Brian came downstairs, exhausted. Convincing Gerard to go to bed was always a challenge, and getting him to do it while Brendon was still in the house was even worse. Luckily, Brendon was pretty worn out from midterms and other stuff, so he hadn’t managed to distract Gerard much.
In fact, when Brian got back to the living room, Brendon was totally asleep, using Ryan’s leg as a pillow. Ryan had one hand on Brendon’s shoulder while he watched the TV– they hadn’t gotten all the way through the last Pirates of the Caribbean film before Brian had declared it the boys’ bedtime.
“Brendon’s totally out, huh,” said Brian, sitting on the other end of the couch.
Ryan shrugged. “He was mostly running on Coke and gummi bears anyway. I told him to cancel movie night, but he said he couldn’t.” He looked up apologetically. “Sorry. I mean, I didn’t want him to cancel on you guys, just—”
Brian waved a hand. “No, it’s cool,” he said. “Brendon does this thing where he tries to make everyone happy and runs himself in to the ground. Or do you not remember the Great Flu Debacle last semester?”
“I remember,” said Ryan, and hid a grin.
It was mildly weird, hanging out with Ryan outside of work. Gerard kept asking Brendon to bring Ryan along with him when he came to visit, and Ryan, who was apparently mildly afraid of Mikey, kept declining. Gerard had decided that Ryan was his sartorial hero, and he was going to grow up to dress just like him. Brian was grateful that the high school had a dress code, because if Gerard had shown up in what Ryan was wearing, there would have been fist fights. Mostly between Frank and the entire rest of the student body.
“I told him I didn’t need to tag along,” said Ryan quietly after a minute.
“Gerard would be totally disappointed,” Brian said.
Ryan shrugged. “Mikey doesn’t like me much, though.”
“That’s not… I mean, sort of, but that’s because Mikey and Brendon have their weird psychic bond.”
“I know,” Ryan nodded. He fiddled with a couch pillow for a second. “I don’t know how to tell him that I didn’t mean to take his friend away.”
“You didn’t take Brendon, he’s still right here.” Brian patted Brendon’s ankle. “Mikey will get over it eventually. And we’re stealing him away from you in May anyway.”
Ryan smoothed out the hood of Brendon’s sweatshirt, looking down at his hands. “He’s so excited,” Ryan said finally. “I mean. He’s pretty much excited about everything, but this is…” Words failed him, and he shrugged.
“We’ll bring him back in one piece,” Brian promised. “Unless he gets eaten by a shark or something. He’d be totally excited about that, though.”
“‘Ryan! I got bitten by a shark, it was huge, you should have seen!’” Ryan said, trying to keep a straight face. He bit his lip so he wouldn’t burst out laughing. Brendon mumbled something to himself and didn’t wake up at all. It was pretty clear that he would have slept through an explosion. “He’d totally get a hook for a hand and talk like a pirate all the time for the rest of his life.”
“And I’d have to convince Gerard and Mikey not to cut off their hands, too,” Brian groaned. “I’ll keep him away from sharks.”
There was a long, quiet minute. Brian wasn’t sure how to make Ryan feel more welcome and less weird about being there. It had been a long learning curve for Brian, from thinking Ryan was the weirdest, druggiest kid he’d ever met to realizing that Ryan was just shy and… Well. Still weird. But weird in a way Brian’s kids assured him was cool. And Brendon insisted Ryan didn’t actually drink or anything, although he wouldn’t explain why. Brian was grateful that this was something he’d gotten a chance to reassess.
They watched possibly-dead Jack Sparrow try and hit on a goat on the screen for a while. “Can I… Um. Can I ask you something?” Ryan said hesitantly. He wasn’t looking at Brian, in a very deliberate way.
“Sure,” said Brian. “What’s up?”
“I tried asking Brendon, but he got all… You know how sometimes he looks like he’s going to cry? We ended up going out for ice cream instead.” Ryan rolled his eyes at himself. “I am so, so bad at ignoring him when he looks upset.”
Brian privately thought that was probably a good thing, because Brendon spent a lot of time trying to convince everyone he was happy. “What’s the question?” he asked.
“Well it’s… Listen, you don’t have to tell me. But Gerard and Mikey… How did they end up with you? It’s really sweet, just, last year you didn’t seem like the type. I know it’s none of my business. But you’re Brendon’s family, and I feel like I’m missing something.” Ryan looked apologetic. He also looked determined.
