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one.

"Never have I ever played such a stupid fucking game," Brendon says, lazing in the back lounge on the couch, his feet tip-toeing down to the floor and then back up again. One, two. He drops his feet in time to the jangle of chords coming from the bunks, pushing off with socked feet in a complicated rhythm. Spencer's sure Brendon doesn't even notice he's doing it. Brendon lives in a world where melody and beat are taken for granted. "Why are we doing this again?"

"Because we have nothing better to do," Spencer answers. Brendon's feet dance dangerously near their pile of empties. It's a big pile. They've been drinking steadily all day, beer after beer. Their bus bathroom smells like piss and beer. Dallon keeps rolling his eyes at them fondly, but with a hint of exasperation all the same. "Keep going. Tell me your secrets. All six of them."

"Fuck you," Brendon says. "I totally have more than six secrets. That's not even how you play the game."

"So whatever," Spencer says. "We won't play Never Have I Ever. We'll play truth or dare."

"Truth," Brendon says. "How fucking long have we been on this goddamn bus?"

"Sixteen hours," Spencer answers, because he's got a countdown clock running on his phone. "We should go get Dallon and Ian. Let's make them play."

"I'm too stoned," Brendon mumbles, swiping his hand over his face and leaving his glasses askew. His sweatpants are riding low on his hips. "Moving is like. Fuck. Moving is hard. You go get them."

"Yeah," Spencer agrees. He rolls over so that he's on his back, staring up at the ceiling. The overhead light is dingy with dust, and it wavers ever-so-slightly in time with the rumble of the engine. He doesn't want to get up. He's stolen a pillow from the couch and it's more comfortable than any greasy, dirty, mold-filled bus pillow has any right to be.

"Dallonaganza," Spencer calls out, through the open door. "Dallonapoloza. Mr. Dallon Weekes. Dallonopolis."

"Busy," Dallon calls back, without the slightest hint of concern.

"Unfair," Brendon calls back. "Can we at least have Ian?"

"No," Ian says lazily. His voice is muffled. "Napping. Dallon's singing me lullabies."

Spencer kicks the edge of the wall, because it's there and he can. "Sexy lullabies?" Spencer says, rolling his head towards the door. He can almost seen Dallon's socked feet hanging out from the bunks if he tilts his head to the left.

"Super sexy lullabies," Dallon says. "Luke just discovered his aunt and uncle's house in flames."

"Oh fuck," Brendon says. "You guys are really doing it now? No fair." Dallon and Ian have been trying to come up with a musical sing-along version of Star Wars for like, ever. It sounds like they're finally maybe getting somewhere. Spencer's abruptly sad that he's too stoned and lazy to move. Whatever. He'll listen to it tomorrow. And the day after, and the day after, knowing Dallon and Ian.

"Shhh," Dallon says. "Musical manpain in progress."

"I'll show you manpain," Brendon mumbles. He lifts his phone up, checking the time, and then groaning when he sets it back down. "Two more hours," Brendon says. "Why. Why, Spencer? Why."

"Because America's kind of big," Spencer says. He kicks Brendon's socked feet, which have come to a halt as Dallon and Ian lazily discuss which chords might properly replicate Luke's inner feelings of turmoil. "Truth."

"Why am I not having sex right now?" Brendon says.

"That's not a truth or dare question," Spencer says. "And because Sarah's not here, duh."

"Yeah," Brendon says. He looks down at himself, his nose wrinkling. "She probably wouldn't have sex with me right now anyway. She'd tell me to take a shower first."

"As she should," Spencer says. "You're fucking gross." He closes his eyes and thinks about Haley for a second, testing the waters, and then his chest gives a dull, empty throb and he opens his eyes again. Nope. Definitely still not ready to think about it. Definitely time for more beer. Beer is the answer to all of his problems.

"God, I'm so fucking bored," Brendon says. "Let's talk about sex. Tell me about the dirtiest thing you ever did to someone, go."

"Fuck you," Spencer says. "You have an iPad. Go ask the internet that question, I bet you'll get a more entertaining answer."

"I know you, Spencer Smith," Brendon says, turning to give Spencer a look that tries for penetrating and just comes out stoned. "I know you. You have hidden depths."

Spencer raises an eyebrow at him. "I enjoy blowjobs," Spencer says. "Is that dirty enough for you?"

"You're useless," Brendon says, flopping back down. "Where's Ryan when I need him? Ryan was always awesome at this game."

"That's because Ryan has no shame," Spencer says. Ryan loves to boast about the crazy shit he's done in bed, but it's always in this amazed, detached tone of voice, like somehow these things just happen to him and he doesn't know why she was wearing cat ears or how they ended up in her parent's bedroom with the mirrors on the walls in the first place.

"I wish you didn't have shame," Brendon says. "I'd be less bored right now."

"I like my shame," Spencer says. "It lets me sleep at night."

"Yeah, well," Brendon says, humming aimlessly. "I like blowjobs."

"Congratulations," Spencer says, starting to aimlessly kick the side of the wall again. "You're a member of the human race. You enjoy oral sex. I'm so proud of you."

"Giving Sarah a blowjob is awesome," Brendon says, still humming. "That's totally what I wish I was doing right now."

Spencer pauses, his foot hanging out in mid-air for a second before he sets it back down.

"...Okay?" Spencer says, after he's parsed that sentence a few times and he's pretty sure that yes, that is what Brendon just said. Not that that's not okay, but it does require some reorientation of Spencer's previous worldview about Brendon and Sarah and the universe and everything.

"Hold up," Spencer says, after another moment has passed. "Explain that one to me. And use small words, I'm super high."

"I'm sharing," Brendon says. "I'm starting off the conversation by sharing in an attempt to convince you to share in return. It's the key to a loving and healthy relationship."

"Sarah has a dick?" Spencer says, because he's still stuck on that.

"Sometimes," Brendon says. Spencer turns his head and peers suspiciously at Brendon, to see if Brendon's fucking with him, but Brendon's just sort of staring off into space with a tiny, private smile.

"As in, that is something you guys do, or as in that is just the way Sarah is, or as in you're completely fucking high and screwing with me?" Spencer says, because all of those options seem equally likely.

Brendon thinks about it for a moment. "Something we do," he says eventually.

"Huh," Spencer says. He stares at the ceiling again.

"Yep," Brendon says.

"Does it taste weird?" Spencer says eventually, because that's the first thing that comes to mind.

"Doesn't sucking cock usually taste weird?" Brendon says.

"I don't know," Spencer honestly. "Does it?" He's never sucked anyone's dick. He's thought about it, but for whatever reason there's never been any dicks that seemed like they might need sucking at an opportune moment.

"I don't know either," Brendon says, after a beat. "I've only sucked Sarah's. I was hoping you'd know."

"I don't."

"Damn."

"Is that what you were trying to get me to share?" Spencer says. "You wanted to know if I'd ever sucked a dick so we could compare notes?"

"Nah," Brendon says. "I mean, maybe. That would have been cool. But no, I was just bored. And I don't know, I felt like talking about it. Blowjobs are great."

"Right," Spencer says. "They are." There's a lot of questions running around in his head, stuff like how big is it? and what is that LIKE? and does she actually, you know, oh shit, really? Spencer opens his mouth and then closes it again a few times. He's not sure he can actually ask Brendon those things, even after what Brendon's just said.

"Shane says it's really different from going down on a guy, though," Brendon says thoughtfully, and Spencer blinks at the ceiling and wonders when the bus crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

"This is the weirdest conversation we've ever had," Spencer says honestly. "I just wanted you to know that."

"Weirder than that one time we all admitted to having a teenage crush on David Bowie?" Brendon says, turning his head to look at Spencer again.

"Well," Spencer says. "Okay, no." Watching Jon Walker fumble and blush and then finally admit that David fucking Bowie was on his exceptions list had been one of the most hilarious experiences of Spencer's life. He still thinks about that mental image sometimes when he's having a bad day and needs something to make him grin.

"Okay," Brendon says. "Am I weirding you out, though?"

"No," Spencer says. "I don't care if Sarah has a dick. I'm just like. If I ask you stuff, am I being inappropriate?"

"Not really," Brendon says. "It's not that big of a deal. Dude, can you reach the beer? I want another one."

"Yeah," Spencer says, rolling over so he can push the mini-fridge open with the tips of his fingers and grab two more cans. He sends Brendon's rolling across the floor, and Brendon flops on his belly and scoops it up, popping it open and slurping up the foam with a long, happy sigh.

"So," Spencer says.

"So," Brendon says. He slits his eyes open at Spencer. "Yes."

"It's good?" Spencer says, biting his lip. "I mean, you let her...? Uh."

"Oh, yeah," Brendon says, and there's a lazy heat to his voice that Spencer instantly recognizes as Brendon reminiscing about a particularly satisfying experience. Which is like. Wow, okay, so Brendon's thinking about Sarah fucking him in the ass right now. Spencer's world is a little upside down.

"That's cool," Spencer says. He's starting to get hard. This is awkward.

"Yeah, I mean," Brendon says. "It wasn't like - I don't know, Shane and Regan were talking about it one night, or I guess Regan was talking about it to Sarah, and then Sarah was all 'hey, do you want to try?' And I was like uh, sure, why not, gotta try everything once, you know?" Brendon takes another overly-large sip of his beer. "But I figured, okay, so I need to talk to Shane about this, even if it's awkward, because obviously he knows what's going on here."

"Right," Spencer says. He wonders where he was for all of this. Off having boring one-dick sex with his ex-girlfriend, apparently.

"And Shane was like, you know, it's awesome, you need to trust someone a whole lot but if you do, it's so awesome, it's completely different and it brings you together in a whole new way," Brendon says. "And then he was like, but you know, it's still really different from doing it with a guy, and you need to be ready for that if that's where you're coming from."

"Yeah," Spencer says uselessly. He's never felt quite so unable to contribute to a conversation before.

"So," Brendon says, shrugging. "I mean, that's it, really."

"Have you ever done that with a guy?" Spencer says, unable to hold it in. He tells himself it's just morbid curiosity, and ignores the way his dick is kind of aching a little.

"No," Brendon says. He bites his lip. He looks over at Spencer and there's a flash of something, too quick to name, barely quick enough to recognize. Spencer's stomach tightens.

Do you want to? Spencer thinks, and then he shakes his head, because he's not that kind of creep. He already feels sort of weird and uncomfortable about his reaction to this whole conversation. He gets that Brendon is sort of half-sharing a war story, here, and half actually sharing something with Spencer that has a lot of baggage attached to it. The last thing Spencer wants to do is give Brendon any sort of impression that he's not okay with that.

"I'm very glad for your new and exciting orgasms," Spencer says gravely, once the moment has passed. Brendon snickers, flopping on his back.

"Anyway," Brendon says, after a moment. "The point is, I want a blowjob. Or I want to be giving a blowjob, whatever. There should be blowjobs in my future."

"I firmly support this assessment of the situation," Spencer says, after another beat. "Blowjobs for everyone."

"Word," Brendon says.

"So how's the Star Wars theme coming?" Spencer says, when they've finally pulled up to the hotel for the night. His head is swimming, and all he wants is a long shower and some time to himself to jerk off and decompress and stop thinking about how his best friend and his best friend's girlfriend get up to weirdly fascinating kinky shit together.

Unfortunately, the possibility of a shower is seeming farther and farther away as they stand in the lobby and listen to Zack argue with the front desk staff.

"Pretty sweet," Ian agrees, through a yawn. "We're going to finger-pick the Jawas. And we have to figure out the Imperial March, that one's tough."

"Urrrgh," Brendon says, into Spencer's shoulder. He thinks Brendon's already hit the hangover stage, judging from the way Brendon seems to have lost all concept of staying upright under his own power. Spencer rubs his fingers over the back of Brendon's neck, pressing into the muscle.

"Yes," Dallon agrees solemnly. "Urgh. I wanted to call the Breeze before the kids got to bed, too."

"I don't even know what time it is," Brendon says. "Is it late?"

"It's not that late," Spencer says, checking his watch. "But it's probably late for the Weekes household."

"Yeah," Dallon says, a rueful smile on his face when he looks over at Ian. "Guess it's just me and Breezy tonight."

"And suddenly I have developed a need for a long hot shower during which I absolutely can't hear what's going on in my hotel room," Ian says. "Funny how that happens."

"To the best of us," Spencer agrees, fist-bumping Ian solemnly. He's practically elevated his own showers to an art of precise timing and sudden hearing loss. Sometimes he thinks he and Ian should just room together and let the two lovebirds fight it out, but he's so used to rooming with Brendon at this point that it seems weird to change it up now. It's not like he doesn't know exactly what Brendon sounds like when he comes. He's just gotten very good at pretending he doesn't, over the years.

"I'm not calling Sarah tonight," Brendon mumbles. "She'll just tell me I'm an idiot for being this hungover and drinking all day."

"I always knew she was good for you," Spencer says, still rubbing the back of Brendon's neck.

"The best," Brendon says, smiling into Spencer's shoulder. Spencer feels that weird twinge in his stomach again, the one that says don't you wish you had that? in not so many words. He pushes it down and away, concentrating on standing up and standing Brendon up as Zack walks over to them with the keycards. "No more drinking," Zack says. He looks exhausted, the last few nights of the tour running him ragged. Spencer can relate. It's been a long month on the road, and they're not even halfway done yet. "Early morning tomorrow. Get some sleep."

"Ten-four," Spencer agrees, heading off towards the elevators with Brendon in tow. He dumps his stuff on the bed when they get upstairs, already stripping out of his t-shirt. Brendon flops down on the bed, curling into the fetal position and watching him sort of blankly.

"I'm taking a shower," Spencer says, even though it should be fairly obvious what he's doing. "I'm disgusting."

"Me too," Brendon says, yawning. "I'm just too tired to move."

"It's your funeral," Spencer says, shrugging. He steps into the bathroom, tugging the door firmly closed behind him. The shower takes a few minutes to warm up, but when he steps inside the heat and the pressure are fucking heavenly, instantly clearing his pounding head and washing the sweat-and-booze smell away.

Spencer rolls his shoulders out while he washes his hair, stretching and luxuriating in the feeling. He closes his eyes and thinks about Sarah, about Brendon and Sarah, letting the free-association of his tired brain cells come and go as it pleases. Spencer has rules about shower time, and rules about jerking off, and one of them is that whatever his brain comes up with is fine with him. He's jerked off to some pretty weird shit over the years, but as far as Spencer's concerned he's not hurting anyone, so it doesn't matter. Sometimes it makes him feel weird, but Spencer can deal with that. He just pretends to himself that any particularly unnerving fantasies never actually happened, and usually it's a win-win situation for both his sanity and his dick.

Spencer takes himself in hand and thinks about Sarah, pushing away a tinge of knee-jerk guilt. Shower time, Spencer tells his brain firmly, and then he thinks about how Sarah like, jesus christ, Sarah has a dick, she has a strap-on and sometimes she fucks Brendon with it and Spencer's instantly there, instantly caught up in the fantasy. He rubs his fingers underneath the head and thinks about what it must have been like the first time, thinks about Sarah opening Brendon up with her precise, delicate fingers, about the way Brendon must have panted and moaned for it, loud and shameless as usual.

