[identity profile] rosiedoes.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] damagereport
Title: Fear of the Dark
Summary: It's almost the Hallowe'en after Take This To Your Grave is released. Disappointed with the reception it has received, Pete decides they need to turn to unorthodox sources for support.
Element: Air
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rosiedoes
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] distortedmya
Rating: R?
Pairing: Joe/Patrick
Words: c. 6,900 this chapter.
Author's notes: This story is broken down into four parts: Earth, Air, Water & Fire.

WARNING: There is a brief and non-graphic reference in this fic to drawing blood for ritual purposes. If you do not wish to read this description, skip the short paragraph after the words 'testing the water'.



The Air Was Full
Believe that life can change, that you're not stuck in vain


When Patrick got home that night, he wasn't sure if he'd rather be alone to wallow in his guilt at what he felt sure he'd inadvertently caused, or desperate for company, so that he didn't have to dwell on it. He took off his coat and threw it into his room, then wandered into the living room to see if Joe was sitting there, playing on his Playstation, like he usually was. He was disappointed to find that tonight, he wasn't.

Despondently, he opened the fridge, hoping to feel inspired by one of the ready meals. He closed it again, still feeling queasy, and decided to see if Pete was home. It was Pete who'd appreciate this information more than anyone else. He was pretty sure that Pete would consider it evidence of a hard victory.

He was standing at Pete's door, about to knock, when Joe appeared, looking like he'd just woken up. His increasingly wild curls were a mess and he had creases from the pillow all down one cheek.

"He went out," Joe mumbled, rubbing his face. "You okay, dude?"

Patrick exhaled heavily, almost ready to collapse in a deflated heap. "Oh, Joe - I've had the worst day, man."

"How come?" Joe asked, suddenly more alert, his hand finding it's way to Patrick's shoulder comfortingly, rubbing at the seam on his plaid shirt.

"I got promoted."

At first, Joe looked confused, like he wasn't completely sure he was awake, yet. "But…?" Then the realisation seemed to sink in. "Your pay rise?"

"Yeah."

"Dude."

"I fucking know, right?" Patrick said, and the sick feeling was fading away under the rush of disbelief and frustration, like at last he could share this completely insane and unacceptable turn of events with someone who'd understand. "And you know why I got a promotion, man?" He didn't wait for Joe to respond. "Because my actual supervisor, Ian, is in the hospital. He's in the damn hospital because last night, he decided to go to a bar and drive home."

"Dude."

"So, now I'm supervisor and I get an extra two dollars an hour, and that was so not what I meant."

Joe didn't even seem to know what to say. He just patted him on the shoulder, heavily. "Well… I mean, technically, it worked, dude."

"Yeah, but -"

"And it's not like he didn't bring it on himself, if he was drunk, basically."

"But what if he wouldn't have, if -?"

"Honestly, man, we did that whole thing last night - when would these guardian dudes even have time to make that happen? It has to be, like, a really weird coincidence or something."

Patrick sighed, grateful for Joe's uncharacteristically pragmatic perspective. "Maybe you're right."

"Of course, dude, I'm like, Mr Right, or something." It took a second for Joe to realise what he'd said, and by that time Patrick was blushing. He pulled a face. "Or not."

Patrick laughed, nervously, and they stood in awkward silence for a moment until Joe asked:

"Did you eat?"

"Not yet, I kind of couldn't stomach anything I have, to be honest."

"You want to get take out or something? I'll buy you dinner to make you feel better if you want…"

"Thanks, dude, but you don't need to do that - "

"I know I don't, but I still have the money my parents gave me for my birthday, and I kind of need some help spending it or something."

By the time Patrick went to bed, that night, he was feeling a lot better about everything. Maybe it was a coincidence or maybe Ian was a goddamn idiot who was lucky the only person he screwed over was himself. Joe had told him it was probably confirmation bias, anyway: he was looking for it, so he assumed that the two things were connected when it did happen.

When he fell asleep, he dreamed of the forest, making his way straight to Joe's waterfall and laying down on the rocks to watch him floating peacefully in the water, unseen.


