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Pen--

I included a few extras. Just in case you wanted to bring your team, or something.

R.


Spencer had learned, just like everyone who did his job did, sooner or later, that down the path of analyzing anyone he cared for lie madness. Nonetheless, the note sent express with the tickets to the concert fell apart into letters and then, clues, right in front of his eyes and soon, instead of saying, "hey, bring some friends," the note said, "Um, are you ashamed of me?" Spencer had known, theoretically, that it was wholly possible to have a top forty album and still be a nervous wreck of a human being, but trust Ryan to bring that point home.

It complicated manners, because while Spencer was actually completely and wholly proud, he wasn't sure how he felt about asking either Gideon or Hotch to a Panic at the Disco concert. He neatly tucked the tickets and the note back in the envelope and put them in a drawer. He got up, poured two coffees, mixed hazelnut creamer and a packet of sugar in one and left the other one black. Then he made his way down to Garcia's office.

He set the black coffee down at her side. She said, "Aw, sugar, you know all the motivation I need is slaughter and mayhem, but the coffee's a nice touch."

He laughed a little, too nervous to really respond to her. She looked at him for a second, but then back at her screens. It was what Spencer liked best about her. For all that Garcia joked and poked fun and talked, she knew when to listen, too. She even knew how not to push. He took a sip of his coffee and said, "Garcia, um. My cousin, he's in this band--"

"Would this be the pixie-like Ryan Ross?"

And right, if anyone on the team would know everything--and given the proclivities of his team members, this was saying something--it would be Garcia. He asked, "You Googled?"

"I wasn't alone in my curiosity, but I shall not betray my comrades, even unto death."

Which meant JJ, Prentiss and Morgan had been in the room as well. Spencer bit back a sigh. "I guess you wouldn't have any interest in going to a concert with me, then?" Spencer hadn't exactly pinned Garcia's taste, but he knew they tended more toward classic rock, indie girl folk, and sometimes dance electronica. Other than Prentiss, Spencer wasn't sure any of the team listened to pop, and Prentiss' taste ran more New Wave than Emo Rock.

Garcia was looking at him again then. "And miss the chance to watch your cousin be a rock star? I'd better be the first person you're offering those tickets too, honeybunches."

Spencer stiffened, because Ryan was a rock star, and he wasn't going to have people mocking him, not even these people. Garcia's tone, though, aside from the words, was pretty serious. After a bit, Spencer gave a tight nod. "You-- You think some of the others--"

"Yeah, Reid," Garcia's voice was soft, now. "Yeah, I think some of the others would love to go."

Spencer nodded and got up to leave. At the door he said, "Garcia?"

"Mm?"

"You were the first." He couldn't see it, but he could feel her smile.

*


Jon was right there in the room, and as of yet, Jon hadn't been witness to an epic Ryan Freak The Fuck Out Freak Out, so Ryan was doing his best to keep it under wraps, but he wasn't sure how much longer he was going to be able to hold out. Luckily for Ryan, Spencer was made out of alien puppies and mutant rainbows and therefore was not only able to divine the future, but often to avert the worst of its disasters. In this case he said, "Ryan and I are gonna go grab sodas. Anyone?"

Brendon opened his mouth, but Spencer said, "Sprite."

Brendon argued, "I really haven't had that much caffeine today," but didn't pursue the topic. Ryan suspected that not even Brendon enjoyed Brendon all that much when he was too hyped-up.

Jon said, "I'm good," holding up the insta-coffee he'd made a little while ago.

Spencer said, "Be back in a few," and got them out of the dressing room. The hall wasn't much better, not with all the roadies, some of the other bands passing them by. Spencer managed to find a small, empty changing room with his Red Ranger Unicorn powers and pulled them in, closing the door behind them. "Ryan."

Ryan nodded. "I know. Pen loves me, he'll be proud of me no matter what, this band is awesome, so he should be proud. Got it."

Spencer held out for a second before laughing. "I honestly haven't a fucking clue how you manage to be so utterly damaged, Ross." But then he was hugging Ryan, the pressure paradoxically making it easier to breathe.

Spencer whispered, "Pen worships you as much as you've ever worshiped him. I'm lucky he liked me by the time he started working murder cases, or he probably would have killed me and disposed of the evidence for getting in between you two. And if anyone could do it."

Ryan smiled a little at that, not bringing his face out of Spencer's shoulder. "Once he figured out that you were my Guardian Angel, he liked you just fine."

Spencer snorted. "I can't believe you just called me that."

Ryan didn't usually admit to his strong, almost religious belief in Spencer's construction materials including divine bunny rabbits and superhero-enhanced sunshine. "If the shoe fits, princess."

"Careful, I totally hold the power to rip your costume."

"Spence. Spence. Tara in wardrobe would kill me. With her fingernails. The bedazzled ones."

"So, really, I hold the power of life and death over you." Spencer sounded thoughtful. "And probably without any suspicion falling on me in the aftermath."

"I'll pay for your soda," Ryan offered.

"Oh, well, okay then." Spencer loosened his grip.

Ryan caught his arm in his hand. Spencer came back to the hug, squeezing a little tighter than before. "Or we could just stay here for a bit."

"How long?"

"Hour 'til lights."

"Just. Fifteen minutes?" Ryan asked.

Spencer hooked a hand over the back of Ryan's neck and rubbed gently. Ryan closed his eyes, forcing out everything but the pattern of familiar calluses. Spencer said, "I bet we could even justify twenty."

*


Spencer wasn't used to attending concerts. Occasionally Gideon would take him to a club with live jazz, and there had been a few instances of on-campus folk fests that he'd sort of stumbled into in his college years, but he had never been the kind of guy to buy a ticket and get himself to a show for some band. He thought part of it was because most of what his mother had listened to at home had been readings of poetry, epic ballads and the like, and it wasn't as though he'd had a group of friends in high school or college or even grad school to really pull him into anything else.

The first time he'd bought a CD it had been Ryan's. He knew Ryan would have sent him one, but it was kind of amazing to be able to walk into a Best Buy and pick up a CD with his cousin's name in the liner notes, even if nobody knew. Ryan and the guys had signed it for him when he'd seen Ryan that first time after the release, Ryan blushing and trying to pretend like he wasn't. Spencer didn't blame him. He suspected that even if his uncle was proud of Ryan, the man probably hadn't said anything. Ryan wasn't used to people being interested in him, despite his best attempts. Spencer tried not to think about the talk he'd had to have with Ryan after his self-taken pictures had managed to reach Spencer's eyes. He'd shown Ryan some pictures of his own, then, pieces from evidence files of cold cases that Spencer worried would never go warm.

They all had VIP passes, allowing them to get into a far less crowded section of the ampitheatre, but Spencer was still relieved to have the rest of the team at his back. He wasn't really sure how they'd all ended up going, only that Garcia had helped him talk to Morgan, and Prentiss had "overheard"--BAU speak for eavesdropping. Spencer had asked JJ, because she was JJ and he couldn't imagine leaving her out of something, and then Gideon had asked, "Your cousin's performing in town?"

Spencer still wasn't sure how Hotch had gotten the info, but strange as it was to have his superiors there, it was also calming. Stern demeanor aside, Spencer had long ago figured out that Hotch had been a pretty normal guy for most of his adolescence, and had plenty of experience with these sorts of things. Spencer suspected Prentiss of actually having been in some ill-fated band at some point, Morgan had gone to a few hip-hops fests in the time that Spencer had known him, Garcia didn't seem to be thrown by much, and JJ had actually mentioned a few concerts here and there. Spencer knew Gideon went to the symphony on a semi-regular basis, he just wasn't sure that type of experience was going to be much help.

Once Ryan was on stage, though, Spencer found it hard to think about much other than watching him. Well, watching him and the band's new bassist. Spencer had known The Other Spencer, as he secretly sometimes thought of Spencer Smith, since Ryan's best friend had been five, and Spencer eleven. It was easy to get lost watching him play the drums, fluid and confident and sure, much like he was as a person. It was equally--if differently--easy to get lost watching Brendon, who had been pure, unadulterated energy and passion and emotion since the moment Spencer had met him, roughly two years earlier. Jon was new, though, and therefore the only thing that could really distract Spencer from Ryan's raw nerves, his pent-up anger and fear, his secret, fierce joy.

Jon was also, to Spencer's dismay, sort of disgustingly attractive. It wasn't in the Morgan type of way, where he walked into a room and eyes strayed because they couldn't help it, there was a biological imperative to stare at something that aesthetically perfect. Nor was it in the way of Emily, with her symmetry, or even Garcia, who reminded Spencer of the chaos and theory and ideals behind every Radinsky. No, Jon was just...maybe like JJ, if she gained a little weight. He was the sort of person that one looked at first because of the warmth radiating from the person, the ease with himself. Only later did you notice the details, the fact that his eyes were Spencer's favorite shade of brown, and he had a fantastic smile.

Jon, like Brendon, vibrated with the music, just in a more accepting way, as though if it didn't penetrate his bones all in one blast, he would still live to receive more. Brendon always seemed worried about that, like the music might desert him. Spencer knew enough about Brendon's family situation to know that it wasn't an irrational fear, no matter how illogical. Ryan had the same fears, Spencer knew, but not in the same way. Ryan feared desertion by music the way chocolate lovers had a hard time not eating chocolate in front of them, regardless of desire. His fear was of the sort that suggested if he didn't take what was in front of him, he might never be offered it again--not the music, the friendship, the freedom, nothing.

By the time Zack--Ryan's oft-mentioned bodyguard--introduced himself and took them back to where the guys were hiding until they could get out of the venue and to the hotel, Spencer wasn't sure if he was buzzed from the concert or exhausted from an hour and a half of profiling through body language and music styles. None of that really mattered, though, when Spencer heard a shouted, "Pen!" and suddenly he had Ryan in his arms, Ryan who had learned to hug Spencer before he'd learned that hugs could get a person rejected and had, amazingly, never forgotten the lesson. Spencer hugged back tightly. As much as Ryan had been too young to know better, in his own way, Spencer had, too. Ryan had needed hugs and Spencer had had them to give, and somehow now that that line wasn't quite so clear, it didn't seem to matter.

"You gonna let us in, or not?" a mock-annoyed voice asked, and Ryan reluctantly let go to be edged out by Other Spencer, and then the speeding ball of light formerly known as Brendon.

"Holy shit, dude, it's been forever."

"Eight months, two weeks and four days," Spencer told him.

"I knew that," Brendon told him, even as Spencer Smith pulled him back a bit so that Ryan could pull Jon forward.

Jon didn't take much pulling. He stepped forward and held out a hand. "I'm Jon. I've heard a lot."

"Spencer, or, Reid probably makes it easier? I've heard quite a bit as well." Spencer turned then. "Ryan Ross, Brendon Urie, Spencer Smith, Jon Walker, these are my colleagues, Jason Gideon, Derek Morgan, Penelope Garcia, Jennifer Jareau--JJ--Emily Prentiss and Aaron Hotchner."

"They help you catch the bad guys?" Brendon asked, a total shit-eating grin on his face. Then, his eyes flickering over Morgan, "How bad do they have to be?"

Spencer looked at Ryan desperately for help. Ryan stepped on Brendon's foot, less than subtly, and ignored Brendon's yelp of pain. He said, "It's an honor to meet you. We really appreciate you coming."

Morgan said, in the calm, reassuring tones that always made Spencer feel better, "You put on a good show out there."

Ryan beamed, and Spencer was pretty sure Brendon was actually going to pull something with how happy he seemed.

JJ added, "Thank you for the tickets, that was extremely thoughtful."

There was a few moments of awkward silence when Jon, of all people, jumped in to save the day. He said, "I know Ryan wanted to steal his cousin for a bit. We're probably just going to find somewhere where we're unlikely to get noticed--"

"I have an idea," Garcia said brightly. Spencer turned to look at her, remind her that other than Jon, none of the guys in the band were over twenty-one, but she rolled her eyes at him and said, "Trust me, sugar. I have an idea."

Spencer did trust Garcia. In the end, past aside, he trusted all of his team--even with Ryan.

*


Ryan was possibly a little in love with Penelope Garcia. It wasn't just the fact that she knew of Brazilian coffee shops that stayed open all night and could flirt in Spanish with the sixty-something man behind the counter, or even that she was smarter than any girl he'd ever met. It was the way she carried off being different like it wasn't some big deal--which was sort of what made it a big deal. Spencer whispered, "Stop staring, it's rude."

"You haven't said anything to Brendon," Ryan said pointedly.

Spencer glanced over at where Brendon was flashing a smile at Morgan. Ryan followed the gaze. Spencer said, "Somehow, I think that situation will take care of itself. You?"

