Title: Missed Your Skin When You Were East
(Oh, and it's the sequel to Made of Silver, Not of Clay)
Word Count: 19,453
Pairings: Brendon/Ryan, various permutations of boys and their real girlfriends, Pete/Mikey, a moment of Brendon/Sisky
Disclaimer: The concept is mine, the boys are not. More's the pity.
Summary: Brendon is back to reality now, but he's not sure if he's actually that much happier.
Notes: So, this is important! This This is not going to make any sense if you haven't read the other two stories that are part of this series. The original story that this is the sequel to is, Made of Silver, Not of Clay, and then the prequel (which should be read second) is, Where Summers Lasted Longer Than We Do. And if you're still with me...thank you so much. Special thanks (unsurprisingly) tomonanoche, without whom this most likely would not exist. Honestly. This is for her. But, it's also now for all of you. Enjoy.
Missed Your Skin When You Were East
Usually Brendon wasn’t that good at being patient, but somehow it came naturally with Ryan Ross. Of course, it helped that he didn’t have too much of a choice.
He had been so sure that first day that Ryan had told him he was going to be singing for their band that that was going to be the breakthrough. Ryan had used almost the exact same words, even. Brendon would never forget something like that.
So he had waited. And waited. And waited.
Ryan never gave any other sign that he knew that he and Brendon had ever been anything other than strangers who were slowly getting to know one another, so really, all Brendon could do was patiently wait for something he was increasingly less certain was ever going to happen.
In the meantime, he was restricted to doing things like putting raspberries into Ryan’s smoothies before Ryan told him that he liked them, just so he could watch Ryan’s beautiful, surprised smiles. Brendon loved the little things like that that he already knew about Ryan. He could get Ryan to light up by casually bringing up Chuck Palahniuk or Allen Ginsberg, or playing Blink-182 in the car.
It was probably a little bit unfair, because he could see the way that those small gestures were making Ryan look at him—like Ryan couldn’t believe that Brendon was doing everything just right. Of course Ryan was amazed. Brendon was apparently a novelty to him.
Brendon knew that it was all somewhat selfish, as well as masochistic, because he was taunting himself with impossibilities.
He just couldn’t get used to the idea that Ryan wasn’t his this time.
For Brendon, the idea of meeting Pete Wentz, Ryan’s idol, was a lot more impressive before the meeting actually occurred. Ryan ducked down from the window in the living room, curtains fluttering suspiciously, to tightly grip his wrist and whisper, “Brendon, he’s here. Be cool,” and Brendon stealthily peeked outside. Somehow, until he actually saw the guy shutting his car door with one cocked hip and squinting up at the house address, double-checking it against the paper in his hand, Brendon had not connected Pete Wentz with Pete of PeteandMikey.
“Is there someone in Fall Out Boy named Mikey?” he asked.
Distractedly, as Ryan stood and smoothed back his hair repeatedly, he said, “No, no, that’s My Chemical Romance, come on, get up.”
Obediently, Brendon rose, just as the doorbell rang. He started to go forward toward it, but Ryan shot out an arm, effectively stopping him. “Wait a second,” he breathed in Brendon’s ear, “We don’t want him to think we’re desperate.”
“Even though you’re totally drooling?” Brendon asked, grinning. Whatever, he’d met this guy—he’d heard Pete come, multiple times, god—and there was nothing to be scared of when it came to Pete Wentz.
Frowning, Ryan said, “Seriously, shut up.” In apology, Brendon gave him a really fast, one-armed shoulder hug, which Ryan shrugged off to answer the door.
Brendon noticed that Ryan had stopped shaking, however, and counted that as a win. He did have some experience with relaxing Ryan, after all.
When Ryan pulled the door open, Brendon took stock of Pete, who stood there grinning and pointing his toes in towards each other. Brendon thought that he might have a couple more tattoos, and look a little less desperate. He wondered if that meant Pete was seeing Mikey happily, or maybe just didn’t realize that he apparently couldn’t.
Either way, Brendon wasn’t wholly surprised when Pete stuck out a hand and said, “Hi, I’m Pete,” without recognition of any kind.
