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If Music Be The Food Of Love (I'll Have The Veggie Burger)

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Brendon meets Brent in third period Geometry.

Brent doesn't seem to want to swap seats as soon as he finds out he's sitting next to Brendon, which is Brendon's first clue that Brent might be a good guy. Also, he doesn't seem particularly fazed by Brendon trying to talk to him incessantly. In fact, when Brendon doodles music notes in the margin instead of copying down the triangles their teacher has drawn on the board, Brent elbows him in the side whenever it looks like Mr. Holmes might be coming over.

Brendon knows it isn't friendship or anything, but it's a relief to be able to smile at someone and have them smile back.

~*~

 

The thing is, Brendon is the kid no one talks to in school.

Aside from maybe passing him a pencil or lending him a piece of paper if he asks, Brendon's been in high school for almost two years and most people barely even know he exists.

He never wanted to end up being one of those loner kids who stares at the ground and sits by himself at lunch, the kid who never gets picked in gym class. He's tried everything he can think of to make friends, but nothing seems to have worked.

He tried playing in the school orchestra, freshman year, hanging out with the music kids. It hadn't gone down so well when they found out Brendon could play all the instruments that they could—and more besides. They'd thought he was exaggerating and when they found out he wasn't, that just seemed to make things even worse. The best Brendon had ever managed was for them to say hi to him in the corridors, and for them to put up with him eating his lunch at their table a couple of times a week.

The rest of the time he eats his lunch by himself in the second floor bathroom, in the cubicle by the window. He's always known that it's pretty disgusting, but he's cautious; he washes his hands before he goes in and he unwraps his brown bag carefully. He tries not to think about the germs.

Jazz band has been a better option; the kids there seem less inclined to dismiss him entirely and some of them even have lockers by his. Sometimes they say hi to him without him having to say it first. It doesn't seem to matter how much he tries though, they just don't want to be friends with him.

Thing is, Brendon knows that he'd be a pretty amazing friend. He even knows some good jokes now, although, yeah, growing up Mormon had kind of meant he'd gotten to high school not knowing what some words meant. He knows now though, so that's totally cool and the guys should just let that one go.

He's sort of been thinking that it might be the Mormon thing that puts people off being friends with him. It's not that he wants to give it all up, although he kind of does because he's been sneaking coffee and Red Bull since the summer before high school and yeah, he doesn't really see how he's disrespecting God by having a latte.

He thinks that maybe God has some things to answer for, things like war and famine and the way animals are battery farmed. Brendon kind of feels things quite deeply. His mom has always told him that the other kids are just jealous, but Brendon knows that's just not true. He still doesn't get how kids can know about animals being kept really badly and just keep on eating meat like it's okay, though. The other kids seem to think it's pretty funny that Brendon keeps trying to persuade them that being vegetarian is cool. One guy - Brendon thinks he's on the water polo team, and if he isn't then he totally should be, because Brendon's a fan of The O.C. and he knows how these things are supposed to go - but this one kid, he ate his hamburger right in front of Brendon, with like, his mouth open and everything. It was pretty disgusting and Brendon had felt really sick afterwards. He's one of the few kids Brendon's fairly sure he really doesn't want to be friends with.

Brendon thinks he's just got to keep on being nice to people, and then eventually people will realize that he's worth being friends with. So he smiles at everyone. He smiles at the kids by his locker and at the guys in gym class and at the teacher in his English class. He smiles at the music kids and at the guy behind the counter in the music store and yeah, even at the guy in the comic book store. Brendon's not really into comic books, not really, not outside of the X-Men films and maybe Spiderman, but he knows that in books and movies, the comic book kids can geek out together in secret and he thinks that maybe he could be a part of that.

But the kids in the comic book store don't seem to notice him and kind of look the other way when Brendon smiles at them, so. Brendon just ends up buying a couple of comic books and taking them home. He lies on his bed and flicks through them and thinks, okay, this is okay, but really, comic books aren't as good as having friends.

~*~

 

Brendon's starting to feel like he's running out of options.

~*~

 

Brendon would really like it if he could count Brent as a friend, but he doesn't think that he can. Brent just doesn't think of him like that. Sure, they talk when Mr. Holmes is out of the room, about music and stuff, but that doesn't mean that they're friends. But Brendon finds out Brent plays guitar and Brendon's quick to say me too before he remembers how the music kids reacted when they found out he could play, so he shuts up really quickly in this bizarre cartoon-like fashion, mouth snapping shut. He doodles an elephant in the top corner of his Geometry notes.

Brent doesn't seem to mind that Brendon's being all weird; he just carries on talking about his guitar and about fooling around playing Blink-182 covers in his friend's grandma's garage, which Brendon enviably thinks must be just about the best thing ever. Playing guitar with friends.

At the end of their sophomore year, Brent signs his yearbook and Brendon signs his, and Brendon thinks that might be the first time he's signed one where he's sort of confident that the person he's signing for might actually remember who he is.

"Here," Brent says, just before the end of their last Geometry class. Brendon says, huh, and reaches for the piece of paper in Brent's hand. It's Brent's email address, and Brendon rips out a piece of paper from his dog-eared pad and writes his out really carefully (so that Brent doesn't mix up the underscores with the dashes and send it to the wrong bden), and then he writes out his phone number underneath and draws a smiley face. He sort of slides it back across the table, but before Brent can take it off him, Brendon's pulling it back and then drawing some music notes and another smiley face and- yeah. Brent's rolling his eyes and taking it. "Maybe we could, you know, hang out over the summer," Brent says. "You can maybe come and play guitar with us."

Brendon thinks, yes, and stops himself doing a cartwheel right there in the middle of the Math classroom.

~*~

 

Apart from the obvious joy of not having to go to school every day, Brendon hates summers with a fiery passion that he can barely put into words. He never knows what to do with himself, especially now it's just him and his parents in the house, and just him by himself during the day. He plays the piano a lot, plays his guitar and sits in the yard throwing a tennis ball at the wall and wishing his parents were less Mormon so that he could have a playstation and spend the summer inside killing things. Last summer he taught himself how to walk on his hands and the summer before that, he tried learning how to unicycle when the guy across the street inherited one and didn't know what to do with it. His parents pretty much said no to that straight away, but it was only one sprained ankle and at least it wasn't his hands. His mom says that he should go down to the church and join in with some of the Mission's summer groups, but he hates them and the kids don't like him, so. Whenever he did go down he ended up playing the piano in the common room, playing Mozart and Shostakovich and Chopin.

This summer, his parents have dragged out the old trampoline that they'd bought years ago for Kara and Mason. Brendon thinks he might as well try and learn how to do back-flips now his parents have actually bothered putting it together, because everyone loves a guy who can do a back-flip.

The first time he does one, he mistimes the jump and ends up falling off the trampoline and hurting his ankle, banging his head against the fence. He has to make sure not to tell his parents about that, because he might be older now but sometimes they still think he's a little kid and they always try to stop him doing stuff they call dangerous.

He's better the second time, only rolling off the trampoline at the last moment.

The next time, he stays on.

~*~

 

He builds up to emailing Brent, because Brent's kind of the closest thing to a friend he's ever had and he doesn't particularly want to mess it up at this stage. He sends Brent an email after a week, just hi brent, hows ur summer? Bet ur not missing school! And he presses send and then, because he's Brendon, he goes out to the trampoline and does thirty seven jumping jacks in a row and three back-flips and tries not to call himself a total idiot more than twelve times. Brendon's knows he's a tool.

Brendon just kind of hopes that someday, someone will like that about him.

~*~

 

Brent doesn't email back and Brendon tries not to show his disappointment when his parents are around. They don't give up, because they're his parents and they love him. They tell him again about the summer clubs run by the church, and by the community center, and they say that some of his peers would love to spend time with him. Brendon thinks that actually, no they wouldn't, because they've never really wanted to spend time with him. They laugh at him because all he can ever talk about is playing music, because he's an idiot, because he's clumsy and hyperactive and doesn't always know what they're talking about but always pretends like he does.

When they've gone to work, though, Brendon wanders through the house by himself and makes pancakes even though his mom says he should be eating more fruit. He leaves flour and eggs spilt all over the counter top and he eats seven pancakes in a row and a whole bag of chocolate chips. Afterwards, he sits on the stoop and draws on his arm in black sharpie, a curving set of piano keys down his forearm. It's difficult, drawing at this angle, and it's not like Brendon's ever been a fan of the straight line either. Still, he looks down and he thinks, I'm going to get out of this place. Someday I'm going to be somebody and people will like me, and then all of a sudden, he's crying.

Brendon doesn't cry. He comes close sometimes, like when they have those commercials on television about the animal rescue centers and he wants to take home every puppy that's ever been abandoned. When he was little, he used to want to cry at The Little Mermaid. His mom says that Brendon is in touch with his emotions, and that he'll grow out of it. Matt and Mason laugh at him for it, getting Brendon in a headlock and ruffling his hair until Brendon stops sniffling and starts laughing and his mom shouts boys! at them all. Things upset him, and sometimes he gets sad because he cares about a lot of stuff, like wars and famines and animals and people being unkind, but he doesn't really get upset about the fact that no one seems to like him. Brendon's bouncy and upbeat and secure in the knowledge that if only people would give him a chance, they'd realize that he's a good guy to have around.

But they haven't yet, and even Brent doesn't want to know, and sometimes it just gets to him. So he's sitting on his back step, and he has sharpied piano keys up his arm and it's too hot to be out in the middle of the day, it really is. He buries his head in his arms and just cries his stupid eyes out.

When he's done, he scrubs at his eyes with the hem of his t-shirt, and tries to make himself feel better. He writes a list in purple felt pen of some of the things he could do this summer to fill some time—make pancakes in every flavor, see if mom and dad will buy a drum kit, figure out back flips without the trampoline - and yeah, Brendon knows it's a stupid list. He knows, but it doesn't matter.

He doesn't have a TV in his bedroom so he goes into the den and puts on Aladdin and sings along to the whole thing, doing all the parts, Jasmine and Ali and the Genie and he maybe dances a bit, too.

He checks his email after the film's finished, before his parents get back from work. He's all warm and sticky after he skips back on the DVD and does an impassioned rendition of Friend Like Me, stood on the couch with the cushions kicked across the floor. He's tried to give himself a stern talking to about checking his email, but he can't stop himself checking to see if Brent's replied.

He needs to wash the ink off before his parents get home; he's still got the piano keys drawn down his forearm. His mom and dad hate it when he draws on himself. Sometimes he colors his fingernails in different colors and his dad gets really angry and sends him straight to the bathroom to clean up.

Brendon doesn't always think things through, doesn't always remember what makes people angry and why some things are right and some things are wrong. It always makes him sad that he makes other people upset. Once, his mom caught him reading a pile of old magazines that someone had left out in the trash—Cosmo Girl and In Style and Brendon had been flicking through the parts about how to keep a boyfriend satisfied and what colors to wear this summer. His mom had gotten really upset and made him throw them in the garbage straight away before his dad saw. Brendon hadn't really understood—he'd only been twelve—but with time Brendon's come to realize that he does a lot of things that make people upset. He knows it hurts his parents that he has no friends. Brendon thinks maybe he's not trying hard enough.

He opens his inbox and there's a message from Brent. Brendon does a handstand against the wall of the office, accidentally kicking over a pile of papers on the edge of the desk. He pulls them into a hasty pile and puts them back, clicking on the message. Gud summer so far, Brent says, been away camping. Want to come over and play for the band? We need sum1 now trevor has quit. Friday?

Brendon sort of hasn't been religious for a while now, although that's not something he wants to tell his parents yet—if ever—but when he reads the email he shuts his eyes and thanks God. He really does. He wants this like he's never wanted anything before, and he goes into his room and plays his guitar until his parents get home and then he remembers that he didn't clean up the kitchen from his pancakes, or the den from when he moved the furniture to dance, or the bathroom from when he showered that morning and he hasn't washed the piano keys off his arm. His dad sees the ink straight away, taking him by the wrist. It doesn't hurt—his dad isn't gripping him tight or anything - but he's disappointed and Brendon knows that straight away.

"Go and wash that off," his dad says, and Brendon nods, too eager.

He scrubs at it with a washcloth but he stains the washcloth black and the ink's still there. Instead, he wears a sweater to the table for dinner despite it being stupidly hot. His parents don't say anything, but his dad keeps looking at his arms and Brendon pulls the cuffs down over his wrists. He thinks that maybe his parents wouldn't be so happy if they knew he might be playing in a band. It seems to go against everything his parents and the church have ever tried to teach him, so he keeps Brent's email secret and wonders why doing something that will make other people so sad makes him so happy.

~*~

 

Brendon turns up at Brent's friend Spencer's grandma's house with the directions printed off from Brent's email on the back of an old church newsletter. He's nervous and he kind of stalls his mom's car parking outside. His hands are shaking and he's bouncing from foot to foot—he's always been twitchy but when he's anxious and unsure it's even worse. His mom and dad took him to a doctor when he was just a kid; a psychiatrist asked him a few desultory questions while making notes on a piece of yellow foolscap. He was scared and tired and eleven years old so he'd talked and talked and talked and talked and twitched. They'd made him take pills after that, Dexedrine and Ritalin, handed to him by his mom over a glass of milk and a bowl of cereal every morning. Brendon remembers the next year as a hazy, fog-filled existence that made sleeping difficult and waking up even harder. His parents—who weren't exactly keen on him taking pills, even ones prescribed by a doctor or whatever—listened to him when he begged to stop taking them.

The difference hadn't been immediate but he remembers his mom hugging him and him hugging her back, tightly. She'd told him she'd missed his hugs.

Brendon has always liked touching and being touched. He likes to hug, he likes to hold hands too, wants to link arms and hook ankles and rest his head on someone else's shoulder if he's sitting on the couch. His brothers and sisters have grown used to it over the years, making space between them on the couch for him or slinging their arms around his shoulders as they walk. It doesn't take away his twitches or his clumsiness but sometimes it works to still him.

Sometimes though, he reaches out for people and forgets that not everyone understands. He'd done it in elementary school once, on a school trip to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. He hadn't been thinking and he'd reached for Neal's hand without realizing what it was he was doing. Neal had pushed him away and Brendon had tripped over a bench and everyone had laughed.

Brendon sometimes dreams about being held.

Anyway, he gets to the garage where he's meeting Brent and his friends and he says, "Hey," and waves.

"Hi," Brent says. There are two other kids there, a skinny, silent kid who looks at him with a tight expression and a heavy-set long-haired guy who raises an eyebrow from behind his drum kit.

"Um," Brendon says, and he waves again, because he wants to be friends, "um, hi guys."

"This is him?" the skinny kid asks.

Brent shrugs. "Yeah. This is Brendon. We took Geometry together."

"Good times," Brendon says, before he can stop himself, "good times."

"Right," the kid behind the drum kit says. "I'm Spencer. This is Ryan. You play?"

"Yeah," Brendon says, "yeah."

Brendon privately thinks that maybe they don't like him too much, because Ryan barely talks and Spencer seems to communicate by eyebrows alone. Brendon's too skinny and too bouncy and he plays, like, the first thing that comes into his head and it's Joni Mitchell and not the Beatles or even anything from the last decade. Still, they don't send him away and afterwards he goes to sit on the curb, feet out onto the street, picking at the clasp on his guitar case while they have a band meeting. He taps his feet—he's wearing Converse, green Chuck Taylors. He's got a sharpie in his pocket and he carefully, very carefully draws a star on the side of his heel. Maybe his parents won't notice and they won't tell him off for defacing his belongings. He's coloring it in, ever so carefully, when Spencer comes and sits beside him.

"So," Spencer says, and Brendon can't help it, he's holding his breath, "you're in. We practice Tuesdays and Thursdays after school and Sunday afternoons."

"Can't do Sundays," Brendon says, automatically. Sundays are for church, church and youth groups and all those other things that Brendon does because he has to.

Spencer looks at him. Brendon thinks that he's messed it up, that this is it. He freezes, then starts, "Well, I don't know, maybe I could-"

"Okay," Spencer says, and he looks back at the garage, back at Ryan and Brent. "Saturdays?" he says, and Brendon can't help but notice Spencer's shoes, a pair of DC sneakers, white with green stripes. They kind of echo his.

"Yeah," Brendon says, relieved. "I can do Saturdays."

"Ryan," Spencer yells. "Saturdays?"

Ryan shrugs. "Sure," he says, and that's it.

~*~

 

It isn't as if things change for Brendon from the moment he joins the band. Brendon gets into trouble with his parents because he's out of the house a lot and he's not being entirely truthful about what it is that he's doing. He's always been a pretty bad liar - especially when it comes to his parents - and they keep bugging him about what he's up to. It isn't like Brendon doesn't get why they're concerned; his mom and dad have spent sixteen years urging Brendon to go out and make friends and nothing has ever worked. Now, suddenly, Brendon's going out two or three times a week to hang out with people that his parents don't know. His parents talk to him about temptation and being a teenager and following the wrong path. Brendon knows that his parents just don't want him to get into trouble; he knows that they're concerned and worried that he's too trusting, that he gives his heart away too easily, that he's going to get hurt and not be able to cover it up. They've seen it happen before.

It makes Brendon sad. He tries to tell them that everything's okay, that these are guys who could be friends. He doesn't mention the band as such; he tells his mom that they're all musical, that they all play instruments and stuff. His mom looks at him like maybe she knows. His parents worry about bands. They know all the bad stuff, the stuff with the drugs and the alcohol and the free love. They don't know how happy being in a band makes him.

Brent and Spencer and Ryan aren't much about drugs and alcohol and free love. They have Pepsi, sometimes. Pepsi and sour brite gummy worms and bags of chips and sometimes, cookies. Brendon's experience with drugs has been Dexedrine and Ritalin and he'd begged to be able to stop taking them. Either he's just weird or he hasn't tried the good stuff yet. He'd sort of smoked pot once, but it hadn't been amazing or anything. It was after a rehearsal for jazz band and he'd been out on the field behind the hall with a group of music kids who all knew each other better than they knew him. They'd been listening to Duke Ellington and one of the guys had a joint in a tin he'd got from his cousin. They'd all been passing it around and taking a toke when they'd been caught. Brendon had narrowly escaped being grounded, mostly because his parents had been so pleased he'd been hanging out with some of the other kids from school that they couldn't bear to punish him. He'd had to promise them he'd never do it again, though.

Brendon spends most of the summer hanging out and playing music with Ryan and Spencer and Brent, but he still wouldn't say that they're friends, exactly. They're nice to him - well, Brent is. Ryan is stick-thin and self-absorbed, buried deep in something going on at home. He seems barely aware of anything outside their songs at times, biting his lip in concentration and holding on to the mic stand, staring out of the garage door. Sometimes Spencer and Ryan disappear indoors to get glasses of water or something and don't come back for like, half an hour. Brendon sits on the driveway and kicks his sneakers together, picking idly at his guitar. He does handstands up against the wall and occasionally he borrows Spencer's bike and rides up and down the street. Sometimes Brent talks to him about music; other times, Brent takes off with his cellphone and talks to his friends, arranging to go to the movies or hang out after practice.

A lot of the time though, they're half way through a song and Brendon kind of wants to stop Ryan and say, that's flat, you know. He doesn't. They're Ryan's songs and Ryan's words and Ryan's the singer. Brendon's a tool sometimes, but he thinks that this is pretty much his one chance and he doesn't want to screw it up, so he just looks down and picks out the melody and bites at his lip.

He catches Spencer watching him thoughtfully sometimes, sitting back on his stool and resting his sticks against the snare. Brendon tries not to think about what it is that Spencer's looking at, so he just does the only thing he knows how to do, which is to smile at Spencer until he stops staring and starts engaging and sort of smiles back.

Spencer likes to act like he's tough and hard and almost entirely without feeling, but Brendon knows better. Inside, Spencer's a giant marshmallow, Brendon's pretty sure about that.

It isn't just about the music, though. Sometimes they're too lazy to play, sometimes it's just too warm. They play a few tracks, Brendon picking out the guitar part and watching Ryan at the mic, and then they stumble haphazardly to a stop and Brent says, "Playstation?" Then they pack up and wander out of the garage and down the street and go to Brent's.

The first time, Brendon is hesitant, not sure whether he's invited and unwilling to overstep the boundaries of this carefully constructed web of almost-friendship. Brent shakes his head and says, "Get your ass over here, Urie."

Brendon can't help it, he can't keep it in. He smiles wide and flings an arm around Brent's shoulders, yelling "Onward, to the playstation!"

They all laugh, even Ryan. Brendon grins. Ryan is a hard nut to crack.

Brendon is awkward at first; he hasn't played much playstation before. He picks up instruments and can play them in a matter of hours though, so getting the hang of the playstation controller isn't much different. Before he knows it, he's racing Spencer around the track and winning and everyone is laughing and Ryan is poking him in the elbow and Brent is shoving him and Spencer - Spencer is letting that soft marshmallow side of him show, just a bit.

Brendon doesn't mean to do a victory song and dance. He kind of gets carried away - which is Brendon all over, really - and before he knows what he's doing he's belting out a chorus of We Are The Champions, waving his arms about. He grinds to a halt when he realizes they're all looking at him. "What?" he says, sorry. He scuffs his toe against the carpet. Ryan and Spencer are looking at each other, eyebrows raised, and Brent is staring at him.

"Sorry," he says, again, even though he doesn't really know what he is apologizing for. Brendon doesn't always know. Sometimes he just kind of annoys people just by being there, and he's learnt from experience that perhaps it's just better to say sorry.

"Don't apologize, dude," Spencer says. "Why didn't you tell us you could sing?"

Brendon shrugs. He remembers the music kids, the way they'd looked at him. "No reason," he says. Then, "You didn't ask?"

"You can sing," Brent says.

"Um, yeah?" Brendon shrugs again. He taps his fingers against his thigh, a quick polka beat. If he's messed this up he doesn't know whether he'll be able to get outside without breaking down.

"What else haven't you told us?" Spencer asks, and Brendon tries to remember that Spencer's a marshmallow because right now he looks fierce.

He feels trapped. Ryan's just staring at him, eyes wide. "You sing," Ryan says.

"I play piano too," Brendon says, and it's kind of meant to be a quip, something to lighten the mood. He doesn't know quite what he's done wrong but they're all staring at him. He puts down the controller on Brent's coffee table.

"Piano, guitar, sing," Spencer says. "Anything else?"

Brendon thinks that maybe he sees the ghost of a smile, something reassuring underneath Spencer's gaze. "Bass guitar, drums, accordion, trumpet, violin-" Brendon starts listing them on his fingers, trying to count off the summer breaks and the Sundays in Church, "-I tried the clarinet once, but I only had that for a couple of days, um, I played the organ-"

"Are you, like, a musical genius or what?" Brent asks.

Brendon shrugs. He's just had a lot of free time. "I can walk on my hands, too," he says, finally, and Spencer cracks a smile.

"We're keeping you," Spencer says, and Ryan kind of nods.

Brendon doesn't even try and hide his grin.

He kind of takes over the singing after that. It's not that he's a better singer than Ryan, (although, okay, he kind of is) but it's not like he's had any particular training other than years and years of church. He could never stay still long enough though, always moving and tapping his foot until the choirmaster had asked him to stop coming because he was disturbing the others. He hadn't gone back after that. He sings these songs that Ryan writes and yeah, it feels uncomfortable for a while, because these are Ryan's words, Ryan's songs. They hadn't been written for Brendon to sing. Brendon can't read Ryan yet - he's not very good at reading anyone, to be honest, not enough experience. Brendon trusts everyone, even though he knows he shouldn't. He can't tell what Ryan's thinking.

So, yeah, his summer sort of passes and for the first time ever, he's got friends. He still doesn't know if they, like, like him back or anything, but they're still his best friends in the whole world. They laugh at his jokes - sometimes, when they're not really bad jokes - and let him play his guitar for hours and hours and for the first time, he's not spending his summer by himself. This is the best summer ever, Brendon thinks.

He doesn't look forward to going back to school. They're at Spencer's, lying outside in his back yard, taking advantage of Spencer's parents' absence and of his sisters being out with their friends. Ryan and Brent are inside, playing on Spencer's Xbox, but Brendon and Spencer are outside, lying on the grass and staring up at the sky.

"School," Spencer says, and Brendon kind of freezes, he just can't help it. He plasters a smile on his face - the same smile he wears all year, he thinks.

"Yeah."

"You kind of hate it, right?" Spencer says, and Brendon nods. He does. Before this summer he wouldn't have admitted to it - no, school's great, it's amazing, there are some cool kids there, love the music - but he really, really does hate it.

"I'd be a great friend," Brendon says miserably.

"Yeah," Spencer says, and Brendon's not looking at him but he thinks that maybe Spencer's looking at him. "Brent says you don't really know many people."

Brendon's foot taps against the fence. He shakes his head. Clouds, he thinks, come in really stupid shapes. That one looks like a tiger. "No," he says. "Well, I do. They just kind of don't want to know me."

Spencer's elbow nudges his. "Well," he says, "they're kind of dicks, then. They don't know what they're missing out on."

"Yeah?" Brendon manages, although he can't help it, he's kind of choked up. He doesn't want Spencer to know.

"You're totally one of us now," Spencer tells him, without moving. "You don't need them."

"Right," Brendon stumbles over the word, breath catching in his throat. He knows Spencer's watching him now. "Don't tell the others, right?" he manages. "Don't tell them I was upset."

Spencer shifts so that his head is by Brendon's shoulder, hair brushing against Brendon's neck. "I won't. Look," he says, pointing up at the sky. "That cloud looks like a tiger."

