Spencer goes home for Christmas for the first time in three years. He has invitations to half a dozen different celebrations in Los Angeles but he doesn't feel like going to any of them. Three days before Christmas, at one in the morning, Spencer gets up, packs a bag, and makes the five-hour drive home.
Vegas is cold this time of year, both crisp and dry. It's early when Spencer gets into the city, sometime between five and six in the morning, and the sun hasn’t had a chance to melt off the frost yet. His parents' house is dark when Spencer lets himself in. He tries his best to be quiet, setting his bag by the door as silently as possible.
The smell of pine, cinnamon and sugar wafts through the house, filling Spencer's nose with the scents of Christmas. In the living room, there are piles of presents underneath a real, brightly-lit tree. Spencer shakes his head and wonders who forgot to unplug the tree before they went upstairs to sleep. He unplugs it now, pushing branches out of the way to get to the switch on the power surge protector.
Spencer figures he should be tired, but he isn't. He’s hopped up on adrenaline and the coffee he got from a gas station 50 miles ago. The coffee is gone now, but thinking about it makes Spencer crave more. He slips silently into the kitchen and starts a pot. Not long after the drip starts, he hears noises from upstairs. He feels a little bad for waking his mother, but there’s no going back.
His mom pads into the kitchen, swaddled in her bathrobe. She blinks sleepily at Spencer.
Spencer says, “Surprise!”
His mother beams, making a high pitched noise in the back of her throat as she hurries across the kitchen tiles.
“Spencer,” she says. “You’re home!”
Spencer feels like he’s in one of those old Folgers commercials from the '80s. His mom squeezes him too hard when she hugs him. Spencer squeezes back.
~ ~ ~
Spencer’s sister Crystal has a house in Vegas. She has a mortgage, a car their parents gave her when she graduated from college, a four-year-old son named Adam, and a divorce that was final less than three months ago.
"This is his first Christmas without his dad," Crystal says. "He’s having some trouble adjusting."
Spencer’s trying to listen, he really is, but he can’t stop focusing on the fact that Crystal drank the last of the coffee and didn’t bother to start a new pot. Spencer’s been awake for, like, 36 hours. He needs that coffee.
“Maybe I could take him to the skate park later,” Spencer says. His bones feel tired and his eyes are itchy with the need to sleep. “After I’ve taken a nap.”
His mother clucks her tongue and says, “Go on upstairs and sleep, baby. You look dead on your feet.”
Spencer’s actually sitting in a kitchen chair, but he’s too tired to argue the point.
Spencer dreams about the skate park. He finds himself wearing khaki shorts that are two sizes too big and a T-shirt that probably belonged to his dad. He's wearing his hat sideways. His skateboard looks shiny and new.
Ryan looks like he did when he was thirteen; although Spencer’s sure he’s older now -- always a little older than Spencer. Spencer just turned twenty-nine; logically, Ryan can’t be thirteen, but Spencer’s subconscious apparently hasn’t caught on yet.
“You look ridiculous,” Ryan says.
Spencer smiles. “Fuck you. I rocked this look. I was so street.”
“You were something,” Ryan says disdainfully, but he cuts the sting with a smirk.
Spencer’s missed that smirk. He hasn’t shared the same space with Ryan in over a year. They email, talk and text but Spencer feels like there’s some part of Ryan’s charm that’s lost when they aren't actually standing in the same room together. Technology still hasn’t figured out a way to truly convey sarcasm.
“So were you,” Spencer says seriously.
Ryan brushes the shoulder of his T-shirt as if he’s brushing away a bothersome piece of lint and says, “Fuck that. I still am.”
~ ~ ~
Spencer drives his nephew to the skate park the next afternoon -- only the skate park isn’t there anymore. There’s a McDonald's down the block, though. Spencer keeps Adam from throwing a fit by buying him a dip cone and letting him play on the McDonald’s playground for half an hour.
When they get home, the house smells like ham and cloves. Spencer’s stomach growls. He goes to the kitchen to see if he can sneak a bite of something while his mother isn’t looking.
“How was the park?” she asks.
“It’s a Trader Joe's now,” Spencer says. “When the fuck did that happen?”
Spencer’s mother stops chopping onions for long enough to glance over her shoulder.
“Oh, I’d forgotten that,” she says. “It’s been a couple of years I think -- and watch your mouth."
Spencer inches a little closer to the ham cooling on the counter, lifting the edge of the foil that's covering it.
"Don't pick," his mother says without turning around.
Spencer thinks she really might have eyes in the back of her head.
"I'm so hungry I might faint," he complains.
"You should probably go lie down then," his mother says without a hint of sympathy. "I'll call you when dinner's ready."
Spencer almost makes a face, but with his luck his mother would probably see it with her creepy back-of-her-head eyes. He goes up the stairs instead, flinging himself onto the guest bed. Spencer doesn't know what it is about coming home that always makes him feel like he's regressed back to his surly teenage years.
He digs his phone out of his pocket and calls Ryan.
"Yo ho ho," Ryan answers. "Merry Christmas."
"I came home," Spencer says. "I'm lying in my old room. There are roses on the comforter and lace doilies on the night stands."
"Why would you do that?" Ryan asks. "And doilies are awesome. Don't be a hater."
Spencer laughs. When Ryan bought his first condo in Vegas every piece of decor he chose was ornate and covered in fringe or lace. Spencer's pretty sure Ryan's decorator thought Ryan and Spencer were boyfriends. He still isn't sure they were able to convince her otherwise, even after she met Keltie.
"You're such a dandy," Spencer says.
Ryan snorts. "Says the dude who uses the word dandy."
"Man, I miss you, even if you are a mean son of a bitch," Spencer says. "Where are you right now?"
