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June 26th, 2009


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05:15 pm
Time is but a Stream



Present Day

Matt opened the front door at Fuck City, and broke into a huge grin. “Hey!” he said, wrapping his arms around Patrick in a hug. “Was someone supposed to tell me you were driving up? Because if he was, he fucking failed.”

Patrick followed Matt into the kitchen, chuckling. “No, it was one of those impulsive things. I love my family dearly, but I can’t take another day of compulsory bonding, and I don’t think I can reasonably escape to LA just yet. Seemed a better idea to borrow a decent car and visit this island of, well, something or other. I won’t say normality.”

Shouts echoed up the stairs, from the entertainment room on the lower floor, and Matt sighed. “We're at 80% occupation, so there're enough of us here for it to be amusing. Andy is asleep, because it’s, you know, daylight outside. I could wake him, which would give me much pleasure.”

“Maybe later,” Patrick said, taking the mug of coffee Matt sloshed across the kitchen counter. “Hand me a game controller, and point me at a screen. And don’t talk to me about home decorating or dental work.”

“Right,” Matt said, charging ahead of Patrick down the stairs. “One of those visits home.
Hey, guys! I’ve brought someone else for us to thrash!”

Stu and Kyle hooted at Patrick, and Matt shoved Kyle bodily along the couch, to make room for Patrick.

“I’ve been playing against my eight year old cousin,” Patrick said, taking the controller Matt handed him. “And he’s sneaky.”

“I’m scared,” Kyle said. “Really scared.”

Andy stumbled down the stairs about an hour later, carrying his laptop. He fell into the easy chair, across from the couch, and clicked and tapped at his keyboard earnestly for a few minutes, while Patrick fought the most intense game of Mario Kart he’d ever experienced.

Andy eventually said, “Hey, not all of these people actually live here!”

Matt, who wasn’t playing at that moment, leaned across and pointed at Patrick. “He’s an interloper. Don’t feed him, or he’ll never leave.”

“You fail, Patrick!” Stu shouted, unnecessarily viciously in Patrick’s opinion, and Patrick handed the controller to Matt and rolled his shoulders, stretching out.

Later, Patrick sat on a stool in the kitchen, looking out across the snow-covered garden, while Andy zapped donuts in the microwave. Matt took one off the plate, burning his fingers.

“Just because you’re vegan, doesn’t mean you don’t have to right to die of cholesterol poisoning,” Matt informed them, running off before Andy could hit him with an egg slice.

“Long way to drive in the snow,” Andy observed. “You must have been going stir crazy.”

“The relatives,” Patrick said. “Confined spaces.”

The others were shouting from the basement, safely out of the way, but Patrick dropped his voice anyway. “And I feel like I’m dealing with the backlash of everything that’s happened. I think I should talk to you about it.”

Andy nodded. “We can do that.”

In borrowed cold weather gear, Patrick slid down the track to the lake behind Andy, not even trying to stay on his feet on the icy ground.

The lake was frozen over, and the sky hung gray and low. Patrick trudged along the track, behind Andy, until Andy paused to kick snow off a bench, then sat down.

Patrick shoved snow off the bench with the over-sized gloves he’d borrowed, and sat down beside Andy, pulling his borrowed scarf higher.

Andy waited, while Patrick shuffled on the freezing bench, but Andy always had been patient.

“I’ve been thinking about that quote you sent me,” Patrick said. “The one about time.”
Andy huffed out condensation in acknowledgment.

“I’ve been feeling like I’ve been swimming in two different time streams at once, ever since this started,” Patrick said. “The ‘now.’ And the ‘then.’ Like being in two places at once. And I think I know why.”

“Yeah?”

“The ‘then’ has gone past the bit where it all went wrong, and where I decided to wall it all off inside myself. There wasn’t time to deal with anything, because we had to record the album, then just when that was almost done, Pete fell completely apart and tried to off himself. I put it all aside, figured it was done and over.”

“But it wasn’t, right?”

“No, it was lurking in a Florida Wal-mart.”

“I told you Wal-mart was evil,” Andy said. “Do you still feel like you’re in two times?”

Patrick shook his head. “Not anymore. Except, now it’s stopped, I’m so sad.”

“Because of what happened?” Andy asked.

“No, because it’s gone,” Patrick said.

His teeth hurt, from clenching them to stop them from chattering, and he couldn’t get his eyes to focus on the lake any longer.

Andy put his arm around Patrick’s shoulder and said, “C’mere,” in a low voice. “Don’t let your eyelashes freeze.”

Andy pulled Patrick’s glasses off carefully, then rubbed the tip of a gloved finger under each of Patrick’s eyes. Patrick buried his face against Andy’s shoulder and neck, deep in the folds of someone’s hand-knitting, Andy’s beard bristling against the side of his face.

“You should have some kind of quote,” Patrick said, his voice muffled. “You always did.”

Morning is when I am awake, and there is a dawn in me,” Andy said.

Patrick’s nose was running, from the cold and from not-crying, and he was completely
frozen. He was pretty much emotionally shattered from the drive and talking, and he probably needed to buy a fucking clue, as Pete had said.

But he also had some past experience in Andy-speak.

Patrick sat up, but Andy didn’t move his arms away, and he met Patrick halfway, when Patrick leaned forward.

The exhalation of warm air rushed across Patrick’s lips and tingled on his skin, then Andy’s lips brushed against his briefly. Next touch was longer, lingering, flicker of hot tongue and the scrape of teeth across his bottom lip.

Andy’s mouth burned against Patrick’s cheek, and Andy said, “We need to go back.”

Patrick didn’t know if Andy meant back to Fuck City, or back in time, but either option was good.

They dumped the damp and muddy cold-weather gear in the utility room, and Andy didn’t say anything, just led Patrick to his bedroom and locked the door.

Andy’s bed was unmade, all the bedding piled at the foot, and Andy said, “C’mon, climb in, we’re both cold.”

Patrick ditched his jeans, wet with melted snow, and slid across the bed, while Andy did the same, then dragged the bedding over them.

He had a moment of intense memory resonance at being back in Andy’s bed, rubbing cold feet against Andy’s to warm them up, and the smell of skin and unwashed sheets.

Andy must have had the same kind of thoughts, because he said, “No ice inside these windows. Double-glazing this time, and central heating.”

