[identity profile] rosiedoes.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] damagereport
Title: Fear of the Dark
Summary: It's almost the Hallowe'en after Take This To Your Grave is released. Disappointed with the reception it has received, Pete decides they need to turn to unorthodox sources for support.
Element: Earth
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rosiedoes
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] distortedmya
Rating: R?
Pairing: Joe/Patrick
Words: c. 6,300 this chapter.
Author's notes: This story is broken down into four parts: Earth, Air, Water & Fire.

Although I am a practicing pagan, and many of the references are based on widely accepted concepts within the pagan community, this fic should not be taken as literal, nor is it a how-to manual or intended to represent any particular path or culture. Many elements are deliberately omitted or fictionalised for the sake of brevity and narrative.

If you are interested in learning about paganism, you could do far worse than visiting the website of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.


Pioneer to the Falls
We are the same blood


The wind whipped dry leaves around Patrick's ankles as he stood on the sidewalk, waiting for Pete to return with his third pumpkin spice latte of the day. Across the street a plastic sheet with painted on eyes and wibbly, screaming mouth flapped in the breeze. He was studying his copy of Billboard magazine, flipping page after page, trying to find a review of the album, or a live show, or anything to say that their hard work and living on PB&J sandwiches had meant something to someone. He was starting to realise that maybe there wasn't anything in there this week, either.

"Dude, maybe it'll be in next week's?" Joe offered, sipping the pop from the rim of his can and prodding him in the calf with his battered blue Puma. He held his bag of Peeps tombstones out for him to take.

Patrick shook his head.

"Don't be bummed out, little dude, we'll make it. It's just that, like, nobody's ready for this level of awesome."

Joe's endless optimism about the band - or, as seemed increasingly likely, delusion - was one of the things that made Patrick fond of him. But it was also often the reason he wanted to smack him in the teeth, and today he wasn't sure which way he was leaning.

"We need a stunt," Pete announced, stepping out of the coffee shop behind them.

Patrick muttered, "But we already have you," slapping his magazine shut and rolling it up to stick it in his back pocket.

"Stunt," Joe clarified, grinning and catching his eye.

He couldn't help smiling back, in spite of his sour mood. That was another thing that made him fond of Joe: his big, stupid grin. And his wit. And his apparent lack of dignity or any desire to display any. Also, despite the madlibs trains of thought that came out of his mouth, sometimes, he was kind of smart. And he had the loveliest, saddest eyes of pretty much anyone he'd ever met. Fundamentally, Patrick really liked Joe, and it was starting to become a Thing.

"Look. We need attention, am I right? So, maybe we need to do something to get that, kind of."

"Isn't that why we're touring?"

"I'm pretty sure that I've like, spent two thirds of my life since we formed this band trying to annoy people into buying our stuff," Joe noted, with a marshmallow tucked into each cheek. "It hasn't worked, so far."

Ahead of them, Andy appeared out of an alleyway, brandishing a Blockbusters bag and looking both ways down the street. He beckoned them over. "Check this out!"

The shop was small and dark, lit by lamps and candles in large glass vessels. It smelled faintly of smoke and strongly of something Patrick recognised but couldn't place. At once citrusy and floral and musky. It was how he imagined the casbah in Raiders of the Lost Ark would have smelled. Old and mysterious. It made him feel pleasantly light headed as he wandered around the store, reading the names of the books on the shelves - some paperback with tatty spines, others leatherbound and thick.

"Check out that dummy," Joe hissed in his ear, nodding over to the counter at a figure in a dark paisley blouse, with a long, thick grey beard that blended into his hair below the shoulder. The dummy responded by turning to look at him and Joe grasped a fistful of Patrick's bodywarmer and gave a small yelp of fright, ducking behind him as he muttered, "Holy fucking shit, dude."

Patrick tried not to laugh. He didn't want to come into the guy's store and seem rude. He shrugged Joe off and smiled at the man, moving along to the next cabinet. It was glass fronted and filled with an assortment of curious objects. Some metal and shaped into stars or crescent moons, carved bells and chalices, a knife curved almost into a circle. Pendants and rings were displayed in dark velvet boxes, none of them with any prices on them, on shelves dotted with what looked like crystals and geodes.

