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The Dark Ocean Bottom.

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Brendon has a routine for the end of tours, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. He puts the duffel and suitcase away and does all his laundry and spends a couple days just sitting, marvelling at the reality of a bed that doesn’t move and food that can be cooked on a whim, and the serene lack of road noise.

He does all this at the end of the fall tour, makes plans to meet up with Spencer in a few days-

-”I love you bro, but give me a few days to miss you, ok?-”

but this time it’s different. There’s something thrumming under his skin, a kind of fractious restlessness. They’ve stopped, really stopped, for what seems like the first time in years. They’re not writing yet, and Spencer’s (and his own, he supposes) reluctance means that Ian and Dallon have gone back to their own bands. It’s like a great weight has been lifted, the album a success, the tour a bigger one, but that weightlessness leaves him drifting, bored and restless and frustrated.

He’s not going to beg Spencer to come over. Spencer, who’s lived in his pocket for years, deserves some time to himself, Brendon rationalises. Even though he started missing him less than a day after the tour ended. It’s normal though. They spend a lot of time together, it would be weirder if he didn’t miss him, Brendon thinks. He very carefully avoids any other thoughts in that direction with the ease of long practice

He surfs and and walks along the beach and spends an hour with pen poised over notebook, waiting for words, chords, anything, but it’s like there’s a greyness seeping into his bones along with the restlessness, and he suddenly just does not want to be here.

He wonders if this is it. If he's toured for so long that settling in one place is impossible now. He feels like there should be something he's grasping for, working towards, but all he can see is day after day stretched out and filled with nothing. He wants to move, just pack up and go.

So, he does. He emails Spencer, and Shane and his parents, just a few short lines. Going on Vacation. Send you a postcard and he takes out the duffel again and repacks it. As he methodically adds socks and shirts and jeans he feels something settling under his skin, a numbness spreading out, and as he calls a cab he can't escape the feeling that he's running away.


The feeling takes him all the way into a cab and to the airport and up into the check in area without an idea of where to go, only that is be somewhere not-California. Not here. He’s in the international lounge, and the cities and countries flash up orange on the boards, and he chooses the flight to London mostly because he doesn’t want to have to worry about not speaking the language.

It’s four hours til the flight, so Brendon spends some of it stocking up on things he’s pretty sure he’s forgotten, like a toothbrush. he doesn’t buy contact lens solution because he’s not going to be performing. The lenses are back at the house, in their case, his glasses already making their familiar dent in his nose. He sits on the sofa at the back of the little Starbucks and plugs his phone in, letting it charge. He thinks about charging his laptop too til he remembers the adapter, back at his house with his contact lenses, and sighs

There’s a text from Spencer, which he answers, short “I’m OK. Call you at the weekend.”

He feels like he’s moving at half speed, the airport noisy and bright around him, the taste of his coffee dulled and distant, his hands somehow clumsy on the screen of his phone. He’s just so tired.

He’s halfway through his magazine, coffee cooling next to his elbow and a muffin half eaten, scattering crumbs, when he phone rings. He answers it without looking, expecting Spencer, or possibly Shane.

It’s Ryan.

They don’t talk much, but sometimes he’ll call, or Ryan will, and have a mostly-awkward conversation about completely mundane things like sandwiches, or the woman down the street who dresses her dogs in yellow slickers, or how smarties totally taste different now than when they were small.

Mostly, Brendon knows, they do it for Spencer.

"Hey," Ryan says, without even a hello "You know they eat mayo on fries here?"

“Who is they and where is here?” Brendon asks. He. tucks the phone under his chin to turn the page of the magazine. and looks up at the flight information board. Boarding is in 15 minutes.

"Belgium," Ryan says absently. "Seriously. Mayo. Fucking weird."

Brendon asks "Can't you just ask for ketchup?"

"I feel like the mayo is more authentic" Ryan muses.

“Right.” Brendon says “And you decided to call me because?”

“Where are you?” Ryan flat out ignores the question, which has always been one of his most annoying traits.

“Airport. I have to go. They just called my flight,” Brendon lies.

“Oh.” Ryan says “Where are you going. Is it band stuff?”

Brendon bites back the retort that it’s none of his business, and says

“No. London.”

He leans over to unplug the charger and coil it back into his carry on.

"Well, have a safe flight," Ryan says absently, and hangs up before Brendon can respond.


Brendon's kind of been used to flying with his boys, and it's weird to not have Dallon complain about the lack of legroom, or Ian charming the flight attendants for extra blankets. Its even weirder to not have Spencer next to him, staring out of the window as the airplane takes off, that tiny bit of wonder he's never quite lost, even though they've all lost count of the number of times it's happened.

It's all Brendon can do to book a room (the girl's accent sounding like Mary Poppins) and collapse onto the bed, and stare at the ceiling until his eyes close.

It's pretty late when he wakes, edging on to midday. He showers and pulls on creased clothes, jeans and a t-shirt. he thinks might actually be Spencer’s, and wanders down to the restaurant in search of breakfast with his hair still wet.

The breakfast is some self-serve thing; he looks doubtfully the sausages and the greasy strips of bacon and fried tomatoes before setting for cereal and a banana, and orders a whole pot of coffee when the server comes round.

The guy at the table opposite is eating what looks like beans in tomato sauce, and a fried egg and toast, all covered in some kind of brown sauce. It looks gross, but he's chewing away happily, talking to the little girl next to him, who's spooning up her cornflakes carefully.

Brendon stirs his coffee and thinks that, if Ryan were here, he'd probably insist on the beans. It's almost enough to make him smile into his cup.

He has ten new emails when he switches his laptop on and connects to the wifi, three from Spencer and one from Pete, but he ignores them all and instead googles the nearest Apple store. Getting a new power cord doesn't seem a huge thing, but its at least something he can do.

It turns out he has to get a train and then the subway - the tube, he corrects himsel f- to get back into London, but he manages it. One thing he always likes about London whenever he's there is how big it is, how impersonal. He kind of feels like he can disappear into it. That even if people did recognise him (and he's kind of sure the girl with glasses and brown hair cut in bangs does a double take, but she carries on writing in her notebook) they wouldn't say anything. London's kind of hard to impress, and for once, for some reason, he doesn't even want to try.

He finds the store, packed with tourists like him, and gets the cord and some new headphones. It's 3pm by this time, and he doesn't really want to go back to the hotel. He's sick of hotels. They're kind of the same all over the world. There's a tourist information place down the street and for lack of anything else to do he pushes open the door and asks,

"Do you have anywhere to stay that isn't a hotel?"

The guy looks a bit surprised, but says,"There are backpacker's hostels, if that's what you mean?"

He's wearing a silver bangle and it clanks against the counter when he types on the keyboard.

"No," Brendon says, leaning on the counter. "I mean, I'm going to be here a while. For work. Are there, like, apartments?"

The guy looks up, and Brendon realises that he probably doesn't LOOK like someone who rents apartments. He doesn't say anything except "Which area of London were you looking for sir?"

"Um," Brendon doesn't know. "Near the tube? Somewhere close to the river and places to eat. I'm a musician," he says, which is one of the things he's still sure of

"How do you feel about Borough Market?" the guy asks.

"Um," Brendon says again, but the guy swivels the computer around so that Brendon can see the photos of an apartment, light and warm looking. There's a piano against one wall, and a small kitchen, and the bathroom is blue.

"10 minutes walk from the tube," the guy says.

"That's fine," Brendon says, because at this point, he doesn't really care. It's not like he's got to be in a rush to go anywhere. "I have go pick up my stuff from the hotel, is that ok?"

"I'll take your booking now and call the landlady for you, and she can meet you there tonight," the guy says. Brendon hands over his credit card, and gets some printed directions in return, the tube stations in bold print. It seems like a weird way to navigate a city, Brendon thinks, but be takes careful note of them finding them on the print-out the hotel gave him, and trying to memorise them, the colours of the lines, the odd, evocative names.

'Landlady' conjured up some kind of kindly old woman, or possibly someone like Mrs Weasley. Not the woman who opened the door to him, husky voice and dark red lipstick and tumbling curls of dark hair. She looks like she'd eat him alive and he'd enjoy every minute of it.

"Mr Urie?" she asks

"Brendon," he nods, and shakes her hand.

"Poppy Howard," she says. "Welcome to London. I understand you're here for a month, is that right?"

"At least," Brendon says. The house smells of cinnamon, oddly.

"I left you a housewarming gift in the kitchen," Poppy says, handing over some keys, "and my number, my work number and my husband's work number are on the notice board."

"The piano-" Brendon asks. Because he's not sure, this is an apartment, do they have like, homeowner regulations or something?

"Oh, you play?" Poppy smiles, eyes crinkly "Please, be my guest. It needs playing to keep in tune, but we have a bigger one at home so it ended up here. The neighbours won't mind."

She shakes his hand again and sweeps past him out of the door in a whirl of dark curls and silk scarves and expensive-smelling perfume.


The cinnamon smell is from scones, still warm, sitting on the kitchen counter next to a pot of jelly and something that doesn't look like butter but doesn't quite look like cream either. He opens it cautiously, the golden crust on top looks like something you're not supposed to eat.

He spreads the scone with purple jelly and the cream, and takes a bite. It's pretty much the most delicious thing he's ever eaten. The jelly is plum, not grape as he'd expected, and the cream is rich and thick and butter-sweet. He eats four scones, and sits on the sofa and watches the sky darken to grey, and wonders what the hell he's doing here.

Around 9pm he gets hungry, despite finishing off the rest of the scones (the cream is really good. He's tempted to just dive in with a spoon) and so he ventures outside, wondering aimlessly until he finds a Indian restaurant open, and they box up his rice and naan and keema for him, the restaurant warm after the London damp.

He tips the food out onto one of the blue plates, and flicks through the channels on TV aimlessly. Bizarrely, they're showing Friends reruns, and the tinny laugh track makes comforting background noise. He has even more emails now, four from Spencer in the last four hours.

The last one just says

"Please Brendon. I'm worried dude. Just tell me you're OK?"

He's not really sure of the answer to that. He's not going to do anything stupid, nothing to hurt himself, but he's just- numb. Tired doesn't really describe it. Maybe this is always what it felt like after a tour, but it was never just him by himself before. Maybe he's just getting old.

He grins at that to himself.

"Ancient, Urie," he says to the empty room "Totally ancient."

"I'm fine dude," he types back "I just needed a vacation. In London. the landlady is totally hot. I'll wave at the Queen for you."

He doesn't say I miss you, or what the hell do we do next or even come out here, even though he means them all.

He spends the next couple days watching TV with unfamiliar accents, and it isn’t until he’s woken at 7am on Thursday that he remembers that the tourist information guy had said “Borough Market” when he’d booked.

He peeks out of the curtains, and in the old railway arches down the street there are traders setting up, striped canvas awnings and wooden tables and the clatter of goods being unloaded. It looks fun, so he gets dressed and jogs down the street, the light coming in grey in the late dawn as the traders set out their stalls.

It’s clearly a big thing, because the market is soon full of Londoners, and a fair few tourists, American accents mixing with French, and what looks like a tour party of school children in dorky uniforms.


There's food, food everywhere, and Brendon eats breakfast from the sample trays, different kinds of cheeses and bread and sausage and fancy cupcakes and cookies, and shoulders his way through the crowds to buy coffee. It's cold and damp, but he guesses that most of the people are used to it, because they're just smiling and laughing and piling food into baskets and those canvas bags people use when they are too fancy for plastic.

He buys scones and some of the funny cream- clotted, the stall holder calls it, which sounds really gross- and some actual vegetables. The scones aren't as good as Poppy's.

It's like something’s snapped, something that was keeping him in the apartment, moping. Well, Brendon thinks, he might still be moping. He still has that feeling that something should be happening, that he's missing something, a kind of constant tickle at the back of his mind, but he's suddenly realised that he's flown thousands of miles, and pretty much all he's seen of London is the airport and the inside of the apartment.

The tube is fucking confusing, and he picks places to go based solely on the names. He picks Covent Garden because it sounds nice, like a park, but instead it turns out to be trendy stores and pubs. In one of the shoe stores is a pair of blue & grey wingtips so perfect for Spencer that he snaps a picture, about to send it to him, but something stops him. He's still getting emails, and he can tell Spencer's passing through worried and into pissed off, which, despite everything, he rarely gets with Brendon. But, Brendon thinks, how can he explain it to Spencer, if he can't explain it to himself?

"You ok there?" the shop assistant asks. She has a star tattooed on her ring finger and purple eyeliner, and Brendon's at least 60% sure she recognises him. She doesn't say anything though, just nods when he asks for the shoes in Spencer's size, and runs his card.

"I got you a present," Brendon emails later, beer open on the table as some detective show that seems to involve an old guy with white hair and lots of old buildings plays quietly on the tv "so you can't be mad at me, ok?"

The show's almost finished when he gets a reply.

"Not mad. just worried. You coming home yet?"

Brendon's not really sure what to say to that, so he just sends a random picture of him holding up a clotted cream covered scone with "Not while there are still some of these left :-)". and leaves it at that.

He's still sleeping a lot, and he knows it’s not jetlag. Maybe his body's catching up with all the sleep he missed on tour, and before tour, he thinks. He doesn't feel tired, so much as bored. But that still doesn't mean he likes being woken up by the insistent chime of his phone's email notification at 10am one morning.

He squints at the screen, then gets his glasses and reads it properly in case he was hallucinating.

"London is bigger than I remember. Where are you?"

It's from Ryan.

Brendon debates not answering. He has an important date with Come Dine With Me later today, and he was debating trying to actually cross the river, maybe get one of those boats. Ryan's ability to get lost is really none of his business any more.

On the other hand, he's not spoken to anyone outside of shop assistants in over a week.

"Where are you?" He emails back. He swings out of bed and shuffles to the kitchen. The kettle is electric, but it's much quicker than the stove top kind, and the water has boiled before Ryan emails back.

"Starbucks."

Brendon rolls his eyes and pours the hot water onto the grounds in the French press that came with the kitchen.

"Be more specific, Ross," he types one handed.

He gets the milk out of the fridge and presses the plunger down, pours a cup of coffee.

"There's a guy on a column, and lions, and a lot of pigeons."

Brendon looks at his coffee, and sighs. If Ryan really is in Trafalgar Square it's only a matter of time before he gets run down by a crazed London driver, and, despite everything, he doesn't actually want him to die

"Stay there," he emails, and drinks his coffee down, scalding hot.

It takes a while, and a change of tube, and a bit of squinting at a map to get to Trafalgar Square, and he half-expects Ryan to be gone by the time he gets there. As it is, he almost doesn't spot him. Ryan fits in here, always had, and for a second it's hard to pick him out in the crowd. He's sitting at the back of the Starbucks, big white mug clasped in his hands, but not actually drinking it. His hair's long, curls almost to his shoulders, and he's wearing a brown three piece suit, orange tie, pointy shoes. He has his head tipped back, eyes closed, but he jerks forward and opens them when Brendon sits down in front of him and kicks his ankle.

