Work is subdued the next day, and even Lacey seems upset. He doesn’t glare at Joe as much – and Joe has long since given up trying to figure out why Lacey hates him, but at least Lacey hates Bill, too, with a fiery, fiery passion, so he’s not alone there – and he doesn’t seem to be cackling as gleefully as usual with his network cronies.
Bill still looks heartbroken. He’s slumped in a seat, and Gabe is petting his head and making faces that Joe guesses might be sympathetic, but end up vaguely frightening, and Joe can totally see the eating thing now that Brendon was talking about.
Brendon is draped all over Jon’s back, which isn’t so different than usual, but he’s not even pouting. He’s just got a gray cast to his face, like he hasn’t slept, and his eyes are dull.
Greta may be scary, but she’s a sweetheart. Joe doesn’t understand how anyone could hurt her.
“They’re saying it’s Morris,” Johnson says. He’s got half a donut in his mouth, a backwards baseball cap holding his hair back.
“It’s not Morris,” Jon says.
Joe scratches his head. He doesn’t think it’s Morris either, but no one’s been able to get in contact with him. It looks kind of bad.
“It’s not Bob,” Faller says, scowling. “Fuck, it’s not Bob, are you serious?”
Johnson rolls his eyes. “I didn’t say it was, dude. I’m just saying. He’s, like, number one on the suspect list.”
“How do you even know that?” Brendon asks. He digs his chin into Jon’s shoulder, grip stretching the collar of Jon’s t-shirt.
“I have ways, man. Mysterious ways.” Johnson waggles his eyebrows. Johnson’s mysterious ways are what always get Joe killed in World of Warcraft. Johnson’s mysterious ways are really fucking annoying, and it’s possible that Joe’s a little jealous.
“Yeah, well, the show must go on, kids,” Brian says, sneaking up behind them all, and holy shit, Brian’s never on the floor. Joe’s always suspected that Brian was surgically attached to the sound booth. It’s weird hearing his voice outside of a microphone.
“Holy shit, dude,” Johnson says.
Brian arches an eyebrow at them. “What?”
“Are you okay? Is everything okay? What’s going on? Is it Greta?” Bill asks, fluttering over with Gabe slinking right behind, hands in his pockets.
“Everything’s fine,” Brian says. He’s completely fucking calm, because nothing ever rocks Brian. “Greta’s mom called, she’s awake.”
“Oh, thank fucking Christ,” Bill says. Joe thinks maybe he’s going to faint, but at the last moment he seems to rally himself and clutches at Brian’s arm.
Brian’s gaze dips to where Bill’s gripping him, but Bill doesn’t take the hint. Bill doesn’t normally take hints.
“Was it Morris?” Bill asks.
Brian says, “They don’t know. She didn’t see anyone.”
“It’s not fucking Bob, shut the fuck up,” Faller practically yells.
“Whoa,” Joe says. He never figured Faller for such a foul mouth, seriously. He’s usually pretty quiet. “Dial it back a notch, Faller, nobody’s saying Morris is a potential psycho killer here. Right?”
Bill makes a face.
“Right?” Joe asks again, and he wonders when he became the voice of reason. Probably shortly after Lent. Fucking tricksy Jon Walker.
“This is great and all, chatting with you,” Brian says, “but unless we want fucking Barbara Walters to chuck us out of our time slot, I suggest you all get on stage and do your fucking jobs.”
This is a valid observation. Barbara Walters is, like, a goddess to the network. She can banish them with a finger point.
“Where’s Patrick?” Jon asks.
“Here,” Patrick says, slipping around Ryan in the doorway and batting him away from his trucker hat at the same time. Ryan hates trucker hats. There’s no way Ryan’s going to let Patrick wear that on air. “Here,” he says again, this time tossing Brendon a CD. “New Slow Club, Bren, special treat.”
Brendon makes a happy noise and hugs the CD to his chest. “Oh my god. Oh my god, can we talk about Let’s Fall Back In Love again, can we?”
“I’m not getting into another conversation about folksy pop,” Ballato says.
“We’ll see,” Ashlee says ominously, because Pete, once upon a time, had the crazy insane notion of putting Ashlee in charge as Prime Host. “We shall see.”
“We’re getting a beer,” Bob says as Joe’s slipping out of his car, and Joe jumps and hits his head on the doorframe, because what the fuck.
“Maybe you could try a little harder at the stealth, dude, you’re not quite ninja yet,” Joe says, rubbing his head.
Bob quirks an amused lip. “Yeah, maybe.”
Joe snorts, and then Bob’s words catch up to him and he says, “Wait, what?” Is Bob asking him out? And is it, like, buddy-out, or. Or something else, something involving Bob attacking his face again. Joe would probably not be adverse to that, honestly.
“Beer. Maybe dinner, have you eaten?”
Joe glances at his watch. It’s, like, 4:30 in the afternoon. Unless Joe’s secretly a senior citizen, it’s a good bet that he hasn’t eaten yet. “Um. No?”
There’s a suspicious redness around Bob’s collar. Bob shifts on his feet and says, “Good.”
“Right.” Joe nods. Awkward.
“We can—” Bob starts, just as Joe says, “I should—”
Bob waves a hand and Joe says again, “I should let Hemmy out. I’ll, um—be over in fifteen?”
