

Brendon takes Ryan's hand in his. "Okay, but like this," and he doesn't let go, not once.

*


Brendon's pretty clear on the fact that Ryan has lines that can't be crossed. That's obvious. The problem is Ryan has all these other lines, flimsy ones that someone has to cross or they'll just harden. But it can be problematic to figure out the difference.

Brendon has gotten as far as knowing that one of the significant differences is the element of surprise. Ryan really, really hates surprises. So it might be fine for Brendon to stand at Ryan's side and put his arm around Ryan after a few seconds—well, Ryan will tense and take quite some time to settle into the touch, but he won't twist from it, or knock Brendon's arm away—but if Brendon just comes up from behind him to cling he's asking to get shoved.

Brendon thinks, though—and maybe it's not his right, but Ryan is his friend, is his...Ryan, so he'll just keep on thinking—that Ryan should know how to handle the shock of touch, should be able to acquire some level of comfort with it. He tries not to scare Ryan. That's not the point of this. He'll make noise when he's about to pounce, but he doesn't always give explicit verbal warning, and Ryan's angry, "Fuck off" diatribes are of no discouragement to him.

There is the day he does scare Ryan, though. He doesn't mean to, he's actually just not thinking, which isn't something he does very often around Ryan, but he's tired. He hasn't built up the endurance he needs and shows take it out of him. Not to mention, Ryan--for all that Brendon doesn't want anyone or anything else--is kind of high maintenance.

Brendon comes up from the bunks and drags a hand along Ryan's shoulder and Ryan jumps while swearing more fluently than anyone Brendon has ever heard in his entire life, including his sister Caddie, who has quite the repertoire. Ryan turns really, really pissed off eyes onto Brendon who says, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Ryan."

The muscles of Ryan's shoulders ripple as he contains himself, sticks himself back into appropriate places. Brendon wonders what would happen if he ever just didn't. For all the danger, it might be something worth trying to provoke. Ryan bites out, "Don't fucking touch me."

"Okay."

"Ever."

"Okay."

Ryan makes a noise of utter frustration and stalks back to his bunk, where he can hide. Brendon allows him to burrow for the time being.

*


Brendon waits a couple of days before trying again, before sitting across the table from Ryan, who has one hand stretched out over the surface. He says, "Ryan," and waits for Ryan to look at him and touches his fingers to Ryan's. Ryan turns his hand over. Brendon takes the invitation as it is meant. Ryan says, "I shouldn't have said that. It was stupid."

Brendon just shrugs and they move on, Brendon returning to his previously scheduled caution until they're making out one evening after a show and Brendon lets his hand fall to Ryan's cock. In fairness to himself, they are making out. This is not an illogical progression. In hindsight, he probably should have warned Ryan.

Ryan bites Brendon's tongue. Brendon knows he doesn't actually mean to, his teeth lift almost as quickly as they descend and the two of them untangle, Brendon's hands coming to his mouth, Ryan's to his cock. Ryan says, "Are you—"

Brendon waves his hand and tries to say, "fine," without the use of his tongue. Ryan looks down at his hands, as though he doesn't understand what has happened. Brendon closes his eyes. Ryan says, "Sorry." The word sounds small. Ryan sounds small.

Brendon opens his eyes, shakes his head. "Nah, should've said something." His words are slightly lisped, but not so much that he can't be understood.

"You probably, um. Probably don't want to try again."

Brendon gives Ryan an assessing gaze. "Do you?"

Ryan looks away.

"Didn't think so."

Ryan's shoulders square so hard Brendon is worried he'll strain something. Brendon says, "I'm not mad."

Ryan says, "You should be."

"I'm not."

"Well, then. I guess that makes one of us."

*


At first, it isn't even conscious, the way Ryan curls into Spencer just a little more when they're watching movies together, sits behind him in planning sessions, knocks against him with just slightly more force than usual when laughing. He doesn't so much as notice until Spencer asks, "Are you all right?"

Ryan's a little puzzled by the question. "Fine."

"He isn't— Brendon isn't—" Spencer's shoulders tense. "You've kinda been shielding yourself. With me."

Ryan considers the words, the fact that they're true. And the thing is, Ryan isn't the type of guy who does things without reason. He never has been. So, "No, Brendon— He wouldn't." He wouldn't either—Ryan's pretty sure, anyway, that's one of those things a person can never know until he knows—but Ryan's been trying to do something with Spencer. If only he knew what it was.

He tries to pay closer attention to the times when he moves for Spencer, and sure enough, Spencer has noticed what he has not—Brendon is always, always there. Brendon watches, too. He watches but he never intervenes, never tries to pull Ryan away. There is something wishful in his gaze when he catches the two of them together, but he never mentions that, either, not even when Ryan and he are alone.

Ryan pushes because although it seems to him that there is probably a better way to draw Brendon out, to make him demand something of Ryan, to make him admit his newly developed rights, this is all Ryan knows. If he pushes hard enough, Brendon will eventually push back. He has to.

Only, when he does it's not pushing. It's pulling, Ryan supposes, if that. He says, "Ry, if Spencer's what you want, you should maybe say now." He says it quietly, in one breath, making himself look at Ryan.

Brendon is infinitely braver than Ryan. It is maddening and heartening all at once. The words, "he's not" are right on Ryan's tongue, right there, and he can't push them off. He says, "No," instead, and that will have to do.

"Because you kinda—"

"Say something."

Brendon is silent for a little bit, and Ryan knows he's working it through, trying to get there so that Ryan won't have to do the lifting for him. Ryan manages to say, "Tell Spencer. Tell me."

Brendon nods then, slowly. "Take you back, huh?"

Take me. Ryan bites the inside of his lip. Brendon smiles. The smile is tired, but it is the one he never smiles except for at Ryan. "Okay."

Ryan would like to think that he'll stop going to Spencer, stop hiding, stop waiting for Brendon to find him and force him into emerging. He knows better.

*


Ryan gets better about accepting Brendon's mouth on his cock, about letting Brendon pull Ryan on top of him in his bunk, rocking and straining and pressing them together until they've both come. Sometimes he can even let Brendon pull down their jeans, their boxers, whatever, to their hips and have the contact be cock-on-cock. Sometimes.

He gets better about accepting all these things, but mostly, unless Brendon's action forces the touch in some way, Ryan keeps his hands—and everything else—to himself. Until the day he decides to touch Brendon's hair hesitantly as Brendon settles in, opens his throat, lets Ryan as far into him as he can manage. He touches it and Brendon thinks, "Yeah, Ryan, good," until Ryan curls his fingers in the hair and holds tight. He doesn't even tug. There's nothing, nothing violent in the motion. If anything it's uncertain, a sort of request that Brendon stay where he is.

Which is why Brendon hates himself for pulling off, for looking away from Ryan, panting, sick to his stomach. Ryan asks, "Brendon?" He doesn't sound mad.

Brendon sort of wishes he were. "Okay. Evidently you can't hold my hair. Touching's fine."

Ryan nods and for a second, Brendon thinks that Ryan's going to do what Ryan generally does and let it go. Ryan doesn't like talking about things, and he seems to think that if he doesn't press others, they'll return the favor. Granted, Brendon doesn't, really, which is probably why he doesn't get the courtesy extended to him. Ryan says, "That's sort of, um. Like something I would say."

"No it isn't," Brendon says, which is clearly the biggest lie he's ever told Ryan, except the ones of omission. Ryan just looks at him, a little pityingly, like Brendon is brain-damaged. He feels that way, a little, at the moment. He wonders if this is what it feels like to be Ryan.

Ryan says, "The thing is, even though I don't talk about it, you know the important stuff. That stuff I told you. Or you saw. See. But it's not like I don't trust you with it. I just don't like hearing about it. I did it and it's done and—"

"Yeah," Brendon says, "It's done."

"Only it's not."

Ryan has a point, because at least Ryan tries, which is more than Brendon can say for himself at the moment. He looks at Ryan and says, "You have to promise to let me finish this, even if you never let me touch you again. After."

Ryan frowns. "Promise."

"I sort of. You know how it was a bit tight, before, when I was working at the Shack?"

Ryan nods.

"I got an offer, and look, it wasn't like I knew I shouldn't, okay? I'm not stupid, not completely, but I was really— There's only so many smoothies you can drink, and I mean, if I never smell a smoothie ever again for the rest of my life it won't be long enough. So she offered to pay for dinner and I knew, I knew—seventeen's not that young—but I just wanted to eat. And then it got out of hand, which I should have seen coming, and I just. Don't like feeling like I can't get away."

Ryan touches one finger to Brendon's face, as though to test the truth of his words. Brendon keeps his eyes open, on Ryan. When Ryan risks cupping his palm to Brendon's cheek, Brendon slides his cheek against the touch, a sort of self-sustained caress. Ryan says, "I know it doesn't make a difference, but I would let you go. Let you get away."

"I know," Brendon says. It doesn't make a difference. He asks, "May I finish, now, please?" and the formality sounds funny even to his own ears, but it is the only thing he has to hide behind at this moment, pitiful as that may be.

"I promised."

Brendon sighs.

"But I'll go back on the promise if you keep acting like you think I would judge you for this." Ryan sounds calm. Brendon knows better.

"I sort of whored myself out. Cheaply."

Ryan says, "You sort of made a mistake. Did something that was wrong for you."

"It—"

Ryan kisses him, stops his protests. "Even I know we all make mistakes."

Brendon says, "You really can touch my hair."

Ryan says, "Good. It's soft."

*


They've had a fight. They’re standing there and Brendon's hand steals its way inside the first layer of Ryan's armor, settles in far too close for comfort. Brendon's grip stays looser than it generally does. Ryan thinks about pressing into it, but realizes he doesn't know how.

Ryan can't remember what the fight was about. It was less than 24 hours previous and at the time it was clearly important—there was yelling, lots of it—but then Brendon threw one of the shoes that Spencer was forever leaving all over the place. Threw it away from Ryan. Away from him. Ryan looked at it for a second and thought, "Wrong direction," before he realized that Brendon hadn't just randomly flailed the thing wherever it would go, that he had turned and chucked it in a manner that meant it couldn't hit Ryan.

In Ryan's experience, that wasn't what people did when he was in the room and available as a target. He found himself unable to remember what the hell they had been arguing about, turned, and walked out of the room. And now Brendon is next to him, his hand there, there, but clearly unsure as to whether that's allowed, as to whether he was the one who fucked things up. It's ironic, Ryan thinks, but he doesn't really feel like writing a song about it. Not yet. That will probably take some more remove.

Brendon says, "I'm really, really sorry. I would never—"

"You threw it away from me."

"—never do— What?"

"You threw the shoe in a different direction. From where I was."

Brendon's hand spasms. "Yeah, Ryan. Because I was frustrated. I was fucking frustrated that you weren't listening to me. I wasn't thinking you were some sort of worthless shit who needed to be beaten into agreeing with me."

"It's a matter of expectation," Ryan says softly.

"I know," Brendon says, and Ryan can feel the way his shoulders sag, just a bit too heavy for him at the moment.

"It's not that I think you would—"

"Except you do, until I don't. And I'll give you that I shouldn't have been throwing things, but Jesus fuck, Ryan, I would never, never throw a fucking platform Converse at you. What if it hit you?"

And that, Ryan thinks, is sort of why he's still here, still with this man's arm around him. Because hitting him would have been the whole point, wouldn't it have? Only Brendon doesn't even seem to know that. "I shouldn't have left."

"It wasn't precisely either of our most shiningest moments."

"Shiningest," Ryan says softly.

"It's okay," Brendon says, bringing his other hand up to not-quite-skim the corner of Ryan's eye, "you got your shiny back on."

Ryan doesn't smile. "I know you wouldn't hurt me."

"Well, you don't, but it's nice that you want to. That's something."

Ryan doesn't argue, because there are times when Brendon is actually just right.

"I'm still sorry I threw it, even if it reassured that crazy head of yours."

Ryan says, "Thanks, kid."

*


Brendon does his not-quite-customary holding of Ryan after he's finally convinced Ryan to fuck him. Ryan has done all sorts of things, but not that, and Brendon has evidently done all other sorts of things, but not that, and it has been awkward and fumbling, and Ryan can tell Brendon is still sore. It has also been a little bit secret and special and brilliant. Ryan isn't sure which parts of it have Brendon at his side, fingers confident and knowing in their curl.

"Heya," Brendon says, his grin almost disturbingly large. "You look like a man well-laid."

"Oh my god. Are you crowing?"

"Crowing?"

"Preening, feeling self-satisfied, puff—"

"I knew what it meant, I was just amused by your reference to Peter Pan, given last night's events."

"Whatever, you knew the reference, asshole."

"And yes, I am."

"You are— Oh. Crowing."

Brendon nods happily, moving his hips and his shoulders in a little bit of a dance. His arm stays where it is.

"You weren't that good," Ryan tells him.

"Thought you didn't have anything to compare me to?"

"I'm just saying, objectively."

"Sex isn't objective."

"All your Norwegian filmmakers would disagree."

"And I've watched the films. They're wrong. You were listening when I told you about that?"

"Not really," Ryan says, which is a lie, because there are few things as forcefully hot as Brendon being casually, lazily brilliant. "I have a good memory."

Brendon is still grinning. Ryan chances, "Did I hurt you?"

"Not in the way you think of the word 'hurt'."

It's such an honest, nuanced answer that for a second Ryan has to just think about it. "Oh."

"You think pain is always intentional, always an end. It's not."

Ryan can see the point where that paradigm shifts, but he can't follow the direction of the shift.

"You gave something to me. You don't normally."

"I—"

"You don't. And I get it, okay, I get that all of them have taken shit from you and you have to conserve what's left, but it was different and nice and yeah, I'm a little self-satisfied."

Ryan frowns. "You gave yourself to me."

"Well, you have to give a little to get a little, don't you?"

But Brendon is always giving a little, and even if Ryan can't normally reciprocate, he knows it. Brendon asks, "Did I hurt you?"

Ryan doesn't really know what the question means, but he knows the answer. "No."

*


It's not that Ryan doesn't see the Brent thing coming. He'd have to be a moron not to and Ryan's actually pretty smart, he just doesn't like to talk all that much, which people confuse with not having much to say. He sees it coming, but there's no way when it actually happens, not to feel like an elephant with its fucking fourth leg missing.

Spencer, Spencer who has known him since before Brent, even—who at times brought frozen yogurt to the hospital, when Ryan should have just left, should have, but couldn't and wouldn't eat anything from the cafeteria, because the smell reminded him of sickness and decay—Spencer says, "We'll find someone else, Ry, someone better."

Spencer says the nickname quietly, in a room that houses only the two of them, so Ryan doesn't bother to ask him not to. Spencer has the right.

"I know," Ryan says. He does.

Spencer considers him. "I know you get left a lot, okay? I know. But the important people stay, Ryan, I swear they do. The rest is just—"

"Brent brought Brendon." Ryan says it all in one breath and there isn't anyone, anyone else in the whole fucking world he could say it too.

Spencer says, "Come on," and walks past Ryan, clearly expecting to be followed.

"Where are we going?"

"Come on," Spencer says, and Ryan gets into the passenger seat of the car when Spencer slides into the driver's seat because it's Spencer, and wherever he takes Ryan will be safe. He thinks about asking where the hell Spencer got the car, but it's not important. They're in it, going somewhere, and those are the pertinent facts.

It's a ten minute drive before they pull up in front of a Coldstone and Spencer says, "I tried to find a TCBY or something, but they don't believe in them in this state. They at least mix the stuff in here. It was the best I could do."

Ryan puts his hands on the dashboard.

"I'm still here. Brendon is still here. He helped me find this place. Kind of. He's shit with maps."

Ryan looks over at Spencer without removing his hands from the dash. "You told him about the yogurt?"

"I told him it was your comfort food. Pull the stick out, Ryan, seriously. The guy's been your happy place for over a year now, and that's just what I've calculated without either of you fuckers saying anything."

"Brent brought him," Ryan says again, as if it might mean something different—or perhaps just more—the second time.

"Yup, and Brent fucked him over, too. Maybe we should have invited him for ice cream, huh?"

"He's gonna figure it out, Spence," Ryan whispers. "He's gonna figure out that I can't say the things people need to hear, not with words, not just with words, he's gonna figure out that I'm not good at giving, that I—"

"He's not stupid, Ryan. And you're not as big of an asshole as you like to believe."

Ryan tenses, hanging onto the dash because he can't hang on to Spencer, no matter how forceful his commands to himself to just reach over the damn automatic gear shift are.

"Jesus," Spencer says, and grabs Ryan by the torso, pulling him into his lap. It's crowded in the vehicle and Ryan's pretty glad they're not all that famous yet, because he knows with his luck this would totally be the moment some photographer found him—and wouldn't that be ironic, him in Spencer's lap?—but he's glad that Spencer knows when to call his bullshit, because evidently Ryan can no longer do it himself.

Spencer says, "Brendon and I are doing our fucking best to hold on to you. Walking away would be pretty counterproductive, don't you think?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Ryan protests. Ryan always stays. Even when he shouldn't, when everybody tells him not to. Ryan stays.

"You're not staying anywhere, either," Spencer tells him.

Ryan presses himself into Spencer a little, which is a feat, given how much they are already smashed up against each other. "I try. I will. Try. For you. And for him."

"And for this other person we'll find. You'll see. It'll be for that one, too."

Ryan doesn't believe him, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that Spencer will do his darn best to make it happen. For Ryan. He says, "Hey, I'll cover the ice cream."

Spencer laughs, "That's big of you," but he squeezes Ryan for emphasis, and to let him know that he gets it, that Ryan's fine just how he is.

*


The Brendon Headaches mostly go away once Ryan says, "The thing is, if you kissed me, I wouldn't pull away," and Brendon says, "Okay," because he knows better, by now, than to make Ryan think twice. Brendon tastes of Red Bull and Juicy Fruit, almost too sweet, but his hands hold Ryan's head loosely and Ryan actually likes the tickle of Brendon's breath on his upper lip, the slow, dancing quest of his tongue. It's not very Brendon-like, only Ryan knows that Brendon-like covers a range of actions and behaviors which don't really mesh, not at all.

Ryan wonders if Brendon sucks the pain away from Ryan in those kisses, siphons it between his lips, swallows it down. Maybe. Maybe that's where Brendon's voice comes from. It's partly Ryan's pain anyway. Why shouldn't the rest feed it?

The headaches go away for so long that he doesn't even really recognize them when they come back, not at first. He thinks maybe he's tired or dehydrated or a little sick, or any of the things that happen to people on tours. Except that his head explodes into owowow, fuck, ow—and Ryan's really not a wimp when it comes to pain—every time Jon does something like give Brendon a noogie, or share a Coke with him, or put a hand to the small of his back to lead him in the proper direction.

It's not jealously, not of Brendon at least. Ryan appreciates that Jon knows better than to touch him without warning, doesn't often try to touch him with warning. And Ryan knows Brendon isn't cheating on him with Jon. It's too often that Brendon will look over at him while Jon has a guiding hand is on his back, will roll his eyes as if to say, "Hey, I know which direction I'm supposed to be going," or will walk over to Ryan after being noogied and rub his now utterly spastic hair against Ryan's arm, his cheek. Ryan knows Brendon wouldn't do that. He doesn't think Jon would, either, but Jon is new and clearly, clearly wants to fuck his boyfriend.

There's a day where Jon lifts Brendon up onto the stage, just hoists him from the seating level onto the platform, alleviating the need for stairs. Ryan watches Jon's hands on Brendon's hips and the next thing he knows the pain is so intense that he's puking over the side of the stage.

There are panicked calls—he thinks it's his name people are calling, but he's really distracted by the pain—and Ryan feels Brendon's hands on him. He says, "Don't touch me."

Brendon pulls off, yells, "Spencer!"

Someone brings a bottle of water and hands it to him. He takes it and thinks, "I know those hands," because he's watched Jon play the bass enough to know, know them intimately. He almost refuses the water, but this is pretty stupid already and Ryan knows that in his mind, even if his head evidently doesn't agree.

Spencer comes with wet rags, and his calm, "Hey, Ryan, how you feeling?" and Ryan lets him touch all he wants, which is petty. He doesn't look at Brendon's face, because he knows what he'll see.

Spencer says, "Let's get you up."

Ryan goes up easily with him, because now that he's gotten the venom out, he's mostly fine for the moment. Spencer looks at him, touches his forehead. "You sick?"

Ryan shakes his head. "Headache. I think it's better."

Brendon's eyes are wide and dark and Ryan thinks maybe he should have just hit him, maybe that would have been nicer. Ryan thinks maybe Brendon should take Jon, who won't pretend like Brendon's as faithless and worthless as Ryan himself, who will get that Brendon has something worth keeping and know how to keep it.

Jon says, "Maybe we should call tonight's show," and he sounds ashamed. Ryan's embarrassed because he has to be so fucking transparent if even Jon knows. It would help if Jon would look at him with some kind of disgust in his eyes, but mostly he just looks concerned.

Ryan shakes his head gingerly. "I'll sleep it off on the bus. I'll be fine in a couple of hours."

Spencer says, "Brendon's gonna take you back there."

Brendon starts, "Maybe you should—"

Ryan overlaps with, "I can make it—"

Spencer just hands Ryan over to Brendon and says, "Brendon's gonna take you back."

Brendon's hands feel broken at where they close around Ryan's elbows. He lets one drop, going for the minimum amount of contact, and Ryan lifts the water bottle to his mouth, drinks enough that he can squeeze out, "Maybe you could put your arm around me."

Brendon blinks and his lashes are wet, Ryan thinks, but his cheeks aren't. Silently, he slips his arm under Ryan's shoulder blades and says, "Come on, let's get you to bed."

*


Ryan makes himself crawl into Brendon's bunk and put his hand on Brendon's chest. He can't make himself sprawl on top of Brendon, the way he wishes he could, can't maybe because he feels a little bruised and sore and it would hurt, but can't more likely because there's a chance Brendon might throw him off. He can take pain, but rejection is becoming problematic.

For a moment, Ryan lets himself fantasize about hating Brendon Urie. Then Brendon Urie pulls Ryan on top of himself, wraps his arms around him and Ryan is not as bruised as he thought he was. Ryan says, "It's not that I think you would. It's that I think you should."

"I know," Brendon says, his voice tired, his arms cuddling for all he's worth, "and there are a lot of things that are hella attractive about you, but your stupidity is not really one of them."

Ryan pulls away a little and Brendon lets him go with a sigh. Ryan wants to say, "Not what you think," but instead he just looks at Brendon's face, tries to see the damage he's caused. It isn't hard. Ryan has a scar on his leg from the time one summer when he was three or four that his father came home out of his fucking mind and started throwing all their crockery at his mom. She'd been shielding him and even so, he still has a mark to show for it. The marks Ryan leaves aren't as long lasting, not where a person can see, but he thinks they should be. Brendon deserves to have something he can show others and say, "See, see what he did to me?"

There are shadows painted strong and dark around Brendon's eyes, and Ryan remembers pressing a brush to those self-same spots, painting ink and color. That sort washes away easier. Ryan presses his lips to the line of bone beneath Brendon's right eye. It's not a kiss, not really. His lips stay there, intent, but he cannot finish the kiss, afraid it will not make anything better.

Brendon moves one hand to the back of Ryan's neck and says, "The thing is, Ryan, is that I passed the part where I needed something other than you and your stunted, scared, sometimes pathetic efforts about a million states back."

So Ryan kisses him. Once, twice, over and over, making sure to hit each spot along the bone, where the skin has become thin, penetrable, almost. Brendon says, "It's okay, okay?"

Ryan says, "I always said that about the shit my father did to me, too."

"Yes, but you are more forgiving than I am."

Perhaps in this case, but overwhelmingly, "I'm not." Ryan can hate harder and with a purer intensity of purpose than anyone he has ever met. Brendon doesn't have the stamina.

Brendon rolls Ryan onto his back, to where he can slip his hand inside Ryan's shirt and caress over the rib Ryan's father broke when Ryan was fourteen, and visiting him. Ryan has never told Brendon about that, and there should be nothing to give it away, but it is Brendon's very favorite rib. Brendon says, "You think you steal my voice."

"I do. For my own purposes."

"Then how come I never get to say I steal your words for mine? Words come from deeper down."

Ryan's not so sure. "Because I give them to you."

"Yeah, Ryan, you do." Brendon leans down and kisses him chastely on the lips.

Ryan holds his breath for a second. Lets it out with, "I'd like to give you something else."

Brendon narrows his eyes. "I suppose that depends on what it is."

"I wanna suck you."

Brendon looks at him, his gaze even. "Ryan—"

"Please don't say I don't have to. Please don't make this sound like some kind of noble sacrifice. Because you have a fucking gorgeous cock, all right?"

"I was going to tell you to be careful of your teeth."

He wasn't, but Ryan loves him for saying it. He inches his way down, finds Brendon underneath his jeans, licks boldly. Brendon's hands bunch in the sheets. Ryan says, "Yeah, yeah," and takes the tip into his mouth. The skin is slick and not exactly what he would have imagined, but he wasn't lying about Brendon's cock. It's elegant for something that's made so dirty and Ryan slides along it, feeling his way with his tongue. Brendon whimpers and the top half of him writhes but he stays so very, very still down below for Ryan and Ryan is careful not to choke on him, not to bite, not to hurt. This way, this way he can keep himself from causing damage.

He can't swallow. He tries but there's too much and it's Brendon, which makes it okay, but the taste is salty, a little bitter, and Ryan just can't. He says, "Sorry," and looks down, anywhere but at Brendon who gently tugs him up the bed and reaches into his pants, touches his cock—he isn't hard, even though he should be, clearly, but it wasn't like that, the sucking, it was hot for all the wrong reasons, maybe. Brendon says, "Ryan, Ryan," and patiently coaxes him to fullness, brings him off. Brendon wipes his hands on the sheets and Ryan says, "We should change them, clean up."

Brendon says, "In a minute," and sounds like he might actually be able to move by that point.

*


Ryan doesn't notice it most of the time, not anymore, but Brendon can be a little intense some of the time, moreso when a person is spending over twelve hours a day with him on any given day. Inasmuch, Ryan really should catch on that Brian Viglione is starting to get a little annoyed by him. Spencer evidently has noticed, just hasn't started intervening as of yet, because when Brian tells Brendon to, "Just fuck off a bit, would you?" in a less than casual tone of voice, Spencer glares a more than competent Glare of Death and takes Brendon off before things can heat up.

Brendon lets himself be taken. Ryan follows. Spencer rubs at Brendon's shoulders and says, "He's just tired, Brendon. We're all tired."

