When Pete wakes up, he hears church bells ringing. It rings in through the curtains like the too-early morning sun. It rings in his ears and behind his eyes until he opens them. Pete strains to hear the bells until they start to fade, until he realises they were never really ringing in the first place.
He grabs for his phone thinking he might call her, just to ask her why, just to hear her voice when she answers. He surprises himself when he doesn’t.
bells were ringin, he writes in a message instead, but not to her. Before he sends it he adds, didyou get your wings? Pete waits for a message back, sliding the phone along the bed until it vibrates against his palm a moment later.
Not yet, is the reply, but I haven’t checked for feathers on the bed so, who knows?
Pete smiles even though he doesn’t really feel like it. Even though there’s a spring in the mattress digging into his spine and the smoke-stained ceiling’s glaring down at him like a black hole, ready to swallow him up. It’s the equivalent of smiling in the mirror when you’re sad, just to see what it looks like.
His phone goes off again and he looks down. Where are you? the message reads, but Pete doesn’t want to answer that. Can’t. So he fires the same question back instead.
The reply comes lightening fast, says, Your place. Pete blinks up at the ceiling and lets that go, lets words flit through his head instead. Some things he’ll have to pen down and put to paper eventually. Things that could be a song. Could be. Not now though. Not for a long while.
His phone vibrates again, a new message that says Come home, but Pete’s not sure where that is.
only if u fly me there rickster, he sends anyway.
And seconds later comes, You’ve just gotta tell me where you are.
Pete wants to get up, wants to save Patrick the trouble and the time. But he just doesn’t think he can. He’s sunk in, anchored to the bed by a silver ring in his pocket. It begs him to call her up anyway, ask anyway. It doesn’t understand what “no” and “we’re over” mean.
It sounds like church bells.
A few hours later, while Pete’s pretending to sleep, someone slips into his room. The door creaks loudly and, even without looking, Pete’s sure it’s Patrick. He isn’t even surprised by how easily Patrick got in. Years of having your bandmates lock you out of vans and hotel rooms can teach you things.
When Pete doesn’t hear him step any further into the room, he opens his eyes and finds Patrick leaning against the door and watching him. “Good morning, sunshine,” Patrick says, smiling tightly.
“Hey,” Pete croaks. “You got here fast,” he frowns, his voice is gravelly and thick, a dry itch in the back of his throat.
“Not really,” Patrick says, hovering in the corner of Pete’s eye. “Took a few hours, actually.”
Pete nods and his head spins. “Sorry, man.”
“No, it’s cool,” Patrick smiles. “Just give me better directions than ‘that one place’ next time, okay?” Patrick isn’t wearing his hat, his hair rustled and clinging with sweat to his forehead. “You smell like shit, dude,” he says. He scratches the back of his neck and sits down, fiddling with the buttons on his shirt. “Just FYI.”
Pete snorts and rolls on his side away from Patrick, tries to bury himself in the ugly sheets and pillows. It works until the pillow’s snatched away, until Patrick is tugging the sheets back. “So, this is a nice room,” he says.
The room is a swirl of tacky colours and mismatched furniture, the walls are damp and the paint is chipping. It’s giving Pete a headache. He hums in agreement anyway, closing his eyes and humming some more, just to feel the odd tingle against the roof of his mouth.
Patrick says, “The weather’s pretty good today, you know.” He says, “You don’t have a cold, do you? I hear there’s something going around.” And, “How much is this place for a night?”
Pete listens to Patrick rattle on and on about whatever until it becomes background noise. Until Patrick stops talking and Pete feels him shift closer, another tug at his sheets, a dip in the mattress, a warm body. And then Patrick, he asks, “Are you ready to go now?” His hand is on Pete’s shoulder, he says, very softly, “You know, you could’ve come to me first.”
And Pete, he feels like laughing, he feels like running again, away from Patrick, from everything. He doesn’t. Instead he mumbles, “Right,” and presses his palm to his head, like he could feel where the ache is if he just pressed close enough. “Sure, yeah.”
The ride back is mostly quiet except for the buzz and static of the radio. There’s a CD player, but Patrick never uses it, saying he feels more at home listening to the radio and old mixtapes. Pete rests his head against the window and condensation drips down his nose. He writes his name on the glass.
Patrick pats him on the shoulder, hesitant in that way like you might get a punch in the face, Pete smiles, he probably would.
“So,” Patrick says, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, “do you wanna talk about it, or.” He waves a hand about before letting it rest on his knee, eyes never straying from the road ahead.
“Or,” Pete says, and his breath fogs up the window, showing a faint outline of the letter ‘P’. “Maybe. I don’t know.” He sits back and glances at Patrick.
