|Little Blue Fish (Ryan/Brendon)
||[Mar. 30th, 2009|09:15 am]
This is for why_am_i, daydreambeleevr, japanimecrazed, softlyforgotten and redorchids! Splendifferous people all ♥
Bandom (Panic at the Disco) | Ryan/Brendon | 10,200 words | PG-13
Summary: Ryan finds out about the love potion. A sequel to Drink Me.
Warning: Real Person Fiction
Acknowledgments: Thank you to my fantastic betas scoradh and moku_youbi, and to oddishly for tireless cheerleading.
Disclaimer: I don't know any of the members of Panic at the Disco, Cobra Starship, The Cab or My Chemical Romance. This is a work of fiction, written with affection and no intention to offend.
Little Blue Fish
The fish had been inked in jewel-bright blues and aquas, beautiful against the inside skin of his wrist. Ryan knew it wouldn't always stay there – the point of an enchanted tattoo was that it moved – but he'd liked the contrast of the pale skin of his wrist and the vibrant scales of the fish, so he'd asked the inker to anchor it there.
Vicky-T turned Ryan's hand over, watching the fish dart between his fingers, the frill of its currently-orange-and-gold tail flicking over Ryan's fingerprints. The thing was that magical tattoos were supposed to move, a bit, but they weren't supposed to move like this; this changeably, as though they were real creatures.
"This is amazing," Vicky-T said. "I've never seen ink this alive. It looks ... it looks curious and excited." She looked up, smiling. "Kind of like your eyes look whenever you come into this shop."
Ryan blinked, because he hadn't considered that. It had got more lively when he walked into Victoria's shop; the colours had tinted warmer, too.
"Do you know why it would be changing colour?" he asked. He chewed his lip. "The inker didn't say it would do that. Or that it would change how it acted all the time. It was practically comatose when I got up this morning."
Vicky-T frowned. "It's not a real fish," she warned, "so I can't say much about it. But if it was a real creature – I'd call it a mood fish, Ryan." She made a vague gesture with one hand. "They bond to you?" she said. "Sort of. They pick up a host's moods, to varying degrees." She drummed her fingertips over Ryan's palm, making the fish dart away. "I can't say for sure, but it sort of looks as though your tattoo is picking up on what you're feeling, Ryan."
Ryan turned his hand, looking at the two-dimensional fish sliding over his skin. It came to rest just above his wrist, tail shifting idly. There was a bit of green in amongst the gold now; Ryan didn't know what that meant.
It was odd, but it was a little bit cool. Ryan had wanted a tattoo that was secretive but distinctive. This was kind of perfect. He smiled at it, tilting his hand higher.
"You could ask Gabe about it," Victoria suggested, resting back on her hands against the counter. She frowned over her shoulder at the two Alexes – two of the ones who were actually called Alex, and god, it had taken Ryan forever to work that out – who were bickering as they cleaned out a cage at the back of the shop. They were the only ones around, for once; it was rare not to see all five of them together. "Is that cage damaged?" Vicky-T called.
Alex Marshall looked up, blinking. "What? Oh." He looked back at it. "Maybe a little. I think the guinea falcons scratched it up some."
Victoria grimaced. "Damn. I was hoping to clean it up and use it for display." She looked back at Ryan. "Gabe..." she said, frowning as though she couldn't remember what she'd meant to say. Then, "Oh! He doesn't do tattoos, but magical inks are basically potions, I think, so he might have an idea. I asked him and Brendon to come by this morning to look at my light emulsions anyway; they've been flaring in the evenings."
They came about five minutes later. Gabe flung open the door, framed for a second by the light behind him.
"Victoria!" Gabe called. He tilted his shaded glasses down, stepping inside. "I could feel your great need of me from miles away. You have to control your constant dependency on me, my love; it isn't healthy."
Vicky-T took her cigarette out of her mouth and blew smoke at him. "My great need is too powerful to work to a schedule," she said, a smile curling her mouth.
Ryan's eyes had already skipped past the fur coat whipping around Gabe's shoulders to Brendon, who was laughing as he caught the door and followed Gabe inside.
"Seriously," Brendon said, but whatever he'd been going to follow it up with was forgotten when he caught sight of Ryan. His eyes lit up. "Hey," he said.
Ryan grinned, ducking his head as Brendon reached him. "Hey. Victoria says that I have a new kind of tattoo."
Brendon blinked. "Wait, you got another one?"
Ryan shook his head. "No, the fish. It must have finished healing, I guess, because it animated last night, and ... look."
Brendon took Ryan's arm and tugged him over against the shelves to one side of the counter. A couple of paradise dragonets were chittering at each other on the perch just above.
"Wow," Brendon said. He sounded delighted. "It's so..." He ran his thumb over Ryan's skin. Ryan shivered and looked down. The fish was a lot less skittish now; it was twining lazily around Ryan's wrist, staying in clear sight. If it was a cat it would have been purring, Ryan thought.
Ryan laughed, the sound coming out a bit breathless. "Vicky-T says it's probably picking up on what I'm feeling – like a mood fish?"
Brendon looked up, still holding Ryan's wrist. "I've heard of them," he said. "They form a psychic connection to the people around them; how awesome is that?" He looked down, stroking his thumb over Ryan's hand again, and Ryan had to bite his lip to keep from making a sound.
Brendon had his head tilted, hair falling forwards over his eyes, with that still concentration that always took Ryan's breath away. His red jacket was bunched up at the back, caught on something he had shoved in his back pocket – Ryan thought it was a tin whistle; he'd seen Brendon messing around on it yesterday – and there was a flash of white shirt visible just above his hip. It was nothing, and it shouldn't have made Ryan want to kiss him so badly, but ...
Ryan could feel the thrumming awareness of Brendon under his skin every time he looked at him, even when he wasn't so close. Ryan couldn't seem to let go of that bit of urgency – the part of him that was sure that he was on stolen time, somehow, and he needed to be as close to Brendon as possible as much as possible, because Brendon would come to his senses soon.
Ryan had never been very good at trusting in good things. Most of the time he could trick himself into not thinking about it with Brendon, though – Brendon was pretty easy to believe.
Brendon touched his tongue to his lip, thinking. "This is ink, though ... you know, Gabe was talking about potions for replicating animal behaviours the other day. You would think that you'd need ingredients connected to the animals, but it's the opposite – you can't have anything that would naturally come into contact with the creature in question." He looked up, blinking at Ryan. "It's kind of fascinating, you know? "
Ryan grinned at him. "You think everything's fascinating."