"What the fuck?" he says, slopping some coffee over the side of the cup.

"I was about to ask you the same," Brendon says. "What are you doing here?"

"Belguim's kind of boring," Ryan says thoughtfully "Without Didier to work with."

"Right," Brendon says, unwilling to ask who the fuck Didier is.

"So," Ryan says.

"So," Brendon says. He's not making the first move. He's not. He can't remember the last time they were without someone as a barrier, a buffer between them.

"How's Spencer?" Ryan asks.

"I.....think he's fine?" Brendon makes it a question.

"He's not here?" Ryan asks.

Of course. He wants to see Spencer.

"Nope. Sorry," Brendon says, not meaning it. "He's back home."

"Oh," Ryan leans his elbow on the table, puts his chin in his hand. "So, why are you here?"

"I," Brendon pauses. But this is still, after everything, Ryan, and if he can't say it to Ryan, well. "I just couldn't be there. I needed to be somewhere else."

"Yeah," Ryan finally takes a sip of his tea. "Yeah, I know how that feels."

They sit for a while. Brendon didn’t actually buy a drink, so he has no option but to just look at Ryan as Ryan sips his tea and picks at the giant cookie, pulling bits off and crumbling them in his fingers, rather than eating them. Brendon’s kind of determined not to break first, to ask “why” again. Contrary to what Ryan might think, he can keep his mouth shut.

“So,” Ryan says after a few minutes, when the cookie has been reduced entirely to crumbs.

“So,” Brendon says.

Ryan smiles then, a slight twist to his mouth, the one that used to mean they were laughing at the world together. Brendon kind of wonders if it means Ryan’s laughing at him now, but one thing Ryan’s never been subtle about his expressing his dislikes.

“So, what have you done?” Ryan asks. “Been to see the Queen?”

“Well,” Brendon says, “I was going to go to Abbey Road, but been there, done that.”

Ryan huffs out a breath that could be a laugh.

“More my style than yours, right?” and there’s no bitterness to it, just a kind of amused resignation.

Brendon nods. “I...” he says, trying to think about what he has done, other than watch a lot of kind of confusing TV. “I bought Spencer some shoes?”

Ryan just raises an eyebrow.

"Shoes?" he asks.

"They looked like something he'd wear." Brendon feels oddly defensive. He's allowed to buy Spencer a pair of fucking shoes if he wants to.

"So that's all you've done?" Ryan said "Gone shoe shopping which, if I remember, you actually hate, without Spencer, who the shoes are actually for?"

Brendon nods. Now that someone else says it, it does sound stupid.

"Well, what have YOU done?" he asks.

"I only got in last night on the train," Ryan says. "I went out in Camden last night. Danced. Where are you staying, anyway?"

"Near the Borough Market," Brendon says. "There's...cheese."

"That's London to you?" Ryan's teasing now, and it only stings a little because maybe Brendon's self-aware enough that he can see it's a bit ridiculous "Shoes and cheese?"

"You going to show me different, Ross?" Brendon asks. He's not sure what he wants the answer to be.

Ryan checks his watch. In that get up, Brendon's half surprised it isn't a pocket watch. "I was going to get lunch."

Brendon takes a breath

"Where are we going?"

"We?"

"Hey, you emailed me," Brendon says. He has the upper hand, he's sure of this.

Ryan nods slowly, then stands up, picks up his coat off the back of the chair and slides his arms into it.

"Come on then," he says.

They take the tube to Covent Garden, because it's a miracle Ryan got as far as Trafalgar Square without getting lost, and Brendon maybe wants to show off that he has some of it memorised. Ryan takes great delight in tapping his card on the reader, and walking quickly down the escalator like a Londoner, rather than standing like a tourist.

Lunch is- not as awkward as Brendon would have thought, even three weeks ago. Ryan doesn't push, doesn't ask again why Brendon's here, and Spencer's not. Doesn’t mention the band beyond saying that they must be glad to relax after a long tour, and a nod to Patrick's new stuff with "It's... ambitious."

"That's one word," Brendon says, and they share a wry glance, and Ryan shakes his head a little and goes back to his pasta. It’s kind of companionable in a way Brendon’s pleased they can manage.

"I'm going to the market tomorrow," Brendon offers, as they walk back to the station. "You can come, if you want."

"To see the famous cheese?" Ryan asks, and this time he is laughing at him, but it’s not mean.

"There's also cake," Brendon says, seriously, and gets rewarded with a smile. It feels like a bigger thing than it probably is.

"Well, in that case," Ryan says. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Despite, or maybe even because of the crowds at the market, Ryan actually seems to enjoy himself, nodding seriously as the stallholders explain single-origin this and organic that and bio-dynamic the other. His eyes widen slightly at the cheese before he rallies and says,

"Nothing compared to France, this little market in Normandy," and Brendon rolls his eyes and says,

"We get it, your far too cultured for the rest of us," and it doesn't have the edge it might have had before, and Ryan quirks up one side of his mouth, and accepts the cube of cheese on a toothpick that the stall holder hands over.

"So which one's yours?" Ryan asks as they walk slowly through the thinning crowds. He has a paper cup of coffee in one gloved hand, and looks like he was born here. It's always something Brendon's envied slightly, how Ryan can melt into different spaces, be someone other. He looks good, relaxed, happy even. The last few months before it all went to shit, he’d been as spiky and withdrawn as when Brendon first met him.

"Which- what?" Brendon asks

"You're staying here, aren't you?"

Brendon points down the street, to where the bay window of the apartment is just visible.

"That one there, with the blue door," he says.

"Hmm," Ryan nods, sipping the coffee.

It's only after they've parted ways at the tube station that Brendon realises he should maybe have invited Ryan up. It surprises him that he wanted to.

There's an email from Pete when he checks later that night, leftover pasta and tomato sauce congealing in the saucepan in the kitchen.

If you don't fucking answer, I'm coming over there.

Brendon pauses. He's not sure if it's Pete-Pete, or label-Pete that's asking. Either way, he closes the laptop without replying.

Ryan emails a couple days later, saying "I'm bored and I can't work the tube," and Brendon goes to rescue him from himself, pretty much. They end up meeting for lunch.

It's actually kind of nice, in a way Brendon kind of thought wouldn't happen again. While he and Ryan haven't actually fought in a while, he still doesn't have much of what could be called friendship with him. Not like Spencer who, he knows, still has all kinds of specific Ryan-occasions that they share.

What is annoying is the constant emails. Spencer, Zack, half a dozen label publicists, Pete, they all seem to think he's minutes away from a complete breakdown. He just wants to be fucking left alone.

He doesn't want to be the diva that screams at label people, so he's carefully polite, but when the phone jolts him out of a deep sleep at 8am on Thursday, he yells "WHAT?" into the phone without looking at who is actually calling.

"So you're not dead, then," Pete says. "I really will come over there if you can't give me a straight answer."

"I was asleep," Brendon bites out. "I'm fine."

"You disappeared," Pete says. "We're worried that you might do something stupid."

Brendon's about to say "I'm not you," but even in his angry state he gets that that's a line he shouldn't cross. That actually would make him an asshole.

"I'm just on vacation," Brendon says. "That's all, honest."

"This isn't like you," Pete says, and he sounds disappointed, like, after everything, this is the thing that pisses him off. And that pisses Brendon off, so he snaps

"Well maybe I want to do something that's not like me. Fuck’s sake, everyone keeps checking up on my like I'm some kid out of school."

He really just wants to hang up, go back to sleep, and then maybe check out a museum or something. Something he doesn't have to think about.

"If you weren't running away like one we wouldn't have to," Pete says. Then, more softly
"Hey. Did something happen with Spencer?" and it's the fucking understanding in his voice, the idea that maybe Brendon hasn't been as good at hiding as he thought, that really makes him snap

"Nothing happened with Spencer. We're fine, I'm fine, I just want to be let alone, and I'll be back when I'm ready," and end the call, seething.

He's awake now, grouchy, and there's no milk in the fridge, which means either going outside and interacting with people, or drinking black coffee. Neither appeals, and he's staring at the fridge like it will suddenly provide milk when his phone dings again, and Brendon's seriously regretting getting international calling.

"I'm lost," Ryan says, no hello, just the assumption that of course he's the most important thing in Brendon's life at this specific minute.

"And?" Brendon says. He's not in the mood for this.

"Come and find me?" Ryan says "I got off the subway but I'm not where I thought I was."

"Well how am I supposed to know where you are?" Brendon asks.

"I'm at, it's called St John's Wood," Ryan says. "There's no wood. Who names these places?"

"Can't you read the map?" Brendon asks.

"Just come and find me. We can have breakfast. Or something. I haven't really been to bed yet." Ryan's got that punchy sound to his voice that means he's either sleep deprived or stoned and Brendon kind of hates that he can still recognise this. He's such a fucking pushover.

"Ugh, stay where you are," Brendon says, and he pulls some jeans on over his boxers, throws on a hoodie and grabs the tube map. Maybe he can get coffee on the way.

Except, when he gets to St John's Wood, (which does not it, it is true, have any trees) Ryan's nowhere to be found.

He walks all round the station just to be sure, but he's definitely not there. He hits return call, but the automated voice tells him the call can't connect, which probably means Ryan's under ground somewhere. Brendon feels the irritation rising. He's hungry, thirsty and Ryan has him on a fucking wild goose chase.

He buys some shitty-tasting coffee from Pret and hits redial angrily for the next 15 minutes until Ryan FINALLY picks up.

"Where are you?" he snaps

"Oh hey," Ryan says "The tube came and it said it was stopping at your station, so I got on it. The market's here, did you know? Are you at home?"

"No," Brendon grits out "I'm at fucking St John's Wood because that's where you told me you were. Why didn't you stay where you were like I said?"

"You sounded sleepy," Ryan says, like he's done nothing wrong, like he hasn't just deprived him of breakfast and decent coffee and fucked up his whole morning "So I thought I could find my way back to yours, save you the trouble. I didn't think you'd come that quickly."

Brendon hears the unspoken or at all.

"OK," Brendon says, heading back into the entrance to the station and standing to one side to dig out his Oyster card, "I'm on my way back. just don't fucking move, OK. Stay where you are. I mean it."

"You sound annoyed," Ryan says.

Brendon doesn't respond, just repeats "Seriously, stay at the market."

He runs down the escalator and one the train just as the doors open, and waits. And waits. The train car fills with a kind of disgruntled murmur, shattered by a baby screaming, and Brendon leans his head against the window and regrets not picking up his iPod.

After 15 minutes the driver says, over the intercom, that they are having a small technical error, but that it should be fixed now. The train makes a noisy rattling sound as it pulls out of the station, but it does seem to be working, and Brendon just hopes it doesn't break down again.

It's raining once he gets outside again, heavy and cold, and his hoodie is soaked through in minutes. The awnings of the market flap wetly against the stalls, and of course, of course, the pastry stall has packed up and gone.

Brendon hunches his shoulders against the wet and looks around the throngs, trying to pick Ryan out of the crowd. He's huddled in one of the doorways, long camel coat keeping him dry, and chewing the remains of what looks suspiciously like one of the cinnamon and orange pastries Brendon's been fantasing about.

That's kind of the last straw.

Ryan spots him and waves him over

"You took ages," he says "where were you. It's raining."

"I hadn't noticed," Brendon spits. He can feel the rain plastering his hair to his forehead,and it's dripping down his neck in cold little rivulets.

"You're really pissy," Ryan says, "It's not my fault it's raining!"

"No," Brendon says "It's just your fault I'm OUT IN IT."

He turns to hurry toward the apartment, not really caring if Ryan follows him or not. Let him find his own way back to his hotel.

"Hey, wait up," Ryan says, catching him up, "Seriously, you're angry? I was trying to save you the journey. I didn't even think you'd be ready to go out, I was totally going to call you when I got here and tell you not to bother."

"What goes through your head?" Brendon says, stomping up the stairs and into the apartment. Ryan skips neatly through the door, when Brendon had half a mind to shut him outside.

"What do you mean?" Ryan asks

"I was already awake," Brendon snaps, rubbing the towel from the kitchen through his hair "Because, just like every other day this past week SOMEONE has called me to check up on me like a child. If it's not Zack, it's Spencer or Shane or Dallon, or this morning it was PETE, and they all treat me like I'm going to break, like I can't be trusted, and you know, being woken up at 8am by Pete trying to be UNDERSTANDING is not really how I want to start my day."

He's actually yelling now, and it's not about Ryan's thoughtlessness or that he didn't get breakfast - or, at least, not just about that. It's EVERYTHING and the numb feeling that's been there since California seems to have caught.fire and turned into anger.

"And it's not like I can't take care of myself," Brendon says. his shoes are wet and he kicks them off "I've been fucking doing that since I was 17 for fucks sake."

"Why are you yelling at me" Ryan cuts in, defensively, "God, you're so ungrateful."

"Ungrateful?" Brendon repeats "What, I should be THANKFUL everyone thinks I'm going to do something stupid?"

"Your friends are worried about you," Ryan says, "Though fuck knows why," he pushes his wet hair out of his eyes. "Just like always, the world fucking revolves around you, doesn't it."

"I'm sorry?" Brendon says "What the fuck do you mean by that? Now I'm ungrateful AND a diva? Takes one to know one."

Ryan is really angry now, cutting and sharp, like he'd tear Brendon to shreds with his voice if it could.

"You got EVERYTHING, " he spits. "Our songs, the band, Pete, the fucking exclamation point."

"You're seriously bitter about fucking PUNCTUATION?" Brendon yells back. They've always argued like this, but with no Spencer as peacemaker there's no one to hold them back

"It's not about that," Ryan hisses, fist clenched. "It's about the fact that I had NOTHING LEFT."

"You didn't want the songs," Brendon argues, "they don't fit your-"

"Did you ever think I still wanted my FRIENDS?"

The shouted question seems to hang in the air like the tolling of a bell.

"I-what?" Brendon says again.

"You have people who care about you! People who used to-oh forget it. Carry on feeling sorry for yourself." Ryan takes a paper bag out from under his coat and puts it on the counter. "I bought you breakfast. I don't care if you eat it or not."

And he slams the door behind him so hard the hinges rattle.

Brendon hates how he still manages to get the last word.

He still doesn't have milk, and he's freezing cold, so he changes into dry clothes, and chokes down his coffee black, and its not until he's warmed up inside and out, that he picks up the bag.

Inside is one of the orange and cinnamon swirl things. He chews a corner of it. It's not as delicious as it normally is, but Brendon suspects that's got more to do with his mood than anything else.

