Spencer knows he’s a good drummer. In fact he knows he’s an excellent drummer. He’s the backbone of the band, always has been, even though he was the youngest. Which means he was the one to do the shit the others were too spazzy or scared - or plain uninterested - to do. The problem is, there were always things - or one thing - Spencer wanted to do, and never did.
It’s after the Blink tour and Brendon has gotten over his writing stage-fright, and they’ve fallen into a rhythm of work, almost like a 9-5, only it’s more like noon till 10pm, and they’re not working in an office, they’re working as rock stars (though sometimes, seriously, it feels as dull and unglamorous as an office job), but they still meet up with Dallon and Ian for drinks now and then.
Tonight it’s just Ian and Spence, and they’ve had a couple beers too many and they’re leaning against each other in the semi-circular booth making bitchy comments about all the drunk pretentious people in the bar, when they somehow get around to talking about things they’ve always wanted to do but never done. Ian’s apparently always wanted to learn trapeze and that’s uh … surprising (old girlfriend, long story apparently), and Spencer says, feeling very boring after that, ‘I’ve always wanted to learn to play guitar.’
He feels Ian’s head shift against his shoulder and when he glances to the side there are Ian’s eyes, all wide and brown looking up at him.
‘Seriously?’ Ian says, his lips moving a little like a camel’s as he tries to enunciate.
‘Yeah, seriously,’ says Spencer, looking back into the bar.
‘But dude, you work with two guitarists. You’re surrounded by musicians. You’ve never picked up a guitar just to fuck around?’
Spencer shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
‘A little. Ryan tried to teach me some basic stuff, but he wasn’t, you know, the most patient, and Brendon would be all “Cool! Come play with me Spence!” and then he’d be like…’ Spencer makes pretend guitar shredding motions and a whining widdly-widdly noise. Ian laughs in recognition. ‘I figured I should just stick to drums. Anyway,’ he goes on. ‘I was used to being the one who could you know, do stuff, like, I was basically our manager for a while back there. I didn’t want to look like I couldn't do stuff in front of them,’ and shit, Spencer must be drunker than he thought because he doesn’t know where this is coming from. ‘Anyway, it’s lame. But yeah, I kind of always wanted to.’
Ian’s silent for a couple moments.
‘Dude,’ he says. He sounds a little awed. ‘That’s sort of. Tragic.’
Spencer huffs a laugh and says, ‘No it’s not.’ But yeah, he thinks, it is a little. And man, he’s definitely drunker than he thought.
Then after a minute or two in which he thought Ian was falling asleep, Spencer feels a scramble of uncoordinated movement beside him, and then Ian is propping himself up against the back of the seat and leaning over Spencer and looking earnestly at him.
‘Lemme…’ He gathers his words for a second. ‘I’ll teach you.’
And Spencer looks at him, and feels a slow smile spread across his face.
He doesn't know why he hadn't thought of Ian before now. The guy has tutoring experience, after all. Spencer remembers when he met Ian for the second or third time (it was after he and Jon had listened to the Cab’s demo and decided it was good enough to do something with, and he remembers thinking how weird it was that it had only been a couple of years since they were breathlessly meeting Pete, and already kids were coming to Spencer with their CDs and email addresses and their stumbling requests for him to take a listen.) It was during one of those casual shoot-the-shit encounters that double as resume and interview in this industry, that Ian had told him about tutoring guitar.
But he didn't think of it before, so it's only now that Spencer is at Ian's apartment for his first real guitar lesson. Ian is holding out an acoustic and indicating where Spencer should sit on the couch, and Spencer’s gonna man up and admit it: he’s pretty fucking nervous. He takes the guitar from Ian and sits down, positioning the guitar on his knees, holding the neck loosely, and Ian drags a footstool over to sit in front of him.
‘So,’ he says, touching parts of the guitar lightly and saying their names as he goes, 'Head, pegs, frets, strings…' he trails off when he looks up sees Spencer’s expression. 'What?'
