bb!bden living on his own in his shitty apartment (canon basically), but he's not in a band with the guys cause he hasn't met them yet. it's christmas time and he's feeling very lonely and then... one day on his way home from work he runs into homeless!spencer & ryan (how and what exactly happens, completely up to you). he meets them a couple of more times in the next few days and then ends up inviting them to his place for christmas even though he can't really afford it. i don't need to point out that i want this to be ot3 do i? (or, if you don't feel like you can write it ot3, you can make it brendon/ryan +bff spencer (with possibly some bonus jon? so spencer isn't left out? lol))
...this is not that fic. /o\ I did try, but it just didn't actually work very well. I completely fail at Brendon/Ryan and also at OT3, and then it's me, so some Spencer/Brendon pre-slash snuck in while I wasn't looking, and also I pretty much failed at the entire rest of the prompt too. But, uh. Hey, at least it's fic, right?
TITLE: Hand Me Down (1/2)
PAIRING: Spencer/Brendon pre-slash
WORD COUNT: 15,500-ish
DISCLAIMER: Obviously untrue.
SUMMARY: Brendon doesn't have much. But what he does have, he's willing to share.
A/N: Unbeta'd. Thanks to sunsetmog, barmy_bunk, and libgirl for the extensive hand-holding and cheerleading.
When Brendon is seventeen, he tells his parents a lot of things. He tells them that it isn't a phase, that he really and honestly doesn't believe, and that it isn't going to change, and that this isn't some kind of rebellion, or decision that he came to overnight. He's wrestled with this, struggled with it, finally come to terms with it, and this is who he is.
He also tells his parents that he's gay.
In return, Brendon's parents tell him that they love him, and that they will pray for him, and that when he's ready to repent from his sins and come home, they will be waiting with open arms.
Brendon ducks his head and hears the unspoken, But until that time..., and doesn't cry. He nods once, jerkily, and sets his jaw, and his mom cries enough tears for both of them. Even his dad's eyes are red.
He moves out that weekend. His parents don't exactly help him move, but they let him take all of the things from his room, including the furniture, and they give him the old TV from the guest bedroom and pay for his U-Haul, and the day he leaves they hug him tight and cry some more and tell him to hurry back home to the fold.
Brendon squeezes his fist around the U-Haul keys until it hurts, blinks furiously against the empty, throbbing ache in his chest and the stinging in his eyes, and half-runs down the driveway to hop into the truck.
He doesn't look back as he drives away.
He works a really crappy job in the mall, at a place called the Smoothie Hut. He lives in an even crappier apartment. There's no heat and no air and no screen on the stupid window that doesn't even close all the way, so there's a massive bug problem on top of everything. Brendon hates bugs. There's a grimy little bathroom with a shower he can barely move in, and the entire rest of his apartment consists of a single room barely bigger than his bedroom back home.
It almost kills him, trying to pay his bills and still afford to eat, trying to work his job and finish high school, and for the first time, Brendon has no problems whatsoever in school. He's too tired for problems, too tired and grimly determined - he's getting out of this fucking place once and for all as soon as school is over. He'll get financial aid and go somewhere amazing for college, if he can even get accepted anywhere. Whatever, as long as he's out of Vegas.
He just needs a new start.
San Francisco isn't as much of a new start as Brendon was hoping for.
His new crappy apartment is just as bad as his old one - for some reason, he was picturing a quirky little place with a view of the ocean or maybe a trolley line, someplace all gabled windows and hardwood floors; he's seen too many romantic comedies - and his new neighborhood is every bit as sketchy. His new job at Starbucks is actually worse than the Smoothie Hut gig, because it means earlier mornings and crankier customers, but at least Brendon can pretty much mainline all the caffeine he wants, and that makes up for a lot.
His school plans have been deferred, since he couldn't actually afford to move until October, but he has high hopes for starting in January, and has already applied. If he has to, he'll go to community college - his grades in high school weren't the best.
For now, it's just about getting by. Brendon is really good at getting by.
It's a Thursday, and he got stuck working the evening shift tonight, which means it's after nine pm when he finally gets to leave. It's not like it's ridiculously late or anything, but it's well and truly after dark, and Brendon can't afford a car and doesn't live far enough away to justify a bus ticket, so he has no choice but to walk home in the dark, past the stupid sex shop with the skanky guy who's always outside smoking and staring at Brendon as he walks by, past the homeless people living under the overpass, and the pawn shop that is actually a drug dealer, and the skeezy strung-out chick who lives in Brendon's building and is probably a hooker. In the daytime, it's easy not to be bothered by any of those things, but at night...well. They creep him out a little, that's all.
