lady_deathangel ~*~ 9,579 words ~*~ PG-13 ~*~ implied Ryan/Bren, hints of Jon/Bren
||Disclaimer: Not true, not claiming it is, etc., etc., please don't hurt me (and for the love of god, don't read this if you think it might possibly be about you).
A/N: Part 4 is here! This fic is far from dead and we all have pressdbtwnpages to thank for that. She's gotten my ass into gear with this, inspiring me to revisit Bren and her boys and continue their story. She also looked this over for me and told me where it could be improved and assured me of all the places it doesn't suck, so thanks bb! I love you and couldn't have finished this without you! Because I'm immeasurably busy from now until the middle of December, don't expect the next part for a while, but there might be some more interludes. Who knows? Title from the Cute Is What We Aim For Song "Teasing to Please (Left Side, Strong Side)"||
Spencer calls a band meeting after they’ve been in Vegas for a week. Bren isn’t surprised when she shows up at his house and he just looks blankly at her. She hasn’t so much as looked at her cellphone in seven days, let alone talked to him, Ryan or Brent. She’s sure they’ve called, but she hasn’t checked. She’s been too busy wallowing and trying to reclaim a normal sleep schedule and adjust to the awkwardness of being the daughter of parents who did a complete 180 when she wasn’t looking.
It’s obvious that Spencer’s pissed about her disappearing act. He’s probably been attached to Ryan’s hip since they got back to Vegas. The two of them have probably gone to movies with Brent and had him over for dinner. It was an unspoken agreement that the small break between the stateside tour and the UK tour would be for band bonding and for planning the summer tour. Bren’s thrown a wrench in the works by refusing to hang out with any of them.
She walks into Spencer’s living room and catches sight of the angry set of Ryan’s jaw. Her stomach pulls tight in something like shame and fear and anger and she’s never felt this way around any of them before. It leaves her unsettled and edgy and she sits next to Brent across the room, hands clasped tight in her lap, bottom lip held between her teeth.
“So,” Spencer starts, but Ryan interrupts with a sharply fired, “where the fuck have you two been?”
Bren blinks and looks over at to Brent who looks at her and oh shit. They’re both in trouble and that’s about ten times worse than if only one of them were.
“I’ve been catching up with my friends,” Brent says, turning his gaze over to Spencer and Ryan.
Bren doesn’t even bother answering. She can barely look Ryan in the eye and she hates when Spencer’s angry with her, hates it so much she can’t really function.
“Bren?” Spencer asks and there’s something in his tone that tells her he knows. He knows exactly why she’s been unable to drag herself out of bed for more than an hour or two at a time, and he knows exactly why she’s been avoiding Ryan like the Plague.
Bren lifts her head to stare at him and he just looks back, his eyes steady and empathetic. She feels another slow, slimy wave of shame and glares at Ryan.
“You asshole,” she says, eliciting a shocked look from Brent and a challenging one from Ryan. “You told him-”
“He was worried about you,” Ryan shoots back accusingly. “I had to tell him.”
“You had no right to say anything!” Bren says, sick to her stomach.
“Well maybe if you hadn’t checked out on us, I wouldn’t have had to say anything!”
“Um,” Brent says slowly. “Okay.”
Bren takes a second to frown at him before shooting to her feet. “Whatever, I’m going home.”
She’s halfway to the door before she feels a hand on her shoulder that she slaps away with a high-pitched, “don’t touch me!”
Behind her, Spencer sucks in a surprised breath; Bren winces and turns slowly. He’s staring at her like he’s never seen her before and over his shoulder, Brent is slack-jawed and obviously confused. She doesn’t want to look at Ryan, but when she slants a glance at him, his head is ducked and his eyes are obscured by a curtain of hair, so she has no idea what the hell he’s thinking.
“Spence,” she says quietly, turning back to him.
He just shakes his head and shoves his hands into his pockets. “Whatever, Bren,” he says, and he’s trying to keep his voice steady and cool but she can hear the uncertainty and hurt in the words.
“No,” she says hurriedly, hunching her shoulders and crossing her arms tight over her chest. “It’s not you, okay? I just. I can’t.”
“Can’t what?” Spencer asks, voice caught somewhere between upset and curious, tone soft.
Bren glances over at Brent and Ryan again; it’s obvious that they both want to know the answer, too, and she swallows hard before blurting out, “I can’t touch.”
They stare at her like she just said something completely ridiculous and she figures that for them, it probably is. It sounds like the dumbest excuse, even to her own ears. She tightens her arms and forces herself not to look away.
“Nevermind,” she tells them, holding her voice steady. “It’s not a big deal, okay?”
