fic, fob, time is but the stream
Title: Time is but the Stream
Sequel to Heaven is Under Our Feet, as Well as Over Our Heads
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit, non-commercial work of fiction using the names and likenesses of real individuals. This fictional story is not intended to imply that the events herein actually occurred, or that the attitudes or behaviors described are engaged in or condoned by the real persons whose names are used without permission.
Fandom: Fall Out Boy
Warnings: Contains no material that I personally consider triggering. No non-con, dub-con, underage sex, or death.
Kinks: Contains no BDSM.
Word count: 27 750
Betaed by lifeisafight
Summary: "I've been feeling like I've been swimming in two different time streams at once, ever since this started," Patrick said. "The 'now.' And the 'then.' Like being in two places at once. And I think I know why."
Notes: I've opted to use another name and different biographical information for a Real Person in this fic who doesn't have a public persona.
Andy quotes, interminably, from Walden and "Civil Disobedience", both by Henry David Thoreau.
Enhanced Content! fanart and fanmixes are here!
Part One: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation
"I hate Wal-mart!"
"Shut up," Pete shouted back at Andy, from two aisles over. "There is nowhere else!"
Patrick, who could live the rest of his life without hearing Andy's opinion of Wal-mart's hiring practices ever again and be very happy, kicked at the wheel of the cart he was pushing and tried not to look at Justin and his fucking videocam.
Andy rounded the end of the aisle they were in, carrying bottled water, and ditched the supplies in the cart.
"Aren't you cold?" Pete asked, from behind his layers of hoodies and scarves.
Patrick added a random selection of snacks to the cart, ducking automatically as Justin pushed past to pan down Andy's body.
Andy was wearing flipflops and his inevitable shorts, with a Fuck City hoodie hanging undone over a T-shirt.
"This isn't cold," Andy said.
It was cold, in Patrick's opinion. Cold and miserable, at four in the morning, in some fucking Wal-mart somewhere in Florida, buying food because they were starving and on the road and going stir crazy. Rain was seeping into his shoes and through his socks; and he felt old and chilled and lonely inside, in the middle of the loudest crowd of people ever. And if Justin didn't stop videoing him, he was going to ram the cam down Justin's throat.
"I haven't been cold since the winter of 03/04," Andy added. "Too poor to turn the heat on, ice on the inside of the windows. Middleclass losers."
Andy trotted off, Justin following behind him, possibly hoping he'd say something really stupid, and Patrick swung the cart around and headed for a checkout.
"Notice how us middleclass losers get stuck with paying?" Pete said, and Patrick shrugged.
"I'm also not sure what Andy's net worth is, but I don't think he gets to bag the middle class anymore," Pete continued.
"Shut up," Patrick said. "Please."
Pete looked at Patrick, and Patrick was not happy with the speculative nature of the gaze.
Back at the buses, Patrick left the others to their epic Halo marathon, and went to his bunk, glad the noise was happening on Pete and Joe's bus, not his and Andy's.
Dry sweats and two pairs of socks helped with the cold, and Patrick sat in his bunk, toying with his phone, laptop open. It was too late, or early, to call Claire, and he had no idea what to say anyway. 'Hi, hon, the past, which by the way I've never mentioned to you, just loomed up and smacked me in the face tonight. We should probably talk about this eventually.'
He settled for sending a generic 'Miss you' email over the dodgy bus internet and shut his laptop down.
* * *
Andy pushed his bedroom door closed, and wedged folded-up newspapers under the bottom, while Patrick hugged the hot water bottle.
"Here," Andy said, taking the hot water bottle off Patrick and sliding it into the bed, under the pile of blankets. "Or we're never going to manage to get undressed."
"I still can't believe you live here without any heat," Patrick said. "Isn't it illegal, or something?"
"Are you complaining?" Andy asked, wrapping his arms around Patrick, his laughter hanging in clouds of condensation.
"I don't complain," Patrick said. "Not since the gaffer tape incident." Andy's fingertips, through his mittens, rubbed at the back of Patrick's neck, and Andy's lips were cold and chapped against Patrick's, kissing slowly.
The edge of the bed was high, when Patrick sat on it, and Andy squatted in front of him, hands on Patrick's knees.
Patrick glanced around Andy's room, at the duffel bag that Andy lived out of when they toured, at the battered desk and ancient PC, which Andy emailed Patrick from. A chair beside the bed was piled with comics, with a glowing reading light clipped to the ladder back, and a dusty blanket covered the window.
Andy was waiting, when Patrick looked back at him.
"Do you know why I'm here?" Patrick asked.
Andy's grin made Patrick want to run around shouting and hugging people, Andy in particular.
"I'm hoping," Andy said, inching his hands up Patrick's thighs, "that you're here because I've got a room and a bed, and you want to fuck."
"A room, a bed, no one sleeping beside us," Patrick said. "No one pounding on the van door, asking if we've finished. Yeah, I want you to fuck me, if that's what you want, too."
Andy buried his face against Patrick's thigh, and Patrick could feel Andy's teeth scraping against the denim, biting at skin.
"Yeah," Andy said, and when he lifted his head again, Patrick had to push his hair off his face. "I would love to fuck you."
Downstairs, Andy's housemates were talking, their voices drifting up the stairwell. Somewhere inside Andy's room, an old-style clock ticked, audible testimony to utilities that got shut off with some regularity.
Andy undid the laces of Patrick's sneakers, then knelt between Patrick's knees and unzipped Patrick's jeans, his fingers rubbing against the ridge of Patrick's cock, through denim.
"Yeah," Patrick said, and Andy leaned forward enough to kiss him, tongue against Patrick's lips.
"Get into bed, before you freeze," Andy said.
Patrick left his jeans, socks and boxers on Andy's floor, decided it was too freaking cold to take anything else off right then, and scrambled between the sheets, shivering and hunting for the hot water bottle.
Andy stripped off, proving he had anti-freeze running through his veins, then lifted the bedding where Patrick was buried and climbed in.
"Fuck," Patrick said, wrapping himself around Andy. "How do you ever sleep here?"
"With lots of clothes on," Andy said. "Usually."
"No wonder you never complain about touring."
Patrick rubbed his feet against Andy's calves to get some circulation going again, while Andy undid the zip on his hoodie, peeling off the first layer of Patrick's clothing.
"I'm not getting naked," Patrick said. "No way. Don't even think about it."
"I think about you naked all the time," Andy said. "You can't stop me." Andy's palm was warm, and he drifted it up the back of Patrick's leg while he licked his way into Patrick's mouth.
"Not so cold now?" Andy asked, when Patrick was gasping against his ear, grinding up against Andy, hot water bottle pumping out heat, Andy radiating body warmth, under friction and heartbeats and worn sheets.
"Not cold," Patrick said, letting Andy push up his second sweater, then peel it over his head. His T-shirt followed, and Andy pulled the blankets back tight around his shoulders. In the half-light of the room, Andy hovered over him, hair tucked behind his ears, his face serious again.
Patrick waited, because he'd been with Andy long enough to know what Andy would do. This was Andy's thing, some kind of reflective ritual that Andy did before eating with friends or getting off with Patrick.
Andy traced fingertips over Patrick's lips, then smoothed the skin on Patrick's cheek.
"Does this worry you?" Andy asked, sounding distracted, bending forward to brush his lips against Patrick's ear.
"I just wonder who you're thanking," Patrick said. "Since you're a screaming atheist. And if one day you're going to forget and eat me."
"Eternity remains," Andy murmured. "You are my bread."
Patrick blinked, and Andy stopped nuzzling his neck and reached up to take his glasses off for him, then propped both pairs of their glasses on the stack of comics beside the bed.
Andy's hands were certain, moving across Patrick's cock, making Patrick grit his teeth to stay quiet.
"You don't have to do that," Andy said. "There's no one listening."
"What about…?" Patrick asked, gasping as Andy tightened his fingers, squeezing and sending tingling right through Patrick.
"Thursday evening is meeting evening," Andy said. "If the housemates haven't left yet, they'll be gone in a few minutes. I left my car keys out for them."
Patrick tucked the bedding tighter around their necks and heads, and closed his eyes when Andy pulled a tube of lube out from under a pillow and pushed it between them, into the body heat.
Andy had touched Patrick's ass enough times, while Pete and Joe snored in the van, or in shabby motel bathrooms, that Patrick knew he liked the scratch of fingernails and the rub of calluses, spread with spit. When Andy rubbed warmed-up lube against Patrick's ass with the tip of one finger, and kept pushing, Patrick grabbed at Andy's arm, swearing and making Andy laugh.
"How am I supposed to go slow, when you do that?" Andy asked, but Patrick had no fucking chance of answering, because Andy was fucking his finger in, and it was like every nerve-ending in Patrick's body was rerouted, cross-wiring his cock and his ass in a huge neurological mess that made him want to scream and beg.
"Fuck, yeah," Andy said, his voice right against Patrick's ear, his cock grinding against Patrick's hip. "Just let go, touch yourself."
Andy did something—pushed harder, slid a second finger in—while Patrick jerked at his own cock, taste of blood in his mouth, cold air in the room biting his lungs as he yelled.
"I think," Patrick said, when he could speak again, "that there's a reason we've never done that in the van."
Andy moved his fingers gently, the slow slide making Patrick feel like he was being turned inside out, one careful twist of Andy's wrist at a time.
"Two reasons now," Andy said. "We can add 'It makes Patrick scream' to the list."
Patrick tipped his head back. "'Kay. Not arguing. Don't stop."
Andy's mouth slid wetly across Patrick's throat. "Not stopping, promise." He didn't stop. He kept going, touching and sliding, twisting his fingers, while Patrick fumbled and dropped the condom, then finally got it rolled onto Andy's cock. The lube spread across Patrick's belly and thigh, and they were both laughing too much for Patrick to hold still when Andy climbed between Patrick's knees.
Patrick stopped laughing, first touch of Andy's cock against his ass, and Andy hissed as something slid into Patrick.
They both froze, and Patrick remembered to breathe first.
"Yeah?" Andy asked, and Patrick nodded.
Andy pushed in, and it went from being weird-as-fuck to all the blood and heat and oxygen in his body being jammed into his groin. Andy moved, fucking Patrick, and Patrick clung onto Andy, just in case Andy decided to stop again. Fuck, it felt so impossibly good, making Patrick want to climb all over Andy, just to make him keep on doing it.
The bed frame squeaked, colliding with the wall, and Patrick could feel the burning building in his belly, curling around. Patrick wrapped his fingers around his own cock, knuckles rubbing through the lube and come on Andy's belly.
Andy hitched up Patrick's hips, lifting his weight, driving in deeper, and they were both gone.
It hurt, it really fucking hurt, to come so hard with Andy fucking him, too much to feel and nowhere for it to go, not until Andy let go of his hips and let them both fall down onto the mattress.
Andy's breath roared in the quiet room, against Patrick's ear, only changing when Patrick patted the back of Andy's neck.
"Hmph," Andy said.
"Aren't you supposed to be fussing over me? Worrying I'm not hurt? Taking care of me?"
Andy chuckled weakly. "You've just drained me completely. I don't think I need to worry about you having a post-virginity-loss freak out. I'm more concerned about my bed surviving the rest of the night."
Patrick thought about being indignant, then rejected the idea. Outraged prudishness probably wasn't an option, under the circumstances.
"I'm okay with that, then."
Without his glasses on, the corners of the room were a vague blur, shadowy and distant. And probably full of spider webs. Some things were better out of focus.
A couple of minutes later, Patrick said, "Does that mean we get to fuck again?"
"Oh yeah. Want to fuck me this time?"
* * *
In the morning, Patrick pulled on his hoodie and jeans to go to the bathroom. The light creeping around the edges of the blanket at the window was muted and pale, and when Patrick lifted the blanket, shivering and curling his bare feet to keep his toes off the floor, ice crystals had crept across the inside of the window.
"What?" Andy said sleepily, from under the layers of blankets.
Patrick let the blanket drop again.
"I think it's snowing inside your house," Patrick said, dropping his jeans on the floor but leaving his hoodie on when he slid between the covers.
"You're exaggerating," Andy said, wrapping his arms around Patrick.
* * *
Pete had the wild-eyed look that indicated he hadn't slept and was relying entirely on caffeine and will power to keep going. Patrick had only slept in patches, and he felt like a zombie, so he had real doubts about either of them being in any shape to do an interview.
The radio station slave handed them coffees and smiles, and Patrick showed his teeth to her in an attempt at smiling back around a yawn, while Pete fidgeted with his phone.
"Can't drink any more without dying," Pete said. "You have it." Two coffees might kick start Patrick's brain, so Patrick drank them both while Pete texted Ashlee and showed him photos from home.
"Want to take bets on the questions?" Patrick asked, his voice low, as the assistant gave them the 'almost ready' signal.
"Best song we've recorded, musical influences, do we enjoy touring," Pete said. "For your blue hoodie."
"When are we retiring, favorite bands, do we miss our families," Patrick said. "To get my blue hoodie back. A day without spit would be good, too."
The radio station slave cleared her throat nervously, and Pete let go of Patrick. "Come through," she said. "Jeremy is ready for you."
"And it's Jeremy and Jenny in the morning," Jeremy said, when Pete and Patrick were settled in the studio.
"With the Fall Out Boys, Pete and Patrick. And we're taking calls from you all!"
Pete owned both arms of Patrick's hoodie within three minutes, and Patrick was pretty sure he'd won it back in another two, when some girl with a breathy giggle rang in.
"Hi Jenny. I want to know about the first time Pete and Patrick fell in love."
Pete stopped looking at the screensaver of Ashlee on his phone, and actually woke up.
"Well, I loved Patrick from the first moment I saw him," Pete said. "But I think the caller isn't actually asking that question."
"I don't love Pete," Patrick said. "Just for the record. I kind of hate him, especially when he won't let me have my own way when we're writing songs together."
Patrick kicked Pete under the desk, and he knew Pete was working hard at not swearing on air.
Jenny laughed nervously. "Okay, Pete, tell us about the first time you fell in love."
"I was seventeen, and she was my first serious girlfriend. I'm not going to say her name because we had such a hideous breakup, but for a while she was everything. I've written songs about her."
Patrick didn't make eye contact with Pete, who was lying outrageously. Pete's first true love had been six foot tall, shaved and played wing on Pete's soccer team, and as far as Patrick knew, Pete had never felt the need to write any songs about the guy.
"Patrick?" Jenny prompted. "What about you?"
"I was older than Pete, late-bloomer and all that," Patrick said. "I fell in love with a philosopher who would read Thoreau to me, and we'd talk about living beside a lake in the silence. I wound up choosing the band over them, which was really sad, but I think of them sometimes, and wish them all the best."
Jenny said, "Wow, that's really romantic, Patrick. Let's take another caller," while Pete ground his heel into Patrick's toes, a look of horror on his face.
Outside the studio, Pete grabbed Patrick's elbow and stopped him from following their security escort.
"What the fuck happened?" Pete hissed. "You have to call Annie now. You can't call Bob at ass-fuck o'clock in the morning, but you have to call Annie, you're allowed to wake her up."
"What?" Patrick asked. "Why?"
"Because you just fucking came out, you idiot. You can play the fucking pronoun game with JeremyandJenny-the-morning-talk-show-morons, but the kids listening are sharp and gonna know what you meant."
"No one will notice," Patrick said. "Really. We're in Somewhere Small, Florida and it's six in the morning."
In the car, Pete slid right across the back seat so he could hiss at Patrick. "No, you have to call Annie," Pete insisted. "This is going to fucking explode. This is the photos, all over again."
"It is not," Patrick said, not bothering to keep his voice down. "Because no one has leaked photos of my penis onto the internet this time."
Their driver, who was a new face on the team, turned to look at them, and Patrick waved a hand at him while Pete glared.
"You've got two hours, then I'm making the call for you," Pete said. "Unless it's fucking everywhere before then, in which I case I fucking hate you, too. And I still want your hoodie."
* * *
Patrick was in his bunk, headphones on, staring at the bottom of the bunk above him and very carefully not thinking about anything, when Pete pinged one of his headphones off and climbed into the bunk.
"Have you called anyone?" Pete asked.
"Fuck off," Patrick said. "Really, Pete, go and call your dogs again, or something."
Pete pulled out his own phone and scrolled through numbers, and Patrick dragged his headphones off and tossed them down the bunk.
"Hi, Annie," Pete said into his phone. "Yeah, we're somewhere in Florida-Hell. No, it's Patrick that needs to talk to you or Bob. I'll put him on."
Patrick's look was intended to be pure poison, but he took Pete's phone anyway. "Hi, Annie. No, Pete's just panicking about a radio interview we did this morning. No, nothing went wrong."
Pete wrenched the phone out of Patrick's hand, and said, "It fucking did. Patrick played the pronoun game."
Annie was still gasping when Pete shoved the phone back against Patrick's ear.
"He did what?" Annie said.
Annie was their manager, Bob's, assistant. Patrick didn't dislike her personally, unlike most of the management team. There was history, big history, which no amount of money and success could erase, between him and Bob.
"I really doubt anyone noticed," Patrick said.
"What did you say?" Annie asked. "You'd better tell me."
"Hang on," Patrick said, and he looked at Pete. "Annie wants to know what I said, and I can't remember. Can you?"
Pete took the phone back. "He talked about falling in love with a philosopher, and how he chose the band over them. It was really sweet."