"Always have to have a point," Ryan muttered, taking another sip of really good Brazilian coffee. He noticed Jon, talking easily with the JJ, who was laughing. Of course, because Jon never did anything stupid like fall in love with people who were totally out of his league and--

"There was that time he wore flip-flops during that Jersey show and almost lost three toes."

Ryan smiled fondly at the memory, "Yeah, that was pretty stupid." Then, because he knew he hadn't been talking aloud, "That was creepy even for us."

"You were glaring at Jon." Spencer shrugged.

Pen came back to the table with more Brazilian donuts and said, "I thought Jon was working out."

"He is," Ryan said petulantly.

"Ryan did good, finding him," Spencer said, his hand sneaking to the small of Ryan's back, helping Ryan to unwind a bit.

Ryan asked Pen, "We didn't embarrass you, right?"

Hotch and Gideon, who honestly kind of intimidated the shit out of Ryan, had come for a cup of coffee, but then politely taken their leave. The rest of the team was still there, Morgan and Garcia seemingly deeply amused by Brendon's form of seduction, which generally involved a lot of bad pick up lines and extolling his own virtues, JJ and Prentiss caught up in discussing something that involved a lot of gesturing on Jon's part with Jon. Pen shook his head. "Hotch has a wife and a child. Gideon, well. I don't really think this is his comfort zone."

Next to him, Ryan could feel Spencer laughing. He smiled a little and told Pen, "It was-- I was really glad you brought them. I mean, it was mostly important-- I wanted to see you, but I-- That was cool, that you wanted to show them. I know they're, um. I know you're really close."

Pen took a sip of coffee and watched Ryan in that way that Ryan suspected meant that Pen was threading through all the things he'd read, the stuff he'd learned, trying to figure out what made Ryan tick. In the end, all he said was, "You're my cousin, Ry."

Pen was really more of a big brother than anything to Ryan. Sure, he'd gone off to college when Ryan was barely eight, but he'd made sure to send letters every day, every day, and pictures and with one exception, Pen had only let him down once. Really, a person's offenses had to be considerably more heinous for Ryan to even consider letting go of him. He asked, "How are you-- Um. I mean--"

"It's...improving. I've been looking into meetings? They have organizations for law enforcement officers, extremely confidential, even moreso than comparative organizations. Statistically, meetings are shown to help stabilize sobriety considerably over simply detoxing and continuing to resist temptation, with the average sobriety of an AA member being approximately eight years, and 36 percent of their members having passed the ten year mark. Seventy-four percent of the population polled said that the organization played an important part in their recovery."

Ryan bit back a smile. He didn't want Pen thinking he was laughing at him--he wasn't, really, he just liked how Pen knew everything about the decisions he was trying to make. He thought it would make it harder than just leaping, sometimes. Certainly, Ryan was glad he hadn't known everything about making a record, being in a band, losing one of his best friends, because although he didn't regret it, he wasn't sure he'd have had the courage to start down that road. He said, "Dad never tried them. I asked once, but--"

Pen nodded. "I won't-- Ryan, I know what I would lose." Pen's gaze swept around the room for a moment, but it met Ryan's again and held it.

Ryan smiled a little. He appreciated the sentiment, but, "It has to be for you. It never was for him, he never-- I guess what he would lose wasn't as important as whatever was--"

"It is for me. Astronomically more important."

Ryan said, "Oh."

"Do me a favor, Spence?" Pen asked.

Spencer said, "Sure."

"Smack Ryan. This table's just a bit too wide for me to have the amount of brute force I would need to relay my point."

Spencer pinched him instead. Spencer was evil.

*


The four of them all ended up at Spencer's place. He hadn't exactly meant for things to happen like that, but it was hard to take Ryan somewhere and leave The Other Spencer. Leaving Brendon behind at that point was possible, but one needed the fortitude of Job to face down his mock-happy-for-you expression, and the three of them seemed hesitant to let Jon out of their sight, as though he might run away with carnies. As far as Spencer could tell, Jon didn't seem the type--the overwhelming majority of people who found refuge in carnivals were either desperate, as in Depression times, mentally unstable and hooked on narcotics, largely throughout the seventies and eighties, and now generally new to the country and unfamiliar with the language, Kizzarney or otherwise. Then again, Brent had been a really good friend to Ryan and Spencer before he'd gotten tired of touring, so Spencer could see how they were keeping their mind open to unlikely possibilities.

Spencer knew that he, Ryan and Other Spencer could fit in his queen-sized bed. It had been a while since they'd done it, and they'd all grown, but Spencer knew that some things didn't change, and the three of them would fit without problems. Either Brendon or Jon would fit on his couch, it was the last person that was a problem. He was trying to think of a solution when Jon asked, "You have a sleeping bag?"

Spencer nodded. Gideon had bought him one the second year they'd known each other, right before he'd forced Spencer into a camping trip. It had been an enlightening experience, in a way that Spencer never, ever wanted to repeat again. Jon said, "Great, I can sleep on the floor."

"Isn't this your one night off the bus?" Spencer asked, because he knew when he got back from work-related trips, having slept in hard hotel beds and the jet's seats, all he wanted from life was his own bed. He felt kind of awful about the idea that Jon would be sleeping on a floor his one night off from a bunk.

Jon shrugged, smiling. "It'll be like a sleepover. Me and Bren can tell campfire stories."

"Oh! I know an awesome one, Jonny Walker!" Brendon said. "But I'm taking the sleeping bag. My bones are younger than yours."

Jon rolled his eyes, "By two years."

"A veritable age," Brendon said, sagely.

"Um, I have a sleeping mat, and some other equipment. It really shouldn't be that rough on anyone," Spencer said.

"Oh sure, Dr. Spencer, take all the fun out of it," Brendon said, but he also reached up from the backseat and made a total mess of Spencer's hair, so Spencer understood the underlying love. Brendon was a pretty easy read, Spencer thought that was probably true even if a person didn't work in psychological profiling. Then again, if the internet was anything to go by--and it was if one was looking for popular opinion rather than truth or fact--most people seemed to think Brendon had the mental outlook of a twelve year old child, so perhaps not.

Spencer parked in his assigned space and let them all into his apartment. By the time he'd pulled the unused, but neatly packed camping equipment from his storage unit, Jon had water heating on the stove and five packets of hot chocolate sitting out. He said, "Ryan said it was okay--"

Spencer nodded, then looked at his cousin, who was crouched on the floor, looking through cabinets. "Having trouble finding something?"

"I know you have marshmallows, Pen. Don't even front."

Spencer bit his lip to keep from laughing. "On top the fridge, for easy access."

Ryan sighed, getting up and dusting his knees off. "Figures."

Spencer mouthed to Other Spencer, "How long was he--"

"Since you left the room."

Ryan grabbed the bag and said, "See if I give you traitors any."

Spencer did his best to look appropriately chastened while pulling down mugs for each of them. Luckily, he had more mugs than cups, since he only had four of those. He didn't really entertain, as such. He was fairly certain he'd stolen most of his mugs from the Bureau, but nobody had called him up on charges yet and he'd had them long enough to invoke possession as being nine tenths of the law.

Jon asked, "Got any spoons, doc?"

For a second, Spencer was distracted by the casual ups and downs of Jon's voice, the familiar smile that had no reason for familiarity that he threw at Spencer. Then he blinked himself back to Planet Earth, where he held three Ph.D.'s and didn't go all fluttery at the sight of someone whose lips were anatomically constructed for maximum kissing appeal, like the GM EV1--carefully built to glide as aerodynamically as possible through space. "Let me see how many are clean."

*


In the morning, Ryan didn't take anywhere near as long as he normally would have in the shower. For one thing, Pen was paying the bills, for another, he loved, loved, loved having a full-sized shower when on tour, it was one of the things that made him long for hotel nights most, but he got showers every three to five nights. He got Pen maybe two or three times a year, if they were both making an effort. There wasn't really much of a contest.

Bus call was at seven and Pen had to be at his office at eight, so they stumbled out of bed one by one, taking the shower. Pen went last, which probably meant the water was cold. Ryan brewed some coffee to make up for it, but let Spencer root around for breakfast. Ryan could make toast and scrambled eggs and basic things, but Spencer could see three ingredients that had no logical reason to come together and make Sunday Morning Brunch, capitals intended. It was leprechaun magic, and Ryan did not question it.

By the time Pen emerged in jeans and a tweed jacket--Pen had the best sense of fashion ever; Ryan was pretty sure he was going to spend his whole life emulating and never quite being able to pull it off--Spencer had managed French toast, found strawberry jelly, and cut up apples and oranges. Pen blinked at the food and asked, "What kind of salary would you need to leave your current glamorous day job to labor as my chef?"

"I'm saving myself for someone who loves me for more than just my food," Spencer said primly, and served everyone up a plate.

"Doc, you got powdered sugar?" Jon asked, cutting his French toast into corners with lazy ease.

Pen shook his head, looking apologetic. "Brown and white."

"Okay," Jon said, and reached over for the jelly.

Pen rooted around in his cabinets. "I do have maple syrup."

"Oh!" Brendon made grabby hands. Ryan intercepted the syrup, mostly just to annoy Brendon, who made a face at him. Ryan finished using the syrup and generously handed it over. Brendon said, "Why, thank you."

Pen took several sips of coffee before pulling the jelly back to his side of the table and spreading it over his toast. He asked, "New York tonight?"

Spencer nodded. "Then Connecticut and..."

"Boston," Pen said.

"Boston," Spencer agreed.

Pen asked, "Do you ever go to old hardcore places when you're there? I mean, Boston was one of the founding areas of third-wave ska and ska punk, there are plenty of historical sites that have nothing to do with the American Revolution."

Ryan chewed so that he wouldn't smile. "Underage, Pen."

"Don't rockstars have people to supply them with fake ID's?" Pen asked, looking honestly flummoxed at the idea that they wouldn't.

"We're a new breed of rockstars," Jon said with a smile that was way too charming and Ryan had to scowl at him for making Jon Walker moves on Pen. That was not cool. Jon, of course, didn't notice.

"Yeah," Brendon said, "We have our boss buy our beer."

Ryan dug particularly ferociously into a piece of toast, and didn't respond when Brendon put a hand to his back. After a long silence in which Ryan refused to look at anyone, Pen asked, "You don't-- When you drink you do it with others?"

There was a shift, and then Ryan did look up, to find Spencer with his arm around Pen's shoulder, Jon looking unsure and Brendon looking a bit hurt. Spencer said, "We take care of each other."

Pen glanced at Ryan. There were very few people in the world that Ryan could read--unlike Pen, who opened everyone up like books and read them at 20,000 words per minute--but Pen was one of them. Ryan had understood Pen from the first time he was old enough to say the word Pen. He said, "It's okay. I'm okay."

An expression that Ryan couldn't quite parse passed over Pen's face. He said, "Hotch-- He has a kid. Jack. He tries to make sure to call him every night, just to hear his voice, know that...that he's kept Jack safe from the people we pursue. But it's never really enough. He still seems a little empty when he hangs up. I always get the feeling that if he could just hold Jack's hand or close his fist in Jack's shirt, anything, then he would know that Jack is where he should be, and that nobody has gotten to him, hurt him."

Brendon's hand curled, taking hold of the back of Ryan's shirt. Ryan said, "That's not your job, Pen. That-- It never should have been."

After a moment, Pen gave a short nod and got up to drop his dish in the sink. "Text me when you get to NY, all the same."

"You're not listening to me," Ryan said. It annoyed him, because Pen never treated him like a kid, even if he kind of was one next to Pen.

"I'm listening," Pen said softly. He turned to Ryan and asked, "You really think it makes a difference? What should be?"

Between the two of them, years of Pen's mother having schizophrenic breaks, Ryan's father being found on the floor, bleeding or in his own vomit, lay unspoken, settled in the air like dust or mold. Ryan said, "I'll text."

Pen hesitated for a second. It was just enough time for Ryan to be across the small dining space, taking over Pen like he had the night before, arms and even legs getting into the hug action. Pen's hand came up and buried itself in Ryan's hair. He said, "Just--"

Ryan squeezed until Pen didn't have air to talk.

*


Three days later--most of which Spencer had spent creating a geographical profile--when they had caught the unsub on their most recent case and were flying back to the DC area, Spencer woke up to the feeling of a hand on his knee and the smell of coffee. He blinked himself awake and found himself across from Morgan. Spencer asked, "We there?" He usually woke up when they landed, but after the lack of sleep when Ryan was in and then a three day non-stop extravaganza in the more barren parts of Texas, he could see how maybe he wouldn't have this time.

