42 by Arsenic
Summary: See TGAN Author's Notes.
Categories: Bandslash Characters: Bob Bryar, Spencer Smith
Genres: Drama, Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: The Great American Novel
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 39507 Read: 25024 Published: 29/08/07 Updated: 29/08/07
Chapter 1 by Arsenic
Bob says, "That was a pretty tight set you played there, man."

Spencer says, "Really?" He doesn't mean to. His stature, age, and the composition of his face give people enough ammunition against him without him letting them think there's room for more. But Spencer sometimes turns the shuffle on his iPod off just so he can listen to MCR’s most recent bootlegs straight through, hear Bob Bryar's constant but never predictable foundation to My Chem's music.

Bob doesn't act like he's been given an opening, he just nods and says, "You gotta stick around, or you wanna go get some coffee?"

Spencer doesn't even know what band is playing anymore, nor does he really care. "Coffee would be good."

They hit up a diner, and Spencer orders lemon meringue pie with his coffee and says, "It doesn't bother you, right? The eggs thing?"

Bob first steals Spencer's fork, then a piece of the pie. "Don't tell Gerard, yeah?"

Spencer smiles and takes his fork back. "Would he really care?"

"Probably not. I think he sneaks shit, too, honestly."

"I would miss eggs," Spencer says. He would. He's never met an egg he didn't like.

"I miss moo shoo chicken."

"That's—"

"Random, yeah, but there you have it."

The coffee is pretty good, not Folgers, at least, and steeped past black, the way Spencer likes it. If a person's going to mainline caffeine, he might as well taste it going down. Red Bull—and Spencer has no problem telling Ryan or Brendon this—is for pussies or desperate men. Spencer has been the latter a time or two. Bob asks, "You see our set?"

"Was there anybody who didn't?" Spencer asks, before he realizes that Bob was being genuine. He figures it out when Bob just tips his coffee cup up and doesn't say anything else. Spencer says, "Okay, that was probably me being a defensive asshole."

"No small audience for your set."

"No, we do okay. It can just be a little intimidating, and I'm still not sure why we're having coffee, so."

"Because I wanted to hear what you thought of our set."

"You might or might not be able to see how that doesn't really clear things up for me."

"Why'd you ask me if I meant what I'd said when I told you you’d played well? That's not the sort of thing I'd lie about."

Spencer appreciates that he doesn't say he doesn't lie, that he puts parameters on the claim. They all lie. "I just meant—"

"That you actually valued my opinion."

Spencer shrugs.

"Not that there aren't other drummers out there that I'd actually care to hear from, there are, but you seemed like the kind of guy who would say something I'd believe, so I asked you."

"I seemed like that kind of guy."

"You're very honest up there. With your body. With your drums. I thought maybe it translated."

It's not that people never notice Spencer, exactly, but they never notice the important things. He takes a slow sip of coffee. "It was a good set. I thought Way, uh, Gerard, seemed tired, which was affecting the rest of you. You usually play more with your body and there was conservation of movement. It was limiting your sound a bit."

Bob sighs. "Yeah, that was sort of what I thought."

"Unless there are things I don't know, it's probably nothing a little sleep won't fix."

Bob smiles at him, very, very slight irony in the expression.

"Yeah," Spencer admits, "so much time for that on these things, huh?"

"He's not much of a sleeper to begin with."

"I'm not surprised by that information."

"I don't think anyone is."

The bill comes even as the waitress pours them more coffee and says, "Take your time." Spencer grabs it and Bob goes for his wallet. Spencer says, "Nah, let me. Since I was sort of a jerk about it."

"Self-defensiveness isn't the worst trait in a guy," Bob says, but lets Spencer pick up the tab. He asks, "On me, next time?"

Spencer does not, does not ask, "Really?"

*


Spencer finds Bob a couple of cities later. "You tranq Way while we were on the road?"

"I hid the coffee. And the dark chocolate. And the Full Throttle."

Spencer lives on a bus, just the same as Bob. "Where?"

"Hid may have been a euphemism for sold."

"You sold your band's caffeine stash?"

Bob shrugs. "Bowling for Soup was hard up."

Spencer laughs. "Holy fuck, you're actually an evil genius."

"It balances out Gerard being the angelic one."

"Yeah, that's what I think of when I think of Gerard Way."

"He'd surprise you."

He wouldn't. Spencer knows that almost nothing is what it appears to be at first sight. "I found a Chinese place here that does moo shoo tofu."

"It's not the same," Bob tells him, a slightly mournful tone to his voice.

"Well, I can't help that you're a sad vegan."

"Does the place have vegetarian spare ribs?"

Spencer looks at him. "Oddly, I didn't think to check. We're in Vermont. Probably."

"Oh relax, you had yourself a date before you even mentioned finding me moo shoo."

"I sort of suspected you were easy."

Bob laughs. "Are we really in Vermont? I could have sworn Gerard said something about Burgettstown. Uh, Pennsylvania."

"Yeah, he greeted the wrong city."

"And nobody said anything?" Bob asks.

Spencer grins. "I'm not sure this audience knows where we are, either."

"Good point." Bob nods. "You know what this means?"

"That we play to a lot of really hardcore addicts?"

"That too, but I was referring to our current placement in Vermont."

"That you can get things made from tofu that really, really were never meant to be made from something that started as a soybean?” Spencer tries.

"That you have to steal into a Ben & Jerry's and get both of us ice cream."

"Jesus, why don't you just give up?"

"Because Ray expects me too, and I hate being predictable."

"You so owe me, Bryar."

"I look forward to seeing what you think is adequate payback."

Spencer hates himself for blushing, but he sort of likes that Bob looks.

*


Ryan brings Spencer a coffee one morning somewhere between one very flat midwestern state and one even flatter mid-northern state. He sips at his and doesn't look at Spencer and says, "Bob's cute."

Spencer says, "He's no Brendon, but we can't all be spritely pixies."

"He looks like the kind of guy who could hold you up while fucking you."

"I'm that kind of guy, Ryan. And you don't like that sort of thing." Spencer knows. They've never talked about, and Brendon's sure as hell never said anything, but Spencer's made a habit of listening for what Ryan can't say since their first day of kindergarten, when Ryan was a particularly scrawny kid, too shy to do anything at recess but hang out on the swings, looking forlornly at the ever popular soccer fields. Spencer had sat down on the swing next to him and asked, "Wanna play?"

Ryan had looked at him with an expression that was clearly suspicious of anybody who would willingly seek out his company in public, despite the fact that he and Spencer had met through their fathers at least twice before. Spencer was hard to run off even then. He'd said, "I could push you. It's more fun that way," and Ryan had let him. Spencer sometimes thinks they've been on that playground ever since.

Ryan says, "There are moments, and I will grant you the large absence of them, but there are, y'know, times, when I look up and see outside my head and worry about you."

Spencer knows. For all that Ryan does get stuck in his own head, the times when he pulls out are so spectacular that Spencer knows he would have stayed around just for that. Even at his worst, Ryan is somehow, instinctively, a friend. "I'm good right now."

"It's just—" Ryan twists his head to look out the window and doesn't seem to know how to finish. Spencer waits. Ryan tries, "You really look up to him. And you kinda...you save that sort of thing for worthwhile ones, because you're good at that, I mean, with the obvious significant exception, but it's just scary, how you could get hurt and then I'd have to kill a member of My Chem and Gerard Way would probably come after us all with a pick-axe, and I'm pretty sure we could take him, but I don't know, it sort of depends on which members he brings as back up, because Toro's fucking frightening."

Spencer reaches across the table and takes Ryan's chin in one hand, forcing him to look at Spencer. "Say it."

Ryan closes his lips obstinately.

"Say it Ryan Ross before I fucking tickle you until you scream."

Ryan caves. He always does. Tickling scares the almighty fuck out of him. Spencer's not really sure what he's going to do if Ryan ever figures out he's bluffing. "I'm not worthless."

"All right. Now that we've cleared that up, let me remind you that I am, you know, a guy, and I'll totally get over Bob deciding I'm not his thing, when he does."

"Regardless, I'll probably still have to maim him, if he does, which means it's endgame scenario anyway, because Way is smart, you know that fucker will go after Brendon's face, and I just can't allow that to happen."

"I think you might be looking forward to this with a little bit of malicious glee."

"There's just not enough bloodsport left in today's world."

"I almost hate to disappoint you."

"I could stand to be disappointed by you. This once. Or more. You deserve it, a little bit."

"Tragically for me, you don't deserve the disappointment."

Ryan shrugs.

"Don't make me—"

"I don't deserve the disappointment."

"There you go."

Ryan rolls his eyes. Looks away again. "I just— I just wanted to actually say it."

"You're a good friend, Ryan Ross."

"Please shut up, Spencer Smith."

"Nope, good friend."

"Fuck you and your fucking lack of issues."

"Why yes, Ryan, I do know that you consider me an awesome friend, too." Spencer sees the side of Ryan's reluctant smile. Without looking at him, Ryan reaches out his hand, and Spencer takes it. Ryan squeezes.

*


Objectively, Bob can admit that he probably should have asked, "Wait, how old are you?" before the kissing started. Way, way before the kissing. But it didn't seem all that pertinent when there was mostly just coffee and smack talking about other drummers and a little bit of innuendo. Or, okay, maybe pertinent, but not necessary. Once there's kissing, though, Spencer's ridiculously long tongue knowing all the right spots—and he can't be that young if he's this good, yeah?—then it seems pretty necessary. So, yes, "Wait, how old are you?"

"Eighteen," Spencer pants, "relax, all right?"

"That's pretty young," Bob says.

"Legal," Spencer stresses, arching back up toward Bob's mouth. He's too fucking good a kisser to argue with that, and so long as Bob isn't going to end up in jail, with Gerard—Gerard—having to come and bail him out, well, he supposes he can handle the fact that he's lusting over an infant harder than he has ever lusted over anything before.

Spencer's hands find their way to Bob's pants and open them up easy. Yeah, he's done this before, so at least Bob's not fucking deflowering him, because, well, not that Bob couldn't do slow and easy and sweet, he was in high school at one time--if not for terribly long--but that's not really his scene. Luckily, it doesn't seem to be Spencer's either. Spencer's hands are drummer's hands—not-quite smooth, a little hard, imminently capable. When he folds one over Bob's cock, Bob might be unable to keep himself from saying, "Jesus, Smith, so fucking hot."

"Tell me about it," Spencer says, and the tone of his voice makes Bob realize he actually means, "tell me."

"Drummer's hands," Bob says, not really at his most eloquent. It must do it for Spencer though, because he squeezes a little, runs that unbelievable, irreverent tongue of his over Bob's lips. Bob does not, does not think about it on his cock, because if he does this will be all over, and he doesn't want to find out that an eighteen year old has more stamina than him.

Spencer slips his tongue back inside Bob's mouth just as he pulls his hand almost all the way off Bob's cock, the palm pressing to the head and then back down, back down until he's holding the base. He won't let Bob breathe, not deep, not regular, not with his mouth all over the place—how does anyone monopolize so much space with his lips? Honestly? Bob gives in, because Spencer clearly wants it, and that's almost as hot as Spencer himself.

For such a small thing, Spencer holds Bob up pretty adeptly as Bob floats on a sex-induced high. When he's come down sufficiently to meet up with Spencer, Spencer asks, "Gonna return the favor?"

Even if Spencer weren't the hottest thing ever to come across his field of vision, Bob really isn't the kind of asshole who would leave a guy hanging like that.

*


Spencer doesn't actually mean to lie. Not that he has ethical objections, he doesn't. But Spencer's never lied about his age before, not unless it was to get into clubs, and only then to see the bands, not to drink. The problem, as Spencer sees it, is that Bob is Bob Bryar of My Fucking Chemical Romance, and Spencer has been listening to their music since he was fourteen and he and Ryan would play covers in his room, driving all and sundry members of his family insane. He knows every damn song they've ever played and he knows how much better the band sounded the minute, the second, Bob Bryar came along and saved their asses.

Hero worship and really hot making out evidently induce an abnormal amount of dishonesty in Spencer. He's not proud of it. He's not exactly not not proud of it, either. And when Bob has his hand around Spencer's cock, muttering things like, "Fucking hot little cocksucking lips," into Spencer's ear, well, it's just hard to have all that much shame. Even if he were the type to have shame in general, which he's really not.

Spencer says, "You'd like that," and then, after he's come, when he's feeling generous, he closes those lips, his teeth, over the lobe of Bob's right ear before almost-promising, "Maybe later."

Definitely later, really, assuming Bob so much as hints at the want, because Spencer has never wanted someone's dick in his mouth so bad in all his life. Bob hints. Or rather, Bob finds him watching The Academy Is... from behind their stage and says, "You really invested in this?"

Spencer isn't. What he is is well stocked, having stolen Brendon's not so secret stash of Altoids just in case a situation just like this one should arise. He slips one in his mouth and slides his way almost gently up over Bob. Bob moans and fists Spencer's hair. He says, "You are such an unholy little fuck."

Spencer likes that, so it's pretty much the last coherent thought he plans to allow Bob for awhile. He keeps the Altoid carefully between his tongue and Bob's cock, enjoying its slow dissolution, the too-heavy mint mixed with a more natural saltiness, humanity. He works his tongue up and down, even around once the Altoid has melted to nothing more than a sliver. He isn't fancy about it. Blowjobs aren't something he has a ton of experience with, and mostly before it was guys who were just grateful someone would put his mouth anywhere near their cock, so he hasn't learned a lot of technique. That said, he has strong cheeks and not much of a gag reflex and above him, Bob is doing everything but complaining. Also, Spencer swallows. That he is proud of, because it took some effort to learn and when he looks up—he can't help it, he really can't, he knows it's sort of classless to need to see, but Spencer doesn't claim to be an arbiter of class—Bob has a look of utter savor and no small amount of awe on his face.

No sooner is he done than Bob pulls Spencer to his feet for more kissing. Bob is on his tongue, in his mouth and Spencer thinks, don't come from this, you freaking seventeen-year-old child. Spencer's pretty good about listening to himself.

*


Bob is a little hesitant to board the Panic bus. Ross has a way of watching a person that kind of reminds him of most of the serial killer films he's seen, and Urie can't seem to stop moving. Ever. Granted, neither can Frank, so Bob's pretty much used to that. Wilson seems chill, but then, Wilson's never around. It's pretty easy to be chill under those circumstances.

But Spencer says, "Ride with me for a bit?" and he hasn't asked yet, has been really overwhelmingly generous about riding with Bob, in fact. Also, Bob clearly sucks at saying no to Spencer. At all. Ever. He used to be really good at it. Maybe once he's away from Smith's vundun practicing ass he'll get better. Bob is totally an optimist.

They slide onto the bus that evening, Spencer admonishing Ross and Urie to, "Be good."

Ross follows them with his eyes all the way to the bunks. Bob determinedly does not tell Spencer that his best friend in the entire world is a creepy little fuck. Everyone has his quirks. Spencer sits on his bunk, toeing his shoes off. He asks, "Wanna take some of Brendon's ties and do whatever we so please?" in the same tone in which any normal person would ask Bob what he had for dinner. Bob loses every last drop of blood to his dick. It's only through sheer willpower that he stays conscious. He nods.

"Thought you'd say that," Spencer tells him, unearthing the items in question from the space between his bunk mattress and the wall. He holds them out. There are three of them.

Bob asks, "What do you want?"

Spencer says, "Be creative."

Bob ties a knot in the middle of one of the ties. He kisses Spencer lightly. "Open."

Spencer does and Bob slips the knotted part into his mouth, ties the tie off behind his head. Bob wants to feel the sound getting caught in Spencer. It's a tricky maneuver, but with the two left, Bob ties each of their wrists together, so that where one's hand goes, the other's must follow. He rolls onto his side, into the bunk, bringing Spencer with him, pulling Spencer atop him. He rolls again so that Spencer is on his side, and they are facing each other. Bob pulls one of Spencer's hands up to his mouth, so as to suck long and hard at the palm, to tongue the entirety of its surface. Spencer, sure enough, is making noises that can't escape. Bob uses his other hand to touch at Spencer's chest, Spencer also having to touch, to feel himself vibrate.

Bob moves the hand from his mouth down to the buttons on each of their pants. Spencer works to help him with this part, and it's a little bit odd, hard to manage, and so sexy Bob hopes he makes it to the part where they get their cocks out. He does. Just. Their cocks brush against each other and Bob uses his control over the placement of Spencer's hand to have Spencer's fingers meet Bob's, their hands both settling over their cocks, wrapping together like one large first. Spencer gasps silently, and Bob feels it all the way up his arm. Bob moves a little into their hands, which gives Spencer the idea that he can, an idea he takes advantage of. It's slightly slow going, the intimacy of it all making Bob want to wait, savor, but Spencer's pretty young, so they can only last so long. Not wanting to be scraping against a recently-orgasmed, oversensitized cock, Bob makes himself hurry just a bit. It's pretty easy when Spencer starts exploding inside his chest with sounds of pure, undiluted pleasure. Bob's pretty much done at that.

Afterward, Bob works their wrists free, undoes the gag and kisses Spencer, long and as though he has a point to make. Spencer says, "Possibly I should buy Brendon some new ties."

"You're a good friend," Bob tells him.

*


"I can take a lot from you, Smith, but you gotta stop standing like that, because next time you do it, neither hell nor high water's gonna keep me from grabbing you, tossing you on the nearest surface and saying 'fuck it' to the reputations of both our bands. And as you well know, that would probably cause an all out emo war, which is something that nobody, not even I, who sometimes takes delight in the folly and even misery of others, wishes to see."

"It's not that I'm denying the depth and import of your words, Bryar, but what the fuck are you talking about? Standing like what?"

Bob takes things into his own hands—literally—grabbing Spencer's hips, which are just slightly jutted, and says, "Oh yeah, because this isn't a fucking invitation."

It wasn't a moment ago, but Spencer grins, because screw it if it's not going to be now. "What does it make you want to do, huh?"

Bob hoists Spencer on the table.

Spencer says, "Um, don't you guys eat—"

"I'll soak it in bleach later," Bob says.

"Aren't they gonna ask—"

"Trust me, this band doesn't have any right to talk."

Spencer shrugs. "Yeah, okay."

Bob has Spencer's shoes and socks and pants off within seconds, which is sort of a skill that Spencer would like to acquire, but he figures it probably takes time and practice, and right now he's in the mood for neither.

"It makes me want to fuck you, Smith," and that's something they haven't done before, so there's a hint of eager questioning to the statement.

"Why are you still talking?" Spencer asks, pretty much rhetorically. He's sort of impressed by himself at this moment, because he is not the terminally calm Spencer that this response possibly portrays. He might, perhaps, be thinking oh, finally, finally, and maybe some pretty uncool things about how Bob Bryar is totally going to be his first. But Spencer makes it sound good, and that, he decides, is what matters.

Bob's mouth is on his, then, his tongue as strong as his arms, as the rest of him. Somewhere in the back of his mind Spencer hears a rip, the popping of a cap but he's far too interested in the press of Bob's lips against his to pay attention, and so it's kind of a nice surprise when there's a finger sliding into him, two, and then Spencer has to tell Bob to, "Get to it, holy fuck, do I look like a girl?"

"Sort of," Bob says, but he's lifting Spencer's hips slightly, sliding home as he says it, hitting every pertinent spot along the way, so Spencer's not going to argue, at least not until later. Right then he's sort of busy trying to breathe, trying to get used to this. The fingers, the fingers were totally familiar, but this is new and a little bit harder than he was expecting.

"Fuck, okay, yes, like that," Spencer tells him, his voice maybe breaking a tiny bit, after the third time Bob hits his prostate dead on. It's not that the pain has faded completely, just that it doesn't fucking matter because if Bob delivers any more pleasure, Spencer really might have a heart attack.

"Demanding. Little. Thing. Aren't. You?" Bob punctuates his words with thrusts.

"Big enough for you," Spencer tells him.

"Everything enough for me," Bob agrees as he wraps the hand that's not at Spencer's back, not providing some support, around Spencer's cock and gives a concerted tug. Spencer lets his head drop back, allows a sound that makes absolutely no sense to escape his throat.

"Oh yeah, Smith, oh yeah."

"Shut up and come," Spencer mouths. Bob either hears him, or is there already. It doesn't really matter which, not so long as Bob is pulling Spencer into him, onto him, not so long as he's licking his way from the hollow of Spencer's throat to his lower lip, not so long as everything feels so fucking good Spencer's pretty sure he'll never change his posture ever. Bob slips from him and lays him backward on the table. Spencer looks up, sated, self-satisfied.

Bob says, "So yeah, you gotta stop standing like that."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Whatever. You gotta get better at figuring out incentives for me to not do shit that drives you crazy."

Bob laughs. "You might have a point."

"I always do."

*


Bob doesn't know what causes Ray to get curious, anymore than he knows what takes him so long to get curious. But he does get curious sometime in the week after Warped ends, when Bob is a little bit lonely and a lot miserable and pretending to be neither. Bob knows something is up when Ray sprays water through his nose. Ray is a fairly composed kind of guy. Gerard smacks Ray's shoulder. "What, what, what, what—"

"Shut up," Mikey says.

"Seriously, Ray, share the funny," Frank says.

Bob really, really knows something is up when Ray hesitates. Gerard leans over Ray's shoulder to take a look at the screen of his Sidekick. "Oh sweet Mary mother of Jesus on a fucking popsicle stick."

Mikey reaches out to steal the Sidekick and Ray bats his hand away. "Hey! Gee can know, but I can't?"

"Bob," Gerard says.

"Yes, Gerard?"

"Um."

"You're sleeping with a seventeen year old?" Ray asks, seeming partly-disapproving, but also a little impressed.

"Spencer's eighteen," Bob says.

"Um," Gerard says again. "Unless I'm doing the math wrong, no. No, he's not."

Bob grabs the Sidekick and stares at the date on the Wikipedia page. September 2, 1987. He nearly drops the thing. "Did you—" But he doesn't bother to ask, just gets to checking himself. All the other pages say the same thing.

"He lied about his age?" Frank asks, looking like he doesn't really think that sort of thing is cool. Bob can't exactly disagree. He hands Ray back his Sidekick. Ray says, "Look, man," but Bob waves a hand, disappearing into the back of the bus. He climbs into his bunk where his own Sidekick is, and presses "talk," since Spencer was the last person he called.

Spencer answers, "Miss me already?" It's only been a couple of hours.

"Seventeen, Spencer James Smith."

Spencer is utterly, eerily silent.

"Say something," Bob says.

Slowly, Spencer asks, "Is there anything I could say that would make you less pissed off at this moment?"

Bob considers the question, because the worst part of it is, he doesn't want to be pissed off. "Why? Why the hell would you do that to me?"

"I didn't— Look. You're Bob Bryar, all right? My Chemical Romance. My Chemical Romance. And you said my drumming was honest and you just sat there looking fucking hot and then there was kissing and it wasn't like I set out to lie, I just wanted you. I wanted you so fucking badly that it seemed something that small, a matter of months, it seemed like a stupid thing to let get in the way."

"A matter of months? Spencer, you're seventeen fucking years old!"

"Look, I don't mind you telling me you never want to talk to me again and that I'm a jerk and whatever else you want to say, but could you maybe not yell? This is turning out to be a pretty miserable conversation for me without that added bonus." Spencer's voice wavers over the first sentence, and Bob knows he minds. He minds a lot.

"What am I supposed to do here, Spencer? Just say, 'oh, that's fine that you completely fucking lied to me' and go on screwing your illegal little ass whenever the opportunity arises?"

Spencer is silent again, his breaths nothing but long, shaky tunnels of sound between them. When he speaks again, all he says is, "I'm sorry."

Bob knows what he should do is say something unforgivable, call Spencer a "lying little cunt," say, or tell him to fuck off, or something. Instead he sighs and hits the end button. "Fuck," he tells his empty bunk. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

*


Spencer isn't going to mope, he isn't going to. His mom always told him that a lie will come back to you and while Spencer has found that many a times it doesn't, evidently the important ones do. So this is what he deserves and he's not going to be some sort of crybaby about it. He's seventeen and in a band. There'll be other hot drummers who want to make out with him. And other stuff.

He lets it all go into the sets, drumming with a manic fervor that leaves Ryan's eyes wide sometimes. He sleeps a lot, too, but sometimes a guy just has to sleep. He wakes up to Ryan being in the bunk with him one morning and says, "Um. Hi."

