"So hey," Ryan said one day, tossing the ball for Skywalker. "Ice Machine are playing next week. You want to come? A crowd of us are going, tickets on the door."
Ian watched Skywalker go haring after the ball, paws churning up mud.
"Sure," he said. They'd been a discovery of Spencer's (another, he thought; some day Spencer would give up the drumming and go right into A&R full time) and had been in firm rotation on his iPod. He hadn't known they were touring, though. "Wait. What day next week?"
Ryan picked up the soggy ball and threw it again, wiping his fingers on his pants. "Wednesday."
Ian shook his head "I can't," he said, "I'm playing a show Friday, in Seattle. I'll be on the road."
"You're not flying?" Ryan asked. Skywalker collapsed at his feet, worn out.
"No," Ian said. He hesitated, but went on. It wasn't like it was anything to be ashamed of, after all. "I can't really afford to. I'm doing the show as favour to some old friends. Flights would pretty much wipe out what they can pay me for the show. Besides, I like the drive. Take it easy up the coast, play the show, then hang out with the family and get mom to feed me." He grinned. "I've got it all worked out."
He sat on the abandoned swings and kicked his feet up. Ryan followed him over, sitting more gingerly on the other swing. "I forgot you were from Washington," he said, scuffing his boots into the dirt.
"I'm shocked you don't know everything about me," Ian said, "Shocked I say."
Ryan ignored that in favour of pushing his feet against the ground, setting the swing in motion. He looked down at his toes. Ian waited. He'd learned that Ryan liked to turn things over before speaking, that it took more patience to get below the surface. Unlike Brendon, he thought, who seemed incapable of keeping anything inside. It was a miracle it had taken Spencer so long to realise he was stupid about him.
"Do you want company?" Ryan asked, eventually. "On the road, I mean?"
"It's not the first time I've done the drive," Ian said, in case this was some kind of misplaced worry.
"I'm not trying to look after you," Ryan said, with the slightly creepy intuition he sometimes had. "Just, I'm kind of bored, and I like roadtrips. It might be fun. I haven't been to the Northwest in years. I think the last time I was in Seattle I was with Jwalk."
"You like roadtrips," Ian repeated.
"Yeah," Ryan pushed himself higher "I spent my formative years on the road. Me and Z rented this sweet sports car and did the drive from Vegas to LA last year. Good times."
Ian could just imagine the two of them, like a scene from an old movie, hood down and driving into the sunset, Ryan's leather jacket and the wind catching at Z's hair.
"I just have my shitty Honda, the air con doesn't even work half the time," he said. "But, you really want to come?"
"I don't say things I don't mean," Ryan said, simply. Ian knew that. It was what made him so frustrating. And so interesting.
"Then sure," he said, because, why not? "Wednesday. I'll pick you up around midday."
"I'll put together a driving mix," Ryan said, with that small smile he had when he was making fun of himself.
"It had better be good," Ian said, bending to clip the leash back onto Skywalker's collar.
"Never doubt me," Ryan said, pushing the swing in an arc, and jumping off at the highest point.
Ian was never going to find the fact that Ryan lived in a house with a moat anything less than ridiculous. It did kind of suit him though. Strange and out of context, but refusing to apologise for it.
He leaned on the doorbell repeatedly until Ryan opened it, backpack and duffel spilling out onto the stoop.
"I heard you the first time," he said, sounding irritated.
"Last time you were asleep," Ian said. "We need to hit the road. I was just making sure."
"Oh," Ryan said, bending to pick up one of the bags. "About that. We need to make a detour."
"Well, unless you've changed your mind about bringing Captain, I need to drop him off," Ryan said. "Dan's taking him,"
"You can't bring a cat on a roadtrip," Ian repeated. Ryan looked disappointed, but whistled and the cat came running just like a dog. It played fetch too. Trust Ryan to have a cat as weird as he was.
"Come on," Ryan said, sliding into his jacket, "I thought you said you didn't want to be late."
"I was waiting for you to put him in a carrier," Ian said.
"Oh," Ryan crouched down and Captain leapt onto his shoulders, draping himself like an exotic scarf. "He doesn't like the carrier. He'll be fine."
"If you insist," Ian said doubtfully.
"Can you grab that box?" Ryan asked, picking up his backpack and guitar. "It's his food and stuff."
They stowed the bags in the back of Ian's car and laid the guitar rather more carefully alongside the three Ian had bought.
"Three?" Ryan's raised eyebrow was gently mocking. "How many shows are you playing?"
"Just the one," Ian shrugged, refusing to feel bad. He'd seen Ryan's music room. "I'd rather have options, you know?"
"I know." Ryan climbed into the passenger seat, Captain still perched around his neck.
Ian drove cautiously at first, not wanting a freaked out cat on the loose, but Captain just twitched his ears a couple of times and settled down. Ryan gave directions, and rubbed his cheek against Captain's head when he purred.
Ian waved out of the window to say hi to Dan as Ryan handed over the box. Captain jumped down and scampered into the house, clearly used to it.
"Are you sure you didn't accidentally buy a dog?" Ian called. He was used to his family's cats, scrappy toms who mostly lived in the yard. Captain was eerily smart.
"Don't be jealous because my cat's awesome." Ryan said. Dan laughed.