Morgan shook his head. "Thirty minutes or so."

"Oh." Spencer took the coffee being offered to him and sipped from it.

"Your cousin's a nice kid."

Spencer tilted his head. "I think Brendon kinda has a crush on you."

Morgan laughed. "You think, huh?"

Spencer smiled. Brendon was nothing if not amazingly unsubtle. The thing about Brendon, though, was that it was easy to miss the real stuff. Or, at least, that was the only reason Spencer could credit Ryan and Other Spencer not having cottoned onto the fact that Brendon was completely head-over-heels, go-to-Timbuktu-and-back-again in love with both of them. "He likes the ones who seem easy."

"Watch it, big guy." Morgan was smiling, though.

Spencer said, "Thanks for the coffee."

"You miss him?"

"Brendon?"

"Ryan, but sure, I guess Brendon, too. Jon, Spencer."

Spencer looked into the coffee and said, "It's not like I see him that often."

"Seriously? That's your best shot at avoidance?"

"I just woke up," Spencer mumbled.

"Reid."

Spencer looked at Morgan. "You miss your mom and your sisters."

"Yeah, I know. But I don't pretend otherwise."

"I'm not--" Spencer shook his head. "My mom, most of the time she couldn't remember she had a sister, let alone that she'd had a kid. And I didn't exactly have friends in high school or college, a cohort, maybe, but hardly friends. It's not pretense. There's-- I've just never talked about him to anyone."

Morgan rubbed a hand over his face. "We're your team, Reid."

"I know." Spencer did, too. Spencer knew that they'd closed ranks around him when they could have easily thrown him to the wolves, allowed his addiction to be seen for what it was. He knew that team wasn't any sort of professional term when it came to any of them, no matter how much they struggled to keep appearances up.

"We're glad you have someone."

Spencer hid himself behind the coffee cup. Morgan bumped Spencer's knee with his own and let him get away with it.

*


Pen--

We played Milwaukee last night. The food at the venue all had cheese in it. Literally, every single thing. Spencer swore that he saw ice cream that had a cheddar base, but I'm pretty sure it was a cheese-induced hallucination. If you ever have a case in Wisconsin involving insanity-by-cheese, you should let the guy off the hook, okay? And I
like cheese. Jon was pretty happy, tho, b/c Zack found him like, the microbrewery in town and he was able to do a tasting. Jon swears that a beer tasting is not as bourgeois as a wine tasting, but I'm pretty sure he's wrong. In fact, it's sort of moreso, if you ask me, because it's taking something that was totally a commoner's thing and making it into something you get in tiny cups. Nobody who needs a good strong drink after a day in the factory/fields drinks from a small cup. Back me up, here.

Brendon wants to know how Morgan is getting on without him. The less idiotic members of my band say hi. Miss you, Ryan


*


Ryan,

Originally, in Mesopotamia--where the first beer was believed to have been fermented--all classes drank of it. It was only later, in Roman times, when wine overtook beer as the favored beverage and the Romans took to the belief that beer was the drink of barbarians. However, in the Middle Ages, peoples of all class and rank in Europe partook of the beverage. Which is to say, beer's history as a Drink of the Common Man, while enduring and certainly not recent, has not always held true. Perhaps Jon is simply trying to restore the cultivation of hops to its former glory.

Tell Brendon that Morgan is a shadow of his former self, and give Spence a hug for me. Tell Jon I did my best to protect his sense of himself as manly and one with the unwashed masses. Love, Pen


*


Pen--

Jon appreciates your support of his lack of hygiene. I plan, henceforth, to consider you a traitor to our line, not that you care. Brendon and he are currently fighting over whether beer is a real man's drink. Brendon stands by his stance that real men drink shit with paper umbrellas. "Makes you grow hair on your chest," I believe was the direct quote.

We were in Chicago two nights ago. Jon's mom made us food, which was pretty awesome. She's a real mom, like Spence's.

I saw something in the newspaper about Jacksonville. It said one of the officers sustained injuries, but sometimes the newspapers get it wrong. You're all right, right? Ryan


*


Ryan,

I'm fine. It was one of the local police officers, and he's recovering. We lost two victims after being out on the case, though. Our job requires a level of objectivity and distance that the psychological parameters are meant to test for, but sometimes I think they forget that we're still human. JJ's taking it hard. She usually has to be there for interviews with the survivors and that's the worst part of it. I am, to quote Morgan, the "resident genius savant," so they don't generally have me sit in on those, I make people uncomfortable. I miss the worst of it, I suppose, in these cases.

What did Jon's mom make? Did you get deep dish pizza? Morgan will never forgive any of you if he finds out you went to Chicago and didn't have any. Miss you, Pen


*


Pen--

People are stupid. You don't make me uncomfortable, and
everyone makes me uncomfortable. We all say to give JJ hugs.

Lime-grilled chicken, and don't worry, Jon had deep dish delivered to the venue. If he weren't afraid of needles, Jon would totally have deep-dish tattooed on his stomach. Possibly with the Cubs logo as a topping. Chicago people have issues. Ryan.


*


Ryan wasn't exactly surprised to get the call. Pen had gone into a communications blackout a few days before Christmas, which almost always meant that he was working a case that concerned national security. When Pen's number showed up on Ryan's phone the day before Christmas Eve, Ryan thought about not picking up, about just letting Pen leave the message. He thought it would be easier for both of them. In the end, he wanted to talk to Pen too much to do it. He answered with, "Hey, Pen."

Pen said, "Hi Ryan. I guess, uh, you already know I'm calling for a raincheck?"

Ryan frowned. "Raincheck?"

"New Year's. I talked with my mom and her doctors, they all agreed, so it's just a matter of whether you'll still be around."

"I--" Fuck. "No, we have to play. New York."

"You're playing New York on New Year's Eve? That's-- Ryan that's completely awesome. Were you going to tell me?"

"I have that thing," Ryan told him, because Pen was the first person who had pointed out to Ryan that he didn't generally tell people about events that were set to happen for fear that they wouldn't, and he would disappoint.

"And I have that thing," Pen said.

Ryan took a stab based on context: "The not-being-disappointed in me thing?"

"The very one," Pen told him. Then, after a second, "Should I have not told you I was coming in for Christmas?"

Ryan closed his eyes and thought, I don't want to talk about it, but saying that would only make Pen go at it another way. "No, I mean. I wouldn't have wanted to make other plans and then find out you were here and I didn't have much time for you."

"But the disappointment is worse, in some ways," Pen said softly.

"Don't profile me, Pen."

"Speaking from experience, Ryan."

After a second, Ryan said, "Sorry, I didn't mean--"

"We both get caught in our own heads at times. Delfine trait," he said, using their mothers' maiden name.

Ryan didn't mention that it was a Delfine trait to go completely insane as well. They both knew. At least Pen's mom had gone the type of crazy that didn't interfere with her loving her son. He knew it wasn't fair to think that, not at all, but he couldn't help himself. Pen had Aunt Diana, sure, but Ryan had had Spencer for all those years when it was mostly just Pen taking care of himself. Still, Ryan wouldn't have complained about having Aunt Diana for a mom, crazy and all--at least she'd been there. Ryan said, "Yeah. I think it might be a Ross thing, too. Double whammy."

Pen laughed a little. "What's on the schedule after New York?"

Ryan rubbed at the back of his neck. "Short European circuit, some more state touring, then maybe some down time before the fests? I don't know. We haven't even been invited to the fests yet, Pete just told us to keep the schedule open."

There was a touch at the back of Ryan's neck, where his hand had just been and he jumped before the moment of recognition settled in. He curled his hand over Spencer's. Spencer squeezed. Pen said, "I can talk with Spencer."

"He always knows more," Ryan agreed.

"Also, the two of you aren't actually twins cojoined at the brain. Just because he knows I'm coming, doesn't mean you do. It just means you'll be in the right place at the right time."

"You're a genius, Pen."

"I don't really buy into notions of quantifiable intelligence," Pen told him, but Ryan could hear the laughter in his voice.

"Shut up," Ryan said. He didn't mind when Pen ignored him.

*


Spencer had been watching, waiting for a series of events to collide that would mean he could make up his Christmas absence to Ryan. He hadn't expected it to happen quite so explosively as it did, but then, most earth-based chemical explosions happened in the wild, preying upon the unwary. Basically, Ryan was going to be playing Houston just as Spencer finished up a case in Austin. It was easy enough to hop a plane from one place to the next, and Hotch wasn't going to deny him the couple of days off.

Of course, he'd finalized all these plans in his head before he'd had to be hospitalized overnight for observation after being hit by a car in pursuit of their unsub. It made Spencer feel slightly better that Prentiss had been right next to him, under observation for the concussion their unsub had managed to initiate with a blow to the back of her head. Not that he wanted Prentiss hurt, he just hated being in hospitals alone, and he hated being the member of the team who ended up there the most.

Hotch had hovered for a bit, until Prentiss--politely but firmly--made him go away. Spencer was trying to get comfortable; he hadn't let them put him on narcotics, and two of his ribs had been broken upon impact, so it really wasn't the easiest thing to manage. She asked, "Where's your kid brother gonna be when we get outta here?"

The team had taken to ignoring the fact that Ryan wasn't actually Spencer's brother, and after the first few times they had called him that--when Spencer had figured it out--he'd happily allowed the pretense. "Albuquerque." He swallowed, trying not to wince at the breath he had to take on the end of the swallow.

"You should go."

"JJ's already--"

"I know. You can catch up. Or we'll get the unsub without you. Occasionally, we manage."

Spencer actually didn't worry so much about that. He knew he had his place on the team and the ways in which he helped, but he didn't think of them as defunct without him. Rather, he had a hard time leaving them in the line of duty when he wasn't there to at least be at as much risk as they were. Not sure how to say that to her, or if she'd even appreciate the sentiment, he said, "There'll be other opportunities."

Prentiss said, somewhat incredulously, "Reid, you were just hit by a car. Doesn't that tell you anything?"

Spencer could hear his own petulance in the response, "I lived."

Prentiss made a noise that Spencer knew exactly how to interpret. He asked, "Don't you ever get tired of being my faux-older sister?"

She shifted her position slightly so as to look at him. He couldn't help wincing at the bruises the unsub had given her after she was unconscious. Her eyes were soft in that way that never failed to make Spencer feel both childish and safe. She said, "No, Spence, not really."

Spencer wasn't sure what to say to that. An article he once read on the construction of artificial familial structures ran through his head, but for once he wasn't certain what quote to choose, how to say anything that meant something in the face of that response. He was still thinking when Prentiss asked, "Do you get tired of it."

Spencer hedged. "I am tired."

Prentiss gave him a knowing look. "Don't make me dig in. Don't make me use what we do as a weapon against you." She said it softly, a bit like a plea.

Spencer wanted to rail at the unfairness of it, how they were never quite left to themselves, but him, perhaps, least of all as the baby. But Prentiss had let him yell at her when she least deserved it and never so much as suggested a rebuke, let alone a formal sanctions for his misbehavior while on the dilauded. And even if she hadn't, even if all she had done was to stand by each of them--first Hotch, then the rest, one by one--she would still be worthy of his honesty. "No," he told her. "I--"

She waited.

He said, "I only wish I did."

"What's wrong with wanting other people to care about you?"

He looked at her, then, because maybe he didn't know as much about her as she seemed to know about him--or maybe she was just better at faking it--but he knew enough to know that when he said, "Sometimes, it's a lot to ask for," she would understand.

Her eyes narrowed for a bit, but eventually all she said was, "Not from me."

He gave her the best smile he could summon. It wasn't much, but he really, truly was tired.

*


Pen showed up backstage in Albuquerque. Ryan thought he was just imagining it at first, until Brendon said, "Pen!" and ran to hug him. The hug, as it turned out, was a mistake, as evidenced by Pen's cut off screech of pain. Brendon immediately let go, eyes wide. It was Spencer who said, into the silence, "You look like you got hit by a Mac truck."

Pen actually smiled a little bit at that. "Just a car, actually."

Ryan felt his heart stop for longer than was probably healthy, when it came to hearts and beating. "You got hit by a car?"

Pen made his way to Ryan and made Ryan look at him. Then he said, "I'm a little banged up. But I'm here."

Ryan clenched his fists, opening them only to dig his fingers into his side. Spencer's hand caught one as it opened and guided it up to Pen's shoulder. Pen didn't flinch away. Spencer's hand dropped and Ryan continued a careful exploration, just to make sure everything was in the right order. He mostly knew Pen by heart, so he would know if something hadn't been put back in the place, that kind of thing. When he was sure that Pen was telling the truth--Pen wasn't a big liar, but like Ryan, he told half-truths--he said, "Um. You're in New Mexico."

