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Bob Bryar's Secret Baby Project

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Bob knows, knows that the only way two people can keep a secret for any amount of time is if one of them is dead.

He just always thought that he'd end up giving a press conference, not writing an eulogy.

***

Prologue
September 2006, Los Angeles

Bob's dreaming.

He knows he's dreaming because Gerard is not his dentist and would pretty much never use a needle the size of a straw to inject Novocain into the side of his face. He's reaching for a scary looking pair of pliers when the lights start flashing in time with the grating alarm bell. Dentist-Gerard frowns and takes a giant huff of nitrous before patting the numb side of Bob's face and saying, "We'll have to finish this later, Bobert."

Then he disappears into the magic lamp sitting on the windowsill.

The alarm is still echoing through the hangar and Bob twists his head as much as he can around the restraints, looking for an off-switch he can stare into submission, but there's nothing but horses and slow moving turbines as far as he can see. The flashlight in his hand is starting to freeze and--

"What?" It's the phone on his bedside table.

"Bob?"

Her voice sounds a little funny and Bob feels his heart rate spike. "Amy? Is something wrong with Nell?"

"Nell is fine."

Bob relaxes back into the crinkly hospital pillowcase. "You scared me. What's up? I didn't miss a call, did I?"

"I scared you? Tell me why I had to hear from MTV News that you were in the hospital, Bob. Or why I had to call your Mom to find out where you were admitted?"

"Oh." Right. He should have called. "Sorry. I was sort of out of it. Fever, you know."

"Fever."

"From the staph infection."

"You had a fever from the staph infection." Amy's voice is flat and Bob wonders if she's catching a cold.

"From the burn? On my leg? From the video shoot? I thought I told you about that." Bob's memory of the last week is a little sketchy.

"You told me you got a little too close to the pyro, not that you were on fire."

"I wasn't on fire!" That he is sure of, "I just got a little burned."

"Is this like the time you broke your nose because you got in a 'little scuffle'?"

"No." God, you get in one bar fight and you never live it down. "The burn wasn't that bad."

"What did it look like?" She's insistent, and Bob's never won an argument with her yet.

"It wasn't that bad, I swear. I was just going to, y'know, scrape off the gross stuff."

"Gross stuff?"

"Yeah, Frank said it looked like guacamole, I guess."

There's a sudden, icy silence on the other end of the line and he remembers suddenly why he left that part out when he told his mom. "Amy?"

"It looked like guacamole."

"Uh, yeah. That's what Frank said."

"Your leg, which had been burned in a fire, looked like guacamole. And you were just going to scrape it off? Are you retarded?"

"Well, no, but I--"

Amy barrels right over the top of him. "You could have died. You could be dead right now, and I'd have to explain to Nell that her daddy died because he's a stubborn fucking idiot."

"When you put it that way..."

"Too fucking right, Bob. Jesus. Now what did the doctors tell you?"

"I need to keep the abscess iced and--"

"Abscess?"

"...near my brain."

The silence this time is louder than her yelling had been, somehow. Amy slowly repeats, "The abscess near your brain."

"Yeah."

"So help me god, I am going to beat you with a stick the next time I see you."

"That's probably not something Nell should see."

"I will take her to your mother's. Jesus wept, Bob. What is wrong with you?"

Bob sighs. "Amy, could you just--lay off a little? Please? I know it was dumb and I swear I won't do it again, but my leg hurts and my face is numb and I feel like shit from all the medication." He knows he's getting a little whiny, but come on.

"Fine. Just--okay. Do you want to talk to Nell? Your mom just dropped her off."

"Please?"

There's a few seconds of silence, then the sound of the phone hitting the ground before Nell's little voice comes across the line like the best medicine in the world. "Daddy?"

"Hi, baby."

"Daddy! Home?"

"No, I'm not coming home yet."

"Gramma play."

"You played at Grandma's today?"

"Cookies!"

Bob smiles as best he can at her exclamation and makes listening noises as she babbles something about the park and puppies. If he can't be with her, there's nothing, nothing in the world he loves more than just talking to his little girl. Bob stays on the phone as long as he can, but when a nurse wanders in to check on him and discovers he's got the icepack out of his mouth to talk, all hell breaks loose.

The nurse reminds him of his mom to an almost alarming degree, so he can't make himself give her too much trouble.

"Nell, baby, Daddy's got to go, okay? I love you."

"Okay, daddy. Bye bye!" She obviously drops the phone onto the table and Amy is chuckling a little when she picks up the handset.

"You'll call later to say goodnight?"

"Yeah, just for a few minutes. I need to keep the icepack in my mouth."

"Maybe this'll help you quit smoking."

"Shut up," Bob grumbles. He'll quit when he's ready, dammit. "I'll talk to you later. Bye."

The nurse has the icepack in his mouth before he even hangs up the phone.

He really wants a cigarette now.

Fuck.

***

03/30/2008 - Las Vegas, Nevada, The Joint

Brian can't help the way his leg jitters every time he stops remembering to hold it still.

Fans get on stage sometimes, they all know that. Most of the time it's just overenthusiastic kids who are more than willing to be shuffled offstage, but tonight was fucking scary and he sort of wants to fire every security guy who had been on the barrier, whether they work for him or not. He knows that they're an excellent security team and that shit just happens sometimes, but watching that stupid fuck get on stage, all he could think of was Dimebag Darrell and how fast things can fall apart. He shakes his head to dislodge that whole scary train of thought and focuses on his guys sprawled around the hotel room.

Ray has his guitar out and is playing something Brian doesn't recognize, but sort of hopes ends up on the next album. Gerard and Frank are still a little shaky, but mostly okay because Jamia is a fucking godsend and Brian would kiss her if he wasn't convinced she'd kick his ass. She and Ray talked Frank and Gerard down to the point where they could listen to reason and not start "making some calls" back to Jersey. Mikey seems to be holding it together without any problems and Brian isn't sure whether that's because he's truly handling it or if he took an extra dose of anti-anxiety meds. Brian figures as long as he's not freaking out he'll be fine.

Bob is a different story.

Oh, on the surface he appears calm and collected, but Brian's known him a very long time and he recognizes the look in his eyes. The look that says he's wishing venue security hadn't gotten their shit together quite so fast and that he'd had a chance to go after the guy. That he'd had a chance to hit him just once, to give the pent up adrenaline and fear and anger someplace to go.

Gerard's phone rings and his quiet hey babe is enough to have Jamia nudging Frank off the bed and towards the door. Bob pushes past them to get into the hallway first and Ray steers Mikey enough to prevent him from plowing into the wall while he finishes his text. Brian makes sure Gerard's door is closed behind him and he trudges towards his own room for a shower before he does one final check on his guys.

Or, you know, Bob.

Who is still practically vibrating with frustrated anger when Brian lets himself into his room a half an hour later. He's got the sliding door pushed wide open and he's parked himself on one of the cushioned patio chairs as he smokes on the balcony.

"What are you doing out here?" Brian steals Bob's cigarette and finishes it off. From the pile of butts in the ashtray, it's obvious Bob doesn't need any more nicotine tonight.

"Smoking." Bob taps another cigarette out of the pack and lights up, obviously trying to irritate Brian. He looks itchy under his skin--like he wants to move, wants to do something, but doesn't know what.

Brian grabs that smoke too and stubs it out before poking at Bob to move him back into the room. He knows he's risking Bob taking a swing, but everyone else has managed to calm down and he needs Bob to get his head on straight. "Get inside. It's fucking late."

"Fuck off, Schechter. I'm not a fucking kid." Bob has his arms crossed, leaning back in his chair and frowning at him. The tone of his voice isn't as aggressive as his words--he sounds tired, maybe frustrated. And stubborn, of course.

Brian rolls his eyes. Of course Bob is being stubborn. It wouldn't be a day ending in 'y' if one of these idiots wasn't digging his heels in about something. "I know you're not a kid, but it's four in the morning. Even you need sleep sometimes, Bob."

"No point. Not gonna be able to sleep, not for a while." Bob shrugs and shifts restlessly, drumming his fingers against his other arm. "Too wound up."

Brian can relate. He'd wanted to run out onstage himself to take a swing at that fucker. He can still feel the adrenaline pinging around in his own bloodstream and he knows he's going to have to do a shit ton of deep breathing before he gets to sleep tonight.

But none of that is going to help Bob.

Brian grabs his fingers, stopping the ceaseless drumming, and pulls Bob towards the sliding glass door. "Come on. Let's get you sorted."

"Sorted?" Bob asks, snorting. But he follows along willingly enough when Brian pulls him into the hotel room. "Listen, I appreciate the thought and all, but there's just no way I'm getting to sleep any time soon."

"Are you doubting me, Bryar?" Brian pushes Bob down onto the bed and pulls his hoodie and t-shirt off, leaving his hair a staticky mess. "Slippers off, grandpa."

Bob kicks his slippers off and lines them up next to the nightstand without looking. He obviously doesn't even realize he's tapping out the beat to what Brian thinks is a Drive By song against his knees until Brian brushes his hands off his legs.

"Up. On the bed."

Bob raises his eyebrow, but slides up until he's all the way on the bed and rolls over onto his stomach when Brian pulls on his side. "I'm pretty sure this is some form of sexual harassment, Brian."

"In your dreams." Brian kicks off his own shoes and straddles Bob's hips, doing his best to ignore the freckled expanse of skin in front of him and digging his fingers into the obvious knots in his shoulders.

Whatever smartass answer Bob might have made disappears into a semi-pained groan as Brian finds a knot the size of racquetball under his shoulder blade.

"Jesus, Bob." Brian leans forward to get a better angle and smiles when the knot dissolves and Bob sort of melts into the bed with a happy noise that vibrates up through Brian's spine. It's just about then that he realizes that perhaps he should have thought this course of action through a little more before climbing on top of Bob.

He's pretty sure jabbing him in the back with his hard-on definitely constitutes some form of sexual harassment.

But he's committed to getting Bob to sleep now, so he pushes down the attraction and affection and sheer want that color just about every thought he's ever had about Bob as best he can and concentrates on digging his fingers into the cramped muscles of his back. He gets into a zone, methodically working on a section of Bob's back, then smoothing his hands up to his neck and scratching through his shaggy hair before moving on to the next patch of skin.

Brian isn't sure how long they stay like that, but his hands ache when Bob rolls over beneath him. His eyes are bloodshot from exhaustion, but his shoulders are relaxed and he looks calmer than Brian has seen him in years. He sits back a little and freezes when he realizes Bob is hard. It doesn't mean anything, Brian knows. It's just an automatic reaction to physical stimulus, but it's so close to everything that he's wanted for so long that Brian can't help the stutter of his breath even as he kneels up just enough to break the connection between their bodies.

Bob narrows his eyes, and Brian feels sort of like a bug under a microscope until Bob sets his hands on his hips and pulls him back down to rest on Bob's body. He pushes the tips of his fingers under the hem of Brian's t-shirt then down under the waistband of his jeans and uses his grip to tug him forward until he either has to prop his hands on the bed or fall onto Bob's chest.

Brian props himself on the bed.

"Bob, what--"

Bob sighs and pokes at the insides of his elbows until Brian collapses forward onto him, then pushes his fingers through his hair and kisses him. Brian thinks about resisting, about asking Bob just what the hell he thinks he's doing, but Bob's mouth is a soft contrast to the prickle of beard and, despite all rumors to the contrary, Brian isn't made of stone. He slides his tongue into Bob's mouth and relaxes, settling down onto him. Bob makes a tiny noise and rolls until Brian is pinned between him and the bed.

Things maybe go a little fuzzy for Brian at that point.

He's been hard for what feels like forever and it's Bob kissing him and shoving his hands up under his shirt and humping against the inside of his leg, so it's understandable how his sense of reality gets a little twisted there for a while. He slams back into the world and his body at the feeling of skin on skin, at the sensation of Bob spread out over him like the world's best blanket ever.

Bob's beard scratches against his neck, over his nipples and the curve of his stomach as he bites and kisses his way down Brian's body. There's a minute of stinging pressure and Brian knows he's going to have a good sized hickey on the peak of his hipbone tomorrow morning. He only has time for a second of weird, possessive pride at the thought before Bob's mouth closes around his dick, stopping all non-essential brain function and leaving him with only the blinding pleasure tightening his groin and the soft, damp weight of Bob's hair in his hands.

Brian would be embarrassed how quickly Bob brings him to the edge, but it's sort of been a while since anyone's touched him and it's Bob. So he doesn't feel that bad it only takes a few minutes before he's close enough that he has to pull Bob off his cock and back up into kissing range to at least try to stretch things out a little.

Bob hunches over him, bending himself into an impossible angle, trying to keep their mouths together and still rub up against him. It's one of the unsung hassles of being short, but Brian's learned to compensate over the years and it only takes him a few seconds to push Bob over onto his back and get them lined up. He stretches up to catch Bob's mouth with his own and time skews again as Bob digs his hands into Brian's shoulders, holding him close.

Everything is a mess of heat and skin and the fragile bubble of a vast and nameless something growing in his chest. Brian is so hard that the drag of his skin against Bob's almost hurts, but even the thought of stopping makes him move a little faster, thrust a little harder as the pressure in his balls twists that much more.

Brian is panting and cursing, sweat pooling at the base of his spine, in the hollow of his throat, and at every spot he's touching Bob. He's mumbling desperate nonsense into Bob's skin, barely aware enough to stop the most damning of his words from tumbling out. Bob's nearly silent, and only the barest edge of a whine on each of his exhalations lets Brian know how close he is to losing control. Just before Brian comes, he feels Bob's hands clenching on his hips, digging in to his flesh and holding him still as Bob shoves up against him.

Bob's eyes are fluttering with exhaustion when Brian finally gets his shit together enough to lift his head, so clean-up is limited to a careful swipe with a hotel pillowcase and the quiet promise of a shower when they wake up. Bob slurs an incoherent response and stretches out, sprawling over the lion's share of the bed. Brian prods at him until there's enough room to slide under the sheets next to him. The last thing he feels before passing out is Bob's ankle hooking over his.

***

Brian wakes up to the crawling sensation of someone watching him and his shoulders inch up with tension before he remembers exactly who is watching him. He's glad he's got the pillow over his head because there's no way he can stop the huge-ass grin he can feel taking over his face.

He totally had sex with Bob fucking Bryar.

He wishes he could be cool and jaded about the whole thing, but Bob fucking Bryar.

They haven't talked about anything, but Brian knows neither of them are in the habit of one-night stands and he really isn't in the habit of sleeping with his musicians, so he's pretty sure last night was the start of...something. Something good. They've been dancing around whatever is between them for years and Brian isn't sure what exactly got them moving forward last night, beyond stress and a need to unwind, but he's not going to complain.

He wipes most of the grin off his face and stretches, turning onto his side as he does and wiggling over until he's plastered against Bob. He presses his face into the curve of Bob's neck and goes limp with relief when a heavy arm drapes itself over his waist and pulls him even closer.

"Good morning." Bob's voice is a little lower than normal and still blurry with sleep.

Brian hums into Bob's skin. "Is it still morning?"

He feels Bob shift around, obviously looking at the clock on the bedside table. "Almost three, so not so much, no."

Brian has a meeting at five and conference calls booked back to back until what feels like the end of time, but right now he has time enough to push Bob onto his back and climb on top of him. He rolls his eyes a little at the tangled mess of Bob's hair and brushes it back out of his face before leaning forward to kiss him, morning breath be damned. "So, good afternoon, then."

"Yeah," Bob shifts under him and squeezes his hips, fingers mirroring the almost-bruises Brian can feel under his skin. He pulls Brian down again when he would have sat back, petting at his back and arms. He's got an odd expression on his face when Brian pulls back to breathe, a combination of happy and worried that sets off alarms in Brian's head.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just--" Bob moves Brian back to sit over his knees and sits up. "This is good, right? Us, I mean. We're good?"