He couldn’t quite keep the resignation out of his voice as he replied, “I’m Brendon. Thanks for coming out here,” but although Ryan shot him a quick look, no one commented.
Pete loved them, and after he took them out to eat and spent an hour talking about record deals, he hugged them both goodbye at Ryan’s doorstep. Only then did Brendon breathe out and throw himself at Ryan, who caught him bemusedly, but then relaxed into the embrace and whispered shyly, “I’m glad you’re a part of this.”
“I’m glad I found you,” Brendon replied, and barely was able to shut his mouth before adding “again.”
Drawing back a little, Ryan said, “I guess it’s a good thing Brent moved schools and brought you over.”
Ryan was still touching his shoulder, and his eyes were soft, so on an impulse Brendon blurted out, “Do you ever feel like we may’ve known each other before, sometime?” His voice was too hopeful, too uncertain, and Ryan’s forehead furrowed.
“You mean, like…reincarnation?” he asked, “I thought your church didn’t believe in that.”
“It doesn’t,” Brendon said, “And I’m done with the whole religion thing. But that wasn’t what I meant, anyway.”
“Then what did you mean?” Ryan looked honestly confused, not like he was hiding anything, and that almost made it worse. Still, Brendon gave it one last shot.
“Like, maybe we met…some other time. In this life,” Brendon said, clutching at straws, but trying not to sound completely off the wall. That was the last thing he needed Ryan to think.
With an innocuous smile that Brendon wanted to reach out and touch, Ryan replied, “No, I don’t think so. I think I would remember you.”
Ryan spent a lot of time at Brendon’s apartment after Brendon’s parents told him that he was no longer welcome in their home. Honestly, Brendon was almost more relieved than anything. Every time he’d slept in his bed at their house in the months since he’d been back, he hadn’t been able to dispel from his mind the image of Ryan, sprawled across the comforter. It was a little easier to be anywhere but there. His apartment was full of Ryan, but his parents’ house was full of Ryan.
Still, he didn’t realize just how often he was hosting Ryan until Spencer cornered him after practice one day, pointing a finger and saying, “Brendon, you had better not fuck him over. Seriously.”
“…what?” Brendon asked, with the sinking feeling that he knew exactly what.
“Ryan,” Spencer replied levelly.
Pasting on his best smile, Brendon replied, “Spencer Smith, I am not that kind of boy. I have not besmirched Ryan’s honor.”
“He sleeps over a lot,” Spencer pointed out.
“Yeah, with you too,” Brendon retorted.
Spencer looked unconvinced, but not particularly threatening anymore either. “Point,” he admitted, “but seriously, Brendon, be careful. For both your sakes. Ryan can be…difficult.”
Spencer did not have to tell that to Brendon, of all people, seriously.
“Nothing’s going on,” he said again, but reached out to hold Spencer’s hand for a little bit anyway. He wasn’t sure which of them he was trying to convince.
Ryan kept staying over, both of them sleeping on the pullout couch bed, where they’d fall asleep carefully not touching and wake up pressed closed together.
It wasn’t as if Brendon had any money at all to spare, but he thought it was reasonable to want a nice, new button-down shirt for his graduation. After all, he currently felt pretty lucky to be graduating at all.
He also kind of wanted someone to share the excitement of actually buying new clothes with, so he tried calling first Ryan (who didn’t answer), and then Spencer (Brent wasn’t exactly a “new clothes!” kind of friend, no matter how exciting the situation was. He was more of a “basketball in the park!” kind of guy, so Brendon didn’t even think of calling him).
“Hey,” he said, when Spencer answered, “I was going to go get a shirt for graduation. And you know, if I have to look good for anything else, like press shots or whatever. But I need you or Ryan’s expert opinion, and I can’t find him. What say you?”
There was a short pause, and then Spencer replied, “Ry’s with me. But he doesn’t really like the mall that much when he doesn’t have to go, so…”
Sitting down hard, Brendon thought, What? Maybe…?
As if he hadn’t just said something potentially crucial to Brendon’s life, Spencer continued, “Maybe you could just borrow something of mine or Ryan’s? You could come over now if you wanted.”
