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No One’s Gonna Love You (more than I do)

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Jon had started work straight after graduation, at a small gardening magazine called Green Fingers. They’d send him around the city to review flower shows and vegetable competitions. He took photographs of all the vibrant colours, and sometimes he wrote little articles for them. He really enjoyed that job, and not just because all the little old ladies always offered him cookies.

Tom set up his own art gallery and convinced Jon to put some photographs up about 2 years after graduation. He stayed with Green Fingers, but people liked the prints they saw in ForeverNever and started buying them.

He saved enough money and bought his own apartment. Then as soon as he could, he put all of his stuff in storage and left the country. He made plans to go stay with the Buddhist Monks in the Hanging Temple in China, said good bye to his family and Tom, and was gone.

He’d take pictures and send them to Tom, who would develop and display them. That, along with his apartment being rented out, provided enough so that after a year he left China, and went to Africa to see the witch doctors. They told him that he will find great happiness, and then great sorrow. He didn’t really believe them, just took pictures of their masks and their painted skin.

The Africans lived pretty simply, so that after another year, when he got restless again, he could leave, and still have money in his savings. His mom thought it was a good idea if he ever wanted to settle down with a nice girl some day.

This time he went to India. He’d heard about the Ashtanga yoga in Mysore and wanted to know more. The city was beautiful, he took photographs of the ancient palaces and temples, of statues and busy city streets - but he was also fascinated with the contrast of the high skyscrapers and sparkling glass buildings.

He stayed at a small Ashtanga ashram. They taught him how to meditate, and though they tried to teach him yoga, he respectfully declined.

While he was there, a man joined them. He was tall and thin and held himself differently. Jon wanted to know more about him, wanted to get to know him, but despite the man rebuffing all of Jon's attempts, it only made Jon want to know more.

***

Jon was nice by nature. He was relaxed and laid back and liked to make friends. He couldn’t help if the monks saw him being rejected by the man. They told Jon about him. They said his name was Ryan Ross and he was a teacher who was here to learn. They said he liked pomegranates.

So when he went down to the market and saw all the stalls lined to the top with the fruit, it wasn’t even a question of how many to get.

And now that he’d bought them with a target in mind, it only made sense to go to Ryan's favourite garden to see if he was there, so that Jon could show him.

Jon found Ryan meditating under one of the biggest trees. He approached him slowly and sat down in front of him, waited until Ryan unfolded and was looking at him directly before he spoke.

“Hi,” Jon said, “I’m Jon Walker, and you’re Ryan, right?”

“Yes,” he replied hesitantly, “what can I do for you Mr. Walker?”

“Jon, please,” he said, laughing a little, “I got these at the market,” he opened the bag to show Ryan the fruits, “I wondered if maybe you wanted to share?”

“What are we, in kindergarten?” Ryan said, looking up at Jon and back at the fruit.

“Pomegranates,” Jon pushed on, “there are too many for just me, but I couldn’t pick just one.”

“I know what they are,” Ryan said, but his voice was softer now, or at least, less sharp.

Jon reached in, and pulled one out; big, red and shiny. “Take it.”

Ryan reached out and took it from him, eyes watching Jon's face, like an animal ready to run from the trap. But Jon just stayed still and let Ryan take it from his hand.

“I need a knife to cut it open,” Ryan said.

Jon was ready. He pulled one out from the other bags and handed it to Ryan, handle first. He could feel the serrated edge prickle at his fingers, but only let it go when Ryan had a firm grip on it.

He watched as Ryan cut the fruit in half, then quarters, and then lift one up to his lips and bit through the flesh. The juice trickled down his fingers and pooled in his palm but before it could drip to the ground he chased the trickles and licked them off.

Jon followed Ryan's mouth with his eyes. Ryan caught him staring and blushed. Jon could feel the heat spreading over his own cheeks and he looked away.

Jon pulled out another and cut it up for himself. They ate in silence until all the fruits were gone. Then Ryan stood up, wiped his hands on his pants. “Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure,” Jon said, also standing up.

“I guess I’ll see you around?” he said, as if he was unsure.

“Yeah, definitely,” Jon said and grinned. Ryan smiled back and walked away. As Jon watched him go he thought that could have gone better, but at least it was a start.

***

After that Jon used it to his advantage, now that they knew each other it was easier to join Ryan for lunch, or sit next to him during meditation. He even tried joining the yoga classes, but there was no way he could bend like they did, so he stopped that particular activity.

Jon would walk away and wonder why he was trying so hard. It wasn’t his usual style. He was more relaxed, and people would approach him, in their own time. He never tried this hard. But then Ryan would smile, or he’d turn his head in just the right way, the light would catch his face and Jon would know.

He never took pictures of Ryan. He had a feeling it would scare him off. He made no secret of the fact he was a photographer though. That’d be like trying to hide the colour of his eyes or the shape of his mouth.

He’d talk about himself, hoping Ryan would do the same, but he never said much, he sometimes nodded or agreed, and all the time watched Jon wearily.

Until Jon mentioned Tom and ForeverNever and there was a spark of recognition. “You work with Tom Conrad?”

“Yeah,” Jon said, “we were friends in high school. Now I send him my pictures and he puts them up in his gallery.”

“Is it just you two or does he have other people's stuff up there too?” Ryan asked.

“Oh, he’s got other people’s stuff too, but it’s mostly mine and his,” he said, “I take a lot of pictures, he could probably put a new one up every day if he wanted to.” He hesitated, “how do you know about Tom?”

“I bought something from the gallery about a year ago, a picture of the Hanging Temple for my studio,” he said almost shyly, “I’m based in Chicago too.”

Jon laughed a little. “The Hanging Temple is definitely me, I was there a while back. How come you never said anything?”

Ryan shrugged. “It didn’t seem important.”

“And now?”

“Now I know who you are.”

Jon grinned. He counted that as a triumph.

***

“Come to dinner with me,” Jon said, sneaking up behind Ryan. He held up the flower first and followed it so he was facing Ryan.

“What do you mean?” Ryan asked, looking at the flower and back at Jon.

“You know, dinner, the meal people have in the evening,” Jon said, “I know this restaurant down in the city.”

“Like a date?” Ryan asked. Jon could see the wariness from the first time they talked creep into his features.

Maybe this was a bad idea. “Sort of? If you want it to be. Or it could just be dinner, as friends, just whatever you’re comfortable with.” Jon realised he was rambling and stopped.

“I think dinner would be nice,” Ryan said.

Jon brightened instantly. “That’s great!” he said, “I’ll pick you up around 8?”

“You don’t know where I live,” Ryan said, smiling.

“I was hoping you’d tell me?” Jon said, trying to be charming.

Ryan bit his lip and smiled again. “Eighteen,” he said, “that’s the room I'm in, in the east building.”

Jon grinned so wide his cheeks started to hurt. “I’ll see you tonight.”

***

When Jon showed up, Ryan wasn’t ready. He winced to himself and went to open the door. When he saw Jon he wished that he had at least brushed his hair, Jon looked fantastic.

“Are you early?” he asked Jon, before he could stop himself.

“I'm just on time,” Jon said, smiling.

“Okay, give me a second,” he said, trying to not sound as nervous as he felt, “I won’t be long.” He walked back into the little apartment, leaving the door open.

He looked at himself in the mirror and tried to calm down. It was just dinner. It didn’t have to mean anything. Except that Jon looked amazing, and Ryan wasn’t an idiot. He knew Jon was trying to woo him with fruits and flowers (a flower, just one, it was now sitting in a glass of water on the window sill and it still made him smile when he looked at it.) but Ryan wasn’t ready, he came here as a retreat, not to date hot photographers.

It was just dinner, he reminded himself as he slipped his feet into his shoes.

He swept a hair brush through his hair, and stepped back out to the living space. “You ready?” he asked Jon.

“Yeah, I- wow, you look really great,” Jon said, stumbling over his words.

Ryan felt a blush colour his cheeks. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

“This place,” Jon said, as they stepped out, “it’s like a fifteen minute walk from here, and since the weather was so nice, I thought we could take a stroll?”

“Sure,” he said as he locked the door behind them, “lead the way.”

The walk down to the city was pleasant. It’s the only word Ryan could think of. The path was well lit, and they could see the lights from the city stretching out underneath them, with just a gentle breeze keeping things from getting too hot.

“I saw you had a lot of books in your apartment,” Jon said.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I like to read a lot.”

“That’s cool,” Jon said, “did you bring them all with you?”

Ryan smiled in amusement. “No, I brought some, and I shipped the rest. I thought since I have a lot of time on my hands, I might as well catch up on my reading.”

Jon grinned. “That’s actually pretty awesome,” he said, “I would never have thought to do that, I might have brought my music instead.”

“I told myself no electronics,” he said, “I needed to get away from all of that for a while, all I have is my phone, and I need that so William knows I didn’t die.”

Ryan smiled at the memory, telling William he needed to get away for a while, to cut himself off, and William telling Ryan he will cut him if Ryan doesn’t stay in contact.

Jon seemed to be contemplating something, whether it was the no electronics rule, or something else, Ryan wasn’t sure.

When they reached the city, Jon led the way to a small restaurant on a main street. He opened the door for Ryan, and Ryan tried not to feel flustered about it. The person at the door greeted them and directed them to a table in the middle of the restaurant, just big enough for two, and handed them the menus.

“So what’s good?” Ryan asked, looking over the menu. He knew most of the traditional dishes by now, but he wanted to know which ones this place specialised in.

“I like the Dosas the best, and they make a mean Idli,” Jon said, not even looking at the menu.

“What are you going to get?” Ryan asked.

“No, you go first, so I can get something else,” Jon said, “then we can share, if you wanted to, I mean or just a taste.” He shifted awkwardly, like he hadn’t meant to say that.

“Sharing sounds good,” Ryan said smiling. He could tell Jon was trying to keep things casual. “Maybe we can get a dish of each,” he suggested, “and just split it.”

Jon’s smile was like the sun on a cloudy day.

They called the waiter over and he spoke to them in Kannada. Jon looked a bit lost, but before he could say anything Ryan broke in. He’d learned the language fairly easily and placed the order for them.

When the waiter was gone Jon looked at him in surprise. “I didn’t know you could speak the language.”

Ryan shrugged. “I can pick up languages really easily, and as long as I'm using them, I remember them.”

“I’ve been here nine months and I still can’t figure it out,” Jon said, “I mean, I can pick up words here and there, but they talk so fast. I can only say ‘do you speak English’ and ‘I don’t speak Kannada’”

Ryan laughed, out right laughed. They were such cliché phrases to learn, and he said so.

Jon smiled. “It’s all I really needed, I’ve been to Africa and China, I managed to learn how to communicate without words.”

“Africa, China, now India,” Ryan said, “what-“

Just then the food arrived and Ryan was forced to stop. When they were settled again, Jon picked up the thread of conversation again.

“My mom calls it wanderlust,” Jon said, “it’s like restless feet, I could never stay in one place for too long, the longest stretch might be university while I finished my degree, but otherwise.” He shrugged.

“So what’s this?” Ryan asked, “Why would you, I don’t know, chase after me if you didn’t intend it going anywhere?”

“I didn’t say that,” Jon said, “maybe the reason I'm so restless is because I was looking for you, Ryan Ross, the yoga teacher from Chicago.”

Ryan opened his mouth and closed it again. He could feel his cheeks turning red. “You’re saying you believe in fate?”

Jon shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, “I'm not sure, I guess I believe in some things happening for a reason, that sometimes, it’s not just coincidence.”

“Like both of us being here at the same time?”

“Like both of us being from Chicago,” Jon said.

“I still think that’s coincidence,” Ryan said, “I find it hard to believe something is directing us, I like to think I'm in control of my own future, you know?”

Jon shrugged again. “To each their own,” then he smiled, “the important thing is we’re both here now, about to enjoy the best food you have ever tasted.”

***

The food was incredible, Ryan had to admit. Jon insisted on paying, and Ryan didn’t fight too hard against it.

He thought they’d head back to the ashram but Jon took Ryan's hand and led him deeper into the city. There was a festival of sorts going on so Jon took him around and showed him some sights, told him some history, promised to bring him back in daylight, if he wanted to.

Ryan only listened with half an ear, he couldn’t get over the fact that Jon never let go of his hand.

