Fandom: Bandom RPF [Panic! At The Disco/The Young Veins, The Academy Is..., Cobra Starship, The Like, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy]
Pairing: Um. Pre-Ryan Ross/Brendon Urie [onesided!Ryan/Jon, background Z/Tennessee, Frank/Gerard]
Word Count: 8775
Disclaimer: I do know that this didn’t happen. Really I do. Please don’t send ninjas to break my legs.
Copyright: Title taken from The Lighthouse by The Hush Sound.
Summary: In which something’s up with Bill, Ryan has no idea how he’s gone from pining over a vampire to bickering with a ghost, and Mikey has severe doubts about his brother’s taste in men.
Author’s Notes: This is a prequel to Sheepish Wolves (just don’t put your teeth on me), set about a year before, because apparently this is a ‘verse and I don’t know how to leave it alone. I have to stop bringing more and more characters into this world, though, I’m still not entirely sure who some of them are... but I had to bring The Like in, because I couldn’t get Greta or Vicky-T in here and much as I love the bandom boys there NEED TO BE GIRLS. What can I say? ;)
Take what you need while there’s time.
– The Hush Sound
Halfway through the autumn of their sophomore year, Bill Beckett’s dad’s car goes off the road when he’s driving Bill back from football practice.
Nobody finds out about this until the next day, however.
Somewhere around the time Bill is staring up through the broken windscreen at the grey sky, blood dripping into his eyes, Ryan is reading through an email from his friend Jon. Jon is in Chicago, which is a stupidly long way away and really, who gives a damn about a thriving vampire community or whatever?
“It’s been over a year,” Spencer observes dryly, lounging on Ryan’s bed. “Stop bitching already.”
Ryan huffs because he is not bitching, he has a perfectly valid argument against Jon moving across the country. Jon lived next door to Spencer basically all their lives and they were totally happy hanging out with him after sundown and everything was fine, and then suddenly Jon’s parents decided he needed to go to this apparently better vampire high school in Chicago, and their house with the unnaturally huge basement went on sale, and Jon was gone.
Not that he’s still sulking about it or anything.
“So, what did he say?” Spencer asks, and he sounds like a totally normal awesome friend for a moment until he adds: “are we going to have to analyse everything he says in the hope there’s a hidden meaning?”
“Fuck you,” Ryan mutters, and adds: “he’s got a new kitten.”
There’s an attached picture of said new kitten – which is cute and fluffy and doesn’t look anything like a pet a vampire should have – but no Jon with it, because vampires’ images can’t be captured. They tried communicating via webcam once, but there was no point. Ryan hasn’t even seen Jon since he left; he comforts himself with thoughts that he might have become fat, or he might have some kind of new, disfiguring scar.
“Or he has a sexy, mysterious scar that only serves to make him more attractive,” Spencer suggests, smirk flickering around his lips.
“I am seriously making Bill my best friend,” Ryan informs him.
“Bill won’t put up with this pining shit either,” Spencer says briskly, shifting over to share the desk chair with Ryan, draping himself across him. “Seriously. Jon is both straight and several hours’ drive away. You look emo enough to seduce Gerard Way. Please, please move on.”
“Really? Gerard Way? Your friend’s brother? You suck as a wingman.”
Spencer sighs, chin resting on Ryan’s shoulder. “You know what I mean. And this crush on Jon is making you even more incomprehensible and pretentious; I’ve read your poetry.”
Without looking away from the screen, Ryan drives an elbow into Spencer’s stomach. Spencer elbows him back, laughing.
Ryan stares morosely at the kitten for a while, before sighing and clicking on the email to read back through it and formulate a reply. Spencer’s right, of course. Spencer’s always right. It’s kind of just as well he’s Ryan’s best friend, or Ryan would hate him.
Spencer’s parents, although they’re kind of amazing and let Ryan hang out at Spencer’s house all the time when he doesn’t want to go home, are also evil. Really evil. There’s no other explanation for them always making Spencer go to different schools to Ryan.
Of course, if he hadn’t had to go to middle school without Spencer, he would never have met Bill. Bill was ludicrously tall even before he hit his teens, as skinny as Ryan and with a cloud of wavy dark hair that he somehow managed to pull off. He sat next to Ryan in English and within about a week they had moved on from complaining about the narrow range of books offered in the library to sitting together at lunch and occasionally hanging out after school. Spencer was jealous, of course, but Ryan was jealous of Spencer’s new friends and Jon was jealous of both of them because his school started at eleven p.m. and there were only something like six kids in his whole class. They all got over it.
(Ryan still has no idea how the whole vampires-can-have-children-which-grow-up thing works, but since he isn’t a vampire he’s pretty sure it’s not something he’ll ever have to worry about.)
Bill isn’t at school the next day; Ryan sends him a text asking if he’s sick but he doesn’t get a reply.
“Bill seemed ok yesterday, didn’t he?” he asks Z at lunch. She shrugs in response.
Ryan isn’t exactly sure where they got Z from; he doesn’t remember meeting her in class and neither does Bill or Alex or Joe. Just one day last she was randomly eating lunch with them and she never really left. Ryan doesn’t mind; Z’s kind of wonderful. Not that he’ll ever tell her this.
No one’s managed to get any response out of Bill and Ryan is just starting to consider maybe driving past his place on the way home – ‘cause, you know, Bill’s usually kind of loud and whiny when he’s sick, and this silence is uncharacteristic and worrying – when Gabe grabs Ryan’s arm in the hall when he’s on the way to last period Spanish.
“Have you heard about Bill?” he asks, and it’s the first time Ryan’s ever seen Gabe without his trademark half-sinister half-seductive grin in place. His face looks weird without it.
“Heard what?” Ryan asks carefully.
“His dad crashed the car last night,” Gabe tells him, voice tight, eyes suddenly dangerous and dark. It occurs to Ryan that Gabe usually wears these hilariously tacky plastic sunglasses, but not today. “Apparently Bill’s pretty fucked up.”
Ryan swears, low and soft, something cold and scared running through him. “But... he’s gonna be ok, right?”
