When Spencer stumbles into the bus kitchen at eight in the morning, rubbing sleep out of his eyes, the only thing he wants to see is a huge cup of coffee. Preferably a vat. Anything smaller than a tub full of coffee and this day is not going to be good for anyone.
So, of course, because Spencer's life is full of hardship, what he gets instead is an armful of Brendon.
"Um," he says, after he's stumbled back and banged his head into a wall. "Ow?"
"Sorry," Brendon says, sounding as surprised as Spencer is. His hair is sticking up in five different directions and his eyes are wide, sleep-hazy and still not fully aware of his surroundings. He frowns at the spoon still in the hand that's currently clutching Spencer's shoulder. "I was eating breakfast," he informs helpfully.
"Yeah, I can see that," Spencer says, because there's already a piece of cereal stuck between Brendon's teeth. Brendon rubs his thumb over the crook of Spencer's neck, eyes curious, and okay, it's Brendon, but this still doesn't feel normal. "So. Do you think you could let go of me now?"
Brendon blinks, like he'd forgotten Spencer was even there. "I'm not sure, actually," he says, a slight edge of panic to his voice, and when he pulls Spencer in for a hug it nearly crushes all of Spencer's bones. "Just - I really like you," he mutters, muffled into Spencer's shoulder. "I just really like you. I think you're great."
Maybe Brendon had a stroke, Spencer thinks to himself, maybe he finally smoked enough weed that he just snapped in his sleep or something. He pats Brendon's back a couple of times, and Brendon sighs a little like he's been scratched behind his ear for thirty minutes.
He hears scuffling from the bunk area then, the kind of light steps that can only be Ryan, and prays for salvation as he tries to maneuver him and Brendon around so he can signal for help.
When Ryan enters the kitchen, he's scratching his stomach and halfway through a really loud yawn. Then he catches Spencer's eye and stills. They're all used to Brendon hanging onto people like a vine, Spencer knows that, but he hopes the way he's trying to say 'Brendon is possibly having a stroke' with his eyes and a few hand gestures will do the trick. They're supposed to have that longtime-friends-non-verbal-communication thing going.
But Ryan doesn't say anything, doesn't roll his eyes or just ignore them like he usually does. He keeps looking at Spencer, blinking slowly like a really tall owl. Then his lips tug up in a half smile, and he tilts his head and cocks his hip in a flirty girl stance, and Spencer is really freaked out right now.
"What?" he asks, somewhat stupidly.
"I think something's wrong," Brendon says, and then he starts petting Spencer's hair.
"So you basically just want to touch me all the time or what?" Spencer asks. It comes out a little more petulant than he'd like.
"That's probably just Brendon," Ryan says, sitting down on the other side of the table. The majority of the booth is taken up by Brendon, who's pressed up against Spencer's side with his head resting on Spencer's shoulder. "At least I'm not feeling any overwhelming urge to use you as a human pillow."
"No," Brendon says happily, curling his fingers around Spencer's bicep. "You just keep looking at him like he invented the sun."
"From a distance," Ryan points out firmly, even though his cheeks go uncharacteristically pink. "Respect of personal boundaries is important."
"Hello, it's not like I can help it," Brendon says.
"What happened?" Spencer demands, a little desperately. Brendon nuzzles his nose into Spencer's shoulder in what is probably supposed to be comfort, and Spencer knows he's going to get beard burn from that morning stubble all over his arm soon. He scratches at the red marks and tries to push Brendon away, frustrated, but Brendon slides right back in against him like a magnet.
"Think back," Ryan says, shifting in his seat. He clears his throat when he looks at Spencer and asks, "did anything unusual happen yesterday?"
Spencer pauses. The bus hits a pothole and Spencer instinctively grabs on to the windowsill. Brendon grabs on to Spencer.
"Anything at all would be great," Ryan says. It's weird because he sounds tense, but he mostly just looks like he's ready to draw hearts on his napkin.
