[identity profile] rosiedoes.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] damagereport
Title: The World's Not Waiting (For Joe Trohman to Stop Being a Pussy and Start Going For What He Wants) [20/?]
Summary: AU Timeline - Teenage angst and Crayola Rainbows. Or, Joe saw him first.
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rosiedoes
Betas: distortedmya and heartofthesunrise.
Rating: R at absolute max.
Pairing: Joe/Patrick
Words: c. 9,000 this chapter.
Author's notes: This fic is written in a slightly AU timeline, where Andy joins the band straight away. One or two formerly key players may also be conspicuous by their absence...


Disclaimer: Get me a Dolorean and I'll make it real; until then, sadly not true.

Previous Chapters:
Part One: Paperbacks and Sexuality
Part Two: My Heart is On My Sleeve
Part Three: Your Secret's Out
Part Four: No Less Defeated
Part Five: Place Your Hand Between
Part Six: My Badge, My Witness
Part Seven: Knocking Boots in the Back
Part Eight: The Battle's Only Halfway Done
Part Nine: Kiss Safe Thoughts Goodbye
Part Ten: Snitches and Talkers
Part Eleven: My Reputation's on The Line
Part Twelve: Things I'll Never Finish
Part Thirteen: Thank Your Lucky Stars
Part Fourteen: Stop Making Plans, Start Making Sense
Part Fifteen: Our Hearts Are Leaving Home
Part Sixteen: To Make It Out Of This Disaster
Part Seventeen: Concentrating On Falling Apart
Part Eighteen: A Lie We Can Both Keep
Part Nineteen: Kisses On The Necks Of Best Friends




The World’s Not Waiting (For Joe Trohman To Stop Being A Pussy And Start Going For What He Wants) [20/?]
Part Twenty: Keep My Jealousy Close

Your smile reminds me of switchblades and infidelity.


Joe's last day at the toy store was a Wednesday in the first full week in January. They had shows booked from Thursday to Sunday, none of them as far away as they had been in the summer, but not close enough to make going home each night a practical proposition. Now that he was leaving, he kind of thought he'd miss the place a little. He was starting to quite like some of his colleagues - he hadn't taken much time to hang out with them, other than when he was avoiding Patrick at the start of December, but they were decent to him. None of them knew him when he was a strange fourteen year old, so none of them treated him like he still was one, and he appreciated that.

In the weeks after he and Patrick broke up, Ella - a tall, willowy girl with an 'edgy' bob, who seemed to be informally dating Craig, the middle-of-the-road stoner whose apartment served as some kind of open house for the toy store staff - had been really kind to him. On more than one occasion, realising he was kind of down about something, they'd convinced people to switch with him so he didn't have to be on the shop floor. And they'd never asked why, they just did what was needed.

So, on his last shift, he made a special effort to say goodbye to them both, not expecting to really see them again.

"I'm pretty bummed out that you're leaving," Ella told him, pulling her bag out of her locker in the staff room and tugging her orange beanie on. "I thought we were just starting to get to know you. Don't you even want to come over to hang out, tonight? I mean, you're always welcome to come down and hang out at Craig's place, even now you don't work here, anymore."

"I kind of can't, tonight, I have to pack for tour for a few days. Maybe when I get back I could kind of like, stop by, sometime?"

"The door is always open," she smiled, pulling him into a friendly hug, towering over him by at least four inches in her chunky-soled shoes. "And I hope whatever's been making you feel bad these past few weeks works itself out for you, alright?"

There was a chance that he'd never see her again, so there didn't seem much point in being secretive, anymore. "I broke up with someone, so… I'm guessing it kind of won't."

"Oh, you did?" She seemed genuinely sorry for him. "Were you together long? Nobody even knew you had a girlfriend."

"Since I was sixteen."

"Wow. No wonder you've been weird for weeks."

Joe nodded slowly, not wanting to meet her eye, but wanting her to understand that they weren't - at least not in his opinion - 'just dating'. That this was a really big deal. "We, like… we live together."

"Oh. Right."

"Yeah. With a friend," he continued, glancing up at her to check she was listening. "We share an apartment and have our own rooms and stuff, but we kind of used to just use mine. And my… um, my ex is really bummed out about it, and I feel like an asshole for not being ready to just, like, get back together like they want. But I guess they've kind of been finding someone to fill up their time, now, anyway."

"So, is it okay if I ask why you broke up, or is that too personal?"

"It's kind of complicated, dude… but… I guess there's a lot of stuff." Joe sighed, sadly. There was so much he'd need to explain. He took a deep breath, feeling his face starting to get warm. "It's not like I feel any different about them, it's just stuff kind of got too much. I'm pretty sure they'll be happier like this, in the long term, but the thing is, like, other stuff happened a couple of weeks ago that kind of shouldn't have when we're trying to just be friends, and everything's a huge mess, basically."

"Damn," she said, wrapping a companionable arm around his shoulders for a moment. "But you know, we've all been there. It's alright to feel sad about it when things don't work out. Eventually, you'll just move on."

"Except we're in a band together," Joe told her, without thinking.

"I know."

Joe looked up at her abruptly, his heart skipping a beat. "Huh?"

"You live with two guys from your band, you told me that weeks ago. Which I guess means your ex is one of those two guys. And that's fine. You don't need to hide it."

He could feel his face burning, opening his mouth to say something, but not really finding the words.

"I can totally see how it would make things difficult, though."

