Spencer knew he had a shoe problem, had had a shoe problem for many years, but he didn't realize how out of control it'd gotten until he finally moved out of his parent's house. Ten boxes. Ten boxes dedicated to sneakers and loafers and flip-flops and it wasn't so much that he was ashamed, or shocked, or weirded out or anything. He just had no idea where he was going to put them all in his tiny apartment. Closet space was practically nonexistent.
"Hey. Hey, need some help?"
Spencer jerked his head up to see a dark-haired guy, wide smile, tight jeans, peeking in the open door at him. He had a tiny black teacup poodle in his arms.
"Um." Spencer bit his lip. "No?"
"Sure? 'Cause you look a little lost, dude, and you've got fifty-thousand boxes there, and your van's still full, right?" he asked. "I saw it on my way up. Seriously, let me help, I'm so good at helping."
It wasn't that Spencer didn't want the offered help. He just didn't have anywhere to stack his boxes. Also. "I didn't think we were allowed pets."
"Oh, uh." The guy leaned forward, dropped his voice, eyes twinkling. "I've got a disease. A furry arm disease, seriously, you did not see a dog, Sassafras here is an illusion."
Spencer's lips twitched. "Yeah, okay." He shook his head. Whatever. As long as it didn't yap its head off all hours of the day.
"I'm Brendon," he said, stepping in and over a box labeled Kitchen with a question mark, because Spencer was not entirely sure it was for the kitchen. His little sister had helped him pack.
"Spencer Smith." He placed his hands on his hips, surveyed his mess. "I think I'm good, thanks. I might need to unpack some before I bring anything else up."
"Spencer Smith," Brendon repeated, still grinning. "Well, Spencer, I'll be across the hall if you change your mind."
"Oh my god, Jon," Brendon said, bouncing into the apartment and dropping Sass onto the couch next to Dylan. Sassy was not impressed. She bared her teeth at the cat with a little growl and then scrambled down to hide under the coffee table. "Jon, Jon, Jon."
"What?" Jon poked his head out of the bathroom, dress pants unbuckled and chest bare, a towel draped around his neck.
Brendon grinned. "I met a boy."
"A boy." Jon arched an eyebrow. "Okay."
"A real boy," Brendon clarified.
Jon looked down at himself. "Huh. Not many around here, I guess?"
Brendon rolled his eyes. "Shut up, you don't count. You're never home, anyway."
"Except for right now."
"Yeah, sure, a slight exception, can we get back to talking about my new boy now?" Brendon followed Jon into his bedroom, watching him shrug into a white oxford, button it up with quick fingers, then tug on a dark blue sweater.
"What about Ryan?" Jon asked, voice muffled by the wool as he pulled the sweater down past his face.
"I think Ryan's dead," Brendon said, nodding solemnly. "I'm waiting for Frank to stop by, because I don't want to be the one who finds his body."
"Smart move." Jon grinned, reached over to ruffle Brendon's hair. "Say hi to your guy for me, okay?"
Brendon pouted. "How long will you be gone?"
Jon shrugged. "Few days. Try not to bug Ray too much, and, seriously, stop taking Sass everywhere. You're going to spoil her, and my dad's gonna pitch a fit when he gets back."
"But she gets lonely. Jon, Jon."
"Yeah?" Jon pulled on his jacket, rifled through his briefcase by the door.
"She gets lonely, Jon." Brendon waited until Jon looked up at him, then widened his eyes and fluttered his lashes in this totally beguiling way.
Jon sighed. "Yeah, okay. Geez, you're adorable. C'mere, you," he said, and Brendon launched himself into Jon's arms for one of Jon's awesome hugs.
He hated it when Jon went away.
Frank practically kicked in Ross's door. "Hey, asshole, you better not be fucking dead," he said, because Brendon had left a purple post-it note on the door for him that said RYAN'S TOTALLY DEAD THIS TIME I SWEAR. Brendon was one weird-ass fucking kid.
He turned off the hallway and into the kitchen, dropped the bag of groceries on the floor, because the counter was practically bowing under the weight of takeout boxes, half-eaten plates of food, and a plant that looked seriously close to death. Frank wrinkled his nose. Jesus Christ. Ross was a pretty disgusting dude, and it was actually really hard to gross Frank out.
"Ross," he yelled. "Ross, where the hell are you?"
Wandering out into the living room, Frank started to think that maybe Brendon was right. It smelled like someone had died, and it wouldn't be the first time Frank'd found a dead body on his route. The worst was the one with that old lady and the cats. Frank shuddered. He didn't get paid nearly enough to deal with shit like that.
And then he spotted the skinny kid curled up on the floor behind his mammoth desk, sheaves of papers spilled all around him, a palm pressed into his forehead, hair a lank dirty mess over his eyes, mouth moving in soft murmurs as he dug into the wall with what looked like a dull butter knife.
"What the fuck, Ross?" It looked like maybe Ross had finally gone insane. Frank was kind of relieved he wasn't dead, though, and not only in the 'thank god I don't have to call the police' way, but also because he'd gotten reluctantly fond of Ross over the past six months.
"Shh, shh, hang on," Ross said, eyes half closed, like he was having a moment, and whatever. The wall was pretty fucking ugly, but whatever got him high, right?
Frank rolled his eyes and went back into the kitchen to put the groceries away.
Gerard stubbed his cigarette out and ducked back inside the store with a sigh. Tuesday, 2:15 PM. Frank was never there at the same time of day each week, but Gerard was kind of a stalker. He'd feel bad about it if Frank wasn't so fucking hot.
"New guy upstairs," Ray said from behind a comic.
Gerard nodded. "Yeah." The moving van was still blocking his on-street parking, but they got mostly foot traffic anyway, so he wasn't going to complain.
"You know Walker's got a dog, Gee?" Mikey asked. He was on his back on the counter, knees bent, hands clasped over his stomach.
"You're not getting a dog."
"No, I mean." He tiled his head to the side, blinking slow behind his glasses, and Gerard knew if he fucking asked for a dog Gerard would totally give one to him, because fuck. Mikey was Mikey. "No dogs allowed."
Gerard shrugged. The dog was fairly new, and Brendon was telling everyone they had rats, really big curly-haired rats with adorable button ears, see? and Gerard didn't have the heart to tell him he had to get rid of it. "So long as Bob's okay with it," he said.
Bob probably wasn't okay with it, of course, but he had the same weakness for Brendon as everyone else. Walker was just damn lucky.
"Frank here?" Ray asked, still not looking up.
Gerard tugged on the ends of his hair. "Here and gone." Despite having an enormous and embarrassing crush, in the past six months Gerard had said approximately four words to Frank. It wasn't that Gerard was shy or anything, he just didn't know what to fucking say. A couple lame hellos and byes were par for the course, and the only reason he even knew his name was because Brendon was friends with everyone in the entire fucking world.
"I could introduce you," Mikey said. "We shook hands last week when he was leaving Ross's. I could be, like, a conduit."
"Catalyst," Ray corrected absently.
Mikey tapped his foot, hmmm'd. "You sure? I don't know, man, I think I mean conduit. Like, a middle man."
"Whatever, seriously, no," Gerard said. He was not a fourteen-year-old girl. He didn't need fucking notes passed for him.
The phone rang and Ray finally put his comic book down, then he punched Mikey in the side. "Mikey, dude, we're open. Get your enormous feet off the counter."
Gerard really needed more coffee. He pinched the bridge of his nose and headed back to the break room.
"Patrick," Pete said. "Patrick, I love you."
"I know." Patrick hunched down on the couch, tried to make himself a smaller target. "I love you, too."
"See? See, we're perfect. It was writ in the stars," Pete said grandly, "long, long ago."
Pete hopped over the back of the sofa, settled into Patrick's side. "Yes, darling?"
"I'm not going to pretend to be your boyfriend."
Pete frowned, but it was one of his flirty frowns, chin tucked on Patrick's arm as he gazed lovingly – that was the only fucking term for it, even though Patrick really hated calling it lovingly – up at him. "But, 'Trick," he said, "my parents'll love you, dude. You're awesome."
"Get Brendon to do it," Patrick grumbled.
"But I don't want Brendon."
Patrick sighed, tugged his hat down further and tried to avoid Pete's eyes. "You don't want me either."
"Oh, that's a horrible, horrible lie! A falsehood, even. How could you, Patrick?" Pete pressed a palm over his heart.
"Pete." Patrick caught Pete's hand, caught Pete's gaze again, which was a bad move, because for all his joking, Pete's eyes were nearly always so earnest when he looked at him. "Pete."
"Patrick." Pete stared at him and stared at him and finally Patrick blew out an exasperated breath and said, "Fine."
Pete grinned. He said, "Okay, cool, now let's go say hello to the new guy and you can practice being my cuddly significant other."
"So, hey, I brought you a housewarming gift."
"Um. Thanks?" Spencer Smith, Joe had learned that from Bob, took the broom kind of hesitantly.
Joe scratched the back of his head. "The guys above you are fucking noisy, man, so you'll need it. I'm"
"Joe, wow, how incredibly mean of you. A broom?" Pete jarred his shoulder, pushed around him and into Spencer's apartment.
Joe rolled his eyes.
"We're not loud," Pete said to Spencer. "We're Pete and Patrick."
"You're fucking loud, Pete," Joe said. He would know. He'd lived in Spencer's apartment with Andy before Matt moved out of the building. Moving all their shit one floor up had been a pain, but totally worth it. Pete was a moody bitch, and Patrick had the worst temper imaginable.