"New York," Ryan says. "And don't call my mom a bitch. I don't talk about your mom that way."
"That's because you're always trying to charm my mom," Spencer says.
"I don't even have to try," Ryan says. "I just exist and she's charmed."
Spencer laughs again and then says, "You should come to Vegas. For Christmas, I mean."
Ryan's quiet for too long, making Spencer feel like an idiot. Sometimes just talking to Ryan takes him back to the days when things between them were less complicated. Sometimes he forgets that Ryan's not his best friend anymore -- that doing something like impulsively inviting Ryan home for Christmas might seem weird.
"My mom would love to see you," Spencer says. He feels a little bit like he's backpedaling. "Crystal and Jackie, too."
"Whatever, dude," Ryan finally says. "It's okay to admit your Christmases just haven't been the same without me."
Spencer could play it off, make a joke out of it, too, but suddenly he really does want Ryan to come. "So, you're coming then?" he asks. "Save me from a Christmas filled with woe."
"Hmm," Ryan says. "Do you think I can even get a flight this late?"
Spencer does a little fist pump of excitement. "Yeah, I'm sure you can find something," he says."It's probably going to cost you an arm and a leg though."
"I'm pretty skinny," Ryan says. "It'll probably cost me two arms and a leg."
Spencer smiles against his phone. "I'll tell my mom you're on your way," he says.
~ ~ ~
Spencer doesn't like airports. He thinks the feeling probably has something to do with the fact that he's spent so much time trapped in them. The thought of being in an airport now is making Spencer feel a little claustrophobic, but Ryan's plane is due to land soon. Making Ryan catch a cab after Spencer asked him to come seems... well, it actually sounds like something they would have done to one another once upon a time. Finding himself stranded at baggage claim, Ryan would have caught a cab, walked into Spencer's house bitching about what a lazy asshole Spencer was and then demanded that Spencer share his beer and weed. Now, the thought of not showing up to get Ryan from the airport just seems rude.
Spencer texts Ryan, telling him to meet Spencer at baggage claim. He takes a seat on one of the chairs near the carousels and waits, staring at his feet. He can't remember the last time he bought new shoes. Spencer used to be obsessed with shoes, but now he can barely remember to buy a new pair before the shoes he's currently wearing fall apart.
A pair of shiny loafers appears next to Spencer's shoes and he hears Ryan's voice above him.
"But I didn't check any bags," Ryan says.
Spencer unfolds himself from his hunched position. He looks up at Ryan, suddenly struck by how little Ryan's changed in appearance. There was a time, shortly after the band broke up, when Spencer couldn't stand to be around Ryan. It was too difficult to see him, to see a person who had always been one of the most important people in Spencer's life and to no longer be able to reconcile the person Ryan used to be with person he'd become. Spencer's heart still beats a little faster whenever Ryan is near; he keeps telling himself is just residual hero worship from their childhood.
Spencer's always been a terrible liar.
Ryan is looking at him quizzically. Spencer shakes his head and says, "Why the fuck am I waiting for you here, then?"
Ryan laughs and kicks Spencer's foot with the toe of his shiny shoe. "I have no idea," he says. "This was all your idea."
Spencer stands up and pulls Ryan in for a hug. Ryan feels more substantial than Spencer remembers him being. When Spencer thinks of Ryan, he still sees that skinny teenager with hollow bones and limbs like Olive Oyl. Ryan's still skinny, but he feels solid somehow. Real. Here.
"Good to see you," Spencer says against the material of Ryan's jacket.
Ryan steps away and says, "So, what's for dinner?"
~ ~ ~
Spencer sneaks glances at Ryan on the drive home. Ryan's hair is long, brushing the collar of his jacket. He's wearing it curly now, like he did right after the band split up. He's in brown slacks and a shirt Spencer would probably consider really ugly if he hadn't already been subjected to a plethora of ugly shirts just growing up with Ryan.
"You look good," Spencer says.
"You sound surprised," Ryan says.
Spencer is a little bit surprised. He remembers how Ryan's dad used to look when they were kids; he was more tired and worn out than a man in his forties should be. Spencer thought for a little while that Ryan might go the same way, but he's cleaned up a lot in the last few years. Spencer thinks maybe it just took Ryan a little bit longer to figure out who he wanted to be.
"Well, you were a pretty awkward teenager," Spencer says lightly. "I had my doubts." He doesn't want to deal with a more serious conversation right now.
"Yeah, because you were always this manly and attractive," Ryan says. "You're just jealous because I turned into such a beautiful swan."
Spencer turns his head long enough to bat his eyelashes at Ryan before he turns his attention back to the road.
"So," he says, drawing the word out a little before he continues. "You think I'm manly and attractive?"
Ryan flips Spencer off and turns the radio up, but Spencer can see him smiling out of the corner of his eye.
~ ~ ~
Ryan has two carry-on bags and Spencer grabs both of them before Ryan can protest. Not that Spencer thinks Ryan would protest since one of the things Ryan liked most about Panic blowing up was finally having techs to load and unload all of their equipment for them.
Once they're through the door, Ryan makes a beeline for the kitchen while Spencer dumps Ryan's bags by the stairs. He follows closely on Ryan's heels, walking through the kitchen door in time to see his mother hugging Ryan fiercely.
"You're so handsome!" she says.
Ryan steps back and gives Spencer a wicked look. Spencer rolls his eyes and says, "Oh gross. Stop that."
"Oh, let me fuss over him," Spencer's mom says. "It's been so long since I've had both my boys here at the same time."
She turns an accusing glare on Ryan and Ryan has the decency to look a little guilty.
"Sorry, Mom," Ryan says.