With the phone held between them, Patrick could hear Annie saying, "Is the guy going to come looking for Patrick? Are there going to be searing disclosures about teenage sexual exploits? You were there then, Pete—how bad is this going to get?"
The bus door opened, then closed, and Patrick could hear Andy rummaging around in the kitchen.
"Hang on, let me ask the guy if he's planning on making trouble," Pete said. "Andy!"
Annie groaned in Patrick's ear, and said, "Don't bother. I'll assume you've got that side covered then."
Pete handed the phone back to Patrick, and Andy looked into the bunk, carton of soy milk in his hands, his hair dripping rain. "What?"
"Patrick came out today," Pete said.
"Cool," Andy said. "Congrats, Patrick." He toasted Patrick with his carton of soy milk.
Patrick pressed Pete's phone against one ear and covered the other ear with his hand in the hope of screening Pete and Andy out. Whatever Annie had to say would be better than the nightmare playing out on the bus.
"Bet his missus is excited," Andy said to Pete. "It's going to be thrilling in here today. Good thing we're back to planes and hotel rooms after this."
Pete followed Andy out into the front lounge, leaving Patrick to Annie, who was trying to establish which radio station the interview had been on, why she had never been informed that Patrick and Andy had been together, and why Patrick was an idiot.
"I've got your file open," Annie said, her voice starting to rise. "It's not there. I've been with this company for two years, and no one thought to brief me. Do you have any idea why?"
"How do you feel about conspiracy theories? I have to go," Patrick said to Annie. "No doubt there will be a dozen more phone calls in the next hour, after you've listened to the interview."
Patrick closed his phone, before Annie could complain any more.
Fuck, Andy. Patrick rolled off his bunk and charged down the corridor, to the kitchen, freezing in the doorway.
"What happened?" Andy asked, emptying half a box of cereal into a gigantic bowl, then pouring what was left of the soy milk over the cereal. He tossed the empty carton at the trash can and missed. "Patrick?"
"Interview went wrong," Patrick said.
"Patrick hedged his pronouns," Pete added, "which sounds harmless until someone smart listens to it. This is the consequence of bad decisions about not coming out made years ago, kids, and I'm looking at you, too, Andrew."
"Fuck off, Pete," Andy said.
Patrick threw himself down on the couch and handed Pete back his phone.
"Well?" Pete asked.
"She's going to listen to the interview, and talk to Bob, and work out what to do. I have to call Claire, right now."
"Go," Pete said. "Before the reality hits you."
"It has," Patrick said. "Believe me. Annie wielded a very large reality bat." Patrick heaved himself back off the couch, and Pete shared a glance with Andy and followed Patrick back to his bunk.
Patrick didn't complain when Pete crawled in beside him, just lifted an arm for Pete to slide under.
"Got a plan?" Pete asked, while Patrick stared at his phone without opening it.
"No," Patrick said. "It's not like I want exit strategy help. I'd kind of like to not get dumped over this."
Pete kissed Patrick's cheek. "If she hasn't ditched you already, I think you're going to be fine. You going for full disclosure or a brief outline?"
"I have no idea," Patrick said. "Now, shut up, and don't lick me or anything. I'd prefer to maintain the illusion that I make these kinds of phone calls alone."
Claire answered her phone, her voice work-day smooth and professional. "Hi," Patrick said. "Can you go somewhere private, so we can talk?"
Pete stayed quiet, and Patrick could hear Claire excusing herself from a meeting, finding an office, closing a door.
"I need to tell you something important, that I probably should have right at the beginning," Patrick said, his voice unsteady.
Pete buried his face against Patrick's chest, probably trying to get as close as he could, and be as quiet as possible. Patrick's heart banged against Pete's chin.
"Sounds heavy," Claire said.
"Yeah, I know it sounds heavy," Patrick said. "It kind of is, I guess. I'm not quite sure how to put this, except to just say my first real relationship was with a guy."
"What? Sorry? You want to tell me your first girlfriend was a boyfriend? What exactly am I supposed to do with this information? Who was he? Was this a quick fuck, or did you actually date him?"
Claire's voice was shrill, and Pete hugged Patrick, who was hanging onto Pete with his spare hand, fingers digging into Pete's shoulder.
"Does it matter who he was?" Patrick asked. "It was years ago… I'd had sex with another guy, you know, experimenting. Then dated this guy for more than a year, pretty seriously."
Patrick could just about feel Pete's curiosity crawling out of him, and having Pete there for support was looking like a stupid idea.
"Was it Pete?" Claire asked. "I bet it was Pete. He's always been out, and you two are joined at the hip. I'm sure he's there with you, listening. And why are you telling me this right now?"
"No, it wasn't Pete," Patrick said. "I promise it wasn't Pete. I said stuff accidentally in an interview this morning, about the relationship, and if anyone goes digging and uncovers it, it's all there. I wanted to tell you myself, rather than risk you hearing about it from anywhere else."
"I feel really excluded," Claire said, her voice rising. "What happened to agreeing to talk to each other?"
"I didn't tell you because that part of my life is behind me," Patrick said, feeling his patience slipping. "It's not who I am now, okay?"
He closed his phone and flopped back on his bunk.
"She really thought it was me?" Pete asked.
Pete rested his forehead against Patrick's cheek, and Andy looked into the bunk.
"What happened?" Andy asked.
"Go away," Patrick said. "I really don't want to talk about this."
"I got blamed for something you did," Pete said.
"Neat," Andy said. "Can we have that happen more often?"
"I doubt this set of circumstances is replicable," Patrick said.
Andy went away, presumably to consume more cereal, and Patrick nudged Pete.
"Get off me. I need to sulk in solitary misery. Go and call Ashlee and talk to the dogs, or something."
"Do I do that all the time?" Pete asked as he rolled off the bunk, into the corridor.
"Constantly. I'm surprised you had time in your phone call schedule for my crisis."
Pete patted his cheek. "I'll be around, for when disaster strikes."
* * *
The bed in the Travelodge room creaked when Pete clambered onto it beside Patrick, and Patrick pushed Pete's shoes off the covers. Andy sat on the carpet, leaning back against Patrick's knees, and Patrick rested his other hand on Andy's arm, making sure not to touch the tender new ink. Joe threw himself across the floor morosely, forearm across his face, in front of the only chair, which Bob had claimed.
"Please, Bob, don't make us ever see an image consultant again," Joe pleaded. "It hurt. 'Have I ever been arrested?' Well, only a little bit, and it didn't really take. Andy gets arrested far more often than me, and no one cares about that."
"I get arrested for the right things," Andy said. "Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good."
Pete and Joe groaned, and Bob pointed at Andy and said, "Not anymore. No one gets arrested for anything. Andy, stop chaining yourself to slaughterhouses. Joe, sort out your drug purchasing needs or I'm sending you to rehab. Now…"
Patrick closed his eyes briefly.
"You heard what else the nice image consultant said," Bob continued. "Apart from where she asked Pete to stop breaking things in her office. Pete, Patrick and Andy, you've got two options. Choose to be out, and stay out, dealing with all that means. Or make a decision right now to be closeted for the duration."
"Fuck that for a joke," Pete said. "I'm not going straight for anyone."
Joe started laughing, and Andy said, "What you mean is that there are so many photos of you getting it on with every scene boy in Chicago that there's no point in attempting it."
"Well, yes," Pete said. "And I can't remember all their names or whatever, and if we do become as big as Bob thinks we're going to, then they're all going to want to blog about how Pete Isn't Straight."
"Patrick?" Bob asked. "How many scene boys have photos of you on their phones?"
"None," Patrick said.
The room was silent, then Bob said, "None?"
Patrick shook his head. One date, once, with a guy from the record store. And Andy. It was hardly a long list of people, and he didn't feel the need to go into details with Bob and his band mates.
"Okay," Bob said. "Everyone, this is the kind of discussion I like to have with bands I manage. Could you all try and behave more like Patrick, please?"
Pete leaned against Patrick. "I'm going to be aggressive and moody, Patrick. Bob told me to."
"You already are aggressive and moody," Andy said to Pete. "Without any prompting from Bob. I've got a few exes around, but I'm still in touch with all of them, and on good terms. None of them are likely to cooperate with a journalist, just because they all hate the mainstream press. If Militant News or The Radical Times ever do a story outing us, we might have problems."
"Looks like you two get a choice then," Bob said.
"I'm refusing to make a choice," Andy said. "My personal life is my personal life. I will live it as I always have done, by my own code of ethics. Fuck you both, Bob and Island Records, for interfering."
Joe held a hand up, thumb extended. "You tell The Man to get the fuck out of your bedroom, Andy."
Bob glared at Joe. "Patrick? You got a message for The Man?"
"I need some time," Patrick said.
"You've got until tomorrow," Bob said.
Patrick nodded, and Andy tipped his head back to frown at Patrick.
* * *
Whoever Bob had borrowed the office from had left in a hurry—their mug of coffee was steaming on the desk, and a chat program beeped on the screen of their PC. Bob perched on the edge of the desk, dislodging clutter, and Patrick sat unhappily on the only spare chair.
"We can talk in here," Bob said. "Island has handlers on staff who are quite capable of dealing with Pete, even for hours at a time. Did you want to talk about yesterday?"
"Yeah," Patrick said. "Pete and Andy have been on at me, and I can't work out what to do."
"It's my job to get the band as far as I can, and that means I have to tell you difficult things. Island will put up with Pete being out. He's slick and loud, and can get away with it. Realistically, you and Andy had better be deciding to keep things quiet."
"How quiet?" Patrick asked.
"How badly do you all want the option deal to hold together?"
The others were loose somewhere in the Island Def Jam offices, playing with memorabilia and sucking up promises about recording schedules, per diems and being able to eat regularly, and Patrick couldn't bear to think of it all slipping away for them. He really didn't want to think about Pete, and taking Pete's dream away from him.
"Andy is Andy. If he says he's maintaining his privacy, you can assume he's taking precautions to avoid the Feds. He also hates you, and everyone else, but that's not new. I've been trying to work out what to do." Patrick had to stop, take another breath. "I think it's made it clear to me that that whole thing is a huge mistake. I can't imagine dealing with anything like what you're asking me to. It's not going to work, and I don't know how to make it stop or how to tell anyone."
Bob was silent for a long pause, and Patrick could hear the buzz of other offices through the closed door, the ringing of phones and the hum of voices.
"Is this because of the queer thing?" Bob asked, his voice gentle. "Or is it part of a larger problem?"
"I can't front a band. I can't do this. I'm short and fat and going bald. I'm queer and shy. I want to stay at home and play the guitar, not do any of these things you're asking me to."
Bob nodded slowly, and Patrick remembered that Bob had been on the road too, had done things the hard way.
"Do you want to know where I think the weak link in the band is? Do you want to know what I worry about when I can't sleep? It's not you, with your low self-esteem and shyness. It's not Andy, despite his desire to overthrow civilization with his bare hands. And it's not Joe, though maybe Joe worries me a little. If Fall Out Boy fails, it will be because of Pete. I think Pete is a whole lot less stable than any of you are letting on."
Patrick looked up, instead of staring at the worn matting in the office.
Bob held Patrick's gaze, and Patrick swallowed.
"So, go and find the others. Your job is to sing, play guitar and hold Pete together. If you have to be with Andy to do that, just be discreet. I'm not trying to make you be anyone that you're not."
* * *
Patrick was numb. He couldn't make himself feel anything very much except vague panic. Claire had been pointedly angry, and he conceded he probably should have mentioned, at least in passing, that… What?
Patrick groaned, and opened his phone.
"Patrick," Bob said. "I've listened to the download of the interview."
"Oh," Patrick said. "And?"
"Situation's irretrievable. Get Pete to show you the chatter that's spreading. You're booked for an interview, in a couple of hours, as soon as we can get someone to you. Just don't fucking out Andy."
Patrick thought about throwing up.
"What do you want me to say? In the interview?"
"What you did this morning, say all that again. You made Annie cry, when she listened to the download. Let's see how many more hearts you can break with your story of lost love."
Patrick hung up on Bob.
Andy was in the front lounge, eating his way through a bag of apples and talking to Matt on his laptop, and Patrick sat down on the couch beside him.
"Hi, Matt," Patrick said, waving at the webcam. "Can I borrow Andy?"
Matt waved back, the image fragmenting. "Sure, Patrick. Just return him in the original colorful packaging for a full refund."
The screen went blank, and Andy closed the lid. "Fucked-up day?"
"Worse than you know," Patrick said. "So, I need to talk to you."
Andy lifted his eyebrows. "Really?"
"I'm going to give some kind of interview today, in which I come out. I'm going to talk about my relationship with you, without naming you. Kind of like I already did this morning, only in more detail."
Andy looked at Patrick, and it was not a good look. "Without my permission?"
"That would be why I'm here now."
Andy smudged a fingertip across the surface of his laptop. "Let me think about this."
Patrick's phone rang, in his pocket, and he let it switch through to voicemail, while Andy traced patterns on the metallic finish.
"Okay. If the whole thing blows up, and I get outed, I don't actually mind. We've done our three albums with Island anyway, so the contract is up for negotiation, and I don't think anyone in my life gives a fuck if I get named as an ex of yours."
"Bob does," Patrick said.
"Bob's not in my life," Andy said. "I merely tolerate his presence. When's that contract up for renewal, too?"
"You're considering a coup?"
"It's mutiny until it's successful," Andy said.
"Andy the Pirate, the only band member with different management," Patrick said. "Let's not mention that to anyone."
"What brought all this up," Andy asked, not even smiling at Patrick's attempt at a joke. "Why have you revisited this?"
"You did," Patrick said. "Last night. You mentioned that winter, and it reminded me suddenly of everything."
When Andy took hold of Patrick's hand, his fingers were cool and dry against Patrick's. "I trust you not to say anything hurtful, and that any untruths will be protective."
Patrick's phone rang again, and Patrick retrieved it from his pocket. "Thanks," he said to Andy. "Hi, Bob," he said into his phone.
* * *
Andy pulled on a second T-shirt and wandered out into the drizzle, leaving Patrick to his public relations disaster.
He kind of wanted to go for another run, but that would mean finding someone to go with, and there weren't many people on their security team who wanted to run with him, especially twice in a row. Yet another reason he wanted to be at home, where he could run all the time.
Pete dashed out of the other bus and grabbed Andy's arm. "I need to talk to you, dude," Pete said. "Alone."
"Do you want to go for a run?" Andy asked hopefully.
Pete looked at him like he was crazy. "No. C'mon, into the back lounge."
Joe was in the kitchen, and waved a sleepy arm at them as Pete hauled Andy down the corridor, to the back lounge. At least there were no dogs on the current leg of the tour.
"What?" Andy said.
"You need to hear this," Pete said, handing Andy a set of headphones. "Because a large slice of the world already has."
Pete's laptop was open at some fan site, with an embedded audio file, and a gazillion comments, and Andy put the headphones on because it was sometimes easier to give in to Pete, especially when Pete hadn't slept in days.
Stupid radio interview. Boring questions. Pete teasing Patrick about loving him.
Andy took the headphones off and handed them back to Pete, who was waiting impatiently.
"Well?" Pete asked.
"Patrick already talked to me about this," Andy said. "And about the interview he's doing later on."
Okay, Pete didn't know about that interview. Score point.
"And you're okay about it?" Pete asked. "I mean, he might as well have just said it was you."
Andy shrugged. "What's going to happen? Am I going to be thrown out of the band because I used to sleep with Patrick? You know what? I'd be cool with that. I'd like to go home, not do this tour. I think I'd like to never see the three of you again."
Andy stomped off, to canvas the staff, because there had to be someone who would run with him, or he was just going to have to go out by himself.
* * *
It was like Neal was running the fucking mics from inside Andy's brain, straight to the recording decks. "Don't like fucking preamps," Neal said. "They just get in the way."
The mic set up was clean and precise, and drum set was a bizarre hybrid of Andy's own kit and borrowed hi hat and snares. The best bit, the sweetest part, was that Neal had sent Patrick into the studio with Andy, to give Andy someone to play against.
"It'll give you more vibe," Neal said over Andy's headset.
Patrick's laugh cut in suddenly, as his mic went live, then Andy had the hum from his guitar as well.
Yep, there was vibe there. Much better than playing to glass and faces. He just had to remember that anything he said would be picked up by mics.
After the session, Andy tossed his towel in the linen basket in the hall and waited while Patrick slid his guitar into its case.
"Hungry?" Andy asked, pulling a T-shirt over his head.
"Sure," Patrick said. "We could grab a meal. Got to love a meal allowance."
Andy adjusted his glasses and dropped his voice. "Wasn't quite what I meant."
Mike, the drum tech, pushed past them, and Andy said, "Thanks for everything."
"The condo?" Patrick asked, sounding dubious.
The condo was a fucking nightmare. Pete's personal life was exploding everywhere while his girlfriend visited, Joe was crashing in their room, and the bathroom door didn't lock.
Patrick nodded. "It's that or we're getting a motel room."
Ocean Studios were civilized, or realists, and the largest bathroom had a shower cubicle. Andy pushed his hand against Patrick's mouth, muffling Patrick, then backed him against the locked bathroom door.
"I just want to tell you how fucking hot you are," Andy whispered against Patrick's ear. "Okay? Watching you today, in that huge fucking tracking room, and listening to your voice, all I could think about was sucking your cock."
