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Your Thin Disguise

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John Paul squinted at his phone, its screen a too-bright glow in the darkness of his hotel room. Joy had her own set of notifications, and they were about the only thing that woke him up once he managed to fall asleep.

He groaned and tried to read the texts with one eye.

You awake?


Okay, I guess not.

I'll see you at breakfast.

He sat up and scrubbed grit from his eyes. It was still early, not even two in the morning, but it had been a long day, a long week. Hell, it had been a long year. He managed to jab at the question mark and hit send.

Can I come over? she asked.

Yeah, he wrote, and heard a soft knock maybe a half-second later.

He fumbled out of bed and followed the sound, not bothering to hit the lightswitch. Even the light spilling in through the peephole was blinding. JP threw a hand over his eyes and hid behind the door as he cracked it open just enough for Joy to slip through.

"Oh no," she whispered, sliding her hand over the one covering his eyes. "You were sleeping."

He grunted in pointless dissension and sagged against the door.

"You're still warm."

JP heard the smile in her voice, and then he felt it, the curve of her cheek pressed against his bare chest as she leaned against him. He couldn't see what she was wearing but it couldn't be much, not judging by the smooth skin sliding against his as she wrapped her arms around his waist. The tank top she slept in, probably, and if JP was warm, Joy was putting out heat like a collapsing star. She was going to pull him in and burn him right up. Ashes to ashes, he thought, and wrapped his arms around her in return.

He did not ask why she was there, or offer to put on a shirt, or try to turn on the light. He didn't even shift against the door so the emergency exit map would stop poking him between the shoulderblades. He simply stood there, breathing with Joy as she listened to his heart beat, and he was half asleep again when she said, "I had a nightmare."

He made a vaguely inquisitive noise.

"My voice," she said, and his eyes opened. "I-- I don't know, it sounds stupid now. I couldn't sing. And it was just a cold or something, not anything scary. But then I woke up and I couldn't scream, and I don't know why I wanted to but I couldn't do it, and I woke up again and I still couldn't sing, and I just kept waking up and waking up and--"

"Heyyyyy," he murmured, feeling the growing agitation in her body -- the trembling of her muscles, the shaking of her voice -- and trying to soothe it away. "Hush now. You're awake. You're fine."

Her fingertips dug into his back. "What if I can't sing?"

"You can sing."

"No, I mean-- what if I can't? One day."

"Ohhhhhh," he said, peering down at her through the darkness. His eyes were starting to adjust. "Is this like, will I still love you if you get fat? Will I still be in a band with you if you can't sing?"

"You are a jerk."

He could tell she was glaring at him; he ignored it and tried to sound magnanimous. "I will."

"Which one?"


"Well, aren't you sweet?" Not glaring anymore; just grumpy.

"I thought I was a jerk."

"You can't be in a band with me if I can't sing."

"Sure I can. We'll just suck."

A slight shake of her shoulders, a huff of air across his skin, the curve of her smile against his heart. Almost there. "It'll be a punk band," he said, and there was the deep peal of her laughter, ringing through the room.

This would be a good time to move, he thought, or to turn on the lights. He reached out, groping along the wall for the switch, but he didn't find it. Joy ran her hand down his side, her fingers fitting into the spaces between his ribs, sliding along the plane of his stomach and then up again, curling into his chest hair.

John Paul held himself so still he trembled with the effort. He tried to think about-- what, he didn't even know what he was supposed to think about to keep his mind off Joy's hands on his skin, her lips skimming up his sternum. England? Was he supposed to think about England? They were in England. It wasn't helpful. Joy was nuzzling at his neck. He was light-headed, the blood screaming through his ears.

"Thank you," she whispered, open-mouthed, teeth rasping against his stubble.

JP found the switch and slammed the side of his fist against it, blinding them both. Joy sprang away, laughing, startled, but John Paul stood there with his hands jammed behind his back, gripping his own wrists, his eyes still squeezed shut.

"John Paul," she said, eventually, from much farther away. She sounded appalled. He opened his eyes but couldn't really see her, just a blurry Joy-shaped figure slumped on the edge of the bed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to..."

She trailed off, but JP didn't much care to hear the end of that sentence. He shook his head. "It's fine. Could you bring me my glasses, please?" He paused. He tried to smile. "And maybe a shirt." And maybe something to hide his damn erection until it went away, but he wasn't about to call attention to its presence. He and Joy were both very much aware.

"Yeah," she said, sounding relieved to have something to do. JP closed his eyes and waited, his grip on his wrists slowly loosening as he listened to her dig through his clothes and tried to remember about oxygen and how it worked. "Here."

It wasn't until he had the glasses settled on his face that he opened his eyes. She was biting her lip and hesitantly offering him a t-shirt, but all JP could see was that she'd decided to put on one of his shirts, too, probably to cover up. The plaid hit her at mid-thigh, and even with the sleeves rolled and tabbed, they still hung to her wrists. She was swimming in the thing, and the surge of affection that swelled through him was so strong he hugged her, wrapped her up in his arms and held on tight, kissed the top of her head, breathed in her sigh of relief.

"We're all right," he said, and he even almost believed it. When Joy moved away, he pulled his shirt on, put his hands on her shoulders, and steered her toward the bed. "Sit."

He grabbed his guitar and hit the lights before settling next to her and starting to pick his way through the walking bass line they'd worked out earlier. Joy curled around him and the guitar both, and laid her head on his shoulder. Her voice was soft at first, tentative as she came in -- It's not your eyes, it's not what you say -- but by the time they got to the end she was lost in the music, certain of it, gorgeous as ever.

When the last chord faded, it left JP feeling sleepy, heavy-limbed and blissed-out, and like he might as well have taken her to bed. He reckoned it would feel about like this.

"Told you you could sing," he murmured, resting his cheek against the top of her head.

She was quiet for a while. "What if we change that last bit?"

The last bit was the two of them taking turns singing, you've been lonely too long.

"Change the pronoun, you mean," he said, not really asking.

She nodded, her hand finding his.

We've been lonely too long.

- END -