"He takes after his owner." he said. Ryan knocked their shoulders together.
"Be back next week," he said. "I think. Unless Ian kidnaps me. I'll call you."
"Have fun," Dan said.
Ryan reached up and pressed his fingertips to his jaw, and kissed him.
"Always do," he said, and kissed him again before running down the path and into the car. Ian honked the horn and Dan waved them off.
The radio played softly, some local station with a hyperactive DJ, and Ian merged out onto the freeway, deep in thought.
"Dan seems kind of used to Captain," he said, eventually.
"We help each other out," Ryan said. "Petsitting."
"Oh," Ian wasn't sure what else to say.
"Go ahead and ask," Ryan said, a smile in his voice. "You clearly want to."
"It's none of my business," Ian said, because it wasn't. "But, I thought you and Z were together." It was part of why he'd never pushed more at the casual flirtation.
"We are," Ryan said.
"Is this like, an 'its complicated' situation?" Ian asked.
"Not really," Ryan's sounded amused. "Turns out I'm very good at loving people. I'm just not very good at loving only one person. That's all."
"That sounds," Ian paused, trying to get the words straight in his head. "A lot of effort.
"Nah." Ryan stretched his legs out in front of him "It's easier than the alternative was. Hook-ups are ok, anything more long-term, Z and Dan and I discuss it together. And you somehow managed to convince Spencer fuckbuddies would work. That sounds like effort, to me.”
"Spencer?" Ian overtook the dawdling Prius in front. "He's no effort at all."
"We must know a different Spencer," Ryan said.
"Maybe I'm just that special. It was good," Ian said.
Ryan took a deep breath, like he was preparing to say something tough.
"Spencer is - people tend to fall in love with him, and he doesn't notice. He's not doing it on purpose."
"I'm not pining away," Ian said, wondering how they'd gotten onto his sex life rather than Ryan's hipster harem. "And the last person who pined over him for years is currently disgustingly in love with him, and I'm sure Spencer feels the same way."
"As long as you're sure," Ryan said, and Ian realised he was teasing him.
"I'm sure," he said, and turned up the radio.
An hour further on, Ryan said
“So you played on the Cab's new album, right?”
Ian did the necessary mental recalibration needed for when Ryan jumped back aboard a conversation he'd been having mostly inside his head.
“All the guitar, yeah,” he said. “It's kind of buried down in the mix, but that's me. Didn't make sense for them to break in a new session guy when I didn't have anything on.”
“You never wanted to go back, tour with them?” The question was mild but, coming from Ryan, kind of pointed. They'd never really discussed the whole replacement thing.
“Nope,” Ian shook his head and pulled out to overtake the car in front. “This way, it's just me helping a friend out. No big promises. Nothing serious.”
“And people say I'm bad a commitment,” Ryan said.
“No, you're not,” Ian said, stung. “You try new things, new bands, but you try to stick with them them. I know enough from Alex to know how much determination getting out of Vegas takes. You committed to a 1960s sound in the mid 2000s. Twice. You look after Captain. And you're happy with Dan, and Z, and whoever else, and that takes commitment too. It just looks different to what people think serious should look but that doesn't mean it's not important.” He snapped his mouth shut to stop it running away with him, and stared determinedly ahead.
“Huh,” Ryan said, eventually. “I guess that hit a nerve.”
“I can't say anything nice?” Ian said, vaguely put out.
“I just didn't expect it,” Ryan said, slowly. “I've never thought that, about you. A good session guy is worth every penny.”
Ian smiled “Some people think the band-hopping means I'm not serious about music,” he shrugged. “I guess I have a different definition of serious. Not every band has to be a love story, you know?”
“And the ones that are break your heart.” Ryan said, just light enough that they could pretend it was a joke. Ian turned up the volume and let Physical Graffiti cover the awkward silence.
Ryan turned into the parking lot of a Sacramento Best Western “No sense in driving through the night,” he said.
Ian didn't complain. It was only early evening, but the endless sameness of the 99 was starting to get to him. They snagged a twin room (two rooms were not something either wanted to pay for if they could help it) and Ian claimed the furthest bed with a running leap.
“Find us somewhere to eat?” Ian asked, heading to the bathroom to splash some water on his face, the grit of the road and the smoggy air from the open car window forming a fine layer on his skin.
“Pizza ok?” Ryan asked as he pushed at the bathroom door
“I'd eat anything at this point.” Ian said. He debated just sticking his head under the running water.
“Tomorrow we buy more road snacks,” Ryan nodded. “No more running out of chips before midday.”
Ryan looked around the pizza place with an an amused expression, but Ian was too busy ordering to wonder what that was all about. The only seats were stools at the bar, and Ryan soon convinced the bartender to change the TV channel to hockey. He watched out of the corner of his eye, elbows propped on the bar and knee knocking into Ian's every time play speeded up.
“Is it just one show you're playing?” he asked, half the pizza and a side of chicken wings later. Ian twitched his slice out of reach, not liking Ryan's speculative look.
“Yeah,” Ian said, taking a bit to discourage food thievery. “Like I said, my friends' band is down a guitarist. Mom was complaining she hadn't seem me in a while and it's not like I had much to do in LA anyway. So, here I am.”
Ryan nodded, and sipped his soda. “I haven't been to Washington in forever,” he said. “It'll be good to look around.”
