Brian was a little surprised when Brendon walked in to his office and threw himself in to the guest chair. First, because Brendon wasn’t really supposed to be at work that day, he had class and rehearsals and stuff. He kept dropping by at odd hours anyway, to say hi to Ryan like the totally smitten love-struck fool he was. Brian would have objected, but it made Ryan’s face get all pink, and the hilarity of that was worth the interruption in Brian’s book. At some point Brian was going to have to take Brendon aside and have a long talk with him about passing all his classes and keeping his grades up, and how having a boyfriend was no excuse for losing his scholarships, but it could wait a couple more weeks. They were awfully fucking cute.
The other reason it was surprising was because Brendon had his serious face on. Brendon’s serious face was incredibly rare; he spent about 95 percent of his time smiling, particularly when Ryan was in the room. He spent the other 5 percent trying to convince Ryan that he was actually a thoughtful, serious person. That didn’t tend to last very long. Brian almost never got the serious face, because Brendon had given up on convincing Brian that he was a serious, thoughtful person. Especially since he’d realized Brian didn’t really care anyway.
“What’s up?” Brian asked, looking up from an incredibly long list of things he had to do. One of these days Brendon was going to walk in and say, ‘Brian, I have a band and I want you to come hear us.’ Brian was trying to ready himself for that.
Brendon bit his lip. “Uh,” he said. “Have you talked to Mikey lately?”
Brian frowned. “No,” he said. “Why? Is something up with Mikey?” Shit, Brian thought, Have I been paying too much attention to Gerard again and forgetting about Mikey? Damn it.
Brendon fidgeted, which wasn’t unusual for him. “I don’t know,” he said. “He’s been a little quiet lately.”
“Brendon,” said Brian patiently. “You know Mikey pretty much only talks to you and me, right? ‘Quiet’ is his default.”
“Brian,” Brendon complained. He sounded exactly like Gerard, when Gerard thought Brian wasn’t taking him seriously. “I know that. I meant… He didn’t really talk to me at all on Friday. He kind of avoided me. And I don’t know if he’s mad at me or something, but it’s… Dude, if Mikey’s mad at me I might have to kill myself. And that’ll really bum Ryan out.” He couldn’t help smiling, just for a second, and then he went back to his serious face again.
Brian was happy for Brendon and Ryan, really he was. He was also in danger of throwing up all over both of them for being so fucking adorable all the time. “So what do you want me to do? I can talk to Mikey, but he’s not really… He’s not forthcoming.” He’s not Gerard, Brian didn’t say, but he didn’t have to; Brendon knew.
Brendon sighed. “Yeah,” he said. “I think you should. And if I did something… God, I don’t even know what I could have done, but if I did do something, will you let me know please? Mikey gives the worst guilt trips ever. I thought my mom was bad, but he’s… Uh.” Brendon looked really unhappy for just a second, and then plastered on what Brian had come to recognize as his ‘I am determined to be happy!’ face. Figuring that out had saved Brian a few headaches. “I’m gonna go say hi to Ryan.”
“He has work to do,” Brian said, but Brendon was already out of the chair and bouncing down the hallway. Brian sighed. He was a shitty boss. He couldn’t even make two of his employees to stop flirting long enough to get any work done. Ryan, at least, would feel bad about it eventually and kick Brendon out. Brendon was totally, utterly shameless. Brian insisted they keep the door to Ryan’s office open while they were working, after that one time with the Xerox machine when the lights had been off and he’d thought no one was there, and Jesus Brian was scarred for life. They were cute and all, but that didn’t mean he wanted to walk in on them.
Brian stayed a little late to get shit done before he left. Also, so Brendon and Ryan could pretend they were being discreet when they walked out holding hands. It was seriously vomit inducing. After two months Brian had expected the glowy part of the relationship to wear off a lot more than this. Ryan, he suspected, would have happily dialed it down a couple of notches, but Brendon only had two settings, ecstatic and heartbroken. At least, Brian reflected, Ryan has been a lot less sulky. Ryan had gone from the weird, mildly scary, almost-silent kid in the back of the office who Brian had always assumed was high, to someone who… Well, he rolled his eyes a lot, but he also smiled. He was a shitload easier to work with.
