Summary: Ryan isn't actually a robot. Maybe. It's complicated.
Warning: Real Person Fiction
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. I don't know any of the members of Panic at the Disco, and don't in the least imagine that this is what goes on in their bus. No offence is meant.
A/N: Not beta'd. Typo spotting earns you grateful smiles.
"Oh my god," Spencer said, "Ryan is not actually a robot, Brendon."
"He really is," Brendon said, and he could feel how wide his eyes were. "He – Spence, fuck, he's a fucking – this is too freaky."
Ryan was sitting on the arm of the couch, where he'd been since he came out of his bunk. He was jerkily following their conversation, his head stuttering towards each of them whenever they spoke.
"Is," Ryan said, and then he seemed to get stuck. "Is – is – is – is – is – is –" He dropped his head, twitched, and looked back up. His hat had fallen down over one eye. "Is something wrong?" he asked, his quiet voice expressionless.
Brendon giggled, breathless. "He's a broken robot," he said. "Oh, wow, this is messed up."
Jon shuffled through from the kitchen, a cup of coffee in his hands. He'd been the one who'd first mentioned that maybe something wasn't right with Ryan. ("It's just, okay, I didn't mean 'Good morning' as, like, an order, but he's getting really upset trying to compute it or something?")
"Hey, Ry," Jon said now, his voice soft. "You want some coffee?"
Ryan dropped his eyes to the cup, blinking very fast. He lifted his eyes again. "Do you want me to?" The upward inflection was so slight that it might not have been a question at all.
"Sure," Jon said. "I'd like you to."
Ryan reached for the cup, his hands awkward. He took it carefully, then hesitated for a moment while he worked out how to convey it to his mouth. It was the freakiest thing Brendon had ever seen, no lie.
Ryan raised the mug to his lips in a series of jerks. Coffee splashed over the rim onto his wrist, but he didn't seem to notice. He took a sip, then froze in place for a long moment. "I don't think –" he said. "I don't – think – think –"
"Fuck," Jon said. "It must be bad for his circuits or something."
Brendon couldn't even breathe through his laughter.
"Okay, look, something happened," Spencer said. His voice was thin, and he was pacing between the kitchen and the lounge. "We need to work out what happened, and then we can –"
"Fix him?" Brendon asked.
"He's not broken!" Spencer said. "He's not broken because he's not actually a robot. I don't know why he thinks he is."
Jon bit his lip, leaning to the side, his eyes on Ryan. "What do you think he's meant to do?" he asked. "I mean, if he's a robot, what's he meant to do?"
They looked at Ryan. He was trying to go through into the bunks, but he kept misjudging where the doorway was. Every time he bumped against the frame he made a small, confused sound and backed up to try again.
"It doesn't matter," Spencer said flatly. "Because he's broken."
Brendon choked on his laughter again and Spencer glared, his face tight. "Only not actually, oh my god, Brendon."
Brendon tripped over the edge of the couch on his way to Ryan, still giggling. "Hey," he said, turning Ryan around. "Hey, little robot Ryan. You need to give up on that. The doorframe's not gonna move for you."
Ryan looked at him. "Hey," he said. Brendon gave him a broad grin, more because he couldn't think of anything to say than for any other reason. Ryan thought for a moment, then shifted his mouth awkwardly into a smile. His eyes were flat and the smile didn’t really convey any expression at all.
"Oh," Brendon said quietly. "Oh, wow, I really miss your smile. Don't do that, Ry."
Brendon could feel Spencer giving him a sharp, curious look.
Jon had slipped through into the bunks, and now he came out again, a CD in a clear pink case in his hand. "This was in his bunk?" Jon said, giving the disk a sleepily confused look. "I don't know, it doesn't have anything written on it."
"Oh hey, I remember that," Brendon said, snapping his fingers. "Some kid gave it to Ryan at the Meet and Greet in – I think Seattle? Maybe? I think it was supposed to be a demo."
They got those, occasionally – from kids with hopeful, determined gazes trying not to look desperate. Mostly kids who'd heard about The Cab, which meant Spencer got most of them, but the rest of them sometimes did too. Brendon usually listened to them, just in case, because The Cab were kind of ridiculously cute, and anyway how cool was it to be, like, mentors to some band just starting out?