It's barely midday, and he kind of wants to start the day over again. The rain's stopped, so instead he catches the tube to Regents Park, cranks his iPod up high and runs and runs in aimless circles until his legs ache and the sky is dark, and he's starving.

It gives him a lot of time to think, and he comes to the uncomfortable realisation that he's been kind of an asshole. To pretty much everyone, including Ryan. Part of him wants to say that Ryan deserves it. But he can't forget the look on Ryan's face when he spoke about having friends. He still has Spencer, after all. And while it was never really about picking sides, Brendon can't really imagine what he'd have done if Spencer had not picked him.

I'm not ungratefu, he thinks to himself as he tiredly climbs the stairs. I'm not.

He goes to bed early that night, still cranky, and feeling guilty, which just makes it worse.

It's still raining when he wakes up, but he feels filled with determination to do something, sort something out.

There are no new emails when he checks, which means either that they've all given up, or that they just don't care if he's a danger to himself and others anymore.

He thinks about calling Spencer, knows he should call Pete, but in the end, emailing is easier, so he just copies them both into the same one.

“Hey guys

I promise I'm ok. I just needed some time to think and get away for a bit. I just feel a bit worn out. I'm not going to do anything stupid. I'm just in London. I'll tweet something so fans don't worry.

(I'm sorry I yelled at you Pete)

You don't need to keep calling. I swear I'm OK.

B”


It's not the best email ever, he knows, but he hopes that it will do. The rain is still battering the windows, and it's grey and gloomy outside, so he logs into twitter and posts,

“With all this rain the ducks have the right idea. #stopraining”

Which is at least enough to prove he's still, you know, alive

He showers and dresses with his iPod blasting his "get the fuck up and dance" playlist, and decides to go and get some actual food and groceries (and milk, he still doesn't have any, and two days in a row with black coffee is too days too many) and then maybe make a list of shit he wants to see in London and plan when to go see it and how to get there. Stuff he can do, stuff out of the apartment.

His jacket is not exactly waterproof, but there is a big umbrella, like a golf umbrella, by the front door that a previous guest must have left. He feels a bit stupid using it, but it really is raining heavily, and when he steps out onto the street he sees he's not the only person huddled under an umbrella and dashing from shop to shop.

Poppy had left directions to nearby supermarkets, and he finds the store quite easily, spotting the big oranges Sainsbury sign bright in the grey gloom. He buys as many groceries as he can carry and still hold the umbrella, and smiles at the checkout woman when she helps him pack the plastic bags with milk and cereal and fruit and bacon and bread.

He puts all the groceries away and does the dishes and feels really efficient and productive before he realises he's avoiding thinking about Ryan.

It still stings, Ryan calling him self-centered. But then he thinks back to People who used to- and Ryan screaming I still wanted my friends.

Which is stupid, Brendon thinks. Ryan totally has friends. Totally.

Except, he's here in London, alone. No band. No friends, girlfriend, boyfriend. Just him.

Brendon sighs, and picks up the phone, and is ridiculously relieved when he gets voicemail, Ryan's deep voice saying "I'm not here. I'm there. Leave a message."

Brendon clears his throat

"Hey," he says "um. Thanks for breakfast. Um. I just wanted to say, you have friends. You totally do. Spencer would say the same. I mean, I guess you know that because he calls you. But yeah. The whole-thing. You know. That wasn't about that. So, um sorry, I guess? I was kind of crazy. I guess I might see you again before you leave London. If you're still here.It's Brendon. I forgot to say that. Bye."

The voice gives him the option to re-record, but Brendon just hits send before he loses his nerve.

He's got the table in the kitchen covered with leaflets, laptop open to google directions, when his phone rings.

"Ryan?" Brendon answers.

"Are we going to have another argument?" Ryan says "Because I can just hang up and shout at myself, it's quicker."

"I said I was sorry," Brendon says, not rising to it. Ryan gets snippy when he's hurt, and Brendon tells himself he should have remembered that.

"Yeah," Ryan says " That was possibly the least coherent message you've ever left and I'm including the stoned ones from the cabin."

"I meant it," Brendon says, "dude, we're still friends. We are. I'm sorry if, if you didn't realise that."

He focuses hard on the leaflet for the London Dungeons and wills himself to stop babbling.

"And, you know, you made me feel guilty," he says.

Ryan snorts down the phone. It sounds fond, but he's hard to read when you can't see his face. Harder to read.

"Well," Ryan says "I guess, you're welcome?"

"So, how long are you in London for?" Brendon says "We could try do to something without getting into a screaming match this time?"

"I'm not going anywhere for a while," Ryan says. "I'm going to do one of those open-bus tours tomorrow, if it's not raining. You could come? If you like?"

Brendon recognises it as a peace offering, because double decker buses are AWESOME, and he knows Ryan knows he thinks this.

"That would be good," he says, "maybe we could get dinner after, even?"

"Sounds good," Ryan says. "I'll book us tickets. You want to meet at the bus stop just before ten am? It’s in that square with the pigeons where you met me."

"Tomorrow?" Brendon asks. He didn't have anything planned for tomorrow, and it’s something to look forward to. "Sure."

"Ok." Ryan says. "Well, I guess I'll see you there then."

"You will," Brendon says. "Um. Thanks. You know. And I'm sorry. For yelling."

"I like this contrite side of you," Ryan muses.

"Oh fuck off," Brendon says, and Ryan laughs

"That's more what I remember. I'll see you tomorrow," and hangs up.

It's not raining the next day, but Brendon doesn't risk it, and buys a beanie from Topman on the way to meet Ryan. There are bags of candy by the check out, and he buys a bag of jelly beans too, thinking that it might be a long tour, and hey. Candy. That's always good.

There's not a very long line at the stop, and he's a bit early, so Ryan's not there. He checks his messages on his phone as he waits. There's an email from Spencer that says basically that he's an idiot, but that Spencer's glad he's ok, and that next time he should tell Spencer that BEFORE he calls in the cavalry.

"Hey," Ryan says, at his elbow. He has a paper cup in each hand, and a bag tucked under his arms.

"Hey," Brendon says, taking one of the cups from him. Ryan transfers the bag to his free hand. "You ok?"

"I'm good," Ryan says, "we should get seats, come on."

The tour guide, a stern-looking woman with grey hair and a red blazer, is calling them aboard, microphone in hand. Ryan heads straight for the stairs, long legs taking them two at a time, disregarding the huffs of the other people in line, and bags two seats at the top of the bus at the front.

The tour guide keeps up constant chatter, about statues, famous streets, historical buildings. They learn the guy on top of the column is Nelson, that Big Ben is the name of the clock, not the tower, and that Fleet Street is so named because of the river that runs under it. She's kind of scarily earnest, and soon Ryan is keeping up a muttered alternate commentary, right in Brendon's ear, as they share the jelly beans, and Brendon's trying not to laugh out right.

"And here we have Westminster Abbey, where generations of Royalty have been crowned, married, and buried. We had a new princess this year, the whole of London was so excited! Like something out of a fairy tale!"

"Would that be the fairytale where she dances in hot iron shoes? Or the one where she cuts out her tongue?" Ryan asks, but Brendon shoves him, and says "you have no romance in your soul, none,"

and then realises that Ryan's teasing him, rehashing an discussion they've had for years, about whether Disney fairy tales are better than the original ones, blood, gore and all.

"I'm just saying," Ryan says, unrepentant.

"Don't hog the green ones," Brendon says in reply. Ryan shakes a few jellybeans out into his hand, and lets Brendon pick out the green ones.

The bus takes them past Buckingham Palace, the guards standing still and tall in little boxes.

"Those hats look so heavy," Brendon says, hanging over the edge of the bus to get a better look at the horses. "Imagine having to wear those all day." There's a really cool grey horse and Brendon leans even further, only for Ryan to jerk him back into the seat.

"Do you want to splat onto the sidewalk?" he asks, sounding only mildly interested.

"I was just looking," Brendon says, but then the bus swerves quickly, making the tour guide stagger and hold on to the back of the chair, and if that's going to happen a lot maybe splatting isn't out of the question.

"If you're here at 11am you'll see the changing of the guard," the guide continues, and then goes on to say something about how to tell if anyone is in the palace by the flags.

They sit in silence for a bit. Ryan puts his empty cup on the floor, and offers Brendon a muffin from the paper bag.

"I emailed Pete," Brendon says, taking a chocolate one. It seems important that Ryan know this, so he can't call him ungrateful. "And Spencer."

"Good," Ryan says, "Now maybe you can stop bitching about them calling you."

Brendon is very tempted to stick his tongue out but refrains, because he's trying to be grown up.

“You don’t have to like, hide away here by yourself you know.," Brendon says instead, because he's still kind of bothered by what Ryan said. “I mean, the rest of your guys are in the States, right?” He winces as soon as he said it, because they both know what ‘on hiatus’ actually means.

"Oh," Ryan shrugs, "I was in Europe anyway. Didier and I finished some stuff, so I thought I'd come over here. I like Camden. I like not," he waves his hand in an elegant gesture "not having to wait on anyone, not having a schedule."

He seems pretty relaxed about the whole thing.

"I know what you mean," Brendon says "tour's great, but-" He cuts himself off then, thinking maybe he shouldn't talk about touring, given that Ryan likely doesn't have anyone to tour with.

Thankfully he's spared further awkwardness by the tour guide saying "If you're on the outside seats, you might want to think about moving inside, it's looks like rain and we wouldn't want your enjoyment spoiled."

Before she even finishes the sentence, the first drops of rain fall. Brendon pulls on the beanie, and Ryan tries to shield his head with one of the newspapers left on the seat, and they scurry down the stairs.

Inside the bus is full of children, some kind of school party. They are loud and enthusiastic, and Ryan shrinks against the side of the bus and puts his sunglasses on in defence.

The girl behind them is kicking the back of the seat, rhythmically, and Brendon says

"You want to get off at the next stop? Get something to eat."

"We can get back on later, if you want," Ryan says, but he's already standing up and buttoning his coat closed.

They run through the rain until Ryan points, "There!" and they dip into a restaurant with a picture of a bowl of noodles on the window.

Ryan's busy shaking the water out of his hair, drops dripping in his eyes, so it's up to Brendon to answer when a chirpy teenager says,

"Welcome to Wagamama's. Have you been here before?"

"No, we haven't," Brendon says

"Well, there's a bit of a wait, so have some menus and browse through and we'll get you seated as soon as we can."

She hands them both menus and carries on down the line.

Brendon tugs his beanie off and stuffs it into his pocket, then opens his menu.

Ryan peers over his shoulder.

"You have your own menu," Brendon says

"I know, I want to see what you're having," Ryan drips water onto the section detailing all the different kinds of ramen.

"I don't know yet," Brendon says, "because you keep dripping on it."

"Gents," the server is back again "Table for two this way,"

They're seated at a section of a long bench, and order drinks, and Ryan finally opens his own menu and studies it.

It's bustling in the restaurant, and by the time the server comes back around to take their orders they have people sitting on either side of them.

"Did you want to go back on the bus, after?" Brendon says. It's still raining, the sky outside dark, and he doesn't really want to go back out in it.

"Not so much," Ryan smiles at the server as she puts down his bowl of noodle soup, and Brendon shifts back so she can settle his plate in front of him too.

"Yeah," Brendon says, "Open top bus, England, probably not the best combination."

Ryan chuckles "Even though it's a proper London Bus?"

"Hey," Brendon says "I can totally go back home and say I've been on one, now. At last."

"When are you heading back?" Ryan asks, snapping his chopsticks apart.

"I-don't know," Brendon says. He still doesn't, really.

"Hmm," Ryan says. "Well, I'm here for a while too. No rush, right?"

"Right" Brendon says. He forks up some coconut rice and chews. He still feels kind of tense, like he always does after a big argument, and here he doesn't have Spencer to smooth the way. It's up to him. If he wants it to be.

Across from him, Ryan is loose and relaxed, happily slurping his soup. Brendon's forgotten he could be like this.

"You seem-" Brendon starts, and stops, because what's he going to say? You seem happy? that would just be weird. Or maybe Ryan seems happy only in comparison to Brendon's own odd mood.

"You seem to be enjoying the soup," Brendon says, awkwardly.

"Oh," Ryan says. "Yes. It's good. You-want to try some?"

"I'm good. I've got all this to get through," Brendon gestures at his plate.

"I'm sure you'll manage," Ryan says, and smiles over the rim of the bowl as he picks it up to slurp, hands cradling the white china.

It's hard to know what to talk about. The band is probably out of the question, Brendon thinks. So he asks

"How's Hobo?"

"He's with Keltie," Ryan says, like Brendon doesn't know. Like he hadn't bought Ryan a stuffed beagle the day Keltie picked Hobo up, and he and Spencer had carefully ignored Ryan curled round the toy on the sofa and clinging on. "She sends photos. He's better off with her."

"I saw this greyhound the other day," Brendon says "It had an actual rain coat, like one of those green ones. And rainboots."

"Rainboots?" Ryan asks "Seriously?"

"Well," Brendon nods to where the rain is pounding against the window of the restaurant "We could have used some rainboots today too." His feet are still a bit wet inside his sneakers.

"They wouldn't go with my pants," Ryan says, all wide eyed seriousness, until they both laugh, and the smile feels strange on Brendon's face.

Lunch turns into an afternoon walking the length of Oxford Street, dodging the rain in and out of shops, which turns into beers in a pub full of men in suits, and Brendon can't remember the last time he spent so long in Ryan's company.

It seems, to Brendon, that the city's kind of neutral ground, and while the subjects they don't talk about still loom large and unsaid between them (he absolutely doesn't mention Jon and Ryan doesn't bring it up), there's enough they can talk about that it's not as awkward as Brendon had expected.

Ryan's still sly-witted, dry and funny and quick to point out ridiculous things, studying the world with narrowed eyes and sharp tongue. He still shocks laughs out of Brendon when he least expects it, because London is nothing if not full of subjects for Ryan to make fun of.

"Look," Ryan points out one afternoon as they feed the ducks. "That guy is totally scared of the geese and trying not to show it."

"What?" Brendon tosses a crust of bread to a duck with a green head.

"There," Ryan empties the bag of crumbs into the water and the ducks and little black waterbirds go nuts "On the other side of the pond. Every time the geese honk he jumps and then checks to make sure the girl on the bench hasn’t noticed. He keeps inching back away from them and the geese keep moving forward."

"Really?" Brendon looks himself now, and Ryan's right. The big Canada geese keep advancing on the guy, and he's slowly walking backward while trying not to look like he's walking backward, glancing across to the girl sitting on the bench, engrossed in her kindle. "I mean, they are pretty scary, when they all come at you in a group."

