Brendon is sitting on a bar stool at Pete’s house. Spencer tries not to stare at the tense line of his back, but he suspects he might be failing; his eyes always stray. Bronx is with Ashlee, Pete is out with Demi Lovato; they’re alone in the bright gleaming eye of Pete’s storm, drinking his booze. The clock on the wall ticks loudly and the blueberry vodka isn’t enough.
“What,” Spencer says, then clears his throat and does another shot for the fuck of it, for the cleansing burn. “What do you wanna do?” He slams the glass down too hard and blinks at his fingers, wonders if he’ll start bleeding any second now. Brendon doesn’t look away from his phone.
“I hope you’re not tweeting drunk,” Spencer says, but his throat hurts like he swallowed something wrong. He thinks about the house, how heavy it is on the ground. How badly people need things like houses and rings, as if money did anyone any good. Being in a house never kept anyone grounded.
“I’m not,” Brendon says. He sounds pissed off, but mostly tired. Spencer almost misses the thread of annoyance. Anyone else would, but even when he feels like he’s moving through water and he can’t feel his lips, Spencer can still take Brendon’s voice apart and hear what he means.
Something’s got to give, Spencer thinks. He doesn’t get off on wanting and being denied, not like a lot of people they know. Something’s got to give.
“I’m going home,” he tells Brendon.
It gets his attention, at least. “You can’t drive. You’re drunk as fuck.”
“It’s LA, dickhead. I can get a cab. Are you coming?”
Brendon twists his mouth in a smile. It might as well be nothing at all, but when did he ever keep his face blank when could fill it with something?
“Of course I’m not coming. It’s 10 at night. Just go.”
Spencer goes, and he takes the bottle with him. He doesn’t look back at Brendon when he turns the corner to reach the front door.
When he’s outside the gated community, he sits on the curb with the bottle cold and hard against his side under his jacket and dials for the car. It’s as clear a night as it ever is in LA. His stomach is turning - he presses the heel of his hand hard under his navel, willing it to settle.
He crosses paths with Pete’s car at the first traffic light, but fuck it, Pete can deal with Brendon. Spencer’s not feeling better now that he’s away from Brendon, but he doesn’t feel worse, and that’s good enough to let him get home, to ignore the stale empty house smell and drink alone on his couch until he passes out.
“I can’t fucking stand him anymore!” Brendon shouts at the door that Ryan just slammed. Spencer reaches to touch his shoulder, his arm, wants to punch him in the face because Ryan is still, still, Spencer’s best friend, and he wants to tell Brendon that he’s right. Brendon smacks his hand away, breathing hard. His shoulders rise with how hard he’s breathing and Spencer doesn’t want to get hurt, but he will. He reaches for Brendon again.
It’s worse to feel how tightly coiled he is, Spencer realizes. This time he’s the one who pulls back.
“How the fuck do you stand him? How the fuck does anyone stand him?”
“If you make excuses for him, I swear I’ll punch you in the face.”
Spencer can feel his expression going slack. Suddenly it’s not Brendon in front of him, it’s every douchebag who ever shouted shit at them about their clothes and their music and their skateboards.
“I’ll punch you back,” he says, slow and precise. He almost wants to go first.
By now they’re right in each other’s faces. Brendon’s eyes are all pupil in the yellow afternoon light; Spencer can feel Brendon’s breath on his neck. The palms of his hands are tingling. He’s scared of himself, somewhere deep inside, and he tries to hold on to that until he backs off. He’s not fast enough to tip the scales his way.
Brendon twists both hands in his hair, drags him down, and kisses him hard.
Spencer is completely fucked, because he kisses back. He’s completely fucked and he’s fucking Ryan over, because if he can kiss Brendon now, when he doesn’t know if he hates him or not, he realizes with a frozen little shiver that he could kiss him any time he demanded it.
It’s not a kiss, it’s a continuation of the fight. Brendon wins.
Spencer says he’s still with Brendon, but Brendon doesn’t believe him. He refuses to believe Spencer because he’s stubborn, and jealous, and distrustful to a fault, and right now he’s faulting Spencer. Spencer can see the kid that Brendon used to be in his angry lines and the childish demands for proof between his words, like he can test Spencer somehow until he’s satisfied that he’s not lost.
If it was anyone but Brendon, Spencer would cut his losses.
One night, Spencer completely loses his shit. There’s only so much passive-aggressiveness he can take before he goes back to his fourteen-year-old self and his solutions.
In the middle of the night, he storms out of Brendon’s house and onto the road. There’s a car coming, slowing down and honking, but he doesn’t move, eyes fixed on Brendon as he runs out to Spencer. For once, he’s the one following, and Spencer is feeling stupid and triumphant.
A man gets halfway out of the car. Spencer can only see Brendon out of one eye, the car’s lights too bright on his other side, but it’s enough.
“Get off the road, young man,” the guy says in a raspy smoker’s voice. He gets back in without closing the door all the way, having apparently said his piece.
Brendon stops a few feet away. Spencer’s heart skips a beat and starts back up even faster: Brendon is flushed and looking at him wide-eyed, like he does sometimes on stage, but hasn’t done in real life since the day he tried out for the band.
