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the grand facade, so soon will burn

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He doesn’t even know the kid’s name

Well, okay, he does, because there’s about twelve people surrounding them chanting it loudly, but in principle he doesn’t know the kids name, if not in reality. He knows basically nothing about him, that is to say, except that–

He’s scared. Maybe not scared, exactly, but nervous. Uncomfortable. Not happy, at the very least.

Bryn knows what it’s like to be not happy. He’s fantastic at it, even. He’s not happy every single day of his terrible goddamn life.

The crowd counts down to one, and the kid–Zander–isn’t going to drink, Bryn can see it in his eyes. He’s been thinking about it, trying to make it happen this whole time, but it’s not going to happen and he’s going to have to justify that when it happens.

So Bryn makes sure it doesn’t happen. He reaches over, grabs the glass, and downs it in one motion. Everyone’s watching him–no, them. They’re silent. They’re a little annoyed. Mostly, they don’t actually give a fuck.

Most people don’t, Bryn has found. Usually that fact is incredibly depressing to him, but sometimes–like tonight–it’s the only thing that matters.

“Piss off,” one of them says, and tosses their hair, and Bryn–might know that one’s name?

He guesses. He guesses right. Everyone moves on.

Except, the kid–Zander–

He’s staring at Bryn with those stupid brown puppy-dog eyes, all grateful, like Bryn did it for him.

He didn’t. Bryn doesn’t do anything for anyone else, not anymore. There’s no point, usually. He does things for himself, usually, and occasionally for the greater good, but only if someone’s watching. Bryn’s not much for loving one’s neighbor as oneself. But there was something about the kid–Zander–

It’s not that he had wanted to protect him, because that would be stupid. He’s a year younger than Bryn, maybe two, and he can clearly take care of himself, even if he’s not actually doing too good a job right now.

It’s just–well. The facts are this: Bryn is going to be not happy no matter what, but that’s no reason the kid–Zander–has to be.

 


 

He runs into the kid–Zander–not even a week later, at a different kind of party. Where Thea’s had been bright and tragic and sprawling, Mia’s is. Small, contained; maybe ten people total, all squeezed into the living room of a tiny shoebox apartment. Where Thea’s was a maze of neon fairy lights, Mia’s is blank white minimalism and Father John Misty playing on someone’s shitty laptop speakers and half-eaten vegetarian pizzas still in their boxes on the floor.

Bryn’s more of a neon sprawling kinda guy, really, and he’s honestly not sure who even invited him to this, or why he showed up, or why he showed up sober

“Hey,” Zander says.

“Hey,” Bryn says, and that’s that.

He doesn’t talk to anyone else the whole night, not really. He just stands in the corner, holding the same beer until it grows warm and undrinkable, and stares at Zander.

He’s laughing, smiling, drinking something from a plastic cup that looks like it's beer but Bryn knows is probably just soda. He's got his arm around his girlfriend’s waist, and she's got her hand in his back pocket. He's not the life of the party, but he looks–

He looks happy, to anyone not looking very closely, and probably even to most people who are looking closely. But Bryn is an expert at being not happy. He can spot misery from a thousand paces. And he spots it here.

 


 

Bryn sees Puck across the street. He’s walking home from class, and Puck is going–Bryn doesn’t know where Puck is going, he realizes. He doesn’t even have a guess. He has no idea what Puck does with their time lately, and he’s starting to wonder–if he ever knew anything–if he ever really–

He thinks about calling out, calling over; apologizing. He’s not actually sure what he has to be sorry for, but he is sure that he doesn’t actually feel apologetic about anything. The thing is–he just–misses Puck.

He thinks about calling out, calling over, but he doesn’t. Bryn is very very selfish but he knows that he’s only hurt Puck in the past, and that if they somehow manage to reconcile he’ll only end up hurting them again in the future.

It’s not that Bryn cares about whether he hurts Puck or not, because–he doesn’t, not really , he doesn’t care what Puck is thinking or feeling.

But he cares–he cares how it would make him feel, and the short-term high of having a friend again, the short-term rush of having soothed his own conscience–

It would all be washed away in no time by the way he eventually ruins everything, and Bryn is just too tired for that, these days.

He doesn’t care about anyone, he doesn’t even care about himself, but–it’s easier not to care when he’s alone. It’s easier not to make himself sick with guilt when he never gives himself a chance to do something right or something wrong. It’s just easier this way.

He keeps walking.

 


 

Bryn doesn’t actually know whose party he’s at this time, and he doesn’t actually care. He doesn’t recognize anyone and he can tell that nobody recognizes him, and it’s–

It’s perfect.

He loses himself in the crowd of strangers and he loses himself in his drink and he loses himself in drugs and it’s the closest he’s come to not being not happy in–months–

Someone puts their hand on his arm.

Bryn turns.

“Hey,” says Zander, and Bryn nods.

“Come with me,” says Bryn, and Zander follows.

They step out onto the back porch; it’s not empty, but it’s close. Bryn offers Zander a sip of his drink; Zander turns it down, because he’s not a fucking idiot.

“So what did you want?” Zander asks, nervous, a flush rising up his neck.

“What did you want,” Bryn says, and Zander flushes harder.

“I was just–saying hi,” he says, and they both know it’s a lie.

“Well, I wanted you,” Bryn says, sardonic but honest.

“I’m with Mia,” the kid–Zander–says.

“So why did you follow me?” Bryn asks.

They both know the answer already.

Bryn gets tired of waiting for a lie, and Zander gets tired of trying to come up with one, and–

Bryn kisses–no, well, he tries–no, well, he succeeds, but–

Bryn kisses Zander, and it’s warm and soft and alien to feel something again, to feel not just Zander’s eyelashes and the rise and fall of his breath and his body heat through his t-shirt, but also to feel something he’d thought long-dead flutter abortively in the pit of his stomach as their lips move together.

Bryn kisses Zander, and Zander kisses back, until he doesn’t anymore, and then Zander is staring at Bryn with those stupid brown puppy-dog eyes, all wounded , like Bryn was trying to hurt him.

He wasn’t. Bryn only ever really tries to hurt himself, these days.

“I can’t,” Zander says.

“You just did,” Bryn says, and leaves.