"I got this thing from a fan," Spencer says eventually. "But I don't know if that's … like, she gave me a letter and all it said was 'smell the paper.'"
"Yeah, because that's not something to be suspicious of at all," Ryan says dryly.
"It's not like I thought smelling a piece of paper was going to make the rest of you go crazy," Spencer counters. He squirms away from Brendon again, but Brendon just snuggles closer and Spencer falls back against his seat with a sigh. "What is it anyway? Is it like a love potion thing?"
Ryan shrugs and scratches the back of his neck. "You sort of," he waves his hand dismissively and grimaces, "glow, I guess."
"Yeah," Brendon says slowly, tilting his head up to give Spencer a smile. "Yeah, that's it. Kind of like a white, hazy thing." His eyebrows knit together in a frown, and before Spencer can register what's happening, Brendon's swung himself around and pulled his legs up to rest over Spencer's. "What did the paper smell like?" he asks, toying with the ends of Spencer's hair.
"What?" Spencer tries to bat his hands away without much success. "Oh. Yeah, that was strange. It was kind of like … I don't know." He purses his lips. "Grass."
"Grass," Ryan repeats. He might as well have said 'old socks' for what he makes it sound like.
"Yeah," Spencer says, frowning.
Jon shuffles into the kitchen before they can say anything else, giving them his usual morning grunt as he heads for the coffee pot. He's wearing gray boxers and an Aladdin t-shirt Spencer gave him once as a joke, and Spencer steels himself for another full body attack. If Jon tackles him he'll probably end up with a back sprain.
"Jon," Brendon says happily, bouncing his legs up and down in Spencer's lap. (Spencer winces.) "Spencer got a whiff of some paper yesterday and now I think he's our new savior or something, I don't know. I kind of want to build him a shrine."
"Please don't," Spencer says with great pain.
"Hold on a sec," Jon mutters. He pours himself a cup of coffee and scratches his balls before he walks over to the table. He sits down next to Ryan and sets his cup down, scrubbing his hands over his face and yawning hugely before looking at Brendon with unfocused eyes. "Okay. Spencer's what?"
"Spencer's in hell," Spencer says, and when Brendon slides an arm around his shoulders and starts telling the story with great enthusiasm, he tilts his head back and glares at the ceiling.
The whole day is like something out of Twilight Zone, if Spencer believed in that kind of thing. Except he doesn't feel like there's much logic left when all the girls who were yelling Brendon's name outside on the parking lot all collectively pause, blink, and start yelling "Spencer! Spencer, over here!" when he steps off the bus.
When none of them ask him when Brendon and Ryan are coming out, just stare at him and say, "hey, thank you," or "wow, can I touch your hair?", Spencer's ready to give that letter-handing girl that he's never going to see again a couple of choice words. Even Zack, once he gets Spencer past the crowd, squeezes his shoulder for longer than necessary and sort of pats the top of his head.
Brendon's all over him whenever he spies an opportunity for it, grabbing Spencer in a hug between radio interviews and hooking a chin over his shoulder while Spencer is getting lunch from the buffet. Ryan barely touches him at all, but whenever he looks at Spencer there's a disguised fondness in his expression that Spencer doesn't know how to react to. Jon doesn't act any different at all. He maybe touches Spencer once or twice more than he usually does, and during one of the interviews he has a hand casually resting on Spencer's shoulder the whole time, but that isn't out of the ordinary. The only thing that's slightly unusual is that Spencer keeps noticing the touching.
But he can't escape it, all the people suddenly staring at him with a far-off look in their eyes, like they're trying to discern this apparently white, hazy glow but can't quite see it. He'd found a mirror as soon as he got to his hotel room, but all he'd seen was himself, his usual faded jeans and purple tee. None of that explains why the interviewers are suddenly asking him all the questions, or why the assistant at the venue double-glances at him, smiles, and says, "I'd really like to wash your feet, if you don't mind."
"I mind," Spencer replies firmly.