Spencer thinks about that one time he caught a glimpse of Sarah topless, a flash of skin quickly covered up by her bikini top. He thinks about her perfect tits and then looking down to see a dick, and his stomach is hot and tight, coiling up into his spine as he works his hand faster. His whole body feels itchy and restless and what if, what if, what if Spencer was there, what if Spencer could watch? And Brendon's never—he'd said he'd never done that with a guy, and maybe he wanted to, and maybe Sarah would be there, oh god, she'd be there and she'd be watching with dark eyes and biting her lip as Spencer pushed in, and—

Spencer groans, coming all over the shower wall, his legs shaking as he tries to remain upright. Jesus fuck, Spencer thinks weakly. Jesus fuck, he hasn't come that hard in years. He probably hasn't come that hard since he was thirteen and discovered that he had a dick and playing with it was a good time.

Goddamn, saving that one for a rainy day, Spencer thinks, shaking his head to clear it. He wipes his fingers over the smear of come on the wall, rinsing them off in the spray. Then he closes his eyes, breathing out for a long moment as he clears his head of the images before stepping out of the shower.

Brendon's waiting on the bed when he walks back into the hotel room, curled up around his phone.

"Spencer's out of the shower," Brendon says, into his phone. "I think I'm going to go, babe." Spencer waves at the phone, relieved that Brendon doesn't have his hand down his pants. Considering what Spencer just jerked off to, that might be awkward. Spencer likes to keep a firm and solid line between fantasy and reality.

"Spencer's waving at you," Brendon says, smiling into the phone and then grinning tiredly at Spencer. "I think that means he says hello."

"Spencer's really tired and talking is hard," Spencer says. "But tell her I said good night and sleep well."

"Babe, did you catch that?" Brendon says, rolling up into a crouch on the bed and then wandering towards the bathroom once he's upright. He nods over his shoulder at Spencer, half-smiling as he listens to whatever Sarah's saying.

"Night," Spencer says, to both Brendon and Sarah, as the bathroom door shuts.

 

two.

"Do you think Zack will notice if I go for a walk?" Spencer stage-whispers, ducking one shoulder down so his voice is aimed directly at Ian and won't carry. Ian looks up from his potato salad, blinking at Spencer in the bright sunlight.

"Where?" Ian says, and Spencer gives up and drops down on the picnic-table bench next to Ian. Across from them, Dallon is lying down on the bench, sunglasses on and feet kicked up, a stack of dirty paper plates from catering the only hint of his presence at the table.

"Over there," Spencer says, stealing a french fry from Ian's plate. He waves at the ring of trees encircling the massive, crater-like parking lot and stadium. A large slice of the circle is cut off from the public with chain-link fencing, stocked with security and jammed with tour buses and equipment and people but farther out, away from the hustle, there's trees. Spencer needs a break. Trees sound good to him right now.

"Is it blocked off?" Ian says. "Are you going to get mauled by fans?"

"I don't think so," Spencer says. He squints down the line of buses. "I think the fencing goes all the way in."

Ian nods. "You want me to cover for you?" Ian says, and Spencer nods back. "Can you?" Spencer says. "I just kind of. I need like half of an hour of not being here." Spencer's tired. He's too tired for their schedule right now, which consists of half a dozen stadium shows, one after the other, before a return to tiny clubs and feeling like he can breathe again. It's not like Spencer doesn't love performing in these huge venues, but the crowd's always tougher to warm up and there's exponentially more employees and more people touching his shit, which usually leads to exponentially more problems.

He knows Zack feels the same way, and on any other day he'd ask Zack if he wanted to come along with Spencer and maybe just sit in the woods and get high for a few minutes and bond over their continued success at not murdering Random Dumbass Tech Number Forty Three, but Zack has crazy eyes right now and he's a little over-focused and a lot cranky and Spencer doesn't feel like getting yelled at for taking a walk. He's not going far, he just needs some space to breathe so he doesn't bite anyone's head off during sound check.

"I'll tell him you're taking a few phone calls," Ian says. "Don't get lost in the woods."

"That's what GPS is for," Spencer says, squeezing Ian's shoulder in thanks and then loping off towards the woods. He's sweating by the time he's halfway to the tree cover, too much light reflecting off the painted aluminum of the tour buses and searing into his skin. He's tired and dusty but the line of trees drawing ever closer is a welcome respite, and as he finally reaches the woods he can see a smattering of abandoned picnic tables tucked just inside the trees, and then beyond that, a path leading in. Spencer looks down at his phone. He has forty-five minutes before sound check. His pulse thrums beneath his skin, too much frustration only barely held in check.

"Fuck it," Spencer tells a nearby crow. He threads his way through the picnic tables and takes the path, shivering in the sudden shade. He's abruptly aware of how quiet it is.

Spencer walks for a while, for long enough that he feels like he's entirely alone. The path winds in and around, a meandering, organic trajectory. Spencer wonders who made this path in the first place, and why it's here, and if he's ever going to stop feeling like shit about Haley. He wonders if it's ever not going to hurt when he hears Brendon laughing into the phone to Sarah so hard it sounds like he's going to piss himself, or when he catches a glimpse of Dallon's face as Dallon's saying hi to his kids or when he hears the way Zack's voice softens when he calls Carol. Even Ian's been more reticent lately, sticking closer to the bus and pulling out secret smiles at text messages when no one's supposed to be looking. Spencer doesn't know who she (or he) is, and he's happy for Ian, but it's not helping the loneliness abate any faster.

Spencer stops in the middle of the path, taking a deep breath. He's got thirty minutes before sound check, and he needs to get out of this funk before before anyone notices. Thinking about all of this shit is only making him more annoyed, not less. He's supposed to be clearing his head, not stewing in his own self-recrimination.

"Okay, seriously, fuck it," Spencer says to himself, and then he turns and punches the nearest tree as hard as he can. It hurts all the way up to his shoulder, a clean, sharp pain. He does it again, and again, and after the sixth punch his knuckles are bleeding and his shoulders sag, the tension in them starting to melt away. He winces as he shakes his shoulder out, thinking about the show he needs to play in less than five hours. He's such an idiot sometimes.

His phone rings as Spencer's trying to brush the worst of the bark off his split knuckles. He takes another deep breath, and then he answers on the third ring, expecting Zack but getting Brendon.

"Dude, where'd you go?" Brendon says. It sounds like he's in the middle of catering. Spencer can hear someone talking about their dogs, the clink of plates and silverware.

"Out," Spencer says. "I needed to take a walk."

"Okay," Brendon says. "You know we've got soundcheck in twenty, right?"

"I'm on my way back," Spencer says, turning around in the middle of the path and starting to walk back. "I can make it."

"Yeah," Brendon says. "You want to talk about it while you walk, or you want me to leave you alone?"

"I don't know," Spencer says. "I don't—I don't know, B." He sounds tired even to his own ears. He doesn't want to say, you're all so damn happy and I'm miserable, because then Brendon will feel guilty and also because that's not really true. He's happy enough most of the time. He's doing what he loves and traveling the world and so what, if there's no one waiting for him when he gets home? So what, if there's no one left that Spencer can call at 3am when he doesn't feel good and his dogs are at his parent's house and everything is kind of really fucked up in his head when he pokes around under the surface.

"Everything's just all fucked up," Spencer hears himself saying. "It's just. It's not you guys. It's just me."

"Yeah," Brendon says quietly. "Haley?"

"Something like that," Spencer says. He swallows. His throat feels parched. He's suddenly aware of how hungry he is. He hasn't eaten lunch yet, and breakfast was a long time ago.

"Did you guys—did you sell the condo yet?" Brendon says hesitantly. "Or should I just shut up and not talk about that?"

"It's fine," Spencer says, saying. He scrubs a hand over his eyes, drops of sweat blurring his vision and stinging in the corners. "It's on the market. It doesn't matter. I'll find a new place. I would have just kept that one, but it felt too weird being there alone."

"Stay with me and Sarah while you're looking," Brendon says, and the words are spoken lightly but Spencer's known Brendon long enough to know that it's more of an order than a request. "Don't stay in a hotel. That shit's depressing enough as it is."

"That's—no," Spencer says. "I'll be in the way."

"You're never in the way," Brendon says, and there's something to his tone that Spencer can't quite place.

"Maybe I'm sick of listening to you two have sex," Spencer tries, and Brendon laughs.

"Yeah, well, I'm sick of listening to you beat it in the shower, so we're even," Brendon says, and Spencer grins in spite of himself. "Stay with us," Brendon says again. "Don't worry about it. You know we love having you around. Sarah adores you."

"Yeah," Spencer says, and closes his eyes against the flash of guilt that spikes quick and hot at the words. He really needs to stop jerking off thinking about Sarah. He's had enough practice sublimating his random Brendon-fantasies over the years, those he's used to, but he's starting to wonder if he's going to be able to look Sarah in the face when he sees her. He just needs to stop thinking about Brendon and Sarah like that altogether, what the fuck. He doesn't know what his problem is lately. It's none of his business what his friends do or don't do in bed.

"Is that a yes?" Brendon says. "Also, wow, Zack is kind of pissed off today, huh? He totally just tore that tech a new one."

"He's cranky," Spencer agrees. "With good reason, I think."

"Yeah," Brendon says. "You almost back, or should I stall and fake a sudden and urgent stomach flu?"

"No, I'll be there in five," Spencer says, stepping out through the last few trees and into the sunlight. "Grab me some water on your way up to the stage? I'm cool to play, but I think I need to hit up first-aid afterwards."

"First aid?" Brendon says, sounding concerned. "Spence, fuck, what did you do?"

"It's nothing," Spencer says, flexing his knuckles. A drop of blood slides down the back of his hand. The pain of movement is sharp and clean and grounding. "Just scraped my hand on something. I want to rinse it off before I get on stage."

"Okay," Brendon says dubiously, and Spencer knows he just earned himself a full five minutes while he stands there and Brendon pokes at his wounds and makes sad faces at Spencer for hurting himself, like Brendon's not the most accident-prone person that Spencer's ever met. The difference is that Brendon's injuries are mostly truly accidental, while Spencer's have a tendency to be at least fifty percent his own fault.

"It's fine," Spencer says, before he hangs up with a click. He strides across the field, the silent tableau of the stadium's ecosystem coming to life as he draws closer. He stops just outside the buses, leaning over to catch his breath, hands on his knees.

"It's fine," Spencer tells himself softly as he looks down at the ground. His chest hurts. "It's all going to be fine."

 

three.

"How much longer until we land?" Brendon says, blinking awake next to Spencer and poking Spencer until Spencer takes his headphones off. He's curled up awkwardly, half in his seat and half in Spencer's, his socked feet poking into Spencer's thigh. Spencer still doesn't know how Brendon manages to fit himself in tiny plane seats without permanently cracking something the way he does, all curled up on his side instead of stretched out like any normal person.

"Forty-five minutes?" Spencer guesses. He reaches across Brendon and pushes the window shield open and the sunset is blooming across the sky, tinging the clouds with a thick orange glow.

"Awesome," Brendon says, blinking and wiping his eyes behind his glasses. "Can you guys let me out? I need to piss."

"Have fun stepping over Dallon," Spencer says, nodding his head to where Dallon is still passed out next to him, head back, mouth open, snoring softly.

"I am an airplane ninja," Brendon agrees solemnly, and Spencer tucks his legs up and in so Brendon can step over them and squirm over Dallon on his way out of the seat.

After Brendon's left, Spencer slides over, taking advantage of the space Brendon's left behind to stretch out his back, to push his arms up over his head and breathe for a moment. He's tired but not as tired as he could be, not as tired as he's been on most airplanes recently. They'd had a morning flight from New York, and instead of shuffling on to the plane at ass-o-clock in the morning they'd actually gotten decent sleep in a hotel, a good breakfast and a shower.

His body, at least, feels okay.

Spencer reaches down into his backpack, fumbling around until he finds the small bag he'd picked up just before leaving New York. He tucks it into his back pocket and waits until Brendon's standing at the aisle, still yawning but looking more awake than he did five minutes ago, and then he motions to Brendon that they're going to switch places so Spencer can get up and piss as well.

"No toilet paper in the one on the left," Brendon tells him, with a grimace. "I hate airplane bathrooms."

"I'll improvise," Spencer says, and Brendon snorts.

"Or you could just use the other one," Brendon says, but he stands back to let Spencer pass, steadying himself with a hand on Spencer's arm as they press up against each other in the narrow aisle.

Spencer locks the bathroom door behind himself, and then he stands in front of the tiny bathroom sink, leaning down to splash water on his face. He rubs at his eyes and thinks again how this whole coming-home thing would be a lot fucking easier if he was so tired he couldn't see straight.

Spencer pulls the bag out of his back pocket, unscrewing the cap off the fifth of whiskey and taking a long drag, long enough that he has to cough and sputter at the end of it. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and then checks the level in the bottle. He doesn't want to be wasted, just a little less—here. He just needs something to take the edge off, something to mute the edges of the empty space that's going to be waiting for him at the gate, next to Sarah and Carol and Breezy. He doesn't know if Ian has anyone waiting for him, but it's still just—it's the first fucking time he's really been home for more than a day or two since Haley left, and all Spencer has to welcome him home is a storage unit in Santa Monica filled with his stuff.

It's not even like Haley met him at the airport all that often, but this is the first time he knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that she won't be standing there with all the others.

Spencer tilts his head back against the bathroom door, taking long sips until the bottle is half empty. Then he slips the bottle back into its plastic bag for later, pulling out the packet of gum he'd bought at the same time. He washes his face and his hands again, chewing one piece of gum, then spitting it out for a second, fresher piece. He doesn't feel like answering questions and he doesn't want to talk about why he's drinking in an airplane bathroom.

It's just easier this way.

The whiskey hits him as he's walking back down the aisle, a sudden head rush that has him swaying and blinking. He shakes his head to clear it, and then taps Dallon on the shoulder to let him back into his seat, stepping over Dallon's six thousand miles of legs to squish himself back in between them.

"Did it have toilet paper?" Brendon says. "Or should I remember not to shake your hand for the rest of the day?"

"You're safe," Spencer says.

"I'm so relieved," Brendon deadpans. Spencer half-smiles, settling back into his seat with a sigh. The whiskey is starting to sit heavy in his stomach, a warm glow that's making him pleasantly light-headed.

"So theoretically Sarah's going to meet us here," Brendon says, his leg already starting to jitter. "She's bringing the car down so we can all drive back together."

"I can still get a hotel tonight, you know," Spencer says. The words don't sting quite as much as they might have a few minutes ago. Spencer's okay. He can totally get a hotel so he doesn't ruin Brendon and Sarah's reunion. Hotels have bars. Bars with more whiskey in them.

"No, dude, I told you," Brendon says, shaking his head. He bites his lip. "Spence, it's okay. We're not—it's not a big deal. We're not going to kick you out just so we can, you know." Brendon glances at the seats in front of them, a mother and her two children. "Play Yahtzee," Brendon says.

