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June 26th, 2009


[info]chaosmanor05:12 pm
Time is but a Stream



Future: July 2010

Andy shoved the GPS back in its holster and checked the street sign again. Still not lost, which was all he asked for, and the indicator for a good day. He switched to his second hydration bladder, the one with the electrolytes in it, drank as much as he could without risking throwing up, and took off, up the hill, past a housing development, Metallica playing on his iPod.

Miles to go, to the meeting point.

The housing development petered out, the sidewalk ended, and the cars honked at Andy as they overtook him. He resisted the urge to flip them off.

Come the revolution…

The cars stopped passing, once the road had wound its way to the fields. Andy got to the place, inside his head, where it all just slid past, the open pasture and huge blue sky, rolling away.

The line of forest on the horizon crept toward him, dragged by the sun, and when the road stopped, at the edge of the trees, he had to cast around, GPS in his hand, to find the trail into the forest.

Running was harder through the forest, tracking trail markers, dodging branches, and watching his footing. It was worth it, to be able to take his earbuds out and listen to the cool shadows and silence of the trees.

The trail ended at a picnic area, in a clearing. Patrick was sitting at a picnic table, power cable snaking from his laptop to the van, six string in his arms.

He didn't look up when Andy ran up to the table, just pushed across the bottle of water in front of him and said, “Hey.”

Andy left Patrick, and the contents of Patrick's brain, alone, and took the bottle of water. He tossed his empty hydration packs into the back of the van, along with his iPod, GPS and phone, then downed the bottle of water.

He was stretching out his calf muscles, against the back bumper of the van, when Patrick came over.

“Sorry,” Patrick said. “Was working on something.”

“I got that impression,” Andy said.

“You made good time. Nobody tried to run you over today?”

“Not today,” Andy said, switching to stretching his inner thigh. “Fuckers. Have we got any food?”

“Run, eat, puke, you know how it goes,” Patrick reminded Andy. “Give it ten minutes. Can we stay somewhere with hot water tonight?”

Andy unhooked his foot from the bumper and looked around the clearing. “Not here? I like it here.”

The forest pressed up against the car park, and no other cars were in sight. The sun had dropped down, behind the trees, washing the sky pale. Andy could imagine sleeping there, the skylight of the van open to the stars, just the two of them.

Patrick scratched at the substantial growth of stubble on his chin. “I know I subscribe to the theory of maximum-stench, and therefore should be less likely to be asking for showers, but I'd kind of like to go somewhere with real facilities.”

“There is no limit to how much we can smell,” Andy said. “It just gets worse and worse. But if you want a shower, then we shall shower.”

Once Patrick had packed up his laptop and guitar, Andy handed him the GPS. “I'll drive, you shout directions and abuse.”

Patrick frowned at Andy, but climbed into the passenger's side of the cab without any comment.

The RV campground Patrick directed Andy to was hilariously tacky, with fake teepees available for rent, according to the sign at the entrance, and Andy shook his head disbelievingly.

“I'll go check in,” Patrick said. “After what happened last time.”
Last time, not even Andy's credit card collection had compensated for his tattoos.

“At least we're not driving the Fuck City van,” Andy called out, as Patrick disappeared into the office, wallet in his hand.

The Fuck City van, with customized paintwork, was just too conspicuous, so they'd left it in Milwaukee and hired a generic van. The hired van had smelled better, too, at least at the start of the trip.

Patrick reappeared from the RV park office a few minutes later, phone pressed against his ear, papers in his other hand.

“I'll tell him,” Patrick said into his cellphone as he got back into the cab and pointed through the gates. “And ask. Talk to you later.”

Andy started the van again, and put it into gear, and Patrick said, “Pete says you're a fucking idiot to go running through the forest here without bear mace, and he wants to know when we're going to arrive.”

Patrick pointed past a row of cabins, consulting the RV park map in his hands.

“I doubt that the sight of a can of bear mace works as a deterrent on bears the same way the sight of a can of human mace works on humans,” Andy said. “Do bears know they're supposed to avoid people carrying it?”

“True,” Patrick said. “It's not like they can read the warning labels, is it?”

