Really, they had to want to catch up with him sooner or later. They did.
Ryan wouldn't have agreed, Spencer knew, but Brendon was an easy read. Brendon was like Fridays throughout the entirety of Spencer's fourth-grade year: Opposites Day. The more forcefully happy Brendon got, the more it was a sign that there was something really fucking wrong. Of course, this wasn't always a great indicator, since a lot of the times Brendon was just sort of unbelievably happy in a way that most people never knew, but Spencer had learned to feel out the signs.
For one thing, forcefully happy Brendon didn't know how to stop himself. Brendon, the actual living, breathing, things-are-okay version, knew the difference between Ryan's apathetic-but-secretly fond glare and his valid I-am-going-to-gut-you-with-my-teeth glare. He also spent more time comfortable in their space: climbing into Jon's bunk, draping himself over Spencer, playing with Ryan's hair. When he was working for it, Brendon couldn't stay still long enough to do more than pass his fingers over them, maybe indulge in a bout of tickle-and-run.
The thing was, Brendon mostly pulled himself out of his funks. If they could let him be a little over-the-top for a couple of days, he would settle and they'd get regularly-effusive Brendon back, and maybe Jon would make it clear that he could talk if he needed to, or maybe Ryan would let him play Ryan's blue guitar, which Brendon had a not-so-secret crush on, and all would be fine.
But by the time Brendon accidentally kicked Ryan in the head doing fuck only knows what while on the bus--not the best venue for Parkour or whatever else Brendon had decided to take up that day--it had been weeks, maybe even a month since Spencer had seen that version of Brendon. He pulled Ryan--who had pinned Brendon to the window and was currently snarling with the half of his face he didn't have pressed against his free hand--off Brendon and said, "Hey, Jon--" but Jon was already there, ice pack in hand.
Spencer tugged Brendon to the back of the bus and shut the two of them up in the back lounge. Then he said, "Normally, I'd be a fucking guy about this and tell you to work your shit out, or whatever, but you totally just decked our guitarist and my best friend, so I think you're gonna have to tell me what the fuck is going on."
Brendon stood in the middle of the lounge, looking small even in the confined space. "I didn't mean to hurt Ryan. I would never--"
"I know. He knows." Spencer ran a hand over his face. "Talk, Brendon. What happened a month ago?"
Brendon's look at that was sharp. "What are you-- I don't--"
Spencer's return look was equally cutting. "Shut up, Brendon. Until you're ready to actually say something, just shut the fuck up."
Brendon was the youngest of five children. That meant certain things, not the least of which was that he'd learned to be stubborn--and visible--the hard way. Maybe being youngest wasn't the same as being middle, but it came with its own set of problems, and Brendon learned early on that if he didn't dig in, he was in trouble right from the get go. It was funny, because he wasn't even the youngest any more, that was Spencer, but even Brendon forgot that sometimes, particularly on occasions like this, when Spencer was right, and Brendon knew Spencer was right, he just didn't have any interest in admitting that.
Instead, he sat down on the floor and compromised: he wasn't going to say anything, just like Spencer had asked.
Spencer gave first, mostly because it seemed like Brendon probably needed him to. He said, "Is it because Ryan and Jon have been spending so much time together? Because if it is I can tell you right now that Ryan's just going through a phase. He did it with you, too, and I fucking missed him, but I know him well enough to know he'll always come back in the end. And Jon's smart enough to know that things will even out sooner or later, so we'll all be fine."
Brendon buried his head in his knees and didn't say a word. Spencer said, "I'll take that as a no. Okay. Is it about the girlfriend thing? Because we can change that part of the show. I know Ryan doesn't like major change in the talking parts, but he'll deal, honestly."
Brendon didn't come out of his shell. Spencer did some thinking. "We could all come out with you for Time to Dance. We all hate that fucker equally, we should share in the love, really."
Brendon mumbled, "They like it the way we're doing it," which was true and also told Spencer he was so far away from the root of the problem he probably wasn't even on the same continent. Which probably meant that the problem was with the one issue Spencer never, ever poked at with Brendon.
Softly, he asked, "What's going on at home, Bren?"
Brendon tensed up like he'd been hit and Spencer knew he'd found the right question. It didn't really make him feel relieved, or anything other than nauseated. He said, "Yeah, okay," and slipped to the floor, next to Brendon. He didn't try to make him unfold: if Brendon wanted to hide, that was allowed. He did start working, with both hands, at one of Brendon's shoulders, kneading gently until some of the worst of the clenching gave away and he could safely dig without hurting Brendon. Spencer's mom was a nurse, she'd taught him all the tricks of the trade. Mostly that had been so that he could help her when she got off the worst of her twelve to sixteen hour shifts and his dad wasn't around. While he'd complained as a teen, he was glad to have the knowledge now.
Brendon moaned when Spencer moved to his left shoulder blade. Spencer said, "I know-- I know you think we don't get it. And you're kinda right, none of us has had to-- It was different for the rest of us. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't listen."