"Yeah," Joe said quietly, grateful that she hadn't freaked out or told him how pathetic he was. "We're trying to just be friends, but I guess we kind of don't know how to not be dating, basically."

She nodded thoughtfully. "It's not easy, but you'll get there. Listen, if you need something to make you feel a little better, a guy who used to work here is having a house party before everyone's back on college hours, next weekend. You should come along and actually try getting to know people or something. Maybe hanging out with some people who aren't in your band will take your mind off it."

---

Things at home had been cordially tense, for the past couple of weeks. Ever since that night in the kitchen, things had been off. He couldn't entirely define it, but it was like something was hanging in the air between them and neither of them wanted to be the first to broach it. Even for the brief period late on a Tuesday night, when Patrick wandered into his room to find a CD he thought he might have left in there 'before', and spent half an hour perched on the edge of the mattress, which turned into an hour laying side by side on the bed, listening to the album in question - things just didn't feel right. It felt a little like being in jail and trying to have a conversation through a sheet of bulletproof glass. His fingers twitched on the comforter, wanting to spider their way across the fabric to curl around Patrick's, so he curled them against his palm, instead.

New Year had been such a failure that they weren't even talking about it. Pete was having some kind of crisis about breaking up with his girlfriend again and Patrick spent the evening in his room with him, leaving Joe to watch the fireworks on TV alone, and then fall into bed with a sick feeling that this was all an omen.

They'd planned to a spend a chilled out night at home, to watch the DVD together, assuming Pete would be out with Chris, because they still hadn't found a chance. In fact, there hadn't been time for anything, really. Joe had taken on a couple of extra shifts at work to help with the inevitable unemployment afterwards, and any time they tried to make plans something came up.

It was all starting to feel uncomfortably familiar.

Louisville was three hundred miles and six hours away, accounting for breaks, and he'd stuffed an entire box of batteries for his discman in his rucksack to get him through the next few days. If Pete was going to hog all of Patrick's attention, he was going to need something to distract himself.

When Patrick pushed his bag onto the pile in the corner and settled down on the blankets beside him, though, he did so with a broad grin. He propped himself against the line of amps behind them and pulled a bag of candy out of his pocket, pushing it into Joe's lap without saying anything. Joe smiled back at him and thought that maybe it wasn't going to be as hard work as he was worried it would.

They didn't curl up together with their heads in each other's laps, or snuggle against each other's shoulders, like they used to - even if Joe really kind of wanted to by the time they stopped off outside Indianapolis to grab some lunch. They just slouched together, tucked up under Joe's unzipped sleeping bag because the heaters were in the front and the floor was cold. Joe bought him some chips that he knew Patrick loved but hadn't been able to find locally since a promotion over the summer, in the gas station store, and shared his earbuds with him when Andy turned down the stereo so he could argue with Pete about what they would prefer to live without: potato or bread.

Even the show went fine. It wasn't their best, or their worst, it was just a show in another city with a bunch of kids with keychains on their jeans and New Found Glory t-shirts.

It was way too cold, even hundreds of miles south, for them to sleep in the van like they often did in the summer. Pete set about finding them a place to stay with bitter determination, sidling up to girls who looked old enough to be in college apartments and liberal - or desperate - enough to be willing to let the rest of them sleep in their homes just for the opportunity to say they fucked that guy from some band.

The girl who agreed had a roommate with her, and crawled into the back of the van with Pete and Andy and a bottle of something that she seemed shocked they wouldn't drink with them. Joe drove almost in silence, impatiently calling for directions at intersections that he wasn't sure she even knew, trying to find his way to her apartment without a clue where he was going. Patrick sat next to him, turning the local rock station up to almost full volume to drown out whatever was going on in the back.

In the dark of the strangers' living room, lying side by side on cushions from the couch and easy chair, they talked about nothing to try to block the cringe-inducing sounds from both of the bedrooms, neither of them quite ready to sleep.

"I don't think I've ever wanted to be on tour less in my life," Patrick told him morosely. He nibbled on his lip, his brows furrowed in the light shining through the crooked blind. "At least we can deal with it together, though, y'know?"

Joe nodded against the folded up hoodie he was using as a pillow. "I'm just glad it's only like four shows…"

"Yeah… Do we have a few days before you're back in school, when we get home? Maybe we could watch that movie, finally, y'know?"

"Maybe."

For a few moments, there was silence, but he could feel Patrick staring at him as he gazed at the ceiling.

"Joe?"

"Yeah?"

"We're… I mean, we're as okay as we can be, right?"

He shrugged, little more than a rustle against the fabric of his sleeping bag, afraid that if he opened his mouth something bitter and petty would come out of it, because he was still pissed off about New Year. Even as a friend, he wouldn't have abandoned Patrick - or Pete, or Andy - like that. He'd felt so second rate and insignificant, even though he knew Patrick was supposedly supporting Pete through another tough time. Neither of them had invited him to join them and he didn't feel like inviting himself in to join their little secret huddle. So, at a time when he could have been hanging out with people he cared about, and who cared about him, he was alone and miserable and it felt like the rest of the year was going to be much the same.

They laid on their rows of cushions, side by side but with a few inches between them for the sake of decency, in total silence until Joe mustered the courage to say, "We should probably sleep, dude."

"Yeah, I guess," Patrick nodded, and for a heart-stopping moment, looked as though he was about to prop himself up on one elbow to lean across the gap. Joe quickly mumbled, 'night' and turned over to get comfortable, facing away from him. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of Christmas Eve, on some stranger's floor. Well, maybe not the last, but he was determined not to make that same mistake again.

