the claw-foot Lady (softlyforgotten) wrote in word_plays,
the claw-foot Lady

Part 8/9

Continued from here.


When Brendon comes back downstairs, scrubbing his hand through wet hair and grateful for the clear-headedness the hot water has afforded him, Ryan's perched on the kitchen table, phone pressed to his ear. He is, Brendon notices with absent-minded delight, blushing.

"Oh my God, shut up," Ryan says, voice thick with laughter, and that's good at least, Brendon thinks, maybe he'll stop being such an uptight little shit, "Shut up, I can't – put Spence on, you're ridiculous." He adds, quickly, "And I am sorry," and then smiles a little, quick and small. Brendon hangs around in the doorway despite himself, curious.

"Hey," Ryan says, quieter now, almost regretful. "I'm sorry. I didn't – I just forgot. I'm really – I wouldn't ditch you on purpose, you know – and – no, I couldn't have died, Spencer, you dipshit," and his voice is so fond. "I'm just – my dad's away, you know, and." He hunches down, and then looks around as if on instinct, gaze locking on Brendon. Brendon raises his chin and steps into the kitchen, defiant, and Ryan says, without looking away, "Yes, with Brendon."

Brendon takes a few steps inside, and Ryan says, "I'll talk to you later, okay. Sorry." When he hangs up, Brendon leans across the table and kisses him, and Ryan curls a hand around his neck and tilts his head, opening his mouth easily.

"You stopped being a jerk?" Brendon mumbles against his mouth, and feels Ryan's lips twitch up into a smile.

"For a little while, maybe," Ryan says, and that's good enough for Brendon.


It's a lazy kind of day, really. Brendon bought some schoolwork in a bag and this close to the end of the semester (the end of high school, and God, he can't wait) he can't really afford to neglect that, so after breakfast (and Ryan does end up making pancakes, the sucker) he spreads his stuff out over the kitchen table and works for nearly three hours. Ryan spends most of the time on the computer (insisting he's writing an essay, but Brendon suspects the use of AIM).

When he's done, though, he wanders upstairs and stretches, falling back on Ryan's bed with a yawn. It's not meant to be an overtly seductive thing (Brendon's pretty sure that if he tried any of that, even now, it would end with one or both of them laughing hysterically) but he gets barely any warning before Ryan glances at him and practically pounces, sliding his hands up under Brendon's shirt. Before they really do anything, though, Brendon's stomach starts grumbling loudly, and soon Ryan's laughing too hard to do anything but run his hand along Brendon's side, so absently Brendon doubts he even knows he's doing it.

They eat again, and then watch another movie, and then Ryan drives Brendon in to his 5-9 shift at the Smoothie Hut. For a while, Brendon's unsure, and eventually he says, "Should I grab my bag and you could maybe drop it off at my place on your way back?"

"My dad won't be back until late tomorrow," Ryan says, almost mildly, and that's that.

About fifteen minutes before the end of his shift, Haley nudges him, grinning slyly. "Hey," she says. "I think your boyfriend's here."

Brendon flinches despite himself. "What? I don't have a boyfriend," he says on auto-pilot, and Haley turns bright red.

"Oh," she says. "Oh my God, I'm sorry, I just assumed with—"

"With what?" Brendon hisses, almost frantic.

"Well," Haley says, flushing. "It's just – he's Spencer's friend, right? And you two disappeared that time here, and the way he picks you up and drops you off sometimes, I just figured—"

"We're friends," Brendon says, roughly, and then makes a face, because that's not true, either. "We're not even that close, seriously, we're like – like study buddies or something."

"Okay," Haley says. "Okay, but I – you know I don't mind, Brendon, I mean, I wouldn't care or anything. And I just thought maybe because, because."

Brendon feels a little bad for her, at last, because she's stammering and bright red and clearly feels pretty bad, and he likes Haley, he does, but this is too close to the bone. He's been hoping that his dad didn't notice, that Brendon didn't cut off any possible last chances that are waiting somewhere someday, but if it's that obvious…

"I'm not," he snaps, and then pauses. "Because?"

Haley winces. "I'm sorry, Brendon," she says. "I really didn't mean to make you angry." She looks down and then back up, takes a breath, and says, "Have you considered that he might – might be interested, though?"

Brendon blinks. He feels a little bit like he's walked into some sort of bad movie. "Why?"

"Well, by my count he's been here about ten minutes," she says. "I only just recognized him. But he's been staring at you the whole time."

"Um." Brendon swallows and finally, finally looks back over his shoulder, towards the corner of the shop, and sees a flash of dark hair before his gaze settles properly on Ryan. Ryan's just reading, looking more bored than anything else.

Haley smiles a little mischievously, getting back her humor, and says, "Well, he's not looking now."

"Um," Brendon says. "I'm just going to go get a refill for the strawberry ice cream."

He stands out in the back room for a long time, bending over the freezer in a stupid attempt to get his face to cool down. It feels like a long while before he's sure he can go out without looking red, and when he finally remerges it's only two minutes before the store closes. Ryan is the last customer left.

"Bye, Brendon," Haley says. "Sorry again." She touches his arm, sweet and swift, and Brendon smiles at her, relaxing a little.

"No harm done," he says, grinning, turning in to her a little bit. "Hey, you'll probably see more of him anyway, right? You and Spencer—"

"Oh," Haley says, and it's her turn to flush. She punches him lightly in the arm. "Shut up, it's not even—" and then she pauses and looks up and bursts into quiet giggles. "Seriously, Brendon, it's not really my fault I came to – to a conclusion like that, if looks could kill, you'd have a whole new mess to clean up all of a sudden."

"What?" Brendon says, startled. He looks over his shoulder and Ryan's scowling, leaning against the table with his arms folded.

"Can you hurry up?" Ryan calls, voice cold. "Believe it or not, I've got better things to do than hang around in this shithole all night."

"Um," Brendon says, and Haley gives him a look of wide-eyed innocence. In the end, for lack of anything else to do, Brendon says goodbye to their manager and clocks out, and tries not to push back or away from the careful hand Ryan puts on the small of his back, just for a moment, when they walk out of the store.


There's chicken fingers waiting in the back seat of Ryan's car, and Brendon digs in happily, already starving after a relatively small shift. He offers them to Ryan but Ryan shakes his head – "I already ate mine," he says, and Brendon's pretty sure that the bag was full when he opened it, but he doesn't want to think about the connotations of that, so he doesn't.

