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A Season in the Sky

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Later, when Patrick tells the story--because Pete seems to consider it a story that must be shared at every available opportunity, no matter how many times Patrick tells him no, no, seriously, no one *cares*, Pete--he usually starts it here:

The scene: the holiday open house his father and stepmother were hosting, his senior year of high school.

The characters: Patrick and Jim, one of his father's business associates, who hadn't seen Patrick since he was, like, *five*.

The conversation got off to a pretty fucking awful start when Jim cornered Patrick and said, his voice booming, "Little Patrick Stump! I haven't seen you since you were this tall!" and proceeded to wave his hand around somewhere in the vicinity of his *knee*. "And look at you now!"

"Yeah," Patrick said, and prayed really, really hard for a moment that his stepmother would come out of the kitchen to tell him that she needed help, like, cutting up broccoli or something. Celery. Cheese. Anything.

Patrick's prayers went unanswered, though, especially since Jim was apparently just getting started.

"So tell me what you've been up to!" Jim said, but before Patrick had a chance to speak, to ask if Jim *really* wanted to hear all about the last twelve years of his life, and should Patrick start with the time in first grade when he broke the yellow crayon while trying to draw the Big Yellow Taxi from that Joni Mitchell song, he continued. "Your father says you'll be starting college in the fall!"

"Yeah," Patrick said. "Yeah, I--"

Jim interrupted him, though. "Wonderful, wonderful. And you'll be majoring in music? Wonderful! But tell me, what exactly do you plan to do with that?"

Unfortunately, this time he actually gave Patrick time to start (and finish) his now-canned response, including the part about how there were lots of opportunities out there for Music Majors, really, whole books of them, even, and Jim just nodded along, grinning too widely.

When Patrick finished, though, and Jim didn't immediately start talking again, Patrick started to say, 'You know, I should really go see if my dad's wife needs any--'

Unfortunately, Jim's moment of silence turned out to be the lull before the proverbial storm, because before Patrick could get past the "You know--" Jim said, very seriously, "Now, Patrick, tell me, have you considered joining a fraternity?"

Patrick opened his mouth, swallowed, hoping he didn't look as horrified as he felt, but Jim just kept right on talking, seemingly oblivious.

"I Rushed Sigma Nu back in the day, and let me tell you, kiddo, best decision I ever made. Once in a lifetime experience, my boy! And would you believe I still talk to some of my brothers? Why, just last weekend--"

This time, Patrick was the one to interrupt. He said, "Ha, yeah. No, uh. I'm pretty sure that fraternity life isn't for me." Then, before Jim could protest, as he was already opening his mouth to do, Patrick was sure, Patrick rushed on, saying, "Um, you'll have to excuse me. I, uh, think I see a few of the cheese platters getting low, and I promised my dad's wife I'd keep an eye on them, and I should really, you know, get on that."

Then, he'll say later, when he tells the story, he fucking booked it into the safety of his stepmother's domain. Because fuck. Him? In a fraternity?



When Patrick recounts this conversation to Pete the first time--later, he'll realize that this was A Mistake--he sort of sighs at the end of it, resigned, while Pete laughs his fucking head off. Then Pete slings an arm around Patrick's shoulders, and says, "Fuck *yeah* it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, dude! Old Jimbo knew what he was talking about."

Patrick pinches the bridge of his nose between two fingers, rubs his finger under the band of his hat, and sighs again as he says, "Yeah, yeah, sure." He also smiles, though, because, well. Maybe, yeah.


A little background:

During his freshman year, Patrick lives on the 4th floor of McNary Hall, a two-block walk from the Stillwell music building, one and a half from the library. His roommate is named Chris, a poli sci major. They live across the hall from Tyson and Nick, and between two rooms of girls: Casey and Adria on one side, Gina and Summer on the other.

