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The Art of Mending

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“You’re not gonna fucking believe this,” Lars says as he bursts into the tiny home office where Kirk spends ten hours a day.

Kirk looks up from the comic page he’s sketching at his desk. “Try me.”

Lars holds an opened letter in his hand, which he promptly unfolds as he stands in front of the desk to read aloud, like he’s a medieval squire reporting to the king. “‘Your presence is requested at the marriage of James Hetfield and Jason Newsted on Sunday, July 5th, 1992.’ RSVP, blah, blah, blah — ”

“Wait, James is getting married?” Kirk says.

“Before us?” Lars frowns and slaps the invitation onto the desk. “That’s fucking bullshit!”

“Why are you surprised we’re not married? You’ve told me multiple times that marriage is for, and I quote, ‘sappy dweebs.’”

“And that’s what you are!”

The news of James’ marriage throws Kirk for somewhat of a loop. James was a close friend back in Kirk’s and Lars’ college days at San Francisco State, though neither of them have heard from James in six years.

Kirk studies the invitation for himself. The text is typed in a fancy serif font, printed on expensive card stock. As an artist, Kirk knows paper.

The invitation lists an address in Fountain Hills, Arizona; Kirk glances at the return address on the envelope to see if it matches. “Apparently, James lives in Arizona now,” Kirk says for Lars’ benefit.

“What’s he doing in the middle of the goddamn desert? And who the fuck is Jason?”

“His fiancé.” Pointing out the obvious usually riles Lars up, which Kirk finds adorable.

“No shit!” Lars paces around the tiny office. “What’s his deal? He thinks he can just send an invitation out of the blue? Like he wasn’t the one who fucked everything up?”

Kirk isn’t sure the blame solely lies at James’ feet. Handling the death of a close friend and romantic partner isn’t the best situation for anyone, much less a bunch of emotionally immature twenty-somethings.

“This might be an olive branch,” Kirk says. “Maybe he wants to apologize.”

Lars ignores Kirk’s attempt at logic. “And how the hell did he find our address?”

“Public records?” Their cozy little home has only been in Kirk’s name for a few years since his comic series Metallica hit the mainstream.

“This is weird. Isn’t this weird to you?”

“Sure, it’s a little unusual, but if you think about it, this is pretty on-brand for James.”

“I don’t like it,” Lars says, pausing by the window and folding his arms over his chest.

Kirk glances at the invitation again. There’s no reason not to attend. He’s almost finished with this current comic issue anyway, and if he pushes himself he can finish the next one before the trip.

Lars gazes out the window, chewing his lower lip in thought. “Y’know James drives for NASCAR now? Number 83. The fucking Snapple car. You believe that shit?”

Kirk vaguely remembers that detail from the last time Lars ranted about it. Kirk wasn’t that surprised; James loved cars, so it only made sense he’d find a way to make a career out of driving them as fast as possible.

Kirk lifts an eyebrow in suggestion. “We should go. It’d be fun.”

“Are you fucking serious?”

“Why not?”

“One, James is a dick. Two, the desert sucks. Three, James is a dick!”

For Lars, the bad times cemented themselves in his theater of memory. But Kirk fondly recalls happy memories of James: midnight movies at the cineplex, smoking pot in his dorm while listening to his extensive record collection, taking him out for dinner and drinks on his birthday every year.

“He wasn’t always a dick,” Kirk says. “He was our friend.”

“Yeah, well, he could’ve reached out at any point in the last six years,” Lars says, still staring out the window.

“Better late than never. We’re going.”

Lars’ glare is sharp enough for a circumcision. “You’re going. I’m staying far away from this clusterfuck.”

If there was an Olympic medal for holding grudges, Lars Ulrich would take home the gold.

“Whatever James said or did, he was grieving. And it was so long ago, man. People change. According to this” — Kirk holds up the invitation — “he’s moved past it.”

“No, it just means he’s rich now, and he wants to rub it in our faces.”

Typical Lars, assuming that pouting and griping will make Kirk bend to his will. Not this time.

“We’re going, Lars.”

“No! You can’t make me!”

“Seriously? How fucking old are you, dude?”

The pouty, defiant scowl on Lars’ mouth makes Kirk want to simultaneously kiss him and strangle him. Over the last few months, the Hammett-Ulrich household has become a war zone of petty recriminations and passive-aggressive silent treatments. Maybe their love hasn’t gone radioactive yet (Lars still unconsciously curls around Kirk while they sleep, and Kirk still does the laundry for both of them), but the Geiger counter is clicking, so to speak.

“You owe me,” Kirk finally says. “You got to stomp your foot and have your way last time. Now it’s my turn. After this, we can call it even, okay?”

Lars’ frown loses its heat, all reproach now. Beneath the bitterness and resentment lies a lingering fondness for his old pal, and with enough digging, he will excavate it. By forcing him along on this trip, Kirk is handing Lars a metaphorical shovel.

Lars sighs and rolls his eyes. His gaze goes back to the window. “Arizona, man? Really?”

“It’s not as flashy as Vegas, but it’s got that desert charm.”

“And the desert heat.”

October 1986

After the death of James’ boyfriend Cliff Burton, the tightly-knit group of friends came apart at the seams. James slunk off into a corner with a bottle of booze. Kirk, awkward and inept at handling other people’s emotions, could have easily shut himself away in his world of comic books and horror movies, but he reached out to Lars, as though seeing the raw desperation in his eyes.

Kirk invited Lars to his apartment to watch movies and share pizza, and eventually they shifted from friends to the kind of friends who kissed and gave each other handjobs. For Lars, that was a dream come true. He’d been lusting after Kirk for years, convinced Kirk was too straight and out of his league to ever consider Lars as a potential romantic partner.

James, fermenting in his own misery, didn’t appreciate this blossoming romance after his own had met a tragic end. On Halloween night, he showed up at Lars’ door while Kirk was out picking up dinner. James reeked of whisky, shoving past Lars to step inside the living room.

“You and Kirk, huh? How long’s that been going on?” James grumbled.

Lars figured lying was out at this point. “A — a couple weeks, I guess.”

A dark chuckle passed through James’ lips. “So Cliff dies, and you two decide it’s time to bone down?”

English wasn’t Lars’ native language, but ‘bone down’ still struck him as grotesque. “It wasn’t like that —”

“You two sure came out of this smelling like roses.”

“It’s been hard for us too,” Lars said, immediately aware it was the wrong thing to say.

“No!” James stabbed a finger into Lars’ chest. “Don’t you even fucking dare! The only thing that’s been hard for you is your dick!”

