4,716 words. brendon/ryan. pg.
a panic! fairytale.
The frost was bitter cold, and Brendon Urie had his scarf wrapped tight and high enough to cover his nose. It was the middle of winter, and he was heading home after a day spent chopping firewood. He hadn't imagined it'd be quite this cold out, and if he'd thought ahead, he probably would have gone home earlier.
Up in the mountains, winter came faster and more enthusiastically than anywhere else. The mountains had trees covering their sides, and as early as October those trees were snuggled up fast asleep under heavy white blankets of snow, just waiting for spring to come.
The thing was, he hadn't gone home earlier, and if he had he wouldn't have noticed the blood-splatters staining the snow pink. Each drop had formed its own indentation in the snow, staying warm just long enough to melt pockmarks into the otherwise-smooth surface.
The snow kept falling, and Brendon followed the trail of blood hoping he wouldn't run into a group of brigands.
There was a white crane lying in the snow, black-tipped wings fanned out around it. The crane raised its head slightly, legs scrabbling in the snow, and opened its beak to let out a slight strange hiss. Its breast was slick red with blood, and there was a broken arrow sticking out of its raw-edged wound.
Brendon hefted his axe over one shoulder and stood there for a moment, other hand on his hip.
“Huh,” he said. “Well, shit.”
The crane, as it turned out, was perfectly happy to eat rice.
A lot of rice.
It was also content to hiss and snap at Brendon when he was trying to fix up bandages and keep the bird from dying. Cranberries and fish would calm it down a little, but Brendon didn't have much of either, so mostly he was left trying to deal with a pissy bird making a mess in his house.
The problem was, cranes were supposed to be lucky. Letting one die was pretty much inviting bad things to happen. Not that Brendon was superstitious.
He just wanted to play it safe.
He'd fixed up a thick stew with the last of his dried fish and part of a salmon he'd managed to catch the other day – the river hadn't frozen over just yet, and Brendon had felt ambitious – and whenever he tried to have some for himself the bird would hiss and snap its beak at him. It had the gall to try to steal his bowl of rice, too, but he pushed it away from that, thankful it didn't try to maim him. The crane was still weak, but that didn't make its beak any less vicious.
“You're a selfish little bitch, you know that?” Brendon said.
The crane looked at him sideways, beak dropping open, and if Brendon didn't know any better he'd have said it was grinning. It preened at its feathers a little before sticking its head back into the deep pot he'd made the stew in, trying to get at the last dregs of its meal. It ended up knocking over the pot, pulling itself down as well, and it let out an indignant squawk as it attempted to get to its feet. The crane attempted to spread its wings in a threatening display, as if it could scare the pot into submission, and only ended up nearly pulling its bandages off and reopening its wound.
“Very graceful.” Brendon rolled his eyes and redid the bandages, noting that they'd need to be changed soon. “Really.”
The crane stared at him.
“Yes, your majesty, I know. I'll get you your water in a minute.”
It looked satisfied at that, and stalked over to the nest of blankets Brendon had made for it in a corner of the dining room, rearranging its feathers again as it settled down, and was asleep before Brendon got back.
The crane was better in a few weeks, and by the time that happened Brendon was nearly out of rice and had to make a run down to town. He let the crane go right before that; it stood in the snow near his house and watched him leave.
The sound it made when he stumbled in the snow, foot sinking into a hidden hole, was suspiciously close to a laugh.
When Brendon got into town, his first stop was the general store, where he bought enough rice to last the rest of the winter. His next stop was the tavern, to see if he had enough money left to buy even their worst vintage of wine or their throat-searing nastiest bottle of vodka.
Brendon got home and was inside for a grand total of ten minutes before someone knocked at his door.
He opened it.
Brendon opened the door again a few minutes later. “Who the fuck are you?”
There was a man in his doorway, arms folded tight (hands tucked into his armpits) and shivering with cold. The weather wasn't as bad as it would get later in the season, but the man was wearing an outfit made out of threadbare silk that, though it clung in altogether too-flattering ways to his skin, probably didn't provide much protection against the elements.
“May I come in, or are you just going to let me die? People can and do freeze to death. I do not want to be a statistic.”
Brendon rolled his eyes, but his house was originally an inn, and it would be against most (though not all) of what his family stood for to turn away a guest in need. “Fine, whatever. You know there's a way easier pass through the mountains a few miles to the east. You'd be better off staying at the tavern in town, or at the Smith's place or something. No one really comes here.”
