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Give Me Empathy

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1992

Spencer was a sad child born under a little grey cloud. He didn't always understand what grown-ups talked about when they looked at him with curious eyes and knotted hands. When they asked why he was sad he didn't know what to say. He just was. His mama was nice and his dad was nice and his little sisters were nice (but loud), but no matter what they did, most of the time Spencer was just sad. Spencer's mama thought that maybe if they moved somewhere else he might be more cheerful - maybe if they moved to another part of town, where the skies weren't always so strangely grey all the time, but Spencer didn't mind the clouds.

One day he met a boy with skinny arms and big sad eyes. Ryan dressed funny, in a shirt that hung off his thin frame with three scarves around his neck. Spencer looked up at him curiously, his hands still on the storybook in his lap. "How come you're wearing those?" Spencer asked. Behind Ryan, the sky turned a little bit greyer.

"They're my mom's," Ryan said, winding thin fingers through the ends of a flowered scarf made of shiny material.

"She lets you wear her clothes?" Spencer asked.

"No," Ryan said. "She left them at our house."

Spencer took that in. Sometimes his mom left the house, but she always came back. It had never occurred to Spencer to dress up in her clothes when she was gone. "They look nice," Spencer decided. He patted the grass beside him. "Do you want to sit down and read with me?"

"Okay," Ryan said. He smiled, and Spencer smiled back. Spencer couldn't help it. He was happy.

Above them, the sun came out.

2006
Spencer first realized something was amiss when Brendon spilled a cup of water on Spencer's lap and Spencer just found his clumsiness charming.

"Are you serious?" Spencer demanded of Ryan, as soon as Brendon stopped squawking apologies and went to go get some paper towels.

"What?" Ryan asked, automatically on the defensive.

"You have a crush on him," Spencer hissed. "He's your lead singer, do you know what a bad idea that is?"

"You don't know that," Ryan said, but it would have been obvious that he was lying even if Spencer hadn't been fucking cursed with Ryan-specific empathy. Goddamn Ryan got to practically be badass Storm from X-Men, and Spencer and his stupid luck got stuck with all of Ryan's emo. "I just like him as a friend. And he looks really nice with his new haircut."

Spencer shook his head. "Uh huh. Try that again on someone who can't read your stupid mind. Is that why this has been the sunniest February tour ever?"

"It has been sunny," Brendon commented as he came back into the lounge with a roll of paper towels. "It's been nice. I guess we can thank you for that, Ryan." Brendon shot a grin in Ryan's direction, and Spencer felt an overwhelming surge of unbrotherly affection for Brendon.

Fucking Ryan.

-
"Fucking Ryan," Spencer bitched to Jon. "He won't just say something to Brendon. It's been months. You know what the worst part is? Ryan's actually better at hiding crushes than me. This is humiliating."

"Brendon did tell me he thought you had the hots for him," Jon said thoughtfully. He had his arm slung over the back of the couch. Spencer sidled closer until Jon grinned and put his hand on Spencer's shoulder, pulling him in. Spencer settled in, already feeling a little less mad. Jon smelled nice.

"What'd you say?" Spencer asked.

"I told him I had the hots for him." Jon sighed. "Then he started flirting with me. I think it helped distract him. He seemed a little freaked out."

"How come you get the useful power?" Spencer said. Jon rubbed his thumb over the join between Spencer's neck and shoulder, soothing an ache he hadn't known was there. "I wish I could calm people down. Being tied to Ryan sucks."

"Could be worse," Jon pointed out. "Like with Pete and Jeanae. Or William."

Spencer winced at the mention of William. It wasn't that bad of a power, having boys fall in love with you all the time. Except that William was straight. And Spencer had been one of the boys. That had been an awkward week on tour. "Yeah," Spencer sighed. He snuggled further into Jon. "I guess it could be worse."

-
Spencer woke up happy. He walked into the kitchen area of the bus, whistling a jaunty tune. He was deciding between strawberry or s'mores Pop-Tarts when the bus door popped open and Jon peered in.

"Good, you're awake," Jon said. "Come out here. Brendon found a farm. There are kittens."

Spencer nodded, accepting that. He blindly chose a silver package of Pop-Tarts and followed Jon out.

There was, indeed, a farm. The venue was a small amphitheatre adjacent to a larger town, and there wasn't much around this early except for a few beleagured venue staff members and the occasional car or two. Spencer followed Jon toward a barn not too far away. From a distance he could see the lavendar beacon of Brendon's hoodie.

When they reached Brendon and Ryan, Spencer was almost surprised to see them not making out or something. He had rarely felt this content.

"Spencer, you have Pop-Tarts!" Brendon said joyfully. Spencer beamed back and gave him one without a second thought. He wanted very much to give him both, but resisted the urge; he was his own man, dammit, no matter if Ryan wanted to give Brendon all the Pop-Tarts in the world. Ryan smiled at Spencer, looking up from the daisy chain he was making from the pile of plucked daisies on the grass next to him. The sun shone brightly down on them all.

