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The Stumbles And Falls

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The memory of South Africa is still fresh, too fresh, raw and sharp around the edges -- nights spent cuddled too close together in the oppressive heat because it was okay that they hadn't talked to each other all day, it was okay that when they got ready for bed Brendon's comment about how Jon should try to pet a lion or Jon's about how Brendon could have held Spencer's hand if he'd been scared on the safari were too pointed, not playful enough, it was okay as long as they could do that, could tuck close together and fall asleep breathing in sync with each other -- for them to be silent now, so they talk. Jon doesn't give a shit about what Brendon and Spencer do with the time Brendon isn't spending with Jon, and he's sure Brendon doesn't care any more now than he did two weeks ago about Jon and Ryan's songwriting, but they make conversation anyway. They can't talk about anything they need to, about what the fuck they do now or what the fuck this band shit means for them, but they can't be silent, either, because they've done that already.

Jon tries not to fall asleep while Brendon's still whispering about maybe revisiting some of the songs from the godforsaken wolf musical, going back to the last place they had anything like common ground. He fails.

*

For the third morning in a row, Jon wakes up to Shane's little cousin Ian making shitty coffee and no sign that anyone slept on the couch.

"The couch is shit," he says, when Jon asks. "I'm borrowing half of Shane's bed."

"Huh," Jon says. The ancient coffee maker gurgles almost violently; Jon lets it distract him from pointing out that Shane hooked up last night and there's still no sign of Ian having slept on the couch. "So, uh, how's The Cab?"

"I've been out of The Cab for a month, dude."

"Right, yeah." Jon totally knew that. He's going to be incredibly shitty at being a part of the parts of Brendon's life that don't have anything to do with the band, damn. "Uh, the other band, then. Tramps?"

"Stamps," Ian says. "The album's Tramps. And it's, y'know, good and stuff." He finishes fixing his coffee faster than Jon's ever seen, escapes to Shane's room while Jon's still nodding. Jon doesn't really blame him.

Brendon stumbles in while Jon's fighting with the coffee maker that never unpaused after Ian pause-and-served, blinking at his phone and looking for all the world like he got out of bed about half an hour before he actually woke up.

"Ryan and Spencer are having lunch today," he says.

"Okay?"

"I think - there's, like, no reason he'd tell me that unless - this is probably it. So."

Jon gives up, shuts the coffee maker off, and scrubs a hand through his hair. "Maybe we should talk about this."

"No," Brendon says, "they can handle it."

"That's not what I meant."

"No, yeah, just, we don't - we always fight when we talk." That's probably one of the things they should talk about, but whatever, Jon doesn't interrupt. "So can't we just - not?"

There is so much that they can't just ignore, that they need to hash out - why Brendon always hears "you're stupid" when Jon says "that idea is stupid"; why Jon's so sure Brendon means "you're shit" when he says "that song is shit"; why can't they disagree about music without treating each other like crap; how the fuck they got from where they started out to this shitty place where they barely talk to each other.

"Okay," Jon says, instead of pointing any of that out. "Want pancakes?"

*

So they don't talk about it - not when Ryan texts to let Jon know it's over, they can start working on their own album anytime; not when Jon keeps walking in on Brendon on the phone with Spencer, fidgeting with his sleeves while he tries not to panic about replacing Jon and Ryan for the Blink tour; not when silence creeps in around them as they slowly run out of small talk they’ve been using to pretend everything's okay.

And it - it is okay, as okay as it can be. Of course it's going to be awkward for a while, of course it's going to take some time to adjust to not having the band in common. And they always have to readjust to conversation when Jon stays with Brendon, when all the interesting things that happen during the course of a day happen to both of them so they can’t rely on telling those stories to fill the silence. They still hold hands all the time and make doe eyes at each other and never sit anywhere without cuddling and get Shane and Ian rolling their eyes near constantly. It still feels good to have Brendon near him, the solid weight of him against Jon's side or back or his legs slung over Jon's, the way his hand is soft between callouses and his hair seems magnetically attracted to Jon's fingers. The way his lips feel, the way his skin tastes, the way his breath hitches when Jon touches him just right, the way his voice deepens when they fuck until it breaks, goes high in an instant when he comes. It doesn't - that's the part that matters, right, that even if it's hard to talk to him, Jon still loves all the things about Brendon he always has. They're okay; if he says it enough, he'll believe it.