Bob says, “Okay.” He’s smiling a little and staring at Joe, and Joe’s never been an eyes guy, really, but Bob has awesome eyes. Like, seriously hardcore awesome eyes, and Joe’s really fucked. He was fucked before, yes, but now it’s for real.
Bob’s idea of dinner and beer seems to be a six pack out of his fridge and take-out pizza. Joe isn’t complaining, even though he has no fucking clue what to talk to this dude about, especially since Bob’s the most laconic fucker Joe’s ever met.
Hemmy’s sprawled over Joe’s feet, snoring. He jostles his toes and Hem just snorts and rolls over so his belly’s exposed. Joe tugs out one sock-foot and absently pets him.
Bob makes an amused sound and Joe slants him a look. Bob is settled at the corner of the couch in an oversized black hoodie, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and khaki shorts. Bob has shorn pale blonde hair, darker scruff shading his jaw and upper lip. He’s frowning, but he’s not looking at Joe, so that’s something.
The thing is, Bob isn’t exactly Joe’s type. Although, seriously, Joe hasn’t been on an actual date in close to forever, and it’s been three fucking months since he’s had sex – which isn’t really indicative of his tastes, since it was Cash, and Cash is a massive douche and Joe had been very, very drunk at the time – so it’s possible that Joe has no idea what his type is. Maybe a strong, silent guy would be right up his alley. Maybe. If Joe could stop feeling like Bob’s a second away from punching him all the time. Joe’s hoping he just has some sort of mean resting face.
Bob shifts his attention from the TV to Joe, and Joe fucking freezes. It’s kind of embarrassing. Bob arches an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Nothing,” Joe says, and wow. Wow, Joe’s awesome at this. Joe’s officially the smoothest dude ever born, seriously.
Before he can make an even bigger ass of himself, his cell phone beeps and Joe tugs it out of his pocket, thumbing open a text from Pete.
It says: dude wears my dog
Joe groans. fucking finally, he writes back, ballatos starting to get that twitch again. Prolonged exposure to Brendon always does that to her. It’s funny and sad at the same exact time.
pic me up btch, Pete sends.
Joe gives Bob an apologetic look. “I have to take off, man,” he says. “There’s this asshole who doesn’t know how to call a fucking cab.”
Bob’s expression doesn’t change. He nods and says, “Okay,” and Joe would be one-hundred percent sure Bob isn’t interested in him at all, except for the fact that Bob is staring at his mouth.
And then Bob’s hand is curling into the front of Joe’s t-shirt and he’s hauling Joe closer and Joe’s cooperating, Joe’s totally letting Bob pull him practically onto his lap, and he flattens his hands on Bob’s chest, one bent knee sliding over Bob’s thigh, and Joe barely has time to gulp a breath before Bob’s got a hand in his hair, pressure pulling him down so their noses are touching.
“Um. Hi?” Joe says, and Bob flashes this weirdly sly smile and slants their mouths together.
Joe’s fingers automatically curl, digging into the fabric of Bob’s hoodie, and he makes an embarrassing choked noise in the back of his throat. Bob tugs on his hair and licks open his mouth and Joe arches his back when Bob’s palm slides down his spine. Bob has the back of Joe’s shirt up around his shoulder blades in seconds and Joe is well on his way to getting naked, he senses this, and then his phone beeps again.
“Sorry, sorry,” Joe says, pushing away and scrambling off Bob’s lap, because if he doesn’t get out of there then, he’ll likely never leave, and Pete’ll torture him for fucking ever for leaving him hanging.
Bob has his legs spread and his face is flushed, but otherwise he looks completely fucking composed, which makes Joe feel a little weird, like he shouldn’t be as out of breath as he so obviously is, but Bob’s hands are fisted on his thighs, and his eyes seem to have a little touch of I’ll-fuck-you-up in them. Like maybe if Bob ever gets Joe alone again, he just better watch the fuck out. Joe doesn’t know if it’s odd that he finds that really, really hot.
“I’ll, uh, see you later.” Joe wonders when he lost the ability to converse like a normal human being. He’s just going to go ahead and blame the marked lack of weed in his life now, and makes a mental note to hang out with Jon Walker more often.
“Ah, it’s good to be back,” Pete says, clapping his hands together and grinning manically.
There’s a chorus of, “Hey, Pete,” from all corners of the studio.
Patrick adjusts his hat and glares at him, but Pete just makes a face and says, “Pattycake!” and Patrick’s scowl slips enough for Pete to draw him into a hug. “I missed you most of all,” Pete says.
Patrick says, “Sure, Pete,” but Joe thinks he sounds pleased.
Joe leans back in his chair and hitches his feet up on top of the table, his notes slipping under his boots. They’ve got a half hour to airtime, and Joe’s eyes slide closed. He’d been up late the night before, but mainly because the house had seemed disturbingly empty without Hemmy and Hemmy’s snores from the foot of his bed.
The chair next to him screeches and then Brendon’s stage-whispering, “Bill says we’ve got The Today Show,” excitedly in his ear.
Joe turns his head slowly and blinks at him. “What?”