~*~

 

It's harder for Brendon to keep coming over once school starts again. His mom talks about his assignments and his dad talks about the car and whether his mom needs it or not and Brendon's left making excuses to Spencer and Ryan about why he can't come to practice. He can't get there without a ride and he doesn't know anyone who'll drive him. He needs to have his homework done to show his mom before she'll let him out and being back at school sucks, it really does. His locker's moved and he doesn't know the kids in his hallway and no one smiles at him and says hi now, even if he says hi first. He still sits with the music kids a couple of days a week, because the world's out to get him and Brent doesn't have the same lunch period as him. There's always math, though, and they're taking the same class, sitting half way back by the window and talking about chord progressions instead of triangles.

"Why weren't you at practice?" Brent asks.

Brendon kind of thinks that once they find out he can't always get to practice, that he's unreliable and just a kid, they're going to ditch him. He tries to look nonchalant. "My mom, you know," he says, and inside he's cringing. He tried telling his mom that he didn't want to come to church anymore. She cried, and Brendon took it back. "You know what they're like."

He makes the next couple of practices but misses the one after that. When he shows at the next practice, Ryan stares at him and shakes his head. "You're flaking out on us," he says flatly, and Brendon thinks this is the most miserable he's ever been.

"I'm not," he tries to explain, but he can't without saying that his parents are yelling at him and he'd skipped church again last week and they wouldn't let him have the car and he didn't have any money to get across town and he had to keep his grades up else they'd ground him and that would be that. "I'm sorry," he says, and thinks that might be the most overused word in his vocabulary.

"You're here now," Spencer says, eyeing Ryan sharply, and Ryan rolls his eyes but doesn't say anything else. Afterwards, when they've finished, Spencer takes Brendon's elbow and says, "Hey, wait a second?"

Ryan and Brent leave—Ryan shooting a look Brendon can't read towards Spencer - and then it's just Spencer and Brendon outside on the driveway. Spencer says, "Do you want to go and get a smoothie?"

Brendon doesn't know how to say he hasn't got any money. His parents are trying every way they can to make him stay in, and that means asking Brendon to contribute to the gas costs. He shrugs his shoulders. "We could, I dunno, go to the park?" he says, thinking that it's close and he won't be too late home.

"Okay," Spencer says, and he goes inside to get two cans of coke from the fridge. He hands one to Brendon. "Come on."

They sit in the playground and Brendon lies down at the bottom of the slide. Spencer sits on the merry-go-round, letting his feet touch the ground as it slowly spins round in circles. "Is Ryan right?" Spencer asks, after a minute. "Are you flaking out on us?"

Brendon shakes his head. "No," he says. "I want this more than anything. You have no idea."

"Then, why-"

"I-" Brendon has spent sixteen years not telling his friends things. He's spent sixteen years not having friends to tell. His parents think he trusts too easily and that's why he keeps getting hurt and maybe that's true, but he's here and he's got a chance and he's screwing it up. "Are we friends?" Brendon asks finally, and that's not the question he was going to ask. It really isn't, because he doesn't want to know if the answer doesn't go in his favor.

"Brendon," Spencer says, patiently, and Brendon is holding on to his coke can really tightly, "are you a complete fucking idiot?"

"Pretty much," Brendon says, but he still doesn't know the answer. "Are we, though?"

Spencer stops spinning, feet flat on the ground to stop the movement. "Yes," he says finally. "Just in case you hadn't gotten it, you know, asking you to be in our band and keeping you around and shit. Yeah."

"Right," Brendon says, and he lies back against the slide, staring up at the sky. The next thing he knows, Spencer's standing over him, bending down and shaking him by the ankle.

"You really didn't know?"

Brendon shakes his head. "Sometimes I trust the wrong people."

"We're not the wrong people," Spencer tells him. "You want to tell me why you've been skipping out on us?"

Brendon shrugs awkwardly. "You want to go on the swings?"

Spencer stares at him. "Sure," he says, and they sit on the swings and finish their cans of coke and then they put the cans on the floor and start to swing for real, racing each other. "I can't get a ride," Brendon says, after a while. "My mom and dad won't let me have the car anymore. And I can't come out unless I've done my homework. They're freaking out," he admits, "they're freaking out because I don't want to be a Mormon anymore. Because I don't want to go to church and live by those rules anymore. Because they don't know what's making me want that, because they're scared. They're freaking out and I hate seeing them this upset with me," Brendon says, and he's not sure Spencer's catching it all because they're swinging past each other and there's an evening breeze. "Because there's all this stuff that's going on and it's hard," Brendon says, "it's hard and I didn't know if you guys were my friends."

Spencer's stuttering his swing to a stop, feet scuffing at the ground. He's wedged pretty tightly into the swing seat, thighs pressed up against the ropes. Brendon fits easier, because he's so skinny. Spencer stands up and catches hold of Brendon's swing and Brendon stops, looking down.

"I'm screwing everything up," he says miserably.

"I can give you a ride," Spencer says. "Or Ryan. Or Brent. We can give you a ride."

"Yeah?" Brendon says, looking up. Spencer's stood over him, pushing his hair behind his ear. He's looking fiercer than Brendon imagined, and Brendon can't help but think Spencer's angry with him. "I'm sorry," he says, dully. "If you want to find someone else, then-"

"You're such a dumbass," Spencer says, and he's still got a hold of Brendon's swing, sliding his hand down the rope until his fingers brush Brendon's. "We don't want anyone else."

Brendon shrugs his shoulders again, awkwardly. "Thanks," he says, and he means it, because he's Brendon Urie and for the first time in his whole entire life, he has friends.

~*~

 

On days when Brendon can't get the car, one of them comes and picks him up for practice. If it's Brent then it's just like being in class - they talk about music and rock bands and the albums Brendon tries to listen to when he can. It's hard for Brendon because it's not like he's had friends to talk to about this sort of stuff, and his parents don't just have the collected works of Pink Floyd lying around, because, you know, Mormons. So Brent plays him rock bands and Blink-182 and for the first time, Brendon doesn't have to listen to it under the cover of darkness with his headphones on. They play it loudly and Brendon plays air guitar and they sing along and it's good.

With Ryan, they talk about other stuff, about lyrics and the way the music's going and everything in between. They don't talk about Ryan's dad, but somehow Brendon kind of figures out their difficult relationship. Sometimes Brendon gets uneasy because he kind of thinks that Ryan's pretty, which is okay because for a lot of the time Ryan looks quite a lot like a girl. Sometimes though, sometimes Brendon finds Ryan pretty when he's not looking quite so much like a girl and that makes him feel uncomfortable. It's not something he wants to think too much about.

~*~

 

It's inevitable that his parents find out exactly what it is that he's up to. Some of the kids from church go to high school with Brendon (Brendon sometimes nods at them in the hallways and sometimes they nod back) and anyone who knows Brent knows that he's in a band. People find out, and then they tell their parents and then one day his dad comes home and sits Brendon down. They're mad, firstly because Brendon's lied to them for months (Brendon's pretty miserable about that. He told his parents his friends played music. It wasn't a lie, so much, not really) and secondly, because they think that being in the band is the reason Brendon's given up the church. They're angry and upset and somehow they've got this idea in their heads that Brendon's off wearing make up and singing for strippers.

(Ryan has maybe let them mess around like, once or twice with eyeliner. And the stripper was Spencer's next door neighbor and she brought them round some jugs of lemonade one hot Sunday when they were practicing in Spencer's garage.)

Brendon hates school, he really does.

He keeps the arguments to himself, partly because arguing with his parents and his brothers and sisters is totally lame, but also because he knows that this is risking his place in the band and the band means a whole lot to him. He doesn't want Spencer and Brent to laugh at him, or for Ryan to shake his head. So he keeps on at it, doing his school work and smiling at kids in the corridors and trying to make friends with the kids he sits next to in class. Actually having friends doesn't seem to have made Brendon any less eager for other ones. He keeps telling himself that he should be happy with what he's got, but Brendon's never satisfied. It's worse, maybe, because now he knows he can be a good friend. Yeah, he bickers with Ryan and Brendon can be kind of bitchy (but only under his breath) and yes, Brent annoys him sometimes because he wants to talk to Brendon about all this stuff, this future stuff, like college and jobs and growing up and Brendon doesn't want that. He just wants music, and he can't understand why Brent doesn't want it as much as he does. He knows that Spencer gets frustrated with him too, because Spencer's not always good at keeping his frustrations in check. Spencer rolls his eyes or hits the living shit out of his drum kit - which is good for the band even if it does tend to make Brendon wince. Sometimes he says, for fuck's sake, Brendon.

So yeah, Brendon knows he's not, like, the perfect person or anything but he does know he can be a good friend. Not anyone's best friend (Brendon's always secretly wanted a best friend. He thinks that would be pretty amazing); not like Ryan and Spencer. Anyway, he makes good pancakes and can totally listen to people's problems and people should be lining up to be friends with him.

Brendon thinks that maybe always wanting more is a bad thing.

~*~

 

He knows he should be pretty tentative with the whole invasion of personal space thing. He knows that it's a big turn off for some people and the last thing he wants to do is mess this up by getting into their space when they don't like it. It's just, he can't help it. He touches their shoulders and tucks his toes under their thighs and fights for piggy back rides and it's like he just can't stop. He read about this scientific research about the importance of a hug a day or something and he's got a lot of days to catch up on. Sometimes they grin at him and let him hang off them but sometimes he thinks that maybe they get annoyed with him - maybe Brent more than the others - but he still can't stop himself.

It isn't like Brendon likes Spencer better than the rest of them. He doesn't. He sort of idolizes Ryan, if he's honest with himself, and Brent changed Brendon's life. Brendon's never going to forget that. Spencer though, Spencer's friendship is kind of amazing. He can't even-. No. Spencer stays awake at sleepovers with him when Brendon doesn't want to go to sleep. Spencer drives him home sometimes and if they've got time to kill, Spencer will pull over and maybe buy Brendon a smoothie or a piece of pie and Brendon will make funny faces as they eat and Spencer will poke him in the arm to make him stop. Sometimes, Brendon thinks, on the days when Spencer's taking him home, they finish up practicing a little early so that there's a bit of extra time before Brendon's curfew.

Brendon kind of thinks he must be imagining that.

He has to pretty much promise his soul to the Latter Day Saints to be allowed to go to sleepovers. His parents keep wanting more and more in return; not satisfied with chores, they make him meet with their bishop. Brendon sort of wants to say no, but he can't, not yet. He loves his parents and they love him, but they just can't find any middle ground at the moment.

Brendon's determined - just like he's been about everything else in his life - that this is going to work out. So he makes whatever concessions necessary and turns up at Spencer's with a bag with his pajamas in and his guitar. They stay up late eating junk food but Brendon can't have too much sugar without turning into the energizer bunny and annoying everyone else. He ends up unable to stay still, chattering away and keeping everyone awake. Finally, Ryan says, "If you don't shut him up, I'm going to have to kill him. Don't make me kill our lead singer, Spence."

Spencer ruffles Ryan's hair affectionately and Spencer and Brendon end up in the den, on the couch. Spencer puts the TV on really quietly and pulls a blanket over their knees. He lets Brendon rest his head on Spencer's shoulder as he chatters. It's nice, Brendon thinks, to have Spencer. He tells Spencer this and Spencer listens to him - or at least he pretends to - but Brendon's five minutes into a conversation about The O.C. before he realizes that Spencer's got his hand curled around Brendon's, on top of the blanket.

"Spence?" he asks, sitting up.

"Yeah?" Spencer says, steadily.

Brendon looks down at their hands, fingers entwined. It's nice, so he just says, "Nothing," and doesn't let go.

"Right," Spencer says, and changes the channel. Family Guy is on and Brendon's never really seen Family Guy. He laughs too loudly and too long and all he can think about is Spencer's hand in his. He can't stop his foot from jiggling and finally, Spencer curls his ankle over Brendon's. "Shh," Spencer says, and Brendon rests his head against Spencer's shoulder again.

Later, Brendon thinks he must have imagined the touch of Spencer's mouth against his hair.

He really doesn't let himself think about Spencer too much. He's concentrating on what's going on at home, the arguments and the begging. Brendon loves his parents so much but he's not giving up his band. He's not going back to the church. He wants his parents and he wants his band and he wants his friends; he wants it all. He doesn't think it's too much to ask. He knows his parents are trying; they're praying for him and they're upset that he's moved so far away from the Lord. They've got to blame someone for that and it hurts them to blame Brendon: they blame Ryan and Spencer and Brent. Brendon's inherently honest (not telling his parents about the band was the exception, not the rule) and so he stands up for them. It doesn't make their relationship any easier.

~*~

 

Brendon's concentrating less at practice and he's forgetting the words and forgetting the changes they made the last time they played. Brent's frustrated but only because he hates going over and over the same thing. Spencer's bored and pissed at him but Ryan lets loose and Brendon just has to put up with being shouted at when Ryan calls him an idiot and a dumb fuck.

Thing is, he's not exactly wrong and Brendon wants to do better, but there isn't a part of his life that's going right and everyone, everywhere is shouting at him. School isn't much better because he's not concentrating in class. His grades are going down and his parents are quick to use this against him, to blame the band. His parents have been in to see the principal to request that he doesn't have any classes with Brent anymore.

It's the last straw and when Spencer comes to pick him up on Saturday, Brendon says, "Can we? Can we, just, not, today?"

Spencer looks at him for a moment. Then he pulls out his phone and makes a call. Brendon can hear Ryan sounding cranky at the other end and he holds his hands in his lap and tries not to fidget too much.

"What do you want to do?" Spencer asks once he's put his cellphone away, hands on the steering wheel.

Brendon shrugs and says, "Lets go to the mall."

The mall is busy and full of people. They look in the windows of the department store for a bit and Spencer takes him to look at a pair of sneakers he's fallen in love with. Brendon tries them on even though he can't afford them and doesn't much like the color. "I need a job," Brendon says, as Spencer leans over and laces up the sneakers for him. "I really need a job."

"Okay," Spencer says, and they sit in the food court and eat fries while Brendon fills in application forms for the jeans store and the Smoothie Hut and the Sunglasses Emporium. Brendon secretly wants the sunglasses one because he wants an employee discount. None of the stores look particularly enamored at the idea of working with Brendon, though.

Spencer waits in line to buy them cappuccinos with chocolate sprinkles while Brendon sits outside, under the fake palms by the elevators. "We might need to shift practice around," Brendon says when he comes over, thinking of the weekend hours.

"You maybe want to tell me what's going on?" Spencer says, after a pause.

Brendon shrugs. He's trying so hard to keep it together that his face aches from smiling too much. His skin feels jittery. "I think I need to find a place," Brendon starts. "Yeah, a place of my own."

Spencer's expression doesn't flicker. "You alright?" he asks.

Brendon nods and takes a gulp of his coffee. "Uh-huh," he says, and he knows he has froth on his lip. He licks at it. "Yeah."

"Okay," Spencer says. Brendon thinks that maybe Spencer doesn't believe him, which is stupid since Brendon's been pretending to be okay for years now and is really pretty good at it.

"How are you going to pay for it?" Spencer asks. Spencer's practical like that.

Brendon tears at his napkin. He loves coffee but it makes him extra-jittery. He can feel his legs shaking. Normally Spencer clamps his hand down on Brendon's knee and tells him to stop - especially as he's making the table shake and their coffees spill - but Spencer isn't saying anything, just watching him carefully. "College fund," Brendon says. "My grandma left me some money. That'll be enough for a while. And -" he waves at the mall, hand over his shoulder, "I'm getting a job. And, well, we're going to make it, so." He nods.

Spencer swallows hard. Then, all of a sudden, he's curling his hand over Brendon's, right there in the food court. "You're one of the bravest people I've ever met," he says, and Brendon can't help but think that Spencer knows Ryan, so. That's got to mean a lot.

Brendon shakes his head, trying to pull away. The way Spencer's looking at him makes him feel like he's seeing inside of him. "No-" he starts.

Spencer tightens his grip on Brendon's hand. "Yeah," he says. "You are. I've got savings too," he says. "I could help you out with the security deposit. You can pay me back when we're rich and famous."

Brendon holds on to Spencer's hand, ducks his head and tries not to cry.

~*~

Finding an apartment doesn't happen easily. They look at places and either they're too expensive or the landlord won't rent to a kid who's a couple of months off seventeen (almost there, really), or still in school, or both.

Brendon's a coward; he gets Spencer to tell Ryan and Brent what's going on rather than doing it himself. Ryan is still itching to get some practice in with the band but at least he's stopped yelling at Brendon so much for being a dick. A couple of times, all four of them go to look for a place for Brendon, but it doesn't work out. Four teenagers coming in - Brent tapping his foot and Ryan picking at the wallpaper and Brendon grinning everywhere and Spencer asking difficult questions - it's not going to work out for Brendon this way.

"I can do it on my own," Brendon says, brightly, although inside he kind of wants to hide under the blankets and cry. He's not sure he's ready to be a grown up yet.

"Don't be stupid," Spencer says, and he leans over to the back seat, to where Ryan and Brent are poking each other in the thigh. "You guys aren't coming along anymore."

They both nod. "Fine."

Spencer nods back. "We'll just meet you after."

It goes better when it's just Spencer and Brendon. After the first time, when Brendon nodded and bounced because he was nervous, Spencer takes over. They get to this apartment—it's barely an apartment, really, it's a room with a window frame that doesn't quite fit and no air conditioning; a room with an oven and a tiny counter-top fridge and a bed and a sagging couch. Spencer eyes the mattress with something bordering on distaste, but when Brendon starts to speak, Spencer butts in.

"You haven't shown us the bathroom," he says, because there's only the one door in the apartment and it's the one they just came in by. Brendon hadn't even noticed before Spencer pointed it out, too busy running his hand across the counter top and staring out of the window to the street down below. This apartment is barely in his price range and it's pretty much a dump.

The woman showing them round shakes her head. "It's down the hallway. That's accounted for in the price." Brendon thinks that she probably wants to be anywhere but here, too.

Spencer starts to shake his head, to start to say no, but Brendon stops him with a hand to his elbow. "Will you show me?" he says, and he tells himself that sharing a bathroom won't be so bad. He does it at home, after all, when his brothers and sisters are home.

"This place doesn't have it's own bathroom," Spencer says in an undertone, as they follow her down the hall. There's another three apartments on the same floor and they all share the one bathroom at the end of the hall. "That's gross."

Brendon can't look at Spencer's face because it shows just what he thinks of this place, but he needs somewhere to live, and this one looks as if he can both afford it and like it isn't infested with roaches. And like they might be willing to rent it to him, which is more than the other places they'd looked at.

His shoulders are tight. "It's okay," he says. The bathroom is okay. He can do this. People share bathrooms at college sometimes, right? He's just doing it earlier. "Spencer," he says, when he catches Spencer staring at the brown fittings in horror. "Please."

Spencer looks at him for a long moment. "Okay," he says, and he turns back to the woman, who's picking at her fingernails and leaning against the doorjamb. "So," he says, "what are the terms?"

Brendon taps out a rhythm against the wallpaper. His own place.

It's Spencer who gets his checkbook out to pay the security deposit, effectively shutting Brendon up with a hand around his wrist. "Let me get this," he says, "pay me back when you're settled," and God, Brendon hates being indebted to people but a deposit on top of the rent would have wiped him out this month. He had an interview at the Smoothie Hut earlier in the week, and the guy was bored and indifferent but said he'd be in touch. Brendon's not holding out much hope, but he's filled in an application for the movie theater, and for the shop that sells garden stuff down the block from Brent's house.

The woman takes Spencer's security check and Brendon's rent check and she says, "no loud noise after eleven on weeknights, no parties." Then, "I hope you boys will be happy here."

Spencer makes a move to say something, blushing pink, but Brendon's grinning so much at the idea of his own apartment - his own apartment - that he just slings his arm around Spencer's shoulder and presses a kiss to Spencer's cheek.

Spencer rolls his eyes and pushes him away, but he's bright red and even Brendon's face feels hot now. The woman just gives them both a set of keys and leaves them to it.

"So then," Brendon says, sitting down on the couch and patting the seat beside him. "You're my gay boyfriend now?"

"I have keys," Spencer says, waving them in Brendon's face. "I can come and go whenever I want." He doesn't look too enamored of the couch, sitting gingerly on the edge, but Brendon's enthusiasm is infectious and Spencer starts to laugh.

"I have an apartment," Brendon says, after a minute, leaning back.

Spencer turns back to face him. "You do," he says. "When do you want to move in?"

Brendon thinks about his mom and his dad and his brothers and his sisters. He wonders if there will be any coming back from this, any way he can go home and have Sunday lunch with his mom, or if there's any way they can have Thanksgiving together. He really doesn't want this to be the end of his relationship with his parents or his siblings. He's doing this because he doesn't know what else to do; because he's tenacious and desperate and he's responsible for all of the arguments that have been going on at home. He's been making his mom cry and he has to hear his dad beg him not to do this anymore. Brendon isn't ever going to be able to forget how that feels. He can't make this better. "Pretty much now," he says.

Spencer watches him for a long time before he nods. "Okay," he says.

~*~

 

The first night Brendon spends in his new apartment is the loneliest night he's ever spent in his whole entire life.

He keeps going over and over the arguments with his parents, the shouting and the tears and Brendon crying his eyes out as he stuffed his clothes and his schoolbooks into bags. His mom had barricaded herself in her bedroom and his dad had been shouting at him, standing in Brendon's doorway and yelling. His eyes had been red too and Brendon had worried about how it could have got this far, about whether he was doing the right thing and whether he really should go back to the way of the Lord and his parents.

Spencer and Ryan and Brent had come over to help him move and his dad hadn't let them in the house. They stood on the street, leaning up against Brent's car and Spencer's car and every time Brendon appeared at the doorway, one of them came over and took a bag full of sheet music or t-shirts or shoes, piling it into the trunk of one of their cars.

None of them said anything about the fact Brendon hadn't been able to stop crying.

Brendon's mom had come out of her room as Brendon had just finished up with the last of it, looking round his childhood room and wiping his eyes on the hem of his t-shirt. "Do you -" she started, crying.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Brendon managed, and then they were hugging, Brendon's nose pushed up against her ear, and Brendon secretly thought that if he let go now he might just die. "I love you," he said, and his fingers pressed into her clothes, holding her close.

"We love you, so much," his mom tells him. "Please, just stay, you don't need to do this, it's not too late, please, Brendon-"

Brendon had remembered the arguments; how they made him feel, and how it tore him up inside to have to choose. "I can't -" he said, and he meant it. "I'm not going to change. I can't be who you want me to be, Mom-" but he wanted to, he wanted to so much, just like he wanted people to like him and he wanted his band to make it and he wanted Spencer to be his best friend. And it had taken his dad to pull his mom away, to hold Brendon's arm so tight that it was going to bruise, to look him in the eye and say, son- in this ragged voice that Brendon didn't think he'd ever forget.

Brendon had run out of the house and he'd pushed past the others and into the passenger seat of Spencer's car and then Spencer had just climbed in beside him and driven. He didn't know if Brent and Ryan were following because he was too busy blinking down at his lap and trying to get a handle on his breathing.

At the stop sign, Spencer had leaned over and taken Brendon's hand in his, squeezing. "Hey," he said, and Brendon had looked up at him. His glasses were grimy with tears. "Here," Spencer said, leaning over to the glove box. There was a packet of tissues, and he dropped them into Brendon's lap. "Here."

They'd stopped in the parking lot by the public library while Brendon fumbled with his glasses and the Kleenex.

"I've got your guitar," Spencer said, after a minute. Brendon had left it in Spencer's garage the night before. "It's on the back seat."

Brendon hung over the front seat and touched at his guitar case. There were other boxes on his back seat too, things that Brendon didn't recognize. When he opened them he found things that Spencer had bought when he was out with his mom, things that Brendon would need and wouldn't be able to take from home. There was a toaster and some knives and forks and a couple of pans and some glasses and a couple of mugs. There were bags from the grocery store with hot chocolate and cereal and packets of pasta.

Brendon hadn't been able to speak. "Spence-" he managed, and he was all choked up. "Spencer Smith."

Spencer ducked his head and went red. "Housewarming present," he said, not looking at Brendon.

"Spencer Smith," Brendon said again, wide-eyed. "Spencer."

"Yeah," Spencer said, softly, and started the engine.

Brent and Ryan were waiting for them on the sidewalk outside Brendon's new apartment building. Ryan pulled Brendon into a clumsy hug, all elbows and points. Brendon closed his eyes and swallowed, and Brent patted him awkwardly on the back.

"Come on," Brendon said, after a moment, pulling away and wiping his face. He forced a smile, Spencer's hand in the small of his back. "Let's get this stuff inside."

They didn't really help him unpack. Ryan and Brent tried to be helpful but Brent kept flicking through Brendon's comic books, and Ryan looked through his sheet music and Brendon couldn't stop moving, hopping around the room and spinning round and tripping over his feet. The hard work had fallen to Spencer, who carefully unpacked bags and refolded clothes back into them, because Brendon didn't have a closet or shelves or anything. "So," Spencer had said, pointing along the wall. "That bag is t-shirts, that one is pants, I'm not saying anything about your Spiderman underwear, but they're in that bag, shoes over there-"

Brendon sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. He hadn't got any sheets but he had a balled up coat for a pillow and his sleeping bag.

Ryan had stopped going through Brendon's music and came over, climbing on to the bed and putting an arm around Brendon's shoulders.

Brent nudged Brendon's knee with his own. "Your own place, man," he said, and Brendon had tried to smile. He managed pretty well, he thinks.

Spencer nodded at him, softly.

After they'd gone, Ryan and Brent tumbling noisily out of the door at quarter to eleven, Spencer had hung around. "I can, you know, stay if you want me to," he offered, awkwardly. "If you don't want to be on your own."

Brendon had looked around his messy, cramped apartment. He didn't have a pillow or a sheet or anything. There wasn't even a curtain at the window. He was going to have to get used to this, anyway. "It's okay," he said, and he'd plastered a smile on his face, folding his arms around himself. "But thanks."

