sparsenicjade
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AN: Yes, I know, Ryan would have just declared bankruptcy and said 'fuck it', even assuming he couldn't get the loans considered defunct. Go with it.

*


Ryan's father died two months and four days after he graduated from college.

It took Ryan seven hours to be quite certain--aside from his suspicions--that he'd been left more debt than anything else. He swallowed his pride, asked for a loan from Spencer's family to be able to afford a grave and a headstone, and quit his unpaid internship with the city newspaper. He'd majored in journalism rather than English as a compromise with his dad, and the internship was pretty prestigious--Ryan didn't think about the way his dad had looked when he'd told him. He needed to be angry right now. But prestigious didn't pay the bills, and even if Ryan had spent his years at UNLV tuition free, there had still been loans for books and room and board, and so far as he can tell, it's not unlikely that he's about to have creditors breathing down his neck for the mortgage his dad took out on the house, as well as the evident mess that was his father's credit card debt, not to mention paying the Smiths back.

The day after the funeral, Ryan applied for every entry-level job that paid more than minimum wage that he could find online, in the paper, and by walking down the street, paying attention to "Help Wanted" signs. He was called in for interviews with two offices where they were seeking out an office manager--Ryan had done work-study in the admissions office through most of college, and could give references for administrative jobs--and a job as a bank teller. The offices seemed nice, fairly laid back and young, but it was the bank who offered the most money, so Ryan filled out an I-9 and a W-4 and showed up Monday, seven am sharp.

The first couple of days were training days, and then he was put under the guidance of a "mentor"--i.e., someone who'd worked there a fuck of a lot longer than him. His mentor was actually pretty cool; a guy named Brian who was using the job to pay his way through an MBA while setting up his own music agency and had a multitude of tattoos hidden under his well-starched Oxfords. Ryland and Alex, the account managers who sat out front and set up CDs for people all day long, were good to talk to about music as well--even if they were more folk than Brian's punk--and Ryan's boss treated him with way more respect than any of the office managers at the University ever had, so all in all, it could have been worse. Ryan was always willing to work the days nobody else would--the morning of Christmas Eve, say, or other holidays when the bank was actually open, which brought him time and a half, and the pay was already decent. Brian even helped him find ways to consolidate his debt, make things easier on himself. Pretty much, if it hadn't been for the customers, or the paperwork, or having to work with money, or, really, anything that made him a bank teller, Ryan wouldn't have minded it so much.

As it was, he kind of hated it. He tried not to let it show around Brian or Alex or Ryland, who didn't love it, but found it kind of interesting all the same. On the thirty minutes he got for lunch break, though, he took his peanut butter and jelly, or tuna, or whatever had been the easiest to make the night before, and walked across the street to where there was a Petco. He sat for the half hour watching people try to get their dogs to tell them what kind of toy they wanted, or watching the dogs protest a visit to the vet or the groomer vehemently.

Sometimes, if Spencer didn't have classes that day, he'd come and join Ryan. He tended to bring milkshakes, or fries, or something to go with Ryan's steady diet of cheaply made sandwiches. Mostly, though, it was just Ryan, his sandwich, and the dogs.

*


Ryan wouldn't really have recognized either of the two guys who came into the bank except that they both had the Petco uniforms on and he'd noticed them before, on account of the fact that they were both noticeably short. They were laughing as they walked in, and the guy with the slightly softer face, lighter brown hair, pulled the other one to the desk where Alex was busy trying to catch up on forms. Alex and Ryland were forever behind on forms. Alex smiled up at them--more in relief, Ryan guessed, than anything--and said, "Afternoon, how can I help you?"

The soft guy--who was wearing flip-flops despite the fact that Ryan was pretty sure retail stores required close-toed shoes for their employees--said, "I'm trying to convince Brendon here that banks really are a better idea than a glass jar under his bed."

Brendon elbowed the guy, but not visciously. "That glass jar has totally gotten me through some hard times."

Alex grinned. "Tell you what. Take a seat, take a sucker," Alex offered up the candy jar he kept for children under ten who accompanied their parents on their errands. Brendon and his friend took a seat. The friend reached in, pulling whatever flavor came up first. Brendon took his time, pawing through until he found a red. Ryan approved. Alex said, "All right. You guys on your break?"

They nodded. He asked, "Half-an-hour?"

More nodding. He said, "Give me ten minutes to make you an argument of why my bank is better than your glass jar and another ten minutes to start you on the procedure to set one up."

Brendon looked at the clock. "Three, two, one. You're on."

*


Less than a week later, Ryan was eating his lunch--peanut butter; he'd run out of jelly two days earlier and neither tuna nor deli meats had been on sale the last time he'd shopped--when Brendon walked by and then backed up, smiling. "Hey, you totally work at my bank."

Ryan managed not to snort--mostly because that was seriously bad customer relations--and said, "You have an account with First Civic?"

"I have two accounts, checking and savings." Brendon came and sat down next to Ryan. "Hey, is that a peanut butter sandwich? Huh, I should try that. That shit's always cheaper than the jelly."

Two things passed through Ryan's mind: Alex was clearly a sales genius, and, "Off-brand. You can get it at the dollar store."

"There's a dollar store?" Brendon looked thrilled at this revelation.

"Yeah, it's kinda hard to find." Ryan knew. He'd only found it looking for his dad. He shut off the thought. "Y'know the liquor superstore off exit 29?"

"The one that always looks like Christmas?" Brendon asked.

And while Ryan had never really thought of it that way, because, well, this was near Vegas, lots of shit looked like Christmas, "Yeah. If you go behind the parking lot, there's a strip mall that's mostly dead, but there's a Dollar General there."

"That is the best news I've heard all day. And we even got an announcement that we're going to be stocking gourmet dog treats for Easter."

Ryan looked at him.

Brendon waved a hand. "People love that shit."

Ryan couldn't say why, but he said, "There's also a discount sewing store back there. Remnants and stuff, mostly, but sometimes they have, like, really nice things."

Brendon looked at Ryan for a long moment. "Wanna pet all the animals that are at the vet for the day?"

"Um. Really?" Ryan asked.

"Why do you think I work here?" Brendon asked, and stood, holding his hand out. When Ryan took it, Brendon pulled him up, saying, "Brendon Urie."