It's true. The tour is at the worst moment, that middle part where the adrenaline of being out on tour has worn off but the recognition that things will be over soon and they'd best savor it hasn't yet kicked in. Brendon nods. "Sure."

"Spence," Ryan says.

Spencer gives Brendon's shoulders one more squeeze before leaving them to themselves. Ryan sits down next to Brendon. "Hey."

"Aren't you tired of me, too?" Brendon sounds tired of Brendon.

Ryan shakes his head. "No."

"Pissed off at me for fucking up the tour?"

"I think Brian's gonna get over his snit and the tour's gonna go on, so unless I'm wrong about that, let's assume you haven't fucked anything up yet."

Brendon shrugs. "Brent told me to fuck off a whole bunch in those last weeks, too."

"Brent became an asshole somewhere between Nevada and the road and none of us noticed. That wasn't your fault."

"He didn't, Ryan. He just stopped wanting to spend all of his time with us."

"My point is, you didn't fuck anything up."

Brendon shrugs again.

"Here's what I don't get, kid. With me, it didn't matter if I behaved myself, if I was good or not. It mattered whether my dad had been hitting the bottle. If he had, there were consequences regardless of my behavior. If he hadn't, there weren't. So what happens? In your head, what happens if you're good and what happens if you're bad?"

"No, you're right, it doesn't matter."

"Except that for you it does. You think it does. So tell me."

Brendon looks away. "If I'm good I get to have a family. If I'm good the band works out and Spencer and you aren't hurt. If I'm good Jon doesn't leave. If I'm bad—"

Brendon curls himself up so tight Ryan's afraid he'll cut his own circulation off. "Tell me."

"It's— I was— Not good. That time. During the Smoothie Shack thing. And she hit me and she told me to be good and I kept thinking that if I was ever good enough that she would go away and I could stop and then we did leave and now I just— I have to continue. I have to."

Ryan closes his eyes and sees blood. He thinks it's a good thing he doesn't know who this woman was, because homicide would end Panic a lot sooner than any feud with Brian Viglione. "That fucking piece of scum-sucking filth. That fucking whore bitch cunt." Ryan can't stop the words. He's amazed he can stop himself after only two sets of curses.

Brendon laughs a little into his knees. "I was the whore."

"No," Ryan says, violence just sheathed inside the word.

"Ryan—"

"No. You were just— You were just alone. And she took advantage of that while we weren't looking."

"You were looking. You just had other shit to look at."

"So did you and you still knew about my shit. So don't make excuses for me."

"I'm just saying."

"She had no right, Brendon. Do you get me? She had no right. And no matter what you did, she wasn't going to stop hurting you. That was her— She was like my father, only worse, because it wasn't the booze that caused it in her, it was some sort of deep down evil, the kind you have to be born with. There was no good enough for her, do you get that?"

"You weren't there."

"There enough. And I'm here enough now to know that I'm right. Because you are good, you're so unbelievably fucking good and if anyone, anyone in this world knows that, has the right to say that, it's me Brendon Boyd Urie. And you know it, too."

Slowly, slowly, Brendon nods. "I can't just turn it off, Ry."

"I know that, too." Ryan wishes he didn't. "But I'm never going to let you forget it."

"Don't you have a rule about making promises you can't keep?"

He doesn't lie to Brendon, not about this. "But not about ones that I'm going to try to keep."

"Can you please touch me?"

"You want that?"

"I'm yours," Brendon says, sounding unsure.

Ryan hooks his fingers into the collar of Brendon's shirt, knuckles brushing over, pressing into his neck. "Mine. And good, so, so fucking good."

*


The problem with having a father who loves you, Ryan has always found, is that no matter how many times he fucks up and says and does the wrong thing, it's pretty near to impossible not to love him back. Ryan can be pissed at his dad, can be frustrated with him, can even hate him for short periods of time, but he can't not love him. (Funny how hatred isn't exactly the opposite of love. Ryan would have thought it would be.)

His mom calls to tell him. He wishes it weren't her. She doesn't have to love Ryan's dad, so she doesn't and Ryan just wishes it weren't her. She doesn't understand; she never has. She tells him and he says, "Okay, thanks," because there's nothing else to say to her.

She says, "Honey," but he says, "No," and "I'm fine."

Then he hangs up and gets online. He tells Spencer, "I have to go back to Nevada for a bit." He thinks he sounds good considering that he can't feel the entirety of the middle section of his body.

Spencer sits down and asks, "Why, Ryan?" but he asks softly, like he knows something is wrong. He probably does. Spencer knows these things about him.

"My dad died this morning. Complications of alcohol, blah, blah, blah." Ryan waves a hand. He finds a bereavement fare that works and tries to remember where he left his wallet. Probably in his jeans. Brendon's bunk.

Spencer asks, "You need me to go with you?"

"What? No. That would just be silly."

Spencer isn't obvious in the way his mom is about it, maybe even sort of gets Ryan's love of his father, but he also didn't much like Ryan's father. Which is fair enough. Ryan's father wasn't all that likable of a guy. Ryan wanders off to find his wallet. He ends up accidentally waking Brendon who blinks up at him and says, "You look like someone hit you."

"Yeah, well, I was getting mouthy," Ryan says, finally locating his jeans and feeling around in the pockets.

"Ryan—"

"Don't worry about it, go back to sleep."

"Ryan."

"I said don't worry."

"Don't make me follow you into the main part of the bus where Spencer and maybe Jon will hear."

"Spencer already knows." Ryan hates himself for saying it the second it's out of his mouth.

Brendon's, "Oh," is so small it's barely comprehensible.

Ryan rubs a hand over his face. "No, just. No, he was already awake, that's all. That's all."

Brendon nods, but Ryan can tell he's not convinced. Ryan reaches up, stretches his arm against the top bunk. "My mom called this morning."

Brendon just waits. He doesn't touch Ryan. Ryan can't even tell if he wishes Brendon would. Maybe. But it's possibly even better that Brendon cares too much to try. Ryan doesn't know. It's confusing right now, more so than usual.

"My dad—"

It was so easy to say it the moment before, but now that Ryan finds himself trying again it's like the second time might confirm something he doesn't want to be true. "My dad—"

Brendon says, "Ryan?"

"He's—" Ryan makes a nonsensical motion with his hand.

"Sick?" Brendon asks softly.

Ryan shakes his head. "Not anymore."

"Oh. Oh."

"I have to— I was booking a plane flight." Ryan turns and walks off. Brendon follows him.

*


Ryan calls Brendon after the funeral and he can't even say, "Hello."

Brendon says, "Ryan? Ryan?" then, "Okay," and doesn't hang up the phone. He's quiet for a few minutes until he says, "I don't know if you want me to talk or just sit here."

Ryan tries to say talk, but if he opens his mouth he'll cry. His breathing quickens.

"I'm going to try talking."

Ryan takes a slower breath.

"Okay, yeah, I'm gonna talk. Um, let's see. Jon's tried once again to beat me at Apples to Apples yesterday. He came closer, but I think that's because you weren't here, so you gotta get back, because there's some serious championship prizes riding on this. A whole bag of peanut M&Ms and I think you know how I feel about peanut M&Ms.

"Spencer's going through one of his 24 phases again, which might just be because it's hard to think when you're watching that show, but I dunno, I think it's probably because he misses Bob."

It usually is.

"I tuned your guitar. I know you didn't say I could touch it and you can totally steal my gummy bears when you get back, but it was looking a little lonely and I'm missing you pretty bad so it just seemed like the thing to do. I also cleaned the banjo up a little. I don't really know how to tune it, or I would have. It looked lonely, too, but banjos are sort of lonely by definition, I guess, so maybe that's just the nature of the beast.

"Oh, I saw this news story on CNN about a cat who chased a bear up a tree. It was pretty awesome, but I kinda felt bad for the bear, because can you imagine having to go back to all your bear friends and be like, 'no, really, it was a tiger!' Except it was just a silly household tom and it was on CNN, so you just know one of your bear friends is going to find out all about it and then you'll have to move to a different bear community where maybe you don't fit in so well because there will be no living that down, not ever."

Ryan says, "Yeah, that would suck."

Brendon laughs and doesn't act like it's a big deal that Ryan managed to find his tongue, but Ryan can hear the surprise in Brendon's laugh. Ryan can hear Brendon.

"It's okay about the guitar, right?"

"It's— Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"Keep talking?"

Brendon does until long after he's hoarse with it.

*


Ryan comes back to the bus and even though it's just four wheels and some bunks, it's also Brendon and Spencer and Jon, and that's enough for him to think, home. It's kind of a stupid word, one that doesn't really mean anything, except that of late it sort of has, and he's missed it while back in Nevada. The irony isn't lost on him.

Spencer says, "I found a place where we can get frozen yogurt when we reach Salt Lake."

"I'm getting two toppings," Brendon informs him.

"Heathen." Ryan is a big believer in the purity of frozen yogurt. This is probably largely because his mom never wanted to spend the extra money on toppings, but he's not about to let details like that get in the way of his hard-earned snobbery.

"I've heard worse from people who would know better than the likes of you," Brendon says, thoroughly unimpressed.

"I like sprinkles," Jon says.

Brendon likes strawberries, which just adds to Ryan's complete disgust of the situation. "I suppose sprinkles are acceptable."

Jon laughs. Ryan curls up into himself, rests his head on his knees. Brendon sits down next to him, not touching. Ryan says, "Yeah, frozen yogurt would be good."

"We can find places at the other stops, too," Brendon says. "Every stop."

Ryan wonders if he'll get tired of it, if it will start to taste simply cold. He doesn't think so.

*


It is not that Spencer dislikes Pete. On the contrary, Pete is just fucked up enough that Spencer always responds to him with a somewhat instinctive desire to put his hands to Pete's shoulders and make him sit for a while, to listen, if Pete should ever decide to say anything real. Spencer has heard Pete's lyrics. It's clear he could manage it if he tried.

So, no, Pete is fine, Pete is Pete and Spencer doesn't generally ask people to be something more than they are. Ryan's infatuation with Pete makes Spencer a little bit sick to his stomach. Partly it's that it eats at Brendon in ways that nothing else does, not Ryan's reticence nor his pessimism, nothing. Spencer has tried to explain, "He lets Pete touch him because Pete can't touch him, not really," but Brendon just smiles with teeth bared and says, "I get it, Spence."

The worst part is, Spencer's pretty sure Brendon does get it, and that he sometimes wonders if he can effect that in himself, if only just to get Ryan to stop running in place. Spencer would say to Ryan, "He's just a guy," but he's tried and Ryan has said, "He's Pete Wentz," like that's supposed to mean something to Spencer.

He would say to Ryan, "He can only hurt you," but Ryan already knows. So what he says is, "You're hurting Brendon," and Ryan says, "How is this new?" but it's not flippant. It's serious.

Spencer knows all of Ryan's defense mechanisms, every single last one of them; he watched them grow. "It's not inevitable, Ryan."

Ryan looks away. "Isn't it?"

"No," Spencer says, and maybe it is, but not like this.

Ryan sighs, and Spencer thinks he's going to walk away and he'll have to either chase after him or wait him out, but Ryan says, "When he touches me, I don't feel it."

Spencer's not surprised.

"I mean, I feel it, but— He doesn't want any promises. He maybe thinks he does, but he doesn't even know what a fucking promise is, you know? So it doesn't mean anything. And we both know it, even if he doesn't know he knows it."

Spencer has the vague notion that shouldn't make as much sense as it does. "You can't punish Brendon for wanting more from you than your dick, Ryan."

"It's never intentional."

Spencer waits.

"Maybe sometimes."

Another few beats.

"Maybe this time."

Spencer nods, once. "Brendon listens to you. When you tell him things."

"And what's he gonna get from this, Spence? Another message that he's too fucking good for me?"

"He's not," Spencer says, and it isn't automatic, it's fervent.

"Spencer."

"He's. Not." Spencer takes a breath. "And he's gonna hear that sometimes you need things he can't give you. And it will hurt like hell, but at least it will be honesty, rather than this shit you're throwing at him. That he deserves."

Ryan presses his lips together like he's holding back more words, but Spencer knows he's just thinking. Finally, finally, he releases the pinch. "If he breaks up with me, I'm totally becoming your boyfriend."

"Of course you are," Spencer agrees gravely.

*


Brendon isn't touching Ryan when he asks, "Do you need that? Pete?" He has his hands on the piano, and he plays several chords, none of them really flowing from the other.

Ryan takes a long time to say, "Maybe."

Brendon wishes he could tell himself—and believe—that the pause is indicative of a struggle on Ryan's part, his ultimate desire to say no. Maybe it is. It doesn't really matter, because that's not the answer and at least Ryan's being honest. Brendon lays his forehead on the piano so softly it doesn't even trip the hammers. Two of Ryan's fingers touch at the vertebrae in his neck. Brendon begs, "Please don't," because he won't give Ryan what Ryan needs if he touches him.

Ryan withdraws his fingers. Brendon takes a breath and lays the words, "You should go to him, then," down on the ivory.

After a long moment wherein Ryan is so still Brendon isn't sure he hasn't disappeared, flitted off now that he has permission, Ryan asks, "Is this how this ends?"

"Fuck. You. Ryan."

"No. Right. I meant... I meant to ask if I could come back, afterward?"

"Only if you want to." Brendon wonders, briefly, where Ryan imagines he'd go. He wishes he had Ryan's imagination. Maybe then he would know what his options were.

"Brendon."

Brendon closes his eyes.

"It's not because I don't love you."

There are a million things to say to that. There is, "You suck at declarations, Ross," or, "It's not because you do," or, "Can I get you a fucking dictionary, so that you can understand that term you're just throwing around there?" Brendon stays utterly silent.

Ryan says, "It's not," and—being merciful for the first time in the whole conversation—pads off, his sneakers soft but audible against the ground.

Brendon stuffs a fist in his mouth and bites and thinks, "You're fine, Urie, you're fine," and ignores the way the keys are becoming slick, wet. He lashes out at the hands that curl around his shoulders an indeterminate amount of time later. Luckily Spencer is stronger than he is, and unflappable and catches his arms and pins them to his side. Luckily, it is Spencer.

"Hey," Brendon says, and his throat's a little raw and they have a show and he hates Ryan Ross, hates him. "Uh, can I?" He tries moving his arms. He just wants to wipe his face. Maybe then he can look Spencer in the eye.

"What did he do?" Spencer asks.

"Nah, it's just been a day." Brendon is actually a brilliant liar to everyone but the people he cares about. It's a rotten deal.

Spencer shakes him a little. Not hard. "What did he do, Brendon?"

"It was me. It was me, Spence. I just. It was me."

"What did you do?"

Brendon shakes his head.

"Brendon."

"Please don't make me say it again."

Spencer brings a hand up, forces Brendon to look at him. "Did you break up with him?"

Brendon laughs and it's clearly hysterical. If only. If only he could.

"No, huh?"

Brendon laughs harder, sliding to the ground and Spencer carries him there, because he's Spencer. When they're safe on the floor, when not even Brendon's knees are bruised—they bruise easily, bone too close to the skin—Spencer hauls Brendon to his chest and says, "Hey, hey."

Brendon clings because Spencer might not be what he needs, but he's Spencer and he doesn't walk away, doesn't ask Brendon to be more than he should really have to be.

"I was good," Brendon says, because somebody should know. "I was good."

"You are," Spencer says softly.

"I gave him Pete."

Spencer stills the smooth rocking rhythm he's established for a moment. Then he starts it up again.

"I was good."

"Yeah, baby. You were good."

Brendon tightens his fingers, aware that he might be hurting Spencer, unable to let go, to ease up. Spencer tightens his grip in response.

*


Pete doesn't need an elaborate invitation. All Ryan has to do is make it clear that he's waiting. It's so utterly easy, everything about it. It's so utterly fucking easy to smile at Pete and have Pete smile at him and say, "Really?" and kiss him with promises that won't be kept, can't be kept, because Pete doesn't know anything except that Ryan is saying, "Yeah, really."

Pete's hands are strong at his hips, if a little too insistent, his tongue is hot on Ryan's cock, if a little too frantic.

And when Pete says, "Can I, Ryan, can I?" Ryan honestly expects himself to say, "Yeah, whatever," because that sort of describes everything about this situation, but Ryan has never let anyone inside of him, not like that and it should be as easy as everything else with Pete, but at that Ryan's barriers come up.

They aren't the same barriers he has with Brendon. They are barriers Brendon has evidently erected within him. It takes Ryan a second to come to terms with the fact that he's never even noticed them before. In the past, he's noticed emotional impositions.

"Not like that," he says to Pete, and sucks Pete off, as dirty as Pete's always claiming to be, dirtier. He doesn't feel a damn thing, not even as he's shooting onto Pete's oh-so-talented hands.

It's only afterward that he can't breathe, tries and tries but it just won't happen and Pete says, "Ryan, Ryan. Ryan Ross!" This last is accompanied by a shake, a smack to his chest. The violence brings him back to himself.

Pete blinks at his gasp of breath. Ryan says, "Sorry," because he's feeling like a little bit of a loser, having a panic attack post-coitally with his sort-of, sometime hero.

"Jesus."

"It's not you." Ryan's fucked up, but he's not too fucked up to know that he shouldn't go around compounding other people's issues, and even if he wasn't, it would be pretty clear in Pete's case.

Pete curls up, tucking his feet below him, wrapping his arms around his legs. "Does Urie know you're here?"

Ryan looks at him. Pete shrugs, the ball he's formed of himself moving in its entire. "One thing I can recognize when I see it is fucked up."

"He knows," Ryan says.

"Wow," Pete says.

And yeah, that about sums things up. Ryan exhales. "Fuck."

"Why'd you agree?"

"Because I thought—" Ryan tries to quiet the fragmented lyrics in his head, to make sense of things in a way that will come together for another person. "I thought maybe you were what we needed."

Pete's eyes are unfathomable, but not angry. Ryan sort of wishes they were angry. "I wasn't trying to use you."

Pete smiles at that, in a way. Admits, "I wasn't trying to use you, either. But."

Ryan nods. "But."

"It's almost tragic. We'd be so gorgeously bad for each other."

Ryan's smile contains not a trace of amusement.

"Go," Pete says. "Tell Urie— Tell Urie he should try fighting for what he wants."

"He already does," Ryan says, because he really doesn't like people talking smack about his boyfriend.

"Then tell him he can totally hit me the next time we see each other."

Ryan wonders if Brendon would like that. He's never tried to hit Ryan, but the rules are so different between them. "I'll give him the message."

"Ryan," Pete says. Ryan looks at him. Pete stretches out, pulls him in, kisses him slow and hot and wet and friendly. Then he lets him go.

"Yeah," Ryan says. He sends Patrick to Pete on the way out. Just in case.

*


Ryan sneaks back onto the bus at around three and is busy tiptoeing back to the bunks when his peripheral vision catches on Spencer sitting at the table, and has to forcibly clamp down on a startled scream. He puts his hand to his chest and glares. "Fucking hell, Spence."

Spencer doesn't say sorry. Ryan asks, mild petulance in the question, "He tell on me?"

"He wouldn't have," Spencer says casually. Unlike most of the people Ryan has known, who give warnings, Spencer is at his most dangerous when casual, most likely to lash out suddenly, and—worst of all—rationally.

"But you know."

Spencer blinks, slowly.

"You know I had permission."

"The heartbreaking thing," Spencer says, "is that I get where that must have seemed novel, given the way permissiveness isn't a word I think of when I think of your life. But Brendon is nothing, nothing if not fucking permissive, Ryan, and being allowed something isn't the same as having to do it."

Spencer's voice is so controlled, so perfect and even that Ryan tells him, "Sometimes it would be better if you could just hit me."

"Unfortunately for you, my name isn't Brendon Urie and so my ability to allow my world to rotate around you is limited."

Ryan folds at that, hunching his shoulders defensively even though Spencer is still sitting, calmly, outside of touching distance. Spencer asks, "Was it good? Was it everything you thought it would be? Did you write music while he had his cock in your mouth?" Each question has the same level tone, the same affected lack of judgment.

"Please," Ryan says.

"I just want to know that there was a reason I had to pick the pieces of my other bandmate off the floor. I'm not sure I found all of them, you'll have to forgive me."

Ryan says, "Um," walks to the kitchen trash—which is nearer than the toilet—and vomits. Mostly everything he has to vomit is Pete's and that's just so fucking apropos he almost laughs except that his chest is burning, his throat more acid than nerve. Spencer hauls him up carefully—even now, he's careful, his hands at Ryan's shoulders—and marches him to the bathroom. He strips him and puts him in the shower and says, "Wash him all the way off, Ryan."

"No," Ryan says.

"Ry—"

"I learned things." Ryan's not sure he'll be heard over the water, but evidently he is because Spencer pauses.

"All right. But you've done enough to Brendon for this round, so see if you can limit the damage."

When Ryan emerges, the only part of Pete that is still with him is a small lingering, cautionary hum that twinges just above his right hip, where Pete held on too long, too hard. Spencer has green tea steaming in a mug across from him. Ryan sits down and takes a sip. Spencer is silent for a bit until Ryan begins to fidget, waiting, and then he says, "You can't make yourself abhorrent to us. I know that you think it would help, that it would save us, but you aren’t Gerard Way, so leave aside the savior thing and just— Let him—"

"I try," Ryan says, low and fervent. "I try being good enou—"

"Nothing to do with good, Ryan. Brendon doesn't want good. He wants messy and hard and brilliant, and I can't say that I always get it, but it's what he wants and on occasion I think you should try to respect that. Respect him."

"I do. I do. I'm just crap at—"

"Showing it in any way, shape or form?"

Ryan shrugs. Spencer's frustration is the worst, because all he seems to want is for Ryan to be happy, which Ryan thinks would be nice as well.

"Find a way to make this up to him," Spencer says, and it sounds vaguely like a threat, but Ryan's not sure, because Spencer has never threatened him. What he knows is that if he doesn't, Spencer won't have to carry through, because whatever he could do wouldn't be half so bad as the consequences of Ryan's own actions. He thinks Spencer knows that, too, it's why Spencer can make the threat. Ryan nods, once.

Spencer says, "Finish your tea."

Ryan takes another sip.

"You wanna stay with me tonight?"

Ryan's still damp from the shower, but he doesn't feel clean. He should say no, he thinks, because even when he doesn't, Spencer always smells of the desert and his mom's ginger snaps, but it's beyond Ryan not to say, "Please."

*


Spencer's already up by the time Ryan awakens. They're still moving. He has no idea where they are anymore. It doesn't matter, Brendon's the one who has to greet the city. Ryan squeezes his eyes shut for just a second longer, then makes himself move. Spencer's out in the main area, but Brendon isn't. Ryan goes back to the bunks. Brendon isn't in his bunk, either, and for a second Ryan's chest is tight with utter terror until he glances at his own bunk. Ryan steps onto Spencer's bunk, right below his, and crosses his arms beneath his chin, resting both at the edge of the bed. He watches Brendon sleep for several long minutes, watches the way his fingers clutch at the pillows, the sheets, the way he's tense, wound even in repose.

Ryan whispers, "Wake up, kid."

Brendon murmurs disagreement and begins to turn, but Ryan puts a hand to one of his arms. Brendon's eyes fly open and he starts to smile. Halfway in he remembers where he is and how they've gotten here and he says, "Oh, sorry. You can have your bunk back."

Ryan doesn't move his hand. "Does it come with you?"

Brendon seems to sink into the bed, impossibly tired. "Only if that's what you want."

Ryan says, "I get that if I were the person I want to be for you, I wouldn't ask for anything anymore."

Brendon knows him. "But?"

"There's something I want."

"You have to ask, Ryan. You have to ask this time."

Ryan nods. "I know."

Brendon waits, his muscles so tight under Ryan's fingers Ryan thinks they'll snap.

"I want you to fuck me."

Brendon screws up his face. "Ryan, I don't—"

"I know, I know that's not your thing and it makes you remember, but I'm not her and I want you to know that and I need you inside me if only just this once. If it's not good I won't make us do it ever again, I promise. I promise." Ryan does a lot of awful things, but he doesn't break his promises.

Brendon reaches out a hand, touches Ryan's hair. He sighs. "You got stuff?"

Ryan hops down, rustles in his bag and returns. When he comes back, Brendon has pressed himself further into the interior, made room for Ryan. Ryan climbs in, takes over the space designated his. He takes Brendon's hand and kisses the webbing between thumb and pointer finger. Brendon says, "Suck them, Ryan."

So Ryan takes the finger into his mouth. First one, then two, then three. It's hot, but not urgent. It's the part where they get comfortable with each other again. They don't always need that, but Ryan left and messed them up, so yeah, now they do. Brendon says, "We've still got our boxers on," and Ryan understands the implicit demand. He is careful of Brendon's cock, careless of his own and Brendon brings a hand to soothe over Ryan's cock as it twists free of the fabric. His eyes focus in on something and Ryan doesn't have to follow them to know it's the bruise.

Ryan starts to say, "We didn't—" but breaks off to moan as Brendon covers the bruise with his mouth, sucks hard enough to hurt, but doesn't bite, doesn't actually cause harm, just replaces the unintentional pain with some intentional possession of his own. When he's done he moves his mouth almost lazily onto Ryan's cock. He swallows Ryan, easy and smooth, and Ryan feels the first sob all the way up his body. He doesn't say anything. Brendon has the right.

Ryan pulls out when his heart begins to beat loud in his throat, his ears. Brendon turns him over gently, soothes a hand down the length of his back once. Twice. The first finger is easy. Brendon has fingered him as an adjunct to a blowjob on more than one occasion, Brendon with his long, smooth piano player hands. Another finger is just as good, just as easy. The third takes some adjustment. Brendon says, "That's it, Ryan, that's it."

Brendon turns Ryan on his stomach, elevates his hips, says, "Easier this way, okay?"

Ryan nods. This part is Brendon's, even if it isn't what Brendon wants. Brendon is slow about it, which is good, because it burns so much at first Ryan thinks he might ask him to stop, might fuck this part up too, but Brendon keeps one hand on the bruised hip, one curled up in Ryan's fingers. He connects with Ryan's prostate and all thoughts of asking him to stop ever flee from Ryan's mind. It doesn't even matter that it's still a stretch, that he'll feel it all the way through the show. No, it does matter. It's better that way.

Ryan says, "All I wanted was you," sobs it, maybe, a bit. Not like Brendon's sobs, not relief mixed in with fear, just terror and awe with a dash of something that Ryan has no words for, not even lyrics.