Spencer watched him for a moment, before leaning in and pressing a kiss to Brendon's temple, ruffling his hair with his fingers. Brendon couldn't help it; he'd leaned into Spencer's hand and then Spencer was hugging him tightly.

"So fucking brave," Spencer whispered, and Brendon had squeezed his eyes tight shut so he wouldn't cry again.

"Yeah yeah," he'd managed, after a moment, and Brendon thinks that maybe his voice had been shaky. "Call me in the morning?" he asked, voice small, berating himself for asking, already pulling away.

"Are you kidding?" Spencer said, pulling away. "I'm coming by for breakfast, man. I'll pick us up something. I'll get Ryan and Brent to come meet us."

Brendon hadn't been able to help it; he pressed forward for another hug, burying his face in Spencer's neck. "I won't forget this," he said, words muffled against Spencer's skin.

"Jeez," Spencer had said, holding on to him just as tightly. "You think we will? All this manual labor? You'll be doing us favours for months."

The apartment seems colder and emptier without his friends and it takes Brendon a long time to fall asleep, jumping at the shadows and the sounds of other people in the building, cars outside and the creak of the pipes. He misses his mom.

~*~

 

Over the next couple of weeks, Ryan brings him over a handful of old posters from magazines, battered My Chemical Romance ones and Blink-182 pictures that they pin up around the room, over the peeling wallpaper and the damp patch in the corner. Brent brings him some pseudo-punk ones, Good Charlotte and Linkin Park. His apartment starts to look like it's his.

Brendon thinks they all noticed that he didn't have sheets and blankets and furniture. Brent brings him a slightly faded matching set of covers, looking embarrassed as he hands over the bulging bag.

"I asked my mom," he says, awkwardly. "She thought you might like these." There are some dishcloths in there too, a tablecloth (Brendon says thanks, even though he hasn't got a table) and a recipe book called 'Quick and Easy'. "It's dumb, I know," Brent says, but Brendon just launches himself onto Brent's back and kicks over a pile of sheet music as he does so.

Ryan leans on his door, kicking at it with his foot. He'd brought a chest of drawers, just a small set, but drawers nonetheless, and lugged them up three flights of stairs to get it to Brendon's apartment. "It was in the guest bedroom," he explains, shrugging his shoulders and refusing to meet Brendon's eyes. Brendon lets Spencer put his clothes in it - partly because Brendon knows that Spencer likes doing that sort of thing, and partly because he can't bring himself to let go of Ryan. Ryan just ducks his head and lets Brendon hang off him.

It's Spencer who does all the hard work. Every time he turns up, he's brought something with him - packets of Kraft mac and cheese, a couple of plates, a pack of pillows, an old coffee table, a kettle that looks suspiciously new. Brendon isn't quite sure he'll ever be able to look Spencer's mom in the eye, because there's a card too, a welcome to your new home card that Spencer's mom and dad have sent, including a 'call us at any time of the day or night if you need to' message that makes Brendon sit down and press the heels of his hands to his eyes.

Spencer turns up with bags of groceries, that first month, and yeah, Brendon hates being indebted to people but he's just, well, he hasn't got any money. He's started working at the Smoothie Hut, but he hasn't been paid yet, and he needs things for his apartment and food costs more than he thought it would. Next month, he thinks, next month I won't accept them.

But Spencer turns up and he puts the groceries away and makes them sandwiches and they sit on the couch and put on music.

~*~

 

The best thing, Brendon thinks, is when all three of them show up at his door bearing a box covered in curled ribbons. Brendon's so taken with the ribbons—"Did you guys do this?" - and pulling them off and sticking them first behind Ryan's ear, then Brent's, then his own, then Spencer's - that he doesn't pay attention to what it is the ribbons are covering.

"Brendon," Ryan says, "this isn't exactly light, you know."

"Uh, what?" and then Brendon looks down and it's a TV-DVD combo and it's new and they've clubbed together and bought it for him as a moving-in present.

"Oh my god," Brendon says, and promptly sits down on the floor. Spencer rolls his eyes and steps over him, holding the box up high over Brendon's head as Brent and Ryan swear a lot and shuffle awkwardly past him. "You guys," Brendon manages, after a minute.

"Yeah, whatever," Ryan says, cutting him off. "Are you going to get off your ass and plug this thing in? We've got Star Wars."

Brent waves the DVD helpfully in Brendon's direction.

There isn't room for them all on the couch, not really, so Brent lies on the bed and Ryan takes one corner of the sofa and Spencer the other. Brendon clambers over them both and ends up with his head on Ryan's shoulder and his hand in Spencer's lap. He tries not to notice when Spencer's fingers lace with his, fifteen minutes in.

Ryan ends up staying over pretty often. He doesn't really talk about what's going on at home, apart from maybe with Spencer, but sometimes Ryan needs a place to stay and Brendon just opens up the door and lets Ryan in and talks to him about Blink-182 and the cost of Capri-Suns and how the water in the shower is always cold if he gets up late and doesn't get down the hall until after seven. Ryan doesn't always say much back, just rolling out the sleeping bag on the couch, or occasionally pulling back the comforter on Brendon's bed and clambering in and facing the wall.

Sometimes he makes himself a drink or makes toast and offers a piece to Brendon. Brendon's got Brent's old playstation now, old-school Crash Bandicoot and Grand Theft Auto discs on the floor by the TV. Brendon knows that if people ask if he's okay, he can't answer without lying, so he doesn't ever ask Ryan. Sometimes he just rests his head on Ryan's shoulder or lets Ryan lean into him, feet up on the seat. A lot of the time though, Ryan crashes with his girlfriend, one of a series of vaguely similar scene kids who capture Ryan's imagination and his time and his energy. Then Spencer turns up at his door, handing over a bag with Chinese food or chips and a pile of DVDs, and Brendon beams.

Sometimes Spencer will come over just to do his homework, taking up half of Brendon's rickety table (Brendon had found it at the junk shop, a tiny table with two chairs. They didn't match and they'd had to put an old copy of Rolling Stone under one leg so it didn't wobble, but it was a table and it was Brendon's and he'd bought it himself) with his schoolbooks. They put on CDs and Brendon does his math homework or his English paper and chews on the end of his pen as Spencer carefully writes out his World Civilizations assignment.

Spencer makes hot chocolate when Brendon gets tired and stays while Brendon goes down the hall to take a shower, coming back damp and sleepy and in his pajamas. Spencer does the dishes and tidies up Brendon's school books and waits on the couch for Brendon to come back. Brendon drops his damp towels onto the floor by the door and curls up next to Spencer on the couch, crawling under Spencer's arm and resting his head on Spencer's shoulder. They watch TV and Brendon tries not to fall asleep. With school and the band and his shifts at the Smoothie Hut and doing his laundry and shopping and cleaning and remembering to pay the bills, Brendon is always tired. He doesn't always sleep well when he's by himself.

There's a photo of Brendon's family in a frame on the windowsill. He rings them, sometimes, just to say hey. The conversations are stilted and difficult, Brendon cold and lonely and missing them like crazy. His mom tells him about his brothers and sisters, about what the bishop had said at the service on Sunday, then she trails to a halt as Brendon tries to catch his breath. Sometimes, he thinks it would just be easier if he didn't call, easier on them all. After he's called, his chest always feels tight and he curls up on his bed, staring up at the ceiling and wanting to go home.

Ryan keeps talking about getting some demos recorded, but they all need to put money in and the only way Brendon can afford to contribute is if he pulls extra shifts at the Smoothie Hut and cuts back even more than he is doing with groceries. He does it without complaining, even though he wants to buy a microwave and he's living off pasta and ramen.

Spencer brings him leftovers in Tupperware containers, things he can warm up in a pan and have when he gets in late. Brendon loves Spencer's parents.

~*~

 

Spencer's big School Dance is coming up, and he talks Brendon's ear off one night, complaining about how even Ryan was going, and it wasn't even his school. Ryan was taking some girl from Spencer's class - Brendon can't remember her name, but he's tired and it's not like he's ever been to a school dance. He's not exactly cutting it on the friends front at school, no matter how many times he tries to make conversation with the kids he sits next to.

"Who are you taking?" Brendon asks finally. He's hungry and he's tired, but he only has a couple of slices of bread left and he wants them for breakfast. He gets paid at the end of the week. He's going straight to the grocery store, if he can get Spencer or Ryan or Brent to drive him. He's getting tired of ramen.

Spencer shrugs. "I don't even want to go," he tells Brendon, turning the volume up on the TV.

"Why not?" Brendon asks. He'd love to go to a dance. It'd be pretty amazing, and he thinks he'd be a really cool date. He'd dance and he'd bring her drinks and he'd even match her dress. He'd be polite to parents and he'd be cute and funny and girls should be lining up around the block to go with him. He doesn't think there are any girls at school that even know his name.

Spencer shrugs again, toeing off his vans and hanging his legs over the side of the couch, shuffling so he was leaning against Brendon. They're watching American Dad reruns. "I dunno," he says. "No one I want to go with, I guess."

"I'd be a really cool date," Brendon says, wistfully. He's playing with Spencer's hair, carding his fingers through the longer bits.

"Yeah?" Spencer says, shifting so he's lying with his head in Brendon's lap. He's got Brendon's shirt between his thumb and forefinger.

Brendon pushes his glasses up his nose with one finger. "Sure I would," he says, smoothing Spencer's hair back behind his ear. "Girls will be lining up for us soon, just you wait, Spence."

"Yeah," Spencer says, quietly. He catches Brendon's hand, lacing their fingers together.

"Yeah," Brendon says, equally quietly. He doesn't let go.

~*~

 

Ryan drags Brendon along with him when they go shopping for clothes for the dance. His date's name is Andrea, someone he and Spencer have known since they were kids. Spencer's asked her friend - Elizabeth, Ryan says - but whenever Brendon brings it up Spencer just goes red and ducks his head. "I am not taking Spencer shopping," Ryan tells Brendon, as they wander in and out of the music stores in the mall. "I only have three hours," he says, checking Brendon's watch, "and that isn't enough time for Spencer to try on every pair of shoes here. So you'll have to do."

"Thanks," Brendon says, trailing after Ryan.

It's fun, though. Ryan is bitchy and smart and quick and he's got spectacularly weird taste in clothes. Brendon ends up with armfuls of colored vests and tapered trousers and accessories, and he stands outside the fitting rooms and just hands Ryan clothes whenever Ryan sticks a hand out. Brendon has, like, no boredom threshold whatsoever, so he ends up wandering around and picking up t-shirts from the junior section and finding a Transformers t-shirt that says ages 9-10 but Brendon likes it, so. He also finds a girl's hoodie he just can't put down, a lavender one with pockets. Brendon loves it and he ends up trying it on with a red belt that matches his glasses.

"Do you like?" he asks Ryan, who's modeling a pin stripe suit that looks like someone's grandad used to wear it.

"You're an idiot, Urie," Ryan says, smoothing imaginary fluff off his sleeves.

"But?"

"Yeah," Ryan says, "it's on sale. You should totally get the hoodie."

Brendon can't really afford the belt and the t-shirt too, so he puts them back and buys the hoodie, and rolls his eyes when Ryan buys a vest to go with his pin striped suit.

~*~

 

Spencer calls him, like, thirty times the day of the dance, being grumpy. "I don't want to go," he tells Brendon, who is in the grocery store trying to choose between fine and medium egg noodles.

"Shut up," Brendon says. "Of course you do. Think how hot you're gonna look. The girls are going to love you." Medium, he thinks, and drops the noodles into his basket.

~*~

 

"I'm gonna look stupid," Spencer says the next time Brendon picks up, just before his shift starts at the Smoothie Hut. "I'm gonna look really stupid and everyone's going to laugh."

"They won't," Brendon says, pinning his name tag to his shirt. Last week the supervisor bitched him out because his shirt wasn't ironed. Brendon doesn't own an iron, but he tried really hard to smooth the creases out this week. "And if they do I'll kick their stupid asses. Those new shoes are amazing."

There's a long silence. Then, "They are, aren't they?"

Brendon rolls his eyes and hangs up.

~*~

 

"What if she stands me up?" Spencer asks, when Brendon returns one of the seven missed calls he's had between starting work and his break. He's half way through a cheese sandwich.

"Then I'll hunt her down and kill her myself," Brendon tells him.

"Okay," Spencer says, and Brendon goes back to eating his sandwich.

~*~

 

"Oh God I'm doing this, I'm really doing this," Brendon's voicemail tells him, once he's finished work. Brendon texts Spencer, Loser xoxo.

~*~

 

Brendon gets home and he does his Geometry homework and cooks himself pizza. The oven isn't really reliable so he ends up with half of it crispy and brown and the other half slightly squishy, but he folds up his clean laundry and eats the pizza and takes his sneakers off and wiggles his toes. He kind of dozes off in front of The Simpsons and he's woken up by the sound of his cellphone. "Hey?" he says, seeing Spencer's name on the screen.

"Hey," Spencer says. Brendon looks at his watch - almost midnight. He'd meant to go to bed early.

"How'd it go?" Brendon asks.

"Yeah, good, yeah," Spencer tells him. "Look. Can I come over? I'll bring us food."

Brendon rubs his eyes. "Sure," he says, "yeah."

He changes out of his Smoothie Hut uniform into plaid pajama bottoms and a red t-shirt. He stuffs his uniform into his laundry basket and turns off the television, picking out a CD and turning it down low so that the neighbors won't complain. He flicks through a couple of magazines Brent had passed over, and waits for Spencer to turn up.

Spencer brings donuts and hot chocolate and bags of marshmallows, sweeping the magazines and trash off Brendon's coffee table and onto the floor to make room. "Hey," he says, standing up. He loosens his bow tie and unpins it, leaving it hanging around his neck.

"Hey," Brendon says, and he feels, well, twitchy. "How was it?"

"Good," Spencer says, running his fingers through his hair and nodding.

"Yeah?" Brendon smiles. "Worrying for nothing then? I don't need to go out and kick anybody's ass?" He pulls open the bag of marshmallows and starts scooping them into his hot chocolate, watching them melt.

Spencer smiles back, taking off his jacket and sitting down on the edge of the couch and undoing his shoelaces. "No ass-kicking required."

"You're a god," Brendon tells him, after the first gulp of hot chocolate. He's got marshmallow running down his chin, but he can't be bothered to wipe it off.

"Yeah, well." Spencer points at Brendon's sticky chin. "You're disgusting."

Brendon sticks his tongue out, and Spencer shakes his head in mock-horror.

Sometimes Brendon hates how much of a girl he is. He wants to know all about the dance. He wants to know what Spencer's date wore and whether Spencer danced with her and if they kissed and what it was like - to dance, not to kiss. He knows he's the only guy in the history of the world who has gotten to his seventeenth birthday without being kissed, but he can kind of live with that. He's got friends now. Kissing can wait. He's never danced with anyone and he wants to. He wants to hold hands and stand under stupid disco balls and dance to stupid music and go to a stupid school dance. He wants someone to want to go with him, to drink punch out of plastic cups and for there to be teachers stood by the doors looking long-suffering.

It's only when Brendon looks up that he realizes he's said it all out loud. He shrugs, awkwardly. "I've never been to a dance," he says, after a moment.

"They're not all they're cracked up to be," Spencer tells him. "Move over." He's pulling his shirt out of his pants, undoing his belt and sliding it off. He looks more comfortable like this, Brendon thinks, and then Spencer leans up against the other end of the couch and nudges his feet in between Brendon's so that they're facing each other. "I'd have had a lot more fun if you were there," Spencer says, eventually.

Brendon licks at his donut. His mom used to flick him with a towel whenever she saw him do it, telling him that it was disgusting. It kind of was, but that was why Brendon liked it. "You want to stay?"

"Yeah," Spencer nods, and Brendon passes him another donut. "I'd go with you, you know. To a dance."

Brendon pulls his donut into two pieces, sticking his tongue out to catch the jelly as it spills. He misses and gets it down his t-shirt. "Yeah?" he says. His ankle is pressed up against Spencer's.

"Yeah," Spencer says. He puts his donut down on the edge of the table. There isn't a napkin, but Brendon doesn't care. It saves washing a plate. "Do you want to dance?" Spencer asks, and he's blushing but not ducking his head.

Brendon swallows, shooting a quick look around his messy, untidy apartment. "What, here?"

Spencer shrugs. "Yeah. You said you hadn't, so-" He shrugs again. "Only if you want to."

"Okay."

"Okay?"

Brendon's palms are sweating and he doesn't know why. It's just a dance. He climbs over the back of the couch and starts looking through his CDs, trying to find something better than Dashboard Confessional. He picks out Ella Fitzgerald and skips through the tracks until he finds the one he wants.

When he stands up, Spencer's standing awkwardly by the couch, shirt hanging out. He's pushed the coffee table back against the wall, kicked the playstation discs and the DVDs and the empty plates under Brendon's bed. He pushes his hair behind his ears and holds his hands out.

Brendon wipes his palms on his pajama pants and nudges at the couch with his knee, pushing it back so that there's more room. Okay, he thinks, and puts his arms around Spencer's neck.

Spencer's hands rest uneasily on Brendon's hips. They move awkwardly, shuffling around the floor to the muffled sounds of an early recording, the tired old moon is descending.

"Better or worse music than earlier?" Brendon asks, with an attempt at a grin.

Spencer rolls his eyes. "We danced to Justin Timberlake."

"Ah," Brendon says, trying to look serious. "An all-time classic. Cry Me a River?"

"Got it in one," Spencer says. "I sucked at dancing to it."

"You don't suck now," Brendon tells him. He can't help it, he's carding his fingers through the hair in the nape of Spencer's neck.

Spencer's smiling. "No?"

Brendon shakes his head and smoothes a strand of hair back behind Spencer's ear. "No."

The CD flicks to the next track, Anything Goes. They don't stop dancing, Spencer's hands tightening on his hips. They're moving a bit more now, nudging into the television and the corner of the couch and the edge of the table, dancing across the room in socked feet to Ella Fitzgerald.

"I think I'd like dancing a whole lot more if it was more like this," Spencer says, quietly. He has his cheek pressed up against Brendon's, and he smells faintly like his laundry powder, warm and familiar.

Brendon holds on tighter, Spencer's hands resting in the curve of Brendon's spine. "Dancing with girls is going to be a total letdown after this," he manages, and he feels rather than hears the rumble of Spencer's laughter.

"You're an idiot," Spencer tells him, fondly.

"Says you," Brendon says, softly, but then he's pulling Spencer into a hug and somehow it's still dancing, pressed tightly together and sort of swaying in a circle as the CD plays on.

They pull apart awkwardly after the CD finishes, both blushing red.

"The hot chocolate's gone cold," Spencer says, poking at the cups. Brendon still hasn't got a microwave, but he gets out a pan and they pour both the cups in. Brendon stirs and adds marshmallows while Spencer changes into Brendon's spare pair of pajama bottoms and an oversized Green Day t-shirt.

They share out the warmed hot chocolate and sit on the edge of the bed to drink it. Brendon doesn't get the sleeping bag out and Spencer doesn't say anything. When they've finished, Brendon pulls back the comforter and they both crawl under, switching the lamp off and trying to get comfortable. Spencer's closer to the wall and Brendon rolls into the middle. His hand brushes Spencer's, their little fingers touching. Spencer's on his side, one hand under his cheek.

Spencer leans forward and presses a kiss to Brendon's jaw. "Night," Spencer says, so quietly Brendon can barely hear him.

"Yeah," Brendon says. He touches his fingers to his cheek. "Night."

~*~

 

Brendon wakes up first in the morning. He lies there for a few minutes, listening to the muffled sound of Spencer breathing. He likes it when he has people to stay, likes it when Ryan wakes him up talking in his sleep, likes it when Brent stays in his sleeping bag on the floor, likes it when Ryan refuses the couch and sleeps at the edge of Brendon's bed, rolling over and poking Brendon in the side in the middle of the night. Brendon comes from a large family, and yeah, he's the youngest by a long way, but he's used to noise and people moving around and hearing the murmur of voices down the hallway. It might just have been him and his parents left at the end, but it was still people.

Now sometimes he strains to hear the sounds through the walls, people moving around in the apartment next door or on the floor above. On those days where he doesn't talk to Brent or Spencer or Ryan, on the days where he doesn't work at the Smoothie Hut or have practice, those days he doesn't talk to anyone, Brendon sometimes runs his hands over the peeling paintwork and tries to follow the movement of voices through the wall.

They eat two bowls of cereal each for breakfast, watching cartoons with their feet up on the couch, Spencer kicking at Brendon's ankles.

"Dick," Brendon says, when Spencer finally succeeds at pushing Brendon's feet off the edge of the couch.

Spencer sticks his tongue out, mid-mouthful. He dribbles milk onto Brendon's spare t-shirt.

"You're gross," Brendon points out, not altogether untruthfully, and sticks his tongue out too.

"Says you," Spencer says, and grins.

~*~

 

They're practicing more now. Ryan looks more serious, less inclined to joke around, less willing to put up with Brendon playing the fool. Brendon is tired—so fucking tired, sometimes he can barely dredge up the energy to drag himself out of bed and get to school, let alone put his heart and soul into practice. School is a real draining experience. He has, like, a million sessions scheduled with the Guidance Counselor, who talks to him about the future and how he's doing living away from home. Brendon tries smiling at her, just to see whether it's enough to stop her asking questions, but it seems like Brendon's smile isn't working as well as it has done in the past because she just smiles back at him and repeats the question.

Brendon's just tired. He's worried about the summer, too, when he's going to need to see if he can find a way to make some more cash because without more then he's not going to be able to give Ryan the money for the recording studio and the demo. He's too tired to try and put a cheerful face on it. He fills in application forms for summer jobs, one at the public library and one at the bakery (even though the very idea of crawling out of bed at the crack of dawn is enough to make his smile falter and his shoulders tighten) and one for a landscape surveyor. His dad might be one but Brendon's still not quite sure what a landscape surveyor actually does. Still, the money seems pretty good and Brendon can't afford to not put in an application for something like that.

School is hard. He struggles with his classes and the homework and the assignments and being too tired to concentrate. He's gotten so used to pretending that things are okay that it's practically second nature to plaster a smile on and just carry on like everything's fine. He'd thought that maybe things were going to be different now that he was part of a band; everyone knows that boys in bands had all the girls after them. Brendon had thought it was going to be different once he and Brent were friends. He'd thought that he'd have people to sit with at lunch, people to say hi to in the hallway or maybe even people to sit with in class. He'd thought that maybe Brent's friends would be his friends, too.

It hasn't worked like that. Brent doesn't have the same lunch period as Brendon, for a start, but it's more than that. Brendon tries hanging out with Brent and his friends after school a couple of times, high-fiving Brent and saying hey to the others, dropping his backpack onto the floor and squeezing into the booth next to Brent. Brent's friends aren't Brent though; they seem nice enough and they're polite, and yeah, they'd pushed over the bowl of nachos so that Brendon could help himself, but they hadn't warmed to him, leaving Brent to bridge the gap, maintaining two conversations and trying to smile at Brendon like it's isn't awkward.

The thing is, Brendon just gets louder and stupider as he gets more nervous, and his leg starts jittering and he starts telling Brent stupid jokes that Brent had rolled his eyes at the first time he'd told them, weeks before.

Brendon had tried to join in with Brent's friends' conversations, but it just didn't work. They try, they're nice for Brent's sake, but even Brent doesn't seem the same when he's with them, talking about cars and girls and the party this weekend.

Brendon doesn't give up easy. He stays until the bitter end, smiling at people's jokes and joining in the conversation but when they call it a night, Brendon can tell that they still think he's a tool.

"Are you coming?" Brent says, as they were all leaving, piling into cars to go home, "I could drop you on my way?" and Brent's hand was on Brendon's shoulder, like he could tell how badly it had gone.

"No," Brendon says, brightly, "I'm gonna grab another drink. I'll see you later, right?" He waits until he's sure that they'd all gone, cars pulling out of the parking lot, before he lets his smile fall and drops his forehead to the tabletop.

He doesn't want to cry.

"Do you want anything else?" the server asks, coming by his table. Brendon thinks of his wallet and the money for the recording studio and the contents of his cupboard.

"No," he says, regretfully. "No, I'm just, I'm just going."

At home, after two bus rides and another hour, Brendon sinks face first into his mattress and screws his eyes tight shut. His cellphone buzzes later and Brendon doesn't answer, stuffing his head under his pillow and pretending like he isn't there.

~*~

 

The funny thing is, Spencer and Ryan get on fine with Brent's friends. Spencer and Brent had gone to the same Junior High and share some of the same friends. They all go way back, and none of that includes Brendon.

So when Brent announces he's having a party, Brendon kind of doesn't want to go. He doesn't want Ryan and Spencer to see what kind of loser he is. He umms and ahhs and says he has a shift at the Smoothie Hut (it isn't a lie, Brendon doesn't like to lie, it just finishes at 4pm, that's all).

Ryan just looks at him appraisingly and says, "I'll come by and pick you up. We'll go together."

So Brendon ends up going. He really hates school; he's always tired and never has any money and no one speaks to him and he's taken to hiding out in the library at lunchtimes, in the corner by the window. No one sees him and no one speaks to him and Brendon is beginning to think he likes it like that. Plus, he always has homework to do now, schoolwork he just doesn't have the energy to finish up at home. It sucks; everything sucks.

Brent's pretty excited about his party. His parents have promised not to come back until one in the morning, and quite a few people have said they're going to come, girls included. Brent is all up for that, he loves girls.

Brendon pretends that the party's going to be great but sometimes he catches them looking at him like they know he's lying, and then he thinks that he needs to get more sleep. He is always better at pretending when he isn't tired.

