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Protégé

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In the beginning, Pete sort of expects to be grooming Ryan as his protégé. Because Ryan Ross pretty much wants to be Pete Wentz, right? And at first, it seems like everything's going according to plan, because Ryan finds the Hush Sound on PureVolume and forwards the link to Pete, and the next thing Pete knows, he's got another band in his growing empire.

Pete takes the Hushies out on tour with his band and the All American Rejects, then he sends them out with Panic! and he talks to Ryan about grooming them, about getting them comfortable out on the road. About promotion and building interest and all of the other stuff involved in A&R. Ryan listens, of course, because he's Ryan and Pete is Pete (although Pete's pretty sure that some of the shine and feelings of OMG PETE WENTZ are starting to wear off, which is a shame, but what can you do?). So, he talks to Ryan, but when he's visiting them all out on the road once, it's Spencer who corners him and starts asking questions about the inner workings or A&R repping. Pete's not surprised, because Spencer might still be a teenager, but he's got--well, Pete calls it a Political Science brain: planning and plotting and trying to think three steps ahead of any decision, to see what consequences might be on the horizon. Pete knows; he was a political science major for 7 semesters after all.

Pretty soon, it's Spencer bringing Pete a demo from The Cab--more kids from Vegas, like Pete hadn't learned his lesson the first time, signing *one* rag-tag bunch of teenagers from Sin City ("Kidding, Smith, kidding! Jesus!")--and he sits on the edge of his chair while Pete listens to the CD the first time. He manages to stay silent until Pete's done, and then he seems to be holding his breath waiting for Pete's reaction, and since this is the first time in quite awhile Pete's seen Spencer off balance, and he's sort of enjoying it, he manages to keep his face straight, like he's thinking deeply. Then he says, "What do you like about them?"

Spencer starts talking about hooks and beats and the lead singer's *voice*, keyboard and harmonies, and Pete pretty much agrees with everything Spencer's saying, so finally he *has* to smile, because Spencer has totally brought Pete his newest goldmine.

The thing is: while Ryan let Pete talk at him, Spencer actually calls Pete with 'what would you think about this?', or, 'why aren't we doing this?' questions.

Pete usually makes an effort to visit his bands in the studio midway through the recording process, especially when they're as young as the kids in The Cab are, but since studio time falls at the same time as Fall Out Boy tour time, Pete sends Spencer. It's phrased more like a favor--a 'hey, want to go check up on them?' sort of thing--and that's the reason it becomes a Panic-minus-the-exclamation-point field trip. Brendon and Ryan and Jon hang out with the kids, teasing them, distracting them from work, and Spencer does too, but when he calls Pete at the end of the weekend to report, he's got actual opinions about what's being produced, how close songs are to being done, whether or not the kids seem to be on the right track, that sort of thing.

Pete doesn't have to talk very hard to convince The Cab to credit Spencer as Assistant A&R on Whisper War.

And that is about the time that Pete starts officially grooming Spencer.

*

It happens in little ways:

Phone calls asking Spencer's opinion on demos Pete gets, or asking Spencer to take a weekend to drop in on The Cab on tour, or the Hushies, or even TAI and GCH to make sure everything's going the way that things should be going for DecayDance bands, that their needs are being met. He sends Spencer a business textbook (or eight) which has Ryan calling to bitch him out, because seriously, Pete, there are advantages to being a rock star, and one of them is not making Spencer sit around on Saturday night brushing up on supply and demand and the fundamentals of accounting. He links Spencer to articles he finds online about running businesses and building them into multi-national corporations and rambles about how DecayDance/Clandestine is totally going to take over the world someday.

When they actually end up in the same city, he drags Spencer around with him, talking business for long enough that everyone else gives up and leaves them alone.

He's totally grooming Spencer, because Spencer, he feels, is going to go far. One day he's going to find a band of his own to sign, or he's going to make his own line of clothing, or he'll start repping people himself, going beyond A&R, and Pete will sigh a lot and say things like, "How could you betray me like this, Spencer Smith. You're the competition now," but inside, he'll be really fucking proud.

This is what he's not expecting: for Spencer to show up unannounced at the Clandestine Offices, three CDs in hand, asking, as he drops them on Pete's desk, "So when are you officially going to hire me?"

Pete's not stupid. He writes up a contract on the spot--in green marker, yes, but it's on paper, so it's totally official, and besides, the lawyers can pretty it up later--and after asking about health coverage and dental coverage and his commission, Spencer signs.

Then he pushes the three CDs at Pete and says, "I think you should sign these bands."

After listening to the CDs, Pete agrees.

*

At first, Pete pretty much thinks that Spencer just wants to find bands, sign them. Then Spencer rents an apartment in Chicago ("Jon does the commute," Spencer says. "So can I.") and starts showing up at the office every day. His interests understandably lie on the music end of the spectrum, but because he's there, Pete starts running Clandestine ideas by him, and then Spencer's answering questions about Clandestine over the phone, telling Nordstrom's that no, they will not be signing the contract again unless they can guarantee a better placement on the floor, because Spencer had been in a Nordstrom's just last week, you see, and he'd had to *look* for Pete's exclusive line of clothes. If people have to *look*, they're less likely to *find*, and that doesn't help anyone, okay? Also, Spencer knows exactly how much revenue Pete's bringing in at the Nordstrom's stores, so don't even try to pretend it's not a significant amount.