---

They had a show that Friday. The Metro was one of their favourite venues, because it felt like a real show, rather than standing in a corner of a room that looked like a run down gym hall. They may only be the second band on the bill, but it made them feel lucky to be playing there at all.

The problem was, four songs into their nine song set, as Pete balanced on the edge of the stage, clasping his mic in both hands and screaming down at the front row, he tipped. Patrick watched it happen in slow motion, the frantic flail for purchase - something, anything to steady himself - but there was nothing. The wide open stage ran straight into the crowd, which parted like the the red sea and swallowed him whole.

Patrick and Joe looked at each other, trying to keep playing, because surely he'd resurface in a second and crowd surf back to the stage - except the kids down the front were all bowing down, scrambling to lift him to his feet. Pete was out cold.

---

"Well, his spell thing worked," Joe told Patrick around a piece of toast, sitting cross-legged in his pyjamas at his computer desk.

"It did?" Patrick asked. He'd fallen asleep face down in Joe's room when they stumbled in from the emergency room after 3am. Andy was presumably in Pete's, monitoring his concussion. After getting him through the door and sending him to bed, Joe had gone on the band's website and posted a message to let people know he was fine. Patrick had collapsed on the bed, exhausted, intending to help him word the message and falling asleep before the desktop had even fully booted up. Now, he was under the covers, fully dressed, and confused.

Joe waved his toast at the screen.

"We got replies, dude."

Squinting and putting on his glasses, he clambered down to the bottom of the bed and looked over Joe's shoulder. The band's email inbox was flooded with notifications.

---

"Well, if we've learned anything," Andy told them, seriously, "it's that we need to be specific. We've been too general. In the module on folklore, in my course, there was a lot of interesting stuff about intent and mischief. If something went wrong, people would blame it on faeries and bad spirits who they thought would fuck with people for fun. I kind of wonder if this is the same principle."

"Well, what happened to yours?" Patrick asked.

"Well, there have been a couple of things which were sort of interesting. You know how I had a raven in my vision? Next morning, I was washing the dishes for my mom, and one landed right at the window. It sat there, kind of looking at me, so I threw a few pieces bread out on the back porch. When I went to take out the trash, later, I found this, right where I put the bread." He pulled a shiny, amber coloured glass bead from his pocket. "Look at the colour."

"Yellow. For air," Pete said, reaching out to touch it.

"Exactly."

"What was the other thing?"

"Less cool: I was driving home at like 2am, and a fox ran out in front of me, and just stopped and looked me in the eye. Just stood there. And then it ran off. Which could mean nothing, because they do that all the time, I guess…"

"I mean, I'd take that as approval, kind of."

"What about you, dude?" Patrick asked, tugging on one of Joe's curls, gently.

"I still think this could all be a coincidence," Joe said, from where he was sitting on the floor, propped against the futon and Patrick's leg.

"Dude, are you actually fucking serious?" Pete demanded, laughing. "Were you even there last night?"

"Sure. I watched your ass nosedive off a stage and fuck up our best show."

"Hey - people are gonna fucking remember my name now, though, right?"

Patrick rolled his eyes, because of course Pete would consider a disaster a total success.

"We should try some of the really cool stuff, next."

"Next time, instead of 'I want a payrise,' it has to be 'I would like to be rewarded for my hard work and commitment with a reasonable increase in pay.' You can't leave room for interpretation," Andy said, seriously. "We can't get anyone caught up in the crossfire."

"I'm talking, like, levitating shit, like they did in the movie."

"Pete, it was a movie. You cannot seriously believe - ?"

"Don't know 'til we've tried it, bro."

And that was how, ten minutes of arguing later, Patrick found himself laying on the living room floor, still complaining that this was a ridiculous idea. As it turned out, he was right. They were no more able to levitate him than they were to juggle water, but as the other three crouched around him, Joe's fingers wedged under his hip and his thigh, Pete's under his shoulders and Andy's at his ankles, whispering "light as a feather, stiff as a board" there was a sudden crash and the sound of ceramic shattering on the kitchen floor.

