I Will Destroy Ryan Ross and All That He Loves: A Cautionary Tale

by >>Jae

It happened twice before William realized what was going on.

The first two times he really didn't think anything of it. There were a lot of people around them all the time, and if every once in a while he lost track of someone it was only to be expected. Also, he'd been drinking, and he tended to lose track of people a little more quickly then. But the third time he hadn't been drinking as much, and there weren't as many people around, and he'd been talking to the guy for a solid half hour. The guy was good-looking, of course, tall and skinny and he had his own band that actually sounded like it might be decent and he knew a lot of The Academy's stuff, but not in a stalkerish way, and William thought things were going pretty much the way he wanted them to.

"You want another beer?" William said. "I'm buying," because that was just the kind of guy he was. He'd always buy a beer for a guy he intended to sleep with, especially when the beers were free in the first place. William let his hand brush against the small of the guy's back and the guy smiled and leaned into him for a second, and William thought things were going exactly the way he wanted them to.

When William returned with a beer in each hand, the guy was nowhere to be found.

"That's the third time that's happened," he said when he found Butcher, who was always happy to take a beer off William's hands.

"What's happened?"

"Either there's some kind of black hole following me around that people randomly fall into, or else -- here, kiss me and tell me if you think my technique's gone downhill."

"No thanks," Butcher said. "What have you done now?"

"I've done nothing," William said. "I'm completely blameless. But people keep disappearing on me, and normally I wouldn't mind because frankly I think there are a lot of people in this world who could do with some disappearing, but this is the third time someone I've been meaning to sleep with has gone missing, and I'm starting to take it a little personally."

"Wait, do you mean that guy, the guy in the blue shirt that you were talking to?"

"Yeah," William said. "What, do you see him?"

Butcher pointed. "I guess it's not a black hole, then," he said. In a corner of the room the guy in the blue shirt, William's guy in the blue shirt, was making out with someone who was doing an exceptionally good imitation of Ryan Ross. Then the guy in the blue shirt shifted a little, moving his head like he was going to whisper something in the other guy's ear, and that only proved how much he was meant to be William's guy because William loved that, when someone took a second to tell him exactly what he was going to do right before he did it, like his own special dirty version of a preview. William's guy's head dipped lower and then the other guy looked over his shoulder right at William and it wasn't a good imitation of Ryan Ross, it was the real thing. The real Ryan Ross caught William's eye deliberately and smiled deliberately and then he threaded his hand through William's guy's hand and led him out of the room.

William stood there and watched them go. He didn't realize his mouth was open until Butcher reached over and helpfully closed it for him.

"This isn't funny," William snapped, and snatched Butcher's beer away.

"This isn't funny," William said sourly when they were back on the bus.

"Okay, maybe you weren't listening to Andy tell the story," Mike said. "Because really, it's pretty damn funny."

"You're a terrible friend," William said. "You're a terrible friend, and I hope that something really horrible and bizarre happens to you. Like a plague of toads. I hope you're plagued with toads."

"You sleep on the same bus with him," Butcher said. "Won't you be plagued with toads too?"

"I hope it's the type of toad plague where every time they touch you they're toads, but if they go near anybody else they turn into something else, like, I don't know, delicious candies or something."

"That's a very specific kind of plague," Mike said.

"Well, just imagine what I could come up with if I weren't so depressed."

"You know it's your own fault," Butcher said.

William said, "Toads for you too."

"Well, it is," Mike said. "The other night you taunted Ross, you know you did, and you questioned his, I don't know, his prowess or whatever, and you even called him a virgin, which --"

"Virginal," William said. "I called him virginal, which isn't the same thing --"

"Well, apparently he didn't take it well. Maybe this could be a little lesson for you."

"I didn't really mean it," William said. "I was drinking at the time."

"We've talked about this before. For 'I was drinking at the time,' to be an excuse, there really has to be a time when you're not drinking. Otherwise it's like saying you did it because it was Tuesday."

"Also, I was trying to get him to sleep with me."

"Yeah, here's another thing. You might want to think about finding a way to hit on people that doesn't involve making them feel bad about themselves."

"I wasn't trying to make him feel bad about himself, exactly." Mike raised an eyebrow. "I was just trying to make him feel like he'd feel so much better about himself if he let me fuck him."

"Maybe you want to think about finding a better way than that."

"The problem is, though, that way works so well," William said. "I mean, you have to admit, I've had proven success there. Just look at --"

"Don't say Siska," Mike said.