"Ryan Ross," Ryan told him.

Brendon said, "Good. Now I know who I can come to for all my checking needs."

*


Unless he was working overtime--also time-and-a-half--Ryan had Sundays and Wednesdays off. He generally used Sundays to sleep in and run any errands that had to be run. Wednesdays, though, were for going out to be with Spencer. Haley had moved up to college at the beginning of the year and they'd gone in on an apartment together, despite her parents not being crazy about the idea. Spencer's parents were willing to do pretty much anything that meant they ended up with Haley as a daughter-in-law, so that hadn't been much of an issue. Haley was usually there in the morning, when Ryan got there, but she tended to find an excuse to give them the day to themselves, and Ryan, in turn, tried to make sure she got the best rates on her CDs, ones that weren't being publicized or anything. She seemed to take it as the sign of love that it was.

Ryan's car--which he treated well, and all, but it was over the 200,000 mile mark, had been over the 150,000 when he'd bought it to drive out to college--broke down on the third Monday of March. Ryan tried everything he could think of to get it to start before giving in with a quiet, "fuck."

He called Brian, who came and picked him up and, after one look at him said, "No worries, we can find you rides. Just kick in a little for the gas, yeah?"

And since Ryan probably wasn't going to be able to afford repairs on his car any time soon he said, "Yeah, thanks," and, "Mind if I turn the radio on?"

"Just don't fuck with the station."

Ryan was fine with that. Brian had good taste.

*


Ryan called Spencer on Tuesday and asked, "You weren't planning on coming into town any time soon, were you?"

"Haley and I were gonna go down to her friend's place in Palm Springs for break, but we could--"

"No, no, I just forgot." Ryan closed his eyes. It had been a long day. A customer had gotten into a screaming match with him over a poorly-written deposit slip and there had been a somewhat serious discrepancy on his drawer that had taken the better part of an hour to figure out. "I just can't make it out there tomorrow. Or probably next week. Maybe for a while."

"You taking extra shifts?"

"Maybe. If they'll let me. Car's fucked up, and I need what I've got right now for the beginning of the month."

"Oh. Well, I mean, I could--"

"No," Ryan said. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the offer about to be made, but he still owed the Smiths for the burial and that was enough to be going on with.

"Ryan--"

"Can we argue about this tomorrow?" Ryan asked.

Spencer was silent for a long moment. Finally he just said, "I'm coming out there on Sunday. That way you don't have to bus to the grocery store, and shit."

Ryan couldn't say that wasn't a relief. The buses in Summerlin were absolute crap. He looked around at the mess that was his house. He'd wanted to clean it up and sell it, but the inspector had said that unless he fixed some serious issues, he wasn't going to get more than the mortgage, and there didn't seem to be much point if he'd just end up paying rent and the difference on the mortgage. "My place is a fucking pit."

"Yeah, because I haven't seen it worse," Spencer said.

That was true, but back then it had mostly been his father's fault. "Just giving fair warning."

"Consider me warned. I'll see you on Sunday."

They'd probably talk before then, but, "Yeah. Thanks."

Spencer made a noise that Ryan knew meant, "whatever, asshole," and hung up. Ryan went to sleep in his clothes.

*


Ryan couldn't swear to it, but he was pretty sure Brendon was taking his breaks at the same time as Ryan. Either that, or he had a lot of time to just fuck off and nobody in the managerial chain seemed to care. Ryan didn't ask, since it was pretty nice, having someone to talk to. Also, Brendon generally would sneak him in to pet the vet patients, which was a big plus in any day.

"You know what the worst day to work here is?" Brendon asked.

"Sunday?" Ryan guessed. Sunday seemed like the day everyone and their stepmother needed to run their fucking errands. It annoyed Ryan to no end.

"Saturday. They have the pet adoptions on Saturdays," Brendon said, looking completely forlorn, and oh.

"Yeah, that's kind of why I avoid it." It was one thing watching other people with their pets, or just other people's pets, but pets that could be his if he could just afford it? That way lied madness.

"Jon has two cats," Brendon said wistfully. Jon, Ryan had learned, was the guy who'd made Brendon give up his glass jar. Ryan had only met Jon once or twice, and he seemed like a pretty nice guy, but Ryan had to wonder what he had done, exactly to deserve luck like that. Brendon continued, "He lives with his girlfriend. That's what I need. If I had a double income household, I could so have a dog. Probably. I have a savings account, you know?"

Ryan also knew that Brendon's savings account held about a hundred dollars, but that was more than Ryan's, and Brendon almost certainly made less, so he wasn't going to throw stones. "You could look in Craigslist. There's always people looking for roommates."

"Yeah, you haven't noticed yet, because I'm totally charming in thirty minute doses, but I'm not the kind of guy anybody wants to live with." Brendon smiled as he said it, the same goofy smile that Ryan was getting used to, but there was something sharp underneath the words and Ryan knew when to leave well enough alone.

"You could always impregnate someone. Then she'd mostly have to take you on. Especially if she was Catholic."

"Impregnate a Catholic girl, huh?" Brendon looked to be considering it. "I like the way you think, Ross."

"Just make sure she likes dogs, first."

"Yeah," Brendon said, nodding his head. "Yeah. Do you think I could get her to take a questionnaire?"

Ryan smirked.

*


"Jon's in a band. Brendon invited me, I guess they're playing at Jitters. Cover's only five dollars, but I probably shouldn't even-- I talked to your dad, he looked at the car for me. He says it's probably gonna take at least five hundred or so." Ryan considered his choice of dollar cereals. It was a tight race between off-brand Rice Crispies and off-brand Corn Pops.

"Friday night? What if Haley and I came in and we all went? That way you'd have a ride." Spencer grabbed the not-Corn Pops and threw it in the cart. Ryan put the other box back.

"Spence--"

"I'm pretty sure the last time you got out of your house for something that wasn't work, errands or visiting me was my birthday party. Which was, like, seven months ago. Seriously, let me float you the five, just so I can be sure I'm not going to come in one day and find you dead in your house, being eaten by wild dogs."

"Unless your family ponies up again, that's the inevitable consequence of my death regardless, at this moment," Ryan said, and grabbed a tube of toothpaste.

