Once upon a time, a sad boy came across a frog with an excellent singing voice.
But wait, that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
The opening act.
They return from Africa, exhausted, bone weary and – fuck. Brendon doesn’t know. He can’t even think. His mind feels sluggish. One thought blurs into another. A day ago he was on one side of the world, now he is on the other. In the middle of business class, Brendon watches people unbuckle their seatbelt and stretch in their seats. Across the aisle Spencer turns his phone back on. It beeps a few times with messages. Brendon’s phone does the same. The collar of his shirt rubs the back of his neck and he pulls at it while he goes through his inbox. The battery is getting low. It was a long flight.
As they stumble off the plane Zack checks in with the label and Jon yawns, but that’s about it. They collect their bags and get into hired cars and no one really says anything. Brendon mutters his goodbyes and they mutter theirs and that’s how they leave it.
At loose ends, Brendon sleeps for a week, and then with no-where to go, he goes to the one place he can. Ridiculously he follows Spencer back to the beginning. No. Not the beginning. He just returns to Las Vegas. No metaphors or turns of phrase. He goes back home and sleeps in his old room and visits his nieces and nephews and tries to catch up on what he missed while he was gone.
“What did you miss?” Spencer asks when they go grab lunch at some stupid locavore place Spencer found that apparently makes great omelets.
Brendon can’t really say.
“Not much then,” Spencer concludes.
That’s not right, but Brendon can’t think of what to say. He’s had the problem for a while, he thinks.
“My mom asked me how long I was staying,” he says, hoping that that will work instead.
The corner of Spencer’s lips twitch. Brendon isn’t sure why. He isn’t being funny. At least, he isn’t trying to be.
“What?” Brendon asks.
Spencer shakes his head and waves down a waitress for the bill.
According to Ginger, Spencer’s taken up running. At six o’clock every morning his alarm wakes him. He runs a mile before breakfast. Brendon can’t really imagine it. Ryan would probably find it amusing. Brendon thinks they had a standing bet about it. But they’ve had a lot of those over the years, and Ryan’s in LA. At least he’s there until he’s in Chicago with Jon.
“They’re building a bonfire on the beach,” Shane comments when he calls Brendon after lunch.
“Who told you that?”
Of course. That makes sense.
“You think they’d know better than to play with matches,” Shane muses. “Didn’t the matchstick girl teach us anything?”
“I don’t think that was the point of her story.”
At the moment Shane is working on a music video for some local electro band. He sends Brendon a few unedited clips. The quality isn’t great. Brendon’s never been that good at knowing what to say, but he knows he can’t tell Shane that. It’s the wrong thing to notice, but it’s hard to imagine the finished product from the disjointed pieces Shane sends.
At the end of the call, Shane asks how long Brendon will be staying in Las Vegas.
“My mom asked me the same thing.”
“What did you tell her?”
Brendon didn’t really tell her anything.
Shane laughs a little. “I suppose I’ll see you when I see you, then.”
And more or less he does.
Eventually when Brendon’s parents tire of him and he grows tired of imposing upon Spencer’s parents, Brendon returns to his place in LA. In between helping Shane out and babysitting Bronx on Pete and Ashlee’s weekly date night, Brendon tries to think about doing something else with his life other than being in a band with his best friends. He doesn’t really have much luck. As Ryan would say, indifference is the new black. But then again Brendon hasn’t really spoken to him in months, so maybe he wouldn’t say that.
Occasionally Spencer will call or tweet weird tweets.
They’ve been friends for a while now, but distance seems to have rendered Spencer’s sense of humor unintelligible to Brendon. When Brendon finds himself on Wikipedia in the middle of one of their phone calls, trying to work out if the reference Spencer made to Elvin Jones’s drumming technique was meant to be a serious comment or a humorous one, he finds himself inviting Spencer to crash in his guestroom.
“Sure,” Spencer says simply and on the weekend he turns up with a duffle bag and a good story about how one of his sisters interrupted a phone interview he was doing with Beat Magazine to tell him to stop running up the phone bill.
It makes Brendon and Shane laugh.
During the day the three of them kill time out on the beach and at night Spencer kills time going out with a variety of pretty boys and girls while Shane and Regan make fun him just for the sake of it and really there isn’t much different between one day and the next.
Maybe there should be, but they were on the road for a long time.
“It’s okay to want to have a break,” Patrick says once.
They’re at his house having dinner with Anna and a couple of her friends. Spencer is out again, this time hiking with some of the people he trains with. Apparently it’s an LA thing. Brendon doesn’t really get it. He’s gone with Spencer a few times. Without exception it was an exercise in humiliation. Brendon doesn’t know when Spencer went and got so fit. Running with him is like playing a game of constant catch up that the pavement always won. Brendon really doesn’t have the endurance for things like that.
Beside him, Patrick is watching Pete distract Anna.
“He’s going to make her burn our dinner again.”
They leave it at that.
With the tour over and done with, there are only so many things Brendon can do.
(This is a lie, but it takes Brendon a while to figure it out for himself).
It’s actually Pete who suggests it.
Angels and Kings is his baby, and with Black Cards heading out on tour they need someone on deck.
“You could do a residency,” Pete suggests. “Sing some covers, spin some tunes. It’ll be fun.”
And the way Pete says it does make it sound fun.
“It would really help me out,” Pete adds, as if he needs to. “I need someone to be my eyes and ears while I’m MIA.”
Brendon snorts. “You have Gabe for that.”
Pete has Gabe for almost everything. Except for the next few months it seems, as his Cobras are heading back into the studio.
“It’d just be for a little while,” Pete promises.
And it’s Pete. No one says no to Pete and that’s it really. That’s the bottom line.
A week or so later Brendon’s in NYC, backstage at A&K learning the ropes. He might not know what’s original or cutting-edge cool, but he knows how to sing and what makes people dance. At A&K he gets the chance to do both. They give him his own dressing room and put his name on the door. It may be written on a piece of masking tape and stuck over the name of the dressing room’s last owner, but it’s more than he expected.
(“Man, you have such low expectations,” Pete says, amused.
“Keeps me hungry,” Brendon tells him).
At night he performs. Sometimes on stage, sometimes in the cramped vinyl upholstered DJ booth. On nights when he sings, he sings Panic songs and when he DJ’s he plays everyone else’s. On those nights it’s almost as if Pete and William and Gabe and everyone are there with him. Their music fills the club until there is no space left over. Those are the nights Brendon always seems to end up finishing his set late.
