It's almost thirty minutes before Spencer finds Brendon, lying facedown on his She-Ra beach towel with pink-framed sunglasses perched on the back of his head. He looks like a bizarrely short-cropped Cousin It. Spencer fights the urge to kick some sand onto Brendon to wake him up, because Brendon's very exposed back is an angry shade of pink, and Spencer winces at the thought of irritating it more.
"Bren," he says, and then bends down and plucks out an earphone from one of Brendon's ears. "Dude. What the fuck."
Brendon startles, and then twists his head to blink at Spencer. "What? Oh, you made it."
"Of course I made it, I've been looking for you for the past half hour. You said you'd leave your phone on."
"I ran out of battery." Brendon yawns, cracking his jaw. "Shit, it's hot out."
"No kidding," Spencer says. "It's over a hundred degrees out. Did you even think to put on sunscreen?"
"What?" Brendon says. He sits up, trying and failing to look at his own back, but when he fumbles at it with his fingers he hisses. "Shit. Great. This is just what I need."
"I told you going to the beach was a bad idea," Spencer reminds him, but being right isn't exactly satisfying when he knows Brendon's going to be bitching about his sunburn for the next couple of days, and studio time will be even less productive than it's been for the past few.
Brendon doesn’t seem impressed either. He squints at the sun, flipping his sunglasses on the right way. "I'm gonna go in the water for a bit."
"Are you actively trying to hurt yourself?" Spencer says irritably.
Brendon rolls his eyes. "Chill, okay? I need to cool myself down, then we can go back."
"Ten minutes. I'm not actually asking for, you know, permission."
"Fine. But you should put the other piece of your suit on—"
"I'll be fine," Brendon says, waving a hand behind his back as he heads towards the water, wearing just the bottom piece of his wetsuit.
Spencer scowls. Brendon's been closed off and kind of pissy over the last few days and they're stuck on the album—again—and Spencer's worried, okay. He's worried about their jobs, and he's worried about Brendon, and they've been spending so much time at the beach lately that it almost seems like last summer, which—last summer was great for as long as it lasted, but going back to that would be taking two enormous steps in the wrong direction.
Of course, these are all petty concerns, all dwarfed by the fact that he doesn’t want Brendon going into an ocean that's swarming with—
Spencer hears a sharp cry coming from the sea.
"Kitchen," Spencer orders when they get back to Brendon's place, and he helps Brendon limp over to the kitchen counter. Brendon punctuates every step he takes with small ows.
"Okay, just," he says, "sit down, I'm going to get some vinegar."
"Fuck, Spence, it—okay," Brendon says through gritted teeth, and Spencer needs to get his shit together and not be annoyed and not freak out. He can do that. He has before.
"Okay, vinegar," he says resolutely, pulling out a bottle form the pantry and a clean towel from the cupboard. He soaks it with the vinegar, says, "Okay, here, I'm just gonna," and presses the towel to Brendon's side.
Brendon's entire body jumps. "Jesus, fuck." He clenches his eyes shut and swallows. "Are you sure you need to do this? Is there, like. It's not gonna eat away my skin and leave me scarred or something?"
"No, come on, you know this," Spencer says, trying to sound soothing. "Vinegar and hot water. It'll be fine." Spencer lifts the towel to look at Brendon's burn. It's bright red and splotchy, disappearing below Brendon's waistline in jagged lines that look painful. Spencer winces, wondering how far down they go. "You should probably," he says, and taps Brendon's waistband with a finger. He hands Brendon the towel. "Okay, you can do that yourself. I'm gonna go draw you a bath, okay?"
Brendon meets his eyes for a moment, nodding gratefully, and then shuts them tightly again as he rubs the vinegar in.
Spencer fills up the tub upstairs with lukewarm water and tosses in a few teabags for the sunburn. He rummages through Brendon's medicine cabinet, finding some aloe and skin lotion, and sets them out on Brendon's bedside table along with a clean towel and washcloth.
When he goes back downstairs, Brendon's exactly where he left him.
"How you doing?" Spencer asks.
Brendon opens his eyes again. They're a little wet. "Awesome," he says. "The sea loves me. I feel embraced by the universe. I—what the hell are you looking for?" he asks, his eyes following Spencer as Spencer opens and closes drawers around the kitchen.
"Aha." Spencer finds what he's looking for in a cupboard above the fridge. "Lift up," he tells Brendon, gently pushing up the hand clutching the towel at his side, and Brendon doesn't resist, automatically goes along with Spencer's instructions.
"Seriously, what is that?" Brendon asks.
"Meat-tenderizer," Spencer explains, as he sprinkles it liberally on the stung area.
Brendon's eyes widen. "Okay, dude, a, I didn't even know I had that, and b, what the actual fuck though. Shit that hurts."