At least once a week, at 2 a.m., four or six or all eight of them will pile into Tyson's shitty truck and Chris' shitty Taurus and they'll head to Shari's, the local equivalent of Denny's, and they'll get milkshakes and salads and burgers and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Sometimes, during midterms or finals, they'll take their books with them and they'll study until Nick is threatening to use the complimentary toothpicks to prop his eyes open and Gina is pouring the little packets of sugar straight into her mouth.

Once, Patrick, Tyson, Nick and Casey spontaneously make the two-hour drive to Chicago because Casey is craving the cheesecake from this one place she's been to all of once, when she was visiting her aunt and uncle a few summers ago. They leave at 7 o'clock, arrive at the cheesecake place at 9:20 and get two big cakes and five mini cakes to go, and spend the night crashed on Patrick's mom's living room floor, watching movies and eating cheesecake until Tyson says he's going to throw up now, yo, for reals.

Patrick's mom makes them pancakes in the morning, before they make the two-hour drive back.

Which all is to say, Patrick has a really fucking awesome time during his freshman year, and when his sophomore year comes around, he really isn't looking to change anything about it at all.


Pretty much, though, the story starts here:

Music History 302: Trends in Musical Styles from Early History to Present Day. There are maybe 20 kids in the class, mostly juniors and seniors, but there are also a few sophomores, like Patrick.

The professor, Mr. Eggers, tells them to call him Paul, but please, not by his last name (so of course they all do) and he sits on the desk at the front of the room, swinging his legs back and forth in front of him. They spend half the class listening to recordings of early music, trying to pick out the lutes and harpsichords and psalterys and then Eggers will play something modern, from the last ten years and wave his hands around to the beat of the music as he says, "See! See how it all comes full-circle! That beat there, right there, doesn't that sound familiar?"

Patrick really sort of loves the class.

Also, at night, he can put his headphones on and lie back on the bed in his dorm for two hours, listening to music, and call it doing his homework.

Patrick sits in the third row of the classroom, always tries to sit in the third row of any class he's in (unless it's one of those fucking huge auditoriums, 500 students and all, and then it's usually the third row from the back) and before *that day*, this is what he could have told you about the Phi Beta Rho fraternity: one of their members, this guy with out of control curly hair, the one that usually gets referred to by his friend in the class as 'Joe Troh', usually sits in the middle of row four.

Patrick only knows this much because once a week Joe wears a Phi Beta Rho-Delta Gamma "Chip 'n Dale 2006" sweatshirt. It has pictures of the chipmunks on it, but somehow Patrick's pretty sure the function it's referring to wasn't an evening spent watching cartoons.

One day, though, Patrick is a little bit slower than usual getting his stuff together, so he ends up following Joe and his friend, Abel, who's sweatshirt declares him to be a FIJI, out of the classroom. And Patrick's not trying to listen, see. He's not, but then Joe says something along the lines of, "*Neurosis*, dude. How can you not think that 'The Eye of Every Storm' is a fucking piece of *art*?" and Abel says, "Yeah, no. I just don't see it," and Patrick really, really doesn't make a habit of butting into other people's conversations, really, but he still finds himself quickening his pace to catch up with them. He still hears himself saying, "Are you kidding me? With that guitar work? It's like, it catches hold of you and doesn't let go, I mean--"

Both guys stop, turn to look at him, and Patrick feels his face start to heat up a bit as he trails off. He swallows, starts to open his mouth again to apologize, but then Joe grins really fucking widely and turns to Abel and says, "Fucking exactly! How can you not see it? Come on, Stump, help me help him see the light."

At which point, as they start walking again, he launches into a discussion of said guitar work and Patrick's nodding along, hitching his backpack higher up over his shoulders, and Patrick *knows* they're walking, yeah, but he doesn't truly register it, not even when Abel says, "See you later, dudes," and turns down one of the streets that edges the campus.

He's not really paying any attention at all until Joe says, "Yeah, so. This is my stop." *That's* when Patrick looks up and sees that they're standing outside the FBR house: stately brick façade, white pillars out front, blue plastic cups scattered across the front yard.