Spencer smoothly ignored Ryan's well-delivered fatalism. "Besides, it's been forever since I've seen you interested in anyone."

Ryan stopped and Spencer all-but mowed him over with the shopping cart. "Ow," Ryan said, and, "What?"

Spencer rolled his eyes. "Ryan."

Ryan turned to look at Spencer, feeling frustrated and a bit like walking out, but it wasn't Spencer's groceries in the cart and there wasn't anywhere for Ryan to go. "Spencer."

"Seriously, you talk about this Brendon guy every time we talk. More than your coworkers. And you only see him thirty minutes a day. Some days."

Ryan gave the statement some thought and finally just said, "Huh."

"So, Friday night?"

"I told him to impregnate a nice Catholic girl."

"You've always had interesting ways of expressing your love," Spencer said fondly.

Ryan laughed. "Just make sure to bring Haley. I like her more."

"Done."

*


Jitters was pretty much the only indie coffee house/club type place to have survived the Starbucks invasion for an eighty-or-so mile radius. Ryan almost never went because all their coffee was imported and ridiculously expensive, but it was also the best to be found. Spencer bought him a latte and said, "Shut your fucking face," when Ryan opened his mouth to protest.

Which was of course when Brendon appeared from out of nowhere and said, "Dude, you have got to be Spencer Smith."

Haley turned away to laugh politely and Spencer asked, "Why do I have to be?"

"Because Ryan said you were the snarkiest man to ever live, and it is clear to me that Ryan Ross cannot tell a lie."

"Is it still clear when I tell you that he said you were the spazziest fucker he'd ever met?"

Ryan could walk home. It was only fifteen or so miles. Most of them were decently lit and somewhat populated. Brendon laughed. "He really can't tell a lie!" He threw himself at Spencer. "Hi, I'm Brendon."

"Yeah," Spencer said, from beneath Brendon. "I sort of caught that. And you."

Brendon giggled and let Spencer go, before introducing himself with perfect politeness to Haley. He said, "Hey, c'mon, Tom's saving our seats."

Tom, as it turned out, was Jon's best friend and, "Hey, um. Don't you take pictures for the paper?"

Tom looked at Ryan. "Wait. You were an intern with city, right?"

They shook hands and Ryan asked about some of the people he'd actually liked at the paper and then Jon's set started. Jon was the guitarist, with a tall guy who never once looked up from his instrument on the bass. Their singer/keyboardist was a pretty blond with a surprisingly dusky voice. Ryan couldn't see their drummer behind his kit, but Spencer was keeping time, nodding approvingly, and that was all Ryan really needed to know.

Their stuff was good and Ryan found himself closing his eyes, just listening, letting himself not think about the bank or bills or anything, just for a little bit. At the break he came out of his trance to Brendon's, "Hey, you want another coffee?"

The first one had been awesome, but if Ryan hadn't been planning on paying five bucks to get in, he wasn't going to blow it on coffee when he had a machine at home. Sure, Folgers wasn't quite the same, but it did the job. "No, thanks."

Jon was there, then, saying, "Yeah, he doesn't need another one, either."

"I was going for hot chocolate, just so you know," Brendon said with the utmost dignity.

"Oh, yeah, well that makes it better." Jon grinned. He asked Ryan, "So? What do you think?"

"Uh," Ryan said. "I mean. You're really good. I, yeah, I'm glad I came."

Jon introduced Ryan to Cassie, and then the rest of his band, Greta and Mikey and Nate, who was the drummer, and pretty cute once he came out from behind the drums. By the time it was all over, the band needed to be back for a second set and Brendon was setting a coffee down in front of Ryan. "Um, just the coffee of the day, because I didn't know--"

"I said--"

"Yeah, well." Brendon smiled. "My treat."

Even over Greta announcing the next song, Ryan could hear Spencer snickering. It wasn't easy to resist flipping him off, but Ryan did. He was an adult like that.

*


It wasn't until Ryan was bitching to Brendon about the fact that not one, but two of his guitar strings were broken that Ryan learned about Brendon being some kind of bizarre music savant. It came up because Ryan's lunch that day was tuna without bread, which was skimping a little even for Ryan and Brendon said, "How's the car?"

"Still fucked, but I think I can get it taken care of next month. Ryland helped me figure out a couple of places I could save, and I've been taking a few Wednesday shifts, so it shouldn't be long. I just kind of want to get my guitar back in working order, so, yeah."

"I didn't know you had a guitar."

"Yeah. Dad gave it to me when I was twelve. It's not the greatest or anything, but I try and keep it up." Ryan took a bite and didn't think about how his dad had kept it the biggest secret ever, and how much Ryan had wanted the damn thing.

"What's wrong with it?"

"Oh, just strings. Two, which, one sounds stupid enough, but two--"

"Oh, hey, I have, like, a million extra strings. Seriously. You should have just said."

Ryan raised his eyebrows. "I didn't know you played."

"Played what?" Jon asked, hauling one of the ten pound bags of dog food past them. "Which one of the quatrillion instruments Brendon plays have you just learned about?"

Then he was gone and Brendon was left glaring in his wake. He said to Ryan. "I like music. I work part time for a music store. I wanted to work full time, but they couldn't give me the hours, and a guy's gotta eat, so." He shrugged. "But yeah, strings aren't an issue. We get those fuckers for, like, a dollar."

Ryan considered this. "Okay. Thanks. You really play a lot of instruments?"


"I dabble," Brendon said. "It's not-- Jon always makes it sound like I'm some kind of prodigy, but I just had a lot of free time as a kid."

Ryan said, "Okay," because Brendon didn't seem to want to be pushed. "Maybe, uh, we could play some time."

There was a beat and Ryan was about to retract the offer when suddenly he had an armful of Brendon and Brendon was saying, "Awesome, Ryan Ross, that's totally fucking awesome."

Ryan bit his lip under the torture of being able to reach out and touch Brendon, but not take him for his own. In the end, he settled for patting Brendon's back a little. "Yeah. Yeah, it'll be good."

