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“This is my doorstep,” Ryan snapped at the heap of clothes lying in front of his door. “Hey!”

He pushed the clothes with the tip of his shoe and only then did two big brown eyes emerge from under the pile. The eyes locked on him and widened before two pale hands appeared and pulled what was probably a cover down until the face of a young boy was revealed.

“Um, I'm sorry, I'll go somewhere else, it's just that I'd never seen anyone come in or out of here in so long, I thought it was empty, I'm sorry, sir.” He scrambled to his feet and balled the many torn clothes and covers that had been hiding him from view. “It gets cold at night, even if we're in the middle of the desert. All apologies again, sir, I'll go away.”

He took a few steps and staggered, having to let go of his covers to hold onto the wall so he didn’t fall. Ryan frowned as he looked at the boy, noticing how it was not an alcohol induced stagger (he knew them too well).

“Are you okay?”

The boy looked back at Ryan and forced a smile on his face. Their eyes met again and Ryan. Ryan was barely able to hold the gaze of the homeless boy. He felt a blush creeping up his cheeks as the boy smiled coyly.

“Yeah, I'm fine. Don't worry, sir.”

The next day, and every day that followed for two weeks, Ryan found the boy on his doorstep. As soon as he would see Ryan approach, he would leave in a hurry, apologizing and saying that it was the best to block the wind or some other things Ryan couldn’t quite make out through the mumbling.

“Do you – want to come in?” Ryan heard himself say and immediately put his hand over his mouth. It was the fifteenth day he found the boy on his doorstep and he was starting to feel – if not compassion – something compelling in the boy.

The brown eyes widened and he dropped his covers, showing a dirty shirt and ripped trousers.

“No. No, I can't.”

“Yes, you can. Come now, before I change my mind.”

The boy nodded quickly and picked his covers from the ground. He followed after Ryan up the narrow staircase and into the cramped apartment. Ryan cringed at how hollow the guy's cheeks were, and how sickly pale he was, even under the dirt layered on his skin.

“I'm Ryan Ross, by the way,” Ryan said, shaking Brendon's hand after he, on command, dropped his dirty covers in a corner of the hallway.

“Brendon Urie. Thank you, sir. I could never thank you enough. I'll be gone next morning, I swear,” he replied, shaking his hand frantically and looking him straight in the eyes.

“You better not. You can stay here as long as you need to,” Ryan said, still shaking the boy's hand.

“You don't even know me, sir.”

“I trust you,” Ryan said, cringing at his words and the tone of his voice.

“You're the first one.” He smiled and in the full light of his apartment, Ryan saw that what he took for a coy smile was, in fact, everything but innocent. He couldn’t bring himself to feel offended.

-

Ryan paced back and forth in his room, unable to sleep. Spencer and Brent would be back in the morning and something dramatic was bound to happen as soon as they stepped through the door.

Scenario A, they would be covered in blood or guts or grime and Brendon would be awake. Upon seeing them, he would be terrorized, run away and call the cops on them.

Scenario B, Spencer and Brent would see Brendon before he could even open his mouth to give them an explanation and kick him back in the streets.

Scenario C, they would get along and offer him to stay with them officially.

Ryan couldn't decide which one would be the worse, though he was voting the third one. Keeping that boy with them would be challenging. Not that he was hard to deal with or anything. That was exactly why he was challenging, to be honest. He was exactly the kind of person Ryan needed in his entourage. It was the scary part of it all, how much the two of them worked well together. Brendon had spent as little as a week with him yet he immediately understood how to take him, what to say and when to say it.

Ryan left his room and began pacing in the hallway, the length of it more convenient for his endless motion.

“Ryan?”

He jumped and ducked out of the way instinctively, hitting his shoulder against the wood shelves hanging from the wall, knocking down the books they held at the same time. He turned around, rubbing his painful arm with a wince, and saw Brendon standing at the other end of the hallway. Spencer's pajamas were too big on him and he had to hold the pants up not to lose them. The legs were pooling around his feet and the sleeves covered his entire hands. Brendon bit his lip and rocked back and forth on his feet for a few second, probably weighing what to say.