“And I suspect I can outrun the average bear on the flat, when it counts,” Andy said. “As for when we'll get to LA, have you got any idea?”

“I had a look at the elevation map for Montana, while you were evading bears in the woods today, and I reckon you're about out of flat bits of Montana to run across. We're in that bay, there, beside the lime green Winnebago.”

Andy stopped the van in the middle of a concrete pad large enough to play a game of pickup on.

“You could be right,” he said, pulling the park brake on. “I'm not running up hills for fun.”

“So I guess the next question is, do you want to run the Snake River Plain, if we go across into Idaho?” Patrick asked. “Or are we both bored with this whole thing?”

Andy jumped out of the cab, and leaned back in, to prod Patrick. “Are you bored? You're the one who has to hang around at the pickup point, waiting for me.”

Patrick shook his head, and he had the indulgent smile he wore for Andy when no one else was looking. “I've discovered that, if I don't turn my phone on and no one knows where I am, I can get a surprising amount of work done in the four hours it takes you to run each leg. I reckon I can hold out for another ten days, at least.”

“Then I'll run the not-boring parts of Snake River Plain, between the cities,” Andy said. “And we'll drive the rest of the way to LA in one day.”


Patrick's phone rang, and Patrick said, “That's Pete, wanting to know why I haven't sent him today's versions yet.”

“I'll hook up the van, and you can make an early start on this evening's argument,” Andy said.

When Andy had connected the van to the power and topped up the water tank, he left Patrick hunched over a laptop, phone in one hand, waving the other in frustration at whatever Pete was disagreeing with, and went to find the showers.

Andy's hair was a fucking mess, from running and living rough, and he'd settled in under the hot water with a comb, to deal with the incipient dreadlocks, when someone knocked on his shower cubicle door.

The sneakers, under the cubicle door, could only be Patrick's.

Andy unlocked the door, dripping water everywhere.

“I didn't think we did this anymore,” Andy said, getting back under the water while Patrick hung his towel and clean clothes on a hook.

“We don't,” Patrick said, pulling his T-shirt over his head. “But if I don't step away from the phone and email from a few minutes, we're going to be turning around and heading back home.”

Andy made suitably sympathetic noises and stepped aside so Patrick could stand under the stream of water.

“Pete's a fucking idiot,” Patrick said. “He just doesn't get that, if we change the order of the verses, it doesn't make any fucking sense.”

Patrick was winding up for a really good vent, so Andy put his arms around Patrick. “No, I refuse to shower with Pete as well as you. Okay?”

Patrick tasted faintly soapy, but he kissed back without complaining, and Andy pushed them both out of the direct flow of the showerhead. Patrick was slippery, sliding against Andy, until Andy got him securely against the tiles.

“You smell weird,” Patrick said, against Andy's neck. “And you have to realize, when I say that, it means something.”

Andy laughed, and worked a soapy hand between their thighs. “Gonna make you forget all about everything. Want me to do that?”

Patrick made a hiccupping noise, and Andy kissed his neck and coaxed his cock, long strokes, good and hard.

“Yeah,” Patrick said. “Yeah, feels good.”

Someone outside called out, “Slowdown, kids,” then footsteps clattered into the shower block.

“Dad!” a child's voice shouted, right outside the cubicle. “He hit me! Tell him he's not allowed to!”

“Stop it, both of you,” the adult's voice said, inside the shower block. “And get into a shower.”

Andy let go of Patrick and shrugged.

“I'm going to shower, then call Pete back and argue with him some more,” Patrick said, his voice low. “And I'm going to win this time.”

It took time to get the worst of the knots out of his hair, and Andy was starving when he walked back across the RV park to the van, carrying his clothes, towel wrapped around his hips.

A woman walking her dog stopped and stared at his ink, but Andy ignored her. He'd had the color on his back redone, and people were supposed to look at it.

Patrick was chuckling to himself when Andy tossed his filthy clothes into the back of the van and reached for a cleaner pair of shorts to pull on under his towel.

“What's so funny?” Andy asked.

“There's a baby-scene kid here, on some kind of vacation nightmare with her family, and she bolted partway through a stammering declaration of undying admiration for you and your blog. I had no idea why, until you came around the front of the van wearing only a towel. You can't go around doing that.”