Gabe shrugs, and his grip around Ryan’s arm is tight enough to be painful. Gabe’s a werewolf and he’s usually pretty careful about this kind of thing – he could, after all, rip Ryan’s arm off without really having to think about it – but apparently anxiety makes Gabe forget himself. “His mom sounded pretty freaked out on the phone.”
No one knows exactly what the deal is between Gabe and Bill; they seem to know everything about each other but no one’s ever seen them hold a conversation. Years of pestering haven’t gotten Bill to open up about it; he usually just smiles in a vague, nostalgic way before he changes the subject.
“Can we go see him?” Ryan thinks he might be shaking and Gabe isn’t teasing him about sounding freaked out (“oh hey, you can manage emotions!”) so this is clearly way too serious.
“I think his parents just want to be with him at the moment,” Gabe says, belatedly letting go of Ryan’s arm. Ryan thinks he might have bruises later, and he doesn’t even care. “I just... I’ll let you know if I find anything out, ok?”
He turns away, shoving hands into the pockets of his jeans, and Ryan stands in the emptying corridor and watches him walk away.
Bill is back at school within two weeks; Ryan’s spoken to him a couple of times on the phone and Z’s apparently been IM-ing him every night, but no one’s actually seen him. They’ve all braced themselves for plaster casts and scabs and the hollow shades of bruises.
When he meets them all outside the gym block, like usual, Bill looks absolutely fine. There isn’t a scratch on him, even his hair is as neat and tidy as it was the morning of his accident (or as tidy as Bill’s hair ever gets, admittedly). They all stand and stare at each other for a moment and then Bill’s mouth twitches into a smile. “Hi.”
Z is the first to move, pulling him into a tight hug that’s as much anger as it is relief or affection. Bill’s still smiling, but Ryan catches sight of his eyes before he lowers them to look down at Z, and he doesn’t miss the flash of panic and fear that races through them. Maybe Bill’s hurt in some way that they can’t see, something like that.
“Jesus, it’s cold out here,” Z complains, pulling away from Bill, “you’re freezing.”
He smiles sheepishly. “Sorry, I had to get the bus. The car isn’t in great shape, you know?”
They force laughs, though it’s probably too soon for that, and Bill looks vaguely apologetic. He smirks at the rest of them. “Don’t I get more hugs?”
They all obediently pile in because, fuck, this could have been so much more serious than it is. Z’s right; Bill is freezing, though he doesn’t seem to be shivering.
The bell goes; Joe and Alex head off to class, telling Bill they’re glad he’s back over their shoulders. Z has homeroom with Bill and she takes his hand, pulling him in the right direction, and Ryan tags along with them. There’s a familiar purple hoodie just ahead of them.
“Gabe!” Bill calls, and Ryan and Z raise their eyebrows at each other because this is history; no one’s ever seen Gabe and Bill communicate.
Gabe turns but the smile on his mouth freezes. His eyes widen and he stumbles back a step, gaze fixed on Bill in something that looks like horror.
“What the fuck?” he says.
“Gabe,” Bill says, but it’s softer now, uncertain.
Gabe looks physically sick, pressing long fingers over his mouth, shaking his head. “What-” he begins again, the sound muffled, before he spins around and practically runs away.
“Gabe!” Bill shouts, and something in his voice is cracking, desperate. “Gabe!”
Gabe doesn’t turn around and he disappears around the corner a moment later.
“Come on,” Z says, soft but firm, and Ryan can see her tighten her grip around Bill’s hand, “come on.”
Bill lets himself be tugged along but he looks devastated. Ryan can’t exactly blame him; if he’d been lucky not to die in a car crash, he’d want his friends to care about him.
“I have no idea what just happened,” Bill murmurs.
Ryan doesn’t either.
It’s two in the morning, and Ryan should probably go to bed.
“What do you know about werewolves?” he asks Jon.
“Apparently they think whipping off their shirts is an appropriate way to bandage wounds,” Jon replies, laughter crackling down the phoneline.
“Seriously?” Ryan says. “You watched Twilight?”
“Pete and Greta made me,” Jon explains. “Pete’s feelings for Robert Pattinson are deep, disturbing and almost entirely incomprehensible. Greta invented a drinking game.”
“...right,” Ryan murmurs. There is nothing he can say in reply to that. Jon’s vampire friends sound kind of crazy and kind of awesome and he and Spencer are thinking of going to stay with Jon next summer so they can meet them. And see Jon. And Ryan really fucking wishes that his heart would stop leaping whenever he thinks that, because that makes him Bella in this situation and that is never ever ok. “Seriously, though, what do you know about werewolves?”
“Can’t you ask Z this?” Jon asks, “I mean, isn’t her girlfriend a werewolf?”
“Yeah,” Ryan says, momentarily impressed at how carefully Jon actually listens to him. “But I’ve never actually met Tennessee, and, I don’t know, it might be weird.”
“Coming over all shy, Ross?” Jon teases.
“Shut up,” Ryan mumbles. “Just... Gabe’s acting weird, even for Gabe; he’s been avoiding Bill like crazy ever since he got back. He’s freaked out, and I mean really genuinely freaked out.”
Jon is silent for a long moment, so long that Ryan thinks he might have gone away. It’s hard being on the phone with someone who doesn’t actually breathe.
“Do you know what happened to Bill?” he asks at last. “I mean, do you have any details about the car crash?”
“...no,” Ryan admits. “I mean, we just know there was one, and Bill got rushed to hospital. But he looked fine when he got back to school.”
“‘Fine’?” Jon repeats.
“Yeah,” Ryan says, “I mean, we couldn’t see any sign that he’d gotten hurt at all.”
Jon’s silent again and Ryan feels like he’s missing something, though he doesn’t know what it is.
“Is he acting weird at all?” Jon asks.
“No,” Ryan replies, “he’s just acting like Bill. But something about him seems to terrify Gabe.”
“Maybe it’s the blood thing,” Jon suggests, though he doesn’t sound particularly convinced. “Maybe he smells like blood or something and Gabe doesn’t trust himself.”
