sparsenicjade
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Author Notes: Thank you to Rossetti, for her incredible beta job and being willing to work with me on this last minute, since I kind of ran up against the wire. All mistakes remaining are mine.

This is for imntsaying's birthday. I've been thinking for a couple of weeks now what to say about her, because it's hard. She makes me feel like I have a place, when I'm pretty sure I really don't. She listens when her own voices have to be pretty loud. There's really nothing I can say that will mean anything in comparison to the friend she is to me. She said she likes it when I break Jon. I hope this scratches the itch, at least a little.

***


They were up front about it. Even if they hadn't been, it wasn't like there was anyone in the Decaydance camp--and further, really, but most people were nice enough to pretend otherwise, or at least not mention it--who didn't know why Brent had been "kicked out." It was possibly the worst kept secret in the business that Brendon, Ryan and Spencer were, erm, more than than just bandmates.

But they told him anyway, they said, "Look, you know that we're together together, right?" Well, okay, Spencer said that, his eyes trained on Jon, somehow fierce and calm all at once. Brendon vibrated on the couch next to him and Ryan studied his knees intently.

Jon said, "Pretty clear, yeah."

"And that's-- You're not gonna--" Brendon paused, chewing at his lip.

"I don't judge," Jon said, because really, he didn't. If he did, being Academy's photographer would never have worked out.

The three of them shared a look. Finally Spencer said, "Brent felt left out."

Jon blinked. "Brent's straight." At least, all signs had pointed that way, like, say, him being monogamous with his girlfriend.

All three of them nodded at him, their expressions a curious mix of blank and knowing. Huh. Jon said, "I can handle it."

At the time, he'd even meant it.

*


The first hint that maybe he'd made a pretty fucking big miscalculation came as a side-effect of nothing more than Brendon being Brendon, waking Jon up too loudly and too suddenly one morning. When Jon winced, though, the sleep-deprivation headache that he'd had for two days still with him, Brendon had gone quiet, touching his fingers gently to Jon's temple. He'd disappeared then and come back with coffee moments later. The mug of steaming caffeine had been appreciated, but Jon had had to stop himself from asking for the fingers back, instead.

*


The second hint came pretty inconveniently in the middle of an interview, one of those times when Brendon caught Ryan off-guard, wiggled in under all of his deeply-rooted foundations and made him laugh. It wasn't that Ryan never laughed in interviews, it was just that normally he seemed to know precisely when he was going to do it. Brendon and Spencer could surprise him, shock his own amusement from inside Ryan. Jon could make him laugh, make him laugh until he was breathless from it, hands clenched protectively over his stomach, but the build up had been there, somehow, like Ryan could see where Jon was coming from, like Ryan would never let him get close enough where Ryan could possibly miss that approach. Jon watched, watched as Ryan laughed, his eyes widening for a split second the way they did when he was taken unawares and was okay with it--something only Spencer and Brendon could get away with--and wondered when he'd learned the unspoken language of Ryan Ross. And why it hurt that he knew it.

*


The third hint, the most damning one, the one that made everything that followed less hints and more the facts of Jon Walker's Life as The Fourth Wheel of Panic, happened outside Oklahoma or Ohio or some other "O" state, when Spencer was riding around on his bike, enjoying just being off the bus, out in air that wasn't recycled beyond any suggestion of actual freshness. He tossed his head over his shoulder and yelled some kind of challenge to Jon--some kind of completely nonsensical challenge, given that Jon did not have a bike--and laughed, and Jon went hard so quickly he felt dizzy. Jon remembered yelling back, "You're right, Smith, I'm not man enough," and not much else other than the press of fuckfuckfuck that crowded his mind while he locked the door of the bus bathroom, biting his tongue nearly off to silence himself.

*


They were never cruel about it. They were his friends, which was what they were supposed to be, and Jon didn't even notice that there was a problem until tiny things started to pile up. Brendon, Brendon was the most serious offender, which was a killer, because Brendon didn't have a malicious bone in his body. He clearly just assumed that hanging on Jon, climbing him, burrowing into him couldn't possibly be a problem. And it wasn't, not the way that made it sound, Jon loved that Brendon was so comfortable with him. It was just that when Jon would catch a glimpse of Brendon climbing on Ryan, Ryan catching him like it was second nature, angling up for a kiss in the middle of their tangle, or Spencer untangling the two of them and settling himself between them, suddenly Brendon's attacks took on a dimension that they weren't meant to, a promise that Jon knew would never be delivered.

It was the same with Ryan's quiet smiles, his hidden bursts of humor, the way Jon was now recognizing them as a part of Ryan only given in the most specific of situations, with the most specific of people. And Jon understood that he fell in say, a Pete category, but it was nearly impossible to live with Ryan, watch the way they were exchanged as free currency, a way of saying, "hey, you're mine," to Spencer and Brendon and understand the shift in subtext when those smiles were being turned on Jon. Sometimes Jon felt like maybe he wasn't really there, that his existence was a trick of his own mind, because if he was there, if he was in the same space and the same time with the other three, then this separation wouldn't be possible for them. It wasn't possible for him.

Spencer was better about it, better about drawing boundaries, helping to make things clear for Jon, but he was also the hardest in some ways, because he was the one who forced Jon to acknowledge that some of it wasn't confusion: some of it was just plain, old-fashioned want.

*


Before--everything was kind of Before and After for Jon, which made sense, but it was annoying, because his life was still his life before Spencer said, "We need help, Jon, please"--Jon would never have guessed that the kind of ache that settles right below a person's ribs and makes it just a bit hard to breathe could be the sort of thing a person could get used to, but it was. It was even the sort of thing one could forget about for short periods of time; while performing, say. It always came back, though, harsher and more punishing for the time off.

It wasn't the sort of thing he would have expected to recognize (notice) in someone else, because it was so personal, so buried. It had to be. Jon could live with it, he could handle it, but if the others could see it? If they knew? If he had to see or even suspect their pity? He suspected that was a little beyond him.

He saw it in Mikey Way somewhere between their introduction and their handshake, the split second where Mikey smiled at him, as much as Mikey ever smiled at anybody who wasn't his band or Pete. He saw it and it didn't even register as anything other than a familiarity, an, "okay, yes." Then he maybe drew back a little more sharply than he'd meant to, unsure what Mikey could see in him. Mikey blinked at him slowly and Jon thought, yeah, screwed.

He went and bought himself a shot. It was the one thing he could do that would guarantee Mikey not following, which maybe made him a bit of an asshole, but he didn't care. Instead, Brendon followed him. Jon smiled his most Jon-like smile, and ordered two shots on his second round, handing one to Brendon. Brendon did the shot with Jon, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and watching Jon a little too closely for Jon's taste. Brendon had a natural instinct for what it meant to be outside of the people who mattered most to you, and it made it hard to hide.

Brendon said, "I think Mikeyway was checking you out, Walker."

Jon rolled his eyes, and signaled for another shot. He didn't get one for Brendon. Brendon would have another shot, he knew, but later. Brendon would even get drunk, but he would do it slowly, and make sure it never went past the boundaries of what Ryan could handle emotionally. It was the one benefit that Jon could see to not being Ryan Ross's--he didn't have to worry about how shit-faced he decided to get.

"Be nice, Jonny Walker. You're always nice to us." Brendon's voice didn't match his words. It was curious. Jon took the third shot.

"Pete says--" Brendon bit his lip.

Despite knowing he shouldn't, despite knowing that nothing, nothing good ever came of what Pete said, Jon asked, "There an end to that thought?"

"Ray and Gerard, they're, y'know, RayandGerard."

Jon nodded. He didn't know anyone in the industry who didn't know. Gerard was shit at not getting caught looking at Ray like the sun rose right out of his ass. "Okay," Jon said slowly.

"Bob and Frank, too." Brendon said the words so quickly it took Jon a moment to actually figure them out.

Then he said, "Bob and Frank what?" And okay, maybe he should slow it down on the alcohol.

"Jon," Brendon said. "Jon, you can't stop us from worrying. You can't. You're ours."

"I am not yours," Jon said, perhaps a little more sharply than he had intended.

Brendon backed off slightly, physically. He nodded, looking slightly crumpled around the edges. Jon hated that he felt guilty. He hated that somehow, he was the one in the wrong. He hated that they'd been so fucking upfront, so fucking ethical and careful about the whole thing. He hated them. He hated not hating them. "I'm gonna take a leak," he said, pushed the empty shot glass away from him, and wandered off to somewhere that Brendon wasn't.

***


As luck would have it, Mikey was in the bathroom sitting nearly half in the sink, legs dangling almost too long from the counter. As such, Jon's promised moment of solitude came to an abrupt end. He made himself smile because Mikey really wasn't at fault, and Jon really wasn't an asshole. "Hey."

