The mistletoe had reappeared again. Spencer was bored with the joke already, and it wasn't even ten-thirty in the morning.
"Marie," Spencer yelled, ignoring the intercom button on his desk in favor of shouting. "What did I say about holiday decorations?"
Marie, his PA, stuck her head around his office door. "That they should be kept in our homes and out of the office," she said. She looked, rather than sounded bored. "And what did I say about using the intercom and not our outdoor voices?"
Spencer waved at his pen at the open doorway. "So why," he said, pointedly ignoring Marie's raised eyebrow and careful neatening of Spencer's desk so that the intercom was right in the middle, "is that the fourth time today someone's pinned mistletoe above my door?"
Marie rolled her eyes, and, standing on tiptoe, reached up to unhook the mistletoe from above Spencer's door. "Someone clearly wants to kiss you," she said, depositing the sprig on Spencer's desk. Spencer swept it into the trash can. "Either that or they wanted to share the spirit of the holiday season with you."
Spencer narrowed his eyes. "Send out another email," he said. "Remind all staff that holiday decorations are to be kept out of this office, and that the holiday season does not start until six o'clock this evening. All premature revelers will be reprimanded. This deadline isn't going to go away just because of the holidays, you know."
"Wow," Marie said, "who poisoned your eggnog?"
"If I see so much as a red Starbucks cup in the office the rest of today then there will be trouble," Spencer said. His eyes hurt; he'd had to stay late the previous night, working until long after the rest of his team had left the building. His department had an excellent reputation, and they were working on an important project, and Spencer wasn't willing to risk that for the sake of the holiday season. "You think this contract will wait while my whole staff break for holiday cookies?"
Marie rolled her eyes. "Sure thing, boss," she said. "No red cups. Got it. I'll send an email around."
Spencer Smith took his job very seriously; he'd been recruited right out of college and he was one of the youngest project managers in his area in the country. He oversaw a department of thirty people, all of whom seemed to want to wear tinsel in their hair and exchange candy canes rather than work on the really important government contract they had to have completed by the end of the first week in January. Passable wasn't good enough; Spencer's team's work had to be exemplary. There wasn't room for anything else.
"If that mistletoe turns up again, there'll be trouble," Spencer finished, a little lamely. Marie was watching him with a look that suggested she had just typed up Spencer's updated contract management schedule and knew as well as Spencer did that they were ahead of schedule. Her earrings, Spencer realized, were tiny Santa studs.
"I'll bring you some coffee," Marie said.
"What do you want?" Spencer asked, his eyes narrowing. Normally Marie refused to bring him his coffee, on the grounds that Spencer had two hands and two legs of his very own and could walk to the coffee machine. Spencer had bought his own coffee machine for his office, not long after Marie had started working for him - at least this way he didn't actually have to make conversation over the office percolator. Water cooler conversations had always been Spencer's very least favorite part of working in any office, and this one wasn't any better. While excellent at working out the fine print on any project his bosses chose to send his way, and with a wide range of business connections he very successfully liaised with, Spencer wasn't great at small-talk. He preferred to just get on with his work, and not make stupid conversation with people he had nothing in common with.
"Nothing," Marie hedged, bringing him a mug of coffee and stirring in a large spoonful of sugar.
Spencer raised an eyebrow.
"Some of the other departments have been given an extra day's vacation," she started, defiantly. "For Christmas. It increases staff morale," she went on, as if any of this was going to change Spencer's mind. The project deadline was circled in red sharpie on his desk calendar, and no amount of pleading from his staff was going to change that. The reputation of his department depended on getting the work done.
Spencer sighed. "You can celebrate the holiday season as much as you like," he said, tiredly, "after six pm. Until then, we keep on working. We'll see about an extra day's vacation after the project's turned in."
Marie let out a breath. "You know as well as I do that we're ahead," she said. "Half a day's leave isn't going to affect the contract -"
"You don't know that," Spencer said. "You don't know what might happen next week, or the week after that. We can't afford to take unnecessary risks with this project. It's important."
"You worry too much," Marie said.
Spencer looked up from his paperwork and made a face. "I don't worry enough," he said, and Marie rolled her eyes.
"I'll email you the spreadsheet," she said, when it became clear Spencer didn't have anything else to say on the subject.
He'd end up working late again, he knew, checking and double-checking the details. The devil is in the details, his old business professor had always said, and Spencer wasn't about to change just because it was Christmas.
"Thanks," Spencer said, distractedly, and when he looked up again, his coffee was cold and that stupid mistletoe was pinned up outside his office door again.
"Ryan Ross on line one for you," Marie said, her voice tinny through the intercom.
Spencer sighed, and pressed the button. "Put him through," he said. "Thanks."
"Hi," Ryan said, as Spencer picked up the phone. "Don't you ever have your cell switched on?"
"I'm at work," Spencer said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He closed his eyes. "My personal cell is switched off when I'm working."
"Well," Ryan said, "it's a day that ends in Y. Where else would you be? Just because it's Christmas—"
"Not you too," Spencer complained. "You don't even like Christmas."
"Total lie," Ryan said, clearly feigning ignorance of those few years where he'd ignored Christmas except for hanging out for leftovers by Spencer's parents' fridge. "Jon dresses his cats and his dog in these little Christmas sweater things, they're really kind of cute."
"Hmmm," Spencer said. "The two of you are just friends, right? You sound kind of indoctrinated."
"You have a dirty mind," Ryan told him. "Cassie is awesome. Z is awesome. Together we are all awesome."
"You're high," Spencer said, trailing his finger down the list of figures in front of him, "and I'm busy." He can't remember the last time he was high. College, probably. No, that time with his roommate and the cookies. That had been an accident. The cookies had tasted amazing, no one could have blamed him for going back for more.
"You're always busy," Ryan complained. "It's Christmas Eve, don't you close up early, anyway?"
"We've got a project to finish," Spencer said, absently. The figures didn't add up. He pulled open his drawer to grab his calculator.
"Go home," Ryan said. "Go hang out with your roommate and watch Christmas movies."
"You are surprisingly cheerful," Spencer told him absently, tapping figures into his calculator. "Did something happen?"
"Good weed happened," Ryan said. "Jon knows a guy."
"Hmmm," Spencer said. For a moment he craved good weed too, and his best friend and for this project to be handed in and actually done.
"Yeah, okay," Ryan said. "So, you remember that—"
"Actually," Spencer said, cutting in. "I'm really kind of busy, can I call you back when I'm done here?"
Ryan actually sounded kind of put out. "I guess," he said, finally.
"Okay," Spencer said, his mind already back on the figures. "I'll talk to you later, Ry."
"Sure," Ryan said, and Spencer hung up on him.
"Marie," Spencer yelled, ignoring the intercom. "These figures don't make any sense. Have you got the Kennedy folder on your desk?"
"Indoor voices," Marie reprimanded him, through the intercom. "Do we need to have another talk about which button to press, too?"
"The figures, Marie," Spencer said. "Are these the old ones? I'm pretty sure we have the ones where they factor in the relief cuts—"
"I'll check," Marie said briskly, her sarcasm gone. When she wasn't bugging Spencer about being a nicer person, Marie was startlingly efficient and ridiculously good at her job. Thirty seconds later the updated figures were on Spencer's desk.
"Thanks," Spencer said absently, already skimming down the list of figures. If he could get the new report done by the end of the day, he was pretty sure they could start on the next stage when they were back at work next week. He could even take it home and work on it from there.
"You're welcome," Marie said, and when Spencer looked up again, the mistletoe was gone from the doorway, and there was a fresh sprig in his trash can.
"Marie," Spencer said, on his way back from the bathroom. "Can you get Harry Slater on the phone for me?" Harry was Spencer's boss, and Spencer secretly hated talking to him. He'd spent the better part of two years having to put up with Harry telling him that he ought to be thinking about getting married and settling down and having children, and no amount of Spencer faking laughter and pretending that he hadn't met the right girl yet would make him give the subject up.
Spencer had come out to Ryan when he was seventeen years old and he'd realized that his idolization of Gerard Way had less to do with wanting to be a rock star himself and slightly more to do with wanting in Gerard's pants. He and Ryan had spent a good two years or so wanting to be rock stars, until first Trevor had left the band, and then Ryan's college applications had started to take up more of his time, and then Brent's girlfriend had taken away Brent's Friday nights. By the time the summer before Spencer's senior year had rolled around, Brent had stopped mentioning this kid he knew from school who might take over where Trevor had left off, and Ryan had stopped scheduling band practices completely. So Spencer had spent the summer secretly looking at pictures of Gerard Way online and figuring out that there was really no way he could label himself as straight anymore, and then he'd come out to Ryan the night before Ryan left for college in Chicago.
Since then, Spencer hadn't exactly kept his sexuality a secret, but he'd chosen to keep it quiet once he'd gotten out of college. He didn't want it to affect his position here at the company. He was one of the youngest managers they had, and as far as he had been able to figure out over the couple of years he'd been here, the managers further up the chain of command seemed to prefer that Spencer be in the market for a wife. So Spencer kept on smiling at Harry Slater's hints that Spencer should get himself a nice young woman, and he kept on saying, "Someday, someday," whenever children were mentioned. It was better for his career, he told himself, and anyway, it wasn't like Spencer had time for a relationship, even if he had been looking for one.
"Your roommate called," Marie said, handing Spencer a post-it note with a note and a number on it.
"Uh-huh," Spencer said, folding the note in two and sliding it into his pocket and heading into the office. "Let me know when you get Harry on the phone."
"He called twice," Marie said. "Said it was important."
"Hmmm," Spencer said. With his roommate, it was never important. It was always some question about what coffee he should pick up from the grocery store or whether Spencer had picked up more laundry detergent. He never seemed to get that Spencer didn't like him calling Spencer at work, no matter how many times Spencer hinted that it wasn't appropriate. His office was kind of a serious place and Spencer's roommate was anything but. He let out a breath and sat down at his desk, straightening up his papers and pulling forward a notebook with a list of things he had to remember to tell Slater.
"Mr. Slater on line two," Marie said, through the intercom.
