The headaches started when Ryan was twelve. Massive, pounding headaches, like the one he had when he fell out of the tree in Spencer’s yard and couldn’t breathe without feeling every bruise. Only he never fell out of anything, or down anything, or into anything. He should have been fine, only he wasn’t. Sometimes he’d wake up and have no idea where he was or how he got there. He slept all the time.
He chalked it down to the growth spurt he hoped was coming and ignored it.
Lately Ryan finds his dad looking at him sideways. Like a threat. It makes something swell in Ryan’s chest, and he can’t place it. Things get tenser and tenser around the dinner table – when anyone bothers to be there – and Ryan’s mom won’t stop crying. Ryan wakes up with skinned knuckles, bruised ribs, black eyes. Spencer looks at him sideways too, considering, and Ryan’s glad Spencer doesn’t ask because he’s not sure what he would tell him.
When Brendon joins the band, Ryan’s afternoons start to disappear. Little bits of time, here and there. Practices start to – not just blur together, but disappear. Ryan knows new riffs to songs he doesn’t remember fixing. He remembers practice Wednesday but not Thursday. He fills notebook after notebook with lyrics but only remembers writing every few pages –which, okay, he might be able buy that. He’s woken up in the middle of the night to scribble something in his notebook that he barely remembers the next morning, and sometimes when he writes or plays for a long time he goes into a kind of trance to keep his mind blank and the words flowing.
So, yeah, he would believe it if there weren’t three types of handwriting in the notebook.
The band starts to get buzz and Pete Wentz – Pete motherfucking Wentz – wants to sign them. He flies out to Vegas to watch them perform, to watch them perform not once but twice. Ryan can’t even keep up his monotone he’s so excited. Pete is a great guy. Ryan kind of worships him, if he’s being honest, and Ryan is pretty sure –
No, Ryan knows that Pete wants to fuck him. The question is how much. The question is whether Pete would hold the record deal over his head. The question is how far Ryan would be willing to go.
And maybe Ryan’s being as cynical as Spencer always says he is. Maybe it’ll be nothing. Maybe they’ll hang out and talk about bands and The Nightmare Before Christmas and Ryan will try not to hero-worship too obviously and Pete will ask Ryan stupid questions like whether he knows any hookers or if he’s ever seen a cobra. Maybe it’ll be nothing.
Ryan spends half an hour in front of the mirror getting his hair and eyeliner just right, then sits down, just for a minute. He feels a headache coming on.
He wakes up in his bed late the next morning, clothes from last night still on. He freaks a little and reaches for his Sidekick to text Pete and apologize for not showing up. Only there’s already a message from Pete saying he had fun and that he’ll call later, a demented little text heart at the end.
And Ryan, okay, now he’s pretty freaked, but he writes it off as exhaustion and all the drinking he and Pete probably did last night. There are bruises and scratches and two or three bite marks that he can see. He showers as quickly as he can and doesn’t look for more.
When he gets dressed he notices a note on the stand next to his bed.
Fame doesn’t come free.
I only do what I have to
What we need
What you should
It’s not his handwriting. It’s not Pete’s, it’s not Spencer’s. It’s the third kind of handwriting he finds in his notebooks, the one that shows up rarest of all. It’s usually angry, defensive, violent.
Ryan thinks he’s losing his mind.
He creeps into the other hotel room, crawls into Spencer’s bed. Spencer’s already awake – maybe he never went to sleep, Ryan doesn’t know – but he’s there, bed hair and hazy eyes and the perfect, perfect place for Ryan to curl his head into, to warm his hands on.
“You okay?” Spencer asks. Ryan’s not stupid. Spencer is fishing for a reason to kick Pete Wentz’s ass.
“I think so,” he says, because yeah, he isn’t sure, but something also tells him that’s not Pete’s fault. “It was. just.”
Spencer nods. “Okay.”
It kind of surprises Ryan it takes this long for him to connect the dots. He’s read Fight Club, for Christ’s sake, he worships Fight Club. He supposes he should just count himself lucky that he sleeps with Pete Wentz for record deals and writes music and he didn’t try to incite anarchy or kill people or whatever. As far as alternate personalities go, it could be much worse.
He spends a few hours looking things up online, scares himself silly by reading about things like Sybil and The Eye in the Door. But most alternate personalities – alters, Ryan tells himself – aren’t violent or psychotic or crazy, like the ones you see in bad TV movies and comics and stuff. They’re just. Other people.
Ryan keeps it to himself. He doesn’t say anything to anyone. It’s not like he needs help, exactly. He’s been coping for years, and that was before he even knew. After the tour, he thinks. After this tour. Between this record and the next, just carve out some time to sit down with a psychologist and discuss his fractured childhood and his anger issues and get some pills.
In reality, he knows that a cure is tenuous as best, that there’s no magic pill, that he’s probably going to be this way for the rest of his life, and that really, he just doesn’t want to be a freak. He’s tired of that already.
During the Nintendo Fusion Tour Ryan ends up spending most of his time on the Fall Out Boy bus. Usually with Pete, watching black-and-white movies and talking in intensely obscure metaphors, but plenty of time talking with Patrick about music and playing video games with Joe and lots more than he ever expected with Andy, who’s pretty much the most chill dude Ryan has ever met.
He’s wandering around backstage before the show, looking for a piece of Spencer’s kit that has mysteriously disappeared in the move from one venue to the next when Pete texts him.
guess wheere iam
Ryan narrows his eyes and texts back Hopefully still in nyc. It’s within the range of possibility that Pete decided to take a side-trip to Jersey and is now lost and/or being held at gunpoint.
better. in yr bunk stealing yr blink hoodie haha
Ryan rolls his eyes. He’s pretty sure the internet actually comprises at least half of Pete’s brain. Ptrick know where u are? Patrick likes to keep tabs on Pete. For good reason.
stump approved hangout 2nite @ hotel?
Ryan texts back Sure and goes back to drum-kit hunting before Spencer kills him.
