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Highway Lines and Interstate Signs

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“Travis,” William says, his phone tucked under his ear as he arranges the piles of clothing on his bed into a slightly different configuration. “If I have a dozen pairs of socks and fifteen pairs of underwear, is that enough to get me through the tour?”

“How often do you wear underwear?” Travis asks, probably a rhetorical question. “And I know you, you Chicago boys can’t take the heat. You’re going to end up barefoot by July.”

William takes six pairs of socks out of the stack, then does the math and puts them back in again. “What about jeans?” he asks. “Do I need to go shopping?”

“Man, why are you so worried about this?” Travis asks, chuckling down the line. “You’ve been on tour for something like five months straight at this point. You know what you’re doing.”

“This is different,” William argues, subtracting three pairs of socks and compromising with the jeans that are due to fall apart any day now. Maybe they’ll make it through the first few dates. He frowns even though Travis can’t see him. “Everyone says this is different.”

“This is a tour,” Travis replies easily. “Stop packing, you’ve got five days still. Take a vacation. I’ll see you on Warped.”

The difference, William learns quickly, is that Warped isn’t exactly wash, rinse, repeat. It’s more like wash, rinse, figure out which load you’re doing next and what the settings are. They all react to it in slightly different ways; Butcher is embracing the free-spirited nature of it all, which William could have predicted if he’d thought about it, Mike is freaking out quietly about every detail he can’t control, Adam’s looking to the rest of them for the lead on everything from sound check to pizza toppings, and Tom has become incredibly Zen, as if to compensate for the rest of them.

William himself is handling it just fine. Sure, it’s unpredictable, but he can do that. He can roll with the punches. He’s totally adaptable. If he were a species back in the eighteen hundreds, he would be proof of Darwin’s survival theory.

“You are one-hundred-percent full of shit,” Travis tells him. “It’s eight-thirty at night, and here you are, stone cold sober and wigging out to me about how chill you are. You need a drink. Two drinks. One for each hand.”

“Then I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the bottle cap,” William points out.

Travis hands him two bottles of beer from Armor’s cooler and twists off the caps, tossing them pointedly into the grass. “Fuck the caps, you won’t need ‘em. You’re finishing both of these. Pull up a lawn chair.”

It’s not that William doesn’t know how to party. He totally does. He’s been drinking since high school and he’s still underage, technically, but it’s not like anyone here cares. Travis certainly doesn’t. It’s more that it feels like there’s pressure on this tour to party hard, all the time, day and night. Work hard, play harder. William doesn’t know if he can keep up.

He starts to tell Travis this, then Travis catches his eye and he clams up. Travis nods approvingly. “Drink the second one,” he tells William, pointing a long finger at him. “Then you can blab about whatever the fuck comes into your pretty little head. Drink first, though.”

They play tomorrow – he thinks – at noon. William shuts his mouth and chugs.

The schedule is grueling. William knew it would be, just from talking to some of the other guys, but on paper it hadn’t looked that bad. Especially with the length of the sets they were playing, when it was all over in less than an hour and then they had plenty of time to kill before picking up and moving on to the next thing.

It doesn’t feel like that, at the eye of the hurricane. Days start to blur together before he ever expects them to, and soon they’re all telling stories that start with “Do you remember back in…” without being able to pinpoint the show, or saying, “Yeah, in Austin,” before someone else chimed in that they hadn’t played there.

Mike stops freaking out quite so much, which is good, because there are only so many hours William can hide in his bunk every day. They don’t run the A/C when they’re stopped, either, and the days are getting hotter. He spends most of his time roaming the grounds and checking out the other acts, but he doesn’t want to see them all at once, because then he figures he’ll be bored and sick of everything by the end of the tour. He goes out with Tom a few times, sightseeing and taking pictures, but soon they’re both too tired and sunburned to work up the motivation.

“We’re driving from southern California to northern California, back to southern California, back to northern California,” William says, looking at the travel schedule. “In what world does that make sense?”

“It’s kind of middle California,” Butcher says, scratching his head.

William looks over the dates again, looks at Butcher and asks, “Which one?”

“We’re leaving in five,” Adam says, climbing onto the bus. “Instituting lock-down.”

William’s phone trills with a text that says have you seen our drummer? Butcher’s buzzes as well, which means it’s probably a mass-text to find out which bus Matt is riding on. Butcher’s already texting, probably something clever that only percussionists and by extension beat-boxers understand, so William just taps his phone against his thigh and says, “Dinner preferences?”

“You know what I’m thinking?” Adam asks, and they were all together walking back to the bus when the smell of fish tacos from the vendor stand had hit, so William does.

“Mexican,” he and Tom say together.

He goes up to tell the driver, and texts found fish tacos instead while he waits.

exit #, Travis sends back promptly, and William laughs and calls back to the guys that they’re going to need to get a big table.

Butcher’s birthday party is painstakingly planned to be epic (“Epic,” Adam states solemnly. “Unlike all parties before it”), but they have fifteen minutes and about forty-five dollars in cash when they tumble off the bus on their party-planning mission, so it turns out to be a half-assed collection of cardboard hats, confetti streamers, cheap beer and balloons that say “I ♥ Dad” left over from Father’s Day.

In order to accomplish this mission, they unfortunately had to dupe Butcher into going to the stage to look for one of his drums (William had cleverly hidden it on Gym Class’ bus, so the prank-check of their own bus didn’t turn up anything), and then they’d ‘accidentally’ left him behind at the site. William had every confidence that he would forgive them, though. They were, after all, planning an epic birthday party for him.

Butcher is predictably pissed, and they all act like jerks for the rest of the day just to make it worse, so they can milk him for contrition and apologies later. Tom stops speaking entirely, raising his eyebrows without taking his earbuds out whenever Butcher addresses him. William has to shut himself in the bathroom when Butcher starts ranting about lack of respect and small living quarters because he’s laughing too hard to stop.

By the time they surprise Butcher with the cake, a guitar painted on the top because they hadn’t been able to find one with drums, William thinks he might just be mad enough to smash it over their faces. He just stares and then he starts laughing, though, which is when Adam gets clingy and sappy and starts hanging on him, and they announce that the party has officially begun.

The usual suspects show up at first; Gym Class, who have wrapped Butcher’s drum in tinfoil and give it to him as a birthday present, three-quarters of Fall Out Boy, and the T’s, who show up with reinforcements for the beer cooler and are applauded as party heroes.

An hour into it, though, word apparently gets around, and only then do they realize how truly epic this party is going to be, because practically everyone on the tour shows up at some point to have a beer with them, pass along their good wishes to Butcher, and in some cases take part in the pin-the-pasties-on-the-pinup game Mike had supplied and hung on the side of their bus.

William is having an awesome time. His head’s beginning to spin, though, and it’s loud, so when Travis drapes a languid arm over his shoulders and says, “Billy, how you doin’?” with a familiar smoked-out look in his eyes, William’s ready to move onto the next course of entertainment.

He tips his head back and replies, “Got a light?”

“You got something to light?” Travis returns, but he’s smiling, and William’s smiling, and the fact that it’s already taken care of goes unspoken.

“Your bus or mine?” William asks, because he doesn’t like smoking up in big groups; there are too many people, too much noise, and he gets paranoid when he’s both high and surrounded.

“It’s fuckin’ loud here, you gonna start wigging?” Travis asks. William shrugs, lifting the weight of Travis’ arm, and Travis pulls him in closer, nodding like that was an actual answer. “My bus,” he decides. “Everyone’s here anyway, it’ll be nice and quiet.”

A little tingle of anticipation runs under William’s skin. He breathes out, closes his eyes, and lets Travis lead the way.

The thing is, when Travis and William are high, they hook up. Not all the time, of course, there are other factors, but they don’t hook up when they’re not high, so anytime William takes a hit now, his brain seems to react to it with a little giggly voice in the back of his head singing gonna get laaaaid.

He doesn’t know if Travis is similarly conditioned, but he knows what it means when Travis drops the butt of the joint into the ashtray and looks at William with half-lidded eyes, blowing smoke out slowly through his nose.

There’s no one on the bus and the door is locked, so William dispenses with the pleasantries and crawls into Travis’ lap.

“Missed this,” Travis says, palming William’s hips, and fuck, William has too. He arches into the contact, stripping off his shirt because it’s a warm night and his skin is buzzing, clamoring for touch. Travis rubs over his hipbones with big, warm thumbs, and then slides his hands up William’s sides to do the same to his nipples.

“Travis,” William says, only slightly breathy, but he needs some sort of decision to be made here so that he knows what to do. He lets Travis call the shots, because Travis seems to have more lines drawn than William does, more stuff he doesn’t or won’t do. William thinks he probably has lines himself, but wherever they are, he and Travis haven’t hit them yet.

“Take off your pants, baby, I want to see you jerk off,” Travis says, so William pops the button fly and shimmies out of them, half making it a show and half too impatient to care. As Travis had predicted, he’d given up on underwear somewhere in the first week, so when he settles back in Travis’ lap it’s to the feel of warm denim against his bare thighs.

“What about you?” William asks, hands roaming over Travis’ broad shoulders, scrunching the fabric of his shirt and brushing the ends of his hair. He’s not complaining about the current plan, he just thinks they could improve it. Expand upon it. Maximize its full potential.

“I’m just gonna watch for now,” Travis answers, and his hands are back on William’s hips, sosoclose but not close enough. William pushes up into the touch without thinking about it, his own hands drifting down over his chest and skimming his ribs, and Travis’ fingers curve under his thighs to brace him.

William’s still buzzing too much to wait, so he doesn’t tease either of them, just drops a hand to his cock and squeezes, warming himself up. His other forefinger and thumb pluck a nipple, the sensation just enough that his head drops back and he exhales in relief.

“Yeah, baby, come on,” Travis murmurs, the sound of his voice like silk and honey over the rumbling of an engine, and William’s fingers spread and slide, twisting around the head. Travis’ hands move again, his fingers sliding further under William’s thighs and up to his ass, kneading and spreading him open. William makes a noise, something that should have sounded surprised and instead comes out compliant, acquiescing, and Travis bends to kiss his bare collarbone and chuckles.

“Maybe I’m not just gonna watch, what do you think? You want me in you when you do this? Touching you?” Travis squeezes and spreads again, and William can’t help the way his legs slide apart almost automatically, his breath coming faster when he makes another noise, agreement and permission. Travis keeps holding him open and just lets the tip of one middle finger brush between his cheeks, rubbing slow and teasing over his asshole.

Travis kisses his throat and William’s hand moves faster, stroking now in earnest in spite of his cursory attempts to slow down. The tip of Travis’ finger presses inside, and it’s not like it feels good, because it doesn’t feel like much of anything, honestly, but the idea of it has William dragging in air like his lungs are on fire.

“This what you want? You need lube?” Travis asks, and William shakes his head. He doesn’t, not for this. He would if they were going any further, but he doesn’t think that’s what Travis has in mind for tonight.

Travis presses in again, and William has to pull his attention away from jerking off to get himself to relax, to let the intrusion happen. Travis’ finger sinks in all the way to the last knuckle, his hands still holding William spread open, and William shudders and lets his head drop forward, hair falling over his face. He twists his wrist on each stroke over his cock, the tension coiling tighter with each pull, and Travis wiggles his finger just a little, like he’s reminding William that it’s there.

