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Back to Part Two (b)



The buzz of his phone across the nightstand jolts Jon awake the night of February fifteenth.

It's only eleven-thirty, but sometime when Jon was off getting high and being a doo-wop girl, Cassie became a grown-up, and she likes to go to the gym before work in the morning. It's hell on Jon's system to change from tour sleeping to home sleeping, but it's worth it every time to slip in beside her for a soft good-night kiss in the lamplight, to have a chance at persuading her to make her morning adrenaline rush a little more primal.

She stirs in her sleep, and he murmurs nonsense absently as he clicks to the new text message from Spencer, stark across the glowing screen.

Jon, u hv to cm tk cr of Ryan.

He frowns, taps out, Wats rong?

Kltie brk up w hm.

"What?" It's loud in the quiet room, and Cassie sits up, glancing wildly as she reaches for him. She stops and rolls her eyes when they land on the phone, and leans to rest her forehead against his shoulder blade, waiting until he can tell her about it.



Ull cum?

Oc if u need me. He rlly needs 2? Hw worrd shd i b?

There's a long wait, and Jon can feel himself tensing up. Ryan's a lot more screwed in the head than most people are aware of, and there are all kinds of worst-case scenarios here.

Finally the phone lights up again. Jst u i cant

Jon's eyes widen so far it hurts his eyelids. Wtf why not????

Another long pause, and Jon gropes behind him for Cassie's hand, grabbing tight enough it has to be hurting her a little. She reaches up to his neck with the other one, rubbing where the muscles are tightening.

Its my fault she did it

Jon drops the phone, and has to scramble to pick it up again. Wtf do u mean by tht? he demands with hasty fingers, nearly sending the text with four extraneous Ls tacked onto the end.

But this time there's no reply.

After about five minutes Cassie hooks her chin over his shoulder. "Bad?"

"Bad enough, fuck."

She presses a kiss to the underside of his jaw. "They need you?" There's no irritation to her voice, no resentment, only curiosity and a little tired resignation.

He turns to rest his forehead against hers, breathing in her night smells of clean sweat and toothpaste going stale. After a few minutes, he kisses her softly, and she kisses back. He mumbles against her mouth, "You're the best, you know that?"

She grins against his lips. "I know."


Jon is a little worried about having to be the grown-up here.

Most of the time, it was Spencer, of the four of them. Zack and Shane were grown-ups sometimes, too, but of the people on stage, it was Spencer who kept the beat, controlled their timing, and gave all that emotion a point to drive at. Metaphors were a beautiful kind of thing. Spencer might be youngest, but he was the drummer, and Jon didn't know whether he became a drummer because he was the grown-up or he was the grown-up because drumming taught him a few things, but it was a sort of chicken-egg, bluegrass-jazz Zen.

It seemed reasonable, however, that if the drummer crashed a few cymbals unexpectedly, it was the bassist's job to step in and keep the song going steady. Jon didn't object to that.

It was the way it was the guitarist/lyricist and the lead vocalist's job to pour out their feelings in an overwhelming wave of sound that had Jon worried.


"I don't get why you won't tell me anything," Jon tells Ryan, reasonably.

"It's stupid that you won't tell me anything," Jon says to Spencer, exasperated.

"It's really stupid that you won't tell me anything," Jon grumps to Shane.

"Tell me something, anything," Jon pleads with Brendon.

"NOBODY WILL TELL ME ANYTHING, THIS IS SO STUPID," he shouts down the line at Eric, who makes sympathetic noises, but doesn't actually know anything to tell him.

The internet knows a little, but all it really knows is that Ryan cheated and a ring was involved. Cassie can't ask because of the complex treaty inherent in the politics of girlpacks, and he only wishes that weren't a direct quote. Pete was apparently cleverly diverted from the topic seventeen times by a well-timed, "Look at Bronx!" and gave up in the face of such wily tactics.

Jon sort of wishes that weren't a direct quote, too.

It's only been a few days, but he is already tired of going from one house to the other, or of meeting in the middle at the same coffee shop which never has amaretto syrup. He is tired of Spencer's insistence on minutely detailed reports of Ryan's well-being, of watching Ryan carefully not ask at all. He has no clue why Brendon is so clearly choosing Spencer's side, or at least so clearly avoiding Ryan.

He is so fucking sick of the bright artificiality of Brendon's smile and the desperate way he clings to Sarah, and what the fuck is going on there, anyway? Shane's prowling and edgy around her in a way Jon has never seen Shane treat another human being.

Ryan seems to be avoiding Shane, but nothing the other way around, so Shane isn't on Brendon's side (although why does Brendon get a side? What does Brendon have to do with anything?) but Ryan is sure Shane doesn't want Ryan on his side…

He gives up on the coffee and goes back, gets Ryan high again instead.

If Spencer had anything else in mind when he asked to Jon to take care of Ryan, maybe he should communicate about it. Jon can't fix a clock if he can't see the springs, and hey, maybe that's a line for a song.

