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Brent talks about bringing Brendon around for a while before he actually does so, so Ryan is prepared for this guy, this fourth person, this unknown entity. Which is not to say that he is prepared for Brendon. The first thought he has in regard to Brendon is, Are you serious with this? in Brent's general direction, because Brendon obviously has trouble with the concept of shutting the fuck up. Ever.

The second thought, or, well, the first thought after the initial one that sounds any different is, Yes, after accidentally catching a couple of bars of Brendon singing along to Friday, I'm in Love. Ryan then backpedals, and thinks, whoa, hey, what? But Brendon's voice really is something, which is just fucking unfair. Brendon can already play the piano and the bass and there has to be some sort of cap on how much talent can be crammed into one—really tiny—person. It confuses him, wanting to give his lyrics to Brendon's voice but not to Brendon.

After the third or fourth time Brendon comes around Spencer drives Ryan home and says on the way there, "If you don't want him to come back—"

"He talks a lot," Ryan says. He hasn't had a lot of quiet in his life, and he likes music for the way it silences most of the other stuff. He values not so much a lack of sound as a lack of noise. Brendon is noisy.

"He's kinda funny, though."

Ryan looks over at Spencer, who puts up with a lot for the sake of his friendship. Ryan knows Spencer doesn't think he notices—wouldn't want him to notice—but he does. "You like him?"

"He's smart. And for all he talks, he's pretty good at listening, too."

Which Spencer would be much more likely to know, because for all that Ryan doesn't talk much, he stopped listening to all but a few people years ago. Spencer's on the list. Probably at the top. Spencer, though, Spencer listens in ways Ryan didn't know other people could, he listens with his hands and his stomach and his shoulders. His ears are just the beginning.

"Yeah?"

"You're quick to judge," Spencer tells him. Ryan nods. He is. It keeps him safe in most instances, when it isn't busy screwing him over.

"And you're, y'know, harsh, at times."

Also a fairly solid defense mechanism.

"Still, if you want—"

"Jesus, Spence, pretend like I'm not an asshole for a couple of minutes, wouldya?"

"This is your thing, Ry. Your. . .thing."

Ryan contemplates all the words that probably exist in Spencer's pause between "your" and "thing". Your space, your safety, your creation. But Ryan hasn't had much of anything that he has valued on his own since he was five and the ice cream truck had pulled up to Spencer's house. Spencer had begged his mom for money and she'd given them enough for one thing, said, "Share, boys," and Spencer actually had. His mom, his money, his yard, but he'd just asked, "What do you want?" and then prodded Ryan until he'd offered up an opinion. Ryan says, "It's yours, too, your thing."

Spencer smiles slightly, eyes still on the road. "I don't like him that much."

"But you like him."

Spencer shrugs. "He's basically a good guy."

"He's gonna be our lead singer," Ryan says softly.

Spencer is quiet for a long time. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Ryan says, so that the decision has been made and Spencer has heard it and he can't change his mind before the next band meeting. He knows it's the right decision. The more he hates making one, the more correct it generally is.

"The offer doesn't go away after tonight."

No, Spencer is pretty much always willing to do Ryan's dirty work for him. Ryan tries to keep that from happening as much as he can. "Sure."

"Ry—"

"He probably just takes some warming up to."

Spencer's laugh is more a huff of breath than anything. "Doesn't everyone with you?"

"Not you."

Spencer reaches over with one hand and ruffles Ryan's hair. Ryan leans into the touch.

*


Ryan's right about Brendon's voice, but that doesn't really surprise Spencer, because Ryan has the annoying tendency of being right about most things that matter. Even the things where not only Spencer, but Ryan wishes he weren't. Brendon makes their sound come together and—for the first time since they were twelve and Ryan said, "I think we could make a pretty cool band," in that way that he has of saying things when he knows he's going to be denied what he wants—Spencer considers the fact that this might actually work out. There might be gigs and kids hanging out in clubs that they're probably too young to legally gain admittance to who say, "Yeah, have you heard of that Panic band? Panic something. They're good."

Which is nice, because originally Spencer mostly agreed to the band thing so that Ryan could get what he wanted, which happens all too rarely. Also, Spencer likes the drums. He really, really likes the drums. They're steady, steadying, and their sound is large and strong and all the things Spencer can be metaphorically, but not always physically. Although, playing them as much as he has been of late is causing him to bulk up a little, which is not an unappreciated side effect. Spencer's more than used to utilizing words and facial expressions to ward off the kids who have come after him and Ryan over the years for one reason or another: the closeness of their friendship; the smell of blood in the water that Ryan sometimes exudes after the worst of his stays with his father; their less-than-impressive stature; their actual interest in things like Queen and well, things that aren't precisely top 40 anymore. Still, having the ability to actually beat the crap out of someone, even if he wouldn't take the opportunity, is sort of appealing.

Ryan chooses a random day wherein Brendon's singing background, as he always does, and just stops playing and turns around and says, "Actually, this would work better with you singing lead."

Brendon blinks and smiles and says, "Yeah, funny, come on, man, let's practice."

"Seriously," Ryan says, "you have the better voice."

Brendon shakes his head, leans into his guitar, strums a bit. "Shut up, Ross."

"Jesus, Urie, it’s my fucking—"

This is clearly going nowhere good, so Spencer cuts in with, "You really do, Brendon," and sends Brent a look of I-swear-if-you-don't-agree. . .. Brent nods his head. Spencer reiterates, "Really."

Brendon looks at all of them like maybe there's something in the water. "Okay, I guess."

Ryan says, "Okay," but smiles like he's won a prize, one of his rare, truly excited smiles. It always makes Spencer think of that Christmas when he asked for a guitar and actually got it and dragged it over to Spencer's—it was pretty much as big as Ryan at the time—so that he could play it into the night and not have to worry about being yelled at. Spencer's parents are, and always have been, a bit indulgent of Ryan.

Brendon smiles back, a sweet, wide, equally excited smile, still shaking his head. "Whatever, you're gonna regret it. But then I'll be lead singer and all the girls will be perving all over me and you won't be able to replace me because—"

Ryan shoves the microphone into his face. "Shut up and sing, Urie."

"—I will be the band and—"

Spencer rolls his eyes and strikes up a beat. Brendon finally stops talking so that he can start playing and then he leans into the microphone and opens his mouth and Spencer thinks, Jesus, yeah, maybe this is going to work.

*


Ryan dreams in words but he mostly can't remember them when he wakes up. Sometimes he'll write down the fragments that are left, see if he can make sense of them later. Normally he can't.

Spencer helps with that, a little. Not the words part—Spencer says he thinks in beats and Ryan believes him, because he's always on the right one, musically and otherwise. Spencer uses words when need be but he doesn't trust them the way Ryan does. Words have been Ryan's sidekick and weapon for as long as he can remember, and if he is nervous about giving them up to an audience of strangers, his need to purge some of the letters, morphemes, syllables that clutter inside his head outweighs that anxiety. They mean to help, he knows, and he doesn't blame them, but Ryan only has so much room inside himself.

Sometimes he wishes he were more of a talker. He envies Brendon's ability to just empty himself out, seemingly without struggle or thought. He wonders if maybe, when Brendon's saying his words for him, if some of that envy will go away, if there will be more appreciation. Jealousy is a defining factor of Ryan's life, but he hates it in the same way he hates the violence and repetition and loss.

Ryan doesn't show Brendon the lyrics to the first song, the first one that he finishes with Panic in mind, with Brendon's voice in mind, with the awareness that somebody will actually be speaking for him, until they're ready to be sung. Spencer and his mom have tried, they have both tried so hard, but Ryan has never known how to say, "here, use these," and give them his words. Brendon is the first person he's had a system for peddling them out with. He wishes it were Spencer.

Brendon though, when he reads through, says, "Jesus, Ross. You sure you wanna give me these?"

Ryan nods. He really, really is sure, doesn't miss the feel of forcing his voice to go places it has never wanted to go. Brendon sighs. "Okay, well, I guess I can't tell you what's right for you."

Ryan looks away. There haven't been all that many people in his life who have gotten that.

"C'mon," Brendon jumps up and down a bit. "C'monc'monc'mon, let's do this."

Behind him, Ryan hears Spencer snort softly. He starts up the count and as always it's perfect, perfect. Ryan fits his breathing to it, always more willing than he should be to let Spencer carry him for a bit. He's no more than breath and sound by the time his fingers fall fast along the strings that are tight and still in anticipation. Ryan loves that they thrill at his touch, has never needed anyone to respond to him the way he requires that his instrument does. Ryan is so caught up in the sensory pleasure of the song coming together, thread by thread by thread, that it should be shocking, Brendon's voice.

It's just another instrument. It's just another of Ryan's instruments, his words playing out on the chords. Brendon sings like he's listened, like he knows what Ryan is saying, like he knows how much it needs to be said. Until this moment, Ryan hasn't even realized that he has expected Brendon to betray the trust Ryan placed in him, expected him to trivialize Ryan's metaphors, to minimalize the clean slide of his rhymes. Brendon makes it all more, so much more than Ryan even knew it was. Not more than he needed it to be.

The song ends, because songs do that, no matter how much a person might wish otherwise, and Brendon throws his glance over at Ryan. His tone is casual but his eyes are dark, too dark, as he says, "You had enough?"

Ryan is scared that he will never, ever get enough.

*


Spencer picks up the phone. "Hey, Ry."

"Can you come get me? Mom needed the car, so she dropped me off, but I need you to come get me now."

Spencer doesn't have to ask where he is. He really wishes Ryan would stop going to his father's when his mom needs the car, but Ryan's sense of responsibility and love toward his father is what it is. "I'll be there in a few."

When he arrives Ryan is in the garage, holding an icepack to his wrist. Spencer knows the answer, but all the same he asks, "You need to see someone?"

Ryan shakes his head. "Can I stay at your place tonight? Mom's already kinda pissed that I wanted to check up on him."

Spencer sympathizes, but he also gets that Ryan's dad is his dad, and there's literally nothing in the world that can change that. "Yeah. Mom's making chili, she'll be glad to have you and your unnatural lack of taste buds around." Spencer loves his mom, but she has a slightly overwhelming affinity for cayenne. Ryan's the only person he knows who doesn't mind at all.

"Wanna pick up some ice cream? That's always good afterward."

And by "good," Ryan means the only thing in the known world that will help Spencer's mouth return to a vaguely 98.5 degree level. Spencer makes a U-ie and heads to the grocery store.

"Sprinkles?" Ryan asks hopefully. Spencer snorts. At the grocery store he lets Ryan put maraschino cherries and rainbow sprinkles and crushed peanuts in with the ice cream.

When they get back to the house, Spencer's mom shouts, "Spencer James Smith, I swear I told you to—"

"Empty the dishwasher," he heads her off. Ryan shuffles in behind him and kisses Spencer's mom's cheek and says, "My fault, Mrs. Smith. I'll help."

Spencer will only let him do the stuff that takes one hand. His wrist is starting to bruise and while it doesn't seem to be anything more than wrenched, Spencer's not willing to find out the hard way. Spencer's mom catches his eye for a moment and Spencer shrugs. She asks Ryan, "Honey, does your mom know where you are?"

Ryan flinches. "I'll go call her."

Ryan wanders off into the other room. Spencer says, "I really was gonna empty the dishwasher. I'll even go set the table, to make up for it."

"Is it just the wrist?"

"I think so."

"And he wouldn't let you take him to urgent care?"

"Mom."

She sighs.

"He's gonna stay here tonight."

"I know the signs, sweetie."

From the living room, he can hear Ryan's voice, tense with frustration and a sense of having disappointed everyone, "—I know, all right? Yeah. Yeah. Tomorrow. I promise. I promise, okay? Yeah. Fine."

Spencer slips into the room as Ryan is pressing the "end" button on his phone. "Come on, no free ride, you gotta help me with the table."

Ryan simulates the sound of a whip being cracked and follows Spencer obediently to the cabinet with the plates.

*


The first time Ryan has sex is with a girl named Cordelia May Trent. She goes by Delia. She's a little bit punk, but mostly she's a fantasy geek. She wears black ribbons in her hair and has her nose pierced and smiles a lot for someone who likes music about excessive drug use. She smiles at Ryan a lot.

It's not her first time. She says, "I'm not a slut," when she tells him that, and Ryan shakes his head. "No."

She tastes of cinnamon gum and the Honey Nut Cheerios she's always got in her backpack. She's a compulsive muncher, and soft with it. Ryan likes the way her curves curve, the way she is so utterly different from him. He likes the way she lets him take the ribbons out, and run his fingers through her hair, and the way she doesn't laugh when he undresses. Mostly he likes the way she touches him. It's kind and insistent and doesn't hurt him but doesn't suggest that he's the type who can be hurt easily.

He sleeps with her for about four months before she goes off to college and they both like each other, but nowhere near to that much. Ryan finds that it is almost no problem to let her go, but the sensation of touch, his now-reliance on physical kindness—were anyone else to know, he thinks it would surprise nobody more than him—is impossible to give up. He tries. He tries for a month, almost two. Then he drives himself to the outskirts of Vegas with his fake ID and the money he saved from his last birthday and spends a couple of hours with a girl who isn't pretty and doesn't really care about him but who, for the right amount, will touch him the way he wants, needs to be touched. Sort of.

Ryan ignores the part where he can smell money in the room, her boredom, can feel her professional politeness, her pity. After that, Ryan decides he has to find girls who will help him out without economic lubrication.

Finding girls isn't hard. As it turns out, the world is full of people who are desperate to be touched for one reason or another. Ryan knows he doesn't give most of the girls he sleeps with what they want, but that's pretty fair, as they don't give him what he's looking for either. They can't, Ryan knows. He doesn't blame them; he just keeps trying.

The first time Ryan has sex with a guy, Ryan doesn't find out his name. He's tall and slightly punk and older than Ryan, although not by that much. His tongue piercing is the most excruciatingly brilliant thing Ryan has ever felt on his cock. He's never had a cock rub into his before, hot and wet and as solid as his. Ryan, like his father, has an addictive personality. He simply chooses different addictions. This awareness is never far from the front of Ryan's mind.

He doesn't know the names of the second, third, fourth or fifth guys he has sex with, either. The third one talks him slowly through cocksucking and Ryan wonders if this is what love feels like for him. He's not sure that inside him love is the vaunted, holy thing it's spoken of as. That sort of thing is for other people. And this, this patience, this gentleness, the feel of another person trusting Ryan's teeth, his choices, his ability to learn, this might be it for him. Maybe.

Or it could be the way he feels when Spencer laughs at one of his jokes. Ryan never thinks about that. Never. Spencer is Spencer and safe for now, but he won't be if Ryan does something to fuck that up so Ryan won't, ever. He can settle for the appreciative curl of a hand in his hair, a surprised gasp of pleasure that he has caused, a slip of tongue, warm and wet and so very close to something that might be care. That will do just fine.

*


They find out about Brendon because Ryan is being an insensitive prick. It's not that Spencer wants to encourage this behavior in Ryan, but it often leads to useful things, so he doesn't always discourage it, either.

In this case, Ryan says, "Seriously, Brendon, do you think you could change your outfit every once in a while? Grunge is one thing, but this is just getting disgusting."

Spencer has noticed that it's been about four days since he last saw Brendon wear something else, but he's only noticed because Brendon—for all that he's goth—is usually pretty well-groomed. Spencer has always assumed Brendon has some sort of compromise with his parents. And okay, now that he thinks about it, maybe that should have been more of a warning factor than it evidently was for him.

Brendon bites his bottom lip so hard he starts bleeding. Ryan says, "What the fuck?"

Spencer shoves a couple of dollars into Ryan's hand. "Go get us some Cokes, okay?"

"Spence—"

"Go, Ryan."

Brent follows Ryan. Spencer's not surprised. Brent's not the worst guy in the world at handling emotional trauma, but he's seventeen, and a guy. Therefore, by definition, he's pretty bad. On the upside, unlike Ryan, he's self-aware about it. When they're gone, Brendon says, "I can't pay you back for the Coke."

Spencer nods. "Okay, I'll take the hit. Wanna tell me what's going on?"

Brendon shrugs. "You know my parents haven't been real thrilled with me lately, between my grades not being great and me spending so much time with the band and all. I think really it was just a matter of time before I did something stupid enough to get kicked out and—"

"They kicked you out?" Spencer really is trying to stay calm but fuck.

"They caught me kissing a guy." Brendon looks at Spencer, more bravado than Spencer has ever seen on anyone—up to and including Ryan Ross—in his posture. "Should I have mentioned being gay?"

Spencer can't help it, he rolls his eyes. "Welcome to my congregation." That isn't strictly true, but true enough for the time being.

"Oh," Brendon says.

Spencer goes back to the main point, "They kicked you out?"

"It's okay," Brendon tells him, "it's really okay. I've been staying in the school library, hiding in the stacks, and I can use the gym showers and steal from the cafeteria and I got myself a job yesterday. So, assuming I survive the beat-down that's coming my way from Ryan when I tell him I can't practice as much anymore, I should be fine. I just, y'know, forgot to grab some stuff before leaving, because there was yelling and it was ugly and I wasn't really thinking and now I can't exactly go back. As soon as I get an apartment, though, goodwill it is."

"Let me handle Ryan," Spencer murmurs. He really doesn't think there's going to be anything to handle once he tells him. Ryan's not actually an asshole, he just plays one in real life. "What have you been doing for dinner?"

Brendon's gaze slides away from Spencer. "You know. Whatever."

Jesus. "Okay. Okay, Bren. I'll tell you what. Why don't you come stay with me until you find your apartment?"

"Nah, I'm telling you, a week tops."

"Seems like a pretty reasonable amount of time to have a houseguest," Spencer says.

Brendon slumps a little and Spencer wonders if he's looked this tired the entire week and none of them have noticed. "I dunno, Spence. What are you gonna tell your parents?"

"The truth."

"Yeah, 'cause they're really gonna want some fag—"

"Whoa. My parents know about me. And I fucking hate that word."

Brendon touches his lip where his own teeth have caused damage and winces. "Yeah. Me too."

Spencer wonders if Brendon's parents called him that, if they yelled that term at him. Probably. "This'll work fine, Bren. You'll see."

Brendon says, "I can't even pay you back for the Coke."

Because Brendon looks like he's going to crumble if somebody doesn't hold him up, Spencer pulls him into his arms, squeezes him as tightly as he can. Predictably, Brendon clings to him. Spencer says, "Like I said, I'll take the hit."

*


"Shit," Ryan says when Spencer explains. Spencer nods.

"He hasn't been eating?" It's not like Ryan doesn't know that he's bad at the friend thing. He gets distracted and there have been a lot of distractions lately. Mostly his dad, who's been in the hospital more than out, and his mom, who keeps acting like college is more important than that. Still, this is a new level of lame, and it's possible he needs to start paying more attention.

"I didn't notice, either," Spencer says, like he can hear Ryan's entire inner monologue. Ryan wouldn't put it completely past him.

"Maybe he could borrow some of my shirts. I think my pants are gonna be too long."

"I think he can fit in my sister's stuff."

"Oh." Ryan nods. Right, that's a good plan. "I should apologize. For that thing. About his clothes."

"I think he'd prefer you just acted like yourself."

Ryan looks at Spencer. "Out of curiosity, am I that much of a dickface?"

"I prefer to think of it as 'single-minded'."

Spencer has always spoiled Ryan, even when they were both kids and Spencer was younger and by all rights should have been the more selfish one. Softly, Ryan says, "Yeah. I'm gonna need to apologize." He holds up a hand as Spencer opens his mouth. "I won't make a big deal about it and I'll go right on back to being 'single-minded'," Ryan makes air quotes, "but I really can't just let things lie."

Ryan isn't, by nature, a good person, but he tries really hard. His mom and his dad are never going to approve of his choices, of him, but Spencer—Spencer, who knows how to be a friend—sometimes does, and Ryan absolutely lives for those moments.

"Okay, Ry."

"There's— I mean. There isn't anything I can do? Actually do?"

"He needs you, Ryan. That's a doing-thing."

And okay, yeah, sometimes being Ryan is a fairly uphill climb, but not like what Brendon's going through. He shakes his head. Spencer says, "You don't have to see it. You just have to be his friend."

Ryan can try. Ryan will try. He's a hard worker.

*


The three of them help Brendon move into his new place and all of them keep their mouths shut about the fact that it's a dump and Brent's pretty convinced Brendon's going to get shot coming home one night. He doesn't really need three helpers, given that his furniture consists of an air mattress (borrowed from Spencer) and a couple of chairs Ryan "liberated" from his dad's house. When Brendon asks, "You sure that's all right?" Ryan just shrugs. "He won't notice."

Brent brings blankets for the bed. The three of them take him to the grocery store and Spencer follows his mom's instructions to get Brendon some staples. Brendon looks at the cart and Spencer thinks he's about to say something, but he doesn't, just packs the food neatly in the paper sacks and hands one to Ryan, who takes it without a word. Brent asks, "Burger King? My treat?"

Brendon looks guilty, but he nods. When they're sitting around the table, Ryan out-eating them all by a fairly substantial and yet unshocking amount, Brendon says, "I've been thinking that maybe I should drop out of school."

"Um, no," Spencer says.

"No, listen. If I'm in school eight hours five days a week and I'm working another eight hours at least four days of the week—hopefully more so that we can afford rehearsal space—that really doesn't leave a lot of time for band practice."

"I dunno, man," Brent says. "I mean, I know Ryan's a genius here, but what if we don't make it? Dropping out of high school kinda limits your options, you know?"

Spencer nods. "Also, really, Brendon, who wants to say they're a high school dropout? Even if they are a rock star."

Brendon sucks on his straw, his soda empty. The sound is loud and a little maddening, but none of them says anything. Finally he lets go. "Yeah, okay."

"We can work rehearsals around your schedule," Ryan says.

Brendon nods. "I get my schedule on Sunday for the next week. Mostly I work afternoons to evenings and at least one weekend day."

"We can practice late," Spencer tells him. Brent mumbles something in agreement.

"It'll work," Ryan says more softly than Spencer's used to hearing it from him. He can be a little fanatical.

"Thanks you guys," Brendon says, managing to find a real smile for them. Spencer can't help giving one of his own back.

*


Ryan doesn't tell the others about sending the links to their songs to Pete Wentz. They're not stellar recordings—they don't have the money or the equipment for better—but Ryan knows they've got something. Sure Brent's playing is a little weak and Brendon is still learning better breath control, but Spencer is top-notch and the songs are good, solid. Not Ryan's best, he knows, there are better ones waiting, but worthwhile. Something to start on.

He doesn't tell the other guys because he doesn't want to get their hopes up, particularly not Brendon, who's fueled by hope right now. He doesn't tell them, because to tell them is to acknowledge he's done it, which is to get his own hopes up. Ryan has a rule against that.

It's a lonely first week. After that, though, the sense of urgency falls away and Ryan doesn't forget he's sent it, but he's able to wait more patiently, to steel himself for the reality of a response never coming. There are other labels aside from Fueled By Ramen. Spencer notices that Ryan's a bit distracted, but Ryan just claims writer's block and that's enough to throw Spencer off the trail long enough for Ryan to get his game back on.

It's been almost a month—and Ryan has almost acknowledged that the links must have been ignored—when the comment shows up in his inbox. "hey buddy from panic at the disco what is your email"?

Ryan very nearly pees himself. Then he pulls it together, types in the email address with spaces so the spambots won't find him, and sends it off. He doesn't even bother going to class the next day. It's no use. He tries writing, but that's a loss, too. Even his playing is for shit at practice and Brendon looks at him funny. "Are you all right?"

"Too much caffeine," Ryan says, because that's actually what it feels like.

"Knock it off. I pay for this space so that we can get better."

The truth—and underlying reality—in that statement, bring Ryan down enough that he's able to focus, able to get through the rest of the rehearsal as the band's guitar player. Brendon eyes him suspiciously, but lets it go.

It's another two days of agony and unrelenting caffeine intake—because he sure as hell can't sleep—before an email comes. "what do you guys look like"?

Ryan frowns. That's not really the point. But he's not stupid. Pete Wentz runs a business. He attaches some photos and throws in a few lines about the undeniable hotness of Brendon Urie. Ryan is very careful not to think about whether he believes his own hype or not.

The next email asks, "have any other songs"?

"We will," Ryan tells him.

"get a record together"

Ryan makes himself ask, "And then?"

"show me what you can do"

Ryan runs for the phone.

*


Spencer asks, "Are you serious with this? Because if you're not, Ry, that's kinda mean."