"Sorry," Spencer apologizes, trying to think of any way to soothe the area, but like, it's not like rubbing on more vinegar would help. "The acidity is good for the sting or something, I saw it on a science show once."
"I don't know what fucked up science shows you've been watching, but you should probably stop. Shit," Brendon says again, his hand twitching where he's pulled his waistband down low to reveal the sting.
"Don't worry, we'll wash it off. You'll feel better once you take a bath."
Brendon freaks out when he sees the tea. "Okay, seriously, are you trying to cook me?"
"It's good for sunburn!" Spencer says. "I just want to take all the precautions."
"Precautions against me smelling like soap?"
"Brendon, just get in the bathtub," Spencer says tiredly. "Even if it doesn't help, it's not gonna hurt you. I read about it on the internet. It's supposed to work."
"Fine," Brendon grumbles, carefully lowering himself into the tea-filled bath, "but I can't believe you're letting me soak in all this weird shit but wouldn't pee on me on the beach."
"Dude, I was not going to pee on you based on something you saw on Friends."
"But seasoning me with vinegar, tenderizing my meat and bathing me in tea based on something you saw on the internet is okay."
Spencer cracks a smile. "Okay, wow, it does sound a little creepy when you put it like that."
"No kidding." Brendon's shoulders finish sliding under the water, and he shudders.
"How is it?"
"Creepy and weird."
Spencer rolls his eyes. "I meant the sting."
"Oh, uh." The water splashes around the sides of the bath as Brendon shifts. "It feels like someone used cheesegrater on my skin and then dipped it in saltwater?"
Spencer winces. "Sorry."
"And now I'm going to smell like a wet teabag for the rest of the week," Brendon adds sadly.
"Oh, for—" Spencer doesn't know what makes him do it, but before he knows it he's stripped off his shirt and pants and climbed into the bathtub behind Brendon. "Here, now we'll both smell like tea, okay?"
Brendon freezes, and Spencer suddenly realizes that they're both sharing a pretty small bathtub, wearing only underwear.
Brendon's laugh sounds a little shaky. "Mansoup, huh?"
The water in the bath must be hotter than it feels, because Spencer feels his face flush and he's kind of glad Brendon's back is turned to him. "Yeah," he says, forcing a smile, "somehow in my head the bath was bigger than this." He scoots back a little, and Brendon scoots forward, and this is stupid, it's not like he and Brendon haven't shared jacuzzis before, not like they haven't shared beds and bunks and they're not even naked now. Spencer rolls his eyes at himself. "Okay, look," he says, "you need to wash the stung area with hot water to get the toxins out."
"Is this more voodoo Smith medicine or real science?"
"Probably eighty percent science." Spencer reaches around Brendon to turn on the water, ignoring the way Brendon stiffens when Spencer brushes his shoulder. The showerhead is lying on the edge of the tub, and Spencer adjusts the water pressure to soft and the temperature to high. "Here," he says when it's ready, handing Brendon the nozzle. "Just press it against the sting or something."
Brendon looks dubious, but he takes the showerhead from Spencer. A few moments later he drops it in the water, swearing. "Shit, okay, no, I can't, fuck it hurts."
"Brendon, you have to—"
"No." Brendon's back is shaking a little. "Look, I'm about five seconds away from actually crying here and I would really like to avoid doing that in front of you, so, uh. No."
Spencer can't see Brendon's face, but his voice sounds strained and hurting and Spencer hates hearing him like that. "Okay, okay," Spencer says, unthinkingly putting a hand on Brendon's shoulder. The muscles are all tense. "Okay, we'll just... do you think you'll be okay if I do it?"
Brendon's shoulders move imperceptibly, an impersonation of a shrug. "Maybe?"
Spencer nods. "Okay, so just. Wait here, I'll be back in a sec."
Spencer washes himself off quickly with the showerhead, then puts it back in its holder and steps out of the bath. He grabs a clean towel from Brendon's linen closet, dries himself off and debates stealing a pair of dry boxers from Brendon before remembering that there's a bag with his own clean clothes stashed in Brendon's guest room, just in case, so he pulls on a pair of boxers and sweatpants. He fills a big bowl with hot water and leaves it in Brendon's bedroom, and then pads back into the bathroom.
Brendon's huddled in the middle of the bathtub, legs pulled up to his chest and knuckles white where his hands are clenching his knees. "Hey," Spencer says, letting him know he's back. "Let's go. I promise I'll be gentle."
Brendon snorts, but he gets up, splashing himself with some soap and clean water before wrapping himself in the towel Spencer hands him. He follows Spencer into the bedroom, and hesitates before sitting on the bed.
"Scoot back up a bit," Spencer tells him, "and lie down however you're comfortable."