They bought something sweet on a stick from a vender at some point, and Jon laughed, saying it’s not a real festival without food on a stick.

When the venders and stalls started to shut down, late into the night, Jon started to lead Ryan out of the city. Ryan found he was kind of disappointed that it was over now. It felt like this night could go on forever.

But instead of heading up the same path they came down, they went up another way that diverged, and after a half hour walk they ended up on another hill peak, a small clearing between trees and the city laid out below them.

“What a view,” Ryan said, feeling breathless.

“I found it on one of my walks,” Jon said. When Ryan turned to look at him he had a blanket rolled up in his arms.

“Where did that come from?”

“I like to come up here sometimes,” Jon said, “I like that it’s really silent, it’s a good place to contemplate and stuff.”

Ryan smiled. “You mean meditate?”

Jon smiled back. “As close as I will ever get, probably.” He spread the blanket on the grass and invited Ryan to sit before sitting down himself.

Ryan folded his long legs underneath him and also sat down. “You don’t meditate?” he asked.

“Not really,” Jon said, “I find it hard to clear my head completely like they say you should. I think it’s easier up here, but sometimes I just bring my camera up.”

“But you’re staying with the teachers,” Ryan said teasingly, “if they can’t teach you, no one can.”

Jon laughed softly. “Then I guess I'm a lost cause when it comes to meditation.”

“Maybe I can teach you,” Ryan said, before he realised what he was saying, what that implicated, but when he saw the smile on Jon's face he figured it was worth it.

“Maybe,” Jon said, before turning back to the city.

“It’s not easy,” Ryan said after a while, “I mean, the yoga was, but the meditation, it’s not like they say, it felt near impossible to turn off the narration in my head.”

“What did you do?”

Ryan shrugged. “Practiced.”

Jon grinned. “Helpful.”

Ryan was surprised into laughter. “So what brings you to Mysore Jon Walker? I mean, specifically.”

“I wanted to know more about the culture I guess, learn more about the people. I liked the juxtaposition of old and new. What about you Ryan Ross?” Jon asked, “What brings you to Mysore, specifically?”

Ryan grinned. “You know when people say they fell into something, I fell into teaching yoga. I was having a hard time with work and life and everything, and my friend William had started with Ashtanga yoga, and recommended it to me.” He shrugged, “Once I started, I wanted to know more and more, until one of my teachers recommended I take up teaching, on the side of my ‘real’ job.”

“You don’t have a ‘real’ job anymore?” Jon asked, making sure to put in the air quotes.

Ryan smiled fondly. “No, a couple of years later I failed a performance review at the paper I worked at, and my boss gave me an ultimatum. Either I fix whatever problem I had, or I leave. My problem couldn’t be fixed.”

“What was it?” Jon asked, “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“I'm not sure, it felt like everything, the way we looked at the world, I guess, there was so much bad stuff going around that I couldn’t see anything good anymore.”

“How long ago was that?” Jon asked.

“About a year?” Ryan said as if he was unsure.

They sat in silence for a while more. “You and William…”

“Best friends,” Ryan assured him, “we grew up together, after my mom left my dad in Vegas to move in with her mom in Chicago. I must’ve been 5 or 6, first day of school, I'm the nervous weird kid, and this other boy comes up to me, takes my hand and pulls me to the table he was sitting at with his friends.”

Jon grinned. “You were the weird kid?”

Ryan rolled his eyes. “Only because I was new.”

He wasn’t sure why he was telling Jon so much about himself, but the more Jon asked, the more Ryan wanted to tell him. In the darkness, with Jon warm beside him and the moon moving slowly across the sky, Ryan felt safe.

***

As the days passed, Jon found himself falling more and more in love with Ryan. So much so that the one year mark came and went and he didn’t get that feeling he always got, the need to leave. When he talked to Tom, he just laughed at Jon, and asked if he’s taken Ryan's picture yet.

The truth was he hadn’t. Even though Ryan was more open with him, he was worried it would scare Ryan away. Photographing people he didn’t know and will probably never see again was one thing, but trying to photograph someone he hoped to spend a long time with was a whole other thing.

But he wanted to. Ryan was beautiful, even more so now that Jon could watch him properly, without having to hide his admiration, his fascination.

Then, on a hot May afternoon, Ryan told Jon that his stay was over, and he was going back to Chicago. Ryan didn’t ask him to follow, and Jon didn’t offer, but the day after Ryan left, Jon booked a ticket and followed anyway.

He went to Tom’s place first, let himself in using the key hidden behind the fire hydrant, and dumped his bags. Then he went to ForeverNever.

“Jonathan Jacob Walker,” Tom said, “you don’t call to tell someone you’re coming back into the country?” but he was already around the counter and throwing his arms around Jon.

“It was sort of last minute,” Jon said, grinning into Tom’s shoulder, “I wasn’t sure it was going to happen until I was actually on the plane.”

“And left your shiny new boyfriend?” Tom asked.

“Um, actually,” Jon said, but before he could finish Tom was grinning.

“He’s here already,” Tom said, “and you couldn’t live without him.”

Jon shrugged.

“Oh JWalk, you were always hopeless, you know that?”

“Yeah,” he said, because he did know, but he couldn’t help wanting to follow what he was passionate about, “so I’m crashing at yours while I sort out where I'm staying.”

“I bet your bags are already in the guest room,” Tom said.

Jon laughed. “Where else would I put them?”

“Come on,” Tom said, “let’s go get some lunch and you can tell me all about your Ryan.”

Jon tried to protest but Tom wasn’t having any of it.

***

Jon stayed at the gallery until closing time and then went home with Tom.

The next day he went to the suburbs and visited his mom. After the initial shock and subsequent doting, she insisted on feeding him.

“You’re so thin,” she kept saying, “didn’t they feed you in India? You told me they took good care of you.”

“They did, mom,” he said, “all of them.”

“Now tell me, what did you miss most, I'm making you dinner.”

“Mom, you don’t need to-“

“Well you need to forgive me,” she said, “I haven’t seen my son in three years; I think I deserve to spoil him a little.”

He smiled. “Of course you do. You know, no one makes lasagne like you do.”

He knew he’ll have to sit her and his dad down and tell them about Ryan eventually, but for now, he was happy sitting on the kitchen counter watching his mom make his favourite food while he told her about the Hanging Temple and the witch doctors and the Ashtanga masters.

He ended up staying the night.

The next morning though, he sat his mom down, after she had insisted on making him French toast for breakfast.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” he said.

“I’m sure that whatever it is, it will be fine,” she said, “you don’t need to look so nervous.”

He bit his lip. “While I was in Mysore, I met someone.”

She broke into a grin. “That’s wonderful!” she said, “What’s her name? When do we get to meet her?”

He stopped and took a breath. “His name is Ryan.”

The grin was replaced with a frown of confusion. “His…?” she said.

“Mom-” he started, reaching for her hands.

“You’re-” she said, pulling out of his reach, “why didn’t you say anything?”

“I was never sure,” he said, “I wanted to be sure before-”

“And now?”

“I think I love him, mom,” he said.

“Is that why you're back?” she said, “did you want our blessing or, I don’t understand.”

“No, I mean, I would like your blessing yes, but he lives in Chicago, he runs a yoga studio in the city, I came back to be with him.”

“Oh,” she said, “I see.” She paused. “You need to appreciate that this is a lot to take in,” she said, “a lot to process.”

“I know,” he said, “I’ll leave, take all the time you need, I’ll just get my stuff.” He was up and in his old room again before she can stop him, but she met him at the front door.

“Are you going to tell dad?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I just, I need time.”

“No that’s okay,” he said, “just let me know when you're ready.”

“Just-” she said, stopping him half way out of the door, “just know that we still love you, this isn’t about that-”

“It’s about God,” he said, resigned.

She sighed. “Yes.”

He could feel his mouth turning into an unhappy line but couldn’t do much to stop it.

“I’ll call you in a few days, okay?” she said, “You’ll still be at Tom’s?”

“Yeah,” he said, “and if not he could probably tell you where I am.”

“I’m sorry Jonny,” she said.

“I know mom,” he said, and hugged her, “we’ll talk later.”

She watched him back out of the drive way and then he was gone, heading back to the city to start a new life.

***

He only moped around the house until Tom came home. Then Tom insisted on taking Jon out. Jon didn’t resist too hard. Tom took him to the Empires bar, which was started up by a couple of Tom’s friends.

It was a nice place, cosy and loud at the same time. There was a band playing in the corner on a small stage and a small crowd standing around them.

They had only been sitting in the booth for fifteen minutes when two other guys slipped into the booth with them.

“Jon, this is Sean and Max,” Tom said, “guys, this is Jon Walker.”

“The ever elusive,” Sean said, holding out a hand which Jon took, “Tom’s told us so much about you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” Jon said, shaking Max’s hand as well.

“Like you ever gave me a chance, it was always look at these shots, isn’t it awesome here-” Tom said, rolling his eyes, but his tone was endeared.

“It was awesome,” Jon said, “I always think my shots aren’t enough to show that.”

“Nonsense,” Sean said, “we have a few around here.” He pointed out a couple of pictures and Jon instantly recognised them as his, ones he’d taken in Africa.

“So you guys own this place?” he asked, looking around. He saw an old jukebox against the wall, ignored by the patrons in favour of the live band.

“Yup,” Sean said proudly, “built it from the ground up.”

“Well,” Max said, “not built it.”

“Might as well have,” Tom said, “when these guys bought this place it was nothing but an empty hole in the wall. They got the bar and booths installed, built the stage, licensed the place.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” Jon said.

“Yeah,” Sean said, “we wanted to do as much as we could on our own,” he laughed, “we’re broke most of the time.”

“Is it just you two?” Jon asked over his beer.

“There’s Ryan as well,” Sean said.

“A different Ryan,” Tom clarified.

Max grinned. “You have your own Ryan?”

“He’s not mine,” Jon muttered.

“He’s the reason Jon is back in town after so long,” Tom explained.

“Totally yours dude,” Max said, grinning wider.

Jon bit his lip and didn’t reply. He couldn’t really deny it, especially when they said it like that; it made him feel warm on the inside.

The conversation moved on, and he told them a bit about his trip, and about what he hoped to do now that he was back.

“You know,” Sean said, “there’s a couple of people we know, magazines and the like, you think you’d be interested?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Jon said, “I'm going to be looking into anything and everything.”

“Cool,” Sean said, “I’ll dig out the business cards and pass them on to Tom tomorrow or something.”

“We’ll sort something out,” Jon said, grinning.

“Alright,” he said, looking at his watch and turning to Max, “do you want to volunteer and just go now or do you want to play?”

“You’re going down,” Max said and held out a fist in front of him.

Jon watched as Max lost to Sean in rock paper scissors and slid out of the booth.

“We like to have one of us at the bar at all times,” Sean explained, then smirked, “Max loses that game all the time.”

A moment later another guy slipped into the newly vacated seat. “Ryan J,” he introduced himself, “sorry I'm late.”

“You must be the other Ryan,” Jon said.

The guy laughed. “As far as I know I'm the only Ryan.”

They explained to him about Ryan, who was now known as ‘Jon’s Ryan’ and Jon couldn’t stop himself blushing.

The night passed quickly. Tom’s friends were cool and the conversation meandered all over the place before they realised it was 2am and Sean, who was now at the bar, was ringing the bell for last call.

Tom and Jon said their good byes and strolled back to Tom’s apartment in the warm night air. It started to rain the moment they walked in, and by the time Jon crawled into bed it started to thunder. He fell asleep counting the marshmallows between lightning and thunder.

***

The next morning he got himself a cell phone and a new number and then called Ryan.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully, once Ryan picked up.

“Who-” Ryan started, “Jon?”

“The one and only,” he said unable to stop the grin, even if Ryan couldn’t see.

“Jon you’re calling from a Chicago number,” Ryan said.

“You know what?” Jon said, “That might be because I'm actually in Chicago.”

“Oh my god,” Ryan said, “you’re in Chicago?”

“Yeah,” Jon said, “Mysore wasn’t the same without you.”

“What- where are you staying? When can I see you?”

“I wanted to come over but I realised I don’t have the address for the Academy,” he said apologetically.

“That’s okay,” Ryan said, “we can meet tonight, I’ll pick you up, we’ll go out for dinner.”