Patrick made a rough noise, against Andy's palm, and bit at the flesh.
It was never going to be sophisticated, not when someone could knock on the door at any moment. Patrick pushed Andy up against the tiled wall of the shower cubicle with one hand, while undoing his jeans with his other hand.
Andy had his shorts and boxers down around his ankles in seconds, and braced himself against the shower wall.
"At least it's not a fucking truck stop," Andy said. "Floor's clean."
Patrick pulled the condom out of Andy's wallet, dropping the wallet and sending it sliding across the tiles. Whenever Patrick was worked up, it took two goes to get a condom on, and Andy only had one rubber, so Andy hoped he didn't fuck it up and stick his thumb through it.
"Lube?" Andy asked.
"What? You want me to show you a good time, too?" Patrick asked, and Andy laughed.
Patrick spat, and smeared the spit over his cock, then held his hand out for Andy to spit into.
"You're all class," Andy said, after he'd spat.
"Ass," Patrick said. "Like this is going to last longer than ten seconds anyway."
This was so far removed from what Andy really wanted, from privacy and comfort and time, that if he thought about it he wouldn't be able to keep going. Better to lean his forehead against his hands, on the shower wall, and let go as Patrick pushed two fingers into him slowly.
"Oh, fuck," Patrick whispered. "You are so fucking beautiful."
Andy listened to Patrick spitting again, to one of their tracks from that day echoing from somewhere else in the studio, and to the plumbing gurgling, then Patrick's fingers dug into his lower back hard.
Andy closed his eyes, blocking out the white tiles and shower fittings, and Patrick's cock pushed into him.
Saliva wasn't lube, but fuck, Patrick had used enough that Andy didn't care, not with ragged sparks running through him and the feeling of Patrick right behind him, breathing life into him.
Andy hung onto the soap dish, steadying himself, trying not to laugh at the noises Patrick was making, winding up to finish.
Patrick smacked Andy, so Andy's attempt to stifle his laughter hadn't gone too well, then Patrick was coming, loud and sudden, echoing against the tiles.
He pulled out and staggered back, jeans still around his ankles, while Andy turned around.
Andy watched Patrick pull the condom off and dump it in the toilet, hanging onto the sink while he flushed.
"Your turn?" Patrick asked, dropping to his knees in front of Andy.
* * *
Joe was in their room, on their bed, eating pizza out of a carton and listening to music through headphones jammed determinedly on his head, when they got back to the condo.
Andy moved the pizza carton off the bed, wrinkling his nose in disgust, while Patrick shoved Joe across, making room and unplugging Joe's headphones accidentally.
"Oh, fuck," Joe said, scrambling for his iPod. "Why'd you do that?"
"Why are you eating meat on our bed?!" Andy asked.
"Listen!" Joe said.
The three of them listened, and Patrick said, "Oh, that's not good," at the noises coming from the other bedroom. "You should have stayed at the studio."
"I did, but you two disappeared, so I came back here. Please help me."
Andy's phone rang, and Andy stuck a finger in his other ear to block out Pete and his girlfriend shouting at each other.
"Hey," he said. "Oh, hi, Bob."
"Andy. Not my favorite person. What possessed you and Patrick today?"
"What?" Andy said.
"Ocean Studio staff complains to Neal. Neal complains to me. I complain to you. You'll note the absence of Island in that sequence. Next time, you might not be so lucky. Please don't fuck in the bathrooms at the studio again."
The dial tone buzzed in Andy's ear, so he put the phone away. "Patrick, we need to talk."
The sidewalk outside the condo was empty, and Patrick squatted beside Andy.
"What did Bob want?"
"To tell us not to fuck at the studio."
"I've had enough of this hiding bullshit," Andy said. "I want to tell Bob to get fucked as soon as the album is done. How would you feel about that?"
"You want to sack Bob?"
"Unfortunately, I think we're contractually stuck with him. I want to stop lying about us."
"Fuck, Andy, we're recording our first album with a major label. Is this the time?"
"No, the time was months ago. I want to fix what should have been done then."
Andy put an arm around Patrick's shoulders, pulling him down to sit on the paving, because he looked like was about to bolt in panic.
"I can't do this," Andy said, hugging Patrick. "And I'm not happy with a life where I can't. And I sure can't do this…"
Kissing Patrick was sheer, fucking heaven. It made Andy want to crawl out of his own skin and into Patrick's, through some kind of slow osmosis involving their mouths and tongues. It was even better if they'd just fucked, like then, because then Andy could concentrate on what he was doing, instead of the rest of his body taking over.
The sidewalk wasn't hugely comfortable, but hey, if Patrick was going to climb over Andy, making the whole kissing thing so much easier and better, then Andy could ignore his ass going numb in favor of grabbing handfuls of Patrick and making the most of it.
The occasional honking car horn wasn't enough to make either of them stop. It was the flick of a lighter and smell of a joint that made Andy lift his face from Patrick's neck and glare at Joe.
"What?" Joe said.
"We have to share a bedroom with you," Andy said. "Do we have to share a sidewalk too?"
"You shouldn't be doing that out here," Joe pointed out, as Patrick slid off Andy's lap, his eyes unfocused and gentle.
"Neither should you," Patrick said.
"I think we've all been driven out of the condo," Andy said, straightening Patrick's cap for him. "Refugees in Burbank. Patrick and I are considering a motel, but you're not invited."
"Please," said Joe. "I really don't care if you're going to spend all night fucking. You two never fight, and even if you did, I'd be able to tell it was fighting not sex. I'd watch TV through headphones, and you could pretend I wasn't there."
"Could we force Pete to go to a motel?" Patrick asked. "Then we'd have the whole condo."
"Can you get his attention for that long?" Joe asked. "I can't."
"Excuse us," Andy said. "I've just thought of something we forgot to do."
Joe sighed, and Andy tipped Patrick's chin up and kissed him again, slow and deep, while Joe dragged on the joint.
"Uh oh," Joe said, and Andy caught the quick movement of Joe tossing the remains of his joint over the ornamental wall around the patio of the ground floor condo.
Andy looked up, and yes, the 'uh oh' was completely warranted. Island Records had assigned them handlers, sorry, liaisons, an interchangeable set of assistants who were there to make sure they turned up to the studio on time and not shit-faced. Handler Number 3, or perhaps 4, was getting out of the car that had parked right in front of them.
Patrick groaned. "I hate you, Andy."
Joe stood up, and Patrick elbowed Andy and stood up too. There wasn't any other option.
"Shall we talk inside?" Handler Number 3 said.
Inside the condo, Patrick threw himself in the easy chair, and Joe and Andy took one of the couches.
The Handler, who turned out to be called Sophia, sat unhappily on the other couch, and the four of them listened to the howling from the bedroom.
"I'll go get Pete," Patrick said. "Wish me luck." Andy didn't envy him. Just because the doors lacked locks didn't mean that anyone would voluntarily walk into Pete's room.
Two minutes later, Patrick reappeared, followed by Pete, who had obviously just pulled on a pair of jeans and a hoodie.
"I'll be making calls," Sophia said. "Contact your manager, do some damage control. And get rid of whoever is in that bedroom."
Sophia left, and Patrick stomped into their bedroom and slammed the door.
Joe and Pete looked at Andy, and Andy shrugged. "I'll go," Andy said.
Patrick was lying face down, on the rumpled bedclothes, so Andy sat on the edge of the bed, hand on his shoulder.
"Fuck, if we lose it all because of this," Patrick said.
"Then Island Records are homophobic bastards and we should go back to FBR," Andy said. "Who don't give a damn about us."
"I can't do this."
Andy blinked. "Do what?"
Andy's stomach clenched, like he'd been gut-punched. "But… But we've just been… Oh, fuck, Patrick."
Patrick rolled over, and he was as pale and blotchy as when they'd wrecked the van.
"If we want to salvage anything, this is what it's going to take."
"No. I don't want to be part of that kind of compromise."
Patrick rolled off the bed. "Let's vote. Everyone should get a vote on this."
Andy followed Patrick back into the living room. He was caught in a fucking nightmare, the worst day of his life, losing Patrick by democratic, majority vote.
Pete's girlfriend was visible through the open doorway to the other bedroom, shoving clothes into a suitcase. Looked like Pete was getting dumped too.
"We need to vote on this," Patrick said, and Joe and Pete looked up, Pete putting down his phone.
"On what?" Pete said.
"What we do to rescue the band," Patrick said.
Andy dropped down onto the other couch, and yeah, he was so close to losing control, adrenalin shakes ripping through him.
"Who votes that Andy and I should break up to appease Island Def Jam, so we keep the recording deal?" Patrick asked, raising his hand.
Andy kept his hand down.
Joe looked from Patrick to Andy, and back again, and lifted his hand slowly.
Pete raised his hand too.
"Done," Patrick said. "Joe, you're going to have to rescue your own ass, because I haven't got an answer for that."
Pete said, "Andy? Are you okay?"
Andy shook his head and stood up slowly. He walked very carefully to the bedroom, closed the door silently, and climbed onto the bed. The bedding smelled of them, of sex and Patrick and skin. He could hear the others talking, and someone's phone ringing, but they would have to deal with Bob and Island without him, for a while.
* * *
Bob flew in, some PR hack in tow, and Patrick managed to get ten minutes into the briefing from them before he walked out of the back lounge.
Andy, sitting at the table in the kitchen with his laptop, held his hand out as Patrick stomped past, and Patrick slapped his palm.
Sometimes, just sometimes, he completely fucking agreed with Andy.
From outside the bus, standing among the puddles on the gravel, Patrick could hear Bob grumping at Andy, then a moment later, Bob climbed down the steps to stand beside him.
"That was not helpful," Bob said. "You've got an interview in half an hour, and you need to get it right."
Patrick shoved his hands into his jeans. "Or what?"
"What happens if I get it wrong? You can ask Andy if you want to. He doesn't care if I name him. And I don't think Joe or Pete are going to mind if I fuck up the interview and accidentally reveal an adolescence of neurotic celibacy and insecurity."
"Are you trying to sabotage this?" Bob asked. "Is this deliberate?"
Patrick tried not to laugh. "No, really. If I was trying to mess this up, Pete would have helped me plan something, probably involving Gabe and a dedicated web site with its own clothing line."
Bob smiled, and it was not friendly. "Don't fuck this up. If you do this right, just like you did the radio interview this morning, this could be the best career move ever."
"Pity you didn't let me do it in 2004," Patrick said. "Get fucked, Bob. I don't want to talk to you again today."
He climbed back up the steps of the bus, past Andy who was applauding silently at the top of the steps, and went back to his bunk.
* * *
Locked door. Phone off. Hotel phone unplugged.
Patrick opened up his email, retrieved the draft of the interview, and shutdown his email again without looking at anything else. He did not want to deal with anything, or anyone, right now. Not even Claire.
The interviewer from AP had been sweet, wildly enthusiastic at doing the interview, utterly charmed that Patrick dragged her into Pete and Joe's bus; and just plain confused when Patrick had installed Pete, Joe and Andy as guards between the back lounge and Bob.
"Consider it an unauthorized interview," he'd told her. "We're going renegade."
Reading the interview was weird, like watching old video footage of himself, or listening to a mono recording of his voice.
Approve the draft of the interview.
Phone on. Send Pete a text, to get his attention.
Pete rang back, a minute later.
"Interview, huh?" Pete said.
"Yes," Patrick said. "I sound hopelessly sentimental and inept."
"Accurate then," Pete said. "Going to send me a copy?"
"In a little while," Patrick said. "I'm enjoying the last few moments of peace before everything goes wrong."
"Shit," Pete said. "That bad?"
Patrick poked at a hole in the knee of his sweats, then hit forward on the email. "Oh, yeah. Copy on the way to you now."
Patrick listened to the faint clicks of Pete opening the file, the huffs of Pete's breath, and the whistle and squeak of Pete's headphones, then Pete chuckled.
"It's bad, isn't it?" Patrick said.
"No, it's fucking perfect."
"Fuck, fuck, fuck."
"You might want to send Andy a copy of this, too, so everyone gets past the whole blushing stage before you have to see each other again."
Patrick groaned. "Oh, fuck. Is that what it sounds like?"
"It sounds like you never got over him," Pete said. "It sounds like you are still very much hung up on him."
"Though I think you made that pretty fucking clear in the radio interview, and Andy didn't freak out at that."
Patrick clambered off the bed and threw himself across the room, to the connecting door between their rooms, unlocking his side of the door. Pete wouldn't have locked his side—he never did.
"What?" Patrick said, yanking the door open.
Pete put the phone down and waved at Patrick from the bed.
"Come on in, raid the minibar."
Patrick closed his phone and tossed it through the open door, in the general direction of his bed, and sighed.
"No, thanks." He crawled across Pete's bed, to flop down. "Is there something you need to tell me?"
"I'm naked?" Pete suggested.
"Just don't move the laptop," Patrick said.
"I played the radio interview to Andy?"
"That one," Patrick said. "That's what you needed to tell me. And?"
"He said that you'd already told him about it. And that he never wanted to see any of us again, only he didn't sound like he meant it. He sounded kind of smug, actually."
Patrick sat on Pete's bed, ignoring his own phone ringing from the other room, through several sets of calls.
"Are you going to go and get that?" Pete asked eventually.
"Not a chance," Patrick said. "But if you're over-heating under that laptop, I'll give you a ten second window to get dressed in while I get my own."
"Thanks," Pete said. "Things are getting a little sweaty under here, but I couldn't tell if you were having some kind of crisis, or just being grouchy, so I didn't want to deal with it."
Pete had pulled on underwear when Patrick carried his own laptop back, and Patrick stole two pillows and made himself comfortable. Pete owed him at least a thousand late night sessions, and it was time to cash in one of the debts.
"Who are you sending the interview to?" Pete said, peering over Patrick's shoulder.
"Pretty much everyone with a vested interest," Patrick said. "All at once. They can all fucking deal with it."
Family, they'd be fine. Andy, because Patrick owed Andy that much, and probably a whole lot more. Joe, so Joe didn't walk into any surprises the next day. Bob and Annie, so they could choke on it. Claire. A handful of close friends.
Patrick put his laptop aside and leaned against Pete.
"Sent it to Claire?" Pete asked, and Patrick nodded.
"Yeah. I don't think she's going to be happy."
"Bet you're single tomorrow."
Patrick thudded his head back against the headboard. "Fuck."
"Because unless there's something you've not been telling me, you've never talked about Claire like that. She is going to be one hurt woman. What the fuck happened to start all this off?"
Patrick shook his head, and his laptop beeped.
Email from Andy.
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
"What?" Pete said, stopping tapping on his keyboard at Ashlee long enough to lean over Patrick's shoulder. "Oh, wow. No wonder you said those things about him, if he sends you emails like that."
"It's a quote," Patrick said. "That's all."
Thirty seconds later, another email arrived, from Pete.
When someone sends you something like that, it's not just a quote. Buy a fucking clue.
"Fuck off," Patrick said.
* * *
Justin, cam on his shoulder, bounded back into the dressing room. "You are not going to believe the pit, guys! It's incredible!"
"What have we got this time?" Pete asked, not looking away from his mirror, where he was painting eyeliner across his face in stripes. "Some loser competition organizer put 400 eight year-old girls on the barrier again?"
"A fucking sea of rainbow flags," Justin said.
Patrick stopped humming suddenly, when Justin pointed the cam in his face.
"Patrick Stump, and the One Who Got Away," Justin said, quoting the title of the AP article. "Got anything to say?"
"All bad things, Justin," Patrick said. "That you'll just have to edit out. Get the fuck out of my face while I'm warming up."
"Touchy," Justin said, in his pseudo-documentary commentary voice. "Pete, a comment from you?"
"I'm looking forward to making out with Patrick on stage," Pete said. "Every show. From now on. It's been my greatest wish, and now it's all happening."
Patrick tossed one of Joe's T-shirts at Pete, and Joe looked up from his DS and said, "Hey, not fair. That was mine."
Justin trailed after Patrick, when Patrick went to find a bottle of water that wasn't fucking chilled. "How does it feel, now the world knows about your past?"
"I doubt the world knows," Patrick said. "Just the few thousand people who read AP. And it's all far too late for it to matter."
Justin left, and Andy, who had been behind Justin, leaned against the door frame. "I'm questioning my own silence."
Patrick shrugged. "I can give you the name of the journo at AP, if you want."
Andy grinned. "Bob would shit himself. It'd be worth it just for that."
Patrick laughed his warmed-up laugh, and found himself being hugged by Andy. Pete slapped him on the back on the way past.
"That's how the trouble all started, kids," Pete said. "Only this time, we've got Justin and his cam with us."
"What?" asked Justin, who was following behind Pete. "What trouble? Oh shit, that trouble."
Patrick pushed at Pete and Justin, making Justin squawk about how expensive his cam was, and went to hide with the techs.
The roar from the pit as they ran onto the stage was so loud that it felt like a wave of pressure, and Justin was right, the pit was full of rainbow flags.
At the first guitar switch, Pete swung off Patrick's neck and shoved his mouth against Patrick's mic.
"This motherfucker is my best friend," Pete shouted, into the mic and through Patrick's ear piece. "Some of you probably noticed that he came out today."
Justin and his cam were right at the edge of the stage zooming, the pit had gone fucking feral, and Pete planted a sloppy kiss on Patrick's cheek.
