behindthec: (ryden.)
[personal profile] behindthec
Title: Back To The Place [8/8]
Author: [livejournal.com profile] lolab and [livejournal.com profile] redorchids
Pairing: Brendon/Ryan
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Fiction as far as I know.
Dedication: [livejournal.com profile] redorchids, obviously. Several scenes, half the outline, shameless PWF refs, and all original lyrics are hers, as well as the amazing vid she made for this fic, linked at the end. Thanks also to [livejournal.com profile] unluckykitty for the YouTube screenshot photo, and [livejournal.com profile] j_plash for the bountiful flesh-horn epic badfic. <3
Summary: Maybe that's what makes life interesting, the collision of endless questions and answers, and those precious moments of triumph when we can match the right ones together.
Notes: Scene intro lyrics are from Panic, Snow Patrol, Empires, and The Killers. Thanks to everyone for all your support/feedback. I learned a lot during this, but the concept of the story has been very simple. It's about love, and the tough decision we must make regarding whether it's enough, whether it will prevail in the end. I've wondered many times throughout the course of writing this, and for awhile, lost faith. I'll let you judge for yourself where I ended up. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Please visit the master post for previous chapters, notes, track listing, etc.






8.


Come save me from walking off a windowsill
Or I'll sleep in the rain.




It's not a series of moments, just one; long and drawn out, stretched into a hollow, numbing silence that presses down on them until Brendon can't breathe. It feels like nothing except their world shattering in slow motion, breaking little bits at a time as they hold each other, frozen. Reality trickles in through the cracks as they stand there, Brendon at the piano with his face pressed to Ryan's cotton-covered stomach and his arms around Ryan's waist, carefully fighting habit not to let them slip any lower. Ryan isn't stiff or withdrawn; he hangs on just as hard, one hand around Brendon's shoulders and the other weaved into his hair, holding him in place. Just outside, a warm, early July wind ripples over the surface of the lake. Birds dart between the trees, singing their way through the comfortable, late afternoon haze. Brendon's eyes start to prickle.

He can feel trembling, but he's not sure which body it's from. Already he's not used to making the distinction, to accepting them as separate; too accustomed to feeling them in sync, scarcely knowing one from the other.

Even for all the cliches, it feels like they're standing on a precipice, in limbo, caught between the time they were and the time they won't be, and he's torn between wanting to drag it out as long as possible, and simply giving in to the inevitable -- ripping clean through. Quick, sharp, like a band-aid.

Ryan saves him from making the decision, pulling back slowly, carefully, waiting for Brendon to move with him so it looks mutual.

Ryan always was too concerned with appearances.

His hands both fall to Brendon's hair somehow as they pull back, wet eyes looking down into Brendon's, empty and unsearching. Brendon's hands are still loose around Ryan's waist, and he lets them fall into his lap, his posture dissolving, Ryan's hands in his hair are the only thing coaxing his head up, keeping their eyes locked.

Brendon's so seriously five seconds from kissing him.

Maybe Ryan senses it, because he lets his hands fall, lets Brendon's head drop forward, chin to chest.

He asks softly, "Do you want me to leave you alone?"

Brendon looks up to read the words behind the words, searching Ryan's eyes until they ring clear through, I don't, I don't know, please, tell me what to do, I'm floating aimlessly and you're my only direction, my...

Don't you remember...

Brendon blinks up at him, wondering for the first time how many lines were really born in rings of brain-fuzzing smoke, and how many were...

when I was a bird...

Ryan stares down at him, pleading for guidance.

...and you were a map.

Brendon says, "I'm hungry."

Ryan nods. It's a lie, and Ryan knows it's a lie. They can't eat now. Brendon doesn't know when he'll be able to eat again. It doesn't matter. It's activity. It's safe. Maybe, just for now, they can pretend this is manageable.

Ryan swallows, eyes darting, uncertain. "You want to make dinner?"

Brendon nods.

They make dinner.

Brendon doesn't know what to make of it. The pots and pans are in the same cupboard; the silverware's in the same drawer. The sun's at the same angle it always is at dinner, falling across half of the same kitchen table Ryan bent him over two nights ago just because Brendon licked a splash of sauce from his finger; started them off hard and fast and dissolved to slow, aching and trembling, Brendon's nails digging deep crevices into the clean white wood of the table as his name stumbled from Ryan's lips.

