[identity profile] rosiedoes.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] damagereport
Title: Your Own Spotlight
Summary: A few months ago, he'd had to beg Joe to rejoin the band. It had left him shaken for days, even after Joe had said 'yes'. Like there was a chance, a real one, that they really might have lost him.
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rosiedoes
Betas: [livejournal.com profile] shiny_starlight. Special thanks to thislossofsleep on Tumblr.
Rating: PG-13.
Pairing: Joe/Patrick
Words: c. 2,100
Prompt: "We’re so miserable and stunning, love songs for the genuinely cunning." - Carpal Tunnel Of Love
Author's notes: This fic was written for Tumblr's FOBCC challenge for July 2016, with the theme of lyrics.

As I was writing this story, which I had always intended to be a short oneshot, it became clear that the 'verse had the capacity for something much larger and more in depth. A fuller fic about the hiatus, incorporating a version of this scene with complete dialogue will be posted at a later date.

Your Own Spotlight
"You are my favourite 'what if…?'"

The sun was beginning to sink as they walked out of the studio, the evening bringing the early, refreshing coolness of the night after a long day of stuffy stillness. The first whip of breeze was in the air, a hint of the closest to fall that ever made it to California.

It had been a long day. The first where it had been just the two of them working on guitar parts for the new record. The first in years. Patrick had forgotten how it felt, except that it felt different to this. There was a new excitement in him, now. Watching Joe's fingers tracking across the frets without so much as a glance, while he described his thoughts in slow, careful streams, was fascinating. He didn't know where this Joe had been in all the years they'd been doing the band, but he liked him. He liked the way he made Patrick think - really think - in ways he would never have entertained, before. Made him want to be better to match him, instead of the other way around.

The CD in Joe's car stereo was hurriedly switched off, but not before Patrick had caught the opening bars of the chorus, apparently parked mid-song.

…you could be your own spotlight…

He didn't mention it, he just looked out of the window to hide his proud little smile. It wasn't really Joe's thing, he was well aware of that, but he was touched that he at least tried listening to his stuff; re-familiarising himself with it, probably. He'd sent him some files when he was working on it, all met with Joe's own brand of half-drawled, throwaway enthusiasm. Sweet, dude. It really sounds like you. Patrick still considered it one of his biggest compliments.

They chose a place to eat on Ocean Avenue, French windows open to the sea and the reflection of a rhubarb sunset. Patrick watched Joe watch everyone else, sitting back comfortably in his leather chair, wide eyes flicking from person to person to passing car, a slight smile on his face. He looked content. At ease with himself, finally. His hair was back to its unstyled crop, his wild curls cut off as soon as he lost patience with the southern heat. He still resembled the kid that Patrick had sat next to on plastic hospital waiting room chairs, hands clasped together for support, and slept beside on the floors of strangers' houses; but he was tangibly different. Older, unquestionably, but maybe more secure. The ridiculous lack of self-awareness had shifted to something a lot more like comfortable indifference. He didn't need the validation, anymore, because he'd already proven himself to people he admired far more than he admired Patrick.

And Patrick was glad about that. He'd been ashamed of himself the night he stood in a cupboard-small venue in LA and discovered the butterfly - perhaps more a moth, night-flying and subtle - that had emerged from the cocoon of the boy he knew. He hadn't ever given him the opportunity to transform, not really; written off his ideas before they'd fully developed, never allowing him the chance to be heard, because he thought he knew what Joe was going to say, and that he himself could say it better.

He wondered, as he watched him, what he might have discovered if he'd listened. What might have gone unheard for so many years, before being lost in the sweep of time and hard drive failures.

They talked, as they ate, although Patrick could hardly remember what was said. They'd never stopped being friends, but they'd stopped depending on each other. Stopped taking each other for granted, perhaps. All he knew was that Joe's irritatingly samey jokes felt fresh and funny again. The golden yellow on his lashes was as stunning as it had been sitting on the roof of their apartment on Chicago summer evenings, storms crackling in the clouds across the lake.

Patrick had changed, too, in the time since they parted ways. He'd grown and shrunk at once - his ego pierced and his sense of himself bolstered. He knew who he was, now, he thought. It wasn't who he'd tried to be, it was who he'd always been. The kid from the suburbs, obsessively collecting and consuming music to feed his own, nestled amongst his friends for safety. He was older and he had disengaged from his own myth, resettled as a man out of place and out of time in a city he'd never love like home.

But there was something about being there with Joe, sharing the early fall in a seasonless state, that made it almost feel safe.

It's kind of funny, but you look younger, you know. Like the asshole I met in a bookstore, who couldn't keep his opinions personal. I've got at least three greys, and you've gone backwards.

It was true, in a way. He had gone backwards, but it was back to what he knew; what he'd tried to escape from, only to see it waiting for him like a porchlight when he lost his way.

You've gotten cooler.

I just got to be me, dude.

The pier was dusty and the rail warm under Patrick's hands, when they strolled along it, afterward. The sun was making its final dip into the sea, and the lapping at the shore sounded like sighs in a comfortable silence.

They walked out almost to the end, stopping to gaze into the water passing beneath their feet.

Reminds me of the pier back home. It was nothing like it. Not really.

Do you ever wish you'd stayed?

Every day.

So do I.

Patrick wasn't sure which of them he was referring to.

As they stood there, a small, sudden gust caught Patrick’s hat, tumbling it off his head and into Joe's quick hands. He grinned and turned him by the shoulder to set it back down carefully on his head, adjusting it until Patrick self-consciously reached up to help, catching Joe's fingers under his own.