"I'm so fucking proud of him," Pete continued. "Are you all fucking proud of him?"
Patrick had to grin, as glowsticks rained down around him and the crowd in the stands roared.
"All I want to know," Pete shouted. "Is why the fuck his boyfriend let him go?!"
Patrick swung sharply, blinking in disbelief, the monitors buzzing with the clash as the stock of his guitar collided with the strings of Pete's bass, but Pete was off, out of reach, and they actually had a show to play.
Patrick grabbed Pete, as they came off stage, as soon as the techs had taken their guitars, clutched handfuls of Pete's hoodie and skin, and dragged him away from Justin and the fucking cam, to find a relatively private corner of a corridor.
"I will maim you," Patrick said. "I know I'm supposed to be past the stage of hurting you, but I remember how to. I'm still the same person who choked you, that time. I'm still the same person you shared an apartment with. I will slice and dice you, when you least expect it, if you don't back off."
"Eep," Pete squeaked.
"You are making a bad situation so much worse. Are you going to stop?"
"Now go and fix things with Andy, or the puppy gets it next time I'm in LA."
* * *
The email from Claire, when it arrived that night, wasn't very long.
I've listened to the radio interview. I've read what you had to say to AP. What I really want to know is what are you not telling me. If this is the public story, where's the real one?
Patrick called her, from his hotel room.
"Hi," he said. "I got your email."
"And?" Claire asked.
Patrick flinched. "Um, yeah. Old secrets, and big ones."
"I really don't care that you got fucked in the ass by some creepy scene guy," Claire said. "Or whatever. You were just a big kid then, and presumably hadn't worked out what you wanted. I do care, very much, that you still don't trust me enough to tell me what happened."
"I think if I tell you any more, you're just going to break up with me."
"Wow, way to inspire confidence there. I have no idea what you're hiding, but it's obviously huge. No wonder you never told me anything about this part of your life before."
The bar fridge in the hotel room hummed, distant and discreet. "What if it wasn't some scene guy? What if it was someone I'm still close to?"
"So you were lying when you said that part of your life was over? I'm coming up with a list of a dozen names, Patrick, that's all." Claire's voice was icy. "And I'm not liking what I'm thinking. And you loved this guy? Really loved him?"
"Yeah. I don't think I ever told him, because I was young and hopeless, but I did."
Claire exhaled, sharp and pointed over the phone. "I need to think about what this means."
Patrick was tired, and completely fed up with other people poking at places in his memories that hurt.
"You know what? Don't bother. I don't want to keep talking about this. It's obvious you don't trust me and I don't trust you. Let's just end it now."
Claire paused, then said, "Okay."
Patrick put his phone away.
* * *
Patrick sat in the back of the car, sandwiched between Joe and Pete, and thought he'd found a new definition of misery. Previous bouts of food poisoning, vehicular breakdowns, Pete's relationship crises, and sequential speeding fines were insignificant, really.
He didn't think he'd slept, at least for not more than a few minutes at a time. Pete hadn't either, kicking and muttering beside him. Joe might have, out in the living room. Patrick didn't know about Andy. Andy had already gone, when Patrick had crawled out of the bedroom.
"Running," Joe had said, in a way that indicated exactly what Joe thought of the whole mess.
Bob was sitting in the front of the car, steely-faced and grim, not even attempting to speak to them. He'd arrived twenty minutes earlier, having flown in, and no doubt they'd be billed for the airfare.
At the studio, Patrick slid into the control booth, behind Neal and Bob. Andy was in the tracking room, on the other side of the glass, pounding his drum kit viciously, while Neal scowled at the NEVE deck.
"Stop, Andy, just stop," Neal said, over the mic. "I'm not getting anything usable out of this. And Bob's here. Take a break, and I'll get Mike to check the gear, see if that helps."
Half an hour later, when Patrick had warmed up and the mics had been tweaked, Patrick made himself stand in the tracking room, in front of Andy, the same as the day before.
Andy nodded at Patrick, his mouth a hard line, and said, "'Dance', again, same as yesterday?"
Patrick said, "'Kay," even though he'd rather play just about anything else right at that moment.
One of Andy's sticks broke, on the second chorus, and Patrick stopped, because every single moment was poison, and someone had better rescue him from the tracking room before one of them started screaming.
Bob's voice came over Patrick's headset. "Lounge. Now. Both of you."
Patrick shoved his guitar into its rest and slammed out of the studio, not hanging around to see if Andy was following.
Bob was waiting, and Andy trailed into the room behind Patrick.
"Pete brought me up to date on what happened," Bob said. "You two have twenty minutes to negotiate some kind of truce and get your asses back into the studio, or I'm firing Andy and finding a session drummer to finish the album."
Andy's face became even more sullen, and Patrick said, "You can't!"
"Then fix this," Bob said, opening the door, then closing it after himself.
Scraping sounds in the hall indicated that something substantial was being dragged across the door on the other side.
"I think I have to go," Andy said. "I can't stay here like this."
Patrick shook his head. "This isn't one of Pete's breakups. This isn't shouting, libelous blog posts, abusive phone calls and late night drinking sessions. This is you and me. It hurts like fuck, but we can draw a line around that and put it aside."
"Fuck, Patrick, that's a huge thing to ask me to do."
"Think of the precedent we'll set for Pete. The high moral ground will be secured forever."
Andy pushed his hands into the pockets of his shorts. "It's not just the hurt. What about the rest?"
"If we act like it's not there, it'll go away, won't it?" Patrick said.
Andy shrugged. "I don't know. I've never had to keep on working and living with someone before."
Andy looked so wretched that every broken fragment of Patrick ached to fix it, to say it had been a stupid mistake, to take it all back.
Andy took a deep breath, and said, "Okay, I need to do this, if we're going to move on. I forgive you, completely. And I let you go. It's all undone between us. Now I need to get the fuck out of this room for ten minutes."
Andy popped a screen out of a window with his shoulder, then clambered out into the parking lot.
Patrick sat down, his back against one of the legs of the pool table. He wanted to smash things, expensive things that belonged to Bob, or Island Records, but that would be all kinds of stupid, after everything that had happened.
He didn't look up when the dragging noises outside stopped, and the door opened again, but it was Pete that crouched down beside him, not Bob.
"Any advice?" Patrick asked. "From a veteran?"
Pete held out his hand and pulled Patrick up, standing. "Write bitter songs, and don't show them to anyone?"
Patrick grabbed a bottle of water, from the kitchen, on the way back to the tracking room, while Pete poured himself a coffee. "Not taking your own advice then?" Patrick asked.
"No," Pete said. "Someone has to write the lyrics for the next album, you know."
Andy was sitting behind his kit in the tracking room, running through drills, while the drum tech, Mike, adjusted the mics yet again, when Patrick opened the door.
Andy nodded to Patrick, and Patrick managed a small smile in return as he picked up his guitar.
It didn't sound broken, that time, and no one shouted at them.
* * *
Part Two: We must have infinite faith in each other.
Matt opened the front door at Fuck City, and broke into a huge grin. "Hey!" he said, wrapping his arms around Patrick in a hug. "Was someone supposed to tell me you were driving up? Because if he was, he fucking failed."
Patrick followed Matt into the kitchen, chuckling. "No, it was one of those impulsive things. I love my family dearly, but I can't take another day of compulsory bonding, and I don't think I can reasonably escape to LA just yet. Seemed a better idea to borrow a decent car and visit this island of, well, something or other. I won't say normality."
Shouts echoed up the stairs, from the entertainment room on the lower floor, and Matt sighed. "We're at 80% occupation, so there're enough of us here for it to be amusing. Andy is asleep, because it's, you know, daylight outside. I could wake him, which would give me much pleasure."
"Maybe later," Patrick said, taking the mug of coffee Matt sloshed across the kitchen counter. "Hand me a game controller, and point me at a screen. And don't talk to me about home decorating or dental work."
"Right," Matt said, charging ahead of Patrick down the stairs. "One of those visits home. Hey, guys! I've brought someone else for us to thrash!"
Stu and Kyle hooted at Patrick, and Matt shoved Kyle bodily along the couch, to make room for Patrick.
"I've been playing against my eight year old cousin," Patrick said, taking the controller Matt handed him. "And he's sneaky."
"I'm scared," Kyle said. "Really scared."
Andy stumbled down the stairs about an hour later, carrying his laptop. He fell into the easy chair, across from the couch, and clicked and tapped at his keyboard earnestly for a few minutes, while Patrick fought the most intense game of Mario Kart he'd ever experienced.
Andy eventually said, "Hey, not all of these people actually live here!"
Matt, who wasn't playing at that moment, leaned across and pointed at Patrick. "He's an interloper. Don't feed him, or he'll never leave."
"You fail, Patrick!" Stu shouted, unnecessarily viciously in Patrick's opinion, and Patrick handed the controller to Matt and rolled his shoulders, stretching out.
Later, Patrick sat on a stool in the kitchen, looking out across the snow-covered garden, while Andy zapped donuts in the microwave. Matt took one off the plate, burning his fingers.
"Just because you're vegan, doesn't mean you don't have to right to die of cholesterol poisoning," Matt informed them, running off before Andy could hit him with an egg slice.
"Long way to drive in the snow," Andy observed. "You must have been going stir crazy."
"The relatives," Patrick said. "Confined spaces."
The others were shouting from the basement, safely out of the way, but Patrick dropped his voice anyway. "And I feel like I'm dealing with the backlash of everything that's happened. I think I should talk to you about it."
Andy nodded. "We can do that."
In borrowed cold weather gear, Patrick slid down the track to the lake behind Andy, not even trying to stay on his feet on the icy ground.
The lake was frozen over, and the sky hung gray and low. Patrick trudged along the track, behind Andy, until Andy paused to kick snow off a bench, then sat down.
Patrick shoved snow off the bench with the over-sized gloves he'd borrowed, and sat down beside Andy, pulling his borrowed scarf higher.
Andy waited, while Patrick shuffled on the freezing bench, but Andy always had been patient.
"I've been thinking about that quote you sent me," Patrick said. "The one about time."
Andy huffed out condensation in acknowledgment.
"I've been feeling like I've been swimming in two different time streams at once, ever since this started," Patrick said. "The 'now.' And the 'then.' Like being in two places at once. And I think I know why."
"The 'then' has gone past the bit where it all went wrong, and where I decided to wall it all off inside myself. There wasn't time to deal with anything, because we had to record the album, then just when that was almost done, Pete fell completely apart and tried to off himself. I put it all aside, figured it was done and over."
"But it wasn't, right?"
"No, it was lurking in a Florida Wal-mart."
"I told you Wal-mart was evil," Andy said. "Do you still feel like you're in two times?"
Patrick shook his head. "Not anymore. Except, now it's stopped, I'm so sad."
"Because of what happened?" Andy asked.
"No, because it's gone," Patrick said.
His teeth hurt, from clenching them to stop them from chattering, and he couldn't get his eyes to focus on the lake any longer.
Andy put his arm around Patrick's shoulder and said, "C'mere," in a low voice. "Don't let your eyelashes freeze."
Andy pulled Patrick's glasses off carefully, then rubbed the tip of a gloved finger under each of Patrick's eyes. Patrick buried his face against Andy's shoulder and neck, deep in the folds of someone's hand-knitting, Andy's beard bristling against the side of his face.
"You should have some kind of quote," Patrick said, his voice muffled. "You always did."
"Morning is when I am awake, and there is a dawn in me," Andy said.
Patrick's nose was running, from the cold and from not-crying, and he was completely frozen. He was pretty much emotionally shattered from the drive and talking, and he probably needed to buy a fucking clue, as Pete had said.
But he also had some past experience in Andy-speak.
Patrick sat up, but Andy didn't move his arms away, and he met Patrick halfway, when Patrick leaned forward.
The exhalation of warm air rushed across Patrick's lips and tingled on his skin, then Andy's lips brushed against his briefly. Next touch was longer, lingering, flicker of hot tongue and the scrape of teeth across his bottom lip.
Andy's mouth burned against Patrick's cheek, and Andy said, "We need to go back."
Patrick didn't know if Andy meant back to Fuck City, or back in time, but either option was good.
They dumped the damp and muddy cold-weather gear in the utility room, and Andy didn't say anything, just led Patrick to his bedroom and locked the door.
Andy's bed was unmade, all the bedding piled at the foot, and Andy said, "C'mon, climb in, we're both cold."
Patrick ditched his jeans, wet with melted snow, and slid across the bed, while Andy did the same, then dragged the bedding over them.
He had a moment of intense memory resonance at being back in Andy's bed, rubbing cold feet against Andy's to warm them up, and the smell of skin and unwashed sheets.
Andy must have had the same kind of thoughts, because he said, "No ice inside these windows. Double-glazing this time, and central heating."
The pile of comics on the nightstand was in the same place, and Patrick leaned across Andy to prop his glasses on the stack. Andy tossed his across, too, and slid his hands across Patrick's back, holding his sweater and stopping him from moving away.
"Stay there," Andy said.
Patrick hitched himself up more securely, so he was sprawled across Andy, and lowered his mouth down, onto Andy's, slow and deliberate. He might have thought, based on the lazy movements of Andy's mouth, the slow way they were kissing, that Andy wasn't really into it. Except, he could feel every rumbling hitch of breath, every rock of Andy's hips, every catch and slip of Andy's fingertips.
"Warm now?" Andy asked, against Patrick's ear, hands pushing at his sweater.
The scramble to get naked paid off when, seconds later, Andy slid his hands down Patrick's bare back and wrapped both of his legs around Patrick's.
Patrick pushed fingers into the back of Andy's neck, guiding their mouths back together again, and grabbed at Andy's thigh with his free hand, hitching Andy's leg higher, finally getting their cocks lined up, in a moment of blindingly sweet friction.
Saliva, tinged with blood where Andy had bitten Patrick's lip while groaning, sweat between their chests and sticking Patrick's hair to his cheeks, and it was like the time hadn't passed, and maybe not all the salt was from sweat.
Then Andy rolled them over, pinning Patrick underneath, biting at Patrick's shoulder as he ground down hard, come spreading between their bellies.
"Oh, fuck, please," Patrick whispered, and Andy lifted his weight enough to push a hand between them and grab Patrick's cock.
Short, blissful strokes, and Patrick was coming, shaking and gasping.
Sprawling with Andy a deadweight on top of him, Patrick ran his hand down Andy's arm, smoothing the skin, and Andy made vaguely contented noises.
"I need to put my glasses on," Patrick said.
"Forget it," Andy said indistinctly. "I'm not moving, not for hours."
"You've got all this ink I've not had a chance to really look at," Patrick said.
"You've shared a bus with my ink for years," Andy said.
"A bus with a No Nudity rule, thanks to previous experiences with Pete," Patrick said.
"Besides, I always felt like I couldn't stare at you."
"Of course," Andy said. "No staring, it's bad manners. We can scratch the No Nudity rule now, if you like. And the No Staring rule. We can move directly to the part where we make sure no one else is ever on the bus with us."
"Oh," Patrick said, sounding surprised. "Do you want to…?"
Andy poked Patrick sleepily, under his ribs, making Patrick squeak. "Patrick, you asshole. If you're planning on running out on me today, I will fucking hunt you down and tickle you."
"I hadn't assumed anything. Or expected this to happen. Look, I didn't drive up here with a fucking agenda." Patrick paused. "If you know what I mean."
Andy sighed, and rolled partly off, and Patrick could see his face. "And I was making assumptions. You could leave, right now…" Andy shook his head. "Or you could stay."
"How about I stay?" Patrick said, and he knew he was smiling. "Because it's been more than four years since anyone fucked me."
Andy didn't look so sleepy, suddenly. "I can help you with that." He leaned back and rummaged around in his nightstand for a moment, then kissed Patrick again.
Patrick had forgotten, possibly deliberately, the way it felt to be kissed by Andy, the way he just kept going, this impossible combination of gentle and urgent that made Patrick want to scream and beg.
It went on—lips sliding, tongue, teeth, leaving Patrick breathless and frantic—while Patrick remembered how to touch Andy, how to make him moan, so that Andy was hard and desperate, his cock riding Patrick's hands.
Cold lube, trickling down Andy's hand, on the sheets, then touching Patrick.
"I didn't listen," Andy whispered, hot, wet lips moving against Patrick's ear. "I've never listened to you when I shouldn't have. Never listened to you jerking off."
Patrick's legs fell apart, and he gasped as Andy's fingertip eased in, circling and dipping.
"I've never needed to. This…"
"Oh, fuck, oh fuck," Patrick whispered, because Andy was sliding a finger in and out, and it was sending waves of heat through him. He needed more, needed to be fucked, needed it all.
"This is inside my head, the way you sound, the way you lose it when your ass is touched…"
Patrick gripped his own cock hard, trying to fight the burning building inside, but Andy pushed a second finger inside, and it was all going too fast.
"Gonna come. Please." The fingers inside pushed harder, a moment later Andy's mouth slid down Patrick's cock, and it was all fucking over. Coming with something in his ass fried Patrick's brain and wrecked his body, leaving him blinking and struggling to breathe when Andy crawled back up the bed.
Andy wiped the corner of his mouth with his thumb, his fingers shining and slick with lube, then he reached for the tube again.