"I was in Texas. I was gonna catch up then, but--"

"Car," Spencer supplied.

Pen nodded. "I took a couple of days."

"Dudes," Brendon said, looking very, very solemn. "If I get hit by a car? I am taking at least a month off."

"Wise choice," Jon said, equally solemn, with a comforting hand to Ryan and Brendon's shoulders. Spencer laughed. Pen looked down, but Ryan already knew he was hiding a smile. It was hard not to join in at that, especially with Jon already there. Even the dull thudding of his returning pulse wasn't enough to keep his lips from quirking up. Pen was here and it was tough to argue semantics with that fact.

"Hey man," Jon said. "Can I get you something? Water? Coffee? Intravenous Tylenol?"

Pen laughed at that, then made a tiny noise in the back of his throat. Spencer winced. "Ribs?"

Pen nodded. "Yeah. Some coffee sounds great."

"'Kay," Jon said easily. "You take anything in it?"

Pen said, "One sugar, thanks."

Jon wandered off to get the coffee, Brendon in tow. Ryan realized he still had his hands on Pen's shoulder and said, "You should sit down. Why aren't you sitting down?"

Pen said, "Because my muscles are in a standing formation."

Ryan rolled his eyes and then gently tugged Pen onto the dressing room couch. It was really more of a rundown loveseat, but that was fine, so long as it allowed room for Pen to sit and Ryan to sit next to him. Spencer perched himself on the arm nearest to Ryan. Pen said, "The team watched New Year's with me."

Ryan blinked. Pen had written him an email to say that he'd watched, and they'd sounded awesome, and he had a DVR of it that he was going to show Aunt Diana next time he saw her. Aunt Diana was a little concerned that Ryan's love of rock 'n roll was a sign that his mind had crumbled into jelly, but she seemed to want the best for him regardless, which was more than Ryan could say about either of his parents, so he'd told Pen, "Well, just make sure she knows I read the Kempe she sent me."

"Favorite quote?" Pen had asked.

Ryan knew his aunt and his cousin, so he'd written something down to make sure he'd have proof. He'd pulled it from his Sidekick, "When her crying was passed, she came before the Archbishop and fell down on her knees, the Archbishop saying very roughly to her, 'Why do you weep so, woman?' She answering said, 'Sir, you shall wish some day that you had wept as sorely as I.'"

Pen had said, "Book one, section fifty-two. Good choice. And to think we didn't start you with Job."

Ryan had scanned the Spark Notes on Job later and laughed. He was smiling thinking about it, even as he said, "Bet Gideon loved that."

"Gideon still thinks of the Romantic era as those darn upstarts," Pen told him.

Ryan nodded. "At least it's a step in the right direction. Your mom's still not over the Renaissance."

"Point," Pen said.

There was a moment of silence before Ryan said, "You didn't have to come, you know? I knew you were sorry and that it wasn't just-- I wasn't unimportant and all that, like, therapy stuff."

"I know I didn't have to." Pen closed his eyes for a moment, clearly exhausted. He said, "I didn't have to. Doesn't say anything about what I wanted to do, does it?"

Ryan pressed a hand to his stomach, surprised by the burn of happiness there. "Guess not."

*


Right before Panic was set to go on, Jon said, "Hey, I had Zack set you up with a chair in the wings, so you don't have to move much, you know? I busted my ribs once-- Well, okay, my best friend and I got drunk and there was a mishap with his guitar that we don't like to talk about, but the result was the same, so I know it's kind of a bitch."

Spencer ran through all the possible scenarios he could come up with that might have caused that sequence of events. In the end all he asked was, "Did the guitar make it?"

Jon grinned. "Nah, but it made it so that I wasn't lying when I said, 'you should see the other guy. I totaled him.'"

Spencer smiled, careful not to laugh--laughing hurt. "Very macho."

"I'm a manly man," Jon said, nodding seriously and bobbing a little.

"Certainly," Spencer replied. Honestly, given the company Jon kept, it wouldn't have been surprising if he thought so unironically. Still, it was better that he was clearly self-aware. Self-aware people were dangerous, but on the whole, better company. Also, self-aware people didn't tend to take their own issues out on others, which meant that Ryan was most likely safe with Jon.

Jon said, "Um. So. I guess I should go do my job now."

"It'd be a change from their previous bassist," Spencer agreed.

Jon blinked at him. Spencer just looked back. "Ryan doesn't like to talk about it, yeah?"

"Sometimes Brendon and Spencer can get away with being bitchy, or something, but mostly we avoid the topic." Jon shrugged like it didn't matter. Spencer read the lie without even having to refer to any of the six basic eye movements that an average person would make when lying.

Spencer wasn't surprised. Ryan was consistently unsure of how to view the people he loved who weren't quite up to Ryan's level of need or his expectations of himself and the others around him. He probably still wanted Brent to come back, more than just a little bit. What Spencer wasn't certain Jon understood was, "That has nothing to do with you."

"I stand where the guy stood, Pe-- I mean--"

"Pen's fine," Spencer said, before he even realized he was going to. He'd never allowed anyone but Ryan and Other Spencer that. Brendon just hadn't listened when Spencer had said no, and eventually Spencer had gotten used to it, even kind of liked it, but he'd never just given it to someone like he was doing for Jon. "And I know, I know exactly where you stand, and I know my cousin and I'm still saying, this has got absolutely nothing to do with you. Ryan's just bad at letting go."

Jon ran a hand through his hair. "You'd think that'd be a good thing."

Spencer thought of the most pedestrian things Gideon had ever told him--it was also one of the most true. "Everything in moderation. Ryan, he's not-- Well, moderate's not the first adjective that comes to mind when describing him."

Jon made a noise that was half-huff, half-grunt. Spencer qualified it as agreement. He said, "You should go do that job thing you were talking about."

"Right. Yeah. You're...are you traveling with us?"

"Tonight and tomorrow. Zack said I could have his bunk and he'd take the couch on their bus, but I think I'll just--"

"You can have mine," Jon said.

It took Spencer a second to figure out that Jon meant his bunk. It was one of the more titillating seconds in Spencer's life, which was a little embarrassing, and he was pretty sure he was blushing when he said, "Oh, no--"

"You should be on our bus. And you can't be sleeping with Ryan with broken ribs. I know you guys could probably fit, but you'd wake up coughing blood, or something, and Ryan would wig." There was a second and then he added, "Which would totally be understandable."

Spencer rolled his eyes. "Maybe. Go play your show. Then we'll discuss."

Just as he was saying it, Brendon came up and said, "Look, dude, I know you think I'm god-like, but I can't actually play the guitar and bass at one time."

"But can you change plain grass into weed, my friend?" Jon inquired mildly.

"No, seriously," Spencer said, "federal agent."

*


Ryan gathered the blanket off his bunk and moved into the lounge, where Pen was already lying down on the couch, looking exhausted. Ryan almost turned right back around, except that Pen smiled and asked, "You still have your blanket? The one with the mice?"

Ryan laughed. "I can't believe you remember that."

"I remember--"

"I know, everything, but c'mon. My baby blanket?"

"You used to take it with you everywhere. There was that time you accidentally left it on the table in the cafeteria of the science museum, and we had to track it down before you would go anywhere, even to the exhibit where you could control the path of electricity, and you loved that exhibit."

Ryan blinked. He'd nearly forgotten about that. Back before Pen's father had left, sometimes they would all go on family trips, the Reids making sure that Ryan's dad was dry enough to go. Suddenly, though, it was clear in his mind, the feeling of worn cotton between his fingers, and the sight of electricity arcing, blue and purple, pretty and at his command. Even as a kid, he'd known that not much was ever going to be like that. Even then, Pen had been able to tell him why the electricity did what it did, and why it wouldn't hurt him. He couldn't remember the words, but he could hear the confidence in Pen's voice while he was explaining. That had been one of Ryan's favorite sounds as a kid. He'd missed it when Pen had gone off to college. His letters had been entertaining and let Ryan know what was going on, but it hadn't been the same. "It's in my apartment. There's a box with it and The Hungry Caterpillar and Oli and some other stuff."

Pen lit up. "You still have Oli?"

Pen had given Ryan a plush triceratops for Ryan's second birthday, intent on teaching him all about the Mesozoic Era. Tragically for Pen, Ryan hadn't been born with a brain the size of a regular triceratops, and so had mistaken the toy for an elephant, or, as he'd pronounced it, "Oli-font. Oli-font."

"A man does not throw out the greatest toy ever made," Ryan said with dignity.

"Yeah, well, mom got confused while I was off at college one time. She thought I was dead and burned a lot of my kid stuff in a funeral pyre to express her grief. In the front yard. You can imagine, the Home's Association was thrilled."

"Was that the time you had to come home in, like, February or something odd like that?"

"No, that happened late in the year. October. The February thing was because she stopped taking her meds and--" Pen stopped.

Ryan had seen some of the scars Aunt Diana bore, particularly the ones on her wrists. "Yeah."

"She's better, in the home." Pen looked sad. "Sometimes she gets mad at me, but the doctors there, they can--"

"She wouldn't have wanted you to stay."

Pen said, "I mean, there're FBI offices near Vegas."

"Not the BAU," Ryan said. "She doesn't want to hold you back. Not when she's, y'know, herself."

"Funny. Sometimes I find that hard to remember."

Ryan crept closer to the couch and sat down in front of it. He wasn't sure what to say. It was weird, suddenly getting that Pen was still pretty young, that he didn't always have all the answers. "Hey."

Pen's skin was almost blue this close up, the veins knocking against the surface, his skin seemingly too thin to keep them at bay. He said, "You guys sounded really good out there tonight."

"Brendon likes to show off for you."

Pen laughed softly, wincing at the tail end. Ryan said, "Sorry."

Pen shook his head a little. "Yeah, Ry. It's me he shows off for. Okay."

"Well, Jon, but everyone shows off for Jon. It's like, some kind of universal rule."

"The same one that pertains to your obliviousness?" Pen asked.

Ryan looked at him. Then he laughed. "Oh, very funny."

There was a second before Pen said, "Yeah. Funny."

Pen closed his eyes. Ryan said, "I'm staying."

Pen moved his hand free of the blanket and found Ryan's. He was still holding on when he fell asleep, muscles going slack. Ryan laid down then, and didn't let the echo of Pen's final observations play over and over in his head at all. There would have been no point to it.

*


There were seven text messages on his phone when Spencer woke up. The one from Gideon said, "Take the extra day when you get back and sleep. Seriously, I will kick you out of the office if I see you here."

The one from Hotch said, "Hopefully you landed safely and are with your family. Please update me as to how you are feeling when you get the chance."

Garcia's said, "What's with the radio silence, dollface? Update, nowz."

Morgan's said, "Check in, kid." His second one asked, "How good are you at crosswords?" which made no sense, but Morgan was always asking him random things that ended up being important in some way, so he didn't think too much about it.

JJ's said, "Hey Spence, let us know how things are going."

Emily's said, "Just making sure they're treating you right. Call when you have a chance."

All in all, Spencer got the message. He called Hotch because Hotch was his boss and also because he wouldn't pry. Hotch answered with a, "Hey Reid, everything all right?"

"We're on the way to San Diego. Sorry I didn't call last night when I got in."

"Not a problem, just checking in. We've got a case in Utah, so you might be heading back there after tomorrow. Call me before you get on a plane."

"All right."

"Also, Gideon thinks you should stay out until you're one hundred percent, so if that's not the day after tomorrow, just stay put for another day, okay?"

"I'm fine, Hotch."

"You wanna float that one by him?"

Spencer made a face at nobody in particular. Hotch said, "See you in a few days."

Spencer said, "Say hi to everyone."

Hotch made a sound that Spencer was pretty sure was a laugh, but he hung up a little too early for Spencer to be certain. He wrapped one of the blankets from the couch around himself and shuffled up front, to find Ryan sleeping in Other Spencer's bunk with Other Spencer, and Brendon and Jon at the breakfast table, sharing coffee and cereal. Brendon immediately made room for Spencer, looking uncertainly back toward the bunks. "Ryan said to wake him when you got up."

"When'd he finally come out here?" Spencer knew Ryan probably hadn't slept much on the floor.

Brendon looked at Jon who scrunched up his face and said, "Maybe five-ish?"

Spencer glanced at a clock. It was a little after ten. He said, "Let him sleep."

Brendon seemed unsure, so Spencer promised, "I'll deal with him if he's upset."