He's pretty much polished off the whole thing by the time they get back to Ryan's place, and he's grateful suddenly for another reason that Ryan had it waiting: they spend too much time sitting in awkward silence, where Brendon wants to talk and knows that he shouldn't. Ryan has got the most perfect disdainful look of anyone else Brendon knows, and he hates leaving himself open to it. Eating at least gives him an excuse for not saying anything.

When they get inside, Brendon begins, "So, do you know what's on TV tonight—" and then Ryan kisses him, slow and easy, in the hallway. Brendon hums out something soft and agreeable and slips his hands under Ryan's shirt. Outside the night is cold, but Brendon thinks Ryan's place must have some sort of heating system, because he feels comfortable and warm, slipping his hands up to brush his fingers against Ryan's shoulder blades for a moment.

"I brought," Ryan starts, and breaks away, looking a little embarrassed. "I mean," he says, "If you wanted to play piano again tonight, and I liked listening—"

"What?" Brendon says, not understanding properly, and Ryan grabs his hand (probably, Brendon thinks a little foggily, probably he was aiming for Brendon's wrist, and missed) and tugs him into the living room, and Brendon laughs; there's a double bed mattress made up neatly on the floor.

"Well, this is familiar," he says, even though it looks much better and comfier than his own mattress, but Ryan doesn't say anything about that, just smiles crookedly and then pushes Brendon down onto it, stopping to tug his shirt off (oh, Brendon thinks, oh, awesome, and scrambles to do the same) before he drops to his knees and crawls over Brendon again, kisses him.

He's persistent but kind of slow about the whole thing, and it's just – nice, Brendon thinks, rolling his hips down lazily when Ryan twists slick fingers inside him. Brendon doesn't mind this, taking it a little bit slower than usual, and it's good to move and wrap his legs up around Ryan's hips, to rock together. He's a little tired after his shift, and he lets his eyes slip closed, breathes in raggedly and revels in their easy movement. I'm kind of used to you, after all, he thinks meaninglessly.

"Hey," Ryan says, voice almost fierce, a contrast to this kind of sex, and Brendon opens his eyes. Ryan's looking down at him, eyes dark, gaze hard, and there's something so strange and intense and real about it, like Ryan's making a claim, that for a moment all Brendon can do is blink up at him, caught surprised in his gaze.

Then, he starts laughing.

"What?" Ryan hisses, in horrid fascination, stilling a little bit, and Brendon laughs harder.

"Sorry," he says, "Sorry, it's just – you're trying to have a moment," and then he can't keep going, he's laughing so hard. Ryan makes a huffy noise and moves as if he's going to pull out and Brendon immediately tightens his legs around Ryan and rocks back up against it. "Don't do that," he says, crossly. "You finish what you start, dickface."

"You're being stupid—" Ryan says, a little sulkily, and he sounds just immature enough for Brendon to start giggling again. "And I wasn't," he adds quickly, glaring.

"You were, you totally were," Brendon says, through his laughter. "You were like – oh let me stare down into your eyes grumpily – you're such a little bitch, Ross, seriously," and he pushes himself up clumsily, kisses the corner of Ryan's mouth, just a little sloppy. When he falls back down, Ryan is still squinting suspiciously at him but at least he's started fucking Brendon properly again, and Brendon gasps a little when Ryan moves just right, sends sparks darting up Brendon's spine.

"You're the bitch," Ryan says, "Bitch," and Brendon starts laughing again, comes somewhere between that and Ryan smiling down at him.


The problem— and maybe it deserves capitals, Brendon isn't quite decided on that, and he's simply too content to care right now— the problem is that it could be easy to get used to this.

Ryan's house doesn't have a garden, not really. It's just a patch of grass fenced in by the neighboring houses, certainly not private, but it's enough to lie outside as they're studying for graduation, side by side on their stomachs. Occasionally, when Ryan shifts, the sleeve of his shirt brushes Brendon's arm. The sun is burning down on them, melting every hint of discomfort Brendon might have harbored about being here, now, with Ryan.

He closes his eyes and drops his forehead down on his crossed arms, inhaling the scent of grass and dry earth.


He wakes up to a splash of cold water on his back. The first thing he sees when his eyes fly open, body shooting up, is Ryan grinning from behind a garden hose, the sun behind him dazzling Brendon for a moment. Then Ryan turns the water on again.

Brendon scrambles to his feet, his hair dripping, wet shirt stuck to his skin. "You'll pay for this, Ross," he shouts, and Ryan retreats a step or two, laughing even as Brendon launches himself forward, right into the spray of water.

They wrestle for no more than a few seconds. Ryan's at a clear disadvantage because he's laughing too hard, trying to evade Brendon and shield himself with the garden hose, but Brendon's so soaked through now that he doesn't care anymore, and besides, it's a warm day, spring almost here. Also, Ryan's strangely beautiful like this, open and carefree, his eyes bright. His nose is flushed in a dull pink that suggests he forgot to wear sunscreen.

Brendon wrestles the hose out of Ryan's hands and turns it around. The water's already turned to a misty spray, and Ryan immediately freezes when the first drops wet his hair, his face. Brendon whoops.

"Did you just whoop?" Ryan asks. He swallows water in the process.

Brendon adjusts the spray, less misty and more focused. "Got a problem with that?"

"Only little kids whoop," Ryan points out. Ironically, with his hair plastered to his head and his lashes stuck together, clothes clinging to his narrow body, he looks about twelve. For some stupid reason, Brendon's stomach still contracts at the sight.

"You totally know I'm not a little kid, though." Brendon points the spray down at Ryan's bare feet. Ryan jumps a step back, and Brendon laughs. "At least not where it counts."

Ryan's glare is not even a little bit impressive. "Small enough, where it counts."

"Not what you moaned last time I was fucking you," Brendon protests, and then he sees the triumphant way Ryan's eyes crinkle at the corners and directs the spray straight at Ryan's stupid grinning face while Ryan cracks up, holding his stomach and utterly unconcerned about the water raining down on him. God, Brendon wants.

He hasn't even really finished the thought when he's already moving forward, gripping the front of Ryan's shirt to drag him close, the hose forgotten on the ground, drenching the grass around them. Ryan laughs into Brendon's mouth and then he isn't laughing anymore because they're kissing. Something rushes in Brendon's ears when Ryan immediately parts his lips for Brendon's tongue, sinks into the kiss as if it's all that matters right here, right now.

Ryan tastes like water and home, and Brendon squeezes his eyes shut so tightly he sees sparks behind his lids.


