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Panic! at the Discworld

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Brendon came from a tiny farm in the Ramtop mountains half a cow and two acorns short of being a hovel, and had assumed the city of Ankh-Morpork would be similar in size and variety to the kingdom of Lancre. It might even be smaller, he had supposed, because Lancre -- that huddled collection of villages, mountains and goats -- was a kingdom, whereas Ankh-Morpork was merely a city.

This was much like using height to deduce that a baby made less mess than a hat stand, and tended to have the same effect on one's shoes.

Lancre was too close to home, family and obligation, so Brendon had come to Ankh-Morpork to seek his fortune. That this was unlikely to be found in the bottom of one of The Limping Elk's cheerfully grimy pint glasses was not at present deterring him.

"Heey," slurred a voice in his ear.

He shifted a little on the bar stool, wishing he hadn't curiously mislaid his simple, folksy, reassuringly sharp pairing knife in someone else's hand, and kept his eyes fixed firmly on the things swimming in his pint. It had to be good for you, the logic so often ran, with so much living in it.

"You look a little--"

"No," he said wearily, "I'm not Elvish, I--" He stopped. To his left, his words were being echoed in a sharper tone. He looked up along the bar to see the drunk slumped between him and two men who forcibly reminded him of the other reason he'd left home. His mother regarded her sons as devices for producing daughters-in-law, followed, in the natural order of things, by grandchildren. Brendon was rather a disappointment in that area, and the combined weight of this and a week in Ankh-Morpork had dulled his typically out-going nature so much his grin barely split his face as he leaned forward to introduce himself.

"Hi," he said. "I'm Brendon, and I'm not Elvish either. I'm from the Ramtops, and we make sure of things like that back there." He smiled encouragingly. "And you are?"

The men looked at each other.

Under the current patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari, the city's guilds had thrived. Why spend money on extra watchmen when you can get the Guild of Thieves to hunt down unlicensed cut-purses and leave you a receipt afterwards? Indeed, why bother regulating trades, crafts, and arts of the night when the guilds will do it for you, and regard themselves as shrewd bargainers when you only tax them ten per cent for the privilege?

Each guild had its own set of hand signals, facial twitches and other tools of covert communication to aid in the time-honoured business of identifying Us and fleecing Them. Brendon had not yet been in the city long enough to know that the language of the silent conversation passing in front of him was none of these.

"Spencer," said the one who hadn't spoken before. "It's good to meet you, not-Elvish-Brendon."

"Ryan," said the other.

Brendon felt for his purse. He was already short on next week's rent, but what is life without the hope that tomorrow will be the day everything falls into place? Indeed, he was only one day out.

"Can I buy you guys a drink?" he said, smiling wider still.

Spencer frowned, digging his hands into his pockets. "We don't drink," he said, stepping forward from his stool to stand by Ryan.

"Um. So why are you in a bar?"

"We play," said Ryan, mouth twitching in a quick, private smile. "Music."

Brendon had not been in the city long enough to pick up much slang, either, but he took to the words he had met with the ease and enthusiasm of a noble-born nanny in the better class of three-volume novel. He felt his feet jiggling with excitement as he leaned closer, ignoring the unconscious drunk between him and his new best friends. "Cool."


Two miles away, an easy-going student with a disarming smile turned down one of the city's many dark alleys.

"Good evenink," a voice said behind him, dry and dusty as a crypt. "Tell me, vat do you know about vampires?"


When Brendon left the farm, his sister had sent him off with love, tears, and twenty thick woollen jumpers to keep out the Ankh-Morpork cold. He'd sold six to pay his first week's rent, telling himself that soon he'd have enough odd jobs and casual work to pay Mrs Smalleye his bed and board. If things ever got bad enough to sell his favourite jumper, the one the colour of his sister's cheeks in winter, he'd-- Well, he'd sell it. But they wouldn't, he had promised himself with the same blind optimism that now made him run up to Spencer and Ryan as they finished their set and say, "You need me."