"Do you honestly, truly, in your heart of hearts feel that I am a good enough actor to make my voice shake on command?"

"Good point," Spencer says, and breaks into a grin so huge it hurts from the very first, but he really can't be troubled to give a crap just then. "So, did he send contracts? Because we should probably get a lawyer—"

"Um."

"Um?"

"Contracts might be getting a little ahead of ourselves here."

"Oh hell no, Ryan. I know you have your hero worship thing with Pete Wentz, which is fine, we all have our stuff, and being a man who would fuck all of My Chem standing up and in the same room at the same time even given the creepiness factor of there being two brothers involved in that act, if someone were going to talk, it wouldn't be me, but that said, we need a contract. People who don't have contracts get screwed. People who don't actually read their contracts before signing them get screwed. Come on, you were a Backstreet fan same as me."

"Seriously, if you ever tell anyone else that—"

"Don't change the subject."

"We don't even have an album yet, Spence."

"We have songs. Ryan, come on. You know I'm right. What good is it getting signed if we're not actually signed?"

Ryan sighs. "The point remains, Pete Wentz liked our songs."

That point really does remain, and Spencer's not going to be the person who takes all of that joy from Ryan. He's done enough of that for one afternoon. "Have you responded to the email yet?"

"No."

"Don't. I'll be over there in a second, we'll come up with something to say. Then we'll go pick Brendon up from work and see if Brent can join us and we'll grab dinner and tell the others, okay?"

"It's gonna happen," Ryan says softly, but his voice doesn't shake at all, not one bit.

"I know it is," Spencer tells him. "I just want it to happen on our terms."

"Yeah," Ryan says. "See you in a minute."

He's hung up before Spencer can say, "See you."

*


Brendon just stares at them open-mouthed for a couple of seconds after they break the news. Brent says something about it being pretty cool, but Ryan's not exactly sure what because after the immediate shock wears off, Brendon cannot shut up. There's something about Ryan being a "geniusy genius" and them winning the Grammy and a few other things that Ryan really can’t quite catch, because Brendon's mouth is moving entirely too fast for the human ear to receive and comprehend.

Ryan glances at Spencer who gestures in Spencer Sign Language for Ryan to just let Brendon run himself out, which, yeah, is what's going to have to happen, because none of them are going to get a word in edgewise at the moment and plus, sometimes after he's exhausted himself, Brendon can actually manage to concentrate. It takes about ten minutes of non-stop enthusiasm, but finally Brendon says, "So maybe we should have some more songs, yeah?"

They all wait for him to go on with that thought, but he just takes a sip of his soda and looks at them expectantly. Finally Spencer says, "Yeah. Yeah, Ryan and I were thinking maybe about nine or ten more songs."

"Nine songs is a lot," Brent says. Ryan knows. Nine songs seems a little monumental, actually, so Ryan tries not to think of it in those terms, or he will email Pete saying, "I lied, I lied, I can't do this."

Which is the real lie. He can do this. He can definitely do it with the help of the others. Brendon's grinning so hard Ryan's a little amazed the corners of his lips haven't split, stretched past their level of endurance. "I'll do some writing during study hall, okay?"

"Brendon—" Spencer starts.

"I know, I know, I have to pass all my classes. I will. But this is way more important Spence, you know it is, you totally know it is."

Spencer laughs a little. "Okay, okay, so long as you know."

Brendon flashes his most charming smile at Spencer. "I'll behave."

Ryan watches Spencer reach across the table and muss Brendon's hair, watches the way Brendon sort of leans up into it even as his tone is indignant. "Hey!"

Ryan thinks, oh, and, of course. It's only fair, really, that Spencer would look at Brendon with his smiles and his energy, but it makes Ryan's chest ache. That Brendon looks back—and he would have to be insane not to, this is Spencer—cuts Ryan in places where he will bleed slowly and that's stupid, really stupid, because it's not like Ryan has the tiniest interest in Brendon Urie with his face and his voice and his ideas. Ryan would have to be a complete idiot to want Brendon, and Ryan is an eminently sensible boy, old and wizened for his age. So he has been told.

Spencer says, "You'd best," and Brent rolls his eyes and Ryan says, "Guys? Music?"

*


Ryan is a hard guy to have as a best friend, but Spencer has always known the right words or the right touch to get Ryan to sit quietly, be still. Brendon is a completely different story. For one thing, Spencer hasn't known Brendon nearly as long. For another, Brendon doesn't seem to expect Spencer to stop him, catch him, the way Ryan sometimes does. It makes it harder to determine whether he's supposed to or not. He would talk to Brent about it, but Brent generally looks doubtful about these sorts of things and says, "Maybe you should talk to his mom," which isn't much use in Ryan's case and is completely impossible in Brendon's. He would talk to Ryan, except that something tells him he shouldn't. He can't say what it is, only that every time he tries saying something to Ryan, his throat starts to hurt.

In the end, he does what he always does when he absolutely doesn't know what else to do: he helps his mom make dinner. It's a sure sign that he's in a quandary, since Spencer doesn't like the heat of the kitchen, would rather be doing his homework than helping cook. She asks, "What's on your mind, Spence?"

He tells her because he knows she won't judge, because he knows she'll know better than he does what to do, how to help, but it still feels like betrayal, saying, "I think Brendon's sleeping around."

She's quiet.

"A lot."

"I can't—" She sighs. "I can't say as I'm surprised."

Spencer blinks. "Mom?"

"His parents kicked him out for being gay, Spence. He's bitter and lonely and angry and if he wasn't finding one way to act out, he'd be finding another. This one's pretty logical, if dangerous."

Spencer thinks about the marks he's been seeing around Brendon's wrists, on the skin that flashes above his jeans' waistline when he stretches, on his lips. Angry is a good call. He admits, "I don't know how to help him."

Spencer's mom turns to look at him. After a moment he asks, "What?"

"I just think Ryan Ross has given you a false set of expectations, maybe."

Spencer thinks about it, but in the end he has to tell her, "I don't know what that means."

"You can't fix everything, sweetie." And although her words are a bit harsh, her tone is not. It's sincere. "You can be Brendon's friend, and you can listen to him and you can give him a place to go when nowhere else will take him, but you can't fix the things that are wrong."

Spencer frowns. "It's not like I've ever fixed Ryan."

"In little ways. Ryan has never needed much more than for you to be his friend for you to fix the things you could."

Spencer tilts his head. "You think Brendon does?"

She sighs. "Ryan has always known who he is to his parents. Good, bad or indifferent, he's always had a certain set of expectations. Brendon's expectations were just torn from him entirely. He has more bits missing. Not even Brendon knows how to fill them. Hence the indiscriminate sleeping around."

Spencer presses his hands onto the counter so hard the knuckles whiten. "Just do nothing?"

She comes up behind him, pulls him against her, and he's bigger than her, but it still feels the way it did when he was a kid, safer, easier. She says, "Just be you, Spence."

Spencer marvels that that ever felt like enough.

*


Ryan shows Brendon "Relax, Relapse," first. Spencer will say no to putting it on the album and Brent will claim to be Switzerland, so Ryan needs someone firmly in his corner. It's a good song. It's Ryan's best, really, so far. He can't help that it's about his dad. He'd have had it any other way, really, except that's how it came out, and there are certain things that can't be changed. Spencer said yes to "Tacks…", but that's one song and mostly about Ryan's father as opposed to Ryan and Ryan's father and yeah, Ryan needs Brendon on his side. Ryan ambushes Brendon at his work, sits down and waits for him to go on break.

Brendon smiles at him like it was nice of him to come visit or something, and doesn't stop smiling when Ryan slides the music across to him. Brendon reads it and looks at the words for a long time before asking, "Are you sure, Ry?"

The smile is a little muted. Ryan nods. He is. He's so, so sure. He waited until he was to show anyone, because he couldn't have shown anyone before he was.

"I don't know how to sing this."

That isn't anything new, though. Brendon always thinks he can't sing Ryan's words. "We'll work it out."

"What if—"

"It's not like you don't know," Ryan tells him. He doesn't want to say what he's really saying, doesn't want to push Brendon that way. "It's not like you—" He gestures uselessly, thinks, don't have songs of your own. Brendon has plenty, Ryan's sure, he just doesn't protect and defend himself with words the way Ryan does, the way Ryan always has. Brendon is closer to the music. Brendon has a voice.

Brendon is tapping the rhythm out on the table. "We should beef up the hook a bit."

Ryan isn't so sure. The song is meant to be simple. It's also meant to be angry. "Maybe."

"We'll talk about it. We'll find the right sound."

"What are you thinking?"

Brendon hums out a few bars. "Maybe just…" he pulls a pencil out of his bookbag and scribbles a few notations down, turning the paper and sliding it back across to Ryan. Ryan plays it out in his head, holding his hand out for Brendon's pencil, scratching and erasing and rewriting and then turning the paper, giving it back.

They're still sharing, silent, the pencil passing between them easily and without pause, when Brendon's boss comes out and says, "Um, it's been—" and Brendon looks up at her with a sheepish grin, "Right, right, sorry."

"Gotta go," he tells Ryan, who nods. He's gotten what he came for.

*


Spencer reads the song through. Twice. Next to him, Brent's done, clearly waiting to see what Spencer is going to say. Across from them, Brendon is bouncing in his seat and Ryan has his eyes calmly, firmly fixed on the table. Spencer says, "Ryan."

Ryan does him the courtesy of looking up. Spencer asks, "Are you fucking insane?"

Brent leans away slightly, the way he does when he senses things are about to get tense. Brent hates conflict. Spencer's not a huge fan and Ryan's so used to it that Spencer knows he can't even tell if it's something he's predisposed toward or not. Unfortunately, all that aside, sometimes it's just necessary. Ryan says, "It's a good song," like that makes some sort of difference.

Clearly it does to Ryan, so Spencer takes a moment to try and understand where the hell he's coming from. When he's done with that moment he asks, "Take the fight from the kid, Ryan? Really, you really wanna eviscerate yourself in front of anyone who will take a moment to listen?"

"I wanna be honest with my music, yeah, Spence. If not why bother? Why fuckin'— Why's Brendon living in some shithole if all we're gonna do is make lies? Maybe not even pretty ones, maybe just lies?"

Spencer looks at Brendon. "He doesn't—"

"He's right, Spence," Brendon says softly. "I don't mind, I really don't. I don't mind the hours and the way people treat me like I'm stupid because I wear a name tag and the fact that I keep having to exterminate ants to keep them out of my food supply and can't sleep because it's too loud if I keep my window open and too hot if I shut it. I don't mind any of that, except for if this is all bullshit. If this is all some game, then I mind a lot."

"You think we can't keep some of ourselves and have this still be real, still be us?" Spencer asks. "Do you honestly give other people every part of you in an every day interaction?"

"My music isn't some fucking every day interaction," Ryan hisses.

"Not to you," Spencer says, "but to others?"

"If I can't made it more—"

"Ryan, Jesus, this actually isn't about your ability or lack of, it's about how people sometimes react to things differently. Not everybody who hears a song is going to like it, or find some use for it, or have it move them, not ever."

"No," Brendon cuts in, "but one person will. More, more than one person, if we're just brave. We all just have to have fucking balls of adamantium."

"You have got to stop watching X-Men," Brent tells him. Brendon flips him off, clearly unconcerned.

Spencer looks at Ryan once more. He looks the way he always looks when he wants Spencer's approval: like he's either about to bite (literally, with teeth that Spencer knows from experience are sharp) or crumble completely. Spencer's only ever seen the latter once, and he plans—if at all possible—never to see it again. "Okay, Ry. Okay. We put the song in and see what Pete thinks, okay?"

Ryan says, "It's a good song."

The bitch of it is that it really, really is.

*


Pete Wentz is really short, which is kind of reassuring. Ryan's not sure he could handle it if Pete towered over him, combined with everything else. As it is, he's really, really hoping his fingers can remember how to play the guitar, since he's entirely certain his brain doesn't. This is an inconvenient—if unshocking—time to find out that he actually can have nerves, if given enough reason. Luckily Brendon wears his nervousness the way some people wear jewelry, so Ryan is able to concentrate on saying, "Seriously, Urie, sit the fuck down before you fuck Spencer's drums up or kill yourself and leave us without a lead singer."

"You are so genuine and kind," Brendon tells him.

"Sit."

Brendon sits. He fidgets and wiggles and sings under his breath, but he sits. It's an improvement, sort of. Spencer looks like he ate something that disagreed with him and Brent is actually tuning his bass incorrectly. Brendon, luckily, has the presence of mind to go take it from him and get the job done. Ryan wishes he'd brought some Tylenol. He takes his guitar and curls over it, brushing his fingers against the strings, not enough to move them, just enough to have the sensation under his fingers. Spencer comes and sits next to him. He doesn't say anything, he just sits and knocks Ryan's foot with his and somehow things are a little bit better. Ryan gives Spencer a half smile.

Pete comes back inside from taking a phone call and says, "Right, so are we ready?"

To puke, Ryan thinks, but nods. "Yeah, we're good."

Brendon bounces up to the microphone, which actually, is kind of convenient, because at least one of them looks ready. As it turns out, though, Ryan's fingers are independent of his brain, and once the song has started, all he needs to do is give himself up enough to let it take him. It's harder than it sounds, but next to him Brendon is singing, his voice firm and expressive and filled with Ryan's words and that's enough to get him there, to take him where he needs to go. They play "Tacks" and "Songs About London" but not "Relax, Relapse". Ryan hasn't gotten that one to the place where he can share it, not with anyone who isn't the three other guys, definitely not Pete Wentz.

When they're done, Pete is smiling. He has the most real smile Ryan's ever seen on a person who's not Spencer or Brendon. Spencer and Brendon, though, have some serious smiles. Ryan thinks there's something important to understand there, something about what Spencer and Brendon hide under their skin, but he tries not to think about it, because thinking leads to wanting to touch and Ryan has rules about that sort of thing.

Ryan tries to smile back, but he's pretty sure he just looks like a shell-shocked rabbit. He says, "So?"

Pete says, "Let's talk signatures."

Brendon jumps on Brent's back and rides him around the room. Ryan is thinking about dying when he notes that Pete just looks vaguely jealous. This might actually work.

*


Spencer's father doesn't like the idea. Spencer isn't precisely surprised, nor can he precisely blame his father, so it's hard to make a case for himself, but Spencer is going to. Because Ryan needs him there. Because Spencer is happier when he's playing the drums than almost any other time. Because this is going to work and his father will see that. Spencer's father always listens, even when he doesn't agree.

Spencer's father says, "I dunno. It's not that I'm doubting your talent, and I don't want to be the person to tell you that sometimes talent and hard work don't mean anything, because I want them to for you, but it makes me nervous. Your mother and I already agreed to the distance courses to finish high school, which made me nervous enough—"

"I know dad. I know. But I finished, didn't I? I said I would and I did." Spencer's father is the one who taught him that promises are not something to be made lightly, and that once they have been made, they need to be fulfilled.

"It's just." Spencer's father sighs and looks down at the floor for a moment before refocusing his gaze on Spencer. "It's a long way from home, Spence."

Spencer knows. Spencer would much prefer to stay in Nevada, or at least the southwest, within easy reach of his family and his bed and his dogs. "It is. It's…far. But that's where the producer is. And even if we did stay to record, the hope is to be out on the road, you know? That's how bands make their money."

Spencer's dad nods. He knows that. They did all the research together before hiring a lawyer. Spencer wraps his arms around himself. "You know how you're always telling that story? About how you and mom met?"

His dad just looks at him.

"How she was this TA and older than you and sort of completely out of your league but you knew from the moment you saw her that she was the one and so you had to go talk to her, had to try?"

Spencer dad smiles. "I take your point."

Spencer leaves it. No good will come of saying anything else. There is a time when silence is the only argument a person has.

"It seems to me the consequences were less considerable if I struck out with your mother."

"Really?" Spencer asks. "Because I have a family to come home to, but you would have spent your life without her."

His father gets a surprised expression on his face. "Huh. Hadn't thought of it that way."

"I'm seventeen years old, dad. What's the worst that could happen? The record doesn't take off and I have to try something else? I get homesick and have to come home and face the fact that I'm just not built for fame? I'll live through either one. But if I don't try—"

"It'll eat at you."

Spencer nods. His father takes a deep breath. "All right."

Spencer doesn't say anything.

"All right. But you call every other night, mister. And you're going to have to be on a budget and—"

But Spencer will listen to the rest later, because right now all he wants to do his hug his father hard enough that it knocks his breath away for a moment. When it comes back, his father laughs and wraps his arms around Spencer in response.

*


Maryland smells like salt. The locals don't seem to notice, but it does. It smells like salt instead of sand and rocks and things that are familiar to Ryan. In other words, it smells perfect.

It takes a while to get used to, but the breeze is just sharp in a different way, the sounds of the city louder in a way that Ryan's always appreciated when he's gotten himself to Vegas. There is music here, and Spencer has come along and Ryan is somewhere that's not home. He's got no complaints.

All right, he has one complaint. Maryland's scene is a different scene and for the life of him, Ryan can't quite puzzle it out. He's frustrated enough by it that when Brendon asks, "Wanna check out a club tonight?" Ryan says, "Yes," even knowing that nothing good can come of him and Brendon scoping quickies out in the same club. Ryan can foresee a million ways for it to go wrong. What he can't see, is the way it does.

At first it's actually going pretty well. Brendon is in a good mood, has been since they arrived. Ryan thinks Brendon likes the way Maryland smells, too. It doesn't matter that they're all but living in their basement studio, that when they do go home the accommodations aren't much better. It doesn't matter that they're rushing against themselves and the vagaries of fate to get this record out. They can do it, and they will.

It's going well until Brendon spots someone he wants. The boy reminds Ryan of someone, but he can't put his finger on whom, and the niggling sense of familiarity won't leave him alone. Even knowing the consequences, there are times when Ryan wishes he drank.

Brendon is a different person when he's set his sights on someone. The problem with letting Brendon sing his words is that Ryan has seen how Brendon can deconstruct himself, can strip down past flesh to get where he needs to go. He's also seen the ways Brendon can shield himself in those moments, can do his best to block everyone—perhaps even himself—from seeing what is on display. Watching him seduce someone is like watching him lose those most basic barriers. He is not Brendon the Singer, but neither is he Brendon the Friend, or Brendon the Pest. He is simply, breathtakingly, Brendon.

Ryan stops himself from going, from interfering. Brendon knows what he wants, and it is not Ryan. Brendon is not Ryan's to have. Ryan isn't entirely sure when Brendon became something he wanted, but Ryan is used to sudden turns in his conscious, and he is even more used to wishing for things that are impossible. Ryan wanders off to find his own boy, black-eyed and downy-lipped. He says, "Suck me," low and hoarse and ready, and it doesn't come out as the plea, the question that it actually is.

The boy—who is probably slightly older than Ryan—doesn't seem to mind. He looks up at Ryan the whole time and it's so close, so close, but then it's always close and it's never quite what Ryan wants, precisely what he needs. It never stops him from finishing.

The boy says, "My turn," and Ryan says, "Shut up," because in the dark of the club his eyes might be an all right match, but nothing, nothing will ever sound right. The boy shuts up and Ryan gives him what he's asking for.

*


Spencer is in a band of nymphomaniacs. He's denied it for a while now, but it has become clear that there's no longer any lying to himself about this. Spencer's pretty sure Brendon's taken to picking up more than one boy a night, which is worrisome, but Spencer is holding out hope that this is a phase. Spencer listened to Millenium on repeat for a year. It could happen.

Ryan, though, Ryan concerns Spencer. Ryan isn't so much a phase kind of guy. Sure, Ryan listened to Millenium every single one of those times, but Ryan also still has the entirety of Millenium on his iPod, no matter if he denies it or not. Once Ryan's taken to something, getting him off it is complicated and sometimes impossible.

Spencer would offer himself as a diversion but he doubts it would be enough, not at the rate Ryan likes to go through people and Spencer isn't particularly sure he can handle being another person to go through. For Spencer, unfortunately, Ryan has always been, well, Ryan, even before Spencer knew exactly what that meant. Now that he does, sometimes he wishes he didn't. It would make life easier. Evidently, he isn't willing to give Ryan up for a bit of easy.

Spencer does the only thing he knows to do and goes out with Ryan and Brendon. Brent throws him a look of utter betrayal, but Brent really can take care of himself. Brendon and Ryan both seem to have forgotten how.

Ryan doesn't drink and Brendon evidently doesn't drink around Ryan, so it's purely a hunt. Spencer can't really do anything about Brendon, who's off before they're so much as in the door, but he says to Ryan, "Hey, I came out with you guys, dance with me."

Ryan smiles. "Afraid of striking out?"

Terrified. Spencer shrugs. "In a club where you've managed to pick up?"

"Oh, burn," Ryan says, putting one hand to his stomach, but he's headed to the dance floor. Ryan moves into Spencer without any prompting from Spencer, moves in and dances there, warm and lithe and somewhat uncoordinated. Ryan has music from fingertips to toes, but he's an awful dancer and Spencer shouldn't find it hot, but that's sort of what love is like. It totally, completely sucks.

Ryan leans in and whispers, "Brendon's found his something," against Spencer's ear. Spencer can hear what Ryan doesn't want to tell him, can hear Ryan waiting for Brendon to look over, decide his something isn't anything at all. If Spencer could tell Brendon, he would. Even knowing he would have to watch, Spencer The Best Friend, he would.

Spencer looks over, and has to fight not to effect a double take. Brendon's something is Ryan. Well, not Ryan, but a pretty close approximation. He's taller and not quite as sharp, his eyes slanted differently, but Ryan, all the same. For a brief, awesome moment, Spencer hates everyone in his band. Even Brent, who's fairly blameless in all of this.

Spencer says, "Don't let me keep you," and it's possibly a touch more bitter than he meant it to be.

"I won't," Ryan says, and just keeps dancing.

*


The first time they listen to the album straight through Ryan is pretty sure Brendon's going to puke all over his knees. Ryan totally sympathizes. He wishes he could be more like Spencer, who looks mildly pleased, or Brent, who's surreptitiously glancing at the producers, waiting for their reactions.

From what Ryan can tell, the finished product is solid. Oh, he wishes they'd had more time on "London Beckoned…" to tighten up some of the bass chords—it was a little hard with Brendon having to pull a lot of double duty. Brent's been Ryan's friend forever, so he doesn't like to think about that part aloud, but he's really just not as good as Brendon. And Ryan wouldn't have minded being able to polish up some of the lyrics on "Camisado"—despite Brendon's insistence on its perfection—but overall, it's a good first album. He's glad the producers seem to agree, because if not Ryan would have to go out and find other producers that aren't involved with Pete Wentz and that would be a little tragic, as far as he's concerned. Fortuitously, tragedy is avoided, because when the last song silences itself, there are nodding heads and the general sentiment seems to be that Panic is a marketable commodity. Ryan doesn't really care about marketable, but he cares about playing his guitar, and he gets how one leads to the other. At least for now. Ryan's pretty good at being patient for an eighteen year-old. He has a lot of practice.

When the "suits" leave—they're not really in suits; Ryan has yet to see anyone from Fueled By Ramen or Decaydance wear so much as a button-down shirt—Brendon explodes into motion, throwing himself onto Spencer, who catches him easily and with an air of long practice. They haven't really known Brendon for all that long, not compared to each other, or Brent, but Spencer is a fast learner and Brendon, for all his spontaneity, is pretty predictable.

"Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy—"

Brent laughs. "I think we get it, Brendon."

Ryan sort of wishes Brendon would keep shouting, because he's afraid he will if somebody else doesn't, and that's just not smooth, not smooth at all.

"Holy shit," Spencer fills in, and grins that grin that has always made Ryan melt, even before he knew what the sensation heralded. Ryan can't help grinning back, can't help laughing for the pure, sheer perfection of this moment, here with the three of them. Spencer pushes Brendon gently but firmly back onto his own two feet and says, "I gotta go call my parents."

Brendon calls, "Say hi for us!" and vaults himself at Brent. Ryan looks over and doesn't let the fact that he wants to be the tree to Brendon's lemur affect his glee at all.

*


The way Spencer hugs his mom and his dad and his sisters at the airport is Not Cool At All and Spencer really doesn't give a fuck, because he hasn't seen them in—by his own rough approximation—forever, and he'll be leaving them again soon enough. Spencer loves Ryan and he loves the drums, but it's a little bit of a bitch, having to decide between those things and home. The only reason to make the choice he has—other than a sense of adventure—is that his family is okay without him. He can't really say the same for Ryan.