They don't talk about it when Brendon brings Jon to the airport, tapping restlessly on the steering wheel at red lights and stop signs, shifting his hand from the wheel to the radio to Jon's thigh to the wheel to his own hair to Jon's hair to Jon's hand. Brendon is practically vibrating, but Jon doesn't ask why now, where this is coming from, what happened to the listless Brendon he usually leaves, the one who won't let go of him. The answer is probably on the list of forbidden topics, and now isn't the time for a fight.

Jon sleeps in his own bed and misses Brendon, hangs out with his friends where none of the silences are painful and doesn't miss him at all, spends an hour just stroking Marley's back and misses having Brendon's feet tucked under his thighs, has dinner with his parents, who at least pretend to be excited about his new project (he's never sure how sincere they are, but the gesture comes from the right place), and decides that he doesn't really need to call Brendon before he goes to sleep. He's a little bit of a mess.

But he's okay. It's okay.

*

Brendon's not as fidgety when he picks Jon up, and even though he isn't as clingy as he usually gets, concentrates on helping Jon figure out how to juggle luggage and a dog carrier (the cats will be happy with his brothers while he and Ryan record, but Marley misses Jon, not just affection, and Brendon likes him fine) instead of running his hands over Jon in whatever socially-acceptable ways he can come up with. But he's not fidgety, not obviously anxious, and he looks like he's been sleeping, so Jon'll take it.

"If it'd be easier to stay with Ryan," Brendon says, once they're settled in the car, "I won't be offended."

"Ryan and Marley don't get along," Jon says. It's exactly the wrong thing to say; there are better reasons he wants to stay at Brendon and Shane's, and even if there weren't, it's shitty to not at least pretend for Brendon's sake. Brendon doesn't flinch, doesn't react, but he's focusing on the road with an intensity that only ever means he's pointedly ignoring something else. "Uh. Do you want me to stay at Ryan's?"

"I didn't say that." Brendon doesn't look at him while he talks. "Just, y'know, if it'd be easier."

"It might be easier," Jon says, "but not better."

It's too little, probably cheesy enough to sound insincere on top of it, but at least a tiny smile twitches at the corners of Brendon's mouth. Jon doesn't look to see if it reaches his eyes.

"I'd keep Marley anyway," Brendon says, "now that he's in my clutches."

"If you keep Marley, you keep me."

That gets a real smile (Jon assumes; he's still not going to check Brendon's eyes), and Brendon reaches over to rest his hand on Jon's leg. He even squeezes a little, so crisis averted. Probably.

*

"Do you want to listen to it?"

Jon shrugs, which is probably the exact wrong reaction; definitely the wrong reaction, if the way Brendon's stomach tenses under his shoulders is any indication.

"I've heard it a hundred times," Jon says. He's not indifferent, knows better than to be indifferent about Brendon's music unless he really wants to crush him, he’s just - he’s used to it. Or he’s less ready than he thought to deal with the music Brendon makes about how they’re not making it together any more. "You sing in the shower."

"Yeah." Brendon goes back to combing through Jon's hair, which is an improvement, but he doesn't relax much. "But that's not, like, the finished product."

Jon doesn't say it's better, because Brendon will hear better without all that shit you guys do in production instead of better when you're singing like you don't care who doesn't like it. He could explain, maybe, but the silence is closing in around them again, and words are precious. Too many start a fight. The wrong ones start a fight. Too few start a fight. Better to stay quiet and let the stuff that hasn't soured yet - the way they kiss, the way they fuck, the way when they're sprawled on the bed like this the ugly shit melts away - keep them afloat. So he hmms noncommittally and pulls Brendon's free hand up to kiss at his fingers until he relaxes more.

When Jon's phone goes off on his stomach, he jumps, and he can't tell if Brendon's laugh is at his expense or not. They don't read each other right anymore. But that's not important.

"Time to go to Ryan's," Jon says, but he's slow to sit up. Breaking contact breaks other things, too, and they need everything they can possibly keep intact.

"You should listen to it first," Brendon says. "I want to see your reaction."

"I've heard it."

"I know. But I want you to listen to it."

Jon is going to hear it a million times in the next couple weeks, between Brendon singing it to himself, listening to it to obsess over what they did wrong, what needs fixing, the times Spencer comes over to obsess with him, probably whenever they settle on temporary replacements for the Blink tour and start rehearsing here because sometimes Brendon forgets practice spaces are a thing. "I have. I will."