"No," Ryan says, and kicks his heels against the wall.

Jon pouts and steals the bong back.


Secrecy has never been the obstacle before.

Spencer and Ryan never hid the fact that they were fucking each other, even though they never talked about it, either. Jon had been too much on the outside, at first, and too new, later, to actually ask questions about this complicated arrangement that allowed Spencer to discreetly hook up with other people they were touring with — guys or girls from other bands, engineers and techs — and Ryan to do his intense serial monogamist thing, except that clearly it wasn't monogamous because: Spencer. But he wasn't blind and he wasn't deaf and anyway, it was just so, it was just true, part of life like the smell of guitar wires and the rumble of wheels underneath.

It stopped after the VMAs, and Jon didn't know why, was still too new to ask. By the time they'd had the cabin, bonded through the fire (literal) and fire (metaphorical) of writing and trashing the album and building up the joy and nonsense that was Pretty Odd, it was so far in the past that it would have been the most awkward thing in the fucking world to bring up. He had the right to know, by then, but no reason to know it — it didn't seem to mess with the band or with their friendships or anything else, didn't seem to affect the world as it currently was.

Now it's affecting things, clearly, and now Jon has the right to ask, and now everybody's hiding.

Jon can't catch a break, goddammit.


Pete calls and asks them to come out to dinner with him, one of those places he says the name of like Jon's supposed to A) recognize it and B) be impressed. It sounds exhausting, and Jon gets enough exhausting with his own band's diva. He wraps Ryan up in a mildly eccentric suit, sends him off with Pete, and gives himself a night off.

Baseball, pretzels, and beer, baby. Sometimes you just have to take space.

Chicago’s down by two and Jon’s standing up shouting at the right fielder when Ryan comes back in with that look on his face like he’s just been hit with a dead flounder.

(Specific, yes, but there is really nothing Katie Kay can’t get out of catering when she has a prank war to win.)

"How was it?" Jon asks, hitting mute and turning so only one eye’s on the TV.

"Fine," Ryan says, absently, and then, "Pete invited Brendon, too."

Jon swivels abruptly so he's fully facing Ryan. "Brendon was there?" he demands, and then, moderating his tone, "How’d it go? You guys doing any better?"

Ryan tips his head to one side and considers, a sheepish smile growing on his face.

"I…yeah. I think…I think we might be good now."

Jon heaves the world’s most enormous sigh of relief.

"So we can go for breakfast tomorrow like normal people?"

"I…sure. I guess," Ryan says.

Jon hugs him hard, lifting him up off the ground. It was less ridiculous when Ryan was a porcelain doll instead of a stick figure, but whatever. It’s a ritual. If Brendon were here, too, that would be best, Brendon and…Jon’s arms tighten involuntarily.

"Ry?" he says, tentatively, not letting Ryan’s toes brush the floor yet.


"Spencer, too?"

Ryan freezes for a second, then he starts wiggling to get down. "I — Jon, lemme go."

Jon holds him even tighter. "Not Spencer?" he says, a little resigned already, and Ryan’s flailing gets more frantic. Jon lets him down, but doesn't let him go.

Ryan won’t look him in the eye. "Jon, I can’t--" he starts, and then his tone changes. "He won’t. And I — I deserve it. So let it go, okay?" And he wrenches free, takes off bounding up the stairs, before Jon can even start to piece together an answer.


Still, at least Pete has solved a part of the problem, more than Jon's been able to do. It seems unfair that he's better with Jon's band than Jon is. On the other hand, Jon follows Pete's advice and Pete is blissfully hypocritical that way.

"You have to let them sort it out themselves, man," Pete told him once, crackly over a bad connection. Jon was curled up in his bunk, barely a permanent member of the band and frustrated by Ryan and Brendon's bitchfits over nothing in particular. "The more you interfere between two bandmates, the more likely you'll make it worse."

"Spencer does it," Jon said, petulant. It didn't feel like his band, if he couldn't fight with them. But it was his enough that he didn't want it to be broken.

"Spencer has Jedi mind tricks," Pete told him, severe. "I would let Spencer solve problems in my band. The rules for Spencer are not the same as they are for ordinary mortals. Besides, he's known Ross since they were infants, and if he steps on toes it's because they damned well need to be stepped on. He aims for them. It's nothing like his dancing."

Jon cracked up then, even though he knew Pete was trying to make him.

"Seriously, man," Pete went on, grinning through the phone. "I don't mess with Joe and Andy, ever, and they don't poke between me and Patrick. Don't take sides, don't try to make peace, don't force the issue."

Ninety-eight percent of the time, this is excellent advice, Jon has discovered over the years. Ryan and Brendon's fights have their own rhythm, something he hadn't known back then — they have to fight in order to function. Spencer and Ryan are a nest of snakes it's best not to poke. And when Jon and Brendon fight it's true he wouldn't want Ryan sticking his nose into it. (Nobody minds Spencer interfering, when he chooses to, because it's always the right decision. Maybe it is a Jedi mind trick.)