"I, yeah," Patrick says. He reaches up to tug at the brim of his hat. "So I should probably--"

But Joe interrupts him, saying, "We could continue this discussion inside, if you want. There should still be some lunch left, provided Beckett and Gabe didn't skip their class again." At Patrick's raised eyebrow, he says, "Tuesdays are grilled cheese day. My fuckwads of brothers like to have contests with the leftovers to see who can cram more of the sandwiches in their mouths without swallowing."

"Charming," Patrick says, before he can stop himself. He gives his hat another tug, but Joe just laughs. "Yeah, I know, right?" Then, "So? You coming?"

Patrick sort of wants to, but.

But, he's standing on Greek row, and there are some guys down the street tossing a football, some girls sitting on lawn chairs watching them, and this is not his world. He says, "Actually, I've got a, a thing this afternoon, so I should probably be, you know, heading back."

Joe nods, then says, "Maybe another time then."

"Yeah," Patrick says. "Sure."


The thing is: Patrick doesn't really think much of it. Not then, anyway. Later, maybe, when he looks back and thinks, Neurosis? It seriously all started with a conversation about Neurosis?

But then, that day, he doesn't think much of it.

Just: when he's getting dinner with Chris in the dining hall that night, he says, "So I had this fucking weird conversation today, man. This guy in my music history class, I overheard him talking about Neurosis, and I, ha, fuck, totally barged my way into the conversation. But his friend, see, totally didn't get how awesome the guitar work was on their last album."

Chris looks appropriately horrified, and Patrick nods. Says, "Yeah, I know, right?"


On Thursday, though, Patrick's got his seat in the third row of the classroom, and there's about ten minutes before the class actually starts, and he's got his headphones on, his eyes closed, so he doesn't really pay any attention to who it is that's sitting down next to him. Not until he feels someone tap at his hand with--he opens his eyes quickly--a CD case?

He glances to his right and sees Joe Troh grinning at him, sees Abel in the process of sitting down on Joe's other side. Then, as he pulls his earbuds out of his ears, he takes a look at the CD that Joe's left on top of Patrick's notebook.

"So," Joe asks, "how do you feel about the Swans?"


Three class periods later, after Joe seems to have relocated permanently to the third row, too, Joe invites him over to the FBR house again, for lunch after class, saying, "No, seriously, I need to burn you a copy of 'A Resonant Sun', alright? You need to own this album."

This time, Patrick doesn't say no.


See, pretty much everything Patrick knows about fraternities, he learned in movies. Oh, he knows that they don't all walk around in ties and blazers all the time, and that not all of them are stuck up jerks--when Patrick looks at Joe, after all, with his crazy hair and tattoos, he doesn't automatically think *Frat Boy*--but he's still a little surprised that the first thing he sees upon walking into the FBR house is two guys having what seems to be a tickle-fight in the living room.

"And those two," Joe says, gesturing to the right in the way a tour guide might, pointing out, like, some famous monument or something, "are the infamous Gabe and Beckett of Grilled Cheese Tuesday fame. Beckett's the one who's, you know, *shrieking like a little girl!*"

"Fuck off, Trohman!" Beckett says, unwrapping his arms from around his stomach long enough to flip Joe the bird. Gabe takes advantage of Beckett's momentary distraction, though, and Patrick watches as he goes in for the kill. Beckett squeals and starts batting at Gabe's hands as quickly as he can. Patrick's pretty sure that amongst the giggles he hears promises of retribution and multiple long, drawn out deaths.

"Yeah," Joe says, "we'll just leave them to it, I think. The dining room is this way."

"And you think there will still be food left?"

"Pasta day," Joe says with a grin. "Our cook always makes, like, 50 pounds of the stuff. Enough to see those of us who don't mind leftovers through the weekend."

