Back to Part Three PART FOUR: SPENCER
Spencer gets off the plane in South Africa and takes a deep, cleansing breath. Mostly it smells like airports everywhere, but there's just that little identifying hint that means this is a different place than all the places Spencer has been, a little trace of a scent that says newnewnew
, and Spencer sucks in another breath and tries to believe it. He turns to watch the rest of their group file off the plane: Brendon rubbing at his eyes, Zack trying to untwist his cramped spine, Jon heavy-footed. And Ryan, looking around curiously.
Ryan's eyes meet Spencer's, and he smiles tentatively.
Spencer stops himself from grinning back too broadly. It's fragile, this. Handle With Care.
He lets himself fall in beside Ryan on the way down the hall, though; bumps his elbow against Ryan's side once or twice. Ryan bumps back.
He bumps back
It is really hard for Spencer not to smile idiotically. It's possible he's not succeeding all that well.
They settle in the hotel, everybody in their own tiny room. There's a faint hint of mold in the air, but the sheets are clean and the lights all work, so it definitely beats some of the rooms they slept in on their first tour. They go out to dinner and have a conversation that almost isn't stilted at all. Spencer walks back to the hotel with Jon, so much tentative hope uncurling in his belly he has to drum on his thighs.
He goes into his room and heads for the sink to splash a little water on his face before bed, and registers the squishing of the edge of the carpet just as he opens the door and a pool of water floods across the carpet with a splooshing sound.
"Gah!" Spencer says, involuntarily, and retreats into the hall, headed for Ryan's room to demand a dry place to stay the night. He's actually at the door, one fist raised, before he stops to recognize that maybe Ryan won't want to see him, much less give him sanctuary.
Today's gone so well. He really doesn't want to find out for sure that Ryan isn't ready to forgive him yet.
He pulls out his phone to tell Zack about the flooding, instead.
Faltering on the first step is nothing new for Spencer, not when it comes to Ryan.
When he was fifteen years old, Spencer glanced up from a video game to where Ryan was writing in a notebook, lower lip caught between his teeth, and suddenly wanted to touch him more than he wanted to breathe. Ryan's stupid hair was falling across his eyes and his face was intent and as Spencer watched, he shook his head a little, impatiently, and reached up a long-fingered hand to comb his bangs out of his face. Spencer watched his fingers fall back to the bed and thought very specifically of pulling that hand to his mouth, biting the knuckle of the third finger of Ryan's left hand.
It took Ryan a good five minutes to realize that Spencer had automatically hit the pause button; another seven seconds, maybe, to realize that Spence was looking at him. He arched an eyebrow, controlled, brittle with all the arrogance being sixteen could give you. "What's up?"
It took Spencer three seconds to answer him at all; the truth was beyond words. "Want to play?" he said instead, weakly. "I'm getting bored on my own."
," Ryan said petulantly.
"Right," Spencer said, quickly. "Never mind."
Sometimes — not always, not even often, but sometimes — it feels like he's just reliving that moment, over and over again.
Given the safari was Ryan's idea, Spencer should perhaps be less surprised when they get off the open jeep in front of what appears to be a low-slung four-star hotel, with a shimmering crystalline pool peeking out from behind one white corner and bungalows spreading beyond it. It's the cabin all over again, and Spencer lets himself roll his eyes where Ryan can see him.
"Shut up," Ryan says preemptively. "You are going to see huge stinky animals in a hot, dry wasteland. Let me have my Jacuzzi."
?" Brendon demands, clambering out of the jeep. "Ross, safari means camping
"That may have been its original denotation," Ryan says calmly, sliding his sunglasses up over his forehead and looking down his nose at both of them. "But language in general and the English language in particular are a fluid construct, and the literal translation became secondary when the word was incorporated into — "
Spencer slaps a hand over his mouth, laughing. "Don't get started on slang, Ross," he says, and then he realizes he's touching Ryan's mouth
and his laugh gets slightly unhinged. Ryan bats at him irritably, but not like he actually wants to be let go, and Spencer swings him around so the other arm fits around his skinny arms and chest. He starts frogmarching Ryan toward the entrance to the hotel, and Ryan sputters and twists, and Brendon and Jon are laughing behind them, Zack yelling at them to keep track of their own luggage, dammit, if they don't want to wind up with his underwear.