Spencer takes the washcloth he'd placed by the bed earlier and dips it in the hot water bowl. When he turns back, Brendon's lying on his stomach on the stretched towel in the middle of the bed. He leans up on his elbows, twisting his head back. "Is this okay?"
Spencer swallows. "Uh, yeah." His heart is beating in a really weird rhythm. Spencer ignores it. "This might hurt a little," he warns, and then presses the hot washcloth to the red patchy skin above his waist. Brendon hisses, and Spencer can feel his entire body tense. "Sorry, sorry," he apologizes, but dips the cloth in the bowl and runs it against Brendon's skin again. He does it a few more times, stroking the hot towel down Brendon's waist and left hipbone, tracing the sharp, slightly swollen lines on Brendon's skin and over the top of his wetsuit, which Spencer figures is probably good enough. Every time the hot cloth touches Brendon he twitches, but Spencer talks over it, trying to distract him, tells him about the latest email he got from Haley, who's apparently started seeing someone, about Zach's latest round of bitching about wedding plans.
"Okay, I think that's enough," he says eventually, and Brendon sighs with his entire body.
"We're not done yet," Spencer says, but quickly adds, "but almost, almost," at Brendon's groan. He holds up the bottle of aloe and skin lotion. "I don't want your back peeling all over the house for the next week. Aloe or moisturizer, take your pick."
Brendon considers it for a moment. "Lotion," he finally says.
Spencer uncaps the container. "Okay, so you get a back rub now, but it means you get only one day of pouting, okay?"
"I'm in pain," Brendon protests. "I'll... think about it."
Spencer takes a glob of lotion and rubs it between his hands. He sniffs them. "Dude, does this smell like strawberries?"
"Fuck you," Brendon mumbles into his pillow, "it smells awesome."
"It's better than tea," Brendon points out, and Spencer can't exactly argue with that.
He sets out to rub Brendon's shoulders, but it's not really comfortable from where he's sitting on the bed at Brendon's side, and he could reach Brendon's shoulders if he were sitting over Brendon's pillow but he thinks the maybe giving a massage with his crotch in Brendon's face would be a little awkward. Instead, he says, "Hey, I'm just gonna—" and straddles Brendon's back, one knee on each side, taking care not to touch the sensitive skin. "Is this okay?"
"Yeah," Brendon says after a moment.
"Okay," Spencer says, scootching back a bit so he can lean back on Brendon's thighs, and starts spreading the lotion across Brendon's back. He moves slowly, using just his fingers at first, dabbing them with lotion and gently applying it to Brendon's trapezoids, up the back of his neck until he brushes Brendon's hairline, around the deltoids and all the way down Brendon's spine, feeling every ridge and bump. Brendon's back is smooth and kind of perfect, which Spencer knew before, like, he's seen Brendon shirtless hundreds of times, but somehow it feels different now, being able to feel all the bones beneath the skin, the firm shape of his muscles, the heat of his skin. Brendon's always had pretty abnormal body heat, but the way his skin burns now is kind of insane.
Once the lotion is spread evenly across Brendon's back, Spencer starts rubbing in slow circles, using his entire palms. Brendon's back rises and falls as he breathes.
"You have really cool hands," Brendon sighs into the pillow. "Feels good."
Spencer swallows, because okay. It's not like he's entirely unaware of the fact that, like, the last person he'd given a backrub had been his girlfriend, and usually when he'd done that it had led to something more, and Brendon's body feels as least as good under his hands as hers had, reacting to every little touch; every few strokes, Brendon gives a little sigh, or breathes out a moan, which Spencer is almost entirely sure is derived from pleasure and not pain, and it's. Well. It's not the first time he's had idle thoughts about Brendon. It's just taking more and more willpower not to act upon them.
"So do you think you're going to stop hiding at the beach now?" he asks, mostly to distract himself.
"What?" Brendon asks, his voice kind of sleepy and relaxed.
"I just thought that maybe," Spencer says carefully, running his hands in smooth lines across Brendon's shoulders, "maybe you've been trying to avoid the studio recently."
Brendon stiffens below him, and Spencer keeps rubbing gently, trying to smooth out the tension. "Spence—" he says, but leaves it hanging.
"Is it because of that quote? What Jon said?"
Brendon moves a little, and for a moment Spencer imagines him trying to curl into a ball and feels his hands tighten at Brendon's sides, holding him down. "Hey, no," he says firmly. "Bren. You can't let that get to you."
"Oh, okay then," Brendon says flatly.
Spencer's fingers tighten reflexively, but he lets go when he feels Brendon flinch. "Sorry," he says, going back to rubbing Brendon's back. "Look, you need to... It doesn't matter what he said, okay? You're, we're, we needed some time but the music we're making, it's good now, you know it, it's—it's fun."