Brendon generally walks home pretty fast. It isn't as bad it sounds - it's less than half a mile. It's okay, he's okay. It's been a couple of months now, and Brendon is doing just fine.
Tonight, though -
There are two new boys under the overpass tonight. They can't be much older than Brendon, if they're older than him at all. One is pretty like a girl, and fierce; the other is pointy and skinny and frail. They don't even notice Brendon as he walks by, hands in his pockets and chin to his chest, but he watches them out of the corner of his eye, hears the pretty one murmuring low and quiet, the pointy one agitated and gesturing a lot.
Their clothes are too nice, and still way too clean for them to have actually spent any time sleeping under bridges before tonight. Brendon can't imagine what could possibly have happened to bring them to this, much less in fucking December - San Francisco is no winter wonderland, but that doesn't mean it's comfortable outdoor sleeping weather, either. In spite of himself, Brendon is curious.
He puts his head down even lower, and keeps walking.
He's grateful to get home. His apartment isn't much, but it's his, and it's home, and he's worked really hard to make it comfortable, even if it isn't pretty. He hadn't been able to afford to bring his own things - moving trucks are fucking expensive - so he'd sold it off before he left and used the money to pay for his bus ticket, but he's been gradually replacing things since he got here, and it's finally starting to show. His gaudy floral couch is ugly as fuck, but it's squashy and comfortable and has a pull-out sofa bed (he usually doesn't bother, just sleeps on the couch itself) and it cost him $50 at the Salvation Army. Brendon throws the quilt from his old bed at home over it during the day. It doesn't hide everything, but Brendon likes to think it prevents unnecessary eye strain.
His TV is small but functional, and even kind of new; he's got a DVD player and a small-but-growing pawn-shop DVD collection in a beat-up little two-shelf bookcase in the corner ($20, Goodwill.) The kitchen is mostly just a wall of cabinets at one end of the room, with a sink and stove and refrigerator crammed in, but Brendon keeps it carefully, spotlessly clean. He's not exactly naturally tidy, but he hates roaches like burning and this place at least is mostly bug-free, so he sucks it up. There's a big, battered, ugly old dresser on the wall beside the door ($35, garage sale), and a tiny closet next to the bathroom, and there's a corner across from the door where Brendon keeps his keyboard and his guitar (the only things he actually brought from home), and he's covered the walls with posters for various bands and musicals, and it took quite awhile but it's finally started to feel like home.
Maybe he'll get a little Christmas tree.
Not a huge one, obviously, but one of those little plastic ones? It could be fun to decorate it. Brendon determinedly doesn't let his thoughts wander anywhere near his family, or the prospect of his first Christmas on his own. He just thinks, Christmas tree.
Yeah. That'd be pretty cool.
He has financial aid applications to finish tonight, so he drags himself through a shower and refuses to let himself look at his couch as he tosses his packets onto the kitchen table. (Under the window, ugly fake chrome with a cracked yellow plastic top, but it's sturdy and came with four chairs. $37, Goodwill.)
This will all be worth it when he finally gets to start college. He can study music, maybe, or anything really - something that will get him a real job, maybe a bigger apartment with actual furniture - and he can meet people his own age, people like him. San Francisco might have been kind of a cliche choice, but...it will be so nice, just not to feel alone.
Brendon makes himself a cup of coffee ($25 Mr. Coffee, new from K-Mart, because some things are fucking important, okay), and settles himself at the table. It's Thursday. His next day off is Monday. He can totally make it three more days.
He cracks his neck and gets to work.
The two boys are gone on his way to work the next day, but they're back again at night on his way home. The pattern repeats for the entire week, and Brendon can't help watching the progression of time begin to show in their dirty, wrinkled clothes and greasy hair and pale, drawn faces. Every day, he gets a little more anxious just looking at them - their clothes are too expensive, their backpacks too tempting, no matter how tightly they guard them, and the pretty one...
Brendon remembers clearly a time when he was a good little Mormon boy who would never have known to think these kinds of thoughts. It feels like a long, long time ago.
It finally happens on Friday. Brendon doesn't see it happen or anything, but they're not under the bridge on his way home from work that night, and his good mood - (he's scheduled off for two days in a row, and it's on an actual weekend!) - instantly transforms into a cold knot of tension in his stomach.