“I can't sleep either. The pavement was more comfortable than this couch. I don't miss my old clothes though. I always dreamed of sleeping in satin pajamas.” The boy chuckled and bit his lip again, averting his eyes.

That was another thing. Two days after Ryan invited him in he had stopped looking him in the eyes like he used to do before. This was one more thing for Ryan to worry about.

“We don't really have anywhere else to put you. The couch seemed fine in the past week, what's wrong with it now?”

“It wasn't - I felt bad complaining. But I really can't stand it anymore. There's this spring that keeps digging in my back, I'm sure I have a bruise.”

The boy turned around and raised the hem of the shirt then twisted around to try to see his own back. Before he even noticed the bruise, Ryan saw the way his ass was sticking out in that position and no. No.

“Yeah, you have one. It's pretty nasty,” Ryan told him as he watched him press his hand on the small of his back to locate it. When he pressed it on it, he winced and yelped pathetically.

Ryan felt a wave of sympathy for the small boy and the words left his mouth before he could stop them. That was seriously becoming an issue. He couldn't control his mouth around him. That was really unnerving.

“I guess I can share my bed.”

A heavy silence fell around them as the words sunk in. Slowly, Brendon nodded and headed toward Ryan's room, his face bright red and his eyes wide and disbelieving. As soon as he disappeared in the room, Ryan began pacing even faster up and down the corridor, twisting his hands and playing all the possible scenarios in his mind. When he began imagining one in which Brendon, Spencer and Brent teamed to murder him in his sleep, he decided it was about time to try to sleep. (And the fact that he tripped over the fallen books and nearly fell face first to the ground was a good motivation too.)

He climbed in his bed, feeling the weight of Brendon on the other side as he lied down. He lay on his side, his back to Brendon, trying to take as little room as possible to not touch him. However, the sudden warmth he felt on his hip made him look back at Brendon in the dark.

“I owe you so much,” the boy whispered, his hand staying on Ryan's hip.

“D-don't mention it, Brendon. I couldn't really leave you out there, could I?”

“You wouldn't have been the first one.”

For the first time since he met the boy, his voice had lost its usual happy tone. Even when he told him how he ran away from his home to avoid being forced to enroll in the army and all of what followed, he had never sounded that bad and that was enough for Ryan to turn around to look at him. It was already too late when he realized how close to Brendon that put him.

As he turned, Brendon's hand dragged on Ryan's waist, stroking his belly just over the waistband of his pants before hooking around his other hip. The flutter in his stomach was unsettling but not foreign; he was just convinced it had only been a phase he grew out of. Apparently not.

“I--” Ryan began but no other sound left his mouth. He wasn't even sure why he opened it in the first place. If there ever was a time he didn't have anything to say, it was then.

“Do you--?” Brendon began too before biting his lip.

“Maybe?” Ryan answered, pretty sure it was the only answer he could give, whatever the question Brendon had in mind was.

Brendon seemed satisfied with it; he nodded, squeezed Ryan's hip once more and moved away, going to the far end of the bed and turning his back to Ryan.

The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was Spencer standing in the doorway with an unreadable expression. If Ryan was honest, it was scarier than if he had looked angry. An unreadable Spencer was unnatural mainly because he could always read Spencer. He was about to ask him what was wrong when he felt movement in his bed and a warm leg pressed against his. Oh, right, that.

“Spencer, it’s—”

“You are a whore.”

Eyes wide, Ryan jumped out of bed and followed his best friend out of the room to where he had joined Brent in the kitchen.

“What exactly does that mean?”

“There’s a boy in your bed. What else could it possibly mean?”

“It’s not—I didn’t have sex with him! He was living in the streets, sleeping on our doorstep, I let him in, that’s all there is to it!”

“You let him in your bed, yeah.”

“Yes, because the couch is uncomfortable. There’s nothing more, I swear. You’d understand if you’d have met him.”

As if on cue, Brendon walked in and went to the cupboard to pour himself a bowl of cereal. When he noticed Brent and Spencer staring at him, he grinned and waved at them.

“Hi, I’m Brendon. Ryan let me in, he’s really nice. You must be Spencer and Brent. He told me great things about you two. Please don’t kick me out? I don’t eat a lot and I can do chores to pay for my stay, if you want. Anything you want, you just ask.”

