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A Handholding Song [2/2]

part one


It rains on Friday. Fucking pours, right in the middle of Joe’s after-lunch set, and it fits Joe’s mood exactly.

He’s strumming a melancholy Homefries For Hangovers when the drizzle that’s been steady all day turns heavy, thick and cold; sheets of it, like the sky’s just cracked completely open. It sucks, but Joe just sighs and scoots back further under the overhang – he’s been up at the top of the steps all afternoon, crouched near the building wall, and he figures Ray must be working, ‘cause no ones kicked him off them yet.

He’s soaked through anyway, though, and thinking about calling it a day. It’s not like there’s anyone out – he made five bucks that morning, and Argyle Dude gave him a grin and a twenty, which Joe figures is recompense for eating inside, dry, and not sharing his lunch.

He sniffles, swipes a hand under his nose, catching water dripping from the hair plastered to his skull. Wet’s not a good look for him, he knows this.

“Jesus Christ.”

Joe sneezes and glances up at Bob. He’s not wearing his uniform, so Joe guesses he was right about Ray. “Heya, Bob,” he says.

Bob reaches down and grabs Joe’s arm, hauling him to his feet. “Come on.”

“Whoa, dude, it’s fucking torrential out, you’re not even working, don’t you think I could—”

“Shut up,” Bob says. “Cover your guitar if you don’t want it to get ruined.”

Joe’s guitar is already warped – he lost the case years ago, a hazard of street performing – but it’s decent, if a little temperamental. He’s got a sheet of plastic for occasions such as these, and he wraps up his old acoustic, more than a little pissed that Bob’s throwing him out in the fucking rain. On his day off. It’s like—when did Joe ever do anything to make Bob this much of an asshole towards him?

Bob doesn’t let him go when they reach the bottom of the stairs, though, and Joe’s forced to double-up his steps to keep pace, not have his arm wrenched out of its socket.

“Is this where you pull me into a dark alley and beat the shit out of me?” Joe asks. He’s mainly being funny. He doesn’t honestly think Bob’s gonna wail on him. For the most part.

Bob slants him an unreadable look, but he lets up on his hold a little and slows down. He tugs Joe closer against his side, though, arm sliding over Joe’s shoulders, like his already sopping wet hoodie could shelter him from the rain. The gesture makes Joe smile a little, even if it’s pointless.

“An umbrella would be awesome,” Joe says, still grinning even when Bob snorts and yanks on a clump of his hair.

Joe’s apartment is ten blocks behind 201 and three blocks to the left.

Bob keeps straight down Independence, then silently steers him into a four storey walk-up, a neat and tidy square of brick, the first floor windows underlined with dirt boxes and slow-dying mums.

“Swank,” Joe murmurs.

The foyer smells musty and damp from the humidity. Joe follows Bob up the stairs, both of them dripping all over the well-worn carpet. At the second floor landing, a door pulls open with an anxious, “Bob!”

“Bird Dude,” Joe says, nodding.

Gerard blinks. “Um. Hi, Joe,” he says, then turns to Bob and wrings his hands and says, “Did you see Frank? Oh, wait.” He switches his gaze to Joe again. “Was Frank out today?”

Joe shrugs. Before it’d started drizzling, he and Frank had rocked some early morning Anthrax, but Frank’s, like, a delicate fucking flower, so he’d wussed out before he could catch a cold and fucking die or something. “He’s at home,” Joe says.

Bob gives him another look, what the fuck, like he thinks Joe’s lying.

“Oh, come on, we’re not homeless, okay,” Joe says. He hugs his guitar close to his stomach.

“No,” Bob says slowly, “you just sleep on the floor of your friend’s apartment.”

Joe’s brow furrows. Who the hell has Bob been talking to? “I live there.” An air mattress is still a mattress, and he’s got his duffel stashed neatly in the bottom of Butcher’s closet.

Bob rolls his eyes and mutters, “Christ,” under his breath, then says, louder, “Come on,” and starts up the stairs again.

Joe wants to be offended, but he’s soaked and cold and it’s Bob, so whatever. He says, “See you, Gerard,” because he’s got manners - sometimes, at least - and shuffles after Bob, sneakers squelching with each step.

*

Brendon normally likes rainy days, because it makes the inside of the building cozier, the piping hot coffee somehow more delicious.

Today, the rain just seems to be making him itchy. He’s—unhappy, he thinks is the word for it. Brendon really hates being unhappy.

“What’s up with you, dude?” Ray says, setting down a pair of threes.

Brendon shrugs. “Nothing. D’you have any queens?”

“Go fish.” Ray tucks his tongue into the side of his cheek. “Nines?”

Brendon slides one across the counter with a sigh. Ray is uncannily good at this game.

“Seriously, man. I’ve never seen you this down,” Ray says.

Brendon makes a face and looks off towards the front of the lobby. It’s not like he can pinpoint an exact reason, except for how he totally can: its name rhymes with fail-y and it’s sitting on Spencer’s desk, laughing, with a short skirt and a bag of gummy worms. Legs and candy, Brendon doesn’t really blame Spencer for being unable to resist. It still really sucks, though.

He’s thinking about maybe joining Hobo Joe outside for a while when he realizes Hobo Joe is no longer under the building awning. Huh. “Where’d Joe go?” Brendon asks.

“I called Bob. Are we still playing?”

Brendon blinks at him. “You called Bob?”

“Well, um.” Ray scratches an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Huh.” Brendon bites his lower lip, but can’t help the grin creeping across his face. That’s really kind of funny.

Ray says, “You know. It’s raining. I figured Bob could take him home for a little while.”

A giggle slips out, Brendon ducks his head a little. “Okay.” That’s kind of hilarious, actually.

“I mean.” Ray grins at him. “It’s not like Joe has the biggest and most obvious crush in the entire universe on him.”

“You’re right,” Brendon says, very carefully. “Because that would be awkward.”

Ray bobs his head, hair flopping all over the place. “Totally.”

“So, ah.” Brendon clears his throat, giggles some more, then presses a hand to his mouth and clears his throat again. “Got any fives?”