"What is this place, man?" Joe asked, back at his ear again, sounding bewildered.

"I think it's what we call, 'a bookstore'," Patrick whispered.

He was pleased when Joe laughed and gave him a light shove in the back of the shoulder before wandering over to talk to Andy.

On the other side of the store, Pete was looking at a book. The cover was pinkish brown hide of some kind and its pages were yellow and dusty at the edges. He looked deep in thought, his eyebrows furrowed as he scanned the pages.

"What's that?"

The book was slammed shut and stuffed back on a shelf. "Nothing."

Patrick knew better than that. "Uh huh," he nodded slowly, wondering what the hell Pete was up to. "So, can we go home, now? It's Scary Movie Saturday, man, you promised me popcorn and scary monsters."

"Sure," Pete said, turning him by the shoulders and pushing him towards the door. "Let's go."

They'd reached the corner of the street when Pete cursed and said he'd forgotten his coffee. He turned and walked back towards the alley. "I'll catch you up."

---

The futon in the apartment was small, and fucked beyond repair, but they all fitted on it, just. Patrick complained about it constantly until he realised he could use the dip in the base as an excuse to rest his weight on Joe. Joe never complained. In fact, sometimes he'd insist that Pete move over so he could sit in the middle, if Patrick was already sitting on the end. He didn't want to read too much into it, but at least it seemed that Joe didn't mind.

Tonight, he climbed over three pairs of outstretched legs, carrying the bowl of microwave popcorn, to sit on the far end of the couch and squash himself down next to Patrick. He took a handful of kernels and shovelled half of them into his mouth before pushing the bowl on to Patrick's lap.

"Tho waf are we waffing firff?"

Andy grinned and presented a box with four girls in short skirts and what looked like school uniforms on the front.

"Dude, we told you: no dirty films," Patrick sighed, tossing a piece of popcorn at his face.

"It's not a dirty film!" Andy retorted, picking it out of his lap and eating it. "It does have a bunch of pretty girls in it, though…"

"It's also as cool as fuck!" Pete added, pressing the play button on the remote. "It's about a girl that starts a new school and starts hanging out with the outcasts, and they form this coven and all this weird shit starts to happen… Trust me, man, you're gonna like it."

Joe snorted, swallowing his food. "Wasn't this, like, some kind of edgy, girl power movie? My cousins were totally into it a few years ago, or something."

"So?"

"So, nothing - I'm just saying: it made a bunch of nerdy fifteen year olds try to be goths."

Patrick snatched the case out of Andy's hand and read it. The Craft. The girls on the cover were pretty, there was no denying that. In fact, now he looked at it more closely, he seemed to remember it being in the cinema. He'd never actually seen it, so why not?

"Duck Hunt, get the lights," Pete ordered, as the movie opened on a scene of three girls chanting, surrounded by candles. Patrick watched him climb off the futon, using Patrick's knee for leverage, and then stumble across the room in the light of the TV to fall back down at his side, heavily. Patrick looked over at him and they grinned at each other, noses inches apart.

If nothing else, at least he had Joe half-sitting in his lap and that more than made up for any shitty films he was going to endure tonight.

Two hours later, crawling off the futon to press the eject button to change the film, Andy declared, "I told you it was worth it."

"Well, the effects are better on Pong, but it was okay," Joe told him. "Kind of made me think of that weird store you like, dragged us into, earlier."

"Me too," Patrick nodded, feeling the cold of the room settle in where Joe's warmth had disappeared when he got to his feet to walk out to the kitchen and pick up the next round of snacks. He kicked the door back open with a bottle of rootbeer between each finger of one hand and a bowl of Hallowe'en M&Ms in the other, glancing away from Patrick as he put the bowl on the floor between his feet and Pete's to hand out the bottles. "The main girl was kind of cute. I like red heads."

