laughingtale: (bandslash)
[personal profile] laughingtale
Title: The Real Estate AU
Author: [livejournal.com profile] wordsaremyfaith
Fandom: Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, The Hush Sound
Pairings: Pete/Ryan, Patrick/Brendon, Jon/Spencer, Joe/Greta
Rating: PG-13 for language.
Warnings: None.
Word Count: 10,917
Disclaimer: I do not know these people, this never happened, I am making no money off of anything.
A/N: So I'm just going to say right now, this fic is kind of a big deal for me. It took two months to write and one month to sit on and wait for a title to come (obviously, one never did), and it's by far the longest thing I've ever written, fanfic or original. This is something I wrote just for me, for fun. I'm sharing it because people have expressed interest, but please bear in mind that there are still parts I'd work on if I cared to work on it anymore.

So! This is, in fact, an AU in which one or more characters work(s) in real estate. Though I attempted to do research on real estate, all I could find were people trying to sell me houses. I've never bought a house myself, so I hope this sounds right. If not, apologies. I did my best. The real estate part is really, really not the point of the story, anyway.

There are lots of people who need to be thanked for this! I shall put them behind a cut for your reading convenience.

This fic could not remotely have been written without so many people. They are: [livejournal.com profile] fickleflower, who plotted the whole thing out with me and got my brain working on this again,
[livejournal.com profile] shanalle, [livejournal.com profile] kueble, [livejournal.com profile] sayingwhatiam, [livejournal.com profile] forcedmovement and [livejournal.com profile] fizzyblogic, whose enthusiasm encouraged me to write more, faster, finish it!,
[livejournal.com profile] chopsticknoodle, who was a quick and wonderful beta,
and [livejournal.com profile] bluestargirl6, who is the best beta I could possibly ask for and who goes above and beyond the call of duty every time.
My undying gratitude and ♥ to you all.

Without further ado,

It's a quiet Tuesday morning when Pete Wentz walks into Spencer Homes Realty.

Spencer looks up. "Yes?" he says. "How can I help you?"

"Well, I'm looking for a house," Pete says. Then he just stands there expectantly as Spencer waits for more information.

"…What kind of house?" He can't keep the frustration out of his voice. Some people need to be talked through everything.

"Oh! Um. I hadn't really figured that part out yet." Pete laughs. His laugh is genuine, which can tell you a lot about a person, and Spencer softens a little. "Something kind of big, I guess. Lots of space for parties and stuff. Uh, a few bedrooms. A yard that's good for a puppy."

"All right," Spencer says. "My assistant will be right with you." He shouts "Ryan!" into the next room, and a minute later, Ryan wanders in.

"Yeah, what?"

"He needs a house, large, big yard, several rooms," Spencer says, nodding towards Pete a little. "You want to take care of it?"

Ryan glances at Pete curiously, definitely intrigued. "Sure, no problem."

"Great." Spencer turns back to his computer as Ryan leads Pete into his office.

Ryan's not really his assistant. Well, he is, but only in the technical sense. They're more like business partners – it's just that Spencer's name is on everything and Spencer handles the people who walk in. They've been best friends since before either of them can remember, and going into business together was kind of a dream come true. They'd set up Spencer Homes right out of college. It's not a big company, just Ryan and Spencer, and they don't really do open houses or anything. They bill themselves as being young and hip and knowing what younger people want, and that's been working for them so far. They're not out of business yet, at least.

Other than Pete, it's a slow day. Spencer goes back to filing the papers on his desk.

***

A few days later, Ryan calls Pete. There's a big, old house for sale that he thinks maybe Pete will like. He's so excited to see Pete again, though he's also a little embarrassed at himself. He hasn't had a crush this intense in a long time.

When he gets there, though, Pete's brought someone with him. "Hey, Ryan," he says. "This is Patrick. He's gotta like the house, too."

"Hi," Ryan says, his heart sinking. "Hi, Patrick."

"Oh, I hope you don't mind," Pete adds, "but I brought my dog. I want to see how he likes the yard."

"You know you can't bring him in, right?" Ryan says.

Pete nods. "He's in the car."

"Okay." Ryan opens the house half-heartedly. "So here's the foyer. This is a Colonial, five bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths…"

After they've gone through the whole house and moved back outside, Ryan asks, "So what do you think?"

Pete frowns, turning to Patrick. "I don't know, what do you think?"

"It's nice," Patrick says, "but I think we can do better."

When he says 'we,' Ryan feels like someone's ripping his heart out of his chest. He cringes and turns away before anyone has a chance to notice.

"Let's see what Hemingway thinks," Pete says, dashing out to the car.

This leaves Ryan alone with Patrick. "He named his dog Hemingway?" he asks. Patrick nods.

"Yeah, he's a really big literary geek. We mostly call him Hemmy, though."

"Oh." Ryan stares at his feet. He does not need more reasons to fall for Pete. Fuck. Then something occurs to him. "Can Pete even afford a house this big?"

"Yeah," Patrick says, "he has a trust fund the size of New Jersey."

"Oh." Ryan falls silent again, fiddling with his hands.

"So..." Patrick clears his throat. "Are you even old enough to be a realtor? You look about nineteen."

"I'm twenty-four," Ryan snaps.

"Touchy, touchy," Patrick mumbles.

"It's just… I get that a lot. So does Spencer."

"Spencer owns the business, I assume."

"Kind of. Well, we both do, but he's the boss. He's better with numbers than I am. Better with people, too."

Patrick laughs. Ryan looks at him, surprised. He holds his hands up in front of himself in defense. "Sorry, dude, it's just… that doesn't seem like it'd be difficult."

Ryan smiles a little in spite of himself. Then he decides he's nothing if not an emotional masochist, and honestly, he's curious. "So how long have you two been together?"

"What? Oh, no, we're –"

"He peed on the lawn," Pete announces, coming back over to them with a bulldog puppy in tow. "Sorry, dude, I tried to stop him, but you know how dogs are."

"It's fine," Ryan assures him. "Really, it's fine. You can stop looking chagrined now."

Patrick laughs. "Chagrined is the perfect word for you," he tells Pete.

Ryan's heart continues its slow path to breaking. He looks unhappily at Patrick, then at Pete, and says brusquely, "So let me know. You have my card." Then he gets in his car and drives off, not bothering look back at them.

Pete and Patrick are left standing in the house's big-ass driveway, confused. "Dude," Patrick says, "What was that about?" But Pete's looking forlornly after Ryan. "All right, let's go," Patrick says, walking out to the car without checking that Pete's behind him. Pete is, though, Hemingway in tow, and they strap themselves into the car and drive off without a word.

A minute later, Patrick says, "You have a crush on him."

"No, I don't," Pete says. "Fuck off."

He's obviously lying, but Patrick knows when not to push and just lets Pete sulk the rest of the way home.

***

The next day is Saturday, and Pete is jumpy and distracted all day. On Sunday, he tries to hole up in his room and concentrate on studying. Grad school is serious business, after all. But the words in the articles he's reading just swim together in front of his eyes, and finally he gives up and calls Ryan.

It rings five times before the machine picks up. Spencer's voice says, "You've reached Spencer Homes Realty. Our hours are Monday through Friday, eight am to five pm. Please leave your message at the tone."

