Brendon/Ryan, Brendon/Audrey (Ryan/Keltie, Shane/Regan) >> NC17 >> 43,130 words
Warnings: explicit m/m & m/f sex, drug use, themes of suicide & character death
Summary: This is a world of changed plans, of sudden opportunities, of unexpected visions. For in this world, time flows not evenly but fitfully and, as consequence, people receive fitful glimpses of the future. …Who would fare better in this world of fitful time? Those who have seen the future and live only one life? Or those who have not seen the future and wait to live life? Or those who deny the future and live two lives? -- Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
The Prophetic Band-Fic AU. Or, alternatively, the one where Ryan sees more than anyone but still doesn't know what he's doing, Audrey's slightly out of her mind, & Brendon can't catch a break. Fatalism ensues.
Authors notes: The idea for this story comes from a chapter in Alan Lightman’s novel titled Einstein’s Dreams. In this novel, Albert Einstein writes journal entries documenting various dreams he has while he’s exploring the concept of the time-space continuum. Each chapter contains a different place, where time moves differently. An excerpt from the chapter I took my idea from is included in the summary.
Early encouragement and story development ideas were supplied by ginsatonic, gingerrstar, and carnilia. Also thanks to carnilia for the amazing beta. And as usual, this entire fiasco would have never been possible without patient hand-holding and no-bullshit concrit from buildyourwalls. I have such a short attention span when it comes to writing long pieces, and she managed to keep me invested in this 'verse long enough for me to get it finished.
Thanks to carnilia & buildyourwalls for my fanmixes & anna_luna for my fanart! Additional thank yous are in each of those posts.
There are three small lines of dialogue lifted from a few of my favorite movies here. They fit pretty seamlessly within the story, so extra special brownie points if you recognize any of them and let me know. Obviously, no infringement is intended.
Lastly, I'm sincerely honored to be a part of bandombigbang 2009. There's so much talent in this fandom, and it's great that all of us get to show it off in one place. Let's do it again next year. ♥
And so it came to pass that the fates, the Moirai, granted men the gift of foresight, a glimpse of what is to come, so each mortal might accept his path as absolute, whatever it may be.
It is everything and nothing like Brendon expected.
Awareness, sudden and bright, flutters through his veins, dances outward along his bones, teasing his nerve endings awake until they're vibrating with sensation. All of them. Warmth engulfs him as he lets out a breath and blinks slowly. All he can do is breathe, let it happen.
Spencer always tells Ryan to just— let it happen. So that’s what he does.
The air seems thicker, harder to take into his lungs, so he breathes deeper to compensate. From across the room, he sees Ryan's eyes go wide, perhaps in realization, and Brendon thinks bitterly, yes, yes you'd know, wouldn't you? Because this, it's like breathing to Ryan, familiar and automatic, and Brendon's only ever wanted his allotted one, just what he was meant to have and nothing more.
It’s time. It's happening now.
Then Ryan's lips are moving in slow motion, giving him directions or comfort or maybe neither of those things. Brendon squints at him, eyebrows drawn tight as his breathing slows. Focus, he can’t focus. Ryan's too far away, and Brendon can’t hear him. He blinks again and Ryan’s closer, his brown eyes suddenly sparkle, tiny irregular flecks of silver dot his irises in a way that Brendon’s never seen before. They fill Brendon’s vision, and he wants to touch.
“This is what happens.” It comes out in a breathless statement rather than a question.
Ryan nods, answering anyway. Brendon reaches out, needing to touch him, to connect, and Ryan lets him, mouths something else Brendon can’t hear, lips moving against Brendon’s fingertips. He’s taking up too much of Brendon’s vision, always too much, but somehow still too far away.
Everything fades out slowly, the brighter colors first, oranges and reds and yellows disappear, then the warmer purples and blues, then darkness. Black. Brendon breathes in, and bright white floods his vision on his inhale, flowing out from a single point of light.
There's a girl.
A girl with soft dark curls that fall past her shoulders, wisping against the cool breeze. She can't be more than five, Brendon thinks. She is barefoot, swinging her feet out over a wooden pier, surrounded on three sides by the bluest of oceans. The sun is rising, orange tinting the indigo horizon. Brendon looks down. His feet are bare too, and it’s then that he realizes that he, too, is standing on the pier. She laughs then, head still turned out toward the ocean. It’s not mocking laugh but content. Steady and comforting. She sings a soft tune, and Brendon can't hear the words, but he can hear the tone, the power pulsing behind her tiny voice. He concentrates as hard as he can, but it's not enough. He wants to hear her words more than anything.
He sits down beside her, and she doesn’t look over. She is holding a jar, ceramic and elaborately painted. A scene from a Greek tragedy, a hero and a maiden in flowing white robes, a child surrounded by light and war surrounding them. “Who are you?” Brendon asks, suddenly finding his voice, though it’s distorted, echoing oddly enough that he flinches.
Her lips don’t move, but a voice fills Brendon’s head anyway. “You will know me when it’s time.”