Playing the show helped, playing the show was great
, but this — this feels like they might, actually, really truly for-real be all right again, and Spencer feels a surge of relief and affection so strong he squeezes Ryan close for a minute before he lets go.
Ryan checks them in, two to a bungalow; his hand hesitates for just a second over the second key in the first envelope before he reaches down and tosses the second envelope at Spencer instead. Spencer doesn't flinch. Time, time, time
for Ryan to forgive him, even if the thought of being able to lie across the room and hear Ryan breathe again makes something in the back of his throat close up with longing. They'll get there.
Ryan sweeps up the other envelopes as well with a smile of thanks for the clerk. They head back out to the jeep, where Ryan tosses the last set of keys to the photographer, whatever his name is, and begins his usual paranoid hovering over his suitcases.
Zack doesn't even grump about using duffel bags or being a pack mule, so he must be feeling it, too; this sense that everything is going to be all right.
Three days later, sweaty and exhausted and the chill of African night settling in, Ryan shoves his way up under Spencer's arm. The blanket is scratchy, but warm enough; the air smells something like dried hay.
," Ryan mutters, like a four-year-old, and presses the tip of his nose to the warm hollow between Spencer's collarbones. All Spencer's muscles contract instinctively, and somehow his hand is curled around Ryan's side. Ryan lets out a little murmur of contentment. Tentatively, Spencer lets his head drop down, resting against the top of Ryan's head. He closes his eyes and hopes the moment will last forever.
Spencer can remember a time when he wasn't in love with Ryan, in the same distant, foreign way he remembers being an only child or never having held a drumstick in his hand. He's always loved
Ryan, of course, but falling for him had been a more painful process: that sudden awareness of the heat of Ryan's skin, a growing curiosity about the taste of his rare smiles.
He'd known better than to act on it, of course, and for long months it had only hurt a little. Sometimes it ached when Ryan had a girl hanging all over him. Mostly the pain came when Ryan was shaking with everything pent up inside him. Spencer didn't know how to make him let it out, didn't have permission to coax passion into pleasure, and he hated more than anything to sit helpless while Ryan suffered alone.
Strange, then, that when he'd finally kissed Ryan in a fit of dumbfounding idiocy, it hadn't been for either of those reasons — had, instead, been an ordinary moment; a moment when loving Ryan was a thing of affection, of joy. They had been bickering amiably, stretched into the late summer sun in Spencer's family den. He can't even remember, now, what they had been arguing about
; only the sly grin on Ryan's face when he rolled over the edge of the sofa, reaching to poke Spencer on the floor. Only the way Ryan's uneven, adolescent skin had felt beneath his fingertips when he reached up and took Ryan's face in his hands. Only Ryan's mouth soft and rough under his.
The instant after he'd done it, he'd realized
what he'd done, become aware of what he was doing
, and froze, mouth still pressed to Ryan's, holding his best friend's head trapped between his hands.
"Spence?" Ryan asked, the "p" puffing warm against Spencer's lips, and Spencer's hands dropped as if burned. He pressed them against his eyes instead and pretended he could make the whole thing unhappen.
"Spencer, hey," Ryan said, and his voice
was smiling. Not laughing. Smiling.
Spencer peered out cautiously, and — yeah, no, Ryan was smiling a small, affectionate smile. Slowly, Spencer let his hands slide from his face, and Ryan ducked in and kissed him. Spencer laughed incredulously and kissed back.
Ryan pressed Spencer back against the carpet, kneed him in the thigh climbing on top of him, and swiped at Spencer's mouth with his tongue. Spencer laughed again and spread his legs, grabbing for Ryan's waist where his shirt was riding up as they squirmed together.
He took a chance and ducked down to nip at the spot on Ryan's neck Ryan had showed him once, the place that felt "really good," and felt smug and proud when Ryan let out a small sound. He did it again, and Ryan made the noise again, all mixed up with a little laugh. It was even better that way.
"No fair," Ryan said, and leaned back just enough to be out of Spencer's reach, grinning down at him. "You never told me your weak spot."