Brendon lit up a little brighter, the way he always did when he made Ryan smile – as if it didn't happen all the time; as if Ryan didn't smile more with Brendon than he ever had in his life. "Don't even lie," Brendon said, his eyes bright. "You think everything's fascinating too, or you wouldn't write three pages of poetry about an abandoned carriage wheel."
Ryan rolled his eyes, tangling his fingers in Brendon's sleeve so that he could knock their shoulders together. "That was a metaphor, you jerk." He was laughing despite himself.
Brendon widened his eyes. "No," he said. "Really?" He shook his head, his expression earnest. "I thought you just had this hugely inappropriate obsession with carriage wheels. I wasn't sure how to bring it up."
Ryan kept his own expression deadpan as he nodded back. "I can see that, yeah," he said. "I hate the way you agonise over the right way to say something. I wish you'd just blurt things out without any kind of filter sometimes; I never know what you're thinking."
Brendon broke into a low giggle. "You are such an ass," he grinned. He tangled his fingers back into Ryan's own sleeve, swinging their arms together. "I have secrets, Ross. I totally have things I don't say out loud."
Ryan was vaguely aware that Victoria and Gabe were discussing light emulsions a few feet away. He had the impression that Gabe had been telling Victoria that the emulsions were reacting to her newest acquisitions – whatever the weird little bird-creatures with the turtle-like shells were.
"... don't think the standard air infusions are going to work here; they can react badly to air elementals like these," Gabe was saying. "But I might be able to make you a hybrid of some sort."
"A hybrid potion?" Victoria sounded wary.
The Alexes had drifted over at some point. "Oh, like Brendon's love potion!" Alex DeLeon broke in now.
It was Brendon jerking his head up that alerted Ryan. Ryan glanced at Alex, who had frozen with his fist against his mouth, then back at Brendon. Brendon looked stricken.
"What?" Ryan said.
Brendon opened and shut his mouth.
Marshall swatted DeLeon on the side of the head. DeLeon ducked away with an "Ow!' Then he looked at Brendon again, his guilty expression intensifying.
Ryan was aware of what they were doing, but he couldn't look away from Brendon. Brendon was biting his lip and staring at Ryan.
A love potion.
"What – what does that mean?" Ryan asked.
"Nothing," Brendon said.
The shop suddenly felt too close around Ryan. He turned, ducking around Marshall, and stumbled for the door. He caught a glimpse of Vicky-T's face. She looked resigned, and of course she'd known, of course everybody had known except for Ryan, he just – he felt so stupid. Obviously these last few months couldn't have been real.
He was out on the street before Brendon caught up to him.
"Wait!" Ryan sped up. "Wait, Ryan." Brendon's voice cracked.
Ryan turned to face him, his fists clenching and unclenching by his sides. He was under the awning of a bakery, standing in the way of the customers trying to go in; he didn't care.
"What?" he demanded. "Are you going to – Brendon, did you give me a love potion?"
"No!" Brendon said. He stopped, panting; his hair was falling in his eyes. "No – god, Ryan. I gave myself a love potion. I – but it wasn't on purpose, and it wasn't whatever you're thinking. I just..." He trailed off, looking helpless.
"What?" Ryan's voice sounded strange in his ears.
Brendon slumped against the bakery window. "I took a love potion, by accident," he said. "And I fell in love with you."
Ryan stared at him. He could feel something cold creeping into his insides. "Fuck," he whispered. That was – that was worse than he'd thought it would be.
"No," Brendon said, waving his hands. "No, not like that! It wasn't – well it was, but it was a hybrid potion. It was half a love potion and half a time potion, so it – I didn't fall in love with the next person I saw, it wasn't like that. I got – I fell in love with the person I'd be in love with in the future, and – Ryan. That was you; I was in love with you."
He was talking in the past tense. I was in love with you. Neither of them had even said that word before this morning. Ryan wanted to be sick. He looked down, clenching his fists. The fish on his forearm had teeth, he realised; they were a tiny, jagged black shadow on his skin.
Brendon stepped closer. "But I'm – I'm not under the potion anymore. It was only for two weeks, only ... just those first two weeks, I swear."
Ryan didn't know why Brendon was even still talking. Just in love with you for two weeks, was that, fuck, was that supposed to be better?
"So," Ryan said, his voice so fucking calm. "So that makes two weeks of lying to me while drugged, and three and a half months of lying to me sober."
Brendon's eyes widened. He took a step back. Ryan stepped forward, and he didn't know what he looked like but he hoped that he looked fucking furious. "So why? The potion wears off and you're not in love – which is a joke, Brendon, that was never love – and you think you'll just keep lying. Because you, what, were you protecting me?"
Brendon hesitated. Ryan didn't let him speak. "You thought you should pretend because you couldn't tell me it wasn't real? Are you that spineless?"
"Shut up," Brendon said. It was breathless, with no strength behind it. "I wasn't going to tell you that, are you – you're not listening, you're not –"
Ryan was shaking. He knew that they were drawing attention from people in the street, but his vision had narrowed to Brendon. Brendon who was shaking his head and looking as though his heart was breaking, and how the hell was Ryan supposed to have known, when Brendon looked at him like that?
Ryan took the last two steps and pressed up into Brendon's space, twisting his hands into the front of Brendon's shirt. "If you thought you were being kind," he breathed, watching Brendon's eyes go dark, "you were wrong. That was never kind."
Brendon stared at him, his eyes wide. Ryan broke away and pushed into the street, pulling his cap down over his eyes. He didn't care who was watching him, or what Brendon was doing. He just wanted to get away.
Spencer's family lived in one of the tall town houses near Eltona Square. Ryan bypassed the front steps and made for the tree growing hard up against the side of the house, pushing against the guttering. It was an easier scramble than it had been when they'd been kids; Ryan was taller, and he didn't have to stretch so far to reach Spencer's window.
The window catch was undone, the way it always was. Ryan crawled through and sank down to sit on the floor, under the window. He pulled his knees up and curled his arms around them. It was dimmer in here than outside, quiet and empty, but it was Spencer's room, and it was almost more familiar to Ryan than his own.
He curled his arms tighter and dropped his head onto his knees.