"Yeah, I think so. What--" The rest of Brian's question is cut off by the ringing of his cell phone. "Fuck. Don't move."

He kisses Bob hard and gracelessly rolls off his lap to paw through the pile of clothes on the floor. "Hello? What? No, Jeff I told you--Yeah, no. Hang on a second," Brian mutes his phone before yanking on his jeans and t-shirt. "I have to take this. Can we talk after the show tonight?"

Bob blows out a hard breath. "Yeah, it'll keep."

Brian kisses him again and starts talking before he's out the door. "Jeff? That's bullshit and you know it."

***

30 March, 2008 - Amy Harrison, 28, of Palatine, was killed late Saturday night when an oncoming vehicle crossed the median and struck her car head on. Police believe the other driver, who suffered only minor injuries, was intoxicated at the time. Ms. Harrison is survived by her three-year-old daughter.

***

03/31/2008 - Las Vegas, Nevada, The Joint

The show that night had been awesome. They'd all forgotten, even Brian, what it was like playing to a few hundred kids instead of a few thousand, but the past week reminded all of them why they loved it.

The dates on this tour are scheduled pretty tight, but Brian's tried to get them as many hotel stays as possible--the advent of wives for the brothers Way has definitely increased the number of weekly showers, even on tour. They're all going to have to wait to head to the hotel, though, until he finishes up his phone call. Brian's listening to the guy from Bamboozle, but it's the third time they've had this conversation today so he's paying more attention to his band.

Frank climbed on Worm's back about fifteen minutes ago--clearly at loose ends now since Jamia had to go back to Jersey to take care of some Skeleton Crew stuff--half-heartedly trying to convince him to take him to a casino once they get showered. He's obviously not that invested in the idea, but Gerard, Ray, and Mikey are discussing starting a new D&D campaign and, after the Great Elf-Ranger Incident of '07, he knows there's no way Frank's getting in the middle of that geekish clusterfuck. Bob is hunched down in the corner, doing his standard late evening voicemail check. It's been a struggle all day long for Brian to stay on task, to not spend every free moment in orbit around Bob, but he managed and now he just wants to get him behind a closed door.

He stifles a yawn and rolls his eyes at the yammering in his ear. The post-show adrenaline has mostly worn off and they're all pretty mellow so it's sort of a shock when Bob swears viciously at his phone and starts throwing the rest of his stuff into his gear bag.

Brian frowns and tries to wrap up his call, but Jeff fucking loves the sound of his own voice and won't stop talking about merch table locations even though Brian is talking over him at this point. He watches Bob shove his wallet into his pocket and drop his bag at Ray's feet after saying something quietly to him.

And then he's out the door and out of the room before Worm can even detach Frank from his back. Frank scrambles off of him and Worm jogs out of the room, swearing under his breath.

"What the fuck? Where did Bob just go?" Brian hangs up on Jeff and stands up from the far makeup table where he'd been camped out.

"He just said he had to go and that he'd meet us in San Jose." Gerard is still staring at the door Bob and Worm disappeared through.

Brian sort of stalls halfway across the room. "What the--Is he joking? Is this some weirdo Bryar version of April Fools? I mean, it's after midnight, right?"

Gerard shrugs and goes back to watching the door. They all sit up when it starts to open, but deflate again when just Worm steps through.

"He caught a cab outside."

"Fuck." Brian is dialing his phone before he even finishes talking.

***

04/02/2008 - San Jose , California, San Jose Civic Center

It's a couple of hours after dawn on April second before Brian sees Bob again.

No one's been sleeping much and they're all huddled in the front lounge of Bus Married, obviously trying not to listen to Brian's increasingly frantic phone calls from the back. They've been parked at the venue for about an hour, but Brian's sure none of them have moved much beyond smoking and making more coffee. They're all worried--not even really about the show tonight so much as about Bob. Just up and disappearing when they have a show--a whole tour--to play is so far outside his normal behavior that everyone is sort of at a loss.

Brian idly presses on the bruise on his hip while he listens to the ringback on Pete Wentz's phone--Patrick singing about sleeping in old shirts (subtle Pete is not)--and waiting for him to answer. He's avoided making this call because Pete is pretty much a media whore and he's managed to keep Bob's absence under wraps so far, but he's tapped out. He thinks maybe Bob is in Chicago, but his mom is on a cruise and Pete is still the most connected guy he knows for that scene.

After a solid five minutes of redialing, it's pretty obvious Pete isn't going to answer and there's no way Brian is leaving this on voicemail, so he thumbs his phone off and heads towards the front to check on the rest of his guys. All of them are crowded around the side window and fucking Frank is trying to shove his head through the small crack letting fresh air into the bus.

"What the hell, Iero?"

"Shhh!" Frank flaps his hand back at Brian and nearly hits Gerard. He pulls his head back a little and Brian can see that it's Bob outside. He absolutely does not feel weak with relief, but he does close his eyes for a second before the rest of the scene catches up to him.

"Is Bob holding a kid?" Brian knows he sounds like he's asking if Bob's holding a cheetah or something, but what the fuck? "And since when does he have one of those douchebag Bluetooth things?"

Gerard just shakes his head, speechless. "I..."

"I'm the manager, right? I didn't make that up? I'm supposed to be told things so I can take care of them, right?"

Ray sort of nods and tips his head, obviously trying to see the tiny person clinging to Bob's neck. Brian presses up close behind him, squinting a little in the morning bright sun to see too. Her hair (she's a girl if the messy braids are anything to go by) is exactly the same shade as Bob's and it's hard to distinguish where his hair stops and hers starts. She's asleep, her little face squished up against Bob's neck, but Brian thinks he can see freckles.

Bob's mostly turned away from them, kicking idly at the giant pink duffel bag at his feet. He's wearing different clothes than when he left, but he looks tired--exhausted, really--and every bit of relaxation Brian had managed to massage into him is gone. There are thumbprint bruises under his eyes and he's moving slowly, like everything hurts. He's just far enough away that his quiet voice isn't carrying back to the bus. The kid stirs against Bob's shoulder and they all shuffle a little closer to the window, trying to get a better look. Bob rocks a little in place, one hand on the girl's back and the other crooked under her butt. He looks comfortable, practiced holding her and he automatically shifts with her as she stretches and props her chin on his shoulder, sleepily peeking out at the world through the curtain of Bob's hair.

Jesus fuck, Brian's seen those eyes before. Christ, it's like looking at a tiny, female Bob and Gerard's seen it too if his little gasp is any sort of clue. She obviously sees them all pressed against the window of the bus like it's feeding time at the zoo and she hides her face in Bob's neck again.

"Is that--" Gerard's voice is hushed.

"Yeah, I think so." Brian knows his voice is not hushed at all, but he can't help it. Bob has been fucking lying to him--to them--since day one. The betrayal of it--the sheer fucking nerve of hiding something like this--burns in his stomach, knotting and twisting up everything he'd let himself feel since Sunday night. He thought--it doesn't matter what he thought now, obviously, because Bob has a kid, a daughter, that none of them knew about.

"You think what?" Frank turns his body towards Brian, but can't seem to look away from the sight of Bob swaying in a slow waltz tempo.

"She's Bob's." Mikey's got his Sidekick out, but he's just flipping the screen open and closed in rhythm with Bob's movement.

"Bob's what? Sister? His mom's not ancient, but--"

"No, his." Brian can feel his blood pressure rise as he says it, but he's pretty sure it's something he's going to have to get used to.

That gets Frank's attention for a second. "I thought Bob was gay?"

Ray slaps him on the back of his head. "He told us he was bi, doof."

"I know, but I haven't seen him with a woman ever. In, like, five years. That's pretty gay to me."

Brian wants to hit something--someone. He wants a drink and that more than anything makes him squeeze his eyes shut and breathe for a second, shoving everything down until all he feels is the need to make sure their publicist doesn't take out a contract on him when this leaks. "Just get them settled on Bachelor. I've got to make some calls."

***

It's entirely possible Bob is dragging out the conversation he's having with his lawyer.

Not that there aren't approximately eight million things he needs to get taken care of yesterday, but there's only so much Kelly can do before six o'clock in the morning Chicago time. He needs to just man up and face his band.

If they are still his band.

He wouldn't blame them if they booted him out on his ass, frankly.

Nell will be starting to get restless soon, though, and his arms are fucking tired from holding her up. She's his little girl, but she's forty pounds of dead weight at the moment. He winds down his call with Kelly and just stands there for a second, trying to pull himself together enough to deal with what is probably going to be a long fucking day.

Nell's asleep again, if the ever increasing patch of drool on his neck is any sort of guideline, so he figures now is as good a time as any to face the music. He's not expecting to turn around and see his entire band, plus Brian, staring at him from the window. He thought maybe he could sneak in, or at least face them one by one, but no such luck for Bob.

Shit.

He's exhausted, Nell is beyond exhausted and barely understands Mommy's never coming back, his fucking wrist is killing him, and he's still got to bribe Worm to send someone out for apple juice and milk and food not soaked with preservatives. He's wavering on the edge of completely losing his shit and he thinks it must be written all over his face because Ray pushes away from the window and is outside almost before he can blink.

Ray nods at the horrible pink duffel at his feet and says, "Do you want me to carry that?"

Bob nods and lets Ray herd him towards their bus. He can hear the others following, shuffling behind them like a little duckling trail and wow does he need to spend some time with someone who isn't three. Ray drops the bag in the bunk across from Bob's then scoots past him to wait in the front with the others. And probably to stop Brian from charging back here and punching Bob right in his head.

Fuck.

Nell's still asleep, so Bob just tucks her in and pulls Mr. Unicorn out of her bag, tucking it under her arm. Making sure to leave the curtain open so she can hear him if she wakes up, he takes a minute to rub at his face before squaring his shoulders and going to face the inquisition.

Ray is leaning casually against the kitchen counter, but his fingers are twitching the way Bob knows they do when he's worked up about something. Mikey is sitting in the corner of the couch texting lazily. Frank and Gerard are practically sitting on top of each other, twitching with curiosity and obviously restraining each other from leaping off the couch. Brian is on the phone telling someone they can stop looking for Bob and studiously avoiding meeting his eyes.

Fuck.

Brian hangs up his phone and tosses it on the counter with an ominous click. "So, Bob. Care to explain why I've just spent 24 hours trying to find a lost drummer?"

Bob feels something twist tighter in his chest. He knows he should have said something, should have called--especially after the other night--but, "Amy was killed by a drunk driver on Saturday night."

There are lots of confused distressed little noises in the tiny room, but Brian's blank look doesn't change. "Amy..."

"Harrison. Nell's mom. You met her a few years ago." Bob's limited store of patience evaporates at unchanging expression and he's just being contrary at this point. He knows Brian is justifiably upset, but he's also sort of being an asshole and all Bob wants is a cigarette and to sleep for like 9 days, but he's not going to get either since he can't be smoking around Nell and they've got a show tonight.

"And Nell is?" Now Brian's got his arms folded on his chest and Bob recognizes that he's spoiling for a fight. To be honest, Bob sort of is too. It would give him a chance to yell at someone, anyway.

"My daughter. Eleanor Constance. She'll be four next month."

"Four. Really."

Bob can see the rest of the guys sort of swiveling their heads like it's a tennis match. They all know from past experience not to get between Bob and Brian when they get like this. "Yes. Four. And her mom is dead and my mom is on a cruise somewhere in the Mediterranean right now, so I had to fly across the country to pick her up before she got shoved into the Cook County foster care system. I'm sorry I forgot to call home while I was taking custody of my daughter."

Brian doesn't even flinch at the reminder of Amy's death and Bob clenches his jaw to stop himself from lashing out even more.

Ray coughs uncomfortably and asks, "So is she...staying with you? I mean, on the tour?"

Bob drags his attention away from Brian and focuses on his band. "Yeah. I mean--Or if you want, I can go. If you want to use a sub, or replacement or whatever."

The unison "No!" from Mikey, Ray, Gerard, and Frank is sort of gratifying and Bob appreciates it more than he can say at the moment.

"I know it's a hassle, but what else can I do?"

"Right. No. She's family." Gerard looks sort of teary eyed and Frank and Mikey are nodding in agreement.

Bob's a little weak with relief. He wasn't exactly sure how this was going to play out. And he does feel shitty for keeping this from them. "I didn't--It wasn't because I don't love you guys. Amy wanted to stay out of any kind of spotlight and it was just easier this way."

"Easier," Brian says, cold and precise.

Bob's eyes narrow at Brian's tone. He knows he fucked up in a million ways, but it's done. "Yeah, it was easy, protecting my daughter and her mom."

"Protecting her from us?" Frank sounds confused and a little hurt.

"No, never." Bob rubs his head. "Amy and I broke up before she found out she was pregnant. I was on tour and she told me right before I went to Europe with you guys. It was still early and she and I were hashing things out, so I didn't tell anyone. And once I got back home, I was going to finish out the summer tours I was already signed up for then go back and get a job doing sound at home, but you guys called and..." His voice trails off and the trade-off he made to join them becomes very obvious.

"Jesus, Bob."

Bob waves Ray off. "Amy and I talked about it--remember how I needed some time to think?--and she knew how much this meant to me. I was there as often as I could be and I called every night. Every night. All Amy wanted in return was to live without reporters and fans showing up. I could give her that. Easy."

"Okay, okay, I can kind of see your point of view." Gerard is nodding and gesturing with a pen held in his hand like a cigarette. "I wish you would have told us, though, because we would have figured out ways to give you more time in--she was in Chicago, right? But anyway, past is past. We will totally fucking do everything we can to help you out now. Because we're family, we've fucking got your back. Right, guys?"

They all nod and Bob could seriously cry. Gerard and Ray don't look that far off from some sort of emotional outburst either and Mikey has actually put his Sidekick in his pocket. Frank just hurls himself up from the couch and monkeys up Bob. "You're sort of awesome, Bryar."

A frankly embarrassing group hug happens then and Bob is avoiding looking at Brian because he has decidedly not made any sort of affirmations or promises. His silence and non-participation quickly become obvious to the other guys when the hug ends and Gerard says, "Brian?"

Brian shrugs them all off and answers his ringing phone as he heads down the stairs to the outside. Bob takes a step after him because after the other night, no matter how mad he is, Brian has to know how important he is to Bob, but a tentative "Daddy?" from the bunks steals his attention and he forces himself to push Brian and their issues out of his mind.

Nell appears in the doorway to the bunk area, clutching the stuffed unicorn that's nearly as big as she is in both arms. Her hair is straggling out of the neat braids Bob had struggled with earlier this morning and she's blinking sleepily at him. She notices the rest of the band and takes a shy step backwards, hiding her face in the mane of Mr. Unicorn.

"Hi, baby," Bob says. He knows his voice is softer and gentler than the guys have ever heard it, but fuck it. He'll kick ass if anyone calls him a pussy. He crouches in front of her, bringing himself down to her height. "You need anything? Water? Bathroom?"

Nell steps forward, hiding her face in his shoulder. Mr. Unicorn is kind of squished between them. "No," she says in a very small voice.

Bob picks her up, holding her and the stuffed unicorn in both arms. He turns to face the guys, his stomach jumping like the first time he played with them. "Baby, this is my band. I told you about them, remember?"

She nods against his shoulder, her little arms going around his neck as she turns her head just enough to peek from the corner of her eye. She catches Frank's eye and turns her head away fast, but slowly turns back after a second. Frank steps forward a little. "You're Nell, right? I'm Frank. I play the guitar."

