Six months later.

We arrived at Heathrow airport at ten in the evening. There was only a rope separating us from the thong of fans screaming near the gates. We waved back with as much energy as we could muster after pulling an all-nighter crossing the continent. I took note of the lifeless faces of my band mates as they waited for security to clear the exit. ARA had been opening for the Lestat on their three-month European tour and this stop was meant to be the last leg of the tour.

There was a storm outside, but the hired bodyguards have already formed a human bridge of umbrellas connecting the exit to the band's bus. The rain came down with brute force on the fabric of the umbrellas as we jogged the distance towards the bus. The curtains on the bus were drawn, and there was nothing identifying about it on its sleek black paint.

The sight of the bus filled me with renewed energy. I had it all planned out in my head. As soon as the bus dropped me off at my place, I would take a taxi to the address Ash had given me. His parents would be asleep by the time I get there but knowing Ash's schedule, he would still be awake. I could call him and it would be a surprise.

We clambered through bus's open doors once our manager took head count and started waving us up. The legs of our pants were already drenched in rainwater. Dust had slung a jacket protectively over Sasha's head to guard against the rain and flashing light bulbs of the fans and press. Despite the bags under his eyes, he still had enough humor in him to smirk at the nervous wreck that I had become. Dust and I had grown closer as friends over the time we spent together on tour. He had seen me mopping about the first month after Ash had returned to England and the past six months during which I practically lived on facechat with Ash had convinced Dust that I was indeed serious about his best friend. Dust understood how important this moment was for me.

Our other band mates threw their instruments casually on the leather seats as soon as they got on. Mason and Matt waved to someone in the back of the bus before virtually collapsing on the long narrow seats lining the sides of the interior. Our manager seated himself in the front behind the bus driver. Sasha and Dust headed for the bunk bed in the back, passing by someone seated in the back. The person rose to greet them in a long embrace.

"Surprise" Dust turned his face towards me and mouthed the word with a grin. Then he ushered Sasha towards the curtained space at the back of the bus.

I froze when the person turned to me, his slight frame filling my entire field of vision in the same way as when I had met him the first time in the States. Under the yellow haze of the light, his hair framed him like the glow of an angel.


"You are here-" I whispered to myself incredulously. There was a part of me that was too paranoid to believe that this moment has finally arrived. Six months of pinning for him over long distant calls and late night facechat sessions. Six months of praying that nothing will go wrong with our tour schedule that my promise to him could be kept, that he wouldn't give up on us during our separation.

I walked towards him slowly, and when I was close enough, I lifted him off his feet as I took him in my arms. He laughed softly when I swung him around in a tight circle. He felt lighter than I remembered, I wondered for a moment if he had lost sleep like me on nights when I missed him too much.

We stood like that for a while, lost in our own world as my band mates left us alone to our moment. I didn't feel the bus pulling away from its parking spot. Not until I pulled Ash down to sit besides me did I feel the bus weaving through the rainy night.

Words bubbled to the surface of my head but never quite made it out of my mouth.

The darkness of the bus enveloped us. Above the humming of the engine and gears, I could hear the soft snoring of my band mates. Ash leaned his head on my shoulder, arms entwined in mine. He looked up at me doe eyed. His lips were asking to be kissed, so I leaned in and took them.

"Dust told the manager I could wait for you on the bus." He explained to me.

"I'll have to remember to thank him." I whispered back.

"Why did I have to find out about your band coming here on the news before Dust would tell me?" There was a bit of sadness in his voice. "Were you never going to tell me?"

"I was going to go to your house and surprise you. We weren't sure if the band we are touring with were going to switch us out for their opening. Everything depended on the audience's reception. I didn't want to jinx it."

"I know, I know." Ash said as he shushed me with soft kisses.

"I've been hearing you guys on the radio. They showed an interview of the band on tele." There was a proud light in his eyes that made my heart swell.

"I think our second single's finally breaking some ground. It's getting a lot of airplay in Europe."

"I know we talked about this on the phone, but you are really only going to do music from now on?" He asked.

I nodded sadly. Ash had heard me complain about my schedule enough to understand my need to stop school officially and continue at my own pace. Our manager has already arranged for a tutor to help me get my GED while we are on the road.

"Will you be going to school here?"

"The band's going to be busy for awhile, so I'll be working on getting my GED while I'm here. Maybe you can help me?"

"Yes, of course I will. Maybe you can get more free time to rest." He touched the bags under my eyes gently.

I chuckled at that suggestion and looked towards the front of the bus where our manager was dozing off. "I'm sure that free time will be filled up by something else real quick."

"Will you miss you friends at home?"

"Friends?" I sighed as I recalled the last few days before I left for our European tour. "The band's been like family to me. I tried with Greg and some of my other friends at school, but they seem to become more distant no matter how hard I try. It seems like the rest of the school's treating me like I'm something special too."

"Are you alright?"