Ryan doesn't stay the night. He drops Brendon off, helps him haul his freshly washed clothes up the stairs and lingers for a moment, but just as Brendon's about to invite him to stay – not that they need this anymore – Ryan mutters something about his dad and cleaning the house and leaves with no more than an awkward, fleeting smile.

The silence that follows his departure rings in Brendon's ears.

He turns the TV on, just for something to fill his stupid little room that suddenly feels too big to hold only him. There are only inane shows with fake, glittering people, and after the second round of applause for some model making a wide-smiled statement about peace and harmony, he's tempted to throw a shoe at the TV, just to make it all stop.

Instead, he crawls off his bed to hit the power button and returns with his guitar. The strings feel better under his fingertips than he remembered, solid and cutting into his skin just a little. He aimlessly plucks at them for a while, humming to himself until a melody emerges. He breaks it off as soon as he recognizes just what his cheating hands have settled for.

No, he doesn't believe the impossible is possible tonight, or any other night, for that matter. One weekend doesn't change a damn thing. Because that's all it was – one weekend.

It's only nine at night. Brendon could read up some more about Chicago; he's still not quite sure about the application process.

Jesus fuck, he seriously can't wait to get out of this shithole.


Mr. Wentz looks surprised when Ryan edges through the doorway, which is fair enough. Ryan doesn't have him as a teacher this year, has Beckett for English instead, which is good, but he misses Wentz's earnestness and his crazy assignments. He'd always been the teacher who liked Ryan most, too, seemed to see through all of Ryan's bullshit, and Ryan has a bit of grudging admiration for that.

Now, he blinks and smiles, says, "What can I help you with, Ryan?"

"Um," Ryan says. He goes and sits down in the chair Wentz waves a hand at, in front of Wentz's desk. He pulls one leg up over his knee, holds onto his shoe, drumming his fingers on the sole. "I guess – I've been thinking about colleges and stuff."

Wentz nods. "You freaking out?" he asks, kindly, and Ryan laughs uneasily.

"Maybe a little," he admits. He looks down at his lap, fingers twisting together, and mumbles, "My dad – I think I need a scholarship."

"Okay," Wentz agrees. "Your marks are good, and you're a talented student, Ryan. I'm sure you can get whatever you need."

Ryan breathes out, a little relieved at that. He'd been expecting and hoping, but it's good to hear some sort of confirmation. It's not the main thing, though, and he takes a breath and says, "You studied in Chicago, right?"

Wentz leans forward, looking curious. "Yeah, I grew up there," he says. "Why?"

"Someone mentioned – I heard that that might be a good place to study for, like, English Lit and writing and stuff," Ryan says. "I was thinking that maybe – I could maybe try and get in, but I don't know if I wouldn't be able to get a scholarship, or—"

"It'll be harder," Wentz interrupts honestly. "But it's possible, and – Chicago's a great town, a great place to study. I think you'd really like it there, fit right in." Ryan looks up, and Wentz's eyes are bright, he's smiling kind of irrepressibly. "I'll help you," he says. "And Mr. Beckett – you've got him for English, right? – he's from Chicago, too. We'll get you there if that's what you want."

"Oh," Ryan says, and lets out a shuddering breath. "Oh, okay. Thank you."

"No worries," Wentz says, grinning. "Let me find some stuff out, and then I'll get back to you by, uh, Friday, maybe? And you can look up things, too. Is there anywhere in particular you wanted to study?"

"Um," Ryan says. "I was thinking Northwestern." He tries very hard not to think about Brendon, casually excited in Ryan's kitchen, the look in Brendon's eyes when he'd talked about getting away. He has a horrible feeling that anyone could look at him and just – tell. "Anyway, I mean, I haven't made an absolute decision or anything."

"Of course," Wentz says. He stands up. "I'm glad you're considering your options though, Ryan. You don't want to get stuck in a rut, I think that's exactly the kind of thing that makes kids drop out of college."

"Okay," Ryan says, standing. "Okay, I – thanks. I'll see you on Friday?"

"Sure thing," Wentz says, still smiling, and Ryan leaves.


He tells Spencer and Jon a few days later, sitting out on the steps of the school late one afternoon. Jon and Spencer had both had guidance counseling things, and Ryan had said he'd wait, because he didn't have anything better to do. When they come out, though, they're already talking about colleges and clutching pamphlets and looking determined and nervous and kind of excited, and Ryan looks at them and thinks that he doesn't ever, ever want to have to leave them behind, but he doesn't think that's possible, either. He thinks that things aren't as tenuous with Jon and Spencer as they are with – with other people. He thinks maybe they wouldn't ever let him leave properly.

He's not thinking straight, then, when Spencer says, "You're being uncharacteristically quiet, Ross."

"Yeah, join in the dread," Jon says cheerfully. "Have you decided where to yet?"

"Um," Ryan says absently, mind still far away, calculating costs and possibilities. "I'm thinking Northwestern." Then he realizes what he's just said and flushes pink, adds quickly, "Just, Mr. Wentz was saying there's some good English programs there, and it's got an awesome music scene, and it's cold, and it'll be away from… like, some distance from my dad. And stuff. Too, I mean."

"Oh," Jon says. He looks at Spencer and Ryan feels wretched, wants a little bit to say you should just come too, we should just get out of here, all of us. He opens his mouth to say something mindless, possibly something stupid enough to be just that, but Spencer gets there first.

"You know," Spencer says, face unreadable, "I heard Brendon Urie telling Mr. Stump he was going to Chicago."

Ryan thinks about clichés; he thinks about Jon saying, we're going to have to stick around for another hour because of guidance stuff, do you wanna wait? and watching Brendon follow Mr. Way with a scowl, hands in his pockets, into his office, and knowing that Mr. Way was giving some guidance counseling of his own; he thinks about leaving Vegas, going somewhere new. As he watches, Brendon comes out the front doors of the school and jogs down the steps, ignoring them completely, face set.

Ryan stands up. "Yes," he says, and he can't help the grin that spreads over his face, wide and bright and infectious and stupidly, undeniably happy. "Yes, he is."

Jon looks incredulous and after a moment he laughs slightly, shocked and surprised but still kind, and Spencer's face twists. "Where are you going, Ryan?" he asks, and Ryan shakes his head.

"I have no fucking idea," he says. "I'm sorry, I'll see you guys later?"

Jon raises a hand and Spencer just looks at him, face blank but eyes straight and clear and fond, and Ryan thinks that he's being a little bit of an asshole but he'll make it up to them, he will, and for now he just races after Brendon across the pavement, catches up with him feeling slightly breathless, heart pounding.

"Hey," he says. "You catching the bus?"

