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When Brendon released his hands from curling tightly in his own hair, the locks sprouted up between his fingers, sticking out in every direction haphazardly when he moved his hands to instead cradle his own jaw. His elbows were planted firmly on his knees, and he was hunched over in the chair, staring at his guitar. He had been playing- showing Ryan a new series of chords he thought had potential- but evidently his dear loving husband, the love of his life, did not agree. Or at least- didn’t think it was right for their ‘sound’. He looked up, jerking his head back in a singular motion, and with it, his hair was swept backwards, still messy and visually representative of his stress. ”What sound, babe? Are we fuckin’ rippin’ off the Beatles again? As much as I’m a McCartney fan, I think it’d kinda be overkill.” Brendon reached out to pick up his abandoned guitar and nestled it in his lap, shifting in the chair, resting his back against the rest and letting his fingers drift across the strings- it was in tune already, but out of frustration, twisted at the machine heads anyway, acting entirely absorbed by the instrument when in fact he just wanted to talk this out with Ryan, properly.

Ryan was sat across from him in their at-home studio- he was lounging on a couch instead of sat upright on a chair, but was holding his own guitar anyway, holding it by the neck. Since he wasn’t playing, Brendon had picked up his own to break the brief moment of silence, almost physically needing the music to tide them over this weird area of stress. All the time they’d known eachother they’d had musical differences, differences in taste and direction, but compromise was easy because they all just wanted records finished and out there, anticipating success. Now, though, four albums in, the distance in taste opened up like a chasm, compromise they were usually able to reach swallowed up by the rut they were stuck in as two people with very different styles and skill sets. It was almost funny how goddamn perfect they were for eachother considering how different they were as musicians, when music was such a huge part of their lives. The last album had been successful but very much Brendon-oriented, with a lot of support from Spencer. Ryan and Jon contributed, sure, but with less enthusiasm. It was clear they were disillusioned from the pop-y route they had taken and Brendon tried his hardest not to get irritated by this.

“I just- We need to evolve as a band, y’know? Not go backwards. Not that I don’t love our old shit, but come on, Ry. For me?” That might’ve been unwise to say- as mentioned, the latest album had been practically ‘for Brendon’, entertaining his new idea for their band’s direction. And Ryan was passionate about music, he wouldn’t put his best effort into something he didn’t sort of- connect to. There was nothing Brendon could do about that and he felt a little bad about it- but not bad enough that he’d let up more than he wanted to, properly take criticism. It was an issue, but a work issue. Because this was their job. A passion, but still a job- they were able to separate it from their own relationship, finding it second nature to write their own songs for eachother, collaborate on personal projects not meant for the world to hear, sit for hours messing around with chord progressions and coming up with lyrics and tunes that they both loved.

Coming up with a new album was hard, though, and stressful, and it was inevitable that the stress would kind of creep up between them and resonate, even when they weren’t even discussing music. It was little things like choosing what song to play on the speakers in their home, or in the car; the content of little notes they left eachother, like maybe one wasn’t as ‘loving’ as usual, because they were really that childish sometimes, what to have more lunch or where to go for dinner. Nothing disastrous; normal strain. But it was preventable- that’s what annoyed Brendon. With work and life both experienced together, they had no solace- not in the sense that they got sick of eachother, just that it was hard to know where to channel this frustrated energy. It presented itself especially now, while they were trying to be productive and get work done so they could send at least something to their bandmates and then their label.

There was a pause as Brendon strummed his guitar, humming the tune he was creating. He then rested his hand against the body and it made a hollow sound from the accidental force he used bringing it down against the wood. “Like- what it is about it that you don’t like? And my lyrics, what’s wrong with those? I think they’re cool!” There was no aggression in his voice, only protest, like a scolded child. The reason he was so defensive was perhaps because he looked up to Ryan so much as a musician, even at their level of intimacy he was never used to his talent and his intelligence and Brendon loved him so much but felt he couldn’t match up, still a sense of idolisation and adoration remaining from the days that Brendon was just a strong fan of a band just at the horizon of their dawning popularity. It was ridiculous. They were married, in love, for God’s sake. Brendon just valued his input above all else and unfortunately this was at war with his desire to be independent and take the route he thought was the only viable one. “I love you,” He said lamely, looking up and smiling at him, genuine despite its relative weakness, considering Brendon’s usual smiles.
As much as Ryan’s explosive response to what could be apparently seen as Brendon’s marital infidelity, given the strength of Ryan’s reaction, had died down, Brendon was not buying this new act. It seemed to be an almost resignation to his ridiculous behaviour- but he had stepped over a mark, taken entitlement that Brendon already suspected to a whole new level, like they were exclusive, or committed, or anything beyond two people who sort of barely tolerated eachother who somehow also maintained a sexual relationship on the side. That was all they were, after all, and Brendon apparently hadn’t made that clear until just now; he didn’t think the clarification necessary, partly because there was nothing romantic or dedicated about their physical interactions, partly because he was so sure that Ryan disliked him as a person that he’d never want anything more from him. When Brendon looked back at it, though, it wasn’t even Ryan’s fault. After their night in Brendon’s hotel room, the morning had been another world, like they were two different people, a dynamic with potential. Brendon had been too defensive and too prideful to open his arms out to that, and on that night, he had kicked back into gear, aggravating Ryan on purpose, telling himself that nothing that the two of them had said in the morning was true.