"If he can't protect her from geese, it's probably not going to work out," Ryan says

"Maybe she could protect him from geese, you ever think of that," Brendon counters. The guy inches back again as the geese waddle forward and then his foot must catch on something because he falls flat on his ass, and the geese close in.

"It's like something out of Hitchcock," Ryan says, fascinated.

"I don't trust geese," Brendon says. They are big birds, and he's kind of little. Plus, they have crazy eyes.

Ryan snorts, and throws the last crust of bread to the centre of the pond, where a duck snaps it out of the air.

"Come on," he says, "I'll protect you from the scary geese."

"Shut up," Brendon says automatically "That's enough nature for one day, is all I'm saying.”

Ryan tucks his wool scarf more securely into his coat as the wind picks up.

"You're right," he says "It's getting kind of cold."

They part at the tube station, and Brendon says "See you tomorrow?" and it doesn't feel like a stretch.

"I've got plans tomorrow," Ryan says "Day after? It's open mic at the pub near me, if you want?"

"Sure," Brendon says, and smiles "You know how to get back?"

"I get lost once on the tube and you never let me forget it," Ryan grumbles.

"Dude," Brendon says "You've gotten lost on every transport system in every city we've been to. Remember Munich?"

"That was in German," Ryan says "I can read English. It's just confusing."

"We should have saved some of those breadcrumbs so you could leave a trail," Brendon says, and Ryan shoves him, and grins, and says "fuck you," but fondly.

Brendon emails Spencer about the geese, and about the girl in the next apartment who is learning the violin, but he doesn't email him about Ryan. He has no idea if Ryan has contacted Spencer, but the whole thing feels kind of weird and fragile and Brendon- Brendon doesn't want Spencer to think he's being replaced, or anything.

Open Mic night turns out to be a lot of weird poetry, tambourines, and one semi-decent band, though they look all of fourteen.

"They're babies," Brendon marvels at the three piece.

Ryan just looks at him

"You are too young to say that," he says "Seriously dude."

"I am OLDER than my years, Ryan," Brendon says, to make him laugh, which Ryan does.

"Yeah, I can see the grey hairs and aura of wisdom," Ryan says, and leans back in his chair, loose and relaxed. It might be the beer. It might be the contact high from the group at the next table. But Ryan's been pretty chill all the time and Brendon says,

"You're more relaxed than I remember," and immediately feels like an idiot.

"You act like it's been decades," Ryan says, "Was I not relaxed before?"

Brendon's possibly a little buzzed, because he says "Not at the end. You know. You were all spiky again."

"You were hardly Mr. Chill yourself," Ryan says mildly. "None of us were."

"But now," Brendon says, because apparently he is a glutton for punishment. Onstage, someone is trying and mostly failing to play a didgeridoo.

"You know the whole 'break up to stay friends' thing?" Ryan says, and he pokes Brendon in the arm to make him look at him. Ryan's cheeks are slightly pink the way they always get when he drinks. "Turns out it does work, if you give it time."

Brendon feels something warm uncurl in his chest, and leans his head briefly on Ryan's shoulder.

"You say the sweetest things," he says.

Ryan flicks him on the forehead, but doesn't shift away.

It's not like they suddenly become joined at the hip, after that. It's not like Brendon forgets, but he'd missed Ryan, and if this weird truce thing they have is going to stick, Brendon's not going to complain.

He still feels a bit weird, fluttery and stressed, when he thinks about writing, or going home, or what he's going to do next. Everything seems bigger and harder to do without Spencer there, but it's probably just that he needs a holiday. Which is totally what he's doing, never mind the email from Pete which says "done running away yet?"

So he and Ryan go to Madame Tussuad’s, and try (and fail, because Brendon’s not poor, but he’s not paying that much for sandwiches) to have tea at the Ritz, and it's mostly not awkward at all.

That is, until they're at the apartment,hiding from the rain, and Brendon asks, because not knowing is killing him with curiosity.

"You going to tell me what you're still doing here?"

"Right now?" Ryan says, flicking through the channels, and Brendon knows a deflection when he hears it, especially one so blatant.

"You didn't come here to see me," Brendon says. He knows this.

"Not only," Ryan says. "I'm writing. Here's as good as anywhere."

He's sitting very straight on the sofa, looking at the screen, not a Brendon, and Brendon realises he's ventured into the big area of Things They Don't Talk about.

He's about to back pedal, to change the subject, when Ryan nods to the tv, where a music video's playing. It's some willowy English girl with a voice that wavers on the high notes, and Brendon recognises it as a song he's heard in shops and on the radio ever since he came to London.

"She's got one of them, actually," Ryan says, flatly.

"One of what?" Brendon asks.

"My songs," Ryan shrugs, but Brendon can hear the tension in his voice. It's not something you forget how to do.

"You're writing for other people?" Brendon asks, surprised. He can't imagine Ryan giving anyone else that kind of freedom over his songs.

"I have all these songs," Ryan's picking at the end of the sofa now, still not looking at him. "Someone should get some use out of them.

"But- I'd have heard," Brendon say. He's sure of this. Even if he doesn't consciously look for it, SOMEONE would have bought it up. He wonders if Spencer knows.

"It's not like I use my real name," Ryan scoffs, and this time he does look at Brendon, that expression he used to get when they were young, that dared you to even question that he was ok. "Who would want songs from someone that got through two bands in three years?"

"Ryan-" Brendon starts, then stops, because, what can he say?

"Yeah," Ryan shrugs "So that's what I'm doing. Writing. What are you doing here?"

"I don't know," Brendon says, honestly. Ryan's still holding himself tightly, hunched, and Brendon kind of wants to hug him.

"I'm sure it'll work out," Ryan says, and he stands, and opens the door, picks up his coat "It always does, for you, doesn't it?"

Brendon can hear the bitterness in his voice as the door closes behind him.

Brendon kind of expects that to finally be it from Ryan. He spends the evening trying to find the songs Ryan was talking about. It's idle curiosity, he tells himself. It gives him something to do.

He finds the one Ryan mentioned, the girl that's on all the radio shows. The songwriter’s listed as Tom Camus, and that makes Brendon smile. The song’s really not his style, but it is Ryan's and he knows that if he'd heard it, he'd have known, straight away. It doesn't fit with the rest of her stuff.

It's much, much better.

The thought doesn't hurt as much as it would have done last year. Maybe, Brendon thinks, he's growing as a person.

Ryan's sitting on the stoop the next day when Brendon gets back from exploring Green Park and taking pictures of the scary flocks of Canada geese there.

"I got lost," Ryan say, instead of hello.

"But, you got here?" Brendon asks. He unlocks the door and Ryan follows him inside.

"Well, I could remember the name of the market, so that bit was easy." Ryan says. "There's no market today though."

"Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays," Brendon says.

Ryan sits on the sofa and Brendon guesses he's in for the evening.

"I found your song," he says, which isn't what he'd meant to say at all.

"Which one?" Ryan asks.

"The one you said, yesterday." Brendon fills the teakettle at the tap because somehow the fancy tea Ryan bought at the market never made it back to his hotel.

"Oh," Ryan says. He doesn't say anything else, but he nudges Brendon aside and makes tea for himself, coffee for Brendon. For all his way with words, he's always said just as much with his body, and while Brendon doesn't think he'll ever read him as well as Spencer could, this apology is easy to see.

Brendon kind of feels like he owes him as well, so he says "It's good. It's a shame you didn't sing it though. It would suit a male voice better."

"Well," Ryan shrugs, sips his tea, "it's not like I'm going solo any time soon."

He has that hunched in look again, and this time Brendon gives into it the urge, and puts his arm round him, squeezes. Ryan's shoulders are thin as ever under his sweater, and he leans in, briefly.

"Hey," Brendon says "I was going to go out of the city today. See something that isn't London."

"Where are we going?" Ryan asks. The low key acceptance of the question makes something flip in Brendon’s stomach.

"I hadn't got that far," Brendon admits. There's a stack of leaflets clipped together on the kitchen table, advertisements for castles and amusement parks and old ships. They spread them out on the floor, backs against the sofa and try to decide.

"Hey," Brendon waves a leaflet for something called the Avonholme Butterfly Farm and Family Fun Park at Ryan. "Butterflies?" He raises an eyebrow.

Ryan glares.

"I still say they had it in for me," he says. "That was not normal butterfly behaviour."

It had been some random stop in upstate Illinois, parking to stretch their legs. The sun had been warm, and as soon as they'd stepped off the bus, Ryan had been surrounded, covered, with dozens and dozens of little blue butterflies, landing on his hair and shoulders and fluttering round his hands.

Spencer hadn't been able to stop laughing and had slumped, wheezing, against Brendon, while Ryan flailed uselessly at them and Jon had taken picture after picture, Ryan all but lost in a swirl of blue.

Brendon still has the picture somewhere. He hasn't thought about it in a long time.

"That's a no, then?" he asks innocently, just as Ryan says "Oh! Alpacas!" and flourishes a leaflet that promises country house teas and England's second-largest alpaca herd.

"England's Second Largest Alpaca herd," He reads aloud, just to be sure.

"How could you resist?" Ryan asks, dryly.

"We'll need a car," Brendon realises, belatedly. He's gotten used to the Tube.

In the end, embarrassingly, it's Ryan that has to rent the car. Brendon's too young, the rental place says, and Brendon's about to launch into an earnest explanation of why letting Ryan drive would be an epically bad idea when Ryan hands over his card and starts filling out insurance paperwork.

Brendon still plucks the keys out of his hands when they get to the parking lot though.

"Hey!" Ryan says.

"I'm driving," Brendon says "It's not an automatic, for a start."

"I can drive stick," Ryan protests.

"We're all aware of that," Brendon grins, "It's not like I don't have experience there as well."

Ryan keeps a straight face for ten seconds before he smiles, properly.

"But can you drive the car?" He asks, but he's already sliding into the passenger seat.

"You can navigate," Brendon hands over the leaflet with the map on the back.

It’s kind of weird, driving on the wrong side of the road, and the traffic circles are pretty scary.

“It says we need to get off the M25 at junction 16,” Ryan studies the back of the leaflet like it has the secrets of the universe on it. “Whatever that means.”

Brendon has weeks of traffic reports to draw on, so he says “It’s the highway around London, should be easy enough to find.”

It take about half an hour, but they finally hit the highway, and Ryan fiddles with the radio and finds a station that seems to play nothing but 80s music. Brendon drums his fingers along to Duran Duran and Ryan just snorts and tips his head back onto the headrest, but Brendon doesn’t miss that he’s tapping his foot.

There’s.... a lot of traffic. LOTS. They sit for about forty minutes moving forward by inches.

“We should have bought snacks,” Brendon says, squinting ahead to try and see what’s causing the gridlock. He can’t see anything. It’s just all the cars.

“Hmmm,” Ryan says “How much do you like me?”

“What?” Brendon asks, thrown by the question. It sounds...flirty. Huh.

Then he sees that Ryan’s dug out a bottle of water from his messenger bag, and an unopened bag of the weird potato chips they’d discovered, the chili-lime flavour.

“Since when are you the prepared one?” he asks. On the radio, Annie Lennox is singing that some people like being abused.

Ryan shrugs, and opens the chips. “I get hungry. There’s only one bottle though.”

“I’ll take the risk.” Brendon says and holds out his hand for a sip.

“Alex called me the other day,” Ryan says, out of nothing.

“Oh,” Brendon says. “Is..he ok?”

“Phantom Planet are playing again,” Ryan says. “So, that’s why, yesterday. I was upset. That’s two band members down now. It’s not really a band so much anymore, as an idea.”

“I’m sorry,” Brendon says, because he is. “Can you find someone else?”

“I’ll work something out,” Ryan says.

The traffic thins out once they leave at the junction marked on the map, but then Ryan says.

“Um.”

“What?” Brendon ask, frowning. The road they are on is narrow and windy, and conspicuously free of anything approaching signs.

Ryan studies the back of the leaflet.

“We’re supposed to be somewhere called Stoke Poges,” he says. “It might be a town.”

“That is a made up name,” Brendon says. He flexes his hands on the wheel.

“It’s also not where we are,” Ryan points out, waving at the fields, dotted with the occasional sheep.

“I can’t believe you got us lost,” Brendon says, 30 minutes later, when they have not found anything approaching a town, but have found lots more cows, sheep, and once, a girl on horseback that they had to slow right down to get past.

“Well, maybe you should have bought a MAP,” Ryan said. .

“Wait, there’s a road sign, what does it say?” Brendon says, peering at the road ahead. It’s getting to twilight, they didn’t set off until midday.

“Hogpits Bottom,” Ryan says, leaning out of the window. There’s a pause before they both crack up.

“I’m sure you’re making these names up,” Brendon says.

“Pull up, there’s a pub,” Ryan says, and Brendon pulls into the small parking lot of the pub.

“Give me the leaflet,” he holds out his hand.

“Like you’re going to do any better?” Ryan pouts, but he hands it over.

They totally should have got a real map, Brendon thinks. There's nothing to even indicate where the farm is in relation to anything else, just a few sketched roads and intersection names.

"We could ask in the pub?" Ryan says "Or if they have wi-fi we could Google."

They both look at the pub. Brendon's watched a lot of daytime cop shows over the past few weeks, and this pub definitely looks, what was the word they used?

"Dodgy," he says, remembering.

"We'll just ask," Ryan says. "What can they do to us?"

Everyone turns to stare at them as they open the door, and Brendon swears he hears the theme tune from the Good, the Bad and The Ugly.

"Go on then," Ryan says into his ear "You ask."

"It was your idea!" Brendon hisses "And YOU got us lost!"

"Can I help you gents?" the woman behind the bar says. She has bleached-white hair and doesn't actually look like she wants to help.

Brendon's sneakers squeak on the wood floor as he walks up to the bar. Ryan's at his back, close on his heels.

"We're kind of lost," Brendon tries a smile. The woman sadly does not find it irresistible. Instead, she looks pointedly at the taps on the bar.

"Oh! Brendon says.

Ryan cuts in

"Two pints of Fullers," he says. The look he gives Brendon says do I have to do everything?.

The woman pulls the pints, and Brendon pays, and tries again.

"So, we're kind of lost? We're trying to get here, can you give us directions?"

"Fucking yanks." someone along the bar mutters. Brendon pinches the back of Ryan's hand to stop him saying something and the bartender yells "Shut up Jonty," and takes the leaflet out of Brendon's hand.

"You're not in the right town," she says "You come from London?"

"Yes," Brendon says.

"Yeah, you took the wrong junction I expect," she says "Not that the directions will do you much good."

"Why?" Ryan asks. He sips his beer for the look of things. Brendon's not even going that far.

"Because it's closed," she says.

"It doesn't say that anywhere," Ryan protests.