She turns her whole body when she hears his name. "You broke my Daddy's drums."

"Oh, for--It was an accident!" Frank throws his arms up in very real consternation and Nell laughs at him.

"You're funny."

Mikey pulls Gerard forward by his sleeve. "I'm Mikey and this is my brother, Gerard."

Nell smiles a little at them and turns the other way, resting her head against Bob's when she looks at Ray. "Are you Ray?"

"I am."

She looks around at all of them. "My Daddy's band?" and they all nod.

She kicks a little to be let down and Bob lets her slide down to the floor. She heads towards the couch, dragging Mr. Unicorn behind her, and clambers up to sit, her little legs sticking straight off the edge. She brushes her hair back from her face and twists around to look at Bob. "I"m thirsty, Daddy."

"Okay, we have..." Bob takes a good look at the collection of diet sodas and cans of Lipton's iced tea in the fridge. "Uh, water," he says, snagging one of the last bottles. Amy will smack him if he lets Nell drink--his mind goes completely, frighteningly blank, until he blinks and realizes he's been staring into the open refrigerator for several seconds.

He brings the water back over to the sofa, where Nell seems to have overcome her shyness enough to poke her finger at the tattoos on Frank's arms.

She barely looks away when he holds the bottle out to her, just takes a careful sip and hands it back to finish tracing a line up Frank's arm to the sleeve of his shirt. "You have more colors?"

And Frank, of course, just strips his shirt off and her eyes go wide at the sheer scope of coloring on him. She looks up at Bob, all big eyes like one of Gerard's comics and he shrugs. "I don't get it either."

Bob sits on the couch next to her and she automatically crawls into his lap, kneeling on his thighs so she can look him in the eye. She just studies him for a second, using her little hands to push the whole floppy mess of his hair back before wiggling around and looking at Gerard, who's slowly been creeping closer like she's going to bite him if he moves too suddenly.

She might. She is Bob's daughter, after all.

He smiles nervously and waves a little. Nell doesn't really respond, she just keeps staring at him until he looks like he's going to break. Then she holds up her stuffed toy and says, "Wanna play?"

Gerard sort of dissolves all the way until he's sitting on the floor. "Yeah. Sure. What are we playing?"

Nell slides off Bob's lap and hands Gerard the unicorn. "Princess Rescue."

"So me and--" He holds up the toy.

"Mr. Unicorn."

"So me and Mr. Unicorn rescue the princess?"

"No." She rolls her eyes just like Bob. "I am Princess Rescue. You stole Mr. Unicorn. I have to save her."

"Mr. Unicorn is a girl?"

"Yes."

"Cool." Gerard grins at Nell, obviously completely wrapped around her little finger already. Bob knew that would happen--Nell is the cutest, smartest little girl in the universe, after all. "You know who else likes unicorns? My little brother Mikey."

Mikey glances up from his Sidekick long enough to agree. "Unicorns rule."

Nell nods seriously and starts narrating the whole universe she's built around the adventures of Princess Rescue and Mr. Unicorn. Gerard is using the toy to act out what he can and Mikey is paying attention and asking questions. Something inside Bob relaxes a little. He thinks this might just work.

Frank curls up next to him, watching the Way brothers play Princess Rescue, drafting Ray to be their magical flying tree. He slides his hand under Bob's hair and squeezes his neck for a second, loosening the tension hiding there before holding up his phone. "Can I tell Jamia? She was crazy worried about you."

"Oh, man. Yeah, of course." Bob thinks about Jamia for a second and winces. "Tell her I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

"I know."

"No." Bob shakes his head and raises his voice a little. "You guys know, right? That I'm sorry? I just--"

Ray glances up from the serious business of being a magical flying tree. "We know, Bob."

Bob knows he should just let it drop, and not keep harping on this, but it's important they know. He opens his mouth to start again, but Frank covers his mouth with the hand not holding on to his cell phone.

"Hey, it's me...Yeah, no, Bob's back...I--No--Just--Here, you talk to him." Frank shoves his phone into Bob's hands and scoots down onto the floor to join the playgroup.

"Hello?" Bob levers himself off the couch and heads back towards the back lounge and the illusion of privacy.

You better have a damn good explanation, Bob.

"My daughter's mom was killed by a drunk driver. I had to go assume custody of her." Bob's always been of the rip-off-the-bandage school of thought.

There's a long moment of silence from Jamia. Hold on, I'm going to conference in the others so you only have to do this once.

Bob sort of loves Jamia a little bit.

There's a series of clicks and Bob hears Alicia and Lindsey and Christa all trying to ask Jamia what's going on.

Hey, shut up a second. I've got Bob on the other line.

There's another burst of noise before they all realize he can't talk over all of them. "Uh, hey. Sorry about making everyone worry. I had to go back to Chicago to pick up my daughter."

The silence drags on until Bob realizes they're waiting for more information, "Her name is Nell--Eleanor--and she'll be four on May twenty-fifth. Her, um." Bob pauses, trying to keep his voice from roughening. "Her mom died in a car accident on Sunday."

Shit, I'm sorry, Bob, Alicia says, sounding genuinely sad for him. The others make noises of agreement.

How are you holding up? Jamia asks.

Bob sighs, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Okay so far, I guess. It's a lot to deal with all at once."

Do you need anything? Is there anything we can do to help? Christa asks.

"No, I think we've got everything covered. I hope, anyway..." There's just so much that still needs to be figured out.

Listen, Frankie's great with kids, if you need anyone to watch her for a while. He's got a million cousins and, well, he's pretty much a five-year-old most of the time himself. Bob can hear the fond smile in Jamia's voice. The others chime in to volunteer their husbands for babysitting duty.

Lindsay says, Dammit, I really wish I could come out and meet her, but I'm on fucking tour. I know Jamia's booked up for the next couple of weeks. Alicia? Christa?

Alicia's, I'm teching through the first week in May overlaps with Christa's, I can't take any more time off work, dammit.

Lindsay huffs out a frustrated breath. OK, Bob. You better be planning on spending at least a week in Jersey when the tour is done.

Two would be better, Christa says. More weekend days.

She's right. Two weeks, at least. Jamia is using her don't-fuck-with-me-voice. We have a niece to spoil.

"You don't have to--"

Don't even think about finishing that sentence. Alicia's don't-fuck-with-me-voice is also pretty impressive. We're giving you a get out of jail free card on the yelling and hitting.

"Right. Okay. Two weeks." Bob knows a good deal when he hears one.

He spends another few minutes assuring them that he and Nell are doing as well as can be expected and when he hangs up, he feels a little lighter. He's just sitting on the couch again when the bus door opens and Worm comes up the stairs. Nell glances up at the newcomer and looks back to Bob when the sheer size of him becomes obvious.

Worm has his arms full of grocery bags and says, "I saw you when you got here and figured you'd need some stuff. I wasn't sure about allergies, so I avoided the big eight, but there's plenty of stuff for the discerning palate."

God, Bob loves his band.

***

Worm not only has 100% organic no-sugar added white grape juice and locally grown baby carrots in his bags, he's also got the smallest pair of ear protectors Bob's ever seen, a fully stocked kid's pharmacy, and an offer of babysitting from one of the security crew, Renee.

Renee's as tall as Bob is, she loves her Harley, and her hair is a shade of red never seen in nature, but she's got one of the best laughs Bob's ever heard, two grown kids, and Nell warms up to her right away when Worm brings her over as Bob feeds Nell lunch (toaster oven chicken breast, corn, some of the crockpot rice, and apple slices).

"Hey, Bryar. I heard we have a stowaway." Renee slides into the booth next to Nell and gives Bob an approving smile at his meal offering.

Bob hands her a bottle of water. "Yeah. Renee, this is my daughter Nell. Nell, this is Renee."

Nell wipes her fingers on the napkin Bob managed to scare up and holds out her hand for Renee to shake. "Hello."

"It's nice to meet you, Nell." Renee watches her eat the small bites of chicken Bob had cut for her. "Worm said maybe you needed some help?"

"When I'm onstage and in interviews, yeah." Bob rubs his hands over his face roughly, "I'm sort of winging it here."

Renee smiles and takes the apple slice Nell offers her. "Welcome to full time parenthood, Bob."

Bob snorts out an unamused laugh and pushes a staticky chunk of Nell's hair behind her ear, tugging on the messy end of her braid--he needs to fix her hair again--before stealing his own chunk of apple. "Do you want Worm and Renee to bring you to see soundcheck before I tuck you in?"

He can't stop the smile that forms as he watches Nell's eyes get bigger and bigger as she slowly stops chewing her corn. She swallows hard and scrambles up to stand on the bench. "I can see you play?"

"Yeah."

Nell claps her hands and flings herself into Bob's arms before wiggling free and sliding under the table to run back towards the bunks. She's back before Bob can yell for her to finish her lunch, her hands full of the mini drumsticks and practice pad Bob had given her. "I need to practice!"

"You need to finish your lunch, first, okay?"

She nods and scrambles back under the table to sit in front of her plate and grab a piece of chicken with her fingers.

"Hey! Fork!" Bob rolls his eyes as she shoves a forkful of rice into her mouth. "And slow down. We have plenty of time to practice."

Nell obligingly slows down and starts chewing her food instead of trying to inhale it. After a sip of milk, she turns to look at Renee. "Do you play?"

"Nope." Renee points at the pad and sticks. "Do you want to show me when you're done eating?"

Nell nods frantically and chews on her last apple slice. She finishes off her milk before pushing her plate towards Bob. "I'm done, Daddy."

Bob takes the plate over to the messy sink and sighs before pushing up his sleeves and starting in on the stacked dishes. It's one thing to live like a slob when it's just him and the guys. It's entirely different when his little girl has to live here too. Thank god they've only been on the road a couple of days so far.

And that Gerard and Mikey are on the other bus.

He listens to Nell tell Renee drums are the most important part of the song 'because Daddy plays them' as he scrapes at the congealed mess of one of Frank's grilled fake-cheese sandwiches and Amy's not--wasn't.

Amy wasn't.

Bob blinks hard and scrubs at the toaster oven rack until all the crusty soy cheese is gone, concentrating on Nell's surprisingly accurate explanation of rudimentary drumming. He's sort of amazed by her recall of what he'd told her last month when he'd given her the pad and sticks.

"Daddy, count for me, please?"

He slots the rack back into the toaster oven and tosses the sponge back into the sink. "Fast or slow?"

She frowns and taps out slightly off-beat rhythm on the pad. "Slow. I need to practice."

Bob starts a slow count and watches her hands as she follows along. He stops her twice to adjust her wrist positioning--he's learned his lesson, thanks--and when she gets through the simple pattern twice without mistakes, she gives them both the victory arms and pushes the pad in front of Renee.

"Now you."

***

It takes Bob less than five minutes to realize he can either pay attention to soundcheck or to Nell bouncing in Renee's arms just off stage, but not to both. It's harder than he thought it would be to concentrate on the sound and vibration of his drums, but Nell has her ear protectors on and Renee has a good grip on her, so Bob lets himself focus on the acoustics of the Civic Center. He motions for more snare and gives a thumbs-up when it sounds good to him.

He gets a nod from Gerard and counts off the beginning of "Disappear." Since their show doesn't start until well after Nell's bedtime, everyone had been more than happy to play through a song for her now. Bob loses himself in the music like he always does and is a little sweaty when the song ends. He stows his sticks and lets his tech take his ears before he hops off the riser and is nearly felled by Nell hitting his legs at top speed.

Years of experience with Frank let Bob catch himself without falling and he bends down and swings her up into his arms. Her eyes are shining and she's trying to climb over him and onto the riser, so he flips her upside down and lets her dangle as he follows everyone else offstage. Her shrieking laughter only gets worse when Bob shifts her weight to hang over his forearm and reaches down to tickle her.

He stops just before she gets to the point where wetting her pants is a real possibility--Bob learned that lesson pretty quickly--and flips her back upright in his arms. He starts to put her down so she can walk on her own, but she clings to his neck and wraps her legs around his waist and that right there lets Bob know just how unsettled she is about everything. Nell has never been one to be carried or be strapped into a stroller when she could walk on her own. He hikes her up a little higher on his hip and presses his face into her messy hair. "I love you lots, Eleanor."

She tightens her arms around him until he can feel her shake from the effort. "I love you lots, Daddy."

Nell's clingy behavior doesn't stop when they get to their dressing room, so Bob dismisses his vague plan to corner Brian and have it out, and instead settles down on the couch to read some Shel Silverstein. Nell reads really well for a nearly-four-year-old, so for the past few months, Bob's mostly been there for moral support and help on the complicated words, but after only a couple poems, Nell pushes the book into Bob's hands and curls up with her head in his lap. Bob takes over and reads to her quietly, pretending not to notice Gerard and Mikey sitting on the floor to listen. He reads until she stops chewing on the side of her finger and starts laughing and reciting the phrases she remembers.

She's still smiling when he closes the book and hauls her up to blow a raspberry on her stomach and tell her, "It's bedtime, kiddo."

She goes limp in his arms and starts up a godawful snoring noise that she manages to keep going even as Bob slings her over his shoulder and stands up to head out towards the bus. "Say goodnight to everyone, Nell."

Nell stops mid-snore, props her hands on Bob's back, lifts herself up enough to see the guys, and says, "Goodnight," before flopping back down and starting to snore again.

Bob rolls his eyes at her hambone behavior and follows Renee down the hallways to the back entrance near the buses. They managed to park Bachelor less than ten feet from the door, so it's only a few steps before they're safe inside the bus. Bob sets Nell down and lets her run up the steps on her own, jogging a little when he hears her 'oof' and apologize to someone. Brian is edging around her, his duffel, backpack, and laptop case all hanging off his shoulders.

"What are you doing?"

Brian glances up at Bob, but cuts his eyes back to the door almost immediately. "I'm going to move to the other bus. Give you guys some more room."

Nell leans against Bob's leg and Bob automatically sets his hand on the top of her head. "Brian, please--"

"Spend some time with your daughter, Bob."

He's out the door before Bob can even begin to formulate a response and Bob is left with nowhere to focus the bright flame of anger Brian sparked. Nell's slight weight against his side reminds him of what he should be thinking about right now, so he shoves the frustrated rage aside and uses his grip on Nell's head to direct her back towards the bunks. "OK, let's find your toothbrush and jammies."

***

04/03/2008 - San Francisco, California, Warfield

It starts off small. So small, Brian would have missed it if he hadn't been searching every dark corner of the web for just this sort of thing.

The tour has been getting a hell of a lot of attention online from the fans and Brian is giddy about it. It is, however, making it difficult to keep track of whatever gossip and rumors are making their way around the various bulletin boards and discussion sites. He thinks he's about ten clicks into whatever link chain he's following before he spots the first hint of it.

It's short and he's pretty sure there are more misspelled words than not, but according to bloodxxteers990:

bob Bryer was carrryign a kid at teh san hosay show!!1! I sware i saw him by his buss. whoze bb is it?

The only responses on the thread are derisive and bloodxxteers990 seems to have a history of causing trouble on the board, so Brian leaves it alone, but he knows it's just the beginning.

***

Bob is exhausted by the time they get checked into the hotel even though it's barely lunchtime. They're pretty sedate for a rock band, but Bob's definitely been keeping rock star hours for most of his adult life. Nell has been going strong since just after dawn when she woke crying and calling for Amy. He'd bundled her up in her blankie and curled up with her on the couch in the front of the bus, rocking her until she'd cried herself out. Knowing there was nothing he could really do for her nearly broke his heart. He'd done his best the past four years--when he was there, he was there--but he's been an absentee father for all intents and purposes and now he feels like he's drowning. Calling and video conferences and visiting as often as his schedule allowed were better than nothing, but it's not the same as making sure teeth are brushed and there are no monsters under the bunk and finding "the other pink barrettes, daddy!"

