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I've got that lefty curse/where everything I do is flipped and awkwardly reversed (We've Got A Big Mess On Our Hands)

His mom drops him off a few blocks from the venue; she doesn't like it, thinks it's silly, but he insists. "It's important," he says, worrying his fingers over the latches on his guitar case. "Please, Mom, just humor me."

"They all know how old you are," she points out. "Does it really matter if they don't see me drop you off?"

He knows perfectly well that silence is more effective than screaming, but he never quite loses hope that petulant politeness is even better. "Please?"

They have the same conversation every time, and every time she sighs and gives in.

"You know, sometime I'd like to actually hear you play," she says, leaning across the car to kiss him on the cheek. "Have a good time, honey."

"Bye, Mom." He waits for her to pull away and hurries down the block, veering into a sandwich shop as soon as she's out of sight. He balances the guitar case on his feet and orders a diet Coke, the bare minimum to let him be a customer and qualify to use the bathroom.

He strips off his shirt in the stall, digging in his guitar case for the Ace bandage. He barely has anything that needs binding, but he saw this in a movie, and it struck him as a good idea. It's an extra bit of armor, a significant step that keep his back a little straighter and reminds him that he's doing something. He's taking steps and seizing control and...acting. In both senses of the word.

He wraps it around his chest carefully, tightly but not too tight, drawing a deep breath as he does so he knows he'll be able to sing. It's a fine line. He messed it up once and sang his set sounding breathless and nervous and he knows, he knows people were laughing at him.

He puts his shirt back on and takes another breath, running his hands down his sides to check. It feels good, solid, like a shell. He already feels better, more right. He holds his shoulders differently.

A glance at his watch makes him hiss through his teeth. Shit. Shit. He unzips his jeans and shoves them halfway down his thighs, balancing on the edges of his feet in the small space as he digs into his case again.

It's down under his notebook, a pair of his stepdad's socks wrapped in masking tape, shaped as best he could by guess and touch and standing in front of the mirror, checking from this angle and that one until he was pretty sure it was right. He's been using this one for two months now, and it's starting to lose its shape a little, softening at the edges into cotton and tape. He needs to tear this one apart into its component pieces and let the illusion fall apart in his hands. He needs to make a new one. A better one.

Right now, though, he's running out of time. He works it quickly in his hands, then grabs the safety pins from his case and holds them between his teeth while he fumbles with his underwear. He wears two pairs, boxer-briefs over the ones his mom buys for him, flowered and smaller and closer to his skin. He pretends they are skin, not a barrier, not something between what he was born with and the approximation of what he should have.

He pins the socks to the briefs and the panties, top and bottom, then tugs the briefs up into place and adjusts everything. He zips his jeans and closes his eyes, counting to ten while he kneels down and blindly latches up the case. It's like doing a magic trick, count to ten and then abracafuckingdabra.

He opens his eyes and steps out into the light of the bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror.

That's...better. Better. He doesn't look much different, he knows, but he feels it. It's in his shoulders, his hips, the way he holds his body as he steps forward and leans in closer to the mirror. He's much more himself.

He wets his fingers and combs them roughly through his hair, letting strands fall forward in a ragged crest over his forehead. "Hey," he whispers to his reflection. "Hey."

He has to sprint the rest of the way to the venue, balancing his guitar case awkwardly as he runs. He gets his name on the open-mic list, lower than usual but he does make it. Remember Maine--William Beckett. He signs the name with a flourish, biting his lip a little in concentration. He's practiced that signature for hours, but he still feels like it's not quite perfect, like he's still chasing the moment when it will feel exactly right in his hand.

He works the crowd a little before his turn, talking, shaking hands, trying to make eye contact and make connections. William Beckett, Bill Beckett, Bill, William, he introduces himself over and over again, smiling a little every time, reveling in how sweet it tastes. This is how it's supposed to be. Just like this.

It's a good set, not great. That asshole Mike Carden sneers at him from across the room, but he's the only one who doesn't applaud. William can't stop smiling afterward, even while he jogs the two blocks back, trying to balance the case and brush sweaty hair off his forehead without tripping over his feet. It was good. Every time he performs it's a little more good, he's getting the hang of it, and soon it's going to be better, soon he's going to be somebody.

There's no time to find another bathroom and change again, but he doesn't want to, anyway. He wants to be himself for a little bit longer, he wants to feel like this, feel like--

"Erin!"

His breath stutters in his chest and he ducks his head.

"Erin, honey!"

He forces a smile and looks up, sliding the guitar case across his hips just in case. "Hey, Mom."

"You're late, honey. Get in, we need to get home. How did it go?"

"Good," he says, climbing into the passenger seat and holding on to his guitar as tight as he can. "It was...it was really good. They liked me."
**
set back under fire/I'm only as stable as I choose to show (40 Steps)

Living in the apartment is the best and the worst thing William has ever done, better and worse than he'd thought it would be. It's awesome because they're on their own, they're doing this, they're starving musicians and they're going to be rock stars.

And it sucks because they're broke, like scary hardcore broke, and there are cockroaches the size of dogs, and he and Mike might not hate each other anymore but that doesn't mean Mike isn't a complete asshole.

And he can't go home, not unless he's willing to get on his knees and apologize for wanting music and agree to go to college. Worse than that, he'd have to be Erin again. When he'd thought through it, he always thought telling his family that he wasn't a girl was going to be what caused trouble, not that he wanted music. He'd thought music would be the minor part. Maybe he should've told them the other part first.

Well, as it is, he's broke and he's scared but he gets to have music and be William both. Nobody's called him Erin in two months, or thought of him as a girl, and as long as he can't go home, nobody's going to. Well. Mike calls him a girl all the time, but he's joking--or he thinks he's joking, or--the point is, it's okay. He doesn't mean it and that makes it okay. Mike's never known anybody but William, and he thinks William is a pretentious fuckhead but a pretentious fuckhead with talent.

They're going to be rock stars.

He turns on the kitchen light and strikes a pose, one that involves throwing his hand over his eyes until the roaches stop skittering.

"Move," Mike mumbles, pushing past him and heading for the refrigerator. "It's too fucking early for diva bullshit."

"Diva bullshit is my life." William goes to the sink, frowning when the water hisses and spits before coming on. He smacks the faucet a few times, just to see what it'll do.

"Don't hit that." Mike takes the milk and cereal out of the fridge, scratching his nose on the edge of the box. "You'll break it." He claims keeping the cereal cold makes it last longer, but at the rate he eats it, it's not like it matters. The truth is more disgusting and six-legged and Christ, there's one crawling up out of the drain.

He grabs a spoon and stabs it back down into the pipes energetically. "Hand me a Coke, would you?" Mike throws the can at his head, and thank God for quick reflexes or he'd be going to work with a black eye. "Asshole."

"Try actually eating something, stick-boy."

"It goes straight to my hips," William says with an exaggerated lisp, which makes Mike laugh his stupid high-pitched giggle and choke on his cereal. William hides his smile behind the can. Food does go to his hips, and worse, his chest. He has to be careful about it.

"I'm gonna see Rob today," Mike says, spraying cereal across the floor. "You want anything?"

"Clean that up. Christ."

"Fuck you. You want anything?"

"Can I afford anything?" William shoots back, boosting himself up onto the counter and swinging his feet slowly. Rob is the guy who has everything or knows where to get it, supplier of all goods and services, and he's the reason William and Mike don't hate each other anymore.

