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Only in New York

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He can't think.

The room is filled with smoke, and it feels like there's cotton stuffed inside his skull.

Three bottles of beer can do that to you.

Nikolai opens his eyes, squinting in the bright light. His head hurts, and he raises his hand to block out the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. The smoke floating around it looks alive, like the crowds at their shows.

He closes his eyes, and he can see Julian there too, clinging to his mic stand like it's the only thing left in the world. Nikolai would probably pay money to have Julian cling to him the same way.

It's not fair, he thinks. He did everything for Julian. It isn't his fault that Julian only thought about himself.

True fairness is only allowed in fantasy, but that doesn't stop Nikolai from wanting it.

He sits up, hunching over as a wave of nausea rolls through him. The last bottle of beer he'd drunk rolls off his lap and crashes to the floor. Nikolai stares at it, the sound ringing in his ears.

"You okay?" Julian asks. He sounds bored.

"What do you think?" Nikolai snaps.

Julian scoffs. "I was- nevermind."

He holds out a mangled pack of cigarettes, like a peace offering, and Nikolai takes one. It's as crushed as the box it had come out of, and he smooths it out between his fingers. Julian offers him a lighter.

The flame is weak, but it works. Nikolai lays down, tossing the lighter back to Julian. 

The first breath steadies him more than he would have liked.

It's becoming a habit. One that he needed to address before it got worse.

Smoking.

It's like sleeping with Julian.

You might feel better for a little while, but that didn't matter once you were dealing with the consequences.

* * *

Nikolai’s alone when he opens his eyes again.

The light still hurts, but this time it’s coming from the window, lighting up the whole room, and shoving daggers of pain into his head. There’s an ashtray on the windowsill, where Julian had left it, but there’s nothing else to say he was there just a few hours ago. It’s overflowing with spent cigarette butts, all from the cheap brand they’d smoked, and it’s painful to look at.

He flings it at the trashcan.

It bounces off the rim and shatters on the floor, scattering ash and ceramic shards across the floor.

The movement makes his head hurt even worse, and he presses the palms of his hands into his eyes. He pulls the blankets over himself, curling up on his side. The pain subsides after a minute, fading into a dull ache, and he can feel tears welling up in its place.

He still couldn’t tell Julian no could he?

* * *

There’s a text from Nick hours later, waking Nikolai out of his shallow, dazed sleep.

-where are you-  

He stares at the screen, too groggy to understand what it meant.

-you weren’t at rehearsal-

“Oh, fuck.” Nikolai mutters.

-are you okay-

No.

He types a response.

-im fine-

He isn’t. He hasn’t been for a long time.

Chapter Text

“Nikolai?”

Fabrizio’s voice echoes through the apartment, drowned out by the television.

Nikolai doesn’t move.

He isn’t sure what to say. How do you tell someone, ‘Hey, sorry I couldn’t join you today. I was so miserable from fucking your best friend that I forgot.’?

“Are you there?” Fab's voice wavers and Nikolai sighs, standing up.

Fab shouldn’t have to worry about him.

As soon as the door is open, Fab grabs the edge, like he’s afraid Nikolai will shut it in his face.

He squeezes into the apartment, shutting the door behind him. There’s snow trapped in his hair, and Nikolai brushes a few flakes away, letting them fall to the floor.

Fab stares at him.

“You okay, man?”  He asks.

“I’m fine.” Nikolai says. “I just had a sore throat.” His excuse must sound unconvincing, but Fab doesn’t ask any more.

“You don’t get sick often, man.”  He says. “We were worried.”

“I’m fine.” Nikolai repeats. He feels hopeful, but he has to wonder if 'we' includes Julian.

“Okay.” Fab says. “Nick and I were going to get something to eat. You should come with us.”

"I might you get sick."

“It’ll be fine.” Fab pulls out his phone. “I’ll tell Nick you’re coming.”

He opens his phone, scrolling down to his list of contacts. “Get a coat. It’s cold.”

 

Fab is right.

It’s cold.

Even with the heavy coat he’s wearing, it feels like the air is cutting through him, driving snow against his hands and face.