‘You’re kidding me, right?’
Ian doesn’t exactly smile, but his mouth twitches, and his eyes crinkle slightly.
‘You think you know everything because you’re in a band? Dude, you don’t get special treatment with me.'
And there is such quiet conviction in his tone that Spencer can't argue. And that's... he's not sure what it is, but it makes him look at Ian differently.
'OK,' he says.
‘OK,' Ian echoes. Then he goes back to touching and naming. 'Strings, bridge, sound chamber…’
And that’s how they begin.
He learns the basic chords the first lesson, and he is reminded – from the few times he’s picked up a guitar ‘to fuck around’ on – of just how much playing the guitar actually hurts. Ian is a little incredulous. ‘Shit. I’ve seen your hands when you haven’t played drums in a while and you’re bitching about some dents in your fingertips?’
Which, you know, point.
Ian loans him a guitar to practice on (‘because it’s pointless giving you lessons if you just forget everything by the next time.’) and he puts it in the closet so Brendon doesn’t see it, and yeah. He’s not sure what that is, but he’ll go with it for now. He’ll tell B later. When… some other time.
He only finds time to practice a couple times before the next lesson, perched on the edge of his bed while Brendon’s in the studio tracking vocals. Ian had given him a couple bars of A Horse With No Name to practice because the chord changes were pretty simple but he’s still proud of how fluid he gets after only a little practice.
Ian listens and nods and then he picks up his own guitar and sits opposite Spencer.
‘Ok, I’m gonna play the song all the way through,’ he says ‘and so are you.’
‘Uh,’ says Spencer.
Ian holds up his left hand.
‘Watch this like a hawk,’ he says, then lowers it to curl around the neck of the guitar, and Spencer feels an answering curl somewhere low down in his belly.
Which is... interesting. So that's how he was looking at Ian differently.
But he puts those thoughts away and copies the shapes Ian’s making with his hand and follows the chord changes as Ian calls them. He misses a couple but by the end he’s played a song all the way through and he’s out of breath and grinning.
‘Now do it without your tongue sticking out,’ Ian says and Spencer says ‘Fuck you,’ then they play it again and Spencer doesn’t miss a note.
He doesn’t think about Ian’s hands again.
Of course, Brendon has to come home early one day, and although it’s not as bad as him walking in on Spencer having sex, it’s pretty close. But Brendon is Brendon and he’s unfazeable and what’s in his head is out of his mouth pretty much immediately.
‘Spencer Smith, are you playing guitar? What the fuck?’ he says, coming into the room and dumping his bag. ‘You’re totally blushing, holy shit. Were you hiding this? And I’ve come home early and bust in on you. Man, I’m sorry.’ (And Spencer doesn't think he'll ever get used to Brendon's leaps of logic being visible on the outside, like all that steampunk shit they've been finding online lately, with its pipes and cogs and valves hanging out for all to see). He plops down on the sofa next to Spencer. ‘Why were you keeping it a secret? Fuck you’re so weird, Spence.’
Brendon is looking at him interestedly and Spencer’s face is in flames but he’s proud of how he manages not to throw the guitar across the room and deny everything, which is what he dearly wants to do.
‘Yes, I am playing the guitar, Brendon,’ he says in a measured voice. ‘A+ for observation.’
‘So, what can you play? Gimme a demo. Hey, do you want some lessons? I could…’
Spencer ducks his head and Brendon falters.
‘I’m already having some,’ Spencer says quietly.
‘You didn’t tell me!’ Brendon says a little too brightly, ‘Shit, Spence you’re such a dark horse. Who with?’
‘Uh, Ian, actually.’
And Brendon’s smile fades a tiny bit, only so that Spencer would notice, before he speaks again.