Brendon's sigh is harsh, and Jon doesn't know what the fuck he's doing wrong here, but he's not in the mood to fight about it so he just sits up, kisses Brendon's forehead, and leaves for Ryan's.

By the time he gets there, he's fuming. Whether by accident or design, the cd with the new song on it was sitting in Brendon's car, all cued up to start when Jon started the car. And it's good - it's nothing like anything Jon ever wants to make again, but he doesn't hate it, doesn't even dislike it. It's catchy, which is probably why he starts listening to the lyrics. The lyrics about how Brendon needs change, needs to move on, needs to leave. Of course he wanted Jon to listen to it right away, of fucking course he did.

Jon likes to blame that anger for the decision he pushed Ryan into next, but to be honest he probably would’ve done it even if Brendon hadn’t written a whole song about leaving Jon behind and made him listen to it.

When he gets back to Brendon's, the house is dark. There's a little light and hushed voices seeping out from behind Shane's door, but Brendon's nowhere to be found. Jon makes a concentrated effort not to feel like shit, mostly fails, and takes forever to fall asleep. There's midday sunlight streaming through the window when he wakes up, and Brendon's in the kitchen.

Jon doesn't apologize, but he kisses Brendon's cheek and says, "I like the song." He never says another word about it, Brendon never acknowledges "Change," and life goes on, no better but not much worse.

*

It's a little harder than usual for Jon to pull himself out of bed when his stomach starts rumbling; Brendon's back is littered with mouth-shaped bruises and his hips are marked with the shadows of Jon's fingers, and after last night maybe he should stay in bed in case Brendon needs to wake up to cuddles, considering they fell asleep almost before Jon pulled out. It's probably not okay to take him apart like that and leave him alone, except Jon's not really sure Brendon's the one who got taken apart.

Whatever, Brendon's a heavy sleeper who probably won't start drifting awake until noon, so Jon has time to eat and clear his head a little. Coffee is like some kind of magical relationship problem elixir, he can't possibly deal with shit without it. Or something.

(The way Brendon looks, how his hips and back and thighs look like a battleground but his face looks soft and worry-free and peaceful in sleep, is messing with Jon's head a little. But he's just getting breakfast, not running away. He’s only just come back, after all.)

"Yo," Ian says, stirring the nasty flavored creamer he and Brendon use to turn their coffee into abominations into his mug. "I figured you must be back, what with the dying cat sex noises and shit."

"I don't sound like a dying cat."

"Brendon kind of does," Ian says, and Jon doesn't argue because it's kind of true. There's a bruise peeking out from the collar of his undershirt, dark against his pale skin and the white shirt. Jon's never been into bruises, still isn't sure he is, but his sleep-fuzzy head keeps replacing Ian's chest with Brendon's pale back and maybe Jon should stop staring. Standing in the kitchen with his eyes trained on Ian's skin and a ridiculous boner isn't really ideal.

Jon pours his coffee, tries and almost succeeds not to react like an ass when Ian offers him the creamer, thinks about getting the sugar:cream:coffee ratio right instead of the way his brain shut down while he bit into Brendon's thigh, the way the hurt him hurt him hurt him echoing around the suddenly-empty spaces in his head wasn't really a foreign thought, tends to sneak in when they start fighting and is always loudest right before Jon says one of those things he knows he shouldn't. Maybe it's healthy to work that shit out with a little bit of kinky fun. Probably it's not that simple.

"So I kind of thought this would be more awkward," Ian says, while they drink their coffees in a fairly companionable silence at the island, sharing Frosted Flakes from the box. "Well, no, I thought it wouldn't be awkward at all, because I figured you wouldn't want to stay here if I was gonna be here."

"Uh," Jon says, "why?" They're not exactly close, not really friends, but Jon can't think of anything that should lead Ian to believe Jon would go to that kind of length to avoid him.

"Shit. You know, Shane warned me you two don't talk about shit, but I kind of assumed - he didn't tell you, did he?"

There's an uncomfortable squirming in his gut Jon chooses to ignore, and against his better judgement he asks, "Tell me what?"

"Oh, uh, he should - " Ian starts, then sighs and drains his coffee. "I'm joining Panic for the Blink tour," he says, and all but bolts for the door.