Brendon does jazz hands. “The Today Show! They want to talk about our perfect man list tomorrow.”
“Are you fucking serious?” Joe says, and he laughs a little, because what the fuck. The Today Show. That’s fucking surreal; they’re, like, on an overlapping timeslot with them. “Is Brian even going to let us go? That’ll only leave Patrick and Pete to cover the show.”
Brendon frowns. “Oh. I didn’t think of that.”
It’s not entirely unheard of, though. There was that time that Joe and Ashlee went on vacation and Pete took Patrick and Brendon and Johnson and a single handheld camera out on the road – “The harsh Chicago streets” – and they all made asses of themselves in public. So there’s a precedent. Brian might let them do it.
“Brian’s definitely going to let you do it,” Bill says. “This’ll be awesome for ratings. Pete and Patrick can argue over rockabilly and teen angst, it’ll be prefect.”
“I’m not arguing with Patrick,” Pete says grandly, “because I agree with everything that ever comes out of Patrick’s pretty little mouth.”
“That’s the biggest load of shit I’ve ever heard,” Johnson says, looking up from where he’s fiddling with camera three.
“You watch your mouth,” Pete says, pointing at him, but he’s still grinning with all his teeth.
The Today Show interview goes great, even though Joe had been stoned and couldn’t remember half of what he said. He’s pretty sure he called Matt Lauer a handsome dude more than once.
“Well, he is a very handsome man,” Bill says later, leaning against Joe’s cubicle wall. Their own show had gone over well, apparently, and Pete and Patrick had gotten into some sort of slap fight. Joe can’t wait to watch.
“Okay, that’s weird,” Ashlee says.
Joe puts a knee up on his counter, folds his arms over the wall separating his space from Ashlee’s. “What?”
Ashlee’s got her face scrunched up. “The forums,” she says, pointing to her computer screen.
William rounds Joe’s wall and hangs over Ashlee’s shoulder, bracing a hand on her desk. He makes a distressed sound and his eyes go huge. “Oh, my,” he says. “Oh, that can’t be good. In fact, I’m sure that’s very bad. Do you think Ryan’s seen this yet?”
“What?” Joe asks again.
“People are taking exception to Patrick’s hat, the one with the feather. Ryan’s going to go ballistic, you realize,” Bill says, and Ashlee frowns even deeper and says, “I was actually more worried about the death threats myself.”
Joe says, “Death threats?” They’ve gotten a lot of crap on the forums before, but Joe doesn’t remember ever having death threats.
“Oh, that.” Bill waves a hand, narrows his eyes on the computer screen as he reads. “It’s just calling you hussies for your perfect man list. Blah, blah, blah, messy painful death, no big.”
“I’m not a hussy,” Joe says. Maybe it’s not the part to focus on, but seriously. So untrue, no matter what Pete says.
Ashlee grabs Bill’s sleeve and tilts her head to look up at him. “You do realize Greta’s in the hospital, Bill, that she was nearly beaten to death, right?”
Bill blanches. “No one wants Greta dead,” he says firmly. “It was a mistake. A random, senseless act of violence and burglaring. The police are very adamant about that.”
Ashlee pats Bill’s hand. “Of course, Billy,” she says, but she shoots Joe a wary look.
Joe isn’t sure if they should really panic or not – their fans are crazy, yeah, but nine times out of ten they’re not actually dangerous - but he’s thinking about erring on the side of caution here. Thank god he lives next door to a cop.
Joe checks all his locks twice before settling down to watch TV that night, and even then he keeps getting up to glance out his windows, watching for Bob. Bob’s house remains distressingly dark. Joe doesn’t think he’s going to get very much sleep.
He starts to nod off anyway, though, the light from the TV screen flickering behind his closed eyelids, and then he’s jerked out of a doze by his cell blasting A-Punk. Brendon.
“Y’ello,” Joe says through a yawn, rubbing a hand over his stomach and stretching back against the couch.
“I think—I think there’s someone in my house,” Brendon says, a harsh whisper.
Joe straightens up, startled, and says, “Brendon, little dude, why are you telling me? Did you call the police?” He’s already on his feet, though, and then he’s snagging his keys off the kitchen counter, and heading for the door.
“Joe, hey—oh shit,” Brendon says, and then the line goes dead. Joe really doesn’t like that. That, Joe thinks, is a really fucking bad sign.
Brendon lives ten minutes away from Joe. He dials Brendon’s number fifteen times on his way over, each turn over to voicemail ratcheting up Joe’s panic, and it isn’t until he’s turning onto Brendon’s street that he thinks, shit, and that he should’ve called the police.
He pulls up and parks in front of Brendon’s house, but before his fingers find the door handle, there’s a thump and then pale hands slapping flat against his window. Joe doesn’t even have time to react. One of the hands slips down and the door pops open and then Brendon’s crawling inside, shoving Joe into the console between the front seats.
“Joe, Joe,” Brendon says, pajama clad bottom scooting onto Joe’s lap. “Oh my god, Joe.” He folds himself up and slams the door and locks it, panting.
“Dude,” Joe says. Brendon’s small, but Joe’s still kind of squished here.
“I’m not getting out.”
“Okay,” Joe says, hands fisting in Brendon’s t-shirt. “Where’s your phone?”