“Oh, don’t be stupid. We’re not going to enslave you. We’re all stray dogs anyway, one more or one less, right Spence?” Brent said cheerfully, sitting next to Brendon and picking up a conversation with him.

Ryan immediately noticed how the puppy dog eyes and the pouty face he made at them would win Brent but not Spencer. Brent had that smile that meant he liked him and Ryan knew how much he felt like the fifth wheel when it came to Ryan and Spencer’s friendship. He couldn’t blame him, though. Anyone would feel like an outsider between the two of them.

Spencer, on the other hand, was hurt that Ryan didn’t consult him before. He was scared of losing his place. Ryan could read all that now that Spencer didn’t know he was looking at him.

“Let’s say you’re on trial,” Spencer finally let out in a sigh, earning him a glare from Brent. “One false move and you’re out, understood?”

Catching Ryan’s eyes on him, he closed up once again so that Ryan didn’t know whether he was playing tough towards Brendon or if he were serious about the threat.
-

Ryan could never have imagined how easily Brendon slipped into their lives and became part of their routine. He was sure they were fine only the three of them until Brendon arrived, and then he realized just exactly what they were missing.

The usually silent and gloomy apartment had been turned into an alive and bright place by Brendon. They also had much more energy now that Brendon made sure the fridge was always filled with edible and fresh food. He was a terrible cook – he had made Brent sick, once – but still, they were done with only eating cereal and cookies. He was also cleaning the place, which was something neither of them could remember doing, ever.

As for slipping into their work, Brent took care of explaining to him what they were doing, with his usual lack of tact.

“So, Brendon, we kind of kill people for a living. Want in? We could use you,” he said once, over dinner.

It happened three weeks after they first met him and one after Spencer finally conceded to let him stay for good. It had taken a lot of bribing and sweet talking from Ryan’s part but it had worked. Ryan could see, though, that Brendon was growing on Spencer.

Brendon blinked a few times, glancing around the table, clearly aghast.

“I kind of guessed? I mean, I saw your guns and, um, knives and well. I guessed.”

“So, are you joining us?”

“Wha - No! Of course not! I’m not a murdering creep!”

“Thanks,” Ryan deadpanned, staring at his plate.

“No, I mean - It’s okay that you do it, I just can’t,” Brendon said, putting his hand over Ryan’s and squeezing it.

That was another thing that sort of happened by itself. Ryan and Brendon slowly settled into something more than friendship. They were still sharing a bed but they had taken to sleeping closer. Brendon had been the first to touch him, his arm sprawled across Ryan’s chest, or hooking his ankle around Ryan’s. That is, when they were sleeping. They could spend entire nights talking, telling each other things they probably hadn’t told anyone else. Things that even Spencer didn’t know. That way, slowly and carefully, they grew closer and closer over the months until they kissed.

Ryan was trying to sleep when he heard Brendon quietly padding into the room. He felt the mattress shifting under Brendon’s weight and felt him tug on the covers until he was comfortable.

“G’night,” Ryan muttered.

“Ryan? Wait, look at me,” Brendon whispered.

Frowning, Ryan turned on his side and found Brendon closer than he had expected him to be. They stared at each other, barely making out each other’s features in the dark. He only noticed that Brendon was inching closer when he felt his warm breath on his face. Brendon’s lips pressed against his softly before moving away, a second later. Ryan gasped softly before moving in and kissing Brendon back. He felt the younger boy’s hand grip his hip and squeeze it, which made him smile against his lips. They pulled away at the same time, eyes glazed and breaths short.

“I’m sure there are hundreds of laws against this,” Ryan whispered.

“Ryan, you kill people. There are hundreds of laws against that, too.”

Ryan laughed and leaned forward to peck at Brendon’s lips again.

“I could get used to this,” Ryan said against his lips, feeling Brendon smiling and kissing him back deeper.

They only clearly understood what they were weeks later, when Spencer found them kissing in the kitchen, Brendon pressed against the fridge by Ryan’s body. He only said ’right, boyfriends now’ before he left quickly, an undecipherable look on his face. It took Ryan two days to talk Spencer into not acting like a complete prick. As for Brent, once Ryan had answered with the affirmative when he asked if they were fucking, he left them alone.