Mike knew Rob, had the connection, and William had had to screw his courage and ask for an introduction. Rob could get him an ID with the right name on it, one that was good enough that people wouldn't ask questions. William didn't want questions, he wanted everything to be seamless.

The price for an introduction, in Mike-currency, was a hell of a lot of beer, and with beer came conversation, and somehow by the end of it they were laughing instead of glaring. All hail the healing powers of PBR. And if things weren't quite seamless yet--God, he's working on it, piece by piece--at least Mike never asked questions, not once.

"You can't afford anything either," William says, blinking himself back into now and kicking his feet harder. "Rent's due next week."

"Fuck you, I know that." Mike rolls his eyes and tosses his bowl into the sink. "Gonna see my parents this weekend. I'll see if I can get them to kick in."

"They kicked in last month."

"Can't hurt to ask."

William shrugs and Mike shakes his head, stumbling off down the hall to the bathroom. William waits for the sound of the shower before he jumps down from the counter and hurries to the bedroom, digging through his box of clothes and then the duffel under his bed. He has to get dressed when Mike showers, hide things when Mike's distracted, rinse stuff in the sink when Mike's at his parents' house for dinner. Not seamless. Not perfect.

His hands shake a little as he zips up his jeans. He rubs his palms on his thighs and moves over to the mirror, then rakes his hair back off his face and stares at himself.

"Hey," he whispers. "Hey. Rock star, baby."

"It's gross to be that in love with yourself," Mike mumbles as he comes in, his hair sticking up in weird, wet lumps and his towel sliding low on his hips.

"Shut up." William watches him out of the corner of his eye, taunting himself with observation, with the way Mike moves easy and lazy, how he flops and sprawls and never has to check or calculate. He's...unpracticed, and that sort of makes William want to kill him, the way he wants to kill everyone who doesn't have to think through every word they say to keep from stuttering and everything they do to keep the world from seeing them wrong.

This is why all he wants to do is be a performer. He's been practicing his whole life, and he can and will be perfect.

"Earth to Bill," Mike says, smacking the back of his head. "You're going to be late."

"Fuck off," he mutters automatically, but he moves away from the mirror, going to get his jacket.

"Hey." Mike snaps his fingers at him, casually dropping his towel to the floor. "Are you still going to talk to that kid?"

William frowns, focusing on buttoning his jacket, keeping his eyes on his own fingers and nowhere else. Careful not to taunt himself, careful not to tread too close to lines. "Kid?"

"That bass player kid. We need actual people or it's not a band, you know?"

"Oh." Shit, he talks too much when he's drunk, always. What was he thinking, bringing up Jason Siska's little brother--actually, the better question is how did Mike remember that, given that William has an ironclad rule of always being the last one to pass out, and Mike is always happy to oblige?

"So you're going to talk to him?" William seriously considers punching him, because fuck, Mike is relentless and annoying when he has an idea in his head.

But they do need a bass player. They've struck out everywhere else. And Adam is decent, from what William remembers, which was a while ago, so by now he might be good.

They need him, or they don't have a band. And having a band is the most important thing, way more important than William having to explain to Jason and Adam that he's not a girl, contrary to what they and everybody else thought, oh and please don't mention to Mike that he ever was.

Then again, it's the Siskas. They're like the most easy-going people in the world ever. He actually might be able to just say "I'm going by William now, okay?" and have them blink, shrug, and ask him what he wants on his pizza. Maybe. Won't know unless he tries.

He tucks his hair behind his ears and nods, not looking at Mike. They need this. He can do this. For the band. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll call him. Today."
**
love me or leave me or rip me apart/this is the voice that I was given (Black Mamba)

They're watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, of all stupid things, on the TV that they can't afford to actually hook up and the VCR that Mike liberated from his parents' basement. They have exactly eight movies that they watch on an unvarying cycle, and it's Raiders the night William plants himself on Mike's lap and kisses him, hard and desperate and hating himself with every fiber of his being.

It's been three weeks since Mike found out, since William came home from work and Mike was sitting on the couch--this very couch--holding the packer William had barely worked up the guts to buy and yet still hadn't managed to even take out of the plastic, much less wear. He'd looked up as the door swung closed and said Bill? What the hell? and William doesn't really remember most of what got said after that. He doesn't really remember the next two days, either, after Mike stormed out and didn't come back.

Then he did come back. And things were...fine. Neutral. Not talking about it. They had a perfectly good stretch of not talking about it that William was ruining right now by kissing Mike while Indy and Marian drank each other under the table.

It's not that he wants to fuck things up. It's that he's had a lot of cheap beer that he bought with his shitty paycheck from his shitty job, and they just had to rename the band and reprint all of their merch (The Academy Is..., who knew a word and three dots could be so fucking legally required), and he's horny as hell, he aches so fucking bad, he wants so much he thinks he's going to die.

And Mike's his friend. His bandmate. He knows Mike, he trusts Mike, in a way he hadn't even realized until Mike came back again, with a pizza and a stack of illegible notes about new song ideas.

"Bill," Mike gasps. "Bill, what--"

Mike says his name with no catch, no hesitation, and even though that's just like always, right now it sends a shudder through William's body and makes him press closer, kiss harder. The worst Mike's going to do to him is push him off onto the floor and tell him to go sober up at Adam's. William can take that. He can. If he has to.

He slides his hand down between them and rubs at Mike through his jeans, something aching in his chest when he feels Mike start to get hard.

"Are you sure?" Mike's voice is rougher now, more breathless, but just as confused. William kisses him again, not willing to answer that question even if he could, even if he had an answer.

He works his hand over Mike again, hating the contrast between the wetness in his own jeans and the firmness under his palm, hating the whole unfair goddamn world. Then Mike's hands are cupping his jaw, holding him in a kiss that gets deeper, rougher, and William closes his eyes and gives up, loses himself in how much he wants it, fair or not.

They fumble through it, false starts and Mike touching him wrong and not taking the fucking hint until William actually smacks his hand away. Eventually he ends up bent over the arm of the couch, Mike fucking him from behind, panting roughly in William's ear and sliding in him deep, hard, just right and all fucking wrong, but he can push the wrong to the back of his head long enough to come.

Mike pulls away after and goes to take care of the condom, and William stares down at the couch, hands too clumsy to rebutton his jeans. Indy's still carrying on about something. It's like he's dropped back into reality after a trip to Mars.

When he looks up, Mike is staring at him, white-faced and with panic in his eyes. If William could feel his legs, he would run.

"That...that was weird," Mike says.

"Fuck you," William whispers.

"No, not...not like that, just..." Mike runs his hand through his hair sharply. "I don't want to fuck up the band."

William blinks. "What?"

"The band. I don't want to fuck up the band, Bill."

William's knees threaten to give out and he sinks carefully to the couch. He kind of wants to kiss Mike again, for that, but he won't. Never again. "Yeah. Me either." He looks up and meets Mike's eyes, and that awful cold pinch in his chest eases just a little. "So...so we won't do that again, okay?"

"Okay." Mike nods and looks at the TV. "You want to run this back? We missed a bunch of the good parts."

William nods and reaches for the remote. His hands are still shaking, but not much, not too bad.
**
attention bidders it's lot 45, he's got a decent voice, he's got that crooked smile (Classifieds)

Pete's hotel room is ridiculously swanky. William curls his hands at his sides, trying not to touch anything. There is, after all, a good chance that he's about to be ejected in a hurry.