The pile of comics on the nightstand was in the same place, and Patrick leaned across Andy to prop his glasses on the stack. Andy tossed his across, too, and slid his hands across Patrick’s back, holding his sweater and stopping him from moving away.

“Stay there,” Andy said.

Patrick hitched himself up more securely, so he was sprawled across Andy, and lowered his mouth down, onto Andy’s, slow and deliberate. He might have thought, based on the lazy movements of Andy’s mouth, the slow way they were kissing, that Andy wasn’t really into it. Except, he could feel every rumbling hitch of breath, every rock of Andy’s hips, every catch and slip of Andy’s fingertips.

“Warm now?” Andy asked, against Patrick’s ear, hands pushing at his sweater.

The scramble to get naked paid off when, seconds later, Andy slid his hands down Patrick’s bare back and wrapped both of his legs around Patrick’s.

Patrick pushed fingers into the back of Andy’s neck, guiding their mouths back together again, and grabbed at Andy’s thigh with his free hand, hitching Andy’s leg higher, finally getting their cocks lined up, in a moment of blindingly sweet friction.

Saliva, tinged with blood where Andy had bitten Patrick’s lip while groaning, sweat between their chests and sticking Patrick’s hair to his cheeks, and it was like the time hadn’t passed, and maybe not all the salt was from sweat.

Then Andy rolled them over, pinning Patrick underneath, biting at Patrick’s shoulder as he ground down hard, come spreading between their bellies.

“Oh, fuck, please,” Patrick whispered, and Andy lifted his weight enough to push a hand between them and grab Patrick’s cock.

Short, blissful strokes, and Patrick was coming, shaking and gasping.

Sprawling with Andy a deadweight on top of him, Patrick ran his hand down Andy’s arm, smoothing the skin, and Andy made vaguely contented noises.

“I need to put my glasses on,” Patrick said.

“Forget it,” Andy said indistinctly. “I’m not moving, not for hours.”

“You’ve got all this ink I’ve not had a chance to really look at,” Patrick said.

“You’ve shared a bus with my ink for years,” Andy said.

“A bus with a No Nudity rule, thanks to previous experiences with Pete,” Patrick said.
“Besides, I always felt like I couldn’t stare at you.”

“Of course,” Andy said. “No staring, it’s bad manners. We can scratch the No Nudity rule now, if you like. And the No Staring rule. We can move directly to the part where we make sure no one else is ever on the bus with us.”

“Oh,” Patrick said, sounding surprised. “Do you want to…?”

Andy poked Patrick sleepily, under his ribs, making Patrick squeak. “Patrick, you asshole. If you’re planning on running out on me today, I will fucking hunt you down and tickle you.”

“I hadn’t assumed anything. Or expected this to happen. Look, I didn’t drive up here with a fucking agenda.” Patrick paused. “If you know what I mean.”

Andy sighed, and rolled partly off, and Patrick could see his face. “And I was making assumptions. You could leave, right now…” Andy shook his head. “Or you could stay.”

“How about I stay?” Patrick said, and he knew he was smiling. “Because it’s been more than four years since anyone fucked me.”

Andy didn’t look so sleepy, suddenly. “I can help you with that.” He leaned back and rummaged around in his nightstand for a moment, then kissed Patrick again.

Patrick had forgotten, possibly deliberately, the way it felt to be kissed by Andy, the way he just kept going, this impossible combination of gentle and urgent that made Patrick want to scream and beg.

It went on—lips sliding, tongue, teeth, leaving Patrick breathless and frantic—while Patrick remembered how to touch Andy, how to make him moan, so that Andy was hard and desperate, his cock riding Patrick’s hands.

Cold lube, trickling down Andy’s hand, on the sheets, then touching Patrick.

“I didn’t listen,” Andy whispered, hot, wet lips moving against Patrick’s ear. “I’ve never listened to you when I shouldn’t have. Never listened to you jerking off.”

Patrick’s legs fell apart, and he gasped as Andy’s fingertip eased in, circling and dipping.
“I’ve never needed to. This…”

“Oh, fuck, oh fuck,” Patrick whispered, because Andy was sliding a finger in and out, and it was sending waves of heat through him. He needed more, needed to be fucked, needed it all.

“This is inside my head, the way you sound, the way you lose it when your ass is touched…”
Patrick gripped his own cock hard, trying to fight the burning building inside, but Andy pushed a second finger inside, and it was all going too fast.

“Gonna come. Please.” The fingers inside pushed harder, a moment later Andy’s mouth slid down Patrick’s cock, and it was all fucking over. Coming with something in his ass fried Patrick’s brain and wrecked his body, leaving him blinking and struggling to breathe when Andy crawled back up the bed.

Andy wiped the corner of his mouth with his thumb, his fingers shining and slick with lube, then he reached for the tube again.

When Andy eased two fingers back in, it felt like every hypersensitive nerve in Patrick’s body screamed, and Patrick reached over his head to brace himself against the headboard. It was too much, too soon, but he’d been craving this for so long, and there wasn’t any way to stop.

“See, this?” Andy said. “You, like this? You’d let me do this to you for hours, long as I did it right. I could keep going all night, ‘til my wrist gave out, or we ran out of lube…”

Andy’s fingers rolled and twisted, inside him, and Patrick shook the headboard and hissed, trying not to yell.

“I’m not going to,” Andy said, slipping his fingers out, and Patrick flopped his arms down and opened his eyes. “Gonna fuck you instead.”

After tearing the condom pack open with his teeth, then spitting the wrapper out, Andy said, “You planning on screaming?”

“You planning on making me?” Patrick asked, and he sounded like he’d already been screaming, throat raw and open. He stroked his own cock, watching Andy roll on the condom, and yeah, his body was there, still keeping up.

Andy looked up from rubbing lube over his cock, and his smile was slow and familiar.
“Yeah, I am.”

The rolling gesture Andy made with his fingers was innocuous, except Patrick knew exactly what it meant. Roll over. Get on all fours. Hold your weight. Hand over control. Let me fuck you senseless.

Andy’s palm pushed between Patrick’s shoulder blades, and Patrick let his face fall down into the mattress and his body relax.

“Good,” Andy whispered, his thumb circling Patrick’s ass, spreading lube.

“Oh, fuck,” Patrick said, when Andy’s knuckles pushed against his skin, and Andy’s cock touched his ass.

