[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) [18/?]
Summary: AU Timeline - Teenage angst and Crayola Rainbows. Or, Joe saw him first.
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rosiedoes
Betas: [livejournal.com profile] shiny_starlight
Rating: R at absolute max.
Pairing: Joe/Patrick
Words: c. 8,700 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...

This is the first chapter of TWNW that has been posted since 2009 and is dedicated to Lewis & Soren, without whose influence it would not exist. Sorry about the wait.


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




The World’s Not Waiting (For Joe Trohman To Stop Being A Pussy And Start Going For What He Wants) [18/?]

A Lie We Can Both Keep

"I know my place, it's nowhere you should roam."

It was Pete’s voice in the hall outside that woke Joe from his fitful sleep the next morning. It took him a second to look at the empty mattress beside him and catch his breath, remembering. His eyes felt salty and sore and his forehead and sinuses throbbed miserably. He could really use a glass of water, but he didn’t want to get up or see anyone, or talk, or anything. He just wanted to go back to sleep and make it all go away again.

When he’d left Patrick’s room, the night before, he thought they’d been on the same page, more or less, although Patrick still insisted it wasn’t necessary and they’d be alright and they could do this. They’d allowed themselves a final, parting kiss, too, small and regretful. Nowhere near enough for the weight of the sadness and finality it held. But laying in his cold, empty bed alone, afterward, all Joe could think about was Patrick’s face as he stood in the cemetery, begging to be told that Joe had cheated so he could forgive him and they could forget about it. He felt so utterly shitty that Patrick would have done that - accepted something that to Joe was unforgivable, and lived with it just to keep a hold of him. Forgiven him anything. Joe knew he wasn't worth that kind of devotion, he was just a fuck up who couldn't cope with anything and let him down at the first major test of their relationship.

He'd expected it to be a relief to get it off his chest, but all it had done was make his chest ache. Now that he'd had time for the reality of the situation to sink in, he was overwhelmed by the sense of loss it brought with it.

He knew the gentle click was Patrick’s bedroom door before he even heard the soft pad of socked feet walking down the hall. His stomach lurched, aching to rush out and see him, to check that he was okay and that overnight he hadn’t talked himself into hating Joe for ruining everything, but he just couldn't.

He could hear the low mumble of Patrick’s response to Pete, but not clearly enough to make out what was said. The voices faded a little, heading into the kitchen, and Joe almost regretted not being able to hear what they were saying about him. He knew how Pete felt, though. Pete thought this band was his chance at something halfway mainstream and he wasn’t going to let Joe’s stupid, teenage feelings interfere with his success. He was probably glad, because it meant there was no one to share Patrick’s attention with, anymore. After all, it was Pete who’d forced his hand and Pete who’d told Patrick they needed to talk, so that he couldn’t wait or have second thoughts or cushion it the way he’d wanted to.

Honestly, if he hadn’t felt so hollow he would have been mad.

The digital clock on the dresser said it was just after eleven. He was supposed to start a shift at one, but he couldn’t face it. There would only be questions about why he looked like shit and he didn’t know how to explain the end of something that none of his colleagues even knew about. He didn’t have the patience to smile and answer the questions from demanding parents and their shrieking brats.

For a long time, he laid there, waiting for them both to go back to their rooms so he could get himself some water and make the call. When he finally heard the padding of feet on wood, he hauled himself out from under the covers. He’d barely turned on the faucet to fill the glass, when he heard Patrick’s voice again.

"Hey." It was soft, unsure. It took him a moment to gather himself and glance back at him over his shoulder to respond.

"Hi."

They hovered there together, both waiting for the other to say something.

"How - um… how are you doing?" Patrick tried, pushing his hair out of his face self-consciously.

Joe sighed; a small, morose sound almost drowned out by the Foo Fighters on Patrick’s stereo, drifting through the hall from his open door. "I’ve, like… been better, honestly."

Jerkily, Patrick nodded. "Yeah." His bottom lip looked raw, as though it had been chewed compulsively, and his eyes were dull. The longer Joe looked down at him, the more the obvious it became that he hadn’t slept. It didn’t make him feel any better about things.

"Don't you have work?"

Joe nodded behind his glass. "Not going, though."

"Oh. I called out, too."

For a minute there was silence, awkward and heavy. It was a relief when Patrick finally spoke. "So, I guess we both have some time free. That’s kind of ironic."

"I guess so," Joe snorted dismally.

"Maybe we could, y’know… watch a film or something." When Joe didn’t immediately agree, Patrick’s voice took on an edge of desperation. "I mean, the whole point was that we were still gonna be friends, right? Wasn’t it?"

"Yeah, of course…"

Neither of them had approached each other at all, standing almost as far apart as they could get, in the small space. Joe was afraid that if he got any closer, he’d do something that wasn’t allowed, anymore. He didn’t want to send mixed messages - it would only hurt more, if he did.

As if to add insult to injury, the stereo in Patrick’s room began to play the distorted opening notes to an all-too-familiar song.

Hello - I've waited here for you...

Patrick’s eyes flicked away and then back, as if wondering if Joe had noticed. Of course I noticed, it's our fucking song.