"Don't it?" She says. "It is closed though. It only opens in summer. Sorry."

She doesn't look it, and wonders away to serve someone at the other end of the bar.

"You going to drink that?" Ryan nods at the beer. Brendon takes a sip, but it's pretty disgusting, and he has to drive back to London so he probably shouldn't drink it. The roads are confusing enough as it is.

"Not really," he says. "So I guess alpacas are out, then."

"We should have called them," Ryan says.

"Who closes a FARM?" Brendon says, frustrated. "It's not like they HIBERNATE."

People are still looking at them, probably because Ryan's wearing a pea green coat and tan ankle boots over his pants, and Brendon's yelling about alpacas in an American accent.

"Let's go," Ryan says, and puts his half-drunk pint glass down "We'll figure something out."

They make a quick exit, Brendon feeling all eyes on his back as the door closes behind him.

"What the hell was that place?" Brendon says "I thought country pubs were supposed to be friendly? They always are in Morse!"

Ryan doesn't ask what Morse is, which is good, as it's kind of embarrassing. Instead he says, "Maybe there's a map in the glove compartment."

Brendon guns the ignition-it’s dark now- and he flicks the interior light on. Ryan rummages in the glove compartment, but there's no map to be found.

"I guess, we just go back the way we came?" Brendon says.

"I'll look for road signs," Ryan says. "There's got to be something around here."

They drive in circles for about 20 minutes until Ryan spots a sign for Stoke Poges.

"We can get there, and then get to London," he says "right?"

It's probably not the most direct route anyone ever took to London, but at last they get back on the M25, and Brendon kicks Ryan's ass at license plate bingo.

They're both hungry by the time they drop the car off and take the tube back to Brendon's apartment. Ryan's eyes light up when he sees the hot food van parked at the end of the street. Brendon's seen enough half eaten trays of food abandoned round the van to be less than excited.

"I'm starving," Ryan says "Want anything?"

"I'm good, there's food at home," Brendon says.

"But this is more London,” Ryan says. "I'm getting one."

“Are you sure?” Brendon asks Ryan as the guy in the van stuffs a pita bread with shredded lettuce and slices of unidentifiable meat and squirts something on top of them. There is no way in hell Brendon would eat that, even drunk.

“Sense of adventure gone missing?” Ryan smiles at him, an old one, the one that dares you to keep up.

“It’s fine. That’s food poisoning in a tray right there,” Brendon says, as they walk away from the van and Ryan tries to negotiate eating his late dinner without spilling it all down his clothes.

“Anyway,” Brendon says as they climb the stairs to the apartment “We had an adventure. We saw the countryside. Cows. Horses. Scary pub-goers that looked like they wanted to eat us.”

“No alpacas though,” Ryan says, and he sounds sad. He pulls a face as he chews, but Brendon knows enough not to call him on it.

“Well, if someone could read a map, we might have,” Brendon teases, and it is teasing. It’s light and almost fond. Somehow they’ve got back to this place, and they even managed to agree on a radio station for a whole hour on the trip. It’s progress, he thinks. For the first time in a long time, he doesn’t feel empty.

That is, until he turns to tell Spencer this, and he isn’t there.

They put the TV on and find a nature documentary about penguins, and it’s all cold on the TV and dark and rainy outside, but it’s cosy inside the apartment, and they watch, pointing out the gross bits, and Ryan carefully does not say anything, just pushes his foot against Brendon’s thigh when one baby penguin doesn’t make it, and Brendon rubs the tears away with the cuff of his hoodie as the narrator says something trite about the Antarctic being a harsh place.

Ryan interrupts this by sitting up very suddenly and sprinting to the bathroom. He doesn’t even close the door before Brendon hears retching sounds.

Brendon eyes the remains of the pita-thing on the coffee table, and debates saying I told you so, but Ryan sounds like he’s really throwing up everything, and he hates that, always has, so Brendon doesn’t bother to knock on the door, just pushes it open.

“You ok?” he asks. Ryan prises one hand off the toilet bowl long enough to give him the finger, then retches again. His hair’s hanging in his face, and Brendon crouches down, holding his hair back for him as he heaves, and rubbing his back. He remembers the first time Ryan got drunk, and the hangover next morning, and how Spencer had looked after him, not saying anything, but with concern in every movement.

Ryan’s hair curls round his fingers, soft. Brendon finds he’s making little soothing noises, wordless “mmms” and “shhs” because Ryan sounds awful, he hates being sick, hates it and Brendon knows that when he looks up there’ll be wet at the corners of his eyes.

“You’re OK, you’re OK,” Brendon murmurs, as Ryan shakes under his hands.

Eventually Ryan stops throwing up, and rests his forehead against the rim of the bowl, rolling it back and forth on the porcelain.

Brendon stands up and wets a cloth under the cold tap, passes it down to him, then leans over and presses the flush on the toilet.

Ryan wipes his face off, and curls into a ball, hugging his knees and leaning his head on them. He looks green. Miserable. Brendon doesn’t like it.

“If you say I told you so,” he says weakly.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Brendon says.

“I’m just, going to stay here for a bit,” Ryan says.

“Ok,” Brendon nods. “You do that.”

He’s picking his keys up when he hears retching again. He wonders if they should report the van or something.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” he yells.

Ryan grunts something in return, and then groans.

It’s past ten, and British stores have weird hours, but the convenience store at the end of the street is still open, and Brendon hurries down the street. He doesn’t know what their version of Gatorade is, but he picks up two orange bottles of something that promises effective sports hydration and instant energy. There’s a freezer cabinet against the back wall, and Brendon hesitates before picking up a box of popsicles too.

It’s weird, that he still knows that Ryan doesn’t like to eat after being sick, but that he needs something in his belly or he’ll get cranky. Crankier.

Ryan has moved from the bathroom to the sofa by the time Brendon gets back, but he’s hugging the bowl from the kitchen in his arms and doesn’t look any less green.

Brendon hands him one of the bottles and goes to put the popsicles in the freezer.

“You can stay here, if you like,” Brendon says.

Ryan takes a small sip of the sports drink

“I’ll be OK,” he says “You don’t need to look after me any more. I know you don’t-”

“Ryan,” Brendon puts his hand on Ryan’s arm, squeezes. “You really think you’ll make it back on the subway when you look like you’re going to throw up any minute? I held your hair back dude. I think we’re past me kicking you out. Just drink your Gatorade. I bought popsicles.”

“Are there orange ones?” Ryan asks. He puffs his cheeks out like he’s going to throw up again, but swallows a few times and doesn’t.

“Of course,” Brendon says.

Ryan shuffles to the kitchen, still grasping the bowl tight, and returns with a popsicle. Brendon finds another show with animals dying cruel deaths, and when Ryan slumps next to him, he leans into him in turn.

He smells a bit of vomit. It’s fairly gross, but before long the popsicle stick and half-melted ice is slipping from Ryan’s fingers, and he’s asleep. Brendon slips out from under him, and covers him over with the patchwork comforter from the armchair. He snaps a picture on his phone for blackmail purposes later.

Ryan spends the next day on the sofa methodically eating the whole box of popsicles. Brendon sits next to him and leafs through the copy of NME he picked up two days ago. It’s quiet and kind of comfortable. It’s nice.

“Hey,” Ryan nudges him with his toes “put the TV on?”

“You put it on,” Brendon said. The album reviews have one of the girl with Ryan’s song. He turns the page.

“I’m sick.” Ryan says. He sticks his tongue out as if in proof. It’s bright orange.

“You’re lazy, Ross,” Brendon says, but he gets up and turns it on.

“Nothing with animal death,” he says as Ryan picks up the remote.

Ryan rolls his eyes but finds a marathon of an old-looking quiz show where there is a giant clock behind the contestants. They have to make words out of random letters.

“Ooooh,” Ryan says, and settles down, pressed up against Brendon.

He’s obnoxiously good at the words round, and Brendon does ok, but they both fall down on the math questions.

“How the hell did he get to that answer?” Brendon asks, for the third time.

“I don’t know,” Ryan’s frowning at the screen.

“We need Spence for the math,” Brendon says as the woman scribbles out the arithmetic.

Ryan studies him, eyes narrowed, curious.

“Why isn’t he here?” he asks. “You haven’t even called him, have you?”

“We’re not joined at the hip,” Brendon says. “We do stuff apart.”

“Not for a while,” Ryan says.

“I’m fine,” Brendon said “I just needed some space.”

“But you’re here with me,” Ryan points out.

“I can kick you out if it’ll make you feel better.” Brendon says.

Ryan shoves against him.

“Shut up,” he said “Oh look, he’s just missed he can make phantasm.”

Brendon makes Ryan pay for the pizza they order, and they put their socked feet on the coffee table, toes nudging against each other. Ryan steers clear of the pizza, to be on the safe side, but It’s warm and comfortable. They could be 18 again, except there was always Spencer then too, softer and just right next to him.

Brendon squashes that thought, but it brings up another, the fact that Ryan fits here now. Or maybe fits again. It’s not something he wants to examine too closely because if Spencer-

He shifts against Ryan’s shoulder.

“Dude,” he says, “you realise you smell of vomit and sugar, right?”

“I’ll shower in the commercial break, I need to see if she wins,” Ryan says, staring at the TV as the woman makes ingenious with her letters and Dictionary Corner nods approvingly.

“Or you could go back to your hotel and do it there?” Brendon says, but he doesn’t protest much when Ryan heaves himself off the couch, scattering popsicle wrappers in his wake, and fills the bathroom with steam and wet towels.

He eventually leaves at midnight; Brendon is half-worried that he’ll get on the wrong tube and end up in like, France, but he gets an email at 1am that says,

“Can’t get the theme tune out of my head. Sounds like something you’d use.”

Brendon’s had the same loop of electric chimes running round his own head. He thinks Ryan has a point. He also thinks it’s another one of Ryan’s little olive branches.

There’s piano music floating out of the door when Brendon gets back from a run for juice and cookies the next day. Ryan had turned up at 10am, sat on the couch, and found a Come Dine With Me marathon, and there was no way Brendon was passing that up. That shit was hilarious.

He thinks one of the contestants must be doing a dinner party with music or something, but as he gets closer he realises it’s not a recording. Which must mean-

Ryan’s hands still on the keys as the door clicks shut behind Brendon.

“I didn’t know you played,” Brendon says, and he comes forward into the room. It’s an odd juxtaposition, Ryan at a piano. Extravagant purchases aside, he’d never shown any real interest.

“I learned,” Ryan shrugs one shoulder, doesn’t start playing again. “I’m still learning.”

He’s sitting half-turned away, tension in his shoulders.

“Play me something,” Brendon asks, lightly. “Come on Ross.”

He sits in the funny hard-stuffed armchair and waits. Ryan looks over him, but eventually lays his hands to the keys, plays a few simple chords, and then starts to sing.

And the thing is he KNOWS Ryan can sing. He’s just not used to it any more.

It takes till the refrain to recognise Ryan’s singing Joni Mitchell.

It fits, the gentle ripple of the piano, Ryan’s halting voice, the wry twist to his mouth when he gets to

Tears and fears and feeling proud to say "I love you" right out loud,
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I've looked at life that way.

But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say I've changed.
Something's lost but something's gained in living every day.

Something tugs inside Brendon. Maybe it’s the tired-sounding hope in Ryan’s voice. Maybe it’s the words, the pointed way he sings them. Maybe it’s Ryan’s long, long fingers on the keys, not as deft as his own, but trying. He doesn’t know the song well, but he joins in on the last refrain, and hearing their voices together again makes something click back into place he didn’t even know he missed any more. It makes him want to try, too.

Ryan must feel the same because he nods his head, smiles, eyes half lidded, sharing a joke, and starts playing again. It’s Norwegian Wood which Brendon’s always liked the humour of, and they sing it right through to the end.

“Any requests?” Ryan says, after.

Brendon leans back in the chair. “You know,” he said, “I got this apartment because of the piano. I was going to work on some stuff.”

“Have you?” Ryan asks. He plays a scale, stumbles over it, and bites his lip in concentration as he plays it again.

“The first week I basically slept,” Brendon says. “After that you were here.”

“Sorry I distracted you,” Ryan says. He closes the lid of the piano and stands up, and it looks like he might bolt.

“Hey,” Brendon puts out a hand to stop him, brushes against the soft wool of his sweater. “I’m not.”

“You mean that,” Ryan says. It’s not a question. It sounds like a realisation.

“Yeah,” Brendon stands up too, picks up the bag with the cookies. “I actually do.” Ryan meets his eyes, and cocks his head like he’s figuring something out. Brendon’s not sure what he’s figuring out, or whether he’d be right or not.

Brendon’s hand is still on Ryan’s arm. He should move it, he thinks.

Behind them, the TV announces that Sharon and Paul are hosting an Hawaiian themed dinner party.

“We have to watch that,” Ryan says, stepping over the piano stool and shaking Brendon’s hand free. “Think of the mocking possibilities.”

They eat three sleeves of cookies as Paul attempts and fails to roast a pig in his tiny garden and Sharon breaks down and yells she knew they should have tried the Tudor harvest feast theme instead. Ryan laughs his funny crackly laugh, head tipped back, and Brendon joins in because, really, he’s never been able to resist Ryan laughing, really laughing.

It turns out there are a lot of seasons, which get progressively worse as the day wears on. They slump together on the couch, listing toward each other, Ryan’s bony elbow digging into Brendon’s side. Ryan’s hair gets in his face. it’s comfortable and warm and new all at the same time.

“I think this is sapping my will to live, dude,” Brendon says, around 8pm.

“Yeah,” Ryan stretches, sticking his arms and legs out. “Also, now I’m starving.”

“All you’ve had for the last two days is popsicles and crackers,” Brendon says. “No wonder you’re hungry.”

“Come on,” Ryan gets stiffly to his feet and pulls Brendon up. His callouses are the same. “We’re going to get dinner. You’re buying.”

“Hey,” Brendon says, “I totally held your hair back for you, that deserves something.”

“I paid for the pizza!” Ryan is pulling on his camel coat, fishing his gloves out of his pocket and tugging them on, long fingers flexing in the brown leather. “Which I didn’t even EAT. I’d say you owe me dinner.”

He’s looking sidelong at Brendon, lip curled up at the corner, and for a fleeting second, it feels like a proposition.


“Fine, but I get to pick.” Brendon says, covering up the little jolt of-something- he feels.

They end up at the Spanish tapas place across the other side of the market. Brendon knows his way pretty well around the tube by now, but he's suddenly, ravenously hungry, and the bar is both close, and good.

"You want to share?" Ryan asks, when they're settled at a tiny table in the corner. There's a band on tonight, not Spanish, Irish-sounding instrumental stuff with a fiddle and a seriously cool hand drum that Brendon knows Spencer would go nuts for, the girl playing so fast her hands blur.