A year passed before Brendon accepted to join them, and he only did to be able to protect Ryan, as he said at first. It was common for the three of them to come back from work injured; never anything serious, but enough to worry Brendon. One time, though, Ryan came home withbroken bones and serious cuts. After they came back from the hospital, Ryan saw – through his morphine-induced daze – Brendon look at Spencer with the most serious face they had ever seen on him and tell him he would join them.

Even if he began with the only desire to protect Ryan, he turned out to be very, very talented at it, even scaring them all by saying he had fun doing it.

-

Spencer sat up straight in his bed, his heart beating like he was running a marathon. He finally heard it, the sound he’d been dreading for weeks, the sound of someone banging on a door in an obvious attempt to break it down. He swallowed hard. He blinked once, twice, his heart thumping in his ears. He forced his brain to start working faster, taking a decision without really thinking about it. He sprung to his feet and grabbed the first clothes he could find.

He knew this would happen one day. When they started noticing how the contracts began getting rarer and rarer until they received none for two weeks, Spencer panicked. Ryan too, though he didn’t show it.

He rushed to Brent’s room, swinging the door open without knocking. The boy looked at him with tired eyes and started protesting when Spencer told him to get dressed, quickly. Spencer ignored him and headed down to hallway to Ryan’s room.

He froze when he entered the room. He knew he would find Brendon in Ryan’s bed; he had been sleeping there ever since Ryan found him in the streets, there was no other bed in the house for the boy. He didn’t expect them to be sleeping like that, though. He looked away from how Ryan was holding Brendon close to his chest, his face hidden in his hair.

“Get up!” he finally shouted, remembering why he walked in the room in the first place.

Ryan lifted his head and squinted at Spencer. He looked like he was about to say something particularly nasty when another loud bang sounded through the entire building. Ryan flinched and did what looked like tightening his arms around Brendon.

“Brendon, get up and get dressed,” he said in a flat voice.

Spencer nodded and left the room, meeting Brent in the hallway.

“You heard that?” Brent asked.

Spencer nodded again, not trusting his voice anymore as the sound of footsteps rushing up a flock of stairs filled the air. He tried to count the number of feet he could hear but stopped when he realized they were more than them. Ryan and Brendon appeared, Ryan’s clothes perfectly put on while Brendon’s shirt was only half tucked in his pants. Brendon was looking around wildly, clearly panicked.

“I didn’t think it would happen this early,” Ryan muttered, biting his lip.

He looked at Spencer and frowned, chewing on his lip some more. Spencer knew that he was currently trying to come up with a plan and from the way his eyes kept darting around the room, he had no idea what to do.

“We won’t show any resistance,” Ryan finally said, slowly, weighing his words. “We’ll only make them angry, there’s no way we’ll survive if we fight back.”

“I’m not going down without a fight,” Brendon snapped, his voice white from nerves.

“No one is going down, especially you,” Ryan said through his teeth, pushing Brendon behind him as the footstep got nearer.

Spencer’s heartbeats were becoming deafening, almost making him miss Ryan’s words.

“Whatever happens, do not come back. You save your own ass and leave the others take care of themselves. Understood?”

Brent nodded stiffly but Spencer noticed how Brendon seemed as hesitant as him to answer. There was no way Spencer would leave any of them behind. The last thing he saw before eight men barged in the room was Brendon’s hand slipping into Ryan’s for a brief moment.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, Spencer felt highly conscious of everything around him. The chunks of wood flying from the door, the sound of shoes pounding against the ground, Ryan’s arm shielding him and pushing him back towards the kitchen, all of it seemed like it happened one after the other and not all at the same time, in the blink of an eye. He saw the men approaching them, he saw their blank faces (he had the time to think his probably looked the same when he was working), he had the time to detail their faces and think, we are dead.

Time went back to its normal speed when two men grabbed him by the arms. He saw that Brent too had been caught and that he was fighting back, trying to squirm out of their grip, kicking randomly. Ryan kept pushing Brendon back, himself walking away from the four men slowly cornering them. When the men finally had them pressed into a corner, Ryan shielding Brendon with his body, Spencer caught Ryan’s eyes for a brief moment and read his sheer panic. He wondered if it was for his own life or for Brendon’s that he was so scared.