Mikey looked down, a small smile on his mouth. He said, "I know the feeling." He started to move past Jon, and Jon stopped him with a hand to Mikey's elbow. Mikey was warm, sharp under his hand. Jon looked at Mikey, looked at him and didn't think of Ryan.

"You wanna get the fuck outta here?"

"Have somewhere in mind?"

"It's New York, you live in Jersey. I was kind of assuming you'd have somewhere." Jon ran his hand along the back of his head, mussing his hair.

Mikey tilted his head. "You like dumplings?"

"Who doesn't like dumplings, Mikeyway?"

"Gee."

"Weird."

"Not the first time he's been called that."

"I--"

Mikey smiled again, a twist of his lips. Jon shoved at him playfully. "You've gotten my hopes up. Take me to these dumplings."

***


Mikey ordered four varieties of vegetarian dumplings and plowed through them with a commitment that Jon could only admire. Jon consoled himself and his only two-dumpling variety-having self with the fact that meat was harder to digest. Mikey said, "Pete's been perving over your new Pedulla for three months now. You should probably keep it in a safe, or something, if you don't want him having object penetration sex with it."

Mikey said all that with a straight face, so it was a little hard to tell if Jon should be alarmed or not. In the end he said, "I'll take that under advisement."

Mikey cracked a smile then. "It is gorgeous. He made me watch a YouTube of you guys that mostly focused on you."

"Weird," Jon said, not sure if he was talking about the video or Pete's directive to Mikey.

Mikey shrugged. "Pete." Jon thought he sounded happy at the sentiment. It was a little hard to tell. He hadn't had as long with Mikey as he had with Ryan.

Jon liked Pete, though, liked his whimsy and his offhanded kindness and his more-than-occasional stupidity, so he said, "Yeah," with a smile.

Mikey said, "Anybody ever told you about the time he climbed a tree to rescue Bunny and got caught?"

"No, and I gotta tell you, I'm feeling pretty left out right now, so you'd better--"

Mikey laughed. "It wasn't even a very tall tree."

"Oh, hey, don't be like that. As a Short Person, I have to stick up for him, seriously."

"You could have climbed this tree."

"How do you know? I mean, I could not have opposable thumbs."

"YouTube says differently."

It shouldn't have made him feel anything other than amused that Mikey had clearly watched his hands in whatever video Pete had sent, but Jon felt a shock of something that hadn't run through him in relation to anything but the guys in a while. He caught his breath and said, "Trick of the camera."

Mikey laughed. "Some trick."

*


Jon couldn't have said what made him do it, but when he came back to his empty room, Brendon having gone over to Ryan and Spencer's, he texted the number he'd just been given and asked, "u sleeping yt?"

Despite the flippant tone of, "its bn 15 mins," the response came awfully quickly.

Jon punched in "rm 924."

His phone didn't buzz again, and Jon wasn't sure how to read that until there was a knock at his door. He opened it and grinned. "How are you at card games?"

"I suck."

"Excellent. I always lose to Spencer. My ego needs a boost."

"Fine, but you're paying for room service." Mikey moved inside the room, jumping a good two feet from the nearest bed and sailing somewhat smoothly onto it. Jon blinked. He was sort of used to Mikey being ungainly and a bit awkward. Then again, knowing how to land on a bed in any given situation was something of a survival skill in the life they led.

"What are we getting?"

Mikey made a face at him. "What are you, like, in a band of losers?"

Jon just raised his eyebrow at Mikey, who curled his lips just enough to let Jon know he acknowledged the point. Then he said, "Pancakes. With chocolate chips if possible."

Jon put in the order and grabbed his deck of cards, pushing at Mikey until there was room on the bed for both of them. He started to shuffle and asked, "Late night room service kind of a thing with you guys?"

Mikey shrugged. "There were a lot of years where Gee didn't sleep."

Jon wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Mikey asked, "What are we playing?"

"Crazy Eights?"

"Shit, I haven't played that in forever."

"Is there a card game you have played recently?"

"Gin. Frank's a closet fan, and Bob and Ray actually know how to say no to him, assholes."

Jon bit back a smile. "We can do that."

Mikey shook his head. "Crazy Eights is good."

"You-- They know where you are, right?"

"Texted. Gee sleeps now, and Ray'll be with him, and Frank and Bob, uh. It's a hotel night."

Jon nodded. He knew. Mikey said, "Anyway, they won't freak out as long as there's a message."

"There's an extra bed. I mean, just. You could stay. After the pancakes."

"I get sleepy after pancakes," Mikey told him, somewhat gravely.

Jon said, "Yeah, you should stay, then," and dealt the cards.

*


Jon woke up to Brendon yodeling. It wasn't an unusual way to wake up. What was unusual was Brendon stopping mid-yodel with, "Oh, shit! Sorry!"

Jon rolled over to figure out what had happened and then thought, oh, right, upon seeing Mikey in the other bed. Mikey, for his part, was blinking in a concerted effort to wake up. He said, "Were you yodeling?"

It didn't take Brendon long to regain his composure, or what Brendon had that passed for composure. He said, "Oh, like Gerard doesn't," and flounced out of the room with, "Bus leaves in half an hour, Zack said he'd leave you."

"Bullshit," Mikey said.

"Total bullshit. He'd be left with the three of them," Jon said, by way of agreement. Nonetheless, he got up. He tried not to make Zack's life any more difficult than it was. He called from the bathroom, "There's a coffee maker in here, you want--"

"Please," Mikey said, and it was polite, but mostly it sounded a little desperate.

Jon put the coffee on drip, brushed his teeth, pulled a pair of pants and a shirt on. Mikey was still sitting on the bed, looking a little uncertain of where he was. Jon said, "You know what time you guys are headed out?"

Mikey shook his head. "We're...maybe we're here for another night?"

Jon nodded and went to see if the coffee was ready. It was, so he poured it into the cup provided. "Sugar or milk?"

"Coffee," Mikey said.

"Fair enough," Jon said, and brought him the cup.

Mikey breathed it in and said, "Thanks, seriously."

Jon just smiled and took a sip of his. When Mikey was four or five sips in, he said, "Gerard actually doesn't yodel. But mostly because it sends Frank into attack mode. Attack and harmonize. Which, just--" Mikey shuddered. Jon patted his shoulder consolingly.

Mikey looked up at him, taking another drag off the coffee. At length he said, "Thanks for letting me stay."

Jon managed to say, "I had an extra bed," without flinching, which felt a bit like an accomplishment, all told.

"Yeah," Mikey said softly. "Yeah, me too. I mean, I had-- Yeah."

Jon said, "Listen, I have to--"

"Make Zack's life easier."

Jon smiled. "It was really-- I had a good time. Take your time getting out of the room, I think we have them until eleven." He set his cup down on the nearest table and grabbed his bag.

He was just about out the door when Mikey said, "Me too."

Jon was still smiling when he got onto the bus.

*


The guys didn't ask, although it was clear to Jon that they knew. He caught them looking when they thought he wasn't paying attention. Honestly, if Brendon hadn't said something to them, that would have been far more surprising. It wasn't even that Jon felt the need to be all secretive, there just wasn't much to say, really. They'd eaten and played cards and fallen asleep.

In the end it was Spencer who broke first, which was at once both odd and wholly to be expected. He said, "Mikey, he's uh. He's nice."

Jon took a second to assess Spencer's tone. Normally he would just say, "Yup, nice," or something equally innocuous. He probably should anyway. The crappy thing about being in love with Spencer and the others was Jon tended to tell them things they wanted to know, even if it wasn't really any of their business. And Spencer was asking, even if he wasn't asking.

"We didn't sleep together, Spence." And if we had, I probably would have been sleeping with the three of you and he probably would have been sleeping with Ray or Bob or Frank or maybe all three.

"Well geez, I would hope not on a first date, Jonathan Walker. How did we raise you, young man?" Words aside, Spencer looked relieved, like maybe he'd been worried. Not jealous, though, for all that Jon could have wished it. Jon had seen jealousy on all of them at one point or another, and it didn't look anything like this.

Jon worked to give Spencer a smile in acknowledgment. Spencer said, "Just-- Look, I saw Brendon talking to you. At the bar. And he--"

Jon looked at Spencer dead on, challenging him. He should have known better, since Ryan would run and sometimes even Brendon, but Spencer was a sure bet for staying and fighting things out. In fact, all it seemed to do was give Spencer impetus to straighten his shoulders and say, "Whatever he said, it's not that we're trying to push someone else on you. We're not."

The thing was, Jon could have understood it if they were.