“You should check out EMP. The rock and roll museum,” Ian said, thinking about it. “They have an upside down pyramid made out of guitars, it's pretty awesome.”
“How do they stay up?” Ryan tilted his head to the side like he was trying to work it out.
“Magic,” Ian said, folding up his slice to take another bite.
They made a detour to Safeway the next morning, filling the cart with bottled water and Gatorade, a bag of apples, peanut butter crackers and M&Ms and beef jerky. Ryan piled bags of chips on top.
“In case we run out again,” he said. “I get peckish.”
“Where do you put it all?” Ian asked, stashing the bags in the back seat.
“Hollow legs,” Ryan deadpanned.
When they hit traffic an hour north of Sacramento, the snacks seemed like a good idea.
“Pass me the M&M's?” Ian asked. He put the car into park. “Not like we're going anywhere any time soon.” The traffic stretched out in an unbreaking line ahead of them. He ate another handful of candy.
“Can we go around?” Ryan asked. He bit into an apple.
“Nah,” Ian pulled his phone out of his pocket and scrolled through traffic alerts. “Even if we could get to an exit, it's basically one road all the way at this point.”
Ryan craned his head out of the window. “Cars all the way,” he said, “Can't even see any cops or ambulances, so whatever it is, it must be a way ahead.”
“At least we're not in a hurry,” Ian said, mentally recalculating the time they had left.
“And no one needs the use the bathroom,” Ryan said.
Ian paused, water bottle in hand. “You asshole.”
“I was fine until you said that.” he said.
“You could always use the bottle,” Ryan suggested, not bothering to hide his laugh.
“Ian. Hey. Ian.” Ryan's fingers were bony and Ian flinched away from where they were poking him in the shoulder.
“'m awake,” he forced his eyes open. “Where're we?”
“Sure you are.” Ryan said, steering with one hand on the wheel, “And we just passed the ten mile marker for Corvalis.”
Ian peered out of the window, cars cutting through the darkness with their headlights.
“Guess I was asleep,” he said “Shit, it's 9:30, you should have woken me.”
“I tried,” Ryan said. “You were dead to the world.”
Ian rubbed his eyes, trying to wake up properly. “It'll take up at least another hour and a half to reach Portland,” he said. “More to find someplace to stay.”
Ryan yawned “I'm not really feeling it,” he said. “Stop in Corvallis?”
“Yeah,” Ian said “Pull in here, I'll take over for a bit.”
The cool night air woke him up a little more, and Ian walked around the car, stretching his legs. He'd been asleep in a ball, and could feel his shoulders complaining. Ryan seemed to have the same idea, bracing his hands on the hood of the car and stretching out his spine, groaning. Ian had a brief flash of how that might look in a different context, the bow of his back, the spread of his fingers, before Ryan smiled briefly and tilted his head at the driver's side.
“Going to keep me waiting all night?” he asked. And wasn't that a loaded question?
“You navigate,” Ian said, sliding into the seat and sticking his head out of the window. “I'll crank up the radio to keep me awake.”
Ian's dreams of a soft bed were briefly shattered when the receptionist at the Travelodge tutted over her screen and said
“We've only got one Queen room,” she said. “What with the convention in town, we're nearly fully booked.”
“We could try to find somewhere else?” Ian offered, though the last thing he wanted to do was get back in the car, and Ryan was visibly drooping.
“We can share, I'll live,” Ryan said, “You better not hog the covers.”
“I don't think I'll be awake long enough to do that,” Ian said, scooping up the keycards and shouldering his bag and guitar. Ryan trailed him to the elevator.
The room was like every other Travelodge ever, down to the weird watercolour on the wall and the tiny coffee cups. They were both used to sharing rooms enough that they didn't get into each other's way, and Ian crawled into bed and closed his eyes while Ryan was still brushing his teeth. He could still half-hear the thrum of the engine and the turning wheels, even though today had been more stop than start.
The bed dipped as Ryan got in, carefully keeping his arms and legs to himself. Considerate.
“Hey Ian,” he asked, just as Ian was on the edge of sleep.
“Who's looking after Skywalker?”
“My roommate,” Ian said.
“That's good,” Ryan yawned, clearly mostly asleep “Animals are important, you have to look after them.”
“You're kind of punch-drunk, aren't you,” Ian said.
“I was going to be a vet if the band didn't work out,” Ryan said, the non sequitur kind of proving Ian's point.
“I didn't know that.” Ian said
“Always something new to learn,” Ryan mumbled. His foot knocked against Ian's but it was too much effort to move away.
Ryan, Ian discovered, slept in a faded My Chemical Romance t shirt, transfer cracked and peeling off, and plaid pants hacked off at the knee, the hems ragged and uneven. Like a costume for a roadtrip, a character he was playing. Ian wondered if, in different circumstances, it would be flannel, or yesterday's boxers, or nothing at all.
Possibly, he thought, he was overthinking things.
“Are you staring at me?” Ryan asked, eyes slitting open. “That's kind of creepy for this early in the morning.”
Ian sat up and worked the crick out of his neck. Sleeping in the car would almost have been more comfortable.
“Staring at your shirt,” he said, when Ryan didn't say anything else. “I don't know that design.”