“I dropped it?” Brendon’s gripping the steering wheel, white-knuckled.
“Did you call the police?”
Brendon shakes his head. “I called Ryan.”
Joe blinks. Joe can’t think of any reason why Ryan would be at all helpful in this situation. Granted, he can’t think of why he would be helpful in this situation, so. “So you called Ryan and you called me. Did you—did you even see anyone?”
Brendon tips his head back onto Joe’s shoulder. “Noises, Joe, I heard noises. Ominous rustlings!” Brendon says, and then, “Oh fuck, Dylan.” Brendon tenses up and then reaches for the door handle.
“Okay,” Brendon says. “If I’m not back in ten minutes—”
“Fuck that,” Joe says, pushing Brendon out onto the sidewalk and then following after. He’s not letting Brendon go back into his house alone, seriously, Joe didn’t come all this way just to let Brendon get eaten.
Ryan and Spencer show up the same time as a flashing police cruiser.
Brendon’s cuddling Dylan in his lap, and Joe’s hands are shaking. He hit that motherfucking prowler with a lamp. That sort of shit doesn’t happen outside of movies.
“What the fuck, Brendon,” Ryan says.
Ryan and Spencer both have crazy sleep hair and Ryan’s sweatpants are barely clinging to his sharp hips. Spencer has a pinched scowl on his face, and Joe’s pretty sure his pajama pants have tiny tumbling kittens all over them. Joe is focusing on the little things. It’d be really bad if he fell apart.
“We were attacked,” Brendon says, and then Spencer shocks the hell out of Joe by grabbing Brendon’s arms and pulling him up into a hug. He whispers something in Brendon’s ear, mouth still an unhappy curve, and Brendon ducks his face into Spencer’s shoulder. Spencer’s hands rub up and down Brendon’s back. Huh. Joe really hadn’t seen that coming.
Ryan looks grumpy, but concerned. He arches an eyebrow at Joe. “You all right?” he asks.
“Great,” Joe says, and then he spots Bob. Bob, plain clothed, with a blue uniformed guy sporting a fro that spins Joe into momentary nostalgia.
Bob looms over Joe.
Joe’s insides well with relief and something he’s reluctant to name. “Hey, Bob,” Joe says.
Brendon turns his head, sill huddled up close to Spencer, Dylan buried between them, and says, “There was a burglar, guys, Joe hit him with my lamp.”
“I’m awesome like that,” Joe says. He kind of wishes his voice sounded stronger.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” Bob says, scowling. He hauls Joe to his feet, and the bones of Joe’s wrist grind together under his grip.
Joe would’ve gone for brave, but he’s a little bit giddy on adrenalin, so whatever. “Thanks,” Joe says. He feels light-headed, and maybe nauseous.
The door opens behind them, and the uniformed cop steps out, and Joe can’t even remember him going inside in the first place.
“Whoever it was is gone,” he says - legs spread to showcase some truly spectacular thighs, Joe thinks - holding up a sandwich sized baggie. “Back door’s wide open. Found this, though.”
“What?” Brendon asks.
“Is this either of yours?”
Joe leans into the light over Brendon’s front door. It’s a cell phone, but Joe doesn’t recognize it, flat and electric blue.
“Oh, hey.” Brendon steps away from Spencer, takes the bag from the officer and turns it over. “I think this is Singer’s.”
The idea that Singer had broken into Brendon’s house with intent to harm is laughable. Joe tries to get Bob to see this. Singer’s, like, this skinny little dude with big eyes and a tendency to follow Cash around with puppy-like devotion. Joe isn’t exactly Singer’s favorite person – there was that whole Cash and sex thing, and it’s nearly impossible to keep any secrets at the studio – but everyone loves Brendon. With the exception of Ballato, and maybe Frank, but they totally don’t count – Frank doesn’t even work there, he just hangs out to bug the fuck out of Brian.
And the guy—okay, so maybe Joe doesn’t really have a crystal clear memory here, what with all the intense fear, but he doesn’t think the guy he hit with Brendon’s lamp was Singer. For one thing, Singer never would’ve been able to get up after that. He’s all delicate and shit.
“They arrested Alex,” Bill says. Bill looks like he’s close to having a stroke. Bill needs to calm the fuck down.
“Calm down,” Joe says. “They can’t prove anything. I was there, dude, it wasn’t Singer.”
“I don’t know, man,” Johnson says. “Singer’s wily.”
“Wily! Did you hear that, Trohman? Alex is wily.” Bill needs to pull up a couch, down some meds and rest for a while.
“Alex is a fucking gopher, Bills,” Butcher says, slapping him on the back.
“He gets me donuts,” Johnson says, nodding. “That doesn’t mean he’s not wily.”
“Do you want him to be jailed for the rest of his life?” Bill says, poking his finger into Johnson’s chest.
Johnson shrugs. “Well, B and E doesn’t exactly make him a lifer—”
“I can’t believe you’re joking about this,” Bill says.
Johnson just stares at him. His expression doesn’t really change, but his voice is pretty serious when he says, “Singer did not try and kill Brendon. Or Greta, for that matter. Dude, chill.”
