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A Million Ways To Fall - Pt. X

                It didn’t matter how much everyone told Brendon not to stress, it was a tense time for all of them.  Jon didn’t go back to Chicago when he was supposed to and the closer they got to March and to Brendon’s due date, the less likely it seemed that he would leave at all.  His presence was calming and welcome, but Spencer started dropping hints that maybe Jon should look into buying a place in Vegas, which spawned a few awkward silences and late-night phone arguments.

                Ryan was reluctant to let Brendon start moving into his own house.  He said there was no way Brendon could live alone, not now that he was edging on eight months pregnant.  Brendon didn’t really want to leave, but he was afraid to stay, too.  Everything was sitting on such a fine balance and he didn’t want to do anything to upset that.  He just wasn’t sure if staying would be what tipped the scales, or if leaving would.

                Outside of their intimate circle in Vegas, the whole world seemed to be completely obsessed with Brendon and his condition.  The interview had printed two and a half weeks after the news first broke.  Brendon was candid and honest and Dr. Pierson and Theresa had been available for comment and now that it was out that he was miraculously, seriously pregnant, everyone was paying attention.  There were offers from different big-named journalists who wanted to sit down and get an exclusive and there were medical journals and doctors and hospitals and scientists constantly trying to get their hands on Brendon’s case.

                The media had exploded in a flurry of speculation about who the father was (something Brendon was keeping secret), what Brendon’s future would consist of, how the band felt about it, how the label felt about it, and on and on.  There were people in such a state of shock they were vocally in denial.  There were either calling it a cry for attention or a publicity stunt.  Others were saying Brendon was nothing but a freak of nature, paying the price for his sexuality.

                Anything and everything that could be said was being said and even though Brendon was doing a good job of ignoring it, he couldn’t avoid it completely. 

                Brendon had unending support from friends and label-mates, which helped.  Pete had blogged about how he’d been a dick once before and he wasn’t going to do it again, he was in complete support of Brendon’s decision to have and keep the baby.  During an interview about the new album, Bill was asked about how he felt about the situation and he said, quite calmly, that it was really nobody’s business but Brendon’s and he was sickened by the media circus that had jumped on the story.

                The Hush Sound and The Cab posted bulletins on their myspaces in support of Brendon and after a series of primetime television specials questioning the validity of Brendon’s condition, all of them bouncing between calling him an attention-whore and a mistake of nature, Travis posted a blog that told everyone to back the fuck off, it was none of their fucking business. 

                Brendon’s family called once or twice, but he didn’t answer and they didn’t leave messages.  In the grandest scheme of things, maybe he shouldn’t have ignored them or they should have tried harder, but Brendon couldn’t bring himself to worry about it.  Not with everything else going on and not with his real family doing their best to stand strong by his side.

                While Spencer kept Brendon up-to-date on what was happening outside, Jon and Ryan did their best to keep him comfortable inside.  It was a little claustrophobic, being trapped in Ryan’s house, but he had no choice; if he left, the chances of being tracked down by reporters and paparazzi increased by a hundred percent.  The last thing Brendon wanted to contend with was a bunch of assholes following him around with cameras, selling worthless candids to websites for a profit.

Brendon tried to relax.  With Ryan and Jon taking care of him, he didn’t have much to do.  He’d been by to see his new house a couple of times, had paid an interior decorator to go wild and make sure it was baby-proofed, but other than that he couldn’t do a whole lot.  With his giant belly getting in the way, it was impossible to do anything comfortably, and whenever Brendon sat down to chill out he automatically wanted to have an anxiety attack.

Ryan’s condo was beginning to feel like a prison and the kid gloves his bandmates were handling him with set him on edge.  Brendon tried, he really did, to stay calm and zen but having Jon and Ryan worrying over him all the time, with Spencer showing up at random to join in, was getting annoying.

                “I’m not gonna break!” Brendon snapped finally, and even though he wanted to tell Jon and Spencer and Ryan, it was only Ryan that he was yelling at because Spencer and Jon were gone on some mystery errand.  “Stop smothering me!”

                “I only asked if you wanted me to cook dinner or order something in.  How is that smothering you?” Ryan asked, arms crossed and face blank.

                Brendon frowned.  “That’s not the only thing, Ryan.  You won’t let me leave the room to take a fucking piss without asking if I’m okay.  I can’t leave the house, you’re always right there telling me not to stress out, trying to hold my hand, I can’t take it anymore.”

                Ryan blinked at him.  “Since when have you had a problem with people invading your space?  You’re the clingiest person I know.”

                “Since it started to feel like this,” Brendon shot back.

                Ryan threw his hands up in the air, his version of a yell, and said, “like what, Brendon, like what?”

                “Like I’m a prisoner,” he answered, the closest he could come to nailing down the feeling.