Andy hitched his shorts up securely, and tossed his towel over the open cab passenger door to dry.

“I'm not doing anything.”

Patrick watched Andy set up the gas ring, with a pan of water on it, and add the rice.

“I do read your blog, you know,” Patrick said, conversationally, as the water started to boil. “If you were wondering. So when you make those posts about never letting anyone else tell you how fast time should flow, and how you want to live life at the speed of your own heartbeat, I do try and decode them.”

“I don't think there are any coded messages in them,” Andy said, partially peeling the top off a can of garbanzo beans and letting the liquid in the can drain out onto the dirt.
cha
Andy ripped the top off the can completely and dumped the beans into the boiling water, with the rice, and looked up to find Patrick staring at him disbelievingly.

“Oh?” Patrick said.

“Okay, sometimes I might be talking about more than one thing at a time,” Andy admitted. “And sometimes that other thing is you, but that's not the same thing as a coded message.”
Patrick grinned. “I am so fucking right.”

Andy found the second camp stool and set it up opposite Patrick's, where he could stir the rice and beans. “This is in no way conceding defeat, but do you want me to stop?”

“Depends,” Patrick said. “What're you planning on talking about?”

“Running, probably. And how I've flown to LA more times than I can count over the past few years, but had no idea how far it really was. How slowing right down makes it easier to look for things.”

“I'm appreciating exactly how far away LA is now,” Patrick said drily. “I'm going to want to fly home, you realize.”

“I'll want to fly back, too, once I've run another couple of hundred miles,” Andy said. “I'm glad you read the blog. I never know how much you hear of what I say or write.”

Somewhere in the RV park, kids were shouting, and a sound system was playing Shania Twain. The evening had drawn in, the light from the van enough that Andy could see the condensation from the pan of rice fogging Patrick's glasses.

“I hear enough that I was prepared to get into a van with you in Milwaukee, with nothing except a fifty pound sack of rice, an unknown number of tins of beans, and my laptop and guitar, and come on an epic adventure that involves you running across the flat bits of the country. Why? I'm not even sure why you're doing this, but it doesn't matter, as long as you don't make me run, too.”

Patrick took his glasses off and wiped them on his T-shirt, jammed them back on, then leaned across to rummage through the crate of kitchen supplies in the van.

Andy took the fork Patrick held out and stirred the rice.

“Are you having fun?” Andy asked, testing the rice and trying not to scald himself.

Patrick's smile was affectionate. “Actually, I could live like this, apart from the bit where we have to stay in RV parks where people play Shania Twain at us every night.”

“If we'd stayed in the forest, there'd be no Shania Twain,” Andy said.

“Or shower block, and I'm getting used to Shania. I might sing along, you know.”

Andy looked at Patrick over the top of his glasses, hoping the whole laser-beams-of-hate thing was contained in the glance.

“But, hey, no, I won't,” Patrick said. “These bits, where you're not running and I'm not working, this is kind of fun. Minimalist, sure, but I like minimalist.”

The rice was cooked, when Andy checked it again, so he strained the mix in the saucepan and dumped it into two bowls—a smaller serving for Patrick and a huge carbohydrate load for himself.

Patrick shifted his camp stool, so he was leaning back against the van and looking out across the park, and began to shovel the rice and beans into his mouth.

Andy held his bowl in his hands and let himself feel his hunger, the way his body was aching for food, his belly crunching at the smell of the cooked rice. The first mouthful was incredibly good, and he made himself eat it slowly, just to begin with.

The next forkful went in fast, and Patrick was laughing at him, when Andy looked sideways.

“What?” Andy said, around a mouthful of beans and rice.

“Don't ever change,” Patrick said.

Andy grinned, and swallowed.

In the van, the doors closed against the mosquitoes, Andy propped his feet on the back of the driver's seat and helped himself to a handful of peanuts and a banana while Patrick grumped about tuning his six string.

“…night air, too much moisture,” Patrick said under his breath. “No fucking way to maintain a fucking guitar.”

Andy tossed a peanut at Patrick and bent his knee to inspect the underside of his foot. The cracks on his heel were healing up, despite the pounding his feet were getting.