"Yes," I nodded, then smiled sadly to myself. "People change, I guess. There was a time in my life when I would have loved the attention. I was a chubby little kid before and never could make many friends. But now keeping the friends I've had and learning to trust new ones is even more of a challenge."

"I thought you looked cute before too." Ash laid a reassuring kiss on my jawline. When he saw the confusion in my eyes, he explained, "Your sister and Alana sent me your old pictures."

"Those back stabbers." I chuckled good-humoredly. Then turning a more serious tone, I asked, "Do you think I've changed since getting in the band?"

"I do believe you are a little more stubbly than I remembered, but you haven't changed who you are." Ash's laugh tickled against the crook of my neck.

"You don't mind that I was a fat kid?"

"I think looking good can get you quite far in this world, but the people who stand by you in the end will be the ones who genuinely care about who you are inside. I fell in love with the person who saved me when I was drugged at a party, who was happy to come for 2am cupcakes, who took on my friend head on when his affections were challenged."

"The person I am now, if you hadn't told me to try for the band, I wouldn't even be able to come here and hold you."

"I'm sorry you had to lose friends in the process."

"Perhaps they were never very close friends to begin with, only passersby I shared memories with. Would they leave me so easily otherwise? I tried with them and they still left me." I paused to gather my thoughts during those months into words. "I was so afraid I would lose you too."

"I feared the same thing. Dust said he was keeping an eye on you for me though." Ash said teasingly as he played with the buttons on my shirt.

"Did he tell you how good I've been?"

"Only that you play better bass now because you lock yourself up to practice all the time."

"Seeing how happy Dust and Sasha are together only made me miss you more. Matt had his girlfriend with him, and Mason had groupies over all the time. I wanted you with me so badly."

"I missed you."

"I needed you more than words can describe." I squeezed him tightly to me, trying to meld our bodies together so that no amount of space could come in between again.

"Where will you be staying?"

I reached into my pocket and brought out a keycard in front of him.

"My apartment in London." I announced proudly. "Would your parents be okay with you coming over?"

Ash nodded and smiled happily. "They've been more relaxed with me since I came back from the states. My aunt gave me a glowing review. How long can you stay in England?"

"For at least a year. We are going to be recording in London since Dust and Mr. Green knows some good producers here and has convinced the label this'll be the best location to develop our image."

"What about after that?"

"I'll be old enough to stay here by myself. I might have to go on tour with the band every once in awhile, but you'll be where my home is."

"Cloud," Ash was a little taken aback by my brashness. "You are serious?"

"I know that we are still young and that we have plenty of time to live our lives. I don't want to scare you, just that I've though about our future if those things become an issue."

"I'm not scared. I'm happy that you would consider so far into the future. I was going to say I could register for universities in the states if you have to go back."

"I didn't want us to separate again, not if I could help it." I gave his hand a quick squeeze. "I can't believe we are finally together again."

"We got through it."

"I know we are strong enough to be apart, but I'll fight to keep this from happening again." I reassured him.

Ash looked at me for a moment, a loving smile lit up his face. "I think you have changed a little after all."

"I have?"

"Yes, you are more confident. More mature."

"I think it's because I've finally found something I want to fight for."

"Music?" Ash asked.

I shook my head and bushed back a stray hair from his eyes.

"Love. You."

The bus had rolled to a stop in front of a tall glass skyscraper downtown. The rain had stopped. The streets were slick with the reflection of stars and neon lights. Matt and Mason were still asleep when we stepped by them quietly. Our manager gave us an acknowledging nod when we passed him.

The city was cold, but the building in front of us looked like home. I took a thick scarf out of my bag and wrapped it around Ash. When I've made sure that he won't freeze from the bus to the building, I led him out of the warm shelter of the bus.

Dust came off the bus behind us with a package and whispered something into Ash's ear while I was getting my luggage down. He gave me a hard pat on the back.

"Don't be late for the session tomorrow morning. Have fun, don't play too hard." Then with a laugh, he ran back towards the bus.

I waved at the bus as it rolled off, then swung my traveling bag over my back and held Ash's hand in mine as we let ourselves into the building with my keycard. When we got into the elevator, I noticed a brown gift bag in Ash's hands.

"He said this was for us." Ash explained. He dug into the bag and pulled out a pair of fuzzy handcuffs and a variety pack of rubber dildos. A soft blush colored his cheeks when he saw the contents.

I cleared my throat nervously. I'll need to remind Dust to stop taking his pranks so seriously. "I swear I didn't have anything to do with that stuff. I have no idea why he'd—"

"No?" Ash laughed, "but it might be rude to let his thoughtful gift go to waste."

I startled at the mischievous sparkle in Ash's eyes, then grinned back. "You are right, we should definitely put it to good use."

When the elevator doors opened, I swept Ash off his feet and carried him in my arms. Ash squealed and laughed in protest as I walked towards my apartment number. Our eyes met as we stood in front of the door, communicating a message we both know in our hearts.

Welcome home, love.