Spencer spends a lot of his time while home helping his mom with stuff around the house she just doesn't have time for, making his sister's lives miserable—because, honestly, what else is a brother for?—and playing Scrabble with his dad, who is mildly addicted to it. He hasn't started skipping work to play just yet, but Spencer thinks that's next.

Brendon floats between his house and Brent's place, and Ryan sort of does, too, occasionally going home when his mom absolutely puts her foot down. Spencer's pretty sure Ryan never even bothered to unpack. If Ryan could be on those buses now, he wouldn't even look back to see how the dust was settling. Spencer almost envies him except for the part where Spencer has a family, and it's worth the inconvenience of missing them like hell for the trade-off.

About a week before the tour is set to start, Brendon and Ryan and Brent all come over to Spencer's to sleep. It seems ridiculous on the surface, since they'll all be spending a ton of time together, but Spencer has found that even when he's sick of the others, it's in the same way that he gets sick of eating sometimes—being tired of it doesn't make it less necessary to survival. Spencer isn't really worried that they'll run out of steam with each other. They're just too much of a unit for that.

Ryan sleeps in Spencer's bed like he has since he was five. Spencer has a twin and at a respective seventeen and eighteen years of age, it should be a tight fit, but Spencer never feels like it is. Brent sleeps on the couch and Brendon takes the floor in Spencer's room, tucking himself into the Sonic the Hedgehog sleeping bag that Spencer brought himself with his first four months of allowance ever when he was seven.

Just as Spencer's falling into his dreams, Ryan whispers, "You're gonna be okay, right?"

Spencer blinks a few times to try and wake himself up. "What?"

"You're— I mean, this is, this is going to be okay for you, isn’t it?"

"This?"

"The tour. Leaving."

"Isn't it kinda late to be asking?"

Ryan props his head up. It's dark in the room, so Spencer can only really see the edges of Ryan, his lines that hold him together. Ryan says, "If you didn't want to go, if it was—"

Spencer waits. Then he asks, "You'd find another drummer?"

"I— I don't know."

"You'd give up the band?"

Ryan is quiet.

"You think I'd force you into either of those things?"

"But it's okay for me to force you to do this. Is that it, Spence? Because I'm Ryan and that's like an excuse all by itself?"

"You're not forcing me into anything, asshole. I want this too, remember? I've been playing the fucking drums as long as you've been playing the guitar." Spencer omits the part where, yeah, okay, he got the drums so that Ryan wouldn't leave him for his guitar, but hey, everything worked out, so it's a fair omission.

Ryan's, "I'm not your real brother," is quiet, hesitant, perhaps a little sad.

Spencer isn't sad about that. If Ryan were his real brother, he'd probably have to go to jail for the things he wants to do to him. "You're my real best friend."

"Yeah. Just—"

"I want to do this with you. I've wanted to do this with you for as long as I can remember. If I stay here, I'll just want to be there."

"But if you're there—"

"It's not like I can't come back, Ry. They'll let me in the door." Spencer can feel Ryan's nod at this more than see it.

Ryan says, "I think I'd have to follow you."

"You know what they say about crossing bridges?"

"I like to have plans for my crossings."

Spencer knows. He shouldn't find it endearing. "I'm good at improvising."

Ryan says, "Can I—" and shifts a little inward. Spencer pulls him close and really, really hopes that he wakes up first so that he can take care of the problem this is going to cause before Ryan notices.

*


Ryan stays away from the guys of TAI for the purposes of sexual liaison not because he's developed some sort of ethical praxis of the workplace that prohibits it—although he's thinking he possibly should—but because Brendon goes through every single one of them first, and Ryan's pretty sure there's no class in a band's guitarist following in its lead singer's exploits. He cares about these things. He cares about Panic! So he stays far away, which is easy enough, because there are always groupies, even TAI's groupies aren't all that picky, and Ryan can still get down with girls if that's what's available.

There's one member of TAI's entourage, though, who has yet to fall prey to Brendon's annoyingly numerous charms. Jonathan Jacob Walker—Ryan knows his full name because Brendon keeps going on about how the matching alliteration of their first and second names clearly means they are Meant To Be Together For All Time. Once or twice Ryan has almost accidentally asked what this means about him and Spencer, given the state of their first and last names, but he is afraid to know the answer. (Or that Brendon will point out that his first name is actually George.)

In any case, Jon's superpower seems to be his ability to remain impervious to Brendon all-but-sucking his cock by way of pick-up lines. Ryan really wishes he had that superpower. Don't get him wrong, he loves playing the guitar, but he thinks the other might have been more useful.

It would be sort of humorous, watching Brendon strike out so spectacularly, except for that part where Brendon keeps trying. That isn't really his M.O. and the change in approaches is making Ryan nervous. He can't even say why. He suspects it will go away, that it is the novelty of Jon's refusal that makes Brendon work so hard, but, well, Ryan can't help but feel that something is off about the whole thing.

Two months into the tour, Ryan figures it out. He wishes he hadn't. He tries to remember how happy ignorance made him, but somehow, he's never fully able. Two months into the tour and Ryan realizes he's started counting the number of guys Brendon sneaks in with or manages a quickie by in a week. It's sick, Ryan knows it's sick, but he can't stop counting, like maybe if he just knows the number it will keep Brendon safe, a talisman of waking-time sheep, or something. Whatever it is, Ryan has tried to distract himself with music—which always, always works and there are some new things Ryan would like to try, things that will spice up the live show—but somehow Brendon keeps catching his eye.

Brendon Urie is an infuriating little fuck, and Ryan really should have told Spencer to kick him out of the band. Ryan didn't, though, and now he's either going to cry over the spilt milk, or he's going to clean it up. Of course, this is easy in theory, and Ryan's pretty sure he knows exactly how it can be fixed, but actually making the move to put things back in their proper place, or the place they should have always been in is something else entirely.

Ryan waits, thinking—if not really hoping—that things will get better. Brendon will have to give up on his obsession with Jon Walker at some point, or Jon will have to give in, or any other number of logical resolutions to this situation will needfully occur. It's not that Ryan hasn't foreseen the possibility of what actually does occur, it is that Ryan has somewhat willfully ignored that particular one, along with a very specific few others. Each either had too much wistfulness behind them, or too much fear.

When Brendon shows up with a shiner that makes the one Spencer's sister got playing a pretty harsh game of soccer dull in comparison, Ryan takes him by the arm, pulling him into the bathroom even as he hisses and shouts things like, "Hey, you aren't my mom," and pushes him in front of the mirror, lights on. "Who did that, Brendon?"

"None of your fucking business, Ryan."

Ryan wants to push him against the sink, against the ledge so that it cuts into Brendon's hips, make him cry out the truth. Only Ryan isn't like the person who did that to Brendon. He's not. Except. . . Softly, Ryan asks, "Did you like it? Is that why—"

"If I liked that," Brendon says slowly, his tone deepening, "I could have found it a long fucking time ago."

Ryan asks, "Who, Brendon?"

Brendon slumps then, as if the concern in Ryan's voice is the one thing he can't combat. "Nobody, nobody. Just a mistake, 'kay?"

Ryan knows that kind of mistake. He's made it once or twice, but never out of carelessness. Brendon has gotten reckless. Ryan bites back a sigh. He should have fixed things when they were still broken; shattered is a harder state to deal with. "C'mon, let's see if we can find an ice pack and hide you before William sees and decides to be, um, William."

Brendon smiles widely for him and it has to hurt, but Ryan can tell it's real even so. Brendon twists around to hug him tightly. "You're the best."

Ryan pats Brendon's back. Yeah, Ryan's a real winner.

*


Ryan looks exhausted. Spencer wonders if he'll settle if Spencer drags him back to the bunks and stays with him until he's asleep. At the very least, it's worth a try. He says, "Ry—" but Ryan intercepts him with, "I need—" closing his mouth tight after just these two words.

Spencer wants to know what Ryan needs, he does, but mostly he wants to get Ryan to sleep. He nudges Ryan a little, "You can tell me when we're both lying down."

Ryan lets himself be nudged without much fuss, which Spencer tries not to be too alarmed by. Ryan will allow Spencer more leeway with him than most people, but that doesn't mean he'll usually just go along with whatever Spencer wants. He is quite tired, though. Spencer pushes Ryan into the bunk and climbs in after him, making sure Ryan is comfortable before wrapping himself over him. "Maybe you should stay here tonight, Ry. Y'know, catch up on some sleep."

Ryan nods in agreement. Spencer says, "Okay, spill. What's got you noticeably humoring me?"

Ryan sighs. "I gotta work at being nicer. Then maybe you wouldn't notice until I already had you where I wanted you."

If only Ryan knew. "Wouldn't that undermine the point of being nicer?"

Ryan uses the limited mobility he has to wave his hand in the international sign for "who gives a fuck, really?" "Whatever. You get my point."

"What do you want, Ryan?"

"Need," Ryan says.

Spencer acknowledges the difference with a dip of his head that Ryan may or may not be able to see. "What do you need?"

Ryan's fingers find the hem of Spencer's shirt and clench there. "I need you to fix Brendon."

"Ryan, don't you think—"

"That you would have done it already if you could have? No, because this— Because fixing him is going to get messy and we both know it. But at this rate I think we've got to take the chance."

"We? I don't see you taking any chances," Spencer spits out, because there is one solution to the Brendon problem, the one Spencer's mom would have never come up with, the one thing Ryan could ask Spencer for that would absolutely open up Spencer's chest and have him spill right out.

"I— Jesus, Spence, you don't think I would if I thought it would work? You don't think— Spence, you know me. You know me, you have to know that I— But you're the fixer. I break, you fix, there is incontrovertible evidence of this, built over years and years, and if I do it and I fuck it up, not only do we have a useless Brendon, we maybe—"

Have a useless Ryan. Spencer does know Ryan. He knows the way Ryan looks when he's doing more than watching someone, the way Ryan acts when there's something at stake. He wants to say, "Ryan, you could fix him," wants to give Brendon's secrets away, only they are Brendon's secrets and if Spencer goes there, does that, he is likely to be left with nothing. Spencer asks, "You want me to sleep with him? Give him someone who will stay?" because he needs to hear Ryan say it.

"Please, Spencer. Please."

"How do you know he'll stay with me?"

Spencer feels the flutter of Ryan's eyelashes against his cheek. Sounding wildly confused and a dash of something else that Spencer can't quite determine, Ryan says, "Because you're Spencer."

Spencer holds onto the thought, the sound of it coming off of Ryan's lips. It makes him feel the tiniest bit better.

*


Out of sheer survival instinct, Ryan starts spending a lot of time with Brent. Brent is a good guy to hang out with when a person doesn't want to think about anything real or important, because Brent's the kind of guy who won't ask questions, will just load up the Xbox, or whatever is handy, and go to. Ryan pretty much sucks at Xbox, he thinks in words and notes, not pictures, so following that sort of narrative is always something of a struggle, but it keeps him occupied and winning keeps Brent happy, so really, it's a good strategy to take.

After about a week Mike starts to get in on the games and give Brent more of a challenge, which he clearly needs. Brent, who had a pretty good life back in Summerlin, has been getting a little bit cabin-feverish, Ryan can tell. He just needs some time with people who aren't the three of them, though, and then he'll come back, Ryan knows. He always does.

Ryan lets Mike have Brent and spends the hours and hours he's busy not paying attention to whatever Spencer is doing with Brendon trying to write lyrics. They keep coming out maudlin. Emo is one thing, but maudlin is another. Maudlin is for old women in dusty houses with too many cats. That's not Ryan, not yet at least.

Salvation comes in the rather unlikely form of Jon Walker. Specifically, a near escape from complete lunacy is presented to him by Jon saying, "Wanna play some time? You have an interesting sound, I thought maybe we could—"

Ryan really doesn't care what the hell they could do together. "Yes." He has to stop himself from saying it again. "I mean. That sounds…like a plan."

Jon smiles an easy, benign smile and Ryan notices exactly what Brendon's been noticing all along. Ryan, though, Ryan is smart enough to stick to the ones likely to consider his attentions worthwhile; at least, that's what he tells himself. Jon asks, "Bored?"

"How could you tell?"

Jon laughs. "Yeah, touring's a little hard like that at first."

"It gets easier?" Ryan doubts it, but then, Jon probably hasn't had to deal with a lot of seriously fucked up interpersonal relationships.

"Parts of it," Jon amends. "So, your bus or my van?"

"Won't the other techs complain?"

"Only if we tell them they can't get in on the action. Are you an elitest, Ryan Ross?"

"For the most part, yes, but I think I can make an exception this once."

"Good man," Jon says, and pats him on the back. Jon's hand is warm, and gone all too soon.

*


The thing about Ryan Fucking Ross—and Spencer would tell anyone this, really he would—is that he tells a person something has to be done and then just expects that it will happen. Sometimes Spencer honestly wonders if Ryan believes in magic. Sometimes Spencer wishes Ryan did; it would mean he believed in something.

It's not that Spencer thinks Ryan is wrong—Spencer thinks Ryan is a ton of things, but none of them involve the word "wrong"—it's just that he can't exactly go up to Brendon and say, "No really, I'm pretty sure my cock will fix your problem." There are two reasons for this: a) Brendon is likely to laugh at him, which, it's not like Brendon doesn't laugh at all of them, all the time, but this seems like a bad context for that response, and b) he's not sure Brendon will agree. Instead he takes the only slightly less risky route, steals some of Ryan's looser clothes one night and intercepts Brendon as he's about to slip out. "Mind if I come with?"

Brendon considers him. "Are those Ryan's clothes?"

"Don't tell." Spencer doesn't think Brendon will, not if his plan works.

"Nah, man, they look better on you than they do on him."

Spencer winces, but luckily it's kind of dark on the bus, so Brendon says, "Yeah, man, c'mon, let's get going."

It takes Brendon less than half-an-hour to spot what he wants but just as he's about to follow Spencer asks, "Really? You're just gonna leave me here?"

Brendon does a double-take. "Um, you aren't—"

"I'm not Ryan," Spencer says, feeling like a traitor even as his tongue forms the words. Ryan's got his reasons, so does Brendon. Spencer doesn't care, he really doesn't, except where he wishes Ryan would maybe see that Spencer could make things better, not just for Brendon.

Brendon looks down at the way Ryan's pants hug Spencer's thighs just a little too tightly. Slowly he asks, "What'd you come out with me for?"

"Let's dance, okay?"

Brendon opens his mouth like he's going to protest, like he's going to demand the truth, but in the end he shuts it, and nods his head instead. "Try and keep up," he says, before flouncing onto the dance floor. Spencer sighs at the truth of that statement and wishes he'd shot a Red Bull before enacting this plan. What's done is done, though, so he follows Brendon to Brendon's chosen spot, right where the most bodies will brush up against him. Spencer thinks for a second about his two options: 1) to give everyone the access they seem to want to Brendon or 2) to take Brendon all for himself. He chooses number two.

Brendon stares at him as Spencer pulls in close. Spencer says, "Some people are gonna be thrilled if anybody finds us here."

Brendon says, "They won't," and Spencer doesn't ask what he did to make sure. He doesn't really want to know. Brendon's more than capable enough when he wants to accomplish something for his own ends.

Spencer grins, "Good," and grinds up.

Brendon says, "Spence, um—"

"You like the way my clothes fit." Ryan's clothes. Whatever.

"I don't— The sex is not—"

"It could be," Spencer offers, making himself say it, making himself mean the offer, making his voice low and serious and his own, so that Brendon will understand, really understand what's on offer, even if it's hard to hear over the music.

"I wou— I wouldn't— If I did something wrong—"

Spencer grabs the collar of Brendon's shirt and drags him through the crowd, back to the bathroom, where he locks the stall and presses Brendon to the aluminum side and kisses him, sweet but firm. Then he lets off. "I'm Spencer."

"I know, why do you think—"

"If you fuck it up, I'll make you find a way to fix it."

Brendon opens his mouth for a second, but the only thing that comes out is a laugh. He moves in to kiss Spencer but Spencer pulls away. "No way, not here. Not with me, you don't get to do it like that."

"Already fucking up," Brendon says, but he's grinning.

"Already kicking your ass into gear," Spencer says, and leaves the bathroom, fully expecting Brendon to follow.

*


Spencer smells like Brendon and Brendon smells like Spencer. It's confusing and sometimes when Brendon sidles up next to Ryan during a show he catches himself wondering who the fuck is playing the drums. It leaves Ryan off-balance, but luckily not off-key. No, Ryan plays fine. Ryan is fine.

Ryan knows the first night Spencer brought Brendon home from the club. He knows Brendon hasn't been back since. Ryan's plan has worked, for the moment. It's Spencer on offer, so Ryan will be surprised if it doesn't work long term. If Spencer ever offered himself to Ryan, Ryan isn't sure he'd stop touching him long enough to tune his guitar unless Spencer made him. Spencer would probably make him; he's responsible like that.
Ryan thinks he should be happy. Brendon's more there when they perform than he has been until now, he's funnier in interviews, less sharp in his humor when they're alone. No, Ryan knows he should be happy, but Ryan spends a lot of time seeing the difference between knowing and feeling put into action. Now is no different.

Ryan tries to get Brent to go out with him at night. He's not surprised when Brent claims exhaustion or homesickness or some combination thereof. Ryan worries that Brent really needs to go home sometimes. He knows it isn't always interesting to Brent, the way they plan, the way they think about the songs over and over and over. Even when they were writing the songs that wasn't so much Brent's thing. Brent likes music for the final product. Ryan sometimes worries that Brent doesn't like it as much as Brendon and Spencer and he do, that this is more of a hobby than a passion. He tries not the think about it. They need Brent.

Sometimes Jon will go out with Ryan, but he's not crazy about that, since for some reason he can't explain it's hard to pick up random guys with Jon watching. It's not that Jon seems judgmental, or even like he much cares. Still, it makes Ryan feel like a slut in a way that he normally never does, and so generally when he's there with Jon, he dances for a bit and then goes home. Jon also drinks, which makes Ryan think he should be uncomfortable—he usually is—but Jon doesn't get drunk, he just takes his time with the alcohol, almost like it's a coke. Sometimes Jon brings Tom, and Tom does get drunk, which really, really should make Ryan uncomfortable, but Tom is too fucking sweet when drunk to get all het up about it, and Jon never lets him wander too far, get into too much trouble. Jon's like that. He watches a person without making them feel like they're being watched.

When Jon's not there, though, when Ryan is by himself, he can hunt out the boys who are just a bit soft, all hips and lips, brown hair falling into their eyes. He can follow that up with the small, dark ones. If he paces himself he can do at least two a night and still be on his feet to play the next evening.

Spencer has begun throwing him suspicious looks, but Ryan knows he doesn't really have the time to ask. Brendon is a full-time job for the moment, and if Spencer doesn't work at it, even for a minute, they both know things are going to fall apart. They might need Brent, but Brendon, despite his late arrival, has somehow made himself endemic to the band. Ryan would hate him for it, but he would have to remember how to hate Brendon—if what he felt was even hate to begin with—and he doesn't think he can. The problem with himself, Ryan has long known, is that once you have his affection, it takes a lot to destroy it. Spencer would say too much. Spencer is right, but being wrong has never really stopped Ryan before and he doesn't expect it to do so now.

Brendon has begun occasionally singing Ryan's lyrics like they aren't jagged and edged and about the parts of Ryan that aren't loyal or caring or anything kind. It's sort of a relief because then Ryan can yell at him for legitimate reasons, can snap, "Jesus, Brendon, could you maybe pay attention to what the hell you're doing?" and only feel slightly bad when Brendon steps back a little, starts over and just sounds muted. Ryan can feel Spencer watching him at those times, but he pretends like he can't, like all he knows is that he needs to play the guitar. He thinks Spencer knows he's pretending. Spencer's smart about Ryan that way.

Brent says, "Way to be fucking anal, Ry," and Ryan strums his guitar just a bit too forcefully. He's going to have to replace all six strings per show at this rate.

*


Brendon likes to give Spencer massages after they perform. He spouts off a lot of information that sounds like it came from somewhere reputable about the benefits of massage on Spencer's over-used arm muscles, but Spencer's fairly certain it's just Brendon talking out of his ass. Even if it's not, Spencer can pretty much guarantee that the fact that Brendon sucks at giving massages—he's too frantic, has no sense of going in any sort of order—negates the possibly positive outcomes. That said, Spencer never tells him no because it would just occasion pouting and Spencer likes it when Brendon touches him, regardless of the type of touch.

It's in the middle of one of these impromptu rubdowns that Brendon says, "I think I pissed Ryan off. Like, really pissed him off."

Spencer tries not to tense. Brendon has his hands all over him; he'll feel it. "Ryan just doesn't wear stress well."

"Look, I know I don't have the grand, epic, sweeping friendship with him that the two of you have, but I'm not brain-damaged, either. This isn't just stress. And he isn't being a dickface to you or Brent."

Ryan isn't really talking to Spencer, though, which rules out directly being a dickface. Spencer would take dickfaced-ness over the silent treatment, particularly as Spencer isn't even sure what the hell he's done wrong. He did what Ryan asked him to; he did it well. "I'll see if I can get him to talk to me about it."

Brendon's hands stop and he drops himself into Spencer's lap. Spencer's arms come up automatically to make sure he won't fall. Brendon smiles at him like he's done something sweet. Spencer leans up to kiss him in reward for actually being the sweet one, and in apology for just about everything else. Spencer slips his hands just under the hem of Brendon's shirt, at his back, swiping his thumbs up and down against Brendon's skin. Brendon pulls back just a little to say, "Um, Spence, hey, Spence."

Spencer asks, "Getting bored?" He keeps his tone light. He knows he isn't quite the variety Brendon's used to. For a while that seemed to be what Brendon liked about the situation, but Brendon's mercurial and apt to change his mind at any moment.

Brendon smacks Spencer's chest with his open palm, but not hard enough to hurt. "It's just, I know, um, my speed isn't really your speed and I don't, I really like—"

"What do you want?" Spencer cuts him off. Brendon nervous always makes Spencer nervous, since Brendon tends to only get nervous when things actually matter to him and it's hard to watch that level of need in Brendon.

"I could blow you," Brendon says in his optimistic tone. "Or you could fuck me. I don't— I don't know what you've done, it's all, it's all pretty fun, really, and—"

Spencer kisses him again. "I've done," Spencer says. He doesn't have the vast amount of experience that Ryan and Brendon have acquired for themselves in a short time, but there were girls in high school, now and then, and Tom and him have helped each other out a couple of times, just so they could stop being annoyed at how much play everyone else was getting. Tom gave Spencer a very disappointed look when it became clear that Spencer had no intention of fucking around on Brendon.

Brendon brightens. "Okay, okay, what do you like? I give really good head, everyone says."

"Everyone?" Spencer asks, and slides out from under Brendon so that Brendon's the one in the chair. It’s a messy process, but Brendon doesn't seem to notice as he's busy explaining, "Well, maybe not Will, but Will's kind of a bitch during sex—"

"Will's always kind of a bitch," Spencer says. It's not exactly an insult, Spencer's pretty bitchy himself. He busies himself with sliding Brendon's pants down.

"Yeah, well, anyway, he's just wrong. Everyone else says he's wrong."

"I'm sure," Spencer says in his reassuring tone, before pressing his hands to Brendon's palms and taking Brendon as far into his mouth as he can. It isn't all that far and Spencer's aware that he lacks technique but Brendon doesn't seem dissatisfied. Spencer thinks, with the way Brendon's squirming. It's a good thing Spencer anchored him with his hands or else Brendon would be off the chair. So far they've been living on each other's hands, the bare press of their cocks against one another, nothing that Spencer would ever say no to, but not this either, not Brendon unable to form the full word, "Spencer," his muscles clenching and unclenching under Spencer's palms. Spencer takes one of his hands and wraps it around Brendon's base, firm and not terribly giving, the way Spencer likes it. Brendon pants, "Fuck."

Spencer sucks and swallows and in general just does whatever feels right, smiling around Brendon's cock when he gets a reaction. Brendon says, "Spence, you— Um," and comes. Spencer pulls off halfway through. He hasn't quite mastered the art of swallowing everything just yet. Brendon says, "Sorry, sorry," and leans forward a little shakily to wipe some of the come from Spencer's face. Spencer pulls Brendon's hands away, smiles at him. After a second, Brendon smiles back. Spencer says, "Not what you're used to, I imagine."