Ginger beams at Ryan and pulls him back in for one more hug and a quick press of her lips to his cheek.
"You boys take Ryan's things up and get settled and I'll make us some coffee," she says.
Spencer and Ryan make their way up the stairs. Ryan stops to look at one of the family photos hanging along the wall -- Spencer thinks it was maybe his ninth birthday party. Ryan would have turned ten just a few days before. In the photo, they're both sitting at the end of the dinner table wearing birthday hats, grinning at one another. There were two cakes, two sets of candles. Spencer's mother had always managed to incorporate a celebration for Ryan without making Spencer feel like anything was being taken from him.
"Good times," Spencer says, nudging Ryan with one of the bags, trying to get him moving again.
Ryan starts up the stairs. "Old times," he says.
When they get to the top of the stairs, Spencer reaches around Ryan to push open the door to his room.
"Speaking of old times," Spencer says, "we're roommates."
There's a blow-up mattress on the bedroom floor. Spencer's mother must have made it up while he was out getting Ryan from the airport.
"Jackie's coming in later tonight, so the other room is hers," Spencer explains.
"That bitch," Ryan says sarcastically. "But seriously, this is fine, man. Of course, I'm totally happy because I get the bed and you're sleeping on that thing." He gives the blow-up bed a disgusted look.
"No way," Spencer says firmly, setting Ryan's bags down next to the air mattress.
Ryan plops down on Spencer's bed and puts his hands behind his head, smiling up at Spencer. "But I'm your guest," he says.
Spencer snorts and rolls his eyes. "You're not a guest," he says. "I'm pretty sure my own mother likes you better than she likes me."
Ryan sits up, smiling even wider. "Well yes. That's true."
~ ~ ~
Jackie arrives right as they're all sitting down to dinner.
"We weren't expecting you until later," Spencer's mother says. "Boys, scoot over and make a spot for her on your side."
Ryan scoots closer to Spencer while Jackie goes to grab another place setting from the kitchen.
"Well, the gang's all here," Spencer's dad says as Jackie takes the seat next to Ryan.
"Long time no see," Jackie says.
Spencer feels guilty for a minute before he realizes Jackie's comment is directed at Ryan.
"Sorry," Ryan says.
"Make it up to me by passing the wine," Jackie says.
Ryan reaches for the bottle of Chardonnay and raises a questioning eyebrow. Jackie wrinkles her nose and Ryan changes directions, grabbing the Cabernet. He fills Jackie's glass.
"To what do we owe the honor, anyway?" Crystal asks.
Ryan smiles and says, "Have you ever seen a grown man cry? Your brother can't live without me."
The table erupts with laughter and Spencer bumps Ryan with his shoulder.
"You're like a birthmark," Spencer says. "An abnormality I've grown pretty fond of."
"Aw, that may be the sweetest thing you've ever said to me, Spence."
Jackie chuckles and says, "Stop flirting already, you two. Let's eat."
Spencer's cheeks flush with color. Suddenly, he's really glad he's drinking wine. Alcohol always makes him pink-cheeked, and he's had enough that he could use it as an excuse if necessary.
He stops worrying about it when Ryan slings his arm over his shoulder and says, "You're just jealous because we're young and in love."
"Whatever," Crystal says. "You've always been an old man."
"Mom, they're picking on me," Ryan says to Ginger.
"Girls," Ginger says, "Stop picking on Ryan. You know that older people can be overly sensitive."
"You're all out to get me," Ryan grumbles, but Spencer thinks Ryan is only barely containing his laughter.
Ginger smiles. "Welcome home," she says.
~ ~ ~
After dinner, Spencer settles down on the couch to watch Christmas movies while Ryan heads upstairs to take a shower. Spencer figures Ryan will want to go out eventually. They haven't talked about it but they're back in Sin City, and Spencer doesn't think Ryan wants to sit around the house all night watching Miracle on 34th Street.
Much to Spencer's surprise Ryan comes down twenty minutes later wearing a pair of sweatpants and a New York Giants sweatshirt. His hair is still wet and he has a stack of DVDs in his hand.
"We're not going out?" Spencer asks.
Ryan stops half way to the couch and says, "Did you want to? I'm kind of tired from flying all day."
"God, you really are an old man," Spencer says. "I didn't realize turning thirty was really the kiss of death."
Ryan takes a seat next to Spencer and says, "You'll find out soon enough."
Spencer barely resists the urge to stick his tongue out at him. Ryan leans forward and sets the DVDs on coffee table.
"What did you bring?" Spencer asks.
"Our childhood in cinematic form," Ryan tells him. "We have The Sandlot, Home Alone, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Jurassic Park, and Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead.
"Dude, it's gotta be The Sandlot," Spencer says.
Ryan looks wistfully at Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and says, "But Christina Applegate."
"But Wendy Peppercorn," Spencer says.
"Oh," Ryan says. "I forgot about her."
"How can you forget about Wendy Peppercorn, dude? She's there every year, lotioning and oiling and oiling and lotioning..."
Ryan laughs, leaning heavily against Spencer's side as he reaches for The Sandlot. He hands the DVD to Spencer, but Spencer doesn't really want to get up. The couch is comfortable and Ryan is warm against his side.
"I really don't want to get up," Spencer says.
"Me neither," Ryan says. "What now?"
"We could probably find it on their Netflix," Spencer says. "Or we could just watch A Christmas Story for the ten billionth time."
"You should make popcorn," Ryan says.
"I've got one better." Spencer says and then shouts, "Jackie! We need you."
Jackie pops her head around the corner and quirks an eyebrow at them.
"Well isn't this romantic," she says sarcastically.
"We need that tin of popcorn from under the tree," Spencer says. "Be a nice sister and bring it to us."