Lars nodded begrudgingly, changing tack. “You’re right. I don’t know what you’re going through. But me and Kirk... that’s got nothing to do with you, man.”

James scoffed, and Lars could smell the booze on his breath. “Yeah, well, it’s got everything to do with Cliff. If he was still here, you two would be on opposite ends of the fucking earth.”

Lars wasn’t sure that was true — he and Kirk were close enough friends before Cliff’s accident — but James felt that it was.

“It’s like you’re complicit,” James continued, “or maybe co-conspirators.” He threw his arms wide in a ‘what gives’ gesture. “I’m just sayin’. Kirk gave him the ticket.”

The words hit Lars like an open palm. Kirk had given Cliff a ticket to the Motörhead show in Oakland when Kirk was no longer able to attend. On his way back from the concert, Cliff had been killed in a car accident.

For James to blame Kirk for such an atrocious accident made hot tears push at Lars’ eyes.

“I mean, why couldn’t you have gone to that show, man?” James continued. “Did it really have to be Cliff?”

“You fucking asshole! I know you’re grieving, but you do not get to put this shit on Kirk or me or anybody. It was a fucking accident!”

Lars didn’t think it was his place to reveal Kirk’s pain or the fact that Kirk felt just as complicit in Cliff’s death as James presumed him to be.

“It should’ve been me,” Kirk often whimpered into Lars’ hair in the still of the night, and Lars’ heart broke anew every time.

“You’re just pissed off that we aren’t broken!” Lars kept going, unloading on James. “If James isn’t happy, no one else can be, right? Why aren’t you bitching at Dave like this? He’s probably screwing groupies right now, having the time of his life. Is it just because I’m here and I’m an easy target?”

Dave Mustaine was the fifth member of their college social circle, though in recent years he’d gone on to form the metal band Megadeth, and had little to do with Kirk, Lars, James, and Cliff since.

“It’s ‘cause you two assholes abandoned me!” James said. “I always knew Dave would leave, but you?”

“You shit on everyone who reached out to you! We thought you needed space!” Lars said. “But we’re still here, man. Just reach out.”

Rather than reach out, James plunged further into booze and perfecting the art of not moving on. In the meantime, Kirk sold his comic series to up-and-coming studio Dark Horse, and life got busy for Kirk and Lars. By the time they checked up on James, his phone number had been disconnected, his apartment cleared out.

Years later, when Lars caught sight of a J. Hetfield in the lead during the Winston 500 (Lars did not give a tin shit about stock car racing, but the race was playing overhead while he ate chicken wings in a sports bar), he’d been stunned to see it was indeed his long lost friend.

So Lars left it at that. James was rich and famous and didn’t need him anymore. Just like Dave. Fuck ‘em all. He only need Kirk, anyway.

There’s a lump in Kirk’s throat as he dials the RSVP number on the invitation. He doesn’t remember his last talk with James, but it was probably something sad and unremarkable, a rejected invitation to lunch or a movie. There was no finality, no angry tirade that signaled the end.

James’ voice on the other end comes as a surprise. Kirk figured James would have people for the tedious business of answering phones.

“James? It’s Kirk. Kirk Hammett.”

“Holy fucking shit!” James says with a warm laugh. “I really didn’t expect you to call, man. How the fuck have you been?”

“Good, good. Congrats on getting hitched, by the way.”

“We ain’t married yet. Kinda already feels like it, though. How are you and Lars doing?”

“Still going strong.” Were they?

“Is he — you guys are coming, right?”

“Of course! We wouldn’t miss it.”

James exhales in a way that might be relief. “Great. I can’t wait to see you fuckers again. If you need a place to stay, you can crash with me. I’ve got two guest rooms and free HBO.”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Kirk says.

“No way, man. We’re family. Or at least we used to be.” Tenderness touches James’ voice for a moment, then he clears his throat. “The least I can do is let you stay at my fuckin’ house for the weekend, right?”

Hearing James’ voice again after all these years feels like a warm hug, and Kirk hadn’t realized how much he missed James until now.

“Sounds good to me,” Kirk says. “I can’t wait to see you again, and to meet Jason. Is he cool? I bet he’s cool.”

“He’s the fucking best. Cliff would’a liked him,” James says.

“Then I’ll probably like him too.”

Thursday, July 2nd, 1992

The morning of their drive to Arizona, Lars awakens to the smell of pancakes, courtesy of Kirk. Usually Kirk sleeps in (the perks of setting his own hours), and breakfast isn’t much of an affair.

This morning’s breakfast, then, is for Lars’ benefit. An attempt at amicability, of smoothing over Kirk’s insistence that Lars attend the wedding.

Kirk was right, though. Lars does owe him. This little weekend jaunt to Arizona is small beans compared to the five-day trip to Denmark that Lars strong-armed Kirk into earlier this year.

Stop being a brat. He loves you, despite all your constant bullshit.

Lars sighs and forces himself out of bed.

Over breakfast, Lars spreads lingonberry jam over his pancakes and asks, “So what’s the plan?”

“It’s a long drive,” Kirk says, “so I thought we’d stay at a motel after eight hours and get to James’ place tomorrow afternoon. He offered us a room, and I said we’ll take it.”

“Who the fuck does he think he is? The Great Gatsby? ‘Lars, old sport, you must spend the weekend at my summer home.’”

Kirk snorts; Lars loves that he can still get a laugh.

“He didn’t call me ‘old sport’,” Kirk says, “but it was very Gatsby-esque.”

“I don’t wanna owe him anything,” says Lars. “We stay at his house, and we’re in his debt.”

“If James is doing what I think he’s doing, I doubt he sees it that way anymore.”

“What do you think James is doing?”

“Making amends.” Kirk drizzles maple syrup onto his pancakes. “James loved his booze, right? I figure he hit rock bottom and started going to AA to turn his life around. Maybe that’s where he met this Jason guy. One of the steps in AA is making amends to the people you hurt.”

It makes a great deal of sense, though Lars can’t imagine James willfully going to therapy or anything resembling it. At least not the James Hetfield that Lars used to know. Six years have passed, and neither Lars nor Kirk are the same people they were at twenty-three. The same could be true for James as well.

A silence passes between them that would have been comfortable six months ago, but now feels stale and loaded with unspoken resentments.

Or maybe Lars is just paranoid. In the beginning, he was so grateful to be with Kirk that he buried his argumentative, selfish behavior, but like a zombie in one of Kirk’s favorite horror films, Lars’ true nature eventually rose from the grave to munch on the brains of his relationship.

“I’m not bringing my art supplies,” Kirk says.

