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Purest Element But It's So Volatile

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“Are you coming over tonight?” Ryan asks.

Spencer's at home, watching some inane reality show and petting the dog. He considers for all of two seconds. “Yeah. Yeah, I am. See you in an hour?” he asks. Traffic should be decent; he can just about make it if he speeds a little.

Ryan is entirely too smug when he replies, “No need to hurry, Spencer, you know I'll wait for you.”

Spencer doesn't know why he's still sleeping with this asshole; he suspects that it's because he's stupid over him.

***

They're not dating or anything, it's just a thing they do when they're bored or horny.

(Ryan will say he doesn't remember exactly how it started, but Spencer does: His fifteenth birthday, after everyone else had gone home, Ryan turned around and kissed him. “Just as practice,” he said then; later, it was experimentation, then something they did to attract girls, until it finally became something they just did, no excuses necessary.)

Spencer thinks it's happening more often lately and isn't quite sure how he feels about it. He was never going to say no to Ryan, but it's always meant something to him.

He hates that sometimes it feels like he's lying to Ryan, fucking him when he has these feelings. He'll promise himself that he won't go along with it the next time but his promises never last.

It's Ryan. He's not stupid enough to say no to that, never has been.

They sleep together again the night before they leave for London.

Spencer wakes up alone, so it's business as usual.

***

Spencer's head is still pounding three hours and two doses of pain meds in.

He should not have a headache this bad. He's in South Africa with his best friends in the world so that they can play a music festival. The trip over went smoothly, he's had a chance to sleep off the worst of the jet lag in a much-better-than-average hotel, he hasn't missed any meals, and he's hydrated.

He suspects he wouldn't have a headache at all if his bandmates had developed any communication skills past the fifth grade.

Ryan and Jon paired up at the airport in London and have hardly spoken to Brendon since then. Brendon's reacted about as well as could be expected--he's been monopolizing Spencer and Zack's attention, but at least they've avoided any screaming fights. Ryan is still talking to Spencer, at least, even if he refuses to explain what's going on.

Spencer keeps telling himself it's no big deal that Ryan doesn't want to talk to him about it. Someday soon he may even start believing it; for now, he can't stop the knowledge that Ryan being secretive is a terrible, horrible, very bad thing from niggling away at his brain.

Really he just wants them all to sit down and talk their shit out, but their schedule is way too full to spend a few hours in more-or-less private talking to each other before they're back home. He thinks Jon will be staying in California for a little while, and they should be able to fit something in before he flies back to Chicago.

Across the room, Brendon jumps on Zack's back and demands to be carried to the nearest food before belting a line of Keep on Runnin'. Ryan mutters something about musical maturity that Spencer is glad he can't quite pick up. He and Ryan are doing well right now and he doesn't want to start a fight if he can avoid it. The last time they fought--Spencer's fault, he knew he shouldn't say anything about the girl Ryan had his eye on even as he opened his mouth--it lasted two painful weeks. Spencer ran over fifty miles and caught up on his to-read pile and still had time to miss Ryan fiercely, a sharp pain in his chest like he couldn't catch his breath.

***

Jon is back in Chicago and their band is still fucked up. Spencer's afraid it might be too broken to fix, now. He's known that Brendon was working on songs for ages now, and he thought he and Ryan were discussing lyrics together. Apparently that was a pretty big assumption to make; Brendon's been working alone except for a few songs he sent to Spencer for input on the drums. Brendon's been working alone, and Ryan and Jon have been working together. They haven't asked Spencer for any input at all. They haven't asked Brendon, either.

He'd hoped this album would come easier than Pretty. Odd., a few months of writing and recording and no trashed instruments or albums. After hearing what Ryan and Jon have been writing he thinks there may not be a third album at all; not a Panic at the Disco album, at least.

Brendon's new stuff all swings more upbeat, closer to their first record than their second. Ryan and Jon have taken the Beatles vibe they played with on the last album and modified it by throwing in a bunch of other artists from the Sixties. They haven't thrown in any interesting drum parts, though, and Spencer's not too excited about it. He's shaken enough tambourine for a lifetime and he misses the sort of fills he came up with for Fever.