Brian would have waited to deal with what Brendon had said, except when he got home Mikey was sitting on the stairs, with his chin on his knees, watching Gerard. Mikey looked utterly miserable. Gerard was practicing his part in the school musical, while Frank sprawled on the rug. Brian had given up on ever coming home and not having Frank in the house. “Listen,” Gerard was saying seriously, “Frank, you have to be Rosie. And you’re mad at me because I’m a sucky boyfriend. Okay?”
Frank shrugged. He didn’t seem especially worried to be Gerard’s boyfriend. Brian had to fake a coughing fit so he wouldn’t burst out laughing. “How’s it going, guys?” Brian asked.
“Brian! I’m practicing my Albert songs. You have to listen to me sing later, okay? Brendon can’t come over, he’s busy.” Gerard was hilariously unaware that anyone might ever have a commitment that wasn’t to him, and he always reacted to other people being ‘busy’ like it was a personal affront.
“Sure,” said Brian. “Mikey? Is everything okay?”
Mikey shrugged, and looked at his shoes.
Damn it. Brendon was totally, totally right; something was up. Brian loved Mikey, and he lived with him and everything, but Brendon was a lot better at figuring him out. Brian liked to pretend it didn’t make him jealous.
“Guys, can you give me a minute with Mikey, please?” Brian asked.
Gerard immediately crossed his arms and frowned. “Why?” he demanded. “What’s going on? Is Mikey in trouble? It wasn’t him, it was me. I mean, whatever it was. Why do you want to talk to Mikey? Mikey, what happened?”
“Frank,” said Brian mildly.
Frank grabbed Gerard by the arm and pulled him upstairs. Gerard made a lot of offended noises about it, but he let Frank drag him without a huge fuss. “I’m coming down in ten minutes!” Gerard yelled. “And you better tell me what’s going on, Michael Way!” Frank shut the bedroom door.
Eventually, Brian thought to himself, I’m not going to want those two to go upstairs and shut that door. He figured he still had a year or two before Frank figured out why he liked Gerard so much, and at least another year after that before Gerard got up the nerve to do anything. Thank god.
Mikey hadn’t moved. Brian sat down next to him on the stairs. With Gerard, he could hug and tease until he found out what was wrong. With Brendon he could just ask and look parental. Brendon was shit at resisting a serious parental face. But Mikey didn’t hug much, and he wasn’t a big talker, and he was basically immune to guilt, even Gerard and Brendon’s. “So,” said Brian. “How are you doing?”
Mikey shrugged. “’Kay,” he said.
Brian resisted the urge to shake him. Mikey did things at his own speed. “Brendon thinks you’ve been sad lately,” he said. Flat honesty worked with Mikey sometimes.
Mikey snorted. “How would Brendon even know?” he asked grumpily.
That was unexpected. Mikey was never sarcastic or grumpy about Brendon; he adored Brendon. That had been Brian’s first signal that Brendon was pretty fucking special. “Are you mad at him?” Brian said. “He thinks you might be, but… Mikey? Did Brendon do something?” His stomach flopped unhappily. He had sort of hoped the boys would never get mad at each other, so he’d never have to deal with taking a side. Parents weren’t supposed to do that, anyway. And there was no way Brian could handle either Mikey pouting or Brendon bursting in to tears. Either one would be devastating. Both at once would be… Well. Unthinkably bad.
“I’m not mad,” Mikey said. He sounded totally mad.
“Okay,” Brian said. “Um. Brendon’s pretty bummed out, though. He thinks you’re mad.”
“How would he even notice?” Mikey said. “It’s not like he cares.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. That went past weird all the way to impossible. “Are you… Mikey, are you serious?” Brian asked. “Brendon loves you guys. You’re like, his favorite people in the world.”
“We were,” said Mikey sullenly.
Mikey usually required such delicate handling that Brian didn’t like to push, but he didn’t see any other choice at the moment. “Did something happen?” he asked. It was totally nuts; Brendon was Mikey’s biggest cheerleader, except for Gerard.
Mikey shrugged again. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “He’s all… He’s busy.”
Brian frowned. “He’s always been busy,” he said. “He’s got school and a job and I know it’s not like the summer, when he was here every day, but… Oh, holy shit, Mikey. Why didn’t you just say something?”