Brendon narrows his eyes at Ryan. "Yeah," he says slowly, like he's waiting for the catch, and Ryan bites the inside of his cheek.

"Mind if I tag along?" he asks. "My car broke down again."

Brendon is silent for a long moment, not looking at Ryan. Then he says, offhandedly, "Your car's a fucking heap of shit," and Ryan laughs, walks close enough that their shoulders bump. Brendon doesn't move away.


Brendon makes a list in his head of things that he doesn't like about Ryan Ross. It's a good list, and he's thinking about writing it down and pinning it up somewhere, like on the fridge, or the bathroom mirror, or Ryan's forehead. So far it goes like this:

1. He is an asshole (see: years of high school, being an asshole, doing asshole-y things, etc. etc.).
2. He thinks he's smarter than he actually is, and also he sucks at bar chords.
3. He thinks it's okay to randomly approach Brendon after school one day, where any number of people could see Ryan ruining Brendon's reputation as someone who does not talk to assholes, and then follow him home, steal Brendon's laptop, and demand that Brendon make him pasta just because he happened to bring some cans of tomatoes by a week or so ago (for the record: it is not okay).
4. His hair is stupid.

Brendon thinks that possibly the list requires some more work, but he's pretty satisfied with how it's going so far. He makes a satisfied noise to himself and takes the sauce off of the stove, pouring pasta into the boiling water. Possibly he should have gotten the pasta ready before he made the sauce, but Brendon's never been very talented at forethought.

"Why Chicago, anyway?" Ryan asks suddenly. "It's really far away." He's sitting in the corner of Brendon's crappy apartment, where he can steal Brendon's neighbor's wireless. Brendon tries to think about how tired and, by extension, how stupid he looks rather than how much he has been waiting for and dreading and wanting this conversation.

Brendon bites all of that down, because he hates it, because he has a list, and drawls instead, "That's kind of the point."

"Oh," Ryan says. "Alright, then."

"Also it's cold," Brendon adds, a little dreamily, remembering some of the reasons why he wants to go, why he'd decided before anything stupid Ryan Ross said or did mattered that much. "Can you imagine that? Real cold. Snow at Christmas. It'll be awesome."

"Okay," Ryan says, and goes back to the computer.

That feels a little bit too easy, and Brendon gets a bit bored when Ryan's sitting in his apartment and not paying attention to him (seriously, Brendon hasn't even gotten to make out yet, this afternoon has been fucking ridiculous). He sneaks up around Ryan, trying to slip behind him, and sing-songs, "What are you doing?"

Ryan slams the top of the laptop shut and Brendon laughs at him, wonders with vague delight if maybe Ryan's watching porn or something equally ridiculous. Maybe he's writing emails. Maybe he's writing emails to a girl. Brendon frowns, and leans forward, opens it back up. It's his laptop.

He squints at the screen, throat suddenly tight. "Northwestern?" he says, a little uncertainly.

Ryan flushes bright red; Brendon watches with absent interest. "Mr. Wentz is from Chicago," he says. "He said it's a good town."

"Oh, did he," Brendon says.

Ryan says, "It looks like it might have some good English programs."

Brendon swallows hard, and then he sits down behind Ryan, hooks his chin over Ryan's shoulder with his legs bracketing Ryan's hips. He positions the screen so they can both see it and mumbles, "Okay, let's check it out."

After a little while, Ryan whispers, "Can I stay here tonight?" and Brendon breathes out, tilts his face down into Ryan's hair.


Three days. Ryan waits three days for the perfect moment, but it never comes, and he actually knows it never will come, knows that there are no perfect moments anymore with his father. Just slightly more sober ones, although even those have decreased in frequency. Ryan's father doesn't even try to hide the empty bottles anymore.

Ryan does not wonder how long his grandmother will continue to pay his father's expenses. At least the house belongs to his father.

It's three days until Ryan gives up waiting for the perfect moment, and just stops on his way up the stairs at the sight of his father hunched over the kitchen table. The stench of cheap wine is hard to miss.


His father half-turns in the chair, upper body twisted at an awkward angle. He's frowning, supporting himself on the chair's backrest.

Ryan decides to take that as encouragement. He takes a step further into the kitchen and leans against the doorframe, a careful distance away. "I've been thinking. 'bout college."

"Need me to sign your application for UNLV?" Ryan's father is barely slurring his words, but his eyes are unfocused. The light bulb above the table paints his skin a sickly shade of grey. "Engineering will be good for you. Some discipline."

"No, I… The applications don't need to be signed."

"Then what?"

Ryan squares his shoulders. His chest aches from the smells. "I don't think I want to go to UNLV. Chicago is… My English teacher, Pete Wentz, he said they have a good English program."

"English?" Ryan's father sounds uncomprehending.

Ryan draws another breath. "I'd like to get a degree in English. In Chicago."

"I'm not paying for some… some fucking pansy degree in English." His father's hand tightens on the chair's backrest, the other blindly groping for a glass that's mostly empty. The remaining wine is of a red so dark it looks purple. "You're going to UNVL. 'm not wasting good money so my son can go off to some city and study unemployment."

Usually, Ryan's control over his tongue is pretty good around his father. Usually.

He pushes away from the doorframe, his forehead and chest feeling tight, his body too heavy. "Yeah, because you'd know about unemployment, wouldn't you?"

His father's frown darkens. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Ryan digs his nails into his palms and gets the fuck out.


It's half past one in the morning when Brendon's phone rings. He knows it only because, even freshly woken, he had the presence of mind to check the time before accepting Ryan's call. Who else would be calling him at this hour, anyway?

(Who else would be calling him, period.)

"This better be good," Brendon says instead of a greeting.

For a moment, Ryan doesn't reply. Then his voices comes through, tired and rough. "I'm downstairs. C'mon."

Brendon props himself up on his stomach. The room is hazy, all contours soft until he puts on his glasses, frowning at the wall. "Why?"

"Going for a drive."

Ryan's voice still has that tired, rough quality, and it's sad, Brendon's such a pushover, but he barely hesitates for a second before he sighs, mumbles, "'kay."

Ryan ends the call. Brendon lies motionless, just long enough to breathe out harshly, once. Then he fumbles around for his jeans and a shirt, pulling a hoodie over them. It's not exactly clean anymore, but Brendon figures that if Ryan wakes him in the middle of the night, when they got school bright and early tomorrow, he can't expect clean clothes.

He doesn't bother lacing up his sneakers before locking the door and stumbling down the stairs. His brain feels mostly awake, but his body is lagging behind, it seems.

