Actions

Work Header

No Changing Yesterday

Work Text:

Summer

In that moment, there are several things that Spencer wants to say: '*Ha-fucking-ha.*' '*No fucking way!*' Or, '*Are you fucking kidding me, Ross?*' All of the words are right there on the tip of his tongue, waiting to be said, but what actually comes out is a rather strangled, "What?"

Ryan just looks at him, and he's fidgeting a little, fingers twisting in his lap, and he glances from Spencer's face to the booklet that Spencer's been flipping through, the one with the bright red letters on the cover that read:

Springfield University
IFC Fraternities
2007 Formal Recruitment Guide

It's a little over 20 pages long, starting with a letter from the Head of the Office of Greek Affairs, another from the Inter-Fraternity Council President. There are three pages of reasons why Going Greek is supposedly fucking *awesome*, more pages about Philanthropy and Programming and Scholastics, and then 8 pages worth of houses, alphabetical order: name, number of members, the year that the house was established on campus, cost of living, etc.

It's not Ryan having the booklet that's the problem--"they sent Spencer one, too, which he'd promptly tossed in the trashcan beside his desk. No, the problem is that Ryan has actually been *looking through his* as is evidenced by the fact that in just the first two pages of houses he's circled *three* in fucking *red*.

With red, Spencer assumes, meaning *yes*.

"Melanie's brother," Ryan says, "is in a house, and she's been, you know, telling me stuff, and I, well. I told her I'd, uh, think about it."

He's not looking at Spencer *now* at all. Instead he's looking down at Spencer's floor, at the flip-flop that's halfway underneath the bed.

And really, Spencer thinks, he should have figured. Because every other sentence for the last five months has started with 'Melanie said…' or 'Melanie wants…' and so of-fucking-course Melanie would decide that she wanted a fraternity boyfriend and of-fucking-course Ryan would say he'd look into it, sure, no matter that Ryan and Spencer have had their whole college experience planned out for a *year*, since the two of them and Brent all decided they were going to go halfway across the country to Springfield. A year in the dorms, then moving off campus and getting an apartment before their sophomore year.

Spencer wants to say, "But! Plans!" but Ryan's not done talking.

"I didn't make promises," he says quickly, like that makes a difference. "I just. Told her I'd take a look. And a few of the houses are having events while we're going to be back there for orientation so, you know, I thought we could drop by and check them out."

Spencer waits for a moment, hoping that the next words out of Ryan's mouth are going to be '…so I can see how not right for me this is, so I can tell Mel that that's the end of that.'

Unfortunately for Spencer, Ryan stays silent.

Spencer opens his mouth to say, 'You're on your own, dude,' but Ryan chooses that moment to meet his gaze again, and somehow, as always happens when Spencer's confronted by that one particular look of Ryan's, he finds himself saying, "One party, Ross. And I will so ditch your ass if it's as awful as I think it's going to be."

*

There are two houses having events the weekend they're there: the PIKEs and FBR. Or, in real world, non-acronym terms, Pi Kappa Alpha and Phi Beta Rho. Ryan's taken to calling them all by their 'nicknames', though--seriously, for the last three weeks, all Spencer's heard about are Pi Kapps and FIJIs and DUs--which Spencer pretty much takes to be sign number five that his college plan is already going to hell.

Ryan, graciously, is letting Spencer choose which function they're going to attend, but as far as Spencer's concerned, one house is pretty much the same as the next. Which is why they're currently standing in the middle of the street designated Greek Row, trying to figure out where the hell they're going. The PIKEs are at the end of the block, and as far as Spencer can tell, they're currently engaged in a game of tag football. FBR, however, is just two houses away from where they're standing, and the people out on the front lawn are just talking, which is much more Spencer's speed, so he points in that direction and says, "That one."

Ryan nods, gives Spencer a quick grin, wide and toothy, like he's actually really excited about this, and that, perhaps, is what gets Spencer moving in the direction of the house more than anything else.

Two of the guys on the lawn look up as they approach--one's shorter than Spencer, the other's really tall and skinny as fuck, and they both smile widely as Spencer and Ryan walk up the front walkway.

"Hi!" the tall one says, stepping forward to greet them, already extending his hand, clasping Ryan's first and shaking it, then moving on to Spencer. "You here for the barbecue? I'm Beckett, Bill Beckett. I'm the Recruitment Chair for Phi Beta Rho."

"And very proud of it, too," the shorter guy says. "I swear he's managed to work that into every conversation for the last nine months. Like, we'll be talking about shit, like what to get for dinner? And he'll start talking about whether that would be an appropriate place to hold a Rush--sorry, *Recruitment*--event, and do they have vegetarian, too? Because not all of our new members will eat meat--"

"And this is my very annoying and prone-to-exaggeration little brother, Jon," Bill says, and Spencer would more confused about that (because they look nothing alike, really) except Ryan's filled him in on all that: house families, big brothers and little brothers.

"Jon Walker," Jon says, sticking out his hand to shake theirs. "And you are?"

"Ryan Ross," Ryan says, "and this is--"

"Spencer," Spencer says, because he *can* introduce himself, thank you very much. "Smith. We're here for orientation this weekend, and Ryan decided that he wanted to--"

"--and we decided we'd come by."

Spencer sort of wants to hit Ryan, actually, because while it might have been funny to finish each other's sentences when they were, like, five and six, they're going to be freshmen in college now, and they're standing in front of fraternity members, who are really going to think that's an awesome thing to do, right?

Indeed, Jon Walker's lips are twitching. He's not laughing, though, for which he earns some points in Spencer's book. He earns more when he says, "So I'm going to guess you guys didn't just meet today."

"We've known each other since we were kids," Ryan says, at which point Spencer feels the need to say, "Which is why I'm here for moral support."

Jon raises an eyebrow in Spencer's direction, but before he can say anything, William breaks in: "Well, maybe you'll find our house to your liking, too, Spencer Smith." Then he looks out at the street--and when Spencer looks over his shoulder, he sees another guy, tiny and skinny, walking up the lawn as well, then back at Jon and says, "Do you want to--?" and Jon nods.

"Yeah," he says. "Why don't you come inside and we can get you set up with, like, actual food. And also *soda*, because we're living a high and wild life tonight, let me tell you."

The house is three stories tall, done in brick, and looks like it might not be too out of place on a plantation, actually. It's got columns and double doors with gold handles. The lawn is neatly trimmed, with some sort of flowering bushes growing in the beds underneath the front windows.

Inside, though, it looks more like the sort of place that 30 guys would coexist in at one time. There're hardwood floor in the entryway, but the carpet in the living room, off to the right, is thin and industrial looking. The dining room is to their left, eight or so large tables filling the room, a few clusters of guys perched on them, eating hamburgers off of paper plates. Straight in front of Spencer is the main staircase curving up to the second floor.

"We're just going to head right on back to the backyard," Jon says, pointing to a door to the right of the main staircase. He grins and motions for them to go ahead of him. They pass a guy in the hallway, who smiles widely at them, saying, "Hey, hey," then, "Walker, don't scare them too badly, all right?" at which point Jon punches him in the arm and says, "Shut up."

"Don't mind Tom," Jon says as they keep walking, and the next thing Spencer knows, they're taking a small detour into the kitchen, where there are more guys--talking, laughing, and Spencer wonders if they're all members, or if some of them are Rushing, just like Ryan. Then out the back door, and they're in the yard, which is actually half parking lot, half basketball court.

There are even more guys out here, and Spencer tries to remember how many people are actually supposed to be in this house. He swore it was 30, 35, but it feels like there are a whole lot more than that hovering around here, and he suddenly feels like he's had enough, because his idea of a good evening is not hanging around telling people that no, really, he's not here because it's been a lifelong dream to join their house, no he's just here to support his friend who a month ago had never once mentioned wanting to Rush.

Before he can do more than think this, though, another guy is making a beeline straight for them--short, again. It seems to be a recurring theme in this house. He's also got tattoos winding all the way up his arms. His smile is wide when he drops an arm over Jon's shoulders and says, "So, dude. Tell me who we have here."

Jon says, "Pete, this is Ryan and Spencer. Spencer's here for moral support."

Pete nods sagely, like he understands this completely. "Well, nevertheless, welcome to our humble home. I'm Pete, as Jon already told you."

"He's our President," Jon says. "Unlike Bill, though, he doesn't generally lead with that."

"I try to retain a shred of humility," Pete says.

"Once every, like, fucking hundred years or so," another guy says, coming up to join them. Then, "I'm Joe. If you remember that longer than, like, five minutes from now I'll be impressed, given how many fucking names you're going to get tonight."

"Because you're going to get a whole fuck-load of them," Pete says. "We're a friendly bunch of guys. See a face we don't know and we're going to fucking pounce. But before even more guys do, I think we should get you some food."

Spencer's almost expecting Jon to pass them off to Pete, but instead, he stays with them as they head towards the folding tables off to the side of the parking lot holding the food. Spencer sees bags of chips and piles of burgers and hotdogs, containers of potato salad and a bowl of fruit, a platter of carrots and celery.