“Maybe,” Ryan echoes dubiously.
“I can ask Greta if you like,” Jon offers. “Her best friend is apparently a werewolf.”
“Yeah, ok,” Ryan replies, feeling kind of unsatisfied with the conversation though he isn’t sure why, and changes the subject.
“Are you actually anorexic, Bill?” Z asks, chin propped on one hand. She’s wearing too much eyeliner, but Ryan knows he’s wearing more make-up than she is, so he can’t really judge her.
“No,” Bill responds, looking bemused. “I’m naturally this skinny. It’s one of my many positive features.”
Alex smirks, but adds: “Joe made his awesome brownies that don’t even have pot in them, and you haven’t eaten any of them.”
Bill shrugs, looking uncomfortable. “I’m not hungry,” he says.
Now Ryan thinks about it, he hasn’t seen Bill eat in weeks. Or drink. He spends most of lunch pushing his inedible cafeteria crap around on the plate and then binning it after a while. He doesn’t seem to be getting any slimmer, though Ryan would have to admit it’s not like he spends huge amounts of time checking out William’s body.
Before he has time to think about it, he says: “what happened that night?”
Bill flinches, actually flinches. “What?”
“I was talking to Jon-” Ryan begins.
“What’s wrong with all of you?” Bill demands, too loud, eyes narrowed in what seems to be anger. “Seriously, leave me the hell alone!”
He storms away from the table – Gabe shudders as Bill walks past, while Ryland and Alex just look confused, staring at Bill like they’re trying to place something – and out of the cafeteria.
Joe tips his head to one side. “Did he actually open the doors?”
Alex frowns, staring after Bill. “He must’ve done.”
Ryan’s stomach feels cold. “I’ll go after him,” he says, leaving his untouched lunch and picking up his bag.
He finds Bill sitting in the bleachers around the sports field, watching the marching band kids practicing. Bill quit the team after he came back, which wasn’t all that surprising; he was quick on his feet but not exactly jock material.
“You can talk to us, you know,” Ryan tells him quietly. “We’re worried about you.”
Bill shakes his head, looking down at his clasped hands. His shoulders are tense and Ryan puts an arm around him before he thinks about it. Bill’s still freezing cold, even wrapped up in his coat.
“Why were you calling Jon about me?” Bill asks eventually, leaning slightly into Ryan. “He’s never even met me.”
“I was calling Jon about Gabe,” Ryan tells him. “Thought he might have a reason why Gabe is acting so weird.”
Bill laughs softly but it sounds kind of choked, almost like a sob.
Ryan knows this isn’t the right time, but he can’t resist trying. “What’s the deal with you and Gabe, anyway?”
Bill says nothing and Ryan thinks he isn’t going to answer, but then he says: “I was there for him when some fucked up stuff was going on in his life. I kind of thought he’d do the same for me, but... evidently not. He doesn’t even want to be in the same room as me.”
Ryan studies Bill’s drawn, miserable face, and says: “you’re not ok, are you?”
Bill’s laugh sounds more real this time. “No. Not ok at all.”
Ryan tightens his grip around Bill’s shoulders. “You can talk to us. You should talk to us.”
After a moment, Bill nods, like he’s made a decision. “All right. My place, after school. Bring Spencer. I’ll call Gabe as well, see if he can get his head out of his ass.”
Ryan knows he should feel relieved that Bill is going to open up, but all he can feel is a sort of low-level dread.
They sit around in Bill’s living room; his parents aren’t home from work yet, so it’s just them. They’ve done this before, been doing it for years, but never with this kind of nervous tension stringing between them, sick and anxious.
Gabe is huddled into the couch, something nauseous still picking at his expression. He looks so unlike how Ryan is used to seeing him that it’s really disconcerting. Bill keeps shooting glances at him, desperate and nervous.
Z, who is sitting half on top of Ryan because there isn’t really enough space for all of them, glances between Gabe and Bill and then murmurs: “Tenn says you smell different.”
Ryan didn’t know Bill had met Tennessee – he hasn’t met Tennessee yet, how is this fair? – but decides this isn’t the moment to bring it up. Bill is frowning but Gabe is nodding.
“What’s the big deal?” Joe asks.
“I know what Bill smells like,” Gabe snaps, something sharp in his tone. “I know, and he doesn’t smell like that anymore. It’s wrong. It’d be like if he walked in on you guys one day with a new fucking face.”
Bill flinches but he at least looks like he understands. “Look,” he begins, voice barely above a mumble, “there’s no easy way to say this. I didn’t even want to tell you guys.”
Z is tense in Ryan’s lap, one elbow digging into his ribs. Joe is picking at the cuffs of his sweater, and Spencer, crushed into Ryan’s other side, is gnawing his lower lip intently.
“Fuck it,” Bill mutters, biting it off, and then he looks up at them, piled on the couch or on pillows on the floor, and he says: “I didn’t make it out of that car crash.”
They’re all silent, staring at him. “What?” Alex asks.
“I died,” Bill tells them, voice shivering but strong. “My heart stopped in the ambulance and they couldn’t get it started again. I smacked my head off the dashboard hard enough that my brain did something... stupid, I don’t know the details. Anyway: a month ago, I died.”
Spencer’s voice is shaking, just a little. “But... you’re still here.”
Bill grimaces, a sheepish half-smile tilting his lips. “Ghost,” he says. He screws up his eyes like he’s concentrating, and carefully passes it through the arm of the chair he’s sitting in.
“Oh my fucking God,” Joe breathes.
Bill shakes his hand, flexing his fingers like they sting. “Still haven’t got the hang of the whole corporeal/non-corporeal thing yet,” he mumbles.
“And you just thought we wouldn’t notice this shit?” Gabe asks, though he’s not hunched in on himself anymore.
Bill shrugs, still awkward. “I forgot about the whole smell thing. I guess whatever you’re smelling now is... well, I don’t know, I don’t have a body anymore now, that got buried.”
Ryan is starting to feel slightly sick, though he suspects that maybe Jon worked all this out and didn’t want to say anything.
