Alex fell asleep halfway through their conversation, still stretched across the couch with his feet dumped in Ryan's lap. He'd been talking slower and drowsier for a while now, so Ryan wasn't entirely surprised, but he was still annoyed. It was just plain rude, really. Ryan wasn't even boring; he'd been halfway through a hilarious and fascinating story of intra-band politics and creativity (an afternoon in which Andy and Jon had fought and then Jon had written a mournful song about it). Falling asleep on Ryan was uncalled for.
As a result, Ryan didn't feel bad about switching on the TV. If Alex could sleep through Ryan's conversation, he could sleep through a bunch of late night music videos, too. (Anyway, Ryan did reach for the blanket on the back of the couch and tuck Alex in as best he could without dislodging him from Ryan's lap, so it wasn't like he was totally evil.)
It was kind of nice, even if Ryan didn't really want to admit that. Ryan curled his hand around Alex's ankle, stroking over the warm bone, and occasionally Alex murmured something, dream conversations that Ryan only got snippets of. He liked it; it was a comfortable way to sit in the dark, with the TV screen flickering and Ryan's neighbourhood falling asleep around them.
He wasn't really keeping track of the music videos. After about an hour, he'd noticed Alex stirring a little, eyelashes flickering against his cheek, so he'd known Alex was semi-awake for almost twenty minutes before Alex sat up with a gasp.
"Ugh," Alex said. "Turn it off."
"Good morning, darling," Ryan said. "Did you sleep well?"
"I mean it," Alex said, squinting at Ryan. He looked harried in that half-asleep, not-quite-awake way, hair sticking up in about eighty different directions in the dark. "Ryan, turn the TV off."
"I'm watching it," Ryan told him haughtily. "I was having a conversation, and then the rude person I was speaking to fell asleep. This is my only form of entertainment now."
"I'm sorry," Alex said. He shuffled closer quickly and nuzzled up against Ryan's neck and shoulder for a moment, saying, "Please turn it off?" That made something squirm in Ryan's stomach, because surely this meant Alex had noticed that Ryan would do whatever Alex wanted if Alex was touching him like that, and that wasn't a good thing. Ryan knew he was obvious enough already.
He decided to be firm. "No," he said. "May this teach you a lesson."
Alex huffed a sigh, raising his head to stare beseechingly at Ryan. "Will you change the channel at least?" he asked. "Please, Ryan?"
Ryan blinked at the screen for a moment. She & Him were playing, the video flickering in black and white, old school and pretty. Ryan liked it. "What's wrong with music videos?" he asked. "This one's kind of cool."
"I hate this band," Alex said. "C'mon. Switch it."
Ryan was too busy gaping at him. "You hate She & Him?" he repeated in disbelief. "You don't hate anything. Besides, like, bad hip-hop. I like this band. Me and Z went and saw them one time, and halfway through M. Ward was like--"
"Okay, Ryan, that's great," Alex said. "But I don't, so if you could just change it that would be awesome--"
"Why don't you like them?" Ryan demanded.
Alex was silent for a moment. Then he snuck a glance at the screen and flinched. "Zooey Deschanel creeps me out," he said.
Ryan stared. "What?"
"Zooey Deschanel," Alex repeated miserably. "She scares me, can you just turn it off?"
"How can Zooey Deschanel scare you?" Ryan said. "She's like a baby deer. She's like a baby deer with flowers. She's like a baby deer with flowers and a unicorn BFF."
"Did you just say BFF?"
"Ironically," Ryan said quickly. "You're ignoring my point."
"I just don't like her, Ryan, alright?" Alex ducked his head, and he actually did look nervous, and kind of upset, so Ryan raised the remote and switched the TV off. Alex let out a breath, slumping against Ryan's shoulder. "Thanks."
"S'okay," Ryan said. "Sorry. I didn't mean to -- to tease or whatever."
"It's okay," Alex said. "I know it's weird. Just. Whatever."
"It's cool," Ryan said, even though it was really weird and Alex was even more of a freak than Ryan had already figured. He put an arm around Alex's shoulders. "Hey, you'll be alright out here if I go to bed, right? I promise I won't let Zooey Deschanel into the house to get you."