He doesn't think they'll be able to find any common ground here.

He calls Ryan to set up a meeting because he knows Brendon can't and Ryan won't, and he hates all of his bandmates just a little.

It's just music, he wants to say. It's not worth this. But Spencer's never had Ryan's artistic vision or Brendon's need for approval. He loves music, can't imagine a life without his rhythm, but he doesn't understand their obsession with genre.

He'd rather keep his friends.

***

It's not like Spencer ever thought this would be easy, but when he sees Ryan--sitting backed into the corner of the booth, spine as straight and tense as possible--he realizes that this could tear him apart. He makes himself smile in greeting anyway. He knows it's probably strained.

Ryan doesn't smile back. If anything, his face goes smoother, more blank.

Spencer stops smiling. He tells himself it felt grotesque anyway.

“Have you ordered yet?” he asks.

“No,” Ryan replies. “I was waiting for you.”

“Cool,” Spencer says, awkward even though they've gone through these motions hundreds of times before. Maybe that's why--it's strange that something so momentous can seem so mundane.

They shuffle to the counter, place their orders. Once they're back in the booth they sit in silence as they wait for their food to be ready.

“I'll get it,” Spencer says when their names are called.

“Fine.”

Spencer chafes at the quiet once they've started eating. This isn't the companionable silence he's used to sharing with Ryan, but it is frustratingly familiar nonetheless. It's the same as the silence that's been slowly killing his band for the past months. He sets his sandwich down, appetite gone. What he and Ryan have should make them immune to this bullshit, but apparently that's too much to hope.

“How's Alex?” he asks, reduced to small talk.

“He's fine,” Ryan says. “I keep telling you, you should hang out with us sometime.”

Spencer knows he makes a face at that, but he can't help it. He doesn't really get along with Ryan's new friends, wishes he didn't have to try. Wishes all Ryan needed was the band, the way he used to.

Ryan obviously sees something of Spencer's thoughts in his expression. He scowls at his plate and visibly shuts down again.

“Ryan--” Spencer starts.

“Shouldn't we be talking about the band?” he interrupts.

Spencer definitely grimaces at that. “I thought it could wait until after we ate, at least.”

Ryan smiles, and it's one Spencer hates; quick, sharp, meaningless. He's not supposed to smile like that at Spencer.

“Why put it off?” he asks. “We've been waiting for months already.”

Spencer feels that to the quick, wonders if Ryan meant it that way. He thought they'd all at least been trying these last few months, but apparently Ryan had just given up. Spencer clears his throat, sets the pain aside. He just needs to get through this conversation and then they can start getting back to normal.

“Right. Well. The songs you and Jon have written, they're not really..."

That smile again. Spencer winces.

“Not really what? I think they're a logical continuation from our last stuff, don't you?”

Spencer rehearsed this, he did, but he still fumbles it. “They're not Panic songs, Ryan, they're just you and Jon. Brendon been working on some stuff, have you heard it? It's pretty good, actually, kind of great, and--”

“Brendon's just, he's fucking going backward,” Ryan snaps. “We're done with the Fever sound, Spence, we all agreed to that.”

“Yeah, well, maybe we should be done with the retro sound, too,” Spencer mutters.

Ryan's glare speaks volumes. Spencer sighs. “Look, Ryan, I just want to know if you and Jon are willing to compromise with Brendon this time. I can't go through something like the cabin again, and neither can he.“

“And if we can't compromise?” Ryan asks.

Spencer shrugs helplessly. “Then I guess we'll need to split the band. I just can't moderate while you scream at each other any more, Ryan. I can't.”

He pokes through his chips as Ryan thinks about that.

“OK, fine. We can do this,” he finally says, and a rueful smiles creases his face. “Jon and I have been talking about it, actually.”

Spencer smiles back. “You have?” he asks. He can't believe Ryan is willing to work with Brendon, but it sounds like--

“Yeah, we've been kicking around some names for a while but we were waiting for you before we picked one,” he says.