“You should have told me,” Gabe says. “I called you, like, the minute I became a werewolf. Or when I came around from the spinal surgery, whatever.”
“I know,” Bill says. “You were high as a kite on the anaesthetics, kept babbling about cobras and shit.”
“Spinal surgery?” Ryan enquires, because ok, this is technically all about Bill, but he may never get another chance to ask.
Gabe shrugs. “The werewolf that turned me tried to rip out my spine. It was pretty hardcore.”
“Wow,” Joe says, and Ryan considers the possibility that Joe is high. It’s not entirely unusual; Joe is usually kind of high.
“So, just to recap,” Spencer begins, “you died, you’re now a ghost, and you still have to go to school?”
“Fucking lame, man,” Gabe says, but something approaching a smile is flickering over his mouth and Ryan thinks that, once they all get over the shock, things are going to be fine.
Spencer sends Ryan a text halfway through biology – I need new shoes – and Z leans across him to see it. She’s technically his lab partner, although it’s one of those partnerships where Ryan basically does all the work.
“Great, I need them too,” she says brightly. “Tell him we’ll meet him outside that Starbucks near the used bookstore.”
“Outside?” Ryan asks plaintively because, ok, he likes footwear and all, but he’d kind of like to be caffeinated while Z and Spencer drag him around every shoe store within walking distance.
“We’re taking Bill,” Z says like this should be obvious, “and he can’t drink coffee anymore so it would be kind of insensitive to take him in there.”
She has a valid point, much as it pains Ryan to admit it, so he texts Spencer back as Z cracks open another Palahniuk behind her textbook and their teacher glares at them for talking.
Ryan’s glad of Bill’s company as Z and Spencer indulge their expensive and mildly creepy footwear fetish. Ryan is really only interested in looking at about ten pairs of shoes before his mind starts wandering, and Bill tends to wear his shoes until they’re on the point of falling apart. Sat together on the comfy squishy chairs while Z parades up and down in heels she can’t walk in (and definitely can’t afford) and Spencer paws at various kinds of loafers and vaguely kinky-looking boots, Ryan watches Bill laugh and thinks that he looks happier than Ryan has seen him since... well, since he died. He’s grateful for that, relieved that there’s something normal left even though Bill’s world has changed completely.
“I want smoothies,” Z decides as they walk out of the eighth store – or is it the ninth? Ryan lost count a while back – and Ryan follows her gaze to see a smoothie place on the other side of the street.
“What happened to ‘it’s insensitive to take Bill places with food’?” Ryan asks, smirking.
Z rolls her eyes. “Bill, is it insensitive?” she asks.
Bill shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says, “at least it’ll make a change from shoes.”
Spencer and Z look horrified – Ryan isn’t sure how much of it is them joking, either – but Bill laughs and slings an arm around Ryan’s shoulders, pulling him along.
The guy behind the counter nods and takes their orders without really looking up, but startles when Bill tells Spencer that his choice sounds horrible.
“Oh my God,” Bill says, sounding pleased and surprised, “Brendon!”
Spencer looks surprised as well. “Brendon, I didn’t know you worked here.”
Ryan is used to Spencer knowing people that he doesn’t – Spencer is a year younger than him and goes to a completely different school, after all – but he figures he should be a little ashamed that his first thought is Bill has friends other than us?
“Bill has friends other than us?” Z asks, sounding faintly betrayed, and, ok, maybe Ryan feels less bad.
Since Bill is about a million feet tall, he has no problem leaning over the counter and pulling Brendon into a hug that looks kind of suffocating, through Brendon is returning it equally tightly.
“How do you know Brendon?” Ryan asks Spencer.
Spencer shrugs. “He’s in my math class.”
Ah, right. Spencer’s technically a freshman but he takes math with the sophomores because he’s a genius with numbers or something like that, anyway. Ryan can read in Spencer’s face that Spencer likes Brendon, or at least, has seen no reason not to like Brendon, but he doesn’t know him particularly well, though it’s not from a lack of effort on Spencer’s part.
Z smirks between the two of them, as she always does when they hold a silent conversation; Ryan thinks she’s just jealous that she hasn’t known someone since she was five.
“How do you guys know each other?” Spencer asks, looking between Bill and Brendon.
“Uh...” Bill looks uncomfortable, darting a sideways glance at Brendon. Brendon sighs.
“We go to the same ghost support group,” he says, not-quite looking at Spencer, and Ryan gets why Bill was looking so awkward. After all, it took Bill long enough to tell them; he clearly didn’t want to out a fellow ghost.
“Oh,” Spencer says, looking surprised. “Ok.”
Brendon’s mouth is twisted into something that isn’t quite a smile, isn’t quite not a smile; his lips make an interesting shape and Ryan thinks he might be staring. He quickly glances down at the counter, at where Brendon’s splayed fingers rest against the surface, looking solid and real and for a moment Ryan just wonders how many people wandering about looking alive actually aren’t.
“Do you get a break anytime soon?” Bill is asking Brendon, apparently not at all uncomfortable with this situation.
“Uh...” Brendon looks towards the girl he’s working with; she has a waterfall of shimmery dark hair and a soft, easy smile.
“I can cover if you want to hang with your friends,” she offers, grinning, and Brendon ducks his head with something that looks like a blush staining his cheeks.
Maybe Brendon has a crush on her, Ryan thinks for some mad reason, something like disappointment gracing him for a moment. He didn’t know that ghosts could blush; it’s something they’ve never tried on Bill. It occurs to him that there’s so much about his friend that he just doesn’t know now, and that freaks him out a little.
“I’ll mix these up for you,” Brendon says, “and then... I guess I’ll come join you.”
“Awesome,” Bill replies, still happy and bright and so deceptively alive.
By the time they’ve finished asking Bill about his ghost support group and he’s finished avoiding all their questions, Brendon has made their smoothies and comes to join them, dropping onto one side of the table next to Bill. He’s taken his obnoxiously bright green apron off and something about him seems much calmer, much less uncomfortable.
