no particular place to go

Notes: Bob/Ray, for clumsygyrl in popoffacork, who likes long walks on the beach grammar in nsync songs alternate realities! Happy holidays. (Also available at the community.)


Bob is seven and twenty-five.

His first ever jump is somewhere he doesn’t recognize. He’s scared at first, because it’s dark except for a shadow of light under the door, and he kind of squeaks when the door opens and a really tall guy with a huge bushy head of hair pokes in, squinting in the dark.

He tries to duck so the guy won’t see him, but instead the guy crouches low without touching him and says, “Hey, hey. It’s going to be okay, I promise. C’mon, let’s get you some clothes.”

They kind of run to a room down the hall, and he hides behind the tall guy when he sees another guy sitting on the couch. The tall guy gets him a shirt that’s way too big for him, and he pulls it on as fast as he can. It hangs past his knees, and he wants to curl up again and hide.

“Hey, Robert,” the guy on the couch says; it’s weird ’cause the guy kind of looks like his dad. Same eyes.

“How do you know my name?” Robert blurts out; he hates it anyway, but his mom makes everyone call him Robert “because its your Christian name, honey, and I gave it to you.” He would totally rather be called Bob.

The guy smiles. “Hi. I’m Bob.”

Robert jumps back, and he never got to learn the tall guy’s name.

Bob is sixteen.

To be honest, being a CDP is just one more thing that’s gonna get you picked on in high school, especially when there’s more than one occasion you have to run down the hallway naked to the nurse’s station for new clothes. And usually those occasions happen when the fucking bell has rung.

Bob’s learned to get by, though. He’s the quiet guy in the back of the band room who makes the other kids’ ears pop when he jumps; he has a couple friends he sees movies with and he’s mostly stayed out of trouble by being so unobtrusive that no one thinks to call him names. Chrono-displacement is only as weird as you make it, his dad says, which is bullshit and corny but also kind of true.

Besides, Bob’s totally aware of how much his present sucks, especially compared to how fucking awesome his future is going to be.

He jumps in the middle of Algebra, which blows because he actually did his homework this time and he’s pretty sure he got most of the answers right. At least James is in this class, and he’s used to grabbing Bob’s stuff and can be trusted with Bob’s locker combination. Bob shows up in the back of a venue; they all kind of look the same after awhile, and he can only tell he’s in Phoenix because of the sign on the wall. He creeps around, looking for some clothes or at least a bag, when he turns a corner and practically runs into Ray.

“Bob!” Ray says, looking surprised. His eyes narrow as he takes in Bob’s…whatever, and says, “High school, am I right?”

“Can I have some clothes?” Bob mumbles, and Ray just laughs and pulls his hoodie off to give to him. Bob likes the way it smells; he’s been jumping more lately, and he keeps running into Ray, who’s, like, his best friend or something. Old Bob (who hates that nickname) tries to keep things as vague as possible, but as neither Old nor Young Bob were/are particularly good liars, Bob keeps finding out stuff Old Bob doesn’t want him to know.

They go into the green room, and Gerard is singing loud and kind of off-key to some weird shit he likes, Judy Garland or whatever, and Bob is really grateful for the basketball shorts everyone he jumps to seems to keep around for him. Ray is talking about E strings or something, and Bob has learned to listen to Ray with only one ear because otherwise he misses all the other cool stuff going on.

“Hey, where am I?” he asks suddenly, and Ray doesn’t even break a stride in his talking, just says, “You’re in Phoenix, and right now you’re checking out the arrangement of your drums because you keep getting bitchy about your Special Snare.”

Bob doesn’t roll his eyes, even though he knows he’s in Arizona; but then Ray’s words catch up with him and he says really fast, “What, wait a minute, I thought I was a sound guy for you guys, that’s what Old Bob told me! That’s why I’m going to Florida! But I’m–I’m a drummer? What the fuck, Toro, you totally lied–”

Ray’s eyes get kind of round and huge and he starts babbling about how he definitely did not mean Bob’s drums, no way, he meant the soundin the venue, oh crap the space-time continuum; and then Mikey walks in with the biggest Slushie Bob’s ever seen, takes one look at the situation, and says in a kind of long-suffering way, “Ray, you are not going to destroy the past, because clearly the past has already happened. Do I need to get out the flow-chart again? Bob, you’re a really good drummer, so keep practicing even when you think you’re not going to drum again, okay?”

Bob rolls this over in his head. He’s going to be a drummer, in a band with his best friend. That makes the whole dropping out of high school thing way more appealing. Clearly his dad is totally wrong and Florida is where he needs to be.

Ray is looking at him really anxiously, and Bob kind of pats him on the arm. “I promise not to fuck up the space-time continuum, or whatever,” he says awkwardly. “Thanks for letting me know I’m going to be in a band when I grow up.”

He jumps just as Ray starts talking.

Bob is twenty-two and fifty-four.