Ryan is outside, leaning against his car with the light of a streetlamp glinting on his shoulders. He's wearing only a sleeveless top, yet he doesn't appear to be cold. Brendon pauses to watch Ryan lift a cigarette to his mouth. The tip glows orange when Ryan sucks on the end, and Brendon's stomach feels tight with the thought that Ryan, there aren't that many things Brendon knows about him, or maybe there are quite a few, but either way, Ryan only smokes when he's upset.

Ryan smoked the day they ran into Brendon's dad, too. Brendon ducks his head and lets the door fall shut behind himself. "What the fuck?" he says, a little groggily.

Finally, Ryan turns his head to look at him. He stares for a moment, face unreadable, and then he drops the cigarette and stumps it out with the heel of his sneaker.

"Get in."

Brendon blinks at him, tries to find some sort of world wherein this could possibly make sense, Ryan staring at him under the glow of the flickering streetlight. He's still asleep, though, and he doesn't think that a world like that even exists, anyway, so he rubs his eyes, runs his hands through his hair and says, "No, seriously, what the fuck?"

"Brendon," Ryan says, "You're already down here. Just get in the car."

Brendon stares for a second longer. Then he shrugs and says, "Freak." He gets in and pulls on the seatbelt and Ryan lingers outside for a moment longer under the lamp. Brendon wants to tell him to put a goddamn sweater on, it's not even spring, yet, and there's a cold wind, but after a moment Ryan exhales sharply and walks around, gets into the driver's seat.

He doesn't talk, just sets his car in a direction out of the city, jaw clenched, fingers white around the steering wheel. After three failed starts to a conversation, Brendon gives up and rests his head back, kicks his feet up on the dashboard. He looks out the window and watches the streetlights flash by, and he must doze off for a while, because when he wakes up they're on the highway, and Ryan's crappy car is going fast enough that Brendon thinks for a stupid, muzzy moment that they're flying.

"Where are we going?" he asks eventually, and Ryan turns his head to look at him. He looks furious, but Brendon's pretty sure it's not directed at him.

"Don't know," Ryan says shortly. "Out of the city. Somewhere."

"Okay," Brendon says. After a moment, he asks, "You sure your car won't, like, die on us?"

"It'll be fine," Ryan says.

Brendon shrugs, and then reaches out and turns the tape deck on (a tape deck, seriously, this car is ancient), and tries not to laugh when Morrissey croons I want to see people and I want to see light. Ryan slants a look at him and then reaches out, turns the power off with a weird viciousness to his movement.

"Hey," Brendon says, surprised, and when Ryan doesn't say anything, he reaches out hesitantly and touches Ryan's shoulder. Ryan shrugs him off, overly aggressive, and Brendon flushes with embarrassment and anger. "Okay," he snaps, "What the fuck is your problem?"

"Nothing," Ryan says.

"Oh, sure, whatever," Brendon says, folding his arms. "Seriously, Ross, I'm not going to indulge your fucking weirdass whims—"

"That's a cool word," Ryan says snidely, and Brendon punches him in the arm, hard, grinning in satisfaction when Ryan hisses and takes one hand off the steering wheel to rub it.

"What's going on?" Brendon asks.

Ryan meets his eyes in the rear view mirror and says, defiantly, "Nothing, okay. Nothing is going on. I just had a fight with my dad, and I don't want to – I want to get out of here."

"Oh," Brendon says. "What was the fight about?"

Ryan looks mulish. "College," he mumbles. "He wants me to go to UNLV."

Brendon taps his fingers on the armrest, gazes out the window. "Did you tell him about Chicago?"

"Yeah," Ryan says, and Brendon breathes out. He looks at Ryan, instead; Ryan's profile looks different in this light, silhouetted, proud and furious. He says, "Whatever, he's just an asshole, I don't even give a shit," and Brendon nods.

"Okay," he says, and sinks back into his seat.

Ryan doesn't get any more talkative, and after a while Brendon falls asleep. He has weird, vivid dreams, the rumbling of the road beneath them and the wheeze of Ryan's crappy engine pervasive all through them, and they're the kind he won't remember when he wakes up, full of shadowy figures like the detective films his dad likes. At some point he dreams that he's smoking on the Golden Gate Bridge, and then someone shoots him, and he wakes up with a start.

It's around six AM, he'd guess, and Ryan looks exhausted. "Sorry," he says, and his voice is wrecked, "some car backfired, go back to sleep."

They're still driving, but they're not on the highway anymore. Brendon vaguely recognizes the road from a family trip.

"Alright, pull the fuck over," Brendon says. Ryan looks at him, mouth open, but there must be something on Brendon's face because he snaps it shut and, almost meekly, does as he's told.

"Seriously, Ross," he starts. "D'you think you could grow up at some stage? So your dad won't help you? So fucking what? You let him stop you from doing what you want and you're so much fucking weaker than I thought you were."

Ryan's staring at him, but Brendon plows on, furious, hands clenched in his lap. "If you want everything to be easy all the fucking time then you're an idiot, but okay, whatever, so your dad won't help you out, so why don't you just stop? Just fucking - go to college here or don't go at all, get some shitty office job and hope you can secretly write some incredible breakthrough novel at night, fucking cry because you have to work for something if you want it."

"Brendon," Ryan says, soft. Brendon ignores him.

"Things are hard," he tells him, something furious and boiling in his chest, his stomach. "What d'you expect? Things were always gonna be hard. But I don't wanna be around if you have to chuck a tantrum every time something doesn't work out perfect for you. And if this is the way it's going to be from now on, then fucking fine, but I thought you were stronger than that."

He has maybe a split second of warning before Ryan's unbuckled his seatbelt and practically vaulted into Brendon's lap, shoving their mouths together awkward and hard, teeth banging, noses getting in the way, and Brendon curls his fingers in Ryan's hair tight enough to be painful, tugs hard. For a while everything is fierce and hot and breathless, and then Ryan just sags and turns his face into Brendon's neck and Brendon closes his eyes.

"You've got to work more," he says, "and spend less on new clothes when you feel like them. You've got some money saved, right? You should call your mom, maybe, I know you don't want to, but she might have residual guilt or whatever and it's worth a try."

"'Kay," Ryan says.

"Good," Brendon tells him. "Now get off me and I'll drive us back."


Ryan wakes up to Brendon shaking his shoulder gently, saying, voice almost kind compared to his previous rant, "Hey, Ross, c'mon."

"What?" Ryan says, groggily, and looks up at Brendon's building. "... we should go to school."