"No, don't say Siska," Butcher said. "And for the love of Christ, don't throw in any details either. I've spent months trying to black that out of my memory."

William said with dignity, "I wasn't going to say Siska."

"Who were you going to say?" Mike said.

"You don't know him," William said. "But anyway, since you brought it up, you do have to admit that he's been much better ever since I --"

"I said no details!" Butcher said.

"If by better you mean, more willing to do whatever you say without questioning it, then sure," Mike said.

"Well, yes. That's pretty much always what I mean by better."

"Regardless," Mike said severely, "I think you hurt Ryan's feelings, and now he's gotten back at you, so you can both just get on with your lives."

"Of course," William said. "Right after I crush him into the dirt."

"No," Mike said. "No no no. Bill, Bill, I love you but these plans never work out the way you want them to. You need to stop thinking of yourself as someone who can crush people into the dirt."

"Yeah," Butcher said. "Start thinking of yourself as someone who Ryan Ross steals groupies from."

"That is incorrect!" William shouted.

"Someone from whom Ryan Ross steals groupies? Is that better?"

"Ryan Ross does not steal groupies from me!"

"Okay, so you don't even pay attention to your stories anymore? That's kind of sad. I mean, not as sad as having groupies stolen from you by Ryan Ross, but still."

"He does not steal groupies from me. I didn't know what was going on! I wasn't paying attention! He -- he practiced stealth, and deception, and trickery, and -- and that thing he always does with his eyelashes, and you know, that's really the most offensive thing about this whole situation. He doesn't even go about it with any style, any flair -- he just does the same thing he always does, lets his stupid hair fall in front of his stupid face and looks like he might cry or break if anyone touches him, anyone except you, of course, he looks at you like you're the only person in the world who could touch him, the only person who could -- and people fall for that! Why would anyone fall for that?"

"Can't imagine," Butcher said.

William said, "It's just so -- boring. Whatever else you might say about me, I'm never boring."

"I bet I'd like boring," Mike said wistfully. He looked over at William. "I mean, just for a change."

"I can't wait for the toads to start plaguing you," William said. "I, on the other hand, am about to start plaguing Ryan Ross."

"Please don't," Mike said.

"Oh, let him do some plaguing, if it makes him happy."

"Thank you, Andrew," William said. "I know who's on my side."

"I'm on the side of comedy," Butcher said.

Mike said, "Yeah, see, it always starts out funny, but then it ends up --"

"It will end up with Ryan Ross crying like a little girl," William said. "This I promise you. However, in the meantime, I'm going to have to swear the two of you to secrecy in this matter."

Mike put two fingers up to the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Okay," he said. "Fine, okay. Plague away in secret."

"Remember this day, boys," William said as he stood up. "File it away in your memory, because in the future you will look back on this day with awe and admiration and say, 'We were there on that day, that glorious day, that day when everything changed. That day when lives changed.'"

"My life?" Butcher said.

"Well, no," William said. "Probably not yours so much."

"Cool," he said. "Carry on."

The first thing to do, William thought, was to lay a trap for Ross. In this case, laying a trap entailed making out with hot, eager, extremely sincere boys in front of Ryan as much as possible, but such were the sacrifices William was prepared to make in pursuit of his goal. No matter how many guys he dragged in front of Ryan, though, Ryan didn't make a move on any of them. He looked, definitely, William caught him looking several times, and each time William caught him Ryan would look down and then glance over at William almost apologetically through his eyelashes. Perhaps, William thought, perhaps Ross had seen the error of his ways. If Ryan was prepared to be sorry, William was prepared to be generous. Maybe just a mild chastisement, some petty public humiliation and then, if Ryan asked very nicely, William might let Ryan make it up to him.

The opportunity arose the next night, when William saw Ryan talking to a blond guy in a Clan t-shirt. He wasn't really William's taste, but this wasn't about what William wanted. This was about revenge. William walked over and waited until Ryan saw him before he introduced himself. He could have sworn he saw Ross flinch, and he smiled. He smiled at Ross and then he smiled at the blond guy. He kept smiling as he insinuated himself into their conversation and then into their personal space, turning the charm up to full-scale dazzle as he leaned into the blond guy. It was more charm than the guy really required, but the charm wasn't for his benefit, but for Ryan's. It worked, too. Ryan looked defeated almost from the time William walked over, staring down at his shoes with his hair falling down over his face. By the time William said, "Hey, Ryan, why don't you go round us up a couple of drinks?", one arm loose around the blond guy's waist, all Ryan could muster in response was a sad little half-smile, as though he were trying not to cry. Watching Ross shuffle away from them, looking back once over his shoulder, William was tempted to send the blond guy on his way and let Ryan start making it up to him right them. But there was a principle involved. Tonight Ryan had to suffer. Tomorrow William would let him start making it up to him.