After a while, Patrick clears his throat and mutters something that sounds like, “Okay, well.” He turns up the radio and doesn’t say anything else, Pete goes back to drawing on the window.
He grips the door handle as soon as Patrick stops in front of his house, gives a small, “Thank you,” and flings the door open, stepping out of the car, one foot on the road.
“No problem,” Patrick says, looking up at Pete. “Um, are you sure you’re, like.” Patrick leans across the seat and tries to peak up at Pete from the car. “Do you want, we could do something? I don’t know.”
“No, it’s.” Pete scratches his head, pushing the door back and forth without closing it. “It’s okay, I’m good.”
“You’re good?” Patrick huffs a laugh. “You fucking disappeared, Pete.”
“It made sense at the time,” Pete shrugs, because that’s it, that’s the only honest reason he can give. Patrick stares up at him, his eyes searching Pete’s face. Pete doesn’t have to look, he can feel it. He feels like he’s been here before.
Patrick sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “Look if, if this is about the ring--”
“Patrick,” Pete snaps. “Just fucking, just don’t worry about it, don’t ask me about it, it’s. It’s not.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Patrick repeats flatly, his hand twitches against his leg, tugging at a loose thread in his jeans. Pete doesn’t know why he notices. “Okay,” Patrick says finally and nods, jaw set. “Okay, fucking whatever. Here.” he tosses a key on the passenger seat. “If you need anything,” he explains, sitting back and not looking at Pete.
He waits for Pete to grab the key and close the door before driving off, at least. Sometimes Pete thinks he likes it better when his friends are mad at him because it’s easier. Whatever ‘it’ is. Other times, he just remembers how much he misses Patrick when he’s gone.
Pete finds a note slipped under his door when he looks down. He picks it up and crumples it in his hand without reading it, walking inside and up to his room. His phone rings but he doesn’t feel like answering it, not yet.
When he flops onto his bed and rolls on his side, he feels the ring dig into his hip. Pete goes to pull it out of his pocket and the note falls out. Two birds with one stone, he guesses, but he shoves it back in and holds the ring up to look at it.
It’s a plain thing, faded silver with his initials engraved on the inside. There’s room next to his initials for someone else, though it wasn’t meant for anyone when he bought it. He doesn’t think anyway, Pete can’t really remember. It was a long time ago. He sits up, turning the ring over between his fingers. Maybe it was for the first time he fell in love, maybe it was a good thing, once.
Now though, it burns a hole in his pocket and tries to fit itself on the wrong fingers. It digs into his hip and tells him that every ‘one’ is the right ‘one’, and all Pete wants is to get rid of it.
He holds the ring between his lips so he can pull out the crumpled note, he shivers when it clangs against his teeth. The note says:
came to get my stuff but I don’t have a key. be home tonight, I’ll bring over your stuff too, bye.
Short and sweet. Pete lies back and rips the note into a fistful of tiny pieces and stuffs them back into his pocket. People just don’t surprise him anymore.
Pete spits out his ring and watches it roll down his chest and onto the bed, under his back. They were over before he got to ask, but he’s sure if he’d asked her at all she would have said yes. She is the ring digging into his back, she was that faded gleam. It’s what he gets for wanting it too much.
Sometimes you don’t even surprise yourself anymore, maybe that’s why things get tired real fast, maybe that’s why people stop surprising you.
Pete tries to sleep, but he just ends up twisting around until his pillow’s pressed flat and the sheets are edging off the bed. For some reason he thinks of The Princess and the Pea.
“Pete,” Andy says when Pete finally answers his phone, laughing, “Man, what, are you too good to answer your phone now?”
“Hey, Andy,” Pete says, throwing back the blankets. “What’s up?”
“Awesome shit, man,” Andy says, “I’ve been trying to reach you, what’s going on?” There’s noise in the background, the buzz of guitars being tuned up.
Pete stares at his door and starts tapping a rhythm out on his knee. “Nothing, man.” He stops when he recognises it as one of their songs. “What’s up?”
“Practisc,” Andy says, and Pete can tell he’s grinning over the line. “Remind me to send you demos, it’s good stuff.”
Pete gets off the bed. “Definitely,” he says, and grabs his jacket. He can’t think here, not in this house. “Is Joe there with you?”
“Yeah he’s here.” Andy says, somewhat reluctantly, “You want me to put him on?”
Pete grabs his wallet, his keys. “It’s okay, dude,” he says, because it is, now. “I’m heading out, just say hi for me.”
“Yeah, yeah okay.” Andy pauses like he wants to say something else, the line goes silent and all Pete hears is guitars and excited voices in the background. Eventually, Andy says, “Well, I guess I’ll talk to you later, man. Hey, and come down some time, it’s been a while.”
