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The Winner Takes It All

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From redbrickrose's Unreliable Narrators:

Brendon has strange energy. It’s a constant intensity, but it’s not a lack of focus. He has an attention span. Sometimes when they’re in the studio he gets so wrapped up that he forgets to eat. He can play guitar hero for eight hours straight. (He doesn’t, anymore, and Ryan thinks he probably has Spencer to thank for that, but he can. Ryan’s seen it happen). So Brendon is intense; he has to be active all the time, has to have his tireless energy channeled into something, but he isn’t, actually, all that easy to distract.

Which is why Ryan’s life gets more difficult when Brendon decides that the new tour needs to be even more gay than Nothing Rhymes with Circus.

Ryan says, “shouldn’t we wait until the album is released before we worry about the tour?”

Brendon says, “hey, I was just asking.”

Jon says, “it’s Decaydance stage-gay chicken, Ryan. Brendon wants to win.”

Spencer says, “Is this a real game? And if so, can we take a vote? Because I’m not sure I want to play stage-gay chicken against Cobra Starship. Gabe’s kinda competitive.”



THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL


It all starts with a joke. From Patrick of all people. Just a stray comment of ‘Jesus, Pete, if you’re so determined to prove to everyone that you’re just as gay as Gabe, just call a competition and settle the score once and for all, okay? I’m sick of you slobbering all over my neck all the time.’ Joe sees the crazy glint light up Pete’s eyes as the idea takes hold of his mind and tries to shut Patrick up by clapping a hand over his mouth.

But by then, it’s already far too late.

***

“Okay, people, listen up! The rules are few and very simple. Rule number one: stage and public appearances only. No making of fake sex tapes and leaking them on to the Internet. Rule number two: points are awarded by the buzz you create. No screaming fangirls shouting their glee all over cyber space, no score, got it? Rule number three: the race ends with the tour. That’s all. Is everyone clear?”

It doesn’t stay simple. Of course it doesn’t. Instead, Pete and Bill begin to develop the scoring scale, creating a monstrosity of formulas that makes everyone who isn’t a nuclear physicist’s head ache. There are constants and variables and changing curves depending on when, where, in front of how many, and so on and on ad nauseam. There is also a scoring chart, proudly drawn by Pete on the main notice board in the Fall Out Boy tour bus, decorated with little stick figures for every member of every band. Stick-figure-Pete starts out with an arm around stick-figure-Patrick and a little heart over his head. The next time Ryan passes the board, the arm and heart are gone, and stick-figure-Pete has collapsed into a broken little pile of lines next to his bandmates, a disturbing red circle spreading out from under him.

Ryan makes a mental note not to piss off Patrick Stump in the next couple of days.

***

”So what’s our strategy?” Brendon asks as they’re sprawled on the beds in a generic hotel room, two days before the first set of the tour.

Spencer looks up from the magazine he’s been flipping through and moves his gaze to Brendon, eyebrow raised. Next to him, Ryan’s mirroring the same expression.

“If we want to win, we’ll need a tactic. I mean, Spence already said it, Gabe tends to be kind of competitive.”

“Not only Gabe,” Jon adds, flipping absentmindedly through a hundred and thirty-five channels of cable. “Dude, we’re up against Pete. We don’t need a tactic, we need, like, an orgy on stage.”

Brendon’s face lits up. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea!”

“No.” Spencer puts down the magazine, crossing his arms menacingly.

“‘No,’ as in ‘not until mid-tour?’”

Spencer just glares at him. “I’m not having sex on stage.”

“Then what about—”

Or on YouTube.”

***

The tour starts in Chicago. Two months of FOB, Panic, Cobra Starship and TAI playing their way through the US and Canada together. MCR has joined up as well and has been graciously granted honorary label membership for the course of the competition. Ryan suspects that this has little to do with not being mean and leaving people out of their “musical family” (Pete’s words) and a lot more to do with the way Mikey Way raised an eyebrow in unspoken invitation in Pete’s direction at the pre-tour party. But whatever. Points gained by crossband pairings will only score 50% and have to be split between both bands equally. Jon insisted because of Bill and Gabe and their tendency to grope anything that stands still long enough, and everyone agreed (even Bill and Gabe, strangely enough). It doesn’t matter much anyway. Ryan has a fake LiveJournal alias, a brand new membership to several fandom communities and an Excel sheet on his computer where he logs the things he, Jon, Spencer and Brendon do that seem to get the fans the most excited. Pete and the others don’t stand a chance.

