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And Our Lives Are Forever Changed

Band(s): Panic at the Disco
Pairing(s): Jon/Cassie, Jon/Brendon
Word Count: 21,015
Rating: PG-13
Author Notes: This is an AU where Jon Walker doesn't join Panic at the Disco. It started off as a different fic and then sort of evolved (many times) and became what it is. I have to thank [livejournal.com profile] torturemysoul and [livejournal.com profile] floridapeaches for betaing it and putting up with my craziness over this thing. Also, thanks to [livejournal.com profile] lexicon for giving me a third pair of eyes when I flailed at her on June 4th at like 11:30PM because I felt like I needed it. I feel like this fic wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for them. Also, thanks to anyone else who listened to me whine about this fic and didn't slap me for it. (True fact: Matt Cortez was a tech for Panic for a little while. The rest I made up.)
Summary: The day after Jon is offered the chance to go out on tour with Panic Cassie tells him she's pregnant.

Jon isn't sure what to expect when Brendon, Spencer and Ryan drag him out of bed at an ungodly hour of the morning and take him for coffee, but hey, free coffee is free coffee, so he doesn't question it.

They sit across from him, squished together on a sofa in the back corner of a Starbucks. Ryan-Spencer-Brendon. It's strange how he always feels like such an outsider around them but feels like he belongs all the same.

"So, we were thinking," Brendon says but stops, looking at Spencer. He's nervous about something. Jon remembers when they called him up and asked him to help out with a few shows. Brendon was the same then, saying a few words and then passing the phone to Spencer. Spencer is much better at this sort of thing. He wonders if they've found someone more permanent and now he's out too. Not that he was ever really in to begin with. It was just a couple of shows. Just temporary.

"Jon," Spencer says, "you've been really great to help us out--" and Jon knows that it's coming, the ultimate, 'it's been great, have a nice life,' and he's actually not sure he can handle it, not with this band, even if he knew going in that this is how it was going to be "--So, we were wondering, the three of us, if maybe you would want to, I don't know, come on this tour with us. We can see if it works out, if this could be permanent."

Jon had played this conversation out in his head, and this was never where he saw it going. He's a little in shock, maybe can't really think of what to say, except that yes is totally and completely his answer.

"We wouldn't have to make it permanent right away," Brendon says, "just, you know, see how it--"

"Yes," Jon says. He doesn't really need any convincing. This is what he wants, to be in a band, to be in this band, with these guys. It's all he wants.

Brendon is the first one to jump off the sofa and pull Jon up into a hug. Spencer and Ryan follow.


Jon flies back to Chicago that night. He goes home, throws his things down in his old bedroom, plays with Dylan and then goes to see Cassie. He wants her to be the first to know. If there's anyone who wants him to make it in a band, to be successful and get to do this thing he's always wanted to do as much as he does, it's Cassie. He knows she'll be thrilled for him, maybe as thrilled as he is.

He bounces on the balls of his feet as he waits for her to answer the door. It feels like forever before she's there, smiling at him and letting him pull her into a big hug.

"Cassie, I have to tell you something." He's trying to keep himself from smiling too big and giving himself away, but he can't help it. He's pretty ecstatic.

"Jon, yeah, me too." Jon catches something in her voice. She doesn't seem happy to see him, not as much as usual. He doesn't let it bother him though. He's too happy with his life right now to worry about something that might be nothing.

They go into the house and up to her room. With the dorms closed, she's at home with her parents for the summer

"So, what did you have to tell me?" She says, sitting down on her bed.

"You go first," Jon says. Maybe if it's bad he should hear it before he starts gushing at her and making a fool of himself.

"No," she says, smiling. "You."

"Okay. So, these guys, the ones I've been helping out, they need someone permanent, and they asked me, Cass. They want me to join their band and go on tour with them in a week. I'm going to be in a band again." Jon is grinning again without really thinking about it. He knows it's technically only temporary, but he can't imagine any scenario wherein he wouldn't want to join this band for good.

"Oh, that's great, Jon." Cassie smiles.

"Yeah, it is. Now," He says, "Your turn." He's still grinning at her.

"Jon," she says. She starts to say more but seems to think better off it and waves a hand in the air. "Maybe later."

Jon's grin falls into a much smaller smile, and he sits next to her on the bed, putting an arm around her. "Whatever it is, Cass. Tell me."

"Jon," she says, her voice in a low whisper, "I don't want to-- You're happy. You have everything you've always wanted."

"I do," he says, grinning a little again. "And that includes you, so whatever it is, tell me."

"Jon," Cassie says. "I'm pregnant."

Jon's first instinct is to laugh because Cassie is obviously joking. There's no way she can actually be pregnant.

He manages out a nervous chuckle before he realizes that she's not laughing. She looks kind of worried, even. Then Jon thinks that if she's not kidding, he obviously misheard her. Lots of things sound like 'pregnant.'

"Jon, are you okay?" Cassie bites her lip. "I know it's kind of-"

"No, I'm fine," Jon says. "Are you sure? I mean, maybe you did the test wrong. Have you actually seen a doctor?"

"Jon, I'm sure. I wouldn't be telling you this now if I wasn't sure," Cassie says, frowning. "I'm sorry."

"No, don't apologize. It's not your fault." Jon wishes he could blame her, but he can't. "I guess I need to call Spencer." Jon thinks Spencer is the one most likely to understand.

"You don't have to do that. I'll understand if you still want to go," Cassie says. "I don't want you to resent me later because you didn't do this."

"No," Jon says. "I'll stay." It's the hardest decision Jon thinks he'll ever have to make, choosing Cassie over something he's always wanted, but he doesn't really feel like he has a choice. He shouldn't leave her for them, so he won't.

"Jon-" Cassie starts to argue, but he stops her.

"I'll call them tomorrow," he says, pulling her in tightly.

"Jon, don't do that," Cassie says, sighing.

"I'm not giving up anything, Cass." It's a lie, and it's not easy for him to say.

It feels like he's losing something that could be important, but he's losing it before it was ever really his, and this is much more important than any band could ever be.