Those two seconds of hope make it worse, somehow. They're leaving, he thinks. This is really happening. It takes him a moment to process, but: “Waiting for me?” he echoes.

Ryan huffs a sigh, impatient. Sometimes it seems like all he does is wait for Spencer to catch up. “Yes, waiting for you. I know you weren't really around for the song writing, but we want you with us. We wouldn't choose a band name without you. Anyway, I figured you were going to break it to Brendon.”

“Right, of course I will. And I'd like to work on the announcement with you before we're done here. But...Ryan, I don't want to join your band.”

“What? Why not? You can't just quit over this, it's not your fault we're having problems,” Ryan protests.

“I'm not quitting! I'm just..I'm going to stick with Brendon, try out his stuff,” he says.

“You're what?” Ryan grinds out, and Spencer wishes this conversation was over. He never wanted to make Ryan look like...that, shock and betrayal and other things he remembers too well from their shared childhood.

“Someone needs to, and you and Jon are already leaving. Anyway, we've been writing drum parts together. I miss playing the drums, Ryan, I mean really playing them, not this shaker and tambourine bullshit,” he says, and pleads, “You understand, right?” Ryan has to understand.

“No. No, Spencer, I actually don't understand. You're picking Brendon over me? I mean, I guess it's not like I'm your best friend or anything, not like we're fucking--”

“Ryan, come on--” Spencer objects.

Ryan keeps going, spitting, “You have Brendon for all of that now, apparently. Don't need me anymore.”

“What? Ryan, seriously,” he says.

“You'll want to be careful, though, it's not like he's ever going to come out.”

“Ryan!”

“Make sure you use condoms, that's all I'm saying. You know where's he been,” he sneers.

Spencer slams his hands on the table, hopes the dull ache will ground him even as it gets Ryan to finally shut up. “Stop it,” he demands.

Surprisingly, Ryan does. Part of Spencer wonders what his face looks like, that it can make Ryan stop so suddenly. That part seems far away.

“You're leaving us, dickhead, not the other way around. And if you hadn't noticed, we have a fucking contract. I'm not willing to break it just yet,” he says, voice tight and controlled. Just a little more and then he can leave. Ryan opens his mouth to speak but Spencer is done listening.

“I'm not fucking Brendon. I don't want to fuck Brendon. The only person in this band I was interested in fucking was you, you dick, but that experiment was obviously a failure.” He grabs his bag, stands to leave. “Pete will probably call soon.”

***

He sits in his car for fifteen minutes before he's stopped shaking enough to drive.

***

Spencer is laid out on the couch at home surrounded by the unconditional love and warmth of the dogs when Brendon finds him.

“How'd it go?” he asks, more tentative than Spencer likes to hear him.

Spencer forces a smile. Judging by Brendon's reaction, it's not a very good one.

“It was fine,” he says.

“I hate to break it to you, Spencer Smith, but you are and always have been a shitty liar,” Brendon tells him, sprawling out beside him.

Spencer cracks a real smile at that.

“Fine, have it your way. Ryan was pretty much himself and the conversation was excruciating. And, just as you so sagely predicted, the band's splitting up.”

“That's what you expected, though, right? None of that is worthy of the face you were making when I came in,” Brendon says.

“Yeah, well, I skipped over the part where Ryan suggested that I was only sticking with the band because I wanted to sleep with you.”

The pause that follows is exceedingly awkward.

“Uh, but you don't, right?” Brendon asks eventually. “'Cause no offense, dude, but I don't really--”

Spencer throws a pillow at his face and the discussion devolves from there.

He feels better, at least.

***

Pete and their lawyers handle everything. Spencer knows he should be more involved, should keep an eye on the new contracts and make sure everything's fair, but he can't handle dealing with Ryan even indirectly. He tries to to keep himself busy with other things, distract himself from the hole in his life where Ryan used to be. If Ryan thinks he'd leave over--well. They obviously weren't as close as he'd thought, this past year.

It's not hard to stay busy. They're preparing for tour with Blink, obviously, and they get involved with Pete and Mark's big weird thing with the octopus. Spencer doesn't generally go for Pete-style shenanigans, but it makes him wish they'd done more with the Pretty. Odd. scavenger hunt.

