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Ours is the Fire

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Battle of the Bands was supposed to be fun , Joseph told himself bitterly. It was supposed to be exciting and you were supposed to be playing with your friends .

 

But, no. This wasn’t going to be fun. It didn’t matter if their lead guitarist had dropped out the night before and they were desperate as all hell, he wasn’t going to play with Caesar fucking Zeppeli .

 

Heads turned when Joseph busted through the green room door, and Smokey didn’t have a chance to stop him before he was in Caesar’s face.

 

“Let’s get one thing straight,” Joseph hissed, temper only rising as Caesar regarded him cooly. “ I’m the star of this show, and if you so much as upstage me out there-”

 

Caesar ripped Joseph’s hand off the front of his top, his face still inches from Joseph’s as he scowled back at him. “Don’t get it twisted, Jojo. There’s nothing to upstage.”

 

Just as Joseph wound up to deck Caesar fully across the face, someone at the door cleared their throat. “You're set to take the stage next,” The stage manager looked at Joseph, and then at Caesar. She gave them pointed looks over the rim of her sunglasses. “Unless, of course, there is a problem.”

 

“No problem at all, signorina.” Caesar interjected, giving her a deep bow that made Joseph gag at the fakeness of the gesture alone.

 

“We'll be ready to set up soon!” Smokey added with a nervous grin, running over to pull Joseph away from Caesar. She said nothing, though Joseph could feel her disapproving aura from ten feet away. He scoffed as soon as she shut the door, turning to Caesar once more.

 

“Ruin this for us, and you're dead.” Joseph hissed as Smokey pushed him towards the other side of the room.

 

Much to his chagrin, Caesar just said nothing.

 

--

 

The show wasn't a disaster. In fact, much to Joseph’s sheer annoyance, it was the best they'd had in ages .

 

For some reason or another Joseph found himself enjoying competing with Caesar on stage. For every cocky strut and head turn with his guitar Joseph was countering with more exaggerated movement and vocal flair. As applause roared through the stadium Caesar smiled at Joseph, pick hand held high above his head in a frozen pose. His chest was heaving and his body dripping with sweat. Joseph smiled back, aching limb from limb and noticeably...charged, in one way or another.

 

Even if they didn't manage to win the Battle of the Bands that night, Joseph wasn't about to pretend like he was blind. There was a chemistry between them that he honestly hadn't expected. It was an overwhelming crescendo of constantly trying to one-up each other in style and drama, and the crowd absolutely ate it up .

 

It was...well...infuriating, honestly. Mostly because it lead to Smokey insisting they keep Caesar permanently, to which the Italian immediately agreed with that stupid cocky smile on his face. Joseph made sure to put on his very best pout when he agreed. He had exactly what they needed in a band-mate, but that didn't mean he was happy about it!

 

“Hey!” Smokey shoved his way past Joseph's thoughts, waving his hand in front of his face. “Earth to Jojo! Are you plannin’ on gettin’ around any time soon?”

 

Joseph blinked, forcing his eyes to focus on Smokey's face. “Yeah, yeah. Just a little out of it today is all.” He sprawled out over the tour bus seat, making a contented sigh as he stretched out his sore muscles. “How's dickhead, did he up and quit yet?”

 

Smokey rolled his eyes. “Sorry, he's still here. And you just gotta deal with it for now, man- so try to not be such a dick yourself.”

 

Joseph grumbled, finally forcing himself into an upright position. He looked around the tour bus, furrowing his brow as he realized Caesar wasn't there anymore. It was whatever, probably got up at a decent time to go find breakfast or something…

 

It turned out Smokey had already been out to eat (with Caesar, that bastard…), but he decided to tag along as Joseph ordered his food anyways. The diner may have been the only option within walking distance of their motel, but just about any place along this highway had a reputation of being pretty damn reliable.

 

“We have some time to kill before the show tomorrow, but the rooms don't have cable.” Smokey stole a piece of Joseph's bacon from his plate and munched on it thoughtfully. “Guess I still have Santana's Game Boy...he kind of forgot to take it off the bus before he ditched.”

 

“Guess I can work on the set list tonight, then.” Joseph waved a forked piece of pancake at Smokey. “Shouldn't take too long, just gotta mix it up a little.”

