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Snowbound (The World Above/Sympathy sequel, M) - Part 9 of 10 posted 2/22/22


phoenix

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So! Ages ago, I wrote a sneezy, angsty, cuddly, life-on-tour hurt/comfort novella. It's called Sympathy, and it's available in its finished form here on AO3 or in its original form here on the forum. Obviously I'm biased and think you should go check that out, but you should be able to jump into this one with no problem even if you've never read it.  

Anyway, when Sympathy ended I said that I'd write more in that universe, and I'm finally doing just that. Here's the first scene, mostly to commit myself to actually posting the dang thing. More to come. I promise it won't take 3+ years to finish this time.  (ETA: This is available on AO3 as well: here's the link.)

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Ian hit them just before the storm, bursting through the front door with too many bags and wet snow pulling his dark hair down into his eyes. “They’re gonna close the airport.” He shook the dark waves of his bangs out of his face, breathless and red-cheeked from the cold. “I heard it on the news. Fuck, I’m glad I made it. The Uber driver kept talking about how he’s not gonna risk his life for a few bucks. Thought I was gonna have to sleep at the airport, but here I am.” Like he wasn’t quite sure it was real. 

“Hi, Ian.” Pointed, but with a grin. 

“Josh! Hi!” Ian dropped his bags and threw himself at Josh, who caught him in a tight hug. “Fuck, man, it’s been so long.” Ian pulled back, but didn’t let go. Suddenly serious. “I miss you.” 

Josh blinked back unexpected tears. “Miss you, too.” They’d been stuck together for so many years in vans and tour buses and shitty green rooms, in dive bars and on stages with thousands of people screaming their songs back to them, The World Above at the top of the marquee. Being apart for more than a few hours had been weird. Six months two thousand miles apart, save for one too-brief reunion at their parents' houses on the fourth of July, still felt kind of unreal.

Kate had appeared, eyes widening at the size of the luggage pile before she was nearly bowled over by Ian’s hug. 

“Kate! Oh my god, Kate, thank you so much for letting me stay here. You’re a saint. And have you seen the weather?” He gestured outside. “Are we gonna be snowed in?” 

Josh laughed. “You act like you’ve never seen snow before. Has all this time in L.A. erased your memory? Michigan winters? You, me, one of those deathtrap toboggans? Big hill behind the school? Ringing any bells?” 

Ian brushed him off. “Whatever. I’m just glad it’s over. The flight was delayed before we even left L.A.; it was overbooked and we had to go through this whole thing where they offered more and more money for people to get voluntarily bumped, but no one wanted to because they wanted to get in before the storm, but the overbooking almost made us miss our window anyway…” He sighed, then brightened. “The family that did finally take it made out with a fortune, though. Cash and airmiles and hotel and food vouchers…” 

“You didn’t want to take it?” 

“Nah. I’ve spent way too much time in airports lately. Only just came back from Seattle. I just wanted to get here and be done with flying for a while.“ 

“Well, we’re glad you’re here.” Kate smiled at him and brushed the snow out of his hair. “Come in! Take off your coat.” 

“And your boots,” Josh added, because that was exactly the sort of detail that Ian would overlook when he was excited. Which was pretty much always. 

Ian nodded absently and slipped out of his winter gear, managing, in a small miracle, to get everything on hooks and boot trays. His eyes went wide when he saw the leash hanging from the mudroom coat hook. “The puppy!” 

Josh grinned. “The puppy.” 

“I can’t believe you two— a puppy— I just—” 

“You want to meet him?” Josh asked.

“Do I—?” It was almost a squeak.

“Breathe,” Kate instructed, and went to get Finley from his crate. 

Josh looked Ian up and down one more time. When they’d been on tour, they’d spent so much time indoors that he was always on the pale side of tan, but now his skin was dark and glowing after months in the L.A. sun. He’d gotten his hair cut short on the sides and long on top. The careful styling had been undone by the snow, and he looked exhausted but ecstatic. It was like going back in time. Josh couldn’t find the words, so he just pulled Ian in for another tight hug. 

Finley burst into the room in a rush of joy and fur and tiny nails on hard floors, trying his best to knock over Ian. He was far too small for it to work, but Ian tumbled to the floor anyway to be pinned down and enthusiastically puppy-kissed. If Ian had had a tail, it would’ve been wagging just as much as Finn’s. 

“Oh my god.” Ian shook his head and buried his face in Finley’s coat. “He’s so perfect. What breed?” 

“Black lab and border collie mix was the shelter’s best guess. He’s got the black-and-white border collie markings.” Like a tuxedo. They hadn’t planned on walking out of the shelter with a puppy that day, but, y’know, love at first sight. The little furball had a knack for that. 

“So fucking perfect,” Ian repeated, eyes misty. He rubbed his nose with his palm, flat on his back on the floor. 

“We’ll see if you still think he’s perfect when you take him out in the middle of the night.” The deal was, Ian could crash in their second bedroom from Thanksgiving until Christmas as long as he was willing to be a housemate and not a guest, and he’d enthusiastically agreed to help out with the groceries and the cooking and the cleaning and the puppy-raising in exchange for free rent. Josh had a feeling that there was going to be a lot more puppy-spoiling than anything else, but hey, Ian was a decent cook when he wanted to be and could afford take-out for everyone when he didn’t, and it was good (really, really good) to be back under the same roof. 

“For you, little buddy,” Ian told Finley, “I’ll brave 2 a.m. blizzards.”  He sniffed, then smothered a half-stifled sneeze— hih-kchh!— into the back of his hand, just barely missing Finn. He rocked back up to sitting, puppy still cradled in his arms, then rubbed his nose with his shoulder as best he could without letting go. “Alright, guess I’d better move my shit out of the entryway. Second door down the hallway, yeah?” 

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[More to come]


 

Edited by phoenix
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I cannot begin to describe just how ecstatic I am that this story is getting a sequel! I know I was not very vocal comment-wise while Sympathy was ongoing, but I specifically remember following it closely ever since the first part was posted all that time ago. I seriously cannot understate how brilliant I found that work. It was one of the best, if not the best, pieces of writing I have EVER read on here. I am not good at putting my specific thoughts into words, but please know that your writing is extremely appreciated. Believe me when I say I am on the edge of my seat to see more of your wonderful characters, Ian especially. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Just went and read Sympathy which was great. Excited for this!

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Oh, yay, I'm so happy to see that people are reading and enjoying! ❤️ to you you all. Here's part 2. 