They move like that now, perfect synchronization, just like before. Anticipating one another's moves as they work, dodging each other around the kitchen, only just avoiding collision (pointless, too late; they've collided and burst into flames, smothered by the ashes). Except for make-out breaks, it's all the same, everything's the same, and Brendon doesn't understand how it can work like that, how everything can just go on like the world makes sense, when it's never made less sense in his whole life.

The balance topples violently into oblivion with the crash of the pan on the tile floor.

Brendon hears Ryan curse, loud and harsh, the syllable deadly in the air as Brendon spins around, eyes dropping to where Ryan's crouched on the floor, crumpled beside the splatter of leftover lasagna smeared across the tiles, the sauce blood-red and chaotic, everywhere.

Brendon's beside him so fast it's like he was never anywhere else, reaching out for the paper towels on the counter and yanking down half the roll.

"I'm sorry," Ryan's practically sobbing. "I'm fucking, I'm sorry -- "

"Dude, Jesus, it's -- hey -- " Brendon reaches out, takes Ryan's face in his hands, and looks him in the eye, no room for miscommunication. "It's okay."

Ryan just stares at him, riding the verge of breakdown tears, until Brendon looks away to spare him the tension and starts mopping up bits of lasagna with a wad of paper towels.

Ryan clambers to his feet, runs a few towels under the faucet, and crawls back to the floor, dabbing at the mess together, wrists brushing too many times not to hurt until they've got most of it back in the pan, ruined but contained; mended maybe more than they'll ever be. Ryan stands up, long and wiry against the sink, and watches as Brendon opens the trash and dumps the tin pan into the bin, the top dropping shut with a soft whoosh over the layer of trash bag.

Ryan's bent over the sink when Brendon turns around, fingers gripping the chrome edging so hard his knuckles are instantly white. Brendon tries for as neutral as he knows, a hand on a shoulder. Ryan tenses under the first touch, but melts before Brendon can jerk away, turning and falling into Brendon's arms, their heads angling on instinct at the last moment so their mouths meet in the middle.

It's the first living molecule of right that Brendon's had since they left the music room, and it takes a few seconds of Ryan's taste before he can rewire his mind to register it as wrong. But even by then, Ryan's ahead of him, jerking back and staring hard at Brendon, half anger and half apology. Brendon's arms fall to his sides, limp.

"No," Ryan chokes, but his eyes are unfocused and Brendon can't tell if he's talking to Brendon or to himself. "God damn it, no."

It's softer but with stronger conviction, and Ryan's backing up until he hits the wall, eyes stuck to Brendon. He turns automatically until his feet find the right direction and he's fleeing the scene, heading for the stairs. Brendon waits for it, the distant sound of his door shutting, firm and unequivocal. Each time it shuts it feels like another wall shoots up between them, and Brendon's running out of ways to knock them down.

He stands at the sink, listens to the leaky faucet drip in counter-rhythm to his heartbeat. The sun sets over the cabin, and the kitchen slowly gives way to darkness. It gives in too easily, he thinks.

He steps outside, out the glass doors and down the path, past the hammock until his bare feet meet sun-warmed wood.

There's still a few seconds of light left on the dock. He steals them all.


+++



Once night had set, Brendon had swum out to the tiny patch of island in the center of the lake, spread himself out over the bank with no concern for bugs. It's no bigger than a couple of living rooms, but there's sand and underbrush and a few trees and it feels like escape. They all did it, once upon a time (last time; no fairy tales ever), side by side, warm skin brushing as they passed the joints back and forth. Shared beers, shared laughs, shared secrets. Some nights (nights after bad days), more; some nights it was Ryan sprawled shirtless on his stomach on the bank (pale in the moonlight, irresistible) because his back was the smoothest and flattest to spread out the lines of coke until he'd bitch about wanting his own fix. Spencer would chuckle at him, low and indulgent, lean in to kiss his shoulder and pretend no one noticed, while Jon would stroke his hair, charm a little more patience into him. Some nights, absinthe and ecstasy until shooting stars and the blinking lights of high-flying planes melted into magic and the bugs sounded more like music than anything they'd written so far. Sometimes just nothing, just the four of them listening to each other breathe until one of them would start to hum a tune.

Brendon misses it, a little; it was easier, always, with the four of them. Always three other people to look out for each one, instead of just the two of them like this, left to fend for themselves or drown in their own drama.