He spots them trudging down the street just a block away from his apartment, and his stomach twists and churns with a sick combination of relief and horror when he gets a good look at them. The pretty one has a black eye and a split lip and is limping a little; the pointy one has a swollen jaw and streaks of blood down the side of his face from a nasty-looking cut at his temple. Neither of them has backpacks anymore.
It could have been worse, is the first thing Brendon thinks, noting distantly that their filthy clothes are still intact at least, so no one--
God. How is this even Brendon's brain?
He doesn't know he's going to stop in front of them until he does it, and then he isn't as surprised at himself as he should be. He doesn't really know what that means.
"I'm not a creep," is his stellar opening line, and when the pretty one instantly stiffens and glares at him through one good eye and one that's nearly swollen shut, he continues hastily. "I have a sink, is the thing. And ice. And Band-Aids."
"Fuck off," says the pointy one, and - fair enough.
Brendon nods once, stiffly. "Fine," he says.
Two steps away, though, he stops.
"No." He turns back around. "You know what? It's actually not fine." He has no idea what the fuck he's doing. Everything in him feels coiled and tense and sort of blindingly, suddenly angry for no reason. "It's a fucking Band-Aid. You don't even have to come inside, I'll like, pass a washcloth out the door, but you can't seriously tell me you'd rather die of infection sleeping in the dirt with a fucking open wound -"
"I don't need your fucking--" starts the pointy one, but the pretty one cuts him off.
That's it, that's all he says, but the pointy one - Ryan - snaps his mouth shut sharply.
The pretty one stares at Brendon suspiciously. "What do you want for it?" he demands. "The Band-Aid."
Brendon feels sick. "It's a fucking Band-Aid," he repeats miserably. "I don't want anything. I'm not - I just...whatever. Okay? Just take a fucking Band-Aid."
"Spencer," says the poi--says Ryan.
Spencer continues to stare at Brendon. Not knowing what else to do, Brendon stares back.
"We could rob you," Spencer says eventually. "Take your shit, beat you up, kill you. There's two of us and one of you. Why would you take us to your place?"
Brendon flaps a helpless hand. "I could have half a college football team in big brothers waiting at home. I don't. But I could. I'm just -" He stops, and starts over. "I walk home under the bridge. I've seen you with your shit and now you're here and you're bleeding and your backpacks are gone. It's pretty obvious something shitty happened, and I live a block away and I have ice and Band-Aids and maybe even some Neosporin or something. I'm not trying to fuck you over, I just thought maybe you'd like to clean the shit out of your face, and while I'm at it I can write down directions to the clinic, it's free, so..."
Ryan elbows Spencer sharply, but Spencer doesn't back down from his staring contest with Brendon. After a minute, he nods once, stiffly.
"Spencer," Ryan says again.
"Shut up, Ryan, it's a bad cut," Spencer snaps. "It's already my fault you're even here, you think I want that thing getting infected on top of it?"
"It's not your fault, you fucking -"
"Not the time," interrupts Spencer, and Ryan falls silent and sullen, staring challengingly at Brendon with his spindly little arms crossed tightly over his chest.
Brendon just turns around and starts walking. He doesn't let himself turn back to make sure they're following, but when he gets to his building, they come cautiously inside behind him.
Brendon leads them up the stairs, pulling out his keys and unlocking the door before he speaks again.
"It's not much," he says. "You can come in if you want or stay out here, I don't care. There's a shower inside, you might as well use it while you're here if you want to, you probably messed up more than just your faces. You coming in, or you just want me to bring you the shit out here in the hall?"
He swings open the door, showing them that his apartment is empty and shabby and about as non-threatening as it's possible for an apartment to get - Brendon doesn't even have real cutlery, he just uses butterknives and saws at stuff a lot - but they still hesitate before stepping inside. Brendon rolls his eyes.
"Fine. I'll just pass it out the door," he says, exasperated. "Don't go anywhere, I'll -"
Spencer steps inside. Ryan looks livid about it, but hurries in behind him, crowding through the doorway until Brendon ends up flattened against his own wall trying to step back out of the way. He rolls his eyes again, and shuts the door.
"Bathroom's there," he says, pointing. "The stuff's in the medicine cabinet above the sink. Help yourselves. The towels are on top of the shelf over the toilet, there's probably a washcloth clean but if there isn't just wet down a towel and throw it over the shower rod. If you need help, let me know."
He deliberately goes over to the kitchen, keeping his back to Ryan and Spencer, and starts boiling some water for Ramen. He doesn't let himself think about how stupid this is, what he's doing. He doesn't let himself think at all.