*

Haley’s an accountant on six. She’s been in 201 for three months, just about as long as Hobo Joe’s been haunting their front steps, and she’s awesome. She’s funny and hot and shares her candy and Spencer’s had sex with her four times in the supply closet down the hall and to the left, and once in the executive bathrooms up on ten.

So he has absolutely no clue why he opens his mouth and says, “This isn’t working,” like a giant fucking moron.

Haley’s teeth click around a gummy worm and Spencer winces involuntarily.

She chews slowly, watching him with a blank look, then smoothes out her skirt and slips to her feet. “Okay,” she finally says.

Spencer palms the back of his neck. He can feel his face heat up and his heart’s in his throat. “I’m sorry.”

Haley nods. She starts around him, then stops by his elbow, presses a hand to his shoulder. She opens her mouth, closes it again and shakes her head, lips pursed.

This is kind of out of nowhere, he thinks, but at the same time it’s kind of not. Fucking Jon Walker. He plants these little, inconspicuous bombs, these tiny ridiculous thoughts that fuck up your life, seriously, he needs to kick Jon’s ass when they’re on the same continent again.

He slumps down and thumps his forehead onto his desk.

Absently, he works his cell phone out of his pocket, slides it open and texts Jon: u r the worst friend ever

untrue, Jon sends back almost immediately, i’m awesome.

Spencer laughs, short, but weirdly unstrained, and types: broke up w haley

good, Jon texts, because Jon is an ass. go sweep bden ofhis feet!! hes little its ttly doable

seriously u suck, Spencer sends, and Jon replies with a pic of a big-eyed monkey sitting on top of Tom’s shoulders and picking at his hair with the caption: monkeys attaaaaack!

Spencer sighs – there’s something seriously wrong with Jon Walker - but he’s smiling when he looks up across the lobby, watches Ray and Brendon playing cards over Brendon’s kiosk counter.

It’s still raining out, and the fluorescent lights overhead seem brighter than usual, making his eyes sting a little.

He can hear Ray’s voice, but can’t make out the words. Brendon pouts and slides another card off the pile in between them, stuffing it into his already thick hand. Brendon always loses at Go Fish, it’s like the entire world of matching pairs is against him, but he loses spectacularly when battling Ray.

Brendon glances up and waves at him and Spencer leans back in his chair, taking in Brendon’s bright eyes, the upward curve of his mouth. Brendon’s pretty hot, honestly. This sweeping him off his feet deal that Jon’s pushing isn’t exactly the worst idea in the world.

Spencer smiles and waves back.

*

Frank huddles on the couch, wrapped up in a thick blanket, and gives Butcher puppy-eyes. Butcher isn’t looking at him - too busy making a bongo drum or something, Frank’s not sure, it could be a hat – but Frank knows he can feel the puppy-eyes. They’re totally potent, Frank can totally rock the helpless orphaned waif look, and the corner of Butcher’s mouth is twitching.

Frank sends out hot chocolate and cookie vibes. There’s a damp chill in the apartment, and Frank doesn’t want to leave the comfort of his couch cocoon.

“It’s not going to work, Frank,” Butcher says.

“It’s totally going to work,” Frank says, still staring at the top of Butcher’s bent head. He just has to wait it out.

The door bursts open and Bill sashays in, shaking his wet hair like a particularly fashionable Afghan hound. He’s in pants for once, which is surprising, but not as surprising as the guy who follows Bill into the apartment, taller than Bill by increments, slightly crazy around the eyes. Gabe Saporta. Frank recognizes him from his posters.

“Hello, minions,” Gabe says, spreading his arms wide. “How are we this fine afternoon?”

Butcher blinks up at him, snorts, then goes back to his—maybe it’s a bucket? Frank doesn’t know what they’d need a bucket for, but the kitchen floor is kind of gross. He wouldn’t be against it getting a good mopping.

Frank tugs his blanket closer and shrinks back along the arm of the couch. He’s totally not sharing. Bill always mooches his stuff. Frank’s been wrapped up naked with Bill too many times to count. It’s really not as pleasant as it sounds; Bill’s got sharp elbows and knees, and a tendency towards open-mouthed snoring. Bill, though, is much more amendable to Frank’s needy whims than the Butcher.

“Bill,” Frank whines and flutters his eyelashes at him, sending him the same vibes he’s been aiming at Butcher’s head for the past half hour.

“Cookies,” Bill says after a slight pause, arms crossed and one hip cocked.

Gabe snuggles up behind him, arms draped over Bill’s shoulders. He tilts his head and narrows his eyes at Frank. There’s a speculative gleam there, and then his face clears, smoothes out into a huge grin. “Hot chocolate,” he says.

Gabe’s very obviously a good guy. Frank likes the cut of his jib.

“I wanna subscribe to your newsletter, dude,” Frank tells Gabe, nodding, and Gabe flicks non-existent lint off Bill’s collarbone and says, “Doesn’t everyone?”

*

Bob has no fucking idea why, but he likes Joe. There’s just something about him, about the way he doesn’t seem to give a fuck about what people think of him, about the way he deliberately bugs the shit out of him – Bob knows it’s deliberate, to get his attention, he’s not dumb – about the way he deals with his kid.

Ford likes Joe, and Joe’s been more than decent to Ford, doesn’t brush him off or get annoyed when he hangs around. That goes a long way with Bob.

Bob’s beginning to think he’s made a huge mistake, though, bringing Joe home. Joe looks like a drowned cat, hair curling wetly against his skull. He’s got a towel around his neck, decked out in a pair of Ford’s sweatpants and an old t-shirt of Bob’s, neck stretched so wide it’s slipping down Joe’s shoulder.

He’s smiling at Bob around a cup of coffee, sitting at the kitchen table, and Bob feels like a fucking tool. Like Joe’s playing him somehow, even though he can’t figure out the angle. What possible thing could Joe gain from trying to provoke Bob into beating him to death? Not that Bob’s thinking about doing that. Bob likes him too much, and what the fuck is that, seriously.

“Where’s Ford?” Joe asks, placing his mug on the table but keeping his hands wrapped around it, fingers overlapping.

“His mom’s.” Bob’s leaning back against the sink arms crossed over his chest. He stares hard at Joe, but Joe’s cheerful grin doesn’t waver.