Living on opposite coasts meant that they'd often go for months without seeing each other in person. It wasn't by design but practicality, and it was always jarring to see the changes that others wouldn't notice happening in increments, in their fullest leaps. Each time he saw Joe, now, he seemed to be a slightly different person.

Patrick looked at him contemplatively for a few moments. His face wasn't as round as it used to be, his arms, bare in the rolled up sleeves of his ancient Mastodon t-shirt, were more defined and much more heavily tattooed. Joe - the inelegant, unco-ordinated kid who fell off stages and sprained every limb he could with his overly mobile joints - was finally a grown up. A strangely beautiful man. Here, in the future they'd dreamed for themselves, the coloured lights from the amusements cast multi-faceted sparkles in his eyes and the smell of cotton candy sweetened the air. It was the magical sort of twilight from the films they watched together as kids, made either for terror or romance, but all Patrick could think about was that there had been a time when he'd made him so miserable he didn't want to be in his own band, anymore.

I'm proud of you, y'know.

Of me?

Yeah. I mean, I never really told you, so I just wanted you to know. I should have told you sooner.

Joe shrugged, but he slung his arm around Patrick's shoulders and squeezed them together until Patrick leaned in to press an ear to his chest, the same comfortably awkward affection they'd grown up on.

I'm only doing what I always did.

Yeah, but it's real and you're doing it with your heroes, man. You're equal to them, now. I've just been writing love songs no one wants to buy, on my own.

They stood together in silence for a few minutes, night falling faster and picking out ships' lanterns, distant in the water.

I've written love songs, actually.

Since when?

Well, kind of always. You just never heard them.

Maybe you could play me some, sometime.


Why not? The stuff you've written recently is really good -

It's just personal. I shouldn't have said anything.

Patrick tried not to be a little hurt. He didn't think he'd been so mean in the past that Joe wouldn't trust him to listen to his work. They'd been through so much together. The carnival music drifting around them brought Patrick's thoughts back to summers on festival tours, both at home and in Europe. All a million years ago, now. They'd been so young, on their first Warped Tour, but they thought they were veterans. Joe was homesick again by the third day. Patrick could still remember him sitting on metal steps at the side of the stage when the day's show was over, looking like an anxious baby deer separated from its mother. He'd settled down beside him, hip to hip, and talked about Chicago and how they'd have to go for a pizza at Vito's when they got home. Afterward, Joe had fallen asleep on his shoulder in the back of the bus. Patrick stayed up most of the night to avoid disturbing him, and maybe just a little because it comforted him, too. That was the thing about Joe, he could do companionable silences that they'd sit in for hours. When they'd lived together, Wednesday nights would be spent hanging out in the living room or kitchen, or even each other's rooms, doing their own thing together. It was peaceful, even when the music on the stereo was heavy. Patrick had never really shared that with anyone else. He'd missed it, when they no longer shared the apartment, even after spending weeks at a time cooped up with him in buses.

I'm glad to have you back, Joe.

Not hanging out with you more was pretty much my only regret about this whole hiatus thing.

You could have, if you'd wanted. I asked.

No. I couldn't.

Why not?

Same reason you don't get to hear my songs, dude.

Something about what Joe said - the tone or the choice of words or something - set Patrick on edge. Somewhere, in the pit of his stomach, there was a slow swell of a feeling - breathlessness and shock, a fundamental shift of balance. The tremors before the earthquake.

Gently, with a sense of not wanting to frighten away a scared animal, Patrick withdrew a little. Not enough to break contact, but enough to look up into Joe's face.

He didn't need to say it aloud, but he did anyway, stumbling and vague - hoping for Patrick to make sense of what wasn't said.

The hand Patrick reached out to catch as it patted Joe's pockets for cigarettes he already knew he didn't have, was warm in his own, his palm slippery.

I wish I'd known.

A few months ago, he'd had to beg Joe to rejoin the band. Joe, who had founded it and forced it to happen, spent every waking hour promoting it from the desk in the corner of his bedroom. It had felt so bone-gnawingly wrong that it had left him shaken for days, even after Joe had said 'yes'. Like there was a chance, a real one, that they really might have lost him. Part of him was still sure that if they didn't treat him gently, they still could. Patrick still could.

He hadn't been prepared for this. When he'd agreed to come out for dinner, it had never occurred to him that within a couple of hours he'd be facing a revelation of this magnitude. He and Joe had always been close - tactile in a gentler way than he was with Pete, and especially Andy. They'd always had those quiet times, enjoying each other's company. Maybe eight years ago, they'd gone through a ridiculous phase of kissing and cuddling with each other for amusement, using cunning and sneak attacks to catch each other unawares in confined spaces. It was a game that had petered out as things moved on and there were more and more people around them who wouldn't get it. Or so he'd thought. Now, he wasn't sure what they'd been doing, anymore.

But he knew that if there was anyone with whom he might be willing to explore something bigger - something real - it could only be the kid who'd blushed and laughed the first time Patrick had kissed him on impulse as he complained that he was the only member of the band no one was interested in. He'd shrugged it all off and then spent the next two days casting him happily bemused looks, until finally catching him with a surprise peck on the corner of the mouth that Patrick had always thought had been intended for his cheek.

It doesn't have to change anything.

He looked nervous now, uncertain, and for the first time, Patrick knew there was only one thing that he was certain about.

Yeah, it does. It changes everything.
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