***

“So, tactic,” Ryan says, looking up from his computer. “Do we split up into pairs or should we go all GSF on this?”

“What?” Spencer asks. “Is that the thing where we all bang each other in a huge pile? Because Jon’s not that great at multitasking.”

Ryan nods and adds a comment to his sheet, filing away the latest entries on his quickly growing f-list. “Well I kind of wanted to pair up with Jon and all his rugged manliness anyway,” he says, clicking on a new link and scrolling quickly over the text. “Me and him are getting really good ratings after that interview we did on Buzznet last week.”

“You can’t have Jon,” Brendon scoffs from the foot of the bed. “If anyone’s getting him exclusively, it’s me.”

“Really? How’s that?”

“Our names go better together. ‘Jondon.’ It’s kind of sweet. What would you be? ‘Joyan?’ ‘Ryn?’ Come on, Ryan, that’s just silly.”

“Unlike ‘Jondon,’” Ryan deadpans. “Very sexy, that.”

“I’m just saying.”

“Well, if you’re done fighting over me,” Jon interrupts, bouncing down on the bed next to them, “I think I’ll keep my mostly-straight image and go with the girl.” He leans back against the headboard, swatting Spencer’s ass playfully on the way.

“Hey! I resent that!”

“Resent it all you want, sweetie,” Jon leers. “Doesn’t stop it from being true.”

“Fuck you!”

“Really, now? I would have thought it’d be the other way around. Am I right, Ryan?”

“You are,” Ryan replies from behind the screen of his laptop. “Spence, if you’re looking to top, you should really go with Bren. Seems you have this kinky dom/sub thing going. The fans are picking up on your bossiness.”

“I’m not bossy.”

“Since when?”

Spencer glares at him, but there’s a glint of humour in there too, and Ryan relaxes, flashes a smile.

“You could have me too, you know,” he says casually, ignoring Jon’s protest of ‘hey, no! I already called Spencer,’ closely followed by Spencer flipping Jon off. “I mean, I am your best friend since we were practically in the womb. We know everything about each other and have a telepathic connection. I’m the love of your life.” Spencer rolls his eyes in exasperation.

“Oh, really?”

“Really. All the constant, mind-blowing sex we had in junior high has made it impossible for you to ever get over me.” He frowns, scrolling down a little, clicking on a new link. “Apparently, I wrote Lying about myself as an apology to you after I… took up with Brendon—huh. That’s actually pretty creative.” He scrolls down a bit more, and Spencer scoots over, leaning into Ryan’s space to read over his shoulder. “Did I at least punch you?” he asks, peering at the screen. “Please tell me I did.”

Ryan chuckles, scrolls back up a bit, highlights a specific passage.

“What the fuck!” Spencer yells, slamming the laptop shut with a disgusted look on his face. “That’s fucking it! Seriously!” He moves off the bed, crosses the room and starts putting on his sneakers. “Jon, you’re on,” he says, picking up his jacket from the back of an armchair. “Wanna go grab coffee in pink mugs and look at engagement rings?”

“Sure,” Jon replies easily. “Hey, was that an actual proposal? And if so, does that make me the bride?”

Spencer shrugs on his jacket, then throws a second one at Jon. “Damn, straight it does,” he confirms. “No more fucking girl jokes. Besides, you look so much hotter in white than I do.”

“Yeah, sure,” Jon agrees, grinning as he pulls on his own shoes. “But you have the perfect hips for a tight skirt.” Spencer opens his mouth for a comeback, but Brendon cuts him off, rolling over on his back and putting his head on Ryan’s thigh.

“Maybe you can both be the bride,” he says, ignoring Spencer’s dark look. “Anyway, I want to go with Ryan. According to the Internet, we have this epic love going.”

“Ah yes. With epic pining,” Ryan deadpans, moving his left hand reflexively to play with Brendon’s hair. “Always wanted that.”

“Oh, come on, Ross. Everything you write is fucking pining. It’s why the fangirls all like us so much.”

“And here I thought it was because of your, quote, fantastic ass and sinful mouth, un-quote.”

Brendon smirks. “Well, yeah, there’s that. I was blessed with a beautiful body, what can I say?”

“And apparently, you’re good at using it too.”

“Oh, fuck you, Ryan Ross. I’d be fabulous. If I put my mind to it, I’d have you on your knees and begging for my attention.”

“Now that would put us ahead in the competition.”

Brendon laughs, loud and happy, and Ryan smiles back down, smacking him lightly across the side of his head before going back to playing with the dark tresses, humming contentedly under his breath. Spencer shakes his head and walks out the door, Jon close behind him.

***

In Boston, Brendon hands the mike to Jon, who takes a moment to sing a cover of Elton John’s Blue Eyes, glancing at Spencer every once in a while and raising his eyebrows suggestively. It amounts to 348 points, which is pretty decent for a single night.

***

In New York, Bill hijacks Tom as they walk out of the hotel, grabbing his ass and kissing him roughly in front of at least fifteen photographers. The resulting picture is worth a thousand words, or—in their case—720 points. It’s a daring move so soon on the tour, especially if you consider point number seven on the amended sheet of rules that hang laminated next to the score board: Points are only awarded for first-time offences. Give the fans something fresh, people!

Frank and Gerard naturally pitch a huge fit over this, demanding compensation for point seven equivalent of the amount of points listed for things they have already done on stage on previous tours. Pete refuses, telling them that it’s not his problem that they are too slutty for their own good. Gerard mumbles something that sounds worryingly like “I’ll show you too slutty for your own good,” before he pulls Frank away with him to go make out in a booth at the afterparty. When they’re down to their pants only (and not entirely closed at that) and the hotel manager begins to send them discreet but pointed looks, Pete finally relents and gives them fifty points each for good effort.

***

In the middle of an interview in Washington D.C, Brendon suddenly grabs Ryan’s hand, bringing it to his lips in a far-too-affectionate-for-two-guys-who-are-just-friends gesture. The interviewer is momentarily stumped, and Brendon takes advantage of the moment to fire off a dazzling smile, but doesn’t say anything. Another easy 300.

***

In Atlanta, Pete falls to his knees in front of Patrick, declaring his undying love and asking him to marry him. Patrick replies by pouring most of what’s left of his water bottle over Pete’s head, and during the next set, Jon evens the score by sweeping Spencer off his feet as they round up the show, carrying him off the stage in a decidedly bride-like manner. There are at least fifty badly photoshopped pictures up on the Internet that same night, all putting Spencer in sparkling white, some of them with a veil in his hair. Spencer doesn’t talk to Jon for three days, and Ryan won’t stop laughing.

***

They are hardly off the stage in Houston when Brendon pushes him into the wall, as though he can’t wait to get his hands on Ryan for a minute longer. There’s a needy whine at the back of his throat, and his hands quickly find their way under Ryan’s shirt, stroking insistently against his back. The kisses pressed into his neck are hard on the verge of bruising, and Ryan is so caught up in the spinning of his own head that he doesn’t notice the company until Jon pointedly clears his throat. Behind him, there are at least ten girls, some of them with their jaws half-way to the floor and others searching their pockets frantically for their cell phones. “Shit,” Brendon says, scrambling away from Ryan and putting on his most sheepish, adorable face, “I know I don’t have any right to ask you this, but could you guys maybe help us out and keep this to yourself? Please? It would be like our little secret.” He puts on his most lovable puppy face, and Ryan swears he can see a girl towards the back start to sway a little bit. “I mean, God, Jon,” Brendon continues, expression turning from puppy to pleading in a subtle shift as he turns to their bandmate. “I’m sorry, man. I don’t know what I was thinking. Do you think Spence will be really angry? I know how we said no one-on-one deals after that thing in Toronto, but maybe if you explained how it was really nothing…”

The Internet squee and resulting fangirl war later that night is epic, and every time they see Pete for the next couple of days, Brendon smiles at him, huge and smug. 3486 points. It’s a new record.

***

“Ryan Ross, we should practice.”

Ryan looks up from the book he’s reading. “We just did, Brendon. Where were you for the past three hours?”

“Not practice. Practice

“Because that is a completely different word.”

Brendon rolls his eyes and takes a long, deliberate step forward, crowding Ryan against the kitchenette counter and sliding a warm hand up to curl around his neck.

“You want me,” he murmurs, pressing Ryan more firmly into the hard wood, somehow pressing all the air out of Ryan’s lungs as he goes.

Ryan’s fingers clench around the book in his hand. “Wh-what?”

“It’s the trick to getting the high scores. If you want them to believe it, you have to believe it. So come on, Ryan. Make me believe.” They’re too close, and Bendon’s fingers are too hot on his neck, too deliciously agonising the way they press into his skin.

“You’re insane.”

Brendon smiles. “Insane and right. Now kiss me.”

“No.”

Brendon looks up from where his eyes had been not-so-subtly tracing the line of Ryan’s bottom lip and frowns. “Why are you being so difficult about this?” he asks, sounding genuinely bewildered, and Ryan can’t fucking believe it, because they’re pressed up against a kitchen counter, completely alone without any chance of being caught on camera, and he can fucking feel Brendon half-way hard against his thigh.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he snaps. “Maybe I don’t want to get fucking felt up by my friends on stage.”

He pushes Brendon off him and stalks out of the kitchen, doing his best to ignore the way Brendon’s voice sounds as he tries to call him back.

***

They are in LA, watching Gabe perform “The Lovedance of the Cobra” against Ryland’s back, when Brendon comes up behind him and wraps his arms around Ryan’s waist, putting his chin on Ryan’s shoulder, whispering “please just tell me what I did,” in his ear. Ryan pulls away without answering, heading back to the changing rooms to see if Patrick wants any help deleting comments about Pete’s latest 1678 point stunt (“This next song is about the love of my life, and I can’t tell you how great it feels to get to sing it with him every night.”) from the Fall Out Boy homepage.

***

“Come on, Butcher,” they hear Bill’s voice cut through the lazy haze of late-night drinking and smoking up on the Academy bus. “We only need another 833 points to beat both Cobra and MCR. Just one kiss on stage. Please?”

“No,” Andy says simply, cracking open another beer. “You and Tom and Mike can play this fucking insulting little game as much as you want, but I’ve told you to leave me and Siska out of it.”

“Oh, come on,” Bill argues. “It’s just a—”

“—a what?” Andy interrupts, eyes cold as he stares Bill down. “Just a kiss? Just some innocent entertainment for the fans? Just whoring out the one person I love more than anything— on stage—and get the paps swarming around us so that you can show up Gabe and Gerard in a stupid competition? Well, fuck you!

The room is suddenly very quiet. Ryan stiffens where he sits, curled against Spencer on the floor, deliberately not looking over at the couch where Brendon is sprawled across Carden’s lap.

“Hey, Butcher, calm down,” Pete starts, reaching over to grab a beer of his own and putting an arm on Andy’s back, obviously trying to diffuse the situation. Andy rounds on him, fingers almost white around the bottle in his hand, like it’s taking all of his self-control not to punch Pete or at least push him into the nearest wall.

“Don’t,” he says quietly, and the word cuts through the room like a whip, leaving an echoing silence behind it. “It’s not my business if the rest of you are too scared or too wrapped up in the idea of making-a-statement-but-actually-being-totally-straight to ever admit that the jokes you crack have a little too much truth in them for comfort, but don’t you dare…” He trails off, scanning the room, eyes stopping momentarily on a downturned face mostly obscured by a grey newsboy cap before he fixes his glare on Pete’s confused face. “Wait,” he says, taking in the frown on the shorter man’s brow and the way the dark eyes flicker back and forth. “Are you—? Do you actually, honestly not know that he—?” A low rumble of laughter breaks from Andy’s lips, quickly escalating in frequency and volume until he’s practically hanging on Bill’s shoulder, fighting for air.

“Jesus, you really are a clueless idiot,” he says, patting Pete condescendingly on the top of the head before making his way over to one of the couches, claiming the room between Siska and Jon.

“If I ever turn into a huge asshole and start trying to get your attention by completely fucking up everything we have,” he says, taking Siska’s hand in his and pressing it against his cheek, “just hit me over the head, okay?”

Adam grabs the back of Andy’s head in response, pulling him down for a kiss that makes several people in the room actually blush a little.

“Sure,” he says easily, running a thumb over Andy’s bottom lip before leaning in again, letting Butcher push him back against the armrest with a needy groan. Jon and Tom make a tactical escape to the floor, settling down next to Ryan and Spencer.

“God, you’re so fucking perfect,” Ryan hears Butcher murmur between kisses, pulling Siska back up into a sitting position before getting them both to their feet. “So,” he says, addressing the room at large, “I’m taking my boyfriend to bed. Have fun playing your little games and pretending not to choke on the jealousy while we’re gone.” He waves ironically at them, throwing a last smug look in Pete’s direction, and disappears into the bunk area of the bus.

“Mike, turn up the stereo, will you?” Tom comments from the floor, getting unsteadily to his feet to grab another set of beers for him and Jon from the stack by the wall. “You know how loud they get, and something tells me that Butcher won’t really be trying to keep it down for our sakes right now.”

Carden snickers and leans back, fiddling with the volume control until the bus is filled with drums and basslines, conversation reduced to private mumblings of people sitting close enough together to hear what they’re saying.

Ryan leans against Spencer, breathing in deeply as Jon passes him a half-smoked joint. When he opens his eyes, everything looks exactly like it did before the drama: Gabe laughing, working out a new Cobra mating dance with Vicky and Alex on the miniscule, impromptu dance floor, Jon and Tom lounged lazily together, off-hand conversations and big smiles on their faces, and Patrick talking animatedly with Bill and Joe, trying to describe something with big hand gestures. His eyes move to the left and stop abruptly on Pete, who’s leaning against the wall, looking shell-shocked. The dark eyes meet Ryan’s, and it’s a little bit like a slap, or the sharp pain of accidentally putting your hand on a hot burner.

“When did this happen?” Pete’s eyes are asking, all wide and blank and utterly terrified. Ryan swallows and looks away, because he doesn’t have the answer. He only knows that it did—for him as well, just with the spin of an opposite point of view—not why, when or what’s even going to happen now.

Unable to stop himself, he moves his head a little, takes in dark hair and an uncertain smile—feels eyes burning into his face but closing his own before he has a chance to know what they’re saying. If it’s the same scared confusion as in Pete’s eyes, he’s not sure he wants to see it, and if it’s something simpler—amusement maybe—he’s not sure he can take it right now. He sees Brendon push off the couch from out of the corner of his eye and scrambles to his feet, managing to make it out of the bus and into his own bunk without anyone stopping him.

***

They pass through San Fransisco, Portland and Seattle, and Cobra moves up to second place behind them, closely followed by TAI as they both overtake Fall Out Boy. Pete has been oddly quiet for days, keeping himself huddled up in corners of venues and buses, not talking to anyone, even his own band. Ryan can tell that Patrick is getting worried—really worried—from the way he’s snapping at people and being a general bitch, but he’s also obviously still very angry, so everything is pretty locked. Gabe and William are still pumping it up, still thinking up glorious pranks and making people keel over laughing and fans explode in barely controlled glee all around them. Jon and Spencer are still playing as well, in the same relaxed way they have been from the beginning, circling around one another with lots of self-irony and easy friendship, never letting things go too far or cross over into potentially dangerous waters.

Ryan posts an entry on his fake LJ about how Spencer Smith is a lot smarter than everyone else in the world and deletes his buzz statistics spread sheet. He played and lost—simple as that—and it will all go back to normal eventually.

Saying it doesn’t really help.

***

“Have you ever had a dream where you’re running through a sunflower field with clouds dancing across a crystal blue sky…?”

Ryan’s head snaps up at the familiar words, even as the rest of Brendon’s speech is drenched in the sound of fangirls screaming. This is not the time. They’re supposed to do Northern Downpour next. And Lying isn’t even part of the playlist for this tour. He throws a look at Spencer and finds him smirking behind his drums, completely at ease and obviously well-aware of what’s going on. Ryan vows to beat him so soundly at Mario Kart when they get back to the bus that he won’t be able to show his smirking face outside for a week.

And then he doesn’t have time for plotting revenge anymore because Brendon is there, right there, pressed up close against his front, fingers treading gently through the hair at the back of his head, tilting Ryan’s face down to meet him, and Ryan forgets that it’s all a show, and that they scripted it together, and that Brendon will pull back from him at any moment now, right before their lips touch and right after the sensitive skin there begins to tingle.

“You reach out for your lover, for that perfect, passionate kiss…”

He doesn’t pull back, and there’s a moment when they both linger, suspended in indecision, a quarter of an inch from impact. Brendon’s breath is hot and wet against his lips, matching the slightly uneven tempo of his own lungs as they try to supply this body with oxygen. For a split second, Ryan feels a ghost of a touch brush across his skin, the glide of a smile over swelling tissue. And then it’s gone again, and the audience is going completely crazy, and Brendon is backing away, eyes fixed on Ryan, murmuring “But this is not that dream” into the microphone. Ryan swallows and tries to prepare for what comes next—the angry remarks, the mad energy of the song, all of his frustration relived and pouring out of him through his fingers and Brendon’s voice. And then, he hears it.