"Okay," Pete says slowly, looking at the papers in front of him--William's real ID, his birth certificate, his Social Security card. "Um. Well. You don't actually...need to, like, show any of these to sign the contract."

"I have to sign my name." It takes him three tries to say that clearly, not stuttering so much as choking. Pete's watching him wide-eyed and uncertain, like he doesn't know if William's going to laugh or cry or bite or explode. Like he's something not quite safe.

"You've signed contracts before," Pete says. "When you recorded. Gigs. Your apartment. Um. Your fucking...forms when you file your taxes."

William shakes his head, a sharp jerk of movement that hurts. "I didn't care about lying on those."

"But you do about this."

His heart might actually explode in his chest and kill him. For some reason he had thought Pete would understand. This is all he cares about. "Yes."

"Okay, so just...I don't get what the problem is, dude, I'm sorry. If that's your legal name, then just...well, why haven't you changed your name?"

William is pretty sure he's trying to laugh, but it sounds all wrong and it hurts coming out of his throat. "Money."

"Oh."

"F-first thing I'm doing with my part of the advance."

"Your advance is for living expenses."

William meets his eyes for the first time all night. "This is a living expense."

Pete stares at him for a minute, then looks away, down at the papers again. "I could give you some money, you know, enough for that if you--"

"No." He shakes his head, slightly surprised at himself by how clearly that comes through. "I want...I want to have earned that. Myself."

"Right." Pete pushes the papers away and stands up, moving over to the minibar. "Well, I don't know what to tell you, you need to sign and I guess I don't see what the problem is, nobody has to know what name you put on the paper."

William knows better than to try to explain how much it hurts that the thing he wants more than anything else in his life is going to have the wrong name on it, forever. He won't even bother. Focus on a part Pete might understand. "The other people signing with me will."

Pete's head snaps up and he almost drops the bottle he's trying to open. "Your band doesn't know?"

It shouldn't hurt this much just to breathe. "Adam does. Carden does."

"But Mike D. and AJ don't." Pete exhales and twists the top off the bottle. "Why the hell not?"

"Because it doesn't matter," William snaps, not realizing how close it is to a shout until Pete flinches back. "It's none of their business. It doesn't have anything to do with how I write, or how I sing, or--"

"Okay. Okay." Pete takes a drink and shudders, looking at William with narrowed eyes. "Okay. You'll sign last, and I'll, I don't know, pull the fire alarm or punch somebody or something. We'll slide it by them. Don't worry about it."

William nods again and reaches for his papers. Fuck, he wants to burn the stupid things. "Okay. Thank you."

Pete keeps drinking and watching, not saying anything, and William assumes that means he's dismissed, he's done. He grabs his scarf and twists it around his neck, swallowing against the tension, and turns to the door.

"Bill."

William stops but doesn't look. He can't.

"Look. Dude. I'm not going to pretend I understand this, because...I don't. At all. But I didn't, like, start talking to you because..." William hears the bottle hit the table, loud, and he does look then. Pete's waving his hands in the air in frustration, face scrunched up and hair sticking up and eyes all intense. It's ridiculous enough that William would laugh if he remembered how, and if any of this was funny. "I'm on your team because you're really fucking awesome and you're talented and you make kickass music and that's the point, okay?"

William nods slightly. "That's what I've been trying to get people to see."

Pete grabs the bottle again and takes another drink, nodding decisively. "So fuck the rest of it." He comes over and grabs William in a too-tight hug, and if William flinches a little before he relaxes into it, Pete doesn't seem to notice. "We're cool?"

"Yeah." William hugs him back carefully and disentangles himself. "We're fine."

"Awesome." Pete steps back and turns away, dragging his hand over his hair and taking another drink. "It's gonna be awesome."

"It is."

"Do not fuck this up."

William smiles, or something like it. "I won't."
**
by all the people we are made to love and hate (Same Blood)

Mike D. and AJ leaving is out of the blue and, to William, pretty inexplicable--why would you leave when the band is signed, when they have an album laid down, when it's going to happen? It doesn't make any sense. It's stupid. They're stupid.

But they do leave, and yelling doesn't change a bit of it. William spends two days barely leaving his bedroom, not because he's depressed but because he's fuming, livid, and it seems prudent not to inflict that on too many other people or who knows what might happen. They might suddenly turn stupid and leave, too. He's not interested in starting over at zero.

When he emerges again, it's for three weeks of frantic searching for a tour guitarist and drummer. Mike says they should hold out for guys interested in joining the band for real, but the album is pressing and the tour is coming on like a freight train and William doesn't care about anything but covering those basics and getting them on the road.

He repeats this loudly and frequently until Mike and Adam throw their hands up and say have it your way (Mike with more cursing thrown in, Adam more easily, and both of those are the responses he expects and knows how to deal with).

It's sort of embarrassing how quickly he wants to reverse himself, if not as soon as they meet Tom and then Butcher, then the first time they practice with them both. William practically hears a click in his head, it's that perfect. It all fits. They're a band.

He plays it cool, though, because Adam and Mike won't hold back from saying I told you so. They are assholes of the highest order and William isn't going to hand them anything on a platter, especially not something like this, something important.

Instead he just doesn't bring the question of temporary or permanent up, at all, and neither does anyone else. Maybe Mike's a little extra-smirky, but William can rise above that.

They go on tour and it's even better than any of the practices. It's electric. It's really happening.

When they play, Tom is somehow always in the corner of William's eye, off to his right with eyes down and feet steady, playing the guitar lines that carry William's voice up and out over the crowds. It's magic, what Tom does. Alchemy that gives words wings.

And yes, he knows it's no different than when AJ was playing it, it's no different than any other guitar player who could be standing there, but fuck it, something sparks in him when he watches Tom, looking down the stage across the beat, and it's enough of a miracle that he's here, now, living this life, that he'll believe in a little extra magic if he goddamn well wants.

One night they're sitting together outside a venue, leaning back against a rough brick wall with their knees drawn up to their chests, passing a bottle of Jack back and forth and telling life stories. Something slips in his chest, a lock he thought he held more vigilant than that, and he tells his story for real. He tells Tom everything, hardly stuttering at all with adrenaline and whiskey lubricating his words.

Tom doesn't say anything, not then and not the next morning when William drags himself into the daylight an hour late, too paralyzed with fear to meet anyone's eyes. Tom doesn't say anything, but his eyes move over William, lingering the same way they do on anything he wants to see through a camera lens and pin down like lightning under glass. At their show that night, he's right where he should be, in his accustomed place where William can just catch him from the corner of his right eye, and there's one solo where William's afraid he won't be able to come in again afterward, because it sort of feels like his heart and his voice have flown away.

The thing about Tom is--he sees things. He doesn't talk everything up one side and down the other like the rest of them do, he sits back and he watches and he smiles that crooked, shy smile that makes something twist in William's chest, sometimes. Tom sees everything, and William has to check himself from asking him what, exactly, he sees. He suspects that the answer might nudge him too close to breaking that promise he made to himself back in that crappy apartment, about never doing anything that might fuck up the band. The band is first. Before anything in the world and definitely before anything his heart and his hormones might come up with.