"How will you be able to stop her if you're in bed?" Alex demanded.
Ryan stared at him.
"Ha, ha," Alex said weakly. "Just kidding. Go to sleep."
"I promise I'll remember to make up the guest bed tomorrow," Ryan said for the fifth night in the row, and then he stood up and imperiously gestured for Alex to lie flat, so Ryan could tuck him in again and kiss the top of Alex's head. Alex clutched at his hand for a moment, instead of laughing and telling Ryan to fuck off. Ryan's heart beat a little faster. He figured Alex was still mostly asleep. He was being weird enough.
"Goodnight," Alex said.
"Sleep well," Ryan told him, and went off to bed.
He must have been tireder than he realised; he was asleep before he was even conscious of crawling into bed. The only way he even realised he'd fallen asleep at all, actually, was from waking up. It was still dark, and his radio alarm clock was flashing 3:23 at him, and Alex was leaning over him and shaking his shoulder.
Ryan made a fuzzy noise and rolled over, shrugging Alex's hand off and burying his face in his pillow.
"Ryan," Alex hissed.
"Go 'way," Ryan said.
"Ryan," Alex said. "Wake up."
With a supreme act of effort, Ryan rolled over and stared at him muzzily. "Whatsit?" he managed.
Alex shifted nervously from foot to foot. He was practically wringing his hands. "Can I come in with you?"
Suddenly Ryan was a lot more awake. He pushed himself up on his elbows. "What?"
"I had a shitty dream," Alex said. He laughed a little bit, and Ryan laughed too, trying to catch the joke, but Alex's face fell.
"Wait," Ryan said. "Seriously?"
"She just really freaks me out," Alex said.
Ryan sat up properly, their foreheads bumping before he shifted back properly. "This is about Zooey Deschanel?"
"I can't help it, alright," Alex said. "Can I please just -- look, don't worry about it, I'll go back out on--"
Ryan caught Alex's sleeve as he started to turn. "No, man, it's. Just come on, here." He moved over, giving up the warm patch of bed for Alex. Alex practically jumped in, like he was scared of something from under the bed grabbing his ankles, and pulled the covers right up over him until only his eyes were peering out. Ryan blinked.
"Thanks," Alex mumbled.
"Have you seriously been lying in there awake all that time?" Ryan asked. He tried to remember what time he'd gone to bed. Pretty early, he thought; midnight, or maybe one. He felt kind of guilty. Alex was obviously the weirdest guy ever and Ryan would be interrogating Z tomorrow to find out what that was all about, but the idea of Alex lying frightened in the dark on his own made Ryan's heart clench a little bit.
"No, I fell asleep eventually," Alex said after a moment. "But then I had that dream and just. She really creeps me out, okay? I know it's weird."
"It's super weird," Ryan said. "You're the weirdest guy ever."
Alex made an unhappy face, as far as Ryan could tell. It was hard, with the blanket covering so much of Alex's face; mostly his eyes just went really big and mournful. "I can sleep on the couch if you want. I bet I'll be alright now."
"Don't be stupid," Ryan said. He closed his eyes for a moment, just gathering his courage. "Anyway, I can protect you now, right? Here." He shuffled forward a little, moving slow so Alex could push away if he wanted, but Alex just watched him. Ryan put his hand on Alex's shoulder and pulled until Alex rolled around onto his other side, and then Ryan pressed up close behind him, tucking himself all along the line of Alex's body. He put his arm tentatively over Alex's chest, and Alex reached up with his hand to grab and squeeze Ryan's right away, so Ryan figured this was okay. He tucked his face against the back of Alex's neck, breathing Alex in.
"See?" he mumbled. "Zooey Deschanel wants you, she's gonna have to get past me first."
Alex laughed shakily. "Okay," he said, and he pressed back against Ryan a little, in a way that was simultaneously awesome and something that Ryan hoped Alex didn't plan on keeping on doing, because he wasn't sure how much more of it he could handle. "Thank you."
"Sweet dreams," Ryan said, and risked a kiss to the back of Alex's neck.