Pete starts in on the small talk as they begin going through the line, the 'where are you from?', 'what are you majoring in?', 'what sorts of things do you like to do when the teachers aren't conspiring to kill your will to live with homework?' portion of the evening. The talk stops being small and becomes more of an actual conversation once Ryan mentions their old band, The Summer League.

He says it just like that, too. "Yeah, me and Spence were in a band called The Summer League back in high school with our friend Brent, who's coming here, too." Like they were actually a) not shitty, and b) had some name recognition beyond Spencer's grandmother's garage and Katie Morrison's birthday party.

"Dude," Pete says, "that's fucking awesome. Our house is pretty much filled with music geeks, just so you know. And you, what. Sang? Played guitar?"

"Both," Ryan says. "I mean, I actually sort of suck as a singer, but they were my words, you know?" to which Pete says, "Dude, dude, you write, too?" and Spencer sort of sighs. Because of course the random house that he chose would be the one with people who apparently geeked out over music and actually had stuff in common with Ryan. Of course.

Jon says, "So what about you? What did you play?"

"Drums," Spencer says, and Jon pretty much lights up. "Dude," he says. "You so have to talk to Bryar." Then, much to Spencer's embarrassment, he says, "Hey, Bob! Dude! We've got another drummer!" And this guy, he's pretty fucking huge, actually, looks up from one of the picnic tables and grins at Jon.

He's sitting with another guy, one wearing a trucker cap, but this Bob guy is the one to say, "Fucking *finally*. Hurley and I have only been waiting *three years*."

The other guy, hat guy, says something that Spencer can't hear, given that they're several feet away, but it makes Bob laugh. As soon as they're through the line, though, Jon starts herding him away from Ryan and Pete, who are still standing by the plate of veggie burgers talking, towards the picnic table. "Yo," Jon says as they pass by, though, "we're going to go join Bob and Patrick. You should come with."

Pete says, "In a minute," and Ryan says, "Yeah," and Spencer can't help but sigh again as he follows behind Jon. Jon takes the place next to Bob, leaving Spencer to sit beside trucker guy, who says, "Hi, I'm Patrick." Spencer shakes his hand once, quickly, then turns back to his burger.

This, after all, was not the plan. The plan was to come, stick as close to Ryan as possible, convince him that This Life Was Not For Him, and then get the hell out in less than an hour. He's been here probably 15 minutes already, though, and he's already lost Ryan, he's sitting at a table with people who he'll probably never see again in his life, he can't think of anything to say, and--

--and Jon's saying, "Spencer's from Vegas. So is his friend Ryan. He's the one talking to Pete. He's the one actually going through recruitment; Spencer says he's just here for moral support."

At which point Patrick laughs. "I know how that goes," he says. "You should probably escape while you still can!"

"Patrick didn't realize we were Rushing him," Jon stage whispers, like he's sharing a secret. "He's occasionally special like that."

"Hey, fuck you," Patrick says, but he's grinning as he says it. To Spencer he says, "I had a class with Joe--Trohman? I saw him talking to you a few minutes ago--last year and he pretty much lured me over here with the promise of Tribes of Neurot records--you've heard of them, right?--and the next thing I knew, they were offering me a bid. Even after I swore up and down that this life wasn't for me."

"And by 'next thing he knew'," Bob says, "what he really means is, after several months of coming over twice a week to hang out, if not more."

Patrick rolls his eyes and Jon stage whispers again, "*Special.*"

Spencer finds himself laughing along with them, even Patrick, who's pulling his hat down a little bit over his eyes, ducking his head.

For a moment, Spencer's tempted to ask him why, what made him change his mind, but he's pretty sure that that will spawn a talk about How This House Is Not Like Any Others and We Are Not Your Typical Frat Boys (which he's already starting to think that maybe they're not, or at least not what he imagined, what with all of the music geekery and the tattoos) but before he can decide if he wants to hear it or not, Bob leans forward and says, "So. Drums?"

Spencer finds himself grinning, his finger tapping reflexively on the table between them. "Yeah, drums. For a few years."

"School? Band?" Bob asks.

"Both," Spencer says, and both Patrick and Bob nod appreciatively.

"Bob has this massive kit now," Patrick says. "We were in this store in Chicago one day earlier this summer--"

"Because I figured it was time to invest in a new kit, right?"

"--and they had this clearance on this… I don't even know how many pieces it is. How many is it?"

"Too many," Bob says, and Patrick laughs.

"It looks like, yeah, but Bob can play the fuck out of it, you know? Watching him, you'd swear he has, like, six arms and four legs--"

"Like you can't play it, too," Bob says, to which Patrick rolls his eyes and shakes his head and says, "Not like you, dude."

"Patrick's being modest," Jon says. "He's pretty much a musical genius. He's a *music major*."

"Which says so much about my talent on drums," Patrick says.

"Don't listen to him," Pete says, and Spencer jumps a little, because he didn't even hear Pete and Ryan approaching, but they're pulling chairs over to the table, too, Ryan squeezing his plate in next to Spencer's, Pete elbowing Jon into moving over.

"Patrick has yet to meet an instrument he couldn't master," Pete continues, and Spencer laughs at the glare Patrick is sending Pete's way.

"Spence is pretty fucking awesome on the drums, too," Ryan says, which makes Spencer want to sink down on his bench just a little, because he'd been doing well not being the center of conversation. Maybe Patrick picks up on that, too, because he's saying, "So anyway, Bob's kit. It really is a thing of beauty."

Spencer takes the opening for what it is, and says, "How many pieces did you say it had?" and Patrick shakes his head, "The only thing I know is that he's pushed the cymbals, like, way out there. I can barely reach them!"

"It's quite a piece of work," Bob says. Then, "What kit do you use?"

"Oh god," Ryan says, and he may be rolling his eyes, but he also sounds fond. "Here we go. Spence can talk about his drums for hours."

Spencer flips him off, which makes Ryan--all of them, actually--laugh, and as he tells Bob and Patrick about his kit, about his jazz band class, about some of the stuff he was doing with The Summer League, well, he hears Ryan talking to Pete, and Jon's laughing at something Ryan says, and pretty soon his one hour limit is gone, then the second hour, too, even though he doesn't realize it. He is surprised, though, when Pete stands up from the picnic table most of the way through hour three and says, "Sorry, kids, but we've got to shut this party down at nine. IFC regulations and all."

*

Twenty minutes later, when he and Ryan are walking back to the dorm room they've been assigned on campus for the weekend, Ryan says, "So. Way to leave me behind when it was just as awful as you thought it would be."

Spencer bumps at Ryan's shoulder with his own and says, "Shut up."

 

Fall

The Formal Recruitment Fair starts at noon on Tuesday, but Spencer and Ryan don't actually leave for it until nearly one. If asked, Spencer knows that Ryan will say they don't want to appear too eager, but in reality, they spend about an hour sitting on the floor of their hotel room, flipping through the now dog-eared Recruitment handbook.

Brent, for his part, is sitting on the bed closest to the window, rolling his eyes at them. Or, rather, more than rolling his eyes, because he looks at Spencer and says, "I can't believe you let him talk you into this, Smith."

Spencer feels like he should be saying, "He didn't talk me into anything," because he didn't register for Recruitment during their orientation weekend. He didn't even do it immediately after he got back to Vegas. No, he held out for two whole weeks, but then one day, in a moment of weakness, after Ryan mentioned talking to Pete online for, like, the third or fourth time since they got back, he thought, fuck it, called Springfield's Office of Greek Life and registered.

"It's not like I'm saying I'm going to join a house," he told his mom that evening, while he was tearing up the lettuce for their salads at supper. "I, just. Probably shouldn't rule anything out." His mom gave him a look, of course--the 'if Ryan Ross jumped off a cliff, we both know you would, too' look--but she just nodded and said, "It will be a new experience."

Spencer's mom is big on him getting new experiences. College, she says, is really only half about what you learn in the classroom.

"And you're totally not denying he did," Brent continues, grinning like he's won some sort of victory, but Ryan says, "I didn't force him to sign up. He didn't even tell me he had until, like, two weeks later."

Brent rolls his eyes, then looks at the clock, and says, "And you guys are totally going to miss the entire thing if you don't get a move on."

Ryan looks at the clock, too, and grimaces, before pushing himself up off the floor and extending a hand to Spencer. He runs a hand over his hair and says, "It's not too late for you to come too, you know," but Brent just shudders and says, "In your fucking dreams, Ross." Then, a beat later: "You two have fun now."

"Don't worry," Ryan says. "We will."

Then, booklet firmly in hand, he leads the way out the door.

*

They're staying at the Royal Anne Inn, about three blocks from campus. It's Spencer, Ryan, and Brent, Brent's parents, and a trailer full of all of the crap they couldn't leave behind in Nevada.

"You do realize," Brent's dad said the day before they left, watching Ryan and Spencer lug a box out of Ryan's house, "they do have stores in Illinois." To which Brent, carrying yet another box down the front steps, said, "*Dad*," like that was an answer. From his dad's grin, it probably was.