"What I wanted," Brendon says, quieter than Spencer's ever heard him be in his life. Then he says, more loudly, "My turn," pulls Spencer to his feet, and drops from the chair to his knees.

*


"Has anyone seen Brent?" Ryan's starting to think he got locked in a bathroom, or something. Ryan's starting to hope. If he's locked in the bathroom, chances are they can find him and get him out before the show. If he's just not around, they've got a larger problem.

"He was on the bus this morning," Brendon says, ever so helpfully, since they were still driving in from the last show this morning. Ryan sort of stares at Brendon in disbelief. Brendon amends, "I just meant that we didn't accidentally leave him in Idaho, is all."

Well, that's something, Ryan supposes. He turns to Spencer who is clearly trying not to look concerned. Spencer does that in order not to up the level of tension, Ryan knows, but sometimes shit just has to get tense. Spencer says, "He said he was going to lunch, but that was about three hours ago. Is he, uh. Has he been hooking up with anyone that you know of?"

Ryan considers the question. "That seems like something he would have just said."

Brendon nods in agreement. Brent's not the most discreet guy ever. Sometimes it's problematic, but mostly Ryan just finds it helpful. Brendon says, "Maybe he got lost? Coming back?"

It's possible. They've all gotten lost upon leaving the bus at one point or another by this time. Spencer asks, "Has anyone called him?"

"I tried," Ryan tells them. "Maybe if one of you try?" He doesn't think Brent's pissed at him, but Ryan's been kind of moody lately, he can admit, and he could have missed something like that. Spencer pulls out his phone and hits the right number. Ryan can hear it ringing from where he's standing. He waits with Spencer, but in the end there's nothing but a recorded message.

Spencer says, "Hey, Brent, you're running late. Get back," and hangs up. It's an hour to show time. Spencer's not dressed, but Spencer never gets dressed until the last moment. Spencer has some sort of belief in the power of clothes, or something. Not that Ryan doesn't, exactly. If he didn't he'd never bother to change out of jeans and t-shirts to perform, but Spencer's is something bigger, something Ryan half boggles at, half envies.

Ryan and Brendon exchange a look. Brendon says, "Maybe we should talk to someone. Just, uh. Just in case he doesn't find his way back."

"Think one of the roadies would go look for him?"

All three of them say, "Jon," at once.

Brendon looks at Spencer. Ryan's mouth goes dry. He roots around for the water bottle on the counter behind him, chugs a little and then says, "I'll go see if I can find him."

Spencer says, "Ry—" but when Ryan looks over at him, he just shakes his head. "Tell him we owe him."

Ryan nods and heads toward the stage. Jon will be setting up, probably. He finds him tuning one of the basses, which is a type of irony that Ryan can appreciate, or would be able to, if he weren't freaking the fuck out. Jon smiles up at him. "Hey."

Ryan squats down across from him and says, "Um, hi."

Jon's fingers slow in their task. "Something up?"

Ryan tries to smile. "So. We sort of. Lostourbassist."

For a second, Jon looks confused. Then he looks surprised. "Seriously?"

Ryan nods. "He went to lunch and didn't come back. None of us has a car, and um, well, you seemed sort of like you might help without telling. Please."

"Jesus fuck, Ryan."

"It's not that we can't cover, or ask one of our techs to help for the night, but—"

Jon shakes his head. "Relax. I can get one of the other guys to do this, steal a car, see what I can do."

"I'll totally take the fall if the guys start getting on you," Ryan promises.

Jon sets the bass aside. "It'll be fine, don't worry."

"Still, we owe you."

"Yeah," Jon laughs. "I totally collect, too."

*


Brendon is always just a little bit more after a show; a little bit more hyper, a little bit more on edge, a little bit more intense, whatever, just more. It's worse that night, with Jon having dropped Brent in their laps no more than twenty minutes before the show, Brent looking flustered and mildly apologetic, but not deeply apologetic, which is pretty much what Spencer would have been in the same situation. Spencer's not thinking about it. He can't, anyway, not with Brendon's mouth all over him, no sense of direction, possibly no sense of who he's even kissing.

Spencer bites Brendon's lip. It's not a rough bite, not enough to tear the skin, or even leave deep marks, but enough to hurt. Brendon makes a noise that Spencer suspects is an, "ow!" Spencer doesn't let up, not for another minute or so and when he does, Brendon says, "Sorry," his head hanging slightly.

Spencer kisses at where he's just caused pain. "It was an okay show."

Brendon wrinkles his nose. "Ryan's never okay with 'okay', why do I have to be?"

Because I can't bite Ryan into submission. "Do you really want to use Ryan Ross as your role model for how to live a healthy and functional life?"

"If I was going to use someone for that, it probably would have been Brent, and I think we can all see how well that would have gone for me."

Spencer holds in a sigh. He has every intention of seeing if he can talk Brent out of his funk tomorrow. Tonight, though. Tonight they've played through a show where they were almost entirely sure they were going to be missing one of their members, and played decently well. Spencer deserves a reward. He says, "Well, I definitely wouldn't be doing this," and licks a line from Brendon's shoulder to his earlobe. Brendon shudders. They're in a hotel for once, and Spencer only has to be quiet enough that the walls will hold their sounds. It's an infinite improvement on trying to do this in a bus, avoiding the way Ryan averts his gaze just in case, gives them room, so much room, too much room. Spencer doesn't think about that. He has Brendon here.

Spencer says, "I'd like to fuck you, please," because his mom taught him all about being polite, and he thinks Brendon could use some courtesy. Brendon laughs, but it's high-pitched, eager sounding.

"Yes, please," he says, because evidently his parents taught him all about being polite, too. Far more important than unconditional love, that.

"How do you want it?" Spencer asks. He's curious. Besides, for all that Brendon does it a lot, he likes hearing Brendon talk, the up-down rhythm of it, the way he can sometimes sound like he's singing even when he's not.

"Looking at you," Brendon says immediately, as though he's been waiting for Spencer to ask. His eyes are wide, wet looking in their very darkness.

Spencer kisses the corner of one. "What else?"

"Want— I— Underneath you, Spence."

Spencer nods. He kisses Brendon one more time and wanders away to grab a condom and some lube from his bag. He takes the towel that was at Brendon's waist with him. Brendon laughs. Spencer joins him. "On the bed, Bren."

Spencer grabs what he needs and turns around to come back, catching sight of Brendon, laid out, ready and waiting on the bed. It stops him for a moment. For someone so tiny, Brendon has a way of looking long. For someone that nobody ever noticed for the longest time, Brendon is one of the most gorgeous things Spencer has ever seen. Spencer doesn't think about what Brendon sees when he looks back. Whatever it is, it clearly works for him. Spencer's wise enough not to question.

He climbs onto the bed on his knees and drapes Brendon's left leg over his shoulder. Popping the cap to the lube, he warms a little on his fingers and slides one in. Brendon takes it easily, arches into it, bites the lip Spencer was biting earlier. He says, "Maybe more, Spence, now," with a tone that's half-pleading, half-demanding. Spencer makes him wait; the pleading is nice. When he feels like it, Spencer ups the finger tally straight to three and watches as Brendon's eyes roll into the back of his head, as he babbles, "Spencersmithspencersmith, please," the "e" sound nothing more than a plaintive whine.

Spencer says, "It's fucking hot, how much you love this," low and serious. He pulls his fingers out to get the condom on and teases Brendon for a bit, settling with just the head of his cock inside him, but when Brendon looks up at him, really looks with his almost-black eyes knowing and nearly solemn, Spencer pushes straight in as far, as far as he can go until there's nothing of Brendon left to take. Spencer bends forward then, Brendon's leg bending backward with the motion. Nothing hurts at this moment, Spencer thinks, nothing.

He kisses Brendon, staying precisely where he is, kisses him until Brendon bites Spencer's lip. The bite is harder than Spencer's earlier one. Spencer smiles into it and gets down to business.

He doesn't go slow. He can't. He's eighteen and this is Brendon fucking Urie he's got his dick in and slow is an utter pipe dream. He grabs Brendon's cock, pulling at it, drawing nice sounds from Brendon with each jerk. He comes before Brendon and has no idea if he actually keeps up the rhythm, no idea of anything, but Brendon comes too, he must, because when Spencer's done being completely away from his mind, from anything real, his hand is sticky and Brendon looks utterly sated. It's indecent. Spencer wishes he had the stamina to properly appreciate it, because fucking this Brendon, fucking him far past his limits, listening to him make noises of pleasure-that-might-be pain, listening to him take it, that would be beautiful, Spencer thinks. Brendon smiles up at him, a quiet, private smile. Spencer remembers that this is pretty fucking good, too.

*


Ryan says, "Brent."

Brent doesn't even look up from his video game, so Ryan gets proactive on both of them, and shuts the thing off. Brent says, "Oh, for fuck's sake, Ryan, I've been late twice. Get me a watch if it's such a big deal."

Ryan is literally wholly unsure of how to respond to that. Brent worked at a grocery store for months and as far as Ryan knew, he was never late. Then again, maybe it's a problem of comprehension. "This is our job," Ryan tells him, just in case. Ryan can see how it would be easy to be surprised by that. They play music for money, which is sort of like saying they sit around and eat ice cream all day for a living, but it's still, nonetheless, their job.

Brent looks at him and for a long moment, Ryan's pretty sure he's about to get yelled at, even if he's technically right about this—and really, how that would be new is completely beyond Ryan—but then Brent just says, "Yeah, sorry, I'll work on it."

"Brent—" Ryan wants to ask what's wrong, only he's terrified of the answer. "Is there— I mean, do you—" Fuck.

"What, Ryan?"

Ryan changes direction. "Have you been hooking up?"

Brent blinks. "What?"

"I just thought, maybe—"

"Jesus, Ryan, just because you and Brendon can't keep yourselves from whoring it up doesn't mean we all have that problem."

Once, when Ryan was seven, he disobeyed his mom and took out one of the sharp knives to cut his peanut butter and jelly sandwich with. He hadn't needed the knife, a table knife could have cut through the bread just fine, but the sharp one was disallowed him, and that made it shiny and promising in all its forbidden glory. The knife slipped in his grasp and cut open his palm and to this day, Ryan has a scar where it simply slid into his skin. He hadn't felt the cut until he'd seen it, until he'd noticed the red welling up from his hand, from where it shouldn't have been. Then it had hurt like hell and he'd screamed for his mom, screamed and screamed until she'd come. She'd grounded him for two months for that. At least that time it had validly been his own fault. This time the pain waits until Ryan takes a breath and then it's somewhat blinding, and his mom isn't there. She probably wouldn't come if she were. Perhaps this is more his own fault than he would prefer to admit. He manages to find his voice, even to find the correct pitch and say, "I meant maybe there was a girl. A girl."

Brent looks away and when he looks back, there's something like remorse on his face. "The songs are just getting old, that's all. I mean, it's like listening to the same fucking CD on repeat for months straight. And in between there's just this bus and these games and I miss my car, okay? I miss my room and my other friends. Sometimes I just want to get the fuck away and then I lose track of time."

The songs aren't quite old to Ryan yet. He can feel where maybe they will get there—probably, he imagines—but right now they still settle him inside, the knowledge that they're his, his and Brendon and Spencer's and even Brent's, if not quite as much. He wonders if that's the problem, if maybe they should have forced the issue of Brent helping to write more, but writing isn't really Brent's strength and Ryan hates it when people try and make him do things at which he feels inferior. "O— Okay."

Brent rubs a hand over his face. "Look, I'm sorry, okay?"

Ryan's not sure that makes any difference. He's heard his father say that a bunch of times after drinking himself nearly dead, but he's yet to stop doing so. Still, there's grace in accepting people's apologies, and maybe Brent means it, maybe he means he'll stop. This is Brent, Ryan's friend. "Okay. Want someone to play against?"

Brent holds out the second controller.

*


Spencer validly thinks things are getting better, whatever the fuck is going on with Brent is settling, when he skips a show. They look for him, they call him, they even recruit some of their roadies and a few of the people who are technically TAI's, but it's no use. In the end they co-opt one of their techs, put him in the closest thing to a costume they can find, and stick him on stage with a bass. It's not perfect, but it's a show. Brendon apologizes and makes up some bullshit excuse about Brent being out sick. Spencer can hear the way the lie doesn't come easy.

After the show, when Brendon is nothing but aftershock energy converting itself into fury, Spencer tells Ryan, "I'm gonna, I don't— I'm gonna take him somewhere."

Ryan eyes Brendon. "Need me to come with?"

"We need someone here just in case Brent decides he's ever coming back." Spencer sort of wants to be that person. He's never punched anybody in his entire life, but tonight feels like a good night to start. Brendon's more important than his incipient bloodlust, however.

Ryan nods. "You realize I'm probably going to kill him with my bare hands, right? I mean, you're totally welcome to claim plausible deniability of foreknowledge, but—"

"Call me, I think we'll want to watch."

"No way is Brendon sitting back and watching that action go down." Both of them look to where Brendon has tackled a rather unassuming and altogether innocent Jon Walker. Jon is taking it with aplomb.

"Yeah." Spencer sighs. "I'm going to go rescue another band's tech and see if I can maybe um, wear him into submission—"

"Seriously, we've started using euphemisms for sex with each other?"

Spencer feels the sharp edge of the question, but he's not sure of its origin so he just says, "Fine, pound him until he calms down. Better?"

Ryan looks away. Without having any idea what he's done wrong, Spencer feels a bit like a complete asshole. He reaches out and squeezes Ryan's shoulder. "Hey. He'll come back, and you'll beat him roundly with sticks and everyone will feel better for it, you know?"

"What if—"

Spencer waits for Ryan to finish, but Ryan just shakes his head. Spencer asks, "Ry?"

"Nah. Nothing."

"Ryan."

"Seriously, nothing, stupid thought." Ryan smiles for Spencer, and it's not a big smile or even a happy one, but it's honest, which is all Spencer really needs from Ryan. "Go. Go rescue Jon before we have to pay TAI for damages."

Spencer hugs Ryan, because he looks brittle, and like he might break if Spencer does so, which is always a sure sign that it's absolutely necessary. Ryan clings a little and Spencer says, "Call if you need us."

"Uh," Ryan says.

Spencer flicks him off and doesn't tell him that for him he'd pick up, even if the moment were really, really inopportune.

*

Brent comes back and says, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Ry, I just flaked, I swear. I just—"

"You just flaked?" Ryan doesn't even understand the words. At least his father always has some ridiculously good excuse, something like, "I lost my job," or, "Your mom wants more money," or something that Ryan can follow the logic back on, even if it turns out the excuse isn't true in the first place. Ryan knows how to accept apologies, is good at it, better than he should be, often accepts them when the damage really can't be undone by mere words, mere guilt. "Flaked?"

"Look, I was talking with Josie, and something we got on made me kinda hungry and I didn't want to get off with her, so I just walked to that dining area we saw on the way into town—"

Ryan remembers the dining area. He had been bored when they passed it, reading signs for something to do. It was easily five miles back. "Brent, we had a show."

"Sometimes, I dunno, you know what Josie is like. Distracting."

Ryan's met Josie. As far as he can tell, there's nothing distracting about her except for the fact that she lives in Summerlin, which evidently is enough for Brent right now. Ryan says, "When I asked if you were hooking up with someone—"

"She's not even in the same state, Ryan, jeez."

"But if she was," Ryan presses, because he can't understand it, there's nobody Ryan would give this up for (liar, liar) but at least that's an excuse, at least that's something, at least that's not Brent looking at him and acting like all of Ryan's dreams are stupid in comparison to a phone conversation with some college girl who probably says mean things about their music to her indie hipster friends.

Brent says, "I dunno. I mean, probably. We talk a lot."

"You can't talk to her before shows, Brent."

"Ryan—"

Ryan throws the water bottle he's been crunching in his fist across the room. He doesn't even mean to. It's as if the anger controls him for a moment, propels the thing. The bottle is empty and plastic. It bounces off the wall safely, ineffectually, and for a moment, Ryan really tries not to think in metaphors. "You missed a fucking show! A whole show! We had to put a tech in for you and lie, lie, tell our fans you were sick, because, 'we can't find him at the moment' just doesn't sound as professional, you know?!"

Brent's face goes red for a moment and then startlingly white. When he speaks, it's not the yell that Ryan expects, hopes for, can react to in extreme and unpredictable ways. It is strained and enraged and pointed. "It's a fucking show, Ryan. Ten songs, maybe twelve, if they want us back on stage for the last two. Twelve stupid fucking little songs that I wasn't there for one time. You saying that's more important than me having a girlfriend? Something real?"

"Something real? Something real? What's real, Brent? Josie's breasts? Because I wouldn't fucking count on it. What's real is the money all those people paid to see us—"

"The Academy."

"—us, and the fact that this is our fucking job and there's a contract and you seriously think a girlfriend is more real than that? Seriously? Are you twelve?"

"You're telling me that if Spencer decided Brendon—"

"He wouldn't," Ryan says, cold and sure and maybe a little sick, but he won't think on that, he won't. Spencer wouldn't do anything to jeopardize the band like that, not even if Brendon would have let him. The two of them wouldn't hurt the band, wouldn't hurt— The band.

"But if he—"

"Spencer and Brendon know what's more important than getting laid, even if you like to pretend differently."

"It's about more than getting laid, not that you would know."

Ryan takes a second to remember how to inhale. Once he's got that down, he says, "Don't fucking do it again, Brent. Don't ever—"

"Or what, Ryan? What are you going to do?"

Ryan says, "Just don't," and hopes it comes out threatening, rather than desperate and shattered. It's bad enough knowing he feels that way, he doesn't need Brent knowing, too. "Just don't."

*


Spencer notices Ryan spending more time in his bunk as they get into the Northeast and when he emerges to prep for the Seattle show, his eyes are bloodshot, his face is swollen and he looks to be in a fair amount of pain. Spencer asks, "Flu or cold?"

Ryan shakes his head, rasps, "Just allergies. Not used to all this pine shit."

Ryan, Spencer fears, can be a bit delusional at times. He just nods though, and says, "Let me find you some tea with lemon, yeah?"

Ryan nods, his eyes slipping shut. Brendon finds them in the dressing room, Ryan with his hands on the mug, trying to keep his head up. He's started shivering and Spencer's really not sure he's going to be able to play the guitar. Maybe, if they ask now, they can get someone to cover for him. Brendon will still have to handle all the vocals, but it could be done, it could. Spencer turns to ask Brendon what he thinks of the plan. Brendon forestalls the question with one of his own. "Look, I really— Um, I realize this is a bad time to be bringing this up, but does anyone have a clue where Brent is?"

It's been three weeks since the last disappearance, and so far, Brent hasn't done it again. He's made them worry a few times, punctuality has become a thing of the past, and if they want to change anything about a song, they have to force him to sit down, listen to the change, and practice on the road between shows, but he's been there for the actual shows. Spencer can't help it, he says, "Shit."

Ryan puts his head down on the dresser in front of him and after a second of watching in somewhat awed horror, Spencer notices his shoulders hitching. Brendon says, "Oh, no, Ry, don't—"

Brendon puts an awkward hand to Ryan's back and rubs a little bit. Spencer comes over and pulls Ryan up, nudges them all over to the sofa on the other side of the room. TAI's doing a soundcheck for the moment, but they're going to be back any moment, and Spencer thinks they should probably have their shit together before that happens. "Okay," Spencer says, "okay." This is going to take some rethinking. If they're going to need a bassist, they can't be finding someone to play for Ryan, too. Spencer supposes it's early enough that if he talked with TAI, some local band could be called in to play instead of them entirely, but Spencer thinks there might be refunds involved in that, and he doesn't think Ryan's going to go for it in any case.

Ryan admits, "I don't know if I can sing." He sounds like metal dragging along gravel.

"I can handle vocals. I can— If I just change some stuff, it'll be fine." Brendon puts his hand on Ryan's knee and squeezes. Spencer watches Ryan let his own hand come to cover Brendon's up.

Spencer puts his hand to the back of Ryan's neck and rubs a little. Ryan's skin is hot under the pads of Spencer's fingers, which are calloused and not as sensitive as some people's. He really hopes he and Brendon don't catch whatever it is Ryan's got, because if Brendon does, they're really, truly fucked in a way that they aren't even at this moment, which is saying something. "I have to go find us a bassist," he says.

Ryan nods. His head droops even as his shoulders tense. Spencer pulls him onto his side, putting Ryan's head in his lap. He cards his fingers through Ryan's hair. "Go to sleep. We'll wake you with enough time."

Whether it's actually obeying the command, or just giving in to the inevitable, Ryan settles into a mildly restless sleep a few moments later. Brendon says, "You should stay with him. I'll go find us a bassist."

"Brendon—"

"Spence, he needs you."

"No, he just—"

"I can be discreet," Brendon says.

Spencer blinks. "I know."

"Oh, I thought maybe—"

But Spencer isn't going to explain that he thinks Ryan might just like waking up to Brendon beneath him more. Instead he says, "Okay. But come back in half-hour with the deed done, yeah?"

"Tops," Brendon promises. They both know it will take longer.

*


When Ryan wakes up the next morning he actually spits blood into the sink. He says, "Ow," silently and goes to go get himself some tea and juice and maybe some water to follow all that up. His throat is killing him. He doesn't think he sang, but sometimes he doesn't realize he's doing it. It seems like he would have felt his throat being rubbed into nothing more than blood. Then again, he has a tendency not to notice the worst of the damage done to himself until later.

When he gets into the main part of the bus, the first thing he notices is that Brent has magically reappeared. Amazing. Ryan doesn't say a thing. He's not talking unless he absolutely has to; he's clearly not talking to Brent. Brent says, "Um. How you feeling?"

Ryan heats his water for tea and doesn't even bother to flick Brent off. After all, Brent clearly couldn't be bothered to show up and play in Ryan's band.

"Spencer said you're kinda sick."

What the fuck Spencer was doing telling Brent that is beyond Ryan, but whatever, it doesn't matter. It means that Spencer had at least talked to Brent, so yelling has probably already gone down. One less thing to worry about. There are plenty of others. He grabs one bottle of orange juice, one of water, waits for the teakettle to whistle. Brent says over the whistle, "I really didn't mean to miss the show. I got lost."

Ryan really doesn't fucking care. He grabs a nearby pad, something he was writing notes for possible lyrics on the day before. He looks at them. They're crap. He writes over them, "A good way to have prevented that would have been not to leave, asshole." He pours some water into a mug, dumps a teabag in with it, gathers up the bottles and the mug and ignores the fact that Brent is turning an angry red.

Brent says, "Oh, yeah, walk away from a fight. That's awesome, Ryan."

Ryan thinks it's better than walking away from his band, but whatever, personal opinions are just that. The curtain is drawn but there's no noise coming from Spencer's bunk so Ryan peeks his head in. Brendon's spooned in Spencer's arms and Ryan's about to turn, go back to his own bunk when Brendon's eyes open. He says, "Hey. How you feeling?"

Ryan shrugs. Brendon squeezes Spencer's arm. "Spence. Ryan."

Spencer's eyes open slowly. Ryan can see how tired he is. He should have gone back to his own bunk. Spencer was probably up late dealing with Brent. Spencer says, "Hey. Feel any better?"

Despite the throat thing, Ryan does feel a little bit better, so he nods. Spencer sits up, pulling Brendon into a sitting position next to him so that Ryan can hand the tea to one of them and crawl in, share the space. Brendon hands him back the tea and Ryan sips gingerly. It burns at his throat a little, but once that dies down, it helps. Brendon pushes some of Ryan's hair out of his eyes. Normally Ryan would rouse the energy to give him a "what the fuck" glance, but it feels too good to be closed down about the fact that Ryan likes being touched with care. Ryan likes Brendon touching him, really, in general. He'll go back to remembering how problematic that is tomorrow when he doesn't feel like someone dragged him behind the bus for three or four states. When he feels like he can, he whispers, "What are we gonna do?"

Brendon winces at the sound of Ryan's voice. Spencer says, "Wait a second, Ry," and gets out of the bunk. He returns shortly with a pad and a pen and puts them in Ryan's lap. Ryan finishes his tea and scribbles, "Thanks," then, "Brent?"

Spencer curls up and rests his chin on his knee. "I— I don't know. We yelled a lot. I was surprised you slept through it. He said some—"

Ryan notices how stiff Brendon is. He can imagine the sort of things Brent said. He pats Brendon's knee. Spencer sighs. "At the very least, we clearly need to be more prepared for things like yesterday."

Ryan writes, "Back-up bassist?"