He likes it best when he jumps into their house, because he knows his way around even though it won’t get bought for another decade. He hasn’t even met Ray properly yet, though he knows it’s coming soon, this whole other chapter of his life that he’s spent a really long time trying not to think about because he knows it’s going to be just that awesome. Old Bob is a lying motherfucker every time he says it will suck. Bob knows he’s just trying to throw him off the scent.

He grabs some drawstring pants hanging on the hook behind the door and pads out to the kitchen. It’s the middle of the afternoon here, and Bob is going to miss catering for this back in Minnesota, so he wants a sandwich or something and he knows there’s always stuff in the fridge.

Bob hasn’t jumped as much since he started touring; he figures its something about being tired all the time and sleeping at weird hours that fucks up his CDP genes or whatever. And even though Chrono-displacement is starting to get accepted and stuff, it’s still pretty rare and hard to explain, especially when you jump to the past. When he was a kid, Bob jumped a lot to his parents’ lives, and his grandma’s house; once even to Ray’s house, when Ray was a teenager and didn’t have a clue who Bob was, or was going to be. Now, though, Bob mostly jumps to here, because this is where he and Ray will be living for a really long time. There’s something about that anchor in the future that tethers Bob here, which is convenient because Bob really likes the pastrami Old Bob picks up from the deli down the street.

Bob really wishes they’d go ahead and figure out how the English language works with all these new verb tenses, because sometimes it makes his head hurt.

He’s halfway into a really good pastrami-and-hot-mustard-on-rye when the door opens and Dixie ambles in, followed by Houser and Markie. Old Bob closes the door behind them all, carrying a canvas bag and scratching at his beard. Bob rubs his face a little; he’s been thinking about trying to grow it out, but he didn’t want to look like a douche who couldn’t grow a beard.

“If you call me Old Bob to my face, I’m going to throw the fruit I just bought at you,” Old Bob warns, and Bob almost snorts mustard up his nose. He winces a little, and Old Bob laughs. “Yeah, that shit hurt, didn’t it? That’s what you get for naming me Old Bob, which you’re going to hate pretty soon.”

Old Bob starts putting away the groceries, and Bob finishes his sandwich and helps. Dixie is lying on the floor, watching them both, and Houser keeps running excitedly around their feet. “Hi boy,” Bob whispers. “Can’t wait to meet you.”

“Which year?” Old Bob says, cracking open a beer even though it’s the middle of the afternoon and refusing to give Bob one because he knows it makes the jumping worse.

“’02,” Bob says, fiddling with the crumbs on the kitchen island.

Old Bob smiles. “That’s a fucking good year,” he says fondly.

Bob looks up, meets his own eyes. “Yeah,” he says. “That’s what I hear.”

They watch ESPN classic from 1991 because Old Bob won’t let him watch games from the normal timeline, and Bob jumps just when Ray gets home. He says hello and goodbye in the same breath, watching Ray reach down to place a kiss on Old Bob’s mouth and trying not to ache for his future.

Bob is twenty-seven.

He flexes his wrist and winces. Bob has some pretty strict rules for himself about learning too much about his future, after that thing with Frankie and the slip-n-slide (they’d all learned their fucking lesson off that one), but there are times when he wishes he’d just have said to himself, Self, for fuck’s sake, it is not worth it to play through the pain even though you love your band.

Four surgeries and two return visits to the hospital and he’s in pretty good shape, considering, but it still hurts most of the time, even if he’s gotten used to always having the pain around. He’s left his brace back with everything else; jumping always makes every hurt in his body that much worse, and he tries to pop some medicine before he goes but he can’t always make it.

He’s in Ray’s backyard, or at least the pathetic, poorly-kept lawn that passes for a backyard at the apartment complex Ray lived in when he was twenty. He sees a seemingly abandoned white bucket by the back door, and pulls off the lid to find shorts and a t-shirt and the key to get in the building. Bob throws on the clothes and heads inside; Ray’s passed out on the couch, his Dreamcast paused on a level of MDK2 that Bob remembers the cheat code to. He’s tempted to beat the level, just because he knows it’ll piss Ray off and it’s always fun to see him get red in the face. Instead, Bob just grabs a soda from the fridge, some pills from the cupboard over the stove, and flips through the issue of Rolling Stone that’s on the counter, silently laughing at all the hairstyles.

Bob thinks this is going to be a pretty simple jump, just a little quiet time in Ray’s apartment, but Ray starts to wake up, and Bob goes over so that Ray won’t get too freaked out by him being here. He always startled Ray in the worst way before Ray started to see him more frequently.

“Hi,” Bob says, leaning on the top of the couch.

“Hey,” Ray says blearily, rubbing his face and reaching for his glasses at the same time. “Oh, hey! Bob! I didn’t know you were coming today.”

Bob smiles, handing Ray his glasses from where they’d fallen to the floor. “I didn’t know I was coming today either. Roommates out?”

“Yeah, Eric’s away with Carmen for the weekend and Julio got an extra shift down at the 7-Eleven,” Ray says, yawning and sitting up. “How’s the jump been so far?”

“Not bad,” Bob says. “Could be better.” Ray blinks up at him, and Bob wants to laugh but he doesn’t. Ray looks so young here, eyes big in his glasses and his hair standing up all over the place. He’s so cute. His Ray is going protest Bob calling him cute, but man, he really was.