Brendon drives in, presses his pelvis to Ryan's ass, says, "Please don't need to be reminded of that again. Please."

He pulls out slightly so that he can brush over all the good spots, the best spot and Ryan says, "No. Need you. No." He isn't sure what the second "no" means. He isn't sure he'll remember any of this when they're not in the moment, when Brendon isn't deep in him, all his, all his, nobody else's.

Brendon drives in with an intensity that usually only fuels his music. Ryan's cock is caught between himself and the pillow, friction on all sides and he wants to come with Brendon's hands on him, but Brendon's cock will have to be enough, because he can't wait, he can't. Brendon says, "That's it, Ryan, oh you're so good, so—"

"Not good," Ryan pants, mostly out of his mind, but there enough to hear Brendon.

"So good, so good," Brendon argues and drives in and holds on as he gives into Ryan completely.

When he can, Brendon begins to pull himself off, out, and Ryan says, "Don't. Not just yet."

"We'll get sticky."

"I know," Ryan says, and holds the hand that Brendon, tellingly, hasn't let go of.

*


Ryan can still feel Brendon in him by the time they climb on the stage the next night. It twinges a bit and Ryan, who has never found pain, even slight pain, reassuring, is reassured. The reassurance stays with him until Brendon gets into his full-blown stage persona. It's not terribly unusual for Ryan not to recognize that person, not to know that he knows and respects Ryan's boundaries, but it's worse tonight, because Ryan isn't sure he respects his own boundaries just at this moment. And when Brendon challenges him, beckons to him, Ryan wants to refuse, to put his foot down, to say, "Not here, not now, Brendon," but he's already failed Brendon once this week and that's enough.

So he goes to him, he gives him what he wants, straddles him and looks down at where Brendon is smiling up at him, so fucking ecstatic that he responded, that he gave Brendon this—this single tiny gesture of recompense for all the times when Brendon has bent so far to him Ryan has fully expected to see him splinter, unable to reform. If Ryan doesn't get up, he's going to puke on Brendon.

He can feel Brendon's eyes on him, still smiling, still onstage, still Brendon, but Ryan also knows that now there's worry, underneath, where not-stage Brendon resides. Ryan puts himself in his fingers and plays until there is nothing else to play. He really should have written more songs.

He tells the guys he'll take the last shower and revels in the way the cold water hurts against his skin, pointed and sharp. He stays in too long and Brendon comes for him, wrenches off the water, with a, "Fuck, Ryan," and wraps Ryan in two towels—the dry one waiting for him, and the one Brendon has already used just for a little bit of weight, warmth. He pulls the dry one over Ryan's head and musses his hair dry, careful not to touch Ryan without the barrier of the towel. Ryan can't stop shivering.

"Gimme a second, okay? I'm just gonna go get Spence, is all."

"No."

"Ryan—"

"I don't need Spence." He wishes he could say, "I need you." He wishes he could. The words get caught on the vibrations of his throat.

Brendon wraps him even tighter and cautiously pulls Ryan to himself. He rubs his back, says, "Hey. Hey. Is this? Did I do this?"

And he did, but not in the way he thinks. Ryan has to find the words, he has to find them, because this is too big a thing to mess up, bigger, even, than thinking he could leave. "You were so happy," is what he finds. It's a pathetic offering, the same as all his others and the worst part is that he knows Brendon will take it in the spirit in which it is intended.

He does. "You came to me."

"I shouldn't have left."

"Oh," Brendon says. "That's what this is."

Ryan wonders, momentarily, if he will die from this shaking, if it will erode his parts and he will fall in chunks while Brendon struggles to hold on. Brendon tells him again, "You came to me, Ryan."

"You don't ask, you never ask—"

"I sometimes ask."

"Not enough."

"It's enough for you."

Ryan knows he's right, and for a second he wishes Brendon didn't know him so damned well and he could just lie. "Maybe. Maybe ask just a little bit more. Maybe push me."

"Ryan—"

"How am I supposed to change, kid? How? If you don't do this?"

"I don't want to change you."

"I want to change me."

"It's not the same."

"Everyone else is allowed to get better, why not me?"

"You're allowed, I just—"

"Push, Brendon. Just a little. You. Nobody else. You push."

Brendon slips one hand inside the towels, settling it over where Ryan's heart is beating so hard it's bruising the inner cavity of his chest. "Okay, Ryan. Okay."

Ryan closes his eyes, and coaxes his heart to slow under the touch.

*


There is a split second—and okay, Brendon feels stupid about it later, but it's instinctual—after his dad calls him, and Brendon recognizes the number, recognizes but can't process it, when it hits Brendon what the number is and he picks up and thinks, Daddy, thinks, forgiven.

It takes him less than ten minutes of talking to realize that forgiveness is contingent upon his seeming success, to realize that his own forgiveness is not so mutable a thing as he would prefer it be. Even so, he can't clamp down on his hope, his, "They'll see, they'll see," when they finally come to a concert, finally come to check out what their youngest son can do.

Brendon is so hyped that by the time he's on the stage he's tripping over his own feet. He tones it down about four songs in when he finally catches his own rhythm. Ryan would help him, he knows, but he's staying far the hell away from Ryan. He'll give too much away if he doesn't.

His parents are—Brendon has to think for a while to come up with a good term—politely enthusiastic. They remind Brendon of spectators at a golf match. He is sweaty and gross and grinning and he makes himself calm, because in comparison to their collect he looks like a wayward child. The simile is not wholly inappropriate.

The second time is better, a little. Easier. Brendon is prepared. He showers before he goes to see them, measures his smile to the right length. The third time—and there are only three, in over two years of touring, only three—he has it down, understands that when they ask about the new album it isn't a question about his artistic growth so much as the continued respectability of his chosen profession. He answers accordingly.

They don't ask about Brent. They don't seem to care to meet Jon. Brendon introduces him anyway, because he won't slight Jon like that. Jon is the perfect gentleman, smooth and polished and despite the fact that they've seen him on that damn stage right alongside Brendon, Brendon can see the way they are impressed.

Jon ruins it—maybe deliberately, Brendon likes to think it was deliberate—by saying, "Yeah, well, it's Brendon who brings the soul," in response to his parents' compliments over his bass playing. Brendon doesn't want him to press, but the support isn't unappreciated.

Ryan stays far away. Ryan has rage issues. He thinks Brendon doesn't notice. Brendon notices. But when Brendon finds him later, asks, "Wanna see if we can find a frozen yogurt joint?" Ryan says, "That's my comfort thing."

"What, I can't borrow?"

"I meant—"

"I know," Brendon tells him. "I know. But I'd like to borrow."

"You can have."

*


The first time Ryan met Brendon, he was wearing a cross. It was hidden under layers of prep-goth clothing, but it was there. Ryan is pretty sure he wasn't supposed to have seen it. Ryan is pretty sure Brendon was wearing it more out of habit than faith by that time. When Brendon was kicked out, he left the cross at his parents' house, along with just about everything else. Unlike the other stuff, Ryan imagines that part felt good.

Brendon doesn't go to church, doesn't say grace before meals, takes the lord's name in vain regularly and with a certain amount of relish. Occasionally, in the moments where Brendon is most nervous or upset or hopeful, Ryan will look over and see his lips moving. Ryan thinks that Brendon still prays. Like the cross, Ryan suspects this is more habit than belief, but it is a telling habit, and one that makes Ryan pay attention to other things about Brendon.

For instance, when Brendon would come over to Ryan's house in high school he would always, always clean up after himself, even if he only had a drink of water. In the past year and a half, Brendon has progressed to cleaning up after others, too, when in a house that includes a mother. He always cleans his plate, too. Even when it's food he doesn't like. Ryan has watched him choke down the tomatoes in a salad because Mrs. Smith put them on his plate, unaware of his distaste. It's hard to know when he won't say anything, just eats them up.

It's not just parents, either. Sometimes Spencer will be high off a set, will drape himself over Brendon and say, "Fire, Urie, you were on fucking fire," and Brendon will beam so hard Ryan has to squint. He doesn't look away, not when Brendon is like that. It's hard to know when there will be a next time.

At a moment when Brendon is simply Brendon, too much energy and too many words and too everything—although, just enough for Ryan, if he's being terribly, fiercely honest—he asks, "Why do you need other people's approval?"

Brendon says, "We all need other people's approval, just look at you and Pete."

That's fair, but Ryan knows Brendon is aware of what he was asking and just doesn't want to answer. "You more than most."

"Nuh uh," Brendon says.

Ryan knows this tactic. He does not respond, "Uh huh." He says, "You do. You like it when Jon tells you you're good, and when Spencer thinks you did well. You like those things. You crave them."

Brendon shrugs. "So I like people to think I've done well. Seriously, Ryan, who the hell doesn't?"

"You need it."

Brendon opens his mouth, and Ryan wonders for a second if Brendon's going to lie to him, and if he does, if it will be automatic, something he can't help, or calculated. Then Brendon stops himself. Ryan says, "It's not— I just worry. You're— The way you are is the person I-- It's mine."

Brendon, amazingly, gets what he's trying to say. "I need your opinion as much as any of theirs, Ryan. More."

That's reassuring, but still, Ryan has to know, "Is it— Did your parents do this?"

"Yeah," Brendon says, and it's a lie, Ryan can tell by the way Brendon's eyes flicker to the side for the barest of moments. Ryan also knows he's not going to get anything else from him, not just now.

"Okay," Ryan says, reaching out to steal Brendon's hand, press the palm to his lips. He mouths the words, "good boy," against the skin, but doesn't say them aloud.

*


Among other things, Ryan is good at fucking up the things he most cares about. Brendon realizes that this comes from an abundance of caution, and a good dousing of defensiveness, but it's a useful thing to know, and helps him out when Ryan says, "I think, maybe, you should give Jon what he wants."

Brendon isn't stupid, he knows exactly what Ryan's talking about, but he thinks that if Ryan's going to make a statement that amazingly asshole-ish, he should have to say the words. "More flip-flops? What are we talking about?"

Ryan glares at him. Brendon gives him his very best, "Did I do something?" look.

"I'm not the only one who sees the way he sometimes—"

Brendon does not save him.

"He wants to touch you."

"Yes. But you're my boyfriend. And unless there was a fairly important conversation that I missed, we're monogamous. I didn't miss that conversation, did I?"

Ryan says, "Don't be an asshole."

Brendon thinks that's pretty rich. "He doesn't get to touch me, Ryan. Only you get to touch me. I don't care what he wants."

"I care," Ryan says.

"No, you just care that you can continue to think of me as that guy who sleeps in the bunk next to you who will eventually hop into some other guy's arms."

Ryan takes a step back at that. Brendon's pretty sure he doesn't know he's doing it. Brendon shakes his head and starts to walk away, since he's pretty done for the moment, but Ryan says, "I— I'm not saying that I don't worry. About that. But this isn't— He's Jon, Brendon. He came and made us four again." The word "four" sounds like "whole" on Ryan's tongue, but Brendon knows he doesn't have the latter in his vocabulary.

"And you're Ryan."

Ryan blinks. Brendon wonders if he ever hears his name like that in his head, because Brendon knows how it sounds, knows he can never completely keep the slight awe and deep-running care from his voice. "No," Brendon tells him.

"I thought, maybe, if I watched, because he's unafraid, Jon, utterly unafraid, and I thought, maybe, if I saw you like that, I could—"

And of course that would be the argument Brendon can't completely throw off. "What if he wants more, Ryan?"

"I don't know. Sometimes I don't think that far."

And sometimes Ryan thinks too far and Brendon can't tell if there's a pattern or if it's when Ryan knows that he needs things desperately regardless of consequence that he won't, won't think about them. "What if he wants more and we can't give him that and he leaves too?"

Ryan admits, almost so softy that Brendon can't hear, "I think I need to know that, too."

There have been a million times when Brendon has known how very deep in trouble he is with Ryan Ross, but this moment, here, when he knows that Ryan is being unintentionally cruel and also knows that he won't stop him--will be party to that cruelty--this is when he says, as a statement of cold, bitter fact, "I love you, Ryan."

*


Brendon knows he's gotten too used to talking with Ryan, who takes cunning and caution and calm, when it doesn't just occur to him to go to Jon and say, "Look, this is how things are," because when he next sees Jon, it's so obviously, well, obvious. He buys Jon a drink and says, "I need a favor."

Jon doesn't say, "anything," he doesn't, in fact, say anything at all, and Brendon gets that he's supposed to already know that's the answer.

Brendon says, "Ryan, um—"

"I really try not to look."

Brendon sort of had a speech planned, and this interruption was not part of it, so he asks, "What?"

"At you. I know all about his thing and how he's so sure nothing's gonna last for him and I'm not trying to give him a complex. Although, somebody should point out to him that nobody in their right fucking mind is gonna sleep with me over him. Maybe you should do that."

Brendon asks, "You think I haven't tried that once or twice? I mean, not about you. Just—"

"I'll do better, okay?"

Brendon reaches over and takes Jon's blue label from him. He doesn't even like the stuff, it burns going down and tastes like paint peeler for hours, but he's not going to say this without some help, he's just not. He bolts it.

"Whoa. Bren." Jon takes the glass and rubs Brendon's back as he hacks and gasps. Brendon signals for another. Jon says, "Uh, no."

Brendon says, "For you. Replacement."

"Let's lay off having it anywhere near you for a couple of minutes, yeah?"

Brendon finally manages to take a breath and that's when the full force of the alcohol begins to hit. He takes advantage of it, because if he waits, he might wait a long, long time. "Ryan wants you to fuck me."

"Yeah, okay, I was gonna be gallant here, but fuck that." He puts that drink Brendon has ordered him down as quickly as Brendon did his, but without the dramatics. "And you agree?"

"Agree is a strong word."

"Give me a better one."

Brendon thinks about it. "Sometimes," he says slowly, "sometimes I have to trust him to know what he needs, even though he doesn't most of the time. When he does, he does. And in this case, I have to trust you to work with me, to be you and help him and not hate us at the end of all of it, which is just within my capabilities, I think, but I'm freaking out a little."

Jon looks at the once-again-empty glass. "Little."

Brendon shrugs.

"Do I get a question?"

"Ironically, I'm pretty sure you get anything you ask for."

"Do you want me?"

Brendon says, "I suppose that depends on the context of the question."

"Physically. I know who owns you, Urie."

"If you've been so busy watching me, how can you not notice what happens when I look at you while we're out there?"

"That's a stage thing."

"It's nice that you and Ryan think there's some sort of remove."

"It's fucked up that you don't."

Brendon knows. It's the least of his worries.

"I get to do whatever I want?"

"You can't hold me down," Brendon says. "Nothing personal, I just don't take well to it."

"Short of that, though?"

Brendon nods. "Your game."

Jon laughs shortly, "Game, huh?"

*


Jon comes to them, even though, in Brendon's head, it's only fair that it happen the other way around, that they allow Jon his territory if they are going to allow him nothing else. Brendon doesn't really think he counts as something. Not given the situation. He's left everything with Ryan long ago.

Jon says, "Sit, Ry," and puts Ryan in a chair by the curtained window.

Ryan says, "Ryan."

Jon raises an eyebrow. "Sit and shut up, yeah?" It's actually a question. Ryan agrees. Brendon thinks that somewhere inside Ryan, he knows he's in the wrong. He just can't make that matter more than his need to— Need for something. Maybe his need to screw up so completely he can't fix it and have it be fixed anyway. For once, Brendon validly doesn't know. He just knows that if they don't do this, don't pass Ryan's test, nothing else will matter, at least not for him.

Jon kisses him and Brendon laps a bit at the faint remnants of the glass of straight Jack he probably had before coming to them. Brendon really can't blame him. It is neither as sharp nor as dangerous on Jon as it is in the bottle. Jon says, "Easy, gorgeous," and sinks his teeth into the meat of Brendon's shoulder.

Brendon looks over Jon's head to where Ryan is watching, his eyes burning with something that is not quite passion and not wholly fear. Jon's undoing his pants—the only thing he wore over—and Brendon says, "I could—"

Jon finishes, "Suck me?" and it's not hopeful, it's knowing. Brendon slips to his knees, careful of himself, feeling the way he does when he dances on stage—aware that people are watching, aware that grace is an attribute. He has always, always wanted Ryan to see him as beautiful, in every way.

Jon leans against the wall and Brendon takes him in. It's not delicate, Jon wouldn't want that. It's dedicated and skilled and everything Brendon has made himself for Ryan. Brendon barely hears Jon's, "Up, up, come on, up," even though it's said aloud, said clearly.

Jon bends a bit and catches him up underneath his arms and brings him to his feet. He kisses him again and says, "There's stuff in my jeans pocket."

Brendon fetches. Jon says, "Put it on me," and Brendon does, rolling the condom along the shaft, maybe teasing Jon a bit with his application of the lube. Jon is enthusiastic about him in ways that Ryan maybe is, maybe, inside his head, but can never say, can never even express. It is just this once. Brendon doesn't plan to take it for granted.

Jon spins him so that he's facing Ryan, fucking threads Brendon onto his cock and Brendon can't do anything but lean in, sink onto him. He's barely got his feet on the ground, nothing but the strength of Jon's arms, that solidity, keeping him up. It's at this thought that Jon does the unthinkable and says, "C'mere, Ry."

Ryan is too distracted to contest the nickname. "That wasn't part of the deal."

"Au contraire," Jon is all-but-growling, his lips brushing at Brendon's ear and if Jon doesn't move, Brendon is actually going to die, right here, on Jon's cock. Publicity nightmare.

"I was told I could have anything."

Brendon tries to say, "From me," but he can't because, okay, now that he's thinking about it, that was implied but he probably didn't specify because Jon seemed so, well, aware.

Ryan looks at Brendon. "Brendon?"

"Jon," Brendon says.

Jon says, "You told me you could trust me. That it stretched your limits. But that you could."

Brendon takes a breath. "C'mere, Ry."

Brendon has known for a long time, that it wasn't just an ego boost or good blow jobs for Ryan, he has. But he has not known, not really, not until this moment, that Ryan loves him. He must, though, because he comes. Jon says, "Tell him to take his clothes off."

"I want to see you." Jon drives in just the tiniest bit further, further than should be possible and Brendon begs, "Fuck, Ryan, please."

Ryan tosses his shirt aside and shucks off the drawstring pants that were already hanging indecently from his coat-hanger hips. Jon says, "Neither of us is going to fuck with you, Ryan," and it's a funny choice of words, but better than, "hurt you," because pain is sometimes inevitable, and it's a bad thing to promise avoidance of.

Jon reaches out and catches Ryan's wrists. He holds them loosely until Ryan stops looking like he wants to struggle. Then he tugs a bit, and Ryan falls into Brendon, both of them now supported by Jon and his wall. Ryan's cock—pretty interested in the proceedings—crushes into Brendon's and it hurts like nothing Brendon has ever wanted, wanted and Ryan gasps and Brendon says, "Don't pull away, please, Ryan, please don't."

Ryan says, "Sh, Brendon. Sh."

Jon's hands are now resting lightly over Ryan's forearms, exerting just enough pressure to keep him balanced, not caught. Under the touch, Ryan is still shivering slightly, but it's more instinct than emotion Brendon thinks, given the excited hitch of Ryan's breath against his collarbone. Jon moves then, really moves and Brendon is driven into, nearly inside, Ryan. Jon moves back, and Ryan is falling into him.

It's like a metaphor, Brendon's pretty sure, but his brain is too full of, "yes, please, oh so good, oh so yes, yes, please," to really follow the thought. Brendon screams when Jon says his name in his ear, says, "so fucking delicious," and licks him from shoulder to ear and Ryan says, "Mine," softly, intently. Brendon screams, "Yours," and comes, and it's almost too much in the aftermath, when he's limp and loose and every nerve is standing on its utmost end, for Ryan to still be having nothing but Jon and him to hold to, for Jon to still be playing Brendon like his fucking bass.

Jon pulls him back so far Brendon thinks Jon might go straight through him, to Ryan. Jon gasps and comes and Ryan, Ryan who always takes longer than maybe he should, who seems to hold on to things that Brendon can't see, like maybe the answer is in that moment, that moment before he gives into his own pleasure-seeking weakness, Ryan comes so hard that Brendon has to catch him in his arms, make sure he doesn't tumble to the ground.

Jon helps.

*


Jon herds Brendon into bed, careful that Brendon has Ryan and he even pulls the covers up over them and is turning to go when Brendon catches his wrist. Jon looks like he still thinks it best that he go, but then Ryan reaches out, his fingers landing tentatively over Jon's forearm. Jon slides in next to Brendon. The bed isn't really meant for three men, but they're all pretty small and Brendon works to make himself even smaller, to ensure that Ryan and Jon both have room. He falls asleep—and wakes up—to the constant, steady beat of Jon's heart at his back.

When he wakes up Ryan is watching him, eyes large and frightened and kind in the dark. Brendon asks, "Have you slept at all?"

Ryan shakes his head. "Why'd he do that, Bren?"

Brendon knows, but he doesn't think just being told the answer is going to help Ryan any, not if he has to ask. "What did you want, Ry?"

"I don't—

Brendon rephrases. Ryan's right, that wasn't fair. "What did you think you wanted?"

"It doesn't make sense."

"Take a chance that I know you well enough to get it anyway."

"For you to see how good it could be with someone who can— someone who knows how to be a person. And for you to still want me more. For Jon to know that. For Jon to have enough of what he wanted that he would stay, not go looking for a band that could give him all of what he wanted."

"Have you ever known anyone who had exactly what they wanted?"

"No, but I've known plenty of people who kept looking."

"I know this isn't really one of your strong points, but Jon just fucking sewed you and me back together without the help of string, so try to stop underestimating him for fifteen minutes, all right?" Brendon isn't mad. He's tired, through and through.

"Why'd he— He was just supposed to enjoy himself."

"Hard to do with you sitting there, waiting for us both to turn in on each other and shut you out, forget you were there, forget that your desires, hopes, dreams, nightmares, whatever, existed."

"It should have been easy, I thought, it should have—"

"And what do you think now?"

Ryan opens his mouth. Shuts it. He is silent for a long time. "He was as good as I thought he would be, and you still begged for me."

"Always."

"And he stayed with us."

"Because we asked."

"Because we asked," Ryan echoes and his tone spills over with terror. Brendon can't help brushing a lock of hair back from Ryan's eyes, soothing him with a kiss to the corner of his eye.

"It doesn't always have to be words, Ry. I swear I'm listening."

"When you asked him, did you—"

"All I told him was that he could do anything. That was all. I thought he knew I meant to me."

"Then he just—"

"Knew what we needed."

Ryan's eyes glow pale and wet in the oncoming dawn, but his cheeks are dry. "Spencer's gonna be so pissed."

Yeah. Which means he's totally going to take Brendon to task, because Spencer can stay mad at Ryan for a whole nine minutes and twenty-eight seconds on his best of days. Brendon knows, he got a watch with a second hand for just that purpose. "I'm not taking the fall for you on that one."

"Even if I asked?"

"You find the words, Ryan."

"Protect me from Spencer Smith, Brendon Urie. Because I'm asking. Because you love me."

The last words sound surprisingly like a very different kind of declaration. Brendon tells him, "That was almost good."

"What did it win me?"

"What's left to give, Ryan? If you can find it, feel free to take it."

"If I find it, I'll leave it where it is, I promise." He won't, but it's sort of sweet that he thinks he will, thinks he can.

"Sleep, Ry." Whether or not he has any intention of obeying the suggestion, Ryan's eyes slip shut, and he seeks the comfort of Brendon's chest far more readily than Brendon can ever remember him doing so.

*


Brendon doesn't feel the bottle hitting him. He doesn't really even feel the aftermath, just thinks, "Blurry, odd," and then, "whoa," and does his best to keep standing. He totally fails. The last thing he hears before the suspicious silence of unconsciousness is the lingering vibration of Ryan's last chord. He thinks he should maybe worry as things cloud over completely, as the stage comes much closer than it should really be, but Ryan is there, and Spencer behind him, and Jon on his other side. He'll be fine.

When he wakes up, the first thing he hears is Spencer's insistent, but surprisingly unsnippy, "Wake up, Brendon. Wake up."

Brendon says, "Ow," because, yeah, now he feels it.

"Good boy," Spencer mutters. Brendon would frown at Spencer—he's not usually irresponsible with Brendon's emotions like that—but moving his face kind of hurts.

Zack asks, "You think you can sit up, bud?"

Brendon isn't sure that's the wisest plan just yet. "Where's Ryan?"

"Considering throwing bottles back at people," Spencer tells him.

Oh. Bottle. That makes sense. "Bad idea."

"I think you can distract him by sitting up," Zack says. Zack seems pretty intent on Brendon sitting up. Brendon closes his eyes for a couple of seconds. One of them really hurts, he thinks that's probably the point of impact. He's not blind, as far as he can tell, so somebody was looking out for him. Probably Ryan.

He takes a deep breath and grabs Zack's arm and drags himself upright. He nearly goes right back down again except that hey, it worked, and Ryan is in front of him saying, "That's right, that's fucking right."

He sounds pissed. Brendon's fairly certain it's not at him. Brendon says, "Ow," again, because it validly bears repeating, and also, Ryan is talking kind of loudly. Brendon's going to have to sing even more loudly. He winces at the thought. He could probably call it quits, they'd let him. But the fucktard who threw the bottle would laugh and call Panic pussies and maybe Brendon is, but Ryan and Spencer and Jon are not and no way is Brendon dragging them down with him. He asks, "Um. We were on the first song, weren't we?"

"We can abort the set," Jon says, and he sounds really pissed, but Brendon knows Jon's not mad at him.

"Uh uh," Brendon says. "No way."

"Brendon—" Spencer starts.

Brendon just looks at Ryan and says, "No."

Ryan looks over Brendon's head at Spencer. There's a silence between all of them amidst the chaos and then Ryan says, "Stand up," regal and cold in the command. Zack helps Brendon to his feet and when Brendon proves that he can stand on them and nothing else, Ryan grins, all fire and sound once again.

Brendon takes the microphone back.

*


"Ry," Brendon says.

"Don't call me that," Ryan says, even though it's Brendon and he really doesn't so much mind, but if he lets Brendon do it, Jon will and if he lets Jon do it Spencer will, and the next thing you know they'll be saying it in interviews and then quatrillions of teenagers who have never so much as breathed the same air as him will be calling him that.

"Sit down, okay? You're kinda making me dizzy."

"Oh." Ryan stops in his pacing, but he doesn't sit.

"Jesus," Brendon laughs a little. "Come here."