"Is that what they're calling it these days?" Spencer says, smiling a little hazily.

"I love Yahtzee," Dallon says wistfully.

"Me too," Brendon says. "Actually, we should totally have a Yahtzee night sometime. All of us. That would be awesome."

"Wait," Spencer says, frowning, as Dallon nods and agrees. "Wait, when did we stop with the metaphor?"

"Who says we did?" Brendon says, wiggling his eyebrows, and Spencer rolls his eyes.

"I hate Yahtzee," Spencer says, entirely honestly. For one value of "Yahtzee," anyway.

"I'm sorry you don't like joy," Dallon says. "Who doesn't like orgasms?"

"I'm too tired for this," Spencer groans, tipping his head back against the seat as Brendon and Dallon high-five over Spencer's head. He thinks, I'm too drunk for this. "Either you're both super creepy, or no one on this plane is making sense anymore." Brendon opens his mouth to reply, but he's interrupted by the sound of the fasten seatbelt sign dinging on, and the pilot announcing that they're beginning their descent. Spencer closes his eyes. His head is swimming.

It takes forever to get off the plane once they've landed, as usual, and then they have to wait for their six thousand pieces of luggage, so by the time they're through security and out into the arrival area the press of people has mostly dissipated. It's easy to spot Carol and Breezy and the kids and Sarah and...

"Greta?" Spencer says, blinking. He didn't think he'd had THAT much to drink on the plane.

"Hey," Greta says, looking slightly embarrassed as she leans in and gives Spencer a big hug. "How was the flight?"

"Good," Spencer says. "Uh. Don't take this the wrong way, but what are you—"

"Hey Greta," Ian says, at Spencer's elbow. "I, um. I didn't realize you were back in town." Greta beams back, blushing as she gives Ian a hug, and then Spencer gets it. He shakes his head, grinning. The whiskey burns low in his stomach and Spencer thinks about this whole thing would probably hurt a lot more without it, but right now he's just genuinely happy for his friends.

"I wondered who was texting him all tour and making him smile like that," Spencer says, and he's rewarded with Greta's blush deepening, even as she gives him an arch look over Ian's shoulder.

"I just wanted to say hello," Greta says casually. "You know how it is."

"Sure," Spencer says. He turns to say hello to Carol and Breezy, and then all of a sudden someone is hugging him from behind. He looks down to see Sarah's arms wrapped around his middle.

"Spencerrrr," Sarah says, pressing her face in between his shoulder blades. Spencer snorts, turning around so that he can hug Sarah properly. He always forgets how tiny she is until he's actually giving her a hug. Her personality is a lot bigger than her actual size.

"You miss me?" Sarah says, hopping up on her tip-toes to kiss his cheek. "The dogs missed you."

"No they didn't," Spencer says, trying not to smile. "They missed Brendon, maybe." He thinks maybe it's a little weird how much he missed Brendon's girlfriend, but then, maybe it isn't. Spencer tells himself firmly that it's okay to miss a friend, and shoves every other thought he's ever had about Sarah to the back of his mind as he hugs her again. He's not going to be that kind of a creep. He isn't.

"Brendon doesn't play with them as much as you do," Sarah says, stepping away. She squeezes him a third time, a ridiculous, silly-friend hug, and then she stills for a moment, looking up at Spencer with an odd expression.

"What?" Spencer says. "You okay?"

Sarah frowns at him for a moment, and then she blinks, shaking her head. "Yeah," she says, the smile returning. "No, I'm fine. You ready to come hang out at our place? I bought actual sheets and stuff for the spare bed. You won't even have to sleep on the couch."

"Living in the lap of luxury," Spencer agrees. He hoists his bag over his shoulder, falling into step with Carol and Breezy and Dallon as their group slowly makes their way to parking lot.

"So everyone's staying in LA for a few days," Sarah says, threading her arm through Spencer's, her other hand clasped firmly in Brendon's. "I think we're all going to chill out for a day or two in our respective houses and then everyone's going to come over for a barbecue tomorrow night."

"Sounds good," Spencer says. "Or you guys could drop me off at the hotel with Zack and Carol and I'll take a cab to your place tomorrow, that works too."

"Stop it," Sarah says, pulling her hand back to punch him in the arm. "Brendon said you were being weird about this. Don't be weird."

"I don't want to get in the way," Spencer says. He looks away awkwardly. "You guys should have time to like. Bond and shit."

"Play Yahtzee," Brendon says, with a straight face.

"...Right," Sarah says. "I think we'll be okay, Spence. We like having you around."

"If you're sure," Spencer says, shrugging. His stomach sinks, but he ignores it. He has headphones, and a room with a door that locks, and the rest of that fifth of whiskey in his bag. He'll be fine.

Brendon and Sarah's condo is exactly as Spencer remembers it, with the exception of how Sarah's obviously spent a fair amount of time turning their spare bedroom into an actual guest bedroom/craft room/room that isn't just full of piles of crap and instruments.

"Wow," Spencer says, dropping his duffel bags down on the bed. Sarah's painted the walls a thick cream with these subtle tangerine and red accents and Spencer knows that in anyone else's house or in anyone else's hand it would have looked fucking stupid, but Sarah's got an eye for that sort of thing. The overall effect is somehow cheery and beachy, especially with all of the new furniture and the new futon and Sarah's new IKEA desk covered in mounds of craft supplies and stacks of cookbooks.

"You like it?" Sarah says, frowning up at the walls. "Is it too much? I can re-do the trim. I can't decide if it's awesome or if Brendon's going to do that thing he does where he laughs really loud and then says it's perfect but actually he's just trying not to say 'oh god, wow, fuck.' "

"You mean this noise?" Spencer says, and makes a sound halfway between a cough and an aspirated laugh.

"Yeah," Sarah says. "That noise. I hate that noise." She rolls her eyes as she crosses the room to pull open the curtains. "I'm always like, use your words, dude. Some of us don't speak Brendon all the time."

"Nah," Spencer says. "The room's awesome. And Brendon wouldn't do that to you. He'd probably just tell you he wasn't into it. I think he saves that reaction for people he doesn't know very well."

"He better," Sarah says. She pauses. "Actually, I haven't heard him make that noise in a while. So maybe you're right."

"See?" Spencer says. "Freaking out about nothing." He drops his jacket down on the futon, but then he pauses, because his jacket is weirdly puffed up in the middle. He reaches down and fumbles around under the jacket until he pulls out a stuffed frog.

"Uh," Spencer says. The frog has an entirely displeased expression on its face. It's wearing a purple bowtie.

"That's for you," Sarah says, the corner of her mouth curving up into a smile. "Or, well. It's for Boba and Milo, when they visit, but I figured you could have it now."

"It's a really pissed off frog," Spencer says. His dogs, fuck. He really misses his dogs. The frog is awesome and he knows why Sarah did this and it's sweet of her to make sure Spencer knew he could invite his dogs up but all of a sudden all Spencer wants is his dogs and his condo and his goddamn old life back. He swallows.

"Thanks," Spencer says quietly. "Can I keep it here until I see them?"

"Yeah," Sarah says. She walks over, touching Spencer on the shoulder as Spencer sits down. "You okay?" She makes the international symbol for 'can I hug you or are you going to punch me in the arm?' and Spencer takes a moment to think about just how much he appreciates Sarah before nodding and accepting another hug. He's hugged Sarah like eight times today. It's starting to get a little weird, but Spencer doesn't really care. He'll just go hug Brendon a lot and even it out, or something. Spencer already has to peel Brendon out of his personal space bubble an average of eight times a day.

"You miss them a lot, huh," Sarah says.

"I shouldn't," Spencer says. "It's been long enough. It's just, I don't know. It's being here." He shakes his head, staring out the open window. Sarah's hair smells good. Kind of like coconuts? Maybe coconuts. Spencer can identify like three fruity smells and the rest all smell the same to him, but one of those smells is coconuts and he's pretty sure that's what Sarah's hair smells like. He takes a deep breath.

"This is harder than I thought it would be," Spencer says quietly. "It's really turning out to be bullshit. I didn't think it would suck this much."

"Yeah," Sarah says, and when Spencer looks down at her, her eyes are soft and understanding. "There's beer," Sarah says, after a moment. "I mean. There's always beer, but I bought actual good beer and had Shane stop by on his way out of town to drop a little something off. I figured you guys might need a break." She pauses. "Especially you."

"Thanks," Spencer says, squeezing her hip. "I appreciate that."

"Yeah," Sarah says. She opens her mouth to say something, and then she seems to think better of it, closing it again and standing up to press a feather-light kiss to Spencer's cheek.

"What were you going to say?" Spencer says, following suit and standing up.

"Nothing," Sarah says. "Let's go smoke a bowl and then we can go through my cookbooks and figure out what to make for dinner."

"Awesome," Spencer says.

Dinner turns out to be something with feta and chicken and spinach and olives that Sarah looks at and says she has all the ingredients for and Spencer looks at and just thinks oh god, get in my mouth, and says so out loud. Granted, Spencer's been thinking that about almost every recipe in this cookbook so far, but he's 90% sure he can blame that on the weed.

"Do you want my help?" Spencer says eventually, after they've all been lazing around in the living room for most of the afternoon. Brendon had gotten high with them and then promptly fallen fast asleep on the recliner, glasses still on and mouth open and socked feet sticking out into the air. "I can help cut up stuff for you."

"Nah," Sarah says, walking towards the kitchen on a path that takes her by Brendon's recliner, pausing on her way so she can poke him gently in the nose with a fond expression. Brendon sniffles, and shifts, but doesn't wake up. "I can do it myself. You're both still all jet-lagged. I don't trust either of you with knives just yet."

"Are you sure?" Spencer says. He tips his head back on the couch arm so he can keep Sarah in full view. "I'm great at moral support."

Sarah rolls her eyes. "Watch some tv, dumb-ass," she says fondly. "Stay out of my kitchen. I'll call you if I need an extra set of hands."

"Okay," Spencer agrees. It's not that he doesn't want to help Sarah and pull his weight around here, but he really is rather stoned and very comfortable. He kicks his feet underneath the arm of Brendon's couch instead, flopping over on to his side so he can make a lazy grab for the remote. Iron Chef's probably on. Spencer loves Iron Chef when there's no one (Dallon) around to make fun of him for it. He's lucky that Brendon and Sarah appreciate the glory that is the Kitchen Stadium.

Spencer hears the creaking of the recliner just as he's closing his fingertips around the remote, and then all of a sudden something large and heavy and Brendon-shaped is flopping down on top of him. Spencer makes an annoyed noise, slapping at Brendon's face half-heartedly as Brendon snuggles in.

"I was so comfortable," Spencer says sadly, as Brendon yawns in his face. "Also, Jesus, when was the last time you brushed your teeth? Belgium?"

"Probably," Brendon agrees, nuzzling into Spencer's chest. Spencer sighs, tugging Brendon into a more comfortable position so they can both actually fit on the couch while they watch tv. Brendon started this, so he gets to be the little spoon. Spencer isn't taking no for an answer. He hates being the little spoon on couches. He always feels like he's going to fall off the edge.

"Mmm," Brendon says sleepily, once Spencer's got them situated. "This is awesome. I was cold on the chair when I woke up."

"So of course you decided to come and steal my body heat," Spencer says. "Thanks bro."

"You know it," Brendon says, pressing back against Spencer's body. Spencer tightens his arm around Brendon so they don't fall off, and hopes futilely against inconvenient erections. They'll both just laugh it off anyway, but Spencer prefers it when his body doesn't suddenly decide he needs to fuck Brendon. It's just so awkward.

"Where's Sarah," Brendon says, yawning around the words. "She needs to come here and snuggle with me, too."

"In the kitchen making dinner for our lazy asses," Spencer says. "And no, before you ask, I tried to help and she said we're not allowed in there until we're at least 24 hours out of jet-lag."

"Probably smart," Brendon agrees. "We should do the dishes when she's done, though."

"Totally on it," Spencer promises. He tucks his nose into the crook of Brendon's neck. He's sort of tired and lazy and stoned right now, weirdly content to just lie here and smell Brendon's dirty hair and listen to Sarah hum along with her iPod in the kitchen. It's really nice, except for the part about how Spencer's life is miserable and lonely and he's going to die alone.

At least he hasn't seen this episode before.

 

 

four

Spencer realizes he needs to start looking for his own place the morning Penny pees on the area rug next to his bed.

It's not even her fault, not really, Spencer thinks, as he stares down at the pile of discarded clothing on the floor of Brendon and Sarah's bathroom. She didn't mean to ruin the rug, but the fact remains that now he's half-awake and he's holding the only unsoiled corner of a mostly pee-soaked hand-woven rug in one hand and those are totally Brendon's briefs and Sarah's panties which have been hastily dropped on the floor, and through the closed door that leads to their bedroom Spencer can sort of almost hear—

"Oh wow, suddenly I no longer need to rinse out this little rug that Penny peed on," Spencer says, loudly, in case Brendon and Sarah are listening. He did sort of stumble through their bathroom door while swearing a lot, and the door closing off their bathroom from the master bedroom isn't exactly the thickest door in the house. Spencer winces to himself as, at that moment, he hears a soft, broken moan. It sounds a lot like Brendon. "Suddenly I am starving and ready for breakfast," Spencer says, dropping the ruined rug in the tub and backing out of the room as fast as he can, closing the door behind him.

Outside the door, Penny presses her wet nose into his calf, and then looks up at him hopefully. "I really want to blame this all on you," Spencer tells her, leaning down to scratch her behind the ears. "But I probably should have knocked, huh?" Or at least listened a little more carefully before barging in, Spencer thinks as he makes his way back down the hallway to his own room. He shuts Penny outside the door and then flops back down on the bed, letting out a long sigh. He closes his eyes and thinks about jerking off, but his head aches, courtesy of the two—three?—shots he'd slipped into his ginger ale last night at 2am, after tossing and turning for hours before giving up and taking the easy way out. Spencer doesn't know why he can't fucking sleep lately, and it's bothering him. He's always been able to sleep at Brendon's house in the past, and now it seems like no matter where he is he's sleeping like shit and waking up six times in the middle of the night and then all of a sudden the sun is rising again and he doesn't feel any better.

"I need my own apartment," Spencer tells the ceiling of Brendon and Sarah's guest room. His stomach hurts. Sarah's panties had been blue, with little polka dots on them. Spencer wonders which one of them is on their way to coming right now. Maybe it's both of them. He'd definitely heard Brendon moaning, but that doesn't mean much, especially considering what Brendon's let slip about him and Sarah.

Spencer stares at the ceiling and wonders if Sarah can get off on fucking Brendon. Does it work like that? He doesn't know. He is severely uninformed. He should probably look that up, except for how he has absolutely no reason besides obsessive and morbid curiosity about what his hot best friends get up to in bed. Like, there is creepy, which Spencer sometimes is, and then there is creepy, which is what Spencer is pretty sure he's being right now, as he gives up and slides a hand into his boxers.