Spencer could feel himself blushing, and he dropped his eyes, not quite able to look Ryan in the face. "I don't know any, Ry, god
"That's okay," Ryan said, and bent down to set his teeth in Spencer's ear. Spencer lay there and let him, wondering, unbelieving, and turning redder, he knew. "That means I get to find them." He licked at Spencer's neck, and his collarbone, and then his hands went to the hem of Spencer's t-shirt. Spencer's hands shoved it back down.
Ryan's fingers stilled, and he looked up at Spencer curiously. "Spence?"
Spencer wanted to laugh it off, but he couldn't somehow make himself let go of the fabric. He squirmed again, in embarrassment this time, and tried to tense his stomach muscles without being obvious about it. Ryan must have felt something
, though, because the concerned look in his eyes changed to exasperation and he smacked Spencer's hands away from his belly.
"Don't be stupid," he said, and bent down and put his mouth right where Spencer's stomach was bulging over the button of his jeans. Spencer lay still and tried to decide whether he was going to die of embarrassment or of having Ryan's mouth
so close to his fucking dick
Ryan sucked a bit of pudge between his teeth and bit down, hard, twisting with his teeth, and Spencer let out a noise he had never made before. Ryan let go and said, "Hah," with satisfaction, leaning down to lave at the mark he'd made with his tongue. "That's one, anyway." Spencer swatted weakly at his head, and Ryan bit him again, a little more gently, before coming up to take Spencer's mouth again.
He ran his hand along the line of Spencer's stomach as they made out, and Spencer found himself making small, soft sounds as he arched into the touch. He could feel a new hardness in Ryan's jeans when he shifted up against him, and his own dick felt like it had been aching forever. He heaved his hips up awkwardly, biting at Ryan's mouth, sloppy with his tongue as he tried to follow Ryan's lead and tried to get more friction and tried to--
His cock started to pulse in his jeans, and he groaned, half in mortification. Ryan let out an eager little grunt, though, and hitched his pelvis up against Spencer's eagerly. It only took him a couple more minutes to let out a soft moan of his own, bucking for a minute and then collapsing on top of Spencer, his head in Spencer's neck.
Spencer raised a hesitant hand and almost put it into Ryan's hair before caution prevailed and he laid it on Ryan's back instead. Ryan let out a contented sound, almost a purr, and nuzzled at Spencer's neck. Spencer, still wondering at it, ran his hand down Ryan's back a few times and tried to get his head together.
After a few minutes, Ryan smiled into Spencer's neck and dropped a kiss behind his ear, rolling off him a groan. He propped himself up on one hand and grinned down. "Pretty good, huh?"
Spencer smiled goofily back. "Pretty good."
Ryan's other hand reached down to Spencer's belly again, and Spencer watched in fascination as one long finger traced an irregular red mark just above his waistband. Ryan had put that there. Ryan had marked him
. He started laughing again, a little hysterically, and Ryan joined in.
By the time they had their breathing under control, Ryan had collapsed again, his head on Spencer's shoulder, one leg flung across Spencer's thigh. Spencer breathed in the smell of him, sweaty teenage boy and cheap cologne and Ryan
, and was so happy he nearly burst with it.
Spencer's gone two months without having Ryan nestled into his side and having it back again is so incredibly good
that it hurts a little.
They go out for lunch, just the two of them, their last day in Africa. Everybody else is out exploring the city, but Spencer's feeling easy and happy for the first time in a long while, and he doesn't want an adventure. He wants to go out to lunch with Ryan and talk
to him. It's been far too long.
They find a pretty place, with outdoor tables and stacks of fish on ice just visible in the kitchen, and Ryan beams as they settle into their chairs. They order drinks and food and sit for awhile, nibbling at the breadsticks on the table and looking around them at the scenery. Spencer kicks a gentle three-four beat into Ryan's ankle and Ryan smiles a small secret smile and doesn't move his foot away. Spencer breathes in the smells of the old, dirty street and the fish cooking; watches Ryan's expression change oh-so-subtly as his eyes drift over the cafe's other customers, the shop across the street, and the people passing by.
Conversation is easy. They start out making fun of Zack and the photographer's reaction to finding a snake in their bungalow, and it all flows from there. By the time their dessert arrives, Spencer even feels secure enough to suggest they start working on new music.
Ryan brightens. "Yeah, that sounds good. I've been--" a shadow crosses over his face for a moment, but the moment passes and he goes on. "I've been writing a lot, lately. Even put together a couple of demos."