Jackie sighs but she heads out of the room to get the popcorn tin.
"And a blanket!" Ryan yells. "We need a blanket."
Jackie comes back in, setting the tin on the coffee table and tossing the blanket over Ryan's lap.
Ryan moves it so that it covers both of their legs, essentially tucking them in together.
"You two are kind of gay," Jackie says. "Seriously."
"If Spencer really wanted to woo me he would have turned the fireplace on," Ryan says. "He's sort of shitty at romance."
Spencer grabs a handful of popcorn and throws it at Ryan's head.
~ ~ ~
Ryan snores and drools and he also makes Spencer sleep on the air mattress. None of those things should be cute at eight o'clock in the morning, but despite the slight twinge in Spencer's lower back, he finds himself standing over Ryan's sleeping form, smiling down at him like some kind of deranged serial killer.
"Wake up," Spencer says, poking Ryan in the cheek with his pointer finger.
"Go away," Ryan mumbles.
"Nope," Spencer says. "I need to go Christmas shopping and you're coming with me."
"It's Christmas Eve day," Ryan says. He still has his eyes closed, but Spencer can tell by the clarity of his voice that he's already awake. "It's going to be insane."
"Yes, and it's also the last day I have to do my shopping," Spencer says. "It's now or never. I'm going to be trapped in the house tomorrow with two sisters, a mother and a four-year-old. I think we should both have gifts at the ready."
Ryan opens his eyes. "Good point," he says. "You always were the smarter one."
Spencer holds out his hand to help Ryan up into a sitting position and says, "I know."
Two hours later Ryan flings open the front doors of FAO Schwarz, takes a deep breath and announces, "Oh my God. You are the stupidest person on the planet."
"Fuck," Spencer says, coming out the door right behind him and taking a deep breath of fresh air. "I actually feared for my life in there."
"Your nephew better appreciate everything that's in those bags," Ryan says, "because that experience just reaffirmed my decision never to have children."
Spencer sobers a little at that, elbowing Ryan in the arm. "I think you'd be okay," he says.
Ryan gives Spencer a weird look.
"Are you kidding me?" he asks. "I'm the child of an alcoholic who's had his own issues with alcohol. I'm spacey, inconsiderate, and have the absolute worst sense of direction in the world. What could I possibly have to offer my offspring?"
Spencer wants to shake Ryan sometimes. He wants to hit the entire world in the face, including himself, for ever saying anything that contributed to the shitty way Ryan sees himself.
"Well," Spencer says, "you're extremely good looking?"
Ryan smirks a little. "So I'd have a good looking, alcoholic headcase for a kid," he says. "Good to know."
"Look on the bright side," Spencer says, putting his arm around Ryan and squeezing. "There's a good chance that with your sense of direction, they won't be able to find a bar."
Ryan throws his head back and laughs. "This is why I keep you around," he says. "You always know how to keep things in perspective."
"Yeah," Spencer says. "I'm a keeper."
~ ~ ~
Christmas morning starts really early when there's a four-year-old in the house. The sun isn't even up yet when Crystal pops her head apologetically into the room.
"Spence," she whispers.
Spencer's already awake. He's been up for an hour at least, lying in bed and listening to Ryan breathe. He's perfectly aware that it's a little creepy but it's also comforting. Spencer's spent a lot of his nights falling asleep and waking up to the sound of Ryan breathing. It's like a lullaby to him now, a soothing rhythm that pulls him in and out of sleep. He's not exactly happy that Crystal's destroyed his tranquil moment.He opens his eyes and gives her the deadliest stare he can muster at such an ungodly hour.
"Adam is chomping at the bit," she says. "He wants to start opening presents."
"Ugh," Ryan says, obviously being dragged from sleep against his will. "You should have tied him to the bed last night."
"Kinky," Spencer says automatically.
"Oh, gross," Crystal says, looking horrified. "That's my son. Get your asses out of bed. Mom's making coffee."
She closes the door a little more loudly than is strictly necessary. Spencer winces. He rolls over on his air mattress, looks up at his bed and finds Ryan staring down at him, a smile on his face.
"You're creepy," Spencer says.
"Your face is creepy," Ryan counters.
"Why the fuck are we awake right now?" Spencer asks.
"Because your sister is a sadistic bitch?"
"I'm telling her you called her that," Spencer says.
"Be nice," Ryan says. "It's Christmas."
Spencer sits up in bed and smiles at Ryan. "So it is," she says. "Merry Christmas."
Downstairs Spencer's mom yells that the coffee is ready. Spencer groans and finally gets up to find something more presentable to wear besides yesterday's boxers, but Ryan grabs his arm before he can move away, tugging him down onto the mattress next to him. Then he leans in and hugs Spencer tightly, burying his face against Spencer's shoulder.
"Ryan?" Spencer says. He puts his own arm around Ryan and pulls him closer reflexively.
"I just missed you," Ryan says, pulling back and moving off the bed. "I needed to have a moment."
Spencer's throat feels dry and his chest hurts a little, right around the spot where his heart is beating too fast.
"Anytime," he says, swallowing and trying to clear his throat.
They get dressed in silence, both of them moving quietly around the room, pulling on jeans and sweaters. Spencer can't remember the last time he saw Ryan in jeans. He forgot how good Ryan looks in them, the way the jeans make him look like he's actually more than just skin and bones.
"You ready?" Spencer asks once Ryan has quit fussing with the neck of his sweater.
"Sure," Ryan answers.
Spencer brushes by him, reaching for the door, but Ryan grabs his arm before he can turn the knob, stopping him.
"Merry Christmas, Spencer," Ryan says. "I'm glad you asked me to come."
Spencer nods and says, "Me too."