The university is close enough to the hotel to walk to, though, and Spencer actually remembers enough about the campus from the summer orientation that he only needs to look at the map once to figure out which direction the main quad is in. The Recruitment Fair is being held just off the quad, in the Student Union, in the "ballroom"--which Spencer actually doesn't remember from his tour--and according to the Recruitment schedule, representatives from all of the houses will be there, manning booths. Or something like that anyway.

It turns out that the ballroom is pretty hard to miss, actually, once they actually enter the Union, especially given that there's a thin stream of guys heading up and down the two flights of stairs leading to the basement of the building. Also? It's really fucking loud.

Ryan practically has to shout when he says, "I think this is the place!"

It actually takes Spencer a moment, after they head down the stairs, into the melee, to get his bearings. He sort of shuffles off to the side of the room, wedging himself into a corner, and Ryan looks at him for a long moment before following. He crosses his arms over his chest and stares at Spencer, and then, after several seconds, says, "You ready?" The 'are you done freaking out?' is implied.

The thing is: Spencer isn't really freaking out, he's just... suddenly not sure why he's here, because he had one moment of weakness, inspired by one barbecue that *wasn't that bad*, and that is not a great foundation for anything, as far as Spencer's concerned. He's here, though, and if nothing else, he can fall back on his moral support line, and it's a *fair*, with tables and posters and stuff, and all he needs to do is one quick pass and then he can leave.

So, he nods at Ryan and together, they set off across the room.

Spencer is familiar with the names of the houses now, too: the letters, the nicknames. He's looked at GPA's--or rather, his dad did, before saying, "It looks like the Sigma Chi's pay at least some attention to academics"--and the pictures of the houses. Which is to say, he at least has knowledge to associate the guys he sees at each of the booths with. The Sigma Chis are in sports coats and ties; there's a DU with a cowboy hat on. The Theta Chis are all wearing letters.

Quick tour of the room, he thinks again.

Ryan, though, has other ideas--because it seems to be his mission in life these days to derail Spencer's Grand Plans. See, he actually wants to talk to people. He stops at the FIJIs, gets waylaid by the Theta Chis. He picks up schedules of activities. He shakes hands and introduces himself and Spencer. He asks questions.

And Spencer? Well, halfway through the spiel from the guy from Delta Upsilon, Spencer finds himself wandering away from Ryan--also something he hadn't planned to do--and then he's hearing his name.

Or, "Spencer!" at least.

He waits for a moment--because it's probably for someone else; he can't be the only Spencer in the room, after all--but when he hears his name again, he turns around, and finds himself face-to-face with Jon Walker. From FBR.

"Smith, right?" Jon's asking, and Spencer nods. Jon grins widely and gestures in the direction of the FBR booth, directly across the ballroom. "Care to join us?"

It's Jon and Pete Wentz, and, um, Spencer seems to remember his name being Beckett or something like that, and some other guys that Spencer maybe remembers seeing (but maybe not) and after taking a look back at Ryan and the DU, he says, "Yeah. Yes. Sure."

"So are you here for moral support again?" Jon asks as they make their way across the room, and Spencer starts to say yes, yes he is, but then he shrugs and says, "I, uh. Decided I shouldn't rule anything out."

"In other words, we convinced you we aren't all bad?" Jon asks, which makes Spencer laugh.

"Something like that. Coupled with a moment of weakness."

They're at the FBR booth now, and Beckett's face lights up when he sees Spencer. He swoops over and drops an arm over Spencer's shoulders and says, "Spencer Smith! I wasn't sure we'd see you again! Hoped, of course."

"Yet here he is," Pete says, and he's joining them, too. "And just so you know, we aren't letting you leave until Ross comes to bail you out."

"Pete's got a Rush crush," Jon says in something of a sing-song voice, wiggling his eyebrows, and Spencer turns to look at Pete, waiting for the denial--because, well, it sounds like something someone would deny, right? But Pete doesn't. He just grins broadly and says, "Fuck yeah I do. Ross will be joining our house if I have to fill out his invitation card myself..."

"Shh," Beckett says, raising a finger to his lips. "Remember, we aren't supposed to show preferences..." but Pete just rolls his eyes. "Like I haven't been chatting with Ross online all summer. Like Smith here doesn't know that."

"I do know that," Spencer says, and Pete cocks his fingers at Beckett, shooting them off like two pistols, a 'so there'.

Beckett raises his middle finger and scratches the tip of his nose in Pete's direction, then looks back out on the floor and sees someone else approaching their booth--the short, skinny kid that Spencer vaguely remembers seeing at the barbecue. "Brendon Urie, right?" Beckett asks, squeezing his way between Spencer and Jon. The kid's grin is wide, maybe a little goofy, and Beckett continues, "I knew it. I never forget a face."

He shepherds Brendon over towards their little cluster and says, "Brendon, this is Jon Walker, Pete Wentz, and Spencer Smith, another potential recruitee."

Brendon sticks his hand out, first to Jon, then Pete, then to Spencer. His grip is surprisingly strong and he pretty much works his way into the space between Jon and Spencer, grinning first at one of them, then the other.

"Good to meet you," Pete says. "You were at our barbecue, right?"

Brendon nods his head empathetically. "Yeah, I spent most of the evening talking with… was his name Trohman?"

"Joe," Pete says. "Yeah, of course, yeah. And he didn't manage to scare you off? Awesome!"

At that moment, Beckett clears his throat, staring pointedly at Pete. Pete rolls his eyes and says, "Okay, so. I should probably start in on my spiel, shouldn't I? About how awesome we are, and how you know you want to attend all of our super awesome events--which actually are going to be really super awesome, I'm not even joking--and here, have a piece of paper."

It's bright red, decorated with what look to be... hand-drawn bats? There are events every night. Open houses from 5-7 that night, the next, karaoke on Wednesday from 7-9, then a movie night from 9-11, a barbecue on Thursday, then casino night.

"We do a mean karaoke," Pete says. "You really haven't lived until you've seen Bill and Gabe and Travis do their thing. Isn't that right, Bill?"

"It's tradition," Beckett says. "The FBR karaoke night is legendary. Ask any house. You check other people's schedules and you'll see things like 'Poker and Pitas' scheduled against it. Everyone *knows*."

"You'll want to get there early," Pete says. "Make sure you get some of the prime couch real estate."

Spencer glances over at Brendon to see how he's taking all of this, and he's just grinning like mad, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet. "I love karaoke," he says. "My siblings and I--" He stops, and his smile goes brittle for a beat, before Spencer can see Brendon visibly force it wider. "Anyway, I love karaoke. Do you have the monitor and everything? The screen with the little bouncing ball over the words?"

"Oh," Jon says, "we have the whole shebang. You should see our set-up. Our mom's club last year? They totally bought us new speakers. We had a brotherhood night installing them. There's a joke there somewhere, I think. How many members of FBR does it take to install a few measly speakers?"

"The whole fucking house," Pete says. Then, gaze focusing over Spencer's shoulder, his grin broadens. "Ryan fucking Ross. About time you got your ass over here."

Spencer turns to look too, as Ryan approaches. He's got several sheets of paper clutched in his hand now, but he's smiling at Pete, saying, "Well, I had to save the best for last."

"Plus, we kidnapped your best friend," Pete says. "We were holding him for ransom. We just hadn't gotten the note out to you yet."

"He didn't fight very hard," Jon says.

"Oh really," Ryan says, looking over at Spencer, and Spencer just shrugs, because yeah, that's true.

Beckett says, "Ryan, you probably know everyone here but Brendon. Brendon Urie, Ryan Ross. We were just talking karaoke night."

"Which we expect you all to be at," Pete says, and in-seeming-unison, Brendon and Ryan both say, "of course!" Although, in Ryan's case, it's more of a dry, "of *course.*"

*

Spencer has prepared himself for how the week is going to go. In the morning, he and Ryan and Brent will go get what shopping done that they need to get done. They'll get their books, get their schedules finalized, map out where their classes are and how to get there. Then, because they're with Ryan, they'll take a walk through Greek Row. Which is actually three blocks of nearly solid houses--both fraternities and sororities--with several others scattered within a six or eight block radius.

Spencer is also sure that they'll be spending their afternoons and evenings at the Phi Beta Rho house, doing casino nights and singing karaoke and getting tours and whatever else it is that the guys have planned.

Which is why he's surprised when, as they turn down 26th that afternoon, Ryan looks down a block and says, "So later, I was thinking we could stop in at the DUs. You know, after we're done at FBR."

Spencer stares at Ryan as they keep walking, but before he can actually say, 'excuse me?' they're approaching the FBR house. And they've been noticed.

"Dudes!" Pete Wentz is saying, and he's standing on the lawn with Beckett and a tall guy that Spencer doesn't recognize. "Fucking finally! We had to get the party started without you."

Ryan actually pretends to look hurt, resting the back of his hand against his forehead, as he says, "Woe. How could you."