 

“Oh yeah, about that.” Smokey smiled sheepishly. “We...kind of figured that out at breakfast this morning.”

 

--

 

Caesar hardly looked surprised when Joseph about busted down his door, which made him that much more pissed off .

 

“Joestar.” Caesar said much too calmly, hardly looking up from reading a newspaper in  his cushy spot on the bed.

 

“Who the FUCK do you think you are, huh?” Joseph hissed, trying again to pull away from Smokey's grasp so he could kick this Italian bastard's ass. “It's my fuckin’ show, man! I told you to keep in mind who you're playing with, you have no right to step in and start making decisions for my band …!”

 

Our band, Jojo!” Smokey corrected, finally managing to get Joseph in a headlock. “Besides, we had to get it to the venue asap- they gotta work on setting up the lights and stuff.”

 

Joseph tried to say something else, but all rational thought ceased to course through his head when Caesar finally stood, folding up the newspaper neatly.

 

“No, no. He doesn't care that you did his work for him. He just has a problem with me.” Caesar looked down at Joseph, who finally managed to wrestle out of the headlock and was only inches from his face.

 

It was still. Smokey tried to say something, but Caesar gave him a look to shut him up.

 

“If you want to hit me, Joestar,” Caesar said slowly, a dangerous glint of the light hitting his eye. “Now is your chance. You only get one, so don't waste it.”

 

He wasn't even sure how he ended up on the floor. He didn't even know how he'd missed his swing. But the image of Caesar standing over him, eyes blazing and fist still clenched was burned into his brain.

 

“I don't want to steal your band.” He said quietly, eyes instantly betraying his true emotions. “I just want to play my guitar. Get your head out of your ass.”

 

Smokey ushered Joseph off of the floor with little resistance, and their venture to the van was naught but a blur. He touched his nose tenderly, scrunching up his face in pain.

 

“Maybe you should sleep in the bus tonight.” Smokey suggested softly, placing the first aid kit in front of Joseph.

 

--

 

Joseph had no idea when his nose had stopped bleeding, but he supposed it didn't really matter. The blood on his shirt, the swelling in his face- it honestly wasn't jack shit compared to the maelstrom of emotions swirling around in his head.

 

He hated getting like this. Thinking was only his strong suit when it came to coming up with a way to get out of shit or making up some bullshit lyrics for a song. It was when deeper emotions came into play that he just froze up...or just lost control completely. Now he was just kind of...lost.

 

All that time he'd spent stewing over their shattered relationship hit him like a fucking truck when Caesar's fist collided with his face. What he really hated is that he deserved it.

 

How long had it been since they broke up? Months? A year? Two? Joseph hated that he didn't even know for sure. Forgetting birthdays, anniversaries, dates...Joseph was guilty of all of those things, even when it came to the people he loved most. This shit had always been a problem for them in the past, even if Caesar never acted like it bothered him. He was fucking notorious for hiding his true emotions, shrugging it off and shouldering the pain in lieu of making himself appear weak. Asshole.

 

Joseph blinked the tears out of his eyes, hand gripping tighter onto his pillow as if he might find comfort inside of it. It didn't make him feel any better, but it did help him fall asleep.

Chapter Text

In the morning Joseph felt like he'd been hit by a freight train. A quick check in the mirror confirmed that Caesar had bruised the shit out of his face, but an internal check confirmed that it’d bruised even more out of his ego. 

 

Smokey regarded Joseph with a sympathetic smile as he finally left the bus and approached their table. “Wwwwwow. You look like shit, dude.”

 

“Fuck off.” Joseph grumbled, waving down the waitress for a cup of coffee. “I look fuckin’ fabulous.”

 

“If you say so.” Caesar smirked into his cup of tea, eyes lingering on Joseph's face a little longer than he'd have liked. Joseph gritted his teeth, but somehow managed to at least keep from smashing Caesar’s tea into his face.

 

“What would you know, anyways?” Joseph snapped. “You're always too busy burying your head in the fucking sand to notice a damn thing.”

 

Caesar's smirk vanished as quickly as it'd come, and if Joseph didn't know any better he'd swear he looked hurt. “I know just as much as I need to.”