"Uh." Spencer shifted on his feet, eyebrows arched, but the curve of his mouth looked amused. "Hi."
"Hello," Pete said. Then he reached behind Joe and caught Patrick's wrist – Joe hadn't even seen him hiding back there – and pulled him against his side; like, hugged him close, and Joe's own eyebrows climbed up his forehead because that was new.
"This is Patrick," Pete cut him off.
"Hey," Patrick said. He sounded kind of huffy.
"This oughta be good," Joe muttered, and Pete shot him a toothy watch-it grin.
"We're in love," Pete said, apropos of nothing at all, and Patrick growled, "Pete, what the fu"
"Language, Pattycakes," Pete admonished, and Joe took a giant step backwards because something was going to explode, he was pretty sure. Andy was going to be so pissed he missed it.
Patrick turned bright red. "I'm going to kill you, Pete," he said, clipped and precise.
Pete smushed a kiss against his temple.
Joe watched, fascinated, as all the bluster just melted out of Patrick's body. Weird. "Huh," he said. "Are you"
"No," Patrick said. He slanted a really mean, uncalled for glare at Joe. Seriously, Joe was just an innocent bystander in all this.
"Dude." Joe held his hands up.
"I'm going back upstairs," Patrick said. He smiled tightly at Spencer. "Nice to meet you."
"Sure," Spencer said. He didn't seem to take any offense, which Joe thought was really cool of him.
He clapped Spencer on the shoulder. "I'm in 3B," Joe said. "Come on up and visit sometime."
Bob was already under their kitchen sink when Joe pushed open his apartment door. "Bob," he said. "Keymaster."
Andy was out, which was a shame. Joe had broken the garbage disposal in the first place so that Andy could get some quality Bob-time in. Andy was pretty adamant about not having any feelings for Bob, but Joe was sure that was impossible. Bob was everything awesome with a slice of really fucking cool. Plus, he had all these keys.
"I don't know what you fucking do, Trohman. I'm gonna start charging." The pipes clanged loudly, and one of Bob's legs twitched. He twisted a little, peered out of the dark cabinet at Joe.
"It's your job, dude," Joe said, getting a beer out of the fridge and popping the top. He knocked the can on Bob's knee. "Want one?"
"Yeah," Bob said, sliding out, wiping grime off his forehead with his wrist. "I think you need a new disposal."
"Bummer," Joe said, giving Bob his open beer and reaching for another one for himself.
"Yeah, right." Bob shook his head. He'd gotten rid of the lip ring, Joe noticed, which was too bad.
Joe pressed his lips together, fumbled around for something to say. Bob was awesome and all, perfect for Andy, but Joe sometimes felt a little tongue-tied around him. Particularly when they were in direct eye contact. Bob had some fierce blue eyes. "You know Walker got a dog," he finally said.
"No, he didn't."
Joe arched an eyebrow. "Pretty sure, dude."
"No," Bob said pointedly. "Just a really big rat."
"Oh, man." Joe laughed, sat down hard on a kitchen chair, because that was just funny. "Brendon got you, right?"
"I have no idea what you mean," Bob said, scowling. He took a very obvious this-conversation-is-over gulp of his beer.
Joe shrugged. "Whatever," he said, and tried to think of ways he could keep Bob around until Andy got home.
Spencer had absolutely no opinion of his job. It was a job, it paid his bills, it let him live alone and he didn't have to wear a suit. At five on the dot he was out the door, down the back stairs and into the cold twilight. His apartment was only ten blocks away, down Fairmont, and he walked it fast, hands in his pockets and scarf tucked over his chin.
He stopped for milk, waved at Gerard through the front window of Rewind, and then took the stairs two at a time up to the second floor.
Fifteen minutes later, he was in a t-shirt and sweats, settled down on his couch with a bowl of Cheerios for dinner. And then he jumped maybe a foot when the knock came at his living room window. His heart did a loop-de-loop into his stomach, but he got up to peek through the shades. A hobo was grinning at him.
"Hi," the guy said, muffled slightly through the thin pane of glass. He had on a floppy cap and a long sleeve t-shirt and pajama pants, and when he raised his hand to knock again, Spencer caught flashes of his fingertips through his gloves. "Open up."
"What? No," Spencer said, because maybe he wasn't used to the city, but he knew you didn't open up your window to hobos.
He rolled his eyes. "Seriously, I'm Ryan." He gestured a thumb to the side. "I'm your neighbor."
Spencer wasn't sure he believed him. He could be a thief. He could have a weapon tucked in his… His thoughts trailed off as his eyes fell, because the dude wasn't wearing any shoes, and it was like 40 degrees out. "Wow," he said, sliding the window up with a jerk. "You're barefoot."
"What? Oh." Ryan looked down. "Oh, uh, huh. Thought I was cold. Look," he said. "Look, if you were going to kill someone at a carnival, like, how would you go about"
"I'm sorry, what?" Spencer was kind of convinced he'd moved into some sort of twilight zone.
"I need five deaths. Five's a good number for murders, but my scene is sort of limiting and Frank took away all my knives."
The knock on his door was pretty welcome at that point. Spencer debated slamming the window shut before answering it, but Ryan was half in and half out, and he seemed kind of crazy, but not exactly homicidal. Still. He kept an eye on him as he moved towards the front of the apartment.
There was a really short guy on the other side of his door. He had a lot of tattoos, too.
"Hey," he said, bouncing a little on his heels, mouth curved up in a small grin. "You seen Ross anywhere?"
"Tall, gangly guy, possibly unwashed?"
"There's a homeless man on my fire escape," Spencer offered.
"That'll be Ross. I'm Frank," the guy said. "I'll just collect the freak and go. You didn't give him any knives, did you?" Frank pushed past Spencer without waiting for an answer, and Ryan kind of lit up when he spotted Frank in the room.
"Frank, what areis it Tuesday already?"
"You seriously need a keeper." Frank grabbed his arm, pulled him fully inside the room.
"Frank, Frank, how would you kill someone at a carnival?" Ryan asked, and Frank said, "I've always thought those Tilt-A-Whirl rides were evil."
"When did you last shower?" Frank asked, pushing Ross back into his apartment.
"I have no idea." Ross scratched his head. "Saturday?"
Frank sighed, because that probably wasn't accurate, considering Ross hardly ever knew what day it was. "Doesn't your publisher give you enough of an advance for an assistant?" he asked.
"They'll send someone if I miss my deadline," Ross said, dropping into the huge leather chair behind his desk and unlocking his computer screen. "Tilt-A-Whirl," he murmured, and Frank rolled his eyes.
Celebrated author, my ass, Frank thought. He sincerely doubted Ross's genius status, but whatever. "Advice, dude. Shower."
Ross waved a hand at him. "Yeah, okay, later."
Tuesday, 6:10 PM. Gerard was really fucking pathetic. He rolled his forehead on the cold glass, watching as Frank darted out of the building, walked past the flood light in front of the stairwell, and then Frank half-turned towards the store, raised a hand in a wave, and Gerard fucking flinched, seriously. Shit. He was so screwed.
"That Frank?" Ray asked over his shoulder, and Ray was always asking these fucking obvious questions because who the hell else would it be?
Gerard just sighed, though, and said, "Yeah."
"Frank's really cool," Brendon said.
Gerard shot him a glare, but Brendon wasn't paying him any attention. He was feeding Ray's fries to his giant curly-haired rat, sitting on the front counter, swinging his feet and rattling the glass-front displays.
"Yeah," Gerard said again, resigned. Frank was really fucking cool, and Gerard was a pussy.
"So is Spencer," Brendon said, and then he flashed Gerard a huge grin.
Gerard rolled his eyes. "So Ray's off the hook?" he asked.
Ray blinked up from where he was reordering comic books on a lower shelf. "What?"
"Ray is not off the hook," Brendon said, tilting his chin up almost defiantly. "Ray's my hero."
"What?" Ray asked again. He got to his feet, swiped his palms on his thighs.
"You're my hero, Ray Toro." Brendon held up little Sassafras and waved her paw at him. Sass bared her teeth in a silent snarl. That dog was a mean little shit.
Ray blinked again. "Okay." And that was Ray. Ray was kind of oblivious of anything that wasn't music or comics.
Gerard wasn't sure if Brendon was serious or not, but for an entire year he'd been following Ray around like a fucking puppy. Walker hadn't seemed concerned, and Ray obviously hadn't minded, so it was just one more thing that made Brendon weird, and slightly endearing.
"Spencer, huh?" Gerard shook his head.
Brendon just grinned wider. "Yep."
Brendon not-so-secretly thought Spencer was the best thing ever. Better than poptarts and hot chocolate and ponies, even. Better than Jon Walker. There was very little in life, except perhaps moon rocks – rocks! From the moon! – that was better than Jon Walker.
Humming The Candy Man under his breath, Brendon gave Spencer's door a jaunty little knock.
Sassafras popped her head of his bag and made an adorable growly sound, and Brendon said, "Don't worry, Sass, I still love you best." He kind of thought Jon might've been right about the not taking Sass everywhere with him thing. Brendon was sure he'd be heartbroken when Jon's parents got back from their year-long trip around the world. He'd have to give Sass back, and then what would he do with his hot pink leather dog satchel?
"Hey," Brendon said when Spencer jerked his door open.
"Hi, Brendon," Spencer said, and Brendon beamed at him, because he'd said his name, and Brendon was a giant girl where Spencer was concerned.