Ryan says, "You're sad."

"I'll get over it."

Ryan narrows his eyes a bit. "Mm."

"Mm? Speak in full sentences, Ryan Ross." And okay, maybe he should stop snapping at his bandmates, who aren't the ones who fucked up. Ryan allows him his snit, though, and not that he doesn't deserve that from Ryan, but it makes Spencer feel a little special, soothes his nerves in a way nothing has managed since Bob called. Ryan says, "Brendon and I— We think you should email him."

"And say what, exactly? I've already said what there is to say."

"He's had some time, though. And it's not as if you lied to hurt him. You lied because in your head you're not seventeen."

That's not why Spencer lied, and he knows it, but Ryan's argument does make sense. "I still lied. I think that's the central issue for him. It's an inauspicious way to start a relationship, you have to admit."

"I started mine with migraines."

"I'm not really sure that's an endorsement of anything, Ry."

"We're good for each other," Ryan says. The frustrating part is, Spencer knows. Even when Brendon and Ryan aren't good for each other, they still somehow are.

"Yeah, well, that's you and Brendon."

Ryan makes a sound of frustration. "How long have I known you?"

"Thirteen years."

"In all that time, I've never seen you react to someone the way you did to him. So you fucked up. Welcome to being human, Spence, it's about fucking time. Jesus."

"He won't read it."

"I think he will. Why would he be upset if he didn't care?"

"He's already over it."

"Why are you being such a coward?"

"I'm not."

"You totally are. It's an email. What's the worst he could do?"

"Respond with all the stuff he didn't say to me on the phone. It's harder when you have to actually see or hear the person's reaction."

"All right, but then you read a few lines and delete. And you have closure."

"I have closure now. He hung up on me."

"But he didn't say those things, you just said. He didn't say them."

"Why are you choosing now to be an optimist? It's really annoying."

Ryan presses his forehead to Spencer's. "Because you need someone to."

He doesn't often, but in this case, he sort of does. "If I send the email, will you get off my ass?"

"You shall have your buttocks entirely to yourself once again."

"Fine," Spencer says. He doesn't get up to move. "I'm just gonna stay here, a bit. Before doing that."

Against him, Ryan nods, and stays too.

*


Bob means to delete the email without reading it, only Mikey sees it from the corner of his eye and says, "I thought you told him—"

"I did."

"Then—"

Bob cuts Mikey off. "He doesn't understand the meaning of the word no." His thumb goes for the button that will delete the message but Mikey catches his hand.

"Don't. Not without reading it."

"He lied to me, Mikey. About his fucking age."

"I know. I know. But that's not what has you slowing down all of our songs, okay? I mean, let's be honest, here."

Bob says, "Sorry about the songs."

"That should be the worst of our problems," Mikey says, somewhat fervently.

"The rest of it doesn't matter, Mikey."

"Yeah," Mikey says. "Yeah, that's kind of utter bullshit, Robert."

"Is there any possibility of you fucking off about this?"

"That depends on whether if I fuck off, the next camera guy you come into contact with is going to have a broken nose, because you've been a little aggressive lately, and I know all your normal targets."

Bob runs a hand over his face. "I swear, I won't do anything to fuck the band up." My Chem has enough problems without Bob adding that to the list. Or sleeping with minors.

"Not that I'm not worried about the band, but I'm going to take this moment to be pretty worried about you instead. You're fucking sad, Bob."

"I'll get over it."

"But he emailed you and maybe you should—"

"He's already said everything he could possibly have to say."

"Except that maybe he hasn't," Mikey says quietly. "If I'd only been willing to listen to Gerard apologize once? Man—“

"Gerard's your brother."

"And this kid's something. Maybe not everything, not yet, but something. You've been utterly silent for weeks. You're a quiet guy, but I know the difference, okay?"

"If you wanted me to participate in conversations, you could have just said."

"I want you to have something that you want to bother saying."

Bob makes a fist of his hand, squeezes tightly enough to hurt. "I'll open that email, and he'll still be seventeen."

"Societal expectations aren't always right, Bob."

"Seventeen."

"But that wasn't what you saw when you looked at him. That wasn't what you heard when he talked or played or laughed."

It really wasn't, which is the total killer in all of this. Mikey reaches over his shoulder and presses the button to open the email. He reads it aloud, which is good, because Bob can't seem to get his eyes to focus.

Bob. Ryan says that I should try this, even though I don't think you'll read it, but as it turns out, I can't not try, so here is me trying. I can't not have lied at this point. I don't exactly wish I hadn't, because I think you would have walked away, and I get that, because you have a moral code and all, but I don't really care about all of that. What I care about is that every time I close my fucking eyes I feel your hands on my back, I hear the way you laugh when you're actually amused as opposed to just humoring someone. And maybe it's just me being stupid and seventeen, but it's so utterly fucking real that I don't know how to get past it, to go on with being me and not have that be part of me. I guess that could be one-sided, I guess it could, but I'm really hoping it's not.

Please. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that I wish there was another way to say it, another way to show it, but there's not. All I can do is repeat those words until they don't mean anything. I'm sorry. I miss you.


Mikey inhales steeply upon finishing. "Bob."

"Please stop talking."

"Bob, he's—"

"No, he's not. He's seventeen. We're all completely in love at seventeen."

"Not like that," Mikey says. "I remember. Not like that."

Bob buries his hands in his face. He doesn't delete the email.

*


Spencer's phone goes off during Panic's soundcheck. Brent is missing, and they're all stressed and Brendon asks, "Are you fucking serious with this, Spencer?"

Only Spencer doesn't have his phone. He left it on the bus. Ryan pulls it out of his pocket and looks at the number. "He has to take this."

"Ryan, can the three of us, at least, pretend like we're a band for— Evidently not," Brendon finishes as Ryan hands Spencer the phone. Spencer looks at the number and fumbles with it so badly it takes him three tries just to press "talk." He hates, hates the way his, "Hello," is chock-full of hope and the expectation that he's about to get yelled at again.

"If you ever lie to me again, I will sell every single last one of Ross' secrets to the press, rip Urie's vocal chords from his throat and then kill you. Slowly. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Do you believe me?"

"No."

"Smith."

"Brendon and Ryan are innocent bystanders, and despite your affinity for death metal and other things that are bad for one's health, you're kinda noble."

"Jesus, stop being seventeen."

"Not for another few weeks."

"I will lose your number and change mine and get a new email address and never, ever let you back into my life. Do you believe that?"

"Yes."

"Please, please don't do it."

"No. I swear. I fucking swear."

"Okay."

Spencer looks over at Brendon, who is attempting to do cartwheels in between the equipment. He makes a, "what the fuck?" face at Ryan, who's really supposed to be watching over him, but he gets that it was probably easier to just let him do whatever would get all the nervous energy out. "I'm, uh. I'm sort of in the middle of a soundcheck, but—"

Bob laughs. "Jesus, call me back, Smith."

Spencer cannot help the smile that takes over his face. It is painful in its intensity and completely inexcusable in its effusiveness and he is powerless to stop it. "Later, Bryar." He snaps the phone shut.

"All better now?" Brendon asks sharply, but he's still keyed over the fact that they're missing their bassist and there's absolute genuine concern lying in his eyes when they make contact with Spencer's.

Spencer says, "He's talking to me."

Ryan makes the victory sign with his fingers. Spencer rolls his eyes. "I would say it's a good thing you're not our frontman, but he's just not any cooler." So Spencer is in a band of losers, some of whom can't be bothered to show up to work, but for the moment it's good, everything is.

*


"I realize that I am, effectively, placing my head in the lion's mouth, here, but Spencer's birthday is in two weeks, and I could use some help thinking up a gift."

Ray nods solemnly. Too solemnly. "Eighteen is a big birthday."

"Does he have a razor yet?" Frank asks. "I considered mine a rite of passage."

"Or you could go with the classic pony," Gerard throws out.

"Could any of you be adults about this for, oh, I don't know, the two minutes I'm asking of you here?"

Mikey looks at the other guys. "Seems pretty doubtful, doesn't it?"

"Doesn't he have a shoe fetish? You could get him shoes," Frank says.

"I don't think it's a fetish," Bob says.

Mikey asks, "You don't think?"

Bob shrugs. "We rarely slow down enough to get to taking our shoes off. But that could just be his way of getting what he wants. He's cunning."

Gerard makes a sound suspiciously close to a snort, but that's just fine, because other than the one obvious exception, Bob likes it when Spencer's a clever bastard. "And I bet everyone gets him shoes."

"Maybe you should ask his bandmates," Ray says without looking up from the magazine he's become immersed in.

Bob tilts his head. "That's not the worst idea you've ever come up with."

"I'm flattered, twat-face."

"Ray, seriously, I don't like that term," Gerard says.

"I know, that's what makes it funny."

Bob hides his smile. Gerard really, really should have learned by now that giving Ray the rise he's looking for is not the way to deal with him. At all. "Mikey, is there any chance that if you spoke to Pete he could give you Ross' number and then actually be discreet about it?"

Mikey doesn't look hopeful. Still, he says, "I'll see what I can do."

"I don't want him to know, Mikey."

Mikey nods. "Birthday present, I know. I said I'll try."

After Spencer has been given said present, Bob is totally bitching him out for making him have to depend on Pete Wentz's—Pete fucking Wentz's—ability to keep his mouth shut. Spencer will probably laugh at him.

*


At twelve midnight on September 2nd, Bob emails two playlists to Spencer. One is entitled "songs about me," the other, "songs you would like." The email subject is "Happy Birthday." The body is blank. At four minutes past midnight, he receives a response. "Songs about me? What kind of a birthday present is that?"

That playlist reads like a history book, The History of Bob Bryar. Among others, there is a song from his first concert, the song that was playing the first time he had sex, the song that made him want to play drums, the song that got him through the worst of his high school depression. He plans to tell Spencer all of this later, when he's listened, just listened, at least once. He responds, "I could take it back."

"Too late," Spencer tells him, and Bob smiles, because he knows Spencer's already begun listening by now. "Should I open the package?"

To be honest, despite having written, "Do not, under any circumstances, open this until the 2nd, you little shit," Bob really expected Spencer to have completely ignored him, as he often does. Bob asks, "Do you want to?"

"Not yet."

"It's your birthday."

"I'll call you. Tomorrow."

Bob goes to sleep. It will make tomorrow come sooner. Spencer calls him at ten and asks, "How did you get this?"

"Frank met him at a party last year and the two of them talked until four in the morning. It's good, knowing people who randomly hit it off with just about everybody they meet."

"We really should have someone like that in our band," Spencer agrees. "Brendon's so close, but then he gets kind of annoying."

Bob can already tell when Spencer's talking about nothing because he doesn't know what to say. "Does this make up for the song list?"

"Ben Fong-Torres," Spencer says.

Bob grins. His boyfriend is exactly the right kind of geek. "Thought that might interest you."

"Ben Fong-Torres," Spencer repeats, evidently on the off-chance Bob didn't understand the first time. Bob progresses to laughing.

"I can't believe you had him sign the entire collection. To me. It says Spencer."

Bob is still laughing but it occurs to him that Spencer is actually kind of overwhelmed, because he isn't normally this expressive. "The gift was for you, Spence. Not anybody else."

"Cause I was kind of a jerk about your playlists and they were really good and actually, I liked that you sent me something about you, I just. Say things I don't mean. Sometimes."

"It's part of your charm."

"Thank you," Spencer says. Bob's pretty sure he's still talking about the gift.

"Happy birthday."

"I'm legal."

"Yeah, it's a big day for me, too."

Spencer laughs.

*


When Bob answers the phone he's laughing. Normally Spencer would say, "Gonna include me, asshole?" or something equally sweet, but today he just says, "I'll call back."

"Whoa, hey, Spence, no."

"Nah, you were...doing your thing."

"My thing can be done some other time. What's going on?"

Spencer is silent for a while. Bob says, "Okay. Here's— I get the protective thing, Spence, I do. But I'm not gonna use the information against you, right? I mean, you trust that?"

"Yes," Spencer says, and there's no hesitation, which is heartening.

"And if I used information against them, it would be exactly like using it against you, right?"

"Pretty much, yeah." Spencer pauses. "I'm trying. I'm trying to tell."

"I've got a while." They've got a show that evening, but Bob will damned well stay on until then if he has to, and call back afterward.

"Brent didn't show up again today. For the show." The words come out quick, almost jumbled.

Fuck. "That's what? The fourth?"

"Yeah. Four shows we've had to cover in a month and a half. Brendon looks like he's been hit by a bus. Ryan's just better at pretending."

Gerard probably would look pretty rough too if he started having to multi-task during shows, and Gerard has a good nine or so years on Ross and Urie, four or so of them being in experience.

"So the thing is, I know what we've gotta do. I mean, it's pretty obvious."

"Obvious doesn't always mean easy," Bob points out, and yeah, that's obvious too, but sometimes the speaking of it is necessary.

"The first day of high school, Brent got his ass kicked right alongside me when I mouthed off to some of the seniors. He just stayed, you know? Because he's not good at seeing injustice go down. He was always— Ryan always had to stop him from—" Spencer cuts off. There is nothing to say. Bob could tell him that nobody grows into the person they were, that this doesn't make Spencer the bad friend, that Brent has more than betrayed any leftover goodwill he had accumulated. He could tell him that he owes it to his band to find someone else—and they will, My Chem found him, Panic will find a bassist, even if Bob has to rouse every member of My Chem to hit the streets and look. He could tell Spencer that this is the part of adulthood nobody mentions.

What he says is, "I'm sorry, Spence." What he asks is, "Is there anything I can do?"

"Tell me what you were laughing at."

"Kind of a long story."

"There's nowhere I really wanna go right now."

*


Spencer tries to get himself to call Bob four times before he just gives up, sends him an email with the subject title, "I Miss You," and no body. Bob calls within the hour. If it meant anything, Spencer would tell him that he loves him. If it wouldn't make him sound like some starry-eyed eighteen year old, he would tell him. If it had been more than a year, he would tell him. Because he does. Mitigating factors aside. Bob asks, "You tell him?"

Spencer keeps his eyes open, because if he closes them the world will reduce itself to that phone conversation—he should have done it face to face, he should have, he's never shied away from confrontation, never, but then he would have had to see Brent's face, oh he should have, should have—with Ryan and Brendon silent behind him, sentinel-like. "Yes."

"It's over, Spence. The worst part is over."

No, no it isn't, because Ryan hasn't taken a breath since Brent called them hypocritical cocksuckers.

"Can you tell me any part of what you're thinking?"

"It would be nice if you were here. I would sort of like to suck your cock right now." Because that isn't dirty. Or, if it is, it is in a good way. Not the way Brent made it sound. And Brent isn't like that, isn't hateful— Wasn't, maybe. Anger makes people say awful things. So does hurt. Spencer keeps all his awful words carefully inside.

"I wouldn't turn that action down. Although I'd probably like a little turnabout. You have hot parts, Spencer Smith."

"Are we going to have phone sex?"

"Do you want to?"

In his head? Yes. Spencer's cock isn't cooperating. "Maybe not."

"Some other time." Bob doesn't sound disappointed.

"We're having Jon Walker come on. Academy's guitar tech."

"How's he do with the other two?"

"He's good. He doesn't poke where he shouldn't." He doesn't poke Ryan, really. Spencer suspects there's a little more than friendly interest going on in Brendon's direction, but Brendon isn't the one Spencer has to worry about, not in that context.

"Think he'll work out in the long run?"

"Can't really, um—"

"Okay, sure, one day at a time."

"Yeah," Spencer says.

"Hey, Spence. You gotta know. If you called me, I wouldn't think it was just you being young."

Spencer does squeeze his eyes shut then, because that's not the whole of it, it's not, Spencer is bad at being someone else's burden, but it's a part of it, a significant part. He can lose Bob for a million reasons—he doesn't want to, but he can—but the stupidity of youth isn't one of them. It just isn't on the list. "I'll try harder."

"The email was okay, too. I just didn't want you thinking...that."

"You're a really good boyfriend," Spencer tells him, and feels slow, special in a bad way, because it's not exactly what he means.

"You make it easy."

Spencer knows for a fact that he doesn't.

*


Bob works in a twenty-four hour flight-included trip to get to Spencer. Mikey helps him. Frank and Gerard are still reserving judgment on this person Bob is most definitely in love with, even if he hasn't figured out how to tell Spencer that. Spencer can be hard to reach. Bob suspects Ross has instilled a fair amount of wariness in Spencer. Not that wariness is bad. And Bob has already hurt Spencer once, no matter how justified.

Ray packs his bag for him. Bob double checks it, but Ray never forgets anything. It's uncanny. He meets up with Spencer backstage because he's literally staying for the show, riding overnight with them, and flying out again. Spencer kisses him hard and long and messy enough that the makeup people are going to be pissy with him for screwing up their work. Bob just kisses him some more, caressing his thumb over the skin of Spencer's neck. At some point he asks, "How are you?"

"We sound different," Spencer tells him, but doesn't sound displeased.

"Good different?"

After a moment, Spencer nods. The motion is quick, a little bit pained.

"I want to hear."

Spencer leans in, rests his head against Bob's chest. "Yeah. I'm glad you're here. I was gonna—"

"Don't," Bob says. "I can get to you." Panic isn't broke, but Bob knows it's easier for him to afford the ticket than Spencer.

"That's not really fair."

"For me or for you?"

"You."

"Then I get to be the one who worries about feeling wronged, right?"

"You know what I hate?"

"What?"

"When you get logical. It's deeply unattractive."

"Good thing you're the pretty boy in this relationship."

Spencer laughs. He says, "I have to go get yelled at by makeup now and then play a couple of songs on the drums for some people or else I would totally get on my hands and knees and show you pretty."

"I'll take a rain check."

"It won't take that long."

"I'd wait," Bob says, like that means something. Spencer smiles the way Bob suspects he hasn't since he made the decision about Brent, so maybe it actually does.

*


Spencer makes Ryan take a blood oath to keep Brendon away from the common area for a solid three hours. Literally. There's a safety pin and actual blood involved, because Ryan and Spencer have known each other since they were five and there are some habits that just can't be broken. It's not a lot of blood. Spencer needs that for later. He just hands Jon his own iPod, points him in the direction of the playlist labeled "Jon" and says, "Do me a favor and listen all the way through."

Jon laughs at him, which, okay, he probably deserves. It's a quality playlist. Jon will love it. Once the area has been secured, Spencer tells Bob, "I had an idea."

"You're good at those," Bob says.

"Um." Spencer shifts on his feet.

Bob frowns. "You're hard to embarrass, normally."

Spencer's a little bit impressed that Bob has read him correctly. Most people read that motion as annoyance or simple aloofness.

"Why don't you skip the telling me part?"

"Huh?"

"Just. I'll figure it out as we go along, I promise. I'm smart like that." Bob is smart in a lot of ways. Spencer kisses him as a reward for being all smart like that. Then he kisses him because Bob knows how to kiss, knows how to find all the parts of Spencer's mouth that not even Spencer remembers are there, knows how to open them up, enliven the nerves.

They find their way—tumble, really—to the couch and there's this part where they twist and turn and try and get out of their clothes without interrupting the kissing, only it doesn't work and finally they have to give up and just undress. Spencer is laughing and Bob is too and then Spencer has, has to kiss him some more, because he's laughing and if that isn't a nice change, Spencer really doesn't know what is.

But finally, finally it's just them, just skin and laughter and mouths, and Spencer palms Bob's cock. It's been too long and Spencer wants too much all at once, wants to wrap his hand around the cock and hold it, hold it until Bob begs for something else, wants to slide himself atop the cock, wants to swallow it, wants everything. Instead he says, "I got. I got these extra sticks." They are small, a 12 mm set, considerably shorter than the ones Spencer uses for actual drumming purposes.

"Hunh," Bob says in between kisses. Spencer thinks it's a question. Luckily he put the drumsticks, the extra set, on the arm of the couch, because the couch is central and that seemed like good planning.

"This is sort of—" sick? fucked up? odd? just plain kinky? "—we don't have to—"

Bob takes the sticks from his hand. "You're pretty much the hottest little boy on the planet."

"Way to freak me out."

"You love it," Bob says and manhandles Spencer so that he's bent over the side of the couch, maybe arched a little away from it, just because Bob loves the long, damp line of Spencer's back during sex, during a show. And Spencer likes the way Bob watches him.

Bob slides one of the sticks in him, the smooth wood made even smoother with lube, and Bob says, "Jesus fuck, Spence," and Spencer doesn't feel as stupid about wanting them inside him, wanting the drums to be with them even now. Not that they weren't already, not that Spencer doesn't think in rhythm, that Bob doesn't breathe in it, that Spencer can't hear that. But this is tangible. Spencer loves the tangible.

Bob adds the second stick and scissors them, plays Spencer. Spencer responds as eagerly as Bob's drums, maybe more so and that's something, that's something, because Spencer has seen the way those drums sit up and fucking beg for Bob, like a well-trained mutt. Spencer feels no shame at his shamelessness. He can't. Not with Bob whispering, "So utterly fucking sinful, Spence."

Spencer pants, "Can you? With?" and is thankful that Bob gets it, because he doesn't have it in him to be any more coherent.

The press of Bob's dick joining the sticks is intense, a little bit too much at first, but then Spencer takes a breath, and it's almost not enough. Bob presses in further and, "Yes, yes, please, yes, like that, like that."

Bob asks, "Want me to touch you, huh? Want me to?" It's the stupidest question in the world. It nearly brings Spencer over the edge without the proffered touch.

"Touch. Me," Spencer orders, like he might sound regal or something other than desperate. Bob doesn't mock him. He wraps his hand tight around Spencer's dick and says, "Just like that," when it only takes two quick pulls to send Spencer fucking flying. Bob doesn't take that long to follow. Afterward, Bob says, "Next time, tell me."

"Yeah?" Spencer asks, too languid to feel any trace of embarrassment or worry.

"The idea of those words coming out of your mouth would turn me on past the point of endurance if I hadn't just come. It makes me want to be hard again as it is."

Spencer laughs a little. "Tell and show it is."

Bob rolls over onto Spencer. "Wanna kiss some more?"

Spencer's all for that idea.

*


Spencer would have to be both stupid and oblivious not to know Mikey's been depressed, and since he's neither, he's pretty up on that score. Which is probably what causes him to say, "Um, hi..." rather than, "Hey, nice surprise," when Bob shows up at their hotel in Oregon. Bob has their touring schedule, so it's not really a question as to how he found Spencer, just as to why the hell he would leave his band at a time like this. That's really not his style. Spencer stands back so that he can come in and Bob does, but then just stands there as Spencer closes the door.

"Bob," Spencer says.

"Mikey left."

The sound of water, of air, at the elements at their most destructive rush through Spencer's mind. He asks quietly, evenly, "What do you mean, left?"

"He went to go live with Stace for a while. To see if he could, y'know, get better."

"For a while. Does that mean he's coming back?"

"He said he didn't know. He was— He threw a glass at Gerard and Frank. A glass. It broke."

Spencer assumes that since Bob hasn't yet mentioned them until just now, they're okay, but, "Are they all right?"

Bob nods slowly. "Some stitches. Probably scars."

Probably, Spencer thinks. Softly he says, "Works with your image."

Bob is still standing where he stopped at coming in the door and for the first time ever, Spencer's not sure what touching him will do, if it will heal or if Bob will shatter like this glass Spencer has a hard time seeing, even in his head. Mikey's never so much as squeezed Spencer too tightly; he's the kind of guy who knows how limits work. Bob says, "I didn't even see it coming. I went and held him down after when he was already sick and aware."

Spencer steps in front of him so that if Bob doesn't want to look at him he has to forcibly move his gaze. He does. Spencer says, "Ryan always thinks he should have seen the abuse coming, too. But that was his dad, and this was Mikey."

"What if he doesn't?" Bob asks. "What if he doesn't come back?"

There's no answer to that, Spencer knows, because he had to remove Brent from his band, had to make the fucking choice, had to take responsibility for possibly watching things unravel at his own hands and he still thinks that might have been better than watching Ryan or Brendon walk away. No, he knows. Spencer takes a chance, presses his hands to Bob's chest. Bob's face is dry but his chest is shaking and Spencer realizes that he is, in his own way, sobbing. Spencer says, "He'll come back," and kisses Bob.