Carefully, she makes her way back into the room, just to prove she can, and sits down next to Brent again. They all watch her closely and she wants to lash out, tell them that she doesn’t need them to keep an eye on her like she’s going to break. The more melodramatic parts of her are a little bitter over the fact that it’s too late for that.
Spencer follows her back into the room a moment later and the silence that falls then is awkward.
“So,” Brent says after a moment, “is that it? I promise I won’t be a stranger or whatever, but I’ve kind of got a thing later today.”
The look Ryan sends Brent could strip paint, but Brent just narrows his eyes back. They have a silent standoff, the kind that Bren hasn’t seen between them since they were recording the album. For once, Brent is the one who wins. Ryan just deflates after a couple of seconds and shrugs, slumping back against the loveseat.
“Yeah, fine. We’re getting together later this week to talk about the summer tour, though,” he says, the words almost like a threat instead of a heads-up.
Brent nods, offers them all a distracted smile, and is out of the house before any of them can say another word. Silence creeps back into the room and Bren isn’t exactly sure what happens next; she looks at Spencer and Ryan uncertainly, knee bouncing under her clasped hands.
“Are you okay?” Spencer finally asks, not as a bandmate, but as a friend.
It’s weird that there’s a difference, but Bren recognizes it easily and feels herself relax. Not much, but enough to be able to nod her head in something that isn’t quite a lie, but definitely isn’t the truth, either.
“If you need to talk-”
“No offense,” Bren cuts in, “but it isn’t something you just . . . talk about. Can’t we just pretend it didn’t happen? Please? I’m fine, promise.”
Spencer and Ryan share a look, one of those telepathic ones that make her feel about five-years-old and completely left out. Eventually they both nod; she senses the hesitation in the movement and thinks that they’re not quite lying, but they’re not telling the truth, either.
Bren’s still not talking to Ryan because he’s an asshole and a bastard, but she ends up meeting him at Borders anyway. She figures it's a win-win because Spencer's supposed to be there, too, and she doesn't actually have a problem with him. Not only that, but it gets her out of the house and away from her parents which is never a bad thing. She's a little wary when she walks into the store, biting her bottom lip and keeping her eyes out for Ryan and Spencer.
She spots Ryan at the bestsellers rack near the front. His back is mostly to her, but she can still make out his profile, the soft set of his mouth, the fan of his lashes across his cheeks. His head is bent forward just a little and Bren catches herself staring at the sweep of hair at the bare back of his neck. It's not comfortable, the way it feels to notice these things. Bren's skin feels tight and her stomach clenches and she looks away quickly, searching for any sign of Spencer. There is none, and she's tempted to walk out completely and avoid this whole situation.
“Where’s Spence?” she asks, strolling forward instead and keeping her hands tucked inside of her pockets.
Ryan looks up, a book with a long, pretentious title printed across the spine clutched loosely in one hand. She spares it a glance and fights the urge to roll her eyes. It’s just like Ryan to pick a book with more words in its title than most of the songs on the album combined.
“Oh, he couldn’t make it,” he says casually. “Babysitting.”
If Ryan looked at all like this was something he'd planned just to get Bren to talk to him, she would hit him across the mouth and leave. She’s tired of his bullshit, tired of him constantly cornering her and pushing, like it’s his goal in life to make her admit that she’s not as fine as she says she is. But he’s looking at her like he wasn’t expecting this either, his shoulders hunched just enough to tell Bren that he’s feeling slightly awkward.
Well, she thinks, glancing away, that makes two of us.
“Bastard,” Bren mumbles, and Ryan laughs and reaches out, touching two fingers to her elbow and directing her toward the cafe nestled in the far edges of the bookstore.
Bren bites her lip and pulls her arm farther into her body, away from the touch. Ryan doesn’t say anything, but she can feel his eyes on her. It's been like this since the band meeting and Bren hates it. Ryan touches, always touches and looms and lingers in her personal space, waiting for her to pull away and tell him no. Pulling away is easy. Telling him no, isn’t. Bren doesn't like to think about it, but it's true. Even now, even after everything, she still wants Ryan in all the ways she shouldn't and that makes it complicated. As if they aren't already fucked up enough.
It would be easier of Bren wasn't still attracted to Ryan, if she wasn't so into him, but she is and she doesn't think Ryan's taking advantage of it on purpose, but he's definitely not pressing the issue on accident.
At least she knows why he’s doing it. He’s doing it because of the way she freaked on Spencer the other day and because of the way she refuses to let any of them in, even in small ways that used to come natural and easy. He’s doing it because they’ve hung out enough since then for him and Spencer to be able to notice that she really can’t touch and he’s doing it because the only thing Bren will say about it is that she’s okay. Ryan’s got this obsession with proving that she’s actually not and she doesn’t get why. It’s a power-play, maybe, or just some brand of crazy exclusive to Ross, but she hates it and it isn’t helping. It’s not like his insistent physical contact makes it magically better. If nothing, it’s making it harder for her to trust anyone with her body.