When Andy eased two fingers back in, it felt like every hypersensitive nerve in Patrick's body screamed, and Patrick reached over his head to brace himself against the headboard. It was too much, too soon, but he'd been craving this for so long, and there wasn't any way to stop.
"See, this?" Andy said. "You, like this? You'd let me do this to you for hours, long as I did it right. I could keep going all night, 'til my wrist gave out, or we ran out of lube…"
Andy's fingers rolled and twisted, inside him, and Patrick shook the headboard and hissed, trying not to yell.
"I'm not going to," Andy said, slipping his fingers out, and Patrick flopped his arms down and opened his eyes. "Gonna fuck you instead."
After tearing the condom pack open with his teeth, then spitting the wrapper out, Andy said, "You planning on screaming?"
"You planning on making me?" Patrick asked, and he sounded like he'd already been screaming, throat raw and open. He stroked his own cock, watching Andy roll on the condom, and yeah, his body was there, still keeping up.
Andy looked up from rubbing lube over his cock, and his smile was slow and familiar. "Yeah, I am."
The rolling gesture Andy made with his fingers was innocuous, except Patrick knew exactly what it meant. Roll over. Get on all fours. Hold your weight. Hand over control. Let me fuck you senseless.
Andy's palm pushed between Patrick's shoulder blades, and Patrick let his face fall down into the mattress and his body relax.
"Good," Andy whispered, his thumb circling Patrick's ass, spreading lube.
"Oh, fuck," Patrick said, when Andy's knuckles pushed against his skin, and Andy's cock touched his ass.
Patrick's thoughts skittered, and the sharp edges of his breath caught in his throat.
Andy groaned, sounding primal, fingers pulling at Patrick's skin. Then his mouth was against Patrick's shoulder, his chest curled along Patrick's back.
Time froze, until Andy rocked, dragging slowly back, sliding forward, and Patrick pushed himself back up on his hands, colliding with Andy, straightening his back.
He needed to breathe, to move, to take this back.
Behind him, Andy said, "Yeah, like that, c'mon." Arms wound around his chest, lifting him up, pulling him back, and he had a brief moment of panic, but Andy held him steady.
"I've got you," Andy said, and yeah, he was held securely, astride Andy's knees, leaning back, Andy's cock so fucking deep in his ass that it was probably still illegal.
He didn't have a lot of room to move, but every microscopic shift of his weight sent shivers through his body as Andy's cock shifted, and made them both groan.
Andy gripped Patrick tighter with one arm, and wrapped the other hand around Patrick's cock, his hand still slippery with lube, making Patrick jerk and Andy gasp.
"Can you talk?" Andy asked, his fingers sliding slowly down Patrick's cock. "Can you tell me how it feels?"
"Yeah, 'kay," Patrick said, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against Andy's shoulder. "Fuck, you feel so hard inside me, I can feel every inch of you."
"Yeah? You're so fucking tight, like the very first time I fucked you. Can't move, or I'm gonna come."
Patrick rolled his hips, and Andy's hand moved faster on his cock. "This, oh fuck… Every motel room and borrowed basement… Feeling you fuck me…" Patrick said.
He was grinding back onto Andy's cock, the heat inside too much to resist.
"I know," Andy whispered. "I remember each time, too."
"Fuck," Patrick said. "Fuck… need to… Can't…"
Then Andy rocked up into him, deep and hard, making everything burn. Patrick knew he was grabbing at Andy's arms, maybe even scratching, but he couldn't stop himself, just like he couldn't stop himself from biting at Andy's neck or from fucking yelling.
Andy's fingers against his ribs were bright points of pain as they dug in and held him upright. Everything else was wiped out as he fucking fell apart, wrapped around the feeling of coming, Andy inside him.
Patrick mostly slumped down, onto the bed, Andy still hanging onto him.
"Ow," Patrick complained. "Any time, you know, is fine by me."
Andy burrowed his face into Patrick's neck, where the skin was sweaty, and pulled out slowly.
"Hey," Andy said, his voice all stretched-out and distant. "You okay?"
With the bedding dragged up, and the room almost dark, Patrick rolled over and pushed his face against Andy's shoulder.
"I think so, but everything is numb," Patrick asked.
Patrick could feel Andy fumbling around under the bedding, then a moment later, heard the condom hitting the floor.
"Is this the bad kind of numb, where you're planning on having hysterics?" Andy asked.
Patrick chuckled, managing to lift one leg enough to sling it over Andy's, despite his thigh muscles threatening to boycott after what had been done to them.
"No, the other kind, where I'm hoping to do serious sleeping, after lying around here in a stupor for some time."
Andy made an approving noise. "We have a plan. Besides, you want to inspect the ink, remember."
"It's dark," Patrick said. "You'll have to turn a light on."
Andy huffed. "Later, then. Not moving now."
* * *
"Have I changed?" Andy asked, suppressing a sigh as Patrick ran his tongue up the back of Andy's thigh, following the line of ink around, up onto Andy's buttock. "Have you formed an opinion, based on your examination?"
The stubble on Patrick's cheek dragged across Andy's lower back, and fingers trailed up the crack of his ass, then Patrick's weight settled beside Andy on the bed.
"I think you have changed," Patrick said, pushing a handful of Andy's hair out of the way, so Andy could see his face.
Patrick looked perplexed, like he was stumbling for words.
"And not in a good way?" Andy suggested.
"I'm not speaking from any position of... I'm ineffectual and anxious and I've got appalling coping mechanisms..."
"It's okay," Andy said. "You're allowed to tell me the truth."
"I think you've lost your reverence for the world."
It felt a bit like being smacked in face by one of Matt's snowballs—large, and containing small rocks and twigs, but bracing. Andy blinked, and had to remember to make his diaphragm work.
"Like, that thing you used to do—" Patrick said, and Andy caught Patrick's hand in his own.
"You don't have to explain. I didn't know I'd lost that."
"And me?" Patrick asked. "How have I changed?" Andy knew the answer to that, because he'd been weighing the past and measuring its value far too much over the past few days.
"I've watched, and every day, you pick up another burden, and add it to the load you carry. It's just a little pebble, it doesn't weigh much, so it doesn't matter. I don't want to be a pebble for you, or a rock, or a fucking mountain, not like some people we won't name."
Patrick didn't argue with Andy, just nodded, and yeah, Andy could see the weariness and hurt that had been grinding Patrick down.
"Can we make a deal?" Andy asked.
"What kind of deal?" Patrick asked, and Andy could tell that Patrick was trying to sound suspicious. "I'm not sure about making deals with people like you, and I'm going to tell Pete what you implied about him."
"I'll do something about my lack of reverence, if you put down some pebbles." Andy touched a fingertip to Patrick's bottom lip, where one of them had bitten it, leaving the skin red and raw. "And did I mention Pete's name? I could have been talking about anyone."
Patrick smiled against Andy's finger. "Do I look like I have any burdens on me today? I drive up here, let your dubious friends thrash me at Mario Kart, then we go to bed for a few hours. This has got to be the lowest stress day I've had in years."
Andy didn't see the need to point out there'd been some tough moments in the day, too. "Plenty more days like that to be found here."
"Got any food in here? Or do we have to get dressed and get past Matt to the kitchen?"
"Matt will be at work by now," Andy said. "But I've got snacks in here. I don't trust the rest of Fuck City not to eat everything there is while I'm asleep."
Hours later, Andy left Patrick sound asleep, and showered quickly, then pulled some clothes on.
He sat in the kitchen, watching the lights from the house shine out over the yard and listening to the muted sounds of the guys doing something with guitars downstairs. The closed doors were probably them attempting not to overhear anything, rather than any courtesy with regards to isolating the noise in the house.
Matt came home, front door opening and closing, keys being hung on the hooks in the hall, then the kitchen door opened.
"Hey," Matt said, his voice low. "You okay? You're sitting in the dark."
"Used to do it all the time," Andy said.
"That was when the utilities were cut off," Matt said. The light from the fridge glowed brightly, then the fridge door closed again. "You safe to sit beside?"
"Good, because I've had bad experiences before."
Andy considered arguing, or something, but he was too mellow.
Matt pulled a stool up beside Andy's, and cracked his can of soda. "So, Patrick?"
Andy smiled to himself. "Yeah."
"As your friend, and as someone who was there for the aftermath last time, do I get to ask if you're fucking crazy?"
Andy turned and looked at Matt in the half-light. "Yeah, you can ask. I'm not, at least no more than usual."
Matt shook his head. "You do remember how bad it was, and how long it took you to get over him?"
"It was fucking miserable, and it took longer than the length of time between then and now."
Matt was silent, and Andy could hear the can of soda creaking as Matt flexed his hands around it.
"Why didn't you tell me I was changing, and not for the better? You, of all people, could have told me," Andy said.
"Is that shit from Patrick?" Matt asked, his voice sharp.
"He pointed out the differences, that's all. Remember back, before the first Fuck City apartment? When I lived in that shitty share house? I had nothing, just about nothing, but I was so connected. Everywhere I went, I had friends to crash with, people who would share food with me. The whole fucking country had this mythic feel to it, like a story unfolding in front of me. Now I fly in and out of cities I can't remember the names of, where I know only strangers."
Matt looked at the glass sitting on the counter in front of Andy for the first time. "And you're fixing that by watching a glass of snow melt?"
"I needed to do something that took time," Andy said.
"Watching snow melt in the dark?" Matt asked. "Ah, tofu-Andy."
"Your progression through life can be measured by your eating habits," Matt said. "When I first knew you, you were all Doritos-and-fries, feral and angry and pretty fucking unbalanced."
Andy chuckled, because, fuck yeah, Matt was right.
"Then, I don't know what happened, but you started hanging out with a more responsible class of anarchist, or something, because then we had tofu-and-lentils, and you went all introspective. A great deal of philosophy was read, and unfortunately quoted at me.
"Then, convenience foods appeared. Frozen, deep-fried goodies. Sugar-drenched snacks. You got angry again, but in a more constructive way. Maybe not constructive, just more socially acceptable."
"I was happier at the introspective, lentil stage," Andy said. "I think that might be important."
"You were fucking impoverished," Matt said. "Under-fed, almost homeless, one toothache away from crawling back to your mom for help."
"Now I'm drowning in fucking shit I own and have to worry about," Andy said. "Whose crazy idea was all this, anyway?"
"This house? Yours, I believe," Matt said. "Somewhere big enough for all of us, that was what you wanted."
Andy looked around and nodded. "Okay. Agreed. I'm not sharing a small house with you lot. You like my car, though? You drive it when I'm away?"
"Sure," Matt said. "Why?"
Andy left his glass of melting snow and went and flicked along the rack of keys in the hall, to find his own set.
He sat back down at the kitchen counter and slid the car keys across to Matt. "I'll sort out the insurance, next time I'm in the country for a few days."
"You're giving me your car?" Matt asked. "Why? Won't you want to drive it when you're back?"
"I don't want it," Andy said. "It was a stupid idea to buy it. If you don't want it, you can sell it, or give it to someone else. And I won't want a car when I'm back, because I'm not planning on going anywhere that I can't walk or ride a bike."
"You've fucking lost it," Matt said, sounding tired and angry. "You've completely fucking lost it, Andy. You're going to wake up, tomorrow or next week, or eventually, and wonder what happened. In one day, you've fucked up your personal life, and you've had some kind of a breakdown."
"I haven't lost it. I've found it again. I lost it years ago, lost focus, lost hope, whatever. I want it back."
Matt shook his head. "If you're going back to quoting anything, I'm fucking lodging a complaint."
Andy shrugged, and Matt slapped him on the back, just a touch too hard.
"I'll leave you to your science experiment in existentialism, or whatever," Matt said. "I'm going to bed."
"Hey," Andy said. "It's either late-night philosophical anguish, or loud sex. At least this is quieter."
Matt looked horrified in the half-light. "You know, I'd managed to blank that part of your involvement with Patrick from my memory. Thank you very fucking much."
When Kyle made himself ramen, an hour later, the glass of snow was half-melted.
Kyle poked at the glass, while Andy explained, "I'm watching it melt, to see how long it takes, and what it looks like."
"It looks like water," Kyle said. "Fucker. And there's a fucking calculation for how long it takes, based on the temperature of the room, the specific conductivity of the glass and the volume of snow. Actually, it would be mass of snow, given that snow isn't a standard density. Moles of snow, technically. Anyway, you don't have to watch it."
Andy frowned at Kyle. "I think you're missing the point."
"I guess the room is warm enough that you'd be losing some water to evaporation, too. I could factor that in, easily enough, if I had the right measuring equipment."
"Or I could watch the glass," Andy said. "Like I am."
Kyle tipped boiling water onto his bowl of ramen. "Oh. Want me to add some hot water? Hurry things up?"
Andy stared at Kyle, and Kyle put the kettle back down again.
"Okay, backing away now," Kyle said. "Taking my noodles and fucking off. Congratulations on the sex life, by the way. Any time you want to thank Stu and me for not twittering progress reports, feel free."
"Progress reports?" Andy said, surprised to discover there was no menace in his voice.
"Like we sent Matt," Kyle said. "We thought about marking off the hours you'd been locked in your room, but decided not to, so we just texted Matt with updates instead."
"What you mean is that Matt changed the password, right?" Andy said.
"No?" Kyle suggested. "Well, yes, but we wouldn't have anyway, because we completely respect your boundaries."
"And Matt wouldn't tell you the new log in?"
"He seemed to think that you'd be pissed off if he did."
Andy nodded and turned back to look out the window again. "Turn the lights off, will you?"
"That's it?" Kyle asked. "Or are you going to sit in the dark and plot your revenge?"
"No, I'm going to sit in the dark and think about my life, because there're some major things going on at the moment."
"Okay," Kyle said. A moment later, through the door to the entertainment room, Andy heard him say, "Hey, Stu, Andy's gone all Zen again. We can fuck around, and he won't shout at us."
Andy touched the cold glass, and thought about the half-melted snow floating in the water, and about Patrick asleep in his bed.
* * *
Fuck City was silent. Andy was sure he'd seen the weak winter morning sunlight slanting through the kitchen windows before, but it had been a damned long time ago. No one else would be awake for hours.
Patrick poured himself a mug of coffee, humming quietly, looking blurred around the edges as he shuffled around the kitchen, poking at the contents of the fridge and opening cupboards.
"Want some?" Patrick asked, waving a pack of oatmeal at Andy.
Andy shook his head. "I haven't done a serious fast for a long time. I think it's time to give my body a break, before we have to fly out again."
Patrick tipped oatmeal into a bowl and poured boiling water over it, then put the bowl in the microwave.
"About being on tour…" Patrick said.
Andy looked up, from picking a fragment of what looked like dead grass from his glass. "Yeah?"
Patrick's neck was marked, where Andy had bitten him, and his bottom lip was swollen. His whole face had the softened look he got after a solid night's sleep, and, in Andy's opinion, Patrick looked just plain happy when he leaned across the counter to smooth down Andy's beard.
"Do you want us to be together on tour? Or do you want this to be a private thing?"
"If Stu and Kyle had been able to work out the new log in to the Fuck City Twitter last night, that would be an irrelevant question," Andy said. "But Matt refused to hand it over, so I guess keeping this completely to ourselves is an option."
Patrick nodded, and the microwave pinged.
Andy watched Patrick retrieve his bowl of oatmeal, then smother the contents in syrup.
"But that's ignoring some pretty fucking huge things that have happened, and I'd like to think I learned something from that whole painful mess. If you want to try being with me, really try, then I don't want to lie to anyone."
Patrick put down the spoon he was holding with a clatter.
Andy drank some of the glass of water, grinning back at Patrick around the edge of the glass.
"Refusing to answer any questions on the subject, while making out with you in public," Andy continued. "That was pretty much the only plan I'd come up with. I figured Justin was there for a reason, rather than just being an annoying shit."
"That's, um, huge," Patrick said.
"I'm not locked into it," Andy said. "It's based entirely upon how I feel, rather than what I think. What do you want?"
"For it to be 2003," Patrick said. "For you to tell me stories about a man who lived beside a lake and found truths."
"I can't do anything about making it 2003," Andy said, sliding off the stool and walking around the counter, to Patrick. "But I can tell you about lakes. I've got one, just at the end of the yard, should we want to look at an actual lake, which may or may not contain truths as well as ice and pike. Anything else?"
Patrick leaned against Andy. "I'd like to sleep in your bed."
When Andy kissed him, Patrick tasted of syrup, sugary and warm, like he'd been licking the spoon or his fingers.
"Even though I woke you up when I came to bed last night?" Andy asked.
Patrick's fingers were sticky, around the back of Andy's neck, confirming Andy's suspicion that he'd been diving into the syrup.
Patrick had woken when Andy curled around him to steal body heat sometime before dawn, his mouth welcoming and hot, arms pulling Andy close. He'd gone back to sleep almost immediately, snuffling against Andy's shoulder, but the few seconds had been enough to persuade Andy that, fuck it, shifting sleep cycles wasn't that big a deal. Andy didn't need to stay awake all night and sleep all day, not really.
"There's room here," Andy said. "In my bed, and in Fuck City."
Patrick smelled of skin and fucking, when Andy rubbed his face against Patrick's neck, and it made Andy think about whether it was practical to just lift Patrick up onto the counter, beside the oatmeal, and how likely they were to get walked in on.
"Is it going to be that simple?" Patrick asked, not complaining when Andy backed him up against the counter.