Bob takes to the kiss. They're both off balance in their own heads and it is a messy, lopsided endeavor. Spencer fists his hands in Bob's shirt even as he drops to the floor, uses his teeth to rip back the flap of Bob's jeans. He has to let go with one hand just long enough to get Bob out, but then he replaces it, careful that his knuckles rest against Bob's chest, a place for Bob to lean into. For all his haste in getting there, he sucks leisurely at Bob's cock, letting Bob take his time. There is nothing fancy about his technique. Bob doesn't need him to show off.

Spencer pulls off at the last moment, stays still under the spray of come, his eyes closed. He hasn't done that before, had planned on waiting until he could look up at Bob with eager, ready eyes. In this moment it is not about the pornographic allusions so much as a ritual of marking, of allowing Bob to claim him, a way of saying, I-am-not-going-anywhere without having to use words, which sometimes—most of the time—come out sharper and differently than Spencer intends. Bob wraps his hands over Spencer's, his chest slowly stilling. Spencer says, "He'll come back."

"I don't know."

But Spencer, who has been Ryan's friend long enough to know all about unhappy endings, does.

*


Ryan hands Spencer a piece of paper and says, "You're not allowed to argue."

Spencer looks down. It's an itinerary. Tucson to LA and then onto Seattle.

"I know it means you don't get any downtime between the shows, but Brendon and I thought this would be better. For your head."

Spencer thinks of the way Bob sounded the last time they spoke on the phone. Off-beat. Like he couldn't find the count. "Thanks."

Ryan asks, softly, "It's not like Brent, is it?"

Spencer shakes his head. "It's like if Brendon just decided he couldn't do this."

Ryan pales a little at that. Spencer nods. When he gets to the back of the bus, Brendon is standing there with a bag. He says, "I packed extra underwear and socks. Just, I don't know, in case. My mom always said that was a good thing to do." It explains why Brendon is forever losing undergarments, if there's always extra. The gesture is appreciated.

Spencer arrives in LA at eight in the morning and pays for a cab to the studio, since he doesn't actually know where Bob's new place is, the one he moved into after Mikey moved out of their rented haunted house hotel thing. He falls asleep in the lobby, which he can tell freaks the security guy out, but he must look like he at least showers regularly, since he's not kicked to the curb. He awakes to being shaken, not hard, just enough. Bob asks, "You get lost?"

Spencer yawns, tries to remember. "My band thought that it was important I come see you."

"Come on." Bob pulls him up and leads him to the group's recording rooms. "Coffee?"

"Orange juice?" Spencer asks with a sort of faint hope.

"Yeah, there's a vending machine in the hall. Here." Bob hands him some cash.

Spencer returns with two orange juices, just in case he can tempt Bob to drink something with actual nutritional value. Toro's arrived by that time. He smiles in Spencer's direction. "Good morning."

Spencer nods. He doesn't think it is, really, but little white lies never hurt anybody who's life was falling apart around him. Bob takes the orange juice in the spirit that it is offered, guzzles it. Spencer sits back and watches as Iero slinks in, too skinny by half and clearly not sleeping as much as he should. Watches Way try his hardest to be band leader instead of brother. Watches as screaming fights erupt between Way and Iero, and, surprisingly, Toro and Way. Even Iero seems to have the sense to stay out of that. Bob seems small behind his drums. At the end of the day—or at least, when they call it quits in the early afternoon—Spencer pulls Bob out of the kit. He says, "Gimme your keys."

Bob just hands them over. Spencer makes Bob tell him how to get back to his apartment, but nothing much else. Once inside he bends down and takes Bob's shoes off, places them neatly in the closet. Bob likes things orderly, and Spencer's not going to be the one to take that from him just now. He puts his own shoes by the door and herds them both into Bob's bed, curling into Bob's chest, tucking his head under Bob's chin.

Bob says, "You came aways. Wanna—"

"Later," Spencer tells him. Bob doesn't argue.

*


When Spencer wakes up, he can feel Bob awake underneath him, unmoving. They are both where they were when Spencer put them there. Spencer presses a kiss to the center of Bob's chest, the Clandestine t-shirt that looks like it was made for someone Mikey's size. It could have been. Spencer would totally wear Brendon's clothes if he had to walk away. Or Ryan's. Definitely Ryan's. "C'mon," Spencer murmurs.

"Where are we going?"

Despite the fact that Spencer—who is a natural source of heat—is lying nearly atop Bob under the covers, Bob's skin is prickled, and there are chills running through his arms. Spencer takes his hand and leads him to the bathroom, where he turns the shower water to a temperature just short of scalding. He undresses both of them, throwing Bob's clothes into the hamper, setting his aside to be put back in his bag. Then he puts Bob under the stream, following right behind. Bob asks, while the water is running, and maybe he thinks he can't be heard, or maybe he is simply comforted by the mostly-obscuring noise of the falling streams, "What if this ends?"

Spencer says, "Not gonna. You're all fighting too hard to hold on."

"We're all fighting."

"Part of the process," Spencer, who is also in a band, assures him. He lathers his hands and cleans every inch of Bob, kneading his thumbs into the tight curve of Bob's neck and shoulders, using his whole palm to release the drummer's strain in his biceps and stomach. He rinses him, every inch and then pushes him backward a bit, out of the direct path of the water. "Turn for me."

Bob doesn't argue, just faces the shower wall.

"Grab the faucet," Spencer says, a suggestion, really. Bob takes it. Spencer carves his tongue from the soft, vulnerable hollow at the base of Bob's head to his tailbone, lower. He presses his tongue inside Bob's ass and Bob breathes, "Fuck, you're so— Fuck."

Spencer pulls back, swirls his tongue around the entrance, sucks and even bites, gently. He's not in the mood to play. He doesn't think Bob is either. He brings his hand to Bob's cock even as he pushes his tongue back in, far, as far he can make it go, dragging it against every inch of skin, of possible nerve-endings available. One of Bob's hands comes down, over his, guiding. That's fine, Spencer doesn't mind being helped out on occasion.

Bob comes with a shout, a breath, and has to put his second hand back to the wall to steady himself for a bit. When he has found his feet anew, he turns and grabs the soap. "My turn," he tells Spencer knowingly, and yet without presumption. Spencer holds to him as he cleans Spencer, one spot garnering particular attention.

*


Spencer breathes again for the first time in what feels like a year when he looks at his Sidekick and finds an email from Bob with an address in it and the words, "Mikey. He's accepting visitors."

Spencer sends Mikey a box of Bubbalicious and a copy of "Coraline". He gets a thank you letter, printed out in neat handwriting and signed. It makes Spencer feel kind of guilty because while he does hope Mikey's doing better, mostly he wants him to go back and help fix the band.

Bob calls after every single visit he makes to Mikey. He doesn't say that's why he's calling, but Spencer can tell because Bob tends to talk about random shit at those times, like the custom chess set he wants to order—nevermind that he doesn't play chess—or Spencer's newest pair of shoes. Anything that's not Mikey and the band. It makes it hard to gauge how things are going. Eventually Spencer asks, "Hey, listen, maybe you could tell me how Iero's doing? With Way? Or just, y'know."

"He isn't fighting with Gerard as much anymore."

Spencer meant Mikey and he's about to say so when he realizes Bob knew. That was Bob's answer. "How about Toro and Way?" It sucks having two people with the same last name in one band.

Bob catches on. Spencer wonders if he had to develop an instinct for that. "The shouting's gone way down. Mikey's been talking about maybe commuting."

Spencer's hard pressed to contain his glee as he asks, "Is that good for him?" but he manages. As much as the band needs Mikey, they need him whole, not re-breaking himself in a misguided attempt to paste them back together.

"That's why he's still talking, instead of doing."

"Yeah, okay."

"Can I go back to talking about the tattoo I'm planning for you now?"

"Were we talking about that?"

"No, but I think you owe me."

Spencer laughs. "Yeah, that's definitely how this works."

"You'll like it."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "I will, will I?"

*


Brendon says, "I don't get why we're fucking around on this. Let's get him signed. What are we, gonna hold auditions? He filled in for Brent because we asked, why are we being all exclusionary? We're not assholes. Or, at least, we weren't last time I checked."

Ryan is looking at Spencer, but Spencer can't tell if it's in appreciation or confusion. Ryan can be hard to parse at times. Spencer rubs at his own shoulders. "I'm not trying to be an asshole. I just don't think—"

Brendon waits, but finally says, "What don't you think? That we should be replacing Brent? Because we probably shoulda thought of that before we sent him home."

"Stop it," Ryan says, but it sounds like a request, maybe even a plea.

Brendon stops. He takes a deep breath. "Look, I'm just not sure we should be acting like we have so many options that we can afford to pass up a good thing when it comes along."

"I think Jon understands that we feel the need to be slightly cautious," Spencer says. He does, too. Jon's a great guy. If he weren't in love with Brendon, Spencer would submit to signing him in a second. Spencer would write the papers up himself. As it is, he needs time to determine if Jon's the kind of guy who can keep things to himself. He seems like he probably is. But Spencer has been wrong before. On numerous occasions. A trial period is the only way to be safe, and Spencer isn't letting Brendon's obliviousness get in the way of that, he just isn't.

Brendon tilts his head. "I thought you liked him. If you don't—"

"I like him."

"Because you're being—"

"We liked Brent, too," Ryan says, his voice even more flat than usual.

Brendon's eyes cut to Ryan. The two of them hold each other's gaze for a moment before Brendon says, "Do we have any idea how long this trial period is going to be?"

Spencer can afford to compromise on that; he's gotten what he needs.

*


Jon doesn't really seem all that put off by the fact that Spencer says, "Look, it's nothing personal, we'd just like to make sure you're going to fit right."

Jon shrugs and says, "Makes sense," and then plays so hard Spencer's really not going to know what to do if it turns out he is the kind of guy who's willing to try and cut Ryan away from Brendon. The first few weeks have Spencer so tense that he's going to have to start replacing drum heads prematurely if he can't calm down. Luckily the entire thing with Brent made him pretty high strung, so not even Ryan notices a difference.

Bob does, but then, Bob doesn't have eyes, for the most part, when it comes to Spencer, just ears. Spencer hears things in Bob's voice that he bets the other My Chem guys have no idea about. Bob finally says, "Look, is it just that he's not Brent? Because I know Brent was your friend but he was also kind of a shit to you guys as things went on—"

"He wants Brendon."

"Oh."

Spencer nods. Bob must sense it, because he says, "And you think he might—"

"I don't know. I don't know. He's a good guy. He is. So I feel sort of—"

Bob waits, though, hears that Spencer isn't done.

"When we were kids, Ryan was pretty different. He used to be really, um. He used to like people a lot, always want them to be his friends. I think that's how we became friends, because if he'd been like this? I don't know. I was four, okay? I think I would have just played with my sisters. But he wasn't. Only, kids are the worst people in the world and Ryan was too smart even as one and sometimes they'd lead him along and humiliate him and it got to the point where I would look at anybody who wanted to be friends with him with suspicion, which sucked because there was so much reason to want to be his friend and to this day I think maybe I scared off certain people who could have been, could have been our friend and that's why we were big fucking losers back there. My point is—"

"You're used to protecting him."

"Yes."

"Maybe you should talk to Jon. Just tell him what you're thinking."

"It seems sort of punitive. So far as I can tell, he hasn't even flirted with Brendon."

"Not even when he was with TAI?"

"No."

"Spencer."

"Am I holding out too long?"

"There's nothing wrong with protecting him," Bob says softly.

"But."

"Not exactly but. I'm just not sure exactly what else Jon could do to prove he's not going to move in on Brendon."

"Maybe find somebody else. That would be good."

"We could introduce him to Matt."

"That could work."

"I was joking. I think he might be dating Brian."

"Eh, there's room for one more."

Bob laughs.

*


When Spencer is watching Bob perform, Bob always knows where he is without having to be told. It's odd, because Bob isn't the world's most intuitive guy, but there are certain things that are just written on his bones. Everything Spencer Smith is one of them. He loses Spencer after the show, though, in the rush to get out, to get back to the hotel. Spencer finds him again, in Bob's room, the way Spencer is wont to do. Bob lets Spencer in and Spencer asks, "How come nobody throws bottles quite so accurately at you guys? You guys wear makeup, and Gerard doesn't even move as quickly as Brendon."

To say, "They like us better," seems like it might hit a little close to all of Spencer's raw spots, the ones he's trying to heal with sarcasm and a good dose of just holding back the utter rage until it siphons off. Bob settles on, "They save the bottles for the truly pretty boys."

"Mikey and Gerard'd both be dead. Deader than dead."

"It's come pretty close," Bob admits. Worm is good at making things as safe as possible, but he's seen Ray pull Frank out of the way of flying glass before, seen Gerard duck just in time. Mikey stands pretty far back, which helps.

Spencer asks, "You ever throw any of it back?" His anger is a lot closer to the surface than usual, and Bob wonders if maybe he should push, see if he can get him to let go. He's not afraid of the explosion. The question is whether he's afraid it won't happen. He is. A little.

"They're our audience, Spence."

"They're violent, psychotic, little shits," Spencer squeezes out from between his teeth, clearly physically holding himself back from saying anything more.

"Now you sound like the critics," Bob says lightly.

Spencer's smile is sharper, more deceptively mundane than the aluminum edge of the opening on a soda can. Bob presses, "It's just a few of them, it's just a few fucked up kids—"

"I hate all of them," Spencer says, and there we go, yes, come on Spence, come on. "Every single last fucking one of them. With their need to know us, need to have us for their fucking own. Just fucking listen because Ryan's a million things, but he's not a fucking liar, not that, and he tells people but then they always want more, always want the part of Brendon that Brendon doesn't want, that nobody wanted, nobody but us, but now he's not Brendon, he's Brendon Urie and now they think they have the right to make him something else and sure it's desirable but it's not real and so if you hit it with a fucking bottle— I hate them. Hatehatehatehatehate—"

"Spence," Bob says, because he knows Spencer can't stop. Spencer makes a sound that is pure, sheer anger, nothing more, nothing less. Bob asks, "More?" and doesn't touch Spencer, doesn't do anything that might impede the necessary outpouring.

"I wanted to rip their genitals off and feed them back to them, puree them and make them drink them out of their damn bottles." Spencer sounds calmer, though, like the worst of it has been expunged.

Bob nods. "Sometimes I dream of pouring the piss-filled bottles they throw at us directly into their mouths."

"Nice," Spencer says, approvingly. "An enema would be better, though."

"You have an impressive mind for revenge."

"Sign of psychopathic tendencies, I'm pretty sure."

"You should try and not limit your victims to your audience, in that case, makes it harder to trace it back."

"Most psychopaths are pretty smart."

Bob touches Spencer, wraps a hand around his neck. His pulse is calming. "Better?"

"I try not to—"

"I know. But sometimes—"

"Yeah. Thanks. For, y'know, tripping it."

Bob says, "You're fucking gorgeous when you're pissed."

"I'd better watch out for bottles, then."

"Definitely."

*


The second week on the tour Spencer picks up his phone and says, "Bryar."

Bob's, "Smith," comes out amidst a pretty wracking cough.

"Okay, that's new," Spencer says.

"You want me to come there, or you want to come here?"

"What, your guys can't handle a measly little cough? I knew My Chem was made up of pussies."

"You like fixing things." Bob sounds tired, and Spencer feels a little bit like a shit for giving him trouble.

"Want me to come get you?"

"Nah, it's just a cough."

No sooner has Spencer hung up the phone than Brendon says, "If he has Ebola, I swear I'm haunting your dead ass with my dead ass."

"Don't start with me, Urie," Spencer says, because he's damn well owed by everyone in the band—well, maybe not Jon, although, really, it's only a matter of time—and they know it.

Bob shows up looking like maybe he does have Ebola and Spencer wonders if he should have gone to him, but if it's infectious, he just would have brought it back anyhow. If it's infectious, likelihood is it's been lying dormant, and Spencer already has it anyway. He takes Bob and puts him in his bunk. He brings him water and winces a bit when the overwhelming majority seems to end up in Bob's chest. He asks, "You hungry?"

Bob shakes his head. "Wanna sleep."

"Too much coughing?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, hang tight."

Spencer runs to Fall Out Boy's bus, because Hurley's pretty chill and tends to keep a pharmacy stocked on board. He knocks and Pete answers and says, "Hey," and looks slightly behind him. Spencer says, "I didn't bring Ryan. I need NyQuil."

Pete blinks. "Come on in." He moves back and calls, "Hey, Andy, you have any NyQuil?"

"Uh, sure," comes from the back of the bus.

"Somebody sick?" Pete asks.

"Bob," Spencer says.

"Shit," Pete says, rather succinctly.

"Yup, that about sums it up."

Hurley appears with the bottle and Spencer says, "I'll hit you back next week."

Hurley shrugs, "Tell Bryar it's not like you need your throat to play."

Spencer smiles at Hurley, who smiles back. Pete mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, "Drummers," but whatever, because Spencer and Hurley and Bob aren't the ones going around mooning after other people's bandmates and boyfriends. Spencer says, "I gotta get back."

Pete calls out, "No, seriously, tell Bryar to feel better."

Spencer doesn't tell Bob anything. He gives him a double dose of NyQuil before shimmying into the bunk with him and rubbing at the muscles of his back—tight from coughing and general misery—until he feels him doze off. He gets up then and takes care of some business with his laptop, sitting in the bunk directly below his--Jon's--so that he can hear the changes in Bob's breathing. Ryan comes in and sits next to him and kicks his foot with his own. "He okay?

Spencer says, "Not sure. Giving it a few hours."

Ryan watches as Spencer syncs his palm to his laptop, downloading the directions for the nearest hospital, just in case. "You got a car?"

"Mike Carden rented one for the stay. I think he has a girl, or something, here. I emailed him. He said it's cool."

"Need any help?"

"No, you keep yourself healthy."

Ryan smiles a bit.

"Oh, shut up, Ross."

"No, I just—" Ryan touches his hip. "I'm just glad he came. We're never... It's nice that he'll let you make him better."

"He has the ability," Spencer says, without blame or disappointment. He really does love Ryan as he is.

"That's good." Ryan nods. "It's good, isn't it?"

"Yeah, Ry."

"Don't pay any attention to Brendon."

"I never do."

"He thinks it's good, too."

"I know," Spencer tells him.

"Okay. Just— Yeah, okay."

Bob's cough starts up again, harsh and with distinct tearing sounds peppered through it. Spencer pushes Ryan off the bunk. "Go."

He stands up, and puts his hands to Bob's forehead, to his chest, and waits for the worst of it to pass.

*


Spencer wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of Bob struggling to catch a breath, any breath. He says, "Yeah, okay, I'll be right back," and runs so hard for My Chem's bus that he can hear the wind in his ears, feel it on his lips. He bangs on the door and after a minute or so Gerard tumbles down the stairs and opens it for him and says, "Smith, what the—"

"Get your shoes on, I need a navigator."

"Navigator?"

"Hospital. Way, seriously, get your shoes on, I'll explain while we're running."

Gerard nods, "No, I'm awake now. I. Yeah, gimme a second."

It's literally a second before Gerard reappears with shoes and Spencer warms a bit. Gerard runs back with him, tripping twice. When they reach the bus he says, "I think I stole Ray's shoes. His feet are bigger than mine."

"Ryan might be about your shoe size—"

"Don't worry about it."

Spencer's not going to. He sees, as they approach, that Ryan's gone and gotten the car, and Jon and Brendon are pouring Bob into it, buckling him up. Spencer wants to kiss every single member of his band, but there just isn't time. Maybe when his boyfriend can breathe again. Spencer all but throws his Sidekick at Gerard and climbs into the driver's seat. "Where am I going?"

Gerard tells him, turn by turn, his voice calm and steady over the racked, miserable sounds of Bob's efforts to get oxygen. They pull up to the emergency entrance and Gerard says, "Go, I'll park."

Spencer hoists Bob onto his shoulders and walks him slowly to the desk. He says, calmly, "My friend can't breathe."

Bob does his part, turning ever more blue right beside him. The nurse behind the desk nods and picks up the phone, says something into it. Spencer loves people who are calm at times of great stress. Gerard is just coming in the door when a doctor and a few orderlies come with a gurney, ushering Bob onto it. The doctor asks, "Are either of you family?"

Spencer says, "He's his brother," pointing at Gerard without so much as blinking. Gerard throws a quick glance his way, but doesn't otherwise act surprised.

He nods, "Older brother."

"Okay, sir, we ask that you both wait out here, we'll tell you as soon as we know something."

Spencer sits down and opens a People and begins to read all the human interest stories that have nothing to do with famous people. Gerard says, "Hey, Smith."

Spencer looks up.

"You didn't have to come get me. That was—"

"He'd've gotten one of my guys."

"Still."

"I get that I'm a kid to you, but I'm not bad for him, so—"

"We don't think you're bad for him. We don't."

Spencer goes back to the story about the dog who saved the baby, because last time he saw his boyfriend, he wasn't exactly breathing. Spencer's good in a crisis, but there's a breaking point and sometimes a guy just wants to read about magical wonder dogs who randomly decide that today is a good day to fish a baby out of a swimming pool. Or something. The story isn't making a lot of sense, which is either because Spencer is suddenly illiterate or because People has begun hiring people who are. Six to one, half dozen to the other.

Gerard puts a hand on his knee. "Smith, hey, look at me."

Spencer gives him his best patient, "Yes?" expression.

"He's gonna be okay."

It shouldn't make any difference to hear it from Gerard, who has no fucking clue what's going on, any more than Spencer does, but it sort of helps. "I know."

Gerard moves into the chair next to him and throws his arm over Spencer's shoulders and says, "Okay, well, just so long as you do."

Spencer shouldn't, he thinks, but he fits his head against Gerard's shoulder and closes his eyes and just breathes.

*


The doctor comes out and Spencer forgets all about Lassie, standing to meet her. At his side, Gerard is on his feet as well, balanced precariously in Ray's footwear. Gerard is the next of kin at this moment, so Spencer lets him say, "Yes? How is he?"

The doctor is a tiny, tiny woman, tinier than Spencer, even, but she exudes calm and says, "I'm Dr. Sansa. He is fine, or rather, he will be. He has an upper respiratory infection that got a little out of hand. He probably should have been brought in a couple of days ago."

"We were in Louisville," Gerard says.

"Last I checked, they had hospitals there, too," she says, but her voice isn't completely devoid of sympathy. "Anyhow, we're going to need to keep him overnight, finish up the round of antibiotics we're feeding him by IV and make sure he rests. He's being rather insistent about playing—are you guys athletes, or something? In any case, he needs to rest. There'll be a course of antibiotics for him to take once he leaves. I'll have the nurse at the desk draw up instructions."

"I'll handle it," Gerard promises, his voice soft but confident, and Spencer, who's listened to every single one of his albums and not yet been saved, starts to see where the kids are coming from. "Can we please see him?"

The doctor appraises them. "The policy states only one visitor at a time—"

Spencer takes a slight step back, because if it were Ryan not even Brendon would be going in there first, and that's just how it is. She asks, "What time is it?"

Spencer glances at the clock that has been his arch nemesis for the last hour and a half. "Three-thirty seven."

She smiles. "Go on then, just don't tell anyone."

Spencer grins at her. "Thanks." He's on his way before she can change her mind.

Bob is asleep, a cannula lying across his upper lip, an IV running into his left hand. Gerard goes to his side, soothes the hair off his forehead. "I should have mentioned that we were leaving tomorrow. You think we're gonna be able to?"

Spencer surreptitiously threads his fingers into the hand that's not connected to machines. "She just said overnight. Probably not a big deal as long as he's sleeping and taking his meds."

"If you wanted to go back, get some sleep— I know you guys are playing tomorrow night."

"So are you," Spencer says.

"Okay, well. Why don't you take the chair?"

"Give me a couple of minutes and I'll go charm the nurse into giving us a second one. Had to do it in high school all the time. There's strategy involved."

Gerard looks at Spencer for a couple of seconds. "I'm gonna run to the bathroom."

Spencer catches his gaze. "Thanks."

Left alone, Spencer says, "You, Bob Bryar, are a giant dickface who can't take care of himself for shit and I have enough of those in my life, all right?" Then, "I'll repeat some of that when you're awake, just so you know." He touches his forehead to Bob's and listens as his breath comes—not easily, but it comes. In and out. In and out.