‘Cool,’ he says, then leans down and busies himself unlacing his sneakers. Spencer can’t see his face as he says, ‘That’s so cool. Ian’s a great tutor. I’m really stoked for you.’ Then he gets up and Spencer hears the thud of dropping shoes in the hallway, and Brendon’s calling from the kitchen ‘Man, I am ready for this beer.’ Then he comes back in holding two open beers, offers one to Spencer and says ‘So, are you gonna show me your guitar chops, Smith?’
And this is why Spencer loves Brendon. Because – and he realises this is why he didn’t tell him at first – Brendon wanted so badly to be the one to teach Spencer, but even if he doesn’t understand why Spencer didn’t ask him, he doesn’t make a big deal of it, because he can see that it’s important to Spencer, and he wants to be a supportive friend.
Spencer doesn’t play for him then, and Brendon drops it, but not before extracting a promise from Spencer that he will soon.
And now Brendon knows, it’s much easier. He doesn’t have to cram the guitar into his closet for one thing, and he can practice any time (though he still does it in his room, usually when he’s home alone anyway).
(Learning the guitar also makes him love the drums even more. He’s enjoying the new instrument, sure, enjoying the novelty of a different way of making music, and using different muscles and parts of his body and even his brain, but now, when he gets behind his kit, he has a real rush of belonging, of this is what he was meant to do, and this is what he loves to do more than anything.)
It happens when they’ve moved on to more difficult stuff. Spencer’s not just strumming chords, but learning how to pick out melodies (arpeggiating, it says in the book Ian uses sometimes) and some faster things too, but it’s still frustrating. Spencer wants to be better than he is. He points out a song that comes a bit later in the book.
‘That one has kind of complex … fingering. Uh.’
And Ian suddenly becomes very interested in his pegs. The guitar sounds in tune to Spencer, but what does he know? Then he notices the furious pink of Ian’s cheeks that wasn’t there before. Spencer didn’t think it was that warm in here. Unless.
After the initial schoolgirl rush of ‘OMG, he likes me too!’ Spencer’s reaction is much more predictable.
Definitely, absolutely not.
It’s one thing thinking the guy’s a great guitarist and has amazing, skilled hands and is kind of uh, hot, but it’s another again if the guy likes him back. They work together. When they tour for the new album, Panic is going to need musicians again. Ian and Dallon worked great last time, he and Brendon have already discussed it, and if it ain’t broke etc etc. This just can’t happen. But he’s an adult now, not a teenager with a dumb high-school crush. He can deal. He’s a professional.
So Ian’s got all these nifty teaching techniques. Spencer’s experienced the ‘follow me’ technique, and another one is instrument-sharing. Spencer remembers Ry and Jon doing it a lot in the old days, and now here he is, squished up against Ian on the couch, strumming the strings while Ian plays the chords. It’s a phrase Spencer’s been having some trouble with – the chord changes are quick and awkward and he just can’t get his fingers to move fast enough. Hearing them sound out – swift and fluent – from a guitar he is apparently playing is weird and sort of magical. The way Ian’s thigh and shoulder are pressed up against his is less magical and more really fucking annoying. This was not supposed to happen. As Ian rests his free hand on the back of the couch behind Spencer’s head, Spencer feels like the girl with the sleazebag’s arms around her being shown how to play pool, and the whole thing would be so incredibly cheesy if Ian wasn’t actually small enough to be the girl in the scenario, if Spencer was only pretending to learn guitar, and if Ian wasn’t actually totally fucking adorable.
‘Faster,’ says Ian, which doesn’t help.
Spencer plays faster and their heads bend over the guitar together and they smile at each other at their joint creative accomplishment and Spencer despairs.
So incredibly fucking cheesy.
It all comes to a head when when the four of them are out to celebrate Ian and Dallon coming on tour with them again. The album’s about to drop and they’re in the middle of doing the usual bunch of dumb interviews (which isn’t actually fair because some of them have been slightly less dumb than usual, but he hates the way a couple interviewers ask Brendon about his songwriting as if they’re asking the monkey how it managed to type Hamlet anyway?) but they’re kicking back tonight and getting drunk and it’s awesome, and seriously, Spencer is still so fucking relieved that they found these guys.
‘So Spence, when am I gonna get to hear you play?’ Brendon yells over the noise of the bar, and Dallon looks puzzled until Ian leans in and says something into his ear, and then he smiles big and bright at Spencer – and Spencer thinks he looks awfully like someone who’s been given some prime ammunition – but Dallon just says ‘That’s awesome, Ian’s a great guitar-tutor.’
‘Yeah, he is,’ Spencer says smiling because he can’t help it, because goddamit Ian is a great tutor.
And then Ian does that shy head-duck thing that never fails to make a mess of Spencer and Spencer decides he’s talking to Brendon for the rest of the night. So he does, and he also drifts off to talk to some other people there from the label, and gets into an intense drunken debate about Family Guy with Alex that nearly comes to blows. And then towards the end of the night the crowd in the bar begins to thin and he finds himself with his band in a booth, doing shots and having a giggly post-mortem.
He’s drunk enough that he’s off guard and by the time it’s too late, he realises he and Ian are sitting slumped against each other like they were that night when Ian offered him guitar lessons, only this time around Spencer is noticing different things about Ian. Like how he’s all wiry, surprising strength next to Spencer, and Spencer just wants to… pin him. Feel how that squirming feels against him, underneath him.
And fuck, he’s not gonna make it to the end of the night like this.
He gets up, not completely steady on his feet and Brendon breaks off what he’s saying to Dallon.
‘Spence buddy, you okay?’
'I think I need some air,' he says.
He threads his way through the bar to the fire escape at the back (there won't be a bunch of smokers out there he'll have to make polite conversation with.) He hits the cool air of the night and takes a couple of big breaths, and props himself against the wall of the alley.
He can do this. He can. He’s gonna have to share bus-space and hotel-rooms for months with them. He has to do it. Then he hears the door of the fire escape bang open again and he looks towards it, then lets his head flop back against the wall and closes his eyes because of course, it's Ian.
'Hey man, you ok?'
'Yeah, I'm ok,' Spencer replies and tips his head to follow Ian as he comes to stand in front of Spencer. Ian stuffs his hands into his jeans pockets.
‘You seemed a little weird back there. I wasn’t sure…’
‘No! Fine. I was fine. Just, you know.’
Ian squints down the alley then looks back at Spencer.
‘Spence,’ he starts, and Spencer thinks he might know what’s coming. ‘Did I do something?’
Spencer looks over Ian's shoulder at the opposite wall. He has two options. Go for plausible deniability. Or.
’No, Ian, you didn’t do anything. Well you did, but it’s not anything. I mean. I’m sorry I was weird. With you.’
Wow. Eloquent, Smith. Crystal clear.
‘Uh, thanks? I think. Could you maybe give me a pointer as to what I did so I don’t, you know, do it again?’
‘Well, it’s not just you,’ Spencer sighs and bumps his head back against the wall. ‘It’s us. It’s this, uh, thing,’ and he risks a glance at Ian who’s looking at him, listening. Spencer slides his eyes away again. ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but I get this vibe when we’re together. Maybe I’m imagining it. I don’t know, but anyway…’
‘No,’ Ian says softly. ‘No, you didn’t imagine it.’
OK. He didn't imagine it. That's fine. He can feel his heartbeat loud in his ears, and that's fine too. He very carefully doesn't look at Ian.
‘So anyway,’ Spencer clears his throat. ‘I didn’t want to let it fuck up the band, but I guess I’ve been weird with you, so I’ve already let it fuck things up a little and I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’
‘Oh,’ Ian says. ‘That’s a shame.’ And jesus, when did Ian get so unhelpful? ‘I kind of like it when you get all stuttery and weird around me. It’s cute.’
Spencer momentarily forgets his freakout and looks straight at Ian. Who seems to be much closer than he was before.
‘Stuttery? I’m stuttery and cute?’ Ian’s grinning this crazy-assed ‘gotcha’ grin and Spencer can’t help but return it. ‘Fucker,’ he says.
‘Yeah,’ Ian agrees. Then his grin fades to a low-watt smile and he dips his head forward to touch Spencer's and he says 'I'm serious, Spence.'
Fuck fuck fuck.
‘No, listen,’ he says, putting his hands on Ian's shoulders. ‘I really don’t think it’s a good idea.’ Ian's looking up at him with amused brown eyes and Spencer steels himself. 'I've seen this kind of thing before and it can get nasty.' But Ian's messy bangs are brushing Spencer's face and Spencer feels a little weak. ‘It’s not professional,' he babbles. 'And the tour, it could, fu…’ but Ian’s mouth is right there, and oh god, Spencer can’t even. ‘…fuck up the tour,’ he finishes weakly.
'Yeah,' Ian says. 'It could really fuck up the tour.' Then he closes the half inch distance between them, and Spencer finds himself kissing Ian right back. Ian’s crowding him back against the wall and Spencer’s hands - fucking traitors - tangle themselves in Ian's hair and he can feel Ian's thumb against his jaw making Spencer open his mouth wider, almost involuntarily, and the kiss deepens and holy fuck, yes, Ian's mouth is exactly how he'd imagined it, hot and wrong and perfect. Spencer more or less loses track of anything except their breath and their bodies pressing against each other. All he knows is at some point he flips them so he's got Ian against the wall, and can use his weight to get, hell yes, more friction and pressure.
They sort of break apart finally and Ian says 'How about this,’ as they trade slower kisses. 'What would in fact happen on tour,' (and as he speaks Spencer is kissing his cheeks, his forehead, sucking on his earlobe, licking his throat) '...is all the sexual tension would make us both crazy and we'd bitch at each other until we had a huge fucking row and you’d end up firing me and we wouldn’t speak to each other for a year. And that, my friend,' he finishes up a little breathless, 'would fuck up the tour.'
'That would be pretty bad,' Spencer agrees. 'Your idea is better.' And Spencer can feel Ian's grin against his mouth as he dives back in.
Fuck, thinks Spencer.
‘Try it again?’ the sound-guy calls.
Brendon starts playing and the same squeal of feedback rings out over the empty hall, as does his muttered ‘fuck’, picked up by the mic. Brendon slings the guitar onto his back and hunkers down to fiddle with the amp.
Spencer knows this is his moment (not that he’d arranged it with Ian and the sound-guy at all, no) and steps forward to pick up Brendon’s acoustic.
‘Since we’re having trouble with the electrics,’ he says into the mic, and Brendon looks up from what he’s doing with a frown of irritation ready. ‘Maybe we can do an acoustic check right now.’ When he sees Spencer settling the strap onto his shoulder, Brendon’s frown melts into a grin.
Spencer looks over to his right, where Ian’s standing a little behind him and catches his nod of encouragement, then he launches into Ballad.... It’s not bad. His voice is okay, he hits one, maybe two, bum notes, and he fucks up the ending, so he just covers with a rockstar flourish, holding the guitar vertical like Dallon does sometimes.
Brendon leads the scattered but enthusiastic applause from around the hall.
‘Wooh,’ he calls, coming over to sling his arm round Spencer’s neck. ‘That was fuckin’ awesome. Ian, man,’ he says, because Ian’s sidling up to Spencer’s other side. ‘I got to hand it to you. Good job.’
‘Hey,’ Spencer says, feeling Ian’s arm snaking around his waist. ‘I brought my natural, inborn talent to the table as well.’
‘You keep telling yourself that, Smith,’ says Ian.
‘I will,’ he says, and adds in a lower tone, ‘and thanks dude. For making sure I didn’t suck too bad.’
And oh man, he walked into that one.
‘You suck pretty good, Smith,’ says Ian, as expected. ‘Pretty good.’
And Spencer laughs.