"Don't see that it needs to be complicated," Andy said.
"But I've never apologized, for what happened. I'm so sorry, for what I did, for the choice I made, for letting the band vote on it. I'm sorry for letting so long pass without trying to mend things between us. I'm sorry."
Patrick wasn't light, but Andy was used to wrestling with Matt, and at least Patrick wasn't resisting, which made lifting him onto the counter a whole lot easier.
"You're fucking kidding?" Andy said. "You're serious about apologizing? Any need for that disappeared when we got that phone call about Pete." Andy shook his head. "I realized then you'd known in November that if Island had pulled the contract, Pete would have gone over the edge. You have nothing to be sorry for, you were just trying to save Pete's life."
Patrick sagged, on the counter. "But I didn't know… Okay, I guessed, and so did Bob, but you've known Pete forever, so you know he's always been like that."
"I love him, possibly more than he deserves, but I've never carried the responsibility for his life like you do."
Patrick smiled, slow and careful. "I don't anymore. Ashlee and I had a formal handover session, before they married. We locked ourselves in her dressing room, spent a couple of hours in a debriefing, and she assumed full duty of care."
Andy decided that personal opinions on Pete being a fucking grownup, and responsible for keeping himself alive, should be kept for another time, and nodded. "Good. Have you actually done that?"
"Handed over duty of care. Let go."
"She's not there all the time, and I—"
Andy cut Patrick's explanation off by kissing him hard, biting his words off, so that Patrick "oomphed" into Andy's mouth, then started kissing back.
Wide counters. The kitchen had wide counters. Made it so much easier for Andy to climb up, too, and straddle Patrick, accidentally kicking the bowl of oatmeal and sending it smashing to the floor.
The syrup bottle rolled around somewhere nearby, and Patrick grabbed hold of Andy, jamming their mouths together, breathing hard. It was damned hot, and Andy bit at Patrick's neck, making Patrick gasp and claw at Andy's bare back then shove hands inside Andy's sweats.
Andy had a hand between their bodies and inside Patrick's jeans, when Matt and Kyle clattered down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"See?" Matt said. "This is what I was talking about. People having sex on the counter in the kitchen."
Andy let go of Patrick's cock and pulled his hand free reluctantly, and Patrick swore and shifted underneath Andy.
"Fuck," Andy said to Patrick. "Sorry 'bout the assholes I live with."
"I'm glad I missed out on this last time then," Kyle said to Matt, opening the fridge. "Not that it's different from being on tour, of course."
Andy lifted his weight enough for Patrick to do his fly back up, and Matt said, "Honestly, we need house rules, about not throwing food around while fucking in the kitchen."
"Okay," Andy said. "We've got the message. You can stop now. What are you both doing awake? Isn't it painfully early?"
Andy slid off the counter, hitching his sweats up and dodging the oatmeal on the floor, then pulled Patrick back up, so Patrick was sitting on the edge of the counter.
"I would have been asleep," Matt said, sounding pained. "Except, my bedroom is directly above yours."
He glared at Andy, and Andy grinned back at him.
"And mine is above the kitchen," Kyle said, pouring himself a coffee.
Andy glanced at Patrick, who shrugged back at him.
"Like Kyle said, just like being on tour," Patrick said. "Just without the added Pete-ness. Fewer civil lawsuits or broken bones."
Kyle nodded. "Hey, I've got a band like that."
"Does your band have sex in the kitchen?" Matt asked, picking up the syrup bottle and shaking it at Andy. "With condiments?"
"Not with each other," Kyle said, then he paused. "No, definitely not. Far too much public sex, though."
"Hey, at least Pete has stopped with that," Patrick said. "Thanks to Ashlee."
Andy poked at the oatmeal on the floor with his toe. "Guess Justin is stuck with making home sex tapes of us, then."
Patrick hit Andy, far too hard in Andy's opinion. Damn, but Patrick was vicious when provoked.
"I like you, Patrick," Matt said. "Despite the whole sex thing. Please hit him again."
"Gladly," Patrick said, as Andy straightened up again, holding onto his ribs on one side.
Kyle nodded. "Small, cute-looking, and psychotic. I can see why Andy likes you. You're just like him, only without the tattoos and deranged world-view."
"Do you have to live with these people?" Patrick asked Andy. "I think they're secretly evil."
"It's no secret," Matt said. "Not among people who know us."
When Matt and Kyle had gone downstairs, carrying coffee, to start the day with Mario Kart and invective, Andy picked up oatmeal and broken bowl.
"We were talking," Andy said. "About important things. And I cut you off before we started arguing. Sorry."
Patrick, still sitting on the counter, spooned the replacement batch of oatmeal and syrup into his mouth and said indistinctly, "S'okay, I like your way of not arguing." He swallowed. "Right, that's better, I can speak now."
Andy ditched the worst of the broken bowl and oatmeal into the trash can and tore off more paper towels. "We were about to argue about Pete."
Patrick nodded. "Were you serious about me moving in here? Don't you need to ask your housemates?"
"What? You think this is an egalitarian household or something? I'll just announce you'll be around, and they'll groan and complain about the noise and your personal habits."
"Okay, so that's the anarchist's approach to house-sharing."
Andy looked up at Patrick, who was kicking his bare feet against the kitchen cupboards.
"Then they'll realize if you're here, they can get you to help out with the Fuck City household band, whatever we're called this week. At the very least, you can produce whatever we record, even if Stu and Kyle can't persuade you to play hardcore."
"Would that fix at least some of your concerns?" Patrick asked. "If I moved in here?"
Andy stood up again, paper towels dripping oatmeal. "Yeah, yeah it would. I think it would pretty much fix everything, forever."
Patrick smiled around his spoonful of oatmeal. "Then I'll leave my shitty life in LA and come and hang out with you here."
The last of the oatmeal mess went into the trash, and Andy leaned against the counter beside Patrick and handed him the bottle of syrup.
"All we have to do is survive the next few months of touring."
Patrick squeezed more syrup into his bowl. "Yeah, we get to fuck like crazy while on tour, and we're not in a van this time."
"Hotel rooms," Andy said scooping oatmeal and syrup out of the bowl with his fingers and holding them out for Patrick to suck. "And when we're on a bus, it's the two of us."
* * *
They walked—slid, slithered and stumbled—back down the lake. Patrick felt giddy, almost; light-headed with happiness, stupidly well-fucked, and distractedly optimistic for the first time in years. Andy bounced along beside him, wrapped up in scarves and hidden behind sunglasses, but still radiating the same good mood as Patrick.
In the weak sunshine, Lake Michigan gleamed under its coat of ice and snow, and the open sky glowed with winter sunshine. Andy slung his arm around Patrick's shoulders, pressing his lips against the gap between scarf and hat, where Patrick's skin showed.
* * *
Claire opened the door of her condo still wearing her bland work clothes, and Patrick wondered what the etiquette was. Flowers? Apologies? At least he'd called first.
He settled for handing her the box of her clothes and books he'd located, strewn through his own belongings.
"Do you want to come in?" she asked, taking the box.
In the kitchen, Claire handed Patrick a carry bag, filled with the same kind of detritus he'd just given back to her.
Patrick peered into the bag, at paperbacks and razors, and said, "I'd like to tell you what's going on for me, but I don't know if you want to hear it."
"A last gasp of honesty?" Claire asked.
"Yeah," Patrick said. "One last gasp."
"I always felt like I was talking to your shadow, or your reflection, not to the real you," Claire said. "I guess I know why now."
Patrick nodded. "And I couldn't tell you until I told myself. I'm sorry you caught up in any of this, and that I handled it so badly."
"Hit me with it," Claire said. "Before I start wallowing too much."
* * *
Someone who could only be the nanny opened the door of the hotel suite, and Ashlee called out, "Let him in, he's the pizza delivery boy!"
"Thank, Ashlee!" Patrick called back, and the nanny stood aside and let Patrick in.
Ashlee bounced up to Patrick and they hugged, then she tipped her head to one side to study him. "What have you been up to?" she asked.
"Sleeping," Patrick said, comparatively truthfully, since he had slept the entire flight over, for a change.
Ashlee pulled a face. "Not sleeping. In the bathroom. Go and smack some sense into him."
"He's your problem now," Patrick said. "Remember? I don't have to work out how to make him sleep anymore."
"Unfair," Ashlee said, behind Patrick, while Patrick headed through the main bedroom of the hotel suite, toward the bathroom.
Pete was sitting on the closed toilet seat, talking on the phone, laptop open on the counter, when Patrick looked around the partly-ajar door.
He waved at Patrick, and said, "Gotta go, talk to you soon," and closed his phone.
They hugged, dislodging complimentary toiletries, random hair appliances and someone's makeup kit, and then Pete pulled Patrick down to sit beside him on the bathmat.
"Why the bathroom?" Patrick asked.
"Best bathroom ever," Pete said. "Can't waste it."
Okay, Pete was in manic-sustained-insomnia mode. No wonder Ashlee had been happy to see Patrick.
Pete leaned closer, right into Patrick's personal space, and said, "Whoa, what have you been up to?"
Patrick grinned, hugging Pete. "Things have happened."
"Things?" Pete's voice rose, echoing around the tiled bathroom. "We're talking really hot things, aren't we?"
"Shut up, Pete," an unfamiliar voice called, from elsewhere in the suite. "You'll wake the baby."
"Yeah," Patrick said, keeping his voice down. "I drove up to Fuck City, while I was visiting the family—"
Pete squeaked, clamping his hand over his mouth to silence himself, and Patrick sighed.
"And talked to Andy."
Pete's eyes went wide, but he didn't move his hand from his mouth.
"More than talked," Patrick admitted.
Pete made gurgling noises, and threw himself at Patrick.
"Ohfuckareyoubacktogether?" Pete asked in one burst before covering his mouth again.
Pete was possibly the most hilariously entertaining Patrick had ever seen him, but Patrick didn't dare laugh in case the nanny yelled at everyone who made noise, not just Pete.
"We fixed up what went wrong in 2004," Patrick said.
Pete made a noise like a howler monkey and toppled the pair of them over, rolling them around on the bathroom floor, kicking and thrashing.
Dodging injuries from the plumbing fixtures consumed all of Patrick's attention, until a pair of very nice feet and legs appeared beside his face, and he looked up at Ashlee.
Ashlee said, "No. No breaking the hotel or Patrick. We've had this talk already."
Pete stopped pummeling Patrick and handed him back his cap.
"But," Pete said. "But, wait until you hear what's happened."
"Later," Ashlee said. "Tell me later. I have a symbiote to feed."
When Ashlee had gone, Patrick sat up, leaning back against the bath, and straightened his T-shirt.
"So, you're happy about this?"
Pete nodded. "Absolutely. We were assholes, voting like we did. Andy would have been entitled to leave the band over that, and we owe him so much for not walking out then."
"He doesn't see it that way," Patrick said.
"I'd do anything for the two of you," Pete said. "Do you want a huge fucking wedding reception? Want me to take on the Establishment, so you can get married for real?"
Patrick kicked Pete. "Can we have a reality check on this? Think about it, just for a moment."
"Point," Pete said. "Andy has already lectured me enough about how marriage is about ownership of property and not love."
"There is something, though."
"Sure," Pete said, leaning forward. "My considerable resources are at your command. What do you want?"
"Lend us Justin? Andy will arrange things with Joe, if you'll help out."
Pete grinned. "Sure. I'll link the fuck out of the footage, too. After five years, you've earned something like this. We fucked up, the three of us. We really, really fucked up back then."
Patrick nodded. "There were reasons, but that doesn't mean that we can't try and fix it now."
Pete rested his chin on his knees. "You mean I was the reason, don't you? I'm the fucking elephant in the room."
"You're always the elephant that's fucking in the room," Patrick said.
"Thanks, I needed that mental image."
"I could provide you with other mental images," Patrick offered. "Better images, featuring more tattoos."
"Two buses," Pete said. "I don't need to see. Or hear." He groaned. "Oh, fuck, I don't need to hear ever again."
Patrick stared at Pete in disbelief. "We never got the band evicted from a Best Western."
"Yes, well," Pete said. "I'm respectable now."
* * *
"How's it been?" Justin asked. "In the couple of weeks since you came out?" Patrick leaned forward on the couch in the dressing room, and Pete hung over the back.
"Interesting," Patrick said. "I'm still not really used to the idea of being out."
Patrick patted Pete's hand, where it rested on his shoulder.
"What have you been up to?" Justin asked.
"During the break, between Florida and flying to Japan, I went home to Chicago for a few days," Patrick said. "Figured I'd better see my family, that sort of thing. I saw my ex-boyfriend, too, to talk over all the stuff that had been brought up."
Joe bounced over the arm of the couch, to sit beside Patrick, right on schedule. "We owe him a public apology, the three of us. That's what this vid is."
"An apology for what?" Justin asked, sounding bewildered.
"Bad shit happened in 2004," Patrick said. "I said and did things I'm sorry for."
"Seriously bad shit," Pete added. "I'm not proud of what I did."
"The three of us did not behave well," Joe said. "Only Andy acted with any integrity. We're all sorry for what happened, and we want to apologize."
Andy slid into the seat beside Patrick, and Patrick smiled at him. "This time, you're in charge. This is us going on the record, and saying we're never letting that kind of disagreement within the band happen again."
"Cool," Andy said. "Then we're all agreed that Patrick doesn't dump his boyfriend this time, and everyone gets to be happy?"
Justin said, "What?"
"I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject,"Andy said, in his quoting voice.
Joe groaned, and Pete stretched out an arm to slap Andy.
"Back up, to before Andy became incomprehensible," Justin said. "Which boyfriend, Patrick? Do you need to tell us something?"
Patrick could feel the smile that was spreading across his face. "I've reconciled with my ex. It would seem we wanted a second chance, not closure."
Other people had been gathering in the dressing room, behind Justin, techs and roadies, providing background noise to Justin's questions. The hooting from Pete drowned them out, though, when Patrick turned sideways and slid his arm around Andy's neck, pulling Andy forward in a kiss.
The couch shook, from where Joe was bouncing up and down beside Patrick, cheering, and Pete had clambered over the back of the couch, so he was straddling Patrick's shoulders while shrieking.
Andy pulled Patrick down, onto the couch, sending Pete sprawling as well, which tipped the couch backward with huge crash that jarred Patrick's shoulders and stunned him momentarily.
Hands grabbed him, lifting him upward, dragging Pete off him, while Andy swore loudly over the shouting in the room and someone kicked steadily at Patrick's shins.
The patch-up was going to take a while—Pete needed adhesive strips on his cheek, before the cut would stop bleeding, and the crew medic insisted that Andy be checked out by an actual doctor, because of the size of the bruise on his head.
While that happened, Justin pushed Patrick into the smallest of the dressing rooms, and kicked the door shut. The light on top of the cam glowed, and Justin pointed at the only chair, and perched himself on the counter.
"For the benefit of everyone out in YouTube-land who doesn't know Fall Out Boy history, do you want to explain what just happened?"
"Pete just broke his face, I think," Patrick said, grinning at Justin, who flipped a finger at Patrick around the cam.
"Don't make me edit you," Justin said.
"I don't think there's much to say," Patrick said. "Not really."
* * *
Pete, apparently, thought there was, when Justin put him in front of the videocam as well.
"2003," Pete said, squashing himself onto the chair beside Patrick. "Long time ago. I thought that, while Joe and I were working hard after shows, promoting the band—"
Patrick snorted in disbelief.
"Anyway, I assumed Patrick and Andy were being all boring in the van, working on songs or reading, or whatever. Then I found out, because there are no secrets when four of you share a van, that what they'd been doing was some kind of stealthy seduction, which was pretty fucking amusing, because I'd thought Patrick was straight."
Patrick said, "Had you asked me? Had you paid any attention to who I'd been dating?"
"Shush," Pete said. "My turn to talk. Actually, I'd thought Andy was straight too, which just goes to show that I don't know shit sometimes."
"Shut up. Back then, we stayed with friends whenever we could, to get out of the van without having to pay for a motel. We crashed on this freaky commune somewhere in fucking Vermont, I think, right after this huge gay revelation. I don't know how to describe this place, except to say that they used the word 'calumet' non-ironically, ate a lot of beans and had no electricity."
"It was a great place. Everyone got laid that night except Pete," Patrick said. "Don't listen to his complaints."
"Thank you very fucking much, Patrick," Pete said. "See? Everyone. Got. Laid."
Pete grabbed the front of Patrick's T-shirt, almost dislodging them both from the chair, and shouted, "You were a child! He took your innocence!"
Patrick could hear Justin making muffled choking noises, behind the camera.
Patrick pushed his glasses back up his nose, and tried to keep a straight face.
"Pete? I was nineteen! I'd hardly been keeping myself for my wedding night! We're not talking about 'Where no one has gone before' territory."
Getting Pete to boggle on camera was always an achievement, and Patrick was proud of himself.
"Really?" Pete said. "I want to know what you had been up to that summer, in detail. You and I are seriously going to have to talk about this."
"Why aren't you making a fuss about Joe?" Patrick asked. "We had to carry him to the van the next morning. No one knows what happened to him on the commune, probably including Joe, and he's younger than me."
Justin twitched with delight, behind the camera, and Pete's eyes gleamed.
"Leave Joe out of this. Don't think you can distract me by trying to get him into trouble, too. What would your mother have said?" Pete asked.
