question marks are out of fashion (flimsy) wrote,
question marks are out of fashion
flimsy

fic: like explosions in the sky (Jon/Spencer, R, AU)

like explosions in the sky
Jon/Spencer (Brendon/Ryan, Pete/Patrick, others), R
7 219 words
dystopian AU, magical realism, possibly disturbing themes

thank you to girlintheband and violentfires for beta, thoughts & concrit, and to adellyna and foxxcub for thoughts and concrit.





x - x - x - x - x - x - x - x



[This is not the beginning.

Jon pulls him close. They’re lying, facing each other on the small cot in a room in the basement that Pete offered them. Jon looks tired, more scruffy than usual, hazel eyes dark and weary. He reaches out and brushes his hand over Spencer’s cheek, a ghost of a touch. Spencer tries not to think that this feels like goodbye. He feels bleak and empty.

“You have to do it,” he says. “It’s the only way. Jon, please.” He puts everything in those words, everything he has, all the pain and sorrow and love. “I don’t care. This is not about me.”

Jon smiles, wistful and sad. “Everything is about you, Spencer. Everything in the world.” He leans in and presses their foreheads together, and Spence reaches up and touches his chest, where his heart is beating steadily.

Tomorrow.]



.



In a world where age is measured not by how long you have lived, but by how many years you have left, Spencer is five. He turned five yesterday at seven-thirty-two when they were out in the factory, collecting cans. Now he’s curled up around Ryan, face pressed against his neck, inhaling deeply, suppressing the uprising panic that the knowledge of your own mortality brings.

Ryan is carefully stroking his hair, whispering nonsense, holding him tight. Ryan knows what it feels like, five. He is not much older than Spencer, and last year, Spencer held him, crying.

Spencer knows that some strangers arrived at the camp only a few hours ago, and that he should get up and greet them, that he should go and look after Greta. Spencer is the youngest. He has the most responsibility, the longest to live, still. He doesn’t want to think about this right now.

He buries his nose deeper in Ryan’s hair, trying not to shake too much when the tears finally come. Five. Spencer turns five, and starts counting down his days.



.



There are six newcomers. A group of five young boys and an older girl, around three or two, Spence estimates. It’s not the first time this month that strangers have sought shelter at their camp, and it probably won’t be the last.

They have an old transistor radio that Darren can probably rewire with the single walkie-talkie they found in the factory a few miles north. Spencer talks to them and then agrees to let them stay, because what else is he supposed to do? He can hardly send them away when they’re this young still.

The girl’s name, it turns out, is Maja, and she led the other newcomers here from a camp far in the south. She seems much, much older, older than anyone Spencer has ever met; her eyes are eagle sharp and her hair is nearly white, wild, in her face. Spencer wonders why she’s the leader and not the youngest of the boys, but he doesn’t question her since she accepts his authority, even though her respect seems a little forced.

Everyone listens to the stories of the newcomers’ journey that evening when they eat. Later, Maja tells tales of the road and abandoned cities and her voice carries far even after she has long ended, and Spencer is curled up in his bed, clutching a pillow to his chest, listening to Ryan and Brendon talk quietly next door.

He falls asleep to their voices, spinning dreams of travel and of hope.



.



“Aren’t you afraid?” Spence asks one day, when he and Ryan are walking through one of the cities east of the camp. It’s not a big city, but there are useful items to be found, places to be discovered. Ryan is hauling a big record player around with him – he found it in a somewhat hidden store a few streets back.

Ryan stops, looks at Spence over his shoulder. He looks a bit surprised, brows furrowed, but his face softens after a moment. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

Spencer feels his heart clench. He closes the distance between them, and laces his fingers together with Ryan’s. They’re cold, but Spence feels them warm against his own. Ryan is smiling at him; his eyes look old and ready. Spencer wonders if he’ll look like that next year, too.



.



Ryan and Brendon have a pact. Shortly after Ryan turned five, he told Spencer about it, hands folded, calm, composed. Spencer knows Ryan told him because he feels bad for taking Brendon away from him, but Spencer tries to understand.

Ryan and Brendon have a pact. Brendon once told Spencer that he cannot be without Ryan. The look in his eyes was earnest and true, and even though Spencer has never felt this way, he understands. Brendon had apologized. Spencer had hugged him.

Ryan and Brendon have a pact. Ryan has a vial of poison, just enough for two. It’s sitting in a little, defunct music box on top of their nightstand, waiting for the evening of Ryan’s last birthday, so he and Brendon can fall asleep together.



.



The strangers arrive on the twenty-fifth of November. That in itself should have make Spencer wary, maybe. Twenty-five is not a good number. Twenty-five is the number of death. Twenty-five is when it all ends.

