Some Days Longer Than Others
Joe/Nick, PG-13

A/N: So this is the The Time Traveler's Wife AU? In which Joe is Henry and Nick is Claire, but there's absolutely nothing from the novel except the time-traveling premise. Thanks to all of my unwilling/willing test subjects with this ridiculous... whatever this is.


***


For as long as Nick could remember, there had been times when Joe was there, and times when he was not. And even though he didn't always look the same, feel the same or smell the same, he was always Joe, and Nick never wanted him to leave again. Their mother always said that even when he was small, he would fall asleep holding tight to Joe's fingers, as if by holding on to him, Nick could keep Joe there with them.

As he got older, he understood that it didn't work that way.

When he was thirteen, playing mid-sized venues with Kevin and the Joe from their actual timeline (he was usually there, enough that they could always find an excuse when he wasn't), a not-much-older Joe stumbled into the venue followed by confused security. He was in a threadbare t-shirt and dirty, ripped jeans that hadn't been made that way. Their Joe had disappeared not an hour before, causing a panic. This Joe ignored everyone else and pulled Nick close, molding their bodies together, running his hands over Nick's ribs. "You need to go to the hospital or you'll die," he said in Nick's ear, "you're sick, okay? Go to the hospital."

Then he'd vanished. Nick had gone to the hospital and stayed there for days, waiting out the tests. Their Joe reappeared, somewhere, and found his way to where they were. He had crawled into the bed with Nick despite their mother's soft protests, and it was only then that Nick could sleep through the night.

"You're thinking too hard again," his Joe says now, curled gently around him on the couch and watching afternoon talk shows. They're home again in New Jersey, and Nick is upset with himself for being glad that he's feeling sick on his few days off from touring, as opposed to being upset that he can't accomplish all the things he wants to on this mini-vacation.

"I always do," he replies. Joe huffs a laugh against the back of his neck. "Do you think Mom would make me some soup?" Nick asks. Normally he would just make it himself, but he doesn't want to move from Joe's embrace. The last time Joe was gone, it was for more than a week. It had been the second-longest stretch he'd ever been disappeared, and it had taken everything Nick was to keep himself seeming normal on the outside.

Joe's arms tighten a tiny bit, like he knows what Nick's thinking. "Yeah."

"Yeah," Nick echoes, but he doesn't move in the slightest.

*

"Do you think if I loved Joe more, he wouldn’t disappear?" Nick asks his mother the next day. They’re in the kitchen and she’s peeling potatoes. Nick is cubing yesterday’s leftover ham, more for something to do than an actual desire to help with the cooking tonight. He's feeling better. today, more stable. His brothers are in a midst of a Rock Band battle in the living room and Frankie had claimed the drums before Nick could get to them, lingering fatigue making him a little slow.

"Oh, sweetie, no," she says. Nick can hear the sadness in her voice. The doctor seems to think that she carries the gene for this, that it passes from mothers to male children. Then she smiles at him and asks, "What would you like to do for your birthday?" in what Nick knows is a deliberate attempt to change the subject.

He shrugs; fifteen's not a big deal. He slides the cutting board over to her. "Do you think it will ever stop?"

"Yes," she says firmly.

He feels like there's things she's not telling him. "Aren't you scared he won't come back?" he asks.

It's only then that he can see how badly her hands are shaking. "All the time, Nicky. All the time." She lifts the knife to slice the potatoes. "Why don't you go play that game with your brothers?"

"Okay," he says. He slides off the stool he'd been perched on and goes into the living room. It's a riot of sound: the tinny music from the game, the clicking of the buttons on the guitars, Frankie's whoops of triumph. He flops down onto the couch, watching.

Joe glances over his shoulder. "Want to play?"

"No, I'm good."

Joe flashes him a smile like he can't help himself, and Nick smiles back, squishing himself further into the couch cushions, confused as to why his cheeks chose now to flush, and pleased for no reason he can understand.

*

Just when Nick starts to feel like he's comfortable with being home again, it's time to go back on the road. This time they have more than one bus; they're headlining, and most of the dates are close to selling out. The crowds are bigger than any Nick has ever played to before and he finds himself startled by how much he loves it. He could get used to this: screaming crowds, fans that had come specifically to see them, to get their autographs and a picture at the meet and greet. Fans that know the words to all the old songs and learn the words to all the new ones. And the fact that Joe doesn't disappear once the first half of the tour is like the icing on Nick's cake. He lets himself believe it could be like this forever, complete with Joe's tight hugs every night, their sleepy conversations about the future as they drift off.