The party is awful. There are tons of kids from school, people who Brendon sees day in and day out, kids who never give him the time of day or act like they even know his name. And Spencer knows them, knocks fists with them, grins and throws back his head and laughs. Brent waves at him, but he's talking to a girl from Brendon's World Civ. class, Rachel, and he doesn't break away to come and say hi. Ryan's all caught up saying hey to people but Brendon doesn't say hi to anyone because no one says hey to him. He gets himself a can of coke from the fridge and escapes to the stairs where he watches the party through the banisters.

Brendon watches Ryan work the room, talking to people and eventually settling with his girlfriend, letting her sit on the windowsill and sliding in between her thighs, kissing her. Brent's disappeared into the den with Rachel, and Brendon thinks that people notice him sitting on the stairs but he's just too tired to care.

Spencer is busy hanging out with his old friends but Brendon sees him look around, trying to catch Ryan's eye. He comes to find Brendon after a while, finding him on the stairs with his forehead pressed against the railings. Spencer sits down on the step below and curves his hand around Brendon's calf.

"I'm just tired," Brendon says, and Spencer nods and doesn't look him in the eye. He doesn't let go of Brendon's leg, leaning in and resting his cheek against Brendon's knee.

~*~

 

He tries sitting with Brent's friends at school a couple of times, putting his lunch tray down at the end of their table and sitting down. He smiles at them, because he knows he's got an awesome smile (his mom always said that he did, and that that was God's gift to him, a beautiful smile; remembering makes him falter, just for a moment). They're not horrible to him but a couple of them look at each other and kind of smirk, and Brendon's left trying to pretend he didn't notice. They lean over the table and one of them says, "So, Brendon, for the yearbook. Who've you got a crush on?"

Brendon thinks about all the girls that will be lining up around the block for him once they're famous, and he thinks about the girls he sees around school. They're all pretty, but they don't know Brendon's name and don't want to, so. He briefly thinks about Spencer, about dancing with him and hugging him, but, yeah. That's Spencer, and doesn't count. Spencer's his friend.

"Me," Brendon says brightly, and the table laughs. Brendon doesn't know whether they're laughing at him or with him, but he thinks that maybe it doesn't matter so much because they're still laughing, right? "Yeah, who wouldn't have a crush on me?" he says, because they're laughing, and something inside of him hurts. He beams at them all, turning on his best smile, because his mom has to be right about something.

He doesn't sit with them again.

~*~

 

The yearbook comes out at the end of the semester and Brendon doesn't even want one. He writes in a couple, kids who he sits next to, who he thought didn't know his name. They write in his too, and afterwards when he looks down, he sees, have a great summer! See you next year! Hope we don't get Ms. Ferguson's English class again!

He wants to draw a line under this year and move right on.

He doesn't see the quote about his crush until he gets to the Smoothie Hut. He's on his break, just flicking through, past the Glee club and the Future Business Leaders of America and there he is, his photo under a heading of 'Who's your biggest crush?'.

Oh, he thinks, and there's something tight in his chest. Later, when Spencer swings by to pick him up, he forces a grin and says, look at this, Spence, look and waves the page under Spencer's nose. Spencer laughs and ruffles his hair and Brendon laughs too (he thinks that maybe it sounds ugly, but Brendon's kind of used to that now, a side-effect of the tiredness) and when they get back to Brendon's they put the TV on and make pasta and Brendon tickles at Spencer's thigh until Spencer shifts and lets Brendon slide his toes under Spencer's leg.

~*~

 

Brendon can't say how relieved he is when school is finished for the year. He takes a day just to open the windows in his apartment and lie on his bed, listening to music and not changing his socks and sending texts to Spencer and Brent and Ryan. He feels like he can breathe again. Afterwards, Ryan rolls up and they go to play mini golf.

Brendon hangs off Ryan's neck. "I'm an awesome friend, right? Yeah?"

Ryan laughs and pats at Brendon's hand and says, "Yeah, Brendon, the best," rolling his eyes. Brendon just rubs his nose into the curve of Ryan's neck until Ryan bats him away and laughs and it's just, yeah. Brendon knows he could be totally awesome if people just gave him a chance. He sort of loves Ryan and Spencer and Brent just for letting him try.

He gets the job as the Land Surveyor and he can't help but grin at the hi-visibility jacket they give him. Spencer starts to laugh when Brendon opens the door to his apartment wearing it, and doesn't stop all the way through breakfast and all the way to Brendon's new office. "Like it, Spence?" Brendon says, with a waggle of his eyebrows. He holds one side of his jacket open, then the other. "Like what you see?"

And Spencer just grins and laughs some more and bumps his elbow into Brendon's shoulder. "Yeah, " he says, in between hiding his face behind his hands. "Yeah, I do."

"Good," Brendon says, undoing his seatbelt. He grins again, a half smile, a twist of blue. "Really, though, Spence. This-" he waves his hands at the car, at the thermos of coffee Spencer had brought from home, the pop-tarts back at Brendon's apartment. "This? You really fucking rock."

Spencer ducks his head, shrugs awkwardly. "Anytime," he says.

Brendon nods. "You're the best, Spencer Smith," he says, quietly. He's got one hand on the door handle. The engine's idling. "Thank you," he says, and leans across, kissing Spencer quickly on the cheek.

Brendon ducks out of the car quickly and across the parking lot. He doesn't think Spencer drives off until Brendon's safely inside.

~*~

They practice a lot that summer. Ryan's going to college in the fall; he's got a pretty good scholarship but there's something about the set of his shoulders that seems to suggest to Brendon that he's not letting himself rely on that. They practice long into the night, over and over. They book studio time and take two days out to record four songs, two of them well.

It's nothing like Brendon expects and he's pretty wide-eyed when they first go in. Spencer's good at keeping his feelings in check but Brendon knows him pretty well by now, knows that Spencer's just as overawed as he is. Ryan's the only one of them who seems cool with the studio, but then Brendon sees Spencer put his hand on Ryan's back, stilling him. They're all nervous.

Spencer's summer has mostly been spent hanging around the Smoothie Hut, when he wasn't babysitting his sisters or working in the doctor's office with his mom. He works his way through every smoothie on the menu, sometimes with Brent or Ryan but more often than not just by himself. When Brendon gets off work, they drive back to Brendon's, or go to the park and sit on the swings if there's no one else around. They watch TV with the windows open, bemoaning the lack of air conditioning and flapping listlessly at their t-shirts.

Ryan and Brent come over and they watch all three Back to the Future films back to back. Brent takes his usual place on Brendon's bed, sprawling across it and kicking at the wall with his feet. Ryan takes one end of the sofa, Spencer the other with Brendon in the middle. They start off all sat in a row but by the end of the first film Brendon's got his toes under Ryan's thighs and is leaning into Spencer's side, Spencer's arm across the back of the couch.

Brendon rests his head on Spencer's shoulder and wishes that it was always like this.

As the titles to the first film roll, Ryan stretches and nudges at Brendon with his elbow. "I'm hungry, Urie. Feed me."

"Feed yourself," Brendon says, nudging him back. "I'm comfortable." He curls further into Spencer's side, wrapping an arm around Spencer's chest. Brendon kind of loves Spencer's tummy, although he won't ever tell Spencer that. It's soft and round and kind of perfect, although Spencer's got kind of a complex about it. He's lost some weight since Brendon first met him, and Brendon's watched Spencer be pretty careful about his food for a while now. He tries to pretend like he doesn't notice.

Ryan rolls his eyes, kicking at Brendon's foot. "Brendon. Food."

Brendon waves across the room. "You know where the kitchen is, Ross. What did you bring with you?"

Brent sits up on the bed, and maybe he's staring at Brendon, Brendon doesn't know. Spencer though, Spencer's arm drops off the back of the couch and onto Brendon's shoulders. Brendon just grins up at Spencer. "Make me food, Ross," he says, not looking at Ryan and nudging him repeatedly with his foot.

And Ryan grumbles and makes popcorn in Brendon's popcorn maker and brings them all cans of coke and Brendon beams and Spencer's thumb rubs at Brendon's shoulder and Brendon maybe doesn't let go of Spencer, even though it's uncomfortable and means he misses out on some of the popcorn.

~*~

 

The summer is good, although Ryan's been seeing this girl, Tarah, on and off for ages and things go pretty horribly wrong and it turns out she was totally having sex with this kid who Brendon recognized from the hallways. Ryan turns up with a sheaf of new lyrics, refusing to meet Brendon's eyes as he hands them over, but cutting into the songs whenever Brendon sings it wrong.

Brent's pretty serious about the girl from his party, Rachel, and as often as not, Friday night rolls around and it's just Spencer and Brendon, playing the playstation or watching movies or lying on Brendon's bed and listening to CDs.

Brendon sort of thinks he's never had a better summer, even though he doesn't see his parents as often as he likes and he misses them more than he can say. He misses his sisters and his brothers and his nephew. He misses his mom's cooking and family meals and bickering in the evenings as too many of them try to sit in his mom's lounge. He misses his brothers ruffling his hair and his sisters making fun of him and sometimes, sometimes he gives in to it and screws his eyes shut and buries his face in Spencer's side, nose pressed up against Spencer's ribs.

Spencer's a good person to break down in front of, Brendon thinks, and it's pretty clear why Ryan and Spencer are best friends. Spencer is calm and organized and doesn't laugh at Brendon crying. Spencer stays when Brendon calls Kyla, and he stays when Kyla doesn't really want to talk to him once Brendon says he's not giving up and coming home. He stays when Brendon calls Kara, who does listen to him, who cries and says she loves him and misses him and says she's going to come and visit and make sure he's looking after himself. She doesn't come over, but she does call him every couple of weeks to see how he's doing.

By the end of the summer, Ryan's ready to go to college—he's not moving into dorms though, because his dad's sick and because his classes are close enough that he can drive. Spencer tells Brendon in confidence that secretly he wishes that Ryan was actually leaving, moving into dorms and getting the college experience just like every other kid. Brendon promises not to tell anyone, and he totally looks the other way when Spencer wipes his eyes on one of Brendon's t-shirts. Everything should have changed for Ryan; he's a college kid now, an adult, but nothing has. Everything's the same and they're back practicing in Spencer's garage on Sunday, just like every other week.

Ryan tells them that he's got plans for them, that he's putting the word out on their demos. Spencer wants a piece of it; he wants to get involved because he's the organizational one and he doesn't really trust Ryan not to forget to do something important. They bicker over Spencer's drum kit, leaving Brent and Brendon to roll their eyes and say, uh, guys, practice? until Spencer and Ryan stop eyeing each other and snapping. They upload two of their songs to Purevolume, just to see if anyone likes them.

It turns out that people do.

~*~

 

Spencer, Brent and Brendon have all gone back to school for their final year and Brendon is kind of philosophical about it. He sort of thinks that he messed up last year, spent too long trying too hard and not long enough just going with the flow. He says hi to the music kids now, sits with them on a couple of days, has lunch with Brent another couple—they pretend that they want to take their lunch outside of the cafeteria and sit on the steps by the gym, but really they're just not sitting with Brent's friends. Brendon feels pretty guilty that he's making Brent choose, so one day a week he always sits by himself, either in the stacks in the library, sneaking a sandwich where the librarian can't see him, or down by the math classrooms on the stairwell, sitting at the top and writing his English paper on his knee. His lunch overlaps with Spencer's by twenty minutes, so he texts Spencer and waits for him to reply. He can't really afford to send message after message so he limits himself, carefully counting out the minutes between replies. Sometimes he'll text Ryan, and Ryan will call back from outside the library or from the coffee shop on campus. Brendon's not as lonely as he was.

He gets to sit next to a pretty cool kid in World Civ, one who seems content to sit next to him, who says hi and bye and offers him gummy bears under the table. It's not friendship, but it's kind of nice and Brendon's weirdly touched. He's still taking the same math class as Brent and they sit at the back and talk and it's by far his favorite class.

Biology is the worst; he's next to some kid who spends all his time rolling his eyes at Brendon and talking across the aisle to his friends. He says, I hear you're in a band and then laughs, like it's something funny. Brendon thinks, fuck you and gets on with his work.

~*~

 

It's a Tuesday and Brendon leaves for his shift at the Smoothie Hut straight after school. He finishes up at eight and waits around for Brent to come pick him up. He's late, though, and Brendon ends up kicking his feet against the wall at the side of the parking lot, hands in his pockets.

It's Spencer who turns up eventually, pulling in and leaning over to open the door for Brendon.

"Dude, you don't look much like Brent," Brendon says, hopping into Spencer's car. He hands Spencer a smoothie, banana and mango. It's Brent's favorite but Spencer prefers ones without banana, usually. "Sorry," he says, as Spencer tastes it carefully.

Spencer grins. "Brent's halfway to third base with Rachel," he explains, "he called me from the laundry closet at her parents."

Brendon laughs, hand across his mouth. "Dude," he says, "Dude."

Spencer laughs too. "Who am I to put the kibosh on Brent's sex life?" he asks, taking a slurp of smoothie and pulling out into traffic. "There's some leftovers for you on the back seat. Good day?"

Brendon rubs his hands together and nods. "I love your mom," he says, carefully opening up the bag and pulling out a tub of still warm fake-chicken and rice. There's a fork in the bag and Brendon pulls off the lid greedily. "I haven't eaten in, um, hours," he tells Spencer, in between mouthfuls, dropping rice on his jeans and on to the passenger seat.

Spencer grins, turning to look at him once they stop at the intersection. "Upholstery, Brendon," he says, shaking his head.

Brendon rolls his eyes and brushes the rice onto the floor.

"Not quite what I meant," Spencer tells him. He's still smiling, though.

Brendon flutters his eyelashes, licking his lips. "But you love me really, don't you, Spence?" he says, through a mouthful of fake-chicken. Brendon really, really loves Spencer's mom.

"Yeah," Spencer says, but he makes it sound long-suffering. Spencer's good like that.

At Brendon's apartment, Brendon makes them both hot chocolate and they share out the last remaining slightly-stale marshmallows. There's one extra, and Spencer rolls his eyes at Brendon and drops it into Brendon's mug. "You're too kind," Brendon tells him, nudging him with his shoulder.

"Yeah, whatever," Spencer says, and they spend the next hour playing Grand Theft Auto and elbowing each other.

"You wanna stay?" Brendon asks, right after he completes the mission.

Spencer shrugs. "Can't. School night."

"Yeah," Brendon nods. He picks up the cups with the hot chocolate in and puts them in the sink, running the faucet. He doesn't usually have hot water, but sometimes he tries the faucet just in case. He knows that Spencer doesn't normally stay over during the week, but he's kind of gotten used to it over the summer and it's kind of a strain, going back to being alone Sunday to Thursday. He's already missing Ryan staying over at least once a week.

"Hey," Spencer says, coming over and standing behind him, "Friday? I can stay Friday."

"Yeah," Brendon says, rinsing out the cups with cold water, and he grins, bright and wide. "Bring over your Nintendo. I'll kick your ass at Mario Kart."

Spencer shakes his head. "I'd like to see you try, Urie."

Brendon insists on washing out Spencer's mom's Tupperware before Spencer's allowed to leave. He dries it on the dishcloth Brent's mom gave him (Spencer occasionally points out that dishcloths don't wash themselves, and Brendon grins and throws it in his laundry pile) and puts it back in the bag it came in, drying the fork and putting that in too. "I love your mom," he tells Spencer again, seriously.

Spencer's leaning against Brendon's door. "Practice tomorrow?" he says, and Brendon grins.

"Yeah," he says, and unlocks the door.

On the way out, Spencer leans in and kisses his cheek. "Night," he says, and Brendon's left staring out into the hallway, at the way Spencer's shoulders hunch up as he walks around the corner.

"I'm gonna beat you at Mario Kart," Brendon calls out, and Spencer turns around and grins.

"You're not," he says, and waves.

~*~

 

"So," Ryan says, a few weeks later. "So, I've been emailing Pete Wentz."

There's a staccato stutter as Spencer drops his drumsticks. "What?"

Brendon echoes the sentiment. "What?" His hand has closed around the neck of his guitar, his other hand flat against the frets.

Ryan shrugs. "I sent him one of our demos-"

"You did what?" Spencer manages, and Brendon's eyeing them both as they stare belligerently at each other.

"-and he liked it." Ryan raises his eyebrows. "He liked it, guys. He wants to come out and hear us play."

There's a moment when Brendon can't hear over the rushing in his ears, and then he's pulling his guitar strap over his head and launching himself at Ryan, throwing his arms around Ryan's neck. He's laughing, they're all laughing, and Brent's hugging him and Spencer's hugging Ryan and then Spencer's arms are around Brendon and Brendon's clinging on for dear life.

That night they all stay at Spencer's, pulling out the bed in the basement and getting Ryan to recount the whole thing over and over again. Spencer lends Brendon a pair of plaid pajamas and a t-shirt, because there's no point going all the way across town to pick up his own, just to come back. They're too big for Brendon and he ends up folding the waistband over until they hang off his hips. Ryan—because he's spent half his life staying over at Spencer's—has his own set in a drawer upstairs, and it's kind of weird to see Ryan in an old blink-182 t-shirt, long hair pushed behind his ears. Like maybe the last year hasn't happened.

Spencer's mom and dad call out for pizza and they share three huge ones, fighting over the veggie supreme - Brendon says, you all eat meat, like that's a reason for him to hog a pizza all to himself.

Spencer has to tell him, patiently, that all the pizzas are vegetarian, because this isn't the kind of evening where any of them want to hear Brendon tell them—at great length—about all the baby cows and piglets who've died for the sake of their fast food.

Brendon maybe stops holding onto the pizza box so hard after that, although Spencer ends up sitting next to him on the couch and they pretty much share.

Ryan and Brent fall asleep on the bed and Spencer and Brendon are left picking at the remains of the pizza and sharing the couch. Brendon's excited, talking about when they're famous and when they've got an album and when they're winning awards. He's trying to be quiet, because Brent and Ryan are sleeping, but Spencer still has to hold his fingers to his lips to shush him.

"I'm excited," Brendon says, petulantly, but he quiets, curling up on the couch so that Spencer's leaning against him, head resting on his shoulder.

"The girls are going to be lining up around the block for us soon," he says into Spencer's hair. "Just you wait."

Spencer laughs softly. "Yeah," he says, "we'll be fighting them off." His nose is pressed up against the collar of Brendon's t-shirt. It tickles.

"With sticks," Brendon says, shifting so he's got his arms wrapped around Spencer's shoulders. He's comfortable like this, comfortable and warm and sleepy.

"It'll be like that Beatles film," Spencer says, sleepily. They'd watched them a couple of weeks ago, Help! and a Hard Day's Night and Brendon had laughed and pressed his nose up against the screen and wanted that so badly it had hurt. "The girls will be chasing us through the streets."

"Yeah," Brendon says, and he presses a kiss to the top of Spencer's head.

When he wakes up, it's to a stiff shoulder and cramp in his calf. It's still dark out and Spencer's breath is warm and damp against his neck. He closes his eyes and tries to fall back asleep.

~*~

 

Pete flies out ten days later, and Spencer has to babysit. Ryan totally flips out, which is kind of unexpected, since Ryan's normally all biting sarcasm and monotone. Brendon is left fielding Spencer on his cellphone (a desperate litany of I can't get there and I know and I can't just leave them, I'm sorry and I want this-), Ryan freaking out in front of him.

Ryan's loud and he's kind of scaring him, since Brendon isn't the one Ryan comes to when he's like this. He needs Spencer, but Spencer's stuck at the other side of Las Vegas with no ride and his little sisters and it sounds like he's about ready to cry in frustration too. Brendon ends up dragging out his Casio and hugging Ryan (who doesn't hug back, who is all elbows and long legs and desperation) and telling Brent in an undertone that if he doesn't show up in the next five minutes then he's going to kill him with a spoon.

("Why a spoon?" Brent asks, later.

"Because it's blunt, and it'll hurt more," Brendon tells him, and waits for Brent to pick up on the quote. Brent doesn't, but then he doesn't show up for Pete Wentz, either).

Brendon's left jittery and over-caffeinated, feeling stupid in his shirt and tie, hopping from foot to foot and watching Ryan break apart in front of him, hands shaking and on the phone to Spencer and begging him to just get here. Brendon echoes Ryan's plea, because Brent's one thing - and he is, he's their bassist and Brendon's friend - but Spencer's everything.

Then a black SUV pulls up at the driveway and maybe this short guy climbing out is Pete Wentz - Pete-fucking-Wentz, Brendon thinks, and totally spazzes out.

Ryan is somehow magically cool and collected under the pressure, and anything less like the shaking, nervous-as-fuck Ryan of five minutes ago is hard to imagine. Ryan holds his hand out, says, Pete, yeah, hi. Pete just grins and slings an arm around Ryan's shoulder and holds his hand out to Brendon. He says, "Where are the rest of you?"

Brendon cues up the Casio.

~*~

 

Afterwards, Pete takes them out for tacos. Brendon orders veggie ones and lets the tomato dribble down his chin. Ryan says, Brendon, God- but Pete just laughs and slaps Brendon on the back. Brendon beams and goes back to carefully structuring another taco shell, loading it high with sauce and cheese and tomatoes. He's got tomato sauce down his shirt.

"You're a little raw," Pete tells them, and Brendon's watching Ryan but he doesn't see any reaction at all, not even a shadow of one.

Brendon kind of loves how composed Ryan can pretend to be. Everything Brendon feels is written across his face. (You've got an honest face, his mom had always told him, that's God's gift to you). He knows his own smile has dropped.

"That's okay," Pete goes on. "I think you've got fuck-loads of potential. God, the crowd are gonna fucking cream themselves over you kids."

Brendon winces, because he's a fucktard at times, he really is, an idiot and a tool with a tendency to be inappropriate, but underneath it all he's a conditioned Mormon and he can't help himself. Ryan says cunt sometimes, just to watch Brendon flinch.

Pete wants to sign them.

Brendon doesn't sleep at all that night.

~*~

 

The thing is, now they have to actually get some more tracks together and tour and stuff. That would be a trauma if it's not - by far - the coolest and most amazing thing that has ever happened to Brendon. Like, ever. Spencer - who can't forgive himself for not being there that first time - throws himself into finding someone to make them a Myspace, and he kind of stands to one side, tapping his foot while Brent and Ryan and Brendon all stare at the screen. It's, well, it's pretty damn cool. "We've got a Myspace," Brendon says, brightly.

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Everyone's got a Myspace. "

Brendon bumps Spencer with his shoulder. "But now we've got one."

~*~

 

Christmas comes around and Spencer's parents buy Brendon a microwave. Brendon's kind of overwhelmed when Spencer turns up at the door bearing yet another box covered in ribbons, and Spencer has to point out that Brendon's kind of a danger to himself and others with his popcorn maker, and now he can switch to microwave corn and stop people having panic attacks about Brendon by himself with hot oil and electrical appliances he'd picked up from yard sales.

"So, I'm actually doing you a favor by having a microwave?" Brendon asks, tearing off a piece of ribbon and wrapping it round his neck like a scarf. "Saving you unnecessary worry?"

Spencer shrugs, and pulls off his jacket. "Yeah, pretty much."

Brendon leans over and kisses Spencer's cheek. "Thank you, Spencer Smith."

"Thank my mom and dad," Spencer says, reddening.

"Yeah," Brendon says. "Them too."

They set the microwave up and Spencer dries off the plug when Brendon accidentally drops it into the sink, and then they sit back and watch as it makes them microwave popcorn and warms up the leftovers that Spencer pulls out of his backpack for Brendon.

"My mom always said watching the microwave would give you cancer," Brendon tells Spencer, leaning back on his chair.

"Yeah?" Spencer says. The your mom is stupid goes unsaid, and Brendon's kind of ridiculously grateful. It's December 23rd and Brendon misses his mom and dad and his family more than he can put into words.

Brent had said Brendon could come over Christmas Day if he needed to, but Brent's family's kind of insular and he always feels kind of unwelcome, so he'd shaken his head brightly and said thanks, but no thanks. Ryan would probably be around to hang with, if he wasn't with his girlfriend. Ryan didn't have classes or the library to escape to over the Christmas break and he'd turned up at Brendon's with a duffel and a scowl a couple of days earlier. He'd fallen asleep with his feet hanging off the end of the couch while Brendon was in the shower.

Brendon wiggles his toes. He'd sent a package to his mom and dad, Christmas cards and a box of cupcakes he'd made himself, in Spencer's kitchen with Spencer and Brent laughing at him and helping to lick the bowl clean. Spencer's mom had helped him to layer them in a big Tupperware box and pack them so they'd make the journey in one piece. She'd asked him if he wanted to drop them off himself, if he wanted her to go with him, but Brendon had just shaken his head. Spencer's mom put her hand on his shoulder and Brendon wondered if Spencer was the luckiest kid in the world.

"Hey," Spencer says, leaning across the table. "Are you okay? Different planet there for a minute, Bren-"

Brendon shrugs awkwardly. He hasn't heard anything back from his parents. It's okay, he didn't expect anything. Not really. "I'm fine," he says, and he smiles, wide and bright. Spencer's fingers are still touching his arm.

"Okay," Spencer says. "So, we're having lunch at like, twelve thirty or something on Christmas Day, so, I don't know. I'll come pick you up at, I don't know, eleven thirty?"

"What?" Brendon asks, startled.

"Christmas Day," Spencer says, patiently. "Dinner. Dad says half past twelve for food but it's always later than that, so there's no rush."

"Christmas Day?" Brendon says, stupidly. The microwave beeps to remind him he's got leftovers heating up.

"Yes," Spencer says, one eyebrow raised. "Christmas Day. You're spending it with us."