But, I sing, such a vision was not gifted in the beginning, nor the middle. This mortal knew of pain, of death and loss, of great joy long before he found his purpose though the gift of foresight. For a time, he relied on others’ fates to guide him to his own.
Spencer is waiting for Brendon after school. They have new material to work out, and Brendon’s kind of excited; it’s the first song he’s contributed to since he joined the band. As soon as Brendon pulls the passenger’s side door closed behind him Spencer says, "Ryan says you're singing lead now," like they’re continuing a conversation from earlier.
“Uh, what?” Brendon fumbles, not sure whether he heard correctly.
“The band, Brendon. You’re singing lead.”
Brendon laughs skeptically. "Yeah, right.” He busies himself with arranging his book bag in the tight space between his feet while Spencer puts his car into drive. “This is Ryan Ross we’re talking about, right?"
It’s not that Brendon even minds. It’s Ryan’s band, Ryan’s vision, Spencer’s beat. Ryan isn’t a terrible singer, and Brendon figures he’s just along for the ride and tries not to get worked up about being a part of this. He's not delusional enough to think he's on the inside of the Spencer and Ryan and Brent circle just yet.
Spencer huffs out a breath, like he does when Brendon isn’t as quick on the uptake as he thinks Brendon should be, and grips the steering wheel tighter. "No, Brendon. Ryan saw that you're meant to sing lead now," Spencer rephrases calmly.
Oh. Spencer’s talking about Ryan’s ability to really see. He’s almost afraid to ask about it. Is he even allowed to ask?
"When?" Brendon’s voice is barely above a whisper. He hasn’t been friends with them long enough to witness one of Ryan's visions. According to Ryan's count, he had been vision free for exactly 215 days, yesterday. Ryan keeps a tally on the inside of his planner— neat rows of grouped tick marks, bunched in fives. They weren’t labeled, but Brendon knows what they’re for without having to ask.
There’s only one thing they could be for.
"Earlier today," Spencer answers. "Showed up at my house, half-dazed, bleeding all over my front steps. My mom would have flipped her shit if she saw him like that." Spencer doesn’t sound all that concerned. It probably doesn’t have any reason to be because, from what Spencer’s told Brendon— the bleeding is always worse for Ryan. It’s common, usually the only physical side-effect of a vision, but they’re always worse for those with the ability to have more than one. It makes Brendon shudder just thinking about it.
"But he's alright?" Brendon tries not to sound overly concerned, but the thing is, he needs to know. It's stupid how much he needs to know that Ryan's okay.
"Uh yeah, I guess. Skipped all of his classes. He texted me around fifth period, said he still wanted to practice.” Spencer shrugs. “I'll kick his ass if he’s not asleep though. I told him he had to sleep until we got there."
“Okay,” Brendon agrees. There isn’t anything else he can do but say yes and roll with it. Brendon thinks about being center stage, the one everyone watches, and it makes his stomach flip, but he grins just a little, too.
Ryan isn’t asleep when they get to Spencer’s house; he’s sitting up in Spencer’s bed with his acoustic in his lap, head bent low, bed-hair in his face. Brendon stands in the doorway and pushes the door open cautiously.
“Hey, Spencer said it was okay if I like, came to check on you?” Brendon says uncertainly. Ryan looks up, face unreadable. He looks okay, same as he always does. Brendon isn’t sure why he thought Ryan would look different. “He said I should talk to you, but if you’re busy, I can—”
Ryan rolls his eyes but scoots over on the bed. He doesn’t tell Brendon he can sit down, but doesn’t say no when Brendon does it anyway. They sit with their backs to the headboard. Brendon looks down at his socks, wiggles his toes, and taps a rhythm against the swirl of blanket that smells of Spencer.
Brendon wants to ask Ryan if he’s okay, but before he can find the words, Ryan says, “It always feels like I’m cheating.”
“What?” Brendon asks, watching Ryan idly strum his guitar. His fingers itch to press against the steel, to correct Ryan’s hand position when his skinny fingers twist for D7.
“Working backward like this.” Ryan frowns down at his fingers, folds his wrist a bit more in self-correction. “Like, I know how the song goes now, or parts of it, because I heard it, how it sounds when we play it live, later. Knowing that, it feels a little like cheating.”
Brendon can’t help the way his heart beats faster. There will be a later. They’re going to make it together. It’s useful knowing that his life is going where it’s supposed to go, that things will fall into place, and maybe telling his family about being a part of this band won’t be that huge of a thing. If he’s still alive in Ryan’s future, then maybe they won’t see it as the world ending, like Brendon is predicting.
Maybe it is cheating, though. Maybe knowing that they’re going to make it gives them an advantage, whether it’s a smooth road to that point or not. Brendon knows it won’t be easy. He does know that much. Ryan could have seen something that’s well into the future, or it could happen next week.