Gerard slips back in the room with an apologetic look on his face. Spencer says, "I'm gonna go see about that chair."

He walks outside the hospital and keys up his cellphone. Ryan picks up on the first ring. "Spence. How is he?"

Spencer gives an overview of the situation, says, "I'll be back in the morning, promise."

"You gotta sleep on the bus, you know. I mean, you gotta."

"Yeah, Ryan, I'm not gonna fall asleep mid-show. Relax, all right?"

"I'm a relaxed guy," Ryan tells him.

Spencer grins. "Hey. Thanks. For tonight. With the car. Tell the others, right?"

"You don't have to—"

"Tell them, Ryan Ross."

"Didn't say I wouldn't."

"Didn't say you did."

Ryan huffs. "Mean."

"Mm," Spencer says, and hangs up. He goes inside, finds the first nurse who looks like she might have a soft spot for tired boys, and goes to work.

*


In the morning, Spencer goes and cajoles his Now Favorite Nurse into bringing Bob blue Jell-o. He says, "Eat. I won't tell Ray."

Gerard is sleeping. Bob takes three bites and says, "Might have to sleep again, now."

Spencer nods. "Sounds about right."

"We're leaving soon, right?"

Spencer pulls the tray back and readjusts the bed so that Bob's lying down. "Hour or so. Go to sleep."

He lets Gerard sleep for another half hour and then says, "You're probably gonna have to do the paperwork signing him out, what with the brother thing. I'll see about getting him unhooked and dressed and you can wait with him while I get the car."

Gerard stands and stretches and when his arms fall they fall around Spencer somehow, pulling him into Gerard. Gerard is warm and not sharp in all the places Spencer has gotten used to Ryan and Brendon poking him. His arms are strong without being confining and Spencer finds himself bringing his own arms up, clinging for the barest of moments. Gerard ruffles his hair and asks, "Aren't they going to notice my last name is different?"

"It doesn't really matter at this point."

"Right."

Spencer puts his lips to Bob's forehead, kisses him, says, "Okay, Bryar, time to go."

Bob mutters, "Changed my mind. Staying."

"Uh huh. Come on, open your eyes. The nurses are gonna wanna see proof you can be released to your own care."

"I thought I was being released into your care?"

"Same difference to them."

Bob puts in some serious effort, and by the time Spencer's Favorite Nurse Ever comes in to help with the IV and the cannula, he's looking well on his way to actually alive. When the nurse leaves, Bob asks, "Seriously, Smith, did you go down on her or something?"

"Don't be a pig," Spencer says, because nurses are a little akin to divine entities in his experience.

Bob steals a kiss from the side of Spencer's mouth then says, "Oh shit, I'm not contagious, am I?"

"I think the antibiotics cleared that up. If you are, though, I'm pretty sure I'm already screwed."

Bob grins at his choice of wording. Spencer rolls his eyes and pulls Bob's top over his head. "Child."

Bob sticks his head through the collar, "Does that make you the infant?"

Gerard pops into the room. "I think I may have signed away my first born child."

"No, they only take the second one," Spencer reassures him.

"Hey, Gerard's here," Bob says.

"My boyfriend is pretty observant," Spencer tells Gerard.

"Mm," Gerard agrees.

"They're bringing a wheelchair; I'm gonna go pull up to the front."

"Orange three," Gerard says, handing him the keys.

"'Kay."

"I don't need a wheelchair," Bob says.

"You need a brain transplant," Spencer says. "And it's hospital policy, so don't give the nurses any trouble, they've been here all night and they haven't been sleeping."

"Is it a nurse fetish?"

Spencer leaves to go find the car.

*


Mikey takes Bob from Gerard the minute they're on the bus, but nobody tries to take his other side from Spencer because Gerard has called while waiting for him to pull up with the car and said, "Leave the kid alone, all right?"

Spencer helps get him into his bunk and pulls the covers up over him. Frank puts a hand to Bob's shoulder and says, “I changed your sheets.”

"Made of win, Iero," Bob says, and looks at Spencer who says, "Sleep."

"You staying?"

"I told Mike I'd take the car back to the rental place, you know, since he let me have it, and my guys need to know I actually made it into the caravan. Also, I need to sleep, because some of us have to work tonight."

"I'm playing."

"Okay, you live the dream," Spencer snorts.

"No set without drums," Bob tells him.

Gerard says, "We'll find someone who's not playing tonight."

"I could do it," Spencer says. "We're not on at the same time, and I know your set."

Frank asks, "You really up for that?"

"I'll sleep on the way there, then blackmail Brendon into giving over some of his Red Bull. It'll be fine."

Gerard looks at the tiny waif of a person in front of him. Spencer hasn't slept, he knows, not more than one or two hours. They meet each other's gaze and Spencer says, "I know your set."

Gerard nods. "All right. For tonight, anyhow. We'll talk again after that."

Frank says, "Okay, but I'm taking the car back. You're going straight to your bus."

Spencer hands over the keys, kisses an already-sleeping Bob, and says, "See ya tonight."

Frank goes off and Mikey tells Gerard, "You gotta sleep, too."

Gerard nods and crawls into his own bunk. He feels Mikey tugging his shoes off, but can't be bothered to stay awake for it, let alone help. He wakes up to the feel of road being traveled beneath him and the sound of Bob coughing. Frank looks up at him, holding three bottles. "You have any idea what he's supposed to take when?"

Gerard nods. "Spencer explained it." He takes the bottles from Frank and opens the water Frank hands him and they both get Bob into enough of a sitting position that he can actually swallow the meds. Frank takes the meds to put them back where they won't get lost—an occurrence of startling regularity on a fairly small bus. Gerard stays as the coughing slacks off.

Bob says, "Least it feels like it's doing something, now."

Gerard nods.

"Sorry 'bout tonight."

"Smith is good on the drums."

"He's gonna be better. He knows the drums are the core, but he forgets that they can be more. He holds himself back so the other guys can shine."

"And you go to town holding us up, prodding us along."

"I'm too tired for metaphors, Gee."

"That was a pretty simple one."

"Did you think I'd been fucking him for almost a year because he was pretty? Because, I mean, I know I'm not you or your pretty-boy sibling, or even Iero, but believe me, I manage all right."

"I thought maybe he amused you. You like to laugh."

"He does amuse me. He's a funny guy. You probably didn't get much of that last night, which is tragic."

"Not what I meant."

"I know, and I love you, Gee, as much or more as I love any guy in this band, but sometimes you're a bit of a supercilious fuck. You should give that up. You'd have more fun."

"I think it might fuck with our emo."

Bob smiles, tries to laugh, coughs instead. Gerard waits for it to pass. Bob says, "Maybe, but we'd forgive you."

"I should have talked to him earlier."

"Yeah. Over a year, Gee."

"I'll be better. We'll be better."

"Okay. Because Spence and I, there's a lot of shit we don't talk about, but the kid holds his world together with two hands, half the time while he's using them to drum. And he's good at it, really good, and I think he even gets off on it a bit, particularly times like now, when there are solutions and if he just reaches out he can catch hold of them, but there are a lot of times when that's not the case and occasionally he could use another pair of hands."

"Ross and Urie and Walker?"

"Ross and Urie— I don't know, like I said, there's a lot of shit we don't talk about. Walker's still fairly new. He shows promise, though. The thing is, I already know you. I don't have to be on the lookout for promise."

Gerard nods. "You do that thing. With your hands."

"Yeah, but so do you, sometimes, and Ray and Mikey and even Frank."

"I'm just saying, the two of you fit like that."

"We fit in a lot of ways." Bob's eyes close as he makes the statement.

Gerard whispers, "Yeah, that's the cue," and wanders out to go sleep on the couch, where Mikey and Frank will let him lay his head or feet or both in their laps. Frank takes Gerard's head and puts a warm palm to the skin between his shoulder blades. "Smith, huh?"

Gerard says, "Spencer."

*


My Chem plays two hours after Panic. Spencer sleeps them away in My Chem's quiet area. Gerard wakes him up with a soft, "Hey. Spencer, hey."

Spencer blinks himself awake. "Yup, here."

"Still up for this?"

Spencer grabs his sticks. He would use Bob's, but like his they've melded to their user's hands and Bobs are considerably larger than his. "Let's do it."

It's weird, really weird, playing someone else's music, but Spencer sort of loves it, loves being inside Bob's head this way. He'll have to tell him about it later. The thought makes him hard, and he plays the entire last half the set hard from performance adrenaline and the lingering feel of Bob within the kit. He can't see over it—Bob doesn't need a stand, so Spencer's eyes are well below the line of the highest drum—and when they thank him for filling in, Iero comes and hoists him by his elbows up onto the chair. He grins like a monkey and says, "Wave."

Spencer rolls his eyes at Iero, but waves. The crowd goes pretty wild. He says, "Can I sit down now, please?" and Iero steps away. His boyfriend's bandmates are all freaks. Ray smiles at him through a space in the kit and Spencer realizes it doesn't so much bother him.

Afterward he's trying to remember which direction Panic is parked in, when Iero says, "Come on," and pushes him from behind, Mikey taking advantage of Spencer's exhaustion and disorientation to steal his cell phone. He says, "Hey," and grabs for it, but Mikey just holds it over his head, the tall freak of emo-boy genetics.

Mikey presses a two and grins. "Predictable."

Spencer hears Ryan pick up and yells, "They're holding me hostage."

Mikey says, "Hey, Ross."

Ryan, the complete traitor, says, "Um, hi?"

"This is Mikey Way. We're taking Spencer with us. He'll see you in Albuquerque."

Ryan says something.

"We'll find him some. Don't worry."

More murmuring.

"Yeah, he was pretty fucking awesome, wasn't he?"

Spencer blinks at Mikey as Ryan continues to talk.

"Right, well, hopefully we won't have to hit you back, but if you ever need—" Mikey laughs at something. "Uh huh, Ross. See you on the flipside." Mikey hands Spencer back his phone. Spencer looks at it, wondering if he can ever trust it again. Then he pockets it. They're at the bus. Frank prods him up the stairs and into the shower.

Spencer says, "Uh, these are my only—"

"I'm gonna find you something, just get in."

Spencer doesn't take long, because there are four other guys—not three—and they aren't his guys. A hand reaches in holding out boxers and a tee. Spencer grabs them. "Thanks."

He re-emerges and pads to where he knows they're keeping Bob. He's awake, if somewhat drowsy. Bob says, "Gerard tells me you are The Sex."

"You had to be told that by Gerard?" Spencer asks.

"Always nice to have confirmation, is all."

Spencer says, "Move over, bunk hog."

Bob scoots closer to the edge of the bunk and Spencer climbs carefully over him, to wrap himself solidly around. Bob asks, "So, how was it for you?"

"Better than sex."

"You're hurting my feelings."

"It's intentional."

"You're only getting away with this because my lungs aren't working, Smith."

"That, and you really like my ass."

"Maybe that, too."

Spencer smirks. He buries his face in Bob's neck. "How you feeling?"

"Better."

"Pissed at me for taking you to the hospital?"

"I've decided your intentions were good."

"Oh, generous."

"I am. Endlessly." Bob rolls into Spencer as much as he can. "Go to sleep."

Spencer's too far gone to say, "Why should I?"

*


Spencer looks up to find iced coffee being handed down to him. He smiles at Gerard. It's not a full smile, those take energy and Spencer needs what he's got of that. Gerard doesn't seem to mind. He sits down next to Spencer, presses his shoulder to Spencer's. "Drink up."

Spencer takes several long pulls. It's got cinnamon in it, which Spencer likes. He wonders if Gerard asked Bob. "Bob still asleep?"

"He's very good at sleeping."

Spencer nods. "Almost better than he is at drumming."

Gerard snickers. "How are you?"

"This is good coffee."

"Yep, how are you?"

"Fine, a little tired."

"Yeah, I bet."

"Look, not that I don't appreciate the coffee and the company's fine and all, but last time I checked you didn't like me very much, so—"

"I didn't trust you. It's different. I never disliked you. I didn't know you well enough to like or dislike you."

"Because I lied?" Spencer looks down into his coffee cup.

"The thing is—" Gerard sighs. "The thing is, I get why you did it. He'd never have— I get it, and it's almost good that you did, but it's even better that Mikey is really smart about people sometimes, because otherwise Bob would have just, I dunno, maybe just kept sitting around like he did. His playing was for shit and he was just so, I mean, just so," Gerard makes a completely nonsensical gesture with his hands that Spencer reads as "so like-you-were-after-he-tried-to-break-up-with-you."

Spencer nods.

"And you'd done that. To one of mine. How was I supposed to trust you?"

"You didn't want to trust me," Spencer says. It isn't an accusation, it's just the truth. If Gerard had wanted to, he would have tried. That's the kind of guy Gerard is.

"You were a kid. I figured he'd grow out of you and you'd be gone and then why would I have bothered?"

Spencer takes another sip of the coffee. The cold is starting to burn. "Still a kid."

"No, that was me being stupid."

Spencer looks over at Gerard.

"I'm hoping it's a forgivable sin."

"I don't—"

"When you're back there, behind me? When you're taking care of us so that he won't have to, so that he can heal? That's not a kid, Spencer. That's someone who knows how to save things, how to hold onto them with care. And I knew it, I knew it when you just took him into that hospital and he was bigger than you and you didn't stumble, I knew, but I'd gotten used to not seeing you and it took a little bit to readjust my vision. I'm sorry."

"I shouldn't have lied," Spencer says. "I should have found another way."

"It's okay," Gerard tells him.

"Maybe a little bit better," Spencer says.

"Than okay?"

"Yeah."

Gerard grins.

*


The first night Gerard declares Bob well enough to play again, Panic's set is actually considerably earlier in the day, which is convenient, as Spencer can shower and dress in clothes that don't smell of decomposing water buffaloes before going to watch.

Jon comes with him, flip-flops snapping in a soothing, familiar rhythm as they make their way out to the right stage. He asks, "So, you're not, you know, angling for a place in My Chem?"

Spencer says, "Asshole," and Jon grins. Spencer's glad Jon's there, because he has someone to turn to and exchange looks of, "Um, yeah," with when My Chem pull off a particularly spectacular rendition of “Famous Last Words.” And because after the show Jon says, "Go get yourself laid, Smith," and leaves him to his own devices.

Spencer slips backstage and Frank says, "Hey, we were looking for you. Wanna permanent gig?"

"Blow me, Iero," Bob says lackadaisically.

Spencer says softly, "We could go back to my bus."

Bob asks, "Yeah?"

"Brendon promised to take Ryan somewhere."

"And Walker?"

Spencer doesn't say anything.

"Not socially retarded, right."

"Bob," Spencer says in warning.

"I mock because I love," Bob tells him with utter sincerity, and well, Spencer gets that.

Still, "Try getting to know them first."

"I don't have to know them," Bob tells him. "I know how you sound when you say their names."

Spencer blinks at that, glad they're walking side by side and Bob can't see his face.

"You don't talk much," Bob says. "I have to listen hard."

"You're not exactly Mr. Loquacious."

"You turn me on with your SAT words, Spencer Smith."

They're at the bus now and Spencer pushes him up the stairs and says, "I can think of better things to turn you on with."

"Yeah?" Bob asks, as if the question is purely theoretical.

Spencer has his mouth on Bob's before they're even entirely up the stairs. Bob trips, goes down, bringing Spencer with him in a tangle, but it's not far to fall. Spencer laughs into the kiss. Bob works his way out from beneath Spencer and drags him up the stairs, into the bus. Spencer doesn't resist.

They get as far as the carpeting in the main area of the bus, and then Spencer's not waiting anymore, not when he's had to wait for weeks, when he's had to watch Bob turn pale and blue, had to witness wires running every which way out of him. He kisses Bob so hard he tastes blood under the salt-drenched flavor of a post-show Bob. He works at ridding himself of clothes even as they kiss, ready, so fucking ready, and Bob, thankfully, isn't making him wait. Spencer has just enough presence of mind to grab the condom out of his back pocket, ripping into it, going for Bob's cock—they can suck each other sweet and slow, or maybe just slow, or maybe neither, later, but for now he just wants—

"No," Bob pants.

Spencer thinks about not begging, but really, what's the point in that? "Jesus, Bob, please, it's been—"

Bob takes the condom from him and Spencer is going to fucking cry he totally is, until Bob rolls the thing right onto Spencer's cock and Spencer literally goes, "Wha— Oh."

"You been taking moron pills while I wasn't around to watch?"

Spencer pushes Bob backward until he hits the windows. He presses a hand to his chest, sucking the fingers of his other hand into his mouth. Bob's eyes roll into the back of his head. Spencer grins around his fingers. He pushes one into Bob, quick and rough and Bob says, "Yeah, Jesus, Spence, yeah," so Spencer pushes in a second. Bob strains against the hand on his chest to lick at Spencer's lips. Spencer pulls his fingers out, uses his second hand to press up, to lift Bob onto his cock.

"You. Complete. Stud," Bob says as he sinks back to the floor, onto Spencer. Spencer shifts upward, because really? If there's coherent speech, he's not doing this right.

"Guh," Bob tells him. Yeah. That's better. Spencer twists his hips a little. Bob gurgles.

Spencer asks, while he still can, "What is this?" because it's sweet, but not something Spencer needs. Bob really, really can't answer, even if there were words they wouldn't be able to make it past his throat, not thrown back the way it is. Spencer grabs at his hair and yanks his head down for a kiss, his other hand crushing Bob's dick between his palm and Bob's stomach.

Bob bites Spencer's tongue as he comes, hard enough that Spencer moans, and squirms and it's that unplanned movement that tips Spencer right over into orgasm. They slide down the wall pretty much together, even if Spencer finds the floor first. Bob says, "Just. You know. You saved my life."

"Oh my god, you let me fuck you out of some misguided notion of gratitude?"

"No, I let you fuck me out of the deep desire to have your cock in my ass. This just seemed like a good time."

"Fair enough," Spencer says.

"I'm gonna shower before we get stuck together and can't have sex again at all tonight."

"Smart of you."

"Get off me."

"Move me yourself."

Bob waits another minute or so before following Spencer's command.

*


Bob wakes up and carefully rolls out of the bunk, leaving Spencer to sleep a little longer. Urie and Ross are sitting next to each other, not touching, at the table. Urie looks up and says, "There's coffee in the kitchen."

"Sweet nectar of the gods," Bob says, and heads in that direction. He comes and sits down across from them. "Walker still sleeping?"

"Somewhere," Ross mumbles, his lips quirking. Bob smirks. He takes a sip of the coffee. It's brewed slightly darker than he would usually prefer, but it will work.

Urie says, "So you're feeling better."

Bob nods. "Thanks for keeping me."

Urie starts, "You're just lucky—" but Ross interrupts, "Why'd you come to Spencer?" his eyes overlarge with concentration.

"He likes to fuss."

Urie frowns. Ross says quietly, "He doesn't fuss."

Bob takes another sip and thinks about the way Spencer snapped to their defense the other night, the way Bob has seen him look at the crowd with a vague warning glance, a "you stay where you are." "He likes to put shit back together." Bob taught Spencer how to fix a tire a month into what had then just been their thing and had the best sex of his life over the hood of the car.

Ross fiddles with the pad he hasn't written in since Bob sat down. "Spence," he says softly, his mouth barely moving. Urie puts a hand to the side of Ross's face. Ross stills for a moment before leaning in. Urie looks up at Bob with an expression that is part-ferocity, part-triumph, part-uncertainty. He says, "It's good. That you give him that."

Ross looks away, but not before Bob catches the raw quality of his eyes. Bob says, "He doesn't stay with you because he's incapable of leaving shit unfixed. He's not."

Ross laughs a bit, wet and short. "I know."

Urie rolls his eyes at Ross's back. He leans over and kisses his shoulder. Ross says, "I do."

"Okay," Urie agrees.

Bob's a little pissed because, "He would walk into a crowd of screaming hysterical fourteen year olds for you, all right, and that's pretty fucking deep, so if you could—"

Urie says, "Stop. You don't— Spencer gets this part."

Bob imagines he does. Jesus. "Does he get the part where you feel the same way?" Bob thought Spencer did, but with Ross curled up on himself and Urie barely penetrating that defensive shield, it's a little hard to tell.

Urie nods. "He knows. Like you said, he doesn't stay because he can't fix us."

"I just like the way he smiles when he's with you," Ross says, looking Bob in the face and for the first time all morning, Bob starts to get where Spencer's coming from with this kid. Urie, he can see, but Ross is worse than some of the walls Bob has met in his life.

"I like that part, too," Bob says.

"You want some more coffee?" Ross asks, and Bob wonders if somewhere, underneath all the fear, the kid is sweet.

*


Spencer waits until Bob is good and well off the bus to fix Ryan and Brendon with a look that he knows will induce fidgeting and, shortly thereafter, confessions. Brendon breaks first. "Okay, we totally vetted your boyfriend, but we had good intentions."

Ryan nods. "Very good."

"Also, he sort of kicked our asses at the vetting thing, so why isn't he being given Yonder Glare of Doom?"

Spencer does not drop the glare. He does ask, "He did what?"

Ryan is now tapping both toes and fingers, which is never, ever a good sign. Brendon looks over Spencer's shoulder. "Uh. Nothing?"

"Brendon Boyd Urie and George Ryan Ross III!"

Ryan gasps, "That's just not fair."

"Whatever," Spencer says, "You're lucky you don't get fan mail addressed that way."

"I think he does," Brendon says. "I think they filter it out of the stuff we see."

"Subject at hand," Spencer reminds them.

"The problem is," Ryan says, because Brendon's busy looking like he might repent of his actions, "that he's kind of a good boyfriend."

Spencer runs a hand over his face. "Ryan, I know that the world doesn't always look the same from your corner of it—"

"He just got all defensive, and then we did and it was, hm. He didn't get that you know we love you. And we probably, I mean. We're sort of—"

Spencer holds up a hand. "Yeah."

Ryan's face crumples at that, but he stays sitting straight. Spencer sighs and goes to sit on Ryan's lap, forcing him further into the couch, his legs draping over Brendon's. "I meant that I know, Ryan, not that you guys suck, which you don't."

"Sometimes," Brendon says, and Ryan nods.

"You're harshing on my best friends over there, asshole."

Ryan presses his forehead to Spencer's bicep. "What, your boyfriend's allowed to do it, but not us?"

"What did he say Ryan? I mean, seriously."

Ryan shakes his head while keeping his forehead where it is. "Nothing that I want to tattle about."

Which could cover whole legions of things, so Spencer looks to Brendon for guidance. Brendon says, "He wasn't mean."

Spencer waits.

"No, really. It was Ryan as much as me, you think I'd lie?"

"To protect me, maybe," Spencer says, because Brendon clearly needs to hear it.

Brendon shrugs. "It's like Ryan said, he's just a good boyfriend."

"And you're okay with him?"

"He's keeping material," Ryan says. Brendon nods. Spencer closes his eyes, because his relief is intense enough for him to need to keep it slightly personal.

*


Spencer calls Bob. "Stay away from Ryan and Brendon."

"Hi Smith, how are you?"

"I'm serious, do you understand?"

"They tell you about our breakfast rendezvous?" Bob sounds a little surprised.

"Ryan's been walking around like someone's gonna pour boiling water on him, as opposed to just hit him, which is always a sign." And maybe Spencer is a little bit more pissed off than he thought he was when he hit seven on the speed dial.

"Jesus. Spence, you gotta believe, I didn't mean to fuck with his head."

Bob's voice is heavy, solid with concern and Spencer's anger is crushed by it, ground down. His, "Don't go around making him think he's not a good friend," is tired.

"I told them you didn't just stay because you couldn't fix them."

Spencer has to think about what the words mean. "Oh."

"The three of you carry a lot. Maybe Walker, too, but we haven't talked much."

Spencer thinks of Jon's even shoulders. "Yeah."

"You want me to say sorry to them?"

The offer is enough to make Spencer say, "No, they think you're keepable."

"Even after that?"

"They're both harder to scare than I probably make it seem."

"Ross said he likes the way I make you smile."

"Ryan is fucking easy."

"Ross may be the least easy person I've ever met, and I tour with Gerard and Mikey Way."

"Just think how you'd have to feel about yourselves if you didn't have us."

"I shudder to think."

Spencer laughs.