Indeed, when they actually make it to the dining room with it's seven tables set up in a 'U' shape, Patrick sees huge bowls of pasta left out--spaghetti and bow-tie noodles and three kinds of sauce. Joe drops his bag on a chair by the door to the room and motions for Patrick to do the same. Then he says, "Come on, grab a plate."

Patrick does, only filling it *all* the way up after Joe raises an eyebrow and says, "That's seriously all you want?" After they're done, Patrick hangs back, waiting for Joe to lead the way to one of the tables. Instead, though, he heads towards the kitchen, tipping his head and indicating that Patrick should follow. So he does.

They head up the back staircase, a straight shot upwards where the one in the front entryway is curved, and Joe says, "Yeah, my room's this way."

Given the stately décor of the outside, Patrick was sort of expecting something like that on the inside, too. What he gets, though, are winding hallways, music blaring out of at least three different rooms, a guy walking towards them dressed only in a towel, and the sound of a shouted conversation coming from somewhere in the depths of the house. Also, the smell of stale beer.

Joe's room is three doors away from the stairway, and his door is open, so Patrick can see the riot of colors on the walls before he actually goes in. Some of it is paint, what looks like a half-assed mural, but there are also tour posters tacked upon tour posters, and also one of the Baywatch Girls, and two desks and a couch that is so over-stuffed it looks like it's going to explode, with another guy, his bangs dyed red, lying down on it.

As soon as they're in the door, Joe kicks at the other guy and says, "Move your ass, Wentz. Unless you want us to sit on you?"

"Only in your dreams," Wentz says, but tips his head back to look at Patrick, an upside down view. Then, slowly, he sits up, stands up, and sticks his hand out at Patrick. "Pete Wentz. Dare I ask how Troh lured you back to our lair here?"

"I bribed him with promises of Tribes of Neurot records," Joe says, and Pete gives Patrick another slightly more appraising look. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," Joe says. "He knows his shit, man. Like, a few days ago he totally hijacked the conversation that I was having with Abel about Neurosis--"

Patrick ducks his head, just a little. "Yeah. I'm a freak like that."

"You totally are," Joe says, but he's laughing as he says it, with Patrick, not at him, and that pretty much takes any unintended sting out of the words. Pete laughs, too, though, and that's a little different. Enough so that Patrick feels himself start to get a little offended, but then Pete claps him on the shoulder, hard enough that Patrick has visions of his noodles sliding off his plate and onto the floor, and says, "Dude, that's awesome." Then, "So which CD are you burning him? Or are you doing all of them? You already have 'Silver Blood Transmission', right?"

That last is directed at Patrick, and Patrick nods, sitting down gingerly on the couch, sinking into its cushions. He tries to hold his plate steady as Pete flops down next to him. Joe, from his spot leaning against the edge of one of the desks, laughs.

"How about 'Grace'?" Pete asks. "You ever played it with 'Times of Grace', like it was meant to be heard?"

Patrick nods, says, "Totally genius. My friend back home rigged it up to play one night and we just--" and he keeps talking, has to put his plate of food down on top of some books on the floor so that he can gesture to emphasize his points, and by the time he realizes that he's been speaking for probably five minutes straight, he sees Pete grinning at Joe.

Patrick feels his cheeks start to heat, but then Pete turns back to Patrick and says, "Dude, man, we are never letting you leave." Then, turning back to Joe, he says, "We're keeping him, right?"

Joe just laughs.


The thing is:

It's not like Patrick starts spending *a lot* of time with the members of FBR. Just, lunch with Joe on most Thursdays, which turns into afternoons spent trading their music collections back and forth, and then, sometimes dinner.

Then there's the time that Patrick is grabbing a late meal at the Student Union after his guitar lesson, and he's flipping through the latest *AP* when Pete sits down across from him and says, "Stump! Long time no see!" when, in reality, Patrick saw him just the day before. There's another guy hovering behind Pete, raising an eyebrow in Patrick's direction, and after a moment, Pete says, "Is it okay if we join you?"