 

“AAAAANYWAYS,” Smokey coughed, bringing attention back to him. “Caesar and I went to go scope out the venue earlier to see what we're workin’ with and...well…”

 

“...it's a bit smaller than expected.” Caesar finished for him, giving Joseph a pointed look. “The stage, of course.”

 

Ignoring Caesar's definitely NOT funny remark, Joseph rolled his eyes. “Great, whatever. We can smash all the equipment together to make it work, iunno why it's a big deal.”

 

“That's not what we mean, Jojo. We MEAN there's like a part that juts out, it's a weird shape. The area up front where you guys would be is, well…” Smokey looked to Caesar for help.

 

“...cozy.” The returned smirk on Caesar’s face only made the massive knot in Joseph's stomach that much tighter. “I hope you can keep yourself under control, Jojo. You'll be bumping uglies with me all night.”

 

“Stop that.” Joseph snapped, looking instantly to Smokey to find some sort of comfort. “You're kidding, right? I can't stand this fuckin’ guy.”

 

“I wish I was joking, believe me.” Smokey sighed, running a hand over his hair and leaning back into his chair. “The crowd's gonna be packed though, apparently it's a sold out show. Try to make the best of it, yeah? For all of us?”

 

“Whatever,” Joseph said, turning briefly to thank the waitress for bringing him a fresh mug of coffee. “I don't give a shit as long as the fans are happy.”

 

“That's not true and you know it,” Caesar's eyes narrowed, voice suddenly taking on a serious tone. “I know you hate my guts, Jojo, but-”

 

“Stop fucking calling me that!” Joseph snapped suddenly, slamming his mug down on the table and sending hot coffee all over his arm. Smokey exclaimed in surprise while Caesar just watched on, eyes wide. Joseph grimaced through the pain, glaring Caesar down as he rose from his seat. “You don't mean a fucking thing to me, alright? Don't act like you care about me, don't try to act all fucking cute. You were dead to me and this changes nothing .”

 

“Sir?” The waitress interjected suddenly. “Please calm down, you're disrupting our other guests…”

 

Joseph glanced at her face of worry, Smokey’s clear concern, and Caesar’s face full of fucking nothing. He growled in annoyance and grabbed a napkin off the table, wiping down his arm. “It's fine. I was just leaving anyways.”

 

--

 

Seeing as how the diner was bordered by a string of trees that separated it from a large industrial complex, the view from sitting on the pavement wasn't much of an improvement from having to look at his asshole ex. Sparse grass poked through the cracks in the concrete, and the afternoon sun was trying hard to bake anything still left alive in the shitty little lot.

 

It'd been a long time since he'd lashed out like that in public. It was embarrassing, especially considering how he'd promised to his granny before she passed that he'd try his damndest to curb it. Then again, he'd also promised to quit smoking, so it just figured that he'd also be a bad liar.

 

But god, looking at Caesar's stupid face just dug up all the unsorted baggage locked away inside of his chest. From what he could figure it'd been a year since he'd seen him last. He thought he'd managed to get over it, to move on...but then again, all that weekend flings ever did for him was left him feeling just as empty as he'd started before. All because of Caesar.

 

Joseph grumbled to himself as he struck up his lighter, igniting his cigarette and taking a long drag. As he let the smoke pass from his lips the bell on the diner door alerted him that he was no longer alone.

 

“I thought you quit smoking.”

 

“I thought you'd go crawl under a rock and die somewhere.” Joseph retorted quietly, not bothering to look up. “Guess we all want shit we can't have.”

 

Gravel crunched underfoot as Caesar plopped down beside Joseph on the curb, resting his arms on top of his splayed out knees. “Listen, Jo...Joseph.” He hestiated for a moment, letting out a conflicted sigh. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have hit you...”

 

“I deserved it.” Joseph interjected with a dark laugh. “I should've just stayed in the bus.”

 

“...even if you deserved it.” Caesar sighed in frustration, threading his fingers through his hair as he hung his head. “It's been a long time since we've seen each other, and I honestly thought you were going to hit me.”

 

“I was. And you would've deserved it.” Another drag off the cigarette.

 

Caesar huffed out a sad sound of amusement. “...yeah. You're right about that.”

 

For a few agonizing seconds, silence split the space around them. Static roared in Joseph's head and his limbs grew heavy and cold. He cursed the nicotine for doing exactly jack shit for his shaking and feared that Caesar might notice it.