Bill makes unhappy faces. “I can’t just—”
“What the fuck happened to you?” Butcher says, and Joe follows his eyeline, watching Gabe amble over towards where they’re gathered around reception.
Gabe rubs absently at the bandage across his jaw, hissing a little through his teeth. “Adventures in straight razors. Did you know they laugh at you for that in the ER?”
“Huh.” Joe cocks his head, thinks he sees some slight discoloration around the white tape, but this is Gabe. Gabe isn’t harmless, but he’s fucking distinctive. Joe’s pretty sure he’d remember if he hit him with a lamp.
Bill clucks his tongue and cups Gabe’s face gingerly between his palms. “You’re a mess,” he says, and Gabe arches an eyebrow.
“And you, Billiam, look like you haven’t slept.”
Joe doubts Bill’s slept since Greta was hospitalized. He tends to be a mother hen with all of them. It’s endearing when he isn’t busy nagging the shit out of Joe about the nutritional contents of Hot Pockets or shoving cough drops down his throat after he, like, fucking sneezes even once.
Butcher’s intercom buzzes and Johnson hops up and leans over the front counter to press the button. “Butcher’s desk,” he says.
Brian says, “I’ve got an empty studio, folks. I’m not happy about it.”
“When is Brian ever happy?” Johnson mutters, but they all trudge off down the hall.
Due to the extremeness of the situation, which calls for Brendon and Brendon’s nerves -and, to a certain extent, Joe’s nerves - to get liquored up, beer and nacho day gets moved to Thursday. Or, like, Thursday is added to the rotation for the week, because Joe thinks they’re going to still need beer and nachos on Friday. He may publicly scorn Girl Lunch, but deep down inside he knows he needs the alcohol.
It’s maybe weird without Greta, but they all end up at Lupe’s anyway. Brendon regales them all with the tale of the mysterious burglar, and he waves his hands around a lot and calls Bob Joe’s boyfriend, which causes Ashlee to snicker into her beer.
“Thought he was a coked-up alcoholic,” Ballato says.
“He’s a cop,” Brendon says. “He’s, like, a Viking.”
Joe quirks an eyebrow. “A what?”
“Okay,” Brendon says, ignoring Joe’s bemusement. It’s maybe not on purpose, because Brendon’s more than a little drunk. “Okay, and also, also, Spencer hugged me. And then, um, I slept in his bed?”
Ashlee whistles and hoots because occasionally she’s, like, thirteen years old and a boy. “All right, Bren,” she says.
“He means,” Joe says, because he’s heard this from Ryan already, “he slept in Spencer’s bed, while Spencer slept on the couch.”
“He’s a gentleman,” Brendon says, half-defensively, half-dreamily, like he’s imagining Spencer as fucking Prince Charming or something.
“He’s an idiot,” Ballato says.
“I’m in love.” Brendon shoves a nacho in his mouth and grins as he chews. “We’re getting married, guys, it was writ in the stars! And lo, Spencer Smith was meant forever and ever for Brendon Urie, amen.”
“I can’t believe I hang out with you guys,” Ballato says, and Joe points a finger at her in silent agreement.
Joe doesn’t think what he and Bob are doing can be considered dating, but there’s a note on Joe’s door when he gets home.
It says: come over
Joe briefly thinks about ignoring the order, but Joe’s never been very contrary, and his house is kind of eerily empty – he really needs a dog of his own and, like, cats. Lots of ‘em. Joe’s a little worried that Bob’s still angry about the other night, though. Bob had Officer Toro follow him home, and Bob hadn’t really said much and he’d glared a lot and when he did say something, it was just to call Joe a moron.
Joe drops his bag in the house and then walks across the driveway to Bob’s, hands stuffed in his pockets.
Bob’s face is impassive when he opens the door. He crosses his arms over his chest and doesn’t invite Joe inside, which is actually kind of rude, but whatever.
“Yeah?” Joe says.
“They cleared your friend,” Bob says finally.
Joe nods. “Good.” He makes a mental note to stop for cupcakes tomorrow before work; Singer’ll probably need them.
“Now,” Bob says, “you want to tell me what the fuck you thought you were doing?”
It’s the single longest sentence he’s ever gotten out of Bob. Joe would be impressed if the words didn’t piss him off. “Whoa,” Joe says, holding up a hand. “Brendon’s my friend, dude, what did you want me to do?”
“Stay out of it,” Bob says, and that’s totally uncalled for.
Joe is not a shitty friend; he’ll never not go into dark and scary and dangerous places if someone needs his help. “Sorry, Bob, never gonna happen.” He figures the so deal with it is left nicely implied.
Bob arches an eyebrow. His face is flushed, but Joe doesn’t think he’s embarrassed or anything, just mad.
Joe swallows hard and tries not to think about how hot Bob is when he’s mad. Or, like, any other time.
And then it seems like the talking portion of the evening is over – Bob probably used up his monthly allotment of words – and Bob slips a big hand over Joe’s waist and tugs him inside.
There are some things that are just sacred. Like video games.
Joe blames the fact that he’s never actually played this game sober for why he’s losing. Really badly.
Also, he blames the fact that he hadn’t exactly expected to be playing Bob’s PS3 when he’d been pulled inside. Joe suspects Bob’s maybe a little shy. Or sadistic. That could totally be it.