Spencer raises his eyebrows. "Just the guitar parts?"
"Well, no," Ryan says, and reaches for his wineglass. "Me singing, just...to sound it out, you know."
"Yeah," Spencer says, and sighs inwardly. The fight over singing lead is going to be a part of the process from here on out, he's pretty sure, which is just a depressing thought. On the other hand, "Brendon's been working on lyrics as well as music, this time, I'm pretty sure."
Ryan freezes for a second, then bites his lip. "Really? Have you seen what he's working on?"
"It's ridiculous, really," Spencer says, feeling an indulgent smile stretch his face, "They're all about true love and happy endings and making good choices right now, the dork."
Ryan's fork drops to the table with a clatter. Spencer looks up from his pie, startled.
"All of them?" Ryan says faintly. "Everything he's working on is about...?"
"Well, yeah," Spencer says, with a small frown. "You can't blame him, now that it's finally working out."
Ryan shoves himself standing with a screech of chair legs, and Spencer has to grab the little table to stop it from toppling over.
"I'm sorry," Ryan says, words tripping out of his mouth. "I'm sorry, Spence, but I can't--I can't work on songs like that right now. I can't--I can't be in this band. Not now. Maybe not ever. You'll have--you'll have to do without me."
He dodges his way around the waiter before Spencer can even stand up, and is gone.
Spencer's only felt this much abandoned once before: the night they performed at the VMAs, of course.
Ryan had been dating Keltie for three weeks around rehearsals, and they seemed happy enough, but Spencer hadn't been especially worried at that point. Ryan usually had a girlfriend; it wasn't a big deal. Between the girl and Spencer he was usually happy enough, which was what counted.
After they performed, though, and swept off the stage at their grand finale, Spencer turned for their usual post-performance group hug, and saw that Ryan was turned away from the rest of them; turned towards Keltie, who was running to him and jumped into his arms. Ryan caught her and swung her around, and he was beaming, so happy
, so incredibly
happy in that moment, with his girl, this
girl, in the air, and Spencer thought suddenly, "I can't give him that."
After a second Ryan put her down and turned to join in the group hug, but that second had been enough. The kind of enough Spencer had never been.
He felt sick and unhappy at the thought of it, but it was pretty clear, all the same: Spencer couldn't let Ryan lose this one.
They fly home. It's the most awkward thing ever, nobody knowing who to look at or what to say.
Spencer spends two days huddled in bed with the dogs, and doesn't even let himself think
about...about anything. About Ryan leaving not just Spencer, but Panic. Leaving the whole band because he was so terribly unhappy without Keltie that the merest mention of songs about being in love made him run away. So terribly unhappy because Spencer had betrayed Ryan's mistake and lost Keltie for him forever.
It had been the terror of Spencer's life for three years, that possibility that his selfishness would trick him into sabotaging Ryan's relationship somehow, and now it had. Subconsciously, he must
have been aware that text might be read by Keltie; he should have disguised it better, he should have asked Ryan to call him, he should have been braver
and forced himself to talk
to Ryan about this thing, this stupid thing where he had slept with a guy
after all these years, when he had thought
that the only guy Ryan went for, the only guy Ryan would ever go for, was Spencer. But no, he'd been a coward and he'd destroyed Ryan's relationship, after all.
And now Ryan couldn't bear to be in a band with him. It was Spencer's worst nightmare, live and in technicolor, and he locked the bedroom door and refused to let Shane or Brendon lure him out for two days while he lay still and tried very, very hard not to let the yawning pit in his stomach make him cry.
Spencer had been so happy the morning after Ryan kissed him back that the world had seemed like a beautiful place.
He helped his mom with the laundry, took Jackie and Crystal to a movie, and mowed the lawn for his father, whistling. He would see Ryan at band practice that evening, and they could talk then, and maybe, probably, make out a little more, and after almost a year of wishing more than anything to be allowed to touch Ryan, he could
. Until then, he just wanted everyone to be as happy as he was.
For the first time in his life, he dithered over choosing clothes, finally pulling on the stupid tight t-shirt that Ryan had given him for his birthday. For good luck. Or something.
Well, it wasn't like it mattered
if Ryan knew Spencer was trying to dress to please him. Ryan knew
Spencer liked him. Ryan had kissed him back
He walked to his grandma's house with arms swinging, thinking out a rhythm for the song Ryan had showed him last night, humming under his breath.
He let himself into the garage, calling out a greeting, and got two answers--one from Ryan, and one from the little blond bit of nothing he'd had trailing after him for the past two weeks. She was sitting on the old couch, legs across Ryan's lap, and for a moment all Spencer could do was stare. Her jeans were tiny, dipping down in the front to show a familiar irregular shape glowing red on her skin. His hand went to the hem of his own stupid t-shirt, pulling it down over the twisty bruise peeking out from under the tight cotton.
"You figure out what you want to do with that song?" Ryan asked casually, his hand on the girl's knee. It took Spencer a second to remember how to breathe.
"I--yeah," he said, finally, and headed over to his kit. "I'll play it for you."
Ryan kissed him goodnight that night, and Spencer let him. He got to touch Ryan, right? That was what he had wanted.
After letting himself wallow for two days, Spencer sucks it up and gets on with life. He still feels brittle and fragile in sunlight, but that's no excuse for not going on living. Ryan's leaving the band. There's more to that than Spencer's personal pain.
He checks in with Brendon and Jon. Brendon insists that he's staying with Spencer, that their music is more suited to each other, and Jon says he thinks he'll go with Ryan and give a new project a try. Spencer suspects they talked it out between them before he got to them, but he can't get them to admit it. At least Ryan will have somebody taking care of him, and he won't have to play Brendon's happy songs about love. Surely that's for the best.
He even talks to Ryan, sort of, if you can call passing messages through lawyers talking. If Ryan's leaving, they need to make arrangements about money, name rights, song rights...Spencer talks to his lawyer and works out what's fair, what's an equitable agreement for everybody, and sends the papers over for Ryan to sign. They come back, and he doesn't look at Ryan's signature at all, doesn't scrutinize it to see if Ryan wavered in the signing.
Their publicist calls him and they talk about letting the fans know; he tells her to call Ryan and make sure he knows he can say what he wants and what she thinks he should say. The official announcement goes up, and Spencer gets smashed and tries to remember if it was always this hard to breathe.
With the worst of it over--with the parts where he has
to talk to Ryan but he can't
behind him--it feels like he's starting to heal, sort of. Almost. He and Brendon record a song; they go on tour. Spencer doesn't let himself hate Ian even a little bit, and concentrates on his own breathing at night in the tour bus without Ryan's snores to set his heartbeat to.
He's still following Ryan's twitter, because he can't not
. Ryan is quintessentially Ryan there, weird and socially awkward, pretentious and emo by turns. It helps sometimes to go back and read the history of the past few months, to groan to himself over Ryan's fake marriage (and try not to worry about drugs, parties, strange friends Spencer has never met and will never know now).
Ryan gets sick in August, and Spencer gets Jeff to give him extra drumming lessons, running drills until Spencer is exhausted and aching and no longer capable of lifting his arm enough to make a phone call, let alone book a flight back to L. A. to nurse Ryan back to health.
Ryan's an idiot about his health, and Keltie wasn't much of a nurse. It wasn't that she didn't care, or didn't try, but Spencer had a lot more experience than she did, all right? When Ryan was sick, he felt justified--a little bit, a guilty bit, but enough to go through with it--in pushing her aside so that Ryan got the best care for him.
From their mutual chickenpox in second grade up through hangovers and tour flu in their twenties, Spencer has watched Ryan be sick. Spencer knows how to bully him and cuddle him and spoonfeed him just the right amount, gauging appropriate dosage by the height of Ryan's temperature and the color of his skin. It's kind of killing him now, to think of some stranger, Greenwald or this Z girl Spencer's never met, getting it wrong and making Ryan worse.
Pete throws Spencer a birthday party, sort of. Spencer's not in the mood for crowds and bizarrity, and anyway since Bronx they've been trying to keep Pete's sort of parties out of the house. Spencer wants to spend his birthday with his best friend.
Spencer's best friend hates him, though, so Spencer wants to spend his birthday with a toddler in his lap and all his favorite couples making him feel alone. Or something. Spencer doesn't investigate the impulse too closely. Brendon
is supposed to be the masochist. He makes Pete promise it'll be small, and he can have the baby, and there will be really good
beer, and lets Pete handle the rest.
Okay, he also designates Brendon to be the driver, but that's just responsible. Spencer is going to play with Bronx until his bedtime, and then he's going to get shitfaced
, and with luck he'll be a happy drunk today.
Brendon and Shane wake him up with breakfast in bed and a cardboard party hat, and take him surfing. They make him keep the hat on until the first time he wipes out. Two hours later, they spot the gold foil spangles floating in the wave Shane's riding, and Spencer really smiles
They're a pretty good substitute for what he can't have after all.
They crowd him the rest of the day, shoving him along their planned day of fun, keeping him busy and occupied and generally with Brendon in his lap or curled around behind him or something. Brendon is taking his birthday cuddles duty seriously
Once they played a game where Ryan turned himself into Spencer's birthday present and they had to be skin-to-skin for the whole day, with penalties for every time Ryan let them lose contact. Spencer misses Ryan fiercely and leans into Brendon's arms.
There are already five or six cars at the Simpson-Wentz residence when they get there; most of them Spencer recognizes. He relaxes and leaves Shane and Brendon to haul in the presents sent by various friends who couldn't make it tonight.
Bronx is glad to see Spencer, and Spencer puts a party hat on him because sometimes it is the job of the cool uncle to make the child look ridiculous. It doesn't work. The baby is even cute in a party hat.
Ashlee puts a feathery pink tiara on Spencer's head and kisses his cheek, snapping a picture of him with the old-fashioned Polaroid that is apparently tonight's main entertainment. Spencer sticks his tongue out at her and she snaps another one.
People file in and wish Spencer a happy birthday before drifting towards the beer. Slowly the noise level rises, and Bronx gets restless and unhappy as a forest of legs grows up around him. Spencer kind of wants to just take the baby upstairs and play with him all night, but he surrenders with a sigh and lets Bronx be taken up to bed at nine.
The party's been in full swing for an hour and a half, just a few stragglers coming in and identifying Spencer by the tiara, when a tall, angular figure appears in the door to the living room. Spencer's sitting on the sofa with Brendon sitting behind him doing ridiculous things to his hair, both of them considerably full of beer.
Oh, well, the cab ride home was an inevitability.
Spencer's discovering, to his own surprise, that he is a happy birthday drunk after all. His hair is now braided into
the tiara, and people keep hugging him, and so long as he doesn't poke the corner of his brain where Ryan lives, his life is good. This is why when he spots what he thinks might be Ryan's head, he promptly turns to look in the opposite direction. He does not want to become a maudlin drunk, not on his birthday.
The head comes toward him, though, and Spencer realizes that...no, no, it actually is
Ryan. Brendon goes still and tense behind him, and Spencer knows dimly that Brendon will have a belligerent expression on his face, defensive for Spencer. He still doesn't quite get why it's all Spencer's fault, Spencer knows. Ryan stands uncertainly in front of Spencer a moment before he bends down and hugs him, tight, tight, so
"Happy birthday, Spence," he whispers, and disappears in the crowd before Spencer can put his brain together enough to reply. Brendon leans forward and wraps his arms around Spencer from behind, pulling him close and safe.
"You okay?" he asks, and Spencer shrugs. There isn't really any answer to that.
"I'll kill Pete if you want," Brendon offers, and Spencer laughs.
"Nah," he says. "It's good that he's here. I always want
him here, Bden, no matter how mad he is."
Brendon snorts and leans back again. "Cause his
anger is the justified one, here."
"It really kind of is," Spencer says tiredly.
"It really kind of isn't," Brendon retorts. "If you'd been there--" and then he shuts his mouth with a snap.
Spencer turns his head quickly. "Been where?"
Brendon presses his lips together and shakes his head. Spencer turns the rest of the way, gets up on his knees and seizes Brendon's shoulders, looking him straight in the eye. "Brendon — what do you know
Brendon scowls. "I — that night." He stops.
Spencer raises his eyebrows. "The night before Valentine's, that
"What about it
Spencer's pretty sure he didn't want to know this before, but there has been, as aforementioned, a lot of beer.
"I didn't--" Brendon stops uncertainly. "At first I thought it...I was kind of caught up in it being about me
, you know? My problems."
Spencer's pretty sure he can't possibly look as confused as he feels, but Brendon stops and takes a deep breath anyway.
"Ryan was saying a lot of stuff," he says rapidly. "About being ashamed, and not realizing I was in a relationship, and a bunch of other stuff, and I was mad, and I think I knew he was right, that Shane wanted more and that he deserved
more, I knew that deep down, and it made me mad, so I kissed him."
Spencer groans and headbutts Brendon's forehead a little. Brendon's a moron, but he is at least a moron who has figured his shit out, so Spencer doesn't have any room to talk right now.
is," Brendon says, glaring. "The point is that — you know, afterward – I started thinking about what he said, and. I don't think it was about me
. Or Shane, obviously. I think he was just mad about how I was treating you
Spencer blinks. Seriously. What?
Brendon's nodding rapidfire now. "The more I thought about his actual words
the more it seemed like it was about you
, about how I didn't deserve
you, and, like, I think that was why he kissed me back. Because he was mad. And he definitely left marks, I mean — I'm pretty sure he meant to send me home all covered in evidence. I think he wanted
you to know."
Spencer sits back on his heels. This is...this is way too much information to process on so much beer.
It's at this point the music cuts out and Pete gets on the karaoke mike. "Okay, everybody," he says. "Settle down, here. It's time for the birthday boy to open his presents!"
Spencer groans, but the whole crowd is already turning to look, so all he can really do is throw a napkin at Pete when he brings over the first gift from the pile on a table in the corner. Pete ducks and laughs.
It's a big, flat box with striped paper; one of the ones Shane and Brendon brought in from the car, Spencer's pretty sure. The little scrap of paper taped to it reads "Happy B-Day! ♥, Bden and Shane."
"Thanks, guys," Spencer says, and rips into it. Inside the box is a pretty cherry picture frame containing a picture of the three of them sprawled on the beach. Regan took the photo, he thinks he remembers; Brendon's head is on Spencer's stomach and his feet across Shane's knees. They look happy and slightly pink with sunburn, and Spencer smiles.
"Thanks," he says again, and hands the photo to his left to be passed around.
He accepts another gift from Pete, and another. He's in the middle of unwrapping the third when he hears a crashing sound. He looks up to see that Ryan is standing almost directly across from him in the crowd, looking angry and heartbroken in equal measure. The picture has fallen at his feet, and people jumped back when he dropped it to avoid the glass, so he's isolated just now, his hands empty.
He looks up and his eyes meet Spencer. His expression changes to one of horrified dismay. "Oh, god
, Spencer," he says. "I'm sorry. I'm so--" he turns and pushes off through the crowd.
Spencer sets down the gift he was opening and charges after him.
Ryan's on the front porch, trying to wrestle his keys out of his tight pants pocket and run at the same time. Spencer grabs his elbow and swings him around to face him.
"What was that about
Ryan's face is closed down tight and miserable. "I'm sorry," he says. "I shouldn't have come, I — I didn't mean to wreck your party."
"You didn't wreck the party," Spencer says, and takes a step closer. "I just — what made you do that? Why did you drop it?"
"I just--" Ryan stops.
"Why did you look so sad?" Spencer demands, and takes another step.
Ryan shakes his head.
"We're not together, you know," Spencer says, and his whole body starts to float away from reality when Ryan looks up at him incredulously. Ryan really thought
--Ryan was jealous
Of Brendon and Shane
Ryan thought they were--
"We never were," Spencer goes on, and Ryan's expression softens to one that almost seems like hope. "I was helping Shane get the guy, that's all." He stops and watches Ryan watch him for a second. "I knew what it was like, you know? To want somebody that badly, to want — to be the person who makes their life better. And I thought Shane had a shot. I thought if he could get Brendon to stick around a while, Brendon would get that — and he did. So." He shrugs. Ryan is watching him, something complicated happening with his face. God, has it been so long that Spencer can't even read him anymore?
"I knew what it was like," he says again, and stops to breathe a moment, then starts over. "I know
. I have since — since forever. Since I was fifteen years old
, Ryan, I've known what it was like to want that and not to have it, not to be enough
. I though Shane had a shot — even though I never did."
Ryan breathes out an unbelieving little hiccup of a breath.
," he says, and snatches at Spencer's head, pulls him close and kisses him, hard and hungry and happy, really happy at last. Spencer can tell
END PART FOUREpilogue: Brendon