After a moment, the door shuts, and Brendon glances back to see that yes, they both went into the bathroom - he'd suspected they would, no way would they separate in a stranger's apartment, even long enough to shower alone - and only then does he let himself huff out a sharp breath.
He uses the time while the water is boiling and the shower is running to fish around in his drawers until he comes up with some baggy, faded old sweatpants that Ryan can probably hold up around his waist because of the drawstring, and a pair of flannel pyjama pants he always has to roll at the ankles because they're too long for him. He grabs a couple of t-shirts too, and a couple of pairs of socks. He knocks on the bathroom door, and Spencer is the one to yank it open, just a crack. He's glaring menacingly through the little opening, and Brendon can hear the shower running behind him.
"Clothes," says Brendon. At Spencer's look, Brendon rolls his eyes. "It's shit I was gonna give to Goodwill, okay? Pants are too long, the T-shirts are crappy. Take it or don't take it, I don't care."
He drops the clothes on the floor and walks away, going to stand over the stove and stare really intensely down into to his boiling water.
It takes another minute before he hears the door close again, and when he turns around, the clothes are gone from the floor. Brendon exhales sharply again, cracks his neck, and starts breaking Ramen noodles into the boiling water.
He makes two packets.
The Ramen is done by the time the door to the bathroom opens again, and Brendon is in the middle of scooping some into his bowl. He turns, seeing Spencer and Ryan standing awkwardly in the living room, damp and clean and bandaged where necessary. They're clutching their filthy street clothes to their chests, and Ryan is already opening his mouth - no doubt to tell Brendon to fuck off again and run - but Brendon cuts him off.
"There's Ramen if you want some," he says, and then continues loudly when Spencer starts to speak, "And before you even say anything, it's fucking ten cents a packet and I found a quarter on my way to work today. Eat the fucking noodles if you want them, or don't. Whatever, there are bowls in the cabinet next to the fridge. That one needs to ice his face, and your eye could probably use some work. Dishrags in the drawer by the sink, ice in the freezer. Help yourselves to whatever, I'm gonna write down directions to the clinic."
"Why are you doing this?" demands Ryan.
Brendon has no idea. "Because I can," he says after a moment, and shrugs. "Get some ice on his face," Brendon adds to Spencer, because he's beginning to figure them out, and Spencer is definitely the reasonable one, especially when it comes to Ryan needing something. "And feed him before he fucking blows away."
"Hey, fuck you," says Ryan.
Brendon rolls his eyes, grabs a pen and a junk mail envelope to write on, and sits down at the table. He starts scribbling directions, studiously paying no attention to Spencer or Ryan, and sure enough, a few minutes later there is a lot of quiet shuffling and cautious clinking of bowls, spoons, and ice cubes from behind him. Ryan whispers furiously for a minute, but Spencer apparently ignores him.
It takes another minute, but two bowls clunk down onto the table across from Brendon, and when he glances up, Spencer and Ryan are cautiously sitting down. Ryan is still staring challengingly at Brendon, but Spencer seems subdued, and more thoughtful than suspicious.
"Thank you," says Spencer stiltedly, after a moment.
Brendon shrugs, and pushes the envelope across the table. "They won't open until morning. You can crash on the couch if you want, it pulls out into a bed. Or you can go back out, whatever."
Ryan huffs. "You hiding a bedroom in your kitchen cabinet? Where the fuck would you sleep?"
Brendon rolls his eyes. "The couch also has cushions. There's only one of me, so if you two want the bed, I can sleep on the cushions on the floor. If I take the bed, at least one of you is sleeping on the actual floor. My carpet is shit, so you do the math."
Ryan seems actually speechless, but Spencer says, "It's your bed. You don't even know us, man," in a carefully neutral tone of voice, and yeah, okay, Brendon is aware that this is stupid. Maybe even end-up-dead stupid, although he doesn't actually think Spencer or Ryan look like vicious killers.
Still. It's cold outside, and it's shitty to send them back out just to find a new bridge to sleep under, and it's kind of nice just having people in his apartment, even if they're sort of hostile and unfriendly. Whatever, it's his apartment and his life, he can do what he wants.
"Stay or go," he says, as carelessly as he can, and goes to dump his empty bowl in the sink. There's still some Ramen in the pot, and he's actually still pretty hungry, but Ryan looks like he needs it more, and maybe if Brendon says he's just going to throw it away, Ryan will actually eat it rather than let it go to waste. Brendon doesn't even have to know them to know that Spencer won't touch it either, for the exact same reason.