"He's going to be," Brendon said, but then went back to eating his cereal, so Spencer knew he'd won.

Jon asked, "Coffee? Juice?"

Spencer asked, "Orange juice?"

"Yeah," Jon said, and got up to pour him some. He said, "Soundcheck in another few hours. Both of them could probably stand to sleep through to it."

Spencer admitted, "I'm probably going to need a nap before the show."

Jon said, "Uh, me too, maybe."

The catch in Brendon's motions as he raised the spoon to his mouth told Spencer that something odd had just happened, but he wasn't entirely sure what. He was a little too sore to pursue the line of thought. Brendon interrupted it anyway, with his mocking, "Weaklings." It was only mildly ruined by the fact that his eyes strayed ever so slightly to where Spencer knew Ryan was curled up in Other Spencer's arms.

Spencer took a sip of the juice. "Group nap sounds nice, doesn't it, Jon?"

Jon warmed his hands on his mug, gaze just barely on Brendon. He turned to look out the window before he said, "Sounds fucking awesome to me."

*


Ryan cornered Jon in the bathroom. He would have preferred something a little less sordid and desperate seeming, but the venue just wasn't that big, and Ryan wouldn't have Pen overhearing this. Admittedly, Ryan's version of cornering went a little something like walking into the bathroom, making sure nobody but the two of them was there, crossing his arms nervously over his chest and saying, "Um."

Jon washed his hands, dried them and asked, "What's up?"

Like a Band-Aid, Ryan thought, and ripped. "What are your intentions toward my cousin?"

Jon said, "Whoa, um--"

"You don't usually take afternoon naps, unless you have Dylan around, and you don't curl around any of us like that except Brendon, and well, Brendon. Also, your smile is different for him." Ryan couldn't say how, it just was. He wasn't trained like Pen, but Pen had taught him enough over the years. If he was paying attention, he noticed things.

"I'm not claiming I don't-- I mean, Ryan, your cousin is kind of awesome. For those of us in this band not in love with you, that's a little hard not to notice."

Pen was awesome, Ryan couldn't argue with that. He wasn't sure it wasn't some kind of distraction technique on Jon's part, but if it was, it was working, because Ryan asked, "What the fuck are you talking about? Spencer's my friend."

Jon's gaze flickered slightly to the left and he said, "No, right, you're right, I shouldn't have--"

"Jon. Spencer is my friend." Ryan wasn't sure why he was repeating it.

"Ryan," Jon said softly, but with the same intensity that Ryan had said his name. "Spencer and Brendon are both your friends. That's not mutually-- Fuck. Nevermind."

"Like hell," Ryan said, and glared. It was his best glare, the one that worked on everyone, sometimes even Spencer.

Jon just said, "I shouldn't have said anything, but Brendon and Spencer are my friends, too, and you're a dumbass, so I'm not going to go making things any worse than I already have."

Now officially confused as fuck, Ryan returned to his original point and the clear moral high ground. "You hurt my cousin, I will fuck you up so bad. So bad, Jonathan Jacob Walker."

"Jesus, Ryan, your cousin is a three PhD-holding hot guy with a job in one of the most elite sections of a federal fucking law agency. I'm really not thinking you have much to fear from my boycrush. Also, I bet he could shoot me himself."

"Pen's kind of a crap shot," Ryan murmured, not even feeling bad at the betrayal. It was hard to, when Jon looked sort of sad. "Also, um. You're pretty hot. And a rockstar. Those are good credentials."

Jon ran a hand over his face and dragged up a smile for Ryan. "Thanks for the pep-talk."

"No, Jon, um-- You're, I mean, you really like him?"

Jon opened his arms. "What's not to like, Ryan?" He ticked off on his fingers, "1) Smart, way, way smart, 2) nice, 3) laughs at my jokes, 4) knows magic, 5) loves my band, 6) hot and 7) did I mention hot? Because if so, it bears repeating."

Ryan said, "Oh. I mean, right, totally right, but--"

"But most people only see the first part?"

Ryan shrugged. "He's good at opening other people up. Most people are crap at it with him."

"Yeah, well, I thought we agreed when I signed the papers that I wasn't most people." Jon sounded put out and slightly hurt.

"Jon," Ryan said. "Jon, I didn't mean--"

"I have brothers, Ryan, I know what it's like." Jon sounded willing to forgive.

"It was always more than that. It was, um. He was more like a lifeline than a brother. Or something. It always sounds stupid when I try and explain."

"I know. And if you think I would be careless with that, maybe--"

"I shouldn't have-- Fuck. Old habits die hard," Ryan told him. "I don't think you're an asshole. I don't."

"That's good, I guess, then."

Ryan bit his lip. After a second, Jon offered, "Should we maybe hug it out?"

Ryan was pretty down with that plan.

*


On the last night before Spencer was scheduled to catch a plane and find his way back to the team, he drafted Zack into helping him buy enough Haagen-Dazs to cool down a small country, cheddar popcorn, and five different types of soda. Zack told him, "It's not even that I mind the mess, but you realize Brendon's probably never going to sleep again, right?"

Spencer threw some Benadryl on the pile. Zack said, "Good enough."

Zack made sure the stuff was taken back to the hotel and stored appropriately, while getting Spencer to the venue, so that he could see his last show for this tour. He sat in the wings, sometimes with people from the opening bands, sometimes the techs, sometimes by himself. People mostly left him alone beyond a, "hello," or a, "sounding good tonight," so Spencer didn't mind them coming around. He just wanted to listen and not be in the way.

Brendon was going all out, making up lyrics, turning around to joke with Spencer, at one memorable point, attempting to climb Jon. Before they played Tragedies he said, "So, we have someone here tonight, and he'd kill me if I made him come out here or anything, but without him, there's no way in hell we'd've made this record, so Pen, fuck this song, this show is for you!"

Spencer was pretty sure that if the patterned response he'd noticed to every word that came out of Brendon's mouth was repeated, there'd be a society full of web users dedicated to figuring out who the hell "Pen" was by two hours from now, but he couldn't be bothered by the idea. He'd just have to follow and make certain nobody guessed right. He could only imagine the heyday Morgan would have with him suddenly having fifteen year-old stalkers.

Brendon took first shower by force--literally, wrestling Ryan to the ground and tickling him into admitting defeat. Other Spencer pointed out, "There's a second room. Also with a shower," and cajoled Ryan into it. Spencer didn't follow them. He wasn't sure he wanted to know how Other Spencer worked his magic. He definitely was sure he didn't want to have knowledge that would make Brendon cry. Making Brendon cry was like maiming babies--not only a gross ethical and moral violation, but likely to end with the baby growing up and wreaking horrible, scarring revenge right back on you.

Jon jumped in as soon as Brendon came out and pulled himself into his pajamas. Spencer had changed into his and was reading up on the case that he would be working when he got back. Brendon dive-bombed the bed. Spencer grunted, but let Brendon have his way, snuggling down, careful of Spencer's ribs, taking Spencer from the case. Once he'd settled a bit, Brendon said, "You have to go keep the world safe soon enough."

Spencer smiled a bit at this assessment of his job. Other Spencer and Ryan came back through the adjoining door. Ryan got on the bed and settled atop Brendon, which Spencer knew wasn't comfortable, but he didn't think Ryan meant it to be. This was confirmed by Ryan's flat, "Payback's a bitch," at Brendon's yelps. Spencer noticed, though, that Brendon didn't once try and throw Ryan off, and actually seemed pretty pleased once Ryan had found a position that worked for him.

Other Spencer was texting Zack about their junk haul, and by the time Jon came out of the bathroom, they had the party all set to go. Mildly, Jon chose to sit on Spencer's other side, avoiding the tangle of boyflesh and boxers and cotton tees that was growing into mountainous proportions on Spencer's other side with the sudden inclusion of Other Spencer. Brendon's breathing was definitely more shallow at this point, but he still wasn't complaining. If anything, he looked pretty happy.

Jon said, "Movie, or game of 'I Never' with popcorn?"

"Movie," Spencer said immediately, before anyone else could get a word in edgewise. Ryan was a vicious 'I Never' player, and he might not have had an eidetic memory, but it was good enough.

Predictably, Ryan pouted at him, but when Brendon said, "Ooo, we could pay for something none of us as seen," and Other Spencer tucked a hand to Ryan's neck, he consented.

Faced with his ice cream choices, Jon said thoughtfully, "You know what this haul is missing?"

Without thinking, Spencer answered, "Bananas, whipped cream and hot fudge."

"Sprinkles," Jon put in, "but I wouldn't turn those down, either."

"Butterscotch," Brendon said, more of a squeak from under Mount SpeRy.

Ryan snorted. "Peanuts."

Spencer rolled his eyes. "Maraschino cherries."

They all looked at each other for a long moment. Other Spencer said, "I'll go get my shoes."

*


Panic got back to Vegas roughly three weeks after Pen had left the tour. There wasn't another tour planned just yet, and Pete had been making Pete-hints about a new album. Pete-hints were not particularly subtle, so Ryan had caught on pretty quick. He just didn't know if the stuff he was writing was going to work at all. He hadn't shown it to Brendon, because nothing was more daunting than Brendon seeming unsure about whether he could sing something Ryan wrote, and Ryan had a feeling a lot of this stuff just plain wouldn't fit into a measure, at all.

He spent the first couple of days off the bus unpacking and fucking up his laundry, burning shit in his kitchen and otherwise being a total lamer at living on his own. Spencer texted with, "whn r u cming?"

Ryan texted back, "2nite," got in his car and drove the forty five minutes to go see his Aunt Diana. He stopped for a bouquet of periwinkles, daisies and primroses, because he remembered the chaos of his Aunt's garden, back when she took the meds enough to keep one, and the way she'd explained that in the middle ages, nobody had cared about the polite manicured look that was so en vogue these days.

They made him show ID at the front and seemed suspicious that he was actually related to Diana Reid--although why Ryan would be visiting random schizophrenics was a little beyond him--but eventually they let him in to see her. She--not surprisingly--looked a little shocked at his appearance, but then a smile spread over her face and she said, "Well, well, if it isn't my nephew."

Feeling kind of crappy about the fact that he hadn't visited the last four times he'd been in town--the institution chilled Ryan inside, both for her and for the fear of his eventual fate--he held the flowers out shyly, a quiet peace offering, and she took them, but she also pulled Ryan into a hug. Ryan couldn't remember his mom's hugs, but he liked to think they must have been like this, firm and sure, made with energy and intent. She sat back down, then, motioning to the seat caddycorner from her. Ryan sat, too.

She said, "Spencer tells me you've abandoned all my hopes and dreams for you as a scholar and are currently busy being a rock star."

Ryan laughed a little. He sent her clippings and magazines, so she'd known for a while what he was doing, but she never ceased in her campaign to get him to abandon it all for a nice professorship somewhere on the east coast. "Your disappointment is felt."

She smiled at him and said, "So kid. What brings a bright young rock god like yourself to a nuthouse?"

Ryan used to try and soften her language when she'd call the institution things like that, but he had learned that that was her way of keeping her humor about the situation. He said, "I kinda just wanted to see my aunt."

Her expression at that was a little soft. "You didn't bring that Other Spencer kid with you. I almost didn't recognize you by yourself."

"Aunt Di-- Um. My mom, she was, she was a hippie for a while, right? I've seen some of the pictures, like, in your albums and stuff."

"Oh yeah, the movement was dead, but she was doing her best to revive it."

Ryan hesitated. "Like, peace and free love and, um--"

"Pot. A lot of pot. Which I always suspected was the only thing her and your father had in common."

Aunt Diana had never been a huge fan of George Ryan Ross II. Ryan had had to admit to curiosity where he and his mother were concerned, what with his dad having been military and all. "Right, but--"

"Kiddo, ask what you've got to ask." And for all that Aunt Diana was kind of crazy, she was also pretty intuitive. She was Pen's mother.

"You, um. I mean, you know my Spencer, the other one, and I've sent you pictures of Brendon, and it's just, I mean, Jon said something and I've been thinking about it, but it's not normal and not that, like, normal ever meant anything in our family, but I don't..." Ryan frowned in frustration. "When I write lyrics, I think of all kinds of things. The movies we watched as kids and the books I've read and all these things that I know from other people's words and that shows me how to make my own sentences and phrases and stuff. But with this, I just--"

"Do you love this Brendon like you've always loved Second Spencer?"