---

They left early the next day, leaving the girl standing in the hall with a smirk on her face, wearing what appeared to be nothing but one of their merch t-shirts, three sizes too big. The roommate didn't even come out of the room to say goodbye.

Pete seemed in a much more chipper mood and Andy was typically reticent, giving only a vague hand wobble in response to questioning about how his night went. He sat in the back with Joe for the three hour journey to Columbus and left Patrick to drive while Pete shouted unnecessary details over the stereo.

"How was your night, Number One Fan?" Andy asked, looping his elbow around Joe's neck and giving him a sympathetic squeeze.

"Fine," Joe told him in a half-whisper, looking up at the back of Patrick's head to make sure he was listening to Pete, rather than them. "A little awkward."

"Why awkward?"

"Because I was lying on a floor with my ex who doesn't want to be, listening to four other people fucking, basically."

"Ouch. Yeah, okay, I'll give you that. Sorry, I didn't even consider it..."

Joe shrugged tiredly. It was too late to care now, he just hoped that he'd get some time to sleep in the van before they unloaded for the show.

"Listen, are you two okay?" Andy asked him, actually whispering, this time.

"I guess, dude. I mean, like, we're broke up, living together in a shitty apartment, trapped in a van, listening to other people fucking in stereo, and Pete's basically taking up all his time… What's not to like?" He gave a cynical little laugh and spread his hands for emphasis. "I quit my job that I was actually starting to like, to be here, too! Good times!"

Andy gave him a sad look. "I'm pretty sure he'd sell his mom for you to take him back. If you want it, just do it."

Sighing, Joe thunked his head back against the amp at his back and closed his eyes. He didn't need to have the same conversation yet again. Eventually, they'd figure something out, but right now he needed to at least try to make this work. If he could make it through two more semesters at college, he'd be free to think about it. About ways that they could be happy, again. Right now, though, he just wanted to get through the next few days.

They were sitting in a Wendy's near the venue, having lunch, when a couple of girls walked over to them.

"Excuse me? Are you Fall Out Boy?"

Pete grinned at them. "You here for the show?"

"Yeah," one of them said. She was short and pretty and had her hair in two dark, odd-looking braids, under a winter hat. The other one was taller and more voluptuous with hair dyed firetruck red. "Sorry to interrupt, but would you sign something for us?"

"Sure!" Pete said. "Come join us." He pulled at Patrick's arm to get him to shuffle further toward him, so that one of the girls could perch on the end of the booth and waved his hand at Andy to shuffle closer to Joe.

The two girls smiled at each other coyly, communicating something with pointed looks, and the short one slid onto the bench next to Patrick. Joe turned his attention to his drink and twisted the straw in his fingers. Great, here we fucking go again…

Patrick pushed his fries away from himself a little, casting Pete a sidelong look. He always got self-conscious eating around strangers.

"So, how'd you hear about us, or whatever?" Pete asked. "I'm Pete, by the way. This is Joe, Andy, and this is our pet genius, Patrick."

Both of the girls giggled. "Oh, we know," the red-headed one smirked, eyes fixed on her friend. "She definitely knows."

"Kat…" the first girl hissed back. She was blushing furiously. "My, um, my cousin lives in Waukegan, and she's been to some of your shows and likes your stuff, so she showed me your website… I mean, your music is so cool… I've been waiting for you to come back down to Ohio."

"Thanks," Patrick said in a small voice, casting her a sideways smile.

Joe scowled.

"So, now we're here," Pete grinned.

Andy snorted. "Yeah, no pressure for tonight, man!"

"Oh, tonight could be your worst show and I'd still be happy you came…" she insisted.

"So, what's your name? I mean, I guess she's Kat."

"Yeah, I'm Kat, she's Amber."

"Nice to meet you," Pete said, stuffing some fries in his mouth and wiping his fingers on a paper napkin to shake their hands. "So, you're local?"

"Well," Kat began, "sort of. I'm from Jersey - like the accent doesn't give it away, right? - but I'm here for college. Amber's from Lexington."

"You are? We were in Louisville last night!"

"We thought about it," Amber smiled, "but I had a class first thing today, so…"

"First year?"

"Sophomore," Amber said.

"Wow, really? You don't look old enough," Andy told her.

Pete kicked him under the table. "Hurley's basically the fucking mom of the band."

"It's okay, I get it all the time," Amber laughed. "I'm twenty in like six months."

"So, are you guys living on campus, or whatever?"

"No, we share a house with two other girls, right down the street, between here and The Basement," Kat said. "They're not back from winter break, yet."

Pete and Andy exchanged looks, and Joe cringed inwardly. Another night of the pair of them fucking the locals while he and Patrick lay in awkward silence on the floor.

"Damn, you guys are lucky - wish this show was right down the street from our place…"

"Do you guys all live together, or something?"

"I don't," Andy said, shaking his head. "I'm just outside Milwaukee. But these three do."

"That's cute, you're like The Monkees."

"Like The Monkees, but with like, a lot more action."

"Speak for yourself," Patrick muttered, his face red.

Amber made a small sound, like a second grader handed a baby rabbit, and exchanged another pointed look with her friend. Joe's stomach suddenly lurched as realisation dawned. He looked at Patrick, feeling his face burning. No. Nonononono. This couldn't happen. He couldn't let it happen. He stared at him desperately, trying to catch his eye. Patrick seemed to start to lift his gaze to Joe's, but caught himself and instead picked up a fry and broke it into pieces, dropping it back on the pile and picking up another one.