Pete almost hangs up, then, because he hasn't planned this part out and he has no idea what to say. But he wings it, saying, "Hey, Ryan, this is Pete Wentz. You showed me a house on Friday that I wasn't really that into, and I thought I should let you know that. I left you my number, in case you, um, forgot or something. Call me back."

After he hangs up, he hits himself on the head with a book a few times for good measure. I left you my number, in case you, um, forgot or something? Who says things like that? Only complete imbeciles, clearly. Actually, complete imbeciles would probably be embarrassed to associate with him.

Patrick calls up, "Everything okay in there?"

"Fine," Pete snaps. Then he feels bad. "Sorry," he calls down. "Everything's cool, I just can't get through this fucking mountain of work."

He can hear Patrick walking upstairs. "Need some motivation?" Pete looks up and Patrick's in his doorway, holding a movie. "Because I rented The Lost Boys, but we're not watching it until you're done."

Patrick leaves the room and Pete scrambles to finish. It takes him the better part of the next ten hours, with no break for dinner. Around midnight, he knocks on Patrick's door. "Hey, you want to get pizza?"

Patrick stumbles out of his room groggily. "Some of us have work tomorrow, you know."

"Shut up, dude, you could do your job in your sleep."

"If we get pizza and watch The Lost Boys now, I might have to."

"I have class tomorrow, too," Pete points out.

"Yet somehow, you don't seem that concerned."

Pete just shrugs. He's really not, and he's been keeping himself focused with energy drinks all day, so he's wired. "It's not that late," is all he says, and Patrick just rolls his eyes.

"Fine, whatever, but no mushrooms."

"Wouldn't dream of it, dude," Pete calls out, already halfway to the phone.

***

Ryan calls on Monday morning, right before Pete's class. "Hi," he says. "Why don't you come in around 3?"

"Sure," Pete says, "okay." He has no idea why he'd need to come in, but it's not like he has class then, anyway, so why not?

He calls Patrick as he leaves the apartment. "You need to get out of work around 2:30 and pick me up," he says.

"Why?"

"Ryan wants us to come in to the agency," Pete says.

Patrick sighs. "Why do I need to be there?"

"I already told you, I want your input. You'll probably be over a lot, so you might as well like the place."

"Fine." Pete would bet anything that Patrick's scowling on the other end of the line.

"Rough day?" he asks.

"Long," Patrick says. "I already got told off twice."

"Ouch," Pete says.

"Yeah. But it's fine, whatever. I'll see you at 2:30."

"Awesome. Bye." He hangs up right as he gets to class. Perfect timing.

***

When Ryan got back to the agency on Friday after showing Pete a house, Spencer could tell immediately that something was wrong. "Hey, what's up?" he asked.

"Nothing," Ryan said gloomily.

"Bullshit." Spencer gave him a look that said, I can see right through your crap, Ryan Ross, and Ryan said, "Fine, so maybe I like Pete, okay? No need to make a big deal about it."

Spencer, ever the supportive best friend, didn't say, 'Who's making a big deal?' "What's the problem, then?"

"He's got a live-in boyfriend he's looking at houses with. Are you happy now? Can I go back to work?" Without waiting for an answer, Ryan stomped off to his office and slammed the door.

Ryan and Spencer might have known each other forever, but that didn't mean Spencer actually enjoyed Ryan's moodiness. It also didn't mean he was exempt from Ryan's bitching. Sometimes Ryan just shut people out, and Spencer had to put up with it if he didn't feel like making a scene. He'd gotten pretty good at that.

But today, when Pete and Patrick come in, Spencer almost laughs. He watches their body language around each other. There's an ease there, to be sure, a familiarity, but he'd bet good money that they're close the way that he and Ryan are. They're not a couple.

The first thing he says when they walk through the door, though, is, "You can't bring that dog in here."

"Aw, man, really?" Pete looks crestfallen.

Spencer glances from Pete to Patrick to Hemmy. Then he looks at Ryan, who came out of his office when he heard them come in, and is now staring at him beseechingly. That's what clinches it.

"He stays in that corner," Spencer says gruffly, pointing, "and if he pees on anything –"

"He won't," Pete says quickly, following Ryan into his office.

The door slams. Patrick stands there awkwardly. Spencer glances at Pete and Ryan through the glass walls of Ryan's office and says, "You have an idiot best friend, too, huh?"

Patrick laughs, a little taken aback, before seeming to decide that Spencer's all right. "Yeah, I guess I do."

"How long do you give them?"

"For what?"

"To get together." Spencer states this as though it's the most obvious thing in the world, which, really, it should be. "How long do you give them?"

"Well," Patrick says, "Pete works quickly, but he tends to fuck things up quickly, too."

"Left to his own devices, it'll take Ryan a few months just to realize that you two aren't a couple, and then a few more to actually get his act together," Spencer says. "So I'm guessing three months."

"One week."

"It's a bet," Spencer says. "You can't tell Ryan, though. No interference."

"Isn't that a little mean, letting him think Pete's taken when he's not?"

And yeah, it is a little, but the thing is, Ryan doesn't know how to read people, not like Spencer does, and he needs to learn. He never will if Spencer just tells him everything. So Spencer says, "It's fine. He needs to figure it out on his own."

"All right," Patrick says doubtfully, but he changes the subject.

***

Pete wants to ask what happened yesterday, but something makes him hesitate. Maybe it's how Ryan's looking at him, a little warily with something Pete can't discern in his eyes. Instead, he just says, "Hey."

"Hey," Ryan responds.

"So why did you want us to come in?"

"I thought it would be helpful to get to know you a little," Ryan explains, "so as to better match the house to the customer."

This is obviously bullshit, but for some reason, Pete doesn't push. He's curious about Ryan and it won't do any good if he closes off again. "Okay," he says. "What do you want to know?"

***

Ryan and Pete talk until another client walks in, which is when Spencer realizes he's been talking to Patrick for almost an hour. He cuts himself off mid-sentence.

He says, "Please wait over there," to the woman who walked in, gesturing to a chair, and "One second," to Patrick, getting up to knock on Ryan's door.

"What?" Ryan calls out.

"Are you actually going to show Pete a house today? We have someone else here," Spencer calls back.

After a minute, Ryan opens the door. "Fine, Spence, I'm done." He turns to Pete. "So, I'll call you when I hear about something else that sounds like what you're looking for."

"Great," Pete says. "See you soon, then."

"Yeah. Bye."

Pete grabs Hemmy's leash.

"It was nice talking to you," Spencer says to Patrick.

"Yeah, you too," Patrick says, following Pete and Hemmy towards the door. "See you."

And then they're gone, and Spencer turns back to the woman waiting for him. "Yes?" he asks politely. "Are you looking for a house or an apartment?"

***

Over the next few weeks, Ryan and Spencer spend a good deal of time with Pete and Patrick, who come in almost every other day. Sometimes Ryan asks Pete to come in, and sometimes they just show up. Ryan continues to show Pete houses, too, but Pete seems completely unimpressed by all of them.

It's good to see them a lot, though – Spencer's found he really enjoys Patrick's company, and Patrick's a pretty good sport about losing their bet, which raises him in Spencer's regard.

