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Nick of time

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In the dressing room, Nick takes a deep breath as he looks at the mirror. There is a knock on the door. "Who is it?" he asks nervously, body shivering, heart racing.

 

"It's just me,” Rose says from the other side of the door. “Don't eat me, please."

 

Nick scratched his scalp. “Sorry. Come in."

 

The door opens slowly and his agent, a middle-aged woman with curly red hair, steps in, closing the door quietly behind her. “Are you okay?" Rose looks at him through the mirror.

 

"Just pre-show jitters," Nick said. “You know how I get.” He looks back at the mirror

 

She approaches him, still looking at him in the mirror as she touches his shoulders. "You will be okay like you always do." She always knew what to say; he needed someone like a mother beside him. This industry is full of men and, as much as he loves being around his buddies, he needs this balance: someone who understands his sensitivity. She helped him a lot with all the struggles he had throughout his career- the crises, the mental breakdowns.

 

"Thank you." He turns to her. "You always know what to say."

 

"And you have ten minutes, so go ahead." She nods her head in the direction of the door. Nick takes the electric guitar from the couch and Rose turns her head to him. "By the way, it will be better if you're don't go out with the crew afterward,” she says apologetically.

 

"What? Why? It's my last night in New York before the touring." He look at her and frowned in confusion.

 

"There's a weird journalist who's really want to meet you."

 

"What do they want?" He's still nervous and the news don't really calm him down.

 

"Interview I guess…" She takes a weary breath. "I don't know, I just don’t want him to bother me anymore."

 

The room is quiet for a few moments, Nick busy playing the guitar; it has always been his sedative.

 

"It's tomorrow morning." She comes closer, trying to catch "You're not mad? Right?"

 

Nick looks at Rose and sees how upset she is. He smiles her and opens the door. "I can handle annoying journalist." He exits the dressing room, heading down the hallway. As he walks, he feels and hears the crowd there; they shout his name, his skin feels like it’s getting hotter and hotter. He’s nervous but he begins to feel the adrenaline of excitement that always floods him moments before a performance.

 

Before taking the stairs, he puts his guitar on the side of his body and begins to stretch his hands and shoulders and move his head from side to side. He skips toward the stage and the crowd roars with excitement.
"Good evening everyone!" Nick greets into the microphone; the audience roars again. The sight of the crowd reacting makes him happier. "Yeah! I'm very excited to meet you too." He smiles and raises his eyebrows slyly. With his right hand, he plugs the amplifier to his guitar. He plays a chord, looks at the crew behind him, shakes his head for a signal, and they start playing with him.

 

Moving his body to the beat, he gets close to the mic again and starts singing in a roar like he does best. The crowd sings with him as always but the excitement of them knowing the lyrics is still there, so there's a little smile on his face.

 

 

The next day, as Nick is on his way to the hotel, Rose texts him the details. He doesn’t like to do this.He doesn’t like journalists; he thinks they have a stupid profession just to get into people’s lives- his life. He knocks on the door, coffee in his hand.

 

"A moment!" The voice from inside the room sounds really stressed. A tall guy with a thin figure opens the door for him. "Hello." He says with a smile which shows the dimples on his face.

 

Nick stares at him. "Hello." Something about this journalist’s presence leaves him wide-eyed.

 

"I'm John Mulaney I'm the New York Post's music journalist." He holds out his hand to shake.

 

'This guy has much more charm than most journalists have’ Nick thinks to himself as he’s shaking his hand. "I'm Nic-"

 

John stopped the handshake. "I know who you are; that’s why I wanted to meet you."

 

"Right..." Nick is a little embarrassed and puts his hand in his jeans pockets, already wanting to be behind it. "Come in…"

 

John walks from the door deeper into the room itself and sits at a desk with his notebook and laptop, putting his glasses on.

 

Nick follows after him, still feeling frustrated. He wonders why this interview is taking place in a stupid hotel room and not in a cafe like all interviews.