"I am sorry I hurt your guy."

Spencer sighs. "It mostly wasn't you. I shouldn't have yelled."

"You don't get to yell a lot."

Not nearly as much as he feels like it. "Doesn't mean you're the appropriate recipient."

"Good thing I pretty much like talking to you regardless."

"Healthy, Bryar."

"Comparatively?"

"Yeah, you've got a point."

*


Spencer gives his Sidekick to Frank and says, "Take one of us?"

Bob says, "No."

Spencer rolls his eyes, "I'm not gonna sell it to Metal Hammer, okay? I'm not even gonna email it to my mom, who has now been badgering me for fucking months to have a picture of me and my boyfriend, which, hi, my mom, so we're not talking anything lewd. I'm going to print it and bring it back to her when I'm at home. The only way this could possibly go wrong is—"

"While I actually do want to hear the theory about how Urie manages to get hold of the photo and accidentally sell it on eBay that I can feel coming, I don't want to take a picture."

"I recognize that being in front of the camera isn't your favorite thing in the world, but I've seen you do it for the guys."

"That's part of my job."

"And your job is now more important than me?" Spencer doesn't ask it like a hurt girl. He asks it like maybe he missed something. It's not entirely that he expects Bob's job, which is of course My Chem, to be less important than him, he probably even expects that it will, at times, be more important. This doesn't seem like one of those times.

"Fuck off, Smith."

Spencer says, "Yeah, okay," takes his Sidekick calmly back from Frank—who looks as though he wants to say something—and wanders off to do something that is not be in this space with Bob right now. He's really glad they're at the concert site and not on the bus, because Spencer really hates it when he wants to disappear and he's got nothing but a bunk to work with.

It takes twenty minutes for Bob to find him, which means two things, 1) Frank did say something, just not to Spencer, and 2) Spencer's talent for hide 'n go seek hasn't gotten any better from when he was seven and Ryan would beat him every time. For a while he thought Ryan just had some kind of freaky sixth sense, but no, as it turns out, he can't hide for crap. Spencer says, "No, I'm kind of busy being pissed off with you just now."

Bob says, "Frank told me I was being an asshole."

"You had to be told?"

Bob sits down next to Spencer. Spencer moves a couple of inches away. Bob sighs. "Every year, when I was a kid, my mom used to spend money we didn't have taking the two of us to a portrait studio, you know, like those ones at Sears?"

Spencer knows all too well. Family portraits are one of his definitions of hell. "Okay, and I grant you, having your hair slicked down and having to smile for an hour had to have been hell for an aspiring hardcore kid, but seriously—"

"She'd do it so that she'd have something to send to my father, a sort of 'look what you're missing'."

Spencer stays quiet at this pause, because he's mad, but this is Bob, and somewhere under Spencer's anger is a lot of things that are mostly hurt and now, maybe, concern.

"They'd come back unopened every year. Every fucking year. And she'd still do it."

Spencer nods. It had taken Mrs. Ross a lot longer to leave Ryan's dad than it should have.

"You're gonna give the picture to your mom, Spence. Can you see how maybe—"

"She's been clipping you out of My Chem pictures so that she can have something to put in our photo albums. Her desire for a picture passed pathetic about six states back."

Bob doesn't say anything and Spencer slides back next to him, fits himself against Bob's side. He says, "I'll tell her you believe cameras steal a person's soul."

Bob shakes his head. "One picture, okay?"

"I don't want—"

"I know it's sort of stupid, to still be stuck in that moment."

"It's really sort of not," Spencer says, and probably sounds more vehement than the sentiment merits. Ryan always thinks he should get over his stuff, too, when really, maybe there are things that have to linger.

"Still. It would be good. To have a picture with you."

"Yeah?"

Bob nods a little. "To know you wanted that."

Spencer straddles Bob so that Bob has to actively look away if he doesn't want to face Spencer. Spencer says, "I definitely want that."

Bob smirks, "You're such a sap."

"Uh huh," Spencer says, and pushes Bob onto his back.

*


Bob gives Spencer's Sidekick back to Frank and says, "Don't change his ring tones. Or his background. Or the settings on his voicemail."

Spencer notices that Frank makes no promises. He's pretty much screwed on that account. Which is okay, because he also notices the way Frank is good about catching Bob when he isn't expecting it, never even hears the soft click of the camera function. By the end of the day, Spencer doesn't have one picture of the two of them together, he has four.

The first one is of him laughing, nearly bent in half with it, Bob looking down at him, eyes crinkled and proud at doing that, making Spencer lose it like that. In the second they are clearly engaged in some sort of drawn out staring contest. Spencer's pretty sure that was over who got the last jawbreaker. Spencer had given in, mostly because Spencer can have all sorts of good candy, and Bob's pretty limited in his choices. The third has Spencer flipping a rather unimpressed looking Bob off, and yeah, that one's not being given to his mom, but he sort of loves it an indecent amount.

The fourth, though, the fourth makes Spencer want to squeeze the ever-loving crap out of Frank Iero. The fourth is one that should never have been caught, that even Spencer thinks he would have noticed. Except he didn't. The fourth is from less than an hour before Frank returned Spencer's Sidekick to him, while Frank and Mikey and Ray were engaged in a winner-takes-all game of poker and Gerard was trying to write and Bob was telling Spencer about the movie he'd been watching the other night—it had been so bad Bob had seen no choice but to share the pain. Bob had at one point run his toes over Spencer's, a gesture of affection but not much else, and Spencer had laughed a little bit. It tickled.

What he hadn't seen, what the camera is now showing him, was the way Bob looked at him while he was laughing, the mixture of fondness and affection and full-out love—Spencer can say it, he just chooses not to most of the time, it's special, and he doesn't like fucking with that. What he hadn't seen was the way Bob's hand sort of hovered over the back of his head as he laughed. It's the most intimate thing Spencer has ever seen in his entire life. He won't be giving it to his mom, either. Bob looks at it and says, "Huh."

Spencer says, "You're kind of the best boyfriend ever. Just so you're aware."

"Kind of?" Bob asks.

Spencer shrugs. Bob takes the Sidekick and hands it to Gerard, who is still writing and looks a little bit unsure of why he's been handed such an artifact of technology. Bob pulls Spencer to him, giving Spencer no option but to wrap his arm around Bob, fit himself to Bob's posture. Bob says, "Take a picture, Gee."

Gerard, bless him, doesn't hesitate. He just shoots and clicks. He gives the Sidekick back to Spencer who looks at the picture. Bob says, "Give that one to your mom."

Spencer nods. They both look so damn happy.

*


Spencer has never wanted to allow someone to push ink under the surface of his skin, to sit still while tiny injections of pigment that are not meant to interrupt epidermis are applied. Except that the time Bob suggested it to him, calm and only slightly interested, perhaps even mildly joking, has stuck with Spencer for months now. It is unfair that Bob would pick the one thing Spencer might want to carry on his body forever, might want other people to see, might know means something about them but, more accurately, means just about everything about him.

The band ends up having a three day break in October when the bus gets stuck in New Hampshire and no commercial flights are even so much as looking longingly at the runway. There's a tattoo parlor close to the hotel they're in. Spencer takes that as a sign of divine approval and treks through thirteen-foot snowbanks to get to the place. He has extremely cool snow boots.

He rolls up his right sleeve and points to the length of his forearm. "One here," he says, and then bends slightly, to pass his finger along the inside of his left thigh, "and one here."

"All right," the artist says. "You ever done this before?"

"Nope," Spencer says.

"Pain threshold?"

Not as high as Ryan's. "Higher than you're probably thinking."

Spencer seats himself on the chair and closes his eyes and chats with the guy about the Patriots and the storm and doesn't even much notice the sting of the process. Spencer has always focused more on results than processes. Well, other than the process of playing, which is something else entirely.

When he finishes, the artist—Gary—is looking at Spencer with vague approval in his eyes. Spencer doesn't need it, but he smiles all the same and tips well. Gary tells him how to care for it, how long it will take to heal, all the important information. Spencer bundles himself up and enjoys the way the cold numbs the slight throb of the new marks on his way back to the hotel.

*


It's late fall and Spencer's from Nevada so he spends the next month bundled up, and even during shows they're always in their button downs, their quasi-suits, so it's not until they hit San Antonio, where the weather is mild enough that Spencer wears a t-shirt rather than a sweatshirt to hop into his bunk, that the other guys—well, Ryan; Brendon's foraging for food and Jon's already asleep—see the tattoo. The arm one. The leg is still hidden by his pants.

Ryan takes the arm in his hand and turns it inside up so as to look more carefully at the art. He draws one finger along the center of the drumstick. "You didn't say you were thinking about— You didn't even say you had done this."

"Okay, well, it's sort of my skin."

Ryan looks up to catch Spencer's gaze. "I know that. It's just... Didn't it hurt? I would have— I mean, you could have asked one of us to go along."

Even being less resistant to it, Spencer isn't afraid of pain the way Ryan is. "I know. I know what I can ask you guys for. It's just that this was for me and I didn't feel the need to make one of you sit around and wait while I did it.

"For you," Ryan says softly.

Spencer says, "I play the drums."

"I know. And you love them. Maybe more than I love my guitar."

Spencer doubts it.

"But Bob also plays them."

Spencer raises his eyebrows. "Your point?"

"Don't, Spence, okay? Don't act like you just decided, without ever once mentioning it or thinking about it aloud, that this was something you had always wanted, or wanted with enough intensity to know it was the right decision. And you don't do things like this, permanent things, without that sort of beforehand consideration. So he said something, sparked the idea, I don't know."

Spencer thinks about saying, "Maybe I'm changing," but Spencer is the last thing Ryan needs to be unsure of, and Ryan is right, or close enough to right, so Spencer nods. "He brought up the idea. Mostly half-joking. But I thought about it. And I did like it with that much intensity. Because it can be about us, but it is about me, and about this band and it will always be about those things and why the hell wouldn't I want that sort of thing mapped out on my body?"

Ryan is silent for a long time, still holding the tattooed arm in his hand. Finally he says, "He chose something that was only about him by inference. Something that was...more important to you."

Spencer nods. "He's good about valuing me for the person I am."

Ryan tilts his head, purses his lips at this statement. Finally he says, "It's fucking hot."

"Don't think I'm going too metal for the band? Going to have to start thinking about finding yourselves someone a little bit cleaner cut?"

Ryan smiles. "Asshole."

Spencer agrees, "Yup."

*


Bob calls him at some point after a three minute interview with Fuse where Spencer was wearing a t-shirt and the interviewer actually noticed the new tattoo and spent some time cooing over Spencer rather than Ryan or Brendon. Spencer has perhaps gotten a little too used to being ignored for the Big Two. He says, before Bob can even say hi, "I was planning on saying something. In person. I forgot that sometimes people like to put me on national TV and then download it. It seems counterintuitive."

"I sprang a boner at your overwhelming hotness, Smith. What if I'd been in public, is all I'm saying? I mean, what if we'd been eating at some diner and they were showing Fuse—"

"You know many diners that show Fuse on their TVs?"

"—and I'm trying to order mashed potatoes and scaring the waitresses?"

"They put milk in mashed potatoes at diners."

"I'm totally serious here."

"Yeah, I can sense that."

Bob snorts. "What, were you gonna strip for me? Show me inch by inch? Take it off, baby. Take. It. Off."

"You have no idea what I'm capable of, Bryar."

"Some idea. Not that I'm opposed to further testing."

"You turn me on when you get all college-professor on me."

"You're late with your assignment, Mr. Smith. That will be one grade letter level."

"Hm, is there anything I can do to convince you not to drop the grade?"

"Perhaps talk to me ahead of time in future cases."

"Okay, see I was thinking more along the lines of a blowjob."

"That's because you're naughty."

Spencer laughs. Then he says, "I really didn't mean for you to find out this way."

"It was still pretty hot. Unbelievably fucking hot. Sort of like you. Can I tell people you're my boyfriend?"

"They wouldn't believe you, I'm too hot."

"So I can tell, right?"

"Go for it."

Bob laughs. "Careful the permissions you give, Mr. Smith."

"You can teach me caution in our next session, Professor Bryar."

"Be certain I will."

Spencer says, "I am always certain of you."

*


To make the whole Fuse-knowing-more-about-Spencer-than-Bob-did thing up to Bob, Spencer meets up with his tour in Oklahoma, for a quick--very quick--turn around visit in between his own shows. Spencer comes bearing gifts, even though he knows saving Bob's life has pretty much secured him a place in the minds and hearts of all the Chemically Dependents, as Brendon likes to call them, and Spencer has possibly accidentally said to Bob once in a conversation. Luckily, Bob was amused.

He brings coffee for Gerard and Mikey, the pre-ground beans from the Congo that are hellishly expensive, but evidently worth it. He brings Frank the copy of Full Metal Alchemist he knows Frank's been having trouble finding and which Spencer happened to pick up outside of Philadelphia. He brings Ray a new pair of headphones, because the asshole's been complaining about the sound-canceling features on his old ones, but is too cheap to just go get a better pair.

He brings Bob himself and a tattoo not even the other Panic boys know about, which had damned well better be enough. Their first go at sex is so frantic and messy—with Spencer all but dropping to his knees right at the door to the bus—that Bob doesn't notice until after. They manage—with a push from the ever-helpful Frank—to make it to the bunks, but just, and then Spencer's got his mouth on Bob's dick, even as he's saying, "Yeah, missed this part."

Bob drags him up when he's done, kisses himself off of Spencer's lips, flips Spencer over and pushes himself down for a taste of his own. Spencer buries his fingers in Bob's hair, controls the proceedings, and if Bob looks up and rolls his eyes once, Spencer can handle that, so long as he goes where Spencer's fingers tell him to go.

Afterward Bob slumps a little to the side for a few moments before muttering. "Okay, we're a little overdressed at this point."

Spencer agrees. He shimmies out of his shirt and then his pants. They're only to his knees when Bob says, "Whoa, that wasn't on Fuse."

"Yeah, I'm not blowing Gideon Yago."

"Yago's MTV."

"The fact that you know that cracks me up."

"So do you, you're just being difficult."

"Oh, is that what I'm being?"

Bob doesn't even answer, just pulls Spencer's pants all the way off and presses his leg to the side so that he can peruse the second tattoo at length. It is a quarter note, the most common on a drummer's sheet. The stem, however, is a thermometer, an old-fashioned one, with the mercury resting at a point of 1231.

Bob says, softly, "That's quite some fever."

Spencer looks up, at the top of the bunk, and responds, "The kind you can't sweat out."

"Really more the kind you were dead from about 1100 degrees earlier." Bob rises up over Spencer, takes his gaze back and kisses him so long and slow Spencer forgets what the hell it is they're kissing about. When Bob has made his point he pulls back and takes his own clothes off, folding them before setting them aside. Spencer looks away in order to grin. Bob lines himself up against Spencer's back, wrapping his leg over Spencer's thigh.

He says, "I would never have asked for something like that. Something specific. About me."

"I know," Spencer says.

"What if—"

"I'll still want this on my skin."

"You're kind of young—"

"You know better."

Bob nuzzles at the back of Spencer's neck. "Yeah. I guess I do."

"I wanted it. I want you."

"Yes," Bob says. "Fuck, yes."

*


Spencer gets homesick. Ryan misses his mom, but not much else; Brendon has trouble being back in spaces that he wasn't allowed into for a while, and Jon has a never-ending wanderlust. Spencer, on occasion, wants to talk football with his dad—the only guy he'll go there for, except maybe Bob or Ryan, but neither has ever asked it of him—and help his mom run errands. He wants to drink the iced cinnamon coffee from the local coffee shack that's been there thirty-two years and is largely unbothered by the corporate giants. He wants to watch the geckos that hang out in his mom's rock garden. He wants his own bed.

Ryan's good about knowing when it's happening. He'll call Spencer's mom and say, "Hi, Mrs. Smith," and she'll say, "Ryan Ross, stop making me sound like I'm old," and he'll say, "Yes, mom," and, "Spence misses the geckos."

His mom will tell him all about the geckos—she's named all of them by their not-very-different markings so that Spencer can know what she's talking about—and about her Stitch 'n Bitch—Spencer's known those women since before he could talk—and say, "If you wanna come home, baby—"

"Mom."

"I'm just saying."

Spencer loves her for saying it.

Sometimes Ryan will call Spencer's dad and say, "Hello, Mr. Smith," and he'll say, "Mr. Ross," which always causes Ryan to look down and smile wistfully. Ryan will say, "Spencer's kinda pissed off at the NFL right now," and hand over the phone to Spencer, who is then generally in the position of trying to figure out what has gone on all season. His dad mostly pretends that Spencer's got it together. What Ryan doesn't usually do is hijack Spencer's phone, scroll through the contacts, press seven and say, "Bryar?"

Spencer would wrestle the phone from him, but he's slightly in awe of Ryan's audacity just at that moment, and it paralyzes him.

"Spencer's homesick."

Spencer pointedly shows Ryan his middle finger and says, "I don't tell your secrets, you complete twat."

"Yeah, okay," Ryan says to Bob and hands Spencer the phone.

Spencer says, "You can't listen to a thing he says, he's a habitual liar. You've seen our interviews, you know."

"I'm in South Carolina and Chicago is cold this time of year and this early spring shit is bullshit," Bob says.

"I like warm weather."

"That's because you're a pussy."

"And you're a vegan, but I don't go around calling you names."

"You so do, Smith."

Spencer kind of does, so he lets it go.

"Hey," Bob says. He says it casually, but Spencer has learned to read when Bob is prying without making it seem like he's prying.

"I'm just tired. Tour tired." That's the expression they all use for the weariness that comes with always being confused at to where you are and thrown by the sleeping schedule—or lackthereof—that tours demand.

"I'm fucking homesick," Bob tells him. "I miss my mom. She has good stories. I know all the guy's stories. And they repeat them."

Spencer nods his head in sympathy, thinking Bob will figure the sentiment out. Bob is silent for a while. "I know that I'm not Ross and I haven't got this bazillion year history with you, and that you're sort of the guy who doesn't complain, who listens to the complaining, I get that. But you could tell me something. Anything. If that was... Look, Ross seemed to think it was a plan of some sort."

Spencer doesn't want to tell Bob that Ryan often has really, really bad plans when it comes to personal relationships. Granted, that's mostly more in his case than in Spencer's, but it still makes Spencer a little bit wary. He says, "My mom makes non-pareils around this time of year."

"Those chocolate thingies?"

"The mint ones. The pastel ones. Y'know, for spring."

"Nevada doesn't have spring."

"She likes to pretend," Spencer says softly.

"That's cool," Bob says, his voice pretty soft in return.

"And my dad does the spring cleaning, because he's kind of a neat freak, and he plays The Wall on the stereo system you can hear all the way through the house. I can't hear that album anymore without smelling Pine Sol."

"You know you love it. You were totally the kid getting high on glue in the back of the class, weren't you, Smith?"

Spencer laughs. "I was a straight A student, asshole."

"Really?"

"Mostly cause I took easy classes."

"Uh huh."

"I'm really fine."

"I gotta tell you, Smith, I think what you are is homesick. Ross knows how to call'em."

Ryan just knows Spencer, but that's neither here nor there. Bob admits, "I kinda like hearing this part. This part of you."

Spencer worries at the threads that are beginning to fray in the knee of his jeans.

"I could tell you some of mine for some of yours. Information trade."

Spencer says, "It's not that I don't want to tell you."

"You're just out of practice. I know."

"What are your mom's stories about?"

"One answer for another," Bob negotiates. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Her customers. People who eat in restaurants are fucked up. I say that as a restaurant-going person. What's your room look like?"

Spencer closes his eyes and tells Bob what appears behind his lids.

*


Bob shows up in Tuscaloosa, which is warm for this time of year, at least compared to Chicago. Spencer says, "Don't you play in a band?"

"I have sixteen hours to get you to cheer the fuck up before I've gotta be back on a plane, so you're gonna have to work with me here."

Spencer says, "I know we're both young, but I don't think either of us is gonna last that long."

Bob rolls his eyes. "Jesus, Smith, you have a dirty mind. I brought you presents."

"You think that's gonna help clean it up any?"

Bob pushes Spencer onto the couch. "The others hiding?"

Ryan answered the door when Bob knocked and didn't seem all that surprised, so Spencer suspects it's more an issue of giving them some space. "On a four-man bus, no less. I have talented bandmates."

"Mm. Here." Bob roots through his bag and pulls out a bottle of Pine Sol. Spencer blinks at it for a second and then laughs so hard he's doubled over with it, arms folded protectively against his torso.

"Mission accomplished, maybe I can catch an earlier flight." Bob makes like he's getting up to go and Spencer pulls him down, kisses him through the laughter.

When he can, Spencer gasps, "You said presents. Plural."

"Greedy bitch." Bob laughs against the side of Spencer's mouth.

"Just the way you like me."

"Point." Bob pulls away just enough to reach a hand into his bag. He comes up with a bag of mint non-pareils, all soft blues and greens and yellows and pinks. Spencer looks at the bag for a moment.

"They're not your moms, because since I've never actually spoken to her, I felt kinda stupid just calling her up and being all, 'yeah, could you send me some non-pareils, I swear they'll make it to your son—"

"She'd have liked it," Spencer says softly, taking the bag from Bob.

Bob smiles. "Next time. They are gourmet."

Spencer opens the bag and pulls one from inside, placing it on his tongue. He lets it sit for a moment, just long enough for the body of it to melt a bit, the sprinkles dissolving down into the sugar. Then he kisses Bob, slow and sweeter than usual, literally and otherwise.

"Mm," Bob says.

"Good," Spencer says.

"Yeah."

Spencer takes his time making out, not something he's generally all about, except that Bob would have called his mom, and that's deserving of something just a little less than ordinary. When Bob's melted against him, as submissive as the non-pareils, only then does Spencer slide off the couch, pull Bob's jeans down around his thighs. His mouth is already a little sticky, and it makes it easy, natural, to just slow things down, easy to swallow a little when his lips are nearly kissing Bob's pelvis.

Bob moans, "Fuck, Smith, so fucking good."

Spencer says, "Yeah," around his cock, waiting until Bob has come and then come back to him to say, "You sorta deserve it."

Bob nods lazily. "I'm a pretty good boyfriend."

Spencer grins. Bob tugs him up onto the couch and flips over onto him. Says, "Wonder if those things make you taste minty-fresh."

"Only one way to find out."

*


It's an after-party and Spencer and Bob have an agreement about after-parties that involves them generally going nowhere near each other unless one of the other guys is present. Spencer doesn't think they spark as hard as Ryan and Brendon do, or even Frank and Mikey, but those two are in each other's bands. It's not even that Spencer really gives a shit whether anyone knows—all the important people do anyway. He cares about Ryan having to give up the success of the band for Spencer's personal sexual choices, even if Ryan wouldn't say a damn word. He cares about having the press all over him, the feeding frenzy that he knows would leave him venomous and burnt around the edges. It sort of sucks, though, being in the same town, the same room with Bob and having to accept that he has to either pull Jon in as backup or bring the monkey twins along or just allow Bob to drag Mikey across the room. Mikey drags well.

Jon is with Pete, so that takes him right out of the equation, since Spencer doesn't trust Pete as far as he can throw him. Maybe not even that far. Spencer thinks he could probably chuck him a fair distance. He's looking for Brendon and Ryan--who are assholes and have gone AWOL--when Bob finds him, Gerard at his side. Spencer smiles at Gerard. Gerard says, "You're so utterly easy, Smith."

"I've been abandoned to the fates and then rescued in a timely and suave manner. I do not concede the point that my gratitude has been easily earned."

Bob snickers. Gerard says, "What, Wentz and Walker won't let you in their clique?"

"Something like that," Spencer says as breezily as he can. Bob narrows his eyes at him but doesn't say anything. Bob can be kind of quiet at times.

"What say we become a roving gang and hunt down my brother and his hapless boyfriend before the MTV cameras find them?"

"Mikey can take care of himself," Bob says.

Gerard rocks on his feet. Admits, "I know." He sounds a little bit bereft.

Spencer gets that. "Wanna get the hell out of here?"

Bob's already at the door in his head, Spencer knows. Spencer can't stand around with Jon and Pete constantly on the periphery of his vision anymore. Jon's a big boy, and that's all fine and well, but Spencer doesn't want to watch him making decisions that might very well lead to the implosion of things Spencer spends his days struggling to keep intact.