Ryan made a face at her. "Second to none." It was an old joke. She didn't laugh, though, she just kept her eyes on him, waiting. He tried to explain it, the way that Brendon was part and parcel of him, the same way Spencer had been since that day on the steps of the casino, both their guardians inside and nothing to do but make a new friend. He thought it might be easier to describe the way Brendon held all these good things in him, things that Ryan tried to hold onto, like love and joy and all that inspirational crap that nobody ever thought was real until they met someone like Brendon, who managed to have it. In the end, though, he just said, "Yes. I-- Yes."

"Then fuck convention, kid. You're a rock star, your aunt's a crazy lady and your cousin is a Federal agent. Who the hell's gonna mess with you?"

Ryan laughed a little at that, but he thought it over. She said, "Just so you know? Your mom would have said the same thing. Although, probably with more ranting about The Man and a little bit of philosophy on transcendental experiences."

Ryan's throat felt a little sore at that. He rasped out, "Love you, aunt Di."

One edge of her mouth inched up. She said, "Me too, Ryan. Now come here and give me another hug and get out of here before they find some reason to keep you."

Ryan heeded her wisdom, but he pressed himself into the hug for a really long time before letting go.

*


"I thought it was the brunette down in AP for a while, but you've stopped doing your weird not-flirting thing with her, so spill it, kid. What's got you all tied into pretzel knots?"

Spencer looked at Morgan and thought, briefly, about getting a job with stupid coworkers. Then he said, "I'm kinda, um, busy, right now, Morgan." The statement went a little further up in pitch at the end than he would have preferred.

"Either you talk to me, or I bring in Prentiss, JJ and Garcia to get it out of you. Your choice."

Spencer took a moment to debate his chances of getting each of them to leave him alone. JJ, maybe, if he asked in the right way, and Prentiss, she'd respect his boundaries if he made it about that, but Garcia? Spencer said, "I have a stupid crush. Happy?"

"It's lunch time. Let's take a walk."

"It's ten-thirty."

"I ate really early. You can get a coffee."

Spencer rolled his eyes, but he got up from his desk. He didn't fight battles he couldn't win. "You're paying."

"We'll see what I get out of you," Morgan said easily. "I'm not easy."

Spencer muttered, "And I'm not cheap."

Morgan made a sound that was suspiciously laugh-like, but left it alone. Spencer used his longer legs to try and outstride Morgan, which was clearly stupid, but he couldn't help himself. When they arrived, Spencer ordered an herbal tea, because despite the yearning he had for coffee, the level of stress he was already operating at was likely to cause him to go into a caffeine induced anxiety disorder, which, given his mother's condition, would almost certainly be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. He could save that for another day, thanks. He also got himself a scone, mostly just to make it worth his while to talk. And because they had the peach ginger ones that he really liked and ginger had medicinal qualities for queasy stomachs, something he was definitely working himself into. Granted, the ginger was sugared and ensconced in flour, water and eggs, but it was still ginger, somewhere deep inside its chemical bonding properties.

"Reid," Morgan said, snapping Spencer out of his ruminations on Pegnelly and Bone's Constituents of Medicinal Plants: an introduction to the chemistry and therapeutics of herbal medicine.

Spencer said, "You figured it out, I have a crush, great profiling. Can you teach me how to do that?"

"Awesome being a smart ass, can you teach me how to do that?"

Spencer really didn't mean to, but he smiled--just a little. Morgan said, "I saw that."

Spencer rolled his eyes. "What do you want, Morgan?"

"Who's the crush?"

"It's really not important."

"Humor me."

Spencer could feel a headache building at the base of his neck, which was always the worst kind. "Morgan--"

"Just between us, for real. Nobody else."

Spencer looked at Morgan. Morgan didn't have the same kind of tells that other people had, but he had them, all the same. He wasn't kidding or lying, or if he was, he'd found new ways of hiding it from Spencer, and that kind of effort seemed like overkill to Spencer's way of thinking, his knowledge of Morgan. "Jon. The attractive, young, famous bass player in my baby cousin's band. So, in case you missed the subtext, I already know better."

"Because it's never happened before that some extremely good-looking famous person was all into you, or anything."

"I saved her life. Evidently, you get bonus points for that sort of thing. Or so someone once told me."

"Yeah, well, I bet this guy's giving you bonus points for keeping his lyricist sane for a bunch of years." Morgan stole some of the scone. "Not that you need them."

"It's a crush. Pretty much by definition, it'll work itself out."

"Alternately, you could grow a pair," Morgan said casually.

"This really isn't--"

"You're sitting here and you're convincing yourself that because you were always younger than everyone, because you were always the guy people hated for having the answers, because because because, Jon couldn't possibly look at you and see his bandmate's older brother. And trust me, Reid, older brothers? They get action. Lots and lots of action."

Spencer blinked at Morgan because, well, that actually explained a lot. There remained the fact that, "I'm not you."

"No, you're smarter and more mature than I was at that time. You have a better moral and ethical base because you're not as fucking angry as I was back then."

Spencer wasn't entirely sure what to say to that. Morgan really, really didn't talk about his high school years. Spencer got it, but it made it hard to handle when he opened up like this. Morgan said, "All I'm saying is, I think if you'd stop being so scared, good things might actually happen to you. And despite the guilt thing you've got going on about your mom and all, you deserve them. Trust me, I see you more clearly than you see yourself. We all do, Reid."

Spencer would have called Morgan on talking about him behind his back, except half the team had had a serious powwow about their worry over Hotch the other day, and Spencer had been in on it, so that seemed a bit hypocritical. Instead all he said was, "I wouldn't know where to start."

"How about spending some time with him without the others?"

"That's going to seem odd."

"Not as odd as the two of you sucking face in front of the others."

Spencer gave Morgan a Look. Morgan gave Spencer a shit-eating grin, slow and smooth, incredibly Morgan, and shrugged. "Just saying."

It occurred to Spencer that it wasn't just his apparently high-end taste that would doom him to live a life of celibacy, but also, the dumbass interfering ways of those who loved him most. Perfect.

*


Brendon always stayed with his parents for the first few days that they were in town, and then bounced around to the siblings who had room for him for just a little while before making his way over to either Spencer or Ryan's place--usually Spencer's. Which was why Ryan was a little surprised to hear his door opening in the middle of the afternoon about a week after they got home, when he was catching up on The Office. He looked over his shoulder, expecting to find Spencer, and there was Brendon, coffee in hand, smile on his face, and all his brash certainty of welcome, which Ryan had long ago figured out was inversely proportional to how uncertain he was feeling. Ryan said, "Hey."

Brendon grinned harder, which was a little uncomfortable to watch, actually, and said, "Um, so, I thought maybe you wouldn't mind a guest for like, tonight?"

Ryan wanted to ask why he'd been chosen this time, but he sensed that might scare Brendon off, so instead he nodded. "Yeah, yes, I mean-- Just tonight?"

Ryan internally smacked himself, hoping that didn't seem like he was making sure Brendon wouldn't stay longer. Brendon said, "Uh, I don't--"

"It's just, y'know. Quiet."

Brendon blinked. "You like quiet."

Ryan shrugged. "Not all the time."

Brendon was looking at him like maybe Ryan was ill or had been replaced by a pod person, and Ryan could have sworn that he used to know how to seduce people, he'd done it with a few girls even before he was "of Panic at the Disco," and sure, maybe those hadn't gone well, but he'd managed to get his foot in the door without seeming insane. The problem was probably that Brendon was his friend, or some annoying shit like that. Pen would have a psychological term for it, maybe.

Softly, Brendon asked, "Um, you okay?"

Other than the fact that he wanted to beat himself to death for social retardation? Yeah, Ryan was doing fine. In a desperate bid to redirect, Ryan asked, "Is that coffee?"

"Oh," Brendon brightened. "Haven't had your fix yet?"

Ryan waved a hand in a way that could have meant anything and made grabby hands for the coffee. Brendon gave it over easily and said, "The Office?"

"Catching up. You want in?"

"Make room," Brendon said, then proceeded to sprawl all over Ryan anyway. Ryan wasn't complaining. Despite the coffee, Brendon fell asleep about an episode and a half later, and Ryan was feeling pretty drowsy himself. He knew it was just from not doing anything, that if he got up and walked around he'd be fine, but he didn't really want to. Brendon was warm and solid atop him, and for once he wasn't moving too fast, just staying near. Ryan stopped his DVD player and squirmed just a little further on his couch.

Brendon murmured, "Ry?"

"Sleepy," Ryan told him.

"Mm. Me too."

Ryan smiled at that. "Really?" but Brendon was already asleep again. Ryan took the chance to run his fingers gently over Brendon's temple, brush back at his hair a bit. Then he said, "Yeah, yeah. You should sleep," in a whisper, barely even, and shut his eyes as well.

*


After four tries, Spencer deduced with logic and a fair dose of self-awareness that he wasn't going to call Jon. Instead, he texted, and told himself that baby steps were important. Nobody learned to walk in one day, not even him. He sent the message, "How is Chicago?" which, as openers went, was kind of pedestrian, but it would get the job done.

He had a text back within seconds, which was fairly confidence inspiring, especially since, unlike Ryan, Jon didn't seem to have his spinal cord fused to his phone. Jon said, "Windy. Who'd've guessed? DC?"

"Wouldn't know. I'm in Little Rock. It's raining."

"Wow. So, good day, huh?"

Spencer smiled a little. "Taking a coffee break. Need to change how I'm thinking about things."

Jon said, "Good coffee or bad?"

"Once a barista..."

Spencer's phone rang. Jon was laughing when he picked it up. Jon asked, "When did I even tell you I had worked at Starbucks?"

"You didn't. I ran a dossier on you when you joined the band." Spencer wasn't ashamed. This was Ryan, and his Spencer and his Brendon. Spencer had no intention of just letting some random guitar tech join their band without knowing everything and anything he could find out about the guy.

"Huh," Jon said. "You do a profile on me?"

"Profiling doesn't really work that way. A profile is a guideline for finding a person, not a psychological work up of one whom you've already found."

"So, no?"

"I did do a psychological work up."

Jon laughed. "Of course you did. And?"

Spencer considered his possible responses to that. "And I didn't tell my baby cousin to keep you out of the most important part of his life."

"Touché. Still, kind of unfair, don't you think?"

"Unfair?" Spencer asked.

"Well, you know what color pajamas I wore to bed when I was eight and I don't even know your shoe size."

"Eleven."

"Way to share."

Spencer smiled. "When I was eight, my pajamas had DaVinci's drawings on them. My mom found them, although I have no idea where."

"Like, the one with the guy who's trying to fly, or something?"

"The Vitruvian Man, circa 1487, based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De Architectura. And yes, he was on there."

"Did you dream about him? I dreamt about monkeys a lot, and they were on pretty much everything I owned until I was about ten. My mom has a thing for monkeys."

Spencer closed his eyes, imagining eight-year-old Jon and his monkeys. He said, "'Course not. I dreamed of flying."

*


When Ryan awoke, Brendon was warm--hot--in his arms, and Ryan wanted to stay there, the couch soft at his back, Brendon clinging in his sleep, like he needed Ryan. Ryan could smell coffee, though, fresh coffee, which could only mean one thing. He carefully extricated himself from Brendon's death grip to sneak his way into the kitchen. Spencer was sitting at his table, surfing the web on Ryan's computer and sipping at the coffee. Ryan said, "Hey. You make more than a cup?"

Spencer nodded and gestured toward the two mugs that were sitting by the machine. Ryan took one and poured himself a cup, then added a bit of cream. He sat at the table and said, "Evidently I was tired."

Spencer huffed in laughter. "You and Brendon."

"He's staying here tonight," Ryan told him, knowing his voice had somehow become more defensive than it should have been, like Spencer might steal Brendon, or something equally stupid.

Instead, Spencer asked, "Have any extra room?" Then, knowingly, and somewhat meanly, "Or would I be intruding?"

Ryan kicked Spencer under the table. Spencer responded with a kick of his own. Neither of them were particularly pulling their strength, either, so when Brendon walked in they were all out kicking the crap out of each other and grunting or just plain exclaiming in pain at each attack. Brendon rubbed a hand over his face and said, "I missed something, right?"

Ryan got in one last kick before he said, "No."

Brendon rolled his eyes and went toward the coffee. Then he pointedly dropped himself in Spencer's lap. He said, "Hi. Ryan said I could stay here tonight."

"He kicks," Spencer warned darkly.

"Only assholes," Ryan shot back.

Brendon looked between the two of them for a second before asking, "Should I leave you guys alone?"

"No," Ryan said, at the same time that Spencer said, "Yeah, give us a minute, 'kay?"

Brendon sat for a second. Then he got up, ruffled Ryan's hair and said, "No using me as a shield, asshole," with a certain quiet fondness before going into the living room.