"You have kittens," Spencer noted. Jon was already crouched down next to Brendon, cooing at the pair of wee stripey orange kittens in Brendon's lap. Spencer settled down onto the grass next to Ryan, watching as the mama cat returned from the barn, another kitten in her jaws. She came up to Brendon and dropped the kitten next to the other two, causing a chorus of tiny meows. As Spencer watched, the mama cat head-butted Brendon's thigh, purring loudly. Brendon scratched her behind the ears and grinned.

"Yeah!" Brendon said. One of the kittens was kneading his thigh, teeny tiny claws catching in his jeans, still not even long enough to reach his skin. "Isn't it awesome?"

Despite having lived his whole life with the ability to make animals feel what he felt, Brendon never seemed to lose his excitement for it. True, he felt horribly bad when his emo moods bummed out puppies and made birds stop singing, but those moods were few and far between. Mostly he just made dogs run in happy circles and cats purr when he walked into a room. Spencer had always been a little jealous of his power, but not as jealous as Jon.

Spencer grinned goofily back at Brendon, not aware he was doing it until Ryan poked him in the side. "It's totally awesome," Spencer said to Brendon, trying to look at him like a normal person. The mama cat returned and dropped another kitten into the growing pile on Brendon's lap.

"Brendon," Ryan said loudly. "I finished your crown." He held up a circlet of daisies, and then smiled, soft and sweet, when Brendon ducked his head to let Ryan put it on him. Brendon beamed at Ryan and then gave him a kiss on the cheek. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and Spencer couldn't stop smiling.

"I'm the prince of kittens," Brendon proclaimed.

"I wish I could be the prince of kittens," Jon said sadly. The mama cat was stretched out on her back on the grass between Jon and Brendon, purring as they both rubbed her tummy.

"I'll make a crown for you too," Ryan said. "I'll make crowns for all of us."

Spencer smiled at Ryan, and was happy.

-
Spencer had been edgy all day. When Brendon and Ryan didn't get along, it rained and even the squirrels in the trees seemed depressed, their tails unfluffy. Jon tried so hard to calm everybody down that he accidentally made himself go to sleep. Spencer tried to reason with Ryan, but mostly he just wanted to curl up somewhere and cry. Instead, he curled up next to Jon's snoozing form on the couch and laid his head on Jon's shoulder and tried to absorb any calm Jon had left.

Eventually Jon woke up and kissed Spencer on the forehead, grounding him in the midst of the whirl of emotions he felt when Ryan got worked up like this, rare but always scary. It was horrible and confusing, trying to find himself under the weight of what Ryan felt, and when he texted Ryan under Jon's advice, all he could manage was you're in love with him and it hurts, fix it. He didn't even know where Ryan was; it was their day off, and Brendon and Ryan had gone somewhere and apparently not had a good time doing whatever it was they had done. They were fighting, Spencer could tell, but he didn't know about what. He just knew that Ryan was hurting.

"If they just resolve this it'll go away," Spencer whispered, pressing his forehead to Jon's shoulder. "It's only bad like this when he feels really strongly about something, it drives me nuts. I just wish he'd get it together."

"They will," Jon murmured. Spencer wrapped his arms around Jon's waist and let himself believe that.

-
"They got it together," Spencer said, sitting up bolt upright and startling Jon out of his dozing.

"Yeah?" Jon yawned. "Good, that's good."

Spencer shifted next to Jon, trying hard not to press himself against Jon's body. It wasn't like Spencer hadn't gotten used to pretty much jerking off in tandem with Ryan every time Ryan got horny, but this, this was fucking awkward. Jon looked sleepily over at Spencer, his eyes straying down to Spencer's lap, and then he startled the rest of the way awake.

"Oh, hey," Jon said.

"Yeah," Spencer said through gritted teeth. "My power sucks. But on the bright side, Ryan's getting laid." He tried to sit up, but Jon kept a hand on his shoulder, and he pulled Spencer back down to the couch. "Jon, seriously, unless you want me to jerk off right here you should probably let me go."

Jon tilted his head, and as he ran his hand down Spencer's arm, Spencer started to feel less frantic, and much, much more aware of the warmth of Jon's body against his, and how nice it felt, and how he didn't really want to go anywhere. "You seem tense," Jon said softly. His hand inched down Spencer's waist, and then settled at the waist of his jeans, thumb toying with the button. Jon didn't need to nuzzle anyone else to make them relax, Spencer thought to himself. Actually, he'd only ever seen Jon get that cuddly with him. In fact, Jon was the only one who had ever calmed down Spencer with cuddles; usually just conversation worked fine.

"Jon," Spencer said, forgetting Ryan entirely and spreading his legs, making Jon smile. "Help me relax."

 

2009
"Dude," Spencer said. "It's time for an intervention."

"I don't know what you mean," Brendon said, from a pile of tangled blankets and sad puppies. "I'm perfectly fine."

Bogart looked up at Spencer, not even lifting his head all the way, and then closed his eyes again. Spencer hadn't even known dogs were able to sigh. Dylan didn't even bother to look up from where she was sprawled discontentedly across Brendon's legs.