"Fuck, yes," Gerard says. "I promised I'd find Ray, though."

"He's recovering on the balcony."

Gerard goes off even as Spencer laughs. "Jesus, who tonight?"

"Miranda Lambert."

"Yeah?"

"That's the kinda shit I couldn't come up with."

"Yeah, okay. That's pretty hot."

Bob shrugs. "I guess, if you're into that sort of thing."

Spencer's boyfriend might be the gayest person he's ever met, including Ryan. Bob looks like he wants to say something but isn't sure how to say it. He still hasn't figured it out when Gerard brings back a very smiley Ray and says, "Let's blow this popsicle stand."

"Do people seriously still say that?" Spencer asks.

"Shut up, young whippersnapper."

"Whatever you say, gramps."

*


They go to a diner, because Gerard has declared himself in need of coffee and Spencer sort of likes being an ass and eating cheeseburgers in front of Bob at one in the morning. It pisses Bob off, which generally turns Bob on, and Spencer knows which side of the bread his butter's on. Spencer will admit that if Ray weren't there, he would totally let Bob in on the chocolate cream pie.

Bob charms the waitress into bringing him a bagel with peanut butter and honey—his mom has trained into him some bizarre waitress-charming gene—and eats it looking fairly zen, as he always does around Ray. Also, Spencer likes the taste of peanut butter and honey. He would almost feel one-upped.

Gerard asks, "How's Miss Lambert?"

Ray says, "Stop being an objectifying dick."

"Yeah," Bob says.

Gerard looks indignant. "I just meant--"

Ray laughs. Then he turns to Spencer and asks, "You and Walker having a fight?"

Spencer almost chokes on the pie, which would probably serve him right at a table of supposed vegans. "No, Jon and I are fine."

"Because you were sorta avoiding him," Gerard says, and Spencer thinks, "is it really not enough that my band gangs up on me?"

Bob just nods. Traitor. Spencer pokes a little violently at his largely unoffensive pie. "Not Jon."

"Pete?" Gerard asks, and raises both eyebrows.

"He's gonna fuck up my band." Spencer tries to sound neither petulant nor terrified.

"Your band does an okay job of that all on its own." Ray pats Spencer's shoulder.

"Pete's not so dangerous," Bob says. "You've just got to make him sit still. Seems like Walker's got that under control."

"Dangerous enough," Spencer says.

There's a long silence before Bob asks, "Is this still about the Ryan thing?"

Spencer glares at Bob. Gerard and Ray are actually in this conversation. In the end, though, he says, "He fucked with Ryan and Brendon. Now he's fucking with Jon."

Gerard wraps his hands around his newly-refilled mug. "Ryan and Brendon, really?"

"Ryan probably deserves a goodly dose of blame for that one," Spencer says, because despite hating it about himself, he's mostly a fair person.

"Jesus fuck," Gerard murmurs, and sips at his coffee.

Bob says, "According to Mikey and Patrick, who are both completely unsure of what to do with this situation, Pete's pretty sure Jon's fucking with him."

"That's close to the stupidest thing Wentz has ever said. Jon doesn't even fuck with shit when given engraved invitations to." All three of them look curious at that, but all Spencer says is, "Jon fixes shit. He's better than me at it."

Bob frowns at that. "Maybe he's just given easier opportunities."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "My point is—"

"Yeah, Walker's not the one at fault, but what if neither of them are? What if this is, y'know, valid?"

Spencer tries not to look at Bob like he's grown a third eye or something.

"I'm just saying, people were sort of suspicious about us, too."

"That's because they thought you were committing statutory. Which okay, you were, but only because I'm a lying asshole."

"Spencer." Bob knocks his feet into Spencer's under the table.

"You should talk with Walker," Gerard says.

"As a place to start, at least," Ray chimes in.

"You people are so not my band."

All three of them just look at him. Spencer eats the rest of the pie, ordering another piece even though he's not hungry. Sometimes one has to suffer for credible revenge.

*


Spencer calls a band meeting. He's tired of staring out the window so he says, "We need to talk."

Brendon looks guilty, which makes Spencer wonder if he's actually done anything. Brendon tends to be afraid of getting caught living at certain times. Jon hefts Queen—Jon and Brendon call her Killer, but Spencer and Ryan like the more refined element of her name, feel it fits her more—and moves to sprawl on the floor closer to Spencer so that she can continue using him as a kitty jungle gym. Ryan doesn't do a damn thing, since he has his earphones on and can't hear.

"Ryan!" Spencer shouts. The other two get in on the action, but it's only when Brendon finally risks a tap to Ryan's knee that they get any reaction.

He lifts a phone. "Sorry, what?"

"You're going to go deaf and I'm going to be the one to have to explain it to thousands of grieving teenagers," Spencer says. "Oh, and we're having a band meeting, if you'd like to join."

Ryan turns off his iPod and sets the headphones aside, coming over to sit next to Spencer. "Something wrong?"

"Jon has to tell us what the deal is with Pete," Spencer declares.

"Does he really?" Brendon asks.

"Yes," Spencer says, trying his best to sound level-headed rather than slightly desperate.

Jon sits up, Queen tumbling into his lap and looking up quite indignantly. He squashes her nose in response. "What do you want to know?"

Now that the moment has come, all the things in Spencer aren't words they're just frantic, zinging emotion. Finally he says, "He keeps hurting my band." It's not exactly a question.

Jon seems to get what he needs from it. "He's not hurting it now. He didn't mean to, then. He thought— He thought—"

"I was real," Ryan says softly. "For him."

Brendon snarls and Queen makes a small sound of alarm. Brendon looks miserable with repentance, but doesn't try to touch her. Ryan's taught him too well.

"Does he think that about you?" Spencer asks. It's a careful question, since Jon seems like he might be a little bit invested, even if he's currently pulling Brendon to him and getting to work soothing him.

Jon says, "He wants to. When he's not busy doing his best to fuck things up for himself."

Ryan helps with, "He doesn't understand that love is more than sex. Or, he does understand, but he has no experience to, y'know, prove it to him. And I think Jon's holding out." He throws a questioning glance Jon's way.

Jon nods. "He has to understand the other stuff first. He has to, or I won't get to be the real thing either. And I sort of... He gets to you. Slowly. He— Look, I know Spencer, okay, I know what he did and how that scared you and I know, Brendon that you— Well, I know. And I'm still sort of the new guy and you got a cat for me and I probably shouldn't be asking for anything else, but he thinks I'll choose you guys over him and I probably would, is the worst part and if it didn't have to be a choice, if I didn't have to—"

"I wouldn't do that," Brendon says. "Make you choose. I've done enough."

Jon squeezes Brendon until he makes a small, involuntary squeak of distress. "You're good, Brendon. Okay?"

Brendon sighs and buries his face against Jon's chest. Spencer forces himself not to wince. Jon sort of deserves to actually get what he wants every once in a while. He shakes his head. "I'm not gonna make you choose, either."

Jon looks like Atlas just came around to take the world back. "That's. That's good."

"I'll even try being a little more civil," Spencer tells him.

"He doesn't want to be the guy who ruins everything," Jon says. "He really doesn't."

Spencer would feel better about that if he just weren't, rather than not wanting to be, but Jon really does fix things amazingly well, and Spencer figures he's got to have faith sometimes. He nods. "All right."

Brendon snuffles at Jon's chest. Ryan looks down and smiles.

*


Ryan buys Spencer the Interview issue upon seeing it on the stands during one of his and Brendon's runs into town for frozen cookie dough and other cabin necessities. The thought is sweet, and Spencer even makes some of the cookies for Ryan—sticks them in the oven with the timer on and everything—to show his appreciation. Then he locks himself in his room to wail at the fates privately for an hour before calling his boyfriend and demanding, "No more of this, do you hear me? No more."

"What did I do?" Bob asks. It's kind of reasonable of him, because last time they spoke they probably ended with fairly customary sign offs, such as Spencer's, "Tell your mom I said hi," and Bob's, "Your mom jokes are not classy," and Spencer's, "I actually meant that," and Bob's, "Whatever, Smith, whatever."

"You can't just be taking photographs like this whenever you damn well please, you complete dickface. It's fine for you to be as hot as you are, okay? I say fine, better than fine when I'm the one benefiting from the unholy levels of your hotness, but when you're just throwing it this way and that and then not following up because you happen to be hundreds of fucking miles away? No. That's inappropriate boyfriend behavior, Robert."

"That was a good shoot for all of us, don't you think?" Bob sounds pleased.

"I hate you," Spencer says, with a plain-spoken quality that generally gets people's attention.

Not Bob. "Turnabout is fair play, you randomly-pointing, tight-brown-shirt wearing, man-purse carrying piece of ass. Also, it's not as if I don't plan to make it up to you."

"Oh, you do, do you?"

"I am a man who plans ahead, Spencer Smith."

Spencer has to agree. Bob is. "Tell me of these plans."

"That would ruin the surprise."

"Yes, but I have the best picture you've ever taken and my dick both right here, and I would like you to help me put those two together."

"Oh no, you're going to wait."

"Bob," Spencer says, in a very firm tone of voice. Or perhaps a whine. Either way.

"Or you could use your own imagination, tell me what you come up with."

"I bet every one of your bandmembers wanted to fuck you at that shoot."

"You have a dirty mind, Smith."

"I bet Mikey wanted to throw you over those fucking thighs of his and hold you there while Frank took care of business."

Bob's breath quickens. Spencer shoves his hand inside his jeans. "I bet Gerard wanted to fuck up your hair with both his hands, wanted to press you against the nearest wall and swallow every last inch of you, then look up to see how you were liking it. Gerard would be into that, seeing how he's pleasing someone. He's such a crowd whore."

"Spencer," Bob gasps.

Spencer pulls on his cock. Hard. "I bet even Ray wanted in on it, wanted your mouth, those lips."

"Ray's straight." Bob doesn't sound convinced.

"Nobody's that straight," Spencer tells him, looking down at the picture, giving another pull. He holds onto the phone through his orgasm, makes every sound into the mouthpiece.

After a few minutes, Bob asks weakly, "I can't be doing stuff like this?"

"I guess I can forgive you in this instance," Spencer tells him generously.

Bob says, "You're a good boyfriend like that."

*


"You sent actual invitations?" Bob asks, and Spencer can hear the rustling of him pulling said invitation out of its envelope.

"It's a party," Spencer says. Also, Brendon hadn't shut up for days about the circus motif invites he'd seen at the paper store and for all that Brendon talks and even whines, he doesn't really ask for much.

"We'll barely be back in the states."

"I know, but I moved the party back a day so that you would be back in the states and would have had about twelve hours to sleep it off."

"His birthday's not the 13th?"

"Twelfth."

"How'd he feel about that?"

"He's just excited that my mom promised him strawberry shortcake and people are going to come around to see him turn twenty." Spencer rubs a hand over his face. Brendon's a little hard to explain to people who don't know the history, and Spencer isn't sure he can open himself up enough to give Bob Brendon's past.

Spencer hears a, "What the fuck?" and then Frank's saying, "These are cool invitations, Smith."

"Brendon liked them."

"Is he really only going to be twenty, or is that something you tell your fans? You can tell us."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Iero, give me back to my boyfriend."

"No, 'cause he's gonna tell you all these reasons why we shouldn't come to the party, but we're totally coming. It's been forever since we were at a party in someone's backyard."

Spencer wonders idly if inviting his boyfriend's whole band was a mistake. Frank says, "Oh, hey, wait, Gee has a question."

"Of course he does," Spencer mutters as he waits for the phone to be passed.

"Hey Spence."

"Hi, Gee," Spencer says, because at least Gerard has manners.

"I know this is sort of rude—"

Or maybe not.

"—but look, I was sort of gonna use that day there to see someone—"

"It's fine, Gerard, if you can't come."

"—no, I was just wondering if I could bring a date."

Spencer blinks. Bob has mentioned a boyfriend, and there have been times when Gerard has disappeared to go talk on the phone or laughed for minutes on end at his email, smiling in a way that no camera has ever captured. Spencer has never really considered the reality of Gerard having a boyfriend who's not a member of My Chem or Panic or even FOB. It seems...bizarre. "Uh, yeah. Of course. Is he a vegan, too?"

"Omnivore."

"Definitely bring him, then."

"Thank you," Gerard says, quite formally, and Spencer hears the phone being passed off again.

"Hey," Bob says.

"You're all coming, then?"

"Well, we haven't seen Ray since this morning, but it's a fairly safe assumption."

Spencer smiles at the floor even though Bob isn't there to see how easy Spencer is being. "Brendon'll like that."

"Brendon will, huh?"

He really will, but, "I might not mind it, either."

"Generous of you."

"I'm that kinda guy."

Bob laughs.

*


"Spencer! Speeeencer!" Brendon hits Spencer running and Spencer would totally be taken down by it except that he has become used to this sort of attack and rolls with it, literally, twirling a little bit with the momentum of Brendon's direct hit. "Gerard totally got me JC Chasez for my birthday!"

Spencer's known Brendon for a fairly long time and he mostly lives with him, but he really has nothing for that, but, "What?"

Ryan, on the other hand, has a lackadaisical and—in Spencer's opinion—somewhat brilliant, "I will have you know, Urie, I am not the type to be made jealous by foundationless bragging and flights of fancy."

Brendon pouts. "Be nice to me; it's my birthday."

"That was yesterday," Ryan says. Spencer gives Ryan a Look.

"Besides," Brendon tells them, "I'm so telling you guys the truth and you're going to feel like complete asshats when I prove it to you."

Spencer runs his mind back over the conversation and asks, "Wait, did you say Gerard got you Chasez for your birthday?"

Brendon nods. "That's a super good gift. I don't think any of you guys are gonna be able to outdo it."

"Holy shit," Spencer breathes.

"Spence?" Ryan asks.

"I sort of told Gerard he could bring his boyfriend to the party. You know, because they just got back from Europe, and evidently they were supposed to meet up and he doesn't see him very often—"

"Wait, he's not my present?" Brendon's pouting again.

Ryan kicks his foot. Then asks, "Gerard Way is dating JC Chasez?"

It explains why the My Chem boys don't talk about it. Ever. It's also possibly the most bizarre thing in the history of bizarre. But if Gerard's here then Bob's probably not far behind so Spencer doesn't have time to consider all the ins and outs of this latest newsflash. He asks Brendon, "Did you actually say hi, or did you just gawk and run?"

"Um."

Spencer sighs. He would say, "raised by wolves," but Brendon's sort of sensitive about his parents, and this is Brendon's day. "C'mon."

Gerard grins at seeing Spencer and catches him up in a hug as soon as he's near enough to be caught. Brendon's next but Gerard just shakes Ryan's hand. Jon's clearly been chatting with him for a bit, so Spencer suspects that greeting hug has already taken place. Gerard says, "Spencer, Brendon, Ryan, this is JC."

"Spencer says you're not my birthday present," Brendon says, even as he smiles and shakes JC's hands.

"Oh my G-d, Brendon," Spencer can't help it, it just comes out of his mouth.

JC grins though and says, "No, but I brought you a good one. And Gerard got you something from Europe that he won't tell me about, so I'm betting sex toy."

Ryan's eyes might fly open at that. Gerard smacks JC's arm. "There are parents around."

"I spoke in my indoor voice," JC tells him. Gerard looks at Spencer, clearly seeking an island of sanity.

Spencer asks, "Bob's coming, right?"

Gerard says, "I hate you."

JC says, "Happy birthday, Brendon."

Brendon grins.

*


Bob shows shortly after Gerard and Spencer says, "You're late."

Bob says, "I'm so not," even as he pulls his Sidekick out of his pocket to check. He shows it to Spencer, "See, not. The invitations said three."

It's two fifty-eight. Spencer says, "Fine," clearly not appeased. Then he says, "Gerard dates JC Chasez."

Bob nods. "He does."

Spencer says, "That's kinda weird. I mean, even weirder than your pedo tendencies."

"I didn't know, Smith."

"Uh huh," Brendon says, coming up from behind Spencer. "Why Bob, did you bring me flowers?"

"They're for Mrs. Smith, monkey, hands off."

Brendon makes a face. "It's my birthday."

"And it's the first time I'm meeting my boyfriend's mom."

"You can't impress her, she already knows you took her baby in his tender years."

Bob pales.

"Brendon, you know how we get to make fun of Ryan because he's in our band but nobody else does?" Spencer asks.

"Yeah."

"Bob's my boyfriend. Not yours."

"And?"

Spencer swats Brendon, who dances away, calling, "You'd better have gotten me something good, Bryar!"

"Can I meet your mom now, before I totally lose all nerve and have to leave with my tail between my legs?"

"You have a tail?"

"Smith."

"Hey." Spencer leans up a little, kisses Bob. "She's the most easy-going person I know. Including you. Okay? Ignore Brendon. He's just happy and he gets a little reckless when he's allowed that sort of thing full-on." Spencer is so going to smack him upside the head when it's not his birthday anymore.

He takes Bob further into his house, to the kitchen where his mom is putting the finishing touches on the strawberry shortcake. She looks up and opens her mouth, probably to say, "Is there something you needed?" but upon seeing Bob she just grins for a full moment. He says, "Hi Mrs. Smith. I brought these," and holds out a full array of pansies, azaleas and irises.

"Of course you did. Spencer said you had manners."

Bob looks at Spencer. Spencer tells his mom a lot of things he probably wouldn't say directly to Bob. She comes around the counter and takes the flowers, setting them aside so that she can wrap her arms around Bob, kiss his cheek. Bob flushes under the attention, but allows it patiently. She says, "Spence, give us a moment."

"Mom—"

She looks over at him and he says, "Yes, ma'am," and goes off to see if the other My Chem guys have arrived. Ray is giving Brendon a piggy-back ride—seemingly consensually—and JC and Ryan are talking to each other, both of them with hands flying in all directions. Gerard looking on with a smile that Spencer doesn't see him wear all that often. Mikey has himself folded over Jon, who looks just fine with that, is clearly arguing good-naturedly over something with Frank. Spencer's trying to figure out what conversation he wants to get in on when Bob comes to stand beside him. Spencer says, "Well, she didn't eat you. That's of the good."

"I make the times when you can't help easier, huh?"

"She never shuts up, I swear."

"Don't disrespect your mother."

"She's my mother, Bryar, I'm pretty sure I'm the person who knows where that line is."

"She put our picture in the bedroom. In the middle of the ones with your sisters and their boyfriends."

"I know. She told me."

"Spence." Bob says the nickname softly.

"I've missed you," Spencer tells him, not sure he can handle hearing whatever Bob's about to say, building up to with that whispered address.

"Yeah." Bob pulls Spencer in front of him, wraps his arms over Spencer's stomach. "Yeah."

*


Brendon's sister Caddie shows up late, but Caddie is always late and she brings homemade cherry pie with her, which is also one of Brendon's favorites, so Spencer forgives her. Since Spencer planned the party for the thirteenth, Brendon's family held a dinner for him the night before. Notably, the band wasn't invited. When Ryan brings Brendon over in the morning, he's still smiling like he might cut himself on his own teeth if he relaxes. Jon has to tickle him for nearly half an hour straight before he bounds back on Jon, remembering why he's there, who's there with him.

Caddie gets invited because she's never given up on Brendon, and Spencer knows for a fact that she used to help him out a bit, bring him dinners on occasion, that sort of thing, when none of the rest of them would. Caddie gets invited because Brendon doesn't tense up, doesn't act like he's on a fucking stage without the benefit of the music when she's around. Brendon takes her around and introduces her to everyone and she's polite about shaking hands and smiling and acting like the names are just names but when Brendon flits off to tell Ryan a secret, Spencer watches her talk music with Ray, early My Chem music, no less. He's not terribly shocked. One of the reasons Caddie never gave up on Brendon is because she could always hear his talent, knew the scene well enough to know his dreams weren't just a phase of pissing into the wind.

Spencer gets her alone later, says, "Thanks for coming."

Caddie tenses up and says, "He's my baby brother." She looks so much like Brendon when he's defending Ryan, Spencer has to blink the vision away.

"I didn't mean it like that. I just meant, you know, I didn't invite the others and it could have been awkward and—"

"It's not that I don't love my family, but I'm not proud of how they've treated him."

Spencer just nods, because if he opens his mouth, he's going to say something unforgivable.

"So, Ray Toro."

Spencer turns to Caddie. "I thought you were a nice Mormon girl."

"As far as you know, I still am."

Spencer smirks. "Unattached and straight, so far as I know. Go with G-d."

"I always do."

Spencer finds Bob, who is very busy holding Brendon upside down and saying, quite patiently, "You gonna stop trying to figure out what's in the boxes?"

"Never!" Brendon declares. "Never! It's my birthday and you can't—"

Bob swings Brendon back and forth a little. "You were saying?"

"Can I have some cake?"

Bob laughs at that, setting Brendon gently on the ground, head-first. "Go ask Mrs. Smith."

"She's gonna make you call her mom. She hates Mrs. Smith." Brendon runs off to do as told.

Bob admits to Spencer, "She's already tried."

Spencer was pretty sure she would have. "I think I may have just set Brendon's sister on Ray."

"You're a shark, Smith." Bob grins. "I thought he had bunches of siblings."

"He does," Spencer says, but makes it clear with his tone that he doesn't want to talk about it.

Bob says, "Okay. Think he's gonna get his way with the cake?"

"My mom sucks at saying no to him."

"So we should get in on that, before Mikey totally eats us under the table."

"Mikey?"

"Don't let the skinny fool you."

Yeah, Ryan can sometimes outlast him, Brendon and Jon put together. "C'mon," Spencer says, and takes Bob's hand.

*


Panic has a rule. Spencer can't remember when it was instituted, or if they even really talked about it ever, but it's definitely a rule. Birthday and Christmas presents are all under a hundred dollars. It was easy to get carried away when those first checks came in, but even when the gifts were awesome they were a little surface, and Spencer thinks it was Ryan who finally said to him, "Just get me something that makes me think of you. Of something. . .real. Okay?"

One of Spencer's sisters has a friend who runs a silk-screening operation out of her house, so Spencer has made Brendon a t-shirt with a picture of Queen and the words, "I love pussy," superimposed over the image.

Brendon puts it on immediately, trusting his still-considerable mound of cake to Ryan with a, "Don't let anybody eat this," while stripping off his current t-shirt and pulling the new one on. Ryan takes a bite. Spencer makes an effort not to catch his mom's eye. He's probably so going to hell.

Spencer knows Ryan's real gift is the song he home-recorded and then uploaded to Brendon's Sidekick for whenever one of the band members calls him, but for party purposes, Brendon rips the paper off an expansion pack to Apples to Apples, which Brendon has made them play so many times that none of them have the capability of coming up with new adjectives for any of the nouns. Brendon squeals and makes dire promises to make them all play later—"Fresh meat," he says, with a particularly carnivorous gleam in his eye, leveled mostly at Frank.

Jon gets him a bright pink gumball machine, because Brendon is forever buying himself Skittles or M&Ms or Sprees or Sweetarts or any other kind of little candy and then losing them all over the bus, so that the rest of the guys are still finding them months later in spots that, to be honest, make Spencer pretty suspicious. Spencer doesn't think this is going to help the problem, but Brendon looks so taken by the contraption that it's entirely possible it might.

Frank has gotten him a paint-by-numbers kit. Brendon laughs so hard he falls over. Ryan pelts his napkin at Frank. Spencer's entirely sure he doesn't want to know.

Gerard's European gift is not a sex toy, it's a stein. Brendon says, "I don't drink."

Gerard says, "Wait till the coffee addiction kicks in. Then you're gonna love that thing. It's going to replace Ross in your affections."

"Really?" JC asks, face imperturbable.

Gerard says, "Um, no?" with a cross of something hopeful and abashed on his face. JC laughs and kisses him. Then he hands Brendon his gift, which is the complete collection of Radiohead's sheet music adapted for keyboard. Adapted by JC, that is, who clearly went through and did all the extra markings. Brendon is actually silent for a couple of minutes, running through the pages and Spencer watches as JC fidgets a little, says, "Obviously, I mean, we hadn't met, and all I really had to go on is what Gee says and your concert video and CD and—"

Brendon looks at Ryan apologetically. "I'm going to have to cheat on you with Gerard's boyfriend, now."

Solemnly, Ryan says, "I understand."