“Good to know I’m the only one who’s nervous, then,” Lars says.

In college, Kirk always had a sketchbook with him, wielded like a shield against his anxiety during parties and social gatherings. Kirk and Lars only ever shared one class together — Art Appreciation — and he often glimpsed Kirk doodling in the margins of his notes.

Drawing was just something Kirk did to channel his nervous energy; Lars’ preferred method was jackhammering his leg, often to the disdain of James and Dave, both of whom would punch or slap his thigh to make him stop.

“No, I mean, I’m nervous as hell, I just — ” Kirk tries again. “I don’t want to give myself an easy escape. I did that in Denmark, and it was wrong.”

On their trip to Denmark, they lodged with Lars’ parents. Kirk drew constantly, because no two people on earth made Kirk more nervous than Lars’ parents. And maybe it was a passive-aggressive tactic for Kirk to show Lars that he didn’t want to be there.

“So are you, like, apologizing?” Lars asks, although Kirk shouldn’t have to apologize for anything.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Kirk backs off his plate and straightens up. “I think this trip will be good for us. Reconnecting with James, talking about the good old days, seeing him and Jason in love. I don’t know... maybe it’ll bring the spark back for us, y’know?”

Lars drops his fork against the plate with a loud clang. “You think the spark is gone? Are you — do you not... love me anymore?”

“That’s not — Of course I still — I guess ‘spark’ was the wrong word.”

“Words are your thing! You’re the fucking writer!”

“I write comic books, not romance novels! Cut me a break. I just meant — when was the last time we had sex and actually meant it?”

Months, probably. So Kirk has a point.

“I want us to be good again,” Kirk says softly, like he’s ashamed of saying this much.

“Alright,” Lars says as a lump rises in his throat. “Yeah. Okay.”

A little while later, they’re on the road, Kirk’s car loaded with a full tank of gas and blasting Soundgarden over the stereo.

Lars watches Kirk drive from the corner of his eye. Kirk’s hair flutters in the breeze, dark piles of curls flying behind him as the highway races by. His long lashes flutter over dark brown eyes, but it’s his full, sultry lips that’ve turned Lars to putty in Kirk’s hands since day one.

(”Maybe it’ll bring the spark back for us, y’know?”)

The spark might be gone for Kirk (no matter how he tries to deny it), but it’s still burning in Lars. Kirk has aged like fine wine, and Lars can’t imagine not being attracted to him. It’s a universal constant, like gravity, or getting stuck behind someone with a full cart in the ten-items-or-less lane at the supermarket.

How did Lars get so goddamn lucky?

He looks through the tapes in the car’s console. There are the usual suspects — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Slayer, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden — but a Megadeth tape makes Lars pause.

While Dave Mustaine isn’t as ubiquitously famous as Prince or Mick Jagger, he’s heavy metal royalty nonetheless, and Lars always feels weird when he sees a Megadeth video on MTV’s Headbangers Ball.

Because Lars used to know him. They used to talk over beers and watch movies together and go to late-night pizza joints with the rest of the guys. And now Dave is too good for him, for all of them.

Lars turns the music down. “You think James invited Dave?”

“Good question. If James is making amends, then yeah, he probably did. Whether Dave will actually show up is a whole ‘nother question.” Kirk lets an arm hang out the window, his slender, skilled fingers cutting through the breeze. “You know Dave hates me, right?”

Lars does not know that, and the thought of someone genuinely hating Kirk just doesn’t compute. “What the fuck? Why?”

“He claims I stole some of his ideas in my comic. But the way he presented his ideas was like… you know how we spitball storylines?”

Occasionally Kirk and Lars will talk out some of Kirk’s ideas and brainstorm solutions to story conundrums. It’s always casual and low stakes, no idea too stupid or nonsensical to voice.

“It was like that,” Kirk says. “He didn’t present it like he wanted to do something with those ideas himself.”

“I’m sure that’ll hold up in court,” Lars says.

“If he ever sues me. Now he’s rich enough to afford a good lawyer. He could wipe me out if he wanted.”

“What a dick move. ‘I could totally sue you for all you’re worth, but you’re so insignificant to me that I won’t even bother.’”

“He did talk shit in one of those metal magazines,” says Kirk. “Something about how I stole his storyline for a concept album.”

Lars holds up the cassette case for Rust In Peace. “And you bought his music?”

Kirk shrugs. “Just ‘cause he wants to be petty doesn’t mean I have to be.”

“Admirable, but being petty is more fun.”

“And how’s that working out for you?”

Lars pouts, watching the city breeze by outside his window.

September 1982

“God damn it!” Lars threw the queen of spades down onto the table. “You fuckers stuck me with the bitch again!”

James, Cliff, and Dave laughed in mutual appreciation of Lars’ misfortune. Kirk, smiling shyly as he raked in his winnings of salted cashews, said, “Nothing personal, Lars. Really.”

“You just kinda suck at Hearts,” James added.

They sat in Kirk’s dorm room, gathered around a circular table much too small to comfortably seat five. On the radio, a Billy Idol song played on. Cliff had lit up a joint, the skunky scent of weed filling the room, even with the window open to draw out the smoke.

“The game’s rigged anyway,” Lars grumbled.

Cliff shuffled the cards to deal again. “You weren’t saying that last night when you won.”

“I’ve reevaluated my opinion.”

Kirk slid a cashew to Lars in an effort of reconciliation. “We can share the spoils.”

Dave snorted. “Of course you’d offer Lars your nuts, Kirk.”

That got a laugh from the room, and Lars hoped his face wasn’t as red as it felt. Could Dave see hints of Lars’ crush on Kirk? Could Kirk? What if Kirk was well aware but chose not to say anything, preferring to maintain a friendship rather than make things awkward with clumsy rejections?

Dave polished off his beer and tossed the empty container into the collection of aluminum cans already piled in the trash.

Kirk tied up the trash bag. “Shit. I need to throw this out.” Anything to avoid a disciplinary write up for contraband.

Kirk took the bag of empty beer cans and left the room, presumably going off to dump it in the campus’ communal garbage bin.

When Kirk was gone, Dave surveyed the room and scoffed, cracking open another beer. “Just between us, he’s gay, right? I mean, look at him.”

Looking at Kirk was all Lars ever seemed to do lately. Blood filled his cheeks.

“Why do you ask? Looking for a date, Dave?” Cliff said with a smirk.

“Fuck you,” Dave said.

“Who cares, man?” James said. “If Kirk’s gay, he’s not asking you out.”