“Cool,” Jon said. He gave Ryan Tom’s address and they hung up. Jon then went out for a haircut, and new clothes.

When he met Tom for lunch later that day, Tom couldn’t stop laughing. “You’re such a girl,” he said, when he had settled, “you’ve been going out how long? And it’s been less than a week since you last saw him. You don’t need to impress him.”

“I know,” Jon said, “but what if I want to?”

Tom rolled his eyes. “Such a girl.”

***

No matter what Tom said Jon still went home and dressed up as if it was a first date. When Ryan showed up though, he barely looked at Jon before pulling him into his arms, kissing him deeply.

It wasn’t until Tom coughed discreetly from behind Jon that they separated.

“Er, Ryan, this is Tom,” Jon said, trying to will the blush away before it started, “Tom this is Ryan.”

Tom grinned. “Ryan, nice to meet you.”

“I remember you from the gallery,” Ryan said. Jon couldn’t help noticing how his lips were now red and slightly swollen.

“You’ve been to ForeverNever?” Tom asked curiously.

“Yeah, I bought a couple of prints for my studio,” he said, “before I went to India and even met Jon.”

“That’s so cool,” Tom said, “hell of a coincidence.”

“That’s what I said,” Ryan replied, grinning now, “Jon insisted it was fate or something.”

“Pfft,” Tom said and Ryan laughed.

“Okay that was nice bonding time,” Jon said, “we should go.”

Ryan smiled again and tangled his fingers in Jon's. “It was nice to meet you officially, Tom.”

“Same to you,” Tom said, grinning.

Jon ushered Ryan out and closed the door behind him before leaning in and kissing Ryan again.

“So, I really missed you,” he said.

“Me too,” Ryan replied, “come on, I know this little open late café, then maybe I can show you my apartment?”

Jon kissed him again, like he couldn’t keep away. “Maybe you can show me your apartment now and we can eat later?”

Ryan's eyes were dark and blown when he replied. “Yeah, good plan, let me just-” He fumbled with his phone and dialled a number before putting it to his ear.

“Bill!” he said, “Bill you should consider staying at Mike’s or Gabe’s tonight, and you should leave right about now.” He paused to listen, “yeah,” another pause, “Yes, good bye, Bill.” And he hung up.

“All clear?” Jon said.

Ryan grinned. “Let’s go.”

When they finally made it to Ryan's apartment and checked it was empty, their hands were all over each other again. They barely made it to the bedroom, leaving a trail of clothes in their wake. Jon felt a faint twang of guilt before his whole attention was taken up by Ryan and Ryan's skin and Ryan's lips.

It was over embarrassingly quick, but they both felt too good to really care.

They ended up ordering pizza and sitting cross legged on the ground to eat it, with a couple of beers from Ryan's fridge.

They put a movie on afterwards but they only made it half way. They ended up making out lazily on Ryan's bed, and when Ryan reached for Jon's cock, his strokes were just as slow. Jon gasped when he came, lips pressing at Ryan's shoulder.

When the fuzziness in Jon's head cleared he kissed Ryan's shoulder, and trailed down his chest, his waist, making Ryan squirm, then freeze when Jon bit lightly at Ryan's hip bone. When Jon wrapped his lips around Ryan's cock, Ryan tangled his hands in Jon's hair, but didn’t try to direct his movements.

It was sloppy and probably not the best but Ryan didn’t last long, arching off the mattress, open mouthed and silent. When it was over, Jon wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand and crawled up to wrap himself around Ryan.

They used Ryan's t-shirt to clean up instead of getting up and then they fell asleep curled around each other, with Jon's nose pressed to the top of Ryan's spine.

***

The next day they woke up to Ryan's alarm. Jon moaned, and tried to pull the covers over his head, but Ryan was already sitting up.

“Come back,” Jon mumbled.

“I have to go to work,” Ryan said.

“No you don’t,” Jon replied, “stay here with me.”

“I need to go in to organise my cover for the day,” he said, “so I can take you out for breakfast.”

Jon sighed heavily and also sat up. “I guess that’s not too bad.”

Ryan’s laugh turned into a yawn. “And coffee.”

“Let’s go,” he said, and was out of the bed before Ryan could reply.

They get ready in easy silence and were out the door in half an hour.

When they made it to the Academy, Ryan convinced Jon to come down with him, and that’s how he ended up meeting William for the first time.

“Nice to finally meet you,” William said, “Ryan wouldn’t shut up about you.”

“Bill! Shut up!” Ryan said, horrified.

William laughed and Jon grinned. “He talks about you a lot, too,” Jon said, “I feel like I almost know you.”

Ryan watched them with narrowed eyes. “I'm going to find Gabe to see if he can cover some of my classes.”

When he’d walked away William looked Jon straight in the eye. “You break his heart, I break your face,” he said fiercely.

“I won’t,” Jon said, eyes wide. William may have been much taller than him but he looked like he’d snap with hardly any effort. The look in his eye though, made Jon believe him.

When Ryan had organised everything, they headed out again. They decided to leave the car in the Academy parking lot and walked instead. Ryan said there was a place around the corner that made the best coffee Ryan had ever tasted.

Jon watched Ryan as they sat in the sunlight, and his fingers itched for a camera.

***

He took a couple of days to polish off his CV. It hasn’t been touched for a while, but when it came to filling in what he’d done for the last three years, he didn’t know what to say. He ended up staring at it for a whole day without writing a word.

The next day though he was determined. He even got most of it finished before Tom came home that night. And the day after that he called up the people staying in his apartment and gave them two weeks’ notice so he could move back in.

He spent the next two weeks looking for work. He put on a shirt and tie and went down to offices all over Chicago, anyone who could possibly need a photographer. When he moved back into his old apartment he was still getting nowhere. He was starting to think about stepping outside of the box, about maybe setting up a photo development store or becoming a portrait photographer.

He was surrounded by dusty boxes and crumpled up newspapers when he got a phone call.

“Hello,” the voice on the other line said, “is this Jon Walker?”

“Yeah,” he said, “what can I do for you?”

“It’s what I can do for you my friend,” the voice said, “this is Pete Wentz from DecayDance Productions.”

“Oh,” Jon said, “hi! I dropped my CV of at your office last week, with a portfolio.”

“I saw!” Pete said, sounding just as excited, “I’ve seen your stuff at the ForeverNever Gallery and I like it.”

“Thanks,” Jon said, smiling. Anyone who was anyone knew Pete Wentz and the DecayDance Empire.

“Listen, the company does a lot of things,” Pete said, “but we have an opening at the Puddle Jumper for someone like you.”

“That’s great, what do you need me to do?” Jon said.

“We still have to go through the interview process to keep Joe happy,” Pete said, “but you’re a shoe in, come in tomorrow at 11, we’ll have a talk.”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll see you then?”

“See you then,” Pete said and hung up.

***

The interview went really well. They called two hours after he left and asked him if he could start next week.

First he called Tom, then he called Ryan, then he called his mom.

“Jon,” she said, sounding surprised, “is everything alright?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he said, “I just wanted to let you know I got a job.”

“Oh that’s wonderful honey,” she said, sounding genuinely happy, “congratulations!”

“Thank you,” he said, “listen, mom-“

“Jonny I need to go,” she said, “I'm just at the checkout in the supermarket.”

“Okay,” he said, trying not to sound too disappointed.

“I’ll talk to you later,” she said and hung up.

“Bye,” he said to dead air.

That night he went with Tom and Ryan to Empires and they celebrated. It was the first time Ryan met the Empires owners and after the ensuing “Ryan meet Ryan” and related ridiculousness they slipped into a booth and toasted to success.

***

His mom ended up calling him the next morning. “Listen, I’m really sorry about how all this happened,” she said, “but I’ve talked to your father and we decided that we’d really like to meet him.”

Her hesitation was subtle but he still managed to hear it. “Ryan?” he asked, just to make sure.

“Yes,” she said more definitely, “how about you two come over tomorrow night for dinner, and we’ll get to know him better.”

“You’d like to meet Ryan?” he repeated.

“Honey, I know it’s hard to comprehend but we only want you to be happy,” she said, “and if this boy makes you happy then yes, we’d like to meet him.”

“Tomorrow night?” he said, still off balance.

“Yes, I’ll make a roast,” she said, “does he eat everything? He’s not a vegetarian or anything like that?”

“Yeah, no, he eats everything,” he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you soon,” she said and Jon could hear her smile through the phone.

***

Ryan was not freaking out. Ryan was very quietly hyperventilating in the corner of his room.

He heard a voice and looked up to see William looking down at him with a paper bag. He took it from William and breathed into it. “What if they don’t like me?” he said into the bag, “what if they hate me?”

“They are not going to hate you,” William said, pulling Ryan up and sitting him on the bed, “you are a charming and successful yoga teacher and you love their son.”

“But what if they think I'm weird?” Ryan said, “or awkward or-” he cut off and started to breathe into the bag again.

“They are definitely going to think you are weird and awkward-” William said.

“Not helping,” Ryan interrupted.

“-but you make Jon happy,” William continued, “they will not hate you.”

He manages to calm down enough to pick out his best shirt, a paisley button down, and matching pants, then he put on all his bracelets. They, more than anything, calmed him down, helped to ground him. He polished his shoes and when he finally slipped into Jon's car, he felt ready.

“It’s not war, you know,” Jon said, though he looked nervous too.

“I know,” Ryan said, “but I'm the one who ruined their son, I just- I’m just making sure I'm ready for anything.”

“You’re going to be fine,” Jon said, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek before pulling out into traffic and started the long drive.

When they arrived, Jon found his hand and squeezed before ringing the door bell. The door was answered almost immediately and they were ushered in by a woman who had Jon's eyes and smile.

“You must be Mrs. Walker,” he said, taking her hand when she offered but instead of shaking it he brought it up to his lips instead.

“Oh,” she said, looking flustered, as Jon hugged his dad, “call me Cathy.”

He smiled, and switched with Jon. “Mr. Walker,” he said, making sure his hand shake was firm, as Jon leaned into kiss his mom on the cheek, “it’s nice to meet you both.”

“Come in, come in,” Cathy said, “dinner is almost ready.”

They sat in the living room while she went off to the kitchen, no doubt to put on the finishing touches. Jon followed her, leaving Ryan with Mr. Walker. He tried not to feel too scrutinised but it was hard with Mr. Walker’s unblinking eyes.

“You did a great job with Jon,” he said.

“Obviously not good enough,” Mr. Walker said.

Ryan felt his heart sink, but before he could even contemplate a reply Jon was calling them into the dining room.

They ate in silence for a while. Ryan really didn’t know what to do after that, he couldn’t see the point of continuing if they weren’t going to even give him a chance, but there was no way of telling Jon without being noticed by his parents as well.

“So Jon said you’re a yoga teacher?” Cathy asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “Ashtanga yoga.”

“Ryan owns a yoga school downtown,” Jon said, “it’s very successful.”

“Do you make a profit out of it?” Mr. Walker asked.

“Dad,” Jon said, “it’s not all about money.”

“No, it’s okay,” Ryan said, “we do, it’s a small business, so obviously the profit isn’t huge, but I talked with my partner and we’re saving up to open a new branch, maybe later this year.”

Mr. Walker didn’t seem to have a reply for that.

“That’s wonderful,” Cathy said, “somewhere else in Chicago?”

“Maybe,” he said, “or maybe in another state, we haven’t really thought that far, it’s something we just started.”

“And what were you doing in India if you had a business to run?” Mr. Walker said.

“The Academy had settled into a routine, I trust my partner and our teachers very much,” he said, “I went to further my knowledge, so I can pass it on to my students, give them more opportunities, a better experience.”

“And that’s where you met Jon?” Cathy said.

“Yeah,” he said, turning to Jon and for the first time since dinner started he smiled, “he swept me off my feet.”

Jon smiled back and squeezed his hand under the table. Ryan felt instantly calmer.

After dinner he helped clean up, insisted on washing the dishes while Cathy put the left overs away.

“Do you love him?” she asked him when he turned the water off.

“Yes,” he said without hesitation, “very much.”

She smiled at him, a real smile. “That’s all I need to know,” she said, “don’t break his heart.”

“I won’t,” he said, then, “Mr. Walker-“

“-will come around,” she said, “you just keep doing what you're doing.”