“So,” Ryan begins without really thinking, “why do you work in a smoothie shop if you can’t actually eat?”
Brendon arches an eyebrow, turning to Bill. “Who’s your bitchy friend?”
Ryan usually gets asked this about Spencer (and Spence isn’t bitchy, ok, he just doesn’t have time for stupid people, which is an admirable quality as far as Ryan’s concerned) but Z giggles and says: “you’re not the first to ask that.”
Ryan kicks her under the table.
“This is Ryan,” Bill says cheerfully, “and Z.”
“They’re the ones you were so scared of telling?” Brendon asks, and his gaze lingers for a moment on the birds Ryan has drawn on his cheek today, curves of black eyeliner. Something like mocking amusement sparkles in Brendon’s eyes, and Ryan scowls, looking down at the table.
“You told your support group about us?” Z asks. She sounds kind of delighted.
Bill looks sheepish, though he isn’t blushing – Ryan kind of feels cheated – but Brendon says brightly: “you’re dating a werewolf, right?”
Z grins at him and launches into ten reasons why Tennessee Thomas is more awesome than you and all other people in the world too (a speech Ryan has heard a multitude of times but he still hasn’t actually met Tenn, which seems unfair), watching Bill’s expression, which is a careful mixture of relief and confusion, like two halves of his existence are bleeding together and it’s going better than he thought it might.
Brendon laughs at some point, and there’s nothing at all graceful about it but it’s relaxed and shining and pretty, and ok, Ryan knows he must’ve been staring because Spencer discreetly but firmly drives his elbow into Ryan’s side. Ryan decides to blame it on the fact he wasn’t even sure about the existence of ghosts until ten days ago; vampires and werewolves, sure, but that was about as far as his knowledge of the supernatural went. It’s new and weird and Ryan wants to know more, about what is and isn’t possible. Bill is all smiles but he clearly isn’t as adjusted as he wants them all to believe, and Ryan doesn’t know what to do.
Spencer and Brendon are discussing their math teacher like they do this all the time – though Ryan knows they don’t because Spencer would’ve told him – and Ryan swallows hard, once, and then just concentrates on his smoothie.
“I’ve gotta get back, guys,” Brendon says, and his teeth are straight and white and perfect and Ryan stares at his mouth and has a weird, half-formed thought, something about whether ghosts can brush their teeth and if they need to, something brief and almost non-existent about kissing, nothing that makes any real sense, anyway. “It was nice meeting you all. Bill, I’ll see you Thursday, and Spencer, I guess... tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Spencer says, smiling back, and Ryan’s fingers curl into his palm under the table.
“Ghost support groups, huh?” Jon says, and Ryan can hear people talking in the background.
“I’ll call back later,” he offers, quick.
“It’s ok,” Jon replies, the slight lisp that Ryan is never sure if it’s a by-product of his fangs or not rasping under his tone, “you should actually get some sleep later, you know?”
It’s already one a.m., so Ryan supposes Jon kind of has a point.
“Ok,” he says. “I just... I don’t know, there’s so much stuff that I just don’t know about ghosts.”
“Ghosts have this whole sub-culture thing going on,” Jon agrees, and Ryan hears someone in the background say: “ghosts? Did you say ghosts, Jonny?”
A moment later, an unfamiliar voice is saying: “Oh my God, ghosts are amazing, seriously, if you have a chance to date a ghost you have to go for it, they’re fantastic, dude. Oh, but you have to remember, you know, they can’t eat and that also means they can’t swallow anything else, yeah?”
Somewhere else in the background Ryan hears a girl burst into shocked laughter.
“Get off the phone,” Jon snaps, and a moment later he says: “sorry, Ry, that was Pete.”
“Yeah, I guessed,” Ryan tells him and he’s laughing, almost in spite of himself.
“Don’t take any advice Pete gives you,” Jon adds, “right now he’s wearing a Team Edward t-shirt. And- oh dear God, are those false eyelashes?”
Ryan is really laughing now, unable to stop, and the girl snaps: “those are my false eyelashes, how did you even get those, if you’ve been going through my bathroom cabinets again-” and then Pete seems to be laughing and shouting and saying mercy, Greta, mercy over and over.
“I take it you’re not trying to date a ghost,” Jon says, and Ryan maybe kind of flushes a little as he always does when talking to Jon about anything even loosely related to dating, but it’s not like Spencer’s here to tease him about it.
“No,” he says.
“Ok,” Jon replies, and then adds: “can I call you tomorrow? If I don’t go and break this up Pete and Greta are going to get glitter all over my room – don’t ask – and we’ll be late for school.”
“Yeah, sure,” Ryan tells him, “goodnight.”
He hangs up and stares at his phone for a while. “I miss you,” he says, and then: “Jesus, Ross, you are such a fucking loser.”
Spencer’s Best Friend Who Isn’t Ryan is a guy called Mikey, who just happens to be Gerard Way’s younger brother. Ryan doesn’t know Gerard that well – they have art together and Gerard draws all these seriously creepy sketches while Ryan tries to talk his teacher into believing that decorating your face with eyeliner totally has artistic merit – but he knows enough to know that the Way brothers are both awesome and crazy.
There’s a new zombie movie out that Mikey is dragging Spencer to after school, so Spencer consequently invites Ryan along so he’ll have someone to hide behind, and Z invites herself because Joe and Bill and Alex have some history project to work on and it’s full moon tonight. Ryan spends half the movie pretending he’s not attempting to hide behind Spencer and the other half worrying that if vampires, werewolves and ghosts are all real, then maybe zombies are too. He’s not sure he could handle zombies, he thinks they might be the last straw in this whole thing, whatever this thing actually is.
Z and Mikey happily dissect all the gory and/or stupid parts of the movie as they walk out, and Ryan is so busy silently mocking them with Spencer that he doesn’t realise they’ve wound up in the smoothie place until it’s too late.