Patrick’s thought’s skittered, and the sharp edges of his breath caught in his throat.
Andy groaned, sounding primal, fingers pulling at Patrick’s skin. Then his mouth was against Patrick’s shoulder, his chest curled along Patrick’s back.

Time froze, until Andy rocked, dragging slowly back, sliding forward, and Patrick pushed himself back up on his hands, colliding with Andy, straightening his back.

He needed to breathe, to move, to take this back.

Behind him, Andy said, “Yeah, like that, c’mon.” Arms wound around his chest, lifting him up, pulling him back, and he had a brief moment of panic, but Andy held him steady.

“I’ve got you,” Andy said, and yeah, he was held securely, astride Andy’s knees, leaning back, Andy’s cock so fucking deep in his ass that it was probably still illegal.

He didn’t have a lot of room to move, but every microscopic shift of his weight sent shivers through his body as Andy’s cock shifted, and made them both groan.

Andy gripped Patrick tighter with one arm, and wrapped the other hand around Patrick’s cock, his hand still slippery with lube, making Patrick jerk and Andy gasp.

“Can you talk?” Andy asked, his fingers sliding slowly down Patrick’s cock. “Can you tell me how it feels?”

“Yeah, ‘kay,” Patrick said, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against Andy’s shoulder. “Fuck, you feel so hard inside me, I can feel every inch of you.”

“Yeah? You’re so fucking tight, like the very first time I fucked you. Can’t move, or I’m gonna come.”

Patrick rolled his hips, and Andy’s hand moved faster on his cock. “This, oh fuck… Every motel room and borrowed basement… Feeling you fuck me…” Patrick said.

He was grinding back onto Andy’s cock, the heat inside too much to resist.

“I know,” Andy whispered. “I remember each time, too.”

“Fuck,” Patrick said. “Fuck… need to… Can’t…”

Then Andy rocked up into him, deep and hard, making everything burn. Patrick knew he was grabbing at Andy’s arms, maybe even scratching, but he couldn’t stop himself, just like he couldn’t stop himself from biting at Andy’s neck or from fucking yelling.

Andy’s fingers against his ribs were bright points of pain as they dug in and held him upright. Everything else was wiped out as he fucking fell apart, wrapped around the feeling of coming, Andy inside him.

Patrick mostly slumped down, onto the bed, Andy still hanging onto him.

“Ow,” Patrick complained. “Any time, you know, is fine by me.”

Andy burrowed his face into Patrick’s neck, where the skin was sweaty, and pulled out slowly.

“Hey,” Andy said, his voice all stretched-out and distant. “You okay?”

With the bedding dragged up, and the room almost dark, Patrick rolled over and pushed his face against Andy’s shoulder.

“I think so, but everything is numb,” Patrick asked.

Patrick could feel Andy fumbling around under the bedding, then a moment later, heard the condom hitting the floor.

“Is this the bad kind of numb, where you’re planning on having hysterics?” Andy asked.
Patrick chuckled, managing to lift one leg enough to sling it over Andy’s, despite his thigh muscles threatening to boycott after what had been done to them.

“No, the other kind, where I’m hoping to do serious sleeping, after lying around here in a stupor for some time.”

Andy made an approving noise. “We have a plan. Besides, you want to inspect the ink, remember.”

“It's dark,” Patrick said. “You’ll have to turn a light on.”

Andy huffed. “Later, then. Not moving now.”

* * *

“Have I changed?” Andy asked, suppressing a sigh as Patrick ran his tongue up the back of Andy’s thigh, following the line of ink around, up onto Andy’s buttock. “Have you formed an opinion, based on your examination?”

The stubble on Patrick’s cheek dragged across Andy’s lower back, and fingers trailed up the crack of his ass, then Patrick’s weight settled beside Andy on the bed.

“I think you have changed,” Patrick said, pushing a handful of Andy’s hair out of the way, so Andy could see his face.

Patrick looked perplexed, like he was stumbling for words.

“And not in a good way?” Andy suggested.

“I’m not speaking from any position of... I’m ineffectual and anxious and I’ve got appalling coping mechanisms...”

“It’s okay,” Andy said. “You’re allowed to tell me the truth.”

“I think you’ve lost your reverence for the world.”

It felt a bit like being smacked in face by one of Matt’s snowballs—large, and containing small rocks and twigs, but bracing. Andy blinked, and had to remember to make his diaphragm work.

“Like, that thing you used to do—” Patrick said, and Andy caught Patrick’s hand in his own.

“You don’t have to explain. I didn’t know I’d lost that.”

“And me?” Patrick asked. “How have I changed?” Andy knew the answer to that, because he’d been weighing the past and measuring its value far too much over the past few days.

“I’ve watched, and every day, you pick up another burden, and add it to the load you carry. It’s just a little pebble, it doesn’t weigh much, so it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to be a pebble for you, or a rock, or a fucking mountain, not like some people we won’t name.”

Patrick didn’t argue with Andy, just nodded, and yeah, Andy could see the weariness and hurt that had been grinding Patrick down.

“Can we make a deal?” Andy asked.

“What kind of deal?” Patrick asked, and Andy could tell that Patrick was trying to sound suspicious. “I’m not sure about making deals with people like you, and I’m going to tell Pete what you implied about him.”

“I’ll do something about my lack of reverence, if you put down some pebbles.” Andy touched a fingertip to Patrick’s bottom lip, where one of them had bitten it, leaving the skin red and raw. “And did I mention Pete’s name? I could have been talking about anyone.”

Patrick smiled against Andy’s finger. “Do I look like I have any burdens on me today? I drive up here, let your dubious friends thrash me at Mario Kart, then we go to bed for a few hours. This has got to be the lowest stress day I’ve had in years.”

Andy didn’t see the need to point out there’d been some tough moments in the day, too. “Plenty more days like that to be found here.”

“Got any food in here? Or do we have to get dressed and get past Matt to the kitchen?”

“Matt will be at work by now,” Andy said. “But I’ve got snacks in here. I don’t trust the rest of Fuck City not to eat everything there is while I’m asleep.”

Hours later, Andy left Patrick sound asleep, and showered quickly, then pulled some clothes on.

He sat in the kitchen, watching the lights from the house shine out over the yard and listening to the muted sounds of the guys doing something with guitars downstairs. The closed doors were probably them attempting not to overhear anything, rather than any courtesy with regards to isolating the noise in the house.