*

Jon goes to Ryan's when Brendon leaves for tour, because despite talking about moving in with each other a hundred and eighty-something times, they apparently haven't hit the point where Jon feels comfortable in Brendon's space when Brendon's not in it (or at least, if they ever were at that point, they’re not now). He could twist that into something, maybe, a reason for Brendon to uproot himself and come to Chicago even though they both know that's not the way it's ever going to go. He doesn't, though, just gets up early enough to kiss Brendon goodbye, ignores Ian in what he hopes is a friendly I'm-just-focused-on-my-boyfriend way and not the shitty way that's probably more honest. And then he loads up his rental with his clothes and his dog and goes to Ryan's.

Neither one of them mention what Jon did before he left Brendon's, where the other half of their former band is right then. It's healthier to just pretend shit isn't happening than to spend energy working out how they feel about it, how they should feel, what exactly they do at a time like this.

Brendon doesn't text, and neither does Jon. It's logical, it makes perfect sense, for him to expect Brendon to cross whatever bridge the fact of half of Panic being on tour as a new-but-not band has put up, because Brendon's the one on the far side. So Jon waits for a text to reply to, or a call to answer, and doesn't get disappointed when nothing comes. They’ve never had to do this, never dated on tour when they weren't touring with each other, and obviously there'll be growing pains. Not that it's a pain. Jon is - whatever. Jon's fine, and he's getting tour stories from Ryan when Spencer texts him, so it's cool.

(They could've solved the growing pains problem by talking, like Jon wanted to, by not ignoring the reality that was approaching in favor of the pretend world they were living in. If Brendon didn't want to talk about it, he obviously doesn't care about the adjusting period. Possibly the silence means he doesn't care about the rest, either, but Jon tries not to be that pessimistic. Brendon has always lived in that part of his brain that doesn’t argue when someone drags him to a chick flick, and Jon doesn't want to move Brendon to the ugly-reality-of-shitty-relationships part.)

(Maybe he should just send the first text.)

(He does. But not right away.)

*

"I don't care," Jon says, but the mental image of Brendon slamming his elbow into Dallon's ribs onstage is funny in a lot of ways that make Jon feel bad for laughing.

"Height differences, dude."

"Yeah," Jon says. He never knows exactly what to say now that Brendon's talking to him, especially since he mostly only tells tour stories about people Jon's trying really hard not to hate in situations he's trying a little less hard not to miss. That was always the good part, even when it got bad, even near the end when they were barely talking to each other - the bus and the stage and the stories. "So."

"Is that you trying to change the subject? You said you didn't care, it doesn't bother you."

"It doesn't."

"Sure," Brendon says, and stops talking. Jon doesn't have anything to fill the silence with, though; he'd used all his not-Ryan not-Young-Veins stories in the first thirty seconds of the call, and apparently Jon's new band situation does bother Brendon, so it'd be kind of a dick move to start in on it.

He’s not sure how long they don’t talk for. It can’t be that long, but it feels like hours before Brendon finally tells Jon when he’ll be free to call again, asks what will work for Jon like it really matters.

Jon tells him, in case it does.

*

And that’s just how it goes. Most of the time Brendon is the one who calls - never when he says he will and rarely with anything to actually say. Jon keeps notes of the times Brendon says will and won’t work for him, so the handful of times he doesn’t stop himself partway through dialing, Brendon should be around to actually talk (he gets voice mail roughly half the time, anyway).

They’re broken up, except they didn’t break up - but they can’t possibly count as “together” right now. Whatever, Jon doesn’t care; he spends so much time and energy not caring, he sometimes forgets to sleep, or eat, or shower. Ryan never calls him on it, and Jon can’t tell if it’s out of total obliviousness or some kind of, like, gentleness because he feels sorry for Jon. If it’s pity, Ryan can go fuck himself.

Jon sleeps like shit for a full week before the day he has to get up early for a bunch of bullshit interviews with people who’ll probably suck at pretending they don’t only care about The Young Veins because of Panic, goes out drinking on an empty stomach the night before they talk to Alternative Press, gets through his own shit enough to call Brendon only to go to voice mail twice in the window of opportunity that morning.

Those are all really good excuses, and he’ll probably use them at length, but if Jon’s honest with himself, he knows exactly why he said what he said. He’s not as sure as he’d like to be that he wouldn’t say it again, given the chance.