"Got it," Spencer said, and picked up the phone.
Phone calls with Harry always went on way longer than Spencer felt comfortable with. Once he'd shared his list of work-related information, he'd rather hang up and get on with his work than have the conversation devolve into one about Harry's family, which phone calls with Harry tended to do.
Spencer doodled on the edge of his notebook and said yes at all the appropriate points in the conversation. He kept an eye on the digital clock he had on his desk and watched the numbers morph as the conversation failed to end. After a while, Marie knocked on the door and held up a hand-made sign, black sharpie on a side of printer paper.
Your roomie's here, the note read, and Spencer was suddenly faced with an urgent need to wrap the conversation up, right this second.
He did, probably leaving Harry Slater hanging, but Spencer had worked very long and very hard to ensure that his work life remained entirely separate from his home life, and keeping his roommate away from his office tended to be right up there with keeping the two apart. It wasn't even that Spencer didn't like his roommate, because he did. Brendon was smart and funny and could even make Spencer laugh, provided that it wasn't when Spencer was trying to work.
Brendon wasn't like anyone Spencer worked with. He barely even owned a suit, and whenever Brendon had a job interview he always had to raid Spencer's closet for a tie. Spencer had actually bought Brendon a tie of his own for Christmas, in the vain hope that Brendon would stop stealing Spencer's. So, Spencer liked Brendon. They got on pretty well for roommates, and Spencer hadn't even had to go through with his promise to Brent to sic the dogs on him if it turned out his old friend from school was a crazy guy. All that said, Spencer still didn't actually want Brendon turning up at his place of work. Spencer worked hard to appear professional, and having a scruffy roommate show up, probably in that ridiculous old red coat and his too-long knitted scarf and mittens, would do nothing to help preserve Spencer's professional air. He hurried out of his office to where Marie was waiting in her cubicle.
"Brendon's here?" Spencer asked.
"He is, and isn't he a sweetheart?" she said. "He's even nicer than he seems on the phone."
Oh god, Spencer thought. "Uh," he said, looking around the office. "I don't see him."
"He said he'd wait for you over there," Marie said, scribbling something on her notepad, and waving in the general direction of the couches over by the wall, where visitors tended to wait before meetings. "He brought you coffee in a red cup."
"Oh," Spencer said, lamely. He nodded, and headed out past the cubicles to where his roommate was waiting. Damn it, Brendon. "Okay."
"Hi," Brendon said, jumping to his feet.
"Damn it, Brendon," Spencer said. "I'm at work."
"I know," Brendon said, with a grin. He held out a Starbucks red cup and a paper bag. "I brought you coffee and Christmas cookies, see? Come on, it's the holidays. See if you can't find a smile somewhere. You're way too serious. Go on, try."
Spencer made a face, and pointed out the sign on the wall by the water fountain. He knew that it was facetious, and certainly hadn't been there this morning, but it did actually illustrate his point. No Starbucks Red Cups or Mistletoe or Joy In This Office. THIS IS A RESPECTABLE OFFICE, PEOPLE >:(.
Spencer definitely did not approve of the little sad-face emoticon. It reminded him of texts from Brendon when Spencer told him he was working late and wouldn't be home for dinner.
"Dude," Brendon said, in a mock-whisper. "Your boss must be a total Scrooge."
"Yeah," Jeannie-from-financing said, walking by and taking in the sign, Spencer's roommate, and the Starbucks red cup. She smirked at Spencer, and Spencer could feel the flush mount in his cheeks.
"You have to go," Spencer hissed.
Brendon's smile fell, just a little. "I know," he said. "You're working. I did try and call first, but I was passing, and I figured you'd need coffee. And cookies. "
"I don't," Spencer said. He swallowed. His stomach felt kind of weird, but that was kind of normal, and he had a to-do list as long as his arm back in his office. Out here in public he could feel people's eyes on him, watching him and Brendon with vague interest.
"Well," Brendon said, "you might like the cookies later."
"Uh," Spencer said. "I'd probably like them at home. Save them for me?"
Brendon stopped holding out the cup of coffee. There was something written on the edge in black sharpie, probably Brendon's name from the Starbucks line. "Sure," he said. "I'll save them for you at home."
"Yeah," Spencer said. "I'll see you later, then?"
"Sure," Brendon repeated, and Spencer recognized the fake edge to his voice. He felt bad, but this was his place of work. People knew him as their boss, and there were rules. Brendon smiled and dropped the coffee cup in the trash can by the water fountain, and Spencer winced. "See you later," Brendon said, brightly, and Spencer was left with a horrible, crawling feeling in his gut, and an empty, lonely feeling where his stomach used to be.
"Happy Holidays," Marie said, without smiling. She was wrapping her scarf around her neck, and the office behind her was almost deserted, most of the lights switched off and the computers dark and unattended.
"You too," Spencer said, absently.
"Yeah," Marie said. "Actually, no. I retract that. I hope you have a really miserable couple of days off work, and that your roommate refuses to talk to you the whole time. What was that, earlier?"
"I said no red cups," Spencer defended himself, but it didn't actually make him feel any better. He'd replayed the sound of the coffee cup hitting the trash can the whole afternoon, and each time it made him feel a little worse about himself.
Marie shook her head. "You were mean," she said. "And I've clocked out, so don't look at me like that. You were mean, and you suck."
Spencer managed a smile. "I know," he admitted. "I really know."
"Yes," Marie said. She shook her head. "Don't stay too late. It's Christmas. Even for shitheads."
"I could fire you," Spencer said, lamely. He knew she was right, anyway.
"Clocked out," Marie reminded him. "I'll see you next week."
"Yeah," Spencer said, and Marie pulled the door closed behind her.
It was late before Spencer gave in to the hunger pangs, and started to contemplate calling out for food. He should just go home, he knew that, but he didn't know how to face Brendon after what had happened earlier, and it was easier to stay here and just get on with his work than it would be to go home and figure shit out with his roommate. His hunger was getting the better of him, though, so he dialed nine for an outside line and then punched in the number for the pizza place down the street without even having to look it up. He ordered a spicy pepperoni pizza with a side of buffalo wings and a bottle of Coke for himself, because he was hungry, and then he changed his mind and added a special veggie pizza and cheese sticks to his order so he could take them home for Brendon. The pizza place delivered so often to Spencer's office late at night that Spencer was considering getting them a contract with the company, although that might be hard to explain when Spencer was the primary person ordering from them. It wasn't like the rest of his department didn't stay late when there was a project due, but Spencer did it the most.
Still, it was barely ten minutes later when Spencer heard a noise in the outer office, and while the pizza place was pretty fast, even they didn't usually manage to deliver in so short a time. Plus, Spencer usually had to go downstairs and let them in, because the building was all locked up apart from his office.
"Hello?" Spencer said, in case someone else was staying late at Christmas and he just hadn't noticed. He stood up. "Is somebody there?"
"Just me," said a voice, and Spencer sort of recognized it, but he couldn't figure out from where. He did, however, recognize Pete fucking Wentz when he pushed open the door to Spencer's office and switched on all of the lights, bathing the room in bright florescent light.
"You're, uh," Spencer managed, since Pete Wentz was a rock star, and Spencer's company didn't usually have anything to do with people like Pete. People in logistics, yes. Musicians, no. Spencer's voice squeaked. "Pete Wentz?"
"Got it in one, dude," Pete said, dragging one of Spencer's chairs up to the desk and sitting down in it. He put his feet up on Spencer's desk and steepled his fingers. "You want to tell me what you're still doing here when it's Christmas?"
"Uh," Spencer said. "You maybe want to tell me what you're doing here instead? You're Pete Wentz, and this is, um, my office."
"I know," Pete said. "I've come to do you a favor, Spencer Smith."
"You know my name," Spencer said, awkwardly.
"Sure I do," Pete agreed. "I know everything about you, Spence."
"Spencer," Spencer corrected, because nobody at work called him Spence, only Spencer.
"Tomato, tomato," Pete said. He didn't even try to make them sound different. "The name's Spencer James Smith, you have two sisters, they're twins, and when you were twelve you made them dress up as backing singers so that you and Ryan could be the Backstreet Boys for Halloween." He ticked off the points as he made them on his fingers. "You love your job, you totally fucked things up with your roommate earlier, you drum, but not as much as you'd like to, and your best friend is pissed with you. And you're working late on Christmas."
"How do you know this stuff?" Spencer asked, in wonder. Nobody knew about the Backstreet Boys thing, nobody but him and Ryan and his sisters. "Did Ryan send you?" Ryan had always idolized Pete Wentz, even back when they in high school. The summer that Spencer had spent saving pictures of Gerard Way to his hard drive, Ryan had been scribbling Fall Out Boy lyrics in notebooks. The summer before that, they had both refused to listen to anything else but Fall Out Boy.
"Ryan? No, dude," Pete said. "Never met him. We could have, though, if things had been different. Want to see?"
Spencer blinked. "See what?" he asked, carefully, in case he was having some kind of mental episode.
Pete made a face. "Scrap that, don't think we've got time. We've only got one night. Can't fit everything in that we want to, even with the whole secret special ghost powers thing."
"What are you doing here?" Spencer asked, finally, since precisely none of this was making sense. Was this the hunger pangs talking?
"Oh," Pete said. "Didn't I say? I've come to work some Christmas magic. Show you the error of your ways, let you fix some shit, blah blah whatever."
"Um," Spencer said. "What?"
"Spence," Pete said, patiently. "I'm the ghost of Christmas."
"You're, uh," Spencer said, eloquently. "You're Pete Wentz."
"Sort of," Pete said. He waved his hand about. "We show up as people you admire. I'm yours, Pete Wentz."
Right, Spencer said. This was it. He was clearly delirious. Maybe he had the flu. He didn't feel ill. "Am I sick?"
"No," Pete said, with a wry smile. "It's Christmas Eve, dude, and you're working late. You ever wonder how you got here?"
"I drove," Spencer said. "In my car. This morning."
"No, Spence. Not here. Here. Weren't you going to be some rock star or shit?"