Two weeks before the end of the tour, Adam comes up to him shamefaced and says he and Butcher got drunk and traded stories, too, and Adam had told one that wasn't his to share. Somehow, William can't bring himself to stay mad for very long. Yeah, it was a fuckup and no, Sisky better not do it again, but--

--but they're his band, they're his brothers in the wilderness, and they already hear him pour out his secrets in code, in chorus and verse, so it's...it's all right. There are no mysteries here.
**
I'll sing you something you won't forget (Season)

They're in the middle of fuck-all nowhere, at a truck stop plaza that makes William expect to see zombies around every corner. He's sitting in a booth in the far corner of the diner, trying to coax his laptop into picking up the truly shitty wireless long enough to let him check his e-mail, when Gabe slides into the seat across from him.

William has been alternating between chasing and running from Gabe the entire tour. He never misses Midtown's set, and Gabe never fails to invite him to come party, but it's just...

Sometimes his stomach twists so hard when he looks at Gabe, it makes him dizzy. Not just butterflies, he's got flying horses down there. It's ridiculous and unacceptable.

"Hey hey, Beckett," Gabe says. "What's up?"

"Not much." William keeps his eyes averted as his mailbox finally loads. "Just checking in with the outside world."

"Fuck that." Gabe grins, bright and lazy, and William only lets himself look at him sideways. If he looks head-on, he'll give way too much away.

"Never know. Could be something important." There isn't. Three spam messages, a notice that Amazon has a book he doesn't even want anymore, and two messages from Pete. The first one's a cheerful, punctuation-free paragraph about how he has to wipe his cache before the other dudes see, and then a link to a sex shop. More goddamn strap-ons. Get over it, Pete. The other is a link to an article about some anti-discrimination legislation out on the East Coast. William deletes them both without clicking the links. He knows that this is Pete's way of being thoughtful and supportive, even kind, and while he appreciates that, it's like having a parent all up in his jock, and if Pete doesn't knock it off William is going to stab him.

"Nah." Gabe stretches, his legs easily invading William's space under the table, kicking at his ankles. "Nothing's that important except what we've got out here."

William smiles a little, making sure the laptop screen is tilted enough to hide it. Gabe gets it. He'll never tell him so, but that's the thing that makes William the most crazy about him, the most...

In need of getting a grip.

"I should go back to my guys." He logs out and shrugs. "They tend to get in trouble when they're unsupervised." It's not a lie; they do get in trouble, and lately worse than ever. Especially Tom and Mike, who never seem to stop snarling at each other these days, something sharp and ugly growing between them that William doesn't want to look at too closely for fear that it's full of mirrors.

"Do you not like me or something?" Gabe's voice is mild, and he's smiling when William shoots him a startled glance, but there's something ever so slightly edged about his eyes.

"Why wouldn't I like you?"

"That's what I want to know. I'm a likeable guy."

William has to smile again. "Yeah, you are."

"So how come you're always running away from me?"

"I'm not."

"You totally are." Gabe reaches out and catches the edge of the laptop, turning it to face him. "You take off like you're afraid I'm going to do something to you."

William's breath stumbles in his chest. "Like what?"

"That's the other thing I want to know." Gabe smirks at him over the edge of the screen and types something.

"What are you doing?"

"Checking my e-mail. Quit freaking out." Gabe types something else and frowns. There's a smudge of something at the edge of his lip--chocolate, probably--and William's fingers itch to wipe it clean. "So you like me," Gabe goes on, and William blinks, forcing himself to start paying attention again. "That's cool. So you'll come to the party tonight."

"I don't want to be in the way." As soon as he says it, he starts looking for something he can use to kill himself, because what was that? Why did he say that?

Gabe looks up again, obviously surprised, and William braces himself. But Gabe doesn't laugh. "Is that what you're all worried about?" He clicks the mouse a few times. "Dude, you won't be. It'll be awesome. Come to the damn party. Case closed."

The last thing William needs is to be around Gabe at a party with this stupid crush. He can hear Mike in his head saying don't be stupid and Pete saying don't fuck this up and Tom's soft, noncommittal be careful.

"Check this out," Gabe says, turning the laptop again to show William a screenful of really improbable, slightly distressing porn. "Look at the shit the guys at home send me."

William laughs, and knows he's going to the party.

"I'm telling you, man." Gabe turns the computer back to himself, grinning. "The only people worth knowing are right here on the tour."
**
when I leave here I'm going alone/well it's not like, it not like it hurts much anyway (Attention)

Tom leaves an envelope outside William's door two days after the last time William sees him. William holds it like it's made of thorns and seriously considers pitching it directly in the trash.

Two days after the last time he saw Tom is still only a week after the horrific disaster of a meeting where he stuttered and Mike sneered and finally Butcher kicked Tom out of the band, because the rest of them couldn't do it. It's too soon. It might be too soon for the rest of their lives.

He doesn't open the envelope, just hides it under one of the pillows on his couch and doesn't think about it while they continue the slow, agonizing, shove-your-hand-in-the-garbage-disposal process of trying to write the album. Except it's not really a process so much as spinning their wheels in place, getting nowhere, producing nothing, and William feels like he's choking, like all of the fucked-up wrong words are crawling up the back of his throat and lodging there.

He can feel the others watching him with disappointment and concern and worry, and it's like those looks linger on his skin even after he goes home. Sticky residue that clings to him all the time, just in case he might think about forgetting how he's failing at this. Writing the next album, making it perfect, are the only things that matter, the only things that makes any of the rest of the shit in his life worth it, and he's fucking it up.

He doesn't touch the envelope again until he's racing out the door for the airport, blind and panicking. His throat's still raw with bile from puking up everything but his socks while the website processed his credit card for the ticket to LA. There's nothing waiting for him in LA, he has no reason to go there other than that it's not here, and suddenly the idea of being here is completely unbearable.

He swerves toward the couch on his way to the door, and there's no reason for that, either, no thought behind it. He shoves his hand under the pillow and grabs the envelope, twisting the corner of it between his fingers until he's in the cab. Then he tucks it into the duffel bag that doesn't really have half of the things a rational person would take across the country. His notebook, a pair of boxers, a t-shirt, the anxiety medication that he has a legitimate prescription for but that isn't doing shit when taken as directed.

When he gets to LA, he finds a hotel and checks in for one night. He sits cross-legged on the bed with the notebook and the envelope in front of him and calls Adam. "I won't be at practice tomorrow," he says, and hangs up before Adam finishes asking what's going on. He turns the phone off and hides it behind the TV, so it won't be staring at him accusingly, then sits down again, raking his hair off his face with both hands.

He spilled his drink on the envelope on the plane, blurring out his name on the front and leaving the paper mottled in a weird pattern. He traces it with his fingertips, the runny ink and the ruined paper, then tears it open and spills the contents out across the sheets.

Pictures, of course. He should have known. With Tom, it was always pictures. There's a scrap of notebook paper folded around one of them, and he picks it up first, turning it around in his hands until Tom's scrawled, terrible handwriting makes sense.

the duality of you

His stomach twists hard and he closes his eyes, forcing himself to breathe through his nose. He reaches for the bottle of pills and fights the cap until it opens and spills them out as well, pouring over the pictures and hiding in the folds of the blanket. He dry-swallows two before he looks again.

It's not as if he hasn't seen thousands of pictures of himself. His camera-whoring tendencies are a running joke, with the punchline being that they're remarkable even in a group that includes Pete Wentz, and he laughs it off because he can't argue with it. He likes seeing himself in pictures. He likes reading the comments that accompany them on the Internet, even, including the nasty shit, because they're seeing him, they're seeing him properly. Some of them call out his hair and his t-shirts and his jeans (girl hair, girl shirts, girl jeans--what the fuck, that guy looks like a girl), but...they're still getting it right. That guy looks like a girl. They see a guy who's failing to align, and that means he's won.