"You guys are so sweet! My cousin's going to be so jealous. She actually kind of has crush on one of you, so she'd freak out that we met you..."

"Who's the crush on?" Andy laughed.

Amber smiled coyly, and glanced down the table at Joe. "I don't want to say, I feel like that would be mean…"

"You can't say that and not at least hint!" Pete complained. "Let me guess." He flung an arm around Patrick's neck, half choking him. "It's Rickster, right? How can anybody not have a crush on this little cutie?"

Kat burst out in a guffaw of laughter. "Good question, right, Amber?"

"Shut up, Katherine!" She was blushing like a porcelain doll and Joe was getting increasingly annoyed. How dare she be so cute and friendly and obviously into Patrick? It was like Christmas Eve all over again. But she was looking down the table directly at him, smiling, and he was kind of too mad to really be listening but she was saying something about her cousin, and Pete, Andy and Kat were all laughing and Patrick was kind of smiling shyly under his hat, still manually destroying his French fries.

"Oh, shit - well, she's gonna be disappointed, dude!" Pete was laughing, reaching across the table to slap him on the shoulder like he'd made the winning play at the superbowl.

"Huh?"

"Does he have a girlfriend?" Amber was asking, before seeming to realise he might have the capacity to answer that himself and asking again, "Do you have a girlfriend already?"

Joe stared at her dully. "Why?"

"Dude, weren't you listening?! Her cousin wants your D, little bro!"

Joe wasn't sure he'd been so utterly repelled by the thought of something in his life. He reacted without thinking. "Gross."

Both Amber and Patrick looked at him like he'd said he'd rather fuck her grandpa.

"Well, that's rude, you dick," Patrick huffed, his face instantly red. He turned back to Amber, apologetically touching her sleeve with greasy fingers and said, "I'm so sorry."

"It's, um… it's fine, I guess…" Her face was equally flushed and she looked utterly mortified, but Joe was too incensed by the fact that she was flirting with Patrick, and that he'd taken her side, to care at all about her feelings.

"Anyway, I'm taken," Joe muttered, squeaking the straw in his cup, wanting to tell her he had exactly zero interest in girls anyway, but not daring to.

Patrick shot him a look, but he had that flash in his eye that he usually got right after Pete criticised his writing. "Oh? Since when?"

Joe blinked at him, mouth a little open and not sure what to say. He felt taken, even if he technically wasn't. He thought that was how they both felt. In the end, he said nothing and just turned his attention back to the straw in his drink.

"Anyway, I guess we should go…" Amber said, sliding out of the booth to stand up, Kat following.

"Yeah. I guess we'll catch you guys later."

"We didn't sign your stuff…" Patrick said, looking up at her and patting down his pockets for a pen. Or maybe just, like, a fucking engagement ring or something.

"It's okay. Maybe we can catch up after the show or something?"

"Sure," he smiled, giving her an awkward wave. "See you tonight."

If it wouldn't have meant climbing over Andy and walking out the same way the girls were headed, Joe would have stormed off.

When Patrick finally picked up an unmolested French fry and nibbled on it, saying, "They seem nice," Joe finally lost his cool.

"Yeah, so nice you had to, like, set up a date with her."

"Date?" he scoffed, looking him like he was nuts. "It's not a date."

"To a teenage girl, it's a date," Andy confirmed, shaking his head in resignation.

"It's not a date!"

"Bro, when you arrange to meet up with someone you're into at a specific place and time, to hang out 'or something', it's a textbook date, kind of…"

"I was just being nice…" he complained. "Maybe if some dick hadn't been so rude to her…"

Joe glared at his cup, irritably tearing cracks in the rim of the lid. "Doesn't it even piss you off, that like, someone just told you their cousin wants to bone your -"

"My what?" Patrick demanded, raising his eyebrows challengingly. "Because, y'know: one day it would be nice to know what the fuck we are now."

"Okay, cool it, girls," Pete cut in, elbowing Patrick in the arm. "We don't need the whole of Columbus to know your dirty little secret, or whatever."

Joe closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, trying his hardest to keep it together and not smack him in the mouth.

"It's not a 'dirty little secret' you asshole," Patrick replied. "I love him, okay? Even if he behaves like a little prick because he's jealous… If it was down to me, he wouldn't have a reason to be jealous and everyone would know. But, y'know, it's not like I get a say in this stuff, so..."

The words hit him directly in the solar plexus, taking his breath away. He looked across at him to find Patrick looking back, waiting for some sort of response or validation - to be told that the feeling was mutual - and it was, up to a point. Joe did love him, more than anything, but right now he felt like a rabbit in headlights and the idea of everyone knowing how he felt left him nauseous and claustrophobic. He pulled up his knees and climbed to his feet on the bench, stepping over Andy's lap.

"Woah - hey, where are you going?" he asked, slapping the back of Joe's calf as he went.

"Van," he shrugged, jumping down heavily.

"Well, that's the way an adult handles his problems…" Pete muttered behind him.

"Joe - "

"Ric, let him go, dude. He's being a fucking brat."

"No. Joe - "

"Patrick, leave it, man - Pete's right, just give him a minute to himself."