"I should…" he gestured towards the hall, presumably to his room, "turn that off or something…"

He made to leave, but something in Joe blurted out, "Wait! You like… don’t have to. It’s still kind of… it still means a lot. To me, anyway." When Patrick didn’t reappear from behind the kitchen door, Joe followed him down the hall. "Patrick?"

He found him standing beside the dresser, his fingers resting on the buttons of the CD player, gazing down at them, distantly. Joe waited on the threshold, somehow feeling that he couldn’t enter uninvited, anymore.

"You don’t need to turn it off, dude," he said again. "It’s still, like… it’s still our song."

"You know what I think about when I hear this?" Patrick asked, and it seemed like a rhetorical question, but he didn’t continue.

"I know what I think about…" Borrowing your Green Day shirt and being the happiest I’d ever been.

"I think about one night, when we we’d just played that show in Sauget, and we were heading home. Pete was sleeping in the back with Chris, because they were on second shift, and Andy was driving. I was sitting in the middle seat and you were asleep on my shoulder - and this song came on the radio, y’know? And Andy says, ‘Hey, it’s your favourite song!’ ‘cause I used to play it all the time, and I kind of knew he knew, but… I just sort of told him everything, about why it meant so much. And when I was halfway through, he just cuts me off, and says, ‘Hey, man, I know this. He doesn’t talk about anything except you.’ And that’s when I really thought, y’know, Wow, he really does love me."

Joe didn’t really know what to say. He watched the lump bob in Patrick’s throat as he swallowed, wished he could reach out and draw him into a comforting hug. But he couldn’t, and it felt like it’d be a really long time until he could again, without it hurting them both. In the end, he found himself murmuring, "I still do, Patrick."

"And the thing is, I believe you, but it still hurts like you don’t." Suddenly, Patrick reached out and picked up the wallet from the shelf beside the door. He unzipped the compartment at the back and pulled out the gold chain he’d stashed there, holding out his hand to Joe for him to take it. "I should return this."

"What? No -"

"It's an heirloom, you should give it back to your grandparents."

"They gave it to you - and, like… we said we'd see how everything is after your birthday, or whatever… Please, dude, don't give it back. If you do, it feels like… I mean, it feels like we're really done, basically."

"I thought that's how you wanted it."

"None of this was ever what I wanted."

"You keep saying that, but I don't want it, either, so who are we doing this for?"

Joe sighed. "I have to call work."

---

Despite their promise to watch a film together, later, Joe hid in his room for three hours, afterward, curled under his comforter. He heard Pete leave around two, after another short, muffled conversation with Patrick, and then the apartment fell silent. There wasn't even any music from Patrick's room, which was usually a constant, if he was in there. Not that he'd spent much time in there, until recently - until Joe no longer had time for him.

The gentle raps at his door took him by surprise. He'd been too caught up in self-pity to even hear Patrick approach.

"Come in."

Carefully, clutching the wooden edge tightly, Patrick peered in. "Do you mind…?"

"No," Joe replied, scrambling to sit up, drawing his knees to his chest under the covers. "What's up?"

Patrick walked around to his side of the bed - what used to be his side of the bed - and perched on the edge. "Look. I'm not trying to be mean, I just… I wish things were different, y'know? I spent the whole of last night lying in my room, thinking how much everything's gonna suck, now. The idea of not being with you, is so… I don't know what I'm gonna do, y'know? In this whole context, it's like, I started crushing on you when I was sixteen and I'm nineteen in a few months… It's been all this time and what do I do, now? Who do I talk to when everything sucks and it's because you broke up with me? And don't say 'Pete', because I swear to God, he's already had too much involvement in this." He paused, looking around the room sadly. "You're my best friend, y'know? Simon's gone and I don't really hear from Leon…"

"I'll still be your best friend," Joe offered, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. "That was, like… my whole plan, dude."

"Yeah, and we'll be friends if it kills me, but I just… How can I talk to you about missing stuff - us stuff, y'know? - without feeling like I'm trying to make you feel bad? Or without making things weird? How do I sleep next to you in the back of the van and...? What do I tell my mom? I had these bigshot ideas about how we were totally gonna make it and be with each other forever or something, and I swore to her that I knew better, and now… She's going to think she was right about you and about it being a phase, and it's not true. <>It's not."

The utter despair and futility in Patrick's voice was devastating. All Joe could manage was a feeble, choked, "I don't know."

They sat there together in silence for a minute or two, Patrick picking at the bobbles on the seams of his tatty track pants and Joe gazing at the folds in the covers stretched between his knees.

"I don't know what to tell my mom and dad, either," Joe admitted, finally. "I know you think I did, but I didn't, like… plan this, dude. I wasn't, sort of, scheming behind your back or something. I was thinking about how we were kind of like, better off as friends maybe, because I can't be the boyfriend you want right now, but I wasn't ready to say anything, and I just wanted to like, get my head clear. I was thinking that maybe I should have like, waited until after Christmas, or something, but I didn't want to -"

"'The boyfriend I want'?"

Joe blinked at the appalled look on Patrick's face. "Um…"

"You are the boyfriend I want, you fucking dumbass!"