The first time Ryan had noticed Brendon through the front window of the potions store, Brendon had been looking at a beaker full of hissing liquid. Ryan had been caught by the still concentration in his pose; his careful fingers as he moved the beaker in the light, frowning. Brendon had shifted it at what must have been exactly the right angle, because the volatile mix had abruptly calmed, sparking against the lip of the beaker and then subsiding. Brendon had set it down just as a customer came up to the counter; he'd looked up and smiled, bright and animated as though a light had come on, and out on the street Ryan had blinked and taken a step back. He'd shaken his head and moved on, but he hadn't been able to shake the afterimage of that smile.
It had been weeks before Ryan worked up the nerve to go into the shop. He hadn't meant to do anything, really; he'd just wanted to see what the boy talked about when he chatted to customers with that ridiculously bright grin. Only when Ryan had walked up to the counter Brendon had looked up and ... he'd stared. He'd dragged his eyes from Ryan's face down his body and back up again and his mouth had dropped opened and he'd smiled, so hard, and Ryan had felt as though he'd been knocked underwater.
If he had, though, Brendon had been knocked further and deeper. Ryan had been amazed to find that he actually had the upper hand in the conversation. Brendon was so obvious, and so unselfconscious about being obvious, and so willing to smile at Ryan as if Ryan were the best thing he'd ever seen. There was no way Ryan could have kept from smiling back, no way he could have stayed careful and cautious – and he was always cautious, but he hadn't been with Brendon. He'd shown Brendon so fucking much, because Brendon deserved it, because he showed Ryan so much, except that.
Except that he hadn't. Except that it hadn't been real. Brendon had always had the upper hand over Ryan, and he'd never said. Brendon had kept his heart all that time, when he'd seemed to be offering it in his open palm every time he looked at Ryan, and it wasn't... Fuck, it wasn't fair. Ryan felt as if he'd written words in a private journal and they'd been scrawled in huge letters across the road.
Ryan let out a shaky breath and pressed his face closer against his knees, tightening his arms.
He'd almost forgotten where he was by the time Spencer got home. He looked up when he heard the door open, blinking against the dim light. His eyes felt dry and scratchy. His hair was in his face.
"Holy shit, Ryan," Spencer said, coming in and closing the door. Then he got a better look at Ryan's face and his expression changed. "What." He crossed the room in a few steps and dropped to his knees.
"I made a mistake," Ryan blurted.
Spencer tilted forward, resting his elbows on Ryan's knees. "Yeah?"
"I –" Ryan's voice sounded scratchy. "About Brendon. I made a mistake about Brendon."
Spencer went still. "What did he do?"
Ryan laughed because, fuck, it was funny, it really was. "He took a love potion."
Normally a statement like that would make Spencer laugh too. This time he let his breath out, slowly. "Shit," he said. "Okay. So who's he in love with?"
Ryan gave a half shrug, pressing his shoulder against his ear. "Me."
Spencer gave him a level look. Then he nudged Ryan over so that he could sit beside him, under the window. Their knees pushed together. "Explain?" Spencer said.
Ryan took a breath and started stumbling through an explanation. It sounded hopelessly confused.
"He – Brendon took a love potion, right before he met me. That's why – I told you he was so – and, yeah. So that was why. And apparently it was some kind of time potion, so Brendon thinks – I don't even know what he thinks." Ryan twisted his hands together, curling his fingernails in until it hurt. "He's a potions apprentice, so he thinks potions are infallible. Maybe. I don’t know."
Spencer knocked his hand over Ryan's, stopping him from scraping his nails into his palms. Ryan slumped further down the wall. "It was only for two weeks," he said, "and after that – but he should have told me. I don't know why he didn't just tell me, and I wouldn't have gone on thinking it was real for three and a half months. It would have been easier. To end it then."
Spencer was frowning. He shook his head. "A time potion?" he said. "What does that even –?"
"I'll ask Brendon," Spencer said to himself. "I don't believe that –" He cut himself off.
Ryan didn't much care what Spencer asked Brendon.
Spencer nudged Ryan's shoulder. "You know this is only the end of the world in your head, right?" he asked quietly.
Ryan shrugged his shoulders, curling in tighter.
"Brendon doesn't know that you spend all your time waiting for good things to disappear on you," Spencer said. He pulled Ryan in against him, his arm curling over Ryan's shoulder.
Ryan shook his head, because no, Brendon didn't know about the mind games Ryan played on himself, but, "I wasn't," he said. "Hardly at all. I believed in it, Spence."
Spencer bit his lip. "It was pretty fragile, though, right?" he murmured. He dropped his head against Ryan's and didn't seem to expect an answer. Then he pulled back, picking up Ryan's arm. "Hey," he said quietly. "What happened to your fish? Wasn't it blue?"
Ryan looked down. The fish was a pale grey-green now, mostly camouflaged by the cuff of his grey-green sleeve. It wasn't moving much; Ryan could only see its tail. He shifted his sleeve up a bit, and the fish moved, slipping under the edge of the sleeve again with a distressed flick of its tail.
"I asked Vicky-T," Ryan said, still looking down. "She said that it was behaving like a mood fish. It picks up my – what I'm feeling, now? I guess."
"Oh," Spencer said. He looked at the tattoo on Ryan's arm. He didn't say anything about how what Ryan was feeling was clearly the desire to hide like a child crawling under the bed.
Ryan bumped Spencer's shoulder in thanks. He pressed his eyes closed and leaned back, sort of against the wall and sort of against Spencer. At some point he'd have to leave Spencer's room and go home, but he could stay here for a while.
Ryan looked at his wan expression in the mirror the next morning and decided that he couldn't actually face the world like that. The fish on his wrist, curled up in a miserable ball, was like a banner of patheticness for anyone to see.
Ryan still didn't know how that had happened – the tattoo. He'd found himself fixating on it this morning, pushing all the more dark and confused preoccupations out of his mind. He'd decided to go back to the ink parlour, today, and ask about it.
He looked in the mirror again and looked away, unable to meet his own skittery eyes. He needed a mask of some kind.
He dug in his closet and pulled out the skinny black trousers he didn't wear often because they made him look like an undertaker. He held them up for a moment, frowning, then dug again and found a long orange-gold scarf. He shimmied into the trousers, then threaded the scarf through the belt loops, arranging it so that it fell in a bright tangle halfway down his thighs. He chose a plain shirt, too – white and high-collared – and matched it with the setting sun waistcoat he usually only wore to make Spencer roll his eyes. It was garish and brilliant, the sun and golden-edged clouds and birds picked out in emroidered satin. Ryan loved it, in an only-a-tiny-bit-ironic way. He pulled his favourite charcoal-coloured jacket over the top, with the over-sized buttons. Then he grabbed another scarf, a black one crocheted with long, loose stitches, and knotted it around his neck.