Joe yanked open the door and walked out before he had time to hear anything else. His heart was throbbing in his throat and he couldn't quite breathe right and he just wanted to be on his own. He crawled into the back of the van and kicked off his boots so he could climb into his sleeping bag, pulling out his discman and the mix CD Patrick had made him for their anniversary.

Patrick's rucksack smelled like his clothes and the bottle of Mountain Dew that had leaked on it a couple of weeks ago, when he rested his head on it and closed his eyes. It was comforting. He fell asleep to 'Wild is the Wind', wishing it was still July, and they could spend their nights curled up right there instead of on strange girls' floors, and everything was normal.

When Patrick opened door of the van, he stood and miserably watched Joe wake and sit up. Joe shivered at the cold air sweeping through, and Patrick clambered in to sit beside him, pulling the door closed and tugging his cap off. He settled on his heels, holding it in his lap despondently and watching his fingers play along the seams in silence.

Frowning, Joe swallowed and said, "I didn't mean to be rude to that girl… It just, like, came out..."

"I know," Patrick shrugged.

"It's not even that I'm mad, dude, I just…" he rubbed his salty eyes, not sure if it was because he'd just woken or because he kind of felt like he'd been crying, even though he hadn't. "I know I did this, and everything, but…"

"You're not mad about today, but you're really mad at me, aren't you?" Patrick asked, watching him. "I mean, y'know, you're trying not to be, but you are and you have been since New Year."

"No, dude," Joe tried, weakly, not even sure it wasn't true. "I'm just… bummed out. I know I did this, and everything, but it still sucks for me, too… We said we'd work on being friends, but then New Year happened… or didn't…"

Patrick rubbed one of his own eyes under his glasses, wearily. "I know I screwed up with that. Time just got away from us, y'know? By the time I realised, you were asleep… But right now I don't know what you want from me, dude. You won't get back together, but you don't even want me to spend time with Pete... you get mad when other people seem into me - which is weird for me, too, by the way… You know how I feel about you, but I don't feel like I get anything from this situation. I have no control over anything, y'know? It's my life, but now I just spend my time bouncing between you and Pete, feeling shitty about us and shitty about his problems that I can't help with… And I don't know what you want me to do."

Miserably, Joe sank back against the reverse of the seats. What was he supposed to say? He knew he wasn't ready to give Patrick what he wanted, but he knew it wasn't fair to keep holding him back, he just didn't think he could stand seeing him move on. One day, he still wanted them to get back together - to make it work - but now wasn't the right time. He still believed that if they got back together before he was ready, Patrick would end up hating him, and they'd never recover. "I can't be your boyfriend right now," he said, his voice coming out croaky.

"And yet, you still tell people you're 'taken', like you are… It's kind of confusing, y'know?"

"I'm sorry, dude, I just didn't… I'm not interested in other people." Especially not girl-people.

"So, are you taken, or not?" Patrick asked with a nervous laugh.

"I… I mean, like, technically no, but I'm not… I guess I may as well be, basically. It's not like I'm gonna get involved with anyone else. But I can't do us, right now. I don't want to make you unhappy -"

"I'm already unhappy. I don't see what we have left to lose."

"Everything, dude. Just… everything."

Sighing heavily, Patrick moved to slump beside him, shoulder to shoulder, his head resting against Joe's. He picked up one of Joe's hands and turned it over, running his fingertips over his palm and then winding them together. And Joe let him, numbly.

"I wish we'd spent New Year together, y'know?"

Joe choked out a little laugh. "Yeah, dude, me too."

"My grandma has this whole thing about how, like, the people you see in the new year with, are the ones you'll spend the rest of the year with… And I missed it. I fucked it up, and now it's like I can feel this space opening up in front of me or something. And you're on the other side."

"That's just superstition, dude," he replied quietly, because it was, but it also felt like it was true and he didn't like knowing who Patrick had actually spent New Year with.

"You know…" Patrick stopped and cleared his throat, looking up at the roof of the van, blinking rapidly behind his glasses. "Listen, you know I love you, right? You know that?"

"Sometimes," Joe said, and he'd meant it as a joke about his insecurity, but it came out sounding hard and doubtful.

"Well, I do. And whatever you think, I still will - I think pretty much forever. But while we're not together, there are some things I can't get out of easily." He paused, looking over at him, but Joe didn't look back, so he tilted his head to try to catch his eye. "You know there's stuff I need to do, right? For the band? Like we talked about back home. It's super cold right now, and - well, y'know… we can't sleep in the van… I mean, look at this piece of shit Andy calls a 'sleeping bag'!"

Carefully, Joe slipped his hand free and tucked it under his arm, wrapping the other across his chest, too. "You're gonna do it."

"I don't know… I mean, if I have to do this, it seems like a decent opportunity…"

"Decent? Are you fucking kidding, dude?"

"That's not what I meant…"

"Can't we just, like, give them guestlist places and ask for a trade? That girl would probably let us camp out at her place just so she can brag to her cousin!"

Patrick sighed and dropped his head in his hands. "We're second on the bill, we don't even have a guestlist, tonight."

Joe looked at him and swallowed, dreading the answer to the question he had to ask next. "Do you want to do this? Is that why you - ? I mean… I guess we're different, right? You never had a chance to - "

"If those words come out of your mouth, Joe, I swear to God - "

"I'd like... I'd hate it, but… I guess, I can't blame you if it's because - "

"No! God, you're an idiot… It's not because she's a girl and you're not, you total jackass. I don't want this at all! All I want to do is kind of… pay my way, y'know? We had a free ride ever since we started doing this, because we were together. I don't have that excuse anymore. I just… I want to play fair, okay?"

