i hope you don't choke on that last passive word that you keep in your throat
it's so cool to be you, we're all walking around like a kid out of school
Brent is introducing him, a kid with a bad haircut, red-framed glasses, and girl jeans. He looks like nothing. Nothing special. He smiles too big and too wide and his eyes get all crinkled up and he looks like a kid. That’s what he is.
Ryan says, “We just need you to play.”
Brendon can play. He nods. He can do that.
When Ryan knocks on Brendon’s door, his backpack hanging over his shoulder, and Brendon answers, looking like he expected this. And smiling. Like it’s no problem.
Brendon only has one bed, an old spring mattress meant for one body, one person, but Ryan lies there and Brendon lies next to him and Ryan says, “Sometimes I wish my dad would die.”
And Brendon exhales. Looks at him. Looks away. Says, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” That’s not what he wants.
Brendon has those glow-in-the-dark stars taped to his popcorn ceiling. Some kind of hankering for his childhood. Like he hadn’t already left that behind, when he left the church, when he left his family. When they made him leave.
Brendon says, “I just want them to forgive me.”
And that’s okay, too.
The cigarette hanging out of Brendon’s mouth looks wrong, somehow, like it doesn’t belong there. Silly, because Ryan’s seen him smoke before, knows he’s done worse than that, knows things about Brendon he never really thought he’d know.
The rooftop, predictably, is dirty, covered in bird shit in the wrong places, and Ryan swears he hears a rat skittering around, but Brendon looks comfortable, peaceful. Like this is his home now and he’s going to stick to it.
“Have you ever done this?”
Brendon exhales a cloud of smoke, shaking his head. “Nope.” He drags the single syllable out, like he’s singing it.
Ryan shoves his hands in his pockets. “The city looks better right before the sun rises.”
“If you say so.”
Everything below them is blue, the double-contrast color of pre-dawn, and when the pale light starts creeping up, Brendon is pressed into Ryan’s side. Says, “Forgot to bring a jacket.” Ryan leaves it alone.
The city looks better right before the sun rises. It does. He expects to see something different every time but everything is static, stays the same. Something about that is terrifying. He wants to write it down.
Brendon looks at him out of the corner of his eye. Stubs his cigarette into the concrete. He says, “Ryan,” like that’s some kind of question, something, and Ryan looks at him, and.
The city looks better right before the sun rises. He remembers.
“D’you wanna head back down?” Brendon nods towards the stairwell. “I’m cold.”
Ryan swallows the lump that formed at the bottom of his throat and nods.
Brendon’s breath is hot and sweet on the side of Ryan’s face when he leans in and says, “I’m getting tired of keeping you around.”
Ryan shoves him a little, smiles. “Liar. You love the company.”
Brendon grins. “You caught me.”
Ryan shifts on the bed next to him and tries not to look right at him, doesn’t want the image of his hair sticking out in all directions from sleep, the way his eyes look, soft and worn like he’s still half-asleep, but Ryan looks anyway, because.
So it’s not a confession, it’s not a late-night secret. Just the early morning. Pale sunlight coming in through broken blinds, so the strips of light are bent out of shape. Brendon’s smile is addicting. Infectious.
Ryan leans in, on accident, and bumps his nose against Brendon’s, on accident, and the kiss is soft and sweet and brief and accidental.
Brendon jerks back a little, and he’s still half-smiling, his eyes wide open now. He says, “You caught me,” again and Ryan feels like. Like.
Like this is not something he wants to do right now.
He rolls over.
They fight a lot in Maryland. Everything is passive-aggressive and then aggressive-aggressive, and then Spencer and Brent are standing awkwardly to the side while Ryan tries not to hit Brendon and Brendon tries not to stomp his feet like a child, and it’s tense and horrible and rushed and everything is just.
“You don’t sing it right.”
It’s quiet, now. Brendon is smoking even though he shouldn’t, he really, really shouldn’t. Bad for his voice, bad for his lungs. Bad for his health. Ryan went through the whole thing with him. Now it seems like Brendon does it just to make him mad.
He blows out a cloud of smoke into Ryan’s face and says, “Then you sing it.”
“I can’t sing.”
“Funny thing, that.”
That feels like a slap but Ryan doesn’t rise up to it. “I just need it to sound right.” He doesn’t add the ‘please’ but assumes it’s implied.
Brendon just looks at him coolly, his gaze hard and unrelenting. He seems to deflate a little, sighing, stubbing out his cigarette even after only a few puffs. He says, “I don’t mean to be a dick.”
“I don’t mean to be a dick, either.”
Brendon grins. “Yeah, you do.”
Ryan doesn’t respond. Just stands there, awkwardly, trying to find something to do with his hands because they suddenly seem like they don’t belong on his body. Brendon singing back to him, trying to find the right way to sing his words, like Ryan is teaching him a new language. It feels strange. Watching Brendon adapt his tongue. Watching Brendon become his voice for a second. It’s strange. It’s a different feeling.
Ryan doesn’t know what to say to explain. Brendon says, “C’mere,” like he has another answer, and Ryan steps forward like he trusts it. Brendon kisses him, slow and soft and quiet, like the last time except this time it feels like an apology. Like he’s saying sorry. And Ryan wonders if he can transfer his words that way. Transfer his thoughts and feelings. Brendon can become his voice. Ryan can kiss it into him.
It’s a short kiss. Like the last one. Brendon pulls back and exhales and says, “We’re okay.”
Ryan nods. His pulse is racing. He hates that part. Hates that he’s affected. “Yeah. We’re okay.”
And they are.
When it’s done, everyone is too exhausted to feel good about it, and Ryan is already thinking of the things he could’ve done better, written better. Brendon’s voice is raw and he sounds like he’s coming down with something. They share a bed in the hotel room on the way back to Vegas, and Brendon presses into his side, something they’re used to doing by now. It’s not weird.
Ryan sighs. Says, “We did it.” It’s the first time he’s let himself feel any kind of victory.
Brendon yawns in agreement. “No more shitty apartments.”
Something about that feels final. Ryan’s guts twist. He didn’t realize he’d miss Brendon’s apartment. The walls that held in secrets. Everything.
“Yeah,” is all he says.
Brendon nuzzles his collarbone, his lips warm and soft there. This isn’t new. This is fine. They’ve done this, at Brendon’s apartment. His old apartment.
When they introduce themselves now, they get to preface it with their band name. They get a logo. They’ll get groupies. Ryan’s always wondered what that’s like. He stares up at the ceiling and suddenly feels sick to his stomach.
Brendon is already asleep.
Ryan detangles himself from Jac as best he can without waking her up, and she lets out this sound, soft and feminine, curling around the empty space he leaves. He feels like he’s going to throw up and he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s the bus. All the rattling and moving. He’s not used to it yet.
He finds Brendon in the lounge, his glasses on, tucked into a book. It’s someone’s copy of Alice in Wonderland, and the light is so faint Ryan wonders how Brendon can read it.
Wonders why Brendon’s not in his own bunk with Audrey.
Brendon blinks owlishly against the dim. “Hi.”
Ryan gestures vaguely towards the bunks. “Can’t sleep. You?”
Brendon closes the book. Smiles. “Yeah. Can’t sleep.”
The sickness in his guts seems to churn out, and Ryan settles into the couch, folding his legs over themselves. The clock on the microwave reads half past four. This is fine. This is normal.
“I think we’re gonna break up,” Ryan says. Like it doesn’t matter.
He can’t see Brendon’s face in the dark. “Yeah?”
There’s a strip of light from the cracked bathroom door, landing just right on Brendon’s face when he leans forward a little bit. He’s smiling. Always fucking smiling. His glasses make him look younger. He’s stopped wearing them mostly, in public, in crowds, because there are cameras everywhere. Says they make him look like a dork. Ryan just remembers the boy Brent brought to practice.
“I think we’re gonna break up, too,” he says.
Like it doesn’t matter.
In Miami, they share a hotel room, but not a bed, because. Now they don’t have to. Now they can afford better.
Brendon is awake before him and sitting out on the balcony, typing something on his laptop, a cigarette burning to a stub on the ashtray next to him, like he lit it and forgot about it. Ryan slides open the glass door. There’s salt in the air, which is something new to him. The whole city looks like something he’s never seen before.
Brendon glances up at him. “You were right.”
“What?” Ryan sits down next to him, not taking his eyes off the view.
“The city looks better right before the sun rises.”
Ryan blinks, and yeah, he remembers now, a time from Before, before their lives got separated cleanly in the middle. Ryan refers to things in terms of Before Pete and After Pete. He remembers. The rooftop, and the dirty apartment building, and the way Brendon pressed into him as they watched everything come to life before them. Like they were watching something learn to breathe.
He doesn’t say anything. Brendon continues, “It doesn’t matter what city. They all do.”
Something about this feels ridiculous and horrible and awful. Ryan swallows down that feeling in his throat. “You really shouldn’t smoke.”
Brendon grins at him. “I was just hoping you’d tell me off. Nostalgia, you know?”
The bile in Ryan’s throat won’t go down.
When Ryan steps into the surf, the water is warm and the wind in his air is full of salt, and Brendon keeps calling him out, keeps saying, “Come on, Ryan, don’t be a pussy.”
His toes find solid earth, wet sand beneath him, the water coming up to his chest. Brendon swims around him and the way he looks, the way the light from the almost-full moon catches his wet hair and turns it silver, that’s something that Ryan thinks he could write about. Brendon rides a wave back to shore, then turns back around, and Ryan keeps standing there, in the water, watching. Always watching.
Brendon is naked, his arms raised up, his smile so big and wide that his eyes crinkle. He lets out some kind of animal noise. Ryan wants to stop looking. It feels personal. Like this is not for his eyes to see.
A wave crashes around Brendon, foaming around his knees, and he launches himself back out into the water. Back to Ryan.
“Hey.” Ryan’s voice is soft, but he doesn’t mean it to be.
Brendon keeps swimming circles around him. Like he’s afraid to approach. “Hi.”
“C’mere.” Ryan grabs for him blindly in the water, managing to catch his ankle. Pulls his body to Ryan’s. It’s dark enough for him to not have to look at Brendon’s face too closely but he wants to. Wants to see.
Brendon winds himself around Ryan’s body and maybe there’s a line, somewhere, maybe. Ryan sighs. Says, “You caught me.”
“Yeah?” Brendon’s voice is very close. His mouth is very close.
This isn’t new. Ryan kisses him. That’s not new.
Brendon’s mouth opens against his and. Ryan feels very much like he’s just had all the air in his lungs kicked out of him. Brendon stealing his breath just like he steals Ryan’s words. Only fair.
Greta shrieks, and somewhere far away Spencer and Jon are tackling each other into the sand, yelling and laughing, and the world has collapsed, and all that’s left is this place. Ryan believes that. They’re the only people in the world.
Brendon’s tongue slides along his and he tastes like salt. He exhales softly and the taste washes over Ryan’s lips. “Ryan.” It’s a question. Maybe.
Ryan’s teeth sink into his bottom lip so much he thinks he’ll draw blood. A wave tugs them further out to sea but they keep a steady hold on the sand beneath their feat. Grounding them.
Ryan says, “I’ve been wanting to do that for so long.”
Brendon laughs. It’s a sharp sound, but it feels like music. Like he’s singing. Doesn’t even need Ryan’s words for that. “What took you so long?”
Ryan cards his fingers through Brendon’s hair and. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t have the answers to that. He’s all talk, mostly. Wants to be well-read, wants to have answers, wants to say he’s seen things and knows things, but he doesn’t know anything. Hasn’t seen much of anything, either. This is all new. This is something he hasn’t read about.
He says, “I don’t know,” because he doesn’t. And that feels like he’s promising something, or confessing something, giving it all away.
Brendon laughs again and starts tugging him to the shore.
Like he knows.