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Three is a crowd (but not if you ask Cooper Cronk)

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Cooper leans his head on the window and watches the world pass by. Billy is sitting next to him, head phones covering his ears, tuning the world out. Cooper doesn't begrudge him this moment of peace. It has been a dramatic few weeks and they're only now starting to calm down. He sighs and twists the ring on his finger absently. The matching ring on Billy's hand flashes silver in the dim light of the bus. But Cooper's mind is on the owner of the third ring hanging on a chain around Billy's neck.
Life has given him many things. Good and bad. He will always take the bad if it means he gets the good. There is nothing in this world that can make him regret the life he's lived even if it has been one that he never would have guessed at five years ago.


"You fucking moron!" Cooper yells, uncaring that all eyes in the vicinity turns towards them.

Johnathan cringes and even Billy flinches a little.

"Coop," Billy tries to placate a very angry Cooper Cronk, who is red in the face from the Italian heat and anger. Anger that had not many minutes ago been fear.

"What the fuck were you thinking? We thought you'd gotten kidnapped or gotten mugged in some alley! And why isn't your goddamn phone working?"

"I'm sorry, Cooper," Johnathan's voice is so small in the face of Cooper's anger, "there were all these people and I just lost sight of you. I'm sorry."

Cooper continues to glare and Billy gently touches shoulders with him.

"Come on, Coops," he says softly.


Cooper turns on his heel and walks away.


There had been tears in Johnathan's eyes that day. He had brought tears to those beautiful eyes. And he'd carelessly dismissed the fact that the sight broke his heart. Because he didn't understand why it should. He'd walked away and when he looked back Billy had Johnathan in his arms, whispering words that Cooper had been too far away to hear.
That should have told him. He should have understood. But he'd been too angry at Johnathan to see. His anger. The intensity of it should have given it away. They say love is blind and it takes him a while to figure out he is the blindest person in history.


"Billy, what-" Cooper pulls Johnathan back in time to avoid colliding with a blond haired guy in a red cap speeding past them, obviously chasing after someone.

He squints at the guy.

"He looks familiar or am I imagining this?" Billy asks, coming to stand alongside him while the blond in the red cap shouts.

"Come on, bruz!"

Whoever 'bruz' is, a tall, dark and probably handsome if Cooper could guess by looking at his retreating back, seems oblivious to the drama his friend is causing.

"Isn't that-" Billy starts but Cooper whacks him on the back of the head.

"None of our business," Cooper says but remains staring after the duo as well.

The blond finally catches up with his objective and they watch him pleading with his friend.

"Guys come on," Johnathan says but halts when the blond suddenly pulls his 'bruz' forward and kisses him. Cooper grabs Billy and Johnathan, both gaping at the pair, and hauls them away.


He is looking out at the Colosseum arena, when he feels someone lean in to him from behind. He knows immediately who it is.

"What are you thinking?" Johnathan asks, standing so close that his chest is touching Cooper's back.

"So many people died here," Cooper says quietly.

"If I had to die, I'd like to go out like that," Johnathan says thoughtfully.

Cooper turns his head to look at him, Johnathan's long hair brushing against his face as he does.

"A slave?" he asks confused. Johnathan smiles and Cooper turns back to the arena before he is blinded.

"A warrior, die fighting."

"No peaceful death of old age for you then," Cooper says lightly, trying to counter the seriousness in Johnathan's voice. He feels Johnathan’s hands on his waist as he leans closer and he can feel his heart beat against his back.

"Maybe if you're there," Johnathan’s voice is so quiet that if they were not standing so close, he would never have caught it.
Cooper turns around and Johnathan steps back. Cooper misses the warmth immediately.


Johnathan leans closer, hand reaching up to trail gentle fingers down Cooper's face. Cooper stays still like a deer caught in headlights because he's never known anyone who makes the rest of the world disappear like Johnathan.

"I'd die happy if you were with me," Johnathan says. Then he leans forward, giving Cooper every chance to step back.

Cooper doesn't and when Johnathan's lips finally touch his', he realises that this has been inevitable for a long time. He steps closer, a hand in Johnathan's dark hair and he can't see it but he knows Johnathan is smiling.
They're going home tomorrow and Cooper isn't sure where this would go. Because back home life wouldn't be so simple, the freedom they have here where he can kiss this beautiful boy in the middle of a thousand people, is not something they'd ever have. But this is nice. And he wants this. He would hold on as long as he can.