"We just hate being the people who make you close off. You weren't-- You weren't like that when we found you."

Jon scrubbed a hand over his face and swallowed past the spikes in his throat. "If it weren't them, Spence, would it just be someone else? Anyone else?"

Spencer waited a beat and then shook his head, sharply. "You know-- You know it wouldn't."

"Okay. Well, then."

"It's not-- Jon, it's not that we don't--"

"Don't you dare fucking say what I think you're going to," Jon said, not even meanly, just with an edge of seriousness that would let Spencer know not to defy him. He could stand them loving him (just not like that), but he couldn't stand Spencer saying it to his face. He thought if he had to hear the words in a voice other than his own, in one of their voices, that he'd never be able to hear anything else, not laughter, not music, nothing.

Spencer nodded, the set of his shoulders, his lips, tight. He said, "Okay. Okay."

Jon said, "I'm going to take a nap." It was a lie. There was no chance in hell he was going to sleep right then. He needed some space, though. His chest hurt, a low, consistent burn that made it just this side of impossible to breathe. He just wanted to breathe.

Spencer took an aborted step toward Jon, stopping before his foot had even really fallen. He shook his head slightly. "I'll see if I can get them to be quiet."

"Good luck with that," Jon said, and went to go hide in his bunk, went to go pretend like he couldn't hear anyway, like it didn't matter that he could hear. He just needed some fucking space.

*


He was still mostly just staring into space when the text, "my guys keep asking how u were," came through.

Jon didn't laugh, but he smiled. He responded, "how's my rep w/ mcr?"

"r's gonna ask 4 tips"

Jon snorted. "i'd bettr come up w/ some"

*


By the time he was hungry enough that emerging was becoming a necessity, Jon was feeling all right enough that he could do things like sit on Brendon to keep him still and not have it be part of some epic, tragic act of longing on his part. Jon was a little fucking tired of his own drama. At first, Brendon went unnaturally still under the attention, but Brendon could only manage such behavior for so long, and Jon waited him out, waited until he tried to get free, and then he was able to declare all out war.

Ryan helped him put the Brendon Insurrection down, and when it was all over Spencer said, "Well, my job here is done," and walked into the back lounge, the smell of coffee streaming out from behind him.

Brendon said, "Hey, no fair! I made that pot!" and scrambled up after him.

Ryan stayed. He said, "I was gonna go to Easy Mac town, if you want in on that."

"Sweet talker," Jon said.

"There aren't very many people I'd offer to share my MSG laden packets of death with."

"I am solemnly and appropriately awed."

"Damn right," Ryan said and got up to walk to where he could prepare his master meal. When they were both munching on neon orange elbow macaroni, Ryan said, "Spence said to leave it the fuck alone and he wouldn't be Spence if he wasn't always fucking right, but I wouldn't be Ryan if I didn't ignore that sometimes so that he could kick my ass later."

All of that was true, so Jon just sighed. Ryan stabbed at the helpless macaroni denizens in his bowl. He said, "It's just-- If it didn't matter, we would try. We would. And I don't think you know that."

Jon stared at Ryan. "What?"

"I just... You can't think it's because you don't matter. It's because you fucking do and it-- You know what happened with Brent, or maybe you don't know, I--" Ryan stopped, his eyes a little wet.

Jon said, "Shit."

Ryan wiped angrily at his eyes. "Three people is a complicated cesspit. Four people was--" His breath was hitching and Jon thought maybe he should touch him, maybe he should say something about it being okay.

Instead he said, "Brent was straight." He was pretty sure he'd had this confirmed before.

"But it was important," Ryan said. "And he wasn't-- Sexual identity can be kind of, um." Ryan made meaningless motions with his hands.

"Spencer said he felt left out."

"He did. Even when we tried. And there was no, there was nothing--" Ryan shook his head. "There was nothing."

Jon watched Ryan for a few seconds, too taken aback by what Ryan was telling him to even react. Then the echo of Ryan's voice, lost and small and scared hit him and he said, "Okay, Ry. Okay. Too important, I get it."

Ryan looked at him, eyes dark and careful. He said, "No, no, you don't," and more than anything, sounded sad about that. "But I needed to say it anyway."

Jon tried to say that if it meant losing them, he wouldn't want to try. And maybe it was a little true, but Jon was an optimist. It was in his bones to keep trying until he couldn't anymore. So instead he said, "Okay."

Ryan looked dolefully at his empty bowl. "I really shouldn't have eaten before saying that."

"C'mere," Jon said, opening his arms up. Ryan came.

*


Jon spent a week in Vegas after the finish of the tour and then went home. He offered to tech for some of Empires local shows, but Tom said, "Yeah, because that wouldn't be distracting, or anything," and Jon shrugged and stayed behind the scenes instead, shooting the shit with Sean and trying not to feel left out of this new thing Tom had.

Tom and he went out, though, afterward--Jon for a beer, Tom for bad bar coffee--and Tom said, "It was good having you there, Jonny."

Jon said, "Sorry I haven't caught more shows. Sorry I haven't--"

Tom just shook his head. "You never once asked me to say sorry for all the shit I pulled, so let's just... Even?" Tom laid his hand flat on the table, palm up. Jon covered it with his.

Tom said, "Wanna stay on my couch?"

Tom's couch wasn't the most comfortable in the universe, but Jon's apartment was very, very empty, and he hadn't been able to sleep three nights straight for the silence. He nodded and followed Tom home.

*


"ur in chitown, rite?"

Jon read the text before checking the number and when he saw Mikey's he typed back, "y. y?"

"2nite, 5, h o' blues, tech door"

Jon did some checking on his Sidekick and, sure enough, there was a My Chem concert that night. Jon grinned. "c u"

*


Jon was glad the door Mikey had told him to go to was on the opposite side of the building from where the fans were lining up, since they were already wrapping around to the second side. Mikey was waiting for him, which was just sweet. He smiled and said, "You came."

Jon said, "I said I was going to."

Mikey just shrugged. He tugged Jon inside with a not-so-confidential whisper. "Bob's mom is here."

Jon nodded. His parents came to all their Chicago shows, so he wasn't sure why this should be such a big deal.

"She likes to torment Frank. She's good at keeping him in a constant state of apprehension." Mikey's tone was filled with nothing short of utter awe. "It's like payback for...everything else ever."

Jon was momentarily horrified before he considered what a night of playful terror would do for Brendon. Then he nodded. "Yeah, okay."

"C'mon. It's also just fun to watch. She can make Bob wear matching socks."

And that, well. That was something Jon needed to be able to tell his grandchildren he'd seen.

*


They hung out at Bob's for a while after the show, until it was clear that Frank and Bob really wanted to have sex in Bob's bed while the having was good. Then they bowed out as gracefully as anybody who's making jokes about somebody else's dick size really can. Mikey rolled his eyes at Gerard, who shrugged. "You know it's true."

Later, when Ray and Gerard had gone their own way, Mikey said, "It is true, but Gerard's really not one to talk."

Jon took that in stride. He'd spent the overwhelming majority of his formative years living with boys. There wasn't much about dicks that impressed him or surprised him anymore.

They were having coffee at an all night diner, sharing a piece of pie slowly. Half-way through, Mikey said, "I think we've been spotted," and eyed a group of girls--one or two guys--who were definitely glancing over and grinning. They weren't bothering them, though, so they stayed right where they were. When they finished the pie, they paid up and stood in front of the diner for a moment before Jon said, "Look, I have actual like, video games, at my apartment."

"Any cards?" Mikey asked.

"I thought that wasn't so much--"

"I don't talk much, when I'm playing video games."

"Yeah, cards, and uh, I think I have a Scrabble board somewhere."

"Gerard told me you were trying to seduce me away from my own band, but I didn't believe him. I said my virture was safe in your hands. Have you made a liar of me, Jon Walker?"

"The night is young," Jon said.

*


They both sucked at Scrabble. Mikey sucked harder, but that was mostly because he seemed to fervently believe that a lot of words existed when they, in fact, did not. Jon let him win anyway, because he liked Mikey's smile and it wasn't that easily coaxed from him. Jon was fond of a challenge. They fell asleep in their clothes and woke up to the ringing of Mikey's phone. Mikey pulled it out, and said, "Fuck."

Jon heard the muted, "Yeah, okay, see you in twenty."

Mikey hung up. Jon said, "C'mon, I know a coffee place on the way," blinking into wakefulness himself.

There was a beat, a moment of silence in which Jon knew, somehow, that it wasn't just Mikey being morning-quiet and then Mikey said, "Wanna come?"

Jon said, "Sorry?" because, yeah, he was clearly still a bit tired.

"Tour. Come. With us. Hang."

"Uh-- How long?" And wait, what?