Ryan usually meant to listen to them but forgot, or remembered months later.
Brendon snagged the disk out of Jon's hand and pulled out his laptop, curling up on the couch. He slipped the disk in once it was booted up, and plugged in his headphones.
It was a demo, like he'd thought. It was some kind of punk-pop, or it was trying to be, but the beat kept going schizo and rearranging itself. Brendon tapped his fingers on his knee, frowning as the structure went weird again, the chord progression all over the place. It was actually kind of giving him a headache. It was like a weird pressure in his head –
Brendon ripped the headphones off and stared at them. "Oh, fuck," he said. "That is messed up. That was trying to mess with my head."
Jon's eyes were wide. "Like subliminal messages?"
Brendon shook his head, still shaken. "No, like the melodic structure itself was – fuck, like it was rearranging my head. That is so fucked."
Spencer hissed quietly. "Someone sent Ryan a demo that turned him into a robot?" he asked.
Brendon laughed nervously, running a hand through his hair. "I bet he was supposed to do something, like, as a robot, but they messed up the structure and got a broken robot instead. 'Cause this is complicated shit, right. This would be really hard to get right."
Spencer stared at him for a moment, then spun around and took Ryan by the shoulders. "Hey," he said, leaning in, resting their foreheads together. "Hey, we're fixing this, okay? It's going to be fine."
Brendon personally thought that he sounded too furious to actually be comforting, but Ryan didn't seem to need comforting anyway. He was the only one of them not freaked out here. He blinked at Spencer.
"Can you fix it?" Jon asked, and he was looking at Brendon.
Brendon hesitated. "It's music," he said finally. "I can – I mean, music I'm good at. I can work out what the patterns were? And – and maybe interfere with them enough to break it."
He stood for a moment, chewing on his lip. Then he went and dug out the tambourine from where Spencer had taken to hiding it under the sink. He crawled back out and presented it to Spencer.
Spencer gave him a very flat look.
"Look," Brendon said, "I need an alternative rhythm to break up the sound while I'm listening to it, or I'm going to be robot Brendon." He widened his grin. "Nobody wants robot Brendon. Robot Brendon would, like, be a Guitar Hero machine or something, I don't know, but do robots even need to sleep? You guys don't want to see a Bden who doesn't need to sleep, okay."
"I hate you," Spencer said, but he took the tambourine.
The thing was that Ryan basically was a robot. Like, not literally, but Brendon had never been able to work out what he was thinking. It was really hard hanging off someone's smiles and frowns when you couldn't even work out what they meant, if they were real or not, and Brendon had maybe got sick of it. He tried not to think about what it meant when Ryan smiled at him, these days – that unexpected, sweet smile that always made Brendon stutter and lose his place in what he'd been saying, but Ryan basically thought he was an enormous spaz anyway, so it hardly mattered. He tried not to care when Ryan glared, too, because Ryan's glare could cut you to pieces if you cared.
But there was a big difference between Ryan being practically a robot and actually a robot. Somehow it had got a lot more serious once Brendon worked out how it had happened. The idea of someone deliberately doing this to Ryan was enough to make Brendon nearly as protective and indignant as Spencer.
Spence tapped out a pissed off rhythm against his knee with the tambourine, and Brendon tried to concentrate on that rhythm at the same time as the fucked up thing the music in his headphones had just done with minor fifths, and scribbled down another line.
Somehow Ryan had got onto a greeting round. Something had set him off – from Jon's guilty expression Brendon was willing to lay the blame there – and Ryan was methodically working through every greeting he knew. "It's good to be here," he monotoned. "We appreciate you coming out here. You must be glad to be home. You look well. Did you eat yet? It's nice to see you. It's good to see you. I'm glad to be here, you know."
"Oh my god, okay, I'm done," Brendon said. He slid down next to Ryan on the couch and clapped a hand over Ryan's mouth.
"You're seriously going to sing him back to himself?" Jon asked, curious. Spencer pressed his lips together and looked a world of skeptical, but didn't say anything.