The next morning, Ryan woke up to find that Alex had turned over in the night, had his face smushed up against Ryan's collarbone now, one arm looped around Ryan's back, the other hand fisted in Ryan's t-shirt. He was breathing in steady and warm, mouth brushing Ryan's skin, and Ryan lay very, very still, his own breath catching in his chest.
"Alex," he whispered, but Alex didn't stir. Ryan closed his eyes, and pressed his cheek against Alex's hair.
After a while he decided he was probably being too creepy, so he disentangled himself from Alex as gently as he could, putting a pillow in place when Alex screwed up his face and made grabby hands. Alex curled into it, and Ryan stood frozen by the bed as Alex shifted and mumbled like he was waking up. Eventually, Alex lay still, and Ryan went out and drank a cup of coffee without paying much attention to it.
He sat down in an armchair and frowned. He considered calling Z, but decided against it. In the end, he didn't move very much at all, just sat with his legs crossed and wondered.
Alex shuffled out into the room about an hour and a half later. "Hey," he said sleepily, scratching his chin.
"Didn't Z go to school with Zooey Deschanel?" Ryan said.
Alex jumped backwards, blinking at him. "Oh my god," he said. "Good morning?"
"Like, I know Z didn't like anyone in high school," Ryan continued, "but you were close enough back then, wouldn't you have seen her around?"
"Ryan," Alex said faintly.
Ryan blinked, looking around. "Are you scared now?" he asked. "It's daylight."
"I just don't like talking about her, alright?" Alex said. When Ryan opened his mouth, Alex said firmly, "and I never saw her when Z was at school with her, I didn't even know who she was then, and I avoided her when they hung out afterwards. So whatever."
"Okay," Ryan said. "We can not talk about her."
"Awesome," Alex said. "Thanks. I appreciate it."
"Sure." Ryan stood up and smiled at him, holding his iPhone loosely in one hand and starting to edge out of the room.
Alex watched him. "Are you going to call Z and ask her about the whole thing?"
"… no?" Ryan tried.
"Ryan," Alex said. Ryan came over and gave him a hug, because it looked like Alex needed one, and because Ryan hadn't gotten a hug from Alex yet this morning, unless he counted waking up with limbs all entwined everywhere. Ryan didn't. Alex sighed and patted his back, but Ryan made a grumpy noise until Alex hugged him properly.
"Better," he said, and stepped back. "Good morning."
"Are you trying to distract me from you running off to gossip with Z?" Alex asked.
"No," Ryan said.
"You know you don't actually have to cross your fingers behind your back when you're lying," Alex said.
Ryan grinned. "I know," he said sheepishly. "I was being funny."
"You're a funny guy," Alex agreed, but he looked a little bit tired around the eyes, worn out. Ryan sobered, because Alex was weird and all, but he also looked genuinely unhappy, and Ryan hated that.
"Did you sleep alright after you came in with me last night?" Ryan asked.
"Yeah," Alex said. "Thanks."
"No worries," Ryan said lightly. "Nightmares suck."
"They do," Alex said, maybe a little too fervently, and Ryan touched Alex's wrist, just lightly.
"You want some coffee or something?" he asked. "Or breakfast? I have toast and – and I think I have muesli and things. There's soy yoghurt, at least."
Alex raised an eyebrow. "Has it gone off?"
"No," Ryan said. "I only bought it the other day." He tried to keep the various vegan things in his fridge as fresh as possible, because Alex did come around often enough and Ryan wanted him to have things that were actually edible. Besides, even if Ryan didn't want them himself – soy yoghurt still tasted sort of weird to him, though vegetarian sausages and things were great – Alex usually ate them fast enough that they didn't have a chance to go off.
"Okay," Alex said, and followed Ryan into the kitchen. Ryan put on the radio, and for a while they were just quiet, moving around each other and getting breakfast together. Ryan hadn't had breakfast at home for a while, and it was kind of nice, even if it wasn't as good when he made it himself. Maybe it was Alex that made it nice; Alex sang along with the radio when he knew the song, and he bumped past Ryan companionably, touching Ryan's hip lightly instead of saying 'excuse me' or something, and when they sat down at Ryan's kitchen counter Alex bumped his toes against Ryan's ankle in a friendly sort of way.