It doesn't take long. He's already half-hard with morning wood and he already has the sound of Brendon's soft, helpless moan floating around in his brain and all he really has to do is spit on his hand and think about Brendon and Sarah in any combination anyway and he's gone, it's over, thanks for the ride, don't forget to tip your waitress. He tells himself it's just the constant proximity and his brain getting all confused about which small, lithe, dark-haired people he's supposed to be attracted to, and it mostly works until he thinks about Brendon's face getting all messy when he goes down on Sarah and then he's coming all over his stomach and his hand and there's a thick block of guilt settling low in his ribcage, louder and more urgent than before.

"Apartment," Spencer says again, more desperate this time. "I need one. Fuck."

"You sure you don't want to come with me to Vegas?" Brendon says, later on that morning. "It's just for a couple of days."

Spencer shakes his head. "I need to look for an apartment," he says. "I'm going to go home and see everyone after I take care of that."

"You want company?" Sarah says, plunking her cereal bowl down on the table.

"Yeah," Spencer says, without really thinking about it too much. He's not actually sure if he wants company, but whatever. If Sarah wants to come, she can totally come. "Sure, if you want. It's probably going to be boring."

"No way," Sarah says. "Home-show addict, remember?" She points to herself. "You should call the realtor now and set something up for the morning," she says, crunching on her cereal. "Give them time to pull out all the stops and impress you."

"I don't want anything fancy," Spencer says, making a face.

"Not fancy," Sarah says. "Awesome. Stealth-awesome. Super awesome on the inside and totally stealth on the outside."

"You could just wait until I come back," Brendon says, frowning. "Then we could all go."

"I don't really want to get in your way any more than I have," Spencer says, hiding his face in his coffee mug. It's already been two weeks, and he's not sure he can actually handle listening to Brendon and Sarah have sex any longer.

"You are so not in the way," Brendon says, frowning. "Dude, how many times do I have to tell you? Sarah, tell Spencer he's not in the way."

"You're not in the way," Sarah says, her eyes crinkling up at the corners as smiles at him. There's a strange tone to her voice that Spencer can't quite read or place. "But I do get wanting to have your own space."

"He has his own space here," Brendon says, and then he looks down at his cereal bowl like even he knows he's being ridiculous. Spencer appreciates Brendon's concern, he really does, but he's pretty sure that if Brendon had his way Spencer would just move in with them again and like...no. Spencer thinks that might actually result in dementia and misery.

"B," Sarah says, and her voice is careful, giving nothing away. "Stop."

"I just," Brendon says, and Spencer can't really sit here and listen to Brendon list all the ways that Spencer leaving is going to make Brendon sad, so he gets up from the table. "I'm going out for a bit," Spencer says, and ignores the way his voice sounds tight and strange. It's almost 2pm, despite the fact that they're eating breakfast. Brendon's flight is at 5. Spencer can figure out a way to amuse himself for a few hours until Brendon leaves. Maybe he'll bring a book and sit somewhere and have a few beers.

"How?" Brendon says, giving Spencer an unimpressed look. "Your car's in Vegas at your parent's house."

"I'll take a cab," Spencer says, shoving his hands in his pockets as he walks towards his room. He closes the door behind him—firmly, but not obnoxiously, he's too old for temper tantrums—and he pulls out his messenger bag from under the bed, stuffing it with a notebook and the book he's reading, his iPod and his cell phone, his laptop, his sunglasses. He's almost ready to call the cab company when he hears a knock on the door and Sarah's voice saying, "Spence, it's me," on the other side.

"What," Spencer sighs, as he opens the door to let her in. "Is he pissed? Did he send you in here to play negotiator?"

"He's in the studio," Sarah says, shaking her head, at Brendon or at both of them, Spencer can't tell.

"Okay," Spencer says. Sarah sighs again.

"Don't take a cab," Sarah says, handing Spencer her car keys, pulled off their usual keychain. "Just take my car. It's fine."

"I was going to go to a bar," Spencer says. Sarah stares at him for a long moment, keys still dangling from her hand. "So don't drink too much," Sarah says, eventually. "Or call me and I'll take a cab out there and drive you home."

"I'm not going to drink that much," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "Fuck, I'm not like. I don't need to drown my sorrows in beer because I hurt Brendon's feelings."

"But you—" Sarah says, and then she shakes her head, looking away. "You know what, you're a big boy, you make your own decisions," she says, pressing her keys into his hand. "But don't do anything stupid, Spence."

"I'm not going to do anything stupid because Brendon's sulking," Spencer says again.

"He's not trying to—he's weird about you," Sarah says evasively. "He doesn't want you to leave."

"But I have to leave," Spencer says. "That's how these things work. Friends stay, it's fun, they hang out, and then they leave. You guys need space. I need space."

"Yeah," Sarah says. "Friends." Her voice has taken on that odd tone again, the one that Spencer can't quite place.

"Tell him I said goodbye," Spencer says, instead of tell him I'm sorry, because he isn't. Brendon needs to get over this weird codependency thing he's got going on with Spencer lately. Not that they haven't always been codependent, but Brendon has a life and a girlfriend and a house now, and he really needs to start letting go of Spencer. They need to start letting go of each other.

"Goodbye?" Sarah says, frowning.

"And safe travels and shit," Spencer adds, to make it clear that he doesn't actually mean like, goodbye goodbye.

"Can I paraphrase that to make it less sarcastic?" Sarah says, raising an eyebrow at him.

"Fine," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "Tell him I love him and I'm sorry I have to move out of his house so I can stop harshing his domestic bliss and I hope he doesn't die in a fiery airplane inferno on his way to Vegas."

"I think I might just stick with 'safe travels,' " Sarah says, leaning in to give Spencer a quick hug. She pauses before pulling away, and just for a moment, Spencer can smell the sweet scent of her hair.

"Seriously," Sarah says. "Call me if you need a ride."

"I won't need a ride," Spencer says, his throat suddenly dry. Sarah's really close.

"Okay," Sarah says, shrugging. "I'm just saying. It's not like I'm doing anything tonight."

"Yeah," Spencer says. He tries to think of something useful to say, but he can't. "I'm going to go," Spencer says eventually, after a few awkward moments. "Out."

"You do that," Sarah says, stepping backwards.

"Yup," Spencer says, and walks very carefully out to the garage.

Spencer doesn't get so drunk that it's not safe for him to drive home, but the prospect of doing so does require him to take a nap in Sarah's car for a while. He closes his eyes in the early evening sun and tries to figure out when he went over his limit, when the afternoon went from "drinking his annoyance at Brendon away" to "drinking", period. He thinks it's when someone at the bar ordered everyone a round of tequila shots. Spencer can't be blamed for the tequila shots.

No one in their right mind turns down free tequila shots.

Sarah's gone when Spencer gets home, probably still fighting the LA traffic on her way back from dropping Brendon off at the airport. He drops her keys on the kitchen table and goes to take a shower, because he smells like sweat and old beer and he's not on tour, so he might as well take advantage of free showers when he can.

His phone beeps when he's in the shower, but it's not until he's stepped out and dried himself off that he checks it. It's from Brendon, of course it is, and Spencer steels himself for something weird or angry but all the text says is:

take sarah with you when you go apt hunting. she'll find u a sweet bachelor pad.

will do, Spencer texts back, and then he adds, don't die on plane xo. He's not even angry at Brendon anymore. He's just sad and frustrated and tired and hungover, and he wants his life to not be his life for a while. He's sick of feeling like this and he's sick of spending his life wanting the two people he can't have.

Spencer pauses, staring down at his phone.

The two people he can't have.

The two people he can't have.

The realization doesn't hit him with flashing lights, or a stage show, or a parade of tiny dogs in party hats. It's quiet and soft and aching, right in the center of his chest, something so true and so real that he's been able to ignore it for a long time as the unquestioned baseline of his existence.

Fuck, Spencer thinks, his chest seizing up. Fuck. I'm in love with them.

And it's not that he's never known it, it's not that it's something new and strange and terrifying except for how it is, except for how Spencer's had so many lines for so long inside his head about what and where and when he's allowed to feel. It's about how it's not just the thought of Brendon and Sarah that gets him off, like some weird fantasy porn couple, it's that it's Brendon and Sarah and Spencer loves them, fuck. He loves them kind of desperately and he can't have them, not even a little bit, and Spencer thinks about his sudden anger from that morning and feels something click into place.

"Fuck," Spencer says, sitting down heavily on the side of the tub.

The next morning dawns quiet and painful. It's too early and Spencer doesn't want to be awake and Sarah's too pretty in the mornings. Everything sucks.

"Shit, we have to go in twenty minutes," Sarah says, her hair half-falling out of her tiny ponytail, still in sweatpants and flipflops and one of Brendon's old Palo Verde t-shirts. "I'm going to run upstairs and get dressed, can you make coffee for the ride?"

"Yeah," Spencer says, dropping his cereal bowl in the sink and then turning the water on to wash away the last traces of the milk. "Why the hell do we need to be there at nine am, again?"

"Because we want to snap up the best apartment before someone else does," Sarah calls back over her shoulder.

"Oh, right," Spencer tells his bowl, in a dull sort of voice. "Because we need to find the best apartment for you to be alone and miserable in, Spencer."

"Stop that," Sarah says, leaning back into the doorway frame to glare at him. "Man the fuck up. You're allowed to be depressed, that I can understand, but none of this wallowing in self-pity bullshit."

Spencer stares at her incredulously.

"That was way too direct, huh," Sarah says, after a beat. Her expression is starting to take on a distinctly deer-in-headlights look. "Oh, fuck. I didn't edit again, did I? I just said that. I just said that out loud. To you."

"Uh," Spencer says, and then he starts laughing, because what the fuck? There's really no other reaction to this situation. He's seen Sarah do that before—mostly to Brendon, occasionally with entertaining results—but she's never done it to him.

"Oh my god, I am so fucking sorry, seriously, I didn't sleep well last night," Sarah says, and Spencer just can't stop laughing, mostly because Sarah's right. Somewhere between last night and this morning he's definitely stepped over the line to actively wallowing in his own self-pity and misery. Not that he hasn't been doing that for a while now, but this morning he's been doing it with purpose.

"No, you're right," Spencer says, shaking his head. "I'm being. Something. I don't know."

"And you have every right to be," Sarah says, wincing as she walks back over to him. "Seriously, that was way out of line. I shouldn't have said that."

"It's fine," Spencer says. He still feels miserable, but at least Sarah got him to laugh. "It was funny. And true."

"We're going to find you the best apartment ever," Sarah says, looking determined. She goes up on her tip-toes, one hand cupping Spencer's cheek. "It's going to be awesome and a total swinging bachelor pad and you can drink all the beer you want and have your dogs and video games and your kit and everything. It's going to be perfect."

"Swinging bachelor pad, huh?" Spencer says, for lack of anything to say that isn't none of it is going to matter without you guys there.

"Totally," Sarah says firmly. "You can bring all your fly honeys there."

"Right," Spencer says.

"Right," Sarah says, stepping back. "Shit, now I really have to get dressed. Ten minutes, okay? And make the coffee. I need some."

"Will do," Spencer says, turning around to grab the coffee out of the cupboard shelf where Brendon and Sarah keep it. They buy the pre-ground kind, so Spencer just dumps it into the filter, pouring until it looks like there's enough and then filling the pot up with water. He presses Start, and then he pauses for a moment before grabbing one of Brendon and Sarah's travel mugs off the drying rack next to the sink and sneaking back to his room.

Spencer doesn't think too deeply about what he's doing; he just reaches into the bottom of his duffle bag and hunts around until he finds a fifth of whiskey, tipping a generous amount into the coffee mug. He knows it's a little early to be drinking, but he doesn't have to drive anywhere, and why would people make Irish coffee a thing if you weren't supposed to drink it in the morning? Whatever. The whiskey in the bottom of his travel mug is going to end up being the difference between having a decent day looking for apartments with Sarah, and getting all weird and choked up when he looks at apartments that Haley would have loved.

In the grand scheme of things, Spencer's being pretty responsible. In the long run.

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith?" the new realtor says, looking at Spencer and Sarah hopefully as they get out of the car. Spencer chokes on his coffee.

"Um," Sarah says, looking like she's holding back laughter. "No. I'm Sarah, and this is Spencer. Where's, um, where's Cassandra? She's the realtor we usually work with..." She leaves the end of her sentence dangling in mid-air, an unspoken question.

"Family emergency," the new realtor says sympathetically, giving them a sad look that seems relatively genuine for L.A. She's tiny and perky, not really much bigger than Sarah. She's wearing a very nice, very understated outfit that probably cost thousands of dollars. Spencer knows the type. He doesn't dislike them, but he never feels like he's on their level, either. "I'm Joline," she says, shaking their hands in turn. "So, is this your first apartment together as a couple?"

"We're not—" Spencer says, just as Sarah jumps in with a "No, we're just good friends."

"Oh!" Joline says. "Oh, okay. No problem. I'm sorry, I must have read the note Cassandra left for me wrong. My apologies. I didn't mean to imply anything."

"It's fine," Sarah says, and when Spencer looks over he would swear there's a faint blush on her cheeks. He ignores it and drinks more of his spiked coffee. He's suddenly really glad he put his sunglasses on, and that no one can see his expression.

"Anyway," Joline says, after an awkward moment has passed. "I thought I'd meet you guys outside, so that if you were in a hurry we could just head to the first place on the list. This one's my car, so—" She motions to the car she's standing next to, two cars down from theirs. "Did you want to just get started?"

"That would be great," Sarah says, nodding emphatically. She tucks her hand into the crook of Spencer's elbow, steering him firmly back towards the car. Spencer raises an eyebrow at her in confusion. "We'll follow you there."

"Is the number we have on file your cell phone?" Joline says, punching something into her blackberry.

"Yeah, that's my cell," Sarah says.

"I just sent you a text message," Joline says. "That's my number in case we get separated, but everything's in this neighborhood, so the drive times shouldn't be too terrible."

"Great," Sarah says again, sliding into the driver's seat. "We'll follow you there." Spencer gets into the passenger's seat, and Sarah waits a single, silent beat after the doors close before she starts laughing helplessly.

"Oh, shut up, being married to me wouldn't be that terrible," Spencer says lightly, ignoring the ache in his chest.

"It's not that," Sarah gasps, through giggles, turning the key in the ignition. "It's that she called us Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

"So?" Spencer says, blinking. "That's my last name."

"C'mon, the movie?" Sarah says, giving him a 'duh' sort of look. "With Brad Pitt? And Angelina Jolie? Spies? Sex? Explosions?"

"Oh," Spencer says, and then he cracks a grin, because Sarah's right, they do kind of look like spies this morning. Spencer's wearing his black leather jacket and his shades, and Sarah's got her hair pulled back and red lipstick on and a cute black hoodie that she probably stole from Pete's house at some point.

"I'm just saying," Sarah says. "We are totally Mr. and Mrs. Fucking Smith this morning. I wish I'd thought of that sooner, we could have pretended to be like, secret agents going house-hunting on our day off from saving the world."

"Real secret agents don't look like secret agents," Spencer says. "They look like regular people."

"Maybe we're double undercover," Sarah says. "We're secret agents pretending to be real people pretending to be secret agents."

"Right," Spencer says, trying not to grin. "Secret agents looking for a secret agent apartment."

"Damn straight we are," Sarah says, flicking on her signal indicator to follow Joline's car out of the parking lot.

It's not the worst day Spencer's ever spent looking at apartments, but five hours into their search Spencer's sort of tired and cranky and vaguely dehydrated from his secretly alcoholic coffee, and nothing they've seen all day has ended up being quite right. They've seen a place that was almost perfect, but was way too far away from anything for Spencer to really want to live there, six mediocre apartments that Spencer could probably stand to live in but weren't really what he wanted, and two places that were far too big for just Spencer on his own. Spencer knows he's a rock star and all, but he's not really sure what to do with two floors and twelve rooms, and he doesn't need three bathrooms for one person. He's not planning on having that many parties.

"This is the last one for today," Joline says, leading them up a brick-lined walkway, past a large acacia tree. She opens the door into a condo that's small and quiet but airy, with an open floor plan and wood floors. There's nothing to really set it apart from any of the other condos that Spencer's seen, until he notices the spiral staircase in one corner.

"Awesome," Spencer says, walking over to peer up the staircase, and Joline smiles, following him. "I like this one," she says conspiratorially. "It just went on the market a few days ago. I've only shown it to one other couple—er, person. The bedroom's up there, in the loft," she says, coming to stand beside him. "Go up and take a look."

"Sure," Spencer says distantly, already climbing the staircase. When he pokes his head through to the second floor, he immediately gets that feeling in his gut, the this is the place sort of feeling. The loft is light and airy and he can totally make an awesome bedroom up here, with a big futon and curtains to block out all the light for when he wants to sleep in and pillows on the floor. It's like a loft made out of happiness. Spencer can make the entire place his bed if he really wants to.

"Oh my god," Sarah says, from behind him. "Look at this fucking place. You sure you don't want our place? We could switch, and Brendon and I will take this one."

"I'm going to make this entire floor my bed," Spencer tells her solemnly. "The whole thing."

"Oh man," Sarah says. "Oh, dude."

"Right?" Spencer says, elbowing her and grinning his first real smile all day. "Shit, it's going to be great. I can lie up here with the dogs and we can all just hang out."

"Did you even look at the rest of it?" Sarah says. "It's awesome. You've got a deck with a two-person hot tub, too. New appliances in the kitchen. Huge windows. It's a sweet fucking apartment."

"I want it," Spencer says, making his decision. He knows it's in his price range, since Sarah had specified all of that stuff the day before, when she made the appointment. "I'm taking it." He hasn't seen the rest of it yet, but short of it lacking a bathroom or something vital like that, Spencer's already made up his mind.

"Good," Sarah says. "Because honestly, I'd think you were dumb if you didn't. It's perfect." She's looking at the loft—Spencer's loft—with a wistful sort of smile on her face, and Spencer pushes away all the thoughts that sail into his head about what he and Sarah and Brendon could get up to in a bed that took up an entire room.

"Can I show you guys the rest of the place?" Joline calls, from below them. "There's some really amazing structural features in this one. Besides the staircase, I mean."

"Absolutely," Spencer calls back, following Sarah down the staircase. "We want to see all of it."

"So you found a place?" Brendon says, his voice strange and slightly static in the backseat of the cab that's taking him to the airport in Vegas. Or maybe Brendon's just being weird again, Spencer can't tell.

"Yeah, it's amazing, I'm going to have a bed the size of your living room," Spencer says. "Also, why are you taking a cab? Why didn't your dad drive you?"

"Long story," Brendon says. "Like, everyone somehow thought someone else was driving me? Not in a mean way, it just got really confusing. And Dad had this work meeting he couldn't miss and Mom was getting her hair cut and Kara couldn't get Julie to settle down for a nap and I finally just figured that calling a cab was easier than making everyone reschedule."

"Ah," Spencer says, because that sounds par for the course for Brendon's big, crazy, happy mess of a family.

"Tell me about the apartment," Brendon says, and Spencer doesn't think he's imagining it, Brendon really does sound weird. Kind of—lonesome. Or lonely. One of those.

"It has a hot tub," Spencer says. "And fancy appliances that I'll never use unless Sarah comes over and cooks in my kitchen. Or until my mom visits, I guess. And a staircase in the living room that leads to a loft. Which I am going to make into a giant bed."

"That's fucking awesome," Brendon admits.

"Right?" Spencer says. "Who doesn't want a ten foot bed? No one, that's who. It's going to be a bed with a path running down the center so the dogs don't get it dirty. A motherfucking bed so big it needs roads. You will need a map to navigate that fucking shit."

"I am so jealous of you right now," Brendon tells him sincerely.

"Everyone in the world is jealous of me right now," Spencer says. "When are you getting back in?"

"Ten, I think?" Brendon says. "I don't know, the itinerary's on my phone, and I'm talking on my phone right now, so. Sarah knows. Ask Sarah. You going to come with and pick me up at the airport?"

"I am so fucking sick of airports," Spencer tells him seriously, and then relents. "But yeah, I'll come along and keep her company while we sit in traffic."

"I knew there was a reason we kept you around," Brendon says. "Hey, let's celebrate tonight, I'm back in town and you got a new apartment. We'll all go out to dinner, or something. And then you can take me over to see the new place. You got the keys today, right?"

"Sounds good," Spencer says. "And yeah, the realtor gave me one of her sets. I think I'll get actual ones in a few days, after everything goes through and they've confirmed that I really can afford to pay for it and stuff. But I can get in tonight if you want to take a look around."

"Sweet," Brendon says, and everything in his voice sounds honest, if still slightly raw. "I'm looking forward to it, bro."

The outside bar is already crowded by the time they hop out of Brendon's Audi and hand the keys to the valet. Brendon looks tired but happy, freshly showered and wearing a plaid shirt that Spencer's never seen before. Granted, Brendon owns a lot of plaid, but Spencer's almost certain that this is a new one.

"New shirt?" Spencer says casually, while trying not to sound like he's memorized Brendon's clothing selection.

"Yeah, from my mom," Brendon says, catching Sarah on the arm as she trips over an uneven portion of the pavement. She's wearing dangerously high heels. Spencer has always been secretly impressed by how Sarah can manage to walk in those things. "I'm fine," Sarah says, shrugging him off, and Spencer tucks his hand back into his jean pocket and feels grateful he didn't give into his own impulse to hold his arm out, too.

"Anyway," Brendon says, as they enter the restaurant through the side door. "You'd think my mom would stop buying me clothing, but no. Every time I come home there's another new shirt or something." He grins as he says it and Spencer smiles back, because there was a time when any of the Uries buying anything for Brendon would have been a big fucking deal and they both know it.

"So," Spencer says, as they come to a stop in front of the hostess booth. "Are we getting a table, or..."

"Shots," Sarah says, very firmly. Spencer blinks at her. She's been weird all night, ever since Spencer fell asleep in the back of the car and woke up to Brendon and Sarah having a harsh, whispered conversation in the front seat. Spencer had caught Brendon saying something about tonight before Sarah had glanced in the rear view mirror and hissed, "Ssshhh, Brendon, shut up," before flicking the stereo on.

"Okay," Spencer says, and glances over at the hostess, who is still waiting patiently for them to decide. "Shots at the outside bar, the inside bar, or at a table?"

"Inside looks less crowded," Brendon points out, craning his neck to see over the crowd. There's a few tables scattered around the bar area, too, and two waitresses effortlessly navigating the crowd as they make their rounds.

"We'll take the inside bar," Spencer decides, nodding at the hostess, who waves them on with a slightly-annoyed smile. The steps up to the bar area are steep, and Spencer tries and fails not to notice both Brendon and Sarah's asses in front of him.

"What kind of shots?" Spencer says, before realizing that Sarah is already squeezing herself into the bar and flagging down a bartender. Spencer looks back across their table at Brendon, who looks vaguely embarrassed.

"Is she okay?" Spencer asks, instead of any of the obvious questions he'd like to ask.

"Yeah," Brendon says, and when he looks away Spencer thinks he might even be blushing. "Yeah, she's fine, it's just—you know Sarah, sometimes she gets nervous."

"Nervous?" Spencer says, frowning. "What does she have to be nervous about?"

"Um," Brendon says. "Uh, stuff. It's. She's got some stuff going on. With her friends."

"Sure," Spencer says, and tries not to let that one syllable convey how much he doesn't believe a word Brendon is saying.

"Take your pick," Sarah says, walking carefully back to the table with three different shots balanced between her fingers. "I got an assortment."

"What are they?" Spencer says, trying to mentally identify the various colors and liquids.

"An Alien Nipple, a B-52 and an Italian Stallion," Sarah says, and Brendon snickers. "Why do mixed shots always have the dirtiest names," he asks, pulling the Italian Stallion towards himself.

"Uh, these aren't even that dirty," Sarah says. "Be happy I didn't order you a Hymen Ripper." Spencer can feel himself making a disgusted face, and Brendon looks horrified. "I know," Sarah says, choosing the B-52. "I know. I'm just saying. It could have been worse."

"I appreciate that," Brendon says, and raises his shot. Spencer picks up the Alien Nipple, and they clink their tiny glasses together before tossing them back. Spencer's shot is sweet, and tastes faintly of butterscotch.

The rest of the evening rapidly turns into a blur of food and alcohol and the heady sound of Brendon's laughter. Spencer switches to water and beer after the fourth shot, but he's already pretty drunk and he has no idea what time it is. Sarah's leaning on his shoulder and Spencer can tell she's hammered even through the haze of his own intoxication. They're definitely going to have to call a cab.

"B," Spencer says, reaching over to shake Brendon on the shoulder when he realizes that Brendon isn't paying attention to him, and is instead raptly watching a nearby couple make out at the bar. "Brendon. Dude. Stop staring," Spencer says. He tries not to smile, but the alcohol sings in his blood and he's in a good mood. He's drunk enough that he can appreciate how handsome Brendon looks tonight without an immediate tinge of sadness and regret following soon after.

"Sorry," Brendon says sheepishly, turning back to face Spencer. He's very close. Spencer realizes all of a sudden that Sarah isn't leaning on his arm anymore. "Where did Sarah go," Spencer frowns, looking around and not seeing her in the crowd at the bar.

"Bathroom," Brendon says, unsteadily raising his pint to his lips and taking a long gulp.

"Okay," Spencer says. "Okay. Listen. We should call a cab. Because I can't drive like this."

"I—yeah," Brendon agrees. "I'm." He snickers into his beer. "I'm really drunk," Brendon admits, when he sets the beer down.

"And Sarah is little and tiny," Spencer says, because it makes sense in his head. "So she's drunker than we are. And—and yeah. Cabs."

"Cabs," Brendon agrees, and he's so close that Spencer can count every one of his freckles. "You should come home with us," Brendon says, and Spencer nods. "I am coming home with you," Spencer says. "All my shit is still at your place."

"No, like—" Brendon bites his lip, looking down at the table. There's a smear of liquid on the fake wood-grained tabletop, and Brendon draws the liquid into sharp, defined peaks with his fingernails while he talks. "Like we've talked about it. Sarah and I. And we think—I think. I want," Brendon says, and Spencer has no idea what the fuck he's talking about. He's way too drunk to follow Brendon's half sentences.

"B," Spencer says, not unkindly. "The fuck are you talking about?"

"Come home with me," Brendon says softly, and he's leaning in, close enough that Spencer can feel Brendon's words puffed lightly across his lips. Spencer's pulse is racing all of a sudden, alcohol and adrenaline humming through his veins. "We talked about it. She said it's okay."

Spencer's stomach jumps up and oh god, he's drunk, too drunk to deal with this. Brendon is so close and he's everything that Spencer's been wanting for so long and part of Spencer wants to just take it, take whatever Brendon's offering without looking at the details. His head is swimming. Brendon's skin is so warm.

"You—" Spencer says helplessly, and he's just barely closed the distance between them, just barely touched his mouth to Brendon's full lower lip when the full impact of Brendon's words connects. "Wait, what?" Spencer says, and it feels like there's a stone in his stomach all of a sudden, dropping down and down until it hits his intestines with a sickly thud. Come home with me, Brendon had said. Not us. Me. They'd talked about it. Sarah had said it was okay.

"What do you mean, you talked about it?" Spencer says, pulling back.

"She said it's fine," Brendon says breathlessly, trying to get Spencer's mouth back. "It's okay, she doesn't mind if I just—"

"You're a selfish fucking asshole," Spencer says, and he thinks his hands might be shaking. He can't breathe. "Brendon, what the fuck?"

"What?" Brendon says, and he's looking at Spencer with a wounded, mystified expression, as though he can't understand why Spencer would have a problem with fucking Brendon on the side for one night while Sarah makes herself scarce. As though that's a reasonable thing to ask someone, to just assume that Sarah's going to roll over and take it and Spencer's going to roll over and take it and move on with his life and fuck, fuck, Spencer needs to get out of here.

"Why are you—It's not cheating," Brendon says, exasperated, and Spencer stands up, shoving himself away from the table and turning around to duck through the crowd. His phone is out and in his hand, and Spencer weaves through the push of sweaty bodies while he scrolls through his contacts for the number of the cab company they always use when they're home. The call connects just as Spencer steps outside, and then he sees that there's a line of cabs just down the road, waiting at another restaurant a few blocks away. He hangs up and quickens his pace, darting across the road and hoping Brendon isn't following him. His legs feel slow and heavy, and everything seems to be happening too fast. He realizes with a sickly lurch that he has no idea how much he's had to drink tonight. He couldn't even begin to go back and start counting.

Spencer hears a shout behind him just as he pulls open the door to the nearest cab, and he falls in gracelessly. His phone is ringing in his pocket and he ignores it, fumbling in his wallet until he finds the scrap of paper with the address of his new apartment on it.

"Here," he says, handing it to the cab driver. The driver looks in the mirror. "Is that your friend?" he says, and Spencer shakes his head. The cab spins around him.

"No," Spencer says. "He's just some asshole, let's go." The driver nods, pulling away from the curb, and Spencer's phone finally quiets for a moment. Spencer takes advantage of the silence to mash his finger down on the power button. He thinks about pulling the battery out and throwing it out the window, but his fingers are clumsy and he's too drunk to accomplish anything that requires fine motor skills. He closes his eyes instead, ignoring the sensation of everything spinning around him in favor of the sick, cold feeling in his stomach.

Fifteen minutes later the cab is pulling up in front of Spencer's new condo, and Spencer shakes himself awake and fumbles in his wallet for a twenty. He tips the driver with another ten and then stumbles out of the cab, spare set of keys already in his hand. It's tricky to navigate the graduated concrete steps that lead up to his front door, but Spencer manages it, and once he's through the door Spencer lies down in his empty living room and closes his eyes. This is better, he thinks, stomach already starting to curl in on itself. He rolls onto his side and folds up into a ball and tells himself it's just better this way.

The next morning sucks.

It sucks really fucking hard because even while Spencer's throwing up he can't stop the kaleidoscope of images from last night running through his head, and when he's done there's no water glass to rinse his mouth out with, and no hand towels to dry his face, and no toilet paper anywhere to be found. He cups his hands under the faucet and makes do with rinsing his mouth and then his face off, drying his face on the bottom of his t-shirt. As soon as he doesn't feel quite so much like ass, Spencer vows to go straight to Target and buy things like paper towels and toilet paper and blankets and a coffee maker.

He stares at his tired reflection in the mirror and thinks how did this get so fucked up just as someone starts to pound on the front door. From the bathroom it sounds like a low, reverberating thump thump thump, but Spencer knows what that sound is, just as he knows who's pounding on his door at 8 o'clock on the morning. There's really no one else it could be. He thinks about letting Brendon stand out there and tire himself out, but Spencer's not quite that cruel.

He stumbles out of the bathroom and yanks the front door open, mid-knock. Brendon stares at him for a moment and then shoves his way past Spencer, coming to a stop once he's standing in the middle of Spencer's empty living room. He's wearing sweatpants and a stained white t-shirt that Spencer remembers from high school. He looks like he hasn't slept very much.

"What," Spencer snaps, because Brendon is just standing in the middle of his living room, holding himself tightly and practically vibrating with fury.

"What the fuck was that last night?" Brendon says, glaring at Spencer, making every word count. "A gay freak out? You don't want to be a fag like me, is that it?"

"Brendon," Spencer says sharply, because it's been a long time since he's heard Brendon throw around such a loaded word, and the last time it happened Brendon was seventeen and terrified and taking potshots at anyone who was stupid enough to get within his radar. Spencer takes a deep breath and reminds himself that he is twenty-three years old and there are other ways to resolve this besides punching Brendon in the face.

"No," Spencer says. "And you don't say shit like that, asshole. Not about yourself, and not about me."

"Scared?" Brendon says, raising an eyebrow. His tone is mocking.

"No," Spencer says, turning and walking towards the kitchen. Everything hurts, inside and out. "Because I'm not a coward like you are."

"Oh, don't you fucking even—" Brendon says, and he looks furious, honestly furious. Spencer wonders if this is going to end in a fistfight after all. "I'm sorry I'm such a goddamn coward that I finally manned the fuck up and did something about us instead of just pretending it wasn't there."

"Did you ever think that maybe there was a reason I didn't?" Spencer turns around and yells, startling even himself with the volume. "Did you maybe think, oh, I don't know, maybe you should stop being so fucking selfish and just taking whatever you want when you want it?"

"Selfish?" Brendon says, and he sounds incredulous. "You think this is about me being selfish? Fuck you. Yeah, god, I'm so selfish, sitting around and watching you be miserable."

"How do you think she felt?" Spencer snaps. His hands are shaking, and he steadies himself with one hand on the counter. "How do you think Sarah felt when you told her that she wasn't enough for you, that you wanted more? Were you proud of yourself because at least this time you bothered to ask?" It's a low blow and Spencer knows it, knows he doesn't have any room to talk. They've both been relative careless about the meaning of fidelity over the years, but when it comes down to the bottom line, out of the two of them Brendon's always been more shameless about it.

"I didn't—what the fuck," Brendon says weakly, his shoulders dropping all of a sudden. "Are you fucking serious? It was her idea." The words spill out like a punch to Spencer's gut, and suddenly he doesn't even know what he's feeling anymore. He'd been so furious on Sarah's behalf, and his own, and now he doesn't even know what to feel.

"Spencer," Brendon says unsteadily. He holds his hand for a moment, before thinking better of it and running that hand through his hair. It's sticking straight up in the front. "This isn't just me asking for a one-night stand. I thought you would get that. This is both of us. She just thought it would go easier if it came from me."

"I don't—I can't," Spencer says, holding on to the countertop for dear life. Fuck, he can't do this. He can't be there with them for one night and then try to leave. Spencer feels like he's already holding on by a thread, and there's only so much more he has to give. He wants to throw up. "Brendon—don't fuck with me like this. You know it's not just—you know what it's like," Spencer says quietly, hoping that Brendon does know, that he won't have to say it out loud. "We can't do that. I can't do that." He takes a deep breath. "Not just for one night."

"It doesn't have to be for one night," Brendon says carefully, moving closer. "We're not stupid. It's not just you, I mean—yeah, okay, it took me a while to deal with it when Sarah finally made me look at it head-on, but it's never been like that with us, okay? It's never been just friends. It's always been more complicated than that."

"Yeah," Spencer says, his throat dry. "But you moved on. And that's good, it's fucking great, I mean Sarah, she's—she's amazing. You have to know that," Spencer says, and his heart aches. "She loves you so much," Spencer says, and doesn't think about how when this conversation is over he's going to have to go somewhere very quiet and cry for the first time in maybe ten years.

"Yeah," Brendon says. "And she loves you so much, too."

"Don't—"

"No, shut up and listen for a second," Brendon says, but the words are soft. He's moving closer, slowly, like he's afraid Spencer's going to lash out or run away. "It was always complicated. This isn't going to change anything. It's just going to make everything make more sense. We didn't want you to leave, Spence. We wanted you to stay with us and live there and that's not normal, okay? We want you around all the time. I mean—" Brendon waves a hand at Spencer's brand new, shiny kitchen. "It's okay, you can have your own apartment, we're not trying to run your life, but we just—we had to say something about it. Before we lost you again." Brendon looks more solemn than Spencer can remember seeing him in a long time, not since South Africa and, before that, Ryan's father's funeral.

"You're not losing me," Spencer croaks. "We're in a band. I'm not going anywhere. You're always going to have me."

"Not the way we want," Brendon says, and he's sliding his hand into Spencer's, careful and slow, like he's circling a wounded animal. "We don't have to do anything right now," Brendon says. "I mean, fuck, I'm hungover as shit and Sarah's been crying all morning, and you still look like you're going to throw up. But come home with us," Brendon says, and he holds on tighter. "I"m sorry I was a drunk asshole who fucked everything up last night."

"Brendon—" Spencer says, and then he stops, because he doesn't even know what he wants to say. Part of him wants to jump at Brendon's suggestion, wants to throw himself in head-first without looking back, because this is it, what he's been waiting for and pretending he doesn't want and now it's here, held out to him in Brendon's waiting hands. But at the same time everything feels wrong, like this is too fast, too easy. Spencer's sick and he's hungover and he can't stop thinking about what happens when Brendon and Sarah get tired of him, when all of them start fighting and it just becomes easier to let Spencer go rather than dealing with the complications. Spencer has no illusions about who Brendon will pick when it really comes down to it.

"We can't," Spencer whispers. "I can't. Brendon—people don't just do that kind of thing. It doesn't work like that."

"It does," Brendon says desperately. "It can. We can make it work. Somehow, I don't care, just—fuck, watching you like this is killing us, can't you see that? I've never seen you so depressed."

"Is that what this is?" Spencer says, frowning, slipping his hand out of Brendon's, even though he wants to hold on. "You just want to fix me, is that it? You think your dick is just going to make this better?"

"No, I want you to stop drinking yourself to death," Brendon whispers, and Spencer freezes. There's the cold shock of ice in his gut, the tingling along his spine that tells him he's no longer breathing properly.

"What," Spencer says, anger running hot in his stomach, anger and fear mixed so closely together that he doesn't know where one ends and the other begins. "Are you fucking—you're going to fucking preach to me about my drinking? You?"

"Sarah cleaned your room up in case you came back last night," Brendon says. His voice is soft and scared. "That's a lot of bottles, Spence."

"It's not what it looks like."

"Then tell me what it is," Brendon says unsteadily. "Because Sarah says she thinks it's been going on for a while. She said you were drunk at the airport, but she figured we'd just been drinking on the plane."

"She's lying."

"We didn't drink on the plane," Brendon says. "So when where you drinking? Where?"

"I wasn't," Spencer says. He's never been so scared. Scared and ashamed and fuck, Brendon needs to leave right now before Spencer does something stupid that he's going to regret. "She's just making shit up."

"It's okay," Brendon says. "It's okay, we'll figure this out, maybe you just need to talk to someone—"

"Get out," Spencer says, and he knows his voice is shaking. "Get out, seriously. We're not talking about this."

"Spencer—" Brendon says desperately.

"Get the fuck out, and don't call me," Spencer says, and then he closes his eyes and tries to breathe because everything is swimming before his eyes. He hears Brendon's footsteps traveling away from him on the tile, and then the sound of his front door slamming, hard enough to rattle the windows.

Spencer waits until he's positive that he can breathe without focusing on it, and then he slides down with his back against the cabinets until he's sitting on the floor. He listens to the silence of his apartment around him for a long time, long enough that his legs start to cramp and his stomach feels sick and nauseous. He doesn't know what time it is, or where his phone is. He doesn't know what to do.

He doesn't cry.

 

five.

His mom skirts around the elephant in the room for the first six days Spencer's back in Vegas, sleeping in his old bedroom and staring up at his old light fixtures and thinking about ten years ago, when he used to do this very same thing only with Ryan sleeping ten feet away on his floor. Ginger picks him up from the airport and hugs him for a long time and doesn't say anything, just asks about the tour and about California and tells him how excited his dogs are going to be to see him. Spencer's man enough to admit that he might have teared up a little bit the first time he saw Boba running towards him full-tilt once they pulled into his driveway, but only under duress. He has a reputation to maintain.

He spends the first two days sleeping and eating, and the next four letting himself be carried along with whatever else is happening. It's strange to remember that his family has their own lives now, that his presence is a welcome but not strictly necessary factor. It's not that he's never noticed it before, but this time in particular it feels like he's been away a long time, like everything has changed when he wasn't looking. His mom has redone the living room and Jackie has a new boyfriend and his Dad's looking older and everything is just—it's different. Spencer is really tired of different. He wants familiar.

Ginger doesn't broach the topic until Sunday night, when Spencer's sitting in the living room with his feet kicked up on the coffee table, wearing a pair of old sweatpants and one of Brendon's t-shirts that he's had for so long he's pretty much claimed it as his own. He'd thought about throwing it out when he realized he'd packed it but fuck it, it's a cool t-shirt and he likes it and he's not actually that petty, no matter how much he'd like to be. He's pushing all of his emotions so far down right now that it seems like climbing a mountain to even try and figure out how he feels about Brendon's stupid t-shirt, so he just throws it on and goes to watch re-runs of Deadliest Catch.

"How long are you staying?" Ginger says, and Spencer shrugs one shoulder, most of his attention still on the TV. There is a seriously gnarly ice storm going on, and he thinks one of the guys is about to fall overboard.

"Honey—," Ginger says, and then she doesn't say anything else for a long time, long enough that Spencer turns to look at her in vague curiosity. "You just bought a new apartment and now you're here and you're not showering and you don't look very happy," Ginger says eventually. "You want to tell me what's going on?"

"Nothing's going on," Spencer says, but even as he says it there's a stupid catch in his throat and fuck, of course, he's never lost his composure in three years and now he's losing it all over the place. He's not even upset and all of a sudden he thinks he's going to cry in front of his mom, and she hasn't even done anything.

"Okay," Ginger says, and holds her arms out. Spencer slides over until he can lean up against her shoulder, and she smells warm, like home.

"Brendon keeps calling the house phone," Ginger says, after another another commercial break. "And Sarah's called a couple of times, too. I said you weren't home."

"Thanks," Spencer croaks out.

"They're worried about you," Ginger says. "Should I be worried about you?"

"No," Spencer says. He burrows closer, and hopes she won't notice.

"You just look so sad lately," Ginger says quietly, and Spencer wants to freak out and run away but the only thing left inside of him is an empty sense of regret. He doesn't even have the energy to deny it. He is sad. He's sad and he's angry and he's in love and it's been six days since he's had a drink and he doesn't like the way his body or his head feels without the alcohol, which is it's own set of problems.

"Maybe," Spencer says, after a long pause. He closes his eyes.

"We could make you an appointment to talk to someone," Ginger says. "You know Aunt Cathy works in that stuff out in LA. I could call and ask her for recommendations. Someone who'll listen."

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Maybe."

"I'll call her in the morning," Ginger says, and kisses him on the top of his head. Spencer nods and changes the channel.

The next three weeks pass in a lazy blur of not doing much of anything, but Spencer starts to notice a quiet, concerted effort by his parents to get him up and dressed and out of the house, even if it's only to go to the hardware store to help his mom pick out lighting fixtures. He wants to be cranky and contrary and lie in his room forever and be miserable, but he has to admit it might be helping. He thinks the two tiny bottles of pills sitting on his dresser might be helping too, but he knows it's too soon to tell. Aunt Cathy had had recommendations for an agency that has offices both here and in LA, and so Spencer had grudgingly sat down for a three-hour intake session and left with appointment dates, times, referrals, prescriptions for both an anti-depressant and a sleeping medication, and a list of every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Vegas.

Spencer had promptly thrown that flyer in the back of his car and purposefully forgotten about it, but he's taking the pills when he's supposed to and he's sleeping more and the itch for something to take the edge off is coming less often. The pills make him jittery at first, and then tired and lethargic, but he grits his teeth and keeps taking them.

He's been dragging himself out and going for runs again and while part of him hates it, there's another part of him that loves the way it quiets everything in his brain, just for a little while. When he's running there's no Brendon and no Sarah and no fear of getting left behind and no empty condo, there's just his breath and the wind and the pounding of his blood through his veins.

Jackie and Crystal come home to visit for a week, and together they all tackle the garage and then the remains of Spencer's condo, tucked away in a storage unit on the other side of town. He makes arrangements to ship most of it but they go through everything box by box anyway, until Spencer can actually locate everything he owns, which hasn't happened in a long time. Jackie makes fun of his taste in literature and makes horrified faces at the boxes of crusty dishes (which land immediately in the trash), and Crystal hooks up her ipod to her speakers so they can listen to music and refuses to let Spencer play DJ. It's all strangely comforting.

It's been almost a month since he's talked to anyone who isn't in his family on the day that he accidentally answers Brendon's call, and that only happens because he's expecting the person on the other end of the line to be his Dad. He's meeting his parents and some relatives at a restaurant for his cousin's birthday, and Spencer's standing in the foyer feeling edgy and restless when his phone rings. He seizes it as a welcome distraction from the itching need to go over to the bar and order himself a double whiskey on the rocks, but he's not expecting Brendon's hesitant—"Spence?"

"Fuck," Spencer says, blinking in confusion at the fake flower arrangement next to the doorway. It's purple and blue and kind of weird looking, and Brendon's still talking in his ear and now his Dad is on the other line, and his parents are going to be here soon with everyone else. This is absolutely not the place for this conversation.

"I don't—I have to call you back," Spencer says, because seriously, he can't do this here. Brendon makes a frustrated noise in his ear.

"Fine," Brendon says. "But are you actually going to call me back?"

"Probably," Spencer says, and hearing Brendon's voice in his ear is doing amazing, awful things to his insides. He feels like he's going to throw up from nerves which is stupid because this is Brendon, his best friend and he's never felt like this after they've gotten in a fight before. They've gone longer than this without talking but usually Spencer just feels relieved the first time one of them breaks the silence. Then again, usually Brendon hasn't both admitted he's in love with Spencer and then basically called him an alcoholic right after.

"Would you rather talk to Sarah?" Brendon says, and he sounds sad. "She didn't—she felt weird calling your mom. Do you want to talk to her instead?"

"I don't know," Spencer says. "I don't know if I even want to talk to either of you."

"But are you okay?" Brendon asks and he sounds really, honestly upset. "Just tell us if you're okay. Please." His voice is making something ache in Spencer's chest, even as he tries to hold on to his anger. The last time he saw Brendon he wanted to punch him in the face but here and now, he's not so sure that's how he feels anymore.

"I'm okay," Spencer sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face and then stepping outside to the patio, where it's less crowded. He ignores the beeps from his call waiting telling him his family is probably looking for him. "I'm in Vegas with my family. I'm coming back next week with the dogs and my car and stuff."

"Good," Brendon says. "That's—good."

"I went and saw a therapist and they put me on some drugs and I'm not drinking anymore," Spencer says. "Is that what you wanted to hear? You want me to tell you it's all fixed up now and you don't have to worry?" Spencer bites his lip. Maybe he's still a little angry.

"No," Brendon says. "Fuck you, asshole. I wasn't trying to—we just wanted you to be happy. Are you happy? Is it working?"

"I don't know," Spencer says, and out of the corner of his eye he can see Crystal moving towards him and waving to get his attention. "Maybe. Brendon—look, I'll call you back. I'm at this family dinner thing. I have to go."

"Okay," Brendon says. He waits beat. "Sarah says hi."

"Hi Sarah," Spencer says awkwardly. Crystal is peering up at him with a confused expression, and Spencer nods at her in acknowledgement. "I, um. I really have to go, though."

"Yeah, okay," Brendon says, and hangs up the phone.

"Who's Sarah?" Crystal says, tugging him towards the restaurant and then steering him to their table once they're back inside. "Isn't that Brendon's girlfriend?"

"Yeah," Spencer says and promptly changes the subject.

Spencer drives back to Santa Monica on a Thursday, with the dogs in the back of the car and a six-pack of Red Bull and water in the front seat. He rolls the windows down and ties his hair back and turns the music up, and the dogs lean over every so often and lick the backs of his ears to let him know they're still alive.

The sun is high in the sky, shining with a thin, clean winter light, and Spencer doesn't feel fixed but he doesn't feel quite so broken today either. He knows he's driving into a mess of complications but for the first time in a long time it seems vaguely manageable instead of just overwhelming. He still doesn't know what to say to Brendon or Sarah but he thinks that maybe they can at least repair their friendship into something functional.

When his phone rings, he doesn't look at the caller ID before answering. He has a pretty good idea who it could be, and he's not disappointed when he hears Sarah's voice on the other end.

"Hey," Sarah says, and Spencer lets himself smile a little bit.

"Hey," he says, and wonders how awkward this is going to be.

"So, uh, I did this thing," Sarah says. "We were out shopping and I sort of bought you a rug? I didn't really mean to, it's just. It's an awesome rug."

"What?" Spencer says.

"Yeah," Sarah says. "Yeah, I know. But you know how you have that loft? This rug is perfect for it. It's fucking huge, and the pattern is like, it's like one of those kids mats with the streets printed on them except this is all done in Legos."

"Holy shit," Spencer says, blinking. "That's. That's fucking awesome."

"Right?" Sarah says. "So um. I bought it. Sorry. Should I get it delivered here? Or are you coming back to LA any time soon? Brendon said you might be coming back."

"I'm actually driving back right now," Spencer says. "You can just get it delivered it to my place. I'll be there tonight."

"Cool," Sarah says, and he hears the sound of her nails clicking on a keyboard. "Okay."

"Yeah," Spencer says. He takes a deep breath, and then he says, "I'm sorry if I freaked you guys out. I needed to get out of LA for a while." He knows Brendon and Sarah aren't the same person, and he'll need to say the same thing to Brendon, but he and Brendon have a lot to talk about anyway.

"It's okay," Sarah says. She waits a beat. " You're an asshole."

"Yeah," Spencer says.

"Can I tell Brendon you're coming?" Sarah says. "He wants to see you pretty bad."

"Yeah," Spencer says, and then glances at the clock on his dashboard. "Don't—not tonight, though. Just call me tomorrow, uh, if you want to come by."

"Okay," Sarah says. Then she says in a rush, "I want to see you pretty bad, too," and Spencer hears the click of a dial tone.

"Right," Spencer says to himself as he plugs his phone back into the car charger. "Me too."

Spencer spends his second night in his new apartment in his sister's old sleeping bag from high school, but at least he has pillows and water and toilet paper this time around. He brings the dogs in from the car and gets them situated with food and water and then takes them for a walk, and then he dumps the rest of his supplies in the loft and orders take-out. He sits upstairs on his rolled-out sleeping bag and eats Chinese and watches two episodes of No Reservations on his iPad, and then he takes his sleeping pills and curls up with his dogs and goes to bed.

The movers aren't on time the next morning but they do actually show up eventually, which Spencer appreciates. It takes four hours but by the end of it Spencer has a couch again, and a bed, and places for his clothes and a TV stand and his electronics and silverware for his kitchen and dishes to eat off of. He still has to unpack most of it, but at least it's all in the same house.

He thinks about unpacking everything now and then he takes the dogs for a long frisbee-throwing session instead, stopping on his way to the dog park for both smoothies and tacos. It's a nice day out, as usual, and he's trying to avoid thinking about when Brendon and/or Sarah might call, so distraction it is. It's not like he doesn't owe his dogs some long-overdue attention.

When he gets back, two panting, happy dogs in tow, there's a car parked in his driveway. Sarah and Brendon drive each other's car's interchangeably, so he's not sure which one of them it is, or even if it's both of them. His stomach drops and curls into knots but he makes himself take his hands off the steering wheel and get out of the car, leaving it until the very last second to look and see who's sitting on his steps waiting for him.

"Puppies!" Sarah calls out, as he lets the dogs out of the car and they bound towards her, barking in excitement. She holds up her hands and all Spencer can think is that she looks really pretty today. Her hair is longer than the last time he saw it, wrapped up behind her head in a big bun, and he figures she probably went with Ashlee to get extensions done. He can't imagine having to deal with that much hair all the time, but as a temporary thing it's cool.

"Hey," Spencer says, walking over to her. He shoves his hands in his pockets.

"Hey," Sarah says, looking up at him. "How's life?"

"Okay," Spencer says, and when he thinks about it, he realizes he really does mean it. It's not perfect, and right now he's freaking out just a little bit, but in general it's okay. For right now.

"Good," Sarah says. "I thought maybe—do you want to go get smoothies or something?"

"I, ah—actually just had one," Spencer says, scratching the back of his neck. "Coffee, maybe?"

"Works for me," Sarah says. "Coffee Bean?"

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Yeah, we should do that. Just let me put the dogs inside, hang on."

"So, I don't even know where to start this," Sarah admits, toying with her straw as they're sitting outside on the patio. "I didn't really have some big idea planned out. I just thought we needed to talk about stuff."

"Yeah," Spencer says. He tries to think of something useful to say.

"Okay," Sarah says, and then she takes a deep breath. "Look. I really like you. And Brendon really likes you, but you know that, I mean. I feel like you have to know that by now."

"Right," Spencer says awkwardly.

"And not as friends," Sarah says, looking over at him. "I guess I need to make that part really clear. Not just as—whatever we've all been doing."

"Yeah," Spencer says, and he doesn't even know what he's feeling right now, too much elation and fear wrapped up into one indefinable emotion to ever be analyzed.

"And I thought—look, okay. For the longest time I thought it wasn't even an issue because I just figured you guys were—" Sarah makes a hand motion, fluid instead of sexual, like she's just describing the path of the wind blowing past their table. "I don't know what I thought," Sarah says. "I figured you just came first, and he wasn't ever going to tell me. And I was trying to be okay with that."

"No," Spencer says, his stomach suddenly dropping into something cold and hard and desperate that feels a lot like misery. "No. No, fuck, Sarah, that's not, Brendon would never—" He swallows back the rest of the words he wants to say, because the truth of it is, Brendon would have. A younger Brendon, a different Brendon—Spencer's known him too long to say that Brendon would never do that, because he's watched it happen in front of his face and never knew what to say. Spencer reacted the same exact way when Brendon first suggested it, because he'd known Brendon too long to run on anything but instinct.

"He would never have done that to you," Spencer says quietly, because that's a statement he feels certain about, especially now. He's never seen Brendon so in love with anyone as he is with Sarah, and he'd never seen Brendon so confused and heartbroken as that moment when Spencer accused him of wanting to cheat on her. "I couldn't do that to you. I can swear to you right now, it's never happened. Not once. Never."

"I know that now," Sarah says, looking off into the distance, towards the waves. The wind brushes through her hair, pulling black strands out of her thick ponytail-bun, tucked up near the base of her neck. "I didn't think he was lying to me. I knew that whatever was going on, he always thought he was telling me the truth," Sarah says. "I would ask him and he would look at me like—I don't know. Like, how could I even ask him that?"

"How could you ask him that?" Spencer says. "We're not. Sarah, it's never been like that with us." Spencer wants to throw up. He can see every single morning of surfing in his head, every afternoon of beer and frisbee, every dinner and movie night that he's ever spent at Brendon and Sarah's house, just the three of them. He can see every time that Sarah never let on, every time she let him the front door and kissed him on the cheek and smiled at him and made Spencer feel welcome.

Fuck.

"It was just—" Sarah says. She looks back at Spencer. "It was like everyone was telling the truth, and yet we were all still lying."

"We weren't," Spencer says softly. "It's not a lie if you don't know you're lying."

"I know," Sarah says. "That's why I stayed."

"This is so fucked up," Spencer says, rubbing at his forehead with two fingers. "Fuck, we are all so fucking fucked up."

"Yeah," Sarah says. "But like, that's the last time I want to talk about Brendon, because I didn't come here just to talk about him. I wanted to talk about us. I just needed to tell you that. So you knew."

"Us?" Spencer says, looking up.

"Yeah," Sarah says, and she's got a small smile on her face. "You've been just riding along with this Spencer, and I know it's crazy and it came out of nowhere but—is this even something you want? Or is it just about Brendon, and you'll take me if that's what the price is?"

"No," Spencer says, licking his lips. It feels weird to even think about saying what he's about to say to Brendon's girlfriend; it feels transgressive and wrong but he's tired of feeling everything so intensely and having no outlet for it. "No, it's not even like that at all, you're awesome, you're beautiful and you're so cool, and—wait, fuck, I'm doing this wrong," Spencer says. "I don't—this is all so weird. Usually by now I'd just be hitting on you and maybe we'd be making out. I don't usually sit my crushes down at coffee shops and tell them about my feelings."

"Neither do I," Sarah says. "Points for you, I guess."

"Fuck, did I say crush?" Spencer says. "I didn't mean it like that. I don't know what I mean."

"Right," Sarah says. "Because I don't think mine is a crush either."

"I love making dinner with you," Spencer says and puts his head in his hands because oh god, he's never been this honest about his feelings to someone before in public, and it's freaking him out. "I love hanging out with you and I think you're gorgeous and I totally fucking want you and I convinced myself a long time ago not to feel that way, but no, it's not—it's not just a crush."

"Do you want to kiss me?" Sarah says. "We could try it right now and see."

"Here?" Spencer says, looking up again.

"Or I could kiss you," Sarah says. "I kind of want you to kiss me, though. I've been thinking about that." Her eyes are large and dark, and it isn't going to be that hard to lean across the table and reach over and kiss her. Spencer can't breathe.

"For real?" Spencer says, because he needs to check before he makes a huge mistake, just in case.

"Yeah," Sarah says. "Come on, Spencer Smith. Kiss me."

"I can't—" Spencer says, and then he's leaning in, pushing himself awkwardly over the small table until they're close enough to touch. Sarah looks surprised,and pleased, and her mouth is parted and Spencer spares a moment to wonder if he's going to be covered in lipstick when this is all over.

"It's okay," Sarah says, and then she's smiling and Spencer leans in to kiss her. His heart is pounding and his palms are slipping on the table, and he feels like every single person in this coffee shop must know what they're doing. He feels obvious and overexposed and Sarah's mouth is so soft, just for a moment, a promise of something more.

"Hey," Sarah says, when he pulls back and tries to remember how to breathe. He thinks he definitely has lipstick on his mouth, because there's a smear in the middle of her lower lip.

"Hey," Spencer says breathlessly. They stare at each other for a moment. Sarah licks her lips, and then she reaches across the table and links her fingers with Spencer's.

"You still in?" She says. "Or at least willing to give it a shot?"

"Yeah," Spencer says, still trying to process all the thoughts that are running through his head. Most of them are telling him yes, so he figures it's at least worth talking to Brendon about. It's at least worth feeling out and then maybe—maybe—jumping in feet first.

Maybe.

"I need to talk to Brendon," Spencer says, after a long moment. "But, um. I think—maybe. Yeah."

"Okay," Sarah says, and she's smiling wider than Spencer has ever seen her. "Awesome. Okay."

Brendon shows up on a Thursday, two days after Spencer has kissed his girlfriend. He's standing on Spencer's doorstep in his Ray-Bans and a white T-shirt and pair of rolled-up jeans and flip-flops. He's holding a bag that contains a lot of junk food, and a 12-pack of Mountain Dew. There's a noticeable lack of beer.

"Hey," Spencer says and holds the door open so Brendon can come in. Spencer feels like he's walking on eggshells, like he doesn't know how this is all going to go down even though he's known Brendon for almost eight years at this point. Brendon is either going to try and pretend it never happened, or he's going to spill everything out all at once while pacing around in Spencer's living room and displaying every single one of his nervous tics. Considering the way he heads immediately to the kitchen and cracks open a soda, Spencer assumes it's the latter.

"They're cold," Brendon says, when Spencer follows him into the kitchen. He catches the can that Brendon tosses at him and then pops it open for a sip, ignoring the fact that it's 10am in the morning. There's still boxes strewn everywhere; the main room's mostly unpacked but not quite organized yet. Brendon leans on a box marked WEIRD SOUVENIR GLASSES in Jackie's handwriting, and scrubs one hand through his hair.

"Spencer—if you ever fucking do that to me again," Brendon says, and then he falls silent. He sounds more sad than angry.

"I'm sorry," Spencer says, because he is. He's been such a dick to Brendon recently that he's not even sure an apology will cover it, and he says so in as many words. "I just freaked out," Spencer says and tries to think of a way to explain everything that's happened to him in the past month. "You said too many true things to me all at once, and I'd been living for years on top of those lies. I freaked the fuck out."

"Yeah," Brendon says. He looks down at his feet. "True things, huh?"

"I was drinking too much," Spencer says, because that's the easiest thing to start with. "I just—everything really hurt for a while. And then it just kept hurting, so I kept drinking."

"But you're not drinking now," Brendon says. "Are you like. Are you going to meetings and stuff?"

"No," Spencer says. "My therapist wanted me to, but I said no. I might go later on. If I freak out again. If I fuck it up."

"Okay," Brendon says. Spencer waits for the questions about the band, about touring, about how this is going to impact all of their lives, but Brendon just nods.

"Okay," Brendon says. "Then that's fucking awesome. I'm proud of you."

"Don't be," Spencer says, looking away. "Don't say that."

"Why not?" Brendon says. He squints at Spencer, staring into the back-lit rays which are keeping Spencer's silhouette in shadow.

"Just don't," Spencer says. "I fucked up a lot of things. Don't say you're proud of me for managing to fix one of them just a little bit. I'm still fucked up." Brendon nods slowly, and then he sets his empty can down on Spencer's kitchen counter.

"Okay," Brendon says. "Are we going to talk about the other thing? Or should I just help you unpack your stuff?"

"If you want," Spencer says awkwardly. He wants some closure but he's so tired right now, and he can still feel the memory of Sarah's kiss on his lips. He wants to know what it feels like to kiss Brendon but he's wanted that for so long that it's almost faded into the background, a shade of gray tinting their every interaction.

"Right," Brendon says. He walks over to Spencer and puts both hands on either side of his face, and all of a sudden Spencer can't breathe again. Brendon's hands are warm.

"Now I'm saying this not as a friend," Brendon says firmly. "Don't. Ever. Fucking. Do. That. Again." He's looking directly into Spencer's eyes, and Spencer can see the fear there, the sense of abandonment that he must have provoked in Brendon. Spencer's hands end up on Brendon's hips without his conscious permission, holding him close in response.

"I'm sorry," Spencer whispers, and he means it. "I'm so fucking sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

"You scared the living shit out of me," Brendon says. "I thought you were never coming back."

"I'm always coming back," Spencer says. "Even if you and me and Sarah don't—I'm always coming back."

"Promise?" Brendon says, and Spencer nods.

"Promise," Spencer whispers, and then Brendon's leaning in, and Spencer knows that they've only danced around the issue but maybe there's more to this resolution than talking about it. Maybe the press of Brendon's mouth to his is as much of an answer as anything else can be, a simple yes without the complications of words to get in the way.

Spencer lets out a breath and the movement causes his mouth to fall open, sliding his lips against Brendon's. Brendon pulls him closer, deepening the kiss until all Spencer can focus on is the touch of his tongue to Spencer's bottom lip and the way Spencer feels himself open instinctively to Brendon's mouth.

Spencer doesn't know how long he stays there, hands on Brendon's hips, pouring all of his fear and his uncertainty into that one kiss. He just knows that when he finally pulls back, Brendon's mouth is red and he looks happier than Spencer's seen him in a long time.

"That was awesome," Brendon says, very seriously. The moment breaks and Spencer's grinning too, brushing a lock of hair out of Brendon's face.

"Yeah, well," Spencer says, and then he sobers. "I'm still really fucked up," Spencer says again, because he feels like he needs to. It's been a good week so far, but he has a feeling he's going to crash at the end of it. Everything is so uncertain right now, and some days he feels like a ticking time bomb, counting down until everything goes to shit again. "I don't think this is going to be easy. I mean—okay, it's probably not going to be that easy anyway. But for me especially. I'm not easy right now."

"You say that like I'm not also totally fucked up," Brendon says. "Dude, how long have you known me? I'm just tired of waiting for things to be perfect. Sarah pointed out the other day that things are never going to be perfect, so we need to just deal with what we have."

"Sarah's really smart," Spencer says, because she is. He wishes she was here right now.

"Sarah doesn't have any patience for bullshit," Brendon says. "And we've been racking up a lot of bullshit lately with each other."

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Is she going to come over today?"

"If you want," Brendon says, the set of his shoulders relaxing minutely at Spencer's words. "We didn't want to like. Overwhelm you all at once."

"I'm not really overwhelmed," Spencer says. "It's just us. It's sort of normal. As weird as that sounds."

"Good," Brendon says. "We should do stuff with the three of us from now on, then."

"Yeah," Spencer says, and wonders what sort of stuff Brendon's referring to. "That would be cool."

"We were thinking you could maybe come over tomorrow," Brendon says. "For dinner."

"Like a date?" Spencer says carefully.

"Yeah," Brendon says. "Uh. Sort of? Only if you want it to be."

"We could do that," Spencer says, and rubs his thumbs along Brendon's smooth hipbones, underneath his T-shirt. "Just a date, right?"

"Just a date," Brendon promises, and then leans up again to kiss Spencer softly, one more time. He pulls away with a flush on his cheeks. "I'm going to call Sarah and tell her she's not getting out of unpacking duty," Brendon says, stepping away. "Someone has to help you unpack all those weird Lego architecture model sets."

"Sure," Spencer says and lets Brendon go.

Spencer wants a drink after Brendon and Sarah leave for the day, so he goes for a run instead. He feels weird and unsettled in his own skin. He can't decide if he's doing something right for once or making a huge mistake, so he grabs his iPod and decides to run until he's not thinking about it anymore, until it's just the feeling of his lungs burning in his chest and his feet hitting the pavement.

He makes it through a good thirty minutes before has to give up and stop, everything aching from top to bottom. He's still not in shape yet, as much as he would like to be. He's naturally strong but this is less about strength than it is about endurance. He's lacking in that particular quality right now; in everything, not just in running. Some days—most days—he feels like this is his own fault, like if he'd just tried harder or been less screwed up he wouldn't have gotten himself into this mess. His therapist has been gently telling him over and over that that's not true, but it hasn't sunk in yet.

Spencer bends over at the waist, letting himself fold in half so that he can feel the stretch in every part of his body. He sits down on the low concrete wall separating the beach from the sidewalk and he kicks one leg up, then the other. He stretches everything out on autopilot, and then he lies back down sideways, so that his entire body is supported by the concrete, and he looks up at the darkening sky. He thinks about going over to Sarah and Brendon's for dinner and a barbecue, imagines it in his mind's eye. His chest heaves. He needs to quit smoking so much weed.

Spencer stares into the setting sun and thinks about how he's already in this pretty deep. He's been in it pretty deep for years, and now the layers are peeling back and they all have to face what's underneath. He's kissed Sarah, and today he kissed Brendon. He wants more, although he doesn't think he's ready to go running full-speed into a threesome just yet. He doesn't know what to do with another guy's body. He doesn't know how he'll feel if he's kissing Sarah while Brendon's watching. He knows that he wants it, but he just doesn't know how.

"Just a date," Spencer tells a passing seagull. Then he sits up, taking a long swig of water from his water bottle before stretching out again and heading back home.

Brendon and Sarah have bought IBC root beer in bottles for the cook-out, and fancy bottles of Ginger Beer and other various non-alcoholic drinks. Spencer blinks at his options, arrayed neatly on the side-table next to the grill, and then he says the first thing which comes to mind, which is—

"You can drink around me, you know. It's not catching."

"I know," Sarah says, shrugging. "And I'm sure we will. I'm not going to quit drinking because of this. I like beer. Sorry."

"It's okay," Spencer says. "That might actually make this feel less weird."

"Mostly it just feels like I'm at a family cookout," Brendon cracks, pushing the burgers around on the grill. He's smirking and he's already two-thirds of the way through a large energy drink, so Spencer doesn't think he's feeling overly angsty and dramatic about it.

"Right," Spencer says. He picks up a bottle of ginger beer and twists the cap off, because all joking aside, this stuff is awesome. There is a pronounced zing after the swallow.

"We just figured, you know. Today," Sarah says, and Spencer nods. It's really all she needs to say. Today is going to be familiar and weird in equal measure, and it's probably best if they don't add any of Spencer's usual temptations into the mix.

Speaking of.

"I'm going to, uh," Spencer says, and fumbles in his back pocket for his metal wallet case. There's three joints tucked away safely in there, because damned if Spencer is giving up weed. His therapist had basically told him it was fine as long as he didn't smoke too much. Spencer thinks that her definition of "smoking too much" and his definition might not be the same thing, but oh well. He wants a joint.

"Good idea," Brendon says. "Babe, can you—"

"Not your weed slave," Sarah says breezily, arranging a bowl of what looks like potato salad on the side table. "Get it yourself. They're on top of the fridge."

"I'm grilling," Brendon says sadly. "The burgers."

"I'm sorry," Sarah says, equally sadly, making an exaggeratedly sad face. "God, your life sucks so much."

"I'll get it," Spencer says, biting his lip so he won't grin.

"Ooooh, one for me too please," Sarah says, and Spencer snorts. He walks inside to the kitchen and pulls down their metal lunchbox with the impressed outline of Mighty Mouse on the cover, and then opens it to reveal a a few half-empty ziploc bags, a grinder, a few packs of rolling papers and two small pre-rolled joints. He pulls them out and puts everything back in place, and then he walks back outside and hands Sarah the first joint. She tucks it behind her ear.

"Still need to bring the appetizers and stuff out," Sarah says. "Give me a minute and then we can all light it up."

"You didn't have to do all of this," Spencer says, because Sarah and Brendon's glass table is set up with actual place settings, and the food looks delicious, and if Spencer knows Sarah she's made every single bit of it by hand and there's hidden desserts waiting somewhere in the house for the final course.

"Whatever, you know I like doing stuff like this," Sarah says, but she brushes her mouth over his cheek when she passes by him to go back into the kitchen. Spencer's face feels hot and to cover up his flustered expression he goes and hands the other joint to Brendon.

"Don't drop it in the fire," Spencer says, placing the joint in between two knuckles of Brendon's left hand. His right is occupied with the spatula, and Brendon sets it down on the side of the grill for a moment to pluck the joint out and place it in between his lips and teeth. He fumbles in his pocket for a lighter but Spencer already has his out, and for a stupid second his whole stomach swoops as he says, "I got it." He leans in, shielding the flame, and Brendon looks at him through his eyelashes as he inhales. Spencer thinks about how many times they've done this before, and how many times he's never quite realized what it meant. Brendon holds his gaze for a moment before pulling away.

"You going to let me be a gentlemen and do yours?" Brendon says, tugging his joint away between thumb and forefinger to exhale a steady stream of blueish smoke.

"You're grilling," Spencer says stupidly.

"I am," Brendon says. He looks down at the grill. "You going to let me kiss you?"

"Are we going to fall into the grill and die a horrible fiery death?" Spencer says. "Because that seems like an option."

"Just on the cheek," Brendon says. "Like Sarah did. I demand equal kissing rights."

"What, so I need to keep a tally?" Spencer says, but everything feels light and breezy within him in this shade of a California evening and he's mostly kidding.

"No," Brendon says. "I'm just greedy." He leans up on his tip-toes, pressing his mouth to Spencer's cheek. His lips are hot and Spencer can feel the imprint of them even when Brendon pulls away.

"Just a date, huh," Spencer says.

"Maybe with some kissing," Brendon says, turning back to the grill. "You okay with kissing?"

Spencer doesn't have to think about it too hard. "Yup," he says, turning to light his own joint and shield the flame from the mostly non-existent wind.

Spencer realizes he's starving at the exact same moment that he realizes he's stoned, which works out nicely. Brendon's moved on to grilling the hot dogs, but Spencer looks over at Sarah, ashing out her joint in the ceramic mug with a fish on it that they keep in the center of their backyard table for such a purpose.

"The food is all really far away," Spencer says.

"I was just thinking that," Sarah says. Her eyes get all warm when she's stoned, and she moves with an easy sort of grace that has always made Spencer ache inside. He watches her slowly get up and stretch out and it makes him ache right now, but with less of a sting than he's used to.

He follows her up, even though his steps feel soft and slow as they make their way back and forth across the patio, carrying bowls and condiments and plates of buns. Sarah's made potato salad and coleslaw and salsa and baked beans, and Spencer hears his stomach rumble.

"We ready?" Brendon says, thunking the plastic tray full of hamburgers and hot dogs down on the now-overcrowded glass table.

"Yeah," Spencer says, sitting back down and reaching for a hamburger almost before he's processed the movement. He's starving. "Yeah, we should eat now."

There's a comfortable silence between all of them as they break into the food, everyone too busy chewing to focus on something so unnecessary as conversation. Spencer doesn't really surface from his food-haze until after two hamburgers, a hot dog, and a full round of every side that's one the table, and even then that's mostly just to breathe.

"Oh god," Brendon says, leaning his head back over his chair. "Oh fuck. Okay, I did it this time. Man dies from eating too much. News at eleven."

"Remember that time you ate an entire pan of my brownies?" Sarah says, scooping up some baked beans with a tortilla chip. "Remember how you didn't die? Because that happened."

"I was so sick though," Brendon says, cracking one eye open and grinning at her. "So fucking sick, oh my god."

"And then some asshole couldn't come bowling with us because he was too busy throwing up brownie," Spencer points out, because he feels like the most important point of the story is being overlooked, which is that his team lost because Brendon wasn't there to even the teams out.

"Thank god we're not going anywhere tonight," Brendon says. "I seriously can't move."

"Are you going to throw up everywhere?" Spencer says. "Go throw up somewhere else. Sarah and I don't want you throwing up on us."

"Nope," Sarah says. Her foot is brushing up against Spencer's calf, and she trails her toes along the top of his foot for a moment. "If you were a dumbass and ate too much on our first date, you get to go throw up alone."

"I may be an asshole, but I'm not that much of an asshole," Brendon says, while Spencer thinks first date. He looks over at the big tree in Sarah and Brendon's backyard, the greenish-yellow one that he's never bothered to look up the name of.

"Should I not have said that?" Sarah says, nudging him with her foot when she notices his sudden distraction from the conversation. "Did I ruin the magic?"

"No," Spencer says. "No, it's like—it's good magic. Just. Still weird." He looks down at his plate, clean except for a few straw almonds from the coleslaw. He hates almonds.

"Yeah, I figured we wouldn't talk about all the desperate, sweaty, helpess fucking until at least the second date," Sarah says, and across the table Brendon coughs and chokes on his red bull.

Spencer grins. "Nice one," Spencer says approvingly, and Sarah holds her hand up for a high five.

"I try," Sarah says. "I mean, we can talk about it now if you really want." Her legs are tucked around Spencer's under the table, a warm, grounding presence. She's sitting very close to him, their chairs pushed together so that she can lean up against his bicep and rest her chin on his shoulder.

"Maybe later," Spencer says. He swallows. "Kissing's awesome for now. I mean I'm down with the fucking, don't get me wrong. Uh, usually there'd already be fucking by now. For me. I usually always figure on skipping the preliminaries and just getting down to it. But this is—different." Spencer thinks his face must be flaming hot right now. Sarah presses another kiss to his cheek.

"Yeah," Brendon says, his face equally red. Spencer's reminded of a conversation they had almost six months ago, about Shane and Sarah and what everyone gets up to in bed. He knows that Brendon and Sarah like to switch it up, but he also knows that Brendon's never had sex with a guy. He wonders if Brendon's as vaguely mystified by the practical applications of the whole process as Spencer is.

"We'll figure it out," Spencer says awkwardly, and after thinking about it for a moment, places his hand on top of Brendon's.

"Yeah," Brendon says, and looks over at him. He turns his palm over, so their fingers are suddenly interlaced. "All of us. We'll figure it out."