It still makes Brendon feel special that Ryan trusts him enough to let him in on the parts of himself that he keeps from almost everyone. Ryan’s the only person that Brendon’s ever been close to who’s capable of having multiple visions— an Oracle. They don't tend to announce themselves, so you can't really know, but Brendon's sure he'll never meet another Oracle in his life. Brendon's starting to think he'll probably be content with having only Ryan. If he’s in for this kind of thing on a semi-regular basis, Ryan’s definitely enough for a lifetime.
“So I’m singing lead?” Brendon asks, cautiously.
Ryan nods, eyes still on his guitar.
“What’s it like?” Brendon blurts out.
Everyone has one vision. The vast majority of people only have one, but Brendon hasn’t, not yet. He feels like he’s always waiting for it, staring over the ledge but never able to jump, always looking over his shoulder, waiting for his cue. He wonders if Ryan will somehow be that one giving him the cue, or Spencer. Maybe it will be Spencer.
Spencer stares at him, straight-faced. Without inflection, he says, “It’s like feeling your insides being pulled out through your stomach, wrenched out from under your skin, and you can’t breathe because you feel like you’ll die if you move more than an inch.”
Brendon blinks, mouth falling open automatically.
Spencer rolls his eyes, and Brendon laughs it off, nervous enough that he’s sure Spencer knows he thought he was serious.
“Fine, nevermind. I don’t care, anyway,” Brendon says, but it’s a lie. He wants to know what it feels like to have it. Is it like watching a movie, where you see everything playing out, but you’re still looking in, still on the outside? Is it like a fucked up dream where you’re aware that you’re dreaming, where you can interact as yourself or even with yourself? Is it different for everyone?
“Brendon, hey,” Spencer puts his Xbox controller down, pushes his shoulder into Brendon’s. “Hey, it’ll happen when it happens. You can’t will it to come faster.”
Spencer had his vision at fourteen, earlier than most laity, the non-oracles. It wasn’t about the band, wasn’t about who he’d fall in love with, or how he’d become famous. His vision was about Ryan and his role in Ryan’s fate, protector and friend, entwined until the end. He never doubts his vision, always sticks to it.
“I know that. I’m not trying to.” He’s not, or, maybe he is. It’s just that sometimes Brendon feels one step behind, always the last to know.
He’s always waiting.
Pete finds Ryan. Or, that’s what Pete likes to tell everyone. Really, Brendon knows that Ryan sent those demos. Ryan showed Brendon the AIM conversation, the one where Pete said he had some time, that he wanted to come out and see them perform. He’s not complaining, it’s just.
Brendon watches them carefully. Pete is an Oracle, too, but that’s not some huge secret. Everyone knows the lyricist of Fall Out Boy has visions. The tricky part is whether Pete will know Ryan’s an Oracle, too. Brendon’s heard stories of Oracles being able to sense each other. He wonders if that will happen. If it’s true. He’s never been in the same space with two Oracles, but not many people can say they ever have, either.
“Whoa, man,” Pete says, eyes on Ryan once he appears behind Brendon in the driveway. Brendon pulls his bottom lip between his teeth, looks between the two of them curiously. He has no idea how this will play out.
Ryan softly says, “Hey, I’m Ryan,” and extends his hand uncertainly, eyes down. Pete’s eyes go wide.
“Yeah, I got that. Am I completely fucking nuts or do you feel it, too?” Pete says. “I saw this. This is supposed to happen.”
He takes Ryan’s hand and Ryan nods indistinctly, eyes wide.
“Feel what?” Brendon asks. He doesn’t feel anything, just the pound of his heart and the echo of his own voice.
“Dude, it’s like fucking electricity or something. I feel all tingly when I get near you.” He visibly shivers and Ryan looks a little overwhelmed until he drops Pete’s hand.
Pete smiles wide, all teeth. “You’re an Oracle,” he says, no question in his voice.
Brendon doesn’t like to dwell on the fact that Ryan being an Oracle probably had more to do with why they ended up with contracts than Brendon’s voice. Ryan tells him that it doesn’t matter, that Brendon’s voice is good, that Pete wouldn’t sign a shitty band. Their band is good, even if they were ill-prepared and missing two out of their four members.
What’s going to happen will happen, Ryan says. How it happens doesn’t matter as long as they get to where they’re going.
Ryan tips his head, gesturing at the man on the television screen, and says, "I hope you don't need me to tell you he's full of bullshit."
They're watching CNN, finally giving in after Spencer threatened them, told them they had to at least be aware of what was going on in the world. They needed a break from practicing anyway. Ryan was getting bitchy, and Brendon was getting defensive, and that combination never has lent itself well to productive rehearsals.
They’re squished on the smallish loveseat that smells of outdated fabrics and mothballs, drinking Coke— because Brendon’s allowed here— listening to the faint clacking of Spencer helping his grandmother put away dishes in the kitchen, chattering idly about how he's doing in school, skirting around the fact that he’s seriously considering correspondence courses after the holiday break.
"You can tell by looking at him?" Brendon asks, pointing at the screen with his aluminum can. There’s a man there, dressed in ridiculous robes that look comical enough to at least provide them with mild entertainment.