"Dude, even Shane's goldfish are depressed," Spencer said. "They're losing their color. They're like, beigefish."

Bogart whined. Brendon closed his eyes tight, then opened them again. "How's Ryan?" he asked quietly.

"He's fine," Spencer said. He went over and sat on the bed, scratching behind Dylan's ears. Dylan weakly kicked a leg in acknowledgement.

"Does he miss us?" Brendon whispered.

Spencer ruffled Brendon's hair, deciding he needed the affection more. "You know I don't like to tell all his secrets, man."

"I know," Brendon said, leaning into Spencer's touch anyway. "It's just gonna be weird, going on tour without him and Jon. I mean, who's gonna make the sun come out? What if I have too much caffeine?"

"We'll carry umbrellas and juiceboxes so you're not tempted," Spencer said. "We'll be fine. Now come on, get up and come help me try to cheer up the fish."

-
By the time the Blink 182 tour was about to begin, Brendon had cheered up enough that oceanographers were starting to question why pods of dolphins were coming unusually close to their stretch of beach, and especially why they kept trying to nuzzle surfers. The dogs were happy again, and Shane's fish had brightened up. Spencer was a little creeped out by the number of lizards that liked to sun themselves on the rocks closest to the house, but at least they didn't run over his flip-flopped feet like they sometimes did to Brendon. Brendon, fortunately, just thought it was cute.

Spencer tried not to think about Ryan too much, but it was hard with Ryan occupying the same corner of his mind that he always had. Ryan had settled, at least, and seemed more cheerful, if not necessarily happy. Growing up had made it easier to avoid getting bogged down by Ryan's bad moods, but Spencer could never completely ignore him, especially not when Ryan thought about Brendon. He'd been doing that more often lately. Spencer was determined not to say anything; if Ryan wanted Brendon to know how he felt, it was his own damn responsibililty to tell Brendon himself.

Spencer looked up from his cup of coffee when Shane sat down at the table across from him and slid a Polaroid across the wood surface. "Oh hey," Spencer said. "Is it something cool?" Shane could take pictures of things that hadn't happened yet. In theory it was awesome, but mostly it meant that sometimes he would take a picture of Spencer that ended up being a shot of Spencer's lunch that day, or take a shot of Regan in an outfit she hadn't bought yet.

"I just took this of Brendon," Shane said. "He was playing guitar in the backyard."

Spencer looked at it. The picture was of Ryan and Brendon, kissing.

The shock of it sent all of Spencer's defenses down, and he suddenly felt fiercely determined, and ready. Ready for what, he wasn't sure, but it was something big, and he couldn't believe he'd managed to repress that for so long, given the strength with which Ryan felt it.

"Fuck," Spencer said. "Did you show Brendon this?"

"I wasn't sure if I should," Shane said, and then Spencer stood up abruptly.

"I have to warn him," Spencer said, "Ryan's coming here."

He wasn't halfway to the door, though, before he heard a car pull up outside, followed by the swing of the backyard gate. As he paused in the hallway he felt afraid, unbearably vulnerable and afraid, and most of all headily, intensely in love.

"Shit," Spencer said, and ran outside.

"What do you mean, you want to try again?" Brendon shouted, his hands on his hips as Ryan stood there, surrounded by overjoyed dogs that apparently didn't get the memo that were supposed to not seem happy to see Ryan. Spencer watched as a bluejay flew in and landed on Ryan's shoulder, cheeping at him. A chipmunk scampered out from the backyard and started to nibble at Ryan's pant leg. Storm clouds roiled overhead, but no rain fell.

"Brendon," Ryan pleaded, "I know you want to, come on, you can't hide from me."

Brendon gave the menagerie at Ryan's feet an aggrieved look, but he'd never been able to be mean to any animal, and they all knew it. Brendon's eyes flicked to Spencer, and Spencer took a step back. "Spencer," Brendon asked, his arms folded. "Does he mean it?"

Ryan turned to look at Spencer. "Spence, you can tell him, it's okay."

"He does," Spencer said, barely able to get the words out under the weight of it. Ryan had never meant anything more in his life.

Brendon swallowed. "Does he love me?" he asked Spencer.

Spencer said, "He should tell you that himself."

"Tell me, Ryan," Brendon said, and Spencer turned around and walked back inside, already knowing that Ryan would say it, and that he meant it.

"Do you think they'll want the picture?" Shane asked, looking through the open door at Brendon and Ryan embracing outside.

"I think they'll want a few hours alone," Spencer said. He went to his room and looked for his cell phone, listening to the clatter of Brendon and Ryan coming down the hallway, followed by the slam of Brendon's bedroom door. Spencer adjusted himself in his jeans. His skin tingled.

Spencer found his phone, scrolled through the address book, and then hit send call, heading back out of his room.

"Brendon and Ryan are working out their problems," Spencer announced to Jon when Jon picked up. "Naked."

"Oh," Jon said. "That's good." He paused. "You wanna come over?"

"See you in ten," Spencer said, and walked out into the sunshine beneath a rainbow.