Brian appreciated the reassurance that Brendon thought of them as family. That had taken some persuasion on their part. And the question was fair enough; last year, as far as Ryan knew, Brian had mostly been the grumpy guy at work who yelled at him a lot. Brian debated. He tried to let the boys decide who they wanted to tell about what had happened to them, and there was no way Mikey would have voted ‘yes’ on telling Ryan. But he also probably ought to know, and he was trustworthy.
“Remember last year, when I took that week off?” Brian said.
“I’d gotten my wallet stolen by this kid on the street, but I ran in to him later and he gave it back to me. Not with the cash, but with the cards and stuff still in it. He was so fucking young, and I… Well. I told him to call me if he needed anything, and he vanished.”
Ryan looked totally baffled. Brian still felt that way about the whole thing sometimes.
“So during that week off, bam, the kid shows up at my door and tells me his little brother Mikey is sick, and he doesn’t know what to do.” Brian waited, watching as Ryan put it together, and his eyes got bigger.
“Shit, Brian,” he said softly. “They… Mikey and Gerard were…”
“Mikey really was sick as hell, and they were camped out in a warehouse, so I convinced them to come back and stay here with me instead.” Brian clenched his hands in to the arm of the couch a little bit. “I didn’t… I didn’t think about it as a permanent thing, I just couldn’t leave them out there. But then I didn’t want them to go, either.” He shrugged. “It all happened really fast.”
Ryan bit his lip. “You’re… What happened to their parents?” he asked.
“And they just… Ran away?” Ryan frowned.
This part of the story was definitely theirs to tell, if they wanted to. Brian still didn’t have all the details, just things Mikey said when he thought Gerard needed help, and snatches of things Gerard said when he woke up crying in the middle of the night. “They were in foster care. It was … Bad.”
Something flickered across Ryan’s face so quickly Brian couldn’t identify it. He wasn’t stupid; he knew something had happened in Ryan Ross’s life before Brian had met him, and it hadn’t been pleasant. There was a reason this kid was so stingy with his smiles and so guarded with his reactions. Brian had seen envy on his face when Brendon burst out laughing or threw himself in to games with Gerard and Mikey. He’d noticed the way Ryan’s eyes skated away every time Brian hugged Brendon on Christmas. Brian had gotten a lot better at picking up non-verbal cues; sometimes they were all he got from Mikey and Gerard.
He didn’t expect Ryan to say anything, but Ryan said softly, “Yeah. Okay. I get that. My dad…” He stopped for a second, and took a deep breath, daring a look at Brian. “Brendon knows a little bit already. I probably should have been… I mean, he’s dead now, but I… They’re lucky to have you.”
Brian hadn’t followed about half of that, but he got the gist. Ryan’s voice had a little tremor in it, which was a pretty big tell. He considered leaning over to hug Ryan, but it would have woken Brendon up, and the rigid line of Ryan’s shoulders screamed ‘don’t touch me.’ Brian decided to treat it like he was talking to Mikey. He looked mostly at the TV, watching Ryan out of the corner of his eye. “I’m lucky to have them,” he said, deliberately nonchalant.
Ryan nodded and didn’t look up. “Yeah.”
“So then Brendon showed up to babysit, when I was pretty sure there was no one on earth who could handle these kids all summer. But he was accidentally perfect, and Mikey and Gerard love him, and now he’s part of the family,” Brian said. He made sure to keep his voice totally steady. “I think, at this point, we’re collecting people who need family. Lucky for us, there’s lots of room here.”
Brian wanted him to hear the invitation there, even if he was pretty sure Ryan would never act on it. Ryan twisted his hand in Brendon’s hood. He was biting his lip pretty hard, and staring at his boyfriend, and not acknowledging Brian at all.
Brian wasn’t willing to push. He would have more chances to talk to Ryan, and Brendon was offering him the same thing in a different way. “Popcorn?” Brian asked, picking up the bowl. “If you’re not going to wake Brendon up you should probably make yourself comfortable. He’s going to sleep forever over there.”
“Sure,” said Ryan, gingerly taking a little. “Thanks.” He paused and glanced up for just a second. “Brian. Thanks.”
They watched the rest of the movie in comfortable quiet.