The rest of the night went relatively smoothly. When Mr. Walker found out he follows hockey they got into a long discussion about teams, which helped the situation a lot more. When it was time to head out, he got a hug from Cathy and another hand shake from Mr. Walker and he told them it was a pleasure meeting them.

When they were in the car though, Ryan sagged into his chair.

“You okay?” Jon asked, looking sideways at him.

“Can I sleep at yours tonight?” he asked.

Jon grinned. “It’s cute that you think you need to ask.”

“I’m so exhausted,” he said, “but I want to sleep next to you tonight.” He felt himself blushing.

“It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Jon asked, his smile turning to a frown.

“No,” he assured, “I just wore myself out trying to make a good impression.”

“Of course you can sleep over,” Jon said, so Ryan pulled out his phone and texted William, telling him he won’t be home tonight.

That good was it? William replied, with a semi-colon smile at the end.

Ryan didn’t dignify that with a reply.

He was just glad that he could curl around Jon that night, feel him close, before he fell asleep.

***

Jon’s first day at the Puddle Jumper offices was busy. He was assigned to Ashlee, a short, pretty blond who took him around the offices and introduced him to people and told him how everything works.

The offices themselves were nothing like he expected them to be. They were big and bright and there was always the sound of people working. The huge desks were laid out so that every two were against each other with only piles of books separating them. Jon’s was still bare but Ashlee’s, whose desk was behind Jon, was covered with papers and photo prints and little colourful knick knacks.

“How do you even work in that?” he asked her when she showed him.

“It’s easy,” she said, “you just work around what you don’t need, besides, as long as I know where everything is.”

“But there’s no space,” he said, amused.

“Don’t even bother,” a voice said from behind Jon’s desk divider. Jon looked over and saw what looked like a hobo, fingerless gloves and all, even though it was almost summer.

“You must be the new guy,” he said, “I’m Alex Greenwald.”

“Jon Walker,” Jon said, “it’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise, Jon Walker,” Alex said, “Don’t let Ash overwhelm you, it’s really mellow around here.”

“No it’s cool,” he said and turned to grin at Ashlee. He caught a glimpse of the view outside his window and turned to get a proper look.

“On a clear day you can see the whole lake,” Ashlee said when she caught him looking.

“It’s so beautiful,” he said.

She laughed and pushed some stuff aside from her desk just to put more stuff on it. “How’s your writing?” she asked.

“It’s alright,” he said, “the last magazine job got me to do little reviews every now and again.”

“That’s good,” she said smiling, “it’s a good start, you probably know already we highlight small businesses, I specialise in dance studios, Alex does book stores, Patrick, who is not here today, but is this adorable red head with a fetish for hats, he does record stores.”

“What about me?” Jon asks.

“Well there are all these little cafes and restaurants that no one really knows about,” she said, “so we’re starting a new section, and you are it.”

He sagged. “So I’m going to be a food critic?”

“Mmm,” she said, crinkling her eyes, “not really? It’s like you only pick out the good ones and it’s more than just food, it’s about the atmosphere and the architecture and the scenery and all that kind of stuff as well.”

“Oh,” he said, “and how do I find them?”

“Research, baby,” she said.

***

Things were perfect for a while. Jon took to exploring the city with Ryan and they were constantly finding new spots, cafes with the best cup of coffee, or restaurants with the perfect view.

Jon took pictures of them all then wrote short articles about them, getting Ryan to proof read for him before submitting it to Joe for editing.

He finally plucked up enough courage to take pictures of Ryan too. Those ones however, he kept in a separate file. Ryan was guarded at the start but as time went by, he learned to ignore it, and that’s what Jon loved the most, because it was like catching Ryan unawares. If Jon could make a living off just taking pictures of Ryan, he would never do anything else.

“You’re staring,” Ryan said, not even looking at Jon.

“I was just thinking about how beautiful you are,” Jon said.

Ryan made a face, crinkled his nose. “No one’s ever called me that before.”

“Really?” Jon said, honestly surprised, “not even me?”

Ryan shook his head, looking down at his lemon cheesecake, then finally up at Jon, but only through his eyelashes.

“I’ve always thought it,” Jon said, “from the moment I laid eyes on you.”

He could see the faint blush colouring Ryan’s cheeks. Jon curled his hand around his camera and took a quick snap, hoping he got the right angle to catch the summer sunlight on Ryan’s face, the shadows of his long lashes across his cheeks.

“Gorgeous,” Jon said, and Ryan’s lips twitched into a smile.

“You are so weird,” he said.

“You love me,” Jon replied, and took another photo.

***

Jon finished work early. It rarely happens, so when he handed in his draft and walked to his car he wondered what he could do.

The Yoga Academy was about 10 minutes away. As he started the car and left the buildings parking lot, he wondered if Ryan would mind if he dropped in to say hi, maybe pull him away to lunch. He was already on his way so he figured if Ryan wanted he could always say no.

He took of his sunglasses as he walked into the Academy. He saw William getting ready to go into a class and waved as he went by.

“Ryan’s in his office,” he said at Jon's retreating back.

“Thank you,” Jon said over his shoulder.

He knocked on the door and when Ryan’s voice said, “come in, come in,” he walked in.

Ryan's office, in contrast to the Puddle Jumper offices was small and crowded. It had orange walls, and purple things hanging from the ceiling, and pictures and posters were pasted on the walls. There was a small run down desk that had a folded up piece of cardboard under one leg, and the ever lingering smell of incense.

Ryan himself was bent over some paper work and didn’t look up until Jon closed the door behind him.

“Jon!” he said surprised, and got up and around the desk to kiss him, “what are you doing here? Don’t you have an article due?”

“I finished early,” he said when they parted, but didn’t let go of Ryan, “I thought I’d come say hi.”

Ryan smiled back. “That’s great, did you want to take a seat?” Ryan gestured at one of the cushioned seats across from his desk.

“I was wondering if you’d had lunch,” Jon said, “Ash just told me about this little Japanese restaurant down this dodgy alley, I thought we could hit it up before all the hipsters get to it.”

Ryan laughed. “I have all this paper work,” he said but didn’t attempt to go back to his desk.

“I guess we don’t really have to leave this office,” Jon said in a low voice.

“The desk isn’t very sturdy,” Ryan said, knowing exactly what Jon was hinting at.

“What about the walls?” he said. He could tell this affected Ryan because he didn’t reply for a long moment, and when he did his voice was faint.

“Not- they're not sound proofed,” Ryan said.

“We could be really quiet,” Jon said, even lower, almost whispering.

Ryan made a low noise but didn’t say anything, his eyes glazed and Jon knew he’d won. He kissed Ryan again, deeper this time, pulling him closer. Ryan was already half hard, pulling at Jon's shirt as they kissed.

“William is never going to let me live this down if he hears us,” Ryan mumbled against Jon's lips.

“Can we please not talk about your best friend who is 10 feet away in a very quiet room?” Jon said pulling back to get enough space to help pull off his shirt.

Ryan's button down was next, his bare skin warm under Jon's hands. Jon pushed at Ryan's waist until he was pressed against the wall behind his desk. They were pressed flush against each other, still kissing, but Ryan pulled him even closer.

“Pants,” Ryan said, against Jon's lips, “are a terrible idea.”

“Let me just,” Jon said, and hooked a finger in Ryan's yoga pants and pulled them down along with his boxers. Then he let Ryan undo his jeans and pull out his cock.

“Jon,” Ryan said, almost seriously, or at least as seriously as he could be with his pants around his ankles and Jon's cock in his hand, stroking slowly, driving Jon insane, “I want you to fuck me.”

“Oh god,” Jon moaned, “yes yes, do you have- how do you want-“

“Essential oil,” Ryan said, “top drawer on your left.” But before Jon could do anything Ryan reached out and pulled the drawer open himself. Their dicks bumped against each other with his movement, and it made Jon moan.

Ryan pressed the little bottle into his hand and arched his back, moving ever closer to Jon. “Like this,” he said, stepping out of his pants and pushing them aside so that he can lift one leg around Jon's waist.

Jon pulled the stopper off to open the bottle with shaking hands and drizzled the citrusy smelling oil over his fingers and lowered it to push at Ryan's hole.

When the first finger breached the ring of muscle Ryan moaned, throwing his head back against the wall. Jon took the opportunity to kiss at Ryan's neck, knowing he’ll leave marks but didn’t care. When he pushed in the second finger Ryan let out a soft whimper that Jon could feel reverberate.

“Jon,” Ryan said breathlessly as Jon moved in and out, scissoring and opening Ryan up.

“I know,” Jon said trailing kissing down to Ryan's shoulder, and pushed in the third finger.

Ryan swallowed hard. “Please, please Jon.”

“You sure?” Jon said.

“Yes,” Ryan moaned, and moved down, as if he couldn’t help it, trying to get more.

Jon pulled out and drizzled more oil on his hand, oiling himself up and pushed in.

Ryan let out a small broken sound and Jon kissed him, swallowing the rest of the sounds Ryan made with every nudge deeper.

When he was in all the way he paused, burying his face in Ryan's neck. “So good, Ryan, so hot.”

Ryan lifted his other leg so that his whole weight was supported between Jon and the wall, his arms around Jon's neck. “Jon, please, I can’t take it,” he said and moved against Jon, just the tiniest bit, but it was enough to get Jon moving, wanting more.

The angle was perfect like this, every movement pushing Ryan against the wall, closer to him. Ryan moved his hips with Jon and soon they set up a rhythm.

Jon could feel himself getting close. There was no way he could maintain this pace. “Ryan,” he breathed, “touch yourself.”

Ryan moaned and kissed Jon, pulling him closer with one hand as he wrapped the other around himself. Jon could feel Ryan's knuckles brush against his stomach with every stroke, matching their every thrust.

Ryan became erratic before he froze, coming over their stomachs. He stroked himself through it as Jon sped up, feeling every pulse of Ryan's orgasm clenching around him, and he was coming too, moaning into Ryan's skin.

They stayed like that for a while after it was over. Jon could feel sweat cooling on his skin and his hair sticking to his head.

“This beats lunch any day,” he muttered.

Ryan nuzzled at the spot just behind Jon's ear before letting himself down, pushing at Jon so he would pull out. But Jon just came back and kissed at Ryan's jaw as Ryan leaned back against the wall, his legs barely keeping him up.

“That paperwork is not going to get done today, is it?” Ryan said.

“No,” Jon said, “you have any more classes?”

Ryan shook his head no, idly tangling a hand in Jon's hair.

“We should go home,” Jon said, “lie in bed, make out some more.”

Ryan smiled. “You’re a terrible influence.”

“I’m awesome,” Jon said, “and you’re amazing.”

When they finally managed to part, they used tissues to clean up as best as they could, got dressed again, and left, but not before William saw them walking out of Ryan's office holding hands, looking a little worse for wear.

***

It had just been a thought. Jon was so enamoured with what Ryan did, and how he did it, he wanted to share it with the world.

They’d been lying in bed, boneless and sated, when Jon brought it up. “I’d like to write an article about you.”

Ryan didn’t move, but there was a definite change in the atmosphere. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not?” Jon asked, “It’d be really good, and I’d get you to see it before Pete even gets a whiff.”

“I’ve been in the journalism business remember?” he said, “I don’t want to be on the other side.”

“But-” Jon tried again.

“I said no,” Ryan said, and there was no arguing with that tone.

Jon sagged. “Okay,” he said quietly, “it was just an idea.”

***

Jon still took pictures of Ryan, but there was something different now. Ryan was stiff, more cautious. When Jon had his camera, he only looked at him from behind hooded eyes, and with sideways glances. He never smiled.

He felt Ryan back away from him, more and more, crawl into himself, and Jon wasn’t sure what to do. Everyone gave him conflicting advice. Tom said to try harder, William said to leave Ryan be, he’ll come around when he’s ready.

And Ryan kept fading away from him. He thought something would give eventually, would have to, and three weeks later something did. It was Jon.

Looking back, he couldn’t remember how it started, or what it was about. He just remembered yelling, and not being able to stop the words tumbling out of his mouth. Everything he’d ever thought, every little resentful thing he put away and ignored came pouring out.

And then he couldn’t take it anymore. “You know what, fuck this, I’m done,” he said and walked out, grabbing his camera with the rest of his stuff as he left.