"Point proven, he listens to you," Ryan said, knowing he was being petulant and unable to stop himself.

"Oh, would you fucking grow up for like, two point five seven seconds?" Spencer stood up. "Jesus, Ryan."

Ryan stood up too, mostly because he knew it was never a good idea to give an opponent the height advantage. A second after he had the thought, his chest started hurting and he put his hand to it, biting his lip. Spencer, who was watching, said, "Yeah, we done now?"

Ryan turned away, but Spencer just came up behind him, wrapping himself around Ryan, making Ryan feel safe, which wasn't fair at all. Spencer said, "The fuck, Ry?" but it was soft, not like he was trying to start something again.

Ryan shook his head, because he didn't know how to explain. Instead he said, "You started it."

Spencer sighed. "Yeah, I'm a jealous bitch, you caught me. I know, that time I stole Maddy Riley's doll in third grade just because she was talking to you, or tried to beat up Trent Selnick for, like, helping you with your homework in eighth didn't give it away at all."

Ryan snorted. "He could have sat on you."

"Shut up," Spencer said. "Beside the point."

Ryan shrugged in Spencer's grip. "You always get him. He just asked for one night with me."

There was a long, long pause, and Ryan could feel Spencer thinking. Finally, he said, "Ryan, um. It's not about Brendon spending the night. You have to know that. I mean, you really have to."

Ryan stilled. "What's it about?"

"Ryan--"

"No. You started this, you finish. What's it about?"

At first, Ryan was so stiff, so scared of what Spencer would say that he didn't even feel the press of Spencer's lips to his neck. He felt Spencer's teeth, the just-so prick of them against his skin and the following soothing of Spencer's tongue. Ryan whispered, "Spencer," and shivered at the sensation.

Spencer said, "If it's Brendon for you, tell me to let go. Tell me right now and we'll pretend-- You won't even have to turn around before I walk out of the room."

Ryan wrapped his hands around Spencer's arms, holding him where he was. "I can't-- I can't say he's not part of it. I can't lie like that. Not to you. You'd have to be the one fucking person in the world I won't lie to." Ryan was tempted to kick Spencer again, but he reigned in the impulse.

"So, what you're saying is, if I stayed the night, I wouldn't exactly be intruding?"

Ryan bought one of Spencer's hands up to his mouth and bit lightly at the thumb. "Not exactly."

*


"I miss my guys," Jon said, when Spencer picked up the phone.

It was kind of late, but Spencer was still at the office, finishing up case paperwork, so he didn't mind. That said, there was something off about Jon's voice. "Are you drunk?"

"Little bit. But it's Tom's fault."

"Oh, well then," Spencer said. Spencer had never met Tom Conrad, but he'd heard the lore. Still, he suspected Jon had done a bit of his own work on getting himself shit-faced.

"They're at Ryan's house."

"Is that weird?" Spencer knew they didn't stay apart for long, not even when they could. They probably missed Jon pretty heavily, too. Ryan, though, would never say that, would think that he was pressing his own wants on Jon, and the only person he had that kind of confidence with was Other Spencer. Even then, it was kind of hit and miss. The funny part was, Spencer was certain Jon would actually just find it reassuring, but telling Ryan that was a bit like talking to an admantium wall.

"They usually go to Spencer's. Other Spencer's."

Spencer didn't point out that Jon had just stated the obvious. People did that sometimes when they were drunk, and worryingly, Spencer found it less annoying in Jon than in most of the other people he'd experienced it in. He thought about what Jon had actually told him. "Maybe there's a problem with Spencer's house."

"Hm," Jon sounded unconvinced. "They didn't say anything. They usually do. Say something. I think they would have."

Spencer asked, "Hey, when was the last time you had some water?"

"Mm, today?"

Spencer made a face down at the form in front of him. He had never wanted to be the guy who held someone's hair back, got water for him, poured him into bed, but at the moment, he kind of did. At the very least, he understood the hint of loneliness beneath the softening of the alcohol in Jon's tone. "You have a sink there, in your apartment?"

There was a second where Spencer imagined Jon was looking around. "I think I'm at Tom's."

"Does Tom have a sink?"

"Prob'ly."

Spencer couldn't help a slight laugh. Jon said, "Tom's kinda dirty."

This from a man who lived on a bus where socks sometimes grew flowers. "But most likely made up of sixty five percent water, like his fellow humans, so you should try and find his sink."

"Fine," Jon said, clearly petulant.

Spencer wrote up some notes, listening with half an ear to the sound of Jon puttering around. He tried to make himself put the phone down when Jon began swallowing, but the visual of Jon's throat was evidently too much for his brain to pull away from. When he had finished, Jon said something and Spencer, intelligently, responded, "Uh."

Jon said, "Um," which sparked Spencer into half-lying, "Sorry, multi-tasking."

"Should I let you get back to your job?"

"No," Spencer said, then, "I mean, yes, I mean-- You should get some sleep."

"Why? I'll just wake up hungover."

It was a fair point. "Drink some more water."

"Yes, mom."

"And Jon?"

"Mm?"

"Spencer's always gone to Ryan when Ryan needed him. Brendon's always wanted to feel like it was his right. Maybe they're just--learning to be themselves."

Jon was quiet for a long time. Finally he said, "I still miss them."

Spencer thought it wasn't fair to say that he did, too. They weren't his band. Instead he said, "Sweet dreams, yeah?"

Jon said, "Yeah, thanks."

*


Ryan woke up to Spencer snuffling at his shoulder, and Brendon wrapped airtight around him and took a second to remember exactly how they'd all gotten into bed with each other. When he remembered, it was actually disappointingly mundane--Brendon had been set up in the guest room, so Spencer went to share with Ryan, like they always had, and Brendon had looked so wistful that Spencer had just grabbed him and brought him along. Ryan was surprised to find himself awake before either of them. He was usually the late sleeper on the bus, him and often times Jon, but Spencer liked mornings, had always liked them, even when they brought school days, and Brendon had too much energy to cut out a part of his day. Ryan closed his eyes, but there was a restlessness beneath his skin that he could tell wasn't going anywhere.

Ryan was not what anyone would categorize as graceful even at the best of times--which morning was decidedly not, for him--so it took a while, and several close calls with elbows and faces, for him to get himself free. He did, however, manage. He went to the kitchen for some coffee and because he was pretty sure he had left his phone somewhere around there, or maybe near the TV. Finding it on one arm of the couch, he pressed memory three and waited for the phone to go to voicemail.

When Pen said, "Hey, Ry," Ryan nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Oh, um. You aren't working?"

"I occasionally get a day off, every twelve or so."

It never seemed like it to Ryan, but he was glad to hear it. "I saw your mom."

"Yeah, she says you look like you went shopping in your mother's closet."

"My dad generally said it to my face, so if she's hoping you relaying the message--"

"She sounded kind of happy about it."

Ryan blinked. "Well, okay then."

There was silence for a few seconds before Pen asked, "Everything okay? You sound thinky."

"That a technical psychological term?"

"I coined it for you. It means 'to engage oneself in the process of weaving one's navel lint into a structure of award-winning proportions, and one which, depending upon where one lives, might be used to keep one warm at night.'"

"That was good. Have you been thinking about that hard, or--"

"Spur of the moment, I assure you."

"I really should introduce you to Pete."

"Your boy-ogling, manchild boss?"

Ryan grinned. "If he'd heard you say that just now, he would have made a t-shirt for himself."

"I suppose self-awareness in psychopathy is something."

"I know you already did one of your profile thingies on him. You wouldn't let me near him if you really thought he was dangerous."

Pen sighed. "A psychological workup is neither a profile nor a 'thingy'. What is it with you and your band?"

Ryan opened his mouth, then shut it. "Me and my band? To whom have you been speaking, cousin mine?"

Ryan felt the hesitation more than heard it, because Pen knew how to play games like this, what would get him caught, and it had been a slip to have mentioned anything in the first place, Ryan didn't expect another one. "Jon. He's lonely."

Ryan made a mental note to make sure they called him later that day. They'd talked last night, but Ryan would have hated to be in Chicago with the other three in Vegas, so he didn't really care about seeming clingy. They were clingy, and acting otherwise would only make them look foolish. Of course, Spencer had been the one to point that out, but whatever. Ryan had listened, and that was what mattered. Ryan asked, "So, um, he called you?"

"He said everyone was over at your house," Pen told him quietly, a little bit of a question.

It was what Ryan had called to talk about anyway, even if he hadn't admitted that to himself, so he took the opening. "Brendon came to me. Um, he came here. And then Spencer--" Ryan closed his eyes. "What'd your mom say, exactly?"

"That you'd finally figured out that love wasn't as simple as good and bad, right and wrong, one plus one."

"Direct quote?"

"Yes."

"And?"

"And my mom's pretty much always right, unless she's having a psychotic ep, which she wasn't. What did Other Spencer say?"

Ryan snorted at the slip. Pen didn't usually call Spencer that aloud. He didn't call him on it, though, just said, "Um, it was more like, he got jealous? I think. It's a little hard to tell with him, but yeah, pretty sure. And then he stayed."

"And?"

"We played video games. Mostly. Spencer made us dinner."

"They slept over?"

"In my bed." Ryan had a flash of sensory memory, Brendon's heat, the smell of Spencer's hair. "We fit."

"Not that I'm a huge believer in signs and wonders, or anything, but that's sort of apropos, don't you think?"

"Eventually, they'll wake up, Pen."

Pen said, "Not like you're thinking, Ry. Not like that."

"You can't know that. Not even with all your education and the way you read people and everything, you can't."

"No. No, Ry. But at the end of the day, there are some dreams that we have to allow to carry us away."

"Why?"

"Because the other option is nightmares."

*


The team got back from a case in Maine at nearly one on a Tuesday, and Spencer checked his mailbox before going up to his apartment more out of rote than desire. His mail was always an assorted collection of bills and catalogues, neither particularly appealing at any time. He rifled through them in the elevator to keep himself awake, and was surprised to find an envelope hand-addressed to him. He didn't recognize the handwriting, but it was postmarked from Chicago, and he barely made it through his door before he was tossing aside the other mail, tearing through the envelope.

There wasn't a note, but on the back of one of the pictures it said, "I guess I thought you just might like something you could carry with you. J."

Spencer spread the pictures out on the counter. There were three of them. The first was a picture of the band, the four of them sitting curled in a hallway too small for them to be sitting across from each other, two and two, but they were. Spencer wondered, idly, who'd taken the picture. It had to have been someone Ryan knew, trusted, because he was still leaning into Other Spencer like it was nothing, and he was laughing at something one of them had said, his real laugh, the one that made his shoulders shake. Spencer wasn't sure how he knew that Ryan's shoulders were moving, except that he did. It was in the line of them. Whoever had taken it had been good.

The second picture was of Jon with a cat on his head. Spencer figured it must be Dylan, because why Jon would have someone else's cat on his head was a question that Spencer was simply too tired to ponder. Jon looked unaware of the cat, except for the part where his eyes were soft and happy.

The last picture was of himself and Ryan. They were sitting next to each other, Spencer's hands in motion, Ryan completely intent on whatever he was saying. Spencer didn't remember it being taken, which made him think it was probably Jon's. Jon had a way of snapping of shots that nobody noticed until much, much later, when they were viewing the results and asking, "When the hell did you--"

Spencer had, once or twice, wondered if Jon had some other chemical, something more than glycol and pyrogallol that he mixed into his solutions, bringing up images that he'd caught with his mind, no mechanism needed. He said aloud, "You need some sleep." His voice sounded weird in the emptiness of his apartment, and he wished he'd kept the thought to himself.

He took the pictures into his bedroom and put them on his nightstand before throwing his work clothes in the hamper and pulling on a t-shirt and some boxers. He brushed his teeth and his hair and went to go get in bed. He was almost never too tired to read, even if it was just something he'd read before, Baudelaire, or Boccaccio, but he felt heavy inside himself, like sleep was already in him, he just hadn't given it the reign it desired.

He laid down in his bed and was about to switch off the light when the picture of Jon caught his eye again, and even though it was late and kind of a jerk thing to do, Spencer got out of bed again and grabbed his phone. He dialed Jon's number. Jon answered at the second ring. "Hey. You back in DC?"

They'd texted while Spencer was out on the case. Jon was good for making Spencer's brain stop overworking for a bit, at least until he could refocus and actually come up with something useful. Spencer said, "Yeah, yeah, I-- Sorry, I know it's late."