"So," Alex said, when he'd finished his muesli and was clearly getting bored waiting for Ryan to finish. "What's on today?"
"I don't know," Ryan said. "When did the whole Zooey Deschanel thing start?"
Alex stood up, taking his bowl over to the sink. "Ryan."
"Like, you didn't know her when she was at school with Z," Ryan said. "When did she get famous, anyway? What was her first movie? Was it a movie?"
"What came first, the music or the misery?" Alex asked.
"I'm not going to ask what exactly you're quoting," Ryan told him. "Anyway, She & Him came after the movies, I'm pretty sure. But was she in a TV show or whatever? It feels like she could have been."
"Do we have to talk about this?"
"I'm going to Google that shit," Ryan decided, picking up his iPhone. "Her sister's in that TV show, right? With Angel from Buffy."
"Can't we just acknowledge this thing as weird and move on?" Alex said. "I don't talk about stuff you don't want to think about. It's not like I'm constantly asking you about your crush on Pete Wentz."
"I don't have a crush on Pete Wentz," Ryan said automatically. "That's stupid."
"Maybe slightly outdated," Alex conceded. "Okay, so I don't talk about how empty your life is now you don't have an successful older musician to crush on."
Ryan looked up, narrowing his eyes. Alex grinned.
"Oh, wait," he said.
"You practically live on my couch, I don't think you count as successful anymore," Ryan said. "The O.C. was a long time ago, Alex, it's time to move on. Okay, look, rose to fame in Almost Famous. As the sister. Did she creep you out in that movie?"
Alex made a small, sad noise.
"Aw, I liked that movie," Ryan said. "Was that the first time you got freaked?"
"What are you even doing?" Alex asked. "What are you – tracing the roots of my phobia?"
"It's a phobia now?"
"Shut up," Alex said. "Let's just – hey, okay, wanna call Z and go to the beach? We were talking about it the other day, you know, that one with the lighthouse—"
"It says she married that dude from Death Cab For Cutie," Ryan said, interested. "And she used to be a vegan. Man, you guys have a lot in common. I bet you'd get on. We should ask Z if you guys could be introduced, and then you could, you know. Face your fears!"
"No!" Alex said, scrabbling back from Ryan until he hit the fridge. He looked really alarmed. "No, Ryan, promise me you won't!"
Ryan grinned. "But—"
"I'm going to call Z," Alex said. "And make her promise she won't—"
"C'mon, Alex," Ryan said. "I was kidding. You know I won't. You know that."
"Yeah, yeah," Alex said. "Just, stop talking about it, alright? I don't wanna – I'm going to have nightmares for weeks."
"Hmmn," Ryan said.
"Don't laugh," Alex said, even though Ryan wasn't. "It sucks. I know it's stupid, it just sucks all the same."
"Right," Ryan agreed. "Sorry. I will stop."
"Yeah, I'm sure you will." Alex eyed him warily, then turned away, resting his hands on the sink and staring out the window. It was bright outside, sunny. Ryan thought a day at the beach sounded good, and maybe he would pull Z aside and ask her about the whole thing, because it was weird and he was curious. He'd try not to say anything about it to Alex, though. Until bedtime, at least.
Ryan finished his toast and crossed the room to Alex, hooking his chin over Alex's shoulder and curling his hands in Alex's shirt at the sides, holding on just lightly.
"I promise," he said. "And hey, maybe you won't get nightmares tonight."
"Maybe I will," Alex said glumly.
Ryan hummed something light and mindlessly comforting. "If you like," he said carelessly, "you can just sleep in with me again. To ward them off."
Alex was quiet for a moment. "Pre-emptively, you mean?"
"Yeah," Ryan said.
"Okay," Alex said. "Good plan." He shuffled backwards, easing Ryan off. "I'm going to go get dressed. Then let's go out."
"Cool," Ryan said.
Alex shot him an annoyed look over his shoulder as he left the room, but it was still pretty fond. Ryan wondered how early he could convincingly fake being tired and hurry Alex off to bed.
"Man," Alex called from the other room. "It's only nine o'clock, that's way too early. I got like, fuck all sleep last night, I'm going to be beat today."
Ryan punched the air in victory.