"No, seriously," William said the next morning on the bus, "it was tragic, really. It was all I could do not to call him back and let him give me the blow job he so clearly wanted to offer and that, frankly, I so richly deserve. But despite the great personal cost to me, I persevered, because he has to learn."

"You're a saint and a martyr," Tom said.

"No," William said. "No. I am merely a man. I am a man, and Ryan is a boy. This morning he is a sadder boy, but a wiser boy, but I trust he has learned his lesson and I will tell you something. If he has learned his lesson, I don't intend to hold a grudge."

"Oh, you are a saint," Mike said.

"Well, maybe," William said modestly. "It's really not for me to say. I tell you, though, boys, you should have seen his face last night when he realized just what a fool he had been to think he could challenge me -- me, William Beckett -- and live to tell the tale. I thought he might weep right there. As well he should, because really, the audacity of him --"

"Ryan?" Butcher said.

"Of course Ryan," William said. "Who did you think we were talking about?"

"Oh, hey," Ryan said.

William spun around.

Ryan was standing in front of him, still wearing the clothes William had seen him in the night before. His hair was sticking up at odd angles, as if he'd tried to brush it with his fingers, and his shirt was untucked and he'd missed a couple of buttons. "Oh, hey, William," Ryan said. "Good morning."

"What the fuck are you doing on my bus?" William growled. Ryan didn't answer. He just stood there looking at William as he ran a hand over his lips. William thought they looked swollen.

Just then Adam stumbled out of the bunks. His hair was sticking out all over and his lips looked swollen and William was sure his shirt would have been untucked and buttoned up wrong, if he'd been wearing a shirt. "Oh, hey," he said. "You're all up."

"Siska," William said, in a voice like death.

"What?" Adam said.

"Is that coffee?" Ryan said, leaning around William. "Can I have some?"

Jon poured Ryan a cup and handed it to him. Before he could drink it, William snatched it from him. "Ow," Ryan said, shaking his hand out. "Watch out, that was hot."

"I hope it burns right down to the bone," William said. "Did you think -- did you really think you could just waltz onto my bus and -- and infiltrate my band, and drink my coffee, and there'd be no adverse consequences? Did you really think --"

"Actually, it's my coffee," Jon said. William looked at him. "But what's mine is yours."

William turned back to Ryan. "Did you really think that was what you were going to do, you pathetic little bitch?"

"Actually," Ryan said, "I think it's what I did do. Except for the coffee part, and I bet Jon would give me another cup." He smirked. "Oh, and I'm not sure infiltrate is really the right word --"

"Oh, so this is how you want to play?" William said. "What, you think you can play with the grown-ups now? You think you can play for real?"

"That's how I play," Ryan said.

"You better think about what you're getting yourself into, little boy. I was cutting you a break before, but if you want a fight on your hands, I will bring it, honey. I will bring it and you better learn to watch your back, because this isn't the schoolyard anymore. This is Thunderdome, dollface. Only one of us walks out alive."

Adam said, "Um, William?"

Ryan reached out and touched Adam's hand, his fingers slipping up to trace around his wrist. "Listen," he said quietly, "I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Get off my bus," William said. "Unhand my bass player and get the fuck off my bus right now."

Ryan crossed his arms. "I'm not afraid of you, Beckett."

William took a step toward him and Jon put his mug down. "Hey," he said, "hey, Ryan, why don't I show you that -- that thing that I was going to show you, that's, um, not on the bus right now?"

Ryan stood his ground for a minute, and then said, "Sure, Jon. I'd love to see that thing you were going to show me that's not on the bus right now." He smiled at William deliberately and then followed Jon out.

"Bye," Adam said.

For a few moments there was silence as everyone looked down at the floor or up at the ceiling. Then Tom said, "'This is Thunderdome, dollface'?"

"I think that might be the gayest thing ever said on this bus," Mike said. "And we've set that bar high."