Patrick nods, and Pete kicks a third chair away from the table, which the other guy takes. "Jon Walker," he says, after he's set his tray down. He sticks out his hand and grins when Patrick shakes it. "Pete was telling me you might actually know more about obscure bands than Troh does."

Patrick shrugs, which Jon apparently takes as agreement, because he says, "Dude, awesome. Tom and I are totally going to come pick your brain while you're over at the house sometime."

"Yeah," Patrick says, blinking. "Sure."

And he also, apparently, has more FBR guys in his classes than he realized, because he's sitting in his usual seat for the Geology 101 lecture, at the back of the auditorium, trying to stay lost amidst the rest of the 250 students, when suddenly someone is saying, "'scuse me, 'scuse me," and Beckett and this other guy--Travie, it says on the back of his jersey shirt--are stepping over him to claim spots on his other side.

"Hi," Beckett says. "No one was sitting here, right?"

Patrick shakes his head.

And that leads into lunches some Mondays and Wednesdays, too.

Then there's the time that Joe calls him up at, like, 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night and says, "So, dude, a group of us are heading out to see '30 Days of Night'. You in?" Patrick, who'd been doing reading for his Biology 201 class, answers, maybe a little too enthusiastically, "Absolutely! What time?"

Chris, who's lying on his bunk reading, looks up when Patrick hangs up the phone. "Heading out?"

"Yeah," Patrick says. "Trohman and some of the other guys are going to the late show of '30 Days of Night'. I'm going to meet them there." Then, after Chris just keeps looking at him, he says, "You want to come?"

At that, Chris laughs and lifts his book. "Yeah, no. I've got a hot date with Lady MacBeth tonight. You have fun, though."

Patrick nods.

When he gets to the theater, he sees the group of ten guys standing out front, despite the fact that it's, you know, *October*. He's a little surprised, when he gets there, that he actually knows all of the guys in the group. He's more surprised when Joe and Pete are not the first ones to greet him. Instead, it's Travis, bumping a fist against Patrick's shoulder and saying, "Dude, glad you could make it."

And then there's the Thursday evening when Gabe pokes his head into Joe and Pete's room and says, "So, the cook's trying to force feed us vegetables again. What'a ya say we blow this popsicle stand?"

Joe is already nodding, Pete too, and then Gabe looks at Patrick, who's been curled up on the couch with Pete's laptop for the last hour, telling Joe about this new band he just heard about a few days ago, and says, "You in?"

Patrick is.

It ends up being the four of them, plus Jon and Tom and Travis and Beckett at the Hero Supreme shop just off campus. It's not the closest one to the house, but Patrick figures out why they're there when he sees Jon lean across the counter, as he's paying for his sub, and kiss the girl working the register on the cheek.

"Cassie," he says, "I'd like you to meet my bros. You already know Tom and Bill, but that's Travis and Pete and Patrick and Joe."

"You're all in Jon's house?" Cassie asks. She's still a little pink in the cheeks, and Jon says, "Yeah," and Joe says, "Except for Stump here, because, you know, he's a loser like that."

And Patrick says, "Yeah, loser, that's me," and if his laugh is maybe a little forced, he doesn't think about it.

"But we tolerate him anyway," Pete says, giving Patrick a one-armed hug, and, as he's wont to do when he feels his cheeks start to flush, Patrick tugs at the bill of his hat.

"Yeah," he says. "Right."

Pete gives him another squeeze, though, then releases him.

And then there was that time when--

Or that other time when--

And then there was that other time.


The thing is: it's habit now, after 302 gets out on Thursdays, to head on over to the FBR house, which is why it feels, well, wrong, when Patrick starts walking with Joe in the direction of the house, and Joe says, "Yeah, sorry dude, I can't exactly invite you over for lunch today. We've got initiation this weekend. The house is sort of in lock down right now."

"Oh," Patrick says, stopping where he is. "Yeah, sure. I get it."