Ray had been, like, an impossible, harmless crush, because Ray had found him and brought him home and gave him Jon Walker and Brendon would always be grateful for all that, but Spencer. Spencer was shiny.
Spencer had this smile that lit up his whole face. Spencer was this boy, this man, with broad shoulders and hips – wow, did he have hips – and that was maybe sort of impossible, but wasn't; wasn't anything but true.
"Hi." Brendon waved, rocked back on his heels. "Can I hang out with you?" His plan was to get to the point where he could hang out without asking, like he did with Pete and Patrick and Joe and Ray, but it'd only been a week. Brendon was pacing himself.
"Sure." Spencer waved him inside. "Do you know that guy who lives next door?"
"Ryan? Yeah, he's like. An author." Ryan wrote romantic murder mysteries. He had, like, five books out or something, but Brendon had never actually read any of them. Brendon wasn't a big fan of gore, and Ryan's stuff was rumored to be pretty bloody. Brendon liked stories about horses and elephants and babies. And talking dogs. Talking dogs were pretty sweet.
Spencer got a soda out of the fridge, waggled the can at Brendon. "Want a drink?"
"Yes, please." Brendon was so polite. Spencer was going to love him, seriously. In no time at all.
"Yeah, what?" Joe blinked blearily up at Andy from his sprawl on the couch.
Andy put his hands on his hips, tapped his toes. "So. Why is the stove in two pieces?"
Stove, stove. Something with the stove. "Um. Fell apart? Dude, it totally fell apart. Almost took my foot off." Joe might have yanked on the door a lot, though. After he took some screws out.
Andy arched an eyebrow. "And you called Bob."
"Bob's the man, Andy. Bob can fix fucking… unicorns and shit. If, like, their horns fell off."
"Did that make sense in your head?" Andy asked, dropping down onto the couch next to him.
Joe shrugged. "Sure, maybe." He slid down lower in the cushions, stretched his leg out and pressed his toe onto the Xbox power button. "Halo?"
Andy reached over and tossed him a controller.*
Bob was pretty okay with his job. He got a free place to live, worked with his hands, and, with the exception of Joe in 3B, the amount of emergencies was minimal. 1A had a massive water leak three months ago in the middle of the night, but that was the worst they'd ever gotten in the three years he'd been in the building.
Mainly, Brendon locked himself out of Walker's apartment a lot.
Smith hovered in the doorway behind them as Bob flipped through the mass of keys at his belt.
"Bob," Brendon said. "Bob, you're the best. Seriously, you so are."
"No problem." Brendon had probably lost about fifteen keys in the past year. Bob thought Walker should consider putting in a new lock, but since Brendon would just lose more keys, it seemed pretty pointless. "In you go," he said, unlocking the deadbolt and pushing the door wide.
"Best," Brendon stressed, grinning up at him. And then his bag barked.
Bob crossed his arms over his chest and stepped aside. "Keep your rat quiet or I'll start setting traps," he said.
Smith snorted, but when Bob glanced at him he was just staring at Brendon, eyes bright, and Bob wasn't going to touch that one.
The first person Patrick thought to call was Bob. "Bob," he whispered in his cell.
"Bob," he repeated, just a little bit louder. "It's Patrick. Bob." Oh god, Patrick was in such deep shit. "Pete's insane."
"So that's news," Bob said.
"Shut up, seriously, I'm in his parents' bathroom."
There was an overly long pause. Then Bob said, "Why are you calling me?"
Patrick wanted to yell because you fix things or something equally panicky and nonsensical, but he took a deep breath and said, "I don't know. I don't know, except you've got to get me out of here."
There was a soft knock at the door. "Patrick?"
"Um. Hang on," Patrick said to Pete, then hushed his voice again and begged, "Please, Bob, please."
"Patrick?" Pete said again. "You okay?"
"Patrick," Bob said. "I'm not going to pick you up. You're in fucking Chicago, dude, and I'm going back to sleep."
"Bob? Bob?" Patrick hissed, but Bob had already hung up, crap.
"Patrick?" The door swung open, and Patrick pushed off the tub, scrambled to his feet and snapped, "Jesus, Pete, I'm in the bathroom."
"Yeah, dude." Pete gave him a funny look. "You've been in here for a half hour, so. Are you okay?"
"Fine." Patrick crossed his arms over his chest, narrowed his eyes. It was bedtime. Time for bed. Pete's bed. Where he was expected to sleep. With Pete. Sometimes he really hated his life.
"Can I brush my teeth now?" Pete asked, staring at him with equally narrow eyes.
Patrick gestured towards the sink. "Be my guest." Patrick got prickly when he was backed into a corner. He kind of wanted to punch Pete right then, but they were at his parents' house and he wasn't going to start a fight there, he wasn't, so he forced his hands to curl into ineffectual fists at his sides.
Pete arched an eyebrow. "Meet you in bed?"
"Yes," Patrick said tightly, and then pushed past Pete and stalked off down the hall.
Pete was completely bewildered by Patrick's attitude, but he wasn't going to let him get away with it. Patrick's hackles were up, his back stiff under the blankets of his bed, facing the wall. Pete slipped in behind him and propped his chin on Patrick's shoulder.
"Patrick," he whispered. Patrick didn't answer, and Pete poked his ribs. "Patrick."
"Go to sleep, Pete," Patrick bit out.
"Don't be angry," Pete said, then leaned down to peck his jaw, bury his face in his nape. "Please."
Patrick sort of deflated; Pete could feel the tension seep out of him, feel him relax into the pillows. "I'm not," Patrick said. "Just go to sleep."
Bob let himself into Gerard's apartment at quarter after eight and found everyone already up and in the kitchen. It was Saturday, so that was kind of surprising, since Rewind didn't open on Saturdays until ten. "Did anyone else get a midnight call from Stump?" he asked, pouring a cup of coffee.
Gerard looked at him muzzily over his own mug. "Not me."
Bob shrugged. "He was freaking out about Pete."
Mikey made a halfway alive sound from his slump at the table. His eyes weren't even fully open yet, and he slurped blindly at the coffee Ray slid in front of him.
"Pete wanted his mom to meet Patrick," Ray offered.
"Yes," Bob said slowly, because they all knew that. Pete had been particularly vocal about that point. "Yes, we all knew that, Ray."
Ray bobbed his head. "Okay. Just saying. I don't think Patrick knew that."
Mikey, slightly more awake, said, "Patrick doesn't know they're dating."
"Pete hasn't told him that yet," Gerard put in around a yawn. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, black strands sticking up everywhere.
Bob took a sip of coffee, nodded. "So they're dating."
Mikey pushed his glasses up his nose. "According to Pete."
"I don't know if you can technically call it dating then, but." Ray shrugged.
"Probably not," Bob agreed. "I'm guessing no." And then his cell rang and Bob glanced at the number and cursed. Fucking Joe.
Andy and Bob crossed paths in the hallway, and Andy hooked his thumb over his shoulder and said, "Sorry, man. Joe said something was wrong with the shower."
Andy was a pretty cool guy. Bob hadn't spent much time around him, but he also never got calls from him about the fridge making weird noises – "Zuul, dude, Zuul, I'm serious, it was, like, eggs frying on the counter scary," Joe said, and, hey, it's not like the Ghostbusters jokes ever got old, right? - or squeaky door hinges or clogged drains. One day, Bob was going to strangle Joe, and the jail time would be completely worth it.
"Joe," he yelled, knocking and opening the door at the same time. "Trohman, what the" He cut himself off, because Joe was standing in the kitchen, mug in one hand, the other gripping a twisted knot of towel at his waist. He was wet, too.
Joe swallowed the sip he'd taken, then said, "No hot water, dude, seriously."
Bob stared at him.
Joe bit his lip. "Um. Bob?"
Joe was half-naked, and Bob's fingers were tingling. Huh. "Yeah," Bob said. "Yeah, let me, uh, just head downstairs and check the water heater."
"Just so you know, I hate you for getting me up this early," Mikey said. Who the fuck had an estate sale in the middle of November? It was bad enough that Ray and Gerard dragged him around yard sales all spring. At least then it was halfway warm out.
He hugged his Starbucks cup closer to his chest, cradled protectively in both hands, because these things were always fucking crazy. He'd already almost gotten killed for accidentally getting in between an old lady and some sort of hideous rooster lamp.
Ray grinned. "Early bird gets the mint condition Luke Skywalker," he said, holding up the figurine. He had an only slightly distressed Boba Fett in his other hand – too beat up to resell at Rewind, so Mikey figured that one was for his private collection.
"Oh, hey, guys, take a look at this." Gerard held up a. Thing. Mikey wasn't sure what it was, but it was ugly, stuffed in a box that looked like a cage.
"What the fuck?"
"It's a Boglin! I haven't seen one of these in fucking years." Gerard stuck his hand in the bottom of the box, wriggled the little arms and growled.
Mikey yawned. "That's great, Gee, are we done yet?"
"It's a rubber ghoul puppet, Mikes," Gerard said, shoving the box into Mikey's face. "It's Dwork."
Mikey stared at Gerard, at his grin stretching across his face, slitting his eyes. "You're going to torture me with this thing for forever, aren't you?" he deadpanned.
Instead of answering, Gerard made Dwork kiss his cheek.
There were two main things Spencer found kind of hard to believe. He found it hard to believe that he lived in a crappy apartment next to the George Ryan Ross, who wrote these incredible murder mysteries – Spencer's favorite was Sins Not Tragedies, and he had his latest, Lying Is The Most Fun, in his pile of books to read whenever he had downtime - and that the George Ryan Ross was actually this weirdo kid who forgot to bathe and eat and showed up at his window a couple nights a week to ask him what he thought about box cutters and hemp rope and if electrocution was elegant enough for a climatic plot point.
Frank, Spencer learned, only came on Tuesdays to deliver groceries, and – according to Brendon, but Spencer also learned that Brendon greatly exaggerated almost everything – to make sure Ryan hadn't died sometime during the week.
Brendon also told Spencer - because Brendon apparently loved to gossip - that Gerard had the biggest crush ever on Frank, but that they'd never actually met, since Gerard couldn't get up enough nerve to do much more than say hi from a safe distance. The Way brothers owned the building, but Spencer hadn't spent very much time with them, had only stopped in at Rewind a couple of times after work, so he just nodded his head whenever Brendon brought them up. Sometimes, he just liked to hear Brendon talk.
Brendon was sort of adorable and exhausting at the same time. He was so enthusiastic about everything, and more often than not he made Spencer smile, made him laugh, even, and lately that wasn't exactly an easy thing to do. Spencer was embarrassingly homesick.
He kept in touch with his sister through text messages, called his parents twice a week, but it was still hard. He'd lived at home throughout his college career, and this separation was more difficult than he'd thought it would be.
The apartment walls were thin, so when Sass started making a fuss, yipping and bark-whining in that particular high-pitched way that she did when she was really excited, Spencer could hear it all the way across the hall. It meant Brendon was home, though, and Spencer was pretty bored, and Brendon was. Brendon was someone that Spencer enjoyed being around, honestly, which was surprising, given that Brendon had all the social skills of a cocker spaniel.
When a scruffy guy opened Brendon's door after his knock, though, Spencer wondered if it would be too lame to ask to borrow a cup of sugar.
"Hi," Scruffy Guy said, grinning at him. He had on a white t-shirt and jeans, bare toes peeking out from under the overlong denim, and he looked really at home there, leaning into the doorjamb, staring at him with sweet brown eyes.
"Um." Spencer shifted awkwardly on his feet. "Is Brendon here?"
"Oh, yeah, hey, you must be Spencer." Scruffy Guy grinned even wider. "Brendon won't shut up about you. I'm Jon."
Spencer wanted to snap something about Brendon not saying anything at all about Jon, but he couldn't figure out how to do that without sounding like a bitch. He normally didn't care if he sounded bitchy, but he kind of didn't want Jon to know how startled he was. He'd thought Brendon lived alone.
"Come on in," Jon said, and Spencer shook his head.
"Spencer," Brendon crowed, bounding up behind Jon, wrapping an arm around his waist and hooking his chin over Jon's shoulder. "Hi!"
Spencer felt really stupid. He hated feeling stupid. "Hey," he said blandly, cocking a hip. "I just heard Sass barking, so." He trailed off, one eyebrow arched.
"Oh. Oh, sorry," Brendon said, smile wavering. "She was just excited to see Jon."
Spencer nodded. "Okay. Good to meet you, Jon," he said, flashing a thin smile. Be nice, he admonished himself.
Jon arched both of his own eyebrows. "Yeah, you too."
"You scared him away," Brendon said, poking Jon in the stomach. "You scared him."
"Are you sure you like him?" Jon asked. "He's got a vicious grin, dude."
"Because you scared him, Jon Walker." He jutted out his lower lip, and Jon pinched it between his fingers.
"I'm not scary, Brendon," he said. "I'm the very opposite of scary. I'm a font of cuddliness, even." He let Brendon's lip go and pushed him towards the kitchen. "Come on, lunch, I'm starving."
"Don't they feed you?" Brendon asked, and he was definitely skeptical, because Jon was always hungry when he got back from a trip, but not too skeptical, because Jon was right. He was a font of cuddliness, soft belly and all.
"Little packets of peanuts," Jon said, but he was smiling, eyes teasing, and Brendon knew he was lying through his teeth. He probably ate gourmet, and now he had to make do with Brendon's spaghetti and meatballs.
Brendon asked, "Grilled cheese?"
"Mmmm," he nodded, "with bacon."
"I think," Ross said slowly, blinking at Frank from behind glasses Frank wasn't sure he even needed. They were half-moon, constantly sliding down his nose, and Frank couldn't remember ever seeing him wearing them whenever he was sitting behind his computer, actually writing.
"Yeah?" Frank prompted.
Ross leaned in, grabbed the front of Frank's t-shirt in his fist and said close to his ear, "I think Jon's a spy."
It took a minute for Frank to figure out who Jon was. "The guy across the hall? Lives with Brendon?"
Ross pursed his lips, let Frank go and waved a hand, thin-boned wrist flashing white as the cuff of his shirt separated from the hem of his fingerless gloves. "He's never home. I don't think Brendon even knows where he goes."
"He travels for his work," Frank said.
"Which is espionage, Frank, think about it." His eyes grew speculative, staring into the middle distance. "I wonder if he keeps a gun on him. Tucked under his shirt, pressed against the small of his back, slipping a little over his overheated skin, barrel almost too hot. He's shot it recently; you can smell it if you're close enough, maybe even through his jacket."
"Shh." Ross worried the nail of his middle finger between his teeth, eyes half-closed.
Frank rolled his eyes. Ross was fucking odd, but he thought maybe he should pick up one of his books sometime. He'd heard they were pretty bloody.
A purple post-it note fluttered to the ground when Frank left Ross's apartment. COME DOWN TO REWIND, it said, and Frank half-smiled. Rewind, huh?
Brendon was waving at him out the front door when he hit the sidewalk and he stuffed his hands in his hoodie, eyes flicking behind him. That guy was there. The one who always watched him through the front window and occasionally said hi.
Frank plastered on a smile and pushed inside, the overhead bell jangling. "Urie," he said, nodding. "What's up?"
"I wanted to say hello," Brendon said, leaning towards him with wide eyes. He was fluttering them a lot.
"Dude." Frank cocked his head. "You have some sort of tic or something?"
"No." He jerked his head to the side, widened his eyes even more. It was kind of freaking Frank out.
"What are you"
"Gerard!" Brendon said loudly. He was talking over his shoulder without actually taking his eyes off Frank. "Hey, Gerard, come say hello to Frank."
Frank thought maybe Brendon was trying to look stern or encouraging or something in between, but he kind of just looked demented. Frank nodded at Gerard, though, said, "Hey."
"Hi, um." Gerard bit his lower lip around a small smile, pushing his cheeks up, the tops flushed pink. It was kind of adorable.
Frank rubbed the back of his neck, bounced on his feet. "So." He darted his gaze to Brendon, who was backing away slowly, half-crazed grin on his face, then back to Gerard. "You work here?" he asked, and wow. Wow, was that stupid and so very obvious the answer was yes.
"I, uh, well. With Mikey. We sort of own the building," Gerard said, nodding.
"Cool. Mikey. He's the skinny kid with the glasses, right?"
"My brother, yeah," Gerard said, and Frank was glad he hadn't added 'prone to creepy silent stares' to that description. Mikey seemed nice enough, just kind of flaky and absentminded.
"Right, uh." Frank debated offering a hand. Handshakes were iffy, kind of dorkish, and while ingrained Iero politeness called for it, he thought maybe Gerard, who had his own hands shoved deep into his pockets, would just leave him hanging, anyway. He settled on a small wave and said, "Well, I've got another delivery to make before heading home, so. I'll see you guys next week."
"Oh my god," Gerard said, watching Frank walk back down to his car. "Oh my god, Brendon, why did youhow could youfuck."
Brendon patted his arm. "Now you've met."
"Now we" He pressed his eyes closed, fist against his forehead. He'd just made a complete jackass out of himself in front of Frank, and it was all Brendon's fucking fault. "Couldn't you have warned me, at least?" he asked, voice pale and pained. Jesus Christ. He'd stuttered. More than once!
"Frank's nice," Brendon said, grinning in complete unconcern for Gerard's total abject humiliation. "He takes care of Ryan."
"He brings Ryan groceries," Ray said from behind the counter, and Gerard whirled on him, jabbing a finger.
"And where the fuck were you, Toro?"
Ray crinkled his brow. "Right here?"
Gerard flapped his hands around, realized he looked like a complete fucking moron and stopped, tucking them into his armpits. He scowled at Ray. "Yeah, and a fat lot of good that did me." Ray could've been his back up. He could've swept in and steered the conversation and helped Gerard not look like an idiot, because that kind of thing was obviously beyond Brendon's abilities.
"I thought that went pretty good," Brendon said, a little bewildered around the eyes, and it was just. Really fucking cute, god.
"You're a little shit, Brendon," Gerard said, but there wasn't any venom in his voice, and he slapped the back of Brendon's head pretty lightly, considering.
There was something about murder, the passion behind it, that Ryan found incredibly sexy. He wrote about the intimacy of blood, slippery on skin, fingers pressing bruises into delicate flesh, thin over the bones of wrists, hips, jaws. He wrote about cold executions, the dead husks of men, soulless by some deep hurt, a betrayal of the all too fragile heart. He wrote about fury, mindless thrusts of a knife, the helpless shaking, the tears that followed, the stripped-down pain of losing control with consequences so irreversible, so gloriously final. And there was that moment, when eyes caught, that last flare of light, of life - burning brighter than it ever had before just giving up - that was so powerful it was a rush just to write about, just to imagine in his mind.
In his head, Jon Walker could shoot a man between the eyes after sharing a pleasant meal. He could wipe his prints off a Glock, plant the weapon in a cold, unresisting hand. He could smile, could hug Brendon, pet Sassy, and he could slice a throat open, warm blood gurgling down his arm, in the next breath.
In his head, when Jon Walker inevitably found out what Ryan knew, what Ryan could say, there was a gun barrel hard in his ribs, a wide hand wrapped around his throat, squeezing, backing him up against his living room wall, silencing any scream, any fight Ryan had in him, and god.
Ryan shuddered, heel of his palm pressing into his hard dick. It was a little sick, how much that scenario scared him, how much it turned him on.
He made himself unlock his computer screen, pull up his latest word doc. The rough draft of Build God was almost three-fourths of the way done, and it was mainly all about Jon Walker.
Spencer had used the broom Joe'd given him exactly twice in the months since he'd moved in. Patrick and Pete were loud, but the first couple times he'd been sort of wary about actually banging on the ceiling. It seemed kind of rude. And then they woke him up at two AM with a blaring radio and what sounded like a herd of cats running around, and Spencer had knocked so hard he'd thought it might go right through the plaster.
When the screaming started, though, Spencer grabbed the broom and stalked upstairs to bang on their door, because some things just had to be addressed face to face.
"Are you killing a water buffalo up here?" Spencer demanded.
Pete blinked at him. "I was singing, dude."
Spencer was not really surprised. "Don't," he said. "Please don't sing ever again."
"You can't stop Patrick from singing," Pete said petulantly.
"Was Patrick the one squeezing bloated cows?"
Pete looked kind of horrified. "No, man, Patrick sings like an angel."
"Then Patrick can sing all the hell he wants." Spencer jabbed Pete in the chest with the broom handle. "You get to shut up, or I'm stuffing this broom down your throat."
"That's harsh, dude," Joe said, coming up behind him. "I think you're abusing your broom-wielding privileges."
Pete nodded. "He totally is."
"First rule of broom-wielding," Joe said.
Spencer stared at him blandly.
Joe stared back. His eyes were kind of glassy.
Finally, Spencer prompted testily, "Is what?"
"Is what what?" Joe scratched his scalp. "Dudes, have you seen Bob? I broke the lock thingy on my bedroom door, and he's not answering his cell."
Spencer pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered, "I seriously need to move."
Spencer didn't yelp but it was a close call. Brendon freaking jumped out of nowhere. "Christ." He pressed a hand to his chest, heart hammering. "Brendon."
"Hey." Brendon grinned up at him. "Want to grab some dinner?"
Spencer bit his lip. Dinner with Brendon. Was that ever a bad idea. "I don't think"
"Please? Please, plea"
"We can go wherever you want," Brendon cut in, reaching out to grab Spencer's arm, eyes big and pleading.
Spencer sighed. "You have no shame, right?"
"None at all, Spencer Smith," Brendon said solemnly, "this is true."
Spencer really didn't want to get involved with Brendon, not on any level, because Brendon pushed his boundaries and Brendon had Jon, apparently, and Spencer had restraint, had reserve, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to get dangerously attached. That didn't mean he wasn't going to get his heart smashed. It just meant that, when he cracked, Brendon wouldn't be able to tell.
Still. Brendon was really fucking hard to resist.
"Fine," Spencer said. "Fine. Dinner."
Brendon's grin grew into a beam, his entire face lit up, and Jesus. Fuck, he was hot. A giant dork, yeah, but a really, really hot one. Damn it.
Ryan hardly ever left his apartment when he was writing – by the front door, at least – because he found the outside world broke his concentration, made him think in terms of reality, but he really wanted a cigarette. He didn't actually smoke, but he was stuck on a scene and he was pretty sure having a cigarette would help, even if he just held it unlit between his fingers. He was just going to slip down to Rewind and bum one off Gerard.
He bundled up, because Spencer was constantly reminding him that it was winter outside, okay, and Ryan wasn't entirely without common sense. Honestly. He layered a corduroy jacket over his t-shirt, a thick wool scarf wrapped around his neck, and then he stepped out into the hall, clicked his door shut, turned around and froze. Just fucking froze, heart in his throat.
Jon Walker froze, too. And then Jon smiled, scrubbed a hand over his hair and moved towards him.
"Hey," he said, and Ryan tried to make his throat work, he totally did, but nothing came out of his mouth, not even a whimper. He backed up, heel hitting his door with a dull thump. They weren't true, the things in his head, he knew that, he did, but what if. What if they were?
Jon cocked his head. "You okay?"
Ryan nodded. Kind of. He was sure his neck moved a little bit, at least. He gripped the ends of his scarf, knuckles white, and told himself to fucking breathe already, before he passed out.
"Dude, seriously, you're notare you breathing?" Jon stepped forward again, brow wrinkled and hands out.
"I'm." Good, good, his vocal chords seemed to be functioning again. "I'm okay," he managed, but that didn't stop Jon from touching him, oh god.
Jon curled his hands around his arms, just above his wrists, and Ryan thought he could feel the heat from his fingers through the thick material of his coat, burning right into his skin.
"You're not okay," Jon said, tugging on his arms a little. "Come on, come inside and I'll make you some tea, all right?"
Ryan started to shake his head, but Jon cut him off with, "Seriously, no arguing," half-stern.
Ryan gave him a weak smile – maybe; he felt his lips twitch a little - and let Jon pull him across the hall into his apartment.
"Jonny Walker!" The door bounced off the wall as Pete burst inside.
Pete had really fucking awful timing. Jon had just gotten Ryan to take his coat off, stay a while. Ryan was gorgeous and kind of skittish, and his eyes were huge, slightly panicky, while he sat on the very edge of Jon's couch, fingers gripped together on his lap. Jon was really, really curious about Ryan.
Jon sighed, said, "Hey, Pete."
Ryan shot to his feet. "I'm just going to. Go," he said, and before Jon could stop him he was sliding past Pete and out the door. He was a slippery-fast little guy.
"Good going, Pete." Jon shook his head. "You let him escape."
"Was that the elusive Ross?" Pete asked, half-awed, peeking out the still open door. Ross's door echoed as it slammed shut. "How'd you manage to get him over here, dude?"
Jon shrugged. "Did you want something?"
"Heard you were back and I stopped by to say hi, seriously, do I need to want something to visit my favorite downstairs neighbor?"
Jon just stared at him.
Pete rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine, Patrick's sort of homicidal or something."
"Because you," Jon prompted, waving a hand.
"Because my mom loved him, Walker. Like puppies and roses love," he said, pulling his hoodie up over his head and then slumping down onto Jon's couch. He scowled at his hands. "We're, like, meant to be, and he thinks it's some sort of elaborate joke."
"Hey, this is just, you know, completely off-the-wall, I'm sure," Jon said, taking a sip of his tea, lounging against the kitchen doorjamb, "but you could probably just tell him that you want to have his babies or whatever. Lay it all out on the table."
"This is Patrick." Pete scowled harder. "He's supposed to know."
Bob didn't exactly have any days off – he was technically always on call - but after dodging calls from Joe all day Wednesday, he decided to leave his cell off and told Gerard to come get him if there were any emergencies. When he turned on his phone the next morning, he had five new voicemails. All from, unsurprisingly, Joe Trohman.
8:13 AM: "Hey, Bob, this is Joe, uh, you know that broken thing on my bedroom door I told you about? I kind of locked myself in, so, if you could maybe stop by sometime this morning."
8:29 AM: "Bob, it's me again, no rush, I managed to get the knob off, so go me."
6:45 PM: "Dude, dude, there's a." He laughed. "There's a hole in my door, dude, I can totally see into my bedroom. It's, like, a peephole. Peephole. Can you just. I don't know, maybe we need to spackle it?" He laughed again, harder. "Oh man, wait, wait, I just remembered. I need a knob. I can't, like, lock my room or anything. For the sex. Shut up, Andy, I totally have sex. Your mom."
7:15 PM: "So it's just a minor burn, but that toaster is done, Bob, it totally attacked me with flames, and here I was, toasting up my bread all innocent-like. Andy, Andy, poke it with a stick, dude, don't use your"
11:45 PM: "Hi, so, emergency room fun. It totally wasn't my fault, but I think we need to have the kitchen repainted."
Bob pressed his fingers into his brow, right over his left eye, and seriously considered asking Gerard for a raise.
The best part about singeing a couple layers of skin off his hands was that Joe didn't have to go to work for a few days. The worst part was that he couldn't work the game controller without experiencing screaming pain. Andy looked pretty pissed about that, too.
"I told you I was sorry, stop glaring at me, dude," Joe said. It wasn't his fault Andy grabbed for the burning hot toaster, anyway. That was just plain stupid.
They were sitting side-by-side on the couch, moping. WatchingJoe cocked his head. "What is this?"
"Co-ed Call Girl," Andy said.
"Huh." While the name sounded tempting, he could have sworn "Is that Tori Spelling?"
"Shut the fuck up, Joe," Andy growled.
Joe shut the fuck up. If Andy wanted to watch Lifetime, Andy could totally watch Lifetime.
Spencer was hiding on his fire escape. He was wrapped up in a coat and a blanket, sitting on the cold metal and totally hiding from Brendon. Dinner had been a very obvious mistake, because it'd just made Brendon bouncier; more touchy-feely, god, and harder to resist.
Spencer jumped a little – what the hell was it with these people and their ninja ways? – and glanced up. Patrick was peering down at him. "Hey, Patrick."
"Fresh air?" Patrick asked, and Spencer nodded. Fresh air, yeah. Patrick grinned and said, "Me, too."
Spencer tugged his blanket more firmly around him. "Want to come down?"
Patrick grinned wider, then trundled down the steps with his own blanket and what looked like a giant metal thermos. He shook it back and forth. "Hot chocolate," he said, settling down next to him, and suddenly Spencer's day was looking up. Hot chocolate and pleasant company on a cold November day.
And then Ryan's window slid up and Brendon climbed outside and said, "Oh, hey, cuddling! Can I get in on that?"
Spencer blinked at him. Crap. "Um."
"Ryan said you were out here, but I didn't know Patrick was, too." He scooted over, grabbed at the ends of Spencer's blanket. "Come on, Spence, share."
Patrick laughed softly into Spencer's ear as Brendon squirmed against his side, shoved his hands inside his coat, under the hem of his shirt, making him yelp and say, "Cold hands, cold hands."
"I know," Brendon breathed, ducking his head down to curl into Spencer's neck.
"Shouldn't you be hanging out with Jon while he's here?" Patrick asked, clearly amused.
Brendon huffed, spreading his palms out on Spencer's stomach and lower back, warming them up with Spencer's skin. "He's filling out reports. He hates paperwork, and he's miserable and he couldn't pay me enough to stick around while he's being mean."
Spencer shifted, belly tingling as Brendon's fingers started petting him, Christ. And then his words hit and. Pay him? Jon paid him? "You get paid?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, not very much, since I live there and everything, but I cook, too. It's." Brendon shrugged against him. "It's good, you know?"
Spencer absolutely did not know. Wow.
Patrick, however, reached around Spencer and squeezed Brendon's shoulder. "It's good, Brendon," he said, smiling. "You're fine."
Spencer kind of felt like he was missing something, a giant something, but he didn't want to ask.
"Okay," Patrick said, unscrewing the top of the thermos, "who wants the first sip?"
Patrick was no longer mad at Pete. It was sort of pointless to stay angry with him, because Pete was Pete, and he was a massive dick most of the time, but he never really meant any harm.
Still, it was kind of hard to remember that when Pete woke him up in the middle of the night.
"Patrick," he hissed, jostling Patrick's leg.
"I'm sleeping," Patrick said, but he blinked open his eyes and flopped over onto his back. His digital clock read 4:15 AM. He groaned. He had exactly two hours before he had to get up for work.
"Patrick," Pete said again. He was standing at the bottom of the bed, shifting back and forth on his feet.
Patrick yawned. "What, Pete?"
Pete climbed onto the end of the mattress, caging Patrick's calves with his knees. "Do you. Do you believe in angels?" he asked and great. Great, Pete wanted to get, what, philosophical?
"Do we have to talk about this now?" Patrick levered up on his elbows. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm." Pete moved up the bed, clambering like a puppy, pushing Patrick back down flat and then hooking his fingers over the tops of his blankets. He scrambled under the covers and curled up, knees digging into Patrick's side. "I'm fine," he whispered once he was settled, forehead touching Patrick's shoulder.
Patrick sighed. "Pete, you can't." He stopped, because Pete was breathing heavy, deliberate, like he did right after a bad dream or bad thoughts or something, anything, bad, and Pete could, then. He totally could.
Bob surveyed the damage, arms crossed over his chest. The wall was pretty black. "How?"
"The toaster's ancient, dude. It just got stuck." Joe was sitting at the kitchen table, hands stretched out. The bandages on his fingers were smudged with dirt, with who knew what. Food, maybe.
"I can't decide if you're really this accident prone or if you're torturing me on purpose," Bob said, shaking his head.
Joe scrubbed the back of his hand under his nose and yawned. "Andy enjoys your company," he said.
Bob arched an eyebrow.
"Uh. I enjoy your company?"
Bob stared at him and Joe fidgeted, shifting in his seat, and he wouldn't look Bob in the eyes. Interesting. "Okay."
Joe nodded. "Yeah, so."
Bob wasn't sure what was going on there. He was getting some weird vibes off Joe.
"So are you trying to kill Joe with your brain? Because I've been working on that trick for years."
"Andy." Joe practically jumped out of the chair, waving Andy further into the room. "Andy, Bob's here."
"Yeah, I can see that." Andy sent Bob a what-the-fuck? look, and yeah, Bob had no idea.
"I'll paint this weekend," Bob said, "but you're replacing your own toaster."
Gerard hunched over the front counter and spread out his paper, tucking a pencil over his ear, pinching another one in between his fingers. He pressed down hard, scent of graphite strong as the clean lines of a figure, a man, gradually appeared. He made his back curve, one leg slightly gnarled, so he'd limp when he walked, fingers bony over the end of a cane. His eyes were sharp, though, his mouth a dark, bitter slash.
Gerard froze, flicked his gaze up through his bangs and caught Frank's smile. His breath stuttered. He hadn't lost track of days, had he? "It's Friday," he said, and Frank grinned wider, flashing teeth.
"Heh, yeah, it is." He laughed, and Gerard flushed bright red.
Fuck. "I'm not normally this much of an idiot," Gerard said. He dropped his pencil, pressed it into the paper with the flat of his hand and straightened up.
"Good to know." Frank pushed his hair back behind his ears, bobbed his head a little.
Gerard licked his lips. "Um. Can I help you with anything?"
"Ray said I could drop this off," Frank said, hefting a pot up onto the counter. There was a plant in the pot, half dead and brown and fucking sorry-looking.
Gerard stared at it. "Thanks?"
Frank laughed again, more of a giggle, and his teeth bit into his lower lip. "Sorry, man, I rescued him from Ross last week." He shrugged. "I think I actually made him worse."
"It's." Gerard pinched a leaf and it fell off into his hand. "Oops."
"Hey, careful. Attila's been abused, dude." He was still grinning, though, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets. He ducked his chin down into his wooly gray scarf and looked up at Gerard through his lashes.
Gerard leaned onto the counter. "Attila, huh?"
"A worthy name for a plant such as this."
Frank blinked. "What?"
"It's a jade plant," Gerard said, smile blooming, and Frank blinked at him again, gaze dropping noticeably to his mouth.
"Um, okay," Frank said. He leaned towards him, mittened hands braced on the edge of the counter. Mittens. He was wearing freaking mittens, black ones with little stars marching across the back, and how fucking adorable was that?
"Frank," Gerard said.
"Would you maybe want to get coffee with me tomorrow?"
"I think that would be best," Frank said, nodding, "seeing as how we've got a kid together now."
"Ryan," Spencer said, exasperated, "would you just come inside already? It's freezing."
"Is your door locked?" Ryan asked.
"What? Yes, seriously, get out or come in." Spencer finally just grabbed Ryan's arm, though, and dragged him inside, slamming the window shut behind him. Ryan was acting weirder than normal. "You're acting weirder than normal."
Spencer nodded. "Yeah, okay," he said, because that made absolutely no sense at all.
"He's trying to get me alone," Ryan said, rubbing his hands together, as if he just figured out that it was fucking cold out, since it was winter time, and he just had Spencer's window open for god knew how long before Spencer came home from work. He was getting used to finding Ryan on his sill, but that didn't make it any less strange.
"Get you alone for what?" Spencer asked.
Ryan followed him into the kitchen. Spencer got out the hot chocolate mix and pulled the milk out of the fridge.
Ryan shrugged. "You're gonna think I'm crazy."
"I already think you're crazy," Spencer pointed out. There was very little Ryan could do to change that either way.
"Okay." Ryan took a deep breath, eyes glued on the mugs Spencer had set out on the counter. "Okay, so, I think he wants to kill me."
Spencer froze, spoon of little cocoa granules paused over the counter. Little dusty bits floated down to settle on the chipped formica in the quiet after that completely ridiculous pronouncement. Spencer had totally been wrong. Ryan was infinitely more deranged than Spencer had thought.
"Jon? Jon's trying to kill you?" Spencer didn't have a super impression of the guy, because he wanted into Brendon's pants – he could totally admit that to himself – but he couldn't actually see him going homicidal. "Are we talking about the same Jon here? Lives across the hall? Pays Brendon for sex?"
Ryan's mouth dropped open.
Spencer rewound that last bit of speech in his head and winced. He hadn't meant to say that out loud. Obviously.
"He pays Brendon for sex?" Ryan asked, incredulous. "Oh, this just got a hell of a lot worse."
"Spencer," Brendon declared, "is avoiding me."
Jon looked up from cleaning his gun, pieces neatly arranged on the kitchen table, soft cloth smoothing over the barrel. "Yeah?"
Brendon dropped down in the seat across from him. "Totally." He reached out and Jon smacked his hand.
"Guns are not toys," Jon said, then grinned at him.
"Jon. Jon Walker," Brendon whined, burying his head in his arms. His voice was muffled on, "What should I do, Jon? I'm heartbroken, I am."
"Hey. Hey." Jon waited until Brendon shifted, looked at him again, then he poked him in the forehead. "You, Brendon Urie, are awesome. If Spencer can't see that, then he's not worth it, okay?"
Brendon sighed, but his eyes looked lighter. "Yeah, okay."
Okay, so, objectively. Objectively, Bob had a great ass. Joe could totally appreciate Bob's ass without it being all weird and stuff.