*


They decided to play at Ryan's because a) Brendon had a working car and b) Brendon's neighbors bitched at him when he tried to play, so all in all, it was just for the best. Ryan tried, desperately, to clean a little bit, let some light in, make it look like he wasn't living a life of sloth and misery. It must have worked because when Brendon came in he did a quick once over with his eyes and then said--sincerely, so far as Ryan could tell--"Wow, nice place."

"Thanks. You want something to drink? I've got, um, water and I think I've got one thing of frozen OJ left." Ryan opened the freezer and sure enough, there it was. His freezer was pretty barren except for a few microwave meals, so it was kind of hard for anything to hide.

"You know what's the best?" Brendon didn't stop to be certain Ryan wanted to know. "Defrosting that stuff just enough that you can eat it with a spoon."

"Huh," Ryan said, and took it out of the freezer, tossing it into the sink. "Meantime, water?"

"Giver of life," Brendon agreed.

Ryan grabbed two glasses and filled them while Brendon said, "I wasn't really sure what you'd wanna do so I brought my guitar and my Casio, but it's, y'know, whatever. And I can always go back to my place for my bass, or, yeah, I dunno. One of these days I'll take you to the store after hours where I can play a real piano and then we'll be talking."

Ryan didn't miss the wistfulness in Brendon's "real piano." He didn't comment on it, either. "I just thought we'd, y'know, maybe some stuff we both know. Maybe fuck around a bit."

Brendon nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, that's. Awesome."

Brendon wandered into the living room, where Ryan had left his guitar. It had better acoustics than the rest of the house. Brendon asked, "You mind?"

To his surprise, Ryan said, "No," and actually meant it. He didn't regret it, watching the way Brendon handled the instrument with ease and familiarity.

Brendon asked, "Epiphone?"

"Yeah." Ryan shrugged. "It's not much."

"You take good care of her," Brendon said, distractedly, fiddling a little with the tuning nobs. He set her down then and smiled. "So, we play?"

Ryan sat down. "Have, like, a favorite?"

"Several."

*


Spencer found the notebook while he was hanging out, making Ryan help him study for his Econ final. He walked into the kitchen to grab the chips he'd brought as payment and asked, "You been writing?"

"Little," Ryan admitted. He didn't really want to talk about it, but this was Spencer, so he'd answer questions.

Spencer reappeared, sans chips. "That's... Okay, that's good. That's really good."

"Spence, it's not--"

"It is. A big deal," Spencer said.

"I just felt like it."

"Yeah, well. You haven't since your dad died."

Ryan flinched. For the most part, Spencer didn't say anything about it to him and Ryan, in return, kept his own mouth shut on the topic. He hadn't even been sure whose wishes he'd been honoring until just then. "I'm allowed to grieve."

"Ryan, I love you as much, if not more, than my sisters, but I swear, you're such a fucking asshole at times."

"Tell me something I don't know, Spence."

Spencer's mouth pressed into a hard line. "Okay. How about the fact that you loved him? That you never once had to say those words to me or to him for both of us to know."

"Spence--"

"No, my turn still. He knew, Ryan. And he loved you back and it's shit that you're twenty-two and he's dead, because nobody deserves that. And nobody's judging you for having loved your father, not even if he drank too much and he could be a mean fucker when he needed some more. Nobody's sitting there and thinking you're stupid, nobody except you."

Ryan pressed the palms of his hands to his eyes and willed them to stop burning, stop fucking burning. He could hear Spencer sighing, moving toward him, but somehow he didn't expect the arms that came around him, even though it was the only plausible thing for Spencer to do. Ryan lashed out, trying to hurt Spencer, to get away, hurt himself, he wasn't even sure, but Spencer seemed to expect it and just held on, held until the burning in Ryan's eyes was wet and harsh and Ryan's lungs hurt from heaving. Then Ryan collapsed, folded in onto Spencer, sobbing and messy, and Spencer said, "Yeah, just. Yeah."

*


Spencer made coffee when the worst of it had passed. He handed Ryan his with a roll of toilet paper, and Ryan sniffled and sipped his way through the last of it. He said, quietly, "When I write, I hear the stuff in Brendon's voice. That's-- That's what made me, y'know, start. Again."

"He sings?" Spencer asked.

"No, no, Spence. He's a singer."

Spencer took a sip and said, "Okay. That's good."

*


Brendon showed up at the door of the bank an hour after closing, knocked and made pathetic faces until, laughing, Ryan went to let him in. "Now you know the advantage of a glass jar."

"It never tells me my money's put away for the night?"

"Precisely."

"Clearly, you never met my glass jar," Brendon said, grinning. "You're off soon, right?"

"Brian and I just have to finish the last of the closing procedures."

"Okay, I'll just go sit in that chair and read your year old Newsweeks. There's bound to be something I missed."

"Way to keep on top of current events," Ryan said, and went to help Brian so that they could both get the hell out of there.

Once Brian had locked up, Brendon lead Ryan to his car. Ryan asked, "Where to?" but Brendon just shook his head, and that was fine. It wasn't like Ryan had plans. Brendon drove them to one of the nicer areas and stopped in the parking lot for a sedate, stately looking store with the name A Note to Follow. It was admittedly classier than the Guitar Center Ryan generally relied on for all his needs.

Brendon knocked at the back door and a guy in an actual cardigan answered. He said, "Don't get me in trouble, Bren."

Brendon held up three fingers. "Scout's Honor."

"Yeah, you're way too much of a sodomite for that crowd to have let you in," the guy said.

Brendon laughed and kissed his cheek teasingly. "Thanks, Patrick, for true."

Patrick turned to Ryan and said, "Ryan, right?"

Ryan nodded. Patrick said, "Keep him in check."

"Uh--"

"Okay kids. Later. Don't do anything that I wouldn't do."

After Patrick had left Brendon said, "What he doesn't know won't hurt him. C'mon," and took Ryan into the showroom.

There were instruments of all kinds, percussion and woodwind and string, but Brendon headed straight to the cherry wood Steinway grand. Next to it there was a Gibson acoustic on a stand and Brendon said, "Excellent. I asked Patrick to leave something nice out."