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Dinner was steak with goat cheese and basil and tomatoes, courtesy of Kate, and their good wine, and chocolates that Ian had picked up at the airport during the endless L.A. wait, and it felt special, like a homecoming. Ian was still telling stories about life in L.A. (the epitome of everything Josh couldn’t stand about being some-sort-of-famous and everything that Ian craved), and Kate had her head thrown back, laughing, auburn hair brushing her shoulders, fingers intertwined with his between their empty plates, and Josh stopped following the story and let himself drink in the warmth of the candlelight and the wine and the food and his two favorite people here, together, with the puppy curled up asleep nearby. 

Kate went to bed early just in case there somehow wasn’t a snow day the next day, so Josh and Ian wound up in front of the tv with the Weather Channel on, half-watching the list of canceled flights and canceled schools and the shots of reporters pretending to be blown over by the snow. Ian had pulled Finley up onto the couch with them and was cradling him against his chest like a baby. 

“So.” He hadn’t broached the subject yet, but there probably wasn’t a better time than when Ian had a puppy in his arms. “You and Scott.” 

Ian’s face darkened. “It’s over.” 

“I know.” The whole damn world knew. Hazards of dating someone who made his living putting his life on the internet for everyone to see. 

“Fuck him.” Ian pushed himself off the couch, Finley still cradled in one arm, and stalked to the kitchen. “I’m going to make some tea. Want any?” 

Josh watched him go. “Nah, I’m good.” He'd get the whole story eventually, but he knew enough to back off for now. 

. . .

They woke to a foot of snow and a city uncharacteristically brought to its knees. They still had power, but the count on the news of how many people didn’t seemed to be getting worse rather than better. 

“Shit.” Kate was in pjs and slippers and a bathrobe, a cup of coffee held in both hands. “At least least it looks like my students are okay.” 

Josh smoothed a hand down her back. “Glad to hear it. What’s the plan? Movie marathon, no one gets dressed all day?” 

She laughed. “Snowed in with Ian and a puppy? They’re both adorable, but that sounds like a little much. I’m going to head down to the coffee shop and catch up on grading. Evelyn said she was going to do the same.” She grinned. “Teacher party. Wild and crazy as always. Movies later sounds nice, though.”  

Josh had just about finished his cereal and was thinking about taking Finley out for a second time when Ian wandered into the kitchen with sleep-mussed hair and the extra blanket from the guest bed wrapped around him like a parka. He yawned, and shivered, and pulled the blanket tighter. “It’s gonna be 80 in L.A. today.” A little bit petulant. 

Josh laughed and patted the seat next to him. “Sorry Chicago is such a disappointment.” 

Ian shook his head and sat down. “Nah. Just… cold.” 

“That it is.” Josh poured him a cup of coffee, and looked out the apartment window at the slush-covered street below. “It’s nice, though. Feels like winter. There’s some kind of rhythm to the year.” He turned back. “One that’s not marked off by wildfires.” 

Ian nodded, and swiped a blanket-covered wrist under his nose, and accepted the coffee. “That’s where everything’s happening, though.”   

Josh refilled his own coffee mug, and didn’t reply. There was this unspoken question of what came next— officially, they were taking a break so Nathan could be home with his wife and their newborn daughter; unofficially, things had been fraying at the seams, and Clara’s birth had been a good excuse to set down the arguments for a while. 

He shook his head to reset his thoughts. “Kate’s going down to the coffee shop to grade, so we’ve got the house to ourselves.” 

Ian started to say something, but was cut off by a quick heh-kcht!, pressed against his wrist, and a pause to gasp for breath, and another, more forceful stifle— heh-CHNGT!— that left him blinking in its wake. 

“Is the puppy getting to you?” Not that there was any chance of keeping them apart even if Ian was allergic, but at least they could try to find some meds. 

“Maybe.” Ian was distracted, still rubbing his nose against his wrist. “I don’t mind. Kate! What’s this about you doing actual work today?”  

Kate had appeared in the doorway, dressed and bag packed, trailed by Finn, who was immediately scooped up by Ian. She laughed. “I’ll be back this afternoon. Save me some hot chocolate.” She kissed Josh on the lips and Ian and Finley each on top of the head, and headed out the door. 

. . . 

It took until the third time Finley went out, but Ian did eventually pull on all of the layers he’d brought with him from deep in his storage unit in L.A. and make his way out into the snow. 

“Holy shit.” Whispered and joyful, face upturned, flakes gathering on his dark eyelashes. And that was it, right there— that joy, that wonder at the world, that buoyed everyone around him. The beating heart of everything the five of them had ever been. The reason that even now, almost a decade on, they couldn’t just walk away. 

There was a park a block away, and all the kids who were off of school had ended up there, sledding down the tiny hill and jumping off the monkey bars into snowbanks and fawning over Finley. Ian was in the middle of it all, charming the moms and delighting the kids, and Josh sat on a bench in the brilliant sunlight and soaked it all in, sending pictures to Kate, and, after a moment’s hesitation, to Lauren and Nate and Danny as well. He got back photos of spelling tests and coffee and pastries, and of Seattle rain, and of Clara, wide-eyed and perfect, and then, after a long beat of silence, one of Danny, wrapped in his covers in the darkness of his bedroom, eyes closed, middle finger to the camera. Like everything was going to be okay. 

He was just starting to get cold when Ian came back to him with Finley tucked inside his coat. 

Josh gestured to the sleds and snowmen. “Can’t do that in L.A.” Teasing, but Ian didn’t take the bait, just hummed in agreement and followed Josh back to the apartment, holding Finley close. 

Josh slipped off his coat and hat and boots and scarf and gloves with practiced speed, and turned around to find that Ian had only gotten as far as pulling off his snow-crusted beanie, holding it in one hand with Finley tucked into the other arm. 

“That dog’s gonna forget how to walk with you around.”  

Ian started like he’d forgotten where he was, then let Josh take Finley from him and set him down. Finn veered off as always to see if any of the smells in the house had changed in the hour they’d been gone. 

“Thought you had better winter clothes.” Ian’s pea coat and boots, fashionable and more than warm enough for L.A., were soaked through, along with his hat and gloves. 

“I… did.” He seemed genuinely confused by the turn of events. 

Josh rolled his eyes and took the hat from his fingers, shaking out the snow and hanging it on a hook, then started unwinding Ian’s scarf. 

“I got it, I got it.” Ian batted him away. 

Josh shrugged and left him to it. “Tea? Hot chocolate?” he called from the kitchen. He couldn’t figure out what the muffled response was, so he filled up the electric kettle anyway and flipped it on, then went back to the living room. Ian had more or less gotten his wet gear in the right places and then curled up in the corner of the couch, wrapped in the blanket from that morning. Finley had settled into his crate, and without him, Ian just looked lonely, and cold. “Hot shower?” 

Another noncommittal noise. Josh sighed. “Executive decision says yes, before you manage to freeze your balls off inside my damn house.” He put out both hands and Ian took them, grumbling, and let himself be pulled up. “Go. Become human. I’ll have chai for you when you come back.” He shook his head. “California, man. It’s making you weak.” 

“Making you weak,” was the muttered comeback, and Josh, laughing, pushed Ian down the hall. 

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Awww. Love the domesticity.

5 hours ago, phoenix said:

Josh laughed and patted the seat next to him. “Sorry Chicago is such a disappointment.” 

LOL

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  • 4 weeks later...

I'm back! Happy New Year. Here's part 3. 

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Twenty minutes later, Ian reappeared, wearing an oversized sweatshirt and towel-drying his hair. He was already mid-way through a conversation he seemed to have started with himself in the shower, oblivious to the lack of an audience. “—an open mic night or something. We could write something new, as long as I’m here. Or we could play the real old shit.” His mind was going a million miles a minute, like always, but his voice was starting to give way. “Give the die-hards something to post about.” 

Josh had more or less promised Ian an open mic night or two while they were both in Chicago, but part of him had been hoping Ian wouldn’t follow through. Half-drunk strangers, he could deal with. Fans, let alone the crazy ones… Jesus. He went for the subject change instead. “You still cold?” 

Ian nodded distractedly. “Do you think they’d have a keyboard I could use? Probably not, right? Connor has a digital piano at his place; maybe we could take that apart and get it down there…” 

They couldn’t, but twenty years of experience said that telling Ian that would do absolutely nothing to stem the tide. Josh just watched him pace. There’d be time later to sort out the good ideas from the bad. It was a process that had gotten them fame and fortune and all that shit, so he wasn’t going to mess with it now. 

He wondered, sometimes, where all of them would’ve been without that overspilling, bright-as-the-sun energy binding them together. Nate had the talent for a solo career, but he was too in his head. He would’ve spent two years in the studio perfecting his first album and never actually made it out on tour. Danny would probably be using his industry connections and surly magnetism for recording or producing or managing. Lauren’s career plan had been consulting, a job title Josh didn’t understand beyond, “She’s smart and businesses will pay her to be smart on their behalf,” but that had been derailed the night she and Ian had ended up at a cast party for a college show neither of them had actually been in. There was a piano, and a duet that segued immediately into a makeout session, all cheered on by raucous theater kids and captured in grainy flip-phone video. They’d moved on from the romance after a few months, but goddamn it if they didn’t throw sparks every time they were together on a stage. 

In another life, Josh probably wouldn’t even be playing guitar; he was competent from long practice, but he never would’ve made it in music on his own. What Josh had, what he’d always had, was Ian. They’d found each other in the hell of middle school and hadn’t ever let go. Ian made him laugh, and pulled him into conversations with other actual human beings, and always saw the best in him, even when Josh was mired in self-doubt. Josh fought off Ian’s schoolyard bullies, and held him every time his heart got broken, and took over logistics when his ADHD brain started pulling in every direction except forward. Josh’s very identity was wrapped up in being Ian’s armor and his anchor and his sunstone in the fog. And, for now, the one making sure he didn’t freeze. He went to turn up the heat. 

Eventually, Ian talked himself out, and they settled into the couch: Parks and Rec, tea and blankets, both of them scrolling through their phones. It felt like a million days on tour, minus the sway of the bus on the road. Just quieter. Well, other than Ian’s sniffling, which was closing in on constant. Josh put down his phone and watched Ian for a minute, then grabbed the tissue box from the coffee table and put it on Ian’s knees where they were drawn up toward his chest, right in his line of sight. “Dude. Blow your nose.” 

Ian blinked at him, and did, then wandered into the kitchen to throw the tissues away. Josh heard him stop to cough, painful and muffled, before he came back in.

“Probably not the puppy, huh?” 

Ian shook his head and curled back into the couch. Coughed some more into his blanket-covered arm. Mental note: ask Kate if she knew how to disinfect fabric. 

“More tea?” 

Ian started to nod, but his eyes unfocused and he groped blindly for the tissue box, reaching it at the same time that he sneezed, uncovered and half-stifled— hi-kgtshh!— toward his knees. Josh thought about telling him that it was better just to let them out, but decided that ship had sailed long ago. Ian swiped the tissue half-heartedly under his nose and went back to sniffling. Josh shook his head and went to turn the electric kettle on again. 

. . .

Kate found them on the couch, Josh more-or-less watching tv and Ian asleep in a mound of blankets and tissues. Josh stood up to stretch and kiss her and gesture apologetically at Ian. “I didn’t mean to invite all of the germs from here to the West Coast into our living room.” 

She waved him off. “I’m sure my school is as bad as any plane. Are we still on for movies?” 

“Yup. Any requests?” 

“Mm… something chill.” 

Moana?” 

She kissed him again and headed for the kitchen. “You know me well.”

. . .

Josh wasn’t a good cook in the way that Kate or even Ian was, but he had spaghetti and meatballs pretty well figured out. Ian appeared in the kitchen as Josh was draining the pasta. 

“I can do the salad!” Hoarse, but with enthusiasm, so the sleep must’ve helped. 

Kate, who was already washing lettuce, had to shoo him away. “When you’re not sick, you can make all the salads you want.” She grinned. “I’ll hold you to it.” 

Ian tried to pout, but sneezed instead— kih-TSHUH!— getting his elbow up just in time.  

Josh gestured with the spiky pasta spoon. “Exactly.” 

Ian pulled a paper napkin from the stack on the table and blew his nose, which set off another round: kih-TCH. eh-KTSH. huh… TCHIEW! He groaned, and grabbed more napkins, and blew his nose again. When he got up to throw them away, he let his head drop onto Josh’s shoulder. 

“Bless you. You gonna make it?” 

“Do I have a choice?”

“Nope.” He leaned his cheek against Ian’s forehead. No fever. “You’re stuck with us. No escape.” 

Kate had moved on to chopping carrots. “That’s us. Hostage-takers with pasta. And Disney movies. And a puppy.” 

Ian sniffed, and let himself smile. “I think I could live with that.” 

 

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Edited by phoenix
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Awwww.

16 minutes ago, phoenix said:

Josh’s very identity was wrapped up in being Ian’s armor and his anchor and his sunstone in the fog.

Love this line.

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I loved Sympathy and am really happy to see these characters back.  Personally, I am so much more interested in reading well developed fiction with sickness and care taking in it than I am about reading about people sneezing.  When I find a great writer who fills it all out for me, I am a puddle, just a puddle.  So thanks for all the work you've put into it.  You are a fantastic writer.  Love it.  

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Aww, thank you all! I really appreciate the support. ❤️  

I had an unexpected day off today (thank you, snow), so here's part 4. No idea how many parts there will be... I keep going back and forth between "I could probably wrap this up in a few more thousand words" and "I have enough plot in my head for another 20k." That's probably overstating things, but yeah. Thanks for sticking with me while I figure it out. 🙂 

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One more trip outside with Finley, because life with a puppy revolved around housetraining in a way that still took Josh by surprise. When he came back, the other two were waiting on the couch with the movie was cued up on screen. At dinner, Ian had been telling stories from L.A. and laughing himself into coughing fits, undeterred by how little of his voice was left and or the way every swallow seemed to hurt. Now, he was curled in on himself under his pile of blankets, pressed into the far corner of the couch, exhausted and sick and sore. Kate was talking to him quietly, her hand moving steadily over the blankets at his feet. Man, that kid fell fast. 

Josh toed off his boots but didn’t put Finley down, just carried him across the living room and put him on top of the blanket mountain. Finn wriggled and burrowed and licked Ian’s ear and cheek, and Ian extricated a hand from the blankets to scratch tiredly behind the puppy’s ears. Kate raised her eyebrows at Josh— in theory, they were trying to teach Finley that the couch was off-limits. He shrugged. They’d just about given up on the idea anyway. Josh sank into his place in the middle and Kate unpaused the film. 

When Finley wriggled down off the couch ten minutes in and wandered away to find his toys, Ian fully retreated into his blanket cocoon, although his hand snaked out every few minutes to pull another tissue from the box, blow his nose, and toss it vaguely in the direction of the waste basket on the floor. After a while, that pattern slowed, and when Josh looked over, he was asleep. 

“Missing out,” Kate murmured in Josh’s ear. 

“Mm.” Quiet and close. “You’ll just have to watch it again while he’s here.” 

They were halfway through the movie when Ian pushed himself up suddenly to sit on the edge of the couch. 

“Ian?” 

A hazy look, and a hand floating vaguely in front of his face. eh… kTCHH! uh-TSHH! Messy and pained. Josh grabbed the tissue box and pressed it into Ian’s hands. 

“Fuck.” Shattered, and straight into a coughing fit that he smothered into the handful of tissues. 

“Hey.” Josh kept his voice low. One hand on Ian’s shoulder and another on his back, holding him steady. Kate had paused the movie and disappeared into the kitchen. “Talk to me; what’s going on?” Josh heard the clink of a glass and the tap turning on. The glass filling. The tap turning off.  

“I wasn’t… I didn’t… before…” Gasped and grasping, fingers searching for his. 

“I know.” Josh caught his wrist. Pulled him close. This kid was so fucking handsy when he was sick. “Knocks you out every time, huh?” 

Ian nodded, eyes closed. Josh brushed Ian’s bangs out of the way with the side of his hand. Palm on his forehead. The way Ian melted into the touch was answer enough, but he looked up at Kate anyway. “Second opinion?” 

She put down the glass of water in front of Ian and replaced Josh’s hand with her own. “Mm. Yeah, I’d call that a fever.” Soft, like a lullaby. “You want to take something for it? Go to bed?” 

Ian had started to nod at the idea of painkillers, but shook his head at the idea of being alone. “No, don’t—” He trailed off, then shook his head again. “We can finish the movie.” 

“Okay.” She smoothed his hair back. “I’ll go grab the meds.” 

Josh kept a hand moving on Ian’s back, and he slowly came back down. By the end of the movie, he was asleep with his head in Josh’s lap, breathing noisily and open-mouthed.

 Kate was pressed against Josh’s other side, trying not to cry at the finale and failing, but half-laughing at herself for it. “Every time!”

“Aww, babe.” He pulled her close. Kissed her cheeks. Salt on his lips, and the hitch of her breath, and a swelling rush of yes-this-forever. 

“How do you not cry?” 

“Did you see me the first time? Jesus, I was a mess.” He yawned, warm and sleepy. 

She laughed, and pressed her face into his shoulder again. “Okay, I’m going to bed. You gonna try to drag this one to his room?”

Josh nodded, and stretched, and shook Ian’s shoulder as gently as he could. No response, so he gently edged his way off the couch. That at least got a protesting groan. “C’mon. Bedtime.” Another muffled sound of protest, but one that seemed a little more awake. He took Ian’s hands in his own, and Ian let himself be pulled to his feet, eyes still closed, head heavy. “There we go.” 

The change in altitude seemed to set off something in Ian’s sinuses, and Josh had just enough time to realize what was happening and shove tissues into Ian’s hand before his hitching breath turned into a congested huh… UHG’TCH! He blew his nose and cleared his throat and then just stood there, in the living room, like he had no idea where to go next. 

Josh pulled him in for a hug. Listened to the congested breathing in his ear. “Go to sleep.” 

Ian nodded against him and didn’t move. Josh pulled back enough to get his fingers in Ian’s hair, tousling in an attempt to wake him up, until Ian shakily made his way down the hallway, freezing at his door in profile for a strong kih… TCHUU! Josh watched him go, then disappeared into his own room to join Kate.   

. . .

They’d all gone to bed pretty early, so Josh got up when Kate did and made the coffee while Kate was in the shower. It was nice to have breakfast together on a work day for a change, even if it couldn’t last long. Kate checked the time and downed the last of her coffee.  

“I can go home by way of the drugstore… do we need anything?” 

Josh yawned and considered. “More tissues, probably? Restocking on meds wouldn’t hurt, either, especially since I’m sure this thing is coming for us next.” 

“Coming for you, maybe. I have eight years of working in a petri dish to protect me, thank you very much.” 

He shook his head. “Hubris. It goeth before the fall.” 

“I think you’re misquoting both Hamilton and God.” Teasing and warm, then a little more serious, glancing toward Ian’s closed door. “Good luck.”  

. . .

The snowbanks along the sidewalk were solidly into dirty-slush territory, but the far corners of the park down the street were still clean and undisturbed. Josh let Finley’s retractable leash go long so that Finn could sniff all the trees, and tucked the handle under his arm so he could gather up a snowball in his gloved hands. See, this was the kind of shit they almost never got to do on tour, between the rush to make press and shows and the endless stretches on the bus. When they weren’t on tour, they were writing or recording, and that was thrilling and painful and frustrating and cathartic and nearly brought them all to blows. It was fucking amazing, everything he’d ever wanted, but it had almost broken him, and then it had almost broken them all. So, here he was, in Chicago, with a puppy and a partner and part-time work teaching guitar and money in the bank and royalties from their last few albums still trickling in. It wasn’t what he wanted forever, but it was a relief to have for now. 

Finley came back to him and whined. Josh laughed— “Ian hasn’t even been here two days and he’s already spoiled you”— and picked him up. He was rewarded with an armful of squirmy puppy and had to scrunch up his face against the onslaught of Finley-kisses. He’d been so worried about getting a puppy— about the commitment, about screwing it up, about everything— but this little furball had turned out to be exactly what he needed. The last tour had ended in May, crashing to a close in a wave of adrenaline and anger and tears, and they’d gone their separate ways unsure of what came next. Over the summer, while Kate was out of school, they’d wandered the city, and escaped to the wilderness, and driven out to his parents’ house to visit his sister and brother-in-law and niece (who was about to start kindergarten; where the fuck had the time gone). Somewhere in all of that Josh had been sampling craft beer with his brother-in-law on his parents’ back deck and had realized with a start that for the first time in a long time he was drinking because he wanted to and not because he couldn’t face the world without the protective haze of a cheap buzz. That had been about the time that they’d started talking about getting a dog. He scratched Finn behind the ears and started for home. 


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Three parts in (just over) a week? What is this madness. Thank you as always for cheering me on! Here's part 5. A little shorter, but a whole lot sneezier, so hopefully it balances out. 🙂

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Ian’s voice, low and painful, took Josh by surprise as he was toeing off his boots and dealing with the puppy’s leash. “I woke up and you weren’t here.” Not accusing. Just… lost. 

“Yeah, I took Finley out.” He looked Ian up and down. “How’re you doing?” 

Ian shrugged and looked up at him pitifully through his bangs where they were falling in his eyes. 

“Meds wore off?” 

He tried to clear his throat, without much success. “Took some more when I woke up. Kate brought them in before she left.” 

“She’s on top of things. You want breakfast?” 

“I had some oatmeal.” He looked at the floor. “You were gone a long time.”  

So fucking needy, in a way that wrapped his heartstrings around Ian and pulled them tight enough to break. He hung up his coat and hat and gloves and looked around the apartment. “Well, I’m here now. All day. I have to do laundry at some point, but that’s just downstairs.” 

“Okay.” Eyes still downcast. 

“Alright.” They both stood there, waiting for… something. Josh pulled in a deep breath. “I’m gonna clean up the kitchen.” 

Ian nodded, and followed him in, and sat at the table, sniffling. Josh brought him the box of tissues and the waste basket from the living room and warmed up a mug of tea in the microwave in the time it took Ian to realize he was shivering, retrieve a blanket from the couch, and settle back into his wood-backed kitchen chair. 

“You can go lie down, you know.” Ian’s MO when sick was to attach himself to the nearest source of affection and follow them around like a puppy. Add in the actual puppy trailing Ian and he was going to have a freaking comet’s tail following him around while he did housework. Like ducklings or some shit. He had to stop himself from laughing at the thought. 

Ian didn’t respond— his eyes had slipped closed and his mouth was slightly open. ih… hih. When he shook his head, Josh wasn’t sure if he was protesting Josh’s rational-but-futile suggestion or the impending sneeze: uh-HG’TCHU! Congested. It left him panting. 

“Bless you.” 

Ian shook his head again, and this time the message was clear: Not done. Ian wiped his nose and let his eyes fall closed again. ih. huhhh… A handful of tissues hovering in front of his face. He coughed, which apparently that did nothing for the actual problem, and scrunched his nose around. Like a bunny, to make the mental image even more absurd. Finally, he let out a shaky breath, irritated tears clinging to his lashes. “Goddamn it.” So hoarse it was half-whispered. 

Josh had come over in the midst of all that and leaned up against the table next to him. Ian dropped his forehead onto Josh’s thigh and groaned. Josh worked his fingers into Ian’s hair for a moment, then gently pushed him back up to sitting. “Here.” He cradled Ian’s head in both of his hands, cupping his ears, and ran his thumbs under his cheekbones with a little bit of pressure. He was about to ask Ian if that hurt, trying to suss out if there was a sinus infection and a clinic visit in their near future, when Ian pushed him away with a sudden gasp. His hands braced against Josh’s wrists and then, a second too slow, moved to cover the forceful sneezes Josh had accidentally teased out: HEH’TSH. Eh…TCHU. Heh… he was momentarily stuck, again, and then pulled in a breath big enough to finally sent him over the edge: hehATSHIEW! Eyes closed and panting. After a moment, he accepted the tissue box Josh was holding out and blew his nose, dropping the used tissues in the waste basket at his feet, grabbing new ones, repeat, repeat, repeat. 

“I think maybe the decongestants are working.” It was about the only thing Josh could think to say in the wake of the outburst. 

Ian laughed, hoarse but a little clearer than before. “You think?” He dropped the last handful of tissues into the trash and sniffed experimentally. “Shit.” 

“Yeah.” Josh shook his head. “Alright, I’m pulling rank.” 

“What rank?” He was already starting to sound congested again. “You’re not even a full year older than me.” 

Josh ignored him. “Couch or bed.” At Ian’s protest, he pulled out the guilt trip. “You’re a fucking biohazard, dude. The kitchen is the worse possible place to be.” 

“You don’t get to exile me.” Pouting. Josh gave him a look. Ian sighed dramatically. “Fine. Couch.” 

Ian stalked off with his blanket and his tea, and when Josh delivered the tissues and waste basket a minute later, Ian had settled in on the floor, leaning up against the couch, playing with the puppy. It was a 50-50 split on whether it was passive-aggressive pettiness (See, Josh, I said I’d go to the couch, and here I am) or whether he’d just gotten totally distracted by Finn. Well, whatever— he was wrapped in a blanket and couch-adjacent. That was enough for now. 

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Edited by phoenix
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  • 3 months later...

Well, it took a while, but I'm back! If you missed Part 5, it's above. Here's Part 6. 

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If you'd asked Josh at 21 whether he would ever enjoy doing laundry, he'd've laughed you out of the fucking room. But here he was, eight years later, leaning into the routine, making the rounds, gathering towels and sheets and clothing with Finley underfoot. For years, laundry day had been this hungover haze of grungy laundromats in anonymous towns, a mad rush in between tour stops to hurry up and wait. Now, he catches himself thinking about how he needs to add detergent to the shopping list and maybe get some of those dryer balls Kate had been talking about. Weird. He put the first load in and came back up the stairs. This was the sort of shit that made him feel useful, like he wasn't an underemployed freeloader in Kate's nice apartment, but like this was something they're doing together. Like everything else had been a dream, and he was finally getting started on real life. 

At some point, Ian had moved from the living room to his bed. Josh was about to knock on the open guest room door to ask if he wanted to add anything to the laundry, but before he could, there was a strangled scream of frustration and the crash of Ian's phone hitting the floor at his feet. Finley started and barked and ran away. Ian curled in tighter on himself in the bed. 

"Hey." He waited to see if Ian would give him some clue about what had just happened, but he got nothing in return. He put down the laundry basket and picked up the phone. Through the perpetually spiderweb-cracked screen, he could see a picture of Scott Yan on a SoCal beach: a perfectly staged selfie, dark hair blowing in the wind, mid-kiss with a tanned white guy with shaggy blond hair and a surfboard. A romantic-playful-adventurous caption, a paragraph's worth of hashtags, and a link to a YouTube video about how his new Australian boyfriend was teaching him how to surf. The guy was good at nothing if not self-promotion. 

"That motherfucker." Quiet. Tears in his eyes. 

Josh sat down on the bed, in close, a hand on Ian's back. He was warm through his soft t-shirt. A fever, again, maybe. "I'm sorry, Ian."

"He let me think it was gonna last." Ian's words were muffled against the blanket. "I was actually, truly, stupidly in love, and for him it was just sex, and attention, and the best narrative he'd ever had." He looked up at Josh with a bitter smile. "He told me the numbers. How good we were for his analytics. Crossover audience, people who knew me from the band." He took a shaky breath, and coughed, and coughed, and coughed. Josh could feel the muscle spasms under his palm. "Motherfucker." Again, broken, tears spilling over. His nose was running down his lip. Josh found the box of tissues and handed over two. "And then we're just— done. Because he said so. Because he'd told the story he wanted to tell, and he wanted breakup video views and fawning fucking sympathy comments, everyone on his side, which is because he was deleting all the others—" all Josh could do was hold him, run his fingers through his hair—  "and fuck my heartbreak, fuck what I wanted—" He broke off, and sobbed, and sobbed. Finley whined in the doorway. 

Josh slid down so he was lying next to Ian, on top of the covers, and pulled him into his arms. "You didn't deserve that." He wasn't sure, sometimes, if Ian really knew that. "You didn't deserve any of that." 

"I broke my lease." Whispered, ragged, in his ear. 

"What?" 

"We talked about me moving in, I was staying there half the time anyway, and I guess he never actually said yes but he definitely never said no, so I called my landlord and broke my lease and paid the penalty and put my stuff in storage and it was so fucking impulsive and stupid, but Josh, I thought we were gonna get engaged." Ian's voice was shattered from illness and emotion, strained and hoarse, and when he was done he buried his face in Josh's chest and panted, trying to catch his breath. 

"Oh, Ian." No more than an exhale. There were tears in his eyes as well— frustration at how little control Ian seemed to have over his brain and his heart even after all these years, rage at Scott for using him and breaking his heart, and the familiar gear-spinning of trying to figure out how to solve Ian's problems for him. Fly to L.A.. Drive to L.A.. Get his stuff shipped here. How much notice did he need to cancel guitar lessons for a week? Two weeks? A month? 

Ian was trembling, shaking in his arms, totally spent. He wiped his nose again and moaned at the scrape of the tissue on his raw skin. Coughed into Josh's chest, exhausted. 

"You're okay." Murmured in his hair. "I've got you. We'll figure this out." 

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Edited by phoenix
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IAN BABY NO!!!!

Sorry I keep forgetting to comment. But I promise that every time you update I drop everything to read it. I’m so in love with your writing style. I can’t put it into words. Thank you for sharing, and I’m on the edge of my seat to see what happens next!

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  • 7 months later...

*waves at revived forum*

Hello! We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of this fic, which I promised wouldn't take 3+ years this time, so... I'd better get on that. 

In the meantime, I've written the song that goes with the next (or at least an upcoming) section.

Here's the link; lyrics in the description box on YouTube: Snowbound

I'm glad you're all here, and hopefully I'll have some fic-writing to go with the songwriting for you soon. ❤️ 

 

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  • 4 months later...

Somehow, it's been a few days shy of a full year since I posted the last chapter. Sorry to keep you waiting so long! Here's Part 7.

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Ian had fallen asleep in Josh's arms, sweaty and open-mouthed and snoring, a fucking mess, looking impossibly vulnerable and young. Josh was drifting, too, running through possibilities in his mind, and it took him by surprise when the alarm he'd set for the laundry started to buzz in his hand. He silenced it before the ringer could come on. Picked up Ian's phone on his way out of the room. Maybe without it, Ian would get a couple of hours of sleep. Feel better when he woke up. He still hadn't gotten an answer about which clothes needed to be washed, so he picked the pile in the corner that seemed the most likely, put it in his basket, and went downstairs to switch out the loads.

Afterward, he stood outside Ian's room with his back against the hallway wall. It wasn't like Ian to keep that shit from him. They'd been apart too long.

. . .

Josh was folding laundry in the living room, three loads' worth spread out across the floor and Finley napping in his crate, when Ian reappeared. He didn't look too bad, all things considered. Tired. Sort of out of it. Sort of sad.

Ian sat down cross-legged in front of the clean towels that Josh had gotten as far as sorting into a general heap, separate from the clothes and the sheets. He picked up one of the bath towels. Matched the ends. Let it drop into his lap. Matched the ends again. Work, but no progress. He swiped his wrist under his nose. Josh watched him out of the corner of his eye, and kept pairing socks.

"I've been writing," Ian said, finally. Eyes down. Hoarse.

"Yeah?" Not necessarily where he'd expected to pick back up, but it was a familiar conversation: Ian nervous; breathless anticipation; wanting desperately to get his work out into the world but worried that this would be the time the rest of the band would let his fragile creation shatter. Unfounded, and he knew it, but his heart raced anyway, every time.
 
"It's not done yet." Fidgeting with the ends of the towels, looking for a frayed edge to worry between his fingers, and not finding any. When did they get to a point in life where even their towels are nice?

"Okay." Leaving room for Ian to ask.

He didn't. Josh blinked. A thousand iterations of this conversation, starting when they were fifteen, and this was the one where the script broke down?

He put down the socks. Looked at Ian more closely. He was breathing shaky and shallow, lips working between his teeth.

"I want to hear it." He tried to make it reassuring, not demanding. They were in uncharted territory, now.

"You do?" Disbelieving. Almost suspicious.

Josh was starting to feel a little off-balance, like maybe Ian had been abducted by aliens while he was in California. Part of him wanted to smack Ian upside the head: Yes, you idiot, of course I fucking do. Now seemed to be the time for a gentler approach, though, so he caught Ian's gaze and held it. "Always."

Ian's eyes filled with tears, and Josh was starting to panic a little (What the fuck did Scott Yan do to you, kid?), but he knew that if he didn't keep it together, Ian never would. He took a breath, and Ian mirrored him, and there was a dizzying sort of power in it.

"You know me." He waited until Ian blinked at him through his tears. "You've known me for— well, we're counting in decades, now. Fuck, we're old." Ian gave a sobbing sort of laugh, and started to lift the corner of the bath towel he'd been holding to wipe his eyes and his face. "No, not—" The tissues were too far away, so he grabbed a hand towel and shoved it into Ian's grasp instead. Ian broke his gaze and dropped the bath towel back into his lap, then suddenly buried his whole face in the hand towel: heh-KCHU!

"Well, that's yours now for sure." Josh picked back up where he'd left off. "So you know I'm not a fucking liar, right?" Harsher than he'd meant it to be.

Ian sniffed and wiped his nose with the hand towel, looking pathetic. "Right." His voice barely there.

"So yes," gentle again, reaching across to get a hand on Ian's knee, "of course I want to hear your song."

Finley was awake, tiny barks from his crate across the room. Josh went to get him. "I have to take him out. Get some orange juice. Or some tea." He came back over, Finley in his arms, and got his fingers in Ian's hair. Did shake him, just a little bit, and then leaned in to kiss him on the forehead. Finley tried to do the same, but only got the tip of Ian's nose. Ian laughed, and coughed, and Josh walked out the door to the sound of Ian muffling three more sneezes behind him.

. . .

Finley wanted to smell every corner of every dirty snowbank, and Josh let him. The cold air was steadying. He entertained some fantasies about punching Scott Yan in the mouth, and then let himself get pulled back into the present by Finn. Puppies were good for that.

Ian had in fact managed to get himself some orange juice while they were gone, but seemed to have gotten distracted by one of Josh's guitars before he could drink it. He was curled on the couch, moving the capo around and trying out a vague chord progression at each fret, orange juice untouched on the coffee table. "Okay."

"Okay?" Josh was hanging up the leash, shrugging out of his coat.

"I finished it." Eyes on the guitar.

"What, just now?" He shook the last of the snow out of his hair and clicked his tongue at Finley, who had flopped down on the unfolded pile of sheets. Finn looked at him innocently. Josh picked him up and traded Ian the guitar for the puppy. Hung the guitar on its hook on the wall, out of Finley's reach. Sat down on the couch by Ian's feet.

"I mean, I didn't think of it all just now, but I got it on tape." He cleared his throat, and then cleared it again. "Can we even say that any more?"

Flashbacks of pulled-out cassette tape. The bite of plastic teeth around his finger as he re-wound the reels. "Sure, I don't see why not."

"It's two tracks." Ian handed him his phone. Fingers shaking, just a bit. "I didn't, like, edit them together or anything."

Josh nodded, and Ian looked away. Josh handed him the orange juice.

"Use headphones." Breaking in just before Josh hit play. Then, quiet, "I don't want to listen, but I don't want to move." Finley was up against Ian's chest. Josh could move, could go into the kitchen or the bedroom or back outside, but he knew without Ian saying so that that was off the table as well.

His earbuds were in his pocket from the walk. He plugged them in. One last glance at Ian, who was both watching him and burying his face in the couch, and he closed his eyes to listen. Ian's voice on the recording was a cappella, in close to the mic, airport noises in the background.

I'm rehearsing tragedies every time I'm sober
with you still blissed the fuck out of your mind
And you tell me not to worry, that it's nothing,
I just have to learn to see it from your side.

An ache starting in his chest.

And you tell the world we're fine
And you tell the world you're mine

But you're no more mine than the ocean is the river's
No more mine than the moon belongs to the sea
You pull the waves over me
And you tell me that it's my fault I can't breathe.

Eyes open, sudden; fixed on Ian, who wouldn't quite meet his gaze.

There's a haze of warning lights every time I come down
I guess that's why you're trying to keep me high.

A surge of helpless anger, a need to say something, competing with the need to hear the rest. He settled for getting a hand on Ian's ankle, next to him on the couch.  

And you tell me that I'm seeing things
like I don't know what's right in front of my own eyes.  

And you tell me that we're fine
And you tell me that you're mine

But you're no more mine than the ocean is the river's
No more mine than the moon belongs to the sea
You're drifting from me
And you tell me that it's my fault I couldn't keep you here.

Lately I've been shaking in the let down
I've been walking alone in these California waves
You see me crying, you just say I crave the spotlight:
selfish and sick when the world turns away.  

Well, maybe I'm selfish and maybe I'm weak
for somehow letting myself believe
I was too much and not enough, nothing without you
But if it's over, I don't know what to do...

A shaky breath on the recording, and a long moment of airport room tone, and the scrabble and click of the recording ending. Josh bit his tongue and hit play on the next track. The background sound was totally different, quiet, with Ian's voice so shot that he was having trouble keeping the pitch. Hesitant, like he hadn't quite memorized the words.

So I'm running for the deepest winter I can find:
cold sunlight and grounded planes
bury myself, and, snowbound, finally
come out of the glamour of your wicked ways.

If things never were fine
And you never really mine

Then I'm no more yours than the ocean is the river's  
No more yours than the moon belongs to the sea
I'll find my own gravity
Let it pull me in and hold me until I can finally breathe.

Josh pulled out his headphones slowly. Blinked back tears. Nodded at Ian. Tried for words a couple of times, and couldn't find any.

"Is it...?" Ian, uncertain and small, the puppy in his arms.

"Yes. God, yes." He tried to pull himself back together. Shook his head. Reached for Ian, and caught his fingers. "I wasn't trying to yell earlier, you know that, right?"

A hint of a nod.

"I just—" He stopped for a breath. "I love you, okay? And Kate loves you and Lauren loves you and Nate and even fucking Danny loves you, like he doesn't love anyone. I have photographic proof." A restaurant on tour a million years ago; a text from Danny, Ian asleep on his shoulder; this fucking kid. "And when we go to California to get your stuff I'm going to go find Scott Yan and knock him out cold."

Ian almost managed a laugh at that. "You haven't seen his security guard."

Fair enough. "Well, if I get the chance I'm going for it. And you can bail me out of jail."

A real laugh, this time. "Deal." Ian was quiet for a while, sniffling, petting Finley. "And—" His eyes flicked up to Josh, and then back down to the puppy he's got almost in a trance. Half-whispered. "I love you, too."

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Here's the song, if you want to listen to it.

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Edited by phoenix
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Aaaaaa I missed this story so much! I’m glad it has gotten another part added to it! I hope it’s not over yet!

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  • 1 year later...

Hello! I'm back! I should not have made any promises about posting timelines, because we did in fact pass the 3-year mark a couple of weeks ago. Whoops. In my defense, it's been a bizarre year-and-three-quarters.

Anyway, I really appreciate that people are still reading, or at least were back in April 2020(!). I now have the rest of the story plotted out, and it's just a matter of writing it. I'm thinking 10 parts in total, with this being Part 8. Once that's done, I'll update AO3. (I consolidated the first seven parts into three chapters over there, so it doesn't make sense to switch to much shorter chapters now.)

Okay. Enjoy! Here's Part 8.

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It was a good thing Kate had already planned to stop for more tissues, because Ian must've gone through half a box that afternoon alone. His nose had been running freely early on, but at some point it had switched over to the kind of congested where it hardly feels worthwhile to blow, and yet you have to, over and over and over again. His nose was red and raw and he was breathing heavily through his mouth by the time his exhaustion pulled him under again. Josh's feet wound up tucked under Ian's shins when Ian had slid down to lie a little more flat on the couch, which, if asked, is the reason Josh would have given for not doing any of the rest of the chores on his mental list. Really, though, he was just so tired. Ian's exhaustion was rubbing off on him.

He really hadn't meant to fall asleep, but he woke to Kate's lips warm against his forehead, her hand gentle on his cheek.

"Hey." He frowned when it came out hoarse.

"Hey." She kept her voice low. Ian must've still been asleep. "You feeling okay? I wasn't expecting to come home to a completely sleeping household."

He let his head fall to the side enough to see that, yup, Finley was curled up in his crate as well.

"I'm okay." His eyes slipped back closed. "Do you need help? Did you end up getting a lot of stuff?"

"I got it." She kissed his cheek and ran her fingers through his hair, and he wanted to pull her close and never let go. "You keep sleeping, you clearly need it."

He shouldn't have needed it, but he was so tired that any logical objections had slipped away. He hummed in agreement, and then he was out.

. . .

The sleep helped, but when he woke again he just felt… heavy. Like he was being weighted down. Ian was sitting up on the couch beside him, blowing his nose into tissues from the freshly opened box.

"You're a lifesaver," he was telling Kate, his words dull with congestion. "I was about to run out of tissues, and then would not have been pretty." He coughed into his handful of tissues, and then coughed some more. Kate frowned at him sympathetically from where she was refilling Finley's food and water bowls. "I'm okay," he reassured her, sounding decidedly not okay. "Just…" He gestured at himself, and then caught sight of Josh. "You're awake!" Then, frowning, "Are you okay?"

Josh nodded, eyes still closed. He was vaguely aware that if he tried to talk the words wouldn't come out, at least not on the first try. Just because he'd been asleep, obviously. Not because he was getting sick.

"I think tonight is a takeout night," Kate said decisively, and Josh just nodded again. "Chinese?"

"Sounds good to me," Ian said, and then said, half to himself, "Oh. Fuck." A sharp intake of breath, face frozen and then crumpling, and then, nose buried in a handful of already used tissues, heh… k'TCHSH! heh-kTCHMPH! A slight headshake and another gasping breath, and then an audibly wet heh-KSHHHIU!

"Bless," Josh said while Ian was blowing his nose yet again, at the same time that Kate was saying, "Bless you, bless you, bless you," warm and concerned, looking up from her phone.

"Thanks," Ian said, a little breathless. "Ugh. I thought I was doing better, too, and then…" His nose twitched slightly, and he barely got the next set of tissues up for a spraying eh'TSCHIEW!  

"Bless you," Josh repeated, and caught Kate shaking her had at him slightly. "What?"

"Nothing," she said, already back to scrolling menus in the food delivery app, but he was fully aware of what she was implying: You're next.

. . .

There was something on tv after dinner, but Josh couldn't have told you what. Everything was too loud and too bright and too hot and too cold and the next time Ian sniffled he was going to fucking lose it.

He stood up abruptly, interrupting Kate and Ian talking over the tv. "I'm going to bed."

Kate blinked up at him, and then at the clock, and then back. "Okay. I'll be in later."

"It's not even eight o'clock," Ian said, confused, and then Kate must have communicated something without words because he just said, "Oh. Sleep well!"

He was very well aware that it wasn't even eight o'clock, which was making him even more surly because he had been steadfastly denying to himself all day that he might be getting sick and that trick was getting harder and harder to pull off. He told himself he was just going to lie down in the dark and the quiet and relax for a while, but as soon as the warmth of being under the covers started to soak in, he was out again.

. . .

It had been dark out when he went to bed, but it felt like the middle of the night when the mattress dipped. Squinting at the nightstand clock showed that nope, it was only ten. He groaned, and Kate moved closer under the covers.

"How're you doing?" Quiet in the dark.

He hadn't really taken stock until she asked. "My throat hurts." He sighed and pressed his forehead into her shoulder, and she wrapped her arms around him.

"I'm sorry." She shifted a little to get her palm flat on his forehead. "No fever, though."

"Only Ian would get a fever from a cold." He shivered, and she moved her hand to rub his back. "I'll be okay."

"I know." She was quiet for a while, and then, thoughtful: "Ian told me what happened. In California."

Josh shook his head against her. "Fucking Scott Yan."

"I know." She threaded her fingers into his hair, and he shivered again. "I'm assuming you're already trying to figure out how to fix this?"

He opened one eye and squinted up at her. "You say it like it's a bad thing."

"Some things don't have an easy fix. You can't just magically skip past the hurt by flying to California and grabbing Ian's stuff and punching Scott Yan in the face."

Muttered: "Well, it certainly wouldn't hurt." Then: "I promise I won't punch Scott Yan in the face. Probably." He yawned, and grimaced when it pulled at his throat. "I'll look at flights tomorrow. I can cancel lessons for a week, and then we'll just… bring Ian's stuff here, I guess?" He really hadn't gotten that far in his planning.

"Babe. Ian's sick, you're sick—" Josh made a sound of protest. It hurt his throat, so he went for glowering instead. "Everything's still under a ridiculous amount of snow…. Ian's stuff is in storage, in terms of money and logistics and all that it's not going to make much of a difference whether that's true for one month or three." She traced the backs of her fingers along the stubble at his jawline. "We were already planning for Ian to stay until Christmas. I'm fine with extending that for a couple of weeks, a month, whatever we think will work, as long as there's a plan for what happens next." She kissed his forehead and pulled him close again. "But we don't have to figure it out now. You don't have to figure it out now. We have time. Okay?" And then, when he nodded: "Go back to sleep."

He did.

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Edited by phoenix
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