They all scrambled to their feet, rushing to the doorway to see, Andy ahead of them all, bracing his hands against the doorframe to stop them all shredding their feet to pieces on the dish rack of crockery spread across the linoleum floor. A dish rack of crockery that was six feet across the floor from the draining board it had started out on.

"How the fuck…?" Pete murmured.

"Dude. There's no way."

"Of course there's a way," Andy replied carefully, stepping into the room on tiptoes to avoid the shards and turning around to look for reasons the collection of mugs and dishes may have met their end. "Maybe they were stacked poorly."

"Hey, fuck you - I do an awesome job of stacking that thing!" Joe complained, and they all knew that Joe was the only one who ever bothered to wash up, so there was no one else to blame.

Later, after they'd spent hours debating the potential causes of ar-mug-geddon, and found themselves with no more solid an explanation than when they started, Pete left to be fussed over by his girlfriend and Andy went to hang out with their other friends for a while before heading back to Milwaukee. Neither Patrick nor Joe had felt inclined to join them. It had been a long weekend already, and it was only Saturday evening.

Instead, they sat together on the broken futon, propped shoulder to shoulder with one of Pete's books on their knees, browsing through the lists of correspondences and diagrams of magical symbols. Nowhere did it mention shared meditations, which was a little disappointing. They resorted to the internet for advice, perched together on Joe's desk chair, and found nothing more than theoretical forum posts there, either.

"Maybe we should just, like, try it again?" Joe suggested, when they reached the tenth page of search results.

Patrick's stomach fluttered. "I mean… we could."

"Pete thinks we should."

"Oh, well if Pete thinks so," he grinned, watching a self-conscious smile creep across Joe's face.

Joe got to his feet, the chair almost tipping as it unbalanced, and wiped both of his palms on his jeans. He went to his CD collection and dug out a copy of the Fellowship of the Ring OST. "Will this do for background noise?"

Patrick couldn't quite suppress a snigger. "Yeah, I guess?"

"If we're gonna keep doing this, I could like, invest in something authentic, if you want?"

"We're good, man," Patrick assured him, getting up and waiting for Joe to light the jar candle on his dresser and climb onto the bed before he followed, sitting opposite him, cross legged. They looked at each other nervously, not really sure what to do.

"Do we need to hold hands, or…?"

"We could," Patrick offered. "I don't think it's strictly necessary, y'know, but it might help us stay kind of grounded… or like, connect or something."

Before he'd even finished his sentence, Joe hands were in front of him, palms upturned. Patrick smiled a little, shifting them knee to knee, their toes pressed together awkwardly, just so that he could reach out to hold them. It quickly became clear that this wasn't going to be comfortable, but after much self-conscious fumbling, they settled with legs spread like ragdolls, Patrick's laid over the top of Joe's.

"Pete can never hear of this," Joe informed him seriously, picking up Patrick's hands and holding them in their laps, his eyes already closed.

Patrick nodded, biting his lip so hard it hurt, because it was Joe - just Joe, who he slept next to in the van and practically sat on his lap on the futon and didn't kick him out when he fell asleep in his bed still sweaty and gross after shows - but he didn't think any amount of meditation was going to get his heartrate down after this.

"I'll meet you at the waterfall," Joe said, as if there was any doubt.

When Patrick opened his eyes in the other world, he was sitting on the rocks at the top, his feet dangling over the edge. He looked down into the water for Joe, and was surprised to find he wasn't there. Aside from the bubbling of the water rushing into the pool, there was nothing.

"Joe?" he yelled, looking around at the shore, starting to think that Joe hadn't made it through, yet. Worrying that maybe it was all a coincidence, that there was no weird mind meld going on at all. He climbed to his feet, wondering how best to get down to the lake so he could look for him properly. "JOE?"

The hand on his shoulder was warm in the chilly air. "I'm right here, dude." Joe was standing next to him, ankle-deep in the flowing river, balancing precariously on a submerged rock. "I was waiting."

"You said that last time," Patrick told him, realising that he was soaked through and ice crystals were beginning to form on the threads of torn denim across his knees. "Aren't you cold?"

"Not really," Joe shrugged. "Last time you told me to come out, and the others aren't here, so… I'm out."