"It's tragic, I know," Pete says, and he sort of skips down towards the street to greet them, then drapes an arm around Ryan's shoulders and says, "You ready for the VIP tour, Smith? Because I promised Ross this summer that I'd give him the VIP treatment."

Ryan's ducking his head just a little, and Spencer thinks that if Ryan was wearing one of his pageboy hats, he'd probably be pulling the brim down over his face. As it is, though, he's just grinning, a truly happy smile, and really, there's nothing for Spencer to say but "Sure."

Beckett sighs just a little, looking a little wary, a little bit like he feels he should be trying to corral Pete, but then he just waves them into the house and says, "Make sure he shows you the TV room, all right? You'll love it."

Pete and Ryan are already walking through the open front door of the house, and Spencer has to jog a few steps to catch up with them, but then he's inside. The first floor is familiar from the brief walkthrough he did during the barbecue, and indeed, Pete is zooming right by it, heading for the main staircase that dominates the entryway, curving up to the second floor.

"Living room," Pete says, pointing to his right. Then, swinging his arm across his body so that he can point to his left, "Dining room. It can get really fucking loud in there at meal times--during Monday Night Dinners, anyway, when we're all here--but the rest of the time our cook does a buffet thing, first come, first serve, all that shit. Good food, though. And if you're a vegetarian or one of those crazy vegan people, like Hurley, we can accommodate you, too."

Then, turning his attention to Spencer, he says, "Hurley's our other drummer, along with Bryar. We should get you all together in a room, seriously. See what crazy drumming shenanigans result."

"More likely we'd lose Spence forever," Ryan says, grinning at Spencer. "We'd never get him out again."

"Like you wouldn't jump at the chance to talk lyrics for *hours*," Spencer says, looking as bitchy as he can while actually going up a staircase. Ryan just shrugs.

Pete crows, though, and says, "Hey, yeah, that reminds me. Did you ever finish that song you were working on? The one you showed me those few stanzas from?"

And just like that, even as they reach the top of the staircase, Spencer's lost Ryan, because Pete's still nominally giving them a tour, saying things like, "Troh's room. Bill's room--yeah, he really does decorate with pictures of Marilyn Monroe; that's not just your mind playing tricks on you. My boy Travie lives in here. He's more of a Pamela Anderson sort of boy." In between observations, though, he's talking lyrics with Ryan, thought fragments and allusions, and Spencer--

Well, Spencer, actually, could pretty much care less.

He's saved, though, when he sees Jon Walker and Brendon coming down the hall towards them--obviously doing the whole tour thing, too--and Jon's face lights up when he sees Spencer.

"Spencer Smith!" he says. "Long time, no see."

"You'd think so, judging from those two," Spencer says, jerking his head in Pete and Ryan's direction, and Jon laughs, nodding.

"Pete fucking Wentz," Jon says. "I told you he had a Rush Crush. Although, I should really be saying Recruitment Crush--Rush being a taboo word and all--but that just doesn't have the same ring to it, you know?"

"It really doesn't," Brendon agrees, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, laughing a little, too. "I think it's the rhyming that makes it, actually. And there's pretty much nothing that rhymes with recruitment, so--"

"Spencer," Jon says, "You remember Brendon from this afternoon, right?" He doesn't really give Spencer a chance to nod, though, or indicate in any way that he does, before he's grinning even more widely and saying, "Or maybe you knew him already?"

Spencer wants to ask, 'From this summer?' because that's the only other time he could have possibly met Brendon, but Jon just keeps right on talking.

"But I'm guessing not, which makes this even weirder, because, see, Brendon's from Vegas, too! He told me that downstairs and I was like, what are the odds? Three Vegas boys going to school in Illinois? All ending up on our doorstep? I'd say the odds are really fucking slim. But maybe we're just that awesome."

"Definitely that awesome," Brendon says, in a way that makes Spencer think that he's just as enamored with this house as Ryan is.

"You're really from Vegas?" Brendon continues, before grinning at Spencer's nod. "That's pretty… or, you know, *really* random." Then he says, "What area?" Then, "Did you ever go to the Smoothie Hut on Vine? I worked there for, like, six months last year--"

And before Spencer really notices what's happening, Jon is leading the way back in the direction that Spencer had just come from with Pete, and he interrupts Brendon to ask, "Pete didn't show you upstairs yet, did he? Brendon? Do you mind going back upstairs?"

"No, dude, no," Brendon says. "He has to see the sleeping porches." Then, to Spencer, "You have to see the sleeping porches."

Jon leads them up another flight of stairs, complete with creaking boards, to the third floor of the house, and once they reach the top of the steps, he opens a closed door and motions for Spencer and Brendon to go inside.

Brendon sort of skips in, like he knows exactly where he's going, and Spencer follows more slowly behind. The walls are painted a dark blue, an imitation of the night sky--minus stars--and are lined with a good fifteen bunk beds.

"I thought maybe they had those closet beds," Brendon says in a stage whisper as Spencer looks around. "Like, those ones where you open the door and pull the bed out? But Jon swears that these are awesome. And there's, like, wake-up duty and everything."

"Things they don't put in the Recruitment guide," Jon says. "Your brothers, a.k.a., your own personal alarm clocks."

At Spencer's raised eyebrow, he continues, "The theory is, we could have alarm clocks going off every two minutes between six and eight on weekdays, or we could assign some poor sucker to wake everyone up at a designated time. So once a month you get up at 5:45, wake people up. The rest of the time, you don't have to deal with Trohman's alarm clock getting progressively louder with every second that ticks by."

"Which would suck?" Brendon asks.

"Believe me, it does," Jon says. "I moved into the house first term last year, and Troh had something he had to get up and do on Saturday mornings? Well in the beginning, the bastard set his alarm, like, half an hour before he had to get up, and he'd sleep through the first 20 minutes of it, and then he'd push snooze and then it would start all over again."

They've been making their way down the length of the room as Jon talks, and as Jon says this last part, someone sticks their head through a second door that Spencer hadn't noticed and says, "Hey, hey, Walker. You're only supposed to talk about the *good* stuff, remember? We don't want to expose the warts of the house until they've already *pledged*."

"Fuck off, Conrad," Jon says, then says, "Brendon, Spencer, meet Tom Conrad. Tom, meet Brendon and Spencer."

"And this is Nate," Tom says, glancing at the guy at his side. "Novarro, right?" Then, at Nate's nod, "Nate Novarro. He apparently went to high school with Gabe, but Beckett's got him on front lawn duty, so I'm doing the tour."

Jon sticks out his hand to shake Nate's, then says, "You guys just finishing up?"

Tom nods. "You?"

"We were about halfway through, but Spencer decided to try his luck with us rather than stick with Pete, so we're doing a bit of retracing." Then, before Tom can say whatever it is he's going to say, "Yes, Conrad, I know you don't agree, but I believe in *finishing* with the TV room." He turns to Spencer and says, "Other people believe in starting with it, as it's pretty much everyone's favorite room in the house."

"Fuck yeah," Tom says. "Seriously, the most comfortable couches ever. Once you sit, you're never going to want to leave. It's our grand plan for capturing our new pledge class. I mean, it worked on Jonny and me!"

Brendon says, "I keep hearing about the TV room, but everyone seems to have TVs of their own already..."

"Yeah," Tom says, "we probably have, like, what'd you say, Jonny. 20 sets? 15? You can always find a TV to watch shit on." Brendon grins widely at that, and Spencer does too, actually, because after spending the last nearly-18 years of his life sharing a TV with his parents and sisters, that sounds pretty awesome.

"We have Bachelor nights," Jon says. "And Project Runway nights."

"Although there are members of this house who have also been known to watch manly things, like WWE and 24, and, oh, Spike TV," Tom continues.

"Only a few, though," Jon says, grinning, and Spencer can't help but laugh when Tom nods his agreement.

*

Tom, it turns out, wasn't lying about the couches. Spencer sits, sinking into the cushions, and he says, "Fuck. Okay, I'm never leaving."

Jon's taken one of the armchairs, leaving one of the couches to Brendon and Spencer, and he laughs. "See," he says. "All part of our evil grand master plan. Tommy wasn't lying." There are other members of the house wandering around, giving tours. Others are going around with cans of Pepsi and Sprite, offering people drinks. There's a game of pool happening in a room behind Spencer, talk of firing up the grill out in the backyard.

Brendon's laughing at something Jon's saying, and Spencer's watching him wiggle back into the couch, pulling a pillow onto his lap, and the thing is: it's comfortable. Spencer's pretty sure he's supposed to be asking questions about the house, things to help him figure out how he'd fit into it--if, you know, he decides to actually go through with this--but. But, he's not.

Instead, it almost feels like an afternoon hanging out with friends. Soda, TV. Jokes. Band-talk, movie-talk. Vegas-talk, because it turns out that he and Brendon used to go to the same record stores, the same comic book shops. That they both have an affinity for Port O' Subs.