"For, like, six months when I was sixteen," Spencer said. "Not really."
"Huh," Pete said, almost to himself. "Maybe a night isn't going to be enough. Right, okay. Speech time. You ready?"
"Uh," Spencer said. "Yes?"
"Awesome. Spencer Smith, tonight is totally This is Your Life. We're going to take you on a trip outside of your imagination. We're going to show you some Christmases that have been, some that are going on right the fuck now, and if we've got time, how shit's going to go down if you don't pull your finger out. May as well make a night of it, I guess. No point going to bed before the sun rises, huh?"
"Right," Spencer said. "Sure."
"Excellent," Pete said, with a grin. "So I'll be back in a while, but first, let's see some old holiday seasons. Come on, Charlie Brown, I want to be Snoopy."
There was a flash of light, so bright that Spencer had to close his eyes, and then—
When Spencer opened his eyes, he found himself with his cheek pressed up against the Kennedy file on his desk, a damp patch on the buff folder from where he'd drooled.
Thank fuck, he thought. It was only a dream.
He rubbed his eyes, sitting up and rolling his shoulders to get rid of the crick in his neck. He wondered what time it was, and he blinked blearily at the clock on his desk.
"It's okay," someone said. "The clock's wrong. Time's stopped. Sort of, anyway. It's complicated."
When Spencer looked up, Gerard Way was sitting in his office, smoking a cigarette and picking at the tab of a can of Coke.
"Uh," Spencer managed.
"Hi," Gerard said, enthusiastically. He rubbed at his eye with his fist. "So, I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past. "
"Right," Spencer said, since there didn't actually seem to be anything else he could say. Gerard Way was sitting in his office. Spencer had spent an entire summer downloading pictures of him. He still had them in a folder on his desktop at home. He wasn't sure he could have spoken even if he'd wanted to.
"Is there anywhere to get a cup of coffee around here?" Gerard asked.
Spencer swallowed. "There's a machine," he said, pointing. His voice sounded a little high to his ears. Gerard didn't seem to notice, though, because he was too busy making gimme hands at the coffee machine in the cupboard in the corner of Spencer's office. "But you're a ghost."
"Sort of," Gerard said, spooning coffee into the filter. "Well, not at all, really, but it's probably easier to take ghosts as a basis—"
"You're spilling coffee," Spencer said, pointing.
"Oh," Gerard looked at the floor, and the toe of his boot. He shook the coffee grains off his foot and spooned yet more coffee into the machine. "Have you been unhappy for long, Spencer?"
Spencer blinked. "What?" he managed.
"Unhappy," Gerard repeated. "That's why we're here, right? You're miserable."
"I'm fine," Spencer said automatically.
"It's okay to admit it," Gerard said, poking the coffee machine with a finger until the light came on and the burbling sound of the coffee percolating sounded loud to Spencer's ears. "If you're depressed, you should come right out and say it. Don't be ashamed of going looking for help, dude." He turned wide eyes on Spencer. "You shouldn't ever be ashamed of how you feel."
"I'm not depressed," Spencer said, bewildered. Was he? This was all kind of confusing.
"But you're ashamed of your friends, though."
Am not, Spencer thought. "No," he said.
"Okay," Gerard said, patiently. He tapped the coffee machine with his fist, and slid two takeout cups onto the table.
"It won't be ready yet -" Spencer started, but Gerard ignored him and poured out two venti cups from the full jug, and pressed a lid on to the top of each cup.
"Ghost magic," he said, with a half-smile, holding out a cup.
"Huh," Spencer said, and took the coffee. Spencer bent his head over the cup, and when he looked up, they weren't in his office anymore. They were in a light, airy living room with streams of paper chains hanging across the ceiling and around the edges of the room. A huge tree was in the corner, and stacks of presents lay under it, waiting for someone to open them.
"Recognize it?" Gerard asked.
"How did we even get here?" Spencer asked, turning around in wonder. The room seemed oddly familiar, but he couldn't remember from where.
Gerard grinned. "Magic. Pretty cool, huh? Go on, take a look around."
Spencer bent down so he could look at the pictures on the end table by the fireplace. "That's me," he said, in surprise. He pointed at a picture of a tiny, grumpy-looking red squashy baby, all wrapped up in a blanket.
"Sure is," Gerard agreed.
"And that's Mom and Dad," Spencer said, looking at the next picture. It was his parents on their wedding day, his mom looking across at his dad and smiling happily. His dad beamed at the camera, his moustache turned up at the corners, like a smile. Spencer spun around, taking in the rest of the room. "This was my house," he said. "When I was little, this was where I lived."
"Just in time," Gerard said, pointing at the door, and Spencer's mom and dad came in, his mom cradling a tiny baby in her arms.
"Mom," Spencer said, quickly. She didn't look at him, and Spencer tried to reach out and touch her, but Gerard curled his fingers around Spencer's wrist.
"They can't see us," Gerard said. "Or hear us. We're ghosts."
"Is that—" Spencer said, stupidly, staring at the baby. "Is that me?"
"Yep," Gerard said. "Pretty awesome little thing, weren't you?"
Spencer didn't say anything, watching as his dad unfolded a blanket and put it down on the carpet. His mom knelt down and lay baby Spencer on it, and he kicked his feet in the air and chewed on his fist.
"Did you ever -" Spencer's mom said. She smiled, biting her lip. "We're the luckiest people ever," she said.
"Yes," Spencer's dad agreed. "Never going to be just the two of us again."
Spencer felt a heartbeat of sadness. He couldn't remember the last holiday season he'd spent with his parents. Once, maybe, since college. He just hung out at his own place, and ate frozen pizza and watched TV. He tended to check in with them and then go over the weekend between Christmas and New Year. There were all of the leftovers and none of the holiday celebrations. He closed his eyes, biting his lip, and when he opened them again the room was different, and this time Spencer did recognize it.
Gerard clapped a hand to Spencer's shoulder. "You okay?" he asked. "Drink up, coffee's pretty magic."
"This is Ryan's place," Spencer said, and as if on cue, a young Ryan Ross came in in too-short pajamas, clutching his cereal bowl to his chest. He sat down on the couch and fumbled for the remote control, switching channels until he got to the cartoons. Spencer remembered the year that Ryan shot up. He'd been eleven, and all of a sudden, all of his clothes had been too short. It had been a while before he'd showed up again in clothes that fit. Spencer fought the urge to go over and curl up next to him. Ryan looked fragile and young, and Spencer didn't remember him being so shuttered and closed off at the time. "Where's his dad?"
Gerard shrugged. "Asleep?" He swept a hand toward the VCR, and Spencer took in the red digital clock. It was barely seven am.
He turned around, and Ryan was gone. In his place were row after row of wooden benches -pews, Spencer realized - and each of them were crammed full of fancy dressed families. They were in a church, but not one Spencer knew.
"Where are we?" he asked Gerard.
Gerard folded his arms and looked around. "See anyone you know?"
"No," Spencer said, his eyes sweeping across the congregation.
Gerard leaned in. "Look closer," he said, softly. His breath smelled like cigarettes and coffee.
Spencer swallowed. It had been a few summers since he'd obsessively and voraciously stored pictures to his hard drive, but it wasn't like he couldn't claim to be a pretty big fan of Gerard and his band even now. He couldn't exactly maintain an impassive expression when Gerard Way was whispering in his ear. He was only human. This whole night was really fucking weird. "Okay," he said, suppressing a shiver, and he made his way up the central aisle, toward the front of the church. He looked down row after row of women in their best dresses, fathers in suits, and children, shushed and wriggling anyway. He didn't see anyone he knew.
It felt odd to be walking down the aisle with all these people in the church, and even odder to know that he'd never do this for real. He'd never get to stand at the front of a church to declare himself in front of his family and friends. He wouldn't be able to, not properly, and Spencer didn't know whether he even wanted to, not really. Just the idea of having to invite people from work and have them mix with people like Brendon and Ryan and Brent and Jon and his parents. All of these people in his life that he tried to keep entirely separate. It made him cold just thinking about it.
Then he spotted a face he recognized, and another, and another. They looked a lot younger, sure, and in all the pictures Spencer had seen of Brendon's family, his brothers and sisters looked a hell of a lot older than they did right now. It was weird, seeing them all together , squashed into a row with Brendon at the end, next to his dad.
"Oh," Spencer said, softly, because Brendon looked miserable, and frustrated, and sort of skinny and oh so fucking young.
"Brendon," one of his brothers hissed, "stop moving around and just stay still for once, okay?"
"I'm trying," Brendon shot back, but Spencer knew better than anybody that Brendon found it almost impossible to stay still. He found it even harder when he knew someone was watching him.
Then the music started, and everyone stood up, and started to sing. It wasn't a hymn that Spencer knew, but then Spencer had never actually been that much of a church-goer, not even at Christmas. He watched as Brendon opened his mouth to sing, and he saw Brendon's face change from frustration to joy, just like that. It was sort of amazing.
"That boy loves to sing," Gerard said, in his ear.
Spencer swallowed, and nodded. "Yeah," he said, thinking about how Brendon's voice followed him around the apartment, loud and sometimes really fucking annoying. Spencer didn't feel anything like annoyance right now. He couldn't stop watching Brendon's face as he sang. "Can't get him to shut up at home."
"He should have been a musician," Gerard went on. "Did you know he can play about a million instruments? I can't even play one. Like, the guitar, a bit, but not enough to play on stage. Not like Mikey. Mikey's awesome, you know? He can play bass like a motherfucker."
"Yeah," Spencer said. "I know."
"All that musical talent and Brendon works at a clothing store," Gerard said. "Pretty fucking unfair, right?"
"He gets an employee discount," Spencer told Gerard. He had the shirts and pants to prove it. Brendon didn't actually like to wear the clothes from his store that much outside of work. Spencer didn't know why; they were kind of nice.
Gerard makes a face. "He's a creative spirit," he said. "His spirit is being drowned. Yours too."
