by zarah5 and softlyforgotten
Better to take the long way home than not to arrive at all. A high school AU.
Authors' Notes: So, after a long time of talking about this fic and crying about it to our flists and one abandonment of it and one agreement to pick the damn thing up and finish it because we loved this version of the boys too much to leave them hanging, we would like to present to you our high school AU of doom. Probably a lot of warnings should come with this, the main one being that this is unashamedly based on a badfic premise, and is highly indulgent as a result, the kind of fic both of us have always wanted to read, although hopefully executed with a little more style than the ones we've seen before. Here, then, is a story about a high school wherein Brendon and Ryan hate each other.
Along with warning for indulgence: neither author is American, and neither of us have a very clear understanding of the college application process. We've tried to make it as realistic as possible, but some details may be mistaken, and some may be deliberately wrong to allow for workings of the plot. We apologise, and ask that you suspend your disbelief just a little.
Finally, we have to thank the veritable team of people who got this to where it is: stele3, inderpal, tardis80, and oddishly for their cheerleading and help at various stages along the way, and allyndra and ivyenglish for their brilliant beta jobs at the end.
This fic took us a year to write. We hope you like it. ♥
They're the tiniest kids in their class, always have been, and the sight should be ridiculous, but no one ever laughs. Instead they whisper it through the hallways on the way to lunch, the tension already there – "Hey, hey. Ross and Urie are at it again. You coming?" The question is unnecessary. Everyone always comes.
There's something about it, something that means it escapes the gossip, the rumours behind it, everything that normally happens in high school. No one knows why they do it, except maybe Spencer and Jon, and no one particularly cares, either. The way Ross and Urie fight is ugly; awkward fists and knuckles cracking and grunts, and the crowd that gathers around them is nearly always silent.
Ross's fist slams into Urie's nose, unbalanced but strong enough, and Urie spits out a curse word and launches himself upwards, slamming the top of his head hard into Ross's mouth. They roll over, Urie trying to get back on top, gain the upper hand, and Ross spits blood and saliva into his eye; Urie cries out and slams his hand up into Ross's face, smacking him dizzy.
"Fuck you," Ross sneers when the bell rings and the other students disperse. They stay there, shoving at each other with blind, uncoordinated fury.
"Fuck you," Urie tells him, and slams his knee upward into Ross's balls. The bell has rung and the quad is empty apart from them, but they stay there, mud and grass and blood and boy, until one of them wins. One of them always wins.
Mr. Way's office is not what most people would expect from a principal's office. Ryan's been there a few times now, more than a few times, more than a few times in the last school year, even, so he's not surprised anymore. Yeah, there's a signed poster from some off-Broadway theater play hanging on one of the walls, dark and gloomy in black and white, and there's a painting with red splattered all across the canvas, but speaking of red and splattering, Ryan really is more concerned with the blood that still trickles from the corner of his mouth.
He absently wipes at it with the tissue the secretary gave him, after an exasperated look at him and Urie when they were marched in by the Biology teacher, firm hands clasping their shoulders. It's not like they would have pulled away, anyway; no one crosses Hurley.
Ryan sucks in a breath that tastes a little metallic and refuses to look at Brendon, sitting quiet and small in the chair next to him. Ryan hopes he managed to knock out a front tooth. Maybe that would make Brendon shut up for a while.
"What the fuck are you smiling at?" Brendon hisses out.
Ryan raises a brow even though it hurts a little, the skin besides his right eye feeling bruised. "Thinking about the way you shut up right after I got my knee into your balls. It was wonderful."
"Well," Brendon starts, and Ryan is sure it would be a typically arrogant statement, just like any other time Brendon opens his mouth, but the office door opens and the principal walks in. He takes in their appearance and sighs audibly.
For a moment, Ryan feels stupid and guilty. It passes quickly enough.
"How many times," Mr. Way begins, sounding close to giving up, "have I given you the talk now?"
"Within the last month?" Brendon asks, and this, this is why Ryan hates him, because Brendon can never keep his mouth shut, always has to pretend he's got something to say when really, he's just a dumb little kid who somehow managed to skip a year because everything with numbers and formulas just falls into his lap.
Mr. Way raises an eyebrow. "You proud of your record, Brendon?"
Brendon raises his chin, smirking. "I think most people would be quite glad for any method I've used to get Ross to come down off of his high fucking horse—"
"Oh, like anyone gives a shit about what you do," Ryan snaps, and the principal sighs, dropping his head into his hands and rubbing at his eyes.
"Boys," he says tiredly. "I think we'd all agree that the sooner we can deal with this, the better. I expect that you both know, too, that at this level of constant violence and breaking of school rules, I'm expected to suspend you both, as well as calling your parents and asking them to come into the school in order to try and deal with these circumstances."
Brendon leans forward on his chair, eyes wide and urgent. "Sir—" he begins.
"I know," Mr. Way says, simply. "I'm not going to resort to those methods just yet."
Ryan eyes Brendon warily out of the corner of his eye. Brendon sees him looking and scowls, and Mr. Way makes a face at them.
"Stop it," he says. "I've decided if you two are going to waste this much of my time, I'm going to start wasting some of yours. You will be attending detention two nights a week for the rest of the term and sort some of the school's files that need updating."
"Sir," Brendon says, "I work after school."
"I'm aware of that," Mr. Way says. "You'll have to rearrange those two shifts. I'll expect you to report at the front office from four to six thirty every Tuesday and Friday. Starting tomorrow. That way, you can still grab something to eat and use the break to get some of your homework done."
Ryan folds his arms. "No offence, sir," he says. "I'd rather you called my dad."
"Well, it's unfortunate for you that this comes down to my judgment and not yours, then," Mr. Way tells him. Ryan narrows his eyes and next to him, Brendon smirks.
"Fine then," Ryan says coldly, and rises from his seat. "Can I go now? I'm late for History."
"Attitude, Ryan," Mr. Way warns, but he nods his head towards the door and Ryan walks out, swinging the door back with accidental force into Brendon's face. The sound of Mr. Way's groan from the office is clearly audible.
"Well, I hope you're fucking happy," Ryan bites out, when they're outside. Brendon turns without looking at him and walks off down the corridor, chin up, arms straight by his side. Ryan rolls his eyes and yells after him, "Oh, ignoring me, real mature!"
Brendon keeps walking.
The apartment – if it even deserves the name when it's really just a one-room dump with a greasy kitchenette and an attached bathroom that's as high as it's wide – smells like mold and damp wallpaper. It's not like Brendon can afford more though, and the smell only hits him when he comes in. After a few minutes, he barely notices anymore. It could be worse.
He pauses at the entrance to let the schoolbag slide off his shoulders before he crosses over to the stereo, one of the few things he actually took along when he left. Maybe some time alone will help you sort out your thoughts, his mother had said, and, we're not throwing you out, we just think you need a little space on your own, for now.
Most of the time, Brendon is too exhausted to think at all.
The first notes of Come As You Are have hardly filled the room before his neighbor knocks on the wall. Brendon supposes the music interferes with the man's current choice of sitcom or infomercial or whateverthefuck else comes with bright, excited voices that Brendon can just make out through the wall. With a sigh, he turns the music down, but only marginally.
He shakes his hips a little as he walks to the kitchenette, but Nirvana isn't really the sort of music for dancing. Also, it's not like he has much reason to dance anyway.
Fucking Principal. And stupid fucking Ryan Ross. Brendon wouldn't be in this mess if the fucker hadn't decided that Brendon was standing in the way of his locker. Which Brendon hadn't been. Not really.
The fridge is painfully empty. There's a wilting leek that the market-woman gave him for free, and a carton of orange juice. Not exactly the beginning of a delicious meal.
Brendon glances at the clock. It's half past three already, that doesn't leave him enough time to run to the supermarket around the corner and buy something edible, especially since his pay doesn't come in until the middle of next week and he already spent two of the three dollars he's allotted himself per day until his next paycheck comes in. Spent two dollars on a hot chocolate, at that. Utterly superfluous; he could have done without it just fine, God.
And I swear that I don't have a gun, Kurt Cobain sings. Brendon kicks the fridge shut and leans back against the kitchen cabinet for a moment, closing his eyes.
Shit. He has ten minutes to get ready, and then he needs to be at the shop and explain to his manager why two out of his six shifts a week aren't possible anymore. Maybe he can talk Audrey into switching.
Right. Because Audrey would be willing to lift so much as a finger for him.
Jon is stretched out in the grass near the front entrance of the school building, his phone on his stomach. Probably hoping that the girl he chatted up at that party last week will use the number he shoved at her. He opens one eye when Ryan collapses beside him. "So what was it this time?" Jon asks.
"Spencer not out yet?" Ryan looks around before he shrugs and lowers himself back onto his elbows, glaring up at the bright blue sky. "He was in my way," he replies belatedly.
"So you punched him," Jon says.
"No." Ryan frowns. They've been through this numerous times; he doesn't know why Jon just won't let it drop. It's not likes Jon even likes Brendon, would be hard to, what with Brendon's constant ribbing of everyone in sight. "I told him to move. Politely."
One corner of Jon's mouth lifts, and he closes his eye again. "I'm sure."
"I may have mentioned that his mother apparently skipped the class on manners."
"May have mentioned," Jon repeats.
"Whatever," Ryan says dismissively. "Now I've got detention twice a week until the end of the term. As if I didn't get enough of his company at school."
"If you didn't feel the need to punch him every time you saw him," Jon drawls, and Ryan huffs, dropping his head back against the ground.
"It's not my fault he's an asshole," he says. "Where's Spence, anyway? We getting milkshakes now?"
"Can't," Jon says regretfully. "I've got an English essay due tomorrow that's kicking my ass. You guys can go, though."
"Maybe," Ryan says. Really, he's not in the mood to do anything anymore, not after today and the detentions and the fight. His lip is stinging and he's got a bit of a headache from where Brendon's fist slammed into his temple. It's weird, he thinks absently, but they're both actually kind of better at fighting, now. Used to be that he never hurt this much afterwards, but this year they've fought more and more often (resulting in Ryan's bad record; he's just glad his dad couldn't care less). Ryan guesses practice makes perfect, after all.
Then Spencer comes and flops next to them and rolls his eyes over Ryan's split lip and Ryan just stops thinking, or caring.
Brendon's tired enough to sleep on his desk through Trig the next day, where he gets yelled at, and then Music, where he doesn't. He'd ended up staying back late last night and helping close up, mopping the floors and cleaning the machines, in a mostly unsuccessful effort to stop his manager from being quite so pissed at him. He missed the first bus on the way home, and then he'd had to finish an essay for English, and he figures he's had about three and a half hours sleep.
He really, really doesn't feel like going to detention. He especially doesn't feel like going to detention with Ryan Ross.
He ends up going anyway, because otherwise he'd be in even more trouble and also because Mr. Way's pretty cool, really, for a teacher. He didn't sit Brendon down and give him a big talk about going home when Brendon told him what had happened, anyway, didn't even push him when Brendon said he didn't want to talk to the counsellor or anything. He let Brendon sleep on the couch in his office during lunch and his free periods for a few days when he was still learning how to juggle school and work and eating and sleeping and stuff, and Brendon doesn't really want to make him get that disappointed face again. Mr. Way's too good at guilting people out.
Brendon's there first, after school, so he sits down on one of the chairs in the front office and closes his eyes, leaning back against the wall. Fuck, he's tired. For a moment he imagines he's cancelled his early shift for some other, okay reason, that he can go home and maybe watch something on TV, sprawled out on his mattress, and then pass out for a few hours before he's due into work. He could manage twelve hours sleep, even. Brendon can't remember the last time he had twelve hours sleep. He can't remember the last time he had eight.
After a moment the door swings open again and Ryan Ross announces his presence with a huff and a muttered obscenity in Brendon's direction. Brendon opens his eyes and smiles sweetly at him and Ryan narrows his eyes, glares.
"I gotta say," Brendon says earnestly, leaning forward with his arms on his knees. "Really, I just want to thank you. I feel like we don't see enough of each other, you know? I'm hoping to soak up some of your general awesomeness—"
"Shut up," Ryan says, gritting his teeth. "I'm missing out on movies with friends tonight, thanks to you—"
"I'll expect the thank you card from them any day now," Brendon says blithely.
"Just because some of us have friends," Ryan snaps.
"Why, Ross, I didn't know you cared."
"Believe me, I don't." Ryan gives him a sharp smile. "I just think it's interesting, you know? I mean, even you should be able to find some kind of ally amongst all the science geeks if you could just rear your ego in once in a while. I would have thought your little Mormon guidelines list arrogance as a sin, but apparently not."
"Don't you fucking—"
"Is there a problem?" a voice asks from the door. Brendon turns to find Mr. Wentz beaming at them, and that's just really, really unfair. English teachers love Ryan. Rumor has it that Mr. Beckett even went so far as to recommend him for a scholarship because Ryan has a stupid fondness for words with three or more syllables, and that's apparently all it takes to be considered the next Philip Roth or whatever. Brendon had to work hard for his own music scholarship recommendation; it didn't just come on a silver platter because he batted his lashes.
"No problem at all," Ryan tells Wentz, smiling weakly, pointedly not looking at Brendon.
"Good," Wentz says. "I'd hate having to tell Gerard that you two don't take this seriously. He always takes bad news personally, you know?"
"Um," Ryan says.
Brendon sighs and glances at the clock on the wall. It's ten past three, and by the time he gets out, it will be past six and he'll have to leave for the late shift straight away. If he's lucky, it's a slow day and he can do some of his homework behind the counter.
Wentz follows the direction of Brendon's gaze and nods, clapping his hands. "Right, right. So, how about we get to work?"
How about not? Brendon is tempted to ask. He doesn't, though. Just nods feebly and shuffles into the record room behind Wentz and Ryan, keeping his head down with a headache bubbling just behind his forehead.
The record room is gray and bland, not very big and cramped with cabinets that apparently need to be rearranged according to some kind of system. Curtains of a faded yellow are blocking the view of the outside world. Brendon tries to listen to Wentz's explanation, but Wentz doesn't make a lot of sense on his best days, and it's not helping that Brendon has to blink rapidly to keep from drifting off.
He'll just watch Ryan and follow his lead.
"All right, then," Wentz says, and Brendon snaps to attention. "That's all for now. Get started, and if you need anything, I'll be just outside grading stuff." His grin flashes in the dimness of the room. "Don't force me to come looking in on you."
"We won't," Ryan promises, eyes wide and fixed on Wentz. Brendon suspects Ryan has a crush; he makes a note to bring it up later and wonders why he's faintly irritated about it. It's just embarrassing, he thinks, watching Ryan look so nauseatingly sweet.
Wentz flashes another grin that encompasses Brendon. "I'll hold you to it."
He leaves the room and pulls the door shut behind himself, and Brendon turns his head to find Ryan still staring after him. "Oh, sir, we won't," Brendon repeats, his tone mocking, but his voice lowered so as not to carry into the next room. "Me and my right hand, we only want to be good to you."
Ryan's gaze flickers to him. "And isn't it funny how I was perfectly able to pay attention to Wentz while I'm pretty sure you didn't catch a word of what he said?"
"You were practicing your unswerving devotion," Brendon tells him. "I didn't want to rain on your parade."
"Rain on my parade?" Ryan echoes, tone full of mild disbelief. "Are you Mormon or Amish?"
Hot, fierce anger grips at Brendon's stomach and he folds his arms. Most of the time, he and Ryan get to beating each other up too quickly to snipe at each other for long. Brendon really misses that standard procedure right about now. "Shut the fuck up. You don't know what you're talking about."
"Dear God," Ryan says solemnly, pressing his palms together and holding them at his chest. "Today the big bad Ryan was mean to me, and—"
Brendon loses control of any possible rational thought and lunges forward, aiming blindly for Ryan's head. It's not a very good punch; it hurts his fist probably more than it hurts Ryan, and the blow glances off the side of Ryan's head. It's enough to provoke a reaction, though; Ryan stares at him in disdain.
"Are you an idiot?" he spits. "There's a teacher next door, moron!"
"You scared?" Brendon asks, teeth bared. He feels a little stupid, thoughts whirling, but there's something about Ryan that brings out the worst in him.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Ryan begins, and then Brendon smirks at him and Ryan shoves Brendon hard, sending him stumbling back into the wall with a thump.
Someone knocks sharply on the wall. Brendon freezes and Mr. Wentz says, "Everything alright in there?"
"Uh, yeah," Brendon calls through the plaster. "Sorry!"
He turns back to the room and Ryan's eyeing him with an unpleasant grin. He stretches his arms out wide and says, "Come on, what's the matter? You scared?"
Brendon scowls at him and retreats to a corner of the room. He pulls a box of files towards him and bends his head over it, spends the rest of the time sorting through them (glancing secretly up at Ryan now and again to make sure he's doing it right). The room is small and not ventilated very well, and the hot, enclosed atmosphere makes Brendon's head hurt and doesn't really do much to help him stay awake. He wishes he hadn't allowed himself to be talked into doing yet another late shift.
On the plus side, Ryan doesn't speak for the next three hours, and they sit in silent, frozen anger until Wentz pokes his head around the door and says they can go home.
It's dark when Ryan gets outside, winter creeping in steadily. Brendon hurries in the opposite direction with his hands shoved in his pocket, and when a bus rounds the corner Ryan sees him break into a run. He hopes idly for a moment that it'll drive straight past but apparently the bus driver doesn't know about Brendon Urie's general evilness, and stops for him.
Ryan calls Spencer, who picks up with, "Hey, you survived!"
"Barely," Ryan grumbles, and then adds indignantly, "Why would I be the one to perish, anyway? Urie's a weakling!"
"Tell that to the black eye you had last month," Spencer says. "I'm glad you did, anyway. Jon owes me five bucks."
"You are both horrible people," Ryan says coldly. "Are we at your place, tonight?"
"Jon's," Spencer says. "He's making popcorn. You want us to save some for you?"
"Duh," Ryan says.
Friday nights are a tradition with them, have been since Ryan and Spencer moved to high school and met Jon. Ryan's dad doesn't really care where he goes, barely notices when he's home, and Jon and Spencer both have pretty cool parents, so Friday nights they crash at either Jon or Spencer's place and watch movies and let their moms try and fatten Ryan up.
When he gets there, Jon's acting out some of the more implausible action sequences from the movie they just saw and Spencer's laughing helplessly on the couch. Ryan scowls at his feet and tries not to be too ridiculously jealous; fucking detention, fucking Brendon. Spencer glances up at him and rolls his eyes.
"Come on," he says. "It wasn't that bad, was it?"
"I was trapped in a small room with Brendon Urie for three hours," Ryan says.
"Two and a half," Spencer corrects.
Ryan gives him an unimpressed look. "How could it not be horrible?"
"Least it's over," Jon says, offering him the popcorn. Ryan takes a handful and throws himself back on the couch, half-squishing Spencer in the process.
"For now," he says gloomily. "Twice a week for the next nine, though. I'm going to go crazy."
"Brendon does have a habit of bringing out the worst in you," Spencer observes. Ryan shoots him a glare and Spencer says, "Okay, don't kill me. Look, we got Moulin Rouge out as an acknowledgment of your pain."
Ryan smiles at that, and Jon drags the mattress out from his room and puts it in front of the couch. They watch Moulin Rouge, and then one of Spencer's creepy horror movies, and then Never Been Kissed ("Or I'll have nightmares," Jon says, all wide eyes and eyelashes, "And you don't want that, do you?"). Halfway through the last Ryan drifts off to sleep, cheek against Spencer's forearms. His friends are the best, he thinks with sleepy honesty.
A friend of Jon's throws a party on Saturday, so Ryan doesn't get home until the early hours of morning, his clothes smelling disgustingly of smoke and alcohol, neither of them his. It's past noon when he wakes up the next day, and when he gets down, his dad is sitting at the kitchen table nursing a hangover.
That shouldn't bother him – God knows he's used to it by now – but it's Sunday, and on Sundays Spencer's family always has a huge breakfast, loud and obnoxious with everyone talking over everyone. Spencer always has to make fresh orange juice, and Ryan doesn't even like orange juice, but somehow, it bothers him that there's none on the mostly empty table.
"Morning," his dad says absently. He's in an okay mood, Ryan thinks warily, and his gaze even lingers on the bruise beside Ryan's eye when he looks up from his coffee. It's already faded, but they haven't really seen each other over the last few days. Ryan's dad always seems to be out, and Ryan makes a point of avoiding him when he's not. In any case, his dad doesn't ask about it and Ryan doesn't volunteer anything, grabbing an apple and a bottle of water.
"I have a pile of homework and studying to do," he says, scratching awkwardly at his elbow. "I'm gonna eat upstairs."
"Sure," his dad says, turning back to the newspaper. Ryan stays a moment longer, fists by his side, waiting for something, for anything, but his dad doesn't add anything more and after a moment he turns and heads back upstairs.
Ryan thinks about starting with English, but… he'd regret starting with something easy, something he actually enjoys. Instead, he digs out his Math notes and spreads them on his bed along with the textbook, flopping down on his stomach and kicking up his legs.
It takes less than twenty minutes for frustration to settle in.
Stupid Brendon would probably fly through this stuff, but analysis is like a foreign language to Ryan, and not one he ever had class in. He curses, leans halfway off the bed to flick his stereo on, grabbing the phone before he pulls himself back up.
Spencer's class hasn't covered it yet – which is a shame, because Spencer and numbers is almost as creepy as Brendon and numbers and formulas – so Ryan calls Jon. Jon picks up almost immediately with, "Missing me already, Ross?"
"Yeah," Ryan says. "I pine every second we're apart. You can't see me now, but I'm crying and everything."
"'Course you are," Jon says, and Ryan can hear him smiling. He rolls over onto his back and stares at the band posters that plaster the walls. It's been a couple of years since he put them up; none of them make sense anymore.
"So, uh," Ryan begins, then groans out loud. "I started Math. Help, please?"
Jon's laugh is warm, easy. "You want to come over?" he asks, and, "Please, yes," Ryan says. The house feels strangely suffocating to him, and since Jon's crush of the month actually took him up on the invitation to yesterday's party, he's bound to be in a good mood.
It's kind of unfair how much more action Jon gets compared to Ryan and Spencer, but then, Ryan guesses he can't complain, considering he doesn't even try. He wouldn't mind having something besides his own hand to get off for a change, but the whole relationship thing is just too much of a hassle, and one-night stands are a little difficult to come by when you can't legally buy anyone a drink.
He rolls himself to his feet and shoves his things into his backpack before he leaves the room without a backwards glance. There's no reply when he calls out a goodbye to his father, so he shrugs his shoulders and pulls the front door closed behind himself.
The week has barely begun, and Brendon is fully prepared to have it over already. It doesn't improve his mood that Tuesday used to be his day off until Ryan fucking Ross just had to start a fight that got them into this whole detention mess.
Brendon wouldn't be surprised if Way just made the whole thing up. It's the age of computers; there's no reason why they should have to hand-sort records arranged in alphabetical order so that they're arranged first by year, then by letter.
He doesn't think whining would improve his situation. He's almost desperate enough to try anyway. Almost being the key word.
Brendon slams his locker shut and sets off for AP Biology that will have him spend even more time in a room with Ryan and his little sidekick Jon. At least Brendon's lab partner Brent is easy to deal with, quiet and obedient, and he's smart enough to just go along with whatever Brendon says. Brendon kind of wants to start a petition for more people like that.
He's late to class, but so is the teacher so it's not too bad. He slides in next to Brent and mumbles a greeting, and then loud laughter attracts his attention and he glances up. There's some kids in a corner leaning all over the benches, kind of sly, talking to Ryan – Brendon recognizes them, vaguely, as guys who go to his old church. They never really liked Brendon, not quite normal enough for him to be friends with them, and they definitely don't talk to him anymore. He misses it, sometimes, though he'll never admit it; the easy, unconditional kindness of anyone in the church with you. Those guys never really had it but they will when they get older, past the better-than-you stage of adolescence, Brendon guesses.
He can be faintly proud of them, anyway, at the way they're grinning sort of meanly at Ryan. Ryan's hunched in on himself, glaring, and his friend's starting to look pissed off. Brendon leans back in his chair to enjoy the show and eventually Ryan's friend, Jon something, tugs Ryan away and says, over his shoulder, "Just shut the fuck up. Assholes."
Ryan folds into the chair in front of Brendon still glowering, and Brendon bites back a grin. He leans forward and murmurs, voice low, "Aw, that was just so sweet. He gonna carry your books to your next class, too?"
Ryan turns slowly on his chair, eyes narrowed, and Jon casts a disbelieving look at Brendon. Brendon beams back at him and flutters his eyelashes, clutching his heart. "Oh, my hero," he says.
"Grow up," Ryan snaps. "I'll show you who's the goddamn—"
"Ryan," Jon says. He leans forward and murmurs something softly at Ryan, too low for Brendon to catch more than a few words; "father" and "just because—" and "shitty day". Ryan raises his chin and hisses out something sharp and annoyed, but Jon just raises an eyebrow at him, and eventually Ryan mumbles an apology. It's only then that Jon turns to Brendon and tells him to mind his own business.
"Think I'll mind whoever's business I like," Brendon says. "Free country. Heard of the first amendment?"
Ryan opens his mouth but Jon touches his shoulder, just slightly, and Ryan rolls his eyes, turns around and stares fixedly at the whiteboard. Jon looks at Brendon and sighs, says, "No, really. Grow up."
Brendon shuts his mouth, thinks, fuck you, I'm trying.
"So, do you miss him when he's gone?" Brendon asks, grinning obnoxiously.
Ryan raises a brow at him, and he doesn't really feel like rising to Brendon's bait; he's had enough of those prejudiced Mormon assholes who sneer because he wears eyeliner and doesn't do much to hide the fact that he thinks both genders are equally attractive. Still, it's Brendon, and Brendon's been Ryan's sparring partner for longer than he cares to admit. "Care to clarify that?"
"Walker," Brendon says blithely. "I imagine it must be difficult to be away from your one true love for as much as three hours, and all to sort files with me. I'm flattered, Ross, really."
"Tell me something," Ryan begins.
Brendon tilts his head, gaze skittering down, then back up. "Yes, those jeans do make you look fat."
"Does it require a lot of practice to be this much of an asshole?" Ryan asks. "Do you have to practice your lines in front of the mirror? Mumble insults under your breath while you serve customers at that smoothie place you work at? That's not the right way to get a tip, you know?"
He can see Brendon's ready reply in the line of his mouth, steeling himself for it – which is when Stump walks in, glancing back and forth between them. "Any problems?" he asks calmly.
"None at all," Brendon assures him. Suck-up, Ryan mouths when Stump is looking the other way. It's not like there's much sense in Brendon sucking up to teachers; all the Mormons have their future planned out anyway, and it doesn't include a music course at some college.
"Good." Stump nods his chin towards the record room. "So, Pete tells me you know what to do, and I'll be out here. Just call me if there's a problem."
"All right," Ryan says. He disappears into the room first, but Brendon isn't far behind. Ryan is tempted to trip him when Brendon walks past. He refrains, though, mostly because it just wouldn't be wise with Stump right there. Sometimes, Ryan does have an ounce of self-control, even when it comes to Brendon.
They set to work silently, without looking at each other. It's tedious, stupid and exhausting, three hours of nothing but opening a file, checking for the date to put it on the appropriate pile, stacks of files all around them.
There are twice as many piles as they need: two for 1992, two for 1993, and so on. It probably would be easier if they agreed to collaborate, but Ryan isn't about to suggest it.
His phone beeps with a text message halfway through, and Ryan pulls it out despite Brendon's dark look and muttered insult. still alive? Spencer wants to know.
about to commit homicide, Ryan texts back. youll be my alibi, yes?
"Seriously, Ross, can't you go five minutes without talking to your boyfriend?" Brendon hisses when Ryan's phone beeps with Spencer's reply; sure i got your back.
"Sorry," Ryan says flatly. "Some of us have friends, you know?"
"Fuck you," Brendon says and turns away. Ryan looks at the line of his back for a moment before he shakes his head. God, how can one tiny person be this annoying?
Payday still hasn't arrived, but as if his week didn't suck enough yet, Brendon tore his best pair of jeans when he climbed over a fence to take a shortcut to the bus station. He wouldn't mind so much if it were at the knees; he could pass that off as some kind of warped fashion statement. He's not so comfortable with his underwear showing, though.
So anyway, that's why he seeks out the second-hand store just around the corner from the Strip. It's the largest one in the city, and the very few clothes Brendon allowed himself to buy since his parents suggested he spend some time on his own (since they kicked him out) came from there.
There's a yarn shop on the first floor, and when Brendon climbs the stairs, he's already hit with the first notes of The Smashing Pumpkins. One bonus of shopping at Twice Shy is that the clerks have good taste in music; maybe it's a job requirement. Maybe Brendon should apply.
He locks his backpack into one of the lockers and squeezes the key and his wallet into the back pocket of his pants before he walks through the turnstile, glancing around. There's no one behind the counter, and there are only a few customers milling about the large room. Most of them are of the hippie/alternative variety, and they fit nicely into the place, with its faint scent of weed and incense, the multi-colored tapestries that cover the walls.
Brendon hums along with the music, and we just don't know where our bones will rest, as he makes his way over to the jeans. Anything that's been hanging around the store for more than three months gets a twenty-five percent discount, so he mostly just looks for jeans with an orange point on the tag.
"Need help?" a familiar voice asks from behind him. Brendon startles and turns slowly to find Ryan leaning against a clothes rack.
Ryan's pleasant smile transforms into a frown. "Oh, it's you. What are you doing here?"
"Running for President," Brendon replies. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
One of Ryan's brow quirks. He does that a lot, and it never fails to irritate Brendon, an itching feeling in his bones to make that superior expression collapse into itself. "Why are you in the men's section, then?" Ryan asks. "With your ass, I think girl pants really are the way to go."
"Thanks," Brendon says smoothly, "But you're really not my type."
Ryan folds his arms and says coolly, "Careful. Wouldn't want to risk your immortal soul for the sake of being an asshole."
Brendon shoves his hands into his pockets and swallows down the automatic urge to swing forward and punch Ryan's smug little expression off of his face. Brendon never used to be this violent, he thinks a little uneasily; probably still isn't, when it comes to other people. It's a little frightening, in some ways, the relentless, restless anger that Ryan inevitably pulls up out of him, but at the same time it's useful. Ryan packs a hard punch, for someone so fragile looking, and Brendon might have been killed by now if it wasn't for the ceaseless fury Ryan somehow manages to inspire in him.
"Fuck off," he says, looking at a point a bit above Ryan's head. "I see you too much in school, already."
Ryan's mouth twists. "You were the one who walked into my store," he points out.
"Yours," Brendon scoffs, but he turns around and walks away without trying to come up with something smarter. He's too tired to, and he doesn't want to risk being thrown out – he needs the goddamn jeans.
After a while, Ryan gets called up to work on the checkouts. Brendon waits until he's replaced before going up and buying the jeans he found, avoiding him as much as is possible in the relatively small shop, but even as he walks out he's conscious of Ryan's hard, mocking gaze boring into the back of his head.
It's the nice manager working that night, the one who reminds Brendon a little bit of his mom, in the fond way she looks at him and in a certain comfortable tiredness in the way she walks. He's polite to her almost by instinct and she likes him as a result, so she gives him a lift home after he helps her close up ("I'm heading in that direction," she says, "My brother lives nearby,") and he's home a full forty minutes earlier than normal.
He's glad; catching the bus this late at night can always be a bit of a fraught prospect (fuck, he remembers when he wasn't allowed to, only a year ago) and he has a lot of homework, again. Detention two nights a week doesn't really help with the whole staying on top of schoolwork, thing, especially as he thinks Ryan would take immense pleasure in telling whoever's supervising almost immediately if he tried to do some in between filing.
When he gets home, though, he looks at the clock and thinks maybe, and instead of getting started on his practical report for Biology he pulls out his cell and calls Kara.
She answers with the same soft wariness she's been answering with for months: "Hey, Brendon. I'll call you back, okay?"
"Yeah," Brendon says. He hangs up and a minute later his phone rings again. "Hi."
"How you doing?" she says.
"Alright," Brendon says. "Kids asleep?"
"For now," she says. "Tommy's got the flu."
"Oh," Brendon says. "That sucks."
"Poor little boy," she sighs. "His nose is all clogged up, and he gets teary about it. Has to breathe with his mouth open."
"Will he be alright?" Brendon asks, a little tentatively. He's not the biggest fan of little kids, but it's his nephew, and he kind of misses being able to go and hang out with Kara and her husband – who was actually really cool before this whole thing went down – and the kids. They gave him an excuse to sing Disney obnoxiously loud, anyway. Not that he really needs an excuse.
"Of course," Kara says, laughing quietly. "We went and got some antibiotics, he'll be fine."
"If I, like," Brendon says, and then swallows hard. "If I had a Christmas present for him and you guys, or whatever, could I post it to you, or—"
"Brendon," Kara pleads, "Just come home. Don't be by yourself for Christmas. Mom and Dad, they'll forgive you if – you just need to apologize and go back to Church and it's the right thing, you know it is, Bren—"
"I don't believe anymore," Brendon says tiredly, sinking to the ground and resting his head against the wall. "Come on, I don't want to have this fight again. Please?"
"I miss you," she says. "We all miss you."
"I'm not the one refusing to see you guys," Brendon says.
"Don't," she says. She sounds exhausted and Brendon feels guilty – she's got a sick kid. He shouldn't be heaping all his problems on her.
"I know," he says. "Sorry. Anyway, I should go."
"You okay, Brendon?" she asks.
"I'm fine," Brendon says. "I'll talk to you later, Kara. Tell Tommy to feel better soon."
"Yeah," she says. "Goodnight. I love you."
"Love you," Brendon says, and hangs up. He stays on the floor for a little while longer, eyeing his schoolbag in the corner with distaste. "God, I'm tired," he tells the empty apartment.
The apartment, predictably, does not answer. Brendon pulls himself to his feet. "Yeah, I know," he says. "Homework."
Ryan's father is talking about the last meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Ryan makes humming noises into his cell and pretends to believe him even though there's a slight slur still lingering in his dad's words.
He thinks about sneaking into the house later that day, after detention when his dad is almost certain to be out, to take some of the empty bottles to the recycling bin. His father is usually too ashamed to do it.
Brendon walked down to buy a bagel after school, and since he miscalculated the distance to the deli, it took longer than he thought. He has the suspicion that it might be International Murphy's Law Day because while it doesn't rain often in Vegas, he gets caught in a downpour as he runs back to school. By the time he makes it to detention, he's ten minutes late and drenched.
Wentz looks up when he dashes in, settled at the huge desk in the main office with his feet on the table. He looks reproachful for a moment before something about Brendon's bedraggled state seems to amuse him.
"Sorry, sorry," Brendon manages. "Lost track of the time, sorry."
"All right," Wentz say, waving him towards the back room. "Just don't make a habit of it."
"Sure, no," Brendon says. Wentz is actually pretty cool, so it doesn't feel like sucking up – even though Brendon might need his goodwill for his finals. That's still a long way to go; no sense in worrying about it already.
Brendon closes the door to the record room behind himself. Ryan is crouched on the floor, a stack of records in front of him that he's apparently sorting through. His lips curl into a smirk. "Wow, look what the cat dragged in."
"Shut up, Ross," Brendon mutters. He makes himself turn away, into a different corner of the room.
It's silent for a moment, then Ryan starts again. "So, how come you're so late? Pop back home for afternoon tea with Mommy? Grace ran for longer than planned? Actually, does your family take turns saying it, or is it like a round robin, everyone doing a sentence or something?"
Brendon stands motionless, his shoulder curled in, and I love you echoes in his head. I love you, and, go back to church.
"I mean, there's a lot of you," Ryan continues. "So that would take a while, right?"
"Better than my mother running away because she couldn't stand the sight of me anymore," Brendon hisses. He doesn't really know all that much about Ryan's background, but he caught snippets of conversation here and there, enough to conclude that he lives alone with his father, and that they don't get along. "At least I have a family, not just a father who doesn't give a damn."
His chest aches, but he refuses to think about how much of a lie that is.
"Fuck you." Ryan scrambles to his feet, face drawn. "You know nothing about my father, so shut the fuck up."
"Touchy subject?" Brendon asks. He crosses his arms and stands his ground even as Ryan approaches, and Wentz is right next door, this isn't such a good idea, but God, Brendon's had a really bad day, and with Ryan, he never has to feel guilty afterwards.
Ryan's eyes flicker towards the closed door, then he reaches out and pinches the sensitive skin in the crook of Brendon's elbow. He presses down hard, enough to leave a mark, and Brendon takes a step back and stares at him, rather incredulously. "Did you just pinch me?" he asks. "What are you, a girl?"
Ryan raises his chin. "Consider this a symbolic gauntlet."
"No, seriously," Brendon says, "are you a girl?"
Ryan's smile is sharp. "How about we settle that later, in the parking lot? No Wentz nearby."
"Told you you're not my type," Brendon says.
"Of you?" Brendon snorts. "Hardly."
Ryan's smile twitches into a smirk. Brendon narrows his eyes at him and then, after a moment, nods.
They leave – not side by side, exactly, but it's something like that. Ryan glances over to find Brendon staring straight ahead, frowning, his clothes dry by now. Twilight embraces them once they make it outside, and it's still drizzling faintly, a fine curtain of mist to shield them from view.
Ryan shoves Brendon into the grass before Brendon can do the same to him. Even as he falls, Brendon hooks a leg around Ryan's calves, dragging him down with him. Ryan catches his weight with his hands, but he lands halfway on the pavement and can already feel the skin tearing. Then Brendon's fist connects with his shoulder, and he rolls around, kicking out blindly. Brendon groans out a curse, and all around them, the rain keeps falling.
Ryan isn't quite sure how he ends up on top of Brendon, pinning him down with his own weight, pressing both of Brendon's hands into the grass. All he knows is that his lip is bleeding again, and his left arm is a little numb with a well-placed punch Brendon landed on his elbow.
"Who's the girl now?" Ryan asks, squeezing down on Brendon's wrists for emphasis.
"Fuck you," Brendon grits out. He's staring up at Ryan as if he's calculating his next move. Ryan shifts his weight for better leverage.
It's not that Brendon freezes under him, or moans or anything like that. It's just that for a second, Brendon's eyes lose their focus, and Ryan can see how Brendon's throat moves when he swallows. Suddenly, inexplicably, Ryan wonders how Brendon's rain-wet skin would taste if he leaned down right now. The urge is gone in an instant.
Ryan grinds his hips down, more of an experiment, and yes, Brendon is half-hard under him. That little hypocrite. "Huh," Ryan says, voice low. "That turn you on, Urie? Being held down by another guy?"
Brendon's gaze narrows and he moves to roll them over when Ryan shifts a little, hips knocking together. Brendon seems to forget about his previous plan, swallowing once again.
Ryan grins and leans forward, almost close enough for their noses to brush. "Seriously, dude, what would your big guy up there say?"
Before he knows what's coming, Brendon's fist connects with his temple. It's a hard blow and it makes Ryan's vision go dark and fuzzy for a moment, his head dizzy and reeling, enough for Brendon to shove him viciously off and stand up, kicking Ryan hard in the ribs as he does so. By the time Ryan's got sense of his bearings, again, Brendon is walking away across the pavement, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, the sharp line of his back through his wet, cotton shirt radiating fury.
Ryan rubs his temples, where a headache is beginning to build, insistent and sore, and watches him go.
Brendon misses his bus and ends up walking home, furious and embarrassed, his skin feeling hot and prickly with discomfort and his stomach churning at the thought of having to face Ryan again on Monday, after only two days of reprieve. He's almost grateful to the rain for some sense of coolness about him, but after a while the cheap, wet material of his shirt starts to chafe against his skin and his shoes feel waterlogged from where he accidentally stepped in a puddle, little toe on his left foot sticking out of a hole in his sock and squeaking against the inside of the shoe.
Fucking – God. Brendon runs his hands through his hair impatiently and switches his satchel to the opposite shoulder and then back again; uncertain, quick movements. If it had been anyone else in the world it would have been better, easy to explain away as a natural reaction but now it's going to go into Ryan's book as yet another thing to use against him and Brendon would really, really appreciate the upper hand in just one aspect of his life for a while.
Such a dumb thing to happen, too, such a stupid little thing for his body to betray him on. Just, Brendon left the only sort of action he got when he left the Church, Anna in the choir who used to kiss him and sometimes would awkwardly grope at his dick through the denim of his jeans. Half of the whole leaving thing (though not the half he told his parents) had been due to him working out that no, actually, he wasn't interested in anything more with Anna in the slightest, that part of the reason he'd thought he liked her in the first place was her short, dark hair, her tiny breasts that disappeared in the big, loose t-shirts she wore. Anna wasn't exactly the most feminine of girls, and Brendon wasn't particularly torn up to have had to leave her (such as the leaving was; they never talked about going out or any of that shit, and Brendon got the feeling he was as much her experiment as she was his), but nevertheless it was something, someone touching him.
Now, Brendon's gotten more familiar with his hand than ever, but it's not like he gets a lot of physical contact with anyone else, either. He can't remember the last time someone gave him a hug, or even sat and leaned against him, and if Ryan fucking Ross is going to pin him against the ground on a frequent basis then Brendon's more surprised it hasn't happened sooner than this.
It's still embarrassing. Brendon gets home late and wet and exhausted and hops in the shower, despite the fact he should be getting on with his homework. He leans against the wall and thinks more furious, rude things about Ryan that end with his throat tight, mouth twisted with trying to keep back useless, angry tears. After a while, feeling stupid and ridiculously guilty, he jerks off. Just when he's getting close his wrists ache with the sudden, remembered contact of Ryan's long fingers wrapped around them, and Brendon tips his head back under the water and comes.
Ryan makes a quick stop at his empty house, just long enough to drop off his things and change into dry, comfortable clothes, before heading over to Jon's. For all that he's trying to block out the last two hours or so, his mind is still reeling with the unexpectedness of finding Brendon half-hard under him, aroused by their closeness. It doesn't mean anything, probably, a stupid physical reaction because they're teenage boys; the sight of wet pavement turns them on. It doesn't mean anything that Ryan, for a blink of an eye, thought about leaning closer rather than away.
It doesn't mean anything, but his whole body feels jittery with the memory.
Which is why he isn't thinking about it, right. Ryan determinedly kicks the bottom stair of Jon's front porch before he rings the bell.
Jon opens the door with a grin and his phone pressed to his ear, telling someone – presumably his girlfriend or whatever Cassie now is, and might even stay for a week or so – a quick goodbye. Then he thumbs the phone off and tilts his head to take in Ryan's face, grin slipping. For all that the lightning on the front porch is dim, Ryan caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror before he left his room, and yeah, there's already a bruise forming near his temple, dark and angry.
"Again?" Jon asks after a significant silence. He sounds resigned.
Ryan shrugs and shifts his gaze to his feet. "Got something for a headache?"
"Perfect," Ryan says. He glances behind Jon. "Spencer not here yet?"