It isn’t permanent but Brendon isn’t unhappy. So he supposes that is something.
No mater what Miss Piggy says or Gonzo claims, the first time Brendon and Kermit meet it isn’t fate. Brendon knows what fate is and fate isn’t a frog asking a random person for a pen. (He’s wrong, but that’s another thing that takes Brendon a while to figure out).
But, back to the tale; the first time Brendon and Kermit meet, it’s because Kermit needs a pen...
Shortly after his move to NYC to help out at A&Ks, Brendon takes to eating lunch with Pete’s employees and baby bands and a random assortment of odd and unique people that Pete somehow knows. It’s a sensible thing to do. They are all around his age, have roughly the same ambitions and the same or similar sorts of taste in music to his. Over the last few years he’s run into the majority of them at parties or events. The industry is smaller than it pretends to be. Everyone runs in the same or overlapping circles. In short they are more or less the sorts of people he should be friends with if he isn’t already.
So he decides to be friends with them and just like that he is.
It’s how he decides most things. One day they’re Pete’s friends, the next they are Brendon’s, if second hand. It’s that simple. So simple things start to slip Brendon’s mind. Things like the new set of contracts that Spencer had just finished renegotiating and that Brendon is meant to sign. There is an accompanying conference call Brendon is also meant to attend too. Something to do with the division of royalties and dividends and things Spencer tells him are important and need to be clarified before they can record their third album.
Brendon misses the conference call.
When Spencer calls, he doesn’t even sound annoyed, just tired. Brendon can’t help but feel guilty.
“Sorry,” he tells Spencer. “I didn’t mean to forget.”
Spencer sighs. “Bren, please.”
“I’ll sign them today,”
Spencer doesn’t say anything.
“I promise,” Brendon adds.
“I’ve heard that before.”
Something about the way Spencer says it that sticks in Brendon’s mind. He tries not to think about that when he goes out to lunch with the manager of A&K and one of Pete’s PR reps. Together they order too much and laugh too loudly and gossip and double dare each other and it’s far too easy to allow himself to stop checking the time and become part of it. He doesn’t even think about the documents Spencer need Brendon to approve until the end of the week when Spencer calls to give him the address and appointment time to meet with a pre-approved legal representative.
Brendon misses the call but he listens to it on his voicemail.
“Don’t be late,” Spencer says before he hangs up.
It’s good advice.
People have always liked to give Brendon advice. How he should act. What he should do. Even how he should sing. Ryan wasn’t the first to do so. He probably won’t be the last either. Not that either of those things matter.
Sitting in the waiting room in his lawyer’s office uptown, Brendon flips through the new issue of Time while he waits to be called in for his appointment.
After a while he becomes aware of a flustered PA in the periphery of his vision.
“There is a frog waiting in the foyer,” Brendon hears her hiss to an intern.
“A frog?” the intern asks.
The Siamese cat nods.
Brendon is surprised she can see over her desk (that’s the downside of hiring cats though she appears to be an excellent filer). He’s not totally sure she noticed him when he first arrived. Glancing around, Brendon looks, and yes, there is a frog in the waiting room. Dressed in a deep green suit with a pale cream and gold tie and tapping his toe nervously, he appears rather stressed for a frog.
When Brendon finishes his appointment the frog is still there.
Something deep inside Brendon’s chest flinches.
“Are you alright?” he goes over and asks, because he thinks someone should.
The frog looks up. “Oh, yes. Perfectly fine.”
The frog doesn’t sound too sure.
The frog seems to pick up on Brendon’s disbelief.
“I think I incorrectly filled out the second section of the form,” he ends up confessing, retrieving it out of his briefcase for Brendon to see.
Brendon doesn’t know anything really about property titles, bank loans or mortgages, but just from glancing at the paperwork he can tell the frog forgot to fill a few other basic parts of the form. Maybe he never truly outgrew his naive teenage self, but Brendon finds himself fishing a pen out from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and offering it to the frog. But once in his hand, he doesn’t seem to know what to do.
“Uhm,” he says, looking at the questions.
Slowly his shoulders begin to slump.
And Brendon – it isn’t in his nature anymore (it isn’t), but he ends up inviting the frog back to A&K for a drink. On the taxi ride over, the frog introduces himself as Kermit. When they shake hands, Brendon is pleased to discover Kermit has a very firm grip. (Kermit it similarly pleased to discover Brendon does not take advantage of the opportunity to grip too tightly – too many people do).
“You work at a very unique place,” Kermit says when they arrive, seemingly fascinated by the vivid red colour scheme and the framed celebrity mug shots on the walls.
“Yes,” Brendon agrees, because he does.
“Do you like it?” Kermit asks.
“Working at Angels & Kings?” Brendon queries.
“Yes, and in general.”
Brendon shrugs. “It’s okay, I guess.”
It isn’t the best answer and immediately after giving it Brendon feels lucky no one apart from Kermit heard it.
Up in Brendon’s somewhat private dressing room the two of them go over Kermit’s paperwork. Neither of them is anything close to an expert (or Spencer, Brendon finds himself absently thinking), but after reading the contact carefully Brendon gleans the nuts and bolts. Basically, Kermit wants the bank to give his theatre extra time to raise the money to pay for their mortgage. The recession hit them pretty hard. Even at the best of times off Broadway shows are expensive. Currently they’re three months behind and the accumulating interest is killing them, but apparently their next show is opening soon.
“It’s going to be a doozy,” Kermit tells Brendon. “Miss Piggy is headlining a re-enactment of Hamlet set to the music of The Bangles and Paul Simon.”
Brendon blinks. “That certainly sounds like it will be something.”
Kermit nods keenly.
The extension is denied.
Brendon finds out when he stops by the theatre on his day off.
“Come to rub it in?” a strange-looking creature hisses at him.
“No,” Brendon blinks, taken aback.
The creature glares at Brendon a little more, but before he can really get into the swing of it, Kermit appears and explains that Brendon isn’t from the bank or the unhelpful law firm.
“Well, technically he is since I meet him there, but he isn’t the one who is foreclosing us, Gonzo. He’s the one who helped me out.”
“Oh,” Gonzo says.