"Nice" was kind of an understatement. For a second, Ryan was afraid to touch the thing. Then his desire for it overcame anything else, and Ryan went to it, settling it in his fingers and did his best not to do something embarrassing, like coo. Brendon was running through some scales, stroking the keys in a way that caused Ryan to lower the guitar a little, because, fuck. Brendon asked, softly, "What's your pleasure?"

And that was it. Ryan hadn't so much as caressed another human being since Keltie had transferred to ABA in their junior year and he was only human, all right? He set the Gibson carefully on its stand and pushed Brendon back slightly from the piano. Brendon said, "Ry--"

But Ryan just said, "Keep playing. Whatever, I don't-- Just play."

Brendon had to reach a bit, but he did as told, over Ryan's head once Ryan had gotten to his knees and was working on the button to Brendon's jeans. Ryan got them open, pulled Brendon through the slit in his boxers and went down on him. It had been a while since Ryan had done this--Spencer and him had practiced, and stuff, sure, but that was in high school--and he choked a bit at first, but then he found the right depth, the right rhythm. Brendon's playing was completely erratic, but that wasn't the point, the point was the sound, the thought of his fingers against the white/black of the keys. That drove Ryan to palm at his own cock, hard enough to take the immediate edge off.

Brendon was making sounds in time with the plucking of the keys, not exactly singing, but not wholly not, and Ryan took him deep as he could manage, swallowing against the head of Brendon's cock, squeezing at the root with his fist. Brendon said, "Ryan, Ryan," and the sound of his voice made Ryan desperate to rub against something. He enjoyed not allowing himself, the almost-pain of holding off.

Above him Brendon jerked and Ryan backed off a little, enough to swallow. Normally he wasn't so much into that, or he never had been, but no way was Ryan having them mess up the Steinway, and there was something hot about it, about the vibration of the instrument at his back, the soreness of his knees, his desperation, and Brendon's surprised, quick panting breaths. When he was finished, Ryan pulled off, giving the head one last, strong lick. Brendon whimpered, but Ryan ignored it, tucking him back in.

Brendon was shaking and he had stopped playing to run his fingers through Ryan's hair. Ryan looked up. "I, uh, I didn't read the signs wrong, or anything, right?"

Brendon's eyes were huge and for a second he just stared at Ryan before breaking out into laughter. He pushed the bench back with his body so that he could get to his knees as well, somewhat atop Ryan. His kisses were messy, but sweet and Ryan had missed this, missed having his neck cupped in the palm of someone's hand, tasting someone on his lips. Brendon had all the same callouses he had, and the softest hair Ryan had ever felt. Ryan said, "Good," and "Brendon," and "Yeah, yeah," pressing himself into Brendon's thigh, but Brendon said, "No, hey," or something like that, most of it was lost in a kiss.

Brendon wasn't smooth about getting Ryan's pants undone--they had to break the kiss for a moment, then Ryan was dragging him back in--but his hand wrapped firm and perfect around Ryan and Ryan bucked into the hold, said, "Fuck," and, "please," and yeah, it had been way, way too fucking long. Brendon said, "Didn't think-- Jesus, Ryan," and kept his rhythm, pressing into Ryan, backing him against the pedal bars, and Ryan could feel the pressure of them against his back, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered except Brendon's hand, its backforthback.

Ryan said, "Yeah, just," and then gave in, tightening before going limp onto Brendon, who caught him with ease, stronger and more sturdy than Ryan would really have expected.

After a long moment, his fingers brushing softly at the skin of Ryan's back, just under the hem of his shirt, Brendon said, "I'm pretty sure Patrick wouldn't have done that."

Ryan laughed so hard it made his stomach ache.

*


They played for hours after that, long enough that it wasn't a struggle to rub off on each other in the backseat of Brendon's car, the dark of Ryan's driveway shielding them, when Brendon dropped him off. When they'd straightened enough that Ryan could get out of the car and Brendon could shimmy himself back up into the front seat, Brendon said, "So, uh, see you tomorrow?"

Ryan laughed. "Night, Bren."

*


Except that the next day, when Ryan went over to the Petco, Brendon was nowhere to be found. Ryan went back to the bank, thinking that maybe he'd had to run an errand he'd forgotten to mention--there hadn't been a lot of talking really, mostly just sex and music--but Brendon didn't come over to the bank enquiring after him, either.

Ryan thought about it, but no, no, Brendon had been the one to suggest they would see each other, this behavior didn't make sense. He was considering whether or not to ask Jon if he knew what was up when a text came through. "sry. lndlrd raisd rent by 150 strtng nxt mnth whn lease xpirs. j covrd so i cld try & fnd a plce. bden."

Ryan winced in sympathy. "fnd nething?"

Ryan's phone rang and he picked up. Brendon said, "Maybe. I don't know. I interviewed with several people who were looking for a new housemate and I aimed for charming but I think I came off a little creepy. They all seemed to have other people to interview, so, probably not. There were a couple of singles and studios, but most of them I'd have to clean out the savings I do have and probably at least sell the Casio for the deposit, so I don't know about that either. I figure, I've got three and a half weeks, something'll come up."

Brendon didn't sound quite as confident as his words implied. Ryan asked, "Um, can I-- How much are you paying right now?"

"Five. A month-to-month sounded so good when I started, because at the time I thought I could maybe go back to college, but that didn't quite work out and, yeah, not important. Anyway," Brendon said, and the brightness of the word made Ryan wince, "I just didn't want you to think I was doing some weird avoidance thing, because not that I'm above that, I'm totally not, but I wasn't wanting to avoid, unless you wanted to avoid--"

"I picked up the phone, didn't I?" Ryan asked.

After a second, Brendon said, "Yeah, good point," and the happiness in his tone sounded more genuine.

Ryan was still thinking, though. "Five hundred, right?"

"Ryan?"

"Just," and okay, this was maybe his worst idea ever, but five hundred dollars was kind of a lot of money every month. "What would you think about living here and paying that?"

The other end of the line went silent for a long time and Ryan said, "Nevermind, you're right, stup--"

"It's just that I really kind of want this to work," Brendon said, and he sounded miserable.

Ryan frowned. "I do too."

"And living together, and having money be an issue--"

"You plan on shafting me for the rent? We can make it four hundred, since you don't get your own kitchen." Ryan's house was in a better neighborhood, and bigger, and Brendon could play his music pretty much whenever, but four hundred was still four hundred more a month than he had now. It was nothing to laugh at.

