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Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters

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Brendon's first movie, the big one, the one that makes him a household name, the one that makes him famous is called The Night Chestnut. It's a period piece about the ins and outs of horse racing, and the kind of movie that either sinks or swims at the box office. When Brendon lands the part (he's the lovable, charming jockey who dies seven minutes in, supposedly trampled to death by his own horse), Pete Wentz steals the show. He steals the plot and steals Brendon's (Gregory's, he tells himself, Gregory's, Gregory's) pretty young wife, all under the guise of trying to save the life of Brendon's (Gregory's) horse and avenge his brother (Gregory)'s murder.

It doesn't sound like much, but the script actually isn't bad, and there's the added bonus of Pete Wentz, so Brendon really can't (and wouldn't, he's not stupid) complain about sitting around for hours, waiting for call. While Gregory might get killed off in the first seven minutes, Brendon's in more flashbacks and background shots than he can count on both hands, so he's pretty much always on set. Apparently they can't just use the same corpse shot over and over.

For the most part, it isn't bad. It's not strenuous work, and despite the fact that he's in almost every scene (except, of course for the one where Finn (Pete) and Gregory's widow succumb to their passion for each other. Brendon's glad it's not one of those movies), it's not like he has many lines.

Brendon makes himself as accessible as possible though, smiling bright, but not too bright; cracking jokes just bland enough to elicit smiles, not belly laughs. It's a strategy he's perfected, because he doesn't want them to think back fondly to what a nice kid he was around the set, he wants them to think back and remember what incredible emotion his acting elicited, because in the end, what kind of guy he is doesn't really matter, what he can do on screen, does.

Pete Wentz is a big enough star that he has his own trailer, his own PA, and an agent that stops by every Wednesday to make sure his client is enjoying the "surroundings." Pete's agent Zack is the guy who got Brendon this job. Pete's agent Zack is the same guy who found Brendon living in a bus terminal with all of his worldly belongings strapped to his back, and brought him home as that month's charity case.

Pete's agent Zack will also hopefully one day be Brendon's agent Zack. It all depends on how Brendon does here and now. It all depends on how Brendon takes Gregory's few lines and twists them to make the audience shout and scream when his head is trampled, how they cover their mouths with their hands and close their eyes, cringing because he was such a nice guy. Brendon hasn't had to do much actual acting yet; he's mostly just had to be a corpse, pale and unmoving under the camera's scrutiny, bloody.

Brendon figures that's not so far from the truth, actually, thinks of the home that isn't, thinks of the house and the family and the obligations he left back in Las Vegas, thinks about how disappointed his parents had been; still are, probably. His stomach doesn't get heavy, his eyes don't sting, and he stays completely, perfectly still. He's pretty sure this is what qualifies him as a success.

They get the scene done in three takes and Brendon doesn't move in the time between them, ignores offers of water or sustenance, just keeps his head down, face planted against the carpet, trying not to breathe overmuch. It's only then when he feels it on him; like a hum buzzing just beneath his skin, and Brendon's always been able to tell when people were looking at him. As vain as he is, it's not exactly considered a talent, more a natural ability.

He picks up his head, just slightly, just a fraction of an inch, but that's all he needs, really. Pete Wentz is staring at him, not even bothering to hide the naked interest, and Brendon manages to quell the frission of awareness that tries to skitter down his back. Pete's watching, Pete's watching and Brendon remaining perfectly still is part of the test. He moves his head back down, settling against the worn rug and closes his eyes.

"You're good at that," Pete says when they've finally wrapped the scene and the makeup girl's finished trying to get all of the blood-looking gunk out of Brendon's hair. Brendon counts to eight in his head, picks at his nails and looks at Pete only when he starts to fidget. "I'm good at what?" he asks, careful to keep the adoration and the wistfulness out of his voice. It's hard, seeing Pete's face up close, the creases and the scars around his eyes and not remember seeing him in magazines, and not remember holding his dick in one hand, imagining Pete's mouth there instead of his own fingers.

Pete smirks at him and Brendon lets himself blush because he's supposed to. He's not important enough yet to be unaffected. "You live in riddles," Pete says, and Brendon does him the service of not blinking his ignorance. He's not ignorant; he knows Pete speaks in puzzles, fragmented bits of sentences that make no sense anywhere but inside his head. Brendon isn't an idiot and he doesn't want to treat Pete like one either. He doesn't blink, doesn't let his confusion show, and the smile crossing Pete's smile looks halfway genuine. "You don't want to be memorable," Pete tries again and this time when Brendon blinks it's not practiced.

"I'm an actor," he shoots back, recovering smoothly and trying not to stutter. "Of course I want to be memorable. Why else get trampled in the head by a horse?"

**

Pete says, "Want to come with us for drinks?" and Brendon nearly swallows his tongue because us, in this context, entails not only Pete himself, but probably both leading ladies, the producers, and maybe the director if he can find it within himself to descend from on high and mingle with the common masses. It's sure as shit not pitchers of cheap, watered down beer with the assistants to the assistants and the other guys and girls brought in for a couple days to fill up the one liner bit parts. Something between fear and elation is born in Brendon's stomach, but he nods because it's not like he can say no.

The bar somehow manages to be both discreetly ostentatious and flaunt the fact that it is a place for somebodies, not the common dredges. Brendon hovers near Pete's elbow, hands pushed into his pockets, consciously forcing himself to keep the nervousness thrumming beneath his skin from erupting into the spastic energy that got him into so much fucking trouble in high school. The leading lady, one impossibly beautiful and unfairly talented Victoria Asher, kisses Brendon's cheek when Pete introduces him as someone she should remember, and tells him to call her Vicky T, because all her friends do.

"Stop gaping," Pete whispers in his ear as she floats away to the arm of her long-term more-than boyfriend, not-quite husband, Ryland. "You're revealing your innocence."

"It's Victoria Asher," Brendon protests under his breath, choosing to risk the bounds of this strange little relationship and nudge his elbow into Pete's ribs. "Victoria Asher. She's perfect."

Pete smirks at Brendon, ruffling his hair, and heat spreads unexpectedly down his spine, except he's beginning to understand that maybe it's not quite as unexpected as he would have thought the first day he walked on set and beheld Pete Wentz in all his glory. Drinks are pressed into both their hands and Brendon pauses for a split second, the faint remnants of habits deeply ingrained into him by his parents. He defiantly knocks back the first swallow, fuck you, mom and dad, and catches Pete looking at him sidelong through half closed eyes, concealing any hint of thought.

"What?" Brendon asks and Pete shakes his head. "Nothing."

The drinks disappear without Brendon being able to keep track. He never remembers setting his glass down, but it always seems to be full when he goes to take another swallow. He realizes at some point he doesn't even really know what he's drinking, but it tastes faintly of some kind of fruit and rum and it's good so he leaves it at that. Besides, when Pete Wentz has his arm looped around Brendon's shoulder like it belongs there and Victoria, Vicky T, is kissing his cheek and declaring Brendon is her new favorite person and that Ryland really needs to step up his game, it's hard to find anything in life to complain about.

Brendon's pleasantly buzzed, loses track of the time and it feels like he no more than blinks and suddenly the cool glass is gone from his hand and a warm palm is pressed into the small of his back. "Hey, come with me," Pete says and it's not a request or a question, it's spoken in a smooth tone of someone that expects to be obeyed. Brendon allows himself to be steered through the crowd, slipping past Vicky pressed tight against Ryland, mumbling into his neck, and two shitfaced producers making eyes at a pretty waitress with red hair and lovely wrists.

"Where are we going?" Brendon chuckles, shivering when he feels the feather light brush of lips against the back of his neck.

"To Neverland."

**

Brendon is not stupid. Just for the record, in case God actually does exist and at one point after he's dead (hopefully over something classy like a car accident or a single shot straight to the heart) and he's standing at the pearly gates, at least he'll be able to say, "Hey, I was fucked up, I made some bad decisions, but at least I was smart." He knows exactly what Pete's doing when he pushes Brendon towards the bathroom, hand still pressed at the small of Brendon's back.

Brendon knows exactly what Pete's doing when he pushes him into one of the two stalls. There's a toilet of course, but a mirror and a sink, too. Pete doesn't stop for one second. He doesn't look at Brendon, doesn't whisper soothing sweet nothings in Brendon's ear.

It's possibly not exactly the way Brendon had dreamed about losing his virginity, but. But it's Pete Wentz, Pete Wentz telling him to drop his pants; Pete's hands, hard but not rough on his hips, pushing him towards the marble sink. Pete's grip is firm, probably leaving bruises, and Brendon isn't nervous, Brendon has wanted this since he was fifteen years old and Pete starred in his first blockbuster; some indie thing that Brendon wasn't supposed to watch but caught at a friend's house when their parents were out. In the movie, Pete had jerked himself off on camera, hands down his pants in a grimy bathroom, and the only thing that had been really visible had been his face, pressed right up against the camera, fogging up the glass, lips making an imprint.

At fifteen, Brendon had wanted to fit their lips together, had wanted to lick his way into Pete's mouth and anchor his hands on Pete's hips. Now, now it's happening, it's happening, and Pete has bent him over halfway, Pete's stretching out against Brendon's back and he can just feel the zipper of Pete's jeans against the sliver of skin at his back. "Push your pants down," he says, and his voice sounds odd, tinny, almost too big for this tiny room (because as far as rooms go, it is tiny. It's a motherfucking huge bathroom stall, though). Brendon unzips his jeans, counting back from five and tugging them down around his thighs.

Brendon doesn't expect to be kissed now, so he doesn't want it anymore, he pushes the desire away, pushes the thought of Pete's mouth away, just as Pete starts to push inside him. He's not wet, not that Brendon had expected him to be, not really, and it hurts.

It hurts more than he'd expected, it hurts more than anything Brendon's ever felt in his life, and he was the kind of kid that managed to break every bone in his body by the time he was twelve. Pete pushes in, and he's not rough, it's not that he's holding Brendon down, forcing him against his will, it's not like there's anything wrong with it, it's just that. It's just that -- Brendon squeezes his eyes open, can see them in the mirror, can just see Pete's face behind him, can see the concentration there.

It's just that it hurts. It hurts more than anything he's ever felt before.

Pete makes a noise, low in his throat, and slams in deep, deeper than he'd been, leaning forward and clamping his teeth down on Brendon's shoulder through his clothes. It's hard enough to leave a bruise, Brendon knows it is.

He's always bruised easy.

**

Brendon Urie shows up in Hollywood, gets lucky and lands a small part in a big ass motherfucker of a movie six months in and becomes the one in a million dark horse that takes the industry by storm. Within a year he's landing parts actors would kill for, opposite the big name stars that everyone and their grandmother reads about, gossips about, and obsesses over. It's partially luck and partially skill; Brendon's got the double dose of luck in being good looking as all hell and actually gifted with a decent amount of acting talent.

His manager, the much-coveted Zack Hall, cultivates a boy-next-door image for Brendon, playing on the natural instinct towards politeness years in the Mormon Church forever drilled into his psyche and his own natural charm. Brendon Urie is a Good Guy. He's the kind of boy mothers pray their daughters will find and bring home, marry, settle down, and raise families with. He's gracious in interviews, funny and bashful, sweet and talkative. People fucking eat it up. After years of badasses, addicts and fuck ups, it's refreshing to see a kind, clean, genuinely put together kid.

The lack of family is a small problem, but Zack isn't the most coveted agent in town for no reason. He lets it be known without ever actually saying anything that there's some kind of deep, heartbreaking tragedy in Brendon's past. Were it any other star, people would be all over that shit, hungry for the dirt that makes Hollywood tabloids go round, but because it's Brendon Urie, the Brendon Urie who remembers the name of every single person he's ever fucking talked to and more often than not, their significant others and kids too, people don't want to see him cry. So, for the most part, they leave it alone.

At twenty, Brendon Urie is famous. Brendon Urie is rich. Brendon Urie is a goddamn motherfucking star. He is Big Shit.

He also drinks too much, chain smokes when there are no cameras around to take incriminating pictures, indulges in a little chemically altering stress relief and tends to vanish from any function after a couple minutes with a beautiful boy in tow. People don't see that Brendon Urie; the one who sneaks into clubs through the back entrance and has spent entire weekends holed up in his loft with pair of lithe, longhaired boys, a bag of marijuana, and half the local liquor store. What the fuck ever. What people don't know won't hurt them; no harm no foul, and all that shit.

So long as his movies keep earning, the studios don't care what he does beyond the view of paparazzi lenses. When wrap is called and Brendon's back in LA, all he has to do is show up to the premiere with some suitably pretty girl hanging on his arm with a relatively demure dress and vapid adoration in her eyes. He makes the talk show rounds, the late night rounds, is his charming self and everyone goes home happy and hopefully, a whole fucking lot wealthier than they were.

"I have an awesome life," Brendon laughs whenever the question comes up. "I've never been happier."

He figures if he says it enough eventually it'll start feeling like the truth.

 

**

Brendon has this on - again, off - again fling thing with a certain someone named William. William is huge on the indie circuit, openly gay and lives with acclaimed cinematographer Gerard Way whenever Gerard can grace the city of Angels with his presence. He makes cinematography an art form. People know his name, but he tends to keep to himself, has a chateau in Paris that he stays in when he's not working on a picture and, if the rumors are true, is inordinately close to his brother.

He's worked on three of the last five of Brendon's movies, and they've never met.

He also has black sheets on the bed in the master bedroom he shares with William in LA, and Brendon likes to fuck William on them, making as much mess as possible.

He's never met Gerard, but he thinks he'd like him if he did.

**

There's this diner on the corner of Magnolia in North Hollywood that has bottomless cups of coffee for 75 cents a cup, a discreet wait staff and enough anonymity that Brendon can get away with only a pair of sunglasses as camouflage. He's gotten a few curious glances, but it's nothing too overt.

His waiter is agitated. Brendon can tell by the impatient tapping of his pen against his pad. The guy probably has no idea who he is either, Brendon can tell that too, and he's not sure if it's a good thing or not. He's not sure how he can use it to his advantage. "I think I'll just have some more coffee," he says, finally, as if there were any debate on the issue. That's all he ever gets here anyway and the director on his next project, a certain Paul Harrison, had made noises about his losing some weight around his hips (it'll be his third cancer patient picture, and his second cancer patient. He wonders what that says about his considerable talents), so it's a strict diet of coffee and packs of cigarettes for him.

The waiter scowls something fierce, scribbles something down on his pad then stalks off without even a backward glance. That's the telltale sign, really, of when a fan is just trying to be cool, when a fan is playing their cards right, waiting for something magical, and when someone just honestly doesn't give a shit.

Brendon doesn't know what it says about him that he wants his waiter to give a shit, if only to lord his considerable wealth and talents in the guy's face, of course. Brendon really enjoys being the smartass he isn't allowed to be on camera.

"Coffee," the waiter says a few minutes later, pouring more black liquid into Brendon's mug, and barely flicking his eyes in Brendon's direction. It's driving Brendon a little crazy, to be honest, especially when he catches the guy's name; Spencer, printed crookedly on the name tag slapped over his chest. "Anything else, sir?"

Brendon holds back a snort, or at least tries to, and can't figure out what's so intriguing about this kid. This kid who can't be older than eighteen.

He can't remember being that young.

**

Brendon lingers and he doesn't know why, chain smoking and slowly sipping at cup after cup of shitty coffee.

The kid, Spencer, is one of only two waiters working in the place, trying to keep all the booths lining two walls and the tables and counter, serviced. Brendon watches over the top of his sunglasses as they twist around each other, setting down plates and refilling drinks and talking over the cries of unhappy toddlers and screaming babies. Brendon worked as a waiter when he first stepped off the bus from Vegas and he knows how thankless the work is.

Spencer rushes past with a tray loaded down with dirty plates and glasses and somehow manages to catch his foot on something, a shadow or lint on the tile floor for all Brendon knows, and goes sprawling.

The china clatters to the floor in a loud of crash of breaking dishes and smashing cups. The kid hits his knees, the heels of his palms scudding on the floor across fragments of glass and it has to hurt. He lets out a pained sound as his eyes go wide, the entire diner bathed in a moment of silence before pandemonium breaks out. The cook lets out a string of violent curses and throws a broom over the counter, snapping for Spencer to clean it up and be quick about it so the other waiter doesn't kill himself.

"Graceful," Brendon snorts and the kid, Spencer, casts him a baleful look as he wipes the palms of his hands on his jeans.

"Blow me," he snaps, standing and snatching up the broom.

It's been a long time since anyone has been less than fawningly polite to Brendon, unless it's in the context of a scene with carefully rehearsed lines and well practiced blocking. "Do you know who I am?"

"The guy in my section who's being a jackass," Spencer says flatly, flipping Brendon off as he starts to clean up.

**

Brendon's got call ridiculously early, at something like three in the morning, but the little diner on Magnolia is open twenty-four hours, and even though he's fairly positive they have gourmet coffee at Craft Services, he's not exactly looking for that. His skin is itching, for a fight, probably, but William's in Paris for a week, and it would take too much effort to break someone else in.

It's just his luck that the disgruntled waiter from before, the kid with the eyes and the hips and the wry twist to his lips is the only one behind the counter. He rolls his eyes when he catches sight of Brendon, and Brendon almost grins, considering it'll likely stay just the two of them this early.

"Please tell me you want something quick and to go," it's pretty rude behavior as far as waiters go, but Brendon's not easily chastised and for some reason, this level of hostility is exactly what he needs right now. He grins, big and bright behind his sunglasses and shrugs apologetically, even though he isn't very unapologetic at all. "Hate to ruin your morning, man, but I don't have to be at work for another couple hours." In truth, he's only got about forty minutes, but he'll take it.

He's pretty sure he hears Spencer mutter, "Fantastic," under his breath, and he's not sure why, but it makes him grin harder.

The sun isn't even out yet, but he's got a feeling it's shaping up to be a day that doesn't completely suck.

**

He's revising that opinion four hours later after doing the same scene for the eleventh time in a row. Brendon pastes on a sunny, if slightly dim smile as he slides off the bed in the corner of the room and walks over to where the director, the screenwriter and first and second ADs are standing behind the prompters.