"No." Jon shakes his head and opens the door wider, motioning for Ryan to follow him. Ryan does, kicking off his shoes once he's inside. Jon's mother is very fond of the new beige carpet in the living room. "He said he's running late because dinner lasted a little longer," Jon adds. "What about you, did you eat already? The parents are out for some theater thing or something, so we ate early. There's leftovers."
Now that Jon mentions it, Ryan actually is hungry. "Yeah," he says, and for the first time since he got up from the ground in the school parking lot, he feels somewhat at ease again.
"It's in the fridge," Jon says just as the bell rings again. "I'm gonna let Spencer in, you can help yourself, yeah?"
Ryan smiles, and it's hardly a stretch. "Sure."
Jon sets off for the front door, and Ryan can hear talking while he crosses over to the kitchen. He's spooning rice and carrots onto a plate when Spencer and Jon come ambling in. Spencer knocks their wrists together, then pauses to take in Ryan's state, just like Jon did earlier. "Survived, I see," he says dryly.
Ryan keeps his eyes on his plate. "Something like that," he mumbles, and he isn't thinking back on the sensation of a hard, warm body under his.
"That reminds me," Jon says. "Advil. And something to clean up that cut on your lip."
"Cut?" Ryan sticks out his tongue, and sure enough, one corner of his mouth tastes faintly metallic.
"So, who won this time?" Spencer asks as Jon leaves the kitchen. He sounds exasperated, but leans over to snatch a piece of carrot from Ryan's plate regardless. As long as Spencer steals food from Ryan, he isn't mad. It's like a rule between them, and it works both ways.
"You just ate," Ryan pointedly tells him.
"It was a carrot," Spencer says. "And you evaded my question, so I take it you lost. Seriously, how can you lose to Urie? That kid is, like, the size of a garden gnome."
"I didn't lose," Ryan says. At least he doesn't think he did. He's honestly not quite sure.
"Whether you lost or not," Jon says from the door, "he seems to have landed a good punch."
"I was distracted," Ryan says, then flushes red. He quickly nudges the fridge door shut, hoping that without its illumination, it won't be obvious. Of course, it only makes Jon switch on the lamp above the kitchen table.
"Ryan Ross," Spencer says slowly, leaning forward. "Are you blushing?"
"No," Ryan says. He bites the inside of his cheek and turns to Jon, holding out his hand. "Can I have some of that Advil now? And really, I'm in the mood for some classics. Shaun of the Dead. Or The Big Lebowski, maybe."
"All right," Jon says after a momentary pause. Ryan can feel Spencer's narrowed gaze resting on his face for just a second longer before Spencer apparently decides to lets it go as well.
Ryan isn't kidding himself he's heard the last of it.
On Saturday Brendon wakes up with a pounding head and a sore throat, and he barely manages to reach out for his cell to call work and tell them he won't be able to come in today. He feels sick about it – an eight hour shift, gone – but it's the nice manager again and she asks him, gently, if he'd like to work longer tomorrow, to make it up. Brendon thinks, I feel like shit, and says, "Yes."
He falls asleep again, has weird, brightly colored dreams with his mom's face looming big in front of him and Mr. Way telling him he's won a scholarship to Norway, and he stirs and wakes uncomfortably throughout the day. At lunchtime he drags himself out of bed to swallow a handful of Tylenols and by later that night he manages to eat some yoghurt, forcing it down his sore throat.
He wakes up for what feels like every hour that night coughing, but goes to work the next day. During his break he sits with his head down on the table in the staff room for twenty minutes, until even Audrey starts to look a bit concerned and asks if he wants to go home. He says no, ends up going back out the front, even though the dull drone of the smoothie machines makes his head ache even more.
On Monday morning, he wakes up to the sound of his alarm and stands up, trying to make it towards the shower, before he sways dangerously on his feet and thinks, fuck it. It's not like the school's going to call his parents if he doesn't show, anyway, and he crawls back into bed. Around four his body decides it's finally had enough sleep for him to function awake for a few hours, and he manages to catch up on some calculus before his brain wanders off again and he ends up watching Anastasia on his laptop. He's not really as overly invested in Disney as his family used to make him out to be, but whenever he was sick at home his mom would make him a bed on the couch and give him a choice between a bunch of children's movies, and it's kind of comforting, an old habit.
That night, Kara calls. Brendon manages to act vaguely normal for the first twenty-five seconds of the conversation, and then he breaks down coughing and Kara makes shocked, and then mindlessly soothing sounds down the line. "Oh, baby," she says. "Breathe deep, come on. It's okay."
When he can breathe again, he chokes out, "You infected me with your son's germs down the phone line."
"Maybe it's my superpower," she says, and he laughs weakly. "Brendon, you sound awful—"
"Thanks," he says. "I'm thinking I might audition for Broadway, you know. I'll give 'em the husky kind of appeal."
"Kara," he says, low, resigned. She sighs.
"Go see a doctor, at least," she tells him.
Brendon shifts uncomfortably, begins, "I really… can't."
"I'll call the family one, okay?" she says. "I'll sort something out." She sounds close to tears when she says, "Brendon, you know I can't – that Mom and Dad—"
"I know," he says tiredly, head falling back against his pillow. "I don't blame you." Kara doesn't say anything and Brendon can imagine her wide, anxious eyes and guilty expression, so he says, "You'll call Dr. Hayman?"
"First thing in the morning," she says. "I'll text you an appointment time, okay? He can just charge our account."
"Thanks," he mumbles.
"Sure thing, baby," she says. Brendon hates it when people use pet names around him, normally, but there's something so soft and normal about it when Kara does that he can't really find it in him to complain. "I'll tell him tomorrow after school, yeah? Are you going to school?"
"I have to," Brendon says. It's sort of integral to his plans that he graduates and gets into college. He hesitates and then says, "Only – I have detention until six-thirty, so—"
"Brendon," Kara says reprovingly, and if had any energy, he'd roll his eyes up to the ceiling. You'd think being kicked out of home ("Maybe," his dad had said gently, "Maybe some independence and time alone with God is what you need right now,") would stop people fussing about him getting detentions, but apparently not. "What for?"
"Uh, fighting," Brendon says.
"Not with – that Ross kid?" Kara asks. "Still? Really, haven't you two grown out of it yet?"
"Apparently not," Brendon says, and draws in a breath. "Look, Kara—"
"Yes," she says. "Have an early night, Brendon. Sleep well, okay?"
"Okay," he says.