Matt came home, front door opening and closing, keys being hung on the hooks in the hall, then the kitchen door opened.

“Hey,” Matt said, his voice low. “You okay? You’re sitting in the dark.”

“Used to do it all the time,” Andy said.

“That was when the utilities were cut off,” Matt said. The light from the fridge glowed brightly, then the fridge door closed again. “You safe to sit beside?”

“I’ve showered.”

“Good, because I’ve had bad experiences before.”

Andy considered arguing, or something, but he was too mellow.

Matt pulled a stool up beside Andy’s, and cracked his can of soda. “So, Patrick?”

Andy smiled to himself. “Yeah.”

“As your friend, and as someone who was there for the aftermath last time, do I get to ask if you’re fucking crazy?”

Andy turned and looked at Matt in the half-light. “Yeah, you can ask. I’m not, at least no more than usual.”

Matt shook his head. “You do remember how bad it was, and how long it took you to get over him?”

“It was fucking miserable, and it took longer than the length of time between then and now.”

Matt was silent, and Andy could hear the can of soda creaking as Matt flexed his hands around it.

“Why didn’t you tell me I was changing, and not for the better? You, of all people, could have told me,” Andy said.

“Is that shit from Patrick?” Matt asked, his voice sharp.

“He pointed out the differences, that’s all. Remember back, before the first Fuck City apartment? When I lived in that shitty share house? I had nothing, just about nothing, but I was so connected. Everywhere I went, I had friends to crash with, people who would share food with me. The whole fucking country had this mythic feel to it, like a story unfolding in front of me. Now I fly in and out of cities I can’t remember the names of, where I know only strangers.”

Matt looked at the glass sitting on the counter in front of Andy for the first time. “And you’re fixing that by watching a glass of snow melt?”

“I needed to do something that took time,” Andy said.

“Watching snow melt in the dark?” Matt asked. “Ah, tofu-Andy.”

“What?”

“Your progression through life can be measured by your eating habits,” Matt said. “When I first knew you, you were all Doritos-and-fries, feral and angry and pretty fucking unbalanced.”

Andy chuckled, because, fuck yeah, Matt was right.

“Then, I don’t know what happened, but you started hanging out with a more responsible class of anarchist, or something, because then we had tofu-and-lentils, and you went all introspective. A great deal of philosophy was read, and unfortunately quoted at me.

“Then, convenience foods appeared. Frozen, deep-fried goodies. Sugar-drenched snacks. You got angry again, but in a more constructive way. Maybe not constructive, just more socially acceptable.”

“I was happier at the introspective, lentil stage,” Andy said. “I think that might be important.”

“You were fucking impoverished,” Matt said. “Under-fed, almost homeless, one toothache away from crawling back to your mom for help.”

“Now I’m drowning in fucking shit I own and have to worry about,” Andy said. “Whose crazy idea was all this, anyway?”

“This house? Yours, I believe,” Matt said. “Somewhere big enough for all of us, that was what you wanted.”

Andy looked around and nodded. “Okay. Agreed. I’m not sharing a small house with you lot. You like my car, though? You drive it when I’m away?”

“Sure,” Matt said. “Why?”

Andy left his glass of melting snow and went and flicked along the rack of keys in the hall, to find his own set.

He sat back down at the kitchen counter and slid the car keys across to Matt. “I’ll sort out the insurance, next time I’m in the country for a few days.”

“You’re giving me your car?” Matt asked. “Why? Won’t you want to drive it when you’re back?”

“I don’t want it,” Andy said. “It was a stupid idea to buy it. If you don’t want it, you can sell it, or give it to someone else. And I won’t want a car when I’m back, because I’m not planning on going anywhere that I can’t walk or ride a bike.”

“You’ve fucking lost it,” Matt said, sounding tired and angry. “You’ve completely fucking lost it, Andy. You’re going to wake up, tomorrow or next week, or eventually, and wonder what happened. In one day, you’ve fucked up your personal life, and you’ve had some kind of a breakdown.”

“I haven’t lost it. I’ve found it again. I lost it years ago, lost focus, lost hope, whatever. I want it back.”

Matt shook his head. “If you’re going back to quoting anything, I’m fucking lodging a complaint.”

Andy shrugged, and Matt slapped him on the back, just a touch too hard.

“I’ll leave you to your science experiment in existentialism, or whatever,” Matt said. “I’m going to bed.”

“Hey,” Andy said. “It’s either late-night philosophical anguish, or loud sex. At least this is quieter.”

Matt looked horrified in the half-light. “You know, I’d managed to blank that part of your involvement with Patrick from my memory. Thank you very fucking much.”

When Kyle made himself ramen, an hour later, the glass of snow was half-melted.

Kyle poked at the glass, while Andy explained, “I’m watching it melt, to see how long it takes, and what it looks like.”

“It looks like water,” Kyle said. “Fucker. And there’s a fucking calculation for how long it takes, based on the temperature of the room, the specific conductivity of the glass and the volume of snow. Actually, it would be mass of snow, given that snow isn’t a standard density. Moles of snow, technically. Anyway, you don’t have to watch it.”

Andy frowned at Kyle. “I think you’re missing the point.”

“I guess the room is warm enough that you’d be losing some water to evaporation, too. I could factor that in, easily enough, if I had the right measuring equipment.”

“Or I could watch the glass,” Andy said. “Like I am.”

Kyle tipped boiling water onto his bowl of ramen. “Oh. Want me to add some hot water? Hurry things up?”

Andy stared at Kyle, and Kyle put the kettle back down again.

“Okay, backing away now,” Kyle said. “Taking my noodles and fucking off. Congratulations on the sex life, by the way. Any time you want to thank Stu and me for not twittering progress reports, feel free.”

“Progress reports?” Andy said, surprised to discover there was no menace in his voice.

“Like we sent Matt,” Kyle said. “We thought about marking off the hours you’d been locked in your room, but decided not to, so we just texted Matt with updates instead.”

“What you mean is that Matt changed the password, right?” Andy said.

“No?” Kyle suggested. “Well, yes, but we wouldn’t have anyway, because we completely respect your boundaries.”

“And Matt wouldn’t tell you the new log in?”

“He seemed to think that you’d be pissed off if he did.”

Andy nodded and turned back to look out the window again. “Turn the lights off, will you?”

“That’s it?” Kyle asked. “Or are you going to sit in the dark and plot your revenge?”

“No, I’m going to sit in the dark and think about my life, because there’re some major things going on at the moment.”

“Okay,” Kyle said. A moment later, through the door to the entertainment room, Andy heard him say, “Hey, Stu, Andy’s gone all Zen again. We can fuck around, and he won’t shout at us.”

Andy touched the cold glass, and thought about the half-melted snow floating in the water, and about Patrick asleep in his bed.

* * *

Fuck City was silent. Andy was sure he’d seen the weak winter morning sunlight slanting through the kitchen windows before, but it had been a damned long time ago. No one else would be awake for hours.

Patrick poured himself a mug of coffee, humming quietly, looking blurred around the edges as he shuffled around the kitchen, poking at the contents of the fridge and opening cupboards.

“Want some?” Patrick asked, waving a pack of oatmeal at Andy.

Andy shook his head. “I haven’t done a serious fast for a long time. I think it’s time to give my body a break, before we have to fly out again.”

Patrick tipped oatmeal into a bowl and poured boiling water over it, then put the bowl in the microwave.

“About being on tour…” Patrick said.

Andy looked up, from picking a fragment of what looked like dead grass from his glass. “Yeah?”

Patrick’s neck was marked, where Andy had bitten him, and his bottom lip was swollen. His whole face had the softened look he got after a solid night’s sleep, and, in Andy’s opinion, Patrick looked just plain happy when he leaned across the counter to smooth down Andy’s beard.

“Do you want us to be together on tour? Or do you want this to be a private thing?”

“If Stu and Kyle had been able to work out the new log in to the Fuck City Twitter last night, that would be an irrelevant question,” Andy said. “But Matt refused to hand it over, so I guess keeping this completely to ourselves is an option.”

Patrick nodded, and the microwave pinged.

Andy watched Patrick retrieve his bowl of oatmeal, then smother the contents in syrup.

“But that’s ignoring some pretty fucking huge things that have happened, and I’d like to think I learned something from that whole painful mess. If you want to try being with me, really try, then I don’t want to lie to anyone.”

Patrick put down the spoon he was holding with a clatter.

Andy drank some of the glass of water, grinning back at Patrick around the edge of the glass.

“Refusing to answer any questions on the subject, while making out with you in public,” Andy continued. “That was pretty much the only plan I’d come up with. I figured Justin was there for a reason, rather than just being an annoying shit.”

“That’s, um, huge,” Patrick said.

“I’m not locked into it,” Andy said. “It’s based entirely upon how I feel, rather than what I think. What do you want?”

“For it to be 2003,” Patrick said. “For you to tell me stories about a man who lived beside a lake and found truths.”

“I can’t do anything about making it 2003,” Andy said, sliding off the stool and walking around the counter, to Patrick. “But I can tell you about lakes. I’ve got one, just at the end of the yard, should we want to look at an actual lake, which may or may not contain truths as well as ice and pike. Anything else?”

Patrick leaned against Andy. “I’d like to sleep in your bed.”

When Andy kissed him, Patrick tasted of syrup, sugary and warm, like he’d been licking the spoon or his fingers.

“Even though I woke you up when I came to bed last night?” Andy asked.

Patrick’s fingers were sticky, around the back of Andy’s neck, confirming Andy’s suspicion that he’d been diving into the syrup.

“Yeah.”

Patrick had woken when Andy curled around him to steal body heat sometime before dawn, his mouth welcoming and hot, arms pulling Andy close. He’d gone back to sleep almost immediately, snuffling against Andy’s shoulder, but the few seconds had been enough to persuade Andy that, fuck it, shifting sleep cycles wasn’t that big a deal. Andy didn’t need to stay awake all night and sleep all day, not really.

“There’s room here,” Andy said. “In my bed, and in Fuck City.”

Patrick smelled of skin and fucking, when Andy rubbed his face against Patrick’s neck, and it made Andy think about whether it was practical to just lift Patrick up onto the counter, beside the oatmeal, and how likely they were to get walked in on.

“Is it going to be that simple?” Patrick asked, not complaining when Andy backed him up against the counter.

“Don’t see that it needs to be complicated,” Andy said.

“But I’ve never apologized, for what happened. I’m so sorry, for what I did, for the choice I made, for letting the band vote on it. I’m sorry for letting so long pass without trying to mend things between us. I’m sorry.”

Patrick wasn’t light, but Andy was used to wrestling with Matt, and at least Patrick wasn’t resisting, which made lifting him onto the counter a whole lot easier.

“You’re fucking kidding?” Andy said. “You’re serious about apologizing? Any need for that disappeared when we got that phone call about Pete.” Andy shook his head. “I realized then you’d known in November that if Island had pulled the contract, Pete would have gone over the edge. You have nothing to be sorry for, you were just trying to save Pete’s life.”

Patrick sagged, on the counter. “But I didn’t know… Okay, I guessed, and so did Bob, but you’ve known Pete forever, so you know he’s always been like that.”

“I love him, possibly more than he deserves, but I’ve never carried the responsibility for his life like you do.”

Patrick smiled, slow and careful. “I don’t anymore. Ashlee and I had a formal handover session, before they married. We locked ourselves in her dressing room, spent a couple of hours in a debriefing, and she assumed full duty of care.”

Andy decided that personal opinions on Pete being a fucking grownup, and responsible for keeping himself alive, should be kept for another time, and nodded. “Good. Have you actually done that?”

“Done what?”

“Handed over duty of care. Let go.”

“She’s not there all the time, and I—”

Andy cut Patrick’s explanation off by kissing him hard, biting his words off, so that Patrick “oomphed” into Andy’s mouth, then started kissing back.

Wide counters. The kitchen had wide counters. Made it so much easier for Andy to climb up, too, and straddle Patrick, accidentally kicking the bowl of oatmeal and sending it smashing to the floor.

The syrup bottle rolled around somewhere nearby, and Patrick grabbed hold of Andy, jamming their mouths together, breathing hard. It was damned hot, and Andy bit at Patrick’s neck, making Patrick gasp and claw at Andy’s bare back then shove hands inside Andy’s sweats.

Andy had a hand between their bodies and inside Patrick’s jeans, when Matt and Kyle clattered down the stairs and into the kitchen.

“See?” Matt said. “This is what I was talking about. People having sex on the counter in the kitchen.”