Patrick blinked and looked around them. He didn't really know what that meant.

"So… what now?"

The seasons hadn't changed at all, the leaves were still falling from the trees below them, but they didn't seem to be getting any less laden.

"Maybe we should like, explore or something?"

Joe's feet were bare as he used Patrick's shoulders to steady himself and stepped out onto the frozen earth of the riverbank. The water dripped from his clothes and sank into the soil as they made their way through the trees. He didn't know where they were going on how they'd find their way back, but it was okay - he felt safe. The light breeze rustling through the remaining leaves in the treetops was comforting.

As they walked, the ground seemed to slowly defrost, crocuses pushing up through the moss around them. In the trees, birds seemed to be nesting, the hacking squawk of carrion carrying through the forest around them.

Before long, they emerged from the trees on a cliff edge, the land falling away in front of them to charred spears of burnt out tree trunks. The earth was blackened and the air smelled acrid, tasted bitter on Patrick's tongue.

"Pete?" he whispered, scanning the landscape for any trace of flame or smoke, any sign of life under the vivid summer sun.

"Everything's destroyed. What the fuck did he do?"

"It wasn't him, it couldn't have been."

"Dude, he's Fire. If this is the place we all go, then what else was it?"

"Sometimes shit just happens, y'know?"

"I don't know - I have a bad feeling about this."

Patrick's eyes opened wide, staring straight into Joe's glinting with yellow light. For a moment he had no idea where he was or what was happening, but then Pete's voice behind him and the feel of Joe yanking his hands out of his grip brought him abruptly back to reality.

"What the fuck are you two even doing?" he was saying, barely contained laughter in his voice.

Joe was scrambling out from under Patrick's legs, pushing him off to get the lamp in the now darkened room. "Don't you ever fucking knock?"

"I'm sorry, did I interrupt something private?"

"We were just meditating," Patrick told him, annoyed at the intrusion and a little disoriented.

"What time is it?" Joe asked, holding the empty jar the candle had sat in.

"After midnight, why?"

Patrick looked at the watch on his wrist. 00.11. "But we started at like, nine or something?"

Joe looked at him darkly, nodding.

---

"So… you and Duck Hunt…?"

"Were meditating," Patrick insisted, flopping back on the foot of Pete's bed. Joe had kicked them both out and said he was going to sleep, so Patrick had followed Pete into his room.

"Like, I don't know what books you've been reading, or whatever, but you don't need to sit in his lap to do it, kind of."

"It was the only way we could hold hands!"

"Don't need to do that, either."

"We thought it might help."

"Might help you get laid, maybe."

"Pete, would you just stop? It was totally innocent."

"Oh, totally," Pete smirked at him.

Patrick swung out a fist and thumped him in the hip as he passed. "Leave it alone, asshole."

Pete responded by throwing himself down on the bed, half pinning him to the mattress. "So, when you slept in his bed, last night, what happened then, dude?"

"Literally nothing. I just fell asleep."

"Honestly, I'm disappointed. Such a wasted opportunity! I throw myself onto my skull from a height and you can't even get a handjob out of it. You want me to say something?"

"There's nothing to say!" Patrick lied, blushing fiercely, because the last thing he wanted was for Joe to find out, and the fastest way for your secrets to get out was always to confide them in Pete, even if he swore he'd keep them. Mostly because he thought he'd play the white knight and try to resolve the problem. Patrick had literally never seen it work out for him.

"Go for it, dude, he's not getting any better offers."

Patrick glared at him, both offended and hopeful but abjectly refusing to let Pete know he was either. He changed the subject, instead. "So, do you have a plan or anything?"

"To get you in Trohman's pants?"

"To put the magic to some kind of use, if it's actually working."

Pete shrugged and rolled on to his back, propping himself up on his elbows. "I was gonna put something together for Wednesday night. I thought a kind of a mini road trip or something, this time. Get out into the woods, if that's what we've all been seeing, or whatever."

Patrick nodded against the comforter. "Alright. But we take precautions, this time. We plan ahead, we keep it scripted, okay? I want Andy to go over everything and check it, because I don't want to be responsible for anyone dying or anything."