“Definitely,” Pete says again, his thumb hovering over the ‘end call’ button. “Later, Andy.” He turns his phone off and puts it in his pocket, he’s already out the door.
The club is loud, beating in his chest in a way that reminds him of playing shows. Pete reaches for his drink and catches glimpses of words, smudged letters crowded in between his tattoos. He doesn’t remember writing them. He orders a shot and forgets to care.
“You don’t look so good,” someone, some guy remarks next to him, leaning his elbows on the bar and watching Pete, watching his face.
Pete, for his part, gives his best smile, says, “I’m really not.”
The stranger keeps watching him, turning in his seat to face Pete. “Maybe you should go home,” he suggests, and nods at Pete’s drink. “How many have you had?”
“Not too much,” Pete answers. “Not enough.” He’s not sure why this guy cares, but for whatever strange reason, Pete thinks he could probably love him for it.
The guy, he says to Pete, “Do you want me to call you a cab?”
Pete doesn’t shake his head, doesn’t nod. “No, no,” he says. He’s already reaching into his pocket to touch the ring, looking at the stranger. He thinks, maybe, maybe he doesn’t know this guy at all, but maybe that doesn’t matter.
Maybe people make too much out of love.
“Are you sure?” The guy asks, frowning.
Pete’s still touching the ring, he’s still thinking. Maybe this is what love is supposed to be, maybe it’s really simple. Maybe love is just about giving a fuck about someone, anyone.
For whatever reason, for just a second, he thinks of Patrick.
The guy waves a hand in Pete’s face, shakes him lightly by the shoulder. “Hey?” He asks Pete, “You okay?”
Pete looks at him, at the guy’s patchy stubble and concerned eyes, the history of laugh lines there. Yeah, he could probably love him, at least eventually. This could be it, Pete thinks. It would have to be, because he’s tried everything else.
He holds the ring out to the stranger and a lump starts to form in his throat, his heart beats to the rhythm of the club music. “Do you want this?” Pete asks, dropping the ring on the bar and staring at it, at everything he’s made it mean.
“I uh.” The stranger leans a little away from Pete. Pete spins the ring on the table when the guy starts shifting in his seat and then standing up. He says, “I was, I don’t.”
“It’s free,” Pete tells him, and downs his shot fast, to clear his throat, to calm his nerves. “You can keep it, or pawn it off if you want, I don’t give a fuck.”
The stranger’s gone and Pete orders another shot. It’s okay anyway, because in his place is another, a sweet thing that looks exactly like the kind of person Pete would like to ruin. “What are you doing here?” she asks, grabbing his next drink.
Her voice sends chills down his spine, always did. He thought he was only meeting strangers tonight. “Could ask you the same thing,” he says.
She smiles and leans across the bar, grabbing another shot before Pete can get to it. Her lip ring clangs a little against the glass, the rim of it smudged with her lipstick. “I wonder who found who this time,” she says.
“Does it matter?” Pete lets her take his hand, lets her lead him away from the bar. They shove and push people out of their way until they’re outside, until she turns around and holds both his hands in her cold ones.
“You haven’t called me in a while,” she says, pressing closer until they’re chest-to-chest and he’s back-to-wall. “I missed this.” She squeezes his fingers and Pete pulls her closer. He knows this, at least. It’s not love, but he can do this.
She runs her hands up his arms, tries to balance her weight against him. “That’s nice,” Pete says, and barely feels it when she kisses him, when she cups his cheek with her hand. “I think I missed you.”
When her thigh slips between his, Pete breaks the kiss, panting. She just stares at him with her big eyes, spit shining on her lip ring. Pete never realises how much he misses her until she’s around. She kisses him again, harder this time, and Pete’s heart starts pounding too fast. “Heard you were with someone else,” she says, her fingernails bite it into his shoulders. “Did you ask her, too?”
“Why,” Pete asks, his voice wavering, “you want it still?” And he starts reaching into his pocket.
“No,” she says, shaking her head, fingers tightening over his wrists. “Just this.” She smiles and Pete knows it’s the sad kind, he’s seen it too many times to count. Pete wants to tell her he’s sorry, it’s all his fault, but the words get caught in his throat. He kisses her instead. “You know,” she says, “this is all I want from you,” and kisses him back.
“I called you yesterday,” she whispers harshly, her mouth still touching his. “I called you, did you know?” He pulls her hips closer and doesn’t answer, doesn’t say he hadn’t been home in days, his phone’s been off. Excuses, excuses, excuses. “That’s right,” she says, and starts laughing, “that’s all this is, because we don’t give a fuck, right? You don’t give a fuck about me.”