"I have never not paid my rent," Brendon said, and he sounded like it was a sore spot.

Ryan said, "My point exactly."

"But I wasn't kidding when I said that being around me in smaller doses--"

"Were you planning on never spending the night with me? Never going on an actual date? Because I'm going to feel kind of used, asshole."

"That's different," Brendon protested.

"I know," Ryan admitted. "It is. But it isn't like you won't have your own room and I won't have mine. We work at different places, you work more than you don't, I go up to see Spencer at times, it's not like we'd be living in each other's pockets, or anything."

After a long minute, Brendon asked, "What are your utilities like?"

Ryan bit his lip to hold back a smile. "Wanna come over? We could discuss the details."

"I should, uh, check out the place. Like a tour. I mean, if I'm going to live there."

"Definitely," Ryan agreed.

"Twenty minutes?"

Ryan hung up the phone.

*


Spencer and Haley came in town to help Ryan rearrange, while Jon and approximately twenty of his closest friends helped Brendon move. It was all done easily within half a day, since Brendon didn't even have that much stuff and at the end, Ryan said, "I wish I could offer pizza."

He'd finally gotten his car fixed, but it had left him pretty much waiting for his next paycheck to buy so much as some more ramen. He'd told Brendon he could wait until after his ex-landlord got him back his deposit to pay first month's on the place and Brendon had looked guilty but also kind of ridiculously grateful.

Jon said, "Whatever, that's our housewarming present to you guys," and ordered six large pizzas along with two liters of coke, as well as sending Tom out for some beer.

They all left at around midnight, Spencer and Haley colonizing the couch. Jon stuck the leftover pizza in the fridge with a note that said, "brkfst of chmpns!!! :-)!!"

Ryan woke up to Brendon's laughter at discovering it and, to his surprise, didn't really want to go back to sleep.

*


They had their first fight over Brendon's tendency to hang his wet towels over Ryan's dry ones. Brendon settled it by herding Ryan into the shower fully clothed and fucking him into forgetting what they were arguing about.

Ryan said, "You can't solve everything with sex."

Brendon kissed the back of his neck and said, "No, but I can try."

Ryan laughed and somehow didn't feel like Brendon had cheated or taken advantage of him. He went out and bought extra hooks to hang on the door the next day. Brendon grinned and said, "Oh, are those the sticky kind? Can I stick them? Pleasepleasepleaseplea--"

Ryan had kissed him to shut him up, but let him do the sticking all by himself.

*


Brendon and Ryan had taken to carpooling, since it saved them both money and there was no reason not to. Brendon drove Ryan and himself on Monday and Thursday, and himself on Wednesdays. Ryan drove himself on Tuesday, and both of them on Friday and Saturday. Brendon switched his weekend day off to Sunday when he moved, even though Ryan had said, "You hate Saturdays."

Brendon shrugged. "I hate not seeing my boyfriend more."

It was the first time either one of them had said it aloud and Ryan had made a face at him, but Brendon had blithely ignored it, which Ryan figured he probably kind of deserved. Ryan said, "Sap."

"You're the one who rescued me from being homeless," Brendon pointed out.

"I just wanted you for your money," Ryan said.

"My wealth often brings the boys to the yard," Brendon had agreed.

Ryan had really wanted to say something clever, but he'd been too busy laughing.

*


When Ryan came to pick Brendon up on a Saturday in their second month of living together, Brendon was acting flighty and mildly deranged as he came up to the window. Ryan asked, "Did you get fired?"

"Dude, I don't smoke up on the property, which is about the only thing that could make that happen."

"Then why are you looking at me like I might kill you and serve you for dinner the next time I have Spencer over?"

"I knew that fucker was a cannibal. Jon so owes me twenty."

"Brendon," Ryan said. "Focus."

"Um. Remember that time when I said that I could totally have a dog if I had roommate?"

"Yes, but that was when you were assuming that you would be paying less rent. Which you're not." Sometimes, Ryan had noticed, Brendon needed the obvious pointed out to him. He wasn't stupid he just...missed details.

"Right, but I'm paying less in utilities, gas and even groceries, since you keep making me eat sandwiches." Brendon made a face, but whatever, they were cheap and Ryan knew Brendon would eat whatever didn't move. Ryan wasn't sure that movement would have been that much of a deterrent.

"Brendon," Ryan said slowly. "Did you get a puppy?"

"Well, more of a dog, really. She's two years old and she's house trained and very, very sweet, but nobody ever adopts the adults. They just come back week after week after week, and she's been coming for nearly a year. Luckily, it's a no-kill shelter, but she hasn't had a home in forever, not since somebody just put her out because the didn't want her, or something. I'm sorry, I had to. I know we didn't discuss pets on the lease, and all, but--"

"What'd you name her?" Ryan asked.

"Name-- Oh, uh."

"Brendon?" Ryan asked.

"C Major. First note I ever learned. But we can change it, if you want. I just, I figured C for short, and she seems to like it--"

"You've got all the stuff we're gonna need?"

Brendon looked at Ryan for a moment. "I work at a pet store."

Ryan flipped him off. "What are you waiting for, then?"

Brendon still didn't move. "Um. Really?" His voice was soft and not particularly expectant and Ryan kind of wanted to hit something.

Ryan said, "A year's a long time to be without a home."

Brendon looked to the side and said, "Yeah."

*


C settled in the utility room, already kennel trained and evidently just pleased that she was allowed so much freedom at other times. She was always super excited when they got home, which made both of them feel guilty leaving her, but she wasn't going to be the only one not eating if they didn't go to work.

Brendon spent a lot of his free time trying to teach her tricks, like how to shake hands or roll over or catch frisbees. She would come to Ryan when she was exhausted, plodding over and collapsing in his lap. Ryan would tell her quietly that "Daddy's insanity is a sign of affection, sweetheart," and then stroke behind her ears until she fell asleep.

Brendon would leer at him, "I'll show you insane," but he never made good on the promise until C was safely in her bed and they safely in theirs--or at least, somewhere she couldn't see and suddenly display a possessive streak by way of her teeth.