"You should totally come over Saturday afternoon, though. Pete and Hurley and I are planning a movie marathon? All the National Lampoon's straight through until we're fucking done, right? You know."

"Yeah," Patrick says. "That'd be. Awesome, yeah."

Joe slaps his hand, then leaves Patrick to walk back to the dorms alone.

"What?" Chris asks when he finds Patrick in their room later that afternoon. "No plans with the brothers?"

Patrick shakes his head. "No, they've got initiation this weekend, so I'm, you know, banned from the house."

Chris rolls his eyes. Then, his head tipped to the side, he says, "So I ran into Nick on campus today. He suggested getting dinner tonight. I told him I thought I probably wouldn't see you until after dinner, but since you're actually, you know, here for once, you want to?"

Patrick says, "Yeah, yeah, of course."

It feels good, actually, going out with Nick and Tyson and Chris. Sort of like old times, last year. Except for the fact that Nick and Tyson have an apartment off campus and they aren't all suffering through freshman chemistry together anymore, and that when Nick asks what Patrick's been up to, Patrick realizes that pretty much every story he has somehow involves Joe or Pete or Jon or Travis or Beckett.

"Yeah," Chris says, "Stump's gone and found himself a new set of friends."

Patrick punches Chris in the shoulder, because hello, so not true, it's just that, you know, he's made *more* friends.

"They're actually pretty cool guys," Patrick says.

Nick's eyebrows are maybe riding a little high on his forehead, but Tyson's the one to ask, "Are you thinking of joining their house then?"

Patrick shakes his head. "Ha, no. I mean, me? In a fraternity?"

"Yeah," Chris says, sounding more than a little sarcastic. "Who, you?"

Patrick frowns at Chris for a moment, not that Chris is looking at him to see it, but Nick does. Patrick just says, "They're cool guys and all. I just don't see myself as the frat boy type, you know?"

Nick nods. Says, "Yeah, well." Then, a moment later, "They do sound pretty awesome, though."

Patrick says, "Well, you know. We have fun."


Okay, so maybe Patrick's mistake is actually telling Pete about that conversation when he's over at the FBR house that Saturday night, watching National Lampoon's Summer Vacation, despite the fact that, you know, it's the first week of December.

"So what'd you do to entertain yourself after being deprived of our presences on Thursday?" Pete asks once they've paused the movie to let Joe and Andy go refill the popcorn bowl. They're in the basement of the house, Patrick sitting on the couch while Pete's sprawled out at his feet, on one of the many beanbag chairs.

"Went out to dinner," Patrick says, "with some friends from the dorm last year." And then, because he thinks Pete will find it amusing, he tells him about Tyson's question, about Patrick's response.

Pete's not laughing when Patrick finishes telling the story, though, with his "I mean, me? Really?" Instead, Pete says, "Why not?"

Patrick opens his mouth to start to tell him all the reasons why not--because he has several!--except that's the moment that Joe and Andy come thundering back down the stairs again, Joe holding the popcorn bowl above his head, an unopened packet of M&M's caught between his teeth.

"Dudes," he says after he lets the packet drop to the couch right next to Patrick. "The cook was totally hiding these. I found the bag stashed in one of those big vats he uses for the pasta."

"Do I even want to know what you were doing looking in the pots and pans?" Pete asks and Patrick laughs when Andy shakes his head frantically. Joe turns around before Andy can get his innocent look fully put together, and even in profile, Patrick can see him narrow his eyes.

"Fine, Andrew, see if you get any of my popcorn and chocolate goodness. Actually, see if I share it with *any* of you, since you mock my great discovery."

And, see, really, Patrick's been hanging out with these guys for long enough now that he's not surprised when Pete's response to that is to launch himself at Joe's ankles, fingers moving in for tickling. Joe starts to kick at him, but then Andy hooks an arm around Joe's neck and buries his knuckles in Joe's curls.