“Hey guys,” Brendon says, looking bemused, but there’s something defensive in his posture, shoulders hunched, smile not quite real. Ryan sort of wants to ask him what exactly he’s trying to protect himself from, but he doesn’t. Z takes charge, introducing Mikey, ordering them all smoothies – the ones she likes, Ryan notes with amusement, but doesn’t try and correct her – and leaning over the counter to check with Brendon’s pretty co-worker that it’s cool that Brendon takes a break now, right?
Z is kind of a force of nature. It’s pretty awesome.
They’re sitting around while Spencer and Z chat animatedly to Brendon and Ryan tries not to stare too obviously because that’s just tragic when Mikey’s phone beeps. He pulls it out and stares at the screen for a moment before he says: “my brother’s dating a vampire, what the actual fuck.”
Ryan thinks he’d be more shocked if he found out that Gerard wasn’t dating a vampire, and he points this out to Mikey.
“Exactly,” Mikey says. “Between the art thing and the looking miserable all the time thing and the doing stupid shit to his hair thing, Gee is turning into such a cliché.”
Brendon has his chin propped on his hands. It’s kind of cute. Not that Ryan has noticed, at all.
“Who’s your brother dating?” he asks.
Mikey peers at the text again. “His name’s Frank?” he says.
“He’s in a band,” Brendon informs him cheerfully, “they’re pretty good, actually.”
Mikey raises both eyebrows. “My older brother is dating a vampire who’s in a band? Seriously?”
“Hey,” Ryan snaps, on the defensive before he even thinks about it, “there’s nothing wrong with vampires, ok? They’re not all about the Anne Rice and Twilight shit, Spence and I have known Jon for years and he’s completely normal.”
Well, Ryan adds in the privacy of his own head, mostly normal, anyway.
Mikey looks kind of bemused. “Ok, Ross. I’m gonna go call Gee, all right?”
He slides out of the booth without waiting for an answer, heading outside. Z, smirking slightly, says that she’s going to the bathroom and climbs over Ryan, all knees and sharp heels.
“So,” Brendon says when it’s just him, Ryan and Spencer left, “you’re pretty crazy about this Jon guy, then.” He’s grinning, and it kind of makes Ryan want to punch him.
“No,” he snaps, as Spencer sighs and says: “yes.”
They glare at each other and Ryan finally looks down at the tabletop and mumbles: “it’s not that obvious.”
Brendon laughs. “Look, man, I barely know you and you kind of fail at facial expressions and even I know you want in his vampire pants.”
He’s grinning, mouth too big and teeth too white and for no reason Ryan hears Pete’s stupid, stupid words echoing in his ears. He looks away.
“Anyone ever tell you that you’re kind of a bitch, Brendon?”
“Only all the time,” Brendon responds, but there’s something tight in his voice, and Spencer’s expression is a complicated mixture of confused and pissed. “What, Ryan, thought you’d cornered the market?”
“Wow,” Spencer says, “this isn’t like hanging out with small children at all.”
Brendon’s mouth twitches, brittle and thin. “I think my break’s over,” he says, apparently speaking solely to Spencer, “I’ll see you soon, ok?”
When he’s gone, Z reappears, clambering back over Ryan. “Smooth, Ross,” she smirks.
Ryan glares at both her and Spencer. “He doesn’t like me anyway,” he points out, and it’s not like he’s thought about that in the last week, not once, not even in the dead of night. “You know he doesn’t.”
Spencer does that shrug thing he does when he knows Ryan is right but he’s not going to confirm it aloud.
Mikey reappears a few minutes later. Spencer smirks at him, and says: “so, when are you meeting Frank?”
Mikey rolls his eyes, but concedes: “next Tuesday.”
The Way brothers really are insane, Ryan reflects on a fond smile, and resolutely does not look back at the counter before they leave.
Over the next few weeks things go back to normal so quickly that Ryan finds it kind of startling. Bill is bright and happy and talkative and as touchy-feely as he always used to be – he’s still freezing, but apparently in time he’ll get the hang of body heat, or faking it, anyway – and they all just kind of acclimatise themselves until they almost forget that Bill used to actually be alive. Ryan has to come to terms with the fact that Brendon’s smoothie shop is their new hangout and there’s not a lot he can do about it; in the end he settles for not saying a whole lot to Brendon and staring at his drink, while Z shivers with silent giggles beside him.
Ryan stops worrying about his friends and goes back to worrying about the bitter silence permeating his house, empty bottles in the kitchen and a father he’s running out of things to say to.
It doesn’t matter, of course. It doesn’t matter.
Anyway, the point is that none of them are expecting it when Bill freaks out at school.
It’s biology on a Thursday afternoon, and Z is more interested in talking about tonight’s date with Tennessee (“seriously, when am I going to meet her? I’m not that socially inadequate.” “Tell that to Brendon.”) than in dissecting the frog they have pinned miserably to a dish. Ryan is fine with this because he’s not exactly fond of dissections himself, so he’s just trying to work out how they can pass this class without having to wield a scalpel at any point when there’s a crash from behind them and he turns around to find Bill has knocked his stool over. Bill’s fairly useless partner, Brent, is saying something like what the hell, man? but Bill isn’t looking at him, eyes wide and panic vivid in his face.
Ryan’s just grateful that Alex has the presence of mind to lean sideways and discreetly push the door open seconds before Bill runs out, because he’s pretty sure that Bill wouldn’t have remembered to.
Z is on her feet a moment later, telling their teacher she’ll be right back, sprinting after Bill and leaving the class in uproar.
When quiet has finally been restored, Ryan looks down at his dead frog and wonders what it’s like to be faced with a helpless corpse when you died recently. He raises his hand and gets a bathroom pass from their increasingly-annoyed teacher, resigning himself to failing this particular assignment.
Bill and Z haven’t gone far; they’re actually sitting on the hall floor just around the corner. Bill looks sick and is shivering, and Z has her arms around him.
“It’s ok,” she keeps saying, “it’s ok. You can’t throw up, all right, and that’s a good thing.”
Bill retches emptily, desperate, and Z strokes his hair back from his forehead, fingers falling through some of it. She contains her shiver well, Ryan has to give her that. She looks up at him and mouths what do we do?