Adam laughed and William turned on him. "Oh, go ahead, laugh, you serpent in my bosom. You traitor -- you betrayer -- you blasphemer. You break my heart, Adam Siska. I could have believed it of any of the rest of them, but not you -- never you. I could have stood anything else, but this -- this is almost more than I can bear. You break my heart."

"What did I do?" Adam said.

"You know what you did," William snapped.

"Yeah, we all know what you did," Butcher said. "Keep it down next time, kid, all right?"

"Sorry," Adam said.

William threw his hands up in the air. As coffee went flying Adam darted out of the way. "Sorry," William hissed. "He sleeps with my mortal enemy and what does he have to say for himself? Sorry."

"Wait, what?" Adam said. "Who? Ryan? Was I -- was I not supposed to sleep with Ryan?"

"Listen to how he mocks me," William said. "Oh, it's more bitter than I could have imagined. To be mocked by little Siska, who I have raised with my own hands since he was practically a babe in arms --"

"I'm not mocking," Adam said. "I really didn't know -- I really thought, I thought it was okay. I mean, you said, you told me we were supposed to sleep with Ryan. You stood right here and said it."

Mike put his hand over William's mouth. "Keep talking," he said to Adam.

"He told me," Adam said indignantly. "He said, he said that Ryan and them were young and naïve, and that, that sometimes when people were young and in bands and traveled around and everything, they thought they were experienced and all, but really they weren't, really they needed someone to initiate them into the ways of the world before they fell prey to wicked men and the world corrupted them, and I said, what do you mean, initiate them into the ways of the world, and he said have sex with them."

There was a silence, and then Mike said, "You have to admit, Bill, it sounds like something you'd say."

"Okay," William said, "okay, first of all, I thought it was understood that when I said someone should have sex with them, by someone I meant me."

"That was not made clear," Adam said.

"And second, second of all, that was days and days ago. That's old news -- the world has changed, changed drastically, permanently -- "

"Well, no one told me," Adam said.

William looked at Mike and Butcher. "Didn't you tell him about my feud with Ryan?"

"You kind of overestimate the amount of time I spend thinking about you when you're not in the room," Butcher said.

"We were sworn to secrecy," Mike said.

"Yeah," William said, "but I figured it was just like any other time we swear each other to secrecy, and then we go ahead and tell everybody else anyway."

"I don't do that," Mike said.

"Oh," William said. "Me neither."

"No, he absolutely never does that," Butcher said. "Oh, hey, Mike, I've been meaning to tell you, about that time with the two girls in Cleveland -- you totally shouldn't feel bad about that. It happens to all guys sometimes. I mean, that's what I've heard. I mean, it's never happened to me personally --"

"Or me," Tom said.

"Me either," Adam said.

"That's it," Mike said. "I'm going to go sleep with Ryan Ross right now. Out of spite."

"Don't even joke about that," William said. "It's bad enough that Siska --"

"Look, I'm sorry, all right?" Adam said. "I didn't know -- nobody told me, and then you had said before that somebody needed to, like, educate them in the ways of the world, and --"

"Just out of curiosity, Sisky," Tom said carefully, "you, um, you heard Bill's speech and you, uh, you decided that you were the man for the job?"

"Well, no," Adam said. "I didn't really think about it, but then last night when Ryan, when he first said, you know, I said, hey, maybe this is a bad idea, but he said, he said didn't William say somebody needed to help us out because we're all new and inexperienced and we need --"

"What?" William said. "Oh, that vicious little whore. He is even more fiendish than I thought. To use my own words against me -- even worse, to use them against one of my own, to use my own words to seduce this poor dumb child, to take advantage of innocent little Siska --"

"Took advantage of him all night, from what I could hear," Butcher said.

"Don't speak of Siska's shame," William snapped.

Tom said, "Siska has shame?"

Adam shrugged.

"And his shame," William said, "is the band's shame."

"This band hasn't had shame since 1979," Butcher said.

"None of us were alive in 1979," William said.

"That's how little shame we have. We're retroactively shameless."

"Don't listen to them, Siska," William said. "And don't worry -- I will avenge you."

"Okay," Adam said. "Um, thanks."

"In fact," William said as he began to pace up and down, "while I would have spared you this whole sordid affair, perhaps your involvement is for the best. You can be my second in this matter, my aide de camp. I can see now that this will require some careful planning, a certain cunning, and I may need some assistance. Pay attention, Siska. We must strike at the heart of everything Ryan holds dear, just as he attempted to strike at me. Ideally we would take Spencer, but Ross will be expecting that. Spencer will be too well-guarded. Our strategy calls for subtlety and the element of surprise -- an ambush."