~ ~ ~
Christmas morning is a blur of flying paper and shouting. People ooh and aah over their gifts for an appropriate amount of time before they move on to the next one. By the time all the presents have been opened, Spencer feels ready for a nap.
"I'm going to go lie down," he announces, standing up and stretching his arms over his head.
"You just got up two hours ago, lazy," Jackie says.
Ryan gets up and starts to help Ginger pick up bits of wrapping paper. "Spence needs his beauty sleep" he says.
Spencer knows Ryan is joking. Their entire relationship has been built on a solid foundation of trolling and ribbing, but Spencer wishes, not for the first time, that Ryan wasn't joking. Spencer's done a pretty good job of keeping those kinds of thoughts in check over the years, and Ryan is so often annoying and infuriating enough to make Spencer forget that he's been in love with him since they were kids.
"Staying this pretty is hard work," Spencer says, holding up his end of the banter.
~ ~ ~
Spencer wakes up with Ryan pressed against his side, Ryan's face buried in his shoulder. Spencer takes a long, deep breath. Ryan smells a little sour, but it's a familiar scent; it takes Spencer back to months spent on cramped buses with bags full of dirty clothes and too few opportunities to shower.
Spencer's chest feels funny, like everything in his chest cavity is twisted and turned upside down. It only gets worse when Ryan snuffles and opens his eyes. He looks up at Spencer, sleepy-eyed and amused, and says, "Hey there, creepy."
Spencer says, "This is so stupid," and then he leans down and kisses Ryan.
Ryan goes stiff against Spencer's side immediately. Spencer feels like he's sixteen again, panicked, fumbling and unsure. He thinks that if he could take it back he probably would, but Spencer's committed now, his lips pressed firmly against Ryan's. He puts his palm against Ryan's neck and rubs his thumb gently against Ryan's jaw until Ryan makes a small noise in the back of his throat and opens his mouth to Spencer's kiss.
Kissing Ryan is strange. He's slim with sharp points. Snuggling up with him feels a little like Spencer imagines it might feel to snuggle with a rake. His mouth is warm, though, and receptive when Spencer finally licks against Ryan's teeth. The moment should probably be weird for a hundred other reasons. Ryan is part of Spencer's family. Spencer's mother treats Ryan like her other son. But if Spencer is being completely honest with himself, he's never thought of Ryan that way. He's been awed, inspired, frustrated and infuriated by Ryan, but none of those emotions has ever felt brotherly.
Ryan is the one who pulls back. His brow is wrinkled and his mouth is red and wet.
"What are we doing?" he asks.
Spencer latches on to the we in Ryan's question. Even if they end up deciding the kiss was a mistake, Spencer is sure it wasn't one-sided. He kissed Ryan and Ryan kissed him back.
"I have no idea," Spencer says. "It didn't... Did it feel wrong?"
Ryan sits up, running his long fingers roughly through his hair, pushing the longer bits out of his eyes. He looks a little spooked now. He moves off the bed, and his limbs are twitchy when he starts picking up random pieces of clothing and shoving them into his bag.
"Ryan," Spencer says. He's starting to feel a little panicked, but he tries to keep his voice steady and calm.
"I'm just going to clean up," Ryan says.
Spencer scoots off the bed and puts his hand on Ryan's shoulder, trying to turn him around as gently as he can.
"Ryan," he says again.
"I need a minute," Ryan says.
Spencer nods. "I'm just going to go downstairs and see if I can help with dinner," he says. "Take a minute. Just...don't run away, okay?"
Ryan sucks in a deep breath and nods.
Spencer walks toward the door, his stomach churning and rolling. As he opens the door, Ryan says, "Spencer?"
Spencer turns and looks at him. Ryan looks small, young, uncertain in a way he hasn't since they were both stupid kids.
"Yeah?" Spencer asks.
"It didn't feel wrong," Ryan says.
~ ~ ~
They don't talk about it. Ryan comes downstairs eventually and starts to help Jackie peel the potatoes. Spencer keeps looking at him, trying to figure out where Ryan's head is, but Ryan seems normal enough as he talks and laughs with Jackie.
Spencer finishes prepping the stuffing and says, "Mom, you wanna come inspect this?"
His mom gives it a once over and nods. "It looks perfect. Can you go out to the garage and get me the cranberry sauce and the green bean casserole out of that fridge?"
Spencer starts for the door. He's startled when Ryan says, "I'll go with you."
Spencer's heartbeat picks up speed as he stops and waits for Ryan to catch up. Neither of them says anything as they cross the house to the laundry room. When Spencer opens the garage door, Ryan brushes by him and his hand rests deliberately on Spencer's hip for a brief moment.
It's been a long time since Spencer's played this game but he thinks he still remembers the rules; it's all about giving subtle hints and hoping the other person will find the courage to make the first move. Spencer knows it's the fear of rejection on both sides that keeps the game going back and forth and back and forth in a frustrating dance, and it only ends when someone finally takes the plunge.
Spencer grabs Ryan by the arm, pins him against the refrigerator and kisses him.
Ryan goes limp for a split second before he pushes away from the fridge, twisting his long fingers in the ends of Spencer's hair and pushing their mouths together with an almost painful pressure. The garage is cold and Ryan's mouth is hot, and Spencer can feel Ryan getting hard against his hip. He pushes Ryan back against the fridge and works his knee between Ryan's thighs.
Ryan drops his hands to the hem of Spencer's shirt, moving the tips of his fingers underneath the hem until Spencer feels the freezing touch against the skin on his hips and his stomach. Spencer's stomach tightens up from the touch and he groans against Ryan's mouth, dragging his lips gently across Ryan's chin and down to his neck. Ryan's pulse is a fast staccato under his skin. Spencer presses his lips against that pulse point and takes a moment to breathe.