“Yeah, I can see why you’re not worried about getting hit on,” Dave said with a righteous sneer, referring to the acne spots on James’ cheek. Surreptitiously, James’s fingers went to his cheek, as if to hide the spots. “I’m just saying, one out of every five is a bone-smoker, right?”

“I’m not sure that’s a real statistic,” Cliff said.

“You know how many queers I get offering blowjobs for my product?” Dave said. “One in five is an understatement!” As the group’s pot dealer, Dave probably sold marijuana to every smoker on campus.

Even Lars knew arguing against Dave’s homophobia wasn’t the smart move, but he couldn’t resist needling Dave just a bit. “Maybe they wouldn’t offer if you weren’t such a pretty boy.”

Dave scowled. If there was something he hated more than ‘bone-smokers,’ it was becoming the butt of a joke, even a good-natured one. “You’re one to fucking talk, Lars! How many dicks have you sucked since you came to America?”

“Just your mom’s.”

Anyone else at the table would have laughed it off with a friendly “fuck you” — even James, whose mother passed away when he was in high school, would have taken the barb in good humor. But good humor was not one of Dave Mustaine’s notable traits, especially not when he was under the influence of alcohol.

Dave got up and promptly poured his beer over Lars’ head. Lars flailed, kicking backwards in his chair, sending both himself and the chair toppling to the ground.

“Dave, what the fuck?” James shot out of his chair, ready to intervene if necessary.

“Not fucking cool, man,” Cliff warned, but he made no move to stop them.

Ignoring the protests, Dave stood over Lars and poured another trickle of beer onto his face. “Bet you’re used to this, huh? Getting something wet splashed on your face?”

“Be specific, you dick,” Lars said, leaning back on his elbows and slinging beer suds out of his face. “Are you implying I have a piss kink or that I take loads to the face?”

“Why not both? You Danes are into some weird shit, right?”

Kirk swung open the door and stared in disbelief at the scene: a wet Lars and the chair lying on the floor with Dave standing over him. “What the fuck happened? I was gone for, like, two minutes!”

They spend the night in a cheap motel across the Arizona state line. Neither of them wants to keep driving and arrive at James’ house tired and grumpy. Kirk watches a cheesy horror movie on the motel TV while Lars showers. The night is serene, the room blissfully cool on a hot summer night, and it springs to mind memories of their last successful vacation.

It was two years ago for Lars’ birthday. They went to Vegas, financed on the back of Kirk’s success with Metallica. They spent New Year’s there, and Kirk considered asking Lars to marry him, mostly as a joke, because spur of the moment marriages are basically Las Vegas souvenirs. But it felt too soon, and Lars wasn’t exactly friendly to the idea.

“Can you imagine us married?” Lars joked once while they leaned on the hotel balcony railing.

“We’re already sort of married,” Kirk said, treading carefully.

“Yeah, but not, like, in a gay way.”

“I hate to break this to you, but you’re dating a dude. You’re a little gay.” Kirk didn’t point out that Lars frequently sucked him off and took it in the ass. Seemed like overkill.

Lars just rolled his eyes and stole Kirk’s champagne glass, insisting “you know what I mean.” Kirk supposed he did.

A little while later, Lars joins Kirk on the bed, snuggling close and watching the flick with him. “Are you still nervous about tomorrow?” Lars wonders during a commercial break.

Kirk shrugs the shoulder on which Lars isn’t resting his head. “Yeah, but not in a bad way, though. Are you?”

Lars twirls a strand of Kirk’s hair around his finger. “James doesn’t like me.”

“What? That’s crap. If James didn’t want you there, he wouldn’t have put your name on the invitation. And Jason doesn’t even know you.”

“James could have told him about me. The bad stuff, at least.”

“You think this is some kind of Carrie situation? James invites his ex-friends to a reunion just to dump pig’s blood on them?” Kirk chuckles. “We’re all almost thirty now. That’s immature teenage shit. I’ll bet you this whole thing ends with James apologizing for being shitty back in the day.”

Lars doesn’t answer, but he seems a little calmer, starting to drowse. Kirk switches off the TV and fumbles with the clock radio. He finds a smooth jazz station (“elevator music” he likes to call it, just to irritate Lars) and leaves it on. Music helps Lars sleep when he’s stressed.

Lying in this strange, dark room in the middle of nowhere, Kirk is gripped by an awareness that moments like this are fleeting. At some point in the future, he will think back to this moment and yearn to relive it, just as he’s done with some of his college memories.

The good old days never feel that way until they’re in the rearview.

They grab a quick breakfast in the morning, then Kirk stops at a gas station to fill up. By the time Kirk gets back inside the car with a bag of snacks and a Crystal Pepsi, Lars is breathing shakily, his eyelashes fluttering as he blinks back tears.

“I can’t do it,” Lars croaks.

“Do what?”

“I can’t see James again. Not when he hates me. And if Dave is there too — ”

Kirk leans across the seat, laying a hand on Lars’ arm. “Hey. Nobody hates you, man.”

“James blames us for what happened to Cliff!” Lars snaps, like he’s been holding that in for decades. “He blames you for giving him the ticket, and me for — for dating you afterwards. Like we betrayed him or something. He called us co-conspirators, and he said it should have been us instead.”

Kirk heard that kind of vitriol from James before, but he was able to compartmentalize it as James’ way of grieving, even when James wielded his anger like a righteous, flaming sword.

Underneath the bravado, Lars is delicate, sensitive beyond belief.

“I feel guilty over Cliff every day,” Kirk says, “but guilt won’t bring him back. It was an accident. James was heartbroken, man. That doesn’t justify what he said, but he was in pain and lashing out. And probably drunk.”

Lars sniffles. “Drunk words, sober feelings, though, right?”

“Maybe he meant it at the time, but if James still hated us, he wouldn’t have invited us to his wedding. I think he wants to apologize. Actually, I’m pretty sure of it.”

“What about Dave? If I have to hear him call us fags one more fucking time, I’m knocking his teeth out. Hand to fucking God.”

“He may not come. Maybe the band is busy touring or something.” Kirk watches Lars’ face for any signs that he’s getting through. “Look, if things get bad and you don’t want to be there anymore, just say the word. We’ll skip town and go to Roswell or something.” Kirk smiles, hoping it might bring one to Lars, too.

A twitch of a smile. Good.

“You shouldn’t have to do that for me,” Lars murmurs.

“I’m happy to do it. Everything’s gonna be fine. I got you. And I got you snacks.” Kirk places the bag in Lars’ lap.

Lars rummages through the bags of Doritos and barbeque-flavored chips, finally finding the treasure trove of P.B. Crisps. “Fuck yes. You’re the best,” he says, tearing into the package.