                Ryan’s eyes narrowed, that way he had when he was angry and about to say something he might regret, and said, “well that’s not my fault, is it?”

                “What’s that supposed to mean?” Brendon asked harshly.

                “I mean, my boyfriend isn’t the one who sold me out to the fucking media,” Ryan said, voice even.

                Brendon sucked in a sharp breath.  “Fuck you,” he said in a jagged whisper.  “He didn’t sell me out-”

                “You don’t know that,” Ryan said, still completely placid.  “You haven’t even heard from him since it happened, have you?  Nobody has.”

                It was true, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.  Brendon bit his lip and felt stupid, stupid for trusting Shane, stupid for still waiting for him, stupid for a lot of things. 

                “He wouldn’t do that,” Brendon insisted, because it was all he had to cling to right now. 

                “Why are you still defending him?” Ryan asked, and his calm façade cracked enough for Brendon to see how upset he was.

                “Why are you so willing to right him off?” Brendon shot back instead of answering.

                He and Ryan stared at each other for a moment and Brendon thought he saw something in Ryan’s eyes that he recognized, but Ryan was looking away before he could put a name to it.

                “You know what?  If you don’t want me smothering you then you can just get the fuck out of my house.  I don’t care.”

                Ryan turned and Brendon almost let him go, but his mouth opened before he could help it and he said, “liar.”

                Ryan went perfectly, painfully still and Brendon could have stopped, should have stopped, but he was angry and he was hurting and he was so sick and tired of everything that he couldn’t.

                “You’re a fucking liar, Ross,” Brendon said. 

                Ryan finally turned around and this time his eyes were sharp with fear and anger, his face more expressive than Brendon had seen it in a long time.  “What do you know about it?” he demanded.  When Brendon didn’t answer, he pushed forward.  “What the fuck do you know about it, Brendon?  Tell me, if you’ve got it all figured out.”

                “I didn’t say that, I just said you’re a liar.  You care.  That’s why you’re doing all this.”

                Ryan frowned.  “I’m not the only one.  Jon and Spencer-”

                “It’s not the same,” Brendon said; from the way Ryan winced, he knew he was right.  He’d only really been guessing up until now.

                “It doesn’t matter.  It’s never mattered because it’s not me,” Ryan said quietly.

                Brendon blinked, confused.  “What are you talking about?”

                Ryan looked at Brendon like he was the most frustrating, stupid person he’d ever seen and when he spoke, the words were ripped from the back of his throat.  “It’s not me, Brendon.  It never has been.  I’m not the one living with you and taking care of you.  I’m not the one you’re in love with.”  He took a step forward and reached out, pressing his fingertips to Brendon’s belly.  “It’s not me and I wish it was.  I don’t even know what-“  He cut himself off and ducked his head.

                Brendon didn’t move even though he wanted to reach out.  He felt fragile, like spun sugar, and Ryan looked just as brittle.  They stood for a tremulous moment, Ryan’s touch hot even through layers of fabric.  The baby rolled a little, resettling, and Ryan drew in a shaky breath.

                “I wish it was me,” he whispered, lifting his head and looking at Brendon with everything out there for him to see.

                It was a little like being submerged without warning, like someone had put their hand on his head and dunked him underwater and everything that he thought he knew, the way he’d seen and heard it, was suddenly completely different.  Duller.  Sharper.  All at the same time.  Ryan looked so vulnerable and there was anguish etched into every line of his face and he was scared, so obviously scared, but overshadowing all of it was the way he looked at Brendon.

                That?  That was love.  And it made Brendon feel breathless and weak in the knees and even after everything he’d wondered and suspected, love like this (pure, unadulterated, powerful) had never been a part of it.

                “Keltie,” Brendon said, because he couldn’t think of anything else.

                “She knows,” Ryan told him, which drew Brendon up short.  “It’s . . . it’s not anything new I just didn’t really get it before.  But she did.”  He glanced away and added, “you’re the fib tucked into the cookie jar.”

                Brendon shook his head, more in disbelief than denial, and curled his fingers around Ryan’s wrist.  “You should have said something,” he said.

                Ryan lifted his eyes again and screwed up his face into an adorable little pout.  “Said what?  ‘Hi, I might be a little in love with you but I didn’t realize it until you got knocked up?’”

                “Or,” Brendon corrected, “you could have said something before.” 

                “Wouldn’t have mattered,” Ryan said, but he sounded a little unsure.

                In reality, Brendon didn’t know if Ryan was right or not.  There was just too much that made it hard to tell, too much between them and too much to them individually.  Even now there was too much and they both knew it.  It was why Brendon wasn’t pushing, away or forward or in any direction.  It was why, Brendon suspected, Ryan wasn’t asking for anything. 

                “We don’t know that,” Brendon finally said, and Ryan shrugged but a little rueful smile was playing at the corners of his mouth.  “I should probably think about moving into my own place,” he added.