"This is crazy," Ryan says.
His voice doesn't give anything away, but Spencer can tell by the way Ryan trembles against him that he's just as thrown by it as Spencer is.
"Yeah," Spencer says.
"Maybe I should go home," Ryan says.
Spencer rolls his eyes and kisses Ryan again, just a dry brush of their lips. He wants more.
"I think we should get my mother's casserole," Spencer says, "and then we can talk after dinner about this like the mature and rational people I know we are."
Ryan finally moves his hands out from underneath Spencer's shirt, smoothing his palms over Spencer's back. He gives Spencer a dubious look.
"Mature and rational?" he asks. "You do realize that it's me, right?"
Apparently Ryan still goes for funny and self-deprecating when things feel too serious. It's comforting to realize that Spencer still knows how Ryan works after all this time, but Spencer thinks he might want serious now. Spencer knows Ryan, and he also knows Ryan would never run out on Spencer's mother's Christmas dinner. If Spencer wants to get serious, now is the time to do it, while Ryan is trapped here by his manners. It gives Spencer a little bit of time to figure things out.
"I know you," Spencer says seriously.
Ryan inhales sharply. "Spencer I --"
Spencer leans in and kisses him again, taking a few short steps away from the refrigerator and pulling Ryan with him so that Ryan is no longer blocking the door.
"You carry the cranberry sauce and I'll get the casserole," he says.
Ryan's eyes are big and round and he looks panicked, but when Spencer makes his way back into the house, Ryan follows closely behind him.
~ ~ ~
Spencer's mother asks them to do the dishes after dinner. Spencer stands elbow to elbow with Ryan at the double sink while they both scrub in silence. Spencer wants to say something, but he doesn't know what. In the past, he's always preferred a more up-front approach, but Spencer's pretty sure he'd only freak Ryan out by saying he thinks they should just fuck.
Jackie bursts into the kitchen unexpectedly and Spencer drops the plate he's washing. It breaks in the sink.
"God damnit, Jackie," Spencer says irritably.
"Sorry," Jackie says. "Mom wanted me to tell you guys that we're going to the movies. Adam's been begging to see some cartoon that came out today. We're all pretty bored and restless."
Spencer looks directly at Ryan and says, "I think I'll stay here."
Jackie says, "Ryan? What about you?"
"I think I'll stay and keep Spencer company," Ryan says.
They look at one another unblinkingly for a few seconds. Spencer thinks holy shit. They're really going to do this.
"You guys should come," Jackie says, oblivious to the silent conversation happening right in front of her. "It's going to be boring around here."
"I don't know," Ryan says. "I think we'll find something to do."
~ ~ ~
They still don't talk about what's happening between them. Spencer would probably worry about it more if Ryan wasn't currently distracting him by working open the button of Spencer's blue jeans.
"My fingers are shaking," Ryan says.
Spencer slaps his hand away and does it himself, pulling his zipper down, too. Ryan doesn't bother pushing them down once Spencer finally has them open; he just slides his hand down the front of Spencer's pants and grabs his dick.
Spencer hisses and tries not to hyperventilate while Ryan touches him. Ryan isn't doing much more than holding Spencer's cock, running his thumb gently over the head and back down the shaft again in an exploratory fashion, but the touch has Spencer shaking like it's the first time anyone has ever touched his dick.
"Ryan," Spencer snarls. "Do you need me to introduce the two of you?"
Ryan surprises him by laughing and then dropping to his knees.
"I think I'll make my own introductions," he says.
They both work together to get Spencer's pants down around his thighs. Spencer's half turned-on and half mortified. He's standing in the middle of his childhood bedroom and he's about to get a blow job from his childhood best friend. It's equal parts super fucking hot and horribly confusing.
Ryan wraps his long fingers around Spencer's cock. Spencer groans, thinking about Ryan's fingers and Ryan's mouth and all the things he'd like Ryan to do with them.
Ryan doesn't waste any more time. He licks the head of Spencer's cock in one quick swipe, following it up with another and another, until Spencer can't tell if Ryan is trying to get his dick wet or if Ryan's just teasing the fuck out of him.
"Just do it," Spencer snaps.
Ryan stops licking and says, "Sex is supposed to make you less cranky."
"You're teasing," Spencer whines.
Ryan rolls his eyes and leans in, wrapping his mouth around Spencer's cock and sucking gently on the head.
Spencer really isn't the kind of guy to complain about getting head. There's no bad way to get your dick sucked. Still, Spencer really sort of hates standing up for blow jobs. He inevitably wants to grab his partner's head and start thrusting, and there aren't many people who would appreciate being choked by Spencer's dick without warning. Spencer's legs also tend to turn to jelly after he orgasms, and there's nothing sexy about nearly collapsing on top of the person who was nice enough to make you come.
Ryan lets his bottom teeth scrape lightly against the underside of Spencer's dick, making Spencer moan and thrust forward. Ryan puts one of his hands on Spencer's hip to hold him in place and keeps using his other hand on Spencer's cock.
Spencer eventually reaches out and touches Ryan's cheek. He can feel Ryan's jaw moving under his hand; when he pushes against Ryan's cheek with the tips of his fingers, he can feel his cock sliding in and out of Ryan's mouth.
Spencer's suddenly a lot closer to coming than he thought he was.
"Ryan, fuck," he starts. "I think I'm going to --"
Ryan pulls off, sits back on his knees and works Spencer's cock in short, fast strokes with his hand. Everything goes still for a moment when Spencer comes. Ryan is directly in the line of fire, but Spencer figures that Ryan's had enough sex in his life to know what he's getting himself into. Spencer would usually apologize for making that kind of mess, but in this case he is really, really not sorry. Plus, Ryan looks pretty good with Spencer's come on his face.