“You’re so hot like this,” Travis tells him, the words accompanied by the hot gust of his breath on William’s face. “So hot, like you’re gonna melt the ink right off my fingers. It’s gonna smear all over you, mark you from the inside out.”

William jerks and comes, striping Travis’ t-shirt and his own chest, hand and thighs. Travis squeezes his ass and then, just when William’s finished riding it out and is coming down, he wiggles his finger again, sending one last zing! of surprise through William’s body.

William takes a second to recover, while Travis pulls out of him and pats his thighs, bringing him back, and then he sees Travis’ palm cover his crotch and reaches to bat him away, undoing Travis’ fly while the air is still roaring in his ears.

Travis lets him jerk his cock the first few times, and then he tangles their fingers together, wrapping both of their hands around the shaft and guiding William at his pace. “Yeah, baby, just like that,” he says when they get it right. He’s close enough that it doesn’t take long, maybe two minutes, and then his come is adding to the sticky mess decorating William’s torso.

“You’re so good,” Travis mumbles after he comes down, and William gives himself an extra minute for the afterglow before he finds his legs again and gets redressed to join the party.

They’re not even halfway through the tour and Tom is homesick. They all miss Chicago – even William, even though there’s nothing he’d rather be doing than this – but Tom gets it especially bad.

William wonders what it will be like later in the year, whether it will get better or worse the more they tour. They’ve got two fall tours lined up already and a third pending that they expect to be confirmed any day now, and it’s not going to let up soon, not if they want to make it. This is what they have to do to succeed.

He thinks about Michael and AJ, and about the fact that Tom and Butcher haven’t written anything with them yet, haven’t gone through that and offered their own ideas into the band’s overall sound. They’re going to have to record a second album at some point, probably within a year. Travis says it’s too early for him to start worrying about that shit, but William can’t stop planning ahead.

He rolls into his bunk with Tom’s iPod, checking the ‘recently played’ list like it’ll give him some insight into something. He plays a few songs and starts scrolling around the menu, clicking on things he recognizes and hasn’t heard in a while, saving a few to the mobile playlist.

Tom finds him some time later, tugging the half-closed curtain back to reveal William’s pilfering. He has his phone pressed to his ear and a mildly exasperated, mostly resigned look on his face.

“I think that’s mine and not yours,” Tom says, leaning up against the edge of the bunk. “You can tell by the lack of Don Henley and Peter Gabriel.”

“You lie,” William replies. “I found Hotel California.”

“The Eagles don’t count. Are you done?” Tom asks, not rising to the bait. “I need to check on a name.”

“Sure,” William answers, untangling himself from the earbuds and wrapping them around the iPod before handing it back to Tom. “I made you a playlist.”

Tom raises an eyebrow and pushes a few buttons on the menu. “You made me a playlist out of my own songs?” he asks. “Doesn’t that defeat the point? Of like, introducing me to new music?”

“It’s a gesture,” William says, smiling up at him. “You might not have thought to play them in that combination.”

“Uh-huh,” Tom responds, grinning a little back at him. He shifts the phone against his ear, and William sits up further in his bunk.

“Who is that?” he asks.

“Jon,” Tom answers.

William holds his hand out for the phone, and Tom ducks away, dodging his hand. “Let me talk to him,” William says. “I haven’t seen him in months.”

“You have a phone,” Tom tells him.

“You have to look up the name anyway,” William points out reasonably, and Tom sighs at him but hands over the phone. “Thank you,” William says, grinning when Tom sticks his tongue out of his mouth sideways in response, already busy with his iPod. “Johnny Walker,” William says louder. “How’s life in the real world?”

“It sucks, mostly,” Jon answers, sounding very chill about that fact. “I envy you guys so much right now.”

“Yeah,” William agrees, leaning back in his tiny bunk on their stuffy mobile home that smells like feet and stale potato chips. “Me too.”

“I wanna play…” William sings at full volume for possibly the three or four hundredth time that night, and Butcher chimes in with the harmony while Travis just laughs his drunk ass off at them. William stops singing abruptly, sitting bolt upright on the slippery hotel bed and leaving Butcher hanging on the melody. “I wanna drink more sangria. Where is it?”

“Gone, man, gone,” Butcher says sadly, turning the jug upside down. William spies a last precious droplet clinging to the rim and ducks his head under Butcher’s hand to lick it clean. He almost accidentally knocks out his front teeth in the process, but it’s worth it for that final taste of deliciousness.

“Do we have more?” William asks, crawling on top of Travis, who’s still giggling to himself. “Travie, hey. Trav. Is there more?”

Travis shakes his head sadly. “No more.”

William had known they hadn’t bought enough fruit and wine two days ago, when the fermentation process had begun. He should have trusted himself. “Unacceptable,” he tells Travis, thumping a fist on Travis’ chest for emphasis. “Hey, did you put our song on the internet?”

“Not yet,” Travis says, pulling a pillow half-over his eyes. As if that will hide him from William. Ha. William takes the pillow away again and Travis says, “We’ll do it in the morning. I can’t make the keys work.”

“Butcher,” William says, demanding. Butcher rolls over, the rim of the empty jug in his mouth to keep his hands free, and rummages around.

“I don’t know where the laptop is,” he says eventually, patting down the rumpled bed. “The floor, maybe?”

Travis hooks an arm around William’s neck and pulls him down, probably because William has been absentmindedly playing the percussion line for Naked Peekaboo on his chest. “Tomorrow. Right now, we need to celebrate. We ain’t got more sangria, but we could get something just as good.”

“Vodka,” William says, his eyes wide and probably shining with unholy light. “We have vodka.”

“Not here,” Butcher says. “Our room. My room.” He sits up a second later, belatedly having the same epiphany William had experienced. “Vodka in my room.”

He scrambles off the bed, stumbling to the door, and William yells, “Bring the bottle!” after him in case Butcher has some other idea or forgets. Then he adds, “And Gabe!” just for good measure. The fucker can’t hide from them forever, and he’s only visiting for a day. William has friend visitation privileges.

Travis starts laughing again. William puts the pillow over his face, peeking out over the top of it with his hair straggling over his eyes, and looks at Travis. Travis stops laughing and looks sort of like he just saw a basket of kittens but isn’t sure whether he’s allowed to think that’s cute or not.

William pulls the pillow down enough to whisper confidentially, “Travis. I wanna play naked peekabo.”

Travis looks regretful. “Butcher,” he says.

William climbs on top of him, somehow ending up sitting on the pillow as well. “We could bolt the door.”

Travis shakes his head sadly. “That’s cold, dude, freezing out your own brother.”

“He has a room. Another room.” William tugs at the pillow so he can hit Travis with it, but he’s still sitting on it, so that doesn’t work very well. “He’ll just go sleep there.”

“He’ll come back,” Travis says, catching William’s arm when he gives the pillow a particularly determined tug and nearly goes toppling over backward. “He’ll hear us, or he’ll make a fuckin’ lot of noise yelling at us to let him back in.”

William rolls off to the side, uprightness no longer a goal worthy of as much effort as it seems to take, and smushes his face up onto Travis’ pillow so that they’re looking at each other, nose-to-nose. “Shower,” he whispers, quietly so Butcher won’t hear the plan. Butcher is a ninja, his ears are everywhere.

Travis looks at him, a little cross-eyed. William smiles brilliantly back at him, and Travis finally sighs. “I do need a shower.”

William throws his arms up victoriously and falls off the bed onto his ass. “I’m gonna play…some…” he sings, and Travis crawls after him, pulling William’s jeans down while William wiggles out of them in the direction of the bathroom, detouring to bolt the door on the way. They’d been half-naked anyway, warm from the sangria and the fact that they hadn’t remembered to turn on the air conditioning, so it doesn’t take much effort to strip completely and drag themselves under the spray.

William goes to his knees because it’s hard to stand straight anyway, hitting the porcelain with enough of a bang that he’s going to have bruises tomorrow. More bruises. He’d hit his elbow on something earlier, too. He mouths Travis’ soft cock, marveling at how small and vulnerable it feels before it starts to swell against his tongue.

It takes long enough to suck Travis off that William’s jaw is seriously starting to ache, so he finishes it with a handjob and a dedicated amount of licking at the tip, until Travis fists a hand in his hair and groans low and long, spurting into William’s open mouth.

William spits into the drain, tipping his head back to rinse his mouth out in the spray, and when he opens his eyes Travis is looking down at him, water dripping off the end of his nose.

“Come up here,” Travis says, fumblingly petting his head.

William considers the current wobbliness of his legs. “You come down here,” he counters, sitting back on his heels and slipping sideways, banging his knee on the side of the tub.

Travis clambers down on top of him and William stretches out as much as he can. Their limbs are far too long to be jammed into the hotel’s tiny shower stall, but Travis’ weight settles on top of him and his hand wraps around William’s cock, so William stops caring.

Travis jerks him off while mouthing at his throat, and William throws his head back and moans, hips pumping up into Travis’ fist with uncoordinated enthusiasm. It’s a sloppy handjob, but William looks down and sees the ink swirling on Travis’ skin, the muscles in his forearm corded with tension as he squeezes and pulls, and he comes long before he ever expects to, jerking in Travis’ grip and whimpering.

They rinse off without standing up, and Travis reaches up to shut off the water when they crawl out in search of towels. It’s still warm in the room, so William goes straight back to the bed he’d claimed as his, collapsing on top of it with his eyes already closed and the towel wrapped loosely around his hips.

He opens his eyes a few minutes later, when he hears jingling. Travis is already dressed again, just tugging his belt closed. William sits up, confused. “What are you doing?” he asks, looking around to make sure he hasn’t missed something.

Travis waves a hand at him in a way that William thinks means lie back down. “Just going back to my room,” he says. “You get some sleep.”

“But.” William doesn’t actually have anything to come after that. He doesn’t know why he’d thought Travis would stay here tonight. They swapped rooms around all the time, it’s not like anyone would miss him.

“Sweet dreams, baby boy,” Travis says, leaning over enough to kiss him clumsily on the forehead before flipping the bolt and slipping out through the door.

William curls up on the cheap hotel coverlet, and finally kicks the towel away and crawls under the blanket. He doesn’t know why he feels so cold.

Joe’s friend dies and he flies back home for the funeral, and Travis and William lie on top of the Academy bus and talk about mortality.

“It’s just hard when it’s out of nowhere,” William says, fingers twitching at his sides with the restless urge to gesticulate. It’s too dark outside, he’d only be painting the air anyway. And it feels weirder gesturing, lying on his back looking up at the stars. “Like, with older people, like grandparents, you know it’s coming. You have the chance to think, you know, that this is…to think this is the last time you might ever do this thing with that person. You can prepare.”

“Yeah,” Travis says. “They got someone to fill in for them?”

“Ray Toro,” William says, biting at a hangnail pensively. “From My Chemical Romance. He thinks he can learn it all in a day. Shit, I wish I could do more to help. To…fill in, or whatever.”

“You can’t play electric guitar for shit,” Travis says gently. William knows it’s true; he never would have volunteered, but still. He wishes Butcher or Tom was filling in, so that it would feel more like he’s helping. He wonders why someone else’s grief inevitably becomes about how you feel in response to it, and why the human response is generally for people to make it all about themselves.

“Maybe we should go over there,” William says, although he doesn’t really mean it. Joe’s band will look after their own. They all do.

“Nah, not tonight,” Travis says, echoing his thoughts. “Tomorrow, maybe. Watch from backstage.”

“Maybe,” William echoes. He’ll call Patrick tomorrow, find out when they’re playing. Or someone else must know. He hasn’t heard a lot of buzz about it, but he supposes that’s to be expected. It’s not like it was someone from the scene, someone they all know. The first week of the tour, for instance, everyone had been talking about Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin not being on tour, on account of their lead singer being in the hospital with leukemia.

“You’re thinking about Andrew,” Travis says, tapping his finger on William’s arm. William looks over at him, at his eyes and his teeth in the dark. Travis continues, “You’ve got that look. The Andrew look. The crushing hard look.”

“What?” William’s surprised into stuttering the word, but he gets it under control again quickly. It’s just Travis, after all, there’s not a lot of pressure. “I’m not crushing on anyone.”

“Man, you’re always crushing on skinny-ass white boys,” Travis says, chuckling.

“I am not,” William replies, stung.

“Conor Oberst,” Travis drawls.

William flushes, glad of the night around them to hide the color in his cheeks. “That’s not…”

“Benjamin Gibbard,” Travis adds.

“I wouldn’t call that a crush,” William argues.

“Thom Yorke,” Travis continues, sounding entertained.

“He’s not even in the same league,” William protests, and smacks at Travis’ arm when he starts laughing. “Shut up. I don’t…”

“I know, I know,” Travis soothes, catching his hand before William can hit him again and not letting go of it immediately. “You don’t want to fuck ‘em, you want to be ‘em.”

William’s mouth pouts into a sulk which is completely wasted, both because of the surrounding darkness and because that expression never works on Travis. It smoothes out a few seconds later anyway, because Travis is rubbing the soft webbing in between William’s thumb and forefinger, and it feels nice.

“He’s gonna be okay, you know,” Travis says after a few minutes of quiet. “Your boy Andy.”

William looks up at the stars. “I know,” he says quietly, and turns his face into the warmth of Travis’ sleeve.

They start a game of Assassins in Montana. William gets through two targets before he’s taken out by the hot chick from Paramore, and by the time he gets back to the bus, it’s to find that Adam’s been similarly duped by one of the dancers for Gogol Bordello.

Mike hadn’t even made it all the way out of the bus before he got nailed, so it’s down to Butcher and Tom. That lasts until Utah, when they all get ragingly drunk with Silverstein and some asshole pegs Butcher right in the navel in the middle of the party. Which is a serious party foul. Butcher’s doing handstands against the side of Silverstein’s bus at the time, so he never even has a chance.

William mourns Butcher’s ninja demise and their chances for winning over a six-pack of warm beer, which Tom doesn’t seem to mind, because. Well, it’s Tom. Tom is the most oblivious person William has ever known, up to and including Jon Walker. Tom should have been taken out the first time he went wandering around on the grounds without any shoes on, having forgotten where their bus was parked and to bring along his cell phone. By all rights, Tom should be dead.

He’s not, though, so they fall into formation around him, escorting him to the stage in Denver like an honor guard. Attacks during the set are strictly forbidden, so it’s mostly out of William’s mind when they’re walking back to the bus, sweaty and triumphant, and see the guys from Gym Class waiting offstage for them in the little clearing between the first aid trailer and the merch stand.

“They probably want to know if we want to go out for fried chicken again,” Mike says, eyeing Sashi’s grin with trepidation. “Don’t give in to them; I was sick all night last time.”

“You were sick all night because you mixed tequila and bourbon,” Butcher opines, scratching his fingers through his tangled hair. “Don’t blame it on the chicken.”

“I like chicken,” Adam contributes unhelpfully. William is about to add his own two cents to the conversation when his gaze falls on the hand Eric has half-hidden behind his back, and the familiar fluorescent profile of a foam dart gun.

“Code red!” he yells, overriding Mike’s descriptions of the various kinds of edible chicken. “Everybody down, now!”

Eric starts shooting as soon as William starts shouting, giving up on secrecy to just start firing darts at Tom’s unprotected head. Luckily Adam has been well-trained for this, and throws himself bodily into the line of fire, pummeled by tiny bits of foam as he bellows a noble war cry. The rest of them take the opportunity to hustle Tom backward to safety, William and Butcher shoving him behind the merch table while Mike covers their retreat with a well-aimed squirt gun.

A few seconds and shouts later, they’ve all piled behind the table, breathing hard and formulating a plan. “They’ve cut us off, the bastards,” Adam says, peering out from under the tablecloth to do reconnaissance. “Looks like they’ve spread out and taken cover. Eric’s still dead ahead.”

“Dead is right,” Mike adds, risking a glance over the top of the table. “What do you want to do?”

“If we all charge Eric and the guys on the right, we can make a run for it,” William suggests, thinking furiously. “The only one we really need to take down is Eric, and keep the others from pinning down Tom.”

“I don’t think Tom…” Butcher starts reluctantly, which is when they hear the shouting.

“If you come out and surrender the target, we will show mercy!” Matt bellows. William thinks he’s near the first aid trailer; it’s hard to tell. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be!”

“Death first, cocksuckers!” Mike yells in return before William has a chance to prepare a neutral but unbending reply. “Why don’t you come out in the open and fight us like men!”

There’s a moment of silence, and then Travis’ voice calls out, “Billy, baby. Come on, it doesn’t have to be like this. It’s what’s best for all of us. We win the prize money, we share the benefits of the rewards we have reaped.”

William tips his head back against the table. “Et tu, Brute?” he calls back.

“I’m only saying that you’re looking at this all wrong,” Travis croons. “We could be a team. It could be our victory. Come on, think about it. Just hand him over, and we all win.”

William spots a loose point in how the tent’s been pitched, the breeze catching and playing with the plastic tarp between two pegs. It’s directly ahead of them, hidden – he thinks – from view to anyone in front of the table. He catches Tom’s eye and nods to the flap, raising an eyebrow. Tom bites his lip and shrugs, nodding. William looks at Butcher significantly and jerks his head sideways. “Cover him,” he whispers, because Tom will never find their bus again on his own, and then he raises his voice and calls, “I thought we were friends, Travie. I thought we could fight side-by-side on this thing.”

“Fate’s a fickle bitch,” Travis mourns. His voice sounds slightly closer. William motions for Tom and Butcher to hurry it the fuck up. Mike draws the water pistol up against his chest and mouths, ‘cover fire.’

William nods agreement. “How about we talk about this?” he offers loudly, listening hard for the sounds of Gym Class sneaking up on them. “One of ours and one of yours. Diplomatic negotiations, until we reach a mutually satisfactory solution.”

“Now you’re just stalling,” Travis accuses. “You know we can take you skinny boys out.”

William glances grimly to the side. Adam whispers, “Two on the right, one on the left. One ahead.”

“I’m coming out!” William yells, standing up slowly. He turns around just as Sashi sprints up to the table, and William tries to tackle him in vain before he yells back, “He’s not even here! The target has escaped!”

“Spread out!” Travis bellows. “Find the target!”

Adam’s got Sashi around the waist and Mike’s doing a good job of holding off Eric, water against foam, so William trips to his feet and takes off after Travis. He leaps to take him down in a flying tackle that doesn’t quite go as planned, because Travis catches him and swings him around, going with the momentum, until they both lose their footing and slam into the first aid trailer.

“Smart move,” Travis says, hands under William’s armpits to keep him upright. “But you haven’t won the war yet. You’re going down, Beckett.”

“Bring it on,” William answers, and they both grin.

They get into Indiana early, and William’s entire band goes to see War of the Worlds with a big group of techs and merch kids. He begs off, talking about the revamping of classic films, the poor quality of remakes and summer blockbusters, and they call bullshit because they know he’s talked about seeing it, but in the end they leave him alone and head out.

The movie starts at 7:10. William waits until 7:25, which is when they’d be getting back if something had gone wrong, like the movie selling out or not playing, and then he texts Travis.

Come entertain me, he writes. Bring refreshments.

Travis bangs on the door once and lets himself in ten minutes later, a knapsack slung over his shoulder. It clinks promisingly when he sets it down. “Now I know you can’t be out of booze yet,” he says, putting one hand against the wall to lean on it. “So you’d better not be planning on drinking us dry first, or we’re coming over here.”

“What makes you think that wasn’t my plan all along?” William asks from the couch, where he’s sprawled with his phone and Tom’s iPod, scrolling through the menu checking for artists he hasn’t heard yet.

“Your plans are never that simple. There are always at least five unnecessary steps and cunning misdirection.” Travis pulls two bottles out of the bag and holds them up for William’s inspection. “Jack or Jose?”

William shrugs. “We can start with our stash, if you want,” he offers. “I don’t think the guys will mind.”

Travis looks around like he’s just now noticing how quiet the bus is around them. “Where are your boys?” he asks. “Food run?”

“Movie,” William answers, perfectly nonchalant. “They rode with some of the techs who had a van, so.” He lets that end there, knowing Travis will infer the rest. So they’re alone for at least two hours, and no one can return home unexpectedly without their ride.

Travis looks at him. “Uh-huh,” he says eventually, one corner of his mouth starting to twitch. “I see.”

“What?” William asks, drawing himself up a little, self-conscious. He doesn’t know what that look means.

“Uh-huh,” Travis repeats, and then, drawing out the syllables, “Booooty call.”

“What?” William repeats, startled. “It is not.”

“I’ve been on the receiving end of booty calls before,” Travis informs him with gravity. “And I have certainly made them. Don’t bullshit me.” He holds up a hand when William starts stammering something, and flops down onto the couch next to him. “So what we really want,” he says, pulling out a joint and waggling it between them, “is this little beauty.”

“We could just watch TV,” William suggests. He wonders now if this was a horrible idea, if he should have just let fate handle things and not pushed.

“Uh-huh,” Travis says again. His fingers catch under William’s chin, turning his head from where he’s fixedly examining the couch cushions. “What did I tell you? Five unnecessary steps, and cunning misdirection.”

William smiles reluctantly, and Travis chuckles. “While we’re lighting up, let’s talk about this shirt. You know plaid went out in the early nineties, right? Nirvana ain’t headlining this gig.”

“Shut up,” William says, laughing and fighting Travis’ hands plucking at his shirt at the same time, and he forgets why he was ever afraid to ask for this.

They have at least another full hour left, and a coat hanger jamming the door shut just in case. They’re on the couch, William straddling Travis and the bottles forgotten. Travis has three fingers in William’s ass, and William’s skin is on fire.

“Jesus fuck, how are you so tight?” Travis asks, crooking his fingers a little to try to work them in deeper. William privately thinks it probably has something to do with the fact that it’s been three months since they’ve done this, but he’s a little busy trying to convince his muscles to relax, so he doesn’t answer.

“Hang on,” Travis says, drawing his fingers out, and William makes a noise that isn’t quite a whimper but sounds more like that than anything else. He aches already, and if he was more monumentally stupid than he is, he’d tell Travis to just go for it. He remembers exactly how bad a plan that is, though, so he just breathes and burns and waits.

Travis slides all three fingers home coated in lube, and it stings a little but not enough to matter. William groans softly under his breath and turns his head so Travis can’t see his face, eyes closed and mouth falling open slightly when Travis starts finger-fucking him into loosening up.

William braces his hands on Travis’ shoulders and lifts himself up to give Travis more room to work. They’re both naked this time, and Travis’ skin is dark under his, the lines of William’s fingers clear and sharp. William’s always liked how they look together, aesthetically speaking. It’s not as much of a contrast as there would be for him with someone like Sashi or De’Mar, but they still look good together. They complement each other.

“You good?” Travis asks, pulling his fingers out and wiping them off, and William nods.

He breathes, “Yeah, good,” while Travis reaches for the condom. Travis rolls it onto his cock and William drinks it in, greedily watches the way his hips flex and push up into the circle of his fist. He thinks that’s what’s going to happening in another few seconds, just like that, inside him. He shudders and closes his eyes again, and Travis holds his hips and guides him down.

It hurts, like always, but William knows how to breathe through it now, how to take a little bit at a time until he’s all the way there. Travis lets him control it, hands steady but not demanding on William’s hips, letting him work himself down in gradual increments. “Fuck,” he says when he feels the head pop in, stretching him open, and Travis’ fingers dig into his hips, holding on tight to keep himself from thrusting.

He rocks a little bit, testing his body’s limits, and then breathes, “Okay. Trav, okay.” It’s going to burn for the first minute or so, still, but he knows it gets better after that. Travis knows how to make it better.

Travis says, “Yeah?” in a low rumble, but takes him at his word, lifting William like he’s a feather and then bringing him down again, thrusting up to meet him. He slides in another inch with the first thrust, and William’s breath leaves him in an embarrassingly helpless, desperate moan. He starts rocking again, working Travis in deeper with each circle of his hips, and Travis grips his hipbones relentlessly, keeping William from pulling back to escape the pressure and the aching fullness until he’s completely impaled on Travis’ cock.

“Travis, fuck,” William bites off, and only then does Travis ease up and let him move, flexing his hips to jar them together in a way that makes sparks burst behind William’s eyelids. He adjusts his balance, sliding his hands down to hold onto Travis’ biceps instead, feeling the curl of muscle beneath his fingers. Travis tips him backward and William hangs on, accepting the change in angle even though it pushes Travis in deeper because the next thrust has him seeing stars.

Travis chuckles, although it’s a breathless one. “That it?” he asks, and William would reply but he thinks he’d start moaning if he did, so he bites his tongue and grinds down by way of answer, making Travis bite off a curse of his own and slam harder into William’s ass.

“Fuck,” William chokes, words spilling out of his mouth in spite of his intention to keep it shut. “Fuck me. Travis.”

Travis grunts a wordless reply and keeps doing what he’s doing, which is just turning fantastic when he suddenly stutters and stops.

“What?” William asks wildly, eyes snapping open and hips still trying for some friction, grinding in needy circles. “What is it?”

Travis flexes his hands on William’s thighs, clearly holding onto his own self-control by a thread. “Condom broke, I think,” he says, and William nearly laughs in giddy relief, because he’d thought it had been something far worse than that, like that the guys had broken in and were standing behind them or Travis suddenly remembered he was married or…he doesn’t even know. He can’t think like this.

“You’re not going to get me pregnant,” he says, rocking a little to add physical persuasion to the weight of his argument. “Damage done. Do you have another one?”

“No,” Travis says, drawling it out with reluctance, and William feels for him and his safe sex policy, he really does, but if Travis pulls out and they go find another condom somewhere from someone’s bag and then come back here and miraculously aren’t out of time yet, William’s muscles will have performed their miracle of elasticity and they’ll have to start the cock-penetration part of the proceedings all over again. He’s fine with going through it once. Not twice. Not without an orgasm being involved.

“Then leave it,” he says, and rakes his bitten-down nails down Travis’ chest for emphasis. Travis gives it another second of hesitation, and then he gives up and they start moving again.

William doesn’t even think about it until thirty seconds and many gloriously-angled thrusts later, when he realizes that Travis is going to come inside him, Travis’ come is going to be inside William’s ass, and for some reason that makes his skin go hot and cold until he’s dizzy with it, close enough to start whimpering at the lack of friction against his cock.

Thankfully Travis is either good at interpreting sex noises or good at reading William, because one of his large, capable hands wraps itself around William’s cock, and his grip is so perfect that William barely manages to thrust up into Travis’ fist and back down onto his cock half a dozen times before his brain whites out and he comes.

Travis lets him ride it out, because he’s considerate like that, and then William squeezes his shoulder to let him know he’s okay and Travis grips his hips again, fucking William like a rag doll until he comes, and that, that is like nothing William’s ever felt before.

“Fuuuck,” Travis drags out, breathing hard. He lets go and William flops forward against him, both of them moaning softly as the movement pulls at Travis’ cock still in his ass.

Then his phone alarm goes off, signaling the end of the movie and that the guys will be on their way back soon. William doesn’t even have the energy to flail a hand out and turn it off.

Travis runs a hand through William’s hair. He’s probably just trying to get it out of his face so he can breathe, but it feels nice. “That mean what I think it does?” he asks, turning his head so that his nose presses into William’s cheek.

“Mmph,” William replies, a dead weight draped across Travis’ torso. He doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon. The guys can just fuck off. They have a coat hanger jammed in the door anyway.

Travis chuckles and gives them both another thirty seconds before he tips William sideways and back onto the couch, their bodies sliding slickly apart with just enough friction to skip one last, fleeting spark up William’s spine. And now he can feel Travis’ come still inside him, trickling out a little down the crack of his ass. His body does some sort of fucked-up clenching, twisting thing in response to that thought. He throws an arm up over his face to hide whatever his expression is doing right now and forcibly relaxes again.

“Up and at ‘em,” Travis says, peeling the broken condom off and pitching it into the trash bin under the sink. William makes a disgruntled noise, too filled with post-orgasmic lassitude to want to think about clothes. “Hey,” Travis says, nudging his ankle. “If we take off now, we won’t have to share the liquor.”

William peeks out from behind his arm and considers that. “Deal,” he says finally. “But we drink yours first.”

William wakes up feeling just about as gross as he ever has. He’s sticky, his skin smells like dried sweat, and he’s almost positive that he can actually feel Travis’ come still squelching around in his ass. He cannot survive an entire day or more like this. He can’t go onstage like this.

He wanders around the grounds for a while, saying hey to a few people but mostly keeping his eye peeled for shower facilities. When he’s lapped the stages twice without success, he finally remembers something Gabe told him once about Warped and starts looking for My Chemical Romance.

He finds their bus and a handful of people hanging out smoking on the grass outside. One of them is the person he’s looking for, or at least he’s ninety-nine percent certain it is. He declines the offer of a cigarette, pushes his stringy, grimy hair behind his ear, and makes awkward conversation with one of their guitar techs, a guy he actually does know from around and really likes.

Eventually he’s saved from his dilemma of how to approach the situation by Frank Iero himself, who wanders over to put his cigarette out and greets him with, “You’ve been stealing looks at me for a while now, which means you either want to ask for my number or stalk me somewhere, and since I don’t think I’m your type, you must be after a shower.”

William has absolutely no idea of how to respond to that. “No,” he says, and then realizes that could come off badly. “I mean, not that you’re…I’m just, I’m not…which is cool, though.” He stops before he actually starts stuttering, and because Frank’s laughing and doesn’t look like a guy who’s taken offense.

“Relax,” Frank says, “that’s just my way of finding out if someone’s a homophobic asshole or not.”

“I’m not,” William says quickly.

“Yeah, I know. You’re the stammery, earnestly showing me you support my lifestyle choices type. Which is cool.” Frank grins at him.

“Is this how you introduce yourself to everyone?” William asks. “Are you on some kind of mission?”

“Nah, it’s just Warped. There’s a lot of assholes around. I like to weed out the bad apples before I give away my showering secrets. Well, and it’s sort of become a thing for us, this past year. And now it’s personal.” William doesn’t ask, but Frank must see something in his eyes, because he says, “Not me. I have a girlfriend, by the way, not that it matters. You’re a friend of Mikey’s, right?” Frank cocks his head, studying William. “I’ve seen you around.”

“Yeah,” William answers, because that’s as good a description as any. He sticks his hands into his pockets, then belatedly draws one back out to offer it to Frank. “Bill.”

“Frank.” Frank shakes his hand with a nice solid, warm grip. “I’ll try my best to remember it, but Mikey has a lot of friends. No offense. I think Gerard’s given up completely, he’s horrible with names. He refers to half the tour as ‘Mikey’s friend.’ He’ll make the effort if he’s had a conversation about music, comic books or video games with you, but that’s about it. And you’re not really in our scene, you know?”

“Because Fall Out Boy is,” William says dryly.

“Touché.” Frank looks surprised, then pleased. “I like you, you can stay. This way to the clean-up station, if you want to go now. I have to be back in fifteen, we’re doing a coffee run.”

William follows him through the labyrinth of buses and trailers, weaving here and there with no visible pattern William can determine. Some perverseness encouraged by Frank’s friendly manner – or possibly the memory of Travis still fresh enough to send a twinge through his spine when he walks – makes him ask, “What made you think you weren’t my type?”

Frank grins even wider, looking cheered by the fact that William’s not only not homophobic but also willing to play along with him about it. “I’m too pretty,” he says, stepping over a trailer hitch. “We’d be fighting over the mirror and the hair products constantly. Trust me, I know all about it.” He glances back and shrugs. “Plus, you don’t smoke. That’s a deal breaker for me. I can’t be the only one in the relationship with filthy habits.”

William ponders that. “I smoke pot,” he offers.

Frank laughs. “I thought I recognized that smell. So which are you, a paranoid pothead or a touchy-feely-huggy pothead?”

William feels his face heat, and suddenly he can’t think of anything besides Travis inside him. “Uh.”

Frank looks back at him and bursts into giggles. “Oh, that kind. The horny kind. Hey man, I totally respect that. And I’m not surprised you want a shower now. There’s not much worse than dried spunk on your dick, right?”

“Oh, there’s worse,” William says grimly before he can censor himself, and then he goes hot again.

Frank stops and eyes him, considering. “I really want to know, but then again, I also really don’t.”

“You really don’t,” William promises, shifting. He swears he can feel something slimy oozing down behind his balls.

“Was it food sex, with whipped cream and shit? Never mind, don’t tell me.” Frank waves a hand in the air. “Anyway, here’s the hose.”

“Thanks,” William says, only slightly awkward.

“No problem,” Frank assures him. “Hey, what are your plans for the day? You could come by and hang out if you want, I think we’re just chilling.”

“We were going to the driving range with Pete, Patrick and Joe, I think,” William recalls. He hesitates, because he hasn’t done much with anyone outside their band, but this is good, making friends. And he does owe Frank one for the hose. “You want to come?”

“Sure,” Frank says with enough enthusiasm that William makes a mental note to stand back whenever he has a club. “I’ll round up Bob, too, he’ll go if Patrick’s there. Just come pound on the door before you take off, okay? I’ll see you then.”

“Got it,” William agrees, and waves when Frank does. Then he turns his attention to the hose, the cold water, and getting himself at least tolerably clean.

They swing by the Fall Out Boy bus first, everyone but Mike, who forgoes the driving range excursion in favor of a day-long Buffy marathon.

“You’ll regret this,” William promises, adjusting his collar. “You could watch this anytime. The driving range is a once-per-tour opportunity.”

Mike looks up and blinks a few times. “Are you seriously wearing a sweater vest?” he asks. “You packed two pairs of jeans, three shirts, and a sweater vest?

“Patrick and I knew this day would come,” William informs him, swinging down the steps and out into the sunshine.

He feels slightly less grungy, following his trip to the local watering hole, and the clean clothes help. Patrick steps out wearing a sweater vest of his own, with a matching beanie on his head. Joe’s next in line, but he closes the door behind him.

“Pete’s not coming?” William asks, surprised. Pete’s the one of them who loves golfing the most. He’s been talking about this outing for days.

“Pete’s…somewhere else,” Patrick answers, and he sounds annoyed enough that William doesn’t push it. He’s seen Pete a few times on this tour, life of the party that he usually is, but not as much as he’d expected. “Let’s just go.”

“I told a couple of the My Chemical Romance guys that they could come too,” William says, glancing over as they head in that direction.

“I know, Bob called me. He wanted to know if we were sharing or renting clubs.” Luckily, Patrick knows the way to the My Chemical Romance bus by heart, and takes the lead when William has a moment of uncertainty.

Patrick bangs on the bus door, and a greasy head pops out a few seconds later, breaking promptly into a huge smile at the sight of Patrick. “Hey, Patrick! Hey, Joe! Hey…” He looks briefly baffled, looking at William and the rest of his band. “…hey,” he finishes, still with enthusiasm but slightly less confidence.

“Move, Gee,” Frank’s voice interrupts, and he tumbles down the stairs a second later, only to come to a complete halt upon seeing William and Patrick. He looks back and forth between them, then says, “We’re dressing for this? Why didn’t you tell me? Hang on, I can’t go like this now.”

“It’s not a big thing,” Patrick starts, but Frank has already disappeared back onto the bus. Bob comes out, wearing a sweater vest of his own and enormous sunglasses. William hadn’t even known Bob Bryar owned such an article of clothing.

“This it?” Bob asks. He doesn’t seem particularly surprised that Pete’s bailed.

“Jason’s meeting us there,” William says. “The guitarist from Chiodos. He’s running an errand or something first.”

Bob makes a grunting sound of approval, then adds, “Good kid.”

Patrick frowns a little. “Travis and Matt?” he asks, like he was expecting them for some reason.

“Other plans,” William replies. He hadn’t asked any further than that.

Frank slides out the door a second later, past Gerard, who’s still sort of frowning in puzzlement at the group at large. “Lemme guess,” he addresses Patrick, tugging down the hem of his shirt. “Wentz and Mikey bailed.”

Patrick mutters something under his breath and clears his throat. “We’ve still got enough for the driving range, if everyone wants to go,” he says. “Or we can do something else.”

William glances at his group. “I think we’re up for whatever,” he offers. “And I can call Jason, tell him to meet us somewhere else, if you want…”

“Fuck the driving range,” Frank announces, tugging on the brim of his floppy cap. “Let’s go play some fucking mini-golf.”

The countdown to Chicago has been on for more than a week, and when the day finally arrives, William can hardly believe it. He sings his lungs out to the best crowd they’ve had yet, plays up every moment of the show and falls offstage into the waiting hugs of Jon Walker, Nick Scimeca, and Sean Van Vleet.

“How did you reprobates get backstage passes?” William asks. The rest of the band crowds around for greetings and back slaps, and then they stumble out of the way so the next band can start setting up.

“Watch your language, we just saw that show,” Sean says, looping his arm around William’s back to hang out next to him. “Did you or did you not have your tongue down your guitarist’s throat?”

“No,” Tom answers for him, from where he’s already deep in conversation with Jon. “He tries, though.”

“I do not,” William protests, but Sean’s an asshole and laughing anyway. “So we’re going out tonight, right?”

“Man, I just want to go home,” Butcher says, and actually, now that he’s mentioned it, home sounds really tempting. William isn’t quite ready to leave the guys, though. He hasn’t seen Sean in at least a year.

“Dinner and drinks,” Nick says, deciding for him. “Well, obviously drinks. You can’t tell me there’s any food at your places, though. You’ll starve if you go home.”

“Deep dish,” William declares before anyone can override him, and Jon looks like he’s going to make an argument, but five other people say in unison, “Beppo’s!” so it’s settled.

They pig out on pizza and tell tour stories for two hours before they finally call it a night. Everything seems nostalgic and incredible when you reflect on it to friends, somehow, even when it really sucked while it was happening. They tell the story of Tom falling offstage and the audience thinking he was crowd-diving while the rest of them panicked and just kept going with the song. They tell the story of the day it rained so hard they couldn’t get dry for the rest of the night, when everything everywhere was soaked and they’d gotten mud all over the bus and practically everything they owned.

They tell stories until William’s throat is dry enough to be a warning when he has to sing again tomorrow, so he tells them goodnight and promises to catch up again soon. Tom takes off with Jon, who promises to have him back by bus call, Mike goes out to get drinks with Nick, and the rest of them scatter to their own abodes.

A short bus ride later, William lets himself into his apartment, takes the few steps necessary to reach the couch, and faceplants directly onto it. He can’t even express how good it feels to be home, even when he loves being on the road more than he could ever say. He’s not moving until they physically force him back onto the bus.

His door buzzer goes off.

He groans into the cushions, levers himself up, and hits the button. “Yes?”

“It’s Travis, man, open up,” a familiar voice says, and William buzzes him in before he even has time to wonder what he’s doing here. He wonders if Travis is thinking about locked doors and an actual bed; if he’s going to stay the night.

He opens the front door, and all of Gym Class piles in. “Hey,” Sashi greets him, with a wide smile. “How come I’ve never been in your pad?”

“I don’t know, because it’s kind of small?” William answers, and then has to ask, “Why are you here now?”

“Plenty of room, television set, and a couch that doesn’t smell like ass,” Matt answers. “Do you have snack food stashed away still?”

“Cabinet above the sink,” William replies. He doesn’t remember what he left behind, if anything, but if there is anything it will be in there. “So you guys are staying the night? You know I only have the one couch, right?”

“Couch, chair, floor,” Eric says, clapping him on the shoulder on the way past. “We’ll be fine.”

Travis comes up while William is still blinking after the others. “This is cool, right?” he asks. “I figured you wouldn’t mind, but if you want some alone time, just say the word and we’re gone.”

William shakes his head. “It’s fine,” he says, almost automatically. “I just didn’t know you were coming.”

“Yeah, well, we got back to the bus and there was no one to hang with, once you and your boys took off, so we came straight to the source.” Travis grins at him. “Surprise.”

William doesn’t mind, actually. He thinks he ought to, but the fact that Travis got bored without him is kind of charming. “I don’t know where you’ll all sleep,” he admits.

“We’re all flipping for the bed, right?” Matt asks. “Because if not, I call the couch.”

“Motherfucker, we are not all flipping for the bed, I got us in here,” Travis answers, and William has a second to think oh, for his stomach to tighten with anticipation and his brain to race off calculating how quiet they can be, whether it will be suspicious if they close the door, if they’re just going to wait for everyone to fall asleep and then…

“You three are flipping, I’m guaranteed a spot,” Travis finishes, resting an arm on William’s shoulder. “Your bed can fit three, right?”

“Yeah, sure,” William says, thrown for a loop yet again. It will be a tight fit, but he thinks they can manage it. He’s tried worse.

“We owe you one,” Travis says, smiling. “We’ll get you back upstate.”

“It’s fine,” William says again. “So, uh. Towels are in the closet, there’s a spare blanket in my room, and there might still be a bottle of wine under the fridge.”

“That’s my boy,” Travis croons, and William ducks his head and smiles.

They drive straight to Minneapolis at an ungodly hour, and William actually rides on the Gym Class bus because it stops right outside his door and at fuck o’clock in the morning on only one cup of coffee, it seems infinitely easier than taking public transportation back to his own ride. He passes right back out on their couch, nose buried in his hoodie, which still smells a little like weed and Travis’ aftershave. It’s easy to sleep with the memory of waking up next to Travis fresh in his mind, even if Sashi had been in there with them and he’d woken up to the screech of four simultaneous cell phone alarms and Travis groaning, “Motherfuckin’fucker.”

After the show they have a party, just because, because it’s Warped and they’re young and the world is shaping up to be their oyster. Travis says he doesn’t think anyone knows what the fuck that really means, but William likes it, so he uses it five more times over the course of the festivities.

He’s just coming back from the cooler with his third drink when he hears Matt say, “Who the fuck is that, and how did he get to her first?”

William follows Matt’s line of sight back to the pathetically small campfire they’ve got going, to Travis, who has his arm around a tall, slender woman with a pearl-white smile and ebony skin. They look remarkably friendly already, Travis leaning in to murmur something in her ear and the woman laughing, her head falling back and giving him access to nuzzle her throat. William swallows.

He catches De’Mar’s eye, but De’Mar just shrugs to say that he has no idea either. The mystery woman has a pass, which means she must be here with someone, or in the local music scene, and that’s it, it’s a press pass. She must be one of the photographers. She looks like she could spend her life in front of a camera if she wanted. Possibly naked.

It’s stupid. He knows they aren’t anything, he and Travis. He really has no reason to be bothered at all, especially if all they’re doing is talking and flirting. No one else would even have a reason to think he should be upset.

“I think I need a fresh drink,” William says.

“You have one,” Matt points out, pointing with his bottle to the one sweating unopened in William’s hand.

“This one’s for Sisky,” he lies, and goes back to the cooler. He wants something stronger than beer.

He gets drunk. He gets wasted, honestly, and somewhere in there, Travis goes home with the hot photographer. William had been fine up until that point, because even if Travis was hanging out with some woman, at least William was near him. Being with Travis, even if it means watching his hand just under the curve of someone’s breast and his eyes down their blouse, is still better than being anywhere else away from him. But then Travis leaves with his girl, and William slides straight from wasted into completely shit-faced.

Chiodos are there, so he finds Jason, and the two of them do shots together until William literally cannot stand up straight, and then they go tumbling into a heap on the grass, laughing about nothing and everything. For a second William gets a crazy, stupid, drunken thought, because Jason’s warm and smells as good as anyone can on Warped Tour and his eyes are pretty and William is, as previously stated, completely trashed.

He leans in just a centimeter before he thinks what the fuck am I doing? and stops, confused. Jason seems to notice about then, and his head tips back onto the grass as he tries to focus, still laughing but in a more puzzled way. “Bill,” he says, with another laugh. “Billy, how drunk are you?”

The answer to that is really fucking drunk, but William is hitting the invincible stage of inebriation where he’s certain that everything is going to be glorious, so he really doesn’t fucking care. “Drunk,” he tells Jason, starting out solemn but giving up in the middle and smiling down at him.

Jason’s expression changes, and his eyes flick up, down, and sideways a few times before he finally raises his head and starts to finish what William almost started. And his mouth isn’t the right shape, his skin isn’t the right color, and as good (horrible) an idea as it had seemed a minute ago, William can’t actually go through with it.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, his forehead falling down onto Jason’s shoulder. “I’m kinda…”

He doesn’t know how to finish that. He wants to say he’s kind of seeing someone, but that isn’t true, and was made even more patently obvious tonight. He doesn’t feel single, maybe. But that’s not anyone else’s problem.

Jason pats him on the shoulder. “Druuuunk,” he agrees somberly, with a little giggling hiccup on the end of it.

“Like grasshoppers,” William agrees, and that sets them off again, laughing over a joke neither of them can properly remember anymore and rolling around in the grass until Mike finds them and says that if they’re that fucked up, they need to share the recipe.

William doesn’t remember most of his night in the morning, but he sees Travis when they stop for gas and food at the biggest rest stop along the way. There’s a dark hickey staining the skin above his collar. William buys Travis a Ding Dong because he’s a junk food junkie, and doesn’t mention it.

The Academy plays early enough in Florida that William goes over to the Gym Class bus to hang out for a while after their set. The rest of the band is out seeing another act play, so he and Travis smoke up and jerk each other off in Travis’ bunk, mouths pressed into each other’s necks and wrists flexing frantically in perfect synchronicity.

William’s still mellow when the guys go to play their own set, but he’s not high anymore and he’s got nothing to do for the rest of the day, so he wanders over to the My Chemical Romance bus in search of Mikey and finds Patrick instead.

“I said I would drum for them,” Patrick explains, flexing his fingers. “One song. I don’t know what I was thinking.” He doesn’t have any drums, just a practice pad, but he keeps tapping his sticks against it restlessly as if he can hear echoes of the right sounds.

“You could have picked an easier one,” William points out, taking a seat nearby.

Patrick gives him a look. “They don’t have easy ones,” he says, foot starting to count himself in again. When he sees that William doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, he gives in and hits play on the CD boom box perched next to him.

The third time through the song, William is familiar enough to start singing, and by the end of the track he’s played up to Patrick’s smile and launched into a full-blown Gerard Way impression, complete with hunched-over stomach cramps and screaming. Patrick starts laughing his ass off at the finale, still playing, and William’s goal has been achieved because he looks a lot more relaxed now than he had before.

William straightens up, pushing his hair back out of his face and grinning, and sees Mikey in the doorway to the lounge, half-smiling to himself and holding up a camera phone.

“I’m putting this on youtube,” Mikey says, pushing some buttons on the phone before going into the rapid-fire thumb taps that mean he’s texting someone. “I’m gonna link all of our fans.”

“They will never find your body,” Patrick promises. William doesn’t know what he’s so worried about, he wasn’t the one just wailing and jumping up and down in a tiny lounge to a recorded song. He’s about to say as much when he sees the shadow lurking behind Mikey in the door, and the familiar cheeky grin as soon as their eyes catch.

“What are you doing here?” William asks, as Gabe pushes past Mikey into the lounge to greet them. Gabe tucks Patrick under an arm and wraps the other one around William, pulling him close for a brief, tight hug. “Aren’t we in Florida? I thought we were in Florida.” He’d been hoping to see Gabe again, but not expecting to until the very end of that tour, if that.

“It’s my home boy’s birthday tomorrow, and what would the party be without me? I am the party,” Gabe declares, giving William and Patrick high-fives as he releases them. “Besides, it’s fucking boring in Jersey, all of you are out here, it sucks. I’m looking to be entertained, you know what I’m saying?”

“How long are you staying?” William asks. Travis’ birthday is tomorrow, and he doesn’t know what the official party plan is, besides that there’s something going down tomorrow night and they all have to be there. Travis and his boys are playing it close to the vest. William thinks that probably just means they haven’t made any sort of plan yet.

“A few days, whatever, I’ll catch a plane when you get bored of me and I can’t hitch any more rides. You’d better contribute to the rotation. And tonight,” he says, pointing finger-guns at William before turning them on Patrick. “Hotel party.”

“No way,” William says, but Mikey just smiles and keeps texting, so it must be true. They’ve got another two weeks of touring without a single day of rest, and William had been looking ahead with a sort of weary, resigned determination.

“Way,” Gabe replies, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and posing. “I’ve booked us a few rooms. We’re going to be crammed in like sardines once everyone starts crashing the party, but there will be beds. And showers. I am a benevolent god to those I call friends.”

William throws both arms around Gabe. He pulls away just as Gerard peeks over Mikey’s shoulder and says, “Hey, Gabe’s here! And Patrick! And…” He breaks off and his expression turns briefly hunted.

“Don’t worry about it, Gee,” Frank says, pushing his way into the now-crowded lounge to give Gabe his own complicated greeting of hugs and fistbumps. “How are you, man? Warped Tour dropout?”

“Like anyone noticed besides you guys and our three remaining fans,” Gabe says, just a touch too bitter to be completely joking. William squeezes his arm and Gabe throws a smile his way, shaking it off.

“You know Patrick?” Gerard asks, gesturing between Patrick and William, probably trying to figure out why they were the only ones on his bus until a minute ago.

“Since we were fourteen,” William answers with a smile, then amends, “Well, since I was fourteen. He was fifteen.”

“Hot-ass jailbait,” Gabe declares, wrapping Patrick up in another side-hug. “Yo, yo, you should have had an R&B hip-hop act with some ridiculous name, like Bills & Tricks.”

“He could have had one with you, then it would have been Tricks & Hos,” William retorts, and the assorted crowd around them choruses “ohhh,” in perfect harmony.

“Gabey’s Babies,” Gabe says, grinning at him. “That’s what we would have called it. Yo, when are you kids on tonight?”

“We’re done,” William answers, while the others mentally check their schedules and chorus set times.

Gabe points at him with a pair of green sunglasses. “You win,” he declares. He snakes an arm around to catch William’s elbow and start pulling. “You and me. I need to get the pre-party started. The rest of you bitches I’ll see tonight,” he calls, pulling William toward the door and waving back over his head at everyone else. “We’re in the Sunshine State, there’s a fucking outdoor pool and everything. Don’t be late!”

The party is so wild that William’s half-convinced the hotel will kick them out at any given minute, but he spends half an hour in the pool and another hour stretched out alongside it with Tom and a bottle of tequila, and then there’s some dancing in one of their booked hotel rooms that’s so packed with people he can hardly move, much less dance. Finally Travis pulls him out of the crowd and drapes an arm over his shoulders, and William spots Gabe leaning against the door grinning like the Cheshire Cat and he thinks fuck yes.

Gabe has somehow managed to keep one of the rooms empty, or else he’s just evicted everyone, because they have it all to themselves. Gabe shakes out a bag and William falls back onto the bed and thinks about how much he loves that this is his life.

They take turns taking hits until they’re all buzzed, William blowing smoke in Gabe’s face and Gabe blowing barely recognizable smoke rings and Travis hardly exhaling at all, just holding the smoke and shaking his head at the two of them.

William’s starting to feel drowsy, crashing a little from the booze and the drugs, but he’s not ready to leave yet, so he curls up on his side with his arm tucked under his head and watches the two of them tell stories about stupid shit they’ve done, both together and separately. He wants it to go on forever, he thinks at one point, only then Travis looks at him, and it’s familiar enough by now that William’s reaction is almost embarrassingly dizzying, all the blood in his body rushing south and skin prickling with anticipation. Then he wonders when Gabe is leaving, and if there’s anything he can do to make it happen sooner.

Travis reaches for him and William goes without even thinking about it, fluid in his inebriation and falling right into Travis’ arms. Travis strokes his waist above the low-cut waistband of his jeans, and William pushes into the touch before he freezes and his eyes cut sideways to where Gabe is watching them, leaning back against the headboard with a joint still held between his fingers, his posture casual but his eyes sharp and alert.

“You cool with this?” Travis asks, nuzzling near his ear, and William thinks wait, what? before he realizes.

“You two…?” he asks. He hadn’t known that. He hadn’t had any idea this was even a possibility.

“Nah, we’re not exactly each other’s type,” Travis replies, his fingers sliding down just a few inches beneath William’s waistband behind his hipbones. “We both appreciate your fine ass, though.”

Gabe still hasn’t moved. William watches him, trying to decipher what’s behind the carefully blank expression, the hooded eyes. He’d known about this, William thinks. He and Travis had talked about this, or at least joked enough that they’d both known it might be a possibility. Gabe holds his eyes, and William wonders if this is Travis’ way of asking him for a birthday present only he can give.

Travis could have this from anyone, though, anyone he wanted, and he’d asked William. That in itself is enough for William to tilt his head enough to allow Travis better access to his throat, and the low hum in his blood when he thinks about the three of them doing this just clinches it.

“Yeah,” he breathes out. “Okay.”

Travis nuzzles his neck, his lips brushing feather-light over William’s skin. “You sure,” Travis presses. “This is cool.”

William leans forward, presses his hips and his hard-on against Travis’ side. “It’s cool,” he says, and Travis hums his appreciation against William’s skin. His fingers slide deeper underneath William’s jeans, half-cupping his ass, and William rocks forward against him.

“Hey, hey,” Gabe interrupts from his seated position of voyeurism. “I demand birthday boy kisses, it’s after midnight.” He crawls over to join them, dropping the joint into their cluttered ashtray, and pulls Travis into a kiss that looks at least half-joking but is still hot. Travis’ lips are mashed against Gabe’s and Gabe’s nibbling at him, little sucking kisses that end with both of them grinning.

“Share with the twink,” Travis says, and William belatedly protests, “Hey,” when Gabe breaks off to grin at him. He doesn’t complain again, because Gabe prowls into his space until William’s forced back, until the two of them stretch out together and Gabe’s holding himself up over William’s body.

Gabe licks at William’s lips until they part, his hand sliding in to cradle William’s jawbone and tilt his head back to a better angle. His thumb rubs at a spot at the corner of William’s jaw that makes heat flush through his chest, and William starts suckling on his tongue without even thinking about it.

He hasn’t kissed anyone like this in months, but he’s kissed Gabe before this, and it’s all coming back even faster than he would have expected. Gabe hadn’t kissed him quite like this that first time, back on their first tour together – less intent and more fun – but it had been enough to make William turn red and for Rob to tease him about not taking it personally. “It’s Gabe,” he’d said, with Gabe still right there grinning and not denying it. “That means he likes you. Welcome to the club.”

He’s engrossed enough in the memory and in the sly twist of Gabe’s tongue that the hand on his cock makes him jerk in surprise, teeth clicking against Gabe’s. Gabe pulls back a little and laughs, giving William a good view of Travis leaning over his shoulder and grinning, his hand still rubbing and squeezing over William’s crotch.

“Baby’s first threesome,” Gabe croons, grinning. William bites his lip. Gabe only grins wider. “Demanding,” he says, tilting his head back toward Travis. “Does he always kiss like this?”

William tenses before he can think to hide it, but Gabe doesn’t seem to notice. His fingers tease at the hem of William’s shirt, eyes on William’s even though his words are for Travis. “How do you want to do this, birthday boy?”

Travis’ hand moves from William’s cock to the small of his back, urging him up. William slides out from under Gabe and straddles Travis’ lap, arms twining behind his head. “What do you want, baby boy?” he asks. “You tell us.”

William doesn’t actually have to think about that too hard. “I want you to fuck me,” he says, emboldened by the lingering traces of his high and by their eyes on him, hungry and wanting.

Travis rubs their cheeks together, inhaling and pressing his lips just beneath William’s ear. “Yeah,” he murmurs. “Yeah, we can do that.”

It’s Gabe who surprises him this time, his hands at William’s waist coaxing his shirt up and over his head. William shakes his hair out and waits while Travis undoes his own belt buckle and pops the fly on his jeans. William snakes a hand inside as soon as there’s room, squeezing Travis’ cock through his underwear and reveling in his indrawn breath.

Travis moves to kick off his jeans completely and William shimmies out of his, unself-conscious for once in the warmth of the room and their gazes. Travis pulls his shirt off and puts his hands right back on William, only taking one off to catch the pocket-sized tube of lubricant that Gabe throws to him from the other side of the bed.

“Yeah,” Travis says again as William falls back onto the bed, propping one of his legs up to give Travis access. Now is when the self-consciousness kicks in, except that Gabe is apparently an experienced threesome veteran who knows when to watch and when to move in and kiss somebody.

William gasps into Gabe’s mouth when Travis slides a finger in, the cold lube catching him off-guard. Gabe just slides a hand up to stroke his throat as they kiss, slowly, and that makes William almost dizzy trying to split his attention between the two of them. Gabe applies a hint of pressure just as Travis pushes in a second finger, and if William didn’t know better he’d think they were planning this.

“Travis,” he begs a few seconds later, when Gabe’s mouth has all but robbed him of speech and Travis has three fingers working him steadily wider open. Gabe eases back, glances down his body at Travis, and William closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to know what they’re seeing.

“Yeah,” Travis says, unnecessarily because he’s already rolling the condom on. “Like this?”

William takes a moment to consider that, and then rolls over onto his hands and knees. They don’t get to do it like this often, for lack of space, and he wants Travis to be in him deep. He wants to feel this tomorrow.

Travis pushes in slowly, but it still stretches to the point of pain, that feeling of impossible fullness. William drops his head forward and Gabe’s fingers stroke his hand while Travis works himself in an inch at a time in slow, easy movements. Then he pulls out and thrusts in deep, and William exhales a low moan that takes him by surprise, but he can’t hold it back and he doesn’t really want to.

Travis’ hands anchor his hips, pulling William back onto his cock every time he snaps his hips forward. It’s good, it’s amazing, especially since they both usually let William control this part. There’s something freeing about just being taken like this.

Travis pauses for a second to lean over and kiss William’s spine, and then he adjusts his stance and starts fucking him again, harder and a little faster this time as they both get into it. William feels a hand on his face and opens his eyes to see Gabe watching him, lean body completely naked and stroking his own cock lazily. William raises his eyebrows, licking his lips in silent question. Gabe raises his eyebrows in return, but when William doesn’t break eye contact he goes ahead and moves forward, settling onto his knees and letting William lick experimentally at the head of his cock.

William finds pretty quickly that he can’t take a lot, because there’s no way he can get a hand around the base to keep himself from gagging, but Gabe figures that out almost as fast. One of his hands threads through William’s hair, guiding him down until he can’t take any more without choking, and then he wraps his other hand around the shaft so that William knows how far to go and can’t accidentally try to take too much.

“Oh fuck, yeah,” Travis says, breathing harsh, and William closes his eyes and loses himself in it for a while, the taste and shape of Gabe’s cock filling his mouth and Travis pounding away in his ass. He aches already; it feels amazing. Travis groans and William shudders, mouth opening wider and sliding sloppy and wet over Gabe’s shaft. He can feel each individual finger pressing hard into his hips, holding him, and Travis’ balls slapping against him with every thrust.

He’s just finding a rhythm bobbing up and down when Gabe’s hand slides out of his hair and under his jaw, tilting his head up. It changes the angle enough that William has to pull back and let everything but the head slip free of his mouth, and he opens his eyes in surprise. Gabe looks down at him, eyes dark. William has no fucking idea what he’s thinking.

Gabe holds his gaze for a few seconds, and then he pushes his hips forward again just a fraction, prompting William to remember what he’s doing and start sucking again. He closes his eyes and tilts his head, really working over his mouthful of cock until Gabe’s hand tightens in his hair again and he pulls back. Gabe strokes himself off the rest of the way, reaching his peak just before Travis, whose rhythm falters until he shoves in deep and shudders into stillness.

Some of Gabe’s come lands on William’s lips and he licks it away automatically, meeting Gabe’s eyes just in time to watch them darken. He tips his chin up in offering and Gabe leans down to kiss him, dirty and thorough. William doesn’t swallow; he parts his lips and pushes his tongue into Gabe’s mouth, because he wants Gabe to know exactly what this is for him, and what it isn’t. Gabe smiles against his mouth like he gets the message, and then flips William over by virtue of knocking him off-balance and goes right down, deep-throating until William’s cock nudges the back of his throat.

William’s already resigned to being made fun of for lack of stamina at this point, but then he sees Travis watching him, drinking in the sight of him spread out on the bed like it’s all he wants in the world, and that’s it, William’s coming too fast to give Gabe a warning, arching off the bed into his mouth.

He collapses back onto the bed a sticky, sweaty mess, and with a satisfaction so deep in his bones that he thinks it must have filled his marrow. Travis lies down over his legs while Gabe wipes his mouth and sprawls on the other side of the bed, both of them looking about the way William feels. Travis makes a noise like he’s thinking they should probably go before someone comes looking for them, but before William’s stomach has a chance to sink, Gabe snorts and flops back onto one of the pillows.

“Fuck that, dude, I’m not moving until someone makes me.” Gabe’s lips curl up at the corners, lazy and satisfied. “And no one is making me until tomorrow, so my ass isn’t leaving this room. Man, it’s a big bed. Pull up a pillow.”

William rolls to the side, the movement pulling a twinge of reminder down his spine and making him shiver. For a moment he thinks Travis isn’t going to do it, that he’s going to bail and crash elsewhere, but then he slouches down in between them and says, “Yeah,” in a drawn-out exhale that makes William’s skin tingle even though he’s not about to get hard again.

His face is turned toward William. William shuffles just close enough to hear him breathe and falls asleep not long after to the feel of Travis exhaling soft on his face.

The next morning never reaches its full potential for either awkwardness or a repeat performance, as William wakes to the sound of a phone going off and blearily wonders who the fuck is going to get that. He pries his eyes open and sees Travis sprawled facedown on the center of the bed, Gabe just visible over his shoulder.

“Bill Becks,” Gabe says without opening his eyes. “Bus call.”

“Fuck,” William mumbles, or something close to it, thumbing off his phone and hopping into last night’s clothes. Gabe gives him a half-wave that William doesn’t bother returning, as Gabe’s eyes still haven’t opened. Travis doesn’t even twitch.

“Someone had a good night,” Mike says as William trips up the stairs onto the bus, barely catching himself because he’s more focused on saving the Starbucks cup in his hand.

“Less volume,” William requests politely, and then faceplants into his bunk to sleep for two more hours. He registers vaguely that he’s going to be disappointed about the waste of coffee when they reach Orlando, but right now his pillow is more tempting.

When he wakes they’re at the site and unloading with a few hours to soundcheck, so he heads out to find Travis. He finds Sashi first, coming around the side of the Gym Class bus, and holds his hand up for the traditional post-party high-five.

“Never again, or do it all over tonight?” Sashi asks.

William actually has to think about that one this time, but not for long. “Do it again this afternoon if I didn’t have a show,” he answers, and Sashi grins at him.

“That’s the way,” he says, and slaps William on the back as he heads off.

“Keep it real, man,” William calls after him, and he’s just turning to continue to the door when he hears Gabe. Which is a surprise, but not really a mystery. He must have hopped a ride with Gym Class.

“No, you listen to me for a minute here, man. How old is he?” Gabe says, voice just slightly raised, and William stops right the fuck where he is.

“It’s not even like that, bro,” Travis says, evidently in response.

“Bullshit,” Gabe says. “I’m calling you on it. Have you actually asked him?”

“There you go with the chick stuff,” Travis says, and something else William can’t make out. His heart seems to be beating louder in his ears than it ought to be.

Gabe’s talking again, but there’s the thump and squeak that means he’s leaving, so William just leans against the back of the bus and tries to think of casual excuses and denials if he gets caught. “Stop fucking with his head,” he hears Gabe say. “And come get breakfast with me after you’re done, I know this vendor who carries amazing bagels. Not New York bagels, but they’re not shit, which is better than most of the country.”

“Go get your fuckin’ bagels,” Travis says, but he sounds more amused than upset. “I’ll see you around before the set.”

William waits for long enough to be sure Gabe is gone, but then he can’t make himself walk around the corner, wave cheerfully and pretend he doesn’t know Travis was just talking about him. He doesn’t know whether it was good or not. He can’t think of any way that it could have been good.

He pulls his phone out and dials instead. He hears Travis’ phone go off inside the bus, his ringtone for close friends. The phone rings a few times, and then he hears it stop. In his ear, the line clicks through to voicemail.

“Okay,” he says quietly, turning to walk the other direction and telling himself not to panic. “Okay.”

He makes a lap of the main stage, watching the crew set up for the first soundcheck, and then he has a coffee and walks around backstage for a while, the relatively early hour protecting him from having to make conversation. He sits in the stands and listens to the drums being tuned. Then he gets up, starts wandering again, and somehow ends up in the vendor area. He gains purpose after that, like his feet were just waiting for him to end up here, and he searches until he sees Gabe, feet propped up on a picnic table bench smearing cream cheese onto a bagel.

“What did you say to him?” he asks, starting to push his hair behind his ear self-consciously before he remembers that it looks stupid like that and forces himself to stop.

Gabe looks up, surprised and then too knowing to be innocent. “Good morning to you too,” he says. “I was hoping to enjoy some breakfast before you tracked me down for awkward morning-after conversation, but I guess we’re doing this now.”

“Just tell me what you said,” William says, and he hates that it sounds like begging, but he needs to know.

Gabe sets his bagel down. “What happened last night,” he says, which is never a good opener as far as William is concerned. “That was casual for me. It was casual for him.” He points at William. “It was not fucking casual for you.”

“You’re making it into more than it was,” William argues.

“Bullshit,” Gabe says without appearing to take offense. “I saw your face. I saw your eyes, mijo, and you’re the worst fucking liar of anyone I know.”

“I’ve had hook-ups before,” William says.

“I’ll bet you can’t count the number of people you’ve fucked on more than one hand,” Gabe says. William can’t say anything to that. Gabe raises his eyebrows and repeats, “Not casual.”

“I knew what it was,” William tells him, feeling his temper and volume both start to rise, a sure sign that he’s taking this too personally. “You knew what it was.”

“I didn’t know what it was,” Gabe corrects, “between you and him. And it might mean nothing to him, but baby, it means something to you.”

“What did you say?” William repeats. He feels cold, a sense of dread in the pit of his stomach that he tries to swallow away and fails.

Gabe just looks at him for a second. “I told him to be careful playing with people’s hearts,” he says finally. “That’s all. I’m not only looking out for him, you’re my friend too. I don’t like watching my friends do stupid things.”

“Fuck you,” William says, very clearly and very loudly. “Stay the fuck out of it.”

“Done,” Gabe says immediately. His expression isn’t giving much away, but William still imagines he can see pity. “You want some bagel now? Inquisition over?”

“Fuck you,” William repeats, and walks away.

He calls Travis before their show and gets voicemail again, so he decides to leave it until the party.

Travis is well-known and well-liked; the volume level is high before William even gets close to the center of the crowd, and it seems like there are more people here to wish Travis a happy birthday than he even knew were on this tour.

He finds Travis almost at once, towering over nearly everyone else there. “Happy birthday, old man,” William greets him, leaning in for a hug. Travis somehow turns it into a friendly fistbump and a slap on the back, and William is thrown, not sure what to do now.

“Hey, glad you could make it,” Travis says, and he sounds the same, friendly and smiling, but he doesn’t have William tucked under his arm so they can share stories of glorious birthdays past, so something is off. “Matt’s guarding the cooler if you want something. Ask him for the good stuff.”

William nods his head. He opens his mouth to say something else, something inane, but Travis gets in first. “Hey, I’ll catch you later. Gotta do the rounds, you know?”

“Right,” William says blankly. He goes to find the vaunted cooler after a minute because he doesn’t know what else to do. Travis is busy, he thinks. That’s all it is. It’s his birthday.

Then he turns around and sees that Travis is in fact busy, with a guitar tech William recognizes from around but has never seen quite so much of as far as tattoos and skin.

“Must have made her day,” Sashi says, startling him. He hadn’t realized anyone else was there.

“She’s been sniffing after him since the start of the tour,” Matt comments, holding up his beer to clink against William’s. “I wonder what changed. Hey, Bill.”

William looks at Travis with the girl, remembers the morning and thinks, I know.

“End of tour,” Sashi replies wisely. “Only one week left, no commitments, no baggage.”

Travis leans down and kisses the girl. On tiptoe, she comes up to his chest. It looks awkward. It looks like it’s what Travis wants.

“Okay,” William says aloud. “Point taken.” Matt and Sashi give him weird looks, probably wondering what the fuck he’s talking about, and he shrugs it off. “Hey, I’ll catch you guys later,” he says, mouth on automatic, and returns the toast when they raise their bottles in acknowledgement. He moves through the crowd blindly, not really sure what he’s looking for, and somehow what he finds is Pete.

“Hey, dude,” Pete says. “You look like you need to get the hell out of here.”

William doesn’t know what to say to that. He hates it sometimes when Pete’s perceptive and accurate.

Pete hops down from the table he’d been sitting on. “I need to get the hell out of here too. Want to take a walk?”

William follows him to the edge of the crowd. They pass Gabe, his arm around Mikey’s waist and Mikeys’ glasses on his nose, but when Gabe catches his eyes William looks away and pushes through after Pete.

They walk for a long time in silence, and finally end up on the loading dock of the stage, sitting on the edge so their feet dangle over the side. Pete passes him a packet of gummy bears, and William bites the head off of one and feels perversely a little better.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” William comments finally, when they’ve passed the bag between them a few times. “Busy summer?”

“Yeah, you know how it is,” Pete replies, kicking his feet. Somewhere in the distance someone whoops and the sound echoes around them, dying out slowly like the last rays of evening sunlight. “I’ve been around. Spending a lot of time with friends.”

“Me too,” William says. He watches the sun sinking down on the horizon and thinks of this whole crazy summer, about how every moment he remembers best is one that somehow involves Travis. It’s been an amazing tour, though, even with how hot and filthy and miserable it had gotten. He’d do it again in a heartbeat. “Thanks,” he tells Pete. “Again. For all of this.”

“Hey,” Pete says, with his trademark grin. “You got yourself here, bro. You make the choices and put yourself where you want to be.”

“Right,” William says. He sits with Pete and watches the sunset, colors splashed across the horizon almost as far as they can see.

“Too bad we didn’t do this in Tampa,” Pete says when the light finally starts to fade for good. “We could have watched it over the water.”

“This was good, though,” William replies. He feels a little cleaner, somehow. Calmer. “Really beautiful.”

“Yeah,” Pete agrees. “I’m kind of in love with sunsets right now. Feels like an ending but there’s still something good in it, you know?”

“I’m kind of in love,” William says. It feels good to say it out loud, better than he thought it would.

“Man,” Pete says, shaking his head, “I’m right there with you.”

William holds up his beer. Pete clicks his water bottle against it and they both drink, watching the stars come out.

William doesn’t call Travis the next day. He wants to, but he doesn’t. It’s fine, because Travis doesn’t call him either, or text him, or stop off for lunch with them when their buses pull into Miami.

William’s flat during the start of their set, but he throws himself into it and the crowd gives him their energy, feeds it back to him and it’s a good show. Maybe not their best, but it’s definitely not their worst. Near the end he catches sight of Travis and Eric watching from sidestage, and he has to force himself not to look over again for the last few songs.

He already knows Travis is in intercept mode, but he manages to slip past while the rest of the guys are saying hey and goes straight back to the bus and his bunk, putting his earbuds in and turning the volume up.

Gym Class is on right after them, so it’s more than an hour before he hears someone bang on the door, and Mike’s voice saying, “Hey, Trav. I don’t know if he’s here, let me check.”

William sticks his hand out of the curtain and makes their hand signal for not here, do not disturb. Mike pauses, and then William hears him say, “Nah, he’s not around. Maybe check the stages, some of the guys are out catching shows while they can before tour wraps.”

His curtain gets tugged back a few minutes later. He’s expecting Mike, but it’s Tom, settling onto the floor beside his bunk and leaning back against the wood frame. “Now I know something’s wrong,” Tom says, hugging his arms comfortably around his knees. “You’re avoiding us and everyone else.”

“Not everyone,” William says automatically, and then wishes he hadn’t. He doesn’t want to make this some big drama. He doesn’t want it to become a fight. He just doesn’t want to deal with it yet.

Tom’s quiet for a while. Then he says, “You know why it never bugs me when you come over and do your thing?”

William props his head up on one hand, tugging his earbuds out. “Because the girls scream for you?” he guesses.

Tom’s mouth quirks up into a smile. “Because you only do it when you’re happy,” he says. “And when you’re having a good show, it means we’re all having a good show. You have better radar for that sort of thing than the rest of us. You get closer to the crowd.” They’re both quiet for another minute, and then Tom says, “You didn’t come anywhere near me today.”

“It was still a good show,” William says.

“I know,” Tom says, shrugging. “Which means it wasn’t us, it’s that you’re not happy. So.” He looks over for the first time, catching William’s eyes. “You want to talk about it? I can listen if you want.”

William takes a minute to think it over, to examine how he feels and whether anything at this point would actually help, short of rewinding the last few days – weeks, months – and starting over. “I don’t think so,” he says finally. “But thanks.”

“Okay,” Tom says. “You know where to find me.”

“Yeah,” William says. Because Tom gets it. Tom gets William a lot more than most of the other people he knows, even if they don’t talk about it a lot. He knows what things mean.

Tom stands up and is on his way back to the lounge when William clears his throat and calls after him.

“Tom,” he says, and Tom stops and looks back. William says, “You know why you’re always the one I go to.”

Tom looks back and shares a quick smile with him. “Yeah,” he says. “I do.”

“Hey, Mr. Invisible,” Mike says, poking his head back into the aisle. “Travis invited us over to their bus to chill. You ready to come now, or you want to meet us over there?”

“Other plans,” William says, before he can overthink it. Mike looks like he doesn’t even recognize that as a possible option, so William adds, “Maybe I’ll swing by later on.”

Mike shrugs acknowledgment. He says, “You ready?” to Tom, and the rest of the band heads off, leaving William alone in his bunk to brood. He’s not stupid, though, he knows once they start drinking they’ll come back and drag him out, so he shrugs on a fraying sweater and heads out to see what else is going on.

He ends up hanging out with Nate, the drum tech for Armor who he knows from Nate’s previous stint with Midtown. Nate starts out acting slightly suspicious about William’s sudden keen interest in drum kits, but after a while the conversation moves onto other things and they both relax.

William should have known better than to let his guard down, because that’s when Travis finds him.

“Hey, Bills,” he says, bobbing his head in chilled-out greeting at Nate. “Got a minute?”

William still doesn’t think he’s ready for this conversation, but there isn’t really a graceful way out of it. “Yeah,” he says, standing up. “Catch you around, Novarro.”

“One more week,” Nate returns. He fistbumps both of them on their way out the door, and then it’s just Travis, William, and the relative quiet of a night on tour. William starts walking toward his bus on autopilot, and Travis walks beside him, both of them silent for the first few minutes.

“So I’m just gonna say it, and then you can say whatever,” Travis says finally. “Gabe says you’ve got kind of a thing for me, and this whole hook-up thing maybe ain’t actually what you’re looking for. He also says I’m a dick for not asking, but I thought we were on the same page here, you and me.”

“You’re not a dick,” William says quietly. He’d known what he was getting into, walked in with his eyes open and stayed in it every step of the way. “But no,” he admits. “We’re not. Really. Anymore.”

“Yeah, I got that from the way you stopped putting up with all my bullshit,” Travis drawls. William ducks his head, embarrassed now at the childish game of hide-and-seek he’s been playing all day. “Nah, don’t do that,” Travis says, reading him too well. “You had a right. That was some stupid shit I pulled with Trina last night.”

William shrugs. “You don’t owe me anything,” he says. “We’re friends. It’s cool.”

“Yeah, well, just friends is some stupid bullshit too,” Travis says. “That’s not how I feel about you.”

William looks sideways, at the silhouette of Travis half-hidden by the loose strands of William’s hair falling over his eyes again. He feels like anything he says at this point will be wrong, because then Travis will talk again and whatever William thinks he might be saying right now will be contradicted.

“I’m not going to push you,” he says finally.

Travis snorts. “You’d better give me a kick in the ass from now on,” he says, and William’s surprised into sharing a smile.

“You mean it,” he says, wary because it sounds too good to be true, and things with him and Travis have always been too good to be true, easy, and never quite enough. He’s expecting this to fall into the same pattern, and he’s not sure anymore whether he wants to accept that arrangement. “You want to try…” He doesn’t have a word for it, what he wants them to be. He settles for, “Us.”

Travis grins at him, white in the dark. “I just walked you home, baby boy,” he says, coming to stop in front of William’s bus door. “If you want roses and shit, we might have to talk, but I’m game if you are.”

William shakes his head, smiling now and a little stupid with it, a little giddy. “I don’t want roses,” he says.

“Yeah, well,” Travis says, shrugging and scrunching his face up into a comical expression. “Maybe I do.”

William laughs, takes a step back and hesitates, uncertain. “Do you want to come in?” he asks. He doesn’t know the ground rules anymore, what the etiquette is for this situation. He doesn’t know if he still needs pot, or if he should be saying goodnight. He doesn’t know.

Travis follows him, though, steps in so that he’s crowding William, just a little, blocking everything else out with his broad shoulders. “Yeah, I want to come in,” he says. “I want to do this first, though.”

Travis’ mouth is soft and warm, his lips chapped and tasting of peppermint. William parts his lips and lets him in, twisting his tongue against Travis’ to learn the shape of it, the sly twists it takes and the way their heads tilt to align.

“Gabe was maybe right,” William says when they break apart, because his chest is squeezing and fluttering at the same time and he wants Travis to know he’s serious about it this time. He doesn’t think he can take another downhill drop after having climbed this high.

“Don’t tell him,” Travis says, and they both grin at each other before Travis bumps William’s nose with his own. “Hey,” he says, like a secret. “Open the door.”