"I love my job," Spencer said, because he did. He couldn't stop watching Brendon, a much younger, teenaged version of the Brendon that Spencer knew. He still got that same look on his face when he sang now, although Spencer hadn't recognized it before this moment. That loose, easy joy on his face because he was doing something he loved, even if it was only singing along to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack when they cleaned the apartment, Spencer beating out the rhythm on the side of the bathtub as he wiped down the sink. Spencer liked a clean place. Brendon liked the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. They compromised.
"Sure you do," Gerard agreed. "You want to tell me what your creative outlet is, though? Because fuck knows you need one. Everyone needs an outlet. I make art."
"You're a singer," Spencer said.
"Yes," Gerard said. "And when I'm not making music, I'm creating art. I have a lot of feelings."
"Uh-huh," Spencer said, still watching Brendon. How could he never have noticed how important music was to Brendon? How much happier he was when he was singing? He never said, that's why, a little voice inside Spencer's head told him. That wasn't enough of a reason. It was written all over his face whenever he sang. Spencer just hadn't ever watched close enough to figure it out.
"Anyway," Gerard said, nudging him. "We were talking about you."
Spencer's coffee didn't appear to be going down at all, or getting cold. He took another sip, and when he looked up, they weren't in the church anymore. They were in a shitty apartment with a mattress on the floor and dirty dishes by the sink. "I work very hard at my job," Spencer said, looking around. "Where are we?"
"Brendon's first apartment," Gerard said. "It's okay if you can't think of anything you do to release your creative spirit, Spencer. That's what we're here for, to figure out how to make changes. Changing your life is pretty fucking amazing. I should know." He glanced towards the door to the bathroom, where someone was switching the shower off and singing a little, under their breath. Brendon, Spencer thought. "And so should he."
Brendon came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, singing Streets of London. It was a song Spencer knew well, since his parents had it on their Christmas CD when he was growing up. Spencer's mental list of songs that were too sad to be sung at any point, let alone the holiday season, included this song.
"How old is he?" Spencer asked, something akin to horror crawling up his back. There were a pile of schoolbooks on the floor by the mattress, and Brendon hadn't gone to college. These were high school books, and Brendon was living by himself instead of with his parents. Spencer hadn't even known that Brendon had moved out of home so early.
"Seventeen," Gerard said, as Brendon rummaged through a pile of shirts, looking like he was trying to find something clean to wear. It didn't look as if there was much to pick from. "He's working at the Smoothie Hut to pay for this place. He sold his guitar to make his rent."
Spencer blinked, and tried not to look as Brendon dropped the towel and pulled on a pair of jeans, without bothering with underwear. It wasn't like he hadn't seen Brendon naked before; considering his choice of employment, Brendon actually spent a lot of time at home at least partly naked. When he tore his gaze away, Gerard was leaning against the wall, coffee cup to his lips, smiling.
"I wasn't looking," Spencer said, but his reddened cheeks probably gave him away.
Gerard's smile was more of a smirk. "Yeah," he said. "You remember the special magical powers part of this deal, right?"
Spencer didn't remember anything. He shook his head.
"Saw you look," Gerard whispered, suddenly next to him again.
Spencer blinked, and then the room was gone, and the scenery was different again. They were in a dorm room this time, Ryan's, Spencer's brain supplied. He'd been to visit Ryan here, his first year away from Las Vegas. Spencer had been frozen cold from the moment he'd gotten off the plane at O'Hare, to the moment he'd touched back down in Vegas. He was warm-blooded.
Spencer crossed the room to look at the pictures pinned to the bulletin board above Ryan's bed. There were a couple of him and Ryan, and one of him and Ryan and Brent, taken the summer before Spencer's senior year. The rest of the people in the pictures were strangers to Spencer, although when he took a closer look, he recognized a few of the friends that Ryan had hung on to over the years, people like Jon and Cassie and even Ryan's current girlfriend, Z. She had much longer hair in the pictures, and was holding hands with someone who wasn't Ryan. Spencer couldn't remember when they'd gotten together, but it was probably at least a couple of years down the line.
"Where's Ryan?" Spencer asked.
"Wait a minute," Gerard said, with a half-smile. There was a sound in the hallway, and Gerard grinned. "Here we go."
When Ryan twisted the key in the lock and pushed the door open, he was bundled up against the weather, scarves and gloves and a huge woolen coat that Spencer had helped him pick out as a goodbye gift from Spencer's parents. He was on his phone, and Spencer couldn't exactly remember the conversation word for word, but he remembered this conversation.
"Spence," Ryan protested, dropping his keys on the desk and dumping a grocery bag on the bed. Spencer startled, before Gerard clapped a hand to Spencer's shoulder, and reminded him that Ryan couldn't see either of them. "I am fine, okay. I have tons of people here." Ryan started to unwrap his scarf from around his neck, and to unbutton his coat. "No, it's fine. It's only Christmas. It's like, one day out of a whole year. Stop worrying."
Spencer hadn't stopped worrying. That first year away from Vegas, Spencer hadn't stopped worrying about Ryan at all. He'd worried even more when Ryan hadn't come home for Christmas. He hadn't stopped worrying until he'd been up to see for himself that Ryan was making friends and settling in.
"I bought a movie to watch," Ryan went on, opening his bag and tugging out a copy of Fight Club, as if Spencer could see it over the phone, "and Jon's coming to pick me up in the evening. I'm going to hang with his folks." There was a pause, and Spencer could hear the soft hum of his own voice through the phone. This was weird. "I'll be fine, Spence. Don't worry."
"He wasn't coming home," Spencer told Gerard, to explain. "I was worried."
"You don't worry now," Gerard said, gently. He fumbled in his pockets and came out with a battered pack of cigarettes. He flicked it open and tugged one out, pulling his lighter out of his jeans. He let out a long sigh after he took his first drag.
"I do," Spencer said, automatically, but the prickling sensation crawling up and down his back was enough to tell him - even if he hadn't already known - that he hadn't even asked Ryan where he was spending Christmas this year. He couldn't remember the last time he'd asked. "I do care," he said, defensively.
"Never said that you didn't," Gerard said, exhaling. The cigarettes didn't smell like cigarettes normally did. They didn't smell like anything. Maybe they were ghost magic too. Spencer didn't actually understand any of this. "All I'm saying is, you know. You know. At some point you stopped remembering to tell people that."
Spencer swallowed. He hadn't, had he? People knew that he cared, that he loved them. But it felt strange, sort of muffled and closed-off. He hadn't, this wasn't true. He hadn't forgotten. "Gerard -" he started, but they weren't in Ryan's dorm room anymore. They were in Spencer's apartment, and Spencer recognized the decorations, the holiday cards he'd dumped on the table in the hall yesterday without even tugging them out of the envelopes. "This is my place," he said.
"Yeah," Gerard said. He pointed at the tree. "Cool tree."
"Brendon trimmed it," Spencer said, automatically. Everything to do with the holiday season in their apartment was down to Brendon.
Gerard rolled his eyes. "Yeah, no," he said, taking a hold of Spencer's arm. "Hang on. We've come too far."
This shift wasn't like the earlier ones. Wind rushed past Spencer, so strong that he would have fallen if it wasn't for Gerard's hand on his arm, anchoring him in place. Lights flickered and they were in the darkness for a few seconds before they landed with a thump, right back in Spencer's living room.
"We didn't go anywhere," Spencer said.
"Sure we did," Gerard told him. "We went back a year. Look."
Spencer did look. There wasn't much difference in his living room. The furniture was the same, and none of the artwork on the walls had changed. The painting of a hillside that Spencer had hated from the moment he'd seen it in the store to the moment he'd bought and paid for it and hung it on his wall was still there, hanging above the mantel for everyone to see. A picture of Spencer's family stood on the shelf by the TV, and next to it, a picture of Brendon's family, all smiling and waving at the camera and pulling stupid faces. Spencer narrowed his eyes. He hadn't seen that picture in a while, and he wondered when Brendon had moved it.
"Why are we here?" Spencer asked. "It's not like I'm going to forget anything about last year, is it?"
Gerard smiled. He looked kind of sad. "Come on," he said. "You're through in the kitchen."
"Okay," Spencer said, because he didn't think that he could learn anything here, but if he went along with it, then they could move on and get this over and done with and he could get back to his office and wake up from this ridiculous dream.
Spencer held his hand out to push open the kitchen door, but Gerard just hooked his hand in the crook of Spencer's elbow and walked right on through the closed door. It felt strange, just for the half-second when he was half in and half out of the door. "Wow," he said, because even he couldn't deny that walking through a closed door was pretty amazing.
Gerard just laughed, and pointed at the complete mess in Spencer's kitchen, which Spencer hadn't even noticed. Spencer remembered this day; he remembered Brendon waking him and dragging him out of bed and demanding that they spend the day making holiday cookies for their families. Spencer had complained and complained, but Brendon had made him coffee and Spencer remembered having actual fun.
"This was a good day," Spencer said, without meaning to.
Gerard looked at him, and Spencer colored.
"I mean -" Spencer said.
"It's okay to just enjoy yourself," Gerard told him. "You don't spend enough time making yourself happy. You think you can succeed when you're so unhappy all the time?"
"I love my job," Spencer said.
"I know," Gerard said. "But what else have you got going on in your life? What else do you love?"
Spencer looked involuntarily at the mess in the kitchen, at Brendon, covered in flour and singing along to the Christmas CD in the stereo.
"See," Gerard said, softly. "Watch."
The other Spencer was sitting at the table, pressing cookie cutters shaped like Christmas trees and bells and reindeer into a roll of cookie dough. Brendon was busy with the already-baked cookies, sliding them off the baking sheets and onto the cooling racks that Spencer hadn't even realized he'd owned before that day. Spencer was so busy watching Brendon work, humming under his breath and smiling, that he realized he hadn't really looked at this earlier version of himself, working under Brendon's direction at the other end of the table. When Spencer looked across at himself, he found that this other Spencer was watching Brendon too, a soft smile on his face. When Brendon looked across at him and grinned, Spencer ducked his head and pretended to be busy. Brendon looked away, and then Spencer watched as the other Spencer started to watch him again, out of the corner of his eye.
For some reason, this made Spencer color. "I wasn't," he said, without even knowing what it was he meant to say. He couldn't tear his gaze away from his own face. This wasn't what he saw when he looked in the mirror every morning. He couldn't stop staring; he looked happy. He didn't remember feeling like that. When he remembered this day spent in the kitchen last holiday season, he remembered Brendon dragging him out of bed and making him decorate cookies all day. He didn't remember any of this, the way the kitchen had smelled, the heat from the oven as Brendon slid in another tray of cookies to bake. The way his heartbeat had sped up when Brendon looked up, smiling, and Spencer realized he had flour on his cheek. The way he felt now.
"You watch him all the time," Gerard said, taking another gulp of his never-ending coffee. "You always know where he is and what he's doing."
"That's not true," Spencer said, quickly. "And if I do, it's only so that we don't bump into each other all the time." Roommates needed to give each other space so that their partnership could work out, Spencer knew. He wasn't, he didn't—
"I'll tell you another thing," Gerard went on, as if Spencer hadn't spoken. "And this one's a secret, so don't forget it." He leaned in, and Spencer bit his lip. "He watches you all of the time, too."
"He doesn't," Spencer said, automatically, but he couldn't help looking up, just to see.
"Made you look," Gerard said, softly, but Spencer couldn't tear his gaze away, because Brendon was watching him. The other Spencer was carefully pressing the cookie cutters into the dough in neat rows, and Brendon was watching him do it, holding an empty baking sheet in his oven-mitted hand, and the expression on his face made Spencer's heart skip a beat.
"He's watching me," Spencer said, in disbelief, because Brendon was his sort-of annoying roommate, the guy who didn't own a tie and who Spencer had never introduced to any of his colleagues because he had no idea how to explain away someone who wore mittens and a ridiculous red puffy coat. Brendon didn't even own a car, and he relied on the public transportation system, which no one did. Spencer had no idea how to explain Brendon to the people he worked with, so he never had. Marie was the only person who even knew of Brendon's existence, and all this time Spencer had tried to tell himself that Brendon meant nothing to him, that he was just his roommate.
"Yeah," Gerard said, nodding. "You maybe want to think about reworking that list of things that make you happy?"
"What?" Spencer said, trying to tear his attention away from the way Brendon was looking at him. When the other Spencer looked up, Brendon 's expression shifted into an easy smile.
"You finished with those, yet?" he asked.
"In a minute," the other Spencer said.
"Stop being so careful," Brendon said, with a grin. "Look, I'll show you." And he leaned over Spencer's shoulder and pressed the Rudolph cookie cutter haphazardly into the dough.
"Hey," Spencer said, "You've ruined my straight lines."
"Shut up," Brendon said, and he leaned over and picked up a piece of cookie dough, tearing it roughly in half and stuffing it into his mouth. "Here," he said, holding his hand out. "For you."
"That was going to be a cookie," the other Spencer said, disapprovingly. His expression showed nothing like disapproval, though, and Spencer felt a jolt in his stomach as he watched himself trying to hide how he felt under the cover of disapproval and a frown.
"And now it's going to be a snack," Brendon told him, and ruffled Spencer's hair. "Eat up, and I'll put more coffee on."
"Come on," Gerard said, tugging on his arm.
"No," Spencer said, wanting to stay, but the room was already fading, Brendon disappearing as the familiar walls of Spencer's office began to reappear. "No."
"Food for thought, huh," Gerard said. He threw the remains of his coffee into the trash can by Spencer's desk. "Finished with yours?" he asked, plucking the coffee cup from Spencer's hand and dropping it into the trash after his own.
"What was that," Spencer said, because he couldn't think about anything other than the expression on his own face as he'd snuck glances at Brendon. His stomach lurched, and he dropped down into his chair.
"Christmases past," Gerard said, with a shrug. "And now my job is done, Spencer Smith. Did you learn anything?"
Spencer swallowed. Yes, he thought, but the room was already growing dark, and Spencer's eyes felt heavy. Yes.
When he woke up, Gerard Way was sitting in the corner of his office, smoking a cigarette and doodling on Spencer's notepad.
"Gerard Way," Spencer said, blinking away sleep.
"Hi," Gerard said. "I'm the ghost of Christmas Present, and I'm here to take you on a trip."
"You were the ghost of Christmas Past a minute ago," Spencer said, rubbing his eyes.
"Yeah," Gerard said. "It turns out you don't actually idolize all that many people, Spencer Smith. You should add it to your list of things to work on. The only other person on your list was Harry Potter, and we figured that having Harry Potter show up would be kind of weird, even for us. Plus, you know, which one? Book-version or movie-version?"
"Uh," Spencer said. He sat up, rolling his shoulders to get rid of the stiffness. He reached for his phone, but stopped halfway, realizing that he couldn't exactly call Ryan to find out where he was spending Christmas, or Brendon to apologize for earlier when he had Gerard Way in his office, being a ghost of Christmas. Maybe he was crazy. "Am I crazy?" he asked.
"Being crazy doesn't make you any less special of a person," Gerard told him. Being reprimanded by a ghost was kind of odd. "But no, you're not seeing things that aren't there. Stop worrying."
"You're a ghost," Spencer pointed out.
"And I drew you a picture," Gerard said, dropping the notepad and sharpie down on Spencer's desk. It was two doodles, one below the other on the paper. The first one was Spencer watching Brendon with stars in his eyes, the other was Brendon and him, holding hands on the top of a hill, the sky full of stars. Spencer couldn't help the way his heart leapt at the second one.
"Thanks," Spencer said, gruffly. His mouth was dry. "They're amazing."
"Awesome," Gerard said. "You should work on your creative outlets, too. You could be a pretty great drummer if you gave yourself a chance."
"I haven't played since I was a kid," Spencer said, dismissively.
"Good time to take it back up again, then," Gerard said. "Are you ready? We've got things to see."
"As I'll ever be," Spencer said, standing up. He waited for the walls to start to fade, but nothing happened.
"Take my hand," Gerard said, and Spencer could count on one hand the number of times he'd held hands with a guy in the last few years. He slipped his hand into Gerard's, kind of awkwardly, and Gerard squeezed. "Hold on," he said, and the room flicked into darkness as the wind started to whoosh around them. Then the lights flicked back on, and they were back in a living room, and there was this year's calendar on the wall, and this was Spencer's apartment.
"This is my place again," Spencer said.
"Sure it is," Gerard said, pointing at the door. "It's time to trim your tree."
Spencer could hear him and Brendon before he could see them. This day was like, a week ago, and Brendon had made Spencer walk three blocks to pick out a stupid Christmas tree and then walk three blocks back carrying the Christmas tree. Spencer had complained all of the way there and all of the way back and all of the way up the steps to his apartment.
"Shut up," Brendon said, outside of the door to the living room. "You love our Christmas tree, don't even front."
"I do not love it," the other Spencer complained, as Brendon fumbled with the door and burst into the living room. "I don't love how heavy it is, and how I have got pine needles down my neck and how we had to carry this thing a million miles."
"Three blocks," Brendon said, peaceably. "Stop complaining and stand it up straight. I'm going to get the trimmings."
"I don't love this thing at all," the other Spencer said, under his breath, looking for all the world like this was a total lie. Spencer wondered if what he was feeling was always written so clearly on his face. He'd thought he was good at hiding, but maybe he was wrong, because it didn't look at all like he hated trimming the tree with Brendon. No wonder Brendon never gave up bugging him to hang out with him. Whatever Spencer thought was written on his face, it wasn't the naked want that was all Spencer could see right now. He watched as Brendon stopped in the doorway, watching the other Spencer struggle to get the tree straight with an indulgent grin on his face.
"It's crooked," Brendon called out, dumping the box of decorations on the couch. "Get your ruler out, Spence."
"Fuck you," the other Spencer said, giving Brendon the finger. "It so is straight."
"Sure it is," Brendon said, dropping to his knees next to Spencer. His elbow bumped Spencer's, and both he and Spencer blushed a little and looked very fixedly at the tree for a moment until their blushes had faded.
Spencer didn't remember that. He just remembered being aware of how close Brendon was to him, and how important it suddenly was to concentrate on trimming the tree. It had taken them the whole morning to trim the tree, Brendon trying to attach decorations without any thought about the symmetry or where the lights were going to go. But that wasn't how it looked right now, the two of them sneaking glances at each other when they thought the other wasn't looking. Spencer remembered trying to keep an eye on where Brendon was putting the decorations, but the other Spencer wasn't looking at Brendon's hands. He was watching his face, and when he was leaning over the decorations box, Brendon was watching him.
It made Spencer breathless just watching, and his stomach flipped every time he saw the way Brendon looked at him. All of a sudden he wanted more than anything to close the distance between the two of them and kiss Brendon, over and over and over. It just felt like he was finally putting a name to that feeling that was trapped in his chest every single time he looked at Brendon. It wasn't annoyance, or frustration, or even friendship or closeness or any of the other names that Spencer had tried throwing at the way he felt over the past couple of years. It was this, it was wanting to kiss Brendon and have him kiss back. It was everything, and Spencer couldn't breathe.
"Careful," Gerard said, as Spencer took an involuntary step forward. He curled his hand around Spencer's arm, holding him back. "They can't see you. He can't see you."
"I want—" Spencer started, but he didn't know what he wanted. He wanted to be out of this stupid dream or whatever the fuck it was and he wanted to be back in a place where he could talk to Brendon and figure out what the fuck he wanted, what that feeling was in his chest, have Brendon in front of him so that he could know for sure.
But Gerard just slipped his hand into Spencer's, and the room went dark, and the wind rose around them, cocooning them close. Then the lights flicked back on and the wind disappeared, and Spencer didn't recognize where they were at all.
"Where are we?" he asked, sneaking his hand out of Gerard's sweaty one so he could wander over to the bookshelves by the bed and take a look at what was on the shelves. Anything so that he could get his breath back and wait for the flush on his cheeks to die away.
"Chicago," Gerard said. "Ryan's apartment, to be exact."
"I don't recognize this place," Spencer said, which was kind of a stupid thing to say, since he hadn't visited Ryan in over a year.
"Sure you don't," Gerard said, earnestly. "You'll barely recognize Ryan, either. You've got to start keeping up, Spencer. Friendships need work."
"He's my best friend," Spencer said, even though that wasn't exactly the truth, either. That's what they had been, before. Spencer tried to ignore the sick, empty feeling in his stomach at the realization.
"It's not too late," Gerard said, tugging at his sleeve. "Come on. Through here."
They were in Ryan's living room, and Ryan was sprawled across the couch, the phone pressed to his ear. Next to him, a guy Spencer recognized from when he used to visit Chicago was dozing, head on Ryan's shoulder. Jon. He hadn't had a beard last time Spencer had seen him.
"You're always busy," Ryan was saying, into the phone. "It's Christmas Eve, don't you close up early, anyway?"
With a sick jolt, Spencer realized that Ryan was talking to him, and that this was today. There was a bong on the coffee table, and an empty baggie where the weed used to be next to it.
"Go home," Ryan said, taking something out of his pocket. A small velvet bag. "Go hang out with your roommate and watch Christmas movies."
Spencer couldn't take his eyes off the bag. As he watched, Ryan undid the drawstring and pulled out a tiny black box. The kind of box that held a ring, Spencer realized, and his eyes widened as Ryan flicked it open. A shiny silver band with a glittering jewel. An engagement ring.
He tuned back in to what Ryan was saying. "Yeah, okay. So, you remember that—" Ryan was beaming, and he was fingering the ring, taking it out of the case and turning it over and over in his hand. And then his smile fell, and Spencer knew why. He felt sick. "I guess," Ryan said, sadly, and when he hung up and dropped the phone back on the couch next to him, Spencer wanted to rewind this whole day and have the conversation again.
He watched as Ryan shook Jon awake, and held out the ring.
"Is that for me?" Jon asked, gruffly, rubbing his eyes and staring down at Ryan's hand. "Because you really shouldn't have."
"Fuck you," Ryan said, pushing at Jon's shoulder with his palm. "It's for Z. I'm going to ask her to marry me."
Jon's face curved into a wide, bright smile. "Dude," he said. "Dude."
"I know, right?" Ryan said, delightedly.
Jon laughed. "Congratulations," he said.
"She hasn't said yes, yet," Ryan reminded him.
Jon grinned, and as Spencer watched, misery clawing at his gut, Gerard tucked his hand into Spencer's.
"Come on," Gerard said, and the room flicked into darkness and the wind began to roar.
This time, when the lights flicked back on, they were in a coffee shop. Starbucks.
"What are we doing here?" Spencer asked, to cover up how miserable he felt at what he'd missed Ryan telling him.
"Catching up with Brendon," Gerard said, letting go of Spencer's hand and slipping behind the counter. "Do you want a toffee nut, peppermint or gingerbread latte?"
"Gingerbread," Spencer said, distractedly. He scanned the tables, and then the line. Brendon was near the front, eyes trained on the glass-fronted cabinets with all of the cakes and muffins and cookies on display. His heart jumped and Spencer wondered why he'd tried to deny how he felt about Brendon for so long. He'd dismissed him as just a roommate, not even a friend, and he felt terrible. He wanted so much more. He couldn't help it, he snuck a little closer, peering over Brendon's shoulder to stare at the shelves of cakes and cookies, breathing in the familiar scent of Brendon's shower gel and aftershave. He wanted to touch Brendon so much.
"Come over here," Gerard said, tugging on Spencer's sleeve.
Spencer didn't want to move, but Gerard's grip was strong.
"Here," Gerard said, handing him a takeaway red cup. Spencer's stomach dropped at the memory of Brendon dropping the coffee into the trash can, earlier. Suddenly he realized what they were doing here, what Brendon was doing here, and Spencer wanted to fix this more than anything.
But he couldn't, so Spencer had to stand and watch as Brendon ordered two coffees and a selection of cookies. The barista put them into a bag for him, and Brendon moved down the line to the waiting area at the end of the coffee machines. When his coffee was ready, Brendon leaned over and asked the barista if he could borrow his sharpie. Blushing a fiery red, Brendon leaned over one of the coffee cups and wrote, MAKE OUT WITH ME, SPENCER SMITH, in thick black sharpie.
"There," Brendon said, in a determined voice, showing the barista. "Can't lose my nerve this time, right?"
"This time?" the barista asked, one eyebrow raised.
"You have no idea," Brendon said. "But this time I am determined to actually ask him. No more chickening out at the last minute."
The barista grinned. "Good luck," he said.
"Yeah," Brendon said, chewing on his lip. "Yeah."
"Oh god," Spencer managed. He was going to be sick. He kept seeing Brendon dropping the cup into the trash, over and over and over and over. "I screwed this up so fucking badly."
Gerard looked at him, sympathetically. "You really, really did," he said.
Spencer shook his head. "I don't want to see anymore," he begged. "Please, just take me back. I want to go home. "
"You sure?" Gerard asked, after a moment.
"More than anything," Spencer said. "Please."
"Okay, then," Gerard said, and this time, when the wind whirled around them and the lights flicked out, they didn't turn back on again.
He woke up to someone shaking his shoulder. "Spencer, Spence."
"What," Spencer said, shaking himself awake. For a split second he allowed himself to believe that it had all been a dream, but it wasn't, and it hadn't been, because Pete Wentz was standing over him, clutching a handful of photographs.
"Time to wake up, Sleepy-head," Pete said.
"Oh god, not more ghosts," Spencer begged. "Please, just let me go home. I've got shit to fix, please."
"Just me left," Pete said, brightly. "Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come."
"I really, really don't want to see," Spencer said, firmly. "Take me home."
"This is the way home," Pete told him. "It's the only way home." He pushed a coffee cup across the table to Spencer. "Gerard left this for you."
Spencer took a long gulp and then put it down heavily on the table top. "Okay, then, I'm ready. If this is the only way back then I'm ready."
"Awesome stuff," Pete said, and tugged a chair closer. "Sit down, we're not going anywhere."
"We're not?" Spencer asked in surprise.
"We're not," Pete confirmed. "We're just going to have a little slideshow. Put your feet up." He waved at Spencer's desk, and Spencer bent down to undo his shoelaces. He didn't believe in shoes on the desk, at least not at work. At home, he let Brendon put his feet up on the coffee table sometimes because Brendon had a way of getting around Spencer when Spencer least expected it. Just the thought of Brendon made his heart sink, and from Brendon, it was an easy leap to Ryan. Spencer swallowed, and fumbled with his shoelaces. He felt—ashamed.
Pete laughed, incongruously loud in the quiet of the bright office, and Spencer sat up to toe off his shoes. A large projection screen covered one wall of his office; it hadn't been there a minute ago. The pictures Pete had been holding in his hand had disappeared, and instead, he was holding a remote control.
"Are we all sitting comfortably?" Pete asked, waving the remote around. "Grab your coffee, dude." He pressed a button and the whole wall was suddenly filled with a giant picture of a wedding. Ryan was standing in the middle of the shot, Z's hand tucked into Ryan's arm. Next to Z were her three bridesmaids, all in sixties mini-dresses. Next to Ryan were three guys in suits, and Spencer wasn't one of them.
Spencer's stomach dropped.
"You weren't a groomsman," Pete told him, as if Spencer couldn't figure that out on his own. "Great day, though, there was a synchronized dance routine."
"Did I—" Spencer didn't know what to say. "Did I go?"
"Well, the question isn't did you, not really," Pete mused. "It's do you. Do you go? It's up to you."
Spencer frowned, and Pete leaned over and bumped his elbow into Spencer's, a sad sort-of smile on his face.
"The future isn't written yet," Pete said, softly. "It's exactly what you make of it." He leaned his cheek against Spencer's shoulder. After a moment, he pressed a button on the remote so that the picture changed, this time to one of Spencer's parents and his sisters and two guys Spencer didn't recognize, all sitting around the table in Spencer's parents' dining room, charging their glasses. His dad's hair was a little more silver than Spencer remembered, and his sisters looked older. Jackie was wearing a wedding ring.
"Where am I?" Spencer asked, even though he knew the answer. His stomach clenched. "I'm not there."
Pete shrugged. "Working your way through The Simpsons on DVD and doing the figures for the new Hewson contract. You call your mom later."
"That's pretty specific," Spencer said, tightly. His throat felt hoarse.
"It's a pretty specific picture," Pete said. He sat back, and watched Spencer for a long moment.
"Sure," Spencer said, but he wasn't listening, because the picture had changed again, and this time Spencer knew exactly what he was looking at. Brendon's empty bedroom in Spencer's apartment. The bed was bare, the closet empty, and there was a soft layer of dust on the windowsill. He didn't want to ask, but he couldn't not. "Where's Brendon?"
"Celebrating Christmas with a guy named Tony," Pete said, without looking away from the picture on the wall. "He's English. He makes Brendon laugh; he thinks the accent's a turn on. Brendon makes him breakfast in bed."
Spencer nodded. The gnawing, hollow feeling in his stomach was only getting worse. The thought of Brendon with anyone else made him feel jealous and fearful in a way he'd never felt before. The thought of his apartment without Brendon in it made him feel even worse. How had he not known how important coming home to someone was? How much he appreciated living with Brendon? He'd spent so long trying to hide Brendon away, even from himself, that the realization of how much he'd come to mean to Spencer was much more of a shock than he'd thought it was going to be. His head was swimming.
"It doesn't have to happen, though, right? You get that."
"Huh?" Spencer said, without listening. He was replaying the sound of Brendon's coffee cup hitting the trash can for the hundredth time.
"Spence. This isn't set in stone."
"You're the ghost of Christmas yet to come," Spencer pointed out. "You showed me pictures. That's kind of, you know, the future." A lonely future, Spencer realized, thinking about Ryan, and Brendon's empty bedroom, and the family Christmas celebrations he wasn't a part of. He didn't want that.
"Dude, there's a precedent," Pete said. "I'm not going to rename myself 'the ghost of Christmases that might happen if you don't pull your finger out' just to satisfy your persnickety-ness."