Ryan considers it for a moment and then sits down beside Bill, reaching into Bill’s jeans and pulling out his phone. He scrolls quickly through the contacts, listening to Bill’s shallow, panicking breathing, and finally finds the number he’s looking for. He lets it ring three times, then hangs up, and hopes for the best.
Just over two minutes later, Gabe turns up. Ryan almost asks how he knew how to find them before recalling that Gabe could probably find anyone in this school by their individual scent.
Gabe swears softly, then crouches down in front of them all. “Hey, Bill,” he says quietly.
Bill barely registers him, eyes wide and glazed.
“Come on,” Gabe says, voice harder now. “Billiam.”
Something in Bill’s eyes focuses. “Don’t call me that.”
Gabe smirks. “Maybe I won’t if you get off your ass.” He straightens up and holds out a hand that Bill reluctantly takes, pulling himself up off the floor. Gabe slings an arm around his shoulders, and it looks casual but Ryan knows that it isn’t. “Come on, we’re going to go fix all your problems with some really kinky sex in my basement.”
Bill doesn’t even blink. “No, we’re not.”
Gabe shrugs, tightening his grip. “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”
Ryan and Z sit and watch them walk away. Ryan half-expects to watch Gabe slide a hand down Bill’s back and try to grope him – he’s seen Gabe do it to enough people at parties – but Gabe doesn’t, just pulls him along like he’s the only thing keeping Bill upright right now.
“What do we do?” Z asks softly. She sounds angry, and Ryan knows that that means she’s feeling helpless.
“I don’t...” he sighs. “I don’t know.”
Later that night, Bill calls Ryan.
“Just thought I’d let you know I’m ok,” he says. “Or, you know. I will be.”
Ryan feels something like relief flood him, because he’s not equipped to deal with any of this. He’s not sure many people are.
“Have fun in Gabe’s Love Dungeon?” he asks teasingly.
Bill laughs, and it’s trembling but real. “Gabe’s basement is full of junk,” he says, “he’s a fucking liar.”
“That’s disappointing,” Ryan remarks.
“I’ll tell him you said that,” Bill says brightly.
Ryan scrunches his eyes shut. “Could you not?”
Bill’s laughing again, and then he adds: “wanna come over? Mom’s made shitloads of cookies as a coping mechanism or something, and God knows I can’t eat them, and I think she’ll be happy as long as someone does.”
Something smashes downstairs.
“Sure,” Ryan says, “I can do that.”
Bill’s mom is stupidly over affectionate but it’s kind of nice; Ryan lets her hug him as much as she wants because it must be nice for her to hug a teenage boy who isn’t freezing all the time, and compliments her on the cookies while Bill chews the pad of his thumb and looks faintly guilty.
“My parents have their own support group,” Bill tells him later when they’re in his room. “Mom’s kind of ok, most of the time anyway, but dad is freaking the fuck out about killing me.” He sighs, hands twisting in his lap.
“You have nothing to feel bad about,” Ryan offers, because maybe if he says it enough times then Bill might start believing it.
“I keep telling dad that,” Bill mumbles. “I guess, you know, it’s ‘cause he was in the ambulance with me and saw me die. I think he did, anyway. He won’t talk about it.”
Do you remember dying? Ryan wants to ask, but knows he shouldn’t.
“He’ll be ok,” he says with more conviction than he feels.
Bill tries to crack a smile. “Yeah.”
They watch dumb movies until way too late, and Bill casually says wanna stay over tonight?, careful not to make it a big deal. Ryan sometimes gets the feeling that Z and Bill sat down with Spencer once and asked about the most delicate way to offer this, but it’s not like he’ll ever ask, or even mention it; he’s too nakedly grateful for that, and he just can’t.
“Sure,” he says, like it’s as simple as that.
Bill hands him a sweater before they get into bed – they’ve been sharing for years; maybe it should be weird, but just isn’t – and shrugs, sheepish and sweet. “I’m, um. I’m pretty cold now.”
Even with Bill no longer producing body heat, Ryan falls asleep quickly, curled up next to the wall, relieved of one night when he doesn’t have to worry about what’s going on downstairs.
He wakes up sometime in the night, a sliver of moonlight slicing through the window and into Ryan’s eyes. It takes him a moment to realise that the moonlight is shining through Bill; although Ryan can feel him in the bed beside him and see the outline of his closed eyelids, his mane of hair, he can see all the way through Bill. He’s transparent in his sleep, and Ryan blinks a few times, just staring.
Ryan smiles slightly to himself and rolls over, closing his eyes and drifting off again. The last sleepy thought he has before he’s entirely unconscious is a vague one, soft and curious: does Brendon look like that too, smiling in the moonlight, translucent as he dreams?
Ryan is sitting in last-period English, watching Bill daydream with his gaze fixed outside the window, when something occurs to him. He spends most of the rest of the lesson trying to convince himself that it’s a good idea and he can do it.
He drives his piece-of-shit car that’s about three miles from falling into scrap metal over to Brendon’s workplace, fingers drumming against the steering wheel.
Brendon looks startled and uncertain when Ryan comes up to the counter. “Your... usual?” he offers, eyes just a little too wide.
“Actually...” Ryan’s chest feels too tight, but he swallows and continues: “I really wanted to talk to you. I need your help. I... when do you finish? I could give you a ride home or something.”
Brendon’s expression is hard to read, though there’s something soft in the turn of his mouth. “All right,” he says, “you can stop babbling. Come back in an hour.”
When Ryan returns, Brendon is standing outside, arms folded, hunched inside a worn-looking jacket.
“Is your car going to fall apart on the road?” Brendon asks, raising an eyebrow.
Ryan shrugs. “It’s not like it’s gonna do you any damage if it does.”
Brendon laughs, bright and sudden. “All right, Ryan Ross,” he says, “drive me home.”
They don’t talk a lot; Brendon offers directions from time to time, clicking between stations and static on Ryan’s half-dead radio. As it turns out, Brendon doesn’t actually live that far away from Ryan; he pulls up outside an apartment block that’s probably only about ten minutes from his own house.