He looks genuinely apologetic and when he apologizes, Brendon accepts it.
“It’s okay. People tend to look the same in a suit jacket.”
Gonzo laughs a little. “You do.”
With that ironed out, Kermit and Gonzo offer to give Brendon a tour of the theatre. It’s a huge rambling building. Though it is noticeably rundown, Brendon can see it was once something to behold. The gothic exterior and mismatched pre-war interior are still elegant and stately, however age or perhaps its current inhabitants softens its grandeur into something that makes Brendon feel comfortable. There are chickens living in the attic and rats in the old dressing rooms and a lab in the basement and so much more squeezed into every nock and cranny. It feels like (and is, Brendon realises,) a little community. No, a family.
Up in the boxes Kermit explains how the meeting with the loan officer went.
“He said he’s already given us all the extra time he can.”
Brendon looks at the additional paperwork Kermit hands him and then at A&K the next day, Brendon reads it again. Deep, deep down, Brendon knows he shouldn’t be thinking what he’s thinking. He’s tired of putting himself out on the line for other people, especially people he doesn’t know. He thinks there’s only so many times a person can. He’s learned the lesson why; he doesn’t need a refresher course.
At the end of the day he is a singer. That’s what he’s good at. He’s really good at, in fact. So good, he knows he’s the reason A&K is filled with people every single night he takes the stage. He might write ditties, but what he can do is sing better than almost anyone he knows. He’s not a financial or legal expert. Not close. He doesn’t even control his own finances. Or understand them. But one thing Brendon knows (perhaps one of the only things Ryan taught him) is there is always a loophole, and if anyone can find it – ‘What is this? Why are you sending me foreclosure documents? What have you gone and done?’ Spencer splutters when Brendon calls him – Spencer will.
And he does.
“You got us an extension?” Sam the patriotic Bald Eagle asks when Brendon stops by a week later.
There is a moment of silence, then everyone cheers.
(For some strange and very embarrassing reason, Brendon blushes bright red).
Given that Spencer is Spencer it’s not really surprising when he turns up sooner rather than later. With a duffle and a woolen scarf tied smartly around his neck, Spencer eyes Brendon warily when he arrives at A&K. Running ten minutes late with the weekend paper rolled up under one arm, three bags of the Swedish Chef’s delicate pastries in one hand and a paper tray of coffee orders balanced in the other, Brendon feels like he really should have been smart enough to get Spencer something too.
“Hey stranger, long time no see.”
“Hey Brendon,” he corrects, but without any sharpness in his voice because it’s Spencer. “What are you doing in this fine city?”
Spencer gives Brendon a look.
Because some things don’t change, Spencer doesn’t ask before he helps himself to Greg-the-sound-guy’s coffee.
“He can have yours instead,” Spencer says.
“Mine isn’t a soy mocchacino.”
“Change is good for people,” Spencer replies flippantly.
It isn’t really a surprise that Spencer’s here to check on Brendon, but when Brendon gives in and tells him what he’s been up to, Spencer laughs.
“So you’re working at Pete’s but you’re spending all your free time mending stage floors, sourcing chemicals for a working lab, setting up lighting for a 80s disco Hamlet musical and accompanying singing pigs and chickens on piano while trying to save their theatre company from being thrown onto the streets,” he says on the walk back to Brendon’s place.
“Yeah, that about sums it up.”
“You’re crazy Urie,” he says smiling.
And Brendon laughs, because, said like that, he does sound sort of crazy.
For some reason Spencer never ends up flying back to LA.
One week passes, then another but Spencer shows no signs of leaving the guest bedroom. Rather, he seems more and more at home in the NYC cold. Despite having never spent more than two consecutive days in the city, Spencer is like a fish in water. Brendon’s guest room is soon filled with stale-smelling second-hand books from a variety of hole-in-the-wall shops that Brendon did not know existed. Spencer takes over Brendon’s coat rack too. It groans under his growing collection of coats and jackets and hats. Brendon trips on the overflow each morning when he goes to fetch the paper that Spencer has apparently decided to have delivered to the apartment.
Spencer is nowhere near apologetic when Brendon shows him the carpet burns on his hands and knees.
“It’ll get better.”
Brendon looks at him. Spencer switches on the coffee maker.
“Is that all?”
Spencer looks up. “Pretty much. I have to keep you on your toes.”
And the thing is, having Spencer in NYC with him kind of does.
He annoys Brendon about doing half-ass remixes of Beastie Boys tracks and tells him about great songs he hears on public radio and spends entire mornings running up Brendon’s phone bill talking to his sisters, like there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing with his time than listen to them gossip about their classmates and college sporting events.
Brendon doesn’t know what Spencer’s still doing in NYC.
“Don’t you have anywhere to be?” Brendon asks at one point.
Spencer glances at his watch. “Shit. The Daily Show is filming in half an hour. I have to go or else I won’t get a good seat.”
It isn’t exactly the answer Brendon is asking for.
Spencer starts dropping by the theatre every now and then.
Compared to Brendon, Spencer isn’t much good tuning the flat piano or repairing rips in the old chorus girl outfits. But he is very good at looking after some of the more fragile Muppets. Brendon gets used to catching him in the stairwell with Rizzo and all the rats. With a ball of yarn on his lap, and Yolanda curled up in the crock of Spencer’s shoulder, he reads them headlines from The New York Times, teaches them algebra and knits them lumpy mittens and scarves.
“When did you learn to knit?” Brendon asks Spencer once.
“My grandmother taught me.”
Brendon doesn’t know what to do with that.
Spencer shrugs. “I’ve had some time on my hands.”
The rats love Spencer. For all their brash confidence and loud shrill voices, they are the first to find him when he drops by and the last to hug him goodbye when he leaves. Eventually on weekends he starts inviting them over for Sunday dinner. Unfortunately this means the rats now know where Brendon lives and that is not a good thing. But on the other hand it means Spencer cooks and Spencer is a great cook. Brendon really isn’t. Putting up with the rats sniggering at him is a small price to pay for Spencer’s cooking. However the sheep soon become jealous which makes Spencer feel awful. He never wanted to make them feel left out, nor any of the others. Eyes red-rimmed, Spencer hugs them all. Maybe there are a few more tears shed than entirely necessary, but they’re the good variety so for the most part Kermit lets them work out their issues without interfering.