"Whatever my little Lunchbox wants," Pete assured him.

Gratefully, Patrick shifted and propped his head against Pete's side. "Thanks, man."

They lay together in silence for a minute, before Pete said, "I just really want this to work out, dude."

"I know."

"Maybe I don't have talent like you three, but this is something I can do, maybe, you know?"

"Pete, you have talent. You can write and you know what to do with people, y'know? I can't do that kind of crap, it's all on you. That's your talent."

"Thanks, but still…"

"Joe's right, dude - it might not happen now, and it might not happen tomorrow, or next week or anything, but it'll happen. It has to."

"And it will, if we can master this."

Perhaps that was true, and perhaps playing with candles and chanting and thinking that maybe they were dabbling in the dark arts was kind of cool. But deep down, Patrick still hoped that when someone stood up and took them seriously it would be because they were good, not because they'd used sorcery to win them round.

---

They didn't talk much about what had happened on Saturday night, afterwards. Joe seemed utterly freaked out and Patrick wasn't sure if it was what he'd seen in the meditation or the fact that Pete had walked in on them sitting in each other's laps and made fun of them.

Joe spent most of Sunday at his parents' house and by the time he got home it was almost ten and Pete had gone to hide in his room, studying his books and scribbling in his journal. Patrick was eating a family pack of potato chips and watching a cut-for-TV version of The Evil Dead in the dark. He was so engrossed that he didn't even hear Joe come in and nearly flew off the futon when he appeared in the doorway, hood still pulled up, silhouetted against the yellow of the street light through the windows.

"Well, that's flattering," Joe snorted, dumping a plastic bag of stuff his mother always sent him home with to make sure he was eating, and dropping onto the folded foam mattress, next to him.

"Sorry, I didn't hear the door."

Joe just shrugged and took a handful of chips out of the bag.

"How's your mom?"

"Motherly."

"And your dad?"

"Dadderly."

"Of course." He grinned over at him, watching Joe carefully lick the flavoured powder off his fingers.

"Where's our roomie?"

"Writing a black mass or something."

"Cool." Joe leaned over to the floor, half dangling from the furniture to drag his bag closer with his fingertips and pull a folded sheet of printer paper from it. "So, I'm gonna like, show you something and I want you to tell me if it means anything to you, okay?"

"Sure," Patrick nodded, putting down his food and dusting his hands off, then rubbing them on his pants.

At first, Joe seemed to hesitate to steel himself, and then shook the paper out and handed it to him. Across the page, scribbled heavily in black ballpoint, was a landscape of jagged edges and thin spikes across rolling hills. Patrick inhaled abruptly, catching a fragment of chip in his throat and descending into a coughing fit, pointing frantically at the paper and nodding vigorously as Joe rubbed at his back, trying to soothe him.

"You know it?"

"It's our forest! Dude, it's what I saw in our forest!"

Joe nodded slowly. "It's what I saw. Half of it burned out."

"It wasn't half, but… yeah. Right before real-Pete ruined it, that's what I saw."

Joe just kept nodding.

"Do you think it means something," Patrick asked. He hadn't been able to shake that thought all day. What if it was a sign? Did it mean Pete or did it mean the effect Pete would have, or an effect on Pete? Was it Pete at all?

"I don't know, dude, but like… can it be a good thing that we go to this awesome place in our heads and like, Pete's part is all fucked up? 'Cause I don't know, basically."

"I don't know either, but y'know, that book of Pete's said something about fire being cleansing and stuff and meaning renewal or something. Maybe? I don't know. I just don't want to think it means something horrible."

Joe sat absorbed in his sketch for a few moments, before finally saying. "Dude, it's just that, like… we live here with him. You see how intense he gets about girls, man - if things get too weird, we need to kind of like, back each other up, yeah?"

"Yeah, of course," Patrick said, rubbing Joe's arm encouragingly. "We'll be Team Sanity. If Pete goes a little over the edge, we'll be there to pull him back up. It'll be fine."