He went to Empires and sat at the bar, ordered a beer and tried not to think about anything. He was hoping to find Tom there, but only found Sean and Max.

It was a busy night, packed; they only had enough time to tell him that Tom was not there before rushing off to run their business.

Jon was on his third, maybe fourth beer when somebody sat down on the stool next to him. Jon looked over when he felt eyes boring into his cheek. The face was a little fuzzy around the edges but he recognised it instantly.

“Greenwald,” he said, turning back to his bottle.

“Walker,” Alex said, far more cheerfully, “what brings you here?”

Jon tilted his bottle slowly to show Alex. “What do you want?”

“Nothing, man,” Alex said, “just saw you here, all by yourself, thought I’d come and say hi.”

“Hi,” Jon said, and took another drink.

“You okay man?” Alex asked, and Jon could see the almost-real concern on Alex’s face.

Jon rubbed a hand over his face, hoping to clear some of the fuzziness. “I think me and Ryan just broke up.”

“You think?” Alex said, laughter back in his voice, “You’re not sure?”

And that was the thing with Alex. He found entertainment in other people’s misery.

“I left before we had the chance,” he found himself saying, “I only wanted to write the article about him, to show people how great he was, is that too much to ask for?”

“No,” Alex said, “of course not.”

“I mean, he’s beautiful,” Jon said, “he’s gorgeous, he just doesn’t see it.”

“That just makes it better,” Alex said, but Jon had stopped listening, heard himself talking but couldn’t decipher the words.

He managed to make it through another two beers before Tom showed up.

“Home time,” Tom said, without any introductions or pleasantries.

“Okay,” Jon said. The fuzziness had taken over most of his vision and he was suddenly so tired. He let Tom lead him outside where everything started to spin too fast and he needed to pause to throw up in the gutter.

“Gross,” he said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

“Yeah,” Tom agreed, rubbing soothing circles on Jon's back, “you’re staying with me tonight, and tomorrow, you’re going to explain what happened.”

“Nothing to explain,” Jon said, “Ryan is an idiot.”

“I'm sure he is,” Tom said, and even in this state Jon could tell Tom didn’t believe him.

***

When he woke up the next morning, Jon wanted to die. The light was too bright, the sheets were too loud. He groaned and even that hurt his head.

He stared at the curtains for ages, watched the sunlight fade and then get brighter as clouds passed over the sun.

He eventually convinced himself to get out of bed. Maybe he’ll talk to Ryan, maybe Tom will help him. It’ll get sorted out, these things usually do.

He stumbled into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. His eyes were blood shot, and his hair was standing on angles. He really needed to get it cut soon.

When he made it to the kitchen, Tom was already frying up some eggs. “I heard you in the bathroom.”

Jon tried to reply but couldn’t think of anything to say. He watched Tom put the eggs on a plate with some toast and then place it in front of him, before going to the fridge and taking out the orange juice. He poured some for both of them, and sat down opposite Jon.

“You should eat,” Tom said, “it’ll make you feel better.”

“What about you?” Jon asked, before biting into the toast anyway.

“It’s like, noon,” Tom said, grinning, “I had my breakfast long before you even considered getting out of bed.”

They sat in silence for a while, Jon munching on his toast the only sound.

“So what happened with you and Ryan?” Tom asked when Jon was just finishing off his juice.

“Nothing,” Jon said, more vehemently than he meant.

“Jon,” Tom said, in that tone that got to Jon's bones.

“I think we might’ve broken up,” he said sullenly.

“You think?” Tom asked, “Might’ve? How does that even work?”

Jon got a flash of Alex sitting at the bar, saying the same thing in a completely different way. “I don’t know,” he said, “he wouldn’t talk to me, I sort of yelled, said stuff I shouldn’t have, and then I walked out, I told him I was done and I left.”

“Oh, JWalk,” Tom said.

“I know,” he said, covering his head with his hands.

“What are you going to do now?” Tom asked.

“I have no idea,” Jon said, “I’d like to shower first, though.”

Tom smiled. “Yeah, sure, procrastinate.”

“Shut up, I feel disgusting,” he said.

“You look it too,” Tom said, and ducked Jon's swipe. He gave Jon some of his spare supplies though, and told him he’d find clothes for him when he came out.

***

Sure enough, when Jon came out, Tom had laid out clothes for him. He put on the ones that fit him best and walked out, thinking about calling Ryan, maybe going by, though he still had no idea what to say.

Instead of finding Tom he found Ryan sitting in the living room, on the edge of the couch, looking nervous.

“What are you doing here?” he said before he could stop himself.

“Jon, listen,” Ryan said, standing up.

Jon listened, but Ryan didn’t say anything else. He bit his lip to stop from smiling. “Well?”

“I don’t know,” Ryan said, “I don’t know, without you I don’t know anything-”

“Ryan,” Jon said.

“Last night, there was this girl,” he kept talking, as if he needed to get it out, before it ate him up inside, “a dancer, and we could’ve, she would’ve let me-”

“Fuck, Ryan,” Jon said, eyes widening, he suddenly didn’t want to know.

“No, wait, nothing happened, I realised,” he said, taking a step closer, “that I love you, that sometimes it feels like you’re the only one I want to be with, I’d do almost anything for you-”

Jon opened his mouth to interrupt, but Ryan put up a hand to stop him. “Almost, because there are some things about me I just can’t share with the whole world, some things I can’t let go of.” He was a foot from Jon by now.

“I don’t understand,” Jon said, “you’re beautiful-”

“Jon-”

“No, it’s my turn,” Jon said, “I just wanted to show you off, I wanted people to see, god, if you just saw yourself the way I see you, you are so incredible…” he trailed off.

“I want to, I really do,” Ryan said, “and I will, eventually, it’s just so strange, no one’s ever said that about me before, I know you mean well but it makes me uncomfortable, self conscious when you say stuff like that, like you’re watching me-”

“The only reason I'm watching,” Jon said, moving closer, “is because I can’t take my eyes off of you.”

“Are you going to burst into song?” Ryan asked, looking like he was half amused and half horrified.

“Only if you want me to,” Jon said sincerely.

And that was it. Ryan broke into a huge smile, and it was over, as if the fight had never happened.

***

As summer completely faded, and autumn turned cold, things continued to shift. Ryan was splitting his time between his own apartment and Jon’s, so much so that Jon had emptied out a drawer for him. He made sure he always had incense and hot sauce, even though he didn’t really like either of those things.

Sometimes Ryan would come and hang out at the Puddle Jumper offices, and sometimes Jon would sit in the back of Ryan’s class, writing quietly or discreetly taking pictures of Ryan while he taught his class.

In August Jon gave a copy of his apartment key to Ryan. It hadn’t been a big deal at the time. Ryan had needed to get to the apartment while Jon was at work, so Jon had given him the spare. When Ryan came to return it, Jon just closed Ryan’s hand over the key again and told him to keep it.

It wasn’t supposed to mean anything besides that Ryan could now theoretically go to Jon’s apartment even when Jon wasn’t there, which Ryan didn’t really see the point of. So he shrugged, added the key to his key chain and didn’t think about it anymore.

***

They had a party on Jon’s birthday, where everyone had a bit too much to drink and a lot more to eat. Jon kept his camera close most of the night, taking pictures of people and things happening around him and not paying much attention to how good the photos actually were.

When morning started to break people started to leave. Jon made sure those who needed a ride had one, and that there was nothing still uncovered before seeking out Ryan and going to sleep.

The first thing Jon did when he woke up around lunch time later that day was open the Polaroid camera Ryan had bought him. After making cooing noises at it he took it back to the bedroom and woke Ryan up.

Ryan mumbled something unintelligible and pulled the covers over his head.

“Thank you for the Polaroid camera,” Jon whispered.

Ryan pulled the covers down slowly and blinked owlishly at Jon. “You like it?”

“I love it,” he said, “let’s try it out.” And before Ryan could protest, Jon was pressing his face next to Ryan’s and taking the picture.

It didn’t work. Jon frowned at it and brought it closer to see what was wrong. “Oh,” he said, grinning, “forgot the lens cover.”

Ryan burst out laughing and Jon took the picture.

***

When Jon woke up on Wednesday, he didn’t want to leave bed. He reached out for Ryan and found the other side of the bed cold. He squeezed his eyes closed and pulled the covers up over his head. It was so comfy and warm, it was safe.

When he had to leave in ten minutes he finally pulled himself out of bed, got ready and left. He tried to not zoom through all of the red lights, and after a person nearly got himself killed running out in front of Jon's car, he tried to keep to the speed limit. That anxiousness, though, didn’t go away.

He was only five minutes late to work. He slunk away to his desk trying to not meet any one’s eyes, dumped his bag next to his desk and set his head down on the desk.

“Bad night?” Alex asked over the divide, a smirk on his lips.

“No,” Jon said, wishing he’d taken the two minutes to make coffee, “no, my night was fine.”

“Doesn’t look it,” Alex said, laughing before going back to his own desk.

Jon had barely had his head down for five minutes when there was a clunk on his desk. He looked up to see a Starbucks coffee in front of him.

“Oh my god I love you,” he said, curling his hands around the hot cardboard cup.

“I don’t know what god had to do with it, but I’d like a thank you at least,” he heard Ashlee say behind him.

“I could kiss you right now,” he said, turning to face her.

“Hey I saw the article you wrote,” she said, sitting at her desk, and swivelling her chair to talk to him, “Pete liked it a lot. I was surprised because I thought Ryan said he didn’t want an article about him, but I guess-”

“Wait, what?” Jon said, his stomach filling with dread, “I wrote about this little bakery on Division Street.”

“Oh really? That’s strange,” Ashlee said, “it was definitely him in the pictures, and I'm sure I saw your name on it, but-”

Jon got up suddenly. “Pictures?”

“Yeah,” she said, pulling out a copy of the Puddle Jumper from her bag, “Jon what-?”

“I gotta go,” he said, walking to Pete’s office as fast as he could without actually running. He bypassed the secretary and just walked in to the office.

Pete’s face brightened when he saw Jon, even though he was on the phone. “Listen I’ll call you back,” he said in to the phone, “yeah, yeah, okay, bye.” He put the phone down and turned to Jon, grinning from ear to ear, “Jon Walker, my man, how can I help you this fine morning?”

“I need to pull my article,” Jon said, trying to separate the words instead of having them fall over each other, “I need you to recall the magazine, anything-”

“Which one?” Pete asked, frowning, “I was really impressed by the yoga one, I'm so glad you convinced Ryan to do it, it was so moving-”

“That’s the one I need to pull,” Jon said, “Pete, Ryan didn’t agree, I didn’t write the article, my roll of film went missing, I thought I’d just lost it, but now I'm thinking someone stole it…” his voice trailed off as he saw the expression on Pete’s face.

“You didn’t already- Pete, tell me you can pull the article.”

“I’m sorry dude,” Pete said, “it’s already gone to the press, I can’t pull anything now, it’s going on the newsstands this afternoon, it’s been mailed out to the subscribers and everything, it’s too late.”

“Can’t you try?” Jon said, knowing he sounded desperate, hell, he was desperate, “please?”

“Dude, I'm so sorry,” Pete said, looking it, “listen, I know this is not what you want to hear, because Ryan is so important to you-”

“Pete, he’ll leave me, he said he didn’t want one, and those pictures, he’ll never trust me again!” he ran a hand through his hair, “What do I tell him?”

“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off, sick leave we’ll call it,” Pete said, “go home, figure something out, talk to him, I’m sure if you explain, he’ll understand.”

Jon wanted to protest, wanted to yell that it took so long for Ryan to trust him that this is going to undo all of that, no matter what Jon said. But he didn’t. He didn’t yell, he didn’t protest because Pete had been so good to him.

“Thank you,” he said, and just walked out.

He went back to his desk, picked up his unopened bag, and was about to leave when Ashlee stopped him. “What happened?”

“I'm going home,” he said.

“What? Why? Did-”

“I'm not feeling well,” he said, and escaped before she could ask any more questions.

When he was back in his car he just sat and stared at the parking lot wall for a long time, trying to figure out what to say. He thought about calling Tom, and then didn’t. He went to Ryan's studio.

The class he was in was ending in ten minutes, so Jon waited just outside. It felt like the longest ten minutes of his life.

When Ryan walked out and saw Jon he smiled. “Finally decided to give it a try?” he said, and moved in to kiss Jon on the cheek.

“Er, no,” he said, watching the class walk out behind Ryan, “listen, can I talk to you? Somewhere private, maybe?”

“Yeah sure, are you okay?” Ryan asked, leading him to his office.

Jon remembered the time he fucked Ryan against the wall in here.

“Have you seen the magazine yet?” he asked, even though he knew the answer already.

“No, I got it around here somewhere but haven’t had a chance to see it yet,” Ryan said, leaning on his desk, crossing his ankles and arms, but his smile was teasing, “is it any good?”

Jon opened his mouth to say something, but he had no idea what to say, or where to start. Ryan frowned and stood up then turned to shuffle through his papers till he found the magazine, still wrapped in cling film.

He looked at the cover and frowned, then flipped through to the pages until he saw it. “What’s this?”

“It wasn’t me,” Jon blurted.

But Ryan didn’t seem to hear him. “The pictures, I- How dare you?” Ryan looked up from the open magazine at Jon.

“Ry-”

“What gives you the right-” he started again.

“If you’ll let me explain-” Jon tried to interrupt.

“What is there to explain?” Ryan fumed, his voice rising, “this is my life! And you splattered it all over your magazine. I trusted you! I told you I didn’t want my pictures to be published! You asked and I said no! Does my opinion just not matter to you?”

“Ryan-”

“Was this the plan all along?” and he sounded hurt, which was worse, “Was I just an experiment? A project? Touch the untouchable? Even if I said no, you’ll just do it anyway? I can’t believe I came back to you, I apologised-”

“Ryan, please-” Jon was getting desperate to talk, to explain, but there was nothing that could stop Ryan once he’d started.

“I hope you’re happy,” Ryan let the magazine drop to the ground at their feet, the sound echoing loudly in the small office, “you win. You got me, great pictures. Did they get you that promotion you wanted? A pay rise maybe? Have you told your dad yet?”

“You know my job is not about the money-” Jon said, trying to defend himself.

“But it’s a job! And I was the assignment,” his voice was getting quieter, “I thought you were different, I thought- but you’re just like the rest of them.”

“Ryan.” And this one did hurt, like a slap in the face, because he wasn’t like the rest of them, if Ryan would just let Jon explain. But it was like his mind had frozen. He could do nothing as Ryan walked out the door, and out of his life.

***

Jon did call Tom then, as he walked out of the office and out of the Academy, with William giving him worried looks before following after Ryan.

He only got a busy tone, so he hung up and sat in his car. He didn’t start it; he just put the key in the ignition and stopped. He wasn’t sure where he would go, just that he needed to leave the Academy or go back inside.

He started the car and drove away.

***

When Ryan's phone started to ring he ignored it. When it wouldn’t stop ringing he turned it off.

“You should answer him,” William said, “hear him out.”

“There’s nothing he can say that will make this better,” Ryan said, crossing his arms. When the landline stared to ring he picked it up and hung up again. When it started to ring again he disconnected it from the wall.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “we’ve been saving for that new branch, do you think we have enough by now?”

“Maybe?” William said, “Maybe in a couple of weeks if we keep things a little tight, did you have a place in mind?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said, standing up and starting up his computer. He opened a window and showed William a picture of a large studio.

“Wow,” William said, “can we even afford that? I haven’t seen anything like that around here.”

“Because it’s not around here,” he said, “it’s in Seattle, and the landlords want someone to come in as soon as possible, so it’s not too expensive.”

William frowned. “Seattle? As in Washington?”

Ryan bit his lip. “It’s far.”

“Yeah,” William agreed. He looked at Ryan and he just knew, they had to do this. “Two weeks, I need two weeks to sort everything out here first.”

Ryan put an arm around William and pulled him close. “You’re the best friend anyone can ask for.”

***

A week later William came by the apartment and took all of Ryan's things. Jon tried to talk to him, to figure out what was going on.

“At least tell me when I can see him again,” Jon said, stopping William at the door, carrying the last box.

“He’s really mad,” William said, “you messed up big time.”

“It wasn’t me,” Jon pleaded, “can you tell him-”

“He won’t listen to me, or to anyone, you know how Ryan gets,” William said, “once he gets an idea in his head, no one can get through to him.”

Jon moved aside to let William pass. William hesitated, as if he was going to say something, but he just pulled out Jon's extra key, placed it on the key hook by the door and walked out.

He was right, of course. Ryan wasn’t going to listen to anyone about this, not until he’s had time to calm down.

***

Jon called Ryan almost every night. He tried to drop by at the Academy or at their apartment, but William or Gabe were always there, telling him Ryan was busy, or not home at the moment.

“Tell him I stopped by?” he'd say, and they’d assure him that they would.

About two weeks after the article appeared though, his phone rings. It’s a miserable, rainy day outside, and after Ryan didn’t pick up yet again, he just wanted to curl up and go to sleep. He reached for his phone and is surprised to see that it was William. They hadn’t talked at all since he came to take back Ryan's things, besides the excuses he gave whenever Jon tried to see Ryan.

“Hello?” he said when he answered.

“Jon!” William said, whispering, “You have to come over now, or, no, it’s too late, meet us at the airport, in about an hour.”

Jon sat up. “The airport?”

“I’m so sorry, I thought I could talk him out of it, but it’s too late,” William paused, and Jon heard Ryan's voice in the background.

“Ryan?” he said, “William, let me talk to him, please-”

“No, he can’t know I'm talking to you, he’ll never- he won’t let me go with him,” William said, “I have to go with him Jon, you have to understand, he’s not- I have to take care of him.”

“I can take care-”

“The airport Jon, one hour, I’m giving you this one chance, I didn’t- I didn’t think he’d-”

“I’ll be there, just, delay him as much as possible,” Jon said, already standing up and reaching for his keys, “I’ll see you soon.”

Jon kept trying to call Ryan on his way, but he kept getting a message telling him that number wasn’t available anymore. He swore at his phone and threw it aside.

The rain was coming down hard now; his wipers couldn’t really keep up. He saw the yellow light and he knew he should’ve stopped, but he just needed to get to the airport, needed to see Ryan one last time if that was what it had to be.

He sped up, he could make it, but suddenly there was a bright light, someone’s horn was going off and then nothing.

He woke up lying down, rain falling on his face. “What-?” he said, trying to get up.

“Whoa there,” someone said, “you were just in a car accident, I’m a paramedic, you’re on a stretcher, we’re taking you to hospital.”

“Car accident?” he said, “The other driver- is he, is every one okay?”

“The other driver is fine, he just bumped his head a little, it’s you we’re worried about,” the voice said, and Jon tried to focus on the face floating over him.

“I'm okay,” he said, trying to get up, “I need to get to the airport-”

“Whoa whoa,” the paramedic said, “you’re not going anywhere with that leg.”

“I need to-” he tried to get up again, this time trying to swing his legs off the stretcher, but the pain that shot up his leg was excruciating.

“We’re going to give you something for the pain,” he heard the medic say, but it was coming from far away, and Jon felt like he was drowning in darkness.

The last thing he remembered thinking was that Ryan was slipping away, and it was too late.

***

When Jon woke up, there was a dull throbbing in his leg, a strange smell and, when he opened his eyes, white walls.

A faint clicking sound nudged his attention. He turned his head towards it with more difficulty than he expected, to see Tom sitting there, texting on his phone.

He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but nothing came out, only a faint rasping sound. But it was enough to grab Tom’s attention.

“Hey, hey,” Tom said, half way through a greeting and a warning. He got up, poured some water in a cup and helped Jon drink it.

“What happened?” Jon asked once he could form actual words.

“You broke your leg,” Tom said, “or something to do with your knee.”

“Yeah I figured as much,” Jon said, his left leg was in a cast from ankle to thigh and hung up, “How?”

“Don’t you remember?” Tom asked.

“Only some, I remember- Ryan!” he remembered suddenly and tried to get up and felt a rush of nausea. He laid back. “Did he- I was going to stop him.”

“I’m really sorry,” Tom said, “but he’s gone, you’ve been out for a couple of days now. They think you ran a red light, they said you tore something in your knee, and that you probably bruised your ribs and a maybe had a concussion as well.”

“Oh god,” Jon said, wincing, “did they call my mom?”

“No, remember?” Tom said, “You put me as your emergency contact? So they called me and I called your mom.”

“Damn it,” Jon said.

“Did you just want me to not tell them?”

“Yeah, actually,” Jon said, “until I got better at least.”

“Jon,” Tom said, “I'm not here to fight with you, just take a moment and breathe.”

Jon paused and took a deep breath. It hurt so he figured Tom was right about the bruised ribs.

“Tell me what happened,” he said.

“What do you remember?” Tom asked.

“Just bits and pieces,” he said, racking his brain, “the light, the jolt, then being in a stretcher, trying to get up, then snatches of the ambulance and the emergency room.”

“I'm surprised you remember anything at all,” Tom said, “you'd wake up and try to get up again, to get to Ryan.”

Jon sank into his pillows. “He’s gone isn’t he?”

“I'm sorry,” Tom said, “I spoke to William, he tried to call you and when you didn’t answer he called me, he wanted to know why you didn’t make it.”

“Did you tell him?”

“Of course,” he said, “but we thought we’d wait for you to wake up before he told Ryan-”

“No,” Jon said, suddenly coming to a decision, “don’t tell Ryan.”

“What?” Tom asked.

“Don’t tell him,” Jon said, “he doesn’t need to know about this.”

“Dude-”

“No, I was stupid, I should’ve put the film in a safer place, kept a closer eye on it, should’ve kept my eyes on the road, no he doesn’t need this.”

“William said they're setting up a new branch,” Tom said, “in Washington.”

When Jon didn’t reply he continued. “That’s pretty far from here.”

“How much do my parents know?” he asked, changing the subject. He didn’t want to think about how far Ryan was, now in more sense than one.

“Not much,” Tom said, shrugging, “just about the car crash.”

“Did you tell them about Ryan?” he asked, staring at the ceiling.

“No,” Tom said, “it wasn’t really the place or time.”

“I’ll tell them, at least it’ll make someone happy.”

“Hey,” Tom said, “don’t say that, they are not going to be happy.”

Jon only sighed and shifted around, trying to get comfortable. “When can I eat? I’m kind of starving.”

***

Jon's parents did come to visit him while he was at the hospital. He told them everything that had happened.

“That man was never going to be good for you,” his dad said grimly.

“He brought me home, didn’t he?” Jon threw back.

“Is it, was it just a phase, do you think?” his mom asked, “Do you think you’ll go back to liking girls again?”

“Mom,” he said wearily, “I can’t see myself liking anyone else right now, be it girl or otherwise.”

“Oh of course, honey,” she said, “you're heartbroken, your father is right, that boy was no good for you, once you realise this you can move on and be happy again.”

They wanted to stay longer, his mom wanted to set up camp in his apartment, but he convinced them to go home. He needed to be alone for a while, to figure things out.

***

He was released from the hospital a few days later with a crutch and physiotherapy appointments.

The moment he left the hospital, before he went home, before a proper meal or even a proper shower, he made Tom drive him to DecayDance so that he could quit his job.

“Those photos were not for publishing,” he said to Pete.

“What do you mean?” Pete asked.

“My roll of film was stolen,” he said, “I don’t even want to know who it was, but I can’t work here anymore.”

“I’ll find out, fire them-” Pete started.

“No,” Jon interrupted, “it’s too late.”

“Jon-”

“Ryan left me, Pete,” Jon said, finally sitting down, “he just picked up and left.”

“I’ll print a referendum, say that story was a fake-”

“It’s too late,”Jon repeated, “he’s gone. He’s in Seattle, he’s opening a new branch there, he’s not coming back.”

“And how did you...” Pete gestured at the crutch and cast.

“I wanted to catch him before he left,” Jon explained miserably, “I wasn’t paying enough attention to the road.”

“Oh man,” Pete said and paused, “is there anything I can do to get you to reconsider?”

Jon shook his head no.

“Okay,” he said, hands flat on the desk, leaning back, “I’ll write you a letter of recommendation as soon as I can and you can get anyone to call me and I’ll be happy to rave at them on how awesome you are.”

Jon half smiled. “That won’t be necessary,” he said, “I don’t even know what I want to do now.”

“Nevertheless, the offer will stay open.”

Jon got up and held out a hand, a little unsteady on one foot but Pete shook his head and walked around to hug Jon instead.

“It sucks to lose you,” he said, “and if you ever change your mind, there’ll always be a place here for you.”

Jon smiled for real now. “Thanks, Boss,” he said, even though he didn’t think he could ever be a photographer again.

***

When Tom walked up to Jon's apartment, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Jon had been missing for a week. He didn’t answer his phone, the neighbours hadn’t seen him, and the doctors had told Tom that Jon hadn’t shown up to his last appointment.

So Tom searched around the door till he found the extra key and let himself in. The first thing he noticed was that it was dark. The curtains were drawn, and there was a stale smell in the thick air, like the windows haven’t been opened in a while.

He walked through the house, trying to avoid the random things strewn on the floor, from old magazines to dirty clothes to rolls of film that were unwinding and tripping him up.

There was broken glass in the living room, but he found Jon in his bed, hair greasy, and week old beard tangled.

“Jon?” Tom asked, “What the hell-? Have you left your bed at all?”

“Sure,” Jon agreed muzzily, “need to pee sometimes, or answer the door.”

“Who…?” he started.

“Food,” Jon explained, and turned around to face away from him, cradling a bottle close to his chest.

“Jesus,” Tom said, running a hand through his hair, “how long Jon, how long have you been like this?”

“What’s today?” Jon asked.

“Saturday,” Tom said.

“Mm, ‘bout a week.”

“You missed your doctor’s appointment,” Tom said, “I rescheduled it for you, and I'm here to make sure you get there this time.”

“Don’ wanna go,” Jon mumbled, “don’ wanna get better.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Tom said, trying to hide the stab of fear that just went through him.

“I don’t,” Jon said more firmly.

“Fuck that,” Tom said, burying the fear with anger. He marched forward, tugged back Jon's covers and pulled him up, “you are going in to the shower, you are going to get cleaned up, and you are going to see the doctor.”

Jon didn’t say anything for a long time. Then he sat up. “I need help wrapping my cast,” he said, not meeting Tom’s eyes.

Tom let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and went to look for a plastic bag and some tape.

***

Tom visited him every day after that incident, no doubt to make sure he was eating and taking his meds and not just lying in bed all day. But Jon wasn’t happy. There was no denying it. He got to a point where he was practically a robot. He went through the motions, a steady routine, and never thought about anything.

Sometimes Tom dragged Jon to the gallery with him. He didn’t say why, but Jon got the feeling that he was hoping to spark some sort of inspiration. It didn’t really work. Jon spent his time behind the desk and browsed the internet, or talked to the people who came in. There was nothing that caught his eye, or his interest. He used to be able to find beauty in everything. That’s what made him so good. But these days, he just didn’t see it. He couldn’t see the point.

He tried talking to people about it, about losing motivation, but most people either gave him sad looks and told him it will take time, or told him he had to go find it again, to be proactive. There was nothing to do about time, but he tried being proactive.

Once he figured out how to use the crutch the doctors gave him, he spent some time in the dark room, developing other people’s photos. He never took his own. But he loved being in the dark room. It was just him and the pictures. It was always awesome to be able to see things come into focus right in front of him. It made him feel like everything could be clear again, if he gave it enough time.

He went to his old haunts. He went to the quite park in an out of the way corner, the busy restaurant in the heart of the city, the water’s edge. He even tried going to one of their favourite cafes, but nothing helped. Everything just felt hollow and empty, just things in a shallow world.

His parents came to visit sometimes, whenever they could. His mom had asked him to move back home, but he could barely breathe in his own too big apartment, he couldn’t imagine surviving in the small suburban house with his mom constantly hovering. She called him every day though, telling him how she was so thankful he was alive and alright.

He knew he needed to do something, to help him move on, but he just couldn’t bring himself to figure it out.

***

When the cast came off, they booked him in for physiotherapy three times a week. He was assigned to this girl called Elizabeth, though she made him call her Z. She liked to call him pet names and flirt shamelessly with him, but he didn’t really mind. It made up for all the pain she inflicted on him.

“Morning, sweetie.”

Jon smiled. “Morning, Elizabeth,” he said, just to annoy her.

“I told you, don’t call me that,” she said, “I don’t call you Jonathan, do I?”

“You could if you wanted to,” he said, sitting down in front of her. He leaned his crutch against the wall beside him, and allowed her to take his leg and squeeze the underside of his knee.

“So how are you today?” she asked.

“I’m okay,” he said, “I’m still getting the weirdest dreams.”

She laughed. “I meant your leg,” she said, “I'm not sure I want to know about your dreams.”

“Nothing too dodgy,” he said, “I dreamt I was in a band.”

“That’s pretty cool,” she said, stretching his leg out as far as it would go.

“I don’t know,” he said, wincing, “people kept saying we were just ripping off the Beatles.”

“What’s wrong with the Beatles?” she said, “lie down.”

He obeyed, slipping his flip flops off before he pulled his legs up on to the mattress. “Nothing, I just think we didn’t sound a lot like them.”

“Are you doing your exercises like I told you to?” she said, pushing his knee up, and he winced again.

“Yes, god, it’s not on a spring,” he said.

She smiled at him. “It’s for your own good,” she said, “and you’re using the ice pack like I told you?”

“Yes, Elizabeth,” he said, as she released and he could feel the tension leaving his muscles and that extra degree of movement coming back.

She rolled her eyes at him as she continued the routine. “The beard’s growing in nicely, did you get it trimmed?”

He scratched at it. “Yeah,” he said, “it still feels weird though.”

“Never had a beard before?”

“No, but after the crash it was too hard to stand in front of the mirror, balance on one foot, and have a blade that close to my face.”

She laughed. “I think it looks good on you.”

“Thanks,” he said, smiling back, feeling a faint blush colour his cheeks.

***

Jon and William stayed in contact. When William found out he apologised for getting Jon into this whole mess, how he shouldn’t have even called in the first place. Jon assured him that it was better this way. At least now he knew where Ryan was.

William would check up on Jon’s progress, and Jon would listen for the news on Ryan that William would discreetly, or not so discreetly, drop into their conversations.

William asked again about telling Ryan about the accident, but Jon wouldn’t let him, made him promise he wouldn’t say anything.

“He’s better off this way,” he said, “I'm a mess; I'm no good to him.”

“He still thinks about you,” William said, “sometimes he just stops in the middle of something and just stares off into space.”

“He’s always been a bit spacey,” Jon said, trying to sound joking and light hearted.

“He misses you,” William said, seeing right through him.

“How did you get so insightful?” Jon asked.

“I’ve always been this way, Jon Walker,” he said, “you were just too wrapped up to see past-”

“Don’t,” Jon said, “it wasn’t like that.”

“Yes it was,” William said, “and even if you don’t want that back, you can’t deny your memories, you can’t take back those feelings. Just enjoy them for what they were.”

“There you go with the insightfulness again,” Jon said.

“You can’t deny it,” William said, “I speak truth.”

Jon laughed, despite himself. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Talk to him,” William said one more time, and then hung up.

Jon wasn’t even sure why he didn’t want Ryan to know any more. It was embarrassing for one thing, it was meant to be like in the movies; Jon should’ve made it just in time, or Ryan would’ve missed his flight, or maybe they forget something and had to go back and met Jon half way, or something.

But this wasn’t a movie. It was real life and Jon just had to cope with it.

***

It took two months before he could walk properly on his leg, without a crutch or walking stick. He still had a slight limp, and sometimes if he moved wrong it would send shooing pain through his thigh, but the hard part was over.

He took Z out to dinner as a thank you, and it was the first time in a long while that he wished he was more attracted to girls. She was perfect; smart and funny and gorgeous, and nothing like Ryan except how she was everything like Ryan.

At the end of the night he dropped her off at her house, and kissed her on the cheek.

“Thank you for the lovely evening,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said, “for everything you’ve done for me.”

***

He started to look for jobs again once he got more movement in his leg. He didn’t have a wide range of skill sets so his options were limited, especially since he didn’t want to be a photographer anymore.

He ended up working for a photo development store. He spent most of his time in the dark room, though sometimes they called him out to talk with customers if they needed something specific that the shop didn’t usually do.

He liked the job enough. He couldn’t see himself doing it long term, but it was helping pass the time until he figured out his next move.

He thought about travelling again, maybe to Australia this time, but he didn’t feel it in his bones anymore. He didn’t want to think about what that meant, even though he was sure he already knew.

***

He spent Thanksgiving at his parents’ house with his brothers and their wives. He got to meet his nephew for the first time too, two and a half year old Matty.

They ended up watching the game while the women worked in the kitchen, but when Jon got tired of the game he got up and sat in the kitchen instead. The women fawned at him for a while and then gave him the potatoes to mash.

Dinner was fantastic. They all ate too much, and then settled down for the annual screening of The Wizard of Oz.

The next day they went out for a picnic, and they played football in the autumn leaves, though the doctor had told him to take it easy for a while. He messed up his knee by the end of the day but it was totally worth it since his team won.

His brothers left on Saturday to see their in-laws, but Jon decided to stay over the weekend. His mom watched him closely as he limped around the house and got some frozen peas to put over his knee while he lay on the couch.

When she pursed her lips at him and very intentionally didn’t say anything for the sixth time that day, he rolled his eyes at her. “I’m fine.”

“I didn’t say anything,” she said.

“I could see you thinking it,” he said, “I swear mom, I’m fine, a little ice, a couple of tablets and I’ll be good as new.”

She raised an eyebrow at him.

“Okay, so not as good as new, but better than this,” he said.

“Jon,” she said, seriously.

“Mom,” he said back, just as seriously.

She moved the pillows he had his leg propped up on and sat down, cradling his foot in her lap.

“Jon,” she said again, “how are you?”

He almost said fine again but he could see she was worried. “I’m doing okay,” he said, “I’m moving on.”

“Are you really?” she said, not as if she didn’t believe it, but as if she wanted him to see that not even he believed it, “you have this new job, which you haven’t said one thing about, I see you walking around the house and talking to your brothers, but you're not happy Jonny, have you talked to him?”

“I tried,” he said, “I called him, I even went down to the Academy, and to his apartment, he just doesn’t –” he cut off, “it’s too late, he’s moved on, it’s time I did too.”

“So move on,” she said, “or do something about it, I'm worried about you.”

“What am I supposed to do?” he said, feeling his throat close up, but pushed on, “tell me what to do and I’ll do it, because right now, I don’t know what else to do, I'm trying my best-”

“I know, sweetie,” she said, patting his ankle, “but I can’t tell you what to do, you know that, only you know what your next move is, just make sure it’s one you can live with. But this, Jonny, this isn’t working.”

“I know,” he said, sighing, “I’ll figure it out.”

“Alright,” she said, finally satisfied, “while you do that, I'm going to make a pie.”

***

It was Gabe though, that finally helped him make a decision. They met up occasionally, and it was a shock when Gabe called him the first time, asked to meet up. Jon later found out that William had sent him to check up on Jon.

“I’m all better you know,” Jon told him, “you don’t need to keep meeting me if you don’t want to.”

“What if I want to?” Gabe said, “What if I enjoy your company?”

Jon smiled. “I’m just saying,” he said, holding his hands up defensively.

“So you should stop saying,” Gabe said.

“How are you going with the Academy?” Jon asked, trying to change the subject, “what’s it like running it on your own?”

“Stressful man,” Gabe said, “but awesome, it’s like all this stuff I didn’t know I could do, but now that I have to do them, I find that I can.”

Jon nodded. “It’s like you have no other choice.”

“Exactly,” Gabe said, “every day is an adventure.”

They sat in comfortable silence for a while and then Gabe spoke up again. “Why don’t you go there and see him?”

“He doesn’t want to talk to me,” Jon said, not asking who Gabe meant, “I can take a hint, he might punch me in the face.”

“Dude, this is Ryan we’re talking about,” Gabe said, “pacifist, remember? Besides, how much damage can those tiny fists do? If I was you, I’d totally go.”

Jon pressed his lips into a thin line. “I wouldn’t even know what to say,” he said, “where would I start?”

“Grovel for forgiveness?” Gabe suggested, but Jon just gave him a look, “nah man, the truth, you’ll know when you get there. The words will come, you just need to, you know, get there.”

“I dunno...” Jon said. He couldn’t believe he was actually considering it.

“Look at it this way,” Gabe said, putting on his reasonable face, “you’re miserable.”

“I’m not-” he started.

“You’re miserable,” Gabe repeated forcefully, “he’s miserable.”

“He’s fine,” Jon said, “he has a new branch, and new classes. He probably doesn’t even think about me.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Gabe said, “he’s devastated.”

“It’s not like the movies,” Jon insisted.

“Then make it like the movies, be his knight in shining armour or whatever, and maybe you’ll both realise how dumb you were and live happily ever after, having lots of bendy sex together.”

Jon opened his mouth to protest, but Gabe interrupted before he could say anything. “I know it’s true dude, don’t even deny it.”

Jon sagged. “What if I go there and he doesn’t want me back?”

“Dude,” Gabe said, “what have you got to lose?”

***

Jon didn’t agree straight off. But now that the idea was in his mind it grew and grew till it was all he could think about.

He mentioned it to Tom and Sean and Ryan one night while they were at Empires, and it launched a long discussion of pros and cons. All it really managed to do though was validate how much Jon wanted to go, because for all the bad things that could happen, he only needed one good thing.

He got to see Ryan again.

He didn’t make a big deal of it. He just quietly took a week off work, packed a few things that he needed or might need for a short trip, and booked his ticket, one way so he could come back as soon as he needed to. He booked a hotel room for one night, with the assurance that he could extend his stay when he arrived.

He didn’t tell Tom until the very last day. He needed a ride to the airport.

“Dude,” Tom said, “you sure about this?”

Jon sighed and looked around the busy terminal. “I don’t know how to explain it,” he said, “I still love him; he’s all I think about, what if William’s right? I need to know, at least then I might be able to move on.”

“I would’ve come with you,” Tom said.

Jon dropped his bag and pulled Tom into a tight hug. “I have no words,” he said, “you pulled me out when I couldn’t see a way.”

“Shut up dude,” Tom said, before they separated, “you’re gonna be back, all your stuff is here.”

“I know,” Jon said sheepishly, “I just want you to know how much-”

“Of course,” Tom interrupted, “you would have done the same.”

Jon grinned. He would have, for Tom.

***

When Jon landed in Seattle, he went straight to the hotel and dumped his bag in the room. He looked outside the window and he already felt better. He was finally taking a step forward.

He called Gabe then. “Gabe!” Jon said when he answered, “I need the address for the Yoga Academy.”

“Dude, you know where the Academy is.”

“No,” Jon said, unable to stop the smile, “the other one, the one in-”

“Oh my god, are you in Seattle?” Gabe asked.

“Yeah,” Jon said slowly, “I sort of took your advice.”

“Dude that’s awesome!” he said, “hang on let me find the address, I know I have it written- ah here it is, you got a pen and paper?”

“Yeah,” Jon said. He took down the address and thanked Gabe.

“Good luck!” Gabe said before they hung up.

Jon went down to the reception and asked them for directions. The man at the counter pulled out a map from the display and showed him the route.

“Did you want me to call you a cab?” he asked.

“Nah, it’s pretty close,” Jon said, “I think I’ll catch the train.”

It wasn’t hard to find the Academy. It was a bright and sunny day, though there was a cold chill in the air. He pulled his hoodie closer to himself and walked across the street.

He nearly walked into someone when he got there.

“Excuse me?” Jon asked.

The man blinked and looked at Jon as if he were in a daze, so Jon smiled at him. “Yes?” the man asked.

“Do you know where I can find the Yoga Academy?” he asked.

“You’re standing right in front of it. You go up the stairs and it’s just the door on your right,” the man said, gesturing, “who are you looking for?”

“Ryan Ross,” Jon said.

“He's not there, apparently he had stuff to do or something.”

“Oh,” Jon said, sagging. “Do you know when he'll be back?”

“No, sorry,” the man said, looking it.

“It’s okay,” Jon said, waving a hand dismissively, and sat down on the first step of the building. The man followed him down.

“Are you another student?” the man asked him.

Jon laughed. “No way dude, can’t bend like that, it was more of Ryan’s thing anyway.”

“So how do you know him?”

Jon thought about it for a second, but just went for the simple answer. “We dated.”

A look of surprised recognition passed across the man’s face. “Jon.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, resting his arms on his knees, “I was stupid, I don’t know what he told you but I'm going to fix it.”

“Join the club,” the man muttered.

And it hit Jon that maybe this was Ryan's new boyfriend, someone William conveniently forgot to mention. He was getting a sinking feeling in his stomach. “What do you-“

“Jon?” He looked up to see Ryan standing six feet away.

“Ryan,” he said, standing up quickly.

The man beside him stood up too and went to the guy who was with Ryan, they talked quietly for a moment and then went back to the car.

When they were gone, Ryan turned back to him. He looked tired and pale, but more beautiful than Jon could remember.

“Jon, what are you doing here?”

“Ryan, I am so sorry,” he said, wanting to move towards him, but it felt like his feet were glued to the ground.

“Jon,” and he sounded weary, but walked up to him, which was a plus. He wasn’t sure if he could take Ryan walking away from him again.

“Ryan please, I’m sorry I didn’t come out to see you sooner, I’m sorry I missed the red light and got in a car crash, I’m sorry I didn’t try harder, I’m sorry about the pictures, I’m sorry you had to get so far, I’m sorry I’m such an idiot, but mostly, I’m sorry I let you leave the room.”

“Jon...” Ryan said again, sounding a little lost for words.

“I'm sorry,” Jon said again, taking Ryan's hands in his own.

Ryan bit his lip and frowned, then looked back up at Jon. “Car crash?”

“I broke my leg,” Jon said, “Or tore something in my knee; I didn’t understand everything the doctors said.” He tried to make it sound like no big deal.

“I-“

“My roll of film was stolen,” Jon interrupted, Ryan had to know, “it was submitted under my name, without me knowing, those pictures were for you, and you alone.”

“The text, the writing-”

“It wasn’t me, remember that fight, the big one?” Ryan nodded, “I never told you, it only made sense later, I wasn’t sure-” he stumbled over his words.

“Jon,” Ryan said, trying to get him back on track.

“I ran into Alex, I must’ve said all that stuff, I was mad! I was drunk, I’m so sorry, I’ll never do it again, I left the Puddle Jumper, I just want to be with you.”

“Really?” Ryan asked, looking at their hands.

“Ryan, I would never do anything to hurt you,” he said, “I love you.”

Ryan looked up at him and finally smiled. “I think I'm in love with you.”

***

The day passed in a blur. The new studio and running into William and going back to the apartment and not doing anything other than sitting on the bed and talking.

Ryan ran a finger over Jon's brow. “Tell me what happened.”

Jon ducked his head out of Ryan's reach. “It’s stupid.”

“I want to know,” he said, cupping Jon's face in his hand.

“The night you left, William called me,” Jon said, “he told me you were leaving, and I guess I was so focused on getting to you, on seeing you that…” he trailed off and shrugged, “I kept going when I should’ve stopped, ran a light, it was stupid.”

“How bad was it?” Ryan asked quietly.

“The car was a total loss-”

“I meant for you,” Ryan interrupted, still quietly.

“I was in a cast for a while,” Jon said, “and then physiotherapy for a while more, crutches, it wasn’t a big deal.” But even he could tell he was lying.

“You should have told me,” Ryan said, “Bill should have told me.”

“I told him not to, I'm amazed he listened,” Jon said and smiled despite himself.

To Jon's surprise Ryan leaned in then, and kissed him chastely on the lips, only to pull away and rubbed at his own mouth. “The beard feels strange.”

“I can shave it off if you want,” he replied, amused. He just wanted to kiss Ryan again.

“No, no,” Ryan said, “I didn’t say it was bad.”

Jon smirked and leaned in himself to close the gap.

They made out for what felt like hours, but Jon couldn’t get enough of Ryan's lips, Ryan's mouth. Then Ryan's hands started to wonder, slipping under Jon's shirt to touch warm skin.

“You are overdressed,” he said against Jon’s lips, and pulled one hand free to unzip Jon’s hoodie.

“Wait,” Jon said, suddenly getting nervous, putting a hand over Ryan's to stop him, “are you sure about this?”

“Yes,” Ryan said, “I’ve missed you. Why? Was there anything-”

“No, I mean, me too,” Jon said, “so much.”

Ryan leaned in again to kiss Jon, and tried again to unzip Jon’s hoodie. This time there was no objection.

They went slow, taking their time with each layer of clothing. Then, when Ryan came to slip off Jon's pants, Jon pushed off the mattress to help him and winced as his left leg tried to take his weight.

Ryan stopped. “What? What is it?”

“Nothing,” Jon said quickly, trying to shift so it wasn’t obvious, but Ryan saw anyway.

“It’s your knee, isn’t it?” Ryan said, then, “Can I see?”

“It’s just scarred,” Jon said, “it’s no big deal.”

“You keep saying that,” Ryan said, “I want to.”

Jon straightened his knee out and let Ryan pull his pants completely off. Ryan brushed his thumb against the scar, then pressed his lips to it.

“You should have told me,” Ryan said again, pressing another kiss higher up, on the inside of Jon's thigh.

“You didn’t want anything to do with me,” Jon said, leaning back, “and I don’t blame you.”

“I should’ve listened to you,” Ryan said, and planted another kiss, higher up still.

“We were both pretty stupid,” Jon said, but he couldn’t help smiling.

Ryan crawled up and kissed Jon again, but the movement meant that their now hard cocks bumped against each other through Ryan's underwear, Jon hooked a finger in Ryan's waist band and pulled them down and out of the way.

Ryan shimmying to get the last piece of clothing off only drove Jon closer. “Ryan,” he moaned.

“How-” Ryan started.

“I don’t-” Jon tried, “I just want you.”

Ryan wrapped his long fingers around both of their cocks and thrust his hips, moving his hand in counterpoint, making them both moan. Jon wrapped an arm around Ryan, burying his fingers in Ryan's hair and pulled him closer still, then intertwined his fingers with Ryan's and they set the pace.

It was too hot and they should have probably used lube, but at this point all Jon could think about was Ryan Ryan Ryan.

There was a sharp pain in his neck and he realised Ryan was biting him as he came all over their stomachs and hands. They didn’t stop moving as he pulled his softening dick free and sped up the pace now that they were slippery with Ryan's come. It only took three strokes before Jon was coming too, his toes curling and Ryan's name on his lips.

Ryan rolled off and Jon felt the mattress dip as Ryan got up, and again a few minutes later when he returned with a warm wash cloth.

“You know you don’t have to take care of me,” Jon said, as Ryan wiped at Jon's stomach.

Ryan bit his lip but didn’t stop. Jon suddenly wished he had a camera and felt something settle inside him.

“I’m better now,” he continued, watching Ryan closely.

“I know,” Ryan said, not meeting Jon's eyes.

“Come here,” Jon said, and pulled Ryan back down, “it wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t anybody’s fault, sometimes things just happen.”

“What about what you said before,” Ryan said, “about fate and destiny?”

“Maybe you had to leave,” Jon said, “you had to come here to do something.”

“I saved some ones marriage,” he said quietly, “then almost tore it apart.”

“Was it to do with the man waiting outside the Academy for you?”

“Spencer,” Ryan said, “yeah, I tried to talk to his husband to see if I could fix things.” He shrugged against Jon's shoulder.

“What did you tell him?” Jon asked, curious.

“That sometimes it’s worth fighting for something, and that maybe love is enough.”

“Is that so?” Jon said.

“I was going to call you,” Ryan said, “in a couple of days.”

“Yeah?” Jon said, “What would you have said?”

“I don’t know,” Ryan said, “maybe asked how you were, would you have told me about the crash?”

“Probably not,” Jon said, truthfully, “I might’ve asked if I could see you, though.”

Ryan let out a huff of laugher. “I would’ve said yes.”

They lay in silence for a while, Jon stroking his thumb over Ryan's bare shoulder as he drifted off to sleep.

When Ryan's eyes fluttered closed and didn’t open again, Jon planted a kiss on top of his head. “I love you,” he whispered.

Ryan smiled, his eyes still closed and snaked a hand around Jon's waist, pulling him close. “I love you too.”