In reality, it wasn’t the madness of two after a spontaneous night together. It was the culmination of feelings neither of them had addressed, neither aloud to eachother or within themselves. Brendon was in complete denial about how much he just wanted Ryan to like him. This was why, when he started avoiding him in a sort of defensive mechanism, he’d felt yearning, an emptiness, loneliness but in a very specific way, lonely for Ryan only. This stayed, naturally, buried deep within his mind, in the part of his brain that whatever sexual encounter they had could not truly unlock. But that was how they communicated- Brendon felt less vulnerable with Ryan while they were being physically intimate than during the rare occasions that they had some sort of brief, meaningful conversation. When the initial spark of aggression or hatred or frustration had melted away, it didn’t go unnoticed. Brendon began to get scared when the initial excitement and pent-up energy of being with Ryan faded away, and passion and anticipation still lingered, the desire to be close to him when the novelty of fucking your arch-enemy was gone.

It was absolutely terrifying, so Brendon tried to move on- to someone different. Not as a rebound, he said in his head, they weren’t exes, he wasn’t even properly breaking whatever they had ‘off’. Ian was kind and funny and handsome, not that Ryan was cruel anymore. Brendon knew cruel- any confrontation they had now lacked spirit, lacked the iciness that he knew Ryan could possess. When he wanted to be, he was fucking ruthless, cold, vindictive, knew just what buttons to press. No longer, though- and it made it even more difficult for Brendon to deal with, because the anger had faded away from him, too. Regardless, Ian- they’d known eachother for a while, only really passing over into non-platonic territory recently, since which Brendon had introduced him to the rest of the band and Ryan had barely lifted his head. Maybe he was just that arrogant. He didn’t look so high and mighty any more- even though Brendon was the one sat down on the lounge sofa, head down, physically vulnerable, Ryan’s energy was of someone exposed, uncomfortable with their previous behaviour. Brendon felt no advantage, though.

They think I do- made no fucking sense; if everyone thought it, if thats the energy that Ryan gave in his regard, it might as well be fucking true. Brendon wasn’t interested in hypotheticals or ‘in theory’s. Sounding soft, though, almost small, Ryan’s voice had a certain level of authenticity to it that was unnerving. Brendon looked at him, held his gaze for a few beats, his eyebrows raised slightly with tension, and for a moment he was almost convinced to be a little sympathetic, audibly address that the mess they had made of this was a mutual effort- but the reason in him faded, defiant of his apology because there was so much he’d done that ‘I’m sorry’ didn’t really cover it adequately. I’m- Brendon didn’t look away as Ryan seemed to fumble with his hands, cover his face briefly. Both. Okay? Both. That frustration... Textbook Ryan, he thought, swallowing, looking down at his hands, again sort of overcome by his internal struggle between defiance and desire for approval, for affection, from this ridiculous man who was supposed to be good with words. On paper, anyway. It had never really transferred into real life.

Sort of completely sick of feeling so vulnerable and unfulfilled by Ryan’s half-assed confessions, Brendon pressed his fingertips hard into his eyes, felt the sting of tears ready to betray his already weak display of indifference, feeling like a fucking idiot. He made a very unconvincing comment about inviting Ian back over- he didn’t want that, he just felt like utter shit. He dragged his hands down his face, over his cheekbones until he held onto his own jaw, teeth clenched, shoulders tight, back stiff, all stress and tension. I... I wish you wouldn’t, Brendon, I know it’s not fucking- fair of me or whatever, we never made promises or anything, but. But what? “And what if I do, huh?” Brendon said, dropping his arms and holding onto his knees tightly as he looked up to meet Ryan’s eyes again, his own wide and demanding, the defiance undermined by the spikes of his eyelashes, stuck together by the tears he told himself he shouldn’t be shedding over this stupid man. “You gonna put some kind of claim on me before I go? Leave a good fucking mark so everyone knows you’ve got me?”

But I do have feelings for you. I do, and I don't even know if it's okay - I can't tell whether you hate me or not, either, I just assume you do. When he’d said that, that Ryan had feelings for him, it was on impulse. Brendon expected to be embarrassed by a loud laugh, or a scoff of indignation. How could Ryan feel anything of substance for him besides any level of dislike? Hearing him say it, though, prove him wrong- it was surreal. His knuckles were white has he clutched onto his own thighs, grounding himself somehow, inspired despite his disbelief by Ryan’s apparent honesty to speak his own piece, maybe in a way that wasn’t as grovelling as he had been in the last half an hour. “I haven’t hated you in a long time,” He murmured, searching for Ryan’s eyes. “I can’t even convincingly fake it. S’why I- stay away.” So... you’re the only one. For me. The useless romantic within him melted a little and he was suddenly overcome with the desire to be held, kissed, proved wrong of all his doubts and suspicions because being so guarded was so exhausting. It wasn’t Brendon. He was meant to love loudly and be loved with just as much noise and attention. If you're going to be with him, I'm sorry, I can't just... I can't do it.

There was the proof he had been looking for, he supposed- that Ryan cared about him as a person, as an individual, not just a ‘cheap fuck’ like the role Ryan had assigned Ian very quickly. Brendon didn’t quite know what to say. Ask him back if you want, just tell me if I should get over you now, okay?

A brief silence followed before Brendon extended his arm out, closed his hand gently around Ryan’s wrist and rugged slightly. “Will you sit with me?” He asked, in a low voice, a little raw. “I don’t want to ask him back. I- there’s more we need to talk about, I think, uh. It’s really- I’ve spent so long thinking you just wanted me for-“ Brendon looked down at his feet again, simultaneously very timidly searching for Ryan’s hand after he sat down beside him and holding on, tight, scared he’d just pull away. “Wanted me for, you know.”
Brendon had no idea how much Ryan knew about him- though in his experience, everyone at least knew of him. He never used to be quite sure why, and neither did he even care- but as he got older he realised that his energy and hyperactivity wasn’t normal, being physically unable to sit still in his chair or focus on some kind of task without being completely overloaded wasn’t just a regular teenage thing. It was stressful and he had mixed feelings about attracting so much attention- in a way he liked it, being noticed, but then it was only surface level, ‘noticing’ as in ‘that guy is so fucking annoying’- and that made him very insecure. The idea that Ryan just thought he was weird was scary and he wasn’t really helping himself by staying with him while Bogart was being groomed, or being so antsy and anxious, or speaking to his dog in such a stupid baby voice. Brendon never used to get this anxious around people until his habits began to get pointed out by those around him- now he did everything he could to suppress it, struggling even then, tapping his fingers nervously, rhythmically against his thigh.