Ryan says, "Bren—"

"Come here."

So Ryan comes, even though Brendon really should be resting and coming within ten feet of Brendon is almost sure to negate that eventuality. But Brendon has asked and Ryan is good at all sorts of things, even, on occasion, saying no, but not to Brendon. Or Jon or Spencer. Fuckers. Ryan lays down beside Brendon and doesn't touch him and Brendon says, "You're going to hurt my feelings," with that pout that is such utter bullshit but Ryan says, "Jesus, you asshole, you could have had a concussion."

"Doctor cleared me, Ry."

"Don't—"

Brendon presses a finger to Ryan's lips. "Promise I won't do it in public. Or even in front of the others."

Ryan has had very, very few things that were his own in his life, and despite the fact that Brendon is the one giving him this, it still feels like something to which he can claim sole possession of, so he nods his head. Brendon says, "Sorry I scared you."

Ryan screws up his face and looks away and says, "What would happen if all I had was words inside and nobody to sing them?"

"You'd find someone—"

"Don't," Ryan all but screams, and it's only years and years and years of keeping all those words inside that lend him the control. But if Brendon isn't there to siphon it off, isn't there to let the bad blood flow free, then he knows it will snap, that everything that has held for so long will simply end, and Ryan will be able to do nothing but blow away with it. "Do. Not."

Brendon pulls him to him, arms coming around, and Ryan has never much liked being touched, not when it's always been an offensive move on someone else's part, but he doesn't push Brendon away. Doesn't even want to. Brendon repeats, "Sorry I scared you."

Ryan buries his face in Brendon's neck and breathes.

*


Brendon perches on the arm of the couch. "If I told you that Frank Iero gave me a gift would you think we were involved in sexual congress?"

Ryan looks up. "I don't like that phrase and why would I think that?"

"Sometimes you get a little wiggy."

Ryan raises his eyebrows. "Wiggy?"

"You're perfectly self-aware, Ryan Ross."

"Would you please sit down before you fall on me and I'm the one who gets broken?"

In a calculated risk, Brendon dives a little, onto Ryan, who actually catches him. Which tells Brendon that Ryan actually isn't all that concerned about him cheating with Frank. "It's kind of a sexy gift."

Brendon somersaults so that he's lying on his back, the top of his head brushing Ryan's thigh, legs draped over the arm of the couch. Ryan messes a bit with his bangs. "A sexy gift?"

"He gave us body paint."

"I thought he was giving you gifts."

"Gifts to use with you."

Ryan looks down at Brendon. "Why would he be doing that, Brendon?"

Brendon closes his eyes. "He sort of. Um. He caught us."

"Caught?"

"When we were— Backstage one night, we were fighting about Reading. He was coming to pick up Spence and he—"

Ryan's eyes are jagged in his face. "Why the fuck didn't he say something?"

"He thought you needed to say something. And that you wouldn't if he did."

"That fucking—"

"Please don't, Ryan. He was really— He told me, he was honest and he was concerned and friend-like, and maybe you don't need anything other than Spencer, but I sort of wouldn't mind and it's going to be hard if you hate him, so if you could just see where maybe he didn't intend to hurt either one of us, then that would be... I'd appreciate that."

Brendon can see the chords in Ryan's throat tense as he thinks about it. "Body paint."

"So you can make me yours. If you want. But you don't have to keep me. Because it washes off."

There's a long silence and then Ryan slips his hands underneath Brendon's shoulders and hefts him up so that his head is on Ryan's lap. "Then you're going to have to avoid showers for a pretty long time."

Brendon can't help himself, he knows better than to turn into Ryan or to tickle his stomach or even find his hand with his own, but he cannot stop the grin that comes over his face. "That could get kind of gross."

"Maybe we'll just get more body paint."

"Probably'll make Spencer happier."

Ryan nods. "We should be considerate."

Brendon contents himself to lie there and grin up at Ryan until he gives into temptation and leans down for a kiss.

*


There's a desk in the hotel room, a somewhat ornate-looking mahogany monstrosity. It digs into Brendon's hips when Ryan bends him over it, and he hisses a little. It's not that it's so very uncomfortable. But it will become so. Behind him, Ryan stills. "Am I hurting you?"

Brendon really, really doesn't want to end up not having sex tonight, the way he will if Ryan is given time to freak out. "Not you. Desk. And hurt's a little bit of an exaggeration."

Ryan pulls Brendon up by his shoulders, and nudges his hip until he turns around. Then he lifts him onto the desk and pushes him back until he is lying with his ass just at the edge.

"Better," Brendon says, in that tone that means, "All right, move it, cock time now."

Ryan grins and slings Brendon's legs over his shoulders, driving in hard and deep. Brendon arches into his cock, onto his cock, long and elegant and fucking perfect, just like every other part of Ryan fucking Ross.

Ryan says, "See, the other way you wouldn't have had to close your eyes."

"What?" Brendon asks, thinking maybe he's heard wrong, distracted by the frantic hum of pleasure in his mind.

"Your eyes," Ryan says. "You'll have to close them if you can't keep yourself from looking."

Brendon stares at Ryan for a moment, concerned that Ryan's issues—which he really, really thought were getting better—have progressed to the point of it being necessary for Brendon not to see him during the actual act of intercourse. Then Ryan lifts a familiar-looking jar. Oh, the body paint.

"I was going to put it on your back. Instead you have to promise not to look."

"But I want to see," Brendon whines.

"When it's done."

"But—"

Ryan twists his hips ever so slightly.

"No looking," Brendon pants. "Promise."

Ryan leans down so that his mouth is next to Brendon's ear. "You're such a good boy."

That isn't fair, not at all, not when Ryan knows that Brendon won't even think to look now, think to betray that conception of him, particularly not in Ryan's eyes. He closes his own, unwilling to risk even accidentally catching the signals appearing on his flesh. Ryan's fingers are cold and smooth against his chest, the paint slippery. His cock is warm and full inside Brendon and Brendon needs him to move, needs it so very much, but if he does the paint will be messed up, and Brendon needs the paint too. As much. Maybe more.

It is an eternity of pure sensation and Brendon knows he's heaving great, sobbing breaths by the time Ryan finally pulls his finger wholly away and does not bring it back, wraps it around Brendon's cock even as he moves quick and intent and so utterly on. He says, "Hold it until I tell you otherwise."

There are possibly tears at that pronouncement. A tear, at least. Ryan wipes it away with his thumb. "You're so beautiful when you listen like this, so good. So good."

Ryan comes in him but still the order isn't given and Brendon is begging now, eyes still closed, Ryan's hand at his hip possibly the only thing keeping him from sliding in one great, boneless heap to the floor. Ryan says, "I'm going to put my mouth on you, and you're going to come."

Brendon isn't particularly impressed by Ryan's predictive abilities. He's nearly coming from the order alone. He holds out until the requisite lips have closed around the head of his cock. When he can again, when speech has returned, he asks, "Can I open my eyes?"

"Not yet." Ryan supports him by his arms, brings him off the table, leads him through the room to a point where he stops, lets go. Brendon does his best not to complain.

"All right, you can open them."

Brendon does. There's paint on his cock. On Ryan's lips. The paint on his chest says, "into the sea of waking dreams I follow without pride."

It takes Brendon a few seconds to remember how the English language works. Then he says, "McLachlan, you big girl?"

"You knew the reference," Ryan says, unbothered.

"I did. I do." Brendon pauses, then finishes the stanza. "Nothing stands between us here,
and I won't be denied."

"I won't," Ryan says softly.

*


Frank calls Brendon and leaves a message wherein he forgets to leave his name. It sounds like this. "Hey, so, you haven't called, which might just mean you didn't ever save my number, or something, but I was thinking I should ask, maybe, if the gift worked, or not, maybe I shouldn't ask that, I don't know. I'm a good friend but that doesn't mean I can't be an idiot sometimes, still I'd like to talk to you even if it's not about that, because, hey, you seem like a good friend, too. So, now you have my number. Call me."

There's a message right after that where all he says is, "Um, that was Frank Iero."

Brendon snorts and programs Frank's number into his phone. He calls him somewhere between New Mexico and Texas, where the roads warn for dust storms but refuse to tell a person what state he's in. It seems like the best place in the world to say, "It worked. The gift."

"Hi Brendon," Frank says softly.

"Oh. Hi."

Frank laughs a little, but it isn't mean laughter. Brendon wants to explain that sometimes his brain goes too fast, that he forgets he hasn't attended to the niceties, but he thinks Frank sort of gets it. Frank lives with Gerard Way, and Brendon's seen the interviews.

"Did you tell him— I mean, you must have told him something."

"I don't lie to Ryan." Brendon doesn't even lie in the ways Ryan lies, to protect others, although Brendon maybe wishes he could.

"Is he going to kill me in my sleep?"

"He's not violent. He sometimes wishes he was. To protect himself, that sort of thing. But he isn't."

"Brendon."

"No. He— I mean, he was pretty mad. But I explained. He listens to me."

"He should."

Brendon tries not smile at the vehemence in Frank's voice. He fails. "Anyway. It worked."

"That means we can be friends, right? If I made it up to you and him? That means we can sort of start over."

"Start over?"

"Well, okay, maybe not exactly, but move on? We could move on."

"I called you," Brendon says. "Despite your kinda rambly voicemail."

"It wasn't that rambly."

"Maybe not if you're dating Mikey Way."

"Step off, have you ever watched an interview of yourself?"

Brendon laughs because, actually, he has. Mikey has nothing on him and they both know it. When his laughter dies out within him he says, "You gave him a way to tell me he loves me." He knows he hasn't meant to say that, not to anyone, not to someone outside the band, not not not. But it's said and he can't take it back.

"He tells you that all the time, Brendon. You just never look up at the right moments."

"No, it's—"

"Once you know, it's impossible not to know, trust me."

Brendon says, "That's maybe a little bit dangerous."

"It's definitely a little bit worth it."

And yeah, "It really kinda is."

*


It's not that Brendon forgets, he doesn't forget, not ever, not with Ryan. It's that occasionally, he can't stop himself from doing things he knows he shouldn't. It hasn't happened for a while when they're somewhere in the midwest—Detroit, maybe? Not Chicago, Brendon can always remember Chicago—and there are girls everywhere, just like always, and one reaches out and pulls Ryan to her and kisses him.

Zack has the girl off in a second—she's a tiny thing and okay, Ryan's tiny too, but Brendon has to marvel for a second at how much she must have wanted that, craved it, been willing to do anything for it. Brendon tamps down on the urge to rip her face straight from her skull. Bad publicity, that. Spencer's at his back, herding him forward and Brendon snaps, "I'm going."

Spencer doesn't move. Spencer's sturdy like that. Brendon could fucking scream.

They make it backstage and Brendon can't help himself, he can't, he has his hands on Ryan's shirt, twisted in it, his lips to Ryan's and he's saying, "Mine, mine," until Ryan pushes him off, really pushes him and then he stays where he lands, crumpled on the floor. Ryan says, "Jesus, Brendon, it was just a fucking fan."

Spencer says, "You've made your point, Ryan."

Brendon slumps all the way to the floor and thinks, he always does. He can hear Ryan stomp off. Spencer starts to follow but Brendon says, "Don't. He'll, you know. He'll get over it. I'll say I'm sorry. It'll be fine."

Brendon feels himself being hauled up and lets Jon have his way. Spencer looks like he just drank milk gone bad. He says, "Maybe you shouldn't apologize."

Brendon shakes his head. "He was already fucked up from her touching him. It was, like, the worst possible moment for me to go He-Man."

"Let’s pretend like I know the Ryan Ross of whom we speak here for a moment," Spencer says. "He's gotta stop pretending like you're some random person on the street at some point, Brendon."

"Is that the same thing as he's got to decide that I don't have to respect his boundaries at some point?" Brendon asks, his head cocked curiously.

"You respect his boundaries," Spencer says.

"I knew," is all Brendon has to say to that. "I knew."

"He shouldn't have pushed you." Jon is still holding Brendon on his feet. Brendon could probably stand on his own, but he doesn't really feel like mentioning that.

"Two wrongs don't make a right," Brendon agrees. Spencer sighs. Jon's hands tighten in their grip.

"Just give him a little while, and I'll go talk to him." First a nap, though, Brendon thinks. Nap, then show, then talk. Brendon loves monosyllabic words. Spencer does not look as though he has been convinced.

"Really," Brendon tries, which is weak, but he's kind of tired, and his hip hurts from where he hit the floor. He thinks he might have skinned his palms.

"Can I go now? I'm sort of hoping for a nap."

Spencer looks over Brendon's shoulder and Brendon knows he's gonna have a nap buddy. He wishes it were Ryan standing behind him. Wishes are stupid little fuckers.

*


Brendon has just gotten settled with Jon behind him, warm and soft and still, the hip that hurts facing up, when Jon moves. Jon presses his hand to Brendon's shoulder and just leaves. Brendon bites his lip and keeps his eyes closed and doesn't say a damn thing. Jon probably thinks he's asleep. There's another hand on him then, a hand that he knows all too well. It flutters over his hip. Brendon asks, "Can we please do this later? I really... I'm tired, Ryan."

Ryan rolls Brendon's shirt up a bit, pulls the hem of his jeans down so that he can kiss the spot where there are bruises forming. "He always said sorry. After."

Later clearly isn't going to happen, so Brendon drags his eyes open. "Stop, Ryan." He doesn't dare shorten Ryan's name, not now.

"You were just kissing me," Ryan says. "It wasn't you I wanted to— I should have been able to get her off me."

"She came at you pretty fast." Brendon knows. He was watching.

"You were just kissing me."

Brendon sighs. "I get it, Ryan, okay? I get that I should have let you have your space, and that you're sorry you reacted the way you did. It's fine. Can I take a nap now?"

Ryan hesitates. Finally he asks, "Can I stay with you? Like Jon? I can be— Well, I'm not as soft. But I can hold you."

Brendon thinks maybe he should say no, that this is Ryan's way of apologizing, even if the actions sound different. He thinks he should say no and mean no and not do this anymore, not be this person who's never quite enough or too much at all the wrong times.

Ryan is offering to hold him. He rolls himself just far enough that Ryan can fit behind him on the couch, in the space where Jon previously was. Ryan whispers, "You can kiss me whenever you want. You can. You're Brendon. You're my boyfriend."

Brendon knows all about mantras, about how they're supposed to become true. He's never had it happen for him, but maybe Ryan is different. Ryan's pretty fucking incredible in the way he wants things, the way he pursues them. Ryan says, "I am yours."

Brendon would laugh, truly he would, but it's work just to close his eyes.

*


When Brendon was five, he broke a lamp in his house. It was an ugly lamp, Brendon remembers. His dad called him stupid. Brendon remembers that, too. He had to clean it up and one of the shards got caught in his hand. His mom pulled it out for him, liberal in her dosing of the peroxide and gentle in applying the bandage, but she told him, "This is what happens to little boys who aren't paying attention, and break things."

Since then, Brendon has actually been far more aware of his surroundings than he generally lets on.

When he was seventeen, Brendon accidentally broke a glass at the Spencer residence. It was one of the times he actually gave into the temptation to come over while he was living on his own. He was trying to help set the table but he was shaky from hunger and exhaustion and the glass slipped from his fingers. Spencer's mom called, "Sweetie, you okay in there?"

"Stupid," he said, under his breath. "Fine," he called, and went to find her broom.

She found him sweeping up the shards. "Oh, no, hey. That's what we have a vacuum for."

"I'm really sorry." Really sorry. I don't go around breaking things.

She shook her head and smiled, "It's just a glass. We have a million of them." That sounded so reasonable to Brendon, but it wasn't the point.

At nineteen, Brendon is moving around the dressing room, trying to get himself all fitted out and prepped for the show when his hip brushes Ryan's iPod and knocks it from the dresser. Ryan doesn't keep his iPod in a case, hates the way it inhibits his ability to play with the dial. Brendon goes to catch it, but it falls anyway and there's a cracking sound as it hits the ground. Ryan looks over and yells, "Fucking hell, Brendon, what the fuck?"

Brendon thinks, "stupid, stupid." He opens his mouth to say, "Sorry," to say, "I'll get you a new one and load all your songs just the way you like them and you can borrow mine until then," but something in his posture must catch Ryan's attention because Ryan backs up a step.

Brendon says, "I wasn't— I didn't mean to. I'll get you a new one. You sorta wanted to upgrade anyway, so I can just—“

"I shouldn't have left it there," Ryan interrupts. He looks pretty ashamed of himself. Brendon doesn't think it's for leaving his iPod in a bad location.

"I should have been paying attention." Stupid.

"Hey," Ryan calls him back. Brendon wonders how Ryan knew he had gone. "You were just getting ready for the show."

Brendon nods. He was, he really was. "I will get you a new one."

Ryan shakes his head. "You're right. I was getting ready to upgrade. This just forces the issue, that's all."

"I'm sorry," Brendon says. He's so, so sorry.

Ryan reaches a hand out, touches it lightly to Brendon's shoulder. "It's just a thing, Brendon."

"It was your thing. And I broke it. And it was...it has all your music."

"My music is in other places. It was just a thing."

Brendon says, "I should pay more attention."

Ryan's lips part and for a second Brendon thinks he's going to say something else. He kisses Brendon instead, lightly. "You pay enough attention. You do."

*


Ryan and Spencer both like being out on the road in ways that Brent never did, like the newness of everything, the constant motion. Spencer, Brendon knows, likes the sense of going toward something. Ryan likes the sense of going away from something. Brendon just likes the ease of being away.

When he goes back there's the expectation that he'll stay at home for a bit, since he's never rented an apartment—he's not around enough to want to spend the money. He can slip off to Ryan's after a few days, but those first three or four are a required courtesy call in a place where he can never really belong again. His mom will kiss him and muss his hair and say, "It's so good to have you back," and Brendon will have to fight the urge to ask, "Is it?" or "Back home or back to being the son you wanted?"

His dad will smile at him and say, "Doing well?" and he'll have to bite his tongue until he says, "Yes, sir," rather than, "My boyfriend takes good care of me."

His brothers and sisters will come over and that will help a little, since Caddie never stopped speaking to him and she'll sit by his side for the rest of the evening, silent and stolid and faithful. But Ashley will try a little too hard and Serah will act as if nothing ever happened and it will be awkward in the worst way, the way that nobody will acknowledge. Then they will leave and there will be more silence that Brendon has no way of filling, more things that he can't say because as much as he wants to be angry, he still wants their forgiveness more.

He still wants to go back and be another college-attending child. He still wants for them to have seen what he was and to have accepted that before it meant respectability. He still wants for somebody to love him without question.

He helps his mom around the house for a couple of days because it earns him unmitigated affection, but when Drew brings over his kids and Brendon's parents both throw looks in his direction—expectant looks—Brendon packs up the next morning and says, "Sorry, we have to write a little. I know, I know, breaks just aren't as break-like as we'd like them to be."

He takes a cab to Ryan's place and rings the buzzer and hopes he's there. He's not, so Brendon calls him and says, "Um, were you gonna come home any time soon?"

"Jesus, kid," Ryan says, but he sounds like he gets it, and shows up no more than half an hour later.

Brendon places his bag neatly by the door and goes to curl up on the sofa. "Were you with Spence?"

Ryan nods.

"Sorry."

Ryan shakes his head. "He'll let me back in."

Brendon hides his face at that. Ryan sighs and walks over to his couch. "Over."

Brendon moves enough for Ryan to sit at his side. Ryan says, "I was gonna go back for dinner tonight. You wanna come?"

Brendon nods into his knees. Ryan kisses the back of his neck. Brendon brings his head up to rest his chin on his knees. "If I told you that I was quitting the band, that I thought it was better for me to just—"

"I'm not fucking you because you're talented," Ryan tells him, low and urgent and maybe a little bit pissed, but at whom, Brendon is unsure.

"But that would sort of be a betrayal, I mean—"

"Would you do it?"

Brendon thinks about the yearning in his parents’ eyes, about the pride that's never for him, not even at his best moments. About how nice that would be, to see that, just once. Ryan is pressed lightly to him, all effort and patience. "No."

"That's sort of the part that counts, Brendon."

He tries not to ask, he tries so hard, but, "Could you just, stay, for a bit?"

Ryan drapes his arm around Brendon. "If you did, I'd forgive you."

Brendon closes his eyes against the vastness of Ryan's forgiveness, of Ryan's love. For all that it is a sharp, dangerous thing, it is not a rotten one, and though Ryan does not always see the difference, the lines are clear behind Brendon's eyes. He says, "I wouldn't, not ever."

Ryan says, "You like to make things easy on me."

*


Brendon watches the way Ryan allows Spencer's mom to hug him, say, "You never come around anymore. Where's the love?"

He watches the way Ryan doesn't shy away when Spencer's dad claps a hand carefully to his shoulder, asks, "Have you grown?"

Ryan says, "I think that ship's probably sailed."

Mr. Smith shakes his head. "You never know."

Mrs. Smith hugs Brendon too, and he does his best not to cling because she hugs like Spencer—without reserve or the expectation of recompense. He whispers, "Thanks for having me for dinner."

She pushes him back just a little and says, "Does my son not make sure you eat out there?"

"He does everything else. He should get a break once in a while, don't you think?"

"Love doesn't work like that, Brendon Urie," she says, her tone firm, authoritative, like she knows. He believes her, kind of. He knows how things are between him and Ryan.

Mr. Smith's arm around his shoulder isn't so careful as the one he extended Ryan. Brendon would feel proud, strong, except he knows that the only difference in how the two of them break is one of direction. And he knows that, in some ways, Ryan will always hold out longer than Brendon will. Mr. Smith asks, "How's it going?"

Brendon says, "The girls seem to like us." Mr. Smith laughs and looks over at Spencer with a clean, hard pride. Brendon presses himself up into the arm, like maybe some of that will transfer by touch, if not by proximity.

Dinner is tamales, which he knows are one of Ryan's favorite things ever, ever. Ryan grew up on TV dinners, so it isn't hard to impress him with food, but he loves the heavy spice, the full texture of the corn and pork filling. Ryan pretty much doesn't stop until they're all gone and then he looks up at Mrs. Smith with apologetic eyes, but she just says, "Good boy."

Brendon helps clean up—he's good at that, always uncannily aware of where the tupperware will be, how people like their dishwashers loaded. The Smiths try and swat him away, but Brendon's a good boy too, even if he can't clear an entire tray of tamales. Mrs. Smith reaches into the refrigerator and says, "Spencer didn't tell me you were coming until this afternoon, so it's mostly store bought and assembled, but I thought I remembered you liking this."

She pulls out a strawberry shortcake, which is Brendon's favoritest dessert in the history of dessert foods. He used to ask for one every birthday, but his parents were always concerned that the guests would want chocolate, so it was rare that he ever got one. Neither Ryan nor Spencer are big on strawberries, so he feels sort of guilty, but Mrs. Smith says, "There's hot fudge in the fridge, Ryan and Spencer can smother the pound cake, they'll be happy as clams."

Brendon has always wondered if clams are as happy as everybody seems to think. She says, "I did have time to make the whipped cream, so that's real."

Brendon manages to stay rooted where he is for all of ten seconds before finding himself wrapped around her, saying, "Thank you, thank you," perhaps convulsively.

She says, "Sure thing, babycakes," and pets his hair and doesn't act like he's supposed to be nearly twenty years old, rather than five.

*


Brendon ends up staying at Spencer's, he and Ryan both borrowing boxers and t-shirts. Mrs. Smith makes them hot chocolate and popcorn. Spencer has a collection of board games that probably rivals the CEO of Mattel, and they settle on Clue, because they are clearly all in the mood for classics. At around ten they call Jon and make him stay on and play the game with them. He doesn't even complain, just keeps guessing random shit until proven conclusively wrong.

When they hang up, Spencer says, "The two of you are so lucky sometimes it's almost like the universe is hitting you back, because I swear, if the Jon thing had broken up the band, I probably wouldn't have spoken to you for at least a year."

Brendon freezes in mid-action while setting up the board for another round. Ryan says, "It was my idea, you'd have to stop speaking to me."

That Ryan thinks Spencer would really stop talking to him, that Ryan would give up Spencer if it meant Brendon wouldn't have to; "I agreed, Ryan."

"You're both such fucking assholes."

Brendon doesn't necessarily disagree. He wishes Spencer sounded a little bit more pissed off, rather than just annoyed. "I didn't think you—"

"Knew?" Spencer looks at him with sharp disbelief.

Next to him, Ryan shrugs, but not out of carelessness. "You didn't say. Anything."

"Miraculously, the two of you managed to not completely fuck things up. Either that, or Jon is a better actor than I give him credit for."

Ryan folds his legs into a pretzel formation. "He fixed...things."

Things, Brendon knows, is not the same as, us.

"Okay, you get the part where you didn't really have the right to ask, don’t you?" Spencer asks.

Brendon nods, duly chastised. Ryan asks, "How is that any different than anything I've ever done to either of you?"

Brendon says, "Fuck you, Ryan Ross," and sort of means it in the non-sexual way. Spencer makes a sign with his hand that maybe means "ditto".

Ryan frowns. "No, Brendon, no. There has been shit, and you know there has been and maybe I don't talk about it because there's only so much not being proud of himself a guy can take, but there has been, even if you do it because I got lucky, all right, really lucky, but that doesn't mean I have the right, just because you end up granting it, it doesn't make it, I don't know, inimical." Ryan maybe has a point, which doesn't mean Brendon really feels like granting him it.

"Jon's not your boyfriend," Spencer says and for a second, it sort of pisses Brendon off that Spencer always gets to make sense. Then he remembers that's it's generally kind of useful, too.

"He's part of the band," Ryan says, and that shouldn't sound as reasonable as it does.

Spencer buries his face in his hands. "Ry."

"Ryan."

"RyRyRyRyRy."

Ryan sighs. It occurs to Brendon that somewhere in Ryan's head, asking Jon wasn't just a move to see how far he could go, but an actual vote of confidence, of inclusion. Brendon says, "Sorry," for both of them because, of the two, he's the one who probably understands the most why what they did was wrong, and it seems like this is one apology that should be sincere.

Spencer looks at Brendon. "It didn't screw anything up."

Brendon says, "Yeah," and knows that really, he doesn't deserve Spencer's reassurance.

Spencer stands, "You want some more hot chocolate?"

"Please." Brendon hands him his cup. Spencer squeezes his fingers before taking it and heading to the kitchen.

*


Jon says, "You think maybe we should get a bus dog?"

Ryan says, "As the only other person on this bus who likes Pete Wentz, I have to tell you, you probably shouldn't listen to him regarding lifestyle choices."