They’ve got a layover that night, and at the hotel that night Ryan spends almost forty-five minutes in the shower – the glorious, glorious, full of hot water shower – and when he gets out there’s another text from Pete on his Sidekick.
room 1249 im lonely
Ryan throws a pillow at Brendon and makes him promise not to do anything weird to what clean-ish clothes Ryan has left before heading up to Pete’s room.
Pete has the door thrown open almost before Ryan’s finished knocking. “Ryan, dude, I’ve been dying. Dying of boredom!” He’s wearing jeans, a white spiked belt, a pink shirt, a red hoodie, green socks, and a grin about a mile wide. It hurts to look at him.
Ryan shakes his head. “Sorry?”
“But you’ve come to save me! Save me from the doldrums of ennui and emo and bad television!” Pete smacks a wet kiss onto the side of Ryan’s face. “I ordered like three tons of food, kid, so you better be hungry.”
Pete’s not kidding about the food. Ryan eats chicken and spinach pasta and steak and Pete keeps waving shrimp in his face until Ryan bitchfaces and threatens to throw up all over him. Pete concedes but tricks him into eating ice cream while watching Robot Chicken and Howl’s Moving Castle and talking about how their writing is going. Ryan bitches about traveling and asks about Patrick so Pete can fangirl for a minute or twenty, and even though they’re lying on the bed sort of cuddled up against each other this doesn’t actually raise any alarms with Ryan because, hello, he’s friends with Brendon, the human limpet, and Spencer and Ryan haven’t worried about personal space for ten-odd years now, so when Pete leans over and presses his lips to Ryan’s, Ryan is – in his opinion – understandably and legitimately freaked. He freezes, then panics, and pushes Pete away before he can even think through the ramifications of pissing off the guy who holds your future in his hands.
“What the fuck, Ross?”
Pete is. Pete isn’t angry. He’s hurt, he’s hurt, and Ryan did that and Pete didn’t even do anything wrong. Pete’s his friend, for fuck’s sake. Pete helped Ryan hide Brendon’s Red Bull and beat Spencer at strip poker even when he was drunk off his ass and signed Ryan’s fucking band on little more than faith, for Christ’s sake. Pete’s just been, like, sleeping with Ryan’s evil slutty twin that no one knows about, and all Ryan can think is again again again oh god and how much he can’t do this. Ryan starts to laugh a little at the situation, at everything, even at himself, because otherwise he’s just going to break down completely.
Ryan presses his fingertips so far into his temples his vision blurs. “Shit, Pete, I – I’ve been a little fucked up lately,” he says, part-lie and part-truth. Pete’s jaw unclenches, his eyes soften. Ryan curls up next to him and closes his eyes. “I’m sorry.” There’s a maelstrom swirling in the back of his head.
“Hey. Hey,” Pete says, his hand on the small of Ryan’s back. “It’s okay.”
It crescendos, rises, presses right behind his eyes, and Ryan gives himself up to it.
Who are you? Ryan writes in his notebook, just below the latest song he’s been working on. Who are you?
He leaves the notebook by his bed and forces himself to pick it up a few days later, worried about what he might find, equally worried that he won’t find anything.
I’m Ross, it says in plain block writing, like the note he found after the morning with Pete.
And, right below, My name is George, in spiky, flowing cursive. Nice to see you’re finally getting with the program, sweetheart.
So Ross slept with Pete and George is a bitchy little queen. Glad that’s sorted out.
Ross and George start to communicate through notes, little scraps of thoughts or lyrics, left in places only Ryan would find – wrapped around his eyeliner, tied up inside scarves, in his instrument case. Sometimes things like I broke your favorite eyeliner. sorry! – or for the record, drinking with Siska, always a bad plan. Sometimes more serious things, like ibrendon’s been kind of down, play guitar hero with him or Brent’s homesick or think Spencer and Haley are fighting. George tends to sign his notes xoxo, with little hearts or stars on them, small drawings, smiley faces. Ross’ are short and terse, matter-of-fact. He won’t use ten words when three will do. Ryan also gets the feeling he thinks George is an idiot, and Ryan only slightly less of one. Whatever. Like Ryan doesn’t know he can’t be stupid.
Ryan usually doesn’t remember much when he switches. At best, it’s like when you’ve been drinking heavily and the next morning you think back and groan oh God was that me? and you could swear it wasn’t, but it is. It’s like you’ve stepped out of your body. Ross keeps his shit private most of the time – which, thank God, because he sleeps with Pete Wentz – but George doesn’t bother. George usually lets him remember everything; all the concerts, all the interviews. Presumably because he’s a big show-off who likes the attention, maybe because he thinks Ryan needs to know what the hell’s going on.
Brendon’s on the phone with his parents again. Lately the calls have been increasing in frequency but decreasing in anything that resembles love and affection or even respect. Ryan’s pretty sure the calls are going to stop coming all together soon enough and there isn’t enough Red Bull in the world to fix what that’s going to do to Brendon. Ryan’s pretty sure rainbows and unicorns couldn’t fix what’s going to happen.
There’s a solid thunk against the wall that Ryan hopes isn’t Brendon’s Sidekick or iPod because he’ll only feel worse later, and only a second after that Brendon stands in the door of the lounge looking absolutely wrecked.
Ryan immediately kicks the pillows next to him onto the floor.
“Want to watch Aladdin?” It’s epically unsubtle. Ryan does not willingly share personal space. He definitely does not willingly watch Aladdin. There are usually fierce negotiations and the loss of a bet involved.
And Brendon’s too fucked up to even call him on it.
“Sing Jasmine’s part?”
Seriously, that’s almost pushing it too far. The things Ryan does for this band.
“Just ‘A Whole New World.’”
“‘Kay.” Brendon pops the movie in the DVD player and takes a flying leap onto the sofa. By the time Aladdin’s releasing the genie from the lamp Brendon’s curled up on top of Ryan, humming softly and tapping the beat up and down Ryan’s thighs. “George?”
That probably shouldn’t surprise Ryan as much as it does. “Yeah?”
Brendon doesn’t say anything else, just tightens his grip around Ryan’s waist.
Brendon shrugs. “Yeah, I guess. Do my makeup again tonight?”