“Don’t you dare touch them,” Patrick said. “Not if you're planning on touching me afterward.”

Andy put his foot back safely out of reach, and peeled the banana instead.

Patrick played, and Andy watched the sky through the open skylight while mosquitoes threw themselves helplessly at the screen over the skylight.

When Andy went to the shower block, later in the evening, the park was quieter with no Shania Twain blasting out across the vans and tents. A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and the stars were huge overhead, sliding through the night.

Back in the van, Andy ditched his shorts where he could find them in the middle of the night and locked the doors.

Patrick's phone was plugged in to its charger, and on, beside the reading light.

“Has Pete seen the wisdom of letting you have your way?” Andy asked, climbing under the sheet beside Patrick.

“Completely,” Patrick said. “Because I'm right.”

“I'm not strong enough to go through another album,” Andy said, kissing his way up Patrick's neck. “If you were wondering.”

Patrick made rumbling noises in his throat, and his hands spread across Andy's back when Andy settled over him. “It's your job, if you hadn't noticed. You have to put up with this part of the process.”

“Don't need a job,” Andy said, holding his weight on one arm so he had a hand free to slide under Patrick's T-shirt. “I've got a lover who will look after me.”

They kissed, and fuck, Andy might as well just surrender right then, because Patrick kissed back, biting and hot, and it went right to Andy's cock.

He let Patrick push him off, and onto his back, and watched Patrick peel clothes off.

“This lover of yours?” Patrick asked. “What does he do? In order to look after you?”

Patrick slouched across Andy's ribs, using his weight to hold Andy down, then leaned forward slowly, the low wattage bulb in the reading light painting golden sheen across his back that Andy had to touch.

The skin on Patrick's back moved under Andy's hand, and Andy could feel Patrick breathing across his cock, tickling.

Oh, fuck, he wasn't getting any further until he answered.

“He's, a, um, musician,” Andy said.

“Part of a song-writing team?”

“Um, yeah,” Andy said. “They fight a lot, when they're working on new material. I sometimes wonder whether it would be easier if they didn't, but what the fuck would I know?”

Patrick's back moved, as he leaned farther forward, and the tip of his tongue slid across the tip of Andy's cock, making Andy gasp.

“I think,” Patrick said conversationally, “that the problem is that you never fight with anyone yourself, so you don't understand the subtle pleasures of really good shouting match.”

The flicker of fingertips, up the length of Andy's cock, and another lick, and Andy appreciated suddenly how effectively he was pinned down. Sure, he could dislodge Patrick, but it would damage either Patrick or the van, which would stop Patrick from, gnnh, doing anything else

Better to slide a hand down Patrick's back, and drag the side of a finger up the crack of Patrick's ass.

“It's not that I don't get subtle pleasures,” Andy said, and he had to stop and take a deep breath in, because he was certainly getting something, right at that moment. “It's just, fuck, so inefficient.”

Patrick spluttered, gave up tonguing the head of Andy's cock, and laughed. “Inefficient? This is from the man who is running to LA?”

“You win. I'm completely wrong. There is only one way to write music and that involves throwing things and shouting. Please suck my cock now,” Andy said.

Patrick levered himself up so he could turn around enough to grin at Andy over his shoulder. “I so fucking want to compose with you. You're a complete pushover.”

“Honestly, I'd say pretty much anything you wanted me to at the moment,” Andy said.

“I know,” Patrick said, and he turned back and leaned forward again.

This time, no teasing, just all of Patrick's mouth, wet and slippery, enough to make Andy want to yell, except they weren't at home, and the van wasn't remotely soundproofed.

He hissed instead, dragging fingernails down Patrick's back so he could see the red trails in the lamp light, and Patrick flinched, twisting under Andy's hand.

“Had enough?” Patrick asked sometime later, sliding off Andy and reaching across the mattress.

Actually, Andy hadn't, because the idea of having enough of being blown was completely bizarre, but Patrick was squeezing the pump pack of lube that was wedged down the side of the mattress and then pushing lubed fingers against him, so he just nodded and groaned.

“Shut. Up,” Patrick said, looming over Andy. “No one wants to hear you, apart from me.”