Three men, all of them are older, two, three, maybe. One has the eyes of a snake, cold and dark, and Spencer feels a rush of panic the moment he sees him. The other is taller than the rest, grinning, looking unsettlingly happy, a tattoo snaking around his neck, hair in wild curls. The third looks like a girl upon first glance, hips and waist and long hair, but his lips quirk in a nearly evil way.

Spencer lets them stay because they will need help for spring.

On the fifth day of their stay, when they’re sitting in Spencer’s room, Gabe, the snake-eyed man, says, “So. Have any of you heard of a man called Pete?”



.



Sometimes Spencer wishes he’d never let them stay. The hope they spread is a false hope, and Spencer tries not to remember the day Darren took Greta’s hand, and walked up to Spencer and told him they were leaving to find Pete. Spencer let them. But he doesn’t believe.

There is no man or woman who lived past their twenty-fifth birthday. Not after the Time Before. Not after things changed.

Spencer does not foster false hopes. Spencer has to keep a clear head and plan for a possible flood in spring.



.



“Do you believe him?” Ryan asks, curled up against Spencer, threading a hand through his hair. Spencer can hear Brendon sing while he’s cooking, the familiar scent of fried mushrooms and rice drifting in the air.

“No,” he replies a little belatedly.

“But what if it’s true?” Ryan insists, and there’s something in his eyes. It’s a glint Spencer hasn’t seen in years. “What if it’s true?”

“It’s not,” Spence insists. “This Pete is a lie. Gabe lied.” He pulls Ryan close, wills him to understand. “Don’t leave me,” he finally presses out, and then Ryan’s arms close around him.

“Never,” Ryan mumbles against his neck, and Spencer knows, that too, is a lie.



.



Jon arrives at the camp the day Spencer finds the first flower blooming outside their house. He looks a little rugged, smiling, carrying a backpack and for the first time in his life Spencer cannot tell how old a person is. Jon’s eyes are not wary or tired or new, and he has a beard but a young face.

He’s alone and he fixes their jeep on his first day in the camp, and Brendon begs Spencer to let him stay even though Spence never considered otherwise.

Jon has an old, duct-taped Polaroid camera; he carries it around with him in a small bag at all times. When Spencer asks about it, he smiles and ruffles his hair.

“Because photographs are like memories. And none of us want to be forgotten, do we?”

Spencer’s heart clenches. He watches Jon continue with the laundry, muscles shifting beneath his T-shirt, sweat trickling down his neck, and swallows tightly.



.



It starts getting warmer, and in the evening they make a fire outside, big enough to keep curious animals away but small enough not to be a danger, and sit around it telling stories. William, one of the newcomers from November, illustrates his tales wildly, jumping around, hips swaying, sometimes steadied by Gabe’s or Travis’ hand on his thigh or hip.

Gabe does not tell stories anymore. Jon sometimes digs out his Polaroids, and tells the story for each one. His voice is calm and he has a little lisp around the ‘S’ and ‘Z’ that makes Spencer clench his hands into fists with the desire to touch him.



.



Jon, Spence finds, can fix almost anything. Ryan’s record player, the drawer that won’t move, their VCR player, Ryan and Brendon after a fight. It’s as if when he looks at things, they decide it’s not worth the trouble being broken.

He fixes Spencer’s ankle when he trips down a flight of stairs in the library, hands warm and careful, bandaging him. Spencer stares down at his head, and his silly swirl of hair, at his ears sticking out, and his heart beats so fast he thinks it might explode.

But maybe Jon could fix even that.



.



“You’re in love with Jon,” Ryan states, a month after Jon’s arrival. He’s grinning, folding clothes. Brendon is rummaging in the cupboards in the kitchen, Spencer can hear him.

“I’m not,” he says and Ryan tilts a brow at him. Spencer purses his lips and climbs into Gabe’s lap that evening. He lets Gabe fuck him behind the shed, moaning loudly as Gabe shoves into him, scratching his nails over the wood under his hands, hoping somebody will hear. He sleeps in Gabe’s bed until Travis and William come stumbling back, claiming their space on the mattress.

When he returns to his and Ryan’s (and Brendon’s) house, Ryan is waiting for him in his room.

“You are,” he insists, and Spencer tries not to think of the way he imagined Jon’s hands on him when Gabe fingered him.



.



Spence wishes Jon was jealous. Spence wishes he could stop thinking about Jon all the time.



.



Jon kisses him the day they find a box of fireworks in the cellar of an abandoned house. Once it’s dark, they light them up, and send them shooting into the sky, showers of stars and flowers raining down on them.

Jon’s shoulder is warm against Spencer’s as they watch Brendon shuffle around, lighter in his hand. When the first rocket goes up, Jon leans over and presses a tentative kiss to Spencer’s lips. Spence pulls back, surprised.

“I like you,” Jon says, softly, and kisses him again.

“Don’t you want to take pictures?” Spence asks breathlessly when the third rocket shoots up.

Jon doesn’t answer. He kisses Spence more, whispering against his lips. “You taste so sweet.”



.



After two weeks, Jon tells Spence he loves him. Spencer takes one look in his eyes, wide and honest, puts down the potato he was peeling, and presses a soft and careful kiss to the corner of his mouth. Jon tastes like green beans and orange juice. His hands are calloused against Spencer’s cheek, perfect.



.



They fit together like puzzle pieces, fingers entwined. Some nights, Spencer cannot sleep because he watches Jon’s lashes flutter, watches him breathe. Jon feels more alive than anyone else Spencer has ever met.

He looks so content in his sleep, maybe even more content than when he’s awake. Spence presses close against Jon, nosing his neck, and wonders whether he’ll ever be like that.

“Never leave me,” he whispers against Jon’s neck.



.



In May, Jon pulls him away from their cauliflower field and into the nearby forest. He pins Spencer against a tree and kisses him fiercely and for a moment Spencer has to grin against his lips, expecting Jon to pull at their clothes, cool air.

But Jon pulls back a second later and rests his forehead against Spencer’s. He palms his cheeks, stroking softly, and his voice is rough when he says,

“Four months.”

For a second, Spencer doesn’t comprehend. “Four months?” he repeats, and then Jon’s brows furrow.

“If I could I would promise never to leave you,” Jon continues, and kisses Spencer again. Spencer can’t move. His tears mingle with the sweat of the early summer.



.



He kicks Brendon out of Ryan’s bed that night, and curls up against Ryan, burying his face against his chest. Travis wanted to talk to him about the power generator earlier, but Spencer doesn’t think there’s space for anything, anything at all, in his head right now. He breathes carefully into Ryan’s T-shirt.

“I want to be with him forever,” he finally says, and in that moment he knows it’s true. Ryan holds him close. “I cannot be without him.” This, too, is true. Spencer doesn’t know when it happened. Sometime between the sunny day Jon showed up and their kiss under the dancing fireworks and their first fumbly sex in Spencer’s bed, sometime they grew into one another.

“I’m sorry,” Ryan says then as if any of this is his fault, as if he could have kept Spencer safe from all this. “It hurts, I know.”



.



For the first time in his life, Spencer feels jealous of Ryan. This emotion is new, and it takes a while for him to realize that it’s not real, vile jealousy, but more of a yearning for the assurance Ryan has. He doesn’t sleep. Jon holds him close and Spence pretends to fall asleep, trained, slow breaths, until he feels Jon’s body relax against his own. It’s like his mind and body refuse to waste any minute he can be with Jon consciously.

After a week without sleep, with Spence getting more and more quick-tempered than usual, and hissing at Ryan twice, William takes his hand and sits him down on a box behind his and Gabe’s house.

“You haven’t been sleeping,” William starts, cocking his hips, holding his hair back from his face with one hand.

“Oh really?” Spence snaps back and buries his face in his hands. He’s not going to cry here in front of William.

“I think you should know something,” William says softly and sits down next to him, winding a careful arm around his waist. His body exudes heat and a weird kind of emotional warmth that seeps under Spencer’s skin and lets his heart beat more slowly, takes the edge away.

“Gabe did not lie when he told you about Pete,” William continues, and Spence looks at him from under his bangs, rubbing at his nose furiously. William’s eyes are full of worry. Spencer doesn’t believe him.

“I don’t believe you,” he grits out and stumbles to his feet and away.



.



Jon is wrapped around him like silk. Maybe Jon even is silk, Spencer cannot tell. He also cannot hold onto Jon, because he keeps slipping, floating off, too smooth between Spencer’s fingers to hold on. Spence feels him fade further, and screams so loudly, he wakes himself up.

Jon is shushing him, pulling him close, kissing the tears from his face.

“You were gone, you were gone,” Spence whispers and clings to him, holding on, concentrating on the feel of Jon’s skin, hair under his fingers, making sure that Jon is still real.



.



“Tell me,” he says to William the next day when they’re cleaning up after dinner. “Tell me what you know.”

William tilts a brow at him, questioning, and Spence continues, “About this man. Peter.”

“Pete, his name is Pete.” William pauses. “I thought you didn’t believe us?”

Spence stares at him. He knows William knows what’s going on. He knows he doesn’t have to speak to make him understand.