When all else fails, there are three things about Lars that Kirk can depend on: Lars will talk for hours about his favorite bands if given the opportunity; he will always air-drum to the iconic drum break of “In the Air Tonight”; and he can eat an entire bag of P.B. Crisps in about seven minutes.

James’ house is tucked away in the mountains and mesas. As Kirk drives up the path, he finds himself gaping at the expansive multi-story home. It looks more like a sculpture than a house, square and contemporary, reminiscent of the Spanish Pueblo style. The sheer size of the estate is emphasized by how far apart the neighbors are from the house.

“God damn,” Kirk murmurs. “Racing must make him some serious coin.”

“Maybe Jason’s the breadwinner,” Lars points out.

“Or both.”

Kirk notices there are no cars in the driveway. “Looks like we’re the first ones here. Or the only ones he invited.”

Lars exhales in relief.

They park the car and unload their luggage, just one duffel bag each. They walk up the neatly tiled walkway and ring the doorbell. A stranger answers, looking shy and happy to see them. He doesn’t bear an uncanny resemblance to Cliff, but Kirk definitely sees the benchmarks of James’ type: long reddish-brown hair, a square jaw, and stormy eyes.

“You must be Jason,” Kirk says to break the ice. “I’m Kirk. This is Lars. It’s nice to meet you.”

A boyish grin spreads across Jason’s face. “Kirk! I love your comics, man! And Lars! God, James has told me all about you; I feel like I know you guys already!”

Jason leads them inside the massive home. While the exterior is all Southwestern, the interior has a ritzy hotel lounge feel. Lots of golden hues everywhere, from the hardwood floors to the columns and the high coffered ceiling. Gold accents and warm tones give off the impression of royalty. A handful of mounted deer heads overlook the room, probably bucks that James bagged while hunting with his new racing buddies.

“James told you about us?” Lars asks, wary.

“Oh yeah, he’s got tons of stories about all the crazy shit you did in college.”

James’ voice comes from the top of the staircase. “Klars! Good to see you fuckers again!”

Klars. That was James’ snide nickname for the two of them, as though they became a singular unit through dating. It’s weird to hear the name spoken with fondness rather than contempt.

Physically, James is a new man. His lion’s mane of golden hair has been cut short. He’s grown a trucker mustache, the ends reaching down the sides of his face and along his jawline. His grin is familiar, though, and Kirk is confronted with how much he’s really missed James.

“How the hell have you been?” James asks, clutching Kirk’s hand in a firm shake, then Lars’.

“You tracked us down,” Lars says. “You should know.”

“Yeah, you’re right, I did a little bit of snooping,” James says, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Couldn’t help myself. Glad to see you’re still together.”

Are you?” Lars says like he’s searching for a fight.

Kirk lays a hand on the small of Lars’ back, trying to soothe Lars’ urge to gnash his teeth at James. “How long have you and Jason been together?”

“About a year,” James says. “It’s a whole story. Sit down and I’ll tell it.”

Lars and Kirk sit at the oval-shaped dining table, and James joins them.

“You guys want a drink?” Jason offers. “We got water, cola, and sweet tea.”

“No booze?” asks Lars.

A look of reproach crosses Jason’s face. “We, uh, well, I’ll let James explain.”

James says, “I don’t drink anymore. And I don’t keep any in the house.”

So James is in a recovery program. Kirk shoots Lars a subtle ‘told you’ look.

“This is a dry fucking wedding?” Lars moans.

“If I printed that on the invitation, would you have come?” James asks almost rhetorically.

Lars shrugs and sits back in his chair, folding his arms across his middle. “Well, yeah, probably. Who can say no to a recovering alcoholic? Did you meet Jason in AA?”

Jason joins them at the table, and James says, “I don’t know if you guys’re into NASCAR, but I started racing in ‘88. Last year, I had a pretty bad wreck at the Winston 500. Fucked up my arm and my leg. When I went to physical therapy, this guy”— James jerks a thumb at Jason — “was in there for a bum shoulder.”

“I was working on a nearby farm. I tried to stop a piece of equipment from falling off the barn loft,” Jason explains.

“So we got to talking, and I liked him right away,” James says. “He’s a straightforward guy, says what he means, and we like the same music.”

“Total marriage material,” Kirk agrees vehemently.

Jason smiles warily, like he isn’t sure if that’s sarcasm.

“So we hit it off, and he convinced me to get help for all my shit. Y’know, the drinking, the anger issues…” James looks guiltily at Kirk and Lars.

“I thought it would be good for James to see his old friends and try to mend fences,” Jason says.

“It was your comics, Kirk,” James says. “Can you fucking believe that?”

Jason tells them, “I was in a comic book shop, and I saw your series. It looked cool, so I picked up the first collection — issues 1 through 10, y’know the cool hardcover one?”

Kirk grins. “Hell yeah! You still have it? I’ll sign it for you before we leave.”

Jason’s eyes widen. “Seriously? That would be awesome!”

Lars clears his throat.

Jason says, “Right, so, yeah, I bought that, and I was reading it in bed one night. James saw your name on the cover and said ‘I used to know that fuckin’ guy!’ So we talked about you and James’ college days. When he said he hadn’t talked to any of you in six years, I thought that was kind of fucked, y’know? And with us getting married, I thought it was a great time to bring the gang back together,” says Jason.

“Who else did you invite?” Lars asks.

“Just you and Dave,” says James.

“You invited Dave to a gay wedding?”

James laughs, the deep belly laugh Kirk remembers from the good days. “Fuck yeah I did. He ain’t gonna show, man. Dude’s so deep in the closet he’s in fucking Narnia.”

“Is he?”

“With the way he called us all fags, I’m sure he was hiding something,” James says with a grim look. “That was my M.O. for a while too. Before Cliff. And even afterwards….” He sighs, downcast, then looks at Kirk and Lars in silent reproach.

Kirk isn’t going to push James for an elaborate apology for the sake of his own ego. He’s long ago forgiven James anyway.

Lars isn’t convinced. He pouts, arms still folded in aggression, giving no quarter. He’ll soften up by the end of the weekend.

Apparently unable to tolerate a silent moment, Jason asks, “You guys wanna see your room?”

He leads them upstairs to one of the guest rooms so they can drop off their bags. The room is quaint with soft yellow walls, olive green drapes, and a cozy-looking bed. Double doors lead to a small porch overlooking the massive backyard, where the rectangular swimming pool and a grilling area reside. There’s even a connecting bathroom.