Pete wants to say he does, he does, but instead his hands make their way under her shirt, up her back. He knows this, he can do this with his eyes closed, like finding the letters on a keyboard, like playing a song he’s played a million times. “When it gets lonely,” she tells him, scraping teeth against his collarbone, “when it gets hard, that’s when I need you.”
Pete doesn’t remember the last time they were together, but he bets it was something like this. He loves her every time he sees her. It never stops. “You could still have it,” he says, trying to ignore how glassy her eyes are, how smudged and wet her makeup is. It’s like looking in a mirror, your left hand meets with their right.
She kisses down his neck and he holds her wrist, he’s not surprised to find that he’s already trying to put the ring on her finger.
When she notices what he’s doing she snatches her hand away and shoves at his chest. “I don’t want it,” she says, pulling away. Pete keeps his head down and keeps trying to open her hand, neither does he. “No one’s ever gonna want it, don’t you get it?” She’s pushing him against the wall again, smearing a kiss over his cheek. “This is all I want.” She grabs his bicep and rests her head against his shoulder. “This is all we’re good for.”
Pete feels like he’s trying to breathe through a plastic bag. He lets her and lets her and lets himself, until he pushes off the wall and takes a step away. He starts walking, running. The rush of blood in his ears is louder than whatever she’s saying to him.
He has to go home.
Pete steps into Patrick’s room, clutching his keys tightly so they don’t jangle and make as much noise. Not the first time he’s snuck into his home, practice makes perfect.
“Your fault,” he whispers once he’s in Patrick’s room, “you gave me a key.” He pockets the key where the ring should be, usually is. For now he’s got it trapped between his thumb and forefinger. Looping it up and down. Ring within a ring.
Patrick stays soundly asleep, keeps on snoring as Pete tries to quietly shut the door behind him. When he sits, Patrick rolls closer, curled up on his side close to Pete. It makes Pete smile for a second, even as he tightens his fists in the sheets and around the stupid ring.
"Patrick,” Pete says quietly, his voice breaking, “Patrick, I'm really tired, man, I’m tired of this." He tosses the ring next to Patrick and lets out a nervous laugh, picks it back up and starts playing with the sleeve of Patrick's shirt. “I want the real thing.” His cold fingers glance off Patrick's skin, it feels like he probably left a stain. "I don't fucking know, it's." He lets out a shaky breath and holds the ring up in front of his face, the faint glint of it in the dark. "It's like I have to. I just can't take it, you know?"
Patrick’s body is tense and still. Pete’s almost certain he woke him up, but it doesn’t matter, he keeps talking. "I just want to get rid of it," he says flatly, letting go of Patrick's sleeve. "Anyone can have it, I want them to." He smiles, because it’s the easiest thing in the world, because he doesn’t feel it anymore anyway. "But I know, I know nobody’s gonna fucking want it." Patrick shifts closer and Pete closes his eyes. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing anymore.”
"Bullshit," Patrick says, his voice is heavy from sleeping. Pete starts edging away, his fingers still pulling at the sheets. “Pete,” Patrick croaks, “fuck, you know you can come over during daylight hours, right?” Patrick reaches out, searching blindly for Pete's hand until Pete gives in and grabs his wrist, his cold thumb pressing against Patrick's pulse. "Pete," Patrick says gently, trying to curl his fingers over Pete's hand.
Pete doesn’t move until Patrick starts tugging on his hand, pulling him down so that Pete’s lying next to him.
“It’s late,” Patrick says, pushing down his blankets.
"Can I stay here?" Pete asks, feeling like a stupid kid bothering his parents.
“Yeah,” Patrick says, already moving to give Pete more space, pushing the sheets up like a tent. “Yeah, of course.”
"Hey,” Pete whispers after a while, shuffling closer. “Patrick you know, sometimes," he pauses, blinking through the haze of pills he took before he came here; not enough, not heavy enough to keep his eyelids down. "Sometimes I see you up there, man." Pete’s close enough now that his nose is just brushing against Patrick's chest. "I see you up there and I fucking swear I can see a halo." What he doesn’t say, is that it’s part of why he misses it so much.
"Something you're not tellin' me, Stump?" Pete asks and after a moment whispers, “Patrick, are you awake?”
Pete’s sure Patrick must be pretending, but even so he looks at the ring, staring at it long and hard before he finally takes Patrick’s hand and slips it on his finger. “You’ll probably know what to do with it better than I do,” Pete says softly, unconsciously running his thumb over Patrick’s knuckles, over the ring. “You always do.”
Patrick doesn’t say anything, Pete hums and feels it vibrate against his teeth. Patrick’s quiet long enough that Pete’s thinks he actually is asleep, that he hadn’t heard a word he said. After a few minutes of closing his eyes and counting though, he hears Patrick whisper, “Night, Pete.”