Andy let go of Patrick’s cock and pulled his hand free reluctantly, and Patrick swore and shifted underneath Andy.

“Fuck,” Andy said to Patrick. “Sorry ‘bout the assholes I live with.”

“I’m glad I missed out on this last time then,” Kyle said to Matt, opening the fridge. “Not that it’s different from being on tour, of course.”

Andy lifted his weight enough for Patrick to do his fly back up, and Matt said, “Honestly, we need house rules, about not throwing food around while fucking in the kitchen.”

“Okay,” Andy said. “We’ve got the message. You can stop now. What are you both doing awake? Isn’t it painfully early?”

Andy slid off the counter, hitching his sweats up and dodging the oatmeal on the floor, then pulled Patrick back up, so Patrick was sitting on the edge of the counter.

“I would have been asleep,” Matt said, sounding pained. “Except, my bedroom is directly above yours.”

He glared at Andy, and Andy grinned back at him.

“And mine is above the kitchen,” Kyle said, pouring himself a coffee.

Andy glanced at Patrick, who shrugged back at him.

“Like Kyle said, just like being on tour,” Patrick said. “Just without the added Pete-ness. Fewer civil lawsuits or broken bones.”

Kyle nodded. “Hey, I’ve got a band like that.”

“Does your band have sex in the kitchen?” Matt asked, picking up the syrup bottle and shaking it at Andy. “With condiments?”

“Not with each other,” Kyle said, then he paused. “No, definitely not. Far too much public sex, though.”

“Hey, at least Pete has stopped with that,” Patrick said. “Thanks to Ashlee.”

Andy poked at the oatmeal on the floor with his toe. “Guess Justin is stuck with making home sex tapes of us, then.”

Patrick hit Andy, far too hard in Andy’s opinion. Damn, but Patrick was vicious when provoked.

“I like you, Patrick,” Matt said. “Despite the whole sex thing. Please hit him again.”

“Gladly,” Patrick said, as Andy straightened up again, holding onto his ribs on one side.

Kyle nodded. “Small, cute-looking, and psychotic. I can see why Andy likes you. You’re just like him, only without the tattoos and deranged world-view.”

“Do you have to live with these people?” Patrick asked Andy. “I think they’re secretly evil.”

“It’s no secret,” Matt said. “Not among people who know us.”

When Matt and Kyle had gone downstairs, carrying coffee, to start the day with Mario Kart and invective, Andy picked up oatmeal and broken bowl.

“We were talking,” Andy said. “About important things. And I cut you off before we started arguing. Sorry.”

Patrick, still sitting on the counter, spooned the replacement batch of oatmeal and syrup into his mouth and said indistinctly, “S’okay, I like your way of not arguing.” He swallowed. “Right, that’s better, I can speak now.”

Andy ditched the worst of the broken bowl and oatmeal into the trash can and tore off more paper towels. “We were about to argue about Pete.”

Patrick nodded. “Were you serious about me moving in here? Don’t you need to ask your housemates?”

“What? You think this is an egalitarian household or something? I’ll just announce you’ll be around, and they’ll groan and complain about the noise and your personal habits.”

“Okay, so that’s the anarchist’s approach to house-sharing.”

Andy looked up at Patrick, who was kicking his bare feet against the kitchen cupboards.

“Then they’ll realize if you’re here, they can get you to help out with the Fuck City household band, whatever we’re called this week. At the very least, you can produce whatever we record, even if Stu and Kyle can’t persuade you to play hardcore.”

“Would that fix at least some of your concerns?” Patrick asked. “If I moved in here?”

Andy stood up again, paper towels dripping oatmeal. “Yeah, yeah it would. I think it would pretty much fix everything, forever.”

Patrick smiled around his spoonful of oatmeal. “Then I’ll leave my shitty life in LA and come and hang out with you here.”

The last of the oatmeal mess went into the trash, and Andy leaned against the counter beside Patrick and handed him the bottle of syrup.

“All we have to do is survive the next few months of touring.”

Patrick squeezed more syrup into his bowl. “Yeah, we get to fuck like crazy while on tour, and we’re not in a van this time.”

“Hotel rooms,” Andy said scooping oatmeal and syrup out of the bowl with his fingers and holding them out for Patrick to suck. “And when we’re on a bus, it’s the two of us.”

* * *

They walked—slid, slithered and stumbled—back down the lake. Patrick felt giddy, almost; light-headed with happiness, stupidly well-fucked, and distractedly optimistic for the first time in years. Andy bounced along beside him, wrapped up in scarves and hidden behind sunglasses, but still radiating the same good mood as Patrick.

In the weak sunshine, Lake Michigan gleamed under its coat of ice and snow, and the open sky glowed with winter sunshine. Andy slung his arm around Patrick’s shoulders, pressing his lips against the gap between scarf and hat, where Patrick’s skin showed.

* * *

Claire opened the door of her condo still wearing her bland work clothes, and Patrick wondered what the etiquette was. Flowers? Apologies? At least he’d called first.

He settled for handing her the box of her clothes and books he’d located, strewn through his own belongings.

“Do you want to come in?” she asked, taking the box.

“Thanks.”

In the kitchen, Claire handed Patrick a carry bag, filled with the same kind of detritus he’d just given back to her.

Patrick peered into the bag, at paperbacks and razors, and said, “I’d like to tell you what’s going on for me, but I don’t know if you want to hear it.”

“A last gasp of honesty?” Claire asked.

“Yeah,” Patrick said. “One last gasp.”

“I always felt like I was talking to your shadow, or your reflection, not to the real you,” Claire said. “I guess I know why now.”

Patrick nodded. “And I couldn’t tell you until I told myself. I’m sorry you caught up in any of this, and that I handled it so badly.”

“Hit me with it,” Claire said. “Before I start wallowing too much.”

* * *

Someone who could only be the nanny opened the door of the hotel suite, and Ashlee called out, “Let him in, he’s the pizza delivery boy!”

“Thank, Ashlee!” Patrick called back, and the nanny stood aside and let Patrick in.

Ashlee bounced up to Patrick and they hugged, then she tipped her head to one side to study him. “What have you been up to?” she asked.

“Sleeping,” Patrick said, comparatively truthfully, since he had slept the entire flight over, for a change.

“Where’s Pete?”

Ashlee pulled a face. “Not sleeping. In the bathroom. Go and smack some sense into him.”

“He’s your problem now,” Patrick said. “Remember? I don’t have to work out how to make him sleep anymore.”

“Unfair,” Ashlee said, behind Patrick, while Patrick headed through the main bedroom of the hotel suite, toward the bathroom.

Pete was sitting on the closed toilet seat, talking on the phone, laptop open on the counter, when Patrick looked around the partly-ajar door.

He waved at Patrick, and said, “Gotta go, talk to you soon,” and closed his phone.

They hugged, dislodging complimentary toiletries, random hair appliances and someone’s makeup kit, and then Pete pulled Patrick down to sit beside him on the bathmat.

“Why the bathroom?” Patrick asked.

“Best bathroom ever,” Pete said. “Can’t waste it.”

Okay, Pete was in manic-sustained-insomnia mode. No wonder Ashlee had been happy to see Patrick.

Pete leaned closer, right into Patrick’s personal space, and said, “Whoa, what have you been up to?”

Patrick grinned, hugging Pete. “Things have happened.”

“Things?” Pete’s voice rose, echoing around the tiled bathroom. “We’re talking really hot things, aren’t we?”

“Shut up, Pete,” an unfamiliar voice called, from elsewhere in the suite. “You’ll wake the baby.”

“Yeah,” Patrick said, keeping his voice down. “I drove up to Fuck City, while I was visiting the family—”

Pete squeaked, clamping his hand over his mouth to silence himself, and Patrick sighed.

“And talked to Andy.”

Pete’s eyes went wide, but he didn’t move his hand from his mouth.

“More than talked,” Patrick admitted.
Pete made gurgling noises, and threw himself at Patrick.

“Ohfuckareyoubacktogether?” Pete asked in one burst before covering his mouth again.

Pete was possibly the most hilariously entertaining Patrick had ever seen him, but Patrick didn’t dare laugh in case the nanny yelled at everyone who made noise, not just Pete.

“We fixed up what went wrong in 2004,” Patrick said.

Pete made a noise like a howler monkey and toppled the pair of them over, rolling them around on the bathroom floor, kicking and thrashing.

Dodging injuries from the plumbing fixtures consumed all of Patrick’s attention, until a pair of very nice feet and legs appeared beside his face, and he looked up at Ashlee.

Ashlee said, “No. No breaking the hotel or Patrick. We’ve had this talk already.”

Pete stopped pummeling Patrick and handed him back his cap.

“But,” Pete said. “But, wait until you hear what’s happened.”

“Later,” Ashlee said. “Tell me later. I have a symbiote to feed.”

When Ashlee had gone, Patrick sat up, leaning back against the bath, and straightened his T-shirt.

“So, you’re happy about this?”

Pete nodded. “Absolutely. We were assholes, voting like we did. Andy would have been entitled to leave the band over that, and we owe him so much for not walking out then.”

“He doesn’t see it that way,” Patrick said.

“I’d do anything for the two of you,” Pete said. “Do you want a huge fucking wedding reception? Want me to take on the Establishment, so you can get married for real?”

Patrick kicked Pete. “Can we have a reality check on this? Think about it, just for a moment.”

“Point,” Pete said. “Andy has already lectured me enough about how marriage is about ownership of property and not love.”

“There is something, though.”

“Sure,” Pete said, leaning forward. “My considerable resources are at your command. What do you want?”

“Lend us Justin? Andy will arrange things with Joe, if you'll help out.”

Pete grinned. “Sure. I’ll link the fuck out of the footage, too. After five years, you’ve earned something like this. We fucked up, the three of us. We really, really fucked up back then.”

Patrick nodded. “There were reasons, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try and fix it now.”

Pete rested his chin on his knees. “You mean I was the reason, don’t you? I’m the fucking elephant in the room.”

“You’re always the elephant that’s fucking in the room,” Patrick said.

“Thanks, I needed that mental image.”

“I could provide you with other mental images,” Patrick offered. “Better images, featuring more tattoos.”

“Two buses,” Pete said. “I don’t need to see. Or hear.” He groaned. “Oh, fuck, I don’t need to hear ever again.”

Patrick stared at Pete in disbelief. “We never got the band evicted from a Best Western.”

“Yes, well,” Pete said. “I’m respectable now.”


* * *

“How’s it been?” Justin asked. “In the couple of weeks since you came out?” Patrick leaned forward on the couch in the dressing room, and Pete hung over the back.

“Interesting,” Patrick said. “I'm still not really used to the idea of being out.”

Patrick patted Pete’s hand, where it rested on his shoulder.

“What have you been up to?” Justin asked.

“During the break, between Florida and flying to Japan, I went home to Chicago for a few days,” Patrick said. “Figured I’d better see my family, that sort of thing. I saw my ex-boyfriend, too, to talk over all the stuff that had been brought up.”

Joe bounced over the arm of the couch, to sit beside Patrick, right on schedule. “We owe him a public apology, the three of us. That’s what this vid is.”

“An apology for what?” Justin asked, sounding bewildered.

“Bad shit happened in 2004,” Patrick said. “I said and did things I'm sorry for.”

“Seriously bad shit,” Pete added. “I'm not proud of what I did.”

“The three of us did not behave well,” Joe said. “Only Andy acted with any integrity. We're all sorry for what happened, and we want to apologize.”

Andy slid into the seat beside Patrick, and Patrick smiled at him. “This time, you’re in charge. This is us going on the record, and saying we're never letting that kind of disagreement within the band happen again.”

“Cool,” Andy said. “Then we’re all agreed that Patrick doesn’t dump his boyfriend this time, and everyone gets to be happy?”

Justin said, “What?”

I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject,”Andy said, in his quoting voice.

Joe groaned, and Pete stretched out an arm to slap Andy.

“Back up, to before Andy became incomprehensible,” Justin said. “Which boyfriend, Patrick? Do you need to tell us something?”

Patrick could feel the smile that was spreading across his face. “I’ve reconciled with my ex.
It would seem we wanted a second chance, not closure.”

Other people had been gathering in the dressing room, behind Justin, techs and roadies, providing background noise to Justin’s questions. The hooting from Pete drowned them out, though, when Patrick turned sideways and slid his arm around Andy’s neck, pulling Andy forward in a kiss.

The couch shook, from where Joe was bouncing up and down beside Patrick, cheering, and Pete had clambered over the back of the couch, so he was straddling Patrick’s shoulders while shrieking.

Andy pulled Patrick down, onto the couch, sending Pete sprawling as well, which tipped the couch backward with huge crash that jarred Patrick's shoulders and stunned him momentarily.

Hands grabbed him, lifting him upward, dragging Pete off him, while Andy swore loudly over the shouting in the room and someone kicked steadily at Patrick's shins.

The patch-up was going to take a while—Pete needed adhesive strips on his cheek, before the cut would stop bleeding, and the crew medic insisted that Andy be checked out by an actual doctor, because of the size of the bruise on his head.

While that happened, Justin pushed Patrick into the smallest of the dressing rooms, and kicked the door shut. The light on top of the cam glowed, and Justin pointed at the only chair, and perched himself on the counter.

“For the benefit of everyone out in YouTube-land who doesn't know Fall Out Boy history, do you want to explain what just happened?”

“Pete just broke his face, I think,” Patrick said, grinning at Justin, who flipped a finger at Patrick around the cam.

“Don't make me edit you,” Justin said.

“I don't think there's much to say,” Patrick said. “Not really.”

* * *

Pete, apparently, thought there was, when Justin put him in front of the videocam as well.

“2003,” Pete said, squashing himself onto the chair beside Patrick. “Long time ago. I thought that, while Joe and I were working hard after shows, promoting the band—”

Patrick snorted in disbelief.

“Anyway, I assumed Patrick and Andy were being all boring in the van, working on songs or reading, or whatever. Then I found out, because there are no secrets when four of you share a van, that what they'd been doing was some kind of stealthy seduction, which was pretty fucking amusing, because I'd thought Patrick was straight.”

Patrick said, “Had you asked me? Had you paid any attention to who I'd been dating?”

“Shush,” Pete said. “My turn to talk. Actually, I'd thought Andy was straight too, which just goes to show that I don't know shit sometimes.”

“Well, yes.”

“Shut up. Back then, we stayed with friends whenever we could, to get out of the van without having to pay for a motel. We crashed on this freaky commune somewhere in fucking Vermont, I think, right after this huge gay revelation. I don't know how to describe this place, except to say that they used the word 'calumet' non-ironically, ate a lot of beans and had no electricity.”

“It was a great place. Everyone got laid that night except Pete,” Patrick said. “Don't listen to his complaints.”

“Thank you very fucking much, Patrick,” Pete said. “See? Everyone. Got. Laid.”

Pete grabbed the front of Patrick's T-shirt, almost dislodging them both from the chair, and shouted, “You were a child! He took your innocence!”

Patrick could hear Justin making muffled choking noises, behind the camera.

Patrick pushed his glasses back up his nose, and tried to keep a straight face.

“Pete? I was nineteen! I'd hardly been keeping myself for my wedding night! We're not talking about 'Where no one has gone before' territory.”

Getting Pete to boggle on camera was always an achievement, and Patrick was proud of himself.

“Really?” Pete said. “I want to know what you had been up to that summer, in detail. You and I are seriously going to have to talk about this.”

“Why aren't you making a fuss about Joe?” Patrick asked. “We had to carry him to the van the next morning. No one knows what happened to him on the commune, probably including Joe, and he's younger than me.”

Justin twitched with delight, behind the camera, and Pete's eyes gleamed.

“Leave Joe out of this. Don't think you can distract me by trying to get him into trouble, too. What would your mother have said?” Pete asked.

“I don't think my mother would have been worried—after all she let me get into a van with you, knowing exactly what you are like. And why are we talking about my sex life in a vid that's going to be posted to YouTube?”

“Because everyone's bored with mine?” Pete suggested.

“You're a very boring person,” Patrick said.

* * *

Joe sat down on the chair and nodded at the cam.

“Yeah,” Joe said. “Really happy Patrick and Andy are together, they should have been the whole time. And, after sharing a bedroom with Patrick and Andy once, I'm even happier they have their own bus when we're touring.”

Justin, behind the cam, said, “Patrick has told us about a night in 2003, when the band stayed on a commune. Do you want to comment on this?”

Joe looked blankly at the cam, then smiled slowly. “I'd kind of forgotten about that.”

He looked directly at the camera. “Hey, if you're considering a career in music, and you're wondering if the stories of crazed nights of wild sex and illicit drugs are all lies, circulated to keep you practicing scales and attending stupid performances, I'm here to assure you they're not.

“Somewhere out there, when I was eighteen, I met a girl whose name I have no idea of—”

“Polly!” Andy shouted from the doorway.

“Polly, that's right. Thank you, Straight Edge band member who remembers these things. In an entire golden summer of being stupid and irresponsible, out of several years of outstanding stupidity and irresponsibility, that night is the peak moment, barely retrievable from damaged brain cells, felt rather than remembered. But when I'm old and decrepit in a nursing home, I'm going to be asking Andy, 'What was that girl's name?'“

“As long as you're not asking your wife, assuming she'll marry you after this,” Andy called out.

“Hi honey,” Joe said to the camera. “Aren't you glad I got this out of my system before we got together?”

* * *

Justin cornered Patrick and Andy, in the staging area. “C'mon, Andy,” Justin said. “Everyone else has.”

Andy shrugged and put his arm around Patrick's shoulders. “Okay.”

The light on the cam shone, and Justin said, “Talk. What are your plans for after this tour?”

“This tour's just beginning. There is no end to it,” Patrick said.

“I have plans for afterward,” Andy said. “Didn't I mention them? I'm taking off, into wilderness, with no resources, to test myself. I'm going to live on berries and mushrooms, and whatever I can scrounge. It'll be exhilarating and challenging!”

Patrick turned his head to look at Andy, who was grinning at him. “You're going camping?”

“Not camping—re-wilding,” Andy said. “Rediscovering my human past, reconnecting with my hunter-gatherer roots. You could come with me!”

“Or, I could stay home with the fridge and the internet!” Patrick said.

“Or, you could stay home with the fridge and the internet,” Andy agreed.

“Got anything else you want to say?” Justin asked.

“Well,” Patrick said. “We should probably say 'Hi!' to Bob, our manager. Wish you were here, Bob. We're thinking of you.”

Andy squeezed Patrick's shoulders. “This should be a lot of things, but mostly, it should be 2004.”

final part

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