---

October was in full swing by the fifteenth, leaves scattered the path through Potawatomi Woods, and Patrick kicked through them lightly as they walked away from the parking lot where they'd left Andy's van. Joe was walking just behind his right shoulder, holding a torch in one hand and a metal pail of tinder they'd brought to act as a firepit in the other. Ahead of them Pete was carrying a camping lantern to light the way. Andy seemed half able to see in the dark.

He still couldn't quite believe they were going to do this, even after a rehearsal in the living room the night before, in which Andy had thoughtfully signed off all their work, amending phrasing for clarity as he went. This was either going to be a total failure, a local news item on idiots with out of control campfires in the woods, or the thing that changed the world, for them.

It ran like a military operation: compass out, sigils carefully drawn in the dirt by Andy's artistic hand, tea lights in dollar store packs of earthenware holders demarking the edge of the circle, their bucket-cauldron of fire lit, cast with a handful of incense made of bergamot, sage and patchouli (according to the jar) along with a pinch burning on a charcoal stick in the stone bowl, grape juice in the yew chalice, Joe fully argued through the reasons that yes, they really were going to need to use that knife to cut his finger and yes, it could be his right pinkie if it mattered so damn much and yes they did bring band aids.

With studied care, they cast their circle, inviting the guardians to join them without stutters or 'dudes' or the faintest hint of disrespect. The candles flickered in the breeze whispering around them, casting eerie shadows against the trees surrounding their small clearing. Joe's fingers dug into Patrick's as a particularly sudden gust brought the flames of the fire into a rush of orange, but he didn't break the chant. He closed his eyes tight and kept going. Patrick smiled at him encouragingly, even though he wasn't looking, his mind drifting momentarily to Pete's offer to intervene, wondering if maybe it was the answer, or if there was some other way of testing the water.

He hadn't the time to draw a conclusion, because Pete had produced the antler knife and run it through the flames to sterilise it, and was clutching it carefully, his hand shaking a little as he held Andy's, fingertips exposed. Andy took the knife from his hand and carefully returned the tiny nick, just enough for a droplet to form. Joe didn't let go of Patrick's hand, when he apprehensively offered Pete his right one, and he turned his face away so he didn't have to look. When Patrick’s turn came, he gently untwined his hand from Joe's and offered Pete his own right pinkie. Joe had been right about it being the best choice - he could hold a pick without it. He barely felt it. The blade was sharp and the cut superficial, there'd be no sign of it in a few days.

Pete pulled out a green square of paper, their spell already meticulously inscribed upon it in metallic coppery ink, and held it out for them each to add a droplet to. Then, he folded its corners in, and then again, sealing it up with a few drops of wax from a pumpkin coloured candle.

Patrick pulled the hand trowel from his pocket, knowing it was his big moment, and dug a small hole in the ground. He took the sealed spell from Pete and placed it in the earth, carefully laying a healthy acorn he'd collected on top, before gently filling it in while the others quietly murmured their incantations.

As he stood to rejoin them, arms and eyes cast to the sky, a cluster of four orange shooting stars sliced through the atmosphere. He could hear the hitch of laughter in Pete's voice, knowing the others had seen it, too.

They finished their ritual with sips of the grape juice as a symbol of their shared prosperity and friendship, pouring the rest on to the ground around the disturbed patch and leaving with it offerings of nuts and seeds, things that they thought indicated the potential for growth and might appeal to the animals sharing the woods with them. And then they packed away their candles and equipment, moved the dying fire out of the circle with gloved hands and then kicked leaves back over the bare earth they'd exposed to carry out their work on, hiding the evidence under a blanket of oranges and golds.

For a while, they sat nearby, perched on chunks of felled tree trunk in silence, waiting for the pail to cool enough to be able to carry to the pond and dip in the water so it was safe to take back in the van. Somewhere in the trees, an owl was hooting gently to its mate.

It felt magical. Secret and powerful and almost like a storm was in the air, the atmosphere charged with something. Patrick looked around at the other three - his closest friends and partners in crime. Whatever happened, now, they were bound together in a union of sorcery or stupidity, one or the other, or possibly both. He had a feeling they'd come back here time and again, provided nobody disturbed it.