"Yeah, I don't think that's happening," Brendon says. He gets out of the car and locks his door, and Ryan's still sleepy and barely awake, so before he can make himself move Brendon's opening his door and unbuckling his seatbelt, tugging him out. You're an idiot, Ryan thinks, you're an idiot and something's gone so, so wrong here, but he leans in all the same and breathes out against Brendon's collarbone, brushing his nose up along the line of Brendon's jaw.

"It's like. The last semester," he mumbles. "It's important."

"Mental health day," Brendon says, decisively. "Come on. My bed isn't much but it's better than the goddamn car."

He's still half-asleep when they go up the stairs, enough that he can't really find the discipline to stop himself from leaning on Brendon, letting Brendon guide him up the stairs. He's barely awake enough to be aware of Brendon pushing him down onto the bed, but he starts when Brendon moves away, and makes a soft noise of complaint in his throat. It would be embarrassing, but he's too drowsy to care right now, so he doesn't.

"I'm just closing the door and getting you out of your clothes," Brendon says softly. "I wasn't going to leave."

Ryan cracks one eye open. "Getting me out of my clothes?" he repeats, interrupted by a yawn halfway through.

Brendon laughs at him, but it's not in a mean way, and that makes worry hum in Ryan's bones, low and easy to ignore. "Later, Ross. I'm not that kinky."

Ryan nods and closes his eyes. He doesn't sleep, though, not until he feels the mattress dip under Brendon's weight, and even then he lies awake for a while, can't stop adding things up in his head, what he can and can't get away with right now. He's pretty sure that Brendon has shown enough quiet, weird care in the past few hours for Ryan to have a free pass.

Keeping that in mind, he makes a small, grumpy sound and reaches out for Brendon, curling his fingers in the sleeve of Brendon's t-shirt and tugging him over. Brendon moves slowly, cautiously, and Ryan says, voice thick and rusty, "S'cold," and pulls the blankets up over them.

It's actually a mild spring day, but Brendon doesn't call him on it, just says, voice so soft Ryan almost can't hear him, "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Okay."

This time, nobody elbows anybody upon waking up all tangled together.


It turns out, to Brendon's vague astonishment, that when Ryan decides he's going to work for something, he actually does it. Ryan stays at Brendon's that day until around five in the afternoon, when he heads home with a mumbled thanks at the door. The next day, Brendon passes the library at lunch only to see, through the glass doors, Ryan with his head bent over a book, taking notes with one hand, and Spencer and Jon talking and looking a little bored next to him.

That is, apparently, it. Ryan launches into studying with a weird dedication, to the extent that when Brendon texts him, unsure, and asks him if he wants to come over Saturday night, Ryan shows up with textbooks in his bag, and barely gives Brendon time to enjoy the afterglow before he's pulling out Calc problems and demanding that Brendon help him make sense of them.

It sets the theme for the semester. Ryan is suddenly working all the time, and Brendon feels the – steadily and frighteningly more dormant – part of him that gets furious just looking at Ryan kick into gear, and starts working, too, determined to beat Ryan in every class he can. They compare grades and alternately gloat and scowl at the differing marks (Brendon is currently kicking Ryan's ass in Biology, but he can't get near Ryan's consistent full marks in English). Sometimes, if Brendon's not being careful, he starts grinning halfway through such conversations. Generally, though, he manages to restrain himself, and if he's on top of his game, he finds it easy enough to get Ryan so angry that he turns slightly pink in the cheek and storms out a lot.

Mostly, though, it's a drop back again to hardly seeing Ryan, encounters pushed down to one night of the weekend (and never a full day) or occasional trips back to his place after school. It's easy to be relieved. He has a lot of schoolwork, studying or homework, he's filling out applications for college and scholarships all over the place and practicing piano with Mr. Stump nearly every lunchtime to get ready for the auditions, and then there's the Smoothie Hut on top of that. He really doesn't have time for a fuckbuddy along with that. It's a good thing, he knows, and doesn't let himself think about how the best night's sleep he gets every week is the one with Ryan snuffling quietly into the pillow next to him, sprawled out lazily across the mattress. They've stopped complaining and arguing over whose fault it is if they wake up draped over each other, Brendon's nose pressed to the hollow of Ryan's throat, Ryan's arms curled around him. Brendon doesn't think about that, either.

He's got other stuff to worry about, college and grades and getting out of Vegas, and one day it all kind of comes to a head when Brendon turns up to English and Mr. Beckett asks for the essays that are due that day. Brendon sits there frozen in his seat, stomach turning to stone. He doesn't have the essay. He hasn't even written it yet, doesn't think he's got much beyond a few scribbled notes in the back of his book. He didn't mean to forget, he just – life's been so hectic, but he knows it isn't an excuse he can give, so when Beckett gets to his desk, he just shakes his head and stares miserably at the tabletop.

Beckett lingers for a moment, looking disappointed. "That's bad luck, Brendon," he says quietly. "I have to fail you. It's too late in the year for second chances."

"I know," Brendon mumbles. He glances up quickly, but Ryan and Jon are whispering and laughing about something with their heads bent together, and he thanks fuck at least that he's escaped their notice. Beckett moves on.

Brendon tries to turn his head around the concept of a 0 grade in his class average. English isn't his best subject but mostly he works hard at it, harder than he ever has to work for science or music. It's been easier since Ryan will occasionally grudgingly lend him his notes, and with that and him doing his best, he's been going pretty well on his grades. A complete fail in there, though, fucks them up so much that some of the scholarships Brendon needs are just, they're not going to happen, not with a high C/low B in English (and that's if he gets brilliant marks for the rest of the year). There's not a chance.

He twists his fingers together under the desk, watching his knuckles turn white. There's nothing to do, he knows, he may as well accept it and just move on, but – he's tired, and frustrated, and now this, and he's going to end up stuck in Vegas, he knows it, in a hairdressing apprenticeship or not even that, working for the rest of his life at Smoothie Hut. Something hitches in his throat and he's never been so glad for the bell ringing; he gets his stuff together somehow and stumbles blindly out of the class, heading in the opposite direction to everyone else down the corridor.

He's going to miss his Chemistry class, but he can't bring himself to care about that, now, and he's pretty sure that he wouldn't be able to last through it, anyway. Instead, he goes to the boys' bathroom near the Drama block, the one that nobody ever uses, and lets the door swing shut behind him. For a moment he just stands, breathing raggedly in the middle of the brightly lit, white space, and then he dumps his bag on the floor and crawls on his hands and knees between two sinks, hunching himself down until he can sit with his knees pulled up to his chest, tucked under and between the two sinks.