"No, but, I mean - I couldn't be there for you, in like, the way you wanted…" he tried, holding out an open hand to pull Patrick's attention back to himself when he looked for a moment like he was about to get up and storm out. "The way I wanted to be, I mean. It's always, like, my job and my school stuff coming between us - "

"So you ditched me."

"I didn't ditch you, dude, I tried to like, let you go, so you could be happy. So you'd never get so sick of me you didn't want to be around me, anymore."

"I was happy."

"That's not what you said."

"I mean, things have been hard and - and, yeah, I would like to see you more, but something's better than nothing, y'know? I'd rather that than this! You've basically just quit on me and I didn't get any say at all."

Wearily, Joe rubbed his eye with the back of his wrist. "And you make it sound like I just did it, like, on a whim, and that I wasn't worrying and feeling shitty about it with no one to talk to, or whatever..." Defensively, the truth - something deeper even than he'd realised - began tumbling from his mouth. "Maybe it wasn't just for you, dude. Maybe it was for me, too. Maybe I just, like… can't cope with feeling shitty because I'm failing at everything in my life and making the person I kind of love more than anything feel shitty, too. I'm really sorry that I can't, like, keep up with everything, but I don't know what else to do. You and this band are everything I was building my future on, basically. Even my parents trusted me to make a half-decent shot of it, but I'm fucking it up and I need room to breathe or something, or I'm going to fucking crack up …"

When he looked up at him again, Patrick's eyes were closed tight, his head dipped and fingers clenched in the duvet cover.

"That doesn't mean I wanted this, Patrick… but just... maybe I kind of need it…"

"Why didn't you say anything?" Patrick asked helplessly, still not looking at him. "I asked you so many times… Maybe if we'd talked or something..."

"I don't know. I guess I just didn't kind of know where my head was at or anything. It's not like I even dated anyone before you... And I mean, like, I only just turned eighteen, dude. I've never had to deal with anything like this before and… I hate that Pete was right, and your mom was right, and I suck at basically everything and all I've done is just kind of like, prove that… And then, like, we talk about 'Oh, we'll work things out in a few months,' and that means I have to try to be better at everything by then, and it's kind of a lot of pressure right now..."

Sadly, Patrick crawled over the mattress and tucked himself under the covers, resting his head on Joe's shoulder. Joe closed his eyes and propped his cheek on the top of Patrick's head, breathing him in.

"I love you, dude," he mumbled into his hair. "And I'm really fucking sorry."

"I know," Patrick nodded, lifting his head and gently bumping his forehead to the bridge of Joe's nose. "I love you, too. And for what it's worth, I get it, y'know? And I really, really wish you'd let me be there for you… I don't want you to feel like you have to do something you're not ready to do, but I'll wait. However long it takes, I'll wait."

---

Later, when Joe finally mustered the courage to leave his room and knock on Patrick's door to ask about that movie they were going to watch, something seemed to have changed. For starters, Patrick had taken a shower and got dressed. He even smiled when he opened the door, like he had resolved to make the best of the situation, no matter how much he hated it right now.

By contrast, Joe felt pretty scummy. He hadn't even changed out of his pyjamas, which he knew must seem kind of weird for someone who sometimes took three showers a day, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Not really. Not enough to do anything about it, anyway.

"Do you still, like… wanna hang out?" he asked, feeling like that awkward kid in the bookstore again, hoping against hope that Patrick would agree, just so he could spend some time with him.

"Totally." Patrick's smile became just that little bit more natural, a little bit broader. "What did you want to watch?"

They settled for Back to the Future, sitting close enough on the couch that Joe could feel the warmth radiating from the body beside him, but not close enough to touch. It was kind of awkward, because he had to clench his fists together between his folded legs to fight the habit of laying them on Patrick's, instead. He couldn't act natural, because this didn't feel natural. Patrick was sitting right there, and yet he felt bereft.

By the time Pete got home, stopping in the doorway to the living room and watching silently, Joe had managed to relax enough to unfold his legs and release his hands, but not enough to feel comfortable under his scrutiny. He hadn't even seen Pete since the day before, and he remembered with a sudden flush of anger that the main reason he was sitting around in his pyjamas, trying his hardest not to accidentally take Patrick's hand, was that Pete had interfered.

"So, you guys are hanging out, huh?"

Beside him, Patrick gave a brave smile and nodded. Joe just grunted and turned his eyes back to the TV. No thanks to you, asshole.

"That's like, good, I guess."

"Yeah."

"Because, I mean, we're playing the Christmas Eve show next week, or whatever. We need to work our shit out because that dude from that noodle label is going to be there." Pete wandered off to dump his things in his room, and Patrick climbed off the sofa to follow, briefly resting his hand on Joe's shoulder as he left.

Well, I guess that's one thing that like, never fucking changed...