"I don't remember the last time I saw you this happy," Kevin tells him as they share the hotel elevator one night. "Seriously, Nick."

"Life's good," Nick says with a shrug, trying not to look like he might burst out of his skin, he's so glad to be alive.

"You mean, life's good, and it's been almost four months since Joe's winked out of existence for a few days."

"Shut up," Nick snaps, like Kevin could jinx it. His good mood starts to evaporate around the edges. "And he doesn't just wink out of existence."

Kevin leans against the wall of the elevator, rubbing a hand over his face. "I know," he sighs.

The doors slide open and Nick gets out without saying good night.

Joe's already in the single room they'd gotten stuck sharing, Kevin having claimed older-brother-gets-his-own-bed rights in the the other room with Dad. He's curled up on the bed with a book, his camera by his side. "Hey," he says, giving Nick a tired smile. "What took you so long?"

"I couldn't find my iPod in my bunk."

"And?"

"It was in my bag already."

Joe smiles at him again, yawning, his straightened hair falling down over his eyes. Sudden exhaustion crashes into Nick and he falls face-forward onto the soft hotel bed, then crawls up to lay next to Joe, pressing his face into the cool pillow.

"You should put on some pajamas," Joe says.

Nick hears the flick of a page turning. He doesn't move. "Too tired."

Joe pokes him in the shoulder with a strong finger. "Do it. You know how gross you'll feel tomorrow if you sleep in your clothes."

He's got a point. Nick drags himself back off the bed and changes out of his jeans, deciding he doesn't care enough to bother with swapping the tank top he's wearing for one that's not much different. "Okay, I'm done," he announces. "Bedtime."

Tomorrow morning, when Joe disappears for several hours in the first of a handful of short-term displacements that plague the middle of the tour, Nick will find that the sweet goofy smile on Joe's face as they turn out the lights is the thing he misses first, and the thing he misses the most.

*

"How come you're never upset when Joe disappears?" he asks Kevin, eight days out, as they pack up their guitars. Joe is out on the bus, asleep. He'd only been gone three hours this last time but he'd come back with the beginnings of a black eye.

"Because I've done it, too," Kevin says.

Nick stops moving and stares at him, something going hot and tight in his chest. "What?"

"Only a few times," Kevin says hurriedly and Nick schools his expression back to calm, if only for Kevin's sake. "Not how Joe's is. And it hasn't happened to me in years, so quit looking at me like I've been lying to you my whole life or something. It stopped for me, and I'm thinking it will probably stop for Joe, too."

Nick frowns. "How come it doesn't happen to me? Or Frankie?"

Kevin shrugs, like he's not sure. Maybe he really doesn't know. There's never been a doctor that could explain it for Joe. Nick finishes packing up his things and goes out through the heat to the bus. His mom and Frankie are watching a movie, but Nick just waves and goes straight to the back. Joe is in Nick's bunk, and Nick climbs in with him.

"So, how was the set?" Joe asks, snuggling against him.

Nick winds their legs together, like holding Joe this tight will keep him from disappearing again. "Pretty good. We need a little more practice on the new songs, but it was okay. Would have been better with you, though."

"Sorry, bro," Joe sighs.

"Where were you this time?" Nick asks. He always asks. Often, though, Joe just shakes his head and tells him he doesn't want to know. But Nick knows how it works. Stress is Joe's usual trigger; Nick can remember family fights from his younger years where Joe would just get paler and paler and then vanish into thin air for a few minutes, only to pop back into existence in a different room of the house, or outside. Once he'd reappeared at the bottom of the pool and their dad had dived in to haul him to the surface. Nick had said thank-you to God in his prayers every day for six months after that.

Usually Joe will return with the same clothes he was wearing when he left, sometimes minus a shoe or sweater, sometimes with extra layers that he said one of his older selves had piled on him. Nick always asks God to watch over the others; he knows that they've helped his Joe more times than he wants to count.

"A library in Minnesota," Joe replies, laughing a little. "Popped right into the kids' section in the middle of some little kids reading Little Red Riding Hood. Freaked everyone out and the baddest five-year old punched me right in the face. Least I had all my clothes on this time."

