Fans outside of the bus were still cheering, even as the engine rumbled to life and they pulled out onto the highway. James put a hand on the little table to steady himself and fixed Frank with a look he wore often, quietly pleased and immeasurably fond.
“Frankie…” James said, drawing the second syllable out like he did when he wanted something. “Frankie, come on.”
Frank leaned into his warmth. It was funny how well they fit, hot and cold, tall and short, gentle and harsh. Frank thought James was probably the good half of all the wholes they made together, and on any other day he’d let himself feel guilty about it, but here, now… James closed Frank into the circle of his arms and pressed his cheek against the top of Frank’s sweaty head and Frank could feel his smile even if he couldn’t see it.
This was what he needed. The tour, the two of them making time to make themselves happy, to take care of one another… James did so much for him.
“What do you want?” Frank asked, muffled by James’s shoulder.
It was a trick question. Frank couldn’t remember the last time they hadn’t both known. James twisted around to kiss Frank, and the taste of him made Frank crave a cigarette like it always did, but – like it always did – more than that it made him crave James.
Frank pressed back, put his arms around James’s waist, leaned up into him. It was a relief to have this. They had been so many things to one another and it still made Frank’s heart flutter to remember himself, seventeen years old listening to Something to Write Home About and hoping he’d ever make something that good, or play with people so talented. And James had fallen into his life a few years later, wearing girls’ shorts and nothing else, and Frank had been starstruck, then and sometimes even now. The fact that James even associated with him, that James was his best friend, still got to him.
Instead of all that he said “You smell like armpit,” because it was true, and James laughed into his mouth and Frank tried to catch the sound on his tongue. They had the bus to themselves – perks of being a two-man band with no crew – and Frank let himself linger over James a little bit more than he used to. That was part of getting older, he thought. He was eternally charmed by the gray that threaded James’s hair these days, and he carded his fingers through it at every opportunity. They spent more nights stretched out beside each other with a movie on, James kissing the back of Frank’s neck when he felt so inclined.
They spent some nights doing other things. They weren’t so old, the two of them, after all.
James’s big, elegant hand cupped Frank’s jaw, and the other pulled him close by the waist, and they stood together in the pose of a romance novel frontispiece. It was too much; it wasn’t nearly enough. Frank got his hands on James’s shoulders and pulled at him, not entirely sure what he wanted but trusting that James would know, and of course he did. He tugged Frank up and wrapped both arms around his waist, lifting him, carrying him back to their bed and making Frank feel decidedly dainty.
He dropped Frank down on the bed they hadn’t bothered to make once since tour started, and they occupied themselves much the same way they had for the last ten years.
There was nothing like wheels on the road.
James slept sporadically and at odd intervals, and it was rare for Frank to find himself awake when James wasn’t, but here he was. James was sprawled against his side, one long arm thrown across Frank’s waist. The curve of his stomach pushed against Frank’s hip, his leg tangled with Frank’s under the sheets. It wasn’t that he was beautiful, really, but something about this careless intimacy started up an ache in Frank’s chest that reminded him of how he felt when he heard beautiful music, or looked at some triumph of architecture. He was awed and dwarfed by it.
The bus hit a pothole and it jostled them just enough that James made a discontented noise and flexed against Frank. They wordlessly repositioned, closer together, nose to nose. James blinked his eyes open and met Frank’s gaze for a long moment.
They had started this project years ago, both desperate for something different, something more and yet something they could do together. Every loose thread from that impossibly difficult time had wound up and woven them this record, this tour, this moment of peace alone together. Frank put his hand out and used his first knuckles to stroke James’s cheek, then the badger-grey patches that streaked his beard. He knew James wouldn’t get back to sleep for a long time, but he felt himself growing drowsy with the movement of the bus.
“Y’kay?” he asked around a yawn.
James hummed a little noise that sounded affirmative, and wormed his arms around Frank to pull him closer. He was so warm the way Frank was so cold: in the summertime they looked like they’d been cut and pasted into the same picture, James in shorts and a t-shirt, sweating, and Frank bundled into a cardigan still looking pale. Frank pressed his cool hands against James’s chest.
The feeling of being in motion dragged at Frank. James kissed his brow and idly stroked the back of his neck, two things which he knew settled Frank immediately, wherever he was. Frank squirmed down, pushed his face against James’s shoulder, and let sleep overtake him.