“Sure,” Ryan agrees, running his fingers through Brendon’s hair. He’s pretty sure George won’t mind.
They finish the tour up in time for Christmas, New Year’s. Panic! goes back to Vegas, Fall Out Boy to Chicago, the rest of the bands scattering every which way. Pete hugs Ryan about three seconds longer than strictly necessary when they say goodbye. Back home Ryan and Spencer do absolutely nothing for two solid weeks, and Brendon starts showing up with smoothies and Disney movies, and Ryan keeps waking up between the two of them and not always remembering what happened before. Brendon starts crashing on Spencer’s couch, and they barely hear from Brent. Then they’re on TRL, they shoot a video, they go to Europe. Everything passes in a blur, in blackouts and clouded awakenings, waking and sleeping, in pages of notes and piles of lyrics. Ryan doesn’t know who he’s looking at in the mirror, no matter how painted his face is. And there are so many chances, but Ryan doesn’t go see anyone, and he doesn’t tell anyone. This doesn’t surprise him. Any of hims.
They’re somewhere in the Chicago ‘burbs and even though the party isn’t at Pete’s house, it’s Pete’s party nonetheless. Part bands, part scene kids, probably half of Chicago here just for the booze.
Ryan’s in the middle of talking to Jon when Pete comes up behind Ryan and slides one hand just under his jeans, calluses over the smooth skin there, quick and searing. Pete’s all about the boy-touching – he thinks it’s hilarious – but it’s always obvious and crude. A smack on the ass, a loud, wet kiss to the side of the face. A raspberry. A quick grab of the crotch. Not like this.
“Missed you,” he murmurs, and for a second Ryan forgets to breathe. Part of him wants to lean into the touch and the other part wants to run away screaming. Internal conflict makes Ryan freeze up like a deer in headlights.
Pete, luckily, doesn’t seem to notice. He lets his forehead rest on the back of Ryan’s head for a moment more before going off to dive-bomb Patrick. Ryan has to clear his throat before he can speak again, and Jon grins.
Brendon ends up getting drunker than fuck that night and Ryan has to drag him off to the hotel, making sure to send Pete a quick Sorry buut my bandmates puking up his internalorgans text when they get there. Pete sends back a link to some truly adventurous porn and a im taking it out on yr ass ross text in reply. A few minutes later, while Ryan is still boggling over the apparent flexibility of the human body, Pete sends another message – miss you.
Ryan texts back Miss you too Pete. Get some sleep
x my <3
Ryan sets his Sidekick to vibrate and tries to wrangle Brendon out of his clothes.
The thing is, Ross writes one day, I really think he loves us.
The thing is, I really love him.
Ryan thinks so too.
They kick Brent out of the band. Ryan doesn’t want to – he really doesn’t. Brent was a friend at a time in his life when Ryan didn’t have many and when he needed a lot – but they have to kick him out, they really do. He’s barely bothering to show up, never on time when he does, and how can you live day-in, day-out with someone whose attitude towards you lately is best described as loathing? George keeps writing about allegories of the heart and a snake in his bosom and sin, sorrow, and endless pain. Ryan didn’t know he was capable of being that emo. Ross is on the phone with Pete all the time – at least according to Ryan’s ‘last called’ list – and Spencer says they’ve got the go-ahead from Decaydance to cut Brent loose.
That doesn’t make actually doing it any easier. Spencer is the one to tell him, but Brendon and Ryan are there. Ryan tries to focus on Spencer, calm and centered, instead of Brent’s voice, tinny and angry out of the speakers, saying things like Ryan doesn’t ever need repeated to him. He can feel his pulse start to pick up, he’s getting nauseous, and he knows it’s only a matter of time before he starts to black out. He grips the metal edge of the bunk so hard it feels like his bones are going to crack. Ryan doesn’t even notice when Spencer ends the call, doesn’t notice until Spencer comes over and hugs him. It’s a well-kept secret but Spencer is the best person to hug ever, because he somehow always knows exactly how and how long someone wants to be hugged. Right now, Spencer has Ryan pressed right up against him, so they’re almost-but-not-quite sitting on top of each other, and Ryan’s face is tucked into Spencer’s chest, breathing in sweat and cherry coke and the stupid cologne he keeps wearing that Haley likes.
It’s like coming home, and Ryan can breathe.
Brendon tackles them both a minute later – “Cuddles, Spencer Smith! Why am I not in on the cuddles?” – snuffling like a puppy. Spencer ends up on the bottom of the pile and Brendon starts petting Ryan’s head after accidentally elbowing him in the eye. Ryan pokes Brendon back just for posterity, and even though the moment between him and Spencer is gone, Ryan can’t quite forget the imprint of it on his skin.
They spend a few minutes just laying there, Brendon’s fingers buried in Ryan’s hair, Ryan curled across Spencer and Brendon’s laps. Holding on to what they have left.
Ryan is pretty sure this is about the same time he starts sleeping with Brendon.
Ryan wakes up with one hand splayed over Brendon’s chest, the other tucked up under his own head. Brendon’s breathing is even and too calm.
“Like I can’t tell when you’re faking, Jesus,” Ryan sighs, and pokes Brendon hard in the side.
Brendon yelps, and Ryan rolls his eyes and crawls out of the bunk. Spencer and Jon, mercifully, are nowhere to be found.
“I want eggs,” Ryan says decisively, stepping into what he hopes are his pants. “And, like, fried potatoes. Not hashbrowns.”
Brendon sits up and Ryan, okay, he’s really trying not to stare at the finger-tipped bruises on Brendon’s hips and also not think about how desperately he wants to brush his teeth.
“Thought you didn’t like eggs?”
Ryan shrugs. “Maybe I’m just in the mood.”