"I don't think my mother would have been worried—after all she let me get into a van with you, knowing exactly what you are like. And why are we talking about my sex life in a vid that's going to be posted to YouTube?"
"Because everyone's bored with mine?" Pete suggested.
"You're a very boring person," Patrick said.
* * *
Joe sat down on the chair and nodded at the cam.
"Yeah," Joe said. "Really happy Patrick and Andy are together, they should have been the whole time. And, after sharing a bedroom with Patrick and Andy once, I'm even happier they have their own bus when we're touring."
Justin, behind the cam, said, "Patrick has told us about a night in 2003, when the band stayed on a commune. Do you want to comment on this?"
Joe looked blankly at the cam, then smiled slowly. "I'd kind of forgotten about that."
He looked directly at the camera. "Hey, if you're considering a career in music, and you're wondering if the stories of crazed nights of wild sex and illicit drugs are all lies, circulated to keep you practicing scales and attending stupid performances, I'm here to assure you they're not.
"Somewhere out there, when I was eighteen, I met a girl whose name I have no idea of—"
"Polly!" Andy shouted from the doorway.
"Polly, that's right. Thank you, Straight Edge band member who remembers these things. In an entire golden summer of being stupid and irresponsible, out of several years of outstanding stupidity and irresponsibility, that night is the peak moment, barely retrievable from damaged brain cells, felt rather than remembered. But when I'm old and decrepit in a nursing home, I'm going to be asking Andy, 'What was that girl's name?'"
"As long as you're not asking your wife, assuming she'll marry you after this," Andy called out.
"Hi honey," Joe said to the camera. "Aren't you glad I got this out of my system before we got together?"
* * *
Justin cornered Patrick and Andy, in the staging area. "C'mon, Andy," Justin said. "Everyone else has."
Andy shrugged and put his arm around Patrick's shoulders. "Okay."
The light on the cam shone, and Justin said, "Talk. What are your plans for after this tour?"
"This tour's just beginning. There is no end to it," Patrick said.
"I have plans for afterward," Andy said. "Didn't I mention them? I'm taking off, into wilderness, with no resources, to test myself. I'm going to live on berries and mushrooms, and whatever I can scrounge. It'll be exhilarating and challenging!"
Patrick turned his head to look at Andy, who was grinning at him. "You're going camping?"
"Not camping—re-wilding," Andy said. "Rediscovering my human past, reconnecting with my hunter-gatherer roots. You could come with me!"
"Or, I could stay home with the fridge and the internet!" Patrick said.
"Or, you could stay home with the fridge and the internet," Andy agreed.
"Got anything else you want to say?" Justin asked.
"Well," Patrick said. "We should probably say 'Hi!' to Bob, our manager. Wish you were here, Bob. We're thinking of you."
Andy squeezed Patrick's shoulders. "This should be a lot of things, but mostly, it should be 2004."
Part Three: Live the life you have imagined.
Future: July 2010
Andy shoved the GPS back in its holster and checked the street sign again. Still not lost, which was all he asked for, and the indicator for a good day. He switched to his second hydration bladder, the one with the electrolytes in it, drank as much as he could without risking throwing up, and took off, up the hill, past a housing development, Metallica playing on his iPod.
Miles to go, to the meeting point.
The housing development petered out, the sidewalk ended, and the cars honked at Andy as they overtook him. He resisted the urge to flip them off.
Come the revolution…
The cars stopped passing, once the road had wound its way to the fields. Andy got to the place, inside his head, where it all just slid past, the open pasture and huge blue sky, rolling away.
The line of forest on the horizon crept toward him, dragged by the sun, and when the road stopped, at the edge of the trees, he had to cast around, GPS in his hand, to find the trail into the forest.
Running was harder through the forest, tracking trail markers, dodging branches, and watching his footing. It was worth it, to be able to take his earbuds out and listen to the cool shadows and silence of the trees.
The trail ended at a picnic area, in a clearing. Patrick was sitting at a picnic table, power cable snaking from his laptop to the van, six string in his arms.
He didn't look up when Andy ran up to the table, just pushed across the bottle of water in front of him and said, "Hey."
Andy left Patrick, and the contents of Patrick's brain, alone, and took the bottle of water. He tossed his empty hydration packs into the back of the van, along with his iPod, GPS and phone, then downed the bottle of water.
He was stretching out his calf muscles, against the back bumper of the van, when Patrick came over.
"Sorry," Patrick said. "Was working on something."
"I got that impression," Andy said.
"You made good time. Nobody tried to run you over today?"
"Not today," Andy said, switching to stretching his inner thigh. "Fuckers. Have we got any food?"
"Run, eat, puke, you know how it goes," Patrick reminded Andy. "Give it ten minutes. Can we stay somewhere with hot water tonight?"
Andy unhooked his foot from the bumper and looked around the clearing. "Not here? I like it here."
The forest pressed up against the car park, and no other cars were in sight. The sun had dropped down, behind the trees, washing the sky pale. Andy could imagine sleeping there, the skylight of the van open to the stars, just the two of them.
Patrick scratched at the substantial growth of stubble on his chin. "I know I subscribe to the theory of maximum-stench, and therefore should be less likely to be asking for showers, but I'd kind of like to go somewhere with real facilities."
"There is no limit to how much we can smell," Andy said. "It just gets worse and worse. But if you want a shower, then we shall shower."
Once Patrick had packed up his laptop and guitar, Andy handed him the GPS. "I'll drive, you shout directions and abuse."
Patrick frowned at Andy, but climbed into the passenger's side of the cab without any comment.
The RV campground Patrick directed Andy to was hilariously tacky, with fake teepees available for rent, according to the sign at the entrance, and Andy shook his head disbelievingly.
"I'll go check in," Patrick said. "After what happened last time."
Last time, not even Andy's credit card collection had compensated for his tattoos.
"At least we're not driving the Fuck City van," Andy called out, as Patrick disappeared into the office, wallet in his hand.
The Fuck City van, with customized paintwork, was just too conspicuous, so they'd left it in Milwaukee and hired a generic van. The hired van had smelled better, too, at least at the start of the trip.
Patrick reappeared from the RV park office a few minutes later, phone pressed against his ear, papers in his other hand.
"I'll tell him," Patrick said into his cellphone as he got back into the cab and pointed through the gates. "And ask. Talk to you later."
Andy started the van again, and put it into gear, and Patrick said, "Pete says you're a fucking idiot to go running through the forest here without bear mace, and he wants to know when we're going to arrive."
Patrick pointed past a row of cabins, consulting the RV park map in his hands.
"I doubt that the sight of a can of bear mace works as a deterrent on bears the same way the sight of a can of human mace works on humans," Andy said. "Do bears know they're supposed to avoid people carrying it?"
"True," Patrick said. "It's not like they can read the warning labels, is it?"
"And I suspect I can outrun the average bear on the flat, when it counts," Andy said. "As for when we'll get to LA, have you got any idea?"
"I had a look at the elevation map for Montana, while you were evading bears in the woods today, and I reckon you're about out of flat bits of Montana to run across. We're in that bay, there, beside the lime green Winnebago."
Andy stopped the van in the middle of a concrete pad large enough to play a game of pickup on.
"You could be right," he said, pulling the park brake on. "I'm not running up hills for fun."
"So I guess the next question is, do you want to run the Snake River Plain, if we go across into Idaho?" Patrick asked. "Or are we both bored with this whole thing?"
Andy jumped out of the cab, and leaned back in, to prod Patrick. "Are you bored? You're the one who has to hang around at the pickup point, waiting for me."
Patrick shook his head, and he had the indulgent smile he wore for Andy when no one else was looking. "I've discovered that, if I don't turn my phone on and no one knows where I am, I can get a surprising amount of work done in the four hours it takes you to run each leg. I reckon I can hold out for another ten days, at least."
"Then I'll run the not-boring parts of Snake River Plain, between the cities," Andy said. "And we'll drive the rest of the way to LA in one day."
Patrick's phone rang, and Patrick said, "That's Pete, wanting to know why I haven't sent him today's versions yet."
"I'll hook up the van, and you can make an early start on this evening's argument," Andy said.
When Andy had connected the van to the power and topped up the water tank, he left Patrick hunched over a laptop, phone in one hand, waving the other in frustration at whatever Pete was disagreeing with, and went to find the showers.
Andy's hair was a fucking mess, from running and living rough, and he'd settled in under the hot water with a comb, to deal with the incipient matting, when someone knocked on his shower cubicle door.
The sneakers, under the cubicle door, could only be Patrick's.
Andy unlocked the door, dripping water everywhere.
"I didn't think we did this anymore," Andy said, getting back under the water while Patrick hung his towel and clean clothes on a hook.
"We don't," Patrick said, pulling his T-shirt over his head. "But if I don't step away from the phone and email from a few minutes, we're going to be turning around and heading back home."
Andy made suitably sympathetic noises and stepped aside so Patrick could stand under the stream of water.
"Pete's a fucking idiot," Patrick said. "He just doesn't get that, if we change the order of the verses, it doesn't make any fucking sense."
Patrick was winding up for a really good vent, so Andy put his arms around Patrick. "No, I refuse to shower with Pete as well as you. Okay?"
Patrick tasted faintly soapy, but he kissed back without complaining, and Andy pushed them both out of the direct flow of the showerhead. Patrick was slippery, sliding against Andy, until Andy got him securely against the tiles.
"You smell weird," Patrick said, against Andy's neck. "And you have to realize, when I say that, it means something."
Andy laughed, and worked a soapy hand between their thighs. "Gonna make you forget all about everything. Want me to do that?"
Patrick made a hiccupping noise, and Andy kissed his neck and coaxed his cock, long strokes, good and hard.
"Yeah," Patrick said. "Yeah, feels good."
Someone outside called out, "Slowdown, kids," then footsteps clattered into the shower block.
"Dad!" a child's voice shouted, right outside the cubicle. "He hit me! Tell him he's not allowed to!"
"Stop it, both of you," the adult's voice said, inside the shower block. "And get into a shower."
Andy let go of Patrick and shrugged.
"I'm going to shower, then call Pete back and argue with him some more," Patrick said, his voice low. "And I'm going to win this time."
It took time to get the worst of the knots out of his hair, and Andy was starving when he walked back across the RV park to the van, carrying his clothes, towel wrapped around his hips.
A woman walking her dog stopped and stared at his ink, but Andy ignored her. He'd had the color on his back redone, and people were supposed to look at it.
Patrick was chuckling to himself when Andy tossed his filthy clothes into the back of the van and reached for a cleaner pair of shorts to pull on under his towel.
"What's so funny?" Andy asked.
"There's a baby-scene kid here, on some kind of vacation nightmare with her family, and she bolted partway through a stammering declaration of undying admiration for you and your blog. I had no idea why, until you came around the front of the van wearing only a towel. You can't go around doing that."
Andy hitched his shorts up securely, and tossed his towel over the open cab passenger door to dry.
"I'm not doing anything."
Patrick watched Andy set up the gas ring, with a pan of water on it, and add the rice.
"I do read your blog, you know," Patrick said, conversationally, as the water started to boil. "If you were wondering. So when you make those posts about never letting anyone else tell you how fast time should flow, and how you want to live life at the speed of your own heartbeat, I do try and decode them."
"I don't think there are any coded messages in them," Andy said, partially peeling the top off a can of garbanzo beans and letting the liquid in the can drain out onto the dirt.
Andy ripped the top off the can completely and dumped the beans into the boiling water, with the rice, and looked up to find Patrick staring at him disbelievingly.
"Oh?" Patrick said.
"Okay, sometimes I might be talking about more than one thing at a time," Andy admitted. "And sometimes that other thing is you, but that's not the same thing as a coded message."
Patrick grinned. "I am so fucking right."
Andy found the second camp stool and set it up opposite Patrick's, where he could stir the rice and beans. "This is in no way conceding defeat, but do you want me to stop?"
"Depends," Patrick said. "What're you planning on talking about?"
"Running, probably. And how I've flown to LA more times than I can count over the past few years, but had no idea how far it really was. How slowing right down makes it easier to look for things."
"I'm appreciating exactly how far away LA is now," Patrick said drily. "I'm going to want to fly home, you realize."
"I'll want to fly back, too, once I've run another couple of hundred miles," Andy said. "I'm glad you read the blog. I never know how much you hear of what I say or write."
Somewhere in the RV park, kids were shouting, and a sound system was playing Shania Twain. The evening had drawn in, the light from the van enough that Andy could see the condensation from the pan of rice fogging Patrick's glasses.
"I hear enough that I was prepared to get into a van with you in Milwaukee, with nothing except a fifty pound sack of rice, an unknown number of tins of beans, and my laptop and guitar, and come on an epic adventure that involves you running across the flat bits of the country. Why? I'm not even sure why you're doing this, but it doesn't matter, as long as you don't make me run, too."
Patrick took his glasses off and wiped them on his T-shirt, jammed them back on, then leaned across to rummage through the crate of kitchen supplies in the van.
Andy took the fork Patrick held out and stirred the rice.
"Are you having fun?" Andy asked, testing the rice and trying not to scald himself.
Patrick's smile was affectionate. "Actually, I could live like this, apart from the bit where we have to stay in RV parks where people play Shania Twain at us every night."
"If we'd stayed in the forest, there'd be no Shania Twain," Andy said.
"Or shower block, and I'm getting used to Shania. I might sing along, you know."
Andy looked at Patrick over the top of his glasses, hoping the whole laser-beams-of-hate thing was contained in the glance.
"But, hey, no, I won't," Patrick said. "These bits, where you're not running and I'm not working, this is kind of fun. Minimalist, sure, but I like minimalist."
The rice was cooked, when Andy checked it again, so he strained the mix in the saucepan and dumped it into two bowls—a smaller serving for Patrick and a huge carbohydrate load for himself.
Patrick shifted his camp stool, so he was leaning back against the van and looking out across the park, and began to shovel the rice and beans into his mouth.
Andy held his bowl in his hands and let himself feel his hunger, the way his body was aching for food, his belly crunching at the smell of the cooked rice. The first mouthful was incredibly good, and he made himself eat it slowly, just to begin with.
The next forkful went in fast, and Patrick was laughing at him, when Andy looked sideways.
"What?" Andy said, around a mouthful of beans and rice.
"Don't ever change," Patrick said.
Andy grinned, and swallowed.
In the van, the doors closed against the mosquitoes, Andy propped his feet on the back of the driver's seat and helped himself to a handful of peanuts and a banana while Patrick grumped about tuning his six string.
"…night air, too much moisture," Patrick said under his breath. "No fucking way to maintain a fucking guitar."
Andy tossed a peanut at Patrick and bent his knee to inspect the underside of his foot. The cracks on his heel were healing up, despite the pounding his feet were getting.
"Don't you dare touch them," Patrick said. "Not if you're planning on touching me afterward."
Andy put his foot back safely out of reach, and peeled the banana instead.
Patrick played, and Andy watched the sky through the open skylight while mosquitoes threw themselves helplessly at the screen over the skylight.
When Andy went to the shower block, later in the evening, the park was quieter with no Shania Twain blasting out across the vans and tents. A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and the stars were huge overhead, sliding through the night.
Back in the van, Andy ditched his shorts where he could find them in the middle of the night and locked the doors.
Patrick's phone was plugged in to its charger, and on, beside the reading light.
"Has Pete seen the wisdom of letting you have your way?" Andy asked, climbing under the sheet beside Patrick.
"Completely," Patrick said. "Because I'm right."
"I'm not strong enough to go through another album," Andy said, kissing his way up Patrick's neck. "If you were wondering."
Patrick made rumbling noises in his throat, and his hands spread across Andy's back when Andy settled over him. "It's your job, if you hadn't noticed. You have to put up with this part of the process."
"Don't need a job," Andy said, holding his weight on one arm so he had a hand free to slide under Patrick's T-shirt. "I've got a lover who will look after me."
They kissed, and fuck, Andy might as well just surrender right then, because Patrick kissed back, biting and hot, and it went right to Andy's cock.
He let Patrick push him off, and onto his back, and watched Patrick peel clothes off.
"This lover of yours?" Patrick asked. "What does he do? In order to look after you?"
Patrick slouched across Andy's ribs, using his weight to hold Andy down, then leaned forward slowly, the low wattage bulb in the reading light painting golden sheen across his back that Andy had to touch.
The skin on Patrick's back moved under Andy's hand, and Andy could feel Patrick breathing across his cock, tickling.
Oh, fuck, he wasn't getting any further until he answered.
"He's, a, um, musician," Andy said.
"Part of a song-writing team?"
"Um, yeah," Andy said. "They fight a lot, when they're working on new material. I sometimes wonder whether it would be easier if they didn't, but what the fuck would I know?"
Patrick's back moved, as he leaned farther forward, and the tip of his tongue slid across the tip of Andy's cock, making Andy gasp.
"I think," Patrick said conversationally, "that the problem is that you never fight with anyone yourself, so you don't understand the subtle pleasures of really good shouting match."
The flicker of fingertips, up the length of Andy's cock, and another lick, and Andy appreciated suddenly how effectively he was pinned down. Sure, he could dislodge Patrick, but it would damage either Patrick or the van, which would stop Patrick from, gnnh, doing anything else
Better to slide a hand down Patrick's back, and drag the side of a finger up the crack of Patrick's ass.