"Not a word," Spencer said, still staring at the picture superimposed on his office wall.
"You're being even more persnickety now," Pete said, rolling his eyes. "Are you always this much of a dumbass?"
Spencer blinked. "I don't want this," he said, softly, looking down at his lap. "I don't want any of this. I just want to go home and fix it all."
Pete didn't say anything for a moment. "It's not set in stone, Spencer Smith," he said, and Spencer nodded. He didn't believe it, not really. It was too late. "It's what might be," Pete said. "It's how it could be."
"You're the Ghost of Christmas yet to come," Spencer repeated. "It seems pretty specific."
"If you don't change anything," Pete said, softly. "You want to end up like me? A ghost?"
"You're Pete Wentz," Spencer said.
"Sort of. Mostly not," Pete said. "You've got to get yourself some more heroes, dude. This whole Ghost of Christmas schtick works better when we don't have to turn up twice and pretend we haven't been here before."
"I will," Spencer said. He actually meant it, too. He was going to change. He was going to do better. He was going to be better. He just needed to get home so he could start fixing stuff. He figured that it would hurt less if he was just there, and not here.
"And, okay, this is a tip for you:" Pete nodded his head, "dude, when you get back, don't go out and buy the biggest turkey you can find. It's fucking Christmas, no one's going to want to spend the whole fucking day jamming it in the oven. And then you're going to have to have everyone over, and people already have plans—"
"What the fuck," Spencer said, because just for a second his ghost sounded like a crazy person.
"Just some friendly ghostly advice," Pete said. "It's not like I haven't done this before. This is the first time I've been Pete Wentz, though. You think I can play the guitar, too?"
"I think you should take me home," Spencer said, decisively. Whether or not his ghost could play the guitar was kind of a pointless line of thought.
Pete watched him for a moment. "Did you learn anything?"
"—Not to buy a turkey for everyone to share?"
"Was it worthwhile, though?" Pete asked. "Because sometimes it isn't." He looked suddenly really fucking old. "Sometimes it's just kind of pointless. Everything stays the same. They stay the same."
"I'm not the same," Spencer said, because he wasn't. He said it again, louder this time. "I'm not."
"Good," Pete said, so quietly Spencer could barely hear him.
"Do I have to tell you again about when it's appropriate to use our indoor voices?" Marie asked, from the doorway. "You don't have to shout, the intercom is right there."
Spencer spun around in his chair. Marie was standing in the open door of Spencer's office, her arms folded, and above her a sprig of mistletoe hung from the doorframe.
"Marie," Spencer said, in sheer relief. Pete. He twisted around, looking for Pete, but the projection screen had gone, and so had the pictures of Spencer's future, and so had Pete. The office was empty, apart from Spencer, and now Marie standing in the doorway.
"What," Marie said, raising an eyebrow, "you couldn't remember how to push the button? Do we need to have another training session?"
"What day is it?" Spencer interrupted, pushing the papers on his desk to one side. The digital clock on his desk read 10:15 in bright red letters, but his desk calendar was missing.
Marie rolled her eyes. "Christmas Eve," she said. "And I know what you said about it being just another working day, and no holiday decorations, but it is the day before Christmas. You've got to give people some leeway, especially if you're going to make us work right up until the building closes. You haven't changed your mind about an extra half a day's leave, have you? All of the other departments—"
Spencer couldn't help the way his heart leapt in his chest. Christmas Eve. He got to do it all again. "We're a couple of days ahead on this project, right?" he asked, eyeing the sprig of mistletoe that had somehow found its way on to his desk, and not listening to Marie. When he moved it out of the way, he found himself face to face with Gerard's drawings of him and Brendon. It really happened, he thought, and when he opened his mouth to speak, his voice shook. "Tell everyone they can finish up at lunchtime," he said, not waiting for Marie to check their progress against the schedule. "And get me Ryan Ross on the phone."
Marie's brow furrowed. "What?" she said, carefully.
"Everyone can go home at lunch," Spencer said. His heart thumped in his chest. He was already fumbling in his pocket for his cell phone, switching it on so he could call Ryan and actually ask him how he was spending Christmas. "Tell them they can take an extra half day after the holiday, too, and once this project's done we'll close the office for a long weekend. And don't call Ryan, I'll do it."
"Are you feeling okay?" Marie asked, carefully. "You want me to wave a red cup in front of you? Remind you why you hate the holiday season?"
"Oh, coffee," Spencer said, with a sigh of relief. He still had time. "Can you call Brendon and see if he can come by? No, screw that, I'll call him. Call that bakery on the corner and see if they have any Christmas cookies or pastries left they can bring up. Or that we can go and pick up. I don't know. I think we need cake. You want cake, right?"
Marie blinked. "Yes," she said, carefully. "Do you want me to get you some Tylenol, or anything?"
"Coffee," Spencer said, standing up and pacing his office. "I have a lot to do. Do you have my parents' number out there?" His fingers shook as he scrolled through his numbers in his phone until he got to Ryan's. "Actually, never mind, I'll call them myself. Just see about the bakery. And emailing everyone about going home. And if Brendon calls while I'm on with Ryan, tell him to come on over, I want to see him. I've got to tell him something. I've got to tell everybody something."
"—Brendon, your roommate?" Marie asked, raising her eyebrows. "But you never take his calls."
"Yes," Spencer said, nodding quickly, "because I'm a dick who doesn't recognize a good thing when I've got it. You think I can stop him from leaving me?"
"From leaving you," Marie repeated, her eyebrows so high they were hidden under her thick, dark bangs. "As in..."
"As in, I'd really kind of like to actually date him," Spencer went on, pressing his thumb over Ryan's name in his phonebook. "Like, outside of my apartment. Our apartment. And inside of our apartment too, thinking about it. You'll get the cake?"
"Uh," Marie said. "Yes?"
"Excellent," Spencer said, chewing on his lip and holding his phone to his ear. He had a lot to get through today if he was going to fix everything before Brendon showed up. The call connected and Spencer let out a breath. "Ry?"
"Spencer," Ryan said, a little hazily. "I was going to call you later. Aren't you at work?"
"Yeah," Spencer said, suddenly so thankful that he was actually talking to Ryan that he sat down heavily in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. "But I haven't talked to you in a while, and I figured work could wait."
"That's a first," Ryan said. He coughed, inhaling loudly.
"First of many," Spencer said, and for the first time in a long time he recognized that feeling in his chest, the one he'd tried to ignore for so long that he'd almost forgotten it was there, he was so used to the way it felt. I miss you. "I thought I might come up and see you after New Year's," he said, quickly, before he could think about it too much and it all got too difficult to say. "I miss you."
"Dude," Ryan said, and his voice sounded rough, but when he laughed, something eased in Spencer's chest. "I've been asking you forever."
"My bad," Spencer said. "Seriously. I'm a shit. Are you with Jon?"
"He's asleep," Ryan said, sounding warm and affectionate. "We went to this awesome party last night. You should have been there."
"Next time," Spencer said, confidently, even though the kind of parties that Ryan went to weren't exactly Spencer's idea of a great night. "You should tell him I said hi, though. And to save some of the good stuff for when I get up there."
"Yeah, this stuff is the shit," Ryan said, exhaling loudly. "Probably a fucking Christmas blend or something, knowing Jon. Hey. Look, I was going to call and tell you later, but, uh."
Spencer remembered the tiny velvet bag he'd seen Ryan pull out of his pocket, and the way Ryan's eyes had shone as he'd taken out the ring. "Yeah?" he said, a little breathlessly.
"I'm going to ask Z to marry me," Ryan said, quickly. "And before you say it, we're not too young, fuck. We've been together for ages -"
"I'm really fucking happy for you," Spencer said, before Ryan could say anything else.
Ryan let out a long breath. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Spencer said. "So, when are you going to ask her?"
"Christmas morning," Ryan said, and Spencer let out a breath. He was going to be at that wedding. Things were going to change, he could feel it.
He was still talking to Ryan when Marie stuck her head around the door and said, "Brendon's just called. He's coming over, like you said."
Spencer's mouth went suddenly dry. "Brendon's coming over," he told Ryan.
"Great," Ryan said. "Have you figured out what you want to say yet?"
"No," Spencer said. "Oh fuck, I have to go figure out what I'm going to say. Is it too late to make flashcards?"
Ryan laughed. "Pretty much," he said. "Look, okay. I'm glad you called, okay? I was beginning to forget what you sounded like."
"Yeah," Spencer said, his attention momentarily shifting from Brendon back to Ryan. "Yeah. Ryan—I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry. I got so caught up—"
"We'll talk about it later," Ryan said. "I've got to go to bed, anyway. It's really fucking late."
Spencer rolled his eyes. "Some of us have been up since six am."
"Some of us need to get a life," Ryan said. "Look, go win your guy, okay? I'm pretty sure he's open to being won. Or whatever."
"How do you even know?" Spencer asked, in disbelief.
"I do have friends that aren't you, you know," Ryan said. "Brent told me. He actually calls me. Unlike some people."
Spencer couldn't avoid how guilty that made him feel. "Sorry," he said. "I got caught up."
"Yeah, yeah," Ryan said. "I'll call you tomorrow. Say happy holidays and all that."
"See you," Spencer said, softly, and Ryan disconnected the call. Spencer looked down at his phone for a moment, the sad, tight feeling in his chest dissipating, just for a moment.
"I've sent David down to the bakery," Marie said, coming in with a stack of colored paper and a marker pen. "You didn't need the petty cash for anything other than cake, right?"
Spencer blinked. "There had better be receipts," he said, very definitely not thinking about his carefully balanced accounts.
"I have told him, under pain of death, that he'd better come back with a receipt," Marie agreed, dumping the marker and the papers on Spencer's desk. "Now, okay, I'm not saying you have to do it, but Love Actually is my favorite Christmas movie."
Spencer stared down at the papers. "And you want me to, what? Recreate it with stick figures? Because I can't actually draw."