They're just pictures, that's all. He's seen thousands of pictures. But these are pictures through Tom's eyes, Tom's lens. Tom who worked his way around and under and slipped through into the parts of William's life that he wasn't taking admittance to anymore, Tom who played the melody line on the songs that poured out William's heart. Tom who was a part of the world that fit until somehow, without any of them noticing, the edges shifted and wore away until it didn't fit at all anymore, and had to go.

They're all in washed-out color, just slightly overexposed. Just moments, random and scattered, two of William on the bus and three of him out in the sun, all unaware of the camera. He's looking at his notebook in one, curled around his guitar in another, reaching for a piece of paper in Butcher's outstretched hand in a third. And in all of them he looks not quite real, not quite anything, something alien and in-between. He doesn't recognize himself.

They're beautiful pictures, and he doesn't recognize himself at all.

He chases two more pills out of the sheets and moves over to the window, forcing them down past the lump in his throat. He leans his forehead against the glass and looks out at LA. It's alien and in-between, too, half reality and half dream. He could lose himself here. It would be easy.

He looks over his shoulder at the bed. From this angle he can't quite see the scattered pictures, but he can see the notebook, pen jutting up defiantly out of the binding, waiting for him.

He sits down in the corner, shoulder pressed against the window and back tucked up against the wall. He can't stand the thought of it right now, of fighting with words, trying to write something perfect and failing. He can't do it anymore. It's too much.

In the morning. He'll try again in the morning. Right now he's just going to watch the lights go by.
**
it was the best of times from broken homes and battle scars to where we are (Paper Chase)

Sisky arrives breathless and juggling fast-food containers. "Sorry. Fucking...traffic. Did I miss the tipoff?"

"No. We're good." William takes the food and tumbles onto the couch, swinging his feet onto the much-abused milk crates that pretend to be a coffee table. "Did you get extra ketchup?"

"In the bag." Sisky sits down next to him, wiggling out of his jacket and squinting at the screen. "This is going to be epic."

William holds back from pointing out that Adam says that about every game. Mostly because if he's honest, he's just as bad. Team loyalty is important.

Basketball nights have become kind of a ritual lately, since the album. They had always hung out and watched the game when they thought of it, when it was convenient, but now Adam seems to make a point of asking and figuring out plans. William still believes in the importance of close observation and constant vigilance. He's noticed. And he's noticed the quiet approval from the others, which means that apparently Sisky has been given custody of William. Baby-sitting duties, at any rate, which should probably piss William off. He kind of wants to be pissed about it.

But it's hanging out and watching basketball. He just can't manage anger about that. And as much as he would rather die than admit it, it feels good to know that they're not going to leave him all alone. He's having some trouble being alone, these days. The never-ending racing circles in his head get worse without other people around to derail them. They get worse to the point that he flies across the country and locks himself in hotel rooms with his phone turned off, and worries everyone he knows except for the ones he pisses off.

It is, to put it mildly, not good. He needs to not do that. And if being baby-sat until the playoffs is what it takes...

"Fuck the refs," Adam declares, elbowing William in the ribs. "Did you see that?"

"Total bullshit," he agrees, slouching lower on the couch and letting his shoulder press against Adam's.

When he got back from LA, Mike and Adam met him at the airport. They hugged him a little tighter than usual, and then Mike smacked the back of his head really hard, but that was it. Then, and since, none of the guys said anything, just closed ranks around him and let him lean on them or pretend they weren't there depending on how his moods swung that day. They were just...around. Even the new guy, not-Tom (Chislett, he reminds himself, don't be an asshole), though he kept a respectful distance and showed concern just by bringing coffee once in a while and telling jokes that didn't make any sense without a five-minute translation from the Australian.

William loves his band. Even when it feels like the world is ending, at least there's that. There's their guitars and dreams of being rock stars and terrible, terrible hair. There's this thing that they have. All that matters in the world. When he remembers that, he does okay.

Adam jabs his elbow into William's ribs again, harder this time. "Ow! What the fuck?"

"You're not even paying attention. That was a very important free throw you just missed."

William looks at the screen. "We're up by twenty-seven points, you maniac."

"Never get cocky."

"You're completely insane." William leans into him a little harder, and they don't talk for a while.

The Bulls call a time-out and Sisky grabs his drink, slurping loudly through the straw. "Hey, did you finish the treatment for the video? You said you and Pete were talking about it but you didn't share the love. Jerk."

"Oh." William stretches his legs out, hooking his ankle with Adam's. "Well, it's like...what if you looked in the mirror and it wasn't you? And then that person came through the glass and tried to take over your life?"

Sisky nods slowly and slurps again. "Freaky."

"Yeah." William goes through the rest of the idea, the final version after he and Pete had e-mailed back and forth for a week, taking off the rough edges and the melodramatic flourishes and enduring all of Pete's editorializations of ha ha projecting much there bill?

He watches Adam out of the corner of his eye, trying to tell if that's his reaction, too, but Adam just nods a lot, his eyes fixed on the TV.

"...and then I beat up my mirror-self, on the stage? And all of you guys are trying to break us up. But then it goes to a wide shot and it turns out I'm alone on the stage. Not even the other guy. Like...like it was all in my head." Sisky looks sideways at him and slurps. William feels his face flush red. "It's symbolic."

"Right." Sisky rolls his eyes. "Like we'd ever leave you alone on the stage. I know that's the idea that makes you touch yourself at night, you douchebag, but you're stuck with the rest of us."

William punches him in the shoulder and settles against him again, closing his eyes once he's sure Sisky can't see his smile. "Shut up and watch the damn game."
**
you're a stranger i know well and not at all (The Test)

Gabe is always warm, ridiculously so, like a furnace as William leans up against him. Gabe's sitting on the back of the couch with his shoes on the cushions, and William's curled into Gabe's legs, his cheek pillowed on Gabe's thigh. Gabe's petting him slowly and lazily, and if William was just a bit more sober he would sit up and push Gabe's hand away, assert himself just on principle.

But he is very, very drunk and Gabe's hand is soothing, almost hypnotizing. So he stays.

"Bilvy," Gabe says, his voice low and sing-song. "How you doing, Bilvy-boy?"

William gives him a vague thumbs-up, not opening his eyes or moving away from the precarious support of Gabe's legs. Travis is on his other side, not quite touching but leaning in close enough that William feels the heat of his body. If he turned his head to the left, he knows he would find Travis smiling. At some point he started to be able to just feel it, the way the two of them look at him, like they see something good.

"You want to go back to your bus?" Gabe's fingers tighten a little, tugging at William's hair and trying to get him to look up. William shakes his head, resisting. He doesn't want to go anywhere. Moments of peace, of stillness inside his head, are rare, even with all of the alcohol a tour party can provide. He knows that Gabe knows that. A lot has changed since that tour with Midtown, but Gabe knows him in ways that still surprise him when he catches them out of the corner of his eye, just as much as they did back then. That artless swing across the country when Tom and Butcher were new and William still believed he could have absolutely anything he wanted if he just controlled everything perfectly. If he kept all of the balls in the air and did a backwards handspring before they landed. If only.

Maybe he still believes that, all crushing evidence to the contrary. He's better at pretending to be well-adjusted now, if nothing else. That has to be worth something.