His face looked even paler against the sunset colours, made more vibrant by the charcoal and black and the white of his shirt. Ryan made a face at himself. He rubbed his fingers together, hesitating. Then he went and fetched the little box of face paints and pencils that he hadn't touched in a year.
As a warm-up, he outlined his eyes in the faintest of black lines, carefully smudging the charcoal. Then he picked out gold and blue pencils, his reflection still with concentration as he traced out the delicate, fantastical shape of a flower, high on his cheekbone. It was small – much smaller than the patterns he'd drawn on his face back when he used to do this all the time – but it drew the eye away from the pallor of his cheeks, he thought.
He stood back, examining the effect. A boy in an eccentric tangle of vibrant colours and subdued black looked back at him, his eyes dark and a little tragic. He looked distant; removed from the world, as if you couldn't touch him. Ryan looked for a moment longer, then nodded.
He grabbed his grey newsboy cap and fitted it over his head, looking back to the mirror as he teased part of his fringe out over one of his eyes, a dark brown feather of a shadow that brushed his lashes. Then he tugged the hat down more firmly and opened his bedroom door, closing it behind him.
His dad had already left for work, so Ryan strode through the empty house without taking any care to be quiet. Not that his dad had been bad, lately. He'd only been drinking in the evenings, and Ryan had usually been able to escape to his room while his dad was still in the disappointed-and-lecturing phase of inebriated.
Ryan shook his head and pushed open the front door.
Brendon uncurled himself from the steps, standing up. He gave Ryan an uncertain smile.
For some reason Ryan hadn't considered that Brendon would come here and wait for him. He didn't know why not. Maybe because Ryan had made sure they'd never come here together. Ryan had spent entire days and nights up in Brendon's tiny room high up in the rickety shore towers, stretched out on the bed with his elbows resting in the open windowsill and all the weathered wood and water of the docks laid out below. Brendon had never tried to push the idea of him coming to Ryan's place in turn, though.
"Hey," Brendon said. He sounded hopeful. He put one hand out as though he was going to touch the flower on Ryan's cheek. Ryan stepped back and Brendon's hand fell.
"Sorry," Brendon said. "I – sorry." He chewed his lip. "I like the..." His quick nod took in the sunset and the flower and the low-brimmed cap.
Ryan couldn't have this conversation yet; he hadn't prepared for it. "I have to go," he said, stilted.
Brendon's face fell. He hugged himself. "I guess you're still mad, then."
Ryan looked at him and then away. He fiddled with the scarf at his waist.
"Ryan," Brendon said. "It wasn't – I'm sorry, I'm really sorry for not telling you about it, but it's not such a big deal, really. It doesn't mean anything now, right?" He dropped down a step, trying to catch Ryan's eyes. "It wasn't important, when –"
Just like that, the rage was back. "Of course it was important, you freak," Ryan bit out. He shoved past Brendon. He felt as though every part of him was made of angles, his shoulders and elbows cut out of glass.
"Wait, no, wait –" Brendon caught up to him, and of course he wouldn't give up, he was Brendon.
Ryan stopped, letting his breath out shakily. "Go to work," he said, not looking at Brendon. "I'll see you for my shift at the shop tomorrow."
After a moment Brendon dropped back. "Yeah," he said, his voice small. "Yeah, okay. Just don't – don't think anything stupid, Ryan. Don't –" He broke off. "God, how can this be so fucked up."
Ryan pretended he hadn't heard as he started down the street. This time Brendon didn't follow.
When Ryan chanced a look back from the end of the street, Brendon was still standing there. He was staring at his shoes, his arms crossed and his shoulders tight.
The ink parlour was in Cavendish Square, right next to Wayfare Potions. That was what had drawn Ryan's attention originally. He'd slowed to look at the potions shop, curious about how different it looked to Gabe's, and then he'd seen the ink parlour next door, with its row of pumpkin-headed skeletons inked into the glass shop front in dozens of different skeleton poses.
The inker had been a manic, effortlessly cool blur of energy who still somehow managed to have steady hands. He'd made it easy to be stoic about the pain while the ink was going on, if only because he clearly didn't believe that there was any pain to speak of.
He wasn't here today.
Ryan slowed to a stop outside the ink parlour. There was a padlock on the door and a note taped below it, with a smiley face. Ryan bent down, reading the note. It said he should ask at Wayfare Potions if his business was urgent. On closer inspection, the smiley face had a row of stitches all across its forehead, which apparently weren't doing anything to subdue its wide grin.
Ryan looked at the Wayfare Potions door. His business probably wasn't urgent, and it felt vaguely disloyal to Gabe to go into another potions shop. On the other hand, Ryan was fairly desperate to distract himself from his other thoughts, and he was kind of curious about the Ways. He'd heard interesting things about them.
He pushed the door open and ducked inside.
It was dark inside – a lot darker than Ryan had been expecting. He stood in the doorway for a moment, blinking as his eyes adjusted, until he began to pick out shapes and touches of light. There were bottles of potions picking out dull gleams in dusty jewel-tones all the way to the back of the shop. There were also other objects, fascinating macabre dolls and carvings and weird shapes of blown glass, scattered throughout the shelves and decorating the walls. Ryan spotted a huge embalmed beetle behind a glass frame, just above him, along with other things that reminded him of the curiosities Vicky-T had shown him once, sent to her by her seafaring friend Nate.
There were charcoal sketches on the walls, too, Ryan realised – he hadn't noticed them at first, in the dimness. They were of fantastical creatures, some bestial and some vaguely human; mostly they were lightly sketched, suggestions of stretching arms and teeth, but occasionally they coalesced into a more definite image.
Looking around, Ryan had an idea of where the inspiration for the ink parlour's dancing skeletons might have come from.
It took him a moment to see the two men at the back of the shop. That was partly because they were ignoring him, engrossed in their work, but it was mostly because they fit the shop so well they almost looked like part of it. The tall one was leaning up against a window that let in a narrow band of light, tracing something onto the label of a bottle. The other one was hunched over the counter, inky hair partly obscuring his pale face, a huge black coat with the collar turned up almost swallowing him up as he measured out ingredients. He looked like a vampire.
Ryan walked forward, moving tentatively around the rickety shelves. "Um," he said, when he reached the counter.
The potions master looked up, blinking the tangled hair out of his face. "Oh!" He startled Ryan with a sweet, crooked smile. "Sorry, I didn't see you there." He looked over his shoulder. "Mikey, why didn't you say anything?"
The other man took a moment to look up. "What?" he said. He glanced at Ryan. Most people at least widened their eyes at his more experimental costumes, but Ryan wasn't sure this one even noticed. "Oh, right." He waved a hand at Ryan and went back to what he was doing.
His brother frowned and shook his head. He looked back at Ryan. "I'm Gerard Way," he said. He was smiling that sweetly earnest smile again. Ryan felt a little bit as if he'd been licked by a ferocious guard dog. He gave Gerard an uncertain smile back and palmed the back of his neck.
"I'm, um – my name's Ryan. I was actually looking for Frank? From the ink parlour next door?"
Gerard nodded. "Of course!" Then he frowned. "Oh, wait..." He seemed to be struggling to remember something. Mikey didn't look up as he said, "He put a needle through his foot. It was kind of huge. He went to the hospital."
"Oh, yeah," Gerard said. He looked worried. "He'll be back out soon, I think. He usually is."
Mikey snorted. "Until the day he actually cuts his leg off," he said. He sounded fond now.
"Oh." Ryan shifted. "I guess it doesn't matter then."
"No, no!" Gerard tilted back in his chair, grinning at him. "Frank told me to deal with his queries, so shoot!"
Ryan hesitated, but Gerard only widened his eyes encouragingly.
"Um," Ryan said. "I guess I ... just wanted to ask about my tattoo? It's a fish, and it – I asked somebody, and they said it was behaving like a – like a mood fish? I just wanted to ask why. Frank didn't say it would do that."
Gerard clapped his hand over his mouth. "Oh!" he said. He took his hand away. He was chewing on his bottom lip. He looked sheepish. "I think that was me." He waved an apologetic hand. "I was experimenting with mixes, and I think I –" He glanced at Mikey, who rolled his eyes. "I think I forgot to tell Frank which ones I'd experimented with." He ducked his head, his eyes wide. "I am sorry."
Ryan hadn't been mad about the fish, but if he had been, he wasn't sure the feeling would have stood up to this assault. "No," he said. "No, it's okay. It's kind of cool." He fiddled with his scarf. "I was just curious about ... you know, about why."
Gerard nodded energetically. "No, totally," he said. "I get that. It was actually because I noticed the mood fish designs in Frank's sketches. They're quite distinctive, actually – they have this little flip in the fin which stays the same no matter how their colour changes. And I'd been experimenting with some emotion-respondent powders, so I just started mixing." He smiled disarmingly. "The ink probably only worked because it was the mood fish design that you chose."
Gerard paused, fidgeting with his hair. "And it did work?" he asked. "Could I – could I see? I wasn't sure if it would work."
Ryan put his hand over his wrist. Mikey had looked up too, and he was giving Ryan a faintly interested look, but it was nothing to the look of appeal Gerard was directing at him. Ryan didn't think he could say no.
He pushed his sleeve back.
He knew he'd been right to be reluctant when Gerard leaned over, took one look at the grey, anaemic looking fish twining along Ryan's forearm, bruise-like black shadows stretching up its length, and sucked in his breath. "Oh, wow." He threw Ryan a painfully sympathetic look. "Oh, that is one miserable fish. What are you doing to yourself, kid?"
Ryan pulled into himself. "Nothing," he said. He turned to look back at the door. "Anyway, I should go. I only wanted to ask about the tattoo." He could hear how defensive he sounded.
Gerard looked at him sadly. "If you want," he said. "But I think you should talk about it. Carrying things inside you turns them to poison."
Mikey made an impatient sound. "I'm sure he has people to talk to who aren't complete strangers, Gee," he said.
Ryan looked at him, and back at Gerard. He didn't mean to say anything, but he heard himself ask, "What do you know about love potions?"
Gerard's face darkened. "We don't stock them," he said. He leaned forward. "Is that why you're miserable? Something to do with a love potion? Because I am so, so sorry in that case."
Ryan twisted his fingers into the scarf threaded into his belt loops. "They're so bad?" he asked.
Gerard stood up, coming around the front of the counter. "People think they're fun," he said earnestly. "But they're emotional slavery, and the worst of it is, they're also intoxicants."
Mikey was mouthing along with Gerard's words, over at the window. Apparently this was a familiar rant.
"There's no better feeling in the world than being in love," Gerard said, staring at Ryan. "None. It's a rush like –" He waved a hand, indicating a pretty awesome rush, Ryan supposed. He felt numb. Gerard swept his arm out. "You'll do anything to get it back. People have tricked themselves into falling in love with their own abusers, even when the potion's gone, because they're so desperate to feel that again."
Ryan felt the words settle inside him like stones. He nodded awkwardly. "Okay," he said.
Mikey's eyes had fallen on the fish, which had crept around to the back of Ryan's hand now. It was clearly visible, the shadowy darkness on its scales a deeper stain of black now. "I don't think you're cheering him up, Gee," he said quietly.
Gerard looked up at Ryan's face and blanched. "Oh," he said. "Shit, I'm sorry."
"No. Thanks." Ryan felt as though he was talking past stones in his throat, now. "You've been – thanks. I was curious."
He escaped as quickly as he could.
Ryan went straight to the newsroom. He was going to wait for Spencer to come out on break, but Spencer was already outside. He was leaning against the wall, talking to Jon, who was carrying a messenger bag – apparently he was running errands of some kind. Of course he'd made sure he passed by the newsroom.
Usually when Spencer was talking to Jon he'd be toeing the ground and smiling and generally behaving like a fourteen-year-old with a crush. This time, though, they were talking in low voices, and they looked worried. Ryan was suddenly sure that they were talking about him – him and Brendon.
He was more sure when Jon looked up and noticed him, and immediately looked guilty as hell.
"Hi," Ryan said. Spencer's head snapped up, but Ryan was still looking at Jon. "You knew about the potion, didn’t you?"
Jon rocked up onto his toes, shrugging one shoulder. "Sorry," he said. "Brendon was really cut up about it. He was –"
"Drugged," Ryan said flatly. "I know. It messes you up."
Jon's eyes widened. "No. I didn't mean that."