"Hi," he says, brows are arched and concerned. "I can't help feeling I'm doing something wrong, and," he shrugs here and bursts out the mega-watt grin that makes Michelle Trachtenberg call him for drinks and bought him his spacious three bedroom in Malibu that looks over the water. "I can't fix it if you don't tell me what it is."

The screenwriter is there too, even though it's a closed set and Brendon remembers his name as Trent.

He shuffles through a couple pages of the script; dog-eared, highlighted and marked up to within an inch of disintegrating, to the five pages of the scene they're working on. Everything's fucked up and ass backwards for the shoot, as the original actor set to play Ian dropped out at the last minute, citing medical problems (which Brendon snorted at and wrote 'coke habit' on a Post-It he passed to Zack over the table), so second unit has already wrapped up for the most part and everyone else has been on set for the better part of two weeks.

"Let's take a break," the director, Paul fucking Harrison who has two of the top twenty grossing films of all time under his belt, says, "Alright Brendon, talk to me, what do you think isn't going right?"

Brendon runs a hand across his head, made up to look bald and the feel of latex skin underneath his palm still comes as a slight shock. He smiles again, rueful and bashful; fuck if he knows what the problem is. He's tried it every way he can think of and it's just not working.

"I wish I could figure it out," Brendon says, tapping a finger on the hinge of his jaw. "I feel like we're both missing something key, but no matter how we work it, it doesn't seem to want to click."

Trent makes a sound in the back of his throat, soft, and doodles something on the margin of his script. He's stupidly young, barely a year out of college, imbued with the uncertainty and awkwardness Brendon knows even he once had when he first showed up and got lucky. There's a look, Paul glances at him and he dips his head, and Brendon can feel something vaguely uncomfortable slither down his spine.

"Have you thought about playing up the flirting?" Paul asks and Brendon almost swallows his tongue.

"Flirting?" he repeats, "Between Ian and Jack?"

Trent smiles, bouncing his leg and tapping the tip of his pen against the page, and Paul grins easy and confident. "Exactly. I know we're not making a love story, but Ian's sick, not dead and not without feeling. The whole script, I think, really needs to carry that tone of what could have been, had Jack and Ian met somewhere else."

Brendon smiles, but it gets caught somewhere, made brittle and shatters. "Right. Fine. Okay."

**

Twenty minutes later, they try the scene again and Brendon sits on the edge of the hospital bed, eyes rimmed in fresh make up shadows, and looks at Jack, thinks about kissing him and drops the line.

Brendon stumbles through the scene twenty more times, fucking up and forgetting, stumbling over words he'd had down pat three hours before. Paul's easy nature grows steadily more and more strained, smile taking on stressed lines at the corners, engraved into his weathered face.

"That's enough for today," Paul says, pushing the heel of his hand into his eyes.

**

Brendon paces across his living room, swiping a half empty bottle of whiskey off the side table each time he passes it for a hard swig that burns going down and settles hot in his stomach. He's smoking, half empty pack crushed in the back pocket of his jeans. "Fuck. Fucking hell."

Zack watches him steadily from the leather armchair, idly drumming his fingers against his Armani covered knee. Brendon may be the hottest thing to hit Hollywood in twenty years, but Zack was the one who put him there and it's not for no reason he's the most sought after agent in the city.

"You want to tell me why you're fucking up your voice, Urie?" he asks the words calmly, even though he knows the answer, even though he's the one who brought the whiskey. "You have to sing at that children's hospital benefit tomorrow to promo Goodbye Grace (cancer patient movie number two, and the reason Brendon will never again in his life use a hospital bathroom), and now you're going to sound like you gave head to the back half of the lot." His brows are arched and Brendon wants to throw something, wants to scream and cause a fuss, because Pete's the one who told him the cardinal rule, back in the day, and he sure as hell didn't learn it himself.

"Ian," Brendon says slowly, as if he's speaking to one of the kid's he'll be singing to in less than twelve hours, "Is gay."

"So? It's not like you'll be full-on assfucking," Zack counters calmly because he's always fucking calm. He has to be, when at least one of his clients is melting down at any given moment and an agent who loses his shit along with his client is going to be eaten alive.

"Jesus," Brendon snaps, shooting him a pointed glare. Zack knows everything there is to know about him neatly filed away and stored in the strange and mythical filing cabinet that is his brain, claiming it's infinitely more secure than any laptop or blackberry could ever hope to be. He knows Brendon's flaws and quirks, the natural facets of his personality that can be exploited in a positive way and the nasty streaks that need to be downplayed and given over to the spin jockey side of his brain.

He knows Brendon's liabilities.

"Bren," Zack says calmly, easing the bottle out of his hand and taking a neat swallow. "It's not like they're putting you in a pair of tights and throwing you into a remake of Rocky Horror. This character is insinuation at worst, you can handle it and when you're on the Oscar stage, remember to thank me in between God and your mama."

Brendon flips him off, pauses to tap the ash from his cigarette into an empty McDonald's cup, and keeps pacing. "Fuck. I thought we didn't do gay."

"No, you're fucking paranoid," Zack says lightly, "Thus creating the irony of my job where I have to convince people you're not a born again homophobe. My life is a shitty joke with a bad pun of a punch line sometimes, Urie."

"Good thing I pay you so fucking well," Brendon snaps, "And it's called caution, Zack, not fucking paranoia."

Pete told him once, in one of only two times they ever fell asleep in a bed together (Brendon chooses to remember the sensation of drifting off to the thud of Pete's heart beneath his ear and not the feeling of waking up to cold sheets and a pillow clutched pathetically to his chest) that real queers (and Brendon will always remember the flat way he sneered the word), could never play gay on the screen. People would watch, people would see, and people would know. Careers crash and lives come tumbling down, Pete said, because Hollywood isn't a fraction as progressive as the rest of the world seems to think it is.

"Yeah, well, there's quite the fucking difference between Paul Harrison's Glory Song and Brokeback Mountain, kid." Zack cocks his head. "I think your closet door remains firmly shut and locked."

Brendon flips him off again and swipes the whiskey, defiantly knocking back half of what's left. "You're an asshole," Brendon growls, voice rough, but that doesn't stop him from settling next to Zack on the love seat, dropping his head against Zack's shoulder.

**

"Did you know that playing gay is the fastest way to kill a career?" Brendon says contemplatively into a chipped ceramic mug of bad coffee.

Spencer, eyes shadowed with tiredness, dressed in a shirt just rumpled enough for Brendon to think he probably slept in it and just couldn't work up the motivation to change when he rolled out of bed in the morning, shoots him a look that's too tired to be baleful, but comes pretty damn close. "And you should never work with kids or animals," he yawns. "They'll upstage you."

Brendon nods. "They will do that."

"Christ." Spencer drags he hands across his eyes and leans down on his elbows. "Why are you still coming here?"

"I don't know." Brendon shrugs. "I like the coffee."

**

There's a nearly full box of doughnuts sitting on the craft service's table and Brendon picks it up, spends fifteen minutes walking around and offering them to the crew, bashfully apologizing for being so off his game the day before. It's a small gesture, one not entirely necessary since he didn't have a tantrum or some shit, but Zack's drilled into his head how important the small moments are.

"Sorry about yesterday," he says to Mikey Way who's playing Jack, standing outside makeup still wrapped in a black pea coat, clutching a cup of coffee and blinking blearily at the world through the thick lenses of his glasses. "I swear I actually know my lines today."

Mikey huffs out a soft chuckle and takes a bear claw with a loose hitch of his shoulders. "I don't actually have to act with you today, but that's good to know regardless. It's a great script." Brendon privately agrees and disagrees all at once, but nods his head and grins brightly. "The emotion is really contained," he comments inanely, and he nearly misses the flare of amusement in Mikey's eyes.

It's a strange experience not knowing if someone is laughing with or at him.

**

Something settles beneath his skin that night, an itch that makes him want to run away and claw at the wallpaper. He smokes a couple and drinks a little and when it doesn't settle beneath the rush of nicotine and booze, he throws on a black fedora pulled low over his face and a pair of oversized sunglasses. The city throbs at night, seethes and pulses with life and death and glittering neon lights trying to hide the decay that hides just beneath the surface. It's easy enough to let entropy lead him there and swallow him up.

"We all have secrets," Pete once said, eyes closed as he sat half dressed on the edge of the bed, cigarette dangling loosely from one hand. "There's nothing wrong with that."

He knows it's fucking self centered, but it still mildly astonishes him that places still exist where people don't know who he is. Hollywood stars rise and fall, some more dramatically than others, and those who watch from the sidelines are the ones who endure. Brendon doesn't know what's going to happen to him, the irony being that he never wanted to be an actor, not really, that was never the goal. He wanted to sing, maybe, or play the guitar, but that didn't happen and even he's not selfish enough to hate the life he has for the one that never would have happened.

Brendon fell into acting accidentally, but he loves it now. It's not the acting that sets his skin burning with a need to get away; it's everything that comes with it.

There are parties speckled in the upscale townhouses, with the lights dimmed down and music pumped up loud enough to vibrate through Brendon's bones and teeth. He wanders into a bedroom, finds a pair of girls and a boy sitting on the floor cutting lines across a mirror and that, at least, is easy. He stumbles down to his knees, inhales, and floats away.

"Jesus." Zack's voice cuts through the flying and the fog and Brendon tries to open his eyes but can't.

"I'm trying to float away," Brendon mumbles and arms come around his shoulders, strong and solid, and maybe Zack is using him, maybe a little, but he also cares and Brendon presses his face to the curve of his neck and exhales hard.

"Your vices are gonna kill you kid," Zack rumbles.

"I hope, I wish," Brendon sighs. "Eventually."

**

Brendon wakes up with his face mashed into his pillow, sprawled awkwardly on top of the blankets, still dressed in clothes from the night before. He grimaces, stomach coiling and rebelling in his gut, and he swallows down bile between the pulsing throbs of pain shooting from his brain down his spine. "Fuck," he groans, rolling over and slinging an arm across his eyes against the onslaught of afternoon sunlight pouring in through the open window. He smells like beer and piss and worse and his skin is covered in a sticky film.

"Rise and shine, ingrate." Zack pushes into the room and Brendon groans. "I had to call you in sick to work, jackass. Paul Harrison, the Paul Harrison, is not fucking impressed. You're rapidly using up your good will on this shoot."

"Paul Harrison can blow me," Brendon mumbles. Zack settles in the chair beneath the window and tents his fingers, looking appraisingly at Brendon. "I'm sure he'd love to, Bren, but you'd probably have to call him daddy and promise to be a good boy."

There's a half empty glass of something clear and liquid on the bedside table; Brendon sniffs it once to make sure it's water and not vodka, then chugs half and grits his teeth against the swell of nausea until it fades into something mildly more settled. He needs Advil, but it's in the kitchen and he's not stupid enough to think that Zack will let him off with anything less than the seven hundredth iteration of how, given how his image doesn't precisely mesh with his proclivities, he has to be just a little more fucking careful.

"For the record," Zack says lightly, "Tracking you down to a party in the fucking Hills so I can haul your stoned ass out before someone with a handy camera phone takes a picture and leaks it all over the fucking internet is not technically a part of my job description."

"Then don't do it."

Zack snorts. "You're my meal ticket, golden boy. Remember that next time you want to get high away from the safe confines of your condo. If you fuck up, it's not just your life that you'll ruin."

"You're breaking my fucking heart." Brendon swings his legs over the side of the bed and pushes himself up. The room spins for a moment, dips and warps, but settles and he shuffles toward the bathroom. "I need to shower."

**

Brendon doesn't pick up street hookers; he's not an idiot and he has no desire to die a young, tragic death of AIDS, but club scene pick ups early in his career led to one or two close calls from boys looking to earn a buck off the indiscretions of Brendon's youth. Pete wrote down the address as that first shoot was winding down and he was getting ready to move on, though Brendon hasn't realized it at the time. "It's a gentlemen's club," he said with a wry smile, "You pay to get in, whatever happens after that is completely up to you and the boys."

He pays and picks a kid without really looking, this young thing with blonde streaked hair falling in his eyes and a round face. Brendon keeps it simple; a business transaction with skin instead of contracts and it's easy enough. The kids don't ask for anything else and Brendon doesn't have more to give.

Brendon fucks him hard and comes buried deep, a name caught on the back of his throat that never makes it past his teeth. He leaves a generous tip on the dresser and the kid offers up a wry, lopsided smile and tips his head. "Thanks."

"No problem." Brendon shrugs on his shirt and flashes a cheap parody of his megawatt smile. "Any time."

**

"Do you believe that love and fucking are the same thing?" Brendon's sitting at the counter on a stool upholstered in ripped blue vinyl.

Spencer's sorting dishes and cups and cutlery into a sink to be washed. He pushes his hair off his forehead with the back of his wrist and glances over his shoulder. "Love and fucking are so far from being the same thing it isn't even funny. Fucking is about getting off and having fun, if you're lucky, or getting venereal diseases and weird rashes if you're not."

Brendon drags the tip of his finger along the stained rim of his coffee mug. It's warm against his palm through the ceramic and, truth be told, Brendon doesn't even really like coffee all that much, unless it's mainlined with sugar and sweet shit a la Starbucks, but Spencer pours it for him black and that's how he drinks it. "What's love then?"

"I have no idea," Spencer shrugs. "Haven't found it yet."

**

Brendon stares into the camera-passing-as-a-mirror and says very plainly, "I'm dying." Mikey, from his bed in the corner, coughs out something that Brendon knows is supposed to sound like, "I know." Mikey's Jack is sick though, on-the-way-out sick, and Brendon must be more of an idiot than he actually thought himself to not have picked this up. "I'm sick of being the last one alive, Jack," he says, purposefully not looking at him as he crosses the room slowly, wincing as he settles down onto the thin, hospital issue bed, closing his eyes as he settles back against the bright white pillows. "I'm sick of watching my friends die." The words are whispered more than anything, but Brendon is mic-ed within an inch of his life, so he's fairly certain they got it loud and clear over at Video Village. "I'm all that's left," he says a little sadly, and that's when he catches Mikey looking at him, but it's not Mikey, and he's not Brendon, it's Jack and Ian, and there's fear in Jack's eyes, but there's love too, and that shocks the shit straight out of Brendon.

But he's not Brendon, not right this second, and maybe Ian's supposed to be surprised, maybe Ian's supposed to be as shocked as Brendon feels. "I want," he says, and his voice cracks. It's not scripted, but he can't look at Mikey, can't. "I want so many things that I can't have."

Paul calls cut, but Brendon doesn't move. He can feel Paul coming towards him, but he still doesn't move. Can't. "Brendon, that was," he sounds proud, he's rubbing the back of his neck, and he's a little sweaty, and he's grinning bigger than Brendon's ever seen him grin before. "Brendon, that was beautiful." He laughs a little at himself, but he doesn't take the words back, and if they were working on a different picture, Brendon would really like him, maybe. "You don't really need any more people telling you how brilliant you are, but that was something you don't see every day, Brendon, that was. You were Ian."

Brendon blinks, and he'd hate himself if he could manage to care. "Cut the scene," he says, voice empty and low, low enough that no one else can hear him. Paul stops grinning. "Excuse me?"

"I want you," Brendon says evenly, picking at his cuticle, "To cut the scene."

"Brendon you can't -- "

"I can make it so that you're stuck making dog food commercials," Brendon says, voice dead and even, and there's something leaden in his chest, but he is very definitely Not Thinking About It. "Cut the scene, Paul," He grins sunnily, and Paul mutters something dark under his breath and stalks away, leaving Brendon alone again.

It's easier that way.

**

Brendon doesn't really know why or how he keeps ending up at this stupid diner, but here he is, and he's halfway in the bottle and the fluorescent lights are making his eyes hurt. "Spencer," he moans pathetically, lolling his head against the counter and pressing his lips against the skin of his arm. It tastes weird, and his lips smack. "Spencer, Spencer," he says, slurring his words, and he's probably lucky it's only the two of them, and Joe the cook. "Spencer, you're so pretty."

"Brendon, you're so drunk," Spencer says, but he stops moving, tucking his towel in the waist of pants. He takes a step closer, and the scent of something, probably coffee grounds and left over food stains, smells nice for a moment, a little like Spencer's skin. He's got a hand at the small of Brendon's back, and he's so close. Brendon can't remember the last time someone was so close without him paying them. "Hey, you're really fucked up, aren't you?"

"Work sucked today," Brendon sighs, rubbing his free palm against his eyes and wishing they were anywhere else. His apartment, maybe, where it's nice and dark and there aren't lights everywhere or cameras, and it could just be him and Spencer, maybe, just the two of them and some music and just quiet. "Work sucked and my head hurts, and I drank too much, and work sucked, Spencer Smith." Spencer snorts under his breath and mutters something like, "Yeah, it's really rough in the salt mines," but he's grinning. Brendon takes a large slurp of coffee and ends up dribbling more on himself than he gets in his mouth. "Maybe you should get home," Spencer says, and Brendon nods, because that's a good point. He has an early flight tomorrow morning. That is, if he still has a job to go back to.

Shit.

He starts to stand or tries to, but his feet aren't where they're supposed to be, and they slide against the tiles. He's half expecting to end up on the floor, but suddenly there's something wrapped around his stomach, something strong, and when he blinks his eyes open, Spencer's got his arms around him. "Why Spencer," he says, or tries to -- tries to try, anyway, because the next thing that's really out of his mouth is vomit.

**

Spencer's apartment in two blocks down and one block over and they walk, which is funny to Brendon, enough to leave him gasping I do pitiful little giggles against the smooth skin of Spencer's neck, because he hasn't had to walk anywhere in years. Spencer keeps him up, weaving back and forth across the sidewalk, muttering under his breath about idiot actors who think they run the world and aren't smart enough to keep themselves out of trouble.

"You live in west Hollywood," Brendon giggles, stumbling over a crack in the sidewalk. "You live with the lesbians."

"Not all of us can afford Malibu, asshole," Spencer groans, digging his elbow into Brendon's side. "Turn right and don't trip on the steps. My landlord will be really pissed if he has to get someone to come scrape famous brains off the concrete."

They make it inside, somehow stumbling up two fucking flights of stairs with Brendon seeing double, blinking slowly to try and make the world stop spinning long enough for him to keep from falling flat on his ass. Spencer stays pressed along his side and back, arms around his waist and under his shoulder. Somehow his shirt got hiked up, so he can even feel a bit of Spencer's belly along his spine.