Mikey looked up. He was typically pretty expressionless, but Brian thought he saw a little bit of hopefulness there. “Say what?” Mikey asked.
“You’re mad about Ryan,” Brian said. “Duh. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”
“I’m not mad about Ryan,” Mikey scoffed. “Ryan’s nice to Brendon. If he wasn’t, I’d have made them break up.”
“Mikes, I didn’t mean you don’t like Ryan. I meant… Brendon’s over here less because he has a boyfriend. He’s busier because there’s someone else in his life who’s brand new.”
Mikey shrugged, but he was clearly conceding something by it. “He’s happier,” he said, sounding miserable. “Everyone should be happy.”
Fuck. Brendon had brought Ryan by a couple of Fridays, and he’d brought Spencer by once or twice, too, and three weeks ago he’d skipped a Friday to see Spencer’s boyfriend’s band play. Brian hadn’t thought anything of it, but Mikey had taken it to heart, apparently. “Brendon’s happy,” Brian said slowly. “But he doesn’t… He didn’t mean to… Mikey, you know he still loves you guys best, right?”
“He loves Ryan. He said so.” Mikey’s mouth twitched a little.
“He loves you, too.” Brian tried to remember when he’d heard Brendon actually say that, but Brendon had been pretty reluctant to commit himself before Christmas, and since Christmas he’d been totally distracted by Ryan Ross. “Seriously, Mikey, he loves the shit out of you guys. He’s… You’re… Listen, you’re kind of young for this discussion, but boyfriends come and go, okay? Family doesn’t, and Brendon’s part of our family.”
Mikey just stared at the rug and played with an invisible piece of lint on his jeans.
Brian was so used to dealing with Gerard, whose fits were always epic and at top volume, that he had no idea what to do with a kid who was just quiet and sad. He felt like he was totally failing as a parent. Again. Damn it. He’d pretty much worked Gerard out – he just called Frank or Brendon. But what the hell was he supposed to do when Mikey had a reasonable complaint about stuff that made perfect sense and then refused to shout or yell about it?
“Mikey,” Brian said finally. “I’m going to make a bet with you.”
Mikey looked up consideringly, but he didn’t say anything.
“We’re going to call Brendon,” Brian said. “And you’re going to say ‘Brendon, I need you to come over.’ And no matter what he’s doing – seriously, he could be in the middle of kissing Ryan, or singing onstage – he will be here in less than half an hour. I’ll bet you.”
Mikey looked mildly interested. “What’ll you bet?” he asked.
Brian hadn’t thought that far. “Uh,” he said. “What do you want if you win?”
“You mean if he doesn’t get here in half an hour? Like a pizza?”
Brian snorted. “Yeah,” he said.
Mikey tilted his head. “You have to take a couple of days off work,” he said. “To take me and Gee and Frank somewhere cool.”
Brian would have done that anyway, if he’d realized it was something Mikey wanted. Mikey never said he wanted anything. “Okay,” he said. “And we’ll bring Brendon, too. Just him, though.”
Mikey nodded, satisfied. “What if you win?” he said.
The same damn thing, Brian didn’t say, because he was trying to trick Mikey in to thinking he was a competent parent. “If I win,” Brian said, “next time you’re feeling sad you have to tell me. I’m not just… I know Gerard’s louder, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear you, too.”
Mikey looked astonished. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m only… Gerard’s different. I’m… Not him.”
“I know,” Brian said. “But sometimes you get upset, too, and I want to know, Mikey. Honest.”
Mikey looked a little puzzled. “I guess,” he said. “Okay.”
They shook hands gravely and Brian handed Mikey the phone. Where the hell is ‘cool’? Brian wondered. Not camping. Jesus, not with Gerard and Mikey. Disneyworld? We’d have to drag Brendon off the rides, kicking and screaming.
Mikey dialed totally seriously. “Brendon?” he said. “It’s Mikey.” He looked at Brian. “Um. I kind of need you to come over. No, right now. Um.”
Brian couldn’t hear what Brendon said, exactly, but there was definitely yelling. “No, Gerard’s okay,” said Mikey after a second, rolling his eyes “This is just… I need to talk to you, okay?” He paused. “No, Brian’s okay too. I’m gonna hang up now, Brendon, okay? Bye.”
Mikey handed Brian the phone back. Brian stuck it in his pocket. “Seven-oh-eight,” said Brian, and Mikey nodded.
Gerard and Frank came back downstairs arguing about math homework, and Gerard stopped on the stairs long enough to cross his arms and glare at Brian. “Mikey,” he said ominously, but Mikey just shrugged.
“I’m gonna watch CSI,” Mikey said, and went down to the couch.
“That gives you nightmares,” Gerard complained, following him.
Frank yelled, “Zombie attack!” and threw himself first on Gerard, whom he knocked over pretty easily, and then Mikey, who was safely on the couch and just ended up ducking and covering while Frank tried to climb up him. Frank ended up triumphantly sitting on the back of the couch, with his knees on Mikey’s shoulders and his chin on top of Mikey’s head.
“Frank, that isn’t how zombies attack,” Gerard objected, flopping on the couch next to his brother and shoving Frank’s leg away.
“Your face isn’t how zombies attack,” Frank said promptly, and threw himself at Gerard. There was a brief skirmish and Frank ended up mostly sitting on Gerard. Gerard made a point of ending up lying on top of Mikey. Gerard was a pretty good concerned brother.
Brian started dinner, keeping an eye on the clock. He knew it didn’t honestly matter if Brendon got there in half an hour, because the second Brendon found out why Mikey was upset he’d kill himself trying to make it all better. Brian was just antsy on Mikey’s behalf. Mikey didn’t say much, but he still felt things, maybe even sometimes as sharply as Gerard did. It killed Brian not to be able to fix everything for him right away.
“What’s on?” Gerard said.
“CSI, dumb ass,” said Mikey. Gerard kicked him. Mikey kicked back. Gerard squeaked and flailed and fell off the couch, dragging Frank with him. Mikey rolled his eyes, but he was smiling a little bit.
“Who wants spaghetti?” Brian yelled. It was really the only thing he knew how to cook. Three voices yelled back, “Me!” Brian didn’t even worry about calling Frank’s mom anymore. If she wanted her son back she knew where to find him.
Brian started a giant pot of water and checked the clock. Not that he was counting down or anything, but he still wanted to keep track. Just in case.
At seven thirty-one, the front door banged open. Brendon looked totally panicked, and his coat was buttoned up wrong. “Mikey!” he yelled, and then realized Mikey was on the couch. “What the fuck?” Brendon demanded. He sounded a little mad, but a lot more worried.
Mikey looked at Brian, who licked his finger and made a check mark in the air. Mikey nodded. “Hi,” he said. “What’s up?”
“What’s up? Jesus Christ, is everything okay?” Brendon said. His total overreaction was heart-warming.
“Where’s Ryan?” Brian asked deliberately, leaning against the kitchen doorway and crossing his arms.
“What?” Brendon asked, bewildered. “He’s… He’s in the car. He drove me here. I told him to wait because I didn’t know if you needed me for a minute, or like, an hour, of if we were all going out to look for a missing kid again. Is everything all right?”
“Yeah,” said Mikey. “I think it’s okay.”
“Brendon!” Gerard cheered. “Now you can listen to me practice Albert’s song.”
“Nuh uh,” said Brian firmly. “Brendon’s here for Mikey tonight, Gee. You can wait.”
“No, I can’t,” said Gerard, clearly bewildered not to be the center of attention.
Brendon was still looking at Mikey. “You said you needed me.”
“Yeah,” Mikey said quietly. “I just wanted to check something. I guess Brian was right.”
Everyone turned to look at Brian, who shrugged. “Brendon,” said Brian, “how would you say you feel about Mikey and Gerard?”
Brendon bounced a little bit, which was what he did when he had no idea what was going on. “I don’t know,” he said. “Usually I love them a lot, but right now I kind of want to strangle everyone in this room.”
Brian let himself look smug. “How about Ryan?” he asked. “How do you feel about him?”
Brendon’s face went totally red. “I,” he said. “I um. That’s complicated, Brian, my god, I can’t just classify that at a moment’s notice. I need to like, think about it. Awesome, clearly, but also new, and also like, I don’t know if there’s a word, except maybe ‘soul mates’ but I’m not going to say that because it makes Spencer pretend to throw up, and—”
“Mikey,” said Brian, totally ignoring Brendon, who was still talking. “This means I win, right?”
Mikey considered for a second. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay.”
“You win what?” Gerard and Brendon demanded, almost in unison.
“Two things,” said Brian. “First, Brendon and Mikey need to go upstairs and chat. You might want to tell Ryan to come back and get you later.”
Brendon shrugged impatiently. “I’ll just take the bus back in the morning,” he said. He’d gotten used to crashing in the room that was supposed to be Brian’s study, but had a tendency to be the place Brendon slept on the couch after staying too late to finish The Goonies with Gerard and Mikey.
“And second, classes end in May, right?” said Brian. “Me and Mikey are planning a trip. I was thinking we’d borrow Gabe’s beach house before he has a chance to skeeve it up in the spring. You and us and Frank, if his mom says it’s okay.”
“I… We can… really?” Brendon squeaked and flailed a little bit. “That’s like, in Florida or somewhere that’s actually warm in May, right? Ryan and Spencer are going to die of jealousy.”
“Ryan’s not invited,” Mikey scowled.
“What?” Brendon said. And then, frowning, “Of course not. Mikey?”
“Tell Ryan you’re staying and then go talk to Mikey,” Brian suggested. “You two have some things to discuss.”
“And the spaghetti’s boiled out of the pot,” Frank said, pointing.
“Oh, shit.” The entire stove was hissing and steaming angrily while starchy water poured over the side of the pot like a waterfall. He tried to rescue it while Brendon sent Ryan home – Ryan liked Gerard, but didn’t like hanging out at Brian’s house, he still found it a little strange, which Brian understood – and then came back in. Brendon didn’t have any qualms about hugging Mikey whatsoever, so he started with that, and then when Mikey got all red and flaily about it Brendon dragged him upstairs to talk. Frank mostly helped Brian clean up. He was really good at it. Gerard wasn’t, he just stood around and watched, but Brian was resigned to that after almost a year with him.
Gerard made a thoughtful noise. “Brian,” he said. “We can make this trip thing my birthday present this year, if you want. I know you worried about it a lot last year.”
“No,” said Brian shortly, because he’d just burned his fucking hand on the fucking pot. “This trip is a present for Mikey. Your birthday will be something else.”
“Brendon’s birthday is right after mine,” Gerard said. “We could share.”
Brian was comforted that Gerard understood they were throwing a party for Brendon because he was theirs now. He suspected it was going to make Brendon cry when he found out. Brendon was the only person on earth who seemed to feel things as much and as often as Gerard did. That must be exhausting, feeling things all the time like that, Brian thought.
“When he comes downstairs you can ask Brendon if that’s okay,” Brian said. “Keep in mind, he might want to have a grown up party with his college friends.”
“But I want to invite Ryan anyway!” Gerard said. “He still hasn’t taken me makeup shopping.”
Brian had long ago resigned himself to being the dad of the weirdest kids on earth. He didn’t even blink about it anymore. “Ask Brendon,” he repeated. “Frank, get out some bowls, okay?”
Frank liked helping set up dinner. His mother insisted he wasn’t allowed to stay for dinner every night, but he was there three or four nights a week, and he was so much more helpful than either of the Ways it wasn’t funny.
Brian loaded the bowls with overcooked spaghetti and jarred sauce and Frank got juice out of the fridge. Gerard carried his bowl out to the living room, where at least there was a coffee table. A real dining room table was somewhere on Brian’s list of things to get eventually, and it had been for a year now.
“Dinner!” Gerard yelled. He waited approximately two seconds and then yelled, “Dinner! Mikey! Brendon! Miiiiikey!”
It took a minute. Brendon looked a little like he’d been crying, and Mikey looked… Well. He looked smug, and a little happy, and a little surprised, all at once. Brendon stopped on the bottom step and hugged him again, whispering something to Mikey that Brian couldn’t hear, but it made Mikey’s whole face light up. He pretended it hadn’t, though, and ignored all of Gerard’s questioning looks and quiet poking.
“Good,” said Brian. “Help me carry this stuff out.”
“Spaghetti looks like brains,” Frank said happily, grabbing two bowls. All the boys Brian loved best sat down to have dinner together.