For a moment he just breathes in huge, gulping breaths, but then he gives up on postponing the inevitable and cries; stupid, frustrating sobs, the kind that hurt his chest and make his face go all red and gross-looking, it being so obvious what he's doing, even if it wasn't for the tears smearing their way down his face.

It's then, of course, because Brendon's life is never easy, that the door open, and Brendon looks up and Ryan's standing there. Brendon's too, too tired, he can't think of what to say or do, so he just stutters out, "Go away, fucking, leave me alone," and Ryan stares.

After an interminable minute Ryan moves, but he doesn't go away, not this time. Instead he moves across the floor and elbows Brendon's side until he can crawl in next to him, both of them too big to fit properly under the sinks, and so Ryan puts his legs over Brendon's lap and his chin on Brendon's shoulder. He rests his forehead against Brendon's neck and just sits there, just breathes, until Brendon lets out another helpless, rough sob, and shifts closer to Ryan, hands clenched in the back of Ryan's shirt, and Ryan lets him move until Brendon's face is pressed against Ryan's shirt, and then he lets Brendon cry himself out.

Finally Brendon sits still, breathing in harsh gulps but not crying anymore, at least, and he manages to say, "Beckett failed me. I forgot to do that essay."

Ryan shrugs; Brendon's still got his eyes closed, the material of Ryan's shirt rough against his face, but he can feel the movement. "Well," Ryan says in his low, unreadable voice, "You're a fucking idiot," but he keeps his arm around Brendon's shoulders, soothing. A little while later, he asks, "You want me to take you home?"

"No," Brendon says, because he kind of feels together enough to be able to go to the rest of the day, and even to work that afternoon. After his shift, though, he finds Ryan waiting outside with his car again (reading over the English text in the front seat, the nerd), and they go back to Brendon's place and Brendon fucks Ryan. Ryan even waits until after they've both come before he starts laughing at Brendon's misfortune with schoolwork and scholarships and stuff ("Seriously, trust you, after you give me that big fucking lecture and then you just, what, forget to write something?"). It's okay, though. Brendon punches him a little harder than is completely necessary in the arm, and Ryan stays the night, even though it's only Wednesday.

The next morning they have English again, and Beckett asks Brendon briefly at the beginning of the class to stay behind. Brendon does so, wondering, until all the other students have left. Then he approaches Beckett's desk, and Beckett smiles up at him, and tells him that after speaking to another student and in light of Brendon's continuing home situation he's willing to let Brendon have until Monday to hand up the essay.

Brendon nods and smiles with gratitude and keeps his head down. He doesn't say anything to anyone else, but that Saturday night he spends two and a half hours going through things in Biology and Calculus with Ryan, until he's too tired to do much but lie back and let Ryan fuck him afterwards, running his fingers absently down the line of Ryan's spine, both of them still carrying on half of a conversation in between slow gasps and the quiet humming of Brendon's fridge.


Haley's nice enough to let Brendon take advantage of the lull they always get shortly before closing. She wipes down the counter and tables while he's perched on a bar stool, going through those rough notes he already put together for Beckett's essay. They're even rougher than he remembered. He sighs loudly and puts his elbows on the counter, his chin on his hands. "On a scale of one to ten," he asks without turning around. "How embarrassing would it be to still work here ten years from now?"

"Nine." Haley's reply is followed up by the jingling door bell.

Brendon twists around on his stool and repeats, "Nine?" before he catches sight of their new customers.

"Ten is reserved for McDonald's and Burger King. At least here we get some vitamins out of it." Haley lifts her rag in a vague gesture, giving him a quick grin before she turns her head. Her polite smile changes to a real one when she recognizes Ryan and Spencer. "Hey! We were just talking about plans for the future."

"Burger King and McDonald's?" Ryan's frowning. Next to him, Spencer is giving Haley one of those big, happy smiles, and Brendon is sure it would take almost nothing, just a small, nasty remark on his part to wipe that smile right off Spencer's face, but... Spencer's been kind of okay to him recently. Jon, too. In fact, Jon even nodded and grinned at Brendon when they passed each other in the hallway this morning. It doesn't necessarily mean anything.

"Free McFlurries day in, day out," Brendon tells Ryan.

Ryan's frown doesn't waver. "You're not gonna work shit places much longer."

Brendon puts his pen down, tilting his head. Their eyes meet for a moment, and then Spencer elbows Ryan, snorting. "So, that's all very touching and I don't mean to break the mood—"

"Shut up," Ryan interrupts.

Spencer laughs. Haley, looking from Ryan to Brendon, appears to be biting the inside of her cheek, and for no reason whatsoever, Brendon feels the back of his neck flush hotly.


Ryan politely offers Haley a ride, dropping her off first, then Spencer, and then it's only the two of them in the car. The stereo still isn't working. Since Brendon is sure that if he opens his mouth, he'll start asking stupid questions he doesn't really want answered, he grips the side of his seat and stares out of the window, backpack on his thighs.

There's no free parking space directly in front of Brendon's building. Ryan drives straight on until the next corner, navigating into a space big enough to fit two cars with a muttered curse and some impressive work on the steering wheel. Against his will, Brendon finds himself smiling.

When Ryan throttles the engine, silence encompasses them. Brendon glances over to find Ryan already watching him. The corners of Ryan's mouth turn up. "Come on, then."

Are you going to walk me to my door?

It almost, very nearly slips out before Brendon can stop it. He grits his teeth and waits another moment before he pushes his own door open, grabbing his backpack before he slams the door closed. Ryan's already standing on the sidewalk, locking the car. He brought his backpack, too. The streetlamp's light paints his face in a strange shade of orange.

Brendon exhales carefully and sets off, not looking back to see if Ryan's following. He is, though.

"You know I have to do that essay for Beckett," Brendon tells the sidewalk. It lies deserted before them, just a few more steps to Brendon's house.

"Wow, you remember?" Ryan's tone is dry, but when Brendon glances over, there's a small smile tugging at Ryan's lips.

"Don't be an ass," Brendon says. He sounds too fond, frighteningly so, and bites down on the inside of his cheek a moment after the words are out.

Ryan laughs, sharp and quick. They walk the last few steps to the door in silence. When Brendon thrusts they key into the lock, Ryan suddenly crowds him against the flat surface of the door, pressing to his back. Brendon stills, waiting. "So how about," Ryan begins, breath tickling Brendon's cheek, "an all-night study session? I brought my chemistry and math stuff."

Smoothly, Ryan steps back. Brendon exhales, and when Ryan laughs, softly, without even a hint of meanness to the sound, Brendon finds he doesn't mind all that much.


