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When The Smoke Cleared

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“It’s weird,” Brendon says, “I always thought I was going to be the one hold out, and you all were going to end up best friends again in just a few weeks, and then you’d all glare at me passive aggressively for rocking the weird, no-longer-a-band boat, and then maybe I’d go to hell.”

Jon laughs, tinny in Brendon’s ear. “Thought about it a lot?”

Brendon nods, shifts the dog leash to his other hand so he can readjust the phone against his shoulder, squints into the sun and says, “I was really fucking pissed at you, man, what can I say?” which only makes Jon laugh again, though it must be obvious that it’s true.

“Yeah, well, you weren’t my favorite person at the time, either.”

That’s it, though. That’s the problem. “Yeah, at the time. The time was kind of a while ago now, though.”

“And they’re still not speaking?”

Brendon doesn’t know why Jon feels the need to verify that--sure, it’s surprising, or they wouldn’t be talking about it, but surely he must already know just from actually talking to Ryan. Still, he agrees, “So Spencer says.”

“Huh.” That about sums it up, Brendon thinks. Huh.


Spencer is winning. Well. That might be a bit of an understatement. Spencer is metaphorically knocking them to the ground and wiping the floor with their bloody remains. Spencer is unusually good at Scrabble today.

It’s Brendon who notices it first, the texting under the table. He shouts, “Hey, no teamsies!” though, so at first, all anybody cares about is his word choice. Eventually, though--”Who’s he teamed up with? It’s not like if he wins there’s a prize he can split.” Dallon stares around the circle, making sure to catch everyone in some kind of meaningful eye contact, but Brendon shakes his head.

“Only Ross would have him playing ‘aural’ with an ‘a,’” and then, turning back to Spencer, “This is the intra-band scrabble deathmatch, he does not qualify, you cheater.”

Spencer grins at him. “You’re just pissed you didn’t think of it first,” which may actually be a little bit true, Brendon is highly opposed to people having secret weapons unless those people are him, but it doesn’t stop him from coming back with, “I thought you two weren’t even talking.”

Spencer looks up in surprise. “We’re not.”

“Ryan thinks you’re wrong, too,” is Spencer’s increasingly desperate trump card. He must already know that he’s wrong, Brendon is sure. Still, the current argument has suddenly changed into the less important issue--Brendon isn’t sure that Spencer wasn’t deflecting the conversation on purpose. Even if he was, though, even if he’s playing right into Spencer’s hands, Brendon isn’t going to let that stop him. A new course has been presented to him, and he must take it.

“Aha! So you admit you’ve talked to him!”

“I do not.” Spencer sounds kind of annoyed.

“Then how the hell did you know that, have you got a wiretap on his phone you’re not telling me about? Did you have someone else send him an encoded message asking about it that he responded to with, like, morse code?”

“He texted me.”

“And did you text him back?” Spencer shrugs. “You must have, or he wouldn’t even have known to voice an opinion. Unless he’s taken to texting random boyband lyrics for no reason since I last talked to him.” Brendon is pretty sure that last one is not actually true, but it would be pretty funny if it was. Maybe he should suggest it.

“I didn’t text him back, I texted him first,” Spencer says, staring out the bus window as if this particular stretch of darkness outside is fascinatingly different from all the other stretches they’ve been driving through since sundown. He looks a little embarrassed, like he knows, he must know, Brendon is sure--that this blows his whole not-talking-to-Ryan pretence out of the water, and suddenly, Brendon doesn’t really want to push or tease.

This is good--a good sign and a good thing. Two of his oldest friends, who have known each other much longer than either of them have known Brendon, are coming to be on good terms again, after a pretty long patch of ugliness. This is not something Brendon wants to accidentally mess up by making Spencer feel uncomfortable, so instead of pursuing the subject, he turns back to the original argument.

“It doesn’t matter if you two are all set to gang up on me again, I know what I know, put Ross on the damn phone so we can argue the point like men.”

“You call him,” Spencer counters.

“My phone is all the way in my bunk,” Brendon counters. “And this is urgent. Dial like the wind, Spencer Smith.”

Spencer only tosses his own phone to Brendon, though. “I said. You call him, he and I aren’t speaking, remember? Plus,” he adds, after a beat, “he’ll only say what I already said.”

Brendon catches the phone, but glares at Spencer anyway. “You could have hit me, dick” and then, almost as an afterthought, “You know it’s not enough to just say you’re not speaking to him, right? Like, that part doesn’t actually mean all that much unless you actually stop talking to him.”

“There has been no talking.”

“There was conversing, I don’t care if your vocal cords were not involved,” Brendon says, and then actually does dial Ryan’s number on Spencer’s phone, if only to finally end the conversation.

“Ross. What is this illogical bullshit Spencer’s telling me you’ve been saying? Tell me he’s exaggerating because he thinks I won’t check his story?”

On the other end of the line, Ryan chuckles a bit, says, “Don’t doubt me when it comes to the Backstreet Boys, my friend. You will always lose.”

End of tour is always a little weird, Spencer knows that. Even before he gets to his house everything starts to feel kind of echoey and lonely, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to get as far away from everyone he was on tour with as soon as possible. He catches a cab home, and then stands there in the driveway a moment, taking in the way the still, empty blackness of the space around the house is a familiar space, a familiar pattern of matter and space. He takes a long breath of night air and makes his way up to the door.

He’s about to lay his hand on the handle when he hears a voice behind him. “You don’t keep a key under the mat.”

Spencer turns, squinting back into the night to reply. “I know. The question is, why do you? Know, that is,” he adds after a second. “I know why you keep a key hidden, you spaz.”

It’s not hard to find Ryan, lying on his back on the hood of Spencer’s car where it’s facing up the driveway to the door of the house. It looks like he’s star gazing, but he props his head up to look back at Spencer when Spencer talks to him, and Spencer hasn’t seen him in a long time, weeks stretching into months stretching into a longer period of not seeing Ryan than any time in his adult life. He abandons his front door, ambling over to perch on the car’s bumper.

“How did you know I was getting home tonight?”

Ryan shrugs. “Lucky guess. The tour was over.”

“I could have gone out somewhere. I could have gone to stay with someone.”

Ryan nods. “Guess so. I took a chance.”

He looks a little cautious, though, as he cranes his neck around to meet Spencer’s eyes, and it’s strange, because Brendon is right, it’s not like they haven’t been keeping in touch, a little bit. This is something else, though. This is Ryan’s voice sounding about the same way as it ever has since it settled after puberty, Ryan’s clothes looking odd and out of place in a different way since the last time he saw him, Ryan’s face looking as serious as his body looks relaxed, sprawled out across Spencer’s car. This is the whole person, not the pieces of Ryan he’d decided not to be mad at long enough to text him about, off and on. He wonders if he looks as different and familiar all at once to Ryan, too.

He says, “What are you doing here?” and, “Hey, let’s go in, I can’t leave these bags out here forever,” and “I don’t think I have any food in the house, or at least nothing edible, but there’s, uh, tap water, I guess, if you’re thirsty,” and Ryan follows him inside.

Ryan follows him inside and hoists himself up onto Spencer’s kitchen counter to sit down, Ryan follows him in and forgets to use a coaster for his offered tap water, just like every other time in his life that Ryan has been confronted with glassware. Ryan follows Spencer into his home, wiping his feet on the mat on the way in, and when they’ve sat down, he asks Spencer, “Truce?”

Spencer nods. “Ceasefire.”