Just wish I had one. Snapped out of his train of worry, Brendon smiled slightly, shrugging a shoulder. “Surely you could get one? You know enough.” My, uh... My dad doesn’t want one. For once, instead of launching immediately into a mini inquisition about a veiled detail or subject, Brendon actually took heed of the discomfort in his voice and just nodded, vaguely, reaching up with the hand that wasn’t occupied with fidgeting to card through his hair, self conscious all of a sudden. He hadn’t known his- it seemed juvenile to use crush, but it was the only fitting word- would be here, he hadn’t given a shit about how he looked just taking his dog to be groomed, so his hair was a mess, but luckily, thank fucking god he was recently clean shaven. His self consciousness continued even when Ryan complimented him, his singing; Brendon didn’t think himself anything special, so hearing this from someone who wasn’t just a teacher who had to say that made him embarrassingly happy, but he tried to play it off. Return the compliment. Draw attention away from himself because he didn’t think much was appealing other than his appearance- which today wasn’t too impressive either.

Unfortunately, he didn’t realise until too late that complimenting a near-stranger on their singing was odd, because he really shouldn’t have heard enough to make that call, especially considering Ryan very rarely sang. Thank you. He swallowed, wondering if Ryan was making fun of him and mumbling his thoughts accidentally aloud to Bogart, luckily under his breath and thankfully too quietly for Ryan to hear him. Don’t say that. The command in Ryan’s voice straightened his spine a little, and he looked up from his little dog, and was met by Ryan’s startlingly level gaze, stuck in his thoughts between ‘they’re so pretty’ and ‘I’m a little intimidated right now’. Even if it was true, you fucking kill in there, so. I mean, you’re the best in the class. I’m not kidding. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to ‘only be good at’. They hadn’t broken eye contact the entire time and Brendon was halfway ecstatic with the attention, halfway terrified by the plainness of his tone, like it was so easy to say. Brendon felt himself relax, his jaw soften, his shoulders drop- and he grinned, fully, starting small and understated but growing quickly, bright with appreciation and newfound confidence.

Brendon folded his arms across his chest, holding onto his own bicep with one arm, almost grounding himself. More brazen now, rejuvenated by positive response, he felt that odd little bud of narcissism open a little. “You really think so?” I joined 'cause I thought it'd get me into a real band, somehow. I'm an idiot. So far I've got Spencer and he can only kind of play drums. You know him? Almost immediately, Brendon’s eyebrows rose, as he looked down at Bogart, petted his head gently and scratched behind his ears. A real band... he was familiar with the passing fantasy. “I know of him,” He murmured in a low voice, wondering suddenly whether Spencer could provide some insight, maybe tell him if Ryan even. Played for his team, so to speak. There was no point getting so flustered over him otherwise, he told himself... “You have a name? For your. Two man band.”
As much as Brendon knew Ryan, as close as they were, he had never seen and definitely not expected such an enthused response to his messy confession of love. Best case scenario, in all the silly, air-headed daydreams he liked to entertain while they sat watching a movie, or drinking coffee together on the porch in the early morning chill, he’d tell Ryan he loved him and Ryan would be quiet, just as he had been in the real event. Instead of remaining so, though, he’d turn to Brendon; take hold of his hands, all sweet and understated, and maybe smile a little, and say it back. A muted response with the strong feeling there, detectable, but not on his sleeve. That was more in character for the Ryan he knew- but now that he had such a spring to his every movement, a bright intonation to his usually raw-sounding voice, a persistent grin instead of some faint smirk, Brendon realised that there was more to learn about him, and more to love. It was exhilarating, infectious, his nervousness and suspicion dissipating as Ryan ran his fingers through his hair.

When he expressed his confusion at this new side to this usually bitter bastard’s personality, Ryan raised his eyebrows but said nothing. But then he laughed- with the gentleness he was used to. Brendon smiled up at him, an almost dreamy look in his eyes, as Ryan seemed to put thought into finding some kind of mean comment to say. Flattering, really, the length of the pause it took. You were right. You are, in fact, loud as hell from floors away. Brendon’s grin widened, the corners of his mouth starting to twitch from the strain it took to smile this widely for this long- he just couldn’t help it. “I usually am.” Doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. It faded a little, then, as he considered that. For Ryan, that was a big thing to say, even if he’d said it before. With him it tended to be brief openings of time where he was vulnerable before he shut it away again. Brendon reached up and traced a finger along Ryan’s jaw, his eyebrows turned upwards like this was all so endearing and intimate. “I like this.”

He was going to elaborate why, but he gave up and instead submitted to the compulsion to kiss him; the angle was too perfect, Ryan almost leaning over him, Brendon propping himself up, head tilted backwards. He pulled him back and settled into it too quickly, it felt too natural, like it was just common sense, like they were meant to be like this. Brendon was getting lost in romantic fantasies, made even better by the fact that they were one by one coming true. Feeling Ryan’s muscles relax, he smiled, distant and yet so, so wired at the same time, until a thought struck him that he was indeed still in a towel and unless they wanted to move extremely fast he should probably get dressed. Besides, Ryan was a Virgo, he’d probably make it awkward somehow. So he broke away, pushed against Ryan’s chest and explained himself quickly so that Ryan would know he hadn’t just. Bailed. How modest of you. Humming a little, amused, Brendon sat up straight when he rolled aside and combed his hand through his hair compulsively, biting his lip to stop himself smiling too wide. “You know me, a saint.”

