Set between Coda #3 & #4, and just before the recent mixtape posted. A story about apple trees, for wavesofwood, on the (belated) occasion of her birthday. This fic was originally talked out with tardis80, so a good part comes from her beautiful mind. ♥
Ryan got restless in spring. Brendon spent a lot of time with him wandering through the land and woods surrounding Thornton Hill, riding their bicycles up the hills and through the trees, taking picnic lunches and not coming back until well after dark. For a while, Brendon had worried that it wouldn't be enough, that Ryan would keep wanting to move, but Ryan seemed perfectly content to sprawl in the grass in the middle of Thornton Woods, closing his eyes and napping while the flowers grew under his hand, and Brendon took his guitar and didn't mind it, either. It wasn't exactly what he'd been into when he was growing up – he was a video games child, for sure – but Ryan had a way of making him happy doing anything. Brendon thought that was a pretty good deal.
Later, Brendon would think there was no real reason why it happened on that day as opposed to any other, that it was complete chance it happened at all. Sometimes the thought terrified him, how close he came to having missed it, but mostly he was just stupidly grateful that Ryan had been wrapped up in a book and ignoring Brendon, that Brendon had been bored and gone wandering in search for something to occupy himself with.
He returned with a sprig of apple blossom. "Ry-an," he sang, and Ryan made an absent, soft sound, not looking up. Brendon came and sprawled next to him and tucked the apple blossom behind Ryan's ear, caught in his curls, and then picked up Ryan's free hand from the ground, brushing his mouth over his fingers. Ryan looked up at him, eyes bright, mouth open a little, and Brendon leaned in and kissed him, warm and cheerful.
"Oh," Ryan said, and sat up, surging into Brendon's lap and kissing him hard, wrapping his arms around Brendon's shoulders and holding on tight, mouth hot and bruising, and Brendon made a small, surprised sound. He tried to pull back but Ryan wound himself in closer, kissed Brendon breathless, bumped their noses together and moved away just enough to say, "I love you, I love you," and Brendon grabbed at his hips and dragged him in and then they tumbled backward into the grass, and Brendon stopped thinking for a little while, because Ryan's hands were deft and fast on his belt and the world seemed warmer and brighter than usual.
The thing was, Brendon thought a little dazedly the next morning, staring at himself in the bathroom mirror, they generally had pretty awesome sex. It wasn't like it was ever bad. Ryan was magic, literally, which had a habit of intensifying things.
Only Brendon's brain was still a little fuzzy from last night, and his legs were still embarrassingly wobbly, and there were bite marks dotted liberally beneath his collarbone. Plus, they'd been together for six years. Brendon didn't want it to seem like he was old and crotchety, but they'd moved past the multiple times per night a while ago, only last night Ryan had been insistent and insatiable, pulling Brendon close to him again and again until Brendon seriously hadn't been able to do anything more, and they'd fallen asleep exhausted in a sweaty tangle of limbs.
Brendon stared at himself some more. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and a decidedly satisfied curl to his mouth. He wondered whether it was a bad sign if your magician boyfriend was suddenly and completely all over you for no apparent reason.
There were soft footsteps behind him, and Ryan appeared in the mirror. Brendon watched him approach blankly; Ryan was yawning, his hair sticking up in every direction, shuffling slowly over to Brendon.
"Morning," Brendon said carefully.
Ryan hummed something low under his breath and pressed himself up against Brendon's back, tucking his face into the curve of Brendon's neck, still humming some slow song and nuzzling into Brendon's skin, arms circling around his waist. Brendon stared at them in the mirror, breath catching in his chest.
"You alright?" he said.
"M'good," Ryan whispered, mouth hot against Brendon's skin.
Ryan wouldn't stop acting strangely, and it was kind of freaking Brendon out. It wasn't exactly Ryan being strange, he supposed, as much as it was Ryan being stupidly, intensely happy, and Brendon had no idea what was going on. All he knew was that Ryan waved his hand while he was talking to illustrate a point, and left glitter shimmering in the air, drifting slowly down to lie as golden dust across the floor; that sometimes flowers bloomed in his hair, little blossoms and tendrils reaching out, forming a natural crown before they eventually fell off, petals gently drifting down. Brendon had to sweep the floor for the glitter and tiny white petals dotting the floor, like a kind of snow.
Ryan watched him all the time, too, snuck up behind him and pulled him in to dance, while Brendon stared at him, at Ryan's neck curved over his shoulder, Ryan's eyes closed, eyelashes long and dark against his skin, and didn't quite dare ask what was going on. Some part of him was terrified that this was some sort of Faerie ritual of saying goodbye, though he didn't understand why Ryan would be so happy if that was the case.
At night, Ryan crawled into bed and spread himself out over Brendon, kissed him and touched him and fucked him, making it so that Brendon couldn't think of anything except Ryan, couldn't feel or breathe anything that wasn't Ryan moving with him, in him, slow and warm and generous, like he was giving Brendon something Brendon had always needed and never known. When they were both done Ryan curled in close to him, breathing slow and warm next to him, and Brendon rolled over when Ryan was asleep, and stared in vague astonishment. They'd turned all the lights out, but the dim bedroom was illuminated by a silver glow. Ryan was shining.
"I feel bad," Brendon told Spencer in a hushed voice over the phone, "because it's, it's not like it's something bad. But it's still freaking me out."
"Maybe he's going into heat again?" Spencer suggested, and Brendon could hear the grin in his voice. "You remember that spring three years ago?"
"No, I've completely forgotten about it," Brendon said dryly. He shook his head, said, "It's different from that, though. It's – he's just happy. I don't know why. It's like something really amazing has happened."
"Maybe it has," Spencer said. "Maybe something in Faerie? Remember when Amanda had that ceremony, and Ryan got all patriotic for a while and didn't know why?"
"I don't know," Brendon said, clutching the phone to his face. "It feels different."
"Don't freak," Spencer said. "Ryan's a bit weird, you know that. Don't think he's going to – up and leave you or anything."
"I'm not thinking that," Brendon said immediately. "I just. I'm not sure this is an entirely good thing."
"Wait it out," Spencer said, and then Ryan came up and said,
"Who are you talking to?" and smiled, eyes warm and soft and Brendon had something in his throat, and only just remembered to say goodbye to Spencer before he hung the phone up and stepped towards where Ryan was waiting for him.
"Come with me," Ryan said, and Brendon stood up and took Ryan's outstretched hand, the way he always would. Ryan gave him another one of those big, brilliant smiles, and then he tugged on Brendon's hand and something else tugged, too, and Brendon found himself pulled backwards out of The Curiousity Shop and into somewhere else, a green forest with trees that hummed low and bright, like a choir just out of reach.
"What is this place?" Brendon said, turning around.
"I grew up here," Ryan said, and Brendon stopped and stared at him, because Ryan's voice wasn't sad or careful or hurt like it usually was when he was talking about his old home. Instead he was still smiling, sweet and almost shy, like he was giving Brendon something he wasn't sure Brendon would want. "I just – these were the first trees that I ever. Knew."
Brendon raised an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah?"
"Yeah," Ryan said, and tucked himself into Brendon's side, sliding his hand into Brendon's front pocket. Brendon stayed very, very still and Ryan said, "I don't know. I just wanted them to meet you."
Something warm spread through Brendon's chest, but he just grinned and bowed a little mockingly and said, "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Assorted Green Things," and Ryan laughed in his ear.
Brendon turned to face Ryan. "You're a little more magical than usual, at the moment," he said, the phrasing awkward, not sure how to put I don't want you not to be happy but you're frightening me, a little into words.
Ryan just smiled at him though. His cheeks went a little pink but he met Brendon's eyes resolutely when he said, "I just – the world feels a little more magical than usual, at the moment."
"Oh, yeah?" Brendon said, and Ryan swallowed, throat working, and ducked his head and kissed him, curling his hands over Brendon's shoulders and pulling him slowly down, until they were resting on the forest floor, Ryan lying on his back with Brendon stretched across him, kissing him slow and hot, Ryan's wandering hands like points of heat on his skin.
"Yeah," Ryan said.
Brendon went up to the supermarket and came back with two bags full of groceries and a grin and news. "Hey," he said, as the chimes announced his arrival with a peal of church bells, and Ryan looked up. "Guess what?"
"What?" Ryan said.
"Greta and Bob finally got engaged," Brendon told him. "Everyone's been waiting for that to happen for, what, fifteen years or so?" He paused for a moment and then clarified, "Bob Morris, y'know. I think Bob Bryar's really nice and all, but he could crush Greta with his little finger."
"Greta's pretty strong," Ryan said, thoughtfully, and then smiled, the slow, warm one that Brendon loved and had been seeing a lot more of lately. "That's nice though, for them."