He and Brendon go surfing a lot, too. He likes the way he can zone out on the waves, forget everything else for a few hours. He starts to run again for the same reasons, pounds out mile after mile trying to escape his brain.

He catches Brendon frowning at him, sometimes, but does his best to ignore it.

He's fine.

Seriously.

***

Then Ryan and Jon announce their band name and release their first single the same day New Perspective drops, and Spencer finally has to admit he's not fine at all.

He's furious.

He calls Ryan as soon as he sees the tweet, but it goes to voicemail.

He doesn't remember what he said, later, just that he yelled a lot. It doesn't make him feel better, which surprises him. Yelling seems to help almost everyone else he knows solve their problems; it certainly worked for Brendon and Ryan when they were recording.

He needs to get over it.

Objectively he knows he's being kind of a dick to Brendon, but he can't seem to stop snapping over the littlest things. Sometimes Brendon goes quiet and leaves the room as quickly as possible; other times, they yell at each other for a while until one of them gives up.

The split was supposed to fix this shit. He's not even looking forward to the tour anymore.

Then they're actually on the tour and he's too busy to stew over it anymore. Spencer is stupidly grateful to have something new to focus on.

He'll try calling Ryan again once they're back. He should probably apologize for some of the things he doesn't remember saying.

***

He's holding something potent that Gabe pressed into his hand the last time he ran into him and he's feeling the effects of a Cobra party when he runs into Ryan.

Not literally, but Spencer feels the impact anyway.

“Uh, hey,” he says instead of blurting out any of the accusations or questions that are gathered behind his teeth. Why is this happening tonight? he thinks, would appeal to any available god to stop it. He's had too much to drink to talk to Ryan now.

“Vicky-T invited me,” Ryan says, and, “See you,” already turning to go.

That is not what I meant! Spencer thinks, and his hand is already on Ryan's arm, pulling him back. He won't let Ryan leave again, even if forcing a confrontation is a bad idea.

“Just...wait a minute. I haven't seen you since, well. Um. How's recording going?” he asks.

Ryan just stares at him for a second. “Did you not listen to the single? I mean, you certainly had a lot to say about it,” he says.

Spencer feels his face burn and hates it. It makes him go on the offensive even though he knows, knows it's stupid to fight over something that happened over a month ago, that Ryan is just baiting him.

“Look, Ryan, I'm sorry I said that shit, but you really couldn't wait a week? Fuck it, what am I talking about, you couldn't even wait a day. I don't understand why you have this need to always show Brendon up,” he says.

“Yeah, well I don't understand why you always need to defend him. He's an adult, can't he stand for himself yet?” Ryan asks. “Or is it just that you always need to be rescuing someone?”

Spencer's lip curls up. “I guess you would know. But it didn't work out so well with you, did it?”

“I never said you always succeeded,” Ryan says.

“Obviously,” he replies. “I guess a cokehead was just a little beyond my abilities.”

Somehow that shocks Ryan, like he hadn't expected Spencer to see the pictures, wonder what was going on with him.

“Fuck you,” he says. “Just--fuck you, Spencer. You don't know anything about it.”

“Yeah, well, whose fault is that, asshole?” Spencer snaps. “Too busy doing lines to pick up your phone?”

Ryan rocks back, mouth drawn into a tight line. “I'm done with this,” he says, and turns to go again.

“You've always been good at walking away when things get tough, haven't you, Ryan?” Spencer calls after him.

Ryan spins back around and grabs his arm, and Spencer's suddenly being tugged out of the party.

“What do you think you're doing?” he asks once they're outside. Ryan just pulls him around the corner and pushes him against the wall.

He leans in close to Spencer's face. “I'm sick of arguing with you over this. You didn't want to come with us, Spencer? That means my life is none of your business. So fuck. Off,” he growls.

Spencer inhales hard, tastes whatever Ryan was drinking on the back of his tongue. They're both shaking.

“Right. None of my business, fucking off,” he says, and pauses. Ryan is still holding his arm, still hovering in his space. He can't figure out why he says the next thing when he thinks about it later; he wants to blame it on Ryan, who is too fucking close, but it's probably just his lack of self control.