Yeah, but what about what I want? But what Joe wanted was a contradiction in terms, and he knew it. He knew he couldn’t refuse to be in a relationship with Patrick and still ask him to be committed to him. He wasn't an idiot, or an asshole. Not that the knowledge made him feel any better.

"You don't need to do this, we could get a motel," he offered, but it felt more like begging. "I have, like… I have some money, I could -"

"You don't have money for motels, Joe, you have money you need so you can eat."

"I don't care. Fuck food. I'll live on fucking Top ramen, if I have to - I just don't want you to feel like this is… like... normal or something. I don't care what Pete thinks, this is fucked up. You're a good person, you hate this kind of thing - this isn't you, dude, it's fucking Pete putting dumb ideas in your head!"

"Look, you're right, I'm not exactly into it, either, but eventually, I have to man up and do my share, y'know? Think how often they did this for us. You remember that girl Andy slept with, in Iowa, who was just the worst, because you were freaking out about needing a shower? We owe them, and I'm the only one of the two of us who can do it, so if I'm needed to, I will."

"Dude, if you think this isn't as much about putting their dicks as many places as they can, as it is getting us someplace to shower, you're seriously fucking naive."

"You know what? In a lot of cases, yeah, maybe it is, but not always. There are a lot of times when it's just a means to an end. I know, because I actually talk to Pete. Okay? I actually know how he feels."

"But…"

"We're broken up, Joe…" he reminded him, wearily, "and that's not my choice. I'm not asking you to, but if you said right now that you wanted to figure stuff out, I wouldn't even hesitate, y'know? But we both know you're not going to, no matter how hard I wish you would. So, until you're ready to give me another chance, I have stuff I need to do, whether I like it or not. Whether you like it or not. And I really need you not to make me feel worse about it than I already do."

Joe flopped his head back against the seats, closing his eyes and swallowing, trying not to imagine it. "Whatever," he shrugged, defeated. "It's not like I have a right to ask you not to, right?"

They sat in silence for a few moments until Patrick said, "I need to find out when we soundcheck," starting to get to his feet. "See you later."

Joe watched him leave and flinched at the van door slamming shut. He couldn't face everyone else, right now, so he just curled himself back up in his sleeping bag and tried to ignore the nausea in his belly.

---

There was no room backstage for them to hang out or store their stuff - it was all being hogged by the top two bands - so there was nowhere private to wait. He tried to find him in the venue bar when the doors opened, but by then he was standing in a corner with Pete and the two girls, one hand tucked around his elbow, laughing. He wasn't sure if the girls were technically over dressed or underdressed, but they were dressed up - wearing clothes that looked completely impractical for a punk show they planned to enjoy.

The redhead, Kat, looked over and tipped her drink at him, but he didn't go over to join them. He felt winded. Six months ago, Patrick talking to girls at a show meant nothing. It wasn't girls he was afraid of, it was Pete. He'd all but forgotten that Patrick was even into girls, because he usually showed so little interest in them - or anyone else. Yet, a couple of hours after their conversation he was already taking lessons from Pete. It made him want to curl up in a small, dark space and sob, but instead, all he could do was find a ledge big enough to perch on in a quiet corner by their stuff and try to tell himself it was all an act to get them someplace to stay. It really didn't make him feel any less hurt. Realising that Patrick had the capacity to be attracted to other people was like the day he caught his dad carrying out toothfairy duties. It might always have been true, but he couldn't undo that knowledge and nothing could be the same again. He'd always been afraid that Pete would take what he wanted because that was Pete's superpower, but his naive idea that there was only Patrick for him and him for Patrick, was crushed.

He cast long, sad glances toward the bar from his ledge, hoping that somehow Patrick would line up just right to be able to see him beyond the pillars dividing the venue and catch his eye - that seeing him alone in the shadowy corner would give him second thoughts. But it didn't. He was tucked behind the wall, little more than an arm flicking out as he talked, paying no attention to Joe, whatsoever.

As they went to get their guitars from the pile of cases in the corner, just before the set, he tried to catch his wrist, not even sure why. He'd almost convinced himself to say, You made your point - if getting back together now will stop this, I'll do it. I'll do whatever you want. But Patrick pulled himself free, awkwardly, and wouldn't look at him, not even when they got on stage and did their hi-five routine.

The girls stood down the front during the set, the small, pretty one, gazing up at Patrick on the foot-high stage with rapt adoration. It made him feel sick. Did she even know what was happening? If he told her the truth, would she back off? Or would Patrick just be mad that he'd sabotaged everything because he was jealous? He could feel his heart pounding in his ears, drowning out everyone else's instruments. It was all too much. By the end of their last song, he could feel the edges of his vision greying out and he couldn't breathe.

They couldn't clear their gear until the last band had played, so he retreated to the van directly after walking off stage, unable to face anyone. He didn't want to see what happened next, because he was sure he'd never erase it from his eyelids. So, he curled up in a corner not even bothering to wrap himself in his sleeping bag, bleakly enjoying the chill of the van because it gave him something to focus on that wasn't what Patrick might be doing. He kicked viciously at the bag he'd rested his head on, earlier, sending t-shirts and underwear scattering across the floor.

When the door opened at the back of the van almost two hours later, Pete and Andy were both there, Pete holding Patrick's guitar cases, one in each hand.

"There you are," Andy sighed, relieved. "I thought you'd gone AWOL."