Brendon laughed. "This town is obsessed with marriage," he said. "It's kind of stupid. I don't see the point, you know?" Actually, Brendon did kind of see the point, and he thought Ryan probably knew that – at Ray and Krista's wedding a few years ago, Ryan had caught Gerard and Brendon sharing a handkerchief at the back. Sometimes, though, the idea of marriage was a little too close to all the things he knew growing up, and it was easier to be flippant. Besides, hopefully this way he could make Ryan laugh, and he liked making Ryan laugh. "Yeah," he continued, waggling his eyebrows. "They've all kind of given up on me."
Ryan blinked at him. "But," he said, and then his face went white. Brendon cocked his head to the side, raising an eyebrow, and Ryan said, "But you. The apple blossoms." He stopped.
"What?" Brendon said. "I'm sorry, dude, you've lost me."
"Oh," Ryan stammered. "Oh, you didn't know. Of course not."
Brendon stared as Ryan abruptly dropped the cloth he'd been dusting the counter with and hurried out the door, the chimes ringing out with a sympathetic sigh. When Brendon walked out after him, they burped rudely, and Ryan was already gone.
"I've looked for him everywhere," Brendon said, running his hands through his hair and pacing up and down the floor. Jon offered him a beer from the fridge but Brendon waved it away, spinning on his heel when he reached the doorway and stopping to lean back against it for a second before he burst back into movement. "I went to all the places he goes to read in the forest and the countryside, and down to Greta's, and the library and the bookstore, I stopped by my goddamn parents – I can't, he's not anywhere."
"Did you go through the woods?" Spencer asked, leaning forward on the couch. "You know how big they are, you could easily have missed him."
"He only goes to certain places," Brendon said dismissively, "and I checked them all. He's fairly predictable, for a crazy magician type, and the only place he's gone to if none of this is right is – is Faerie, and."
"Maybe he had something to do," Jon said. "Maybe he just had to get it done, and he walked out because he only remembered it in time—"
"I did it," Brendon said, throwing himself down into a chair. "I did it somehow. I just don't. I don't understand, I don't – normally he yells at me when I've pissed him off, I don't get why he just left like that."
"What did you do again?" Spencer asked, frowning. "Maybe – you didn't imply that he was going to leave already or anything, did you? 'Cos that's what the last big fight was about, so maybe he wouldn't feel the need to yell at you again for it or whatever. And you know you've been thinking about the possibility lately."
"It wasn't anything like that," Brendon said, shaking his head. "We were talking about Greta and Bob's wedding, and then he got really upset and started talking about apples and just left. I don't even know. I don't know what I did."
"He'll come back," Jon said. "He always comes back. You know that."
"If I've upset him," Brendon said, low, "he might not even be able to. I – he gets lost in time and space if he's having a bad hair day, sometimes, he loses control of where he is in the world and just, I. What if he doesn't get back." He couldn't quite bring himself to raise his voice at the end, make it a question.
"Go home," Spencer said, coming over and pulling Brendon to his feet. "Go home, and do whatever you do in the evenings, and then go to bed. Go home and wait for him. He'll come back."
"If he can," Brendon said, staring at his feet.
"He'll come back," Spencer said, and Jon nodded.
When Brendon got back, the shop was still open. There was a little path of golden flowers that he noticed followed Brendon's usual trajectory through the shop, including up to the armchair that only he sat on, and he wondered how he hadn't noticed them earlier in the day, springing up in his footsteps. When he bent to touch them, they withered and died.
He woke up in the morning vaguely surprised to find that he'd managed to fall asleep. The space next to him in the bed was cold and empty, and Brendon sat up, half-formulated plans about capturing a sparrow and forcing it to carry a message into Faerie spinning around in his head. Then he looked up and jolted in relief, almost falling off the bed, when he saw Ryan sitting in an armchair watching him.
"Where have you been?" he said, wide-eyed, and Ryan ducked his head, looking embarrassed and ashamed at being caught out looking.
"Sorry," Ryan said, quietly. "I was looking for potion ingredients. I remembered them kind of last minute. They needed to brew urgently." Ryan was as awful a liar as ever, and Brendon stared at him, speechless, mouth open a little, brow furrowed.
Ryan looked away, and stood up. "I've got work to do," he said.
"Ryan," Brendon said, voice strangled. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," Ryan said. "I'm just being stupid."
He walked out before Brendon could ask him any more questions, and for the rest of the day, he was suspiciously busy, bustling about wherever Brendon wasn't. He didn't look Brendon in the eyes, and the glow that Brendon had been confused by, but had loved, was gone.
The doors took to mysteriously closing on Brendon, the floors creaking noisily underneath him, making it even more difficult for Brendon to corner Ryan and make him tell him what the matter was. In the end, Brendon manned up, and applied to Spencer and Jon for help.
"Are you dissing our brilliant plans?" Jon asked, affronted, and Brendon sighed.
"I'm not trying to diss anything," he said carefully. "It's just – Spencer cornering Ryan and demanding that they go on a picnic is seriously going to work?"
"It's Ryan," Jon said, shrugging, and then his phone buzzed and he pulled it out of his pocket and opened a text, looking up at Brendon with a bright, smug grin. "Target in position," he said.
Brendon pushed himself off the hood of Jon's car, eyeing him skeptically. "Seriously?" he said.
"Go team!" Jon said, pumping a fist into the air, and Brendon made a face at him and set off through the woods, walking quickly to the spot Spencer had organized. Ryan and Spencer were sitting on a checkered picnic rug, Ryan with his head bent, plucking at a loose thread in his trousers, and Brendon cleared his throat.
Both of them looked up; Spencer with a grim look of satisfaction, Ryan with mild panic in his eyes. "Right, I'll be off!" Spencer said hastily, and stood up, practically running away, bumping his shoulder against Brendon's as he walked past and murmuring, "Don't fuck it up."
Brendon took a few awkward steps into the clearing. "Can I sit down?" he asked. Ryan shrugged, which Brendon took as invitation; he came and sat cross-legged opposite Ryan, and said, "Hi."
"I was set up," Ryan said, voice low.
"You've been avoiding me," Brendon countered. "I don't know what I did wrong. You should tell me, and then I'll fix it."
Ryan sighed. "You didn't do anything wrong," he said. "I told you. I was being stupid. I made a mistake, and it doesn't matter now."
"It matters if you can't even look at me," Brendon said, frustrated. "Ryan. Just – fucking tell me, please."
Ryan said, "You don't need to know. It's a mistake, I messed up, and—"
"Please," Brendon said again, and Ryan shrank further in on himself, staring intently at the ground.
"You married me," he said, and Brendon's voice and breath caught in his throat. "I mean. Not properly, obviously, just – the apple blossom, and then the hand, and then the mouth, it's a Faerie custom. It's how dryads marry each other, and I just. I forgot you couldn't have known. I'm sorry. It's not a big deal, don't worry about it. Obviously it's not legal here, or even in Faerie if you didn't know what you were doing, and just – I overreacted. I'm sorry."
Brendon sat very still, staring. Ryan wasn't looking at him, still, his face shadowed, head bowed low, and all Brendon could think of was the way he'd been smiling all last week.
"But I," he said, and stopped. When he spoke again, his voice was slightly awed. "You were so happy."
Ryan shrugged his bony shoulders and didn't say anything, and Brendon shuffled awkwardly across the picnic rug, said, "It's the order of things, huh? The apple blossoms, and then the kiss—"
"Yeah," Ryan said. He still wouldn't meet Brendon's eyes.
"It's prettier than ours," Brendon said thoughtfully. Then he grinned, even though it felt wobbly around the edges, and his heart was pounding, and he said, "I'm gonna try it anyway."
Ryan looked up, and Brendon slipped forward onto his knees, hunching a little so that he wasn't taller than Ryan. "Hey," he said. "Hey, Ryan," and Ryan stared at him, lips parted. Brendon wanted to smile, alleviate the tension, but he wasn't sure if his mouth knew how to do it anymore. "Hey," he said again, "I – will you marry me?"
Ryan sat very still for a moment. Then he nodded a little dumbly, and Brendon leaned across him to snag a sprig of clover blossom from the grass and tie it around Ryan's finger. "I love you," he said. "I'm always going to love you, I'm, I," and Ryan was smiling again, slow and a little more uncertain this time, but folding into Brendon like he couldn't hold himself up anymore. There were birds calling up above them and they weren't even kissing, just clutching at each other, Ryan's face pressed into Brendon's skin, his lips against Brendon's collarbone, and Brendon fisted his hands into the back of Ryan's shirt and held on. When he looked down, the clover 'round Ryan's finger was changing slowly but surely into gold.