He didn’t have the time to ponder it for long because he suddenly felt a sharp pain at the back of his head before his whole world turned black.

-

The strong smell of humidity and rust hit Spencer’s nostrils and made his stomach churn. He opened his eyes but it changed nothing. Wherever he was, there was no light at all. He was sitting on the ground, his back resting against a cold wall. His arms were twisted behind his back, ropes cutting into the flesh of his wrists. He pulled on them a few times but it did nothing. As he began feeling the cold of the place, he also noticed the warm weight resting against him. As he tried to move into the warmth of the body, the smell of Brendon (with a hint of Ryan, now that he thought of it) sent a wave of relief in his entire body. The soft, regular breathing confirmed that he was definitely still alive, and two out of four was always better than anything, he tried to convince himself.

That’s when he heard the voices. At first he couldn’t make out the words but when the voices got louder, someone clearly shouting, he definitely heard them. Two, maybe three men were threatening someone (RyanohgodpleaseRyanbecauseitmeansheisaliveplease).

That’s when he heard it, the only voice that he knew too well. Ryan was alive, Brendon was alive. His stomach clenched when he thought of Brent. Wherever he was, he had made the man angry by fighting back. It made perfect sense. Brendon and he were in whatever room because they were unimportant. Ryan was kept alive because he was their leader. But Brent, who fought back, where could he be?

“Oh my god, what are you going to do to him?!” he heard Ryan exclaim, panicked.

He found Brent.

“We’re going to have a little fun and you’re going to help us. See, we don’t have much imagination, but I’m pretty sure you do, don’t you? Oh yes you do. We can’t decide how to kill him, you know? There’s always the good old bullet in the head but we’re trying to make a statement here, I’m sure you get what I mean.”

“You’re fucking insane,” Ryan said in a croaked voice after a long moment of silence.

“Maybe we are. So, kid – yeah, about that, how old are you? You cannot be older than twenty years old.” Silence again, and the sound of a slap. “Answer me!”

“I’m 21. Where are the others?”

“Tut, tut, kid. I’m the one who asks the questions here. So young, I’m almost feeling bad that you won’t get to live some more. Almost. So, about your friend over there,” Spencer cringed as he heard another slap, this time surely on Brent, “do you reckon we should use this, or this? Answer me!”

Spencer shut his eyes tightly and tried to close his mind to what was happening on the other side of the door.

A faint ’this’ caused brief silence before the gut-wrenching scream of Brent pierced Spencer’s ears. Next to him, Brendon jerked awake, his breathing fast and ragged from his panic.

“Shh, Brendon, it’s okay, I’m here,” Spencer whispered.

“What’s going on, Spence?” Brendon inquired, his voice a few octaves higher than usual.

“I don’t know. I think they captured us and –”

He was cut off by another scream from Brent.

“Shit,” Brendon hissed, moving closer to Spencer. “Where’s Ryan?”

“Out there. They’re forcing him to decide what they’ll do to Brent.”

Brendon’s breathing hitched and he let out a shaky sigh.

They fell into silence for several minutes, moving closer and closer each time Brent screamed. Spencer wouldn’t be able to say when he began crying, but Brendon did when Brent’s scream of ’Ryan! Make them stop! Oh my god, how can you—’ was followed by a repeated plea of ‘why?’ from Ryan.

The psychological torture continued for never-ending minutes. Spencer closed his eyes, trying to focus on Brendon’s quickly muttered prayers, the words overlapping, making an incomprehensible string of Latin syllables. Religion always seemed to come back to Brendon in heavy situations. Spencer could remember him whispering prayers the night they all thought they would lose Ryan to his wounds.

“Oh, stop it!” one of the men growled loudly and a loud slapping noise made them both jump. They heard Ryan’s whimper before who appeared to be the leader spoke again.

“Why? You killed my boss’ son, that’s why. We’ve already dealt with the people who asked you to do it. It wasn’t too hard to get them to give us your names. As for finding you, we could have done it with our eyes closed. You got yourself a lot of enemies over the past year, kid. If it hadn’t been us, it would have been someone else tomorrow. Your days were numbered. Now shut up or you’re next!”