"Jesus Christ," Spencer says, dropping to his knees in front of Ryan.
Ryan licks the corner of his mouth and then goes for the fly on his own pants.
"Wait, wait," Spencer says, waving a hand lazily through the air. "I can do that."
Ryan doesn't wait. He wraps one hand around his cock and wraps the other around the back of Spencer's neck, pulling him forward for a kiss. He's still covered in Spencer's come. In a small corner of his mind, Spencer thinks it should probably be gross, but right now it looks unbelievably hot. He can feel Ryan's hand hit his stomach on every upstroke. Spencer kisses Ryan hard, biting Ryan's lip and licking at his own come on Ryan's chin.
Ryan's shoulders curl inward when he comes, as if he's trying to perfect one of those stupid poses Spencer's seen some of the runway models do on TV. Spencer pulls Ryan against his chest and rubs circles into his lower back as Ryan uncurls himself through the end of his orgasm.
They sit back and look at each other. Their pants are shoved haphazardly down around their thighs and their dicks are hanging out.
"Well," Ryan says, wrinkling his nose.
"Is this the part where you tell me it was all a mistake and that we should just go back to being friends?" Spencer asks.
Spencer is pretty sure that Ryan wouldn't be Ryan if he didn't flip his shit after what just happened.
Ryan raises an eyebrow and says, "I was actually thinking that we should take a shower before your family gets home and finds us covered in each other's spunk."
It turns out that Ryan can still completely surprise Spencer.
"Together?" Spencer asks.
Ryan stands up on shaky legs and reaches down to help Spencer do the same.
"Yep," he says.
Ryan takes his hand and starts toward the bathroom. Spencer has some trouble walking with his pants tangled around his knees, but he manages to make it down the hall without falling on his face. Once they get into the bathroom, Ryan starts the water and then turns and starts undoing his shirt buttons.
"I really thought you'd be freaking out about this," Spencer admits. He starts shucking off his own clothes, letting them fall to the floor.
"I'm actually thinking that we should go again," Ryan says. "And showering together just seems more efficient. I want to be able to clean up quickly after you suck my dick."
Spencer smiles. "I don't remember agreeing to suck your dick," he says.
Ryan drops his pants and steps forward to help Spencer do the same.
"Well," he says, leaning in to kiss Spencer, "let's see if I can convince you."
~ ~ ~
Spencer and Ryan are sitting innocently on the couch when the rest of the family gets home.
Crystal and Jackie walk into the living room together. Crystal comes over, leans down between Spencer and Ryan and kisses them both quickly on the cheek.
"Mom and Dad are putting Adam in the car," she says. "He fell asleep halfway through the movie. We're heading home, but I wanted to say goodbye and Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Ryan says, reaching up and tugging on the end of her hair.
"When are you heading home?" she asks.
"My ticket is for the second," Ryan says. "Another week? I was hoping to convince Spencer to go out on New Year's Eve so we can party like rock stars."
"I'm too old to party like a rock star," Spencer says.
Crystal makes a sad face and says, "I'll be at home with the munchkin this year. Mom and Dad are going to a party and I couldn't find a baby-sitter."
"You should both stay home and let us go out and party like rock stars for once," Jackie chimes in, smiling sweetly at Spencer.
Staying home with Ryan doesn't actually sound like a bad way to spend New Year's Eve. Spencer was never really into going to clubs or bars. He usually left that kind of partying up to Brendon and Ryan, back when the band was together, and later to Brendon and Shane, when the three of them were sharing an apartment. Spencer was always more content to hang out on the bus and drink a twelve-pack of beer with Jon or to stay home and watch movies while drinking a cheap bottle of wine.
Spencer looks at Ryan and Ryan looks back at him, raising his eyebrows in a way that can only be interpreted as pure innuendo.
"What time does Adam go to bed?" Ryan asks.
"Between eight and nine," Crystal says hopefully. "You guys can drink champagne and watch the ball drop in peace."
"Okay," Ryan says, smiling. "We'll do it."
"Seriously?" Crystal shrieks. "You guys have never been this cool in the entire twenty-five years I've known you."
"We've always been this cool," Spencer says. "Who gave you all those badass phones when you were in high school?"
"To be fair," Jackie says, "you used those phones first. We only got them whenever you and Ryan got newer, cooler ones."
"We clearly should have given them to more grateful people," Ryan says.
"Aww." Crystal leans in to kiss them both again. "You guys are the best. Seriously, the best. I don't know how to tell you how awesome you are."
"It's cool," Spencer says, looking directly at Ryan. "I'm sure we'll still manage to have some fun."
"Yeah," Ryan says. "I'm sure we'll think of something."
~ ~ ~
They're not exactly sneaking around. Spencer doesn't care if his family knows that he and Ryan are putting their hands down each other's pants every chance they get. It's just that Spencer still hasn't figured out the details of this new part of their relationship. He's been having so much fun being with Ryan, and he doesn't want to ruin it by asking Ryan the more difficult questions. Spencer's not sure what's going to happen when the holidays are over and they have to fly home and go back to living on opposite sides of the country. Spencer would rather not have to endure his entire family asking him the questions he doesn't have answers for.
He and Ryan spend most of the next week finding ways to be alone.
Spencer goes to do laundry and Ryan follows him, closing the laundry room door behind them and pushing Spencer up against the washing machine for one of the hottest make-out sessions of Spencer's life.
When Ryan volunteers to do the grocery shopping the next day, Spencer goes with him, and they end up giving each other fumbling hand jobs in the backseat of Spencer's car in the grocery store parking lot, all the while praying that no one will come by to claim any of the cars around them.