Joe is almost crying with laughter as he looks at Patrick, saying, "Stump! Help!" but Pete's looking at Patrick, too, an eyebrow raised in challenge, and before he knows it, Patrick's jumping into the fray, running his fingers over Joe's ribs.

"Fine, fine!" Joe yells a few moments later. "I'll share!" And that, apparently, is the magic word, as Pete and Andy sit back looking very pleased with themselves. Given that Patrick's pretty much grinning hard enough that his cheeks are feeling a little tired, he thinks he's probably looking just as pleased, too.

That, of course, is when they see the bowl of popcorn sitting upside down on the floor, kernels spread out over the rug.

Pete just looks at it for a moment before standing up and saying, "Okay, fine. I'll go pop us some more. Don't any of you fuckers start the movie back up without me, okay? And I expect to see an unopened packet of M&M's when I come back down, too."

"Yes, dad," Joe says, rolling his eyes. "Whatever you say."

"Uh huh," Patrick calls up the stairs after him. "Whatever you say!"

He can hear Pete's overly exaggerated sigh all the way from the kitchen.


Somehow, Patrick is surprised by this, though:

He walks into his room the next Tuesday, after Bio 201 is over with, and finds that an envelope has been slipped under the door to his and Chris' room. It's small, square, made of thick paper, but the writing on it is more of a scrawl.

He stands in the middle of the room as he opens it, as he pulls out the card inside, something that looks like it might have been printed off on the computer. It reads:

Dear Mr. Stump,

The Men of Phi Beta Rho would like to cordially invite you to join them for bid night, tonight at 6 p.m.

Off to the side, someone had replaced the crossed out part with *their brotherhood*. Patrick can feel a sticky note attached to the back of the card, and when he turns it over, he sees more scrawled words.

*stump, some of the pldgs actualy thought you were partof our house allready. they askd where you were at initiation. so, yes, I can see you bein in a frat. what do you say??? see you next Mon. night din? 6 o'clock. wear a jacket + tie. PW*


So in the end, this is how it happens:

In the beginning of December, Patrick gets a bid card from Phi Beta Rho, and he doesn't know what to do, because the part of him that's been laughing at the idea for the last two years is, well, still laughing, because *he is never going to be a frat boy*.

But there's another part that's thinking, maybe? Maybe, maybe.

Because the FBR guys? They're his *friends*.

He wonders if they still will be if he turns the invitation down, because he's just not sure he's--

He doesn't want--

He thinks, *fuck*.

And that's why, on Wednesday, he moves away from where he's been sitting with Beckett and Travis in the third row from the back of the auditorium, to a spot right in the middle of the room. He tries to stay hunched down in his seat until after the class has started, in case either of them decide to look for him.

On Thursday, he makes up an excuse for why he can't go over to the FBR house for lunch. Joe looks a little confused, but he nods and says, "Well, later then, I guess?"

Patrick nods. "Yeah, later."

On Friday, he spends the evening lying on his bed, listening to the overlay track of 'Grace' and 'Times of Grace' that Pete had put together for him. His phone rings once, but he doesn't pick it up.

On Saturday morning, Pete shows up at his door.

Patrick only knows it's Pete before he answers because after the first round of knocking, Pete says, "Patrick Stump, open the fucking door." He sounds pissed, which makes Patrick pissed, because *seriously*. He hadn't asked for the bid card. He hadn't wanted to RUSH. He just--

When he opens the door, though, Pete's smiling tightly at him, and he pushes his way into the room without asking for an invitation. He looks around Patrick's room, at the 'How a Bill Becomes a Law' poster on Chris' side, at the 'Instruments through History' poster on Patrick's, and then he pushes himself up onto Patrick's bed and says, "Okay, so we--I--didn't invite you to join our house so that you could become a complete jackass."

"I'm not--" Patrick starts, but Pete interrupts him.