Not long after that, Pete’s finally able go to sleep.
He’s out of bed before Patrick wakes up, curled up on the couch with Patrick’s pillows and laundry pushed to the edge under his feet. It’s that kind of morning, the kind that comes way before the sun rises, and the house seems tinted dark blue. None of these things are Pete’s and yet he feels more at home here than at his own place. People over possessions, he supposes. Whatever it is that makes a home.
Pete only goes back to the room when he starts feeling lonely. He steps over sheets of notes and lyrics carefully, and doesn’t give in to the urge to look down. They aren’t his business anymore.
It doesn’t register right away when he opens the door and sees them, white and splayed over Patrick’s back and the sheets. Feathers, wings. It isn’t until Pete finds himself beside Patrick’s bed, reaching out to touch them that it sets in. That maybe, maybe. Because they’re probably not real, this is probably a joke.
Patrick’s still sleeping peacefully, lying on his stomach with his hand curled around a pillow. His shirt is ripped up the back, shreds hanging off the bed, off his arms, from what Pete can tell.
The long, wide wings spread down to Patrick’s ankles. Pete can’t help but reach out again, his hand shakes when he lightly touches a single feather. Patrick frowns in his sleep and Pete snatches his hand away. It’s then that he decides to get back in bed, slide in next to Patrick and sleep until this isn’t real. Or is, but Pete’s not sure which he wants it to be yet.
He wakes up to an empty bed, free of feathers. Pete has only a moment to remember why that matters, when he hears glass breaking in the kitchen. He goes to see what’s going on, what happened, when he hears Patrick shout, “Fuck,” and the sound of more glass shattering.
In his head, Pete tells himself it isn’t what he thinks it is, it won’t be, it can’t. When he stops in the doorway, the way his heart races when he sees them, it almost hurts his chest. Pete can only watch as Patrick fumbles around the kitchen, knocking over another glass with his wings.
Patrick turns clumsily, his wings thrashing around. He looks stricken, pale when he says, “Pete,” and, “I was just, I don’t know, shit.” Patrick’s wings knock over another dinner plate.
“It’s okay,” Pete says when he gets closer, when reality hits him. “Let’s, let’s get out of the kitchen.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Patrick says, he’s unsteady, barely managing to keep his balance. “I don’t, fuck,” Patrick shouts. “This can’t be happening, it can’t be, I don’t.”
“Patrick,” Pete says, trying not to let his voice shake. He touches Patrick’s arm lightly and barely stops himself from reaching for the wings. “Just calm down, okay? Breathe.”
Patrick glares at him a little, but he does take a deep breath, letting it out shakily. He grabs Pete’s arms and hangs onto him like he’s the only thing keeping him up. For a second Pete feels like he should turn them around, like they should switch places. It feels strange, not to be the one holding on.
When the wings stretch out Patrick stumbles and he grips Pete’s shoulder. His thumb pushes against Pete’s skin, he’s breathing down his neck they’re so close. There’s a slight glint in the corner of Pete’s eye when he turns his face away. That faint sound of church bells.
Patrick frowns for a second when Pete staggers back. There’s a lump in his throat as Patrick looks down at his hand, at the ring. Pete can tell exactly when it dawns on him.
“Oh.” Patrick touches his knuckle, holding his hand up in front of his face. “Oh man, it’s.”
“Maybe it’s not,” Pete stares down at the floor as he says it, “It could be but maybe it’s not.” He closes his eyes briefly and doesn’t look back up at Patrick.
Patrick says, “I have to take it off,” just as Pete grabs his hand and squeezes his fingers.
“No hey,” Pete says, “don’t.”
“I can’t stay like this,” Patrick says, staring at Pete strangely. “Pete, let go.”
“You don’t know,” Pete says, “it could be something else, just.”
“What are you, stop.” Patrick struggles with fighting Pete away and keeping his balance. “Seriously, back the fuck off, Pete.” He shoves Pete back so hard he falls back on the floor, the rug rubbing against his elbows.
Patrick grabs onto a chair, his wings raised like a bird ready to attack or flee. After a while his shoulders slump and he stares down at Pete, rubbing his forehead. “I don’t, jesus Pete,” he heaves a sigh and reaches a hand out to Pete. His shirt is hanging off his shoulders, shreds of material dangling over his arms. The wings behind him are big and beautiful, but Pete can tell they’re weighing him down, too heavy for Patrick to even stand straight. Pete doesn’t take his hand.
“You could,” he hesitates, bringing his knees up to his chest. “You could fly,” he finally says. Pete wants the idea to weigh on Patrick, wants it to be heavy in his chest like it is in Pete’s.
“Fly?” Patrick repeats softly, still holding onto the chair with one hand, still swaying. Pete’s reminded of that time in Patrick’s basement all those years ago, trying to get that kid to sing.
Patrick sighs and his wings relax, folding against his back. Pete feels like touching them again, he wants so much to just peel the remains of Patrick’s shirt away so he can look at them, at him, and wonder why it means so much.
Patrick shakes his head. “I can’t just fly, Pete.”
“Yeah, you can.” He looks up at Patrick and just knows how perfect he’d be up there, better than Pete if he ever had the chance. He’s still sitting on the floor, his arms red with rug burn. Pete has nothing keeping him down, but he stays there anyway.
Patrick just shakes his head again, holding his hand to his chest.
"Just give it a shot, man," Pete says, and finds himself staring straight at the ring. "It could work, you should try."
Patrick narrows his eyes at Pete, tilting his head to the side. "You don't think I know what you're doing?" he says. "You don't think I know you? That I don't know what this is about? Fuck, Pete, I'm not stupid."
Pete swallows and tries to smile, says, "Never said you were."
"I'm not doing this," says Patrick, pulling the ring off. "I'm not doing this to myself just because you wanna get rid of it, Pete. It's not worth it."
“Fine.” Pete pushes himself up off the floor and walks over to the door, swinging it open. “Fucking fine, throw the fucking thing out then, I don't give a fuck, do what you want.”
"Oh yeah," Patrick calls behind him, "gotta make the big exit, right?"
"Right." Pete stops with his hand on the door, says, "Yeah, that's me, I'm the drama queen, but at least I'm not your fucking problem anymore, huh." The door slams loudly behind him.
He doesn't take more than three steps away from the door before he stops, so much for drama. Pete sits down on Patrick's porch. He knows he's not a good guy, but he always hoped he wasn't a shitty friend. And now, sitting here, he realises that he left Patrick alone.
Patrick, who stood there with his hand to his chest, with the wings towering over him. Patrick with his songs and instruments strewn around the house like badges of honour, like proof he can do it alone, without Pete.
He gets up, it's not easy to walk away from someone that matters. It's not easy to walk away from Patrick, but Pete's done it enough times to know when they're both being dicks. People can stop surprising you, but Pete never stops surprising himself. He swears and turns around.
“Make up your mind,” Patrick says as he opens the door. “Either fuck off and stay gone or don’t leave at all.” Even as he says, he’s letting Pete inside, he’s hanging on his arm.
Pete glances down at Patrick's hand and finds the ring back on his finger, gleaming in the light like it belongs there. Pete finds it funny that the ring that digs into his back and keeps him up all night is the same one that fits perfectly on Patrick's finger. He thinks maybe that's how Patrick feels, with his wings that weigh him down, but could also make him weightless.
Maybe those things aren't supposed to be easy, maybe it's like love.
"So?" Patrick says expectantly. “You came back, you over yourself now?”
Pete shrugs, his mouth turning up into something that isn’t really a smile. “Am I ever?”
“Fair point,” Patrick says. “So what, you came back to yell at me some more?”
“No uh, it’s not, I’m not gonna do that.” He looks at Patrick’s wings. “Could I, I mean. I want, I feel like,” he trails off, he’s not sure what he feels, he’s not even sure why Patrick let him back in, why he always does. Everything in Pete’s head is a metaphor for life, feelings only make sense when he writes them down.
Patrick's eyes keep drooping and he’s clinging to the couch now, holding on against the weight on his back, exhausted. Fuck it, maybe life’s a metaphor for life. “You want me to show you,” Patrick says, and his mouth quirks up a little.
“Yeah," Pete says, and his lips feels so dry all of a sudden. "Please." Somewhere between Patrick opening the door and clinging to Pete's arm for support, Patrick had grabbed onto his hand. Pete only notices now that he never actually let go.
Patrick watches him for a moment, his tired eyes searching Pete's before he nods and lets go of his hand. Pete steps behind him, and he's reminded of before, in the dark blue morning when Patrick was sprawled out on the bed with his wings draped over him. They seemed different then, somehow, but then everything feels different at five in the morning.
"Can you move 'em?" Pete asks, his hand hovering Patrick’s back.
Patrick says no and the wings twitch slightly, stretching out a little. “Oh,” he laughs.
White feathers spread down Patrick’s back almost endlessly, spreading out slowly when he tenses. Pete reaches out to touch but flinches away when Patrick moves forward, when they stretch out wider and expose more of his smooth back. He touches Patrick’s skin first, traces his fingers up over the skin between the wings. “You can move them,” he says.