At night, Spencer crawls into bed with Ryan, pulling Ryan on top of him. They try to be quiet while Ryan straddles Spencer and rides him slowly so that the headboard doesn't smack against the wall. Sometimes Ryan pushes Spencer's knees back with his shoulders and fucks him hard enough that Ryan has to cover Spencer's mouth with his hand to keep him from waking the rest of the house when he comes.
Things go on like that for a week. Ryan and Spencer sneak kisses and small touches, but Spencer still can't get enough. He's hungry for Ryan all the time, and it's a craving he can never satisfy. Judging by the way Ryan practically molests Spencer every chance he gets, Spencer thinks the feeling is probably mutual.
~ ~ ~
On New Year's Eve, Ryan gets a call from one of his New York friends and walks up to the bedroom to take it. Spencer tells himself he's only going upstairs to check on Adam, who's asleep in Spencer's parents' room, but the truth is that Spencer's curious about Ryan's life in New York. When he opens the door to their bedroom, Ryan holds up a finger, asking him to wait. Spencer lies down on the neglected air mattress. Spencer and Ryan have both been sleeping in the bed, and as a result, the air mattress has gone unused for a week.
"Yeah," Ryan says. "I'll be home on the second. Late, though, so I probably won't hook up with you all until Tuesday."
Spencer wonders about Ryan's friends. He has no idea who Ryan hangs out with these days. Ryan has a pretty shitty track record with relationships. He always ends up fucking people in one way or another, and then they usually stop being his friend. There's a long list of people with whom Ryan has burned bridges. Suddenly, it occurs to Spencer that should be more concerned about it, but he also figures that his friendship with Ryan has already survived twenty-five years of bullshit. Spencer isn't about to let Ryan run him off now.
When Ryan finally hangs up, Spencer asks, "Who was that?"
"A friend from home," Ryan says. "He's a pretty cool guy."
"Yeah?" Spencer says. "Maybe I could come out and visit sometime. You could introduce me to some of the people you hang out with."
Spencer feels like he's fishing, throwing the suggestion out in hopes that Ryan will bite.
"I was just thinking the same thing," Ryan says. "That you should come out and visit."
"Yeah?" Spencer says.
"Yeah," Ryan answers. "And maybe I could come out to see you, too. I really loved California when I lived there."
"I would really like that," Spencer says honestly. Spencer would be a liar if he said he didn't want more. He wants to tell Ryan he loves him and he wants Ryan to say it back, but he's already been waiting for Ryan for a long time. It isn't going to kill either of them to take it slow.
"Happy New Year," Ryan whispers.
Spencer says, "Happy New Year, Ryan."
They stare at each other for a moment. Then Ryan says, "Do you think that if we fuck on that bed it'll pop?"
Spencer smiles, reaches up and and catches Ryan's hand, pulling Ryan down on top of him.
"There's only one way to find out," he says before Ryan leans down and kisses him.
~ ~ ~
Spencer takes Ryan to the airport. It feels different this time, less foreboding and more hopeful.
"You can just drop me off," Ryan says. "I know you don't really like airports."
Spencer wonders if this is how the Grinch felt when he discovered the joy of Christmas and his heart grew three sizes larger. Spencer's chest feels too full.
"I don't mind," Spencer says. "I want to see you off."
He carries Ryan's bag over one shoulder and reaches for Ryan's hand. Ryan takes it and doesn't let go until they get to the security checkpoint.
"So I'll see you," Ryan says.
"Two weeks," Spencer says. "I already have my ticket."
"I would have come to you," Ryan says.
Spencer knows they're in the middle of an airport full of people. Ten years ago, Spencer would have been concerned about being seen. It's unlikely now that anyone will recognize either one of them; more than that, Spencer doesn't really care anymore. He pulls Ryan close and kisses him. Ryan kisses him back, wraps his hand around the back of Spencer's neck and squeezes once before he pulls away.
"You already did," Spencer says and kisses him again.
~ ~ ~
Two weeks later...
Spencer's flight is already half an hour late when it lands. By the time he gets off the plane and makes his way to baggage claim, he's almost an hour late. Ryan's nowhere to be seen, but Spencer isn't too surprised. Ryan has been known to wander off if there isn't something holding his immediate attention, and sitting around an airport for an hour definitely isn't very exciting or stimulating.
Spencer pulls out his phone and shoots off a text.
Waiting in baggage claim. Where are you?
A few minutes later, Spencer gets a text back. It says: Oh, was that today? :)
"Son of a bitch," Spencer says. Then he starts to laugh.
~ ~ ~
Forty-five minutes later, Spencer's cab pulls up in front of Ryan's building. Spencer collects his luggage, pays the cabbie and then takes the elevator, impatiently counting out the numbers until he reaches the 9th floor. He finds Ryan's apartment and leans on the bell, letting it buzz annoyingly until Ryan opens the door.
"You're such an asshole," Spencer says.
Ryan's always had an eerily expressionless face, but his mouth turns up at the corners when he says, "I forgot!"
"Bullshit," Spencer says. "You did it on purpose."
Ryan stops trying to hold back his smile and laughs.
"You should see your face right now," he says between breaths. "You look like someone shoved a lemon in your mouth."
"I'm going to make you pay for this," Spencer says.
"I figured," Ryan says. "But it was probably worth it."
"Pay," Spencer says. "You can start by getting me a beer and then taking me out for pizza."
"I can do that," Ryan says.
"And orgasms," Spencer demands, finally stepping through the doorway and jutting his chin out. "You're going to owe me so many orgasms."
Ryan leans in and kisses him.
"I think I can do that, too," he whispers against Spencer's lips.