It's late when he gets back inside, and Ryan's just come from the shower, stepping into the upstairs hall for a fresh towel for his hair, despite the one he's got wrapped around his waist below his v-neck tee.

They both stop like they've been caught at something. Brendon doesn't look him up and down, doesn't think about all the gorgeous things beneath the towel, and Ryan doesn't fall apart. They just stand there in the hall, Brendon half on the top step and half on the one below, and watch.

"You going to bed?" Ryan asks.

Brendon nods, stepping forward until he's halfway between his bedroom door and Ryan. There's nothing to do but go to one or the other.

"Me too," Ryan says. He sounds tired, tired as fuck.

Brendon nods again, pointless acknowledgment.

"Well," Ryan mumbles, more a slight noise than a word. "Goodnight."

"Night."

He doesn't move because Ryan doesn't move, and even just the second of hesitation poisons the delicate balance, twisting it to full-on Awkward Moment. They just look at each other, waiting for nothing, because there can be nothing, not anymore.

Ryan ducks forward, one hand on Brendon's hip for a split second as his lips connect with Brendon's cheek, and then it's over, his eyes on the floor as he pads quickly to his own room.

Brendon ensures his door is shut solid behind him before he sinks down against it, a sigh heaving from his lungs.

He strips, climbs into bed, and doesn't cry, not a single tear. Not until he's asleep.


+++



If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?




Brendon dreams.

He's lying on sand, half-way into the water on a tropical beach somewhere, the location disturbingly similar to other dreams he's had before, but at the same time different. It's sadder somehow, and darker, warm sun replaced by endless stars over his head.

It's maybe three or four in the morning, and Ryan is with him. They are kissing and can't seem to stop, until Brendon's flat on his back with the water pooling around his shoulders, Ryan on top of him, grinding their hips together, and Brendon doesn't know when they seem to have stripped their clothes off, leaving them in a dizzying state of skin-on-skin. Their hands are busy holding each other in place, desperate the other is going to disappear at any moment: Brendon's are firm on Ryan's hips, moving only to slide up and down his sides, feeling Ryan's body undulate against his, guiding him, until Ryan manages to get ahold of both Brendon's wrists and pin them over his head, pushing them down hard into the wet sand beneath. Brendon swears he hears a gasp drift out to them from camp, but the next moment his brain goes numb as he feels Ryan's other hand slip down between his legs, gently teasing until Brendon's writhing and pushing into it, and Ryan slips one finger inside him, then two, crooks them once, twice, and Brendon's coming all over their stomachs, mixing with the light splash of water between their bodies.

Ryan drapes himself over Brendon, head to toe, whispers, "Don't stop touching me," as if Brendon ever could.


The scene shifts. Dream Ryan moves against him, molding his back to Brendon's front, and it's even better like that—endless skin sliding together, arms wrapped tight around Ryan chest and Brendon's lips just perfectly placed to lean in and taste the skin of his neck.

He feels as though he's floating, everything just warm and perfect and right. Something in the back of his mind registers a pressure on top of his hands--fingers lacing together with his--and it's a bit too much like a memory for comfort. He tries to steer his subconscious back towards the imagined beach--sometimes he can move through his dreams, turning them around themselves and making them play out the way he wants them to--searching for the feeling of warm water and the taste of salt and sand on Ryan's skin.

He can almost feel the smell of coconuts when something else grabs him and pulls him mercilessly towards consciousness.

Magnolia.

Ryan.

He jerks awake, and the pressure on his arms and legs immediately intensifies, holding him down, holding him to Ryan, and he's in the cabin, in his bed, and Ryan is there, all naked skin and heat and pleading desperation.

No.

Ryan grinds back against him, arms holding on to Brendon's arms, and tangled legs keeping their hips together. His shoulders twist a little, half-turning to press panting kisses into Brendon's hairline, craning his neck to reach lower. Brendon presses his face deeper into Ryan's shoulder, shying away from the touch, trying to get his sleep-heavy limbs under control so that he can move away before he starts wanting too much to be able to.

He bites into Ryan's shoulder, harsh and punishing, and Ryan cries out, accepting the accusation for what it is.

“Please.” Ryan whispers the word against his face, tightening his hold on Brendon's hands and pulling him even closer. “Please, Bren, just for tonight? Please."