This is the first time they've toured together since Snakes on a Plane, since Gabe put together his new band and hit the ground with a stubborn determination to create pop trash as performance art and convert the scene-kid masses to the cause of dancing themselves stupid and not taking themselves so seriously. William isn't sure it's going to take, but it's fun to watch and fascinating to listen to Gabe lecture about.

Travis cards his fingers through William's hair slowly, tugging a little at the ends. William swats at him, catching Travis' fingertips and curling them into his own palm. "Quit it."

"Just petting you." Travis frees his hand easily and brushes the back of it against William's jaw. "I like petting you."

"So do I," Gabe says, and William glares up at him as best he can, focusing on the sharp white curve of Gabe's grin.

"You both treat me like I'm a puppy or something."

"No way." Gabe's fingers slide down and race along the back of William's neck. "You're definitely a kitten."

"Fuck you," William says, but Gabe and Travis are both laughing and he can't help but join in, closing his eyes and resting his cheek against the solid heat of Gabe's thigh.

Gabe's fingers are still teasing his neck, and Travis is touching him again, too, palm resting warm and heavy on his shoulder, thumb rubbing slow circles on his back. William knows he needs to sit up, push them both back, make up a reason and go back to his own room. This is the point where he needs to reestablish the safety of distance--actually, it's probably past that point. Travis' hand is sliding back and down, broad and solid and caressing and distracting. It's one of the days where William's chest is tender and sore and binding just aches too much, so it's not like he has to worry about that, but letting his guard down once is a bad precedent.

He's warm and comfortable and buzzed and being with Gabe and Travis like this is better than being anywhere except with his band. But rules are rules, even if they're arbitrary and his own.

"Let me up," he says, squirming between Gabe's legs and Travis' body. "You're squishing me."

"We are not," Gabe says, but he pulls his legs aside and lets William sit up. William drags his fingers through his hair--it's long again, past his shoulders, thick and tangled--and shakes his head a little, trying to clear it. It doesn't much work, except that he realizes that Gabe and Travis are both staring at him.

"What?" he asks, his instant suspicions doubling as they glance at each other. "Come on, what?"

"Well." Travis rubs his hands together in his lap. "We just wanted to ask you something."

William's heart is beating faster, making his head spin a little. "It's obviously something weird, so can we save it for sober time?"

"God, no," Gabe says. "That's a terrible idea."

William stands up and steps away, turning to face them and crossing his arms over his chest. "Fine."

"It's not anything bad, baby boy," Travis says, looking at him patiently, like William's being silly. Gabe has the same look. William wants to tell them both that they don't know what the fuck they're talking about, before they even say anything.

"Just get on with it already."

Travis glances at Gabe again, the two of them having a whole conversation with their eyes. "We've just noticed--not noticed noticed, but just kind of--"

"You never pick anybody up," Gabe says flatly, looking at William with a challenge in his eyes.

William can't really meet that challenge, because he is far too confused. "What?"

"After shows. When we go out. You never mention anybody at home, either. People hit on you left and right and you don't blink."

William takes a breath and opens his mouth to argue, then catches himself as he realizes the look Gabe and Travis are sharing isn't mockery, it's worry.

"Okay," he says slowly, "so I don't have much of a love life. What does that have to do with...anything?"

"We want you to be...you know...cool with us," Gabe says. "I mean, I figured you knew that, but maybe we need to spell it out."

He's going to start throwing punches if things don't start to make sense sometime soon. "Spell what out?"

"Whatever it is, we're not going to judge you. We both like you a lot, you're our friend, and no matter what you say, that's not going to change."

William runs his hands through his hair again, digging his fingers in hard to keep punches from happening. "Okay, let's back this up." He takes a deep breath and tries to center himself, to find something resembling logic and calm. "I don't know what you think you're talking about, but I'm fine. Sex just isn't important to me right now. I've got other things on my mind. Other priorities. My career, mostly. Sex is...so far from anything I care about. It's in another time zone."

"You know you can have both, right?" Gabe's looking at him all earnestly and intently, in a way that usually William would tease him for but that now is making his heart catch in his throat. "Music and sex. Relationships, even. Many people manage it. It even gives some of them material for their songs."

There, that's better. That part's more like Gabe. "Don't be condescending."

"This is a whole part of your life you're shutting off, Bill," Travis says. "We just wanted you to know that, you know, if there was some reason...if something happened, or whatever..."

It takes William a minute to figure out what the hell that means, and then he has to grab at the edge of the table to keep from breaking down in helpless laughter. Oh. Oh, God. They think someone hurt him. They think...

"Nothing happened," he says when he can manage it, when he finds the fine line between wanting to hug them and wanting to just walk out the door to avoid the entire situation. "I...wow. You're both...really great for being...for thinking about me that much. For caring about me. But I promise, you're...you're way off. Nothing is wrong. Nothing happened to me. It's just not my priority." He can see them opening their mouths to argue and holds up a hand to hold it back. "I don't want to talk about it any more right now. I'm going to bed."

"You don't want to talk about it right now, or you don't want to talk about it with us?" Travis asks.

William looks at the window behind them, at his face reflected in the glass. "When I feel like talking about it, you guys will be the first to know. I promise." He surprises himself, a little, with how much he means that. He trusts Gabe and Travis more than anyone in the world except his band, and he is going to tell them.

But not tonight. That's a conversation to have sober.

He meets Travis' eyes, then Gabe's. "Is that good enough?"

Travis nods slightly, and Gabe reaches out, his fingers tracing down William's shoulder just enough to feel. "I guess it has to be."
**
don't be so scared/it's harder for me (Skeptics and True Believers)

The air conditioning isn't working in the back lounge of the bus, for some unknown and unknowable reason. It's not comfortable, but William has it to himself. He lies on his back on the bench, stretching his legs out and folding his hands over his stomach, willing the low, grinding ache there to go away.

My stomach hurts, he told the others before he retreated, and maybe that's why they're leaving him alone, as much as the lack of air. They all try to give him space when his stomach hurts, because he's snappish and irritable as well as in pain. He feels wrong. It's a vague, inconsequential betrayal by the body that's pretty much otherwise bent to his will, and it's...unsettling. Upsetting.

It's also fucking hot in the lounge, and that's annoying, too. He wants someone to come back here so he can pick a fight with them. He'll pick a fight, they'll scream at each other, maybe throw a punch or two, then they'll play the show and he'll buy them a drink after and everything will be fine. They'll hug. It'll be proof in practice that things can be broken and then fixed.

It looks like they're all on to him, though. Not going to give him a chance. Fuckers.

He grabs his laptop, settling the heat of it over the pain in his stomach, and clicks restlessly around the Internet. There are a few blogs and boards he follows with great interest, music and sports mostly, and ones for trans issues that he watches in a more distant way. He feels guilty, sometimes; he thinks he should be more political, more involved, but then he thinks about the energy required, the intensity, the piece of his soul, and something in him flinches back.

Someday. He's sure that he'll get to it someday. He does care. He just has all the community he can handle right now with the industry and the scene. He can't pick up another one until he has a little more energy to spare. A little more room to breathe.

Then he will activist his ass off. Absolutely. He rolls his eyes a little at himself and bookmarks a blog post to come back to later. He has no attention span right now; it's too fucking hot.

He closes the laptop and then his eyes, lying still and listening to the fan humming away, stubbornly circulating stale warm air. Sometimes he suspects he's doing everything wrong, and sometimes he's sure of it. No surgery, no hormones. No out-and-proud. He's living his life and singing his songs and putting forward exactly the picture he wants, seamless, just like he wanted way back when.

It seems ridiculous that that could be hiding. But maybe it is. Maybe it's going to blow up in his face. He'll get sick, or hurt, end up in the hospital. They'll get successful enough that people will go digging into his history and actually care outside of a few fan communities who are more than happy to smooth over the odd edges, and--

"Not yet," he mutters, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes. It's all still holding together, for now. Live in the moment. Live his life the way he wants to. The rest of it can come later.

"Bill?"

He moves one hand and looks over at the doorway. Sisky's leaning in, spinning one of Butcher's drumsticks between his fingers. "Yeah?"

"It is time."

William moves his other hand so he can glare at Sisky properly. His band is full of cryptic halfwits. "Time for what?"

"PS3 deathmatch. One round on every game on the bus. Winner takes all bragging rights." He points the stick at William's face. "The stakes are high."

"I don't want to play."

Sisky spins the stick again, then drops it. "Okay. But you should know that Mike said he would kick your ass, and if you don't play, he's going to tell everybody he did kick your ass, and you won't be able to defend yourself without looking like a chicken."

William is aware that he is being manipulated. But it's kind of touching that they would go to the trouble. "Carden," he yells. "You're a lying sack of shit."

"Blow me," comes the distant reply from the front lounge. "Get up here already, I'm not gonna wait all day."

"Yeah, come on, dude," Sisky says. "It's hot as balls back here."

William slides off the bench and to his feet, biting his lip against another hot, sullen wave of pain but silently determined to ignore it. Everything is fine. His life is the way he wants it. Not yet, not yet.
**
and I do regret more than I admit (Everything We Had)

William is on his third beer, and having the world's most awkward and dull conversation with the bartender. She's very pretty, with long black hair and a broad smile, and he's talking to her about vintage clothing stores and the weather, because he is the biggest loser in the world and so anxious he very well might be sick all over the bar. She keeps looking at him with open concern and not a little bit of pity, obviously assuming he's been stood up, and William is beginning to think she's right. He's going to switch to something stronger as soon as he finishes this beer.

Then Tom walks in, brushing rain out of his hair and looking around the bar wide-eyed and flustered. William raises his hand a little, ignoring the bartender's relieved smile. The sinking dread of being stood up is instantly swallowed up by the anxiety tripling itself. There really is a very good chance that he's going to be sick.

"Sorry I'm late." Tom hasn't changed, the way he looks William up and down hasn't changed, though his eyes are more guarded. "The rain. Traffic's all fucked up."

"It's fine." William manages a smile and wraps his hands tightly around his glass. "No problem at all."

Tom orders a drink and sits down, looking around the room, up at the ceiling, anywhere but at William. "How have you been?"

"Good. Fine. You?"

"Great. Good." Tom shrugs slightly. "You know."

William isn't sure what to say, what to leave out, where to begin. "Thanks for agreeing to see me."

"You said there was an opportunity."

As opposed to every other time he'd tried to call, or see Tom in person, when he'd pitched it as wanting to stay friends and been icily ignored. Though to be fair, he'd stopped trying at all pretty quickly. Two and a half years since Tom left, just about two years since he'd called. To be fair. He has to try to be fair or there's just no way this is going to work at all.

"So what's the opportunity?" Tom takes a drink and closes his eyes. It's easier for William to look at him then, searching for the differences. Tom's face is thinner, his hair wilder, his mouth still set in the same inscrutable line when he swallows. He opens his eyes again, meeting William's gaze before he can look away. "Bill?"

"You want to go on tour with us?" Tom chokes and William stumbles to clarify, gesturing wildly over the bar. "Not...I mean your band. Your...all of you guys. We've got some dates that need a second act." He shrugs a little, wanting to flinch under Tom's stare. "If you're not booked."

"We're not booked." Tom shakes his head, staring down at his beer. "I don't know if we're interested, though. I'm not actually a fan of walking into a gig where I'm going to get kicked in the crotch, believe it or not."

"That's not my intention."

Tom gives him a sharp look. "You're not the one I had a problem with."

William still had never asked what exactly snapped between Mike and Tom. It had seemed, on an instinctive, unexplainable level, important not to know. "Acoustic tour. Small. Just me and Adam, actually." He takes a drink and then a deep breath. "Mike won't be there."

Tom never did like to put too much into words if he had a chance to communicate between the lines instead. "I'll talk to the guys."

"Great. That's...thank you. Great."

"Anything else?"

William has to laugh, though it comes out sounding a little thin and strained. "We could just talk. Catch up. Couldn't we?"

"What do we have to talk about?"

William remembers enough to recognize when Tom is flat-out, unquestionably stonewalling. Fine. He'll cut through the bullshit, then. "Why did you send me those pictures?"

Tom blinks, pausing with his drink halfway to his mouth. "They were good pictures. Some of the best I ever got of you. I thought you might..."

"I wasn't sure what you were trying to say. The note."

Tom's brow furrows. "I don't..."

"It was about duality."

Tom stares at him for another minute, blank and puzzled, and then suddenly his eyes go wide. "You thought I meant...oh, Jesus. Bill." He shakes his head, hair falling down over his forehead, still damp enough to cling to his skin. "I meant...I meant the way you're all serious and poetic and shit but also, like..." He makes a wild gesture, encompassing William and the bar and possibly the whole world. "All energy. Out there. Sexy."

William's eyebrows make a good try at climbing up to his hairline. "Sexy?"

"Yes. You asshole." Tom takes another drink and rolls his eyes, but William's remembering more now, recognizing more, enough that he can see the trace of a smile around Tom's mouth. "I was mad as hell at you but I wanted you to know I...saw you." He shrugs and pushes the now-empty glass away. "Guess I fucked it up."

"No." William shakes his head and toys with his own glass, looking back at his distorted reflection in the mirror behind the bar. "I...I was...I jumped to conclusions. I was kind of fucked up after all that, too." A sideways glance at Tom shows that the smile is still there, and a little clearer now. "We're both really dumb."

"We so are." Tom laughs softly and they share a real grin, one that makes William's heart ache with memories in almost a good way. "I'll talk to the guys."

"Thanks."

Tom looks at his watch and then at his glass, jaw tightening with thought. William forces himself to be still, be silent, just wait.

"You have time for one more round?" Tom asks finally. "Maybe we could catch up a little bit."

"Yeah. I've got time."

"I've been wanting to ask you for like two years why the fuck you let Saporta talk you into doing that movie bullshit."

William laughs, and Tom grins and waves for another round.
**
I hope before the night is through one fumbled touch will finally hit the spot(After The Last Midtown Show)

Gabe laughs, low and warm and smelling like some of that godawful mixed-booze-and-punch concoction they'd all been drinking at the party. William can taste the echo on his own tongue, and he leans in to kiss Gabe again, suddenly compelled to share it.

Gabe kisses him back with happy enthusiasm, his hands sliding down William's arms to curl loosely around his wrists. "You're fun to kiss," he murmurs against William's mouth, as if this is a new discovery, which it hasn't been for months now, since William made a phone call that started with So my priorities, I think they've changed, maybe, a little, progressed through no, fuck you, I am not drunk and I wasn't ever damaged and shut up and listen, damn it until ending with but slow, okay? Slow.

Gabe lets William set the pace and the boundaries, which seem to keep melting like snow in the sun every time, closer and closer to...something. William tries not to imagine too much.

Gabe squeezes his wrists lightly and William groans a little, turning his head to nip at Gabe's throat. Gabe laughs again and shifts onto his back, tugging William on top of him. "Don't bite."

"You like it."

"Yeah, but I've got a thing tomorrow. Pictures. Can't show up with Bilvy-bites all over me."

"Depends on where."

Gabe looks at him with a smirk, eyes dark and warm and a little mesmerizing. "Tell me some more about that."

William feels his face heat, and shrugs, ducking his head to hide it. Gabe's thumbs rub slow, soothing circles over his wrists. "Or not. 's cool."

"I've only had sex once." Gabe just nods, still rubbing. "It was...it was awkward, and kind of...bad. Not his fault. Not...I didn't know how to say what I..."

Gabe nods again, bringing one of William's hands up to his mouth and kissing his palm. "What about showing? Instead of saying?"

William shrugs helplessly. He suddenly feels very hot, and very exposed, and he kind of wants to pull away and change the subject or maybe get another drink.

But he also really, really wants to have sex with Gabe.

Gabe is still kissing his hand and wrist, mouthing slowly and idly at the bones. William closes his eyes and just feels that, the hot damp slide over his skin and how it makes his nerves sing.

After a few minutes he realizes that Gabe really isn't going to move on to anywhere else unless William tells him to. Or shows him. He will wait all night. Which is kind of amazingly nice of him, but William's hand is getting all soggy and it feels weird.

He leans in and kisses Gabe again, turning his wrists in Gabe's grip until Gabe lets go, then reversing the hold and guiding Gabe's hands to his hips. They span his hips easily, thumbs rubbing slowly over his waist with just enough pressure to make him shiver.

"Nice," Gabe whispers, then catches William's lower lip in his teeth. William closes his eyes and kisses more, deeper, holding Gabe's wrists tightly.

It's incremental, by inches. Gabe's fingers catch in the hem of William's t-shirt again and again, but he doesn't try to move it aside until William finally catches his breath, releases his hold, and tugs the shirt off over his head. Gabe's eyes track thoughtfully over the binder, but he doesn't say anything or try to touch, just finds William's mouth in another kiss and goes back to running his hands carefully along the sensitive skin of his waist.

William can feel Gabe's dick pressed against the underside of his thigh, hard and hot even through two layers of jeans. He rocks down carefully, experimentally, rewarded by the low groan Gabe makes into his mouth. Good.

"God, good," Gabe says, his voice so low and hot it makes something jerk in William's stomach, a spike of want. He reaches down and fumbles with his own jeans, getting them open and guiding Gabe's hand inside. He can't quite breathe, his chest locked up with fear and want and adrenaline, and he certainly can't speak, so he guides Gabe's hand by touch, pushing his packer aside and then his underwear. All by touch, while he kisses Gabe frantically, for dear life, and keeps moving down against him in an erratic rhythm that probably isn't all that much fun.

Gabe's nodding, though, whispering something reassuring between kisses, and letting William place his hand just where it wants it, the side of the fleshy base of his thumb pressed hard against his clit, where he can press and grind, rubbing down without penetration.

And it works, it fucking works, he gets off with hot sparks behind his eyes as Gabe works the edge of his hand against him and bites at his lips and sucks at his tongue. As he's coming down from that, gasping into Gabe's mouth, Gabe's free hand tightens on his hip, holding him down more firmly as Gabe's hips buck up and he feels Gabe come hot and wet in his jeans.

"Fuckin' A," Gabe says, and kisses him again. "We totally just boned, Bilvy. Welcome to the very elite club of dudes banged by Gabe Saporta."

"More like a cast of thousands," William mumbles against Gabe's neck, and Gabe smacks his ass lightly, and then they're both laughing, there in the dark together.
**
you know it's all right/I'm stepping on the cracks and I feel fine (Sputter)

Somewhere just out of William's line of vision, Mike and Butcher are playing an excessively physical game of trash-can basketball. William can hear it, and he very badly wants to turn his head and look, because whoever loses this match is going to be incredibly annoying for the rest of the afternoon. But if he moves his head at all, he's going to get a pencil in his eye.

"You have fantastic cheekbones," the make-up artist murmurs, carefully drawing the pencil under the lashes of his right eye. "Seriously."

"Thank you." William digs his thumb into his palm to keep from blinking. She told him her name not half an hour ago--Jenna, Jenny, Jamie. "I'm fond of them. They hold my face up."

She laughs and steps back, reaching for a jar of something or other, and William looks up at the ceiling, tracing the pattern of the tiles. Photo shoot days are always an endless game of hurry up and wait, alternating between controlled chaos and, well, counting ceiling tiles. Or playing trash-can basketball.

"Tilt your head a little to the left, please." He obeys and she starts carefully dabbing at his cheek with a sponge. He closes his eyes, feeling the cool slide of the make-up and listening to Mike threaten to eviscerate Sisky for calling a foul. "How do you even...it's not actual basketball, you raving lunatics, how do you--"

Jamie swats him on the nose with the sponge. "Don't talk."

He winces in apology and obediently falls silent, studying the tiles again. They're going to do part of the interview during the shoot, so he needs to be prepared to be charming, funny, cagey as needed, enthusiastic about the new stuff, and to not stutter. It's going to be a very long afternoon.

His phone chirps in his pocket and he tries to reach for it without moving his head. Jamie laughs again and steps back, tossing the sponge to the counter. "Go ahead. I'll finish with your hair while you do that."

"Thank you, darling," he says, shooting her his best smile. It just makes her laugh more, but it's cheerful and not mocking and he keeps grinning as he glances down at the screen.

It's a text from Gabe. gracing my city with ur presence! dinner?

He wrinkles his nose against the mist of hairspray flying around his head as he types his reply. if ur buying

always. call when ur done. xo xo

William catches his tongue between his teeth to keep from laughing as he slides his phone back in his pocket. As he looks up, he sees himself in the mirror, something he had been avoiding for no easily explained reason. Now that it's happened, though, he stops, transfixed for a moment.

Jamie's hands settle on his shoulders. "Is it okay?" she asks. "If you don't like it, we've still got a little time to try something else. I was going for really neutral, but if you want theatrical, or--"

He shakes his head, smiling at her in the mirror. He isn't even going to begin to try to explain how when he sees himself, his automatic response is to search for what needs to be fixed, polished, made perfect. He's a performer. He corrects himself at all times. And there's always a pleasant little shock when he sees his reflection and there's nothing to correct, it's just himself, seamless.

It happens more and more often these days, but it's still so great, every time.

"It's fine," he says, tilting his head back to grin at her properly. "You do good work."

"Thanks." She studies him from that angle for a moment, brow furrowing, then nods and steps back, wiping her hands on her apron. "You're all set. Send me the next one."

William lets the other guys fight it out among themselves for who goes next, and wanders over to look at the setup for the shoot. Apparently they're going to be posing with giant, brightly-colored blocks. All righty then.

"Mr. Beckett?" He looks up and returns the offered handshake from a tall, bearded guy. "I'm Jeff, I'll be doing the interview. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too."

"Can we get you anything? Anything you need?"

William glances around the studio, at the cameras and the lights, his band beating the crap out of each other, the recorder in Jeff's hand waiting to catch everything he has to say about what he does.

"I'm good," he says, grinning enough that it almost hurts. "Everything's...really good right now. Thank you."