Kirk whistles, impressed. The last time he stayed in a house this nice was with Lars’ parents in Denmark. “I hope you’ve got thick walls,” he tells James while pointing to Lars. “He gets loud.”

Lars goes red and elbows Kirk in the ribs. “Shut up!”

“Don’t worry. So does he,” James says with a grin, indicating Jason with his thumb.

“Oh God,” Jason mumbles, covering his face with his hands.

“Jase, tell ‘em about your paintings,” James says.

Still flushing pink, Jason says, “Oh, uh, well, that’s one of mine.” He points to a painting mounted above the headboard; the depicted cityscape is colorful and creative, like something out of Blade Runner. “It’s just a hobby I took up while I was in therapy.”

James scoffs. “‘Just a hobby.’ Bullshit. He sold a piece to some fuckin’ fancy New York City gallery last month.”

“You did?” Lars lights up now, the way Kirk does when someone mentions an obscure horror movie. “How long have you been painting?”

Jason rubs the back of his neck under his hair. “A couple years, I guess. I used to do it a lot in school, but I kinda stopped for a while.”

“They’re really good,” Lars says, and Kirk can tell he isn’t just being polite. “Was that your first sale?”

“No, I’ve sold a couple other ones over the last few years.”

“You got anymore around here?”

“There are a few. You wanna see?”

Jason takes Lars through the house to see the rest of the paintings. Kirk’s glad to see him warming up to Jason, and maybe to the entire experience altogether.

Still lingering in the bedroom, James asks, “Things going okay for you?”

“Oh. Yeah. Great. Metallica’s doing awesome. I think I’m on book four now. Have you read any of them?”

“Yeah, Jason showed me the first one. ‘Kill ‘Em All’ was pretty fuckin’ kickass — that two-page spread of all the monsters gettin’ shot up. It’s cool how each story arc is laid out like an album.”

Metallica centers around a fictional metal band who moonlight as hunters of supernatural creatures. And, no, Kirk absolutely did not base the characters around himself, Lars, James, or Cliff. According to the legal blurb on the inside cover of each issue, any similarities to any persons living or dead are entirely coincidental.

“Thanks…” Kirk still isn’t sure how to take a compliment from James, who always seemed slightly more than the others.

“You do the whole thing yourself?”

“Except for the inks and color, yeah. Story and pencils are all me.” While Kirk would prefer to handle all the artistic elements himself, he’ll never meet his deadlines if he doesn’t delegate other parts of the process to different artists.

“Man, it’s surreal, isn’t it? The three of us together again.”

Kirk could point out that this reunion didn’t need to wait six years, that James could have picked up a phone and wished Kirk a merry Christmas or New Years or anything. But James clearly had some interpersonal issues he needed to work on before any salvaging of friendships could be done.

“Better late than never,” is what comes out, and Kirk wonders if Lars’ snark is rubbing off on him. “I mean, y’know, I’m glad you invited us.” He glances out the window at nothing in particular. “You really don’t think Dave will show?”

“He didn’t RSVP.”

“Calling ahead was never really his style,” Kirk says.

“He’s a famous fucking rock star now. Why would he waste his time with us? No offense.”

“To gloat?”

James considers this. “On any other occasion, I’d buy that.”

“Did you even want to invite him?”

“Sure I did. It’s called extending a fucking olive branch. If he won’t take it, that’s on him, but he can never say I didn’t try.”

If James had been this level-headed all those years ago, would the group have split apart?

Except only some of the group had split, though…

(”He blames you for giving him the tickets, and me for — for dating you afterwards. Like we betrayed him or something. He called us co-conspirators.”)

And now Kirk understands how James might have seen it that way. While the rest of the group broke apart, Kirk and Lars became a unit, growing stronger in the broken places.

“Is that what you did with us?” Kirk asks. “Extend an olive branch?”

“I guess so. I got a lot to make up for,” James says sheepishly, not looking at Kirk.

Kirk almost stops him there, because James doesn’t need to rake himself over the coals. But maybe it’s not about Kirk at all. Maybe James needs to air this out for his own sake.

Before James can say any more, though, Jason and Lars return to the room. “You guys eat yet?” Jason asks. “I can make dinner.”

James’ expression brightens, as though he’s grateful for the interruption. “Jase is great in the kitchen,” he tells Kirk and Lars.

“I bet that’s not the only room he’s good in, right, James?” Kirk teases, offering a hand to Lars for a congratulatory high-five, which Lars is more than happy to give. A playful little routine from their college days, though back then they’d teased Cliff and James.

James laughs, remembering the bit. Jason chuckles nervously, seeming unsure if he’s supposed to be in on the joke.

Sensing this, James throws an arm around Jason’s shoulders. “Relax, babe, that means they like you.”

In the kitchen, Jason heats up a mushroom risotto in the pressure cooker. As he stirs the contents of the pot, James, Kirk, and Lars sit at the dining room table.

The kitchen is cozy with dark wood furnishings and marble countertops. The dining table easily seats six, with three more seats at the kitchen island, and Lars wonders if James regularly entertains here. If he does, who are his new friends?

“Kirk, you don’t eat meat, right?” Jason asks, working over the stovetop.

Kirk slaps a hand over Lars’ mouth before Lars can make a sex joke. A good call, as Lars had one locked and loaded. “That’s right. Did James tell you that?”

“He filled me in on all you guys, but obviously things could have changed,” says Jason.

Lars licks Kirk’s palm, forcing Kirk to draw his hand away. “Gross,” Kirk mumbles, wiping his palm on his jeans.

“I don’t hear you complaining about my tongue when I suck you off,” Lars says.

Kirk goes red. “Jesus Christ, Lars, I can’t take you anywhere!”

“Hey, this is payback for telling them I’m loud in bed.”

“See, if you’d’ve just waited ‘til tonight,” James says to Kirk, “he would’ve told us himself.”

A fair point, but Lars isn’t going to give that to James. Kirk and Lars haven’t had meaningful sex in months; why would they start now, in someone else’s house, no less?

Kirk and James trade amused smirks, like they’re friends again, all past transgressions forgotten, and Lars is nettled all over. Not that he doesn’t want the open wounds of the past sewn up, but it feels too soon, a victory too easily won. James pushed them all away multiple times, just fucking dumped them like they were nothing, five years of friendship tossed into the garbage, so Lars isn’t going to let James step in and reclaim it all so easily.

“I hope you have some meat somewhere, for Dave’s sake,” Kirk says. “If he shows up, he’ll be insulted that he has to eat ‘rabbit food.’” Dave used to tease Kirk mercilessly about his ‘sissy’ vegetarian diet, so this concern is justified.

“Dave Mustaine has better shit to do than go slumming at a gay wedding with his old college pals,” James says. “I bet you fifty bucks he won’t show.”

“Stop saying that,” Lars groans. “He’ll show up just to spite you.”

Kirk laughs sweetly. “He’s not the fucking Candyman. Saying his name three times won’t summon him out of a mirror.”

James and Jason chant, “Dave Mustaine, Dave Mustaine, Dave Mustaine,” in unison, apparently using their couple’s telepathy to annoy the shit out of Lars.

Lars folds his arms over his chest. “You fuckers are so immature.”

“You’re one to talk,” Kirk says with love.

“Well, don’t worry. I’ve got plenty of ground beef in the freezer if he does show up,” says Jason, adding chopped onion and minced garlic to the pot. “I’m actually kind of excited to meet him. I love Megadeth.”

“Yeah, well, you know what they say: never meet your heroes,” says Lars.

When the risotto is done, they all sit down to eat. Kirk, probably just being polite, raves over Jason’s cooking. “This is great,” he says, scooping up another bite. “If painting doesn’t work out, you have another career path, at least.”

Jason chuckles. “No way, man. I used to work in kitchens. I can’t stand taking orders from anybody.”

“Living with James must be difficult, then,” Lars says.

“Aw, c’mon, I’m not that bad,” James says, looking to Jason for support.

“He’s very opinionated about grilling,” Jason informs them, “but otherwise he stays out of my way when I cook.”

“Jason, where’d you learn your recipes?” Kirk asks.

“I grew up on a farm,” Jason explains. “We raised lots of animals, and we had plenty of vegetables. Mushrooms, potatoes, even cornlettes. Picking those by hand was my job every weekend.”

“What the fuck are cornlettes?” Lars asks.

“Little baby corn cobs,” Jason says.

In a stage whisper, Kirk says, “Children of the corn.”

“Oh, those things.” Lars has only ever seen tiny corn cobs in his stir-fry when he orders takeout. “I like to hold them and pretend I’m a giant.”

“What the fuck else are you supposed to do with ‘em?” Jason says good-naturedly. “But, yeah, since we had our own crops and cooked our own food, I learned pretty quick.”

“You don’t have a garden around here, do you?” Kirk asks.

“No, I haven’t had time to plant one,” says Jason, almost ruefully.

“Can you even grow anything in the desert?” Lars wonders.

“Sure. Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, melons... Even pomegranate trees will grow around here.”

“He’s the fucking Rain Man of vegetables,” James says with a laugh. “It’s all he would talk about in P.T. until I wore an Aerosmith shirt one day, then we got talking about music.”

“At least he’s got good taste in something,” Lars says.

Things wind down for the evening as Jason and James set up camp in the living room to watch the Giants game on the 27-inch big screen. Kirk and Lars join them, snacking on pretzels and potato chips, and it almost feels like old times again.

During the fifth inning, Lars puts his mouth to Kirk’s ear and murmurs, “Give me your key.”


“I need a fucking drink,” Lars says softly, so he won’t be overheard.

“You’re going out?”

“It’s not like there’s any fuckin’ booze here, is there?”

Kirk stands up. “I’ll come with you.”

Lars turns, his face scrunched in confusion. “Seriously?”

“Do you — do you just want to be alone for a while?”

Lars thinks this over. “No... You really wanna come?”

“Somebody’s got to be the designated driver, right?”

Lars opens his mouth to protest, then, remembering Cliff’s accident, nods and says, “I probably would’ve gotten lost anyway.”

“Going out for a quickie?” James teases as Kirk and Lars head for the foyer.

Lars just flips him off.

Kirk drives them into the city, where Lars procures a bottle of bourbon. They park in the cul-de-sac leading to James’ driveway so they can watch the stars sparkling over the mountains.

Kirk turns off the engine, leaving the stereo running. “It’s a nice night,” he says, getting out of the car and climbing onto the hood.

“It’s a cold night,” Lars grumbles.

“Then you’ll just have to cuddle for warmth.”

The hood is still warm from the engine, heating Lars’ ass and the backs of his legs. They lie there, backs against the windshield, and Lars cracks open the bottle. The liquor is smooth and sweet on his tongue, a much needed panacea for the day’s events.

Before them, the night sky is a dark void of stars and the inky shapes of mountains. Pinpricks of light twinkle in the distance, probably faraway porch lights and streetlamps.

“You believe any of that shit?” Lars asks.

“You’ll have to be a bit more specific,” says Kirk.

“The shit about James going sober and flying straight.” Lars takes a long drink then offers the bottle to Kirk.

Kirk accepts, perhaps giving himself more time to formulate an answer. “I believe that he believes it.”

“How diplomatic,” Lars says with an amused huff. “I’m serious. What do you think?”

Kirk takes another drink before handing the bottle back. He tucks an arm behind his head. “Well, I don’t think he’s lying. I think he had a lot of time to sit around and take stock after his injuries. And, I don’t know, maybe falling in love with Jason made him want to be a better man.”

Lars snorts a laugh. “Wow. Did you and Jason harvest corn together? Because that was corny as fuck.”

“Don’t hurt yourself reaching for that one,” says Kirk with a warm smile.

It’s the kind of smile Lars remembers from their early courtship, when every touch was electric and palpable. For Lars, it still is, but Kirk’s comment about losing the spark digs under his skin like a scalpel.

Lars takes another drink, a long one, until his throat burns and his eyes water. The question is a lead weight on his tongue — do you still love me? — but this is a prime example of not asking questions he doesn’t want the answer to. And the state of their relationship isn’t something they talk about anyway, though they’ve never really needed to until now.

“So... what do you think of Jason?” Lars asks instead.

Kirk looks at him, as if sensing that Lars is deflecting. “He seems cool.” He takes the bourbon back and downs a swig. “Nervous, though. James must’ve said some nice shit about us.”

Lars wants to forgive James for being such a dickhead all those years ago, but it won’t come yet. He can feel his grudge eroding, though, the simple act of being around James sanding down the edges of Lars’ anger.

Maybe Lars should see a therapist. It seems to have done wonders for James.

The stereo fades from one song to another: “Wasted Years” by Iron Maiden.

Kirk smiles to himself, a stupid grin on his face that Lars adores but will never admit out loud. “This song was playing the first time we had sex.”

“Was it? How do you remember shit like that? Sappy motherfucker.”

“You always remember your first.”

Lars remembers plenty of other details about that night: Kirk’s slick skin under his fingers; the way Kirk moved his hips, timid at first until Lars’ moans spurred him on; his aching cock trapped between their bodies; Kirk panting helplessly over Lars’ chest, against his throat, at his ear.

“Alright. What was playing the second time we fucked?” Lars asks, hoping to stump him.

“Probably the song right after that,” Kirk says with a chuckle.

A chill nips at Lars’ skin. He should have worn something warmer than a T-shirt, but he didn’t consider how cold desert climates get at night before he rushed out for booze.

Kirk notices Lars’ slight shiver. “Cold?”


Kirk passes Lars the bourbon so he can slip out of his leather jacket. “Then I guess you won’t need this.” He offers Lars the jacket, mirth on his lips.

Lars rolls his eyes. He jams the bottle between his thighs and sticks his arms through the jacket sleeves. “Prick,” he says, though the jacket is warm with Kirk’s body heat and laden with the scent of him. It’s comforting, and Lars could fall asleep like this.

“You’re welcome,” Kirk says, as if Lars has already thanked him. Kirk has no qualms about cuddling closer to leech warmth from Lars, or about resting his head on Lars’ shoulder.

They listen to the music for a while until heavy footsteps plod down the driveway behind them. Lars doesn’t want to move, not when Kirk is lying with him like this, but he has to make sure they’re not about to be murdered.

“So this is where the party is,” Jason says, grinning at the sight of them and the bottle in Lars’ hand. “Room for one more?”

Lars wants to tell him that three’s a crowd, but Kirk’s sitting up and pulling Lars closer to make room for Jason on the hood of the car. Jason squeezes in on Lars’ left, fishing a lighter and a bent joint out of the pockets of his jeans.

“Now it’s really a party,” Lars says as Jason lights up.

“He won’t let me smoke in the house.” Jason takes a pull, smoke curling from his nostrils as he exhales.

“He probably doesn’t want a contact high,” Kirk says.

‘No smoking indoors’ is a rule in the Hammett-Ulrich household too, much to Lars’ irritation.

Jason looks at Lars, or, more accurately, the bottle he’s holding. “Can I get a drink?”

“You’re not living the clean and sober life along with James?” asks Lars.

“As long as I don’t bring booze into the house or drag him into a bar, he doesn’t care if I drink.”

Lars hands over the bottle, and Jason takes a long pull. Jason offers Lars the joint, which Lars happily accepts. The smoke is dry and acrid, nothing like his pot back home. He should have brought some for the trip, but he thought Kirk might take issue with that.

“The guests are gonna be pissed there’s no open bar,” Lars says, smoke pouring from his lips.

“Considering it’s just you guys and maybe Dave, I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” Jason says.

Lars chokes on the dry herb. “He didn’t invite anyone else? Not even, like, your parents?”

Jason takes another drink. “I think James oversold the wedding. I told him not to use those fancy invitations.”

Kirk reaches for the joint, and Lars hands it to him.

“I guess you’re imagining a big, fancy church wedding with tuxedos and a three-tiered cake and all that good shit, right?” Jason says. “Well, we’re not doing that. Considering what he does for a living, James can’t afford to draw attention to his ‘lifestyle.’” Jason makes resentful air-quotes around the word.

Could James really have changed that much? Sure, he drives for NASCAR (Non-Athletic Sport Centered Around Rednecks), and that target demographic tends to be pretty homophobic. But this is James, the same provocateur who used to wear T-shirts with profanities and inappropriate imagery, much to the chagrin of the college administration. He threw raging keggers and didn’t give a fuck if his dorm smelled like pot and cigarettes the next day.

But James had a shyness about him hidden beneath the bravado. It’s possible that was the true James all along, using the ‘fuck authority’ persona as a disguise. After all, James attended San Francisco State on a football scholarship; he probably learned to put on a macho face around the testosterone-fueled jocks as a defense mechanism.

Jason continues, “I’m not even out to my parents, man. The wedding is just a short thing where we sign the papers in front of a notary. There’s a loophole in state law where it doesn’t explicitly ban same-sex marriages. As long as we’re not being loud about exploiting it, we can probably slip under the radar.”

“So he sold out?” Lars scoffs. “The James I knew would’ve rubbed that exploitation in everyone’s face.”

“No, that’s you,” Kirk says, blowing out a perfect smoke ring. “James was always pretty embarrassed about being bisexual, even when he was with Cliff.”

“Did he tell you that?”

Kirk shakes his head. “I just paid attention.”

Lars spent most of his college years fantasizing about Kirk’s perky little ass, so it’s possible he didn’t notice James’ covert behavior.

Kirk trades Jason the joint for the bottle. Jason takes an extra long pull on the joint. “I don’t know what he was like back then,” Jason says, cautious, “but maybe he grew up and realized that life is full of compromises and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to make everything perfect?”

“Maybe,” Lars admits begrudgingly. “But I like my theory better.”

The three of them stay under the stars for a while, trading the joint and the bottle. Jason talks about his experiences as a farmhand, and Kirk shares his stories of breaking into the comics industry.

The pot has mellowed Lars out, and he’s content to listen and float away, unmoored. He can almost pretend that Jason isn’t a stranger, instead a new member who fits seamlessly into the group.

Lars dozes. When he opens his eyes again, Kirk’s trying to steal back the leather jacket. Jason has slid off the hood, standing by the car like he’s waiting on them.

“I should’ve known you were asleep,” Kirk says with a laugh. “You’re never that quiet when you’re awake.”

“Fuck off,” Lars mumbles, sliding his arms out of the sleeves and letting Kirk take the jacket. A bite of cold air hits him. He slings his legs over the hood and finds his footing.

Kirk stashes the bourbon underneath the driver’s seat, turns off the car, and locks up. “I hope James doesn’t find that.”

“I don’t think he’s desperate enough to randomly search your car,” Jason says. “But there’s a first time for everything.”

In Lars’ drug-addled condition, the walk to the house is mildly disorienting. He practically floats up the driveway and through the house before crashing onto the bed.

“Holy fuck. I’m fucked,” he murmurs into the pillow.

Kirk chuckles, slinging his jacket over the back of a chair. “Been a while, hasn’t it?”

The last time Lars experienced this particular cocktail of alcohol, marijuana, and travel fatigue was their trip to Vegas. Except he had a nice post-orgasm bliss going then.

(”When was the last time we had sex and actually meant it?”)

“Fuck me?”

Kirk grins at the suggestion, carding a hand through Lars’ messy hair. “If you’re still awake when I get out of the shower, sure. I’ll ride your dick all night.”

“Why do you get to have all the fun?” Lars grumbles, drifting off to sleep as Kirk starts the shower spray.