Nobody tries talking again. Brendon turns on the TV, flips around long enough to establish that there's nothing on the five channels he actually gets, and pops in his Zoolander DVD. He ignores Spencer and Ryan until they get up to put their bowls away, and then says, "Finish what's in the pot if you're still hungry, otherwise I'm just gonna trash it," and makes himself keep his eyes on the screen.
Ryan doesn't even fight it as hard as Brendon expected him to, just huffs and goes to refill his bowl. He tries to share with Spencer, but Spencer refuses, just like Brendon had known he would, and comes into the living room to sit carefully on the couch beside Brendon. After a long pause, Ryan skittishly joins them, bowl in hand, and Brendon breathes a quiet sigh of relief.
They're going to stay.
It's kind of anticlimactic, after all the buildup in Brendon's head. They finish Zoolander and go to bed. Nobody talks. They take turns in the bathroom, and Brendon makes up his bed on the cushions with his one spare set of sheets, but Spencer and Ryan will never have to know that this is going to cost him an extra load of laundry he can't afford on his next trip to the laundromat. It's fine.
The cushions don't want to stay put, and he keeps squirming around in a desperate attempt to keep his ass from sliding into the crack between two of the cushions until they separate entirely and he ends up on the floor. It takes a long time for him to fall asleep.
It takes even longer for Ryan and Spencer. They're still awake and whispering quietly when Brendon finally manages to drift off.
Brendon's alarm goes off at the ungodly hour of four thirty in the morning, because he's scheduled to work the morning commuter rush today. He hates this shift and he hates his supervisor, so this is already shaping up to be an awesome day.
Spencer and Ryan sleep straight through the alarm, which is actually pretty impressive. Brendon's alarm is set to the loudest, screechiest possible setting, because no other force on earth can drag his ass out of bed at four thirty in the morning. Brendon supposes you don't get a lot of restful sleep under a bridge.
He thinks about waking them up, because there's stupid and then there's stupid, and leaving two homeless strangers in his apartment when he's not even in it definitely falls into the second category. All of Brendon's shit put together is only worth maybe a hundred and fifty bucks, but it's taken a lot of hard work to get it, to earn it and find it and make it his own - and then there are the instruments to consider. They're not top of the line or anything, but Brendon would seriously die if they were stolen.
He looks back at Spencer and Ryan, sound asleep and curled in protectively toward the center of the bed, toward each other.
He leaves them a note on the counter.
His day actually improves a bit upon getting to work. Apparently, his manager quit last night, and the new guy seems nice. He's very...mellow. He works next to Brendon for most of the morning, and Brendon manages to find out that his name is Jon, that he moved to San Francisco three years ago, that he's been managing the Starbucks at the mall for the last year and a half, and that he jumped on the chance to get out of the mall at any cost, even though it means working in a fairly shitty part of town.
In return, Brendon tells him his name and that he's here to go to college, and that he'd like to major in music.
It's all fairly impersonal shit, just meaningless introductory small-talk. It's also the longest actual conversation he's had with another human being since he moved here. Jon goes off to introduce himself to Heather, and Brendon hums quietly under his breath for the rest of his shift.
Ryan and Spencer didn't steal any of his things.
There's a note for him on the counter, scrawled under his own note in spiky handwriting that makes Brendon unaccountably certain that Ryan is the one who wrote it. He's spiky, too.
you shouldn't leave strangers alone with your shit. thank you.
Brendon rolls his eyes and crumples up the note in his fist. The apartment feels empty and weird, which is stupid. He had guests - if you could even call them that - for all of maybe ten hours. It's not like they were friends.
He plays aggressively cheerful guitar and sings along with himself until his neighbors pound on the wall, and then he grabs his keys. He hasn't bothered to figure out where the library is yet, but he's pretty sure he can check out movies there. A distraction sounds pretty nice right now.
He has to duck into the gas station around the corner and ask the girl behind the bulletproof window where to find the library, but it turns out not to be too far away. Brendon shivers as he walks, tugging the sleeves of his hoodie down over his hands, and resolves to find a way to buy a coat sometime soon. Maybe some gloves and a scarf. Vegas didn't really prepare him for the chill.
He thinks about Ryan and Spencer, and hopes they actually took the clothes he gave them. He didn't think to look when he got home. Maybe they put their own clothes on over the top. That would be the smart thing, not that it sounds very comfortable. Sleeping under bridges doesn't sound very comfortable either, though, so they probably don't care.