---

The next few days were grim and awkward. Joe returned to work and classes and every morning it seemed a little harder to get out of bed, and he felt a little less concerned about finishing his assignments or doing a decent job of stacking shelves. Every night, when he got home, Patrick smiled at him hopefully, like he thought today would be the day that Joe realised his terrible mistake and begged to be his boyfriend again. He made little efforts, like inviting him to split a pizza - his treat, even though Joe knew his job barely brought in enough to cover rent and utilities - or bringing him home an Interpol t-shirt and signed copy of 'Obstacle 1' from work. Joe had accepted the t-shirt and CD, because he didn't want to be ungrateful, but turned down the pizza, telling him he wasn't feeling good. He spent the night staring at his bedroom ceiling and listening to 'I Started Something I Couldn't Finish' on repeat until he fell asleep in his clothes.

A week before Christmas, Patrick walked in from work and immediately knocked on his bedroom door, not even stopping to take off his coat. Joe was sitting at his computer, finishing up his - thank God - last assignment before the semester ended, and he could tell even from there that Patrick was stressed about something. Things weren't exactly casual between them, yet, but they'd improved from their first, rigid attempts to hang out as friends. Joe no longer had to sit on his hands, at least.

"Do you have a minute? Or, like, ten possibly?"

"Sure," Joe agreed, quickly, getting up to pull him into the room by his sleeve and shut the door behind him. His glasses were steamed up from coming in from the cold and his face was flushed pink, but he didn't know if that was also weather related or if he was just flustered. "What's up?"

"This is going to be like, seriously awkward, and I totally get it if you say 'no', okay? But… I still haven't told my mom about us, y'know - " his voice faltered slightly, "break… breaking up, or whatever. Maybe I should've told her right away or something, I don't know… I just wasn't ready, I guess."

"That's like… I mean, I haven't either, dude. I've just been avoiding talking to them, basically."

"Right - and see, that's fine because your folks are cool and everything, but…" he took a deep breath and tugged off his woollen cap to bunch in his hands, self-consciously. "Here's the thing: my mom still assumes we're together and she thinks you're coming to Christmas, and I don't know what to say, y'know? So… this is going to sound so lame… but, would you - and like I said, if you don't want to, it's cool, but I wanted to ask before I just assumed you wouldn't - but… is there any way you'd come to my mom's for Christmas? Please?"

Joe's first instinct was to blurt out, Yes, totally! Anything you want. But he bit it back and took a deep breath, instead. "Um…" How did he answer that, even?

"Look, if you don't want to, it's cool, I swear, I just… I'm just… I'm not ready to tell her and I don't know what reason I can give for you not being there, y'know? I mean, who has plans on Christmas when they don't do Christmas? Where else would you need to be - ?"

"Dude… it's not that I don't want to…"

"No, it's fine, I understand. I'll… I'll work something out, I guess. Thanks anyway…" He hurriedly turned for the door, his cheeks crimson, but Joe caught his arm to stop him.

"I didn't say no."

"Oh."

"But, like… are you sure you wanna do that? It's pretty much flat out lying, basically."

Patrick sighed miserably and scratched at the back of his hair. "I know… and I feel bad about that, but… if there's y'know, any chance, we might work things out someday, then I don't want to tell her if I don't need to. I mean, you know what things are like with mom, and I just… I want to keep my pride or something, man."

"I get it, and everything, and like… I'll do it, dude, but I feel kind of weird about it, honestly. What are we gonna do, literally pretend to be dating all day?"

"Well, I guess - not that we need to make out in front of my mom or anything - but you don't have to do it - "

"No, I will, but you have to like, help out with my parents, too. Aside from kind of not wanting to tell her how shitty everything is, right now, my mom loves you, dude. She'd be totally like, heartbroken, if she found out we broke up."

"Yeah, well…" Patrick mumbled, looking away, "that makes two of us."

"Three," Joe corrected, pushing him in the shoulder with his fingertips and giving him a sad smile. "You suck at math."

---

When Joe got home from work on Christmas eve, his bedroom door was open and Andy was sitting in his desk chair, waiting. It was after six and Joe had tried to get out early but the rush of idiot parents scrambling to find the exact toy their kid wanted with less than twenty-four hours to spare, had meant that they were all run off their feet the entire day.

"What're you doing, here?" Joe asked him warily, sitting down on the end of the bed to unlace his boots. He still had to have a shower and get changed, then they had to get to the venue and soundcheck and the first band was supposed to be on at seven thirty. "Not that I'm not happy to see you for the first time in like, forever, but…"

Before saying anything, Andy got up and pushed the bedroom door closed, locking it firmly.

“What’s going on? I heard about you and Patrick and I was kind of… shocked, I guess.”

Joe just shrugged.

“Listen, you don’t have to tell me, but if you need to talk, I’m totally here. To be honest, I’m kind of a little hurt you didn’t come to me before. I didn’t even know there was anything wrong.”

“You weren’t around.”

“I was at the end of a phone line, wasn’t I? You can drive - you could have come up and hung out.”

“I guess.”

“So, I mean - are you doing okay? Do you need anything?”

“Just, like, a whole extra life to do everything in,” Joe muttered. "It's kind of complicated, dude."

“I just thought you and Patrick had a pretty good thing,” Andy told him, and he seemed genuinely disappointed.

“We used to.”

"So what happened?"

"I thought you like, knew already…"

"I know Patrick's side of things."

"Well, he was there, so…"

Andy frowned, looking a little hurt. "You used to tell me everything. What's changed?"