They find Billy with the camera in his hands.

"Recorded everything?" Cooper asks, looking over Billy's shoulder at the photos. Johnathan flanks Billy on the other side and grins back when Cooper smiles at him.

"Yep," Billy answers with a grin.

"Hey! Why aren't we in any of these photos?" Johnathan asks, flicking through Billy's photos*.

"Why would I need photos of you when I have you with me always?" Billy asks, voice genuinely curious. Cooper ruffles his hair fondly.

"Got a point there, Bills."


They get to the Mona Lisa in record time. And really, it's not like they came here for anything else. There is an incredible number of people gathered around the painting, talking, listening to their guides and generally just not moving along. All standing between Billy and his painting. Billy's face falls as he stares at the sea of people. Cooper sighs. The only reason they are here at the Louvre is because Billy loves the Da Vinci Code and wanted to see the painting that figured so prominently in the film.

"I'll never get close," Billy mourns as Johnathan pats him on the back sympathetically.

Cooper sighs again.

"You really want to see this painting?" he asks.

Billy nods with a tentative smile, knowing that Cooper wouldn't ask if he doesn't have a plan.

"Alright," Cooper says and takes Billy's hand, then looks at Johnathan.

"Stand right there. Don't move. Don't talk to anyone. Don't even look at anyone. Stay here until we came back, alright?"

Johnathan nods, face determined and serious.

Cooper holds his eyes for a moment before nodding in satisfaction. He tightens his hold on Billy's hand and starts weaving a path towards the painting. It's a path not so much woven but achieved through making a beeline straight to the painting by stepping on people's toes and basically pushing people out of the way.
They get to the front, leaving behind a chorus of annoyed voices.
There is a tour group gathered straight infront of the painting. They push right past the guide who exclaims "Excuse me!" in a scandalised French accent.

Cooper raises an eyebrow at him.

"The painting belongs to you?" he asks.

"N-no," the guide replies, still scandalised.

"Then move on man, other people want to see it too!"

The guide glowers, Cooper grins and turns to Billy, gazing at the Mona Lisa in adoration. The tour group moves away, the vacant space quickly taken up by another group.

Johnathan is standing exactly where they left him when they come back. He beams at them and Billy laughs and jumps in to his arms.

"Coops was brilliant!" Billy gushes and Johnathan grins at him and then smiles at Cooper, who shakes his head with a laugh, determinedly ignoring his rapidly beating heart. He walks on and is soon joined by Billy and Johnathan on either side of him. He smiles to himself and they ignore the rest of the Louvre and head in search of lunch.


Cooper comes back to find Billy asleep with his head on Johnathan's lap. They have a five hour lay over in Dubai and Billy hates sleeping on flights. So here he is, dead to the world, curled towards Johnathan's body while Johnathan gently pats his hair. Cooper drops down next to them and Johnathan smiles at him.

"Didn't get lost?"

Cooper smirks.

"Who was it that read the maps, the whole time in Europe?"

Johnathan grins, "You."

Cooper sighs and leans his head on Johnathan's shoulder, who wraps his free arm around him.

"Go to sleep, I'll wake you up," Johnathan whispers softly. Cooper smiles to himself and closes his eyes. He thinks he feels Johnathan's lips in his hair but he is not sure. He doesn't realise he'd fallen asleep until Johnathan gently shakes him awake. Billy is already awake, rubbing the creases from his face. He smiles at Cooper.

"Sleep well?" Billy asks.

Cooper grins and looks over at Johnathan, who's rolling his shoulders.

"I had a very good pillow."

Johnathan laughs.

"I can't feel my legs or my shoulder," he complains good naturedly.

"You offered man!" Billy laughs and holds out a hand to pull him up.

Johnathan grins at him and then looks at Cooper, who rolls his eyes but holds out a hand anyway. Johnathan grips both their hands and gets up, a huge smile on his face. They grab their bags and head for their gate. Johnathan throws his arms around both their shoulders as they walk. If it was anyone else, Cooper would throw it off. But he knows the face Johnathan would make if he does, so he lets it be, letting himself go as far as admitting that this is something he could get used to.

Johnathan falls asleep as soon as they take off, head rolling to rest on Cooper's shoulder. Billy covers him with the complementary blanket and smiles at Cooper over Johnathan's sleeping head.

"How does he manage when we're not around?" Cooper asks.

Billy's eyes are fond as they turn to Johnathan.

"I guess we'll have to stick around."


Johnathan actually keens when Cooper enters him. Keens. Whole body tensing as Cooper slowly fills him. Cooper is also breathless but Johnathan doesn’t need to know that. He draws a finger down Johnathan's back between the wings and over the scratch marks already there.
Left by someone else.
Cooper tries not to think about that. He knows nothing is exclusive. Especially when it comes to Johnathan. He would never be the first. Or the last. But this is Johnathan and he would take what he can get. But Johnathan doesn't need to know that either.
He thrusts, excruciatingly slow.

"Please…" Johnathan begs.

"Please what?" Cooper asks sweetly, pausing even his slow movement.

"Please. Please. Please Cooper, don't stop!"

Cooper grins and takes pity. He ignores the signs that say that someone else has been here. Because he is here now and Johnathan is his'. He bites Johnathan's shoulder when he comes and draws blood. He kisses Johnathan with blood on his lips. Johnathan would let him do anything. He knows that and it makes him want to protect this fool who would trust anyone. And let anyone break his heart.


Cooper steps out of Johnathan's reach.


Johnathan's face falls and it hurts for the barest of moments before he shoves it back.

"Cooper?" Johnathan's voice is so tentative like a child asking for something he knows he cannot have.

"Go back to whoever left those fucking marks on your neck. I'm done!" he buttons up his shirt as he walks towards the door. But then Johnathan is standing in his way. Shirtless and beautiful and Cooper could love him if it wasn't for the bite marks blatant on his neck.

"Don't go," Johnathan begs, "Please."

It's those damned eyes but Cooper can't let himself be swayed by them anymore.

"Why? Are you going to leave him for me?"

"It's Billy!" Johnathan says abruptly.

Cooper freezes, eyes widening. And realises he's been such a fool.

"How could you- why would you-" he can't even find the words. Because Billy is his best friend. Johnathan knows that.

"I love him," the declaration comes just as Cooper decides to punch Johnathan in the face. He punches him anyway. Johnathan reels back, hand rushing to his face. There is blood dripping from his split lip. The hurt in Johnathan's eyes is exactly what Cooper expected. But it hurts anyway.

"I thought you were so much better than this. But I guess I judged you all wrong," Cooper makes for the door. Johnathan is watching him, all bloody and in tears.

"I love you too."

Cooper leaves.


He should have known. Because Johnathan is who he is and he is the most sincere person Cooper knows. And he falls in love. He should have known about the other man. Should have known Johnathan loved him. Should have realised Johnathan would never be with anyone he doesn't love. When realisation hits, it's too late. He's already broken Johnathan's heart.


Billy takes his face in both hands.

"I've loved you for so long," he says, kissing his lips, "I love you."

Cooper feels tears threatening and kisses Billy to avoid crying.

"We always seem to take the long way around, don't we?" he says afterwards.

Billy smiles, still so close.

"Makes this all the better, love."


"Why didn't you tell me?" Cooper asks, standing in the rain.

Johnathan looks at him with wide, surprised eyes.


Cooper takes a step closer.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks again.

"I was scared," Johnathan says, stepping out in to the rain.

"Of what?" Cooper asks. Except that he knows. He knows why Johnathan had been afraid.

"Losing you," Johnathan answers anyway. Cooper feels his heart clench. Johnathan had been right to be afraid. Cooper had reacted exactly like he thought he would.

Cooper steps closer. Johnathan stands still, waiting.

Cooper reaches out a hand and pushes Johnathan back under the awning and follows him in.

"I'm sorry," he says, "I'm sorry I hurt you."

Johnathan catches his hand and holds on.

"Don't leave," Johnathan pleads.

Cooper draws closer. All the time apart finally getting to him.

"I won't."

Johnathan smiles, bright and beautiful. Cooper kisses him, mind flooding with memories and knows he's made the right decision.


Surprises aren't really his strongpoint. He likes to know what's coming, likes to be ready. He thinks he knows himself very well, knows how he would react to situations. And the rare times when things throw him off are the rare times he loses control.
So when he realised that the only way forward is to admit he's undeniably and irreversibly in love with his two best friends, he loses it a little.
Because this isn't something he'd ever seen himself doing. He had his life planned out so well and then these two idiots come along with their stupid hair and lovely eyes.
That they both love him back is something he can't ever begin to understand.


Billy slips the blindfold off and Johnathan's dark eyes fix on him immediately.

"Hi," Billy whispers wonderingly. Johnathan smiles, his bound hands straining in an effort to reach Billy. Billy kisses him and Johnathan arches in to it.

Cooper watches Billy slowly making his way down Johnathan's body, kissing and nipping and stroking. Cooper feels his breath catch as Johnathan reacts with incredible sounds that Cooper himself had drawn out of him not so long before.

Johnathan had flown down to Melbourne after the Cowboys played the Raiders in Canberra. They haven't seen each other in weeks and it's difficult, especially for Johnathan, to be away for so long. So Cooper and Billy had decided to give Johnathan a night to remember before he flies back home tomorrow.
So Cooper lets Billy have Johnathan and joins them on the bed afterwards. They fall asleep in each other's arms and it is more perfection than anything Cooper has ever known in his life.


Cooper wakes up suddenly. It is early morning. He isn't sure what woke him and can't remember his dreams. There is movement to his right as Johnathan shifts closer in his sleep and Cooper tightens his arm around him. He feels Billy behind his back, warm and still. He smiles to himself, kisses Johnathan's shoulder and falls back in to sleep.


They stare at each other. Billy leaning on a floatie, illuminated by the light reflected off the pool from the garden lights. Cooper leans back against the corner of the pool and waits. Billy pushes the floatie back and makes his way to Cooper, who resists the urge to smirk. Billy's hair is wet, sticking to his forehead in streaks. Billy comes close enough to corner Cooper against the wall. The pool at this end is shallow enough that they can stand and Billy takes a final step closer so that if he moves, he would be sharing Cooper's space. Cooper places a hand on Billy's chest, trailing it lower until it reaches Billy's waist and pulls him that one inch closer. Billy smiles and Cooper kisses him. They have never needed words. Cooper has loved Billy always.


"I shouldn't have yelled at him," Cooper says and Billy looks at him in surprise.

"You still remember that?"

Cooper turns his head and looks at Billy.

"I never forgot and I never forgave myself," he trails off, looking away.

"He never blamed you," Billy says.

"There were tears in his eyes and I… I acted like I didn't care."

"He was upset because you were upset, because he thought you were disappointed in him."

Cooper reaches out and takes Billy's hand.

"I was so scared. If anything had happened…" he smiles, "Obviously, I was still in denial."

Billy grins.

"I know. You only get so emotional if something really matters to you. But I have to admit," Billy kisses Cooper lightly on the lips, "you almost had me fooled when you left."

"I just… needed time to figure a few things out."

"Like how you were in love with two guys?" Billy asks with a small smirk.

"Like how the two of you loved me back," Cooper says touching Billy's face with gentle fingers, "I love you."


Cooper helps Billy with the bags. They've reached their final destination. Their lives at the Melbourne Storm had come to an end and it was time for them to come home. Cooper wouldn't mind not going through another winter ever again. The bus leaves and they see the Ute parked on the other side of the road. Billy gives a small cry and rushes forward, dropping the bags in the process. Cooper sighs and leans down to pick them up as Billy throws himself in to the arms of the waiting man.
Cooper straightens to find Johnathan's arms tight around Billy but his eyes fixed on him. He looks beautiful. Like he always does. His Johnathan. Their Johnathan.

"Hi," he mouths with a smile.

Johnathan grins, kisses Billy's hair and says something to Billy Cooper can't hear but makes Billy loosen his grip on Johnathan. They cross the road to him and Billy takes back his bags while Johnathan reaches to take Cooper's own bags.

"Missed you," Johnathan says, slinging the bags around his shoulders. Cooper kisses him.

"Not going anywhere."

This is the life he's chosen. And he wouldn't trade it for anything.

The End.