Spencer scrubs a hand over his face. "I told him— I told him once more and he was out."

Ryan blinks. Spencer says, "I was sorta pissed."

Ryan's hand moves furiously along the paper. "Did you mean it?"

"Don't I have to, at this point?"

Ryan looks down at the paper, canary yellow and evenly lined. He writes outside the lines, "What do you think?" and nudges the pad at Brendon.

Softly, Brendon says, "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be in the band." That isn't an answer though, so Ryan just waits. Finally, Brendon says, "We sort of— I mean, we all made a commitment, I thought. To this thing. Each other. I— I don't understand why he—" He bites his lip until Spencer puts a finger to the spot, makes him let go. Spencer's careful with Brendon like that. Ryan's stomach twists and he takes some of the water. It doesn't help. Brendon sighs. "I think Spence is right. We've said it, we have to mean it."

Ryan taps the pen slowly against the paper, one, two, three. He deliberately rights it, then, and writes, "He still has one more chance."

Spencer gives him a half smile. Ryan has no idea if Spencer knows the way Ryan counts his friendships, in hours and days and years. Ryan has only ever lost track of one count: Spencer's. He thinks that means Spencer has to stay with him, he hopes. Until the final tick of the clock, though, Ryan can never hear the hours, minutes, seconds winding down. He always just hears the steady tick-tock of the bond continuing on. He knows he should hear, but evidently he is deaf in certain ways, where he can single out every chord, every note of music upon his first listen. Everyone has his weaknesses.

Brendon nods. "Yeah. Another chance."

Ryan thinks that him and Brendon are more alike than is probably healthy for either of them. He writes, "I have to pass out now."

Spencer says, "Finish your orange juice."

Ryan opens it up and starts drinking.

*

Spencer actually has no intention of talking to Jon about the problem. Sure, Jon's helped them out and Spencer likes Jon, but Jon is TAI's and this is Panic's issue and Spencer thinks those two facts are a bit like water and electricity. He talks about it quietly to their techs, and hi, their techs already know. Everyone already knows, because it isn't as though they can cover up the fact that they have to scramble at the last minute to get someone on that stage with them—someone who never knows the new orchestrations they've worked out and forces them back into playing the album as is—but there is a polite silence surrounding the issue and Spencer would really prefer it stay that way.

Jon evidently is a little lost on the concept of propriety, because he brings Spencer a blueberry smoothie from out of nowhere one morning and says, "I really hope you're not some kind of freak who doesn't like blueberries." He manages to say this without sounding like he would judge if Spencer is such a freak.

Spencer shakes the offering and opens it up. "Nope."

"Reassuring," Jon says, and takes a sip of his smoothie. "So, I'm gonna talk for a bit here, and you can either listen or walk away mid-sentence, which will probably cue me into the fact that I should shut my face."

"Choices noted."

"Wilson seems like a nice enough kid and all, but I've sort of been doing this for a while, like, since I really was a kid, and probably shouldn't have, but really needed to, I mean really, y'know, needed to and that's the thing about this shit. Because honestly, Smith, who the fuck wants to live in a moving vehicle eighty percent of the time, not see their family, their friends, not have anything really except the things that follow them, whether that's fans or possessions or whatever? It's kind of crazy, a benign kind of crazy, but crazy all the same and you have to be the right sort of crazy to want it. I think— I think you ride the rail of crazy, that you're not like me or Ross or even Urie, who each have to keep moving for our own reasons, even if they're different reasons, wildly different, really, but you have to keep moving for them, and that's enough. That's a reason. Wilson cares about you guys and all, but he's not willing to sit in the crazy camp for the three of you, and you need someone who either will do it because of you, or will find his own reason, because nothing else is going to stick."

Spencer toys with the rim of his smoothie bottle. "What are you suggesting?"

Jon shakes his head. "I'm not, I'm really not. He's your friend and that's— That matters. It's just, look, all of you look like hell. Ross goes around looking like someone took a horsewhip to him, Urie's terrorizing everyone's crew, you're dropping pounds like you want to try out for Top Model, and if Wilson starts holding his shoulders any higher, they're gonna climb right on up above his head. This isn't good for any of you, and if it goes on he's not going to be your friend and I can't possibly be telling you anything you don't already know. I just thought it might help to hear it from someone outside the problem."

Spencer doesn't know why he says, "We gave him one more chance. That's it," except that Jon doesn't seem like he'll tell anyone.

Jon nods. "Seems fair."

"You don't think he'll take it."

Jon's face is nothing but compassion. "He needs the things other people need. That's all. That's all I can say."

Spencer picks at the label on his smoothie bottle. "Thanks."

"Oh, well, we keep a lot of raspberry around, too, if you ever want."

Spencer frowns and then figures it out. "I meant for the—"

"I know." Jon says, and stays where he is, like maybe he gets that Spencer doesn't really want to be left with his own thoughts just then.

*


The night that Brent fucks up his last chance, Ryan has the nightmare where his mom kicks his dad out of the house. Only in the nightmare, Ryan never sees his father again. Ryan has no idea what happens to his father—the nightmare is more images and sound than actual narrative—he just knows that he's gone. Ryan's entirely sure that idea shouldn't be so nightmarish, but he's given up trying to police his emotions. Ryan cares about the things/people he cares about and there's really just no changing or stopping that.

He asks Spencer, "Want me to—"

"I could—" Brendon cuts in.

"You're both useless at this shit," Spencer tells them, his arms crossed over his chest, hands clasped over his shoulders. Ryan bites his lower lip. Spencer sighs. "I didn't—"

"I am," Ryan says, because he actually tries to be honest most of the time, particularly in regard to himself. Brendon looks away. Spencer reaches out a hand and pulls Brendon to him, rubs at his back, whispers something that Ryan suspects is an apology. He doesn't lean in to hear, instead looking down, watching the way his feet continue to support him. It's kind of odd, when they feel so numb.

"Where is he?" Spencer asks, his chin propped on Brendon's shoulder.

Ryan shakes his head. "I think, maybe on the tech's bus?"

Spencer keys up his phone with his free hand and leaves the message, "Call when you get this."

Ryan doesn't think Brent actually will, given the rate of responsiveness they've had from him lately, but he's surprised, because Brent calls within ten minutes. Spencer puts it on speakerphone. He says, "Brent, it's all of us."

"Yeah," Brent says.

"We said—"

Ryan watches as Spencer's grip on Brendon tightens, as Brendon stills so as not to accidentally get hurt. He thinks about pulling Spencer off slightly, but doesn't know if the interference will be appreciated. Spencer starts again. "We said once more, Brent. We said that. I know you were listening, you fucking agreed."

"Look, I know what we said, but this was, this was a valid emergency, okay? Josie called and her sister was missing, the one with Downs, her mom fucking lost her at the mall and it was—she really needed me. I don't know what you expected me to do, just tell her I had to go play a show? I mean, it was her sister."

Spencer says softly, "Yeah, that's pretty— That's pretty awful. But you were in Michigan and she was in Nevada and her sister was also probably in Nevada, so yes, Brent, that's precisely what you were supposed to do. You could have told her you would call her back, you could have made sure she had someone else to talk to, there were a few options in this situation, but not a single one of them was skipping the show."

"You have got to be kidding me with this." Brent keeps going, keeps yelling, but Ryan stops hearing, because all he can hear is the way this, this is the part that's a joke to Brent. He snaps back in when he hears Brent ask, "Are Ryan and Brendon there?"

"I said we all were," Spencer tells him.

"Brendon's being pretty fucking quiet. He too afraid to tell me you guys are kicking me out of the band?"

"He offered," Spencer says, sounding way more pissed than he has this whole conversation. "So did Ryan."

"Sure they did, when they can't even fucking say anything now that I've called them out."

Ryan closes his eyes. It's odd to him that Brent doesn't understand that there's nothing to say, that Brent made his choice and it wasn't Ryan, wasn't Ryan's band, wasn't their band, and really, what's Ryan going to say to that? Spencer just says, "You're going home Brent. There will be a ticket ready in the morning. Be happy, that's what you've wanted, wasn't it?"

"Fuck you, Spencer, and your fucking self-righteousness."

"Okay," Spencer says, and hits the "end" button. Ryan hopes like hell the little button on Spencer's Nokia isn't being prophetic.

*

The three of them go to Jon together. Spencer offers to talk with him alone, but Brendon says, "Stop trying to make a move on Walker while I'm not looking."

Ryan says, "Stop accusing my best friend of doing something you would do."

Brendon sticks his tongue out. Ryan rolls his eyes and somehow it is decided that all three of them are going to be doing this. Spencer thinks that might be a little overwhelming for Jon, but he doesn't say anything. Spencer brings Jon a considerable beverage from the Steak 'n Shake just down the road. Jon looks at it. Spencer explains, "Turtle Caramel Nut Sippable Sundae. Ryan said not everybody likes them, but I called him for the liar he is."

Jon pops the top and looks in. "Awesome. Wanna share?"

"No," Spencer says, "fuck no," Ryan says, "hell yes," Brendon says. Jon takes a sip and hands it over to Brendon, who isn't quite so sparing in his attack. Spencer drags his eyes away from Brendon, who is not supposed to be eating their gift offering. He says, "I'm just gonna talk here for a bit, and if you want you can, y'know, wander off."

"Mm, okay," Jon says, and gently coaxes his sundae back from the Brendon Monster.

"You were right," Spencer tells him. "About Brent." Spencer can feel Ryan looking at him, feel the absolute smoothness of Ryan's gaze, the way there's nothing in it, nothing so long as Spencer doesn't touch the surface, see the lack of understanding right below. They don't keep secrets from each other, the never have, except for all the times when Spencer hasn't said, "touch me," hasn't said, "we aren't just friends." Maybe he's gotten a little too into the habit of omission.

Jon takes a sip and hands the drink back to Brendon. "Sorry."

"Not your fault," Ryan snaps. Spencer looks at Ryan and the smoothness is back. He doesn't apologize, though. Brendon isn't drinking.

Spencer says, "We get that you have a job, a good job, that pays you and all, and we would totally get if you laughed at us for asking this, but we were wondering—"

"I'd fucking jump at the chance to be your temporary. And if that wasn't what you were going to ask, I'm going to be embarrassed now, so find some way to cover, okay?"

Brendon grins. "Ballsy, Walker." He takes to drinking Jon's sundae once more. Jon steals it from him and gulps down a somewhat impressive amount before handing the drink back to Brendon and saying, "Finish it." Brendon takes him at his word. Spencer meets Jon's eyes and says, "That was what we were going to ask."

"Oh," Jon says with a relieved smile. "Good."

"There'll have to be a ton of extra practices, we're gonna need you to stay on our bus, talk through all the changes we've been wanting to do, see if you can—"

"I can do whatever you want, Ryan Ross," Jon says calmly. "Whatever."

"Can you bring us more milkshakes?" Brendon asks.

Jon looks at Spencer. "And here I thought you planned on asking me for a favor."

Spencer doesn't want to admit it, but he thinks it's a good sign that Jon doesn't notice they just did.

*


The first time they play a show with Jon, Ryan's glad that they've made the decision to take things easy on themselves, go with the sets they're most familiar with, because he can't feel his fingers. It's as if they don't belong to him. For the first three songs he's nothing but instinct, made up wholly of muscle memory and then, suddenly, on the fourth song, Jon deviates from the plan, just fucking goes off the road map and Ryan's immediate reaction is, "What the fuck? This isn't your band, this isn't your song, this isn't—" Then Jon does it again, and Ryan actually listens. He doesn't even mean to, but his mind has never really given him a choice when confronted with interesting music, well-played music and what Jon is doing is tiny, miniscule, really, but completely fascinating.

Ryan sends a mental apology out to Brendon, who's probably a little pissed that they're screwing with the only harmony he's got backing him up, and answers Jon. It's just a few notes of difference, nothing much, but it's new and it's—okay, Ryan's man enough to admit it—better. And he knows, even though the knowledge twists at him with a sharpness far beyond any knife, he knows that Brent was never going to do that, never going to push, never get in there and make Ryan listen.

When they get off the stage, Brendon immediately says, "Guys, seriously, a little warning?" but he's smiling, and Ryan knows he felt the push, too. Brendon listens in different ways than Ryan does, but he listens, and whatever else, they were always waiting for, always hoping Brent would catch up.

"Sorry," Jon says, but he doesn't sound all that sorry, and he's letting Brendon climb up for a piggy-back ride, so if he had needed punishment, Ryan would feel it already justly meted out.

Jon trots off with Brendon and Spencer asks, "Ryan?"

Ryan turns to look at Spencer. After a minute he asks, "Did you hear it?" because Spencer doesn't listen like Brendon and Ryan, Spencer listens in counts, in rhythms, and he doesn't know if it sounded the same back where Spencer was sitting, behind them, above them, watching and keeping them on course.

"I…saw it, I suppose."

Ryan cocks his head.

"When it was you and Brent, even early, even when Brent was still ours, there was always a distance between you. At first I didn't think about it, hadn't really seen enough bands to notice that it was something different. Then I thought it was Brendon, because he does, he creates his own space, even if we're allowed in it. But then I just realized that the two of you, it was like you couldn't talk with your instruments, which should have been the one thing you could talk with, even when nothing else was working. You're like that with Brendon, with me. Brendon and I are like that with each other. But not Brent. And it wasn't just you, it wasn't, but it was worst with you, because he was the bassist and you were the guitarist and— It was worst."

"And it wasn't— Jon and I don't have that?"

Spencer shakes his head. "I look down and everything moves together. I mean, I don't know, maybe it's just optimism. We've only had one show and we're all fucking scared and I wouldn't put it past any of us to be seeing the things, hearing the things we want to hear, you know?"

Ryan nods. "You're probably right."

They look at each other for a second and then both break, grinning at each other like complete idiots. Spencer says, "I'm not."

Ryan hopes like hell he isn't. It's a hard thing to do, hope, and most of the time Ryan can talk himself out of it like a nice, reasonable human being, but just now, just this once, he lets himself have his dreams.

*


The placement of his drum kit allows Spencer a pretty good view of everything that happens on stage. And sure, he spends a lot of time, say, playing the drums, but that doesn't mean he doesn't catch things, particularly in practice, when he doesn't have to sink as far into the music, when he can save it for later, for the paying audience. Spencer thinks that this is the reason he probably knew Brendon was in love with Ryan before Brendon knew. Brendon is an easy read if someone just knows what he's looking for, and Spencer has been raised to try and read Ryan, who's a bit like the equivalent of black ink on black construction paper. There are indentations there, marks that if someone knows where to run his fingers and how to read the lines underneath the skin that catches them, well, then he might have a chance of deciphering the message.

In comparison, Brendon is a children's book—large print and clear margins. Jon is a little harder, but Spencer figures that's mostly because he doesn't know Jon as well yet, hasn't learned what font his letters are in. What Spencer does know, can see, is that Brendon looks at Jon, looks at him, and Jon, well, he looks back.

Spencer's not threatened. Jon wants to be in this band—he can read that much—and he's not stupid, he won't take what isn't his. No, what Spencer's feeling is decidedly more complicated than threatened.

It's stupid, it's fucking stupid, because when Spencer did what Ryan asked of him, when he went and gave Brendon what he needed and stayed by Brendon and was good for Brendon, it wasn't even love, then. Or, it was love, because Brendon is in his band, and he's his friend, and of course, there's love there, but it hadn't been love the way love had introduced itself to Spencer, with Ryan fucking Ross and his fucking impenetrable heart. It was just that Brendon needed Spencer and Spencer could be there and that's what Spencer does, who he is. Spencer's known that since the day his mom brought his baby sister home when Spencer was three and Spencer knew he had to help keep the very tiny human in the bundle of blankets quiet and happy. There are worse instincts to have; Spencer doesn't mind.

Only, somewhere along the way—Spencer thinks maybe it was the way that Brendon looked at him too, the way Brendon did need him, or maybe just the fact that Brendon is Brendon and there's no arguing with that sort of thing—it became pretty much about being in love, and that's where it seems to have gotten stuck. The annoying part about being in love—and Brendon didn't even have to teach Spencer this, Ryan had already gotten there for him—is that it causes Spencer to want to keep the other person whole, keep him happy. It causes Spencer to want to give the object of his love said object's wants and desires.

And Brendon wants Jon. Still. Spencer has cause to think he's never stopped wanting Jon. The frustrating part is, Brendon will never, ever act on that. And Spencer could keep him all to himself and never let on that there's another option. Ryan's sure as hell not going to say anything, if he even knows, and Brendon isn't unhappy with what he has. Brendon, Spencer knows, loves Spencer right back. It's just that Spencer isn't the only person he loves. Spencer would be all about feeling dispirited and emo over that, except that Spencer's pretty much going to be in love with Ryan until the end of his days, so that would be hypocritical, and that's something Spencer stridently tries to avoid being.

Then there's the other part. The part where sometimes it isn't Brendon that Jon looks at. Sometimes it's Ryan. Sometimes, on rare occasions, Spencer has opened his eyes in the middle of a riff and caught Jon looking awfully close to something Spencer would categorize as "turned on beyond all reason" by Spencer himself. And those times, those times have caught Spencer, because Jon Walker in a state of want is surprisingly driving, ridiculously so, really. Spencer would be lying if he said that he didn't have any interest in seeing that through, trying it out. He would really, really be lying if he said he didn't have any interest in watching Jon get on his knees, take Brendon in his mouth, drive Brendon the kind of crazy that made Spencer think they would both explode out of their skin. And he would also be lying if he said maybe he didn't want to kiss Jon afterward, taste Brendon on Jon, taste Jon.

Brendon, though, for someone who had no issue taking pleasure from whomsoever was willing to provide, is sort of indecently, brilliantly loyal and this kind of utterly perfect boyfriend, so Spencer is careful, very careful, when he kisses Brendon into submission, sucks him into stupidity, cuddles him into mindlessness and asks, "Brendon, are you a little bit in love with Jon?"

Brendon curls his fingers into Spencer's and holds tight, holds so tight. For a second, Spencer thinks that's the only answer he's going to get. Then Brendon says, "He's…it's a band thing."

"No, it wasn't with Brent," Spencer says, because he wants them to be honest, if nothing else, he wants that.

"Brent—" Brendon bites his lip. "He was never— It wasn't— There was no fit. There wasn't." He sounds guilty and sad, but he sounds sure.

"I know," Spencer says, entirely certain he sounds exactly the same. He takes a breath. "Brendon, if you wanted, if you wanted to try, we could ask Jon, we could offer."

Brendon twists in his arms to look at him. He looks and looks and looks for a long time until finally he says, "Band thing."

Spencer nods. Brendon nods in response. Spencer pulls him down and says, "Tomorrow. Tonight you're—" he cuts himself off.

"Yours," Brendon finishes for him, and Spencer holds on with a grip that is probably just a little too tight.

*


Ryan says, "Um, what?" because he's pretty certain he heard wrong. He doesn't hear wrong all that often; Ryan listens and watches with his ears, his eyes are always an afterthought, an, "oh, right." But Jon has a sort of soft speaking voice, and they've been tuning their instruments, so pitch has been foremost in Ryan's head.

Jon asks again—without any sign that he minds having to repeat himself, "Would it upset you if I had coffee with Spencer and Brendon? Not as my bandmates?"

Ryan takes his hands off his guitar. He's not stupid, he knows his tells. "They invited you to coffee?"

"No, they invited me into their bed, but I told them I'm not that kind of boy."

"Really?" Ryan asks, because Jon doesn't seem particularly high-maintenance, and it's going to be more than a little ironic if Ryan—who is the most high-maintenance person Ryan knows—requires less from a sexual interlude than Jon does.

"Really." Jon smiles, and doesn't say anything else. Ryan hasn't noticed until now that Jon's smile can hide things; or, well, not hide, exactly. It's more like it has things waiting in it, things that Ryan could ask about, but he'd have to ask. Ryan considers it. This is new, this is an angle of Jon he's never seen, never guessed at, and it tugs at his curiosity, sharper than a comb at a tangle. In the end he asks, "Why would that upset me?"

Jon's eyes narrow fractionally. "Because there's four of us in this band, and three of us would be having coffees together. If I were the fourth, it might upset me."

There's something Jon's not saying. Ryan doesn't know how he knows, he just does. Jon can usually fly right under the radar of Ryan's built-in—okay, fine, long-honed—bullshit radar, but he's pinging it hard just now. Ryan wonders if he should ask, should find out what Jon knows, but if Jon knows the things Ryan wants and the things that are so clearly unavailable to him Ryan doesn't think he wants to have that information. It's far better to believe Jon is still just being cautious with them, still trying not to fuck up, still trying to have his name on a contract somewhere that declares him one of them. He says, "I get my coffee elsewhere."

Jon says, "You should try asking for it, sometime. The coffee. Before."

Ryan smiles at that, hoping it's sardonic rather than simply edged. "I'm not that kind of boy."

"Are you sure? Or is it just that you've never had the courage to try being him?"

Ryan's been called a lot names in his life: pussy, bitch, combinations thereof, asshole, lametard, the list goes on. Coward is a new addition, if only by implication. The worst part is, Ryan knows that the burn in his stomach isn't anger; it's shame. He looks Jon in the eye and tells him the biggest lie he has ever told anyone, including the time he told his mother he was straight, because it was clearly what she wanted to hear. "I'm sure."

"All right," Jon says softly. It's not judgmental, but there's something about it Ryan can't read. It leaves him uneasy. He doesn't need Jon seeing the things that Spencer's too close, knows him too well to see. He doesn't need Jon seeing the things that Brendon would simply prefer not to see. He doesn't need Jon destroying his lies, his perfectly safe, lyrical lies. Jon asks, "You want us to bring you back anything, when we go? Something sweet? Bitter? Bittersweet?"

Ryan makes himself laugh and writes down his very, very particular coffee order.

*


After the second date, when they've progressed from coffee to brunch, Spencer asks, "Is it that you don't want to sleep with us?" Spencer doesn't think he read the situation that wrong, but they're all guys and young and Spencer's not exactly as cavalier as either Ryan or Brendon about sex, but he's not demanding about it either. It's hard to envision Jon Walker as a guy who is. "Because you could say. I mean, I know it's a trial period and all, but we're not the kind of assholes who would kick you out of the band because you didn't suck our dicks."

"Well, that's good to know," Jon says, and doesn't bother to answer the question. Beside Spencer, Brendon is fidgeting.

"Jon—" Spencer starts.

"I just like being sure about things," Jon tells them. "In this case, whether the fact that I want the two of you outweighs the fact that generally, sleeping with people in your band causes break-ups and really horrific VH1 specials. And that's just when people are sleeping with one member of their band."

"That…makes sense," Spencer decides. Brendon makes a noise of displeasure at his side, but doesn't contradict the decision.

"Also, I've waited to do this for a bit, it seems, I mean, compared to other people. A little bit longer just to know it's a good idea? Probably not the stupidest thing I'm ever going to do."

Spencer goes over the sentence in his head. Brendon asks, "Like, waited to do us? Because, I gotta tell you, Jon, there's a fair amount of people in the world who were able to step right up to this particular plate."

Spencer smacks his knee. Brendon says, "Ow, mean," but he doesn't sound hurt, so Spencer's not concerned. What Spencer is concerned with is the fact that Jon's answer is, "No, not to do you, to do this," and he seems serious. Granted, Spencer can't read Jon as well as he can read either Brendon or Ryan, but there's a simplicity to his tone that's hard to effect when telling anything other than the truth.

Brendon asks, "This like…date somebody?"

"This like fuck somebody," Jon clarifies, taking a sip of his orange juice like he hasn't just made a fairly earth-shaking statement. Brendon laughs but when neither Spencer nor Jon joins him it cuts out quickly.

He says, "Wait, you're not kidding?"

Jon shrugs. "My mom's really open about sex, and she has all this good advice but her number one thing was always that it was worth waiting to get what you really wanted. Not just the first time, but any time."

"Jon. Seriously. For the— You're kidding, right? I mean, this is— You're kidding." Brendon sounds a little desperate. Spencer risks putting his hand over Brendon's thigh under the table. Brendon's jitters calm slightly at the touch, but he's still all but on top of the table, leaning forward, waiting for Jon's answer.

Jon says, "Okay, I'm getting that this is a problem."

"Well, yeah, Jon," and now Brendon's just pure edges, the way he can sometimes be when he performs 'Camisado' or used to be after he'd come home from a night of never getting exactly what he needed. His voice drops to a hiss. "You wanna make sure we're the right guys to deflower you? I'll give you a fucking heads up. Spencer was pure as the buggy-driven snow before I got to him, but there pretty much isn't a bathroom this side of the Mason-Dixon that hasn't seen some part of me on it's floor, so why don't I just give you your answer?"