Brendon presses his mouth against Ryan's neck, shakes his head desperately, trying to pull his right hand from where Ryan is guiding it down over smooth skin, fingers laced tightly together. Ryan turns a little in his arms, kissing Brendon's shoulder, the top of his chest, his neck, and it's not fucking fair. It's not fair to ask this of him with the pain of the last thing Ryan asked like an open wound between them. Ryan presses back against him steadily, shamelessly using everything they've done together in the past week to break down his defences, and all Brendon can think about is how much sharper it will sting when Ryan inevitably pulls away again.

Life is not a fairy tale.

If it were, things would be easier. Three little words and the happy ending would fall into place, just a question of resolving a few misunderstandings and maybe battle a dragon or two.

But this is not that dream. And Brendon is not the knight in shining armour, and Ryan has already said the words, for years and years, in a hundred different ways, and it hasn't made a fucking bit of difference.

It's not love they lack, and it's not a fucking romcom plot creating the sticky mess they're in. It's just life and fear and too much too fast, and Brendon is helpless against it. Just like he's helpless with Ryan like this, holding on to him like he's the only solid thing in the world, every touch a fervent I love you etched into his skin.

“Please,” Ryan pants against the side of his mouth, so, so close to a kiss that Brendon can practically taste it. “I'm so sorry, but I can't--Jesus, Bren, please, please, fuck me.”

He presses their joined hands between his legs, guiding them back, pushing two of their intertwined fingers inside, and fuck, he's so wet--all slicked up and prepped and fucking ready for Brendon to just take him.

“Please,” Ryan begs, moving their fingers faster while Brendon bites hard into his lip to stop the words inside him from spilling out. “Just--”

Brendon wrenches their hands away and pushes inside.

It's like going back in time, just erasing the last twenty-four hours from his memory and being there again, sliding into Ryan bareback for the first time and feeling like his heart is going to burst. Ryan meets him, pushing his hips back hard, Brendon's name like a prayer on his lips. They race towards the finish line, fast, fast, stumbling and reeling in each other's arms, and Ryan grabs the back of Brendon's head and holds on for dear life, lips sliding against lips between broken breaths.

Too fast.

“Don't come,” Brendon chokes, fighting to slow his thrusts until he's reduced to a mess of shaking limbs just rocking into Ryan. “Please. Not yet.”

Ryan moans, nodding, breathing harshly with his face halfway hidden in the pillows to keep himself under control. His chest moves too fast under Brendon's hands, and Brendon drops his face to Ryan's neck, inhaling deeply to fill himself up with whatever he can get, letting his mouth trail the smooth skin of Ryan's throat.

He starts off at next to nothing--just tiny, measured jerks of his hips--a reminder more than anything--and moves into a slow, steady slide from there. It's forever and a split second all in one; they move together like it's the first time and every time--eternity captured in a small ball of spun glass and just as fragile.

“You're everything,” Ryan whispers against the black and white keys on his forearm, and Brendon closes his eyes tightly against the burning sting that overwhelms him with each word. Ryan keeps talking, all stuttering confessions against warm skin--so far gone, he's barely even coherent anymore--and Brendon tries not to think of moonlight and blue satin--of anything that sounds like 'I promise' or 'I've changed my mind', because even though he hears them, he knows that Ryan doesn't. Not in any way that counts.

He comes with Ryan's name on his lips--less revealing than 'I love you', but maybe it doesn't matter when the two sound just the same. Ryan shudders against him, echoing the fall, spilling over Brendon's hand and pressing back for contact until it's impossible to tell where the line goes between them.

They lie there, breathing together, hiding from the world while their bodies cool and the sounds from outside start to filter back in through the open window. Brendon figures he should pull out, roll away, be angry with Ryan for pushing him into this or with himself for nodding along--cry, yell--something; anything other than just curling himself tighter around the body next to him and burying his face against the dark hair. It doesn't make sense for him to cling to Ryan--not when it's Ryan that's making him break--but thinking of letting go is worse, so Brendon clings. His body starts to shake, so he squeezes harder, the emotional equivalent of trying to swim in quicksand and probably just as futile, but it's what he's got, so he'll take it. And when he closes his eyes and breathes in the smell of Ryan--of them, and this, skin mingling together--then at least he knows that it wasn't all a dream.

“Bren,” Ryan starts, hesitating, moving his head and shifting his shoulders as though he means to turn around.

Brendon tightens the grip over Ryan's chest, holds him in place. “Shut the fuck up.”

Ryan goes limp in his arms, shuddering to a stop on a whimper -- and it's strange, giving Brendon a wild illusion of control, when control is the last thing he's had all along.

"Just -- shut up," Brendon pleads, holding him tighter still, his nose buried in the baby-soft hairs at the base of Ryan's neck, refusing to breathe any oxygen that isn't Ryan. Ryan doesn't seem to be breathing at all, and Brendon relaxes his hold a little, but even then Ryan's breathing is measured and even, shallow to keep him as still as possible. Like maybe if they don't move, neither will time.

It's too much, too too too much, and Brendon extracts himself from their too-intimate embrace, rolling over to face the opposite wall, on the edge of the too-warm bed that smells too much like love and trust.

I'd think it meant 'I love you.' Or maybe... 'I trust you.'

It's another minute before Ryan moves, inching over to where Brendon's compacted himself to a tiny strip of mattress, as far away from Ryan as possible. He feels Ryan's warm fingertips on his shoulder, stroking gently, and he tenses, deliberate and warning. Ryan's hand remains, but stills.

"Can I stay?" he whispers. "Just tonight?"

Brendon actually bites his lip, knowing if he didn't physically force the words back down his throat, he'd end up saying something he'd regret. Or maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he should let it out. It's not like Ryan doesn't deserve it.

Ryan's fingers stroke over his skin once more, tentative. "...Bren?"

"Please," Brendon chokes. "Please, just go."

The lack of protest hurts the most; the way Ryan just freezes in place, and all the horrible, pained expressions Brendon imagines must be crossing his face; the way his fingertips part from Brendon's skin and the mattress dips as he climbs off the bed. Brendon squeezes his eyes shut against the sight as Ryan pads to the door and steps out, closing the door gently behind him.

He keeps his eyes shut, pulling the sheets up high over his head, clamping a spare pillow down over his ear to shut out distractons. If he can sleep, he can dream, and he'll take any escape he can get.

His brain has other plans, though, forcing consciousness upon him for hour after hour, until even the blankets can't keep out the dawn, can't keep out the sound of Ryan shuffling downstairs just after sunrise.

Brendon turns to his window, the too happy splash of sunlight coaxing him towards the day, his face pressed into the half of his pillow that still smells like Ryan.

He flips the pillow over and closes his eyes.


+++



The coffee smells stale and nauseating to Brendon's warped, sleep-deprived senses when he drags himself downstairs.

Ryan's worse.

He's huddled at the kitchen table, hands wrapped tightly around his steaming mug inches from the nail marks embedded in the wooden surface. His hair's flat and clinging to his face, body covered by Brendon's sweatpants and his Freddie Mercury tee. It actually fits Ryan, except for where it's too short to reach all the way to his middle. Despite it, he looks about half his normal size, curled in on himself with his knees to his chest, socked feet balancing on the edge of the chair.

Brendon's arms ache, whether from the lack of sleep or lack of Ryan, he can't tell.

"Hi," Ryan says.

He stares down at his coffee when Brendon doesn't answer, but Brendon can feel eyes on him as he moves toward the coffee maker, pouring a steaming, blackened dose into the mug Ryan had set out for him. The owner keeps at least two dozen mugs in the cupboards, mostly tourist collectibles or ones with dull corporate logos, but this one displays a giant red heart on one side, and nothing else.

His fingers itch to dump the coffee down the sink, but he can't bring himself to do it.

He sits at the table with his mug, half beside Ryan and half opposite him, not too close but not too far, just plops down where the chair already is and tries not to think about it. He dips his face close to his mug and breathes in deep, chasing the caffeine's bittersweet scent, but all he can smell is Ryan.

It burns his tongue when he swallows the first gulp, but he just keeps taking gulps until his tongue is too numb to notice.

"I'm sorry," Ryan says when Brendon finally sets down his mug. Despite their shallow offer, the words draw their eyes together. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

Brendon looks away. There is nothing to say, so he doesn't. He focuses on the bitter taste on his tongue, the burn, hoping it sears away any words he might've spoken. He doesn't want to talk.

"Are we okay?" Ryan asks.