"Hi, Spencer," said Spencer, vowels stretching in a poor imitation of Brendon's voice. "You guys were great."

Brendon looked at them in confusion. "Yes, of course. But you need me."

Ryan's mouth twitched.

"I can do heavy lifting," said Brendon, reaching for part of the drum kit Spencer had just finished dismantling. "And I can play things." At the farm they'd had two old guitars, remnants from an uncle's abandoned youth, and sometimes Brendon had been allowed to play the organ at weddings, as long as he didn't mention the words size or girth, and especially as long as he kept that stupid grin off his face.

Spencer and Ryan exchanged another non-Guild look.

"You mean you need us," said Ryan.

The music had been-- Brendon wasn't good at words. Not the sort of words he needed to talk about the feeling you get when people you've never met before strike the chords that you never knew were playing in the back of your brain, beat the rhythm you've been marching to since you first slipped out of time with the rest of the world, and all the while don't even notice or care what they're doing to you.

"I can lift things," he said again. "And play things. And sing." He tried another smile. "Back home, they let me handle a really big organ."

Ryan looked away at that, pretending to adjust his hair. It would have been more convincing if Brendon couldn't see it immediately flop back into place.

"And can you pay Guild rates?" asked Spencer. "We can't afford to get in trouble with them again."

With a sinking feeling, Brendon weighed up how much he had in his purse against the calculating, warily tolerant looks on Ryan and Spencer's faces.

"We mainly play Guild music," said Ryan in a warning tone.

Brendon guessed those would be the songs that hadn't reached into his soul and shaken it.

"We don't--" Spencer cut himself off. He looked at Brendon's face, searching for some sort of reaction. "Some people still remember Music With Rocks In," he said.

They looked at him again, not so much hopeful as marginally-less-resigned.

Brendon sighed. He didn't need his jumpers, anyway. Winter would be over soon enough.


Spencer knew he shouldn't remember Music With Rocks In. He'd woken up one day, shaking his head to dislodge the last memories of a dream of leather and sweat and music that grabbed you by the throat and said, now, when he saw Ryan's face appear in front of him.

Ryan had stayed with him a lot back then, before they'd left The Shades five streets and a lifetime behind. Now they still shared a tiny room with white washed walls and one floorboard, but at least it was theirs (for one dollar a week, no pets, guests or undead) and at least it was away.

"Tell me," Ryan had said, gripping Spencer's wrists tightly. "Tell me you remember."

He'd stared at Spencer and bit his lip in the sort of fear Spencer had hoped never to see on his face again.

"The music."

Spencer had held his gaze, listening to the last notes of the dream die away, and thought, NOW.


Now, two weeks since Brendon first set foot in the city, three men walked down the moonlit Turn Again Lane, laughing together with the wit and immortality of youth.

"Stop," said a voice from the shadows.

At the sound, Spencer felt every muscle in his body seize up at once. He couldn't move, he couldn't think, he could only feel the mind numbing terror of the Things that lurk in the night. He wanted to close his eyes and pull a blanket over his head, he wanted garlic and holy water and a really big crossbow, he wanted his mummy.

"..." he said. If he didn't move. If none of them moved, the voice might...

There was a dry, dusty rustle, followed by sound of a cloak being twirled theatrically. "Ze light," the voice said, "you look so beautiful in ze moonlight."

A second voice answered, "Nice."

Still frozen in place, Spencer started to breathe again. That was not a voice that boded.

"Ze complex interplay of ze shadows vith zer youthful countenances," said the first voice. Now that, that was a voice that boded. "Ze cheekbones!"

"Um," said Brendon.

Spencer winced internally. Nice kid, shame about his life expectancy.

"Oh, oh, vat am I thinkink?" said the first voice. "Vere are my manners?"