“Awesome,” Joe says, with way more enthusiasm than Bob honestly thinks that answer warranted, but whatever.

“Okay,” Bob says, draws out, one eyebrow arched.

“So, hey, can I use your shower?”

*

“This was your idea,” Gerard says, hunching his shoulders.

Ben, tucked in his hood at the crook of his neck, takes a nip at his ear.

“No, for real, I’m blaming you.”

Ben chirps, “Douche,” and pecks at his earlobe again.

Gerard feels like an idiot, soaking wet, standing in front of Frank’s door, shifting back and forth on his feet. He’s trying to decide whether to knock or not. Because he’s an idiot. He’s there. He’s made it that far – and Joe hadn’t even made fun of him when he’d asked for his address, so Gerard should just do it. Just knock. Just knock and say hi and it’ll all be cool.

Before he can even raise his hand, though, the door jerks inward and he’s blinking down at a shirtless guy with long hair and a scruffy beard, square black-framed glasses over clear eyes.

“Man,” he says. He’s got baggy basketball shorts on and he yawns, scratching fingers over his abdomen. “Been lurking like a creeper. Who’re you here for?”

“Um. Frank?”

The guys nods, moves to the side and waves Gerard in, and Ben takes that as invitation to dive-bomb, tearing out from under Gerard’s rain-heavy hood and circling the room, nearly clipping the guy’s nose as he wings past.

“Holy shit.”

Gerard just says, “Sorry, sorry,” and catches the guy’s arm as he stumbles backwards, and then Frank’s voice is ringing out from, like, the kitchen maybe, “Ben! Little dude, ow, ow, fucker, what the—”

Gerard turns bright red. He hates Ben so very much.

Frank’s grinning when he rounds the doorframe, though, Ben perched on top of his head, a green and brown blanket wrapped almost mummy-like around him.

“Gerard, hey, what are you doing here?” Frank asks, and the thing is, Gerard has no fucking clue why he’s there, except it’s Friday and they couldn’t feed the ducks and Gerard feels off-center.

“Ben missed you,” Gerard says, proving, yet again, how incredibly lame he is.

“Obviously. I fucking rock, dude,” Frank says, still grinning. His nose is red and he sniffles, rubbing the end of his blanket under his nose, and Gerard melts a little inside.

Gerard nods. “You do,” he says, and Frank gets a funny look on his face, so Gerard thinks maybe he said that a little too earnestly - but Frank fucking rocks, there’s no denying that.

Frank shakes his head, and Ben hops down to his shoulder, feather’s bristling. “Come on, we’re gonna watch Rachel Ray and destroy Butcher’s kitchen, it’ll be epic.”

“He’ll kill you,” the shirtless guy says, but he says it absent-like, and he slides on a pair of flip-flops. “I’m heading up to Mix’s, don’t set anything on fire.”

“No promises, Hurley,” Frank says, giving him a mock salute.

Gerard clasps his hands together and thinks about how this is clearly the best day of his entire life, and he doesn’t even care how much of a loser that makes him. He says, “I’m not allowed to use the toaster.” It’s Brian’s rule; he keeps burning his fingers. He makes Mikey follow it, too, but only because of the fork thing.

Frank says, “Fucking A,” and, “We’ll use the stovetop, Butcher’s even got one of those burner griddles,” and, “If you hold the gas open long enough before the lighter catches, the flames totally get air, dude.”

“Cool,” Gerard says. “Are those cookies?”

*

Gabe never shows up at Brendon’s work.

This is a blessing, because Gabe has terrorized every part of Brendon’s life since he was thirteen – twelve, actually, if they’re counting that year their parents were dating – and Brendon suspects it’s only because Gabe hadn’t been entirely sure where he worked, and wasn’t interested enough to find out. Gabe’s always intense and absent and nosy and incurious, all at once.

Brendon kind of wants to slide under his counter when Gabe pushes through the revolving doors of 201, soaked to the bone but smiling huge, followed by a willowy guy in a poncho.

Ray eyes him curiously as he sinks lower and lower onto his stool, like he can hide behind Ray’s fro, then glances over his shoulder.

Gabe makes a beeline for Spencer, though, which is just as bad, and panic starts swirling in Brendon’s chest, because Gabe at the club is one thing, where it’s loud and distracting and anything he says or doesn’t say can easily be brushed off or misheard – the lobby echoes with their footsteps. It’s an ominous sound. Brendon might throw up.

Ray says, “Isn’t that—”

“Yeah,” Brendon says, jumping to his feet. The screech of his chair makes him wince, but Gabe’s eyes snap to his.

Gabe’s wily, though, and a great big asshole. He just grins, gives him a slight head-tilt as he leans into Spencer’s desk.

“This is bad,” Brendon says. He can’t hear them, but Spencer’s got a wavering smile on his face, and Gabe’s friend is fluttering his hands, looking disturbingly smug.

Spencer’s eyes flick towards Brendon.

Horror wells over him. He wishes he was close enough to jump Gabe and press both his hands over his mouth.

Spencer blanches.

Brendon considers choking himself to death on a swizzle stick.

And then Gabe chucks Spencer under the chin and whirls around, attention zeroing in on Brendon. Brendon shrinks back into his kiosk, like maybe he can blend in with the faux wood cabinets and make himself disappear.

By the time Gabe gets to him, he’s almost entirely under the counter, fingers gripping the edge, white-knuckled. Gabe leans over and waggles his eyebrows. “Brendon, bro, you’ve nothing to worry about, dude, I totally took care of everything.”

“Oh no.”

“He’s been properly warned,” Gabe says. “It’s all squared away.”

Brendon doesn’t like the sound of that. This is shaping up to be exactly like that incident in junior year, when Gabe had gotten Brendon banned from the school paper after threatening to cut off Senior Editor Cecil Wallachuck’s balls for staring just a shade too long at his little brother’s ass.

Brendon drops down to sit on the floor, and Ray squints at him. “All right?”

“Peachy,” Brendon says. He briefly considers asking Gabe exactly what he said to Spencer, but he doesn’t actually want to know. He’s pretty sure his imagination is much tamer than anything that came out of Gabe’s huge mouth.