 

“I don't expect you to forgive me.” Caesar said slowly, each word dropping like a bombshell in Joseph's mind. “I don't even expect you to try and pretend to like me. I'm doing this as a favor to Smokey. Once you find a new guitarist I'll leave, and you won't have to ever see me again.” His voice was strained, and Joseph could tell he was lying about his feelings with each breath. He snorted in anger. Typical fucking Caesar.

 

“I don't want a new guitarist.” Joseph couldn't tear his eyes from the concrete in fear of looking at the blonde and losing what little composure he had. “I wanna put on a performance no one will ever forget. I wanna sing my fucking voice raw and get lost in the fucking music.” He paused to take another drag, and his voice lowered to a hushed whisper. “You have no idea just how hard it got when you left. It was a miracle we found a replacement that could put on even half as good as a show that you did. That we did. And now you're just conveniently here when I-- we need you most-” Joseph's voice cracked in a toxic mixture of built up anger and sadness and bone-aching loneliness in his chest. “...we need you. And I hate it. It isn't any fucking fair.”

 

Caesar didn't speak for a long moment. Joseph could see his shadow shift on the pavement as he considered reaching out to touch Joseph (god, he wished he would...god, he hoped he wouldnt) but his hand dropped to his side and he said nothing.

 

Joseph laughed bitterly, standing suddenly and throwing his cigarette butt to the pavement. “I don't know why I expected you to say anything at all. You haven't changed a bit.”

 

“I have.” Caesar said quietly. “I'll prove it to you.”

 

“Yeah. That's exactly what you said last time.” Joseph snorted, turning to his way back towards the bus.

 

Caesar didn't attempt to follow. Joseph kind of wished he did.

 

-

 

Smokey hadn't been joking. The stage dimensions were absolutely shitty (Joseph would have to have a conversation with their booking manager…) and it was going to be a tight fit up front. It was a miracle that they could fit all their equipment on it as-is.

 

Though it was terrible situation for all parties involved Joseph quietly welcomed the distraction. Music was the one thing that shut his brain up long enough to think, and trying to work out the logistics of the performance in his head gave him time to work through everything. One amp here, another there, and a whole hell of a lot of winging it. He could work with it.

 

As much as he didn't want to admit it, Caesar was an extremely welcome help. He'd always been the strongest at figuring out routines or coming up with ways to spice up each performance. Watching him laughing with their set crew from afar was just enough to get Joseph's heart aching all over again. It almost felt like it had when they'd first started this train wreck- but as Caesar's gaze met his Joseph snapped back to reality, breaking eye contact and finding something else to appear busy with.

 

People started filing into the club around 6. By 7 it was packed, and looking out over their faces from behind the curtain filled Joseph with a certain pride- even if he knew it was likely because they heard that their old guitarist had returned. It doesn't matter, he told himself. They're here to see your band. Put on a good show and try to have some fun .

 

7:30. The crowd fell silent as the lights turned off and smoke started to fill the room. Whoops, hollers, whistling, and screaming filled the room- and then the lights flashed on, revealing Joseph on the middle of the stage, arm bent to cover his face as his microphone was pressed just against his lips.

 

“How are we doing tonight?” He crooned, just barely making out the shape of the crowd from the light glaring in his face. The crowd started screaming again. A giant grin broke out over Joseph's face and he struck another pose, arm extending to wave out at the crowd. “I said,” he crooned once more, voice crescendoing into a scream. “HOW ARE WE FUCKING DOING TONIGHT?”

 

The crowd positively lost it, bouncing and screaming as arms failed up to reach at him on the stage. Joseph just laughed, walking back towards the band and turning back to face the crowd dramatically. “Ladies and fuckin’ gentlemen, we are Battle Tendency- and if you came out to have a good time tonight you're in the right fucking place.” More screams.

 

“On my left, the fucking impeccable Smokey Brown on bass. And…” Joseph looked to Caesar, heart momentarily leaping to his throat as he saw him looking expectantly back at him. Seeing him in his stage getup was enough to get his heart pounding, but here in the spotlight he just positively shone . “...the one and fucking only Caesar Zeppeli on the electric guitar!”