When he stood up, he instantly regretted it, disrupting their rhythm like this. Regardless, he readjusted the towel so it was secure around his waist and heading towards his wardrobe, opening it and browsing through. I mean, you’re usually, like. Brendon raised his eyebrows, continued sorting through his clothes.“A fuckin’ whore?” Remember when you got into my study and you were acting in very un-Christian ways? You’re a changed man. He really wasn’t. But Ryan was spiritually a virgin, he didn’t want to scare him away. He turned around, a little embarrassed, because he’d scrubbed that whole event from his mind. Oh well- might as well own it. “Unfortunately I didn’t drink enough to forget that. Aren’t you glad you rejected me, though? Would’ve ruined our friendship. God, I wanted to fuck you so bad.” He said that last part under his breath after he turned back around, grinning in disbelief at himself. “I’m leaving room for jesus, Ry.”

Their conversation seemed to have taken a more experimental turn, because this was new to them. Brendon still felt like he was on cloud nine, just dialled it down all the way to keep himself under control. He’d picked out Ryan’s old jersey, mostly out of affection and partly for the joke, and a pair of excessively and unintentionally ripped jeans, and turned to Ryan, pausing awkwardly. “Should I go- to the bathroom?”
“Where have you been?”

Brendon’s eyes were fixed on Ryan. He was sitting in a velvet armchair, one leg resting atop the other, back straight and chin tilted upwards. In one hand he held a cigarette, almost burned down to the filter, from which a thin whisper of smoke rose to the ceiling, dissipated, and in the other he held a crystal glass, almost empty of liquor. The way in which he regarded Ryan was unrelenting- his eyes weren’t narrowed with irritation, but wide and calm and intense as he looked him up and down, took a disdainful drag from his cigarette and exhaled, never once looking away.

With a decisive flourish he reached over to an adjacent small table, and silently crushed the filter of his cigarette into an ash tray. Sitting back stiffly against the red velvet again, Brendon drank the remainder of his drink and then put that down, too, with a little less grace- the table shook slightly with the force in which he brought it down onto the wood, like some of his annoyance had transferred into the motion. Brendon was not usually this stiff, or forceful, with his motions- but Ryan was testing his patience.

The Ryan in question was stood opposite him across the large bedroom, in the doorway. He looked smart- he was wearing a well-tailored suit, not one Brendon had gifted him because he remembered every single one. His hair was perfect, too, and there were no signs of him having been in some sort of desperate struggle for his life, like Brendon had been imagining over the past week.

“You scared the fucking hell out of me, you know that? I wake up, you’re gone.” Brendon uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together so tightly that his knuckles turned white. “I think, it’s fine, he’s probably working. Off doing his job. Some business deal, sellin’ hooch to whatever bastard needs it.” His voice was clear, loud, and there was a dangerous absence of any anger in his tone. “So I wait for you. Come evening, you’re not here. But I think- unexpected trouble, maybe. You’ve been away for a few days with no warning a few times, it’s normal. Part of the job, right?” He flicked his wrist out, fingers splayed, gesticulating tersely. “I went to sleep, Ryan, hoping you’d be here the next morning, maybe in bed with me, who knows.” For a brief moment he looked away, swallowed, as if recalling his worry. “I panicked, spoke to Spencer, he didn’t know. Dallon, neither. Nobody knew, darlin’, I had no fucking clue where you were, I-“ Sitting back in the seat again, he gripped onto the arms of the chair, inhaling and exhaling sharply.

“I even checked in with the goddamn cops, thinking you’d gone and got yourself arrested again like you’re so good at. They say to me, ‘no, you fucking fruit’, very charming of them, but besides the point.” He blinked, then stood up, lifting himself up from the chair and walking over to a table nearby, picking up a crystal decanter and pouring himself another glass of whiskey. He stared into it, swirled it around, bit his lip. “There’s not one fucking sign of you anywhere, no word from anyone. And then- here you are. All dashing and put together like you’ve just attended some formal dinner.” Brendon turned to him, clutching his glass hard. “You better have a good explanation, darlin’, because some of the ideas I have in my head, I-“ Brendon swallowed, his expression dropping, suddenly unsure and looking as small as he was for the first time since Ryan had entered the room.
Of course Brendon was suspicious- he’d given Ryan his heart, and Ryan had just. Sat there. Stared at him, in complete silence. Brendon remembered at first thinking- it’s okay, it’s a big deal to say you’re in love with someone, they need time to process it. The seconds passed, though, the time stretched out and became painful, and Brendon felt his vulnerable heart start to sink, sore with the burn of rejection that started to settle into his bones. As the quiet stretched on, he had come to the realisation that Ryan wasn’t trying to think of a response at all. He’d confessed and it hadn’t been worth it. The ten minutes he had between then and Ryan knocking on his door had been ridiculously and humiliatingly painful- he stood in the shower, frantically pushing his hands through his hair and scrubbing himself, trying to distract himself from his feelings with the urgency of it all, but only succeeding in disguising his own crying, even when he fiercely blinked it all away. Feeling numb and hurt and confused and stupid, he had sat on his bed, deciding he was leaving.

Even with Ryan apparently now returning the feeling, he was still set on leaving- mostly because he didn’t believe him. This was just self preservation from the both of them- Brendon leaving because he couldn’t stand knowing he wasn’t loved as he loved him; Ryan blurting out words he didn’t mean that held a dangerously heavy implication to save himself from being on his own again. It was terrifying and confusing, and Brendon felt like he had whiplash, being rejected and accepted within twenty minutes... That said. The nature of Ryan’s confession, though suspicious and rushed, was sweet, took his breath away. Ryan wasn’t a liar. The elated grin on his face was genuine and contagious and Brendon felt a rush of adrenaline at the prospect of such intense feelings being returned. Once he started believing him, it became obvious- what else could they be but in love, with the ridiculous closeness they shared?