“That's because I bought it before you were born,” Ryan said, closing his eyes again.
“I'm two years younger than you,” Ian said, automatically.
“Well today I feel about a hundred,” Ryan said. He stretched out his arms and winced as his spine cracked, then sat up and shuffled back against the headboard. “Either I'm getting old or this bed is made of rocks.”
“Little of column A, little of column B,” Ian said. He scrubbed his hand through his hair, trying to wake up. “I'm one big ache.”
Ryan reached forward and tucked a curl back behind his ear. It was so oddly familiar a gesture Ian couldn't help but laugh.
“What?” Ryan asked, dropping his hand away.
“Spencer does that exactly the same way,” Ian said.
Ryan's smile was a little less sleepy and a little more knowing.
“Where do you think he got it from?”
Ian leaned back on his elbows, and looked up him. “When Spencer did it, it normally led to other things,” he said, testing.
Ryan twisted a curl around one long finger.
“Like I said, where do you think he learned it?” He said, and tugged at the curl before letting it go and shuffling out of bed.
“Oh it's like that, is it?” Ian said. Not that he'd be averse to well, anything. He licked his lips, waiting.
“Come on,” Ryan said, “Lets hit the road and get breakfast in Portland.” He closed the bathroom door, leaving Ian staring after him.
“You're leaving it there” he settled for shouting over the sound of the shower spray.
“It's about the JOURNEY,” Ryan shouted back, and Ian laughed as he started the coffee maker.
The miles flashed past in an endless parade of trees and rocks. Ian breathed in the damp, green smell, so different from the smog of LA. Home. Or closer to it than he'd been in a while.
“So,” he said, when it became clear Ryan wasn't going to break.
“So?” Ryan asked.
Ian looked at him out of the corner of his eye, trying to split his attention between him and the road.
“About the journey, huh? Is that what this is?”
“It's whatever you want,” Ryan lifted his shoulder in a half shrug.
“I want breakfast,” Ian decided. “Since you rushed me out this morning.”
Ryan chuckled, “I like your priorities.”
"Look, look." Ryan tugged at his sleeve, pulling Ian away from a shop window full of clockwork toys. "Over there."
It was another food cart, this one painted bright yellow. From the line outside it, it was doing a roaring trade.
"'Fried Egg I'm in Love'" Ryan read aloud, like the pun itself was delicious. "We have to go get breakfast there."
"It's 11am," Ian said, but he was already following Ryan's insistent pointing. "And I thought you wanted to drive over to Powell's?"
Ryan hesitated, like the lure of a bookshop that promised to be the size of a city block was too much to resist.
"Food first," he said at least. "Second breakfast," and he ushered them both across the street and into the back of the line.
"They specialise in egg sandwiches," Ryan said, reading aloud from his phone.
"Egg sandwiches and?" Ian asked. They shuffled forward as the line moved. He could already smell hot butter, frying eggs and bacon, and it reminded him that despite their plans breakfast had been half a bottle of flat Gatorade and the last of the corn chips.
"Just egg sandwiches," Ryan sounded ecstatic, "Every name is a pun, look."
"This really is the perfect city for you," Ian said.
Ryan pulled an exaggerated face. "Too wet and cold," he said.
Ian looked up at the sky, clear and blue. "It hasn't rained once today," he said.
"But it could," Ryan said.
"Oh, potential rain," Ian teased. "of course."
Ryan looked about to argue, but they were next up so instead he said
"One Egg Zeppelin, one Yolko Ono and two coffees please."
"You don't know that's what I wanted," Ian complained, more for the hell of it than any real annoyance.
"Like you would order anything else," Ryan said, handing over the cash. "If you really hate it, we'll trade."
“No chance,” Ian said, taking a bite out of his sandwich, and catching the running yolk with his tongue.
Ian found Ryan staring out of the window at the buskers on the street corner, hand wrapped around a steaming mug.
“Reminiscing?” he asked, putting his books down on the table.
“Huh?” Ryan blinked at him.
“The buskers,” Ian pointed at the two cellists. They were drawing quite a crowd. Even the dogs were sitting politely. “Busking at the weekend. If I never play Lithium again it will be too soon.”
“I never did that,” Ryan stirred his tea. The mug said 'Bookworm Blend'. “I was trying to work out what they were playing, but you can't hear very well through the glass.”
“We could go outside.” Ian suggested.
“I was waiting for you,” Ryan slipped off his stool “You took ages, I'm normally the one who has to be pulled out of the bookstore.”
“They had to grab one of my books from the back,” Ian said. “But I'm ready now,” He waved the Powells bag in demonstration.
The buskers were, Ian realised, playing a cello version of Kashmir. He dug into his pocket for scant loose chance, and tossed it into the case. Ryan's change thudded in after it.
“What do you mean, you've never busked?” he said, as it sunk it. “Doesn't everyone? How did you guys get gas money?”
“I grew up in Vegas,” Ryan reminded him. “They don't really approve of street musicians on the strip.” He sounded almost wistful.
“Hey, we can find our own corner,” Ian knocked into him, trying to make it a joke if Ryan wanted to take it as one. “I can pull off Kashmir just as well as those cellists.”
For a second Ryan looked like he was considering it. Then the first drops of rain started to fall. “Not in this weather,” he said, huddling under the shop canopy as it really started to rain.
