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Tongue-Tied for You

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Ryan is mostly ignoring the teen movie playing in the lounge. He's absorbed in his book, or trying to be. He's pretty sure that he's reading a deep dystopian exploration of self-deception and loss, but it keeps slipping into these punctuation-free passages with excerpts of what might be Hungarian free-verse poetry, which makes it difficult to be sure. He hunkers lower on the couch and wishes, very quietly, that he'd had a couple more semesters of college.

"No way," Spencer says from across the lounge. "That's got to be the lamest plot point ever."

Jon lifts his head, his hair mussed from the couch cushions. He looks wounded. "You have no soul, Spence. She's All That is classic cinema. Prom as rite of passage. It's deep."

Brendon's been twitchier than usual tonight, smiling too much and bouncing his heels on the carpet. Now he turns to laugh against Ryan's collarbone, curling his fingers into Ryan's shirt. "I feel like it's pathetic that I never got to my school prom," he says. The words are a soft buzz against Ryan's skin, tickling.

Ryan tells himself that his breathing isn't affected at all. He rolls his eyes. "We were making a record during your school prom." Ryan glances at the screen, where Rachel Leigh Cook is facing off with Freddie Prinze Jr.'s ridiculous hair. "I'm pretty sure Rachel would agree," he adds, leaning his head on Brendon's hair.

Jon grins. "Oh man, yeah," he says. "Josie."

Spencer snickers, stretching his heel out to kick Jon's ankle. "We all thought you were so fucking cool before we actually knew you."

Jon kicks back, defending the cool of Josie and the Pussycats. Brendon laughs and twists around so that he's sitting sideways on the couch, leaning completely on Ryan. "Still," he murmurs, so low only Ryan hears. "It's like this thing, right? Taking someone to prom. It's like a declaration."

"Mm," Ryan says.

Brendon shifts again. "I'd take you to prom," he says.

Ryan snorts. "Uh huh." Then, staring at his book, "Fuck, was that chapter actually about elks?"

Brendon slumps a bit, his hair tickling Ryan's nose as his head drops. "Yeah," he says quietly. Ryan blinks down at his head. Maybe Brendon really does regret missing prom?

He sounds discouraged.

*

Brendon steps up to the mirror, finger poised. Ryan is still warbling away in the shower and Brendon reckons he's got at least five minutes to work in, maybe even longer.

Bden <3 Ryan, he writes carefully on the glass. Movie?

"Brendon!"

Brendon whirls around. The shower's stopped and Ryan's standing in the door, hurriedly wrapping a towel around his waist. "How – what are you doing in here?"

The mirror, Brendon thinks at him, and coughs pointedly. Look at the mirror, Ross.

Ryan stares at him. Brendon blinks. "I'm –" he casts around for an idea, "I'm just giving you –"

Ryan raises his eyebrows. "Giving me ..."

Ryan's razor is lying half hidden behind the cabinet. Brendon grabs it and waves it in the air. "Your razor," he says, shooting a look sideways. "You left it in my bunk." Mirror?

Ryan reaches across. "Right," he says, frowning. "Thanks."

Brendon blinks. That was easy. Where the hell does Ryan usually leave his razor?

"No problem." Brendon tries to keep his eyes on Ryan's face and not on the drops of water rolling in smooth lines down his neck. Brendon coughs and drags his gaze back up to Ryan's. "Looking good there, Ross," he says with a wide smile. Now look at the mirror!

Ryan rolls his eyes and snags the towel off the rail. With a sinking heart, Brendon watches as he swipes it across the mirror, his eyes still on Brendon.

"Anything else?" Ryan asks pointedly.

Brendon looks forlornly back at the mirror, now message-free. "No," he sighs, fumbling behind him for the door handle. He turns and walks through, then glances back over his shoulder. He runs his eye slowly down Ryan's chest and back up, and smiles when Ryan frowns at him. There's a hint of a blush on his cheeks, Brendon notices. "Nothing important," Brendon says.

*

"No, seriously, what are you doing?" Ryan peers over his knees to Brendon sitting cross-legged on the end of Ryan's bunk. He crawled in a couple of minutes ago, gave Ryan a sleepy late-afternoon smile, and appropriated one of Ryan's hands. It wasn't the one Ryan was using for writing so he just aimed a confused look at Brendon and let it go. Now Brendon's ... drawing on Ryan's forearm? Ryan lifts his notebook out of the way so that he can see.

Brendon is frowning in concentration, the corner of his bottom lip caught between his teeth. He finishes tracing a decided line and tilts Ryan's inner arm so that Ryan can see. Ryan takes in the cutesy flowers, colours outlined in thick black, and raises his eyebrows.

"I'm giving you flowers, Ross," Brendon says, his eyes dark and wide, an over-the-top appealing look. He laughs, then bends his attention to another cartoon blossom. He's still smiling, a curl at the edge of his mouth. "This is an old-fashioned courtship."