Andy closed his mouth, choking off the noises he was making, despite the feel of Patrick's fingers and the slide of Patrick's cock against his hip.

He felt desperate, heart rate rising fast, sweat slipping down his ribs, trying not to shout and grab hold of Patrick and slam him into the mattress.

Patrick's fingers twisted, and Patrick laughed, dirty and low, against Andy's ear. “We haven't done this for too long.”

Andy had to agree. He was all over the place, kicking his legs every time Patrick's fingers shifted, scrabbling at the sheets with his hands, gasping and twisting and fucking losing it.

It was too raw and too sudden, and if Patrick didn't fuck him right that instant, Andy was going to fall apart.

“Yeahyeahyeah,” Patrick muttered against Andy's shoulder, and Andy could feel him fumbling around with his free hand for the condoms beside the lube.

Andy took the condom off Patrick and tore open the wrapper with his teeth. His hand slowed, rolling the condom down Patrick's cock, and Patrick lifted his head to look at Andy.

The moment hung, Patrick's breathing loud in the small van, one bead of sweat sliding down Patrick's forehead, then dripping onto Andy's chest. It seemed that, for a fraction of a second, Andy could feel himself and Patrick every other time they'd ever done this, or ever would, resonating and echoing, so that Andy couldn't breathe or move his hand.

Patrick didn't bitch Andy out, so maybe he felt it, too. He just reached between them with his free hand and guided Andy's fingers.

Patrick nudged Andy onto his side, then leaned across to reach the lube.

“You okay?” Patrick asked, forehead pushed against Andy's shoulder, his breath tickling warm down Andy's spine.

“Yeah, I am.”

Andy was more than okay. He felt like he was wide open, soaring through the night, taking Patrick with him.

Patrick pushed in slowly, swearing to himself, making Andy fall back against the mattress, reaching behind just to touch Patrick.

The shifting shadows on the van wall matched the faint creak of the van's suspension and the rough rasp of Patrick's breathing. Waves of heat ran through Andy, spreading out, and he could feel the tingling in his feet starting already.

No stopping, no holding back, not this time.

He was burning inside, and Patrick slowed down, rolling forward, hand curled around Andy's cock, taking him apart, one long stroke at a time.

It was all there—sex, love, time, hurt, so much fucking love—while Andy was coming, and when he slid out the other side, wracked and mute.

Patrick kissed his shoulder, rubbing beard across skin, and began to move again, dragging slow circles, fingers digging into Andy's thigh.

Andy held still while Patrick came, closer than before, face against Andy's neck as he gasped and groaned and shook.

When the sweat on Andy's skin started to prickle with cold, he dragged a blanket over both of them and reached out to turn off the light. Patrick hummed distractedly in the darkness beside him, the same melody he'd been playing earlier, and Andy could see stars through the open skylight.

The next morning, when Andy came back from the shower block, Patrick had booted his laptop and hooked up his roaming wireless while he waited for the water for coffee and oatmeal to boil.

“You updated,” Patrick said.

Andy tossed his towel into the back of the van and found a carton of soymilk. “I did,” he agreed, cracking the carton open and gulping.

Found everything I was looking for,” Patrick read from his screen. “That's a huge statement to make.”

Andy nodded and passed the bag of oatmeal to Patrick, and two bowls. “Want me to decode?”

Patrick shook his head.

* * *

Ashlee closed the doors between the kitchen and the rest of the house.

“Oh, fuck,” she said. “I'm going to kill one of them, honestly.”

“Damned kids,” Andy agreed. “They just can't play together nicely without supervision.
Please kill your own, not mine.”

“I might,” Ashlee said. “First of all it was the van, when you two arrived. We should get a van, he really missed the van. Why didn't we have a van? A van would be so practical.”

Andy made vaguely sympathetic noises and opened the fridge, just for the luxury of having a fridge again. Room temperature soymilk really wasn't the same.

“If you drink that from the carton, I'm going to scream,” Ashlee said.

Andy put the soymilk carton on the counter and reached for a glass. “Okay.”

“Sorry,” she said. “Force of habit. You can drink your own soymilk however you want.”

“No, don't want to make you scream,” Andy said.

“Then, once Pete was over having Patrick back, it was straight into the arguments.”

“Because they haven't been arguing over the phone?” Andy asked.

“Okay, they have,” Ashlee said. “Just not right next to me.”

“Van,” Andy said. “No other rooms.”

“Ah.”

Andy drank his soymilk, and they listened to Patrick's raised voice filter through the closed doors.

“Do you want to go out somewhere?” Ashlee asked. “Anywhere? The brat is safely being grandmothered.”

“Don’t make me go clothes shopping,” Andy said. “It would be my turn to scream then. Do you run? I haven't run for days.”

“I have a treadmill, if I want to run.”

Andy was aware he was looking scandalized. “You get snowbound often here?”

“We could go and drink smoothies and hang around comic stores,” Ashlee continued. “It has the advantage of not being here, and hopefully won't offend your principles too much.”

“I have no principles when it comes to comics,” Andy said. “And possibly smoothies.”

They made it as far as the front door before Patrick clattered up the stairs from the basement, his face drawn in tense lines.

“You're leaving?” Patrick asked.

“Absolutely,” Ashlee said, digging through the collection of car keys on the hall table. “I promise I'll bring Andy back.”

“Okay. Right,” Patrick said, looking confused.

Andy kissed Patrick briefly. “Remember, Pete is wrong, and you can win.”

In the car, Ashlee said, “Thanks, Andy, because Patrick needs you winding him up. No wonder this album is the worst so far.”

“What?” Andy said.

“You two are so fucking married,” Ashlee said, reversing through the security gates. “You should just get over it and wear rings.”

Andy glared at Ashlee, but she was dodging parked cars, swearing under her breath, and didn't notice.

* * *


Fuck City was quiet, with only Matt home, and Patrick was relieved. After too long at Pete and Ashlee's, he'd had enough noise.

He left Andy and Matt deep in discussion over something that was tragically wrong with the guttering, and headed across the yard. He could still find the path in the dusk, down through the trees to Lake Michigan.

The lake was choppy, breaking in waves over the rocks along the foreshore, the wind blowing in from behind Patrick's back.

It wasn't a surprise when Andy's arm dropped around his shoulders.

“Good to be home?” Andy asked, and Patrick nodded.

Patrick stopped watching the terns swooping in the last of the daylight and glanced at Andy's face. Andy was smiling.

“Even though it's only for a couple of weeks, then we have to go back and start rehearsals,”

Patrick said. “I really enjoyed being on the road, being alone with you.”

Andy turned, brushing his lips against Patrick's. “I've been thinking about that. Well, about a lot of things. I'm not ready to leave Fuck City completely, but I think I'd like somewhere else as well, just for us.”

“A house?”

“I was thinking of more of a shack than a house, somewhere for the summers. Somewhere higher above sea level than this place, for a start. We're going to get washed out in a few years.”

“Somewhere with no cell phone reception?” Patrick asked hopefully. “And no room for visitors? Please tell me you've already chosen somewhere, and we can go there right now.”

“Not that organized,” Andy said. “And I didn't want to do anything without talking with you first.”

“How are you planning on rationalizing buying another house?” Patrick asked. “You won't even buy new socks, you just steal all of mine.”

“If I give Fuck City to Matt, then it will be downsizing. And, if you buy the new place, I won’t have to own a house at all.”

Patrick considered the idea. “We could both own it, you know.”

Someone jogged past them, dog on a leash, and the dog yapped at the terns, or possibly them.

“Did Ashlee say something to you?” Andy asked.

“Ashlee said a lot of things to me,” Patrick said. “Which bit in particular were you asking about? Her opinion of how bad the van smelled when we arrived there? Or the bit where she lectured me for letting you get too thin?”

“She lectured you?”

“At length.” Patrick felt like sighing at the memory of that conversation. It didn't seem right that being best friends with someone meant that he had to endure being nagged by their wife. Hang on, Matt nagged him, too—

“What?” Andy said. “You've gone all tense.”

“I was wondering why I didn't get to fuck Ashlee or Matt, but then it seemed like a good idea to stop that particular train of thought.”

“Because?” Andy asked, sounding bewildered.

“Well, I don't actually want to think about fucking Matt, because that's just a scary place to go. And while Ashlee is undeniably hot, I think I should maintain boundaries, you know.”