Which is why he's surprised when Ryan comes into the room, an hour after they arrive, and instead of sitting down next to Spencer on the couch, leans on the back and says, "So we should probably be going."

"Ross is exploring his options," Pete says from behind them, and when Spencer turns around, he rolls his eyes. "I told him he'd be fucking lucky to find a house as awesome as us, but he says he's made up his mind."

"Where are you heading next?" Jon asks, and Ryan says, "I thought we'd check out the DUs. My girlfriend's brother is a DU at his school and--"

"And Ross is, apparently, whipped," Pete says.

Spencer starts to nod along--which makes Jon bark with laughter--but then Ryan frowns at him, so he stands up, already missing the couch. Sighing when Pete jumps over the back of it and immediately takes Spencer's spot.

"See you later, dudes," Pete says, as they head back towards the staircase that leads them up to the kitchen. Spencer is the one to nod.

*

It's not dark yet outside, not by any means, but the sun is sitting lower in the sky. The air is a little cooler than it had been when they went into the FBR house, too, and Spencer pulls the sleeves of his hoodie down to his wrists.

Ryan leads them back to the street they'd walked down to get to FBR, then turns in the direction of 27th, where the DU house is located. It's halfway down the block, done in brown shingles, and there are guys on the front lawn playing Frisbee.

It's not that Spencer has anything against Frisbee, actually--he and Ryan have played with Spencer's sisters' outside of Spencer's house enough times over the years, getting into it enough that they crushed his stripper neighbor's plants a few times, determined to catch the thing at any cost. It's just…

He doesn't know.

 

They're greeted at the door by a guy named Tim, and he seems to recognize Ryan from the fair earlier in the day, because he greets him like a long-lost friend. It's not Pete's smile of recognition, though. He's not threatening to kidnap Spencer until Ryan shows up to set him free.

They get a tour of the house, which is similar to the FBR house, minus the most comfortable couches in the world, and but instead of getting ushered into the TV room, they get shown into a room with a pool table.

Tim brings out cues and a rack. He hands one to Spencer, but Spencer says, "No, go ahead. I'll just--" and he points at a stool off towards the side of the room, next to the bar. Ryan gives him a look, but takes the other cue, and actually manages to do a semi-decent break, getting two stripes into pockets.

Ryan and Tim talk, of course. The usual: where are you from, what's your major. Ryan, though. He actually has questions. And he brings his girlfriend up more than once, too--an 'oh, my girlfriend said this' and 'my girlfriend said that' and 'my girlfriend's brother's a DU at Arizona State' and Spencer is *so* ready to get out of there. So, so ready.

But once they actually do leave (about an hour too late, in Spencer's opinion), Ryan starts heading down the street towards Pi Kappa Phi and their poker night--and Spencer, this isn't what he signed up for.

Except for how it totally is.

"Mel said it would be stupid to just hang out at one house," Ryan says as they walk. "No matter if we already like it. She said her brother spent time at, like, five houses before he made his choice, and how are we going to know which one's the best fit if we only go to a few?"

And yeah, Spencer has to agree that that makes sense, it does, but.

But.

He really doesn't want to go play poker with the Pi Kapps for the rest of the evening. He just doesn't. So he says, "You know, I'm actually sort of tired. I think I'm going to head back to the hotel, okay?"

Ryan frowns at him, because it's totally a lie and they both know it. "Well, I suppose we could go back--" but Spencer says, "No, seriously. You go on. I'm just going to watch TV or something, okay? I'll see you when you get back. "

It takes a moment, but Ryan nods and continues on in the direction of the Pi Kapps, and then Spencer turns back in the direction of the hotel. He passes by 26th Avenue on the way, though, and he can't help but look down the street at the FBR house. All of the lights are on--bright windows, and he can see people hanging out inside the dining room, and the evening activities are still going on, he knows. He could go back in, he could. But.

But, it's one thing to be there with Ryan, another to go by himself, so he just keeps walking back to the hotel.

The room is empty when he gets back, so he claims the bed by the window--no cot for him tonight--and picks his phone up off of the table, calls his mom. Brent comes back from a movie with his parents around 10 and they play channel roulette until they settle on old Happy Days reruns on Nick At Night. Ryan comes back at 11:30, talking about how the Vegas roots had totally paid off, how he'd managed to win an entire bag of snickers in the poker game.

After Ryan dumps them out onto the nightstand, Brent is happy enough to listen to his adventures for the night. Spencer just nods in all of the right places.

*

The thing is: Ryan's right.

If Spencer's going to do this whole Rush thing, he should actually do it. He should go visit other houses with Ryan and see what they have to offer. He should actually make an effort.

This is what he thinks Wednesday morning, anyway, and he keeps right on thinking it until Ryan mentions going to the Theta Chi paintball party before the FBR karaoke night, how they need to be at the house at two to catch a ride with some of the brothers, and Spencer--

Spencer can think of pretty much a hundred other things he'd rather be doing that afternoon, right off the bat.

Again, he has nothing against paintball--he and Ryan and Brent and Trevor had spent several afternoons over the summer at their local paintball park, but. Maybe it's his own prejudices. Maybe it's that when his brain thinks fraternity, he still thinks, 'hell no,' before he remembers the part where he's actually had fun hanging out at the FBR house.

Maybe, maybe.

And Ryan's right and he should go, meet other guys, but what he ends up saying is, "I guess I'll meet you at FBR then."

"But," Ryan says, and he actually looks shocked, but Spencer can be stubborn too. "You're what? Just going to hang out here? Spencer--"

Spencer shakes his head. "I'll head back over to FBR. Pete said we needed to get there early, to get a spot on the couches to watch the karaoke. So I'll go and I'll save you a seat."

Ryan doesn't look happy, but in all honesty, Spencer doesn't really care. He just crosses his arms over his chest and smiles tightly and says, again, "I'll see you there."

It still feels a little wrong, actually, walking from the hotel to Greek Row all by himself, but it gets less so once he actually reaches the FBR house, because Jon's sitting on the front steps with Brendon, and they both smile, both wave at Spencer when he walks up the front lawn.

"Spencer!" Jon says. "You're back!"

"I'm back," he says.

*

This time, when Spencer walks in, the house feels familiar. Like, he knows the linoleum in the kitchen is black and white and guaranteed to show every spot of dirt, according to Jon. He knows that the third step on the staircase down to the basement groans whenever anyone steps on it, but the fifth from the bottom squeaks.

He knows the way to the TV room, and which couch he wants to claim his spot on for the night.

"I'd say we've still got another hour before we need to stake out the TV room," Jon says, and leads them into the room with the pool table--empty this time. Spencer flashes back to the DU house and he feels his stomach sink a little bit, but when he tries to back out of playing, Jon just rolls his eyes and says, "Urie beat me three times in a row last night. It's time for someone else to get their ass kicked, in my not-so-humble opinion."

"I'll go easy on you," Brendon says, grabbing two cues from the wall and jabbing the butt of one of them in Spencer's direction, aiming for his ribs. He's bouncing on the balls of his feet again--Spencer's starting to think that that's one of Brendon's *traits*--and grinning in a pleading manner. "I promise."

"And that is totally a code word for *kicking your ass*," Jon says. "So please, Spencer Smith. Avenge the honor of all of those pool players not named Brendon Urie. You're our only hope."

"Fine," Spencer says as he sighs, taking the cue. He chalks the end, gets used to the weight of it in his hands.

"I'll let you break," Brendon says, and so Spencer does, and he doesn't do too bad a job, if he does say so himself, getting two solids into the pockets, another one just an inch away from tipping in.

"So apparently," Jon says, "there's, like, some sort of pool playing gene out in Vegas, right? Because when I broke yesterday--"

"He totally scratched," Brendon says. "Like, four times during the game. It was a little pathetic. And no matter what he says, I was going easy on him!" He sort of shrieks as Jon lunges for him, dancing away, saying, "I was, I was!"

Spencer uses Brendon's moment of distraction to sink two more solids. When Brendon looks back at the table, then frowns at Spencer, Spencer just smiles.

*

Forty-five minutes later, the three of them make their way back to the TV room--still empty--and Jon looks at his watch, says, "Perfect timing," and plops down on one of the chairs, pulling an over-stuffed pillow into his lap.

Spencer stares for a moment, then takes the same spot he'd had on the couch the day before, before setting a pillow in the middle, since he did promise to save Ryan a seat. Brendon takes the pillow's other side. They've barely gotten settled before he hears voices, though, and soon enough other members of the house are coming into the room: the really tall guy from the front lawn the day before--"Gabe," Jon says, by way of introduction--and Patrick, who nods at Spencer when he sees him, like he actually remembers him.

And he actually *does* remember Spencer, because he says, "Spencer, right? How's the drumming going?" Then, "Since you're here, I'm guessing you didn't run far enough away fast enough!"

"Hey now," Jon says. "Why would he want to run away? We are obviously very awesome."

Beside Spencer, Brendon makes an inquiring noise, obviously knowing that there's something he's missing, a conversation he wasn't privy to.

"Last time," Spencer says, "when I was here for the barbecue, I was just here for moral support."

"But our sheer amount of awesome obviously changed his mind," Jon says. "Because that's the way we roll."

"Uh huh," Patrick says, slowly, and Jon flips him off. Patrick just ignores him, though, and goes about setting up the karaoke machine, untangling wires and microphones. Gabe, Spencer sees, is flipping through what is probably the book of possible songs. Spencer blinks; it's thicker than some of the books he's seen DJs use at parties in Vegas.

It's not long after that that even more people start filing into the room. He can pretty much tell the members from the non-members--it boils down to the guys who look lost, versus those who don't--and there are quite a few of each. Spencer finds himself pulling Ryan's pillow closer to him when two other kids join him and Brendon on the couch. They're part of the 'looking lost' set, and for a few moments, they stare at Brendon and Spencer with wide eyes. Finally, one of them says, "Are you two members here?"

"Not yet," Brendon says, before he sticks out a hand and says, "Brendon Urie."

"Bob Morris," the one on the right says, and when he elbows the second, the kid says, "Chris Faller."

"I take it you know each other," Brendon says, and the two of them nod.

"Our friend from high school," Morris says, "Darren, he's a member here. He said we needed to check the place out. So we're here." Then, looking back and forth between Spencer and Brendon. "You guys?"

Spencer shakes his head and he wonders what it says, that Morris is asking about him and Brendon. That he thought they were actually brothers in the house, that he thought they'd actually met before, you know, the day before.

"No," Brendon says. "But it's a small world, because we're both from Vegas, actually--what are the odds, right? But we just met yesterday."

Chris says, "Vegas? Really?" and then they're talking about a road trip they took out to Vegas earlier in the summer, Brendon chiming in with the, 'oh, did you go there? Or there?' questions. The next thing Spencer knows, Patrick and Bob--Bryar--are sitting down on the table in front of their couch, Beckett hovering at their shoulders.

"I see you all have met," Beckett says, "and it looks like you're getting along, fabulous, fabulous. And Bob Bryar, this here is Bob Morris."

"Another Bob," Bob says--sighs, actually, then grins. "Be glad you're going through Recruitment this year rather than last, when I was actually living in the house, or you might have ended up with a nickname. Like Little Bob. Or Bobby."

"Bobert," Chris says, poking Morris in the ribs, who retaliates by slapping at Chris's arm a few times.

"You shouldn't have mentioned that," Patrick says. "Nicknames have a way of sticking around in this house."

"Lunchbox," Bob says, which causes Patrick to flip him off. Next to Spencer, Brendon's watching both the conversations raptly, and he says, "I take it there's a story there?"

Bob nods and actually gets as far as opening his mouth to start telling it--at least, Spencer assumes--before Patrick's hand shoots out to cover it. The first words are muffled, Patrick smiling serenely at them as Bob's eyes start to almost cross, and then Patrick sort of yelps and pulls his hand away, rubbing his palm, where Bob apparently bit him.

Bob, in turn, gives them his own serene smile.

It's in that period of silence that Spencer hears Pete saying, "Ross! It's about fucking time."

What makes this amusing to Spencer is the fact that neither Pete nor Ryan are actually in the TV room; no, Pete's voice carries all the way from the first floor, through the floor boards. What makes this even more amusing, is also the fact that almost in unison, Jon, Patrick, Bob, and Spencer all look up at the ceiling, at the sounds of footsteps making their way across the foyer. There's a few seconds of, well, not *silence*, because the whole house is pretty loud right now, but rather noises that cannot be identified as Pete's, and then there's the sound of people coming down the stairs.

Jon is the first one to speak when Pete and Ryan enter the room. "Way to announce Ross' presence to the entire neighborhood," he says, and when Spencer manages to meet Ryan's gaze, he rolls his eyes. Ryan smirks, but he still looks pretty pleased.

"Shut up," Pete says. "Like you have room to talk." He makes what might be considered a threatening movement in Jon's direction, one which causes Jon to raise his pillow to cover his face in defense, until Bill says, "Pete. We're supposed to be on our best behavior, remember?"

"Fuck our best behavior," Pete starts, but he's grinning at Bill, and is making his way to the second couch in the room.

Ryan moves towards Spencer, then, and Spencer can see that even though he's obviously taken a shower, there's a smudge of yellow on the underside of his chin, red paint caught underneath his fingernails. He motions for Spencer to scoot over, so that he can take the spot on the couch closest to the place that Pete's taken, and Spencer rolls his eyes again, but does so. He keeps the pillow for himself, though.

"So?" Spencer asks quietly, and Ryan lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug.

It's…actually not the response that Spencer was expecting, because it was paintball, and Ryan had seemed enthused enough at the DUs and after his visit with the Pi Kapps the night before. Or maybe Ryan's doesn't want to bring it up while they're sitting in the basement of another house, hanging with other guys.

More guys are coming down the stairs now, more members guiding recruitees, and some of them look at the couch Spencer staked out longingly, but there are already five of them on there, and they may all be comparatively small and skinny, but they're tightly packed.

"Oh," Spencer says suddenly, after glancing at his seatmates. "Ryan, meet Bob Morris and Chris Faller. And you remember Brendon, from yesterday?"

Ryan raises a hand in greeting, then nods at Patrick and Bob, who is talking with Pete about something, some person that Spencer doesn't know, doesn't recognize the name. Someone named Gerard, who has apparently decorated Bob's fridge with claws and teeth? Like it's going to eat you if you open the door? And also, it's apparently been painted purple.

"We are so not getting our security deposit back," Bob says, and Pete laughs, says, "Dude. That is seriously awesome. I'm so totally going to be over there every single night."

Patrick says, "Bob's roommate is an art major. He likes to draw vampires."

"He does fucking awesome vampires," Bob says. "I just didn't know, when we rented our house, that we were going to have a purple vampire fridge. But, you know, whatever."

Brendon is looking back and forth between Patrick and Bob, his mouth slightly open, like he a) can't quite believe what he's hearing, and b) thinks it's just about the greatest thing ever. Even Ryan's smiling.

"They paired us up in the dorms freshman year," Bob says, "and I spent pretty much the entire year with a canvas spread out on my floor instead of carpet. We had to spend, like, the last month cleaning up paint stains on the floor and on the closets, and somehow, he totally got fucking, like, green paint on the ceiling. He doesn't even know how it got up there."

"This year," Patrick says, "he's painted the walls of his bedroom red. Bob hasn't let him into his room yet. You haven't, right?"

"Fucking never," Bob says. "Because with my luck he'd, like, take Mikey and Frankie's suggestion and paint me, like, rainbows and unicorns and fluffy puppies."

"No vampire fluffy puppies? With little pointy canines?" Brendon asks, and Bob shakes his head.

"Frankie," he says almost ominously, "was campaigning for *labradors*. *Golden* labradors. Fucking Frankie."

The room is crowded enough now that all of the chairs and couches are taken, and guys are starting to pile on top of bean bag chairs, or tables--some of them wobbling under the weight--or take up space on the floor. There's a taped off section around the karaoke machine, right next to the TV, with it's nice big screen, and Gabe is walking back and forth, kicking at the knees of people who try to encroach on the space.

Spencer sees Bill hovering at the back of the room, looking... not nervous, not really, but it wouldn't have looked out of place for him to be wringing his hands. He smiles widely when he sees Spencer looking, though, then starts making his way over in their direction. He leans over two people to balance himself with one hand on the edge of the couch that Pete's sitting on, and says, "So, should we get this show underway?"

"Yeah, yeah," Pete says. "It's that time, huh?"

"It's that time," Beckett says. He pushes at Pete's shoulder until Pete stands up. Pete also glares at the guy sitting next to him--Joe?--and says, "If you let anyone take my fucking seat, I will disown you. Don't think I won't." Joe looks properly horrified at the thought and proceeds to sprawl over the empty spot on the couch, stretching his arms and legs out.

It's sort of funny, actually, watching Bill, with his long legs, and Pete, without long legs, try to pick their way across the floor to the five-foot by five-foot square of empty space. Spencer hears a few, "Hey, fucking watch it!"s, and at least one person tries to grab Pete's ankle in an attempt to trip him up, but then Gabe is hauling the two of them out of the mess of people. Then Beckett is unhooking the microphone from it's stand. He taps on it until it screeches once, then laughs and says, "Welcome, welcome. I'm Bill Beckett, Recruitment Chair for FBR, and next to me is Pete Wentz, our President. I just want to say, it's really awesome to see so many new faces here tonight. You all are making this the place to be--because let me tell you, there's only one party worth going to tonight, and this is it. We've broken out the karaoke machine, we have more selections than they do at the bars downtown. Gabe, behind me, will be in charge of getting the songs queued up, so when you know what you want to sing, let him know. Now, do we have any brave souls who would like to go first? Or are Gabe, Travie, and I going to have to break out our hit."

"Fucking do it," Pete says, and as Gabe begins flipping through the CD booklet, Pete leans into the microphone then and says, "Travis McCoy, you're needed on stage."