“I’m the best fucking brother in the universe,” Gabe says, then slants a look at Ray and says, “Hello,” and, “I don’t believe we’ve met,” and, “There’s something about your hair that I greatly admire.”

Brendon hides his face in his knees.

*

Bob’s made a big mistake, bringing Joe home. This’s exactly what happened at Andy and Butcher’s place. Joe has a habit of settling in.

Plus, it’s the weekend, so Joe doesn’t need to head back to 201 ‘til Monday morning. He’s got two full days of Bob ahead of him, providing Bob doesn’t physically throw him out. It’s a risk, but Joe’s really gotten the feeling that Bob doesn’t mind him all that much. Something to do with the borrowed clothes and the coffee and the soup and the cookies and the reruns of Magnum: PI.

The trick is to fall asleep on the couch. Joe happens to know that he looks particularly fetching while asleep – Bill’s told him often enough, and Frank keeps trying to sneak cuddles – so chances are Bob’s not gonna want to disturb his angelic slumber.

At some point, though, Bob nudges him into semi-consciousness and shuffles him off to a bed – Ford’s, he thinks, since he’s pretty sure Bob’s outgrown the half-naked girl posters on the ceiling thing – and that’s an awesome sign. A sign of complacency, a chink in Bob’s armor, a tiny, little crevice Joe can worm his way into; like rust or something, only infinitely more sexy.

Another awesome sign is waking up Saturday to pancakes and a table set for three.

Joe scrubs the side of his head and Bob’s eyes settle somewhere around his hair, so he figures the fro’s looking extra spiffy.

Bob just says, “Breakfast?” though, in this gruff morning voice that Joe can feel all the way down at the bottom of his spine.

“Food would be good,” Joe says, nodding.

Ford’s already at the table, iPod on, bobbing his head, one foot rhythmically tapping his chair leg. He gives Joe a wave and then Bob tugs one of his earbuds out and says, “Not at the table,” and Ford makes a face but obediently turns his music off and sets it aside.

“Sanford,” Joe says, reaching out to bump his fist.

Ford grins. “Hi.”

“You’re in a better mood.” Joe sits across from him, watching Bob out of the corner of his eye, standing over by the stove.

Ford half shrugs. “Guess so.”

Bob cuffs the back of Ford’s head as he slides a plate of pancakes onto the table, gives Joe a smile with his eyes, even though his mouth’s down-turned at the corners.

Joe’s heart skips a fucking beat.

This, this right here, is kind of what he wants for the rest of his life.

*

“Why so fucking glum, dude,” Frank says, dropping down onto the steps next to Joe.

Joe’s frowning, playing Fucked Up Love Song already, the one he wrote about Hurley and Mixon and their weirdly intricate heterosexual lifemate status.

Joe shakes his head. “Just found out I’m a family sort of man,” he says. “Fucks with your world view, you know?”

“Shit,” Frank says.

Joe closes his eyes, rubs a hand over his forehead. “I might need to get a fucking job, Frankie, how is this my life?”

Frank blinks at Joe, mind fucking boggled. As far as Frank knows, and Frank knows a lot, Joe hasn’t held a steady tax-paying job since 2001. He’d dropped out of college, quit his internship, and headed for the streets. Frank’s always sort of admired his gumption.

“Dude,” Frank says forlornly, clasping Joe’s shoulder. It’s a sad, sad day when Joe has to go and, like, fucking assimilate. “Are you sure?”

Joe hums a few bars of Let’s Get Nasty, Except For Bill, then thumps the flat of his hand against the strings. “He’s got a kid, a steady income, an ex-wife—”

“Huh.” Figures a security guard would be fucking responsible, right.

Joe points at him. “I don’t even have a bank account.”

Frank nods, pushes up the arms of his sweater and leans his elbows on his knees. Frank doesn’t have a bank account either, because it’s too easy for people to, like, fucking steal your identity or whatever. Frank deals with cold hard cash, so The Man can’t keep tabs on his life. Frank’s a free spirit. Frank jams out with Joe at 201 or stakes out his own turf by the fountain down in the park, and pulls in enough coinage to get him coffee, smokes and a couch – although it’s actually only a couch cushion, Hurley claims, but whatever, he shares it with Bill.

“Hey.”

Frank glances up and smiles at Gerard, shifting back and forth on his feet in front of him and Joe. “Hey, Gee,” he says. “Got any requests?”

“Oh, um,” Gerard rubs the side of his forefinger across his lower lip, “I actually just wanted to see if, uh, you wanted to grab dinner? Later?”

Frank wrinkles his forehead. Hanging out with him on Friday had been fucking sweet - they almost made Butcher cry, and that’s really fucking tough to do. So he’s getting some mixed signals here, what with Gerard having a girlfriend and all, but he’s pretty sure Gerard’s asking him out on a date.

Joe jostles his arm meaningfully.

“Sure,” Frank says finally. “That’d be awesome.”

Gerard’s face nearly splits in half with this huge grin, and Frank can’t help thinking that Gerard’s really fucking pretty, for a dude.

“Cool,” Gerard says, and Frank nods and grins and they stare at each other for way too long, but only Joe’s there to witness it, and Joe can’t fucking talk, after all this fucking job shit he’s spewing.

“Cool,” Frank echoes.

Joe mutters, “Oh yeah, cool,” under his breath, and Frank elbows him hard in the ribs.

*

Brendon spends most of his weekend in a state of anxious panic. So when he walks into 201 Monday morning he’s amped up and fidgety and looking everywhere but Spencer’s desk. That Spencer is currently sitting at. Brendon can feel the burn of Spencer’s eyes on him as he does his best to amble perfectly naturally over to his coffee kiosk.

He trips over a crack in the marble tile and goes down hard. Brendon is motherfucking smooth.

He squeezes his eyes shut, down on his hands and knees, and when he blinks them open again, Spencer’s shoes are right in front of his nose.

“All right?” Spencer asks.

“I am awesome,” Brendon says, clambering to his feet. He swipes his stinging palms on his pants. “Totally fine.”

Spencer’s got his skeptical face on, the one he always uses on Sisky when he comes back late and mussed from his mysterious lunch dates, smelling like wood chips and Old Spice. “Right,” he says.