"So, I just kind of want to say I love you guys, y'know? Even if this goes totally wrong, I still want us to do this band."

They all turned to look at him. Pete grinned with every one of his teeth and barrelled into him from the next log, knocking him to the floor. "Why didn't you say so?! We could be married already!"

Not to be outdone, Joe flopped onto the leaves beside them, kissing Patrick's forehead and tucking his arm around Pete. "I love you assholes, too."

Andy laughed, looking down at them. "You sappy fucks." He dived onto the heap, knocking the air out of all three of them. They let out a collection of squawks and groans through their laughter, and wrapped him up amongst them.

"It's us against the world forever, yeah?" Pete said, bumping his forehead to Andy's ear.

"For fucking ever!" Andy agreed.

Joe cheered, "Until one of us winds up in jail!"

"Always," Patrick added. "Except right now someone's on my bladder and I kind of need for that to stop."

Joe wriggled out from under Andy and stood up, almost overbalancing, before holding out a hand to pull him to his feet. Patrick accepted it and reached for the other one, too. He almost rolled to standing and into Joe's arms with a single heave, steadying himself against his shoulders. Joe caught him at the waist and squeezed him tight, before pushing him gently away. "Go pee up a tree like a dog, then, if you need to."

By the time Patrick got back, Andy and Pete were holding the pail using a long stick under the handle, one at each end. They walked down to the pond and dunked it in the water, watching until the steam stopped, then began the walk back to the van. Sitting in the second row, Joe looped his arm around Patrick's and fell asleep on his shoulder. In the rearview mirror, Pete caught Patrick's eye and mimed a blowjob at him until he flipped him off, embarrassed. He shrugged at Joe until he woke up and re-settled against the window.

---

When he fell into bed, that night, he dreamed of a million paper squares with metallic writing on them, falling like leaves in Joe's corner of the forest. I don't get it, Joe told him, holding soggy fistfuls of paper, frantic and confused. How am I supposed to know which one to follow?

---

It was Friday afternoon, standing in the record store pricing up new stock for the pop section, that Patrick's phone started vibrating in his pocket. He pulled it out to see Pete's name on the screen.

"Dude, I'm at wo -"

"TURN ON THE RADIO!"

"What?"

"DUDE! PUT IT ON WKQX! NOW!"

"NOOOOOOOOW!" Joe's voice yelled in the background. He sounded like he was jumping up and down, his voice wavering excitably.

Patrick walked round the shelves to the radio and turned the dial to 101.1. The handset dropped from his fingers like someone had buttered it. His own voice was playing back at him through the speaker.

---

So, it was working. It was actually fucking working. There was something in this magic thing and he didn't know how it worked, but it made him wonder what else he could do with it. Whether maybe there was something he could do to make sure that his increasingly tender feelings for Joe wouldn't be rebuffed out of hand if he actually made them known. The thing was, none of them even knew what Joe was into. He made ambiguous comments about all kinds of people all the time, and they'd generally assumed he thought he was being funny when talking about anyone other than girls. Patrick had certainly only ever seen him hit on girls, anyway, and his over all success rate was in the low single figures even then.

Perhaps it was the years of living around Pete and his 'helpful' blabbermouth, but Joe always kept personal stuff private. He didn't bring it up to begin with and he'd laugh it off with nonsense and change the subject if they asked, so eventually they just gave up.

There was room to hope that maybe he was actually open to dating other dudes, but even after Patrick had come out to them all in parking lot in Champaign at two in the morning, last year, it didn't seem to have provoked any desire to open up. The risk of him finding out about Patrick's feelings was too great. What if he was horrified? What if things got awkward and he wouldn't share the futon with him, anymore? If Patrick just had a better idea of his chances, maybe he'd be able to make a better, more informed decision on what to do.

Maybe he could try a truth spell or something. Did those even exist? He knew the CIA used some kind of drug on people, but there was no way he was getting any access to that. Besides, he wasn't sure there was something entirely moral about that route. If Joe wanted to tell him, he would.