Patrick's heart skipped a little and sank. He'd seen her in other stuff, it wasn't even her natural colour. "I thought the dude she cast the spell on was hot, until he turned out to be a dick."

"But I thought you like dick?" Joe said, feigning confusion and earning himself a kick in the ass as he scrambled back into his seat.

"He doesn't actually know," Pete corrected. "It's still theoretical."

"Fuck you, man." As if he wasn't self-conscious enough about it already…

"Maybe you could do some magic to fix that?" Andy grinned, climbing back on alongside them.

"And you can fuck right off, too."

Pete almost dropped his drink as he sat bolt upright and turned to Patrick with glee in his eyes. "No, wait - Hurley's right!"

"Oh, here we go…"

"I'm serious - we should do it! We should try that shit from the film! Magic, or whatever - see if that helps give us the boost we need to make the album sell."

"You are out of your mind," Patrick informed him, flatly.

"Have you come up with anything better?"

"Better than some kind of hocus pocus?"

"It has to be worth a shot, kind of - I mean, if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Nobody has to know."

Andy chewed thoughtfully on a couple of Jujubes, the blue light from the TV casting eerie shadows on his face, and said, "Well, there could be something in it. There was a time when a lot of very cool people - writers and artists and stuff - really got into the occult. I mean, I'm talking Victorian London, but there must have been more to it than dressing up in robes and being creepy."

"I'm gonna be a Jedi, if we're like, becoming wizards," Joe announced, trying and failing to catch an M&M in his mouth. "Also totally rocking the robe."

"Well, you guys can do whatever you want, but tomorrow, I'm gonna go back to that store, or whatever, and I'm gonna see what that old dude can sell me."

And that was why, at lunchtime the next day, Patrick found himself pushing aside the wooden beads behind the door of the little bookshop and following Pete inside.

The bearded man didn't look like he'd moved since they walked out the day before. The store still smelled the same, but some kind of chant was playing softly in the background. It reminded him of the Native American performance group he'd seen at the state fair, once. It was beautiful and haunting and ran a tingle up his spine, the drumming slightly hypnotic.

"So… you got anything that helps with success, kind of?"

Pete was leaning both elbows on the counter, talking to the bearded man behind it.

"Probably," the man said. "You'll have to be more specific than that."

"Well, the thing is, we're a band, right? And we could kind of do with a little extra support, or whatever. Something to light a fire under the sales of the album we just put out, you know what I mean?"

The man nodded slowly, a glint in his eye that made Patrick's stomach flip.

"We're not looking for any old hokum, though, man - this is serious."

"Dealing with magic should always be serious. It's not something that should be entered into lightly, or you'll do more harm than good. There's power in this universe that is much, much bigger than you or I could ever comprehend. When you begin to perform magic, you turn on a light. What comes toward that light might be more than you expect. Do you think you're prepared for that, son?"

"Well," Pete began, carefully, "maybe if we had someone like you to guide us, we'd be better informed."

The man smirked. "My name's Frank, not Yoda."

"Okay, Frank, so maybe you could start us off with a book or something, kind of? Tell us what we need, we'll come back if we need any clarification."

Twenty minutes later, Patrick was laden with bags of coloured candles, jars of incense and a small stone dish to burn them in, an antler-handled ceremonial knife that he was pretty sure Andy was going to lose his shit over, two books and a chalice carved from yew.

He wasn't convinced they needed or could afford any of it, but Pete had listened so intently to everything Frank had to say, that he hadn't had the heart or the energy to suggest that maybe they go away and think about it. Pete spent the evening curled into the easy chair with his books and a fancy new journal, making notes in the light of a white church candle on the windowsill. He'd downloaded some kind of sub-Enya ethereal music from Napster and was listening to it to "focus". Patrick and Joe sat in the kitchen, thighs pressed together under the tiny table, watching him through the door as they ate bowls of cereal.

"Is he really fucking serious about this?" Joe whispered, dipping his spoon in Patrick's bowl to steal a marshmallow from his Lucky Charms and earning himself a smack on the hand with Patrick's spoon.