Still, through this happiness, he was confused, needed answers. It was still almost surreal despite how much it also just made complete sense. I know. Ryan was shaking his head, with an urgency Brendon had never seen from him before. His insistence made it feel real. I’m sorry. I’m dumb. I don’t know. Nodding along, fascinated by this change to his countenance, Brendon was smiling faintly, before it turned into a grin, so endlessly amused and enamoured by Ryan’s endearing breathlessness. He felt important. When he laughed, Brendon laughed with, only lighter, he didn’t want to overpower this side from him that he had never, ever seen. Then do it! As Ryan got up onto his knees, now looking down on him, Brendon met his eyes, amazed, smiling dreamily like this man had really hung the stars in the sky.

And then, a hand was passing through his hair, and Brendon let his lids fall, as he gazed up at him, eyelashes skimming his cheeks, completely content and yet on edge because this was so bizarre, so out of character, it still didn’t feel real. “Who are you?” He asked, raising his eyebrows. “Quick, say something normal, like- be an asshole, so I know it’s really you and I’m not fuckin’- dreaming.” But Ryan was tilting his head up, all gentle. Brendon could cry. He followed his eyes down and bit his lip apprehensively. Was he really going to? Ryan, the literal hermit? Before you kill me- can I kiss you first? Though this all felt constructed and dreamlike, the hand in Brendon’s hair grounded him to reality. This was happening- Ryan loved him back and love turned him into this excitable puppy, bursting with energy, and Brendon had never loved anything more, the two of them there, usually both closed off and cynical. A kiss would seal it all, spell an irreversible change. But Brendon wasn’t scared. Enough time had been spent thinking about this very moment.

Leaning back, supporting himself with one hand against the mattress, and bringing the other up to grab onto the front Ryan’s shirt, Brendon pulled Ryan in to kiss him, with confidence- once he was in close, he moved his hand to firmly hold onto Ryan’s jaw, keeping him in place as he struggled not to smile against his mouth, trying to savour this moment that he wanted to be perfect. Unfortunately, an afterthought ruined it for him. He pulled away suddenly, lips parted. “I- Ryan, fuck.” His voice was low, but he was smiling. “I need to get dressed, oh my god. Look at me.” A quick glance down would confirm that Brendon was indeed still only in a towel that was wrapped around his waist- an accident waiting to happen. He gazed at Ryan, adoring, but pressed a hand against his chest to try and encourage him to move.
I don’t know where Ryan lives, only that he, too, is in LA, and even though everyone who is anyone lives in this city, it’s not where I expected him to put down roots. Knowing him back then, he was just as intoxicated by the band’s taste of fame as I was, it was a dream of his to be up there on stage every night. Be recognised. Have fans. But none of it came from any kind of genuine, personal desire for that kind of romanticised lifestyle- because that isn’t and never was the kind of life he could lead for very long, comfortably, as private as he was, as personal as his lyrics were. It was more of a passing fantasy, not ever truly meant to be fulfilled, something he stumbled into by accident and that was brought on stronger by the first sensual brush with stardom. It all escalated so quickly and we were so young and the lyrics he had written really were not meant for the world to hear, and yet he let me sing them, every night, just as I continued to do years after the band split. Whatever desperate obsession he had with the materialistic parts of success dissipated years ago into a more genuine ‘I want to make music’- if the very none-commercial album that he made after forming his own band was anything to go off.

I’m not sure why this all disconnects Ryan, in my head, from Los Angeles. There are plenty of places you can live in this city, plenty of small houses and private places he could hide away in, away from anyone’s eyes. It’s like part of me didn’t want him here, in this big city that can seem so impossibly small sometimes, because the idea of a piece of my past being so close made me feel cagey and trapped, the same exact feeling that reared up whenever I had seen him over the past ten years- apart from at Gabe’s party, where I’d willingly shut myself in a vehicle with him. For no good reason other than curiosity, a lingering sense of connection that turned out to be artificial because that kiss we shared was nothing like the fantastical part of my brain had imagined- it wasn’t prolonged or personal or passionate, it was just. A kiss. And yet, part of me wants to do it again; just in case we hadn’t done it right.

Maybe not a good thing to be thinking about when I’m about to get in his stupid car again.

Going home from Gabe’s party that night... despite the detachment of the kiss in the back of his car, I felt electric as soon as I stepped out of it, my nerves fired up and my skin static like I’d been truly plugged in for the first time in forever. Despite this sudden rejuvenation and desire to go back into the vehicle, I forced myself to leave him sat there, and immediately called an Uber and went home because I was not sticking around. Standing out on my balcony that evening, everything became a little more clear, even in the sticky, tacky heat that still stuck to my skin, the remainder of sunshine from the scorching LA afternoon. Clarity wasn’t a refreshing feeling, it washed over me like icy water, a cruel kick in the gut, as I came to the resigned conclusion that I was kidding myself if I said that I hadn’t ever wished things were different between he and I. I realise that I have unknowingly wished upon thousands of stars over the last decade that the unnamed and frustrated feelings I developed for him in our younger years would fade. I’ve subconsciously written his existence into too many songs and lyrics for this to be a normal breed of nostalgia for an old passion.

How was I to know this, though, how was I to explore this, with how uncommonly I thought of him? Part of me wishes I’d just not attended that stupid birthday party a week ago, because I had moved on. My life was good and I had always been capable of forming romantic relationships with all of his presence gone. We hadn’t even ever dated. Meeting him again this evening shouldn’t be making me this nervous, I shouldn’t be overthinking what I’m wearing this much- just a faded blue shirt and black trousers, the shirt I changed about three times, cycling through a red t shirt, a patterned button up, just something black, before resting on this practically unworn thing I found in the back of my wardrobe. Before I could stop myself I was styling my too-long hair, too, shaving as well. Like this is some sort of date.

It’s sundown and I haven’t heard from him and I am nervous, apprehensive, excited in some adolescent way to see him again. If he turns up, that is- I check my phone obsessively, almost twice consecutively just in case my eyes tricked me into seeing a blank screen, instead of the ‘Ryan’ I have him saved as. Anxiety makes me stand up, pace around the room, restless- unable to sit still at the best of times, my nervous energy has me wired and spring-loaded more than usual, running my hands through my hair and ruining it before I’ve even stepped outside. Turns out that trying to look good was a pointless endeavour when I will predictably ruin it all anyway.

I look outside and the sky is golden, pink, purple, streaked with clouds. Turning away from the window and considering getting some sort of alcoholic drink to calm my nerves, I’m interrupted by a message tone. My breath comes up short, cutting off abruptly as I look down. It’s not Ryan. It’s fucking Gabriel. Before I read what he has said, there’s a knock at the door that makes me jump, and then a voice- Bren, if you’re in there, give me a sign.

I almost trip over myself rushing to the door, unlocking it and pulling it open, hanging on to the hinges, my absolutely now-ruined hair hanging over my eyes as I smile at Ryan, the wind knocked out of me from my impulse bolt to the door. I run my hand through my hair to push it away from my face, let go of the doorframe I was clinging on to with my other hand and straighten up, conscious of his height in comparison to mine. “Hi.” I say, intelligently, completely ruining my intentions of playing it cool with some sort of indifferent, effortless, cool greeting. “You certainly took your time,” I say, and it hits me then that he called me ‘Bren’ and I’m still smiling, meet his eyes- “Ry.” There’s a pause and I wonder if I should go for a handshake, but don’t. Something about that would be too formal. I step out of my doorway and close it behind me, turning to fish my keys from my pocket. I feel his eyes on on the back of my head and take the time I have where he cannot read my expression to swallow nervously. “Where are we going, then?”
Sometimes it was frustratingly hard to tell whether or not Ryan cared about Brendon as much as Brendon cared about Ryan. You see, he knew how different they were, and that this would affect how they’d communicate, but Brendon was so much more emotionally available that he often doubted. He knew he was cared about, and loved. But not to what extent and his own unstable self esteem and need to be told things often overcame the trust and closeness they had built up- because that’s what it came down to, seeing as Ryan was still closed off despite progress, faith that sentiments were returned and affection felt. This wasn’t all to say that Brendon didn’t believe him on the rare occasion that he did say what he thought, how he felt. He just struggled with holding onto it in the stretches of time where Ryan would barely even look his way.

That was just Ryan, though, expecting him to be some kind of mindreader, and despite himself Brendon loved him for it, loved him completely, a realisation he only came to relatively recently- and was already regretting saying out loud. This was the issue. Trusting him too much had meant Brendon had wished it all away, exaggerated it all in his head, had too much faith that the love would be returned how he wanted it to. The silence it had brought between them was painful, not the usual comfortable silence they sat in together. So he had left, and out of self-defence, decided to leave- he wasn’t strong enough to stick around if he didn’t feel wanted, as much as he didn’t know if he could even function without his best friend around. Brendon had closed off. Why should he believe anything Ryan said, he thought to himself, the sting of rejection still fresh- he was just lonely. He didn’t want Brendon, he’d just grown used to the company.

Brendon had stepped away after voicing this concern- Ryan just said his name in protest, and Brendon felt himself melt a little because that tiny gesture could do that, even to a heart he’d just stubbornly shut off, defending himself from any further humiliation- because he did feel humiliated, devastated, like he’d overstated his importance, overstayed welcome, and here was Ryan, not letting him just- mourn any chance of requited love in peace. Putting distance between them seemed like the best option and he moved over to sit down on the edge of his bed, hunched over like he was protecting his vital organs from further injury. Inhale, exhale- this was too much. Tunnel vision had applied itself and he just wanted to leave. Once, you told me to write about what makes me happy. Ever since, I’ve only been writing about you.

Brendon lifted his head, feeling his foolish heart beat unevenly in his chest and blinking, unsure. This was, in fact, news to him. Even living with a writer as talented as Ryan, he was not academically or literarily inclined; the nuances and deep analysis of things that Ryan showed to him were lost on him and his thoughts were always just an earnest ‘wow, this is so pretty, I love it so much, this is your best work yet’. No matter what it was. So the reveal that Ryan had been writing about him... Even thinking about the romantic aspects of his work, Brendon couldn’t see himself in that light. The pieces didn’t align and he didn’t believe him- as much as he wanted to. He opened his mouth to speak but Ryan beat him to it and Brendon looked briefly at his feet, still finding it difficult to look at him.

I miss you when you’re a floor away. That, he understood. That kind of thing was what Brendon could understand. Softening a little, but not letting his guard down, he looked up, and Ryan was smiling in a way that made it difficult not to smile back. “That’s ridiculous,” He said softly, his voice cracking a little. “You always say I’m loud and can hear me from- wherever you are.” Trailing off a little, Brendon pulled a hand through his hair, swallowing. Sometimes I’ll change a story just because I think you’ll like a different ending. I counted down the days until you came back from the city. I’d forgotten what it’s like without you around. Not great, by the way.

Considering this, Brendon thought about how it would be if he did leave, left Ryan alone in his empty mansion, moved back to NYC and move into a slightly bigger apartment using the money from his more-than-reasonable paycheck, maybe get a new job, talk to Ryan every once in a while to check how he’s doing. It sounded absolutely awful and being told that he was missed made his heart leap- as much as he appreciated Ryan was not bursting with affection, this is all he wanted to hear. “That’s all you ever have to say to me, you know,” Brendon said gently. watching him as he sat down on his bed, feeling warm. “That you miss me. That you want me around. But that’s- what I feel, Ry, it’s more than that, I- I can’t stay here if you don’t...” A surge of hope from Ryan’s words quickly faded away and he shifted where he sat, searching his face for some kind of solution.

I’m in love with you.

Initially, Brendon didn’t react, just stared, as if he was waiting for Ryan to laugh, take it back, shake his head in amusement, but it didn’t happen. And Ryan wasn’t a liar, wouldn’t fake something so profound, he was too pretentious to do that, Brendon thought, vaguely amused by it even though his mind was racing, elated, petrified by this reveal even though he’d said it himself not ten minutes ago. His lips were parted as he searched for words, but all he could do was stare blankly at him, arms folded across his chest protectively, waiting for his cue.

“I- why couldn’t you- why couldn’t you have just said,” He murmured quietly, not breaking eye contact. “Not hearing that back, it. It really hurt. You- are you serious? You’re not just...” This was certainly not the confession he’d imagined- he’d read too many of Ryan’s recent writing, and- oh. Well, that certainly made much more sense. Brendon grinned, still nervous, but unable to keep up any suspicion with conviction. “You asshole,” He breathed. “God, I’m going to kill you.”
Letting myself indulge in memories of the past is a dangerous game. I remember the sensation of loving someone so absolutely that it felt like I was invincible; that as long as the two of us were together then nothing would ever get in our way, we were soulmates. I still feel that magnetic pull for him beneath my skin, as much as I try to ignore it, and often turn over the idea that the idea of invincibility has never been disproven. If we had stayed together, maybe we’d both be better off. I was the one who ruined it, brought him aside one day and taken his hands in mine, bringing them up to my lips as I bought time trying to think of how to properly break it off with somebody who is even a fraction as in love with you as you are with them. He’d been confused, I remember, but not suspicious at all, that was the heartbreaking part- I forced myself to meet his eyes when I told him what I wanted, watched him sort of fall apart, watched cracks appear in his control, saw him at his most vulnerable.

I don’t really know what I expected his response to be. The crueler, more self-centred part of me wanted tears, wanted him to beg me to stay so I felt good about myself in the face of breaking someone’s heart. That isn’t Ryan, though; he just stared at me for a while, first in disbelief, his expression between desperation and nervous amusement, like the idea of me leaving him was so ridiculous that he was going to laugh. It wasn’t a joke, though, watching him sit back, pull his hands away, stare at me like I’d- well. Like I’d just done what I’d done. He’d asked me why and I’d struggled to answer, because there was no reason, there was just a part of me that screamed all the time I had committed to someone way too young, we were just emotionally dependent, there was more for the both of us out there. It was selfish and, as I realised long afterwards, untrue, but by that point it was too late. I wasn’t cruel enough to come back into his life and ask for him to take me back like I hadn’t disregarded every love song we’d ever written for one another, every word we’d ever said. Would he even want me back? I’m not so sure. I imagine he’s built up some walls since we finished.

So I just soldiered on, pretending I still believed in what I said with conviction, but made no actual indication that I was moving on- didn’t date, didn’t even try, hadn’t even had some silly rebound fling that I thought I would have. There was, therefore, nothing to fuel any songs from my new record other than him, as I stupidly decided to write songs about passion from a relationship that had gone cold- Hurricane was almost an insult, but it wasn’t meant to be. I wonder what he thought of that one and cringe. It was cruel. Other songs, though, were apologetic. The whole fucking thing was for him, just an extended apology, with a touch or two of arrogance to keep me from embarrassing myself. Hearing Ryan’s song put me in his shoes, had me imagining his reaction to my anthology of half hearted and unconvincing breakup songs. ‘I’m over you’, they said, taunting him, with very little conviction; they were desperate, bitter, translucent. ‘I still love you’, they said in a smaller voice; ‘I’m sorry’.

Part of the reason for wanting to talk to him is wanting to know exactly what he thought about my songs. He was clearly more mature and controlled than I am, able to listen (I know he listened) and not send me some cryptic message, confront me about my lyrics. We don’t address the obvious at first, though, we are being as civil as we can be. Impatient as I am, I want to call him, hear his voice, let him hear mine, pretend we’re both okay but know we aren’t. Back against the headboard of this stupid bed where we spent so much wasted time, I exhale, staring at my last message, waiting to see if he’ll call. None of the time was wasted. I took it all for granted. Didn’t realise what I had, or did, and didn’t value it like I should. Pride allowing, I want to apologise. Maybe then we can move on.

Startled by my phone ringing out of my wistful daze, I immediately and clumsily answer, bringing it up to my ear with a hurried inhale. My mouth is open and I’m about to speak but he beats me to it. Thank you. For what? Brow furrowing in confusion and a little bit of self hatred, I search through memories for anything I have done recently that would be deserving of his gratitude. Nothing. In reflection of our relationship, he always deserved better than me. I was nervous about it. The song. A pause as I close my eyes, play it through my head briefly. You taught me not to fear the dark. Even after I’d ruined us, he thought highly of me. Reaching out in the night for you, baby. I suck in through my teeth as quietly as possible. Thank you for listening. “Of course,” Is the first thing I say, blurt it out. “Of course, always.”

I think of how I dressed up the story of our relationship in Memories as a tale of a religious defector and some young girl that fell apart when they misjudged the strength that young love held. In many ways it’s nothing like us at all, but the chorus kind of speaks for itself. How I miss yesterday. I purse my lips and sigh. I heard your album, too. It was indescribable, Brendon. I don’t think I told you that. He sounds quiet, and somehow, even though I knew he had, the confirmation rattles me to my core. He heard Always, a song I wrote before I was even thinking of breaking us up. The idea makes me shudder. “I plead the fifth on all of it,” I say lightly, a hint of laughter, running my hand through my hair. Another goddamn song reference, but it’s a bonus track. Wonder if he heard those too.

“Is ‘indescribable’ a good thing?” I ask, letting my body slide down the headboard of the bed as I settle more into the sheets. Biting my lip, I remember my goal of apologising. ”I’m sorry.” My voice is soft and wavering. “For- well. For a lot of things. For writing about you so much.” All I can do is be honest, and I turn on my side, staring at the door to the bedroom. “Hey, Ryan. Guess where I am.” I’m smiling, despite it all. Like this is some inside joke.
He had been hesitant, I could tell. His hand was in his hair, and he looked away- just for a second. I don’t know what he was looking at. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe he was just avoiding my eyes, as I stared up at him, eager, like he had hung the stars in the sky, grinning so wide my face was starting to ache. At the time I didn’t think he really noticed how ecstatic I was to be with him but this moment now plays in my head on repeat- his quick glance to the side, the way they darted back to mine and I felt a swell in my chest, a sort of inflammation in the way that it made my blood rush, warm and vital, my pulse quickening like it was the final stretch of a race that I had put my entire existence into winning. He is who I have chased this entire time I have drifted through life, through fame, success, wealth. Or maybe a better analogy would be that he is a missed connection on a journey with no destination. Ryan Rowe has not ruled my thoughts for the past ten years, not even close. But he was there. Safe and hidden in the memories of hotel rooms and bus bunks, dressing rooms and lit-up stages. And then he was in front of me, and then we were outside, and then I was in his car, and then he was sat next to me, and then there had been a silence, full of things we never said, things we didn’t think we’d ever have the opportunity to say.

So, like an idiot, I had leaned in, but not fully, not committing to this ridiculous dream, pausing a few inches away from his face, my eyes searching, giving him the chance to process what I was doing and reject me if he wanted to. The next three seconds had been the most suffocating of my life but then he mirrored me, leaning in and meeting me halfway, and- it didn’t feel right. Kissing eachother after ten years of near silence felt like pretending we still had the right to feel like this, to act this way, when we’d grown up and moved on, and it was also like kissing a stranger I’d just met at some party. We parted after a few moments and stared at eachother, and I could almost hear his pulse, glad that this made him as nervous and dizzy as it made me. “I’m sorry,” I rushed out, my voice hoarse, “I shouldn’t have done that.” Terrified I’d ruined any chance at rekindling a friendship, I looked down, swallowing. “I felt like that would fix everything.”

But what really needed fixing? Nothing ever broke, just wore away like peeling paint. No explosive argument, just troubles with the band and then the drifting that happened naturally because neither of us attempted to save our friendship. Or maybe we had just been scared to have this connection, because the excuse to our closeness before had been the band and commitments and constant proximity. I remember feeling nauseous, not daring to look at him as he moved in the corner of my eye, his arm extending as he reached his hand under my chin and gently tilted my head up towards him. It’s okay, He had said quietly, in his low voice, and it comforted me enough to lift my head and meet his eyes again. I know what you mean. I think it’s just- we barely know eachother now, it’s so...

This had not been comforting, and my throat had closed up, but he wasn’t finished. I don’t know. I wanted to kiss you. I was wondering how it would- I don’t know, whether it would be the same, or. A long silence. We never directly referenced our old behaviour. Even after ten years it felt like Ryan had committed a crime just by mentioning it out loud, even though it had just been the two of us, in his car, in the dark, watched by the moon and stars. It wasn’t the same. But not in a bad way.

After that, I had made my excuses and left, nervously, rejoining the party, leaving him in his car, but. Not before giving him both my phone number and my address. I told him come over anytime and I meant it. There is so much more we needed to talk about.

Not a week later, I get a text from him. I saved his name in my phone as ‘Ryan Rowe’ then change it to ‘Ryan’, but I know more than one ‘Ryan’ so I change it to ‘Ry’ like a fucking fool. Hi, Brendon, sorry for not texting sooner. I’ve been- well, not busy, I don’t do anything these days. But I was wondering if you wanted to maybe come over sometime. I’d love to properly catch up after you left kind of abruptly. A few minutes later another text came through. Which I completely get, by the way. Sorry, I don’t know how to do this anymore. At least he was honest. I had closed my eyes tight but replied almost right away. ‘Why don’t we just go for a drive? I owe you that, I think.’

In your Tesla, rich boy? No thanks. I’ll just pick you up tomorrow, okay? I agreed, but he didn’t ask for a time, so. Here I am. Sitting in my living room, a whiskey in hand, my muscles tense, jaw clenched, every part of my body wired and pent up like I’m waiting some kind of physical and emotional release, resting all my hopes for unwinding on the chance that Ryan might show up any second, make it all dissipate because despite the awkwardness last time, I had still felt amazingly comfortable with him. Like I could be myself and he wouldn’t judge me for it. And yet, the kiss still felt wrong. Flexing my fingers, I steal a glance at the clock on the wall even though he didn’t give me a time and it’s 5pm and I wonder if he’s just forgotten because surely he’d have texted me when by now. ‘I’m on my way’ or ‘is 8 okay’ or something along those lines, but, nothing. I stare at his name in my phone and change it back to ‘Ryan Rowe’, fearing the effect of the affectionate nickname staring me in the face. My eyes close. I’m so fucking stupid.
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