"Seriously, sometimes I get so fucking tired of people's preconceived bullshit notions of what it means to be in a fraternity. Like, they think all we do is drink and haze people and think we're fucking better than anyone else." He's practically spitting the words at Patrick. "And yeah, we like to have a good time, and I'm really fucking proud of my house, but don't tell me that you, of all people, can't see past the image in your head of what a frat boy is supposed to be. Tell me that I match up to that image, that Troh matches up. Or Travis, or Beckett. Yeah, Gabe could have probably gone to, like, Sigma Chi or something, but he *chose* us. Because we're fun guys, and that's what he wanted, and--"

And Patrick says, "I know."

Because he does know.

The FBR guys aren't like any frat boys Patrick's ever heard about. They aren't the ones out in the street playing football while sorority girls watch them from lawn chairs. They're guys who let him talk about Neurosis for hours, who burn him CDs of things he *just has to own*. They sit next to him in class, just like he's one of their own, and say hi when they pass him on campus and join him for dinner if they see him sitting by himself in the union.

And he likes that.

"I know what you guys are and what you aren't," Patrick says. He takes a deep breath. "I'm just not sure about me."

At which point Pete sort of slumps, like the anger's been drained out of him. "I wasn't lying when I said that some of the pledges asked where you were at initiation. They've pretty much inserted you into memories of the summer RUSH parties, dude. Darren totally swore up and down you were at the pool hall with us, that one night."

Patrick sort of grins at that, because really, he guesses it's actually pretty flattering.

"I didn't actually mean to come yell at you," Pete says. Then he pauses and says, "Well, okay, yes I did. But only because you're being a bitch. I don't want to, like, force you into joining our house, because that? That is one thing we are definitely not. But even if you decline the bid, it doesn't mean that we're, like, going to hold it against you or anything. There are reasons we though you'd make a good brother. And if you stop coming over to hang out, I seriously will come kick your ass, okay?"

"Yeah," Patrick says. "Sure."

"So even if we don't see you Monday--which I really hope we will--I will see you on Thursday, okay? Because Joe got a hold of this Swans bootleg from this guy he knows, and seriously, it's fucking hardcore. You've got to hear it."

Patrick says, "Yeah, of course, absolutely." Pete grins at that, hops off the bed, and wraps his arm around Patrick, rather like he did in the sandwich shop, and gives him a squeeze.

"See ya later, Stump," and as he lets himself out the door, Patrick says, "See you later."

And for some reason, after that, Patrick feels the laughter that tries to bubble up inside of him whenever he thinks the words 'Patrick Stump, Fraternity Member' quiet just a little. The 'maybe' gets a little stronger, moves towards, '*maybe?*'

Sunday afternoon, Patrick calls his mom. When she picks up the phone, he says, "So, mom. I'm, uh. Those guys from that fraternity I've been hanging out with a lot? They offered me a bid."

By the time he's off the phone with her, he's made his decision.


Really, though, it ends like this:

Patrick walks across the campus by himself, his suit jacket feeling a little tight across his shoulders, his tie feeling too close around his neck, and he nearly turns back three times, but finally he's standing outside the FBR house, just a few minutes before six. He tugs his hat (a fedora, in place of the usual trucker cap) down farther over his head, and takes a deep breath as he walks over the grass and up the steps.

He knocks on the door, wondering if he'll be heard over the sounds of movement inside. He is.

Darren is the one to open the door. He looks confused for a moment, but Pete--who's standing on the fireplace in the living room, apparently leading some sort of pre-dinner meeting?--grins really fucking widely.

"Brother Stump!" he calls out. "Glad you could join us!"

There are all sorts of whoops at that, a "fucking finally!" from somewhere, and Patrick can feel himself starting to blush under all the attention. Then Joe is there, draping an arm over Patrick's shoulders, guiding him into the living room, where everyone else is gathered.

"Rock the fuck on," Joe says. Then, "Brother Stump."

And Patrick thinks: Brother Stump.

Maybe it doesn't have such a bad ring to it after all.