Ryan sighs heavily, like it's the most obvious question anyone's ever asked him before. It's not. Brendon's positive it's not. In fact, Brendon's asked more obvious questions himself. And yeah, Brendon doesn't think Ryan actually can do that.
Sure, Ryan might be able to tell if he were in the same room with that guy. Then he’d know if he was faking, lying about the coming of an Oracle more powerful than the rest, a descendant of the Oracle at Delphi, and the world going down in a fiery haze of destruction sometime in the much too vague, but nearish future, straight to the bowels of Tartarus, but he's pretty sure Ryan's ability to identify other Oracles doesn't work through the television. Brendon isn’t an expert on the rules, doesn’t know if a rule book even exists for that sort of thing, but there has to be something about proximity or scent or a sixth sense or whatever, right?
Ryan watches the television for a few more minutes, unblinking and annoyingly still. Brendon fidgets next to him, their shoulders brushing casually. He is kind of curious, but bites back the words because if he asks again, Ryan really won't tell him. He’ll look at Brendon like he’s an idiot for wanting to know, then not tell him on purpose, so Brendon just waits and hopes for the best.
"I can't, no, but Pete says he isn't," Ryan finally answers, a defiant lift at the end.
Oh, well if Pete says. Brendon rolls his eyes and lounges further back into the couch, knee bouncing already with the thrum of caffeine. Ryan has been starting a lot of sentences with Pete says as of late. Yes, Pete is taking a leap in signing them to his shiny new label, and yes, Ryan and Pete share more than one thing in common, starting with the whole seeing multiple visions thing and ending with writing, but honestly, Brendon’s already getting a little tired of Ryan’s hero worship with the dude. "Because Pete Wentz is actually a God, I remember now."
Ryan flicks Brendon's neck and Brendon shoves his arm after bending away. Ryan says, "The world isn't ending, fucktard."
“Good.” Of course, Ryan doesn’t actually know that, but he likes to play up how much he knows sometimes, or leave his words with ambiguous holes just so people think he knows what the fuck he’s talking about, when in reality Brendon suspects he knows about as much about the bigger picture as everyone else does, multiple visions aside. Brendon doesn’t call bullshit, though.
Brendon shoves his knee into Ryan’s half-distractedly, then leaves it there, pressed close, just to see how Ryan will react. Just to see.
“Can’t say I speak for you, but I’m pretty fond of this world.” Brendon slumps further down into the cushion, so his thigh is pressed all along Ryan’s. Ryan fiddles with his hat, fingers curling along the brim until it’s properly placed— however arbitrary that is.
Brendon feels hot all along the left side of his body, tries to catch himself from jumping when Ryan speaks again. "That man. He's lying and it'll come back to him eventually. You've seen it happen before. People pretending to see things that they don’t. But even if he was telling the truth, worrying about what's meant to happen won't change anything."
"Yeah," Brendon whispers, eyes on the inch of space between Ryan’s hand and Brendon’s thigh. “I guess we’ll see.”
Brendon moves out.
His parents don’t take the news of Ryan’s plans and Pete Wentz’s offer well at all.
Brendon tells them Ryan had a vision about all of it, but it doesn’t matter. They think he’s being hasty, that recording a record can wait a few years—if, in fact, that is what he’s supposed to do. He has time to dabble in non-essentials with a few friends he barely knows after he’s properly settled, after his mission, after he’s married, they say.
They believe Brendon’s own vision carries the most weight in his destiny. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t had it yet. Only his vision will hold his true path, they reason. The rest is inconsequential.
Brendon takes his stuff, mostly clothing thrown into garbage bags, and moves out while they think he’s at morning seminary.
He gets a job making smoothies for seven bucks an hour and goes between sleeping over at Spencer’s house and, well, living at Ryan’s. Spencer’s mom doesn’t know Brendon moved out and Ryan’s dad doesn’t care, isn’t around enough to know the difference between sleeping over a few nights a week, and staying for days on end. Brendon doesn’t bring a lot of stuff with him and keeps most of what he does have in a few boxes at the edge of Ryan’s closet. They’re careful.
He thinks about renting an apartment. One Saturday, he spends hours circling potential places in the newspaper and doing research online. There’s not much he can afford, and besides, he isn’t sure if having a fake ID will be enough to get him a lease anyway, so he gives up after a week.
Brendon pretty much hates it, but it’s only a couple of months. This is temporary. They’ll be recording on the east coast in a couple of months. Once graduation happens, Brendon will be okay. He feels like he’s letting his parents down already, so graduating high school is the least he can do to make up for the rest. Maybe they’ll see that he’s trying, that this band means everything to him.
He’s following Ryan’s visions. Between school and work, in those minutes where he’s so exhausted he could sleep standing up, Brendon does the best he can to remember that this is what’s supposed to happen.
Ryan says this is what’s supposed to happen.