Brendon almost huffs, because, seriously? But Ryan looks worse than Brendon feels when he looks up, his face begging, pleading innocence and guilt all in one.

Brendon takes a breath. "Not yet."

Ryan accepts it with calm resignation, nodding down at his mug. He shifts in his chair, rearranges his legs, his knee brushing Brendon's thigh, and Brendon has to force himself not to pull away or lean into it, both options sorely tempting.

The sun's just breaking into the room, bending over the floor and across the table, but it just misses them, somehow skips right over.

"Brendon."

"Yeah."

"Forgive me?"

His own language is all he can speak in now, touch versus Ryan's words. He peels one hand from his mug and slips it under the table, covers Ryan's with it until Ryan turns his palm up, weaving their fingers together, loosely in case Brendon chooses to escape.

He doesn't.


+++



You told me just to breathe
But you stole my breath
.



There's no asking or answering when they rise from the kitchen table, a minute or an hour later, Brendon's hand warm and stiff from being wrapped so intricately with Ryan's. There's no question when Ryan walks silently to the living room, but Brendon knows the answer somehow; knows he's invited even before he watches Ryan drag their mats to the floor from where they're rolled up together in a corner of the room.

It feels like instinct now, like stage choreography: Brendon can go through the motions without thinking; just body memory, set hard into his unconscious. He knows it's completely against every last objective of the practice but he can't even scrounge up the energy to let go, to give his mind permission to calm or his body permission to submit, to trust.

Ryan's hands are on him before he remembers it's coming. It's grown so integral to their practice that it would feel stranger without it, the intimacy of both the poses and their relationship having evolved at the same pace, but it would be pointless and stupid to forfeit one just because the other has --

Failed is the first word to break through all his repression and Brendon feels himself tremble at the thought, the wounds still fresh and gaping between them, but he doesn't flinch, he doesn't, when Ryan wraps around him, fingers trembling in Brendon's and gripping tighter just to still themselves. Ryan's breath is like burning on the tight line of his shoulder, his chest a blinding sheet of fire where it's molded to Brendon's bare back, their hips aligned and locked like it's the only thing left in the world that fits. Brendon holds on and lets go all at once, giving himself to the implicit plea for trust that's running hot across Ryan's skin, seeping into Brendon's everywhere they touch. He's been laid out for more boys than he can count, tied up and stripped down and spread open, vulnerable to the highest, but he's never felt more exposed than he does now, with Ryan his anchor, still the only one to ever make him fall and now the only one to stop him crashing.

The dizzying smell of them still clinging to Ryan's body from last night filters into Brendon's senses and it's yes, yes, NO until his limbs begin to shake and his breath falls and shudders and he's nearly choking, because how can he breathe when Ryan was his oxygen?

"Sorry," he stutters, wriggling from Ryan's hold until they collapse in a pile on the mat and Brendon wrestles himself away, feeling like a fish flapping awkwardly, helplessly, out of water. "Sorry, I can't. I just -- it's too -- I can't. I'm sorry."

He doesn't look back as he scrambles out of the room and up the stairs, doesn't need to look at Ryan's face to know what's there, and he doesn't even know how to process it -- the fact that now, now, beyond words, beyond their eyes, even beyond their bodies -- they can still communicate.

He only wishes there were more to say.


+++



He doesn't think anything of it when he yanks on the nearest pair of jeans and a t-shirt from his own room, tucks the tiny red and white box into his back pocket and heads out the front door to avoid passing through the kitchen. He doesn't think of it when he's halfway around the lake, pine needles crunching under his feet; when he extracts the box from one back pocket, slides out one long stick and fishes out his lighter from the other.

It's not until the tip lights up orange, igniting the flash of memory (Ryan's naked skin against his, I can't, I can't lose you), that it clicks.

Promises in bed, by default, carry less weight than other promises. Or so Brendon's heard, from boys who can't tell promises from lies.

He stares down at it between his fingers, at the smoke trailing seductively upward, shameless and demanding, before sending it to the ground with a rough flick. He digs it into the ground with the toe of his shoe, crushing the flame to ashes, and tries not to think of how easily even the strongest fire can break without oxygen to feed it.


+++



Blurry from Brendon's laptop, Jasmine coos, "I choose you, Aladdin," and Brendon tries to forget the time he was eight and watched it with his brothers, who punched his arm when a tear slid down his cheek.