"It's not that I don't get subtle pleasures," Andy said, and he had to stop and take a deep breath in, because he was certainly getting something, right at that moment. "It's just, fuck, so inefficient."
Patrick spluttered, gave up tonguing the head of Andy's cock, and laughed. "Inefficient? This is from the man who is running to LA?"
"You win. I'm completely wrong. There is only one way to write music and that involves throwing things and shouting. Please suck my cock now," Andy said.
Patrick levered himself up so he could turn around enough to grin at Andy over his shoulder. "I so fucking want to compose with you. You're a complete pushover."
"Honestly, I'd say pretty much anything you wanted me to at the moment," Andy said.
"I know," Patrick said, and he turned back and leaned forward again.
This time, no teasing, just all of Patrick's mouth, wet and slippery, enough to make Andy want to yell, except they weren't at home, and the van wasn't remotely soundproofed.
He hissed instead, dragging fingernails down Patrick's back so he could see the red trails in the lamp light, and Patrick flinched, twisting under Andy's hand.
"Had enough?" Patrick asked sometime later, sliding off Andy and reaching across the mattress.
Actually, Andy hadn't, because the idea of having enough of being blown was completely bizarre, but Patrick was squeezing the pump pack of lube that was wedged down the side of the mattress and then pushing lubed fingers against him, so he just nodded and groaned.
"Shut. Up," Patrick said, looming over Andy. "No one wants to hear you, apart from me."
Andy closed his mouth, choking off the noises he was making, despite the feel of Patrick's fingers and the slide of Patrick's cock against his hip.
He felt desperate, heart rate rising fast, sweat slipping down his ribs, trying not to shout and grab hold of Patrick and slam him into the mattress.
Patrick's fingers twisted, and Patrick laughed, dirty and low, against Andy's ear. "We haven't done this for too long."
Andy had to agree. He was all over the place, kicking his legs every time Patrick's fingers shifted, scrabbling at the sheets with his hands, gasping and twisting and fucking losing it.
It was too raw and too sudden, and if Patrick didn't fuck him right that instant, Andy was going to fall apart.
"Yeahyeahyeah," Patrick muttered against Andy's shoulder, and Andy could feel him fumbling around with his free hand for the condoms beside the lube.
Andy took the condom off Patrick and tore open the wrapper with his teeth. His hand slowed, rolling the condom down Patrick's cock, and Patrick lifted his head to look at Andy.
The moment hung, Patrick's breathing loud in the small van, one bead of sweat sliding down Patrick's forehead, then dripping onto Andy's chest. It seemed that, for a fraction of a second, Andy could feel himself and Patrick every other time they'd ever done this, or ever would, resonating and echoing, so that Andy couldn't breathe or move his hand.
Patrick didn't bitch Andy out, so maybe he felt it, too. He just reached between them with his free hand and guided Andy's fingers.
Patrick nudged Andy onto his side, then leaned across to reach the lube.
"You okay?" Patrick asked, forehead pushed against Andy's shoulder, his breath tickling warm down Andy's spine.
"Yeah, I am."
Andy was more than okay. He felt like he was wide open, soaring through the night, taking Patrick with him.
Patrick pushed in slowly, swearing to himself, making Andy fall back against the mattress, reaching behind just to touch Patrick.
The shifting shadows on the van wall matched the faint creak of the van's suspension and the rough rasp of Patrick's breathing. Waves of heat ran through Andy, spreading out, and he could feel the tingling in his feet starting already.
No stopping, no holding back, not this time.
He was burning inside, and Patrick slowed down, rolling forward, hand curled around Andy's cock, taking him apart, one long stroke at a time.
It was all there—sex, love, time, hurt, so much fucking love—while Andy was coming, and when he slid out the other side, wracked and mute.
Patrick kissed his shoulder, rubbing beard across skin, and began to move again, dragging slow circles, fingers digging into Andy's thigh.
Andy held still while Patrick came, closer than before, face against Andy's neck as he gasped and groaned and shook.
When the sweat on Andy's skin started to prickle with cold, he dragged a blanket over both of them and reached out to turn off the light. Patrick hummed distractedly in the darkness beside him, the same melody he'd been playing earlier, and Andy could see stars through the open skylight.
The next morning, when Andy came back from the shower block, Patrick had booted his laptop and hooked up his roaming wireless while he waited for the water for coffee and oatmeal to boil.
"You updated," Patrick said.
Andy tossed his towel into the back of the van and found a carton of soymilk. "I did," he agreed, cracking the carton open and gulping.
"Found everything I was looking for," Patrick read from his screen. "That's a huge statement to make."
Andy nodded and passed the bag of oatmeal to Patrick, and two bowls. "Want me to decode?"
Patrick shook his head.
* * *
Ashlee closed the doors between the kitchen and the rest of the house.
"Oh, fuck," she said. "I'm going to kill one of them, honestly."
"Damned kids," Andy agreed. "They just can't play together nicely without supervision. Please kill your own, not mine."
"I might," Ashlee said. "First of all it was the van, when you two arrived. We should get a van, he really missed the van. Why didn't we have a van? A van would be so practical."
Andy made vaguely sympathetic noises and opened the fridge, just for the luxury of having a fridge again. Room temperature soymilk really wasn't the same.
"If you drink that from the carton, I'm going to scream," Ashlee said.
Andy put the soymilk carton on the counter and reached for a glass. "Okay."
"Sorry," she said. "Force of habit. You can drink your own soymilk however you want."
"No, don't want to make you scream," Andy said.
"Then, once Pete was over having Patrick back, it was straight into the arguments."
"Because they haven't been arguing over the phone?" Andy asked.
"Okay, they have," Ashlee said. "Just not right next to me."
"Van," Andy said. "No other rooms."
Andy drank his soymilk, and they listened to Patrick's raised voice filter through the closed doors.
"Do you want to go out somewhere?" Ashlee asked. "Anywhere? The brat is safely being grandmothered."
"Don't make me go clothes shopping," Andy said. "It would be my turn to scream then. Do you run? I haven't run for days."
"I have a treadmill, if I want to run."
Andy was aware he was looking scandalized. "You get snowbound often here?"
"We could go and drink smoothies and hang around comic stores," Ashlee continued. "It has the advantage of not being here, and hopefully won't offend your principles too much."
"I have no principles when it comes to comics," Andy said. "And possibly smoothies."
They made it as far as the front door before Patrick clattered up the stairs from the basement, his face drawn in tense lines.
"You're leaving?" Patrick asked.
"Absolutely," Ashlee said, digging through the collection of car keys on the hall table. "I promise I'll bring Andy back."
"Okay. Right," Patrick said, looking confused.
Andy kissed Patrick briefly. "Remember, Pete is wrong, and you can win."
In the car, Ashlee said, "Thanks, Andy, because Patrick needs you winding him up. No wonder this album is the worst so far."
"What?" Andy said.
"You two are so fucking married," Ashlee said, reversing through the security gates. "You should just get over it and wear rings."
Andy glared at Ashlee, but she was dodging parked cars, swearing under her breath, and didn't notice.
* * *
Fuck City was quiet, with only Matt home, and Patrick was relieved. After too long at Pete and Ashlee's, he'd had enough noise.
He left Andy and Matt deep in discussion over something that was tragically wrong with the guttering, and headed across the yard. He could still find the path in the dusk, down through the trees to Lake Michigan.
The lake was choppy, breaking in waves over the rocks along the foreshore, the wind blowing in from behind Patrick's back.
It wasn't a surprise when Andy's arm dropped around his shoulders.
"Good to be home?" Andy asked, and Patrick nodded.
Patrick stopped watching the terns swooping in the last of the daylight and glanced at Andy's face. Andy was smiling.
"Even though it's only for a couple of weeks, then we have to go back and start rehearsals," Patrick said. "I really enjoyed being on the road, being alone with you."
Andy turned, brushing his lips against Patrick's. "I've been thinking about that. Well, about a lot of things. I'm not ready to leave Fuck City completely, but I think I'd like somewhere else as well, just for us."
"I was thinking of more of a shack than a house, somewhere for the summers. Somewhere higher above sea level than this place, for a start. We're going to get washed out in a few years."
"Somewhere with no cell phone reception?" Patrick asked hopefully. "And no room for visitors? Please tell me you've already chosen somewhere, and we can go there right now."
"Not that organized," Andy said. "And I didn't want to do anything without talking with you first."
"How are you planning on rationalizing buying another house?" Patrick asked. "You won't even buy new socks, you just steal all of mine."
"If I give Fuck City to Matt, then it will be downsizing. And, if you buy the new place, I won't have to own a house at all."
Patrick considered the idea. "We could both own it, you know."
Someone jogged past them, dog on a leash, and the dog yapped at the terns, or possibly them.
"Did Ashlee say something to you?" Andy asked.
"Ashlee said a lot of things to me," Patrick said. "Which bit in particular were you asking about? Her opinion of how bad the van smelled when we arrived there? Or the bit where she lectured me for letting you get too thin?"
"She lectured you?"
"At length." Patrick felt like sighing at the memory of that conversation. It didn't seem right that being best friends with someone meant that he had to endure being nagged by their wife. Hang on, Matt nagged him, too—
"What?" Andy said. "You've gone all tense."
"I was wondering why I didn't get to fuck Ashlee or Matt, but then it seemed like a good idea to stop that particular train of thought."
"Because?" Andy asked, sounding bewildered.
"Well, I don't actually want to think about fucking Matt, because that's just a scary place to go. And while Ashlee is undeniably hot, I think I should maintain boundaries, you know."
"Um, no, why were you thinking about them in the first place?" Now, Andy sounded slightly panicked.
"Because they both nag me," Patrick said, resisting the urge to smack himself on the forehead. Go on, bring up the issue of non-monogamy at the same time as suggesting buying a house together, fucker. "And if I'm going to put up with that, I should be getting benefits, like I do with you."
"So the bit where you flinched then started talking about renegotiating the relationship wasn't anything to do with the conversation with Ashlee?" Andy asked.
"What? No! What conversation did you have with Ashlee? Because Pete can help, if there've been problems."
"Please, don't let Pete try and fix anything," Andy said. "Whatever you do."
Patrick tried to run the conversation back in his brain, but it wouldn't replay in a way that made sense.
"Any moment now, a tern is going to shit on me," Patrick said. "I think we've been talking about different things, or something. What did Ashlee say to you? Am I going to have to call her myself and drag it out of her?"
"Ashlee said we're so married that we should just admit it and wear rings," Andy said.
When Patrick turned to look at Andy, Andy was looking fixedly at the horizon.
"Okay, not a discussion I had with either Ashlee or Pete," Patrick said. "But I can see why she'd say that."
Andy huffed, poking his hair behind his ear, but didn't reply.
"Hang on," Patrick said. "Was that just the world's clumsiest proposal?"
"Definitely not," Andy said. "Marriage is an outdated institute of oppression, a remnant of patriarchy that the queer community has adopted without critical thought."
"Subverted, in my opinion," Patrick said. "But, okay, we don't have to buy a house together if you're going to panic over it."
"I'm not panicking," Andy said, sounding sufficiently indignant that Patrick would have thumped him if they weren't in the middle of the messiest conversation ever.
Patrick turned and slung his other arm around Andy, so he was hugging Andy, possibly against Andy's will.
"She grilled me on the status of same sex adoption in Wisconsin," Andy said, burying his face against Patrick's neck. "Over fair-trade chocolate soy shakes and discounted Tank Girl omnibuses. I may never be the same again."
"Oh, fuck," Patrick said. "And then when you got back, I spent two hours explaining the ways in which Pete didn't understand the function of a bridge in a song to you, with examples. You could have made me stop, and told me this at the time."
"I could have?" Andy said. "How?"
Patrick winced. "Okay. Remind me of this next time. How about this? We can agree that neither of us will interpret any sign of escalating commitment, such as shared property ownership, or any other random behavior, like playing with Joe or Pete's kids, as signs of a sudden desire for parenthood."
"Or legal marriage," Andy added.
"Works for me," Patrick said.
"And me," Andy agreed, turning his face and kissing Patrick's neck.
"Being with you, this is my truth," Patrick said. "Everything else is peripheral."
Andy's breath sounded fragile, against Patrick's ear, and his hand cradled the back of Patrick's head, holding their cheeks together for a moment.
"I could get a ring tattooed on," Andy said, when he pulled away, and they turned to walk back to the house. "It's been done before, if tackily."
"Matching piercings?" Patrick suggested, at the door to the utility room. "Only you have to have both of them?"
They clattered up the stairs to the kitchen, where Matt was crouched in front of the freezer, packets of frozen food stacked on the counter behind him.
"I'm not averse to actually giving you something symbolic," Andy said, digging through his pockets to retrieve his keys. "Hey, Matt."
"Yep?" Matt said. "I've found one of your pizzas, of uncertain vintage. Want that for dinner?"
"Sure," Andy said. "Just nuke it for extra long. I've made a decision about the guttering that needs replacing."
Matt stood up and shoved the packets of food back in the freezer then kicked the door shut. "Do you want to get someone in to do the gutters?" Matt asked.
"No," Andy said, pushing his house key across to Matt. "You can. Enjoy owning the house. We'll be back for the winters so don't forget to do maintenance on the furnace."
"Absolutely," Patrick said. "I'm too old to live anywhere as cold as that first place Andy lived."
"You don't want Fuck City anymore?" Matt asked, poking at the house key with a fingertip.
"Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them. Patrick's going to buy me shack in the woods," Andy said. "Aren't you?"
"I'm buying it?" Patrick said, as Andy pushed himself away from the counter and headed for their bedroom. "If I'm buying the shack, I want a diamond ring or something!"
"Why?" Matt asked, sounding like he was seconds away from banging the counter with his fist, or possibly the pizza.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately," Andy quoted, from the bedroom doorway, and Matt groaned.
"No, no more quoting!" Matt shouted, as Andy closed the door.
"Dinner?" Patrick asked hopefully.
"So, a ring?" Matt responded, scooping up the carton of pizza and tearing it open. "Does that mean you're getting married?"
The bedroom door opened, and Andy shouted, "No!" then closed the door with considerable intent.
"No," Patrick said. "We're not."
The door opened again, a moment later, and Matt sighed.
Andy stalked across, toward Patrick, looking somewhere between frustrated and fierce, in Patrick's opinion.
The kiss wasn't fierce at all; it was kind of slow and gentle, though the grip of Andy's fingers on Patrick's shoulders was painfully tight.
Patrick kissed back, one arm wound around Andy, the other hanging onto Andy's T-shirt, because if Andy didn't back him into a wall or the counter soon, he was going to need something solid to hold him up.
Matt said, "Whoa," and Andy pulled back, rubbing at the curves of Patrick's shoulders, soothing where his fingers had stung.
"You can have anything you want," Andy said. "Anything I can give you."
"I think you'll find I've already got it," Patrick said.
When Andy had gone back to the bedroom, with much less stomping and slamming this time, Matt grinned at Patrick and took out his phone.
"Hey, Ryan, old friend," Matt said. "How's Texas? ....Really? ....Didn't you pack the stuff to remove sharpie this time? No, we're all good. Listen, Andy and Patrick are back from their crazy run-across-Montana-and-Idaho-and-write-an-album project, and I was wondering if I could crash in your room for a while?"
Patrick opened the fridge and took out a can of soda, and resisted the urge to hit Matt with the can.
"Yeah, I'll owe you, and I promise not to touch your porn. I know what you have for porn, for a start, and that stuff doesn't work for me anyway, but your room gets the least noise pollution. Thanks! Tell everyone they're fucking lucky not to be here right now."
Matt put his phone away, and Patrick said, "You think we're bad? We just spent a fortnight in LA with someone with a kid and two dogs, as well as a partner."
Matt looked appalled, and Patrick ambled toward the bedroom, calling out, "Hey, Andy, we should invite the Wentz clan here, for a visit, before we move out, since there won't be room at the shack!"
When Andy looked up from upending his duffel bag onto the bedroom floor, his look of disapproval shifted to one of conspiracy when he caught Patrick's attempt at not grinning.
"Sure," Andy said, and Matt loomed in the doorway behind Patrick. "If we wait until everyone is back from Texas, the Wentzes can bring their new nanny. She's into hardcore, and really cute. She'd be popular."
"Nononono," Matt said. "Can we negotiate this? Or can you give enough warning for me to clear out of the house?"
"This is not a democracy," Andy pointed out. "And you're in charge now. Just veto it, like I did Kyle's grand slip-n-slide installation plans."
Matt leaned against the doorframe, a smile spreading across his face.
"No Wentz clan invasions," Matt said. "No matter how hot the nanny is."
"Okay," Patrick said, and Andy nodded his agreement.
"That's it?" Matt asked. "You're not going to argue with me?"
"No," Andy said. "You win."
Matt went back to the kitchen, and Patrick could hear him saying, "I win, I win," to himself under his breath.
Andy grabbed Patrick's hand, where Patrick was reaching for the recharger for Andy's phone. "I don't want to win, and I don't want to own, especially not you," Andy said. "Do you understand?"
Patrick squeezed Andy's hand, for a moment. "Yeah, I understand. Let's go find a shack to live in."
"The shack doesn't even have to be somewhere without cell phone reception," Andy said, tossing an armful of clothes at the doorway. "We just have to tell people it is. I'm glad you like the idea."
"I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars," Patrick said.