He browses the library for an hour, and ends up with two stupid-looking movies and a sci-fi novel about aliens with mind-control technology invading the planet. Whatever, it's something to do. He loses another thirty minutes getting a library card set up, but he kind of likes the way the card looks in his wallet. Like he lives here, like it's real and he's doing this. He hasn't bothered to change his drivers' license or anything, because it costs money, and it isn't like he drives. The library card looks very official. It's a small thing, but Brendon likes small things. They add up.
He almost doesn't notice them on his way home, too caught up in a happy fantasy about piling himself under his blankets to watch his movies when he gets home and not having to wake up at the crack of dawn tomorrow, but just as he rounds the corner by the pawn shop, he catches sight of Ryan hovering nervously in the doorway.
Spencer is inside, harshly outlined under fluorescent lights, waving something small and flashy around in his hand and apparently yelling. Brendon watches, unnoticed, as the guy behind the counter yells right back, and then Spencer's shoulders slump and he hands over the shiny thing. It looks like a watch, maybe. Brendon hadn't noticed a fancy watch or anything, but Spencer's probably smart enough to have been keeping it in his pocket. Wearing it on the street would have been asking for even more trouble.
The pawn shop guy hands Spencer some money. It doesn't look like much. Spencer looks at the money in his hand, and then at the pawn shop guy, and then back at Ryan, and Brendon's heart clenches randomly. He backs quietly around the corner again until he hears the low hum of voices, and then he steps back around with his head down, and tries to look surprised to see them.
"Hey," he says lamely, when they've all just stood there staring at each other for a minute or two.
Ryan's shoulders hunch up, defensive. Spencer just looks defeated. "Hey," he says back. "Thanks for the--"
He doesn't seem to know how to finish the sentence. Brendon shrugs diffidently. "You guys get to the clinic?"
"Yeah," says Spencer. "Thanks. They, uh...we're fine."
Brendon nods. He looks at Ryan. Ryan doesn't look fine. He looks frozen.
"You might as well come back," he says awkwardly. "For tonight, I mean. S'cold."
"Stop it," says Ryan sharply. "What the fuck do you want?"
But he isn't really looking at Brendon. He keeps shooting glances at the pawn shop guy, at Spencer, and Brendon doesn't think the question is even meant for him.
"I got movies," he says, ignoring Ryan entirely. "Haven't grocery shopped this week, so it's pretty much more Ramen, but." He shrugs. "It's not a bridge, right?"
Spencer rakes a hand through his hair. His swollen eye looks bad. Worse. Brendon's stomach feels tight.
"You-" he says, and then stops. "I don't even know your name."
"Brendon," says Brendon, because he's obviously expected to, but it doesn't really matter. Spencer wasn't saying he wanted to know Brendon's name.
"I'm Spencer," says Spencer, gesturing awkwardly. "He's Ryan."
I know that, thinks Brendon, but he doesn't bother to point it out. It's fairly obvious - they talked to each other in front of him all night. Whatever, none of this matters.
"So now you know," says Brendon. "Movies. Ramen. Couch bed."
He pushes past them and shoves his hands in his pockets, and doesn't wait for a reply.
They follow him. He knew they would.
Brendon augments the Ramen with the last of his bread. He tells them, and himself, that it's almost stale anyway. Might as well eat it, right? (Ryan needs a real fucking meal. Maybe if they stay, Brendon can do some grocery shopping tomorrow. He can buy something reasonably healthy and filling. He's pretty broke, but he'll figure it out.)
"I can pay you," Spencer says abruptly, while Brendon is washing last night's bowls out in the sink. He only has four bowls, and he hadn't done dishes yet today.
Brendon doesn't look up. "Sure," he says flatly. "two packs of Ramen, that's what, twenty cents. Bread's like a buck fifty a loaf, there's like, what, thirty slices in a loaf? You're having four, so that's...shit, I suck at math. Four, five cents a slice? So like -"
"Fuck you," says Spencer wearily. "You know what I meant. I have a little money, I could -"
"Forty cents," says Brendon sharply. He scrubs harder at the bowl in his hands. It's long since clean.
"Leave it alone, Spencer," says Ryan, and that's enough of a surprise to make Brendon look up. Ryan looks tired and sad and entirely non-hostile, which is definitely not to say he looks friendly, but it's still a change. "Thanks," he adds, to Brendon.
Brendon waves a hand and pushes bowls across the counter. His leg is bouncing anxiously, and he's not even sitting down yet.