They perform at local clubs and parties as often as they can manage. Being on stage is the only time Brendon feels like himself, the only time he can forget about the things he’s given up, the things he has to do tomorrow, the things he’s following blindly. It’s easy to get lost in the lights and the crowd and the intensity of Ryan’s eyes when Brendon sings his words to him. It’s so easy, so that’s what he does.
He’ll be okay. He’s doing the right thing, so it’ll be okay.
Brendon throws a plastic bag on the kitchen table, across the keyboard of Ryan’s computer. That way, Ryan can’t ignore it.
“Where did you get that?” Ryan says. He’s using his bored tone, but he’s still eyeing it with suspicion. Brendon’s pretty sure Ryan knows what weed looks like, so it’s not the: what is that? kind of suspicion. No, it sounds more like the: what do you expect me to do with that? kind of suspicion. Great. Figures.
Brendon shrugs his book bag off and says, “This kid at the Hut knows someone. I don’t think he’s ever sold the shit before. If it’s actually the type he says it is, then I paid way less for it than it was worth.” Brendon shrugs, trailing down the hallway so he can toe his shoes off and throw his stuff in Ryan’s bedroom.
There are a couple of ways he can play this, so he weights his options carefully. Ryan says he’s straight edge around Spencer. Though, Brendon isn’t sure what he is when Spencer isn’t around. He suspects it’s less than straight. Ryan will get skittish and defensive if Brendon makes a big deal out of knowing more about smoking than he does. He knows that part for sure.
Whatever, though. If he doesn’t want to, then it’s not like Brendon will make him. He’ll get high by himself, and Ryan can sit in the corner, roll his eyes, and mutter about Brendon’s stupidity if he wants to. If he’s stoned enough, Brendon won’t care. It’s Friday and he doesn’t have a shift until one tomorrow. Ryan’s dad won’t be back until Sunday. Brendon’s celebrating the lack of collapsing after a hellish week. He deserves this.
In passing, he lays his glass pipe on the table beside the bag, in front of Ryan, and goes to the kitchen. If he leaves it there, lets Ryan contemplate the decision a little longer, maybe ease him into the idea, it just might work.
“Your dad has a lighter somewhere, yeah?” he calls from the other room, opening random drawers.
Ryan starts, “I think—”
Brendon opens the drawer that has all of the odds and ends, pencils and pizza menus and notepads. There’s a pink lighter and a black lighter in the middle of the mess. They’re the cheap plastic kind that comes in packs of four or five at the gas station. Brendon takes the pink one. “It’s cool. I found one.”
“I didn’t know you smoked,” Ryan says once Brendon sits down at the table, in the chair closest to Ryan. He contemplates taking it outside, smoking on the porch, but it’d be kind of obvious, and Ryan’s neighbors are already suspicious of Brendon always coming and going.
He stands to flip the switch on the fan in the living room, goes to open two of the windows.
“Dude. I told you I’ve—”
“No. You said you smoked before. Not that you still do it.”
“Okay, fine. Yes. I haven’t in a while. Like, three months. Not since my parents did the whole ‘we’re so disappointed in you’ routine.” Brendon sits again, before pinching a bit of the weed from the bag and pressing it into the bowl, quick and efficient. Ryan watches him do it, but Brendon can’t read his expression. “Don’t really have to worry about that anymore. I’m kind of at the point where I’m not going to redeem myself with them no matter what I do. So, yeah.”
“So you’d rather be high while you disappoint them?”
Ryan can just fuck off if that’s how he’s going to be.
“Listen,” Brendon says scornfully. “I’m not forcing you. Either take part in this much needed pity party or get the fuck out. I don’t care either way.” It’s a lie. Brendon would rather not do it by himself, but he thinks he might be playing this right. If he gives Ryan the option, maybe disguises the choice as a challenge, then it might just work.
“I live here, asshole. You get out,” Ryan says stubbornly.
Brendon ignores him, lights the pipe and takes a long drag. He holds the heady smoke in his lungs as long as he can, then blows it out slowly, eyes on Ryan the whole time. Ryan’s paying attention, maybe taking notes in that over-analyzing head of his. Good.
“Or option three is to sit there, whine like a bitch, and still get an easy contact high,” Brendon smiles. “Option three solves all of our problems, don’t you think?”
“You’re such a dick,” Ryan murmurs. It’s an automatic response, though. He tucks his hair behind his ear, then reaches out to rub the edge of the plastic bag between his fingers, says, “I’ve never—”
“Yeah, I figured.” Brendon decides that’s as much an invitation, a green light, as he’s ever going to get, so he scoots closer. He lights the pipe, pulls the smoke down the shaft, then places his thumb over the hole. “Here.” He holds it up to Ryan, smoke still trapped behind his thumb. Ryan looks at him uncertainly.
“Deep breath, down to your lungs,” Brendon directs.
“I don’t need—” Ryan starts to reach for the pipe, but Brendon pulls it back. He’s not going to let Ryan fuck up a good supply, so they’ll do it this way.
“Just shut up and do it, okay?”