Spencer says, "I don't dislike Pete, exactly."

Brendon stays silent. He knows Jon's interested in Pete, maybe more than interested, but Brendon will get to giving up his grudge when Pete's curled contentedly at Jon's feet and not a moment before. Jon looks over at him. Brendon looks away. "Still," Jon says after a moment. "I think it would boost morale."

"We got you to boost morale," Spencer says. Brendon smirks.

"Then by definition, it's my job to come up with continuous ways in which said morale can be boosted. Right?"

Spencer asks, "Do you actually want a bus dog? I mean, is that what the issue is here?"

Jon shrugs. "I was thinking a bus cat might not hurt."

Brendon says, "Ryan likes kittens. They bite." He leans over and nips at Ryan's lower lip in order to prove his point.

Ryan says, "You are such a complete genetic mutant."

"You're the one dating me," Brendon tells him, since Ryan didn't pull back from the bite, not at all, and Brendon's thinking he's got a little bit of leeway.

Ryan isn't buying the argument. "Jon's trying to date Pete, which should mean a lot things, but doesn't."

Brendon isn't so sure it doesn't mean a lot of things—Jon came along for the fixing-them ride with a lot less persuasion than Brendon thinks it would have taken with most people. "Jon's special."

"A kitten, huh?" Spencer says, because it is Spencer's job to keep the conversation on track.

Jon looks cautiously optimistic. "We could call her Killer Queen."

"We know it's a she?" Ryan asks.

"This bus needs a feminine touch," Jon asserts.

Brendon blinks at that. Spencer snorts. Ryan shakes his head in amusement. "That's a good name for a cat," Brendon decides.

"It really is," Ryan backs him up.

"And once you have a good name..." Spencer says.

Jon grins. "Victory?"

Brendon nods alongside his partners in decision-making crime.

*


Spencer does online research and decides that Panic is adopting a kitten, not buying one. This makes things a little bit more complicated, because getting to a shelter involves more time maneuvering than getting to a store, but Spencer just looks at them all with his big brother eyes and says, "Would I just leave you at a shelter? Huh?"

That's a hard argument to undermine. Ryan tries with something about how the kitten isn't technically part of Panic just yet, but he seems like he knows it's a lost cause before he even starts. Brendon and Jon certainly do. Brendon catches Jon's expression at least three times during the exchange and it matches his for mild enjoyment of spectatorship.

They have an overnight in Buffalo, which is pretty much the armpit of the continental United States, but has a shelter that's open six days a week to possible pet adopters. They make it in at four on a Friday, and Brendon hopes that Spencer remembers to look apologetically at the employees, since he knows that the moment the rest of them see the kittens and puppies, they'll all be too busy making stupid noises to pay any attention to the humans.

Despite the cat being Jon's idea, it's Ryan who finds the New Bus Overlord, as Brendon will come to think of—and even refer to—Killer Queen. She's being beat up. Brendon's pretty sure she was never in serious danger; the staff at the shelter seem pretty invested in keeping all the animals safe. But there are four to five kittens in a room, and Killer, who is just an unnamed ball of white and black and gold at that time, is the smallest. Evidently, cats are as mean as humans.

Ryan reaches in and scoops her out and holds her cautiously to his chest. He puts his mouth to her ear and at first Brendon's sure he's just saying reassuring things, but as he gets closer, he can hear Ryan singing. Whistle a Happy Tune. Brendon's boyfriend is the coolest uncool person in the entire universe.

Spencer approaches first, since Ryan looks like he might not necessarily welcome company, which isn't surprising, all things being what they are. Spencer reaches a hand out and runs a finger over the top of Killer's head. She looks up, shocked, but apparently not wholly unreceptive. She purrs when Jon joins in. Of course. Ryan says, "Gonna join, kid?"

Now that he's been invited, Brendon's quite sure he will. Brendon puts a hand out to pet her and finds himself with a handful of kitten, transferred carefully from Ryan to him. Brendon settles Killer before looking up at Ryan. Ryan smiles off to the side. Spencer tells the shelter worker, "I think we've found the one."

The shelter worker snorts. "You think?"

Brendon puts his nose to Killer's and says, "I know, it seems like a bad deal, us, but we're gonna keep you safe."

She licks his nose, her tongue like day-old grits over his skin. He laughs. She'll fit right in.

*


Tormenting Killer with the toy Pete brought them becomes Brendon's favorite thing ever—right up to, but not quite surpassing, Ryan. Ryan seems aware that it is a close thing. Jon hides the toy one day because Brendon—much like Killer—will never give up until the hunt is complete, and Jon needs to talk to him.

Which is how he finds Brendon sitting pretzel style in his bunk, looking quizzically at the toy. He looks over when Jon sits next to him and says, "Is there something you need to tell us about you and Killer?"

"You're not ready for the truth in that regard," Jon tells him.

Brendon snorts, then asks, "Why'd you hide it?"

"I wanted you to come to me."

Brendon asks, "Why didn't you just ask?" and Jon doesn't smile because he knows it will give too much away, that his eyes won't match, that Brendon, who knows quite enough already, will know.

Instead he shrugs. "This was easier."

Brendon makes a face at that and unfolds, stretches out, drapes himself over Jon. Jon responds the way he's meant to, he pets Brendon, because Brendon can't ask Ryan, not really, not most of the time, and it is beyond Jon, utterly beyond him, to refuse something so obviously needed. After a bit Brendon says, "I was nice to Pete. Sort of. I tried."

"You did a good job," Jon tells him.

"Ryan asked," Brendon admits.

Jon takes a breath, mostly to remind himself that he can. "Whatever gets the job done."

Brendon scrambles up as much as he can in the space. He looks at Jon, just looks at him for a long time. "I take you for granted, huh?"

Jon starts to shake his head, but Brendon says, "No, somewhere— That's odd."

"Bren—"

"Ryan's always scared that you'll leave, I mean, Ryan's always scared that everyone'll leave, so I wouldn't take it personally, it's mostly just because you weren't permanent at first and all, but I never worry about that. Even when we ask for things we shouldn't ask for and I treat your not-boyfriend mean, even then I don't worry." Brendon frowns. "It's possible that I'm kind of a dick to you."

Jon sort of believes Brendon should be allowed that with somebody. "I don't want you thinking I would leave, Brendon."

"But I could have tried for you. I should have."

"Hey." Jon nudges Brendon into curling up onto him. "So long as you're trying."

"Can I ask something?"

"Asking's pretty open territory."

"Why him?"

Jon considers all the possible answers, all the things he's willing to say aloud. Finally he settles on, "I like being needed. He's good for that."

"We need you," Brendon says. "Maybe we're shit at acting like it, but we do."

"I know. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn't stay."

Brendon shudders in his arms, which is gratifying. Jon clamps down on an intense—and inappropriate—wave of longing.

"Is that it? He needs you? Because, I mean, I like that Ryan needs me, but that's just the beginning of things. Maybe not even."

"He loves hard, all you have to do is look at Hemmy to know that. He tries to be the person he wants to be no matter how many times he fails. He plays the bass like it came attached along with hair and all ten fingers and toes. His laughter, when it's real, is the cleanest thing I've ever heard."

"He gives good gifts," Brendon adds helpfully.

"He tries to make up for his mistakes," Jon says, ruffling his fingers through Brendon's hair.

"That wasn't just him," Brendon says softly, the words catching on at least three different spots in his throat.

"It never is with the two of you." Jon laughs a little.

Brendon says, "If you left, I'd hunt you down. Me and Killer."

"I won't leave."

"But if you did."

"Okay."

Brendon recaptures the toy and asks, "Wanna come drive Killer crazy with me?"

Brendon really does a more than adequate job on his own, but that's not going to keep Jon from saying, "You bet."

*


Pete's playing with Killer and she's clearly loving it and it's really enough that Pete has to be on their bus, taking their Jon and getting his Ryan to smile like some giddy young thing, but co-opting Killer for his own purposes is just too much. Brendon scoops her up and holds her above his head. "Good morning, gorrrrgeous. Good morning."

From down on the ground, Pete says, "Because it's not enough that everyone from Jon to the fucking cat is always in love with you, you feel the need to rub it in?"

Brendon's about to say, "Don't swear about my cat," when the first part of the statement catches up to him. He holds Killer to his chest and she curls there sedately, which isn't her normal state. She's a really smart cat. Pete says, "Oh shit."

Brendon says, "Wanting someone is not the same as loving them, Wentz."

"And vice versa," Pete says softly.

"He doesn't—"

"He does. I shouldn't have said it and all it would take would be for you to tell him, for him to— I couldn't have taken Ryan from you, Brendon. Ryan was always yours, even when he thought maybe he wasn't, or maybe he didn't want to be, he always was. And I can't take Jon from you. I can be a distraction and I will be, because when he's looking at me it doesn't feel like that, it feels like fucking forever, it feels like all that shit I know doesn't exist and so I'll take it because it's no fucking stupider than all the other shit I take, all the other moments I steal, but in the end that's all it is because he's always coming back to you, and you don't even need him. So if you've got those two all wrapped up, I don't think your cat's a big flight risk."

"We need him, Pete."

"Not like—"

"No, but we need him. More than you can possibly imagine."

Pete's silent for a long time. "You didn't know? You honestly didn't?"

"Ryan skews my perceptions."

Pete laughs at that, a laugh so bitter it makes Brendon taste baking chocolate in his mouth. "Ryan? Skew someone's perceptions? No."

Brendon's smile is more a grimace, but he gets the humor, however dark. "You say it, that you couldn't have taken him, you say that like it was always a foregone conclusion. But I waited for him to come back. What if he hadn't, Pete? What if you had been his real thing, and not me, and he was my real thing, is my real thing, is fucking everything and I wasn't that for him? What then?"

"Then why did you—"

"Because he would have always wondered. And you wouldn't have let him stop wondering. Ever. And sooner or later it wouldn't have even mattered if I was his real thing or not, because this unreal thing, this supposition, would be the only thing left."

Pete's still thinking about that when Brendon says, "And because he asked."

"What?" Pete asks.

"Ryan, he asked. I'm— I give him the things he asks for, when I can. When it won't hurt him more."

"Because you love him."

Brendon nods, and thinks Pete may be on to something, that maybe he should have paid attention to the way Jon gives him the things he asks for, too. All of them. Pete is still crumpled on the floor though, alone and at Brendon's mercy and Brendon is not a fixer, not like Jon, but he doesn't break things either, he doesn't. Brendon slips down onto his knees and carefully transfers Killer into Pete's arms. He says, "You're not just a distraction. If you were just a distraction, I wouldn't have to be so fucking scared of you."

"Maybe you're just a wimp."

Brendon shakes his head. "I'm not. I have a good sense of what is dangerous."

"I don't mean to be dangerous," Pete says, his voice a little shaky.

"I—" Brendon closes his eyes, takes a breath. He opens them. "I know."

"Please don't tell him I said anything. I fuck up enough with him."

"It wasn't such a big fuck up. But I won't."

"It was his secret."

"But I won't use it to hurt him. If anything, I can stop doing stupid things that probably inadvertently hurt him. And he'll move on. Because he brought you to us and he asked us to be good about you. He asked me, too, and okay, I kinda fucked that up, but the point is that he asked, and you don't do that for a distraction, Pete, you just don't. You have to know that."

Pete curls himself around Killer. "I don't know what I know with him."

Brendon doesn't want to tell Pete this, but that's sometimes what love is like. In the absence of having any further wisdom, Brendon leaves Pete with Killer and goes to get himself some breakfast.

*


Spencer gets the "I'm good" button for Ryan. He takes Ryan's hand one day, the way only he's allowed to do, takes it and opens it up and places the button in his palm. Ryan reads the button and says, "Maybe you should have given this to Brendon," and then feels bad, because it's not like Spencer doesn't know about Brendon's head stuff, but Ryan tries not to talk about it with people who aren't Brendon.

"You can share," Spencer tells him before taking the pin and pinning it on Ryan's shirt. "You need to hear it more than you think."

When Brendon sees the pin he laughs, and says, "Mm, yeah you are," which in turn makes Ryan laugh, because he's pretty sure that when Spencer said he needed to hear that he's good more often, Spencer didn't mean "in bed."

For all his entendre, Brendon stays a respectful distance. Ryan takes the pin off his chest and pulls Brendon to him by the collar of his shirt. Brendon comes easily. Brendon always comes easily. Ryan pins the pin to Brendon's shirt and gives it a little tap. Brendon looks at it for a long moment. A shudder so violent Ryan would see it even if he weren't standing right in front of Brendon runs right through him. Ryan says, "Hey."

Brendon balls his fists at his side, and for no reason whatsoever, Ryan thinks of the headaches Brendon used to give him, the way he was so close to something and yet nowhere near it. Ryan takes a breath and takes Brendon's hands in his, unfurls them, threads Brendon's hands in his. Brendon calms, stills.

"Good, huh?" Brendon asks, looking sideways at Ryan. There's a glint in his eye that Ryan likes, but his tone is just a little off.

"Good," Ryan says forcefully. "Good."

Brendon shakes under Ryan's hands and Ryan asks, "What?"

Brendon shakes his head. "Thanks for the pin."

Ryan leans forward a little, touches his lips to Brendon's, waits to see what Brendon will do. Brendon responds slowly, at first just with his lips, then, when Ryan seems receptive to that, his tongue. Ryan says, "You can," into Brendon's mouth, but he doesn't know if Brendon hears him. Brendon just kisses him until they are both trembling with want.

Brendon says, "Tell me how to be good."

"You are," Ryan says, "just are."

Brendon says, "But, tell me."

Ryan says, "Let me, let me show you I'm good, too."

"I know, Ryan, I know."

"Let me."

"Yours," Brendon says, squeezing his hands slightly.

Ryan turns Brendon without letting go of his hands, a ballroom dance move that he hasn't thought about in years, since he took it in gym his freshman year. Catholic school was an odd place. Ryan lets go of one hand long enough to get Brendon's pants down--Brendon helps--and then reclaims the hand, sinks to his knees, uses his tongue, works it inside Brendon, shows Brendon, shows him Ryan can be good, he can, he just has to try, to remember what he needs to do. Brendon makes sweet, needy noises that only drive Ryan further in, make him press deeper. He pulls out to ask, "Can you-- Just from this? Can you?"

"Yes," Brendon promises and Ryan works him until he makes good on his word.

*


The writer's block, when it hits, feels like a brick that's been tossed at Ryan's chest, and just landed there, knocking him to his back, keeping him down. Ryan tries everything he can think of to get rid of it. He goes for nighttime and early morning walks, when the desert is cold and yet still welcoming. He watches all of his favorite movies and eats a veritable squadron's rations of his comfort foods and has Brendon blow him. He takes Brendon in nearly every room in the damn cabin, until Spencer says, "Seriously, I didn't even know this was possible, but you're wearing him out. Let him sleep, okay?"

Ryan does, watching over Brendon, and it should give him inspiration, the way Brendon curls up in his sleep, the way he sometimes sings in it, but nothing will shake loose. Ryan is a completely blank slate. Brendon wakes up and stretches, all legs and arms and returned energy. "I have an idea," he says. With Brendon an idea can be a thing of wild, natural terror. At this point, Ryan really doesn't give a shit. He wants his voice back.

Brendon tells Spencer where they're going, but not Ryan. Ryan thinks maybe the surprise is half the impact. He doesn't know. It doesn't matter. What matters is whether Brendon gets him where he needs to go. Metaphorically. Brendon drives the two hours to get into Vegas and parks at Circus Circus. He leads Ryan in and pays for entrance to the theme park. "What first?"

Ryan says, "Roller coaster."

The roller coaster ends up being first, second and third, because Ryan loves that feeling of being in control of the danger in which he places himself. It's a false belief, he knows, but it's only the perception that matters, not the reality. Ryan’s stomach jolts and his breath jams and inside him, he starts to feel something loosen.

They move onto the water ride, and in the cold shock of the water hitting him, coming over him, surrounding him, Ryan can feel his words again, even if he can't reach them, not quite yet. They ride all the rides, even the kiddie ones, because Brendon knows Ryan's mom couldn't afford to take him to amusement parks when he was a kid and Brendon likes to make up for lost time so he insists on these sorts of things and Ryan lets him have his way. Ryan likes Brendon's insistence, the fact that he gives a crap that there was time lost.

Brendon saves the ferris wheel for last, which Ryan thinks is an odd choice until they're seated safely inside and Brendon's hand drops down to where people can't see to hook under Ryan's thigh, against the underside of his knee. Brendon caresses a bit, looking at Ryan, who smiles at him. Yes, yes, you can do this, please do this. They're up at the top for a while, just the two of them, just Brendon's hand and Ryan's leg and a sea of color and excess below them. Ryan asks, "Why this? Because it was fun?"

"Because you dreamed a circus into existence and you never once gave it a reality outside of our heads, our shows. You needed closure."

"We. We dreamed that circus."

"You saw it before Spencer or I did."

"But it was all of ours."

Brendon squeezes his hand. "We're always there with you, in any case."

By the time they reach the ground, Ryan can hear the first line of his newest song.

*


Brendon lets Ryan drive back, because Ryan asks. They're back late and if Spencer and Jon aren't asleep then they are holed up in their rooms, having some alone time. Ryan takes Brendon's hand and leads him back to Ryan's room. Brendon grins, asks in an overly wispy voice, "How would you like me?" batting his eyelashes.

Ryan rolls his eyes, grabs Brendon's chin and pulls him into a kiss. In between the not-entirely-delicate plunder of Brendon's mouth he says, "Would like you inside me."

Brendon jerks against him, and Ryan can feel him hardening at the thought alone. Brendon is easy when it comes to Ryan's permissiveness. But then, Ryan isn't easy with his permissions, so that only makes sense. "Yes," Ryan says, palming Brendon through his jeans. "Yes."

Brendon's hands are at the hem of his shirt, clearly scrabbling to get as much of his clothing off as quickly as possible. Ryan joins him in the attempt and then races him the two feet to the bed. Brendon wins. Ryan reaches over to the nightstand and grabs the lube. He hands it to Brendon, who won't take it. "Get yourself ready," he says, the idea causing his voice to lower with excitement. Ryan kneels up on the bed and pours some of the lube onto his fingers. He slips one, two into himself with a soft sigh of pleasure. Brendon says, "You're so fucking unreal sometimes. Beyond. Beyond real."

What Ryan feels under Brendon's gaze—his slightly lowered eyes, just-open lips—is beautiful, worshipped, fucking treasured. He slips a third finger in and twists until stars appear in a rush of self-induced pleasure. "That's enough," Brendon rasps. "Come here. Come to me."

Ryan flows to him, straight into his hands, which Brendon has out to catch Ryan by his biceps, lower him to the bed. He rolls Ryan onto his back and says, "I want to see you this time."

He drapes Ryan's legs over his shoulders, running his hands from thigh to ankle. Ryan shivers at the stimulus, the way Brendon takes his time with him when Brendon can't generally be bothered to take his time for anything. He pushes in, bending Ryan in on himself so that Brendon can touch his lips to Ryan's, press his hands to Ryan's chest. "Good?" he croons.

"More," Ryan tells him, even though he thinks that's the last thing he should ask of Brendon. "More."

Brendon pushes further in. There is no more, but he manages to find some between the two of them. He pulls out, a slow drag and his next thrust in is intense, hard, not exactly rough, but not anything else, either. Brendon knows all the ways Ryan can break, knows all the ways he can keep from hurting Ryan while not packaging him up, putting him on a shelf where nobody can reach. Ryan says, "Fuck, yes," and bucks as much as he can into Brendon.

Brendon says, "Hang on, Ry," and Ryan grips at his biceps, digging fingers too far into skin. Brendon has taught Ryan that pain is not always the same thing as hurt, that it does not always come from a place of meaning harm. Brendon's gaze never leaves Ryan's face even as his rhythm becomes frantic, as he declares himself, "Yours," to Ryan and Ryan says, "Yours," right back.

The admission brings him forward onto Ryan, into Ryan, and no sooner has Brendon collapsed, crushing Ryan's cock between them than Ryan comes, the sensation as natural as breathing out, as the feel of Brendon against him. He extricates his arms, brings them over, behind Brendon's shoulders while slipping his legs from those shoulders to around his hips. Brendon says, "You wouldn't believe how fucking confident my voice would sound if you wrote about this."

Ryan isn't sure he wouldn't disgrace himself on stage. Every time.

*


Ryan goes to get himself some more Root Beer after a somewhat intense game of Apples to Apples. He asks, "Anybody want anything?"

Brendon looks up at him hopefully, "M&M's?"

It's Brendon's birthday, so Ryan's willing to spoil him probably more than he should. Also, risk the sugar high. "I'll see what I can do."

As he's heading kitchenward, Mikey says, "I'll join you."

"I could—" Ryan starts, but Mikey's already at his side. Ryan presses the kitchen door open with his shoulder, Mikey lets it swing shut behind him and then it's just the two of them, the others dispersed around the house, cleaning.

"—get you something," he finishes, aware of the pointlessness of the offer.

Mikey says, "I wanted you, thanks."

Ryan blinks.

"To talk to."

"If this is about Brendon and Frank, you're gonna have to talk to Frank—"

"I do talk to Frank. This is about Frank's birthday gift. To Brendon. Because you seemed pretty okay, I mean, you smiled, but you're sort of hard to read."

"Is this some sort of bizarre My Chem tag-team effort?" Ryan stands ram-rod straight. It's hard being around these people who were sort of like fairy-book heroes for so long. It's not even that it's tough seeing their human side so much as that it's almost impossible to understand why they're trying to be his friends. At least, that's what Ryan thinks this is.

"Our life has sort of become a tag-team effort."

Ryan gets that. "The gift was funny. I have a sense of humor." Most people don't know that. Brendon does.

"The funny was sort of predicated upon a certain amount of acceptance, you know?"

Ryan knows. He grabs the two liter and pours himself the root beer that he originally came in to get. "The thing is, Frank didn't mean to hurt me. I just had to. . . I had to understand that."

"I've never seen him mean to hurt anyone."

"Brendon's like that. So much in him that you think could be kind of fierce and wild and dangerous, but mostly he's just sweet." It frustrates Ryan sometimes, but it's a lot of why he loves Brendon, so he can only complain so much.

"You're a different story, though."

Ryan smiles ironically.

"I know about that," Mikey admits.

"Mikey Way? Emo's sweetheart?"

"Amazing what you can hide behind a guitar the size of a bass."

Ryan thinks of Pete. "Yeah."

"It doesn't make you. . . I followed you in here because I cared. If you were okay. And I wouldn't if you weren't worth the effort. I don't have a shit ton of effort to spare."

Ryan can imagine. "I'm good." But maybe better due Mikey's admission, no matter how much he would prefer that weren't true.

"Then I'm going to go back in there to kick all of you people's asses again."

Ryan deadpans, "Oh no. Your time has come Mikey Way." He remembers to grab the M&Ms on the way out.

*


Brendon makes sure that Spencer's mom doesn't need anything else when the last of the guests have gone. Just in case. She doesn't. He smiles at her anyway, kisses her and says, "Thanks for letting me abscond with your house."

She hugs him and says, "Wanna stay the night, kiddo? You can have Spence's bed. Something tells me he's not gonna be here."

The offer is tempting, incredibly so, but he can't quite make himself say yes, not with Spencer out of the house, not when she spent all day cooking and cleaning and doing everything to give him a party. He's not hers. She's just nice enough to pretend occasionally. He tries his hardest not to take advantage so that she'll see reason to keep up the pretense. "Nah, thanks. I think I might stay with Caddie. Sibling bonding."

"Good for you," she says, and sends him off with a gentle shove.

Caddie is waiting for him in the cooling car. She says, "Not that I don't love having you over, Bren, but you do realize you have the financial capability to keep a place, right?"

Panic isn't quite rolling in it the way most people think, but yeah, Brendon's aware he could have a home if he just looked and signed a lease and did all those things that adults do, but he's done that once before and he can remember how lonely it was at night, even when he should have been too exhausted to feel lonely. Now, now that he technically can go back to his parents house, doing it again seems like admitting defeat.

"Cad, can we not?"

She looks over at him. "Yeah, okay."

"Sorry, just—"

"Don't, Bren. Don't be sorry. I just worry. You seem—"

Brendon probably seems a lot of things.

"I'd just like to see you have a place you can go to. A safe place."

Brendon has a bus and a boyfriend and two bandmates, but he doesn't know how to tell Caddie that without hurting her feelings. He says, "I just turned twenty. I have a little bit before I have to be a real adult, don't you think?"

Caddie rolls her eyes. "So, s'mores on the gas range tonight?"

"You didn't think I came to your place to see you, did you?"

Caddie laughs. "Oh, perish the thought."

*


There's a text from Ryan in the morning. "where are you?"

Brendon types back, "Stop emulating Pete. Or, alternately, illiteracy. Capital letters are your friends."

"where?"

"Caddie's."

"need a ride back to the cabin?"

"No, Ryan, my legs work fine."

"what time, asshole?"

The question stops Brendon, because normally Ryan would just tell him what time he was coming to get him and that he'd best be ready. "When were you heading out?"

"whenever"

He's barely managed to type "Ryan" when the question, "having a good time?" comes through. Brendon doesn't really get to see Caddie all that often, not even necessarily when he's in town. She comes around to family gatherings to see him, but she doesn't like the tension caused by his presence, by all the things not said, so she cuts out early on a fairly regular basis. She apologizes to him later, but he gets it, he does. "We made s'mores."

"food of the gods"

"Don't you doubt it, Ross."

"wanna stay longer? i can come back."

"I think she needs her space back."

"you sure?"

"Come get me, Ryan."

"now?"

"This afternoon."

"what time?"

"Two okay?"

"two"

"Thanks."

"go be with caddie"

Brendon listens to his boyfriend.

*


Ryan comes in and stays for lemonade when he arrives. Then Brendon thanks Caddie for keeping him and she holds him tight and says, "Any time, Bren."

She looks at Ryan, who shrugs as if to say, "I try to tell him."

Brendon kisses Caddie's cheek. "I'll come back soon."

She pushes him gently away. "You're always saying that."

"Before we go on tour again," he tells her, "promise." He makes a cross over his heart.

She rolls her eyes at him. "Yeah, yeah. Go on."

Brendon goes. Ryan starts up the engine and he says, "Thanks for the ride."

It's Ryan's turn to roll his eyes. Brendon ignores him. "Wanna help me fill my candy machine when we get back?"

"Wanna help me write a song when we get back?"