“Want to go back to my place?” he asks.

***

They've barely made it into his bedroom when Spencer shoves Ryan back against the door and starts pulling at the buttons on his shirt.

“Fuck, Ryan, why can't you wear a fucking t-shirt?” he complains, tugging the collar open so he can get at Ryan's neck. “Is it too normal for you or what?”

“Oh, fuck you,” Ryan says, and gasps as Spencer bites down in retaliation. His hips stutter forward and his thigh presses against Spencer.

“Yeah, like that,” he says, “Just like that.” Ryan presses up with intent, then, and they manage something like a rhythm. It's rubbing just this side of too hard through Spencer's jeans, though, so he steps back, thumbs open the button on Ryan's pants, and pulls him out.

It's been entirely too long since he last held Ryan's dick. He tugs at it a little and it jumps in his hand; Ryan groans in appreciation and fumbles a hand into Spencer's jeans. He leaves his hand there for a minute, just palming him through his boxers. Spencer pushes into it shamelessly. He snakes a hand into Ryan's hair, tugs the way he knows Ryan likes it.

“Fuck, Spencer,” he mumbles, “Lemme--I want to suck you.”

Yes,” Spencer hisses, and spins them so he's against the wall. Ryan drops to his knees and mouths at his boxers until the placket is soaked and Spencer is pulling hard at his hair before finally pulling Spencer out and swallowing him down. Spencer's eyes flutter closed.

He pushes up into Ryan's mouth, groans at the wet warmth. “Ryan, shit. Shit, you're so fucking good at this,” he says. Ryan hums a little in response.

Spencer forces his eyes open, tries to take it all in. Ryan's swallowed most of his dick and his tongue peeks out every now and then as he swirls it around. He's fucking up into his hand, hips pushing up and down as he kneels. Spencer can see how slick he is, how he's spreading precome up and down his cock.

He manages to grunt out something close to a warning and pull Ryan back before he comes. Most of it ends up on Ryan's chin. Spencer drops down to lick it off, tugs Ryan's hand out of the way so he can finish jerking him off.

Ryan comes with a low, keening noise and Spencer does his best to catch it in his hand, gives it to Ryan to clean off.

They kneel there, leaning against each other, and finally manage to stumble to the bed.

The last thing Spencer remembers before he falls asleep is muttering, “Don't you dare hog the covers.” If Ryan replies, he doesn't catch it.

***

Spencer knows Ryan has left before he opens his eyes the next morning. Ryan starfishes in his sleep, always throws at least one limb over Spencer to hold him in place.

Spencer's alone in bed, though, the sheets cold around him.

Ten more minutes, he tells himself. Then I'll get up.

He lays there longer than that, thinking about all the ways he's fucked himself over.

Asking Ryan back last night was not a good idea. Ryan's always been too much like a drug for Spencer; that heady feeling of being needed, knowing Ryan was special and that that made him special by extension, Spencer's never been able to get enough of that. And then, of course, there's the sex, and the way he's felt about Ryan since middle school. After the band split up and the long radio silence, Spencer had hoped he'd gotten over him.

He wishes last night had been the exception to prove the rule, but it wasn't an exception at all. He's not over Ryan Ross and never was. He's just been kidding himself.

***

“Guessing you know who this is since you didn't pick up. Ryan...I shouldn't have said those things the other night. I don't actually think you're a cokehead. I mean, I hope you're not, and I shouldn't have said it either way. Just, um, wanted to apologize.”

***

“Hey, it's me again. I wanted to remind you to pay your mortgage this month, I know how you forget that shit. The house looks cool, by the way. Call me when you get a chance?”

***

“My mom wants your new address. Stop being a dick and answer her calls. I promise not to sneak attack call you from Vegas, what the fuck.”

***

“I wish you'd pick up. I really miss talking to you. Like, more that anything else.”

***

“I miss everything else, too.”

***

“Ryan...just, please call me, OK?”