“He’s a good frog, my twin brother,” Fozzie comments.
(Brendon blinks. Twin brother?)
Kermit is a good frog. He’s a horrid accountant though. Spencer almost keels over when he catches sight of the books (which are actually books). They are a mess of receipts and hand-written notes and crooked columns of miscalculated numbers, and he can’t help but take over that aspect of running the theatre.
“I don’t know how you guys survive,” he tells Kermit mid-way through the months it takes him to make sense of the mess.
From the other side of his large oak desk, Kermit smiles serenely. “We make do.”
And they do.
Brendon gets used to spending his evenings holed up in Kermit’s office helping Spencer sort through dusty files and ledgers. Kermit is always in and out of his office; sometimes working on his latest script re-writes, other times writing articles for The Daily Tribune. Fozzie is a fixture too. He brings in his compositions and his keyboard and sings them sections of his yet-to-be-named musical when he gets stuck and needs a second opinion.
“I don’t know how much my opinion is worth,” Brendon confesses.
“Do you play piano?” Fozzie asks even though he knows Brendon does.
“Yes, but most people do,”
Even without formal lessons, most people can play a little. Brendon isn’t anything special.
Fozzie is confused. “You do like music, right?”
Brendon nods. “But I don’t know what that has to do with– ”
“Are you my friend?” Fozzie interrupts.
“Yes,” Brendon stutters, because yes, he does think of Fozzie as one of his friends.
Fozzie pauses, now very confused. “You’re my friend too, and your opinion is worth a great deal to me.”
“We’ve all seen you write music,” Fozzie adds.
“I was just playing around. It’s nothing. They’re just little ditties.”
“Brendon,” Fozzie says. “They’re not nothing. They’re never that.”
Brendon doesn’t really know what to say.
Later Kermit takes Brendon aside.
“You’re very important to all of us,” he says, placing his hand on Brendon’s shoulder.
Brendon makes himself nod. He can’t make himself look Kermit in the eye though. “You’re all very important to me too.”
Despite what people say, Brendon isn’t stupid.
He knows that something’s wrong. He’s known for a while.
But just because he knows the truth doesn’t mean he has to stop lying to himself.
The second act.
When No Doubt approaches them to open, Spencer is forced to fly back to LA.
He stays for a week. During that time he calls Brendon twice. Once after he has lunch with Ryan, and once to remind Brendon what time to pick him up at JFK. Over the phone his voice is toneless and Brendon flinches at the sound of it.
Five hours after the second call, Brendon sits in the arrivals lounge watching the flight de-plane and waits for everything to start feeling real.
Nothing happens. It never does.
In the days after the decision is made, Brendon walks around NYC in a daze.
The funny thing is it isn’t really a surprise that Panic is well and truly over. But at the same time, it somehow is.
Life goes on.
Over time the theatre becomes a new constant for them. There is always something to do and when Brendon has sung himself dry on other people’s words, there is always a prop to be fixed or sheet music to sort and Brendon likes that. He’s always had a lot of energy. Without shows or rehearsals or anything, he sometimes feels like he has too much.
He thinks Spencer might feel the same. Sometimes he is there working away long before Brendon arrives and staying long after Brendon leaves to perform at A&K. Often he spends hours down in the orchestra pit hanging with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band. Once or twice Brendon catches him fooling around on the drums with Animal.
The rats think he’s crazy. (Brendon does too).
“He’s cool,” Spencer says.
Brendon doesn’t know how Spencer can think that. Last week Animal slipped his collar and escaped. It took them over three hours to catch him. In that time he managed to ruin a third of the newly restored theatre stalls, eat half a dozen of Fozzie’s rubber chickens and thoroughly terrorize the entire chorus line. When he brings this up, Spencer just shrugs.
“It’s his nature. You can’t hate him for that.”
Brendon doesn’t really know what to think about that. From the wings he watches Spencer and Animal bond over the snare drum. With one of Miss Piggy’s unfinished costumes waiting to be hemmed, Brendon really should be working but he keeps finding his gaze drift away from the tulle underskirt to the orchestra pit where Spencer and Animal beat out a series of increasingly complex drills for the other to play.
Animal is an uninhibited drummer. When he’s playing, his whole being is devoted to his kit. For all his personal failings, he is a remarkable musician.
At least initially, he and Spencer cling to the idea of the two of them being Panic, still. But as more time passes the period when it feels like the two of them against the world starts to feel like it belongs to someone else. Now when Ginger calls to check up on Spencer, Brendon overhears her suggesting things like school – a degree in sound engineering or maybe something more general like business or economics. Pete laughs when Brendon confides in him. When he and Ashlee are in town, Pete takes great pleasure in presenting Spencer with a packet of clip on ties.
“For when you feel like getting some business done,” Pete explains.
Their best friends are currently being sued by their label for breach of contract. Brendon is tired of business. He thinks Spencer might be too.
He hasn’t said as much, but Brendon gets the feeling that Spencer is tired of most things.
Over three courses Pete lets Spencer order wine and asks Brendon how A&K is going and with spinach in his teeth and the lyrics of one of Pete’s songs still stuck in Brendon’s head, Brendon asks Pete how Black Card’s first album is progressing.
Pete lets him.
Out on the dance floor Ashlee and Spencer dance tipsily.
Swaying together they are golden and bright in the crowd of dark and sophisticated NYC glamour.
The next day Pete drops by A&K in the morning.
“How are you doing?” he asks when they go outside for a smoke break.
Brendon wonders what answer Pete could possibly expect other than the obvious.
“I don’t ever have to wear eyeliner again. It could be worse.”
Pete laughs his donkey laugh. “I’ve heard that before.”
In the evening Brendon goes to the theatre and helps Beaker clean lab equipment in the Swedish Chef’s kitchen. Once the Swedish Chef sees, they end up cleaning dishes too. Brendon’s hands are pruney by the time he finishes.
“Are you alright?” Kermit asks, pulling Brendon aside.
Brendon pastes a smile on his face. “Never better.”
The day before Pete and Ashlee leave, Spencer comes along when Brendon convinces them to have a night on the town. During the course of the night they attended two after-parties, a store opening and a random gig one of Pete’s new bands is giving. Nothing is really Spencer’s scene, but he stick with them the entire night.
Even when Pete and Ashlee leave, he sticks with Brendon.