"I don't mind saying," Adam said, "I'm a little bit scared right now."

"Billy, give Siska a safeword," Butcher said.

"There are no safewords -- there are no safe places anywhere anymore. Make no mistake -- this is war. We shall not offer mercy, and we shall not expect it. Should we falter, should we fail, Ross will be relentless. But we will not falter, we will not fail. We will not cease in our attack until we have utterly destroyed Ryan Ross, and then I will dance on his grave in red shoes. Metaphorically, I mean -- although maybe literally, too. I haven't decided."

"Okay," Adam said, "that doesn't make me less scared."

William said, "Summon all of your courage, because I have just now devised a plan that will lead us to victory." He smiled. "I just remembered who's going to be here tomorrow night."

The next day William was driven almost to distraction as he tried to make sure he didn't miss his moment. Adam was less than no help when it came to keeping watch, but when William pointed this out he just whined, "I have to be on stage whenever you are -- I don't know what you want me to do." Finally, though, William's moment arrived, and with it arrived Pete Wentz.

Through superhuman effort and a complete lack of scruples when it came to shoving scenesters out of his way, William managed to reach Pete before anyone else. He hustled him off to a grassy knoll out behind the buses, dragging Adam along behind him. When they were far from any prying eyes, William paused for a moment to catch his breath. Pete looked at him quizzically.

"So," William said. "You must be wondering why I brought you out here."

"Well, a little," Pete said.

"I have a proposition for you, one which I think will be of great mutual benefit to all concerned."

Pete grinned suddenly. "You know, I miss you when you're not around," he said. Then he must have seen William's impatience because he straightened up and wiped most of his smile off his face before he said, "Well, go ahead -- proposition me. You know I'd do anything for you."

"I need you not to fuck Ryan this weekend," William said.

The rest of his smile dropped from Pete's face. "Okay, let's talk about that word anything," he said.

"Pete, you know I wouldn't ask, but this is very important."

"But -- but why?"

"Well, because," William said. He could tell that wasn't going to get him very far. Perhaps he should have thought this through a little more, but he'd been so pleased with himself for thinking up the plan in the first place, he hadn't had time to work out every little detail. Really, this was the kind of thing Adam should help him with. William kicked him.

"Because of the feud," Adam said. William kicked him again. "Ow," Adam said, but at least he shut up after that. William hadn't decided how much he wanted to tell Pete about what was going on with him and Ryan. He wasn't sure exactly whose side Pete would be on. Still, he had to tell him something.

"It's -- it's for a joke," William said. "Come on, you love jokes."

"Yeah, but you know what I love more?" Pete said. "I'll give you a hint -- it rhymes with fucking Ryan Ross."

"Look," William said, "Just do this one thing for me, okay? I just need --" and then he had a brainstorm. "Don't you think that maybe Ryan's starting to -- not take you for granted, exactly, but -- come on, Pete, just think about how eager he'll be to make up with you after this weekend, if you keep your distance. Just imagine how desperate he'll be to win you back. Why, I can't even imagine the kind of dirty, disgusting, deviant acts he'll be driven to." From the look on Pete's face, he was having no trouble imagining them in vivid detail. William went all in. "Besides," he said, "I promise you, you won't be neglected this weekend."

"Hmm," Pete said. He looked William up and down. "That's a promise, huh?"

"You have my word," William swore. "You will be entertained and satisfied."

"All right," Pete said. "I mean, it's just for this weekend, right? And after all, I do love a joke."

"Who doesn't?" William said. "I'll tell you how we'll do this on the way back to the bus."

As William had predicted, it didn't take long for Ryan to find them. He stiffened a little when he saw William lounging next to Pete, but William knew it would take a lot more than that to keep Ryan away. "Pete, hi," Ryan said.

"Oh, hey, Ryan," Pete said, his voice elaborately casual. "What's up, man?"

"Um, nothing," Ryan said. "I just -- I thought we were going to hang out, so…"

"Oh, yeah, about that. I don't think I'm gonna be able to -- I've got a couple of things I've got to handle here, so I'll just catch up with you some other time, okay?"

"Sure," Ryan said. William watched as he looked down and then back at Pete, like a brave little soldier. "Do you want to come over after you're done here? I mean, I'll probably still be up, so --"

"Yeah, I don't think so," Pete said. Just as they'd rehearsed, he hooked two fingers in William's belt loop and William leaned into him. "Like I said, I've got some things to handle here."