"My idea was more fun."

"We have different definitions of fun, Brendon Boyd Urie," Ryan says sternly.

Brendon grins. "Not that different."

Ryan laughs. Brendon asks, "Spence back yet?"

"Yeah. He stopped by to make sure his mom didn't need anything and then drove back."

"He okay?"

"It really would have been much easier if we could have all been gay for each other."

Brendon laughs, then says, "Poor Spence."

"Yeah," Ryan says, and goes silent in that way that Brendon knows he's thinking too damn hard about something.

Brendon says, "He'll be okay, Ryan."

"What? Oh. I know."

"Then what tangent have we skipped to now?"

Ryan doesn't deny the skipping. He doesn't answer the question, either.

"Oh, I have to guess? Hm, okay, let's see. Is this the one where we never actually get the record finished—"

"No."

"Okay, maybe the one—"

"I don't think I've mentioned this one yet."

"Oh, that's just not fair."

"Life," Ryan tells him.

"I am dating the world's biggest asshole," Brendon tells the dashboard dispiritedly. It neither agrees nor disagrees. "Um, okay. You want to run off and join The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence?"

"No, but, hm," Ryan says thoughtfully.

Brendon realizes he'd best stop before he gives Ryan any more ideas. "I'll give you five dollars if you tell me what you're thinking."

"My thoughts are worth considerably more."

"I'll blow you, too."

"Sold."

Brendon waits for a bit before prompting. "So..."

"I just don't like that you don't have anywhere to go when we're home."

"I offered five dollars and a blow job for that?"

"Oh shut the fuck up. I was going to say that we should find a solution."

"Yeah, that was implied by your 'I don't like' statement."

"No, Brendon. Not you should find a solution, we should."

Brendon thinks about it. "No, I still have no fucking clue what you're talking about."

"I've been leasing month by month for five months now. I can get out of it any time. If I wanted to, say, find a two or three bedroom. With someone else."

Ryan's grip on the steering wheel is causing his knuckles to whiten. Brendon blinks. "Oh."

"I mean, I know we live on a bus together and sometimes in a cabin and it's probably not—"

"We would sign our names next to each other," Brendon says.

"What?"

"On the lease. Both our signatures. That would be— Ryan."

"Still regretting the offer of the blow job?"

"If you don't drive faster, you're gonna find out how much I don't right here in this car." Brendon hears the engine rev just slightly. "Better," he says.

*


Invariably, the apartment search becomes a Band Affair. Brendon thinks that's probably for the best, since sometimes Spencer knows how to translate Ryan in ways that not even Brendon can manage and Jon has been an adult for a surprisingly long time despite not being that much older than any of the rest of them, except Spencer, who's really the most adult-like after Jon. In a way. It varies, really. Brendon generally comes at the bottom of the list, though, and he's okay with that. Somebody in the band's got to act his age.

Ryan wants something outside the city. He doesn't want to pay city prices or deal with city traffic. Brendon tries not to tell him that he really doesn't give a fuck where the apartment is, so long as it's his and Ryan's. Spencer says, "Maybe you guys should consider a condo, so that you're building equity."

Brendon says, "Maybe in a couple of years," because he gets that it's sort of a thing that Ryan's offered to have a space that's validly shared, rather than just letting Brendon into his. They should take this easy.

Spencer looks at where Ryan and Jon are apartment-shopping online and says, "Yeah, okay, point."

Brendon goes to stand behind Ryan. He says, "Anything?"

"Yeah, a few places. I bookmarked them." Ryan gets up to allow Brendon the chair.

Brendon sits and flips through the links. They all sort of look the same to him. Spacious and clean. It's a considerable change from the last time he was trying to find a place. Because he thinks Ryan probably needs him to have some input on this decision he asks, "They all allow cats, right?"

"Yeah."

"I like the Diamondback and Eagle Trace places best."

"Yeah, that was sort of what I was thinking. Diamondback's got a better location."

"Wanna set something up?"

"I think Jon's already doing that." Ryan tosses his head in the direction where Jon is on the phone, pad in front of him, pen in hand.

"How likely do you think it is we can do this without every girl in America knowing by next weekend?"

"Jon asked if there were any guys working in these offices."

"Smart," Brendon says.

"We're thinkers," Ryan tells him.

"We should still wear hats."

"And possibly fake facial hair," Spencer says. Ryan chokes on the sip of water he was taking.

*


By the third apartment, when Brendon says, "I like the view," (he said, "I like the color" and "I like the closets" respectively on the first two) Ryan snaps, "Would you mind actually having a fucking opinion?"

Brendon gives Jon time to draw the apartment manager away before saying, "I like the fucking view," in as calm a tone as he can manage.

Spencer says, "Ryan—" but Brendon says, "Spence, can you—" and Spencer goes to go check out the view.

"You like everything. I could take you to a place with peeling paint and you'd say you liked the fucking potential. Only, I sort of know you, Brendon Urie, you're capable of so much more than like."

"If you took me to a place with peeling paint, Ryan Ross, I would know that you would cover it with pictures of Morrissey and the framed Mary Poppins print that you think nobody knows you have and I would come home when we were home to you and the things that make you happy and that, that I would fucking exult in, yes."

"This isn't my home, it's ours. But if you won't help me make any of the decisions then it can't be."

Okay, Ryan has a point with that. Brendon has never really been expected to help in a decision like that, his opinion has never actually been valuable in this sort of instance. He might not have realized that being open to anything wasn't all that big a help to Ryan.

"Also," Ryan says into the silence of Brendon's thoughts, "I'm not ashamed of my Julie Andrews thing."

"You are too," Brendon says absently. "You shouldn't be, but you are."

Ryan frowns. Brendon tilts his head. "I'm not crazy about the location on this place, and I don't like that the last one wasn't gated, not with it being fairly close to the school. The first one was good, but I think we could do better, I sort of like that these places have fireplaces even if we would only ever use them late at night, I just like mantles. They're good places to put photographs."

Ryan nods. "Okay. Okay. That was useful."

"I really will be happy wherever we sign, is the thing," Brendon explains.

"I know, I know. I get that. I— I get it. But better than happy would be good. You wear better than happy well. And someone's gotta balance out my emo."

"Let's keep looking," Brendon says.

"Okay," Ryan agrees.

"We can't just be putting Mary Poppins anywhere."

"Blow me."

"Promises, promises."

*


Finding a place is anti-climactic. Brendon wanders into the second bedroom area of the fifth place they visit and says, "The keyboard would fit really nicely under that window," and somehow, that's the deciding factor. They've signed for a year within a week and they hire movers for the first of the month.

Jon and Spencer help them unpack and set up. Spencer runs out to get them things like toilet paper and basic food products, the sort of thing both of them evidently forgot. Jon helps Spencer set up the kitchen and says, "It's a good thing they're never going to be left here for too long at one stretch."

Brendon sticks out his tongue. Spencer and Jon go back to the cabin when the furniture is seemingly in place, and they’ve hung their clothes up, gotten the instruments set in the right places and the pictures on the mantle. Spencer arranges those; he has a good sense for what makes a home look like a home.

Brendon and Ryan decide where to put Mary Poppins when the other two are gone. It's not as if they don't know, but Ryan is slightly ashamed, and doesn't feel the need for everyone to see him being careful with it. Brendon forces the issue a lot, making Ryan put it in the hall, where visitors will see it on their way to the bathroom. It's too cool to be completely hidden away. It's an original print. It was the first thing Ryan bought when they actually got a little bit of money off the album, one of the few completely indulgent presents for himself Brendon has ever known him to buy.

Brendon helps him get it up so that it's straight and centered. He stands behind Ryan when they've finished and kisses his shoulder gently, not pressing into him. Ryan says, "We should make this home."

"Got any ideas?" Brendon asks.

"Kiss my shoulder again."

Brendon does.

"Take my shirt off."

Brendon can follow directions really well when he puts his mind to it.

"Now yours." Ryan isn't even looking at him, so it seems like a waste, but Brendon does it.

"Kiss the back of my neck." Ryan waits for it to be done. "Now my shoulder. Shoulder blade. Other shoulder." Ryan takes a breath. "My wallet's in my back pocket. There's a condom in there. Take it out."

Brendon goes for the wallet.

"There's a thing of lube in the front pocket."

Brendon reaches around. Ryan's obviously been thinking about this.

"Now take my pants off." Ryan's shoes are already off, it's an easy thing to slip the jeans down.

"Now yours."

Brendon barely even stops to unzip himself.

"Put my hands up against the wall," Ryan whispers, sounding less sure. Brendon won't let him falter. He draws Ryan's arms up and plants his hands against the wall.

"Fuck me?" A mere figment of sound. Brendon kisses his shoulder again, this time without instruction. He reaches down where he dropped the lube and slicks up his fingers, taking this easy. Neither of them are in that big a rush. This is big, but they've also been moving all day, they're worn. This is a reward, a touchstone, a moment of establishment. Brendon doesn't have to hurry.

When he's ready, he pushes in easy, pulls Ryan farther into him, holds their bodies close without pulling Ryan from the wall. The wall is important, part of this. He establishes a rhythm, easy and gentle, nothing particularly interesting or impressive. Brendon whispers, "We're home," and reaches down to touch Ryan, wrap around him, bring him into the in-out-in-out Brendon's set up. When Brendon is getting pretty close, and is not all that concerned with trying to hold on, Ryan says, "Home," and comes.

*


Mikey's voice, just his, "Hey," almost makes Ryan hang up the phone, but Mikey has already seen the number, Ryan knows, so that would just be stupid at this point.

"Hi," Ryan says, because that is what people say when they call other people.

Mikey asks, "How are you?" and yes, that is traditional as well.

"Good," Ryan tells him. "You?"

"Fine," Mikey says slowly. "Little confused."

That's pretty fair. "Yeah." Ryan lays his head on the table and tries to say something, anything, really, even if it's not what he called to say.

Mikey saves him. "How's the writing going?"

"Better," and okay, there's something Ryan can say, "Brendon took me to Circus, Circus a little while ago. It helped."

"Is that the one with the rides?"

"A few of them have rides, but yeah, it's the one with lots of rides."

"And that...helped with the writing?"

Okay, not as logical as it seemed in Ryan's brain, but he only realizes that after, when Mikey has asked and he has to remember all the steps involved in that situation. "It was a closure thing."

"Closure's good." Mikey sounds like he actually gets that, even without context.

"He's always— Brendon always—"

Mikey waits what feels like an almost interminably long time before asking, "What's he do, Ryan?"

"He fixes me. He—" Ryan hates not having words, hates it. Words are his, his friends, his allies, his and when they desert him, it is the worst of possible betrayals. "He fixes me and I break him."

"It doesn't work like that," Mikey says. Then he asks, "Something happen?"

"No." Not really. Not anything important. Ryan doesn't close his eyes. The nightmare will come back.

"Well, okay. Because you just called me, and um. That's not—"

"Spencer misses Bob. He misses Bob and he's always having to be The Guy, you know? And I just thought—" Ryan doesn't know what he thought. Well, he does, but evidently his mouth and brain have no interest in sharing.

"It's not— I like that you called."

Ryan does close his eyes, then, risks the nightmare. "Have you ever, I mean, probably not, because Mikey Way and all, but have you ever hurt someone in a way that you shouldn't have been able to take back but they let you? And you know, you know the forgiveness was real because they don't lie, not to you, but you did it, maybe you did it many times, different ways but over and over and you really don't understand how they could have, forgiven you, that is?"

"Yes," Mikey says. Ryan's a little impressed he followed. Ryan's a lot impressed by his easy, decisive honesty.

Ryan says, "Sometimes, in the moments before I wake up, he's not there with me. In my head. He is, if I could just open my eyes I would see him, feel him, but he's not and it's just—"

Mikey waits until it's clear he's not going to finish. "It's just enough to make your chest feel like it's pressing into your back? Like you'll never breathe again, not ever and you can't remember how you ever did?"

At least one of them remembers language and it's uses. "Yes."

Mikey says, "Not that I don't appreciate the call, but I think you should go find him, Ryan."

"I don't like— He'll just have to fix me some more and he's cautious, because I made him that way, I broke him until he couldn't be anything else."

"Maybe it wasn't breaking. Maybe he was just— We all rework ourselves to fit more completely with others. The more we want to fit, the more reworking is generally involved."

Ryan knows that, he does, because he's changed too, learned to fit in other ways around Brendon, but he's become something more, something better. "He doesn't even know when he's safe with me."

Mikey says, "Go find him, Ryan. Tell him— Tell him to touch you, or whatever, whatever it is you think he doesn't know. Go tell him and find out he does."

"And if he doesn't?"

"I tend to keep my phone on."

Ryan digs his fingernails into his knee. "Mikey."

"Yeah?"

"Um. You know."

There's a small laugh. "Yeah, I know. Go."

*


Brendon's still mostly asleep when Ryan goes back, crawls back in the bed, presses himself to Brendon's side. Brendon wakes up at that, moves deliberately to let Ryan farther in should Ryan so choose. Ryan does. Brendon murmurs, "Hey, Ry."

"Mikey said to find you," Ryan tells him the second before he realizes that he's begun mid-thought.

Brendon rolls with it. He always does. "Mikey said that?"

"I called him."

Brendon rubs circles in Ryan's back. "I didn't know you guys talked."

"Not a lot."

"Something happen? I miss it?"

"Nightmare," Ryan admits. He has no plan to tell Brendon what it was about.

Brendon doesn't ask. He keeps his grip loose and says, "You're safe. Spence and Jon and I, we aren't going to let anyone touch you."

"Except you," Ryan says, and then realizes it sounds wrong. "I mean. You can touch me."

Brendon's fingers are still, though.

"I want you to touch me. I want... That's your right. It always was, I just—" Ryan shakes his head, his forehead brushing along Brendon's.

"It wasn't, Ry. It wasn't my right to scare you, to take away the space you'd established."

"But then it was your space, and I never told you. I pushed you out of it." Ryan remembers the way Brendon gave, fell away from his hands. The way he skidded on the floor.

"You pulled me back in, too. And the space had already been disturbed. I knew better."

"But you shouldn't—" Ryan tenses, and sighs when Brendon loosens his grip even further. "I taught you wrong. I fucked up, Brendon. I messed you up and you were good, you were good before I got you—"

"Shut up," Brendon says, his jaw tight.

"You danced with me, you took me out and danced—"

"Shut the fuck up, Ryan Ross. Don't you dare suggest to me that what I've done to keep you has made me less. You have no fucking right."

"You're not less," Ryan says softly. He's never once seen Brendon diminished, and he's looked a lot. If Brendon's fractured, it doesn't mean any of his pieces are missing. "But you— Then you would have held on, now you're—" Ryan moves in Brendon's grip, can move.

Brendon says, "I've learned other ways to hold. You taught me that. Better, maybe. Ways that won't leave bruises."

"And if I want bruises from you?"

"Then you know what happens when you ask me for things."

Ryan does, that's the problem. It makes it worse that Brendon is looking at him, one-third anger, one-third hope, one-third expectation. It makes it worse, because Ryan is going to ask, he is. "Hold me, Brendon. This way. So I can feel it." So when I close my eyes, you're still there. Ryan feels the bruises forming. He says, "Tighter."

*


Ryan answers his phone with, "You were right."

"It happens," Mikey says, sounding a bit derailed and yet pleased all the same.

"About going to him, you were right." Ryan shifts so that he's curled on his side, up against the back of the couch. The bruise on his arm throbs, a sweet, cautious reminder of what is his.

"Oh. Well, I sort of knew that, but good."

Ryan plays the conversation back in his head. "That wasn't why you called."

"No."

"Did I ruin it? I mean—" Ryan knows how it can be, when he gets himself set to say something and something else intervenes and then he can't.

"No, Ryan. No. I just. Wanted to be honest."

Honesty, in Ryan's experience, is often as destructive as deception. He is slow to say, "Okay."

"You asked if I had ever— You asked about me hurting someone."

Brendon had flown from the push, launched from it. Ryan makes himself focus. "I asked."

"It was Frank. I hurt Frank."

Ryan thinks about the two of them, the way they are so utterly, perfectly, eternally safe in each other's space. It's not that he doesn't believe Mikey, but, "Define hurt."

"Back when— Before I took the break. Frank was trying to help. It was a bad idea, the way he tried, but he was just trying, and I— I shoved him against a wall and rubbed off on him. He was— I almost broke his wrist. Y'know, because the rape wasn't enough. And I threw a glass at him. It broke."

The sound of shattering glass echoes in Ryan's bones. He takes a moment to breathe. He tries not to ask, he does, but in the end he has to. "Why'd he forgive you?"

"I think— I think it's because he loves me."

Ryan knows the truth of that, too. He went back and went back and went back. The difference is, "You don't keep hurting him."

"No. I mean. I try not to."

Ryan says, "I do." He says, "I got that from my dad."

"I don't know, Ryan. I don't think you do. I don't think Spence and Jon would let you."

"How many people know about what you did to Frank?"

Mikey is silent.

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

*


Ryan sends the email to four people: Jon, Mikey, Frank, and Spencer. Jon because he's saved them before, even if maybe he shouldn't have. Mikey because he's been listening. Frank because he's already seen. And Spencer for all of the above reasons. Mostly because, well, Spencer. The email says, "I need help." It's sort of a big thing, because Ryan has learned to ask sparingly, and only when it is truly necessary. He is neither boy nor wolf, but sometimes he is as desperate as either. It is then, and only then, that he can cry.

Spencer replies to all. "Tell us more."

Ryan sends back, "Not on email. I need to see you. Or talk. Can we conference with our cells?"

Mikey is the one to reply-all this time. "How about you three get in one room with a speaker phone and Frank and I do the same? Will that work?"

So they set up a time and Ryan says to Brendon, "You have to let me have Spencer and Jon Friday afternoon."

Brendon pouts. "That doesn't leave me anybody to play with."

Ryan says, "You can borrow my guitar."

Brendon perks up. "Seriously?" Ryan nods. It's the least he can do. He's taking three-fourths of Brendon's band from him.

Friday afternoon Jon and Spencer sequester themselves in Ryan's room with Ryan's Sidekick lying on the bed in the middle of them, set to speaker phone. Ryan dials Mikey's number. Mikey says, "You have a bizarre punctuality to you."

Frank says, "It turns me on."

Spencer snickers. Ryan gives him the look of, "hey, my side, remember?" Spencer is not contrite. Jon reaches his hand out just in case Ryan should want it. Ryan considers, but then takes the offer. Jon has come because he asked.

"What's this about?" Spencer asks. Spencer is the only one who knows how to ask, Ryan knows. It makes him feel mean.

"You all— The four of you, and maybe some others, you know that I reshaped Brendon. I didn't mean to, I just— Shouldn't have let him get as close as he did." Ryan thinks of the time he wandered into a Vegas hotel and saw a glass-blowing demonstration, watched the years and years of sand and erosion and compaction melt under the heat, reform. It had been prettier than when the artist had started, but the artist had known what she was doing. Therein lay the difference. "But I did and he did and now I have to... Now I owe him."

Frank says, "Brendon loves you. That's not reshaping, that's— That's his choice, Ryan."

"You don't see him every day. You don't know the way he— The way I taught him so hard he can't move past the lesson to come up with his own paradigms, his own theories." Ryan looks to Jon and Spencer.

Jon asks, slowly, "What did you have in mind?"

Ryan takes a breath. "I've tried telling him, telling him and telling him about the things he can do, how he has rights. Only he doesn't believe me any more. It's not that he doesn't listen, he just doesn't understand the change in my words. But with the four of you, it hasn't been the same words over and over for two years."

There's a long silence. Spencer is looking at Ryan when he finally asks, "What do you mean?"

And this is the part they have to agree to. They have to. "I'm going to ask one last thing of Brendon. That he tell me everything he wants. Every little thing. That he is honest. And the four of you, the four of you will have to be there for these parts, even if very rarely, even if over the phone, have to be there and tell him that he can have them, because he knows I trust you, he knows you wouldn't say it if I hadn't given you permission and I just have to hope, hope that he can hear it."

Mikey says, "Ryan." Jon's eyes widen slightly. Spencer's narrow.

Frank says, "That's kind of...intimate."

"I think— I think if he sees that I could trust us in the hands of others, that I would, for us, that he'll start to see. He'll hear you, and he'll see reality and, well. It might not work. It might be the stupidest, worst plan ever. But it's my first plan. I'm sure I can come up with others." Ryan will, if this doesn't work. He will if this one doesn't kill him.

Jon says, "He wouldn't want you hurt in the process."

"Then don't hurt me," Ryan says, and it's maybe a plea, but he trusts these people, he does. They've all tried their best to help, every last one of them.

Spencer, who can say no to Ryan better than anyone in the world and yet uses the power sparingly, says, "We try this for a week, and see."

"I can do a week," Jon agrees, because Jon often follows where Spencer leads.

"A week, huh?" Frank asks.

"It's not a lot of time to ask for," Mikey says, mostly, it seems, to himself.

There's a bit of a silence and then Frank says, "All right Ryan Ross, you've got yourself helpers."

Ryan closes his eyes. He mouths, "Thank you," and hopes that somehow, somehow they all hear. Spencer translates for him.

*


The second part, of course, is that Ryan has to convince Brendon. He would have made this the first part, only then would have felt stupid if the others hadn't agreed. Also, Brendon is an easier sell. Brendon will agree because it matters to Ryan. And if that isn't everything that's wrong with the situation, Ryan just doesn't know what is.

He also knows, though, that if a person doesn't take advantage of the problems in a relationship, use them to heal things, then they're no good, then nothing is any good. He doesn't know how he knows that, except maybe Spencer taught him just by doing, just by patching things up no matter what. It doesn't matter where the knowledge came from, its power is his.

Brendon is on Ryan's bed, playing Ryan's guitar. Ryan comes in the door and Brendon starts to take it off, but Ryan sits behind him and loops his arms around, placing Brendon's hands back on the guitar, with his covering them. "Enjoying yourself?"

"I figured out that I should have asked why you needed Spencer and Jon."

Ryan smiles into Brendon's neck.

"You're touching me a lot, and you gave me your guitar. Am I dying?"

"How would I know? Are you?"

"Not last I checked."

"Good," Ryan says. He's pretty unclear on what the fuck he would do if that happened.

"Seriously, it's nowhere near my birthday, what'd you need Spence and Jon for?"

"They're going to help us out with something."

"Us?"

"Yes."

"Then why—"

"Because I needed them to agree before I asked you to."

"Ry—"

"From now on, when you wanna do something to me, anything, you have to say it aloud. You have to say it, even if you don't think you should, even if you're scared I'll get mad. And then Spence or Jon or Frank or Mikey will tell you you can. Do it."

"What?"

"What part caught you?"

"How would they know what I can and can't do?"

"Because I gave them permission to tell you. Because I trust them to know."

"And you don't trust me?"

"I trust you not to hurt me. I don't trust you to take what you want anymore."

"Ryan—"

"They said they'd try it for a week. Agree to try it for a week."

"Frank and Mikey?"

Ryan says, "You understand," because he knows Brendon does. Brendon always understands.

"This is kinda fucked up."

"You're the one who fell in love with me." Ryan isn't taking the blame for that. He's pretty sure he did everything in his power not to encourage it.

"One week?"

For starters. "Yeah."

Brendon strums the guitar. Ryan feels it in his palms.

*


The first time Ryan feels Brendon's gaze on him he has to say, "Say it."

Brendon glances over at Jon and Spencer who are involved in a cutthroat game of Uno. Ryan repeats, "Say it."

"I wanna lay my head on your chest. Listen to you breathe. You breathe differently when you're trying to write."

Spencer says, "Go do it, Brendon."

Brendon looks at Ryan.

"Now, Bren," Jon says softly. Brendon listens. He falls asleep while he's laying there and Ryan thinks up a whole song about love that he knows he'll never write down, let alone record.

The second time Ryan only has to command, "Say it," once before Brendon says, "I want to run my feet up your legs, to the inside of your thighs."

They're all sitting at the dinner table, eating. Jon says, "Do it," and looks past Ryan's shoulder, out one of the windows.

Spencer says, "Brendon."

Brendon's feet are cold and Ryan laughs at their touch. He doesn't pull away. Jon and Spencer know what he can take. Brendon knows more than either of them and that's the point, isn't it? The point of all this.

The third time Ryan still has to say, "Say it," but when Brendon says, "I want to put my chin on your shoulder," and Spencer says, "Go for it," Jon doesn't have to push. Ryan fits his back against Brendon's chest. Brendon's breathing is even. Things can only get harder from here.

*


They're in the middle of a game of Guitar Hero when Spencer tugs his earphones out and asks Brendon, "Are you paying attention at all?"

"Not really?" Brendon sheepishly removes his own earphones. "Sorry."

Spencer kills the game. "What's got your attention?"

"I'm supposed to say what I want," Brendon starts. He means to go on but the problem is that Ryan has given him this thing and he gets, he gets that it's this huge gift and that it has the potential to make things better—they're not broken, no matter what Ryan thinks, they're not. It's hard to say anything that might seem ungrateful in the face of that.

Spence tilts his head. "Is this something we should all be here for?"

"Maybe," Brendon admits.

"Stay here," Spencer tells him. Brendon lays down on the sofa, but other than that, he listens. Spencer returns with Jon—who inserts his lap under Brendon's head—and Ryan, who sits on the arm of the couch. Spencer stands behind him. "Okay, Brendon."

"I'm supposed to say what I want," Brendon tries again and this time forces the issue, so that Spencer won't have gotten Ryan and Jon for nothing. "But am I allowed to say what I don't want?"

Ryan's really, really good at hiding terror in himself, but Brendon knows him too well for either of them to be fooled. Ryan says, "Of course."

"Because I love Jon and Spence, but I don't want them watching us have sex and I think maybe that was how you meant for this to go down." Mostly, Brendon thinks Ryan meant for Jon to help with that, which makes sense, because he has before, so what is it to ask again, only it is something to ask again, especially knowing now what it must have done to Jon to give Brendon over, to use his opportunity to fix instead of steal and utterly destroy.

Ryan nods. "All right. What if someone was hearing us?"

Brendon has forgotten that there were two other names on the list of people he could ask permissions of. "Mikey and Frank?"

"I was thinking Frank. Frank—" Ryan looks away, but Brendon knows. Frank has seen them touch, he has given them new ways to touch each other.

Frank was never in love with either of them. "Okay."

"Okay?"

Brendon nods. "I can do it that way, if you can."