“No,” Ian ducked under the canopy too, sticking close as they scuttled from shop to shop, seeking out the dry spots. “Not when I have a paying gig in four hours either.”
“Four hours?” Ryan said. Their shoulders brushed together as they tried to occupy the same tiny dry spaces. Around them people hurried on, seemingly oblivious to the rain, or that umbrellas existed.
“And counting.” Ian said. They'd run out of covered pavement. The parking lot was the other side of the street. In between, the rain beat down in sheets.
“Run?” Ryan suggested as they looked out at the rain. “On three?”
“One,” Ian tucked the back into his coat “Two,”
“Three.” Ryan grabbed his hand and they dashed out into the pouring rain, dodging puddles as they ran across the street and ran, breathless, into the covered garage, wet hands clasped together.
“My feet,” Ryan said.
Ian unlocked the car. “What about them?”
“I didn't miss that last puddle,” he said.
“I'll put the heater on as soon as I can see,” Ian said. His glasses were dotted with water, but everything was too wet to dry them off with. He plucked at the wet hem of his t shirt.
Ryan leaned over into the trunk and rooted around until he came up with the shirt he'd worn yesterday. “No towels,” he said by way of explanation “So this will have to do.”
Ian polished his glasses until he could see out of them, and rubbed the shirt through his hair, squeezing out the damp. Ryan's cry of annoyance was kind of hilarious.
“Hey!” Ryan protested, tugging the shirt out of his hands.
“I was drying my hair!” Ian said
"By soaking my shirt?" Ryan protested.
"Matches the one you're wearing now." Ian said. He took his wet shoes off and leaned over into the back seat to find his sneakers, bumping his arm against Ryan, who'd had the same idea. The back seat was littered with empty take out containers, paper bags from the doughnut place, and half-drunk bottles of water. Ryan's jacket was spread out over the headrest to dry.
"I'm running out of clean clothes." Ryan said, finding a dry shirt.
"All part of the tour experience," Ian said, lacing his sneakers. "Treat me nice and I'll get my mom to let you do laundry.”
Ryan's head popped out of the collar of his shirt, tousling his hair. He still had water drops clinging to his eyelashes.
"How nice?" he said, voice low and husky. Suddenly the car seemed very small, Ryan very close, and Ian was reminded, strongly, that this was the guy who'd written Lying when he was sixteen.
He breathed out, unsteadily.
"She'll probably just take pity on you," he said, feeling very young all of a sudden.
"I'm sorry," Ryan leaned back and grinned, goofy and amused, back to what Ian was used to. "I didn't mean to freak you out."
"Hey, not that I'm not interested," Ian said, "But that wasn't a look I take someone up on when I have to be someplace."
"We have four hours," Ryan said, "I mean, I'm flattered, but that's a long time..."
Ian chuckled, "you don't know Seattle traffic."
They sped over the boarder to Washington, the car steaming gently as Ian cranked the heat up to dry the clothes.
"I'm not seeing traffic," Ryan said, sticking his feet up on the dash. Ian pushed them off.
"Just you wait," he said. "I can't believe you never got stuck here on tour."
"Jon drove the last time I was this far north" Ryan said thoughtfully, "I think he had some kind of traffic magic."
"Useful" Ian said, peering ahead through the rain.
The traffic appeared just outside Centralia. Ian looked at the clock, and sighed as the car slowed to a halt.
"There goes dinner before the show," he said. He rested his head on the wheel.
Ryan's hand dropped onto the nape of his neck. Ian tensed, then relaxed, as strong fingers rubbed and pressed down his neck, across his shoulders, and up into his hair to rub soothing circles into his scalp.
"Mmmmmm" Ian closed his eyes briefly.
"You looked tense," Ryan said, deadpan as ever. "I'm being nice."
"Uh huh," Ian inched the car forward "how nice can you be?"
"I thought you didn't want to start something," Ryan said "Even I have a limit to what I'll do in a moving vehicle." His tone was gently mocking but his fingers never stilled, moving through Ian's curls.
“My hair's kind of a thing for me,” Ian said, pressing up into Ryan's hands, sighing again as Ryan scratched his nails across his scalp.
“Well, that's a thought to file away,” Ryan said, voice slightly rough. “If we were making plans I mean. Rather than just seeing what happens.”
“My whole life is just 'see what happens',” Ian said. The traffic opened up a little and they moved a whole 300 yards, Ryan's hand dropping away. “Seems to be working so far.”
“You don't seem too bothered by it.”
“All I want to do is play music,” Ian said. “I don't need a huge plan for that. I just- ramble on.”
“It works for you,” Ryan said. He sounded almost wistful.
“You too, right?” Ian asked.
“Not sure,” Ryan said, after a long pause. “The rest of my life's great but my last album was a while ago. Maybe I need to change that. There's a difference between taking life as it comes and being lost.”
“I'm the last person you want on a find-yourself-roadtrip,” Ian said.
Ryan put his sunglasses on and kicked his feet back up onto the dash.
“I'm just along for the ride,” he said.
Ian leered at him, exaggeratedly, until Ryan laughed, and the weird mood was broken.
Bea met them at the stage door, already half in her stage clothes, hair in huge rollers.