Brendon ignored them both. It was – okay, it was strange, was all. He'd sung to Ryan a thousand times, on stage, mostly singing Ryan's own words back to him. He was kind of used to it, but not, because this was different. This was closer, and it meant a whole lot more than usual, and – yeah, it was different.
He leaned in, pressed his forehead against Ryan's in case the music had to be close to him, the way the headphones had been. The words didn't matter, only the tune and the rhythm, so he sang nonsense words about robots, and then changed it halfway through to something about Pinocchio becoming a real boy. He maybe got into it and started singing lines from the little cricket dude, but then Ryan gave a huge gasp against him and fell off the couch. His hat, already most of the way dislodged, tumbled onto the floor behind him.
Ryan stared at him for a second from the floor, his eyes wide, his hair mussed. Then he scrambled towards the bathroom, his hand over his mouth.
Brendon found him clutching the toilet bowl, his face white. Brendon leaned over to gingerly peer inside, but Ryan hadn't thrown up – he'd obviously just been afraid he was going to.
"Oh god," Ryan breathed. "Oh god, oh god, oh – fuck, Bren."
"Hey," Brendon said. He knelt down, biting his lip. "Hey, it's okay. You're back, right?" He put his hand on Ryan's shoulder. "You're back."
"I couldn't feel anything," Ryan said. He twisted towards Brendon, transferring one hand from the toilet seat to grip Brendon's shoulder. He gripped hard. "I couldn't – I didn't even know that I liked you guys, really, there wasn't even anything I wanted to do, I –"
Abruptly he grabbed Brendon's other shoulder and pulled him forward, kissing Brendon hard on the mouth.
Brendon made fish noises.
Ryan pulled away. He looked at his hands. There was a bit of colour on his cheeks now.
"Um," Brendon said intelligently. "You, um."
"I didn't want to do any of the things I normally want to do," Ryan said, as though that made any sense.
"I didn't – know you wanted to kiss me?" Brendon tried, and he could hear his voice going high and disbelieving at the end.
Ryan was still determinedly looking away. "I always want to kiss you," he mumbled. "But I forgot." He cleared his throat. "So, anyway –"
"No fucking way," Brendon said, dragging Ryan's face back towards him. His grin was stretching his mouth, and it almost hurt. He pressed it against Ryan's mouth, biting at Ryan's bottom lip, and Ryan made a small surprised sound and opened for him. Brendon mumbled words against Ryan's mouth, against his cheek. "If you're even, like, the tiniest bit interested in kissing me, Ryan Ross, then there's going to be marathon kissing, I am so serious. There's going to be – an obnoxious amount of kissing, there's –"
Ryan pushed in closer and deepened the kiss, and Brendon shut up.
After a few more minutes there was the soft sound of a throat clearing. "So, uh," Jon said, the lisp in his voice accentuated the way it sometimes was when he was trying not to laugh. Brendon was busy, thanks, and not looking up. "So Ryan making out with Brendon, are we thinking that's a sign that he's fixed, or is it a special new brand of crazy?"
"I'm not seeing any making out." Spencer's voice was flat.
"Uh huh." Jon again, even more amused. "You have your eyes squeezed shut, Spence."
Brendon thought they went away again after that.
Ryan pulled back eventually – not very far, he still had his forehead pressed against Brendon's. He was smiling, a tiny curl of his mouth.
"You sang me back home," Ryan said quietly. Then he frowned. "No, wait, that sounded really lame."
"You're writing lyrics right now, aren't you?" Brendon asked, the laugh spilling into his voice. "Like, while we were kissing, you were totally putting half your attention into working out synonyms."
"Maybe," Ryan admitted. Brendon grinned and leaned forward, licking into his mouth again. Ryan made a pleased noise and maneuvered them both around. Being Ryan, he misjudged the angle and they knocked painfully against the wall.
Brendon snickered. "You're so graceful now that you're not a robot."
"Oh my god, shut up," Ryan said, his voice a perfect monotone. Brendon muffled his laugh in Ryan's scarf, pressing his face against the silky-scratchy material.
He was pretty much as happy as he'd ever been.