“I have a map,” William says after a moment. “You can find him with that.”

“How,” Spence starts and then clears his throat. “How did he do it?”

William looks away. “He wouldn’t tell us.”



.



The ‘map’ is a notebook sized sheet of paper with handwritten instructions. Go from city X to city Y, and so forth. Spencer stares at it over breakfast the next day, and holds it tightly between his fingers when they climb over the debris of the city, stone after stone.

When they light the fire in the evening, Spencer presses against Jon, climbs into his lap. Jon is warm and solid against him, not fading.

“I love you,” he whispers against Jon’s lips, and he has never known anything as sure as this.



.


After one month has passed, Jon leaves a Polaroid of Spencer on Spencer’s pillow for him to find when he wakes up. It shows him from an off-center angle, half from behind and as if Jon was half kneeling when he took the picture; he’s staring up at the sky, sunlight caught like liquid gold in his hair. Under the photograph, Jon’s squiggly handwriting says we are one.

Spence finds Jon on the porch, curled up on one of the armchairs. He looks up when Spence sits down next to him and takes a deep breath.

“I have seen more in my life than most people. I have seen the waters in the north and the ocean and I have loved and lost love. I have left my mark on this world, and it has marked me. When I came here, I was ready.” He stops, staring off into the sky. “I have never known regret, but now I wish I had found my way here sooner.”

Jon stills, hands clenching in his lap. Spence closes his eyes, reaches over to take his hand, enlacing their fingers.



.



They leave the next day. Ryan hugs him so hard, Spencer thinks his ribs are cracking, tugs his hair, muffles his sobs against Spencer’s shoulder. He’s alternatingly whispering I love you’s and I hate you’s against his skin, and Spencer just holds onto him.

“We will come back,” he says after he’s hugged Brendon for about an hour, and then Ryan again. “I promise.”

“Keep him safe,” Ryan sobs into Jon’s direction, voice hoarse before they climb into the jeep. Jon nods a silent promise before he starts the engine.



.



They have enough gas to last for a few hundred miles, maybe more, and Spencer is sure they’ll run across a station sooner or later. On William’s map there are some stops, and Spencer is sure that at least half of the old signs are still up. They have food and water for a few weeks at least, and Jon is telling him stories. Spencer is not scared.

They sleep curled up in the back of the jeep, counting stars. Sometimes Spence wishes for Ryan’s laugh, the familiar smell of the roses Ryan dries on the rafters in the warm months, to use for perfume and soap later. He misses Brendon’s horrible cooking and the big fire flickering into the night sky. Jon holds him close and Spencer is not scared.



.



Eight days in, far, far behind them, smoke and lightning flashes up the horizon, followed by the soft rumbling of a distant thunder, like explosions in the sky. Spence clutches Jon’s thigh and prays that Ryan and Brendon are safe.



.



Sometimes the roads are broken, the asphalt cracked or gone, and they have to find another way because the holes are too big. They roughly follow William’s directions and a map Spence found in an forgotten gas station a week into their trip. He took a few dusty paperbacks, romance novels, bad scifi novellas and cookbooks with them, and reads them to Jon as they drive because their cassette deck broke after three days and even Jon couldn’t fix it.



.



On the ninth day, Spencer wakes and Jon is gone. He lets out a whimper, desperate and shrill. What if Jon lied? What if he lied and it was less than four months? He’s frozen with fear for a moment, heart pounding painfully hard, ears rushing with blood, limbs going numb. He snaps back a second later and scrambles out of the car, yelling Jon’s name. A scream echoes through the night, deep and primal, and Spence runs towards it, caution forgotten because this is Jon’s voice and he will find him.

But Jon is not ripped apart or bloody or broken; he’s standing at the edge of the desert, yelling into the night sky, voice cracking. Spencer lets out a sob and presses against his side, clinging to him, whispering his name until he relaxes, breath calming.



.



On day thirteen, they stop at an old, seemingly deserted truck stop. There are old, gnarly peach trees planted around it, exuding an overwhelmingly sweet and heavy scent. The big glass walls are dust grey from the inside, and in the car park stands an old pick up without tires. Jon and Spence walk closer and pull at the swing doors, but they won’t budge. Spence shrugs at Jon and they walk around the building to look for the back entrance. Past the bathrooms and a deflated football, and suddenly someone has their arm around Spencer’s neck and is squeezing hard.

Jon is shouting and then the pressure vanishes from Spencer’s throat and he can breathe again, sinking against the wall for a moment, forcing air into his lungs. Jon is shielding him, a cut in his hand. In front of them stands a small guy, knife in one hand, the other splayed out, a scorpion tattooed onto his neck.

“Whoa,” Jon says and raises his hands calmingly. “Don’t do that, man.”

The look in the guy’s eyes is wild. He looks like one of the cats Spencer sees sometimes in the cities around their camp. On his wrists, tattoos are showing, and he’s still playing with his knife nervously.

“Frank!” a voice calls from the back, and a man dressed all in black, skin paint-white emerges. “Frank, it’s okay.” He walks closer and pulls the guy named Frank into a loose hug, threading his fingers through his hair.



.



Gerard makes them tea. It smells like roses and tastes like peach, sweet, sour, stinging. Frank is sitting curled up on his chair, knees against his chest, eyeing them warily while he’s sipping his tea. Gerard talks very calmly, and his pupils are a little too wide. Spencer is worried.

He pulls Jon aside in the evening and tells him that he doesn’t want to spend the night, but Jon just shushes him, and the promise of a soft, real bed is too tempting. They sleep peacefully that night, warm, wound around each other under the thick blankets Gerard gave them. Spencer doesn’t dream. He sleeps more deeply than he has in months and seems to wake in exactly the same moment as Jon. Somewhere in the back of his head, Spence thinks he remembers something important, but he cannot pinpoint it. Jon looks unconcerned.

They decide to stay. For a few days, at least.



.



In the third night, Spencer wakes from the fear of Jon not being there next to him. He doesn’t know why he’s suddenly scared of that, and Jon is right here, breathing calmly. Spence yawns and closes his eyes, snuggling against Jon, who pulls him closer in his sleep. Spence wakes again the next morning, later than Jon, and the empty pillow beside him gives him a weird pang of fear. He scrambles to his feet and into the kitchen where Frank is frying eggs.

Spence stares at him for a moment and tries to remember why he was scared.



.



On the seventh day, Spencer forgets Ryan. In the morning, Jon wonders aloud how Ryan and Brendon are, and Spence doesn’t know who he is talking about until Jon says, “Ryan, your best friend?”

By the time the sun has set, Spencer has forgotten Ryan and Brendon and the camp, and Jon cannot remember either.



.



Time passes. Spencer forgets how they came to be at this place, and he forgets that they were driving for days straight. He forgets Ryan’s birthday and his own and that there is a world outside this circle of peach trees.



.



“Frank is a little crazy, nevermind him,” Gerard says, putting omelets on their plates. Frank pokes his with a fork, but he doesn’t react to the mention of his name, eyes fixed on the table.

Spencer doesn’t ask. He just nods and starts eating.



.



One day Spencer wakes next to a stranger. He doesn’t recognize Jon until he moves, yawning loudly and rolling over to curl against Spencer. Gerard smiles at them during breakfast, and something inside Spencer tightens, like a knot, pulsing.

That afternoon Spence helps Frank with the laundry. They hang endless rows of flowery white linen, one after the other.

“How do you feel about Jon?” Frank asks suddenly, and his voice is surprisingly calm, no trace of madness audible.

Spence blinks. “Who?” And remembers before the words have even left his mouth. He reaches up to touch his lips and feels wetness on his cheeks. “What’s happening?” he asks.



.



Frank wakes them sometime during the night. Spence has forgotten their conversation in the afternoon and he has forgotten Jon, and himself. He feels calm and peaceful sees no reason at all to leave.

“You need to leave before he wakes,” Frank says urgently.

He insists, pulling them both up, and maybe Jon remembers a little because he helps Spencer dress and gathers their few belongings together. Spencer’s insides feel like lead. He feels stuck to the floor by their weight, unable to move.

“Your tank is full, you have food and water for a few weeks,” Frank continues, ushering them out of the room quietly. Spence feels the weird impulse to shout for Gerard, but Jon’s hand clamps down on Spencer’s mouth as well as his own before he can make a sound.

They exit the gas station through the front door, dust snowing down on them. Frank makes them sit in the jeep and calmly explains to Jon how to drive the jeep.

They leave, the engine roaring, speeding past the trees. Spencer begins to remember after about a mile; his nails are digging into the palm of his hand until Jon reaches into his lap and entwines their fingers carefully.



.



Spencer doesn’t know what date it is exactly, but he can tell by the color of the leaves and the fields around them, that August must be coming to an end slowly. The shadows under Jon’s eyes grow darker, and Spencer feels like he must look the same. They drive through the night, and rest during the day to preserve water, wary of other camps and roadside stations.

Somewhere along the way the map stopped being accurate. Spencer thinks it’s because the signs changed or because somebody tore the important ones down; he tries not to think it’s because they’re not supposed to go.

The great city by the western ocean, it said on the map. A city of angels who never sleep.