Of course, by ‘he’ Ryan really means ‘George.’ Ryan thought it was Ross at first – Ross and Pete both still sleep with other people, Ross eventually explains to him, which Ryan tries really hard not to think about – but it turns out to be George anyway. George, who is high-handed and flamboyant and a big, bitchy drama queen. George, who wears velvet roses, who paints his face and prowls around stage, who writes pages and pages of lyrics for Ryan to pick through every day. George, who is head over heels in love with Brendon, even if he makes Brendon crawl across broken glass for it first. Ryan watches the concert footage sometimes, watches the give and take and the snap and the spark and its almost painful how stupid they are with it, how in love.
This makes things on the bus really complicated.
Sometimes Brendon wants to cuddle or make out or… well, places Ryan’s brain does not want to go. Sometimes Brendon wants, and Ryan is not willing to go that extra mile. Which means Brendon thinks his boyfriend is some kind of bipolar asshole and Ryan tries to make it up to him by making hot chocolate and watching Disney movies innumerable. Jon insists it’s wreaking havoc with their emo.
But that’s not even the real problem. George can handle Brendon. Ryan’s number one complaint is that Spencer won’t touch him anymore. Won’t cuddle. Won’t sit next to him with his always-cold feet digging into Ryan’s thighs when they watch Moulin Rouge!, won’t squish up next to him at IHOP so he can steal some of Ryan’s waffles, won’t slide into his bunk at night to steal one headphone and drift off to whatever Ryan’s listening to.
Spencer is. Spencer is home, Spencer is his base. Spencer knows him, knows just Ryan. Spencer was here before Ross, before George, before fame and fortune and infamy. Ryan can’t lose Spencer. He can’t.
Brendon and Jon are fully distracted in a no-holds-barred game of Life – Jon is an accountant with twins and a country cottage, Brendon is a recently-divorced teacher with a farm house and a worrisome number of stock options – when Ryan decides to confront Spencer. Ryan and Spencer’s fights are few and far between, but they tend to involve hair-pulling and screeching and maybe a little bit of girly slapping. It’s embarrassing but often necessary, and luckily Brendon gets so focused on board games that Ryan could murder Spencer with chopsticks and redecorate the bus with intestines as long as it all happens before someone wins.
Spencer blinks at him. “So.”
“I would kind of like my best friend back,” Ryan says evenly. “If you don’t mind.”
Spencer colors pink from the tips of his ears to his neck. “I…”
“You. Best friend,” Ryan says again, punching Spencer lightly on the shoulder. “Always, you douche, so stop acting like I stole your favorite My Little Pony and ate it for breakfast.”
Spencer’s eyes widen, panicked, and he hisses, “We don’t talk about Lickety-Split.”
Ryan crosses his arms. “We don’t not talk.”
It’s like the Battle of the Bitchface. Ryan would be the first to admit his pales in comparison to Spencer’s, but he’s got the moral high ground here. He wouldn’t give that up for anything.
Spencer eventually deflates. “Yeah, okay.”
This time Ryan is the one who hugs Spencer, and he might hold on just a little longer than necessary.
Ryan’s dad dies.
It’s surprising, mostly in that it affects Ryan as much as it does. He barely remembers what happens after the call comes, and he’s not even sure if it’s because he’s in shock or because he’s not himself. It’s the guys who pull him together, who help him pack his bag and get on the plane.
At the funeral, Ryan almost expects Ross to take over, to be his usual fucked-up, overly-forward self. Maybe to spit on the grave, dance a little, at least insult some of his relatives at the wake. Ross is bolder but he’s also badder, in a sense, and Ryan isn’t always sure if he wishes he could do the things Ross does or not.
But Ryan is, as far as he can tell, completely and totally himself for nearly four days, from when he gets home to the wake to the funeral to comforting his mother through one emotionally-wracking, sleepless night, to flying back and meeting Spencer at the gate. He’s a little perplexed at that, actually, and makes a soft noise of confusion when Spencer hugs him.
When Ryan lets go Spencer frowns a little, and pulls his Sidekick out of his pocket. “You asked me to meet you at the airport.”
Probably George, Ryan thinks, but he can’t say he’s sorry. “Right. Yeah, I just…”
Spencer pulls Ryan’s bag out of his hand. “C’mon. You haven’t slept, have you?” Zack pulls the bag out of Spencer’s hand in turn, humorously efficient, and Spencer grabs Ryan’s wrist to drag him all the way to the parking garage. Spencer fits the both of them into the back of the car Zack rented – Zack barely fits in the driver’s seat, which Ryan finds absolutely hilarious, when he’s pretty sure both Brendon and Jon could be in the back with him and Spencer with room to spare – and Spencer actually buckles Ryan in before putting both arms around him.
“Go to sleep, okay?”
Ryan nods and pushes his nose into the side of Spencer’s neck. “Okay.” He’s so tired, he’s so tired, and he wishes that just once he could know this is how he would wake up, that this is what he would open his eyes and see.
Why weren’t you there? Ryan writes later.
He didn’t mean anything to me is the only answer Ross gives, and Ryan supposes that’s fair.
There are so many moments like this – sitting with Brendon in the lounge, working on a song, not really doing anything but killing time until the next venue – when Ryan turns to find Brendon looking at him, a little bemused and a lot in love, even though it’s not really for him, Ryan can’t help that his breath catches.
Brendon smiles. “Hey. Hey, George, hey.” Ryan smiles a little in response, because he’s not sure how someone couldn’t find Brendon’s trigger-happy heys adorable, and it’s not such a surprise when Brendon leans over and kisses Ryan.
It’s not a bad kiss. It’s soft, and a little dry, Brendon’s chapped lips running over his. Ryan doesn’t pull away, but he doesn’t push into it either. Brendon pulls away and grins, and only the look in his eyes is a little sad. “Not right now, huh?”
“No, I get it, it’s cool. I mean, it bothered me at first, it totally did. One minute you can’t get enough of me, the next I’m suddenly the most annoying thing in the world. But whatever, you’re just being your moody, bitchy self. It’s part of your process. That’s who I fell in love with, right?” Brendon tilts his head to side. “It’s kinda cool that you can even put up with me for most of the time, really, considering I’m Bouncy McSpastic and, you know, lack any and all regard for personal boundaries. Better than most people.”