"I think he is. When he took me to that store, earlier, he was asking all kinds of questions about what meant what, y'know? Like, colours and stuff."

Joe pulled a face. "Well. I guess if he wants to light a few candles and burn some shit and chant a bit, it can't totally hurt."

Patrick hmmed, noncommittally. He didn't know the first thing about magic, but he was pretty sure that if he knew anyone who could exploit it, Pete was top of the list. But he had a weird feeling about all of this, something churning in the pit of his stomach, that maybe - just maybe - this time they were dabbling in things that were beyond their ken.

---

When Andy came over for practice on Wednesday night, Pete met him at the door and told him he didn't need to bring his kit up, because they were doing something else. Standing in his doorway, holding his guitar in one hand and his practice amp in the other, Joe looked across at Patrick, who blinked back at him and shrugged. No, man, no idea. Joe sighed exaggeratedly at him and disappeared back into his room to put his things away.

In the middle of the living room floor, Pete had set up a couple of picnic blankets and four cushions, with the wooden chopping board from the kitchen in the middle. At the centre was a large, white candle on a plate. Around it, were the antler knife and scattered piles of sage leaves. The only reason Patrick even recognised them was because his grandma had a plant in the garden and put it in pork stuffing.

"We're doing it tonight?" he asked, feeling Joe step up close behind him to peer into the room over his shoulder.

"Woah."

"We're not doing it tonight. Tonight we're finding our mojo, or whatever."

"A little warning would have been nice," Andy complained, dumping his bass drum behind the door. "I had to dismantle this whole thing!"

"Quit bitching, man, if we figure this out, you'll never have to set up your own kit ever again."

After twenty minutes of gathering drinks and catching up, Pete herded them into the living room and pulled a compass and a piece of paper with a diagram on it out of his pocket. He pushed Patrick with his fingertips until he was standing in front of the grubby green cushion on the floor, then stepped in front of the red one opposite. He grabbed Andy by the wrist and pulled him in front of a blue cushion that Patrick had never seen before, leaving a mustard colour one free for Joe. But Andy pulled his hand away and stepped across to the yellow one.

"Are you serious? Did you even read about this stuff?"

"What?"

"Joe? Air? Are you kidding me?"

"I resent that!" Joe complained, before uncertainly adding, "I… assume."

"Dude, you're so water you're practically dripping."

"What does that even mean?" Patrick asked. "And why the hell am I standing here?"

"You're Earth!" Pete and Andy snapped simultaneously.

"But why? I don't know what the fuck is going on!"

"You're Earth," Andy explained slowly. "Steadfast, consistent - "

"Stubborn as fuck," Pete added.

" - our greatest resource."

"And why's Joe Water, then?"

"Because he's mercurial and constantly in motion and - okay, imagine white water - like a stream or something?"

"Right…?"

"Well, you can't catch it, right? You can get a little in your hands for a minute, but then it's gone."

That definitely sounded like Joe to Patrick, based on his experience. For all the times he thought opportunity was looming on the horizon, never once had it come through for him.

"I kind of don't get it, but I'll just like, go with the flow or whatever," Joe shrugged.

Patrick grinned at him. "Good one."

"Huh?"

"Go with the flow? Water?"

"Oh! Hah. Yeah."

Pete smacked Joe in the shoulder impatiently. "Would you two try to take this seriously? I put a lot of effort into this!"

"What're you hitting me for?! He made the joke!"

"Okay," Patrick nodded, taking a deep breath and trying to sound serious. "So, what are you?"

"Fire."

"Well, that stands to reason."

"It's not about setting fire to things," Andy told them, rolling his eyes. "It's passion, motivation, leadership -"

"I dunno, bro, Patrick's pretty passionate…" Joe shrugged. "Maybe he should be Fire."

"- and as much as it pains me to say this, Pete is our leader."

"Speak for yourself," Patrick muttered. "And what are you?"

"Air. Knowledge. Intuition. Functions of the higher mind."

"So, how come that isn't me?" Joe asked, quirking an eyebrow at him.