"Gerard has to sign off on a new countertop," Bob said, scrubbing at the kitchen wall with a flat brush and some soap. He had one knee up on a kitchen chair, elbow across the charred and scorched formica.
Joe scratched at his half-grown beard, under his chin and down his throat. "Okay," he said, then sipped at his coffee. Seriously, Bob's ass was pretty much perfect. It was a joy to look at that early in the morning.
Bob glanced over his shoulder at him. "You know you're never getting your security deposit back, right?"
Joe shrugged. "Didn't expect to." He yawned, stretched and rubbed a palm over his chest. "I'm getting a shower, dude. Holler if you need me."
"I think I'll be okay," Bob said dryly.
"Well, you know, whatever." Joe yawned again, then stared down at his hands, wiggled his fingers, skin tight and sore. The bandages were already off, skin exposed to the air for maximum healing, but the tips of his fingers and the pad of his thumb on his right hand were still raw, which was kind of cool, because he was pretty sure he didn't have any fingerprints left. If he ever decided on a life of crime he'd be set.
When he glanced up again, Bob was staring at him. "Hands okay?" Bob asked.
Joe swallowed hard. "Um." Bob's eyes were seriously hardcore. "Fine thanks."
Bob nodded. "Sorry I missed your call," he said, and he sounded sorry.
Like maybe he'd have, you know, driven them to the hospital if he'd known about it, instead of having Pete freak out and almost kill them all by sideswiping a bus. Which would have been nice.
"No problem, dude," Joe said and flashed him a grin.
Brendon was very nearly a genius, this was true. "I'm very nearly a genius," he said grandly. Gerard had actually asked Frank out, and it was all because of Brendon and his awesome introduction skills.
"That's great," Mikey said. "I want a grande. Black."
Brendon bounced on the balls of his feet. "One grande black coffee, and one"
"Hot chocolate," Mikey cut in. "You're not having coffee. If you have coffee, I might accidentally kill you."
Brendon pouted, but Mikey did have a point.
Once they had their fine, delicious beverages in hand, they sat in the back of the coffee shop and Mikey buried his nose in a discarded National Enquirer.
Sassy was sitting pretty in Brendon's dog satchel, propped up on his lap, and Brendon's fingers twitched around his cardboard cup. And then he spotted Gerard through the large front window and kicked Mikey in the shin in his excitement.
"Hey." Mikey frowned at him over the Pamela Anderson: Mermaid or hideous sea beast? headline.
"They're here," Brendon said. He clutched Mikey's knee and shook his leg.
"Ease up there, Brendon," Mikey said.
Brendon eased up, softening his grip but not letting go completely, because Brendon thought Gerard and Frank looked adorable together and it was all so awesome. They each got big cups of coffee or whatever and sat down in plushy seats near the window and Gerard looked a little nervous, fidgety, playing with the strands of hair that fell over his ears.
Frank tugged off his mittens – mittens! – and grinned and, "Oh my god, they're so cute," Brendon breathed.
Mikey didn't say anything, but when Brendon glanced over at him he was grinning, too.
Ryan liked being in Spencer's apartment. It was nice and clean and Jon Walker would probably never think to look for him there - and, look, look, it's not like he really thought Jon was trying to kill him, okay? But the fact of the matter was that Jon had a gun. Jon had a very big gun, Ryan had seen it, and Ryan's brain was really very good at blurring the line between reality and fiction. So Ryan was in Spencer's apartment, hiding out from Jon Walker.
But since he was inside, and Spencer was inside – making pancakes for brunch, tucked away in the kitchen while Ryan sat patiently on the couch because he wasn't allowed to help, since apparently his help wasn't appreciated, and so what if he broke a few bowls? – he wasn't sure who was knocking at the window.
"Get that, would you?" Spencer called out from the kitchen, like he was used to people knocking on his window. Which, okay, point.
Ryan moved warily towards the blinds, peeked through. The pane was fogged up. There was a big HI written backwards on it, and the tip of a bodiless finger was just finishing up the R in RECNEPS. Ryan flattened his hands on the glass and pushed up.
"Hi, hey, SpRoss," Pete said, staring at him. "Look at you. Walker's been trying to get a hold of you before he leaves town again."
"I will slam this window on your fingers," Ryan threatened.
"Hey, hey, I'm not going to say anything," Pete said, slipping a leg over the sill and sliding down onto the couch. "It's pretty lame to hide from Jon, though. It's like hiding from puppies."
"Puppies with guns," Ryan muttered, shutting the window behind him.
Pete blinked at him. "I guess."
"Hi, Pete," Spencer said, ducking around the kitchen doorjamb.
"Was there a point to this visit?" Ryan cut in. Pete was an okay guy, but he tended to muddle Ryan's thoughts. Ryan was writing. He needed Spencer's steadfastness and bitchy calm, not Pete and his legendary mood swings. Hell, even Brendon was better, and Brendon had trouble sitting still.
"I'm on a scavenger hunt for Patrick," Pete said. "Have you seen him anywhere?"
"Is it a scavenger hunt if you're only looking for one thing?" Spencer asked, walking into the living room, wiping his hands on a kitchen towel.
Pete waved a dismissive hand. "Patrick's missing, dude. And way to marginalize."
"I saw him in the hall earlier," Spencer offered with a shrug. "Said he was helping Ray man Rewind for the afternoon."
"Rewind, awesome. That was my next stop."
Pete liked Rewind because they had this entire huge display of Transformers and My Little Ponies and Care Bears and GI Joes that was constantly evolving due to the steady hand and dedication of one Ray Toro. When Pete bounced into the store, Ray was painstakingly enacting a Decepticon attack on Care-a-lot. Pete approved.
Patrick was at the front counter, flipping through a Sailor Moon manga – which Pete would torture him mercilessly about later, after he got a few important things straight. Jon Walker, Pete had found, was not always right, but he was hardly ever wrong.
"Patrick." Pete drummed his fingers on the edge of the counter.
"Pete," Patrick said without looking up.
"Patrick." Pete took a deep breath. "Patrick, you are my one and only, no lie," he said, projecting as much earnestness as he could into his voice.
Patrick still didn't look up. "Okay."
"No. No, seriously." Pete grabbed his hand. "Stop being a jackass about this."
"I'm." Patrick pinned him with a narrow glare, face red. "I'm being a jackass?
Pete stared at Patrick, mouth set in a straight line. Finally, he asked, "How long have you known me?"
"Too long?" Patrick bit out harshly, but then his face immediately fell, guilt flashing in his eyes. "A while, Pete," he amended, voice gentler. "Long enough to know when you're being a complete asshole on purpose."
"Apparently not." Pete squeezed Patrick's fingers. Hard.
"Peteow, stop it," Patrick said, trying unsuccessfully to tug out of Pete's hold.
"Listen to me," Pete said. "Listen." He let up a little on his grip, but didn't let Patrick squirm away. "The truth is. The truth is I'm kind of in love with you."
Patrick made some sort of sound in the back of his throat.
"I mean, I'm really, completely in love with you," Pete said.
"You're." Patrick's mouth opened and closed again, he rubbed the side of his free hand against his nose.
"I took you home to meet my mom. I flew you to Chicago, dude." Pete grinned a little, pushing through his nervousness, threading his fingers with Patrick's almost limp ones. "And you came with me, so. That has to mean something, right?"
"Pete," Patrick said, drawn out, like when Pete used up all the toothpaste or ate all his cereal and put the box away empty.
Pete's stomach clenched, dropped. "Hey, it's." He relaxed his fingers, tried to slip his hand away, but Patrick caught him, tugged him forward 'til his belly was cutting into the glass, wrapping his other hand around Pete's nape.
"I'm," Patrick said, leaning in close, breath heating Pete's lips, and Pete grinned.
He grinned, their mouths not quite meeting on a technicality, the fact that they were both too fucking short and the counter was too fucking wide. "Yeah," Pete said. "That's good."
Bob could feel Joe staring, like an itch between his shoulder blades. He finished the layer of primer and straightened up, dropping the roller into the pan. He tugged a rag out of his back pocket, swiped at the rapidly drying smudges of white on his fingers.
"So," he said, turning slowly around.
Joe was leaning up against the kitchen table. He'd pulled on a pair of sweats when he'd gotten out of the shower, and he had on the same Rubber Soul shirt Bob was pretty sure he'd been wearing for days. "Looks good," Joe said.
"I've only got the primer on," Bob said. He made sure to maintain complete eye contact as he moved towards him.
Joe cocked his head, expression suddenly wary. "Uh."
"You're really fucking annoying, Trohman," Bob said matter-of-factly.
"I get that." Joe bobbed his head. He looked a little like he wanted to back away, but he'd have to sidestep the table, and the kitchen was small. Bob was moving kind of slowly, but there really wasn't any chance of Joe getting away. "Bob, what are you?"
Bob was a deliberate guy. He didn't do things he didn't mean, but he wasn't a big fan of curbing his impulses either, not if they were so well played out in his mind they were practically desires. Twelve hours out of every day, Bob was close to killing Joe. The remaining few waking moments, however, had lately consisted of a really fucking hot fantasy about a freshly showered Joe and his kitchen table. Opportunity, she was knocking.
Joe's pants were conveniently loose at the waist, and Bob grinned, sharp, as his hands caught Joe's hips, fingers slipping inside, teasing the skin where Joe was sporting absolutely no underwear at all.