Spencer and Haley were constantly spoiling her, which Brendon lectured them about and Ryan mostly just rolled his eyes at. Jon kept trying to socialize Dylan and Clover to her, which wasn't going very well. Mostly they just ignored her and she sat, puzzled by them. There hadn't been any out and out fights, yet, though, so Brendon and Ryan were allowing it for the moment.

Brendon generally took her out for a run first thing in the morning. Ryan would get up while he was gone, shower and make some coffee so that Brendon could have a cup and grab his own shower before they needed to be out the door. It was so normal and quotidian and domestic, that Ryan was kind of working himself into a complete commitment freak out when C got free of her leash and Brendon came back to the house, panting and frantic and all-but hysterical.

When Ryan had figured out exactly what had happened, he shoved Brendon into the car and started driving around the neighborhood, all the places she would know, to see if they could find her. He called Brian and said, "family emergency," and Brian said, "I owe you one anyway." Brian actually kind of owed Ryan about six, because he was forever flitting off to do things for his small band management business and having Ryan fill his shifts, but Ryan wasn't going to argue semantics. "Thanks."

He made Brendon call Jon, who said, "Shit," and, "Gotcha covered."

The couldn't find her by car, so they set out by foot, Brendon suggesting, "Maybe we should split up."

Ryan asked, "Can I trust you not to get hit by a car?"

Brendon had to think about it for a moment, so Ryan said, "Yeah, no," and they kept looking together, ringing doorbells to ask if anyone had seen anything. At noon, when they still hadn't found anything and Brendon was rubbing at his eyes, refusing to look at Ryan, Brendon's cell phone rang. Brendon looked at the number and frowned, but answered it anyway. "Hello?"

Ryan sat down on the curb and tried to think about a next step. He'd never owned a dog, and C had never shown any inclination to get away. Ryan rubbed at the center of his forehead a bit. Brendon was saying, "Wait, repeat that," and rummaging around in his pocket. He came up with a piece of paper and a pencil that had seen better days, and scribbled an address. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

Brendon hung up the phone and sat next to Ryan, letting his head drop to his knees. He was breathing shallowly, and Ryan couldn't tell if he was on the verge of crying or laughing, or both. Finally, he handed Ryan the paper with the address. "Found her in the backyard, trying to make sweet, sweet love to their German Shephard mix."

"She's fixed," Ryan said, as if that were somehow important.

"So's he," Brendon said and shrugged. "They're dogs. What do I know?"

They walked back to the house where they got in the car and went to go pick up their wayward mutt. Beside him, he could see Brendon lean back and close his eyes, but Ryan wasn't fooled, sleep was nowhere near either of them.

*


When Brendon had hugged C to his heart's content, then uselessly railed at her, then hugged her some more, then gotten her settled in her room with some food and water, Ryan said, "Why don't you take a shower?" since Brendon kind of looked like shit, and was getting a bit ripe from having run around all morning. Ryan imagined that despite having showered earlier, he wasn't much better off, so he said, "I'll join."

Brendon said, "Ry, I don't--"

Ryan kissed him lightly. "Shut up. I'm not an asshole."

"Sometimes," Brendon said, but he sounded too tired to really keep up with the banter, so Ryan just herded him to the shower, getting both of them undressed and under the water. Brendon shook under the heat for a few minutes and Ryan tried massaging at his muscles, fingers slipping under the water, but after a bit he managed to dig in enough to get Brendon to loosen a little, actually absorb the heat.

Once they were out, Ryan pulled on some sweat pants and went to go make a fresh pot of coffee. They both drank in silence, Ryan rooting through the freezer until he found some frozen meals and popped two in the microwave. Brendon took his gratefully and was halfway through the mashed potatoes when he said, "I kind of gave up my family."

Ryan hadn't really been expecting a confession, let alone one that large, so he choked on his carrot squares and said, "Sorry, wrong tube."

Brendon pounded on Ryan's back until it was clear he wasn't going to die. Then he said, "Sorry, maybe should've given you some warning."

Ryan said, "Nah, just, I don't--"

"They wanted me to go to BYU and on a mission. I wanted to go to secular college. We compromised at first, that so long as I did something responsible, business or science or the like, that they'd help. But then I switched my major to music, and they pulled out and I couldn't get a loan because I wasn't formally disowned, so the government saw me as having family funds, and well." Brendon made a face. "And, like, I'm not stupid, I know that me and my family had a difference of core values and that's not my fault, that doesn't make me bad, I know all that, okay? Just, evidently I have some issues about sucking at keeping things, and I might have freaked out when our dog ran away. That's all."

Ryan took a minute to consider everything he'd just been told and said, "I guess that's good, since I wouldn't want to not be the most dysfunctional part of this relationship, or anything."

Brendon laughed a little, a startled, interrupted sound. It was followed by a sob, which Brendon tried desperately--visibly--to swallow. He said, "Sorry, sorry, just stress," and Ryan said, "You can stop being stupid now," which caused another laugh and then Brendon broke, crying loudly into his hands. Ryan wasn't used to this, used to people trusting him with this, because he knew he didn't seem like the kind of guy who could hold up under it. Spencer looked like that kind of guy. Spencer was that kind of guy. But Ryan had been watching Spencer his whole life for hints.

Ryan reached out and stole one of Brendon's hand, holding it in his own, weaving their fingers together. Brendon's palm was wet, and he was making sounds of denial, but Ryan said, "Hey, hey," and then Brendon just held on, just kept crying until he couldn't anymore. When Brendon's breathing had leveled off, he said, "I just kind of. Miss them. Even if they didn't get me and I didn't always understand them."

"Yeah," Ryan said, because that he knew all about.

Brendon sniffled a little and said, "Thanks for, uh, helping. Find her and, y'know, stuff."

Ryan stood and tugged Brendon up with the hand he was holding. Brendon asked, "What are--" but Ryan just led him through the hallway, back to Ryan's bed, since Ryan actually made his in the morning, and Brendon didn't. Ryan pulled them underneath the covers and said, "You've kept me just fine. And Spencer tells me it isn't easy."

Brendon settled against Ryan's chest, clearly tired. "Not so hard, really, either," he mumbled.

"Mm," Ryan said, but he was almost asleep himself.