“Cutting it fine, Crawford,” she said, kissing his cheek.
“Tell that to the traffic,” he said and slipped the guitar case off his shoulder. “We got time for a run-through?”
“If you're quick,” she said.
“Be right with you,” Ian turned back to where Ryan was leaning again the wall, looking like he was in another magazine shoot.
“There's a sports bar down the block,” Ian said. “Or the diner across the street does great grilled cheese if you want someplace quieter. We'll be done around ten.”
“Any reason I can't come watch you guys?” Ryan sounded honestly curious.
“No,” Ian said. “Just wanted to give you options.”
“I drove all this way,” Ryan smiled. “I might as well see the show.”
“I can't promise how good the openers will be,” Ian said. It was long since he'd known enough about the local scene to recognise whichever high school band was up first.
“I'm sure I'll survive,” Ryan said drily. “Have a good show.
The openers were, as predicted, more enthusiastic than talented, but everyone had to start somewhere. Ian listened with half an ear, mentally running through chord progressions and trying to remember the set list. A tech had taped it the back of his amp, and he knew most of Bea's stuff, but it had been a while since he'd played a live show, and the familiar prickle of nervous excitement was a little more pronounced.
He high-fived Bea and the drummer, Abbie, and followed them out onto the tiny stage. Bea waved at the crowd and bounced on her toes.
"Hi everyone!" she said "The two of you who've seen us before will notice that Cecy is being played by someone even shorter and almost as cute tonight. She'll be back soon, but for tonight give it up for Ian, ok guys?"
Ian grinned out at the crowd. It was too dimly lit to spot Ryan, but he sketched out a wave just in case.
"We are The ABCs and this first song is an old favourite," Bea tapped her fingers on the neck of her bass. "It's called 'You shouldna taken the dog'.Sing it if you know it!"
Abbie counted them in, and Ian started to play.
Abbie was busy filling Ian in on embarrassing stories from Bea's early childhood ('Never start a band with your twin sister, Crawford, they never let you forget anything') when Ryan found them, squeezing in beside Ian at the bar.
"Hey," Ian said, turning aside from where Bea as arguing that the pony incident was NOT her fault "you like the show?"
"Yeah," Ryan nodded, leaning past to wave at Abbie and Bea "You guys sounded great - like, country punk? I like it."
"What about me?" Ian asked, put out.
"Eh," Ryan waved his hand, exaggeratedly.
"Little muppet was always too much guitar for us," Bea said, getting the nickname out before Ian could kick her ankle. "But he sounds great, always."
"Muppet?" Ryan asked. Ian put his head down on the bar.
"That's what we called him," Abbie said, relentlessly. "Growing up. he was so tiny and cute and he had all these curls and was just running around all the time. Like Gonzo!"
"You can stop any time now," Ian said.
"Not much has changed," Ryan sounded fond.
"Muppet, who's this anyway," Bea asked. Ian was 80% sure she KNEW but was going to make him explain. Ryan reached over Ian's head to shake hands.
"Ryan," he said. "Ian and I were in a band together. Well. We were in the same band. At a different time."
"Panic," Ian lifted his head from the bar because it was kind of cold and probably filthy. "We both played guitar, Ryan wrote some of their early stuff and I know you know this Bea so don't make me explain."
"Oh," Abbie said, "so not the band full of Alexes then?"
"No," Bea replied, they were doing their freaky twin thing "The one with a ton of radio play and a high profile and a decent future had he stuck with it."
"That's not-" Ian started, but Bea patted his head
"Relax muppet," she said "I guess you were too much guitar for them, too."
"You keep holding out for that Van Halen reunion," Abbie said.
"I drove all the way up here for this." Ian looked at Ryan and gave him the exaggerated pout. It didn't have a patch on Brendon's, he knew, but it was enough to make him smile. "And anyway, If I'd stuck with Panic, I wouldn't have been able to come and rescue your asses, would I?"
"So if you grew up together does that mean you have the good stories?" Ryan asked.
"Don't think I won't call Spencer and get every story he has in revenge," Ian threatened.
"If it's embarrassing stories, we're going to need another drink." Bea said, and waved to get the attention of the bartender.
It wasn't a late night- the twins at least had day jobs to get to, and the lure of his parent's guest bed was too much to keep Ian out past midnight.
"Will your folks be up?" Ryan asked as they pulled into the driveway. The house was dark, locked up for the night.
"Nah," Ian said "probably not, but they know I'm coming."
"Do they know I'm coming?" Ryan said, collecting his bag and guitar out of the trunk.
"Sure," Ian unlocked the door. "I'm...pretty sure I told them. Pretty sure."
He took his shoes off in the entryway so he could walk quietly. Ryan unlaced his boots and and set then side by side, next to Ian's sneakers.
"Come on," Ian flicked the stair light on, "I'll find the air mattress and we can put it in the guest room."
That proved easier said than done. The stair closet was a jumble of fishing rods and rubber boots and his mom's tennis racquet, but lacking the normal air mattress.
"We can share, it's not like it's the first time this trip," Ryan whispered.
"Yeah," Ian closed the door, "If I look much further it's all going to come crashing out and wake the whole house up. We'll figure it out in the morning."
Ryan helped him make up the queen bed in the guest room, shaking out the sheet and tucking in the corners.