"Nah, hey, I was just making a midnight snack. Munchies," Jon said, and laughed, and Spencer thought, high and kind of wondered what it was like. He'd read about it, sure, but if anything would have convinced him of the difference between reading and experiencing, it would have been his first crime scene, the dead body there for him, smelling of metal and sweet rot and other things that Spencer had looked up later, just to give a name to, so that he wouldn't have to ascribe emotions to them.

Spencer said, "Oh, uh--"

"Gonna turn me in?" Jon asked lightly.

"I got the pictures," Spencer told him, which wasn't any kind of answer at all.

There was a second and then Jon asked, "Yeah?"

Spencer found himself smiling at the question. He said, "They're-- You chose good ones."

"Dylan was posing in some of the others."

"Email me," Spencer said through a yawn, and didn't retract his earlier statement.

"Sure. Something to wake up to."

Spencer didn't mention the part where he was keeping the others by his bed.

*


Sometimes, Ryan would sit atop his washing machine while it was running. He liked the rhythm; it was like music underneath him, and if he sat still for long enough, sometimes it diffused into his bones, swept him up, and would stay with him long enough to be written down. Of course, there were also the times when he fell asleep atop the machine and tumbled off face first, but that was a risk every young musical genius had to take. Or something.

Granted, normally when that happened, there weren't people around to notice. This time, naturally, both Spencer and Brendon came running at the sound of impact. Ryan was still straightening himself out, shaking off the haze of sleep when they got there. Brendon was already mid-cursing stream, "...the fuck? You scared the fucking shit out of me--"

And Spencer was saying, "Seriously? How many times have we talked about falling asleep with no support of any kind?"

Ryan kind of wanted to hide, except then Brendon was in his space, and that should have made it worse, but Brendon's hands were gentle, skipping over Ryan's face, his arms, checking for damage, and Ryan just wasn't used to that, wasn't used to anyone other than Spencer making sure he hadn't hurt himself too bad, and even Spencer only tried when he was really scared anymore. Ryan almost pushed Brendon away, almost said things to make him stay away, not treat Ryan like he was fragile. But then Brendon said, "Hmm, you smell like laundry," and pushed his nose against Ryan's pulse, and Ryan didn't feel fragile so much as...wanted.

"I got detergent on myself," Ryan told him, like that mattered. He looked up at Spencer for guidance, but Spencer was just smirking at them, not exactly mean, but certainly not helpful, either. Ryan mouthed, "I hate you."

Spencer nodded and shot back a silent, "I know."

Brendon, still making sure Ryan had all his correct parts and pieces, said, "No secrets." Ryan wondered how he'd known. Ryan wondered if Brendon heard things in silence, if he always heard things, and that was how he was so good at the music thing. It made Ryan's stomach burn, jealousy and awe, and mostly, if Ryan was honest, pure desire. Ryan found himself saying, "I hate Spencer."

"Liar," Brendon laughed, the sound a little more husky than Ryan remembered.

Somehow, Brendon's read of that statement emboldened Ryan to say, "You smell like bubblegum toothpaste and guitar strings."

Brendon was silent for a moment. When he spoke it was quiet, his voice small and uncertain. "I haven't touched a guitar today."

Ryan couldn't help kissing him, couldn't help it at all, not when Brendon hadn't said a word to deny his bubblegum-flavored toothpaste using habits, and when his grip was so loose on Ryan, and all Ryan wanted was to make sure it didn't slip away. He opened his eyes in the midst of the kiss, pushed them open so that he could look at Spencer, make sure he was still there, that he hadn't left Ryan or Brendon.

Spencer said, "Close your eyes, Ry."

Ryan tried, he did, but if you took your eyes off someone, they had all the space necessary to leave you. Spencer said, "Trust me to stay. Trust me to want to watch this as much as you want to do it."

The idea made Ryan moan, nearly buckle, but Brendon held him up, piano-player arms never once faltering. Between kisses, Brendon said, "Yeah, got you."

Ryan wasn't sure whether he meant it literally or in the larger-picture sense. He was sure that at this moment, it didn't really matter.

*


"He's here, he's safe," Ryan said.

"You're not Jon," Spencer said. He was not generally a fan of stating the obvious, but he had, in fact, called to talk to Jon. Not that he minded getting Ryan, or knowing that Jon had arrived on time and in tact, but all the same, he had called Jon.

"Brendon has him," Ryan said, like it was self-explanatory, which it kind of was.

Spencer hadn't missed the way Ryan's voice had softened ever so slightly in inflection when saying the name, though. "How is Brendon?"

"He's fine," Ryan said happily. Spencer could hear the way his pitch went up, not like a question, but like he was hoping for an answer. His mom vocalized pleasure in the same way.

"And Spencer part two?"

"I'm telling him you called him that."

"Yeah?" Spencer asked. "I'm telling him you wrote 'kitten' as what you wanted to be when you grew up on your kindergarten application."

"Did not."

"I have an eidetic memory, Ryan."

"I dictated it. I was going to be queen kitten, Pen."

Spencer faceplanted on his desk. "Spencer. Part two."

Ryan laughed. "Fine, too."

"Are you actually using fine as a double-entendre in this conversation?"

"Not classy enough for your federal agent ways?"

"Oh, it was just that I thought you were a writer."

Ryan made a rude noise. "Want to talk to your boyfriend, or insult me some more?"

"We're not--"

"Pen?" Jon asked.

"--dating," Spencer finished. "Uh. Hi?"

Jon laughed. "Sorry. Brendon was the first line of attack, he distracted me while Spencer handed off the phone to Ryan."

"Your life is exceedingly hard," Spencer told him.

"Right?" Jon asked, still laughing.

"Take care of Ryan," Spencer said.

"Right, Ryan, memo received."

Spencer rolled his eyes but said, "And, uh, Jon?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell them to take care of you."

*


Spencer agreed to distract Brendon so that Ryan could get out of the cabin without him coming along. It wasn't that he wasn't welcome, just that it was clearly more important that Jon come, and if all four of them came, there'd be no room in the car for Pen. And seeing as how the whole point of the trip was to pick him up from the airport, that seemed pretty counterproductive. The fact that Spencer would distract Brendon with his cock hadn't occurred to Ryan, and he was tempted to just give the keys to Jon, but this was Pen, so he tried to be a man about the fact that his boyfriends were having sex without him. They loved him, they totally loved him and they would still love him when he returned.

He keyed the ignition and Jon said, "Dude, you know the minute we're out the door they're going to Guitar Hero it the fuck up. I'm not sure their sex parts work without you."

"I can't take reassurance on my sex life from a guy who's dating my cousin. Too close to incest," Ryan said primly.

"We're not dating," Jon said.

Ryan took a second to consider the plethora of possible responses to that, mocking and straightforward. He settled on, "So he says."

"If both of us are saying it--"

"Both of you are denying it. In my experience, that's not the same."

"Your vast experience," Jon said dryly.

"Vast, but applicable," Ryan pointed out. "Also, he's my cousin. So maybe he's a million times smarter, I still know him."

"Maybe only a thousand times," Jon threw him.

Ryan snorted. "Thanks for that."

"I'm a pal."

Ryan rolled down the window, and let the wind talk for both of them for a bit. When they got on the highway, he rolled it back up and was reaching for the radio when Jon said, "You're my best friend, Ryan. You and Spencer and Brendon. Not a pal, not a friend, not a guy in my band. So, y'know, if I'm dating him, it's not in spite of you."

"I'm trying to not be an asshole, here. Appreciate my magnanimity."

Jon laughed softly. "The thing is, Ryan, is that you don't have to."

Ryan paid more attention to the road than he necessarily needed to for a long time. When they were nearing the airport, he said, "The thing is, Jon, is that you're my best friend, too."

Ryan, who knew he wasn't always the world's most observant person, felt Jon's surprise. It made him a bit nauseated. He said, "Just. It's not just Pen I care about."

"Okay, Ry." Jon nodded. Ryan chanced a sideways glance and was rewarded with the sight of Jon's lips curved into a soft smile.

*


Spencer said, "This is not a cabin."

"What were you expecting?" Jon asked. "A hut?"

"While the origins of the word cabin are dubious, they do draw back to the partitioning of a ship, or, as you say, a hut-like structure. A house or a cottage of simple design, essentially. This," Spencer repeated, "is not a cabin."

"What is it?" Ryan asked, considering the place.

Spencer took another look and said, decisively, "A chalet."

Other Spencer came out the front door, a second behind Brendon's mad dash for the front lawn, and said, "Who are you calling dirty French words? Invite a guy to your cabin, and this is how he treats you?"

"It's not a cabin," Jon said informatively. Other Spencer rolled his eyes and waited for Brendon's I-haven't-seen-you-in-months hug to wear itself out so that he could get in a welcome hug.

They made their way inside, Brendon talking mostly about what Other Spencer had promised to make for dinner. Spencer was pretty sure most of it was Brendon throwing out what he wanted and hoping some of it would stick, but he wasn't really worried about what he'd be eating later that evening. Ryan took his bags and put them in a room. When he pointed it out to Spencer, he said, "Jon's next door, if, uh. You need anything."

They all went up to the roof, which evidently offered the best view in the whole of America, according to Brendon, who never exaggerated, or anything. Brendon all-but threw himself down on the shingles. Ryan sort of collapsed down onto them, and Brendon executed a move that put him mostly atop Ryan, who said, "Fuck, you're heavy," but didn't move so much as a finger. Other Spencer got himself situated alongside Ryan, inheriting his own lapful of Brendon.

Jon pulled Spencer down so that they were sitting, their knees touching. Jon pointed to a tree that stood somewhat apart from the others, not so far that it seemed isolated, but enough that it was clear which one he was indicating. He said, "There's a family of birds in that tree. Caught them in my photo lens the other morning."

"What kind?" Spencer asked.

Jon shook his head. "Dunno. Brown. They feed their babies worms. Birds, I guess."

If Jon had gotten pictures, Spencer would email them to Gideon. He would know at a glance. For now, Spencer just smiled. "You get up early?"

Jon shrugged. "Some days. Not others. It smells good out here in the morning."

It smelled good to Spencer just then. It smelled of pine and heat and a little bit like chocolate, which was explained when Ryan tapped his shoulder and handed him over half a bar of Scharffenbarger. Ryan said, "In honor of, y'know, not compromising your ethics, and stuff."

Spencer grinned and took a couple of pieces. It was smooth, dry chocolate, like the kinds of wine that Emily and Gideon could tell you all about, just by seeing the label on the bottle, or taking a sniff. Jon said, "Hey, share," and pressed his lips to Spencer's, taking an aftertaste.

Spencer said, "Um, I--" holding the chocolate between them. Jon took it, their fingers brushing, and said, "Yeah, okay, I guess I'll try some for myself."

Brendon's laughter got twisted in the treetops, and Ryan said, "Glad you're here, Pen."

Spencer didn't take his eyes off Jon's throat as he said, "Yeah. Yeah, me too."

*


Ryan didn't hear Pen approach. He slept better curled over Spencer, or flat beneath Brendon, but there were still nights when his mind was more sound than silence, and his choice was either to lay there and let it turn into a headache, or get up and see if he could force some of the noise out. It was a hectic process inside himself, and Spencer had once sat next to him for the better part of two hours before Ryan had noticed. Brendon generally made himself known.

Pen said, "Lyrics?"

Ryan shook his head. "Just words." He never knew how to explain the difference to people. Brendon got it without having to be told. Brendon also knew exactly when they became something more.

Pen hesitated, but then asked, "Read them to me?"

Ryan had a flash of memory, shafts of sunlight and dust motes and Chaucer, Aunt Diana's old English making him giggle. Pen had only laughed at the appropriate places, but Ryan had always liked the sounds more than the story. "I-- I don't read like she does."

Pen shook his head and said, "I didn't ask for her. Or Brendon."

Ryan looked down at the page in front of him, more ink blots and scratches than words, perhaps. "Yeah, no, I guess not, huh?"

Pen smiled a little. "Just you."

"They, uh. They don't really make sense yet."

"Ryan," Pen said, making Ryan looked up at him. He reached out and poked a finger against Ryan's shoulder, the action at once juvenile and affectionate. "I'm good at word puzzles."

Ryan caught Pen's finger and held on. "You know I'm the metaphorical one, right?"

Pen laughed, soft and real, like Ryan almost never heard, never, and said, "You know I'm older, right? By definition, I did everything first."

"That is such bullshit," Ryan said.

"Is not," Pen said, smoothing his features into a bland approximation of superiority.

"I'm not doing this with you," Ryan said, falling back desperately on a sort-of, kind-of maturity.

Pen said, "So, I win?"

Ryan rolled his eyes and did the only thing he could think of to get in the last word: started reading his own.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile