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I know I can't stand you, but please stay anyway?

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“And then I told her that me and my boyfriend would both love to come over for Christmas!”

“Well that was a wonderful decision that couldn’t possibly backfire, I'm sure,”

“What? Patton, what were you thinking?”

“Were you thinking? At all?”

“You totally screwed up.”

“I know, I know, it was a really stupid thing to do, but I’ve done it now and I made a big mess and I really need you guys to help me, please?” Patton knew was whining, but at this point he had lost any sense of shame, or propriety he’d ever had. “I've been telling my parents for ages about this supposedly great guy that I've been seeing, and how he’s apparently too busy for them to meet, and now they’re sick of waiting.”

The group was gathered at Ethan, Roman and Virgil’s apartment for their weekly movie night. Ordinarily, by now they’d already be thirty minutes into the Beauty and the Beast, but due to circumstances, his friends had had to watch Patton pace and moan about his mistakes instead. It was really a testament to how good a friend Roman was that he hadn’t been punched yet.

Patton messed up a lot. He wasn’t quite used to messing up this hard.

He just hated to disappoint people! So, when his mum had called him up three years ago and asked about his love life, he’d made up a silly harmless little tale about a guy he’d met and started seeing. He’d meant to tell his mum that they’d broken up eventually, but she just seemed so excited every time she brought it up! Over the years, they’d established that Patton’s boyfriend was very painfully shy and worked a lot.

As his roommate and longest standing best friend Logan had pointed out to him when he’d first confessed the dilemma, he really should have expected that his parents would eventually want to meet his mysterious significant other. Logan was very clever.

“So let me get this straight- “,

“Good luck with that” chorused Roman and Virgil. Patton had to take a break to think about how cute they were together.

“…Not only have you been lying to your dear mother and father for three years, you’re now asking one of your friends to join you in your deceptive plot by pretending to be your boyfriend? How very disappointing.”

Patton firmly reminded himself that if he couldn’t say anything nice, he shouldn’t say anything at all. Roman and Virgil’s incredibly aggravating roommate was a relatively new presence in their close-knit group, and not one that Patton was thrilled about.

Ethan was…snarky, to put it mildly. He had a flippant attitude towards everything and seemed to take pleasure in driving Patton up the wall. Most frustrating of all, you could never quite shake the feeling that behind the careless exterior, Ethan had some sort of secret motive, one that Patton could never seem to figure out but that he didn’t trust one bit.

 He didn’t even particularly seem to like any of them and yet he insisted on tagging along whenever they hung out. If only he wasn’t so close with Virgil…

Ugh. Patton liked to think he was a nice person, but whenever Ethan looked at him with that infuriating smirk or said something sarcastic it became really hard for him to remember that.

But for now, he didn’t have time to be mad at Ethan. He had other problems.

“It’s just for one week.” He pleaded with his friends. “I’d call my parents up and tell them we broke up, I promise?”

Logan sighed. “I am afraid I cannot do it, since Patton and I have been friends since childhood. Patton’s parents already know me very well, and they would know immediately that we were conspiring to distort their reality.”

“Do you have to phrase it like that?!”

“Well, that is literally what you are suggesting Patton, regardless of whether you’re willing to admit to it.”

Ethan snorted at that and Patton counted to ten in his head.

He had really hoped that Logan could do it. They were best friends, his parents already adored him, and Patton didn’t even think he’d be that uncomfortable pretending to act all romantic with him in front of his parents. But Logan had a point. He always did.

“Roman? Virge? Please?”

Roman and Virgil turned to look at each other before answering.

“Sorry Padre, but it’s our first Christmas being together and Virgil and I have already made plans.”

Virgil shrugged apologetically at him and Patton immediately felt bad. How could he have forgotten?

 To think, when they’d first met, the two silly kiddos couldn’t stand the sight of each other and now Virgil and Ro were practically inseparable. Patton was happy for them. He couldn’t help but think that he deserved just a teensy bit of credit for introducing them in the first place.

“Patton?” Logan’s voice broke him out of his thoughts. “What will you do now?”

“Huh? Oh… I don’t know, I guess I’ll just have to call my mum up and tell her the truth. Or something. I don’t really have any one else who I think would want to do it. I guess that’s what I get for telling a lie…”

“You haven’t asked me yet.”

Patton gawped at Ethan, who had been staring at his phone throughout the whole conversation. Was he serious? No. This was probably some cruel trick. He wanted Patton to ask him so that he could say no and laugh at him.

“I didn’t think you’d actually want to do it.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. “Well obviously I don’t want to do it. Honestly, I can think of few things that would be less appealing. However, one of those things happens to be spending the week alone while these two-“he jerked his thumb at Roman and Virgil – “are off making out in some cabin.”

“Does that mean you’ll help me?” Patton wasn’t sure what he wanted the other to say. On one hand it would solve his current problem. On the other hand, an entire week alone with Ethan and his family sounded like a whole bunch of problems on its own.

Ethan hummed as if he was considering it. Did he really have to be so infuriatingly calm when Patton was clearly freaking out?

“Oh, Patton, I don’t know how I could accept such a brash proposal, I’m a man of very high standards.”

Oh goodness, he was practically purring. Calling his mum and coming clean almost seemed appealing. Almost.

“Listen E, if you’re just gonna be a dick-“

“No, Virgil, it’s okay!” Patton hurried to calm down his friend. He was grateful that Virge was so quick to defend him, but he really couldn’t afford to annoy Ethan right now. As much as Patton hated to admit it, he desperately needed the snake’s help.

He mustered his bestest, friendliest, smile.

“Ethan, would you come to my parent’s house with me and pretend to be my boyfriend for the course of one week?”

Ethan tilted his head. What more did he want?

“Um… pretty please? With cherries on top?”

The grin that followed was practically wolfish. “Oh, alright, I suppose I could take a week out of my incredibly busy schedule to help out my dear friend.”

Roman looked confused “You were literally just talking about how you had nothing to do because Virgil and I were going out of town-“

“I do not understand the nature of your request Patton. Why would you be offering Ethan fruit in exchange for_”

As the group fell into their usual messy chatter, Patton fell into his thoughts. Ethan had agreed to help him. He hadn’t thought that the snake was capable of doing things that he had nothing to gain from.

No, wait. That was mean. Just because he’d never seen Ethan behave selflessly didn’t mean he was incapable of it. Patton didn’t have any right to judge him. After all, a person was innocent until proven guilty and Ethan hadn’t done anything to suggest that he had ulterior motives for helping him.

Besides, he thought, eyeing the tall man lying, stretched out on the floor. Ethan was – objectively – a perfect candidate for a fake boyfriend. He was (objectively!) very handsome and Patton had been to enough parties with him present to know that he could be charming when he wanted to be. He was intelligent – maybe not in the same way Logan was, but intelligent nonetheless. Maybe the week would be alright. He just needed to keep an eye on his unlikely saviour.

 

Roman pounced the minute Logan and Patton left the apartment.

“What are you doing?”

“… I beg your pardon?”

“Don’t play innocent, you slippery serpent! Since when do you have a soul?”

Was he meant to dignify that with a response?

Virgil snorted, leaning into his exuberant boyfriend, who pulled him into his lap without even breaking his ridiculous tirade. How revolting precious.

“Roman’s asking you why you’ve decided to do something for once that helps another person and poses no benefit to you whatsoever.”

Ethan needed new roommates.

“Exactly! And for Patton? The two of you don’t even like each other!”

Ethan was definitely rolling his eyes at Roman’s antics. He was definitely not doing his best to avoid Virgil’s knowing smirk. Furthermore, he had no idea why Virgil was grinning at him right now either.

“Cool your jets, Princey.” The aforementioned emo turned to wrap his arms around Roman’s waist and kiss his cheek. (Did they have to do this in front of him?) Turning to grin smugly at Ethan in between kisses, he continued, “I can assure you that in this instance E’s motives are entirely selfish.”

…And new friends. Ethan needed new roommates and a new best friend.

“What exactly are you talking about, my Dark and Stormy Knight?” (what the fuck did that even mean??) “Do the two of you know something that I don’t?”

And it was high time for Ethan to retreat to his room. Jumping to his feet, he grinned at Roman.

“I assure you that there is a number of things that we know and you don’t my dear prince.” He pretended not to notice Virgil frowning at the nickname. It was what he deserved anyway. “Why don’t you sit here and think about it-“

“Excuse me? I am not about to sit here and be criticised-“

“-And I will go catch up on my beauty sleep.”

Safe in his room, Ethan collapsed on the bed. His motives weren’t entirely selfish. And even if they were, so what? He would be helping Patton either way. Quality time with the little blue-eyed angel was really the least he deserved for his troubles.

He sighed, rubbing his eyes. He was going soft. There was a time when he’d mocked Virgil for the very same thing, when the emo had first started hanging out with Patton. Then he’d actually met the guy and it was Virgil’s turn to make fun of him.

It wasn’t his fault the other had been so adorably wary of him the first time they met, eyeing Ethan like he thought he’d pounce or something. He grinned to himself as he remembered the way Patton had squeaked, actually squeaked when the little blond puffball had offered his hand for a handshake and Ethan had kissed it instead. After that, how could Ethan possibly hold back? It was just a game at first. Flirting with Patton, making fun of him. Anything to coax out those ridiculously cartoonish reactions. He hadn’t meant to develop feelings.

And of course, it didn’t help that the object of his affections still didn’t entirely like or trust him. Patton and he had had many a “civil discussion” about ‘helping others’ and ‘telling the truth even when it’s difficult’. They’d consisted mostly of Patton talking about morals and Ethan thinking about how a person could be cute and ridiculously obnoxious at the same time.

And yet, he mused, all the moralising lectures seemed to be working, did they not? No matter how much he rolled his eyes and scoffed, he couldn’t deny that hearing Patton’s earnest little voice in the back of his head did make him want to do the so-called ‘right thing’ more often, and even if he was only helping people because he had a stupid crush on the most strait laced boy on the planet, who cared? The old ladies made it across the street in one piece either way.

Not that he agreed with everything Patton said. The difference was that when Patton looked at him like he was the bad guy, Ethan actually cared. That was a new feeling, for him.

In other words, he had it bad.

He had never been more glad that Virgil was not a mind reader.

…speaking of Virgil, if the noises coming from the front room were any indication, he really needed to start looking for a new place to live.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 “What is it?”

“Nothing.”

“Is it the lip ring?”

“It’s not. Anything.”

“Do you want me to take it off?”

“I would never ask you to do that.”

“But you do want me to?”

Patton groaned internally. Ethan was doing this on purpose. If he did ask him to remove the offending accessory, Ethan would win, because he would then have to face the silver-tongued jerk’s sharp comments about Ethan’s his parents and their supposedly antiquated values.

If he didn’t ask Ethan to take it off… well he didn’t really think his parents would be mad about it, but he didn’t exactly know how they’d react to it either. None of his siblings’ partners had facial piercings.

“I will take it off if you really want me to.”

“I don’t want you to. I hadn’t even realised you had it in today.”

“Right, and I suppose the only reason you keep frowning in the direction of my lips is because you’re actually irresistibly attracted to me?”

“What? Of course- no, why would you- shut up!”

Ethan chuckled as Patton glared at the floor.

They’d been on the train for fifteen minutes and Patton was already prepared to turn around and go home.

Instead, he pulled out his phone. An brisk but polite farewell message from Logan, how sweet. No less than twenty different pictures of Virgil being adorable from Roman, followed by a goodbye message that was more emojis than text. And a very kind promise from Virgil to inflict physical harm upon Ethan if he messed with Patton too much. Aww.

Patton felt a sudden surge of affection for his friends. Maybe next year he’d just stay at home and watch the Star Wars movies with Logan. Then he immediately felt bad. He loved Christmas with his family, and they looked forward to seeing him. It would be wrong of him to skip out on his filial duties to have fun with his friends, he sternly reminded himself.

They had three hours of travelling left. Puffing out his cheeks in frustration, Patton glanced at his travelling partner. Ethan’s elegant features looked uncharacteristically earnest as he turned the pages of a law textbook that lay open on his lap. He was almost pretty when he wasn’t actively trying to ruffle Patton’s feathers.

“So, we should probably talk, right?”

Ethan looked up and shut his book. All at once, the smirk that made Patton’s insides turn was back.

“As you wish, my dear.” Ethan leaned closer to Patton, crossing his long legs and slipping an arm around his shoulders. “What would you like to discuss?”

“I was just- what on earth are you doing?!”

Ethan tilted his head in mock confusion, blinking the gorgeous mismatched eyes that were now inches away from Patton’s burning face.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”

Patton emitted a noise that was embarrassingly mouse like before clearing his throat.

“Kindly move your hand please, Ethan. I was hoping we could have a chat about how we’re going to maintain our cover for the duration of this visit.” He was channelling his best Logan, voice as calm and unwavering as he could make it, speaking in a cool, professional manner and not betraying any of what he was feeling.

It didn’t work.

Ethan rolled his eyes. “We’re going to have a difficult time keeping out cover intact if you’re getting this flustered just from me ‘sitting too close’.” But he did move back to respectable distance, placing both of his hands on his knees. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, we met in the library three years ago,”

“Oh, yes?”

“You asked me out first,”

Of course I did.”

“We hit it off immediately and we’ve been together ever since,”

How charming, you should write a novel.”

“And we’re going to separate amicably in a few weeks’ time because we’re both too busy with work to be in a relationship.”

“A series of romantic clichés, by Patton Hart.”

“Look, do you have any better ideas?”

“I’m glad you asked. We met through social media and sat through an exceedingly awkward meal together before I eventually led you to my apartment and we spent the night together, after which you inexplicably fell in love with me.”
What.

“After months of your attempts to win me over, I finally deigned to become your boyfriend.”

Patton glared at Ethan, flushing when the other’s cool smirk didn’t shift at all under his gaze.

“This is very important to me-“

“Yes, yes, I know, I was only teasing. I promise not to besmirch your parent’s pristine perception of their darling son too much. Who knows, the insinuation that you have desires that lay outside of the picture-perfect story book romance might actually kill them.”

Patton pouted. “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that. You don’t even know my parents; I don’t think you have the right to judge them that way.”

“Maybe not, but I do know you,” He glanced at Patton out of the side of his eye. “You hate lying, and yet you didn’t even hesitate to break your own ridiculously uptight moral code for this. There has to be a reason you’d rather assign a friend to behave as a false partner than simply confess the truth about your dismal love life.”
Patton narrowed his eyes. He knew Ethan had a habit of picking at scars best left alone, but this was too much.

“First of all, you don’t have a boyfriend either. Secondly yes, my parents, like most parents, have an ideal vision of how they’d like my life to play out. That doesn’t mean they’re pushing me into pursuing a relationship, or into doing anything, I just lied to them in a moment of panic. That’s not their fault and I won’t let you blame them for it. If you were so against the idea, you shouldn’t have volunteered to help, since I wasn’t even asking you.”

Patton tried desperately to control the trembling of his lip. He was angry, damnit, he wasn’t sad and he didn’t want to cry, not in the middle of an argument and definitely not in front of Ethan. The stupid snake was the one person who could break Patton’s shell when he was trying to project a calm exterior, and he dearly wished he was with anyone else right now.

And of course, Ethan had to push the point further.

“And I suppose your spineless people pleasing tendencies were created in a vacuum and had nothing to do with your upbringing?” Ethan snorted. “Whatever you say, sweetie.”

Patton turned away from Ethan to glare at the fields passing outside, screwing up his face to keep the tears in. Why did he have to cry every time he got angry, it looked pathetic, this was why he hated conflicts, he hated arguments and he hated Ethan-

Patton felt the wetness of his cheek before he registered the tears leaving his eyes.

Great.

They had two hours and a half hours left.

Chapter Text

Patton maintained his stony silence as they got off the train, glancing once behind his shoulder to make sure Ethan was following before walking briskly off.

Shit.

Ethan wasn’t sure who would believe him if he said it but he truly hadn’t meant to upset Patton. They’d just been bickering, he hadn’t thought it was any different to their usual banter, but then he’d pushed it too far, and Patton had started crying, and he’d fucked up, why did he say that?

Patton still looked mad, he needed to say something. Make sure he was okay.

“Patton?”

“I’m fine.” He answered far too quickly, turning to smile at Ethan, as if he was trying to prove a point. As if he thought Ethan couldn’t see how brittle and obviously fake it was.

“I just got a bit heated up on the train there because I haven’t slept much, that’s all! Lack of sleep makes me a little grumpy, okay? But I'm okay. Really.”

 “Actually, I was just going to ask you why the back pocket of your bag was hanging open.”

Ethan smirked as Patton yelped and spun around, before turning to glare at him. That wasn’t the cutest thing in the world or anything.

“You’re not funny.”

“I have to disagree.”

A few minutes passed as Ethan considered his next move. He didn’t like ignoring what had happened earlier, but he’d pushed Patton too far once today, and he didn’t want to risk doing the same again.  

“So,” He fell in to step with Patton, taking his free hand in his own before he could second guess himself. “I don’t believe you finished telling me about your family. I should probably know at least a little about the people I’ll be actively deceiving for a week, no?”

Patton didn’t bristle at the jab like he usually would have, instead staring at their joint hands.

Ethan didn’t know they made mittens in adult sizes.

“Umm, Ethan? Why…?”

Not that he was complaining, his own hands were always freezing.

“Merely taking my fake-boyfriend duties seriously. What kind of boyfriend-of-three-years would I be if I didn’t even hold my dearest’s hand?”

Patton snorted before quickly turning his head and muttering something Ethan couldn’t hear. He still hadn’t dropped his hand though, which Ethan was definitely not incredibly thankful for.

“Well, um okay, I guess- to answer your question, I have two older sisters,”

Patton’s demeanour thawed slightly as he chattered on about this sister and that cousin, and who exactly Ethan would end up meeting over the week

“-oh, and one of my aunts is a little bit old fashioned, but she’s probably not going to say anything, my mum made her promise…if anything she just won’t talk to us,”

As Ethan learned, the most of the week would be spent in the company of Patton’s parents, the younger of his two sisters, her fiancé, and their son.

“Vivian and I are like best friends; she already knows about the whole situation, so you don’t have to pretend in front of her, okay?”

The older sister would visit on Christmas Eve and leave in the afternoon on Christmas Day with her family,

“Because she needs to spend a couple days with her husband’s family, it’s only fair– “

And he would be showed off, on Christmas Day itself, to various members of the extended Hart family, all of whom would have different opinions on his appearance, his style of clothing, his course of study, his sexuality, and the fact that he was so much taller than Patton.

“And please, for the love of God, don’t start any conflicts?” Patton was staring at him over the glasses in a way that might have been intimidating if Ethan wasn’t almost a foot taller. “It’s easier, and the evening goes by a lot faster if you just smile and nod and keep the peace. You may never have to see these people again, but I’ll still have to meet with them next year.”

“Well technically you don’t have to do anything, if you’d rather not- “

“I believe we’ve already had this discussion,” Patton interrupted crisply. “They’re my family Ethan, I can’t stop being related to them, and sometimes people have to do things they don’t enjoy in order to appease others in their life.”

“Okay, but if they weren’t in your life- “

“We’re not talking about this.”

Ethan recognised Patton’s childhood home before it was pointed out to him. It was hard to miss, given the Christmas lights (thankfully unlit, at the moment) in every window, and the large painted sign at the gate proclaiming “Home is where the Hart is”.

Ethan briefly wondered if whatever he felt for Patton was worth what he was about to subject himself to.

Patton looked at him expectantly. “You ready?”

My dear, I couldn’t possibly be more excited.”

“Cut that out.”

Patton rang the doorbell.

Chapter Text

“Patton! Welcome home sweetheart, it’s so good to see you!”

“Mum!”

The door opened to reveal a smiling individual in a Christmas sweater who Ethan could only assume was Pauline Hart.

Almost instantly, Patton’s slightly tense expression from earlier disappeared as he embraced his mother, and the two gushed briefly about how happy they were to see each other, how handsome Patton had gotten, how wonderful the lights looked, how fun the week would be, and the possibility of snow later in the week. Neither of them stopped to take a breath or stopped smiling at any point in the exchange. Definitely Patton’s mother.

Patton finally drew away, smiling guiltily at Ethan as if he’d forgotten his presence.

“Uh, Mum? This is…um, this is him. My, um, I mean, this is Ethan.”

Mrs Hart beamed, looking at him as if she didn’t even notice how out of place Ethan’s long, messy hair and dark clothing looked in her incredibly immaculate hallway. Ethan almost felt bad that his entire acquaintance with this woman was about to be based on a lie. Did the entire family possess some kind of weird super power that compelled people around them to be nice?

Well, one could still argue that the goodness of helping and possibly wooing Patton outweighed the badness of lying to a woman he barely knew, so Ethan didn’t feel too guilty for putting on a polite smile and extending his hand.

“It’s an absolute pleasure to finally meet you, ma’am,”

She completely disregarded his hand, instead pulling him into a warm hug.

“Oh, it’s so wonderful to meet you too, sweetie! And please, there are no formalities in this household, okay? When you’re here, you can call me Pauline, or if you’re comfortable with it, you can call me ‘mum’, most of Patton’s little friends do, but either away, I don’t want to hear any of this ‘ma’am’ nonsense, alright?”

Ethan couldn’t help but sneak a glance at Patton to see him struggling not to inform Pauline that they weren’t ‘actually’ friends.

“Come on in loves, you must be exhausted, how was your journey?” She ushered them into a cozy living room, already decorated for Christmas, with what Ethan personally considered an inordinate amount of tinsel on literally every surface. He did appreciate the Santa hats taped over family pictures though.

Patton looked equal parts impressed and mildly annoyed as Pauline pressed tea into both of their hands and Ethan sat slightly too close to him as he complimented Pauline on her impeccable taste in quirky throw pillows.

(His personal favourite was one with scrabble pieces spelling out ‘puns not dead’. He was starting to see where Patton’s entire personality originated from.)

“Oh, Ethan you’re far too sweet. Patton, why on earth would you wait so long to invite him home?”

“Mum…” Patton muttered, turning slightly red.

“What? It’s a perfectly reasonable question, honey. Ethan, don’t you think it’s more than reasonable for a mother to wonder what kind of man her son has been seeing for more than three years?”

“Mum!”

“I'm just asking a question! Especially when your young man is this lovely Patton, I'm almost astounded at your lack of manners here, mister.”

Ethan decided to rescue him.

“Actually Pauline, I’m afraid that in this instance you have me to blame. Patton has been pushing for this meeting for years. I actually kept putting it off, because the prospect of disappointing two people so important to Patton was too daunting to face. I’m so sorry for any concern I may have caused you.”

Ethan gagged internally. He sounded like Roman trying to get his way. It was effective in this instance however, with Pauline giving him a touched look and waving away his apology.

“Well it’s very sweet of you to worry, but I assure you, you have absolutely nothing to worry about here. As long as you’re making Patton happy, I've got absolutely no problems with you.”

Ethan ignored Patton’s pointed look. That kind of thing was very easy to say, but he knew better than to take it at face value. Pauline certainly seemed like a nice woman, but so did most sweet old white ladies when one had only spoken to them for fifteen minutes.

“Well, now that you are here, why don’t you tell me more about yourself, Ethan? I feel like I barely know you at all! Every time I tried asking this one more about you, he’d start making excuses and try to get off the phone- I was starting to think you might not be real!”

Patton flushed beet red, opening his mouth as if to protest, before shutting it again in favour of burying his face in a pillow that claimed “Stay Pawsitive” (Complete with an illustration of a corgi).

He grew increasingly squirmier as Ethan made polite conversation with Pauline, about his plans for his future, surprised to find that he was actually enjoying himself somewhat. Clearly, he had a knack for impressing mothers. If things with Patton didn’t work out, he could start a very lucrative career as a fake boyfriend-for-hire.

“Mum, when does Vivian get home?” Patton cut in, apparently tired of having Ethan monopolizing his mother’s attention. “She said she’ll be arriving today.”

“She is, sweetheart, your dad’s just gone to pick her and Andre up. You know, the airport’s so far away, and they have a toddler to keep track of, so I insisted he go and give them a hand.” She turned her attention back to Ethan almost immediately. “But, Patton, you never told me you were dating a lawyer in the making!”

Patton rolled his eyes as discreetly as he could whilst Ethan preened under the attention. Was it petty of him to enjoy this so much despite how much it was clearly irritating Patton? Probably, but he was having far too much fun to stop now.

“Mum, I think Ethan is tired!” He cut in for the second time, now looking over at Ethan. “He was just saying, how he always gets worn out by travelling, weren’t you? Can I show him up to my room, and then you and I can catch up while he gets some rest?”

“That’s really not necessary-“ Ethan protested. He didn’t want to go upstairs when he’d just begun enjoying himself! When was the last time someone gushed over him like this?

“He’s just being shy mum, E’s always so worried about coming across as rude, but he hardly ever gets as much sleep as he should, and it’s really, really important to me that he use this vacation finally rest.”

Almost instantaneously, Pauline’s polite but happy demeanour gave way to a grim look filled with pure, terrifying, motherly concern. Ethan got the feeling that if he didn’t get himself upstairs immediately, he would be forcibly tucked in with a bedtime story.

“Well, Ethan, that just won’t do!”

“Really, ma’am, I-"

“Now, I know you young people are very ambitious these days, thinkin’ you can just stay up all night studying and then go to class the next day-“

“It’s not quite like that-“ It was, in fact, almost exactly like that, but she didn’t need to know that.

“But there is nothing more important than your own health! I'm sure you’re a very smart boy, but I don’t want to hear of you overworking yourself like that, okay?”

“… yes, ma’am.”

Pauline peered at him over her glasses, somehow managing to look far more intimidating than her son ever had, despite the fact that she was probably smaller than even Patton.

“And what have I told you about calling me ma’am?”

“Yes…Pauline?”

“Better. Now, I've set up Patton’s room for the two of you, it’s the first door on the left upstairs. I’d like you to go upstairs and rest yourself, please. As I said before, there are no formalities in this household, and I won’t hear of you depriving yourself of much needed rest for the sake of impressing me, okay?”

“…okay.” His voice came out far meeker than he was expecting.

Patton grinned at him far too sweetly. “Do you want me to show you the way?”

Fortunately, the sudden reminder that he was far sneakier than his cat pyjamas suggested only served to make Ethan more attracted to him.

He grinned at Patton, matching the other’s saccharine sweetness perfectly. “Very kind of you to offer, darling, but I think I’ll be okay.”

---

 

Not that he’d ever previously put any thought into the matter, but Patton’s childhood bedroom was exactly what he’d expected it would be. It had clearly been kept lovingly exactly the same as it must have been when Patton left for uni – from the collection of worn soft toys in the corner, to the collage of notes, postcards, and photos of a young Patton with an assortment of smiling friends. He recognized and took a quick picture of a baby-faced Logan in a too large tie to send to Virgil later.

“You know, you could probably give Ro a run for his money.” He whirled around to see Patton standing in the doorway, a wry smile on his face. “You’re surprisingly good at acting.”

“Shouldn’t you be downstairs bonding, or whatever?”

Patton pouted, making his way over to his bed. “Mum said it would be rude of me to leave you alone like this and sent me up. I expect we’ll be pushed together like this quite a lot over the week.”

Ethan gasped, bringing his hand up to his chest in mock horror. “You mean to tell me your parents expect us, a supposed couple of more than three years, to enjoy spending time together? Tell me it isn’t so!” He sat next to Patton. “You poor thing, stuck with your worst enemy all week long. Next thing you know, they’ll expect you to actually sit through a conversation with me present without getting huffy.”

Patton blushed, frowning down at his lap. “I don’t consider you my worst enemy.” He mumbled.

“Oh? Then you have someone you hate more than me?”

“I don’t hate you, Ethan!” Patton burst out, before immediately being silenced by Ethan’s hand over his mouth. “Mmph, what are you-“

“Oh, I’m sorry, have you forgotten that your mother is in the house? Or is your intention to make her think that we’re on the verge of breaking up?”

Patton looked slightly sheepish as Ethan removed his hand, continuing at a quieter volume. “I don’t hate you, I just,” he trailed off with a sigh “I do wish you were nicer sometimes.”

Ethan hummed, leaning closer to Patton and running his hand up his freckled arm. Patton frowned at the contact, but he didn’t move away. “Right, because you always react so well to my attempts at being nice to you.” He murmured the words softly in Patton’s ear, hoping his quiet voice would prompt Patton to look him in the eye.

It didn’t. He could see that Patton was biting the inside of his cheeks, an action Ethan had come to associate with his nervousness.

“I can never tell when you’re actually being nice.” Patton finally spoke, fiddling with his shirt. “You’re always making fun of me, specifically of me; you don’t mess with the others nearly as much, anyone would think you hated me.”

“As if I could hate you,” Ethan scoffed, ignoring Patton’s disbelieving look, “You’re always so nice, and kind.

For fucks sake, he knew he was telling the truth and he barely believed himself. Why could he never just be straightforward when it came to this guy?

“See, this is what I mean! This is what I mean, you can’t even say something nice about me without sounding like you’re making fun!”

Ethan opened his mouth to protest but Patton was already shaking his head, clearly unwilling to continue this line of conversation.

“You know what, never mind. I mean, it hardly matters. Either way, I’m thankful that you’re helping me out. I'm sure we can act normal around each other for the next week, right? And then we’ll only ever have to see each other when all our friends are around!”

He offered him another obviously, horribly, fake grin, and Ethan’s gut twisted.

Yes, obviously, that’s what I want, I've agreed to come out with you to the middle of fucking nowhere and interact with your entire family, because I saw you distraught and couldn’t handle it until you were happy again, because I want to stop interacting with you.

Predictably, he didn’t say any of this. Instead, he raised an eyebrow at Patton, drawing away slightly. “Right, because we’ve been so good at acting normal so far, I can’t imagine that’ll present any issues at all.”

Patton frowned at him, “What do you mean?”

“Oh, nothing; I'm certainly not referring to the fact that you consistently jump ten feet in the air every time I touch you or move near you, in fact, I’m sure most normal couple dynamics also include one person consistently regarding the other as if they’re afraid of them.”

Patton blushed furiously, hissing at him, “I am not afraid of you- no, don’t look at me like that, I’m not! You just, you just startle me sometimes, that’s all! You can’t just randomly start acting all…funny, without any kind of warning!”

“So, you’re telling me that if I just asked you for a kiss right now, you’d have no problem with complying?”

Well, that definitely wasn’t pushing his luck at all.

“Actually, yeah, I think that’d be nice. You know, I’d just like some warning if you’re going to, um.” Patton drew off as he saw Ethan raise his eyebrows.

“So, if I asked you for a kiss right now…” he repeated, a smile tugging at his lips. It wasn’t like he expected Patton to say yes, more likely he’d just roll his eyes and glare cutely at him all over again, and frankly, that was fine by him.

“Okay.”

Wait, what?

Patton looked slightly nervous, but he said, “I mean, we probably will have to, um, at some point, and I’d rather the first time at least be without an audience so we don’t get to nervous, I guess, so yeah, if you want to-“

Oh. Well, he was certainly prepared for this. It definitely wasn’t like he’d ever imagined kissing Patton before. In fact, this was exactly how he’d always wanted it to go. It wasn’t like imagining it was any different to it actually happening. Oh, god, his heart definitely wasn’t beating any faster at all.

“Um, E? You okay? Were you being serious about, uh, or-“

Patton was offering him an out. He could just say he’d been joking; he wouldn’t have to-

He kissed Patton.

For someone who’d blushed and stuttered every time he tried to talk about it, Patton was kissing him back with surprising conviction, gripping the front of his shirt as he chased his lips. Fuck, now Ethan really hoped he was able to make some sort of sincere move by the end of the week, because he really didn’t want to have to move on from this.

Patton’s smiled at him shyly as they separated. “Alright?”

Ethan couldn’t resist.

“Oh, more than alright, Patton. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I might even say you’ve done this before”

This time, his teasing had exactly the intended effect.

Patton’s smile disappeared. “I’ve kissed people before, you jerk,” he muttered, before tugging him back in so he could bite at his lower lip.

Ethan was only too happy to return the favour.

 

“Oh my god, I am so sorry!”

The two men jerked apart, turning towards the door.

“Vivian?”

Chapter Text

“Oh, my god, Patton, I cannot believe you!”

“Okay, Vivian, wait-“

“Trust you to go and get yourself a gorgeous boyfriend like that when the rest of us aren’t looking!”

“God, Vi, no…”

“Mr ‘Woe is me, I’m so lonely I need to invent a relationship to tell mum about’!”

“Okay, well, now you’re just being mean.”

“Ohmygod, that hair! And his eyes! Is that a real piercing? Goddamn, Pat, I didn’t think you had it in you!””

“Vivian!”

His sister snickered, not registering Patton’s serious tone. She’d been smirking slyly at him the entire time he’d been trying to introduce Ethan to his Dad, and she’d literally dragged him outside at the nearest possible opportunity so that she could excitedly interrogate him.

Patton rubbed his arms as he grumpily surveyed the garden. What was the point of all this cold weather if he didn’t at least get some snow out of it?

“What’s going on, how long have you been together, why didn’t you tell me you finally got a real boyfriend?”

…ugh. He’d thought kissing Ethan earlier would be a good idea as it might finally get all of his infuriating tricks to stop – Ethan couldn’t keep flustering him with his teasing if he thought that Patton wasn’t bothered by it! (In hindsight it might not have been the best idea, but clearly, Patton wasn’t known for his ability to think things through).

Of course, Vi had to walk in at the worst moment and jump to the wrong conclusion.

“Vivian, please stop!” he whined, pouting at his sister, who was literally bouncing up and down like an excited child.

…Maybe that was why she didn’t mind being out here like this. They could be could be warm in the living room listening to Christmas music if he hadn’t been so stupid.

“Aw, am I not allowed to call your boyfriend hot?” She cooed, leaning forward to ruffle his hair.

…why exactly had he assumed his sisters would stop tying to baby him once he turned twenty-one?

“As I recall, you did enough ogling of Andre the first time I brought him home- don’t you deny it!” she finished with a triumphant giggle.

Patton rolled his eyes, tugging at the sleeves of his hoodie. Vivian was supposed to be his source of support this week! He’d been planning to go to grumble to her when Ethan got too frustrating, not listen to her gush about him! When she’d walked in on them, he’d wanted to lead her away so he could explain the situation, but then his father had been there, so he’d had to shut his mouth and play along.

Although, he had to admit, Ethan had been amazing with his father. He hadn’t been particularly worried about his mother – Mum loved everyone! Dad, on the other hand had a tendency to be a teensy bit more strict.

Still, Ethan had been incredible, shaking Dad’s hand, politely answering all his questions about his family, his classes, his career plans – Patton had never even seen Ethan tell someone what his favourite colour was without twisting his answer in some way! Patton didn’t think his father had ever taken to someone he’d actually been dating so quickly.

It was honestly kind of startling, seeing the way Ethan’s entire personality could shift in a second depending on who he was talking to. He’d become so warm and friendly and nice when he was talking to his mom, despite the fact that he’d been winding up Patton mere minutes before. And the minute Dad had approached him, his entire cool, detached demeanour had melted away, giving way to courtesy and polite deference as if- well. Patton wasn’t sure he was ready to start thinking about what he and Ethan had been doing before that.

In fact, he wasn’t sure he wanted to think about Ethan at all at this moment. Because thinking about Ethan would mean thinking about how he was actually, genuinely putting effort into helping him, and thinking about that would mean circling back to why Ethan was helping him, even though he didn’t even seem to like him most of the time and wondering if he didn’t actually have some tricks up his sleeve and- nope, okay, he was doing it again.

“Vivian, can we talk about literally anything else?” he begged. “Ooh, how about your wedding; surely that’s a more engaging topic?” Come on, Vivian had literally never passed up an opportunity to talk about her wedding, there was no way this could fail. Well, not that he could blame her, he was pretty excited too! There was going to be cookies, his little niece was going to be the ring bearer, it was going to be so cute. And of course, he was pretty excited for Vivian too!

If only her ‘finally’ getting engaged didn’t have to mean him constantly being asked when it was his turn.

“Oh my goodness, you’re right!” Vivian gasped, clapping her hands. Finally, a new topic! “Listen, I know you said you probably wouldn’t need a plus one, but it is totally fine if you want to bring Ethan; we can probably still make adjustments, have you asked him yet? Should I ask him? I should go ask him!”

…Or not.

“No, Vivian, that’s fine!” he urged, grabbing her before she could run back in. (It astounded him when people who hadn’t met his sister thought he was impulsive and easily excitable) “I mean – you know there’s a very good chance that Ethan and I won’t actually be together by the time you get married, and also that you might never actually see him again so maybe you shouldn’t actually do that probably?”

Oh, snickerdoodles, now she just looked concerned.

“What, why? Are the two of you okay? You know, most couples go through rough patches, that doesn’t mean-“

“No, no Vivian, that’s not it, we’re fine, we’re not having problems, we’re just-“ Oh fudge, he was just digging himself into a deeper hole with everything he said, wasn’t he?

“I should certainly hope we aren’t.” Ethan’s voice cut through the air and a long black coat was draped over Patton’s shoulders as he came to stand behind him. “You forgot to take your coat with you, love.”

Love? Oh, well, they were pretending to date, he supposed. It was a fairly standard cute pet name. There was no reason for his heart to jump when he heard it.

“This…isn’t my coat.” He did still put it on, but still. Definitely not his coat.

“Oh, I know, but you look so lovely in mine, dearest.”

Fake boyfriend, fake relationship, they were pretending to date, his sister was right there, that was the only reason…

“Ethan, hi! Patton and I were just talking about you!”

“So I gathered.”

“Or, I should say, we were talking about me and my fiancé – Andre, you met him in there – and how we’re getting married in the coming spring!”

Vivian was getting really quite good at showing off her engagement ring. Ethan, had apparently always been really good at getting on people’s good sides.

“Oh, congratulations, may I say, your ring is stunning. Your fiancé has excellent taste.”

“Aww, thank you! You’re so sweet. I was just telling Patton how lovely it would be if you could make it to the wedding, I don’t have a card on me, for obvious reasons, but Patton has one, you’ll find the details on there…”

“Vi, is this totally necessary-“ How on Earth was he supposed to explain this in a few months’ time, when Ethan didn’t show up?

“That sounds absolutely wonderful, I adore weddings, it’s so sweet of you to invite me.”

Patton knew for a fact that Ethan did not enjoy weddings in the slightest.

“Aw, of course! Listen, as far as I’m concerned, my baby brother likes you and you have incredible taste in facial piercings; we may as well be best friends already.”

“Thank you so much, yeah, you know, I wasn’t so sure about getting it at first, but-“

“Guys, can we go inside? Please?” He couldn’t fault Ethan’s coat for its warmth, but if he had to listen to this conversation, he’d rather be playing with Abby than freezing out here. At this point, she was the one person in the family who wouldn’t be praising Ethan to the skies right now, even if it was only because she was two and couldn’t really talk that much.

 

Patton had thought that his biggest problems during this visit would be convincing his family that their relationship was real and making sure Ethan didn’t do anything to mess him up. One day in, he’d come to realise that Ethan was way better at this than he could imagine anyone else being – maybe even better than Roman, and he was actually an actor.

Now his biggest problem was worrying about how sad everyone was going to be when he finally broke the news of the break up to them.

Patton was alone with his Mum and Dad – Vi and Andre were tired from the ordeal of taking a two year old through an airport twice, and Ethan had chosen to head upstairs too, after pressing a chaste kiss to his cheek (which had gotten Mum to coo) and muttering something about wanting to get some studying done (which had earned an approving nod from Dad), so Patton was left to help clean up after dinner.

…And his parents were still talking about his supposed ‘boyfriend’.

“Well now, I won’t deny that I was a little put off when I first saw him, he definitely wasn’t what I expected, but you know, once we got talking, I found him to be a fairly stand up fella.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that first bit hon, I thought he looked quite charming! Sure, it wasn’t exactly what I’d call conventional, but he’s a very handsome young man, and it was a very distinctive look. And I do love his manners so, he isn’t rude at all…”

…Suddenly, Patton was quite sleepy as well.

He went upstairs and found Ethan sitting up in his bed, surrounded by several pages of notes in a neat, slanting hand. He’d changed into a t-shirt and sweat pants, and pulled his hair back into a ponytail. He looked so different like this. Patton decided to add the way some strands of Ethan’s hair framed his face to the list of things he was definitely not thinking about this week.

Ethan didn’t look up as from his notes as he walked in.

“Um…hi?”

“Hm…oh, hey.”

“You’re actually studying.”

“Were you expecting something else?”

“Well, no, but…I’m not making you miss anything right? Do you have any exams coming up that you need to be focusing on?”

“Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head about that. I wouldn’t have agreed to come out here if I thought it would interfere with my abilities to pass my classes.”

“Oh. That’s good.”

“Mm.”

“…You’re really very good.”

“Come, now Patton, it’s not nice to lie.”

“I mean, you’re really good, at what you were doing earlier. Everyone loves you.”

“I’m able to read people well enough to then deduce what they expect of me, and behave accordingly when I need to. Not exactly a skill. Most people do it every day.”

“…Okay. Um, do you mind if I just move your notes to the side a bit, so I can sleep on this side? I’m sorry about this whole situation though.” Patton gestured awkwardly to the bed. “I guess it should have occurred to me that we’d have to – but it didn’t, I’m sorry, I hope it’s not too weird.”

“Well, it’s not weird for me at all, but if you’re uncomfortable, those toys in the corner would make an excellent barrier for preserving your modesty.”

“Oh stop.” Patton giggled a little despite himself. “Goodnight. You’ll sleep soon?”

“When I’m tired.”

Patton drifted off quite quickly, Ethan’s solemn, focused face in the corner of his eyes as they closed. Ethan wore different faces around different people. He could be sweet and charming, polite and professional, open and friendly, at the drop of a hat. Still… right before Patton fell asleep, he couldn’t help but think that he preferred his Ethan, sharp and witty and infuriatingly snarky, but at least Patton knew he was real, he wasn’t trying to charm him, or – wait, had he said ‘his’ Ethan? No, nope, Ethan wasn’t his, he meant the Ethan that he got to see, not – this was fake, – Ethan didn’t even like him, and the feeling was mutual.

Sugar cookies. He’d been arguing with Ethan literally this morning. Then he’d kissed him once and seen him be sweet with his mum and his thoughts were starting to go all funny. He really had been single for way too long. Maybe he should look into getting a boyfriend for real when he got back.

Chapter Text

Hi everyone!

I'm really sorry if you were expecting this to be the next chapter of this story, I really had planned to get this all up by Christmas, or at least be the end of the year.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances I have been unable to write properly for the past few weeks and due to academic reasons I will be unable to write for the first few months of the next year, which means this story is going to have to be put on hold for the time being. I'm really really sorry about this, believe me I was having so much fun writing this and I'd like nothing more than to continue, but that doesn't seem to be possible for me right now. 

And given that I decided to specifically start writing a Christmassy story, I doubt I'll be able to continue it in March when the bulk of my exams get over (Maybe December 2020?)

Thank you so much to everyone who has read this and commented on it, I never expected this story to get the positive attention that it did, given that the mere idea of sharing my work typically makes me want to go and hide in a cave forever. Reading all the comments and seeing that quite a few people read and enjoyed this has done wonders for my confidence as a writer, and rest assured, even if this story has to be put to rest for now, I will definitely be writing more the minute my academic schedule loosens up eve just a little bit.

Again, sorry for any disappointment this update may have caused, and thank you very much for all the happy feelings over the past month or so <3 <3 <3