Spencer felt his muscles free up instantly. He turned his head to see a short, pale man with very sharp teeth and an iconograph hanging around his neck. Ryan was shaking almost imperceptibly, and Brendon was hugging himself. In the background, a scruffy looking man in long black cloak leaned against a wall, smiling apologetically. His teeth were normal.

"I am Otto," said the vampire, "and zis is my assistant, Igor."

Igor of the normal teeth coughed pointedly.

"Jon," said the vampire. "Zis is my assistant Jon. Ve must always be movink vith ze times, Jon tells me."

"Um," said Brendon again. The poor kid must never have seen a vampire before, thought Spencer, ignoring the fact that he hadn't either. While the zombies and golems fit right in to the guiding Ankh-Morpork principle of We Can Get Them For You Wholesale, the few vampires and werewolves who made it to the city tended to keep themselves to themselves. It was no secret that Commander Vimes was not fond of anything that wouldn't stay dead.

The-- Otto took his iconograph in both hands. "If you vould return please to laughink?" he said. "I vish to capture zis artless revelry."

Jon pushed himself off the wall to whisper into Otto's ear.

"Ah," said Otto. "You must not be vorryink," he said, pointing to a patch of darkness hidden in the folds of his cloak. "I am a Black Ribboner. I do not drink ze b-vord, I do not think of ze b-vord. Your b-vord is safe in your hot, throbbink veins." He nodded proudly, causing another dry, dusty rustle. "Ven I met Jon, I vas about to fall off ze vagon, but he showed me ze light."

Smiling almost bashfully, Jon stepped back to lean against the wall again. "Light is pretty awesome," he said.

"Now please," said Otto, "if you vould be so good as to frolic in ze moonlight?"

Spencer blinked and very carefully didn't raise one hand to his neck. He gritted his teeth, steeling himself to step between Otto and the others, when Brendon gave a sudden laugh and spun once on the spot.

"Shall we?" Brendon said, holding a hand out to Ryan, and then without waiting for an answer took him in his arms and began to dance. His eyes were fixed on Ryan's, and they moved together with an ease that made Spencer feel a stab of something. Relief, he decided.

With a dip and a twirl and smile that was all teeth, Brendon waltzed them both around Spencer, then deposited Ryan into Spencer's arms.

"It's just like mad uncle Sylow," he said under his breath as leaned in to kiss Spencer's cheek. "Only without the crossbow."

Spencer and Ryan spun off together, and Spencer felt a laugh bubble up inside him. They danced on, following the music in their heads. Ryan led for a few bars, then Spencer, his teeth ungritting as his neck remained unpunctured.

Out of the corner of his eye, Spencer could see Brendon rush towards Jon. "Care to dance?" he said, gnawing on his bottom lip.

Jon reached forward, brushing his finger along Brendon's mouth almost tenderly. Spencer could feel Ryan shiver.

"Don't," said Jon. "You might break the skin."

And then they were off, all four of them, dancing and whirling around the alley to music only they could hear.

"Good!" cried Otto. "Good!"


"I like him," said Brendon, sitting with his back against the wall of their shared room. He'd inveigled himself into their lodgings with the same cheerful entitlement as he'd wedged himself firmly into the rest of their lives, his feet propped up on Ryan's knees and his small mess of belongings taking up a whole corner of the room.

Spencer was not surprised. Brendon liked everyone, and Jon was very easy to like.

"Of course you do," Ryan said, strumming at his guitar absentmindedly. "Do you think this?" He played a chord "--or this?" He played another.

Spencer found his hands beating time against the bedpost. He was perched on the edge of the bed, and if he stretched his arms out fully, could have touched opposite walls.

"Not Jon, idiot," said Brendon. He couldn't have noticed Ryan's flinch: his own smile didn't falter. "Otto. He's-- Oh, the first chord. He's nice. Reminds me of home."

"I thought you ran away from home," said Ryan. "Really the first one?"