Spencer was moving onto the right shoulder blade before Brendon finally said, "If I talk about them to you, they come off as assholes, and then I seem like a dumbass for even caring. I'd rather just...not."
Spencer left off for a moment so that he could crawl around to sit facing Brendon and coax Brendon's face up from where it was still cleaving to his knees. Spencer just made him keep eye contact for a moment before saying, "George called Ryan a good-for-nothing pussy who was going to die in a gutter when he left UNLV."
Brendon blinked. "Oh. I didn't-- Oh."
"And Ryan forgave him."
"And I may not have understood, but I didn't think he was stupid for doing it. Family doesn't work like that, Brendon. And maybe I got lucky, but that doesn't mean I can't figure shit out on my own." Spencer let it go at that, took his hand from Brendon's chin and shifted to work on his right arm. No sooner had Spencer started in on the deep muscle tensing than Brendon went utterly still under his hands. Spencer chanced a glance at Brendon's face, still looking straight ahead, and sure enough, his eyes were wet.
Brendon was not fucking going to cry. Ryan hadn't even cried when his dad died, not that Brendon knew of, Brendon wasn't going to cry over a few weeks without a phone call. (Four week and six days, to be exact.) Spencer said, "Hey," and started pulling Brendon apart, out of his carefully constructed fortress of limbs. Brendon kind of hated Spencer in that moment. Digging into him, hurting him until he let go of his own pain, that was one thing, but Spencer's chest, comparatively broad and warm against Brendon's back, his fucking inescapable drummer's arms wrapping tight and keeping Brendon precisely where he couldn't admit he wanted to be, that was something else. That was not playing fair.
Brendon struggled a bit, but he didn't want to hurt Spencer and if he really wanted to get away, that was how it was probably going to have to happen. After a full minute--he counted--of silent, tense protest, he relaxed into Spencer's grip. Spencer tightened his hold, not tight enough that Brendon couldn't breathe, but almost, almost, and that was nice, too. No breath meant he didn't have to talk.
The silence between them was comfortable, incredibly, despite all the things that weren't being said. It was the comfort more than anything else, the fact that Spencer would let him get away with his silence and hold him like this anyway, that made Brendon say, "Sometimes I just wish they cared more."
The words came out cracked and barely understandable, but Spencer must have gotten it because he said, "I wish they showed you they cared more," which was a nice response, like maybe Spencer thought they cared, just kind of sucked at letting Brendon know that.
"I stopped-- I-- You know Monday nights?"
Brendon felt Spencer's nod. He said, "I stopped, just to see--"
Spencer waited a few beats. He said, "Oh."
Brendon laughed. It hurt, and he was afraid it would actually make the tears fall, but he couldn't help it. "Yeah."
"Maybe... I mean, maybe they think you're too busy? You usually call them, so maybe they figure-- Maybe they just don't want to take up time."
"They're my fucking mom and dad," Brendon said, struggling to get one hand free so he could wipe his face, because fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
Spencer let him go, just enough for that. He brought a hand up and soothed at the back of Brendon's neck, like it didn't matter that Brendon was crying like some kind of four year old. Spencer said, "I know, but you've always been a little bit of a mystery to them, Bren. Even back when things were still pretty okay."
Brendon closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing. Spencer was warm at his back, wrapped around him, and it should have been too much, but mostly it was just what Brendon needed to stay grounded, stay there, inhale, exhale. Spencer was telling the truth. Ever since Brendon had sailed past his older sisters in piano and one-upped his dad at guitar without even thinking about it and started listening to music not just for his immortal soul, but his mortal one, too, ever since they had sort of looked at him as though he was an inexplicable occurrence: angelic or satanic, it was still yet to be determined. He knew enough to understand that didn't mean they didn't love him. Just because you didn't get someone didn't mean you didn't love him. Brendon was at a loss to understand Pete all the time and he still loved the crap out of him. So it was possible Spencer was right. "I still wish they'd try harder."
"Yeah," Spencer rested his head on Brendon's shoulder. "Me too."
Spencer pulled Brendon into his bunk with him, even though it was only four in the afternoon. He gave Brendon his phone and said, "Call."
Brendon said, "It's Thursday. Dad's probably still at work."
"So talk to your mom."
"You've got ten seconds, then I'm dialing for you. Ten--"
"Tyrant," Brendon said, without much vitriol. He punched in the numbers and put the phone to his ear, lying down and squirming until Spencer got their positions just right. The demanding nature of the action made Spencer feel a little more at ease--actually happy Brendon knew how to get what he wanted. Spencer heard someone pick up on the other end of the line and Brendon said, "Mom?"
"Brendon Boyd! It's been an awfully long time since we've heard from you, young man."
Brendon took a breath so deep, Spencer felt it in his own lungs. He said, "Yeah, I-- Sorry."
"No apologies. Just catch me up. Tell me what there is to know. How are the others? How are you? How's my grand-dog?"
Brendon laughed a little at that, and it sounded easier than his previous laugh. Spencer hugged Brendon to him with one arm, and settled in. He was hoping they'd be there for a while.