"You honestly want me to answer that?"

It was quite plain that Pete was reaching the end of his tether and that he was either about to stomp off and write a cryptic LiveJournal post because no one was taking him seriously, or he was going to start a brawl.

"Alright. So. What now?" Patrick asked.

Without answering, Pete sat down on his cushion and waved at them all to follow suit.

"We're going to cast a circle, right?" Andy asked. "Before we start?"

"Yes. But can I fucking explain, first?"

"Okay, okay - I was just checking…"

From what Patrick could gather, from Pete's description of what was going to happen and the scrap of paper which his instructions on it, they were going to meditate. Which all seemed like a lot of trouble to do something his drama teacher had made them do for five minutes at the start of every lesson.

"So, hold hands," Pete said, when he'd decided that everyone was ready.

Patrick held out his hand for Joe to take, watching him rub his sweaty palm on the thigh of his trackpants before lightly placing it over Patrick's. He didn't bother with the hand he gave to Pete. Patrick smiled at him encouragingly and wrapped his fingers around Joe's, trying not to think about what they were doing or concentrate on the fact that his heart was starting to race a little.

"Okay, Hurley: you're up."

Andy took a deep breath. "I call the guardians of the watchtower of the East - the element of Air. Bring us your powers of intuition, knowledge and insight. Your wisdom and imagination. We bid you hail and welcome."

"Hail and welcome," the three of them echoed.

Pete followed, calling the guardians of the South and the element of fire with its powers of transformation and the guiding beacon of its light.

Joe cast Patrick an uncertain sidelong glance and cleared his throat to read from the scrap of paper balanced on his crossed ankles. "I call the guardians of the watchtower of the West - the element of Water. Bring us your powers of, um… healing and fluidity… the power of intuition and ability change course. We bid you hail and, uh, welcome, dudes."

Pete narrowed his eyes at him, but said nothing other than his echoed 'hail and welcome'.

"So," Patrick began, rattling through his notes as quickly as he could. "I call the guardians of the watchtower of the North - the element of Earth. Bring us your powers of stability and permanence. Your powers of endurance and abundance. We bid you hail and welcome."

Pete got to his feet and walked around them clockwise, dropping a dusting of salt from the shaker on to the floor. Joe watched him, horrified. "You'd better fucking be the one to vacuum that back up after we're done, dude."

"Shh. I cast this circle as a space of peace and protection through which no ill will shall pass."

He sat back down and folded his legs, taking a long, slow breath. "Okay. We're gonna start out with a meditation. I want you to think about your element and what it means, and how you can kind of like, embody it, yeah? Imagine that those things are running in your veins. When we come back down, we're gonna talk about what we learned, or whatever, and we're gonna do a kind of taster spell to see what happens. Something with a quick turn around, okay? We need to be able to measure it."

"That's cool, but like, how do you start a meditation?" Joe asked, looking around at the three of them, as if he thought they all knew.

"If you wait, I'll guide you," Pete replied, shifting his weight on the cushion. "Everyone get as comfortable as you can in this position."

"My back already hurts…"

"In a minute you'll be thinking about other stuff, okay? Just close your eyes and focus."

"Also," Andy added, "you two don't still need to be holding hands."

"Oh." Patrick felt his face warm a little and carefully loosened his fingers from Joe's. "Sorry."

"I don't mind…"

"Everybody close your fucking eyes and stop flirting with each other!"

"I'm not flirting!" Patrick snapped defensively, eyes already shut. He opened his right one just a little and looked around the circle. Andy was sitting up straight, chin perfectly level, breathing even. Pete's head was slightly inclined, his shoulders slowly relaxing. Joe's eyes were closed, but he was frowning, his head dipped and his shoulders dropped. Maybe he really wasn't into doing this at all.

"Listen to my voice. Take a long, slow breath and feel the floor beneath you. Acknowledge it, and let it go. Take a long, deep breath and acknowledge the sounds around you - the traffic in the street outside, the refrigerator in the kitchen - and let it go. Concentrate on breathing deeply and evenly and let every muscle in your body relax - from the top of your head, through your face, and neck, down your arms and back, through your thighs, down to your toes. Let any negativity flow out of you and evaporate into the aether."

This wasn't so hard. This, he could do.

"Now, I want you to imagine that you're outside - you're out in nature, somewhere that reflects your element. I want you to spend some time exploring your surroundings, making a mental note of the smells and the sounds and the things you can see. If you meet someone, remember them and ask them - in your mind - for any messages they have for you. Don't open your eyes or speak, or disturb anyone else."

Patrick took another slow breath and tried to clear his mind. Almost instantly, he found himself standing in a forest, the trees were huge and old, bare - moss growing up their trunks - the air smelled of fallen leaves and soil but the ground was frozen with frost. It was misty and chill and he could hear a waterfall somewhere nearby. Immediately, instinctively, he thought Joe, and set off towards it. The bubbling water sounded like his laughter; the low, delighted chuckle he gave when he was happy. There was a small, babbling brook winding its way through the tree roots, so Patrick followed it, realising his feet were socked and muddy, but not cold. He could feel the moss and the leaves slippery under his toes. As he walked, the brook grew into a stream, and the stream grew into a small river, until the land fell away in front of him, and rocks jutted out from the soil, the water cascading over them. He stepped up to the edge, strangely unafraid of the height that would usually have paralysed him with terror, and looked down.

There, in the pool amongst the froth was Joe, treading water and looking back up at him.

"Dude, I've been waiting for you."

"You have?"

"For ages. Come down!"

"How?"

"You have to jump."

"I can't."

"It's okay, man, I've got you!"

Patrick looked around, at the trees below - some of the leaves were still green, most turning yellow and red and fluttering as they fell. It was still fall, here. He twisted and looked behind him, but the trees that way were just as bare as before.

"If you jump, I'll catch you, I promise!"

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He trusted Joe, but swimming was never his thing. He wasn't good at it, he didn't like it and he didn't know if he could do it after jumping off a cliff into a lagoon.

Still, he steadied himself and looked down at the water below him. "Alright." Nervously, he lifted one foot and held it out over thin air, feeling himself tip forward into nothing.

Pete's voice broke his fall. "Okay. When you're ready, say goodbye to anybody you met, and feel yourself coming back to the physical plane."

Patrick's eyes opened instantly, and snapped across to Joe. Joe's eyes were also wide open, his pupils dilated in the dim candle light. He was staring straight at Patrick, his cheeks flushed. Somehow Patrick knew, without either of them saying anything, that whatever had just happened was supremely fucking weird.

Pete was grinning before his eyes opened. His teeth glinting in the flickering orange.

"That was awesome."

Andy was still sitting with his eyes closed, a sedate smile on his lips. He nodded slightly and blinked, returning to the room.

"So, we're gonna go over what just happened," Pete said, "I wanna know what you saw, or if you got any messages or anything, kind of."

"Uh. What if I don't want to share it?" Joe asked, awkwardly.

"You have to, it's the whole point!"

Andy looked at him, curiously. "Joe? You okay?"

"Yeah, but…"

"I think…" Patrick cleared his throat and started again, reaching out to put a hand on Joe's shoulder, feeling it tense under his fingers. "Dude: waterfall?"

He blushed furiously in response and nodded, gazing down at the candle in front of them.

"I think our meditation things might have overlapped a little."

"Holy shit!" Pete gasped. "Are you serious?!"

"Yeah. I was in a forest and I could hear a waterfall, so I walked towards it and at the bottom, Joe was hanging out in the water. It's no big deal." He let his hand drop from Joe's shoulder, back to his own lap, not really sure it was as true for Joe as it was for him.

"Did you say anything to each other, or whatever?"

"He told me to come down to the lake. Nothing interesting."

Joe looked over at him, sidelong, and gave him a small, grateful smile.

"Oh. Well, that's a total waste of time, thanks."

Patrick tried not to catch Andy's eye; he could feel the weight of his gaze and he had an uncomfortable feeling he wasn't convinced by Patrick's version of the truth.

"What about you, Hurley?"

"It was peaceful," Andy said, thoughtfully. "A raven came to me."

"Did it say anything?"

"Well, no, bro - it was a raven. But it stayed with me while I sat in a tall tree, watching over the treetops. I could feel the breeze in my face. It was beautiful."

Pete looked dubious. "I was walking through a wildfire. But it was alright, kind of? I didn't feel afraid or anything. The fire wasn't gonna burn me, like I was part of it, or something. There were animals running past me, though - like they were trying to get away."

"So, wait - are we saying we all wound up in the woods?" Patrick asked.

One by one, the others seemed to think about it, and slowly nodded.

"Well, that's a good sign, right? It must mean we're all on the same page, y'know?"

"Some of us more than others," Pete noted, watching Joe pick at the skin on the side of his nails, nervously. "You two ought to make something of that. See if it happens again."

Joe looked up at him sharply but said nothing.

"What are we doing next?" Patrick asked, trying to change the subject. He had a feeling that Joe was one misstep away from bolting and swearing off anything magical ever again, and now that they'd started, Patrick was kind of getting into it. He was curious as to what exactly Joe had seen, ever so slightly hopeful.

"Okay, so, next we're gonna do a little spell." Pete pulled some small squares of card out of his hoodie pocket and handed them all pens. "I need you to write down something you want on these. Make it simple, right? No 'world peace' bullshit. Stuff that could happen and you'd know, kind of. Something reasonable. This is our fucking litmus test. Oh - and don't go wishing for a bigger dick or anything, because you're gonna have to ask for it out loud in a second."

"Well - like what, though, dude?" Joe asked, hopelessly. "I wasn't exactly, like, prepared for this."

"So, what do you want, that could happen?"

Patrick shrugged and pressed the button on the top of his pen. "I'm gonna ask for a payrise."

"Yeah, that's fine - that could work."

"I think I'm just gonna ask for a sign, you know?" Andy added. "I want to know that whatever's out there is okay with us doing this."

"You want to ask for permission, bro? What kind of fucking anarchist asks for permission to do subversive shit like this, man?"

"An anarchist who thinks fucking with powers greater than he is, is a great time to be polite about it."

"He's got a point," Patrick said, carefully adding 'please' to his note.

"Well, I'm asking to be the name on everybody's lips, this weekend," Pete told them, smugly, writing his request in careless slashes. "Joe. Choose something, bro."

"But…" Joe spread his hands, looking down at the blank square on his knee, the pen wound between his fingers. "I don't… Like, I don't know what to ask for?"

"What about a new computer so you can give me your old one?" Andy grinned optimistically.

"There's gotta be something you want, man, seriously!"

"Not that I want to talk about in front of you assholes."

Pete arched an eyebrow at him, "Oh yeah?"

"What about - " Patrick twirled his pen in his fingers, focusing on it intently, wondering how hard this was going to backfire on him "- if there's maybe someone you're into, or something like that?"

"How much of an idiot do you think I am, dude?" Joe demanded, jerking his thumb at Pete. "I'm not giving him that kind of ammunition!"

"Oh. Sorry."

"Honestly, little bro, I don't even fucking care, right now. I just want you to pick something, so we can get the fuck on with it."

Joe gazed at the ceiling for inspiration, his mouth open a little. "I… fuck. I don't know - maybe… maybe I could just ask to be happy. I mean, that's what everyone wants, fundamentally, right…?"

"Okay, whatever, man - just write it down."

With a heavy sigh, Joe pulled the lid off his pen with his teeth and carefully wrote out, 'Be happy.' Patrick gave him a sympathetic pat on the arm as he folded up his square of paper. It bummed him out a little that Joe felt he needed a spell to be happy, Joe was a strange mix of melancholy and whimsy and unbridled optimism; he never really believed that he was anything other than happy, though.

Joe held up his folded note between his fingers and looked at Pete, determinedly. "And?"

"Now, we ask for it." Pete cleared his throat. "Repeat after me: mark, O spirits, hear my plea, bring that which I desire to me." He nodded to Andy, who stated his request and held his paper into the flame, placing the burning scraps on the piles of leaves on the plate. One by one, they followed suit, the room starting to fill with the smell of scorched sage.

They watched the paper and leaves turn to ash, in silence, the flames melting the edges of the wax on the pillar candle until they burned down to nothing. It had a strangely spiritual feeling, for Patrick. He didn't entirely know what they were really expecting to achieve, or if any of it was going to work, but for the time they weren't bickering, it had been an oddly calming and pleasant experience.

He followed Pete's lead as they thanked the spirits and sent them on their way and then dismantled their invisible circle. It may have been the power of suggestion, but it seemed almost that the room felt different, afterwards. Less full, somehow, even when they all crammed themselves onto the futon with drinks and contemplated their work.

It was later that night, when Andy had left and Pete was in his room, talking to his his girlfriend on the phone, that Joe appeared in Patrick's doorway. His arms were tucked across his stomach, his shoulder propped against the frame. Patrick pulled his headphones off and smiled at him, puzzled.

"Hey. You okay?"

"Yeah."

"D'you need anything?"

"No… I just." He stood up straighter and stepped in a little. "Thanks. For earlier."

"For what?"

Joe looked over his shoulder, out towards Pete's door, and pushed the door almost closed behind himself. "For the meditation thing."

"Oh." Patrick shifted to encourage him to sit down on the bed, next to him. "It's fine, dude, I just told the truth."

"Did you?"

"Well, it was an abridged version, y'know? But it was what happened."

Pausing for a second, Joe hovered by the door, and then moved over to perch on the end, one of his knees pulled up to his chest. "The thing is, dude, you were asking me to come to you. 'Come out of the water' and stuff."

"You were telling me to jump into the water," Patrick told him. "I didn't know what it meant or anything, I just thought that you wanted to hang out."

Joe nodded, slowly. "I guess that was it."

"Did it freak you out or something, dude? You seemed kind of uncomfortable when we came back out of it."

Joe nodded and looked like he wanted to say something else, but closed his mouth, frowning at nothing.

"Do you think Pete was right? That maybe we should try it again?" Patrick tried, hoping Joe would agree. Aside from being curious about what might happen in their strange little mind meld world, he sort of hoped hanging out and doing intense stuff like this together might help his cause.

"I don't know, dude, maybe."

"Well, I'm down. I'm pretty sure we don't need to go through all the salty crap to meditate, it's just a case of sitting down quietly and getting in the zone, y'know? We used to have to do it in one of my high school classes."

"Okay…."

"Good. Cool. I mean, I think it'll be interesting, if nothing else, y'know? See if it was a coincidence."

Joe nodded again.

"So… what did you make of the whole thing tonight?"

"I dunno, man, it all felt a little dumb until that happened."

"Yeah."

"I kind of wish I'd thought of something else, for my spell thing."

"If it works, maybe you can choose something else next time. 'Cause you know that if this works, he won't want to stop and we're going to end up a frickin' black metal band or something, writing odes to Odin."

Patrick was pleased to see the laugh spread across Joe's face. It changed the atmosphere entirely and Joe shifted to sit beside him, legs spread down the bed, almost ankle to ankle save for the height difference.

"So, what do we do when Pete, like, invokes God and becomes an all-powerful nut?" Joe asked seriously.

"I don't know, dude. Maybe we should ask Frank."

"Frank?"

"Old guy from the bookstore."

"Oh. What else do you think we can use this stuff for?"

"Depends if it works. We might get a fat lot of nothing out of it."

"Except an apartment that smells like weed, now."

"Except that," Patrick grinned.

---

The next morning, when Patrick arrived at work, his manager took him into the office and told him their supervisor had been in a car wreck and was going to be in hospital for months. Patrick stared at the brand new name badge being held out to him, with 'Supervisor' printed under it, and felt a little sick.



Title from Interpol's song 'Pioneer to the Falls'
Quote from The Academy Is... song, 'Same Blood'
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