"Pay the bill," Spencer says to Jon, and moves out of the booth, pushing Brendon out as a matter of course.

"No," Brendon says, "no, we're finishing—"

Spencer says low, and with as little anger as he can manage. "We will. We will finish. But you and I need to talk first."

Brendon's coiled tighter than any spring Spencer's ever seen, but after a bit he nods and heads toward the door. Spencer gets them a cab because a) Jon has the keys and b) it seems kind of tacky, leaving Jon with the bill and no car. Spencer waits until they're back at the hotel, back in their room to pin Brendon to the bed, hold him down with arms honed by years of drumming and ask, "Am I too good for you, Brendon? Am I, and you just haven't been telling me this whole time?"

Brendon jerks but then relaxes into the grip, well and truly caught. He says, "It's one— Ryan does it because he likes the way it feels, he likes the connection, Ryan likes skin and touch and. . . He likes it. And it's not that I didn't like it, not that it was bad, it wasn't, it was good, but every time I went out there it was a 'fuck you', that's all it was, and when you finally— When you— By that time, I had forgotten there could be something else. You had to fucking remind me of that, Spence. That's not what I want for him. Not his first time. Maybe, I don't know, maybe you could—"

"No, Brendon."

"Spencer, you have no idea, you're so—"

"No. If he decides he wants us, he decides he wants us. I don't think it's a wrong decision, but if it is, he's allowed to make those. We're not allowed to make his decisions for him."

Brendon sighs. "It's too bad. You make good decisions."

"No more often than you do," Spencer tells him. Brendon snorts. Spencer repeats, "No more often than you do."

Brendon says, "It's just. I'd want to give him everything that I could have wanted it to be and that's— Too big. It's like one of Ryan's fucking Ideals, always too big."

"And yet, here we are, touring in a band."

Brendon says, "Well, Ryan's surprisingly good at making the Too Big the Just Right."

Spencer looks straight at Brendon. "He had help."

*


Ryan answers the knock on his door to find Spencer standing there, looking a little at ends. Ryan stands back and says, "Um, hey?"

Spencer paces for a bit and Ryan lets him because sometimes a guy just has to pace. Eventually Ryan asks, "Would you like me to pace with you?"

Spencer ignores the question, but he finally says, "When you told me to go to Brendon, why did you do that, why did you— What made you think—"

"He had a black eye, Spence, there wasn't a lot of thinking. You would have done it even if I hadn't told you, you would have. It was like that time I got myself lost on the Strip when I was ten and had delusions about the glamour of running away and you just got your dad and came and found me. You find us and you put us back where we're supposed to be."

Spencer looks at him for a second, just looks at him, and Ryan can sense the depth of Spencer's helplessness in the moment, but he can't understand where it's coming from or how to make it go away. He says, "At's-Whay ong-wray?"

Spencer holds out for a second before bursting out with laughter. When they were younger they could speak fluent Pig Latin, endless sentences of it with naught a word in regular English. It was easy enough for them to follow, but nobody else could and for all that it was a common fake language, they had managed to make it theirs and only theirs. "E-hay inks-thay e's-hay irty-day."

"I know," Ryan says softly. "I know, but what—"

"Jon's a virgin."

"Come again."

"Jon, he hasn't had the sex."

"We are both speaking the same language, right, because I don't understand—"

"Yeah, it took Brendon a while, too."

"Oh, fuck, you're serious."

"As fucking death." Spencer nods.

"Why the hell would Jon Walker be a virgin? What could have possibly possessed him?"

"I—" Spencer peers over at Ryan. "Ry, look, I mean, okay, this isn't my business, really, but— Does it make you happy? What you do at those clubs does it—"

Ryan won't lie to Spencer, he won't, not even about this and oh, oh he wants to lie. He says, "It gets me by. I like sex."

Spencer opens his mouth as though he has something to say but in the end he just resumes pacing. "Evidently getting by isn't enough for Jon Walker."

After a bit, Ryan asks, "Why is this freaking you out so badly?" He can think of a couple of different options but he figures this is the sort of thing he really should ask about rather than simply making rash assumptions.

"It is one thing," Spencer holds up a finger to illustrate, "to be something to Brendon because he needs something and I am more something than anything he's ever had."

"Brendon loves you," Ryan says, because there really is no room for argument on that particular issue and no matter how much it sucks, sucks that Brendon and Spencer love each other, are all about each other, that Ryan has to be in love with these two people who are evidently meant for each other and possibly, possibly Jon Walker, all the same, that is how events stand.

"I know, but that wasn't how it was at first, it wasn't, Ryan."

Ryan nods. Maybe not, but Ryan thinks the germ was already there. Still, okay, fine.

"But Jon talks about shit in terms of it being real, of us being real and that's just, I don't know, a lot of fucking expectation to live up to, and I'm really trying to keep this band together, you know?"

Ryan knows. He's right there with Spencer. "What happens if you don't try?"

Spencer sighs and finally sinks onto the bed. "Brendon never gets to see that he's worth that kind of expectation, I never prove to myself that it could be something, really something, and Jon's waited all this time for something he can't have. At the very least."

"Pencer-Say."

Spencer nods. "Eah-Yay. Kay-Oay."

*

Brendon answers the door at the knock and after about a minute, Spencer says, "Let him in, Bren." Brendon steps back, and Jon comes in the room. He's wearing jeans and a v-neck white undershirt, exactly what he always wears. Spencer's pretty sure it didn't always look like such an invitation.

Jon looks at Brendon and says, "It's not like I don't pay attention, Brendon Urie."

"What does Tom say?" Brendon asks, almost sweetly. "Did he have any good tips for how to get the best use out of me?"

"Hush, I don't want to have to punch you for talking smack about my best friend. He said he's never slept with anyone who was so far away before, is what he said, and he told me to be careful, and I told him what I'm going to tell you now: I know what I'm doing."

Brendon is still for a moment, considering, but Spencer knows the second before he's going to spring. He does then, his mouth on Jon's, hungry and a little bit mean and Spencer just watches, watches to see if Jon actually does know what he's doing, or if that was all talk. Jon arches into the kiss, clearly every bit as starved, maybe more, he arches in and takes Brendon's hips in his hands without any express permission and after several minutes of simply going head to head with Brendon, of taking what Brendon has to give, Jon has managed to quiet him a bit. Spencer thinks, all right, then and says, "Brendon."

Brendon breaks away from the kiss to look at Spencer. His eyes are glazed, done in, and Spencer can't help his smile, can't help the leap of his own dick, which is more than hard enough just from watching. Spencer says, "Let's teach Jon, ok?"

Brendon nods somewhat dumbly and Spencer knows he hasn't a clue what the fuck Spencer is saying to him, just knows that agreeing with Spencer when he's sexually frustrated usually gets him what he wants. Spencer goes over and tugs Brendon toward the bed. Brendon goes somewhat reluctantly, with an apologetic look in Jon's direction. Jon seems pretty confident that Spencer plans to include him, and so not all that terribly worried. Spencer undresses Brendon and seats him at the edge of the bed. "Jon," he says, "we could both do with a lot more nakedness on your part."

Jon pitches him a look. "I could say the same of you."

Spencer rolls his eyes and peels off his clothes. Jon starts in once Spencer's shirt is lying, abandoned to its fate. Spencer says, "C'mere," and Jon comes. Spencer takes a second to taste Jon, dip in shortly. Then he pulls back. Jon's mouth follows his for a bit before Jon opens his eyes, gives Spencer a dirty look. Spencer looks back at him guilelessly. "I want to teach you how Brendon likes his cock sucked. Would you like that?"

Jon looks down at the cock in question and says, "Spence, fuck."

Spencer takes that as agreement. He places a hand on Jon's shoulder and pushes him carefully to his knees. Jon braces himself with his hands on Brendon's thighs. Spencer sits next to Brendon, rests his chin on Brendon's shoulder. He says, "He likes to be teased, likes to show me—us—how much he can take. So start with kisses, or licks."

Jon tries out both. He is curious with it, generous in his curiosity. Brendon's breathing becomes labored fairly quickly and Spencer slips his hand into Brendon's, lets him squeeze. When Brendon really can't handle anymore he says, "Spence, please."

Spencer says, "Take the head in your mouth, Jon. Just the head. Get used to him, the way he tastes. He's pretty fucking unique."

Brendon whimpers and Spencer figures Jon has done something like suck, or maybe tease at the hole. Jon is a clever little fuck, and he knows how to play his instrument. Spencer says, "Sh, you can take it, take it for us."

Brendon nods. Spencer waits until he's shaking, his whole body moving, to say, "All right, Jon. Take as much as you can. Go slow, breathe through your nose, stop when it gets to be too much. If after a few seconds you feel like you can take more, do, but careful, gagging really isn't any fun."

It takes a while, an excruciatingly long while, for Jon to make it a little over halfway up Brendon's cock. Brendon is all muscle and tendon by that point, his neck straining back, his shoulders screwed upward. Spencer uses his free hand to caress at Brendon's throat, his chest. He is so unutterably fucking gorgeous like this, and Spencer's glad Jon came along, glad there is somebody to show Spencer, help him see the things even he couldn't. "Put your hand around his cock, Jon, the part you can't manage, wrap it in your hand." Jon does as instructed. Spencer says, "Now, suck."

Brendon moans, whimpers, says, "Spencer, oh, Spence, he—" Spencer strokes at Brendon's stomach and when he really thinks Brendon is past the point of all rational thought and capability he says, "Jon, pull off." Jon pulls off, back and Brendon lets go with a cry, comes over the better part of Jon's chest. Jon kisses Brendon's thigh in the aftermath, looks up at Spencer accusingly, "I would have swallowed."

"That's a little much for the first time," is all Spencer says, lowering Brendon backward onto the bed.

Jon looks at Spencer and says, "I want a little much. I waited, I fucking waited. I don't want to climb up on that bed and rub off against you. I mean, I do want that, eventually, but for right now—"

Spencer cuts him off. "Jesus, impatient much?" He can sort of sympathize, though. If he'd been holding out as long as Jon, he'd probably be a complete bitch about it, much, much worse than Jon. "I'll make you a deal."

Jon looks suspicious, but gestures for him to go on. Spencer says, "You climb up on this bed and rub off on me just a little. And if you still want to fuck, we'll do that."

Jon seems as though he suspects a trap, but he also seems as though he really wants Spencer's cock. Finally he says, "Deal."

Spencer pulls Brendon up the bed so that he can be on level with them. Brendon has recovered enough that he's watching the proceedings with some interest. Spencer tugs Jon atop him and kisses him and at the first touch of their cocks he's quite sure he's won, because Jon says, "Oh Jesus, oh fuck, fuck."

What he doesn't count on is Brendon fucking Boyd Urie speaking up somewhere between the third and fourth stroke. Brendon's inquiry, "Don't you want that cock in you?" is soft, so soft Spencer almost doesn't hear. He does, though, and tries not to black right out at the thought. From somewhere, though, Jon says, "Yes, Jesus, yes."

Spencer's mind wipes itself completely blank. There's nothing but Brendon's words. "He knows exactly what to do, exactly how to make a boy beg. And if you were good, good and let him all the way in, let me watch as he took you places you've never let yourself go, then I would reward you, reward you with my mouth, my lead singer, pretty boy mouth."

"Please, please," Jon pants, completely desperate, an utter mess in Spencer's arms. Spencer looks at Brendon, unsure if he's feeling simply surprised or utterly betrayed. Brendon returns the look with a level one, one that says, trust me, there are things I know. Spencer knows that. He whispers, "All right, Jon, okay," and reaches for the nightstand, for the lube. He lets Brendon position Jon, tuck a pillow beneath his hips, touch lightly along his back. Jon shivers underneath Brendon's fingers.

Spencer is slow, very, very slow to work the first finger inside, and even slower with the second. Jon's breathing deepens and some of the urgency leaves his body, which doesn't turn Spencer on, but he thinks that's probably for the best, because at the rate they were going, neither of them was going to make it. At the third finger, Jon makes quiet sounds and Brendon strokes his hair, says, "Sh, sh, it gets easier."

Spencer finds his prostate and Jon makes a noise that is neither human nor machine, but Spencer knows what it means. He twists again, and when the worst of the pleasure has worn off, a third time. Then he takes his fingers back, rolls the condom on and says, "Take a breath, Jon, and push out."

He makes himself go slow, slow, even though he's really at his own edge and has to keep thinking of absolutely rank things to keep himself from coming before he's even all the way in. Finally, finally he bottoms out and then stills. He asks, "Jon?"

Jon says, "Intense," his voice wavering a fair amount. Brendon kisses him. "You're so fucking hot like this, under him, taking it, taking what we want you to. Amazing, Jon Walker."

Jon takes a breathe. "Spence?"

Spencer doesn't need to be told. He moves. He keeps it slow, and doesn't really pull out much, it's more just pulsing, just moving over, along the prostate. When he thinks it's okay, he murmurs, "You deserve a reward, Mr. Walker," and rolls them to the side, so that Brendon can fit his mouth over Jon, take him in one slow, long swallow. Jon says, "Oh fuck, oh—" and comes straight down Brendon's throat. Spencer, who's been waiting for Jon, lets go at the sight of Brendon sucking him in, swallowing him down.

When Spencer has enough muscular control to blink, Brendon looks at him, his eyes fierce in the oncoming darkness. Spencer pulls him down for a kiss, sweet and slow and tired. Then he says, "Help me clean him up, Bren," and Brendon doesn't even put up a fight.

*


It's mean, but when Jon sits down across from him and winces, Ryan smirks. Jon then effortlessly makes Ryan feel even worse about himself by smiling, laughing at himself. "I know, right?"

Ryan says, "Yeah," and wanders off, ostensibly to be by himself. This is the best plan he can formulate, since, as it turns out, everyone whose phone number he has is either in his band, in his boss' band, or has slept with Brendon Urie. Or some combination thereof. As a plan, the by-himself thing is working out at least nominally until he walks past one of the dressing rooms and Greta says, "Oh, perfect, Ryan, can you help me for a sec?"

Ryan says, "Um, sure."

"It's just, I fucking hate back zippers," she says, still struggling to tug hers the inch and a half it has to go. "I mean, what's the point? I don't know anyone who can reach their own back, that's not even something that say, twenty-five percent of the population has the genetic ability to do, it's just stupid."

Ryan laughs a little, but mostly with her. He says, "Here," and reaches out to zip her up. He puts one hand to her back for leverage and when she breathes her skin is warm and soft under his palm. Ryan makes himself take his hand back. He doesn't indulge in women all that often, despite it being neater, easier in more ways than one. The women he wants are always particular and until this moment, Greta hasn't been on the list. He respects her too much to do the buddy fuck thing, not when all it can be is a diversion, not when Ryan can't really look at her, not the way she deserves someone to. Ryan tries to make himself take her right back off the list again, but when she turns to thank him she's got that smile, the one that's subtly sharp even while it's happy, implicitly cunning, but not unkind. She says, "Thanks," and Ryan says, "Any time," probably meaning it a little more than he should.

She asks, "You okay?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"You're kind of a man without a band, here."

"You're a woman without a band," he points out.

"They give me a separate dressing room," she reminds him. "Because of the whole girl parts thing. Plus, Chris went to go see if he could find us some food. There was a munchies thing. It happens."

"I've known it to, yes," Ryan tells her solemnly.

She looks at him for a second. "You sure you're okay?"

"Tired," Ryan tells her, and it's true, even if the depth of his exhaustion is nothing but the surface of things.

"You could get in on our munchies," she offers. "Chris is terribly deviant, he often brings back Pixie Sticks somewhere in his gatherings."

"Tempting," Ryan says, "but I think I'm going to go the more pedestrian coffee route."

"So cliché, Ryan, so cliché." Greta shakes her head disapprovingly. "Wanna hang around anyway? We can be a man and a woman abandoned together."

Ryan pulls up a seat on her dressing room counter.

*


Ryan has been spending a lot of time with Greta. Spencer can't tell if they're just friends, or something more. It's not that Spencer doesn't want Ryan to have friends, or even a girlfriend—okay, that's a lie, Spencer really doesn't want that, not unless the girlfriend's name is Spencer James Smith and she plays drums—but he kind of misses him. When he gets to the point where it's starting to feel like maybe he should apologize for something he doesn't even know he did, he goes to scout out Ryan. He is, predictably, with Greta.

Ryan has his head on her stomach and she's running a finger along his arm and Spencer says, "Oh, sorry, I can—"

Ryan says, "No, hey, you can—" and Greta says, "Hi, Spencer."

Spencer feels thirteen again. "Hi, I just, um—" Okay, he really, really should have had an excuse ready before he went looking. The thought is throwing, because he's never had to make anything up with Ryan before. Leave things out, sure, but not outright fib. "I had a question about that stuff we talked about with 'Esteban', but it can wait." Spencer scrambles to actually think up a question because he knows Ryan—anything about the set and he's going to be like a dog with a bone.

"No, hey, you guys should work that stuff out." Greta pushes Ryan up into a sitting position and he looks at her, disapproving and rueful. She laughs. Spencer, who has always, always liked Greta, from the first day he met her, sort of wants to kick her. Ryan almost never makes playful faces like that anymore.

The worst part is, as much as he wishes it were him doing that for Ryan, he kind of doesn't care, so long as it's being done. "Seriously, Greta, unless you were trying to get rid of him, it can wait."

Greta smiles. "He's quiet. He doesn't take much energy."

For Ryan's sake as much as for Spencer's, Spencer really hopes they're not sleeping together. Ryan rolls his eyes, "Yep, that's me. Low Maintenance Boy. It's my superpower." He gets to his feet. "C'mon, let's figure that stuff out. If I want a banjo I guess I'd better work for it, huh?"

"Banjo?" Greta asks. Spencer feels bizarrely pleased that there are things she doesn't know. Then he feels mean for feeling pleased, which sort of sucks. Especially since Spencer is not unaware that sleeping with two other guys—sort of being completely gone for said guys—doesn't really give him a lot of maneuvering space to be petty when Ryan's still out there on his own, looking for something that Spencer doesn't know how to help him find.

"You'll see," Ryan says, and Spencer really, really hates himself for the small thrill of glee he has at that response, the way Ryan still keeps their secrets, even when they're not really secret.

Greta just rolls her eyes. She waves at Spencer. "Nice seeing you. Don't be a stranger."

Spencer smirks. They see each other at least every other day, depending on the show schedule and whether people decide to order food together or not. "I'll work on that."

"You do that, Spencer Smith."

"Yeah, Spencer Smith," Ryan says, elbowing Spencer gently. Spencer curls over somewhat dramatically and Ryan laughs, pushing at him a little. "Freak."

"Yup," Spencer agrees, straightening just in time to see Ryan's smile, the one Spencer knows Ryan doesn't use on anyone else. "Goober."

"Are you serious with this?" Ryan asks. "Goober?"

Ryan is still laughing slightly, and Spencer has never been so serious in his life.

*


"Look," Greta says to Ryan. They're hanging out in her hotel room, lying next to each other on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. "Not that it's really any of my business but if I'm going to take the high and noble road here and not seduce you, could you just tell me why it is you don't sleep with Spencer?"

Ryan lets his head fall to the side. His cheek lays on her curls, burnt blonde and perfect, despite the fact that he knows she doesn't really mess with it unless there's a show. "Why are you taking the high and noble road, here?"

"I asked first," she tells him.

"What are you, five?"

"I'm not the one actually avoiding the question."

"There's nothing to avoid. Spencer and Brendon are together and they're my friends."

"Mm, yeah, I can really see the Brendon thing getting in the way for you. Or the Jon thing, for that matter."

Ryan looks at her. She says, "Relax. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who can tell, and only because I pay attention. Or, well, I pay attention to you, which means paying attention to them, and I know how a band works, so— It's not obvious, okay? It's not. Except that I think we're pretty much friends at this point, and it gets pretty clear pretty quick the parts of you that are missing. I'm not sure how they don't see them."

"It's not like that," Ryan says. It's not. Spencer's just too close to the picture, like a man who has walked up to a Monet and can't see anything except the peaks of the dried oil paint. He knows every inch of the canvas, he just doesn't always see how it all fits together. Brendon's just lost in Spencer, and Jon, Jon sometimes seems like he knows too much, but is too polite to mention it to Ryan. Either that, or he feels like it might be slightly uncomfortable to bring the situation up to Ryan, seeing as how he came into Ryan's band with his flip flops and his hair and his hips and took everything Ryan ever wanted. Ryan's not sure. It makes it easier that Jon has the sense to stay quiet.

"It's sort of like that," she says quietly.

Ryan says, "Your turn," to see if she will be diverted. He doubts it.

To his surprise she says, "Because it would be pretty fucking easy to be seduced back. And I'm not in unrequited love all over the place, so that might be dangerous for a girl, see."

Ryan rolls the little way in needed to press his lips to hers, slow, but chaste. He says, "If I could choose, Greta. If I could—"

She kisses him back, managing to bite his lip and still have it be a gesture between friends. "That's good enough."

Ryan wishes he agreed.

*


"Can't sleep?" Spencer asks softly.

Jon twists a little, careful not to jostle Brendon too much. Brendon says, "No, other way was more comfy."

Jon laughs, "Hush." Brendon laughs, too. Spencer buries his face in Brendon's hair and breathes in. Brendon uses Pantene Pro-V conditioner to keep his hair soft and it means it always smells faintly herbal, despite the fact that Spencer would lay bets on Pantene Pro-V not having a single actual herb among it's ingredients. He rests his chin atop Brendon's head and says, "Something on your mind?"

"Ryan," Jon says.

Spencer envies him. Having Ryan on his mind is a constant, plaguing problem, rather than something that occasionally causes him sleeplessness. "Oh?"

"Greta said he hasn't been with her for the past few days when he's gone AWOL."

Brendon speaks up that. "Why'd you ask?"

"Because I hadn't seen him with her."

Spencer hasn't either, but as a general rule, he tries to leave Ryan to his own devices. "He keeps coming back. It's not like with Brent." Spencer winces after he says it. Those wounds haven't healed quite to the point where he can poke at them without a little agony resultant and he also likes to be considerate and not point out the part where Jon was a replacement.

"No," Jon says, "I didn't mean that," like maybe he was the one who was being offensive there. "I just worry a little. He disappears for hours at a time."

"Most of it's probably clubs," Brendon says in a small voice, like they might remember where they found Brendon, or something, and kick him out of the bed. Spencer squeezes him, just for good measure.

"Yeah." Jon doesn't sound reassured at that. Spencer doesn't blame him, but Ryan's choices are Ryan's choices, always have been, and Spencer is not going to be the guy to try and take that from him. Jon says, "I was thinking he could use some company. As in, one of us."

"Jon—" Spencer starts.

"I know that isn't what you do with him, Spence, I know, I've watched, but, I don't know, maybe let me try. Just in case? Just in case that's something he's never thought to ask for or never gotten up the nerve, or whatever. And if it is, I'll turn him right over to you, I swear. I know— I know he's yours."

"Shut up, Jon," Spencer says.

"I just meant—"

"No, really, shut the fuck up," Brendon agrees. "Because if you're thinking you've somehow gotten what you wanted and now you can trade yourself out for Ryan Ross—"

"Brendon—" Jon starts.

"He might be Ryan and um, Ryan," Brendon continues, "but he's not Jon, so you can just fuck the fuck off with that idea."

"What he said," Spencer finishes off.

Jon sighs. "Look, all I want to do is just see if he wants someone to go clubbing with. That's all, okay? And if it turns into something more, I'll say, I swear."

Spencer curves over Brendon to kiss Jon. "We trust you."

For a moment, Brendon is silent. Spencer nudges him. "Oh, yeah," he says, "we do." Jon laughs.

*


As it turns out, Ryan still can't do bathroom quickies with Jon sitting in a booth somewhere, or out on the dance floor, waiting for him to return. He tries—if Jon is going to chaperone him like some nosy older-brother, Ryan figures he deserves what he gets—but his body has no interest in cooperating with that situation. It pisses Ryan off. A lot. Whether at himself or at Jon, he can't really tell, but it's easier to be mad at Jon so he says, "Look, if you really want to go out and sit around all night, I'm sure Brendon and Spencer would be more than happy to accompany you, maybe you guys are into that or something, but I'd like to actually get laid, so find somewhere else to have fun, would you?"