Why else wouldn’t Ryan like the mall?
“Okay,” he agreed, “Yeah, I could do that.”
“See you, then,” Spencer said, and hung up. Brendon stayed sitting, gripping his phone and staring at it as though it might tell him something.
When Brendon got to Spencer’s door, it opened before he could even knock. “Wow, eager to see me?” he joked, collected enough after the walk over that he could act normal again.
Spencer rolled his eyes. “My mom just called—I have to take my sisters for a play-date at a friend’s house,” he replied, looking behind the door significantly until two girls shuffled into view. Brendon waved brightly, and grinned when they blushed and giggled.
“Go get in the car,” Spencer instructed, but it was with a fond overtone that made Brendon’s heart clench a bit, missing his own siblings. Then Spencer turned his attention to Brendon, who shook away his rush of home-sickness. Spencer pointed and said firmly, “I am trusting my house to you and Ryan for the next half hour. It’d better look the same when I get back.”
“I can’t speak for Ryan,” Brendon warned, making his face serious and raising his hands in surrender, “He might decide to have a rockin’ kegger party, or something, but I’ll try to restrain him. You know how Ryan gets, though.”
Spencer gave him a quick look, mouth twitching, and then knocked their shoulders together on the way out. Drily he told Brendon, “Thanks, I knew I could count on you. Ryan’s in my room.”
“No problem,” Brendon replied, waving, and leaned against the door until it clicked shut.
Upstairs, he trailed one finger along the wall until he got to Spencer’s room. “Hey, Ry—” he started to say, but cut himself off and gaped. “Did American Eagle throw up in here?” he asked incredulously. There were clothes strewn over just about every available surface—floor, chair, desk, bed, bookshelf. There were even ties—seriously? ties?—lined up precisely along the windowsill. In the midst of the maelstrom was Ryan, sitting quietly on a clear patch of ground reading an issue of Kerrang. At Brendon’s words, he looked up with a small smile.
“Oh, hey,” he said, picking up an actual bookmark from the floor beside him and fussily marking his place, “I got out some clothes to take a look at.”
“Is all of this Spencer’s?” Brendon asked, still looking around in amazement.
Ryan shook his head. “No,” he replied, “I went back home really fast and brought over a few things of mine.”
A few things. Brendon chuckled. “Okay, Ross,” he said, stretching out his arms to either side and doing a little twirl, “I’m at your mercy. Dress me up.”
Ryan snorted, but scrambled to his feet and prowled around Brendon, surveying him. “Okay,” he said finally, “take off your shirt.”
“Moving fast, eh?” Brendon waggled his eyebrows, but dragged his T-shirt over his head. When he looked back, Ryan was studying two shirts, head bent so his hair fell forward to obscure his face. Beneath the fringe, Brendon thought he could see a light blush across Ryan’s cheekbones.
By the time Ryan straightened again, though, he looked utterly unaffected. “Try this one,” he commanded, holding out a green button-down.
They ended up agreeing on a dark blue shirt with white diagonal stripes. It was Ryan’s, a little too long in the arms, but fit better than Spencer’s things.
Ryan grabbed a few ties off the windowsill, stopping Brendon before he could put his normal shirt back on. “Wait,” he muttered, stepping right up to Brendon and reaching around his neck, “I just want to see…” Brendon almost laughed as he thought about how absurd it was that Ryan didn’t trust him to tie his own tie, considering that he’d grown up going to church. His restraint mainly came in because he knew Ryan liked to feel useful.
On the other hand, with Ryan right there, tongue poking between his lips in concentration, Brendon was starting to wish he’d just done it himself. He watched, biting the inside of his cheek, as Ryan nimbly knotted the maroon tie with his long fingers. Once Ryan was finished, Brendon started to let out a breath in relief, but then realized Ryan wasn’t backing up.
Instead, he let his fingers skim up slightly, resting against Brendon’s throat. Without his permission, Brendon’s breath caught audibly. “Your hands are freezing,” he finally managed to joke, with an uneasy laugh, and Ryan’s gaze fluttered up, mouth half open.
“Brendon…” he said, and then tilted his face up so that they were barely an inch apart and it was completely obvious what he was waiting for.
Brendon wanted, so much. It would have been so easy to just pull Ryan the rest of the way in and kiss him. Brendon had missed this with an unshakeable dull ache, and now Ryan was offering. More than that, Ryan actually wanted it too, and that should have been everything that Brendon needed to push him to kiss Ryan.
Voice rasping with effort, he said, “No. Um, I don’t…I’m not…”
Ryan’s eyes had been slipping shut in anticipation, but now they went wide and he sprang back like a scared rabbit, just as the door downstairs opened. “I’m sorry,” Ryan said, hurriedly, “Please don’t quit, or anything, I just thought…look, let’s just forget about this, okay? I’m really sorry.”
“Dude, it’s fine,” Brendon told him, reaching out to brush some hair away from Ryan’s face, and letting his hand fall to rest on Ryan’s shoulder so Ryan wouldn’t think things were going to be weird, or any different. He could feel Ryan relax a little under his hand.
“Yeah?” he asked, and Brendon nodded.
By the time Spencer got upstairs, they’d squished into the small empty spot on the floor, and Brendon was reading Kerrang with Ryan, chin hooked over his shoulder. His heart was hammering in his chest, and he was immeasurably thankful for when Spencer appeared in the doorway and said, “What did you guys do?” because then he could put back on his silly façade and not have to think about what had just happened.
The problem was, he’d wanted to kiss Ryan, so much. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t in love with him in the same way, no matter how much he wanted his Ryan.
As he was leaving, Ryan stopped him at the door and said casually, “You should keep the shirt and tie. They look better on you, anyway, and you could use it for press shots sometime, maybe.”
Brendon nodded and thanked him, and after he went home, spent a long time sitting on his threadbare couch-bed, nose buried in the fabric of Ryan’s shirt, breathing him in.
When they visited Pete in LA, Ryan fell asleep first, curled up on the couch with his head on Brendon’s shoulder. Pete grinned, and said softly, “So, you guys are…”
Brendon swallowed hard, and made his eyes comically wide. “Pete Wentz!” he gasped in a dramatic whisper, “What are you implying?”
“I love how you’re obviously not star struck at all,” Pete replied, reaching out to tussle Brendon’s hair. Brendon ducked away, wrinkling his nose and batting at Pete’s hand until Pete let him be.
“With you?” he asked, laughing, “Should I be?”
Immediately Pete said, “No. Definitely not. I like you, Urie.” Pointedly looking at Ryan again, he repeated, “So? Are you?”
“Nope,” Brendon replied, keeping his voice cheerful, “Platonic cuddles only. He wants my hot body so much, though.”
Pete burst out laughing, muffling himself with his hand to keep from waking Ryan. “You’re too much,” he said finally, and then, thoughtfully, “Well, that’s good to know.”
Raising his eyebrows, Brendon asked, “Um…why?”
Pete hummed a non-response, and then added, “No reason.”
“Ryan is a little star-struck,” Brendon said defensively, and Pete did a quick double take.
“Hey, no,” he said, “I didn’t mean…I’m not going to touch him, I promise. I really like the kid, but…no, okay? I just want to be his friend. Besides, I have a girlfriend. Jeanae probably wouldn’t take too kindly to me seducing someone else.”
Relaxing back slightly, Brendon nodded. “Probably not.” Jeanae. He wondered again about Mikey, if Pete already knew him or not, but he couldn’t figure out how to ask, so instead he changed the subject to idle conversation about favorite movies and music. Easy topics. Thankfully, Pete didn’t call him on it, just talked with him well into the early hours of the morning.
He got his answer about Pete and Mikey indirectly, sometime in July. Ryan was talking about Warped Tour, seeing Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, and Brendon tuned in as Ryan said, “And Pete…he introduced me to Mikey Way.”
“They know each other?” Brendon asked, nearly spilling the lemonade he had his hands wrapped around. They were sprawled in the shade outside Spencer’s house, waiting for him to get home, and Spencer’s mom had come out with a glass for each of them, along with a remonstration that they were going to get dehydrated.
Ryan laughed. “Yeah, why?” he asked, squinting down the street before turning his attention back to Brendon.
Weakly, he replied, “I just…didn’t know.”
“They’re pretty good friends, actually,” Ryan said matter-of-factly. He pulled out his phone, scrolling through it and then turning it towards Brendon so Brendon could see the picture of Pete and Mikey, both smiling, heads tilted together. “I took it while I was there,” he said proudly. Clicking to the next photo, he added, “And this one.”
The second one showed Mikey saying something, so close to Pete that his lips were brushing the shell of Pete’s ear, and Pete smiling, eyes fixed on Mikey. It was more the way that Brendon had remembered them—inclusive and intimate, even surrounded by people. Doubtfully, he said, “They’re…just good friends?”
Ryan clicked his phone shut. Reticently he said, “You could tell?”
“I’m psychic,” Brendon replied, and then, “Plus, did you see those pictures?”
With a half smile, Ryan explained, “It’s not like that. It’s just for the summer, while they’re touring together.”
All things considered, Brendon was pretty sure there had to be more to it than that, and he made a mental note to start reading Pete’s online journals. He didn’t disagree with Ryan aloud, though. Instead he dug an ice cube out of his glass and threw it at Ryan, who blocked it and swore. The next thing Brendon knew, Ryan had set down his glass, and was pinning Brendon to the ground.
Laughing, he gripped Ryan’s arms just about the elbow and twisted his feet between Ryan’s ankles until he could flip them both over, feeling grass stuck to his calves and neck where he’d been laying. They grappled back and forth, Brendon complaining, “Not fair! Pointy elbows and knees are not fair game!”
“You weigh more, I have my own methods,” Ryan replied, eyes gleaming, just before he dug his fingers into Brendon’s side just below his ribs.
Brendon held his grip as long as he could, but he was being tickled, damnit, and that was completely cheating, so eventually he just dropped on top of Ryan. “Mmf!” Ryan said, but he moved his hands from Brendon’s waist to rest them lightly on his back, and Brendon set his head on Ryan’s shoulder. He could, possibly, learn to live like this.
Below him, Ryan’s heart was racing, and Brendon told himself that it was probably just from wrestling. He had to learn to live like this if he was going to be living with Ryan, constantly.
Touring turned out to be pretty fun, in Brendon’s opinion, especially Nintendo Fusion, which Brendon counted as their first real tour. Coming from as big a family as he did, he was used to living practically in peoples’ pockets, and this time he’d gotten to choose the people he was with. The other guys sometimes bitched about the tiny bunks, but that wasn’t a totally new phenomenon for Brendon anyway, not after having stayed on Pete and Mikey’s tour bus for so long.
Besides, half the time they ended up staying up so late to watch movies, or just chat, that most or all of them just ended up falling asleep in the front lounge, smashed onto the sofa or sprawled across the floor.
Often, be it on the bus or in a hotel, when Brendon fell asleep cuddled up next to Ryan, he had strange dreams that flickered in and out of focus. The world would empty out again, and Brendon would be left standing on an empty stage, singing for no one, or nearly crashing as the tour bus continued on without a driver.
In these snatches of dreams, Brendon was never sure if he was really there or not. A few times he saw Mikey and Pete, locked together in an embrace or a fight. Once he attempted to talk to them, and it was like he was speaking underwater. “Gerard got sober,” he tried to tell Mikey, because that seemed so significant, even though it wasn’t what he’d been planning to say at all, at first. He didn’t know if Mikey heard him or not, though, because the scene shifted to a stretch of highway in the Midwest, and Brendon couldn’t tell if he knew it from Now or Then.
The dreams were unsettling, confusing but heady, and he spent the nights tossing and turning, caught between wanting crawl into them and stay or fight his way out so that there would be no way that he was ever in that Other World again. He struggled in and out of the…visions? Visits? until Ryan finally got tired of his semi-conscious, helpless twisting and turning and clamped skinny arms around him.
After that, Brendon could usually sleep peacefully through the rest of the night without any dreams at all.
Living with his best friends wasn’t the only good part of touring, either. Playing the shows—opening for Fall Out Boy—was amazing. With their album out, some of the people in the crowd actually knew their lyrics, and yelled back while they were playing. Brendon wanted to share Ryan’s words with the whole world.
(If he’d been disappointed that the song never appeared, he pushed that to the side and studiously didn’t think about it.)
Onstage, it was easy to assume a character. Brendon loved the fact that he could stand up in front of hundreds of people and pour out all his emotions, without anyone being the wiser. After all, it was just the singer singing, nothing more. He could get close to Ryan, touch his face and share a microphone, and it was all just stage show.
“Dude,” Pete told them after one show, “You guys are stealing all my thunder with your stage flirting.”
From across the room, Patrick called, “Pete’s just jealous.”
“Can’t deny it,” Pete agreed with a wink, searching for his hoodie hurriedly. Jeanae was waiting outside for him, which made Brendon sad for both Pete and his girlfriend in ways that he didn’t like to think about.
Brendon laughed and slipped an arm around Ryan, making a kissy face at Pete. “Who says it’s stage flirting?” he asked, rolling his hips obscenely.
Pete laughed with his head tipped all the way back and his eyes shut, making Brendon wonder who else knew that Pete wasn’t over Mikey. Wouldn’t ever let himself be over his summer fling.
Next to him, Ryan smacked his arm and chastised, “Stop giving him ideas, Brendon.” Brendon just grinned and pressed his face into Ryan’s neck, forcing himself not to move until Ryan finally shoved him away and went searching for Spencer. Brendon headed for the shower, and tried not to think about how it wasn’t only Pete that he was giving ideas to, but himself, as well.
After that, there was a kind of unspoken competition between Brendon and Pete over who could get closer to Ryan or Patrick onstage. Pete would go up and nuzzle Patrick’s shoulder or neck, and Brendon would have to outdo him the next night by running a hand down the part of Ryan’s chest that he could reach. Pete always seemed to stop a little short, though, and Patrick didn’t put up with as much, so eventually it just mutated into Brendon and Ryan’s own thing.
Sometimes it just got to be too much. Brendon would crowd up to Ryan, and Ryan wouldn’t pull back. He could always make himself keep going during the show, but afterwards he’d practically run to the bathroom to jerk off and press his forehead against the tiled or cement wall, taking deep breaths and squeezing his eyes shut.
After one such show where there was no possibility of immediate escape—he had to go talk to fans—he didn’t politely turn down the pretty girl with big brown eyes, multicolored hair, and a nose ring, when she grinned and unselfconsciously pushed a slip of black colored paper with a screen name written in gold ink into his hand. “Hey,” she said, “I never thought I’d be one of those girls, but…we should talk sometime. I’m Audrey.”
For a moment Brendon hesitated, glancing across Spencer and Brent to where Ryan was smiling and signing something, one hand cupped protectively over the Sidekick in his pocket. He’d been texting someone an awful lot lately, and Brendon had some suspicions that from Ryan’s LiveJournal, he knew who it was.
Turning back to the girl—Audrey—Brendon held her eyes as he pocketed the slip of paper and said, “I’d love to.”
It surprised him when he actually did talk to her, and even more when he found that he really enjoyed it. The day that he asked her out (online), he thought, so I wonder if I’m gay or bi. Or if this means it’s just Ryan. He pushed away the thought that it might just be Audrey.
Then he thought, holy fuck, I have my first girlfriend! and ran out of his bunk to go tell the guys.
Spencer happened to be walking back towards the bunks just as Brendon was heading out, and they slammed into one another with impressive force. Brendon bounced back against the doorframe as Brent and Ryan laughed from the front lounge. “Shut up,” he told them cheerfully, “I have a girlfriend.”
“Dude,” Brent said, holding out a fist for Brendon to bump, “You have a girlfriend?”
Brendon stuck out his tongue. “Sorry, you’re out of luck,” he replied, and Brent wrinkled his nose.