By the time Brendon has filled an additional page of his notebook with notes and written the first two pages of his essay, Ryan isn't even pretending to study anymore. His book is still open in front of him, but he's holding his head up with one fist, lids at half-mast. After the fourth yawn Ryan suppresses in less than two minutes, Brendon sighs impatiently. "Go to bed, Ross. You're making me tired." He doesn't look up.

Ryan snorts and sinks lower in his creaking chair.

"Seriously." Brendon types Denial is part of the game they play before he chances a glance at Ryan. Another glance. He's been sneaking a lot of them over the course of the night, and it's not even two in the morning yet. Brendon still has another three pages to go. "You're totally useless like this. It's not like you'll remember any of that tomorrow."

"Well, maybe if you had some decent coffee instead of that instant powder shit," Ryan complains, not for the first time. "Maybe that'd help." He lifts his head off his fist and squints up at the bare light bulb dangling above the table.

"Bring your own fucking coffee, if you want some." Brendon hits the enter key and starts a new paragraph. In the social circles they move in, there is no room to admit to ignorance, because that would be admitting to weakness. There are rules. Virginia Woolf is like a prop, in this context.

"What, so you can throw it away at the first chance?" Ryan asks.

Brendon looks up from the screen. His eyes were burning from staring at the display anyway, and maybe it's the near-black of the sky outside the window, or maybe it's the eerie quiet of night that surrounds them. Either way, when Brendon says, "Bring your stupid coffee, Ross. I swear I won't touch it," it's more honest than he intended.

For a long moment, Ryan merely blinks at him, face blank. Then he pushes himself to his feet, staggering a step before he straightens and finds his balance. Hands still poised above the keyboard, Brendon watches as Ryan grabs the apartment key off the fridge. Something in Brendon's chest feels heavy.

Ryan pauses at the door, one hand already on the knob. "Going out for coffee," he says, and then he's gone.


The Starbucks is deserted at this hour; bright lights and a drooping employee behind the counter the only proof that it's not actually closed. Ryan studies the menu for a long minute even though he already knows what he wants.

"Yeah?" the barista asks eventually.

"A cappuccino, grande," Ryan says. "And." He takes a deep breath. "A vanilla latte, venti, whole milk, extra cream and caramel syrup. Please."

Inexplicably, he is waiting for the barista to comment his order. Instead, the guy just nods tiredly and drags his body over to the coffee machine. Ryan props both elbows on the counter and waits with his heart hammering stupidly high in his throat.


Brendon's still sitting just where Ryan left him, looking as if he hasn't moved an inch. He looks up sharply when Ryan comes back in, gaze moving from Ryan's face down to the two cardboard cups in Ryan's hands. Ryan kicks the apartment door shut with his hip, and then he lingers in place, shifting the cardboard cups. They're warm against his palms.

"You went to Starbucks?" Brendon asks.

"What's wrong with Starbucks?" Ryan is annoyed at the defensive note in his voice. It's not like he has to defend his actions to Brendon.

"That they charge you a shitload of money," Brendon says. "And, like, I thought you wanted to save up something for college?" Despite the words, Ryan doesn't miss Brendon's quick, hopeful glance at Ryan's hands, or the way Brendon seems to inhale the smell of hot coffee that's rising from the cups.

Ryan takes a step forward and smiles tentatively. "I brought you a vanilla latte."

Brendon's answering smile doesn't break out immediately, but when it does, it takes up his entire face. "Extra cream?"

Ryan nods. "And caramel syrup."

"Oh," Brendon says. "Well, I guess that's alright then." Ryan shakes his head, rolling his eyes, and Brendon laughs, reaches out for his cup. "Thanks," Brendon says, and it sounds like it's automatic. Ryan nods.

"How's the essay going?" he asks.

"Almost there," Brendon says. He takes the lid off the cup and starts eating the cream off the top with a finger. Ryan watches in revolted fascination. It's not even hot. Brendon's a Neanderthal, and Ryan tells him so.

"I'm pretty sure Neanderthals didn't have Starbucks," Brendon says, but he gets up and fetches a teaspoon from a drawer, uses that instead. He has a little bit of cream caught on the corner of his mouth – when Ryan points it out, he manages a tired looking leer as he licks it off, but mostly he just looks so exhausted that Ryan wouldn't be that surprised if he fell asleep in his coffee.

"What's 'almost there', anyway?" Ryan asks, and Brendon yawns, turning back to his laptop.

"I'm on the conclusion," he says. "And then, I dunno, I'll read it over and check it's not too awful. And then sleep."

"Alright," Ryan says. He sits down opposite from Brendon and pillows his head on his arms, letting his thoughts drift, occasionally rousing himself enough to drink from his coffee before it goes cold.

Brendon frowns at the screen, looking as though he's as much wrestling with the problem of technology and words in general as he is with concepts from the book he's writing about. After a little while Ryan stops thinking about anything in particular and just watches Brendon work, the tiny creases in his forehead, the dark smudges under his eyes. Ryan hopes distantly that Brendon's one of those people who, when tired enough, can have coffee before bed and still sleep well. It would suck if he finished and still couldn't get any sleep.

"It's really hard to work with you staring at me," Brendon murmurs eventually, without looking up.

Ryan should have a witty or cutting remark on the edge of his tongue. It's three in the morning, though, and he's been up since six. He says, "Deal," and doesn't look away, and Brendon doesn't respond, and he still doesn't look up, but the corner of his mouth twitches in a smile. Ryan thinks that it's good that he didn't look away; he doesn't like missing it when Brendon smiles at him.

It's another half hour before Brendon finally pushes back and declares that he's finished – he got caught up for a while revising part of the middle. "Bed," Brendon sings, voice slurring a little.

Ryan gets up and walks around the table, pushes Brendon off the chair. "Hang on," he says, and goes through the essay three times, correcting it where he can. It's actually pretty good, but Brendon's sentence structure is ridiculously convoluted, and Ryan cuts it down to normal size, helps Brendon's paragraphs get some topic sentences that make it seem like he's not just rambling into the ether. Brendon hangs around his shoulder, and doesn't say anything.

When he's done, he holds up a hand and Brendon takes it, leads him to the mattress in the floor. Ryan has enough presence of mind to take off his jeans before he curls into the bed, but he's cold for a while, teeth chattering, until Brendon tucks their legs together, slides his arm over Ryan's chest.

"Go to sleep," he says, and Ryan hums something agreeable, tucks his nose into the hollow of Brendon's throat.

Continues here.
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