"Hey, hey, this wasn't." Joe twitched forward when Bob's thumbs slid down to dig into the juncture of his thighs, sweats pushed down to just over his groin. "Wasn't what I had in mind," he finished, breathy.
"Hmmm." Bob leaned in, teeth just past gentle on his neck. Joe's whole body jerked and Bob flicked his tongue over the blooming redness, a chuckle in his throat. "What did you have in mind then?" Bob asked.
Joe gripped his shoulders, hands clenching and unclenching. "Andy!" he blurted out. "You were supposed to be for." He choked off on a groan as Bob bit his jaw, lips stinging on his stubble.
"You wanted me to fuck Andy?" Bob asked, amused.
"Andy fucks girls," Andy said loudly. Bob looked over Joe's shoulder at him as he opened the fridge, pulled out a carton of milk. Andy arched an eyebrow. "No offense, Bob. I'd do you if I liked dick."
Bob nodded. "None taken."
"It would be great if you could not do that in the kitchen, though." Andy took a swig of milk.
"We could. I have a bedroom," Joe said, kind of panting in Bob's ear, which was undeniably awesome.
Bob was already pushing Joe out the door. "The one with the peephole?"
"The one withoh, fuck you," Joe said, but he was laughing.
"Ryan," Jon said, and all the little hairs on the back of Ryan's neck stood up. "You're a hard man to pin down."
"I." Ryan pressed his eyes closed, took a deep breath, and then turned around, one hand still on his doorknob. He knew leaving Spencer's by the front door had been a huge mistake.
"Can we talk inside?" Jon asked. He had huge, super kind brown eyes. Ryan didn't know why his hands were shaking.
"Okay," Ryan said, pushing his door open wider, because it was better than being dragged across the hall to Jon's apartment.
"I just wanted towow. This place is a dump," Jon said, looking around. He pinched a cardboard Chinese food container between his fingers and arched an eyebrow at Ryan.
"Um. Frank usually cleans up a little when he stops by," Ryan said lamely. He just usually didn't notice the clutter when he was writing.
Jon nodded. "I wanted to talk to you about Spencer, actually."
Ryan's swallowed thickly. "He's. Why?"
"I just want to know about him, what he's like." Jon shrugged tightly. "Brendon's got a pretty huge crush on him."
"Oh, uh. Spencer's awesome?" Ryan nodded. "I mean, yeah. Spencer's great. He misses his mom and everything, so you know that's. Kind of nice."
Jon's intense staring was making Ryan antsy. He backed away, took one huge step and miscalculated the amount of crap he had strewn about the floor. Stumbling, he hit the wall with his shoulder, jarring pain down his arm, and Jon reached out and touched him. He pressed him back until his footing was solid, then moved forward to look directly up into Ryan's eyes.
Jon was really, really handsome that close. He had keen eyes, though, tracking Ryan's every flinch, every halting breath, and oh god, Ryan was getting hard just looking at him, just feeling the heat from his hands on his shoulders. He tried to twist away, but Jon just clamped down harder, gaze dropping to Ryan's slightly parted mouth, body shifting towards him, using his full body weight to keep Ryan in place.
Ryan cursed under his breath, squirmed, which just felt damn good, and Jon inhaled sharply.
"Ryan," he growled, and Ryan blurted out, "Don't kill me."
"Kill?" Jon froze, stared him. "Are youare you?" He pressed up against Ryan again, harder, and Ryan arched, he couldn't help himself, and Jon groaned, eyes incredulous, surprised, like the sound was completely involuntary. "Are you kidding me?" he finally got out, but his voice was breathy, and Ryan could feel him along his thigh.
"Jon." Ryan scrabbled for a grip, hands hooking over his forearms. "Jon."
Jon leaned in, chin digging into Ryan's shoulder. "I'm a U.S. Marshal," Jon hissed in his ear.
Ryan's eyes widened, brain instantly shifting gears. "That's. Okay, that's an awesome twist," Ryan said. It was. It was the perfect curve ball for his book; an officer of the law. Ryan pushed at Jon, shimmied out of his hold and started for his desk, mind already flicking through scenes, and then he swiveled around and stalked back, cupped his hands around Jon's face and drew him up into a kiss, tugged lightly on Jon's lower lip with his teeth. "You don't pay Brendon for sex, right?" he half-whispered when he pulled back.
"What?" Jon blinked at him fuzzily. "What?"
"Didn't think so."
"You know your brother and Brendon are stalking us," Frank said, slipping his hand into Gerard's as they left the coffee shop.
Gerard slanted him a grin. "They're not very stealthy."
"Sassafras was kind of loud," Frank agreed.
Gerard's thumb brushed over the back of Frank's hand. He ducked his head, tops of his cheeks a little red. "Sorry about that," he muttered.
Frank shook his head, laughed. "It's fine. I mean, I'm used to Brendon by now." He shrugged.
They stopped at the curb, at Frank's car, and Frank was being nice and subdued. He was vibrating from the effort. He really kind of wanted to climb his way up Gerard's body and wrap his arms around his face. He wasn't sure if that would put Gerard off or not.
"So." Gerard shifted on his feet.
Frank wondered what would happen if he pinched that sliver of skin on the back of Gerard's wrist, bared by the too-short sleeves of his worn pea coat.
He wondered what would happen if he reached up and tugged on Gerard's hair, hard, yanking him down to bite into his mouth. Because that sounded pretty fucking awesome to Frank.
"Want to do dinner next?" Frank asked. It was probably more acceptable, Frank thought, to attack your date after a nice dinner than in broad daylight on the corner of 6th and Market.
Gerard beamed at him. "Okay, yeah."
Jon was good at intuitive leaps of logic. It was why he was such a great marshal, why he enjoyed his work so much. And it didn't take very much thinking to realize that he had Spencer to thank for that paying Brendon for sex rumor. It made sense, in the way that Spencer was always so reserved with him, projecting these back-off vibes, the way that he avoided Brendon, but never out-and-out shoved him away.
Jon didn't know where or how Spencer came up with that theory, but Brendon tended to give away little facts of his life, little pieces that would eventually add up to a whole if you were patient enough, because Brendon's life was practically an open book, he embraced everyone so heartily, and he often forgot that there were things some people didn't know, wouldn't know, just from looking at him.
"I'm going to tell you a story," Jon said as soon as Spencer opened his door.
"Uh. Okay." Spencer nodded, crossing his arms over his chest, but he didn't invite Jon inside.
"Okay, no, I'm not going to tell you a story," Jon amended. He poked Spencer in the stomach. "Because even though Brendon wouldn't mind me saying anything, it's not my story to tell. So when Brendon gets home, I'm going to send him over here for a chat, all right?"
Spencer's blue eyes were round, almost stunned. He nodded again.
"And you probably don't want to mention that you thought I paid him for sex."
Spencer had absolutely no idea what Brendon was going to tell him. No clue what would happen, unless Jon caved and told him about the paying for sex thing, in which case Spencer thought he'd probably get a kick in the balls.
He half-expected Brendon to just blurt everything out when Spencer let him into his apartment, too, but Brendon just watched him with his big brown eyes, mouth curled up in a tentatively happy smile. So. Jon apparently wanted Spencer to ask.
"Jon said, um. You wanted to talk to me?" Brendon asked.
"Yeah." Spencer caught Brendon's arm, urged him into the living room and onto the couch, sitting down next to him. "I just," he floundered. "Tell me about yourself."
Brendon's eyes got ever bigger. "Like, everything?"
"Whatever you want to tell me," Spencer prompted, because he figured that was the best place to start.
"I'm. I'm starting college in the spring," Brendon said. He threaded his fingers together on his lap. "Better late than never, right?"
Spencer nodded. He had no fucking clue how old Brendon was, but he figured he was maybe around his own age. "Not too late," Spencer said carefully, and Brendon grinned at him, relaxed into the cushions.
"Well, you know, after Ray found me"
Brendon blinked at him. "Um." He rubbed his palms on his thighs. "Dude, I. I like ran away from home. I was living on the street." He said it lightly, like it was a joke, when it must have been anything but.
Spencer breathed, "Oh."
"So." Brendon shrugged. "Jon's really awesome. I take care of his cat."
"He has a cat, too?" slipped out before Spencer could stop it, which was a total tangent, but whatever. Brendon sort of lit up.
"Sass hates him. He's really cool, though, plays fetch and everything."
Things were starting to click in place for Spencer, and he nodded. Brendon was sweet. Brendon was Jon's housekeeper. Or, like, housesitter. Animal caretaker.
Brendon was not dating Jon.
"Jon isn't trying to kill Ryan, is he?"
"No?" Brendon laughed, hand hovering over his mouth. "No, oh, that's seriously crazy." He leaned into Spencer's shoulder, tipped his head back and said in a hush, "Don't say anything, but I think Jon likes Ryan. Wants to kiss him likes him."
Spencer bit his lip, slid a hand over Brendon's where it rested on his thigh, squeezed a little. "You think?" he asked, grinning.
"Yeah, and, okay, I've got another secret?" Brendon snuggled closer.
"Spencer," Brendon said, hand curling in the front of Spencer's t-shirt, just below the collar. "Spencer Smith, come down here."
Spencer laughed, ducked his head, pushed his forehead against Brendon's. "Yeah?"
Brendon nudged their noses together and something warm unfurled low in Spencer's belly.
"I've got another secret," Brendon repeated, right up against his lips, and Spencer said, "I think I know what it is."