"Nothing, dude! I just… I don't… What did Patrick even say?"

"That he's worried about you. He definitely isn't okay with you guys breaking up, and he thinks somehow it's his fault for telling you he was disappointed you don't get to hang out as much right now."

"I didn't say it's his fault!"

"Well, it's the message he got."

"Dude, it's not like that at all… I just, like… I could see everything going wrong and I didn't want it to get worse. I don't want us not working out to ruin the band…"

"Fuck the band! Don't choose a band over being happy, Joe - the closest we get to success might be making a buck on shirts when we play hovels in Nowheresville, Iowa."

"But we've got the deal with Sean for the album and -"

"Do you have any idea how many bands who get signed end up making any money out of it? It's like three fucking percent! Sean owns a shitty indie label, it's not fucking EMI!"

And you couldn't have like, mentioned this before, dude? "It's not just about the band, though… It's school, and working, and we never get any time to hang out on our own -"

"Did Pete have anything to do with this?"

"What, like, aside from basically forcing me to do it?"

Andy's voice took on a steely edge. "What do you mean, 'forcing you'?"

"He found some of my stuff - not like a diary or anything, dude, but… some stuff I was writing for myself to kind of like, help figure things out… and he asked me about it and I told him I was feeling shitty and trying to work out what to do, and then he basically told Patrick to ask me about it. Which he obviously did. I didn't exactly get a choice."

Andy's eyes narrowed. "I'm going to fucking end him."

"No, dude… It's not… I mean, he was right that I had to stop kind of procrastinating or whatever. I just wish it hadn't worked out exactly the way it did, basically," Joe admitted. "I think me and Patrick are kind of doing okay, right now. Okay enough for me to be going to his mom's for Christmas, tomorrow." Actually, they'd self-consciously agreed that they'd stay over after the show that night, because they were adults and they could totally share a bed as friends, if it meant keeping their ruse going. Besides, the venue was like a fifteen minute drive from Patrick's mom's house, and she'd already made assumptions.

"So, what - are you thinking about getting back together?"

"No… we're just not telling our folks. It's kind of embarrassing that it didn't work out after everything, especially for Patrick, so…"

There was something about the way Andy looked at him which made him question everything he'd just said. Maybe it was ridiculous. Maybe this was just asking for trouble and hurt and the mixed messages he'd been trying so hard to avoid. Fuck. But it was too late to back out, now. Patrick would never forgive him and he still kind of hoped that in time maybe they would work it all out and get things back on track, one day, but there was no way that would happen if he fucked up something like this.

Later, at the venue, he was sure he heard Andy calling Pete a 'fucking asshole' - and not in the usual, amicable way he'd always heard before. Pete just shrugged and looked over to where Patrick was standing, alone, in the middle of the dancefloor.

---

As Joe set himself up for soundcheck, he found himself thinking about the shitty little venue they were playing, and how so many of their milestones had happened there. The first time he asked Patrick out, although it hadn't been a date at the time, and where Patrick had confessed his feelings on the day he got back from the Arma tour. Pete had even found out about them in the admin corridor here. One time, during their experimental phase, they'd come to see Andy play with one of his other bands and broken into the room where the lighting and PA equipment was kept and almost got carried away. It made him kind of sad. Back then, he thought that someone finding out he and Patrick were an item was the worst thing that could happen. Now, it was their parents figuring out that they weren't.

"Hey, check this out!" Patrick beamed, appearing beside him on the stage. He was brandishing a piece of bright green card, with a hand-drawn caricature of the four of them stuck on the front, each wearing a Santa hat and holding a gift. "Some girls outside just gave me it."

"Really?" Joe took it from his fingers and opened it up.

To Pete, Patrick, Andy and Joe

Happy Christmas / Hanukkah!

Thank you for saving the Chicago scene.

From your biggest fans
Becca and Janine


He snorted. The caricature on the front looked almost nothing like him, or any of them, really. There was also a heart above the 'i' in Patrick, which immediately made him dislike whoever wrote it. He held it back out for Patrick to take without saying anything.

"Well, I think it's cool," Patrick told him indignantly. "This is the first thing anyone ever gave me because they liked my music. My first thing from an actual fan."

The only thing they're fans of is your dick. "Merry Christmas."

Patrick cast him a wounded look and wandered off, mumbling about showing Pete and Andy.

What does 'saving the scene' even fucking mean? That sounds fucking dumb. Maybe they could save it by fucking the fuck off or something.

When they played Growing Up, a couple of hours later, Pete dedicated it to the girls who made the card and a pair of them down the front flailed a little and waved back at him. That must have been them. He wondered who had written the message inside and concluded that it was probably the prettier one, who kept making eyes at Patrick. Don't you fucking dare.

He was even more irritated when the same girls came over to them again after the show, while they were trying to load up the van. They weren't the only ones, a few others were lingering around, asking for their copies of the EP to be signed. Joe didn't even have an autograph he liked, yet, so he just wrote his name and made it a smiley face and deliberately did an angry face when he got hold of the girl's. He put his name as close to Patrick's on the cover as he could, then drew a crooked heart between them.

The girl giggled. When Pete took the CD, he looked at Joe's handiwork and then smirked at him.

"You think he's joking, but…"

"Fuck off, Pete."

The girl just laughed some more, completely oblivious to the secret she'd been handed. Not that it entirely applied, right now, but Joe still didn't want it to be common knowledge. Especially not in this stupid scene they were supposed to be saving. He'd learned that lesson far too well over the summer.

A couple of metres away, Patrick looked up at them curiously, trying to hand back someone's Sharpie without any idea who it belonged to. He passed it to the person nearest to him and walked over to peer over Pete's shoulder at the CD. For a moment, he frowned, then looked up and caught Joe's eye uncomfortably, as Pete drew a thick zigzag through the little heart, rendering it broken. When he glanced back down and saw what Pete had done, Patrick huffed, "Dick!" at him, and walked off.

Pete smirked and touched his fingers to his lips in mock-horror. "Oops. Think I lit the fuse on the firecracker."

Joe thought about going after him, but he wasn't sure that he was the person Patrick really wanted to see, right now. Not after Pete's little stunt. So, he tugged up the hood of his parka and stuffed his hands in the pockets, walking down to the street to wait for everything to wrap up, hoping no one else asked him to scribble on their stuff.

He didn't see Patrick again until he climbed into Andy's van with his rucksack, clambering over kit to sit opposite Joe on the floor.

"So, have you got a new girlfriend, or what?" Pete teased, tilting his head back as far as he could, to look at them upside down. "That girl was hoooooot for you, little dude."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Are you like, insane? She wanted the D so bad! 'Oh, Patrick - you're so funny, Patrick - here's a picture I drew of you, Patrick…' Joe could see it - he's jealous as fuck! Wonder if she'd still think you're as adorable if she knew you take it in the butt."

"Shut the fuck up, Pete," Joe muttered, very aware that Patrick was looking at him and too embarrassed to meet his eye.

"Well, he's a free agent, right? He can try the lady lovin' now, if he wants."

"I don't fucking 'want', okay, Pete? Fucking leave it alone."

"You two are so fucking touchy…" Pete sulked. "Maybe you both need to get laid."

Andy did not sound amused as he ground out, "Pete, if you don't shut your fucking mouth…"

"FINE, make it a fucking threesome, you humourless nerds."

"What Joe and I do or don't do is still none of anybody's fucking business."

"Really? 'Cause it used feel a lot like mine, given that I've got the room next to his, kind of."

"You're so gross…" Andy complained.

"Fucking 'gross'? Try sharing an apartment with them, or whatever! I hope his mom wears earplugs."

Finally losing his patience, Joe half-shouted, "Dude, we fucking broke up like you wanted, will you just like, drop it, now?" He didn't yell often, not because he was mad, and the fact that he'd raised his voice seemed to have stunned everyone.

The van fell silent. Even Pete straightened up in his seat and didn't say anything more. On the floor, in the back, Joe's eyes met Patrick's, flickering yellow under the passing streetlights. They stared at each other without saying anything, until Andy pulled up outside Patrick's mom's.

---

Patrick's mom, Kevin and Amelia were all still up when they arrived at the house. They'd been waiting, it seemed, and Joe greeted Patricia and Amelia with a kiss on the cheek and Kevin with a handshake, trying to act as natural as possible, and felt sure it made it more awkward. She offered them snacks and even a Christmas nightcap, though she knew neither of them drank, as if she was trying to treat them as proper adults now. He was grateful that Patrick told them that they were exhausted and wanted to take a post-show shower and head straight to bed, so he didn't have to run the gauntlet of small talk just yet. He was so sure he was going to let something slip.

Lit only by a desk lamp, Patrick's old room looked uncomfortably barren with all his things gone. It still had the twin bed, but his collectables - some of which were still in a box in Joe's parents' basement, where he'd put them after his covert rescue operation - were long gone, along with his record collection and books. The walls were clear of posters and the shelves had been partly filled with trinkets from around the house. It was weird. Joe's own room back home still had at least a third of his stuff left in it.

"This is kind of odd…" Joe said, taking off his sneakers.

"I know," Patrick replied quietly. "I'm sorry that Pete was a dick about stuff on the one night when we really needed to not be uncomfortable about it…"

"Actually, I just meant your room being empty, but like… that too."

"If you want, I can sneak down and sleep in the basement or something, y'know? If it feels weird…"

Joe looked at the lost expression on Patrick's face and the sad slope of his shoulders, "I don't want you to sleep in the basement, dude."

"Okay."

"I thought we were like, gonna try adulting this one out…"

"We were, but then tonight happened and…"

"And what?"

For a moment Patrick didn't respond, then he sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. "I just… really fucking miss you. I told myself I wasn't going to make it an issue, y'know, but this is the first show since everything and I didn't realise how much time I spend riffing off you, until then, and that kind of bummed me out… then Pete drew that heart to make fun of us and - "

"I drew the heart."

"Huh?"

"I drew the heart. It was me, dude. I wasn't making fun of anything, I was just like, I dunno… being petty or something, basically. I mean, it's none of my fucking business who you date, now, is it? And that's totally my fault, but like… I guess I kind of wanted that girl to back off." He shrugged. "And then Pete fucking ruined it, but whatever. That's kind of just what he does, right?"