Ryan gives him a look and Brendon expects another round of sarcasm, but Ryan just focuses his attention back on the pipe with a small sigh. Brendon holds the pipe while Ryan puts his lips to the end, sucks in the smoke. He places a steadying hand around Brendon’s. “Suck harder,” Brendon grins.
Ryan steps on Brendon’s toe in place of calling him a dick again.
Brendon laughs, kicks Ryan’s ankle, watching Ryan take a deeper breath. “Hold it there,” Brendon instructs, watching closely.
After a few seconds, Ryan sputters and coughs. The smoke comes billowing out in little grey puffs. Brendon’s close enough to breathe some of it in, though he doesn’t want to freak Ryan out already, so he just smiles and sits back in his chair.
“Good?” he asks, flicking the end of the lighter twice before bringing the pipe back up to his own mouth, lighting the bowl once more.
Ryan frowns uncertainly. “I don’t know yet.”
Brendon chuckles lightly. “Okay,” he says, blowing out more smoke. “But, when you do know, please share. Should be an enlightening experience for all.”
After a few more hits, Brendon’s feeling it. The kid wasn’t fucking with him. It’s a good supply. He ends up on the couch, feet on the coffee table, the remote in his hand. He’s flipping through the channels, slow and aimless. Nothing looks all that appealing. Ryan is sitting next to him, still and quiet. Brendon’s lungs feel heavy, or maybe the air feels too thin. There doesn’t seem to be enough of it, so Brendon takes slow deep breaths and drifts. He sits perfectly still and lets the stress, the world, fall away.
Just fall away.
It’s always this weird disconnected sort of feeling, where he’s aware, knows his body exists and the TV is there, scratchy carpet under his feet, Ryan next to him, but he’s looking in from somewhere else, somewhere behind or above or outside. Over there. He isn’t sure. It’s familiar though. So wonderfully familiar.
Ryan laughs softly, and it’s sharper than the rest, lower than the chirpy sounds of Sponge Bob dancing around, catching jellyfish on the screen. Brendon zeros in on it, the sound of Ryan’s voice, his even breathing.
“You good?” he asks, hand maybe half against Ryan’s thigh, half against the couch. He probably shouldn’t have done that, but his hand is warm now, content, and he doesn’t think he’s going to come up with the energy to move it, not anytime soon, so he doesn’t.
“Yeah. I think so,” Ryan says lazily, exhaling. He only took three hits, but it was more than enough.
Brendon looks over at him, blinks once, then focuses on the shadows. The glow from the television paints Ryan’s lips in soft luminescent flickers of grey and blue. Grey and blue. Then, blue and grey. “If I,” Brendon starts. He presses his fingertips into Ryan’s thigh. Ryan doesn’t move. “Hypothetically,” He takes his time with the word, lets it roll oddly from his mouth. It feels sticky against his tongue. “If I said I wanted to kiss you right now, would you let me? Or… would you punch me in the face?”
After a while, Ryan says, “I’d think about it, yeah.”
He isn’t sure which question Ryan’s answering, but Brendon just turns back to the television, slowly takes a deep breath. “Cool,” he says.
The book bag hits the wall and Brendon is slightly disappointed when it doesn’t make a dent in the plain white paint. He’s more disappointed that he misses hitting Ryan in the face with it.
Ryan doesn’t react at all, turns the page of his novel with a flick of his wrist and frowns at the pages, just as he normally would.
“I’m calling my mother,” Brendon huffs, making a show of slamming the front door behind him, then hurling his Smoothie Hut visor at the same wall. There’s still no reaction.
“I’m calling my mother and telling her that I quit the fucking band and that I want to move back into the house. I’m done, Ryan, and you can’t stop me from doing it.”
Brendon is going to fail. He’s going to fail his senior year of high school. He’s exhausted and hungry and sick of the smell of bananas and strawberries. He never wants to see another blender in his entire life.
Ryan looks up at him then, but his mouth is still a straight line. “I don’t have to stop you, Brendon.”
His tone makes Brendon’s whole body react, the anger boiling under his skin. “No. Fuck you. Just because you saw it doesn’t mean. I’m not bound by your stupid visions. I can do exactly what I want to do,” Brendon yells.
Brendon does call. He calls three times and gets the voicemail each time. It’s Sunday. Brendon forgot that it’s Sunday. He hangs up the phone without leaving a message.
He takes out his acoustic, lays on his back, tan shag carpeting under him, and plays while staring up at the ceiling of Ryan’s bedroom. The music is his centering point and always has been. This is what’s important. Music. The band.
He plays until his hand cramps and his fingertips burn with the threat of new calluses. It’s the best feeling in the world.
An hour, or two or three, goes by before Ryan appears in the doorway. “Don’t be such a diva,” he says, kicking Brendon’s shoulder lightly when he passes.
Brendon groans, mumbles, “Oh, whatever. Just because I lost that stupid bet and have to sing that stupid line doesn’t mean you get to use it against me every single fucking time.” Brendon wants to throw his, well, not his guitar because that would be tragic, but he wants to throw other things, heavier things, at Ryan.
Instead, he abandons his guitar, crawls over to the bed on his hands and knees, and rests his forehead on the mattress. “I’m working thirty hours a week, failing English and writing shitty music for an equally shitty record, all at the same time. My parents hate me because I’m a disappointment to the entire LDS community and that’s just for the stuff they do know about. Oh, and I may be in the middle of a sexual identity crisis too, but I’m too fucking exhausted to really open that little Pandora’s Box right now. You know, I think I have a right to be a little dramatic.”
“No one has a right to be that dramatic, Brendon. Suck it up,” Ryan says, pulling the covers up almost over his head. He always sleeps with all of the covers on, even when it’s hot as fuck outside. Brendon doesn’t understand how someone can be that cold all the time, especially when thinking too hard makes Brendon sweat all over.
Brendon climbs into bed with Ryan, makes a show of kicking all of the covers over to his side of the bed and pulls at the second pillow under Ryan’s head until it comes loose.
“Your bed is in the closet, you know,” is Ryan’s muffled reply.
Brendon’s bed is the old camping air mattress Ryan found in the attic. It isn’t very comfortable. “You sleep on it. Sharing your bed is payment for the weed.”
Ryan doesn’t say anything else so Brendon considers it a victory.
Brendon graduates on a Thursday morning. The weather is miserable, rain showers pummel the covered awning in uneven intervals, and the grass, where the graduates are all sitting, is a muddy pit by the time he walks across the stage.
It feels like a relief rather than an accomplishment.
His parents show up to tell him they’re proud of him, and they make a good show of it for the other parents.
He tells them he’s still leaving tomorrow for Maryland.
Brendon leaves in Ryan’s dad’s Buick, balls his cap and gown up and throws it in the trunk before he gets in on the passenger’s side. Ryan doesn’t drive. Not usually. There’s no law that Oracles can’t drive because there are so few of them that are public about who they are, but Ryan knows the consequences, so he doesn’t make a habit of driving. He makes an exception today, and Brendon doesn’t ask him about it.
Ryan takes them to Carl’s Jr. and they eat double chili cheeseburgers in the parking lot and watch the rain slide down the windshield in silence.
Ryan stares at his burger, frowning for a long minute while Brendon chews noisily.
Brendon breaks the silence, “If you’re not going to eat that, man.”
Ryan blinks, startled out of whatever he was thinking about, then exhales heavily. “This part still gets me every time.”
“The part where we get all emo in the rain and I steal your food?” Brendon reaches for Ryan’s burger, but Ryan pulls it out of reach.
“No. The part where the things I see,” he makes a vague gesture with his hand, the one holding his food, “happen.”
“Yeah, what else happens? Tell me, oh wise one, does this fantastic day get any better?” Brendon asks sarcastically.
“You’re going to try kissing me,” Ryan says evenly, eyes following the sliding raindrops on the windshield.
“Oh,” Brendon mumbles, air rushing out of his lungs. He swallows the bite of food in his mouth before continuing. “Okay. And, uh. How does that work out for me?”
Ryan looks over at him, contemplation in his eyes. “I don’t know that part yet.”
Brendon does kiss Ryan then, and Ryan doesn’t tell him to stop.
Brendon plops down next to Ryan at the piano bench in one of the practice rooms surrounding the recording booth, and hooks his ankle back behind Ryan’s. Ryan fucks up a chord and Brendon chuckles, leans over Ryan and plays around him.
“You can’t play that shit with only three fingers. It’s like typing on a keyboard; you can only be so efficient when you’re doing it incorrectly. Let me show you, Ross.”
“I think we might have to wait,” Ryan says, frowning down at his fingers. Brent and Spencer will be gone a little longer. They have time to work some things out.
“But this will work. Listen,” Brendon insists.
Ryan pulls his bottom lip between his teeth and listens.
Brendon doesn’t remember how he got here.
No, that’s a lie. He remembers how he got here. Pressed against the wall, halfway between the bedroom they share and the small living room, TV still blaring, halfway between Ryan and said wall, halfway between kissing and coming. He remembers realizing how close they were sitting, how exhausted he was after an intense day of vocal tracking. He remembers following Ryan here, but doesn’t remember how they got to this point. He doesn’t remember when he decided that this was what he wanted, and certainly doesn’t remember when he figured out that Ryan wanted this, too.
He feels reckless and free. He just wants to touch, to know that everything will fall into place. He thinks Ryan can give him that. Maybe if he gets closer, Ryan can give him all of the things he can’t find himself.
“Wait,” Ryan says, breathlessly. He grabs Brendon’s wrist, the same one that’s curled around Ryan’s shirt, pulling it up.
“What?” Brendon whispers, teeth nipping at Ryan’s bottom lip, lightly licking over the swollen skin. He’s sure Ryan wants this. He hasn’t said no yet. He hasn’t.
“I know now. This isn’t right. We’re skipping— This isn’t supposed to—” Brendon cuts him off with a deep swipe of his tongue, sealing their mouths together so he doesn’t have to hear about what’s supposed to happen and what isn’t. Ryan makes this surprised but contented noise when Brendon’s hips shift against his.