Jon wakes up in Cassie's bed, curled up with her in the same clothes he was wearing the night before. They hadn't spent the night talking or crying or anything as dramatic as that. They'd just fallen asleep. They don't have a lot to talk about. There was never any question as to what they'd do.

Back before Jon left to go on tour with the Academy, they'd talked about getting married and having kids some day. In theory, someday would have been really far in the future, after college and jobs and fun. Neither of them expected that it would be now, but that's the way it happened, and there's nothing they can do about it.

He slips away from her, careful not to wake her up and goes into the hallway to pull out his phone. He doesn't call Brendon. He can't risk it. If he has to hear Brendon's voice break he won't be able to go through with this, and he has to go through with this. He doesn't call Ryan because Ryan will try to change his mind. He calls Spencer. Spencer is the most sensible. Spencer will understand.

"Jon, hey," Spencer says. Jon can hear the smile in his voice. He tries not to be sad about that.

"Spencer, I need to talk to you. Are the other guys there?" He hopes the answer to that question is no. He doesn't want to talk to the other guys. That's why he called Spencer in the first place.

"Ryan's still sleeping. Brendon is here though," Spencer says. "Hey, Brendon, Jon's on the phone."

Jon wants to plead with Spencer to just leave the room but he hears Brendon say, "Hey, Jon!" and Spencer says, "Hold on, let me put you on speaker."

Before he can argue he's talking to both of them. He isn't sure he can do this.

"Brendon, hi." He tries to stop his voice from faltering, to sound like he's not about to give them bad news, but there's not really any way around it, and his voice breaks. "Look, I have to talk to you about yesterday."

"We talked to Pete last night!" Brendon says. He sounds happy. "I mean, Pete knew we were going to ask you, but he's really thrilled you said yes. He said he would call you today to talk about details or whatever and maybe start working up a contract." Jon hopes Spencer calls Pete first. He doesn't think he could handle that conversation on top of this one.

"Oh, right. About that," Jon says. "Guys, something came up, and..."

"You had better not be flaking out on us," Brendon says. Jon knows Brendon is joking, but it hits him hard, right in the gut, because that's exactly what he's doing. He's flaking out on them -- these guys that are his friends.

"Actually," Jon says, pausing. "Well, I mean, I'm not-- It's not really flaking. It's-- Cass." He doesn't want to go into detail, not with Brendon on the line.

"You are flaking on us, aren't you?" Brendon's voice is less teasing now, more angry, maybe even a little hurt. "Jon, I--"

"Brendon," Spencer says. There's a tone of warning there. "Jon, what's going on? Yesterday you were thrilled."

Before Jon can answer, Brendon cuts in, saying, "What's going on is that he--" Jon hears a pause and imagines that Spencer has fixed Brendon with That Look "--Fine, you know what? Fine." He hears Brendon snap and there's another pause and then a slamming door and the click of the phone being taken off speaker.

"Spence," Jon says. "Look, Spence. It's not that simple. It's not that I don't want to-- You guys gave me an amazing chance, and I want more than anything to be in this band, but right now I just--" It's hard for Jon to get the words out. He doesn't know how to say 'thanks for the chance, it's amazing, but there's something more important,' even if it is justifiably so. He knows he's letting them all down.

"What's going on? Tell me so I can go tell Brendon and maybe smooth things over." Spencer doesn't exactly sound angry, but he's obviously not happy either.

"Cassie's pregnant," Jon says. He feels the way the words sound, feels the weight of them, finally feels how true it is, that this is actually happening.

"Oh." Jon can see Spencer's face falling as he realizes there's no way to change this, that this is how it is, and he can't fix it.

Jon wants to say he's sorry, but "Yeah," is all that comes out when he opens his mouth.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Okay. Do you want me to tell them? Because if you want it to be a secret--"

"No, no. Tell them. I want them to know. I'm not flaking out. It's just --" Jon says. He only hopes that Brendon and Ryan understand.

"They'll understand," Spencer says, like he's reading Jon's mind. He pauses, then continues. "Brendon will understand." Spencer doesn't sound positive that that's the case, but Jon thinks maybe he'll come around, even if he's pissed off about it at first.

"I have to go," Jon says. "Cassie's probably awake." The truth is, Jon doesn't really want to talk about it anymore. Not with Spencer. He's afraid the more he talks about it, the more he'll think about what he's giving up, and he can't let himself regret this decision.


Jon and Cassie have so far decided three things: they will either live in a shitty apartment in a terrible neighborhood or Jon's parents house; Jon might have to stoop to working at Starbucks again; and Cassie is going back to school.

"I am not letting you give up school," Jon says. "Sorry, Cass. You're stuck with lectures and homework while I get to make coffee for strangers all day. I know your heart is breaking."

Cassie laughs and punches him lightly in the arm. "Shut up," she says. "I need to bring in money somehow, and what about when I have the baby?"

"We'll worry about that when the time comes. You'll make it through the fall semester, at least, right? And after that, I'm sure my mom or your mom would be more than happy to dote on the baby all day while you're in class and I'm at work," Jon says. He's actually got a little notebook and a pen that he intends to use for serious brainstorming purposes. He hasn't actually written anything down yet. "Now, back to living situations."

"I am not living in that shithole Tom suggested. That is not a place that I want to raise a child. I actually don't think I would raise a rabid rat there." Cassie sighs, shrugging her shoulders. "Your parents offered."

"Do you really want to live with my parents, Cass? I mean, really?" Jon has gone months without living with his parents. Moving back in with them is basically the last thing he wants to do, ever.

"It's not like it would be permanent, Jon. Just until we have some money and can get a place where I can actually see a child living."

Jon can't see moving back in with his parents, not after touring and being on his own and being able to come and go as he pleased for six months. Not that he thinks his life is going to be his own for much longer. He's going to have Cassie and a baby and a real job again. He can't have his parents looking over his shoulder on top of all of that.

"But Cass-" He feels a little whiny, but he's serious about this. He's not willing to budge.

"No, Jon. No buts. We could live with my parents, if you'd rather," Cassie says, fixing him with a look.

Cassie's parents aren't bad. They love Jon, and Jon loves them, but ever since Cassie and Jon told them she was having a baby and they were going to do this, they've been giving Jon the evil eye, even when they're being completely nice and polite to him. He's not sure he could handle that twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

He isn't giving up that easily. Jon is about to reply when he hears his phone ring. He expects it to be his parents or his brother or something. He doesn't expect it to be Brendon. He briefly considers not even answering it. He doesn't know if he can take hearing that they haven't found anyone and could he please reconsider. He's not even sure if Spencer has told Ryan and Brendon why he didn't go with them.

"Aren't you going to answer that?" Cassie asks him, pointing at the phone. "Who is it?"

"It's no one," he says. And then, "Yeah. I should get this." He walks out of the room, into the hallway. He doesn't really want to have this conversation in front of Cassie. "Hello?"

"Oh," Brendon says. "I thought you weren't going to answer." Jon thinks Brendon sounds a little disappointed that Jon actually answered the phone.

"Yeah, sorry. I was in the middle of something," Jon says. "Look, if you're going say anything about me flaking out..." He knows it's probably awful and he shouldn't snap at Brendon. He didn't know what was happening.

"No, I'm not. I'm--" Brendon says. "We just wanted to see how you were. Also, to let you know that you don't have to feel bad or whatever. We got this guy to be our temp bass player, and I think he's going to work out okay, at least for now."

"That's great," Jon says. He appreciates that Brendon called him, but he doesn't really want to hear how great things are with the band. "How are Spencer and Ryan?"

"Good, they're-- They're good. Spencer wanted me to call you." Brendon pauses just long enough that Jon can almost get a word in. "I guess he thought I was rude before or whatever."

Jon isn't actually surprised that Brendon's calling because Spencer told him to. He thinks that maybe he should be, but he's not. "No, you were fine. I shouldn't have agreed to something if I couldn't follow through."

"I have to go," Brendon says. "Hey, I hope you're doing okay. And Cassie too. Tell her we said hi."

"Yeah, I will. Bye, Brendon" Jon kind of wishes he could have talked to Spencer instead. Spencer is a lot better at pretending that he's not hurt and angry; Brendon doesn't hide his emotions, and then Jon feels even shittier.

"Jon," Brendon says, and Jon can hear the beginning of a question in his voice, but he just says, "I'll talk to you later." The phone line goes dead.


"I can't believe it," Cassie says, dropping her bag in the doorway. "Why did I let you talk me to into this?"

To be honest, Jon still isn't sure how he managed to talk her into moving into this place. It probably involved a lot of bribery.

"Because you love me and know how much it would pain me to live with my parents and deal with a pregnant girlfriend?" Jon grins at her, pushing past her into the living room/kitchen/dining room/study. "It's not that bad."

"It most certainly is that bad. We can't raise a child here." Cassie wipes a finger across the door frame and then makes a face at the dust that now covers said finger.

"We aren't. We're living here because I don't have a job right now and you only have a part time job, and we're basically living off of the little tiny bit of money that I made when I was teching for The Academy." What little money he made teching for The Academy that he hadn't spent on alcohol. It's not like he had known he was going to need that money.

Cassie sighs, glancing around the tiny apartment. "I guess it's not that bad." She turns to Jon and points at him. "But the second I see a rodent, I'm moving back in with my parents."

Jon laughs, pulling her in for hug and kissing the top of her head. "Okay, you have a deal."

Jon doesn't think about bands or music or missed oppurtunities for the rest of the night.


First thing Monday morning, Jon gets out of bed and goes to look for a job. Cassie's part time job and the few hundred bucks he has left from Truckstops won't go very far. They're going to need money. Lots of money. He doesn't think he'll be able to get lots of money, but he can probably manage something.

That is, if he can find a job.

He tries a couple of places where he knows people, but no one is hiring. After he tries a few more smaller coffee shops that seem promising but turn out to not be, he ends up back at the Starbucks he was working at before Tom asked him to go with them.

They hire him back without a second thought, with nothing more than, "It's good to have you back! Here's an apron. Can you start tomorrow?"

And Jon thinks that this is his life now. A shitty apartment and a shitty part time job with shitty pay, but at least he has Cassie and they're together, and maybe it isn't so bad.


Jon settles back into life in Chicago much easier than he had expected to. He goes to work and makes money and buys groceries and calls his mom every day because if he doesn't call her she'll call him. He also talks to Tom a few days a week, giving him updates and telling him Cassie says hi.

Jon doesn't get out to shows often, but he does when he has the chance. Cassie never gives him a hard time about wanting to go out to see some band that he kind of knows play at a bar downtown.

It's actually not that bad. He's even stopped thinking about Panic so much. Every once in a while that song comes on the radio, and Jon wonders if maybe he would be on tour, if maybe he would be an official member of the band, but it doesn't completely tear away at his brain.

Not usually.

One day in late June, Jon is sitting around the apartment alone, and his phone rings. He looks at the display and sees Spencer's name. He hasn't talked to any of them since that last conversation with Brendon.

He picks up on the third ring. After the awkward first few moments and strained "hello"s and "how have you been"s it actually isn't that bad.

"How's Cassie?" Spencer asks, and if it were anyone else -- if it were Brendon -- Jon would think it was idle smalltalk, but this is Spencer. He knows that Spencer cares.

"She's okay. She had to kick me out of a doctor's appointment a couple of days ago." Jon laughs quietly.

"Do I even want to know?" Jon can practically hear Spencer's eyes rolling at him.

"It involves a speculum and a silly voice. I don't actually want to talk about it." It was a horrific moment in his life, and Jon's not ready to relive it yet.

"Oh my God," Spencer says. "I don't want to know. Never elaborate on that story, please." Spencer sounds truly horrified, and Jon doesn't blame him. It was pretty awful.

"I don't think you have to worry about that, Spence. I wasn't planning on it. In fact, I'd like to pretend it didn't happen. Cassie too, which is why I'm sure she's never letting me take her to the doctor again." Jon's actually sure because Cassie told him exactly that when she got back to the car.

"Your poor girlfriend. I feel sorry for her." Spencer laughs and then says, "Just a minute, Brendon," away from the receiver. "So, yeah, I'm supposed to ask you to come to the show. We've got a ticket with your name on it -- Cassie too, if she's up to it. It's July seventh. I don't need an answer now, but--" He sighs into the phone. "We'd really like you to be there, Jon."

It's not that Jon doesn't want to go to the show. It's just the he's been doing really well. He hasn't been thinking about the guys or the band. He's been living his life and being a good barista and boyfriend and father-to-be, and it's been okay. He doesn't need this.

What he says is: "Yeah, that sounds good."

"Great," Spencer says. He sounds relieved. "Brendon and Ryan are going to be really glad you're coming."

"Yeah, uhm. Yeah," Jon says. He wonders if Spencer is just saying that. He can't imagine Brendon being happy to see him for any reason. "Look, Cassie will be home soon and I need to clean up my shit. I'll see you at the show."

Jon hangs up the phone before Spencer can say goodbye.


"So, Spence called and invited us to the show next week. If you're up to it and everything. I don't know, it could be fun," Jon says the second Cassie walks through the door.

"They're coming to town?" She asks, setting her backpack on the counter. At his nod, she tilts her head considering it. "I don't know. It could be fun. Maybe? I might have to work, but you should go. You can catch up." Jon thinks Cassie probably feels worse about what's happened than she ever lets on, even though he doesn't -- would never -- blame her. The first few weeks he was back in Chicago, Cassie asked him repeatedly if he was sure this was what he wanted. Jon eventually convinced both of them that it was.

"Yeah. I guess. It could be fun," He echoes. He doesn't really want to go alone. "Yeah, I guess I'll go." He feels like he can't really say no.

"Great," Cassie says, smiling. "Now, what's for dinner? I'm starving."

Shit, Jon knew he was forgetting something. It's his day to make dinner. They end up ordering Chinese, spending what little Jon has left of his check after paying the phone bill.


The day before the show Brendon calls. Jon's just come off a long shift at work, and he mostly wants to go home and collapse into bed, even though it's barely five. He answers the phone anyway because he was sure that Brendon wasn't speaking to him, and if that's changed, he doesn't want to ruin it.

"So, Spencer said you're coming tomorrow night!" Brendon sounds ecstatic. "That's awesome, man. We can't wait to see you again. I think Zack's even excited."

"Yeah," Jon says, collapsing onto the sofa, gripping the phone in his hand a little tighter than necessary. He hopes it's not obvious to Brendon that he's less excited than he probably should be.

"Hey, maybe you can hang out a little after? Or maybe before, whatever. I mean, we'll probably have to get out of Chicago right after the show, but we can hang out for a few hours. We'd like to spend some time with the guy who was almost our bassist." Jon's sure that Brendon doesn't mean for that to come out the way it does, and he honestly doesn't blame Brendon. It's not like it's a lie. It still hurts.

"Yeah, maybe. I don't know," Jon says. "I mean, I have work. And Cassie--"

"Oh, is Cassie coming?" Brendon asks.

"Oh, no. She can't make it. She wants to, though. She said maybe next time." Jon really wishes Cassie could be there. It might not make watching the guys play without him easier, but having her there might keep Jon from leaving before he even says hello to anyone.

"Well, if you change your mind, you know where to reach us." Brendon sighs. "You know, I didn't think I'd see the day when Jon Walker would choose work over fun. You're being a grown up. Have you been bodyswapped?" Brendon laughs quietly.

"I guess, yeah. That's what happens when you grow up." Jon doesn't really mean for that to sound insulting, but it kind of does, and it's probably not at all fair to Brendon. He feels like an ass, but a small part of him also feels like Brendon had it coming. He justifies it by reminding himself that Brendon started it. That's mature, right?

"Yeah," Brendon says. "Yeah, okay. Well, I guess I'll let you go." There's a pause and then Brendon adds, "You've probably got important things to do." Jon flinches at Brendon's tone. He feels like such an ass. He didn't mean it like that.

"Brendon--" Jon starts, but he doesn't know how to finish. He forgets sometimes that Brendon grew up a lot faster than most of the people Jon knows, and he can admit that.

"No, it's cool. You've really got more important things to do. It's not like we don't get that. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye," Brendon says and hangs up the phone.

"Bye, Brendon," Jon says to no one.


Jon wants to go to the show. He does. But work kind of sucked. There was a new kid who had absolutely no clue what the fuck was going on, and Jon ended up doing more than double the work he should have been doing. He's getting home an hour late anyway, and he has about half an hour to change into something that doesn't smell like coffee and get to the venue, which is at least that far away.

And then he's going to have to deal with Brendon, and he already feels like an ass. He wants to go to the show, really. In the way that he actually kind of doesn't.

On top of all that, he'll have to see them up there, with his replacement -- not that he was ever a part of the band to begin with. It's one thing to hear them on the radio and see them on MTV. It's one thing to know that they're out there having a good time and doing what they love. It's another thing to come face to face with it, to see them up on the stage with the kids singing back at them. He wonders if Brent ever feels this way.

All he's done all day is make coffee for people who can spend $4 on a cup of coffee five times a day when he can't afford $4 a week on non-essentials. He's thinking of rent checks and phone bills and the fact that in about six months he's going to be a father and really, Jon doesn't need a whole night of being reminded of of what might have, could have -- maybe should have -- been.

When Jon gets up to the apartment, he throws his keys down and says, "I don't think I'm going to go to the show tonight."

Cassie is getting ready for the night shift at the small bookstore where she works. Jon thinks the way her uniform shirt stretches over the first hints of her baby bump is cute, but he doesn't mention it. Cassie can still punch like a motherfucker.

"Why not?" She calls from their bedroom. "I thought you were really excited to see everyone."

"I feel like shit. I think it's food poisoning or something," Jon says. He knows she's not going to buy it for second. They've been together for long enough that she can pretty much call him on his shit no matter what. Sometimes he hates it.

"Yeah right," Cassie says, walking into the living room. "Bullshit, Jon Walker. You look fine. Maybe a little tired, but you can go see your friends."

"I told you I don't --"

"And I told you, bullshit. Is this because of me? Because I told you that I'm fine with you going to this show. You don't go out anymore, and these guys are your friends. You want to see them again. Go." Jon loves Cassie, really. Just not as much right now as he usually does.

"No, okay?" Jon uses a little more force than is probably necessary, especially since it's Cassie, and she hasn't done anything wrong. "I just don't feel good, okay, Cass? I'll call them and let them know."

He's lying and he knows it. Calling them is the last thing he wants to do.


Jon dreams things are different. He dreams Cassie never told him that he was going to be a father, that he joined Panic and now he's on tour, spending all of his time with them instead of at Starbucks or in a shitty apartment. He dreams that he's making music and taking pictures and singing stupid songs with Brendon and discussing music with Ryan instead of barely making it. It's a really good dream. He hasn't had a dream like it since he got back to Chicago.

He wakes up to Cassie curled against his side, and 'I Write Sins Not Tragedies' screeching from his clock radio. God, he fucking hates this song. Jon tries not to spend too much time wishing things were different. He's mostly happy with his life.

He sighs, rolling out of bed and reaching for his phone. He's sure there are going to be messages from the guys. At least from Spencer, because Ryan hasn't said much to him anyway, and he's sure that Brendon won't be speaking to him.

He has three missed calls. Two from Spencer, one from Brendon. He debates not listening to the voicemails, but in the end he can't bring himself to delete them without hearing what they have to say.

The first is Spencer, before the show. He wants to make sure Jon is still coming. Jon sighs before deleting it. The second is Spencer halfway through the opening acts, asking if he's still coming and if not he'd better have a good fucking reason. Jon deletes it too. The last is Brendon. He doesn't say much at all. "It's Brendon. I guess something came up. Yeah, so," and then the line goes dead.

Jon feels like there's more Brendon wanted to say but didn't. It probably added up to Jon Walker is an asshole. See if we ever invite you to another show.

Jon wouldn't blame them if they didn't.


Jon is sure that he's never going to hear from Brendon or Spencer or Ryan again. The thought makes him sad, even when he's not thinking about the band. He actually did like them, wanted to be friends with them outside of touring and playing songs. It's just really hard to maintain friendships when you're on tour. Jon understands that.

Understanding it doesn't actually make it easier.

"Are you going to finish that eggroll?" Cassie doesn't wait for him to answer before reaching across the tiny table to take it off of his plate.

Cassie hasn't been having any weird cravings or forcing Jon to go out in the middle of the night for pickles and ice cream or anything, but she had been eating a lot more than usual. He supposes that's probably normal.

"No, Cass," he says. "Go for it." He smirks a little, amused.

"Shut up," Cassie says around a mouth full of eggroll. "I'm hungry."

"I can see that." Jon is not that hungry. He's mostly just pushing chow mein around his plate and pretending to eat.

Cassie throws a piece of orange chicken and it hits Jon in the forehead. Jon says, "Oh, that was just unfair. You're declaring war," and then throws a handful of noodles at her. It only escalates from there.

It's times like this that make Jon realize he doesn't actually regret the choices that he's made. It's times like this he can't imagine being anywhere else.


Jon has had a really good day at work. He's only been back at Starbucks for a couple of months, and he's already been promoted back up to Shift Manager and given a raise. Not a big raise, but a couple of dollars an hour will help some, and they need all the help they can get.

It's an early day, and Cassie's off, so they're planning on going out somewhere. They don't do it often. Usually, one or both of them is working or they're too tired, or Cassie isn't feeling well. Nothing is going wrong tonight though, Jon can feel it.

Jon knows better than to trust his feelings. One of the stupid teenagers calls in, and there's no one else, and he has to work later than he was supposed to. It isn't fair, but he just got promoted and he just got a raise, and it's probably best not to screw that up.

He waits until his break between shifts to call Cassie.

"Jon! Hey, so I was thinking that after dinner we could..." Cassie sounds excited. Jon groans inwardly. He doesn't want to disappoint her. He's really kind of tired of disappointing people.

"Actually," Jon says, cutting her off. "Someone called in sick. I imagine sick means hungover, but it's all the same. He's not coming in. They want me to stay, and I can't really say no."

"But..." Cassie sighs. "No, it's okay. I understand. Besides, it's overtime, and that's never bad. What time will you be home?"

"After closing. I'm really sorry, Cass," He says softly. Jon is really really sorry.

"No, don't be. It's not your fault." Jon can tell that she means it, but that doesn't keep him from feeling guilty about ditching on their first night out in a long time. It's not like they're going to have many more of those in the future.

"Yeah, I know." He does know. Sort of. "I'll see you later, all right?"

"Yeah, bye."

By the end of the night, Jon goes back to wishing he was on tour with his friends, with nothing to worry about.


Jon is woken up by something that is not his alarm. He knows it's not his alarm because he didn't set his alarm last night. He has the day off, and he was planning on sleeping in. But there's a loud noise and it's cutting into his sleep, and he wants it to go away. He blinks a few times and looks at the clock. Oh. It's noon. Okay, so maybe he has slept in.

Once he's at least partially awake, he realizes the ringing noise is his phone, and it's stopped for about ten seconds and then started all over again. He throws off the covers and sighs, going over to the dresser to get his phone off the charger.


It's Brendon. He hasn't spoken to Brendon since before the Chicago show. He hasn't talked to Spencer since then either. He honestly can't imagine any reason Brendon would have to call him now. Brendon probably hates him.

He wishes Brendon didn't hate him. The phone is still ringing.

"Hello?" Jon says, a little unsure. He wouldn't admit it, but he sort of hopes that Brendon is drunk and won't remember calling him later.

"Jon, hi," Brendon says. "Am I bothering you?"

"What? No. I was just sleeping," Jon says. "It's okay. I should have been up hours ago." He actually had no intention of being up hours ago, but it seems like the right thing to say.

"Oh," Brendon says. "Oh, so, like, okay, we're going to be in Chicago again? I know that, like, the last time you didn't make it and we maybe fought a little, but--" Brendon is understating things by a lot. "I know, Spence, Christ," Brendon says to someone not Jon, presumably Spencer. "Anyway, we want you to come. If you want to and you don't have other things to do, or whatever." Brendon sounds unsure of himself, like he's convinced Jon is going to say no. Or maybe he just doesn't see the point in asking if he thinks Jon isn't going to show up whether he says he will or not. "We're playing Lollapalooza, so it's going to be an all day thing. You can come for just our set or you can come and hang out and see other bands or--"

"Okay," Jon says. He feels like he should make an effort, since he was kind of a dick about it the last time.

"Yeah?" Brendon says. He sounds surprised. Jon wonders if that should upset him as much as it does. It probably shouldn't.

"Yeah, I mean, yeah. I can't really guarantee until I've seen if I can actually get the day off, but yeah. I'll try," Jon says.

"Oh." Brendon sounds relieved. "Spencer and Ryan said you'd say yes, but I didn't want to bother you after last time and stuff. I thought you might have better things to do." Brendon either doesn't realize what he's saying, or he's really that good at knowing how to get to Jon.

"No," Jon says. "No, not. No. I want to go. I'll let you know, okay."

"Yeah, okay," Brendon says. "So, I should go. Bye, Jon."

"Bye, Brendon."

Brendon hangs up.

The thing is, Jon's comfortable with the choices he's made. He doesn't hate his job now that he gets to yell at the newbies, and it's impossible not to be excited about the baby. It woke him up at 3 the other night kicking, and Cassie's complaining about sore ankles and fucking glowing, and Jon doesn't care that it's cliche. Even on bad days, the wishing for things he won't ever have is a dull, distant ache, nothing like the sharp pain from the first few weeks. He still wonders though, and he thinks that yeah, seeing Brendon and Spencer and Ryan is going to make all of that come rushing back.

He still doesn't want to miss it. Not this time.


"I think I have the flu," Jon says. It's not a total lie. His stomach is kind of twisted up, and he feels nauseous. He's even lying on the sofa. Okay, he's pretty sure it's not the flu, but he doesn't feel well.

"You do not have the flu, Jonathan Jacob Walker." Cassie stands in front of him with her hands on her hips. Jon won't dare tell her how cute she looks like that, with her belly getting a little bigger every day. "Get your ass up and get in the car. You are going to see your friends. You're not getting out of it this time."

"But, I really--" he starts, trying for a pout. Cassie gives him that looks that clearly says 'don't you dare,' And he thinks better of it. "Fine," He says, "I'm going, but if I come home tonight miserable, it's all your fault."

"You're not going to be miserable," Cassie says. "You're going to have a good time."
"And if I don't?" Jon actually does want to see the guys. He just doesn't need anything distracting him now that his life is finally coming together.

"Then you can come home and take it out on me, but you won't. I know these things."
"You just want me out of your hair, since you're off today and don't have anything to do, don't you?" Jon is smart, okay. Sometimes Cassie thinks she can outsmart him, but seriously, he won't fall for it.

"Maybe," Cassie says, grinning. "But seriously, Jon. I mean it. Go, have fun. I'll call you if I need anything."

"Yeah, okay." Jon sighs. "Okay, I'm going." He pushes himself up. "I'm going."
Jon doesn't know if this is going to be the best day he's had in a while or an incredible disaster.


Jon is pushed backstage. Pushed, literally. He's sort of pointed in the direction by someone at the will call booth and then Zack sees him and slings an arm around him, dragging him toward the area designated for dressing rooms. And then proceeds to leave Jon standing in front of the door labeled Panic! at the Disco, before wandering off muttering something about 'Capri Suns.'

Jon thinks, very seriously, about going home. He could just go into the crowd and blend. He could watch the show and see the guys do their thing and never have to speak to them. They wouldn't even have to know he was there. He wouldn't have to meet his replacement or make small talk with anyone. It would be nice.

Except he doesn't do that. He knocks on the door.

"Jon Walker!" Brendon says. "You made it! I actually can't believe it. I was kind of afraid you were going to flake out on us again." Brendon's words aren't laced with anything. They're light and friendly, but they make Jon feel like he's getting punched in the gut. Brendon has a way of making that happen. One day Jon will figure out why.

"Yeah, I, uh." Jon doesn't really know how to respond, so he just goes with, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Spencer says. He's somewhere across the room, possibly in a closet. Jon can't see him. "Brendon still hasn't perfected that whole 'think before you speak' concept."

"Shut up, Spencer," Brendon says, pulling Jon into the room by the arm.

Jon is starting to feel a little claustrophobic. Also, like he's being put on the spot. Spencer comes out of a cabinet that is pretending to be a closet and smiles at Jon. He has kind of missed Spencer's smile. Ryan waves, but doesn't actually look up from his Sidekick. And there's someone Jon doesn't know sitting in the corner. He looks familiar, like someone that Jon might have met at a party or backstage, but he can't put a name to the face.

"Hey, Cortez, come meet the guy you stole your spot in the band from," Brendon says, laughing. "Jon Walker, meet Matt Cortez."

Jon smiles, kind of, and then waves. He doesn't really know what to say to this guy. It was never really his spot in the band, not in any technical sort of way, and Jon is close to being almost over it and has been for a while. Still. It's weird being in the same room with him and being expected to be nice. Jon doesn't actually feel like being nice.

"So, you're going to hang backstage during the show, right? I'm not letting you get lost in the crowd, Jon." Brendon points at him. "I am not letting you sneak off without saying goodbye -- and don't tell me you weren't thinking about it."

Jon might have been thinking about it. He feels guilty now. He also wants to know how Brendon figured that out, given that they haven't seen each other and have barely even spoken in months.

"Don't be stupid, Brendon," Ryan says. "Jon wouldn't do that."

Jon feels really guilty now. "Right," Jon says. "No, I wouldn't. Of course not." Jon really needs some air. "Okay, I'll just go find some place to situate myself. You guys get ready. I'll see you after the show."

He doesn't wait for them to say anything before he turns to leave.

"Did I say something wrong?" Brendon says, just as Jon closes the door.


The show is good, not perfect, but good. Jon can see how much fun they're having up there on stage together, and it hasn't been long enough since he helped them out that he doesn't remember what it felt like. He glances at what could have been his spot on the stage. Matt Cortez doesn't fit in with the other three anymore than Jon did. He might actually fit in with them less, but it doesn't really feel wrong to Jon. Cortez still knows all the songs and smiles at the crowd and lets Brendon do what Brendon's going to do.

He knows it's selfish to wish they looked like they were missing something -- some Jon-shaped something that would have made them complete. But there they are, living their lives like Jon was never an almost-part of the band, like they never needed him at all. They look whole, and it hurts.

Jon really wants to leave. Zack is only a few feet away though, and he doesn't think he could actually get very far. Anyway, Brendon would probably track him down and say terrible things if he left. At the very least, there would be angry voice mails that Jon would feel bad for deleting.

"So, we have a friend who lives in Chicago," Brendon says. Jon notices him sneaking a look backstage. "So, uh, I'm going to dedicate this song to him. It's by the Smashing Pumpkins and it's entitled Tonight, Tonight."

Jon feels something in his stomach. He's not sure what, but he's pretty sure nausea is somehow involved. At least there's something at the pit of his stomach that's all tied up in knots. Brendon keeps shooting looks backstage throughout the song, winks a few times, smiles and goes on, and then he sings Jon's name and, okay, if Jon was a little more sensitive and a girl he might start crying. He is neither. This validation that they actually do still like him -- maybe even miss him -- doesn't do anything silly like choke him up. At all.

Jon really wants to get out of here.


He manages to make it through the rest of the set. The guys run backstage after the last song buzzing with stage energy and bouncing around. Jon would miss it if he wasn't sort of feeling it himself.

Brendon is the first backstage. He lunges at Jon and clings to him despite the fact that he's sweaty and kind of gross. Jon doesn't mind.

"You're still here! Did you like the show?" Brendon asks, grinning.

"Yes I did," Jon says. "You guys were awesome. Good job, man," he says, nodding to Matt. "I'm sorry I missed last time."

"Nope, we aren't going to talk about that," Brendon says. "What we are going to do is go somewhere fun and hang out."

"I should really get home. Cassie's--" Brendon covers Jon's mouth with his hand, shutting him up.

"No," Brendon says. "No, you are not turning us down. You are going to let us pile into your car and take us somewhere that will serve alcohol to innocent minors. That is what you're going to do. And we will tell you lame-ass tour stories and you will tell us all about being a regular dude with a girlfriend and an apartment and a baby on the way. Who's with me?"

"I want a shower," Ryan says.

"I'm meeting Haley," Spencer says.

"You're both lame-asses," Brendon says, looking at Matt. "You're with us, right?"

"Uhm, actually--" Matt seems like he doesn't want to say no to Brendon, but he's obviously going to anyway.

"Fine," Brendon says. "It looks like it's just you and me. Come on, Jon. They can be losers if they want. We are hanging out."


They end up at Starbucks. There's no alcohol, but it's open and Jon gets a discount, which is definitely a plus. He doesn't have a lot of money to spare.

They've huddled up in the corner, on one of the sofas. Brendon's had a couple of lattes, and has been content to just keep talking until he runs out of breath. Jon hasn't really felt the need to stop him.

"So, it was kind of weird at first. Because we already knew you, and we were comfortable with you, and then we had to have, like, actual auditions to find someone, and they were new, and--I don't know. Sometimes I'm still not sure." Brendon sighs a bit. "I mean, Matt's okay. He's a good bass player, and we get a long with him, but he's not the best ...I don't know. Fit."

Jon doesn't know how to respond to that. He wasn't a great fit either.

"Whatever, you know. Sometimes we just really wish it was you up there on stage every night," Brendon says, shrugging. "I mean, Spencer and Ryan too. Not just me."

"Sometimes I wish I was up there on stage with you, too," Jon says. And it's weird because it's the first time he's actually said it out loud. Of course Cassie knows, but Jon's not enough of an asshole to ever say it. Besides, it doesn't do any good to wish he was somewhere else. He doesn't want to wish he were somewhere else.

But sometimes.

"Fuck. I'm sorry." Brendon shakes his head, looking down at his coffee cup. "I didn't mean to make you feel like shit. I do that sometimes, don't I? Say things that remind you that you're not with us. I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I'd think about it either way." Jon knows he would. He doesn't bother to deny it.

"Yeah," Brendon says, and then, "So, hey, tell me about everything. I want to know about you having a job and living with Cassie and baby stuff. Tell me baby stuff."

"It's," Jon says, shrugging. "It's normal, you know? My job isn't bad -- I get a discount on coffee, which is kind of awesome. Cassie's good, and we have this tiny apartment that barely fits the two of us without a baby. We'll have to trade it in when the baby comes, probably. It's. Yeah. Everything is, you know, normal."

"Normal isn't bad." Brendon says. "Sometimes I miss normal. Sometimes I kind of just want to have five minutes to myself without Ryan or Spencer or Matt or some fans around to like... I don't know, think."

Jon had never really thought of it like that, but yeah. It's got to be hard, never having a minute to yourself. He might take that over having too much time to think, though.

"But, hey, I get to be a rockstar, so there's that!" Brendon says, grinning. "You know, you are going to come back on tour with us someday. We might all be old and have ten albums under our belts, and your kid will be old enough to start his or her own band. We'll say, 'Hey, we need a tech, who can we call?' or Matt will break his hip and I'll be like, 'Let's call Jon. He can take Matt's place,' and you'll do it. It'll be awesome."

Jon likes that idea. He kind of wishes it could happen that way, and for a second, he's willing to let himself believe that it might.

"You're a loser," He says, laughing at Brendon. "I'm suddenly very glad that I didn't join your band."

"You are not. You miss us like crazy every day and you're jealous and want to come on tour with us forever."

Brendon is joking, and Jon knows it. That doesn't make it any less true.


Jon can't stop looking at the clock. Today has been really long and there's been too much drama. He's ready to go home and crawl into bed with Cassie, maybe put his hand on her stomach and try to feel the baby kick.

Ever since Jon saw the Panic guys again, he's felt a lot better about everything. Even the little pangs of regret have mostly gone away. He still misses playing and he misses the guys, but he doesn't ever think about being anywhere other than where he is.

Even if where he is happens to really suck right now.

Luckily, Starbucks has slowed down for the day. The rush is over, and Jon's taking a breather-- or at least he's wiping down counters instead of performing caffeine alchemy. Someone clears their throat to get his attention, and Jon looks up and immediately forgets what he was doing.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Jon says, grinning. "Thomas Conrad. Shouldn't you be...I don't know, somewhere else?"

"It's a long story," Tom says, shrugging. He doesn't seem happy. "I'm here now, and it's time for you to leave. We're going out."

Short of a few phone calls, Jon hasn't talked to Tom since Truckstops. He hasn't seem him at all, and that's kind of tragic. Jon doesn't really have the heart to tell Tom that he's too tired to think about doing anything besides going home and crawling into bed.

"Okay, yeah." Jon plasters on a smile. As tired as he is, he's happy to see Tom. "Just let me finish this. I have a few more minutes."


Tom and Jon end up in a dive, a place where the bardtenders don't care that Jon isn't quite 21 yet. It's near the apartment, and Jon's been there a few times. He doesn't make a habit of going out drinking anymore, especially not alone.

"No, man. Cass doesn't want to know. It's cool. I'm all for being surprised." Jon nods at his glass. "I can't lie though. I'm really hoping for a boy."

"This is fucking surreal, man. Talking to Jonny Walker about babies and shit. I never thought I would see the day. I mean, I knew. You told me, but wow, I mean. Wow." Tom laughs, shaking his head.

"Yeah," Jon says. Jon is not unaware of how surreal it all is. "It's cool, though, you know. I don't know, it's not easy or anything. We're kind of struggling to make it, and our apartment sucks, but we're okay."

"You're going to be a dad." Tom gives him a sharp look that says he's not joking when he adds, "I'd better be the godfather."

"You got it." He's been avoiding asking Tom what he's doing here in Chicago, when his band is off somewhere working on an album. He doesn't think he's going to get any answers out of Tom anyway. "So," he says, and he doesn't really know how to follow it up.

"I don't want to talk about it," Tom says.

Jon nods. "Yeah, I didn't think you would." It's kind of tense now. Jon figures whatever happened, it must have been bad. "Do you want to come see the apartment?"


"It was so awesome, Jon!" Brendon says into the phone. "Seriously. You know, after I regained consciousness."

Apparently, Brendon had been bottled earlier in the day. Panic is in England somewhere. Jon is actually more happy for them than jealous now, and he definitely considers that progress.

"Awesome? It sounds painful," Jon says, laughing quietly into the phone.

"Dude, yeah, I mean, it hurt like hell. I got knocked out, but I got bottled at Reading. That's like, you know, a thing!" Jon can imagine Brendon with the phone crooked between his shoulder and his ear, talking animatedly with his hands as he gives Jon the whole story.

"Shut up, Urie, you cried like a baby," someone says in the background. It's not Spencer or Ryan, so Jon guesses it must be Matt.

"You cried like a baby, Cortez," Brendon says, and then to Jon, "He totally wants me. He just can't admit it to himself." Brendon laughs and then Jon hears a small, friendly scuffle and Brendon comes back with, "Fuck you, too. Sorry. He's going off to pine for now. We can talk."

Jon doesn't miss it nearly as much as he used to, but he kind of wishes he could be there to give Brendon a hard time about this. It seems like fun.

"How's Cassie?" Brendon asks. "When's the baby due? I don't think you've said."

"Cassie's good. End of November, and sorry. I've already told Tom that he can be the godfather." Jon laughs.

"Fine, fine. Choose your best friend since, like, high school over me. I will be over here in England crying," Brendon says, over-dramatically. "This is all your fault, Jon Walker. I'm going to tell Spencer you made me cry."

"Spencer won't care. Spencer loves me." Jon grins. "Besides, what's he going to do? Hop a flight from England to come beat me up?"

"He might." Jon can hear Brendon's smile. "Spencer owes me." Jon hears someone talking to Brendon and then a pause on the line, and then, "Oh, I guess I have to go. Places to go, people to see."

"Of course. Go be a rockstar. Tell Spencer and Ryan I said hi," Jon says.

"And if I don't?" Brendon's tone is teasing. "What are you going to do? Hop a flight from Chicago and beat me up?"

"Shut the fuck up, and go be a rockstar," Jon says, laughing. "Bye, Brendon."

"See ya!" The phone goes dead.

Jon spends the rest of the day in a really good mood.


Jon and Cassie start looking for a new apartment sometime in October. They've put a little money aside. They might be able to afford something nicer by the time they actually find a place. Cassie really wants a nice nursery for the baby.

Jon's mom keeps bugging him to propose to Cassie because now that they're finally thinking about getting out of their tiny, awful apartment, and the baby is almost here, doesn't he think he should make an honest woman out of her?

Despite the baby and the apartment and the fact that they've been together for a few years, Jon can't actually think of a good reason to propose. Maybe all of those things, coupled with the fact that, yeah, he loves her, should be enough. But Jon can't bring himself to actually ask the question.

He tries not to think about that, and when his mom brings it up, he shrugs her off, tells her the time just isn't right.

When Tom brings it up, Jon flips him off.

Part 2


my sweetest downfall

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