"I like your stomach," Brendon announces as they weave down a narrow hallway lined with faded, chipped doors bearing burnished brass numbers.

"You are a fucking freak," Spencer snorts, hauling him to a stop in front of 33. "This is it. You're so, so so lucky Ryan isn't home."

Brendon rolls his head back as Spencer fumbles with his keys and unlocks the front door. Dim light from the cheap overheads glints off his mouth and Brendon feels want, dull and aching, stab through his stomach. He can still feel Ian close, fluttering beneath his skin and he doesn't like it, not at all. Spencer pushes the door open and leans into Brendon, trying to get him to move, but Brendon doesn't. He can't.

"Is Ryan your boyfriend?"

Spencer snorts. "Ryan is my roommate. He also moonlights as my best friend when the opportunity presents itself."

"Good." Brendon cocks his head, fists his fingers in the collar of Spencer's shirt and kisses him, right there in the doorway of his apartment. Spencer lets out a little gasp in the back of his throat and Brendon hums; this is a bad idea and he knows it, but that doesn't make him stop. Nothing could.

"What the fuck?" Spencer exhales hard and Brendon laughs again, drunk and loose and wanting.

"I'm drunk," he giggles. "And I like boys. Shhh, don't tell anyone."

**

Brendon wakes up in the morning to sunlight streaming in from the wrong angle and a heavy arm thrown across his chest. He can't breathe from the weight of it, and his nose is stuffed up, but not in the way he's used to. He sinks deeper against the sheets because they're comfortable, and hopes it was either really dark when he left -- wherever he was last night, or it's someone he knows. Someone he's used before. The person snuffles against their own pillow and creaks an eye open, hair an unruly mess.

Brendon has a split second of remembering spit-slicked mouths and how Spencer's palms had burned at his hips, and he can breathe even less.

"Spencer," he squeaks, and he hasn't sounded like that since The Piano Bar (blockbuster number three, playing Kate Hudson's adorably unlucky in love younger brother who somehow managed to steal the picture halfway through. Kate really is the only nice girl in Hollywood. Brendon goes to dinner at her house on Wednesday nights when she's in town and plays with Ryder. They get along on an intellectual level). Spencer waves a hand and then grimaces, shifting slightly and moving his arm.

"I have to go to work," he says tonelessly, grabbing his clothes from where they're in a pile on the floor and scuttling out of the room.

And to think, Brendon never thought there'd be a time where he'd see Spencer scared.

**

Brendon doesn't mean to fall back into a doze, he means to gather up his clothes and make a fucking run for it, but Spencer's bed is warm and his sheets are soft and comfortable (and he's surrounded by Spencer's smell, but that's not the important part) and Brendon's still a little hung over and exhausted and he does.

He doesn't hear the front door swing open and bang close and he doesn't realize there's someone else in the apartment until the bedroom door crashes in and something twig thin, wearing plaid pants and a paisley shirt comes in (seriously, Brendon has a split second of thinking he's hallucinating, but he blinks one and twice, and no, the combination is still there and still horrendous) with sex rumpled hair and satisfied smirk.

"God, Jon gives the best head." The vision stutters to a stop, eyes going wide as his body goes still. " …You are not Spencer."

Brendon shakes his head. "Spencer went to work."

"You." He pauses and swallows, arms folding across his chest. He's blinking a mile a minute. "You're Brendon Urie."

Brendon nods. "I am."

The boy (he has to be Ryan, Spencer's best friend, not boyfriend), taps his thumb against his elbow. "What the fuck."

"Yeah, I know." Brendon sighs. "I have no idea."

**

Ryan only spends a few more seconds watching him before he stalks out of the room, muttering something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like, "I cannot believe he didn't tell me," and Brendon would laugh if the blinking lights on Spencer's alarm clock didn't say 9:50 and he didn't have a flight to catch in four hours.

Shit.

He shimmies out of bed and his head only starts to hurt when his feet hit the floor. His jeans are folded neatly on the armchair in the corner, and Brendon doesn't really remember, but that seems like a Spencer thing to do. Without really thinking about it, Brendon shrugs on one of Spencer's tee shirts, a sparkly pink do with rhinestones at the collar and a silk-screened profile of Marilyn Monroe on the chest.

It makes him smile until he locates his cell phone, blinking an angry red. When he pushes the voice mail dial he expects it to screech at him. "You have eighteen new messages," the operator says, and Brendon swears she's sneering at him.

**

He listens to his messages hunkered down in the back of a cab.

"Brendon, it's Zack. Don't forget you need to be on a plane in thirty-six hours, kid. If you forget your tickets I'm making you walk to Missouri."

**

"Brendon, it's Zack. I don't know what you did to Paul, but he's pissed. You do know that as an actor you aren't responsible for the final cut of a film, don't you? Anyway, twenty-four hours until you need to be at the airport. Don't be late."

**

"Brendon, it's Zack. Tell me you didn't tell him to cut that scene. The one that's going to win you an Oscar? Ring any bells? Eighteen hours, for the record. Where the hell are you, you jackass? Call me."

**

"Brendon, it's Zack. Twelve hours and counting and I haven't fucking heard from you. Call me when you get this and I swear to God, miss that noon flight and I will drop you like a hot coal. Meal ticket or not, golden boy."

He deletes the rest.

**

He makes the flight with ten minutes to spare, through the grace of God and a phone call to Zack that makes sure he'll have clothes and shit waiting for him in Missouri, negating the need to swing by his apartment and throw things into a suitcase. First class is empty except for him, so he offers up the flight attendant a lopsided smile and asks for a beer. She grins down at him and it's fucking funny, he thinks, how even his vices become something darling to people who don't know any better.

Brendon drains it and passes out, fingers tangled in the hem of Spencer's tee shirt.

They're in Missouri filming the flashback sequences of Ian's life before he got sick, starring William Hurt and Sally Field as his hardworking, farm owning, God-fearing parents and a slew of twenty something up and comers as Ian's four older siblings. If Brendon got nervous anymore, he would be, realizing that it's his job to stand out through the soft filters of the memory shots, among six fucking talented actors, and make himself shine.

He shows up on set fifteen minutes early after a pit stop at the hotel, just long enough to strip off Spencer's tee shirt and pull on a white v-neck, fresh from the package. On a whim, he folds the pink thing and sets it neatly in the chair beneath the window, though logically he knows there's no way Spencer could ever wake up in his hotel room bed and find it waiting there for him. Brendon toes off his sneakers and slides into flip flops. He's been on a plane for seven hours; he'll be forgiven easily for not being at the top of his game.

Sally pulls him into a hug when she sees him. They worked together, two films after the one with Pete. "Hi, honey," she says, kissing his cheeks. "You look so thin!"

"Well, you know how it goes," Brendon chuckles and his throat feels raw. He has bruises on his hips and his clothes keep brushing against them, sending little shocks down his thighs. "The price we pay for our art."

**

Brendon and Scott know each other in the way that all young twenty-somethings know each other, and when he finds his mark at the faux kitchen table, Scott grins up at him, blue eyes light, with a, "Hey man," at his lips. His pages are next to him and are as dog-eared as Brendon's own. "How's it going?"

"Missouri," Brendon mumbles and Scott nods, laughing a little and making space for him at the table, allowing Brendon to set down his blocking and notes. "Can you believe we're in Missouri?" Brendon asks, and Scott shakes his head, no.

"The pivotal point in a young actor's career," Scott says in this remarkably bad English accent, and Brendon remembers why he likes him so much.

**

Alyson Hannigan is playing his older sister too, and Brendon will never get over the fact that Willow from Buffy is supposed to be related to him.

Their trailers are right next to each other, and she smiles at him as she's getting her hair done.

"I can't actually believe I'm acting with you," she says when they're at Crafty together. She's holding a cup of coffee cradled in her hands like it's a baby, and her eyes are wide as she looks up at him. "I've been a fan of yours since The Night Chestnut. You were great in that," she touches his arm, and Brendon finds himself smiling at her for real. "Thanks for getting me signed onto this picture," she whispers once they're heading back towards the house. Brendon blinks down at her in surprise.

"What?" Alyson shrugs at him, ducking her head, and wow, Brendon likes every single person on this shoot, seriously. He never feels that way about people. It must be something about the Missouri air.

**

"Ian, I can't," her chin is trembling, tears streaming down her cheeks, and Brendon's brain isn't even thinking, oh my god, oh my god, Sally Field, it's thinking, God, I can't believe I'm hurting her so much. "Don't." Her hand is rubbing at her temples, shielding her eyes, and her bangles are clanking at her wrists. "Please, Ian, don't ask me to do this."

"Mom, I have to." He stands before he even realizes he's doing it, and fuck the blocking, he knows they have to go back and do his sides anyway, but he cups her cheek in his hand, and the arm she wraps around his middle is shaking. Paul calls cut, but Sally doesn't move away, squeezing her arm around him.

"You are amazing." She whispers to him, standing on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his temple. "I know it doesn't count for anything much, but I'm so proud of you for doing this film."

Brendon wishes he could be half as proud as she is.

**

The last scene of the flashbacks is just Ian and his father, Brendon and William, standing on the rickety front porch of the farmhouse in the dead hours of the night when the moon hangs low and flat in the sky and even the crickets stop singing. Brendon's got a backpack slung on one shoulder and a duffle bag at his feet; back pocket bulging with a wallet stuffed with all the money Ian could lay his hands on.

"You really leaving?" William says, but he's not William Hurt, he's Adam Sr., Ian's father and he's watching his baby boy walk away from every dream he ever held close to his heart. "You really gonna walk away?"

Brendon can't think about the parallels. It hurts too much.

"I have to," Brendon says in Ian's voice, looking down at the warped planks. He helped to build it, after a storm half ripped it down the spring he was eleven and, logically, Brendon knows he didn't have a damn thing to do with the porch and it's maybe two weeks old, but he can still feel the faint memory of splinters etched into his palms and the burning heat of summer sun on his back. "This isn't the place for me."

"Go then." William, Adam Sr., straightens and looks at Brendon hard, hiding the broken pieces underneath. "But just know, son, Ian, you can't come back home if you change your mind in a week or a month or a year. This is for keeps. No switching back."

Brendon blinks and swallows. "I don't expect to."

Paul calls cut, voice soft, and Brendon closes his eyes and shakes his head. It's always a strange moment, putting a character back in the little corner of his brain it came from and pulling Brendon back out. He worries, sometimes, that one day he won't be able to shrug Brendon back on, that he'll be trapped in some jumbled in between with emotions and thoughts that were never really his to keep.

"Jesus kid," William says, blinking back tears with a wry smile. "Who knew you could actually act?"

Brendon chuckles, rough and affected. "Who knew?"

**

They're in Missouri longer than Brendon expected, as a result of mysterious rainstorms in the middle of the week, and if he ever manages to get back in LA he's got the next two weeks off, which is both a blessing and a curse. Zack has about fourteen new scripts ready for him to read which are still sitting on his nightstand. He's looked through them all, and he wants nothing to do with any of them, even though it'll be easy work and easier money.

He's got a layover in Fort Worth for an hour and forty minutes, and when he gets off the plane, stumbling, a little, there's a small crowd waiting for him, cameras at the ready. Brendon remembers the sweet-seeming ticket agent and the way she'd ducked her head, smiling, how he'd signed the edge of his receipt when her eyes had widened in recognition, and he kind of wants to hit himself.

Zack is going to kill him for this, even though it's not his fault, and he's learned that if he smiles a little brighter and shakes a few hands, things are generally fine.

He gets through security relatively easily, and when he's on the other side, far enough away so that he can no longer hear the clicking of their cameras, he pulls his cell out, pressing the hard plastic against his ear and breathing hard. Spencer picks up on the third ring. "My call screen says Brendon Urie," is what he says, and Brendon can hear the smile in his voice. "I swear that last week, I didn't have a Brendon Urie in my phone."

Brendon grins, because he can't talk to Spencer and not be grinning. "I snuck it in there, man, it's not like you were gonna ask."

Spencer says, "I dunno, I shoulda deleted it, the guy who put his number in my phone disappeared for a week." He's still smiling though, Brendon can feel it, and he feels better than he has in days.

**

Spencer answers the door in threadbare sweatpants hanging off his hips and a too tight tee shirt with a balloon over his heart. "I am so fucking impressed you managed to remember where I live," he says and Brendon blushes.

"I brought your shirt back." He holds it out, neatly folded and newly dry cleaned. Spencer takes it with a soft, exhaled chuckle. "Of all the shirts on my floor you have to take the pink sparkly one?"

Brendon grins and runs a hand through his hair. "Well, okay, in my defense, there were like seven shirts that were some form of pink or sparkly on your floor. I just grabbed the nearest one that looked clean."

"Sure." Spencer snorts. "Want to come in?"

"Yeah."

Brendon crosses the threshold and Spencer closes the door with a soft bang. Ryan's sitting on the couch with his feet propped up on the coffee table; leather notebook spread open across his lap and a chewed pen hanging from the corner of his mouth. "Well look. If it isn't Brendon Urie, TM."

"TM?" Brendon cocks an eyebrow at Spencer as he blushes, shooting Ryan a dirty look.

"Don't mind him, he's just a jackass who hasn't gotten laid because Jon had to take his excellent head home for the week. Ignore him." Spencer smiles and gestures towards the kitchen. "Coffee?"

**

Brendon follows Spencer into a kitchen that is just about the size of his closet. It's neat and bright and fairly cheerful with fading yellow paint on the walls and curtains with fish on them. Brendon snorts before he can stop himself and Spencer laughs, even though he's rolling his eyes. "Shut up, okay? You should see the window panes without them." He cocks a hip out as he reaches for the instant coffee and gestures for Brendon to sit.

"So I was in Missouri for a week," Brendon says, apropos of nothing, because things had gotten quiet between them, and Brendon doesn't do well with quiet. "It was only supposed to be a three day shoot, but like. It was raining and we couldn't get the shots we needed, which usually isn't my problem, because they can fix all that in post, but the whole thing sort of like, hinges on me walking across this field at dawn? Which you can do at dusk too, no problem, but it kept raining and have you ever been to Missouri? I didn't really want to spend more time there than I absolutely had to, you know?"

Spencer blinks at him and hands him one of the mugs, brimming with coffee. It's black, like Spencer thinks he likes it, and Brendon's finding that he does, a little. "You talk a lot," Spencer says, and it's Brendon's turn to blink.

"You like it, Spencer Smith," he says, and flashes the Brendon Urie grin. The trademark Brendon Urie grin.

It dawns on him, a little belatedly what TM actually stands for, and it makes his stomach a little sick. Spencer's grinning back at him though, eyes light and crinkled at the corners.

"Yeah, I maybe do," he says, and Brendon drinks his coffee without even registering the taste.

**

He makes it home without mauling Spencer's face again, but it's a pretty close call. Brendon feels awkward in his skin, like it's stretched too tight against his bones, and that, in and of itself, isn't what's surprising. He's never precisely settled in his skin, not really, not unless he's pretending to be someone else, but it's worse now, and his apartment is too quiet.

Zack will be over in a few hours, because it's not like him to let Brendon go too long without being reminded of his commitments, and Brendon settles in his den with a pile full of inane romantic comedies to read through, but his view of the of the twinkly lights is distracting, and he only manages to get halfway through the heartwarming story of The Vet and The Dancer (tentative, working title, of course) before he's starting to get a little stir crazy.

He wishes Bill weren't out of town again (or still), but it makes sense, considering Gerard has taken a hiatus (he says it's either for six months or two years, and when people ask which of the two, he waves his hands around and says that a man's art takes time) and the two of them have holed themselves up in his chateau in the South of France.

Brendon's not even thinking about it when he throws three of the scripts (including The Vet and The Dancer, despite the fact that his legs seriously do not look that good in tights) into his knapsack and heads out.

When he pulls up in front of the diner it doesn't surprise him as much as it should.

He knows how infatuations go.

**

 

The diner is open twenty-four hours and is dead just after midnight. The cook is sitting on a chair behind the grill, arms crossed on his chest with his chin tipped down onto his shoulder, snoring lightly. Spencer's sitting cross-legged on the counter, chewing at his nails and picking at the hem of his tee shirt, counting the till. He has a loose thread and he's winding it around his fingers, just tight enough to bite into the skin and flush it white, before unraveling and letting it fall back into his thigh.

"I have a life altering decision that needs to be made," Brendon announces and Spencer jerks his head up, raising an eyebrow and trying, with minimal success, to hide a smile. "So you come to me?"

Brendon shrugs and fans out dog-eared scripts beside Spencer's feet. Some of them are barely flipped through, passed on by Zack for laugh factor more than anything else (seriously, fast food workers in space?), but some of them have scribbled notes on the title page, and Brendon knows Zack reads through all of his scripts before he does, but it's always a little disconcerting when Zack gets to see a character that Brendon's supposed to be before even he does.

"The Vet and the Dancer?" Spencer asks with a snort and a twist to his lips that warms Brendon low in his gut. "Are you serious?"

"It's a tentative, working title," Brendon says, and Spencer snorts again, starting to flip through the pages. "Wait a second, wait a second, your name would actually be Roskolnikov?"

Brendon grimaces, rubbing his palms against the heels of his eyes. "I actually think she got the irony there." It almost pains him to admit, and he knows the screenwriter. She's relatively new in the Business, with only five scripts and three films under her belt, bright and sardonically funny, witty and biting and Brendon thinks that if she hated humanity less and he liked her more, they would actually get along.

She wrote (or had a hand in writing, at least) oN tHe ScEnE the Celebrity for the gen y-ers, in which Brendon had a thirty second bit part that Zack always tries to downplay and isn't listed on his IMDb page. He tries to downplay the fact that Brendon's slept with her, but only once, playing up their "friendship" and light flirtation when Audrey brings out the big eyes and the curls.

She's the one who's actually responsible for cancer patient film number one, which, in a surprising quirk of distribution fate isn't actually being released until tomorrow.

"Wait, seriously, you'd be a Russian ballet dancer named Roskolnikov who falls in love with a vet," Spencer's stretches out, white loafers pressing down against the blue plastic of the counter. "And then, what? You murder a pawn broker and run away together with the earnings?" he snorts a little, at his own joke, and Brendon tries to stop himself from grinning back. He can't really help it though, but when he looks at Spencer, the light in his eyes has dimmed a little.

"There's also, The College Party," he pulls the script out of his bag and tries not to grimace when Spencer says, "Let me guess, not an in depth documentary on the club scene and how basically, they're bringing young, attractive college kids to parties to get fucked." Brendon shakes his head and wonders why he's so flustered about this. He deals with reporters asking him more hard hitting questions than this every single fucking day of his life. "Science nerd falls for the beautiful girl in his bio class. She's having a party. He overhears an invitation and thinks it's for him. Crazy things happen, they have sex," is what he ends up saying, and he doesn't miss the way Spencer's looking at him, eyes sort of soft.

They are very definitely not talking about What Happened, and Brendon is totally fine with that, he doesn't want to talk about it, Christ no, and that's fine, that's totally cool. Brendon doesn't care.

He does not care, nope, not at all.

"Sounds fascinating," Spencer says, droll, and there's this thing in Brendon's stomach, clawing up to his throat, and he can't really stop the words from spewing past his lips, not really. "The character. The movie that I'm working on right now," he stops, because he hasn't really said much more than that, hasn't said the name of the movie, or what they're doing with it, or very much at all, really. "It's kind of." The sound is ripped out from his throat and his voice is raw and low and broken. This isn't Brendon acting, this isn't Brendon pretending to be someone else, this isn't even Ian, close to Brendon as Ian has gotten. "It's kind of killing me."

Brendon is rarely this honest, not to himself and not to strangers, and it's almost fitting that Spencer has gone pityingly silent. There is a reason Brendon doesn't do this -- a reason Brendon doesn't have friends that aren't in the industry, and Pete was right, three years ago, when Brendon was seventeen and just a kid, Pete was right when he said that in a town like this you can't trust anyone but yourself, and you really can't trust yourself that much either.

Brendon tries his hardest not to think about him at all anymore, but it's hard, considering Pete was the one who taught him everything he knows.

"I don't know much about acting," Spencer says quietly, voice so low that he sounds like he's whispering. "And I don't know much about you," he moves his head up just a fraction, but their eyes meet, Spencer's blue, blue, blue and unblinking, "But it's just a job, Brendon. It's just a job, and you get to home at the end of the day and you get to do what you do, and at the end of the day it's just a job. That's all it is." His hand is heavy and awkward when it lands on Brendon's shoulder, but he appreciates the warmth anyway.

"One a.m," the cook calls from behind the both of them, head still tilted back against the wall, eyes closed. "Did you count the till, Spencer?" Spencer twists around, untangling his legs and sliding down against the counter, planting his feet firmly on the ground before he starts to unknot the apron at his waist. He mumbles something that sounds like it's in the affirmative, but Brendon's ears are ringing, and he can't actually make out sounds.

Spencer touches him again, fingers feather light against the skin of Brendon's forearm, and Brendon practically keens at the contact. "Hey," he says, but his voice sounds far away, and Brendon can barely hear him. "Hey," he ducks his head, cheeks flushing along with the back of his neck. "Ryan's out for the night, do you want to come back to my place?"

**

Spencer's apartment looks different in the darkness, transformed into an inconsistent landscape of dark smears silhouetted by the faint glow from the moonlight and orange sodium light filtering in through the open windows. It's quiet and Brendon knows that Ryan isn't there, which does nothing to loosen the tightness that starts in his gut and twists its way up his spine and shivers down his thighs. His palms are sweating and his hands are shaking and Spencer doesn't turn on the lamp, he just stands in the middle of the living room haloed by artificial light.

"I don't ... " Spencer begins, but there's no ending to the sentence, the thought, and Brendon shivers. "Me either." His voice comes out softer than he intended and more fragile than he expected and the truth of the words hits him low in the gut.

In the beginning there was a boy named Josh, a year older than Brendon in youth group, who brought silent, frantic hand jobs in the closet of the church (and boy, does Brendon laugh about the irony of that when he gets drunk) and nights he refuses to think about, spent praying as he wished for some kind of answer that didn't press the brand of sinner across his forehead and between his shoulder blades. And then there was Pete, who rose to fame on the back of a tragic face, and went out in the only way fitting for someone with those haunted eyes. Brendon still loves him and maybe hates him a little too.

There are the boys (whores, his mind whispers, always drawing out the sibilant sound). And now there's Spencer, and Brendon is no stranger to want, but want that settles into his skin and sinks into his bones has been missing for a long time. Or maybe, if he's being totally honest, he never had it to begin with.

"I don't even fucking know," Brendon exhales, crossing the room and settling his hands light on Spencer's hips. "Jesus fucking Christ."

Brendon is good at compartmentalizing, he always has been, always had to be. His parents talked about the fags ruining the country like they were discussing some foreign species that had nothing to do with the feeling that stirred in his gut. Fucking whores with dicks does not actually mean anything; a warm body is a warm body, but Spencer isn't that and feelings shivering out along his nerves, crackling and insistent, have nothing to do with warm bodies.

"We don't have to," Spencer murmurs and it's spoken softly, but it's still a challenge issued and Brendon can't back down, he can't say no.

And, truth be told, he's tired of never being able to want without guilt and have without consequence.

He kisses Spencer, fingers tight enough to leave a faint fan of bruises etched out along his hips.

**

Brendon remembers skin, and he remembers the way the sweat on Spencer's neck had tasted, and he remembers strong hands on his hips trying to stop him, Spencer trying to stop himself. Brendon may only remember in fragments, but he remembers.

He's not drunk now, and he wants to know what this feels like, wants to know without a shadow of a doubt that Spencer tastes like orange jam and salt, wants to remember where the mark on his collarbone came from, wants to know why the make up girls are going to be tittering tomorrow morning instead of just vaguely wondering about the details of his evening.

Brendon wants to know that it's Spencer.

He can't remember the last time the things he wanted were so easy to obtain. He moans against Spencer's mouth as his hands are working on their respective belts, and Spencer mumbles something harsh and unintelligible against his mouth, teeth biting down against Brendon's bottom lip.

Brendon's almost positive they didn't get much further than rutting against each other the last time, and maybe they're still not talking about it, but that doesn't mean Brendon doesn't want it to be better this time. It doesn't mean that he doesn't want Spencer to be remembering as much as he has been.

It's strangely exhilarating, pushing Spencer down onto the bed and hitting his knees, hands running up and down Spencer's thighs. "Your skin," Brendon mumbles, an explanation and an apology for all that he's doing, both right and wrong. Spencer's hard, hands fisted white-knuckle tight in the sheets. Brendon has only done this once, back in the dark caverns of the church basement, gagging and choking with fear and indecision.

"Fuck," Spencer exhales, biting down on his bottom lip. "Brendon."

Brendon kisses the span of his pelvis, pressing his forehead to Spencer's stomach. Spencer's hand comes up and settles at the base of Brendon's skull, putting at the short hairs on the back of his neck. "I want you," Brendon whispers, lips moving against his skin and Spencer shudders.

"Hey." Fingers slide under Brendon's chin and tilt his head up. Spencer looks down at him through the sweep of his lashes, eyes bright and wanting in the dim light. He smiles softly, sadly and swipes his thumb along the curve of Brendon's cheekbone. "You have me."

And with that, it's easy.

**

Spencer falls asleep afterward, sprawling out boneless and sated on the mattress, with one hand curled on his stomach and the other draped across his eyes. Brendon lies next to him, for a while, nose pressed to the curve of his shoulder, pressing secret, stolen kisses to the soft skin. He can't sleep, which, granted, isn't all that unusual because Brendon rarely sleeps enough to wake up and feel rested, but his skin feels tight and energy jumps and shudders down his muscles.

He slides out of bed and finds his jeans crumpled on the floor beneath the window. There's a pack of cigarettes smashed flat in the back pocket and a lighter in the front; he pulls them both out and fishes out a smoke, crossing naked to the little window seat on the far side of the room.

"Jesus," Brendon sighs, sitting down with his knees up. The lighter clicks and flares to life in a burst of yellow and red; he lights up and inhales, tossing the lighter back onto the floor with a sigh as the nicotine hits his lungs.

In the back of his mind he can still hear Zack's resigned voice, your vices are gonna kill you, kid, and Brendon can't help but think he's probably right.

"Bren?" Spencer voice cuts through the thought, low and sleep rough, and when Brendon turns his gaze away from the dark city stretched out beneath the window, Spencer's pushing back the blankets and padding across the floor, skin very nearly glowing pale in the city light haze. He sits down across from Brendon, naked and unreasonably beautiful, picks up the pack and pulls a cigarette out.

"You smoke?" Brendon asks, raising an eyebrow as Spencer bends over and picks up the lighter.

"When the spirit moves me," Spencer replies, snapping up the flame and lighting up. "It's the lesser addiction, I guess." Brendon has seen the faint, few scars up high on the inside of Spencer's right forearm and he won't ask, but he knows nonetheless. "You smoke?"

Brendon exhales a column and tips his head back against the wall. Their legs are tangled together, skin to skin, and he feels a strange sense of being settled ease onto his skin. "When the spirit moves me."

Spencer chuckles and shakes his head, then blows out an only very slightly lopsided ring. "Smartass."

Brendon opens his mouth, you love me, but doesn't say it.

"I try," he mumbles and Spencer exhales something that's almost a laugh.

**

Brendon wakes up with his mouth pressed against the skin of Spencer's collarbone and his hands anchored on Spencer's hips. It's a pretty nice way to wake up, considering the only person he's ever woken up to was William, but that was only the once and Bill's great, he is, but he's comprised of sharps and angles and hip bones that cut like knives.

Spencer is soft curves and a sleepy smile and bangs that fall messily into his eyes. Brendon arches up and presses his lips to the tip of Spencer's nose, even though the movement is saccharine and slightly overwrought. Spencer rolls his eyes, but he's smiling a little, and Brendon smiles back before he randomly catches sight of the Dilbert flip-a-day calendar Spencer has perched on his nightstand.

He hasn't ripped yesterday's off yet, but Brendon still sees the date, loud and clear in his mind, and he groans as he starts to pull away from Spencer, rubbing balled fists against his eyes. "Hey," Spencer says, voice scratchy, scrunching his face up and squeezing open his eyes. "Is everything okay?"

Brendon nods, leaning forward and pressing their lips together. He doesn't mean to, but he stays there a little longer than he should, stays long enough for Spencer to cup a hand at the back of his neck and part his lips. "I have to go," Brendon whispers, and Spencer nods jerkily, but he doesn't let go. "No, hey, seriously," Brendon whispers between kisses, and is this like a romantic comedy or what? There's this stupid, happy feeling settling in his stomach, and he knows that's a sign of something bad to come, something ominous in the horizon. He doesn't really care, which is a really fucking stupid move. "I have this thing."

"A thing," Spencer says once he's pulled back. He's licking his lips and he's being distracting, and Brendon sometimes really wishes he didn't owe Zack as much as he does, even though logically, it should be the other way around. "What kind of thing, Urie?" Brendon pulls away long enough to shimmy into his jeans, feeling the bulge of his cell in the pocket. When he checks the view screen he's not surprised to see eight missed calls and three new voice messages.

He dials 'one' and pushes the call button, pressing the phone to his ear as he buttons up his pants. "I'll see you later, okay? I've got this premiere," he says, pressing his lips against Spencer's temple as Zack growls, "Swear to god, Urie, if I had hair, you'd be making it go gray. You know what tonight is, don't you?"

It's weird, actually being responsible for once.

**

Spencer leans against the little counter separating the kitchen from the living room in boxers and a tee shirt, arms folded tight across his chest and his eyes closed off and unreadable. Brendon buttons up his shirt, tellingly rumpled from a night spent jammed underneath Spencer's dresser. Brendon's chest feels tight and cloying all of the sudden, the thud of fuck up echoed in the back of his mind. "What?"

"Nothing." Spencer ducks his head. "I should have known."

"Known what?" Brendon shoves on his flip flops, scrolling through his messages with one hand.

Spencer straightens, raising his chin. "Not to sleep with Brendon Urie, TM. Not if I didn't want to get blown off."

He turns on his heel and skirts around the couch, slamming the bedroom door hard enough to make to squeak on old hinges. Brendon wants to stop him, wants to yank open the door and say, "Fuck it all, let's never get out of bed," but he can't. He's Brendon Urie and he has a life and an image and the world stopped being that simple when he stormed out of the house with a duffle bag and two hundred bucks and never looked back.

"I'll be back, Spence," he says to empty air and slips out of the apartment quietly.

Spencer heard him. Brendon knows he did.

**

Zack takes one look at him, at the smudges under his eyes and the stubble on his cheeks and says, "Brendon, you're still not over that cold, are you?" the tailor and her assistant both giggle behind their hands, and Zack smiles warmly down at them. "He's had the worst flu for weeks now, I just don't know how he does it." Brendon barely contains his eye roll, but he smiles down at them, the kind of smile that promises autographs and pictures later. Sometimes he wonders if it would be worth getting a stamp with his signature on it because he can't even count how many times he's autographed things now, even though in the beginning it shocked him every time someone would ask him for it.

"Who," the tailor's assistant giggles, a flush creeping across her pale cheeks. She's pretty, in a fresh-faced way, big eyed with curls sloping down her back. Brendon tries to picture her naked and can't, only sees Spencer's pale smooth skin, and his gut tightens as he angles another smile her way. "Who are you taking to the premiere tonight, Brendon?"

Brendon isn't actually surprised that he doesn't know. He turns to face Zack -- at least turns as far as he can with safety pins barely inches from his crotch, and raises a brow. Zack smiles in a way that's a little menacing and a little mischievous, to boot. He mouths Audrey and Brendon bites back an annoyed sound and swallows down bile.

They're dating. Kind of.

Dating in the sense that they go to premieres together and make a point of being seen in public in a relatively relationship-esque situation once a month. For some unfathomable reason, Zack and Audrey's manager, Jeffree (who Brendon personally thinks is fucking creepy in a scum of the earth kind of way) decided they made a good couple. Her pink hair and attitude keep Brendon from crossing the line between family friendly and boring as shit and his charm and smiles give her an edge of humanity that blunts her edges.

"Audrey, of course," Brendon says with a smile and the tailor grins, biting down on her bottom lip.

"Oh man, you two are so cute together," she says and Brendon smiles, bright teeth and megawatts.

**

Audrey's already in the limo when Brendon climbs in and he follows the standard routine, sitting as far away from her as he can without climbing into the driver's lap.

Objectively, much as it kills him, he can admit that she looks good with her hair piled on her head, loose curls falling around her neck, strapped into a little black dress that does good things for her tits and better things for her ass. She glances up from her phone for a split second, flashes him a condescending smile, and goes back to whatever it is she's doing. Brendon makes a face and hauls out his phone, debating whether or not it would go crashing through the normal bounds of tacky to text Spencer.

It's not a long drive; in all honesty they probably could have walked it faster, given traffic, but Brendon's well aware that Brendon Urie, TM, and Audrey Kitching, TM, can't just show up. They have to make an entrance.

"Ready, sugarplum?" Audrey asks, checking her makeup in a small mirror.

"When you are, honeypot," Brendon replies, holding out his arm.

They flash each other smiles, Brendon's blinding grin and her cool little smirk. He thinks sometimes that had they not met twenty minutes before they both had to be at a premiere, shoved together and told to act like horny teenagers on a first date, they might have actually ended up friends. Audrey is a good writer and Brendon is a good actor. Maybe if they'd met in college they'd be rocking the world.

They didn't and Brendon can feel his skin crawl when they touch.

The door opens and they climb out to an explosion of camera flashes. Smile and wave, Brendon does both, kissing Audrey's cheek and tucking back her hair. Really, it's not so different from playing a part so long as he doesn't think about the fact that it's his life.

**

Brendon's announcing the film, which is an unfortunate occurrence, considering he usually skips actually having to watch himself on screen. He's not nervous as he waits in the wings, checking his cue cards one last time before he has to go and stand in front of a theater packed with hundreds and tell them how proud he is of working on this film.

The weird thing is that he really is kind of proud.

His phone buzzes noisily in his pocket and he excuses himself from his blonde escort and pulls it covertly out of his pocket. Sorry about earlier, the text says, sent from Spencer's phone, and Brendon smiles without really meaning to. good luck up there.

He feels better than he has all night, and when the announcer's voice says, "And now one of the stars of Skin, Brendon Urie!" The applause is thunderous and Brendon smiles brightly as he crosses the stage on the arm of his escort, remembering to thank her once he gets to the microphone.

"I can't tell you all how proud I am to have been a part of this film," he pauses in place for applause and he gets it, just like he'd known he would. "Audrey has managed to showcase the dark depravity of death but also intersperse some hope in something we all have to experience." He pauses again, this time for solemnity purposes, and ducks his head slightly. "Hope is all we have in this world, and Skin shows us that even in our darkest moments, there are things that exist that can make us happy." The crowd roars again, and when Brendon's escort Lily holds her arm out again, she's wiping a tear from her eye.

"That was beautiful," she whispers once they've reached the wings. Her smile is a little wobbly, but still strong, even as tears prick the corners of her eyes.

"It's bullshit," Brendon says, shrugging off her arm. She goes still, staring at him with the shock of disconnection between what Brendon Urie should be and the boy standing in front of her. He's not trying to cruel, he's not; hell, he feels good, but he's tired of lying, even to people he'll never see again.

**

He cuts out a little early, knowing he's going to have to deal with a pissed off Zack, who Brendon suspects already knows something is going on with his Golden Ticket, an irate Audrey, who will have to walk back to the limo by herself, and a fucking creepy Jeffree, who will undoubtedly make some kind of slimy innuendo that, ironically enough, will probably be closest to the truth.

Standing at Spencer's apartment in his suit and sunglasses he feels like an idiot, shy and scared and nervous, and he doesn't know what to make of that. He knocks and swallows and Spencer answers a few moments later in flannel pajama pants and a tee shirt, beer in hand.

"Hi." Brendon rakes a hand through his hair as Spencer looks at him, eyes closed and careful.

"You actually showed up," he mumbles and Brendon nods, "Yeah."

He shoves his hands in his pockets and wonders where the words he'd planned and rehearsed, chosen so very fucking carefully, went, now that he's looking at Spencer with his bangs falling in his eyes and his thumb swiping around the rim of a bottle of beer he's not old enough to be drinking.

"Come on in," Spencer says and Brendon does; something loosens in his chest and something tightens in his gut. He never would have thought that he could feel utterly content and scared out of his mind in the same moment. On impulse, he hugs Spencer, pressing his face into the crook of Spencer's neck and just breathing in.

"I -- " he starts, but Spencer cuts him off, taking a step back into the dark apartment. "We watched you on the TV," Spencer says, taking another swig from his beer, rubbing at his eyes. "You were very convincing." Brendon feels the dark thing inside his chest subsisting for just a moment, and he breathes a little easier.

"What, you didn't buy it?" Spencer rolls his eyes and settles down on the couch, making room for Brendon, albeit not much.

"You smile when you lie," Spencer says, finishing up the rest of his bottle. "I know that's not really much of a tell, but it's true. Your entire face lights up like it's fucking Christmas morning or something, and then you tell the biggest crock of shit I've ever heard. It's kind of classic." He raises his brows, willing Brendon to disagree with him.

Brendon snorts, rubbing at his eyes again and keeps his face completely, totally impassive. "I love you," he says, and deadpan and droll, waiting to see if Spencer's skin will flush with embarrassment or pleasure. Spencer just rolls his eyes. "Yeah? What makes you think you're lying with that?"

**

They sleep together but they don't sleep together, and Brendon wakes up in the morning, warm and surrounded by a cocoon of blankets and a wall of Spencer, Spencer's hands riding low on his hips. He stretches a little, resisting the urge to snuggle a little closer, and pokes at Spencer's side until he cracks open an eye too.

"What the fucking what?" Spencer mumbles, eyebrow arched and one perfectly sky blue eye staring back. "It's my day off, asshole, and you're still here. What more could I need?" Brendon does laugh this time, snaking his arm around the back of Spencer's neck and squeezing him close, pressing their lips together, adding just a little bite.

"I have the next week and a half off," Brendon says, and he's never been so glad for second unit work in his life. "I think I'm going to stay here for a while, see how the other half lives." This is enough to get both of Spencer's eyebrows to rise and his eyes are smiling, but only just a little, barely creased at the corners.

"Oh really?" Brendon nods emphatically, a little more enthusiastic than he usually is.

"You fucking bet," he says, ruining the innocent, wide-eyed effect. Spencer shakes his head in mock annoyance and disbelief, but he lets Brendon kiss him regardless, rubbing his thumbs over Brendon's cheeks.

**

Spencer makes coffee in his boxers and Brendon sits on the couch with his feet kicked up on the coffee table. It's interesting to look around and try to decide what is the detritus of Spencer, what belongs to Ryan, and what has been theirs for so long there's no point in trying to decide ownership. The leather journals belong to Ryan, he thinks, stacked in messy piles on the side table with receipts and papers clips and bits of ribbon marking out pages, but the Marvel comics in neat, plastic covered glory have to be Spencer's.

"Here." Spencer passes him a chipped mug covered in a bright array of multicolored stars and drops down beside him, sipping at his Goofy adorned cup. "Also, for the record, Ryan is going to flip his fucking shit when he sees you here and I don't even care."

Brendon blows at the surface of his coffee and smirks. "Is he a big fan? I can autograph a pair of his underwear for, you know, alone time purposes."

"Fuck you." Spencer rolls his eyes. "Wait, have people actually asked you to do that?"

"Once." Brendon takes a long swallow and chuckles at the memory. "Some dude asked me to sign a very sketchy looking and smelling gym sock. I made sure I didn't touch it and I didn't ask. I figured I really probably didn't want to know. There was a girl who asked me to sign her tits and then got it tattooed. That was kind of ..."

"Intense?" Spencer laughs. "I'd get your name tattooed across my ass, I won't lie."

"That's because you adore me," Brendon throws out as casually as he can. Spencer rolls his eyes and sticks out his tongue, but he doesn't say no and, while Brendon is well aware that doesn't mean anything, it does send something warm flooding through his chest.

"Anyway." Spencer drains the rest of his mug and Brendon gapes just a little because even he doesn't inhale caffeine that fast and there has been more than one shoot where he lived on Red Bull, coffee, and cigarettes. "I need to pick up my paycheck at some point today. You know paychecks, right?" Spencer raises an eyebrow. "Those things that make it us peons can afford rent and have water and heat and food and all that fun stuff."

Brendon scoffs. "I know what paychecks are, asshole. Is yours for five million or ten?"

"I hate you," Spencer yells, punching Brendon on the shoulder. "That's just not fucking fair."

"Well." Brendon slings an arm around Spencer's shoulders and kisses the shell of his ear. "Them's the breaks, kid."

**

Brendon doesn't really believe in perfection, not in people, not in places, and the closest he's ever gotten to real beauty is looking at the landscapes Gerard has hanging in his apartment. Brendon hasn't been there much, not really and not lately, but what he's seen is beautiful. Bill's boyfriend is really fucking talented, and if either of them ever manage to make it back to the states, Brendon wants to meet him, maybe.

Spencer's hand manages to find its way to Brendon's thigh in the car, but he doesn't do anything about it, just leaves it resting there, and Brendon wants to smile, but he's not exactly sure why.

"I'll only be a second," Spencer says, and it almost feels instinctual when he leans closer, brushing his lips against the stubble that's starting to collect on Brendon's cheek. Logically Brendon knows he should check his messages while Spencer's inside the diner, but he doesn't, leaving his phone off and hiding in the cup holder, sinking deep into the leather upholstery and tipping his sunglasses down over his eyes.

Spencer's as quick as he said he'd be, sliding into the passenger's seat with the urgency of someone who knows the score. Brendon hasn't really been recognized in this area, not that much, and in reality, it doesn't make much sense for him to be in this part of Hollywood at all, but throwing caution to the wind is not an option, not now.

Spencer says, "Where to, Jeeves?" And Brendon smiles so hard his cheeks start to hurt.

He's beautiful in the early morning dappled light, Spencer is, but Brendon can't keep looking at him, not if he doesn't want to run them off the road.

**

They end up on a secluded stretch of beach, driving a few hours up the coast with Spencer's feet propped against the dashboard, sunglasses perched on his nose. He's so quiet; Brendon could swear he's sleeping, but every time he happens to look over, Spencer's eyes are clear through the lenses of his sunglasses, staring straight back at him.

It's deserted, for the most part, their stretch of beach. It's October, and while the sun is high in the sky, there's a chill that hangs in the air. They aren't really dressed for it either, save for their flip flops, but they sit at the edge of the water anyway, pants rolled up around their knees, Spencer skimming rocks into the sea as Brendon lounges behind him, leaning on his elbows. Spencer's got a smattering of freckles on his cheeks, spanning to the back of his neck, and Brendon wants to touch them all, leave marks and take memories, but he doesn't.

The moment is complete, without any prompting or over orchestration, and when Spencer turns to grin at him, Brendon feels it down to his stomach.

**

They don't kiss out there, they don't sit close enough together to even touch, really, and by the time they get back to his car, Brendon's skin is thrumming with the desire for something. He settles into his seat and reclines it back, one hand cupping Spencer's cheek and the other on the gearshift between them. He gulps, because the sun is still high, and anyone could see, and all he really wants to do is kiss Spencer until their mouths are sore.

"That wouldn't be a good idea," Spencer says, and for a minute Brendon thinks he's been talking out loud, thinks Spencer's a mind reader, thinks how much harder his life would be if that were the case. Spencer shakes his head to bring him back some focus, Brendon can tell, but it doesn't help, and he's still staring down at Brendon's mouth, his gaze fixed there. "Remind me," Spencer says, and his voice is low and strangled and not his voice at all. "Remind me that your face is plastered on billboards and that fucking you in the front seat of this car would be the stupidest idea I've ever had."

Brendon blinks and tries to breathe and tries to remember if he's ever wanted another person so much. "Who said anything about you fucking me?" he asks -- or starts to, really, but the words are lost in the crush of their mouths.

He's not sure who moved first.

**

The hours slip through Brendon's fingers like wind and two days pass in what feels like the span of a heartbeat.

On Saturday, they barely manage to get out of bed. Brendon lies with his head on Spencer's stomach, tracing the curve of his rib and the dip of his sternum and counts back the days since they met each other for the first time. It's not many, less even than he'd realized, and Brendon has to laugh at that a little. There are days he's not sure he believes in love at all, much less that kind of instantaneous connection of mind, body, and soul that he's made so many shitty movies about.

Spencer pushes back his hair, eyes half lidded and hazy. "You're beautiful," Brendon sighs and Spencer smiles. "So are you."

As dusk falls, growling stomachs force them out of bed. "I need food," Spencer says, pushing Brendon's legs off the bed. "So do you. Up. I'll make you waffles."

Brendon groans and presses a pillow to his face, groping blindly for any part of Spencer. "I've done plenty of swallowing today, I'm not hungry. Come on, get back and bed. Don't do this me."

"Swallowing my ass," Spencer says with a low noise in the back of his throat. "Mr. Let-Me-Come-On-Your-Hair."

"I like it," Brendon cries, hauling himself up to chase Spencer through the narrow doorway into the living room. "You've got such pretty locks, Spencer Smith."

**

Spencer actually does make waffles.

"Dude." Brendon accepts the paper plate with a grin. "You actually made waffles."

Spencer shrugs and sits down beside him, balancing his own plate across his knees. "Okay, honestly, they're the only thing I know how to make."

Brendon pours syrup over the top and makes an appreciative noise. "At least you make them good." They're light and fluffy and golden brown, the kind of waffles that the frozen food companies show in their commercials just to jerk you around so when you're eating their shitty reconstituted pieces of cardboard you're thinking about how good real waffles would taste. Brendon licks syrup off his bottom lip and grins. "You know I haven't had waffles in, like, God, four years?" he scrunches up his nose, scratching at his forehead. "Yeah, I think it's four."

"Liar." Spencer swipes a bite through syrup and pops it into his mouth. "Man cannot live without waffles. I refuse to believe that."

"I'm serious. Waffles make you fat." Brendon feels an odd rush of heat across his cheeks as Spencer glances at him from the corner of his eye.

"Seriously? Fat, Brendon? Because you, with your bony ass and hipbones that could cut glass just by looking at them need to worry about extra pounds. Freak." The insults roll off affectionately and Brendon grins and quirks his shoulders in a shrug, leaning over to brush a kiss against the hinge of Spencer's jaw.

"You love me," he whispers and Spencer goes still. "Maybe."

Brendon smiles, and Spencer smiles back, lips tight but loosening, and he wraps an arm around Brendon's waist, pulling him closer and nuzzling against his neck. Brendon can feel his eyelashes fluttering and he's completely open, glad Spencer can't actually see his face, when the door bursts open and Ryan comes in muttering something about coffee stains. He stops, halfway to his bedroom, eyes narrowing when his gaze lands on the two of them.

"Hey Spence," he mutters tonelessly, "TM." Brendon winces, and Spencer does too, when the door to Ryan's bedroom door slams. "I should probably go talk to him," Spencer whispers, hands dropping from Brendon's hips. Brendon nods like he understands. He does understand, and he can't actually believe he was so stupid.

**

"I need to swing by my apartment and get my mail and clothes and shit," Brendon says. He's sitting on the couch, still damp from the shower, with Spencer's legs draped over his lap.

Spencer looks up from the paper spread across his thighs and smiles. "Promise you'll come back?"

Brendon chuckles, leaning over to brush a kiss to Spencer's chin. "You know I can't keep myself away from you, babydoll."

"Smartass." Spencer rolls his eyes, but he also smiles and Brendon is beginning to think that he could live on the force of Spencer's genuine, unguarded smiles in the quiet moments of life. "Oh, and Ryan said something about having a friend or two over later on tonight. It'd be cool, if you were here." Brendon snorts. "Watching how the other half live, anyway. But it's like, totally understandable if you can't, or don't want to." Brendon inhales, fingers twisting in the hem of Spencer's tee shirt. It's not panic that blooms in his chest. Well, that's a lie, there's some deep part of him that will always fear what other people think, but it's more a strange thread of want.

"I'll see what I can do," Brendon says and Spencer nods.

**

Brendon forgot to charge his phone again, so even though it rings, he doesn't bother answering. It's probably Zack, who Brendon doesn't want to deal with, or Spencer, who he's heading towards. Besides, he still has his pager, so if Zack really does need him, he'll find a way to get to him, even if it involves helicopters and chairlifts.

He's a little later than expected getting back to Spencer's, and he's probably missed meeting Ryan's friends, but he's pretty sure Spencer won't hold it against him. He hopes Spencer doesn't hold it against him anyway.

Spencer's building is a lot louder than a Thursday night would usually warrant, but there's probably a party going on somewhere. He doesn't realize it's on Spencer's floor until he gets to the landing, and doesn't realize it's in Spencer's apartment, until he's standing right in front of it. His palms are sweating in a way they haven't in months, if not longer, and it's almost as if he's standing on the cusp of something. Pushing into Spencer's will probably make Spencer happy, will probably make Spencer smile at him in that soft, pretty way Brendon has gotten so addicted to.

He pushes in, and tries not to have a panic attack at how all conversation just stops.

**

There are easily a dozen people scattered throughout the cramped confines of Spencer and Ryan's apartment, sitting on the couch and leaning on the kitchen counter. Most of them have drinks in their hands, some of them have plates of food, and they're all laughing and talking and Brendon is fairly certain he's about two second away from throwing up.

"Um." Spencer's sitting on an arm of the couch. "Hey."

Brendon swallows and nods. "Hey."

Ryan comes out of the bathroom, wiping his hands on the thighs of his jeans. He catches sight of Brendon and his face twists into something very unhappy, before smoothing out in perfect monotonous, blankness. "I didn't think you'd come."

"I was invited," Brendon says, shoving his hands into his pockets. Ryan's gaze snaps to Spencer; Brendon watches their conversation of looks and ticks and wonders how long you have to know someone before you could communicate that easily.

"Right." Ryan shakes his head. "Have a fucking beer then."

Brendon narrows his eyes and walks across the living room, stepping over legs and around feet, trying to ignore the weight of so many eyes on him. He pauses by Spencer and leans in. "Should I go?" he murmurs and Spencer shakes his head. "Stay. I'll clear things out as fast as I can."

"Yeah." Brendon nods. "I'm just going to go hang out on the balcony."

Spencer leans in, almost kissing his cheek, but he catches himself at the last minute and pulls back with a tight smile. "Okay."

Brendon grabs a beer of the kitchen counter and steps through the open screen door. He faintly hears, "Jesus, Spencer, you know Brendon Urie." and feels like he's going to be sick.

**

What Brendon really wants is a cigarette, but he's not stupid enough to light one with so many people in sight.

It's crisp outside, and he huddles in on himself, slumping down against the wall so he can barely see the twinkling lights of the city above it. He just needs some air, and this night is perfect for giving him that.

He's just managed to get his heartbeat back to normal when he hears the scraping of the screen, and then there's a scruffy looking guy with a beer in one hand a pack of Parliaments in the other. Brendon can feel his mouth start to water as the guy sets his beer down and proceeds to light up without even noticing him.

He nearly coughs himself to death when he does.

"Jesus fuckin' H," he says, palm slapped against his chest, the cigarette dangling precariously from his fingers. "You could warn a guy." His voice is smoke rough and slightly nasal, and Brendon's counting the seconds 'til he realizes who he's talking to. It's up to fifteen before the guy says, "You must be Spencer's Brendon!"

Brendon barks out a laugh. "Spencer's Brendon. I. Yeah. I'm Spencer's Brendon."

The guy's shorter than him by a couple inches and fairly broad through the shoulders with just a hint of rounded stomach peeking out over the top of his waistband. He's got on wash faded jeans and a tee shirt with a little hole near the hem. He has an affable smile and Brendon, for some strange reason, feels tension bleeding out of his shoulders.

"I'm Jon," he offers.

"Ryan's Jon, right!" Brendon says, snapping his fingers. "You give awesome head."

Jon laughs, red coloring the ridges of his cheekbones and Brendon wants to fucking smash his head against the side of the building. He's supposed to be more tactful than that. "Um, have we met before and I just don't remember?"

"No," Brendon says, shaking his head. "Ryan's just, ah, expounded on your prowess."

"Yeah, Ryan does that sometimes," Jon says with a self deprecating little chuckle. "I keep telling him he shouldn't be telling stories I can't live up to. So, anyway, on a subject that isn't my mouth, you're Spencer's Brendon."

"Yeah." Brendon shifts back and forth on the balls of his feet and takes a nervous pull from his beer. "I guess I am. Has he mentioned me?"

"He talks about you all the fucking time." Jon leans against the rickety railing of the balcony and gestures for Brendon to join. There isn't much room, but they manage to both fit, elbows knocking together on the rusting iron. "He never shuts up, to be honest."

Brendon smiles a little to himself in disbelief. "What does he say?"

"That you can be a jackass." Jon nods. "That you have an ego the size of China. That you tend not to think about others. That you're unhappy. And that you are one of the most magnificent people he's ever met. Whatever that means."

"He's right," Brendon finds himself blushing, even though there are no cameras around. He ducks his head, grateful for the darkness. "Not about the magnificent part, obviously. He'd probably push you over this railing if he'd heard you saying that."

Jon shrugs and looks at Brendon from the corner of his eye. "You realize he loves you, right?"

Brendon knocks back the rest of the beer. "I was afraid of that." Jon's not looking at him, tipping his bottle back to get the last dredges of beer. "Do you feel the same?" Brendon could bristle at the imposition, he wouldn't be wrong to, but he doesn't. For some reason, he likes this Jon, and Brendon isn't in the practice of liking very many people.

"How's care?" He asks, and his fingers are itching -- itching for a cigarette. "I care about him than I've ever cared about anybody in my life."

Jon rolls his eyes and takes a drag of his cigarette. "Not good enough, but you're getting there." They're both quiet before Jon taps another cigarette from his pack and nudges it towards Brendon. "Take one. You probably deserve it tonight."

"I don't. I don't smoke." Jon snorts, shifting to set his bottle down by the screen where Brendon notices suddenly there's a whole arsenal of them. "Empties," Jon says when he catches Brendon looking. "This way they don't clutter up the apartment."

**

"Are you two bonding?"

Brendon looks over his shoulder and Spencer's standing in the doorway, silhouetted by light from inside the apartment. Jon chuckles, gently elbowing Brendon's side. "Oh yeah, we're talking about sports and hot girls."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Jon, you wouldn't know a hot girl if she walked up and flashed you. You'd be too busy ogling her boyfriend."

Brendon laughs and Jon shrugs as Spencer slips onto the porch, sliding his arms around Brendon's waist pressing his face to the curve of his neck. "Hi. Everyone went home."

"Hey you," Brendon murmurs, smoothing down his hair. "That's awesome."

Jon chuckles again, low and faintly knowing. "I'm gonna go find Ryan. You two crazy kids do whatever it is you do."

Spencer nips at Brendon's earlobe. "Let's go do crazy things in the bedroom."

**

He gets dressed while Spencer's talking to Ryan and he can just hear the hushed whispers, he can just make out what they're saying. Ryan's voice is low, monotonous, bordering on angry, "Spence, what are you doing." Brendon doesn't think it counts as eavesdropping, not really, not when he's standing in Spencer's room with the door closed, and he can still hear them.

He wishes he couldn't.

"He's not even gay," Ryan says, and Brendon winces. Spencer mumbles something like, "I beg to differ, Ross," voice still light, or trying to be at least. Ryan says something else, something harsher, and Spencer's answering response is even more muffled. "Spencer, it can't possibly end well," and now Brendon can hear Spencer, can hear him say, "Who says it's going to end?" Except it doesn't sound like it should at all, and Spencer voice is raw, defeated.

Ryan says, "Spence, come on. He's Brendon Urie. He's a trademark. Do you really think he's going to keep coming around once he's gotten what he wants?" Brendon remembers listening to Pete's last message, his clipped tone, the way he'd laughed at the end, but it hadn't sounded like a laugh, at least not a laugh of Pete's. Brendon remembers Pete saying something like, "Your Uncle Pete won't be around forever," and something about baby birds flying free. The irony of that had been that Pete hadn't been around forever; Pete had been gone quicker than any of them could have ever realized.

Brendon had felt like he was dying then, felt like he was leaving human consciousness, just like Pete had. He feels worse now, like he's trapped in one of his own crappy teen comedies, because the tearing in his gut isn't exactly something natural.

He's just turning on his phone when Spencer slams into the room, face drawn and closed, hands shaking with what looks like rage. "Hey," he mutters, arms wrapped around his midsection, and Brendon had known he was younger, but he's never actually seen Spencer look his age before, skin flushed and angry.

"Hey," Brendon says, and he should be gentle, he should smile and touch Spencer's arm and give him a hug and tell him that it'll be okay. He knows he should, that's what Buddy Jenkins (Midnight Whispers, teen romantic dramady number one) would do. He'd stare soulfully into Spencer's eyes (or in Buddy's case, Michelle Trachtenberg's), kiss his knuckles and tell him that friendship was more important.

Brendon doesn't do that. He can't do that.

"I have to go," As if on cue, his phone starts to buzz insistently in his hand. "See," he says weakly, "Duty calls." Spencer nods, but he's not looking at Brendon, not really.

"I don't really know what I'm doing," he whispers, which is about as close to the truth as he can get. "But I'm sorry."

**

"You had better have a fucking good reason for just dropping off the fucking planet for four fucking days Brendon, so help me God." Brendon's sitting in the back of a cab, slouched down with his sunglasses pushed up on his nose. He's wearing one of Spencer's shirts and a pair of Spencer's boxers and his skin has already begun to itch with the old need to run away he hasn't felt since he did run away from home. It's uncomfortable and disconcertingly familiar and he doesn't know what it means.

"I had to take care of some shit," Brendon mumbles, tapping his thumb against his pocket where a pack of cigarettes should be, but isn't. He needs to fucking smoke and he needs to fucking drink and he needs to get his head screwed back onto his shoulders.

"That's the goddamn, motherfucking reason you keep me around!" Zack yells and Brendon winces, slumping down even lower. "I get paid to take care of shit, Brendon, Jesus Christ."

"I had time off -- I have time off," Brendon counters, voice low and irritatingly petulant, even to his own ears. "I'm not your kid, dude, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself for a week. God forbid I have a life outside Brendon Urie, TM."

"Fuck you, dude," Zack snaps. "You know damn well that you don't."

Brendon sees white around the edges of his eyes, snaps his phone shut and throws it so hard against the opposite window the glass nearly cracks.

**

"You're grounded," Zack says, voice low and perfectly serious the next morning. He's looming in Brendon's kitchen, impeccably dressed in a suit, even though it's only eight in the morning. "Jesus Brendon, I did not rescue your scrawny ass from freezing in a bus station four years ago, just so you could turn around and screw both our lives to hell. Sorry kid, but you are too goddamn valuable for that to happen."

"Fuck you," Brendon mumbles, but the words have no heat and no force behind them.

There are two text messages from Spencer on his phone, both opened but not yet replied to because he doesn't know what to say or even where to begin. This weekend was great. For the first time in my life I feel like I'm actually a person and not someone playing a role, but real life calls and I don't have the balls to walk away for something I shouldn't even want in the first place. He taps his fingers against the plastic shell of his phone, inhaling and exhaling as Zack stares at him with flint hard eyes.

"You know what? Fine." Zack crosses his arms. "I can lecture about being fucking discreet all I want -- " Brendon opens his mouth and Zack holds out a hand, " -- And you can cut off that bullshit right there, I'm not a goddamn moron, Brendon. People are going to start talking and you made the choice that you didn't want that to happen."

"And?" Brendon pulls his sunglasses down on his nose and stares at Zack over the top, feeling nothing so much as blank apathy spreading through his chest because he can't think about the simple truths of his life without wanting to scream. And he can't do that.

"You get a Night Out With Audrey," Zack says and Brendon makes a rough, unhappy noise. "No, none of that. You're going to hold open the door and carry her fucking purse and let jack off paparazzos take thousands of pictures of you."

"Fine."

Zack shakes his head and sighs. "Fucking hell, Urie. What did you get yourself into?"

Brendon stands and brushes out his shirt, Spencer's shirt. He's still wearing it. "Nothing. I'm just fucking fine."

**

Audrey doesn't look happier to see him than he is to see her, but he smiles brightly and holds up a bag of ground French Roast, which he happens to know is her favorite. Her face, at least, is obscured, not viewable from the street, and Brendon thinks it's a blessing because she's rolling her eyes at him, smacking her gum loudly. He reaches behind her to pull the door closed once she's settled the coffee on an end table and whispers, "Such a classy lady," in her ear as he's straightening. She flips him off as discreetly as Audrey ever gets and Brendon snorts without really meaning to, opening her door first and waiting until she got settled before closing it and heading over to the other side of the car.

Brendon doesn't drive, not when he's doing Hollywood events, and even though this is just supposed to be a casual night out between two "more than" friends, it's still press related in his head. This is possibly because there will be at least one hundred pictures of the two of them floating around in the morning, or maybe because they actually hate each other behind closed doors.

Brendon wishes he could say he didn't know when his life got to be such a chore, but he can't. His phone buzzes noisily in his pocket, set on the loudest volume it will go up to so Zack can keep tabs on him tonight, and Brendon winces as he catches sight of who it is. He doesn't answer, just smiles tightly at Audrey and scoots closer to the window.

"You know, we can skip the dinner part," Audrey says, voice as flat as Ryan's is. "I don't really want to spend more time with you than I actually have to."

Brendon smiles sunnily at her, eyes focused on the view screen of his phone and the pile of text messages he still can't bring himself to answer. "The feeling is so absolutely mutual, you don't even know." Brendon's chauffeured car isn't as large as a limo is, and so when Audrey peeks over his shoulder, even though she's sitting as far away as she can be, she still sees more than she aught to.

"Oh, I get it. Did you have another one of your Beckett-binges?" It's pretty safe to say that reprehensible of a human being she is, Audrey is one of the people who know him best. It drives him a little crazy sometimes. Most of the time. He shakes his head, then leans back against the leather, closing his eyes. Audrey mutters something under her breath, but doesn't say anything else for the ride to Mr. Chow.

By the time they pull up to the restaurant, she's texting frantically, and even holds her arm out when he reaches for her. "I'm having an emergency in the middle of the appetizer," she mutters as she tilts out her hip to reapply her lipstick in the side mirror. She snaps her gum out and fluffs her hair, bright blue eyelashes fluttering. She stands on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, and Brendon's not tall, but Audrey is miniscule, even in the heels she insists on wearing. "Seriously, kid, the less time I have to spend with you the better."

If she were being kind, Brendon's entire world would have tilted wrong on its axis.

**

At her best, Audrey is draining and even demonstrating her own strange brand of kindness, she sets Brendon's teeth on edge and leaves him wanting to claw at the wallpaper just to get away. He drops her off at her condo and plays the gentlemen, climbing out of the car to walk her up to the front porch and kiss her light on the corner of her mouth. "Don't be a dumbass, twinky," she murmurs in his ear. "'Til next time."

"Always a pleasure, Audrey," Brendon snipes back, grinding down hard on her toes with the heel of his shoe.

He walks down the concrete sidewalk and plans his evening; smoking and drinking and if he's a good little boy maybe Zack will let him escape long enough to hit some of the clubs and get off on the close dancing, which is a poor substitute for actual sex, but better than nothing at all. He settles in the plush backseat and when the driver asks where he wants to go, he rattles off Spencer's address without thinking and spends the drive watching the world outside his window melt from luxury to not and wonders why somehow it makes him breathe easier.

"Are you sure this is the right place, Mr. Urie?" Frank asks dubiously when they pull up the Spencer and Ryan's apartment building, old and falling down, more dilapidated than anything else and still just tipping over the edge of wonderful.

Brendon smiles softly. He's tired and he can't care. "Yeah, I'm sure." He opens the door and slides out, pulling on sunglasses at seven thirty at night and running a hand through his hair. "Look, when Zack asks where I am, just tell him that the meal ticket's taking a night off and he can suck it up and deal with it. I'm turning my phone off, I'll be back to real life tomorrow morning." He smiles winningly, even though Frank has seen him at his worst. "Promise, Frank."

**

When Spencer answers the door, he looks worse than Brendon feels, which is kind of a stunning feat. The stubble is clinging to his cheeks and his eyes are rimmed and red, not as if he's been crying, but as if he hasn't slept. Brendon can definitely relate to that.

"Hi," he mumbles a little belatedly, flush creeping up the back of his neck because he'd been staring just a little intently. Spencer doesn't even bother to look surprised, just holds the door open wider and gestures for him to come in.

Ryan's sitting on the couch with a spoon of cereal halfway to his mouth, eyes wide. He doesn't even bother with pleasantries just stares as Brendon follows Spencer into his bedroom.

Spencer's clinging onto his hand a little desperately, but he won't turn to face Brendon, not until the door is closed, then he's bent double, letting go to press his hands to his knees, breathing heavily.

"Spence?" Brendon asks after a minute, and he's heard himself speak thousands of times, heard himself speak with his voice magnified a hundred times its normal volume, but he doesn't think he's ever sounded like this.

"It is very possible," Spencer says slowly, but his voice doesn't sound like normal either. "It is very possible that we shouldn't have gotten," he waves his hand around, pressing it to his forehead when he's done and breathing out even more harshly. "I don't think I'm built to be with someone like you, Brendon."

It is also very possible that Brendon can't breathe.

"What," he manages, and objectively, if he looks at this, it's just like one of his movies. All – his mind blanches at the word couples, but everyone who fucks, if there's any emotional involvement at all, does this. The awkward, overwhelming pressure on their chests and the shortness of their breaths, is normal. It's typical.

It's been scripted, and the pain looks beautiful and tragic on screen. People weep over scenes like this, and the pain searing across his insides isn't really there at all.

Spencer looks up at him; finally, blue eyes dusky, and Brendon can't remember a single thought in his head. Some actor he is.

"What?" he asks, and Brendon remembers that this is a trial, that he's the one that left in the first place.

"I don't know what I'm doing here," Brendon says, hands balled into fists in his hoodie pockets, stretching out the material. "I should probably go, or the director should be calling cut or something. This doesn't really feel like real life."

"Do people like you know what real life is?" Spencer asks, and his voice isn't angry or harsh or accusing. It's made up of nothing at all, and he looks tired – he looks fucking exhausted.

"I don't know," Brendon says honestly. "What the fuck is real life anyway?"

**

They end up sleeping together but not sleeping together and Brendon wakes up to tears smeared against the back of his neck, Spencer's arms wrapped around his midsection.

**

 

Brendon leaves Spencer asleep in bed, arms tight around a pillow, and pads into the kitchen. He's tired, but it's kind of a better tired then he usually feels, marginally more settled. He takes a banana out of a bowl on the counter and peels it open and slowly begins to bite off small sections.

Ryan comes out of his bedroom just as Brendon's chucking the peel into the trashcan, wearing a pair of boxers so baggy they have to belong to someone else and a white tee shirt so tight Brendon can faintly see the hollows of his ribs through the sheer material.

"Morning," Brendon says with a wry smile that Ryan doesn't return.

"You and your girlfriend were on the front page of E!Online this morning," Ryan says in a perfect monotone and Brendon swallows hard. "Keep it up and you'll become People's Most Beautiful couple."

"It's not like that," Brendon says weakly. "We're not dating. I mean, fuck, everyone has to think that we are, but we aren't. Audrey, for the record, is a heinous bitch."

Ryan barks out a short, bitter laugh. "Why? She call you on your bullshit?"

It irritates Brendon in some small corner of his mind that Ryan seems to have the innate ability to see past the charm and sparkle that everyone else settles for and down to who Brendon really is. Spencer can do it too, he thinks, but Spencer seems to like what he's found while all Ryan has is unveiled disdain, bordering on outright disgust. It's annoying and, much as Brendon wants to punch Ryan in his fragile little face, it's almost refreshing.

"Yeah," Brendon huffs out. "She does."

"I don't really give a shit," Ryan continues after a beat of considering silence. "You go ahead and fuck who you want and fuck around with who you want and I just won't pay to see any of your movies. Everyone thinks you're really fucking shiny, TM, and no one will believe me if I said you weren't. I don't care. But if you hurt him any more than you already have, I will rip your balls off and shove them down your throat."

Brendon meets Ryan's eyes and sees the seriousness there, the concrete belief that there really is no other way for this to end.

"All right," Brendon says and Ryan nods, turns, and walks back into his bedroom.

**

 

Brendon wakes up with Spencer wrapped around him three days in a row, and it's becoming one of those things that he thinks he could get used to.

He's seen the scars on Spencer's arms, of course he has, but he hasn't asked about them.

He doesn't even know what he'd say.

Spencer snuffles something against his neck, and when his eyes flutter open they're that lazy, hazy blue that is swiftly becoming Brendon's favorite. "Morning," he whispers, and Brendon grins at him. He presses their lips together, and doesn't even care about morning breath. Spencer tastes good no matter what time of day it is, and the kiss may start at their lips, but he can't stop himself, not with all of that smooth, creamy Spencer skin to get at.

Spencer makes a noise, low in his throat, and it only gets loader once Brendon laps his tongue across his knuckles, kisses at the pulse in the base of Spencer's wrist. He comes upon the scars accidentally, but he can feel Spencer tense when he kisses over them, and so he pulls away, just a little.

"Hey," Brendon murmurs, gently tracing over them with the pad of his thumb. "It's okay."

"Do you want to know?" Spencer says quietly, curling one hand over the faint lines on his forearm, fingers splayed just close enough that Brendon can only see shadow and not skin. "It's. It's not a pretty story."

Brendon curls against Spencer's body and leans up to kiss the hinge of his jaw. "You don't have to."

Spencer tucks his chin on the top of Brendon's head. "I came out to my parents when I was fifteen and they kicked me out of the house. I didn't have anywhere else to go, so I went to Ryan and asked him to come away with me. His dad was a drunk and an asshole, but it was still the most selfish thing I've ever done. But he came with me. We got on a bus from Vegas to LA and got here at fifteen and sixteen with a hundred six dollars between us and no idea what we were going to do."

"Ryan's a good guy," Brendon murmurs and, for the first time, he means it.

"He's a saint," Spencer chuckles softly. "A bitch too, but a saint regardless. We got out here and we both got shitty, shitty jobs working as day laborers because neither of us were legal and we didn't want to get sent back home. It was. It was awful. We were squatting in a single room with rats and cockroaches and drug deals going on outside the window and people getting shot down the block."

Brendon pulls Spencer closer, three years after the fact and pushes his nose into the soft skin on Spencer's neck.

"When you're fifteen," Spencer continues, "and on your own, abandoned and miserable and knowing for a fact you can't go back, you eventually just want to escape. And the fastest way to do that was through drugs." he quirks his shoulders in a shrug and sighs. "I knew it was a bad idea from the first time. I sat through DARE, I knew, but I was so fucking unhappy and, I don't know, maybe I wanted to die. At least I got to escape for a little while. I used for about a year. ODed twice. The first time I didn't end up in the hospital, just got sick like a fucking dog for the better part of two weeks. Ryan kept my alive then, made sure I didn't end up another dead kid on the side of the road. It scared me, but it wasn't enough. The second time I did end up the hospital for three days and when I woke up Ryan was holding my hand and crying and he asked me to stop."

Spencer pauses, inhaling deeply and blinking away tears. Brendon murmurs soothing nonsense in his ear and tangles his fingers in the collar of Spencer's tee shirt. "S'okay, Spence."

"Ryan never asks for anything," Spencer murmurs. "Ever. So he asked and I did and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and I thought I was going to die, but I did it. And I haven't used since then, but it's still hard sometimes. Going through rehab sucks ass, for the record, and I never, ever want to have to do it again, which is probably half of why I don't use anymore."

Brendon pushes himself up and kisses Spencer soundly, brushing the tips if his fingers along the curve of his jaw. "You're brave, Spencer Smith."

Spencer doesn't say anything, but he smiles, and that's almost better.

**

Brendon goes back to work eventually, although the days pass by slowly, nights wrapped around Spencer are a constant, but the mornings with the sun shining in through the wrong window are fleeting, and on the Thursday he has an early call, he stops by the diner, sunglasses covering his eyes.

Spencer beams when he catches sight of him, and if Brendon were the romantic type, it would make something catch in his chest. As it is, he's a jackass, and he doesn't smile back, just settles in one of the booths in Spencer's section, drumming his fingers on the cracked Formica idly. When Spencer ambles over he's moving, slow, languid, and it's physically impossibly not to smile at that level of relaxation.

"Why didn't -- "

"You looked peaceful," Spencer says, not bothering to ask what Brendon wants, just frowning down at his pad and scribbling something on it. "Joe made some cranberry-orange muffins, and we only took them out of the oven like, ten minutes ago, I can get you one if you want it," he babbles, cheeks coloring. "On the house, even."

Brendon's stomach tightens, but he shakes his head, very definitely not looking at Spencer and the disappointment in his eyes. "Ian's a patient, Spence. He's dying. Beefy football players can not have debilitating diseases."

Spencer snorts. "I would pay actual money to see you as a football player," he touches Brendon's arm fleetingly and Brendon doesn't think he's supposed to hear, but he also mumbles, "At least then you'd eat something." The sun is rising slowly, and the rays of pink and orange make patterns against the back of Spencer's shirt.

Brendon doesn't think he's ever seen anything so pretty.

He doesn't say so out loud.

**

They only have a few more days of shooting concrete in-a-hospital-bed scenes, and all of those are done on a soundstage on the Paramount lot. Right after this, Brendon'll be flying off to Naples to do Tombstone Ghosts, with Mischa Barton. Contracts have been signed, sent off just that morning, and Audrey's going to be pissed, he knows she will, but he doesn't much care. Tombstone Ghosts packs the punch of a two-year old, and he'd rather play a slightly naive scientist named Cliff than a ballet dancer named Roskolnikov anyway.

He's been thinking about asking Spencer to come with him ever since Zack brought it up in the first place.

He's pretty positive Spencer will say no.

He's pretty positive he's going to ask him anyway.

**

They're shooting the only scene in the entire film that doesn't have him in it, and Brendon thinks it really sucks that Jack dies while Ian is getting his final treatment; it's a split scene, but they've already done Brendon's sides, and Mikey's presence is demanded far less on set than Brendon's is.

Yeah, he's really looking forward to Tombstone Ghosts, Glory Song packs the punch of a three hundred pound linebacker named Steve.

He sneaks out the back for a smoke break and to possibly text Spencer. It is strongly suggested that the actors keep their phones off during the shoot, but Brendon Urie (TM, he thinks to himself), needs to be able to be in constant contact. He has the ringer down to silent though, which he's pretty sure is what most people do anyway, and he's just getting a message tapped out and the comfort of nicotine spreading through his bones when the side door pushes open.

Brendon has a slight moment of panic, because he's pretty sure he doesn't have an explanation for the smoking, but it's just Mikey, looking just as wrung out as he does.

Mikey doesn't say anything, he just leans against the brick wall next to Brendon, slowly inhaling and exhaling as he tries to shake off the strange sensation that settles into your bones after a death scene. Brendon shoves his phone back into his pocket and takes a drag off his cigarette, watching Mikey from the corner of his eye. It's not that they don't get along, it's just that Mikey is so very quiet and Brendon has more shit going on than he usually does and it's been easier to keep things between Ian and Jack and not Brendon and Mikey.

"That shit will kill you," Mikey eventually says. "Mind if I bum one?"

Brendon snorts and offers him the pack. "I can't believe Mikey Way smokes."

Mikey arches an eyebrow as he pulls a lighter from his pocket. "You want to be the pot or the kettle? Lung cancer is a shitty way to die." He takes a long drag and slumps against the wall. "Though there are worse."

Having spent two and half months in the last cancer movie he did shaving his head every morning with two and three IVs jammed into his arm, Brendon has a hard time coming up with anything. He met cancer patients, talked to them so he could get a feel, and cancer's not only painful, but fucking slow. "Like what?"

A muscle in Mikey's jaw jumps. "Car wrecks."

They lapse into silence and Brendon hands start to shake just a little. It's been four years, four fucking years, and he still can't. There's no end to the sentence, no concrete action he can't do and no solid thought he can't have, just a vague nauseous feeling in his stomach. He can't. Truth be told, he still has the voicemail saved on his phone and sometimes, when he's falling apart in inches on the inside, he replays it again and again, searching for some answer that can't be found in Pete's staticky words.

"It's weird," Mikey says eventually, "Knowing he's not there."

"I don't know what you mean," Brendon mumbles.

"Bullshit." Mikey runs a hand through his hair and looks at Brendon with considering eyes. "You know, I was planning on hating you when I found out you were gonna play Ian."

"Why?"

Mikey chuckles, bitter and blackly amused. "My last name is Way, Brendon, does that ring in bells? Maybe in the direction of an artist who lives in Paris and happens to be dating one William Beckett. Who you seem to sleep with every now and then, if the underground gossip can be believed, anyway."

Brendon almost wants to laugh. He's an idiot. "Gerard is your brother. You're that Mikey Way."

"Yeah. But then you showed up and you're talented and then I figured out why your name sounded so familiar, other than the fact that you're The Brendon Urie. You're also the Brendon Urie from The Night Chestnut."

Brendon shudders without meaning to. He hasn't seen that movie since the night of the premiere, sitting in the audience wondering where the hell Vicky and Pete were, feeling something sick and knowing twist in his stomach with every moment that passed. Baby birds gotta leave the nest sometime, Brendon, Pete had said, and Brendon's memories are jumbled, standing at the funeral juxtaposed over Pete's mouth on the base of his neck. Vicky laughing on set and Vicky sobbing through the phone, "He's gone, Brendon, he's gone."

"Pete was a real knight in shining armor," Mikey says, looking at his feet. "To me. I'm guessing to you too."

"He." Brendon swallows hard. "He was good. As an actor, he was really good."

"As a person." Mikey says, but he flinches while he does it.

Brendon doesn't think about Pete much, can't, but he still talks to Vicky sometimes, once a month at least, and they exchange e-mails too, but they haven't seen each other in person since Pete's funeral, through a combination of entropy and design. She left Hollywood and Brendon exploded into fame and the disconnects grate at them both sometimes. They'd spoken that night too and Pete knew, Pete had heard and hadn't wanted to deal with it, with the complications of everything that came with Brendon.

Brendon doesn't blame him. He blames himself. "You didn't kill him," Vicky had murmured, still whispers sometimes, through years and miles and miles of phone lines. "You saved me. If I'd been in that car, Brendon, I would have -- "

She never finishes and Brendon doesn't much believe her, not really.

"You know what your problem is?" Mikey asks, tucking his hands into his pockets once he stomps out his cigarette. "The one person you hate more than anything else in the world is dead and you can't even tell him to go fuck himself."

Brendon flinches. "I don't hate Pete."

"I do," Mikey says softly. "Much as I love him, I hate him a little. For showing me the ugly things you have to know to survive. For letting me taste something brilliant, even though he knew I couldn't have it. I hate him for that."

"Yeah." Brendon closes his eyes. "Yeah. What do you do?" Beside him, Mikey quirks his shoulders and pushes off the wall. "Don't let him be your everything, okay? You won't have anything else left."

**

It's not surprising, because Pete is a manipulative bastard, even beyond the grave, but the day goes from bad to worse after that.

In retaliation for cutting out one scene, Trent has written Paul another, and Brendon is good with memorizing lines, but not so quickly, and not ones that are so emotionally fraught. Spencer calls while he's pacing behind Crafty, holding the new pages in one hand, fingers twitching for a cigarette.

"Hey you," he says, and Brendon closes his eyes, light from the sun beating heavy and hot against his back. "Hey," he mumbles back, knowing he sounds angry and standoffish, and something inside his brain screams STOP. BRENDON URIE DOES NOT TALK TO PEOPLE LIKE THAT; but Brendon is tired and thinking about Pete always makes his bones ache in ways they haven't ached in years.

"I just," Spencer sounds uncertain, voice strained and Brendon hates that this is his fault too. Everything seems to be, these days. "I don't know if you remember, we had plans for dinner, and -- "

"Dinner would be great," Brendon says, something like calm starting to spread through him from the tips of his fingers inward. "Maybe I can even put dressing on my salad. I think I can if it's that raspberry vinaigrette stuff. Do you think -- "

"I've got to work an extra shift." Brendon sucks in a noisy breath and tries to calm the anger in his chest by reminding himself that at least he can see Spencer at his place of work. "I tried to get out of it, I know how tired you must be, but Jon's got this whole thing planned out, and Ryan practically like, begged me, and he doesn't ever ask for anything, like, ever, plus, it's not like dinner was set in stone or anything, right? Hey, maybe you can meet me at the diner and we can grab some di -- "

Brendon doesn't know why it makes him so angry, but it makes him so very fucking angry, so much so that he has to hold the phone away from his ear so the heavy arc of his breathing doesn't give him away. He can hear Spencer's tinny voice ask, "Brendon?"

"Sure," he says, and then promptly makes up an excuse to hang up.

It's not really excuse if he has lines to learn anyway.

**

Traffic is never especially pleasant, but it's especially bad and Brendon can feel a headache throbbing between his temples as his cab idles in traffic, driver honking his horn just to be a jackass and to let every other fucking driver on the road know of his displeasure at being stuck. Brendon pushes his sunglasses up on his nose and hauls out his phone, punching in Zack's number from memory and slumping down in the seat.

Maybe it's a holdover from years of being his family's Good Boy or maybe it's just that he's too shit scared to make his own choices, but he can't ask Spencer about Italy without at least Zack's grudging consent.

"Hello?" Zack's voice is tight and vaguely pissed, which is never a good sign since it takes more than a little annoyance to send Zack out of his usual strange brand of confident zen, but Brendon's chest is tight and his head fucking hurts and Italy feels way too fucking far away to go to without Spencer there waiting for him in the hotel room bed every night. "So, about Italy, I was thinking I would bring someone with me this time who isn't fucking Audrey because it's not like we're dating anyway and I'm sick of this fucking bullshit."

Zack exhales hard and Brendon can faintly hear the tapping of computer keys. "Okay then, meal ticket, who the fuck else would you bring to fucking Italy?"

"Someone." Brendon worries at his lower lip with his teeth. "The guy. Spencer." he waves his hand without meaning to and hates that he can't even say to himself what Spencer is, or really, what he wants Spencer to be. Pete crowds in on the tail end of that thought and Brendon can feel dull anger pressing against his skin from the inside. He wants to hit someone. No, he wants to hit Pete, but Pete ended up hamburger on the side of the road and he can't.

"What?" Zack snorts. "Are you out of your fucking mind? No. No fucking way."

Dull anger ratchets up to formless rage and Brendon has had e-fucking-nough. "Why the fuck not? Who gives a shit who I bring to fucking Italy?"

"Don't be an ass, Brendon." Zack slaps something down with a dull thud and Brendon flinches. "Just, fuck you, okay? You know why and you're an asshole for turning this into me being the fucking bad guy here. You made your bed, you lie in it and, hey, want to hear the good news? Fucking Tina Rothers just pulled out of Tombstone, so you might not even fucking end up in motherfucking Italy!"

"The fuck?" Brendon sits up, "Why the fuck would she drop out?"

"Hell if anyone seems to know."

"Jesus fucking Christ." Brendon rakes a hand through his hair as the cab crawls to a stop outside the restaurant. "Fine. Whatever, just fucking deal with it."

He snaps his phone shut and shoves a handful of bills at the cab driver. Spencer's standing in front of the door in pressed slacks and a blazer over a tee shirt and Brendon's heart is hammering in his chest for no reason he can explain.

**

Spencer does this thing sometimes when he looks at Brendon but he pretends that he's not looking at Brendon at all. It shows off his age, a little, and for the most part, it makes Brendon smile, deep down in that corner of his chest he doesn't really let himself think about. Spencer's not even bothering to pretend he's looking anywhere else right now.

"Coffee and salad," he says, with this tiny little smile at his mouth, and Brendon didn't order salad and he doesn't fucking want salad, he wants to fuck Spencer and to leave bruises and marks and to get this day fucking over so he can have another one just like it tomorrow. "There's raspberry vinaigrette on the side too, Joe found the recipe online, so it might not be like, perfect or anything, but I tried some earlier, and it's pretty good, I mean, for his first time, so -- "

"I didn't order a fucking salad, okay?" Brendon knows his voice is louder than it should be, but he can't stop himself, and he can't look at Spencer, and he should really not be unleashed on the innocent public.

"I just thought -- " Spencer's voice is tight, barely a whisper, and Brendon can feel the muscles in his fingers tightening.

"You obviously fucking didn't think." Brendon stands up so quickly that he knocks the silverware on the floor, and it's not like the diner is upscale or anything, but the utensils make clattering noises as they hit the parquet and Brendon is making a bigger scene of himself than he's done in public in years. Fucking Pete, always bringing everything back. "I have to get out of here,"

Spencer doesn't follow him. Brendon hadn't expected him to.

**

Brendon's apartment is twenty minutes away on a good day with light traffic, so he ends up in the back of a cab again, languishing, since traffic didn't loosen up in the half hour he was inside. He shoves his hands down into his pockets and blasts out Leave Me the Fuck Alone vibes as hard as he can, praying they'll be enough to get him the four blocks to home. It's weird to think that he hasn't really been there, home, in two weeks.

His phone buzzes and he answers without thinking. "What?"

There's a long beat of silence and Brendon catches the inhales and exhale of Spencer's breath and his a split second of wondering what it means that he can identify Spencer from something as small as that. "Um, I thought the plan was to go back to one of our places," Spencer says softly. "I mean, hey, we haven't not slept in the same bed for a couple weeks now. It'd be weird."

"I don't care," Brendon says coldly. "Come to my place. Whatever."

"Great." Spencer makes a noise and Brendon can see him bite down on his lower lip. He's being an asshole, he knows it, but he can't stop now, not with everything throbbing inside. "I just. Where is it?"

"The Hensman Building. Sixteenth floor." Brendon rattles off.

 

"Right. See you soon." Spencer exhales hard. "I just, ah, have to pay."

Brendon snaps his phone shut without saying goodbye.

**

Spencer shows up an hour after Brendon gets home, and Brendon buzzes him up without a word.

He's got take out boxes in his hands, and his cheeks are flushed pink from the momentary chill southern California has just experienced.

"Hey," he says quietly. He settles the boxes on one of the place-mats on the glass table on the raised platform that Brendon's dining room consists of, and starts shoveling the food onto paper plates he seems to have produced out of nowhere.

"You know I can't eat any of that, don't you?" Brendon's voice is cutting, and he's still lashing out, he's still trying to hurt Spencer, because really, that's the way he shows affection. It's the only way he knows how to, and he learned from the best. "I, Spencer Smith, am dying of AIDS. In the movie, of course. Who dies of AIDS these days? People in Africa do, but we're not making a picture about that." He stops, because he's making himself dizzy, and Spencer is still standing there, eyes clear. "People that have AIDs, if you've done your research, which I have, but not for my own precaution, that would have just been smart, right? But no, because once I knew, once I knew that Ian was," he drops his voice almost reverently. "Gay, I couldn't not. People who have AIDS generally waste away into nothingness. I can't weigh an ounce more than I do now, or the previous shots will be fucked up and we'll have to fix everything in post." He drags in a long breath. "I want to be done with this stupid movie as quickly as possible."

"Actually," Spencer says after a moment, "If they're shooting stuff from the beginning of the movie now? It might actually be better for you to look a little," he stops to wave his hand around. "More."

Brendon blinks at him. "What?"

"Can you just eat some dinner? Please?" He holds up a Crab Rangoon and dances it across his palm. Brendon starts to giggle, he can't help it. "Just one tiny little one of these so Uncle Spencer can be happy?" Brendon winces through his laugh, but if Spencer notices, he doesn't comment on it.

**

Spencer cleans up the takeout boxes as Brendon sits on one of the island stools, drumming his fingers against the light marble of the countertop. He lives in an apartment, technically, but it's more like a relatively large house just shot sixteen floors up into the air. He hums as he gathers up the chopsticks and dumps them in the trash, setting the fork Brendon used, as a concession to the fact that he just doesn't have the hand eye coordination, in the sink.

Come to Italy with me, Brendon thinks. Hey Spencer, how about we go to Italy?

"What?" Spencer turns on the spigot and pumps soap onto his hands. "Do I have something on my face?"

"What? No." Brendon rakes a hand through his hair, tapping at the bridge of his nose. He wears contacts now, but he still misses his glasses from time to time. "I just."

"Hm?" Spencer uses his elbow to turn off the water and dries his hands on the towel hanging on the over door. "You just what?"

"I'm going to Italy in a couple weeks," Brendon says slowly, "To film that thing with Mischa Barton. It's looking like it's going to be a shitty ass movie, a fucking joke, but after all this bullshit I don't want to actually have to think."

Spencer nods, folding his arms across his chest. "Okay."

The words feel tangled and uncomfortable on Brendon's tongue; I want you to come with me, I need you to come with me, please come with me because the idea of not being around you for six months makes me want to throw up. He bites down on the inside of his cheek and exhales hard, disconcerted by Spencer's even gaze. He can't read the look there.

"You're coming with me," Brendon says and he knows as soon as the words leave his mouth that he's fucked up.

"Am I?" Spencer's eyes immediately narrow to dangerous slits and his whole body goes tight. "Am I really? That's funny, considering that since you walked out tonight and I had to fork over for the fifty dollar dinner that we barely even ate, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to cover my half of the rent this month. I'm curious how you think I'll be able to afford a six month jaunt to Italy."

"I'll pay for it." Brendon's voice is piano wire tight and he wants to scream.

Spencer shakes his head, jerky and defiant. "No. I'm sorry, but no. I can't accept that. I'm not going to Italy, Brendon, you'll just have to make due without my ass and my presence."

Brendon can't help it. He shoves himself up, knocking over the stool, and storm away, pausing to grab a fifth of whiskey off the little table next to the couch. Dark has nearly fallen and he can see a faint breeze ruffling the dying plants on his balcony. He yanks the screen door open and slams it shut nearly hard enough to pop it off the track.

He can see Spencer grab his jacket and keys and leave.

**

It's all over the tabloids in the morning.

Brendon doesn't read the papers, not if he can help it, but he wakes up to Zack's looming presence at seven in the morning, and Zack is vibrating, he's so angry. "'It Started With a Cigarette?" he reads, and Brendon winces, because It Started With a Kiss, was the movie he made right after filming for The Night Chestnut had wrapped. "'Hollywood's golden boy, all around nice young man and avid anti-smoking campaigner was seen imbibing on his patio late Monday evening, the Enquirer reports, with an angry set to his shoulders and a companion who left in a hurry, as the set of photographs below show. Neither Urie nor his representative were available for comment.' The biggest crock of shit in this entire article? No one fucking called me. This is a PR nightmare, kid. If they'd called I could've fixed it."

Brendon blinks, and wonders when a cigarette and the Angry Set Of His Shoulders became the bane of his existence. "It was just -- "

"Was that him?" Zack's voice is icy cold and getting frostier and Brendon really regrets giving him a key, although, when he thinks about it, he's probably not the one who made that happen.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says instead and winces as his feet hit the marble flooring of his bedroom. It's always fucking freezing in the morning. "So I had a cigarette. Everyone has their vices." Zack snorts, and rubs his palms over his eyes. "Yeah, and yours are going to kill you, just like they fucking killed Pete and -- "

Zack continues on his diatribe, gesticulating wildly, but Brendon isn't following, not really, and Zack's voice is merely a low hum in the back of his mind. "Pete's vices didn't kill him," he says quietly, and Zack rolls his eyes.

"You were one of his vices, Urie."

Brendon blinks. "What?" It's a question, but his voice is faint, lost in the rushing in his ears.

"I doesn't fucking matter. Get dressed, go to work, don't fucking smoke any more cancer sticks and stay away from that kid. Do you hear me?"

Brendon grins, his biggest, brightest smiles and salutes like the smartass he is. "Loud and clear, boss," he says and despite himself, Zack snorts. "'Bout time you figured that out," he mumbles on his way to the door. "I mean it, Brendon, just lay low. There'll be cameras everywhere."

Brendon still has a hard time believing that people care if he smokes, or what he eats, or when he takes a shit, but Hollywood has proved itself strange time and time again.

"You don't have to worry," he's talking mostly to himself now, reaching for his phone and staring down at it as if it holds the secrets to the universe inside. "It's not like he's really talking to me anyway."

**

Brendon wraps on Glory Song four days later, right as the burst of media surrounding his one fucking cigarette starts to die down.

He's grateful shooting got fucked up with his abrupt arrival into the film that the last four days are easy fucking days, a couple scenes with the different bit part actors and actresses playing nurses and, Brendon's personal favorite, one last real scene with Mikey. On the spectrum of scenes that leave them both fucked up and raw, it's not that bad, just talking about what they're going to do when they get out of the hospital, but it's a solid scene that lets Brendon sink into Ian really one last time.

Paul calls a wrap and the crew applauds as Brendon slides down off the hospital bed and bows.

"Not bad, Urie," Mikey murmurs, pulling him into a quick, awkward little hug with both of them still tangled into their IV props and dressed in hospital gowns.

"Thanks, Mikey," Brendon murmurs back.

He shakes Trent's hand and makes some comment about him being the next great screenwriter for the ages and how Brendon would bend over backwards to get to act another one of his pieces. Paul offers him a curt handshake and a dry comment about him being different than he'd expected. Brendon resists the urge to flip him off and chooses to smile like the motherfucking star he is. "It was a pleasure, Paul. I'd love to work with you again."

In makeup, he kisses Betsy, who skullcapped his bald head for the last three months and lets Elsa envelop him in a motherly hug, makeup brushes still clutched in her teeth. "Bet you're glad to not have to deal with all this anymore."

Brendon laughs and swallows, feels like he's dying inside. "Hell, no. I'd do it again."

**

He should go back to his apartment, as per Zack's orders. The media has died down, but it's by no means dead and Brendon is well aware that his standards are a little warped. He's always in magazines, always seeing his face on tv; a sneeze can warrant second page coverage, and that's only with perfunctory observation. Now people are watching and it's such a bad idea to get into a cab and give the driver Spencer's address, such a bad idea, but he can't not.

He knocks on the door, in purple sweats and hoodie, pulls off his sunglasses and tucks them into his pocket. Some of the exhaustion etched into the lines of his face comes from eyeshadow and airbrush, but too much of it is real and he feels like he can't breathe.

Spencer answers and he looks worse, eyes rimmed and swollen. "Jesus Christ, what do you want?"

"I'm going to Italy in two days," Brendon murmurs, feeling the corners of his eyes prick. "For six months."

"I know," Spencer exhales. "I remember. I'm not -- "

"I'm not asking that." Brendon digs his nails into his palms hard enough to feel the sharp sting of pain skirt along the nerves up into his wrist. "I know you can't and I can't. But. I just. I can't. Spencer." He takes a shaky breath. "I feel like I'm dying and I don't know what to do."

"God." Spencer presses his forehead to the doorframe; eyes closed for a moment in a pose that looks almost like a prayer. "You shouldn't be able to do this. It's really fucking unfair. Come here."

Spencer pulls Brendon close, buries his face in Brendon's neck and it hurts more, but at least Brendon can breathe.

**

Laying in bed on his beck, sated and tired and too aware of the sounds of the clock ticking away the time they have left, Brendon trails his hand down the column of Spencer's spine and wants.

"I have something for you," Spencer says, reaching onto the bedside table and pulling out a little envelope that had been tucked beneath a pile of books. He presses it into Brendon's hand, eyes cast down. "It's a key. Just in case."

Brendon can't breathe, can't speak, so he kisses Spencer as hard as he can and clutches the envelope tight in his fist.

**

 

Brendon smiles and waves and lets some promotional pictures of him and Audrey get taken at the airport. Her tears look more convincing on paper than they did in real life.

He goes to Italy.

The countryside is beautiful, the locals are kind, and there are even a few little girls who hang around the set in hopes of seeing him every day. It's much more relaxed than it is at home, and Brendon finds himself wondering what it would be like to work full time in a place like this.

**

 

He meets Mischa Barton. He discovers Mischa Barton is just about as bland as everyone who's ever worked with her said she was, but he sort of likes her regardless. If Audrey is the female version of what he's really like, then Mischa is TM's female counterpart, vapid enough to be intelligent, but a little too sweet to actually make an impact.

**

Brendon does the movie.

Cliff does everything but get under his skin, and the shoot is actually more fun than he'd thought it would be. The film itself is proving to be a little campy, a little different, but he has a feeling the masses will like it.

**

 

He really likes the villa he's staying in, makes tentative plans to meet up with Bill (and Gerard) during the week and a half break he has off in November, and without fail, gets an e-mail from Spencer once a week.

He doesn't plan on responding more than once, and while what he comes up with is slightly cold, he doesn't think it's as bad as it could be.

 

Got here safe, but the connection's pretty rickety, see you when I get back, okay?

 

His connection is far from rickety, but it's easier to lie than to actually come up with an explanation.

He checks his e-mail every morning.

 

**

He only has to kiss Mischa Barton once and persists on calling her, "Mischa Barton," even though she says, "Just call me Mischa," every time they're not on set, which, luckily for Brendon isn't all that often. They go out all of once and both drink a little more than their fair share. Mischa's a clingy drunk, fluttering her lashes at him as she clings onto his arm, and Brendon finds himself spilling his guts to her.

Not entirely, of course; even inebriated, Brendon knows enough about what to divulge and what not to.

"Brendon you're young," she says in the clipped tones of someone who wasn't born in the United States. She always manages to sound like the most cultured person in the room, and Brendon definitely begrudges her of that. He hiccups loudly, and then clamps his hands over his mouth to keep in the giggles. "You can't be tied down, especially not in this business." She smiles at him, smiles her fucking cultured smile and widens her eyes. "Cut the cord, Brendon, you will be so much happier when you do."

Even drunk, Brendon thinks she's wrong, even drunk, Brendon wants to say, But I think I'm ...

But he doesn't, and when he gets back to the villa, that's exactly what he does.

The e-mail he sends Spencer is only the second in the four and a half months they've been there, and he's drunk, and he's sloppy and it hurts him more than it should.

When he wakes up and checks his e-mail, his inbox is empty.

He tells himself that it's for the best.

**

Brendon does the movie.

 

**

His flight back to LA gets in at ass o' clock in the morning after layovers in two different airports in two different countries and Brendon is so completely and utterly exhausted he can barely function. He falls asleep in the back of the waiting car and only rouses himself long enough to stumble into his apartment, toe off his shoes and jeans and collapse on the bed.

Twelve hours later he wakes up long enough to pee and chug down a bottle of water. "I'm alive," he says to Zack, "And I'm going back to sleep. Fucking time zones."

Brendon crashes for another six hours and when he wakes again, he's sore in his joints from sleeping so long, and early afternoon sunlight is pouring in through the window. There's a message from Zack telling him to behave and enjoy a couple days off before he really has to get himself geared up for the promo whirlwind surrounding Glory Song.

Words like Oscar and Best Picture are being tossed around and it's Brendon's job to turn buzz into pretty gold statues.

He takes a long shower, shaves and brushes his teeth and just enjoys the feeling of being back in a space that is his and his alone. Maybe it's a little too quiet and maybe it's a little too empty, but he doesn't think about it and he's happy enough. Zack, capable man that he is, had some of Brendon's clothes freshly dry cleaned and he shimmies into jeans and a tee shirt, shoves his feet into flip flops and heads downstairs with every intention of driving to the nearest Starbucks and nothing more.

Somehow he ends up on the highway to West Hollywood. "Just to look," he murmurs to himself. "Make sure he's okay."

The diner's only a little way off the highway, a couple blocks into the city. Brendon thinks with a low chuckle that he could probably let go of the steering wheel and his car would still remember the right turns to get there. He slides on his sunglasses, well aware that the gesture is more than a little ridiculous. Spencer knows his car and knows him, with or without four hundred dollar shades.

He pulls up the diner, fully prepared to end up behind a minivan or something and finds only empty parking lot.
sz
The windows of the diner are boarded up and there's a strip of yellow police tape stretched across the front and back doors. A For Sale banner is tacked to the side and the neon lights have been pulled down, leaving behind the bright impression in the paint of where they once stood.

Brendon's stomach twists into hard knots.

"Shit."

**

It's nothing.

Businesses close all the fucking time in LA. It's a brutal place to try and make a living and Brendon's been gone for six months after all. It's nothing. Besides, he was the one who told Spencer in so many words to fuck off so of course Spencer wouldn't e-mail him and let him know that he'd had to move onto a different job. It's fine, it's fine. In fact, it's better because know Brendon isn't tempted to go and watch him every morning.

Even though there was police tape.

Goddamnit.

Brendon drives through the Starbucks drive through and rattles off an order for something iced and caffeinated. He thinks of Spencer pouring him coffee black and textured vaguely like sludge and how good it was.

"He's fine," Brendon says, clearly and perfectly enunciated. "He's absolutely fine."

**

He calls Spencer from the road, only to be informed by a voice-automated operator that the number of the Verizon Wireless customer he's trying to reach has been disconnected.

He pulls over and throws up all over the concrete of the sidewalk, not caring if anyone has their camera out, if anyone can see.

"Ryan would have contacted you," he says to his reflection once he's gotten back behind the wheel. "He may hate you, but he would have sent an e-mail or found some way to talk to Zack. If something had happened to Spencer, Ryan would have told you." He doesn't believe the words, but he does believe in Ryan Ross.

He doesn't believe the words, but just saying them settles his stomach just a little.

**

Spencer's key is in his wallet.

Some deep part of Brendon says he shouldn't use it, he has no right to use it. He's not dying; he's not in any trouble, he just fucking paranoid and regrets that he can't take back now, six months later. Sitting on the side of the road, three blocks away from Spencer and Ryan's shitty little apartment, he pulls the key out and holds it in his palm, metal cool against his skin.

He shouldn't, god he really, really shouldn't.

He does anyway.

There's no one home, which isn't really surprising, because it's still early in the afternoon, and Brendon is more than a little shocked that the apartment looks almost exactly the same as the last time he saw it.

He crosses quickly to Spencer's room, just to make sure. He has to know that Spencer's okay, and once he sees his shoes, or one of his ridiculous pink tee shirts, or his body in the bed, Brendon will be fine. He knows he's being ridiculous, he knows this is bordering on more than a little crazy, but he can't breathe, his chest is so tight, and he's never stopped needing Spencer, he just got really good at pushing it away.

Spencer's not in his bed, which isn't surprising, not really, and the room, just like everything else in the apartment, looks almost exactly the same. There's still a photograph of Spencer and Ryan tucked into the corner of the mirror, and Spencer's one, solitary pair of drumsticks held together by a rubber band and placed lovingly on the bureau. At least he knows he's in the right place, and he hopes neither of them would have him arrested for trespassing, anyway.

Despite the drumsticks, despite the photograph, something feels out of place, still.

It's too neat, Brendon realizes after a moment. The bed is made, smoothed perfectly flat with the pillows precisely lined up at the top. There's a blanket folded at the end, exactly even amounts hanging on either side. Brendon steps across the threshold and presses the palm of his hand to the cool fabric. It smells faintly of laundry detergent and nothing like Spencer.

Unthinkingly, Brendon crosses the closet and eases the door open.

It's the same thing, shirts hung up on one side, pants on the other, laundry basket tucked empty in the back corner. Brendon trails the tips of his fingers along the clothes and feels something twist so hard in his stomach he thinks he's going to puke. It's pristine, Spencer's room, too fucking perfect. It's the kind of preservation from a memorial and Brendon doesn't believe in fate, just coincidence, and they're beginning to stack up.

"No," Brendon exhales and it comes out ragged. "No. Fuck. No."

Brendon hears white noise and sees stars explode in his vision. He skin scrawls, like thousands of bugs racing across his flesh and he is and idiot, he is an asshole, and somehow they is his fault, he knows it. His fault.

Spencer.

He staggers to the bathroom, and doesn't turn on the light, just slams the door open so that faint daylight can filter through the bedroom and into the tiny cubicle. He sees himself outlined in the shadows and haloes in the mirror and his hands are shaking. He presses his palm to the glass, cool and smooth, and wonders what could happen if he smashed his fist in and shattered it.

Spencer's toothbrush is missing from the little plastic cup beside the sink and everything is wiped clean. There aren't towels on the rack and Brendon's been in Italy for six months and he knows nothing.

"Spencer," he exhales and it sounds like a broken chant. "Spencer, Spencer."

He turns the water up in the shower as cold as it will go, chilly enough to send sparks of pain knifing out from his skin and stumbles in. He can feel his heart hammering in his chest, thudding painfully against the bone and marrow cage of his ribs and crumples to the shower floor as water soaks through his clothes and skin to his core.

"Spencer," he whispers. "Spencer."

**

Brendon is no stranger to remorse.

He remembers the guilt of sucking off more than one boy in the church basement, crowded into the small supply closet on his knees with their hands in his hair murmuring what a good boy he was. He remembers the guilt of doing it and liking it and deciding that there was no way on God's green earth he was going to give up the weight of a cock on his tongue just so he could marry a girl.

He remembers the guilt of Pete, standing at the funeral of a twenty-five year old shooting star, encased in a closed casket because the barrier his car had smashed into didn't leave much in the way of a body behind; more a mangled mess than anything else. Vicky whispered that he'd saved her life, but Brendon knows the guilt of staring at the headstone and feeling like he carved the final date with his own hands.

There are a thousand small sins and accumulated mistakes and missteps and none of them even come close to this.

Brendon presses his face to the tile and lets himself cry for the first time in years.

**

He doesn't know how long he's been there for, can't remember when the strong stream of water weakened to just the faintest pressure, but his entire body is straining from being curled up so long, and he's freezing, but he can't get himself to move. He's pretty sure things like this qualify as a psychotic breaks.

He can hear the door scraping open, and maybe Ryan will find him like this, maybe he can give Brendon some answers before he calls someone to cart him away. He hears heavy footsteps in the hallway and noises that sound so familiar that his body starts to strain in an entirely different way. "Dude, what the fuck are you doing here? Your boyfriend's shower is like, seven times the size of the -- " Brendon can feel his eyes widening and he can see Spencer's widening too. "Holy shit, Brendon?"

Brendon opens his mouth to speak, but he can't. Suddenly he can feel just how very cold he is, can feel how very much it hurts. "S - Spencer," he whispers, and he's completely prepared for Spencer to throw him out, or for Spencer to call the cops, or for Spencer to stop looking so very fucking good. There's a light smattering of stubble on his cheeks, and he looks different, but exactly the same all at once.

"Hey," Spencer says, but instead of throwing Brendon out or calling the cops, he toes off his shoes and climbs in with him, wrapping a warm arm around Brendon's shoulders. It's a tight fit with the two of them, and Spencer's getting soaked from head to toe, but he doesn't seem to mind, which is the weirdest part of all of this.

"The diner," Brendon chatters out as Spencer reached up and fiddles with the knobs until the water starts to run lukewarm and then hot.

"There was a robbery," Spencer murmurs to the shell of his ear. "No one was hurt, but the owner decided to close down."

"Phone." The heat stings a little, or maybe a lot, but Spencer is solid and real around Brendon's body and he shaking so hard he can barely breathe.

"Lost it on the bus." Spencer brushes back his hair and kisses the corner of his mouth. "God, I was tired of Verizon anyway, so I switched over to a different carrier."

"I thought," Brendon begins and his voice cracks.

"Oh God, no. No." It doesn't seem possible, but Spencer pulls him tighter, kisses the skin between his eyebrows and the tip of his nose. "I'm fine, Brendon, I'm fine. I promise."

Brendon doesn't deal in promises he can't keep and contracts that leave him with his hands tied behind his back. He can't leave Hollywood, the lights and the applause; he needs it as much as he needs air. He should walk away before he shatters Spencer into pieces that can't be put back together.

"Come with me," Brendon exhales. "Glory Song. The premiere."

Spencer's silent for a long moment, breathing in and out. "Okay."

Brendon opens his eyes.