While the man was talking, Spencer could hear Brent’s protests grow faint in the background until he went completely silent. Brendon noticed, too, because he began stirring and breathing hard.

“I don’t want to die,” he croaked, curling into Spencer. “I don’t want him to watch me die. What are we going to do?”

Spencer shrugged helplessly, feeling Brendon shaking against him.

“If we could get rid of our bounds, maybe we could try to escape.”

Brendon let out a joyless laugh, which barely covered one of their kidnappers coldly commenting that ’that one’s dead, boss’ and asking if they could get another one.

“Wait,” their boss told them. “Kid, which one should we get next? The one who always looks cross or the doe-eyed one?”

Spencer felt Brendon stiffening next to him. His own body felt numb and prickly as he waited for Ryan’s answer. He could hear Ryan’s ragged breathing as the men probably waited by the door.

“What was that, cupcake?”

Spencer couldn’t hear the answer as the door creaked on its hinges and opened. The light blinded him for a moment until all he could see wasthe silhouette of a really tall and really large man standing in the doorway.

“Which one of you is Spencer?”

“No, no, Spence, don’t go, I’ll go,” Brendon blurted out desperately.

“Shut up, you. He chose Spencer. Poor guy, it must be hard to realize your friend doesn’t like you that much after all.”

Spencer said nothing as the man pulled him up to his feet and pushed him out of the room. The next room was rather small and the tile walls weremoldy with streaks of rust running down. There was a large table in the middle of the room with bounds screwed in the surface of it. Traces of blood were visible but there was no sign of Brent. Spencer tried not to think too much of what had happened to Brent because it made him dizzy. It was easier to deny what they had done to his friend. Anyway, in thirty minutes he wouldn’t be thinking anymore.

He heard a sob to his right and turned his head to see Ryan, tied to a chair. One of his cheeks was bloody and he had a forming black eye. Spencer met his eyes and his throat tightened.

“I’m so sorry, Spence. I—I just couldn’t. I love you, I really do, you’re my best friend but Brendon. I’m sorry I dragged you in this hell. I should have dealt with my own problems and let you out of this. None of this would be happening if—I never deserved your friendship.”

“Shut it, Ross. It’s okay. I love you, too. I know I can’t compete with your lover boy. I don’t care. Dying now or in twenty minutes, what does it change?”

Ryan’s eyes filled with tears some more but Spencer winked at him and forced his lips into a smile.

As his hands were untied and he was roughly pushed on the table, several things happened all at once, everything moving too quickly for his fear-paralyzed brain to register it.

The gun shots rang in his ear and he braced himself for the pain that would follow but nothing came. He heard shouts, the sound of wrestling, more gun shots and then a deadly silence. An empty silence. Panting, he looked around the room and saw three bodies on the ground, blood pools forming around them. He focused on the way the blood was running down the space between the tiles, forming red squares until it flooded the tile itself. He felt disconnected, as though he could not receive any more stimulation. He decided that it was easier to stay in his mind and ignore his surroundings.

“Spencer? Spence? What happened?” Ryan asked, panicked.

“You, Spencer, right? Untie that one over there; I’ll go get the other one in the cell. We don’t have much time.”

Spencer blinked and looked up in a daze. He saw the back of the man who had taken him out of the cell and dragged him in the room heading for the door and opening it. Brendon was apparently too terrified to talk anymore because no sounds were heard when the man walked in.

Spencer slipped off the table and stiffly walked to Ryan. He rounded him and kneeled behind. It took him a moment of pulling and tugging on the knots before they gave away. Ryan jumped on his feet and pulled him in a hug, shaking. Spencer hugged him back just as tightly, vertigo taking him now and then when he thought of what was going on.

A third pair of arms wrapped the both of them and Ryan let out a sob, a gut-wrenching noise that brought tears to Spencer’s eyes.

“Aw, that is all endearing but it’s definitely not the right time for the love demonstrations.”

Spencer turned his head to stare at their savior, who quirked his eyebrow and held open the door that surely led out of the building. Pulling on thestill hugging forms of Ryan and Brendon so they would follow, Spencer rushed out of the building and relished in the cold desert night air.

The man pushed them in a car and sped off before they could even think of what they were doing. He drove for almost an hour, the Vegas lights long gone when the car finally stopped. The man turned to face the three of them, cuddled on the backseat, his face concealed in the darkness.

“Right. Take this. It’s a hotel room for you guys. You’ll receive a telephone call tomorrow. It’s a friend of mine. You can trust him. I trust him with my life. He’ll get you out of here. Do as he says. Do not argue. Good luck, kids.”

Dumbstruck, they stumbled out of the car, which disappeared as soon as the door was closed. Spencer glanced at Ryan and Brendon and realized he was the only one conscious enough to lead them to their room.

“Guys, come on, room 21. It’s over there.”

Brendon nodded and put his hand on the small of Ryan’s back, coaxing him to move. The gravel hurt Spencer’s barefoot – he couldn’t remember how he lost his shoes – as they walked through the parking lot, the wind making him shiver. His hands were shaking as he put the key in the lock and it took him several seconds to unlock the door. They squinted against the light when Brendon switched it on. Brendon then led Ryan to one of the beds and uncovered it quickly before he pushed him down on it. Ryan curled into a ball, closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath. Brendon sent a worried look to Spencer before climbing in next to him and holding him close. Spencer considered sleeping on the other bed for a second before joining his friends and closing his eyes, trying to sleep. The last thing he saw was the clock showing four in the morning before he slipped into a dreamless sleep.

-

Ryan woke up and stayed in a happy and comfortable daze for a few minutes. He could feel Brendon’s warm body pressed against his and he felt cozy and safe under his covers. Then he opened his eyes. He had no bad intentions; he only wanted to press a kiss to Brendon’s forehead.But the second he saw the unfamiliar room around him, reality shocked him like a cold shower. He shivered violently and gasped, finding it hard to breathe. Memories from the night before, images of Brent tied to a table and tortured in front of his eyes and the terrible choice he was given came back to him and he felt dizzy and feverish. He tried to stay motionless not to wake up Brendon but he was choking, suffocating, burning, he needed fresh air or water or anything that could stop this tightening feeling in his chest.

“Ry?” he heard Brendon ask after he whimpered against his will. “Ryan, are you okay? Spencer, wake up, I don’t know what’s wrong with him!”

He wanted to tell Brendon not to worry Spencer and that he was fine, but the words wouldn’t come out.

“Ryan, breathe,” Spencer said, sleepily. “You know it’s no good to get yourself so worked up. It always ends up this way. Just try to relax.”

“Relax?” he choked out and sat up, ignoring the way Brendon was stroking his hair. “You want me to relax when our friend got murdered in front of me?”

“There’s nothing you can do to change it, Ryan. I don’t want to get in a fight this morning, please.”

Ryan opened his mouth to speak again but Brendon shut him up by pressing his fingers to his lips.

“No fights, please. We need to stay united in this. Please,” he whispered. “Try to get some more sleep, okay? You need to rest. We’ll discuss this later. We all need sleep.”

Ryan let Brendon lie him down and returned his quick kiss. He sighed deeply and turned his back to his friends to face the wall. As he expected, Brendon’s arm wrapped around his waist and he felt a kiss to the nape of his neck. Soon enough, he heard his two friends breathing heavily behind him. He tried to match his breathing to his friends’ and after a while, he managed to calm down and relax, his rationality coming back.

He knew he wouldn’t sleep again, not with the images filling his mind’s eyes. The fear and terror he felt back there, merely hours ago, felt more real now in this hotel bed. It was like he was finally realizing what had happened. He could remember the terror he had felt when he woke up, tied to a chair and faced with Brent’s struggling figure. His stomach had sunk when he couldn’t find Brendon and Spencer, fearing the worse but also almost hoping that they were already dead so they wouldn’t end up where Brent was.

And the way the events unfolded from this point on, from the breakage in his mind when he chose the object that would end his friend’s life, to the sounds and images that followed in the next few minutes, all of it was scarily vivid in his mind, the colors brighter and the sounds louder and more explicit than they had been back there. After Brent had fallen silent - Ryan’s heart probably level with his feet from the way it had sunk deeper and deeper with each scream - it finished breaking when he was asked to choose between his best friend and his - between Spencer and Brendon.There was no reasoning in his choice, no favoritism, nothing. He had said a name out of despair and resignation. All he knew is that, from that moment, he focused on trying to pass out. Anything to avoid witnessing what was about to happen. He was convinced he had successfully done it until he felt the sharp night air hit him and rocks cutting into his feet. Even then, getting inside the hotel room had felt pretty unreal.

Full consciousness back, he really regretted the dazed state he was in before going to sleep. He tried to slip back into that state by staring at the wall but he probably only fell asleep because when he returned to himself, he could hear a shower running and Brendon’s warm body was gone.

He sat up and looked around the room, searching for either one of his friends.

“Is there anyone here?” he called out.

Brendon appeared quickly and smiled widely when he saw that Ryan was awake. He climbed on the bed and crawled on his knees until he was straddling Ryan’s thighs.

“Feeling better?”

Ryan rolled his eyes and pressed his forehead against Brendon’s.

“Me neither,” the boy added, holding Ryan’s face between his hands. “Look. I know what I’m going to say is horrible but it’s the truth. We have no time to mourn him now. We’re God knows where and half of Vegas is probably hunting us down. Whoever rented this room for us put food and clothes in it, but we have no money, no car. We need to look after ourselves, okay? And once we’re safe and sound, miles and miles away from here, we’ll do something to honor his memory. Does that sound good to you? He would have died for nothing if we die too.”

Ryan nodded and sighed, his hands comfortably resting on Brendon’s hips. He closed his eyes as Brendon inched his head forward until he could kiss him, his own hands gripping Ryan’s shoulders as they exchanged deep and slow kisses.

In a flash, images from the night before appeared behind Ryan’s eyelids and he gasped, pushing Brendon away and pressing his palms on his closed eyes, trying to erase the pictures of Brent’s mutilated body from his mind.

“Is he okay?” Spencer asked. “Ryan? Wha—”

He was cut off by the telephone, his ringing loud and out of place in the quiet room. Ryan opened his eyes and they looked at each other for a moment before he moved across the bed and picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Hi! I’m Pete Wentz and I’m calling to save you and your two friends. Are you Ryan Ross, Brendon Urie or Spencer Smith?”

“Yes…” Ryan answered, taken aback by the man’s cheerful voice. He couldn’t believe that people could still be happy when he felt like he nothing could ever be right again.

“You’re the three of them?” Wentz said through a laugh.

“I’m Ryan.”

“Great! So if my sources are right – and they usually always are – you’re the boss? That’s perfect. So, I heard you just avoided getting slowly and painfully tortured to death? Congratulations on that, I wouldn’t have done better.”

“One of us died.”

“So I’ve heard. It’s a shame; although, you three are the ones I wanted the most. You’ve made yourselves pretty famous over the past few years. I had to act quickly to put you in safety before someone else got you first. If you look into the second drawer of the nightstand, you’ll find four train tickets. You can burn the fourth one, so no one knows where you’re going. One of my men will be waiting for you at the station. He will be wearing a red handkerchief in his right front pocket and—”

“Wait, wait, wait! Wentz, right? What if we don’t want to go to wherever you are? I don’t know if I could trust you! We’re - my friends are terrified, we ran away - we saw our friend dying and -”

“Well, you can either come and join us in Chicago or you can stay here in Vegas and die in the next week, when a gang on vengeful mobsters will come after you with enough ammo to kill you all five times. Yes, I could kill you as soon as you step off the train, but then in both cases you die. Your choice. My man will be there.”

“What is it, Ry?” Brendon asked after he hung up, staring at the telephone.

“This man - He’s the one that organized our rescue last night. He wants us to join his thing in Chicago. He says there are train tickets in the second drawer, just over there.”

Ryan opened the drawer and, sure enough, found four tickets to Chicago. Spencer took them and looked back at Ryan. Brendon too, was staring at him.

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” he said softly. “I want to trust him. It would be so much easier if we could trust him, but anyway, what other choice do we have? As he pointed out, we either die here in a week, or if he’s against us, we die when we step off the train. If he is on our side, though, we’ll have his protection, and work to do. He said he wanted us, that we had made ourselves famous. What do you think?”

Next.

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May 2015

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