“I think, uh, I think I’m gonna text Spencer. Warn him.”

“I thought you two weren’t speaking to each other.”

Ryan frowns at his phone. “I’ll make an exception. That - “

“It wasn’t that bad.” It wasn’t. It - okay, it was bad. But not like - whatever. Maybe it’ll go away. Maybe AP won’t use that part. Maybe Brendon won’t read it. It’ll go away.

They don’t need to warn anybody. Ryan shouldn’t warn Spencer because then Jon will have to warn Brendon, and he can’t do that, because that means admitting he was a total ass and he’s trying to just stop being a total ass.

“I don’t think you need to warn him,” Jon says, and walks off without seeing if Ryan puts his phone away.

*

i read your article

& i think we should talk

I thought you didn’t want to talk about this?

Brendon probably answers that. Jon doesn’t know, because he shuts his phone off for a week. By the time he turns it back on and clears out his inbox, Brendon’s stopped trying.

Jon doesn’t know if that means he’s won or lost. What happened happened, what’s over is over, and that’s it.

******

The Young Veins split (go on hiatus) (split) for reasons Jon isn’t entirely sure of. He thinks it has to do with Ryan thinking of it as more of a novelty project than Jon did, but it’s hard to tell with Ryan. It was amicable, not just the kind of amicable they tell the press, but honestly not a big deal.

Ryan doesn’t really return Jon’s calls, and eventually Jon stops calling, but they’re still, technically, friends.

The split and the lack of Ryan in his life opens up a lot of free time. Free time he has a really bad habit of spending on YouTube and Twitter.

iamjonwalker never gonna dance again the way i danced with you

Usually when Jon gets in the mood to tweet lyrics because they're just so true for him right then is the warning sign that it's time to put the beer away, shut off the computer, and do something productive. Usually. Tonight he hits play again on the shaky concert video, wills the teenager he assumes was holding the camera to show him more of Brendon's goofy smile instead of Ian's gyrating hips. It's ridiculous, and it's great, and things could have been so good.

His phone vibrates itself right off the table, startling him out of his stupid what-if-I-wasn't-an-asshole game. It's kind of a futile exercise; there is no conceivable situation in which Jon wouldn't have been a dick, all things considered.

The text is from Brendon. Maybe now is a good time to put the beer away, shut off the computer, and do something productive like sleeping and pretending he never got a text. Instead he starts the video again and wakes his phone up.

don't be a dick about ian

It's entirely fair for Brendon to assume the worst, but it still kind of makes Jon want to throw his phone against the wall.

I wasn't? I just like the song.

Brendon doesn't reply, not right away, not ten minutes later, not after Jon's watched his happy face, delighted with his life and his band and his music and everything he has now, six more times. Jon finishes another beer and pretends that's an excuse for the text he sends right before he goes to bed.

And it kind of fits, I guess.

*

Brendon doesn't text him again. Jon's not surprised, but he's trying to be more honest with himself, so he doesn't pretend he isn't disappointed. He just doesn't think about what being disappointed means, buries himself in writing songs that Max keeps suggesting aren't as good as they would be if he'd dig a little deeper. Max is a little shit of a know-it-all, though, so fuck him and his being cool about producing Jon's shit even if it doesn't meet his stupid standards.

spencer finally stopped taking my phone away when I drink. he must think i'm finally over you

Jon does, finally, throw his phone against the wall. Max jumps a little, rolls his eyes, and goes right back to scribbling on Jon's sheet music with his angry red pen.

*

When Jon gets a new phone, he gets a new number. He doesn't really tell anyone about the change, just his family, Ryan, Tom and Max (and by extension the rest of Empires), Andy, a handful of other friends. It's still not entirely surprising when it takes Brendon less than two weeks to text him again.

sorry i didn't mean to like upset you. i just thought with the tweet and stuff. sorry.

Part of being a better boyfriend - a better person, he isn't anyone's boyfriend right now - is probably being honest. And another part, maybe a bigger part, is respecting when Brendon says, "I'm finally over you." It's entirely possible Jon's doomed to be a shitty person for the rest of his life.

I'm visiting Ryan next week. I want to see you then, can I?

It takes three days for Brendon to answer, long enough Jon starts worrying if Brendon calls his bluff he won't be able to get plane tickets.

ok

*

There was a time Jon would have just assumed Brendon knew he was lying about visiting Ryan, either because he knew Jon well enough to see right through him, or because he was still close enough to Ryan to verify. He can't just assume that, but he can't ask outright, because it's possible - probable - finding out Jon's lying will shatter whatever fragile bridge they might be rebuilding right now. So he books a hotel ten minutes from Ryan's place, leaves the cats with his parents and the dog with Tom, and tries to sleep on the flight to ignore how it feels like he can't breathe.

He waits a full day to call Brendon - not because he's scared, but because it'll mess up the illusion if he doesn't allow a day for Ryan time on what's supposed to be a Ryan-based trip.

(Jon should maybe visit Ryan at least once this week. But one thing at a time.)

"Wanna get lunch somewhere?"

"Uh," Brendon says, "I just ate. But you could come over? Spencer's not here."

"Would it matter if he was?"

Brendon snorts. "I don't know, dude, you tell me. Oh, Ian's here, I know you have a problem with him, so - "

"I don't have a problem with Ian," Jon says. "I told you that. I like Ian fine. I'll be there in half an hour."

Hanging out with Brendon was a terrible idea. A great idea, but a terrible idea. Brendon looks so good, and Jon had known that from his tour-following adventures on YouTube, but it's entirely different in person. This isn't stage Brendon, all hard muscles and stage presence, this is happy-and-settled-in-his-life Brendon who also happens to be all hard muscles under his t-shirt. Jon hasn't seen Brendon this happy in - ever, maybe? He should turn around, go home, get back to his half-assed efforts to move on and leave Brendon alone.

Instead he watches Brendon play Just Dance, because Jon's horribly out of shape and could only do two songs before collapsing on the couch, and tries to ignore the moaning coming from Shane's room. Jon doesn't get how Shane's so cool loaning his room out to someone who apparently does nothing but hook up, but at least it means he doesn't have to be awkward around Ian while Brendon assumes it's because Jon's lying about not having a problem with Ian.

"Skyrockets in flight," Brendon sing-songs, awkward because he's still catching his breath after what looked like a pretty brutal routine. "We can play something else, you didn't fly all this way to watch me look like an ass."

"Shows what you know," Jon says. Brendon grins at him, and for just a second Jon thinks maybe they could just forget about the last year and pick up back when they used to flirt and smile at each other and be friends. It's not likely, but maybe it's possible. "You should get them to put some of your songs in one of these games," he says, and Brendon's grin disappears in an instant.

"Okay, I know you don't like it, but you don't have to - fuck you."

"That's not what I meant."

"Sure it isn't."

Jon's still a little overheated, but he almost shivers from the ice in Brendon's voice. "I just meant - whatever. I should be getting back to Ryan's."

"You probably should," Brendon says, and doesn't look at him as he walks out. So much for forgetting.

*

Apparently Brendon's willing to let it go, because he invites Jon out to lunch the next day, and over their burritos asks if Jon wants to get up at the asscrack to go surfing. Jon is the worst surfer in the world, and the worst morning person in the world, but either Brendon's never figured out Jon only ever went along to make Brendon happy, or he's trying to ask for that again. Jon says yes, to both potential motivations.

But they surf, and it's fun, even though Jon's fingers itch to reach out and tangle with Brendon's anytime they drift close to each other's sides walking along the beach. They go back to Brendon's for breakfast, and that’s fun, too, Brendon teasing Shane about his hickeys until he flushes, calls Brendon an asshole, and escapes with his plate back to his room. Jon goes back to "Ryan's" for the morning, but he's back at Brendon's by dinner.

"You can stay over," Brendon says, after drinks and dessert and drinks and Wii and drinks. Brendon's sitting too close - exactly close enough - on the couch, and he's drunk, and Jon should say no, but he tilts his head and lets Brendon kiss him, lets Brendon pull him off the couch and down the hall and into bed.

*

Jon postpones his return flight from Brendon's bed, with Brendon curled up next to him. He doesn't extend his hotel reservation, though; it's half optimistic and half to force him to actually tell Brendon what he's probably already figured out, that he's not visiting Ryan, that he hasn't even seen Ryan for months.

"Okay," is all Brendon says when Jon tells him about the canceled flight and the secret hotel reservation, then he kisses Jon soft and sweet and that's the last they say about it. Jon takes his rental back to the hotel one morning after Brendon leaves to hang out with Spencer ("It doesn't matter," Jon keeps saying, "it'd probably be fun to hang out with him," but Brendon doesn't believe him because Brendon does, apparently, still know Jon pretty well), checks out and takes his stuff to Brendon's.

Ian helps him carry his bags in while Shane sits on the couch, silently disapproving. Jon likes Shane, he does, and there's a part of him that even likes how protective he is of Brendon. If Jon was ever jealous of anyone, ever expected Brendon to leave him for anyone, it would be Shane. When Ian brings Jon's guitar in, he demands they drop everything and jam. It's weird, spending the afternoon fighting out Stones vs Beatles with just their guitars, laughing about it in a way Jon's unused to. The Lennon vs McCartney songwriting fights he's used to carried a lot more baggage, were never this fun. Ian just keeps calling Jon a cocksucker and switching songs on him, with this ridiculous smirk that kind of reminds Jon of the way Brendon smirks when he forgets he's not supposed to think he isn't good enough. Jon probably won't ever be friends with Spencer again, no matter what he says, and he knows he'll never bother with Dallon, but he thinks he and Ian might accidentally be bonding.

By the time Brendon comes home, Shane's pulled out the camera, and Ian keeps stopping to think of what to play to best upset Twitter. Ian's a little dick.

"I think I'm gonna go lie down," Brendon says when they settle on Northern Downpour. He ruins the take, but Shane probably has enough to accomplish whatever Ian wanted to accomplish, so Jon sets his guitar down.

"Want company?"

"No," Brendon says; he's tense and tired-looking, and doesn't sound like he's in the mood to negotiate. Jon never knows when to push with Brendon, but he knows when not to, so he just goes back to strumming familiar chords and tries not to worry. He's almost succeeding when his phone buzzes with a couple of texts from Brendon.

stop trying to force yourself back into my life

& i think you should maybe sleep on the couch tonight

*

The thing about Brendon is he's good at tricking people into thinking they can read him. Sometimes Jon thinks he's doing it on purpose, trying to weed out people who get too confident in their ability to look at how he acts and figure out how he's feeling. It's a fair theory; the people who get to stay in his life tend to be the people who ignore him when he's being obvious. Sometimes he thinks maybe Brendon has no idea and would be genuinely confused if Jon ever brought it up.

Sometimes Jon doesn't know what the fuck to think. That's probably the safest, since it’s usually when he’s sure what’s going on he ends up being an asshole, but he fucking hates it. Brendon spends a week jumping between extremes, banishing Jon to the couch with a text message one minute and refusing to stop touching him the next. Jon books and cancels two separate return flights, escapes to a motel once (he turned in his rental because he couldn't afford to keep it any longer, so Shane drives him, and Jon spends the whole ride trying to figure out how to ask Shane exactly what he disapproves of so Jon has a starting point for figuring shit out. He doesn't ask. Shane wouldn't answer, anyway), and finally breaks.

"I don't think we can do this anymore without talking about it," he says, and Brendon sighs.

"Does that mean we talk, or that we don't do this anymore?"

"I don't know," Jon says. "I was hoping you would."

Brendon bites his lip; Jon braces himself for the worst, but Brendon just tucks himself into Jon's side and tugs Jon's arm to rest over his shoulders.

They must fall asleep like that, because Jon wakes up to a dark living room, his feet numb and the rest of him sweating because someone draped a blanket over them and it's way too hot for that. He doesn't move, though, doesn't want to move, and he thinks maybe he does know what they need to do.

*

They don't bring it up again for almost a week, through another cancelled return flight and another phone call to beg his parents and Tom to keep the pets just a little while longer. And maybe this has to be like every other hard truth about the two of them; neither one of them is good at dealing with hard truths, but they're good at ignoring them, at pretending they don't have to matter. Maybe if they both know it's a problem, they can just both work on it privately, and one day it will magically be fixed without having to talk about it.

Maybe they can plan the entire rest of their lives so they never have to be apart for too long, because as long as they can cuddle and kiss and fuck, they've always been okay. Talking is great for some people. Not them. Obviously.

But when Jon comes back from picking up dinner, Shane and Ian have mysteriously vanished and Brendon's twisting a sheet of notebook paper nervously in his fingers. So this is it, then.

Jon puts the takeout in the fridge, because neither one of them is going to have any appetite. He doesn't have notes, maybe he should take some now. And leave Brendon waiting on the couch looking like he's psyching himself up for the firing squad. Fuck.

When he sits on the far end of the couch, Brendon scoots right over and tucks himself against Jon's side. "I can talk better if I don't have to look at you," he says, and wow, that's heartening. "Uh, if we don't have to look at each other, I mean. Just. Y'know. Cuddles."

"Cuddles," Jon agrees, slings his arm around Brendon and waits for him to start reading off his paper. What's on there? Lists of what's wrong with Jon? Himself? Maybe, maybe Brendon's better at relationships than Jon thinks he is, maybe he's learned, maybe it's things that are wrong with them, that they can work on together. But Brendon doesn't start talking, just keeps taking a breath like he's going to before closing his mouth again. The silence is crushing Jon.

"I fucking hate when you shut me out," he says, and winces at how accusatory it sounds. "I hate when we don't talk, I mean."

"You love not talking. You hate when I shut you out."

"No, I really - "

"I don't, like, do it on purpose. I just - you don't like talking about hard shit, and you don't like when I talk about little stuff to distract from hard shit, and I get so - it's easier to not call than it is to figure out what's okay to say."

"So it's my fault?" Jon kind of has a feeling everything on Brendon's paper, even if it is a list of problems they have as a couple, is Jon's fault. It probably all actually is Jon's fault, to be honest, but he's not sure he's ready to hear it.

"It's your fault that you freak me out, and my fault that you don't know what freaks me out, I think."

"Okay," Jon says, kisses the top of Brendon's head. Contact. They can totally do this. "I'm sorry."

"I can, like - I can talk to you more. Not, like, talking just to talk, but I mean, I can tell you when I'm freaked out. Or be better about it, at least. I'll try."

"You don't," Jon starts, stops himself. He can't just tell Brendon not to work on the stuff he needs to work on, because Brendon - just like Jon would, will, if Brendon cuts him the same slack - will take the out and they'll be right back here. Except they're not coming back here again, Jon can say that almost certainly. This is it. "Okay. Thanks. I'll - be more careful?"

"That's a question?"

"I don't know, do you want me being careful with you?"

"That's the stupidest question you've ever asked," Brendon says, but he's smiling, and he turns to nuzzle his face into Jon's neck. "Yes, asshole, if I tell you something's freaking me out, I want you to be careful about it."

"It - shit, that makes me sound so awful. There was a logical alternative in my head right then, I swear."

"I believe you, but only because I know how bad you are at this."

Jon laughs; he's not sure it's funny, and as soon as the sound is out of his mouth, he braces himself for Brendon to sit up and rightfully tell him off. But Brendon laughs, too, and for the first time, Jon's more sure they can do this than scared it's impossible. It's okay, they're good, they'll go through Brendon's list and Jon won't get mean and Brendon won't run away and they'll be okay.

Brendon looks at his paper, shifts around in Jon's arms, looks at it again, then crumples it up and tosses it across the room.

"You've gotta stop being an asshole," he says. "Like, I had a lot of stuff, but it's all - stop turning into such an asshole when you're unhappy. You can just say 'hey that shit you did pissed me the fuck off,' you don't need to - you can't - just get mean and treat me like shit and expect me to know what the fuck I did wrong this time."

"I know," Jon says.

Brendon sits up, breaks away from him, and for the first time looks him right in the eyes. "That's not fucking good enough."

"I know, shit, I just - I know, Brendon, I know and I'm working on it."

"Not good enough."

Jon sighs, watches the nervous fidgeting of Brendon's fingers, and gets it. "I'll fix it, Brendon. Fuck, I swear, I'll fix it."

And that's it, that's right, because Brendon grins and practically launches himself back into Jon's side. They stay like that for ages, long enough - that can't be it, they can't have already run out of problems to talk about. Or maybe they can, they have, maybe "don't shut me out" and "don't be an asshole" is the root of everything.

"We suck at this," Brendon says, just as Jon's about to suggest they get up and eat dinner so they can pick at Shane and Ian's orders before they get back.

"Yeah," Jon says. If Brendon's picking now to decide they have to break up, Jon's going to key his car.

"And we're going to keep fucking up."

"Yeah," Jon says. "But we're here."

"Mmm." Brendon nuzzles into Jon's neck and sighs, a happy one this time. "Yeah."