“Well, I came here,” the man said, stepping inside and taking off his snow-soaked shoes. “Maybe I got lost, did you think of that? No, you didn't. Do you have any blankets? Towels? Anything? I'm very cold right now.” His ankles were bare, and his pants were wet up to his thighs, though the snow was only caked up to his knees. His shoes were made of some of the most delicate leather Brendon had seen in his life, and decorated with silk and beads. “What happened to your hospitality?”
“God damn,” Brendon said to himself, but he got what the stranger wanted and shuffled him through a miniature tour past down dusty hallways and past locked doors, eventually saying, “You can sleep in this room, if you want; there's hot water on the fire in the kitchen if you get the urge for tea in the middle of the night or whatever.”
“Thank you.” The stranger gave an elegant bow, body folding at the waist, before straightening again. “Your generosity is appreciated.”
Brendon woke up the next morning to the smell of food wafting from the kitchen. He yawned, stretching and wondering if he really, really wanted to get out of bed, but the lure of breakfast eventually stirred him to action.
Then he remembered that he lived alone.
Then he remembered, when he skidded into the kitchen, that he had a guest, who apparently had raided his stores to make food. “Oh.”
“Good morning,” the guest said. “I was – yesterday I thought you'd be back before you were. I was traipsing about in the cold for, like, four hours. I didn't mean to be rude.”
“Oh,” Brendon said. “Oh, okay. I was being kind of a dick; it's fine.” He was willing to accept that, though he still wasn't sure just why anyone would have traveled the road to his house and then waited there for hours, instead of detouring and heading over to the easier pass and the better-kept places to stay. “I thought you said you got lost.”
“Well, yes, that was part of the problem.”
“Oh.” Brendon still wasn't awake. He sat down at the small kitchen table, and the mystery guest laid out a plate heaped with rice and what looked like an omelet in front of him. “So do you make a habit of wandering into stranger's houses and stealing their food, or am I just special?”
“Shut up, I made enough for the both of us. It isn't stealing if I give you some.”
“Seriously, though, just wondering when you plan to leave. I can sell you some better gear if you want; I think one of my brothers might have left some stuff behind. It'd be warmer than what you've got on, anyway."
“Have you looked outside?”
Brendon couldn't get the door open. He took this as a bad sign.
“Well, at least we'll have food for a month or two.” Brendon sighed, spooning some eggs into his mouth. “Hey, this is good. See, I guess this is lucky.”
All he got in response to that was a shrug, and a gesture that indicated that his guest was still chewing and would say something in a moment. “Well, yeah,” he said, eventually.
“Seriously, can I have your name?”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah. Sure. Sorry. I'm, uhm. Ryan. ” He said it with the air of someone with little experience in giving fake names who'd just made one up on the spot. He held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Brendon.”
“Uh-huh.” Brendon never had said his name. “So, Ryan, what were you doing dressed like it was the merry month of May?”
“I got lost.”
“From half a year ago.”
“Are you going to finish your rice?” Ryan, true to his word, had served himself less than half of what he'd given Brendon. Wordlessly, Brendon passed his bowl over to Ryan.
Cleaned up and in saner clothes – because Brendon insisted he wore something clean and not so ragged, because he didn't want to have anyone freeze to death in his house because enough people had died there already over the years – cleaned up, the stranger was beautiful.
Long-limbed and slender, with a face prettier than half the girls in town, he made Brendon tempted to use the word gorgeous in completely unironic ways. There were the eyes, wide and dark and lovely, and the hair, and the oh-so-precise ways he moved, the way every little gesture telegraphed what he was (maybe) thinking and little things like the way when he was really focused on something he'd cock his head at it and bite his lip.
Also, he could cook. His manners were touch-and-go, but he could cook, and he was pretty to look at, and Brendon had been living here alone for going on four years and it was kind of nice, having someone around for even a few days.
Brendon was beginning to think that maybe this winter would be better than the last few; the family home was huge and lonely, and he thought with someone new around he might even have an excuse to open up one of the old guest rooms, give himself a little busy work.
“So why do you live all the way out here?” Ryan poured himself another cup of tea before settling back into the old chair he'd practically claimed as his own.
“Uhm,” Brendon said. “It's my family's house. We used to run a bed and breakfast kind of deal.”
“And? You don't anymore, and I haven't seen any family around, unless your parents are spiders. Why don't you move to wherever your family is?”