"I think I can," Ryan says softly. Brendon watches him for a moment, marveling in the way Ryan can make honesty an utter gift, even when he's telling a person things he doesn't want to hear.

Brendon says, "I want to kiss you right now. I want to let you know you're doing such a good job."

"Am I doing the right thing?" Ryan asks.

"Thought you didn't believe in right and wrong."

"I don't believe in binaries, it's not exactly the same thing, and you didn't answer my question."

"I want to kiss you," Brendon says again and Jon lifts him to Ryan's lips.

*


Frank says, "Tell me you're sure about this Ryan Ross."

Ryan looks at Brendon who's sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him. Not touching him. He thinks Frank has seen before, kinda. He lies, because there are certain lies that have to be told, certain lies that protect and bolster. He lies because if this part doesn't get fixed, this whole thing will have been a sham, worthless, and Ryan is tired of giving Brendon gifts without value. "I am."

"'Kay." Frank's voice is soft. "If you wanna hang up at any point, you know how to work your Sidekick."

"Frank," Brendon says.

"Yeah?"

"He doesn't hurt me. He thinks he does, but he doesn't."

Ryan makes himself watch the defensiveness burn through Brendon. Frank is slow to say, "It's okay to recognize hurt, and forgive it."

Ryan doesn't wince, he doesn't, although he wants to, can hear Mikey's quiet words rolling through his mind and he's done a lot of things, but not that, not that. He doesn't want Frank thinking that of him. Brendon asks, "How is it hurt if he never means it that way?"

"Sometimes things do exist outside their contexts," Frank tells him.

"He's standing in the middle of the room. He does this thing, when he's scared, he loosens all of his muscles as much as he can. It's counterintuitive, but I think it's because he knows if you relax into something it hurts less, even if it's still going to hurt." Brendon is talking to him, despite the fact that Ryan knows these things and Frank does not.

"I want him to come to me."

Ryan should have known, Ryan should have been expecting Brendon to change the rules. But Ryan has pretty much handed those rules over to Brendon. They are his to change. Ryan goes to him, stands before him.

"I want to take his hands, pull him down next to me, push him down, just a bit, lay him out on the bed."

"Yes, yes, yes and yes."

Ryan is impressed by how composed Frank sounds. Ryan is already falling apart at Brendon's tug, being put in some semblance of together by Brendon's hands, which are molding him to the top of the bed.

"I want to peel his clothes off, see him naked, know that I'm the only one he gives that to, really, not even Spencer."

"Yes," Frank says, the permission oddly fervent.

Ryan lies there, lets Brendon have what is his and only his, lets Brendon have what he has never wanted to give to anyone else, not really, not even Pete. Ryan wishes he'd figured that out before he tried. The air in the room is cold and Ryan can't help tensing, shaking a bit with it. Brendon's, "I want to work my hands into his muscles, warm him up with my touch," is reverent.

"He needs to be warm," Frank says. Brendon's hands—which are almost always warm—burn against Ryan's skin, and Ryan has never expected conflagration to be comfortable, but it is so, so damn safe. He knows he will let it take him, let the flames eat him whole, rise from the pile of ashes he trusts Brendon to collect, to keep together. Brendon warms every inch of him, shoulders and tailbone and the bottoms of his feet. Stomach and thighs and wrists. Every part.

Brendon says, "I want him to thank me. I want him to find his own way to thank me."

Disoriented by the heat, the pleasure, the shifting again of how this whole thing works, Ryan whispers, "I want to do the same for you, I want to warm—" Ryan's hands are usually cold.

"Yes, Ryan," Brendon holds his gaze. "Yes."

Ryan undresses Brendon and lays him down. He rubs his hands against each other because he will get this right, he will. He starts at Brendon's feet—Brendon gets cold from the bottom up—and Brendon murmurs, "Ry."

Ryan stiffens for the briefest of seconds but then makes himself stop. Frank is listening to them do this, Ryan is trusting him with that, and it's such a small thing, it's such a small part for Brendon to take for himself and why has Ryan never thought about that? Why has he always been so sure the nickname was the beginning of some larger betrayal, rather than just a familiarity, a claim?

Ryan presses his lips to the arch of Brendon's foot even though it's breaking the rules—Brendon hasn't asked for it, and neither has Ryan. Brendon doesn't rat him out. Ryan continues to warm him.

*


Brendon says, "Frank."

"Here."

"I want to drag him on top of me, want to feel how fucking soft he is against every inch of me, want to hold him to me."

"You don't like to be pinned," Ryan says, before Frank can say anything. He trusted Frank to protect him. It never occurred to him that someone might need to protect Brendon. It's okay though, because Ryan can, Ryan just did.

"Brendon?" Frank asks.

"He doesn't hurt me," and now Brendon sounds frustrated. Ryan knows the feeling.

"Okay," Ryan says. "Okay."

Frank echoes, "Okay." Brendon doesn't waste time. Ryan clings, too, clings like Brendon, and it’s another breach, but he can't help himself.

Ryan whispers, "Sorry. I didn't mean— Sorry."

"I'm not doing much better," Brendon admits. Then, loudly, "I want him to want to kiss me."

"Ryan?" Frank asks, but Ryan's so far ahead of him, so far, already fitting his mouth to Brendon's, already past want, past desire, past need, into something that's only between the two of them, only for them.

After several frantic minutes, Brendon tears his mouth away. "I want to roll over, want to press my hand to his stomach to keep him right where he is, want to suck him, want him to fucking make noise because he doesn't, not normally, he was taught that to be noticed is to invite trouble and even now, even when Spencer and Jon wouldn't make fun, not even if they heard, he's so quiet."

"Try for him, Ryan," Frank says.

"Always," Ryan tells Brendon.

"I know," Brendon tells him. "I know. I just didn't understand."

Ryan nods. "It was hard. I changed the rules."

Brendon rolls over and Ryan is on his back underneath him, nearly powerless and completely safe. Brendon's hand presses hot and gentle against his stomach. Ryan takes a breath, draws in enough air to push up against it. Brendon brings it down just a little bit more, meets him more than half way.

He arches back, his mouth hovering over Ryan's cock. He takes the head in his lips, brings his tongue up over the slit.

*


Ryan says, "Please, oh please," somewhere amidst his broken breaths and low-pitched moans. Brendon's eyes flash up to him, surprised, and it takes Ryan a second to catch on, because in his head, Ryan is pretty much always begging for Brendon. From start to finish. Brendon pulls off and asks, "Please what?"

Ryan shakes his head. This is about Brendon. But Brendon is a smart, manipulative little fucker. "I want him to tell me what he wants."

Frank says, "Try for him, Ryan," again, which is unfair, because Ryan has already told them the secret, already told him that he can't not try for Brendon. Not even when he's not asking directly.

But the question is a hard one, because Ryan wants, "You to take what you want, whatever you want, when you want. Take me past my edges, be the person who can, you are, you are that person, just keep being him, just—"

Brendon leans over and kisses him. Ryan can taste himself on Brendon's tongue, bitter and bland, softened by the taste of Brendon, by his slapdash mix of flavors. He pulls off and says, "I want to put you on all fours so that I can see the absolute perfect length of your back, the way you're all lines and swirls and art even when you're not sound, which is unfair, but you're mine so I sort of like that it's unfair, that nobody else can have you, not like that, and they don't get to see, not the real stuff, not the truest things. So I want you in front of me, on display, on show and then I want to take you, but you wait, you wait for me to tell you you can come. You can beg me for it, you can make all the noise you want, I like your sounds, maybe even better than your skin, the way it just barely hides everything else about you, the way you're so fucking forever underneath your flesh. You can beg but you can't disobey, you have to trust me to know exactly how far you can go, exactly and to take you there, take you there but never make you go too far."

Ryan says, "That's what this is about."

Brendon says, "Let's prove it."

Frank says, "Let's."

Ryan draws himself up on all fours. Brendon makes a small, "Mm," sound. "So utterly fucking replete."

Ryan has always been that kid with hands that were too big, knees that stuck out, eyes that didn't quite fit his face. Under Brendon's dark stare, he is none of those things. Brendon moves behind him and for moments on end there is no touching, nothing, and it is agony, the wait, the perusal, but Ryan stays where he is. Brendon says, "Keep yourself just like that for me, Ry. Just like that."

His breath skitters over the plane of Ryan's back and Ryan's arms are already shaking. He will do as told, he will. Brendon sinks his teeth gently at where Ryan's skin just stretches over his tailbone. Ryan allows himself to babble, "Brendon, Brendon, Brendon," because he's supposed to let Brendon know, supposed to let him hear, and because if he does not allow that, he is afraid he will collapse under the combined weights of pleasure and knowledge.

Brendon says, "Ryan," right up against the muscle of Ryan's ass, breath and warm lips brushing over nerves that will take a finger, thank you, will take anything Brendon sees fit to give. Brendon gives his tongue and Ryan wobbles but he keeps himself up. He can. Brendon wouldn't ask him to if he couldn't. Brendon's hands come to hold, to pet at Ryan's hips and Ryan shifts some of his weight into the hands. Brendon takes it. He always does.

*


When Ryan thinks he will fall, the ripple, lunge, caress repetitions of Brendon's tongue will bring him to his elbows, then his chest he tries to form his sounds, everything he's been telling Brendon, into words, into, "Please."

What he manages does not so much as resemble anything coherent, anything English. Brendon understands. He pulls off and soothes a finger down Ryan's spine, even as he keeps his other hand at Ryan's hip, careful and supportive. Brendon hooks a hand under Ryan's chest. "I'm going to pull him up. I want him to come with me."

"Ryan," Frank says.

"Yes," Ryan tells him. He is weightless in Brendon's pull, complete in the way he settles against Brendon, back to chest, both of them breathing hard, skin the only thing getting in their way. Brendon holds him for a moment and then turns him, seats him at the edge of the bed.

He says, "Remember what I said about not coming," and sinks onto his knees, his tongue riding its way up—and then down—over Ryan's cock. Ryan trembles and makes up words, chords, entire sounds, but he does not come, not even when Brendon takes him all the way and hollows out his cheeks and sucks so hard it nearly hurts. Nearly.

Then Brendon stops, just stops and says, "Remember."

When he flows up and spreads himself and sinks down there is nothing between the two of them and they've never done that and Ryan supposes he's never even thought about it and, "Oh fuck, oh fuck, Brendon, oh oh oh."

"Ryan," Brendon gasps, his lips wet and open and Ryan says, "Please kiss, please," and Frank says, "Oh, kiss him, Brendon," and Brendon does.

Brendon rides him hard and fast, like maybe he's as close as Ryan is. He closes his eyes and says, "Want this to last, want—"

"Later," Ryan pants, "more later."

"Ry," Brendon moans, and then, "want you to touch me, finish me, always taking me, want, want."

Frank doesn't have to say anything. Ryan thinks he might, but whatever it is, it doesn't matter, because Ryan was touching Brendon, bringing him past his own edges before he got through the word "touch." Brendon comes, splashes onto Ryan's hands, his chest, and Ryan holds on, holds out, waits, listens, presses small "pleases," with his lips against Brendon's.

Brendon says, "Want you to know that I listen."

"You do," Ryan says, and he's not just agreeing because he needs Brendon to help him. He's agreeing because Brendon has brought him to this moment through his listening. Sometimes the signals simply became crossed.

"You're telling me you need something."

"Yes." The word breaks into two syllables.

Brendon tightens the muscles in his ass. "Take it from me."

*


In the morning—early morning, they haven't slept, Brendon wanting to hold on, Ryan wanting to be held—Brendon calls Mikey. Mikey says, "Mwah?"

Brendon whispers, "Sorry to wake you."

"No," Mikey works himself into wakefulness, "no, what did you need?"

"One last thing," Brendon says, his eyes on Ryan. "One last thing, and then we're done."

Ryan nods. If that's what Brendon wants.

"Tell me," Mikey says.

"I want him to lay flat, and hold the headboard, and not let go until I say. Not do anything, unless I say."

"Ryan."

"Mikey?" It had sounded as though that weren't a complete thought.

"Unless he says something, I'm going to assume you're listening."

"Mikey—"

"You listen to him. It's why he forgives you."

Ryan rolls onto his back and brings his hands up to the headboard. Brendon says, "I want not to tell you anything in advance. I want you to take it, take it from me, take it as it comes."

Ryan is still taking a breath, still letting the words sink in when Brendon's teeth find his nipple, close against it sharp and quick. Ryan pants. Brendon lets go and turns the slight edge of pain into something warm, hot, enticing, with his tongue. He doesn't leave the other nipple out.

Everything is a sneak attack. The way his hands soothe gently—too gently—down Ryan's arms and Ryan laughs, ticklish, ow and just when he's had enough, really had enough, Brendon firms up his grip, calms Ryan. The way his knees clutch tight against Ryan's thighs, the press of his thumb at Ryan's navel, the squeeze of his palm at Ryan's balls, the tease of his tongue around Ryan's toes, along the arches of Ryan's feet.

Ryan does not let go, does not think about letting go, does not think much of anything that does not sound like, "yes," like "please," like, "Brendon," like, "trust." "Want to tell you," he breathes out, tortured by his lack of air, by his mind's distracted slowness.

"Tell me anything," Brendon says, finding his way up Ryan, so that his lips brush Ryan's at "any".

"Doesn't mean anything." Except it does, it does mean something, but not the words.

"Oh, that," Brendon says. Ryan blinks. He hasn't said it, he's pretty sure.

"Spencer told me once, not to expect that. Just in case I was. He didn't want— He told me."

"That why you never—"

"I showed you. I showed you all the time."

"Yes," Ryan says, "yes."

"I don't need to hear it, Ry."

Ryan knows. If he did, Brendon would be long gone by now. "Want to? Want to hear it?"

"No," Brendon says, "you've already told me."

Brendon's mouth is on Ryan's cock so fast Ryan doesn't even see him move, doesn't even really feel him move and it's kind of like that first time, when Brendon still knew how to ignore what Ryan might say, except not, better, because now it's that Brendon knows what he can take, what Ryan wants even when he can't say, what Brendon wants from him and what he's allowed. They have been telling each other things all along.

At some point, Brendon draws far enough off of him to say, "It's okay, Ry, you can, you can, anytime," and when his lips next touch Ryan, Ryan lets go, even as he keeps his hold on the headboard, as Brendon keeps his palms at Ryan's thighs.

*


Brendon isn't even really thinking about the way the skin of Ryan's ankle feels under his fingers. He is, because the permission is still new, and something he has yet to take for granted, but it's not terribly conscious. Then Ryan looks down at where he's sprawled on the floor and says, "I don't think you're as vanilla as all that."

Brendon's fingers still. "Um. What?"

"I told you you could ask for anything and what you asked for was pretty, you know, bland."

Brendon rolls onto his back to look up at Ryan. "Was there something you wanted?"

Ryan frowns. "You're missing the point."

"Maybe you are. That part where I'm not into doing things that freak you out."

"But if you thought I wouldn't be."

Brendon considers Ryan. He's pulled up his feet now that Brendon's not holding one hostage, leaning as far forward on the sofa as he can without falling off. He doesn't look frightened, just curious. Brendon says, "I wouldn't mind playing around with some toys. Nipple clamps, cock rings, that sort of thing. Just, I dunno, just to see."

"You or me?"

"Both. Either. Whatever you were comfortable with."

Ryan puts his chin on his knees. "What else?"

Brendon closes his eyes. "You on your knees sucking me off while people are watching."

Ryan's intake of breath is sharp and Brendon's stomach clenches. Ryan asks, "Really?"

"I'm a performer," Brendon says, all his edges honed to sword-sharpness. "And you are mine."

"Yes," Ryan breathes, and Brendon's eyes fly open.

"That wasn't hesitation."

Ryan shakes his head. His pupils are dilated.

"Oh."

"We should try those things," Ryan tells him.

"Ryan—"

"We'll be careful. But we should try them."

Brendon has forgotten how strong the pull of the utterly forbidden can be, particularly when offered freely. He swallows. "Yeah. Okay."

*


More often that not of late, Ryan wakes up with every part, every inch of his body having been taken over by Brendon. If he wants to get free without waking Brendon it's a long, careful process. Ryan always takes the time. He's just gotten himself free and is on the hunt for some coffee, possibly some cereal, when Jon looks up from the kitchen table and the New Yorker he's got in front of him and says, "I made almost a full pot."

Ryan smiles gratefully at him and grabs Jon's mug for a refresh. Jon looks over in surprise when Ryan sets it neatly beside him. "Oh, hey, thanks."

Ryan asks, "Anything interesting?" tapping the corner of the magazine.

"Nancy Franklin's pretty frustrated by the state of women's television," Jon tells him. Jon, so far as Ryan is able to tell, reads the thing from beginning to end every month with a faith Ryan has only ever shown Brendon.

"Um, okay."

Jon laughs. "I had a friend at Columbia who used to give me all the ones he'd read. I got hooked. It asks questions in interesting ways. You'd like it."

"I don't even have time to read Rolling Stone."

"Rolling Stone tells us things we already know. New Yorker talks about shit we've invariably missed."

That covers an uncomfortably wide field of shit, if Ryan's honest about it. "Maybe I'll borrow it after you're done."

Jon starts in on his second cup of coffee and works his way through the last few pages of the magazine. He closes it up and slides it over to Ryan before standing to take his cup to the sink. He's about to leave the room when Ryan says, "Jon."

Jon turns slightly to him.

"I-- You-- When we--" Fuck. Ryan shakes his head and buries his face in his hands, hoping Jon will have the good sense to go away like he was going to before.

Instead Ryan hears the order, "Up," and obeys, because he got himself into this. He could have just kept his mouth shut. Jon closes him in a careful hug. There was a time when Jon's hugs were constricting, even if they weren't meant to be, when Ryan didn't know if he could get free if need-be. Now they're just safe and that's what this is about, what this is all about, but there's too much to say and the words are all ugly.

"Try again," Jon says softly.

Ryan follows that order, too. "I know, I know how much Brendon means to you."

Jon's, "Yeah, I kinda figured," is a long time in coming.

"I didn't, not--"

"I know, Ryan. I know. You're not cruel."

"I try," Ryan says, not flippantly.

"That's over," Jon says softly, and for some reason it's that part that makes Ryan slip his arms around Jon, hold on for his own.

"I just meant, I just wanted to ask, y'know, if I, if what I did was right."

Jon's arms don't tighten or even move, really, but Ryan feels the slight shift in position that he isn't even sure really occurs, so much as happens between them. Jon says, "Ryan."

"No, no, because I fixed him, I know that, but I just-- I just wanted to make sure I wasn't supposed to let go, let him have something better, something he wouldn't need fixing from. Just one last time. In case-- In case it isn't too late."

Jon sets Ryan back from him, far enough away that Ryan can see Jon's face, see the concern and the somewhat bemused fondness. Ryan looks down to see his fingers digging into Jon's wrists, where they slid when Jon pushed him back a little. He tries to loosen them, but they seem to have gone renegade on him. Softly Jon says, "It's an awful comparison, but would you have wanted another father?"

"There were times," Ryan admits.

"But in the end, really, would you have chosen that?"

Ryan's eyes are burning and for a second the sensation scares him until he remembers that's simply what it feels like to cry. He shakes his head.

"No, I didn't think so."

"Jon, I don't want--"

"Your father never tried to be something more than he thought he was for you, Ryan. Not when it mattered. But you do that all the time for Brendon. All the time. You see?"

"He deserves someone who just is more." Ryan keeps his eyes on Jon's.

"Maybe," Jon says softly, "but I prefer to think he deserves what he wants most in the world. And that, Ryan Ross, is you."

"I'm sorry," Ryan chokes.

Jon smiles a little, shakes his head. "I'm really pretty fucking in love with Pete."

"I know, I meant--"

Jon shakes his head again. "Accepted."

Ryan tries to loosen his fingers once again. He still can't. "So...it was right."

"Your instincts are mostly good with him."

"And the rest of the time?"

"The rest of the time there's me and Spence."

Ryan nods, breathes for a few moments on end. Then he looks down at his hands. "I can't let go."

Jon grins at him.

*


Ryan locks the door behind them and says, "I was gonna save this for tonight and I had other plans for what to do with it, but I guess we can get to that later."

Brendon is a little bit preoccupied, so the only answer he has for that is, "Huh?"

"Stand still," Ryan says, no room for argument in his tone. Brendon stands where he is, shaking from adrenaline and nerves.

Ryan pushes his pants down and Brendon says, "Um, I don't know if I can—"

Ryan sucks on one of his fingers and then slides it up into Brendon, simultaneously taking him as far into his mouth as Ryan can manage. Brendon says, "Okay, maybe yeah."

Ryan grabs the cock ring that he took from his bag right before hauling Brendon in here and—as soon as Brendon's reached full hardness—snaps it around the base. Brendon's breathing quickens. Ryan draws off, looks up at Brendon. "You're going to have to beg for it. Kid."

Then he goes back to work. Brendon whimpers and shudders and stops breathing at times but he waits to beg, waits until he is well past the point of desperation. Ryan makes him beg for a while anyway. It's too fucking hot to do anything else. Brendon's voice curves, falters, breaks over his, pleases, his Ryans, his, oh, oh, please, I'll do anythings. Then, when Ryan's ready, he pulls back a bit, releases the ring and swallows neatly.

He catches Brendon's hips, and then his shoulders, as he sinks to the floor. Brendon says, "I can—"

"Just watch," Ryan gasps, so close, so close already just from Brendon coming completely apart at his hands, his mouth. Brendon's eyes settle on him, dark and sated and Ryan scrabbles to get his pants open. He doesn't have any others for the performance.

*


Ryan and Brendon watch the rest of the sets, Brendon dancing to everything, even the undanceable stuff, and the songs Ryan knows he doesn't like. It makes Ryan tired just watching, but it's good, excellent, because he needs Brendon worn down just a bit. He is still buzzing when they get back—he deserves it, if he wants to buzz for the next week everyone is damn well going to let him—but he has slowed enough that Ryan can at least keep up with him.

Ryan's buzzing pretty hard too, for Ryan. He throws his clothes off and looks at Brendon expectantly. Brendon grins and says, "Yeah," and by the time they're in the bathroom, they're both naked.

Ryan runs the shower water hot. He says, "Get in, I'll be right back."

He brings the cock ring back, steps in, washes it off with soap and hands it over to Brendon. He tells him, softly, "You can make me beg."

Brendon says, "I know, Ry," and looks at him with an expression that Ryan doesn't quite understand, but doesn't fear, either. Brendon sets the ring aside as they get themselves clean, as he soaps and caresses Ryan into hardness. He doesn't have a long way to go. The combination of all the music and the performance and the anticipation and just Brendon has already done almost all the work for him. When Ryan is fully clean, Brendon sets the ring in place.

The snapping sound makes Brendon—who is already mostly good to go—so hard he actually moans. Ryan laughs, slightly breathless. Brendon turns off the water and towels them both dry, pressing their bodies together, their cocks together and wrapping the towel around them. Then he tosses the towel aside and all-but-skips into the main room. Ryan follows.

Brendon pulls Ryan onto the bed, tight against him and kisses him. "I don't want you to beg. I want you to tell me what you need."

"Need?"

"You can tell me what you want, too. But you have to tell me what you need."

Ryan nods in agreement. Brendon kisses him as a reward. Brendon reaches up and grabs the lube that they've learned to stick under the pillows as a precautionary measure. He slicks Ryan up nice and slow. Ryan whimpers and actually bites his bottom lip when Brendon shifts up a bit, hooks his right leg over Ryan's thighs and sinks himself down onto Ryan's cock. Brendon grins at Ryan the way he did throughout the show—flushed on pride and guttural pleasure. Ryan cranes his neck forward to lick Brendon's lips. Brendon catches Ryan's tongue gently between his teeth.

Brendon rocks a bit, says, "I fucking love your cock," happily, not at all sexily. Ryan thinks he might explode. But not yet. Not quite yet.

One of Brendon's hands slips down to play idly with Ryan's nipples and okay, okay, "Need."

"What, Ry? Just tell me."

"Need to come."

Brendon reaches down between them and opens the release mechanism on the ring. Ryan maybe waited a while to tell Brendon, just to see if he could, and now his orgasm rushes through him with power that would be insulted by the adjective "blinding". He grabs onto Brendon's cock in the midst of it, wanting him to come along, take this ride with Ryan. He's not sure if he manages that, but when the world is something other than black dots and white light again, Brendon is grinning his silly, I-got-some grin. Ryan finds an appropriate grin of his own to share.

*


Brendon asks Pete for recommendations of tattoo parlors in Burbank, places where, so long as he doesn't take the picture, one of him getting the tattoo won't end up on the web. He doesn't really care if people know—they will, sooner or later—he just wants to give it a few days to heal before showing it to Ryan, and he prefers that Ryan find out before the masses.

The nice thing about Ryan—at least when it's not problematic—is that Brendon can pretend to be kind of worn down and Ryan won't come so much as looking for sex. Granted sometimes Brendon still has to cajole Ryan into curling up with him, but he's getting better about that, too. And given the last several months, Brendon's not complaining about Ryan's level of engagement. At all.

After a few days, Brendon waits in the studio until after Spencer and Jon have given up, when it's just Ryan running himself ragged with his attention to detail. He says, "I'm feeling pretty rested, now."

Ryan looks up and for a second there's irritation on his face. He doesn't like being distracted, but they've been working for almost nine hours, and he needs to stop. He won't get himself any further right now, at least not without a break. Brendon waits for Ryan to recognize this himself. He probably will, if Brendon just gives him enough time. It takes several minutes. Then Ryan says, "Half-an-hour, Urie. Then your prurient pleasures will have to be put on hold."

"I love it when you talk like an eighty-year-old," Brendon tells him.

"I know." Ryan lets himself be tugged away from his music, from his guitar. Brendon grins, kisses him with an energy that's been storing over the past few days, waiting to be let free. Ryan pries Brendon's shirt over his head and Brendon laughs. Ryan can be so utilitarian when he has a purpose in mind, something to get back to. Brendon slips to his knees. He'll show Ryan utilitarian.

Ryan's cock isn't hard to get to, is already set for Brendon's mouth to slip over it, show it a little bit of what's coming. Ryan drags Brendon to his feet when he's ready to, and Brendon isn't above letting his teeth scrape over Ryan's cock oh-so-lightly so that Ryan hisses and says, "Bitch."

He spins Brendon around, pushes him into position against the wall. And stops. Brendon thinks about asking, "See something you like?" but finds he can't, finds his breathe every bit as gone as Ryan's evidently is, because he can't hear the faint in-out rasp that he knows as well as his own.