It isn’t far, though, and he recognizes the restaurant as soon as Fab walks up to it. The band had celebrated their first record there. It hadn’t struck him as special, but Fab seems familiar with it, heading straight through the people inside.

Nick is at the back, and he doesn’t see them until Fab thuds into the booth, knocking his beer out of his hand.

“Miss me?”

“Of course.” Nick says, rolling his eyes.

Nikolai sits down across from them, grabbing a wad of napkins out of the dispenser to mop up the spilt liquid.

Nick hasn’t said anything to him, and that’s fine with Nikolai.

They had done enough already.

* * *

Nick shuts the door, walking into his apartment. Nikolai follows him, supporting Fab with his arm around his waist.

Fab had slipped on the ice, twisting his ankle, and Nick had half-carried him back to his apartment, only letting him go to unlock the door.

“Get him on the couch.” Nick says.

Nikolai nods. Fab hisses with pain as he sits down, leaning back into the cushions. He’d said it didn’t feel serious, but now Nikolai wasn’t sure how truthful he was being.

Nick comes out of the kitchen, holding a bag of ice and a few bottles of beer. He pushes Fab over so he can sit down, handing him the ice.

“Are you going to be okay tomorrow?” Nick asks.

“I can still play.” Fab says.

Nick nods. “Oh, yeah, Julian’s bringing something new tomorrow,” He says to Nikolai, handing him one of the bottles of beer.

Nikolai sighs.

Julian.

It would get easier.

It always did.

But he didn’t feel like he could bear it right now. It felt like the guilt would always be there, hanging over him for the rest of his life.

He takes the beer from Nick. “Thanks.”

He shouldn’t be here.

Chapter Text

By three, Nikolai is the only one awake.

He stands up, easing his coat out from under Fab's head. Nick is asleep on the floor, his head resting by Fab's shoulder. Nikolai steps over him, feeling his leg shake from exhaustion.

He'd have to wait to sleep.

Right now, he just wants to leave.

The door is only a few feet away, but it feels like miles once he starts walking.

Fab sighs, and Nikolai freezes.

"Nikolai?" Fab whispers. "Are you leaving?"

"Yeah." Nikolai whispers back, hoping that Fab can't hear how tired his voice is. "I'll see you at rehearsal, okay?"

Silence.

Nikolai pulls the door open, stepping past it out of the apartment. Just as he's about to close it, Fab speaks up again.

"Okay."

Nikolai knows he can't see his nod, but he feels better all the same.

Once he's outside, he can breathe, the cold air burning in his lungs.

The snow glitters, kicking up into powder as he walks. It makes everything quiet, even in the middle of this gigantic city he called home.

His apartment is empty when he turns the light on.

Nikolai isn't sure what he expected.

 

Albert is already at the studio when Nikolai gets there.

“Hey, man.”

“You’re early.” Nikolai says.

Albert grins. “You are too.”

“Yeah.” Nikolai opens his guitar case, picking up his bass.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Lying through his teeth.

Albert hands him an extension cord for his amp, and he plugs it in.

“Tuner?”

“Thanks.”

Nick and Fab are next, and Albert takes one look at Fab, whose ankle is wrapped in a bandage, and grabs him, hauling him into the studio.

“What did you do, man?” He helps Fab sit down. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Fab says. “It’s not my hand this time.”

“When it was your hand, you could walk.” Nick shoots across the studio.

Fab sticks his tongue out at him, making Nick roll his eyes. He stands up, walking over to help Fab. Nikolai joins him, dragging one of the amps over to where Fab is sitting.

Julian is late.

He wanders in twenty minutes after start time, tossing a beat up notebook onto the coffee table and flopping on the sofa. Letting his arms hang limp by his sides, he leans back, not looking even once in Nikolai’s direction.

Nikolai sighs, turning back to Fab.

“It’s okay.” Fab mutters, resting his hand on Nikolai’s shoulder.

Nikolai can’t move.

Fab knows.

“Nikolai?”

“It’s nothing.” Nikolai whispers.

Fab’s hand slips off his shoulder, and Nikolai looks up. Fab meets his eyes, his expression so concerned it hurts.

“We’re starting,” He says after a moment, his voice so soft Nikolai can barely hear it.

He nods, standing up.

“Nikolai? I-“

“We need to start.” Nick calls, interrupting Fab, who sighs, picking up his drumsticks.

Nikolai picks up his bass, looking across the room at Julian. Their eyes meet, and Nikolai jerks away, closing his eyes and letting his hands play for him.

He can hear Julian, his voice breaking as he sings. The room echoes with it, rasping off the walls like sandpaper.

There’s a pause, and Nikolai opens his eyes.

Julian has grabbed his notebook from the table, and he’s pulling one of the spare guitars out of its case. Nikolai steps back to watch.

“Nikolai?” Fab says. “Could you help me outside?” He’s holding a pack of cigarettes, and Nikolai nods, setting down his bass.

Fab hooks his arm around Nikolai’s shoulder, sticking the box in his pocket.

Sitting on the steps outside, Fab look up at the buildings around them, the smoke from his cigarette blocking Nikolai’s view of his face.

He takes a cigarette out of his own pack, lighting it.

“Are you alright?” Fab asks, dragging his attention over.

“Yeah,” Nikolai says.

Fab breathes out, the smoke hiding his face again. “It's not like you.”

“I’ll be fine.”

They sit in silence on the stairs for a few minutes

Fab nods.

Behind them, the door opens, and Nick peers out, squinting at them.

“We’re ready.” He says.

Fab grabs the railing next to him, getting to his feet. He hops up the steps, and Nick grabs his wrist, pulling him through the door.

Nikolai drops his cigarette, crushing with his heel. The studio seems dark after the sunlight outside, and it only solidifies his foul mood.

The whole room is tense, the silent arguments finally reaching a boiling point. It’s hard to play, and even Fab is irritable, snapping at Nick for knocking one of his cymbals over.

 

Julian quits fifteen minutes later.

“We’re done,” He snaps, running a hand through his hair. It sticks up where he pushed it back, like some strange, alien antenna, and Nikolai almost laughs at him.

Nick protests, but Nikolai ignores him. He takes a step back, leaning against the wall next to Fab, who reaches out to touch his arm again, holding onto his wrist. His hand is warm and comforting, and Nikolai focuses on it, ignoring the shouting match in the center of the room.

Fab looks at him, smiling. Nikolai doesn’t know how much Fab understands, but he smiles back, feeling Fab squeeze gently.

Then he’s gone.

Albert comes to stand next to them, and it’s all Nikolai can do to stop himself from grabbing Fab’s hand as he lets go.

He’s never felt this alone.




Chapter Text

Five weeks.

It's been five weeks. Nikolai rests his head on the arm of the couch, his back turned against the sunlight streaming through the window.

He misses Julian.

It's taken him this long to admit it.

He raises his head as his phone rings from its new place on the floor, but he doesn't pick it up. The recording starts, and Albert's voice crackles through the apartment.

"Hey, Nikolai." Nikolai doesn't move. "It's Albert. Are you there?"

Nikolai raises his head as Albert keeps talking. It’s better to face it head-on.

Albert's voice cuts off as he hits the talk button.

"Hello?" His own voice is rough, catching in his throat like sandpaper.

"Nikolai?"

“Yeah.” Albert sighs.

"How are you?" It's courtesy.

Nikolai stands up, pacing back and forth through his apartment.

"I'm fine." Albert says. "I wanted to check on you. We've missed you at rehearsal."

"I know, I'm sorry." Nikolai says. He can't think of an excuse.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine."

Albert doesn't respond, and Nikolai hears him talking to someone, Julian, his hand muffling the speaker. He hangs up.

Outside, the sun has risen past the window, and he sits down again, watching the street outside. The snow is gray from the salt used to clear the streets, but there's a fine layer of white over the drifts.

From beside him, his phone rings. It's Albert again. He picks it up this time.

"Nikolai?" He freezes.

"Julian?"

"Where are you?"

"Why do you want to know?" Nikolai snaps. Julian sounds as tired as he is, and it's like someone's rubbed salt in a wound when he realizes he's worried. He grips the couch cushion in his empty hand, steadying himself.

"I don't know."

"Don't ask, then." Nikolai says.

"I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" His voice is louder than he expected. "Now you're- Do you know how many fucking times you should have said you were sorry?" He twists the chunk of fabric in his hand as hard as he can, feeling his fingers aching.

"Think about it." He says. "Then you can tell me if you're sorry."

Julian is silent.

"Okay." He says, after a minute. His voice is soft, softer than Nikolai had heard for months.

Nikolai hates it.

He hates how that was all it took.

He hangs up on Julian, before he has the chance to say anything else. Setting the phone down, he turns his attention to his hand, rubbing his thumb over his palm. It's sore from the grip he had on the couch, the skin red.

His coat is in the closet. Nikolai grabs it without thinking, pulling it on and striding out the door.

 

The cold hasn't released its hold on the city, and it digs into his chest, squeezing his lungs and grating against his ribs. It isn't enough to make him turn back, though, and he walks down the street, keeping his eyes on the sidewalk.

There aren't many other people. It's strange, for noon on a weekday, but it isn't unwelcome.

Closer to the center of the city, Nikolai can hear the subway, a dull rumble underneath him. He walks down the steps into the metro, fishing his card out of his pocket.

The train he plans on taking is about to leave, and he slips between the doors just as they close.

He can't focus on anything for too long, the movement of the car beneath him only making it worse. There are seats free, but Nikolai stays where he is, not trusting his legs to get him across the few feet to the nearest one.

As they near the center of Manhattan, Nikolai gets off, pushing through the crowds to climb up the stairs. He stops at the edge of the street.

Nikolai isn't sure why he's here. If it's a distraction, it isn't working.

 

'Do you know how many fucking times you should have said you were sorry?'

He wonders if Julian knows.

Nikolai doesn't.

It never mattered before.

Chapter Text


"Are you asleep?"

Light from the freeway floods through the room, catching on the edges of Julian's face. Thin wisps of smoke trail from the cigarette in his hand, floating through the doorway behind him.

The clock reads two fifty in the morning.

Nikolai rolls on his side, pushing his hair away from his face. He meets Julian's eyes as he takes a drag from his cigarette, the tip glowing orange. It flickers, making Julian's eyes glitter in the dark.

Julian breathes out, smoke sliding up from his lips.

"Were you sleeping?" He asks.

"Doesn't matter." Nikolai whispers. He sits up, rubbing his eyes and letting the sheets pool around his waist. "Why're you up?"

"Couldn't sleep." Julian flicks the ashes off the tip of his cigarette, and they fall to the carpet like snow.

"Come here." Nikolai pats the mattress next to him.

Julian takes a step into the room, grinding out his cigarette in the ashtray on the dresser. He leans against the edge of the bed, and presses their lips together. Nikolai sighs, and Julian pushes forward to bite his bottom lip.

He tastes like smoke.

Nikolai slides his hand over Julian's shoulder when he sits down. He keeps his touch light, just enough to feel. Julian leans back into his hands, letting Nikolai guide him. 

Julian rests his chin on Nikolai's shoulder, huffing out a deep breath.

They don't ask questions.

They never do. 

It's enough for them to wake up in the morning and leave with nothing said. Tomorrow will be another show, another time.

That's all they need. 

Nikolai slides his hand down Julian's back, pressing the tips of his fingers in the dips of his spine. The rise and fall of Julian's breath is steady under his palm. 

When Julian turns his head, his eyelashes brush across Nikolai's cheek. It tickles, and Julian laughs softly as Nikolai pushes him back. The sound is a deep rumble in his chest when he grabs Nikolai's shoulders to steady himself.

It's nice.

Nikolai leans back, taking Julian with him. It's humid in the room, the air conditioner doing little to keep out LA's August air. It falls over them like a blanket, like water. 

"Go to sleep." Julian mutters, pressing his face into Nikolai's chest. Nikolai wraps his arms around Julian's back, watching the freeway outside the window. 

It's three thirty in the morning when Nikolai falls asleep. In a few hours, they'll leave this city behind them. 

They still won't ask questions.

* * *

In another city, in another time, Nikolai sits up, looking out across the city.

He's been dreaming.