“Well,” Brendon said. “Well, most of them are dead, for one. I think my last two brothers are in a monastery somewhere. Fuck knows what happened to my sister. And if I'd moved, where would you be now, huh?”
“The snow.” Ryan peered out the window, which was now only fifty percent covered with snow. Above that the world was made of a frosty white glare and the occasional hint of blue, blue sky.
“The snow,” Brendon repeated. “Uh-huh. See, and that wouldn't be any good. You want to stay here the whole winter? I mean, even if the snow clears up, you never know, in the mountains, when there'll be an – an avalanche, or a sudden blizzard, or there's always wolves. Or bears! I mean, what I'm saying is, it's dangerous. You'll be safe here.”
Ryan's expression was unreadable. “For the rest of the winter?”
“The rest of the winter.” Brendon nodded.
“Alright,” Ryan said. “Thank you. I will, if it's not too much trouble.” Ryan sipped delicately at his tea, staring out at the flat expanse of snow visible through the window. The snow had melted enough that Brendon had finally been able to shovel a path from the door to the woodshed. For anything further, he wore snowshoes. Ryan hadn't ventured out yet, except to stand near the door and watch the sky.
Ryan said, “Seriously. Why do you stay?”
Brendon said, “See, back when this house was built, no one knew any other ways across the mountains. This was the best pass there was, and all the trade came through here, and travel, and everything. We put up kings here.” He knit his fingers tight together and watched Ryan's face. “Five years before I was born, they found a better path ten miles west.”
What Brendon said, in the end, what he really meant was, “So I'm the last one here.”
“Ah.” Ryan nodded, and looked back at Brendon, meeting his eyes with a steady unblinking gaze until Brendon ducked his head away. He smiled, then.
“Who are you?” Brendon asked, suddenly, looking up again. “Like, where are you from? What do you do? Where were you going, before that snowstorm hit?”
“I'm Ryan.” The way he spoke, it was like recitation, like rote memorization of facts. “I was born near a small town on the other side of the mountains. I was going home.”
“That – I should have expected that,” Brendon laughed, shaking his head. “Alright. Okay. You don't want me to know, that's cool. I'm alright with that.”
“It's not that.”
Brendon sat quiet for a while, retying the laces of his boots, and eventually said, “Hey, could you put some more tea on?”
With Ryan living there, the house started to feel a little less lonely. He helped with chores – the place was cleaner than it had been since even before the rest of the family had left – and, half the time, Brendon did more around the house just because he had someone to try to impress.
It was one morning as Ryan was bringing in some flowers to put on the table that Brendon realized something.
“Hey, hey,” he said, tapping Ryan on the shoulder. Ryan jumped a little, with a startled squawk. “Chill, chill. Just, it's not – earlier I only asked if you wanted to stay the winter, just in case, right. And it's clearly not really winter anymore, right?”
“Oh,” Ryan said. “Oh. Do you – I'm sorry. Do you want me to leave? I just, I mean I was going to go see if I couldn't find any mushrooms out in the forest or something, I could do that and then go if you want? Or I could just leave now."
“What? No, I mean – I just figured you'd want to go. Since winter's over and all; like, the pass should be clear. Both of them, actually.” Brendon said, “Wow, this is awkward. Like, you don't have to stay or anything, but, uhm, I was going to say, if you – if you wanted to, you totally could, because I mean. It's kind of lonely here. And I, uh, I like having you around.”
“So I can ...?”
“You can stay as long as you want, is what I'm saying. If you want to, I mean.” Brendon shrugged, scuffing a foot against the floor.
Ryan placed a hand against Brendon's cheek and leaned their foreheads together for a moment before turning and darting off. “I'll be back.”
“The hell,” Brendon laughed, sticking his thumbs through his belt loops. “I have the weirdest luck.”
Ryan came back a few hours later with wine and two pounds worth of salmon, and Brendon didn't ask him where the money came from. They had dinner on the porch, lit mostly by moonlight.
The stars shone bright and clear that night, countless bright drops against the smooth glassy sky, and even with the weather still cold at nights Brendon felt warm.
“You know, this out here used to be a bath house,” Brendon says thoughtfully, staring down a boarded up structure made mostly of granite. “I think it's a bit gross in there, but with some cleaning up, it could be nice again. Be a nice draw for visitors if we claimed it had medicinal purposes.”
“So what you want to do is lie to people to make them come back here?”
“Uh-huh. That's very noble of you. Really.”
“Okay, so I wouldn't lie about that part. Still. Baths are good. People like baths. And it's a shame to let the hotspring go to waste.”