Ryan has never regretted every mean thing he’s ever said to Brendon more than at this moment. Ryan has to grab onto him, hold on like he never wants to let go. “Brendon, it’s not. I just. I get caught up in my head sometimes. It’s not – it could never be anything you did, okay? You get that, right? Seriously, Bren, my own fucking issues,” he emphasizes. “I mean that. My goddamn issues.” Running hot and cold, Pete and Brendon, Ross and George and Ryan – Ryan, who’s never felt more out of control of his life than right now.
Brendon looks up at him with wide eyes and Ryan slumps, suddenly tired. “It’s not anything you do. It’s not anything you could do. Can you at least… tell me you understand that?”
Brendon nods and touches one of Ryan’s temples, just behind the fringe of hair. “Headache?”
“C’mon. Lie down for a bit.” Brendon pushes Ryan down onto the cushions. “Sleep for awhile, man, you’ve been running on Red Bull and adrenaline.”
“Thought that was you,” Ryan murmurs.
Out of the corner of his eye Ryan can see Brendon flailing. “Totally my natural state of being.”
“Hey, lift up for a sec.” Brendon shoves a pillow under Ryan’s head before placing one careful peck to his cheek. “Want me to get Spencer?”
“No, stay. Brendon. Brendon, you’ll stay, right?”
Brendon’s hand flexes weakly in his. “Of course. Jesus, George.”
It’s the last thing he hears for awhile.
Ryan thinks about how Ross and George do it. Act differently, talk differently, Christ, they even tell people to call them different names without it being weird. And Ryan can see how they would do it. The scenes even play out perfectly in his head – Ryan’s not sure if it’s how they actually happened or just because its what Ryan would do – but this is how Ryan imagines them:
Pete calls people by their last names a lot of the time, at least until he gets to know them well, and Ryan can just see Pete leaning over next to him, pushing into his space, smiling his biggest smile and saying “Ross, Ryan-Ryan Ross, can I call you Ryan?” And Ross knows the score – God, Ross always know the score – so he leans into Pete or puts his hand on Pete’s thigh and says, “no, call me Ross, I like it.” Ryan thinks, yeah, maybe he could be freer with Pete. He could be stronger and he could care less and all those other things he wanted when he was younger and it felt like every day was another bruise.
George, on the other hand, is. George is flamboyant, George is outrageous, George puts himself out there. He feels things Ryan could never let himself feel. He knows what he wants and he goes for it. George and Brendon were probably off somewhere being giggly and cute and swept up in their own romantic crap when he asked Brendon to call him George in private, that it would be their own special name. And Brendon probably said something stupid like “seriously? George?” and then blushed and protested “no, no, George is awesome, it’s an awesome nickname!” and molested George and giggled and petitioned for a pet name like snuggle-bunny-cuddle-muffin. Ugh.
Which, okay, Ryan’s willing to admit he’s a little in love with Brendon. He’s a little in love with Pete too. How could he not be? George and Ross are him, in some ways, maybe most ways, and they’re all sharing the same life. And really, Ryan might not mind the whole ‘Three Faces of Ryan’ routine if he was just himself more of the time. But it’s usually George onstage, during most of the interviews, whenever Brendon needs him. It’s Ross around Pete, when Ryan’s too hurt, when Ryan’s too tired. When Brent left he was Ross for most of a month. A whole month. It almost kills Spencer. It hurts Brendon, but it almost kills Spencer, and Ryan couldn’t handle that.
Looking back, Ryan probably decided then, but it took him a while to work up the courage to actually do anything.
Ryan looks up every site on DID he’s bookmarked in the past few years and prints out pages and pages of information. He leaves it on Spencer’s bunk and waits for Spencer to come find him, because Ryan knows he will.
It only takes a few hours, but Ryan had to use every trick he knows to keep himself from freaking out and unintentionally switching. When Spencer finds him he’s lying on the couch with his notebook clutched to his chest, breathing evenly in-and-out.
“Did you read it?”
Spencer nods. “I’m sensing it isn’t for a concept album,” he says flatly, and sits down.
Ryan shakes his head. “It’s. Spencer. I think this is what I have. There are. I get headaches, and I don’t remember things, and I. I write notes to myself.” Ryan flips his notebook open. “So I know what I’ve been doing, and what’s going on. I don’t. Sleeping with Pete? That’s Ross. Brendon’s George. I. I think it’s just the three of us.”
“You think?” The question is a little pointed, but not at Ryan. Never at Ryan.
“I know about George and Ross, and they know about me. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be more.”
Spencer nods again, more slowly this time. “You see a doctor about this?”
Something sours in Ryan’s stomach. “No. No, I didn’t. I don’t know.”
“Hey.” Spencer puts one hand on Ryan’s chest, just under the breastbone. “Ryan, it’s – ”
“It’s just. It’s really fucked up, Spence. I am. I am really fucked up.”
And Spencer doesn’t say anything else. Just slides his hand from Ryan’s chest to his side, the other arm around Ryan’s waist, and holds on.
The first thing Ryan does after telling Spencer is tell Pete.
He’s not sure why it’s Pete first. Maybe because if Pete freaks out, it’s not like Ryan is trapped on a bus with him day after day after day for the next few months. Maybe because Pete Wentz is the unofficial Decaydance King of Weird, and therefore Ryan hopes this will barely register. Maybe because Ryan thinks he owes Pete the biggest explanation – at least after Spencer.
He sets up the meeting with Pete and wakes up to a message from Ross:
You break his heart I’ll break our face
Ryan knows enough about himself to believe it.
“So, like.” Pete takes a moment to chew over what he was going to say. “So I’m Marla Singer?”
Okay, Ryan really wasn’t expecting that.
“Um. Not really?”
Pete waves a hand. “But, like. If Tyler and the Narrator always knew they were the same person?”
“Minus a lot of death and anarchy and stuff, sure. And if there were a third alter.”
“Huh. It’s. Well, it’s kind of cool…” He and Ryan share a half-grin that’s not about amusement so much as amazement, because only the Chuck Palahnuik-obsessed would ever think of DID as even remotely cool. “If this side of fucked up.”