He had no idea she had so much stuff. Not toys and stuffed animals because Amy is--was, dammit--careful not to let her get spoiled, but clothes and hair ties and sippy cups and booster seats and so many pairs of shoes. Who knew that the right shoes were so vitally important to her day going well?

Plus, Cortez had totally given him the heads-up that Gerard and Frankie were trying to convince Worm they needed a bigger trailer for "important equipment."

Bob is pretty sure that by 'important equipment' they mean 'the giant, airbrushed pink Barbie SUV he'd seen them looking at online yesterday. They had looked a little shifty earlier, come to think of it. He really hopes he doesn't have to have the "we live on a bus, get your own wives pregnant if you're maternal instincts are that frustrated" talk with them.

It's like they don't realize she has an entire room full of toys from Amy's place that are now in storage near his apartment. Which, crap, is another thing he has to call his lawyer about--getting a house. His apartment was fine when it was just him and only a few weeks a year, but a kid needs a house and a yard.

Now he just has to convince Frank and the rest of those Jersey fuckers that he needs a house in Chicago, not Jersey. Or anywhere on the east coast, really. And he just knows one of them is going to say he needs to raise Nell "near civilization" and then he's going to have to beat some ass with her glittery Disney Princesses hairbrush.

If it comes down to that, though, he can always call in the cavalry.

There's no way his mom will let him move Nell halfway across the country. The guys love her, but they're all a little scared of her after the fit she threw during the whole fire-gangrene-staph infection thing. As it is, he'd had a hell of a time convincing her to stay in Chicago when he'd gotten a hold of her late last night when her flight finally landed.

He'd hated having to tell her about Amy over the phone; she'd loved her like a daughter and had practically adopted her the very first time they met in, god, Bob thinks it was probably 2000. His mom wanted to fly out to meet them in California, to smother Bob and Nell in hugs and kisses. Bob's not too old to admit he's pretty sure a hug from his Mom would make him feel a hell of a lot better, but he also knows his mom. He loves her, but she likes to take charge and he doesn't want to be pushed into making any decisions yet, so he convinced her to stay in Chicago and assured her that they'd see her when they got there. He promised Nell would call today and that seemed to appease her enough to drop the idea of riding on the bus with them for the next month.

He doesn't think he loves his mom that much.

Bob swipes the card through the reader and pushes the door open to let Nell dance into the room in front of him. He's carrying his bag, but Worm had waved him off when he'd reached for Nell's pile of stuff, saying he'd get it packed up and delivered to their room. Her stuff is there, lined up neatly on one of the beds and just waiting for her to make a mess out of it. On the other bed, there are a couple of Walgreen's bags in a heap.

"...and then Frankie said a bad word and I told him about the swear jar and Gerard laughed and laughed, but then he said a bad word too and Frankie laughed and laughed and said college would never be a problem, but he said a bad word in the middle again!" Nell opens her bags and has half of her crap strewn over her bed in a matter of seconds. When she gets to her enormous swear jar, she digs in her pockets and pulls out a handful of dollar bills and shoves them inside, laughing. "Daddy, I'm rich."

"You should ask Gerard to help you make a label for your jar." Bob opens the plastic bags, a little surprised to see package upon package of nicotine gum and patches in them. He hadn't realized anyone noticed he'd quit smoking.

Mostly.

Three cigarettes in five days totally counts as quitting.

***

04/04/2008 - San Francisco, California, Warfield

u guyz can fuck off. i saw bob brier with teh kid agan on a hotel blacony at lke thee in the mornign.

Apparently bloodxxteers990 was at the second San Fran show, too. And has a future as a creepy stalker.

Again, the responses to the post are personal attacks and seem to revolve around some incident from 2006, but Brian doesn't give a shit about the in-fighting of nerds, so he logs in to add another voice of dissent to what's rapidly becoming a flame war.

***

04/05/2008 - Southern California, somewhere in I-5, Southbound

"Ray?"

"Yeah, Bob?"

"Why is my daughter trying to drum along to Iron Maiden?"

Ray grins over at Nell even though she has his iPod on and is pounding out about half of the backbeat to "Wicker Man" on the table with her palms. "She wanted to know what I was listening to, so I made her a little playlist."

Bob doesn't even know where to start. "She wanted to listen to Iron Maiden?"

"Yeah!" Ray is unduly excited about the whole situation, Bob feels. "We talked about how the line-up changes made the songs different and she wanted to hear."

Bob just knows Nell is going end up with a whole section of her brain devoted to Ray's nerdish opinions on completely irrelevant bullshit. "She should be practicing her numbers or something, Ray, not preparing for a geek-off about Iron Maiden albums."

"She knows her numbers up to, like, fifty already and you can never know too much about Iron Maiden." Ray plugs another set of headphones into the splitter and starts drumming along with Nell.

Bob resists pounding his head against the side of the bus.

Barely.

***

04/06/2008 - Irvine, California, Bamboozle Left @ Verizon Amphitheatre

The first picture shows up after Bamboozle Left.

It's obviously from someone's--mcrs__bb4eva, specifically--cell phone. It's blurry and, if you squint, you can sort of see a blond man carrying something. If Brian didn't already know it was Bob and Nell, he'd be as dismissive as everyone else on the board.

It's been a few days since Bob brought Nell back and, frankly, Brian is surprised someone hasn't sold the story already. He hasn't even told the label yet, knowing Bob will want nothing to do with any sort of press conference they'll undoubtedly demand. The only person he's told is their PR rep--so she doesn't castrate him when it breaks--but he sort of wishes he'd told his therapist on their call the other night. This whole situation is messing him up and he can't afford to fuck up right now.

Or ever again.

He refreshes the board and another slew of poorly punctuated responses spring up, mocking mcrs__bb4eva's photography skills, hair, pants, and favorite lyric, but someone has linked to the board posting from the San Jose shows and there's a small pocket of actual discussion about it.

Brian takes it upon himself to spam the hell out of that thread.

God, he hates the internet.

***

04/07/2008 - Northern California, somewhere on I-5, Northbound

"Gerard?"

"Yeah, Nell?"

"Who's Martina?"

Bob glances up from his magazine, looking at where Nell and Gerard are drawing together. Nell has been a little quiet since she ran over to the other bus to hijack Gerard at the last rest stop.

"She does PR--Public Relations--for the band." Gerard scratches at his hea., "She makes sure we don't look like jerks in public, mostly."

Nell makes a quiet sound and digs through her crayon bucket for an orange one.

"Why'd you want to know about Martina?" Gerard is sketching, but not really looking at what he's doing, so Bob is pretty sure he's just doodling.

"Mr. Brian was talking to her on the phone when I was looking for you. He was mad and using bad words but I didn't tell him about the swear jar."

Bob stops himself before he can totally crush his magazine into a ball and toss it across the room. He's glad Gerard asks, "What was he mad about?"

"Don't know. He said no one knew yet and he had it under control." She shrugs. "Then he saw me and went to the back of the bus."

"I'm sure it was nothing." Gerard shoots Bob a look over Nell's head and, yeah, they're both pretty sure they know what Brian was talking about.

Dammit.

And if Bob knows Gerard at all, he's wondering why Bob and Brian aren't working on some sort of strategy together. And why Brian moved buses. And why Nell is still calling him 'Mr. Brian' instead of just using his first name like the rest of the band demanded almost immediately. Bob is really not up to explaining why Brian is epically pissed at him, even beyond the professional and PR nightmare he's created.

Nell pulls on Gerard's sleeve to show him whatever she's been working on and that distracts him from staring at Bob like he's a puzzle that needs solving. Bob lets go of the breath he's been holding.

Interrogation averted. For now.

***

04/08/2008 - Portland Oregon, Crystal Ballroom

Brian has his headphones on, but they're just to keep anyone from fucking with him. He turned off his iPod about three hours into his bulletin-board created migraine--four more separate threads about the mysterious kid hanging around the My Chem tour staff that he's had to scuttle--but he's learned that leaving his headphones in place cuts the number of times he gets pestered in half.

Like today, for instance. He's camped out in the dressing room, piggybacking on the wireless from some damn place and he has yet to be harassed for cigarettes, diet soda, to referee an argument about DC versus Marvel, or any of the other truly ridiculous things he's been bothered about over the years. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that everyone has spent the day fawning over Bob's kid.

After a marathon session of Princess Rescue with Frank, she's sitting with Gerard and Mikey now, diligently coloring away at the drawings Gerard hands her, consulting with both of them on color choices. Bob ends his phone call to whoever he's got handling things in Chicago--Brian knows he should be in on that shit, but he just...he can't right now--and bends over Nell to check out what she's coloring.

"Gerard. What did I tell you about drawing things for Nell?" Bob's voice is a bit too calm for Brian's liking and he gears himself up to intervene.

"No vampires, werewolves, mummies, or other horror-type creatures." Gerard's answer is prompt and without any sort of sarcasm, which is pretty impressive.

"Right, so what's this?" Bob points at the page Nell is coloring on.

"It's a unicorn, Daddy!" Nell grabs the red crayon.

Gerard looks a little shifty, so it's Mikey that says, "I think one of the earlier ones shows how it becomes a zombie unicorn."

"It's goring something." Bob pinches the bridge of his nose. "There's no blood in coloring books, Gerard."

"Unless they're about Jesus," Mikey adds, coloring his own picture.

"Oh, hey! Do you remember that one coloring book?" Gerard reaches over Nell to poke at Mikey, "From, like, Alabama or whatever? The one in the Salvation Army about the Passion of the Christ?"

Mikey nods. "Why didn't we buy that? It would have rocked."

"I think we had to pool all of our money to fix the van."

"Right! It was overheating, I think."

"Something. There was a lot of smoke."

Bob drops his head to hang between his shoulders. "Gerard, please, just check with me on the drawings, okay?"

Gerard makes some sort of motion that Brian assumes is agreement while still reminiscing with Mikey about all the treasures they had to leave in that Salvation Army and Bob kisses Nell's head before collapsing back onto the raggedy couch and rubbing at his face with the parts of his fingers not covered by his braces. He looks tired and when he winces as he pushes himself up on the couch, it's all Brian can do not to yank out his headphones and make him take his meds and ice his wrists.

Fuck that.

Bob's made it clear he doesn't need any of Brian's help, so he can take care of his own fucking wrists. Brian glares at Bob for a second before cranking Black Flag on his iPod.

Fucker.

***

04/09/2008 - Portland, Oregon, Crystal Ballroom

Fucking amateur photographers and their fucking telephoto lenses.

And fucking Bob and his stupid, grinning face.

It's late, so very late, and Brian's eyes are burning from days of stomping out internet speculation about the little blonde girl who keeps showing up at My Chem shows. When the pictures show up in one of the LiveJournal communities he's monitoring, he has to blink, because they're awesome.

They're also completely unassailable.

It's a series of four pictures, obviously taken somewhere around the venue yesterday because Brian recognizes the billboards in the background. The first is Bob and Nell walking together, heads tilted towards each other to talk, her little hand held carefully in his. In the second, it looks like Nell is flying as Bob lifts her up over his head to sit on his shoulders. Nell is on Bob's shoulders in the third, his knit cap puddling around her eyes and her hands pulling Bob's hair back into a messy pair of pigtails. The last picture shows Nell in Bob's arms, her face buried in his neck and, god, the look on Bob's face.

Brian refreshes the page and 48 new comments appear. Fuck.

From the bunks, he hears Mikey's phone let loose with Pete's ringtone several times before he picks it up and starts a quiet, mumbled conversation. It's quiet enough on the bus that Brian can hear the rattle of Mikey's curtain being pushed back and the dull thump of his feet hitting the floor.

Mikey's rumpled with sleep and still has his phone clutched in his hand when he slumps down next to Brian. "Pete said there are pictures?"

Brian makes a frustrated noise as he scrolls through the comments. "How the hell does Pete know already? They were just posted fifteen minutes ago."

"He has like eighteen super secret internet names and never sleeps. He likes to stir shit up when he's bored."

Brian pinches the bridge of his nose and thanks every deity he can think of that Pete Wentz is not his problem. "Yeah, somebody with a telephoto lens got some pictures yesterday."

Mikey slides the computer off of Brian's lap and onto his own, scrolling up until the pictures are visible. "Oh. Wow. Pete said they were awesome, but--"

"I know. Bob is still going to lose his shit." Brian leans forward, resting his face in his hands. "I was hoping I could keep this contained until after Mexico at least."

"Jesus, Bria.," Mikey's flipping through his open tabs. "Is this what you've been doing all week?"

"Pete's not the only one with secret internet identities." He sits back and steals his computer back from Mikey. "I need to call the label. Fuck, they're not going to be thrilled about this, I'm sure."

Mikey makes a face. "Well, that's why we pay you the big bucks."

"Yeah, I'm rolling in it." Brian waves him off. "Go back to bed, Mikey."

He stands and stretches. "Oh, by the way, Pete said they're invading when we hit Chicago. Something about Patrick's biological clock."

Brian wishes there was a wall he could bang his head against.

***

4/10/2008 – Somewhere in Utah at a rest stop

Brian is negotiating a turf war between techs from Drive By and Billy Talent and wondering where the fuck the tour manager is when Frank walks up and shoves him.

He stumbles, but manages to stay on his feet. "What the fuck, Frank?"

Frank shoves him again. "Exactly, Schechter. What the fuck?"

Brian knocks his hands away and pushes him back. "Fucking stop it! What the fuck is your problem?"

"My problem is that I just spent forty-five minutes trying to convince a three year old that you don't hate her or wish her daddy hadn't brought her on the road." Brian knew Frank and Gerard were riding on Bob and Ray's bus so they could play dress up or color or whatever with the kid while Bob talked to his attorney about getting Nell a passport for Mexico.

Brian ignores the guilty jolt that gives him and keeps his mouth shut--mostly because he knows Frank is right, but also because there's a small part of him that he knows is dying to say some truly horrible shit. He dodges Frank again, trying to get back to his bus and grimly aware they have the attention of Ray and Mikey and half of the wandering staff.

"Oh, no. You don't get to run away from this." Frank grabs his arm and Brian's had enough.

Of just about everything.

He elbows Frank in the side and his grasp on Brian's arm loosens, but not enough for him to get away, so he does it again. That seems to trigger the pool of crazy rage Frank carries around with him, though, because the next thing Brian knows, they're wrestling around on the scrubby grass and hard-packed dirt that edge the rest stop.

Brian has a moment of jesus christ, this is fucking crazy before his own instincts kick in and he lands a punch somewhere in the vicinity of Frank's kidneys. It's on then, apparently, and Brian can feel bruises springing up all over his body as they roll across the ground, kicking and punching at each other. It's been a while since Brian's been in a fight, and he's used to tangling with people much bigger than he is, so it only takes a couple minutes for Frank to pin him on his stomach with a knee in his back and one hand fisted in his hair.

Frank grinds the side of his face into the ground a little, but then the weight of him is gone from Brian's back and he comes up swinging, not even caring if Frank has to perform with a black eye. It won't be the first time, after all. It's not Frank behind him, though.

It's Bob.

Bob looks fucking livid and catches his arm before he can even finish his swing. He picks Brian up and tosses him a few feet over to Cortez before pacing in a tight circle, and glaring at both him and Frankie, who is slung over Worm's shoulder in a fireman's carry.

"You can't--I just--I can't--" Bob makes an incoherent sound of rage and wheels around, kicking the big, blue garbage can sitting next to the drinking fountain before picking it up and heaving it in the general direction of the squat lavatory building. The force of his throw spins him around and he loses his balance, dropping down to knees.

He stays like that for a second, fists clenched on his thighs, before hissing, "Goddammit," and punching a dead patch of grass on the ground. He's mumbling to himself, punching at the dirt for emphasis every few words. Brian shrugs out of Cortez's loose hold and takes a step forward to hear what the fuck Bob is saying.

"--fucking dead...don't know what the fuck I'm even doing--"

He's punching the ground a little harder each time and Brian's pretty sure he's going to cripple himself before he's done. He takes another step forward to stop him, to apologize, to something, but Mikey breaks away from where he'd been glued to Ray's side and walks over to Bob, touching his shoulder lightly. When Bob doesn't knock Mikey's hand away or try to punch him, he folds himself down to the ground and just leans against Bob's side.

Eventually, Bob stops trying to punch a hole in the ground and leans back against Mikey, his hands clenched on his knees and his head bowed. His hair curtains his face, but Brian can see it moving from the force of Bob's shaky breaths. Mikey puts a careful arm around his back and fists his hand in the loose material of Bob's sweatshirt.

At some point, Worm and Cortez had moved to form a sort of honor guard in front of them, backs turned, but blocking them from all the other techs and shit milling around. Worm lets Frank down and he stands between them, leaning against Worm's side and worrying at the spot where his lipring used to be. Brian is standing a little ways off, just a few feet from the rest of them, but it feels insurmountable.

Yeah, he's hurt about Bob fucking lying to him and hiding this huge part of his life for-fucking-ever, but that's all bullshit in comparison. Just the sheer level of emotion from Bob should have told him that days ago. He's never seen Bob like this, not even during that one late night phone call when he was doing PT in Chicago and the guys were playing with fill-in drummers. God, Brian is an idiot. Someone--Nell's mom--Bob's friend--died and he's mad that he wasn't in the loop?

Sometimes Brian wishes he could kick his own ass.

Mikey says something very quietly in Bob's ear and Bob nods. He's not looking at anyone, just staring very intently at the ground. Mikey helps Bob stand up--well, it's Mikey, so it's not like it's really much help at all, but it's the thought that counts--and leads him to one of the buses, the one that Brian knows Gee and Nell were riding on before going to explore the visitor's center. They disappear into the bus without saying anything, and a few moments later Ray gets a text from Mikey that says he and Nell only need to be on the bus before they leave.

"What the fuck just happened?" Frank is practically vibrating between Worm and Cortez.

Brian rubs at his forehead. "Frank--"

"No, fuck you, Schechter. I just watched one of my best friends fucking break down in a parking lot and it looks to me like you being a fucking cunt about his daughter was the reason."

Ray finishes up his text to Mikey and slides his phone back into his pocket. "It's a lot of other things, Frank."

"Yeah. Whatever. I'm going to go distract Nell--again--from the fact that she knows Brian hates her and now her dad is hiding in his bunk." He stomps off towards the visitor's center, ignoring the way everyone scrambles to get out of his way.

Brian grinds the heels of his hands into his eyes, chasing the lightning bolts of color for a second. "Fuck."

Ray looks like he maybe wants to say something, but Brian's had enough. And he knows he's been a douche, thanks. He doesn't need one more person reminding him. So he turns on his heel and heads back towards his bus to figure out exactly how he's going to fix all this.

Fuck.

***

Bob wakes up feeling amazingly well-rested. He fumbles his cellphone out of his pocket and realizes he's been asleep for nearly sixteen hours. It's the most sleep he's had in months, let alone over the past fucked up week, and he's clear-headed for the first time since he got the call about Amy.

And he's fucking furious.

He's been so focused on Nell the past week--on making sure she feels secure, that she knows Bob loves her, on soothing her after the nightmares that wake her up every night like clockwork--that he hasn't really let himself actually think about Brian's reaction to everything. And, frankly, he hasn't had the energy to deal with it, either. Brian is a big boy and he's more than capable of working through his own issues, so Bob decided to let him stew in the corner for a while.

The whole situation is just so fucked up and so completely out of Bob's experience that he just didn't see--couldn't see--how Brian's behavior was affecting Nell. Brian can be mad at Bob all he wants, but taking it out on Nell is completely unacceptable.

And Brian is going to hear about it.

As soon as Bob gets something to eat and cuddles his little girl for a while.

He rolls out of his bunk and stumbles towards the lounge, drawn by the smell of oatmeal and the sound of Nell's laughter. His anger at Brian just sort of dissolves at the sight before him. She's wedged on the couch between Mikey and Ray, all three of them absolutely enthralled by the fucking Wiggles. Bob totally hates those guys already, but Nell loves them, so he grits his teeth and makes plans to get her listening to real music as soon as possible.

Something must alert Nell to him standing there, because she looks up from the TV and scrambles off the sofa--narrowly missing kneeing Ray in the balls if his flail is anything to go by--to fling herself at Bob's knees. "Daddy! You was sleeping and Mikey said to leave you be so I drew you a picture!"

"Oh yeah?" He hauls her up and sets her on his hip for a second before she squirms down to run back to the bunk she's claimed as hers.

Mikey prods him to the kitchenette table and sets a bowl of maple-y smelling oatmeal in front of him. "Get started while she's looking. How you ended up with a kid who's a bigger slob than me, I'll never know."

Bob rolls his eyes, but it's true. Nell tends to create chaos in everything around her in a matter of minutes, no matter how hard she tries not to make a mess. He digs into the oatmeal, actually hungry for the first time in days. It's a little gluey in the center and dry around the edges, but it's food and it's already made, so Bob doesn't really care.

When Mikey slides him a glass of water, he makes grabby hands at his cup of coffee, but Mikey just turns to protect the cup with his body and says, "Dehydration."

He'd complain, but his eyes feel sticky and there's a dull headache poking at the back of his skull, so he takes the water and doesn't complain when Mikey refills it instead of handing over the sweet, life-giving coffee. Bob finishes off the oatmeal and his second glass of water before Nell makes it back to the table carrying an armful of paper.

"Looks like you were a busy girl."

"You were asleep forever, Daddy." Nell makes a messy pile in front of Bob, fussing with the order for a second before holding up the first one.

Bob has become a master at the art of seeing a horsey in a couple of purple circles and a scribble of green, but this one is a little different and Bob tilts his head a little. "This is really pretty."

"It's a squid, Daddy!"

"A squid? Really?" Bob hangs his head for a second. "Have you been talking to Gerard?"

"He called before just to talk to me!" Her little face is glowing and Bob reminds himself to buy Gerard the extra fancy coffee at the next stop.

"And you talked about squid?"

"Yeah. Ceph'pods. They have ink in them!" She sets that drawing aside and holds up the next one. "Here's a unicorn!"

"Is it Mr. Unicorn?"

"No, Daddy! Mr. Unicorn is white, this one is pink!" She points to the vaguely horse shaped blob in the center.

Bob nods. "You're right. I'm a silly Daddy, huh?"

"Only sometimes." She leans against him for a second before continuing the parade of drawings.

Bob sees more squids, unicorns, some kittens, and one picture of the bus before Nell finishes and he's sort of impressed by the sheer amount of time Mikey must have spent drawing with her to accomplish all of this. Ray has been hovering on the edge of Bob's vision for about fifteen minutes and Bob knows he won't settle until they have a chance to talk, so when Mikey starts up the Wiggles DVD again, Bob settles Nell on the couch and follows Ray to the back lounge.

Ray immediately picks up his guitar and starts noodling on it. Bob knows not to take that the wrong way--he knows that's how Ray gets comfortable when he's nervous. "You doing better?"

And there's really nothing the two of them hate more than discussions like this, but Bob has only the vaguest impressions of what went on after he--god, did he throw Brian?--went outside, so he sort of has to man up and get this over with. "Yeah, I think so."

"Good." Ray leans over the guitar and plays a short chord progression he's been fooling around with for a few months. Bob knows he's not off the hook yet. "So, what's going on, Bob? I mean, I picked up on some of it with all the shouting yesterday, but I'm still a little lost."

Bob is squirming because that shit is embarrassing. He loses his temper sometimes, yeah, but that was losing control. "A lot of that was just stress and exhaustion. I mean, you know Nell hasn't really been sleeping all that well and Amy's dead. I just really hadn't had a chance to think about it."

"I totally understand that, and you know if there's anything we can do to help..." Ray meets Bob's eyes, looking earnest. Bob nods, because if there's one thing he knows, it's that his guys have his back. "But I'm still not clear on how exactly Frank and Brian getting into a fight enters into this."

And, wow, does Bob not want to talk about what he thought maybe was developing with Brian, but again, keeping all this shit inside is maybe what lead to him melting down in public, so. "I--Brian is mad. At me. For not telling him about Nell."

"I think we all were a little...perturbed about you keeping that a secret."

"Shit, Ray, you think I don't know that? This is different, though. I thought--In Vegas we--We were for sure heading towards...something and he obviously thought he deserved to know. Maybe he did. I don't even know anymore."

This is obviously news to Ray. "And so Frank picked a fight with Brian because..."

"I really have no idea."

Ray has that look on his face he gets sometimes, the look of a guy with a disgustingly stable and drama-free home life who's trying to figure out why his bandmates are from Mars. Bob doesn't get that look often, but he's seen it directed at Gerard often enough. "Okay. Um. Have you tried talking to Brian?"

"I was sort of too busy making sure my daughter wasn't too traumatized by having a drunk run her mom down to soothe Schechter's delicate feelings."

"Right," Ray says slowly. "And that's why--oh boy. Okay, how about you talk to Brian now, before this shit gets any worse?"

"I was going to when I woke up, but he's sort of on the other bus," Bob concedes.

"Were you going to talk to him, or yell at him some more? Because I stuck around for a while yesterday and, if it makes any difference, I think he realizes he's been a jackass."

It sort of does make a difference. Mostly because he wants it to. He sort of really needs Brian in his life right now, even just as a friend, because this shit is overwhelming and no one in the world does overwhelming better than Brian.

"Seriously. Talk to him. Don't just yell, okay? 'Cause I can see where you're coming from, but I can see why Brian's reacting the way he is too." Ray strums a few random chords and adds, "He's a good guy. He'll listen, if you don't make it into a fight from the very start."

Bob makes a face, but nods. He knows that, but he sort of just needed someone to say it to him. Yeah, the whole situation is bullshit and is everyone's and no one's fault at the same time but even if he wants someone to blame, that's really not a good message to send to his kid. So, he makes a promise to himself to clear the air with Brian as soon as possible, but right now they're driving and--he checks the time on his cell phone--it's just about Nell's nap time.

***

04/11/2008 - Magna, Utah, The Great Salt Air Theatre

Brian isn't sure whether he's frightened by or thankful for the organizational skills of the Brothers Way.

Within fifteen minutes of arriving at the hotel, Gerard and Mikey have claimed Nell for a trip to the hotel pool and Frank and Ray maneuver Brian and Bob into the same room and shut them in with stern looks. Brian knows they need to talk, to stop being assholes and start acting like grown-ups.

He just doesn't want to be the one to start.

Bob is leaning against the dresser, his arms crossed. He looks imposing and more than a little pissed off. Brian wants to rage against the unfairness of it--that Bob gets to be the one who's mad after lying for years--but he runs up against the thought that Nell's mom is dead and it's not Nell's fault that Bob kept them both a secret. Nothing about this is Nell's fault and Brian acting like a douche towards her is just stupid.

"I'm sorry for hurting Nell's feelings. I didn't mean to."

Bob's posture loosens a little. "You're going to talk to her today. Make sure she knows you aren't mad at her for anything. You can be mad at me all you want, but none of this is her fault."

"Yeah, no. Of course." Maybe that'll help Brian feel a little better about making a little kid cry.

Bob nods and drops his arms. "Okay, let's hear it then."

"What are you talking about?"

"I know you're pissed at me, so." Bob makes a little 'carry on' gesture and it's so flippant, so dismissive that Brian nearly loses his breath at the rush of anger that sweeps through him.

"Don't you fucking dare! Don't act like I'm being irrational or some shit just because I'm mad. You fucking lied to me for years, Bob!"

"Hey!" Bob has the nerve to look insulted. "I didn't lie so much as neglect to tell you the truth."

Brian actually feels his blood pressure rise. "Oh my fucking god. I am going to fucking kill you in your sleep. Even if we ignore the fact that I'm your fucking manager and it's my job to know shit like this so I can protect you, I thought we were friends."

Shit. Brian didn't mean to say that, let alone for it to sound so desperate.

"We were." Bob pushes off the dresser and takes a step towards Brian. "We are."

Brian makes a helpless gesture. "Were you ever going to tell me?"

"I was trying to that morning, I swear, but you got a phone call."

Brian remembers that, but, "Would you have told me if we hadn't fucked?"

"Christ, Brian." Bob pulls at his hair. "Maybe someday, eventually?"

Brian jerks back like Bob hit him, re-evaluating every single one of their interactions ever--every time he felt that little flutter of maybe--and coming up with Bob being a tremendous asshole. "You fucking cunt. What? Were you going to fuck me then disappear every so often to spend time with your family?"

Bob grabs Brian's arm when he would have just fucking left and it's all he can do to not punch him right in the face. "It's not like that, Brian. I hadn't planned on sleeping with you and I'm Nell's father first and last and always, okay? And you're an addict who hasn't even been clean a year."

And now Brian wishes Bob had let him walk out because that's--Brian didn't really think it was possible to feel like this and not be bleeding out onto the ground. Bob had been fucking unwavering in his support of Brian once they recognized he was out of control and got him help. It was one of the things that helped him climb out of the fucking hole he'd dug himself into. If everything about that was a lie, a front, Brian isn't sure what he's going to do.

Bob's worried face appears in front of him like magic and Brian realizes his vision has tunneled down to a narrow focus on the door, on escape. He can't listen to this anymore without completely losing his shit. He can't listen to Bob piss on the years of their friendship, on the months he's fought to stay sober. He barely even recognizes his own voice when he manages to suck in a breath, "I need to get out of here."

"Brian, no." Bob molds his hands around the curve of Brian's skull, forcing him to look away from the door. "Listen to me. I didn't mean it like that. I am so proud of you for getting clean and staying that way. I know how fucking hard it is for you. Am I worried about you relapsing? Not especially, no. But this isn't just about you and me. If it were just me, it wouldn't matter, but I couldn't open Nell up to that."

Brian closes his eyes for a second, trying to pull himself together before he completely falls apart. Bob makes sense, he does. Brian gets that on a purely intellectual level but that doesn't mean he's not hurt. "And now?"

Bob's smile is nothing more than the tiniest crinkle at the corner of his eyes as he leans forward to set his forehead against Brian's. "Please don't fall off the wagon."

"One day at a time, right?" Brian brings his hands up and squeezes Bob's wrists.

"Right."

For the first time in a week, Brian relaxes. Things aren't fixed and they aren't perfect, but for the first time since Bob walked out of the dressing room and returned with a kid, Brian feels like maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Bob lets out a shaky sigh and tilts Brian's head up to kiss him.

Brian crowds into Bob's personal space, going up on his toes to press their bodies together while still kissing. They're both a little desperate and if Brian feels like he's been scraped raw inside, he can't imagine what Bob feels like. It almost feels like the last kiss of some ridiculous Hollywood tearjearker and that's okay, maybe.

Maybe a fresh start is just what they need.

Bob pulls back just far enough to brush a kiss over the edge of Brian's jaw before sliding his arms around him and squeezing for a moment. "I'm fucking exhausted."

Brian reaches up and digs his fingers into the tight muscles of Bob's neck. "You've had a hell of a few days."

He makes a noise of agreement and slumps into Brian, letting him hold up his weight. "I keep forgetting. That she's gone. I pick up the phone to call her every night."

"I didn't say before, because I'm a dick, but I'm so sorry, Bob." Brian sighs. "I remember her, you know? She was just so unimpressed by the whole scene and she cracked me up. She told Bert he needed a shower!"

"Yeah, she had no patience for crazy shit like that. I don't know why she even stayed with me as long as she did."

"Because she wasn't stupid."

"Yeah, well." Bob shrugs that off and very obviously changes the subject. "I would murder someone for a cigarette right now."

"You quit ten days ago." Brian kisses him and pushes Bob back towards the bed.

"How do you know that?" Bob makes a face and yanks the slick bedspread off the bed and onto the floor before throwing himself down.

"Because I know you. You wouldn't keep smoking around Nell." Brian pulls off Bob's shoes and sits down on the bed next to him. "Besides, who did you think bought you the giant pile of nicotine gum?"

"You didn't have to do that, but thank you."

Brian shrugs. "I was getting some for myself and grabbed some for you while I was at it."

Bob grins and pulls Brian close for a brief, smacking kiss. "Let's take a nap."

"Just for a little bit," Brian settles next to Bob. "Then I'll go rescue Nell from Gerard."

Bob's smile is worth what's probably going to be a supremely uncomfortable situation. "Or vice versa."

Brian tucks his head under Bob's chin. "Right. Or vice versa."

***

The sharp smell of chlorine makes Brian wrinkle his nose as he opens the door to the enclosed pool. He has to laugh at the sight that greets him. Mikey and Gerard are both wearing head-to-toe black--Gerard even has a sweatshirt on--but both have rolled their pants up and are dangling their feet in the water, taking turns letting Nell ride their kicking legs. Worm is camped in a lounge chair just inside the door, making sure no overzealous fans get in. He flicks his eyes over Brian like he's looking for bruises and relaxes a little when he realizes Brian is undamaged.

"You have a nice nap?"

Even though he knows he can't do anything about the pillow creases on his face, Brian's hand automatically goes to smooth down his hair. "It was fine, thanks. Bob wants Nell back so they can eat something before we have to head to the venue."

"I'll get her." Worm starts to stand, but Brian waves him off.

"You stay here with these two idiots. I'll take her."

"You sure?" Worm raises his eyebrows, but settles back into his chair.

No. "Yeah, I'm good." He takes a deep breath and turns towards the suspiciously quiet pool.

Both Ways are staring at him like he's the Grinch come to steal Christmas, for fuck's sake, and Nell is at the edge of the pool with her chin resting on her folded arms, any and all signs of her previous laughter completely missing. She tracks him as he skirts around the plastic tables and lounge chairs cluttering up the poolside, tilting her head back when he's standing over her.

Brian knows he's already on shaky ground with Nell and if he wants any sort of future with her and Bob, he's got to handle this right. He's always been pretty good at getting a read on any situation and moving forward from there, but he sort of has no idea what to do here. It'd probably be a lot easier if he knew Nell at all, but he wouldn't be in this situation if he did.

Fuck it, he thinks, You can't go wrong with polite and respectful.

He crouches down so she doesn't have to crane her neck quite so much. "Hi, Nell. Your dad asked me to come get you so you guys could eat before we all have to leave for the theater. Are you ready to get out of the pool?"

Nell stares at him for another few seconds, absentmindedly rubbing the side of her face on one of her waterwings, before nodding and half swimming, half flailing towards the steps at the end of the pool. Once she's out of the water, she wraps herself in one of the giant bath towels from the pile on the table and plops down on the cement to shove her feet into the little pink flip-flops she grabs from under a chair. When she stands back up she's not streaming water anymore and since Brian isn't going to manhandle her to get her any closer to dry, he figures they're good.

She tugs up a corner of the towel to cover her wet hair and heads towards the exit without a second look at Brian. He hangs his head for a second, resigning himself to spending approximately forever making amends to another stubborn Bryar, before catching up with her just before she gets to the door. He pulls open the heavy, metal door and gestures her through.

The cooler air of the hallway is a relief after the cloying humidity of the pool area and Brian takes a deep breath of air conditioned air, stretching a little and heading down the hallway at about a quarter of his normal speed. Nell pulls the towel more tightly around her shoulders and falls into step with him. This is his best opportunity to talk to Nell, Brian knows, so he slows down even more and looks down at her. "I'm sorry for making you sad. I'm not mad at you for anything. I was just upset Bob didn't tell me about you."

Nell frowns up at him. "Did my daddy make you say that?"

"No. I didn't realize I was making you sad, so he told me that, but I wanted to apologize once I knew." Brian's holding his breath. He's not sure what Nell's reaction is going to be, but he hopes she's willing to give him another chance.

She chews on her lip, just like Bob does. "You're not mad?"

"Not at all." It's easier than he thought to reach out and brush a reassuring hand over her towel covered head.

"Okay." She nods once, but doesn't smile, and starts walking again. Brian takes a couple of big steps to catch up, laughing a little at how much like Bob she actually is.

Bob's room is about as far away from the pool as it can be while still being in the same hotel and by the time they're halfway there, Nell is shaking from the cold. Brian stops again and crouches down in front of her. Her lips are sort of blue and he can hear her teeth chattering. "I know you don't know me very well yet, but we could get back to the room a lot faster if I carried you."

Nell studies him for a second, but she's obviously too cold to be stubborn so she steps forward and presses against him, wrapping her arms around his neck, forcing his head into a weird position with the waterwings.

"Oh, you're freezing, kid." Brian stands up and shifts until he's got a secure hold on her. "Let's get you to your dad."

She never completely relaxes, but after a couple of minutes she lets her head rest against his. Brian hurries through the hallways, rubbing at the damp towel covering Nell's back. She feels a little warmer by the time he swipes the keycard through the door, but Brian would be happier if she was wearing socks. And a sweater or something.

Bob looks up when the door opens and seems surprised Brian is carrying Nell. "Is everything okay?"

"I'm cold, Daddy." She kicks to be let down and Brian lets her slide to the ground. She shuffles over to Bob and worms her way onto his lap.

"You are cold." Bob peels the damp towel away and tugs off the waterwings. He unzips his hoodie and tucks her into his chest, folding the halves around her. "Did you have fun swimming?"

"Yes! I love swimming! Gerard and Mikey didn't go in the water, only their feet. Worm didn't even put his feet in!" She reaches up and pulls the sweatshirt over her head, muffling her voice. "I'm hungry, Daddy. Is it lunch time?"

"Almost." Bob kisses her wet hair. "I think maybe you need a bath first. You smell like a pool."

Nell nods and burrows closer, shivering dramatically. "Coooooooold."

"You are such a ham." Bob laughs and stands up, pausing when he sees Brian is standing awkwardly by the door. "Would you like Brian to eat lunch with us?"

Brian shifts as they both turn to look at him. It really isn't fair they both have eyes that color blue. It makes him want to start looking around for sandworms.

"I want fish sticks and corn. And milk. And a cookie."

Brian lets out a relieved sigh when she--well, she doesn't exactly approve of him joining them, but she doesn't disapprove either.

Nell slides out of Bob's arms and starts stripping out of her clammy swimsuit. "Bath first, Daddy."

Bob smirks at Brian. "You get all that?"

"Fish sticks, corn, milk and a cookie, jackass."

"Swear jar, Mr. Brian!" Nell's voice is muffled from where her suit is tangled up in her hair.

Brian makes a face and barely stops himself from swearing again. He's heard all about the swear jar from Frank and Gerard. "What do you want for lunch?"

Bob quickly untangles Nell and pushes her towards the bathroom. "Whatever. You know what I'll eat."

Brian nods absentmindedly as he starts flipping through the room service menu looking for fish sticks.

Bob steps into the bathroom and turns on the tub, adjusting the water until it's just the right temperature, while Nell starts telling him about Princess Rescue's underwater adventures. "Can you grab Nell's clothes when you're done?"

It's so casually domestic--something Brian never thought he'd want, but he's pretty sure he does--that his voice catches in his chest. He has to clear his throat before he can answer. "Yeah, just give me a minute."

He just needs a minute.

***

04/12/2008 - Mexico City, Zero Fest

To: Brian Schechter (brian@...)
From: Greg Morris (g_morris@...)
Subject: Re: RE: Re: RE: FYI

Brian, I understand your feelings, but this is bordering on completely unacceptable. He can't just let the internet rumor mill take care of this. Figure it out.

To: Greg Morris (g_morris@...)
From: Brian Schechter (brian@...)
Subject: RE: Re: RE: Re: RE: FYI

Don't threaten me, Greg. This has nothing to do with music or album sales. This isn't 1953 and their contracts have nothing even close to any sort of morality clause. This is his life and he can handle it however he wants. If you try to force his hand, I can guarantee he'll walk, contract be damned.

That he's willing to do anything is a miracle and you know it. I'm not going to speak for him on this, but I think a personal posting to myspace is doable. Maybe a press release in a few days?

To: Brian Schechter (brian@...)
From: Greg Morris (g_morris@...)
Subject: RE: Re: RE: RE: Re: RE: FYI

I've got the framework for a press conference set up in Chicago for the 18th. I'm waiting on the reaction re: myspace to finalize.

This will not be optional if I do set it up.

To: Bob (bobb@...)
From: Brian (brian@...)
Subject:

I talked the label down to a myspace post from you with an option on a press conference if they want.

It was the best I could do.

- Brian
To: Brian (brian@...)
From: Bob (bobb@...)
Subject: Re:

Fuck. Fucking fuckers.

Fine. I'll post to stupid myspace.

- Bob

PS - I know you did your best. They're just fuckers.

***
04/14/2008 - Denver, Colorado, The Fillmore Auditorium

Hey, everyone. I just need a second of your time to stop all the rumors flying around the boards. After the death of her mother, my daughter has joined us on tour. Please respect her age and situation. Thanks, Bob

"Is that your official announcement?"

Bob jumps a little when Brian leans over his shoulder to read the draft of his blog posting. "Yeah."

"Hm." Brian leans against his back, "It's a little sparse."

Bob feels himself tense up. He fucking hates dealing with this kind of bullshit. "You said I just had to say something to make the label happy, not give my whole life story."

"It's fine, Bob." Brian digs his thumbs into the tense sides of his neck, releasing the tight muscles, "You know the label is going to want more at some point, even beyond the press conference. Probably even some interviews after the tour."

"As long as Nell stays out of the spotlight, I'll give as many interviews as they want." Bob can feel Brian's laugh where he's pressed against him. "You don't believe me?"

"Oh, I believe you, but I also know that you'll spend the entire interview dodging questions about Nell and Amy and only talking about your drums and turtles." Brian kisses the top of his head, "Don't worry about it; that's my job."

Bob thinks that him not worrying about this is pretty unlikely, but he tries to let it go and points towards the laptop screen, "Is this good to go?"

Brian leans over his shoulder and makes a couple of changes before moving back to let Bob read over it again. He makes a satisfied noise and clicks on the 'post' button.

posted to myspace.com/mychemicalromance, 1:15pm, April 14, 2008

Hey everyone. I wanted to clear up all the rumors flying around the boards about me and the mystery kid. My daughter has joined us on tour after the untimely death of her mother. Please take into consideration her age and situation and respect our privacy. Thanks, Bob

***

04/15/2008 - Kansas City, Kansas, Memorial Hall

Bob knows he shouldn't be doing this right now.

They've only got about twenty minutes before soundcheck and Nell is wandering around the venue with Renee, but when he sees Brian heading towards what he knows is an empty office, he can't stop himself from following. It's been two weeks since Vegas and he misses Brian. It's been better since they stopped fighting--Brian looks at him again, talks to him and touches him, but he just wants ten minutes alone with him.

Fifteen, tops.

Bob's maybe a little greedy at this point.

He manages to catch up to Brian and slips into the office before the door even finishes closing. "Hey."

Brian startles a bit and turns around, "Hey, what's up?"

Bob doesn't even bother answering, he just moves forwards into Brian's personal space and leans in, catching Brian's lipring and giving it a gentle tug. Brian makes a funny, desperate noise and pushes up on his toes to get closer to Bob.

It knocks Bob off balance and he stumbles back until he's leaning against the warped filing cabinet, Brian leaning against his chest. The weight of him loosens some of the anxious knots Bob's been trying to breathe around for the past two weeks. They've only had sex once, but Brian has been an important part of his life for years and Bob is pretty sure 'important' got upgraded to 'necessary' without him even noticing.

He shuffles them around until Brian's back is against the cabinet and drops down to his knees, nuzzling at Brian's stomach through his shirt. He pushes up the worn, grey fabric until he can get to skin, biting gently at the hint of soft flesh around his waist.

"Oh, god," Brian's hands twist in his hair, holding him close for a second before pushing him back a few inches, "We can't do this now."

"Sure we can." Bob opens his belt and undoes the button of his jeans, "Soundcheck isn't for another fifteen minutes."

"No, I--"

"Brian, are--Oh, shit! Sorry, sorry!" The door slams shut.

Bob freezes when he hears the door open, frantically trying to think of something--anything--that would explain his position without him ending up on the cover of Big Gay Drummers Weekly or whatever. He recognizes Cortez's voice after a second, though, and collapses with his head on Brian's thigh. "Jesus Christ."

Brian smacks him across the back of the head, "You are going to give me a fucking ulcer, Bryar, I swear to god."

"So, we really can't do this right now." Bob sits back on his heels and watches Brian re-fasten his pants.

Brian shakes his head, "Matt's my eyes and ears in the crew. He said there was some shit he needed to talk to me about."

Bob sighs and levers himself up to his feet. He catches the back of Brian's neck in his hand and pulls him in for a quick kiss, "Later?"

"Definitely."

***

04/16/2008 - Chicago, Illinois, unnamed hotel

In the end, Bob decides to stay in the hotel with the guys instead of opening up his apartment. He figures it'll be easier on Nell if they don't get settled at home only to leave again in a couple of days.

Plus, he thinks it gives him a fighting chance of hiding from Fall Out Boy's collective biological clock and getting away from his mom at some point.

The band has designated his rooms as the lounging area, but none of them are around when someone starts pounding on the door. Nell is out of her chair and across the room before Bob can even push himself out of his seat. "Hey, no! What's the rule?"

Nell pulls up a couple of feet from the door, "Never ever open the door until a grownup checks to see who is there."

Bob steps around her and puts his face to the door, squinting out the peephole to see who is now knocking out the bass line to "House of Wolves". Completely unsurprisingly, it's Pete and Patrick. He rests his forehead on the door for a second, but he's known Pete long enough to know he will keep knocking until either someone answers or someone calls security. He scoots Nell back a few steps and opens the door, bracing himself for Hurricane Pete.

"Bob Bryar, you sneaky, sneaky bastard."

Bob's, "Hey, language!" overlaps Patrick's exasperated, "Pete!" and Nell's, "Swear jar!"

Bob can only roll his eyes because, really, what else did he expect?

Pete angles past Bob to get into the room, setting the package he's holding down against the wall, and holds out his hand to Nell, "Hi, I'm Pete."

"I'm Nell," she shakes his hand. "You need to put a dollar in the swear jar."

"Is she serious?" He looks at Bob and laughs his stupid obnoxious laugh at Bob's nod, "Gerard and Frankie are going to pay for medical school, aren't they?"

Bob tries not to look smug.

Pete digs in his pocket and pulls out a ratty dollar bill, "Okay, kid. Where's this swear jar?"

Nell runs over to her enormous duffel and pulls out the economy-size plastic pretzel jar she's had since she was a baby and Amy instituted the swear jar policy. It's nearly packed full of dollar bills and Pete's eyes bug out a little.

"Holy shit."

"Swear jar!"

Patrick laughs from behind him and gives Bob a one-armed hug in welcome as he walks further into the room. "I think Pete wants to hire her for his little empire."

"He'll have to fight Frankie for her, I think."

"He'd probably sell that sh--stuff to Pay-Per-View." Patrick shifts, almost swaying on his feet and Bob gives him a little push towards where Pete is giving her investment advice.

"Go on. I know you're dying to get over there." Patrick looks torn for a second, and Bob knows Patrick will keep talking to him just to make sure he feels loved. "Ask her about drumming."

The mention of anything musical is enough win Patrick's attention, just like Bob planned, but he totally gropes Bob on the sly as he walks past, "For old time's sake."

Patrick crouches down next to her and holds out his hand. "I'm Patrick."

"Hi, Mr. Patrick. You have a hat. It says 'g. e. e. k.' on it. What's that spell?"

"'Geek'."

Nell finishes looking him over as she shakes his hand. "I like your green shoes."

"Thank you."

"I have green shoes, too. Wanna see?"

Pete laughs again, "Patrick always wants to see shoes."

Patrick gives him a dirty look and punches him in the leg, but Nell has taken Pete at face value and is halfway into one of her bags, totally missing the by-play. She has an armload of shoes when she surfaces and she dumps them on the floor in front of Patrick, quickly sorting them into pairs.

"These are my green shoes, but they're for summer and Daddy says it's too cold to wear them yet. And these are my black shoes. They're for all the time. My tennis shoes light up! Look!" She pulls the pink and white shoes on and starts jumping up and down, activating the LED's in the heels. "Do you have light up shoes?"

"No, but I sort of want some now." Patrick is smiling helplessly at Nell and Bob can practically see the hearts and stars in his eyes.

Nell stops jumping and collapses in a heap next to Patrick. "Are you in a band like my Daddy?"

"Pete and I are in a band with our friends Joe and Andy."

Her face lights up. "What do you play?"

"I sing and play guitar and Pete plays the bass."

"Don't be modest, Pattycakes." Pete leans over the side of the couch to whisper to Nell. "He also plays the piano and trumpet and drums."

"Drums!" Nell crawls over to her pile of stuff and pulls out her practice pad and sticks. She sets herself up at the coffee table before giving Bob the big, sad eyes. "Can Patrick use your sticks, Daddy?"

Bob saw this coming a mile away and has his pad and sticks ready to go before Patrick can add his own version of the big, sad eyes. "Thanks, Bob!"

It's sort of weird to watch someone else correct Nell's rhythm, but, despite the circumstances, Bob is so happy to have a chance to share Nell with his friends, to show her his life, that he's willing to get over it. He's content just sitting and watching them and almost forgets about Pete until he starts fidgeting.

"How did all this happen?"

"Well, Pete, when a man and a woman--"

"Shut the fu--Shut up, Bryar." Pete casts a guilty glance towards an oblivious Nell. "I mean, how did you do it? You guys have been on the road for like a thousand years straight."

Bob checks to make sure Nell is still occupied learning a simple roll from Patrick. "Amy and I weren't together anymore when she found out she was pregnant. We weren't going to get back together, but I was going to quit touring and get a sound gig back home so I could be around. Then Brian called me about drumming."

"So, what? You just toured and came home whenever you could?" Pete is oddly intent, like the logistics of being an absentee father were completely fascinating and Bob finds himself answering more honestly than he would have any other time.

"Yeah. And I called every night, no matter what. Amy worked from home so she had video conference crap we used whenever we could, too. It wasn't the same as being there, but it was better than nothing at all."

Pete nods and chews on his lip for a second before shaking off whatever he was thinking and rolling off the couch to grab the package he'd set down when they first came in. "Hey, Nell, we have something for you."

"Pete, you didn't have to--"

"A present?" Nell drops her sticks on the table and is practically vibrating in place. "For me?"

Pete shoots a half-apologetic look at Bob and nods when he gets a wave. "Yeah, from my band."

Nell tears through the Dora wrapping paper like a raptor and tosses the sturdy cardboard lid behind herself. She pulls a quarter-sized guitar case out of the box and flips open the latches to reveal a gleaming, child-sized guitar. "Oh, Daddy."

She strums her fingers over the strings, wincing a little at the discordant twang, before throwing herself at Pete and Patrick. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Bob shakes his head. "Ray and Frank are going to kill you guys."

Pete laughs, but Patrick doesn't even look up from where he's hugging Nell. After a few seconds, she scrambles off of them, carefully picks the guitar up, and stands between Patrick's knees. "Show me?"

Patrick turns her around and pulls a pitch pipe out of his pocket. "This'll help you learn what each string should sound like."

Pete's grinning like a loon next to them on the couch, a weirdly considering look on his face that Bob doesn't trust for one second.

"No."

"No what?" Pete looks confused.

"No, you can't have Nell or borrow her or whatever you were just thinking."

Pete doesn't answer, but grins, wide and almost impossibly happy.

***

04/17/2008 - Chicago, Illinois, Congress Theatre

"Grandma!" Nell drops Mr. Unicorn onto the couch and launches herself across the room.

Kathy Bryar picks up her granddaughter and spins her around. "Oh, I've missed you!"

Nell hugs her tightly and seems to dissolve into her. "Mommy's gone."

"I know, honey." Kathy looks a little helplessly at Bob and sits down on the rumpled bed. She settles Nell on her lap and leans back against the headboard. "I'm so sorry."

The only response Nell has is to shake her head and push her face into Kathy's neck as she starts to cry. Bob's frozen in place for a second--except for the nightmares, Nell hasn't really cried since he first picked her up--but pulls it together enough to sit next to them on the bed and pull both of them close. His mom is crying a little too, holding on to Nell and just letting her cry for a little while.

After a few minutes, Kathy pulls her sleeve over her hand and dries her own eyes before starting to soothe Nell down from the edge of hysteria. Her quiet voice reminds Bob of a thousand different nights from his childhood and he automatically relaxes against her. Eventually, Nell quiets and dozes off. Kathy tips her off her lap and tucks her into the bed before turning to Bob and pulling him into a hug.

"Come here, kiddo."

Bob leans on his mom for a minute, resting his head on her shoulder and letting the last of his tension seep out of his spine. "This sucks, Mom."

Kathy tugs on the ends of his hair. "We all know life's not fair, we just forget until it kicks us when we're down."

Bob nods against her shoulder--that'd been one of Kathy's favorite life lessons when he was growing up and he took it to heart. "I just wish Nell didn't have to learn it so early."

She rests her head against his. "Were your guys mad?"

Bob shrugs--he doesn't want to get his mom worked up about Brian--and reaches over her to tug the blanket higher up on Nell's shoulders. "Not for very long."

"Okay." She raises her eyebrow, but lets it go. "How are you holding up?"

"Eh." That's as much of an answer as Bob has and he launches into Princess Rescue's latest adventures with her new friends Mikey-the-stable-boy, Gerard-the-squid-rider, and Ray-the-flying-tree.

His mom laughs in all the right places and tells him about everyone she met on the cruise and all the crazy goings-on she witnessed. At some point, his eyes start to blink closed and her voice fades in and out. He stirs when he feels a blanket settle over him and his mom pulls off his knit cap, but then he's out for the count, sliding deeply into sleep for the first time in two weeks.

***

04/18/2008 - Chicago, Illinois, Congress Theatre

"I think I'm going to puke."

"You're not going to puke."

"No, I really think I am." Bob bends over and rests his hands on his knees, breathing deeply. He can't see Brian, but he's pretty sure he's rolling his eyes. "Shut up."

"I didn't say anything."

"You were thinking it." Bob breathes out hard and stands up, trying to ignore the milling music journalists he can hear in the neighboring banquet room of the hotel.

Brian is very obviously trying not to laugh at him. "You're acting like you've never given a press conference before."

"Not by myself, I haven't!" Bob has to close his eyes when his vision wavers a little. Warm hands on his shoulders guide him down into the folding chair behind him and push until his head is between his knees.

"Just breathe for a second, okay?" Brian crouches down next to him, one hand on his back, the other on his knee. "There's no reason to freak out. You're going to read your statement and then you're going to take five questions I've already vetted. These guys know if they fuck with you, they'll never get access to the band again."

"Okay." Bob sits up, leaning into Brian's hands a little before standing up. "Okay, let's do this."

***

Afterwards, Bob honestly has no idea what the fuck he said at the press conference. The guys assure him he didn't look like an asshole or an idiot or anything, but it's all a blur to him. The only clear memory he has is of looking at the picture he agreed to send out with the press release.

The label wanted something with him and Nell--some bullshit staged happy family shot--but he was adamant about keeping her face out of the public eye as much as possible. It's inevitable that the fans or paparrazzi will get more pictures of her, but there was no way he was going to knowingly whore out his little girl. Just, no.

There had been a few dicey minutes when Bob was sure he was going to end up punching the douchebag attorney Warner Brothers had sent down. The guy obviously had orders to not take 'no' for an answer, but Bob was ready to walk out on his contract if it came to that.

Brian knew it too, and spent hours hammering out a workable compromise. Now, every reporter who was in the room had a copy, both hard and soft, of some of Tom Conrad's best work. Tom had taken a shitload of pictures--leaving the memory stick with Bob--and promised there were lots of other shots to send to friends and family when he wanted. For one of the few times in his life, Bob's glad he knows Pete Wentz because there's no way some random photographer would have been able to do that.

Or get the shot Bob picked for the press release.

Bob is facing the camera, holding Nell. She's got her chin hooked over his shoulder, looking the opposite way, so all that's visible of her is the back of her head and whatever parts of her back aren't covered by Bob's arms. Bob doesn't know jack shit about photography, but it's sort of an awesome picture, even if he'd been backed into a corner about it.

Brian has a copy of it hanging in his bunk.

***

04/19/2008 - Detroit , Michigan, The Fillmore @ State Theatre
04/20/2008 - Detroit, Michigan, The Fillmore @ State Theatre

Nell gets sick almost as soon as they pull into Michigan.

She's been tired and cranky since leaving Chicago, but Bob dismisses it as missing her new best friend Patrick until she starts rubbing at her ears.

"Do you feel okay, baby?" Bob pulls her up onto his lap and touches his lips to her forehead. She seems a little warm and he can feel a tiny ball of panic start to form in the pit of his stomach. He'd been around when Nell was sick before, but Amy always seemed to have some sort of magical mom knowledge of what to do, so he just followed her orders. Now it's all him and he's pretty sure he's going to screw something up and Nell is going to end up blind or something.

Maybe if he'd seen Nell like this before it'd be easier. In the past, it'd mostly been colds--coughing and sneezing and what seemed like a metric ton of horrible green snot--and on one especially memorable occasion, the stomach flu, but she seems to be wilting before his eyes, snuggling into his side and making unhappy noises.

"No. Don't feel good."

Bob kisses her head and tucks her into the corner of the couch. He's got the kiddie pharmacy under his bunk, but it's sort of daunting. There's Children's Tylenol and cough medicine and Vaporub and a dozen other mystifying little bottles. First things first, though. Bob finds the thermometer and pushes her hair back to get at her ear. The thermometer beeps after a second and '100.1' pops up on the display.

"You've got a little fever. Does your throat hurt? Are you stuffed up?" Bob starts reading the instruction on various bottles and separating them out by symptom.

"My throat hurts," Nell tucks herself into a little ball. "And my ears itch."

"Okay. Let's start with some Tylenol for the fever and sore throat then we'll go from there." Bob pours out a dose of the bright red liquid. "Open up."

***

Bob does not play his best show ever that night.

He doesn't fuck up, but he's definitely distracted by worrying about Nell. She'd been asleep when he left for the venue, Brian and Renee sitting with her and keeping her dosed with Tylenol and Pedialyte, but he hates himself a little for not staying with her. She is his little girl and she's sick. Really sick if her pale face and glassy eyes are anything to go by and Bob should be there.

He doesn't really remember much about the show and, after what feels like a million years later, he's back in the van on his way to the hotel. They lucked out and their dressing room had halfway decent showers so Bob could slip into his room without having to worry about cleaning up. Renee had obviously packed it in for the night, but Brian was asleep in the second bed, slouched over his laptop. Bob saves Brian's work and moves the computer to the small table before scooting Brian down to rest properly on the pillows and covering him up.

A quick check with the thermometer lets Bob know Nell's temperature is holding steady at about 100 which isn't great, but is better than it getting any higher. Even though it's early for him, Bob slides into bed next to Nell and lets himself drop off to sleep, the stress and worry of the past several hours finally catching up with him.

He's asleep before he knows it.

***

Bob isn't sure what wakes him up at what he's sure is an ungodly hour. A quick look at his phone tells him it's three in the morning and he flops back against the pillows, ready to fall back asleep when Nell makes a noise. He touches her head and frowns at the heat coming off her. He gropes on the night table for the thermometer and it's like getting punched in the kidneys when he sees '103.4' blinking back at him.

He's moving before he even thinks about what he's doing. He pulls his shoes and hoodie back on before sliding shoes on Nell and pulling her favorite fleecy blanket out of her duffel bag to wrap her in. He makes sure he has his wallet and insurance information before shaking Brian awake. "Hey, wake up."

Brian jerks awake, sitting up and looking around in a panic. "What? What's wrong?"

"Nell's temperature spiked. I need to take her to the hospital." Bob shifts restlessly, trying to ignore the voice in his head whispering hurryhurryhurry as Brian blinks at him, looking confused for a second.

"Shit." He snaps out of it quickly, though, pulling on his own shoes and calling down to someone on his cellphone. "Okay, thanks. Bye."

Brian grabs both keycards from the top of the dresser and shoves them into his backpack. "The hotel has the shuttle van waiting downstairs for us. Worm knows where we're going, too."

Bob picks Nell up, making sure she's all covered and follows Brian out of the room and into the elevator. Nell is restless in his arms, rubbing at her ears even in her sleep, and her breathing is a little labored. Bob is not afraid to admit he's scared shitless at how flushed she is. Brian reaches up and touches Nell's cheek, frowning when he realizes just how warm she is. By the time they get to the lobby, the rest of the guys have piled out of the other elevator and they stumble after Bob as Brian leads them out to the waiting van. Brian helps get Nell settled in the back before climbing into the passenger seat.

The drive to the hospital doesn't even really register with Bob as he keeps one hand on Nell's chest to monitor her increasingly shallow breaths and the other curled around the back of Brian's seat so that he can feel Brian's arm brushing against his fingers. Brian handles checking them in at the Emergency Room desk and, while Bob has never been happy about Frank's inability to go a week without hurting himself, it definitely gives Brian the skills to get a doctor to see Nell in an amazingly short period of time.

"Okay, let's see what we have here." The doctor takes Nell's temperature and listens to her lungs and checks her ears before making a few notes and looking up at Bob. "I'm going to admit her. Her fever has me a little worried and I'm as sure as I can be without more tests that she's got an upper respiratory infection and a pretty severe ear infection. She's already a little dehydrated despite the fluids you've been giving her."

"Yeah. Okay. Whatever she needs." Jesus. Bob needs to sit down.

"I'll have a nurse get her settled and I'll let you know when you can head up to her room if you want to go back to the waiting area."

"Did you hear that, Nell? A nurse is going to take you up to a room, then I'll be right up, okay?"

Nell looks a little scared, but still mostly tired and pale. "Okay, Daddy."

Bob wanders back to the rest of his guys, a little shellshocked, and drops down on the couch next to Brian.

"Is everything all right?"

"The doctor wants to admit her. Says she's got an ear infection, an upper respiratory infection and she's dehydrated from the fever."

Frank makes a face. "That sucks."

Bob nods and leans over to let a little more of his weight rest against Brian. "Yeah."

They sit in silence for a few minutes, the late hour catching up to everyone all at once, but they all stand when the doctor comes in.

"OK, she's all set. The IV and antibiotics should take care of everything in a couple of days."

Bob is a little shocked at that, "A couple of days? She only got sick yesterday."

"It's probably been brewing for a while. You were just in Mexico, you said? The airport is a cesspool of germs and living on a bus..." The doctor's voice trails off, but before Bob can jump down his throat at the implied criticism of his parenting, Brian curls his hand around his bicep.

"I'm going to send Worm back to the hotel to get Nell's stuff if she's going to be here for a couple of days."

The reality of everything hits Bob at once. "Shit, Brian. What am I going to do about the tour?"

"We can reschedule a couple of dates, no problem." Gerard shoots the doctor a suspicious look, as if he's going to jab an IV into Gerard when he's not looking.

Bob knows exactly how much of a problem that would be after the disaster last fall. "No, you guys. Use a sub or something. Don't cancel dates."

Gerard looks ready to argue and Frank does too, but Bob absolutely does not want to create more problems. He's gearing up for an argument when Brian interrupts.

"Hey, manager here. How about we all listen to me?" Brian looks strangely uncomfortable for a second. "I'll stay."

"What?" Bob knows Brian has been trying to make up for being a dick, but this is a bit much.

"I'll stay with her. You play and we'll catch up with you as soon as we can."

"Brian--"

"I'll stay, Bob. It's not a big deal."

"If you're sure." It's not a perfect solution--Bob hates the very thought of leaving with Nell in the hospital--but it's better than any other option. He trusts Brian.

"I'm sure."

***

04/22/2008 - Cleveland, Ohio, The Agora Theatre

Being away from Nell--especially when she's sick--is torture for Bob. He doesn't know how he survived four years of it before. If Brian hadn't volunteered to stay with her, he's pretty sure he'd be coughing up his own money for whatever penalties they'd get for canceling shows.

He dials the number he memorized before they even left Michigan and can't help but smile when he hears her voice.

Hello?

"Hey, how's my girl?" Bob sprawls out on the couch in his bus. It feels empty without Nell.

Daddy! Me and Brian was playing!

"Oh, yeah? What were you playing? Princess Rescue?"

Mr. Unicorn is too sick to play Princess Rescue, Daddy. She's sleeping right now.

"You're right. How silly of me."

It's okay, Daddy. She coughs a little and Bob feels his worry spike again. Brian went to the store and got toys! He says we can leave them here for sick kids when we're done playing.

"That's very nice of him, isn't it? What kind of toys did he get?"

LEGOs to make a pirate ship, but that's for tomorrow. Today we's playing kittens.

"Kittens?" That's a new one for Bob.

There's white ones and orange ones and one black one. There's no mama cat, but Brian says the kids here at the hospital can take care of them when we go. If Bob weren't so thankful to Brian, he'd be recording this shit for blackmail.

"That sounds like a good plan. What else is going on?"

I had Jello for lunch today. The red kind. It was yummy. I had to eat all my peas first. Brian said.

"Brian said, did he? Is he there right now? Can I talk to him for a little bit?"

Yup. There's a fumbling noise as she obviously shoves the phone into Brian's hands.

Hello?

"Kittens?"

Shut up.

"How is she, seriously?"

She's fine. The doctor is happy with her progress and says it'll be just another day or two tops before she's released.

"Thank god." Bob relaxes back into the couch, trusting Brian's read of the situation. "How about you? How are you doing?"

I'm fine. Getting some work done in between playing and coloring.

"If you bring your pages home, we'll put them on the bus fridge."

Oh, my god. Shut up.

Bob laughs. "I'll call you guys tomorrow, okay? Now let me say goodnight to my kid."

Yeah, okay. Bye, Bob.

"Bye."

***

04/24/2008 - New Orleans, Louisiana, House of Blues

"Hello?"

Hey, it's Brian.

Bob sits up a little. It's several hours before he's due to call them. "Is Nell okay?"

Nell is fine. She's being released, in fact. That's the good news.

"There's bad news?"

Her ears are still a little tender, so the doctor doesn't want her to fly for another couple of weeks.

"So..." Bob is mentally flipping through other travel options--car, train, Greyhound, fucking cruise down the Mississippi--trying to decide which would be the least traumatic for everyone.

So I'm renting a car and we'll see you guys in Austin.

"You really think it'll take four days to drive it?"

It's fourteen hundred miles, Bob.

"I know, I know. I just--"

You miss her.

"Both of you."

Bob--

"Brian." Bob's tone brooks no argument.

Yeah, okay. We'll call you when we stop tonight.

"Brian--"

You should talk to Nell before we leave. Call her room while I'm picking up the car.

"We're not done with the conversation, Brian." Bob hears Brian talking to someone, probably at the car rental place.

Fine. I believe you. Happy now?

"Ecstatic." Bob figures it'll take Brian a little while to get used to...everything.

Okay, I've got to go. Talk to you later?

"Definitely. Bye."

Bye.

***

04/28/2008 - Austin, Texas, Stubbs Amphitheatre

"Daddy! Daddydaddydaddy!"

Nell might be little, but her voice carries like crazy and it takes Bob several seconds to actually see her through the milling techs in the venue. She's running towards the stage from the back of the hall. Her hair is scraggly and it looks like she slept in her clothes, but she's the best thing he's seen in days. He grabs her as she runs up to him, swinging her up and tossing her into the air before catching her in a hug. "I missed you."

"I missed you too, Daddy." She rests her head on his shoulder and pets at his beard a couple of times.

Bob looks around, but doesn't see Brian. "Where's Brian?"

"He brought me in here and said he had to find a cash machine." Nell laughs and blows a raspberry on the side of his neck. "He swore lots in the car."

"Oh yeah?" Bob's been in the car with Brian before. He's not all that surprised. "Did you have fun, though?"

"Yes! We played I-Spy and the animal game and padiddle and find the alphabet."

Bob tries to picture that and sort of fails. "Wow, that's a lot of games."

"We were in the car forever."

"Forever, huh?" Bob lets Nell slide down to the ground when she wiggles.

"Days and days." She stands on his feet, tugging on his hands until he starts to lurch around like Frankenstein's monster.

Bob moves them over to the stage and boosts her up onto it, pointing to the rest of the band. "Some other people missed you too."

Nell grins and takes off across the stage, throwing herself at Frank. He watches them all smother her in hugs for a second before he's distracted by a hand on his back. Brian steps up next to him, sliding his hand around his side before propping his arms on the stage.

"Hey."

"Hi. I heard you're paying for Harvard."

"Jesus fucking Christ. That kid is merciless with the swear jar." Brian shakes his head and leans over to rest against Bob. "I hate driving."

"I bet." Bob loves Nell more than anything, but can't imagine driving with her for over a thousand miles in a car instead of a bus, "The trip was okay otherwise?"

"Yeah, it was fine. And she's fine too." He pats at the pocket of his backpack. "She's got another few days of antibiotics to finish."

"And then that's it." It's not a question and Bob's shoulders drop a couple of inches.

Brian's hand scrabbles under the shirts he has on to get to skin. "What the fuck? How many layers do you have on?"

Any answer Bob has is cut off when Nell runs up to them. "Daddy! Brian! I want to sleepover with Frankie tonight!"

"What?" Brian reaches forward and reties Nell's loose shoelace.

"You need special time, so I'm gonna have a sleepover."

Bob can feel his face slacken and next to him, Brian freezes. "Nell, what--"

She plops down on the stage and props her face on her hands. "You are special friends, right? I asked Gerard, but he said I had to ask you."

Brian is sort of spluttering next to him and Bob risks a glance over at the rest of the band who are, as expected, pissing their pants with laughter. He sort of expected to have this conversation eventually, but not for a couple of years. Like, twenty. He knows he's turning bright red, but Nell is waiting for an answer, so he takes a deep breath. "Yeah, we are special friends."

Nell nods. "So you need special friend time. Grandma said."

"What the fu--hell?" Brian turns to look at Bob.

"I don't--What did Grandma say?"

"She said someday you'd have a special friend and would need time alone together sometimes." Nell does a backwards somersault and clambers up to her feet, "So I'm sleeping over with Frankie."

Bob watches her run back to the rest of the band and get picked up by Ray to settle on his shoulders. Brian is quiet next to him, but shifting nervously.

"Special friends?"

"It's better than 'boyfriend'?" Bob scratches at his beard, trying not to smile at the face he knows Brian is making.

"Right. So..."

"Special friends."

***

Bob's not quite sure what to expect when he lets himself into his hotel room after the show that night, but Brian jumping on him and climbing him like a tree is pretty far down the list. He falls back against the door and gets his arms around Brian to keep him close. Brian is desperate against him, kissing his mouth, his cheek, his neck, but unable to settle down enough to concentrate on anything.

The doorknob is digging into Bob's back and he's afraid he's going to lose his balance and take Brian down with him, so he pushes off and stumbles towards the stripped bed. He pushes Brian back so he can pull his various layers off over his head. Brian's naked and working on Bob's pants by the time he untangles himself from the way his hood is wrapped around his neck. He kicks out of his jeans and lets Brian wrestle him down to the bed.

He rolls over until he has Brian pinned, twining their fingers together next to his head to keep his hands out of trouble while Bob kisses him slowly. It only takes a few minutes for Brian to stop straining up against Bob and to relax into the bed, squeezing his hands in a syncopated rhythm. Bob bites gently at the line of Brian's throat, scraping a little with his beard. "What do you want?"

"You." Brian shakes his hands free of Bob's and rubs them over his back.

Bob smiles against Brian's skin. "You have stuff?"

Brian reaches into the pillowcase beneath his head and pulls out a bottle of lube and a handful of condoms, dropping them on the sheets. Bob ignores the pile on the bed, sliding down Brian's body instead, kissing and licking whatever bits of skin catch his attention. Brian moans, his muscles tensing, as Bob nibbles under the curve of his rib and continues down the soft skin of his belly. He detours over the cut of his hip, leaving tiny red marks, before licking the crease of his thigh and nudging his legs further apart.

"Fuck, Bob," Brian growls, tangling his fingers in Bob's hair.

Bob chuckles against the skin of Brian's inner thigh, enjoying the way it makes Brian twitch and gasp. "Patience is a virtue."

Brian tugs firmly on Bob's hair. "Fuck patience."

Bob lifts his head up and grins at Brian. He's got about seven stupid come-backs on the tip of his tongue, but really? They can banter all day long and Bob has a really limited window to touch Brian like this, so he licks up the underside of his cock and sucks the first couple of inches into his mouth.

Brian makes an inarticulate noise and twists his hands in Bob's hair, trying not to just push into his mouth. Bob's never been one for any of the rough stuff, but there's something satisfying about having Brian strung tight under him, obviously fighting his instincts to just take.

Bob takes it slow at first, savoring the taste and feel of it. He doesn't get to do this nearly often enough, and even when he does, there's never enough time to savor it. Bob knows he's torturing Brian just a little bit by going so slowly, but the little noises he's making are totally addictive.

He relaxes his throat and goes down as far as he can, holding in place until he absolutely has to breathe. "Oh, god," Brian gasps.

He does it once, twice more before groping on the bed for the bottle Brian had dumped there. He slicks up his hand and slides his fingers behind Brian's balls to nudge at the opening of his body.

Brian sighs and pushes down against the slight pressure. The tip of Bob's finger slides in a little at Brian's movement and he presses in the rest of the way. Brian makes a soft noise, high at the back of his throat. Bob freezes, not moving at all, as he asks, "Was that a good noise or a bad noise?"

"That was an oh-fuck-keep-going noise." Brian tugs on Bob's hair again.

"That's the best kind." Bob turns his head to bite the inside of Brian's thigh as he works his finger into Brian's tight heat.

Bob pulls his finger most the way out before curling another next to it and pushing back into Brian. He kisses the same place he just bit and twists his hand a little. Brian, as Bob well knows, is an impatient little fuck. And he's used to calling the shots. So Bob really shouldn't be surprised that it's only a few seconds before Brian is ordering him to go faster, add another finger, fuck, Bryar, I'm not fucking fragile, fuck me already.

"One of these days, I'm going to make you fucking beg me to fuck you," Bob says, twisting his fingers in a way that he's already learned makes Brian gasp and swear.

"Good luck with that, Bryar," Brian says, his attempt to sound like a hardass kind of failing due to how husky and fucked-out his voice already sounds. "Stop fucking around and fuck me."

Bob twists his fingers one last time, dragging a ragged noise out of Brian, before moving off him and settling himself on his back next to him. Brian snags a condom from the pile and tears it open. He straddles Bob's thighs and licks around the head of his cock for a second before rolling the condom on and pouring more lube onto him.

He knee-walks forward until he's poised over Bob's hips, leaning forward into his grip on his waist as he reaches behind himself to hold Bob steady as he sinks down onto him. And now it's Bob's turn to gasp and swear, his hands flexing on Brian's hips, trying not to leave bruises but that's probably a lost cause already. Brian sinks down all the way, his eyes closed and his mouth open in a silent oh.

They stay locked like that for a minute, Bob holding himself as still as he can and Brian shifting in tiny increments. He leans forward, settling his hands on Bob's chest before levering his hips up and sliding back down with a nearly inaudible sound. Bob lets Brian set the rhythm, fucking up into him as Brian slides down. Brian starts out slow, so slow that it's almost torture, but speeds up pretty much immediately. He drops his head down enough to bite the curve of Bob's chest and Bob braces his feet against the bed and goes for it, fucking Brian as hard as he can, feeling him slam back down onto him.

It's--god, it's so fucking good. Bob has wanted this for so long and he pulls Brian forward, stretching for a brief kiss before dropping back onto the bed. He digs his heels into the mattress, grinding up into Brian and clenching his hands on his hips.

Brian shifts his weight a little, leaning on one hand and dropping the other down to jerk himself off.

"Fuck," Bob gasps. The sight of Brian jerking himself off while riding his cock--Bob almost comes right there, and only closing his eyes and biting his lip hard pulls him back from the edge.

Brian's grinning at him when Bob opens his eyes again. Bob can tell he's totally about to make a smart-ass remark. Brian barely has his mouth open to speak when Bob grabs him by the hip and arm and flips them, managing to somehow do it without sliding out. Brian's smart-ass remark comes out as a moan as Bob slams into him hard.

Brian's eyes roll back in his head and his hand falters for a second before picking up Bob's rhythm and speeding it up. Bob can feel Brian's feet scrabbling against the bed next to him and he hooks his hands under his knees and shoves his legs back.

"Oh, fuck." Brian seizes up beneath him for a second before twisting hard and coming all over his hand and stomach. Bob manages to hold out for two or three more strokes, feeling Brian spasm around him, and then he's gone, game over, his brain whiting out as he comes.

Brian is still shuddering and breathing hard when Bob blinks his vision back into focus and he gets himself together enough to grab the bottom of the condom and pull out. He throws the condom into the little plastic trashcan next to the bed and collapses on his side next to Brian, letting one arm rest over his chest. Brian curls his hands over Bob's forearm and squeezes lightly. He turns onto his side and scoots over so he's pressed up against Bob, nuzzling into the curve of his neck and obviously not giving a damn about the sweat and lube and come liberally smeared over both of them.

Bob yawns and wraps his arm more securely around Brian's back, petting at the smooth skin as his breathing slows, and thinks about a hot shower, about falling asleep just like this, about doing this--and more--again and again. He thinks about years of wanting this, of getting it, having it. He thinks about Nell and how she's probably staying up way too late and watching movies tonight. He thinks about breakfast--tomorrow and a lifetime of pancakes and cereal and yogurt stretching about in front of them. He thinks about--

He thinks--

He's happy.

THE END