Even though he'd been present for the rehearsal dinner and has listened to Kevin and Danielle talk about wedding details on and off for the past few months, Joe still sits in his seat halfway through the reception and has to shake off a chill. He doesn't know if it's the length of everything getting to him or what, but he sits up from fixing the bottom cuff of his pant leg and rolls his shoulders, a chill shooting up his spine, and everything goes out of whack for two seconds.
"You okay?" Demi asks, eying him suspiciously, and then cracking a smirk. She looks amused.
"Yeah." Joe says, "Is it cold in here?"
Existentialism, really, isn't his thing. He doesn't spend too much time contemplating the hugeness of the universe or his place in the world, not typically, but there's something momentarily strange about being twenty and watching Kevin gesture across the room, exactly the same as ever but differently too, in this context.
Demi says, "I'm okay right now. You should put back on your blazer."
"Yeah," Joe says, but he doesn't reach for the jacket. He rolls his shoulder again. The chill is already starting to wear off. He grabs the jacket a second later anyway, sliding it on as he stands. "You want to dance? I need to get my blood pumping."
Joe snakes his arms, holding his tongue between his teeth. Demi laughs but stands up too, saying, "I don't know. Do you think you're ready to keep up? You and your two left feet."
"Oh. Oh, challenge," Joe says. Demi lets him take her hand, but she pulls a step a head and ends up being the one leading them back to the dance floor.
They've been up and down a couple times with other people, but they haven't danced with each other a whole lot. The truth is that it really is extremely freaking cold if Joe sits too long and lets his brain wander, though, so it's better to be up and moving. He wants to be spend more time with Demi tonight anyway. They're in a castle in the middle of winter, Joe thinks, for a wedding. There's always an emphasis on the word too, slanted right and specially written in his head. It's Kevin's fault, because he started it with the way he kept fidgeting and explaining how he already knew he wanted something unique but classy from Jacob & Co. "So this is the ring we designed," he always said, indicating that it was only the beginning, and then going to talk about how if she said yes -- and, God, let her say yes -- he had so many ideas.
It had only been the beginning.
Joe goes through the trouble of stretching, and Demi crosses her arms and smiles at him. She says, "You ready to be out-shined?"
"Are you ready for me dance circles around you?" Joe asks. He shakes out his feet and his hands.
"The boy is boastful," Demi says, raising her chin.
Joe corrects her, saying, "The man --"
"The loser," she says, and she does a twirl, shuffling back to the rhythm.
"So it begins," Joe says, making her laugh as he shimmies forward.
After the first few minutes, it stops being a competition so much and becomes more an effort to see who can make each other laugh the hardest. Joe stays at it, feeling pretty good about the situation until he puts his hands on his knees and tries to isolate his ribcage, pushing up and down, and Kevin comes over and hits him hard across the back twice.
Demi laughs so much that she has to curve her arms around herself, attempting to pin her lips together and just humming through them until the amusement can't be contained anymore. Joe coughs, saying, "Hey," as he straightens up. He swats at Kevin's hands.
"Oh, sorry. I thought you were choking," Kevin says. He's a liar. He's got a huge grin on his face.
Joe says, "You didn't. And you killed my groove." He moves his shoulder to indicate his groove. Demi lets out a "ha!" behind him.
Kevin says, "Was that was that was?" faking innocence and confusion. Joe knows Kevin's fake-innocent face when he sees it. It's the same one he's used to pretend he never knows who's eaten the last of Joe's favorite cereal for the last fifteen years.
Demi says, "We were on a roll. Joe was trying to show me up."
"Interesting plan of attack," Kevin says.
"Har har -- " Joe starts to punch Kevin in the arm just for fun, but he has to pull it at the last second, as Danielle walks up with Nick. "-- Heeeey, buddy. Congratulations again. Both of you."
"I saw that," Danielle says, pointing to Joe's loose fist as he drops it to his side. "But thanks."
"Did Kevin save you?" Nick asks. "Do you need the Heimlich?"
Joe has always been impressed by Nick's dedication to stoicism in delivering a joke, really, it's true, but it doesn't mean that he appreciates yet one more person making fun of his moves, okay? Joe has skills. He says, "It was dancing."
"It was funny," Demi corrects.
"You know, I don't have to listen to this. Haters. It's pure jealousy." Joe holds up a hand when he declares it, and then points toward one of the tables. "I need more Martinellis."