The anxiety that Bren’s been trying to live with for the last few weeks is so foreign it’s almost like being sick. Bren can handle the hugs that she sees coming, or even a hand on her skin if she can anticipate it. It’s the touches that come from behind as an unpleasant surprise that feel like a trap and make her body freeze up. It’s completely out of her control. She never makes the active decision to freak out every time someone hugs her from behind or wraps an arm around her waist. She never could make that decision; she loves to be touched and she loves to touch and this? This feels wrong in ways she can’t describe.
When she told Spencer I can’t, it hurt so badly and felt so real that she had to take it back, and maybe that’s what Ryan’s deal is. He knows she’s lying and she knows she’s lying and they both hate liars and fakes and cheats and hypocrites. But if he’s acting out on some kind of angry impulse to try and make her tell the truth, he needs to back off. This isn’t a lie she’s telling for the sake of fooling anyone but herself, and even that’s not working out so well.
As a result of everything, her own . . . problems and Ryan’s being an ass, hanging out is almost painfully awkward. They stand quietly in line for coffee, but that’s really the only chance Bren has to avoid talking to him. It’s easier when Spencer or Brent are around because she can make it very obvious just how much she isn’t speaking to Ryan. She can’t just ignore him here, so when they sit down for coffee she has to cast around for something safe to bring up. The summer tour is probably a good bet, or Pete. If Ryan starts talking about Pete he doesn’t stop for, like, an hour. Bren can just pretend to listen, smile and nod and secretly still be angrier at him than she’s ever been in her life. But before she can direct the conversation, Ryan speaks up in a low, almost confidential voice.
He says, “hey, are you okay?”
Bren catches his gaze which is as unreadable as ever. That doesn’t mean anything. He knows she’s not and that’s his whole fucking point. He doesn’t even have to know about the nightmares or the shame or the self-doubt. He was there, he called her on her shit right in the middle of a whole crowd of people. Stupid, he said, and it’s true. They both know it.
“It doesn’t matter,” Bren says, as dismissively as she can manage.
Ryan rolls his eyes and rocks back in the rickety cafe chair. “Come on, Bren, are you seriously going to keep lying to yourself about this?”
Bren frowns and shrugs. “I’m not lying. It really, seriously doesn’t matter.”
“Uh-huh,” Ryan says, disbelieving. “And is it still not going to matter when we’re on tour and every five minutes somebody’s bumping into you backstage or grabbing you for a hug or trying to wrestle with you like normal?”
Just the thought makes Bren shudder; the smug look on Ryan's face means he probably noticed her reaction. And fuck, but she is fed up with Ryan, seriously. She is, if it’s possible, more fed up than when he kept getting on her about the lyrics to Lying and how her vocal interpretation wasn’t gritty and dirty enough. She’s more fed up than when they were recording and every fucking thing she did was never right or perfect or more than just ‘okay’. She’s so fed up, so fed up of him thinking he has any right to this or to her when it’s her problem and it’s her life and he wasn’t even the one who was attacked.
“Bren,” Ryan says slowly, and she realizes she’s shaking like she just shotgunned a can of Red Bull and inhaled a pack of Pixie Stix.
He reaches out to touch her, a hand on her sleeve or maybe her shoulder, he’s got a freakishly long reach, he could probably do it, but Bren leans back and shakes her head and says, “no, don’t.”
They stare at each other for a long minute, the ambient noise of their surroundings muted by the tension around them. Finally Ryan pulls his arm back and ducks his head.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and the words are quiet and sincere. “I’m sorry I told Spencer. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Bren thinks maybe he should be apologizing for something else, but then, it’s possible that he is. Ryan’s rarely straightforward. His words get lost; Bren’s seen it happen, the way he starts to ramble in circles and can’t find a way to say what he means, or the way he says one thing and means something else. She stares at him so long that he slants a glance up at her through his eyelashes and he looks . . . fuck, he looks hurt and scared, like she’s going to just tell him to fuck off forever.
For a minute, Bren thinks about it, about telling Ryan what a jerk he is and how much she wishes he would leave her alone for the next week and a half. It would make it easier if she didn't have to see him and feel her stomach clench with all of the feelings she's constantly at war with. Instead she looks away, watches a kid in baggy jeans and a faded t-shirt browsing the magazine racks.
She says, “I’m not.”
“Not what?” Ryan asks, and she rolls her eyes.
“I’m not okay, I promise.”