That time, Brendon's smile did lose a little brightness. "The first one, definitely." He reached out for the guitar. "And then this." He played three notes, clear into the tiny room.

Spencer closed his eyes. That had Rocks in.


The mind, people said, was a funny thing. The members of the Butchers & Surgeons' Guild tended to agree, though they added that a couple of pounds of grey, squishy matter would never be as funny as the trick Sideways Pete could do with a rib cage and an artichoke. The wizards of the Unseen University went one further still, and claimed that the mind was a hilarious illusion that could be blotted out by sufficiently much port. This contentious theory, they maintained, required rigorous testing.

The mind of a vampire was a particularly funny thing, although a string of garlic and a long head start (preferably a continent) were recommended before actually laughing at one.

Vampires had a lot of focus. Normally, they spent this on blood, hot, flowing blood, fresh from the veins of beautiful, young, yet curiously inexperienced women and men. But coming to Ankh-Morpork meant adapting, and for vampires, it had meant learning to clutch your black ribbon and have a nice cup of cocoa before the city opened holy water factories and started selling pointy stake onna stick on every street corner.

Otto von Chriek had tried to adapt. He'd tried to obsess over bricks for a while. There were so many of them, he reasoned, and they came in hundreds of different shapes and sizes. If he got confused, he wouldn't hurt anyone. This line of thought lasted until the first time he chipped a tooth.

Then he'd tried gardening. He would grow well-regimented flowers and complex patterns of creeping vines. There would even be tender, succulent, juicy fruit for the times a nice cup of cocoa wouldn't cut it. But there was too much sunlight and dirt, and not enough skulking in dark corners with a menacing swish of your cloak.

In fairness, though, he had tried. He'd been on his way home from a disappointing meeting of the Midnight Gardeners (despite the name, they seemed more interested in the activities of a small pit of very excited dogs) when he'd found himself behind Jon Walker, a student at the Unseen University with a fondness for iconography.

Jon liked the imps that lived inside iconographs, painting what they saw when the shutter was lifted. They were bred to be as unimaginative as possible. Jon told people this made a refreshing change from wizards.

"And the light," he would add, his easy-going smile transformed for a moment into something much sharper. "I like the way they see light."

Ze rest, as they say, is history.


Creepy was another word Brendon had never needed in the Ramtops. Creepy was fanciful, the witches said, and there was never any time for fancy, not when there was a harvest to be brought in and sheep to be sheared.

So Brendon wouldn't have called Jon creepy, especially not in comparison to Uncle Sylow. But there was something odd about the way he kept turning up to their gigs, leaning against a far wall with a thoughtful expression on his face, tapping his feet in time to the songs they hadn't bought from the Guild.

He'd been there the night of their first major brawl, when someone in The Limping Fly had decided that they looked a little too Elvish for this part of town, and thrown an iron horseshoe straight at Brendon's head. It had been awesome. Jon had picked a man up by his nose.

He'd been there the night The Faded Pony's cat had had kittens, when they'd had to stop playing halfway through a song to let Mr Flinch search under the floorboards for her. It was not unusual for them to play over the sound of five burly men and two trolls having a fist fight, but when the argument over who would hold the kittens first was conclusively ended by a hissing mother cat, even Spencer had choked down a laugh.

Jon normally disappeared by the time they got off stage (or off platform, or off slightly-more-grimy-area-of-the-room), so one night Brendon left Spencer and Ryan arguing over the final chord and picked his way through the broken chairs and flying limbs of a gentle Octeday-night brawl.

"Hey," he said, leaning forward to be sure Jon could hear him over the squelch of fists meeting soft flabby parts.

"Hey," said Jon, still looking at the stage.

Brendon turned his face to the stage, his cheek brushing Jon's, and watched as the rest of his band -- his band! -- started to pack away. The argument had become what he now recognised as one of their non-Guild conversations, silent and barely perceptible twitches exchanged until Ryan looked away and laughed, his voice still golden over the noise of breaking bones.