But the problem is, Pete's not finding a house. There've been a few that were really nice, spacious with big yards Hemmy liked, but still, Pete hasn't put in a single offer.

It's going on three months the day that Ryan calls and says, "I think I have the perfect house for you."

Pete's heart sinks. If it really is the perfect house, he'll have to buy it, and then he'll never see Ryan again. "Great," he says, managing to sound upbeat.

"So how's tomorrow afternoon?"

"Works for me."

"See you then," Ryan says, and hangs up.

The second he sees the house, Pete's filled with dread. It is perfect. It's sprawling, with a huge, lush yard that Hemmy's going to love and a pool out back. The living room is just the right size to have all of his friends over, and there are enough guest bedrooms that anyone can stay over whenever they want.

Ryan opens the house for them, pointing out the giant living room great for having large groups of people over. Pete and Patrick argue most of the way home.

"How much are you going to offer?" Patrick asks.

"I'm not taking it," Pete says. Patrick looks at him like he's suddenly sprouted wings.

"What do you mean, you're not taking it?"

"I'm not taking the house."

"Why? It's everything you wanted."

Pete almost says, "I know," but stops himself. Instead, he settles for, "It didn't look that sturdy."

"What the fuck are you talking about, Pete? It's got that huge yard and the back deck where you could throw parties, and that gorgeous old staircase… I love it. Hemingway loves it. You love it, too, so don't try to deny it."

"It's okay, I guess."

Patrick thinks he will never understand Pete as long as he lives. Then it occurs to him that Pete is probably doing this so he'll still be able to see Ryan all the time. Spencer might've said no intervention, but this is getting ridiculous.

He doesn't open his mouth again until they get back to the apartment. He's busy forming a plan.

***

The next day, Pete comes home to find brochures and business cards for other brokers on the table.

"What the fuck, Patrick?" he yells.

Patrick walks calmly out of his room. "Oh, those? I picked them up on my way home from work. You're not finding anything at Spencer Homes, so I figured maybe it was time to start looking for a different agency."

Pete thinks for a while, unsure how to react. On the one hand, this is exactly the kind of thing Patrick would fuck with him about. On the other, he can't imagine that Patrick knows why he hasn't put in any offers on a house yet. He can't possibly be that obvious, otherwise Ryan would've figured it out, too.

"I," he starts, frustrated. Then he stomps off to his room and slams the door.

***

Ryan looks up, startled, when Pete rushes into his office. He barely has time to get out, "Hey, what's up?" before Pete practically shouts, "You are driving me fucking insane!"

"Why?" Ryan asks, bewildered. He can't think of anything he might've done that would drive Pete crazy. Of course, Pete drives him crazy on a daily basis, whether they see each other or not, but that's different. That's his stupid crush that refuses to go away, no matter what he does. Maybe Pete was looking for something different out of a broker, or something. Although he hopes Pete finds a house soon, because he can't take feeling like this much longer.

"I can't figure you out," Pete says, exasperated. "One minute you seem like you might be into me, the next you fucking close off. Goddammit, Ross, are you interested or not?"

Ryan just stares at him for a long minute, too shocked to say anything. Finally, he says, "Wait – I thought you and Patrick were… Why are you looking for a house together if you're not…"

Pete looks at him for a minute, then starts to laugh. He laughs and laughs. Ryan, who doesn't see anything funny, scowls at him. When Pete notices, he forces himself to stop laughing and says, "Patrick and I are roommates. He wasn't earning much money for a while, so we were living together until he could afford his own place. He's not moving
in with me, I just wanted him to like whatever house I pick because he'll be over a lot. He's staying in the apartment we have now. We've never dated, dude, he's my best friend. Besides," Pete says, suddenly looking serious as Ryan tries to rapidly digest all of this information, "I really like you."

He has this earnest, soulful look in his eyes that makes Ryan want to kiss him more than anything, this painful little urge. Then he remembers that he can. Smiling, he leans over his desk, shoving papers aside haphazardly, and touches his lips to Pete's.

It's like an electric jolt through to his toes. When Pete opens his mouth and starts licking at Ryan's lips, gently opening them, Ryan completely forgets the wood corner uncomfortably digging into his stomach. He forgets everything except his body and Pete's, existing in the same space for the first time.

A few minutes later, while they're still tangled up in each other's mouths, Spencer knocks on the door. "You're going to scare off clients," he shouts.

"Sorry," Ryan calls back against Pete's lips, pulling away enough to share a grin with Pete, their own little world encapsulated in the curve of his lips. They don't stop, though, despite Spencer's often and increasingly half-hearted protests.

Before he leaves, Pete puts down an offer on the perfect house.

***

He gets the house.

Pete starts inviting all of his friends over regularly, in different numbers – occasionally he'll have parties where he invites seemingly everyone he's ever met, but most of the time, it's just him, Ryan, Spencer, Patrick, his friend Joe and Joe's girlfriend Greta. Spencer likes Greta instantly, and warms up to Joe pretty fast.

The first time they meet, Pete's invited them all to come hang, maybe swim a little or shoot some pool in his basement. But they wind up just sitting out on the back deck, talking. Well, Spencer, Patrick, Joe and Greta talk. Pete and Ryan mostly make out, coming up for air when they absolutely have to.

It surprises Spencer to realize that after all this time, he still has no idea what Patrick does. So he asks.

"That's a little complicated," Patrick says. Joe laughs. "I'm a sound engineer's assistant right now, but I get fired a lot."

"Why?" Spencer is honestly puzzled by this statement. Patrick's a great guy who seems like he'd be a hard worker and really care about his job.

"I'm always giving 'unwanted input,' I guess. I mean, sometimes a song just sounds off, you know, rhythmically or tonally or whatever, and I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when it'd be so easy to fix. But that's never my job. I'm just lucky I usually find something new so easily."

"What do you want to be doing?" Spencer asks.

"I'd love to be a producer," Patrick admits. "But this is okay for now. I can't imagine not having music in my life, as my job, in some way, and as long as it pays the bills…" He shrugs.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "I get that." He can't relate, exactly, but he definitely sympathizes.

"Dude, you'd be the best producer ever," Joe says.

Greta nods, telling Spencer, "He has a really good ear."

"That's awesome," Spencer says. "You should go for it, then."

"Yeah, someday."

They all sit quietly for a moment, just taking in the warm almost-summer air and the view from Pete's new yard. Spencer becomes uncomfortably aware of Pete and Ryan's intense PDA session next to him. "Knock it off," he mutters. "We're trying to enjoy the day."

They stop just long enough for Pete to reply, "Well, we are enjoying the day. I don't know what your problem is," before he goes back to kissing Ryan, who's currently straddling his thighs.

"Let it go," Patrick tells Spencer. "It's useless. You learn to block out Pete's disgusting behavior after a while."

Without missing a beat or moving his head an inch, Pete flips Patrick off.

"That was impressive," Joe says.

"Shut up, Joe," Greta tells him good-naturedly. Spencer quickly figures out that much of their relationship is comprised of Greta telling Joe to shut up for one reason or other. But it works for them – she finds him amusing and he likes having someone to keep him in check.

They talk all afternoon, the lazy hours shedding away one by one.

***

Pete, Patrick, Joe and Greta have been having lunch every Wednesday for several years now, and then next time Patrick sees Spencer, he invites him and Ryan to start joining them. "It breaks up the monotony of the week," he explains.