"Depends," Brendon says, tearing his eyes away, "what are you having?"

Ryan taps the fingers of one hand on the table as he looks at the menu.

"The pork belly and beans. And the tuna?"

"I'll have the tortilla," Brendon decides, and Ryan waves the server over and orders.

It's nothing they haven’t done before, shared food, all the way back to when they'd eat together because that was the only way Brendon could afford to eat at all. It should be completely normal, but Brendon's still aware of something, something extra, the curl of Ryan's fingers round the stem of a wine glass, the nudge of his foot under the table, the glint of the dim light on his hair.

It kind of feels like date.

It's new, but, Brendon realises as they eat, its not exactly unwelcome. it's not really surprising. And it's so subtle that Brendon's still not sure he's not imagining it.

He's not imagining leaning into Ryan as they walk back to the apartment though, or the way Ryan leans briefly back, a skinny line of warmth, his coat rough against Brendon's hand.

"See you tomorrow?" Ryan asks as they reach the tube station.

"This gallery has an exhibition of 80s pop posters," Brendon says, remembering the advert he'd seen on the tube, "I was going to check it out, if you want to come."

"Sounds good," Ryan says, "I'll bring breakfast."

Three years ago, Brendon would have hugged him goodnight. Instead, he squeezes Ryan's shoulder, briefly.

"Night, dude," he says.

"Night," Ryan says. The platform announcement blares, the rattle of Ryan's train almost drowning it out, and Ryan hugs him, quick and rough, before sprinting down the escalator, coat flapping out behind him.

Brendon flops back onto the bed when he gets back to the apartment, and thinks Huh.


Ryan's wearing ridiculous sunglasses the next day; he pushes them up on top of his head, keeping his hair out of his face, while they eat breakfast.

"You look like Paris Hilton," Brendon says, licking the frosting from his danish off his fingers.

"You'd know," Ryan says, teasing, and that look is back again, that sidelong look, and Brendon thinks I'm not imagining it. I'm not.

"It's sweet you think that will get my attention, Ross," Brendon gets up to check the tube map.

"I'd say I already have it," Ryan wads up the paper napkin and leaves it on the table.

The exhibition is busy, full of people, and Brendon wishes he'd thought to bring his shades too. There's a gallery of original posters from Factory Records, to start with, and then the posters are arranged by genre, and he and Ryan get into a heated discussion of just how to classify Duran Duran which takes them all through the rest of the exhibition and out into the coffee shop next door.

Brendon's halfway through an impassioned defence of the New Romantic label "-you can't just call them Alternative Rock, it's not the whole story-" when he catches Ryan's eye, and there's a private smile, a look from up under his eyelashes, sly and impish, and Brendon stutters to a stop, because he's seen that look before, sure but it's never been directed at him.

He's not imagining it.

Well, if that's the way things are, Brendon can roll with that. He's on vacation. People hook up on vacation all the time. London's neutral ground. And it's not like they can break up the band.

They've already done that.

Plus, it's Ryan. Who's still, after everything, one of the most fascinating people Brendon knows. Who knows him. Who's- speaking to him.

"Brendon," Ryan sounds impatient.

"Sure," Brendon says, not knowing what he's agreeing to.

"Great," Ryan says, and puts a hand to his elbow to steer him in direction of the tube "we can have lunch there."

"Where?" Brendon asks. Maybe he should have paid attention but he was too busy having a revelation.

"Camden," Ryan says. "This place near my hotel."

The place turns out to be a restaurant in what used to be a Victorian orphanage, called Lost Boys. It's full of weird Peter Pan touches that manage to be creepy rather than cute, and Brendon sees immediately why Ryan likes it. It's odd and full of pretty, pretty people.

There's a quote from Peter Pan engraved on each of the tables. Brendon takes a picture of theirs to send to Pete.

Second star to the right and straight on til morning

"Pete?" Ryan asks, as Brendon holds his phone over the quote, and Brendon nods. He never had Spencer's effortless communication with Ryan, but they know each other pretty well, even now, and it's not like Pete's Peter Pan thing is exactly news.

"I always wondered," Ryan says, smiling at the waitress "If Pete was Peter Pan, does that make one of us Tinkerbell?

Brendon laughs and leans across the table to tug on one of Ryan's curls.

"We're all pretty enough for that," he says, and Ryan bats his hand away with a grin.

"Actually, in the original stage play, Tinkerbell was just a flashing light."

"Of course you'd know that," Brendon rolls his eyes and Ryan laughs, chuckles, and says

"She came to life with attention and applause. I'd say that's you, wouldn't you?"

"Better keep paying attention to me then," Brendon says, "you don't want me to disappear, do you?"

It's so easy to flirt like this, light and teasing and just fun, in a way that Brendon had thought had been lost forever. Ryan leans in, smiles, touches the back of his hand as he talks, and Brendon leans right back, rapt, grins, steals half the food of Ryan's plate. They've flirted before, on stage, for people, for the hell of it, but, Brendon realises, he's never had all of Ryan's attention like this before. The intent, the want, all focused on him.

It's intoxicating. It's something he could get used to. It's probably a really, really bad idea to even be thinking like that.

He shivers at all the implications, rubbing his arms.

"You cold?" Ryan asks.

Brendon is, a bit. It had been warm in California, and he's only got hoodies and his denim jacket with him. It’s not really enough against the damp.

"Yes," he says "I think I need a new coat."

Ryan lights up at that.

"I know just the place," he says.

It's one of a row of stores around the corner from the restaurant, tiny poky places with aggressively bored-looking shop assistants, full of a mix of vintage and new stuff, and more hats than Brendon has ever seen in one place before.

Ryan disappears almost at once, and Brendon knows from experience that the only person that can cope with Ryan in a shopping mood is Spencer, so he leaves him be and asks the guy at the cash desk where the coats are.

The guy stops chewing on the end of his hoodie string and jerks his head toward the back of the store, but doesn't actually say anything.

Brendon says "Thanks!" anyway and makes his way past racks of pants and shelves of shoes until he gets to the coats. There's a lot of long coats that look like ex-army stuff, but he finds a pretty awesome jacket, dark grey with off-centre zips and buckles, and some really cool shoes that look like a cross between boots and chucks, with long, ong laces that wrap round and round his ankles. He's tying them up, flexing his foot to admire them, when Ryan rounds the corner, carrying four shirts and some jeans, a sky blue trilby perched on his head.


"You're not buying those?" Ryan asks, sitting on the stool and frowning at the shoes. He's wearing black, pointy toed Cuban heels, and Brendon thinks he's hardly one to judge

"You don't get to dress me any more," Brendon says, standing up. The shoes are pretty comfortable. He's getting them.

"Someone should," Ryan says, but it's teasing. He's always appreciated Ryan's sheer weirdness in clothes, even if he didn't always want to share it.

"Shut up," Brendon stands in front of the tall mirror and zips up the jacket. It's snug fitting, cosy and it even has thumb holes in the cuffs. He hooks his thumbs through them. "I look hot and you know it."

Ryan comes up behind him, smooths his hands down Brendon's arms like he's checking the fit and hooks his chin over Brendon's shoulder, looks at him in the mirror.

For one second, Brendon thinks he's going to kiss him, right there in the middle of the store.

Instead Ryan just digs his chin into Brendon's shoulder and says "You do," into his ear, before stepping back and picking up his pile of clothes.

Brendon's hands are actually shaking as he unlaces the shoes so he can go pay for them.

Ryan doesn't buy the hat, thankfully, but he buys everything else, and they are so laden down with bags that Ryan says,

"I need to drop this stuff off, my hotel's just down the street," and so Brendon finds himself studying the art on the walls of Ryan's hotel room while Ryan hangs up shirts and folds pants in the wardrobe.

Ryan's checking his phone as Brendon tries to decide if the picture over the bed is an octopus or a plate of pasta, or possibly both.

"I have to write a couple emails," Ryan says, looking up from his phone "I should send them off now."

"Oh," says Brendon, standing "Ok, I guess I'll see you later then." It's weird to think that Ryan's actually working, or so it seems. It makes him feel guilty that he isn't. He should email Spencer, sit at the piano. Something.

"It's cool," Ryan says, opening the laptop, "You can watch TV or whatever, I can work with you here. There's stuff in the fridge if you want a drink."

Ryan's in the only chair, sitting at the table with the laptop, so Brendon kicks his shoes off and sits on the bed. He finds the remote on the nightstand and switches the TV on. It's actually a radio channel, the DJ a woman with a fascinating, husky voice, musical lilt to every word. Brendon kind of wants to listen to her talk forever.

Ryan's tapping away at the keyboard, silent as he always is when he's writing, and the music is soft, trippy electronica, and the DJ's voice is soothing, the lighting low in the room, and Brendon feels his eyes close, and doesn't try to stop them.

He wakes to the bed dipping beneath him as Ryan sits down. He thinks about stretching up, pulling Ryan down, but he kind of likes the anticipation, so he just blinks his eyes open and looks up at Ryan.

"You still snore," is what Ryan says.

"I don't" Brendon says automatically.

"You totally do. Too much dairy." Ryan pokes his shoulder "Is Spencer letting you have cheese again?"

"Fuck off," Brendon stretches lazily. He could fall back asleep with very little prompting. Ryan pokes him again.

"Are you going to sleep again?" He asks, but he just looks interested, rather than annoyed.

"Mmmmm maybe," Brendon closes his eyes. "I should get back to my place before I fall asleep here."

"Again," Ryan says, but it's fond. And, Brendon realises, he's not even surprised to hear the fondness.

"I have to work more on this tomorrow," Ryan says, and he waves on hand to the corner of the room where his guitar, the big Gibson, leans against the wardrobe. "But, I was going to do one of those walking things you have the leaflets for the day after, if you want?"

Brendon rubs the sleep out of his eyes, and bends to pick his shoes up from the floor, props his foot on the nightstand to tie them up.

"Sure," he says, "We could do the one along the river? I'll come pick you up."

Ryan hands him the bag with his new coat as he gets to the door.

"Don't forget this," he says, as Brendon reaches out to take it "Don't want you getting cold."

Brendon grins, and chances a hug. He feels Ryan's lips brush his neck as he says goodbye.

The tube rattles along, and Brendon leans his head against one of the posts, sleep still clinging to him. He makes something called a Pot Noodle for dinner, eating it in his boxers in front of the TV, and then stumbles to bed. He looks at the shifting patterns of light on the ceiling from the traffic outside, and remembers all the other times he's woken up with Ryan in the room, writing on laptops, or in notebooks, or even, years ago, on the back on junk mail in Brendon's first apartment, scratches of ballpoint that became songs, hits written on the back of advertisements for pizza or car loans.

Back then, Ryan was this fascinating creature, so tangled up with music, and getting out, because Ryan wanted out as much as he did, that Brendon couldn't really think much about it. Couldn't risk anything that might mean they didn't do it. And then they were on stage, and everything was hotter and brighter and both more and less real, and Ryan was still fascinating, something out of a fairy tale, and they could flirt and touch and perform for the crowds, and still fall asleep in stoned piles in buses and hotel rooms, waking up with his head on Ryan's thigh and his feet in Spencer's lap, and feeling that here, here was where he was supposed to be.

It's always been a thread running through the entire time they've known each other, but now, now it feels like it's finally not going to be the end of the world if he does something about it. There's nothing to break any more. And besides, Brendon reminds himself as he turns the lamp out, it's just a holiday fling. He's just going to enjoy it.

Enjoy the pleasant, tingly feeling of anticipation, fizzing through Brendon with every brush of hand, every look that lasts a little too long, every argument that feels more like foreplay than any thing else.

They walk along the Embankment as planned, one of the walking tours that didn't look too long, and Brendon takes pictures of everything. The river’s kind of fascinating, so wide and grey and still full of boats, little ferries and big touring barges, flags fluttering. It’s sunny but its also really cold, the wind whipping around and making the tips of Brendon’s ears cold. He huddles next to Ryan, and Ryan matches his longer pace to his, slow and easy.

“Hey look,” Ryan says, pointing to the big Ferris Wheel on the opposite bank, “I always wanted to go on that.”

The sun is bright, and it glints off Ryan’s hair, his eyelashes, the beads on the wrist of his pointing arm, and he looks so relaxed, so happy, and suddenly the fizzing turns to want, and Brendon’s stepping forward, crowding Ryan against the railings along the river, and Ryan trails off, and smirks.

“Hey,” Brendon says, “What happens in London, right?”

“Are you really using that line on me Urie?” Ryan says, but he’s laughing, and he’s still laughing when Brendon stretches the few inches up, and kisses him.

Their mouths don’t line up right, and Ryan’s teeth catch on Brendon’s lip, stinging, but then Ryan cups Brendon’s jaw in one long-fingered hand, and angles his head and they’re kissing smoothly, unhurriedly, lazy swipes of Ryan’s tongue across his teeth, little nibbling kisses. Brendon presses closer, gets his hands up into Ryan’s hair, twining them in his curls, and the wind whips around them, but Ryan’s mouth is warm.

Ryan's hair curls round Brendon's fingers, and he nips at Ryan's bottom lip until Ryan makes a pleased sound in the back of his throat, and Brendon pushes forward, one of Ryan's hands curled round his hip. They kiss until the ringing of a bell makes them jump apart.

A stern looking guy riding a bike with a basket on the front glares at them until they get out off the way, and he zooms past.

Ryan's lips are red. Brendon rubs his own mouth as he looks at them.

"So," Brendon says, when it looks like Ryan's not going to say anything. "That happened."

"Yeah," Ryan says. He curls his finger through Brendon's belt loop, and then they're kissing again.

"You want to go on the Ferris Wheel?" Brendon says, minutes later. His lips are tingly.

"Oh, now you want to go on it?" Ryan asks, as they start walking again.

"Well, yeah," Brendon bumps his hip against Ryan's. He's still a bony fucker. "Now I have someone to make out with at the top."

"Oh, you do, do you?" Ryan says, but he's smiling up from under his eyelashes, lips red and swollen and fuck, Brendon thinks. Just. Fuck.

The Ferris Wheel, it turns out, is called the London Eye, and promises amazing views across London. Brendon can't describe any of them.

The tube is crowded on the way home, the rush hour crush giving them the excuse to press against each other, ankle to hip to shoulder, to brush hands and sit close. They have to stand for the last part of the journey, and Ryan brackets him against one of the poles that run from the floor to ceiling of the car, pulling Brendon to stand between his long legs, hands firm on his hips. The train moves off with a jolt and Brendon stumbles against him, and doesn't pull away.

It's early evening by the time they get back to Brendon's, and when Brendon suggests they get take out from the Indian restaurant instead of eating out, Ryan smiles quickly, brilliantly, and says

"I like the way you think."