That's pretty much the moment that Pete realizes that Spencer has somehow become, like, the Executive Vice President of Everything for Pete Wentz Enterprises.

*

As VP, Spencer gets to go to Board Meetings. At first, it's just him and Pete and a few of Pete's old friends who he's appointed to various positions within the company. But the company starts growing, and they start getting outside investors--actual finance guys, in suits,who have a whole hell of a lot more money than Pete does. They have to give reports on how Clandestine/DecayDance are doing financially (Spencer makes graphs) and they start talking about issuing stock (for, like, what, two dollars a share? Pete asks, but it's not an idea they throw out) and they start expanding beyond jeans and hoodies and music into books (quirky seems to be the code word), and then there's the reality show for MTV, then the drama for the CW, and suddenly they're being listed as a Company To Watch.

But, board meetings: Pete expects Spencer to dress up in a suit. He seems the sort. But, the first board meeting, Spencer shows up in jeans and a t-shirt--seemingly embracing his inner hippie again. He may not look professional, but the words that come out of his mouth are, and their investors all leave the meeting nodding. The next time out, half the investors--guys in their 40s, 50s--show up in jeans, too, and by the fourth meeting, there's only one guy still wearing a suit jacket. Over his jeans.

It's about this time that Pete realizes that it's possible that Fall Out Boy and Panic's hiatus's may be of the sort that people don't come back from, which makes him feel guilty, but Spencer just waves his hand, because Patrick's producing, Joe and Andy are off doing their own things, Brendon's trying his solo project, Ryan's writing music for some of Pete's bands, Jon is starting a family with Cassie. "We're not done," Spencer says. "We're just taking a bit of time to pursue other interests."

So.

So, suddenly, Pete finds himself heading up an empire with Spencer Smith at his side, apparently with all of his time to devote to this, and really, there's only one way that he can see them going: up.

And going up, he thinks, means bringing every part of his empire under his control, especially when he has someone like Spencer there to give things his full attention. Which is why, at the next board meeting, he brings up the idea of breaking DecayDance away from FBR, because they've got enough bands, enough of a reputation, that they should be able to make a go of it on their own. The board approves the motion, raises their glasses in a toast to Pete's suggestion to make Spencer responsible for the day-to-day operations of DecayDance, even if Pete still remains president, while Pete keeps his nose in every other aspect of Clandestine, and. Yeah.

They set up a meeting with FBR six months before the latest DD/FBR contract is set to expire, and it's not going to be pretty, but Pete's got a lot of money set aside to buy out his band's contracts (provided they want to come with him, which they all do, of course) and. Well, it's just like any other meeting, right? So Pete's expecting casual. Everyone's expecting casual. Which is why Pete's surprised when Spencer shows up at Pete's hotel room with a very expensive suit in his hand, another one on, and says, "It's time to look like we're in charge."

They have their lawyers standing by, because what they're about to do is totally legal, even if FBR is going to claim its not, and when their entourage walks into the meeting, the FBR people look more than a little intimidated. Spencer even has a briefcase, which he opens, and he takes out paperwork of the 'this is what DD is worth, this is what we're willing to pay you' variety--numbers that Pete and Spencer spent several weeks working up late at night in their offices--and it could just be that FBR saw this move coming a mile away, but Pete likes to think it was the surprise of the suits, the sudden professionalism after a year of looking like they were reliving their college years, or possibly the sixties and seventies, that shocks them into letting go of DecayDance more easily than Pete would have believed. And for 8 million more than Pete originally offered.

So that is the end.

Except for the part where Pete and Spencer move the Clandestine Industries office into downtown Chicago, renting an entire floor of a skyscraper. Except for the part where Pete gets an 'Executive VP of Everything' plaque for Spencer's door, which makes Spencer get a 'President of Everything' one engraved for him. Except for the fact that Spencer still comes into the office dressed in board shorts and band t-shirts, (except on Fridays where he wears a jacket and tie with jeans or khakis, just to be contrary), just like Pete still models his hoodies every time he goes outside. Except for the time that Ryan drops by Pete's office one day and says, "What the hell did you do to my best friend?" and Pete would feel more guilty, except he knows that Panic's heading back into the studio for album number 4 in two months, so it's not exactly like he *totally* stole Spencer.

Except for the part where Alex Marshall drops by the Clandestine Offices one day with two demos in his hand, walks into Spencer's office, and sits down. Pete watches them through the window for 40 minutes--watches Marshall sitting on the edge of his chair, watches Spencer keeping his face perfectly straight, then asking Marshall some questions. Ten minutes after that, Spencer is escorting Marshall into Pete's office, motioning Marshall to drop the demos on Pete's desk. He clears his throat, at which point Marshall says, "Um. I thought you might be interested in listening to these bands?" Spencer nods, and Pete makes a mental note to get two new contracts ready.

Then, looking at Spencer, standing behind Marshall with a proud look in his eyes, he amends his note: three contracts, so this time around he doesn't end up writing out Marshall's eventual (inevitable) job offer in green marker. The lawyers hadn't looked kindly on that the first time around; he doubts they'd be pleased if he did it again.

End.