Patrick looked up at him, eyebrows slightly knitted, and pulled at the hem of Joe's t-shirt until Joe sat himself down on the bed beside him. "I'm not interested in some girl, Joe. I still just want to be with you."

"And I sort of know that, but I still felt kind of like… jealous or something, because I wanted her to know that I had dibs on you. And the dumb thing is that I don't. It's none of my business, anymore. You can date whoever you want."

Patrick gave an awkward hum of a laugh. "Except the one person I actually want to…" He slumped down on the bed, shifting until Joe laid down next to him, shoulder to shoulder, both gazing at the left over smears of Blu-Tack on the ceiling. "I don't know what I'd do if I thought someone was making moves on you… Probably, like, choke them out or something, I guess."

Joe wasn't completely sure whether he was even joking.

They stayed there in silence for what felt like an age, arms pressed together from shoulder to wrist, knuckles somehow slotted against each other. He didn't really mean to, but he slipped two of his fingers between Patrick's, half holding his hand in reverse. He heard the breath catch in Patrick's chest and carefully tugged them away again, afraid that it was too much, only to find his hand snatched back and clasped in Patrick's own. His palm was sweaty against Joe's and he held on too tight, like he was afraid of letting go.

Joe closed his eyes, trying to slow down time so that he could stave off the moment that he pulled his hand away and suggested that they get some sleep.

Before he could, Patrick's voice whispered, "Is it weird that I miss this the most?"

Joe shook his head against the mattress.

"I mean, I'm a guy, right? I feel like I should be missing other stuff, y'know? And I do, and if you wanted to make out right now, I would be so down with it, but I miss this most."

"Me too, I guess. And I would, but it's just that, like, I'm afraid we'd fuck things up more, man."

"We already broke up, Joe - how much worse can it get?"

"I figure that we were doing okay right now… I mean, in the circumstances and everything. Being friends has been kind of like… getting easier, right?"

Patrick's cheeks turned a little pink at the suggestion. "Depends on how you define 'friends', I guess."

"Well, I kind of define it as, like, two people who enjoy each other's company and hang out while, like, not dating."

"What about if you used to date, and were really kind of in love, right, and then you stop dating, and you're supposed to be friends, but you're still really kind of in love and all you can think about when you're... y'know, alone… is that friend you used to date? And even when you try to think of something else, it's still always them? And I mean, what if you talked that friend into sharing a bed with you and now it sounds kind of creepy and not at all completely normal and healthy, like how you planned it?"

Joe didn't really know what to say. He hadn't much felt like having that kind of 'alone time' since they broke up. He'd just been so miserable and exhausted by everything, he hadn't really even thought about it. Patrick was in his mind pretty much constantly, anyway. Even now, the thought made his breath catch a little, and Patrick was right next to him - he had no need to imagine it - but he was so afraid of making things worse for them both, and of damaging their friendship, that he froze.

"It doesn't have to mean we're dating," Patrick offered, "it could just be, y'know - a thing. Just a thing that happened." He cast him a small, sidelong glance and curled up one corner of his lips, fleetingly. "A Christmas miracle."

"Patrick - dude… I… I mean, I think about you about a thousand per cent of the time. I just, kind of like, don't want to make you feel worse by doing stuff when it can't change anything, right now…"

For a minute, Patrick turned redder, his eyes flitting around as they always did when he didn't know what to say. Then, very carefully, he said, "What if I said I got that, and that I know and I wouldn't expect things to change?"

"I don't know that it's just like, as easy as that, dude. I mean… it's not just you that might get hurt."

"Like who?" Patrick asked sharply, turning to look at him, his eyebrows pinched together with a rush of anger.

"Me."

"Oh." As quickly as it had flared, the anger on Patrick's face dissolved into embarrassment. "Shit… yeah - sorry, that makes me sound like such an asshole... I just thought you meant… I dunno. Somebody else."

Joe yanked at Patrick's hand and shifted so he was looking down at him, staring him unblinkingly in the eye, in the hope that Patrick might finally accept the truth. "There's nobody else, Patrick. Seriously."

"Okay."

"Dude, why won't you believe that?" Joe asked, kind of hurt. "It kind of makes it sound like you don't trust me."

"I do," Patrick shrugged, gazing down toward his socked feet. "I do, but I guess I just feel pretty shitty about everything, and I'm a little paranoid, because I always thought you could do better than this speccy little nerd who's already started losing his hair, y'know?"

Patrick's eyes flicked back up to meet Joe's as he finished his little confession, and his chest clenched tight. No - no, dude, you were always too good for me.

Joe let his forehead meet Patrick's with a sorry little thump. "That's such bullshit."

"Is it?"

"You're still, like, the most beautiful dude I've ever seen."

They lay there together, Joe's nose pressed to Patrick's cheek, Patrick's hand stroking lightly at his side. The gentle tickle of Patrick's breath against his ear was familiar and tender and if he closed his eyes, it could almost be a couple of months ago - an average night when everything was okay. It was everything he wanted and exactly what he knew he couldn't have, anymore.