“Come back inside, Spence,” he says, darting a glance at the driver. “I’m sorry,” he says to both of them. Spencer knows he’d sound less apologetic but mean it more if it was just for him. “Come back inside, come on,” he says.
“Do you believe me now?”
Brendon bites his lip and shakes his head. “Come on. Please, you’re making a scene.”
He’s right. There are lights on in the house next door that weren’t lit before. They always need an audience. The car drives around them, trailing smoke and leaving them blinking in the dark. Spencer takes a look around and wonders what it’s like to live here year-round. He wouldn’t like having people like himself and Brendon drop in for a few weeks, disturbing the peace, and leaving. They don’t belong here.
Spencer can live with that. He doesn’t want to test the limits, though, so he goes back inside, out of sight of the neighbors.
Later, in the garden, with beer bottles all around, Brendon rolls over so he’s half on top of Spencer. Behind his head Spencer can see a few stars still out, the sky growing bruised somewhere at their feet.
“I can do it on my own,” Brendon says, looking down at Spencer solemnly.
“I don’t want to,” he admits. To Spencer it sounds like something snapped between them. Something cracked like a wishbone, each of them holding an end.
“Yeah,” he says, but he doesn’t smile yet.
“I don’t know if we’re gonna be ok.”
More than anything in the world, Spencer wants to seal it with a kiss, like Ryan taught him when it was just the two of them. He wants to give Brendon something back for being honest.
“We’re gonna be ok,” Spencer says. It might be a lie. He’s willing to risk it.
Brendon’s dog starts barking in the kitchen, and in a matter of seconds the neighborhood is echoing with answers. The day’s coming and the spell is broken. Brendon rolls back and covers his eyes with his arm.
“Don’t do that again,” he says, voice pitched low to cut under the yaps and howls. “I thought you weren’t coming back.”
Spencer gets up and stretches. He inhales deeply, two lungfuls of brine and exhaust and California. He’s lonely for both of them. They were left behind, and that sting is always there. But he knows that nothing ended. That’s not what this is: they fought on enough streets, in twos and threes and fours, without keeping tabs on who said the first hurtful thing or the last, that he knows it’s a way to function, not a way to fall apart.
He wouldn’t be here if he thought it was a wake.
“Don’t make me regret it.” It would take a lot, but Brendon can do anything if he puts his mind to it. Spencer is counting on that.
He doesn’t think anything of it when Brendon texts him, asking Spencer to come to his room. They’re all wired from the day they’ve had, from being in China in the first place. Brendon in a room of his own is probably a bad idea.
Spencer knocks on the door and listens to the muffled thumps in the room. When the door opens, he’s startled by the dark look on Brendon’s face, but he walks in without asking if something’s wrong. Brendon gives him a Do Not Disturb sign, printed in several languages, so Spencer twists around the edge of the door to hang it outside. He can hear another thump and looks toward the source instinctively, then falls backwards, slamming the door shut.
Brendon’s on his knees in front of him.
Spencer’s heart doesn’t start to race, because Brendon is on his knees in front of him and that doesn’t make any sense. Brendon’s fingers are clammy when they slip under Spencer’s shirt, resting above his hipbones. He pulls the shirt up and presses his forehead for a second on the skin he exposed, which feels a lot like being worshipped—a strange, unsettling thought—and then he gets to work unbuckling Spencer’s belt and undoing the button on his fly.
This would be a good time to say Stop, Spencer thinks. Or maybe Wait. But it’s easier to see what Brendon wants and trust him not to fuck things up, because he promised. Spencer braces his hands against the door, determined not to let his knees buckle as Brendon takes the head of Spencer’s cock in his mouth and swirls his tongue around it slowly. It’s a feeling as alien as everything else they’ve experienced today; or rather, as unlikely to happen as everything they’ve done lately.
Brendon doesn’t seem very experienced, but he must’ve paid attention when it was done to him, because he keeps one hand on Spencer’s thigh to hold him back (unnecessarily) and the other wrapped around the base of his dick, and he varies the suction and rhythm until Spencer’s fingernails scratch the door in an effort to keep quiet. His lips are slick, and Spencer has to draw a ragged breath when he imagines Brendon putting on lipbalm before he called Spencer over. How long did he plan it? Was it spur-of-the-moment, did he just decide this was the way things would be and then made it happen?
Spencer comes biting his fist hard, doubling over. His socks slip on the smooth carpet and he slips down for a disconcerting moment, pins and needles in his wrists and fingers. He’s lucky Brendon pulled off and his teeth were away from Spencer’s dick, which Brendon is now tucking back into his briefs, doing up his jeans. He knee-walks back, out of touching range, and gets up, wiping the corners of his mouth with his thumb and index fingers thoughtfully.
When neither of them say anything for a minute, Brendon nods, as if something’s settled, and goes into the bathroom. Spencer looks down at himself to see if anything's changed, but nothing has. He considers joining Brendon in the bathroom, but then he just opens the door and gets out.