Patrick shivers and shakes his head. "No, they kind of, it’s not like I can really control it, but like, I feel it." Patrick tries to keep still as Pete touches his wings, stroking a finger down one of the feathers. "It's weird to even explain," Patrick says.
“Yeah,” Pete says, staring at them in fascination. He presses his hand flatly at the small of Patrick’s back, shakes his head and wonders why he’s allowed to do this at all. "Hey,” he says. “I shouldn't have, I mean,” he pauses to lick his dry lips, “I'm sorry about before.”
Patrick looks at Pete over his shoulder for a moment, says, “I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do here.” He leans forward and the wings shift a little. "I just, I don't know."
Pete takes his hand away and moves back when Patrick turns around. "You can, um." Pete looks away from him, pushes himself to say it. “You should give me back the ring.”
Patrick’s eyes widen, his wings tense up behind him. "What?"
"Just." Pete closes his eyes. "I know what it means to me, and I know you know what it means and," he laughs, "fuck how'd I let a ring mess me up so bad, right?" Pete scratches the back of his head and swears he can feel it when his heart drops, when the bells stop ringing in his chest. "Maybe it's cursed, maybe I'm fucking cursed, I don't know." He smiles and holds out his hand. "Maybe that's why no one wants it."
Patrick takes a step back, frowning. "No, hey."
Pete drops his hand and stops smiling. "What are you doing, Patrick?"
“Changing my mind," Patrick says, and puts his hand behind his back.
Pete frowns, taking a step forward. “Hey.”
Patrick doesn't answer, he lets go of the chair and barely stumbles as he turns to walk away, his wings sweeping behind him.
Pete follows after him, saying, “Hey, hey.” He’d grab Patrick’s arm if the wings weren’t in the way. “What the hell are you doing?”
Patrick flings the back door open and walks outside, his wings tucked in against his back so he can fit through the doorway, Pete doesn’t even think he knows he’s doing it. “Damn it,” Pete says, “we’re not done.”
“Yeah, we are.”
“Oh fuck you, Patrick.” Pete steps in front of him so he can grab his shoulder, digs his fingers in just enough to hurt. "Fuck you, you can't just--"
"Can't just what?" Patrick snaps, cutting him off. "I changed my mind, I can change my mind, Pete."
"Not like that, not about this, you can't."
Patrick raises his chin. "What if I decided I wanted it."
"Yeah, right." He grabs Patrick's hand, holding on tightly as Patrick tries to jerk his arm away. Feelings are easier to deal with when you write them down, it’s easy to just write how someone hurt you rather than confront them about it. Pete finds that love works the same way. "I can change my mind too, and I don't want you to have it so fucking take it off."
Pete tries to wrestle it away, not letting up until Patrick starts shoving him back, saying, “Alright, you want it back?” He pulls the ring roughly off his finger and tosses it at Pete. “Fucking take it then. Give it to someone that doesn’t deserve it, fuck yourself up, do whatever the fuck you want. I’m done.”
“That’s nice,” Pete says. “That’s real fucking nice, Patrick, thanks man.”
“You wanna say it’s not true?” Patrick says it like a challenge though his face reads anything but, he’s worn down, he’s tired.
Patrick doesn’t go back inside the house like Pete would think, he just stands there, watching him with his fingers curled into a fist, with his wings raised behind him. Pete kneels down to pick up the ring. He says, "You didn't want this," and stands back up, "Why does it matter to you now?"
"You gave it to me," Patrick says, looking away. "And it's not what's giving me wings, I mean," he spreads his arms out and kicks the dirt.
Pete shakes his head, says, “No, no, that’s not a good enough reason, Patrick.
“Well maybe I just,” Patrick starts loudly, before his shoulders slump and his wings fold back. He says, "fuck, Pete, maybe I just fucking want it."
“No," Pete says, “fuck that, Patrick, Patrick don’t dick around with me on this."
“I’m not,” Patrick sighs, and shuts his eyes. “You don't, you don’t know everything."
“No," Pete says, taking a step back, "fuck, no, you don’t get to do this."
Patrick opens his eyes and stares at him curiously. "Do what?"
"You don’t get to pity me enough to want me like that, Patrick." Pete shakes his head, closes his eyes. "It's not. I don’t need it, I don’t fucking want you to.” Pete feels like he’s watching himself, watching them. He hears the echo of his own words more than he hears himself saying it.
“It’s not about fucking pity,” Patrick growls and pushes Pete back, stumbling a little himself, one wing raised higher than the other. “Do you know me at all? I would never do that to you, ever.” He shakes his head. “Fuck you for thinking I would, seriously.”
Pete doesn’t say anything. There are feathers on the ground around them, like a pillow fight gone wrong. His feet are lined up with Patrick’s, his left meets Pete’s right. None of this matters, except for how it always does.