By the time Brendon pounces on him and starts nuzzling his neck, mumbling "sorry, I know, I'm sorry," just as Spencer has finally found a couch he can get five minutes of peace on, he can almost hear the small thread snap in his brain. He does a very undignified half-flail from under Brendon and nearly punches him in the head.
"Spencer," Brendon says.
"Get off me," Spencer wheezes, pushing and kicking the best he can, but it's like trying to pull of a starfish. A fucking starfish with crazy hair that keeps going up Spencer's nose.
"I'm sorry!" Brendon repeats. If Spencer wasn't so furious he'd care that Brendon actually sounds kind of miserable, but as it is he nearly resorts to biting to get Brendon off him. Nearly.
"Brendon," Ryan says, from the other end of the dressing room. "Give him a break, okay?"
"I'm trying." Brendon manages to pin both of Spencer's wrists to the couch and Spencer stills for a second, but only so he can give Brendon his death glare better. "I just," Brendon murmurs, almost frantically, stroking his thumbs over Spencer's palms. "I feel really calm around you and I don't know what it is, okay, and I know you hate it, but-"
With a last heave of effort, Spencer gets Brendon pushed off him so he lands in a heap on the floor with a harsh oof. "Leave me the fuck alone," he snaps to the room in general, and pretends not to see Brendon's half angry, half hurt look as he stumbles to his feet and stalks towards the door. He brushes past Ryan and Jon on the way and ignores them, too.
He's leaning up against the wall ten feet away from the dressing room when Ryan comes out to find him.
"So, hey," Ryan says conversationally, making a final loop on his scarf. "That was a pretty shitty move just now."
Spencer just shrugs, tightly, and tries to dig the toe of his Nike into the floor.
A moment later he sees Ryan's pointy shoes next to his, and looks up to find Ryan leaning back against the wall. "Can you perform tonight?" he asks, without preamble.
"Of course," Spencer says, frowning slightly.
"Okay." Ryan crosses his arms in a relaxed stance and tilts his head back against the wall so Spencer can see his Adam's apple stick out over the scarf. "It'll probably be gone by tomorrow," he says quietly, looking straight ahead with hooded eyes.
Spencer glances down at his shoes again. It's not that he minds physical affection, at least not from the people he knows; it's just that personal space is a sacred thing, and he doesn't realize that until he doesn't have any. And the attention is nice, but it isn't the kind of attention he wants. There's a reason he chose to go sit behind the tall drum-set when he was first messing around with instruments. "What if it isn't?" he asks.
"Then I guess we're gonna keep looking at you like you're a second Jesus," Ryan says calmly.
Spencer rolls his eyes. "Thank you, that's really helpful."
"Well, I'm really kind of annoyed with you right now," Ryan says, head tilted and eyes doe-soft.
Spencer sighs. "Why can't you all be like Jon?" he demands. "He acts like he always does."
"Yeah, I wonder why that is," Ryan mutters, shooting Spencer an amused smile.
After the concert, where Spencer gets hit in the head by five teddy bears and underwear that has quickly-scribbled Spencer Smith illuminates my soul! on them fly up on stage, they all stumble into the waiting minivan outside the venue and head back to the hotel.
Spencer gets to sit next to Brendon, because life has just been loving him that much lately, and even though Brendon's telling Ryan an animated story about a girl on front row who'd tried to steal his gloves, and Spencer's trying to listen to Jon hum along to his ipod up front, it's still far from relaxing. Spencer shifts closer to the window and tries not to notice how Brendon's hands are fisted in his pants, how his breathing is still a little uneven despite how long it's been since they got off stage.
When Brendon's story is over, the van lapses into silence. Spencer can still hear the occasional faint note through Jon's earphones, and he stares at the back of Jon's head and doesn't look when he feels Brendon glance briefly at him.
Brendon's practically vibrating next to him, his leg bouncing with the speed of a race horse, his body tense and unmoving. Then he sits on his hands, and Spencer lets out a small sigh.
"Come here then," he murmurs, holding his arm open.