 

"I contacted you because something strange is happening."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"You don’t read?"

 

"I prefer not to…"

 

"...And nobody tells you what is going on?"

 

Nick shakes his head no. "Something is happening?" he asks for clarification.

 

“Your colleagues are being murdered," John says loudly

 

"What?!"

 

"Look!" John turns the laptop to him; on the screen there is a story from a month ago: Richard R. Wallace, a 35-year-old singer, died in California in the middle of his tour. "There's more."

 

Nick flips through: the lead singer of the 'Strategic Pork Reserves'- William V. Sanders, found dead on the Pennsylvania highways. "Looks like a hit and run,” Nick reads aloud.

 

John repeats him in an increased voice: "Looks like."

 

Nick looks at the correspondence collection, all from the past half year, musicians about his age who had died for mysterious reasons. He looks back at John "What do the police say about this?"

 

“They don't even think that these cases are related,” John answers rubbing his forehead.

 

“So... you need me to do what, exactly?"

 

"I have to dig around and see what's going on, and you'll be a perfect fit to the victim's profile-"

 

"So, I'll be the bait," Nick realizes with a sarcastic smile on his face.

 

"Yes- I mean we'll catch whoever is responsible for this." John takes a deep breath " Your life is at stake."

 

"I don't know it would be a bit strange to have a journalist around trying to solve a murder mystery."

 

"Okay... I thought about it, and I'm still in charge of the music articles, I'll post an article every week about experiences from your tour. It's a secret; no one should know what I'm really doing there."

 

"And why is it a secret?"

 

"Well, it can be anyone…"

 

"Even you?"

 

"I have a list of places I've been to when all this has happened..."

 

'He's professional in a weird way... but that's kinda hot…?' Nick thinks to himself will is understand what's going on around him.

 

"So what do you say?" John wakes Nick from his little daydream.

 

"Say about what?"

 

"Before I stick to you for months, I need your approval."

 

Nick gets up from the chair. "I think…" He doesn’t know what to say, the idea is crazy but this guy... he thinks he maybe wants to see him again, but he was embarrassed about that.

 

"You need to think about it?" John stands too.

 

"Yes... that’s what I need," Nick responds hesitantly.

 

"Here." John takes a business card from his jacket and gives it to Nick. "Call me when you're sure."

 

"Thank you.” He takes the card and walks toward the door. "Goodbye."

 

"Goodbye, Nick." They look at each other; John smiles and opens the door for Nick, who leaves.

 

It's the strangest meeting he ever had, and Nick has definitely had strange experiences, especially those involving his fans.He didn't think about returning to John, but he decides to respect him and not tell his agent what really happened at that meeting.

Chapter Text

month later
John is seated to try again to do his job, to write about this band that he doesn’t like and stay on his best behavior.
‘An Voyage has managed to thoroughly bamboozle the musical snobs of this one-horse town, who haven’t heard a new song since 1978…’
The editor said he should be nicer and more moderate in his articles, so he deletes the line. His phone rings. An unknown number. His life is so mundane that this itself moves him a bit.