“Yeah.” Ryan kicks his heels for a minute. “So, we’re okay?”
“Yeah. I mean, I never guessed… I wouldn’t have guessed anything. Granted, you act a little emotionally fucked sometimes, but. That could have been me. I just,” Pete shrugs his shoulders. “I never really thought I’d meet someone more fucked up than me.”
It’s really not funny, but Ryan laughs anyway. “You have no idea, seriously.”
“Yeah, I’m getting that.” Pete looks up from where he’s twining his hands in the bottom of his hoodie. “Is it… How can I do that to you?”
Ryan shrugs. He’s pretty good at compartmentalization. Maybe too good, he thinks ruefully. Maybe that’s his problem. “It’s like. That part of me? That… it’s an honest-to-God person, you know? With what he thinks and how he acts and what he does. And he loves you. He. He really loves you. He writes songs about it.”
Pete dredges up a little half-smile that, oh, could have Ryan falling in love with Pete too. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Ryan scoots a little closer and rests his head on Pete’s shoulder. “I think. Um. He’s probably going to be here soon, so.”
Pete hesitates a second before draping one arm around Ryan’s shoulders. “Ryan.” He looks like he’s going to say something else, but finally shakes his head. “Thanks, Ry.”
Ryan feels the pressure rising behind his eyes. Not like pain, exactly. Like when your ears pop, pressure-build and release. His visions darkens and he closes his eyes.
After Pete it gets easier. This is how it goes. This is who they tell.
Brendon, even though it takes almost two months before he touches Ryan or George again, two months of George being an absolute monster on stage and off, pushing Brendon to his limits and just pushing. Two months before Spencer takes matters into his own hands and tells Brendon to get the fuck with it, does he love George or not? Sometimes Brendon’s an idiot who tries to hold Ryan’s hand or plant a loud, smacking kiss on Ryan’s face instead of George’s, but Ryan mostly rolls his eyes and puts up with it like he did before, although sometimes he smacks Brendon upside the head and says “I’m Ryan, you dolt,” and Jon laughs like a madman.
Zack, because Ryan trusts Zack – and, okay, Zack has to sign a shitload of nondisclosure paperwork, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ryan trusts him. Zack’s also really good at figuring out who’s who in about two seconds flat and adjusting his behavior accordingly.
They tell Jon when they bring him officially into the band. Jon Walker is ridiculously good at noticing shit, ridiculously good at fixing it, at making it better, and if they’re bringing him into this newly fucked-up band he deserves much more than the two-seconds worth of respect it takes to tell him that, yeah, Ryan has alter egos that like to come out and play, so don’t be freaked if he wants to be called Ross or George or play Risk instead of Guitar Hero or insists he doesn’t like apple pancakes even if that’s what he ate yesterday.
They think about telling Patrick, Bill, some of the other guys from Decaydance, some of the bands they’ve toured with. But in the end they don’t. Ryan’s world is kind of small, all told, and he doesn’t really want to expand it.
Pete calls one day – “just some label stuff, no worries, I can talk to whoever” – and because both Ryan and Pete are in a good mood, they end up chatting for a few hours about the new songs, Joe’s rapidly growing Chia-fro, Jon’s new kitten, whatever. When you’re stuck on tour with the same people day after day, any outside contact is more than welcome. That said, Pete is relentlessly entertaining when he’s not in one of his woefully emo moods, and Ryan understands why Ross loves him.
“So, hey,” Pete starts, once the conversation begins to wind down. “Can I leave a message for Ross? Tell him I miss him, or whatever?”
“It’s not like I’m communing with the other side, Pete.”
“You know what I mean. Jackass.”
“Feeling the love right now, oh yeah,” Ryan deadpans, and hangs up on Pete’s “you’re such a girl sometimes!” with a little smirk.
“Pete’s good?” Spencer asks, taking just a split-second to look up from his own Sidekick, a strange edge to his words, chewing a little on his bottom lip – a habit Spencer has been trying to break himself of forever, something he only did when he was being a bitch and he knew it, or was so nervous he felt like throwing up.
“Yeah,” Ryan says slowly. “Yeah, of course. You know Pete.”
“Good. I – yeah, good.”
Ryan reaches out to touch Spencer’s arm. “You all right?”
Spencer shrugs, almost but not quite dislodging Ryan’s hand. “Fine.”
They’ve been friends for fifteen years. Ryan knows it’s not the truth.
They’ve been friends for fifteen years, and Ryan knows better than to push.
There’s a note from Ross the day after that. Short and not-so-sweet.
you’re an idiot.
Ryan has no idea what he’s talking about.
They’re in the kitchen a few days later, eating Pop Tarts and divvying up the last few Red Bulls, arguing about whether they want to mix up the set-list for the next few dates. Brendon and Ryan are in the middle of another of their subtext-filled moments – Brendon looking at Ryan and seeing George, Ryan looking at Brendon and seeing what George loves – and Spencer just looks like someone pissed in his Cheerios.
Ryan’s a little ashamed to admit that’s really his first clue.
Really, he’s not that dumb. On some level, Ryan has always felt that way about Spencer. More importantly, he’s always known he felt that way about Spencer. Spencer has been Ryan’s home, Ryan’s touchstone. Ryan would give up anything for him, fight anything to keep him. He just didn’t ever think Spencer felt that way about him. He didn’t think Spencer ever could. He never made a move because Ryan’s afraid of rejection, Ryan’s afraid of losing Spencer, of fucking up the band and their friendship. Most of the time Ryan’s just afraid.
He realizes he has issues, yeah, thanks.
The show that night is bad – not bad bad, but off. Far from their best. Brendon goes to sulk in his room while listening to Disney tunes and bad pop songs, Bill ends up drunk-dialing Jon, and Spencer and Ryan watch Heathers in the lounge. Ryan may be sitting closer to Spencer than normal. His cuddling may be verging on inappropriate. Shut up. But he’s making his move, he’s decided, and he just needs a minute or two or, you know, half the movie, to work up the courage.