"Oh," Ryan said. He swallowed and Pete looked down at the ground. "Sure." William smiled at him and Ryan stared back with a cold fury that made William suddenly glad that Ryan didn't have a gun. At least, he was pretty sure that Ryan didn't have a gun. "I guess I'll see you around."

As Ryan walked away, Pete said in a shaky voice, "I don't know about this, Bill. I mean, did you see his face?"

"I did," William said. "I thought he looked a little desperate."

"I thought he looked sad," Adam said. William kicked him. "Ow! Stop kicking, seriously."

William said, "On reflection, I think he looked a lot desperate."

"Right," Pete murmured to himself. "Right, desperate. And it's only a weekend after all, and after that I bet he'll totally -- anyway." He stood up and stretched. "Anyway," he said again, grinning down at William, "I believe I was promised that I'd be entertained and satisfied."

"Yes," William said. "About that. I actually have something I have to do right now, so --"

"Wait, what?" Pete said. "Look, I'm not sticking with this if we're not gonna --"

"You can have Siska," William said, pushing Adam at Pete.

"Wait, what?" Adam said, and Pete put an arm around him and smirked and said,


As he made his way over to the Panic bus, William was greeted with the harsh beautiful melody of what must have been many expensive pieces of electronics crashing against a wall, accompanied by the special soothing voice Spencer reserved for Ryan. William leaned against the side of the bus and luxuriated in the sound of Ryan being talked to like he was an especially dangerous mental patient and tried to figure out what was being thrown by the noise it made on impact. After a particularly loud crash (ipod against a window, William thought), Spencer yelled, "Hey, throw your own shit!" and the bus door opened.

Brendon peered out and then jumped lightly onto the ground. He flinched as another shattering crash shook the bus and then looked around, a hunted look on his face.

"Brendon Urie, come out to play," William crooned quietly, and Brendon said,

"Oh, hi, William." Then he flinched again and said, "Stay away from me -- you're supposed to stay away from me. And don't try to have sex with me, either!"

"Duly noted," William said.

"You shouldn't even be here," Brendon whispered. "Ryan'll kill you if he sees you."

"Yeah, I think I'll take my chances. I've been doing pretty well against Ryan today."

"Dude, I heard," Brendon said. He looked around and then took a step closer. "Did you really steal Pete from Ryan?"

"You were in there," William said, jerking his head toward the bus. "What do you think?"

"Wow," Brendon breathed. He took another step closer and looked William up and down, his tongue sticking out of the corner of this mouth. "How did you do it?"

"Well, it's a little hard to explain," William said. "What I did was something like --" and he leaned over and kissed Brendon, just lightly at first. He didn't want to scare him.

The bus door swung open and Ryan shrieked, "Brendon," with more volume and intonation than William had thought him capable of. He was a little impressed, actually. Brendon leapt back and scrubbed at his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Ryan," he said urgently, "Ryan, I didn't -- I wasn't --"

"Hey, Ryan," William said. "I just came over to see if Brendon wanted to join Pete and me."

Ryan howled and hurled himself toward the open door. Spencer grabbed him with both hands and hauled him back inside. Then he leaned out and looked at William and Brendon. "Run," he said.

Brendon took off at top speed, arms flailing out at his sides.

"I don't know if that's a yes or a no," William said thoughtfully. "I guess I'll see you around, Ryan." He sauntered away, looking back over his shoulder to smile at Ryan. Ryan howled again, and Spencer yelled,

"Bill, I don't know how much longer I can hold him," and William sauntered faster and faster until he was breathless by the time he reached his own bus.

William gave himself the evening to savor his victory, but by morning he was on guard for Ross's response. He'd underestimated him before, but William wasn't about to let it happen again. He lectured his boys about the dangers of going out alone and eyeliner, and when his selfless efforts for their own good were met with nothing but the laughter of fools, he made sure to keep a close eye on them. He even gave Siska a special whistle.

Strangely, nothing happened.

For days and days Ryan avoided him, and the rest of his band followed his lead. William was forced to seek Ryan out in order to smirk knowingly at him, but even then Ryan just turned and walked away. If this was victory -- and it was, William knew -- it was oddly unsatisfying.