"Hello?”
"Hey, asshole.”
The greeting makes John smile a little; he knows who is on the other side. "I prefer ‘John’, but I probably haven't learned proper manners.”
"It's Nick, asshole. How did you get my private email?” Nick asks, then belches.
"Are you drunk?" John asks, worried.
Nick raises his voice: "Just answer me!"
"I have no access to your email,” John answers.
"Stop lying!"
"And what makes you think I am lying to you, exactly?" John’s tone is defensive.
"Oh, I'll tell you why! You sent me this video with a jump scare of a skull thing and 'Time to Die' in big letters."
"They sent you a threat," John asks, clearly excited.
"Why are you so happy about that?!”
"I'm not! I'm just…" John lingers.
"Just what?”
"...surprised?" John finishes uncertainly.
"You're lying right now…" Nick chuckles in anger.
"It's easy for you to talk. You're a rock star, I've been stuck in this dumb job for a long time,
can you blame me for being excited?”
"So that's the stupid reason you do it," Nick says. "My life isn't glamorous as it seems, you know. Also apparently, it’s time for me to die.”
"You're not going to die," John assures. "This is not what usually happens in these cases. This
person wants to be in a big story with you. The other guys didn’t get any threats. Clearly, he wants it to get to the news.”
"So what are we going to do, Sherlock?"
"We wait.”
"Cool cool cool. I'm all alone and scared shitless. My agent is not answering my calls.”
"Where are you? Are you not touring?”
"I'm on vacation in Oregon!" Nick roars. "I have a nice cabin here, so it'll be a great place to die."
"Don't talk like that," John commands. "Where are you exactly"?
"Ashland".
"I'm coming to stay with you."
"Why?”
"Because I'll never forgive myself if something happened to you." John takes a deep breath. "So, I'm flying over. Text me your exact location.”
"Okay…" It feels a little weird, but in his drunken state, Nick doesn't know what to say. He felt alone, and now someone was coming to help.
"See you later.”
"Goodbye.”
* * * * * * * *
John arrives that evening.
"Nick, it's me." John knocks on the door several times.

Nick opens the door after a few minutes, rubbing his eyes with his hand, looking very sleepy. He’s not dressed in comfortable sleeping clothes but in his black tank top and jeans.
John looks at him. He likes that the tank top reveals the tattoos on Nick’s arms, and he stares at them for a while.

"Sorry, I was sleeping.”

"It's okay. I'm sorry for waking you."

Nick invites John inside with a nod of his head. The cabin is dark; Nick hadn't bothered to turn on the light before he opened the door. John looks around and looks at Nick - they face each other, the silence of the night enveloping them and adding to the tension.
"I still want to sleep." Nick looks at John apologetically, blushing.
"Me too." John’s voice is quiet; he’s exhausted from the flight.
Nick leaves John, returning to his bedroom and falling onto the bed.

John watches him and smiles to himself. He takes off his bag from his neck, follows into the bedroom and lies down next to Nick. He takes off his glasses and puts them on the dresser by the bed.
"I hope you don't snore." Nick says, his face still in the pillow. After a few seconds, they both fall asleep.
Nick wakes up the next morning, his head heavy. The hangover hit him hard, and it takes him a few seconds to realize that he's holding John. He’s pressed against his thighs and his torso is against John's back. He can smell his hair. Nick's heart starts to race, and when he feels John move, he closes his eyes.
John stirs and sits up, gently disengaging from Nick’s arms. Nick opens his eyes after a few seconds. "Don’t put it in your article that I'm a cuddler; it will ruin my image," Nick says with a big smile.
John chuckles a little and looks at the floor, not wanting Nick to see the blush on his face. He stands up, taking his glasses and heading to the bathroom. Nick stays in bed and takes the vaporizer from the drawer in the bedside chest. He hears John coming out of the bathroom and coming toward him.

“You want coffee? I got aspirin for you, too."
"No, thank you." Nick smiles at John. "I have a weed vape; that's what helps me.”
"Okay." John relents, smiling back before Nick takes his last puff and goes into the bathroom.
"Tonight, I can sleep on the sofa,” John offers when Nick returns. "I just was very tired
yesterday and-”
"No," Nick interrupts and he sits beside him quickly, trying to meet his eyes. "It was fine..." More than fine, really…
"Oh." John looks at him, kind of surprised. "Okay…”

Silence falls between them. John can’t meet Nick's eyes without feeling embarrassed. "Let‘s just get on with figuring out who wants to mess with you, and in the evening, we’ll see who sleeps where.”
He takes his laptop and opens it. As John types, Nick notices a ring on his left hand and feels something inside himself break. "I'm just telling the editor that I'm here working with you.”
"What about your wife?” Nick asks, trying to keep it cool.
"What about her?" John asks, still typing away.
"She's not upset that you are here?”
John grins. "She worries about you more than me.”
"She does?!" Nick raises his eyebrows in surprise.
"Yes!" John says enthusiastically and looks up at him "You’re even her-" John stops himself from continuing.
"Her what?”
"Forget it. It's embarrassing.”
"What, will she be upset if you tell?”
"Not if I tell *you*," John says under his breath.
"Come on! You’re just making me more curious,” Nick begs.
"We just have…" John starts. "We each have one person that it’s okay to cheat with. You are hers.”
"You're kidding me." Nick smiles wide and begins to laugh. "Now I understand why you had a problem telling me".
"Well, I have my one allowable ‘person to cheat with', too." John retorts, pleased with himself.
"Right… who’s yours?”
"What?”
"I hope it’s not one of my exes.”
"Let’s just find out who sent you the creepy email," John evades and takes Nick's laptop that from its place on the table.
"But after that you need to tell me."
"Yes, of course." John hopes Nick will just forget all about that. "I have a guy who can help us find out where the email came from." He picks up his phone, texting somebody.
"Solving murder mysteries first thing in the morning without breakfast is too much." Nick stands up. "You want something?”
"You cook?”
"Hey, I'm not just a pretty face." Nick smirks and heads to the kitchen. "Eggs? Or I can do pancakes if you want.”
"Eggs sound great," John replies, his eyes on the screen. "It will be at least a half day until he can located the sender." He closes the laptop.
Nick brings their breakfast to the living room, putting the plates on the table. After they finish, they recline on the couch comfortably. Nick takes a hit from the vaporizer and passes it to John.
"Want some?”
John looks at Nick for a moment, smiles, and takes the vaporizer from his hand, putting his lips to the glass end. They pass it between them for a while.
"Let’s play a game." Nick says eventually and looks at John. "Each of us gets to ask a question - one question at a time - and the other must answer, but only the truth."
Knowing where this is going, John sighs nervously. "Okay, fine." He looks into Nick's eyes.
Nick smiles "You go first."
"Me?" John asks surprised, pointing to himself.
"Yes, you."
"Okay… Are you no longer on Twitter? Or any other social media?"
"Okay, so..." Nick takes a long breath. "One day, some dickhead started really harassing me on Twitter, about my music and me as a person. You know, my personal life is everywhere. It was not criticism, he was just mean."
"So you ran away from Twitter?"
"It was just for a day at first, but then my agent advised me to quit it for good."
"And you listened to her?"
"Yes. She’s known me for many years. She always knows what’s good for m-" Nick stops himself from talking. "That was more than one question!" He realizes.
John starts to laugh
"You sneaky little prick!"
"It's just my profession; I can't help it, sorry."
"Well, now it's my turn," Nick declares.
"Oh no…" John puts his head back on the couch.
"And lucky you! I have just one question." He looks John right in his eyes. "Who is your one person?"
"Okay," John gives up. He raises his head "Just don’t panic."
"Dude, someone is going to murder me." Nick says, laughing a little. "I’ll save my panic for that."
"It's just a bit weird because…" John sighs heavily. "You’re my one person, too."
There’s silence between them again for a few moments.
"See I shouldn't have sa-"
John's words are intercepted by Nick's lips. After a quick, gentle kiss, just on the lips, Nick sits back up and looks at John, who is red-faced and breathing heavily.
"You want another one?" Nick whispers, the room silent except his voice and John’s panting.
"Yes…" John says in a quiet, desperate voice, biting his lower lip.
Nick leans in again for another one. This time, the kiss is firmer, more aggressive. John feels Nick's tongue and lets him in with a moan.
On the table, Nick's phone starts ringing, interrupting them.
"It's probably your agent," John says, breaking the kiss. He looks in the direction of the phone.
"I'll text her later," Nick assures John, speaking against his lips.