Spencer is absently drawing shapes on Ryan’s back. Ryan inches his way closer, then decides to just, well, go and sit himself down in Spencer’s lap, trying to get – God, get near those hips – before he says anything, and Ryan can feel the exact moment Spencer realizes no, this is not their normal cuddling, and his hands fly to Ryan’s waist.
“Fuck,” he hisses. “Ross, stop it.”
Ryan freezes. “Ross hits on you?” God fucking damn, they are going to be having some harshly written words.
Spencer blinks, and his hands tighten reflexively on Ryan’s hips. “Um. George?”
Ryan ducks behind his bangs. “Yeah.” He feels a little awkward here, a little exposed, but really – what are the chances of all three of his personalities being wrong about this? Ryan, Ross, and George are many things between the three of them, but stupid generally is not one of them.
“Ryan,” Spencer gasps. “Ryan, I can’t.”
“I can’t do this to you,” Spencer hisses. “To Pete, to Brendon, oh my God. Ryan, are you even thinking about them?”
“Of course I’m thinking about them. When am I not?” When isn’t Ryan focused on keeping things going smoothly, on making sure everything goes right, that he has every fucking thing under control? “But Jesus, Spencer, what about me?”
Spencer blinks at him.
“I need this. I want this, I want this for me. Ross has Pete, George has Brendon. Why don’t I get anyone to love?” His voice cracks a little. “Why can’t I love you?”
“Ryan. Get off me.”
“You know me,” Ryan says fiercely. “You know me. With you it’s not about Ross, or George. It’s about me. Whenever you look at me, you see me.”
“Who else am I going to see? Now get the fuck off.” Spencer shoves Ryan back onto his side of the couch. Fucking drummers.
“I can’t,” Spencer shakes his head. “I just can’t.”
Ryan spends about a half an hour sitting on the couch and staring blankly into space before realizing his bunk would perhaps be a better place to have a breakdown. He spends another hour in his bunk before coming to the realization that imagining what Spencer is thinking about in the bunk above him is not going to help either. There is only one solution:
Brendon is good to cuddle with during the day, but he kicks in his sleep. Jon is warm and kind of squishy and always available in an emotional crisis. Ryan crawls into Jon’s bunk and end up almost totally on top of him before he even wakes up.
“Um,” Jon says blearily. “Ry?”
“Yeah. I just.” Ryan rubs his eyes. Like maybe he’s sleepy, and not ready to cry. “Can I sleep with you tonight? I don’t – ” He’s not sure how to finish that sentence.
“Sure.” Jon tugs on Ryan’s wrist. “C”mon, bony snuggling time.”
“I’m not bony.” Ryan had long ago accepted he was kind of tiny. But that’s it, seriously.
“You’re a walking skeleton,” Jon says, peeling back the corner of his blankets for Ryan to slip in. “Makes me wanna, like, cook for you all the time. It’s disconcerting.”
“Fuck you,” Ryan says weakly, and pushes his head right up under Jon’s chin. “Worst band member ever, God.”
“I’m awesome. Totally awesome. Everyone says so.”
This was kind of true.
“Thinking too loud,” Jon continues sleepily, trying to form the words around a yawn. From almost-consciousness and back to sleep in less than ten seconds. It was the touring way. “Night.”
“Night,” Ryan echoes softly. Jon’s hand is warm on the small of his back, comforting, and Ryan drifts off after a few minutes.
Ryan spends most of the next day holed up in his bunk, writing in his journal and texting Pete. Brendon drags him out near lunchtime with the promise of macaroni and cheese – which Brendon calls mac and cheesy, no joke, and it makes Ryan want to ask George why he’s sleeping with a five year old – and Spencer and Ryan studiously ignore each other over bowls of neon orange noodles.
Jon notices, puts two and two together like the emotional guru he is, and wisely says nothing. He even helpfully sits between Ryan and Spencer when they all cram on the couch to watch Ever After. Ryan lets Brendon cuddle up after making it perfectly clear that the “hands in Ryan-appropriate places” policy is in full effect.
At least until he notices Brendon smells like chicken-flavoring.
Ryan lifts himself up on one elbow and narrows his eyes. “You’ve been hiding the ramen again.” And making him eat food the color of nuclear waste.
Brendon starts absently petting Ryan’s ankle. “Oh, Ryan Rossy, you’re so upset you’re hallucinating. Isn’t he hallucinating, Jon?”
Jon nods. He hates chicken-flavored ramen.
“If I know,” Ryan says ominously. “George knows.”
Brendon’s eyes widen. “Hallucinating.” He starts to waves his arms around and wiggle his fingers. “Hallucinations, Ryan Rossy, figments of your imagination!”
Jon snickers and Ryan even smiles a little.
“Are we going to watch the movie at all?” Spencer asks in his iciest tone, and Ryan stiffens.
“Nah,” Jon says mildly. “I’m more in the mood for a rematch.” He pokes Brendon in the side and Brendon squeaks. “C’mon, Urie. You, me, The Game of Life. I’m taking it all this time.”
Ryan shoots him The Glare of Doom, and he’s pretty certain that Spencer is doing the same thing, but the one thing that Ryan has always found most impressive (and annoying) about Jon is that he is completely impervious to any and all Glares of Doom, Bitchfaces, and Fuck-Off Looks.
“Ooh. Ooh!” Brendon jumps off the couch. “Rematch, Jon Walker! Rematch!” Jon high-fives him and walks towards the back of the bus. Brendon brushes a quick kiss to Ryan’s temple before skipping out of the room.
Sometimes Ryan forgets Brendon’s not as oblivious as he seems.
Ryan pulls his Sidekick out of his pocket, flips it open, and starts to message Pete.
Do u ever feellike killing patrick?
all the time Pete sends back. temper tempr
Drew Barrymore shows up at the ball looking beautiful and ethereal and every inch the princess she is.
I’ll try not to kill spence but no promises
– then her wings get ripped off and the handsome prince denies her.
Men are idiots.
no kiilling its in yr contrct!!! Pete sends back, followed by something that could be a deformed sad-angry face or a sexual act rendered in symbols.