During the day they exhaust themselves at the theatre and at night he and Brendon go to events and parties. It’s nothing they haven’t done before. Brendon smiles wide and bright, like nothing has changed. Nobody would be able to tell the difference even if it had. Spencer stands beside him and when the photographs appear in the paper or online they are still labeled ‘Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith of Panic at the Disco.’
In those same months Ryan and Jon form a new band, write an album, record said album with their new bandmates, and give interviews which Brendon reads but Spencer doesn’t. He has listened to The Young Veins album. Despite what Ryan says in those articles, Spencer has listened to it - does listen to it.
At night when Brendon sometimes finds himself unable to sleep, he hears Ryan’s muffled voice through the walls. Spencer never says anything in the morning, and Brendon knows better than to push. He doesn’t know how he feels about it though. He wonders how he should react to it, how Ryan expected him to react when Brendon hears another song that isn’t about Spencer but should be. But then again Pretty. Odd. was filled with those sort of songs and Spencer didn’t react to them – he just played them. Brendon wonders if either of them will ever play any of them again.
It’s – it’s a routine of sorts.
The longer Brendon does it, the less he feels when his name is listed differently and his band referred to in past tense and if he can’t look at Spencer sometimes, well, no one is around to notice it.
Then there is the settlement.
With a few signatures Panic at the Disco formally ends and with another, it begins anew. It doesn’t mean anything though. Not to them. Maybe it does to the label. They get a cut of both ends of the deal and at the end of the day a cut is a cut. However a band isn’t quite as simple as a name and accompanying signatures on legal documents.
But nothing is as simple as it is on paper. At the end of the day slights and stains leave marks. What happened between Brendon, Spencer, Jon and Ryan did more than scuff the edges of Panic’s name – their names – in the business. It is not something that can be fixed. Not with scotch tape or the right soap. Some things just can’t be recovered. But Brendon allows himself to continue performing as ‘Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco’ like they can be. Back to singing Ryan’s songs and pretending they don’t hurt, back to sound checks and a temporary dressing room above the bar, back to lunch in restaurants with huge glass windows and subway rides to his loaned apartment with even bigger expanses of glass.
Nothing much changes.
Maybe that is why Brendon is so startled when Rizzo knocks on his door.
Without Spencer’s shoulder to ride upon or a ledge to stand upon, he looks tiny standing on Brendon’s doormat.
“Hey, are you going to invite me in?” Rizzo says.
“Sure, but Spencer’s out at the moment,” Brendon tells him, because Spencer is. “I think he and Crazy Harry went to see the Steins Collection at the Met.”
“Yeah, I know,” Rizzo says, making himself at home on Brendon's couch. “Worst idea in the history of ideas, but whatever, Spencer can foot the bill if Harry destroys anything.”
With the preliminary small talk out of the way, the conversation falters for a moment.
“Some of the guys were wondering if you needed to take a break from coming to help out at the theatre.”
Brendon is taken aback. Sure he’s been busy, but he’s there every spare hour he has, helping proofread programs, giving vocal lesions to Camille and the girls, fixing broken arm rails and patching moth-eaten curtains and helping Kermit run chaotic rehearsals and –
“Why would they think that?”
Rizzo gives Brendon a look. “You accidently sewed Miss Piggy into an evening gown during her last fitting.”
“It was a mistake.”
“Two days ago you fell asleep in Kermit’s office.”
“I was tired.”
“You were up all night varnishing the stage.”
“It needed to be done before opening night.”
“Opening night isn’t for three weeks.”
“It still needed to be done.”
Rizzo rolls his eyes.
“It did,” Brendon tells him.
“It didn’t need to be done that badly,” Rizzo disagrees. Hopping over to the pillow closet to Brendon, Rizzo reaches over and nudges Brendon’s arm. “Come on Bren. You need to take a break or you’ll burn out.”
Brendon does need to take a break. He’s been out every night of the last two weeks. He sleeps in cabs and in the hours between his sound check and his performance. There is still varnish under his nails and cork in his hair. Brendon can’t remember when he last ate. He had a sandwich, but he isn’t sure when he had it.
As if sensing his distress, Rizzo’s whiskers twitch.
“I’m sorry,” Brendon tells him.
Rizzo makes a face. “Don’t say that if you don’t mean it.”
Kermit is less blunt when he brings it up.
“We worry,” he says quietly, shutting his office door. “You’re running yourselves ragged.”
In the privacy of Kermit’s office, Brendon feels all of six inches high. If that.
“This isn’t like you,” Kermit says.
“It could be. You haven’t known me that long.”
Reaching over, Kermit pats Brendon’s knee. “I’ve known you long enough to know when something’s wrong.”
His eyes are soft and his smile is kind and Brendon tries to ignore it but his breath gets caught in his throat. Rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand he wants to tell Kermit everything. But he doesn’t even know where to beginning.
“It’s okay,” Kermit promises.
Brendon wishes it were.
He’s spent the last few months trying to ignore everything. He’s buried himself in the theatre, in A&K – anything to avoid the obvious. But he can’t do that anymore. He’s exhausted and afraid and nothing is okay.
“I’m going to call Spencer, and he’s going to take you home,” Kermit tells him. “You’re going to have a good night’s rest and then tomorrow, if you want, we can talk some more.”
It’s a good plan. Better than any of Brendon’s. Spencer agrees when he picks Brendon up.
He looks tired too. Brendon never noticed until now, but he does. He’s come out almost every night and worked as many long hours at the theatre as Brendon has. He’s followed Brendon everywhere Brendon has gone, kept close by his side and only now, Brendon sees. Only know does he understand how much he worried Spencer.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” he tells Spencer, and because Rizzo is right, he adds, “I mean it.”
Spencer nods wearily. “Good.”
Slowly their routine gets remade.
Over time, weekdays where Brendon toiled away at the theatre become days where he has lunch with Gonzo and plays checkers with Camille. There is still work to be done on the theatre, but now he does not do it alone. Sometimes he takes days off and follows Spencer to flea markets or just sleeps in. Friday nights that were once spent on red carpets posing for photographers become nights spent playing Scrabble with Frank and Stein, the two-headed monster. Brendon loses far more game that he wins. Frank and Stein are horrible cheaters though, so Brendon doesn’t take it to heart.
Eventually those nights become theatre-wide games nights held at his apartment with all the glass and with the views and, now, suddenly, with a theatre-full of Muppets playing Yahtzee or Spencer calling out bingo numbers while wearing a black satin tuxedo jacket and matching bow tie. They make him do that because, to the surprise of no one, he is a shark when it comes to board-and card-games. In fact, he’s down right awful. When the cards are dealt or when the die are in his hands, he always get’s this look in his eyes and no matter what anyone does, Spencer decimates them within minutes. It’s Rizzo who comes up with the idea of putting Spencer in charge.
“He’s perfect!” he exclaims.
He turns out to be right.
Spencer just has this way of being able to pick what games they should play and monitoring the flow of the night. He catches Bunsen before he gets too competitive and announces tea breaks whenever he sees Pepe getting upset after having to mortgage his favourite monopoly properties.
“It’s the older brother in him,” Brendon says, when Kermit brings it up.
The corner of Kermit’s mouth twitches. “I think it’s just Spencer.”
Brendon thinks Kermit could be right.
Spencer stops by at work one day. With his cheeks rosy and hair pushed back from his face with a battered trilby hat, he is pretty and the sight of him waiting by the coat check brings a smile to Brendon’s face.
“I was in the neighborhood,” Spencer explains. “And I thought maybe I could drop by and take you out to lunch if you don’t have other plans.”
Some of the guys were going to try the new French fusion restaurant on Seventh, but that doesn’t count as a plan. Brendon shakes his head and together they go buy sandwiches at a deli a few blocks away. While they wait to be served Spencer tells Brendon about the classical concert he and Rowlf attended in the park the night before. Spencer isn’t a huge Beethoven fan (not nearly enough percussion – but then again he feels that way about most music), but Rowlf wasn’t disappointed by that.
“He said he’ll lend me some of his favourite recordings to see if he can change my mind,” Spencer tells Brendon when they go snag a table.
Brendon isn’t a big classical music fan either, but he knows Rowlf is (Brendon has witnessed how zealously he collects vinyl orchestra recordings). It’s sign of how high his regard is for Spencer that he’s willing to lend them. It’s also something that makes Spencer a little nervous. But Brendon tells him not to worry.
“Nothing will go wrong,” he tells Spencer, because Brendon doesn’t think anything will.
“Now you’re jinxing it,” Spencer laughs, rapping his knuckles on the wooden table.
Brendon shakes his head.
He’s seen Spencer playing checkers with the penguins and patching up Beaker after Dr Honeydew’s experiments goes wrong. He cares for them all. Brendon is certain even if Spencer doesn’t understand Rowlf’s passion for classical music, he will appreciate it and that’s all anyone can hope for, really.
“Are you going to the theatre tonight?” Spencer asks as they pay their check.
Brendon nods. They’re doing dress rehearsals today and if Brendon leaves sound check a little early he thinks he’ll be able to catch the last few acts before heading back to do his set at A&K.
“Me too,” Spencer tells him. “You’ll need all the help you can get sewing those sequins on Kermit’s tuxedo in time for opening night.”
Spencer smiles brightly at him and when they get back to his office, he hugs Brendon goodbye.
(For the rest of the day, Brendon is in a good mood).
Just like that, they fall into a habit of having lunch together. In no time at all, Brendon’s co-workers get used to seeing Spencer's cheerful and maybe a little windswept face waiting by the bar. Once or twice they even all go out together; a swarm of people in colourful Clandestine clothes and FBR merchandise, only interrupted by Spencer in his stylish navy coat and leather gloves.
Occasionally the sight of how adult Spencer’s become catches Brendon off guard. It feels like yesterday Spencer would roll out of his bunk in the middle of the afternoon smelling of weed and wearing Pussycat Dolls hoodies over glittery t-shits that were a size too small. Was it really so long ago?
The days Spencer joins them for lunch are always the best. He might not know the inner details or the day-to-day gossip but with ease, he keeps up with them. Spencer was always good like that, always so quick witted. Somehow as time pass, instead of talking about FBR’s latest A&E find or how the sound of TAI…’s latest record compares to their previous ones, they start talking about other things – like stories from childhood and calling each other out on b.s. and generally stupid stuff that doesn’t mean anything until one day Spencer and Brendon start getting invited out by people who aren’t people he should be friends with or people he’s friends with only through Pete – as by people who are his friends. No. Both his and Spencer’s friends. Because that’s how it is. So much so, at the end of the year, Brendon invites Spencer to come to their private A&K Christmas party.
“It will be tedious without you,” he tells Spencer, because it would be.
Everything seems to be when Spencer isn’t there.
Spencer laughs. But he agrees on the condition they leave early and go to the Muppet party as well. For a deal, it isn’t a bad one at all. In fact Brendon’s pretty sure he gets the better end out of it. On the night of the party he is certain of it when Spencer rolls out of his room wearing a festive red and green scarf and matching socks and makes all the A&K people laugh within moments of their arrival.
Spencer’s just like that.
For a little while they socialize with beer glasses in hand and then, obviously after having drunk too many, they go out onto the packed dance floor and make fools of themselves with everyone else. Like the teenager Brendon isn’t sure when he grew out of being, he jumps around Spencer, twisting and flailing and generally acting idiotic. Spencer rolls his eyes but that doesn’t stop the night being the best fun Brendon can remember having in a long time. By the time they duck out, he is dazed and Spencer is tipsy.
In comparison to A&K, the Muppet’s Annual Christmas party is a far more low-key event. The theatre is filled with most of the muppets, plus some friends, family and an assortment of random guests that Brendon has never met before but apparently are connected in some way to the theatre even if it’s only that they gave the Muppet’s last show a startlingly bad review. Kermit invites everyone.
Miss Piggy is in fine form. She and Kermit spend most of the night slow dancing together and when her curls come undone halfway through the night she doesn’t notices. After drinking a little too much punch, Brendon finds himself tugging on one of the remaining ringlets. Giggling, she swats his hand away. But the rats seem delighted and tug the last few surviving curls until her hair is lose and undone.
“Are you going to ask me to dance?” she queries.
He nods seriously. “At some point.”
She hiccups and holds out her hand. But before he can take it, Bobo the bear steals it. Sweeping her onto the dance floor, he leads her in a spirited foxtrot.
“Are all bears such good dancers?” Brendon asks Rizzo.
Rizzo shrugged. “Are all humans such bad ones?”
Brendon leans back in his folding chair and lets Rizzo steal the last of his punch. “Touché, my friend, touché.”
The thing about Miss Piggy is that she isn’t the sort of person that makes excuses for herself or her behavior. She’s a star, okay. It’s something people need to remember.
In flu season, Miss Piggy’s friend who does the Late Night News at PBS falls ill. The show panics. Miss Piggy usually fills in when something like that happens to one of their hosts, but with the production coming up she just doesn’t have the time or the desire to sacrifice any of her beauty sleep. She needs it, okay? Stars have to look good and she’s the biggest star in the Muppet Theatre Company.
“But we don’t have anyone else!” they cry when she declines their offer.
“You will have to find someone,” she replies archly. (She is a star. Not a replacement weather girl for the midnight news on a boring 24-hour news channel).
“We really, really don’t have anyone else. Even our interns are sick!”
Miss Piggy lets out a huff and then she says the strangest thing. “Spencer can do it.”
Spencer doesn’t actually find out what Miss Piggy promises he can do until he turns up at the theatre after work. During his lunch hour he and the Count had exchanged instant messages online. He is caught off guard when Miss Piggy tells him what he has to do.
“I’m sorry,” he blinks. “I think I misheard you.”
She repeats herself.
No. Spencer didn’t mishear her.
Miss Piggy tosses her shiny blonde hair over her shoulder. “You like it. It’ll be fun.”
Oddly enough it is.
No one apart from the insomniacs, the jet-lagged, and people who work the night shift tune into the Late Night News on PBS, but that just means no one on staff cares what Spencer says. They give him a print out from their station’s news site and tell him which camera to look into but that’s about it. With the co-anchors both green and dizzy, they tell him to stretch it out and he does. In doing so he discovers it’s kind of enjoyable talking about the effect of the last four presidents’ various foreign policy strategies upon the Asia market in comparison to the European one and about the long-term implications involved.
As it turns out, the producers enjoyed it too. The next morning they call him and for the rest of the week he replaces Miss Piggy’s friend until she gets better. He’s pretty much dead during the day during that week, and following his stint he comes down with the same cold that the rest of the station had, but he doesn’t regret it.
A month or so later, when they call again to ask him to fill in, he finds himself saying yes.
Each night Spencer is on, Brendon races home from A&K to watch and each night Brendon can’t help but wonder about the person sitting at the anchor’s desk. They have known each other for years. They have travelled the world together. But that person, that self-assured, clever, articulate person reading the new’s bulletins feels like a stranger. Or he does until Brendon remembers that’s how Spencer was, who he was before the split. But that’s not quite either, because the split doesn’t define Spencer. The person on Brendon’s screen is just Spencer. And it’s been so long since Brendon saw him. So long since Spencer was himself rather than someone getting by just.
When Spencer gets home, Brendon wants to say something; say he hadn’t realised, that he was sorry he hadn’t seen outside himself, that he should have because he wasn’t the only one who lost Panic. But Spencer is grinning, and his eyes are bright and Brendon can’t remember the last time Spencer looked that alive. So instead Brendon tells Spencer that he was awesome on TV, because Spencer was and he deserves to hear it.
An interlude of sorts.
Ryan isn’t great at keeping tabs on people. He never has been.
He used to rely on Spencer to do that for him. Spencer was good at it. Good enough for two people, Ryan always told him and it was true. Now Ryan has twitter. He uses it to post things, but having just got off tour and spent the week in bed he finds himself with time on his hands. Time has never been a friend to Ryan, which is why when he logs into his account he blinks when he checks his feeds.
From no activity at all, suddenly there are all these new people who have friended Spencer and Brendon and people they follow back. Scrolling down Ryan notes that there is a member of European royalty who regularly sends algorithms to Spencer, two noted scientist that like to tweet physic themed knock-knock jokes to Brendon, a sheep who seems to send both of them a lot of links to 1950s Austrian polka music, a frog who Brendon is meeting for lunch in an hour and a three month old notice announcing that Brendon and Spencer have moved to NYC.
‘Oh,’ Ryan thinks then says aloud. “Oh.”
The third act.
Hamlet the Musical opens to great pomp and exuberance.
Brendon takes a day off work to come and help make sure everything will run smoothly when the curtains open in the evening. Spencer does too. In Miss Piggy’s dressing room, he smiles down at Brendon while he hems Miss Piggy’s dress and jokingly suggests that they should dig out their old bedazzler to brighten up their tuxes. Spencer eyes twinkle and Brendon can’t help but laugh.
“We wouldn’t want to outshine Kermit,” he tells Spencer.
Spencer winks in response.
Thanks to all the work Spencer and the other backstage crew put in, the stage is looking pretty fantastic in comparison to how it had appeared only a few months previously. It’s unfortunate but they all can feel Kermit’s slight disappointment with some of the recycled props and backdrops from earlier productions. But although everyone knows he wishes that he could give Miss Piggy the blockbuster show she wants, all they can do is make the best with what they have. And that they have. The backdrops are almost dry and the props are mostly fixed and there are only a few minor details left to attend to.
Just before curtain call, Brendon ducks out and orders three-dozen roses.
When Miss Piggy finds them in her dressing room she lets out a cry of delight and throws herself at Kermit. Stunned and clueless, Kermit catches her and hugs her back.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she cries, showering kisses all over his face. “I love them.”
“What?” Kermit asks.
“The flowers, silly,” Miss Piggy huffs, but she’s too happy to mean it.
Blushing, Kermit nods and manages to mumble, “I’m glad you liked them.”
“I loved them!” she tells him.
Smiling, Brendon catches his eye and winks. Kermit mouths a ‘thank you.’
Later he takes Brendon aside and says it. “Thank you. I owe you one.”
Brendon smiles, but shakes his head. “Forget about it. You would have done the same for me.”
Kermit pauses, then he smiles.
A week or so later on Spencer’s birthday, Kermit organizes all the Muppets to drop by while he and Brendon are having lunch together and sing Happy Birthday to him. At the end, Spencer turns to Brendon and asks if he organized it. Before he can say that he played no part in this and it was all them, Kermit nods.
“It was Brendon’s idea,” he says.
Spencer eyes brighten and when he leans across the table to hug him, Brendon’s heart jumps, and out of nowhere he thinks, this is it.
And it is.
Spencer is ridiculous and kind. He reads Arianna Huffington’s columns to rats and invites sheep to Sunday Dinner and is an awful dancer and an excellent scrabble opponent and wow, Brendon’s gone and fallen in love with his best friend. He knows it suddenly and irrevocable and the knowledge makes him feel light-headed and almost like a teenager again but in the very best way. However, perhaps the funniest, most wonderful thing of all is that Spencer feels the same way.
“I reupholstered an entire theatre for you,” Spencer tells him. “You’re an idiot.”
And yeah, Brendon kind of is. “But only about you.”
Spencer rolls his eyes.
And that is how it starts for them; a choir of pigs and sheep and rats and bears and frogs and Brendon’s heart climbing out of his chest and Spencer’s doing the exact same thing.
(At the theatre that evening, Kermit is all smug smiles. “You’re welcome.”)
Unfortunately despite the grand opening, the reviews and ticket sales for Hamlet are less than ideal and after less than a month, Kermit makes the difficult decision to close the production. Everyone is upset, especially Kermit. When Brendon drops by in the evening, he finds Kermit sitting on the curb outside the theatre.
“I don’t know what went wrong,” Kermit says. “We had the perfect music and script, the perfect costumes, …everything.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Brendon tells him carefully. “Maybe instead of someone else’s perfect music and words, you should be performing your own.”
Kermit gets a thoughtful look on his face.
A week later Kermit finishes writing a new show. One that’s for them – for all of them. It’s funny and charming and everyone has a part to play. Miss Piggy has a lead role, and so does Kermit. Gonzo has a solo (the chickens sing back up vocals) and Fozzie and Dr. Teeth’s music is incorporated into the story. Brendon thinks it’s brilliant. So does Spencer. They share a dog-eared copy back and forth on the subway and together they repaint sets and re-cut costumes and in no time at all the new show opens.
The opening night is grand – even Kermit is surprised by how many people show up.
Brendon finds himself blinking at the crowd when he and Spencer arrive.
“Is that?” Spencer asks, his eyes wide as he takes in Gabe and Maja chilling with Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band, and what appears to be the entire FBR label and half the wider entertainment world enjoying the open bar.
Gonzo grins and hands them flutes of champagne. “Awesome right? Almost everyone on our combined twitter, facebook friends lists and rolodexes rsvp’d. The house is so full tonight people are pouring into the aisles.”
“Yeah, totally awesome,” Brendon echoes, feeling his heart stutter when he catches sight of Ryan and Jon by the canapés with Scooter and Sweetums.
“Bren–” Spencer says, but Brendon shakes his head.
It’s good that they’re here. It is.
When Brendon and Spencer go over, they nod hello and it isn’t perfect and things between then aren’t good, but they’re here and that is good.
The show, as Brendon predicted, is a hit.
By the time the standing ovation is over, Brendon is hoarse from cheering so loudly.
He feels all kinds of guilt though, when he steps into Kermit’s office and finds him staring at the checks his friends handed him. Opening his mouth, Brendon tries to explain, tries to apologize, but Kermit cuts him off.
“Brendon,” he says gently, placing his hand on Brendon’s arm. “We knew all along.”
Kermit smiles. “If your voice wasn’t enough a hint, the billboards outside the club with your face on them were.”
“I’m sorry. I should have – I wanted to–”
“You have come here almost every day to mend broken light fixtures and help do our taxes. You play duets with Rowlf and help Miss Piggy learn her lines,” Kermit tells him, “These checks from your friends are all very generous and it will certainly help out a great deal. But you are our friend, and what you do is something so much more special than write a check at a benefit.”
Something warm and bright pushes up against Brendon’s rib cage.
When Spencer finds him, the expression on his face is fond and maybe their band is over, but they are just beginning. When they go out to the curb to catch a cab Brendon’s feet are sore. Unlacing the shiny oxfords Spencer had forced Brendon into, he hands them back to Spencer, and Spencer gives him his jacket to stop Brendon from catching a chill.
“So Fozzie says Donna Way is hosting what should be a rocking after party in New Jersey,” he tells Spencer, poking him with his index finger.
“From what Jersey Shore has led me to believe, it’s always ‘party time in New Jersey’,” Spencer replies just to get a rise out of Brendon.
Brendon doesn’t disappoint. Making a face, he gives Spencer the finger as a taxi pulls up. Spencer only laughs and pulls Brendon into a hug despite his feigned grumbles.
“Thank you,” Brendon whispers into Spencer’s ear before he pulls away.
“You’re welcome,” Spencer tells him.
Money really never meant anything to Brendon. But Kermit? Gonzo, Rizzo, Piggy and everyone else? Money can do things. Brendon doesn’t want to buy them or buy them out. He doesn’t really want anything to change. He likes running around backstage and helping out in front and sitting in Kermit’s office talking about the best places to eat a good meal in Jersey City. So instead of anything Ryan or Jon or Pete or Gabe or even Spencer would do, Brendon quietly sets up a small trust and gives them what they need and they let him.
And where Ryan has his music and his new band, Brendon finally lets himself have the theatre.
He makes a home for himself in the shabby theatre among the musty racks of old props that Spencer is fixing one by one and cans of half empty varnish in the broom closet and the space under the stage where Beaker goes to think and on the roof where Sam used to nest before he moved downtown to A&K (‘Bad location, but great company,’ he confides to Brendon after spending months and months confused about his feelings towards a certain Swedish musician), and in Kermit’s office where Fozzie composes and Kermit writes and – they make a home for him too.
It takes a while, but when Brendon’s ready – when both he and Spencer are ready – they slowly stop playing other people’s music and begin to write their own. Maybe it isn’t like Ryan’s or Jon’s music, but then again it isn’t like Kermit’s or Fozzie’s either. That isn’t a bad thing though. It’s just something that takes some time to get used to.
“We’ll get there,” Spencer smiles and Brendon thinks they will.
And given enough time, they do.
The first time they walk back on stage as a band, Brendon’s heart feels so full. He isn’t exactly where he thought he was going to be or with the same people he thought he was going to be with, but that’s okay. He’s where he wants to be and maybe it takes him and Spencer a while longer than Kermit and Ryan to find their own voice, but they do and when Spencer kicks them into New Perspective, Brendon closes his eye and only opens then when it’s time for him to sing the first verse.