It’s only at the other end of the hallway that he remembers the sign on Brendon’s doorknob. He decides to leave it there. If he goes back he’ll only start talking, and who knows what might come out of his mouth? It might even be the truth. He was ready for it years ago. So many things happened in the meantime that the only part he remembers clearly is letting go of the vague fantasy, dispersing the courage he’d drawn for it. It was the best he could do. He tries to do his best, as a general rule.
He can’t stop shaking when he lies down. Brendon was making a point, but unless he wanted to prove that a blowjob can be about taking something instead of giving, Spencer has no idea what Brendon just told him. He draws the sheet up over his head and refuses to jerk off to the memory of it so soon after it happened.
Spencer’s dad gets sick. Spencer flies out to Vegas as soon as he hears about it, his mother’s voice ringing in his ears louder than the plane’s engines.
It’s like a crash landing, plunging him back into problems that have nothing to do with his band. He almost forgot that other things can hurt him too. He holds on to his mom and Crystal a little too tightly, as if that can make up for short calls and his reluctance to share the details of his day-to-day life with them.
It’s a nightmare in slow motion. The monsters in the closet opened the door themselves; Vegas, always an oasis of normalcy and comfort, is the darkest spot on Spencer’s internal map, no matter how far the edges of the map stretch now.
Brendon calls every six hours. He sounds frantic, but Spencer can’t deal with that until his dad feels better. It’s not until later that he watches the footage and sees that Brendon wrote Spencer’s dad’s name on his arm on national TV. It’s not until later that he realizes that Brendon would’ve come with him, and that Brendon knows what it’s like to dread something in their hometown, and that Brendon, for all his prickliness and independence, needs Spencer’s family to be ok almost as much as Spencer does.
When Spencer goes back to finish out the tour, Brendon holds his hand in hotel rooms whenever Spencer calls his mom to ask for updates. And afterwards, when Spencer puts the phone away, he lets Brendon whisper platitudes in his ear and play with his hair. He lets Brendon take their clothes off and fuss, and get them off with the sort of concentration he usually reserves for their music and videos and meetings with the label.
Spencer doesn’t feel safe anymore. Ryan once told him that he’ll know he’s an adult when he stops feeling safe.
Brendon tells Spencer he’s safe with him, but it’s not the same when he turns around too fast to catch the naked need in Spencer’s eyes. Spencer’s body is safe, but the rest of him is straining. Brendon holds him down and fucks him through the mattress in sterile hotel rooms, and Spencer resents Brendon for being so used to uncertainty that he can’t recognize it in someone else.
They rent a house together when Spencer tells all that to Brendon. They don’t see it until they’ve technically lived there for three weeks, but when they get around to it, they christen every room, one at a time, and collapse into their bunks on the bus after the break like soldiers back from the war. Ian mocks them, but Dallon just shakes his head and drags Ian away.
Spencer wakes up with Brendon wrapped around him. His head is pounding and he’s almost suffocating between the back of the couch and Brendon, but he doesn’t feel like moving.
“I know you’re awake,” Brendon says quietly. He ghosts a kiss over the exposed back of Spencer’s neck. At some point Spencer took his shirt off; they’re skin on skin, and Brendon’s too warm, sweat-slicked. They smell like they showered with the slop they wipe off dive bar counters. Spencer blinks miserably at the blurred fabric in front of him and considers pretending that he’s still asleep.
“I’m sorry I told you to leave last night,” Brendon says. Spencer has to strain to hear him. He almost wishes he hadn’t when he parses the words.
“I left on my own,” he rasps. If he clears his throat right now he’ll throw up. “What did you do?”
“I hung out with Pete. Demi’s nice, but she’s Demi fucking Lovato, it’s like seeing a magazine cover laughing at your bad jokes.”
“And?” Spencer prompts.
“And I felt like an asshole. I left after an hour, but the traffic sucked. You were asleep.”
Spencer lifts a leg and nudges Brendon’s ankle with his toes. Brendon takes the hint and slips his leg between Spencer’s, pulling him closer. They hold the balance for a few seconds, but they’re both still tipsy and they tumble off the couch in a tangle of flailing limbs.
“Ow,” Brendon wheezes from under Spencer, who carefully removes his elbow from Brendon’s sternum.
“Fuck,” Spencer agrees. The absurdity of it all hits him and he starts to laugh, slipping off Brendon onto the rough carpet. Brendon’s louder, though, and when Spencer looks at him, his laughter gets stuck in his throat. Brendon’s all sallow skin and messy hair, with red grooves from the upholstery on his cheek. He looks happy. Yesterday’s fight and the terse drive to Pete’s house suddenly seem very far away.
Brendon winds down and closes his eyes, reaching for Spencer’s arm blindly.
“Let’s go upstairs,” he says. “I’ll do anything you want if we can sleep for eight hours.”
Spencer’s heard that one before; Brendon will give him exactly what Brendon wants to give him.
“Race you there?”
Brendon says, “Fuck off,” and takes his time following Spencer to their bedroom. He’s like a furnace under the sheets. Spencer’s asleep before he can complain.