Spencer chimed in, “No, seriously, did you ask her out online?” which Brendon was not going to answer, thank you very much, because that was as valid a place as any. Especially since they were states apart right now, and there was no way he could have waited until they were actually together again. At his lack of a response, Spencer rolled his eyes and started chuckling.
Once it was nearly silent again, Ryan looked up and said casually, “I hope she and Jac get along. I’m asking her out pretty soon, and double dating could be fun.”
That should have been exactly what Brendon wanted to hear, but for some reason, it deflated his excitement instead.
“Sweet,” he said, with his trademark grin, as he draped his arms around Ryan’s shoulders, “We’ll woo them together, with my manly prowess and your girly charm.”
Ryan banged his head backwards into Brendon’s chest, but Brendon didn’t let go, and Ryan left his head resting where it had fallen.
The last night of the tour was strange, because it was their first real tour that was ending. The crowd was louder, more raucous, and Brendon ended up on his knees in front of Ryan, singing up to him. Ryan was wreathed in stage lights and playing like mad, and when Brendon pressed his forehead against Ryan’s thigh, Ryan pressed back.
Ryan’s lyrics spilled from his mouth, and Brendon was suddenly glad that for the next few weeks, until they started their already scheduled second tour, he wasn’t going to have to share Ryan with a whole audience full of strangers every night.
Of course, Brendon did have to share him with Jac, but then again, he was also going to get to see Audrey. Audrey had been telling him how much she and Jac had started talking lately, and how they were kindred souls. She had these visions of destiny that Brendon couldn’t quite fathom, but he was used to grand schemes like that from listening to the ideas that Ryan got.
It was unsurprising, to say the least, that their winter stay with the girls turned into a string of double dates and group sleepovers. Brendon was, honestly, amazingly happy. Audrey and Jac could spend hours getting ready for something, and he and Ryan would just hang around, Brendon piling himself on top of Ryan, talking about silly inane things as if they were the girls gossiping. He loved it.
Then Audrey and Jac would come find them, insisting on pictures and pictures and pictures. Sometimes Brendon still couldn’t believe that someone who looked like Audrey would actually want him, but when he told that to Ryan, Ryan didn’t respond, just looked across the room at where Audrey was draping tinsel over Jac’s hair and smiled with a closed mouth.
Their sleepovers generally consisted of separate rooms for couples, for obvious reasons, but there was a night that Audrey and Jac had clearly planned for, because they pulled both boys into one room and stripped down to bras and tiny pajama shorts before crawling into bed. It was Brendon and Ryan on the outsides, with Audrey and Jac pressed between them and clinging to each other as much as to the boys.
“My favorite people,” Jac told them, giggling, and Audrey pressed a soft kiss to her nose.
“Dude, have you guys ever kissed?” Brendon asked, because he was tired, and hadn’t stopped to censor the words coming out of his mouth.
Audrey laughed, rolling a little and licking his jaw. “Brendon Bear,” she said, and he flushed a little at the nickname, “You are so naïve.”
“What?” he asked, incredulous, and she turned back over so that she was facing Jac again. Their mouths slipped together softly, languidly, nothing like the fiery kisses that made Brendon want to touch her forever. Brendon met Ryan’s eyes over their heads and mouthed, Wow.
Once the girls had broken apart, there was silence that Audrey finally broke with, “No. But now we have. Have you two?”
Wordlessly, Brendon stopped, unsure of how to answer that. They had, and they hadn’t. Gripping her hips from behind, he hauled her a little closer, deepening his voice to say, “You’re the only one for me, baby.”
She giggled, turning to kiss him again even as she tugged Jac closer, until all four of them were smashed tightly into a pile. Then, seriously, she said, “Do you guys ever feel like this is just an interlude?” Someone brushed their fingers along Brendon’s arm, and when he looked up he realized it was Ryan, reaching the short distance over the bodies to link his fingers with Brendon’s.
“No,” Ryan said, too openly, eyes dreamy, “It should always be like this. It’s safe.”
Within three weeks, Ryan and Jac had dissolved, a messy, screaming-over-the-phone affair, and Brendon wondered aloud to Audrey if it had ever been safe at all. “What’s safe?” she asked cynically, and he told her, “Singing.”