"I know, just..." Brendon sighs. "Wow, keep doing that. It's just..."
"It was Jon," Spencer says.
"You remember that Jon can be an asshole sometimes though, right? Not always, but. Sometimes."
"I know," Brendon says.
"So can I. So can you." Spencer pauses. "Look, you're... forget what he said, you're a creative guy. You know that. And we're still writing fucking good music. Like, hey." Spencer starts gently tapping out the beat of one of the tracks they're working on right now in the hollow of Brendon's spine. "This. This is what we should be focusing on."
Brendon chuckles; it's quiet, but it's definitely a laugh. "Okay, fine, point," he relents. "Also dude, that tickles. Go back to that other thing you were doing."
"What, this?" Spencer asks, rubbing slow, deep circles with his thumbs, counting ribs as his hands travel down. Brendon shivers. "Yeah," he breathes, and all of a sudden the atmosphere's shifted again and Brendon's body is hot and responsive and alive, and Spencer kind of wishes he knew what was going to happen next, wishes he could fast forward to the next scene where, well. He'd never found Brendon's lyrics so appropriate before.
Spencer dips his fingers in some more lotion and starts gently, gently daubing at the stung area. Brendon breathes in sharply, but when Spencer pauses he says, "No, it's okay, keep going," and Spencer carefully strokes over the raised skin, into the dip of Brendon's waist and over the line of his hipbone. When he reaches the waistband of Brendon's wetsuit he hesitates; Brendon's lying almost entirely still, taking deep breaths against the pain, but then he says, so softly it's almost a whisper, "Keep going."
Spencer feels his heart skip a beat, but keeps his hands steady. He slides a hand under Brendon's waistband and carefully peels off the left side, exposing more skin. Brendon lifts his hips momentarily, helping Spencer, and then Spencer's looking at at least half of Brendon's ass, white and smooth except for the few jagged pink lines where the sting continues down.
Brendon's really keeping still now, the muscles at the top of his thighs quivering slightly, and Spencer thinks he might be holding his breath. God knows Spencer is. He dips his fingers in the lotion again, and fuck that strawberry smell that makes Spencer want to know what it tastes like against Brendon's skin, and when he touches body this time Brendon actually whimpers, fuck.
He makes it less than a minute before he has to stop and say, "Okay, wait," and Brendon almost jumps to a sitting position, knocking Spencer off, burying his head in his hands. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he moans, "I didn't mean to, I shouldn't have made it awkward—"
"Brendon," Spencer says, and his heart's beating in his throat but he also wants to laugh a little, "Bren. I was going to say." He takes one of Brendon's hands away from his face, brushing a thumb into Brendon's hair, not letting Brendon hide. "I was going to say, this is great and all, but if I'm going to make it to third base, I kind of wish we didn't have to skip first."
Brendon's eyes are wide, and for a beat he closes them and then opens them again, like he's making sure that Spencer's still there, like that actually happened. "Oh."
"Yeah," Spencer says, and Brendon's leaning into his palm instead of drawing away which is overall making Spencer kind of giddy, and he thinks he might not have screwed this up after all. "Yeah, so—"
Brendon beats him by kissing him, digging his fingers through Spencer's still wet hair, his bare chest pressing against Spencer's, and it's kind of overwhelmingly amazing. Brendon lets out a small sound, trying to pull Spencer in closer, and Spencer licks into his mouth and nips at his bottom lip, loving the way it makes Brendon whimper, and wow, not skipping first base was a really excellent idea.
It's not frantic at all, now that the tension's broken, just—really comfortable and nice, and Brendon smells like tea and salt and soap and strawberries, kind of clean and somehow happy. Spencer kisses him deeper, running a hand down his side and pushing him back down on the bed until "Ow ow ow ow ow," Brendon says, pulling back with a wince. "Sorry, I. Ow."
"Right," Spencer says, trying not to feel too disappointed. "We probably shouldn't, not until you're better." Probably a few days for the back burn to heal, and a few days after that for the sting to stop hurting, although Spencer knows Brendon and he doesn't think he'd object to maybe a little pain—
Brendon shakes his head. "Dude, are you kidding me?"
Spencer blinks. "What?"
Brendon rolls his eyes. "You really think I'm going to be celibate when you've just spent the last, like, hour proving how good you are with your hands?" Brendon gets up on his knees and flips them around, pushing Spencer back on the bed and straddling him in one almost-smooth move.
"Oh," Spencer says.
Brendon beams at him. "You said it yourself, I'm a creative dude." He winds his fingers through Spencer's and pushes them against the headboard, leaning down for a kiss. Spencer meets his mouth, and thinks they've made it this far; it's only going to get better from here.