When she looks at Ryan again, his lips are twisted up in a grin. He raises his eyebrows and says, “way to drop a random My Chemical Romance reference into the conversation.”
Bren shrugs easily and says, “do I get any scene points?”
Ryan says, “yeah, five thousand scene points for you.”
The smile they share is a little painful, but it’s something.
“So, did you two finally make up?”
Spencer’s not looking at Bren. He’s too busy carefully opening a bag of popcorn, trying not to burn his fingers. Bren shrugs from where she’s trying to figure out how to balance three soda cans, a bag of Doritos and a package of Oreos in her arms.
“I guess so,” she says.
The truth is, it’s been three days since Bren and Ryan reached whatever point they’d been struggling toward together. Bren’s pretty convinced it’s not over because sometimes Ryan still looks at her like he wants something, something she’s afraid to give, but at least they’re talking now. Bren is maybe even prepared to stop mentally referring to him as Ryan the Asshole or That Dick Ryan.
Spencer hums and pours the popcorn into a bowl.
“You know we don’t blame you or whatever,” he says, the words so off-hand they could be talking about anything.
Bren knows what he means, though, and exactly what he’s referring to. She wants to bang her head against the edge of the counter just to avoid having this conversation, or any permutation of this conversation, ever.
“It’s okay, Spence, really,” she says, staring at the items spread out in front of her so that she doesn’t have to look over at him.
“It’s not okay,” Spencer says, and he sounds so pissed that she has to glance over and make sure it’s not directed at her.
He’s glaring at the bowl in front of him, though, the empty bag hanging limp between his fingers.
“It’s bullshit that you had to deal with that,” Spencer says, cutting her off and turning to stare at her. “And it’s bullshit that none of us were there to stop it. It’s just . . . it’s bullshit, Bren. It’s not fair.”
Spencer has little sisters. He has a mom who raised him to respect women, to love them, and it's never been a big deal before. He holds the door open for Bren all the time and pesters Ryan to treat his girlfriends like ladies even when they don't deserve it. His voice is high and cracks a little over the words like <i>he's</i> hurt over what happened and Bren feels her heart clutch in her chest. He gets it, she thinks, and that scares her more than she would have thought.
“Nothing happened,” Bren says slowly. “Okay, Spencer? I got away. Ryan showed up and I got away so it’s not a big deal.”
Spencer stares at her and then huffs out a sigh. “God, no wonder he’s pissed at you. Do you really believe that?”
Bren clenches her jaw involuntarily and turns back to the task of transporting unhealthy foods to the den. She doesn’t answer and Spencer doesn’t say anything else. He just picks up the bowl and walks past her, pausing to grab one can of soda. He’s just inside of her personal space bubble and for a moment Bren thinks of Ryan and hopes that Spencer isn’t going to start playing his game. He moves on, though, taking another step before speaking.
“You don’t have to be embarrassed, okay? That’s all I’m trying to say. Ryan and I don’t blame you. We never would and if we ever did, you’d have my permission to kick us both in the balls.”
Bren’s eyes sting a little as she finally manages to figure out the best way to move everything downstairs without losing a can or the chips or the cookies on the way. She doesn't want to think about Ryan right now. Things are getting better between them. She looks at him and it still hurts, how confused he makes her feel, but it's getting better. If she has to think about him and about all of the things that are fucked up between them, it'll stop all their progress in its tracks. She sucks in a sharp breath and can't help the words that slip out anyway.
“Ryan called me stupid,” she says, carefully tucking the soda cans in the crooks of her arms and grabbing the bag of Doritos in one hand, the Oreos in the other. "Right after. He said I'm stupid."
“Ryan wanted to kick the shit out of that guy for hurting you,” Spencer tells her. “I think he was freaked out. And pissed. And an idiot.”
“And a dick,” Bren adds, turning and stepping next to him.
Spencer smiles and says, “yeah, that too.”
Bren smiles back and looks up to see Ryan poking his head into the kitchen. His hair is touseled from where he was probably lying on the couch and his lips look wet because he's currently obsessed with this vanilla flavored lipgloss he bought at Target. It sort of doesn't matter that they're slowly fixing everything. She still misses him so much it makes her ache all over.
“Did you two get lost or something, what the fuck, I’m hungry,” he says, and Bren snaps out of it, rolling her eyes and rattling the bag of chips.
“Help me carry some of this, asshole,” she says, catching Ryan’s eye and holding his gaze until his lips quirk up and he reaches out to take some of what she was holding.
“Pushy,” he says, and Spencer laughs and brushes past both of them.
“Whatever, you like it when girls boss you around,” he teases, and Ryan’s look of indignation is enough to make Bren laugh harder than she has in weeks.
- Current Mood: accomplished
- Current Music:I Don't Mind - Phantom Planet