Finally Spencer cornered him when he was lying in wait for Ryan after their show. "Listen," Spencer said, pushing his hair back from his forehead, "I don't suppose you'd consider a truce?"

"Of course," William said. "I am, as always, gracious in triumph."

"Good," Spencer said. "Because Ryan's starting to twitch every time someone mentions your name, and Brendon's been trying to sleep with one eye open, which means he's not sleeping at all, which means none of us are sleeping at all, and I'm not sure how much more of this any of us can take."

"I'll just need Ryan's apology, and we can all go about our business."

"Bill," Spencer said. He fell back against the wall. "Bill, come on, man, give me a break. I can't get that for you."

"Come on yourself," William said. "Ryan started this. And I think I should get something out of the whole thing."

"Isn't the knowledge of your own superiority enough?"

"Yeah, but I had that before I won," William said. "Now I need something more."

Spencer closed his eyes and sighed. "There's nothing else we could give you?"

"I'll take Brendon," William said, and for a minute Spencer looked like he was considering it.

"No, that'll just make things worse," Spencer said finally. He rubbed his hands together and then looked at William seriously. "You're sure you need this? You can't just let it go?"

"I'm afraid not," William said.

"Fine," Spencer said. "Wait here," and he disappeared around the corner. William could hear a whispered conference, and then Ryan's voice rose. He heard his own name several times, and a lot of swearing, but he didn't hear anything that sounded like abject apology and admission of fault. Then Spencer talked for a long time, low enough that William couldn't hear what he was saying, and then there was a long silence. Eventually Spencer said, louder, "Just do it for me, okay?" There was another long silence, and then William heard Ryan say one word.

Spencer reappeared in front of William, looking hassled. His shirt was unbuttoned at the neck and his hair was messed up, like he'd been running his hand through it over and over. He said, "Ryan says sorry, all right?"

William said, "I'm afraid I'll need something in writing."

Spencer looked at him long and hard.

William said, "That's great, thanks, I accept his apology." As he turned to go Ryan called after him,

"I won't forget this, Beckett."

"I hope you remember it every day for the rest of your life," William said. "I know I will."

After that William tried not to gloat, he really did. He didn't try hard, but he tried. And he couldn't help it if Ross was determined to interpret totally innocent things as gloating, like when William smiled at him, or winked, or said, "Hey, have you heard from Pete lately?" But eventually even the thrill of watching Ryan flinch or swear or push away from Spencer's hands started to fade. William had a full life, after all, with many, many things to do besides revel in his victory. After a while -- granted, a long, long while -- he barely even thought about it any more, even when he ran into Ryan. He barely even remembered their game.

Which was why it was so unfair when Mike walked in one day and said, "Look, I want you to leave those kids alone for a while."

"I haven't done anything to them in forever," William said as he sat up. Then he said, "I mean, what kids?"

"You know what kids," Mike said. "And they've got their own problems right now, so I want you to leave them alone."

"I have been leaving them alone," William said indignantly. "Besides, I know they've got their own shit to deal with right now. I wouldn't give them a hard time. What do you think I am, some kind of monster?"

There was a long silence.

"What?" William said.

"You yelled at me and gave me to Pete Wentz," Adam said. "And you kicked me at least three times."

"You kicked Sisky?" Butcher said. "Dude, you are a monster."

"He deserved it," William said.

Mike said, "I'm serious, Bill."

"Fine," William said. "Like I said, I'm not a monster. And besides, I already won." But as he went back to his book, he resolved that he wouldn't even look crooked at Ryan for a few weeks. After all, he wasn't a monster.

That was his fatal mistake, William thought later with shock and horror, as Jon Walker stood awkwardly in front of them. He was no monster, but Ross --

"It's just -- it's a really great opportunity," Jon said pleadingly, for what must have been the eighty-fifth time.

For the eighty-fifth time Tom answered, "Of course it is, dude, you've got to do it." He shot William his eighty-fifth dirty look. "Nobody's blaming you, Jonny."

"Of course not," Mike said coldly, and if dirty looks had been arrows William would have beat St. Sebastian. "We all know it's not your fault."

"Well, it's nobody's fault," Jon said. "I mean, it just -- it just happened this way, you know?"

"Oh, really," William snapped. "We're not children, do you really expect us to believe --" Butcher hit him on the shoulder, kind of hard, and William said, "But I bear you no grudge, Jonny Walker. You've got to follow your heart. No one will blame you."