“Plus, seriously, tell me you wouldn't like to see this place livened up again. I mean, you never saw it, and I really didn't either, but I mean, it needs it. I wanna fix the place up so it's nice.”
“Like, what I'm saying,” Brendon said, putting an arm around Ryan's neck and leaning their foreheads together, “I wanna be rich for your sake. I want this place to be nice enough for you. I mean, the clothes you showed up in were fucking expensive, right, you're obviously used to that kind of thing. I want this place worthy of you.”
“Brendon.” The weather was warm and the sun bright, and Ryan was providing pretty much all of Brendon's shade. “It's fine. I like it here. Don't worry, seriously.”
“No, I am going to find a way to make more money, and we are going to run the best hotel in the country and you're gonna have everything, I'm serious. I just need to figure out the money thing.”
“So you're not happy?”
“I am! But we could be so much happier!”
“We,” Ryan said.
“Well, yeah,” Brendon said, “I mean, I do pretty much love you.” He paused. “I mean.”
Ryan looked frail and small and was impossibly light, and he still managed to pull Brendon down to the floor with him. He said, “Brendon,” like an order. He said, “If you want, I can – I used to make clothes. You let me use a spare room and you don't check up on me or watch what I'm doing and I'll make some clothes we can sell for money, and you can fix the place up or whatever the hell it is you want.”
He said, “Brendon, it's okay, really. I'll do that for you, if it's what you really want. You just have to promise.”
“I promise,” Brendon said, and then Ryan was straddling him and their lips were pressed together.
All Brendon remembered of the rest of the night was the way that Ryan smelled like nothing, like air; and the way his lips were soft and his fingers were long and delicate and the way that, when he came, he tipped his head back with his eyes closed.
After that, Ryan shut himself up in a guest room for three days, and Brendon kept his promise.
It wasn't a week after that the house was swarming with workers, doing repair and renovation and improvement on the place, with Brendon overseeing them and glowing with pride. (Most of that week, Ryan took long naps in the sun; Brendon would find him stretched out beneath windows, lying on the floor using his arms as a pillow.)
Brendon hired on a single assistant, the youngest of the Smith family, and every now and then an actual guest would stop by. Keeping the whole house clean was a lot more work than just the one or two rooms Brendon had used on his own.
Eventually the work was – mostly – complete, and, every now and again, a visitor would stop by on a detour from the main roads to visit the baths and rest for a night or two. Word spread, slow but sure, of the revival of the old Urie family inn. The years stretched on, each day slipping slowly into the next, weeks melting into each other like a never-ending dream, and up above the stars kept shining bright.
And eventually, Brendon asked again, and Ryan locked himself up in the room at the end of the hall again, and wove and sewed until there was enough to keep Brendon satisfied a while longer. (“No, look,” Brendon had said, “We're doing okay, I guess, but if you could maybe do your thing, you know?”)
The last time, Ryan had been a little sleepy for a week, and Brendon had figured it was because of all the work that needed doing. This time, when Ryan finally reemerged from the room, he was stumbling and tired, with dark rings under his eyes. Brendon had been on his way to order the Smith boy into making him an omelet when he found himself helping Ryan back to their bedroom.
The room had two beds, though one usually went unused; it was there mostly for the sake of decorum. Ryan was tired enough that Brendon had to help him get his clothes off and into bed, and wasn't good for much past a, “I hope it's enough?” and squeezing Brendon's hand. “Sorry if it's not. I tried.”
“Shit, c'mon, Ryan, of course it's gonna be enough, the things you make are gorgeous. I'll get a great price, I know it.” Brendon sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, watching Ryan drift off into sleep. “Hey. If you – if there's anything you really need, ring for the Smith boy, okay?”
"Mmhm." Ryan fell asleep, and Brendon brushed his hair away from his face, and listened to him breathe for a while before getting back to work.
Brendon went down into town himself the next day, letting Ryan sleep in; it was the Smith boy who brought him breakfast that morning, and sat with him for a while.
"You don't," the boy started, then, "I've never seen you actually buy any thread or cloth, and I know there's none stored anywhere."
Ryan squinted at him. "Are you going to ask how I do it?"
"No. But I know Urie isn't going to, either."
"No," Ryan said. "He won't, will he."
"He's a good guy. He just doesn't always think." The boy set the tray he'd brought breakfast on down on the floor; Ryan had only barely picked at it, but didn't look to be interested in any more. "We used to play when we were kids. Mom offered to let him move in with us, after his brothers were gone and all, but -- I don't know. Staying here hasn't been -- I think he really just wants the best for you, he just doesn't know how to do it."