Mikey shrugged. "'Til you're ready to buy a plane ticket, I guess."

Jon said, "I'll think about it on the way," but he was already looking up his neighbor's number, to text her about feeding the cats.

*


Tom asked, "Basically, you're pulling a me?"

Jon thought about when Tom had come out, stayed with them, followed them, thought about the drunken sex and the times when they had called out names that weren't each others'. The mornings afterward, when neither of them had mentioned it. "Maybe not exactly."

After a second, Tom laughed. "Yeah, okay, maybe not."

Jon watched as Mikey let Frank latch onto his back and stay. "Maybe-- Maybe a little."

"Jonny," Tom said softly.

"I know," Jon said. "I--"

Into the silence of the broken sentence, Tom said, "If you need me to come get you--"

"No," Jon said. "No." He didn't know much, but he knew he was fine where he was. For the moment anyway. That was all he needed. The moment.

*


Gerard had looked like he'd wanted to ask when Mikey had pulled Jon up into the bus behind him, but Ray had curled one hand over Gerard's neck and said, "Hey Walker," and Gerard had just smiled, a little unsure but mostly welcoming. Bob had nodded and Frank had said, "I challenge you to duel," which had been followed by three intense hours of Mario Kart wherein Jon had to defend both his honor and his right to be on the bus. He managed somewhat admirably.

Jon watched the show from the wings that night, his mind on Mikey's fingering and his ability to sidestep Frank with only the minutest bit of warning, and afterward the two of them sat at the table, sharing orange slices and a game of solitaire that neither of them could win even combining their resources. Mikey said, "Wow. I didn't realize how hard I sucked at this game."

"That makes two of us," Jon admitted, walking around to Mikey's side of the table to see if things looked any better when they weren't upside down. They didn't. Jon started to move back, but Mikey's hand landed lightly on his wrist and Jon didn't even ask, he just stayed. He missed Brendon's lack of inhibition, his ability to make Jon's space his own. He missed Spencer's intuition about when Jon didn't want to be standing by himself, and Ryan's carefully interposed arms. He missed them, which sucked, because he thought maybe being away from them was good for him just then, that possibly this bus was the best place in the world for him. Then again, Jon had been wrong before. In any case, he stayed where he was, up against the long, warm length of Mikey.

He asked, "Am I gonna be in anybody's way on the back couch?"

Mikey shook his head, but he didn't look at Jon and the whole response felt wrong, so Jon asked, "Mikey?"

Mikey looked at him, all curiosity. Jon wasn't sure how to ask the question, so he didn't. He looked at the cards and said, "I think this is a lost cause."

Mikey laughed a little hollowly. "I know the feeling."

"Mikey--"

"'M tired," Mikey said, rubbing at his face, everything in his tone speaking to the veracity of the claim.

Jon said, "C'mon," and pulled Mikey to his bunk, into his bunk and once he was there, he knew that he really didn't have to ask the question he'd let go minutes before, that the two of them were allowed to pretend this was nothing more than creature comfort, that that, at least, was theirs to have.

Mikey said, "Jon, I-- I'm glad you came."

Jon said, "Yeah," and closed his eyes.

*


It took four days for someone to approach Jon and say, "Look, man, I don't want to seem like a douche, but if I don't talk to you, it's gonna be one of the others, and trust me, I'm your best bet."

Jon considered Ray and said, "Yeah, okay, I can see that."

"So, uh, your intentions?"

Jon frowned. "You guys do know we're not sleeping together, right? I mean, the bus isn't that big."

"Right, we sorta figured--"

Jon shook his head.

"Oh, um." Ray squinted. "Huh."

"Not to, y'know, seem like a douche, but you get the part where he's in love with three out of the four of you, right?"

Ray looked away, the set of his shoulders tight and Jon regretted the question. He wouldn't have wanted anyone attacking his guys like that, not even in his defense. He said, "Yeah, okay, let's try and forget I said that, can we?"

"For all the vetting, we were kinda hoping--"

Jon shook his head. "It's not-- It's not like that."

Ray tapped his foot a few times and then asked, "So what is it like?"

Jon tried to find an answer. He settled on, "I haven't got a fucking clue. Yet."

*


Mikey found Jon helping the techs, because old habits die hard and more often that not, Zack had to remind Jon that he actually had to play the set, so maybe he should just relax for a bit before it, yeah? Besides, Jon liked My Chem's techs, sort of enjoyed going back into that part of himself, lending a hand. Mikey walked around with him until Jon caught Matt's eye and he could tell they were more in the way than anything else, so he steered Mikey free of the equipment, out to the back, where Jon could still smell the nicontine from whoever had last been out there.

Mkey didn't look at him as he asked, "They, uh, they didn't scare you off, right?"

Jon was still standing there, so he figured the answer to that was pretty obvious. "How'd you figure it out?"

Mikey rolled his eyes. "They sent Gee to distract me."

Jon said, "Uh--"

"If he would just act normal I wouldn't have a clue, but he gets all subversive, which, with Gee is the equivalent of stupid. It's a dead give that he's doing something he doesn't want me to know about. Or someone is, anyway."

"I couldn't have respected them if they hadn't done it."

Mikey smiled a little at that. He said, "Gee likes you."

"Yeah?" Jon felt kind of bad, because he wasn't Ryan or Brendon or even Spencer, who all would have given limbs to hear something like that. Jon liked Gerard, enjoyed his music, but he didn't have any kind of hero worship going.

"He got extra subversive on me, indicating more guilt than normal."

And okay, Jon didn't care that Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance liked him so much, but it was kind of nice that Geeway, brother to one Mikeyway, liked him enough to share his most prized sibling. "Gerard's pretty okay by me, too."

Mikey looked over, his expression unreadable, like maybe he was trying to figure something out. Finally he said, "He gets on a lot of people's nerves."

"Yeah, well, you've met the guys I live with."

"The guys you're in love with." Mikey said it softly, but he said it, meeting Jon's eyes.

Jon took a second to process the pain, to make sure his voice would work. "Yeah. Yeah, that too."

Mikey was still for a second and then nodded, as though he'd made up his mind about something. Jon wasn't quite sure what. Mikey said, "Sorry, I shouldn't have--"

Jon shook his head. "Nah, that was fair."

"You never--"

"I didn't really need to. You're not much for, well, subversiveness."

"Better'n Gee," Mikey said.

Jon smiled. "There is that."

*


When Frank figured out that Jon carried his deck of cards with him at almost all times--Mikey and Jon were on a mission to find a game they didn't both really blow at--he tried stealing Jon for his nefarious, gin-addicted purposes. Mikey, though, was having none of it. He swatted, literally swatted Frank away and said, "No. He's mine."

"Nuh uh. You brought him on the bus, and you know Gee's rules: whatever we bring on the bus, we have to share."

"And yet there hasn't been one group orgy to date," Mikey said.

Frank went surprisingly still. Jon hadn't even realized he was moving until he stopped, but when he did it was all too obvious, precisely the way it was when Brendon stilled, or Ryan, who was a less obvious mover, but never still, all the same. For a second, Mikey looked like he was going to say something--apologize, Jon realized--but then he just fixed his feet, knees tilted in and he didn't look all that immoveable, but Jon could tell he was. Clearly, Frank could as well. He said, softly, "I honestly just wanted to play gin with someone else who might have fun."

Mikey's face crumpled a little bit, not even all that noticeably, but Jon noticed. Somehow he found himself standing a little bit in front of Mikey, between him and Frank. Frank blinked at Jon, as though he'd forgotten Jon was there. Maybe he had. Jon said, "Why don't we all play?"

Frank tilted his head. "Mikey?"

Jon felt Mikey curve his fingers under the waistline at the back of Jon's jeans, knuckles pressed to the small of his back. And Jon knew, he got that Mikey was just holding on, just trying to anchor himself, but he couldn't help shivering, just a bit. When Mikey started to pull away, he followed. Mikey made a soft sound, not exactly an "oh." Jon repeated, "Mikey?"

Mikey said, "What? Oh. I mean, okay. Okay. Yeah, all of us. Good."

*


When MCR hit Vegas, Jon climbed off the bus and said, "Look, I should--"

Mikey said, "Mind if I-- I mean, soundcheck's not for a couple of hours and I could always get a cab back by myself if you didn't want to, or I mean, you don't even have to, like, if you want to stay--"

Jon slipped his hand into Mikey's. Mikey looked down at it but didn't say anything. Jon said, "Come visit my friends with me," and then let go, but mostly only so he could hail a cab.