There were many, many worse places for Joe to just appear in. Libraries are pretty high on the okay scale, actually. Not that Nick keeps a running list in his head or anything. "Yeah," Nick breathes. He runs his hand up and down Joe's arm, trying to be a calming influence. Don't leave again, he wants to beg, like he did when he was younger and a handful of disappearances a year felt even more like a thousand, but he knows it won't do any good. Instead he falls asleep curled around Joe, and gives thanks every time he wakes up and Joe is still there.

*

With six shows to go, Joe's body seems to right itself and he's there the entire rest of the tour, a constant presence at Nick's side. He'd ended up only missing three actual performances, a small enough number that they could excuse him as being sick, and Nick had carried those shows himself while inside he was a mess of worry.

But Joe had never been gone very long each time, which was a relief. "You're done for the year, right?" Nick asks, curled into Joe's side in his bunk, as the bus takes them towards home.

"Probably," Joe says. "Sometimes it seems like it happens so often, I forget that really, I'm here more than I'm not."

"Me, too." Nick feels bad admitting it.

"You get so worked up when I displace."

"I can't help it."

"I miss you too, when I'm away. Miss you playing the guitar in my face, miss those stupid songs you make up about retarded stuff." Joe's hand slides through Nick's hair, rubbing his scalp. "Miss touching you."

He says it so quietly that Nick's not sure if he was meant to hear it. He wraps his fingers around Joe's wrist in reply. Joe's always been touchy with him, way more than he is with anyone else, and it's never been a secret.

It's late, and Nick could sleep, but something in him wants to memorize this moment. Wants to stock up on all Joe's little touches and his warmth and the scent of the woodsy cologne he wears. All the things Nick misses when he's gone.

They're probably not things he should miss. He doesn't think he'd miss them from Kevin if Kevin were the one to disappear, or Frankie, or his parents. Or anyone else he knows, now that he thinks about it. Only Joe.

"It always affects you the worst," Joe murmurs.

It takes Nick a moment to pull himself back from what he'd been thinking. "What?"

Joe shakes his head, maneuvering them closer. "They're getting shorter, you know."

"I noticed," Nick says. He doesn't want to put too much faith into it, though, doesn't want to think what it could mean.

But Joe says it for him. "Maybe they'll just get shorter and shorter until I'm here all the time," and then he digs his fingers into the ticklish spot right below Nick's ribs, making him shriek with undignified laughter, "and then you'll get sick of me."

"I could never be sick of you," Nick gasps, still laughing, trying to block Joe's next attack without actually falling out of the bunk.

Joe presses a smacking kiss to his cheek. "Good."

*

At home, it's easy for Nick to slide into feeling like Joe's right, that the decreasing length of his disappearances might mean things are drawing to a close. At home, there's no insane pace to keep up with, no stress of performing night after night, and it's like everyone lets out the breath they didn't realize they were holding. Sure, there's phone interviews and a couple in-state events to do, but only once is there a moment when Joe pales and Nick is sure he's going to fade out of existence right in front of a reporter who is starting a question with "Now, Joe, you missed some shows this tour...".

Under the table, he grabs Joe's hand and squeezes hard, glares at the woman. "That's a family matter," he says coldly. She looks a little shocked. Nick knows they're not known for shooting down questions so quickly, and he meets her gaze, daring her to challenge him on this. "Kev," he says, "why don't you tell her the story about the Segway and the golf cart?"

"That's not really a funny story, Nick," Kevin replies, but he grins and launches into it anyway.

*

Joe disappears right before Christmas and when he's not back within a few hours, the whole mood of the house changes. The longer he's gone, the thinner Nick feels like he's being stretched. By the time the sun goes down and the temperature drops, he can't get his mind off the painful thought of Joe freezing somewhere, no matter how deeply he tries to lose himself in the new song he's writing. By midnight, he's got four verses and a chorus about how much it hurts when you don't know where to find the person you love, and he feels like he might scream if Joe doesn't come back, and soon.

He's on the verge of freaking out. Heck, he is freaking out. His bed feels like it's sucking him in; he's suffocating under the blankets. He needs to get out.

He shoves all the covers away and gets up, goes into Joe's empty room. The bed is unmade. Like Joe has just gotten up to use the bathroom or get some water or something. Nick sits down on the edge. He breathes, slowly, in and out, in and out, until the completely freaked-out feeling subsides a little. Then he lays down, pulling Joe's sheet up over his head. The bed smells like Joe.

Nothing about their family is normal, but Nick is pretty sure that what he's feeling is even less normal. Please come back, he sends out into the universe to Joe as he starts to drift off, I'm tired of how it hurts when you're not here.

He wakes up cocooned in warmth, wrapped up in arms and legs that are skinny yet still muscular. He snuggles back into the embrace, knowing without looking that it's Joe. But not quite the Joe he wants here, right now. He can feel the difference, even if he can't explain why there is one. Joe says, "Be strong, okay? It won't last forever. I've never met a me that was older than I am now."

"Okay," Nick says sleepily, still glad to even have a Joe, even if it's not his, here with him. "Why does it feel so awful when you're gone?" he mumbles, not quite awake enough to think about the question before he asks.

"Because we love each other," this older Joe whispers back. "And it hurts to be away from the people you love. It took me too long to realize you're part of me."

Nick turns over, sleepiness slowing his movements. He curls his hand around the back of Joe's neck and keeps it there. This Joe isn't much older, maybe a handful of years. There's a little more muscle in his shoulders and his hair is longer again. "What am I, in your time?" Nick asks.

All the other Joes have always refused to answer this question, saying they don't want to influence anything unduly. Now Joe's eyes seem to search his face for a moment. "You - you're mine," he says finally.

Nick's stomach jolts and his gaze drops to Joe's mouth. "Oh," he says.

Joe leans forward and brushes his lips hesitantly over the corner of Nick's, his hand curving over Nick's hip. "You're mine," he says again. "I came this time to tell you this. You believe in me so fiercely that you made it stop, dude. With like, the power of your love. I know it sounds cheesy, but... I stopped traveling once we figured it out. I just displaced myself this once, to tell you. We just had to wait until you were old enough." He kisses Nick's face again and then says, "Go back to sleep. I'll be here for real when you wake up. I'll kiss you for real."

Nick sighs. He's tired and confusion is thrumming a butterfly beat in his stomach, but he trusts Joe. He snuggles close and does as Joe asks.

*

The right Joe is indeed there when he wakes up again, sprawled across the bed and nearly crowding Nick out of it. He watches Joe sleep but it's like Joe's got radar or something, because he opens his eyes to squint at Nick after a few minutes. "Hey," he says. His voice is hoarse.

"Morning," Nick replies, and crawls on top of him, feels all the angles and planes of Joe's body as he does. "I love you."

"Love you, too."

He nuzzles Joe's neck. "Mean it. For real."

"I know," Joe whispers and lifts his head to catch Nick's mouth. It's soft and sweet. When they part, Joe says, "You know, you're going to be irresistibly gorgeous in about a year."

Nick rolls his eyes. "Too many freckles for that."

"No, seriously." Joe chuckles and hugs him tightly. Nick feels like he's buzzing all the way to his fingertips. Was this all he had to do to keep Joe here? Funny story: he could kick himself for not figuring it out before now.

"Every time you left," he says, "was like a piece of my soul got ripped out. I don't think I can go through it anymore."

"And here you were always the strong one." Nick pokes him in the side. "I won't leave again," Joe promises, softer, his fingers sliding into Nick's hair. Nick lets himself be maneuvered by his curls until Joe is satisfied with the angle of his mouth, and they share another kiss, a little deeper this time. "I guess we can say yes to those Disney people," Joe says against his lips, and Nick laughs in relief, feeling lightheaded and giddy.

"I wrote you a song," he says, once he's stopped laughing. "It's sort of stupid now, though. All depressing."

"I bet it's still awesome."

Nick presses his face to Joe's neck, breathing him in. He smells a little like gasoline, but underneath it are all the same scents that Nick associates with Joe. "You should probably tell Mom and Dad you're back," he mumbles after a few minutes of not moving. "They'll be glad."

He feels Joe's hand slide flat against the small of his back, careful of the Omnipod, pressing hard enough to hold them together. He mouths at Joe's collarbone just to feel him shudder, licking salt from Joe's skin as Joe's breath hitches. It's dark and quiet, and Nick wants nothing more than to hit the pause button and stay the moment.

"Yeah, I guess," Joe whispers back, after the silence has stretched a long time, "but I'd rather just stay here with you."

Reply

From:
Anonymous
OpenID
Identity URL: 
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

February

SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
  1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
9
 
10
 
11
 
12
 
13
 
14 15
 
16
 
17
 
18
 
19
 
20
 
21
 
22
 
23
 
24
 
25
 
26
 
27
 
28