Joe just looked at him, grimly. "I need to get my stuff."

"Ric did it," Pete told him, holding out a guitar for him to take. "I'll bring it out."

Joe stood up, unsteady from the time cramped up on the floor, and took both the cases from his hands. "Is he packing up?" he asked. Maybe he should go help, maybe -

"Uh, no," Pete said, and walked away.

"So, like… where is he?" he asked Andy, as he pushed the bass drum case along the cargo base, towards him.

Andy look a long breath and shook his head. "I'm not getting involved."

"Huh?"

"Look, Joe, he left already, okay? He's gone ahead to the place we're crashing tonight. That's all I'm saying, because I am so fucking done with all of this bullshit."

He flung his hands up, indicating his departure from the conversation and walked back towards the building.

Joe didn't know what to do. He slumped down on the wheel arch and tilted his head against the side of the van, swallowing. He went through with it. It's actually happening. The world was spinning out of control and he closed his eyes, tucking his thumb knuckle between his teeth, biting slightly to keep himself from throwing up. Everything was so, so wrong. He felt like he was dreaming, like maybe in a moment the elementary school teacher who made him piss his pants in class would show up and demand to know where his homework was, and then his teeth would fall out and he'd wake up sweating in his bed, in September, with Patrick sleeping next to him. And he'd roll over and tuck his arm around him and go back to sleep, because none of this would be real. Just a nightmare.

He opened his eyes blearily, to the sound of Converse on asphalt, and found Pete looking at him pensively.

"Don't think about it. Trust me. Just don't think about it."

"How?"

"Whatever it takes." He was gone again, replaced by Andy.

"Can you at least try putting shit in some kind of order?" he snapped, handing him his toms.

Reluctantly, Joe got to his feet and took a deep breath of icy winter air, surveying the space around him half-heartedly and trying to remember where they usually put things. He'd done this dozens of times, but he couldn't think straight enough to remember.

"It's Joe, right?"

He turned around to see the girl with firetruck red hair hanging on to one of the van doors. He recognised her from earlier, she was the friend. Silently, he nodded.

"I figured I should check in, seeing as you're sleeping at my house, tonight."

"Okay."

For a minute, she stayed where she was, watching him with a bemused look on her face. "So… you're a talker, huh?"

"Nope."

"You sick?" she asked. "You looked kind of like you were gonna puke on stage."

He was, he supposed. He certainly thought he was close to puking from the stress. "Actually, I'm just, like… busy, yeah?" And apparently, the love of my life is screwing your friend, right now, so… The thought almost made him lose his balance and he pressed a palm to the roof to steady himself, wishing she'd go away.

"Well, excuse me," she snorted, stepping out of the way so that Pete could hand him a box of pedals.

"He's in a shitty mood," Pete warned her, walking off. "It's probably better to just leave him alone, kind of."

"I figured," she said, giving Joe a lingering, surveying look. She waited until Pete's footsteps had faded and said, "For the record, I know how you feel. Sucks to be us, buddy."

He stopped ineffectually shoving stuff from one side of the van to the other and turned to look at her, but didn't say anything, afraid she was fishing for a confession.

She gave him a jaded, knowing smirk and shrugged, pushing away from the van door. "You think you're the only one, ever?"

When he next saw her, she was climbing into the front of the van, between Andy and Pete, giving them directions to a house that seemed little more than a few hundred yards away. The streets were paved with grey brick and the houses looked old - older than the ones in Winnetka, anyway. She led them into the entrance hall as if there was nothing weird about it, and he found himself wondering how many other bands had walked through that door on other weekends.

Neither Patrick nor the other girl were in the living room and the light in the kitchen was off. His eyes drifted towards the stairs; there was a faint glow from under one of the doors at the top and he realised he could hear the soft, deep murmur of Patrick's voice. He stood, frozen to the spot and staring up at the door, his heart pounding with a sickly, burning sensation, but it seemed like the bottom had fallen out of his stomach all at once, until Pete wrapped his fingers around his bicep and pulled on it.

"Stop thinking about it," he hissed, looking anxiously at Kat, who was turning on lamps and talking at Andy. "You literally look like your heart broke, it's not fucking subtle."

Joe blinked, slowly, wondering if that was what the feeling in his chest was, and let himself be dragged into the lounge. He couldn't figure out what to do, so he stood in the middle of the room, where Pete left him, chewing the skin on the side of his nails.

He didn't notice Kat staring at him until she spoke, inches from his face.

"Wow, you're either stoned or exhausted. Is that what you were doing all that time? Let me fold out the sofa-bed… one of you can have the other couch."

"He's just had a tough day, right, Joe?" Pete said, with a forced grin.

Joe nodded back, obediently. 'Tough' barely scratched the surface.

After Kat went upstairs, leaving them to decide their sleeping arrangements, he found himself in his sleeping bag, lying on a thin mattress over weak springs. The dip in the bed left him sliding back to back with Pete, listening to Andy's breathing and the traffic on the highway a few streets over.

He had his eyes closed tight, willing himself to sleep, in spite of the adrenaline rushing through his veins. Maybe if he was asleep, he wouldn't hear anything.

Only, he couldn't. It had been after midnight when they got back to the house and he could feel the minutes ticking by. Instead of blocking everything out, he was hyper-aware of every noise, imagining every creak of the house settling was a bed spring. The pictures in his head were upsetting enough - literally a matter of feet away, Patrick was with some girl, and it was Joe sharing a bed with Pete, of all people. No matter how hard he tried to squash it down - counting backwards, reciting rhymes from his childhood hebrew lessons - it was all he could think about, and it was overwhelming.

A single, dry sob shuddered through him, and he clasped a hand over his mouth, desperate for the others not to hear. I can't do this.

Beside him, though, Pete lifted his head slightly, looking over his shoulder at Joe, listening, and when Joe's shoulders gave an involuntary shake, he dragged his pillow out from under his head and placed it over his ear, muttering "Fuck."

Joe couldn't stand it. He knew he couldn't lay there without having some kind of meltdown, and that if he did, Pete would hear every second. So, he unzipped his sleeping bag and picked up his sneakers and hoodie from the floor, then scooped up his rucksack and sleeping bag and made for the front door, scrambling for his keys.

The van door was frozen shut and he had to yank it hard to open it. The air inside fogged his breath, but he didn't see that he had any other choice. Being cold was preferable to listening to his world collapsing. He climbed inside, shutting the door behind himself, and tossed his sleeping bag down, to climb into it. He didn't lie down, he just huddled himself against his amp, his hoodie pulled up over his head and his sleeping bag up to his chin, and closed his eyes.

He wanted to cry - really wanted to. It was a strangely visceral feeling, pressing at the base of his throat and his eyelids. But somehow, he couldn't. Each attempt to release the sobs that seemed stuck in his chest felt more like dry, breathless retching and nothing would come out of his eyes, to matter how hard he wiped them with the heel of his hand.

The cold seemed to bore into his bones, until all he could do was shiver and bite down on his teeth to keep them from chattering. Patrick's sleeping bag was still rolled up on the floor, he could borrow it knowing that Patrick wouldn't mind, but he refused himself. He didn't want that familiar scent around him, now. He almost wanted to black every thought of Patrick out, so it couldn't hurt, anymore. He wished from the pit of his stomach that they'd never met.

And yet, when the frozen door handle crunched and cranked the door open, it was still Patrick he wanted to see on the other side of it. Apologetic - distraught, even - wanting to fix things that couldn't be fixed. But it was Pete standing in the road his sleeping bag wrapped around him like a robe. His face looked pale in the streetlights and they gazed at each other for a minute before Pete simply said:

"I fucked up."

Joe frowned a little, but didn't respond.

Pete climbed in, heavily, and dropped down beside him. "I shouldn't have encouraged him. He's too…" he expelled a breath of air in a frustrated huff and thumped the side of his hand, hard, into an amp that Joe didn't even have enough energy to hope was Pete's own. "I thought this was what you both needed, kind of. I thought it'd be good for you both to realise that there's like, a great big world out there. Other people. But I was fucking wrong. This is the grossest thing I've ever witnessed and I fucking hate it."

All Joe could do was shiver and close his eyes.

"He's basically a kid," Pete sighed, guiltily, "and I told him it was time he 'grew up'. I feel like the worst person on the fucking planet."

Why are you telling me this, Pete? Do you seriously think I fucking care how shitty you're feeling?

Pete fell silent for a minute, and Joe sleepily opened his eyes to find him looking down at him. "You're shaking."

"It's cold," he mumbled back, shrugging. What do you fucking expect?

"Shit," Pete muttered, pulling the sleeping bag from around himself and tucking it across them both, instead. He tucked an arm around Joe's shoulders and pulled him to lean against his side, rubbing him vigorously to warm him up. "You're gonna end up a popsicle, little bro. It's like fifteen degrees out."

Joe shrugged again, half-heartedly, but the extra layer and Pete's body heat was already having an effect.

"I'm sorry, yeah?"

He nodded, drowsily, not really caring why. It didn't change anything.

"I just thought that, like, all the pressure he was putting on you was bad for you both. I mean, you said he was smothering you, or whatever. I told him he needed to cool off... I thought a distraction would be good for you - but this isn't... He was saying that like, if he paid for her drinks and walked her home, that it'd be less creepy, kind of. Like it was some weird, fake little date -"

"I don't wanna hear this…" He heard the crack in his own voice, and the wince it elicited from Pete, and wished he'd blocked it out and not said anything. "Dude, I can't fucking…"

"I'm sorry. I mean, for real, Joe, I'm so fucking sorry. I feel like I made this happen and I just thought I was helping, kind of..."

Joe sat himself up, his neck aching. "He had choices."

"But -"

"I can't do this, dude. I can't, like, talk to you about this. Everything's just… it's over, now. I just wish I could, like, sleep and wake up and this never have happened, basically."

Pete nodded. "Yeah, we should do that. We should sleep." He pushed back his opened sleeping bag and reached for Patrick's, shuffling into it without a second thought. "Lay down. We can share mine. Otherwise we'll fucking die out here."

Frankly, Joe didn't really know if that would be the worst thing that would have happened to him, that night.

Even with Pete curled half around him, his arms crossed against his own chest, pressing into Joe's back through his sleeping bag, it was still cold. Pete evidently couldn't switch off, as intermittently he'd say something aloud. Another apology or unnecessary detail that Joe didn't want to hear.

He drifted off into a fitful sleep little more than an hour before Andy opened the door of the van, slung his sleeping bag down beside Pete, and climbed in. They looked at each other, but Andy didn't speak, he just tugged the edge of Pete's sleeping bag and half of one of the old blankets that lined the floor, over himself, then closed his eyes.








Chapter 21

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