"I'm glad," Jon said. "Really, I'm really glad, I would hate for you to think --"

"But you can do me one favor," William said, and Jon said,


"Bring this message back to the others," William said. "Tell them I will devote my life to destroying Ryan Ross and all that he loves."

Jon said, "Um."

"Don't tell them that," Mike said. "You don't have to tell them that."

"Thanks," Jon said. As Tom walked him to the door William said to Mike,

"You're right, you're totally right, he shouldn't tell them what I said. Secrecy will be our ally in this matter."

"Shutting up will be your ally," Mike said. As the door shut behind Jon, Mike started to punch the wall, then looked like he thought better of it and punched the couch instead.

"Don't worry," William said as he started to pace up and down, "Ross may have won this round, but I can --"

"No," Mike said.

"Well, that's a very positive attitude," William said, "but he's taken JWalk. Objectively, Ross won this round."

"No," Mike said. "I meant Ross didn't win this round -- he won, period. This is over, William. Face it, he beat you. You lost."

"But --"

"No," Mike said again. "Look, he's already taken Jon, and that loss is barely survivable. Barely. Who knows what he'll do next time you fuck with him? For God's sake, next time he could take Siska."

"Wait, what?" Adam said. "Stop giving me to people, seriously."

"But -- "

"No," Mike said. "You lost. Game over. I'm serious, William."

"Fine," William said. He stalked over to the window and stood looking out as Jon walked away. Ryan was waiting for him, and when Jon reached him they stood talking seriously for a few minutes. Then Jon said something and Ryan smiled, just a small smile, and threaded his hand through Jon's as they walked away.

"Aw," Adam said, "that's kind of --"

"Shut up," William said, but he had to admit, it was kind of sweet. As he watched them walk away hand in hand, William thought maybe Jon had been right. Maybe it was just something that happened. Maybe it had nothing to do with the game. Maybe William had still won.

Then Ryan looked back over his shoulder and caught William's eye. He smiled at William slowly and deliberately.

William threw himself at the door. "Fuck the game," he roared, "I'm going to rip out Ross' heart with my teeth."

Butcher grabbed him and dragged him back, but William held onto the doorjamb.

"Jon!" he yelled. "Jon, come back, he doesn't mean it, it's a game! He doesn't love you like we do."

Jon stopped and looked back. "William," he said pityingly, "you don't understand -- it's not --" As Jon struggled for words Ryan stood next to him, watching him patiently. Finally Jon looked at Ryan and smiled, suddenly, like he couldn't help it. Ryan leaned over suddenly and kissed him, briefly, sweetly, like he couldn't help it either. When he pulled away Jon was still smiling.

"Bye," Jon said, lifting one hand to wave, then turned away from William.

"I won't forget this, Ross!" William shouted, straining against Butcher's hands.

"Neither will I," Ryan said, but he wasn't looking at William. He and Jon walked away, still holding hands, and William slumped helplessly against Butcher and watched them go. They didn't look back again.

"I have failed, failed utterly," William mumbled, but Butcher didn't let him go. "I must go and hide my shame from the world."

"You're not going anywhere, you clown," Mike said. "Get your ass back here with us where you belong."

"No," William said, "no. Leave me here on the doorstep in my abject despair, as a caution to others who pass by. Just promise me this -- as you step over me to go about your lives, spare a thought for your fallen comrade, who loved you all like brothers. In some cases like really hot brothers who it turned out through some plot twist weren't actually related to me so it was totally okay to have dirty thoughts about, but still -- remember me."

"I'm not stepping over you every time I want to leave," Tom said.

"Come on, Bill, get up," Mike said.

"No," William said, "no. I have been reduced to dust and ashes. Nothing is left to me but to wait for the release of sweet, sweet death. I have no reason to get up ever again."

"You can have Siska," Mike said, and William sat up.

"Really?" he said.

"Wait, what?" Adam said. Then he sighed and said, "Oh, all right, just this once."

"Once isn't going to do it," William said pitifully. "I have been crushed. I have been vanquished. I have been conquered. My self-esteem requires the kind of rebuilding that can only be supplied by many, many extremely disgusting sexual acts. I have been scarred by this experience, Sisky!" William put his hand on his belt. "I'll show you --"

"Not in here!" Butcher said.

"Okay, twice," Adam said. "Three times, tops. Maybe, maybe four --"

"We can work out the details later," William said. He held out his hand and let Adam haul him to his feet. "Come back in the bunks with me, Siska, and let me show you my scar."

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