"Spencer, no-" Brendon starts. He can't just barge in on the Smith family Christmas. Spencer's family do enough for him as it is. "Your family do enough-"

"Shut up," Spencer tells him. "Crystal's already made place settings."

"Oh," Brendon says. "But-"

Spencer raises both eyebrows this time. "Brendon. Dude. You think my parents are going to let you spend Christmas by yourself? Are you stupid?"

"Um, yes?" Brendon starts. He hasn't let himself think about Christmas, other than to sign up for any extra shifts the Smoothie Hut has going.

He's borrowed a few DVDs off Brent, old stuff he hasn't seen. He's stolen a skin magazine from the store down the street and he's hidden it under his mattress (he has his own stupid apartment but he's still not man enough to leave it lying around) and he's figured he can waste a couple of hours desultorily jerking off. He is going to have Hot Pockets and he's got a big jar of peanut butter from the grocery store, and he's going to have toast and peanut butter and honey and watch his TV and try not to remember it's Christmas. Which might actually be quite hard in his apartment; Brendon isn't usually one for feeling sorry for himself so he'd decided to go all out for Christmas, somewhere around November 30th.

Brendon and Brent and Spencer had spent one - very long - evening making paper chains and hanging them from his ceiling. He's gotten himself a little tree, and he's covered it in garlands and made decorations out of pictures and glue and paperclips. It looks pretty awesome. There isn't likely to be anything under it come Christmas morning, though, so he's shifted things around so that he's kind of keeping things under there, a shoebox with pens and stuff for school, and stack of old sheet music, his geometry notes. It's okay.

"You're so stupid," Spencer tells him, opening the microwave door and putting the leftovers down on the table between them. They both dig into the lasagna. "Like, really fucking stupid, Brendon."

Brendon shifts his chair so that he's closer to Spencer. "Eleven thirty?" he says, and Spencer nods.

~*~

 

Brendon invites Brent and Ryan and Spencer over on Christmas Eve. "Next year we'll be fucking famous," Brent says, lying on the bed. They're eating actual food for once, Brent and Spencer having turned up bearing the ingredients for spaghetti sauce. Spencer had taken charge of the stove while Brent and Brendon haphazardly chopped things and threw bits of onion at each other's foreheads. Ryan's plate is waiting for him on the counter because he hasn't shown up yet.

"Yeah, but until then, don't get spaghetti sauce on my bed," Brendon tells him, gesturing wildly with his fork. Spencer elbows him to point out Brendon's just dripped tomato on his jeans.

Brendon rolls his eyes and shuffles back so he's leaning up against Spencer on the couch. It's not the most comfortable position ever but Spencer's kind of warm and he's also not complaining, so. Brendon eats his spaghetti.

"Where the fuck's Ryan?" Brent asks, rolling over so he's holding his bowl off the edge of the bed. Brendon sort of thinks that getting spaghetti sauce on the carpet is probably harder to explain to the landlord then staining his own sheets, but Spencer's arm is resting along Brendon's shoulders and it's Christmas, so Brendon's not going to complain.

"Call him and see," Spencer says, nudging at his cellphone on the coffee table with his foot. "Probably still with his girlfriend."

"Just because he's getting some," Brent groans. Both Brendon and Spencer roll their eyes; Rachel's gone out of town for the Christmas break and Brent hasn't stopped complaining since she left.

"Join the club," Brendon says, poking at his pasta.

"Yeah," Spencer says, "The we're not getting any club. It's always open to new members."

Brent wrinkles his nose and stares at them both. "Seriously?" he says, and he sounds really surprised.

Brendon blinks.

Spencer waves his fork at Brent. "You see a line of girls around here?"

Brent puts his bowl down on the table and sits up. "No, but-" He stares at Brendon and Spencer and waves his hand at them.

"Someday, Spence," Brendon says, leaning back so his nose is touching Spencer's neck, "someday there will be a line of girls so long we'll be able to pick and choose."

"Oh," Spencer says, "can you imagine?"

"It'll be beautiful," Brendon says mistily.

"But," Brent says. He's looking really confused. "You-"

"What?" Brendon asks.

"Yeah," Spencer says, "what?"

"Nothing," Brent says, after a moment. "I'm just going outside to call Ryan."

They're going to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas once Ryan finally arrives with the DVD—he's promised to borrow it from Amy. Brendon's excited, because Christmas isn't Christmas without Charlie Brown and Snoopy. "This year I've got my very own doghouse," he tells Spencer, and he thinks that maybe he's got spaghetti sauce round his mouth and on his cheek. "Just like Snoopy."

"What?" Spencer asks. He's wearing Christmas socks, Brendon can totally spot a reindeer under the cuff of his jeans. Brendon's glad that he spotted Spencer's inner marshmallow at an early stage, otherwise Spencer would constantly be able to surprise him.

"I like your socks," Brendon says.

"Shut up," Spencer says, curling his toes and tugging his jeans down so they cover his ankles. "My mom bought them."

Brendon rolls his eyes. "I see you. You're not so tough, Spencer Smith."

"What?" Spencer says, again. Brendon thinks that under all that hair Spencer's blushing red.

"Dumbass," Brendon says, poking him in the side. He likes it when Spencer wriggles across the couch, ending up with his thigh pressed up against Brendon's.

Brent hits them both round the head. "Ryan's on his way," he tells them, climbing over the back of the couch and back onto Brendon's bed. He reaches for the remote and switches up the channels, looking for something to watch while they wait. There's a program on about sharks and they all watch with their mouths open until there's a knock at the door.

"Could have left it unlocked when you came back in, dick," Spencer says lazily, throwing a magazine at Brent's head.

Brendon's not going to move either. Spencer's got his arm around him and his head's resting on Spencer's shoulder. Brendon reaches out with his foot and pokes Brent, "You get it," he says indolently. His hand is on Spencer's tummy; he's following Spencer's breathing beneath his fingers.

"It's your apartment," Brent grumbles, but he climbs up and over the mess on the floor and opens the door.

It isn't Ryan. It's Brendon's mom and dad.

"Shit," Brendon says, already pulling away from Spencer and standing up, foot in Spencer's empty plate. "Mom, Dad, hi."

His parents are standing at the door, looking unsure. It's the first time they've come to his apartment. "Brendon," his mom says, and Brendon can feel Spencer standing up beside him, Brent leaning awkwardly by the TV, holding on to his empty bowl of pasta.

"Um, Merry Christmas," Brendon says, "it's good to see you." He's nervous, his fingers tapping out an unfamiliar rhythm against his thigh. He tries to swallow.

"We don't mean to interrupt," his mom says, looking around at Brent and Spencer, at the TV and the food and the Christmas decorations and the mess. "We just wanted to drop off your present and wish you a Merry Christmas."

Brendon wonders if they're just as nervous as he is; they certainly look like they might be.

"You're not interrupting," he says, feet tapping, "I mean, you are, but it's okay. It's good, yeah-"

Spencer touches at his elbow. "Brendon," he says, softly. His hand curves around Brendon's forearm, stilling him. "Hi," he says, to Brendon's mom and dad. Brendon thinks that Spencer's maybe the fiercest person he knows, but he sounds like he's being polite. Spencer is being polite. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," Brendon's mom says, uncomfortably. "We brought you your Tupperware back," she says, reaching into her bag. "The cupcakes were - they were a nice idea. Thank you."

"Oh, right, yeah. I made them myself." Brendon says, and he can't quite recognize what he's feeling, the tightness in his chest, the numbness in his fingers. "It's Spencer's mom's," he says, pointing at the Tupperware. Then all of a sudden, he's pushing past Spencer, past the coffee table and the clothes and the mess and he's hugging his mom, pressing his face into her hair. She smells like home, like her perfume and the laundry detergent and like the air freshener in his dad's car, like the mints in the tin in the glovebox. "I missed you," he says, because he can't not.

"We missed you too," his mom tells him, and his dad has his hand on Brendon's shoulder, squeezing roughly.

Afterwards, Brendon says, sit down, sit down, and Spencer tries to get out of the way and move their dirty plates and it's a cacophony of muted apologies for a moment as everyone shifts.

"You're looking well," his dad says, after a minute.

Brendon nods, unhappily, rocking from foot to foot. "Thanks," he says. "You too."

"So," his mom says, awkwardly. "How are things?"

He meets Spencer's eyes over his parents' heads. Spencer nods back at him, hands in his pockets. "We've been signed now," Brendon says, after a minute. "We're going to record an album and go on tour."

"Oh," his mom says. "Oh."

"When?" his dad asks tightly.

"Next year," Brendon says. He's staring at Spencer.

His parents stay for a glass of water and a handful of crackers.

"Maybe we should be going," his mom says, after she's finished her drink. Brendon's glass is hot in his hand. "You were clearly in the middle of something, we don't want to interrupt. Come on," she says, to his dad. "We should leave the boys to it." She stands up, looking helplessly across at Brendon. "We just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas."

"Yeah," Brendon says, miserably. He stuffs his hands into his pockets. He thinks that maybe he won't be able to let them go, otherwise. "Merry Christmas."

"Oh," his mom says, picking up her bag. "We brought you some cake, and- where is it? Did we leave it in the car?"

His dad shakes his head. "It's by the door."

There's a bag by the door, a big blue one like the ones from Ikea. Brendon sees wrapping paper peeking out.

His chest hurts. "I didn't get you guys anything."

His mom hugs him tight. "The cupcakes were more than enough," she says, against Brendon's ear. "We'll call you," she tells him, pressing a kiss to his cheek. Brendon nods fiercely, and holds on tight.

Ryan arrives just as Brendon's dad is hugging him goodbye. Ryan bangs through the door and trips over the bag Brendon's parents have brought. "Shit, Brendon, can't you ever move your-"

"Ryan," Spencer says sharply.

"...crap," Ryan says, unfolding and staring at Brendon's parents.

"Ryan," Spencer says again.

"We were just going," Brendon's mom says. "We just wanted to wish Brendon a Merry Christmas."

"Right," Ryan says. His mouth is a thin line of disapproval. He flanks Brendon like a guard, crossing his arms.

Brendon thinks - not for the first time - that he doesn't make a good adult. He wants to go home with his mom and dad and see his brothers and sisters and play with his nephew and eat so much food he feels sick. He'd be happy if he never had to pay another bill. He's tired of being lonely.

His mom clings to him and his dad's eyes are suspiciously bright when they shake hands. They hand him the bag; there's a present and a box with slices of Christmas cake in, a card from the family and photos of his nephew. Brendon's fingers shake.

Afterwards, when they've gone, Brendon bangs cupboard doors and wipes his eyes furiously on his sleeve and tries not to hear Brent asking awkwardly if they should leave.

"Shut up," Ryan says, tightly, "we're staying."

And later, when Brendon kicks at the kitchen cabinets and rests his forehead against the wall, Spencer comes up behind him and hugs him.

"We're going to be fucking huge," he says, quietly, lips against Brendon's temple.

Brendon nods fiercely.

"Biggest band on the planet," Ryan tells him, pressing his knee against Brendon's.

Brent's hand is on his shoulder. "Pete Wentz fucking loves us," he says, and Brendon fights against the tears and manages a grin.

"He totally does," he says, and the shake in his voice maybe isn't quite so noticeable anymore.

They don't watch Charlie Brown. Instead, Brendon watches as Ryan and Brent play Gran Turismo on Brent's PS2. Spencer - because he's pissed and because he's Spencer - tidies up around them, doing the dishes and complaining about the smell of Brendon's dish detergent. Every time he walks past the back of the couch, he touches at Brendon's neck with his palm and Brendon leans into the touch without thinking.

"I'm not leaving you here alone," Spencer says to Brendon, after Brent starts making noises about having to leave.

"I'm not a kid," Brendon says, and he's almost angry. He is angry. He's an adult and he has his own apartment and so what if his parents don't want him around for Christmas.

"Brendon-" Brent trails off.

"I don't need someone to look after me," Brendon tells them all. "I don't. I'm going to be just fine." The present his parents have left him is on the counter. It's wrapped in paper with bells on. He's never been able to resist opening a present before.

"I wasn't," Spencer starts, and he looks pretty wretched.

Brendon thinks he would probably feel bad about that if he wasn't so angry.

His hands have clenched into fists. "It's fine," he says, "I'm fine. Come pick me up in the morning, Spence."

He lasts maybe ten minutes after they've all left before he calls Spencer.

"Sorry," he says, when Spencer picks up.

"Yeah," Spencer says, after a moment. "Don't be." Spencer keeps talking to him all the rest of his way home, all the way into his house and up the stairs and into his bedroom. They keep talking until Spencer's voice is rough and heavy with sleep and Brendon can't keep his eyes open anymore.

"Merry Christmas, Spence," Brendon says, sleepily, after he checks the time on his DVD player and crawls under the covers. It's long after midnight.

"Merry Christmas," Spencer says, gruffly, and the phone clicks into silence. Brendon falls asleep with his phone still in his hand.

~*~

 

Christmas with the Smiths isn't like Christmas with the Uries. Everything is different, everything is wrong. He tries to put a brave face on it when they don't say grace, when the cranberry sauce isn't homemade, when he's sitting between Crystal and Jackie and across from Spencer and not next to his brothers and sisters and his nephew. Spencer's mom and dad are lovely, they've put a stocking up for him - and one for Ryan too, for when Ryan comes over later - but they're not his mom and dad. He wants to see the look on his nephew's face when he opens their presents, he wants to see his dad laugh and hear the low bustle of conversation from the kitchen. It's not the same.

After they eat, Spencer's mom kisses him on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Brendon," she says.

He can't help it, he curls around her like an octopus, burying his face in her neck. "Thank you," he says, "I don't -" he stops, and hugs her tighter. He wants his mom.

"Shh," she says, softly. She's rubbing soft circles on his back. "It's okay. You'll always be welcome here."

"I wish -" Brendon says, but he can't finish. He wants to say he doesn't want to be welcome here, that he wants to go home. That she's not his mom.

"I know, sweetheart." She kisses him on the temple, pretending not to notice as his voice catches.

He sees Spencer leaning up against the doorjamb, watching them both, and he forces a smile.

"The food was awesome," he says, and maybe his smile is more than a bit genuine, "and my microwave totally rocks. It's going to be hard to top that next year, Mrs. S."

"Oh yes?" she raises an eyebrow, laughing and patting his shoulder. "We'll see about that."

Brendon's chest doesn't feel so tight anymore.

~*~

 

Spencer and Brendon spend the rest of the afternoon playing Call of Duty on the Xbox. They're holed up in the den, away from Crystal and Jackie, who have spread their presents across the lounge and were last heard of trying to put nail polish on Spencer's dad. Ryan shows up later in the afternoon, slinging an arm across Spencer's shoulder, stealing the controller off Brendon and fitting himself untidily on the couch. It's unusual behavior from Ryan, who is long-limbed and awkward. Brendon and Spencer stare at him.

"It's Christmas," Ryan says, refusing to meet their eyes. "I am full of Christmas spirit."

Brendon cocks his head to one side. "You are full of Christmas spirit and sex, Ryan Ross." He shakes his head, poking Spencer in the side with his finger. "Sex, Spencer. Do you think when we're rich and famous we can get girls to have sex with us on Christmas Day?"

Ryan rolls his eyes, but Brendon thinks he might even be blushing a little. Brendon can't hide his grin.

Spencer leans over Ryan and ruffles Brendon's hair. "I'm pretty sure we can have whatever we want when we're rich and famous."

"Girls?" Brendon says, hopefully.

"Girls," Spencer nods. "We will be able to pick and choose."

Brendon sighs. He wants to be rich and famous now. He totally wants to have sex on Christmas Day.

Ryan makes a noise that sounds like a snort. Spencer pokes him in the side, under his ribcage, until Ryan wriggles away, half into Brendon's lap.

~*~

 

Later on, they eat hot beef sandwiches (or fake-beef, in Brendon's case. It's delicious) and play Pictionary and it's so far away from anything Brendon's family would have done that Brendon feels like he can enjoy himself properly for the first time. Spencer's dad makes the most amazing dessert that Brendon has ever tasted and he thinks he loses the ability to speak somewhere after the first mouthful. It's full of melted chocolate and marshmallows and it's all he can do not to make a noise that sounds embarrassingly like guh and dribble chocolate down his chin. He thinks that maybe if he doesn't get to have sex on Christmas Day, then this is a pretty awesome alternative—something he tries to tell Spencer and Ryan when he gets his vowel sounds back.

Spencer buries his face in his hands and Ryan chokes and Brendon beams, licking the remains off his spoon and dripping chocolate sauce down his shirt.

Afterwards, they make Ryan open his stocking. Jackie and Crystal insist on sitting on either side of him, which means that Spencer and Brendon end up on the other couch, Spencer's knee pressed up against Brendon's. Brendon nudges back, trying to hold back his grin. It's Christmas and Brendon's with his best friends. He's okay, and even if he's not, he's got Spencer and Ryan and things will be. He just knows it.

Spencer's Mom and Dad have bought Ryan an ipod mini in metallic blue and none of them can stop laughing when they see Ryan's face. He's beautifully, joyfully speechless and Brendon can't help but clamber over Spencer and go and have a look, kneeling beside Ryan and looking through the box. It's awesome, stupidly and amazingly cool and Spencer's parents are the best. Ryan even kisses Spencer's mom awkwardly on the cheek.

His knuckles are white against the case and later on, once they've started the DVD, Spencer hugs Ryan and says Merry Christmas, Ry in a low voice.

They watch Shrek 2 and Brendon, Spencer and Ryan pile themselves awkwardly on one couch, Spencer's parents and sisters on the other. Jackie has her feet in her mom's lap; she's having her toes painted coral pink. Brendon wriggles his toes; he'd kind of like his toenails painted too. He thinks that maybe he'll go out and buy some after Christmas sometime - it's probably better than just using a sharpie. He rests his head on Spencer's shoulder.

They spend the night in the basement, all three of them on the fold out sofa-bed, whispering long into the early hours. Brendon grins and buries himself into Spencer's side, Ryan's knee against his thigh.

They turn the lights off and Brendon whispers, "Thanks for my Christmas, Spencer Smith," and Spencer sleepily curls his fingers into Brendon's, squeezing his hand.

~*~

 

They go out to LA in January, piling into Pete's apartment and meeting Joe and Patrick for the first time. Andy's back in Wisconsin, Pete tells them. You know. They don't, but they all grin and Brendon thinks he maybe sees Patrick smile at Pete across their heads. Brendon grins harder; he's in LA with Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump and Joe Trohman. He's in LA with three quarters of Fall Out Boy. He keeps trying to tell Spencer that this is the most amazing thing that's ever happened to him, but Spencer just rolls his eyes.

Spencer's been keeping his inner marshmallow well hidden ever since they left Vegas, cocking his hip and his shoulders and looking as bitchy as he can manage. Ryan's deliberately silent, knocking shoulders with Pete and disappearing for long conversations down the hallway. Only Brent seems awkward, standing with his hands in his pockets by the fireplace.

Brendon is at his worst. He's excited and nervous and away from home and everything he's comfortable with. He's noisy and clumsy and he can't concentrate; he trips over his shoelaces and bumps into Patrick and knocks over his glass of water with his elbow. He laughs at Joe's jokes even when he doesn't understand them and can't stop even when Ryan jerks his elbow into his side. He's apologizing a lot, smiling wider and trying harder and saying the wrong thing. Ryan's exasperated by him, snapping and telling him not to be such a fucking idiot. Brent's rolling his eyes, expression sharper than Brendon's used to seeing from him, and even Spencer looks frustrated.

Brendon tries to stop, he really does. His leg is jittering and he can't make it stop, even when he's got his hand in his pocket in a last ditch attempt to still the shake. He wants to stop, he wants this to go well and he's frustrated with himself. He can't help but remember the dull edge his life took on when he was taking Ritalin and Dexedrine every day, and even the memory is enough to make him keep on trying. He's hiding in the kitchen—just getting a can of coke, he says—when Pete finds him. He's trying to remember the techniques he used to go over with his Mom to talk himself down. He's counting, 1, 2, 3, 4-

Pete opens the cupboard by the fridge and brings out a multipack of Capri-Suns. "Ryan told me you, like, lived for these or something. Want one?"

Brendon's trying to look nonchalant, leaning against the counter, fingers tapping against the edge of the sink. He nods.

"You wanna go outside?" Pete says, after a moment.

"Sure, yeah, sure," Brendon says, nodding again, and he follows Pete out onto the terrace. There are a couple of seats out there, patio loungers with cushions that have seen better days.

"You okay, dude?" Pete asks, sprawling across one of the loungers. He passes the Capri-Suns to Brendon.

Brendon shrugs awkwardly. He can't control the edge, the twitch. He can't explain without sounding like a total spazz. "I'm trying," he says, finally. "Yeah."

"Want to stay out here for a while?" Pete asks. He's got a bag of chips, pulling them open and offering Brendon the bag. Pete's got a handful and he stuffs them all into his mouth in one go, crumbs flying everywhere. It's disgusting, and Brendon can't help but laugh. "Go on," Pete says, shoving the bag under Brendon's nose. "Your turn."

Later on, Spencer and Joe come to find them, dragging out chairs from the kitchen. Brent and Ryan and Patrick follow a bit later on, but there aren't enough seats to go around and none of them seem to particularly feel like sitting on the floor. Ryan and Spencer fight over Spencer's for a minute, until Spencer sighs heavily and gives up. He pokes Brendon in the thigh until Brendon shifts over and Spencer crawls onto the seat beside him. There's barely enough room for the two of them but Brendon shares the last of the chips. There are crumbs everywhere, all down his shirt and in the creases of his jeans. Spencer hooks his ankle over Brendon's and Brendon thinks that maybe he's not twitching so much anymore.

He catches Pete looking over at him a bit later on; Brendon grins and Pete grins back.

~*~

The thing is, they haven't really ever played a show. They've got a recording contract and Pete's working on a date for them to go into the studio (we're going to record an album, Brendon says gleefully, clambering over the back of the couch clutching a juice box and accidentally kicking Brent in the ribs) but they haven't actually played live in front of an audience yet. Pete doesn't seem to think this is a problem, brushing off their concerns with a wave of his hand, but Patrick seems to agree with Ryan and Spencer that getting some experience playing live isn't exactly a bad idea. Brendon doesn't mind either way; he knows they're going to be awesome when they're on stage, whether it's before they record their album or not. Ryan thinks Brendon's being complacent, but he's not. Brendon believes in them more than he believes in anything. If Brendon thinks about it, he sort of believes in his band more than he believes in God and his family, so, yeah.

"You'll all get enough practice playing live when you're the biggest band on the planet," Pete tells them, brightly, after Patrick voices his concerns again.

Brendon knows that Ryan wants to argue with Pete on this point, that he wants to tell Pete that they can be better, that they can practice more and play live and be even bigger. Spencer rolls his eyes and pokes Ryan in the side. "Shut up, Ross," Spencer says, before Ryan's even opened his mouth.

"But-"

Pete grins. "You're going to be huge, guys. No tours of initiation needed."

Brendon beams. "We're going to fucking rock," he says excitedly, and he digs his toes into Spencer's thigh in excitement. Spencer curls his hand around Brendon's ankle and grins.

Pete just laughs. "Speaking of which, Brendon," he says, "how do you feel about doing some vocals for us?"

Brendon blinks. "What?" he asks. "Yeah, what?"

"We've got this song," Pete says, and he shrugs, like it's not the biggest fucking deal on the whole planet, playing with Fall Out Boy. "Seven Minutes in Heaven. We think you'd sound good on it. If you want."

Brendon isn't entirely sure he can speak.

"Say yes, idiot," Spencer says, poking him in the side. "Say fucking yes."

Brendon does.

~*~

 

Brendon thinks that Los Angeles is basically the most awesome place on Earth.

Pete takes them to a party. Patrick thinks it's a stupid idea ("Are you retarded, Pete? Like, completely brain-dead? They're still in high school and you're taking them to a party?") but Brendon thinks it's amazing.

"We're going to party like rock stars," Brendon tells the others. Spencer's laughing and Brent's rolling his eyes but Brendon can't stop. "Girls, Spencer. Think of the girls. All wanting us."

Ryan—who Brendon thinks is doing his best at trying to look completely at ease with the idea of a night full of Pete's friends and alcohol—kicks at Brendon's shin. "You don't even know what to do with a girl, Brendon."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Ryan," he says.

"I was just saying-"

"Shut up, Ryan."

Brendon shrugs and plays rock, paper, scissors with Brent for who gets first shower. Everyone has to lose their virginity sometime.

~*~

 

He meets Clara about five minutes after they get to the party. It's being held in an old warehouse and everyone is so unbelievably cool and hip that Brendon wants to say hey to every single person in the place. Clara is like, a professional fan or something, and Joe points her and her friends out as they all crowd round the tables in the VIP area.

("We're VIPs", Brendon whispers, loudly. Spencer—who is easily as wide-eyed as Brendon, only he hides it behind a mask of perfectly constructed disinterest—rolls his shoulders and hooks his fingers over his belt loops and doesn't answer).

"They're everywhere," Joe tells them in wonder, as Clara and her friends surround Pete.

"They know our schedule better than we do," Patrick says with a sigh. He's drinking these little orange drinks and Brendon doesn't know whether they've got alcohol in or not, but he wants one.

"Can I?" he asks, holding his hands out for a drink.

"No," Patrick tells him. "I am not giving you alcohol. It'd be like giving drugs to puppies."

Brendon pouts. He thinks that maybe Joe would be a better person to bug for drinks, but Spencer's looking pretty fierce and folding his arms, so. Maybe not. He starts to talk to Clara instead.