There's a nagging voice at the back of his head that says this is one of the two-percent times, but he's had enough trouble messing with fights he ought to stay out of to be wary about listening to the voices in his head. Not yet, anyway.


Ryan has developed a fascination with fire that's a little worrying. It reminds Jon of the days in the cabin. Leaving aside what that says about Ryan's current state of mind, Jon's started to hide the expensive equipment when twilight falls. The enamel on that guitar popped in some unexpected and scarring ways, and setting the woods on fire cannot be an option.

Currently, Ryan seems satisfied to burn the scraps of wood he can pick up while ambling through the woods, which Jon is grateful for until he almost falls off a cliff. Getting firewood in the dark, as one does. Jon cusses him out, nervous breakdown or no nervous breakdown. The resultant fight, in which Ryan accuses Jon of coddling him and Jon threatens to handcuff him to the kitchen sink, takes two hours to have and another three of sulking on both sides to resolve, and Jon doesn't get to sleep until way later than even their rock star lifestyle usually allows for.

He meets Spencer for breakfast at ten, half-awake and cranky.

"I don't understand why it's coddling from me and he just takes it from you," Jon grumbles, rubbing at his sticky eyes irritably while they wait for a table. He was careful not to mention Spencer's name all through the fight last night, which is perhaps why A) it took so long and B) he's breaking unspoken codes now. Mostly Jon's just fed up, though. Screw psychoanalysis. This is Spencer's job, goddammit — he knows how to do it and Ryan lets him do it. Jon is doing it wrong, he's pretty sure, or it wouldn't be affecting his sleep patterns.

Spencer stills, and Jon's sorry he said anything after all. "What happened?" Spencer asks quietly, tension thrumming under the question like a single bass note.

"Aw, you know Ryan," Jon says, trying to cover the slip with caustic good humor. "He went looking for wood in the dark and nearly fell off the cliff, the idiot."

Spencer lets out an unconvincing chuckle. "He should be kept in a cage."

"Yeah, well, if you can find one big enough for his precious woodland, let me know," Jon says, and changes the subject. He knows better than blame Spencer for Ryan. Spencer blames himself plenty already.

He tells Spencer about the hiking trip they've planned instead, telling him about scouting routes and his and Ryan's adventures in Walmart's sporting goods section. Spencer's quiet, quieter than usual, neglecting to drop pretend-casual questions about what Ryan's eating and how often he's attached to a notebook, and he doesn't stick around once he's picked up the check.

"I'll talk to you later?" he says, sliding out of the booth, and Jon says, "Not for a few days — the hike, you know. We'll be back in a few days."

"Right," Spencer says, and claps Jon on the shoulder before he goes out to his car, looking preoccupied.

Jon and Ryan spend a few dusty days off-road in Ryan's new home canyon. Ryan falls down a lot and Jon laughs at him and Ryan communes with the parts of nature he doesn't trip over. They come home sunburnt and good friends again, Ryan calmer and happier than he's been since Jon came to California.

They take long, hot showers and toss a frozen pizza in the oven, worn out and pleased with themselves. Ryan takes off for a walk in the half-light, promising not to walk over the cliff edge with a light tone in his voice instead of an ugly one. Jon laughs and pitches a pine cone after him, tossing newspaper and kindling into the bonfire pit just in case Ryan wants to build one when he gets back. It's almost full dark before Jon starts to worry.

He finds Ryan at the cliff edge, staring. Across the twenty yards or so between the chain link fences that mark where Ryan's property ends and his neighbors' begin, there is now a short, solid wall of hollow garden bricks. Jon stops abruptly, and Ryan swings around to face him.

"Where did this come from?" he demands. "I didn't tell anybody about falling off, did you?"

"Just Spence," Jon says, startled into truth, and wishes with all his heart he hadn't when three days of peace and sun crumple off Ryan's face, leaving naked hurt and wretched guilt behind.


Jon can't believe he wasn't expecting this, just because they're not speaking at the moment. Spencer always protects Ryan from himself.

Once, they'd been fighting for three days over Jon-had-no-idea-what — sniping, backbiting, and ignoring in approximately equal measures. The bus had felt tiny and overfull, with Jon and Brendon dodging from the front lounge to the back in an effort to avoid being trapped in a room with them. The stupid thing was the way they never actually avoided each other; if either of them wandered off the other would wander that direction, too, in short order. Nobody who didn't have to sleep there was on their bus at all, and half the crew were bunking out on the other buses or even in the Cab's van, if they could scrape together the Mountain Dew.

They had an interview in the morning with some local paper, promotion for the tour and the album, and Ryan and Brendon were appropriately moaning because it was their turn to get up early and put up with some idiot who would inevitably ask inappropriate questions and get everything wrong anyway.

Spencer was at the coffee machine, ostentatiously ignoring the conversation and tapping the side of the machine like that would make it brew faster.

"Nine o'clock," Zack said, firmly, and Brendon and Ryan moaned. Zack peered at his phone, frowning a little. "I think we've met her before..."