Brendon's head whirs in his direction, so strained that Spencer can see his neck veins pop out. He looks startled at first, but then his eyes narrow before he shifts in to rest against Spencer.
"You're such a shit," he says vehemently, fingers curling into Spencer's shirt.
"Yeah," Spencer agrees. He settles his arm around Brendon's shoulders and rests his head against the car window.
"It's not like I'm doing this for fun, you know?" Brendon continues, but the way he wiggles closer and tucks his head into the crook of Spencer's neck is kind of misleading.
"I know," Spencer mutters, rubbing Brendon's shoulder briefly. He turns his head to find Jon watching him, arms resting on the back of his seat and his chin propped on his flat hands. Every time a streetlight whooshes by he catches a faint glimpse of Jon's smile, and Spencer gives him a weak smile back.
"Everything cool now, Brendon?" he hears Ryan ask.
"It will be once you put your shoes back on," Brendon replies, splaying his hand on the center of Spencer's chest. "We're all dying in here."
Two days before Spencer got the letter, he'd kissed Jon for the first time.
"I think you're really cool, you know," Jon muttered afterwards, tightening his arm around Spencer's shoulders. The smell in the air was sweet, and Spencer felt loose-limbed, still staring at Jon's mouth through heavy-lidded eyes.
"You're pretty stoned," he pointed out, because it felt like he had to. It felt like he had to say something.
Jon shrugged against the scratchy carpet. "Not too bad," he replied, wetting his lower lip. Spencer bit his own very lightly. "I guess, sometimes it's just easier to say stuff when you've been thinking them for a while."
"When I think about things too much they start to sound stupid," Spencer murmured, shifting closer without really realizing he was doing it.
Jon gave him a lazy smile. "I guess," he said again. His gaze shifted to Spencer's lips, and Spencer had felt a sudden hard rush in the pit of his stomach that made him think he was going to be sick. Instead, when Jon leaned in and kissed him again, Spencer sighed and felt his hand drift up to Jon's hair, disconnected from the rest of him.
"More things like that," he whispered against Jon's lips, and he could feel the shape of Jon's grin and the whirring from the bus engine through his body, steady, heavy, thrilling.
When they get back to their hotel rooms, Spencer spends an hour getting chimed down by the receptionist asking him if he needs anything. Anything, really. She could even get him frequent flier miles or send up a nice bottle of wine imported from France, really, Mr. Smith, it's no trouble at all. Finally he just lets the phone keep ringing and walks out of the room.
"Hey," Jon says, popping his head out of the door after Spencer's knocked.
"Hey." Spencer smiles and clasps his hands behind his back, lifting up on his toes. "Can I hang out with you for a while?"
Jon's answering smile is slightly confused. "Yeah, sure." He opens the door wide and Spencer steps inside, moving to toe his sneakers off before he realizes he walked over here in socks. "I was just gonna watch a movie or something," Jon says as he shuts the door behind them. "Have a night in."
"Sounds good," Spencer says. Jon's laptop is already open on the bed, the desktop a picture of a highway. He remembers Jon taking it from the bus lounge one afternoon. Smiling, he looks back at Jon again. "I just need a break from today's nightmare."
Jon sends him a half smile, one that makes Spencer overly aware of himself swallowing. There isn't anything fake about it, nothing drug-induced. "It's weird," Jon says, tugging at the hem of his t-shirt. "Like, I could see everyone else flipping out over you, but I didn't feel anything different."
"Yeah," Spencer agrees quietly. He turns around again, considering, then sits down on the edge of the bed. "Do you mind if I crash here as well?" he asks, leaning back on his arms and looking up at Jon expectantly.
Jon grins, seemingly out of nowhere, and steps closer. Spencer watches Jon sit down next to him. "I guess we could find something to do," he replies.
Spencer grins back despite himself, brash and bold like only a day of non-stop praise could make him. He really hopes this thing will be over by tomorrow, because he thinks he's going to need plenty of free opportunities to drag Jon into storage closets from now on.
"Hey, you smell like grass," Jon suddenly says.