It's far from the first time they've sat on the sofa with takeout. It's not even the first time they've done it here even. But it's the first time Ryan's set aside the remains of his mutter paneer and looked at Brendon, almost hungrily, until Brendon hastily swallows the last of his beer, puts out a hand, and pulls Ryan down on top of him.

"We're not fucking tonight," Ryan says, minutes, hours, later, into the base of Brendon's throat. Brendon's got his shirt untucked, hands moving up and down Ryan's spine, and Ryan shivers every time Brendon's nails catch.

"Really?" Brendon grinds up; Ryan's kind of unmissably hard "because I've got to say, it kind of feels like we are."

"Nuh uh," Ryan moves his mouth to Brendon's ear, lips at his earlobe. before he pulls back and looks him in the eye. He's flushed, mouth read, hair mussed and tangled from Brendon's hands. He looks debauched and they haven't even got their pants off yet.

"How about tomorrow?" Brendon asks as Ryan spider-walks his fingers down Brendon's chest. He's a bit annoyed. If Ryan's suddenly not into it he could just say.

"Hey," Ryan says, "I'm not getting cold feet, OK?"

It's really annoying to find that Ryan can still pull the same mind reading act Spencer does, even after everything.

"I'm just kind of beat," Ryan continues. He teases up the bottom of Brendon's shirt, stroking lightly over his stomach. "And I don't want to rush this."

Brendon pushes up into Ryan's hands. "Too beat to make out some more?" he asks, because yeah, that sounds kind of desperate, but it's Ryan.

"Come to bed and find out," Ryan says, swinging himself out of Brendon's lap and sauntering towards the bedroom like he owns the place.

And Brendon does what he once swore he'd quit doing, and follows him.

Brendon's woken by the bed dipping, and Ryan crawling back under the covers. His lips are still chapped from kissing; they'd fallen asleep between one kiss and the next, and Brendon tells himself he can still taste Ryan. He definitely has at least two hickeys, a match to the one at the base of Ryan's long pale throat. He's going to wish he still rocked the scarves, Brendon thinks, eyes still closed.

"I know you're awake," Ryan sounds amused. "You're not snoring, for one thing."

Brendon's about to tell him, again, that he doesn't snore, when Ryan snakes a hand into his boxers, long fingers wrapping round him, and Brendon jolts all the way awake and opens his eyes to see Ryan's wicked grin.

"Morning," Ryan says, giving Brendon a friendly squeeze and leaning down to kiss him. He's brushed his teeth, and Brendon's oddly touched.

"What happened to not rushing," he mumbles against Ryan's lips.

"I waited 8 hours," Ryan says.

"That totally counts," Brendon gasps and bucks up into Ryan's grip as he starts jerking him off in earnest. His callouses feel amazing and just the sight of those long, clever fingers is enough to have Brendon panting.

"Jesus," he gasps as Ryan twists his wrist, the other hand cradling his balls, "Your fucking hands."

"I knew it," Ryan smiles and leans down to bite his lip, tug gently before letting go. He sounds amused "You are not subtle. You've been staring at my hands for years.”.

"Can you-god-blame me?" Brendon barely manages to get out, because Ryan's jerking him so slowly, callouses catching just the way Brendon likes, and he's got this gorgeous flush over his cheekbones. Ryan's eyes are bright amber and mischievous and he's grinning like he knows the best secret in the world. Brendon remembers that hey, he's got hands too and he's reaching out to return the favour when Ryan gives flicky twist of his wrist and rubs the knuckle of his other hand firmly behind Brendon's balls and Brendon comes, sighing, all over Ryan's fist.

"Huh," Ryan wipes his hand on the sheet. "I totally thought you'd be loud."

"I am when I'm getting fucked," Brendon says honestly. He feels lazy and warm, and Ryan has apparently been thinking about this. He stretches slowly, feeling his muscles pull, and watches Ryan's tongue flick out to wet his lips.

"We should do that," Ryan says roughly.

"Need to find a drugstore," Brendon says, and he pulls Ryan down so Ryan's knees are either side of his hips. "But yes, we should do that. A lot."

Ryan rocks down against him, dick hard against Brendon's stomach, and Brendon thinks he should do something about that.

"'til then you'll have to make do with me blowing you," Brendon says. He palms Ryan's ass and rolls them over. "If that’s OK with you." He doesn't wait for a reply, just hooks his thumbs into Ryan's blue underwear and drags them down and off.

He feels his eyebrows lift when Ryan's cock bobs free, hard and wet, but it's not like its news that Ryan's packing, and Brendon's never been one to back down from a challenge.

He bits his lip against making any ego-fuelling comments, and Ryan's eyes track the movement. Brendon smiles and does it again, slowly, deliberately, releasing his lower lip with a pop, and Ryan groans.

"Come on," he says, and wraps his hand round his dick, gives himself a stroke.

"Impatient," Brendon says. He's a bit mesmerised by Ryan's long fingers around his long dick, but he slithers down and buries his face in Ryan's groin, and just breathes in. Above him, Ryan shudders. Brendon presses a kiss to the base of Ryan's cock.

"You can grab on, if you like," Brendon says and the he opens his lips around Ryan's cock, and goes down, down, down. He fucking loves this.

Ryan's hands settle in his hair, tugging just slightly, and oh, Brendon likes that, he really does. Ryan's hot and bitter, and he's making little gasps and moans, getting louder and louder as Brendon sucks in earnest. He feels Ryan hard on his tongue, hitting the back of his throat. He swallows round him and Ryan keens and jerks forward.

It's good he doesn't have to sing anytime soon, Brendon thinks.

Soon Ryan's tugging harder, pulling Brendon's head up and off.

"I'm-" he grits out, and Brendon pulls off, licks his palm showily, and finishes Ryan off with five quick strokes. Ryan comes with that rough groan that Brendon's familiar with from shared hotel rooms and cramped bunks.

Turns out, it's even hotter when he knows he's the one that caused it.

"We should go see the Crown Jewels," Brendon says a few days later. Ryan's sitting on the sofa in boxers and a t-shirt covered in french graffiti, eating cereal. It could be any morning they've spent together over the years, except that this morning they'd traded slippery handjobs in the shower, the water getting in their mouths as they kissed.

"Now?" Ryan asks. He shifts over as Brendon sits next to him and tucks his feet up under Brendon's thigh.

"Well," Brendon chews his toast "We should get dressed first."

"Yeah," Ryan brushes his fingers over the bruise on Brendon's hip "You look a bit worked over there."

"And whose fault is that?" Brendon says.

"Didn't hear you complaining," Ryan grins. "I should go back to mine and get some clothes."

"Mine aren't good enough?" Brendon says, mock-offended.

"You don't want me to answer that," Ryan says, and kisses him before he can reply.

They wait for the guided tour, and the guy in the bright red coat, the Yeoman Warder, he calls himself, takes them all round the Tower of London, and tells them story after gory story. Ryan listens, rapt, to all the talk of beheadings and torture and ghosts, but Brendon feels a little sick.

"You OK?" Ryan asks, as the Warder describes, in gleeful detail, just what was done to traitors. He squeezes Brendon’s hand, and Brendon's kind of pathetically thankful. He doesn't think he has a particularly sensitive stomach or anything, but somehow knowing you were standing in the place where it happened made it more real.

"We can see the Crown Jewels next," Ryan says, "if you want."

"Like I'm going to say no to shiny things," Brendon squeezes back, grateful for the dim room, and the way the party's attention is drawn to the Warder.

The line for the Crown Jewels is fucking LONG, and by the time they get there, Brendon's starving.

"Huh," Ryan says, looking at some kind of ball with a cross on top "They look much smaller close up."

"They're so sparkly," Brendon says. It's really the only word for them, crowns and bracelets and rings set with diamonds and emeralds and rubies, all glittering under the lights.

There's not really much else to do in the gallery other than look at them, but Brendon kinds of wants to get his money's worth, so they stay there until he's too hungry to wait any longer.

"Does this place have a cafe?" Brendon asks. Ryan studies the map.

"Apparently there are three," Ryan says.

They get sandwiches and hot drinks, and sit outside on the grass. The ravens squawk and flap around them, strutting around like they own the place.

"'But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,'" Ryan quotes, pointing at the nearest raven with the crust of his sandwich. "I always expect them to say 'Nevermore'. Spence used the have the quote on his in-ears."

"He still does," Brendon says, and because Spencer will like it, he takes a picture of three ravens, standing close like they're having a conversation. He sends the picture off with "nevermore" as the only text.

"Nice to know some things don't change," Ryan says.

They spend almost as long in the gift shop as they did in the tower, and Brendon doesn't say anything when Ryan buys a stuffed Raven. It's really none of his business, he tells himself.

"There's a market by my place too," Ryan says the next day as they wait in line for pastries. It's cold, the wind cutting like a knife, and Brendon huddles next to Ryan until Ryan lets him slip an arm round his waist, and hug him close, sharing warmth. Brendon lets himself smell Ryan's neck a bit, the warm smell of skin and cologne that starting to mean 'Ryan'.

"Like a food market?" Brendon says.

"Like an everything market," Ryan says. "I like writing there, there's plenty of - colour."

"Now I have to see it," Brendon says, because when Ryan says colour, he means people who make the Circus costumes look like nun's habits. "Is it on today?"

"It's on every day," Ryan says. They get to the front of the line and Brendon picks out the pastries and hands over the money.

"Let's go then," Brendon says, and they eat their pastries as they walk to the tube station.

'Colour' is right, Brendon thinks, looking round at rainbow dreads and gauged ears and ruffles and leather and torn jeans. He feels underdressed. Or overdressed.

"I am getting so many Mona Lisa video flashbacks now," he says, because there is an amazing steampunk store front with like, clockwork fish and things in the window, and a beautiful grey tail coat on a dummy made of cogs and levers.

"I like the steampunk thing," Ryan says, nodding; "you always could rock a top hat."

Brendon raises an imaginary hat at this, say "Thank you," with a little bow, and is not really surprised when Ryan laughs at him, then kisses him.

He's a little surprised to realise that means Ryan's seen the video. And that Ryan liked it.

There's so much stuff to look at, the crows swirling round the stalls, and the shops, and the street theatre, that Brendon feels overwhelmed.

"We can always come back, if you miss something," Ryan says, when Brendon tells him this "It's not like the hotel is far."

Brendon buys a t shirt screenprinted with ivy that looks like it’s been made out of wire and screws. It's kind of ridiculous, and Ryan rolls his eyes a bit, but Brendon loves it. There's a stall selling buttons with every band under the sun on, and Brendon sifts through until he finds a Zoso one for Ian.

"Zeppelin?" Ryan asks, appearing at his elbow. He's fiddling with something small in his gloved hands.

"For Ian," Brendon says. "He has this tattoo."

Ryan nods and doesn't say anything, and Brendon figures bringing up the guy that essentially replaced him possibly wasn't the smoothest of moves.

"What are you doing?" he asks instead, because Ryan's huffily tugging his gloves off.

"I bought this," Ryan says, holding out the packet. It's a small matt silver stud with a sunburst engraved on the face. "I just can't put it in with my gloves on.

"Want me to?" Brendon asks. He's a bit surprised. Ryan hasn't worn anything in the piercing for years, as far as he knows. "Give it me."

Ryan tips the stud into his outstretched palm, and they step to the side of the street out of the way of the crowds. Brendon carefully brushes Ryan's hair back, tucking his hair behind his ear. Ryan's breath catches as his hands brush Ryan's neck.

"How long since you had anything in this?" Brendon asks, fiddling the back off the stud

"I wear studs sometimes." Ryan says "I lost my favourite one in the sink in Belgium. I just though this was cool."

"OK," Brendon says, "so it shouldn't be too closed up." He bits his lip and slides the stud in, and it feels ridiculously intimate, even after everything they've done. He pushes the back of the stud on firmly, and Ryan actually shudders.

"Really?" he asks, and untucks Ryan's hair, running his hand through the curls. Ryan nods.

"We should come back here tomorrow," Brendon says "Hotel?"

"Hotel," Ryan says, and grabs his wrist to hurry him along.

"You really are loud," Ryan pants into his shoulder as he thrusts, "Jesus Brendon, your voice."

"Ngh," is all Brendon can manage, because Ryan's moving in and out of his body in slow glides, and his hand is just as slow on Brendon's cock, and all Brendon can feel and see and smell, is Ryan, all round him.

"Come on," Ryan says, "let me see," and he's studying Brendon so intently, sweaty hair in his face, all that focus on him, and Brendon loves an audience, always fucking has, and he comes as Ryan rubs under the head of his cock, long white pulses all over his stomach.

"Please," he managed in between pants "keep going," because Ryan's stopped, just looking at him, and almost absent mindedly licking Brendon's come off his fingers.

"Brendon," Ryan says, again, and he moves more quickly, hips snapping, and Brendon manages to make his hands work enough to tug Ryan's head down and groan and gasp into his mouth as he kisses him sloppily. Everything always feels more intense after he's come, and each thrust sends jolts of something through him, a different kind of arousal. Ryan's hips stutter, and Brendon can feel the warmth through the condom as Ryan comes.

Ryan gets all floppy and loose when he comes, Brendon's discovered. It's kind of fascinating to see. He stretches, feeling the lassitude of a good fuck settle in his bones after Ryan pulls out.

"'s hot how much you love that," Ryan mumbles. Brendon shuffles round a bit so they've both got enough room on the bed, and curls into Ryan's side. Ryan flops an arm round his waist.

"mmmmyeah," Brendon says "I'm doing you next time."

"'kay," Ryan yawns. "nap first though." His eyes are already closing, lashes dark smudges on his cheeks.

"Nap sounds good," Brendon says, and yawns, and tugs the comforter up over them both.

Brendon flexes his hands over the keys; there's been a little loop of song running through his head for the past day or so. No lyrics yet, but something that's a bit like the ringing of church bells and honking bus horns, and the chu-ku-chu-ku-chu-ku of the tube. He can already feel what Spencer could do with it, and he wants to get it out. It's the first time he's even felt able to sit at the piano, and he warms up, scales and arpeggios, before playing around with it.

It sounds good, he thinks. He runs through it a couple times, makes it longer, shifts it up for his voice. He records it on his phone so that Spencer can hear it later, and then plays it back to check.

It doesn't really work with the piano though; it needs a guitar.

"Hey," Brendon says as soon as Ryan picks up. "Are you done with, whoever it was you were meeting?"

"Yeah," Ryan says "Brendon, is this a booty call?"

The phrase sounds so out of place in Ryan's mouth that Brendon bursts out laughing.

"I only want you for your guitar," he says "Can I borrow the Gibson? I'm working on something."

"It'll cost you," Ryan says.

"I'm sure we can work something out," Brendon purrs, because he knows what that does to Ryan now.