"Sounds nice," Spencer says. "I'd love to come. I'm sure Ryan would, too."

So every Wednesday at 12:30, Pete and Patrick come pick them up and they meet Greta and Joe at "their" diner. Spencer likes the tradition; it's nice to spend more time together and it does break up the week well. Ryan, of course, loves every extra moment he gets to spend with Pete, so it works out for all of them.

***

One day, this tiny, bedraggled kid wanders into Spencer Homes. He doesn't look old enough to buy a house or even an apartment. Spencer figures he must have walked into the wrong building.

"This is Spencer Homes Realty," he says. "How can I help you?"

The kid says, "I need a job."

Spencer looks at him, puzzled. "We don't have any openings," he says, unsure where this kid would've gotten the idea that they did.

"Please," the kid says anxiously. "I just got kicked out of my house. I'm a good worker and I'm very charismatic. Please, I have no money and nowhere to live." He looks up at Spencer with these wide, brown eyes, biting his lip, and Spencer's heart breaks a little.

"Why'd you get kicked out?" he asks, just to make sure. "Drugs?"

"No." The kid shakes his head emphatically. "I don't do stupid shit like that. My parents are Mormons. They kicked me out when they found out I'm gay. I saw the rainbow sticker on your door and figured this was a good place to start. Besides, I'm really good with people. Everyone says I'm charming."

He's still looking at Spencer pleadingly. Spencer asks, "How old are you?"

"I'm eighteen. See?" He holds out his license to Spencer for inspection. Spencer glances at it, looks at him again, and says, "All right, Brendon, you can work under Ryan. He's through that door. We'll discuss salary later."

"Really?" Brendon asks. "Oh my god, thank you so much!" He hugs Spencer, who instantly stiffens, before darting off to Ryan's office.

Spencer waits.

3…2…1…

"SPENCER! What the fuck?"

***

Ryan hates Brendon instantly. Brendon is this little ball of eighteen-year-old energy that Spencer sicced on him in a momentary lapse of judgment, he's decided, and besides, Brendon has no idea what he's doing.

The first time Ryan takes Brendon with him to help show a house, Brendon asks all the wrong questions. They're showing a pair of sickeningly clingy newlyweds an old Victorian, and from the moment Brendon steps out of the car, he screws up.

Ryan points out the old stone wall on one side of the house that's been left intact, the charming little path up to the door, the stained glass window the last owners had put in. Brendon says, "Is that foundation completely solid?"

Ryan glares at him, shut up you idiot you're going to make them wary, and Brendon says, "What? If it's not, we shouldn't be showing this house."

It would be so much less infuriating if he wasn't right.

Ryan asks the couple to hold on a moment and grabs Brendon by the arm, yanking him aside. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he hisses.

"Being honest," Brendon says innocently. "Isn't that the best policy?" He seems genuinely confused.

Ryan grits his teeth. "You don't ask questions like that in front of the people we're trying to sell this house to. Got it?"

"But –"

"Got it?"

Brendon nods slightly and Ryan releases him to walk back over to the couple. "So sorry about that," he says smoothly. "Anyway, the foundation should be fine. It was solidly built with the house, but if you have any concerns about it, I'm sure a contractor will be able to tell you more."

Inside the house, Ryan shows off the winding staircase, the bathroom's marble floor, the working fireplace. Again, Brendon interrupts.

"Are you guys looking for a usable fireplace? Because from the look of it, this one isn't."

Ryan glares daggers at Brendon out of the corner of his eye for a moment. Then he turns to the couple and says, "A fireplace like this one should be very easy to replace, if need be. You probably wouldn't have to, though."

After the couple leaves, deciding not to buy the house, Ryan turns to Brendon angrily. "What is wrong with you?"

"I thought I was supposed to be learning. Besides, shouldn't they know these things if they're going to buy it?"

"Not if it keeps them from buying it. From now on, you're learning silently."

Ryan is true to his word. He introduces Brendon as his silent apprentice from then on. Brendon tries his hardest not to say anything, but occasionally he has to interject.

Ryan hates him, this idiot kid.

Except that after a little while, he doesn't. He realizes he actually enjoys arguing with Brendon. Brendon's smart and logical, even if he is a little headstrong (okay, a lot headstrong, but hey, he's eighteen). Ryan grudgingly develops some respect for him.

Brendon clearly respects him, too. Though he isn't able to keep his mouth shut, he tries to listen to what Ryan tells him and almost seems to look up to him or something.

In spite of himself, Ryan kind of likes that.

***

Pete and Patrick don't come into Spencer Homes as much now that Ryan and Spencer hang out at Pete's house all the time, but occasionally they drop by to say hi. It's on one such occasion that Patrick first sees Brendon.

Brendon's obviously young. He's vibrant, full of energy, and the timbre of his voice (which Patrick can hear, just barely, through the glass wall of Ryan's office as they talk) makes Patrick shiver a little. Then he instantly feels like a pedophile and wants to smack his head against the wall.

Pete goes right into Ryan's office, as always. This time, though, he has to kick Brendon out so he and Ryan can be all over each other in peace. Brendon joins Patrick by Spencer's desk.

"Hi," Patrick says awkwardly.

"Hey," Brendon says, "I'm Brendon." He holds out his hand for Patrick to shake, which Patrick does, feeling like a tool.

"I'm Patrick," he says.

Spencer raises an eyebrow at them, but says nothing until the silence becomes unbearable. Then he tells Patrick, "Brendon works for us now."

"It's my first job," Brendon says. "I love it here."

It's his first job. Ever.

Patrick can't stop mentally berating himself. You are not allowed to like him that way, his brain tells him. He is about twelve years old.

The feeling of being a dirty old man doesn't go away, even after they've left. Pete can tell something's up. Patrick's quiet sometimes, but not this tense, uncomfortable type of quiet.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"Nothing," Patrick says instantly. "Why would anything be wrong?"

"Okay, dude, you're acting really strange. What the fuck?"

"I told you, it's nothing."

"You are such a liar. You know you want to tell me. Teeeeeeeeeeeeell me. Teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell me. Teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell me." Pete starts poking his side, which is annoying even when he's not behind the wheel; now, when he is, it's all he can do not to swerve off the side of the road.

"Pete! Stop it, I'm driving!"

"I'll stop when you tell me."

Patrick sighs heavily, knowing he's got no choice. "All right, fine, maybe I like Brendon a little bit, okay? But it doesn't matter because I don't even know if he's gay, and more importantly, he's about twelve, which is totally gross, so just forget I ever said anything. And if you tell anyone, Pete, I will kill you."

Pete is doubled over laughing by the time Patrick finishes this little speech.

"Fuck you," Patrick mumbles. "I only told you because you wouldn't fucking leave me alone. You don't have to rub it in my face."

Forcing himself to stop laughing, Pete says, "Okay, seriously? He's more like eighteen or nineteen, which is totally legal, dude. And he works for Ryan and Spencer. He's probably at least bi. Stop worrying so much."

"Even if he is eighteen, I still feel like a pedophile," Patrick says.

"I don't see why," Pete says. "So you're a little older. Six years isn't that big an age difference."

Patrick sighs again. "I don't expect you to understand. Can you just respect that I don't want this getting out, please?"

"Fine, sure," Pete says, not intending to listen to Patrick for one minute.

***

That evening, Ryan comes over to Pete's. About half an hour into their make-out session, Pete pulls away and asks, "So what's the deal with Brendon?"

Ryan doesn't understand why Pete would interrupt kissing him to talk about Brendon. "What? Why? Do you, like, want him to join us or something? He's kind of young."

Pete laughs. "No," he says. "Patrick has a crush on him, which I'm not supposed to tell you."

"Got it. I can keep my mouth shut," Ryan says. "So what did you want to know?"

"Well, he is legal, right? It would kind of suck for Patrick if he wasn't. And do you know if he's gay?"

"He's eighteen," Ryan says, "and yeah, I do know he's gay. His parents kicked him out because of it."

"That really fucking sucks," Pete says. "Poor kid. But Patrick will be pleased."

"What're you going to do?" Ryan looks warily at him.

"Nothing bad," Pete says defensively. At Ryan's uh-huh, sure you're not look, he adds, "No, really, I'm just helping them out a little. What are friends for, you know?"

Ryan highly doubts Patrick will see it that way.

Just a guess.

***

The next day, Pete walks into Spencer Homes alone for the third time ever.

"I need to talk to Brendon," he tells Spencer. Wordlessly, Spencer points in the direction of Ryan's office, where Ryan and Brendon are engaged in an animated conversation. Pete doesn't bother to knock.

"Brendon," he says, not caring that he's interrupting, "Let's talk."

Brendon shoots Ryan an inquisitive look. Ryan shrugs, but once Brendon's back is turned, he glares at Pete, mouthing, 'Don't get involved.' Pete rolls his eyes and walks out of the room with Brendon following close behind.

"What's up?" Brendon asks.

"I have something to tell you," Pete says, "but you can't tell Patrick I told you, okay?"

Brendon says, "Dude, you don't have to talk down to me. I'm eighteen, and I can keep a secret."

"Right," Pete says. "Sorry. Anyway, I think you should know that Patrick likes you."

"That's cool," Brendon says, looking confused. "I like him, too."

"Not like that," Pete says. "I mean, he wants to be your boyfriend and make out with you and shit." He doesn't elaborate on 'and shit,' figuring that Brendon will either know what he means or find out about sex when he's ready.

Brendon's eyes widen. This isn't something he'd imagined happening for a while yet, especially not with someone older and presumably more experienced. But Patrick seems great, from yesterday and what Spencer's said about him, and the fact that he's really hot definitely doesn't hurt. "Wow, seriously? Okay."

"Is that an 'awesome, I want that too' kind of okay or a 'cool, good to know' kind of okay?" Pete asks impatiently. Patrick hasn't had a boyfriend in a long time and he wants this to work out.

"The first one, I think."

"You think?"

"Well, I haven't exactly thought about it before, but I think so, yeah."

"Good. We'll be back later this afternoon. You should say something then, because he's never going to make the first move. He's still trying to convince himself it's okay that you're eighteen."

"Okay, I will," Brendon says, grinning. He's about to have his first boyfriend! And it's Patrick, which is pretty fucking awesome.

"See you later, then," Pete says, and walks out, leaving Ryan to deal with Brendon's excitement on his own.

***

When Patrick gets home around four, there is a Pete in his kitchen. Patrick jumps.

"God, Pete, don't scare me like that."

"Good, you're home," Pete says, not acknowledging Patrick's reaction. "We're going out."

"We're – what? How'd you even get in here?"

"I never gave you back my key, remember? Now let's go."

"Should've changed the locks," Patrick mumbles. Then, louder, he says, "Where are we going?"

"To see Ryan and Spencer."

"What's the rush, then? We see them almost everyday, anyway."

"Just come on," Pete says impatiently. He tugs at Patrick's shirt roughly until Patrick gives in and follows him out the door.

When they get there, Patrick goes to talk to Spencer, as usual. Pete goes in to Ryan, as usual. Hemmy curls up in his corner on the floor, which Spencer has long since stopped objecting to. (He once admitted to Patrick that it was kind of nice, having a dog around. He likes Hemmy, even if he'll never tell Pete that. And seeing a dog through
the window makes people think they're pet-friendly, which is good for business. But he'll deny all of it if anyone but Patrick asks.)

Patrick and Spencer are deep in conversation when Brendon comes over and interrupts.

"Hey, Patrick, can I talk to you?"

"Sure," Patrick says, glancing at Spencer, who nods his assent at breaking off their conversation for the moment.

Brendon drags Patrick around the corner, where no one can see them. He's clearly nervous.

"What's up?" Patrick asks.

In reply, Brendon kisses him. It's not the world's greatest kiss – far from it – but Brendon's enthusiastic, which almost makes up for it. Patrick kisses back for a second before remembering himself. Flustered, he pulls away.

"I'm sorry," he forces out, hurrying back to his car. Pete will have to find his own way home.

***

Patrick is just getting ready for bed when the phone rings. He's not sure who he expects it to be, but Brendon isn't on the short list.

"Hey," he says. "How'd you get my number?"

A pause, and then, "Pete. Look, we really need to talk."

"Okay, so talk," Patrick says, managing not to sound nervous, despite how he feels.

"Am I that bad a kisser?" Brendon asks this very quietly, clearly afraid of the answer.

"What? No! That's not it at all."

"Then what is it? Pete said you liked me. What's the problem?"

"I'm going to fucking kill him," Patrick mutters. Then he sighs and says, "It's just – you're so young. Have you even had a boyfriend before?"

Brendon says, "Ah, yes. That."

Patrick doesn't know what else to say, so he just waits.

Finally, Brendon says, "No, I haven't had a boyfriend before. I came out pretty recently, and before that I was terrified that if I did anything with a guy at all, my parents would find out. So, no, I don't have any experience with this stuff. If that's really a problem for
you, it's not like there's anything I can do about it, so I guess that's that. But I really like you, Patrick. And, yeah, I don't really know what I'm doing, but you could show me, if you're willing. I'd like to try, anyway."

Patrick's pleasantly surprised at how serious Brendon is. He's clearly thought this through. And much as Patrick still has reservations, he wants this, too. "I –" he begins, unsure what to say.

"Patrick," Brendon says, "Don't overthink this. Just say yes or let me down easy."

There is a short pause, because he needs to think about it a little. "Yes."

"Good," Brendon says, still serious, but with a lightness in his voice that wasn't there before. "Then I'll see you tomorrow. Goodnight. Oh, wait, promise me you won't second guess yourself when I hang up."

Patrick smiles at Brendon's accurate assumption. "I'll try."

"No, seriously, promise me."

"All right, I promise. Sleep well."

"Oh, I will," Brendon says happily. It's really cute. Patrick can't help laughing.

"Okay. Goodnight."

Brendon hangs up. Patrick forces himself not to fret. He falls asleep smiling.