"It's still true," Ryan said. "It's – Spence, I talked to another potions master. He said love potions are intoxicants. They're –" He shook his head, fast, clenching his fingers together.
Spencer's expression had gone still. He knew what intoxicants meant to Ryan.
Ryan pushed his fist against his mouth, leaning back against the wall next to Spencer. "He said that people trick themselves into falling in love again when the potion wears off," Ryan said, around his fist. "Just to get the rush back."
Spencer took a deep breath. Then he looked at Ryan. "I don't think Brendon's a junkie, Ryan," he said. He sounded unimpressed.
Ryan hesitated. "No, I –" he said. "That's not even what I –" He pushed his hand through his hair. "Okay, maybe not," he admitted, and he could feel the breaths Spencer and Jon both let out. Jon didn't know about Ryan's dad – or Ryan didn't think he did – but he was smart enough to recognise a loaded question when he heard it.
Ryan shook his head. "It's not even that, though. People trick themselves into falling in love, Spence. Like –" Ryan hadn't even really let himself think about the other part of what Brendon had told him, the future love part, but it had been lurking at the back of his mind all the same. "Brendon thinks he has to fall in love with me. In the fucking future; that's what that dumb potion told him. And he's – he's Brendon, of course he's going to – he knows that I – he'd do it for me, and because he thinks he's going to anyway so he has to. Fall in love. With me."
"Shit, Ryan," Jon said into the silence. "That's not true. I don't even understand that."
"That's because it doesn't make sense," Spencer said. "Not normal people sense."
"It does," Ryan said. "I'm – I've thought about it, okay. It makes sense."
"But –" Jon waved his hands, looking helpless. "But Brendon. He doesn't think like that, not – not all metaphysical like that."
Ryan shook his head. "Maybe he barely knows he's doing it," he said, hugging himself. "But it's true. It's exactly like Brendon."
Ryan made the flower on his cheek dusky pink shaded in outlines of black the next day. It looked like a dusty promise, long-since broken.
When he looked down at his wrist, the tattoo looked like a ghost fish; starved and grey-black and ragged against his skin. He watched it for a while, wondering if a tattoo could die. Then he dragged himself to his feet.
He couldn't even think about how much he didn't want to go to work today.
Brendon looked up the second Ryan entered the shop, the bell jangling a low chime. His face lit up with a painful sort of hope and he took an immediate step forward. "Ryan!"
Ryan blinked and almost backed out of the shop again. He forced himself inside, then stood twisting his hands together for a second. "Brendon." He ducked his head and looked away, finding Gabe.
Gabe was measuring out tiny amounts of a blue powder onto squares of rice paper, his long fingers deftly twisting each square around the pinch of powder and storing them away in a wooden box. Ryan wasn't sure whether he was supposed to know what they were, or what they were for; even now, most of the technical side of the potions shop went over his head. He went over anyway and stood in front of Gabe. "Do you need assistance, or should I man the counter?" he asked, still stubbornly avoiding looking at Brendon.
Gabe gave him a sharp look. Then he grabbed one of Ryan's hands, the one without the tattoo, turning it palm up and examining it at arm's length. Ryan just raised his eyebrows.
"No," Gabe said finally, "You don't have the fingers for this." He didn't even leer when he said it. He was frowning and glancing between Ryan and Brendon.
Ryan chanced a look at Brendon. Brendon was staring at him; he seemed to have been waiting for Ryan to crack, because he was instantly over this side of the room.
"We need to talk," Brendon said. He sounded firm and reasonable, but he was bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Ryan let his gaze slide away from Brendon's face. "I have to man the counter," he said, as though Gabe had actually told him to do that. "There are customers."
Brendon shot a look at the two women browsing the far shelves. "No there aren't," he said. "Those two don't count, they're barely looking."
Ryan aimed an awkward half smile somewhere in Brendon's direction and slipped around him, up to the counter. He caught one of the women's eyes and smiled, and they ambled up to the counter. Ryan kept his attention on them and their purchases for as long as they were there.
He managed to keep busy all morning, with customers or with tasks he got Gabe to give him by the expedient of hovering at his side and pretending he couldn't see Brendon. Brendon tried to talk to him, or to get him alone, at least a dozen times, but Ryan deflected him every time.
He wasn't strong enough to keep his eyes away from Brendon, though; his gaze slipped a hundred times. Brendon looked tired, his hair messy as though he'd been running his hands through it. He looked good, though; fuck, he looked good, the angles of his shoulder blades against his white shirt when he reached up to a high shelf; the way his hands shifted on the crucible he was turning over a flame on the workbench; the sweep of his eyelashes when he turned to look at Ryan; the uncertain shape of his mouth when he opened it to speak then closed it again, discouraged.
It wasn't even that, though. It was that he was Brendon, and Ryan couldn't even think about him without his chest cracking a bit. It was that he was Brendon, and he was affectionate and quirky and endearing and sexily confident and Ryan was so, so fucking in love with him.
Ryan had known, of course he'd known, all along, that that amazing giddy feeling wasn't his to keep. It was something stolen, and at some point Brendon would stop lighting up because of Ryan. He'd known that Brendon, ridiculous amazing Brendon who was everybody's darling, wasn't for him – but he'd let himself believe anyway.
Near the end of Ryan's shift, Brendon came up to the desk where Ryan was crushing tiny seed pods for Gabe. "Look," he hissed, his voice desperate. "Ryan. I'm sorry I lied about it, but the potion thing, it wasn't my fault. I didn't do it on purpose!"
Ryan looked up, meeting Brendon's gaze. "I know that," he said. His voice sounded dead. "I'm sorry. I'm busy." He ducked his head again, focusing everything he had on the seed pods on the desk. After a moment he heard Brendon swear under his breath and wheel away. Ryan looked up, his hand clenched by his side. He opened his hand and held it out, watching the little tattooed fish. It was jet black and tinged with a deep scarlet, resting soft and quiescent in his palm as he stretched it across the desktop, towards Brendon's back.
Ryan closed his fist and dropped his hand by his side.
He didn't pretend to be anything but glad when Gabe sent Brendon to deliver the new light emulsions to Vicky-T.
Ryan let his breath out in a shaky sigh, dropping his hands against the desk. After a second Gabe came up and leaned on the desk. "My apprentice is miserable as cholera," he said bluntly. "Do you know, I was going to make him journeyman next week? But at this stage I think he'd just blink at me and ask whether I'd come to his funeral after he wasted away of a broken heart. Again." Ryan choked, and Gabe gave him a dark look. "It's kind of messing with the vibe of the shop, to be honest. The cobra's pissed."
"The cobra's..." Ryan shook his head.
Gabe tapped Ryan's jaw. "What are you doing, little skeleton?" he asked quietly.
Ryan shook his head, not meeting Gabe's eyes.
Gabe sighed. "Go, then," he said. "Your shift's up."
Brendon must have run out on his own shift, because he caught up to Ryan less than twenty minutes later. Ryan had cut through a backstreet on his usual route home – a narrow street with crumbling brickwork on one side and a wooden fence on the other, usually with at least one alley cat pacing along the top.
He heard Brendon scrambling around the corner behind him and turned. Brendon was panting, his hair in his eyes, rubbing at his elbow where his sleeve had got torn. He looked pissed off.
On the fence, a cat gave him an unimpressed glare and jumped away.
"You said we'd talk," Brendon said once he was close enough. "Yesterday you brushed me off with today, and I can't do it, Ryan. You don't get to brush me off forever!"
Ryan was pretty sure he hadn't actually said that they'd talk today. He fisted his hands in his jacket and watched Brendon stop in front of him.
"You don't get to be mad forever," Brendon said. "Or –" he shook his head, his fringe whipping from side to side, "or it can't be at me. I can't be the thing you're mad about, Ryan, I just –"
Ryan hugged his arms. "I'm not mad," he said. He wasn't sure whether he was lying or not. "I just –" He shrugged, very small. "I just made a mistake. You and me, we – we weren't going to work."
It should have felt like a relief, to say it out loud.
"Fuck, no," Brendon said. He pressed closer, into Ryan's space. Ryan's eyes shot to his face. Brendon looked desperate. "No," Brendon said. "No, you don't get to – I'm not going to just –" He cupped Ryan's cheek, tangling his hand in Ryan's scarf, and he was too close. Ryan felt his back bump up against the uneven planks of the fence. Brendon's hand was in Ryan's hair, shifting to move down his back.
Ryan could feel himself melting into the touch and Brendon's nearness. It wasn't – fuck, he wasn't supposed to be doing, he didn't want, but Brendon's hands were hot through the material of Ryan's shirt, curling over his hip. Brendon's leg was pushing between Ryan's as he pressed closer, and Ryan couldn't stop the sound he made in his throat.
Brendon was still mumbling against his neck, the words a hum against Ryan's skin. It was a litany of you can't and I won't let and every word made Ryan shiver. His fingers curled at his side, wanting so badly to catch hold of Brendon, to press back. He couldn't, though, that wasn't – Ryan was leaving, he was, only Brendon needed to stop, Ryan couldn't think when Brendon was doing this.
Brendon pulled back for a second, his gaze fixed on Ryan's face, his hand still curled around the back of Ryan's neck. Ryan knew his own eyes were heavy and drugged-looking and his cheeks flushed. Brendon's eyes widened. "Ryan..." he said. Ryan shook his head, miserable and aching. He had no defences against this.
He saw the moment Brendon realised that. Brendon's eyes hardened with determination and he pressed forward, deliberate this time, licking into Ryan's mouth and kissing hot and hard. Ryan shuddered, his mind whiting out. Brendon's hand was pushing under Ryan's shirt, sliding hot on his skin, fingernails scraping over the bumps of his lower back where he knew Ryan loved to be touched. Brendon's mouth was against Ryan's jaw, now, his breath hot, and god, Ryan couldn't even. He heard himself make a distressed sound in his throat.
Brendon lifted his face. His hand came around to thumb over Ryan's cheekbone. "Ryan," he said. "Just –" His eyes were fixed dark and heated on Ryan face. "Just stay, stay here –"
Ryan took a gasping breath and pushed away. Brendon stumbled and stared at him, his eyes dark and huge.
"Fuck," Ryan said. His legs were shaky and his voice sounded hoarse and overwhelmed. "Don't – don't do that."
Brendon was breathing hard. He looked destroyed. "I don't know what else to do."
Brendon's voice rang out behind Ryan as he stumbled away from the fence and into a run. His legs were shaky and his breath was still coming stupid and fast, but he couldn't stay there when Brendon was looking at him like that, and. Fuck.
Ryan shook his head, trying to clear it as he ran. Fuck, what had happened there?
He hadn't been to the docks since this started, because the docks were Brendon; they were lazy afternoons in bed and ridiculous walks kicking up water at each other along the shore. But Ryan needed to think, and he couldn't do it at home and the docks had always been a good place to think and – and he was thinking about Brendon anyway, so it hardly mattered.
He jumped down onto the main jetty and walked out to the first watch point. It was empty today, the way it usually was. Ryan crawled up the ladder and sat up on the platform, curling his legs up against the warm planks, leaning on the door to the little storage space behind him. He turned his head to lean his cheek against the sun-warmed wood.
Just. In that backstreet. What had happened there?
He looked down at his hand, where the fish was fretting back and forth, confused and agitated. It was still black, but there were blue and green scales glinting at odd points along its small length. Ryan hugged his arms around his knees, still feeling shivers up his spine from Brendon's closeness. From Brendon's ...
Ryan shook his head. He'd known Brendon would fight him on this, because he was determined to do the right thing, to fall in love with Ryan the way he was supposed to; to not let Ryan down. Brendon was really cut up about it, Jon had said, and of course he had been. He'd wanted to make it up to Ryan; he thought he had to fall in love, to make things right for Ryan.
Except just now, in that backstreet ... Brendon had been kind of a jerk.
Ryan rubbed his arm, pressing back out of the wind and staring over the docks.
That hadn't been Brendon trying to be something Ryan needed. Ryan was pretty sure you couldn't spin it so that it looked protective or self-sacrificing. He shivered again. Brendon had tried to force Ryan not to break up with him, using – fuck, using sex. What the fuck?
Ryan stood up, restless, and walked to the other side of the little platform. Sails dotted the water all the way out to the deep harbour where the huge merchant ships docked. The cries of the gulls circling overhead and swooping down to perch on railings drowned out most of the human sounds. The loose ends of Ryan's scarf whipped around, tangling about each other.
There was an agitated feeling in Ryan's chest, making his breath come strangely. Brendon had tried to force him, to manipulate him. Brendon had –
– had been so desperate to get Ryan back that he hadn't thought about Ryan's feelings at all.
Brendon wanted Ryan.
Ryan stared at his own hands, where the fish was skimming from one palm to the other, tail flashing emerald. Brendon wanted him, enough to be a complete jerk about it.
Brendon wasn't trying to protect Ryan at all.
Ryan's breath was coming fast. He pushed his hair back and turned towards the shore. He curled his hands hard around the railing and laughed, and the gulls and the wind snatched the sound away. His fringe fell back in his eyes, tangled bars in his vision, and Brendon had only kissed him like he meant it because it was true.
Because it was real.
It was late afternoon when Brendon came trudging along the docks. Ryan had been sitting on the steps at the bottom of the shore towers, dangling his feet at the soapy grey-green water as it sloshed against the pylons. It was the best time of afternoon for the light down here, Ryan had often thought, in summer when days lingered – everything took on a pale glow, muted but still sunny.
Brendon stopped still when he saw Ryan, his eyes going wide. Ryan smiled, unable to help it, and got to his feet. He crossed the last distance and twisted his fingers in the bottom of Brendon's jacket.
"Ryan?" Brendon asked. "I thought –" His hands had gone to Ryan's elbows, fingers curling there.
Ryan leaned in and kissed him. Brendon made a strangled noise and kissed back, hard and desperate. His hands tightened on Ryan's arms, sliding to his waist, up his back.
Ryan broke the kiss with a breathless smile. "Hey," he said. He didn't pull away. Brendon's hands shifted on Ryan's back. He gave Ryan a shaky, incredulous smile. "Hey," he croaked. "What's –" Then he shook his head and kissed Ryan again, an urgent sound in his throat. "I thought –" he mumbled against Ryan's jaw. "You –" He pulled back. "Aren't you mad?" There was a disbelieving hope in his eyes.
"Nope," Ryan said. His smile was secret and pleased; he pressed it against Brendon's neck, darting his tongue out to touch the skin there, a kitten lick. Brendon shuddered, his hands tightening at Ryan's back again.
"You're – I thought I might have blown my last chance back in that alley," Brendon said. He laughed, shaky and breathless. "Ryan, I thought I'd –"
Ryan tugged on Brendon's hands, pulling him further back, up into the doorway where the shore towers began. The stairs started behind them, wooden and rickety and shadowed. Ryan ran his fingers up Brendon's neck, ducking his head to feel Brendon's shiver against his cheek. Ryan huffed out a laugh. "You," he said against Brendon's ear, "were such a jerk back there."
Brendon shook his head, fervent, turning his head to kiss Ryan's jaw, his cheek. "I'm sorry," he said. "I swear, I'm sorry, I – Ryan."
Ryan hummed a bit, nuzzling at Brendon's ear still. "Don't do it again," he said. He punctuated it with a light nip of Brendon's earlobe.
Brendon shuddered again. "Fuck. No, I won't, I –" He broke off, laughing and grabbing Ryan's hand; bringing it to his mouth and kissing the knuckles.
The stairs behind them were in shadow, except where glassless windows broke the darkness with patchwork bits of ocean and dock. Ryan nudged Brendon up onto the bottom step, crowding up against him. Brendon was breathing fast and warm against Ryan's cheek. Ryan kissed him again, licking inside his mouth, one hand going up to Brendon's cheek. He stroked his thumb over the heated skin, his other hand tangling in the soft hair at the back of Brendon's neck. Brendon made a broken sound against his mouth, kissing back.
Ryan lost himself in the kiss. He hadn't thought he'd get to have this any more; hadn't thought he'd ever be so close to Brendon again. He pushed up against Brendon, biting at his lip, desperately swallowing the soft noises Brendon made. Brendon's hands on his back, bunching up his shirt, were bringing every nerve alive; Brendon's mouth against his was eager and hot and sweet. Ryan hadn't thought he'd ever get this again and he felt as though every part of him was thrumming with the knowledge that he did, now. He wasn't tricking himself with this; hadn't ever been tricking himself. He hadn't thought this could be strong enough to last long against the stupid tangled up darkness he knew he kept in his head, but this time the darkness had rolled right over and Brendon was still here, warm and real and in Ryan's arms, and Ryan didn't know how not to believe in him.
Brendon knocked Ryan's cap to the ground and Ryan pressed closer. He pushed his fingers up under the hem of Brendon's jacket, and when he had to break the kiss for air he pressed his cheek against Brendon's neck and didn't let go.
"You're not going anywhere," Ryan said, his breath huffing against Brendon's hair.
Brendon ducked his head to smile at Ryan, flushed and happy. "No," he agreed. He tangled his fingers in Ryan's scarf. "Wow. No."
Ryan smiled back, biting his lip. "And not because of the potion," he said, testing.
Brendon tightened his fingers in the scarf. "The potion wasn't even – after it was gone, it took less than two days for me to fall for you past everything I could have – you don't even know, Ryan." He shook his head, ridiculously earnest.
"Yeah?" Ryan said. He tilted his head so that his nose bumped Brendon's, and Brendon grinned, bright and happy enough to take Ryan's breath away. He ducked his head, pressing his mouth against Ryan's jaw.
"I made such an idiot out of myself under the influence of that potion," he said, the words a hum against Ryan's skin. "And I came out of it and didn't even care. I can't believe you didn't – I'm so tragically in love with you they should use me as some kind of warning to children."
Ryan bit his lip, trying not to laugh. "That doesn't even make sense." He pushed at Brendon, getting him started up the stairs, towards the little room with the window at the foot of the bed that let in the sound of gulls and water. Ryan kept his fingers tangled in Brendon's, pushing their shoulders together.
"Me too," Ryan said after a minute. Brendon looked at him from the step above, the bottom-most window a square of grey-green water and sky behind him. Ryan coughed. "Um. I. You know. About you, too."
Brendon stared at him for a second. Ryan bit his lip and offered his hand, where the fish was darting about his palm. It was bright emerald and sharp facets of blue, all down its length. Ryan feathered his fingers over Brendon's shoulder and the fish glowed brighter, yearning towards his fingertips.
Brendon stared a moment more, his eyes fixed on the moving splash of colour in Ryan's hand. Then he laughed. He turned to nudge Ryan up against the window sill with his hip, bracing his foot on the step below.
"That," Brendon murmured, "was the lamest declaration ever."
He sounded impossibly happy.
Click the drink me tag for the other stories in this 'verse.