"Oh," JC breathes. "You like it, then."

Gerard runs his knuckles over JC's thigh, and JC leans into him a little bit.

"How long did this take you?" Brendon asks, still clearly a little awed.

"Not too long, I mean, I wanted to play the stuff anyway and from there it was just figuring out the specifics, so," JC shrugs. "I had fun."

"It's okay that you weren't my present," Brendon tells him earnestly. JC's grin is a wild thing, and Spencer sees where maybe Gerard started looking and just couldn't stop.

Mikey gives Brendon an Aveda Hair Care Package and Brendon sticks his tongue out at Mikey even though Brendon has a deep, abiding love of things that make his hair smell like trees. Ray is peering somewhat thoughtfully at the Aveda gel while Brendon opens his gift, which are tickets to a Morrissey concert. Ray says, "Don't schedule anything for that night, yeah?"

Clearly Ray doesn't know the rule, but Spencer totally forgives him, because Brendon is almost gold with happiness and Ryan is looking at the tickets like if he touches them they might crumble, blow away as all things divine must. Ray laughs a little and eats some more cake which Spencer could tell him is a mistake because the next minute he's got two armfuls of Brendon, but Ray takes it in stride, not even choking. Spencer is totally going to be Ray Toro when he grows up.

Bob mutters something about Ray being an asshole, but Spencer says, "Don't worry, he'll love yours," and Brendon does love the endless miles of contraption meant to be strewn about and worked into the bus's structure for the sake of Queen's roaming and playing pleasure. Spencer says, "We'll have to get him untangled from it more than her."

"Or you could just leave him," Bob says. Spencer's boyfriend is an evil genius. Which is, of course, why Spencer stays with him.

Caddie gives Brendon a bootleg copy of Name Taken's last show. Brendon gapes at her. "How'd you—"

"Not in any way I'm going to divulge to my younger brother."

Ray eyes her appreciatively. Spencer's mom has put together a scrapbook of the four of them, from the times Spencer's parents have come out to the shows and the times the guys have been in town, with a definite focus on Brendon. Spencer looked through it the night before, saw the things Brendon would see that his mom wouldn't necessarily. Saw the way Jon ends up in more and more pictures, the way Ryan can be found closer and closer to Brendon as time progresses.

Brendon flips through it, but Spencer also sees the way this is something he wants to spend time with, savor when there aren't people watching them. Instead he hugs Spencer's mom tight and says, "Thank you for my party. Thank you."

She hugs back and kisses his forehead and says, "Anytime, sweetie."

Spencer catches the way Gerard's eyes are a little bit fierce, the way Frank seems a little coiled. Caddie's looking in another direction altogether. Without pulling back, Brendon asks, "Can I have more cake, please?"

"May I," Spencer's mom says.

"May I have more cake, please?"

Spencer could tell him he would have gotten it anyway.

*


Bob drafts Ray, Gerard and JC into helping clean up while Mikey and Frank keep Brendon occupied with a rousing and only occasionally violent game of Apples to Apples. Spencer's mom looks at Bob and asks in a besotted tone, "So, when is my son making an honest man out of you?"

Ray says, "On his twenty-first birthday. We have the ceremony all planned."

Spencer's mom grins. "Would you like some more cake?"

"I would love some more cake," Ray tells her.

She cuts some for JC, too and says, "You're too skinny."

JC shares with Gerard, who looks a little jealous.

Jon wanders in and asks, "Need anymore help?"

"I thought you were watching to make sure they didn't burn my house down, Jonathan Jacob Walker."

"I sprayed everything down with flame retardant, ma'am."

Spencer's mom laughs, ruffling Jon's hair. Jon takes it with good grace, the way Jon takes everything. Spencer asks, "Who's winning?"

"Mikey." Jon turns to Gerard. "Has anybody tested your brother for ESP?"

Gerard shakes his head. "We just wear tinfoil hats. It works as well as anything's going to."

Jon nods. "Logical."

"Brendon getting uppity with him?" Spencer asks.

"Ryan's got it under control," Jon says, and Spencer leaves well enough alone.

With six guys who know how to move in a small space and a mom, the kitchen is clean in record time, and they fan out to the dining room and living room. Bob follows Spencer into the former and helps clean up the last of the debris. Spencer says, "It was really good of you guys to come. All of you, I mean."

"Sure you don't wanna get married and be my tour wife? I could probably get my own bus."

Spencer laughs. "You gonna let me have half your shows, too?"

"You drive a hard bargain. Okay."

Spencer rolls his eyes.

"Europe was sort of a long way away."

"We've done it before."

"I know."

Spencer nods. He missed Bob, too. He misses him in general, but when texting and phone calls aren't ready options, it's that much worse.

"You've probably gotta stay here tonight, huh?"

Spencer says, "She won't check what time I get in."

"And your dad?"

Spencer shakes his head. "What time you guys head out?"

Bob laughs. "Like five, or something. We've gotta be at the venue by one."

Spencer maybe feels a little bit guilty about that.

"We're glad we came. I don't think anyone's ever been that glad to see us at a party. Not even the time we played Ray's cousin's sweet sixteen. And that was...intense."

Spencer can just bet. "Okay."

"Come to the hotel until we leave?"

Spencer nods. "Yeah. Yes."

*


The first time happens against the door and it's so fast the two of them can barely get their dicks out, come into contact with each other, before they're coming. Spencer says, "Well, I'm impressed with us. Anyone else?"

Bob laughs. He strips Spencer's shirt off of him, says, "Oh yeah, me too."

Spencer runs his hands under Bob's shirt, dragging it up with them as he goes. Bob ducks a little, makes it easier for Spencer to discard the shirt. Spencer presses himself into Bob then, just skin on skin, no more deep urgency. Bob pushes a little bit at Spencer's pants and he shimmies the rest of the way out of them, slipping off his sandals, allowing all of it to lie in a heap. "That gonna bother you?"

"We've got seven hours. I think I can handle it."

"Atta boy." Spencer pulls Bob's pants down and Bob leans against the door so that Spencer can get them off. Spencer walks to the bed keeping his gait slow and long. Bob likes to watch, he knows. On the nightstand, there's an ice bucket. Most of the ice is melted—Bob probably got it that morning, but there are six or seven pieces hanging in there. Spencer pops one in his mouth and sucks, letting the cold soothe some of the ache in his throat that the words, "seven hours," implanted.

Bob lays down next to him, their sides running along each other. He says, "There's something—"

"Yeah?" Spencer asks.

"I'd sort of like to watch."

"What?"

"You. Getting yourself ready."

Spencer rolls over onto Bob's chest, looks at him. "Just watch?"

"Hot young thing," Bob says.

Spencer licks his nipple. Then he pulls back and sits up, situating himself against the headboard. "Where's your stuff?"

Bob reaches in the nightstand.

"For someone who didn't think I was going to be able to come back to the hotel with him—"

"Eternal optimist."

"Or something," Spencer says, and sets the lube next to him.

He starts with his nipples. Bob likes his nipples, likes touching them, nibbling at them. Spencer runs his thumb around the right one and thinks of the heat of Bob's tongue, the blunt, sweet pressure of his teeth. He pinches the nub, just a bit, at that thought. Bob whispers, "Spence," already slightly in awe. Spencer smiles, the power Bob is giving him heady and not nearly so tricky as the kind he usually has to navigate.

He lets one hand, the hand that's not still occupied with his nipples, fall to his balls and rolls them around a bit. He's still not really ready to go again, but he will be soon enough. For now he's just enjoying the damp heat of his palm against his own sensitive skin, the heavy, insistent weight of Bob's gaze on him. When he's ready—and he can hear all the words Bob is biting back—he pours some of the lube onto one hand and wraps his fist firmly around his cock. He licks his lips and locks his eyes on Bob and says, "Hey," and pulls.

It's enough to get things started. Spencer eases off after that, teasing a bit at his own head, running fingernails along his length, but in the end he returns to that strong slip/slide motion until he's saying, "Was this all you wanted?"

Evidently not, because Bob pulls Spencer's hand from his cock. "Hands and knees, Spence."

That's a little bit much to ask at this point, but Spencer's sort of interested in doing anything, anything that makes Bob keep looking at him like that. He finds his way to the position. Bob warms the lube and his fingers are thick and comfortable and almost exactly what Spencer wants. He pushes himself further onto them, ignoring Bob's laughter, or, well, snapping, "You love it," and maybe meaning, "you love me."

Bob says, "So fucking much, Spence."

Spencer's about to threaten to bring himself off if Bob doesn't get his cock where it's damn well supposed to be by this time, but when he opens his mouth what comes out is a startled screech of, "Holy shit, cold!"

Bob does laughs at that. Spencer pants as one ice-water drenched hand comes away from slipping one of the last pieces of ice inside him to settle on his hip.

"Asshole," Spencer says, and he would hold on to his righteous anger except now Bob is pushing into him, all heat and strength, and the cold has taken just enough of the edge off that Spencer can stand Bob's slow glide into him, has heightened his senses just enough that each inch is that much more than it would have been.

"Fuck," Spencer says, "fuck."

"You like that?" Bob asks, his mouth at Spencer's ear. Spencer throws his head back and Bob licks along his throat, up over his jawbone.

"Fast and hard?" Bob asks, giving an example, "or slow and sweet?"

Spencer whimpers. He knows he only gets one, only one and then he has to wait until next time, a month, maybe. Maybe more. Probably more. "Slow. Make it last."

Bob takes him at his word. Every time Spencer gets near there's a newly iced hand at his cock, bringing things back. Each pull is an eternity, each thrust longer. When Bob finally can't hold off any more, he lets Spencer come along with him. Spencer has lost all sense of space and time, except to know that he still doesn't want this to end.

Bob falls to his side, taking Spencer with him. They lie like that, damp and limp and curled in each other, for a long time, longer than they probably should. Separating is going to hurt. Bob kisses Spencer's shoulder and repeats, "Hot young thing."

Spencer repeats, "You love it."

*


At around four in the morning, wanting to take his time, Bob kisses Spencer and says, "Hey. I love you."

"Yeah, me too," Spencer tells him, and continues the kiss, obviously avoiding Bob's gaze. Bob's tired and he wants more time with his boyfriend and is not really looking forward to being on the road again, not when he feels like he barely just stepped off a plane, so he pushes the issue, grabs Spencer's chin in his hand and makes him look.

Spencer says, "I do," and it's so defensive Bob feels the words impact against his chest.

"I know. You just have a thing about saying it. And I always thought that was maybe because your family wasn't the expressive sort, but I've met your mom now, and she seems like the type who doesn't have a problem telling you, so all my guesses are used up."

Spencer sighs. "It's a Ryan and me thing."

Bob closes his eyes for a second. He should have started earlier.

"No, I didn't mean— I didn't mean I wouldn't tell you. I meant that's where it comes from."

Bob opens his eyes. Spencer looks exhausted. Bob thinks about telling him he doesn't have to say, but Spencer offering anything about him and Ryan is sort of novel, and while Bob knows he just has to wait, that these things will come in time, he isn't yet willing to turn down anything Spencer sets out. "Tell me."

"Ryan doesn't like to hear it. Because it's how his dad always said he was sorry, you know? I mean, he'd land Ryan with shiners or bruised muscles and then two days later it was all, 'you know I love you, son,' and then the next time it was always the same. I said it to him once, I just, he looked like he needed to hear it, so I draped my arm over his shoulder and said, 'I love you, Ryan,' and he said, 'Don't fucking say that, don't,' but he didn't sound mad, he sounded so completely lost and betrayed and it's been hard for me to say it to anyone since. Because they might not know what it means, they might hear it another way and then I would be saying something I wasn't saying. I don't want to say wrong things to you."

"You say things you don't mean to me all the time."

"Because you know what I mean when I say those things."

"I would know what you meant if you said real things to me, too. And if I thought I didn't, I would ask."

"I just don't want it not to— I really love Ryan, you know? He's the closest thing I have to a brother, maybe closer. I love him. And I said that and he thought I meant 'I'm done hurting you for now.'"

Bob nods. That is a serious consideration. He runs his hand up and down the length of Spencer's arm, his thumb dragging over the drumstick. "Maybe we could have other words. A code for us. I could tell you that there are, in fact, whiskers on kittens."

Spencer laughs, and Bob can tell he's not expecting it, always knows when that first explosion of happiness comes out of nowhere. "And I could tell you that yesterday was nothing compared to today. Because I have the guts to say that. I have the guts to say the other thing, too. But I like that better."

Bob sort of likes that they have their own way of saying it in any case. It's better. They haven't done anything like other people up until now. This seems an odd place to start. "Also, you are one of my favorite things."

"One of them?"

"I have a band, Smith."

Spencer sighs. "Fine."

*


"I want to meet your cat," Bob tells Spencer as an opener to their phone conversation.

"I miss you too, asshole," Spencer says sweetly.

"Reel it in, Smith."

Spencer laughs.

Bob admits, "I wouldn't mind seeing you, either."

"Horny?"

"Why else would I want to see you?"

"Evidently for my cat," Spencer says dryly.

"Thank you for not going where you could have gone with that."

"Don't think I didn't consider it."

"I know you did, hence the 'thanks'."

Spencer smiles. "You know me so well."

"Well enough to know you've probably talked to the guys by now."

Spencer doesn't say anything.

"Hey. Spencer. Pretend I'm there and shaking you a bit, okay?"

Spencer actually participates in the mental exercise. It helps. "We talked."

"Oh, am I back to being the boyfriend you can speak to without concern of other people finding out?"

"Sorry."

"Spen—"

"I said I was fucking sorry."

"I don't want sorry. Not now when you're doing what I asked you to do, and not in the future when maybe you could just trust—"

"I do trust you." Spencer can feel himself breathing like he's just gone ten rounds with someone bigger than himself.

"Okay, okay, calm down."

"I trust you," Spencer doesn't feel like calming down, "but these are my guys, which is sort of like when it was just me and Ryan and I could tell my parents, sure, but I could never tell his parents because his mom just didn't have time, she just didn't, and his dad, well, so I got used to it being us, just us, and it's like that, with the three of them and it's not that I don't trust you, okay? And I hate it when you... I hate it when I make you feel like that and then you say it and I'm not the kind of guy to just fold so I get all, you know how I get, and—"

"Stop, Spence. Stop."

Spencer stops.

"I'll find better ways to bring you out."

"This isn't your fault," Spencer says quietly.

"And the way the world is isn't yours."

"I actually know that part."

"You forget a little, sometimes."

"Not as much as Brendon."

"I'm not sure how much that says."

Spencer will give him that.

There's a stretch of silence before Bob says, "So you talked? About Pete? Gerard will be happy."

"My reason for living."

"Hush. Things are better?"

"I'm gonna try. I'm going to— Try."

"You're pretty good at the shit you try."

"I think you might have a bias."

"Probably."

"Thanks for agreeing."

"I try and make things easy on you."

Spencer can hear the smirk. He says, "You do," even though it's not clever or removed or any of the things he prefers to be most of the time.

"Good," Bob says, meeting him halfway.

*


Brendon answers the cabin door with a confused look. Bob gets it. They probably aren't expecting anyone. He's not scheduled to arrive for another couple of days. He told Spencer he had shit that needed to get taken care of home-side. He does. It can be handled when he goes to visit his mom after the Black Parade Tour ends. He's thinking about trying to convince Spencer to come up and meet her, depending on what's going on for Spencer at that point. Elation takes over for confusion within seconds and Bob opens his arms just quick enough to catch the flying projectile Brendon transforms himself into.

"Hi!" Brendon says. "Hi! Hi! Hi!"

"Hi," Bob says, and squeezes back as tightly as Brendon is squeezing—tighter, until Brendon stops breathing and goes limp in defeat. Bob puts him gently on his feet.

"Brendon," Ryan calls, "Who is it?"

"Surprise!" Brendon calls back, grinning at Bob. Bob shares the grin. He follows Brendon into the cabin. Spencer is bent over the same piece of paper as Ryan, Ryan trying to explain something. He looks up when they enter the room, opening his mouth. Brendon pre-empts anything he could say with, "Look who I found."

Spencer is already on Bob by the word, "found." Bob's arms fall around him by instinct. Bob has missed this, the insistence of Spencer's tongue, the slide of his lips, the way he just doesn't do this shit by halves. Bob has missed everything about Spencer.

Ryan says, "So, I guess I can say fuck it to getting some more group writing done this afternoon," but he's smiling at Bob.

Bob tears himself away from the kiss long enough to smile back. Spencer likes it when people who aren't fans smile at Ryan. "Sorry."

Ryan shakes his head. Jon says, "I think we can hold down the fort. Cabin. Whatever we need to hold." He makes shooing motions. "Go. Frolic. Be as one."

"I promise never to be mean about you and Pete ever again," Spencer says, taking Bob's hand to lead him hopefully somewhere private and with a bed.

"Or at least until you're done having sex with Bob," Jon says.

"Or that," Spencer agrees.

Brendon laughs. Ryan rolls his eyes. Jon says, "Asshat."

*


Spencer leaves articles of clothing in the hallway. Bob laughs, says, "Oh, hot, Smith."

"Ryan and Brendon and Jon all know how babies are made," Spencer says, and wrests Bob's shirt off of him, throwing it aside and pushing Bob into the room.

"Sure about that?"

Spencer closes the door behind them. "Well, okay, I don't know what the hell Ryan told Brendon, but he'll cover for us, regardless."

Bob laughs some more into the kiss that Spencer initiates, sloppy and hard and perfect. Spencer sinks to his knees, his tongue dragging along the surface of Bob's chest as he goes. He has Bob's pants to his thighs before he's even reached the ground, Bob's cock in his mouth as soon as his knees have made contact. And okay, yeah, Bob has, "Missed this. You. Missed you."

Spencer laughs around Bob's cock. Bob doesn't care. He can be as arrogant as he wants. Only, "Spence."

Spencer doesn't pause.

More insistently, "Spencer."

"Fucking hell, I'm building to it. I mean, I know we haven't seen each other, but come on, a little artistry—"

"Wanna suck you too."

"Wait your fucking turn."

"No, I mean—"

"Oh."

Bob pats Spencer's head. Spencer flips him off, then pulls him down to the ground. "That's a great idea."

Spencer twists, and lays down on his back. He arches a bit to get his pants down the requisite amount and then he's trying to tug Bob back into position. Bob has no issue with helping him out, straddling over him, lowering his cock into Spencer's open mouth, lips already wet from his taster course. Bob braces himself with his hands on either side of Spencer's hips and takes Spencer in. Spencer's throat closes around Bob and it's almost painful, almost too much after the month and a half or so. Bob sucks hard as a bit of revenge and manages to hold on, just.

It is unquestionably a contest then, but Bob is confident. Spencer is eight years younger than him. He doesn't care that it gives him an unfair advantage. If he's going to be mocked ruthlessly, he might as well get something out of the situation. Bob runs one thumb over the exposed skin of Spencer's ass, just a quick stroke of the soft skin. Spencer moans around Bob's cock. Bob lowers his head, takes Spencer down, down, holds him there, holds him inside, swallows around him, doesn't—can't be bothered to—care that it's hard to breathe. Spencer says something—maybe Bob's name—over, against Bob's cock, and Bob is swallowing, taking Spencer wholly into him. Mission accomplished, Bob lets Spencer have what he wants.

*


Having taken the edge off, there's time for the two of them to slip into the shower—Bob hates the way he feels when he gets off an airplane—and for Spencer to tell Bob about the drum line he's thinking of for the song Ryan's writing, how it's just a little bit off, and he doesn't always trust himself when playing it, and how that's what makes it sort of awesome, but also, scary. Spencer describes the beat and Bob thinks he can hear it in his head, but Spencer will have to play it later, when they can talk about possible options for how to make it better, easier. Ryan knocks on the door at some point after they've dried off, when they're lounging on the bed, touching each other and catching up on the parts they've forgotten to tell each other the last time they spoke. Spencer pulls a sheet over them and says, somewhat testily, "Yeah?"

Ryan pokes his head in. "We're ordering pizza. You guys want me to get an extra for you?"

"Yes," Bob says, before Spencer can open his mouth. He's been flying all day. He loves Spencer, but if there's going to be a second round, there needs to be sustenance.

Spencer says, "Red onions and pineapple with extra cheese."

Ryan says, "I'm telling Ray."

"You do that, Ross." Bob has plenty of revenge material, if it comes to that. Ryan snickers and disappears again.

Spencer says, "Think we can manage again before the food gets here?"

"Maybe you can," Bob says, looking down consideringly.

Spencer waves a hand. "I'll wait."

Bob drags a finger from the crest of one hipbone all the way across to the other. Spencer asks, softly, "You worried about Mikey?"

Bob doesn't look at Spencer as he nods. Spencer's having none of that, he puts a hand to Bob's chin, drags his face to where he needs it. Spencer says, "There are some things that can't be fixed with love. No matter what."

"Spencer—"

"No. No. You were— When you came along I was getting the fuck by. Ryan was so hidden behind his own barriers it was looking like we were going to need governmental help to uncover even the artifacts of him, and Brendon was reeling from the 'freedom' of being set out from his own and Brent was just along for the ride like it was some kind of Sunday afternoon outing. And I couldn't do a fucking thing about it, but you came and reminded me that some shit can be fixed, even if some can't. You gotta work with the stuff that can't, gotta find ways to make it just okay enough. You guys sent him home. That was what could be done. And there weren’t glass shards and scars and utter blinding fear that this was the end this time, okay? Mikey's just... Mikey. He goes as far as he can. You guys manage to carry him a little farther sometimes, but then there are gonna be times when he just has to stop."

Bob nods. He knows. It sounds better aloud, in Spencer's voice, but he knows. Still, "It's just wrong without him. I mean, Matt's nice as hell and I don't have a problem with him, none of us do, except that he's not Mikey, and poor guy, I think he knows it. Gerard, Gerard will sometimes forget in the middle of a show and turn to him, expecting it to be Mikey and his face—"

Spencer's intake of breath is sharp. "Yeah."

"It's just wrong."

Spencer draws Bob down, to where Bob's head is resting atop Spencer's chest. "He'll come back. He did before."

Bob's so fucking tired of having to go without the people he wants by him in his life. He closes his eyes. "Yeah."

"He would stay with you guys always, if he could. He would."

Bob isn't sure they're talking about Mikey anymore, but, "Yeah," Mikey would.

Spencer says, "I'll wake you when the pizza comes."

Bob says, "Whiskers," and falls asleep.

*


Ryan ends up waking the both of them when the pizza comes and they eat and then sleep some more. Spencer wakes up first and presses his lips to Bob's. Bob asks, "Would you like something?"

Spencer laces his fingers in Bob's and rolls onto his back, pulling Bob atop him. Bob is careful not to let the whole of his weight rest on Spencer. Spencer is hardy, but still smaller than Bob any way one looks at it. Spencer brings a hand up to play with Bob's hair. Bob plays with Spencer's lower lip, holding it captive between his teeth, sucking at it lightly. He lets go and asks, "You slept with anybody but me since we got together?"

"I'm only a slut for you, Bryar."

"And before it was a couple of blowjobs, handjobs, right?"

"You're the only man I will ever give my ass to," Spencer says in a breathy, high-pitched voice.

Bob smacks his hip, lightly. "I'm clean. And I don't sleep with anyone else. Ever. We could, um. If you were okay, we could, I could—"

"If you don't stop talking about barebacking me, I'm gonna come before you so much as lift my legs."

"Yes?"

"Now, Bob."

Bob lifts up just enough to drape Spencer's legs over his shoulders. Spencer reaches to the nightstand and hands Bob the lube. Bob slaps some on and slides straight in. It's good, Spencer can admit that he's sort of impatient about these sorts of things, and oh, yeah, okay, "This is the best idea you've ever had."

And Bob has had some pretty good ones. Spencer can't remember what they are at this moment, but he's quite certain they have existed. Bob says, "No kidding."

"Faster," Spencer whines.

"No. Next time."

Spencer finds Bob's hand again and squeezes Bob's fingers. "Bob."

"No, Spence. No, this is—"

"Okay," Spencer agrees, because yeah, it really is. Spencer's been thinking about a lot of things him and Bob should maybe consider, but oddly, this was never on the list. They should compare lists. Spencer will try to remember to do so when his brain can focus on more than the absolute and utter beauty of Bob's bare skin.