***

Spencer winds up feeling like a fifth or seventh wheel, a lot of the time, now that everyone in their little group of friends is coupled up; when they hang out, it's Pete and Ryan, Patrick and Brendon, Joe and Greta, and him. Lunch has become a little cramped, but it's still something Spencer enjoys. Thankfully, Patrick and Brendon aren't so into PDA. They're sweet around each other, holding hands and cuddling, but they never make Spencer feel uncomfortable. A lot of the time, Spencer wants to shout at Pete and Ryan, "Get a fucking room!" He's not sure why he doesn't, actually. Probably because it wouldn't make a difference. They're all over each other every second they're together, in public or not. Which is a little gross, yeah, but Spencer's learning to ignore it.

They all seem happy, though, which is nice. Patrick smiles all the time, now, and so does Brendon, but he was always like that. Spencer loves his friends. He's happy for them, but he doesn't really talk to Patrick as much anymore, and Ryan's always busy with Pete. So he is happy for them, for sure, but he's also kind of lonely.

***

There are certain things Spencer Smith simply does. Not. Do. For one thing, he doesn't blush. Ever.

And then one day, Jon Walker walks into Spencer Homes.

Spencer looks at him and instantly feels his face getting hot. He doesn't understand what's happening here. This is not remotely like him. He stares pointedly at his feet, hoping that the panic he's feeling isn't evident in his voice. "How can I help you?" he asks his toes.

"I'm looking for a house," Jon says.

"That's what we do," Spencer says.

"I know." Jon sounds amused. "That's why I came in."

"Right, of course." Spencer starts rifling through papers on his desk. Must look busy.

"I'm Jon, by the way," Jon tells him. Spencer notices he's wearing flip-flops and mentally cringes.

"Spencer," he says, holding out his hand. He risks a glance at Jon's face again as they shake hands, but has to look away immediately. Shit.

"So this is your business, then." It's not a question.

"Yes," Spencer says, thinking, Is he really going to stand around and make small talk?

"Cool," Jon says. "So I'm looking for something on the smaller side, I think, but cozy. I'm not really sure beyond that. I guess I'll know it when I see it."

"There's no such thing as perfect," Spencer warns him. "You might have to settle for good, but you can always fix it up."

"I know. Perfection is overrated, anyway. I'm looking for something that feels right." Spencer thinks Jon's smiling, but he can't really tell, since he's still staring at the floor.

"Okay, I'm pretty sure I have a house that could potentially fit your criteria," Spencer says, checking his computer. "How's Tuesday to look at it?"

"Tuesday's good for me. What time?"

Spencer checks his online calendar. "Three o'clock?"

"Great. I'll see you then."

Spencer hears Jon walk out but can't bring himself to say anything or even look up. He has no idea what that was about, but he's kind of dreading Tuesday.

***

Spencer delegates most of the actual house- or apartment-showing to Ryan and Brendon, since he handles most of the business end (and somebody's gotta be at the office all day, in case people walk in), but for reasons he can't understand, much less explain, he doesn't tell Ryan about Jon. He decides that Jon's his.

When he meets Jon outside the house on Monday, Spencer has the same ridiculous problem he did the first time they met. So he just doesn't look at Jon. He tells his feet about the polished hardwood floors, the working fireplace, and the narrow but well-equipped kitchen that's perfect for the casual cook.

Spencer's not sure if he's more embarrassed (this is so not him) or irritated at himself (just stop doing that, already! You have more self-control than this. Why isn't it working?).

"Well, that's it," he says finally, leading Jon back out of the house. "Think about it and give me a call."

"Wait," Jon says. "Can I ask you something?"

Spencer nods. "Of course. That's what I'm here for."

"Do you hate me?"

Spencer is completely taken aback. Even if he hadn't thought Jon was going to ask about the house, he never would've expected that. "No," he says quickly. "Why would you think that?"

"You won't even look at me. Would it be better if I just went to a different broker?" Jon sounds genuinely concerned, and Spencer realizes he's backed himself into a corner.

"No, it's just," he says, and finally lifts his eyes to Jon's. His face gets hot again, and from the look on Jon's face, he's full-on blushing.

"Oh," Jon says softly.

"Yeah," Spencer says, more embarrassed than he can ever remember being. He drops his head back down. His new expensive black shoes have started getting a little dull to look at.

"Go out to dinner with me," Jon says, and Spencer's head snaps back up at record speed.

"I don't know if that's such a great idea," he says. "You're my client."

Jon looks surprised, but only says, "Okay, I can respect that." He starts walking back to his car.

Spencer feels like an idiot. He hasn't gone on a real date in over a year, and Jon is his type to a T. Besides, it's not like Ryan and Brendon paid any attention to the fact that their boyfriends were clients. And it's just one date. What can it hurt?

"Wait," he calls out. Jon turns around.

"Yeah?"

"Never mind the client thing. I'd like to."

A slow grin spreads over Jon's face. "Great. How's Friday?"

"Friday at seven," Spencer says. Jon nods, and Spencer realizes he's stopped blushing.

***

Jon shows up at Spencer's house at seven o'clock on the dot on Friday. Spencer likes that he's punctual. Jon is the perfect gentleman all evening – he opens Spencer's car door for him, orders for him at the restaurant (after asking Spencer what he wants, of course), and walks Spencer up to his front door at the end of the night without seeming
to expect anything.

Spencer's not sure he likes having someone else take control. But he likes Jon, so he's willing to put up with it for now.

Their conversation's easy, too. Spencer's used to awkward pauses and uncomfortable glances at each other when you think the other person's not looking – that's what first dates are, right?

Not this one. Jon's really easy to talk to, and it winds up being one of those long conversations where you can't quite remember what you talked about, but you know you had an amazing time. Spencer's never laughed so hard in his life (except maybe that one time when he and Ryan tried to literally fry an egg on the sidewalk when they were eight, which, in retrospect, was one of those things that's a lot funnier at the time).

The biggest surprise, though, is that at the end of the night, Spencer doesn't want it to be over. "I'd like to do this again sometime," he says, shocked at himself.

"I'd like that, too," Jon says. "I'll call you." He kisses Spencer lightly and walks to his car.

Spencer goes into his house, a little dazed but happier than he's been in a long time.

***

It takes Jon seven months to find a house he likes. This would be frustrating, normally, but it gives him and Spencer more time to see each other, so it's all right.

They've gotten pretty serious at this point. They see each other almost every day, and Spencer takes Jon to lunch with everybody one Wednesday a few months into their relationship. His friends all love Jon pretty much immediately, which reassures Spencer that this is right. As terrifying as it is, still, he's glad he forced himself to let his guard down, because he's rapidly falling in love.

Spencer's shocked the day he takes Jon to see a house and Jon says, "I like this one." He's almost come to think that he'll just be showing Jon houses forever. Not that that would be the worst thing in the world, but surely there are better ways to see each other.

"Really?"

"Yeah, I'd like to put an offer down on it."

Spencer blinks a few times in surprise and says, "Okay. They're asking for –"

Jon says, "I don't care how much they're asking for. You can figure that part out. You're good at that. I'd like you to move into it with me."

"What?"

"Move in with me."

"I – I need to think about it," Spencer stammers, heart pounding in his chest.

"Call me later, then," Jon says. "But either way, I want the house."

"Okay." Spencer kisses him briefly, managing to hold himself together, and walks to his car. "We'll talk later."