                Ryan sighed and nodded.  “Yeah.  Probably a good idea.”

                It didn’t feel like it.  It felt sort of hollow, really, but it was necessary.  Brendon needed some room to breathe and he couldn’t get that here.  That didn’t mean he wanted to push Ryan away, though.  He wouldn’t ever be able to.  They were more to each other than that.  Brendon pulled Ryan close and the hug was a little awkward with Brendon’s belly between them, but Ryan tucked Brendon’s head under his chin and held on tight anyway.

                Brendon closed his eyes and thought if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, and then he thought, that never really fit us at all.

 

_._

 

                It took three days to get Brendon ready to move into the cozy house that was only a couple blocks away from Ryan.  It was big enough for Brendon and the baby and Dylan (and Shane, but Brendon was trying to ignore that part), with spacious rooms painted in warm colors.  Brendon had fallen in love with it pretty much immediately and he was excited about moving in.

                The morning that he and the last of his bags piled into Spencer’s car and drove over to the house was an adventure in and of itself because Ryan took an extra hour to get ready and Jon was sort of ridiculously hyper and wouldn’t stop singing to Brendon’s belly and Spencer was all smiles, which was kind of distracting. 

                Brendon really should have known something was up.

                They pulled up into the driveway and got Brendon’s bags into the house.  Everything else had already been delivered and there were boxes everywhere that Brendon wanted to go through and organize, but before his fingers could so much as twitch in their direction, Jon was pulling him upstairs.

                “So, like, you know those errands Spence and I have been running?” Jon asked.

                Brendon nodded slowly and let Jon tug him in the direction of the room he’d designated as the nursery early on.  Jon didn’t say anything more, just grinned and nodded at Ryan and Spencer who skirted around him and threw open the door.  There was a loud yell of “SURPRISE!” and everyone ever was standing in a room that had once been painted in a plain cream color but was now fully re-done in pastel purples and soft, delicate grays.

                Brendon blinked, trying to take in what he was seeing, and jumped a little when Pete grabbed him in a one-armed hug and said, “you didn’t think you were going to get away without a baby shower, did you?”

                It hadn’t honestly occurred to him.  Baby showers were for, like, normal pregnancies, not for him.  And yet the room was crowded with friends and girlfriends of friends and boyfriends of friends and there was a pile of presents in the middle of the room and there were stuffed animals in the crib that Haley had helped him pick out weeks ago and everyone was smiling at him.

                They weren’t freaking out.  They weren’t judging, or if they were they weren’t doing it to his face.  They honestly didn’t care that he was pregnant and that he might be gay, that he was at least gay enough to have gotten knocked up in the first place.  They only cared about him.  It was an amazing feeling and Brendon thought, for a second, that he was going to cry.  He settled for laughing exuberantly instead and making grabby hands at the presents.

               

_._

 

                Jon moved in with Brendon, but not before being invited, first.  There was a part of Brendon that didn’t want to do it, but things were starting to get a little scary again.  He was far enough along in the pregnancy that the ability to predict what would happen and when was slimming down even further.  It was stupid for him to live alone and with Keltie back in town for a while, Brendon felt like he ought to give her and Ryan some space.

                It was, apparently, a good idea.

                “Something’s up with those two,” Jon said on his first night in Brendon’s place.  “You could cut the tension with a knife.  Like, literally.  You want a slice?  Because I can go back and wrap one up for you.”

                Brendon snorted and tried not to feel guilty.  It was difficult.  He felt like it was his fault and he hated that, hated that Ryan and Keltie couldn’t just be happy and carefree like before.  He was afraid, too, of Ryan going back to the way he was before he allowed himself to be loved.  He was afraid of what would happen if Keltie hated him for causing all of this.  Brendon thought it was a little weird that he was so concerned about that of all things, but he couldn’t help it.  He liked her a lot.

                Eventually, because his moping was starting to make Jon drop hints about going to live with Spencer, instead, who was apparently the only one of Jon’s bandmates who wasn’t in the middle of some kind of crisis, Brendon spilled the whole story.  From beginning to end, he told Jon about his crush on Ryan and about sleeping with Dan-or-Dave and about sleeping with Shane the first time and then the second time and finally about Ryan and their fight and how it hadn’t really resolved anything.

                “So basically,” Jon said slowly, “it’s always been Ryan.”

                Brendon nodded.  That sounded about right.

                “Until,” Jon added, “it was Shane.”

                Brendon nodded again.  That also sounded about right.

                “You never told anybody,” Jon said.

                “I wasn’t sure there was anything to tell,” Brendon told him.  “I mean . . . I wasn’t gay.  I’m still not sure if I am or if I’m bi or what.  And, like, I couldn’t tell Ryan.  I thought he would hate me.”

                “Way to be a douche,” Jon said, and the words barely stung, they were so true.