“Ryan.” Spencer shifts easily next to him on the couch. “Look, Ryan.”
Ryan ignores him.
Spencer huffs. “Ryan.”
“I’m Ross,” Ryan says shortly. “And I’m talking to Pete, fuck off.”
“You’re Ryan,” Spencer continues evenly. “You’re Ryan, I can tell.” Spencer inches closer to Ryan on the couch and Ryan flips his Sidekick shut.
“Look, I’m sorry, alright?”
“No, I am,” Spencer starts, one hand nervously twisting in the couch cushions. “Just. If I fucked you up more, I’d never forgive myself.”
“It’s not your call. Not your fucking call.” It never has been. Ryan never wanted it to be.
“I know. And I’m sorry. I’m just always fucking worried, I can’t help it.” Spencer reaches out for Ryan’s hand. “I’m sorry I’m such an asshole about Pete, and about Brendon. I’m sorry I pushed you. I’m sorry I’m such a bad fucking friend I didn’t even notice there was anything wrong until you told me, and.” Spencer’s hand tightens around Ryan’s. “And I’m sorry that loving you makes me act like an asshole sometimes, but I’m really – I’m really not sorry that I do.”
Ryan’s staring at Spencer. Confused, completely gob-smacked staring with his big dark eyes, and eyelashes – girl eyes, Ryan thinks dispassionately, doe eyes – that he knows are taking up his whole face, showing everything he’s feeling, and he hates that he’s so transparent.
“I’ve loved you forever,” Ryan interrupts. “I. Since I was fifteen, maybe, I don’t even know. Since I was six. Not like that, maybe, because nobody loves like that when they’re six. But I would’ve. I would’ve, Spence. Even if I’m not myself all the time, I still. I’m still.”
“Ryan.” Spencer puts his free hand over Ryan’s heart, the edges of his fingers resting on Ryan’s collarbone. “I know.”
Ryan doesn’t care if he loses himself here. He doesn’t think he could.
They’re still on tour – they’re on tour forever – but Ryan starts to think about seeing a doctor, a therapist or a psychologist or a psychiatrist or whatever. He only starts to think about it, and half-heartedly shoots it down, because he really doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t want to get better. He’s got a fucking personality disorder and he doesn’t want to get better. Because better means whole, better means one person, better means cutting out Pete and Brendon and these other parts of him he didn’t know he needed. Better is. Better is something he hasn’t been for eight years, and Ryan doesn’t know if he wants to go back.
He makes an appointment anyway. A Dr. Hassett, someone Pete made the label find for him –
“You don’t have to see her, okay?” Pete tells him. “Or if you don’t like her, we can find you someone else. If you want a guy psychologist, or someone older, or someone who specializes, or what the fuck. Seriously. Just tell me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Ryan says calmly, and Pete exhales with a hiss.
“Yeah, okay. Fine. Still coming to see me next month?”
“Like I could stop Ross.”
“I don’t mind hanging with you either, fuckwit. Just warn a guy before he tries to lay one on you, since that went so well last time.”
“What can I say, Wentz. You disgust me.”
“I’m sorry my hips cannot be registered as weapons of mass destruction, Jesus.”
“You’re alright,” Ryan says quietly, a little smug.
“Motherfucker, I was carved from awesome,” Pete shoots back, and Ryan can hear how wide he’s smiling.
– Ryan brings up DID right off the bat, watches the way her eyes widen before she gets herself under control. She believes him by the end of the session, or she believes that he believes that’s what he has, which is just as good at this point. She answers all his questions.
Ryan gets home, takes a nap. There’s a note from George when he wakes up.
Sweetie, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
(Or maybe a better metaphor is there’s too much cake on your plate, and you can’t really eat it all by yourself?)
Ryan tears the note into little pieces.
He knows, okay? More importantly, he knows what he doesn’t know. He measures his life in ellipses, in blank spaces and white noise. He knows that Ross took the punches so all Ryan had were bruises, that George stood blindly in the limelight so Ryan could hide in the shadows. He knows that Ross didn’t start out loving Pete and that Brendon didn’t come into this ready to love anyone. He knows where his boundaries are. He knows his limitations.
Ryan goes to the roof of the bus when he needs space. The bunk when the bus is moving, the roof when the bus is not. It’s a pretty obvious pattern, and Ryan isn’t surprised when he hears the soft thuds of someone following him onto the roof. He burrows a little deeper into his hoodie. It’s one of the ones he stole from Jon, so it’s big and comfy and smells surprisingly good for being in its one-billionth week of tour.
“Hey,” Spencer says softly, head peaking just over the edge of the bus. “Ryan?”
When Spencer says it, he doesn’t mean Ryan-not-Ross-or-George? He means permission. He means are you okay? He means do you want me here? He means can I love you?
It’s pretty much all Ryan can do to not throw himself at Spencer and burst into tears. Fuck that shit. George is the drama queen.
Spencer finishes climbing the ladder and settles down, the side of one foot barely touching Ryan’s. “What’s wrong?”
“Thinking. Too much.”
“Yeah. About, I don’t know, seeing a psychologist. Trying to maybe reintegrate my. You know. Mes.” Ryan hates calling them alters. It makes him sound like a bad super-villain.
“How’s that going?” Spencer asks.
“Kinda not.” Ryan’s nothing if not truthful about his condition these days. “I don’t. Spencer, I don’t think I can.”
Spencer’s expression doesn’t change.
“I don’t think I want to get rid of them. And I know… I know that’s probably not normal. I know it causes problems, it causes so many problems. It’s… it’s a fucking miracle I haven’t broken Brendon by now, you know? And I don’t think I could break Pete more, which is probably the only reason it still works. And you. Spencer, Jesus. The times you must have thought I lost my mind. But…”
He thinks about the soft look in Pete’s eyes, the way Brendon pushes into Ryan’s space on-stage and off. All the bad and the good and how they each have their share, each carry their own weight and their own triumph. Each hold their own.
“I’m scared,” he finally says. “I’m just really fucking scared.”
Spencer buries his face in Ryan’s hair. Breathes. “I know.”