Ryan says, "Brendon," every letter coming out separately.

"Yours," Brendon says, even as Ryan reaches out, draws a shaky finger across the six strings making their way down Brendon's back.

"Mine," Ryan says, and it doesn't sound like any word Brendon has ever heard, it sounds like a lyric that has no song, that no melody can touch. "Mine," Ryan repeats and scrabbles to get Brendon's pants undone, to be inside him. The haste makes it hurt just a little, just enough, and Brendon thrusts backward, "Yes. Yes."

Both of Ryan's hands are on Brendon's back, creating chords, plucking out tunes. Brendon is humming with it. He comes as Ryan plays out the first chorus of the first song written on the new album and waits, waits for Ryan to finish playing his song.

*


The piano set up for their show hasn't been tuned correctly and seriously, seriously, what the fuck, because this is totally something that would have happened during their broke ass days of touring with TAI, but now? Brendon's trying his hardest to see if he can work around it while one of the techs is attempting to find a piano tuner, and Ryan just comes up, puts both his hands on Brendon's shoulders and says, "We'll work it out." Then he goes and yells at a whole bunch of people.

Brendon's still fighting with the piano when Ryan comes and sits down next to him on the bench, their knees touching. Brendon says, "You can't do that if you want me to actually do my job."

Ryan doesn't move his knee.

"Seriously, Ryan."

"We have four hours, and that piano isn't going to be any more in tune at the end of them than it is now if we don't find someone to fix it. You're just frustrating yourself."

Brendon crashes his fingers into the piano, the resulting noise calming something in him. He lets his hands slither off the keys and down to where his leg is side by side with Ryan's.

"Better?" Ryan asks.

Brendon sticks his tongue out at the keys. "Little bit."

Ryan laughs.

"You do realize that it's your band I play in?"

"You have no idea how many people I just swore at in my very loudest tone of voice."

"That's hot, why didn't you invite me?"

"You were busy playing with your toy."

Brendon frowns down at the piano, as though the instrument itself is somehow to blame for all of this. He says, "That was chivalrous of you. To yell for me."

"I thought so."

Brendon laughs. Ryan presses his leg further into Brendon's.

"Think they'll get it fixed?" Brendon asks.

"If not, I've talked with Jon, we can play all our songs one register lower."

"I don't know if my voice can always do that."

"Buck up little camper."

"That's all well and good, but your instrument doesn't depend on—"

Ryan shifts his knee. "You can do it."

Brendon thinks of Ryan's hands on his shoulders, warm from the guitar and unbidden, of the quiet pillar of support in the form of his thigh. "Yeah. Okay. Okay."

*


Ryan goes to Spencer because Spencer often knows things that Ryan can't figure out how the hell he knows. Also, Spencer won't judge or make fun of him for asking, and he definitely won't tell anybody—not even Brendon, if Ryan asks him not to. Ryan catches Spencer when he's alone in his hotel room. Jon is with Brendon, the two of them on a hunt for a good milkshake.

Spencer's on the phone with Bob, so Ryan lays down on the bed and falls asleep while waiting. Spencer wakes him up by settling on the bed next to him. They aren't touching. Ryan asks, "Know anything about nipple clamps?" because the easiest way to do these things is to just get them out on the table.

Spencer takes it in stride. His eyes widen a little and his head pops up, but all he says is, "Um, not personally, no."

"Hm." Ryan will have to do internet research. It's annoying, because research on these issues never really tells a person what he needs to know.

"But Bob thinks that JC is pretty kinky, so I could ask him."

"I'm not having you ask JC Chasez about nipple clamps for me." Ryan can be a bad friend, but that's a little beyond the pale.

"JC wouldn't— It wouldn't be a big deal. He's not—" Spencer shrugs as much as can while chest down on the bed. "He's a good guy."

Ryan considers. He really does want human advice on this. "Maybe you could have him give me a call?"

Spencer cocks an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

Ryan nods. "It's my thing, Spence."

"Okay," Spencer says, "I'll tell him."

"Thanks."

"Naptime?" Spencer asks.

"Naptime," Ryan agrees.

*


Ryan recognizes the number as the one Spencer has told him is JC's so he picks up with a, "Hi."

"Ryan?"

"Yeah. JC?"

"Spencer said there was something you wanted to talk about."

"It's sort of personal," Ryan warns.

"Um. Okay. Well, I can't guarantee anything."

"No. No, I appreciate the call."

JC waits. Ryan takes a breath and counts to three and makes himself say, "I want to experiment a little."

"What sort of experimentation?"

"Toys. Um, nipple clamps, in particular." Ryan makes himself regulate his breathing.

"Oh, fun." JC sounds delighted, which makes it easier for Ryan to release his shoulders a notch.

"So, you...you like that?"

"Mm, they can be hella hot."

Ryan smiles. He can't remember the last time anyone said "hella" to him. "I was maybe wanting to start off pretty easy."

"Yeah, that's a good idea, since they can be sort of intense. I can send you an email with some links to good products, tell you the pros and cons, that sort of thing."

"Also, um. Also some tips, I guess?"

"Sure, honey. Whatever you need."

Ryan blinks at the endearment. Then at his lack of a negative reaction to it. Softly he says, "I appreciate it. The help. And not making me feel, you know. Stupid."

"That would be kinda hypocritical. I didn't know about this stuff at one time, either."

"Still."

"Give Spence a hug for me, wouldja?"

"Yeah." Ryan can definitely do that.

"I'll shoot you an email."

"Thanks, really."

"You're welcome, really."

*


Ryan and Brendon read the email together. Brendon says, "That was...thorough."

Ryan has to agree. JC is surprisingly detail oriented. Which is good, because this venture makes Ryan more than a little nervous. Brendon points to one of the less aggressive-looking types of clamps. "Maybe these? To start with?"

It's not a bad idea. JC's even mentioned them as a good beginner pair. But, "Maybe get a few? See which ones work for us?"

"Probably a good plan." They have to ask Zack to order the clamps for them, which is one of the more horrifying moments in Ryan's life, but not as bad as the theoretical (if likely) moment where a purchase of nipple clamps gets traced back to either Ryan or Brendon through their credit cards. For all his fanboy admiration, Ryan Ross is not Pete Wentz.

When the box carrying them arrives, Brendon and Ryan lay them out onto the bed and consider them. After several moments of silence, Brendon kisses Ryan's cheek and says, "When you're ready. If you ever are. If not, that's fine, too. You're enough."

Then he wanders off. Ryan takes each of the pairs in his fingers, tests their bite against the pads, warms the metal slightly in his palm. When he's gotten what he needs he packs them up neatly and goes to find Brendon. He locates him out on the porch and pulls up a chair. "I need you to put them on me first."

"Um. Let me think about this. Oh. No."

"Brendon—"

"You don't like pain."

"I don't mind it."

"That's not the same thing."

"I need to know. I need to know how it feels before I try it on you."

"It won't be the same. We have different pleasure receptors."

Ryan knows, but he still has to try and understand this first. "Brendon, please. Okay? I want to do this. I want to do this. But I need—"

Brendon sighs.

"I'm trying," Ryan says, attempting to make it sound assertive, when it feels small.

Brendon reaches out and pulls Ryan into him, not as slowly as he would have done so before, but not particularly quickly either. He kisses Ryan hard, much harder than usual. "I don't need you to try."

"Want to. For you."

"I guess I should try back, then, huh?"

"Bren—"

"Okay. You first."

"You're—"

"You first, Ry."

*


Brendon starts slow. Brendon always starts slow when he's nervous. Ryan would tell him to relax, but that seems like a jerky thing to do when Ryan's pretty tightly wound himself. Brendon is kissing him, though, stroking the length of his inner thigh, just being there, with Ryan, and it's hard to be afraid.

They're both hard long before they get naked, Brendon's careful attentions seeing to that. He lays Ryan back and brings his mouth over Ryan's right nipple and if Ryan hadn't been hard before, that would have settled things. Brendon works at the nipples with his mouth until they are hard enough that even a breath ghosting over them is full of fierce sensation. He puts a hand to Ryan's chest and says, "Breathe, Ry."

Ryan inhales and as he hits the bottom of the inhalation, Brendon snaps the first clamp into place. It is biting, burning pain, and for a moment, Ryan nearly asks him to take it off. Then the initial discomfort of it wears off and there are heated waves of pain. But beneath that... Beneath that is something else.

"Keep breathing."

Ryan takes another breath.

"One enough?"

"Brendon," Ryan chides.

Brendon makes a soft sound. "'Nother breath."

Ryan obeys. The second one hurts more than the first, despite the awareness of what is coming—or perhaps because of it. When Ryan has settled somewhat, Brendon very softly kisses each nipple. It hurts like hell. It also burns in his chest like...like arousal. Ryan blinks. "Again?"

Brendon presses a little harder this time and Ryan breathes sharply, trying to feel whatever is there, what's lurking.

"You remember your safe word?"

Ryan does. JC made them promise not to play without them, despite the fact that Ryan is pretty sure if there's a problem, it will be from the two of them not being able to press hard enough. Brendon chose expiallidoscious. He'd wanted supercalifragilisticexpiallidoscious, but Ryan had vetoed a word that started with "super" as a safe word, not to mention one where he'd have to wait a full minute to be sure of what he was hearing.

Ryan's is "adagio". He doesn't want things to slow. He definitely doesn't want them to stop. Brendon nods, "Okay." He lowers himself, slipping his mouth onto Ryan's cock and oh, okay, that's sort of— The contrast is wild and sort of amazing. Brendon reaches up, touches one of his fingers lightly to the clamps. Ryan moans but he also has to hold himself back, because he's not ready for this to be over yet, even if his body is racing ahead of him.

Brendon is looking up at him with interest and approval. He pulls back and says, "Keep breathing," before returning to where he was and releasing one of clamps. The pain is blinding, but so is the way Brendon is looking up at him, watching him try, watching him succeed. As the waves of pain subside Brendon soothes a hand over Ryan's stomach and gets a questioning look in his eye.

Ryan nods. Yes. Brendon releases the other clasp, and Ryan comes through the pain.

*


Ryan thinks that for Brendon, the clamps are a little bit about the bite. Brendon has gotten used to not asking for the things—for most things—that might startle Ryan, might spook him, might send him running, so he's not sure. But he suspects Brendon might like just a bit of edge to his pleasure.

That isn't so much Ryan's thing. He's glad he tried. Glad he could give over to Brendon, to the newness, to the intensity of it. It helps him understand, just a bit, helps him know how far he can go. He doesn't think he'll do it again. Maybe if Brendon asks. Brendon won't ask.

Ryan calls JC and says, "You really, really don't have to answer this, but— You like, um. You like the way it hurts, right?"

"I do," JC tells him. "It's... You know the feeling you get after a show, the rush of too-fucking-much?"

"Intimately."

JC laughs. "It's like that."

That actually makes sense to Ryan. He plans his next move carefully, snatching Brendon up from the back when he's probably least expecting it, and holding Brendon's back to his chest. He slips his hand beneath Brendon's shirt and plays gently with the nipples, taking his time getting them to harden. The clamps go on without warning. Brendon gasps, but doesn't say a word.

Ryan says, "Keep those on for me, yes?"

Brendon nods. Ryan lets him go. While they're practicing Spencer comments that Brendon's sounding a little breathy today. Brendon apologizes. "I think I might have a head cold."

Ryan smirks and concentrates on tuning his guitar.

*


Brendon doesn't come to Ryan. He's very good, very patient. Ryan takes him back to the room they've been sharing—Ryan thinks it was supposed to be his—and strips his shirt off. Brendon whimpers at the feel of the cloth dragging over his sensitized nipples. Ryan takes a taste. Brendon trembles at his touch. Ryan looks up at him, says, "So beautiful, so beautiful like this." Mine.

Ryan undresses him the rest of the way. He's hard. Ryan wonders how long he has been. Since Ryan put the clamps on him, hours earlier? Or just now, at the flicker of Ryan's tongue? Either way, Ryan is pleased.

He undresses himself as well, not as slowly, but he doesn't rush it. When he's finished, he pushes Brendon back onto the bed by way of his stomach. He grabs the lube and hands it to Brendon. "Get me ready."

Brendon squeezes and pulls just right, and Ryan has to pull away. They both want something more from this. He hooks Brendon's legs over his shoulders and slides in, establishing a pace that's quick, but not all that hard.

"Guh," Brendon tells him.

Ryan wraps his hand around Brendon's cock. He asks, "Ready to have those taken off, kid?"

"Mm."

Ryan doesn't think Brendon really knows what the hell he's saying, but he seems to be along for the ride, and that's all Ryan needs. He releases the first clamp. Brendon screams, but also gets harder than Ryan has ever, ever felt him be in the shelter of Ryan's hand. Ryan kisses him, takes the scream into himself, waits until Brendon is breathing again to say, "One more," and go.

This time, Ryan is prepared to cover Brendon's mouth with his own, press his hand and Brendon's cock between their bodies and whether it's that or the clamp or the way Ryan is kissing him, Brendon arches up, coming so hard he passes out. Ryan pulls out, because finishing up in Brendon's inert body is just weird. He goes to the bathroom and finishes and when he comes back, Brendon is blinking at him.

"Hey," Ryan says.

Brendon's lips spread into the most blissed-out grin Ryan has ever seen. "Um. Hello."

*


Brendon finds the plug in his bag when he opens it to get prepped for the show. It's not particularly big, but it widens out to a pretty considerable thickness in the middle. It's black and unobtrusive.

There's a note wrapped around where it slims down. "Think you can keep it in?"

Brendon thinks about sitting down at the piano bench with that thing inside him. Ryan won't be disappointed if he doesn't try. This isn't Ryan's thing, not really. It's Ryan finding ways to compromise, to make Brendon's thing part of their thing. Brendon takes his bag into the bathroom, lubes the plug slightly and fits it inside. It's a tight fit, slightly uncomfortable at first, filling and awkward and desperately, horribly erotic. Because performing doesn't turn him on enough. He's going to put someone's eye out. He'll blame it on Ryan.

Brendon dresses himself and does his hair. He lets Ryan do his makeup, not revealing a thing. Ryan is looking at him with a question in his eyes, but Brendon just acts like he hasn't even seen the thing and carries on. Ryan probably figures it out when Brendon does a small sashay on their opening number and hits his prostate so hard he sees stars. His voice slides in a way it really isn't meant to and although Brendon recovers quickly, he knows Ryan has caught it. And understands. He expects him to be a little pissy, but when he looks over, it really seems as if Ryan's trying not to smile. Brendon would be annoyed, but he's feeling too good and Ryan's interest isn't hurting that at all.

The entire show is a blur of breathless urgency and when Jon says, "On fire, Urie!" Brendon explodes with laughter. Jon just pets him on the head and goes to change, clearly used to Brendon's completely acontenxtual responses to situations. Ryan pulls Brendon into one of the changing rooms, locks the door and goes to his knees. He has Brendon's pants down before Brendon can even say, "I win."

As it turns out, it's all right that Brendon doesn't get the chance, because Ryan's all about rewards just then, sliding his mouth right onto Brendon's cock, pushing and twisting ever so slightly on the plug. Brendon can't help it, he's been harder than cement for almost two hours, he comes before Ryan can even get a second suck in. Ryan swallows with his eyes open, focused on Brendon, his eyes mischievous and triumphant. He pulls the plug from Brendon even as he slips off of him and says, "Fuck, watching you? Knowing that you had my toy in you?"

Brendon tugs Ryan to his feet and cups his cock through his pants. "Pretty ready to go too?"

Ryan moans.

*


Ryan calls Mikey who says, "Hey, trouble."

Ryan rubs a hand over his face. "You've no idea."

Mikey chuckles. "What's on your mind?"

"I... Look, I have another favor to ask." Ryan closes his eyes. He's going to die with unpaid debts to Mikey Way and Frank Iero, doomed to wander this earth in spirit form until he can offer restitution.

"Yeah?" Mikey asks. "If I can."

Ryan takes a deep breath and then lets out his thoughts all in that single breath, afraid that if he pauses, he won't start again. "Brendon wants someone to watch us and we have to be careful because, well, me, and also, band, and normally I would just do Jon, but Pete wouldn't, or if he would he'd need to be there and that's a really fucking bad idea, and Spencer wouldn't be hot because, um, brother, and JC would be good but I think Gerard might be possessive and asking him is a little weird, I mean I know he's your brother but we don't really know him that well and you guys have already—"

"Ryan, holy shit. Breathe before you pass out and I have to call Brendon and tell him I let you asphyxiate yourself into unconsciousness."

Ryan has forgotten how to breathe, but it is slowly coming back to him.

"Okay, what I got from that—and just correct me if I'm wrong—is that you and Brendon would like someone to watch you guys have sex, and you think Frank and I are your best option."

"This is awkward," Ryan states, probably unnecessarily.

Mikey laughs. "Relax. That's a pretty normal kink."

"I know." Ryan does. Still.

"I need to talk to Frank."

"Yeah." Understatement, Ryan thinks, but doesn't add.

"I'll give you a call tomorrow?"

"Can't wait," Ryan says. Mikey laughs again.

*


Mikey asks, "Is there anywhere you want us?"

"Chairs by the window," Brendon tells him. Ryan and he have discussed this. Mikey takes one of the chairs. Frank invites himself into Mikey's lap, and Mikey's lap doesn't protest. Brendon reaches out and pulls Ryan to him gently by his wrists. He brings the wrists up to his mouth and laps along the ink, tracing it carefully with his tongue. Ryan watches.

Brendon draws up, pulls the two of them flush against each other and whispers in Ryan's ear, keeping his gaze on Frank and Mikey. "Know what they're seeing right now?"

Ryan makes a small sound in the back of his throat. Brendon takes it as a question. "They're seeing how long and graceful and perfect you are, and how that drives me past madness."

Ryan breathes wetly against the skin of Brendon's neck. Brendon pulls back to taste the moisture, sucking Ryan's bottom lip into his mouth, shifting them so that Mikey and Frank are seeing a profile. Ryan isn't the only one breathing loudly. Brendon kisses Ryan—he loves Ryan's mouth, the way words always roll off it wrongly, even if they're the right words. He kisses him and rocks into him. Ryan rocks back and says into the kiss, "You said you wanted— You said—"

"Do you? Do you want that?"

"Brendon—"

"It's important. It's part of this."

Ryan folds to his knees, and oh, Ryan can't much dance, but he can move, which is all that matters. Ryan looks up, his lips wet, large. "Yes."

His fingers are delicate at Brendon's waist, like he's plucking out the beginning of a song. His mouth is anything but delicate. Ryan attacks with his lips, his tongue, his cheeks. Brendon glances over at Mikey and Frank. They are transfixed by Ryan: his beauty, his insouciance, his uniqueness. Brendon quite agrees. Ryan sucks him well past the point where he can hold on and Brendon lets go, crumbling to the floor the moment Ryan's hands allow. Brendon says, "Look at them."

Ryan looks and flushes. Brendon leans in to taste the heat. He murmurs, "Fuck me, Ry."

"Brend—"

"Fuck me," insistent this time. He wants to show Mikey and Frank, wants them to see where Brendon can go for Ryan, wants them to see what Ryan will do for Brendon, wants to see that himself. Wants it all to hurt just a little, because if not it would be too much, too perfect. Brendon needs it to be real.

Ryan puts him on his hands and knees facing Mikey and Frank. Brendon hears the popping of a lube cap, but then there's just Ryan, long and thin like everything else about him. Just what Brendon wants. Brendon gasps with the intensity of it, the overwhelming sensory nature of it. Ryan says, "You could touch each other. If you wanted to," his voice low and monotone, the way it is when he's unsure.

Mikey has his hands in Frank's pants before Ryan is even finished with the thought. Ryan changes the rhythm a little, makes it harder and Brendon moans, "Good, yes, yes."

Ryan says, "Mine." Brendon can't be sure, but he thinks he might be telling Frank and Mikey. He sounds slightly different than when he's just saying it to Brendon. Probably, because Mikey smiles, lazy and decadent and knowing, and keeps his hands on Frank. Frank whimpers.

Ryan pulls Brendon up to where they are both on their knees, both facing Frank and Mikey, Ryan's chest pressed to Brendon's back, his arm over Brendon's chest, hand at his throat. The other hand is flat against Brendon's stomach. Ryan slams in, whispers, "Kid," fierce and caring, and comes. Brendon melts to the floor with him when he goes limp, the two of them landing in a messy, interconnected lump.

Frank says, "Holy fuck," sounding perfectly sated. Mikey agrees, "Mm."

Ryan touches his lips to Brendon's skin. Softly, Brendon says, "Yes."

*


Ryan watches as Mikey stands Frank on his feet, waiting to see if he'll actually stay upright. He does. There's a wet stain on the front of Mikey's pants and it shouldn't be sexy except that Mikey basically came from watching them, and so it sort of is. Mikey walks to where Ryan and Brendon lay, where Ryan still has Brendon in his grasp. Ryan tightens his hold. Brendon is silent at the increase in pressure.

Mikey lays his hand on Ryan's shoulder and Ryan jerks away instinctively. Mikey just puts his hand back and says, "Stop it, Ryan," softly, but with authority. Ryan breathes in Mikey's grip. He's trusted him enough to watch, to see Brendon. He can trust him with this. The moment he unfurls, Mikey takes his hand to sit him up, help him to his feet. Together, they pull Brendon up. Frank's already in the bathroom, running the shower. Mikey says, "Lemme clean him up first, okay?"

Ryan probably wouldn't have protested anyway, but something in Mikey's tone makes him nod without even thinking. When Mikey disappears into the bathroom, Brendon asks, "Wanna order room service?"

His tone is a close approximation of his normal, "I'm sexually-satisfied and now hungry" one, but there's something just a little off. Ryan strokes his fingers over the vertebrae in Brendon's neck. "Brendon?"

Brendon makes a soft noise at the touch. "You were just a little— I thought I might have pushed too hard."

"No. No. Sometimes I just—" Ryan doesn't actually know how to finish that sentence.

Luckily, Brendon knows the end of it without being told. "Okay. Okay. Because it was—"

"Hot as fuck?"

Brendon makes a noise that is possibly not entirely human. Ryan nods in agreement. Mikey and Frank emerge swaddled in towels. Brendon says, "We were going to order food, but you were too quick, so now you have to."

"Beware handing us that responsibility," Frank says.

Brendon rolls his eyes. "Whatever. You have to eat it, too." He saunters toward the bathroom. Ryan follows easily.

*


It's easy to get the water back to just the right temperature, Frank and Mikey having already warmed it up. Ryan just hands Brendon the shampoo bottle because Brendon loves that part, loves sudsing his fingers through Ryan's hair, the non-sexual intimacy of the act. Brendon grins at him and gets to work. Ryan says, "You really did miss your calling."

Brendon tells him, "Nobody's fault but yours."

"Oh, come on, Brent is at least a little bit to blame." And maybe Spencer, but invoking Spencer's name has risks, lest he find out, and Ryan's smart enough not to take those risks.

Brendon laughs. "Always someone else's fault, isn't it?"

Ryan wishes. He smiles, though, just before Brendon tilts his head back. Ryan washes himself while watching Brendon take care of his own hair. He contemplates seeing if he can get hard again, but Mikey and Frank are waiting with food and he thinks, maybe later. He gets out first and tosses Brendon a towel. Brendon cranes forward and laps gently at the water that has settled in the hollow along Ryan's collarbone. Ryan says, "Food, remember?"

Brendon grumbles something that sounds like, "not as tasty," but dries himself off and wraps the towel around his waist. Ryan tucks his own towel firmly in place. It's stupid, he's just had sex in front of and will probably change within sight of Mikey and Frank. He finds he can't loosen the tie. He lets it go. Baby steps. Brendon opens the door and the cooler air of the hotel room rushes into the bathroom, ushering them out.

*


September 2008

31 Spencer says, "Hey, come on, I wanna show you," and Ryan goes, because it's Spencer's party. Well, okay, Ryan goes because it's Spencer asking. Brendon follows, probably for the same reason. Spencer takes them up to one of the guest bedrooms on the second floor and says, "Your room."

Ryan knows that Spencer and Bob got this place because it had extra space to keep them all in, but there's a difference between having extra space that could be devoted to you and the idea of having a room waiting for you, even if other people sometimes stay in it. The room is done in a tasteful beige and green combination and the bed is a queen-sized with a sumptuous looking duvet atop it. There are two windows and a decently-sized closet and a bathroom that runs between it and the other guest room. Brendon says, "Sure, Spence, way to totally out-adult us."

The room they have for Spencer and Jon and anyone else they might care enough about to let crash at their place is mostly a repository of Ryan's books and Brendon's posters. Ryan says, "You and Bob have a house."

Spencer says, "Yeah, that seems to be what this party is about. Which I should probably be getting back to." He leaves them at the door to their room. Brendon steps over the threshold and takes Ryan with him. He says, "Shut the door."

Ryan shuts it. When he looks around, Brendon's sitting on the edge of the bed, looking small, swallowed by the cover. He doesn't hold his hands out, he just waits. Ryan doesn't make him wait long. He stands in the v of Brendon's legs, leans into him. Brendon asks, "How quiet can you be?"

Ryan seals his lips. Brendon smiles. "So sure? Even if I were to do this?" Brendon leans forward, opens Ryan's lips with his tongue, lavishes attention upon his mouth. Ryan keeps his noises to himself. Brendon whispers, "Spencer made us a home."

"We have one," Ryan whispers back.

"Different," Brendon says.

Ryan doesn't argue. Brendon slides off the bed, pushing Ryan back a little, only to flip him around, shove his jeans down, shove at him until he’s sitting on the bed. "Quiet," Brendon reminds him. Ryan bites his wrist as Brendon swallows him down, teeth sinking in to letters and ink. Brendon pets at Ryan's hip and Ryan thinks about how at first they couldn't do that, it was too much, too much at once. He wants to tell Brendon it's not enough. Enough that it's Brendon, not enough of Brendon. He promised to be quiet.

Brendon takes his sweet time, drawing off when he knows Ryan is near, kissing at Ryan's thigh, whispering words Ryan can't hear but which he suspects have to do with this place, this place being theirs. Finally, finally he lets Ryan go where he wants to and when he's put Ryan back the way he found him, he looks at Ryan's wrist and says, "That wasn't how I meant."

"Didn't feel it," Ryan says.

"Not the point," Brendon tells him.

Ryan kisses him. "Next time. Right now, I have other things for my mouth to be doing."

Brendon makes him stay and give him kisses for a long time before he allows Ryan to do exactly what he wants with his mouth.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile