laughingtale: (disney rpf)
[personal profile] laughingtale
Title: Bark the Words
Author: [livejournal.com profile] wordsaremyfaith
Pairing(s): gen
Warnings: None.
Summary: Joe’s not on any of the other buses, which Nick figured, since they’ve been driving all night. Still, it would’ve made more sense than any alternative Nick can see.

Kevin says, "This is impossible, right? He can’t really be…” He gestures to the dog with his head, slightly.

“No way,” Nick says firmly. He turns to look at the dog, who wags its tail at him happily. “I mean, do you think… no, that’s ridiculous.”

“Are you Joe?” Kevin asks the puppy. He catches the look Nick’s giving him and says, “What? We’ve already tried everything else. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Or, crack!fic in which Joe becomes a St. Bernard puppy one morning on tour and Nick is the most longsuffering. The image I had in my head of puppy!Joe in this is based on this picture, only a bit bigger and with fluffier paws.
Word Count: 5379
Disclaimer: I do not know these people, this never happened, I am making no money off of anything.
A/N: Belated birthday fic for [livejournal.com profile] pressdbtwnpages! Happy birthday; I'm sorry I'm the latest ever. Uh, at least it's still April? ♥♥♥
Thanks to: [livejournal.com profile] chilisock, who listened to me whine about this fic, read snippets and cheered me on, and gave me too many ideas to count, as well as writing one of the lines. I could not have finished this without her. ♥
[livejournal.com profile] sayingwhatiam, [livejournal.com profile] xcarex and [livejournal.com profile] inthenameofjuc all did excellent jobs betaing this for me! Their help was also invaluable.

The morning after their show in Detroit, Nick is rudely awakened by a rambunctious, fluffy St. Bernard puppy yanking at his sheets and licking (slobbering) all over his face. “Go ’way, ‘stoo early,” he mumbles into his pillow, pulling his sheets back over his head. But the puppy starts jumping and… laughing? It sounds like laughter, anyway, if dogs can laugh, and wait, since when do they have a dog on the bus?

Nick sits up, rubbing his eyes. “Joe?” he calls out. This has to be Joe’s fault somehow.

Only the dog just looks at him, wags its tail and barks, once. Then it proceeds to messily lick Nick’s face all over again.

“Ughhhhh, get off,” Nick says and shoves the dog off his face and onto the floor. He calls out again, “Joe?”

Only Kevin walks over instead, still in pajamas, too. “What’s going on?”

The dog barks at him and starts trying to climb up his leg.

"That," Nick says. "That is what's going on."

Kevin leans down to pet the puppy. "You're a good dog, aren't you? Yes you are," he says to it, scratching its ears.

Nick asks, "But how did it get on our bus?"

Kevin looks up at him. "Oh, I figured Joe had something to do with it," he says, as though the idea of Joe deciding to adopt a puppy while they're on tour and somehow smuggling it onto the bus without anyone noticing is completely reasonable, like it happens all the time. "Where is he, anyway?"

"I have no idea," Nick says. "He didn't answer when I called out to him."

"Maybe we should check his bunk?"

"Sure."

The dog, who looked like it was listening to their whole conversation, runs in front of Kevin and plops ungracefully on top of Joe's unmade, empty bed, inadvertently pulling the curtain open as it does.

They're still about two hours away from the venue, and he saw Joe on the bus last night, so he has to be here somewhere. Nick gets out of bed and walks into the front lounge. Also empty. "Joe?" he calls out again, heading back towards the bunks, where Kevin is sitting on Joe's bed next to the dog, looking confused.

"I was just in the back," he says. "Joe wasn't there, but his cell phone was just sitting on the couch."

The dog barks and licks Kevin's hand. "What is it, boy?" Kevin asks, getting another bark in response. "Do you know where Joe is?"

A bark, and then something that looks suspiciously like a nod. Nick didn't think dogs nodded. He and Kevin are both staring at the puppy, identical incredulous looks on their faces.

There’s a long pause. “No way,” Nick says. “I’m gonna call Garbo and see if Joe’s on their bus.”

Kevin nods. “I’ll start calling the crew buses.”

Joe’s not on any of the other buses, which Nick figured, since they’ve been driving all night. Still, it would’ve made more sense than any alternative Nick can see.

Kevin says, "This is impossible, right? He can’t really be…” He gestures to the dog with his head, slightly.

“No way,” Nick says firmly. He turns to look at the dog, who wags its tail at him happily. “I mean, do you think… no, that’s ridiculous.”

“Are you Joe?” Kevin asks the puppy. He catches the look Nick’s giving him and says, “What? We’ve already tried everything else. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

The dog goes into a barking frenzy, jumping up and down (and almost hitting its head on the top bunk), getting down on the ground and chasing its tail, jumping back up on the bed and pawing at Kevin in excitement.

Kevin and Nick exchange a long look. Kevin says, "Um, Nick, that's Joe. Our brother is a dog." He sounds like he might be on his way to hysterical.

Nick knows there has to be another explanation. "People don't just turn into dogs, Kevin." He rolls his eyes, hoping not to betray the fact that he’s beginning to understand how easy it is to go crazy under the right circumstances.

Kevin tells him, "It looks like Joe did."

Nick doesn’t know how to answer that, not least because he’s beginning to believe it, impossible as it is.

***

They have a show that night. “We have a show tonight,” Nick says to Kevin, more than a little panicked, after they’ve brainstormed for half an hour without coming up with any real ideas for how to change Joe back. “How are we supposed to perform without Joe?”

Kevin looks startled, like he hadn’t even thought of that. “Um. He could bark the words?”

“Very funny,” Nick says. “What’re we going to do? We can’t cancel the show.”

“We’ll keep working on it, then,” Kevin says. “He turned into a dog, so there’s gotta be some way to turn him back.”

Nick is not as encouraged as he wishes he was, but that’s not really Kevin’s fault, so he takes a deep breath before he says, “But we don’t know how he turned into a dog. It’s not like it’s something that happens all the time!”

Kevin looks at him very seriously. “We’ll figure it out, Nick.”

Suddenly Nick realizes that Joe (it’s still hard not to think of him as “the dog”) has been quiet for a while. He turns around, and Joe is sleeping curled up in a little ball behind him. Nick’s first thought is that this is completely adorable. His second thought is that this is so not happening. “Joe!” he says. “Wake up! How are we supposed to figure this out if you’re sleeping?” Joe yawns lazily up at him, unfurling his long pink tongue, and Nick has another moment of finding him adorable, which inevitably makes him all the more irritated. Where does Joe get off being all cute and stuff when they have a serious problem on their hands?

Joe stretches slowly, trots over to Nick, plops down in his lap, and promptly falls back to sleep.

“Great,” Nick says.

Kevin says, “If worst comes to worst and we can’t figure it out today, you can sing most of his parts and anything you can’t do, I’ll sing.”

It’s not a terrible solution, if they wind up needing one. “You’d do that?”

“It’s better than canceling the show,” Kevin says.

Nick closes his eyes and takes a couple more deep breaths. This is going to be okay, he tells himself (a little more sternly than someone trying to relax probably should). The show tonight will be okay; they can just say Joe’s caught some kind of 24-hour bug. If they don’t find a way to change Joe back today, they will tomorrow for sure, and tomorrow’s a day off, so there’s less pressure, even though Nick usually spends days off either playing a sport of some kind or working on a song. That can all wait until Joe is human-shaped again.

“Okay,” he tells Kevin, absently starting to run one hand lightly over Joe’s soft head.

***

They don’t figure it out by the time they have to play. It doesn’t help that they both quickly realize there’s no way they can pull off a full, normal set without Joe. A shorter acoustic set seems reasonable, though, and Nick is about to get to work figuring that out and arranging it when Joe tugs at his sleeve and whimpers.

“What?” Nick asks him. Joe looks up at him pathetically and whines, pushing his cold nose against Nick’s side until Nick realizes he’s going for the energy bar in his pocket. “Oh, are you hungry?” Nick asks. He doesn’t know why he almost expects an answer, but of course he doesn’t get one other than a short bark and a lick on his hand. He gets their bus driver to stop at a supermarket without letting the other buses know, so they can pick up some dog food and take Joe for a walk while they’re there.

Nick and Kevin seem to have both instinctively come to the conclusion that they need to keep the fact that Joe is a dog to themselves. They don’t really discuss it, they just don’t tell anyone, and when they ask Frankie to play tambourine with them that night and he asks why Joe isn’t doing it and where Joe is, Kevin says, “He has the flu. The stomach flu. And it’s really contagious and messy, so you shouldn’t bother him.” Nick nods at him, good thinking.

They spend the rest of the time they have before the show rearranging songs. Well, Nick does, anyway. Kevin sits with him, but part of the time he’s playing with Joe, who just wants to run around the bus and get into everything he shouldn’t. When he shows up with his head shoved through one of Nick’s t-shirts and his paws through the armholes, which, seriously, how did he even manage that by himself, Nick just about goes ballistic. “Seriously, Joe, it’s bad enough you have to go and get yourself turned into a dog when we have a show tonight, you can’t even leave my stuff alone?” he shouts.

Joe looks up at him with literal puppy eyes, which is totally unfair, because he knows Nick can’t resist that even when he’s not a dog. Nick sighs and sits down next to Kevin on the edge of Joe’s bunk.

“You know it’s not actually his fault, right?” Kevin asks him.

“Yeah, I know,” Nick admits. “Probably. But even if it’s not, it’s still the middle of tour. He knows how important that is.”

Joe puts his paw up on Nick’s knee, and Nick looks down at him. Of course Joe knows how important this is. Nick sighs again and pets Joe’s head. Joe leans into his touch.

Kevin looks at Nick sympathetically. "You know he wouldn't do this to us if he could help it."

Nick nods. Yeah, he knows. Joe leaps up onto the bunk next to him and cuddles into Nick reassuringly. It's sweet and very Joe, but Nick can't help but worry. What if Joe doesn't turn back by their next show, in two nights? What if Joe doesn't turn back at all?

***

A low murmur goes through the crowd that night when Nick and Kevin come onstage alone, with just their acoustic guitars. Nick can see the front few rows turning to each other, looking confused. After their opening song, he says, "I know you're all wondering where Joe is and why we’re playing an acoustic set. Unfortunately, he got really sick, so he's not here tonight and since we couldn’t change our whole set around at the last minute, it’s gonna be a little shorter than usual. We’re really sorry, guys. We’ll find some way to make it up to you next time we’re here, okay?"

There are muted cheers from the audience. At lot of the kids Nick can see look pretty disappointed, but they’re doing the best they can, so he tries not to worry about it too much. Some girl in the front pulls out a sharpie and starts writing on the back of her poster.

"And now, please welcome our little brother Frankie on tambourine!"

More cheers as Frankie comes out with Joe's tambourine and sits on Joe's usual stool. His feet just touch the first bar down, and for some reason that sends a wave of longing through Nick. It's really weird doing even a shorter acoustic set without Joe. It doesn't feel right. Kevin catches his eye and Nick knows he's feeling the same way. But he smiles as the girl on the front holds up her newly made "FEEL BETTER JOE!! :)" sign and they start to play Lovebug. They'll get through this show and they'll figure it out, and then they'll never have to play another Joeless show again.

***

The thing about having the next day off that Nick hadn't thought about is that it means that night's a hotel night, so they have to somehow smuggle Joe in without anyone seeing. Which automatically falls to Nick, since he and Joe usually share a room. Nick and Kevin decide on their way to the hotel that they'll wait until midnight, when everyone else will probably be asleep, and then Nick will smuggle him in while Kevin acts as lookout.

But when they get to the hotel, their mom pulls Nick aside. "How's Joe?" she asks, looking worried.

"Not great," Nick says, "but we've got it. You don't need to check on him or anything."

She sighs. "Are you sure? I went to check on him while you were playing tonight, but he was in the bathroom and he didn't say a word to me, even though I called out to him several times. I tried to get in, too, but the door was locked.” Nick takes a moment to wonder how Joe possibly managed to lock the door with his big, unwieldy paws, but his mom is still talking. “And the noises he was making... it sounded like slurping. He must be feeling really awful, Nick. Are you sure you want to stay with him tonight? We can change rooms and Dad or I can check on him periodically, if you'd rather."

"No!" Nick yelps, probably too enthusiastically. "I mean, thanks, Mom, but it's okay. I can take care of him. Really," he adds when she doesn't look convinced.

"Okay," she says doubtfully, "but remember, we're right down the hall if you need anything."

Nick breathes an internal sigh of relief as they rejoin the rest of the tour in the main lobby. He tries to subtly gesture to Kevin, but he's not sure if Kevin gets it until Kevin shows up at his and Joe's room a few minutes after they get upstairs. Nick lets him in.

"Mom's asking questions," he says.

“What kind of questions?” Kevin asks, sitting on the bed Nick hasn’t claimed.

“You know, am I sure I want to stay with Joe tonight, does he need anything, that sort of thing. She checked in on him earlier, but luckily he had the sense to hide in the bathroom. We need to get Joe back fast.”

Kevin looks worried. “I know,” he says. “We have all day tomorrow, if he’s still a dog then. You think you can keep holding Mom off?”

“For a bit,” Nick tells him. He’s so tired. He feels like he’s been working hard all day, trying to find answers, trying to fix things and keep secrets, trying not to completely fall apart. The idea that Joe might be a dog forever keeps hitting him, though he keeps fiercely telling it that that is not an option and it needs to get out of his head and stay gone.

Kevin must read something in his expression, because he says, “We’ll get him back, Nick,” softly, and then, louder, “You want to see what’s on TV?”

They kill time watching dumb TV shows until midnight. After, Nick couldn’t have said what any of them were about. They sneak past everyone else’s rooms quietly on their way to the elevator.

“We should have looked to see if there’s a back stairway or anything,” Nick gripes. “We’ll never get past the lobby with him.”

“We can still check,” Kevin says. “You go get him and I’ll call you and tell you where I am.”

Nick nods and heads to the buses, where he finds Joe napping on top of his guitar case. He’s torn between exasperation and fondness, because despite the fact that putting weight on it could permanently dent the case, it is a pretty adorable sight.

He takes a moment to be sentimental and then snaps himself out of it. “Joe!” he whispers as loudly as he dares. Joe blinks up at him, licking his chops a couple times as he wakes up.

“Come on!” Nick whispers. Joe tilts his head to the side, the picture of a confused dog, and Nick tells him, “We’re bringing you upstairs. Kevin’s standing guard, but we need to go now.”

Joe stands and follows Nick, wagging his tail a little. They’re about halfway across the parking lot when Nick’s phone rings loudly. He swears under his breath as he picks up.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Hey,” Kevin says, “I found a back staircase.”

Nick’s relief at this is palpable. “Awesome! Where are you?”

“Come around to the right of the building and keep walking around until you see me,” Kevin says.

“Right. There in a minute. Thanks.” Nick hangs up and leads Joe around the side of the building. Kevin’s waiting for them in a sort of nook-area, holding open a door that leads to a set of run-down-looking metal stairs. “This is perfect,” Nick tells him.

Of course, they’re on the fourteenth floor, so the trek is long and tiring. Eventually, they get back to Nick and Joe’s room and Nick collapses onto his bed. “Is this day over yet?”

“Yes,” Kevin says. “Finally. I’m gonna go to sleep. Sleep well, guys.”

“’Night,” Nick says around a yawn as Kevin leaves. Now that he’s lying down, he doesn’t want to bother getting up again, so he just slips off his shoes and crawls under the covers in his clothes. Joe jumps up and lies down next to him, sharing Nick’s pillow, and Nick falls asleep with his arm absently tossed around him.

***

Nick is rudely awoken the next morning by Joe pawing at his chest while sitting on his stomach. It is not the most comfortable thing ever.

He flings both hands out in Joe’s general area. “Off!” Joe flies off the bed onto the floor and whimpers at him. Nick is instantly awake.

“Joe?” He spots Joe on the floor a second after he sits up. “Are you okay?”

Joe looks up at him reproachfully, but he looks okay, so Nick doesn’t feel that bad about it. He glances at the clock and groans. “It’s eight in the morning. You couldn’t let me sleep in a little, since we have the day off and all?”

Joe pads to the door and whines, and Nick gets it. “Oh, you need to go out?” A low bark. Nick’s not sure what to do. It can’t possibly be as easy to get out with Joe as it was to get in, and how is he supposed to sneak him back into the hotel again afterwards? It might be their day off, but it’s still a Tuesday, and some of the tour crew don’t sleep that late. Not to mention their parents.

Nick jumps out of bed. “I’ll be right back,” he promises Joe, realizing he almost just called his brother “boy,” like he would an actual dog. Like he says to Elvis all the time. The thought disturbs him, but since it’s the least of his problems right now, he decides to ignore it. He leaves Joe in his room and goes next door to find Kevin.

Kevin answers the door immediately, already dressed. He’s always been a morning person, unlike Nick. “Hey, what’s up?” he says way too cheerfully for eight AM on a day off.

“Joe needs to go out,” Nick says frantically, hoping no one else can hear him right now. “And I don’t know how to do that… discreetly.”

Kevin motions him inside the room and closes the door. “We could carry him,” he suggests.

“Right, because that wouldn’t look any less suspicious.” Nick rolls his eyes.

“Hey, I just woke up an hour ago, I need some time to be able to think properly,” Kevin tells him, but Nick’s not sure he believes him; Kevin always seems wide-awake as soon as he gets up. He pauses for a moment. “What if we put Joe in your duffle bag? I think he’d fit, and we could leave it partly open so he can breathe. That wouldn’t look suspicious at all.”

This, Nick decides, also happens to be a brilliant way to get back at Joe for his unwelcome wake-up call. “Excellent,” he says, and goes to shove his brother into a suitcase.

***

Joe is surprisingly okay with having Nick carry him around in a duffle bag, which Nick is kind of disappointed about, if he’s being totally honest. And despite the fact that Nick usually thinks of himself as pretty strong, Joe the puppy is heavier than he’d expected. Nick has to kind of hold the duffle bag out in front of himself with both hands, being careful not to jostle it too much or hit Joe with his knees in the process.

When they get outside, Nick heads in the direction of the buses (so as not to arouse suspicion, just in case) and finds a secluded spot behind one of them where he can let Joe out. Joe runs around in some bushes for a while after doing his business, happy to be outside, and Nick can’t help but smile a little, watching him.

They get back to their hotel room almost without incident, though Dad stops them on the way to ask Nick what he’s up so early for and what he was getting from the bus. “Joe’s not doing so great, so I was just getting him some medicine and some extra blankets,” Nick lies smoothly. Thankfully, his dad seems to buy it and lets them go.

When they get upstairs, Nick just wants to lie down for another hour or two of uninterrupted sleep, but Joe can’t stop racing all over the room, jumping on everything and into everything and Nick is tired just watching him. Clearly, Joe wants to play, but, “Just one more hour of sleep,” Nick begs him. “Then I’ll do whatever you want.”

It’s probably not possible, since Joe is a dog now and all, but Nick could swear he sees Joe waggle his eyebrows. “Within reason,” he amends, and he can almost hear Joe saying, Aw, Nicky, you’re no fun! in his head, in Joe’s most obnoxious taunting tone. He can’t believe something like that would possibly make him miss his brother, but it kind of does. Not that his brother’s not right there, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Nick’s alarm goes off an hour later, right as Nick is dreaming deeply, and he’s disoriented when he opens up his eyes. He looks around for Joe, and it takes him a minute to remember, right, he’s a dog now. That’s never not going to feel strange.

But even so, there’s no sign of him. “Joe?” Nick calls out tentatively. “Where did you go?” Unless Joe miraculously changed back in the past hour or dogs have grown opposable thumbs somehow, he has to be somewhere in the room.

A minute later, Joe pops his head out from behind the open dresser doors. He hops down onto the floor and parades around the room. Nick can’t help the laugh that escapes him, even though he also feels like yelling about getting fur all over clothes and asking before borrowing his stuff. Joe has somehow managed to completely dress himself in Nick’s black and gold stage jacket, the one Joe told him looked like all he needed was a marching band and a baton to twirl around. (Even though the next day, Joe was trying to borrow it.) He’s also wearing Nick’s yellow capris, which he must have dug around Nick’s suitcase to find, and his own glasses. He’s walking all over the too-long pants legs and sleeves, which almost makes Nick snap, but the sight is too funny so instead, he laughs some more.

Joe looks about as smug and pleased with himself as a dog wearing a ridiculous outfit possibly could. He leaps onto Nick’s bed, sleeves and legs dragging behind him, and proceeds to enthusiastically lick Nick’s whole face, which Nick wouldn’t find that gross in a normal dog, but since technically he’s being licked by a person right now, it’s a different story. “Ew! Joe, get off!” He gets out of bed and goes to brush his teeth.

Only when he gets to the bathroom, his toothbrush handle has bite marks all over it and about three-quarters of the bristles are missing, scattered all over the floor. “Joe!” he shouts, though he knows Joe could hear him perfectly fine at a normal volume.

Joe comes to the doorway with his tongue hanging out, wagging his tail, not even having the decency to look ashamed of himself. “Bad dog!” Nick shouts without thinking about it, pointing to the floor, and Joe lies down, eyes on the ground, an apology of sorts. It doesn’t make Nick feel at all better.

There’s a knock on the door. “Stay there,” Nick tells Joe, “I’ll deal with you in a minute. Who’s there?” he calls.

“It’s Kevin. I’m alone.”

Nick opens the door and lets his brother in. “What’s going on?” Kevin asks. “I heard shouting.”

“He destroyed my toothbrush,” Nick says flatly. “I had four months left before I needed a new one. Plus, he’s ruining my clothes as we speak.”

Kevin glances at Joe and laughs. “Oh, come on, Nick, that’s funny.”

Nick ignores them both. “I’m going downstairs to buy a new toothbrush,” he says. “When I come back, those clothes better be put away neatly.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kevin says. Joe just rolls his eyes at Nick, which Nick chooses not to respond to, for the sake of his own sanity and Joe’s wellbeing.

***

When Nick gets back upstairs with his new toothbrush, the bathroom floor is clean and Joe is only wearing his glasses.

“I think he couldn’t see very well without them,” Kevin explains. “He wouldn’t really let me take them off.”

Even without the clothes, a dog in glasses is a pretty funny sight, but Nick is still kind of pissed. He ignores Joe completely and sits down facing Kevin. “We need to get him back before tomorrow night.”

“Yeah, I know,” Kevin says, “but how do we do that if we don’t know why this happened to begin with?”

Nick has no answer to that. “Good point,” is all he says, starting to feel hopeless again.

“But, I mean, we will figure it out somehow,” Kevin assures him. “Something has to work.” He turns to Joe, who currently looks to be nibbling at his own foot. “Joe, how did this happen?”

Joe looks up at him and barks, once. Nick says, “Yeah, like he’s going to just tell you.”

“It was worth a shot.”

They spend the rest of the afternoon holed up in Nick and Joe’s room when they’re not sneaking Joe out for another walk or convincing their parents that even though Joe’s still feeling crappy, they can take care of it. They talk around it for hours, but they don’t come up with any ideas for getting Joe back, and by the time their parents call them for dinner, Nick is having a hard time holding the ‘what if he’s a dog forever’ thoughts at bay anymore.

He tries not to show it through dinner, listening to Mom and Frankie talk about all the things they saw today, Dad telling Kevin all about the Motown Historical Museum, which Nick’s disappointed he didn’t get to see with them. Let them assume he’s a little down because Joe’s not there; it’s not an unreasonable assumption, at least, and Nick doesn’t think he’s talking that much less than he normally does at a family meal.

After dinner, they bring everything back down to the buses, preparing to move on to the next venue. As Nick is walking past their bunks with the duffle bag carrying Joe, Kevin says, “Wait.”

Nick stops and puts the bag with Joe in it down. “What’s up?”

“Have you seen my blankets?” Kevin asks, pulling back his curtains to reveal his blanket-less bed.

“No, sorry,” Nick says. He lets Joe out, and the second Joe’s paws hit the floor, Nick asks him, “Do you know anything about this?”

Joe wags his tail eagerly, looking proud of himself.

“There’s your answer,” Nick tells Kevin.

Joe won’t give them any indication of where Kevin’s blankets might be, so it takes them another forty-five minutes before they finally find them, half-buried in the dirt under a bush. Kevin looks dismayed at the amount of dirt and grass all over them.

“You can use one of my blankets tonight,” Nick offers.

“Thanks.” They both look at Joe, who has followed them outside and is currently digging a new hole near where he’d buried Kevin’s blankets. Neither of them notices that Frankie’s come up behind them until he says, “Hey, whose dog is that? It’s cute!”

Nick freezes up, but thankfully Kevin doesn’t. “We just found him,” he says. “We think he might’ve been abandoned. Don’t tell Mom and Dad, okay?”

“Okay,” Frankie agrees. He can be a pain in the ass and purposely do what you’ve told him not to sometimes, but he usually doesn’t do that to Kevin, and Nick figures it’s pretty obvious why they’d want to keep a dog a secret, so he’s not too worried. All the same, this is exactly what he didn’t want to happen. It’s so much simpler if only he and Kevin know that Joe-the-dog exists, let alone that he’s actually Joe.

“Here, boy!” Frankie holds his hand out to Joe, who sniffs it and licks him a couple times. Frankie pets him and Joe sits quietly, letting him. “Cool,” Frankie says. Then, “Oh, yeah, Mom and Dad wanted me to tell you guys that we’re all ready to go.”

“Great, we are, too,” Nick tells him.

“Cool,” Frankie says again and leaves them.

“That was close,” Kevin says.

Nick sighs. “Too close. We’re going to have to be more careful.” He directs that part at Joe, even though Joe isn’t paying him any attention. “Anyway, we’d better get back on the bus before everyone else leaves without us.”

***

For the third morning in a row, Nick is rudely awoken in the middle of a good dream. But this morning the weight on top of him feels heavier and is accompanied by poking and by a voice saying, “Nick. Niiiiiiick. Nicky. Wakey-wakey, Nicholas.”

Nick slowly blinks his eyes open. “Joe?”

He barely has time to process that this is really Joe, he’s really back and everything’s going to be okay, before Joe bounces off of him. “It was so weird, Nick, I just woke up like that, I have no idea why, and everything smelled different and… I had paws, Nick. And I just wanted to run around and jump on you and bury things all the time.”

“How did you –”

“And then this morning I woke up and I was me again! So weird. I have no idea what happened.”

“Thank god you’re back,” Nick says fiercely, taking Joe by surprise by hugging him, something he hasn’t instigated in years. “I don’t even care why, just never do that again, seriously.”

Joe grins at him. “I’ll try my best,” he says.

***

During the show that night, Joe tells the audience, “You might have heard that I wasn’t feeling so good at our last show.” He waits for the ‘aww’ing to stop before he says, “It’s true, I was sick as a dog.” Nick rolls his eyes as Joe grins at him. “But I’m feeling a lot better now, so thank you guys for all of your kind words on twitter.” He pauses for a moment before concluding, “This song is called SOS.”

Nick and Kevin share a brief look behind Joe’s back, a look that says, Can you believe his awful puns? But Nick can also see relief and joy in Kevin’s eyes, feelings he knows are reflected in his own as well. This is how it’s supposed to be, and he sings stronger that night than he has all tour. It may take forever to get all the dog hair out of his clothes (and the dirt out of Kevin’s blankets), but that doesn’t seem to matter right now, not now that they have Joe back.
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