                “I know,” Brendon muttered with a sigh.

                “So,” Jon said, sitting back on the couch and pulling Brendon’s feet into his lap.  “What now?”

                Brendon shrugged and groaned when Jon started to massage one foot.  His ankles were so swollen they looked almost as ridiculous as the jeans with the elastic waistband sewn in.  Jon’s fingers moving strong and sure over his instep felt like heaven.

                “Are you in love with him?” Jon asked.

                Brendon bit his lip and said, quietly, “I don’t know.  I thought-” He squeezed his eyes shut and didn’t continue.

                Jon hummed and paused before asking, “what about Shane?”

                Thinking about it hurt a little too much, but Brendon didn’t know if he was in love with Shane.  Almost, maybe, but he’d almost been in love with Ryan, too.  It was a fucked up, confusing mess.

                “I don’t know,” Brendon answered again.

                Jon didn’t say anything else about it, and they dropped the subject completely.  It didn’t come up again because there were more important things to worry about, like the fact that a week into March Theresa showed up on Brendon’s doorstep and told him he should consider heading to LA so they could monitor him closely in the weeks leading up to his due date.

                “As soon as labor starts, we’re going to need to be able to act quickly and there’s no telling if you’ll actually make it to the twenty-second,” she said.  “I’ll be with you the whole time and your friends can come to stay with you as well.  Anyone you’d like to be present at delivery is welcome.”

                Brendon didn’t really want to leave just yet because that made it feel real and he wasn’t prepared for that part of it, for the actual baby part of it.  At the same time, he was sort of done with the pregnancy thing.  He’d gotten progressively more miserable in the last couple of months and he was tired of feeling clumsy and heavy and achy and tired all the time. 

                “I think I’m pretty much ready for this baby to be born,” he groused while he packed his bags and watched Jon do the same.

                “You say that now,” Jon teased.

                They made calls to a few people, namely Pete and Cassie and Tom.  Ryan, Keltie, Haley and Spencer met them at Brendon’s place and they packed themselves up into their respective vehicles and drove out to L.A.  Spencer and Haley left Boba and Milo with Spencer’s parents; Ryan dropped Hobo off with Pete and Brendon took Dylan to Regan’s.  He didn’t linger with her too long even though she looked like she wanted to talk.  She didn’t ask about Shane and she didn’t mention that she hadn’t talked to him.  She didn’t really need to.

                It sucked, but Brendon was slowly forcing himself to get used to the idea that he probably wouldn’t be hearing from Shane for a long time.  He wasn’t happy about it, but there wasn’t much he could do.

After getting their pets put up in temporary homes, it was off to the birthing center, Brendon’s home away from home until after he’d had the baby.

                It was a cozy little place with rooms and beds for everyone and Dr. Pierson had apparently pulled all sorts of strings to make it safe for Brendon’s delivery.

                “We’re taking a risk doing it here instead of a hospital,” he told Brendon when they arrived.  “But we’ve taken every precaution and with the way the pregnancy has developed so far, we have every hope that it will go smoothly.”

                It was a little nerve-wracking to think that he was so far from an actual hospital, but it was more comfortable at the birthing center and according to Dr. Pierson and the team of nurses he’d brought with him, they had everything and the kitchen sink required to successfully and safely deliver Brendon’s baby.  He had no choice but to trust them; doing so was marginally easier than he would have expected.

                Pete and Ashlee dropped by a couple of times over the course of the first week.  Ashlee cooed over Brendon a lot which both amused him and made him nervous.  Pete kept putting a hand on the small of her back and smiling in a way that either meant he wanted to have one of his own, or he liked the way Ashlee lit up whenever she started talking about babies.

                Having the two of them visit was nice.  Having Jon, Spencer, Ryan, Haley and Keltie around all the time was even better.  They ate dinner together and hung out a lot.  Brendon was pretty sure they all got high without him when he was taking naps or reading up on last-minute baby stuff.  He didn’t mind.  They would come back from wherever, giggly and loose, and they’d curl up around Brendon and pet his stomach and help him forget the fact that when he left the center, he’d have a baby with him.  His baby, holy fuck.

                Obviously Brendon couldn’t put it out of his mind completely.  He’d read the books and talked to Theresa and Cassie was always offering advice but he knew he wasn’t ready.  He didn’t know how anyone could possibly be ready.  He was bound to fuck up and he didn’t want to.  He didn’t want to hurt or ruin his kid.  He didn’t want his baby to ever feel like his parents had been able to make him feel, but Brendon wasn’t a miracle worker.  He had no idea what he was doing. 

                The more he thought about it, the less prepared he felt and the more scared he got.  It was hard to sleep, hard not to freak out, and all he could think when his baby kicked and rolled and made its presence known was that he didn’t want to mess up.  Please, he thought every time, please don’t let me mess this up.

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