Bob brings the hand that Spencer is holding to Spencer's cock and Spencer makes himself breathe, makes himself hold, just for a moment because this should never, ever end, never, even if they can do it again. There's no going back on a first. Bob says, "Spence," and Spencer thinks his name sounds like a beat, like the first beat of a song, like the thing that grounds and starts and matters most. He pulls Bob into the complete maelstrom of pleasure with a gasped, "Bob."

It sounds like the final beat of a song.

*


July 2008

Bob says, "Look, I plan to get you something you will never expect and will cherish to the end of your days, but aside from that, what would you like for your birthday?"

Spencer says, "I think we should get a place together," and, okay, it's possible he had had been trying to find the right moment to say that and after waiting a bit too long, it just came right off his lips without forethought or permission.

Bob is silent for a second and Spencer opens his mouth to say, "That was a joke," when Bob asks, "Where?"

Spencer's brain halts for a second at the easy agreement and then he runs with it. There's no reason to make things more complicated than need be. "I thought Chicago would be better. That way me and my guys would have somewhere to stay when we were visiting Jon and you'd have a home to go to when you were visiting your mom, and even Pete would have somewhere to escape to when he was in the city. It's just a good idea all around."

"What about when you go home?"

"I can keep the apartment, there." There's a lengthy silence once more and Spencer says, "Look, if you don't like the idea—"

"Like a condo, or a house?"

Spencer was actually thinking more toward apartment, like Ryan and Brendon, but now that Bob has brought it up, "Hm. Condo might be better, what with the upkeep."

"Yeah," Bob doesn't sound so sure. "I like houses."

Spencer does too. They have things like yards, where dogs can play. Not that either of them would ever be home long enough to keep a dog there, but it's the principle of the thing. Also, houses just seem more...permanent. "House would be good."

"So, uh. Do you know anything about buying a house?"

"You're kidding, right?"

Bob sighs. "Mikey does."

"I could ask Pete."

"We're relying on Mikey Way and Pete Wentz for the purchase of our future homestead."

"It'll work out brilliantly," Spencer says.

*


Mikey shows Bob all the tricks to using the internet for house shopping. He passes on the wisdom to Spencer and soon there are links flying back and forth between the two of them. This means that occasionally Frank will manage to sneak an entirely outlandish suggestion in there—the Bavarian castle looking thing out in Decatur of all places—or Brendon will stick advertisements for backyard water parks in between Spencer's ideas, but mostly, it's a good system. They try to arrange for a combined visit, but Spencer is finishing up a tour, Bob is starting one, and there's just no good way to meet up. Spencer says, "You think you can take some time when you're there at the end of the month?"

He hates asking, but it's the first chance either of them have to actually look at any of these places. "I mean, your mom wouldn't mind, would she? Going with you?"

"She'd probably be thrilled. You realize none of the others are going to let me leave them, either, don't you?"

"Ray might."

"Maybe." Bob's tone brightens a bit.

"Look on the bright side. You'll have actually seen the place. I probably won't until after we sign."

"I dunno, Spence—"

"They aren't just going to put the houses on hold forever, and I don't finish up for another month."

"So you'll come out and look in a month. What's still there is still there. We can always start over."

"And when are you going to get back?"

"I could probably do an overnight sometime later that month."

"Problem still stands."

"It's our house. I can't decide on it for us."

"Except that I've seen the pictures, we've made preliminary decisions, and I trust you. So, yes, you can."

Bob growls. "If you hate it, I'm still making you live there with me."

Spencer pretends he's not totally turned on. "That's fine, you're the one who has to hear me bitch and moan."

"There's no winning with you."

"None ever."

*


Bob's mom asks, "You sure you need me? I think the traveling circus will provide you the full range of possible opinions."

Bob says, "You're my mom."

"As true a statement as any ever was."

Bob laughs and kisses her head. "Besides, none of them has an eye for the feminine."

"Oh honey," she sighs. "Gerard and Mikey far outstrip my abilities in that area."

He laughs some more, but when he thinks about it, she's probably right. Also, JC—who almost always comes to their Chicago shows, since he can see his parents and Gerard all in one go—is coming along with, and JC definitely outdoes all of them so far as that aspect is concerned. The realtor looks a little overwhelmed by the small circus Bob has brought with him. Ray smiles at her and says, "I promise we've all had our shots." Bob's mom snorts, JC giggles, the realtor does not look at all reassured.

The first house seems nice, but Mikey points out all the ways that moving furniture in is going to be a bitch. Mikey seems pretty excited about it, actually, but then, Mikey tried to convince Bob and Spencer to let him construct every last piece of furniture, up to and including their bed. The second house is all well and good, but—as Frank first points out, then Gerard, then JC, then even Ray—it's kind of boring.

Gerard says, "I don't think it's a good plan to be presenting Spencer Smith with a boring house. He'll whip out his bitch face."

"You're one to talk," Bob says. Bob doesn't like the neighborhood of the third house—it's cookie cutter-ish and creepy, and the fourth one is a little too far from his mom's place for his own comfort. The fifth one is the one that Spencer voiced reservations about, saying, "I dunno, it looks like somewhere my grandmother would live."

Bob had said, "I like old-fashioned."

The inside of the house, however, belies its facade, the wood floors a light maple, well-polished, the carpets thick and in tasteful colors, the lay-out breezy and open and Bob calls Spencer and asks, "How much of a problem would it be, living in your grandmother's house?"

Gerard grabs the phone. "Say not a problem, say not a problem."

JC gently pries the phone from him. "This place really is spectacular, Spence."

"Totally," Frank says into the mouthpiece, simply inserting himself into JC's space.

Bob hears Spencer say, "Could I please speak to my boyfriend again?"

Bob takes the phone from JC. "Hi."

Spencer asks, "What does your mom say?"

"That she's driving out here to use our tub."

"Well, that's a selling point."

"Spence, seriously. There's space to put in a studio if we want and still have room for at least three of the guys to visit at once. And it's us. I swear."

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"I told you I was trusting you."

"Well, yeah, but this is a house."

"I'm not even twenty-one and wealthy. I can buy myself another one if I so desire."

Bob laughs.

*


Brendon says, "I'm so coming over here to take a bath."

"You and Bob's mom can share," Spencer tells him.

"Um," Ryan says. Jon laughs. Brendon has already made it through the house twice, so far as Spencer can tell, but Spencer's still working his way through the living area, into the kitchen. Jon is staring out the wall of windows in the eating area of the kitchen onto a yard that stretches quite some way. The master bedroom—accompanied by everybody's favorite bathtub—is on the first floor, along with the study that Bob was talking about turning into a studio. The second floor houses three sizable rooms. Spencer looks out the windows of one of them onto the front yard, the quiet street that is home to other single-family houses, all somewhat quaint and like something out of a coffee table book on Americana.

From the doorway to the room, Ryan asks, "Not what you were imagining?"

"I didn't— I hadn't really thought about it in terms of it being a house, you know?"

"Oh." Ryan comes to stand beside him.

"You thought I was disappointed?"

"You're being a little quiet. I wasn't the only one who noticed."

"Just the one appointed to come talk to me about it."

"I'm Ryan. You're Spencer."

It's a good point. Spencer is quiet for a moment, at which point he says, "He saw us in this place."

Ryan nods. "It gets hard, after a while, doesn't it, not to see your other person everywhere?"

"No, but. I mean, he looked at other houses before this one. This one was where he saw us."

"It looks like home, Spence. I don't even know what the fuck that means and I know this place is it."

Spencer calls the lie. "You know."

"A little bit. Mine looks different. Still."

"Still," Spencer agrees.

"You? Do you see the two of you here?"

If Spencer closes his eyes, that's all he sees. That, and nothing else.

*


Bob's furniture—what little he has—is mostly pre-MCR purchased and not at all acceptable for their new house. Spencer's needs to stay in Nevada where it will still be needed at times. Mikey says, "I really could make you a kitchen table."

Bob tells Spencer, "I'm starting to think he's going to cry if he doesn't get to assemble something."

"Kitchen table sounds good to me," Spencer says. "Just make sure it matches the wood in there, all right?"

"I got us an interior designer."

"Really?"

"It was that or let chaos, mayhem, romance and panic have their way with the house."

"True," Spencer grants. "Who is it?"

"I have no idea. Someone Jace's mom recommended. She has a really nice place."

"Maybe I should meet this person."

"I emailed you her phone number."

"Yeah, I had an email leak, you're gonna have to send it to my new addy."

"Way to keep me updated on these things."

"It happened a day ago."

"We've spoken twice since then."

"I can't imagine me thinking you didn't need my new email just yet."

Bob makes a noise of amusement. "Whatever. So Mikey can assemble the kitchen table?"

"And the coffee table and the nightstands, for that matter."

"Seriously?"

"Shit, if he wants to get in on the entertainment center, that's all him."

"He's going to love you more than he loves me."

"That was always the plan."

"You're the worst boyfriend ever," Bob accuses.

"You keep telling yourself that."

*


Spencer tells Ellen The Interior Designer—as Brendon likes to call her—"We want to keep as much of the natural light of the place as we can."

Bob says, "And we want the furniture to be comfortable."

Spencer adds, "And places to put to pictures. Of people."

Bob finishes with, "We really just want to be able to live there. Like a home."

Ellen says, "Easier than what people usually want from me."

She finds them what looks to be the best couch ever. Spencer can't know for sure until he's allowed Brendon to divebomb it, Ryan to curl up in it and Jon to lounge on it, but it looks awfully promising, and it fits really nicely in the living room, so far as he can tell from the pictures. She manages the same feat with their bed, and actually coordinates with Mikey to find classy furniture that he can put together with his very own bass-playing hands.

She asks if she can see these pictures of people and Bob and he coordinate to find the pictures they most want on their walls and send them to her. She gets them tastefully framed and placed in positions where natural light will show them off throughout the whole of the day. She makes their bathroom into a mecca of relaxation and zen and despite the fact that he knows he's going to be fighting off Ryan and Brendon for time in his own tub, he tells Bob, "Ellen was the best idea you've ever had."

"Ever?" Bob asks.

Spencer thinks about it. "There was that time with the ties. Hm. And giving up condoms. And— Nope, yeah, best idea ever."

"If you were here, I would throw my drumstick at you."

"How are you going to play with only one?"

"I keep extras," Bob informs him, "just in case I need to beat little shits like you down."

"That's hot, why have you never told me that?"

"A man's gotta have some secrets."

"What else aren't you telling me?"

"Wouldn't you like to know."

"I bet I could get it out of you," Spencer challenges.

"Not over the phone."

"Well, but then, you can't throw your drumstick at me either. For the moment, we're even."

"When we see each other—"

"All bets are off," Spencer says. Yeah, they're in complete agreement on that score.

*


Spencer gets the key in the mail. Brendon buys him an MCR keychain, which makes Spencer roll his eyes, but he also puts the key on there. He takes it everywhere with him, despite the fact that the house is in Chicago and he won't be seeing it for another month, since that was the first chance Bob had to make it out there, and Spencer didn't really feel like spending time in their house alone. Not the first time. The plan is to spend five days there together and then have a housewarming party with the others. After that it's back to touring for both of them; Bob on their current tour, Spencer on the second leg of their last one.

They give interviews and Spencer has to keep himself from talking about the house because as far as the general public knows it's Bob's. It just makes more sense, geographically. Brendon's good about it and talks even more than usual to pick up the slack. Spencer buys him a lot of candy in appreciation, which both Ryan and Jon have started trying to find ways of diverting from its final destination. He watches the interviews where Bob talks about the house—he actually talks, too, which is rare and fun for Spencer. Bob smiles when he talks about it, and the interviewers have noticed, but Spencer doesn't think they know anything. Bob's just not much of a smiler for anyone other than his boys. And Spencer. (And, okay, Spencer's boys and JC. It is, admittedly, an ever-widening circle. One that has not yet extended to include—and probably never will—journalists.)

Frank makes fun of him whenever the topic comes up, but then, he's Frank. Mikey is almost as excited as Bob. Gerard is just glad to have somewhere he and JC can escape to when they're in Chicago. Ray is happy for Bob and otherwise doesn't seem to have much of an opinion on the subject.

The key swings lightly against Spencer's hip, stuck on his belt loop. Every time it hits he thinks, "Home," and, "soon," and, "Bob". Not necessarily in that order. It is the nicest rhythm he's ever found.

*


Bob arrives slightly before Spencer, so he's able to pull Spencer in the door and kiss him like the two of them might not have mouths come morning. Spencer manages, "Let's just start here," between kisses.

They have pondered where to christen first in their new house and had decided the studio had a nice thematic ring to it, but yeah, Spencer's right. "Mmhm."

Bob's hands go to Spencer's pants, Spencer returning the favor. Bob slips his hand around Spencer's cock just as Spencer's fingers close on his. "Missed you," he works out against Spencer's lips.

"Bob," Spencer says.

They move sideways a bit—mostly just from the momentum of the pleasure and the kissing. Bob finds the wall with his shoulder, and that's useful, because otherwise he's not sure how much longer he would have been standing. Spencer's fingers are calloused in all the right places, and long and knowing and just, Spencer's fingers, and Bob is and always has been a weak, weak man in the wake of the force that is Spencer Smith. He can admit it. Well, not to Ray, but that's something else entirely.

Bob tightens his fingers, laps up the mewl that it occasions from Spencer. Spencer bucks into Bob's hand and comes, messy and exactly, exactly what Bob missed so fucking much. Spencer gives a particularly concerted pull and Bob follows it, coming as implicitly commanded. Once they're safely on the floor, Bob says, "This is really nice wood."

Spencer laughs.

*


Ellen has pinned a number of order-in menus to the fridge with magnetized clips. Spencer says, "I'm marrying Ellen," and finds one for pizza.

"I'm feeling threatened," Bob tells him.

"What do you want?" Spencer asks.

Bob waves a hand. "Whatever."

Spencer celebrates the not-entirely-new (at least a year old) fact of Bob having finally given up his veganism and orders them hamburger and green peppers. They eat slowly so that Bob will have time to tell Spencer how Mikey's holding up on the new tour and what kinds of crazy-ass shit the fans have pulled and that Ray is actually dating a girl, as in, monogamously. Spencer, in turn, will tell Bob about Queen's latest escapades, and Ryan's newest ideas for the next album, and Jon's attempts to learn the harmonica. When they're done eating, Spencer takes the plates and goes to the sink to wash them.

Bob comes up behind him, turns the water off and says, "The studio really can wait."

Spencer's got his pants around his thighs at the touch of Bob's fingers to the tap. There's unscented hand lotion by the sink--Spencer really loves Ellen--and Bob grabs it, using it to help him slide two fingers into Spencer. Spencer bends a little further over the sink, his arms braced on the counter. "Oh, you complete romantic."

Bob twists just right. "You know it."

He pushes in just as Spencer's about to threaten dire consequences if he doesn't get some dick, and soon. Spencer's hips are pressed almost too tightly to the clean Corian edge of the counter, his hands slipping on the water that sprang up from the sink. His cock is rubbing against the smooth wood of the cabinets and, "Yeah, Bob, fuck, like that."

"Greedy," Bob murmurs.

"You bet," Spencer says, and takes everything Bob has to give.

*


The master bathroom ends up being before the studio as well, because Bob is getting off tour and Spencer has flown all day and they're both feeling a little more ragged around the edges than they'd like to admit. Bob runs a bath in the huge all-of-Panic-with-room-to-spare sized tub. Spencer flips on the jets and the two of them sink into the water, Spencer with a jet at the small of his back, Bob with one between his shoulder blades. The jets are on a timer and when they go off, Spencer lets himself slip beneath the surface of the water and float for a moment before emerging, warm and wet. Bob reaches out and wraps his hand around one of Spencer's wrists. "C'mere."

It isn't hard for Bob to pull him through the water. Spencer folds himself onto Bob's lap and they kiss, lazily for a while. When he's ready, Spencer shifts Bob a little so that he can turn into him, can brush their cocks against each other. Bob says, "I dunno, Spence—"

Spencer says, "Whatever, okay? Just. Just kiss me."

It's slow, but that's what Spencer wants just now. It's not even really about the pleasure, although that's a nice side effect. The intimacy is intense, perfect, exactly what he wants, needs. Bob does respond, although it takes him longer. That's fine, Spencer's not in a rush. For once, they don't have to be anywhere else.

Spencer presses a button and the mess drains away with the bath water. He pulls both of them carefully to their feet and grabs the towels waiting patiently on the side of the bath. When they're dry, they crawl into bed, Spencer sprawling wholly over Bob, and let the length of the day take them.

*


They finally get to the studio later that day, when they've slept quite a bit more, and eaten lunch. And chocolate cake. Spencer was very insistent about the chocolate cake. Bob thinks it's because he needs the caffeine to carry on with his diabolical plan to kill Bob. Bob's actually sort of behind that.

Bob sits on the chair for the drum kit and Spencer does most of the work, straddling Bob's thighs, setting the pace, making things last. When he is done, Bob holds him up, because Bob has a chair back providing support. Spencer laughs. "Only five rooms to go."

"Five?"

"Well, I don't really wanna do it in the basement, it's kinda creepy down there. Or the attic. I mean, unless—"

"I had counted four."

"Living room, other three bedrooms, utility room."

"Utility room? Spencer—"

"Shut up. You're going to do me against or atop the washing machine while it's running and you're going to like it."

"Listen, if I die before the end of this—"

"You do know the old thing is a joke, right?"

"—week, there are some things you need—"

Spencer laughs and kisses Bob. "We can do a couple tomorrow, and a couple the day after that. Deal?"

"You are most patient with me."

"You bet I am."

*


Bob's mom picks Spencer's parents up at the hotel and brings them out early on the morning of the party. Early enough that neither Spencer nor Bob is dressed yet. When Spencer peeks out the spyhole he says, "Oh fuck."

Bob calls, "What's wrong?"

"Your mom is at the door and I'm in my boxers."

"She knows we have sex, Smith."

That's totally not the point. Particularly as they hadn't even been having sex. They'd been sleeping. Spencer stands behind the door and opens it to let them all in. When he closes the door, his mom laughs at him. "Good morning, pumpkin."

Spencer rolls his eyes, but lets her ruffle his hair and hug him and kiss him, because she's his mom and he actually really misses those things. His dad pulls him in for a hug, too. Bob's mom says, "Hi sweetcheeks."

Spencer laughs. She asks, "Wanna go get dressed and then show us around the place?"

He gets them set up in the living room. "Bob's probably putting pants on. He'll be out in a minute."

He's pretty sure Bob's mom says something about him having been out for a while. Spencer just keeps walking. One does not feed the bears at a zoo. Bob's in the shower and Spencer just climbs on in with him. Like their bath they have a regularly sinful shower, more than large enough for the both of them, with a built in ledge upon which to sit and a completely clear frame, excellent for watching from the outside, if one should so choose. Amazingly, they actually make it out of said shower without getting distracted. Mostly, Spencer thinks, because there's nothing less sexy than knowing your parents are sitting two rooms over.

They throw on some clothes and then head back out to show off their brand-new adult-person domain. Spencer's mom is jealous of his kitchen, his father impressed by the studio. Bob's mom looks like she might be close to crying, but she doesn't say anything, so Spencer can't tell exactly. He's pretty sure it's from happiness, in any case.

"What time is the food due?" Bob asks.

"Jon and his parents and Pete and my guys are supposed to take care of that. So, if Jon has his way, noon, when it's supposed to be. If Pete, Ryan or Brendon get their way?"

"Yeah," Bob says and wanders off to start setting out the paper goods.

*


The food arrives at twelve fifteen, which is almost like noon, so Spencer figures Jon must have put down the rebellious masses. Spencer's mom gets to coddling Ryan and Brendon immediately. Spencer and Bob help Jon and Pete and Jon's parents lay the food out. Pete ends up taking a second trip out to the car with Spencer who asks, "How's it going?"

"I don't think they hate me," Pete asserts, which is sort of like optimism from him on this issue, so far as Spencer's concerned.

"You'd know," Spencer says. He's seen Jon's parents come into accidental contact with some of Jon's exes.

"I had an actual conversation with his dad about baseball. And I'm pretty sure I didn't sound like a complete moron."

"There you go."

"I'm better with basketball, but that's not his sport."

Spencer rubs at Pete's shoulder a bit.

"His mom said I was more handsome in person. I'm not sure if that means she thinks my pictures are ugly—"

"I think it means she was glad to finally meet you. You kinda put them off, Pete. With living in the same city, and owning our label, and all."

"Jon says it was about two years before your parents met Bob."

"Different city, different label. We had been trying, not avoiding it."

"Parents are sort of hit and miss with me. I look trashy at first glance. And I'm on a lot of magazine covers."

"Bob was sort of death-metal looking when I first started dating him. And on a lot of magazine covers. The sign of a good parent is one who trusts their kid enough to make good decisions. And Jon's parents are winners. Also, you don't look trashy at any glance, and if Jon heard you saying that he'd be heartbroken."

Pete smiles a little. "Yeah. Jon."

Spencer swallows back a laugh. "I'm glad it's going well. We gotta get back in there before they come out looking."

They haul trays out of the back of Jon's parents' SUV and head back inside.

*


Spencer introduces Ryan, Brendon, Jon and Pete to Bob's mom. She says, "They're just not as scary looking as Bob's crew."

"Only at first glance," he reassures her.

When she has her back turned, Brendon and Ryan both stick their tongue out at Spencer. He shakes his head. "I don't even know who is the bad influence upon whom."

Pete laughs. "Can I take credit?"

"Always," Jon tells him. Spencer drags Pete off to meet his parents, since he, Joe, Patrick, Andy, Brian and Matt will be the only people at the party they haven't met, and Pete dates one of his band members.

Spencer's dad shakes Pete's hand and says, "Nice to meet you."

His mom kisses Pete's cheek and says, "So this is the cutie who makes Jonathan such a happy boy." She pats his shoulder. "Good on you, Peter." Pete glows.

Ray shows up with Joe, Brian and Matt. Patrick and Andy come around a little bit later. Spencer asks, "Sarah couldn't make it?"

"There had better be chocolate at this thing," Patrick says, quite stridently.

Spencer squeezes his arm. "And plenty of it."

JC, Gerard, Mikey and Frank all show up last, which surprises nobody. Gerard looks happy to be in Chicago. Spencer would laugh at him, but their entire house probably smells like sex, and he doesn't trust Gerard Way not to bring that up in front of Spencer's parents. Bob gives Frank a noogie and says, "About time. Let's eat."

*


Despite the fact that Frank's already seen all of them, Mikey shows him the stuff he made. Bob rubs a little at Mikey's shoulders and says, "You made my house nice."

Mikey ducks his head. "That was Ellen."

Bob musses his hair and leaves him to his delusions. Gerard has JC on his lap on the couch. Ryan and Spencer are taking up the extra spaces, chatting with them. Joe and Brendon are busy mocking Matt mercilessly, while Brian and Patrick check out the cabinetry. Brian, Bob knows, has been thinking about a house forever.

Jon and Pete are hanging out on the porch, where the parents have formed a core of solidarity. Jon is leaning against the house, his hand against Pete's back. Pete is talking with all three mothers. Jon and Spencer's dads are watching, clearly doing their best not to look amused. In Bob's opinion, they are failing miserably, but that's just Bob. Bob's mother breaks off from the conversation to head toward him. He leads her through the house, out to the backyard.

She makes him bend down for her so that she can give him a kiss. "You know I complain when all those tourists come in and want me to serve them—"

"Mom—"

"Hush you, I'm talking. But I don't mind it so much, not really. Because they're right, you know? You turned out the kind of kid a mom should have people wanting to meet her over."

"Yeah, well, that was all you."

She rolls her eyes. "Me and the television and a veritable mountain of microwave dinners."

"Mom."

"I'm just saying. You could have been trouble. But you weren't, ever."

"There were some times."

"Not big ones. Nothing that would outweigh this moment, that's for certain."

"You sure you don't want me to help—"

"You help, and no, I don't want anymore. A woman has to have her pride, all right?"

Bob sighs and leaves off. There will always be another time for this argument. Spencer finds them and says, "Oh, am I interrupting?"

Bob's mom pulls him outside and says, "Yes," even as she keeps a firm arm around his shoulders.

"Okay then," Spencer says, bumping hips with her. He looks over at Bob and smiles his fucking smile and Bob says, "Okay."
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