"It's a good thing it's Christmas," Marie said. "I'm going to clock out soon, and then I will get days when I don't have to put up with your wit. No, that scene. The one with that guy. And he turns up at her door with the signs and the stereo. It's really romantic."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Spencer said. "Because I can't dance either. And I don't have a stereo."
"There is no dancing," Marie told him. "He plays carols on his stereo and shows her a sign telling her how he feels about her. Because he can't have her, because Keira Knightley is married to someone else. Then she kisses his cheek and goes back inside to her husband. It's lovely."
"This story has a sad ending?" Spencer couldn't actually believe what he was hearing. "Brendon isn't married to anyone else. Why are you even telling me this?" Spencer resolutely did not think about Brendon in the future with his British guy who liked breakfast in bed. That didn't have to happen. Spencer could stop it. He could.
Marie rolled her eyes. "See if I try to help you out with your burgeoning romance again."
"Burgeoning romance?" Spencer raised his eyebrows. Marie raised hers right back. "Thank you for the paper, Marie. Go and see where David is with my petty cash."
Spencer went through six pieces of paper before he finally gave up and wrote the first thing that came into his head, in block capitals in the middle of a green piece of paper. Then he stuffed his phone into his pocket, picked up his sign, and resolutely marched out into the main office.
"David's back," Marie said, pointing at the entirety of Spencer's staff, crowded around the meeting table in the middle of the office. Like locusts, but with holiday bakery items.
"Excellent," Spencer said, distractedly. "Don't you want any?"
"I've got some," Marie said, pointing down at a napkin on the desk in front of her. She shrugged a shoulder. "Just wanted to check you didn't need anything. You know. For Brendon. Reception's just called. He's on his way up."
Spencer swallowed. "Okay," he said. "I'm good." He took four steps out of Marie's cube, and then turned on his heel and headed back into his office.
"Don't give up now," Marie called after him.
"I'm not," Spencer said, reaching up to where the mistletoe was hanging above his door. It was hanging by a piece of red ribbon, and when Spencer plucked it down off the hook, there was something written on the ribbon. It said, The ribbon on my wrist says, 'do not open before Christmas'. Spencer smiled, biting his lip. Pete. "I'm feeling young and reckless."
"Hmm," Marie said, narrowing her eyes. "Go on."
"I'm going," Spencer said. He really did feel younger than he had in ages, and kind of reckless, too. His stomach clenched, nervously, but he wanted this, he really did. He wanted Brendon. And he also wanted to show Brendon that he wasn't ashamed of him, not even a little bit.
He waited by the elevator, trying not to look too nervous. It didn't work. His staff kept shooting him interested glances. They weren't even trying to hide their curiosity. Spencer didn't care. He might be one of the youngest project managers in his area, and his department might be one of the best performers in the field, but Spencer's private life was his own, and he was going to live it. He wasn't going to spend another minute pretending to Harry Slater that he was planning on settling down with a woman. People could take him as they found him, and they were going to find him trying to tell Brendon he wanted to date him.
Spencer wasn't hiding anymore. From anything, or anyone. He squared his shoulders, and faced the elevator doors, holding his sign.
The elevator doors pinged, and Spencer was sure that they slid open far more slowly than they usually did. Brendon was standing right in the middle, bundled up in his stupid red coat and clutching a Starbucks run.
"Hi," Spencer said, breathlessly, ignoring Jeannie-from-finance, who followed Brendon out of the elevator and gave Spencer an odd look. Spencer's stomach was twisting. He was finally putting a name to how he felt, and it was kind of overwhelming.
"Hi," Brendon said, with a lopsided grin. He held out a Starbucks red cup and a paper bag. "I brought you coffee and Christmas cookies. Hope that's okay, you know, coming to your office and everything. Marie said I had to come up because you wanted something." He eyed Spencer's piece of paper with a puzzled glance. "What've you got there?"
"Oh," Spencer said, losing his nerve, and hiding the piece of paper and his mistletoe behind his back. "Nothing."
"Okay, weirdo," Brendon said, after a moment. "Do you want this, or not? I'm sure you've got like, a million things to do. Have you got a mug? I could tip it in."
"Uh," Spencer said, eloquently.
Brendon pointed at the wall by the water fountain. "That sign says red cups are banned."
No Starbucks Red Cups or Mistletoe or Joy In This Office. THIS IS A RESPECTABLE OFFICE, PEOPLE >:(. Spencer remembered that sign. He remembered this. He wasn't going to let it happen again, no matter how hard it was to admit to how he felt. He could feel the curious glances of his staff on his back, on Brendon.
"It's a stupid sign," Spencer said, quickly. He walked over and ripped it off the wall, dropping it in the trash can. Behind him, someone cheered. Brendon's gaze flicked from Spencer, to Spencer's whispering staff, back to Spencer again.
"It is a stupid sign," Brendon agreed, awkwardly. He held the red cup out, his cheeks pink.
Spencer reached out for it. "Thanks," he said, but he didn't look down. He couldn't. He wanted the message he'd seen on the cup when he'd been with Gerard to be real, more than anything. He wanted Brendon to want him like he wanted Brendon. He didn't want it to have been a dream. He chewed at his lip, trying not to stare at Brendon's mouth. How had he denied this to himself for so long?
"Look at it," Brendon said, after a moment. His cheeks burned, and he rocked on his heels, all pent-up energy and nervous tension.
"In a minute," Spencer said, softly. He kept on looking at Brendon's face.
"Spence," Brendon said, desperately.
"Here," Spencer said, rolling all his courage up into a ball and thrusting his piece of paper at Brendon. "Look at this."
"What—" Brendon's brow furrowed. "What is this?"
"Look at it," Spencer said, and Brendon did. Make out with me, Brendon Urie, it said. He'd tried to think of something more original, but Brendon had said it best already.
Brendon was holding on to Spencer's mistletoe.
"Spencer," Brendon said. "Spencer."
Spencer was staring at his coffee cup. It wasn't the same message. It had changed. In thick black sharpie, across the cardboard sleeve it said, Spencer Smith, I want you to be my boyfriend.
"You want me to be your boyfriend," Spencer said. His voice sounded weird to him, thick and gruff. His heart was pounding. "You like me."
"You want to make out with me," Brendon said, quickly. "You have mistletoe. Mistletoe with ribbon."
"I want to date you too," Spencer said, slowly. He kept looking at the mistletoe. He wanted to do so much more than date Brendon, but he didn't even know if he could put it into words. "I really, really want to date you. More than that. I want, I don't even know. I want everything. I want you."
"Yeah," Brendon said. A muscle flickered in his cheek. "That's what I want too. You, I mean. Not me. I've already got me. Fuck. Make me stop talking."
Spencer closed the distance between them, leaned in, and cupped Brendon's face in the hand he wasn't using to hold his red cup. "I've been such an idiot," he said. "I'm so sorry."
"You can make it up to me," Brendon breathed, and then he kissed Spencer like he really fucking meant it, wrapping his arms around Spencer's shoulders and pulling him even closer. Spencer slid his hand into Brendon's hair, and kissed him back.
Brendon had clearly snuck one of the Christmas cookies already; he tasted like cinnamon and spices and sweet sugar. Spencer chased the taste from one kiss to the next, and didn't want to stop. He only pulled away when the catcalls from his staff grew too loud to ignore.
"They're having a moment," he heard Marie say, loudly.
Brendon grinned against Spencer's mouth. "I thought you weren't out at work?" he said.
"I am now," Spencer said, and thought, no more hiding. He slipped his hand into Brendon's, and he couldn't stifle the way his heart leapt when Brendon squeezed his hand. He wanted to laugh, he was so happy.
"What changed?" Brendon asked, fingering the ribbon wrapped around the mistletoe stem.
Spencer shrugged, and tried not to think about how many people were watching them right now. He nodded over toward his office, tugging on Brendon's hand. "I did," he said, as he led Brendon down the aisle between the cubes to his office. He waited until they were inside and could close the door before he spoke again. He ignored the sharp rise in conversation from outside. "I changed. I didn't want to lose you, so I changed."
Brendon's eyes widened. "Me?"
Spencer nodded, and put his red cup down on the desk. "I was losing everyone," he said. "I didn't want that anymore. I needed it to change." He let out a breath, and pulled Brendon closer, sliding both his hands into Brendon's hair. Brendon came willingly, sneaking into the circle of Spencer's arms with something like practiced ease. "But it was mostly you."
"You came so fucking close to losing me, you have no idea," Brendon said. "This was totally your last chance. I was going to give up. Try and get over how I felt about you."
"I know," Spencer said, seriously. "I really know. I'm going to make it up to you. Best boyfriend ever, promise."
"Oh," Brendon said, eyebrows raised. "It's boyfriend now, is it?"
"That's what I want," Spencer said. "If you'll have me."
"Oh, I don't know," Brendon said. He looked like he was joking, but Spencer knew he wasn't, not really. "Are you going to hold my hand in public? Invite me places?" Spencer heard, Not hide me away.
Spencer tugged him closer. "All of the places," he said, softly. "Everywhere I go."
"Hmm," Brendon said, pretending like he was thinking it over. "I guess you could be on probation. See if you can manage not to screw up."
Spencer crossed his heart. "I promise." He leaned over into his in-tray, and pulled out a thick cream envelope that he'd been ignoring since the beginning of the month. He thrust it into Brendon's hand. "Here," he said. "Be my date to the company New Year's dinner. Please."
Brendon's eyes widened. "Spence—"
"I know, I know," Spencer said, before Brendon could even speak. "It'll be the most boring evening on the planet. I'll have to make it up to you big time for making you sit through it. But say yes, please."
Brendon smiled. "You've changed," he said. "What happened?"
Spencer shrugged, and curled his fingers around Brendon's hip. "I woke up," he said. "I saw some stuff about me that I didn't want to see, and I woke up, and I wanted to fix it. I wanted to fix us. You're one of the best things in my life and I was screwing it up. I wanted things to change."
Brendon nodded. "How about starting by kissing me again?" he said. "Just to prove that it happened, and I didn't make it up out of my head. It's for science."
"Oh, if it's for science," Spencer said, and leaned in to kiss him again. Brendon grinned against his mouth, and kissed him back.