***

Britney Spears is practically screaming Toxic in his ear and Spencer has no clue what time it is, just that he was really enjoying that dream. Early, judging by the complete lack of light in his room. Maybe late.

He gropes around for the source of the noise. He hits at his alarm clock for a minute but it doesn't stop; not that, then. He has it set to the buzzer, anyway.

He remembers Brendon stealing his phone the other day and groans.

“Brendon, what the fuck!” he shouts, and hopes, vindictively, that it wakes him up. It probably won't. He fumbles for his phone and is about to hit ignore when he actually reads the screen.

It's Ryan, of course, and--because this is his life, after all--it goes to voicemail right before he can answer.

Fuck,” he curses feelingly, slamming his head back on the pillow and staring up at his ceiling.

Call back immediately and look desperate or wait until morning and risk Ryan ignoring my calls again?, he wonders.

He calls back.

“Spencer. I thought maybe you were asleep. Or screening your calls,” Ryan says, and fuck but he's missed his voice.

“I was asleep, actually, but Brendon set a new ringtone for you. It's very bracing,” he says, attempting a joking tone. He's pretty sure it falls flat.

It's possible that mentioning Brendon was not the best idea he's ever had.

“Right, Brendon,” Ryan says. Spencer braces for the meltdown but it never comes. Instead: “He's...doing OK? You both are?” Ryan asks tentatively.

“Ryan--” Spencer starts, and falters. He tries again: “Look, it's not that I didn't want you to call--I mean, obviously I did, I really did--but, uh, why exactly are you calling?”

The pause that follows goes on long enough that Spencer begins to expect a dial tone.

“I was an asshole. Fuck, Spence, I was an asshole for years, why did you let me do that?”

Spencer isn't sure if that's rhetorical; it doesn't sound like it is, but it's not like they didn't regularly tell Ryan he was being an asshole. It was a common refrain of touring life and studio time.

“Are you...apologizing for that? Or are you, like, yelling at me for it?” Spencer asks.

“Fucking...yes, I'm apologizing for that,” Ryan says, exasperated.

Spencer grins and wishes he could see Ryan's face. “Just asking, dude. I mean, you could probably skip the apology, being a jerk is practically your base state,” he says.

Ryan makes an inarticulate noise of frustration. “Spencer! Come on, please. I'm trying,” he tells him.

Spencer tries to reign in the giddiness that's welling up just because Ryan's talking to him again. It's not easy, but he thinks he manages to reign it in a little, at least.

“Hey, I know,” he says, struggling for an appropriately sober tone. “But, Ryan--I mean, I'm sorry, too. We've both been dicks since...well, since before South Africa, really. I'm just glad you're answering my calls again. I've missed talking to you,” he pauses, waits two perfect beats, “You asshole.”

It works; they're both laughing now. It takes Ryan a minutes to stop and catch his breath. “Shit, Spencer, when are you going to grow up?”

“Says the man who screened his calls for weeks to avoid talking to his best friend,” Spencer retorts.

“Whatever. So, hey, we're having a listening party in New York in October. Do you think...I mean, you and Brendon are invited. So,” he says.

Spencer rolls his eyes, knows Ryan will know it's implied even if he can't see it. “I'll ask Brendon, but I'm definitely going,” he says. “Don't think I'll wait until then to hang out with you again, though.”

He doesn't respond for a long moment.

“Ryan?” Spencer asks, suddenly nervous.

“No, right, 'course not. Uh, want to come over tonight? We can watch a movie, or...”

Spencer knows his grin is probably edging toward deranged but can't help it.

“Yeah. Yeah, definitely. See you around 7?” he asks.

“Sure, yeah. I'll be around. You have my address, right? Oh hey, Spence! Did you know my house has a moat? A fucking moat, Spencer!”

Spencer laughs, he absolutely cannot help it. “I have your address, and I still can't believe you bought a house with a moat,” he tells him.

A part of him that's been tense for the past few months--for almost half a year--finally lets go. He knows they won't stop fighting, that their bands will be a source of strain for months to come. But he and Ryan are talking again, and they're laughing together. They'll manage to get through it somehow. He's not going to give up this time.