Brendon cocked his head. "Really? What's her name?"

"Harriet Hayes," Zack said, still frowning. "I'm not quite sure--"

"I'll do it with you, Brendon," Spencer interrupted him. "Wake me up for the interview, Zack." And he poured out half a mug of coffee and disappeared down the hall to the back lounge without waiting for a response. Jon raised his eyebrows at Ryan, who shrugged back, and waited a whole six minutes before following Spencer to the back of the bus and getting the raised voices going again.

Two days later, still curious, and bored because Spencer and Ryan were fighting in the front lounge again, Jon tried searching for "Harriet Hayes" and "Panic! at the Disco," turning up an article from an early tour, in which the woman had asked about Ryan's dad. Jon made a face at the article and clicked away from it, wishing stupid reporters had a little more tact, and glad that Spencer carried a list of the really idiotic ones around in his head.


Jon doesn't know who sent the pictures to Ryan.

Zack came by the day after Disneyland to see them, but he was briefed by Shane (Jon loves Shane) and didn't mention the other household at all. Jon thought that between himself, Zack, Pete, and Shane that everybody they know must be aware of the extreme sensitivity of the topic, but apparently somebody forgot to take Ryan's name off a mailing list or something. The first Jon hears of it is when Ryan's phone crashes into the other side of the kitchen wall, and their eggs burn while he wraps his arms around Ryan and lets him cry and cry.

Ryan still won't tell him what's wrong.

Jon hates to leave him--hates it--but it's his nephew's birthday, and he can't miss it. He arranges to stay a week, take care of everything he might need to do so he can stay a good long while when he gets back, and rides to the airport shotgun in Shane's car. He's arranged with Pete and Greenwald and a couple of others to look in on Ryan and haul him out every once in a while, but he's still uneasy. Ryan needs family right now, he's pretty damn sure, and there's just nobody Jon can ask to move in with him, not if the whole Urie-Valdes-Smith household is on probation. Eric's on tour and Pete's a married man with a baby now and there's just nothing Jon can do but get back as fast as he can.

He thinks, once or twice, as they negotiate the traffic, of asking Shane to look in on Ryan anyway, but Shane's shoulders are set on edge and Jon's pretty sure the Sarah thing is giving Shane some totally unnecessary excess stress, and he's a little afraid Shane is going to snap without putting Ryan on his shoulders as well. He sighs, thumps Shane on the back, and gets on the plane.

Seeing Cassie is like a drink of water after three days of not drinking at all. He pulls her close, right there at baggage claim, and breathes in her clean rosemary smell and the heat of her. She makes soft sounds and holds on for a long time. When he finally pulls away, she smiles at him gently. "Not going so well out there, is it?"

He smiles crookedly. "Not so much, no."

Jon eats his mom's cookies and watches Wheel of Fortune with Cassie for a week, almost obsessively texting Ryan whenever he can get a reply. His phone gets more and more despondent as the week goes on; Ryan feels alone and abandoned and all kinds of other unpleasant things, despite Greenwald's reassurances he's been getting Ryan out into L.A. nightlife. Jon breathes a sigh of relief when he's finally on California soil again, and Ryan's so happy to see him that he agrees to build a bonfire and have a drunken revelry. It's still all he can do, sad as that is.

Ryan's started writing again, erratically and in a tone Jon doesn't like to read at all, but at least it's something. They spend a couple of days setting up the recording equipment in an extra room on the first floor--not soundproofed, but at least nobody else is living in the house and there's enough space that the neighbors won't complain. Ryan sets to feverishly, guitar twanging at four in the morning, and Jon doesn't even mind much, because it means Ryan's working at least a few things out.

They're making sandwiches in the kitchen, a week after Jon gets back, when the doorbell rings forcefully. Jon raises an eyebrow at Ryan, who shrugs that he wasn't expecting anybody. Both of them go to the door; Ryan swings it wide and then stops abruptly when he sees that it's Shane on his doorstep.

Shane smiles. It isn't at all a happy smile. "You slept with my boyfriend," he says, and Jon does a mental doubletake. Ryan nods, small and unhappy.

"I'm pretty sure you owe me sanctuary, then," Shane says, and shoves past Ryan into the house.

Jon looks at Ryan, his jaw hanging open.

Ryan shrugs. "He's got me there," he says, and shuts the door again. "I'll go finish the sandwiches."


Jon has never before been this confused by the crazyass things his bandmates do. Even after the VMAs wasn't this crazy, if only because it involved merely two of his bandmates and not all three plus Shane. They hadn't even known Shane all that well then.

They were going back on the road almost immediately, so Jon stayed in Vegas to rehearse. It gave him the opportunity to observe the insanity firsthand. Ryan was in his firsthand stages of puppy love with Keltie, talking to her on the phone almost nonstop and attached at the thumb to his Sidekick. Spencer watched Ryan all the fucking time, but he only smiled when Ryan caught him. The rest of the time he watched him like a parent watching his child learn to walk, anxious and uncertain but determined not to reach out at all.

When Spencer left rooms, Ryan followed him with his eyes, something desperate and trapped in them. When he came back in, Ryan scrabbled for his phone and started texting again like a madman. Spencer smiled small, unhappy smiles at Ryan's phone, which he made bigger and more genuine whenever Ryan looked up at him.

Jon remembers thinking they were all fucking nuts and totally inexplicable, for all they were nice guys and his bandmates and everything. Looking around right now, nothing much has changed at all.


Shane is, for the moment at least, willing to actually talk about his problems like a fucking grown-up, and Shane's problems apparently don't actually have anything to do with Ryan sleeping with Brendon. Ryan, on the other hand, is still looking stubbornly inclined to silence, so Jon shoves a bigass yellow-starred pin in that whole issue and sticks with the guy who is willing to talk.

He leaves Ryan to sulk in the kitchen and pulls Shane down the hall to Ryan's weird little study. He shoves Shane into the narrow leather office chair, the only actual seat in the place, and perches on the cluttered little caticorner desk himself.

For just a moment, he lets himself look Shane over, note the circles under his eyes and the way his hands are pulling and twisting at his cuffs. Then he looks Shane straight in the eye, and commands, "Tell me."

"He was going to take Sarah to meet his family," Shane blurts, and Jon winces. The inevitable bite in the ass has arrived.

Shane laughs, wry and twisted. "Yeah." He sits and contemplates his fingers, tugging on the wrist of his sleeve for a moment. "I lost it," he admits at last, hardly audible, and the whole story comes spilling out.

Somehow, Jon thinks, it's even worse that anybody with half a brain would have predicted it. It isn't something he can really say to Shane, though, and for a little while after Shane's talked himself raw they just sit in silence.

Finally, Jon sits up. "You know what you need?"

Shane gives his little chuckle of pain again. "A shrink?"

"No." Jon climbs down off the desk and heads for the wall of cabinets. "Booze."

He opens the first cupboard to discover two hats, an actual inkwell with quill, a bottle of Windex, four oranges, six journals, and a flower barrette he can only be eighty percent sure is Keltie's.

He sighs. "This may take a while."

Shane laughs, the raw sound of it actually touched with real amusement. "Sure it's in here somewhere?"

"I stocked it myself," Jon says, aware that this isn't actually any guarantee. Ryan tends to pick things up when he's writing. He'll wander around with them, pondering the mysteries of life--also of alliteration and why nothing rhymes with elephant--and then when he's found the answer (or more likely remembered the things that came to him in the night after eating too much curry at two a.m.), he'll set them down wherever he happens to be and start feverishly scribbling things on whatever writing surface happens to be handy. The problem is exacerbated by his cleaning service's fervent devotion to the idea that anything that is not already in a cupboard belongs in a cupboard.

Jon's stopped letting Ryan use bongs when he's writing--it's joints or he can damn well scribble sober. Jon is still bitter about the blue glass one which may or may not have disappeared into the black hole behind the linen closet.

It takes three more cupboards--the contents of which include paisley boxers, a cheese grater, a broken Bedazzler, and six tubes of toothpaste--before Jon can utter his victory cry.

"Glasses, even!" he announces happily, splashing whiskey into the plastic sippy cups, no lids. He offers one to Shane and taps the rims together with a dull plastic click. Shane laughs again and knocks back the whole six ounces in one go.

Jon makes him slow down after that, but they still arrive at "sloshed" pretty quickly. Jon gives up trying to balance between Ryan's stacks of papers and folds himself onto the rug at Shane's feet instead. Shane pets him clumsily on the head, and Jon rubs his ear against Shane's knee.

Jon misses his cats.

But he can't go see them, no. He had to leave. Had to leave his cats and his Cass, because Ryan needed him. Because Ryan--

"Ryan slept with Brendon?" he hears himself ask aloud, kind of pathetically. Now that he knows, he kind of wishes he were still out of the loop. This is the kind of Panic at the Disco specialty knot that is going to take, like, forks and crochet hooks and possibly blowtorches to unravel.

Shane groans. "Dude, I don't even know. Spencer said so. And then Brendon--I don't know. He didn't say they didn't."

"How did Spencer know?" Jon demands.

"Something about Ryan's teeth," Shane says gloomily.

Jon moans softly and thuds his forehead against Shane's thigh.

"I know," Shane says, and pets Jon's head again.

Jon shakes him off. "This needs more booze before I can think about it," he says decisively, getting up and going to the desk. But the bottle there is all, all gone. He sighs sadly. "I have to go back to the cupboards," he explains to Shane. "They have a black hole behind them."

"It's Ross's house," Shane says wearily. "Nothing would surprise me."

With a laugh, Jon goes back to the wall of cupboards and starts opening them and poking his head in.

The door from the hallways bangs open and misses his head by about six inches. Brendon is standing in the doorway, looking almost as pissed as he does bewildered.

Brendon doesn't even see Jon; he just zooms in on Shane. "What the fuck, Valdes?"

Shane looks up, and then his head drops down again, helpless. "What, Brendon?"

"What the fuck?" Brendon doesn't look any more pleased for having to repeat himself.

Shane gestures futilely with his sippy cup. "Sorry."

Brendon sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "I don't want you to be sorry. I want you to tell me what the fuck that was."

Jon is seriously wishing there was some way out of here that wasn't through Brendon. He shouldn't be here for this.

"I'm sorry, B." Shane is looking at his hands, his knees. Not at Brendon. "I — you have the right to choose your own life. Of course you do. I have no rights with you. I don't — I'm nobody, really. Don't listen to me."

Brendon makes a tiny, hurt sound in the back of his throat. "I just--I don't get it. I thought you liked Sarah. I thought--I thought we were just--"

Shane looks up, pinning Brendon with his gaze like an old-fashioned naturalist preserving a butterfly. "Thought we were just what, B? Fuckbuddies? Roommates?"

"Well...yeah." Brendon's voice is small.

Shane shoves himself out of the narrow office chair and turns on his heel so he's looking at the bookcases, not at Brendon. His voice, when it comes, is choked. "That's what I was to you, Brendon. I know. But--it's not all you were to me. All right? I wanted--I am so fucking in love with you, Brendon, so--I want you. All of you. For real. I know, I know you don't want to be that for me, I know you can't, but it's what I want and you're incapable of--"

Brendon breaks in, indignant, defensive. "You didn't say anything, you never asked me--"

Shane flinches as though the words have struck him, then turns around, eyes narrow, voice just a little hysterical. "Don't you dare, Brendon, don't you dare pretend you wouldn't have run a mile. I know you, I've watched you--I've watched over you and filmed you and seen you, the real you, the you you more than anybody you've met, ever, and I know you better than anybody and you would have run." Shane stops to breathe, great heaving gasps that Jon is a little worried will stop his heart. "You never do anything but play. You never even think of people as anything but fun. Or you didn't, anyway, before her, you never dreamed of it. You would have left me and I would have been left without even the little parts of you, just as much without all of you and worse, without even what I could get. Don't you dare deny it--you would have been gone."

"All right," Brendon says, after a second's endless silence. "All right." His voice has gone hoarse and dark. "I would have. I would have run, I nearly ran anyway, though god knows where I would have gone--"

Shane's little laugh leaves even Jon's soul bleeding.

"But," Brendon says, rising above the bitter smear of sound, "I would have come back. I did come back. I'm here."

The whole world freezes solid for a moment, Shane's eyes wide, like a deer just after a gunshot.

Brendon takes a hesitant step forward, and halts. "You left me," he says softly. "You left me, and I chased you. You gave me the perfect, the golden opportunity to never see you or your stupid relationshippy face ever again, and I followed you. I won't--I can't deny that I'm scared, Shane. I've never done this before. I have never wanted anything as much as I want this and it's big and scary and new, and I have no idea how Sarah fits into any of it, but I followed you, and I'm going to follow you the rest of the way."

Shane reaches out to him, then stops and draws back. His hand is shaking. Brendon steps closer again, close enough to reach out and brush his fingers over Shane's hair. "I mean it," he says, low, into Shane's ear. "Show me where to go. Show me how to step. I'll follow you."

Shane lets out just one sound--one soft, breathy noise--before he seizes Brendon close, burying his face in Brendon's neck, collapsing against Brendon's body.

Brendon takes his weight, supports the boneless body. He reaches up to tangle one hand in Shane's hair, smooths long stripes down his back with the other. "I'm here," he says. "I'm here."

Shane turns his head blindly, pressing his mouth to Brendon's. Brendon kisses back, soft, chaste, reassuring, and leans their foreheads together. "I'm here," he says again, looking straight into Shane's eyes.

Brendon, Jon realizes, looks like a real adult; possibly for the first time in his life.

Shane takes Brendon's mouth again, and Brendon gives it gladly, melting into the fierce claiming of the kiss. They are wholly lost in each other, and Jon takes the opportunity to slip out and close the door softly behind him.

They'll have to have sex on Ryan's floor, but he's almost positive they won't mind.


So in the end, that's simple. Shane and Brendon, for all they're fucked up, are also pretty simple people with simple problems. Fear of losing somebody? Sure. Commitment issues? If you watch sitcoms, all guys have commitment issues. Jon's never really had commitment issues, but then...he has Cass, so. Get a little communication flowing, talk to the girls, hey presto — four-way relationship (seven-way? Jon can't keep track of Regan's other boyfriends, but whatever), locked and loaded for happy-ever-after. Jon's willing to bet on it.

He always was. Bar Brendon, it was Jon Shane first bonded with. Only natural, maybe — both of them were new, adjusting to being part of Panic's inner circle. Both of them were a few crucial years older. Both of them loved cameras and light and telling the truth through pictures. Jon had been following his bandmates to Vegas in between tours because they needed to rehearse like crazy, but Ryan and Spencer went home (the Smith home) after rehearsal. Jon stuck with Brendon because that was less awkward, and Brendon latched onto Shane because he was scared to death to walk into his parents' house and accidentally smash the fragile peace. Voila, a lot of time at Shane's place, and Jon had a friend.

It was Jon who Shane first asked whether Brendon did guys, at all, and Jon who told Shane he should finally go for it, months later. He's always thought they can be trusted with each other. He is so getting named godfather if the government ever lets them adopt.

They weren't tricky at all. It's Spencer and Ryan who are going to be the humdingers.


Jon heads for the kitchen, and a low moan echoes after him. That's Shane sorted, then, assuming there's lube somewhere in the office cupboards — there probably is, black holes have their uses — and that leaves Ryan for Jon to deal with.

The sandwich fixings are still all over the counter, but the ham on rye Jon was making earlier has been finished and assembled, and there's a peanut butter and jelly waiting for Shane, too. Jon smiles a little and grabs his own sandwich on the way out to the porch, where Ryan is perched on the edge of a patio chair and absently watching a black bird poke at his little bit of lawn.

Jon drops into the chair next to him and takes a bite of his sandwich, which is just right except for a little too much mustard. “Thangs,” he says thickly, mouth full, and Ryan nods but doesn't look at him. Jon swallows.

“You let Bden in?” he asks, and takes another bite.

Ryan sighs softly. “Yeah.” He sounds resigned.

“And you slept with him a couple months ago?”

Ryan flinches. “Yeah.”

Jon nods slowly, chewing. It's kind of a lot to process, but some things are falling into place, at least — Ryan's avoidance of Shane, the Keltie thing, the way Ryan made up with Brendon pretty easily, all things considered. Jon cocks his head, thinking everything through, and swallows to ask the only question he has left.

“So what the fuck has any of it got to do with Spencer?”

Ryan's face goes tight and miserable, not hiding anything anymore.

Jon hates to do it, but he prods anyway. “Ry?”

“Don't ask, Jon,” Ryan says, wretched, and he abruptly stands up and heads for the house, tossing the last bit of his sandwich across the lawn for the bird.

The bird startles back for a second, and then approaches the sandwich cautiously, like it might be a bomb about to go off. Jon knows exactly how it feels.


Jon knows he'll have to interfere after all, now, and he's nervous as hell. In his years as a member of Panic at the Disco, he's only interfered successfully once before, and that was so much simpler than this. That was a fight over which songs to record for Pretty, which had come down to a never-ending argument over whether it would be the summer song or the one about rivers. Spencer wanted the rivers. He didn't want another pretty ballad that hardly needed the drums, he said, there were plenty; Ryan wanted the summer song and he was digging his heels in.

There was something about the way Spencer gritted his teeth when they played the summer song that made Jon think it wasn't entirely about the balance of music on the album. Something confirmed in the way the argument eventually devolved into a shouting match, with Ryan and Spencer standing toe to toe, nose to nose, and at the very top of their voices.

Jon was starting to be worried they would be kicked out of the hotel, soundproofed rooms or no soundproofed rooms.

“How about,” he broke in, when they'd stopped for a breather, “kicking up the tempo, instead?”

Both of them stopped to look at him as though they'd forgotten he was there. They probably had.

“What do you mean?” Ryan said warily.

“Keep the lyrics,” Jon said, ignoring the way Spencer's face went stony and unhappy at that, “but make it something Spencer can bang the shit out of his drums during.”

There was a long silence. Ryan frowned, considering. Spencer bit his lip for a second, then shook himself. “It's the only way it's going on the album, Ryan,” he said, dark promise in his voice. “I'm not putting it where I might have to play it on tour unless I really get to hit things.”

Ryan nodded. “Okay, then,” he said, and it was settled.

It hadn't occurred to Jon at the time that he might be merely wallpapering over the real problem. Recollecting it now makes him very uneasy.


Nonetheless, Jon has to do something. They're booked to go to South Africa in a few weeks, and they're going to have to rehearse. Nobody is solving this thing, and somebody's got to — they have legal obligations, here. Leaving aside individual miseries, they're a band and they have to talk to each other. Jon gives it deep thought for two days and then suggests to both Ryan and Spencer that they should go catch Eric's show in Vegas.

He calls Ginger first. She's just as worried, and immediately agrees to ask Spencer to come a few days early so that he won't expect Jon to fly with him. It's child's play to get Ryan to Vegas once he promises that Ryan won't have to see Keltie if he doesn't want to. (He probably should. He was an asshole. But Jon's priority is his band. Ryan's growth into a mature adult will have to wait until the band is functioning again.)

He calls Spencer while Ryan's showering on the day of the concert and suggests dinner before the show; takes Ryan early and gets him seated while Jon pretends to get a call and go outside to answer it.

“Hey, man,” Spencer says, coming up to him and offering a manly, back-clapping hug that Jon maybe returns with a little more enthusiasm than normal. He's nervous.

He walks Spencer back to the table, where Ryan is poking his swizzle stick at something ridiculous in a tall glass. Spencer stops dead. Jon shoves him onward. Ryan doesn't look up until he realizes Jon isn't sitting down. When he does, he turns white.

“Here's the thing,” Jon says pleasantly, not letting his voice waver at all, “I still don't know what the hell happened with the two of you, but neither of you hates the other and we have to perform in two weeks. So make your peace or figure out how to fake it. I'm getting pizza with Eric and Than.”

He waits until Spencer takes an uncertain seat and Ryan give him a cautious smile.

“Okay, then,” Jon says, and goes.

When he gets to the venue, they're waiting beside the back door, and if they're not smiling, at least they're talking. Jon doesn't want to push his luck, so he doesn't ask.

It really does seem better as they get ready to go. They schedule rehearsals at Shane and Brendon's, where the big sunny studio feels like a sparkling new start. Casual conversations are awkward, but they happen, and little running jokes start to sneak in like mice in a city apartment, inconspicuous but leaving signs behind. The day Spencer twitters Ryan about picking him up some Dickies shorts, Jon feels a surge of triumph that lasts him all the way onto the plane to South Africa and through the concert there.

They're going on safari next, and they can bond, and soon, Jon's sure, soon everything will be back to some version of normal, some version where Ryan and Spencer are the bedrock of each other's lives, no matter who they're sleeping with.


That was the first thing he learned about them. Before they'd spoken a word to Jon, before he'd even seen them play, he caught a glimpse of them arriving at the parking lot where the tour convoy was being pulled together.

Pete had been hanging around getting in the way because he was “entrusting my babies to you, William,” and Jon had been manhandling him all over the parking lot to keep him out of the way of people who were doing real work. An ancient cab pulled in filled with skinny teenagers, and Jon watched them because there was no way they weren't Pete's new project. He'd heard the album Pete had sent William, and he had to admit he was interested in what they would do, musically, even though the Academy boys were wary of these guys who had come out of nowhere.

The doors of the cab opened and Wilson got out of the front, while Brendon sort of exploded out of the backseat, springing for Pete. Jon was glad somebody else would be there to distract Pete while they finished packing up. Spencer and Ryan climbed out last, Spencer offering a steadying hand to Ryan's elbow when his foot got caught in the cab. Spencer paid the driver and stood waiting for a receipt while Ryan followed Brendon with shy, small footsteps, as though he was still unsure of Pete's welcome.

“Spencer's getting the paperwork done, huh?” Pete greeted him, draped over Brendon's back.

“Nobody else does,” Ryan said defensively, and Jon blinked at him. He was awfully quick to take offense; it didn't bode well for the tour.

“True, true,” Pete said, ignoring Ryan's tone. “There's a man you need on your side.”

Ryan's whole face lit up, and Jon realized that it had been the insult to Spencer that had got his back up. “He is,” he agreed softly, smiling that brilliant smile.

“Ryan, get your ass over here!” Spencer commanded, as the cab drove away. “If we get there without your guitar, we'll know who to blame.”

“You would never let that happen, Smith,” Ryan yelled back, but he went.

Pete shook his head, and Brendon raised an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“I'm not sure they can breathe without each other, some days,” Pete told him.

“Of course not,” Brendon said, like Pete had suggested the sky was yellow.

Jon watched them walk toward the trailer with their equipment in it, Ryan in Spencer's casual headlock, and was inclined to believe it.


The safari is glorious. It's all clean, real air and fascinating animals and good friends goofing off. Jon gets to play with his camera an insane amount, and they see elephants.

Better than any of that, though, Spencer and Ryan are talking again. Spencer teases Ryan about the hotel they're staying at, and Ryan starts serious conversations about language and life. Jon even catches them cuddling for warmth at night, which is just about the most adorable thing ever. He asks the photographer they're hauling along to snap a shot, just as a record of his personal triumph. Jon fixed them. Jon rules.

They get back to town with a day of touristing still to do before their flight. Most of them scatter to explore the town, but Spencer and Ryan are going to stick together, apparently. Jon and Brendon grin at each other and don't even try to follow. They arrange to meet up for packing and an evening show after lunch, and Jon and Brendon head for the market.

They get back early and settle into Jon's room, flipping the TV on in the background and exchanging "your mom" jokes at high speed. Brendon's rolling around on the bed, laughing, and Jon is poking him and laughing too, when there's a knock at the door.

"Come in!" Jon yells, trying to trap Brendon's squirming legs between his hands so he can tickle him properly. Ryan opens the door and stands there looking at them for a second. The look on his face is so strange that it only takes a few seconds for both Brendon and Jon to be looking up at him expectantly.

Ryan bites his lip for a second. "I'm not in the band anymore," he says, soft and serious, and Jon has no idea what to say.



Part Four: Spencer


Fanfiction by Elucreh

April 2017


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