Ryan has a coughing fit to disguise his shiver as Brendon traces the cool point of the pen over his skin again. "I don't think Sharpies really qualify as 'old-fashioned'," he says once he's got his breath back.

"You're kind of epically missing the point, here," Brendon mutters.

*

Brendon leans over the back of the couch Ryan's sprawled out on, reading over his shoulder. His mouth drops open.

"Ryan Ross," he breathes, incredulous. "Harry Potter?"

Ryan shoves the book under a cushion. "Don't tell Spencer," he says quickly.

Brendon smirks. "'Populist rubbish'," he mimics. "'Meaningless kids' books'."

Ryan turns red. Brendon grins at Jon on the other sofa. "Just couldn't stay away, though, could you."

"I wasn't – " Ryan starts, but Brendon talks over him. "Couldn't stay away from the broomsticks, the potions ... shenanigans at the top of the Astronomy Tower ..."

"There aren't any shenanigans," Ryan mutters, then snaps his mouth shut. He looks mortified.

"No?" Brendon asks. "Shame. What's the point of an Astronomy Tower if you don't have sex at the top of it?" He narrows his eyes at Ryan and starts prowling towards him around the sofa. "Just think ..." he purrs. He reaches Ryan and pushes him back into the cushions; Ryan stares up at him with wide eyes. "All that starlight ... wasted."

Jon's watching them carefully but Brendon doesn't care – and judging by his speeding heart, Ryan doesn't either.

Brendon lowers his head until his lips are brushing Ryan's ear and Ryan's breath hitches. "Want to come up the Astronomy Tower with me, Ryan?" he murmurs.

Ryan gulps. "I – " he says.

Brendon smiles against his neck. "Hmm?"

"I – which Astronomy Tower were you thinking of, exactly? The roof of the bus isn't quite the same thing, Brendon."

Ryan's voice isn't quite steady enough to carry off the sarcasm. He pushes Brendon off his lap and onto the floor, then grabs the book along with the cushion and disappears into the bunks, not turning back.

The door slams and Brendon slumps back against the foot of the sofa, groaning in frustration. So close.

He jumps when Jon clears his throat. "Keep trying, kiddo," he says with a smile. Brendon scowls and chucks a cushion at him, and tries not to think of his fingers on Ryan's speeding heart.

*

Ryan stares at his computer screen in bemusement. Then he walks to the door and shouts for Brendon.

Brendon bounds in, smiling widely, and Ryan waves him to the sofa next to him. He turns back to the computer and clears his throat. "'Really fucking sexy rockstar, 21; enjoys guitars, discussing pretentious novels he doesn't really get, and long walks on the beach in moonlight. Would like to meet tall, dark and handsome male, 22; great sense of humour and unusual sense of dress, preferably enjoys quotes from dead people and black and white movies. Call Bden now for poetry readings and please God something more than friendship.'"

Ryan turns back to Brendon. "Why the fuck is this in my inbox?"

Brendon's face falls. "You don't know?"

"Should I?"

"I – I hoped you would, yeah."

Ryan shrugs. Brendon stares at him for a moment. "Ryan Ross," he says sadly, "You're breaking my heart."

Ryan silently tells his pulse to stop jumping like that and quirks an eyebrow at Brendon.

"Seriously," Brendon says.

Ryan shakes his head, bewildered. Honestly, what –

Something prickles icy and uncomfortable across his skin as if he's standing in bitter wind. "Are you," Ryan has to force himself to talk past the lump in his throat, "Brendon, do you like Pete?"

Brendon stares at Ryan. Then he drops his head against the back of the sofa with a thump, muttering, "No, no, no. I give up; I quit. No. Nyett, nein, nee. Done."

Ryan blinks. "What," he says defensively over Brendon, "it could have been."

"No, Ryan," replies Brendon, and the look he sends Ryan is almost helpless. "It couldn't."

Ryan scowls at the computer screen, his skin still prickling. And, okay. Tall, dark and male only gives Pete two out of three. But Brendon isn't supposed to be cryptic. That's Ryan's job.

And – maybe that's the problem.

He glances sideways. Brendon's staring at the floor with a dejected look on his face. "Brendon," Ryan blurts without letting himself think about it. Brendon lifts his eyes to Ryan's.

Ryan takes a breath and looks down. "I think we should go out," he says to his knees. "I mean – " he hears Brendon draw a sharp breath and forces himself to continue, "I mean – it doesn't have to mean anything, not if you don't want it to. But I'd – I'd really like it to, actually. Uh. But only if – "

"Yes," Brendon says. Ryan jerks his head sideways, his breath catching.

Brendon's smiling at him with all his teeth and eyes as soft as butter. "Yes," he says again, "Ryan, yes." He looks like he's trying not to laugh, and Ryan feels his cheeks pink even as he smiles back, his blood pounding in his ears.