He adjusts his cell between his ear and shoulder so the mouthpiece is too low to catch anything, just in case a sniffle should happen to escape. On the other line, Shane giggles as the Genie coughs out a hairball. Doing this in the privacy of his cabin bedroom sure beats the back lounge, when Zack or Spencer or Ryan (Jon's more likely to just join in) would be guaranteed to interrupt with snorts and snark about phone-watching Disney with his "boyfriend."

Life would be so, so much easier if it had been true; if he could've just fallen for Shane instead.

Brendon's long since learned that life doesn't tend to care about our plans or wishes.

A jazzy instrumental mix of "Friend Like Me" starts up over the credits while Brendon sprawls out on his back beside the computer, sighing loudly into the phone.

Shane sighs back, and Brendon can hear his DVD shut off in the background. "Cheer up, emo kid."

"No," Brendon pouts. From his tinny laptop speakers, the medley transitions to "A Whole New World" and no, he's not cheering up if he can help it.

"Wanna pull up the karaoke and I'll sing with you?"

"No."

"I'll do the girl part..."

"No."

"Aww, baby."

Brendon closes the top of his computer mid-song, leaving him in a blank, empty silence. From downstairs, he can hear Ryan fiddling with a few stray notes on his guitar. If it's possible to make a D major scale sound miserable, Ryan's done it.

"I want a genie," Brendon announces.

"Yeah." Shane's voice is soft, as it always is, but with that added hint of sweet, tolerant compassion he adopts when Brendon's inconsolable. "What would you wish for?"

"Ryan."

"Nuh-uh," Shane reminds him gently. "No wishes about falling in love."

"That's not..." Brendon feels the weary gears of his brain churning to life as he blinks up at the ceiling, suddenly alert. "That's not what I... I mean. He. I think... he is in love with me."

His heart speeds up even as the words trip from his lips. It's not -- it doesn't feel like a realization; more like... an awareness of a realization.

"Then -- what the fuck?" Shane asks. "What are you waiting for? Do it, dude. Fucking... sweep him off his emo princess feet."

"I -- " Brendon huffs, forehead scrunching, because it's not like he hasn't fucking -- it's not like -- "It's... complicated."

Shane laughs, a little disbelievingly. "It's Ryan fucking Ross. When is it ever not complicated?"

"I..."

"And when has that ever stopped you?"

Brendon kind of wants to punch Shane as much as he wants to curl up in his lap and cry. Both urges are equally strong, and it's kind of infuriating that he can't indulge either.

"Shane, I don't -- this is -- this is fucked up, I don't know how, okay?"

He's aware his voice is breaking, that it's not overexposure to the glare of his screen that has his eyes stinging, but it doesn't matter, because this fucking hurts and it's not fair, Shane can't just make it look this easy when it's not.

"You will," Shane says. Just like that, matter of fact and no room for argument. "You'll figure it out, B. I know you. This is -- Jesus, Bren, it's everything you believe in. You love him, he loves you, it's the fucking... Disney ideal. You can't fucking give up on that. You wouldn't be the person I know if you just let this slip away."

Something stirs in Brendon's stomach as Ryan's words sting fresh all over, Life's not a fairytale, and he knows, he knows, he's not five again, he knows what life is and isn't. There's no princess in distress, no supernatural forces pulling them apart or pushing them together, but it's not that, it's not circumstance, it's just. It's love. In the end, it's not bravado or magic or luck that triumphs; it's just love.

It's what they've already fucking got.

Brendon's eyes wander helplessly, landing on the chair in a corner by the window, on the open spiral notebook spread across it. The visual of a blank, waiting page coupled with Shane's unbridled confidence sparks something in him that feels like maybe spiraling rapidly into yes, but it doesn't register, doesn't click into place, not yet.

"...Bren?"

"Hmm? Yeah."

"Are you -- can you do this? Are you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm -- yeah."

"You want me to tell you a story?"

It shouldn't work so easily but it does; Shane's always slipped willingly into the parental role whenever Brendon's needed it, felt too distanced from his own parents to ask it of them. Being wrenched from their trust and care so young, he'd never quite graduated properly from childhood -- hence his tendency to cling to it still, at his worst.

Brendon can even hear the automatic yes at the edge of his lips until something clicks into place, and his throat clenches.

"I think I'm gonna write my own."


continued HERE.


+++





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Colin

May 2009

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