Spencer smiled then, throwing a drumstick up in the air and catching it with the flourish of a man with all his fingers.

Brendon's heart beat time.

"They're--" Brendon stopped. There wasn't much call for these sorts of words back at the farm, and he couldn't bring himself to use the ones Ryan had written for them, either.

Jon smiled at him, eyes kind as they flicked between Brendon and the stage. "Yes. You all are."


"I had a lecture once," said Jon.

Above them, a glass hit the wall and stuck.

"We cornered the Lecturer in Recent Runes by a blackboard and wouldn't let him leave until he'd given us knowledge. After that, the Faculty stopped going near the student quarters without backup."

The Unseen University did not so much teach its students as weed out any who couldn't survive the rigours of magical academia: the Faculty was involved only in that anyone who made it through the spells, demons, books and drinking of an undergraduate career was graciously allowed to sit an examination.

"He told us about one of the Howondaland languages. They believe all the words that will ever be said are fixed in the air, and we just move around them. If a mouth hits one, it makes a sound, but you can only ever get the words that are already stuck there. It leads to very repetitive dinner parties."

Over on the stage, the others had wrestled the drums into submission. Ryan was smiling at something, watching as Spencer started to carry their kit away.

"Brendon!" Spencer shouted. "Heavy lifting!"

When Brendon looked back, Jon had slipped away. He was left with the worrying feeling he'd just had a non-Guild conversation of his very own.


The night mist rolled through the city streets, tumbling with it the dregs of the fights, thefts and music that passed for Ankh-Morpork night life.

"Don't you think they looked a bit . . . Elvish?" said one dreg. He was not one of the city's finest minds.

"Just around the ears," said the other, a marginally faster thinker. "No elves in the city. Commander Vimes'd go spare."

"Elves have gold," said the first dreg, casually.

"Oh," said the other, who didn't think quite fast enough. "Relieving them of that would be, uh, our civic duty."

If civic duty can be inferred from the actions of the majority of a place's citizens, then he was absolutely correct.

A voice appeared behind them. "I think, perhaps, you vould do best to reconsider zat thought."

"Now," added a second voice. This time, it boded.


The Melting Gusset hummed with the business-like sound of fifty humans, dwarves and trolls aiming to get drunk as quickly and efficiently as possible. Normally, trolls and dwarves drinking within the same mile radius was a recipe for extreme violence and flying entrails (or, in the trolls' case, quartz), but the Gusset maintained a peaceful atmosphere thanks to the no-nonsense approach its patrons took to anything trying to distract from the serious drinking.

Music was tolerated only because it drowned out any possibility of conversation.

"Come here," said Ryan, gesturing with a stick of kohl. "I'll do your eyes, too."

He blinked out at Spencer from underneath a jagged layer of black spikes and swirls.

"Um," said Spencer.

Ryan bounced forward gleefully. "Thank you," he said, cupping Spencer's face with one hand as he began to trace out patterns with a finger. "You're going to look awesome."

By the bar, Brendon grinned at them. Ryan had already got to him; he looked like a horror story the Fools' Guild told its youngest recruits.

Ryan was humming to himself. The music weaved itself into the noise of the crowd, picking up the stops and starts of the slammed glasses around them. Spencer began to beat time with his free hand, and he raised an eyebrow at Brendon to come across and harmonise, feeling like a man who'd just found a dollar behind the sofa cushions of life.

He was going to buy peanuts with it, Spencer thought to himself, peanuts and a sausage in a bun, and, and peanuts. He found it hard to want much more.

"There," said Ryan, standing back to admire his work.

"Oooh." Brendon nodded sagely. "Pretty."

Ryan's mouth quirked into a smile. "Yeah?"

"Of course," said Spencer. It was on him, after all.

Brendon laughed. "Hey," he said, waving at someone behind Spencer. "Do Jon, too!"

"Number one fan!" Ryan called out. "Come and be beautiful." His eyes were crinkled with laughter. Spencer approved.

Suddenly, there was a presence behind him. Never having been exposed to any of Brendon's uncles, Spencer thought it was pretty creepy.

"Hey," said Jon. "Peanut?" He held the bag forward.

There are moments in life fraught with possibility, where many different paths are open and ready for the walking. Moments where the humble woodcutter can take the road to the right, towards the princess in the woods, or to the left, and the prince in distress. Moments where the world holds its breath, waiting to see which of the thousands upon thousands of different choices -- each equally likely -- will be taken. Moments where the universe doesn't know what will happen next.

This was not one of them.

"Jon," said Brendon, "can you-- I mean, guys, can he come home with us tonight? He can play. He told me."

Spencer and Ryan shared a look. Well, that was predictable.

But funny, Ryan ventured. And Jon was awesome.

Not, Spencer thought, that they'd be able to fit them all in the room.

"Sure," said Ryan. They'd just have to sit on each other's laps. "Now come here, I want to do your eyes. How do you feel about glitter?"

Jon might have been more sociable than the average member of the Unseen University, with a beard kept considerably shorter than tradition demanded, but he was, at heart, a true wizard when it counted. "Will it sparkle?" he asked. "Lots?"

Ryan smiled.


Jon was still not convinced the musicians weren't elves. He was a tolerant man, though, and as long as they weren't actually eating babies in front of him, he didn't mind. In fact, he made an effort not to carry iron when they were around. Being such a magic-resistant metal, its use was encouraged in University plumbing and crockery -- there's nothing quite like going to take a shower only to discover your hot water is now a toad and three marshmallows -- but he rarely needed it elsewhere.

If anything was going to convince him they weren't parasitic fairy invaders, though, it would be their room. Elves should live in magical palaces and beautiful, spacious woodland glens, not white washed rooms too small to swing a malnourished kitten.

"Melon?" said Brendon, offering him some of the fruit hurled at them during yesterday's performance. "It's still ripe."

"Thanks." Jon took a slice, Brendon's smile winning out over Jon's natural suspicion of eating plants. Centuries of wizarding tradition held that vegetables should be boiled into submission, and fruit was only healthy when drowned in sherry.

Ryan, Brendon and Spencer were piled on top of each other, legs tangled together in their effort give Jon enough space to sit.

"You can breathe out," he said. "I don't mind the squash."

As they spread apart, the single candle spluttered, making the shadows on the walls leap in fright. The kohl around the probably-not-elves' eyes had smudged during the performance, highlighting further the way their eyes shone so brightly and their cheekbones cut through the air. Jon felt his breath hitch.

"Brendon said you play," said Ryan once they had settled again, legs still slotted together.

Jon nodded. "Before I came to Ankh-Morpork," he said. Back in Llamedos.

They hadn't put their instruments away (not, when Jon thought about it, that there was really space for an away to put them) and so Ryan gestured at the guitars leaning against the wall. "You want to?"

The candle spluttered again, and Jon frowned for a second. He could do this one. With a quick mutter of the traditional incantation ("You will observe: nothing up my sleeves.") he waved his fingers to fill the room with soft, grey-green light.

"Cool," breathed Brendon.

Spencer nodded in amusement, catching Jon's eye long enough to let a smile flicker across his face. Even Ryan seemed impressed.

Jon reached for a guitar. If he could do that, he could do this.

Sadly, he was wrong.

After a tactful silence, Brendon leaned over to the pile of clothes filling a corner of the room. He reached around inside, then pulled out a large cloth bag. "Um. Don't worry. I have, I've been making. Um. I have a kind of a lyre, if you want to try that?"

The light dimmed briefly with Jon's surprise. He hadn't seen a lyre since he left Llamedos. They weren't popular in Ankh-Morpork for some reason, and since leaving home he'd not even thought about music until the elves?-us?-never! danced into his life and picked up the beat. "Really?"

Spencer and Ryan looked no less surprised.

"A lyre?" said Spencer. "You didn't say." He looked guilty, as if he should have noticed something like that in his living quarters.

Ryan gnawed at his lip. "You've been making it?"

"No," said Brendon, ducking his head. "I found-- When I went to buy Guild membership, they were throwing it out. I've been fixing it up, when I can't sleep. I've been quiet," he added defensively.

Spencer smiled, a long, slow smile that took its time filling his face. "Can I see?"

Brendon hesitated, then grinned back. "I want Jon to play it, first," he said.

With remarkable self-control, Jon didn't perform a short victory dance. There wasn't room.

He took it in his hands, and felt the heft of the wood. It was a good, solid job; nothing fancy, and he could see where new material had been added and damaged bits smoothed away, but it felt good in his grip. It felt right. He gave it an experimental strum, and heard the muttered fragments of conversation -- "I didn't know you whittled." "It's not whittling, dude." -- die out.

When he looked up a few minutes later, they were all gazing at him with the exact same smile. It had teeth. He found he minded that less and less these days.

"Talking of teeth," he said, ignoring their shared frown of confusion, "I should go. Otto likes company after midnight."

They stood as he did, and once he'd put the lyre down Brendon pulled him in for a hug. "I thought you'd like it," Brendon whispered into his ear.

Jon tried to move his arms to return the hug, only to find them full of Spencer and Ryan.


"Idiot," said Brendon, soft enough not to wake Ryan. He hadn't slept well the previous night, and they didn't need to be anywhere until the evening.

"Moron," Spencer shot back, just as quiet.



"Cheese breath."

"Gormless hick."

Ryan poked his head out from underneath a pile of blankets and clothes. "Don't fight," he said in a monotone. "I hate it when you fight."

Spencer's mouth tightened, and Brendon patted him on the knee, reaching over to ruffle Ryan's hair. Tiny rooms had their advantages. "Go back to sleep," he said. "Troll Features over here doesn't know when he's beat."

"Just trying to keep Sheep Boy amused," Spencer added. "It was that or sell him on the streets, and we can't afford to join another guild."

Ryan pulled his head back under. "I hate you all."

As his wheezing snores broke out again, Brendon put his head on Spencer's lap.

"Bad drummer," he said, nuzzling down. "How is it even his snoring is adorable?"

"Tone deaf."


Spencer laughed. "Good one." There was a pause. "I asked Sally about you," he continued, petting Brendon's hair absentmindedly. Then he stopped, and at Brendon's subtle whine of complaint cuffed him lightly around the ear. "Sally's cousin is from Lancre," Spencer continued. "So, I'm not sure if I've got this right, but." His hand settled back down on Brendon's shoulder.

Brendon felt his heart sink. Something had happened, and they were going to send him away.

Brendon was not always very perceptive.

"You can court Ryan." Spencer said it all in one breath. "You have my permission."

Having never attended any of the current Lecturer in Recent Runes' forced lectures, Brendon did not know the word hztk'ff, which existed in a variant on a dwarfish dialect used in certain transmogrification spells. Literally, it meant the discovery of tholeitic basalt in an anthracitic coal mine, but could be more usefully translated as the feeling you get when you're halfway through a waltz only to discover the band is playing a tango and your partner is trying to knit a squirrel.

It would have been very useful at that moment, but instead the word that floated into Brendon's mind was, Oh.

So that was it. That feeling of lightness and laughter when he saw Ryan, the way his heart threatened to burst through his chest whenever Ryan smiled at him, the-- Only, Brendon felt that when he looked at Spencer, too, and when he was near Jon. Home and safe and happy and free.

Brendon may not always have been very perceptive, but he knew a good thing when it grabbed him by the throat and drew diagrams.

"I think," he said slowly, not moving his head, "I think I have a better idea."


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