 

The crowd went wild, pushing up against the barrier at the front of the stage in an attempt to get closer. Joseph broke himself away from staring at Caesar, grinning wildly as he looked the crowd again. “Tonight we're gonna start off with a little diddy I like to call Your Next Line. One, two, three…!”

 

The time flowed with the music, and Joseph lost track of both. He sang and screamed until he was hoarse, barely even aware of how his body moved on stage. Caesar's face faded into view more often than out, and Joseph found himself singing and dancing even closer to him than the small stage would've forced him to anyways. It was hard to pretend like he wasn't genuinely smiling and having a good time because he was - and if Caesar's grin and choreography was anything to judge by, Joseph wasn't alone in that sentiment.

 

Before he knew it the final song came to a close, and he gave his sweaty, exhausted goodbyes to the crowd. There wasn't a sour face in the crowd or on stage- and Joseph absolutely lived for it.

 

“Hell yeah!” Smokey laughed, slapping the hands of crew members as he started backstage. “That had to have been our best performance in a long time, holy shit! Did you see the crowd?”

 

As everyone gathered around them and started chattering to each other excitedly, Joseph bumped shoulders with Caesar, who positively beamed as he brought his arm around his shoulder and gave him a quick peck on the forehead. Whether it was out of habit or just to get a reaction out of Joseph he wasn't sure, as before he could even say something Caesar was engulfed by the crowd as quickly as he'd come.

 

Bewildered, high on endorphins, and utterly overwhelmed with emotion, Joseph just stood there as his face turned as red as a beet. Thankfully everyone just seemed to assume it was just from the exertion of the performance, but Joseph knew the truth- and it was just enough to drive him crazy.

Chapter Text

Needless to say, Joseph was pissed. And confused. But mostly pissed.

 

The afterparty was louder than any they’d had in months, and given his shitty attitude Joseph just couldn't bring himself to be happy about it. He sat outside on the concrete, watching people spill in and out of the venue. Thankfully it was dark- save for what light filtered out of the opening of the doorway- so people didn’t recognize him and left him the hell alone as he sucked down another cigarette.

 

A whole year of partying, fucking, and working his goddamn ass off to keep his mind off of him...and then Caesar magically appears and kisses him as if a damn thing didn’t happen? If he didn’t know any better he’dve assumed that Caesar was just trying to fuck with him.

 

To make matters worse, his heart was racing and he couldn’t get Caesar’s stupid fucking face out of his head. A simple gesture like that stupid, gentle kiss on the head and Joseph suddenly lost whatever progress he’d made on ignoring the fact that he was still embarrassingly attracted to Caesar. The way he interacted with him on the stage was already flirtatious to begin with, but, well-- he didn’t have to look at him with that fire in his eyes and that stupid cocky smirk on his stupid face.

 

That said, it definitely wasn’t the first time he’d been rock hard while playing with Caesar onstage, but...well, considering the circumstances it sucked. Which, upon second review, was admittedly a little bit of an understatement.

 

Flicking the cigarette butt into the parking lot, Joseph stood and brushed off his jacket and jeans. If he wasn’t in the mood to party he might as well get some alone time in the bus.

 

“Oh, fuck!” Someone exclaimed from behind as Joseph was nearly shoved to the ground by the weight of them falling on him. “Hey, man- I’m sorry ‘bout that-”

 

“It’s whatever,” Joseph shrugged, brushing off his jacket again . Just his fuckin’ luck.

 

“Wait!” The guy said suddenly, causing Joseph to look at him in surprise. “Oh my god, you’re Jojo ! Dude, I’m such a big fan! The show was amazing tonight!!”

 

Shit. The last thing he wanted right now was to be recognized by someone. Joseph turned to find himself face to face with...an admittedly really hot blonde, which was one of the last things he needed right now. He just wanted to return to the bus and sulk alone for the rest of the night, and he was not going to worm his way into someone’s pants just to get his self-destructive fix. He was totally past that now- no need to ruin a good streak!

 

...But then again, Joseph was not especially known for good decision-making, which is why a “few drinks” with a stranger turned into shoving his tongue down the throat of a total stranger in the back of the tour bus. He found it was really, really easy to not think about stupid fucking Caesar and his stupid fucking hot body and striking face and stupid, stupid smug smile. Which is why, you know, he totally wasn’t projecting right now by pinning some stupid random blonde dude to the seat and grinding their dicks together through their pants.

 

Right. Point was, he wasn’t about to let stupid Caesar ruin his night when he was drunk and horny and this stupid hot blonde guy (what was his name again?) was pulling at his pants and pushing him over to suck his dick. Not like there was anyone else’s face he wanted to cum on, anyways.

 

If there was one thing Joseph liked more than one hot blonde, it was two. But seeing Caesar’s face suddenly pop up over the top of this guy’s head was, needless to say, a little fucking scary.

 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

 

“Sucking dick?” Random blonde offered in response, fluttering his eyelashes at Caesar. “Give me just a minute and I’ll gladly suck yours, too…”

 

“Not you. What are you doing.” Caesar cut in, not even so much as glancing at whats-his-name.

 

“Having a good fucking time?” Joseph snapped back, sitting up quickly and causing his head to swim at the sudden movement. “Why’re you fuckin’ barging in here, anyways? That desperate to get back on my dick?”

 

Caesar’s face hardened, ice-cold glare making Joseph’s blood run cold. “Get the fuck out of here. And give him his fucking wallet back.” He hissed at blondie, whose eyes went wide in shock.

 

Blonde guy looked at Joseph sheepishly, tossing his wallet beside him on the seat. “Um...sorry?” He offered him a weak grin before bolting past Caesar, whose eyes didn’t leave Joseph’s face. Somehow Joseph wished that that stupid hot….fan...pickpocket...whatever would’ve at least hung around to take some heat off of him.



“Thanks for getting my wallet back.” Joseph attempted to break the silence, grabbing at a pillow to cover his dying erection and looking anywhere but Caesar’s face. “Can you at least knock next time? I can only take so many surprises before my fuckin’ heart gives out.”

 

“...Joseph.”

 

“Are you jealous? Is this what this is? It's been a year, man- you got some serious fuckin’ issues if you think you have any say in my sex life--”

 

“Jojo!” Caesar said suddenly, bringing Joseph's rambling to a dead stop. He looked up at Caesar, heart all but breaking when he saw the stony look on his face.

 

“I...told you not to call me that.”

 

“How long have you been doing this?” Caesar said quietly, sad blue eyes burning into Joseph's brain. Fuck. He hated when Caesar got like this.

 

“None of your fuckin’ business!” Joseph snapped.

 

Caesar stepped closer to the bed, stony expression crumbling into downright worry. “It is my business. I am your bandmate. I am your... friend. ” The words hung in the air for a moment, causing Joseph’s stomach to drop in guilt. “Regardless of our...past. I still care about you.”

 

“Wow, did it kill you trying to get those words out?” Joseph found himself choking on his own words, throat closing up as he started to panic. “Couldn’t so much as manage an occasional ‘I love you’ for two years, but now you’re tryin’ to play the ‘I care about you’ card? Fuck off. You haven’t given a fuck about anyone since Mark died.”

 

He didn’t realize what’d been said until he saw the tears start rolling down Caesar’s marble face. Joseph’s brain started to unravel, trying to figure out how to walk it back but finding it hard to think past the alcohol and panic working its way through his thoughts.

 

“You really think I don’t care?” Caesar’s voice was quiet, quaking with restrained fury. “I didn’t use you to replace Mark. I was scared of you being another Mark. I...didn’t want to get too close because I couldn’t lose you too- just kept telling myself it was just for fun, that things wouldn't get too serious…no one sticks around me for long, anyways. I didn’t think there was even a chance of becoming... more .” Caesar gestured to emphasize, a sad smile breaking out of his pathetic face. “But every time I looked at you, Jojo- it was like looking at the sun. So bright, so vibrant, with a stupid self-destructive streak- it reminded me of Mark, yes, but you...I realized I couldn’t live without you. It scared the shit out of me, admitting that I could... love like that again. So I fuckin’ split. Because I’m a coward.”

 

Joseph just sat there, body frozen to the seat as Caesar stepped closer to him- his eyes terrifyingly clear despite the emotion in his voice. “And the next time you want to use my dead ex against me, I want you to think about the shit he went through. What I went through.” he paused, lip curling in disgust. “Don’t put yourself on the same level as some fucking junkie. You meant more to me than that.”

 

With those final words Caesar was gone. All Joseph could think to do was slip down into the seat and cry.

Chapter Text

It was 6am and their bus had been on the road for hours...and yet Caesar couldn’t bring himself to fall asleep. With the intense high of a show well-played and the extreme low of catching Joseph being an...idiot, it was kind of hard to untangle his brain from thought and doze off to the lull of the road.

 

His attention was caught by Smokey, who roused from sleep as the first rays of the sun decided to peek over the hills. He blinked sleepily at Caesar and sat up from where he’d crashed on the long seat. “What’re you doin’ up?” Smokey yawned, stretching his arms above his head. “You were out pretty late, I thought you’d still be conked out…”

 

“Nah. Just...thinking about stuff. Nothin’ big.”

 

Smokey gave him a concerned look, shaking his head. “Don’t give me that shit, I’m not stupid. I know you and Jojo must’ve had another blow-up last night- your face gets all puffy when you’ve been crying.”

 

“Fuck off,” Caesar said, though there wasn’t any real malice behind it. He stayed silent for a moment, looking out over the sunrise and the passing trees. “...I fucked up real bad, didn’t I?”

 

Smokey sighed, flopping back over into the seat and pulling his blanket over his chin. “...yeah. I told you some of what I had to deal with before you got back but...it’s been really bad. He held up for a bit, but once his granny died...he just kind of lost it.” He glanced back towards the back of the bus, where Joseph was curled up in a seat with his head stuffed beneath a pillow. “I don’t wanna pick sides, soooo...if you ask me, you’re both huge dickheads.”

 

“Wow, you always know what to say.” Caesar said dryly, cracking a smile for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

 

Smokey shrugged. “You’re the one who asked me, man. Can’t pretend like I didn’t fuck up either, I’m the one who invited you back without letting Jojo know.”

 

“Yeah, no shit. All we’ve done is fight.” Caesar plopped his head down on his knees, groaning in frustration. “This happens every time I have a good thing going, man. I always freak out and fuck up and end up hurting everyone.”

 

“Listen, Caes, I’m your bassist, not your therapist- but between you and me, Jojo still loves you. Like, a lot .”

 

“I know.”

 

“He’d give you a second chance if you asked! He’s just putting on the pity party act right now.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Then why don’t you just fuckin’ apologize? Dragging this shit out is just making everyone miserable.”

 

“...”

 

“Christ’s sake, Caesar.” Smokey groaned, covering his face with his hands. “It’s too early for this stupid gay bullshit , stop feeling sorry for yourself and talk to him !”

 

“Hey, can we pull over soon?” Joseph interjected, half naked, draped in a blanket, and leaning heavily against the wall for support. “I’m hungry.”

 

Caesar froze, face burning at the realization that Joseph had probably heard the entire conversation. Joseph passed to talk to the bus driver briefly before returning, throwing himself into the seat next to Smokey, looking at him pointedly. “You mind getting something for all of us? My head’s about to fuckin’ explode..”

 

“Y-yeah, sure.” Smokey nodded, glancing at Caesar in a moment of panic as he turned to get off the bus. Caesar didn’t so much as move.

 

“So, Zeppeli.” Joseph said as Smokey disappeared out of view, voice hoarse from a night of singing and drinking. “Let’s talk.”

 

“It’s like 6am, what could you possibly want to talk about?”

 

Joseph snorted. “You’ve always been a bad liar, Caesar, you know that? Don’t play stupid with me.”

 

Caesar forced himself to look at Joseph- eyes caressing over his tousled hair, his sleep-heavy eyes, the scruff threatening to take over his face...and just peeking from under his blanket was a chain with a simple silver ring strung around his neck. Caesar’s breath hitched in recognition, lip trembling as the flood of emotion threatened to carry him away.

 

“I...don’t even know where to begin,” he said.

 

“I’m gonna be real with you, I don’t remember half of what you said last night.” He tapped his head, giving Caesar a pained smile. “And I finished off our booze stash while thinking over what I could remember. I’m...sorry for what I said about Mark.”

 

“It’s...fine. Can’t really pretend like I haven’t brought up old shit to hurt you before, either.”

 

"Yeah but...that was really fuckin' uncalled for. I'm always pushing too far but this really takes the damn cake."

 

"I meant it when I said you weren't just a replacement for him, Jojo." Caesar looked up at Joseph from behind his knees, trying to find some kind of answer in his exhausted face. "You meant the world to me but when things started to get too serious I just...freaked out."

 

"I won't pretend like it's not nice to hear, but fuck, man. It'd been two years, I thought we were past that shit." Joseph pulled the blanket tighter around him to hide it, but Caesar could tell he was clutching at the band around his neck.

 

The silence that fell between them was as stifling as a wool blanket, and Caesar thought for sure he was going to suffocate on it. His heart threatened to beat its way out of his throat and his hands shook with the impulse to pull Joseph close and assure that everything was going to be okay.  He didn't even deserve to touch his face or kiss his lips or run his hands over the curve of Joseph's side, but fuck if he didn’t crave that brilliant smile and his warm presence. There was no doubt in Caesar’s mind over the last year that he’d let go of something he’d never find again, and he wasn’t about to let it slip back through his fingers.

 

“I want to make it up to you,” Caesar forced himself to look Joseph in the face as he spoke, even if it made him feel as dead as Joseph looked. “I never would’ve come back if I didn’t. Let me prove I can do better- I...don’t care if you ever want me back, I don’t care if you can’t ever fully forgive me; I just want to make sure I don’t lose you as a friend. Please.”

 

Joseph seemed shocked for a moment, his lips forming words that he couldn’t seem to speak- but despite the sadness in his eyes he seemed to settle for a playful smile. “Alright, bastard. Just don’t forget who’s in charge ‘round here.”

 

Caesar couldn’t help but crack a smile himself. “Dream on.”

 

Not a minute later did Smokey decide to cautiously peek through the door, bag of shitty fast food breakfast in hand. Despite the questionable quality Caesar couldn’t help but find himself enjoying it...even if just for stolen glances and comfortable chatter.

 

---

 

Phoenix, LA, Kansas City, Charlotte...each show as intense as the last, and yet days just seemed to melt away. It really started to feel like Caesar was a part of the band again, with him and Smokey jacking around on the guitars at warmup and spending long nights standing just inches away from Joseph, drinking, greeting fans, and stealing coy glances at each other. If it wasn’t for the hesitation behind each little movement he wouldn’t know that things had been fucked up in the first place.

 

“Are we there yet?” Joseph called to the bus driver, who responded with an unenthusiastic ‘no’.

 

“Stop asking and maybe it’ll go faster,” Caesar butted in, briefly looking away from his book to notice Joseph trying unsuccessfully to cheat at cards under the table. Smokey noticed about as soon as he did and punched Joseph in the arm, who tried to act hurt over the accusation.

 

“Why’s New York so far away?” He whined, throwing his cards dramatically onto the table. “The least Ms. Lisa could’ve done is get us a flight …”

 

“Maybe if someone hadn’t thrown the tv out the window at our last stop…” Smokey pointed at Joseph, who jolted upright.

 

“Hey, that wasn’t my fault! I told you, I tripped!”

 

“If you’re so bored why don’t you go take a nap?” Caesar smirked. “It’d save us the pain of having to listen to you whine.”

 

“Only if you tuck me in, loverboy.” Joseph retorted, throwing him a playful wink. His heart jumped in his chest and Caesar made a point to return his gaze quickly to his book.

 

“Hey, where’d you even get these cards? What the fuck, man?”

 

Tuck me in, loverboy. Caesar tried very hard to keep the words from spiraling out of control in his head, but...christ, two months of subtle flirting was driving him up the wall, and that was just about as blatant as it’d get. Wasn’t as if he was already struggling living and sleeping so close to Joseph or anything- and it wasn’t as if he’d thought extensively what he wanted to do to him or anything like that. It was all hunky-fuckin’-dory and he wasn’t having any struggles whatsoever with it.

 

Or at least that’s what he liked to tell himself when he felt bad about jerking off to it. But really, a man could only do so much.

 

“Sixty miles to New York!” The bus driver yelled over the bickering, causing Ceasar to snap back to reality. There was a plan forming in his head, and whether it was good or bad...well, he’d just have to see.