He told the cab to take them to Ryan's, because that was where Brendon had said they were in the last text Jon had received, which had been a few hours back. Jon hadn't said anything about coming. They knew he was out with MCR, if they couldn't figure out where the tour was and put two and two together, they had bigger problems than Jon's unrequited crush. Which, if everyone was going to be honest, was a pretty big problem.

Jon had to ring the doorbell three times and when Spencer answered his lips were puffy and he looked peeved, and not a little bit like they'd interrupted something. He opened his mouth to snap but when he saw Jon standing there he broke out into a grin. He all but fell out onto the front step in order to envelope Jon in a hug. "Hi"

Jon let himself drown in the hug for a few moments and then said, "Hey Spence. You wanna let us in?"

"Oh." Spencer pulled off and said, "Hi Mikey. Sorry we-- We kinda thought you'd be in later in the day. We had a plan to bring sandwiches to you at the venue."

"Very nice of you," Mikey said politely, and closed the door behind him.

"Jon!"

Jon had three seconds after the primal cry to brace himself and then Brendon was there, his legs wrapped around Jon's hips. Jon said, "Hey, Bren."

"Why are you early?" Brendon asked. "We were going to surprise you." He sounded like he was pouting. Jon couldn't see his face.

"That was our fault," Mikey said. "With us running on time, and stuff."

"Does that happen a lot?" Ryan asked, coming up to pry Brendon off of Jon and have Jon to himself for a little bit. Ryan clung with his hands as much as his body, which was how Jon knew he'd been a little scared that if they hadn't gone to Jon, Jon wouldn't have come to them. Jon sighed and ruffled Ryan's hair. Ryan didn't pull away.

Mikey shrugged. "Brian's kind of a stickler for promptness. And he gets Matt and Bob on his side, and Ray just goes right along with it, and Ray does this thing with Gee, and then it's only Frank and me being the hold outs, and well-- Yeah, kind of a lot."

Spencer was looking thoughtful, which Jon considered to be a little dangerous so he said, "Where were you going to get these sandwiches?"

All three of them rolled their eyes. Brendon asked, "Where do you think?"

"Field trip?" Jon suggested.

"Field trip!!!" Brendon made for the door.

Ryan and Spencer both called, "Pants, first."

*


Brendon was busy ordering himself and Mikey, "The best vegetarian sandwich ever, ever okay, you just have to trust me on this," Spencer and Ryan bickering over where to sit when Jon asked, "Do you want me to get off here?"

There wasn't even a pause for air or to process the question before Mikey said, "No. No."

"But?" Jon aked, because there was one of those, waiting. He could hear it.

"But I wouldn't stop you if you needed to. I mean, I wouldn't-- I wouldn't ask you to keep going, I guess."

"Okay."

"I guess, I mean, it'd be nice if you chose me, you know? Instead of just, um. Instead of just following to follow."

"Sometimes you need someone who knows where they're going."

"Yeah, well," Mikey looked at him. "You're shit outta luck if that's what you were hoping for in me."

Jon said, "I don't know that I was hoping for anything."

"I guess. I guess that's-- That's good."

Jon wasn't sure the lack of hope could be described as "good", but he took Mikey's point. All he said was, "Vegas is too fucking hot this time of year."

"Vegas is always too hot," Mikey told him.

Jon was smart enough not to inquire as to whether it was metaphor or not.

*


Spencer draped himself over Jon's back, with Brendon tucking himself into Jon's arms and Ryan leaning into all three of them from the side. And as strong as the temptation to tell them to get the fuck off was, Jon had missed this, too. He couldn't give up their comfort with this space, not even knowing it was nothing else, nothing more. At least not the something more he wanted of it.

Spencer asked, "You're not staying, are you?"

Jon said, "Too restless."

"If you need to rest," Ryan said, like it was a whole thought.

Jon said, "I know."

Brendon asked, "Yeah?"

Jon thought for a moment, because the time for lying, even to spare them, was clearly past. "Yeah."

*


Jon slept all the way through the next day. He woke to the feeling of the bus pulling into a parking lot and noticed when he rolled over that he had a new bruise on the center of his chest. Mikey had pointy elbows and he liked to use them while sleeping. Jon, mostly, dreamed right on through it.

He scrubbed a hand over his face and walked into the main area of the bus. Mikey said, somewhat triumphantly, "Told you I hadn't killed him."

Gerard and Frank perused him like they were still determining the truth of this statement. Bob tossed him a bottle of water. Jon opened it, took a few sips and said, "Thanks." Then, "Where are we?"

"Sacramento," Ray said.

"Show tonight?" Jon asked.

"Tomorrow. Hotel night." Gerard looked quite pleased at this circumstance. Mikey was watching him with something that was almost a smile on his face, and for as many times as Jon had seen Mikey watch Gerard with a tenderness that he didn't have for much else, this was the first time he'd noticed it when Gerard was so clearly excited about spending time with Ray.

Gerard turned to Mikey, almost catching him at it. Mikey reverted to reading his comic at the last minute. Gerard said, "Hey, wanna catch a movie? We could all go. Like, late. With hats. The hats always confuse them."

"That's because you look like a tool in hats," Frank said, as if this were a matter of documented fact.

"And that's different from normal how, exactly?" Mikey asked.

"I was gonna pay for popcorn," Gerard said loftily.

"You mean you were gonna get me to pay for it?" Ray asked.

Gerard waved a hand to indicate that the difference was clearly negligible. Mikey smiled down at this comic. He said, "A movie would be cool. It's been a while since we just--"

"Yeah," Frank said. "Too long."

Gerard tipped his head up to look back at Jon. "You in?"

Jon took another sip, in order to pretend not to watch Mikey, who was, in turn, pretending to still be reading his comic. Frank was still, though, still in a way that Jon was starting to become familiar with, and that familiarity in and of itself told Jon most of what he needed to know. "I like Junior Mints."

"A man with taste," Ray said.

"You have to share them with Mikey," Gerard said firmly. "They're his favorite."

Jon managed to catch Mikey's eyes, despite Mikey doing his best to avoid such a meeting. He said, "I think I can manage that."

*


It wasn't an accident, but Jon hadn't exactly planned the part where Mikey reached into the Junior Mints box and said, "Oh, melty," and brought out what, in the dark, looked like a shapeless blob of crap and popped it right into his mouth. He also hadn't planned the part where he took Mikey's hand in his and cleaned the chocolate off. With his mouth. And look, the thing was, this wasn't an illogical action. Mikey had long, expressive fingers--largely more expressive than the rest of him--and they were covered in chocolate and mint. In Jon's world, one plus one still equaled two. The years with Panic at the Alternative Universe hadn't changed that, not yet, anyway.

Mikey looked at him in the dark, his eyes more focused than wide, and when Jon smiled goofily afterward, he smiled back. They slept in bed together that night, just like every night, fully pajamed and more tired than anything else.

*


Mikey was watching him when Jon woke up, his gaze resting almost carefully on Jon's face. Jon found one of Mikey's hands under the covers and gave it a squeeze, hoping that conveyed, "Coffee and shower, then talk."

Evidently it had, because when Jon emerged from the shower, there was coffee, and even cereal. Jon said, "Woot."

Mikey sipped at his coffee. "It's not-- It's not like I haven't thought about it. Because, I mean, I like sex and you're hot, so thinking about it was kind of inevitable, I guess."

Jon said, "You're hot, too. Way hot."

"Thank you," Mikey said politely.

"You're welcome." Jon started drinking his coffee before he could say anything else to embarrass himself.

"I didn't want it to be like that."

Jon said, "Yeah," because he knew what Mikey meant. Sometimes it was all right to close his eyes and imagine it was the guys, or to just have fun, just know that getting his dick sucked was just that, but no, that wasn't what he'd wanted from Mikey, not even from the beginning. Not even if they both would have been doing the same thing, or maybe because of that.

"I just... I guess I thought I should say it."

Jon set his coffee down and said, "It wasn't--" Then he shook his head. "You ever do shit like that to your guys?"

Mikey opened his mouth, then shut it. He thought for a second. "Yeah, sometimes."

"But it's a little hard because--"

Mikey nodded.

"It's not-- It's not hard between us," Jon said.

It took a second, but Mikey smiled. "Huh. It isn't."

Jon grinned.

*


Jon was glad Mikey had said something, though, because after that it was the easiest thing in the world to snuggle up to him, nip at him, tuck fingers up inside the hem of his shirts, all the things he had every right to do with his guys and almost never did because if he went that far he wasn't sure he could trust himself not to go further. Mikey, as it turned out, was equally tactile, which surprised Jon until he realized that he was basing his assumptions on pictures of Mikey with his guys, which, well, if Jon hadn't been taking advantage, Mikey probably hadn't been either. Gerard and him definitely touched a lot in pictures.