“Let’s go west, then,” Jon says and makes the engine roar. Spencer wonders if he’ll ever find his way back.



.



When they reach the ocean it’s storming. Rain hits the roof of the jeep like threaded pearls as they drive south along the coast. In the distance, lightning flares up every few seconds, followed by thunder. Spencer is curled awkwardly over the middle, head resting on Jon’s shoulder.

“I don’t know where we are,” Jon says suddenly. He doesn’t sound worried or upset or happy even, just like nothing at all. Spencer turns his head and presses his lips against his shoulder.

“I haven’t known where we are since we left there,” he replies. “Just keep going.”



.



In the morning Spencer wakes, curled up in the back of the jeep, Jon asleep in the front, his arm stretched back in an awkward angle, hand on Spencer’s calf. Blinding Spencer with reflecting light from the red, red morning sun, is a green and white sign reading Los Angeles, 218 miles.

Something inside him twists. He doesn’t know whether Jon parked the car here intentionally, or whether he just stopped when he was starting to feel too tired to drive on. But behind the sign the sun is rising, and it looks illuminated, haloed.

Spencer is ready to start believing in all kinds of signs.



.



They drive another five hours until they reach the outskirts of the city, overgrown suburbs and parks, playgrounds and memorials. It feels – old. Something is different here, Spencer can feel it. Something ancient, something long-gone glamorous is resting like fairy dust on broken roofs and cracked marble.

There are people here; they see a few strolling in the park, and others leaving houses, and Spencer doesn’t understand. Jon growls and steps on the gas harder. Cities are no place for any person anymore; they are doom and death and should not feel like this one.

“I’m scared,” Spence finally says, and he sees Jon nod, his mouth set in a straight line.



.



Somewhere close to the center, they are stopped by a road barrier. There’s a gate, huge and rusty, in front of which someone has heaved boulders the size of their jeep. Upon one of them sits, lonely, a man with a headband, book in his hand and a bottle of water, tattoos of trees and ornamental, symbolic animals showing on his bare torso and arms.

They stop the car, and get out, squinting against the sun. The man tilts his head.

“You here for Pete?” he asks. He has eyes like a hawk. Something about him reminds Spence of someone, but he cannot pinpoint it. The sharpness of his features, shoulders, knees, the tone in his voice.

Jon nods. Spence lets their shoulders brush together, needing reassurance.

“You Jon?” the guy asks, tilting his head to the other side, birdlike. He continues before their surprise has even settled in. “Maja told me.”



.



It must have been blindingly white once, marble like pearl, shining. Spencer can almost see it if he closes his eyes, but now it’s just gray. It’s not a house per se, it’s more like a mountain; Spencer has never seen anything this big. Above the entrance, flanked by faded carvings, something is written in the stone, but Spencer can’t make it out anymore. On the highest roof, a broken mosaic reflects the sunlight, glinting.

“Come on,” the Butcher, as he presented himself, says, leading them on. Spencer holds Jon’s hand tightly and ducks his head when they enter, even though the entrance is more than high enough. Their steps echo hollowly, and Spence can’t help but hold his breath.

“Patrick!” the Butcher yells, voice bouncing off the walls and endless rows of bookshelves. “Patrick!”

From a stairway on the side, a smallish strawberry blond man in a hat appears. He has a kind, soft face, but his eyes are too old for him. Spencer shivers.



.



Pete is neither tall nor very small. He has dark hair, straight and a little in his eyes, and a toothy smile. He’s reading when Patrick ushers them in the room, but looks up when the door clicks shut.

“Pete,” Patrick says slowly. “This is Jon, and Spencer. They are here to see you.” He sounds tentative, careful. Pete looks at them, brows furrowed, but Patrick leaves without further explanation. Spencer feels helpless, and Jon is fidgeting next to him.

“Well?” Pete asks after a moment. He doesn’t sound annoyed or impatient, but there’s an edge to his voice that Spence can’t quite identify. “Are you here for books? Information?”

Jon looks at Spencer for a moment and then nods. “Yes, I think. Information, yes.”

Spence swallows, straightens his shoulders and tilts his chin. “We need to know how you lived past twenty-five,” he says slowly, keeping his voice calm and cold.

Pete rolls his shoulders, puts his book down in his lap. “Yeah?” There’s a smile playing around his lips.

“Yes,” Jon replies resolutely, but Pete just raises a brow and returns to his book.



.



Later, after they have had dinner, Patrick tells them that Pete allowed them to stay. There are rooms in the basement, an area as big as their camp up north, full of people, shuffling around, being busy, the faint sounds of music and laughter.

Spence falls asleep, thinking about Ryan and how badly he misses the smell of dried roses on old wooden rafters and hearing Brendon sing Ryan to sleep.



.



It’s the third of September, they find out the next day. Spencer turned four and he didn’t even notice. Jon presses a quiet, soft kiss against his temple, when he tells him, but Spencer is too busy wiping at his eyes to notice. The third of September means two weeks left.

“We can do this,” Jon says, slipping his arm around Spencer’s waist during lunch. “I won’t leave you alone. I won’t leave you.”



.



Pete doesn’t tell them even after the third day. Spencer sits down in front of him, hands folded in his lap and asks him very, very nicely to tell him, please. Pete just smiles and shrugs. Close up, his dark eyes look like shiny, black, glass marbles.

Please,” Spencer insists. “Please tell me. Please, I love him. I cannot lose him.”

Pete closes his eyes, as if he’s remembering something, brows furrowing, hands clenching around the covers of his book for a moment, until his face relaxes again.

“It’s fall already, isn’t it?” he says, and Spencer wants to punch him.



.



On the seventh day, they ask Patrick for help. Patrick looks at them for a moment, and then sighs.

“I need to talk to him anyway,” he says, grabs a tray of food and goes up to Pete’s reading room with them.

“I have food for you, Pete,” Patrick says and puts the tray down on a free spot on the floor in front of Pete’s feet.

“Who are you?” Pete asks then, smiling a little at Patrick. “Not that I don’t appreciate it but –“ He trails off, as Patrick turns away, walks past him and starts rummaging in the shelves. The look on Patrick’s face is unreadable, but Spencer can feel his sadness.

They watch quietly as Patrick pulls a book from the shelf and hands it to Pete.

“Here, I don’t think you’ve read that one yet. And we need your decision on whether or not to keep the west wing.”

Pete blinks at him, picking up a piece of bread and idly pulling a chunk from it. “The west wing stays. Are you new? I’ve never seen you before, I think.”

“Okay,” Patrick says, nodding, not reacting to the last part of Pete’s reply. Spencer can see his shoulders shake a little, in self-restraint, sadness maybe. “Dinner’s at nine. We’d all be happy if you joined us tonight.” He’s pushing his hands into his pockets, turning, not looking at either Jon or Spencer when he leaves the room.



.



“Anything,” Spence says, and pulls at the hem of his T-shirt. “Anything. Just tell us, please.” They’re in the atrium, Pete perched over paperwork until Spencer came to talk to him. Spence can feel Pete’s eyes rest on the small slice of skin that is showing between the top of his jeans and his T-shirt.

Pete reaches out and traces his finger over Spencer’s skin, softly. “Anything?”

“Anything,” Spence repeats, voice shaking. If necessary, he can. He can.

“Why would I want that?” Pete asks and leans back, crosses his legs and gives Spence a questioning look. His voice is nearly mocking, and Spence steps back until Pete’s fingers aren’t touching his skin anymore, his arm falling to his side again.



.



The seventeenth falls on a Sunday. It’s Thursday night now, and there are fifty-seven hours left. Jon is somewhere on the roof, taking pictures. Spence couldn’t go with him, or he would have had to scream at him for being this nonchalant, taking pictures as if nothing is wrong. Instead he walks endless circles through the library, up flights of stairs and through nearly hidden sections, trying to find another way to make Pete tell him.

But he has nothing left to offer. He has nothing left to trade, nothing of value to Pete.

He finds Patrick in the music section, leafing through sheet music. His face is full of concentration and he is murmuring to himself, a melody to his voice as if he is reading the music from the sheet. He doesn’t seem to notice Spencer, until Spence sits down on an old dusty cushion in front of him.

“He won’t tell me,” he says. “There are fifty-seven - six hours left, and he won’t tell me.”

Patrick looks at him, face sad. “I’m sorry,” he says eventually.

“If Jon dies, I will die too.” Spence pulls his knees close. Patrick reaches out and combs his fingers through Spencer’s hair. “We are one. I don’t know if you can understand that, but we are. We are,” Spence insists, wanting Patrick to understand, wanting Patrick to try and help again.

“No,” Patrick says, and there is a wistful –something – not quite a smile, on his face. “No, I understand. I understand.”



.



On Friday, they find Spencer on the roof standing at the edge looking down at the street. It all seems so small from up here. He curls his naked toes around the edge, spreads his arms and leans forward. There’s a moment of lightness before two pairs of arms snap around his middle and another around his knees. Jon, Patrick and Joe pull him off the roof, and he’s shouting things he doesn’t even understand himself.



.



“Spencer, Spencer, come on” Patrick is whispering and pulling Spencer from his cot. It must be early Saturday. Spencer feels sick at the thought that he slept through Friday, that he wasted Friday.

Patrick leads him out of the basement and into the atrium. A tray of tea and scones is sitting on one of the benches. Patrick makes Spencer sit down and eat and drink, shooting him worried glances, until he has finished two scones, a cup of tea and is starting another one. Music is playing very softly, and now that he has stopped eating, Spencer notices it.

“Pete wrote this for me,” Patrick says and turns his gaze to the sky. “He wrote it for me after we’d known each other for not more than a week. I hated him when I first met him.” He pauses. “I will tell you a story of love and loss, and you will listen carefully.”

Spence nods, curling his hands around his cup, and Patrick closes his eyes and pushes his duct-taped glasses up his nose before inhaling. He tells Spencer everything: from how he and Pete met, to their fights, to how intensely they did fall in love then. Then he tells Spencer how to make Jon stay.

Spencer shivers, throat tight.

“Pete couldn’t tell you,” Patrick says after a moment, “because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember. He has forgotten it all. It was a trade, almost?” And then he smiles, sad, nostalgic maybe. “But that’s alright, isn’t it? At least he is alive.”



.



Jon curls against him, eyes bleary. He just woke up, Spencer shaking his shoulder urgently, and pulled Spence down on the covers. He’s muttering sleepy I love you’s against Spencer’s skin, and Spencer feels his stomach turn over in desperation and urgency.

“Listen, listen,” he says and takes Jon’s face in his hands. “Patrick told me everything.”

Jon leans forward, about to kiss him, and freezes, eyes going wide. “How?” he breathes.

“Forget about me,” Spencer mouths against Jon’s lips. “Like Pete and Patrick. Patrick says, if we both agree on it, it’ll work. You have to forget about me. It’ll be fine. I won’t leave you. We’ll be together.” He doesn’t think about the time when he will reach twenty-five himself, he doesn’t.

Jon’s eyes go even wider and he shakes his head, brows furrowing. “I can’t do that,” he says. “Spencer, I can’t do that.”

“Please,” Spence grits out, nearly angry now. “Please just. I can’t lose you, I can’t.”

Jon thumbs his cheek. “I’d rather die than forget about you.”



.



It’s one-thirty-two p.m. They’re having lunch out on the roof, the sun blazing down on them, and Jon has less than eighteen hours left. Nobody is making jokes or commenting on the food. The silence is oppressing, and Patrick sits unusually close to Pete. Spence can’t eat. He stares down at his food and watches Jon eat slowly, deliberately.

Seventeen hours and twenty-eight minutes. Spencer counts. He can’t help it.

“Please,” he says then, his voice breaking the silence. Everybody looks away.

Jon shifts his gaze to Spencer. “I love you,” he says. “I love you.”

Spencer feels tears well up in his eyes. His throat feels so dry that he cannot answer.



.



They have fireworks, in the evening, once it starts getting dark. The explosions bloom up in the sky, red and pink and yellow, and Spencer remembers.

“Do you remember?” Jon asks and leans against Spencer’s side. “I cannot lose that.”

Spence wishes Ryan was here.



.



It’s strange, how close they became to the people here over the short duration of their stay. Before they lock the door to their room, the others come to say – goodbye maybe. Goodnight. See you tomorrow. Spence doesn’t want to hear Jon’s answers and curls up in bed.

Jon crawls in with him a bit later, naked, peeling the clothes from Spencer’s skin. They make love, slowly, desperately even, and Spencer cries because there’s no way he cannot.


.


Jon pulls him close. They’re lying, facing each other in the small cot in a room in the basement that Pete offered them. Jon looks tired, more scruffy than usual, hazel eyes dark and weary. He reaches out and brushes his hand over Spencer’s cheek, a ghost of a touch. Spencer tries not to think that this feels like goodbye. He feels bleak and empty.

“You have to do it,” he says. “It’s the only way. Jon, please.” He puts everything in those words, everything he has, all the pain and sorrow and love. “I don’t care. This is not about me.”

Jon smiles, wistful and sad. “Everything is about you, Spencer. Everything in the world.” He leans in and presses their foreheads together, and Spence reaches up and touches his chest, where his heart is beating steadily.

Tomorrow.



.


Spencer wakes, but doesn’t open his eyes. He cannot remember falling asleep, and he’s sure he was awake when Jon’s breathing evened out. He wanted to stay awake. He wanted to wait. He wanted. He stops thinking. His eyes are still closed. He cannot see, or hear much over the rush of blood in his ears.

He inhales, exhales, slowly, and reaches out over the pillow next to him for Jon.


***




Tags: au, brendon/ryan, cobra, fic, fob, jon/spencer, mcr, panic! fic, pete/patrick, tai
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