Clara keeps excusing herself to go to the bathroom and each time she leaves, Ryan leans over and says she's not interested in you, dumbass. Brendon's not exactly stupid; Clara is more interested in watching Pete over his shoulder. She's kind of pretty though and she's got the most amazingly awesome hair that Brendon kind of wants to run his fingers through. Not in a sexy way or anything; Clara has hair that's striped black and white like a skunk. Brendon wishes that wasn't the kind of thing that he said out loud, but it was, and he had. Brent and Spencer both hate Clara's hair; Spencer because he has actual sartorial opinions, and Brent because he's kind of straight edge when it comes to girls.

Still, Clara's talking to him, which is pretty awesome.

"You think maybe she'll kiss me, Spence?" Brendon asks, once Clara excuses herself to the bathroom for the third time. He squeezes down on the bench in between Brent and Spencer, curving his hand around Spencer's and stealing a gulp of his drink.

"Maybe," Spencer tells him. He offers Brendon the remains of his coke. "She seems like she might."

Brendon finishes up the rest of the drink, making loud, obnoxious hoovering noises with the straw. Spencer shakes his head and Brendon beams, the straw dangling from his mouth. The last bits of coke drip out of the end and onto his pants.

"You're such a catch," Spencer tells him.

"I know," Brendon grins. He nudges Spencer's arm, liking the feel of Spencer's shirt against his skin. "She's got friends. You could get kisses too. How about her?" He points at a girl with long blonde hair and dark eyes, leaning over the table next to them. She's kind of pretty, he thinks. Maybe not pretty enough for Spencer. Spencer should totally have the prettiest.

"I'm okay," Spencer says, brushing his palm over Brendon's knee. "I don't need hooking up."

"I'm just helping."

Spencer nods, and rests his head on Brendon's shoulder for a moment. "Soon all this will be ours," Spencer says, and Brendon struggles to hear him over the heavy bass of the music.

"Yeah," Brendon says, and he ruffles Spencer's hair. He likes Spencer's hair too, it's soft and shiny and smells nice.

"Hey," Spencer says, sitting up. "Don't mess with the hair."

Brendon shifts so he can card his fingers through the hair in the nape of Spencer's neck. Spencer's not batting him away, so. Yeah. "We'll be turning them down soon," he says.

"Never," Spencer tells him, with a smile.

Brendon thinks, you're my best friend. He can't hide the smile; he remembers what it was like at school when he used to have to run into the bathrooms between classes just to grin at the walls and he can't believe how lucky he is, he really can't. He's staring at Spencer and just grinning, and Spencer's smiling back. It's like the best feeling in the world.

"Are you guys for real?" Brent asks.

"Apparently," Ryan says, rolling his eyes and turning around in his seat.

"What?" Brendon asks. "We're going to be rock gods. You don't think we're going to have girls lining up around the block for us? We're all totally hot."

Even Ryan laughs at that, and Brendon beams. "Totally hot, Spencer Smith," he says, softly, and he elbows him gently in the side.

"You should ask her to dance," Spencer tells Brendon. "You know, when she's back from the bathroom." The back of his hand is touching Brendon's.

Brendon blinks. "Okay," he says, and when Clara comes back he lets her take his hand and lead him onto the dance floor. She kisses him to the sound of Jay-Z.

Afterwards, Brendon kind of wishes she'd gotten rid of her gum first.

He wants to get Spencer over to dance with them; he wants to dance like a tool and throw his hands in the air and shake his booty like he's in his own apartment with no one watching. He wants Spencer to laugh at him and for Brent to try and pretend like he doesn't know them when Brendon persuades Spencer to do jazz hands to Justin Timberlake tracks. He wants Ryan to dance, because Ryan dancing is the funniest thing Brendon can actually remember seeing in his whole entire life. He wants-

"-you want to get out of here?" Clara asks.

Over the other side of the room, behind the VIP ropes, he can see Spencer with his back to the dance floor, deep in conversation with Brent and Patrick. "Um," Brendon manages. "Where to?"

She rolls her eyes. "My apartment," she says, and she's saying it into his ear, over the music, but she doesn't sound like she's trying to be sexy. She sounds bored.

He catches Spencer by the elbow when Clara's getting her purse from her friends. "I'm going to have sex, Spencer Smith," he bursts out, and his skin is prickling. "Like, now. Or at her apartment, anyway."

Spencer's answering grin comes a moment too late, but Brendon can't read the expression that came before. Brendon sort of thinks Spencer's face probably reflects just what Brendon's thinking, only he doesn't really know what that is, either. He wonders if this is how everyone feels just before they lose their virginity.

"Way to go, dude." Brent says, punching Brendon in the shoulder.

Brendon grins. Spencer elbows him in the side. "I think she's waiting for you."

At the exit, Brendon turns round and waves at Spencer and Pete. Spencer gives him two thumbs up.

~*~

 

Clara shares a crappy apartment with her friends. Brendon's pretty fidgety in the cab; he'd snuck a couple of drinks when Spencer and Ryan weren't looking and he's sort of fuzzy-headed. Clara rolls her eyes and snaps her gum out of the cab window; Brendon leans forward and talks to the driver about Journey's Greatest Hits. They even duet on the chorus to Open Arms.

"Right," Clara says, once they get inside and she's pushing the door closed behind them. "Are we doing this or what?"

Brendon kind of thinks, what? but he's left following her into her bedroom, watching awkwardly as she switches on the lamp by the bed (it's a twin, which is kind of a pain, since not one fantasy Brendon's ever had about losing his virginity involved doing it in a twin bed, but he figures he can shift things around a bit in his head) and pulls back the comforter.

"You'll need to switch the light off," she tells him, toeing off her shoes.

Brendon blinks twice before going over to the door and flicking the switch.

Sex is—pretty terrible actually. Clara asks him if he's got a condom and he ends up tipping the contents of his wallet onto the carpet in his hurry to find one, scrabbling around on his knees for the remains of a packet of gum and a movie ticket stub and his employee card for the Smoothie Hut.

He tries to give the condom to her, but she just rolls her eyes and says, "You're the one who needs it." The dumbass goes unspoken.

After she pulls off her shirt and unbuttons her skirt, he escapes into the bathroom under the pretext of getting a drink. He turns on the faucet, letting the water run into the sink as he pulls out his cellphone from the back pocket of his jeans. He types out a message to Spencer, argh no1 siad it was scarey spence. He splashes cold water on his face and hangs around in the bathroom until he gets a reply: like nike says just do it xoxo s.

In the bedroom, Clara's in bed with the comforter pulled up to her neck. Brendon's not even half-hard, his dick barely nudging at his boxer shorts. He pulls off the rest of his clothes and shuffles out of his underwear as he's ducking under the comforter, kicking her accidentally.

"Okay," she says, ignoring the fact Brendon had just bruised her leg. She presses her mouth to Brendon's. Their teeth clack and it's kind of wet and he doesn't know when to stick his tongue in; kissing is pretty bad, all things considered. He's always thought that he was going to be the best kisser ever (he spent a lot of time practicing against the back of his hand one summer), but he doesn't seem to be doing so well. Unless it's her, and she's just a really bad kisser. Brendon tries to cling on to that thought.

Clara reaches down between them and yes, she's grabbing his dick. She kind of raises an eyebrow at him when she realizes he's not exactly hard, but Brendon's not a teenager for nothing. He hardens under her fist as she starts to move—it's dry and it kind of hurts, but he has to stop himself from thanking the Lord out loud. He's never been so pleased to see his erection before.

He's starting to think that sex isn't everything he thought it was going to be. It's kind of weird and sort of noisier then he'd thought. He thought he'd enjoy it more. Maybe he really is one of those asexual people, the kind who just don't ever want to have sex. Brendon thinks that would kind of suck, since he sort of liked the idea of doing it, having sex. Clara's kind of groaning, saying yeah so he tries it too, a litany of oh yeah and like that and yeah baby. He maybe sort of grins when he calls her baby. He's seen porn—no one who was friends with Brent could ever get away with not watching porn, it was like the guy didn't own any normal DVDs or something—so he knows what sex is supposed to be like.

Except maybe he doesn't, because he's kind of kneeling above Clara and he doesn't really know if he's, well, inside or not. She kind of guided him down there, but it's a bit like a foreign country and he's warm and damp and trapped between her thighs and there's heat and stuff, so yeah. And then there's the moment where he can't help himself, he has to ask, is it in? and she just rolls her eyes and says, no, dumbass, and she sticks her hand between her legs and does something tricksy and then everything's a bit different, kind of hotter and tighter and yeah. Okay. Brendon's got his dick inside this girl and he doesn't even know her last name.

"I don't know your last name," he says, kind of tightly, because it's kind of hard to concentrate when you're dick-deep inside and trying to keep your balance.

"Jeez," Clara manages, through gritted teeth. "It's Gellar. Just, move, okay?"

So Brendon does, and he echoes her yeah, baby with his own. It doesn't last long, a few minutes of thrusting and his internal monologue saying I'm having sex, I'm actually having sex and then that's it, he's coming. Coming inside a condom is pretty disgusting and Brendon pulls out with a grimace, rolling over and out of the bed into the bathroom to flush it away. He wipes himself down.

He doesn't know what to say to her, so he just creeps over to where he dropped his clothes and picks them up off the floor, sneaking into the bathroom to get dressed. She's either asleep or just pretending to be. He pulls on his jeans and his t-shirt and sends Spencer a message—I need numbr for cab. help?

Brendon's half way to the door when he sneaks a look over to the bed. Clara's awake, looking right at him. When he catches her eye, she closes her eyes, deliberately.

"Right, okay," he says, and "Bye then." He closes the door behind him when she doesn't reply.

When he gets down to the street, there's a message from Spencer with the number of a cab. Spencer tells him they've just gotten back to Pete's. Brendon doesn't know where he is, because he's stupid, so he ends up looking at the mailbox and reading off the address to the cab firm. He sits on the curb and waits for someone to come pick him up.

He can't decide what he feels—on the one hand, he's not a virgin anymore (Brendon kind of thinks that that's the best thing ever, like, ever, so he does a handstand up against the wall. He doesn't like staying still when he doesn't have to) but on the other hand, he just had really bad, really awful, really fucking terrible sex. He does another handstand up against the wall because, fuck it, he's had sex. Even if it was possibly the worst sex in the history of the whole wide entire world, he's not a virgin anymore.

Brendon buzzes Spencer's phone when he gets back to Pete's. They're all staying in Pete's guest bedroom, all four of them, sharing a queen and a fold-out bed. Brendon doesn't want to wake anyone up—especially since the sun's coming up over the horizon—so he sits on the stoop and waits for Spencer to let him in.

"Hey," Spencer says, and he sits down next to Brendon. He's in his pajamas, plaid pants and a green t-shirt.

"Hey," Brendon says, shifting so he can rest his head on Spencer's shoulder. "That pretty much sucked," he admits.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Brendon presses his nose into the curve of Spencer's neck, wrapping his arm around Spencer. Spencer's knee bumps against his. He doesn't want to let go.

They stay on the stoop until the open door brings Hemingway outside, pushing his cold nose against Brendon's hand.

"Come on," Spencer says, keeping hold of Hemingway's collar. "Inside."

Brendon isn't sure whether Spencer's talking to him or the dog.

~*~

 

"I don't think I'm very good at sex," Brendon says, miserably, when he comes back from the shower. He's sharing the fold out bed with Spencer and Spencer's stayed awake, leaving the comforter down for Brendon. From the other side of the queen that Ryan's sharing with Brent, Ryan makes a sound like a snort. Brendon can't even bring himself to shuffle over and kick at Ryan's feet. "Kick him for me, Spence," Brendon says, sadly, "defend my honor."

Spencer half-heartedly kicks out at the end of the bed. Ryan maybe laughs.

"That bad, huh?" Spencer asks, once Brendon's dropped his wet towel on the floor and crawled under the covers.

Brendon nods. "Really, really bad." There's a gap down the middle of the bed, empty space between them; Spencer's propped up on his elbow, watching him.

Spencer leans over and squeezes Brendon's shoulder. "It'll get better," he says. "You'll get better. Lines of girls, remember?"

Brendon does remember. "Yeah," he says. He picks at the skin by his thumbnail.

"Next time," Spencer says, and Brendon's listening carefully now because he doesn't recognize Spencer's voice anymore, the leveled, careful sound of his words, "next time it'll be better."

"I don't think I ever want to do that again," Brendon says decidedly. The sun is coming up. "I didn't really know," he coughs, awkwardly, "where things, you know, were supposed to go."

From Ryan's side of the bed there's a noise that sounds decidedly snort-like. It shifts into a cough after Spencer kicks the end of the bed.

"Okay, okay, I'm going to sleep," Ryan says. "Brendon, I'm really very sorry that you're so bad at sex."

Spencer throws his pillow at Ryan's head. Brendon manages a grin, because Spencer's a drummer and like, totally muscular and stuff, so that's got to have hurt. It almost doesn't matter that Brendon's terrible at sex.

There's quiet for a minute. He shuffles closer to Spencer, closing the gap between them. Spencer touches at Brendon's shoulder.

"Can I," Brendon says, and he doesn't know what he's asking for, "can I stay here?" he says, finally. He presses himself right up against Spencer's side, wrapping an arm around Spencer's tummy. He wouldn't normally ask, because Brendon's got a different set of rules about personal space from everyone else in the world, he knows that, but there's something just south of okay about the whole night that he just can't quite put his finger on.

Spencer stills. "Sure," he says, after a moment. "Yeah, sure."

"Good," Brendon says, and he closes his eyes tightly, pressing his nose to Spencer's neck. After a minute, Spencer's arm curves around Brendon's shoulder and Brendon lets out a deep breath. "Night," he says, softly.

"Yeah," Spencer says. Brendon's fingers tangle in Spencer's t-shirt and Spencer hooks his chin over Brendon's shoulder. "Night."

~*~

 

They're back in Nevada when Pete texts Ryan to tell them he's booked them studio time in Maryland. It isn't like they didn't know that they were going to be recording their album in the very near future, but the reality of seeing the dates written down is another thing entirely. Brendon jumps on Brent's back and Ryan and Spencer do some sort of weird high-five kids handshake thing (Brendon thinks he wants his own secret handshake, he really does), but then comes the realization that the dates coincide with the last few weeks of school. There's kind of a dull silence after that, because none of them had really thought about not finishing school. Brent says, "I'm not sure my parents are going to go for that," and Spencer kind of nods. Brendon doesn't even want to think about his mom and dad.

Ryan kicks at the table leg in frustration.

Spencer bites at his lip and says, "Let me-" and he rubs gently at Brendon's shoulder with the flat of his hand., "I'm going to go and find out our options." He's already pulling out his phone and booting up the computer.

"I don't think my mom and dad are going to go for this," Brent says again. He's looking down at his hands.

"It's our band," Ryan says tightly, and Brendon sort of goes numb. He hasn't made any college applications, partly because he's spending his college money on a two-bit apartment where he has to go down the hall just to take a shower, but mainly because Brendon's faith in their ability to succeed far exceeds anyone else's.

"We could just quit?" he says, forcing a smile. "Who needs to graduate?"

Brent sinks lower into the couch cushions.

Spencer finds out that they can complete the last few weeks by correspondence, and they just need their parents' permission. It's less than one semester-worth of recording and making up credits from an apartment in Maryland, but when Brendon takes a deep breath and calls his mom and dad, they don't even hear him out before they say no. Brendon thinks the whole thing is stupid and crazy since he hasn't exactly been living with them since junior year, but rules are apparently rules and Brendon needs written permission to complete.

Brent's parents are just as adamant, but Spencer's mom and dad are beginning to waver. Spencer is dogged and organized and his parents are beginning to weaken. They speak to Pete on the phone and seem to listen when Spencer provides them with a schedule.

Ryan eventually tips the balance in Spencer's favor. He quits college, turning up at Spencer's with a duffel and bright eyes. Brendon - who is in Spencer's den playing Spencer's sisters' Dance Dance Revolution - hops off the mat and hovers by the doorway as Spencer taps at Ryan's chest with his finger. Ryan is looking at the floor.

"You quit?" Spencer asks. "Are you a dumbass?"

Ryan shrugs. "Band comes first," he says, and he's not avoiding Spencer's eyes this time. "I'm all in."

Spencer stares at him for a long moment. "Can you still stay with your dad?" he asks eventually, and Brendon crosses his arms and curls his toes into the carpet.

"No," Ryan says, and Brendon knows that tone of voice, he recognizes it. "But it's fine."

"Ryan-" Spencer starts.

"You can stay with me," Brendon says. "You know. If you need to."

Ryan looks up, startled, like he hadn't even realized Brendon was there. "I-" then he shrugs, drops his duffel onto the floor. "Thanks, yeah. When I'm not staying with Amy."

"Or here," Spencer says, and he sounds like his chest hurts. "You've always got a place to stay here."

They play video games until Spencer's dad calls them in for dinner, Brendon and Spencer either side of Ryan like a guard.

~*~

 

Ryan's new status as officially homeless shifts Spencer's parents into overdrive. Brendon doesn't know quite what it is about Ryan dropping out that means Spencer's parents suddenly believe that them not finishing high school in the normal way is okay, but he's not going to argue. Ryan sells his car for cash and he and Brendon end up bumming rides from Spencer and Brent far more often than either of them like. It's weird, because they're a signed band now, with songs and a future, but they're stuck in this weird half-place where Ryan ends up working at the grocery store to get some cash and sharing his week out between Brendon, Spencer and Amy. Brendon goes with Brent and Spencer when they go to pick up the last of Ryan's stuff from his dad's.

Ryan's waiting for them by the front door, surrounded by a couple of duffels, an ex-army hold-all that's seen better days and two boxes of books and CDs. He'd taken some of his belongings over to Spencer's before he'd sold his car and they're just picking up the last of his stuff from home.

Ryan's tapping a carton of cigarettes against his knee and he won't meet Brendon's eyes.

"Come on," Spencer says, after a moment. He's got his hand on Ryan's shoulder. "Let's get this stuff in the car."

They all take a bag and Ryan leans against the trunk of Spencer's car, holding a box. Brendon has the ex-army duffel and he's trying to make out like he's strong enough to carry it. He isn't though, not really, and he ends up half-dragging the bag across Ryan's front yard. He can see the grass marks on the khaki (right under Ryan's dad's name stitched on to the side, but Brendon just blinks and doesn't say anything) and hopes that the gravity of the situation will mean that no one will mind that Brendon's a hundred pound weakling who can't carry a bag full of Ryan's clothes.

It's Ryan though, and Ryan can be surprisingly aware. He punches Brendon in the shoulder, which Brendon thinks is kind of harsh, considering.

"Hey," he says, and Spencer shoots him a look that Brendon's probably supposed to find a warning or something. "Dude."

"You should have said if you couldn't handle it," Spencer says, tiredly, and he takes the bag from Brendon and heaves it into the trunk without breaking a sweat. Brendon is always totally amazed by how awesomely strong Spencer is, but he's a drummer and drummers are always well-built, so. He notices a lot of things like that about Spencer now. He wipes his palms on his jeans and hops from foot to foot. The toe of his sneaker has a tiny dolphin drawn on it in purple sharpie. Brent said it didn't look much like a dolphin, but Brendon likes it.

"You should drive back with Brent, Brendon," Spencer tells him.

"Oh," Brendon says, looking between Spencer and Ryan. Spencer's looking meaningfully at him. "Right."

Brendon and Brent listen to Bon Jovi on the way back home, belting out the choruses with the windows half down; they stop off and pick up donuts and when they get to Spencer's they all sit in the garage in among Spencer's kit and Ryan's belongings and lick the jelly out of the middle. Brendon tries to catch the donut holes in his mouth and ends up with powdered sugar on his nose and down his t-shirt. Spencer rolls his eyes but Brendon just grins and nudges his knee against Spencer's. His stomach feels like it's full of butterflies. Spencer leaves his knee pressed up against Brendon's.

Spencer's parents meet with the guidance counselor from Spencer's school and then they meet with the principal. According to Spencer, they ask about a gazillion questions, and Spencer tells Brendon that he was totally embarrassed by it all, but it doesn't matter because they come out of the meetings prepared to support Spencer's application to complete by correspondence. After another long day of timetabling and scheduling and meeting with teachers, Spencer's done with school. The arrangements are in place. His parents talk to Brent's parents and whatever it is that they say, it's pretty successful because Brent calls Brendon up and tells him his parents are going to meet with the principal.

Great, Brendon thinks, dully, and calls his parents again. They say no and Brendon rests his forehead against the doorjamb.

Brendon's already tried to explain to his guidance counselor the futility of having to get permission from his parents when he's already lived by himself for a year, but the counselor just smiles sadly at him and says, them's the breaks, kid. On the way out of the office Brendon stares blindly at the wall of leaflets; he's sort of made his mind up to drop out of school before they leave for Maryland. He gets out of school and sits on the wall by the bus stops, kicking at the bricks in frustration. He texts Spencer, am going to drop out.

Spencer turns up at Brendon's apartment with his parents. "No," he says, when Brendon opens his mouth to say, what? "Last ditch attempt. Mom and Dad are going to try talking to your parents."

Brendon doesn't go with them; he stays on the couch in his apartment and watches cartoons with Spencer. Spencer lets Brendon curl up against his side, arm around him. He presses a kiss to the top of Brendon's head, and Brendon nudges at Spencer's ribcage with his nose.

Brendon sometimes thinks that he's happiest when he's with Spencer; he never seems to mind how much Brendon drapes himself all over him, never seems to care what time of the day or night Brendon calls him. Brendon knows how lucky he is to have found friends like this. Having the most awesome friends in the world more than makes up for all those years of Brendon being lame and no one liking him.

Brendon's not exactly sure how Spencer's parents persuade his to agree, but he's fairly sure it has something to do with the alternative of Brendon dropping out and not finishing high school. He meets his mom and dad in the park by his parents' house; they sit at one of the picnic tables by the lake and Brendon tries not to let them see how much his legs are shaking. He rests his hands on his knees and picks at the denim, biting his lip. They tell him that they love him and they really, really think that Brendon should stay at school and finish up.

Brendon thinks of Spencer, who drove him here and is waiting in the parking lot for him. He thinks about all the extra hours he's put in, trying to get his schoolwork done early so he can go with the others and still finish school. "No," he says, "I'm going to Maryland." It's hard, sitting in front of his mom and dad and telling them that he's not going to follow their advice anymore. He's going to record his album whether or not he's allowed to finish school; he's made his mind up. He tells his parents carefully that he loves them and he wants to be a part of their family, but this is what he is going to do. It's hard, oh so hard, and he has to bite back the tears. He's missed his parents so much, he can barely put it into words.

"Look," his mom says, finally. "We were going to give you this for your eighteenth birthday, but-"

Brendon looks down at the table. He doesn't want to think about that.

"-anyway," his mom goes on. "We thought you should have it early." She's getting an envelope out of her bag, it says Brendon on the front in purple, sparkly letters. His Mom always wrote on his birthday cards in purple. Brendon really, really thinks he's going to cry. "Here," she says, pushing it across the table. "It's from all of us."

Brendon bites his lip and opens the envelope; inside is a set of car keys and ownership papers for his mom and dad's old mini-van.

"We're sorry we couldn't get you a new one," his dad says, gruffly. "We wanted to."

Brendon can't speak.

"Brendon?" his mom asks.

Brendon scrambles around the table and buries his face in his mom's neck, throwing his arm around his dad's shoulder. "Thank you," he says, and his mom and dad are hugging him back, right in the middle of the park where anyone could see them.

"We've called the school," his dad says, after a minute. "We've scheduled a meeting with your guidance counselor. We're not promising anything, but we'll listen."

Brendon hugs his parents harder.

~*~

 

They're going to drive up to Maryland in Brendon's mom's old van, and Brendon thinks it's just about the most amazing thing he's ever owned. Ryan calls it ugly-assed and Brendon's pretty positive that Spencer hates it too, but he just doesn't care. The drive is going to take them at least two days, probably three and Spencer has printed off the route map from at least two separate websites. They're due to leave pretty early in the morning, so the night before they all stay at Spencer's.

They have everything packed up—Pete had offered to get them a lame-ass trailer to go with their amazing purple mini-van, but Brent's dad had taken one look at the pictures Pete had sent through and said no. Brendon was kind of disappointed, since the trailer had been used by numerous bands and was covered in graffiti and was therefore stupidly cool. Brent's dad said he'd prefer it if they had a cramped trip in the minivan rather than die horribly on the interstate—which, okay, was a pretty good argument but it didn't make the pictures of the trailer any less inviting.

"It's bad enough we have to go in the purple hell-mobile," Ryan says, loudly, after Brent's dad reiterates his argument for the sixteenth time.

Brendon pouts and hugs the side of the van, spreading his arms out across the grimy side and saying, "Don't listen baby, you're beautiful," until everyone laughs.

"Dude, don't call it the hell-mobile," Brent says, elbowing Ryan. "It's got to get us 2,500 miles. We've got to butter it up."

Brendon beams and slings an arm around Brent's shoulder. "Brent loves the van. He's my new favorite band member."

"Hey," Spencer says. "What about me?"

Brendon rolls his eyes. "You don't count," he says. Spencer's always been his secret favorite. He sort of thinks that maybe that isn't so secret anymore.

"What about me?" Ryan asks, sullenly. Brendon isn't awesome like Spencer at reading people, but he's totally learning Ryan-speak now and Ryan is definitely nervous about them going to Maryland. They all are, but Ryan's something else. Spencer's organizing them all, loudly, and Brent's shoving people too hard and Brendon's bouncing around like a crazy thing. Ryan's refusing to look at people and mostly hanging around getting in Spencer's way.

"You're my favorite too," Brendon says, and puts his arm around Ryan's shoulders.

Spencer's mom ruffles Spencer's hair (Mom, Spencer says, ducking away exasperatedly. Brendon laughs) and announces that she and Jackie and Crystal will clean the van for them (Mom, Jackie and Crystal say, as one). Brendon doesn't know how he's managed to get the mini-van so dirty. It's like mud is drawn to him or something. They set about cleaning it with buckets of soapy water and the hose while Spencer makes everyone lay their kit out again to make sure they'd got everything.

"Spencer," Brendon wheedles, "please can we just all play Xbox?"

This is the second time today that Spencer has insisted on a full inspection and Brendon is decidedly bored of Spencer's lists. He's sort of glad that he's been finishing up with school so he hasn't had to put up with Spencer's crazy organizing this week. Brent and Ryan are shooting Spencer death glares every time he comes close to them with his clipboard.

Brendon's struggling to control his hyperactivity, jiggling from foot to foot, hanging off Ryan (who pushes him away, jeez, just get off me, Brendon) and Spencer—who is busy in his own way, calling the studio and Pete and making sure his mom had a full itinerary for the next few weeks.

Spencer isn't mean like Ryan is managing to be but he's distracted and not paying Brendon enough attention. Brent's left to bear the brunt of Brendon's attack of the nerves and Brendon drags him outside to do cartwheels across the yard and show off his back flips, before they go back inside to play video games very loudly and to the death. Brendon badgers Ryan until he comes to join them, and Brendon even manages to get him to smile. He gives himself an extra clap on the back for that.

Brendon's been counting the hours down until they can leave but it sort of seems like the day is destined to go on forever. Ryan is bad-tempered and angular; Brent's running up his cellphone bill and trying to sneak off to see Rachel; Brendon is bored. It's late evening by the time they finally force Spencer to slow down; they forcibly remove him from the garage and their kit. They sit in the basement and Brendon tries to slow down, he really does but he can't shut up.

Finally, Ryan leans over. "Seriously, Spencer. I'm not kidding. Get him the fuck away from me."

Brendon would have been hurt if it wasn't for the way Ryan's hands were shaking.

Spencer nods and takes Brendon by the elbow; Ryan and Brent take the bed in the basement and Spencer and Brendon end up in Spencer's bedroom.

"So," Spencer says. He sits down on the edge of the bed, fingers gripping the covers.

Brendon sits down next to him. "Ryan's really nervous, huh?"

Spencer nods. "He'll be okay. Just, just-" he shrugs, "give him some space, okay?"

Brendon wiggles his toes. "Yeah," he says, and he reaches for Spencer's hand. "It'll be okay," he says, and Spencer doesn't look at him, just squeezes back.

~*~

 

Brendon's almost asleep when Spencer's mom comes in. Brendon is lying half on top of Spencer, his head on Spencer's shoulder. Spencer's got his arms around Brendon and Brendon's fingers are in Spencer's hair. Brendon doesn't open his eyes.

There's a long moment where no one says anything. Then, quietly, Spencer's mom says "Is there something you want to tell me, Spencer?"

Brendon definitely does not open his eyes.

Spencer's hands tighten on Brendon's arms. "Not yet, Mom," Spencer says, softly.

It's a long time before Brendon hears the soft click of the door closing.

~*~

 

In the morning, Brendon thinks that maybe Spencer's mom has been crying. Her eyes are red-rimmed and she looks tired. She makes them all pancakes and presses a kiss to Spencer's temple, touching at Brendon's shoulder with her hand.

Brendon tries to pretend like nothing's changed.

They leave soon after breakfast, with Brendon still proclaiming his love for their mini-van as they drive out of Nevada, Spencer driving and Ryan in the passenger seat. "I love this van," Brendon says, from his seat behind Spencer. "More than anything."

Spencer waits until they get to a stop sign and then leans back to hit Brendon's knee. "Shut up, before we have to kill you. Don't think Ryan won't."

"That hurt," Brendon says, rubbing his leg. It did.

Ryan shoots him a look. Brendon thinks that Ryan has been taking fierce-lessons from Spencer.

"More than anything?" Brent asks. "Really?"

"Yes," Brendon nods, waiting till they hit the next stop sign and smacking Spencer round the back of the head. "Doofus."

Spencer rolls his eyes at him in the rear view mirror. "You're so dead, Urie." Brendon sticks his tongue out and grins, waiting until Spencer grins back. He does, and Brendon sits back in his seat, happy. They're going to record their album.

"More than jacking off?" Brent asks.

"Are we still talking about Brendon's great and true love for our wheels?" Ryan asks, raising his eyebrows.

Brendon shakes his head. Okay, so guys are totally supposed to think about sex every three seconds or something but Brendon's pretty sure that Brent got Brendon's share of the sexy thoughts as well as his own. Brent has a whole library of skin magazines. Sure, Brendon likes them—he's a teenaged boy with feelings and a dick and stuff and they're full of naked people having sex so Brendon can't really see the fail, but he maybe thinks that he's not a breasts sort of guy. Not like Brent and Ryan are, anyway. He thinks that maybe Spencer isn't a breast kind of guy either, because whenever they're all together and Brent and Ryan are talking about some hot girl at the counter with the awesome rack or whatever, Spencer just rolls his eyes at him and kind of starts a thumb war with Brendon or steals a slurp of Brendon's milkshake. Brendon thinks it's kind of cool that out of the band there's two of them who are against the objectification of women as sex objects.

Brendon digs his fingers into Brent's side until he yelps. "This van fucking rules," Brendon tells them all, sunnily.

~*~

 

They're tired and ready to kill each other by the time they finally get to Maryland. The van smells of boys trapped too long in one place and is covered in crumbs and empty fast food wrappers and empty takeaway cups of coffee. They unload their stuff out of the van; Brendon sort of thinks he needs to build up some muscle mass, and fast, because this stuff is heavy.

"Seriously," he says, and he's sweating, "Spencer, this is going to kill me. You will be lead-singer-less," and he realizes he is clearly a ten pound weakling. He tells Spencer he's going to buckle under the weight of some of their kit.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "I don't think that's a bad thing," he says, and Brendon sticks out his tongue. Ryan can hardly talk, he's lifting all the light stuff like the guitar cases. At least Brendon's trying with the heavy stuff, and not leaving it all to Brent and Spencer to drag it up three flights of stairs to their new apartment.

"Guys," Brendon says, and he can't see around the corner because the case is too big, "Does anyone want to help? I think I'm going to drop-"

Brent takes the other corner of the box. "Brendon," he says, and Brendon thinks he sounds exasperated, "Shit, don't drop our stuff, okay? Just, carry the stuff you can manage."

"Hey," Spencer says, elbowing Brent none-so-gently. "Shut up."

"It's okay," Brendon says, brightly. He smiles at Spencer. "It's fine, Spence. Brent's right." Brendon thinks that maybe he can get some weights now that they're settled in Maryland for a while. He could work out in the evenings or something, and then next time they've got to move their shit everyone would be totally surprised by how strong Brendon was. He maybe scratches the side of one of the cases on the door into the apartment building, but he thinks that that could happen to anyone, really.

When they get outside again, to get the next load of their stuff from the van, Spencer knocks his shoulder into Brendon's. "Dude," Spencer says, but he's grinning.

Brendon grins back. Spencer's smiles are always infectious; Brendon thinks it's one of the best things about being Spencer's friend. "Wanna help me move some heavy-assed equipment, Spencer Smith?"

Spencer does.

~*~

 

For the most part, Brendon thinks that recording is pretty amazing. The days are really long though—really, really long—and Brendon starts to think back to the days where he was juggling practice with school and homework and working at the Smoothie Hut and he thinks that really, that wasn't too bad. Some mornings now he can't even get his eyes open. They're living on a diet of red bull and coffee, ramen and cereal. Brendon's gotten so used to the shake that most of the time he doesn't even try to still it. He can still pick out the guitar parts and lay down the vocals so the rest doesn't matter so much.

Ryan doesn't sleep; he stays up later than the others scribbling into a journal. He snaps a lot—mostly at Brendon, but Brent and Spencer aren't exempt—and Brendon tries not to mind so much because he sees Ryan's face after he calls home. Brendon isn't exactly sure of what's going on between Ryan and his father, but it isn't pretty. Spencer and Ryan disappear pretty regularly—to the grocery store, or whatever—and don't come back for hours.

Spencer has dark circles under his eyes, and some evenings his hands are so cramped he just curls up on his mattress and won't talk to any of them. Those nights, Brendon pushes his mattress even closer to Spencer's and massages Spencer's hands. The calluses across Spencer's palm are rough to the touch; he has blisters on his fingers and for the first few mornings he had to tape them up before they went into the studio. The pads of Brendon's fingers are just as rough and some evenings his wrists hurt from playing the guitar so much.

Brent calls Rachel a lot, sprawled out on his mattress in the corner. Brendon thinks that Brent misses home more than the rest of them do. He's not keeping up; some days he begs to be able to take a break. Sometimes he's too tired to remember the bass parts when they change them at short notice and then Brendon ends up playing some of the bassline so they're not too much behind schedule.

~*~

 

The apartment isn't much of an apartment. There are four mattresses and a sagging couch and a TV that they sprawl in front of whenever they're back from the studio. Before they'd left Nevada, Brendon had entertained some pretty stupid ideas about partying in Maryland and living the lifestyle of the rich and famous rock star, but it isn't anything like that. They barely see the outside of their apartment, aside from when they're in the studio, and when they do manage to grab a break they're so tired that they tend to just come back home and try and catch up on some sleep.

It's still the best period of Brendon's life. He calls his mom and dad more often than he used to, and he tells them all about the studio and the guys who work the decks and the producer and the really sweet girl behind the reception desk whose name is Sara and sometimes brings in muffins for Brendon and the others. His parents ask him lots of questions and Brendon just wants to tell them everything. He's learning so much, all the guys at the studio know everything there is to know about music production and now that they've figured out that Brendon isn't just some stupid kid who just wants to get in their way (the first few days were pretty tough, Brendon thinks, with hindsight) they're usually quite happy to let Brendon sit in with them when he's not recording. It's amazing.

Their apartment is a disaster. Ryan and Brent commandeer a corner each, and their belongings litter all the intervening space. Brendon and Spencer picked the same corner, their mattresses pushed up next to each other, cases overflowing and clothes all over the floor. We've got more space like this, they tell Brent and Ryan, who both raise an eyebrow when they first see Brendon and Spencer's corner. Brendon finds a pirate flag in the bargain bin at the grocery store and clambers onto Spencer's shoulders to pin it up above their bed.

"What is that?" Ryan asks when he first sees it.

"To err is human," Spencer tells him, seriously, "but to argh is pirate."

"Argh," Brendon says, helpfully. He hooks his chin over Spencer's shoulder.

Ryan snorts with laughter, and Brendon beams. Ryan doesn't smile enough, Brendon thinks, and Spencer must agree because he lets them have a makeshift picnic of crackers and Twinkies on his side of the bed without raising so much as an eyebrow. Brent comes home with a deck of cards and they play shithead until Spencer falls asleep right where he's sitting, leaning up against the wall.

Brent ruffles Ryan's hair and punches Brendon in the shoulder. "Gonna hit the sack too," he says, sleepily, and he kicks a pile of clothes out of the way as he goes. Brendon puts the cards away carefully and shakes Spencer awake so that he can shuffle under the covers, asleep again almost as soon as his head hits the pillow. Brendon pulls up the comforter so that it's covering Spencer's shoulders. Ryan picks up the empty Twinkie packets and the boxes of crackers and eats the last handful.

"Argh," Brendon says again, doing his best impression of a pirate, quietly so as to not wake Spencer.

Ryan bumps Brendon's shoulder with his own. "Dick," he says, but he's suppressing a smile.

"Jerk," Brendon grins, nudging Ryan back.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "I'm going to bed," he says, but he's still smiling, so. Brendon climbs under the covers and waits for Ryan to switch off the light. Once it's dark he shuffles over so he's curled up against Spencer's back.

~*~

 

Brendon wakes up sprawled across both their mattresses, his feet tangled up with Spencer's and his face smushed into Spencer's shirt. It's not morning yet, so he buries his face in Spencer's side and goes back to sleep.

~*~

It's almost inevitable that they come back to Vegas for Brent and Brendon's School Prom. Brent has been going on about it for months; even before they'd left to go and record and they were still thrashing out the details of finishing school by correspondence, he was looking at them all and saying but we'll be coming back for Prom, right?

They're almost done with the record and they're so exhausted that some evenings they can barely speak. They're sick of each other's company and grumpy and in need of a break. Surprisingly, they're all - including Brendon, who can't think of any reason why he'd want to go to his school prom - they're all up for going back to Las Vegas. Patrick talked Pete into it, actually, one too many conversations where their tightly reined in frustrations had overflowed and they'd gotten snappy over speakerphone.

"They're kids," Patrick had said to Pete, pretty reasonably. Brendon and Spencer and Ryan all bristle at the description, but Brent's too busy waiting for them to say okay. "Give them a weekend off before they burn out."

So they turn up in Las Vegas four hours before Prom's due to begin, and Brent is calling Rachel even before they've got their luggage off the carousel. They've rented tuxes in Maryland, and they all carry them off the plane, Brendon grinning and bouncing from foot to foot because okay, yeah, he's going to prom at the school he'd hated with all the people who hadn't found it in their hearts to like him, but he gets to dress up and wear a fucking tux. And maybe Brendon is, like, a total loser or something, because he's going to a dance. He's not taking a girl or anything - Ryan had said that Amy had friends, she could totally fix him up - but Brendon just shook his head and said no. He doesn't want a blind date. He just wants to go to a dance and chill out with Spencer and laugh at Brent and Ryan dancing with their girlfriends.

"You sure?" Ryan had asked, carefully and Brendon just nodded, grinning.

Spencer isn't going with anyone either, and they just elbow each other and grin at Brent and Ryan, laughing at them calling their girlfriends and trying to make sure the corsages they'd ordered were going to match the girls' dresses.

They're getting ready at Spencer's house; Spencer's mom picks them all up from the airport and hugs them all tight, until Spencer blushes pink and says Mom. They pile into the car; Spencer sits in the passenger seat and Brendon and the others are squashed in the back. They push at each other and laugh and talk over the top of one another and it's like the stress of being stuck in Maryland has just evaporated and Brendon is happy.

Spencer's parents take, like, a gazillion photos and Brent's mom and dad come over and they want photos too.

Ryan insists on them wearing eyeliner—"Just a bit," he says, "show them what we're made of." Brendon sort of thinks that Ryan has paid more attention to Brendon's miserable experience at school than maybe Brendon had realized, because he presses his fingers into Brendon's elbow and looks meaningful.

They take the photos in Spencer's lounge, by the fireplace, all four of them in a row, Ryan and Brent bracketing Brendon and Spencer. Spencer keeps his hand in the small of Brendon's back. Spencer's mom manages to get a few of just him and Spencer by themselves, standing by the couch and waiting for Ryan and Brent to stop fussing over the fridge and the corsages. Brendon kind of wonders if he can get a copy of some of the photos, something to pin up on his wall in his apartment. He's going to get a copy of the one of him just by himself to send to his mom and dad. Maybe they'll put it on the mantel.

The limo arrives and they pile into the back, going to Amy's house first and then Rachel's. They stop for photos at each house; Brendon and Spencer stay in the limo and kick at each other, playing rock, paper, scissors and trying to remember the dirtiest jokes they know to keep themselves occupied while Brent and Ryan had their photos taken.

"I'm so glad we don't have to do that," Brendon says, after he's lost six games of rock, paper, scissors in a row. He points out of the window to where Amy's parents are photographing Ryan and Amy on the porch.

"Yeah," Spencer says. Paper wraps rock. Spencer keeps his hand wrapped around Brendon's, and he doesn't meet Brendon's eye.

Right, Brendon thinks, and tells the one about the Irish girl and the cobra in a field.

~*~

 

The dance is like every high school movie Brendon's ever seen, and he's seen a lot. The hall is decorated in a whole lot of gold; balloons and streamers everywhere. They've folded the bleachers back under purple wall hangings, and there are bored teachers posted at every doorway. Brendon thinks he sees his old guidance counselor and Ms. Ferguson who took that really boring English class Brendon always hated.

It's a bit like a scene from a movie when they all show up at the door, Ryan, Amy, Brent, Rachel, Brendon and Spencer. There's a momentary lull in conversation as people look at them, talking at each other in whispers. There's been a lot of publicity about their band; people Brendon's never spoken to are saying hi as they pass. Then all of Brent and Spencer's friends are coming out of the woodwork, coming over and knocking fists and bumping shoulders and Brendon is half-way to remembering why it was that he hated school when he remembers he's at a motherfucking dance and he's a motherfucking rock star and he's totally had sex now (even though it sucked and he'd have made a really crappy boyfriend. He'll have to get on with reading the rules or whatever, so he can do better next time. Brendon kind of thinks he could be a really good boyfriend, given the opportunity).

They grab a table by the back wall and Brendon lines up with Ryan and Amy to get punch for him and Spencer. Amy's kind of sweet, actually, nice to Brendon and with a really cute smile. Ryan could do a whole lot worse (and he has done, Brendon's seen some of the girls he's kissed) and Ryan's looking pretty happy. It's nice and Brendon likes to see Ryan smile. He wants to get back to the table so he can elbow Spencer and tell him he saw Ryan laugh. That's been kind of rare, recently.

Ryan and Amy leave him so that they can go and dance and he ends up saying hey to a couple of music kids he used to sit with at lunch. They're nice to him - maybe nicer than they ever were when he was just a kid who needed a friend, but Brendon's not one for holding grudges so he's grinning and clapping them on the back and asking them about what Miss Jeffries is teaching them in music class.

By the time he makes it back to the table Spencer's rolling his eyes. "Leaving me here without a drink, Brendon. That fucking sucks."

"Fuck you," Brendon says, with a grin. He pokes Spencer in the side, fingers touching at Spencer's shirt.

"Next time I'm coming with you so you don't get distracted," Spencer tells him, taking a gulp of the punch.

Brendon laughs at Spencer's face and they take turns pointing out the kids on the dance floor who can't dance to save their lives. Ryan is undoubtedly top of their list of people who shouldn't ever be allowed to dance in public.

It's a couple of hours later when Brendon starts to get bored. He's been nice to all the kids that have come up and spoken to him - even the ones who never said anything to him while he was actually here - and he's actually had a couple of really interesting conversations with people who've heard Time To Dance on the FBR sampler or on their Myspace. But that's sort of petered out now, and it turns out Miss Jeffries wasn't one of the teachers that pulled the short straw about chaperoning tonight, so he can't even bug her about music classes like he used to. Ryan and Amy are mostly kissing and so are Rachel and Brent, but there are kids hanging around the table and Spencer's talking to them. Judging by the pleading looks Spencer's shooting Brendon's way, Brendon thinks that maybe he got the better end of the deal. Brendon remembers that guy from his biology class, and he didn't much like him then.

Brendon's got his hands in his pockets and he's kind of kicking at the table leg. He's sort of bored.

"Hey," Spencer says, coming over. He sounds kind of awkward.

"Spencer Smith," Brendon says, with a grin. Spencer will probably play rock, paper, scissors with him again, or maybe go and hang out by the punch table and see if they can charm the girls behind the table into letting them pick the fruit out of the bowls. Spencer's pretty awesome.

Spencer's not looking at him, which is kind of weird.

"Spence?"

Spencer nudges him with his shoulder. "Do you want to, um, dance?" Spencer asks him.

Brendon kind of thinks that maybe he didn't hear properly. "What?" he asks, and his body must be running warm or something, because his skin is prickling and there's a rushing in his ears he can't quite hear over.

Spencer bites at his lip. "Dance," he says. "I'm asking you to dance, Brendon. Dance with me."

"Here?" Brendon says, stupidly. They're kind of blocked in by the table. Brendon's virtually pressed up against the wall.

"Yeah," Spencer says, ducking his head. "Unless you'd rather, we, you know." He nodded towards the dance floor. "If you want. But I was thinking, here."

"Oh," Brendon says. Spencer's looking pretty nervous, hands stuffed in his pockets. He's also looking kind of pink; Brendon thinks that Spencer looks sort of cute when he's shy. "Right," Brendon says, and he thinks about all those high school movies he's seen. "Are you trying to give me my High School Movie Moment, Spencer Smith?" Brendon asks.

Spencer shrugs awkwardly. "Maybe?" he says. It's half-way through a song. "If that's what you want."

"Spencer," Brendon manages, and he laughs, hand across his mouth. He's laughing like maybe he can't stop. He doesn't think he can; this is Spencer.

Spencer suddenly looks kind of mean. "I was only asking," he says, tightly, and Brendon has to reach out and grab his elbow to stop him from turning around and walking away. The tips of Spencer's ears are red.

"No," Brendon says, and he's not letting go of Spencer's arm. He touches at Spencer's other shoulder with his hand. "I mean, yes, yes to the dancing, Spencer -"

"Yeah?" Spencer says, and maybe he's not looking so mean anymore. He's blushing kind of a lot.

"Yeah," Brendon says, and they've maybe picked the worst place in the room to stand because they've got approximately no space at all to move. He steps closer. Brendon's still laughing.

"Dude," Spencer says, touching briefly at Brendon's wrist, "You've got to stop doing that. You're putting me off."

"Putting you off what?" Brendon asks, and his smile wavers a bit when Spencer slips his hands around Brendon's waist.

"I've got moves, Brendon Urie," Spencer says, softly. "Stop making me forget them."

Brendon smiles. "Moves, huh?" He slides his arms around Spencer's neck. Brendon's got moves too.

They're in shadow, but Brendon can see Amy and Ryan looking over at them. Brendon thinks he sees Ryan grin, and he swallows down a nervous laugh, nudging closer to Spencer. His fingers tangle in Spencer's hair.

"Yeah," Spencer says, and he's even closer than Brendon realized because Spencer totally whispered that in Brendon's ear. Brendon shivers, and tries to chalk it up to the tickle of Spencer's hair against his skin.

Spencer smells great. "You smell good," Brendon tells him, rubbing his nose against his neck. "Like, really good."

"Like really manly cologne?" Spencer says, and the words are fuzzy and warm against Brendon's ear. He shivers again and presses closer.

"Something like that," Brendon mumbles, and he maybe closes his eyes.

They stay in the shadows, barely moving, Brendon with his nose pressed up against Spencer's neck and Spencer with his hands on Brendon's back. When the song ends, Brendon doesn't want to let go and so he doesn't, just keeps holding on as the next song starts. The music is really cheesy and Brendon is pretty sure that Ryan's going to lord it over them for the rest of forever.

Brendon sort of doesn't care.

He also doesn't care when he sees the kid from his biology class that he always hated sidle up to Brent and hears him say, "Dude, are they- are they dancing?" Brent—who is all kinds of awesome—elbows him sharply in the ribs and says, "What the fuck does it matter if they are?"

Brendon grins into Spencer's shoulder. Brent gives Brendon an awkward thumbs up and Rachel smiles.

Spencer kisses his temple and Brendon holds on tighter.

The music segues clumsily into a Fat Boy Slim track and even Brendon can't try and slow-dance to that. They pull apart awkwardly, both trying to speak at the same time. Brendon can feel his cheeks pinking and Spencer's looking pretty warm too. "So," Brendon manages, after a minute. The floor is looking really quite interesting right at this moment.

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Jeez," he says, then, "we're total fucktards."

Brendon nods vehemently. Then he just holds his hand out; Spencer looks down at it, and then he takes it. They both blush a little bit more and just stand there holding hands until Ryan comes over.

He rolls his eyes at them both and says "Jesus, you're both losers."

Brendon says, says you, and Spencer does something weird with his eyebrows.

Ryan rolls his eyes again. "Whatever, dickface. We're going for fries."

"Fries?" Brendon asks, bouncing on the balls of his feet a bit. His hand is hot in Spencer's.

Spencer grins and squeezes Brendon's hand. "You had enough of school dances, then?"

Brendon grins back; his stomach feels like it's full of butterflies. "Well, you know. Fries. Ice cream. Ice cream, Spencer Smith. Can we go for ice cream?"

Brendon thinks that maybe Spencer says anything you want, but he doesn't quite catch it because Ryan's saying "Oh, tell me you didn't just say that, Smith," and is trying to get Spencer in a headlock and Brent's joining in and Spencer's saying "Brendon, I thought you were going to fight for my honor," all while trying to fight back without letting go of Brendon's hand.

Brendon holds on tighter and shakes his head. "Not if it means I have to wait longer for ice cream."

Spencer doesn't let go.

~*~

 

The limo is waiting for them outside; the driver is reading the paper and listening to the radio. Ryan has to knock on the window to get his attention to let them all in.

They end up in the diner that's the other side of the park from Brendon's apartment. They all squeeze into a booth, Brent and Rachel and Ryan and Amy and Spencer and Brendon. Brendon can't decide between fries and ice cream, but Spencer takes his hand under the table and tells him in an undertone that he can actually pick both.

Brendon beams.

When the fries arrive, Brendon keeps hold of Spencer's hand and dips the fries in ketchup, sticking them in his mouth so they look like fangs. "I'm a vampire," he says.

"You're a dick," Ryan says. He's resting his head on Amy's shoulder.

Spencer sticks some in his mouth too, grinning at Brendon. Brent rolls his eyes and reaches over for the ketchup and then before Ryan can make fun of them anymore, Amy's pushing him across the booth so she can get a photo of them all, potato fangs and all. Ryan shakes his head afterwards, taking his out and dumping them on the side of Brendon's plate. "If I've got ketchup on my tux, Brendon, so help me God-"

"You'll what?" Brendon says, and he sticks his tongue out. He's mid-mouthful.

"I hate you," Ryan tells him, carefully, and he pokes Brendon in the side. Brendon scoots over, thigh pressed up against Spencer's. When Ryan rolls his eyes and squeezes past them, back to Amy, Brendon doesn't scoot back. Spencer's hand is on his thigh.

They stay in the diner far too long, Ryan drinking coffee and Brent laughing and kissing Rachel, his arm around her. Spencer takes charge and orders ice cream sundaes, letting Brendon choose the flavors and pick whatever sprinkles he wants. "Chocolate sauce?" Brendon asks and Spencer just squeezes his hand under the table.

Brendon sort of thinks that he doesn't really know how he got here; sitting in a diner near his apartment making fangs out of potato fries and holding hands with Spencer Smith under the table. He can't stop smiling. When the bill comes, Spencer tries to pay for Brendon's food—which, well, Brendon kind of thinks is the cutest thing ever, but no—Brendon just leans over and says "I'm the kind of boy that pays half, Spencer Smith."

Spencer totally goes red—right up to the tips of his ears—and Brendon takes the opportunity to fish his wallet out of his pocket.

Ryan is laughing so much that Brendon thinks that he might choke.

~*~

 

Brendon and Spencer don't get back in the limo with the others; they stand at the edge of the parking lot with their hands in their pockets and wave them off. Brendon's apartment is close enough that they can walk back.

They walk home along the edge of the park and Spencer tugs him in to the playground. They sit on the swings and Spencer loosens his tie and pulls it off and into his pocket. Brendon wants to keep his on because he's never worn a tuxedo before and he kind of loves how it feels, but it's getting tight around his neck so he takes it off and shoves it in his pocket. He beams; he's in a fucking tux and he's danced at his prom and he's just recorded an album with his best friends. It's amazing. And Spencer. This whole night has been totally and completely awesome.

They swing lazily for a bit, Brendon's shoes scuffing against the ground. It's kind of late and there's no one else around and they've got to fly back to Maryland after lunch tomorrow. Brendon's whole life is pretty amazing right now. Kids from school wanted to talk to him, Spencer wanted to dance with him-

Spencer shrugs his shoulders awkwardly. "You know how we always said we wanted girls lining up for us, so we could pick and choose?"

Brendon's fingers tighten on the swing. "Yeah?" he says, noncommittally, because maybe there's a chance he's wrong about this.

"I kind of don't want that." Spencer shrugs again. "You know, apart from how, like, people appreciating us is good and all-"

"Spence-"

"-I sort of just want you."

Seriously, Brendon's night just went from completely and amazingly awesome to being unbelievably awesome. "Yeah?" he says, and his swing stutters to a stop. There's no breeze. He bites his lip to keep from smiling too widely and too brightly and says, "I think you were totally my date tonight, Spencer Smith. Even before the dancing."

"That's the kind of thing you're supposed to tell someone," Spencer points out after a moment. "Before."

"I'm telling you now," Brendon says. He's smiling. "Anyway, like you didn't know. I was yours too."

"Right," Spencer says, and he's smiling too, pushing his hair out of his eyes and maybe Brendon sort of loves the fuck out of him. Well, he definitely loves the fuck out of him. He's just maybe ever so slightly in love with him too. "Yeah."

"You think maybe I can kiss you now?" Brendon asks, and yes, he's blushing. He's got butterflies again, just like in the movies.

"Okay," Spencer says, and it's awkward on the swings, but Spencer kind of ducks his head and Brendon just leans in and presses his mouth to Spencer's. It's kind of sweet and he still tastes like ice cream and chocolate sauce. Brendon's skin feels too warm.

After a moment, Spencer stands up. "Come on," he says, holding out his hand. "Let's go."

They walk home bumping elbows, Brendon talking about dinosaurs and how Steven Spielberg was totally scamming kids everywhere because Velociraptors were like, the size of turkeys or chickens or something.

When they get into Brendon's apartment, Brendon really, really doesn't know what to do. He's nervous again, jittery, his fingers tapping against his thigh. He fiddles with the stereo, pulls off his jacket and untucks his shirt from his pants and goes to the sink to get water for them to have hot chocolate. He's babbling, he doesn't know what about but he thinks he went from dinosaurs to snakes and from snakes to spiders and maybe now he's talking about penguins. He'd kind of like a penguin-

"Brendon-" Spencer stops him, pushes him back against the counter. "I'm thinking that maybe we can just make out, if that's okay with you."

Brendon nods, yeah, okay. Spencer touches his forehead to Brendon's, runs his hands down Brendon's arms. "You okay?" he asks, and Brendon can feel Spencer's breath warm against his cheek. Spencer's hands close around Brendon's wrists, stilling him. After a moment, he lets go.

Brendon curls his fingers into the nape of Spencer's neck, carding his fingers through Spencer's hair. "Yeah," he says and he rubs his nose gently against Spencer's. "You've got a cute nose, Spencer Smith."

"I do not," Spencer says, affronted. "I am all man."

Brendon laughs and kisses him.

They make out with Brendon pressed up against the counter, Spencer's hands pulling under Brendon's shirt until he's got his palms flat against the curve of Brendon's spine. Brendon doesn't know how long they stay there, but when they finally stop Spencer's cheeks are pink and his lips are swollen and red. Brendon touches his fingers to them as Spencer ducks his head away. "Hey," Brendon says. "You getting shy on me, Spence?"

Spencer shrugs uncomfortably. "Something like that, maybe." He squares his shoulders, touches his hand to Brendon's cheek. "No," he says, softly.

Brendon squeezes his hand and smiles. "Wanna make out on the bed instead?"

Spencer rolls his eyes and doesn't bother trying to hide his grin. "What do you think?" he asks, and he's already half way across the room after Brendon when he stops. He's watching Brendon with what Brendon thinks is a look of undisguised horror as Brendon toes off his shoes without untying the laces, kicking them under the bed and out of the way. "Are you doing that just to hurt me?" Spencer manages, after a moment.

"Yes," Brendon says sunnily. "Come on."

They strip to their boxers, leaving a bedraggled pile of formal slacks and socks and shirts on the floor by Brendon's bed.

"Do I have to put that back on in the morning?" Spencer asks miserably, toeing at the pile. Their bags are still at Spencer's mom and dad's.

Brendon watches as Spencer sits down carefully on the edge of the bed and he reaches his hand out until it's flat to Spencer's chest. "I'll lend you a shirt tomorrow." His thumb strokes against Spencer's breastbone.

Spencer's breath hitches.

They make out for an hour, until Brendon's too tired to keep his eyes open and Spencer's looking like he's seconds away from falling asleep. Brendon's hard, but he's also exhausted. All those weeks of recording are catching up with them. They're still in their boxers, the covers kicked half way down the bed, their feet entwined. "We should sleep," Brendon says, after a moment. He can feel himself drifting off, his head resting on Spencer's shoulder.

But Spencer excuses himself to go to the bathroom with a pair of Brendon's pajamas and he takes a couple of minutes longer than he should. Brendon—with one eye on the door and one ear trained on the click of the bathroom door down the hallway—shoves his hands into his boxers and jerks himself off. He barely lasts a minute and he's peeling off his sticky boxers and changing into a fresh pair of pajama pants before Spencer comes back in, standing awkwardly in the doorway in Brendon's pajamas.

Brendon grins sleepily and shifts over so there's room for them both in the bed. Spencer crawls into Brendon's arms, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth, and falls asleep with his face pressed up against Brendon's side, smushed up against his ribs. Brendon kisses his hair and watches him for a few minutes before closing his eyes.

~*~

 

They wake up to the insistent sound of Brendon's cellphone. Brendon has no idea where it is, stumbling out of bed and kneeing Spencer in the side as he kicks at the pile of their clothes until he finds his jacket and his cellphone in the pocket.

"I thought we were meeting for breakfast," Ryan says, without saying hello.

"Shit," Brendon says. He looks down at where his watch should be, but he must have taken it off. He thinks he can see it across the room, by the sink. "What time is it? Are you there? Are we late?"

"No," Ryan says, and Brendon can hear him grinning. Brendon looks back at Spencer, who's asleep on his side facing the wall. Brendon can just see the smooth expanse of his back. His mouth maybe goes a little bit dry. "I'm still at the hotel with Amy," Ryan goes on. Amy and Ryan and Brent and Rachel had all booked hotel rooms on the edge of town. Brendon and Spencer had just looked at each other and said no when Brent had suggested that they get a couple of rooms too. They might be in the middle of recording their album but Brendon still had to be careful with his cash. He'd opted for all night playstation with Spencer instead. "Want to meet for lunch instead? If you're, I don't know, not too tired."

Brendon rolls his eyes. "You're never going to let us hear the end of this, are you?"

"Pretty much, no, so, yeah."

Brendon arranges to meet the others for lunch and crawls back into bed, hands sliding across Spencer's back and resting on his stomach. Brendon doesn't particularly think Spencer is still asleep—particularly as Brendon definitely kicked him on his way out to find his phone—but Spencer isn't showing any particular signs of being awake, either.

"Hey," Brendon says, and he feels a little awkward because he might have spent a couple of hours in the middle of the night learning all about kissing Spencer, but not so much about touching. Plus, he thinks, it's the morning now. He noses at Spencer's neck. Spencer smells sweet and warm.

Spencer mumbles something under his breath, and laces his fingers in with Brendon's.

"You should totally wake up," Brendon says, thumb rubbing against Spencer's stomach. Brendon's awake now, and they only have one morning in his apartment and half of it's already gone. "I mean, really."

Spencer doesn't move, but he does squeeze Brendon's hand harder.

"Seriously, Spencer." Brendon's kind of bored. He's also sort of hungry, and he knows that he hasn't got anything in his cupboards apart from crackers and maybe some stale cereal. It means they can only have black coffee, too, unless there's some creamer in the back of his cupboard. "I mean, you're totally hot when you're pretending to be asleep and everything, but I'm bored."

Brendon can feel Spencer roll his eyes. "You're going to be the worst fucking boyfriend in the whole entire world, right?" Spencer says, after a moment.

Brendon nods, beaming. He's always been quick to wake up in the morning, once he's awake. He's actually pretty terrible at waking himself up and getting to places on time, but once he's awake he's pretty much, well, awake.

"Could at least have brought me coffee," Spencer grumbles.

Brendon shrugs and roots through the drawers by the bed. "I've got some gum?"

Spencer sits back on his elbows and wrinkles his nose. "Gum?" he asks.

"Minty fresh breath, Spence. Minty fresh."

Spencer sighs and hold out his hand. "Bring it," he says and Brendon gives him the second piece down and keeps the stale piece on top for himself.

Brendon thinks that Spencer is stupidly hot. He straddles Spencer, sitting back on his heels, resting on Spencer's thighs with an oomph. He likes the feel of Spencer's legs against his, the way he can run his hands up and down Spencer's chest. He leans over to the drawers by the bed again and reaches for a tissue. It's used, and he's not entirely sure what it was used for or when, but whatever. "Spit," he says, and holds the tissue out for Spencer.

Spencer looks at him like he might be crazy.

"Gum," Brendon says, patiently. "I'm not kissing you if you're still chewing."

Spencer—very carefully—spits his chewing gum into Brendon's tissue. Brendon spits his out too. He scrunches the tissue up and throws it in the direction of the trash can.

"You're gross," Spencer tells him. His hands are on Brendon's hips, thumbs pressing into Brendon's skin. "Is this okay?" he asks, and okay, neither of them have ever had sex with another guy before. Brendon wasn't exactly a success trying to have sex with a girl, either, although this probably isn't the time to bring up Clara.

"Yeah," Brendon says, and it is, it really is. He's already hard and he thinks Spencer is too, pressing up against his thigh. Brendon bends down, hands on the pillow, either side of Spencer's face, and he kisses him. Brendon thinks that maybe he was wrong about Brent having all of Brendon's share of sexy thoughts, because now he's got Spencer Smith pretty much naked and in his bed, Brendon can't stop thinking about what it would be like to actually, you know, have sex with him.

He can't get enough of Spencer's skin beneath his fingers.

Brendon can follow the shift in the mood, he really can. They're kissing and Spencer's making this noise, like a groan, and Brendon's kind of making these little breathy noises like hitches and he'd think they were stupid apart from the fact that Spencer's pushing his hips up against Brendon's every time he makes a sound. Brendon's pushing back, hips rocking, and he's got his hands in Spencer's hair, on his cheeks - almost in his eye, but that was one time and Spencer seemed to forgive him once Brendon apologized and started kissing him again. Spencer's hands are on Brendon's arms, running up his sides, moving over his back.

"Can we, can we just-" Spencer starts, but Brendon's gone long enough without kissing, he's not about to stop now.

"What?" Brendon manages, grinding his erection down against Spencer's. He's thinking that with practice he could probably get a lot better at this. He really could. He sort of loves sex with Spencer already.

"Naked," Spencer manages. "Can we just, be- naked now?"

That's possibly the best idea anyone's ever had. Brendon tells Spencer this as he's stumbling backwards off the bed and shucking off his pajama bottoms and his boxers and watching as Spencer wriggles his pajamas down over his thighs. Brendon helps tug them over Spencer's ankles, and, like, Spencer only says ow a couple of times, which totally counts as a win.

Spencer is naked - naked - on Brendon's bed, with his legs apart and Brendon's hands on his ankles. He's hard (Brendon did that, Brendon kind of wants a medal) and he's- jeez, he's gorgeous. Brendon thinks his eyes have just gone all round like a cartoon character because he's totally just had this epiphany or something. He doesn't even know. "You're totally hot," he tells Spencer, which is kind of stupid and like voicing something he's secretly known for years. His mouth's gone really dry, although that part of it he keeps to himself.

"Yeah?" Spencer says, and he's all pink in the face and his mouth is all red and wet and-

"Totally," Brendon says, and he means it, he really does. "Hot like burning, Spencer Smith."

"You're pretty hot yourself," Spencer manages, a moment later. Brendon's running his hands up Spencer's legs, over the knee, up his thigh to the curve of his ass. Seriously, Brendon thinks that Spencer's the hottest thing he's ever seen. He wants to touch him everywhere. But then Spencer's hands are on his arms, tugging him half way up the bed and Spencer's kissing him, hard.

Oomf, Brendon thinks. Which is like, totally a worthy thought.

"God," Spencer says, raggedly, a moment later. His hips are rocking up against Brendon's, Brendon's knees either side of Spencer's thighs. It feels amazing, that first feel of Spencer's cock against Brendon's. Awesome, but dry, and Brendon's left trying to kiss Spencer at the same time as pushing his hand between their bodies, trying to catch some of his pre-come against his palm, slick it down his cock. He's no real idea what he's doing and he's pretty sure Spencer doesn't either—they're just rubbing off against one another, hands tangled between them, Spencer's palm closing around Brendon's, encircling both their erections in his grip.

Brendon's jerked off quite a lot in his life - maybe not as much as Brent, but then Brent's pretty much a law unto himself when it comes to needing alone time and a skin magazine—but it's never been like this. He can feel the sweat beading in the curve of his spine, the dampness of his palm against Spencer's arm, Spencer's fingers in his hair and trailing into the nape of his neck. His breathing is hitching and he doesn't know what he's saying, something like Spencer Spencer Spence Spence that's matched only by Spencer's soft gasps of Brendon against his mouth.

Brendon can feel himself getting close—he'd be embarrassed by how quick it is, apart from the fact that he's a teenager and this isn't his first time but it's the first time it matters, and hello, it's with Spencer Smith, who should have some sort of award for being so stupidly amazing. He tries to tell Spencer but Spencer just arches up from the bed and presses his mouth to Brendon's, meaning Brendon's warning is lost and Brendon comes with a sound in his throat he doesn't recognize. He comes all over his hand and Spencer's hand and Spencer's belly and even then Spencer doesn't let up the rhythm, even as Brendon's slows. Spencer's hand is over Brendon's and their fingers are tangled and Brendon's riding the aftershocks as Spencer fists at his erection, Brendon's come easing the friction.

Seeing Spencer come might rate as the hottest thing in the world ever, Brendon thinks. He doesn't give Brendon much warning, other than a gasp and his fingers tangling in Brendon's hair, pulling him in for a kiss that's more Spencer's mouth pressed wetly to Brendon's than anything else. He comes with his head thrown back and with Brendon's name on his lips and his cheeks are pink and he's so pretty and so hot that it's all Brendon can do not to harden again in Spencer's hand. Even he hasn't got that quick a turn-around though, so he flops down on top of Spencer, and after a minute he unwillingly unpeels himself from Spencer's sticky skin.

"Wow," Brendon says, after a while.

"Yeah," Spencer says, dazedly. Brendon's hand finds his, and yeah, maybe it's clammy but Brendon doesn't care.

"We get to do that again, right?" Brendon asks. He thinks that they do, but he's been so used to disappointment that it can't hurt to ask.

Spencer rolls onto his side, letting go of Brendon's hand and propping himself up on his elbow. "Are you an idiot, Brendon?" he asks, patiently.

Brendon thinks that maybe he's pinking under Spencer's glare. "Yes?" he says. Spencer's mouth is still red and wet from kissing him; Brendon hisses in a breath.

Spencer touches at his shoulder with his palm. He runs his hand down Brendon's arm, tangling his fingers with Brendon's. Brendon can't hide the way his breath catches in his throat. "Yes," he says, nudging at Brendon's legs and sliding his thigh in between Brendon's. "Yes, you idiot, we get to do that again."

"Good," Brendon says. He's smiling, and when Spencer rolls over and kneels over him, he's quick to tug Spencer down, pressing his mouth to Spencer's.

~*~

 

Spencer, Brendon thinks, is maybe wicked or something because he can do this thing with his tongue that makes Brendon keen. "You sure you haven't done this before?" Brendon manages, as Spencer licks a pathway down Brendon's stomach, thumbs stroking at the crease of Brendon's thighs. Brendon's hips buck upwards and he tangles his fingers in Spencer's hair.

"I'm sure," Spencer says, but the words are muffled against Brendon's skin as he curls his hand around the base of Brendon's cock.

Brendon groans his appreciation because when he looks down and sees Spencer kneeling over his erection, pink mouth open, Brendon is pretty sure he's never actually going to be able to form actual words again. "Spence," he manages, dragging his thumb down Spencer's cheek, "Spence."

Spencer answers by taking Brendon's cock in his mouth.

~*~

 

"Is there a rule for how much sex two people can have in a day?" Brendon asks, once Spencer's finished his second glass of water.

Spencer shrugs his shoulder ruefully and crawls back up the bed. "I don't think twice is the limit, Brendon." He wipes his mouth, ducking his gaze. "Sorry."

Brendon rolls his eyes and touches at Spencer's chin with his thumb. There's a trace of come there; he catches it and licks at his thumb. He wrinkles his nose, but then he sees Spencer's face and stops. Spencer's eyes are dark and his mouth is open and Brendon can't help it, he rolls Spencer onto his back and kisses him. Spencer's mouth is cool and wet and Brendon knows that Spencer is one orgasm behind him, and Brendon's meticulously fair when it comes to orgasms—or he totally will be, because orgasms are awesome and so is sex—so he gropes for Spencer's dick, curving his fingers around the head, running his thumb across the tip.

He feels Spencer groan up into their kiss, his fingers digging into Brendon's shoulder and there's no sophistication to Brendon's movements, he knows that. He's jerking Spencer off to the beat of an uneasy rhythm; he's unused to the angle and Spencer's holding on to his shoulder too hard and his legs are beginning to shake from the position. But Spencer's hips are pushing up to meet his fist and Spencer's keening against Brendon's mouth and he's kissing with his eyes open because Spencer, god, Spencer. He can't, even.

Brendon's hard again, his erection pressed up against the curve of Spencer's thigh and it's because of Spencer; Spencer who's amazing and awesome and who's gasping for breath with his open mouth pressed to Brendon's damp cheek. He's rubbing himself off against Spencer's thigh—it's uncomfortable and he can't get any friction but he can't help it, he's groaning out Spencer's name, over and over, a litany of fuck yeah and Spencer. Spencer's movements are more erratic now, his hips shuddering a rhythm that Brendon's trying to match. Spencer twists upwards, hand sliding inexpertly down Brendon's back, dragging him closer. "So close," he says, his breath catching, "Brendon, so close-"

"Yeah," Brendon echoes, and he jerks Spencer faster, ignoring the ache in his wrist as Spencer's eyes flicker shut and he pushes up into Brendon's fist. Spencer comes with his head thrown back against the pillow, Brendon burying his face in Spencer's neck as he jerks Spencer through the comedown. He's still rubbing himself off against Spencer's thigh, but Spencer's kind of stopped moving now, eyes shut and head back against the pillow, so Brendon rolls off him and onto his back. He starts fisting his own erection, jerking himself off just like he always has. He keeps his eyes open this time, taking in Spencer's chest, his stomach, his dick, his legs. He's hot, pretty and gorgeous and everything in between. And he's Brendon's.

"God," Spencer interrupts him, his voice catching. "Brendon," Spencer says, and Brendon doesn't recognize the heat he hears in Spencer's voice, can't stop staring at him, his eyes meeting Spencer's and locking.

"Spence," he says, hoarsely. "Spencer," and that's enough, Spencer's leaning over and pressing his mouth to Brendon's, his fingers tangling in Brendon's hair, thumb against Brendon's cheek.

"So hot," Spencer says, in between kisses, Brendon jerking himself faster. "Brendon, you're really fucking hot."

"Fuck," Brendon manages, and comes. Spencer keeps on kissing him, idly nudging at his mouth until Brendon kisses back, sleepily arching up into Spencer's kiss. Spencer trails his fingers down Brendon's belly, making him shiver and curl into Spencer's side.

"Mmmff," Brendon says, articulately, later on. He bats at Spencer's ankle with his foot.

"Yeah," Spencer agrees, nodding. Brendon reaches over and smoothes Spencer's hair behind his ear; Spencer catches at his hand, kisses his fingers. Brendon feels himself blush and ducks his head. He shifts and hides his face in Spencer's neck.

Spencer wraps his arms around Brendon's shoulders and presses a kiss to Brendon's temple.

~*~

 

Brendon can't hide his grin when he walks into the diner with Spencer. They're late; that was inevitable from the moment Brendon discovered he really, really liked to kiss and Spencer seemed pretty keen on indulging him. Amy, Ryan, Brent and Rachel are already back in the same booth they'd been sitting in the previous night.

"You're late," Brent says, without looking up. He's got Rachel half on his knee, napkins spread out in front of them. Brendon cocks his head to one side and tries to read what they're writing. It looks like dates, recording dates and tour dates; Brendon thinks they're trying to work out when they can see each other again.

"Sorry," Brendon says, and he can't even try and pretend to make it sound like he is. He's spent the morning in bed with Spencer - having sex with Spencer - and he would have been even later if he'd had his way and Spencer hadn't made them grab their stuff and actually leave.

Ryan snorts into his coffee cup. Spencer pokes him in the shoulder. "Move over," Spencer says, and they all shuffle round so Brendon and Spencer can fit around the table. Brendon beams, and tangles his fingers in Spencer's.

"So," Brent says, as Spencer starts reading the menu and Brendon hooks his chin over Spencer's shoulder to see if they have veggie burgers, "what did you two get up to? Whole night of playstation, like you said?"

"No," Brendon says, brightly. He's starving hungry. "We totally had sex."

Next to him, Spencer drops his head to the table. He's gone bright red. Brendon thinks belatedly that perhaps that wasn't the best way of announcing his newly-discovered gayness to Ryan and Brent, but he sort of thinks they maybe already knew.

Ryan starts to laugh, burying his face in Amy's shoulder. She's giggling too.

Spencer's groaning. "I hate you, just so you know," he says, eyeing Brendon from under his hair. Brendon totally loves him. And food.

"Not what you said this morning," Brendon goes on, without thinking. He's running his finger down the menu, beaming. Sex is totally awesome, he just had to find the right person. "Do you think they have pie? Apple pie? I want pie."

Ryan snorts.

"No, really. I really want pie." Brendon sticks his tongue out. He thinks he's going to get a veggie burger and fries and maybe some hash browns on the side because he was really, seriously hungry and having sex totally gives you an appetite. "I'm hungry," he says, forlornly. "It must have been all that sex."

"Do you think if I hid under the table," Spencer says, and Brendon thinks that he's never, ever seen Spencer look so red before, "if I hid, that he'll have gone away by the time I came out again?"

"You're totally my boyfriend now, Spencer. You can't run away anymore." Brendon nudges Spencer with his knee. "You wanna get pie to share?"

Spencer takes a very deep breath and sits back up. His blush has dulled to a dark pink. He squares his shoulders and squeezes Brendon's hand. "Sure," he says, to Brendon, and Brendon grins. Without turning around, Spencer kicks at Ryan's shin. "Shut up, Ross."

"I didn't say anything!" Ryan protested. He's sort of gone red from laughing though, Brendon can totally see him over Spencer's shoulder.

"Yeah, shut up Ryan," Brendon echoes, and he lets go of Spencer's hand, slinging his arm around Spencer's shoulder and pressing a wet kiss to his pink cheek.

"I hate you all," Spencer says, forlornly, as Brent and Ryan crease up with laughter.

Brendon grins and rests his head on Spencer's shoulder. He sort of thinks he's pretty lucky, really, what with Ryan and Brent and Spencer. He's in a band and they're almost done recording an album and Pete Wentz keeps Capri-Suns in his cupboard for when Brendon comes to visit.

"You're an idiot," Spencer says, softly.

"Uh-huh," Brendon hums. He's tapping out the rhythm to I Write Sins on the table edge. Their band is going to be huge.

Spencer curls his fingers around Brendon's. "An idiot, Brendon."

Brendon grins. "But you love me anyway, right?"

Spencer watches him for a long moment. "Yeah," he says, "I do."

"Awesome," Brendon says, when he can process vowel sounds again. "Me too."

Brent makes a gagging noise and Ryan rolls his eyes. Spencer jabs his elbow into Ryan's side and Brendon starts to laugh, hand over his mouth. He can't stop, and eventually, everyone else joins in.

 

[the end].