*


Ryan woke while Brendon was still sleeping. He made his way into the utility room and sat down, shaking his head at C, who looked at him hopefully, like maybe he had brought treats. He said, "It's okay if you want to date, but this eloping shit isn't going to cut it."

She butted him with her nose. He said, "Yeah, well, scare your dad like that again and there won't be any petting at all, you hear?"

He didn't think she really understood, since she licked the inside of his palm and wiggled around under his hand. Ryan breathed out, relieved to have her safe and within reach.

*


Jon and Ryan threw Brendon a birthday party that was more a bunch of people getting together at an open mic night than a party, but Patrick and Tom and some of the other people with decent day jobs who weren't drowning under loan debt pitched in to actually buy dinner, and Brendon got to play with Jon's band. Everyone had a good time, so Ryan considered their party-planning skills to be sufficient.

Ryan took Brendon home and bent him over the side of the couch, fucking Brendon with his tongue until Brendon came simply from the friction of his cock rubbing against material. Then Ryan flipped him over pushing him down so that his head and shoulders were on the couch, his ass on the arm and Ryan could go deep as he wanted. Ryan went slow, slow and easy, aware that this was a little more intense than anything they normally did.

Brendon whimpered, but he also said, "Ryan," and "Yeah," and "Don't stop." Ryan didn't, but he kept things slow until Brendon began to beg, beg for more, and even then Ryan kept things slow until Brendon was keening, pleading as much as he had the breath to do. Then Ryan pulled Brendon's legs even higher over his shoulders, drove in quick and deep, deep as he could go, and said, "Jerk yourself off."

Brendon made a noise deep in his throat, a grunt of sorts, and wrapped his fist around his cock, his movements anxious, careless, firm. Ryan said, "Fuck, Brendon," and pushed in, holding himself deep as he came. He stayed there, even though it was a bit much, Brendon tight around him, moving frantically, stayed there until Brendon came, too.

Ryan brought washcloths and Brendon said, "We're gonna have to stain treat the couch."

Ryan laughed and joined him on it. "Happy birthday."

*


"D'you tell Alex it was my birthday?" Brendon asked when he hopped in the car after work.

"I invited the guys to the party, but Brian was out of town and Alex had class. Ryland was there, he wished you a happy birthday."

Brendon rolled down the window and looked out it a bit before saying, "Yeah, well, Alex found a school loan that would actually work with me now that I'm 21 and considered fully independent. He helped me fill out all kinds of federal aid forms today. As, like, a present."

Ryan looked over for a moment before turning his attention back to the road. "That was where he went for lunch, huh?"

"Um. Thing is, I can do three classes a semester on the loan, if I get the aid he thinks I will, and still work, even the music store job. Obviously I'd have to cut hours a little bit, but not too badly. And there's that satellite out by the Episcopalian church, so gas isn't going to be an issue."

Ryan waited a bit before asking, "But?"

"I'd have to go down to 400 a month. And it's totally cool if you say no. I mean, it's been almost three years since I was in school, it's going to take probably another four or five to actually graduate at the rate I'd have to go, it's not at all a big thing for me to just wait, so don't feel like you--"

"Done," Ryan said.

"--have to say-- Um. What?"

"Sometimes I seriously think you think you're dating an asshole. Which is a turn off, just so we're clear."

"Sometimes I think you don't notice that I live with you and see that there are days when you don't take lunch because your grocery bill ran over for the month," Brendon shot back. "Even with the extra five hundred."

"I reconsolidated my loans after you moved in," Ryan admitted. It meant paying more a month, but it also meant being done in less time, and Ryan really wanted a chance to live his life sometime before he was thirty.

"So if you need--"

"No. I don't. Seriously. Go to school. I want you to go. I want you to, like, not have to work behind a counter."

"Unlike you," Brendon said.

"Yes," Ryan said, not even fronting.

"That's bullshit."

"It's not. My misery doesn't need company, Brendon. It doesn't even fucking want it."

Brendon was silent for a long time before he said, "I'm too excited about college to argue with you about this right now. Can I take a raincheck?"

Ryan flipped him off.

*


Spencer came back in town for the summer, and he and Haley took over Brendon's bedroom, which Ryan and he both acknowledged he never used. Spencer paid rent, despite Ryan's initial discomfort, which meant that Ryan was actually able to put something aside for the coming months, when Brendon's rent would go down.

It was surprisingly easy to come home to a house that had never really been his, not in his head, and find everyone he needed there. Most nights Spencer would even have cooked, Haley helping or not, depending on how her day had gone. Brendon tried to help a few times, but Spencer figured out early enough that it was better just to keep him occupied until everything was done.

He went and picked Brendon up from an extra shift he'd finagled his way into at the music store one night and they came home to burgers with pineapple salsa and sweet potato fries. C spent the whole meal looking at them balefully. Ryan suspected Haley and Brendon of sneaking her food on the side, but it was hard to lecture either of them, because Brendon made innocent eyes at him and Haley totally hit when Spencer wasn't looking. Granted, Haley and Ryan had a long game of hit-when-Spencer-isn't=looking that dated well back before her moving into the house, so it wasn't as though he hadn't encouraged that, but whatever.

Brendon and he cleaned up, since Haley and Spencer had put dinner together and fair was fair. Brendon said, "Wanna share a fudgescicle?"

"We have fudgescicles?" Ryan asked.

"I splurged at the store. It's one million degrees out there."

It really kind of was. "I get first bite."

"You're such a prima donna."

"I'll let you take a bite and kiss me while it's melting."

Brendon perked up. "For real?"

Ryan wasn't generally into sex--or foreplay--that involved food. "Just, don't slobber."

"Jesus, I'm not a dog, Ryan."

Ryan reached out with a hand that was wet and sudsy from the dishes to mess with Brendon's hair. "Kinda shaggy like one."

"Yeah, well, someone who won't be mentioned likes to pull my hair during blowjobs," Brendon said, but he was laughing. Ryan figured out why a second later, when there was water sluicing down his back, beneath his t-shirt and Brendon was yelling, "Water fight! Water fight!"

For a second, Ryan thought, property damage. Then Brendon laughed some more and he turned the water on, full strength. "You're going down."


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile