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Twin-Speak

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Ryan Jacob Ross is born on August 30, 1986 2 minutes and 13 seconds after his brother George Ryan Ross III.

His father likes to tell him, when he’s drunk, which is more times then not as Ryan hits his teen-age years, that he shouldn’t exist.

That when his mom had been pregnant Ryan hadn’t shown up on any of the ultrasounds.

Ryan just thinks that George doesn’t like to be ignored and made sure that his heartbeat was the loudest and the fiercest, completely drowning out Ryan’s and when it came time to be born he pushed and shoved until he was the first one out.

As much as he loves him, he’s his twin; he has to love him, that doesn’t mean that he has to like him.


******************************************************************************


Contrary to pretty much every interview that they give once Panic! At The Disco becomes big, Ryan meets Spencer Smith first.

He’s five and George is off on the monkey bars, he shouldn’t be, mom has told them time and again that they’re too small and not allowed. But mom is all the way across the playground talking to friends and George had made a bee line for them as soon as she was out of eyesight.

Ryan is on the swings and he’s sort of pushing himself. His feet barely reach the ground and he’s watching his sneakers kick up dust as he drags them back and forth in the dirt.

He hadn’t wanted to come to the playground, but George had asked and mom had said yes and she’d packed them in the car without even asking Ryan what he wanted.

Spencer sits down on the swing next to him and he says ‘Hi,’ in a high pitched cheerful voice.

“Hi, I’m Spencer, do you want to swing?” he asks and Ryan bites his lip and looks over at him.

Spencer is smiling at him and looks cheerful and happy and Ryan is opening his mouth to say something, he is. But suddenly George is there, like always.

“He’s shy,” George says it like it’s a dirty word. “Do you want to go play on the slides?”

Spencer beams at him and they take off across the playground to the slides. Leaving Ryan on the swings staring after them.

“I’m not shy,” he mutters under his breath then looks down at the ground and starts sort of pushing himself again.


******************************************************************************


His mom leaves and he cries when he begs her to take him with her.

She just hugs him and tells him that boys need to be with their father, tells him to be strong and that she’ll call on Sunday and then takes her bags and his sisters and goes.


******************************************************************************


Dad starts drinking when mom leaves, he’d drank before, but before mom had been there to stop him and now she’s not so he doesn’t stop.

George seeks refuge at Spencer’s, there’s one time when Ryan mentions that maybe he could go with him and George sneers at him.

“Spencer’s my friend, not yours; don’t you have any of your own friends that’ll let you stay with them?”

Ryan doesn’t ask again.

He doesn’t make friends like George, doesn’t have whatever George has that makes people want to be his friend, to be around him.

The first time that dad hits him, he’s thirteen, George has already left for Spencer’s and Ryan is there. He’d thought dad was gone to the bar already, he normally was gone by that time, and he’d come downstairs to make a sandwich and get a glass of milk.

Instead dad is there, sitting in the dark at the kitchen table and he looks pissed.

Ryan tries to back out of the room before dad sees him but he doesn’t manage it, his father has a sixth sense for when one of them is around and he backs into the wall as his father is getting up.


******************************************************************************


He ends up with a black eye, circles of bruises around his arms and one low in his back.

His father disappears shortly after he leaves him in a ball on the kitchen floor, Ryan doesn’t go to school the next day.

He could hide the bruises on his arms and the one that will be on his back just wearing his uniform.

The black eye, not so easy to hide.

George comes home after school instead of going directly to Spencer’s and he doesn’t look worried, because George doesn’t worry. He finds Ryan curled up under his blankets in his bedroom and when he sees the bruises his eyes go wide and angry.

He presses at the one on Ryan’s eye, Ryan winces at the touch, shying away.

“Does it hurt?” George asks and Ryan just nods, doesn’t look at him.

He pulls away, curls up on his side facing away from George and stares out the window. George curls up beside him on the bed, the way he hasn’t since they were kids.


******************************************************************************


Everyone says that twins are supposed to be close, to have a bond. That they’re supposed to know when the other is in danger or hurt or sick.

Ryan doesn’t see it. Doesn’t feel it.

George hadn’t known the moment that their father has raised his fists and after that first time he doesn’t really seem to care that more times then not Ryan is wearing multiple sets of bruises under his uniform.

Ryan joins a writing club at school, George sneers (it’s becoming a familiar expression, his lip turned up at the corner and makes him look like their father) and rolls his eyes, but for Ryan it’s a way to be out of the house until his father has left for the bar.

He tests ahead in a couple of classes and about the same time that George and Spencer and Brent and Trevor decide to start a band his guidance counselor is talking to him about what his plans are for after school.

George is barely passing his classes, George doesn’t seem to care and neither does their dad. Of course their dad doesn’t care about Ryan’s straight A’s or the fact that he’s had two short stories published either.


******************************************************************************


Trevor leaves and Brent brings Brendon, Ryan meets him once. This hyperactive kid full of energy and enthusiasm.

He likes him. If there hadn’t been a George, if Ryan was somebody else…

He tries to stay out of their way; George tends to be pushy if he thinks Ryan is encroaching on his territory. The one time that he doesn’t quite manage it he ends up with a bruise on his shoulder that matches George’s palm print instead of their dads.

Ryan isn’t sure how Spencer convinces George to let Brendon sing, Ryan hears him once, humming along and Brendon’s voice…

Brendon’s voice could take them places that he doesn’t think that George’s will.


******************************************************************************


Ryan only finds out because he comes home early from his writing club, they’re all working on short stories and he doesn’t work well with the others peering at him from under their eyelashes waiting to see what he’ll put out next.

He lets himself into the house and he hears voices, but doesn’t follow them.

He finally has no bruises on his skin, following the voices is a sure fire way to have them return.

He pulls out the fruit that he’d hidden, grabs a bottle of water and heads toward his room.

The voices are coming from George’s room, and he stumbles, almost drops everything in his hands when he hears Brendon sing, “The I.V. and your hospital bed, this was no accident, this was a therapeutic chain of events.”

His heart stops, stutters.

Those are his words, something that he’d wrote for a writing exercise for his AP English class.

He makes it to his room and he closes the door and nothing looks disturbed but when he sets down the fruit and his water with shaking hands and goes to his desk, he pulls out the middle drawer and there’s a little compartment up inside it…

His writing journal is gone.


******************************************************************************


He doesn’t say anything, he thinks George is waiting for him to say something but he just stays silent. Instead of keeping a paper journal he starts putting them in his livejournal. He friend locks everything and George has never cared enough to find out that he has one so he thinks he’s safe.

George may have those words, he won’t get any others.


******************************************************************************


George is waiting for him in his room one day when he gets home and Ryan leaves the door open, puts his things on his desk.

“Are you not writing anymore?” he asks. Ryan can hear concern in his voice and he knows its fake without even having to turn to look.

“I’m still writing,” Ryan says, he turns and looks at his brother, his twin, the one person he’s supposed to be able to trust to be on his side.

“I haven’t seen anything lately, I was just…”

“I know,” Ryan says. He leans against the desk, hunches his shoulders. There’s a whisper of surprise that crosses George’s face that is quickly gone.

“They were just words on a piece of paper,” George says.

“They were my words, on my piece of paper, in my journal, in my hiding space,” Ryan says softly. His voice is shaking. He’s scared, he’s angry.

“They weren’t even that good of words,” George sneers at him, his face twists into something mean and awful for a split second.

“Then you shouldn’t care that there aren’t anymore,” Ryan whispers.

George walks up to him, he puts his hand on his shoulder and squeezes, Ryan doesn’t wince, doesn’t do anything.

He smacks a kiss against Ryan’s cheek and leaves.


******************************************************************************


Ryan should have known that wouldn’t be the end of it. He’d obviously underestimated how much George wants whatever words Ryan is managing to spit out so badly.

But Ryan comes home after writing club two weeks later and finds Brendon in his room.

He stands in the doorway and blinks, “Um… George’s room is down the hall,” Ryan says. Which is stupid, Brendon knows where George’s room is; Brendon has been in George’s room before.

“I know,” Brendon looks at him like he’s an idiot. “George said that you write?”

Ryan nods slowly.

“I’ve got this writing class and we’re supposed to be writing this series of short stories based on friends and family, but putting our own twist on them. They’re all supposed to link together at the end, be like a continuation of each other and I can’t seem to figure out what my common thread is supposed to be and…”

Brendon babbles on and Ryan tunes him out, he knows it’s a trap, knows that Brendon is here as George’s Trojan Horse.

Knows that this isn’t one of George’s friends extending a branch of friendship, it’s George trying to figure out where he’s hiding his words.


******************************************************************************


It takes two weeks; Ryan isn’t sure if Brendon is having second thoughts or if George just isn’t pushing for results yet.

It’s two weeks of Brendon laying across his bed while Ryan takes a red pen to his stories.

“They’re not that bad, are they?” Brendon asks with wide eyes, watching Ryan drag red lines through words and make sprawling comments.

“You could use a strong editor,” Ryan says absently.

“My teacher didn’t even grade me that harshly,” Brendon says.

“Did she graduate college?”

“I think she’s been teaching since like the 1800’s,” Brendon says. Ryan grins at him and Brendon grins back and for a second Ryan forgets that Brendon is there as George’s spy and is not his friend.


******************************************************************************


It’s Ryan’s fault that they get words; he’s never sure why Brendon doesn’t give George everything, why he just gave him those words.

Brendon had posted the last of his stories in his livejournal and Ryan had thought that Brendon mentioning it has been just a passing, absent-minded comment.

He goes to Brendon’s livejournal after Brendon leaves, after dinner, after George has left to go to Spencer’s and Ryan has locked himself in his room because dad isn’t working which means that there’s not enough money for him to go out and get drunk anymore and Ryan has started wearing bruises once more.

He goes and he reads the story and he leaves a comment, it’s short and to the point, recommending some changes to make it sharper. The response to the comment is just a ‘thanks’ and ‘ill do that’.

Ryan has to force himself not to make a second comment addressing the lack of punctuation or capitalization in the response.

Brendon doesn’t say anything the next time he comes by, just hands him the story and Ryan is amused to see that he took the comments he’d left on his journal to heart and made the changes he’d suggested.

He feels safe then, Brendon seems like the type of person that’s really bad at subterfuge, he completely locks down the words that George already has as a precaution anyway, just in case, takes a deep breath and friends Brendon.

They converse back and forth in the journal for a few days, almost a week and then it stops.

It stops, he realizes, because Brendon knows, has probably known all along and he’s gotten what he wanted.

What George wanted.

He knows this because he hears George singing his words in the kitchen one morning; one of the few mornings that George doesn’t start his day out at the Smith’s.

He looks over when he hears George singing his words and all he sees is George smirking at him, all he feels is the knife in his heart.


******************************************************************************


He writes 13 lines about betrayal.

The only response that matters, is the seventh one that says; im sorry.

He defriends Brendon and private locks everything as soon as he sees the reply that says that he saw it.


******************************************************************************


“So were you thinking about college?” his guidance counselor asks.

Ryan folds his hands in his lap and stares at the way his fingers twine around each other. George has always been thankful they’re not identical, identical. They have similar facial features, builds; he doesn’t have the same long fingers that Ryan does. He used to call Ryan a freak when they were kids, after he had people besides Ryan to play with.

“I don’t see how,” Ryan says, there’s no money. Anything that their dad might have put aside for college would have been put aside for George, not Ryan.

And even if there had been money Ryan thinks that their dad has probably drank any of that away

Sometimes he thinks that his dad forgets that he even has two sons, unless he’s looking for a suitable target to hit and that George has never been.

“There’s scholarships,” she says. She turns in her seat and digs through a set of folders. “I’ve pulled out a couple that I think you have a good shot at.”

Ryan reaches for the folder and he can see her still the moment she sees the ring of yellowing bruises on his wrist.

His father had grabbed him six mornings ago, pulled him around the kitchen table. Tossed him into a wall. Ryan takes the folder and shifts until his sleeves cover his wrists once more.

“You should,” she clears her throat. “You should start submitting them as soon as possible.”

Ryan nods and stands.

“Ryan,” she starts, he looks at her, shifts on his feet, she’s young, she’ll say the words because she’s not been there for long enough to become immune to it. “If you need to talk…”

Ryan smiles a small smile at her and inclines his head.

Saying something has never gotten him anything but more bruises and one memorable time a broken arm.


******************************************************************************


He fills out the applications and writes the essays and sends everything off. His dad hasn’t been home in two days, Ryan isn’t sure where he’s sleeping and George spends most of his time over at Spencer’s.

Nothing will come of it, but he’s had a part time job at the vets cleaning cages and mopping floors for going on a year and a half, he has some savings. He should be able to at least get out of the house.

Get away.


******************************************************************************


He gets offered a full scholarship to UNLV, there’s partials from two others but the full ride is the reason that he chooses UNLV even though one of others has a better writing program.

There’s no one home when he gets the packets and he just stares at them, at the crisp white sheets and the words that say that he has somewhere to go once he graduates.


******************************************************************************


He keeps it a secret for a while, but Spencer’s mom invites them to dinner. All of them, George and him and their dad.

Ryan’s not sure why, sometimes he can see Spencer do a double take and he has to wonder if they thought they had imagined the twin brother.

Brendon, at least, knows he exists. Their band has two songs that are Ryan’s words, one of them they got because of Brendon.

They’re all sitting around the table, and Ryan is seated to one side of Spencer’s sisters, he’s been largely silent throughout the meal because as much as they basically raised George once their mom left he’s maybe interacted with them a handful of times over the years.

“So what are your plans after graduation, Ryan?” Spencer’s mom asks. He knows she’s only asking because he’s said maybe ten words and they’ve been variations of ‘can you pass’ and ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

He can see George’s mouth open and his father is scowling at his plate.

“I have a scholarship to UNLV,” he says softly, he pushes his fork through his mashed potatoes. He catches two peas on the tongs of his fork and drags them through his potatoes, leaves them in the center and then buries them.

“That’s fantastic,” she says, she sounds surprised but pleased. “I hadn’t heard.”

“It’s not that big a deal,” he says. He looks up and she’s smiling at him and Spencer is watching him with an expression that he can’t put a name to. George is staring at him like he’s never seen him before, and his father is looking at him like he’s just suddenly realized that yes, he does have two kids.

“Do you know what you’re going to study yet?” she asks.

“I’m… Veterinary Medicine, eventually, and I’ll probably minor in English Literature, maybe writing,” he says, he smiles back at her, it feels rusty and unused but he manages a small one because she seems so happy for him.

“You write then?” she asks.

He nods. “I’ve, uh, had a couple of things published… I’m in this writing club at school...”

He knows he sounds unsure, but as far as they know George is the writer in their family. He’s going to be the copy cat, following in his older, more successful twins footsteps.

“I’d love to read something of yours,” she says.

He nods, but knows that he’ll never show her anything.


******************************************************************************


He goes to orientation and gets his packets and his room assignment and class schedules and when he sits down on the edge of the bed; well the room might be the size of their laundry room and he might be sharing it with someone, but it’s his.


******************************************************************************


His roommates name is Calvin, he’s hasn’t chosen a major yet. They have a lot of their basic; everyone has to take these classes together.

He’s heard horror stories about college roommates but the two of them get along fantastically.

Ryan still doesn’t make friends easy, but he has Calvin and Josh and David, and Arnold and Samantha (whose names do not get abbreviated, ever, by pain of death). He’s not lonely; he’s too busy to be lonely.


******************************************************************************


Spencer is the only reason that Ryan finds out that they got signed.

He’s four months into the school, he loves his classes. Even the ones that are boring and tedious and he has friends, people that he hangs out with that don’t recognize him because of his brother.

He doesn’t normally carry his phone during the day, he can’t have it on in the classrooms and he only has it really for emergencies anyway.

Not even George or dad have the number for his cell, he’d only given it to Spencer’s mom just in case something happened to dad.

He gets home from his morning classes and the red message light is blinking and he stares at it for a second and has a brief moment of terror that something has finally happened to his dad.

He puts his backpack down and picks the phone up, thumbing into voice mail and entering his pass code with fingers that feel huge and clumsy.

“Hi, this is Spencer? Spencer Smith? My mom gave me this number and I thought I should call and tell you that we got signed?” Spencer sighs. “I’m pretty sure that there were blowjobs involved, even though both George and Brendon say there weren’t, Brendon’s a horrible liar, you should probably remember…” There’s a loud beeping noise on the other end and the message cuts off.

“Yeah, sorry about that, hit a wrong button. Anyway I don’t know if it’ll come up, I don’t know if we’ll even make it anywhere besides local clubs or whatever, but George already knows that he’s going to need to give you writing credits for the two songs that you wrote that he stole from you. So, um, just wanted to warn you. You have my number if you want to call.”

Ryan saves the messages and clicks the phone off, staring at it.

There was something in Spencer’s voice, at the end, that had sounded almost hopeful that Ryan might call him back.


******************************************************************************


He calls because why shouldn’t he, he met Spencer first. If he should be anyone’s friend he should be Ryan’s.

It’s been almost two months though; Spencer has probably forgotten that he even left those two long rambly messages

“Hello?” Spencer is laughing when he answers the phone and there are sounds of general merriment on the other end.

“Um… hi?” Ryan says, his voice sounds small and this was a horrible, rotten idea. He needs a better best friend, someone that could have told him that it was a horrible, rotten idea and he was only setting himself up for a miserable fall.

Instead he has Calvin and Calvin had just looked at him and said, “dude, he told you that you could call, why shouldn’t you.”

“Hey, I didn’t think you’d actually call,” Spencer sounds pleased and happy to hear from him.

“You said…” Ryan says.

“I did, but you didn’t call back so,” he can almost hear Spencer’s shrug on the other end.

“You’re George’s,” Ryan says, he’s got bruises from George before for touching things that weren’t his, Ryan learned really early on that he only got to keep the things that George didn’t want or that George was finished with. There will probably never be a time where George didn’t want Spencer.

“You know I am my own person,” there’s amusement in his voice.

“Okay,” Ryan says, he knows he sounds disbelieving. Spencer has been friends with George forever; he has to know that George is nothing if not possessive of things that he considers his. “Thanks for telling me, about, you know, getting signed and everything.”

“I’m still holding George to the writing credits and Pete Wentz? You know, from Fall Out Boy, he’s the one that signed us… he’s made noises about talking to you about lyric writing or something.”

Ryan makes a noise. The chances of George letting him have contact with anyone even remotely connected to his band are slim to nearly impossible.


******************************************************************************


Ryan figures out that his name has come up in interviews about six months after Panic! At The Disco has started touring with The Academy Is… and started making a name for themselves.

He knows this because a girl in his Creative Writing class, a girl that he’s actually had several normal, human conversations with, actually screams when she sees him, another one grabs his coat and tugs like she’s trying to get his attention but nothing manages to come out of her mouth when he looks at her in askance.

He blinks, frowns and goes to sit next to a couple of the guys who aren’t looking at him like they’ll hyperventilate if he says three words.

He thinks this might not have been an any better idea when one of the guys looks at him, raises an eyebrow and says, “my girlfriend is a fan, any chance of an autograph?”

“Excuse me?” Ryan says.

One of the guys, Brad, Ryan thinks his name is, he’s not sure, holds up a magazine and starts flipping through it. He doesn’t think they’ve actually ever been introduced, but he’s pretty sure when they went around the room on the first day of class that he’d said his name was Brad, or maybe it was Fred.

“Panic! At The Disco’s debut album contains two songs that were written by lead guitarist George Ross’ twin brother Ryan. The songs delve into the abuse that boys suffered at their fathers hands while growing up. Ryan Ross is beginning his sophomore year at UNLV where he plans to study Veterinary Medicine. His brother hopes to work with him in the future on additional songs but says, ‘he’s kind of busy with school and stuff, we just haven’t been able to sit down and hammer anything out yet.’”

Brad/Fred puts the magazine down and grins at him.

“Um…”

Ryan doesn’t try to sink through the chair and disappear, but only because he knows from past experience that it doesn’t work.


******************************************************************************


There’s a message waiting on his phone when he gets back to his room. Calvin has an afternoon class and he’s thankful for the silence. He’s had more people then he’s ever interacted with before stopping him and asking him questions about his brother and his band and Ryan doesn’t know any of the answers.

George might be his brother, but it’s not like he knows him.

It’s not like they’re friends.

They might be related by the tightest of blood bonds but their actual relationship is more like the second cousin that is only seen every other year at family get-togethers.

“Hey Ryan, I don’t think anyone called to warn you that we had an interview a couple of weeks ago that goes into print today and your name came up. I told you I was going to make sure that George gave you credit and it only took a little pushing to get him to do it. I think he knows he was in the wrong there and the fact that he dragged Brendon into it was just, well, mean. Anyway, if you want to give me a call, you know the number.”

Ryan looks at his phone, bites his lip. Then thumbs through his contact list.

“A little warning would have been nice,” he says when Spencer answers.

“Where’s the fun in that?” he laughs.

“There was screaming Spencer,” Ryan informs him. “And people pulling on my clothes and asking for autographs, I didn’t sign on for this. A little warning would have been nice, so I could have gone to a cabin in the wood and waited it out.”

“Well if George’d his way you would have been waiting a while.”

“Hmmph,” Ryan mutters, he’s pretty sure that he wouldn’t have a problem with that.


******************************************************************************


His phone is ringing when he gets back from class one afternoon. A look at the display shows Spencer’s cell and he drops his bag on bed.

“Hi?” he says. He’d just talked to Spencer over the weekend. He’d been complaining about Brent. Normally they go at least a week before Spencer calls again, sometimes longer.

“I’m going to kill your brother,” Spencer says. His tone is fairly even which means he’s not really serious, when he gets really mad it shows, he’s really upset about the Brent missing shows thing.

“Okay?”

“No really, I thought I should warn you. I’m going to kill him, I’m going to hide his body and I’m going to force you to come out on the road with us so no one knows that he’s missing.”

“I don’t play the guitar,” Ryan says. “And also, we’re not completely identical twins.” He fiddles with his phone until he has it on speaker and sets it in the middle of his desk.

Spencer snorts, as if he can’t be bothered with such trivialities.

“What’s George done anyway, so I know what to tell the police when they inevitably show up on my doorstep?”

Spencer sighs. “He and Brendon are in the middle of some sort of whacked out contest to see who can end up with the most STD’s by the time we come off the road.”

“That’s a blatant lie, Spencer Smith,” he can hear Brendon yell from the other end.

Ryan frowns. Spencer doesn’t normally talk to him around the others, he thinks it’s because that Spencer knows that George won’t be as okay with Spencer talking to Ryan as Spencer says he would be.

“Brent missed another show last night,” Spencer says, his voice is low, Ryan sits at his desk. Stares at the phone. Spencer has talked at him about what he thinks needs to happen, he doesn’t think that Spencer is in any way ready to make that sort of decision.

“What do George and Brendon think?” Ryan asks. He picks up a pen, taps it against the pad of paper lying on his desk.

“We all know what needs to be done,” Spencer says. “We’ve talked about with each other, with Pete and…”

“You’re going to send him away.”

“We’re probably going to ask Jon Walker to come on his place; he’s the tech for The Academy that’s saved our asses these last couple of times.”

“He’s good?”

“Brendon likes him.”

“He sings Disney songs with me,” Brendon yells. “I’m predisposed to like anyone that loves Disney songs as much as I do.”

“I’ve already told him that he can’t sing Disney on stage, George will strangle him with his guitar strings.”

“I’ll stab him with your extra set of drumsticks, it’ll take less force on my part,” he hears George yell.

Ryan sits there, listens to them bicker back and forth at each other.

He’s not quite sure what to make of Spencer calling him while the others are in the room, the others actually interacting with Spencer while Ryan’s on the phone; he’s not sure why George hasn’t forced Spencer to stop calling or told Ryan to stop taking the calls.

He’s not sure what’s going on and he feels like he missed an important conversation somewhere that would at least fill him in.


******************************************************************************


He goes out with a group of friends. They’re hopping from casino to casino; they do this about once a month to blow off steam. Only four of their group actually gambles. Ryan isn’t one of them; he doesn’t like wasting his money that way but he has fun leaning over Calvin’s shoulder and watching him win. Calvin has the most amazing luck at the penny slots; he’s up ten bucks in the first 30 minutes.

The rest of their group doesn’t have the same luck, so they resort to finding their own fun. David is attempting to hit on the girl sitting at the machine next to him, when she tosses her drink in his face and storms off he and Josh laugh so hard they have to lean against one another lest they lose their balance and fall over.

They’re at their last casino of the night, he’s got his arms folded over the top of Calvin’s chair and is watching Calvin play through a bonus when he feels the hand low on his back.

Any lower and it would be feeling him up, he stiffens and turns with his mouth open to say something.

“Ross, thought you were in Orlando,” the man says in a slurred voice. Ryan blinks at him, he looks vaguely familiar though Ryan can’t for the life of him place a name with the face, he’s really tired, that’s the only reason he can think of later.

“Um,” Ryan says, Calvin glances back and his eyes widen.

“We’ve got a table in VIP, you should have just come over if you were in town,” the man says, his arm goes over Ryan’s shoulder and he starts to turn as if to walk away when Calvin’s hand shoots out, latching onto Ryan’s arm.

“Dude,” the man says, he sounds annoyed.

“I think you might have me confused with someone else,” Ryan says, Calvin pulls a little bit and the mans arm falls away, Ryan sort of shuffles behind him, the man looks back and forth between Ryan and Calvin, he’s looking sort of pissy.

“George Ross,” the man says and Ryan shakes his head.

“That’s my brother,” Ryan says, Calvin hasn’t let go of his arm yet and Ryan won’t say that he’s hiding behind Calvin but only because Calvin is shorter then him by an inch and logically that wouldn’t do any good.

The mans face lights up.

“Pete’s been wanting to meet you,” the man says happily. “I’m Joe, by the way, sorry about the almost running off with you. Why don’t you and your boyfriend come meet the guys.”

“Calvin’s not my boyfriend,” Ryan says, just as Calvin says, “just let me get my ticket.”

Joe looks back and forth between them and shrugs.


******************************************************************************


They follow Joe back to a booth in a darkened corner of VIP, and for all that he professes to not follow George’s band and career, he does listen to Spencer and read his e-mails. Besides he thinks that Pete Wentz would be infinitely recognizable even if he hadn’t signed George’s band, it’s the hair and the tattoos and the fact that Ryan is a fan of Fall Out Boy, even though he would never admit that out loud to any of his friends.

Pete has the attention of the entire table even though he’s not paying any attention to 3/4 of them.

He looks up as Joe and Ryan and Calvin are waved through, and his brow furrows as they walk towards them. His mouth opens but before he can say anything Joes says, “this is Ryan Ross, you know, George’s twin.”

“Oh thank god,” the guy sitting next to Pete says, “I thought I was losing my mind and Panic had ditched another member while we were having drinks.”

Pete pats the empty space on the other side of him, someone is going to come back from the bathroom and be very upset Ryan thinks.

Ryan exchanges a look with Calvin and perches on the edge of the booth; Calvin makes a huffing noise and pushes on his shoulder until he slides in further. It leaves him with Pete pressed up against one side and he almost jumps when he feels Pete’s arm go over the back of his shoulders.

“The guys are going to flip their shit,” Calvin whispers in his ear.

“I won’t tell them if you don’t,” Ryan mumbles.

“Ryan Ross,” Pete says. “Talk to me about music and lyrics and the way of the world.”


******************************************************************************


Ryan has time for three hours of sleep before his only class of the day. Calvin is already gone when he wakes up with fifteen minutes to dart across campus and he pulls on jeans and a t-shirt and a hoodie that was over the back of his chair in a rush.

He runs his fingers through his hair and frowns at his reflection in the mirror, nothing to be done about it, he decides. He slaps a hat on his head and shoves his feet into worn sneakers and grabs his bag on the way out the door.

Class is long and boring and the only thing that keeps him awake is the periodic nudging by Josh, when class is done he almost face plants on his desk he’s so tired but Josh pulls him to his feet and keeps a grip on his arm.

“Where’d you and Calvin disappear to Friday?” Josh asks, Ryan makes a face.

“Friends of George’s in town grabbed us right before we were getting ready to go.”

“Your brother George?” Josh asks, “band George?”

Ryan makes a noncommittal noise, he’s too tired to talk about George, he really just wants to go back to his room and climb back into his bed.

“I thought you guys didn’t get along.”

“It’s not that we don’t get along…” Ryan starts. It’s just George has never had much use for Ryan besides being a source for words for songs.


******************************************************************************


He’s got one pillow pulled up to his chest and another over his head attempting to ignore his cellphone’s ringing. It’s not working, because when it stops it starts right back up again. He finally answers it because it’s keeping him from going back to sleep and he really just wants to sleep.

“I hear you got kidnapped by our boss over the weekend,” Spencer sounds amused. Ryan collapses back into his bed and pulls the blankets up over his head with the phone pressed to his ear.

“He was nice, kind of handsy, but apparently that’s the norm?”

“I think he has a crush, he was going on and about you when he called this morning, he was really disheartened that you had a boyfriend.”

“Calvin’s not my boyfriend,” Ryan’s pretty sure that he told Pete that over the weekend at least a half a dozen times, but then Pete probably gets a lot of girls and guys telling him that they don’t have significant others when they actually do.

“Yeah, it took both George and I to convince him that Calvin was your roommate, apparently Calvin was kind of clingy?”

“He was just afraid that I was going to disappear, I’m not sure why, he had enough money for a cab,” Ryan thinks that Calvin also thought he was protecting Ryan’s virtue, Ryan’s dated a little since he started college, but not enough that he’s slept with someone, anyone.

Calvin finds it both simultaneously hilarious and depressing that Ryan is still a virgin. There’s talk about hiring someone if Ryan hits 21 and still hasn’t managed to sleep with anyone. Ryan’s almost positive they’re joking, it’s the little gleam in Calvin’s eye that keeps the almost there.

“Is George really mad?” Ryan asks. Spencer is silent on the other end for long enough that Ryan wonders if he hung up.

“He’s not mad,” Spencer says. He sounds tired, like he’s had this conversation before. “George is your brother, Ryan.”

“I know that,” Ryan says. But George being his brother has never really meant much.

“He lectured Pete for almost two hours on the multiple ways that he’ll torture him if Pete so much as lays a finger on you without your and his express permission.”

Ryan frowns. “I know George doesn’t like sharing things that he considers his but that’s a little over the top, also I’m pretty sure that if Pete Wentz had a choice between George and me that he’s going to choose George every time.”

“I think you sell yourself short, and I think that maybe you and George need to sit down and have a really long talk when we hit Vegas in two weeks.”

“I don’t think…”

“He’s been protecting you Ryan, trying to do right by you for a change, and yeah, okay, Brendon and I maybe forced the issue a little bit. Told him he was being a complete and utter jackass and he was completely running the risk of his brother not wanting anything to do with him, but do you know how many interviews he’s turned down because they want you and we all know that you don’t really want to be in front of the camera like that…”

“I…”

“You’d hate it, Ryan. You were angry the first time your name came up and it keeps coming up and eventually someone’s going to press the issue and we’re not going to be able to keep saying no, but we all agreed at the beginning that if you gave an interview it was going to be because you wanted to.”

Ryan bites his lip, “I don’t know why they would even want to talk to me, I’m not part of it, of you guys,” he says. “This is all you and Brendon and George and Brent and I guess, Jon now… I’m not part of it.”

“Ryan, you wrote two of our songs, if George and Brendon get their way you’ll be writing songs for the second album as well. And our third and our fourth. Just because you don’t get up on stage with us doesn’t mean that you’re not part of this with us.”


******************************************************************************


Pete Wentz is sitting outside his door when he gets home from his afternoon classes, there are girls slouching against a wall blatantly staring at him that he’s ignoring in favor of texting on his phone.

“George says hi, and that he hopes that he won’t have to kill me when they get into town day after tomorrow,” Pete says without looking up.

Ryan’s mouth twists, “how did you know it was me?”

Pete looks up at him, smiles a smile filled with bright white teeth. “I’ve been saying that to everyone that stops, I figured eventually you’d show up and people would stop looking at me like I should be committed.”

“One doesn’t necessarily negate the other.”

Ryan nudges him with the toe of his shoe until Pete shifts over and climbs to his feet; Ryan unlocks the door and holds the door open for Pete to follow him in.

If there was anyone to bet against he’s pretty sure it would be even money that at least two of the girls will have their ears pressed to his door as soon as he closes it.

“George and Spencer both threatened my continued survival if they got here and your virtue had in any way been impugned.”

“How do they know that I have any virtue left?” Ryan asks as he puts his bag down by the side of his desk and toes of his shoes.

When he turns around Pete is sitting cross-legged in the center of his bed, smirking at him.

“Freaky twin-bond?”

Ryan doesn’t tell him that George and he don’t have a twin-bond freaky or otherwise.


******************************************************************************


Ryan’s pretty sure that Pete is courting him, he holds door for him and when he’s in the suite that Pete is sharing with Patrick, he attempts to cuddle with Ryan on the couch (Ryan isn’t a very cuddly person and he’s also 90% sure that George is going to inflict violence upon his person when he gets there, there’s that little 10% of him wants to believe that Spencer is right and that George maybe wants a brother for a change) and he very seriously introduces Hemingway to him, hands twisting as he waits for Hemingway to sniff Ryan’s feet before licking his fingers and ambling away. He breathes a sigh of relief and Ryan raises an eyebrow at him.

“I trust Hemmy’s judgment,” Pete says with a shrug and an unapologetic look. “If he didn’t like you I’d have to rethink things,” Ryan’s pretty sure that Pete’s going to have to rethink things anyway when George gets there but he doesn’t say that.


******************************************************************************


Panic! At The Disco arrives in the middle of the night, Ryan knows this because his phone starts ringing at 3 in the morning.

It startles Ryan out of a dead sleep and makes Calvin throw his pillow across the room. That was probably not a fantastic tactical move on Calvin’s part, because it leaves him with nothing to hold over his ears.

Ryan gets out of bed to get his phone because Calvin is making noises like he’s dying and Ryan certainly won’t get back to sleep if he has to listen to Calvin sound like that and his phone ring.

“Wha?” he manages.

“Where are you?” Spencer asks, he sounds bright and chipper and Ryan looks at the window and it’s still dark out so there’s really no explanation that Ryan can come up with. Maybe Brendon is sharing his Red Bull and Spencer is on a caffeine high and completely forgotten that it’s the middle of the night?

“Sleeping,” Ryan says, he tosses Calvin’s pillow in his general direction, then flops back down in his bed, pulls his blankets up to his neck.

“We thought you’d be here, but Pete says you went back to your dorm, you knew we were coming in, right?”

“Yeah,” Ryan doesn’t see what one thing has to do with the other, and Pete had tried to get him to stay but he knew that George and the others were probably going to want Pete and Patrick and rest of Fall Out Boy to themselves for a little bit.

He likes not having to fight George for every little thing and Pete and Patrick were validly George’s first, not Ryan’s, it’s not like he has any claim on them.

“Ryan…”

“I thought you’d want Pete and Patrick to yourselves for a while,” Ryan mumbles. His eyes are closed and he really just wants to go back to sleep, he doesn’t think that Spencer is going to let him.

“I’m pretty sure that Pete wants you here and George is slightly pissed that you weren’t here to meet us,” Spencer’s voice has an edge that tells Ryan that he’s pissed off as well.

He rubs at his forehead with the hand not holding the phone to his ear.

“I could come now,” he says.

“No,” Spencer sighs. “But there’ll be a car waiting to bring you to the hotel tomorrow.”

“I’ve got a nine am class,” Ryan reminds him.

“I’ve got your schedule,” Spencer says, “It’ll be there waiting when you get out.”


******************************************************************************


Josh and David share his 9 am class, Ryan would think he’d imagined the phone call from Spencer if it didn’t show up in his call log. Either way he thinks that the probability that there will a car waiting for him when he gets out of class unlikely, Panic has a concert that night, they’ll be more worried with sleeping and getting prepared for that then sending a car for Ryan.

He dawdles with Josh and David, getting coffee with them while they wait for Calvin and Samantha to get out of class. They normally get lunch together before Josh and David dash off to their afternoon class and Ryan goes back to the dorm to work on homework.

When they’re finished, when Josh and David have started their mad sprint to not be late; Calvin and Samantha walk with him in the direction of the dorms, Ryan has his bag slung over his shoulder and a coffee in one hand, he and Calvin are laughing at Samantha (she’s had a third horrible date with the same guy, she keeps trying though and none of them are sure why, she doesn’t even really like him, Ryan think she just doesn’t want to admit defeat), when he feels a hand on his shoulder.

He stops and twists his head, there’s a big guy standing there staring at him expectantly. He’s familiar in that vague way that means that Ryan has seen him somewhere before. He doesn’t look like the type to hang out with the same crowds that Ryan sort of interacts with so he’s not sure from where.

“Wow, you do look like George,” the guy says.

“Excuse me?” Ryan asks. Ryan raises an eyebrow and Calvin is stepping closer, Samantha has hold of his arm like she could drag him away if there’s a fight.

“I’m Zack,” they guy, Zack says.

“Oh, you’re their bodyguard,” Ryan says. Spencer has talked about the wonder that is Zack Hall a time or thousand. It still doesn’t explain why Zack is there.

“You didn’t meet the car, the driver called all in panic thinking he was in the wrong place,” Zack says.

“I’m,” Ryan exchanges a look with Calvin. “I didn’t think Spencer was serious?”

“Spencer’s always serious, the guys wouldn’t be left back at the hotel so they’re waiting in the car,” Zack says, he holds out his hand and Ryan looks at it in confusion. “I can take your bag.”

“Uh, it’s just got my books in it,” Ryan says.

“Then we should,” Zack jerks his head in a motion that indicates that he’d like to begin walking again.

“We’ll see you later,” Calvin says, when Ryan looks at him he can see Calvin biting his lip in that way that means that he wants to be laughing hysterically but thinks it’s neither the right time nor place.

They all have tickets, Spencer had sent them off weeks prior and his friends think it’s pretty sweet that they’ve got backstage passes and are finally getting to meet the twin brother that Ryan doesn’t really talk about.

Calvin takes hold of Samantha’s hand dragging her off, they both wave and Ryan turns back to Zack. Biting his lip, winding the strap of his bag around his hand.


******************************************************************************


George is awkwardly perched on the edge of the couch, Ryan is doesn’t think he’s ever seen George look as uncomfortable as he looks.

“Spencer says I’ve been a jackass,” George says finally. Ryan looks over at him. “I don’t see how, you have no idea how irritating it was growing up with you as a brother.”

“Okay,” Ryan says slowly, Spencer had insisted that they needed to talk and forced everyone else out of the room. Ryan thinks they’re maybe playing video games in Patrick and Pete’s rooms, either that or they’ve got glasses pressed to the door attempting to eavesdrop.

Ryan’s pretty sure that this is not the conversation that Spencer intended for them to have.

“All our teachers saying why can’t you be more like Ryan, look at him, he’s quiet and studious and straight A’s and so smart and so good and he never gets in trouble, blah, blah, blah…” George says sarcastically then he sighs heavily. “It was fucking frustrating as hell, and then you had to go and get a full ride to school and be all…” he waves a hand. “Ryan again.”

“I’m sorry?” Ryan says, he makes it a question because he’s not sure if he’s supposed to be or not. He doesn’t feel sorry.

“No, I’m… I’m doing this badly, Spencer should really have stayed, I told him that I was going to fuck this up,” George says. He drags a hand through his hair.

“I tried to stay out of your way,” Ryan says. “I mean, I can not talk to Spencer anymore, though to be fair he called me first and told me that it was okay, told me that you were okay with it and I’m pretty sure that Pete will end up going away all on his own but I can…”

“Spencer would kill me, and actually Brendon would too since he’s got the most massive crush on you that I think I’ve ever seen considering he’s only spent a complete total of three hours in your presence, ever. He’s completely pissed that Pete is looking like he might usurp a place that he’s been angling for almost three years.”

“Um.”

“When we got the songs the first thing that Brendon asked me was why I hadn’t said that dad was hitting me, Spencer figured out on his own that it wasn’t me that wrote the songs because I spent more time then not with him and he’d never seen any bruises. He was, well he was pretty pissed and told me that if anything happened, if dad hurt you again, if we got signed or whatever that your name was going to be put right out there as the writer of those songs. That you were going to get recognition for them if he had to drag your name out in interviews himself.”

“None of you needed to do that, that isn’t why I wrote them,” Ryan says.

“I think Spencer realized that, then it was us trying to keep you out of the spotlight, because you didn’t want it. Because every time your name was brought up and you found out and Spencer said you got irritated.”

“Because people are stupid, they all think that just because we’re brothers that I know you, they all want things from me, it’s just… I’m not you George, I don’t want to be up on stage, in the spotlight, I’m happy right where I am.”

“I should warn you that Brendon and Pete want to bring you out on stage tonight,” George winces at the glare Ryan shoots him.

“I just said…”

“They want to do this, Pete thinks that you deserve just a little bit of the spotlight and Brendon just wants to hang on you on stage for a couple of minutes, even Spencer thinks it’s a good idea and Jon had been largely silent but I think that’s just because he hasn’t met you and isn’t really certain that you actually exist.”

“George.”

“I promise that you won’t have to sing and no one will make you play an instrument. Just this once, come on stage and be my brother and let people tell you how much they like what you write,” George says.

Ryan is ready to say no, his mouth opens to say it. Its one syllable, it shouldn’t be that difficult. But he looks at George and George looks like he expects him to say no, George looks disappointed, like this was something that he wanted as well as Pete and Brendon and Spencer.

He closes his mouth, bites his lips, twists his fingers together in his lap.

And nods his acquiescence.


******************************************************************************


Even with the ear plugs in the crowd is really loud from backstage. All screaming, singing girls and boys.

He can see the crowd from the side of the stage and there are butterflies swirling in his stomach and he really doesn’t think he can do that.

He thinks that’s why Pete is standing right next to him, arm over his shoulder.

“We’ve got a special treat for you tonight,” Brendon says. His voice echoes and the crowd screams in response.

“This is our hometown and this is the first time we’ve been back through on tour since we left so we’re going to deviate from our normal routine right now to introduce someone who we’ve talked about a few times in a few interviews, you guys sing along to words that he wrote and maybe on our next album you’ll sing along to more words that he’ll write.”

Brendon turns his head and Ryan doesn’t know if he can see him standing there, or if he just knows that Ryan is somewhere off to the side of the stage.

Pete presses a kiss to his temple and puts a gentle hand to his back, pushing him in the direction of the stage.

George appears there in front of him, he beams at him and Ryan smiles back uncertainly, George takes his hand and leads him forward into the lights while Brendon’s voice continues on strong and certain.

“It is my complete honor and pleasure to bring up on stage with us for the first time ever; Ryan Ross, ladies and gentleman.”


******************************************************************************