"Gotta say I'm disappointed," he said, looking around the room, pillow in hand. "I was totally hoping for old band posters and high school memorabilia." He plumped the pillow and set it at the head of the bed.
"Sorry to disappoint you," Ian said. "This is the general purpose guest room. My parents moved about two years ago."
"I'll just have to imagine then," Ryan pulled the coverlet back and climbed in.
"Imagine all you like," Ian yawned, turning out the lamp, slightly wobbly from too much show and not enough food. "I'm going to sleep."
Ryan flapped his hand around in the dark until he could pet Ian's hair, tugging once on a curl. Ian leaned into it.
"Night," Ryan said.
"What happened to the air mattress?" Ian asked the next morning. Ryan was still asleep, but Ian had disentangled himself from his octopus limbs to see his dad before he left for work.
"Got a puncture," his dad said, stirring his coffee. "Well. Your Aunt Jenni's dog chewed it."
"Huh," Ian buttered his toast. "I guess that would do it."
"If you'd told us you were bringing company we'd have got another one." His mom pointed out.
"I did Ian protested. "I'm sure I did."
"Well, either you're forgetful or we're terrible hosts. I know which I'd prefer," his dad teased. He swallowed the last of his coffee.
"Off to school" he pecked Ian's mom on the cheek "Have a good day both."
Ian waved his toast at him and followed his mom into the den.
"You at work today as well?" he asked.
"In a little while," she said. "But I'll be home for dinner, it's not a late shift."
"You complain I don't visit and then you and dad both abandon me," he teased.
"Well I'm sure you'll have fun with your friend." she said, innocently.
Ian decided not to touch that one, especially as Ryan walked hesitantly into the den, hair fluffy and face pillow creased.
"Oh," Ryan said, slowly "I thought everyone had gone out- I didn't want to interrupt-"
"Mom, Ryan,Ryan, mom," Ian gestured.
"Anna," she smiled. "And I'm just on my way out, but it's nice to meet you, Ryan. Do you boys have plans for today?"
"Sleep and laundry," Ian said, at the same time as Ryan said
"Guitar- oh, you mean the EMP," she said. "We couldn't keep Ian away from there the year it opened, he'd ask us to drive him every weekend." She stood and grabbed her purse "Get Ian to show you where breakfast is, Ryan. We'll see you both for dinner tonight." It was more a command than an offer.
"Breakfast?" Ryan said, hopefully. Ian ate the last of his toast and ushered him into the kitchen.
"Sure you don't want to come?" Ryan said.
"Sleep and laundry," Ian reminded him, stretching out on the sofa "The laundry's on, so sleep it is."
"Only it says here that there's a Hendrix exhibit." Ryan waved his phone at him, too fast to read. "Also. I don't know how to get there by public transport."
"You only want me for the car, I see how it is."
"Not only," Ryan shrugged. "I'll even buy your ticket, come on. You can nap later"
Ian got up, grudgingly, playing along. "Well, when you put it like that."
Ryan tossed him the keys.
"It really is a pyramid of guitars." Ryan tilted his head back, staring.
"Drums and keyboards too," Ian pointed out, taking the opportunity to rest one hand on Ryan's shoulder. "See? Near the top?"
"What are the headphones for?" Ryan asked, picking them up.
"It sings," Ian said, putting his own on. "Listen."
Ryan nodded his head at the strange, robotic phrases. They listened until the music looped.
"Each guitar plays one note," Ryan read the information card. "To represent the uniting of musician and machine."
"Cool, huh?" Ian slipped his headphones off. "There's an interactive instrument gallery upstairs. Let's go own everyone on the guitars."
"That's what you did every weekend when you were a kid, huh?" Ryan sounded amused as they walked toward the elevator.
"No comment." Ian said. "Come on, lets go play with the instruments and then taunt Spencer with snapchats of the Legos exhibition."
"You know how to show a boy a good time." Ryan said, pushing the button for the next floor.
They took a trip through the gift shop for tacky souvenirs. Ryan bought a guitar-shaped spatula- 'Z likes pancakes'- and Ian clipped the lego Hendrix keychain to his car keys.
“Where next?” Ryan asked. “You gonna buy me lunch?”
“Like you said, I know how to show a boy a good time,” Ian said. “Plus there's part of the Seattle experience you haven't had yet.”
“Going to play me some Nirvana?” Ryan nudged him with the spatula.
“Going to take you to see some fish.” Ian said.
Pike Place market was crowded as ever, full of tourists, rushed office workers, and the occasional grandma who'd probably bought her fish there every week since the 1950s.
“This is where I used to busk,” Ian pointed to the market square, “here, and here. Iconic scenes of my childhood, man,”
“And then you came here to -spend it all on hats?” Ryan trailed over to the stall selling rainhats, knitted beanies and head bans. Ian put one of the hats on Ryan's head, adjusting it.
“No,” he said “Mostly on guitar strings and gas money. Though there is a place here that does great hot dogs.”
“We should get those.” Ryan put the hat back on its stand and wandered off to the next stall.
Ian almost lost him twice in the narrow crowded passages, large amounts of shiny things drawing Ryan's magpie eye.
“There you are,” Ian said, finally spotting Ryan at the big flower stall that ran almost the length of the wall. He tucked his hand into Ryan's beltloop so he didn't lose him again. “Do I have to put you on a leash?”
“I'm not into that,” Ryan said absently. “These flower sellers are fascinating, they're so quick.” The woman closest was grabbing flowers quickly, wrapping them in bunches and handing them out. She caught Ryan looking
“We've got lilies, sunflowers, fresh Oregon roses?”
“We should get some for your mom.” Ryan said.
“You trying to win her over?” Ian rested his chin on Ryan's shoulder, standing on tiptoes to see over.
“Do I need to?” Ryan asked. He chose white roses splattered with red like blood, tied with ribbon in a theatrical bouquet, and tucked it into the crook of his arm.
“She's more a daffodil person,” Ian said. He linked his arm through Ryan's so he didn't lose him again. “Though you don't need to impress her at all.”
“It's polite,” Ryan said, “I'm staying in her house.”
“You're not even taking up the whole guest bed,” Ian said. “Not that I mind,” he continued, squeezing closer as the crowds pressed in.”
“That's good to know,” Ryan said softly.
He stuck close as they walked slowly through the craft market, stained glass and carved wood and-
“Is that a rain stick?” Ryan said.
“Oh, I loved this place,” Ian slipped his arm out of Ryan's “They do all kinds of instruments.”
There was quite a crowd trying out wooden percussion, finger cymbals, shakers in the shape of skulls. Ryan turned the rain stick over to hear the shushing sound.
“It really does sound like rain,” he said, fingers dancing over the painted patterns.
“It sounds like a light shower,” Ian picked up a harmonica. He'd lost his somewhere between Brendon's and Spencer's and he could do with another.
“You have opinions about rain?”
“Hey,” Ian handed over the money and pocketed the harmonica “You've seen where I grew up. I know from rain, right?”
“Well, I wouldn't want to buy a sub-par rain stick,” Ryan managed to keep a straight face as he put the stick down.
“If you've stopped fondling the instruments it's time,” Ian said, hearing the song start up in the distance, “Come on, the fish is this way.”
“Fish? Really?” Ryan said, but he slipped his hand back into Ian's.
“Singing fish. Well, the sellers sing. It's like fish vaudeville,” Ian said, steering them through the crowds. They reached the stall to see people tossing salmon to each other. Ryan's eyes were wide as the fish flashed silver and the guys started to sing.
“They do this all day?” he asked.
“Every time someone buys something.” Ian crouched down as an overenthusiastic tourist nearly elbowed him in the head trying to get a picture. “For as long as I can remember. It's kind of a thing. I thought you'd like it. You'd think they'd run out of songs about fish, but apparently not.”
“Catch me a Catch?” Ryan suggested. “Skate-er boy? Lemon Sole Man? Sweet Breams are Made of This?”
“If you're just going to make fish puns all afternoon I'll abandon you to the crowds,” Ian said
“No you won’t,” Ryan said confidently
“Maybe not,” Ian agreed, squeezing Ryan's hand. “Turns out I kind of like you.”
The house was waking up. Ian could hear someone moving about down in the kitchen. A late start, for a lazy weekend. Ryan's feet brushed his. They hadn't gotten around to buying that air mattress. Ryan blinked his eyes open again.
"You're awake, then." Ian said, the silence stretching out with possibility.
"Are you ever going to kiss me?" Ryan's face was inches from his, sharing the same pillow. Downstairs, the coffeemaker beeped.
"I thought you were enjoying the anticipation?" Ian smiled. This close, he could count Ryan's eyelashes. Should he want to.
"After a point it stops being fun," Ryan's voice was deeper, husky in the morning.
"Frustrating, huh?" Ian cupped Ryan's shoulder, warm though his sleepshirt.
"Uh huh," Ryan nodded, and Ian leaned forward and kissed him. He kissed enough like Spencer that it felt almost familiar, same tilt of his head, same slow thoroughness that made Ian shiver, especially when Ryan ran his hands into his hair before rolling them over so he was on top, pressing him into the mattress. They made out lazily, slow and sleep-tasting, as unhurried as the whole trip had been.
"Still frustrated?" Ian grinned up at him minutes later, taking pride at Ryan's mussed hair, the flush in his cheeks and his reddened lips.
"Getting less so," Ryan replied, bending back down.
They loaded the bags, complete with clean laundry, back into the trunk, and Ian kissed his mom's cheek again.
"Don't leave it so long next time," she scolded. "Though you can bring that nice boy again."
"It's not-" Ian said, and then stopped, because there were limits to even his parents' understanding. "I'll see you soon" he said instead. "I promise."
Ryan waved out of the window as Ian's mom and dad closed the door behind them.
"Ready to go home?" Ian asked.
"Not really," Ryan said. "You?"
"I could stand to drive more," Ian said. "The road gets under your skin, you know?"
"Where next?" Ryan asked.
Ian turned it over in his mind. "I hear Vancouver has good busking spots," he said eventually.”We could make it there before dark.”
"I did bring my guitar," Ryan said.
Ian leaned over the gear shift and kissed him
"You get the gas and I'll pick the music," he said.
Ryan kissed him back, wicked slip of tongue, a promise for their next overnight stay.
"Deal," he said.
They headed out to the highway, Ryan's hand on his thigh, and the whole open road ahead of them.