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on my guard with the rest of the world

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Barry and Iris had disappeared from the recording studio to do things Joe would really rather not think about, leaving Cisco sitting at his keyboards, a frown of concentration on his face as he tried out different chords to come up with the perfect arrangement for his latest composition. Caitlin was standing beside him, an amused little smile on her face as she looked down at him, her eyes every so often flicking up to the sheet music on the stand. It looked to Joe like she wanted to make a suggestion but after almost eight months of being in the band with them, he had a feeling she knew better. 

Still the way the two of them were positioned made quite the picture of two musicians at work and it made Joe grin inwardly as he thought of how well Caitlin had fit in with them, for all he'd been reticent at the start to include a new singer into the mix. It also reminded him of something else. 

"Hey, Cisco," he said, and the younger man looked up, blinked at him owlishly like he'd forgotten there was anyone else in the room. Then again, the way Cisco got when he was writing, he probably had. When Joe was satisfied he has his full attention, he continued. "The label called... they want to some photos for the liner notes of the new album, what do you think of getting some behind the scenes shots..."

His voice trailed off and he frowned because Cisco was staring at him, looking like there was a particularly foul smell under his nostrils. "Photos," he said flatly, his tone one Joe hadn't heard since Iris presented Cisco with a jar of store bought guacamole at dinner back in the day. "And the photographer would be?" 

Joe blinked - the label had been sending the same photographer out to them ever since they'd been sending a photographer out to them. "The usual," he said. "Jay." 

Cisco's reaction was instant. A look of not just disgust but revulsion twisted his face, his nostrils flaring. "Great." His lips were pressed into a thin line and his eyes moved down to Caitlin who was suddenly looking at neither of them, the sheet music seeming to be even more interesting suddenly. "I suppose we have to do this?" 

"What's wrong with Jay all of a sudden?" Joe wondered and Cisco actually snorted. 

"Nothing, nothing at all. He's just swell." The sarcasm was actually palpable. "I can't wait." With that, he stood up, grabbed his jacket and all but stormed out of the room, letting the door slam behind him. 

Joe stared at his rapidly retreating figure for a long moment before he turned to look at Caitlin. He knew his eyes were wide with confusion but confusion muted to concern when he saw her face. Her cheeks were flushed a dull red and she was still looking at anywhere but him. Joe hooked a thumb over his shoulder, in the direction of the door. "You got any idea what that's all about?" 

Caitlin's head came up slowly and when her eyes met his, the dull red brightened on her cheeks. Her bottom lip was caught between her teeth and she took a deep breath before she spoke. "Yeah... I think I owe you an apology on that one." 

Now Joe was absolutely sure he'd missed something. "You do?" 

Caitlin sighed, dropping onto the piano bench that Cisco had so recently vacated. "Cisco and Jay had a falling out," she explained. Which Joe had already worked out and between her expression and what he knew of Cisco's relationship with Caitlin, he didn't have to be a genius to guess what her next words would be. "Over me." 

Joe felt something unwelcome twist in his gut. "You and Jay?" 

She nodded. "We went out a few times... it started when he came out on the road with us. I thought we might see where things went when we got back to Central City but..." She shifted on the seat, looking awkward and he took a leap of faith. 

"Let me guess," he tried. "You expected monogamy, he thought that was a type of wood?" 

His deadpan delivery fooled her and he knew the exact moment his meaning hit her because her jaw dropped and her eyes went wide and she stared at him, goggle-eyed, for a full six seconds. Then  a laugh, full bodied and glorious, erupted from her lips and she threw her head back, her shoulders shaking. She laughed longer and louder than he'd ever heard her laugh, the flush of embarrassment replaced by a different flush altogether and Joe realised that in all the time she'd been with them, he'd never seen her like this, guard down, totally and completely relaxed. 

It was, he thought, a sight he wouldn't mind seeing more often. 

That thought struck him like a blow to the gut, had him dropping down to the seat beside her and he stared at her as she continued to laugh, a smile coming to his lips at her mirth. "Oh, that's good," she said eventually, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. "I'm using that." Another couple of deep breaths and there was a smile on her face when she asked, "Was it that obvious?" 

Considering Joe hadn't known about her and Jay until just now, he'd say not. However, he'd known of old Jay's reputation around women - that, and the way Jay had looked at Iris, had been only one of the reasons that Joe had been thrilled when Barry had finally found the courage to express his feelings towards Iris. "I hear things," he said simply, "and Jay's always been... fast." 

The word made him sound like his own grandpa, he thought, but Caitlin didn't comment, just grimaced. "I found out by accident," she told him. "It was the first night we were back in town, we all went out dancing..." Joe remembered; they'd invited him along but he'd declined, figuring Iris had had enough of her old man shadowing her every move. "First club we got to, there he was, wrapped around a blonde in a dress that I swear was spray painted on..." She shook her head as a giggle escaped her. "I didn't even see him at first, probably wouldn't have except Barry saw him first and he got this look on his face of sheer panic..."

Joe knew the look. He'd seen it the first time he'd caught Barry and Iris in a compromising position. "Mouth opening and closing like a fish that's just been landed?" There was another giggle at that and this time, he joined in the laughter. "Yeah, I know that look... kid's got just about the worst poker face I've ever seen." 

"When I talked to him, he told me that we'd never discussed being exclusive." Caitlin held up her hands, made quote marks around the last two words.  She chuckled but this time there was no humour in it. "I didn't even know that that was a thing we had to do." She shrugged. "When I started dating Ronnie, I didn't want to see anyone else. Neither did he." Her smile had a suddenly sad air about it as she looked down, fingers playing with the hem of her skirt. "Guess I'm just old fashioned." 

"Then I'm just old," he countered, leaning in to knock his elbow against hers. "That's a lousy way to treat someone." 

Caitlin's head turned towards him and she leaned closer, just a little. "Which is what Cisco told Jay. Loudly. With profanity." She grimaced again, lips pursed ruefully. "I told you he worries about me... he thinks Jay broke my heart or something." 

Joe raised an eyebrow. "Did he?" 

She looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "Jay was the first guy I've dated since Ronnie." Her voice was soft, her knuckles white as she gripped the edge of the piano bench. "I didn't expect commitment, or a white picket fence... I just wanted..." Her voice trailed off and she looked down, a lock of hair falling across her cheek, obscuring her expression from his vision. 

Taking another guess, thinking back to how he'd felt after Francine had left, ignoring a sudden twitch of his fingers, Joe said, "To remember what it felt like?" 

Her head moved up and down and she looked over at him, tucking that lock of hair behind one ear. There was understanding in her eyes, maybe even a little gratitude. "Yeah," she said softly. "It didn't work though. No sparks." 

"I'm sorry." He meant it too but Caitlin shook her head. 

"I'm not. Not really. Though I am sorry if it makes things awkward with Jay. Cisco's quite the grudge holder when he wants to be." 

Cisco was like a son to Joe, so he knew that to be the truth. "It'll be fine," he said, leaving out the "eventually" that he really wanted to add on to the end of that sentence. "As long as you're ok." 

Caitlin's grin was back and she reached behind her, snagging the sheet music Cisco had left behind. "I'm more than ok," she said. She held up the music between them. "In fact, I think I know where Cisco's getting stuck... want to try something out?" 

Joe didn't have to be asked twice.