They eat Ramen and watch There's Something About Mary, because Brendon is kind of on a Ben Stiller kick right now, and Spencer and Ryan don't bother to object about using the shower again. They take the clothes Brendon fishes out of his dresser, and Brendon says, "I have to go to the laundromat after work tomorrow. If you stay, you can come with me, throw your stuff in. Then it'd be clean."
They don't say yes, but they don't say no either. It's something.
Jon brings a CD of ridiculous covers of Christmas songs to work the next day. Brendon decides that Jon is his new favorite person, and sings along cheerfully without regard for the strange looks the customers throw him. Jon harmonizes sometimes, it's pretty awesome.
Even more awesome is the perky businesswoman who comes in on her lunch break and bustles back out a few minutes later with a bright, "Merry Christmas!" and a $100 bill in the tip jar.
Brendon gets to make free drinks while he's on shift. Jon doesn't bat an eye when Brendon makes three of them ten minutes before he goes off the clock. Peppermint mochas, because it's Christmas time.
"Have a good night," says Jon. Brendon beams at him and thinks about how awesome his tips will be this week all the way home. He doesn't let himself think that Spencer and Ryan might have left, and he doesn't let himself think about how he shouldn't care.
They haven't left.
They're sitting awkwardly at his kitchen table, and Spencer has three ten-dollar bills laid out in front of him, and Ryan has a little pile that appears to consist of a five-dollar bill, a one-dollar bill, a handful of change, a stick of chapstick, and a pocketknife. Spencer's head is in his hands. Ryan looks bleak and tired and frail.
Brendon would bet that if he opens his cabinets, he will find that they've not eaten a single thing all day. It would be easy to tell; there wasn't much in there to start with.
"Hey," he says, and ignores the money on the table in favor of passing out mochas. They're not exactly hot anymore, but they're still warmish.
Spencer and Ryan stare at him suspiciously. Brendon rolls his eyes and yanks his apron out of his backpack.
"They were free, jesus," he says, and suddenly he feels as exhausted as they look. "Just take them. I'm making mac and cheese before we go to the laundromat. You can add another twenty-five cents to your bill if it's going to make you feel better, okay?"
Spencer's eyes are very, very blue. Brendon avoids looking into them while Spencer studies his face.
"We need jobs," Spencer says abruptly.
Brendon nods, startled. "Okay."
"We don't have...an address. To put down on applications. Or a phone number or whatever."
"Oh," says Brendon blankly. "Yeah, no. You can use mine."
Ryan twists around until he's facing Brendon. "What is it with you?" he asks, and he actually sounds like he wants to know. "Most people would give us directions to a shelter. Most people wouldn't have brought us back here to begin with. What is it you're trying to do?"
Brendon thinks a lot of things. He thinks, I could have been you, and he thinks, I don't like being alone, and he thinks, next time, they might really hurt you.
He says, "I think I have some crackers."
They don't ask again.
Spencer and Ryan do their own load of laundry at the laundromat, no matter how many times Brendon tells them it's stupid. It's just one load, though, and at least they use his detergent instead of buying their own. He doesn't have fabric softener or dryer sheets or whatever. They don't ask for any.
Nobody questions that they're going back to Brendon's place afterward. Brendon turns on the radio in his alarm clock, and sings along with "Holly Jolly Christmas" while he cleans his kitchen thoroughly and puts his clothes away. Spencer and Ryan mostly sit around and look awkward. They shower separately now, so Brendon thinks he's making progress. At least they don't think he's going to kill them anymore.
"You're pretty good," Spencer says, when Ryan is in the shower, and it takes a minute for Brendon to realize he's talking about the singing. The radio's been off for about ten minutes; Brendon hadn't realized he was still singing out loud.
"Uh," he says awkwardly. "Thanks."
Spencer nods at the corner with the guitar and keyboard. "You play?"
"Yeah." Brendon bounces his leg. Nerves, maybe, or some kind of weird anticipation. This is actual conversation. This is almost friendly. "Yeah, I - yeah."
Spencer nods. "Ryan plays guitar," he volunteers. "I play drums."
"Cool," says Brendon, and it is cool. Brendon loves people who love music. That's just the way it is. He grins at Spencer. "I play drums, too."
Ryan comes out of the shower and the moment is broken, because Spencer and Ryan are huddled together whispering again, but Brendon still feels kind of like grinning. This daycould've been a lot worse. And he only has tomorrow to get through before his next day off. This has been a pretty good day.
"Good night," he says, and pushes his cushions together on the floor. Spencer and Ryan aren't even laying down yet when Brendon falls asleep.
Jon isn't working when Brendon gets to work in the morning. Larry isn't bad, he's just kind of boring and stand-offish. There are no spontaneous Christmas harmonies or hundred-dollar tips today.
There might be something better, though.
"Heather quit," Larry says to Brendon, about an hour away from the end of his shift. Brendon is tired and kind of cranky; they've had a run of asshole customers, and Brendon's smile has been getting more and more forced as the day goes on. "Can you come in tomorrow? We'll find somebody as soon as we can, but -"
No, Brendon wants to wail, but he really can't afford to turn down hours, so he dredges up another plastered-on smile. "Yeah, of course," he says. Then what Larry actually said catches up with him. "Wait, are we - we're hiring?"
Larry gives him a weird look. "We're Starbucks, we're always hiring."
"Right, yeah," Brendon says, kind of impatient. "But right now, I mean - we're hiring right now?"
"Yes," Larry says slowly. "Heather quit, so we're hiring right now. Why? You know somebody?"
"My...roommate," Brendon says, waving a hand randomly. It's almost like the truth. "I can bring him in with me tomorrow, maybe? He could fill out an application?"
"Jon's working tomorrow," says Larry dismissively. "But yeah, that's fine. Bring him in."
Brendon grabs an application on his way out the door an hour later. He's had three more shitty customers, and one lady spilled hot coffee all over the counter and Brendon's apron. He feels pretty good about life.
Spencer and Ryan are gone when he gets home.
It feels like a punch in the face, kind of - they've left another note, a scribbled, Thanks for everything, Ryan found a shelter. Spencer's handwriting is rounder than Ryan's, still angular and boyish without being sharp. Brendon feels a little hysterical.
He throws on his hoodie and takes off up the street before he gives himself a chance to think about it.
There are three listed homeless shelters within a five-mile radius of Brendon's apartment, according to the internet. One of them is only for "registered men and women," whatever that means, and one of them is just for women. Brendon leaves the library and gets directly onto a bus he can't really afford to take. Whatever, what's a little more money in the grand scheme of things? He'll make it up in tips this week.
They're waiting in a line outside the doors. Brendon finds them and then just stands there, arms crossed over his chest, glaring. Ryan looks shocked; Spencer at least has the grace to look resigned.
"What are you doing here," he says. It's not even a question.
"What are you doing here?" demands Brendon.
"We're not going to keep living on your fucking couch," Spencer snaps right back. "You can't afford to feed three people, you can't even afford to feed yourself. We're just fine, okay -"
"I'll come live on your couch," cuts in a grizzled-looking guy with a beard that appears to be slowly overtaking his entire face and some of the surrounding space as well. "You can feed me all you want to!"
"Shut up," Ryan says sharply. Then, to Brendon, "Look, we really appreciate everything, it's just -"
"I'm pretty sure I got one of you a job," Brendon says flatly. "The application's back at my place. And my tips are going to be huge this week, so shut the fuck up about my food. Are you coming, or not?"
"I already said I'd come," says the grizzled guy, and an old woman behind him starts cackling loudly.
"I'll come too!" she puts in. "In fact, I got some friends that want to come, we won't complain about your food at all -"
"Fuck off," says Spencer.
"They're going to fucking follow you home," Ryan tells Brendon grimly.
Brendon looks at the grizzled guy, at the cackling old woman and at the group of grungy onlookers that are starting to take an interest. He looks at a little boy, maybe seven years old, and okay, that kid he would take home, maybe. His mom, too, she looks hungry -
"Holy fuck," says Spencer, and grabs Brendon by the arm. The next thing Brendon knows, he's being dragged off down the street, Spencer lecturing him loudly all the way, and Ryan is...wow. Ryan is laughing.
Only one homeless guy actually follows them, and he gives up after a few blocks.
Spencer and Ryan bicker heatedly over the application. Somehow, Ryan wins. Brendon doesn't follow how it actually happens; a lot of the argument seems to be taking place via complicated exchanges of facial expressions and half-formed sentences.
Brendon makes two boxes of chicken Rice-A-Roni, makes up corny jokes in his head about "the San Francisco treat!" which he doesn't say out loud, and ignores them as best he can until Ryan somehow mysteriously wins and asks him to borrow a pen.
Brendon watches him fill out the application, leaning over his shoulder long enough to recite his address and phone number for Ryan to use, and that's how he notices the date at the top. December 20th.
It's five fucking days to Christmas.
It's not that Brendon didn't know that, because he works in customer service. It's just that it hadn't really registered until now.
He never did buy that Christmas tree.
Oh, well. It's not like it really matters.