When he gets back to the office, Spencer just sits and stares at the wall for a while. Ryan and Brendon are arguing loudly next door, but he's gotten used to tuning them out. He's so lost in thought that he doesn't notice their voices dying down and Brendon walking over to him until Brendon says, right next his ear, "Spencer, help us settle
this."

Spencer startles.

Ryan says, from his stance in the doorway, "Brendon, I think this is a bad time."

"Oh," Brendon says. "Wait, what were you thinking about?"

"Nothing," says Spencer, hoping Brendon will drop it and go away.

No such luck. "Come on. Tell us!"

Spencer looks to Ryan for help, but Ryan just stands there with his arms folded, looking amused as he waits to hear what Spencer's going to say. Great best friend you are, Spencer thinks.

"Jon," he says. Ryan smirks.

"What about him?" Brendon asks.

Spencer's not the kind of person who likes talking about his private business. Not with anyone, not even Ryan these days. But Brendon's not going anywhere, and Ryan's being a bitch and not helping. What choice does he have?

"Go away," he tries grouchily, to no effect. Fine. Sighing, he says, "He found a house and he wants me to move in with him."

Ryan raises his eyebrows. Brendon says, "Really? Wow. You're going to, right?"

"I don't know yet."

"What's not to know?" Brendon asks. "You obviously love him. I think you should do it."

"Can you get him out of here?" Spencer asks Ryan. Ryan nods.

"Brendon, come on. We have work to do."

"And an argument to continue," Brendon adds, but he follows Ryan back into his office.

It takes Spencer another half hour to realize that Brendon's right and he's being an idiot. Just before five, he calls Jon.

"I put in an offer on the house," he says, with no preamble. "If we get it, we move in next month."

"We?"

"Yes," Spencer says, hoping Jon won't make this a big deal. He's never been big on grand declarations or flowery romantic business. That could potentially be a deal-breaker.

Jon just says, quietly, "I'm glad."

"Me too," Spencer says, though whether he means that he made the right decision or that Jon's taking it in stride, he's not sure. Probably both. "I'll see you later, then?"

"Why don't you come by after work?"

"Okay, I just need to close up."

"I'll see you then."

Spencer hangs up, unsure how he got so lucky.

***

Pete's excited that they're four couples now. They can play games as teams!

One Friday night, the eight friends are sitting around his living room table, playing Parcheesi. Everything's going well, until Brendon and Patrick's turn. Without asking Patrick, Brendon just moves.

"What the fuck?" Patrick asks.

"What?" Brendon asks, honestly confused. "It was our turn. I moved."

"Did you even think about what you were doing?"

"Dude, it's a game."

"You don't even have a strategy. Why didn't talk it over with me first?"

The atmosphere around the table becomes increasingly strained.

"I didn't realize it was such a big deal," Brendon says.

"Hey, is it our turn yet?" Joe asks.

"Shut up," Greta tells him quietly.

"Just go, Joe," Patrick mutters.

"Sweet!" Joe says as he moves.

The rest of the passes uneventfully, though there's a strange tension in the room now. Patrick doesn't want to win anymore, because it's become more important to show Brendon that he's right. So when they do win, it only serves to piss him off.

"We won!" Brendon says joyfully, his hands doing the beginning of a victory dance in the air.

Patrick gets up from the table, his chair scraping the floor as he pushes it aside to walk upstairs. He goes up to the room that's unofficially his and slams the door.

"Um." Brendon bites his lip. "So I'm gonna..." He gestures after Patrick a bit helplessly.

"Go," Greta says. Spencer nods.

When he gets upstairs, Brendon tries the door to Patrick's room. Locked. He knocks.

"What?"

"Dude, I have no idea what just happened, but this isn't about the game anymore, is it?"

Patrick's silence says everything.

"What's going on, then?" Brendon asks. "Everything seemed fine to me."

"Of course it did."

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Brendon asks indignantly.

"God, Brendon, sometimes you just don't think!" Patrick shouts.

It's the worst blow Patrick could've hit him with, a sucker punch straight to the gut. "I'm leaving," Brendon mutters, walking back downstairs. He's not sure if Patrick heard him, but honestly, he doesn't care. He grabs his coat, calls out, "Bye!" to his friends, and gets in his car to go home.

A minute later, Patrick realizes how bad "you just don't think" must've sounded. It did come out a little harsher than he'd intended. "Brendon?" he asks, opening the door. "I'm sorry. I –"

There's no one there.

Patrick decides he might as well just go home, too. He calls out a half-hearted goodbye to his friends on his way out the door.

***

When Brendon leaves the table, no one moves for a long moment.

Finally, Joe says, "We didn't have to play Parcheesi, you know. We could've played cards or something instead."

"Shut up, Joe," Greta says, but she's smiling.

That lightens the mood a little, at least until Brendon comes back downstairs. After Patrick leaves, Jon glances at Spencer and says, "We should probably go."

"Good idea," Greta says. "We'll walk out with you."

"Guys? You don't have to leave," Pete says, but they're already getting their coats on.

"See you soon," Spencer tells Ryan. They all hug and say their goodbyes and then they're walking to their cars.

"So that was... interesting," Spencer says.

Greta says, "You could say that."

"I wonder if we'll be coming over next week," Jon ponders.

"I don't see why we couldn't have just played Scrabble," Joe interjects.

"Joe," Greta says, slightly amused and slightly reproachful. "Goodnight, guys."

"'Night."

"Goodnight."

Snow starts to fall softly outside the car window as Spencer and Jon head home.

***

Back in the house, Pete and Ryan clean up the game. Ryan is still pretty upset. He hates seeing people he loves fight. Pete figures it's their business and they'll sort it out. He's already moved on.

Ryan sits down on the couch. Pete pounces on him and tries to kiss him, but Ryan pushes him away.

"Dude, what the fuck?"

"I'm not in the mood."

This is a concept Pete doesn't really get. "So get in the mood." He tries again.

"Fuck off!" Ryan shoves him, hard. "God, it's always about sex with you. Why can't we just have a conversation, for once?"

"Why?" Pete stares at him blankly.

"Because I'm your boyfriend." There's a 'you idiot' implied in Ryan's tone, but Pete doesn't catch it.

"Yeah, you are, so let's make out."

"I'm leaving." Ryan stands up. "I'm not seeing you in person for the next week. I'm going to call you everyday, but no actual contact until Friday."

"You're serious?"

"Yeah, I am. Talk to you tomorrow." Ryan pecks Pete on the lips, and then he's gone.

Pete sits on the couch alone, Hemmy staring reproachfully at him from the floor, and wonders what went so wrong.

***

By the time Jon and Spencer get home, the snow's coming down hard. They'd left the heat off while they went out, but instead of just turning it on now, they decide to light a fire.

Spencer gets blankets as Jon piles logs on. Then he sits on the floor in front of the fireplace, waiting for Spencer to get back.

"You're sitting on the floor?" Spencer asks as he walks back into the room, making a face.

"Oh, just get down here," Jon says, laughing. So Spencer does. Jon leans into him, wrapping his arms around him, but Spencer stiffens and pulls away a little. "Relax," Jon says. "You're so tense."

"I don't really do cuddling," Spencer tells him.

"That could be a problem," Jon says, looking grave. "I think something needs to be done."

"Whatever," Spencer says, not moving. He's still completely tense.

"Let me try something," Jon says, turning a little to lean behind Spencer. "Just relax, okay?" He starts massaging Spencer's shoulders. Spencer jumps and then tries to settle in, but this is so not his thing. At all.

As Jon massages his back and shoulders, though, Spencer's muscles relax involuntarily. Exhausted, he leans on Jon and is soon fast asleep.

Normally, Jon would be insulted, at least a little bit, at his boyfriend falling asleep on him like that, but Spencer's finally letting his guard down and right now, with Spencer snuggled into him for the first time, Jon can't feel anything but entirely content. His own eyes start to drift closed. When his cat Dylan wanders into the room and curls up in his lap, Jon starts a little. He looks down, smiles, and closes his eyes again, joining Spencer in slumber.

***

The next day, as promised, Ryan calls Pete. "Hey," Pete says. "What's up?"

"Not much," Ryan says. "Just hanging out with Brendon later. What about you?"

"Nothing really," Pete says. "So, what are you wearing?"

"Um… I don't know, a shirt, pants, shoes," Ryan says, sounding confused. "What about you?"

"Nothing," Pete says suggestively. "Why don't you join me?"

Ryan hangs up.

Pete keeps trying back for the next hour, but it just goes to voicemail. He doesn't get it. Ryan actually wants to talk? But that's what Pete's got Patrick for.

The thing is, Pete's never been in a real relationship – at least, not in the way most people define relationships. He's been with a lot of people, yeah, but those were more like 50-night-stands. If the person was particularly lucky, anyway. The concept of actually wanting to talk to someone you're dating puzzles him.

Ryan calls back at the same time the next day. First thing, he warns Pete, "Don't try anything like that again."

"Fine, whatever," Pete says, preparing for boredom. This whole not-getting-laid-for-a-week thing really fucking sucks.

But when Ryan starts talking, Pete surprises himself by actually being interested in what he has to say. Ryan does most of the talking – he tells Pete about his life, things he might not know and anything he thinks Pete might care about. Pete interjects a few times to ask questions, but mostly he listens, and that's new. And surprisingly good.

After an hour and a half, Ryan says, "Tomorrow I want to hear about you," and hangs up.

The next day, Pete doesn't wait for Ryan to call. He calls right before the time Ryan's been calling, eager to get back to their conversation. This time he talks. Ryan's an attentive listener, even if his "Uh-huh"s and "yeah"s are a little monotone. Pete talks for a full two hours, barely noticing the time pass.

The week goes by faster than Pete could ever have imagined. He likes talking to Ryan – likes it a lot, in fact. They have so much in common, and Ryan's actually an interesting person. Maybe there's something to this whole getting-to-know-your-significant-other thing, Pete thinks.

On Friday, Ryan shows up at Pete's house at exactly five o'clock.

"Hey," Pete says. "I hoped I'd get to see you today."

In answer, Ryan kisses him urgently. Pete kisses back with equal fervor, his hands moving to Ryan's hips almost of their own volition. God, he missed this.

"Want to come in?" he asks stupidly. Of course Ryan wants to come in. He opens the door and they both step inside.

"Upstairs. Now," is all Ryan says. Pete just looks at him, wondering if this is some sort of test he has to pass.

"No, come on, let's talk," he says, grabbing Ryan's hand and attempting to lead him to the couch, but Ryan's feet stay firmly planted on the ground.

"Upstairs, now," he repeats, practically jumping on Pete and knocking him over. They race upstairs, giggling like idiots all the way to the bedroom.

***

Patrick doesn't call Brendon until two days after their fight, to give both of them some time to cool down.

"Hello?" Brendon asks enthusiastically.

"Hi," Patrick says quietly.

"Oh, hi." Brendon's tone shifts dramatically. He sounds almost disappointed that it's not someone else. Patrick's heart sinks.

"I'm sorry about what I said," Patrick tells him. "I didn't mean it to come out like that."

"But it did."

"I know, and I'm so sorry about that. This is obviously a conversation we need to have, but that was just really shitty of me and I am sorry."

"I don't know."

"Please, I really want to talk to you and be able to put this past us."

Brendon considers his options. On the one hand, what Patrick had said really hurt and he'd like to make Patrick grovel a little more. On the other, he doesn't want to keep putting Patrick off until he gives up – he loves Patrick and wants to work this out. Finally, he says, "Okay. Let's talk."

"You're right that it wasn't about the game," Patrick says, and Brendon snorts.

"No kidding."

"So..."

There is a long pause. Finally Brendon says, "All right, I'll talk. You can't do things like this. It's completely unfair to me and to our friends. If you're having a problem, you need to tell me about it before it becomes a thing, okay?"

"You're right," Patrick says, ashamed. He hadn't even thought about it, but it wasn't cool to do to their friends, either. He'll call Pete later and apologize.

"I know," Brendon tells him. "The thing is, you live inside your head too much. Things bother you, but you don't discuss them with me, you just let them fester until you can't ignore them anymore. I really care about you, but I'm not going to be in a relationship like that. So you need to talk to me more and live inside your head a little less."

"I can try," Patrick says slowly. "That's going to be really hard for me, though."

"I realize, and I'm not asking you to change in a day. But I need you to try."

"Okay."

"Okay. So what do you want me to change?"

"Well, you know how you said I overthink?"

"Yeah..."

"You don't think enough, and I don't mean that the way it sounds, but just, the way you're impulsive sometimes, I don't know how to deal with that. It's not who I am or what I know, and sometimes it drives me a little crazy."

Brendon takes this calmly. "Okay," he says. "I can work on that. Maybe we both just need to talk about things more."

"That sounds good," Patrick says, relieved that the worst of the fight seems to be over. "But you may have to help me sometimes. I don't always want to open up."

"I know," Brendon says, "and I'm willing if you're willing."

"I'm willing."

"I'm glad."

"Yeah, me too." Patrick smiles, even though Brendon can't see him.

"Okay, I'm going to go, but we should do something tomorrow, if you're free."

"Yeah, I'd like that."

"Cool. I'll call you later?"

"Sure. Bye."

"Bye."

Patrick hangs up and breathes deeply. Things are going to be okay.

***

One Wednesday not long afterwards, Spencer sits at his desk, going through a stack of papers. Behind him and through the glass walls, Pete sits on Ryan's lap. Ryan is trying to get some work done, but he's clearly distracted (Spencer's not surprised – he can't see where Pete's hands are, from where he is). Brendon is on the other side of the office, typing away on his own computer. Next to Spencer, in the corner, Hemingway dozes.

Patrick and Jon burst into the office around 12:30. "Hey," Jon says. "You guys just about ready to go?"

Spencer kisses him hello. "Hey, you. I'm ready."

Ryan calls out, "One minute, guys. I'm trying to finish this up, if someone would just let me..." Pete cuts him off, kissing him to shut him up.

Patrick walks into Ryan and Brendon's office and yanks Pete off of Ryan, shoving him out the door. "Come on, let him finish," he says. Brendon grins at him, typing a little slower, since he's stopped paying attention to the screen.

A few minutes later, Ryan says, "All right, I'm done." Brendon stops typing and stretches.

"Yeah, let's go meet Joe and Greta. I'm starving."

"Come on, then," Pete says impatiently, clipping on Hemmy's leash.

So they do.
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