“You said you wanted my help,” Brendon shrugs, adding: “do you want to come up?”
“Your mom won’t mind?” Ryan blurts, and then wishes he hadn’t.
Brendon laughs, and it’s hard to say exactly what kind of laugh it is; grimly amused, but with a raw, sharp edge.
“No, she won’t mind,” he says at last. “Come on.”
It’s not exactly a crappy set of apartments; the stairwell is pretty clean and free of garbage and graffiti, and Brendon’s front door is barely scratched at all, faint trails in the varnish. Ryan finds out why Brendon laughed when Ryan enquired after his mom; it’s quickly obvious that Brendon lives on his own.
“Shoes by the door,” Brendon tells him, head ducked in what might be embarrassment, “and I don’t have any food or whatever.”
Ryan obediently leaves his stuff in the tiny hall and follows Brendon into a combined living room and kitchen; the sideboard is bare and there’s no hum from the fridge in the corner, but that’s understandable because why would Brendon turn it on when he doesn’t have anything to put in it? Brendon flops onto his couch and beckons Ryan over. There’s a battered acoustic guitar on a stand near the window, piles of scattered CDs and DVDs, crumpled second-hand paperbacks. No photographs, but Ryan doesn’t let himself wonder about that. He’s not here for him, not here for Brendon either.
“Bill’s not coping very well,” he says. “I mean, some days are better than others, but... he’s not dealing and I don’t know what to do.”
Brendon raises his eyebrows. “So you came to me?”
Ryan shrugs. “I didn’t know who else to ask.”
Brendon smiles slightly. “They do a pamphlet,” he offers. “Being Friends With A Ghost. Or whatever politically correct bullshit name they’re calling us this month.”
“They really do pamphlets like that?”
“Oh yeah,” Brendon smirks, “they do them on everything.” He starts ticking things off on his fingers. “Working with a ghost, coping with a ghost in your family, teaching a ghost, dating a ghost, having sex with a ghost – which is this whole other thing, by the way – living with a ghost...”
Ryan is trying mostly successfully not to flush a little at the implications that they give instructions on how to date and fuck ghosts. It’s not like he’s interested, of course.
“Are they any good?” he asks instead.
Brendon laughs. “No, man, they’re awful. And up until last year they had these crappy Seventies illustrations, made everyone look like they’d died with pornstar hair.” He sighs, stretching out a little on his couch. There’s a sliver of white skin between the hem of his t-shirt and the waistband of his jeans that Ryan isn’t looking at. “Look,” he begins, something more serious flitting across his face, “I know it seems unlikely now, but you’ll laugh about this one day. You’ll all wonder that you ever had to adjust to Bill being a ghost. You’ll have in-jokes and you’ll tease him and it’ll all be totally normal.”
“So your advice is just to wait it out?” Ryan asks. He’s going for non-confrontational, but Brendon’s eyes narrow anyway. “I’m just... I’m just not sure what the hell to do,” he adds swiftly.
Brendon calms down a little, gazing at the blank screen of his TV. This would be the moment, Ryan thinks, the moment for Brendon to open up a little and tell him things. Maybe offer some of his own story. But all Brendon says is: “take your cues from Bill. If he wants to talk about it, put your discomfort aside and talk to him. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, leave him. If he doesn’t want to talk about it for a prolonged period of time, force it out of him. Don’t let him bottle it all up, don’t let him keep it to himself. It’s fucked-up and unhealthy.”
Ryan glances sideways at him. “Is that what you told your friends?”
He’s kind of impressed at the nonchalance in Brendon’s shrug, the lightness in his voice as he says: “I’m sure I would’ve, if I’d had any.” He flashes Ryan his teeth in something that tries to be a smile but isn’t quite. “Anyway,” he says, “Bill’s got you guys, he’s got his family. That’s what he needs more than anything else, and everything will fall into place, I promise.”
“Ok,” Ryan nods, and smiles. He reflects on the careful way Brendon says family, not bitter but definitely significant, and thinks that maybe living alone isn’t a choice that Brendon made for himself. “Thank you, really.”
“It’s ok,” Brendon tells him, laughing, “believe me, I know how fucked this whole situation is.”
“And is it all resolved for you?” Ryan asks.
Brendon screws up his face, shrugging. “It’s getting there,” he offers, before clearing his throat superfluously and adding: “not to be a shitty host or anything, but I’ve got a lot of homework...”
“Oh, right.” Ryan scrambles off the couch as quick as he can, careful not to outstay his welcome. “I’ll just go.”
“Hey, Ryan?” Ryan turns around and Brendon pulls him into an unexpectedly hard hug. Ryan thinks he should pull away but he doesn’t, looping his arms around Brendon’s waist. Brendon is warm, which is startling; heat bleeding through his worn-looking red t-shirt in that way that Bill just hasn’t managed.
“What’s this for?” he asks.
Brendon laughs, a rush of sound next to Ryan’s ear. “For maybe not being as much of an asshole as I thought you were.” He pulls away, leaving Ryan feeling unexpectedly chilled. “I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” Ryan mumbles, and kicks himself for his lameness, but he can’t think of anything else to say. “And, you know, thanks again.”
It’s not until he brakes at a stoplight that he realises he’s been grinning basically the entire way home.
[Ok, I can’t actually stop myself, so I’ll just keep going here, shall I? Next up, I think, is the vampire story where Pete decides Edward Cullen is his lifespiration and Patrick is deeply worried about the whole thing, with lots of Jon and Greta because they are one of my favourite het couples in this fandom ♥ (sorry guys) I also need to write about how Ryan and Brendon got together, but that might take more time because a) it keeps making itself more complicated and b) it has the potential to get really horrible and angsty (because I realised, right, that Brendon is damaged, like, ridiculously so) and I want to keep that in check. So. I’ll just keep writing, shall I? Because apparently this really silly ‘verse won’t leave me alone. It’s still open, though, if anyone wants to write me, IDK, how Frank and Gerard got together or something. *flutters eyelashes* Anyway...]