“Um, no, why were you thinking about them in the first place?” Now, Andy sounded slightly panicked.

“Because they both nag me,” Patrick said, resisting the urge to smack himself on the forehead. Go on, bring up the issue of non-monogamy at the same time as suggesting buying a house together, fucker. “And if I'm going to put up with that, I should be getting benefits, like I do with you.”

“So the bit where you flinched then started talking about renegotiating the relationship wasn't anything to do with the conversation with Ashlee?” Andy asked.

“What? No! What conversation did you have with Ashlee? Because Pete can help, if there've been problems.”

“Please, don’t let Pete try and fix anything,” Andy said. “Whatever you do.”

Patrick tried to run the conversation back in his brain, but it wouldn't replay in a way that made sense.

“Any moment now, a tern is going to shit on me,” Patrick said. “I think we've been talking about different things, or something. What did Ashlee say to you? Am I going to have to call her myself and drag it out of her?”

“Ashlee said we're so married that we should just admit it and wear rings,” Andy said.

When Patrick turned to look at Andy, Andy was looking fixedly at the horizon.

“Okay, not a discussion I had with either Ashlee or Pete,” Patrick said. “But I can see why she'd say that.”

Andy huffed, poking his hair behind his ear, but didn't reply.

“Hang on,” Patrick said. “Was that just the world's clumsiest proposal?”

“Definitely not,” Andy said. “Marriage is an outdated institute of oppression, a remnant of patriarchy that the queer community has adopted without critical thought.”

“Subverted, in my opinion,” Patrick said. “But, okay, we don't have to buy a house together if you're going to panic over it.”

“I'm not panicking,” Andy said, sounding sufficiently indignant that Patrick would have thumped him if they weren't in the middle of the messiest conversation ever.

Patrick turned and slung his other arm around Andy, so he was hugging Andy, possibly against Andy's will.

“She grilled me on the status of same sex adoption in Wisconsin,” Andy said, burying his face against Patrick's neck. “Over fair-trade chocolate soy shakes and discounted Tank Girl omnibuses. I may never be the same again.”

“Oh, fuck,” Patrick said. “And then when you got back, I spent two hours explaining the ways in which Pete didn't understand the function of a bridge in a song to you, with examples. You could have made me stop, and told me this at the time.”

“I could have?” Andy said. “How?”

Patrick winced. “Okay. Remind me of this next time. How about this? We can agree that neither of us will interpret any sign of escalating commitment, such as shared property ownership, or any other random behavior, like playing with Joe or Pete's kids, as signs of a sudden desire for parenthood.”

“Or legal marriage,” Andy added.

“Works for me,” Patrick said.

“And me,” Andy agreed, turning his face and kissing Patrick's neck.

“Being with you, this is my truth,” Patrick said. “Everything else is peripheral.”

Andy's breath sounded fragile, against Patrick's ear, and his hand cradled the back of Patrick's head, holding their cheeks together for a moment.

“I could get a ring tattooed on,” Andy said, when he pulled away, and they turned to walk back to the house. “It's been done before, if tackily.”

“Matching piercings?” Patrick suggested, at the door to the utility room. “Only you have to have both of them?”

They clattered up the stairs to the kitchen, where Matt was crouched in front of the freezer, packets of frozen food stacked on the counter behind him.

“I'm not averse to actually giving you something symbolic,” Andy said, digging through his pockets to retrieve his keys. “Hey, Matt.”

“Yep?” Matt said. “I've found one of your pizzas, of uncertain vintage. Will that do for dinner?”

“Sure,” Andy said. “Just nuke it for extra long. I've made a decision about the guttering that needs replacing.”

Matt stood up and shoved the packets of food back in the freezer then kicked the door shut. “Do you want to get someone in to do the gutters?” Matt asked.

“No,” Andy said, pushing his house key across to Matt. “You can. Enjoy owning the house. We'll be back for the winters so don't forget to do maintenance on the furnace.”

“Absolutely,” Patrick said. “I'm too old to live anywhere as cold as that first place Andy lived.”

“You don't want Fuck City anymore?” Matt asked, poking at the house key with a fingertip.

Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them. Patrick's going to buy me shack in the woods,” Andy said. “Aren’t you?”

“I'm buying it?” Patrick said, as Andy pushed himself away from the counter and headed for their bedroom. “If I'm buying the shack, I want a diamond ring or something!”

“Why?” Matt asked, sounding like he was seconds away from banging the counter with his fist, or possibly the pizza.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” Andy quoted, from the bedroom doorway, and Matt groaned.

“No, no more quoting!” Matt shouted, as Andy closed the door.

“Dinner?” Patrick asked hopefully.

“So, a ring?” Matt responded, scooping up the carton of pizza and tearing it open. “Does that mean you're getting married?”

The bedroom door opened, and Andy shouted, “No!” then closed the door with considerable intent.

“No,” Patrick said. “We're not.”

The door opened again, a moment later, and Matt sighed.

Andy stalked across, toward Patrick, looking somewhere between frustrated and fierce, in Patrick's opinion.

The kiss wasn't fierce at all; it was kind of slow and gentle, though the grip of Andy's fingers on Patrick's shoulders was painfully tight.

Patrick kissed back, one arm wound around Andy, the other hanging onto Andy's T-shirt, because if Andy didn't back him into a wall or the counter soon, he was going to need something solid to hold him up.

Matt said, “Whoa,” and Andy pulled back, rubbing at the curves of Patrick's shoulders, soothing where his fingers had stung.

“You can have anything you want,” Andy said. “Anything I can give you.”

“I think you'll find I've already got it,” Patrick said.

When Andy had gone back to the bedroom, with much less stomping and slamming this time, Matt grinned at Patrick and took out his phone.

“Hey, Ryan, old friend,” Matt said. “How's Texas? ....Really? ....Didn't you pack the stuff to remove sharpie this time? No, we're all good. Listen, Andy and Patrick are back from their crazy run-across-Montana-and-Idaho-and-write-an-album project, and I was wondering if I could crash in your room for a while?”

Patrick opened the fridge and took out a can of soda, and resisted the urge to hit Matt with the can.

“Yeah, I'll owe you, and I promise not to touch your porn. I know what you have for porn, for a start, and that stuff doesn't work for me anyway, but your room gets the least noise pollution. Thanks! Tell everyone they're fucking lucky not to be here right now.”

Matt put his phone away, and Patrick said, “You think we're bad? We just spent a fortnight in LA with someone with a kid and two dogs, as well as a partner.”

Matt looked appalled, and Patrick ambled toward the bedroom, calling out, “Hey, Andy, we should invite the Wentz clan here, for a visit, before we move out, since there won't be room at the shack!”

When Andy looked up from upending his duffel bag onto the bedroom floor, his look of disapproval shifted to one of conspiracy when he caught Patrick's attempt at not grinning.

“Sure,” Andy said, and Matt loomed in the doorway behind Patrick. “If we wait until everyone is back from Texas, the Wentzes can bring their new nanny. She's into hardcore, and really cute. She'd be popular.”

“Nononono,” Matt said. “Can we negotiate this? Or can you give enough warning for me to clear out of the house?”

“This is not a democracy,” Andy pointed out. “And you're in charge now. Just veto it, like I did Kyle's grand slip-n-slide installation plans.”

Matt leaned against the doorframe, a smile spreading across his face.

“No Wentz clan invasions,” Matt said. “No matter how hot the nanny is.”

“Okay,” Patrick said, and Andy nodded his agreement.

“That's it?” Matt asked. “You're not going to argue with me?”

“No,” Andy said. “You win.”

Matt went back to the kitchen, and Patrick could hear him saying, “I win, I win,” to himself under his breath.

Andy grabbed Patrick’s hand, where Patrick was reaching for the recharger for Andy’s phone. “I don’t want to win, and I don’t want to own, especially not you,” Andy said. “Do you understand?”

Patrick squeezed Andy’s hand, for a moment. “Yeah, I understand. Let’s go find a shack to live in.”

“The shack doesn’t even have to be somewhere without cell phone reception,” Andy said, tossing an armful of clothes at the doorway. “We just have to tell people it is. I’m glad you like the idea.”

I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars,” Patrick said.

END

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