Another guy, taller than Beckett, actually, with a hoodie that has a faded plastic 'Travie' written on the back, picks his way up to the stage, miming kicking at one of the brother's heads, and then he jumps over the last row of guys sitting in his way, and says, "Okay, let's do this fucking thing."

It takes another moment for the music to start, but then it *does*, and Spencer can't actually believe what he's hearing? seeing? Because these are three seniors, and, well, he doesn't know what else, but it's not what he expected. Maybe "We Built This City" or some, like, classic rock song, but not Bill Beckett starting in on "I love myself, I want you to love me," while Travis and Gabe do what could only be called a sexy dance behind him. There is writhing, and dragging hands up thighs, and Spencer is looking at Ryan in a way that is meant to say, 'Really? Seriously?'

Around the room, guys are shouting, "Work it! Move it! Go Travie, go Travie!" and, like, the three guys have pretty much choreographed a dance and everything. Which is just. Spencer doesn't know what that is, really.

Patrick, who's still sitting in front of Spencer, leans over his shoulder and says, "Rumor has it, they totally improvised this the year they were all going through Rush, and they've done it every year since."

"They did," Bob says. "I was here to see it. They tried to get me in on that, too--some sort of, we might potentially all be brothers bonding--but me and karaoke? Not really my thing. I'm more of a sit and watch sort of guy."

They're all singing now, and then Travis breaks out into some sort of mini-rap about two-thirds of the way through the song, and the room just keeps getting louder and louder as more people start singing along, cheering. Gabe takes the lead at the end, while Travis and Bill do back-up vocals, and they all take a bow in unison as the music fades out. Pete, still standing off to the side of the stage, walks forward, slapping hands with all three of them in quick succession, then says into the microphone, "So, who's next?"

There's a moment where everyone looks around at everyone else, none of the non-members quite willing to get up in front of the group yet. A moment later Pete sighs and says, "Okay, fine. Desperate times, desperate measures. Patrick Stump, get your ass up here."

Patrick immediately flushes bright red; Spencer watches it happen. He's also surprised that the glare Patrick sends Pete's way doesn't become sentient, the force behind it is so strong. He stands, though, and begins picking his way through the crowd. Pete's whispering with Gabe and Travis--already, Spencer's pretty sure that nothing good will come of this--and Patrick seems to know it too, from the way he crosses his arms and gives another showy, put-upon sigh as soon as he reaches the front of the room.

"Dudes," Travis says. "He's going to fucking kill this."

Pretty much the whole room starts laughing when the music starts up, the Jay-Z backing vocals kicking in almost immediately. Travis steals the microphone to talk over them, saying "Stump, where you at?" when Jay-Z would have said the singer's name, then Patrick starts in, "You have my heart, we'll never be words apart..." The thing that amuses Spencer is that after his initial grumbly looks, Patrick actually gets into it, keeping beat with his head, then moving his hand in front of him over the "Umbrella-ella-ella-ella" parts, like he was spinning a record. By the time he's halfway through the song, Travis has joined him, bending down to sing into the microphone, too, and Pete's dancing, arm held straight up in the air, moving to the beat of the music.

By the time Patrick's done, other guys are making their way to the front of the room in ones and twos and threes, looking through the book of possible songs; Bob Morris and Chris vacate the couch, heading to the front of the room with their friend Darren, and then Brendon goes, too, and Spencer catches Ryan's gaze, a, "You?" Ryan shrugs, and Spencer takes it to mean 'maybe, but not yet', and quite frankly, that's just fine with Spencer. He settles down into the couch a little more and takes up most of Brendon's space, and listens to the guys around him plotting songs, performances, and by the end of the night his cheeks hurt from laughing, and really, he thinks, there's nothing wrong with that.

*

The night ends up on the main floor the house, half an hour after the karaoke has wrapped for the evening, and it's Spencer, Ryan, Brendon, Pete, Patrick, and Jon, and they're sitting in the dining room of the house, drinking soda and eating leftover chex mix and m&m's from the bowls that had been set out for people to munch on.

Jon's got his head pillowed on his arms, and Pete is telling Brendon tales of Patrick's karaoke exploits of the past, how he couldn't believe it the first time he heard Patrick sing, how Patrick pretty much has the voice of an angel, but he *doesn't believe it*--emphasis overly exaggerated, like it's a tragedy, something that Pete just can't let go of since it's so tragic, and Patrick is blushing and denying and commenting on how Pete's idea of singing is pretty much screaming his throat raw, so who is Pete to judge, and Spencer looks over at Ryan and says, quietly, "So, where are you off to tomorrow?"

Ryan shrugs and says, "I was thinking, you know, we could put our Vegas gambling skills to good use, clean these guys out of whatever it is we'll be betting with." He looks more content than Spencer's seen him in awhile, and while he thinks he knows what Ryan's saying, before he has a chance to say, "Really?" Pete says, "I'd like to see you *try*, Ross. We've got mad gambling skills-with-a-z in this house. We will take you for all you're worth."

"Really," Ryan says. "Care to make a wager on that?"

"You're on," Pete says, reaching across the table to shake Ryan's hand.

Spencer, watching them, is pretty sure that they just sealed more than the wager.

*

The official Bid Day schedule goes as follows:

10:00 a.m. -- arrive in the ballroom of the Student Union
10:10 a.m. -- line up at the designated table to receive your bid(s)
10:15 a.m. -- suffer, as Ryan puts it, either elation or soul-crushing defeat when they hand you (or don't) a bid

The schedule in Ryan's head, though, must look something like this:

8:22 a.m. -- wake up
8:24 a.m. -- thwap Spencer across the back with a pillow and tell him that if he wants to get breakfast, they need to get a fucking *move* on already
8:37 a.m. -- herd Spencer out of the room when Brent, and thus Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, decline the invitation to join them for an early breakfast
8:43 a.m. -- sit down in a booth at the restaurant across the street from the hotel, order an entire pot of coffee before the waitress can even bring a menu, and totally ignore the glare that your best friend is sending your way

Ryan, Spencer knows, can be very good at ignoring when he wants to be, and apparently he wants to be right now, as he's focusing all of his attention on tracing the geometric pattern on the placement with the tip of his finger. He glances up at Spencer after a long moment, looking bored, but there are lines around his eyes, like he maybe didn't sleep much the night before, and Spencer wants to roll his own eyes and say: Seriously, you're worried? Why the fuck are you worried?

Ryan's acceptance into FBR is right up there on the obvious scale, in Spencer's opinion, with Ryan's decision to join a house as soon as Melanie mentioned it to him. It's right up there with Ryan choosing a school halfway across the country because he didn't want to be in Vegas anymore.

In Spencer's opinion, it's of-fucking-course-worthy.

Instead he says, "You dragged me out of bed at 8 o'clock in the morning, from a place where they serve a *free* Continental Breakfast, just so that you could freak out, didn't you?"

Ryan looks offended, but it's a mild enough expression that Spencer knows he's hit the proverbial nail on the head.

"Jesus, Ryan," Spencer says. "Like there's any question about where you're going to end up. Pete--the president of the *house* might I remind you--told me he'd fill out your invite himself if he had to. You're probably one of the only fucking people at the event today who *doesn't* have to worry."

Ryan doesn't look very reassured--less so, even when the pot of coffee arrives and he pours his first cup, because *now* Spencer can tell that Ryan's hands are a little wobbly, too. Not all-out shaking, yeah, but a little more unsteady than they usually are. Nerves.

Ryan adds three packets of sugar to his cup, and then blows on it four times before taking his first swallow. Finally he says, "I'm not worried. I'm not nervous. I'm just, you know…"

He trails off, and Spencer thinks what Ryan apparently won't say: He wants it, like Spencer never actually thought Ryan would. That's why he cares.

And the thing is: Spencer actually wants it for Ryan, too.

Because no matter that Spencer followed Ryan into this--moment of weakness, coupled with the fact that he'd actually *liked* the FBR guys--he still hadn't been sure, even at the beginning of the week, whether this was something that either of them would make it all the way through. He wasn't sure he'd *wanted* them to make it all the way through.

But this much he knows now: if the FBR guys don't offer Ryan a bid, they're idiots, and he really doesn't think they are. He tells Ryan as much, and Ryan smiles. Still a little shaky, but better than before, and that's why Spencer spends the rest of their breakfast distracting him.

*

Spencer's attempts at distraction only work for so long, though, and they fall apart completely once they enter the Springfield Student Union: marble steps outside, pillars. A steady stream of guys heading in through the big, ornate doors.

There's an energy that seems to fill the entire building, actually: too loud voices, laughter, guys slapping each other on the back and elbowing each other, and milling around in tight clusters.

"Triple legacy," a guy on Spencer's right says. He's wearing a button down, khakis, a tie. As is the guy he's talking to. Spencer doesn't feel entirely out of place in his jeans and hoodie, though: he sees guys in school t-shirts and sweatshirts, a few in tank tops. There are others who are wearing blazers and pleated slacks and *tie pins* and Spencer's pretty sure that none of them will be joining FBR.

There are maybe 200 guys in the room, more still coming in, and already Spencer can see that lines are forming in front of the tables across the room. There are signs with letters posted to the wall behind them, dividing them into manageable groups. Spencer and Ryan, however, are not going to be in the same line.

Spencer's pretty much been talking non-stop for the last hour and a half, but for some reason, now that they're here, the words seem to dry up. Because this is what they've been building towards all week, and Spencer maybe never actually thought he'd make it this far--because still it sounds like the punch line to a joke: Spencer Smith, fraternity member. And maybe it is a joke, because he won't know if he's got a bid until he gets to the front of his line, and maybe there won't be an envelope for him, that would be okay, it would, because *seriously*, moment of weakness, he's still not sure what he was thinking, really--

Beside him, Ryan laughs.

"Now who's fucking nervous," he says, rolling his eyes fondly at Spencer, and Spencer wants to echo Ryan's comments from earlier, because he's not, he shouldn't be, but his palms are feeling a little damp, a little cool, and Spencer's never been very good at lying to himself.

"Fuck you," Spencer says instead, and Ryan rolls his eyes, and then they're both laughing, maybe the most relaxed they've been all morning. Then Ryan's looking at the lines and saying, "Come on, we should probably--"

"Yeah," Spencer says and together they start making their way through the crowd. The closer they get to the lines, though, the more work it takes to actually stick with Ryan. When they finally make it to the end of their respective lines, though, Spencer's is a good 15 people shorter than Ryan's. He's going to offer to stay with Ryan, screw his own line (or at least, any hope of getting through it in a timely fashion), but Ryan just glares at him until he shrugs and heads forward, to stand alone.

Until he sees Brendon, standing two people in front of him: also wearing jeans and a hoodie, his bright red glasses. He's looking around the room, biting at his bottom lip, and Spencer watches as Brendon glances over his shoulder once, then again when he realizes that it is Spencer standing behind him. His smile goes bright, wide, and Spencer grins in return.

Then Brendon's motioning the two people between them forward, saying, "Here, here, go on," as he joins Spencer in line. He rocks back onto his heels, then forward again, and says, "Are you ready for this? I think I'm ready for this. Unless FBR doesn't offer me a bid, because I pretty much didn't go anywhere else, you know? But then you didn't either, did you?"

Spencer shakes his head even though he had, because he's pretty sure that sitting in a room for an hour, watching Ryan and a DU play pool, not talking unless someone spoke to him first, probably didn't make the best impression.

"Well then," Brendon says, "if we don't get in to FBR, we can start our own fraternity. It will be awesome. Maybe we could lure Jon Walker and your friend Ryan away to join us?"

"You'll get a bid," Spencer says, because he's seen the way Jon and company have been rushing Brendon over the last several days. Brendon getting a bid is almost as much of a foregone conclusion in Spencer's mind as Ryan getting one.

"As will you," Brendon says, looking incredibly earnest, like he actually means it. There's a pause as Brendon looks around the room again. Then he says, "Did you know that the girls get Recruitment counselors? That if they don't get a bid, they have someone to break it to them gently, and that way they don't even have to come to bid day? We need Recruitment counselors."

Spencer nods, because even though he's nervous, he's not worried about getting a bid, he's *not*, because it won't be the end of his world, the end of his college plans, and besides, when did he even decide he *wanted* a bid? Before he can tell Brendon any of this, though, there's a sudden hush in the room, and a line of guys in monogrammed polo shirts enters the ballroom, all of them carrying white cardboard boxes. The voices start up again louder than before, and the lines actually get a little pushy as the guys in the polo shirts sit down at the tables.

Then, suddenly, the lines start moving.

Brendon's turned his attention forward again, and so Spencer looks over his shoulder at Ryan, who rolls his eyes, but he also gives Spencer a thin, slightly shaky grin.

It's slow going, another few minutes that feel like forever before Spencer and Brendon are standing at the front of the line. Brendon's first, and he says, "Brendon, Brendon Urie?" like it's a question. He's twitching and fidgeting even though it's only a few seconds before the guy in the polo shirt holds out a cream-colored envelope. Brendon takes is quickly, almost snatching it out of the guy's hand, and then he steps to the side so that Spencer can take his place at the head of the line.

Spencer says, "Spencer Smith," carefully not letting his last name curve up at the end. Then he watches as the guy thumbs through the envelopes--because it's full of envelopes, Spencer sees--and for an instant, Spencer's sure he's going to say, 'Sorry, no bid for you.' It feels like it takes forever, then longer, but then the guy is pulling an envelope out--with Spencer's name written in a slight scrawl across the front, and Spencer feels something inside of him relax. Especially when he sees that it matches Brendon's envelope exactly.

The only thing left to do, then, is for the both of them to make their way to Ryan, to join him as he reaches the front of his own line, and Ryan seems to be holding his breath as he waits for his own envelope.

Which, when it's handed to him, is also cream-colored.

"So either this is a way to make us all feel better for not getting bids," Brendon says as they make their way to the slightly emptier part of the room. "Or we're all going to be brothers."

"Brothers," Ryan says, because he's the first one to get his envelope open. "The men of Phi Beta Rho would like to cordially invite you to--"

*join them*, Spencer reads on his own card, *for Bid Night, tonight at 6 p.m.* Written off to the side, in the same hand that had scrawled his name on the envelope, is another note: *and for a BBQ at the house as soon as you get this. Hope we'll see you there!*

Brendon, of course, is bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, clutching his card, smiling as widely as Spencer's seen him smile yet. Ryan is more reserved, but his eyes are just a little wide, the corners of his mouth curved up just a little higher than normal.

It takes Spencer a moment to realize that he's grinning as well.

*

The thing is: Spencer never expected to get this far.

When he signed up, he promised himself he'd drop out as soon as he confirmed, truly, that this was not going to be for him. He can still hear the incredulous words he'd wanted to say to Ryan when Ryan first broached the subject of visiting houses over their orientation weekend. Ghosts of those words are still sitting on the tip of his tongue, although not nearly as heavy now.

Somehow, though, he's here, walking across campus with Ryan and Brendon, then heading straight down 26th, two blocks, three, until they are standing on the sidewalk outside of the FBR house. Bill Beckett is waiting for them, flanked by Jon and Pete and, well, what looks to be most of the rest of the house, actually, and there are purple and green and orange balloons out front, a few of them being inhaled by Gabe and Travis, and a 'Welcome New Members!' banner strung across the front of the house.

Bill and Jon are the first two of the brothers to approach them, Pete just a step behind. Bill grins at them as he says, "We've been waiting for this moment for *months*, guys."

"Abso-fucking-lutely," Pete says, and he's already got his arm draped around Ryan's shoulders, Spencer sees. Jon is in the process of being tackle-hugged by Brendon.

More of their new brothers are approaching, too. Bob and Chris, Nate. Two others that Spencer thinks he's seen before, but he he's not totally sure. "Siska!" Jon's friend Tom calls, and a guy with a nametag that reads 'The Butcher' is cornering the other guy, saying, "Michael Guy Chislett. Do we get to call you Chizzy now? Yes?" It's chaos for several minutes: laughter and shouting and Pete saying, "Dude, Ross. You know I would have offered you a bid in July if I could've. We would have gone to celebrate with tacos. It would have been awesome."

Finally, though, Beckett herds them all into the house, into the dining room, where there are huge bowls of salad and fruit and vegetables set out, liters of soda, cookies and brownies and a whole decorated sheet cake.

They all file in and stand there as Beckett climbs up onto one of the chairs and says, "First, I would like to extend a warm welcome to our eight new pledges. We can't even tell you how excited we are to have you all here with us, becoming brothers in the great and all powerful FBR. Namely because, in my opinion, we got the best fucking pledge class on campus, let me tell you. Just between me and you all, of course."

"Of course," someone off to the side of the room says, laughing. Another voice says, "Go, Billiam!"

Bill flips that half of the room off as he smiles calmly at the rest of them. "Tonight at six," he says, "we'd like to invite you all back for your first pledge meeting. Andy Hurley will be your Pledge Educator. Waive, Hurley." A guy with red hair and full sleeve tattoos on both of his arms waves, and Spencer thinks, oh, the other drummer.

Indeed, Bob, on the other side of the room, looks at Spencer and makes little drumming motions with his fingers. Spencer doesn't even try to stop his smile.

"But for now," Beckett continues, "we want you to eat, have a good time, get to know your new brothers and let us get to know you. So, grab a plate, get some food, and head on out to the backyard!"

Pete, of course, has already snagged Ryan, and Brendon is sticking close enough to Jon's side that Spencer's sort of starting to feel awkward in a way that he hasn't in this house since the very beginning. The next thing he knows, though, the moment's passed, because Patrick is by his side, saying, "Dude. I told you you'd have to run fast to escape this house."

Spencer nods and says, "Yeah. Yeah, you did."