"Fine," Ryan says, and Brendon can hear the smile in his voice. "I'll bring it over now?"

"Thanks, dude," Brendon says.

He boils water for pasta because he's kind of hungry, and shares with Ryan when he arrives, spaghetti and pesto and bread from the market, sitting on the sofa, Ryan's weird long feet in Brendon's lap. It feels kind of odd, in an awesome way, Brendon thinks, that they have something like the friendship they had years ago. Plus orgasms. Lots of them. he curls his hand round Ryan's ankle and rubs, just a small thing, a 'Hi, I'm here' kind of gesture.

Ryan flexes his toes in response, then nods to where the guitar is leaning against the piano.

"You working on something?" he asks.

"Yeah," Brendon says, "just have something in my head, but I want to hear it on the guitar too, do you mind?"

"I bought the guitar, didn't I?" Ryan says.

Brendon heaves Ryan's feet out of his lap and takes the guitar out of the case. Its an acoustic he thinks he recognises, and he tunes it before picking out the phrase, strumming the chords, and trying to imagine what Ian can make of it. If he's still playing with them. He should really sort that out.

He noodles around with it for about 20 minutes, and he thinks he has the start of a pretty solid song.

"Hey," Ryan says from the couch. Brendon jumps. He'd kind of forgotten Ryan was there. "You want me to-"

Brendon looks up

"It sounds like you're trying to work out if the melody fits the chords," Ryan continues "I can play the chords for you if you like. So you get a feel for it?"

Brendon hesitates. But it's a tiny part of a song that might not even go anywhere, so he says

"Thanks."

Ryan takes the guitar out of his hands and strums a few chords, warming up. Brendon tears his eyes away from his fingers and coughs.

Ryan smiles.

"OK, so, I thought this," Brendon says and plays the intro, "and then, the chords, starting with E minor?"

"Like this?" Ryan strums the sequence. His ear's gotten better, and Brendon doesn't have to correct him at all.

They play through it a couple times, Ryan adding some finger picking in a counterpoint, and the fuzzy recording on Brendon's phone sounds much more like what he has in his head.

Then Ryan grins at him through his curls, and picks out the beginning of What's my age again, and Brendon picks up the rhythm on the piano, and starts to sing along. He can only remember half the words, it's been years, but Ryan fills in the words he knows, and from there they move from song to song, tossing them back and forth, both singing, Ryan slapping the back of the guitar sometimes, Brendon tapping his foot, hammering the keys of the piano, and singing till his voice gets hoarse. He's missed this, he jams with Spencer, with Ian and Dallon, but Ryan was one the first people to give him the space to play like this, and it means more than he thought it would to get to do it again.

They avoid any of their songs; for Brendon it feels almost unfaithful, still too soon, but they've still got enough musical vocabulary in common to have a good jam. Eventually Ryan plays the last few chords of The Take Over, the Breaks Over and puts the guitar flat on his lap

Ryan flexes his fingers and winces.

"Haven't played that much in a while," he says.

"Want me to kiss it better?" Brendon waggles his eyebrows.

"Well, you do owe me for the guitar," Ryan says.

Brendon crosses over to him, and picks up one of Ryan's hands. He kisses the palm, and then licks up Ryan's middle finger, sucks it into his mouth and swirls his tongue round it before releasing it with a wet slurp.

"Better?" he just manages to get out before Ryan yanks him forward to kiss with tongue and teeth and hunger.

"Couch," Ryan says, and Brendon hops over the back of it and stretches out, and Ryan settles on top of him, and this is kind of the best vacation ever, Brendon thinks.

Brendon wakes up early the next day, feeling happy and fucked out. Ryan's asleep next to him, hair tangled in his face and hands loosely curled. Feeling a little foolish, Brendon kisses his forehead and slips out of bed.

Spencer's emailed him, just an update on some fanclub stuff, and Brendon, instead of replying, checks the clock. Spencer should still be awake, so he dials the number.

"Hi Spence," he says when Spencer picks up.

"B'den," Spencer sounds sleepy. "Everything OK?"

"Yeah," Brendon says softly so as not to wake Ryan, "just thought I'd give you a call. That's fine, for Northern Downpour. Good idea."

"Are you coming home, at all?" Spencer asks. It’s too early, Brendon thinks, and he tucks the phone under his chin as he flicks the switch on the kettle.

"You make it sound like I've run away," Brendon says. The tile floor is cold. "I've been here less than a month."

"I can't miss you?" Spencer asks, and that makes something tug inside Brendon. "Just come on dude, we've got that show in Athens next month. I miss the other half of my band."

The kettle clicks off, and Brendon pours the water into the press, gets out two mugs. He can hear the water running in the bathroom, Ryan brushing his teeth, and for a second he wants to tell Spencer everything.

"I'll see you soon," he says instead. "I promise."

"You better," Spencer says.

Brendon takes the mugs back to the bedroom, carefully skirting the guitar leaning against the piano. He slides back into bed. Ryan's burrowing back under the covers, but he takes the cup with a nod and a smile.

"He's right, you know," Ryan says after a long sip.

"Who's right?" Brendon says.

"Brendon." Ryan looks at him. The covers fall down around his shoulder and Brendon can see the mark he left on his collarbone. "Look, I can write anywhere. I like the whole travelling minstrel thing. But you're part of a pretty successful band, and you need to be at least on the same continent as the rest of them."

"Did it hurt you to admit that?" Brendon asks, curiously, because it’s one of the few times they've bought it up.

Ryan digs his chin into his shoulder "No any more," he says. "I'm right, though."

Brendon ‘hmms’. Ryan's warm and sleep-pliable against him and he doesn't know why they are suddenly talking about this when they could be having sex. He wants to see if he can get Ryan to make that noise he made last night again.

"Seriously," Ryan says "I didn't leave you my band so you could pull a Brian Wilson on everyone, OK?"

"Fuck you," Brendon kicks Ryan's ankle "OUR band, fuckface, and I'm not pulling a Brian Wilson, I'm just on vacation."

"Vacation implies you're going home," Ryan says. "You don't even have a return flight booked. And you’re worrying Spencer."

Brendon thinks about packing everything up, about going back to his house, and working on more music, and Spencer. he hates it when Ryan's right. It makes him smug. Which is unfairly attractive.

"Can we not talk about this now?" he asks, stroking his foot down Ryan's calf, feeling the hairs prickle.

Ryan shifts against him, and leans down to kiss him, slow and lazy and minty, in answer.

Later, Brendon pulls out his laptop, and looks at flights. The apartment is quite around him and both Ryan and Spencer are right. He needs to go home.

He can't wait to see Spencer again, to see what they're going to do next. Maybe they can even get something new together for the Athens show, the half-finished song he has, waiting for the other half. Spencer would probably get a kick out of a vibraphone, he thinks.

But. Ryan.

"Holiday fling," he reminds himself sternly, and finds flights from Heathrow to LAX. There's one the day after tomorrow, and Brendon books on it, typing his passport number carefully.

He's not going to think about Ryan. He's not. He's glad they are friends again, he tells himself. It will make Spencer happy, and make things much easier. That's all.

Ryan leaves him alone the rest of the day, like he knows Brendon's got some stuff to work through, but he turns up that night, and says,

"We're going out."

He's wearing a loose white shirt, so sheer that it's nearly see through, and actual jeans, which is still kind of unusual, even now, for him, and the plaited leather bracelet he bought the last time they went to Camden Market.

"Where?" Brendon says. He doesn't say you're not dressed for a club because experience has taught him that Ryan has some magic ability to get into places, and for all he knows, that's what Camden clubs consider the height of fashion.

"A pub," Ryan says "A proper one."

"We tried that, remember?" Brendon says, shuddering.

"This one is suppose to be friendly," Ryan says "You can't go to London and not drink in a proper English pub."

"Who says?" Brendon says, but he's getting up and fetching his coat. He feels like a drink would probably a good idea at this point.

The pub's called the Sherlock Holmes, and it's wall to wall old Victorian pictures and deerstalkers and really dark beer. They choose based on the names of the beer, and take the pint glasses and some packets of chips to a table in the corner, out of the way of the crowds who are watching a soccer game on the big TV screen opposite the bar.

Brendon thinks about the flight confirmation sitting in his inbox, and takes a drink. It takes a couple of attempts to actually swallow

"It tastes like socks," he says.

"When have you ever eaten socks," Ryan asks, and sips his own beer.

"Seriously, taste it," Brendon pushes the glass over the scarred table "Socks, am I right?"

"Well now you say that, that's all I can think about," Ryan takes a cautious sip, and screws his face up. "OK yes, that's gross. You should have got the same as me."

"Give me some of yours then," Brendon nudges his foot under the table "Come on, I'll make it up to you."

Ryan raises his eyebrows but hands the glass over so Brendon can taste. It's dark and bitter, but in the good way, like coffee.

"You're right," Brendon says, "I should totally have got this one."

"I do enjoy hearing you say that," Ryan says, and makes grabby hands until Brendon hands the pint back. Some of the beer sloshes over Ryan's wrist and he licks it off, absently. The flash of his tongue brings back memories, and Brendon thinks it’s just as well they aren't in a band together any more, because its probably hard to play with two people you want to fuck on a regular basis. At least his back is mostly to Spencer. And he has more practice, not letting it affect him.

"I'm going home," he blurts out. "On Friday. There's a flight."

Ryan nods, slowly.

"Good," he says, at last. "That's-good."

"I have to like, pack and sort the keys and stuff tomorrow, so," Brendon trails off. Why is this so hard? It's just a hook-up, he reminds himself. Ryan's not feeling this bad, so why should he?

Except.

"Finish you drink," Ryan says, nodding at the nearly-full glass. "We're going back to my hotel."
His voice is low, smokey nearly, and Brendon knows exactly what they are going to do there.

It's not like any of the sex they've had as been bad. In fact, it’s been fun and messy and frantic and good. But this feels something different. Ryan's shirt is soft under his hands as he slips each button free unhurriedly, kissing him all the while, leaning back against the closed door of the hotel room as Ryan deftly unbuttons and unzips his jeans in turn. It's kind of like they're moving in slow motion, and he touches every bit of Ryan he can reach over and over, and Ryan lays him out on the bed and just looks at him, until Brendon splays his knees, says "fuck me, come on," trying to sound teasing, but his voice breaks on the last word.

Ryan opens him up so slowly, lip bitten in concentration, fingers wicked and teasing, and then fucks him even slower, and Brendon buries his face in Ryan's shoulder as he comes, and thinks he knows what goodbye sex feels like, and this isn't it. This is something else.

He wakes up curled into Ryan, head on his chest and hand on the sharp jut of Ryan's hipbone. Ryan's still sleeping, breathing slow and deep, and Brendon thinks I don't want to give this up.

It's not as scary as he thought it would be. He misses Spencer, so much it aches, but he knows that he'll miss Ryan too. Not just the sex, though yes, of course, but his sharp intelligence, and his humour, and his way of looking at the world just slightly askew.

Ryan makes a little grunting noise, fluttering his eyes open, and Brendon makes a decision. It's the same feeling of snapping that made him get on the plane here in the first place.

"Hey," he says, not looking at Ryan's face, "You still have your house in Cali?"

"Yeah," Ryan says. His voice is still rough and sleepy. "Of course I do. Most of my guitars are there, apart from anything else."

"So hey," Brendon says "Come back with me."


"What-" Ryan asks, bring his hand up to rest between Brendon's shoulder blades

"Not like, for the band," Brendon says. He can't look at Ryan, can't see the 'no'. "Because I don't think we could do this," he kisses Ryan's shoulder softly, "If we were in a band together again. Just. You said you could write anywhere. Come back and write in California."

"We don't live in the same city," Ryan says softly, but he's stroking Brendon's back now, just how he likes it, and that's not something a holiday fuck would do either, Brendon's SURE.

"But we'd be on the same continent. I just- want to see what happens?" Brendon looks up then, and Ryan smiles down.

"OK," Ryan says. "OK."

The day passes in a whirl of packing, Brendon leaving Ryan to pack up his hotel room, and hopping the tube back to the apartment. He calls Poppy to confirm he'll be leaving a few days early, but will of course pay the full fee as agreed and post the key back through the letterbox. Then he scours the apartment to make sure he's not left anything behind. Ryan's guitar is still there, so he zips it up into the case and leans it against the wall by the door.

Then he calls Spencer, and tells him he's coming home.

The flight is so early the next morning, and they have to check in three hours before it actually leaves, that there's not much point going to bed, so Ryan brings over fish and chips, and they watch repeats of Never Mind the Buzzcocks until the car for the airport honks it's horn outside.

"What are you going to tell Spencer?" Ryan asks, softly, in the car.

"I'll figure something out on the flight?" Brendon says. "You're his best friend, dude. I'm hoping he'll be pleased."

Ryan tangles their fingers together.

"He'll be pleased you're back." he says, eventually.

Once their bags are checked they stake out the comfy chairs in the departure lounge, and Ryan lists until he's leaning fully against Brendon, and snuffles into his shoulder until Brendon gives in and puts his arm round him, holding him up as he sleeps.

With his free hand, he wiggles his phone out of his pocket, and takes a picture of his new shoes, Ryan's cowboy boots and the neck of the guitar case fuzzy at the edges

“On way back from vacation” he tweets “Bringing back a souvenir”

The flight is smooth, the food is terrible, but thanks to Ryan's insane overprotectiveness of his guitar, they have a three-row section of seats to themselves, the Gibson strapped into the window seat, to the incredulous looks of the fellow passengers. Brendon naps most of the flight, and Ryan puts the blanket over them both, and they hold hands like schoolchildren.

Ryan puts his sunglasses on as soon as they deboard. Brendon switches his phone on, but there's nothing from Spencer. He hopes he's not completely pissed him off, or it's going to be a long, awkward journey back home.

"Here we are," Ryan murmurs, once they get to the arrivals hall. "Still not regretting anything?"

"No," Brendon says. He doesn't want to risk a kiss, not here, but he knocks into Ryan companionably, rests his head against Ryan's temple. And of course, that's when Spencer calls

"Brendon!"

Brendon looks over to where Spencer's standing at the barrier, fuck off sunglasses and shiny hair and his favourite jeans, and he gets this same fizzy feeling he always gets when he sees him after a break. Before he gets used to pushing it down again. He rushes forward and into the hug, not caring, and Spencer squeezes him tight.

Ryan, juggling the guitar and his luggage and his messenger bag, follows more sedately.

"I brought you something." Brendon says, with what he hope is a winning smile.

There's a split second where Brendon thinks Spencer's going to yell at him, but then Ryan's setting the guitar down, and stepping past Brendon, and into Spencer's arms. And Spencer buries his face into Ryan's neck, breaths in, and Brendon thinks,

Oh.

END