The sound of footsteps creaking in the hall caused them to jerk back from each other abruptly. Joe was momentarily sixteen again and afraid of Patrick's mom catching them kissing, even though they weren't. Closer to it than he knew they ought to be, but not as close as he really wanted. He almost fell off the narrow mattress and Patrick had to catch him by a snag in his canvas belt.

"Night, Patrick; night, Joe. Merry Christmas"

"Um - goodnight, Mom," Patrick called back, awkwardly. "Merry Christmas."

"Night, Mrs. Stumph."

They remained frozen until they heard the soft click of her bedroom door closing.

"You don't, like… think she heard any of that, do you?"

Biting his lip, Patrick shook his head slowly.

Carefully, Joe manoeuvred to sit down on the edge of the bed again, trying to gently extract himself from the moment. "Do you think it would be okay if I took a superfast shower, or something, dude? I feel kind of gross."

"Wow, thanks."

"No - from the show - "

Patrick was laughing a little as he sat up, one arm curling across his back. "I know," he said, and leaned closer to kiss him on the shoulder. "I'll get you a towel."



While Patrick took his turn in the shower, Joe tucked himself under the covers and wondered if it might be a little safer for one of them to sleep elsewhere. Maybe even top-to-tail, like he used to with his school friends when he was in elementary. He regretted not bringing an extra t-shirt to sleep in, but he'd been in such a hurry after Andy's intervention that he hadn't even thought about it and he didn't want to wear the one he'd brought to wear to Christmas dinner. He couldn't borrow Patrick's because none of his possessions were there anymore and he'd only packed for himself. It wasn't that it he was worried about Patrick seeing him shirtless, all of a sudden, it was the fact there was just so much of his skin exposed to be brushed or bumped against. He felt vulnerable and he didn't trust himself to have the willpower to resist temptation. So he lay under the blankets with his hands clasped under his arms and fretted.

Don't fuck this up more than like, you already did. Don't hurt him, or make him feel any shittier, or bad about himself or anything. Just, like, say you're tired and go right to sleep, dude. It's the only way.

Or maybe he should flat out pretend he already was asleep. That would save a lot more trouble.

When Patrick crept in, Joe was curled against the wall, arms still clasped around himself but his eyes closed. He could hear Patrick rifling through his rucksack - Please be finding clothes - and then felt the mattress dipping as he climbed on to the bed beside him.

"Joe? Hey, are you asleep?" Patrick nudged him in the spot on his ribs where he knew he was ticklish, and he had no choice but to squirm.

"Fuck! I was. Thanks."

"Sorry… I just wanted to ask you something. I mean, you don't have to answer, y'know, but…"

"What?" Joe asked, shifting on to his other side to look at him uncertainly.

"Do…" Patrick trailed off and cleared his throat, but the beginning of the sentence implied another proposition and Joe began to open his mouth to cut him off. "Do you think things would have been different if we didn't move in with Pete?"

Oh. "Um. I don't know, dude. Maybe. But like… I'd still have to go to school and we'd still have to work, and do the band and stuff…"

Patrick nodded slowly, seeming to think this through. "I was kind of afraid that maybe I was wrong about letting him move in with us, y'know? Like maybe I seriously fucked up and you just didn't want to say it."

"You were definitely wrong, dude," Joe told him, trying for a smile but only managing half. "But I'm pretty sure it's only like, one thing… I'd still suck at everything anyway."

"Hm."

Patrick settled down to lie on the pillow, facing him, and Joe noticed the t-shirt he'd chosen. It had to be deliberate, because Patrick never wore it, anymore, and he'd taken the time to find it and pack it. He decided not to mention it, in case the whole point was to get them talking about that first time, in the basement of that very house, but his stomach still bottomed out at the thought of it.

With the light behind him, Patrick's pupils had expanded so much that the green in his eyes had almost vanished into the blue. Joe could still remember the first time he'd noticed the mix of colour in them - they'd only been hanging out a couple of weeks and the sun was vividly bright on a warm April afternoon. Patrick had laughed at the fascinated look on his face when he asked if it was real or just his colour blindness being weird, and had tried to explain it - "It has a name… something beginning with 'h'.. Or maybe 'c' - I dunno. My sister has the same thing." And those colours had dominated his dreams for days afterward.

"You're staring."

Joe blinked. "Oh… sorry. I was just thinking."

"What about?"

"Nothing, dude… just memories."

Patrick took a long, deep breath and exhaled it in a sigh. "Good ones?"

"They're pretty much all good ones." Everything about you is good.

"Yeah," Patrick said quietly, "they were." He reached out and rested his hand lightly on the side of Joe's face, stroking under his eye delicately, as if brushing something away.

The reasonable and appropriate response would have been to reiterate what they'd said about time. But between reason and impulse something misfired, and instead, Joe leaned forward, his hand grasping Patrick's t-shirt, and kissed him. It was exactly the opposite of what he knew he should do and 100% what he'd wanted to do every day for the past two weeks, and he'd kind of committed to it now, so he couldn't pull away when Patrick quickly shifted closer and kissed him back.

The reprimanding voice in Joe's head sounded uncomfortably like Andy. You absolute fucking idiot. What do you think you're gonna do now?




Chapter Nineteen

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