The thing is, though, that Joe’s been thinking. He’s been thinking about Greta and Brendon and Singer’s phone, and he’s coming up with something that he doesn’t really like all that much.
“I’m done, dude,” Joe says, tossing the controller aside and rolling over, stretching out on his back on the rug, kicking his legs up onto the couch next to Bob.
Bob drops his controller between his legs and stares Joe down, and Joe lasts approximately ten seconds before blurting out, “It was someone from the studio, right? For Greta, too.”
Bob says, very carefully holding eye contact with Joe, “I’m not on that case.”
“But you were at Brendon’s,” Joe points out.
“Yeah.” Bob doesn’t offer anything more.
Joe groans and knocks his head back on the floor. “Are you going to tell me why you were at Brendon’s?”
“Probably not,” Bob says placidly. Bob’s the calmest motherfucker Joe has ever known, including Brian. Okay, well, maybe not Brian. Brian didn’t even blink when Pete accidentally set his hair on fire that time, or when Bill brought that goat into the studio and it ate all of Ryan’s scarves. Plus, Bob has a temper. He only seems to be calm when it’ll maximize Joe’s irritation.
Joe narrows his eyes up at the ceiling. “Did they find Morris?” he asks, not really expecting an answer.
There’s a heavy sigh, and then Bob says, “No.”
“Huh.” Joe taps his fingers absently over his stomach.
Bob nudges him in the side with his foot and Joe bats it away, wiggling sideways, a corner of his mouth twitching up.
“Joe,” Bob says.
Joe rolls his eyes and leverages himself up on his elbows. “Yeah?”
Bob crooks a finger, and it’d be funny if it was anyone but Bob doing it. “Come up here,” he says.
Joe should probably be worried about seeming too eager here, but Bob’s got this awesomely intent look on his face, and Joe’s seen that before. That’s totally a prelude to Bob spreading his hands somewhere on Joe’s bare skin, so Joe scrambles up onto the couch next to him and leans into him, bracing a hand on Bob’s thigh.
“Yeah?” Joe says again, lips fully quirked into a grin now. He’s maybe getting the hang of how this works. It’s surprisingly comfortable, especially when Bob curls a hand around the side of his throat, his other snaking down over Joe’s hip, Joe’s t-shirt twisted up over his stomach from his sideways perch against the cushions.
Bob grins, slightly feral, and then pushes Joe down onto his back, kneeling up to loom over him.
Joe tugs on the hem of Bob’s t-shirt and stares at Bob’s mouth. He’s momentarily tempted to ask if it’s naked fun time, but that reminds him too much of Brendon, and Brendon’s ability to use the terms sexytimes, pizza and naked mole rats in a discussion about Muse, all in the same sentence, while stripping off his t-shirt and shimmying his hips to Supermassive Black Hole. Some of Joe’s favorite times are spent in their dressing room, this is true, but he doesn’t necessarily want to think about Brendon while he’s trying to get off.
He blinks rapidly to get rid of the image of Half-naked Dancing Brendon and Bob’s watching him, bemused.
“All right?” Bob asks.
“Dude, yes,” Joe says, and then he’s reaching for the button on Bob’s jeans, knuckles pressing into Bob’s stomach as he fumbles them open.
Bob pushes his hands away and slides off the couch. Joe is bereft. And confused. Until Bob reaches for his hand and says, “I have a bed. I’ve been told it’s pretty comfortable.”
Joe is down with beds. Beds are right up there with showers and tables—and other horizontal surfaces, including couches; Joe thinks couches are just fine and, you know, right there. But he doesn’t drag his feet and lets Bob shove him up against the doorframe of the bedroom and suck on his bottom lip, and Joe is this close to swooning. Joe’s, like, in a fucking romance novel here, it’s awesome.
“I’m gonna climb you in a minute,” Joe says against Bob’s mouth, hooking his arms over Bob’s shoulders and letting Bob press him harder against the jamb.
Bob laughs, a little breathlessly. “Good.”
Joe sneaks out of Bob’s house in the still-dark hours of the morning, sometime after five.
Bob grumbles in his sleep and locks his fingers around one of Joe’s wrists when he rolls away from him, but Joe twists determinedly out of his grip and murmurs, “Work.” He’s a little early, but not by much, and he doesn’t trust his sleep-deprived brain to get him up again if he falls back asleep. Brian would hunt him down and kill him if he didn’t show, and Bill would probably have a heart attack or a stroke or some sort of mental breakdown.
Joe hums groggily – yet in happy, post coital spirits - under his breath as he crosses the driveway and hops up his front steps. He jangles his keys and unlocks his front door, and when he reaches for the light switch, two things happen simultaneously. One, the light fails to actually come on, and two, Joe stumbles over something in the hallway and loses his balance, shoulder slamming into the wall before falling heavily onto his side, teeth clicking as his head bounces off the hardwood floor.
“Son of a bitch,” Joe hisses.
Laying in the dark, Joe silently takes stock of his body. Officially, Joe thinks he’s fine. Nothing feels broken or wrenched, and he’s ninety-nine percent sure he doesn’t have a concussion. Unofficially—motherfucking ow.
He has no idea what he’s tripped over, but the bulb in his overhead light must have popped. Climbing to his feet, he flattens his hand along the wall, following it down the corridor to the den. He fumbles for the back of the couch and moves towards the floor lamp, catching the shade with his fingers and then awkwardly groping for the switch. There’s an audible snap as the metal knob turns, but the room remains murkily dark.
Eyes finally adjusting to the lack of light, he can see the outline of his TV, his armchair. Slowly, he comes to the conclusion that his electricity is out.
Bob’s electricity had not been out. It’s a clear summer morning, and Joe had spotted Old Lady Mitchell’s kitchen light when he’d left Bob’s, so.
So there’s something rotten in the state of Joe’s house.
Joe fishes his cell out of his back pocket and flips it open, wincing slightly at the light from the LCD screen. He thinks about calling 911, that would probably be the smartest move, but he dials Bob instead, shifting restlessly on his feet as it rings. And rings.
Finally, Bob answers with a gruff, “What?”
“So I’m feeling a little like Brendon here, if you know what I—” Joe sees the glint of something ominously shiny at the last second and ducks by pure instinct, feeling a ghost of pain as an incredibly sharp object – knife, his brain helpfully provides – slices into his forearm. He drops his phone with a yelp and jerks backwards, then thrusts his arms up when he sees the knife arc downward again, agonizing pain vibrating into numbness as he grapples with his shadowed assailant’s wrist, keeping the knife as far away from his body as humanly possible.
Joe’s pretty strong when he doesn’t have a dripping knife wound, but right now he can feel his muscles start to give, even with the mixture of shock and adrenalin, and he digs his fingers into the soft part of the guy’s wrist, short nails scraping into sensitive skin.
When the knife drops to the floor with a clatter, Joe automatically loosens his grip in relief. He doesn’t even see the fist until it’s inches away from his face and his head snaps back in blooming pain. He doesn’t actually black out, though, until he clocks himself on the side table just before he hits the ground.
The first thing Joe sees when he crawls into consciousness is Bob. Bob, scowling, framed by the dim morning light spilling through the den windows.
“You’re a lot of trouble,” Bob says. Then, “Hold still,” and when Joe opens his mouth to assure Bob that he isn’t going anywhere, Bob jerks something tight around his arm and Joe almost bites his tongue in half in an effort not to scream like a little girl.
“Fuck,” he rasps.
“You’re bleeding some,” Bob says, and Joe can tell from the tightness around his eyes that he’s kind of understating that. Awesome. His arm is alternating throbbing with pain and shooting an aching heat up towards his shoulder, and his head feels like it’s being squeezed in a vise. He’s looking forward to drugs.
In the distance, Joe hears the sweet sound of sirens. “I didn’t see who it was,” he says. He’s sort of pissed about that, like this fucker’s so slippery, despite failing spectacularly at killing Greta, Brendon and himself.
Bob squeezes his good arm – oh god, he has a good arm - and says, “That’s okay.”
It isn’t until they’ve got Joe on a stretcher, wheeling him out of the house, that he sees—he sees Lacey being hauled into a cop car, face bruised and bloodied but unmistakable, the louse, and since Joe doesn’t remember, you know, beating the shit out of his attacker, he’s pretty sure that’s Bob’s handiwork. Joe feels all warm and fuzzy inside.
But, like, what the fuck Lacey? Lacey’s an asshole weasel, but Joe never thought—geez. Although the blatant incompetence displayed is more or less explained now.
They slide Joe into an ambulance and Joe, rightfully, expects Bob to jump in with him, so he’s kind of surprised when the doors slam shut and Joe’s all alone with the EMTs.
Joe’s kind of offended, but whatever.
Joe stays overnight in the hospital because of his head wound, just to keep half an eye on him, and Brendon, Ashlee and Bill pick him up the next morning. Bill tries to bundle him up in a cardigan, despite the ninety degree weather. He hovers over him in the backseat of Ashlee’s car, and Joe lets him fuss because Joe’s exhausted, and Bob didn’t even call.
Plus, he thinks maybe Bill’ll start crying.
“I heard they found a shrine about our perfect man list at his apartment,” Brendon says, twisting in the passenger seat and gripping the back to stare at Joe, eyes wide. “A hate shrine. And, like, a dart board with Bill’s face on it.”
“Bill had nothing to do with the list,” Joe points out, although it’s not much of an argument, since Lacey had hated Bill on sight, back when the network first started sending him down to lurk in dark corners and lecture them on how many times they can call Pearl Jam a steaming crapheap of mediocrity, or “the band that Seatle threw up in a chunky style spill and then let MTV swirl around with a dirty janitor mop instead of just manning up and taking the blame, scrubbing the music world squeaky clean again.” Joe maybe still has some issues with Eddie Vedder - and that time Eddie Vedder told E! Joe was a hack guitarist who couldn’t cut it as a musician, so he took to gossip like a whore took to Jude Law - but he’s working through them.
Patrick, Pete and Hemmy are sitting on Joe’s front stoop when they pull up to the curb, and Pete jumps up and bounds down the steps, reaching for the car door. He practically hauls Joe out of the car, and Joe yelps, “Pete, ow!” when Pete’s thumb presses into the sore skin around the stitched up cut on his arm.
“Sorry, sorry,” Pete says, and then he wraps his arms around Joe and hugs him so hard Joe can hardly breathe. Joe doesn’t complain.
Patrick tugs on the brim of his hat and shifts his feet and gives Joe this huge relieved smile.
Hemmy snuffles Joe’s calf and grunts.
The only thing this touching scene is missing, Joe thinks, is a certain someone who sexed Joe up and then left him to pine.
“C’mon, c’mon, inside,” Bill says, physically prying Pete off Joe. “Joseph needs to lie down.”
“Joseph needs some coffee,” Joe says, “and possibly a Danish.” He lets Bill herd him up the walk and inside his house and into the den, but he balks at the afghan Bill tries to tuck over his legs.
“Pain pills,” Ashlee says, handing over a little bottle to Bill, and Bill shakes out two and presses them into Joe’s palm before flouncing off to get some water.
Pete wedges himself onto the couch next to Joe, and it’s not that Joe isn’t grateful for the company, but he kind of just wants to veg and maybe feel a little sorry for himself.
Brendon waves his hands and asks, “What do you need?” in his very best earnest voice, wearing his very best earnest face.
Joe doesn’t really need anything. He wants Bob, because Joe’s in the mood to fall asleep atop someone who isn’t all elbows, like Bill and Pete, and because he’s Bob, and at some recent point in time Joe’s mind has started thinking about Bob as someone who always makes everything better. Like sleepless nights and knife wounds.
Pete’s doing an admirable impression of a leech and the rest of them are standing there, staring anxiously down at Joe, and Joe sighs and says, “I just want to nap.”
Bill nods his head. “Right, right,” he says, still nodding, and they’re all still staring down at Joe, so Joe adds, “Alone?”
Ashlee says, “Sure, sweetie,” and takes hold of Pete. Pete squawks and tries to grab for Joe, but Ashlee’s pretty strong for a girl.
Brendon takes care of Bill, making airplane noises as he steers him out of the room, and Joe can hear them whispering in the kitchen, and then a pot clatters to the floor and Patrick’s yelling at Pete and a faint smile curves Joe’s lips, because he loves his friends, his friends are awesome.
Joe drifts off to the familiar muffled sounds of Patrick shouting into Pete’s armpit as Pete successfully manages to get him in a headlock.
When Joe wakes up, the TV’s on. Low, not quite mute, and he shifts on the couch until he can see sock-feet hanging off the end of his recliner.
The room is washed in dark gold, so he figures he’s slept most of the day away.
“Nnnnargh,” says Joe around a yawn. His arm is an unpleasant dull throb, but he thinks he can wait at least another half hour before downing any more pain meds.
And then the voice catches up with the words in Joe’s brain and Joe tilts his head back even farther to see the body that’s attached to the sock-feet, lounging in Joe’s armchair. Bob.
Joe fights off the urge to demand where the hell Bob has been.
Bob kicks the foot rest down and sits up, elbows on spread knees, face stony as he watches Joe try to struggle upright without hurting himself too badly. He has trouble moving his legs, and then he realizes Hemmy’s sprawled across him, head heavy on his shins.
Before he can pull his legs out from under Hemmy, though, there’s a hand on the back of his shoulder, urging him forward, and then Bob’s knee is sinking down into the cushions and Joe’s being gently manhandled into a surprisingly comfortable position leaning against Bob’s chest. Huh.
“You scared about decade off my life,” Bob says.
Joe turns so his ear is pressed over Bob’s heart, listening to the steady, reassuring thumps. He grins, maybe just a little smug, because Bob had been worried about him, and Bob totally can’t resist Joe’s rocking charms. “Dude,” he says, “awesome.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Ashlee says with a flourish, “Joe Trohman and Patrick Stump.”
Joe hums and strums his guitar and arches his eyebrows at Patrick. Some days, Bill lets Joe and Patrick have a five minute jam segment; where they make fun of pop punk and then go ahead and do it better.
Patrick leans into his mike, tucking his own guitar close to his stomach, and says, “This is a song Pete wrote about his dog.”
“And sunny days,” Pete yells from off stage.
“And sunny days,” Joe says, nodding. His hair is growing back nicely, and it flops satisfyingly over his eyes.
“And not having what you can actually have,” Pete says, this time walking into the shot, grinning with all his teeth.
“It’s about my boyfriend,” Joe says, and Ashlee wolf-whistles and Brendon does a little shimmy as he sneaks up beside them.
Joe plays the beginning riff of Stairway to Heaven. Eddie Vedder can go fuck himself; Joe is a rock god.
“We’re not actually filming yet, right?” Pete says, and Brian groans in Joe’s ear and says, “Fucking hell, Pete, we’re live.”
Pete’s oops face is pretty fucking hilarious.
“Sorry, folks,” Pete says into the camera. “And now back to your regularly scheduled Patrick.”
Psycho network jerks who literally want to kill him aside, Joe still thinks he’s got a fucking awesome job, and an equally kick-ass life.
Patrick makes a face, but obligingly kicks into Grand Theft Autumn which, Joe thinks, isn’t actually about Hemmy or Bob or sunshine. You can never be too sure with Pete, though.