“I don’t care,” Brendon says. “I don’t care, Ryan. I don’t give a shit about what’s supposed to happen. What you’ve seen and haven’t seen. This is happening. Right fucking now. This.”
“Brendon, you can’t just— Everything happens in order. We can’t.” Brendon tries cutting him off again with a kiss, but Ryan moves his head to the side, breathes against the side of his neck instead. Brendon closes his eyes tightly, digs his fingers into Ryan’s shoulder hard enough to keep him there a little longer, hard enough to leave bruises.
“I don’t care,” he whispers, a little more uncertain.
“I know,” Ryan says. “But, you have to.” He steps away, and Brendon doesn’t follow.
Brendon pretends to study the score on his keyboard, but really, he’s watching Ryan behind his guitar, head bent low, legs folded under him as he works out some complicated progression that’s never going to work; not if they want to play this fucking song live. Brendon wants to tell him it isn’t going to work, that they need to stick to things they can actually play, but he just watches instead.
Spencer’s arguing with the mixer in the sound both. Brent is— somewhere. It’s just him and Ryan in the recording room. Just the two of them.
He’s wearing Brendon’s shirt, a dark blue short-sleeved shirt that is slightly too large for him. He doesn’t know if Ryan realizes it’s his or not. The days have started to blur together, so they only change when they realize whatever they’re wearing is dirty. Spencer did some laundry last week, but the clean clothes are still in an unsorted pile on their floor. Brendon doesn’t mind. He’s fairly certain he’s wearing a pair of Ryan’s socks right now, so he doesn’t mind.
And then it hits him in the chest, forces the air from his lungs.
“Do you even know?” he whispers, so soft. No one hears him, not even Ryan, not over the chords he’s playing, not with the silencing headphones on his ears. “I’d follow you anywhere,” he continues. It’s always been there, buried in the curve of his hand around the microphone, the push of the steel against his fingertips, but saying it out loud makes the words twist in his gut, makes it real. Tangible and permanent.
Brendon doesn’t know how much Ryan can see, but maybe, probably, he already knows this part, so it’s less of a revelation than it feels.
Ryan lets out a frustrated sigh. He pushes his hair out of his eyes, frowning down at his fingers, like staring them down will make it work. It won’t. Brendon picks up a pencil, darkens the penciled in notes on the staff, and tries to concentrate on the music and the words instead of how the rest feels like tight pressure against his chest.
The low hum of voices, the clank of metal and whirl of machines surrounds them, and Brendon can taste the sticky sweet vanilla and bitter coffee beans on the back of his tongue. It’s not suffocating, just distractingly numbing. They’re in line at Starbuck’s, getting coffee two blocks from the recording studio, fuel for the last day of vocal tracking. Brendon decides he has to know.
Ryan’s been distant since that night in the hallway. Brendon has to know when.
He reaches for the cuff of Ryan’s jacket, presses his index finger to his pulse, and whispers, “Did you see it? When we’ll…?” He hopes he sounds calm. He wants to sound calm.
Ryan nods, eyes still carefully trained forward, tracking people in front of them in line. It’s a relief that he knows what Brendon means.
Ryan waits a tense minute before responding. “But,” he sighs. “Right now, whatever this is between us, we have to let it go. Other things have to happen first, before any of this.”
“You didn’t tell me to stop,” Brendon reasons. He can feel the tendons contract under the gentle pressure of his fingertips when Ryan flexes his hand. Once. Twice. If he knew it wasn’t going to happen, he should have said no a long time ago.
“I didn’t know before. Then, I thought I could. Brendon, it just isn’t time yet.”
Brendon lets his hand drop. He wants to press on, but he can hear the strain in Ryan’s voice, feel it in his wrist, so he lets it go. The baristas move quickly behind the counter, communicating with each other. The sidewalk outside is filled with early morning college students, men in business suits, joggers. People rush on, living their lives, fighting against their own paths or accepting them.
“When did time stop making sense?” Brendon whispers. It feels rhetorical, though he maybe hopes Ryan gives him an answer anyway. It doesn’t matter that it’s not something Ryan can answer. There’s comfort in small lies, especially ones he wants to believe.
Ryan looks at him then, brows drawn tight in concentration. “I think—” Then he smiles, bright and genuine, ducking his head to hide it from everyone else. “I think, for me, maybe it happened when you decided trading weed for sleeping in my bed made us even.”
Brendon grins, can’t help but laugh a little.
He closes his eyes, breathes in the coffee and the vanilla. Standing here feels like the start of something new. The record will be finished soon. They’re going on the road in a few weeks. Finally, a real tour. They’re doing this. Just as Ryan said they would. The things that matter are falling into place, and the rest has to wait. Brendon trusts Ryan with everything that he has, so he can wait.
“This is all really happening, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Ryan whispers, and Brendon can feel it, Ryan’s tone and volume and inflection, weave together under his skin until it centers him again.
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