Jon frowns. "I'm stopping you from getting laid?"

Ryan would have thought that would have been obvious, what with him never being gone for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time, but maybe Jon just thought he was really fast. Or really easy. "I—" Confronted with Jon's lack of awareness, Ryan isn't entirely sure what to say. "You're like my brother," is just a lie, and probably one Jon will see through. Ryan can sell a lot, but things that are utterly preposterous often trip him up. "When I want something more than what I can have and it's sitting less than thirty feet away I have a hard time getting it up," seems a little too honest, and there's just not a lot of options in between. Lamely, he tries, "You're in my band. It's bad form to leave you out there by yourself."

"I don't care, Ry. I come to hang out with you, but I see you a lot, I don't need to be with you every minute."

If Ryan didn't know better, he would suspect Jon's utter guilelessness to hide a cunning that borders on the Machiavellian. Or maybe it does, and Jon is so Machiavellian that Ryan can't even fathom it. He says, "Jon, um—"

"If you really don't want me there, I'll stop coming."

Ryan tries, he tries for the easy solution, to say, "Yes, that would be better, I think," but he can see how Jon's eyes will probably flicker slightly, as his genuine, ongoing smile changes over to the one he uses when he's tired or frustrated and doesn't want anyone to know. Ryan can't make himself cause that, he can't. He says, "No, I— No."

Jon is quiet for a second. "Okay, Ry."

"No, Jon, it's not—" Not that I don't want you there, that's not it, not the problem. "I was just being a dick. That's all it was. Just me mouthing off."

"You have pretty specific patterns for when you mouth off."

Ryan knows he does. He mouths off when he's nervous, hurt or scared. He really, really hopes Jon has figured out his patterns wrong. "I'm working on it. Just, look, we'll go out, I'll buy you a drink to make up for being an asshole—"

"I don't think you're nervous, so you must be either hurting or afraid."

Fuck. Next time they look for a bassist, Brendon, Spencer and he are going to have to vet the person's perceptive abilities and insure he has all the insight of a three-toed sloth. "Just tired, Jon."

Jon says, "No, not just. Whatever it is, not just."

"Jon—"

"Ryan."

"Seriously, either go out with me or don't, I validly don't give a crap."

"Yeah," Jon says, his body language all too casual and it is for that reason that Ryan misses it when Jon turns somewhat sharply back to him, pulls him in, fits their lips together. It is for that reason that Ryan is completely lost to the kiss for a good five, ten seconds before he can jerk away, before he can say, "What the fuck?"

"Testing out a theory," Jon says softly but not at all casually.

"As to whether or not I'm easy? Or whether or not I would fuck around behind Brendon and Spencer's backs? Because I would think the answer to the first would be fucking obvious and I would hope that the answer to the second would be completely fucking blatant."

"Hurt, I think. Although, maybe frightened."

"Fuck you—"

"You don't really think I would do that to them, Ryan, do you? Really?"

Ryan opens his mouth to say something scathing, something about his inability to read people, about not knowing Jon that well, about proofs and puddings, maybe, even. It all gets caught in his throat, every last word, and for a second he can't breathe. Jon says, "Ryan, Ryan, come on, come—" and Jon's got Ryan, is holding him, and it's warm and Jon has so much skin, more than enough to cover Ryan with. "Ryan, I swear, we talked. I said I thought— I said maybe you needed something, maybe, and they want that for you, they want you to have what you need and—"

"Then I'm just— This is just to keep me happy?" Ryan tries to fight the inner cold that wants to take Jon's warmth away from him. That warmth is his, it's his, even if only for this moment.

"Ryan," Jon shakes him a bit within his grasp.

"You said—" They sent you, they sent you, so they wouldn't have to go themselves.

"I'm not selfless like they are."

"Bullshit," Ryan tells him, purely in reaction, because he's lost the thread of this conversation.

"Not enough to risk them, Ryan, not for you, not unless you were worth it, not unless that was what I wanted."

Ryan fists his hands in Jon's shirt. He doesn't mean to and he shouldn't, the material will crinkle, and it's a nice shirt, one of the ones Jon has put on to go clubbing, to look good while out with Ryan. To look good while out with me. "Oh," Ryan says.

"Want me to let go of you now?" Jon asks and loosens his grip a little. Ryan can tell from the change in pressure that the hold must have hurt. He hadn't noticed.

"Jon, um."

"No?"

Ryan tries to make himself smaller, make it an easier fit. Jon doesn't say anything when he doesn't exactly succeed.

*


Spencer goes to Ryan's room in the morning, because Jon hasn't come back, which is unusual, and while Spencer's pretty sure he would have already heard from Zack if there was a problem, he can't really sleep anymore without knowing for sure. He knocks lightly and after a few seconds Jon answers the door. He says, "Hey, Spence."

Spencer doesn't say, "Jon," or anything, really, just looks over Jon's shoulder at where there's only one bed with the covers messed up. Jon says, "We didn't, Spence. We didn't, I wouldn't—" Jon shakes his head and looks a little pissed that Spencer would assume that, and okay, it was kind of an asshole thing to do.

"Ryan," Spencer says softly, by way of apology, and Jon looks at him with consideration in the expression, but just nods.

"He asked me not to let go, sort of, he tried. I didn't want to let go. That was all. I just stayed. We didn't even go to a club last night."

"He slept all night?" Spencer looks past Jon to Ryan, because if he looks at Jon he thinks he will do something completely inappropriate, like break his nose. Spencer and Brendon told Jon this was okay. Evidently Spencer was just counting on the fact that it wasn't what Ryan wanted—yet another thing that isn't quite, or even close to being, Spencer.

"Spence, have you ever— Do you think maybe we left him out?"

Spencer does look at Jon, then. "I've known him since he was five, Jon. I'd like to think that if Ryan ever showed any sign of— I just don't think that was something I was likely to miss. He, yeah, I mean, Brendon, he wants Brendon, but for whatever reason he thought I was better, thought I was, I mean, he and Brendon, they sort of attack different problems in similar fashions, and I think he wasn't sure he could stay as still as Brendon needed him to. He could have, and maybe I should have told him that, maybe I was…selfish." Spencer tries to swallow around the thought, around the idea that while he was busy lauding himself for doing what Ryan had asked, for being the Best Friend Ever, maybe he had just been taking Brendon all for himself.

"Or maybe you and Ryan have gotten so used to knowing what each other is saying, you sometimes miss it when there's a miscommunication."

The possibility terrifies Spencer, opens up so many places where mistakes, awful, terrible mistakes may have been made. Spencer asks, "Can you— Can you give him what he needs?"

Jon looks a little unsure but he says, "I can give him something. A part."

"Just— Whatever he wants, right? Whatever he— I mean, not if you don't want—"

Jon kisses Spencer, rubbing at his hip a little. "I understand, Spence."

"I'm gonna, um, talk to Brendon."

"Give him a good morning kiss for me," Jon says softly. Spencer nods; that'll be the easy part.

*


When they don't smell like the show—sweat and the burning of lightbulbs and the dust of the stage—each of the guys has a very distinct scent. Brendon smells of Pantene Pro-V and sugar, usually Skittles or Twizzlers, but sometimes something more chocolate-y, M&Ms or Reeses Cups. Spencer smells like new shoes and the laundry detergent his mom sends him while they're on the road. Jon smells softly of varnished wood, the kind a person finds on a bass, and fresh air. He manages that last even when he's been on a bus for twenty hours, which Ryan thinks is sort of like a miracle. Ryan imagines he has his own smell as well, but he doesn't know it, has never had anyone he could ask. He wakes to the smell of a windy day, the smell of a bass-line unplayed. "Oh," he says. "I stole you."

"I'm not sure it's clear that I didn't steal you," Jon tells him. That makes no sense, but Ryan doesn't want to be the one to make sense at this time of the morning, so he lets it lie. Jon continues with, "Spence came by to check on us."

"Oh, um. You're still here." Ryan feels stupid the second after he's said it. Clearly Jon is still here.

"I wanted to be here. And Spencer wanted us to have what we wanted. If, I mean, if I'm right, if it is both of us that wants that."

For a moment Ryan lets his eyes drop shut, lets himself think of course, because Spencer would give him anything he wants, anything. If Ryan just asked— Jon actually wants Ryan, he does. Jon wants him. Ryan opens his eyes. "I should, um. I should brush my teeth."

Jon's smile is unsure. He says, "Um, for kissing, or because that's what a person does in the morning?"

Ryan touches his fingers to Jon's mouth for a second and then goes to brush his teeth. He brushes carefully, thoughtfully, with a sort of attention he wouldn't normally give the task. He needs some time. He has gotten so used to wanting this, he is afraid he won't even feel it, won't even be able to recognize it as real. When his mouth is nothing but mint from tip of the tongue to throat, Ryan makes his way back into the room, stretches himself out over Jon—who still looks a little uncertain—and kisses him.

Ryan is good at three things in life: lyrics, the guitar and sex. The first comes naturally. The last two are products of patience and practice. Ryan is determined that Jon will reap the benefits of every mistake Ryan has had to correct in himself, every try that has made him just a little bit better. Jon pulls Ryan in a little closer, slows the kisses down with his own stillness. Then he rubs at Ryan's back, opens himself up, and lets Ryan have his way. Ryan is careful not to take advantage, careful to check the territory that is Jon out, but not take it over. Jon shifts their hips slightly so that their boxer-covered cocks brush against each other. Ryan bites his own lip so as not to babble. This is Jon, Jon. And Jon wants him, Ryan.

As if reading Ryan's mind, Jon asks, "What do you want, Ryan? What do you want to do?"

Ryan has a moment of panic where he thinks maybe he should have put this off until he could have spoken with Spencer or Brendon about what Jon likes. In the absence of such knowledge, he's just going to have to ask for what he actually wants, hope that's what interests Jon as well. He doesn't get to ask for this very often, won't do it with the people he meets in clubs, because Ryan's desperate but not stupid. "Um, fuck me?"

Jon says, "Oh, um," and almost drops Ryan. Not that Ryan has anywhere to go—he's on top of Jon, being held to him, but still, the motion registers with Ryan.

"Unless—"

"No, just, I mean, I'm pretty confident of the mechanics and everything, but if I screw something up, say so, yeah?"

Ryan's brain feels like the first gas stove he ever tried to light, before he knew that the pilot had to ignite before the flame would come out. It clicks in that same way, over and over, until finally, it catches fire. "Uh, Brendon and Spence didn't—"

"We hadn't gotten to that," Jon says, like he wasn't in any big hurry, either. "I'm glad, I'm glad it's you."

To his surprise, Ryan is too, in a somewhat possessive, animalistic way that he didn't know he had in him, let alone with regard to Jon. The thought by itself is almost enough to end things. Ryan takes a breath, reigns himself in. He returns to kissing Jon, a little more frantically this time, he can't help it. He reaches over to the nightstand where he dropped a condom and lube in a fit of optimism upon his return from the bathroom. His hands work Jon's boxers down and he makes a neat—if hasty—line with his mouth down to the now-available cock. Ryan promises himself that if he gets another chance he'll take his time, he'll learn Jon as thoroughly as he has learned everything else about sex, and with infinitely more care. In the meantime, he really wants Jon in his mouth, really wants to him to know he's made the right decision. Ryan is so, so good at this.

Jon catches on pretty quickly. He says, "Ryan, Ryan," and makes pleased, pleading noises that Ryan hasn't imagined Jon being capable of, but really, really likes. When he can feel Jon straining to hold on just a little too much, Ryan lets him go—promises himself he'll take Jon that way, at some point. Jon moves Ryan a little—well, tries, he's clearly not at his most coordinated—onto his side, is rolling him to his front when Ryan says, "No, please, I want—" shifting so that he's looking up Jon.

Jon says, "Just, um, isn't the other way easier?"

Maybe. Ryan doesn't care. It's not like he's the virgin, here. "Want to see, Jon. Want to—"

"Okay." Jon must catch on to some of Ryan's need, because he kisses him again, settles him before sucking at his neck a bit. That is so, so unfair, because the slightest touch to Ryan's neck—and sometimes he swears Brendon fucking Urie knows this and just likes to screw with him during their shows—can have Ryan on his knees, begging. Jon laughs at the way Ryan writhes, but it's awed, it's appreciative. He says, "Oh, Ryan, Jesus, Ryan."

Ryan works his hands between the two of them, rolls the condom on Jon, lubes it up. He would take care of himself, but no, no, he really wants Jon's fingers in him, so he takes Jon's hand and pours the lube on, says, "Please."

Jon is gentle, a little too gentle, and Ryan says, "Jon, I'm not, um— I've done this, I— I've done this."

"Sorry, sorry," Jon says, but Ryan kisses him then and says, "No, it's kind of—" amazing. Jon gets the third finger in, and there's no way Ryan's finishing his sentences. He starts, "Jon, um, please, oh, fucking, please—" and really, that's not a sentence, that's just blind need. Jon listens, though, hears the grammatic structure, sinks slow and careful into Ryan. Ryan watches, because this is what he wanted, wants, wants to see. Jon is looking down at him like Ryan being there, Ryan being the person beneath him, around him, matters.

Jon rests his head against Ryan's shoulder when he's all the way in and says, "It's possible I'm going to die now."

"Little bit longer," Ryan encourages, because no, now is not a good time for that.

Jon says, "Ryan, this is—" but just finishes with a kiss, because whatever it is, Jon clearly doesn't have the words. Ryan agrees, and Ryan is great at finding words. When Jon moves Ryan's got them again, "brilliant" and "wonderful" and "best, best ever", but he doesn't have anything for the way Jon is looking at him, for the soft awe in Jon's eyes. All he has for that is to look back, to hope his own features which are never quite enough for the fans, for the interviewers, to hope that they are enough for Jon.

Jon says, "Ryan Ross," and wraps his hand over Ryan's cock and Ryan comes. It's surprising at first—Ryan hasn't been that easy to finish off in some time. Then it's just perfect, just everything he's ever wanted and he doesn't care, so long as Jon is there with him, in him. When Ryan can breathe again, think again, Jon is wrapped around him, as loose and destroyed as Ryan, and Ryan throws his arms over Jon, holds him where he is.

Jon says, "Amazing, Ryan," and doesn't struggle against the hold.

*


Spencer finds the note tucked into the side of his drum, where the head is fitted over the body. It says, "tangled in her web." Spencer rolls his eyes, because honestly, only Ryan. He knows what it means, just as he knows what it would mean if Ryan wrote to him in the few words of Latin Ryan actually knows or used random medical technology. Pig Latin is for talking, codes are for written missives. In this case, the web refers to Charlotte's. Ryan read that book obsessively for about two years. It could, could be Manuel Puig's Spiderwoman, which Ryan also read at least five times that Spencer knows of, but he prefers to think it's the former. They're both kind of morbid, so really, it's only a matter of degree. All the same, Spencer's going with Charlotte. The message is the same either way. Both books—and Spencer knows, Ryan insisted he read them—are about friendship, about friends who would do anything for each other. Puig's friendship is considerably less balanced than White's, which is another reason Spencer chooses that interpretation.

Spencer leaves a note for Ryan threaded into the strings of his guitar. It says, "Not going to become bacon," because Ryan can deny it all he wants, but he's been far more at ease since Spencer and Brendon began sharing Jon. Spencer doesn't like that term—sharing—it smacks of ownership, but he's tried to find another one, and it doesn't seem to exist. It's all right, Spencer knows that Jon's choices are his own, and that's the significant issue.

Ryan finds him and says, "I was referencing Puig."

Spencer throws his most knowing—and unimpressed—look at Ryan. It gets Ryan to laugh a little. "Okay, okay, Charlotte it is."

Spencer laughs then, too. "You and your web fetish. I ought to tell Jon."

Ryan looks thoughtful at the possibility. But when he talks he says, "I was just trying to— What Valentin asks of Molina, Spence, what he manipulates Molina into doing—"

"I didn't just not know that could have been the Puig, Ry. I decided to interpret it the other way, because the other way made sense to me. You didn't ask me for fucking anything. Jon asked for something, because it got far enough that he was the only person who could—" See you, touch you, have you.

"Spence?"

Spencer shakes his head. "You're not Valentin. And I'm not Molina, and nobody's being tortured to death here."

"Yeah, well, I'm not exactly bringing your eggs back to the farm either."

"You can't blame me for the fact that you thought up a bad analogy." Spencer's taking no credit for that, thank you very much.

Ryan looks mildly annoyed but accepts Spencer's judgment in this case. He says, "I asked. I did. I just didn't have the words."

"No," Spencer's not giving him that, he isn't, because Spencer knew what "tangled in her web," meant, or close enough. He would have known if Ryan had asked.

"I—" For a second Ryan stands with his mouth open and for the first time in forever, Spencer really doesn't know what sits behind his pause, his silence. In the end he just smiles, "Okay, I didn't ask."

Spencer really doesn't like the taste in the back of his throat, the one that lets him know that somehow, some way, he lost that argument.

*

Ryan knocks on the door. He can't hear the knock, but he thinks that's just him having trouble reconciling reality at this moment. He's pretty sure that’s the case when Brendon answers the door and says, "Um, hey."
Ryan says, "Please, please, can I have Jon, please?"
Brendon says, "Ryan, what—"
"Please, Jon, please," and Ryan knows, he knows that he sounds like some sort of mental case, but he's about ten seconds from sliding straight to the ground, and if he's read this situation right, he's allowed to ask Jon to hold him up.
Brendon turns as if to call Jon, but Jon is there in that instant, asking, "Ryan?"
Ryan means simply to put a hand to Jon's shoulder, to just get some help with this whole standing thing, but Jon feels the shift in Ryan's weight and says, "Whoa, okay," and then he's got Ryan, literally, Ryan's in his arms like some fucking four year old and all Ryan can do is cling. Jon says, "Guys, I'm gonna," and Ryan doesn't know if they answer, has no idea, just knows that Jon is carrying him down the hall.
Ryan is bigger than Jon. He thinks, in the small part of his mind that is left and can be logical, that this should not physically work, but Jon's not even staggering. He says, "Ry, where's your key?"
Ryan thinks for a second. "Um, I might, um—"
"Okay, wait, I'm pretty sure Zack gave me one, just, I'm gonna have to—" He sets Ryan down, propping him against the wall, making sure he's going to stay standing and then pats his own jeans until he finds the key in question, inserts it in the door. "Victory," he says, and pulls Ryan's arm over his shoulder, walks him to the bed.
Once there he gets them laying down, pulls Ryan as close in as he can and Ryan presses close, tries to get as far into Jon as he can without destroying him. That is, assuming it's not already too late on that front. Jon soothes a hand down Ryan's back and when Ryan has stopped squirming, stopped moving inward asks, "Can you tell me what's going on?"
Ryan tries to just say the words, to just tell him the important information, but what comes out is, "It wasn't like, it wasn't like it was good, not, it wasn't like— But he loved me, okay, he did, he loved me, even if, even if he loved the drinks more, or the way they made him feel, or whatever, he did, he loved me and I—"
"Ryan, Ryan, shh." Jon kisses his head. "Ryan, did something happen to your dad?"
Ryan tries to form the two words it would take to tell Jon, but all that forms are sobs and before he can stop them, they spill out, onto Jon's shirt. Jon says, "Okay, okay, I'm going to take that as a yes."
Ryan wants to stop, gulps air like it might create resistance, holds onto Jon as though Jon's sturdiness might bleed through. Softly, Jon asks, "Is he dead, Ry?"
Amazingly, Ryan is able to nod his head against Jon's chest. Evidently his muscles are working, just not his throat. Jon says, "Oh, Ryan. I'm so sorry."
Ryan's mom said the same thing, but she hadn't sound like she'd meant it, not really. Jon sounds like he does. He sounds unsure and worried and as though that might not have been the right thing to say, but he sounds like he regrets that this has happened to Ryan. It allows Ryan to catch his breathe, to feel Jon's arms around him. He says, "He was, um, he was kind of an awful father, but he was mine, he was my father and he was proud of that, really, he was, and I don't want that to be gone." There's been precious little enough of it.
Jon says, "Of course not, no."
Ryan says, "Jon—"
Jon says, "We're proud of you, Ryan. It's not the same, it's not— We can't be that for you, shouldn't be that, but we're proud, we're so fucking proud."
It shouldn't be enough, it shouldn't even mean anything, maybe, but it is, it's more than enough, and Ryan says, "I have to leave. In the morning."
"I'm going to stay with you, until then, if that's all right."
Ryan says, "It will come too soon."
*

The three of them put Ryan safely on the plane, because there's no fucking way in hell Spencer's just going to let him fly off to his father's funeral without hugging him until he gasps, "Spence," desperate for air. There's not way Spencer's going to let him out of his sight until he's said, "Ryan, I leave my Sidekick on all night," even though Ryan knows.
Ryan went to Jon, asked for Jon, so Spencer's a little terrified that somehow the basic lines of knowledge and communication between he and Ryan have gone dead, been cut, been compromised in some way Spencer can't conceive of. Spencer can understand, somewhere in his mind, if he thinks about it really long and hard and with a concentration that throbs at his temples, that Ryan was probably just asking for what he knew he was allowed to ask for, but Ryan has always, always been allowed to take Spencer for himself and the fact that he no longer knows that—or chooses to ignore it for something else—makes Spencer feel as though he's going to bleed out without so much as a bruise to show for it.
He tries not to be mad at Jon. Jon can't help that he has what Ryan needs, that he has been able to give Ryan that. Jon can't help being sweet-eyed and having hips that are just right for grabbing onto and talking in a slow drawl that seems to give lie to his Midwestern birth. He can't help all these things, and it's not as though Spencer doesn't burn from them, benefit from the burn, every bit as much as Ryan.
It doesn't mean he doesn’t hate Jon for it at this moment, just a little. Jon seems to know, because he's silent on the car ride back, and that's enough to make Spencer feel like the complete dick he's being. When they're at the hotel, in the room, Spencer sits next to Jon on the bed, their legs touching. He can't say he's sorry. He is, but he can't seem to express that in words. Luckily, Jon smiles a little at the touch, and kisses Spencer lightly on the lips.
Brendon says, "He's okay, right? I mean, we shouldn't have gone with him or anything?"
Neither Spencer nor Jon says anything. They couldn't have gone, they couldn't have, not even if Ryan had asked. They would have, despite their inability, but it just wasn't feasible, and there's a reason Ryan didn't ask.
Brendon says, "It just, I don't know, I don't— We're going to play without him? Without Ryan?"
Spencer looks up at Brendon, because, yes, I mean, clearly that's what they're going to do, but Brendon has a point, it's almost like Spencer announcing he's going to play without his hands.
Jon says, "I think he'd expect that of us," and he says it with all the nuance that Spencer needs, the awareness that Ryan would expect it both because that's what one does in a time of trouble and because Ryan doesn't see how he's needed, absolutely essential. Spencer's hand finds Jon's thigh and digs in, holding on. Jon doesn't make a sound, doesn't move. He wraps his arm over Spencer's shoulders, and rubs with the hand that falls at Spencer's arms, rubs until Spencer's able to let go a little, say, "Sorry, sorry," and mean it for more than just accidentally mauling him.
Spencer says, "Three days," three days and Ryan will be back. And whether Ryan is expecting them to be there, waiting at the other end, holding his guitar out and needing him to fill in the Ryan-sized hole he's left, regardless, they will be.
Brendon says, "Right. Right."
Spencer's phone rings with Ryan's ringtone and when he picks up, Ryan says, "I didn't ask, I didn't, but I wanted to," and it could apply to a million things, but Spencer just tells him, "I would have said yes."
Ryan says, "See you in three days."
Spencer nods, even thought Ryan can't see. "I've started a count."
*


If it had been the drums—Spencer—Ryan would have noticed before the beat had even finished, even died off. That's the worst part, that awareness. Because it takes a couple of seconds, takes a bit for Ryan to realize Brendon isn't getting inventive on them, isn't goofing off, is falling to the fucking stage in a loose, uncoordinated pile of limbs. It takes another second for him to comprehend, to put together the knowledge that they are having a show and Brendon is taking a nap. Then everything clicks into place, the bottles littering the stage, the fact that people are frantically crowding Brendon, the way Jon and Spencer have stopped, too.

Ryan's grip on his guitar tightens, becomes too tight, and he makes himself loosen up a bit. He wants to pull people off of Brendon, to be at the center, to press his fingers to Brendon's pulse and check, check to see that there's still a beat somewhere. That's ridiculous, he knows. If Brendon weren't breathing somebody would already be calling the paramedics, be administering CPR. It's all he can do to make himself not hover and he knows he's obvious, so fucking obvious with his pacing, but it's better than throwing every single fucking last one of the bottles on stage right back at these assholes. If Ryan got his way, he'd be throwing something heavier.

He's close enough to know the moment Brendon wakes up. He makes a sound that Ryan is pretty sure shouldn't be audible to him, but he can feel it. Brendon says, "What—"

Zack explains, "You got hit with a bottle. We're gonna take you off stage, check some stuff, okay?"

"Uh," Brendon says. He lets Zack get him to his feet, though, lets Zack stand him up and make sure it sticks. It does. Ryan wants to be there in case he falls, but Zack is there, and even if he wasn't, that would be Spencer's place, Spencer's right. Brendon lets himself be lead off with a snarled, "Fuck you," for the crowd. Ryan wholeheartedly agrees.

He makes his way to the others. They meet in the middle. Ryan cocks his head to see if the others have anything to say. Jon waits, Jon always waits, like the fact that his name is signed on a million forms making him legally a member of the band, legally entitled to its decisions and name and everything else, still doesn't mean anything. Like that fact that Ryan let himself have Jon after all that was done, let himself take the chance that those papers actually mean something to all of them, doesn't mean he can have an opinion. Spencer is shaking with what Ryan knows is only a dash of leftover terror, mostly just rage. Ryan asks, "If he can finish, can you?"

Spencer says, "Oh, I'll finish."

Ryan puts a hand to his shoulder. "Spence."

Spencer takes a breath, then another, then a third. "Yes. Yes. If he wants to do this, we do it."

Ryan looks at Jon. Jon has his mouth closed so tightly Ryan's worried that not even the temptation of the three of them is going to pry it open hereafter. Jon nods shortly. Ryan really wants to kiss him, to kiss both of them, to say, "He walked off, he walked off," because Brendon got up, he was fine, he was. Brendon's not going down to some shit-faced punk with lucky aim. Ryan really wants to siphon the last of the fear from Spencer with his hands, but that's Brendon's right, Brendon's job. And Jon will go to them tonight, of course he will, Brendon—Brendon whom Ryan would hold up, would support for the rest of this show if he just asked, just allowed Ryan to—will need Jon, and Ryan won't stand in the way of that, no. They will put each other back together, and Ryan will be fine, is fine, Ryan wasn't hit with a bottle. Ryan's boyfriend wasn't hit with a bottle. He's perfectly fine.

Brendon stalks back on stage with a determined glare and steals the microphone from the stand where one of the techs has replaced it. He challenges the crowd, taunts them with his other side, but Ryan is standing on the one with the bruise, and he knows that if any of them rise to the challenge, he's going to kill them with his guitar strings.

*


Spencer pulls Brendon onto his lap in the cab on the way back to the hotel, and Brendon doesn't even try to get frisky, just shapes himself to fit. Spencer strokes along his back, buries his face in Brendon's shoulder, and doesn't say anything. There's nothing to say. He can try telling Brendon how fucking amazing he was, how hard he sparked despite being sore and a little jumpy, but the words will sound stupid in comparison to the deed, so he just keeps his hands on Brendon, keeps him close, says things with his body. Spencer can see where Jon has one of his hands wrapped over Brendon's calf, can see where Ryan is sitting across from them, clearly keeping his hands to himself.

Spencer looks at Ryan, looks and Jon's words from months before stick in his chest. They've never really left, not wholly and Spencer is nothing but the echo of, do you think we left him out? because Ryan isn't sitting on the cab bench in a state of solitary dignity. He is perched, perfectly composed. He is in the exact same position Spencer has seen him in a million times when Ryan's mom would ask if Spencer's could keep Ryan for a few days, or when Ryan would need Spencer to pick him up from his dad's, or sometimes after a hook up went badly. It is a posture that says, "unwanted, unwanted." And Ryan is carefully, stridently, looking at anything but the three of them.

The cab pulls up to the hotel and Jon and Spencer get Brendon out of the cab. He's steady on his feet, but the exhaustion is hitting, and Spencer can see the way he's struggling to stay alert. Zack is up ahead of them, clearing the way for them to get to the elevators, to safety. Once the doors to the elevator close, Jon tucks his arms under Brendon's, holds him up. Brendon says, "I can—"

Jon says, "Yeah, but I want to do this."

Brendon doesn't seem horribly bothered. Ryan, Ryan is standing as far away from them as he can be in the space, aligning himself with Zack, almost behind Zack. Spencer really isn't sure where he's been all this time, or if Ryan has somehow been hiding from him when he was never able to do so before. Either possibility terrifies him. This moment could just as easily not have happened. Brendon could have seen the bottle coming and moved, and Spencer hates himself for not wishing he had, loathes himself, but he's afraid that such a slight shift in air currents and physics would have meant that Ryan could have kept making himself invisible, and Spencer could have gone right on believing what his eyes were telling him.

When they get to the rooms, Jon ushers Brendon into the one Brendon and Spencer put their stuff in earlier. Ryan keeps walking and Spencer does too. He turns to Jon and starts to say something, but Jon just smiles at him and says, "We're gonna clean up."

Jon will take good care of Brendon, just like he was evidently taking good care of Ryan, since Spencer couldn't be fussed. Spencer follows Ryan right into the room he and Jon are supposed to share and Ryan says, "Um, Spence, your boyfriend—"

"Is going to need both of us, yeah, but there's some shit we have to straighten out first."

Ryan takes a step back at something, maybe the determination in Spencer's voice, maybe just the knowledge. Spencer isn't sure and that's throwing, because Spencer has gotten used to being sure of Ryan, too used to it, clearly. Spencer steps into Ryan's space and Ryan stays still, still in the way that someone stills after seeing a bear. Spencer's watched Ryan use this tactic a million times, but never once on him and it cuts at him. He says, "You can tell me I have to stop, but only if you mean it," right before pulling Ryan the necessary extra inches toward him to kiss him. It's an odd kiss, not the one Spencer has always imagined—fantasized. Ryan's lips are cold and clumsy against his, Spencer is not the smooth seducer he really wishes he was. Ryan doesn't pull away, if anything he melds into Spencer, lets Spencer have more of himself than Spencer saw fit to take, and that's the important part.

Spencer pulls Ryan into his arms, and it's a hug like any other they've shared. It feels nothing like everything Spencer knows, nothing at all. "Ryan, Ryan, why didn't you say? Why?"

Ryan curls to press his face into Spencer's shoulder, shakes his head while hiding. But Spencer has to know. "Ryan, why?"

Quietly, muffled by the cloth and skin greeting Ryan's mouth at Spencer's shoulder, Ryan says, "You're always giving me what I want. I only have to ask."

It occurs to Spencer that perhaps his biggest misstep was becoming comfortable in the role of the person that Ryan could ask for anything, trusting Ryan to know that he could. The irony is maddening, and Spencer doesn't have time for it, not now. Maybe later, when there's another album to be written, maybe. All he can say to that is, "Now I'm asking, Ryan, now I'm—"

"Spencer," Ryan says, "Spencer," and this time the kiss is better, Ryan using one of his hands to tilt Spencer's chin, his lips a little wet from the last kiss, his eagerness open, apparent. Spencer lets himself be had, lets Ryan take whatever the hell he wants, and okay, maybe this is like everything else, a little, but it's been such a long time since the things that Ryan and he wanted didn't convene, collide, intertwine. Spencer is an idiot to have thought this could be different, but that's okay, because he knows now, he knows how very much the same this is, and it's going to be fine.

He pulls back a little. "Ryan, I— There is literally nothing in the world I want more than—"

"Brendon," Ryan says softly, and pulls back a little, perfectly respectful, perfectly understanding.

Spencer shakes him. It's gentle, but there's intent behind it. "Right. We have to go take care of him."

"We—"

"It wasn't just me being stupid, Ryan, not just me and you. No, this was a full on Panic-moron-mobile event."

"Spence, I'm not sure—"

"I know," Spencer says. "But I am, and for once, you're going to follow where I lead just because I've asked."

Ryan says, "Whenever."

*


Spencer holds Ryan's hand when they get to the other room. Ryan thinks about pulling away, because it's absolutely ridiculous that he should need to be holding Spencer's hand like some kind of thirteen-year-old girl, but Spencer's palm is large and warm against his, familiar and somewhere to be, his ground to stand on, since the floor currently isn't quite doing it for him. Spencer says, "Look what I brought you, Brendon."

Brendon is lying half on Jon, Jon's arms curved around him. Their hair is still damp, and Ryan can smell the Pantene Pro-V from where he's standing. Suddenly he really, really needs a shower. Brendon asks, "You brought me a Ryan?" seeming somewhat confused and Ryan can't breathe, he can't, needs the heat, the smell of his own soap, and he tries to take his hand back for himself, but Spencer is holding tight, saying, "Yes."

Ryan says, "It's not—" but doesn't know the end to the sentence, doesn’t know how to say, "I'm returnable. For a full refund." Brendon's looking at him, though, watching him with scared eyes. Brendon's been scared enough for one day, so Ryan says, "Only if that was what you asked for."

Brendon's good eye widens, and there's a flicker in the other one, enough to let Ryan know it would widen, if that weren't painful at the moment. Brendon asks, softly, "You want a shower, Ry?"

Ryan has no idea when Brendon has learned to read minds, or maybe it's just the way Ryan's body is canted toward the bathroom. Brendon says, "Spence, let him go, let him shower."

Spencer says, "I need a shower, too," and holy fuck, is that the best idea Spencer Smith has ever had in a lifetime of good ideas, brilliant ideas, even.

Ryan says, "Okay," and tries not to act like this is the best moment of his life, past, present and probably future. Spencer smiles widely, his perfect, full-face smile and kisses Ryan. Ryan makes his way to the bathroom, Spencer in tow, and Brendon calls, "You can use my shampoo!"

Spencer pulls his clothes off as Ryan adjusts the water. It's a little hard, seeing as how he's having to pay attention to the part where Spencer is stripping right in front of him and doesn't even care that Ryan is watching, maybe likes that Ryan is watching. When he's naked, Spencer says, "Hey, my turn." Ryan really could swear he knew how to take his clothes off that morning, but now it seems to be something of a challenge to his brain, which really doesn't want to think about anything but how fucking gorgeous Spencer Smith's hips are. Spencer, sweetly, helps him out. He also gets Ryan in the shower and shampoos Ryan's hair, and wow, Spencer Smith has really nice fingers, too.

Ryan returns the favor with the shampoo, because he wants to touch Spencer's hair, wants to touch every part of Spencer. When he moves in closer, though, tries for a little cock-on-cock action, Spencer says, "Oh no."

Ryan frowns, because they're both naked in the shower, he is not reading this situation wrong, but Spencer says, "Brendon and Jon are waiting for us," and okay, when Spencer puts it that way, it's really stupid to dally. Ryan washes himself as quickly as humanly possible—and it's surprisingly okay that it's not his soap, it's Brendon's, and Ryan's going to smell like him from his hair to his toes. It's okay so long as Brendon keeps looking at him the way he did when he offered the shower, keeps saying Ryan's name the way he did when he called him "a Ryan," like despite the indefinite article attached to his name, he might be the only Ryan, ever.

Ryan can barely dry himself for the need to be back out there, to prove to himself that this is happening. Spencer makes him slow down, rubs the towel over his head, down his back, all the places Ryan has neglected. He kisses Ryan again, the heat of the shower still between them, says, "Just, sorry, just being selfish here, for a moment."

Ryan tries to pretend like Spencer's selfishness isn't the thing he's been waiting for his entire life. He's pretty sure he fails miserably. When Ryan really thinks he might have to beg Spencer to touch him, Spencer says, "Brendon and Jon," and Ryan says, "Maybe, um, not now, but—"

"Yes," Spencer promises, and opens the door to the room. Brendon and Jon are sitting up now, Jon against the headboard, Brendon in his arms. Brendon looks as though he wasn't really expecting them to come back and for a second Ryan's lips, well, well kissed, sting with guilt at what he was tempted to do. He'll make it up to Brendon, though, he will. Ryan says, "Hi," and okay, not one of his more stunning verbal moments.

Brendon asks, "Are you going to make me come to you? Because I totally took a bottle to the face for your band today, Ross, I'm just saying."

"Our band," Ryan says, because that isn't funny, not even coming from Brendon's lips, Brendon who knows better.

Brendon says, softly, "C'mere, Ryan," and Ryan comes, doesn't make him wait. Turnabout is fair play, but Ryan has no interest in being fair. Also, he thinks it might be partly his fault that he was made to wait for so long. Brendon touches his fingers to Ryan, touches him like he might blow away. Ryan says, "I want, um—" and presses a soft kiss to the edge of Brendon's eye, to the place where the bruise spreads to, the spot where damage meets perfection. Then he kisses on the bruise, even more careful.

Brendon says, "I'm fine, Ry. I'm fine."

Ryan says, "Then kiss me."

Brendon's kisses are nothing like Spencer's intense, methodical attacks of the mouth, or Jon's laid-back, easy-going conversations of the tongue. Brendon's kisses are as frenzied as his vocal efforts, as concentrated as his musical energy. Ryan takes it in, lets it claim him, lets Brendon claim him. He pulls back just long enough to say, "Spence, Jon, Spence."

Spencer is there, then, on one side of him, pulling Ryan into him, onto his side, and Jon is helping Brendon down so that the two of them needn't part, can cling to each other as they so please. Ryan does stop kissing long enough to ask, "Have you— Has Jon fucked you?"

Brendon shakes his head. "Should he?"

"Yes," Ryan tells him emphatically.

"Ryan thinks you should fuck me, Jon," Brendon says philosophically.

Jon says, "Well, Ryan often has good ideas. Spence, can you—" Ryan feels Spencer reach over him, hand Jon everything he could need.

Spencer stays hovering slightly over Ryan long enough to whisper, "Ryan, what do you—"
Brendon says, "You really want Spencer to fuck you. You have no idea."

Ryan has some idea. "Spencer, Spencer, please."

Spencer kisses at Ryan's neck, worries at it with his teeth. "Shh, relax."

Ryan's pretty sure that there's absolutely no way on heaven or earth that's going to happen, not with Spencer's hands at his hips, Brendon's lips on his, Jon running a foot along Ryan's calf. Evidently Spencer isn't going to push the issue, though, because Ryan doesn't have to wait long before he gets a finger, slick and long and careful, careful the way Spencer always is with him. Brendon's breath stutters against Ryan's mouth and Ryan realizes Spencer and Jon have coordinated their efforts like the clever, clever boys that they are. Ryan says, "I like Jon's fingers."

Brendon says, "Bwuh."

Ryan laughs into kiss, but his laughter is cut short when Spencer decides Ryan deserves two fingers, and maybe a little twist in just the right spot. Spencer, in turn, laughs at the abrupt end to Ryan's mirth. Normally Ryan would totally have a comeback, but oh, oh, Spencer can laugh at him all he wants, so long as he keeps the fingers at Ryan's hip circling in their tiny, care-indicating motions, keeps pressing the fingers of his other hand inside Ryan. Brendon pants, "Jon, oh fuck, Jon."

Brendon's cock drives into Ryan, then, and Ryan is just about to say, "See, I was right, wasn't I?" when Spencer pulls his fingers out, positions himself, lets Brendon's momentum help Ryan right onto Spencer's cock. Ryan is caught then, Spencer inside him, Brendon against him, Jon watching, watching and smiling the smile Ryan knows he would have if he could get his mouth to work right. Brendon is watching him, too, watching him like he might go somewhere, and Ryan knows that fear, knows it in his heart and his throat and behind his own eyes. Ryan says, "I love you," because it's never meant anything, but he thinks it might in this moment. He thinks it might mean, "I'm sorry for not asking," maybe, "I'm sorry for not knowing," maybe most importantly, "I'm here, and here's the only place I want to be."

Brendon says, "Ryan," and wraps his hands around the back of Ryan's neck, brings their foreheads together, twists his hips and oh, oh, "Oh fuck," Ryan breathes.

Spencer says, "Ryan," right into Ryan's ear, above the hands at his neck, says, "Ryan," and twists in response, forward, Brendon back, Spencer forward. Ryan reaches out, over to Jon, but Jon is right there with Brendon, not nearly as far as Ryan had come to fear. Jon catches the hand, tangles it in his own. He says, "Love you too, Ry."

After that, if there are words they can't be important, nothing is, nothing but the skin of Jon's palm, the press of Brendon's cock, the weight of Spencer at his back, nothing at all. Ryan says, "I can't, I can't—"

Brendon says, "No more holding back," and Ryan gives the last of himself into their waiting hands.

*

When enough pieces of the world fit themselves back into place, Spencer can feel Ryan keeping himself awake in Spencer's arms. Spencer kisses at his shoulder, and Ryan—despite the fact that Spencer knows he's utterly, completely done for the moment, they all are—quivers at the touch. Spencer whispers, "Sh, Ryan, relax, go to sleep."

Brendon's already comatose in Ryan and Jon's arms, Jon well on his way, snuffling at the back of Brendon's neck. Ryan says, "Can't."

"Stay here," Spencer says, and goes to the bathroom for washcloths. He brings back four, cleaning up Jon and Brendon. Jon murmurs in his sleep, and Spencer grins, presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Brendon stays unnaturally still, but Spencer figures it's going to be like that for a little while, until his body heals the worst of the impact trauma. Ryan opens to Spencer's touch as much as he can without letting Brendon go, and Spencer takes his time with the curves and lines, the planes and peaks of Ryan. He throws the towels on the floor of the bathroom and comes back to settle himself around Ryan again. "Now?"

Ryan is silent for a moment, maybe thinking. "No."

"Want me to count for you?" When they were fourteen, they discovered by accident—Spencer trying to explain a certain rhythm enhancement idea he had come up with—that Spencer's count could lull Ryan to sleep.

"I— I don't want to sleep." Ryan, who doesn't go to confession, never really believed in it in the first place, makes this statement as if Spencer is on the other side of a darkened box.

Spencer knows Ryan is tired, can feel the exhaustion causing his muscles to tremble, the way Ryan keeps shaking himself slightly into waking. "Ry?"

"What if— It's not, I don't think you guys are fucking with me, but I just, if I go to sleep—"

Oh, oh, oh. "I've waited five fucking years thinking I was always going to be your best friend, and Brendon made his way through nine-tenths of Ramen and another quarter of the male population of the United States trying to quell the itch that was Ryan Ross. Sleep for as long as you want, Ry, we'll put you on the plane half-dead if we have to, but you're waking up to us, and that's the end of that, the very, very, very end."

"Almost six years for me. It'll be six in seventeen days."

"You always have to do everything first, don't you?" Spencer's laughing, though, because Ryan kind of does. Also, "You know the day?"

"You were getting over that really nasty stomach flu that hit you in eighth grade and 'Almost Famous' was coming out and you knew how bad I wanted to go and you reserved the tickets so that I'd feel like an asshole if I tried to get you to stay home."

"And then I fell asleep in the movie, like the uber-cool guy I was and continue to be."

"You went back with me like four times, Spence."

"Look, not that I don't find myself to be clearly heroic and crush-worthy in that instance, but I mean, that wasn't the first time I'd—"

"No, it was just the first time my heart stopped for a second and when it started again everything was different. I don't know, it was that it wasn't the first time, that it was something I could have so easily gotten used to, but I never wanted to, I wanted it to always be new, and somehow it always was, you always were. New in the good way, not in the 'I have to get used to this' way." Ryan presses even further back into Spencer without loosening his grip on Brendon. "Your turn. What about you?"

"The time I was supposed to stay with my sister at her gymnastic lessons, because my mom thought the coach might be saying inappropriate things about her weight—"

"But your dad was in Germany that whole month and you were going to have to miss—"

"The one time of day he could really get online that I was also around, so you just went and watched my sister do really bad tumbling for a fucking hour."

"She got on the trampoline, too. It was a highlight."

Spencer smacks Ryan lightly, but the reprimand is probably ruined by the fact that he's laughing right along with Ryan. He says, "I think it was always, I think that was just—"

Ryan says, "You said you loved me. That day, you— You said, 'I fucking love you, Ryan Ross,' I remember because I wanted— I was never listening, was I?"

"I didn't mean for you to hear. I was afraid you'd hear. You might not have been listening, but I wasn't even looking, Ry."

"See? See. I can't— Can't close my eyes."

Spencer sighs into Ryan's hair. He asks, "Have I ever broken a promise to you?"

Ryan doesn't even think about it. "No."

"We love you, Ryan. We love you."

Ryan takes a breath, Spencer feels it clear through to his lungs. Ryan says, "If you assholes aren't here when I wake up, I'm going to be totally pissed."

Spencer buries his face in Ryan's neck, closes his eyes. "Go to sleep, Ry, sleep."

*


Brendon says, "Hi."

Ryan twists in slight panic, because there's nobody behind him, but Brendon grasps him tight, says, "Spencer said you might think he'd skipped out on you, and he ordered me to tell you, in this order, that you are an asshole and he and Jon went to procure us food, like the good hunters and gatherers they are."

"Hunters were usually separate from gatherers," Ryan says, without having any clue as to why, because really, that's so not the issue here.

"I tried to explain that to him, but he was insistent I relay the message exactly as he left it."

After a second, Ryan laughs. Brendon joins him, wincing mid-laugh when the action pulls at the worst of the facial bruising. Ryan finds his hand, brings it up to where the bruise has darkened. He doesn't touch, not really, just brings his fingers within brushing distance. He says, "He probably knew you'd get creative on him if he left any room for it."

"Whatever, Ryan Ross, Spencer totally trusted me to keep you here. Like he couldn't trust me to relay a message."

"Maybe Spencer just trusted me to stay."

"When he isn't here?" Brendon makes a mocking noise.

"You are," Ryan says softly.

Brendon says, "Don't make me kiss you right now, Ross, because I think Jon and Spence might be pissed if they get back and you're all useless to them and I'm not getting in trouble for you."

"I could get in trouble for you," Ryan offers. Brendon clearly considers the temptation but is saved by Jon and Spencer returning with multiple bags bearing goods that draw Ryan to them with their smells. Brendon says, "Ooh, breakfast," and vaults up, right over Ryan. Ryan says, "Well, at least I know where I stand."

Brendon is tearing into the bags, and now that he's thinking about it, Ryan's pretty hungry. He has morning mouth, though, so he pads to the restroom and uses Spencer's toothbrush, which isn't something he hasn't done a million times before, but it feels daring this morning, and Ryan brushes twice, just for the novelty of it. Jon calls, "Ryan?" halfway through his second brush and Ryan spits before yelling, "Coming!"

He steals a shirt and boxers from someone's bag and it turns out to be Brendon's because he has to fight to get in them, whereas with Spencer, he would have to hold the boxers on his hips. He reappears and Brendon says, "Oh, sure, assholes, I'm the only one who has to be naked?"

Spencer says, "It's part of our master plan to domesticate you," and hands him a plate with a cinnamon sugar bagel doused in butter next to a cheese danish. Brendon takes the offering as his due. Ryan goes to comb through the bags, see what's on offer, but Jon tugs a little at his shirt, shows him where he's split an asiago bagel for Ryan and spread chive cream cheese on it. Ryan smiles at Spencer, who knows all his favorites, and sits in Jon's lap. "Wanna share?"

Jon opens his mouth, and Ryan obediently feeds him a bite, then takes one of his own. Spencer says, "Zack sent up the schedule. We've got to be at the airport by three."

"Isn't our flight at like, seven?" Brendon asks, his mouth full.

Jon says, "Six, I think, but it's international."

"Still," Brendon says, kicking at Jon a little for no reason, other than that Jon has attempted to be reasonable with him. Jon kicks back a little and accepts another bite from Ryan.

"We need to talk about some of the arrangements anyway," Ryan reminds him. "We could use the time." Or at least, the time when they can't possibly be crawling all over each other, because Ryan's no psychic, but he foresees a fair amount of that over the next, oh, forever if the force of his will is anything to go by.

"Yeah," Spencer says, "and you dipshits are going to listen to me this time, when I tell you we've been having tempo issues."

Ryan always listens to Spencer, he just doesn't always act like he's listening. But if Spencer says there's a tempo problem, then there is, and yeah, they'll have to talk about that. He thinks it may just have been about the ways almost all of them were talking around each other, at each other, anything but to each other. But he'll listen, and they'll try and fix it. Ryan says, "Okay, but first, did you get another asiago?"

Spencer hands over the bag. Ryan grins. "You know me so well."


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile