If One of us is Going to Suffer, Why Shouldn't it be me? ; Jon/Brendon ; nc-17 (1/3)
sinuous_curve & insunshine
For Jon's seventeenth birthday he gets a, "Jon, Jonny, honey, you know this had nothing to do with you, don't you," a "We may not love each other anymore, but we still love you," tears sliding down his mother's cheeks, and an eyeful more than he ever wanted to see of his father's new girlfriend (waiting impatiently in the car), Sindi. Jon's pretty sure she was his babysitter when he was ten.
That's just the beginning.
Betaed by the lovely pepino21786 and bluevsgrey
Warnings: Habitual underage drug use, background character suicide attempt.
For Jon's seventeenth birthday he gets a, "Jon, Jonny, honey, you know this had nothing to do with you, don't you," a "We may not love each other anymore, but we still love you," tears sliding down his mother's cheeks, and an eyeful more than he ever wanted to see of his father's new girlfriend (waiting impatiently in the car), Sindi. Jon's pretty sure she was his babysitter when he was ten.
That's just the beginning.
It's September, he's starting his junior year and sure, it sucks that his parents are divorcing and sure it'll be different and it'll be a challenge, but he's a first string quarter back who made Varsity.
The world is pretty good.
Within a year, Sindi's pregnant (and his mother is having him crush Xanax into her coffee just so she can get up in the morning), Jon's being considered for a football scholarship to UNLV and he's been outed as one of the two gay kids in the whole school.
This is just the beginning.
At three a.m the morning of his eighteenth birthday, just six days after the start of his senior year and right around the same time as Sindi's sixth month, the phone in his bedroom rings.
Jon's exhausted and dead to the world (his mother isn't the only one who uses her Xanax liberally), and doesn't pick it up.
He'll never forgive himself for that.
His brother Mike, his fucking brother, is found with slit wrists in his bathroom by his two-year-old daughter Kaycee.
When her mother comes home, the toddler is screaming, covered head-to-toe in blood.
He doesn't die, but it's a close thing. All the drugs coursing through his system don't help matters.
The prognosis is as good as it can be; he'll make it, but they don't know for how long, he'll wake up but he won't be the same.
He'll never see his daughter again if Missy (Jon shudders to call her a wife. They'd tattooed their ring fingers and promised each other ever-loving thought and devotion. "Marriage is just a piece of paper, Jonny boy," Mike said, arm wrapped around Jon's shoulder, mouth curved into a smile as he watched Missy, pregnant and happy; so fucking happy. Marriage may just be a piece of paper, Jon knows, but it also gives you rights. Mike has none) has her way.
Jon wishes he could blame her.
This is just the fucking beginning.
Bill runs and Jon tells himself he wishes he could blame him, he understands why his older brother would pick up his wife and four kids and move two hours away, "Close enough to come back if anything happens and whenever we just miss you." He doesn’t.
He does blame Bill for getting out, for not coming back to Chicago until they were sure Mike wasn't going to die.
Jon wakes up every day in September to the muffled sounds his mother crying in her bathroom, to Mike's cartoons snaking up through the vents from the basement (the basement has been refurbished since Mike's "accident". There are no more sharp edges, no glass, no knives), and the silence where his father should be.
He showers and dresses, makes coffee and takes a tip from his mother, crushing three Xanax into it. They're not stolen from her anymore, they're bought from a guy who is a friend of a friend of Jon's buddy William. Weed and Xanax and Jon thinks if he were a little smarter or a little deeper, not just a jock that combination would say something meaningful and profound about him, or his current mental state.
Instead, it's weed to relax and Xanax to stay alive.
Backpack, filled with a couple cheap new notebooks and last year’s pens, and a chipped thermos filled with his chemically altered coffee and Jon grabs his keys off the kitchen table (just one for the house and another for his father and Sindi's apartment that he's never used).
He eases open the basement door and slips halfway down the creaking staircase. Mike's sitting on the battered couch with his hands resting palms up on his knees. The scars almost glow in the blue light of the TV, needle marks high up near his elbow and jagged slits lower down near his wrist. Healed now.
"Bye, Mike," Jon says; he doesn't expect a reaction and he doesn't get one.
His mom's bedroom door is still shut tight and Jon is a selfish son who doesn't want to see her eyes, permanently rimmed in raw red circles, bruise color shadows puffed up beneath them.
It's his last year of school and it's possible he has a piece of paper in the top drawer of his desk with how many days left until graduation written in black sharpie. The plan is to count down before he falls asleep every night and maybe, if he's lucky, he won't go crazy.
Jon closes the front door and locks it (his mom might or might not go to work, it's a crapshoot on any given day) and starts down the walk. It's raining, spitting really, and the water stings against his arms and face, cold and pervasive.
There's one more class Jon needs to take before his "official high school course work" can be completed and UNLV can start making their muted murmurs a reality.
He's not looking forward to Art History because he's never had a head for facts or dates. He likes pictures, but he likes them to be tangible and real, not some cubic masterpiece by a guy who was probably tripping on more acid than Jon ever has.
"Assignments," the nasal-voiced teacher, Mr. James, says, and Jon blinks. It's like the two weeks have passed in a second and he's staring down the guy who's going determine if Jon gets to leave this God forsaken city. "You'll be partnered up, no changes, no altering of your informational packets, this will count as forty-five percent of your final grade."
Jon shoots a stealthy look around the room, and there's not one single person he wants to spend forty plus hours with during the course of the rest of the year.
He figures out pretty quick that they're being partnered up alphabetically, and it takes him a minute, but just before Mr. James calls, "Walker, Urie," he knows who he’s going to be paired with.
Brendon Urie is this music geek who wears the same fucking pair of paint streaked magenta cords every day. He's got crazy hair and an even crazier mouth and Jon's pretty sure he never stops smiling.
He's the other Gay Kid at their high school. Jon's expecting the catcalls, the low whistles. What he's not expecting is to look over to Brendon Urie, with his fucking stupid hair and his stupider glasses and want.
The thing is, Jon doesn't like Brendon.
Maybe that exaggerating things slightly. Jon doesn't like the group of people Brendon is irrevocably associated with, the artistic, affected kids who pretend to be deep, but Jon suspects are really just pulling it out of their asses and groping through life like the rest of the peons who go to the school.
It's also possibly a tit for tat thing. They're the kids most likely to call him a jock in that snide tone that always seems to suggest he's the scum of the earth for being able to run fast and throw far and catch well. Like the one thing he's any good at could never come within spitting distance of even prostrating itself before the awe and power of the arts.
Brendon plays an instrument or six and does weird, scribbled drawings in pen and shit that get tacked up on the boards outside the art rooms.
Back in the day, in dark depths of freshman year, Jon's fairly certain they were stuck together in an intro to drawing class or something like that. Jon was trying to get the credits out of the way and spent most of the semester sitting in the back, doodling stick figures and turning in half assed assignments so he could get the C and move on. Brendon, on the other hand, was one of the those highly involved kids who stayed after school to ask for advice and get help and ended up with his final project submitted to some district wide art competition.
Maybe it's just that Jon doesn't know Brendon. If he thinks hard, they've exchanged maybe three words to each other in the last three years, but Brendon is best friends with that weird Ross kid who went on torturously long tangents during last year's philosophy class and Spencer Smith, who actually started high school as a track kid, but was lured over to the dark side and now walks around with drumsticks jammed into his pocket.
Class ends just as Mr. James is finishing pairing them up and Jon escapes from the room, ignoring Brendon's cut off, "Jon -- "
He sleeps through the math class he got shuffled into (algebra, calculus, trig, who knows? It's not like he actually needs the credit to graduate) and spends all of German staring at his hands and wishing he hadn't drained his coffee before lunch.
When he gets to his locker after the final bell, there's a post it note stuck to it.
you're not slacking on this project, walker
Jon has practice every day after school, but when most kids are having nice, family dinners that they just have to be home for, he's making his mother doped coffee that she barely notices anyway, and sneaking sips out of the hip flask that masquerades as a water bottle he keeps in his back pocket.
"I have after school chorus until four-fifteen," Brendon's saying, and they're talking on the phone, because there was one night, three months ago, when Jon was so wasted he threw his laptop out the window.
It wasn't one of his more shining moments.
"I have practice until five," he says, lying back in his bed and throwing a bouncy ball Mike got him once against the wall.
It's repetition, and it would drive his mother crazy if she weren't passed out for the evening.
It's barely six.
"Then," Brendon continues, like he hasn't even heard Jon at all. He probably hasn't. Brendon's "people" don't really care what non-members have to say. "I have art club until six. After that I'm free."
Jon wishes he had something to conflict with that.
"I don't have anything," he says, wincing as he scratches his head. This project is going to kick his ass, and if it doesn't, Brendon seems like the kind of art kid who would try.
"Awesome." Brendon mutters, sounding like it's anything but. Finally, something Jon can relate to. He scratches his head again, hanging backwards off the bed so that he's seeing everything upside down. "Is Thursday good? I'm, uh. I have to be at Spencer's by like, seven? But there's no art club so maybe we can go when you get out of practice, we can head over to the museum?"
It's on the tip of Jon's tongue to say, I have to meet my dealer by seven. It's the truth, but he doesn't. Brendon doesn't need any more ammo against him.
"Yeah." Jon's not good with words, he never has been. "Yeah. Fine. I have shit to do after, but we can check out the art and then split."
Brendon makes a noise low in his throat, and it sounds like annoyance, but Jon's not really sure what he was expecting. They're not friends, it's not like Brendon didn't know Jon's only taking the class for the stupid fucking credit.
Art escapes him, and Brendon Urie escapes him more.
He doesn't particularly care about either.
"Walker, seriously," Jon's never been the world's most visual guy, but he gets the most vivid image of Brendon leaning against a wall, phone pressed against his ear, the fingertips of his free hand pinching at the skin of his nose. "This is a huge project. I need you to -- "
"I'll show up, I'll fucking smile, Urie, I'll let you run me in circles, I'm fucking used to that. Don't think you're gonna make me like this though. I'm working towards a C. A C will pass me, get me the fuck out of this school and this town and I'll never have to come back. I won't fail, Urie. I can't."
Brendon is silent, and Jon waits for long minutes, letting the quiet seep into his skin. Brendon doesn't say a word and Jon ends the call.
There's a small art museum downtown that stays open late on Thursdays and Saturdays; Mr. James knows the curator or some shit and their first assignment is to get their asses down there in partners sometime in the first month of school and just look around, "absorbing the beauty and nuance of the pieces."
At three to six, according to his watch, Jon's walking out of the locker room, hair and skin damp from the shower, in loose sweats and a zipped up jacket. They were running drills all fucking afternoon and he's sore through his skin and muscle and bones, ache pulsing in his joints and a throbbing behind his eyes and he really wants to fucking walk home, pop a Xanax, and veg out until he has to meet his dealer.
Brendon's sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, iPod plugged into his ears, foot tapping along with the beat of whatever song he's listening to.
He's got a stripe of red paint caked onto the skin across his knuckles and black shit (charcoal, Jon thinks is the word, but he's not sure) lining his fingernails. Jon still has dirt caked under his and it's a little funny that it looks the same.
Fuck, he needs to be stoned.
"Hey." Jon bumps his knee into Brendon's side and gets a little stab of guilty amusement when he jumps, yanking out a headphone and shooting Jon a look. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Yeah." Brendon stands and fishes keys out of his pocket. "Fine. Let's go."
Brendon drives a piece of shit hatchback, splashed in half a dozen different colored paints with rust eating away at the side panels and a trash bag taped over one of the back windows. There are words in nine or ten different handwritings on the bumper in lieu of stickers. Most have scraped away to illegibility and the ones that are left seem to be inside jokes (Bden, where's your technicolor dream coat?) that Jon doesn't even bother trying to decipher.
They drive the ten minutes in silence, Brendon humming along the radio and Jon scraping his thumbnail against the battered skin of his cuticles and staring at the minutes sliding by on the clock. Fuck, he should have said he had something to do or blown Brendon off.
"You're not skimping out on this project," Brendon says, apropos of nothing, except an apparently undiscovered ability to read minds, and Jon shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He's not addicted or anything like that, he's just kind of a messed up bitch when he doesn't get it and life sucks for everyone he comes in contact with.
"Wasn't planning on it," Jon replies a beat too late and Brendon sighs, muttering inaudibly under his breath.
They park on the street a block or two down from the museum and walk in distant silence, two feet of space between them on the sidewalk. The lady at the admittance desk asks to see their IDs and she waves them through ("I can't make you pay for something like that, so I worked something out. Look, boys and girls, no excuses not to go.").
"Let's make this quick," Jon huffs. He hurts.
Brendon glares and set off toward one of the wings.
Jon trails behind Brendon the entire forty-fucking-five minutes they tediously shuffle their way through each of the rooms. It's fucking torture, looking at the same three things painted again and again in almost the same ways and, to top it off, Brendon passes by the small photography wing, which is the only thing Jon's even remotely interested in.
At a quarter 'til, Jon elbows Brendon in the side. "We need to go. I have somewhere I have to be at seven."
Brendon jerks his eyes from a fucked up painting of a dude. "We're not done yet."
"I don't give a shit. I have to be somewhere."
"Fuck that, this is our grade."
Jon glares and tension snaps into Brendon's body as he turns on his heel and stalks toward the front entrance.
Whatever. He doesn't care.
"Here?" Brendon asks, eyeing the bridge carefully. "I can't see five feet in front of the car with the fog so thick and you want me to drop you off under a bridge?"
Jon doesn't say anything, just keeps his fist wrapped around the door handle.
Brendon makes a noise low in his throat, but he stops a foot later, idling, not even bothering to park. "If you die out there, Jon Walker, and I fucking have to do this project all by myself? I'll bring you back from the dead just to kick your ass."
Jon doesn't even have the energy to argue with that statement, just pushes out of the car, slamming the door and making a lot more noise than he'd actually expected to.
Cash comes out of the mist as soon as Brendon's car rumbles away, and Jon doesn't even spare him a backwards glance. Cash is a few grades behind him, hair cropped close to his skull with tattoos peeking out from every visible patch of skin.
"You're late," he says, and he shouldn't be intimidating, fuck, he isn't intimidating, but he has what Jon needs. He's more dangerous than he has any right to be.
"It's not even seven," Jon mumbles, and it isn't, it's barely 6:50. Cash's face remains impassive, and he's a few inches shorter than Jon, but his shoulders are hunched and he's got the menacing look down to a tee.
"I'm being easy on you this time," he says. "You're a good customer and you never give me problems. The next time you're late, though? I won't wait around."
Jon has a lot of experience with dealers, Mike's first, then his mother's, friendly looking men in white lab coats, horned rimmed glasses high on their noses, who looked responsible. They didn't look like guys who would take hundreds of bucks from a kid, but they were.
Cash is the best he's found, which isn't saying much.
"Same?" He asks after a minute, and Jon nods, leaning against the tree Cash vacated just a minute ago. He sticks his hands in his pockets, fingering the crisp twenties folded there.
Jon bags groceries at the supermarket on Saturdays and Sundays when he's not at his dad's and would work more if practice didn't preclude that, but it's still never enough to pay for what he needs. Thankfully, his father has turned out to be the kind who tries to buy forgiveness in an obscene allowance and Jon isn't noble enough to refuse.
"Yeah." Jon tries for a smile, but the corners of his lips fall flat, unused to the motion. "You know me. It never changes."
Cash looks at him, sharp, but pulls the baggies out of his backpack and counts the pills, tongue poking out the side of his mouth.
"It's a good thing I know how fucked you are for this shit, Walker," he says, only when Jon's handed him over the money (a hundred for the weed, two hundred for the pills, barely enough to get him through the week, if he's honest).
Jon doesn't say anything, there's nothing to say.
"Same time next week?" He asks when Cash is shouldering his backpack, desperation already clawing at his chest even though he hasn't even gotten through the entirety of this week's stash yet.
"If you're not late."
Jon won't be.
The house is dark when Jon gets back, which used to mean that no one was home, but now it's more likely that his mom's asleep in her bedroom and Mike's down in the basement with his fucking tapes of Ren and Stimpy and Transformers.
Jon unlocks the front door and drops his backpack on the floor, baggies stuffed in the pockets of his hoodie. The basement door is still cracked open a few inches and he repeats the same routine, down the first six steps long enough to see Mike curled up on the couch in yesterdays pajama pants and tee shirt, chest moving slow and rhythmically against the static glow of the TV.
Once upon a time he would have flopped down next to Mike and bitched about Brendon until he felt better.
The stairs creak as Jon retreats to the main level, then to the second floor. His mom's bedroom door is closed and she's quiet, either asleep or keeping her sobs down to a minimum.
Jon's bedroom is a collection of his life and it doesn't seem to fit anymore. He doesn't care, but it bothers him every time he closes the door. There's baseball wallpaper along the top of the walls from when he was ten and posters of his favorite football players, trophies and medals and shit from pee wee leagues and even a couple academic achievement awards from his first two years of high school.
He sits cross-legged on his bed and pops two of the Xanax dry. They stick uncomfortably in his throat for a moment and he has to hack out a cough after they go down.
The weed goes straight into his side table drawer.
There's a rolled joint left over from the previous week tucked down beside a busted alarm clock and he pulls it out, grabs the lighter from behind his lamp and lights up.
Jon stretches out of his bed and inhales, feeling the tension start to flood out of his body. He used to be a giggle stoner, once upon a time, when it was always a social thing with the other guys on the team and their girlfriends and the college guys their girlfriends knew.
He smokes until he feels nothing, then pinches out the end with his fingers and drops it on the floor somewhere. He doesn't mean to fall asleep, but he does and wakes to gray morning light flooding into his bedroom and the low drone of his alarm clock.
Brendon corners him first thing in the morning, before he's gotten a chance to stop by his locker, before he's gotten any coffee in his system.
Jon's still fuzzy around the edges, still a little stoned and the Xanax hasn't had a chance to kick in yet.
"How's today after school?" He's chewing on the corner of his lip, and it's a Friday afternoon, he must know that Jon has a game. Anyone that doesn't know Jon has a game is either deaf or magically able to tune out the morning announcements.
Considering Brendon spends most of his free period split between the art and band rooms, Jon's pretty sure he counts as either of those things.
"I have a game," he says, pushing past Brendon -- or trying to. Brendon just follows him down the hallway, and stops right by Jon's locker, hovering there next to him, closer than polite society dictates.
"Jon Walker, this is forty-five percent of our final grade."
It's early. It's early and he has six hours of classes plus three hours of practice and drills, plus an hour-and-a-half (if he's lucky) of a damn football game.
All Jon wants to do is sleep.
He's not going to be able to do that. Not today.
"Urie," he says, and his voice sounds rusty, like he hasn't used it in a while. He doesn't talk to anyone outside of school, not if he can help it, and maybe that's why. He wonders if anyone at home would notice if he just didn't come back; wonders if he can even call the place that anymore or if it's merely a roof and walls, people living inside it who don't know each other at all. "I have to go to this game, because I have to go to every fucking game. I can stop going to class, as long as I keep up a C average, I don't have to go home," he spits out the word like it's something he doesn't recognize. It wouldn't be far from the truth. "But I have to go to every game. I have to sit there," he drops his voice, jabbing a finger against Brendon's chest because he's still standing too close. "Even if I don't give a shit about this school, or about fucking football, I have to sit there and I have to work my ass off and I have to play, because if I don't, I can kiss getting out of this town goodbye."
It's about as much as he's said all month combined but Brendon doesn't look impressed. Brendon barely even looks moved.
"I really don't give a fuck about football. I actually really like this class," Brendon is saying, but when Jon looks in his general direction, Brendon's face is swimming in front of his.
The scary part is how very used Jon is to his mornings going like this.
"I don't." He mumbles, slamming his locker closed without grabbing the books he needs for first blocking and starting to head down the hallway.
History is first anyway, and the teacher likes him.
She'll let him sleep if he coughs convincingly and says he needs to rest up for the big game, the first of the season. She has a Lions sticker taped on the inside of her desk that matches the one on the inside of Jon's locker.
"Jon!" Brendon calls his name, and he can hear the exclamation point at the end of it. Jon doesn't stop and he doesn't turn around, not even once.
The day passes in fits and starts.
He's in history, watching a movie on the Civil War with dramatic reenactments and a voice over actor that sounds vaguely familiar and then -blink- he's forking over a pair of crumpled dollar bills to the hair-netted woman behind the cash register in the lunch line and holding a tray with a stale cheeseburger, wilted fries, and a carton of orange juice.
It's weird, but not unusual and Jon eats at a table with Bill and Butcher, Gabe and Nate, Ryland and Alex. They're all in athletics in some capacity; Bill and Ryland run, Gabe, Ryland, Butcher and Alex swim, and Nate's on the football team with Jon. They've been his buddies since middle school and when the whole gay thing happened, they were the ones who got awkward and shuffled their feet, but didn't actually go anywhere.
That could possibly be because William's preference seems to be sexual, sans prefix. He'll sleep with anything that moves (and probably things that don't, if pushed) and he has clever fingers and a sinful mouth.
"You ready for the game?" Nate asks. He's a sophomore, young and still awed that he made Varsity, wearing a school tee shirt and grinning.
Maybe Jon used to get that excited, he can't remember. Somewhere along the way football became a means to an end (getoutgetaway) and stopped being a hobby. Apparently Jon isn't one of those people who can enjoy his work.
"Raring to go," Jon says and it's funny that no one picks up the sarcasm.
He zones out of the conversation, closes his eyes and sees pictures floating behind his eyelids until Bill elbows him in the side. "Dude, lunch is over in ten minutes, where the hell have you been, space cadet?"
Jon laughs and jokes, if a beat off from everyone else, as he dumps his tray full of uneaten food in the garbage can and heads toward the rows of the doors that lead back into the rest of the school. People look at them sidelong, which is kind of fucking hilarious, because Jon somehow fell in with the popular crowd when he wasn't looking.
Brendon's laugh comes out of nowhere and almost makes him trip.
He's sitting with a bunch of the weird art kids at another table, sketchbook flipped open, doodling something while Mikey Way looks over his shoulder and points, smiling crookedly.
Jon doesn't care that Brendon doesn't look, it just seems a little weird.
Jon remembers being a kid, younger than young, settled on the floor in between Bill and Mike, both parents on the couch, staring intently at the television, yelling and catcalling, ingraining football, and the love of it, into Jon's soul.
"You'll play," his dad said, palm comforting as he petted Jon's head. Jon had wanted to play more than anything else in the entire world.
At that point, Bill was in Pee Wee, coming home mud-covered and soaked, grinning harder than Jon had ever seen him.
Their dad had always been proudest of Bill.
Nate says, "Hey, Jonny, I'm heading in your direction. I can drop you by your house if you need a ride. I've got to grab my retainer anyway." He grins a little sheepishly as he shrugs. "Can't play without it."
Jon doesn't really want to go home, not when there's a great chance his mother will still be in bed and Mike probably hasn't moved an inch off the couch. Unlike normal days, they have over an hour of free time between the end of school and practice, and Jon was planning on spending it napping in the bleachers, but his bed is more comfortable by a long shot.
"Sure," he says, and he tries to smile, because he and Nate have been friends since the Navarros moved from Georgia and Nate's never been anything but good to him.
Nate's car isn't much, a little white Honda made before either of them were born complete with roll-down windows and a tape deck. It takes about thirty tries to start in the morning, puffs out cold air in the winter months and hot in the summer and Jon's pretty sure Nate loves his car more than he loves anything else on the planet, more than he loves football, even, and in a town like Wilmette, statements like that are dangerous.
"Do you want me to wait around and drive you back?" Nate asks when they're stopped in front of Jon's house, the car idling but not parked. While the details of how severely Jon's family had unraveled when his dad left aren't public fodder, it's pretty much standard practice that no one comes over anymore.
Jon can't find it in himself to complain. "Nah," he says as he slides out of the passenger's seat as he pounds on the roof in thanks. "I'm just gonna nap real quick, and then I'll jog back." Nate doesn't look convinced, bottom lip tucked under his teeth.
"You sure?" Nate's blinking at him and smiling slow, like if he just pushes in the right spot, Jon will change his mind.
Jon's not going to change his mind. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I'll see you at practice, man." Nate nods as he reverses out of Jon's driveway, checking his mirrors responsibly before disappearing out onto the street.
It's more exhausting than he remembered, putting on a face and putting on a show, smiling when he's supposed to and laughing at the right jokes.
Nate's never made him feel worse for it, but the kindness in his eyes has a limit and Jon can't afford to find out what happens when he comes to that point.
He lets himself into the house quietly even though a parade of elephants could have come in with him and neither his mother or Mike would have been the wiser.
Jon collapses on his bed without even bothering to take off his shoes. He falls asleep with his sunglasses still perched on his head.
He misses practice.
Jon wakes up from dreams that are blurry shapes and muted noises, not nightmares, but somehow just to the left of unsettling. Even so, he feels better than he has in awhile, laying in bed with no ache in his bones or his head, just the lazy mellowness of recent waking.
He yawns and turns his head, blinking until the wash of red on his alarm clock focuses into actual numbers.
Jon blinks hard and prays the numbers change. They don't.
In a split second, the ease that had settled into him is gone; he flies out of bed, jamming his feet into mismatched flip flops and yanking on a sweatshirt inside out. The stairs squeak in agony as he thunders down, coming within inches of tripping on a stack of towels meant for the upstairs bathroom. Mike's in the living room, for once, looking up with the slowness of someone stuck in fog.
His bag is by the front door and he tosses it over his shoulder, scrambling through a pile of bills to find his keys. "Got a game, Mike, I'll be back later."
The sky is beginning to cloud over as he runs back toward the school, heavy, ominous clouds that threaten a game played in a downpour, sliding in the muck and coming out looking like ancient warriors and not high school students. Jon would rather be back in bed, catching up on two years worth of sleepless or chemically induced nights, but he can't.
"Ticket out," he huffs in time with his feet on the pavement. "Ticket out, ticket out."
He's winded by the time he reaches the school, never mind the actual field. The opposing team's bus sits in the parking lot and he pauses for a moment to gulp in a few breaths of air, arm braced on the back bumper. They're a mid level team and the Lions should have no problem whipping their asses and sending them back with their Bulldog tails tucked between their legs.
Jon, honestly, would rather skip the actual fucking playing and declare the inevitable without accruing bruises.
He bypasses the locker rooms and heads straight for the field, where both teams are warming up and a handful of the more dedicated fans (read: parents of players just moved up to Varsity) are already settling in with their little pads and blankets and thermoses full of coffee. The coach has on his standard windbreaker and cap, ever present clipboard tucked under his arm.
"Coach," Jon says, swallowing a gasp as he jerks to a stop, bag banging against his thigh.
The coach looks up, mouth twisted into an unhappy line. He's normally a history teacher, more likely to go off on a historically based lecture than to yell, but they've made the playoffs six years in a row, two of those years brought them the championship, and he doesn't fuck around with his teams. Jon feels heat spread across his cheeks and shame, maybe guilt, blossom in his chest.
"Nice of you to join us, Walker," the coach says, voice decidedly bland.
"I overslept, coach."
He nods once, but it turns into a shake. "I can't let you play tonight, Walker. Rules are rules. Suit up, but you're keeping the benches toasty. You're a senior in good standing and you've got a hell of a lot of potential, so I'm letting you off light. Be grateful."
Jon bows his head, the picture of shamed acquiescence, and thinks it shouldn't be relief flooding through him.
Jon ends up in the shower, even though it's not like he was taking any hits. He's not particularly ritualistic by nature, he doesn't have lucky boxers or shit like that, but there's something nebulous and soothing about being under the spray, and maybe he needs all the comfort he can get.
He doesn't know why he's expecting the guys to be waiting when he gets out, but they're not, and it surprises him that he's surprised.
Coach had told him to stop by his office after he was done, but when Jon swings by the equipment room, the lights in the office are off, and the door is locked. Jon knows, because he jangles the knob twice.
His hair is wet across his forehead, plastered across his ears, and he hates the feeling, but it's also the first time he's felt clean in a week, maybe longer.
It was dark when he'd gotten to the field, and it's still dark, but the air is crisp, and it feels good against his skin as he trudges home.
The house is quiet as he slips inside, but for the most part, his house is always quiet. The clock on the oven reads 11:30 and Jon has to look at it three time before the numbers actually make sense.
The room is dark, and while Jon is generally good at navigating, his foot catches on the leg of a chair, and he stumbles, palms slapping against the wood of the kitchen table.
There's a plate there, covered in saran wrap. Jon blinks down at it. It looks like something resembling dinner, but Mike doesn't know how to cook (and wouldn't be allowed near the kitchen utensils even he could) and his mom hasn't made a meal since Jon doesn't remember when. Months, probably.
Someone stuck a sticky note to the top and Jon peels it off : two minutes in the microwave on high, mom.
A part of Jon wishes he were hungry.
He peels off the saran wrap and tips the contents of the plate into the trashcan beside the counter. It's slightly burned pork chops and limp fries and something green, maybe peas or carrots, and maybe it looked good coming out of the microwave, but now it looks congealed.
Jon rinses the plate and sets it in the dishwasher, does his nightly check of Mike (he's passed out on the couch underneath a sleeping bag), then slips up the stairs to his room and tries to sleep, tumbling through fitful dreams that could be nightmares.
Every other weekend and last Thanksgiving (probably this one too, if the universe has anything to say about it), Jon gets schlepped an hour-and-a-half away to spend two mind-numbing days with his dad, Sindi and newly acquisitioned baby brother Logan.
Jon's not really much for babies, but even at six months, Logan is pretty much the shit. He gurgles whenever Jon's in the room, smiles at Jon when no one else does, and now that he's learned to sort of bustle himself along, will pull himself to where Jon's sitting, and just pet at his leg with his tiny, chubby little fingers.
Jon's pretty much a goner, it's true.
Logan has the benefit of not asking anything from Jon, other than to play with his keys and suck on his knuckles, maybe to use Jon's shoulder as a convenient place to nap. Jon maybe likes those stretches the best, when he can lie on the couch with Logan asleep on his chest, making these contented little noises that are better than any lullaby.
Most of the time, it's just the pair of them and Sindi. His dad has to work more hours to pay child support on Jon, which is funny in a weird way, and alimony to his mom, not to mention keeping Sindi and Logan in a manner to which they have become accustomed.
Jon has nothing against Sindi, it's just. She was his babysitter. It's weird.
Saturday night she makes macaroni with ground beef and peas mixed in and it's hard for Jon to swallow. It tastes fine, but his last memory of eating the same thing involves his favorite Power Ranger plate from when he was nine or ten and Sindi wearing tee shirt from Jon's high school. Her hair was longer then, in braids that hug down over his shoulders when she bent down to spoon out another helping.
They don't say much, which is fine by Jon. He wouldn't find the right words anyway.
His dad stays home on Sunday. "So, Jon, I was thinking maybe you and me could go and do something fun today. You know, a little bit of father/son bonding."
Jon's sitting cross-legged on the couch with Logan on his lap, batting his tiny fists at the strings of Jon's hoodie. His father looks at him, cautious hope written in his face, and Jon, well, he still has to live with his mom and Mike and he just doesn't give a shit anymore. "I have homework."
Which is only half a lie.
That night, his dad takes Sindi out. "Watch Logan. We'll be back late."
It's retaliation, Jon supposes as he hefts Logan onto his hip, watching them put on their coats. Sindi runs through a verbal checklist, which is weird. Jon's mother does the same thing before she leaves the house. Keys, purse, wallet, phone. They both kiss Logan goodbye and Sindi hesitantly waves to Jon, though his dear old dad doesn't.
"Logan," Jon murmurs once the door's closed. "Our dad is kind of an asshole."
Logan's a good kid and an easy baby. He falls asleep on Jon's shoulder a little after nine and only fusses for a minute or two when he gets transferred into his crib at the end of is parents' bed. Jon bends over the cheap wooden railing and kisses his forehead, soft like peach fuzz beneath his lips.
The other bedroom is technically Jon's.
When his father moved out of the house, he pulled Jon into a hug and swore that Jon would have a bedroom wherever he ended up. "I love you, Jon, I love you and you will always have a place with me." It meant something when he was seventeen, but so much less now. A room with a bed doesn't make a bedroom.
Jon stretches out and dozes. He doesn't mean to sleep, but he does, and he misses the first half of school the next morning, spent in a silent car ride with Sindi.
Brendon's standing at his locker when Jon gets there, and somehow, he's not surprised. It's at the tip of his tongue to say as much, but he doesn't, just stands there, waiting for Brendon to move.
"You weren't in class this morning," he says, voice low, and devoid of emotion. Jon has a countdown going in his head for when Brendon will break, and he's already down to five when he does. "What the hell, Walker, this is fucking important."
"Family shit," Jon mutters, which is more than he meant to. Brendon doesn't flinch, he doesn't blush and he doesn't stammer. He rolls his eyes, slaps his palm down on the locker next to Jon's and says, "Who the fuck cares? Everyone has 'family shit.'"
Jon's not sure whether he wants to deck him or not. He decides on avoiding it as long as possible. Brendon is probably the only reason Jon is going to pass the stupid art history class in the first place. He doesn't need another trip to the principal's office anyway.
"What did I miss," he means for it to be a question, but he can't manage to make his voice tilt up at the end. He's fucking exhausted, even though he caught up on sleep.
"We picked our focal artist," Brendon says, and Jon nods, even though he's not precisely sure what means. Brendon looks like he's waiting for him to respond, so Jon says, "Cool."
"Mr. James thought," Brendon ducks his head for a moment, and Jon must be imagining things, because for a second, it looks like he's blushing. "It's so fucking stupid, and he didn't say that was why, but I'm pretty sure Mr. James gave us fucking Tom Conrad because we're the only two gay kids at this fucking school." He huffs, scuffing his sneaker against the dirty linoleum. "He didn't say so, but it's like, fucking obvious, right? Tom Conrad focuses on," he stops for a minute, stops speaking entirely as he rifles through his backpack for something. He pulls out a sheet and starts to read from it. "The beauty and the complexity of the male form while engaging in sexual acts. The most common thread in all of these is the innate depravity of their actions."
Brendon shoves the paper towards Jon. There's a picture of two guys fucking on it, black and white and explicit.
"Cool," Jon says again, surprised despite himself that his lips are quirking. "We get to write our project which counts as uh, forty-five percent of our final grade on porn?"
Brendon ducks his head again, and Jon's not sure if he's blushing again or if he's trying not to smile. It doesn't much matter.
"It's because we're -- "
Jon stops him, hand on his arm. They both blink, staring down at Jon's fingers curling around the soft cotton of Brendon's tee shirt. He pulls his hand away, fast, like he's been burned. "I don't know about you," he mumbles, and he's ducking his head too, staring at the ground between his flip flops and Brendon's lurid red sneakers. "But I'm not anything."
Brendon gapes at him, but Jon just shrugs. "If the teach wants me to stare at pictures of dicks for the next six weeks, I don't think I can find it in myself to complain." He raises a brow at Brendon, and Brendon rolls his eyes, but when Jon starts to walk, Brendon falls into step with him.
Jon's throat feels dry. He doesn't say another word.
One of the benefits of having a local artist (who graduated from their high school at some point in the moderately distant past) is that, instead of just looking at his work online, Brendon and Jon are lucky enough to be able to go to his studio and actually have a conversation with the man.
Or so Mr. James says.
Jon personally sees it as another lost afternoon, which is just exactly what he needs, and puts it off all the way through Thanksgiving break (spent with his father and Sindi, just like he expected, though half the time he was on the phone with his mom while he father glowered at him from the table) before Brendon corners him. "Swear to God, I will tell Mr. James you're slacking and dump you on your ass."
In all honesty, Jon's less worried about failing than he probably should be. He got a couple calls from different college talent scouts and, barring some disaster like a blown knee or shit, he's set.
"You could always go without me, if you're so worried," Jon counters, but without heat. Brendon, for all that Jon's still fairly certain that he doesn't like him, is a half decent guy.
"Fuck you." Brendon rolls his eyes. "I called Conrad. He said he can put aside all of next Friday afternoon just for us. Apparently he was Mr. James's student, which, you know, is a little weird, but anyway, he's done this before. He said he'll show us around, give us a little bit of an introduction, and then we're supposed to look at the works alone and write down our impressions."
Next Friday Jon is supposed to be heading to his father's house.
"Yeah, I'll be there."
They meet at Brendon's car after school. Somehow, accidentally, they managed to develop a rhythm. Their shit gets chucked into the backseat, amid torn pages of discarded sheet music, CD cases, and rumpled hoodies covered in paint. Brendon plugs in his iPod, but Jon plays DJ, flipping through the thousands of songs with no rhyme or reason as to what Brendon's favorite music is.
"One iPod should not have the complete works of the Vitamin String Quartet, the original broadway cast recording of Mamma Mia, Tim McGraw, and Korn. It doesn't make logical sense." Jon scrolls through the artist list, half of which he's never even heard of.
Brendon shrugs. "I personally believe all music is worthwhile."
Jon settles on a playlist titled "R and S" (a lot of sixties stoner rock) and leans back in the seat to doze the rest of the drive there.
Tom Conrad's studio is in the trendy part of town, in what looks like an old warehouse on the outside, but has been converted into artist spaces and lofts on the inside. Standing on the sidewalk, breath misting out, Jon thinks that, if he had to stay in Illinois, he wouldn't mind if he could live in a place like this. The red brick of the building is scarred and stained, but it gives the place character instead of making it look dirty.
The front door creaks when they open it and slams shut when a resounding bang when they let go.
There's a bank of mailboxes on one wall and a little intercom beside a closed door. Brendon walks over, skims the list of names and punches one. A loud beep sounds, then a voice, distorted and crackling from static. "Hello?"
"Hi, I'm Brendon. Brendon Urie with Jon Walker. We're here for the art project."
"Right, right, right. Come on up."
Another buzz sounds alongside the clack of the door unlocking. Brendon pushes it open and holds it for Jon.
"Such a gentleman, Urie."
"Bite me, Walker."
Conrad's studio in on the fourth floor, but there's an old service elevator just inside the door with the battered piece of yellow paper taped the sliding door. it sticks. if you get stuck, scream real loud and someone will come and get you. Jon hopes someone just has a fucked up sense of humor, but that doesn't seem overly likely.
"Come on," Brendon says. "Naked dicks await."
He pulls open the door to the elevator and they both step inside. "Oh, goodie."
Tom Conrad is, well.
He's nothing like Jon was expecting, but then, Jon doesn't actually know if he was expecting anything, so. The fact that he's not a flaming queer with flared jeans, a tight tee shirt and a lisp comes as sort of a shock, and even after a year of being "out", Jon still has to catch himself, sometimes, has to remind himself that if not okay, it's fine, and at least he doesn't have to lie anymore.
"You must be Brendon," Tom Conrad says, and that's how Jon thinks of him, full name full stop, because even though he's never seen a thing this guy has done, he's a real, honest-to-Christ photographer. He does it for a living, and Jon may have never admitted it out loud before, but if he were to pick a perfect profession, photography would probably be it. "Come on in." His voice is low, gravelly almost, and he's barefoot, beer in hand.
He must live in the studio, because if Jon cranes his neck a little, he can just see an unmade bed through a doorway, hardwood floors and whitewashed walls.
Brendon's already asking questions, head bent over his notepad, glasses sliding down his nose. Jon's not listening, he doesn't bother. It's not like the words will make sense to him anyway.
He walks around the gallery slowly because he's never been inside a place like this before. Jocks aren't typically supposed to like art, and while he's never pretended to understand the intricacy of brushstrokes, he's always been fascinated.
"If I remember correctly," Tom Conrad drawls, tipping his beer towards Jon with a grin. "I shouldn't really be here while you guys do this." He waves his hand around vaguely. "I've got an appointment with a client anyway." Jon notices how Brendon's eyes light up, and he wonders why that is, but doesn't ask. It's none of his business anyway.
Tom leaves in a pair of flip flops -- even though the wind chill outside is in the low teens, a heavy black peacoat and worn jeans. He's still holding his beer.
"No need to lock up," he says, looking straight at Jon like he knows something about him, something secret. "No one can get into the building without the passcode anyway."
Brendon nods at him like this is Very Important Knowledge, but Jon just keeps his head down, looking at the hundreds of photographs mounted on the walls.
He doesn't know why he's surprised that they're beautiful.
Oddly enough, it's Brendon who has to tap Jon on the shoulder. "It's getting late, dude, we should go."
Jon, for all that he has next to no interest in art as a whole, has to struggle to take his eyes away from the prints on the wall. Not in a perverted way, even though they are vastly shots of naked guys doing various things with a couple chicks scattered in for variety. Tom Conrad does this thing, this weird thing, turning their bodies into something more than flesh and bone and it's sensual, but it's not overt.
He doesn't have to right words to describe it and he hates that, a little, but he wants to sink into the pictures, the shadows and highlights, and never leave.
"Right." Jon glances out the window. The sun's beginning to set, casting the sky in a muted shade of purple. "We should."
Brendon closes the cover on his notebook and slides it into his messenger bag. Jon folds up his notes, written on the back of a yellow sheet of paper that was a handout for some other class in a former life and tucks it into the front pocket of his backpack, where the important shit goes.
Tom told them they didn't need to worry about locking up, so they don't, but they do make sure to slide the door shut and listen for the click of the latch sliding into the place. The metal is cool beneath Jon's palms, the whole building in on the cold side, and he has to jam his hands into his hoodie pocket as they walk back to the service elevator.
"What did you think?" Brendon presses the button. "You seemed pretty into it."
Jon shrugs, cheeks coloring. "It was, like, I don't know. Beautiful."
Brendon's smile is tamped down around the edges, but still brilliant and Jon half wants to cuff him hard on the back of the head and half wants to ask him if he, in his infinite weird art kid wisdom, knows the right words to describe Tom Conrad's photography.
The elevator clanks to a stop and Brendon pulls open the door. "Yeah, he's kind of amazing."
Jon snorts out a laugh. "So, does that mean you're not pissed at Mr. James anymore?"
"Not at all." Brendon steps inside with a half smile and pulls it shut. "I'm still fucking offended, but at least it worked out well. I've seen a couple of his prints before, but that that many. He's a genius."
"Like Dexter." Jon presses the down button and leans against the bars.
"The serial killer?"
"No, the one with the lab and the older sister. Didi. Did you not watch cartoons as a child?"
Brendon throws up his hands. "Yeah, of course I did. Just, you know, I have super religious parents so I tended to get stuck with the animated version of Bible stories and you know, Jesus Crew type shows. Praise the Lord."
Jon laughs, unintentionally, and Brendon blushes. "Are you serious?"
They're both smiling, feeling more at ease with each other than Jon can remember.
The elevator groans to a stop, somewhere between the second and third floors.
After screaming themselves hoarse for the first twenty minutes, after frantic calls with their cellphones to no avail (it's not like Jon was paying attention, or that he cares about what Brendon does in his free time, but he notices how Brendon's head ducks, phone pressed tight in his ear, as he stands as far away as he can, whispering things Jon can't precisely decipher and doesn't particularly care to), they settle quietly in their separate corners.
Jon shrugs off his hoodie, balling it up and pressing it against the wooden slats of the wall, using it as a pillow as he stretches out wide. He rests his hands on his stomach and is about to close his eyes when he sees Brendon open his own.
"What," he says, sitting up a little. He's getting a crick in his neck. Brendon shakes his head, bangs falling into his eyes.
Brendon is silent for a minute, longer. "You're getting comfortable?" They've been in there for longer than an hour and closer to three. Jon shrugs.
"Who the fuck knows how long we're going to be in here, man?" Jon asks, and he settles back again. His hoodie is lumpy, but just lumpy enough to remind him of his pillow at home. "Might as well be comfortable."
Brendon arches a brow. He doesn't look convinced. "Jon Walker," he says, evenly. "What crawled up your ass and decided to shoot out sunshine?"
Jon would have to concentrate really hard to keep from laughing, and he really doesn't have that kind of energy. He snorts a little, rubbing at his eyes, and says, very honestly, "When I went to pee? I popped a Xanax." He shrugs. It's not like he's ashamed. "They generally make me want to kill the world less."
"You want to kill the world?" Brendon slides down the wooden slats and he ends up sitting with his chin propped up against his ridiculously ripped black jeans. They're skin tight, and still manage to be loose on him. Jon's fairly positive that Brendon doesn't have enough body mass for them to actually cling to.
Jon shrugs when Brendon makes questioning eyes at him, shoulders rising and falling. "Sometimes? It's not really a concrete thing. It's not like football players go to school with Uzis."
Brendon looks horrified, and then more so when a laugh is startled out of him. "Football players usually aren't gay, either." If his voice were soft, or anything but normal, even, Jon would probably deck him. As it is, he shrugs again, and shifts against his makeshift pillow.
"You would be surprised, Urie. All those naked dicks in the shower? Snapping towels? Smacking asses? It's a total homoerotic atmosphere." Brendon eyes look like they're going to pop out of his head, and Jon laughs again, because it would be too much effort not to. "At least that's what Will says, anyway. Fuck whatever that means. He'll fuck anything that moves, though, so I don't know why I'm the one that gets funny looks."
Brendon's smiling. Jon's not sure when it happened, and how he didn't notice, because it's not like there's anything else in the goddamn elevator to look at, but Brendon's smiling, and objectively, Jon can say that it's a nice smile, big and all encompassing, lighting up Brendon's entire face.
Objectively, Jon can say that.
After a minute, Brendon says, "Fuck this, and yanks his own hoodie off, balling it up behind his head. It's lavender and thin and Jon's pretty sure he saw Sindi wearing the same one. It's nowhere near as substantial, in the lumpy pillow department, as Jon's is. He tries not to laugh at that. "Fuck this, okay. Princess Leia, Luke, or Han?"
After two hours they've determined that Jon has a thing for hero complexes ("You'd bang Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Will Turner, and Dirty fucking Harry." "I. Just. Bite me.") and Brendon's eyes turn off when someone has any kind of musical talent ("Elton John, are you fucking with me? He's old enough to be your, like, grandfather!" "Fuck you, he'd sing to me.").
It's dark in the elevator, so they keep their phones out, though Jon's running on a bar and counting and Brendon's has already switched over to power saver mode. They're both still lacking service and Jon is beginning to sincerely hope Tom comes into the studio on weekends or it's going to be a really fucking long two days.
"Okay." Brendon shifts on his side. "Here's one."
"Hit me." Jon, oddly enough, is feeling fairly good. If much more time passes he's probably going to end up falling asleep.
"What did your parents say when they found out about the gay?"
For a long moment, Jon seriously considers telling Brendon to go fuck himself and curling on his side facing away. Brendon's looking at him with oddly vulnerable eyes, though, like he's genuinely curious about the answer. "I didn't tell them." Jon shrugs. "I made out with a kid on the freshman team the summer before junior year and he flipped out and told a couple buddies, who told the rest of the team. William told his mom, who asked my mom how she was taking it."
"Ouch." Brendon flinches. "That's rough."
Jon shrugs. "She and my dad sat me down that night and asked and lying seemed kind of a pointless, so I told them the truth. And, well, honestly a lot of other shit happened right after that and me liking dick was the least of everyone's worries. You?"
"A little more dramatic." Brendon offers up a smile, tinged bitter at the corners. "I, um, lost my virginity that same summer, actually, and after that I realized for sure that girls just weren't ever going to do it, so I told my parents. They, um, offered to send me to a Love in Action camp. But only if I wanted to go."
Jon growls. It has nothing to do with Brendon specifically. Just, no one should ever be offered that. Even Brendon. "You said no?"
"I told my dad he could go fuck himself." Brendon blushes. "There was a fight, of course, and I don't know. We just don't acknowledge it now."
Amen. Jon knows how that goes.
They lapse into silence again. Jon checks his phone. No service and the battery bar has turned an alarming shade of orange. His mother and Mike won't notice him missing; he wonders if Brendon's will and, if they do, whether it'll be cause for alarm. You never can tell with families.
"I have another question."
"Shoot," Jon says around a yawn.
"Why pop pills?" Brendon's chewing on his bottom lip. "Like, I get not wanting to kill the world. I mean, why do you want to kill the world in the first place?"
"That," Jon says slowly. "Is a really, really fucking long story."
Brendon rolls onto his stomach, close enough for Jon to feel heat radiating off his side. "Well, I mean, it's not like we're pressed for time. I don't normally get home 'til late, so my parents won't officially start freaking out until I'm not there tomorrow morning."
Jon inhales and exhales, counts the length of each action and closes his eyes. "My parents got divorced and it was nasty. My dad married my old baby sitter and had another baby. My one older brother tried to kill himself with his little girl alone in the house and now he's so depressed and fucked up we have to hide all the silverware. My other brother took off for parts unknown because he couldn't cope. And, like, fuck. Everyone relies on me."
Brendon sucks in a breath, but says nothing, just fleetingly lay a hand on Jon's elbow.