It was easy and perfect, even after the night Jon came out and played Mikey's bass for Dead, because Brendon fucking loved that song and he was going to be so. fucking. jealous and the internet actually exploded with rumors about Jon and every single member of My Chem, often in interesting combinations. Pete kept sending Jon links, which meant that Pete was sending everybody links. Sometimes they shared, depending on how scarring the rumor was. Bob was a fucking deviant little bastard.

Between San Diego and Dallas they discovered that they could say shit like, "Well, that's only because you're unloved," to each other, and not feel the sting that they would have coming from anyone else. Between Houston and New Orleans they figured out that they could smack talk each other's guys within reason and not want to kill each other with their fingernails.

The latter discovery shocked Jon so much it took him three days to process. Heretofore, he hadn't found anyone for whom that was true.

Between Charlotte and DC they figured out that they both had a deep and only mildly secret love of chewy Sweetarts, the kind you had to break up in the packaging before opening. The revelation wasn't quite as shocking as the previous one, but in some ways, more fun.

Between DC and Philly, Jon figured out that he wasn't ready to go home yet. The guys hadn't called, hadn't said they needed him, and until they did, he wasn't going to ask. They would tell him. They might wait a little bit, but they would tell him.

Between Philly and New York, Mikey said, "We're only home for about a week, then we've got to get our asses to London, but if you want, I have a spare room."

Jon said, "You know what I'm awesome at?"

"Playing the bass?" Mikey took what was clearly a shot in the dark.

"That too," Jon confirmed, "but I was thinking more along the lines of airing out a house during tour breaks."

"Awesome, because I suck at it."

"I'm also good at playing with cats."

"My spidey sense tells me this is going to work out well."

"Good one of us has a spidey sense, then."

"Yeah, I really won the genetic lottery with that one."

*


Jon did laundry while Mikey went grocery shopping, since there had been a grand total of maybe three items in Mikey's pantry, and one of them had been growing offspring. Jon threw everything in on cold because the one time he had tried the whole separating thing his mom was so good at he had failed miserably and ended up with a number of shirts ineffectually tie-dyed pink. He laid on the couch and let Bunny knead her claws atop his stomach, missing Dylan and Clover something fierce. It was sort of nice, a little like a sign that he was almost ready to go home.

Mikey came home with a number of edibles that could be made in one step or less, and the two of them ate like food was going out of business. Jon switched the laundry into the dryer. Then they crawled into Mikey's bed and, with a few breaks for water, pet feeding, and other biological needs, slept for a straight two days.

*


"That," Mikey said, emerging from the bathroom in sweats and a t-shirt, hair still dripping, "was really fucking awesome."

Jon said, "You know what would also be awesome?"

"Breakfast," they both said at the same time. It was actually four in the afternoon, but in Jersey, that was so not a problem. Mikey drove them to his favorite greasy spoon and Jon ordered something that would have his arteries giving up on themselves in two days along with an endless cup of coffee and said, "Life is good, my friend."

Mikey raised his coffee cup and toasted to that.

*


As with most lazy weeks, the end came with a surprising, abrupt quickness to it. Jon rode to the airport with the band, snuggling with Mikey until it was time for him to get on the plane. Mikey said, "I get texts for free, even in Europe."

Jon laughed. "Of course you do."

"Well, I mean, they're part of my plan," Mikey looked a bit affronted. Jon just nodded, and Mikey loosened a little.

Jon said, "You shouldn't've told me. I bet I'm more annoying than Frank when he's not with you guys."

"Oh, please bet something of value, because you will lose that bet. Lose like you have never lost before in your life."

To the side, Bob nodded secretively. Frank yelled, "I can see and hear you fuckers."

"Well, we had to be honest at some point," Gerard said candidly.

Ray patted Frank on the head. Frank said, "See, Ray loves me," like that was some sort of argument in response to the accusations.

Jon turned back to Mikey. He said, "I've gotten way used to you, Mikeyway."

Mikey nodded. "Seriously used to you."

Jon watched until the plane took off, and then he rented a car and spent two days driving back to Chicago, just to give himself time with the road and the radio and a sky that was always in front of him, no matter what.

*


Tom was at his apartment when Jon got there, playing with the cats. Jon said, "Hey."

"You could at least act surprised to see me."

"You're better at remembering where my apartment is than yours."

Tom nodded. "I haven't lived in one place as long."

"Need me to drive you home?" Jon asked sympathetically.

Tom flipped him off. "How are you?"

Jon scooped Dylan up and cradled him to his chest while giving the question some consideration. "Okay. A little... Bored. Ready to get back to work."

"'Bout time. Lazy fucker." Tom came up behind him, wrapped himself around Jon. Softly he said, "Good."

"You staying?" Jon asked.

"Depends. You cooking?"

"Hell no. What are phones for?"

"Here for as long as you want."

*


The next tour was scheduled to start at the end of the month, so Jon flew out to Vegas with two weeks left until tour time to rehearse a little, get back in the rhythm of things. Spencer came to pick him up at the airport. "There was an incident with a window at Ryan's place. Ryan had to stay with the window guy and Brendon seemed concerned about the window guy molesting Ryan so I left him there to defend Ross's honor."

"How'd Brendon compare in size to the guy?"

"He's about one third of him."

"Maybe his subterfuge has gotten better since the last maintenance worker."

"Probably not," Spencer said, and hugged him. "Good to see you, Walker. We were a little worried when we heard My Chem was in Europe."

Jon rolled his eyes. It wasn't like he hadn't spoken to or texted at least one of them every day. Spencer let go and they headed toward the car. He asked, "Were you...ready? To come here?"

Jon threw his bag in the backseat of Spencer's car and said, "I missed you guys," and climbed in the front.

*


Ryan was hesitant, diffident the way it could be when Jon came back after being away for a bit. Brendon just manhandled him into more confident Jon-exposure, and by the the time they all fell asleep, slightly-baked and more at ease than Jon could remember feeling in a long time, Ryan was sprawled on his back, head resting on Jon's thigh. Brendon was in the V of Jon's legs and Spencer had taken the other side to sprawl upon and fall asleep at. Jon tilted his head back and it hurt, an ache low in his back, at the base of his neck, but it didn't tear into him, didn't sharpen its claws against the fine edges of his spine.

Jon took a breath and fell asleep.

*


He woke up to the buzzing of his phone in his back pocket and a crick in his neck. Gently, he extricated himself, covering the guys in blankets and making his way to the kitchen, where he could make himself some coffee and answer Mikey's text. "ok?"

Jon considered. "better"

There was a long time before the next text and Jon figured Mikey'd had to go do something, but finally the phone buzzed at him. "me 2"

Jon thought about the way it was easier, the way the weeks with Mikey had given him something else, and smiled. "germany?"

"y. then france sweden lux londn. then home"

"break?"

"2 WHOLE wks"

Jon snickered. My Chem really had to learn to actually sleep somewhere that wasn't moving or that came without mints on the pillows. Jon punched in the words, "wanna come hang?" without allowing himself too much thought."

Given how quickly the, "y" came, Jon suspected Mikey had done the same thing.

*


Mikey's plane ran three hours late, which meant that by the time he arrived at the venue, Panic was already playing. Jon caught sight of him out of the corner of his eye, noted his presence, and had a quick, silent conversation with Ryan, who dedicated the next song to, "A friend, who came a long way to see us play."

Jon played hard.

*


It was a traveling night, so Mikey climbed on the bus with them and let Brendon burn off some of the post-show energy by explaining to him pretty much everything that had happened since Jon had shown back up. Jon drank water and watched Mikey just take it all in, easily fitting between Ryan and Spencer when they wedged themselves on either side of him in what Jon suspected was a bizarre show of possibly misplaced solidarity.

When Brendon began to wind down, Spencer dragged him off to get cleaned up and Ryan followed, mostly just to watch. Jon said, "Hey."

Mikey smiled. "Sorry I was late."

Jon shook his head. "You made it."

"I was gonna offer a to-the-death round of Egyptian Rat Screw, but I think watching Brendon bounce around wore me out."

"I would think Frank would have made you used to it."

"Frank has made me used to ignoring Frank. It's a skill I have to learn to adapt to others."

Jon laughed shortly. "Fair enough." He stood and walked over, tugging Mikey to his feet. "C'mon, my bunk's not far."

"You don't say."

Jon huffed and pulled him into the bunk area and down into Jon's bunk. He closed the curtain, sprawled out on Mikey, who was already on his back, waiting. Jon said, "Missed this."

He thought Mikey might have said, "Missed you," but by the time he looked up, Mikey was already asleep.

*


In Denver, Mikey shared his supply of ibuprofen when Jon got a headache from the altitude. He said, softly, "Happens to Frank every time."

Jon said, "Sucks," and Mikey didn't disagree. Instead he went and found cinnamon rolls for after the show. Jon couldn't even remember telling Mikey he liked cinnamon rolls. The guys let them have the back lounge to themselves, and when Jon woke up they were in St. Louis and his head was just fine. He let Mikey sleep, going to join Brendon in the kitchen-area. "Others not awake yet?"

Brendon shook his head. "Ryan mumbled something about coffee, but I think he was talking in his sleep. He wasn't as demanding as usual."

Jon nodded, poured himself a cup and sat across from Brendon. He tapped the newspaper Brendon was reading. "Anything interesting?"

"The sky is falling," Brendon told him calmly.

"Well, shit." Jon took a sip.

"That's what I said."

They sat in silence for a bit, Jon lazily reading what he could upside down. Without looking up, Brendon said, "He puts up with us well."

Jon took a breath. "You're not something to be put up with."

"I just meant--"

"I know, but if that's how he's thinking about it--"

"I don't think he is. Yesterday he woke up before you and we played the Wii for a while. He's a little hard to read, but I mean, so is Ryan."

"Bren--"

"We're not trying to pawn you off, Jon. That wasn't-- Spence said maybe I said it all wrong."

Jon looked down at his coffee, tapping out an arrhythmic melody against the table. "Maybe. But I-- I know. I figured it out."

"Because of him? Them?" Brendon asked, his voice small, even in the confines of the bus.

"Because I had to, Bren. Sooner or later. It was that or--" Jon bit his lip.

"It was that, or Brent," Brendon said, having the guts to look Jon in the eye, which was sort of everything Jon loved about him in one tiny (enormous) motion. Jon looked back and felt the normal ache, a little lower than usual, a little easier to breathe through than usual, and thought, okay.

"I'm not leaving, Brendon. This is my band."

"We know," Brendon said. "We just weren't sure you did."

"Well. Now you know," Jon said, feeling lame.

Brendon said, "You two do make a really hot couple, though."

Jon reached over and smacked Brendon upside the head.

Brendon ducked. "Jeez. Just saying!"

*


Mikey insisted on pizza while they were in St. Louis. Jon said, "But they make it on crackers."

Mikey rolled his eyes. "That's the point."

Jon sensed he was still missing the point, but it was rare that Mikey got insistent about anything, so he shrugged and said, "You're buying."

"Way to treat your guest," Mikey said, but shelled out for breadsticks when Brendon saw them on the menu and sang a song about them. Jon tried not to find his absolute lack of resistance to Brendon's questionable charms sweet. To make up for his utter failure, he slipped a couple of bucks in Mikey's waistband later.

Mikey said, "I agreed to pay for the pizza, so I can only imagine that this is for--"

Jon didn't exactly plan on the part where he shut Mikey up with a kiss, but somehow, his fingers still hooked in Mikey's jeans from pushing the bills there, somehow he ended up pulling forward and Mikey was roughly one billion feet taller than him, but their lips ended up meeting all the same, and Jon thought, "oh," but not, "stop," not, "not right," not anything that made him pull away, made him let Mikey go.

It was a sweet kiss, mostly just lips, the tiniest slip of tongue over those lips before Mikey said, "Jon. Jon."

Jon pulled back and was about to apologize when Mikey asked, "Am I-- That was me, right?"

It took Jon a second to understand the question. Slowly, he said, "I-- I wouldn't do that. Not to anyone, but not, definitely not to you." Because sure, he and Tom had pretended at times, but there hadn't been any lies between them.

"Because I really-- I really wanted you to, um, to do that. And I haven't. Not, I mean, I don't even know. Not since Ray and Gee, I think."

Jon took in the statement, and then murmured, "C'mere." He slipped his hands around to Mikey's back and pulled him into the slight space between his legs. "C'mere, Mikeyway."

Mikey bent down again, fit himself into Jon's hold, brushed his lips over Jon's. Jon breathed, "Mm," and licked, nipped a little until Mikey opened up, let him in. It took a while. It was worth the wait.

*


Jon and Mikey were sharing the crossword puzzle from that day's newspaper, the way they sometimes did, when Brendon said, "Are you holding hands?"

Brendon was a master of subtle inquiry. Jon said, "Yes. Now go away."

Brendon went, but not without the warning, "I'm telling!"

Mikey pointed to four across and said, "Colcannon." Mikey was way better at crossword puzzles than Jon. "Is this going to be a shotgun wedding type situation? Because I think I should get to deflower you, if that's the case."

"I am all for, er, being deflowered, but I'm pretty sure they're just glad to have pawned me off on someone."

Mikey'd thumb caressed over Jon's palm. "Don't say it like that. Not even-- Don't say it like that."

Jon said, "Sometimes you have to laugh."

Mikey shook his head. "There are things that just aren't funny. We lie a lot, pretend like they are. But they aren't." Mikey brought their linked hands up to his mouth and kissed at one of Jon's knuckles. "I don't want to lie with you. Don't want to be lied to."

Jon gave himself a moment to feel the heat of Mikey's lips. Softly, he said, "They will be glad."

Mikey nodded. "Want you happy. Mine want that, too. It's not-- It's not like they meant it." Mikey's voice, which could be so hard to read, wavered, just a bit.

"I'm--" Jon stopped. He couldn't say he was happy, not when it had ground Mikey down, done everything but pull him right apart. "I wouldn't have gotten this. If one of them had--"

Mikey's eyes strayed to the bunk corridor, the back lounge where the other three were hiding. "Me neither. And I-- Maybe this was worth it."

Jon sensed that if he were someone else, if Mikey were someone else, that he would have felt slightly insulted by that comment. Instead, it made him smile. "Maybe possibly."

Mikey squeezed his hand. "Nine down is 'arpeggio'."

Jon sighed. "I actually knew that one, jerk."

"Sure, sure."

*


It should have made it easier, that they had been sleeping in the same beds for so long, and it was easier, when it came to kissing, easy for Jon to just tip his mouth into Mikey's, let the magnetic pull that was Mikey draw him in, keep him close. Somehow, it made doing anything more a little harder. Jon had planned on waiting until a hotel night, because unless there was a serious reason for not doing so, the guys were conscienscious enough not to have sex on the bus where he could hear it, know just how very close--far away--he was from them. He figured it was only polite to return the favor.

Mikey, for his part, seemed to have no desire for an audience, which worked out well. Unfortunately, as Mikey was only with them for a week, the second hotel night they had since acknowledging that they even wanted anything more than the sleeping was also their last night together. They played cards for a bit, neither of them much paying attention. Jon said, apropos of nothing, "This sucks."

"And how," Mikey said, entirely deadpan and wholly serious.

"Matt can't fill in for you?" Jon asked, only half-joking.

"Can you imagine the rumors? Mikeyway leaving My Chem for rival band!"

"Uh. I'm pretty sure we're not your rivals."

"Well, not until people think you're wooing me away."

Jon sighed. "Zack would probably be pissed if I got myself killed by a My Chem fan."

Mikey patted his hand consolingly.

"This tour lasts another two months." Jon was highly tempted to pout.

Mikey nodded. "Ours is three. You wanna--"

"Yes."

There was silence for a bit. Mikey said, "This still sucks."

It did, but, "Eight hours, Mikeyway. Let's make the most of them."

The corner of Mikey's mouth tilted upward. "Got any suggestions?"

Jon kissed at the corner. "I'm pretty clever. I can come up with something." He rucked Mikey's shirt up, fitting one hand over the swoop of his ribs. Mikey was warm under his hand, skin soft, planes hard and Jon said, "You're way fucking out of my league."

"Whatever, Jonny Walker." Mikey gasped on the last syllable as Jon pushed his shirt up even further, kissed at the center of his chest.

Jon laughed against his skin. "Sensitive?"

"You made me wait," Mikey said, and it wasn't a whine, not exactly, but it was close.

"Huh. Wonder what you'll be like in two months," Jon said, kissing his way up Mikey's chest, to his neck.

Mikey whimpered. "I hate you."

"Mm, okay." Jon peeled the shirt all the way off. He went slowly, tasting Mikey's arms, making him turn so that he could sample at his back. Jon found that the small of Mikey's back made him mewl and worked that knowledge for all it was worth.

Mikey said, "Jon, Jon, Jon."

Jon pulled up, held Mikey against him. "What is it? What do you want?"

"I want... Miss... I kinda-- Wanna blow you."

"I think I can agree to that." If Jon's voice was an octave or two higher than it normally was, well, there was nobody here but the two of them.

"Good," Mikey said, the word long on his mouth. He wiggled so that he was facing Jon. "Because I really like sucking cock."

Jon's eyes did not roll into the back of his head, but it was a close thing. Mikey nudged his arms upward and pulled his shirt off while Jon was still blinking at him. He said, "Mm," appreciatively, despite the fact that they'd seen each other topless multiple times by this point. Then he shoved at Jon none-too-gently until Jon's back hit the wall. Mikey said, "Just in case you need something to hold onto. I remember being good. Then again, it's been a while."

Mikey sank to his knees and Jon was pretty sure that it wasn't going to matter one way or another. Jon was already barefoot, because he just plain refused to spend one second more in shoes than absolutely necessary, but Mikey was able to peel open the button on his jeans, bring them down his legs, hold Jon as he stepped out of them. Jon muttered, "Not fair," as Mikey repeated the process on Jon's boxers.

Mikey said, "You'll get your turn," and sucked the tip of Jon's cock into his mouth even as he let his hands drift to Jon's balls, holding them loosely.

Jon said, "Fuck," and let his head drop back against the wall. Mikey's mouth was hot and eager and there had been the odd hook up here and there and Tom, but it had been a while since Jon had done this in any way that mattered. Jon folded his fingers gently into Mikey's hair more for the connection then anything else.

Mikey pulled off with an audible slurp and said, "You can pull. I kinda-- You can."

Jon took the cue and fucked Mikey's mouth, both with his dick and his hands, holding Mikey to him until the shudders under Mikey's skin were just this side of too much and then letting go. Mikey was saying things around his cock, Jon thought maybe, "yeah," and it was driving Jon crazy, making it hard for him to hold on. When Mikey pushed a finger inside his mouth alongside Jon's cock, he gave up and came with a shout. Mikey swallowed before pulling off, saying, "You missed the best part."

Jon eyed the curve of Mikey's erection and just said, "No." His brain wasn't working well enough yet for anything else.

Mikey laughed. Jon put an unsteady foot to his chest and gently kicked him onto his back. Then he went to the floor, scrabbling to pull Mikey's jeans, his boxers off. Jon fisted Mikey immediately, making him arch off the ground, beg, "No, please, too close, too--" and then Jon was sliding down on him. He wasn't as good as Mikey, had to fist the bass of his cock where his mouth couldn't reach, but what he lacked in depth he made up for in technique. Jon slipped a finger wet with precome up just as far as the first knuckle into Mikey. Mikey said, "Yeah, yeah, Jon, just--" Jon pushed in further, twisted, and Mikey came.

Jon licked him up in the aftermath and then made his way to the bathroom. He was wetting a couple of washcloths when Mikey joined him there, said, "Better idea," and turned on the shower. Jon followed him in, both of them going even more languid under the heat of the stream.

*


Jon woke Mikey up by sucking one of his fingers into his mouth, mostly because it was long and perfect and just lying there, completely on offer for Jon to take. It had been awhile since there had been something like that, something that Jon actually wanted enough to wake up thinking about it.

Mikey made a happy sound and wriggled his fingers a little, but mostly just let Jon do as he would. When Jon moved his mouth from Mikey's fingers to his cock, Mikey draped his fingers over the back of Jon's neck stroking in patterns that made Jon a little dizzy with need. He didn't want to stop, though, wanted to stay exactly where he was. He reached down to touch his cock, but Mikey said, "Be patient, Jon Walker," so Jon listened.

Mikey tugged him up, a slight movement of those fingers in Jon's hair and Jon went, fitting himself against Mikey, into all the spaces that Mikey had left for him to fill, their cocks brushing over each other, and it wasn't exactly a lazy morning fuck, but it wasn't urgent either, not for a bit, not until Jon absolutely couldn't help himself anymore.

They waited, waited until Spencer came and called from outside the door, "Jon, Zack says you've got two minutes, and that's only because he likes you," sounding more apologetic than impatient.

Jon took ten, dragging Mikey back into the shower with him and not saying, "Don't leave," but only because he understood that Mikey's band was waiting for him, knew what that meant.

*


"Jon?" Brendon was peering in to the slight gap between curtain and wall. Jon pulled the curtain back a little to reveal three anxious faces all trying not to look too concerned.

Jon smiled. "I'd invite you in, but it's kinda cozy in here."

Spencer rolled his eyes in the second before Brendon and he reached in and pulled Jon out. Jon grunted, "No fair," but went easily enough. They led him to the back lounge, where they had all three transferred every last piece of bedding from their bunks to the floor. Spencer gave a gentle shove, pushing Jon onto the makeshift sleeping space, and before Jon knew what had happened, all three of them were wrapped around him in concert.

Ryan asked, softly, "This is okay, right? It's okay now?"

Jon thought before he answered, because there was a difference between lying by omission and lying to their faces, and Jon knew precisely where all his lines were. He missed Mikey, Mikey's length, his understated lisp, his Mikey-ness, but this made it a little better, the press of the three of them, their concern. Jon said, "Yeah. Yes. Yes, this is good."

"Good," Brendon declared, and managed to wiggle in even closer.

Jon, against all odds, fell asleep.

*


"urz tkng cre of u?"

Jon didn't have to wait very long before Mikey's answer came: "wont let me out of thr site"

"ok?" Jon asked, because just because he was feeling one way about his guys, didn't mean the sentiment had arisen in Mikey as well. The situations were similar, but they weren't quite identical and Jon wasn't going to assume anything.

"surprisingly"

Evidently surprisingly enough to get Mikey to spell out his words. Jon smiled. "i kno the feelng"

"2 mnths iz going 2 suck"

"undrstatmnt"

"sigh"

Jon wanted to put his hand to Mikey's stomach, feel the breath as it wooshed out of him. But then, if Jon had been there, there would have been no reason to sigh. Jon indulged in pouting for a brief, somewhat satisfactory moment. "miss u, mjw"

"moar, jjw"

"whatevs"

*


Two Months Later

Gerard attacked like a particularly high-strung terrier let loose of its leash when Jon got to the venue. Jon responded with equal enthusiasm, and a pat to Gerard's head, just for good measure. Then he said, "Not that I don't appreciate the greeting, but where's your brother?"

"Sure, sure Jon Walker." But Gerard was grinning and pointing down the hall. From where he was still seated, Ray waved. "Have a good time, young'un."

Jon saluted and made his way down the hall, toward the quiet room. He all-but collided with Frank and Bob on the way there, which meant doing his best to keep Frank's feet on the ground--Bob provided no help, the fucker--and inquiring if Mikey was still there. Bob said, "Yeah, we said we'd look for you. You're late."

Jon knew he was late. "I've talked to Spencer about controlling the weather. He's on it."

"Better be," Bob growled, but he seemed inclined to forgive, rather than ground Jon into a spot on the pavement, if only for Mikey's sake. Jon took what he could get. He gave Frank back--not without some resistance--and continued on his way. He found Mikey where they had said he would be, sprawled over the couch in the quiet room, sleeping lightly. He woke when Jon leaned over and touched his lips to Mikey's. Mikey's curled into a smile and he said, "Hi," into the kiss.

"My boys send gifts and warnings that I am to be sent back as you found me."

Mikey pouted. "I had plans to take you apart."

"Yeah, well, so long as you put me back together, nobody has to know, right?"

"I like the way you think, Walker."

Jon fit himself between the back of the couch and Mikey, covering Mikey as he did so. Mikey shifted a bit until they were both comfortable and then asked, "Gifts?"

"Deck of cards and a box of condoms."

"In some societies, that might be considered weird."

"Good thing neither you nor I lives in one of those."

"Yeah," Mikey said, combing his fingers lazily through Jon's hair. "Dodged a bullet there."

Changing the subject, but not really, Jon told him, "Based on my first five minutes in town, I think I've been accepted into your tribe."

"If Frank tells you there's an initiation, he's lying."

"Duly noted."

"I-- They're just protective."

"It's reassuring," Jon reassured him. "Also, I figure if I get to require a love-me-love-my-band secret handshake in all my relationships, that all my relationships have at least equal claim to that right.

Mikey didn't say anything, just pressed his lips to the skin of Jon's neck. Jon said something he hadn't wanted to text, email or even say over the phone, "I do, you know."

"Love my band?" Mikey asked.

And Jon had the ability to just say "yes," and they would both know, they would both understand, but Mikey had been the one person in the world willing to hang on long enough for Jon to notice the grip. "You. I love you."

"Good," Mikey said, and paused. "Because I don't know how much more of this unrequited shit I really could have taken."

Jon let his arm drop around Mikey's side where he could squeeze Mikey to him, and hold on, hold on until the stage lights and Mikey's band came for him. Mikey would come back afterward, tired and vibrating like a bass string with nobody to put a silencing hand to it. Jon would be waiting.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile