So to begin with, back in high school, Ryan and Spencer and Brent have their band, as they do, but Brendon never comes to try out and maybe join them, and eventually the band falls apart, and Brent drifts away, and Ryan and Spencer are left at musical loose ends because they really genuinely love music and getting to play and make music together, but they don't have a band anymore. And they start playing around with other musical styles, and other instruments and things, because they don't have a band, after all, so being seriously devoted to one musical thing doesn't really matter anymore -- it's not like they're trying to make it big or anything. And somehow they fall sideways into folk music despite Ryan's initial disdain for it, and discover that it can actually be really fun.
They go off to college-- together, of course -- and continue with the folk music thing. They're getting more and more into it, and Spencer's even started doing stuff other than only percussion, because they kind of need the variety to make some of the songs sound right.
Sometimes they get together to play with some friends they've made in college, and that's always exciting, because they can get some really great sounds going that way, and it means that Spencer can just do percussion, which is his favourite anyways.
Eventually they realize they've been doing this folk thing long enough that they're actually kind of good at it, and they occasionally perform at local coffehouses and things, generally to good effect, and then one day they hear of this folk festival happening nearby and they decide they really ought to sign up as an act. They enlist one of their folk-music friends to join them, let's call him Mark for the sake of argument, because they like the music they do with three better than just as a duo, and they sign up.
And it goes over really well! People at the festival seem to genuinely like them, and it's lots of fun to be in this atmosphere where there's so many people just genuinely having fun with music, and they go kind of starry-eyed over some of the big-name folk groups that are also performing -- at the same festival where they are performing, which, wow!
They decide they really need to do this folk festival thing more often.
Meanwhile, Brendon had transferred to a different high school, and didn't really have any friends there, and got into arguments with his parents about faith, and then about sexuality, and then Brendon moved out. It was pretty sucky for him, especially with nobody to hang out with; mostly it was him and his shitty apartment and his shitty job and still having to finish off high school.
But eventually he graduates and goes off to college and eventually (slowly) (painfully) makes up with his family. And he even finds himself some friends, so all in all things are way better for him than they have been in a long time. He still plays music, on his own time, but it's not like a thing or anything. He just loves music.
His friends are plenty familiar with his tendency to burst into song at the slightest opportunity, and they've seen the impressive variety of instruments he owns, and really half his friends are music geeks too so they totally understand. There isn't any type of music in particular that Brendon does; he's attracted to all sorts of things, and happily does them all.
Brendon enjoys going to concerts with his friends -- rock, classical, all sorts of things. And one weekend, one of his friends says he's going to a folk festival, and does Brendon want to come with? Brendon does.
So they go, and Brendon enjoys himself, of course, and some of the acts are more up his alley than others but it's good fun all the same. There's this one group they see early in the day that calls itself "Panic" that he really rather likes. He's intrigued by this one song they play, an American folk tune about coal mining that he's heard a variant on before, and after the set is over and his friend goes off to one of the other stages to catch a group he's really interested in but Brendon doesn't care for as much, Brendon goes up and asks the lead singer about where they picked up this variant.
And he and the lead singer -- Ryan -- kind of get to talking and somehow he and two-thirds of Panic end up sitting in one of the nearby pubs and animatedly discussing music, and then Ryan's pulling out his guitar to prove a point, and then Brendon borrows it to try something out, and then Spencer's using his hands and the table and maybe also the cutlery as makeshift percussion, and then they're kind of jamming, and it's awesome. And the other people at the pub seem to think so too, if the attention they're getting is any indication.
Ryan and Spencer have to leave, then, because they've got another set at one of the other stages that they have to get ready for, and also they need to find their third -- still the same dude they keep on roping in to play with them, Mark, and he's mostly good-natured about it, but performing isn't really his thing. He'd really mostly rather just hang out and play with friends, and does the performing gig only because Ryan and Spencer want it so badly.
So after searching around for a while, Ryan finds Mark hanging out at the main stage deep in conversation with this awesome hippie chick, arguing about war policies or environmental rights or something, and Mark's thinking to himself how folk festivals were so much more fun back when having a good time was his only responsibility, and when he sees Ryan coming it's all he can do to keep from punching Ryan in the face.
Ryan , of course, can tell that Mark's only coming with him out of a sense of duty, and wishes like hell that all three parts of Panic were equally enthused about the whole thing. He kind of longs for the days when it was just him and Spencer, but he knows their songs wouldn't sound right without a third.
Panic does their set, and it sounds great, as usual, but by the end both Spencer and Ryan are feeling kind of drained about the whole thing, because the band isn't a band if a third of it doesn't actually want to be there. There's a bit of nonverbal communication between them while they vacate the stage about how much it sucks, and how maybe they need to figure something else out, when Brendon emerges out of their audience, beaming and telling them how awesome they are.
And, okay, that goes a long way towards making them feel better, even if nothing's actually changed. So Mark excuses himself to find his awesome conversation/flirtation partner from earlier, and Ryan and Spencer and Brendon end up hanging out some more, only this time they've got a whole lot more instruments with them, and if it was awesome before, it's even more awesome now. And then it turns out that Brendon can sing -- like, really sing! His voice is legit fantastic! -- and really by that point it's pretty clear to both Ryan and Spencer what they want more than anything.
No, not into Brendon's pants -- well, not only that. Musical talent is hot. But to have Brendon as the third member of Panic, that would be basically the best thing ever.
So Spencer kind of point blank asks Brendon if he's ever thought of actually performing, and Brendon's like, haha, no, I kind of thought about it in high school but these days I just do music for fun. And Ryan is like, you should think about it, really intense, and Brendon's kind of fidgety and taken aback but it's clear that maybe he is thinking about it, and Ryan and Spencer mentally high-five.
And then conversation moves on to less fraught topics, and they're talking about summer jobs that suck, and about classes that suck, and then something one of them mentions offhand means that all of them suddenly realize that they go to the same college and somehow managed to avoid ever seeing each other for years in spite of actually having friends in common and everything.
Clearly it is meant to be!
So they exchange contact info and make plans to meet up, and Brendon goes off to find his friend who is by this point kind of impatient with Brendon for having ditched him all day and Ryan and Spencer are just kind of grinning stupidly at each other.
This particular festival was near the end of summer, so they don't actually end up seeing each other again before the school year's started back up again. Except then there's classes, and coursework, and seeing friends they haven't seen in months, and Ryan's decided to do a thesis and so he has all these meetings with his weirdly over-invested supervisor, and one of Spencer's friends conned him into joining the exec council of the student union even though Spencer has no interest in student politics, and somehow months pass before they remember about how they were totally going to get Brendon to join Panic.
Brendon, of course, has spent these months really angry at himself for pinning so many hopes on the awesome folk festival dudes. He'd been really excited about seeing them again at school, and maybe playing music together, and basically he'd known it was going to be so awesome, but of course nothing came of it.
So he's focusing on his schoolwork instead, resolutely not thinking about what might have been, and his friends have noticed that the songs he breaks out into these days are more likely to be folk songs than anything else (and usually bleak folk songs) but they don't think anything of it because it's not like it's unusual for Brendon to go on a kick of some particular type of music for a while.
And maybe one day when Brendon's in the library frantically searching for this one book that he desperately needs for an essay he's writing, and it's totally not supposed to be checked out only it's not on the shelf and he's practically tearing his hair out, he sees Ryan sitting in a study carrel nearby. But he doesn't have the time to go and start up a conversation with him, even if he weren't secretly afraid that Ryan's forgotten all about him, and so he hurries off down the stacks to find a library employee to beg for assistance.
So he's completely surprised when the next afternoon, after finishing the essay ten minutes before the deadline and then sleeping most of the day, he wakes up and checks his email to find an actual email from Ryan and Spencer.
It's just a short email, nothing special, but even exhausted as he is, Brendon's elated. He dashes off a mostly-incoherent reply right away, and then runs out the door to a class he's totally going to be late for.
When he arrives at class and pulls out his computer again to take notes, there's already a reply from Spencer, so Brendon writes back, and then Spencer writes back, and then they end up spending the entire hour chatting and Brendon doesn't have a clue what the class was even about.
But he totally doesn't care! Because SPENCER! And RYAN! and MUSIC! Way better than a stupid class.
The three of them meet up just a couple days later, at the house Spencer and Ryan rent with a few of their friends. Brendon lugs over some instruments, after he hears that Spencer and Ryan don't even have a banjo, which is a tragedy that clearly needs fixing.
And then they proceed to have an utterly fantastic time playing together, and arguing together, and talking together, and basically the evening goes by way too fast and they end by saying they totally have to make this a regular thing.
So they do, and sometimes they meet at Brendon's place to take advantage of his wider variety of instruments, and sometimes they meet at Spencer and Ryan's place because their housemates are a lot more forgiving about things like accordions at 2am.
And sometimes they don't even play music, but they go out to bars, and they help each other with schoolwork, and they just...hang out, being comfortable together.
Brendon is basically ridiculously happy.
Except that it's totally obvious Ryan and Spencer are a couple, right, even if they aren't big on PDAs, and it's killing Brendon, because he's maybe kind of just a little bit completely in love with both of them. And he can never ever say because he does not want to be that kind of bastard. Ryan and Spencer are happy together, and Brendon's not going to mess with that, even if they have been awesome about including him in their music and their lives.
Meanwhile Ryan's busy torturing himself over how he's been in love with Spencer for basically ever and has been idiotically staying silent, and he can see that Spencer's falling in love with Brendon, and the worst bit is that Ryan's falling in love with Brendon too, and isn't that creepily fucked up of him, that he's so possessive of Spencer that he wants for himself anything Spencer wants. Fuck.
And Spencer's actually being sensible about the whole thing, because he's noticed his own interest in both of the other two, right, and by this point he and Ryan have been best friends so long that he can read Ryan pretty damn well, so he has a good idea of what's going on in Ryan's mind too. And Brendon -- well, he doesn't know Brendon as well yet, but he's certainly been spending enough time around him that he's pretty sure he can figure out what Brendon's wanting. And yeah, Brendon's totally interested as well.
So now Spencer's got to figure out what to do. Because on the one hand, fuck, being able to have both Ryan and Brendon? Pretty much every dream come true ever. But on the other hand, if he handles things poorly and sends everything to hell, then he'll be left with definitely no boyfriend, probably no band, and maybe not even a best friend anymore. And he's pretty sure he's not ready to risk that.
So Spencer does a lot of turning over possibilities in his mind, over and over again, trying to figure out if a good opening salvo even exists, and he's so focused on the idea that it's going to have to be him to open the subject that he's caught completely off guard one day when Ryan kisses him.
WHAT, he says, WHAT EVEN, and Ryan is horrified and miserable because he'd finally got up the courage to do something about this stupid long-standing crush of his (he's ignoring his creepy interest in Brendon and hoping it'll go away, and maybe also pretending that Spencer's interest in Brendon doesn't exist either) and apparently Spencer isn't going to react as well as he'd hoped and basically he kind of wants to die.
But after a moment of the two of them staring at each other in agonized silence Spencer says no, I didn't mean it like that, you fucker.
What did you mean it like, Ryan says, flat and kind of pissy, and he just gets more pissed when Spencer doesn't respond. What did you mean it like, Ryan says again, and then Spencer says all in a rush, I don't even know where to begin.
But Ryan's not going to stand for any of that, and he gets Spencer to actually start talking with words that make sense, and Spencer explains how he'd kind of thought that if they were going to do this thing it was going to be the three of them all together. And Spencer doesn't even need to say who the third is because Ryan gets it immediately, all in a rush, and the inside of his head is glorious for a moment because of course.
And then reality crashes down.
What the fuck, Ryan says, that would never work, and Spencer just kind of looks quietly despairing and says, I know.
So Ryan can't stop himself from kissing Spencer again because Spencer should never ever look that miserable, and then Spencer kisses back and they're just sitting on the couch making out while some stupid emo music comes out of the room of one of their housemates and then the front door opens and someone walks in and it's Brendon and his guitar.
And Brendon had been really looking forward to playing with Spencer and Ryan, because they hadn't had time for the music thing in a while, what with it being midterm season and everything, and he'd found this awesome old song and he had some ideas on interesting arrangements they could do with it, and he'd been doing such a good job lately of not letting himself think about how much he wanted Ryan and Spencer, and now -- now he is confronted head on with the sort of display that the two of them are usually thoughtful enough not to engage in when Brendon's around, and Brendon wants nothing more than to (join them) drop his guitar and go right back out the door to be miserable in peace.
But he wouldn't treat his guitar like that. So he sets it down gently, and the extra time that takes means that Spencer and Ryan have had time to break apart and both of them to begin speaking at once, and Brendon can't even deal with this, so he cringes and goes, SHUT UP.
They do, for about half a second, and then Ryan's talking again, some sort of longwinded and ornate apology that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and Brendon isn't even listening anyways, because he cannot deal. So he's like, can we just NOT? I came here to play music. Let's play music.
So Ryan shuts up and grabs his accordion, and Spencer digs out all his various percussive paraphernalia (the washboard is his secret favourite. Washboards are cool), and Brendon opens his guitar case.
And they play music, and it sound fantastic as always, but none of them manage to quite lose themselves in the music like they usually do, and there's none of the same laughing and joking and good-natured insults. They're silent and deadly-serious.
Brendon pulls out that song he'd wanted to share, and it's a love story, and okay, a lot of folk songs are about love (or lust), but this one's the last straw. There's a line in the chorus that feels entirely too fitting, and Brendon's voice cracks a little as he sings it through to show the others how it goes, and that's just so embarrassing, but he pretends like it didn't happen and keeps on going.
And when he's gone through the chorus and enough verses to give the others a sense of the flavour he asks them what they think, and they're both just looking at him, and if he didn't know better he'd totally think they were coming on to him, but they're together so that's not possible, except -- except that's how they look at each other sometimes, too. Brendon recognizes that look.
So the three of them are sitting there staring at each other, and Brendon's still strumming the chords from the song without even realizing it, and then Ryan says, fuck it, yes, and Spencer tells Brendon to put the guitar down, and then --
-- and then they're kissing, Ryan kissing Brendon and then Spencer kissing Brendon and then Ryan and Spencer kissing and then they're all tangled up in each other and everyone's kissing everyone and yesyesyes and then clothes begin to come off and they abandon the living room for Ryan's room (it's closest) and then more clothes come off and they're still kissing and touching and touching and ohhhhhh and then they're a sticky sweaty mess of nakedness piled together and panting on Ryan's bed and yes.
It's pretty much fantastic.
Of course after all of this they still need to talk, but somehow it's actually less awkward to talk now that they're all naked. And Ryan admits how he's been a creeper all this time for being interested in Brendon as well as Spencer, and Brendon admits how he hadn't wanted to mess with Spencer and Ryan's thing (they glance at each other for one how-could-we-have-been-so-stupid moment and then hurriedly explain that Spencer-and-Ryan dates to like five minutes before Brendon walked in the door), and Spencer admits how he was too much of a pussy to act on what he was pretty sure everyone wanted. And then they all agree that's enough talking, and start kissing again.
But that only lasts until Ryan has a sudden idea about that song of Brendon's, and of course he has to share, and then they're all excited about it, and they throw on enough clothes that they're at least decent, and then they're out in the living room again, noodling around with their instruments and all of them completely unable to suppress their smiles, because god, how is this even their life? How did they get so lucky?