And for the rest of the day, the Smith boy sat by Ryan's bed and told him stories, and Brendon didn't come back until very, very late. When he finally did, he woke Ryan up crawling into bed next to him, and it was a long while before Ryan could sleep again. The next day, Brendon made sure to point out all the spices and ingredients he'd bought in town the previous day that were currently gracing Ryan's plate, and showed off the fancy clothes and candlesticks he'd bought for Ryan.
"He's trying his best?" The Smith boy shrugged, doing his best to dust and clean the clutter.
Ryan was better after a week and a half of bed rest; Brendon poked fun at him for being lazy, and Ryan worked twice as hard just to prove him wrong.
"I wish you were a girl," Brendon said, one night. "I'd ask you to marry me, and we could have kids. Or maybe not, because kids are tiresome, but seriously, you'd be the coolest wife ever."
Ryan raised an eyebrow. "Sorry?"
"No, no, I mean, I like you how you are," Brendon said, and took Ryan in his arms. "Just. God, how am I even this lucky? I'd buy the stars for you."
"Shh." Ryan grinned, and Brendon -- mostly -- kept quiet.
“We should throw a party,” Brendon said, his voice at its most dramatic. The only audience he had was Ryan, who snorted in disbelief. “For fall. A grand celebration!”
“Yeah. I don't really have enough – we don't – could you make more stuff to sell?”
Ryan sighed, and smiled, and said, “As long as you keep your promise.”
“And I don't know how much longer we'll be able to afford to keep the Smith boy on if we don't bring in a little more money, anyway. Revenues from guests are nice, but.”
“But.” Ryan nodded. “I already said I would. It's fine; don't worry.”
“It'll be fun, I promise,” Brendon said, grabbing Ryan and twirling him. “We can hire on cooks and have the place decorated and – dancing, Ryan, there simply must be dancing. I bet you'd look good on the dancefloor.”
“I've never really danced before.”
“No?” Brendon asked, taken aback and gleeful. “Oh, I so have to teach you.”
So Brendon taught Ryan to dance, and had the outfit Ryan had arrived in sent to a tailors for repairs or remaking; price, Brendon said, was no object. He ordered a suit and waistcoat specifically for the occasion, and started putting away provisions and getting the grounds decorated weeks in advance.
And he told Ryan to weave.
Four days went by with no sound or sign of Ryan save the locked door at the end of the hall, the cloistered room Ryan had appropriated for his work. Brendon and Spencer got to work on cleaning the baths out and setting up torches to light the road to the house.
Five days and Brendon grew impatient; he knocked on the door and got no answer. “Ryan?” he said. “Could you hurry up? There's people wanting my hide; I said I'd pay up by week's end and I don't have anything to tell them.”
A week and Brendon decided, never mind his promise, this was sheer laziness on Ryan's part. The door was locked, but Brendon had the key.
There was a crane at the spinning wheel, using its beak to pull the soft white feathers from its chest; the thread it spun was red from blood. At the sound of the door creaking open, the crane lifted its head, looking sideways at Brendon. It cocked its head, slightly, and its eyes were wide and dark and lovely, and Brendon bit his lip.
The crane spread its wings and bowed, so its flight-feathers and beak both brushed the floor, then stood again, silent and dignified.
No words were needed to tell Brendon he'd fucked up. He took a few steps further into the room, trying to come up with apologies. The crane turned, and hopped to the window, giving Brendon one last long look before disappearing on soft wings into the dark, dark sky above; Brendon leaned in the windowsill until the silhouette was gone from the cold pale face of the moon.
The stars shone on brightly, dotting the sky like so many lost feathers.
The Smith boy found Brendon curled up there the next morning, a soft red jacket wrapped tight around his shoulders and the curtains still fluttering in the wind.
“He's gone?” he asked, and Brendon nodded. “Well. We can't very well cancel the party tonight. There's guests that've traveled for months.”
“I know,” Brendon said, “I know.”
He sold what there was of Ryan's weaving except for the one red jacket, and made enough to pay off his debts; the crane never came back.
Snow fell that night, cold and bright as the invisible stars; the soft white blanket muffled even the sounds of the party, which lasted well into the evening despite its unusually withdrawn host.
props to _safi for looking things over, to tricksterquinn for not telling me to shut up when i started rambling incoherently, and the decemberists.