“Um, how much better?” Ray says, failing entirely in subtlety. Bob just chuckles, rounds the couch and settles between Ray’s thighs, pushing him back down.

“It’s getting pretty good now,” he says, and runs his tongue along the seam of Ray’s mouth, which opens for him almost sweetly. Bob’s seen a lot of different Ray Toro’s so far, but this is one of his favorites: wanting, unco-ordinated, eager for every touch. Bob’s never seen who Ray was with first, but he knows that he himself has indulged in this at least once before. Old Bob is not always the most moral guy, but Bob can’t bring himself to care.

Ray pants and moans beneath him, and Bob drinks up every sound; Ray won’t get him for real for another five or six years, and Bob wants to make this memorable. He has his own Ray to go home to.

“Bob,” Ray whines, and Bob buries his laugh in the side of Ray’s neck, running his hands everywhere he can reach and then some. It’s a good jump. One of the better ones.

Bob is thirty-two, and twenty-three.

Bob is really tired. It’s only been six hours since he finished the drive to Jersey from Chicago, and he was really looking forward to some serious sleep with Ray in hands-reach for the first time in half a month. Instead, he’s jerked awake by one of Ray’s epic snores and the familiar tug of a jump pulling in his gut. “Fuck!” he shouts into his pillow just as he snaps through time.

He lands in the back of the shitty van they toured Europe in. It smells like piss and weed and a slightly higher quality of cheap beer than what they toured in back home. Bob groans and curses; he thinks he’s lying on top of a hard case, but he really does not feel up to moving so that he could check.

Instead he throws his arm over his head and reaches for the first soft, fabric-type thing he feels, which turns out to be Gerard’s truly disgusting sleeping bag. He’s too wiped out to care, and intends to spend this crappy excuse for time-travelling as unconscious as possible.

It works for a couple minutes, but then the side door gets thrown open and he hears familiar voices that he tries not to understand getting nearer and then climbing in. Bob stifles the urge to scream, and just buries himself under Gee’s horrible funky smell and pretends that he didn’t just hear Young Bob and Ray climb into the first bank of seats.

“So what, are you saying you want to break up with me?” says Young Bob gruffly.

Fuck, Bob thinks. Fuck, I do not have the sentience to deal with this right now.

“How can we break up if we’re not even dating, Bob!” Ray says in that high-pitched voice he gets when he’s upset about something. The memory of his hands whirling around in the air and his ratty Iron Maiden t-sshirt comes unbidden to his mind; Bob definitely remembers this little argument, remembers where it’s going and wishes he could just sleep through it instead of reliving that shining moment of stupidity all over again.

“We should be, though,” Young Bob points out, and Bob rolls his eyes. What a fucked-up thing to say.

“Just because you–you–you show up in my life, when I didn’t ask you to, and you’re around because you say we get together in the future, that, like, that doesn’t mean you can just say we’re going to be together now! Life doesn’t work like that! It’s not fate, or, whatever, destiny!” As tired as he is, Bob does smile at that; he’s always thought it was funny how Ray got more incoherent the more upset he was.

Young Bob is silent, and Bob remembers thinking, mulishly, that he knew Ray was going to be his boyfriend or whatever because he’d been there and saw it, so Ray should just shut up and get with the program already. What an asshole, Bob thinks, shaking his head slightly.

“I don’t want to be with you ’cause it’s supposed to happen,” Young Bob says quietly, like it’s hard for him to say. It was hard for him to say.

“You act like that’s the reason,” Ray points out. “Like the only point of dating me, or kissing me or whatever is because you know it’s going to be that way.”

“It’s not that,” Young Bob says, and he sounds pained. “I, uh. I like you. As a person. You make me laugh and stuff. You always buy extra fries ’cause you know I’ll want some, and you have the best record collection and you kick my ass at Mario Kart. You’re probably the best musician I’ve ever met in real life and I pretty much want to kiss you all the time, so. Yeah. The future is stupid, I guess. I’d rather be with you now.”

Wow, Bob thinks. It’s pretty lucky Ray already knows the sex is going to be good, otherwise there would have been no reason to keep Young Bob around. Bob kind of wishes he could take Young Bob aside in the middle of this stellar example of communication and give him some well-learned pointers. But that would probably take away the point of the conversation. It was the first time Ray had ever made him really talk about things, but it definitely was not the last.

“Okay,” Ray says.

“Okay?” asks Young Bob.

“Okay, you can kiss me now, and stuff. Be my boyfriend or whatever. Just, don’t be stupid, okay? Just because you’re a CDP doesn’t mean you know all the stuff about the future.”

The van is silent then, except for the wet noises of kissing, and Bob is hit by another wave of exhaustion; he wishes desperately to be home, in his own bed, and is so relieved by the feeling of a jump that he almost, but not quite, makes a noise. He falls asleep mid-jump.

Bob is forty-five, and fifteen, and twenty, and sixty-one, and…


Based on The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.