Brendon presses his lips together and bounces on his toes.

Spencer glances off to the right, scratches the back of his neck, then says, “Your brother’s, uh, strange,” almost carefully, like he’s afraid of offending Brendon.

Which is crazy. This is Gabe. Gabe pretty much invented strange.

“He sells his underwear on eBay,” Brendon says. Not only his underwear, but Brendon doesn’t feel comfortable discussing that outside of the family.

Spencer nods. “I can see that.”

“Yeah, so.” Awkward. Brendon doesn’t know how he’s supposed to act around Spencer, now that Gabe—well, if he hasn’t out right told Spencer about his great and epic love, he damn well obviously implied it.

“Huh,” Spencer says.

Brendon squints up at him. “What?”

A grin creeps across Spencer’s face. “Nothing.”

“Okay.” Brendon feels like he’s missing something. Something huge, maybe, it’s like an itch in the back of his brain, but Spencer just shakes his head, cheeks the slightest bit flushed.

Still. Brendon finds himself grinning a little, too, as Spencer walks away.

*

Jon texts Spencer: bdens sweet on u

duh, Spencer sends back, because he could’ve figured that out on his own, thanks, probably even without the whole Gabe Saporta threatening him thing. Spencer isn’t exactly scared of Saporta, but he’s definitely wary. Saporta’s got that I’ll-hire-people-to-kill-you-even-though-I-could-take-care-of-you-myself kind of vibe going on, but at the same time he’s sort of epically friendly. He reminds Spencer of Brendon in that respect. Or a dog. A particularly evil-minded dog. Like Cujo.

Spencer doesn’t like the way his thoughts are going. Maybe he is a little scared of Saporta.

Then Jon texts, told bden ur sweet on him2, and Spencer has the sudden and perfectly rational urge to bludgeon Jon to death with his own camera.

“I’m going to kill your boyfriend,” Spencer says to Ryan. They’re eating lunch over his desk, because Ryan’s hoping Saporta’ll stop by again, since he’s just a big, creepy fanboy at heart. This is why he never really made it in Hollywood.

Ryan chokes on a fry and scowls at Spencer. “Jon’s not my boyfriend.”

Spencer smirks. “And yet you knew exactly who I was talking about.”

“Fuck you,” Ryan says mildly, and, “You can’t kill him, he’s in Kuala Lumpur.”

“He’s going to die by my hand, mark my words,” Spencer says, nodding sagely. “How the fuck did he get Brendon’s number?” Spencer doesn’t even have Brendon’s number. He’s pretty sure Ryan doesn’t, either.

Ryan shrugs. He takes apart his burger and picks at the meat patty with his fingers, getting ketchup everywhere, because occasionally Ryan’s really disgusting. Spencer thinks he gets it from Jon, and all that time they spent together on the sets of TNBC, far away from Spencer’s soothing, civilized influence.

Ryan’s cell buzzes with a text and an evil smile breaks out across his face as he reads it. He flicks a glance at Spencer, then calls out across the lobby, “Hey, Brendon, want to come over for dinner tonight?”

Brendon eyes widen and he says, “Sure?” and Ryan arches a mocking, take-that eyebrow at Spencer.

Spencer’s mainly just amused, though. Ryan thinks he’s getting away with something, but Spencer knows where he keeps all one hundred and four episodes of Hang Time, and he’s pretty sure Brendon would just love to see Ryan’s awkward teenage years chronicled for all time on a teenie bopper show about basketball.

*

Bob glares at Joe when he opens the door, but he doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t tell him to go away, either, just opens the door wider and steps aside. How fucked up is it that he’d been hoping for this? That, okay, he’d possibly been disappointed when he’d gotten off work, and Joe had already been gone?

“So what’s for dinner, Bob?” Joe asks, flopping down on the sofa in a casual slouch.

Funny thing is, though, Joe’s avoiding Bob’s eyes. He’s staring at the blank TV, and Bob’s an observant guy, he doesn’t miss the way his fingers clench in the baggy material of his jeans, like he’s steeling himself up for something. Like maybe he’s nervous. If Bob were a nice sort of guy, he’d probably try to ease Joe’s mind here – although about what, Bob’s not so sure, since it’s not like Bob’s going to throw him out now, he’d let him stay there the entire weekend.

Instead, Bob stares at him so long, stares at his profile, the frozen curl of his mouth, he swears he can see Joe’s pulse pick up, fluttering at the base of his throat, just under the brush of his fucking ridiculous hair.

Ford is watching Ben for Gerard again.

Ford isn’t around, and it’s like Friday night, only Joe isn’t relaxed and sleepy on his couch, isn’t so pliable in his arms that Bob actually has to force himself to tuck Joe into Ford’s bed, keep his hands to himself.

Bob believes in fair play. Bob doesn’t take advantage, and here’s Joe, alert and challenging and wary and Bob walks over and settles down on the coffee table, in between the spread of Joe’s legs.

“What’s up with you?” he says.

Joe shifts, like he’s trying to move away, but Bob catches his knees, presses his palms down to keep them still. Bob doesn’t get why, but Joe’s face softens fractionally, smile more natural, humor lighting his eyes. He shifts again, but forward this time, sitting up straighter and catching Bob’s wrists before he can pull away. Not like Bob was going to anyway.

“I’ve had a thought,” Joe says. “A kick-ass thought, you should hear me out.”

Bob arches an eyebrow.

“Wait, just wait,” Joe says, grin going goofy, and he tugs on Bob’s left hand, seems surprised when Bob loosens his grip enough to let it slide down Joe’s thigh. “Um.”

Bob waits.

Joe stares down at his hand, then glances up at him, wide-eyed, and Bob feels a little smug.

“Yeah?” Bob prompts.

Joe clears his throat, says, “I think I should get a job.”

Huh. That. Is not at all what Bob had expected. “You have a job,” he says, which is kind of dumb, because Bob’s often pointed out the fact that Joe does not actually have a job – he’s not even sure busking is legal - but at the same time, what the fuck. “Where’s this coming from?”