Patrick holds onto Pete's sleeve to steady himself, taking a deep breath and letting it out as he says, "Look I, I know you just want to give it away, but when you gave it to me I thought." He stops, shakes his head and lets go of Pete's sleeve. “Fuck it, you know what? It doesn’t even matter.” Patrick hesitates, watching Pete’s face for just a second, and then he’s walking away.
Pete stares at Patrick’s back as he leaves, he has a hard time moving, he has a hard time breathing. It feels like hours go by, it feels like his heart's in his throat and his heads a spinning record and he just can't fucking move. The world's upside down, he's on the wrong side of the mirror, everything is different, but nothing’s really changed.
Eventually, Pete manages to take a step without the world falling to pieces. And another, and another until he's inside, pacing around the house looking for Patrick. He finds him in his room, lying face down on the bed. The wings are gone.
He doesn’t say the first hundred things that come to mind, the how, why, whats and reasons. All Pete says as he kneels beside the bed is, "Hey."
Patrick turns his face just enough that Pete can see an eye. “The wings are gone,” he tells Pete.
“Yeah.” Pete rests his chin on the mattress. It reminds him of when he was young, waking his mother up in the middle of the night to chase away the monsters. ”What d’you think did it?”
“I don’t know,” Patrick says, slightly muffled with half his face smushed against his pillow. “I didn’t fly.”
“It wasn’t the ring,” Pete adds, and Patrick shakes his head awkwardly with his face pressed to the pillow. Pete looks at him and raises his head, looking down. “Gimme your hand?”
Patrick doesn’t move, just stares until Pete gets fed up and grabs his hand, pulls it toward him.
“What’re you doing?” Patrick asks, lifting his head up slightly. Pete thinks it’s pretty obvious what he’s doing actually, so he doesn’t feel the need to answer that. “Pete.”
“Yeah,” Pete says, holding Patrick’s hand loosely, “this is happening.”
Patrick drops his head back down. “This is not happening,” he mumbles, and lifts his head up again. “I don’t want it if you’re just. I don’t, I don’t want it like that, Pete.”
“It’s not a giveaway,” Pete says firmly. “I’m not making you keep it for me, it’s not a friend thing.”
"No, it’s. I thought I could just give this away to anyone," Pete tells Patrick as he slips the ring on his finger. "This isn't, you don't have to take it, the thing is," he stares down at their hands, "the thing is I didn't buy it for you, but it's yours." Pete lets go of his hand and scratches his neck. “I think you know it’s yours.”
Patrick rolls on his side and looks down at the ring, slowly looking back up at Pete. “How do I know it’s not, how do I know you’re not--”
“You don’t,” Pete shrugs. “It’s just another thing you’re gonna have to trust me on, Rick.”
Patrick stays quiet for a moment, staring back down at his hand. “If you mean it,” he says eventually, and Pete nods, it’s hard to speak when your hearts in your throat. “Okay,” Patrick says slowly. “Okay, okay.”
"This isn't just me trying to give it away," Pete tells him, or tells himself. He knows it’s the real deal, it’s just taking a while to get that ship to sink in. He pushes himself up and leans forward over the bed, over Patrick. “This isn’t even me knowing what the hell I’m doing.”
“I know,” Patrick laughs, sitting up to face him. “I know, I know.”
Pete feels like there’s a drum inside his chest, pounding fast against his bones. It's grounding to be loved by anyone, in any way, but it's even better when it's right.
His hands go to Patrick’s shoulders, bare now except for the tiny dangling pieces that were his shirt. Pete pulls him closer and kisses him without giving himself the chance to think about it, and it’s weird in all the ways it’s weird kissing your best friend, but it’s perfect in all those ways too.
The world doesn’t fall apart, the trees outside don’t stop swaying and the feathers on the floor don’t disappear. Pete doesn’t forget everyone else he’s ever loved, his heart doesn’t get fixed by one awkward kiss, but it’s a close thing.
Patrick is smiling at him when he pulls away, and it's not the kind that has an "I'm sorry, but" right around the corner, he doesn't move back or push Pete away.
"Okay,” Pete says, “fly me to the moon, Patrick Stump."
He pulls back and rests his forehead against Patrick’s, just like he has a million times before. He closes his eyes and the bells don’t ring behind his eyelids, the walls don’t threaten to swallow him up.
“Right,” Patrick smiles, close and real and too good for Pete, alwaysalways. He holds his hand and Pete smiles, feels the warm press of the ring against his palm, the touch of Patrick’s mouth against his lips, still new and weird in the best friend way, but still perfect in the same sense.
If only for now, there’s gravity in Pete’s head and a shine on his ring. Just for now, the world is okay.