“This is not that dream,” Brendon repeats to the audience, a slow smile spreading on his face. “Or maybe it is, we’ll keep you updated.”

Behind him, Spencer counts out the beat, and Ryan’s fingers automatically fall onto the strings, moving mindlessly over the guitar, the melodies and rhythms instinctual. Which is probably damn lucky, because Brendon has changed the lyrics—has changed the words without Ryan knowing and is in the middle of performing them, here, live, in front of thousands and thousands of crazy fangirls armed with prohibited recording devices.

Now, is it me that makes you sweat?
Am I who you think about in bed?
When the lights are dim and your hands are shaking as you slide them down your chest?

Ryan bows his head, looking into the floor, trying to ignore the eyes he can feel hot against his cheek, the mental pictures of the modified lyrics.

With all we have to lose,
And how I hope to God it’ll be worth it.
When the lights are dim and my heart is racing as your fingers touch my skin.

The energy of the music is still there, as strong as always, but the underlying anger is gone, has morphed into something else, something that circles and makes winding paths in his mind.

You've got more wit, a better kiss, a hotter touch, a better fuck
Than any boy I'll ever meet, baby, you have me
You know I’m it, look past the fear, a better love deserving of
Exchanging body heat in the passenger seat?
No, no, no, you know it will always just be me

He almost misses his cue to join in with the chorus, stumbling over the first couple of notes, everything reeling inside his head.

Let’s get these teen hearts beating, faster, faster…

***

They all finish the set with a roll call that night, one of the techs manning the microphone as the bands take a bow, one after the other. Cobra does a shimmy-parody of the balloon dance. MCR makes fun of them. TAI somehow manages to have a group hug and bow at the same time, which does send Bill crashing to the floor, but which is still hugely impressive from a purely acrobatic point of view. Fall Out Boy take a bow, and Patrick slides an arm around Pete’s waist and whispers something that makes Pete go from tensely smiling to radiant so fast it makes Ryan question whether Patrick Stump actually has all the magical powers that Pete always claims he does. From the way Pete throws himself around his singer’s neck, hugging him tightly and refusing to let go, it doesn’t seem completely unlikely.

And from Las Vegas and Chicago… Panic at the Disco!

Ryan feels Spencer grab his hand, pulling him forward to stand in front of the crowd as their names are called, one by one. He can feel Brendon next to him, feels his hand—warm fingers interlacing—as they take a bow. Everything is spinning, and he does his best to smile as he looks out over the blurry audience, tens of thousands looking back, screaming his name and clapping wildly.

“Are we still playing” Ryan hears himself ask, the words bubbling out of his mouth and into the space between him and Brendon, because there’s no more room in his head any longer. “Was that just the final leg of the race?”

Brendon grips his hand tighter but doesn’t look at him, taking a last wave and bow instead and moving quickly off the stage, dragging Ryan with him. Before he can really register what’s happening, Ryan finds himself pulled into an empty dressing room, door clicking safely locked behind him before he feels it connect, cold and solid, against his back. Brendon kisses him, fisting both hands in the damp fabric of Ryan’s shirt and pulling him down, pulling them together. After the first few seconds of heated contact, the hands move to Ryan’s face, holding him steady as Brendon pours his answers into Ryan’s mouth, surrendering everything into the contact of lips and tongues and making them both gasp.

“I’m way smarter than Pete,” he declares as they break apart for air, faces still impossibly close together. “When I make a grand gesture on stage, I know what it means.”

He moves back in for another kiss, and Ryan makes a muffled sound into his mouth, almost choking as he tries to breathe and laugh and keep kissing Brendon all at the same time.

“Good,” Ryan murmurs, taking another kiss, then another, feeling heat bloom inside of him in a way that feels a lot like happiness. “Then I don’t have to kill you.”

Brendon laughs against his neck, sliding his hands firmly over Ryan’s stomach underneath his shirt, raising little goosebumbs all over the pale skin. “I would have deserved it,” he murmurs, kissing a wet path down Ryan’s throat and humming in approval as Ryan pulls the shirt he’s wearing off his shoulders. “Now, stop talking and get rid of the jeans so I can do this properly.”

Ryan smiles and reaches for his belt.