Joe’s face falls a little before he rallies his expression, turning up the cheer but tilting his head to stare off into the kitchen. He hitches a shoulder. “Nowhere, man, just thought—I’m not stupid, dude, it’s not like I couldn’t get a job if I wanted one.”

“Never said that,” Bob says. He has no fucking clue what’s going on here.

“So.” Joe clears his throat again. “Yeah.”

Bob squeezes his thigh, a steady pressure until Joe turns dark eyes back on him. Bob kind of wants to beat him until he makes some kind of sense; Bob’s like that. Or maybe he isn’t, because Joe’s a daily pain in his ass, and he just asks, “Chinese?”

*

Frank never thought he’d find the sight of Bill in pants disturbing, but, “No, seriously, what happened to your skirts, dude?” he asks.

Instead of his usual indignant rant about his Scottish heritage, Bill says, “That was mere plumage, my dear Iero, something daring to attract my ideal mate.” He gets a truly horrifying dreamy look on his face. “Besides, Gabe’s the jealous type, and my legs are fantastic. He’s awfully fond of my cock, too.”

Frank holds up a hand. “I didn’t need to know that.”

Bill shrugs, and he has a point; he’s got great gams, Frank isn’t going to deny that, and it’s not like Frank isn’t intimately acquainted with Bill’s dick – just about everyone in the apartment has had several unpleasant, too close for comfort moments with it; Bill doesn’t actually have any shame.

He doesn’t call Frank a girl, either – like Butcher and Joe would – when Frank insists Bill answer the door when the knock comes, right around the time Gerard’s supposed to pick him up. Frank ducks into the hallway and waits for Bill’s, “Hello,” and, “You must be Gerard,” and, “There’s a distinct lack of bird, but you seem the sort who’d have one,” and Frank thinks maybe he made a bad decision, letting Bill interact socially with the dude he thinks he wants to spend the rest of his life with. He doesn’t want Bill to scare him off; Gerard seems like he’s kind of easily startled.

Frank moves out of his hiding place nonchalantly, like it wasn’t actually a hiding place, and Bill’s right, there’s no Ben perched on top of Gerard’s head. This is disappointing – Frank likes Ben’s moxie, his righteous sense of mischief – but Frank supposes it’s the crowd thing again. That, and restaurants probably aren’t down with birds.

“Hi,” Frank says, and Gerard beams at him. Frank loves Gerard’s smiles. It’s like he doesn’t bother hiding anything, all open and honest and shit. It does stuff to Frank’s insides.

“Frank,” Gerard says, and Bill just stands there, hangs onto the doorknob, eyeing Gerard narrowly.

Finally, he says, “What’s the deal with this female. This Lyn-Z person?” and Frank palms his face, what the fuck, Bill.

Gerard freezes. “Uh, what?”

“Are you or are you not dating a girl?”

Frank peeks out between his fingers. Gerard just looks honestly confused, and in that moment Frank kind of loves Bill a whole fucking lot - he’d tongue kiss him hard and messy if he wasn’t afraid of communicable diseases and Gabe Saporta.

“Not?” Gerard says, then looks at Frank. “What?”

Frank bounces on his feet and grabs Gerard’s arm. “Just ignore Bill, he’s a sociopath. We try not to let him have any knives or opinions.”

Bill sends him a knowing and arch look behind Gerard’s back, and Frank’s going to owe Bill his first born or something for being so fucking awesome.

*

Ryan’s all boney angles, all awkward freshman math geek to Jon’s sophomore basketball star – which is hilarious, especially since Jon hasn’t really grown any taller in the intervening years – and it’s adorable. Spencer will never not think so.

“This is the greatest show ever,” Brendon says.

Ryan scowls, slumped down on the couch.

“I know,” Spencer says, grinning. It’s the best show in the history of shows, all because of Ryan and Jon and, okay, it’s an extremely cheesy send-up to Saved By the Bell – totally better than The New Class - but Ryan and Jon’s characters are so clearly flirting with each other all the freaking time, he’s not surprised the writers were shoving girls down ‘Adam’s’ throat left and right.

“Right now,” Ryan says petulantly, arms folded over his chest. “Right now, we could be watching Tom take on Mardi Gras in Panama while Jon does voice-overs about lizard people.”

“We could,” Spencer says. “But it wouldn’t be as much fun.” Which isn’t strictly true, since Tom and Jon’s little-known travel show is mainly hilarious and full of misinformation and wacky hijinks.

Brendon laughs and ducks his head down into the fold of his arms over the coffee table. “Oh my god, Ross,” he says, words muffled.

He doesn’t elaborate, but Spencer doesn’t think he has to. On screen, ‘Turner’ has on a paisley necktie suspiciously similar to the one Ryan had worn just last week.

“I hope neither of you are planning on sleeping tonight,” Ryan says in a flat tone of voice that suggests he’s considering stabbing them to death even if they can still see it coming.

Brendon half-turns his head to look at Spencer; they’re both sitting cross-legged on the floor, knees nearly touching. “Should I be worried?” he stage-whispers, grinning.

Spencer ignores Ryan’s indignant huff, leans into Brendon’s side, props his chin on Brendon’s shoulder, lips brushing Brendon’s ear. “Nah,” he says. “He wouldn’t want to get blood on his awesome new alpaca sweater-vest.”

Brendon bites his lip; Spencer can only see the corner of his mouth. “Okay,” he says, a little more subdued.

Spencer thinks, okay, and slips his hand up to rest on the inward curve of Brendon’s thigh.

*

Bob is sending out confusing signals. Joe’s a pretty straightforward guy, but he’s not sure if he should just come out and declare, like, his fucking intentions or not. Like, fucking kiss him or something, because there’s a chance Bob’ll break his face for that. Bob seems mainly tolerant of Joe, but there’s tolerant and then there’s Actually Gay. Or something. Bob’s a little handsy, though, so Joe’s feeling the gay vibes, even with his oh-so-obvious heterosexual past.

The whole reaction to Joe’s job plan is the most worrying, since Bob was entirely fucking bewildered, Joe could see it on his face, like he couldn’t come up with a single reason why that was important.

“So,” Bob says after a lengthy silence, both of them immersed in pork lo mein, Joe immersed in thoughts of Bob’s mouth and Bob’s surprisingly deft hand with chopsticks. “Wanna explain to me this sudden interest in gainful employment?”

Joe blinks. He’s totally not used to that many words coming out of Bob’s mouth. “Uh.” This is his chance. He should just say, ‘I’d like to adopt your son and be worthy of your dick,’ except he’s aware that bringing up Ford and cock in the same sentence is probably not the best idea. Also, there’s that whole possible punching thing.

Bob’s got his I’m-waiting face on.

Joe scratches his chin, thinks, fuck it, and leans over the coffee table to press his mouth to Bob’s. Only Bob’s mid-chew and his kiss lands off-center, because Joe is just that awesome.

On the plus side, Bob doesn’t look any closer to a homicidal rage.

Firmly in the negative, though, is the blank, stone face he’s sporting.

Joe’s kind of frozen, thinks, Oh shit.

And then Bob says, “Still not getting the job thing,” and Joe sags back against the couch in relief, letting out a strangled, ragged laugh.

*

Gerard doesn’t even think about taking Frank anywhere other than the Watson Diner on Front Street, because that’s where he always eats, except once they’re inside he has a mild panic attack about how rundown and crummy the place looks. The food’s okay and the coffee’s the best in a five mile radius, but Frank deserves awesome service and clean tables and vinyl seats that weren’t molded sometime before 1975.

It’s too late now, though, and Frank’s bouncing into a booth at the far corner of the smoking section and Jenny already has two cups and a pot of coffee on the table before Gerard’s fully into the seat across from him.

Frank grins at him. “Cool place,” he says, and it doesn’t even look like he’s lying.

“Right?” Gerard says, grinning back. It is cool, even if the Formica on the table is dingy brown and riddled with carved graffiti. There’s a jukebox in the corner that only plays Swedish pop. Chandra posts any napkin doodles she finds on the corkboard behind the register – Gerard’s got quite a few up there – and Leigh mainlines jellybeans from a jar on the counter in lieu of smoking; her voice has the husky rasp of a lifelong smoker, even though she’s been out of the habit for as long as Gerard’s been going there.

Picking up a laminated menu, Frank says, “So what do you recommend?”

“Pancakes.” You can’t go wrong with pancakes, really. There’s a stuffed mink on the wall by the grill wearing a pair of Blue Blockers – Gerard doesn’t exactly trust anything here with meat in it.

Frank bobs his head. “Short stack it is, then,” he says, and then he takes a swig of his coffee and says, “Wow,” and, “That’ll strip my stomach lining but good,” and, “This’s some fucking fantastic caffeine.”

Gerard’s pretty sure he’s in love.

*

Bob is not dumb or slow. He’s just cautious. Cautious, because being reckless had given him Ford, and he loves Ford and he wouldn’t trade him for anything, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had regrets over the years. That doesn’t mean raising a kid hasn’t been motherfucking hard, and that some days he’d give anything to go back to his freshman year of college, before any of the shit with Lisa had happened, and, like, fucking wise up; he’d gladly kick his own ass, if he could.

But he can’t, and he has an awesome kid and a crappy job and a band that doesn’t stink and most days he thinks that’s fine.

It’s dark in the apartment. The TV’s flickering black and white, an old John Wayne western – Bob doesn’t get the appeal, but Joe seems enthralled.

Bob says, “Joe,” and Joe twitches, almost a flinch.

“I know what you’re gonna say,” Joe says.

Bob doesn’t see how that’s possible, since Bob isn’t exactly sure what he’s going to say. “Right,” Bob says.

Joe turns to look at him, and Bob can’t read his expression, there’s not enough light, but his mouth is smiling.

“Sure,” Joe says, nodding. “This is where you tell me I’m a bad influence on your kid—”

Bob arches an eyebrow. He actually thinks the opposite of that one – Ford’s been in a much better mood the past week, and Bob thinks it’s got more to do with Joe than with Mikey’s PS3. Probably.

“—and that I’m a bum, right, and not worth your time—”

“Hey.”

“Dude, seriously, you think I don’t know about the Hobo Joe stuff?”

Bob can feel a blush heat up his neck, even though Joe doesn’t sound offended or anything - he’s still smiling. Bob clears his throat. “Okay,” he says. “I wasn’t going to say any of that.”

Joe blinks. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Bob rubs a hand over his nape. “I’m in a band,” Bob says carefully. “I have a steady job, because otherwise I couldn’t have custody of Ford.” What he doesn’t say is, yeah, I’m a responsible fucking adult because my ex-wife is a bitch, because that would be uncharitable and immature.

Joe stares at him. “So, what. You’re saying you’d be playing bongo drums on the street if you didn’t have a kid?”

“No.” Bob would probably still have a crappy job, he likes having a nest egg, but it’d be a whole fucking lot less stressful. Or maybe he’d be doing the band thing full time, who knows, he’s not gonna dwell on what-ifs here. “I’m saying you do what makes you happy, Joe. I don’t fucking care, so long as you stay the fuck out of my lobby.”

“Ray lets me hang,” Joe says, but he relaxes a little, lets his shoulder brush Bob’s.

Bob doesn’t say anything. He’s pretty sure Joe isn’t going to make another move, though, and Bob’s perfectly fine with that. Bob has some moves of his own.

He yawns, stretches his arm above his head, and drops it down along the back of the couch, just barely touching Joe’s neck.

“Smooth,” Joe says.

Bob smiles. He crooks his elbow so his wrist rests on Joe’s collarbone.

“Seriously, have you been on a date since 1985?” Joe asks, but he spreads his legs so his knee’s riding up along Bob’s thigh. “Where’s our coke with two straws?”

“Joe,” Bob says.

“I’m gonna write a song about you,” Joe says. “It’ll be a handholding song, I hope you don’t mind if I make you a girl.”

Bob bites his lip. He is not going to laugh.

“Ford’ll do the handclaps, dude. That kid’s a fucking handclapping prodigy.” Joe grabs Bob’s dangling hand, tugs it down so he’s leaning full-on Bob’s chest, Bob’s arm pressing against Joe’s sternum. He tips his head back and beams up at Bob. “I’ll mold him into the perfect traveling musical hobo, it’ll be awesome.”

Bob says, “I’ll kill you.”

“It’s a risk. If you take up with me,” Joe says, and he’s maintaining his levity, but there’s still something serious about the set of his mouth.

“Yeah.” Bob shrugs. “Not really worried.”

*

It’s a pretty great night, Brendon thinks, even though Ryan’s in a giant, pissy sulk and has locked himself in his bedroom. It just means there’s more Spencer for Brendon, and Brendon can laugh at Turner’s cowboy boots and hobo gloves and math prowess without fear of immediate retribution. Later, Brendon knows nothing can save him. He’d totally been hysterical over the whole winter formal episode; Ryan’s probably plotting how to poison him to death without leaving any incriminating evidence.

What’s both awesome and confusing is that Spencer is suddenly all over him, touching and leaning and breathing on him, and it’s hard to take any of Jon’s text messages serious – he keeps sending him photos of Virgin Mary statues in various holiday-themed hats – but Brendon’s thinking maybe the whole Spencer being sweet on him thing is more true than not. At some point, Brendon hides in the bathroom and texts Jon, help, and, Spencers hands!!!

And Jon texts back: hashe touched u in ur special place

Brendon stares at his phone for a full minute, then slides it shut and tucks it into his back pocket. That’s enough of Jon, really.

Spencer flicks his hair out of his face and grins at him when he comes back into the den, eyes soft and a little bleary. He lazily pats the floor next to him and Brendon snags a pillow from the couch on his way down, hugs it to his chest and settles cross-legged by the coffee table again.

Spencer slumps into him like a sleepy puppy. It’s late, and Brendon near-whispers, “You like me, Spencer Smith. You think I’m cute.”

“I’m going to kill Jon,” Spencer says, but he doesn’t sound like he’s actually going to kill Jon, and he rubs his nose on Brendon’s arm.

Brendon starts to drift off sometime in the middle of the episode where Coach finds weed in Adam’s locker and Turner takes the fall for him so he doesn’t miss the big game. He says, sleepily, “They’re in love, right?” and Spencer nods along his shoulder, Brendon can feel the soft slip-slide of his hair against his neck.

“Totally,” Spencer says, then yawns noisily. He threads his fingers through Brendon’s, flexes them slightly before settling them both on his knee. “Totally, madly in love.”


END.

Comments

( 169 robots have taken off their pants — Take off your pants )
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prairiedaun
May. 10th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
Oh! This totally made me do happy handclaps. Thank you!
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
yay! thank you, hon!
lunar_scythe
May. 10th, 2009 09:57 pm (UTC)
*giggles* I LOVE this! it's adorable, and I hope you write more in this 'verse!

After all, lol, the rest of bandom are there somewhere, too, right?
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
thank you!! I wanted to work Pete and Patrick in somehow, but it just didn't work out - so maybe next time :)
(Deleted comment)
skoosiepants
May. 13th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
thank you!!! I kind of want to write Ryan and Jon on their teenie-bopper show. Or, omg, I want to write FANFIC of their teenie-bopper show, ADAM/TURNER FANFIC. That blows my mind just thinking about it.
(Deleted comment)
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
hurrah! thank you so much, hon! Ben is my favorite :)
xsnarkasaurus
May. 10th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
I love your brain. I want to have your metaphorical babies.
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
hee! thank you!
wildestranger
May. 10th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant and hilarious in so many ways, but I have to say that Jon Walker's epic weirdness is the most delightful thing of all. And that show deserves a whole fic of its own. ;)
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
thank you, hon!! I kinda want to write Jon and Tom taking on the world in EPICALLY WRONG WAYS, but then I also want to write about Hang Time and Jon and Ryan being ridiculous teenage boys and Jon on the cover of, like, TIGER BEAT or something :)
liketheroad
May. 10th, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
NAWWWWWWWWW. This was hilarious and heartwarming and weird and great all at once.
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
thank you, hon!! exactly what I was going for :)
twilight_la_fae
May. 10th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
<3
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
thank you, bb!
bergann
May. 10th, 2009 11:10 pm (UTC)
This is SO amazing and wonderful and hilarious.

I ♥ ♥ ♥ your brian, seriously.
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
yay! thank you, hon!!
harriet_vane
May. 10th, 2009 11:43 pm (UTC)
I love this! <33333
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
thank you so much, hon!
fleurrochard
May. 11th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
*makes highpitched fangirl noises*

OMG, that was sooo cute!

And I totally want to see that show with Ryan and Jon. It sounds like the Best Show EVAR!

Edited at 2009-05-11 12:24 am (UTC)
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
thank you so much!! I kinda want to write Turner/Adam FANFIC :)
iamsupernova
May. 11th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
I- YES! I love how everything was a part of everything else. Also, Hobo Joe/Bob UST sort of tugs at the ol' heartstings quite a bit.
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
woo! thank you so much, hon!
paraserpiente
May. 11th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
Is it bad that I am SUPER excited for the soundtrack to this? SO MANY HANDCLAPS
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
HANDCLAPS ALL OVER THE PLACE!!! thank you, hon :)
cass404
May. 11th, 2009 12:54 am (UTC)
This was charming and I didn't want it ever to end.
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
thank you so much, hon!
stfu_pwentzz
May. 11th, 2009 12:59 am (UTC)
I clapped! FINALLY! We have the scripture for our Hobo Joe cult :D

This was super amazing <3 And now onto Kevin/Mike HS AU, RIGHT?!?!
skoosiepants
May. 14th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
hee, thank you, hon!!

And now onto Kevin/Mike HS AU, RIGHT?!?! yes! I have a plot now and everything, I just have to write it :)
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( 169 robots have taken off their pants — Take off your pants )

....

When the lights go out, Stiles isn’t sure what’s happening. It’s pitch black, and all Stiles can hear is his own ragged breathing. And then the screaming starts, and it’s not like he cares if everyone on this entire backwater planet gets culled or something, but Stiles is kind of a sitting duck for whatever mayhem has decided to descend on them, Wraith or Genii or – he hears a not-so-distant howl and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up – homicidal alien werewolves.

- Show You What All That Howl Is For

....







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panic - pants to match ver. 3
skoosiepants
master of karate and friendship
pants to match

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