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When the day seems to pause

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It’s almost 3am and the car is quiet, peaceful beneath the smooth murmur of the radio. He can see Bonnie in the rear-view mirror, cheek pressed against the window, moonlight catching in her wild tangle of curls (wild like he’d never taught her how to style it, because of course she wouldn’t have been paying attention) as she sleeps. He’s still a little surprised she came at all, after the huge fuss she kicked up about this trip, or he would be surprised if he hadn’t known her almost his whole life. She shouldn’t have to be here, but he’s privately glad that she is. Glad there’s someone else in this car who understands, even if that makes it one more person he needs to protect from them . One more person he can’t protect.

 

One more person like his husband, curled up facing him in the passenger seat with one of Mitch’s hands tangled between both of his own. His stubbornly, ridiculously, hopelessly naive and optimistic husband, the reason they’re all making this pointless trip in the first place. He knows even as he resents it that this is nothing, that he’d find a way to fetch the moon with his bare hands if Stu asked him for it, but that doesn’t mean he has to be pleased about practically inviting his parents to judge this little family of his.

 

The radio blurs out to static - hardly surprising given they’re currently driving through ass-backwards nowhere - and cuts back in again in fits and starts, snatches of speech and songs. It’s annoying, but between his sleeping husband and the steering wheel he really doesn’t have a hand free to do anything about it.

 

It takes him a moment when the radio finally settles to figure out what the song playing is. It’s infinitely longer than it should take, really, it’s only been saved as Stu’s ringtone on his phone since forever , he only had the damn thing adapted for the first dance at his own wedding, it’s hardly like he’s a stranger to the trashy pop tune.

 

The rush of memories that come with it curl around his heart with all the warmth of home, and that is something they can’t lay any claim to, something they can’t take away from him with all their expectations and judgements and their bitter disapproval, their hatred which he has dragged with him for years. The same hatred that he’s seen reflected in the face of his baby sister, that has almost cost him both of these people more times than he can count and maybe, maybe this whole trip was a really fucking stupid idea after all.

 

He pulls over at the side of the empty road, carefully steals back his hand so that he can switch off the radio and the car and run his hands through his hair, agitated. He could turn the car around right now. He should turn the car around right now, no-one would even realise until well into the morning, Bonnie would be relieved and Stu would listen if he apologised and why the fuck should he care about letting his parents down now? What’s one more disappointment after he’s spent years giving them nothing else?

 

It’s with every gentleness that he reaches to gather up one of his husband’s hands, to kiss his knuckles and the back of his palm and press it against his own chest, his heart, as he fights back tears. It’s not a fight he’s winning.

“Where are we?” Bonnie pipes up from the back, disorientated, voice heavy with sleep. Of course, now of all times, it only takes her a few seconds to get to grips with her surroundings and she sounds far more alert, far too alert when she speaks again. “Are you crying?”

 

“No.” He snaps, or at least tries to through a voice thick with emotion. He wipes roughly at his eyes. “Go back to sleep.”

 

It’s quiet, then, for so long that he’s beginning to think she might have actually listened to him. “We don’t have to go.” She says, eventually. “They’d deserve it, too.”

 

“Shut up.” He hisses. Stu shifts in his sleep, and there’s a moment where they both hold their breath. This conversation isn’t for him, but he settles again within a few moments and it’s safe for Mitch to add, darkly, “they deserve a hell of a lot worse than that.”

 

“Yeah.” Bonnie sighs, but it’s a defeated sound. They both know exactly how this dinner will play out, how they’ll play along. Hesitantly, her fingers creep forwards, squeeze his shoulder. In the dark, he brings up his hand and holds them there.