Joe hears the group chuckle as he leaves, and he makes his exit walk more dramatic just for that. The glass he had at his table is gone, so he finds one of the caterers and gets a new flute. It's real champagne, actually, but his parents have already insisted that that doesn't mean he's allowed to get carried away. He promised they didn't have to worry -- Joe isn't even sure he's all that interested in alcohol, but the champagne is fizzy and tastes closer to soda than anything particularly risque, so he keep swishing it around in his glass and pretends he's a sophisticated secret agent.
Nick walks up as Joe's sniffing the champagne, and he says, "You're some kind of connoisseur now?"
"Bond," Joe says as he turns around. "James Bond. I'm taking in the surroundings." He's putting on his best Sean Connery voice. It's not really very good.
Nick frowns. "Would that make me a bond girl or one of the villains?"
"You might make a pretty good Helga Brandt," Joe suggests, holding up a hand to frame Nick's face.
"Doubtful," Nick says seriously. He takes Joe's glass, tasting the champagne.
"Dangerous," Joe says, and Nick doesn't give him a smile or anything, but the way he raises his eyebrows briefly sort of relaxes Joe in the same way. He can't really put his finger on how.
Nick looks back at the dance floor. "You coming back?"
Joe follows his eyes. Demi's laughing with Kevin and Danielle. A couple of their cousins have wandered over to the cluster, too, a small mass of people people continually following Kevin and Danielle around all evening. A couple other dancing couples move in front of Joe's view, but he's not blocked long enough to miss how Kevin throws his head back when he laughs or the way he says, "Yeah, the ring," and he and Danielle both hold out their hands to show Danielle's aunt. They designed them for each other, the two pieces of jewelry similar but not exact, and Kevin isn't wearing a ring that matches Joe's own anymore.
"Nah," he says to Nick, and then nudges him with an elbow. He takes the champagne glass again and sets it down. "Did we ever finish checking this place out?"
Oheka is huge. There are more than a couple dozen guest suites and a few different ballrooms, and they're all sort of similarly designed, but Joe feels compelled to walk through as much of the place as possible. With most people still downstairs for the reception, he and Nick have some free range.
"Could you imagine if the house was this big? Mom and dad's?" Nicks asks. His hands are in his pockets, unlike Joe, who can't stop touching the walls and dragging his fingers along as they walk, but Nick's looking up at the ceilings in awe.
Joe says, "We'd have to walkie each other." He cups a hand to his mouth and pretends to muffle his voice. "Nick. Meet me in the kitchen for fruit roll-ups in five. Make that ten. I'm all the way in the east wing."
"Do you think they'd let us get motorized scooters?"
"Segways," Joe says.
"Better," Nick says, and he laughs. "Kevin and Dani wouldn't even have to have their place. We'd still never run into them."
"Yeah," Joe says. He huffs a little, a laugh that stalls before it really gets started, thinking about Kevin and Danielle living in new places. It isn't like he doesn't know how to handle change. Plus, the two of them have been a pretty tight duo since they first got together, but Joe gets that chill again. The sensation travels up his spine and out through his arms in a second. He shakes his head, trying to clear the lasting dregs of cold as the moment passes.
Nick says, "Chilly?" with the same expression Demi had earlier.
Joe says, "Fine," and then grabs at the crook of Nick's elbow and pulls him into a room.
"Hey," Nick says, tripping along. Joe shuts the door behind them. This room isn't unoccupied. Joe can see bags sitting on the chairs, but it isn't his fault if someone left their door open.
He sits on the bed, smoothing his hands over the comforter. He looks up at Nick and says, "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"
Nick rolls his eyes. He says, "Did you just re-watch You Only Live Twice recently?"
"Dude. That's a great movie," Joe says. He flops back on the bed, then sits up just as quickly and holds out his arm. "Come here."
Nicks edges closer slowly, like he's unsure of Joe's aim or if he should trust it. Joe doesn't think it should be that hard to guess though, latching on Nick's wrist and yanking him forward. He topples them both onto the bed, unconcerned with suits or time or whether this suite belongs to somebody else. Their knees and shoes knock together, and Nicks slides to the side, halfway off of Joe. He doesn't get too far because Joe closes his arms around Nick's body, hooking his chin on Nick's shoulder.
"Now I'm feeling more like the Bond being held hostage," Nick says.
"Mm, no," Joe murmurs. "I don't think I could pull off that dress she wears. I'm better in minis."
Nick's laugh is low and smooth. Joe can't see his face, but he knows from the way that Nick's gone still that he's given in already. When he doesn't want to be somewhere, Nick starts squirming and won't let up, not that that usually deters Joe, but it's nice that he doesn't even have to try now.
"You're going to wrinkle my jacket," he says wistfully, holding up an arm and twisting his wrist. Joe can hear it pop.
He says, "No one'll notice," and hugs Nick tighter. "This is kind of weird, huh? A wedding."
"It usually comes after engagement," Nick says. Joe knocks their ankles together again.
He says, "Smart ass," and Nick chuckles. "I know. I meant that this whole big -- you hear them organizing it, but then you see it." Joe pauses. "I don't know if I'd know how to be a husband."
"It's a good thing you're not in Kevin's place right now then," Nick says. Joe doesn't feel like moving his foot again, so he opens his mouth and sinks his teeth in around Nick's shoulder. "Are you -- are you biting me through my clothes? Hey. Stop."
Nick coughs as he turns in Joe's grasp, trying to maneuver away. He clears his throat and coughs again, trying to say two different things at once and getting caught up in himself.
"Wait, wait. Are you alright?" Joe asks, lifting his head.
"I'm fine," Nick says. "Don't change the subject."
Joe kisses the spot where he bites, right on the fabric of Nick's suit jacket. He moves to kiss Nick's neck, hooking a finger in his collar and pulling some. He trails up more, getting the underside of Nick's jaw and nosing his cheek.
Nick turns his head away but then comes back a second later. He sighs when Joe kisses his nose, parting his lips when Joe finally get around to kissing his mouth. There's a sweetness to the quiet. Unsurprisingly, none of the music from the festivities really travels upstairs. The room sits, silent and dark, the curtains drawn almost completely. Joe shifts onto his side fully, touching Nick's arm, then moving his fingers to Nick's cheek and pushing closer until Nick hums. When Joe retreats to breathe, Nick's eyes stay closed a few seconds longer, and when he opens them, Joe can't figure out how to smile.
"It's not that weird," Nick says, eventually. He furrows his brow.
Joe says, "In comparison." He knows Nick knows what he means.
Nick shrugs a shoulder. He clears his throat and looks at overhead. The bed has a canopy. Everything about this castle is ornate, and Joe focuses on the carving of the bed posts to avoid thinking about how long he and Nick have been missing in action already, racking up suspicious minutes.
"Um," Nick says. "Demi's wearing a pretty dress."
Joe pats his stomach, wondering how high the ceilings are exactly. When he looks back at Nick, he says, "You haven't told me about the rest of your interviews, man. You're busy."
Nick laughs for real then. The smile splits his face, and he buries his face in the mattress. Joe feels himself mimic the grin, a paler version, but it's there all the same. It's pretty impossible for things about Nick not to be infectious for him, at this point.
Nick says, "The interviews are, you know. They're the same. You've done them."
Joe says, "But it's different alone, right? I've also never been the house band at the Critic's Choice thing. Tell me about rehearsals."
"Or you could go back downstairs and dance some more."
"Me and Demi," Joe says and then stops himself. He doesn't really even knows how to finish that anyway. Everybody keeps wanting to know about possible redefinition of a friendship he's been part of for years, but he's not really even sure how things are shifting. "I'm cool here."
"Hm," Nick says, neither approval or disapproval. Joe thinks he'll take it though. He reaches for Nick's hand, pressing their palms together. He running the pads of fingers over Nick's but stops short of interlacing them. Joe doesn't often try to think about his place in the world or anything, but being around Nick, like this especially, makes him feel huge and dwarfed at the same time.
Nick says, "I'm seventeen, so it's not like I can relate to the whole proposal, marriage, what not."
Joe laughs, the sound bursting from him kind of unexpectedly. "Well put."
"Cut me some slack."
"Right, right. You write songs, not vows," Joe says, nodding.
"Cheesy," Nick says, but Joe still tips to the side and kisses him again anyway. He's always surprised by how much this means to him, vaguely embarrassed that Nick saying he wouldn't be ready either reassures him and glad to know he's not a, uhm. Well, some kind of freak.
Joe says, "Told you it was kind of weird, right?"
Nick says, "I don't know. But, uh. Maybe it could be worse," and Joe's relatively sure that he's not just talking about Kevin making them field more flower arrangement and seating chart options. He slips his fingers between Nick's and squeezes though, because, yeah. Yeah. He agrees.
"Yeah," he says out loud, to make it clear, and he's grateful when Nick moves closer an inch, warm and still solid.