What if there was something else, though? Something that might make him more open to the prospect? Some sort of love potion or something, that allowed Patrick to position himself as the obvious choice without actually using magic to specifically cast a spell and make Joe fall in love with him. After all, it had gone horribly wrong in the movie, but that was fiction and this was real life.

He got up early on Saturday and left the house before Joe or Pete was even awake. Frank had changed his shirt, but was otherwise unaltered, when Patrick stepped into the shop.

"Um, hi, Frank."

"Good morning."

Awkwardly, Patrick looked around the store at the shelves, trying to work up the nerve to ask for help because he wasn't sure the old guy wasn't going to laugh him out of the place.

"Where's the Sorcerer's Apprentice, this morning?" Frank asked.

"Pete? He's probably still asleep," Patrick told him, smirking.

"So, what brings you in, this fine October morning?"

Patrick swallowed and tugged his woollen hat off, nervously. "I was kind of looking for something."

"Something specific?"

"Uh. Well, information, I guess."

Frank nodded patiently, waiting for him to elaborate.

"Look, the thing is, I was kind of hoping to improve my situation as pertains to… well, to someone I care for a lot, and I don't know how to go about it."

"I find talking is often a good place to start."

Sighing, Patrick confessed, "See, that sounds great and everything, but he - er… they don't tend to talk about this stuff and I can't afford to get it wrong, y'know? I was kind of hoping there was something I could do that might, I don't know… clear the way a little, maybe."

Frank lifted a hand and beckoned to him. "C'mere."

Patrick wound his way around stacks of books and small display tables to the counter, watching Frank pull a velvet bag out from under the register. Silently, he pulled out a deck of oversized cards and spread them on the surface, rubbing his hand over them until they were thoroughly jumbled up.

"Pick one."

"Any one?"

"Sure."

He reached out and tugged a card from the middle of the spread and handed it out to him. Frank flipped it, side to side and laid it down on top of the others.

"Wheel of Fortune. Not the game show." He winked. "A positive sign, so don't panic."

Patrick nodded and pretended to understand what was happening, but being told not to panic didn't make him feel any more at ease.

"There are certain things happening that you don't have control of, and I suspect that's a little scary for you, huh?"

He nodded again, more vigorously this time.

"Well, sometimes you just have to go with what the Universe gives you and find a way to make the best of it. You're not getting a choice in this one, my young friend. The Universe has something - or somebody - in mind for you."

"Oh."

"In short, don't sweat it. When it happens, you'll know."

"Does it say anything about, y'know… who, or anything?"

"Not this card, no."

"But what if I just really want to know where I stand with this one particular person?"

"Won't matter. If he's for you, he's for you. If he's not, he's not."

None of which really made Patrick feel any better. "I see."

Frank watched him knowingly for a few moments, then sighed and walked around the counter to pull a thin, red book from the shelf. It was old and looked like it was missing its dust jacket. He shoved it into Patrick's hand. "Seeing as you're going to try it anyway, take that."

"Oh. How much do I owe - ?"

"Nothing. It has been on that shelf waiting for the right owner for years."

"Are you sure? I mean, I can pay…"

"Take it. But there are two things you should know: it's frowned upon to cast magic to control people and doing so just might bite you in the ass, and there's a total lunar eclipse in three weeks. Do with that information what you will."

"Wow… I… Thanks. Seriously, thanks."

The old man patted him on the arm. "I'd say 'good luck' but it's already working for you."

---

When he got home, book tucked safely in his rucksack, Pete was leaning over Joe's shoulders at his computer desk.

"Hey."

"Little dude!" Joe called. "Take a look at this."

Puzzled, Patrick dropped his rucksack and walked into the room to see what they were looking at. "What's up?"

They were looking at Pete's LiveJournal, the friend count of which had hit four figures.

"How many of those do you usually have?"

"Like three hundred or something."

"Wow. Okay."

"This happened since Wednesday."

"Well, that's neat, but it's not getting us in Billboard."

"Are you insane? Of course it is! Every new follower is another voice to spread the word. This means that 1,297 people have actually heard and liked our music, kind of."

"Fair enough. Meanwhile, I'll be in my room, so call me if an actual journo decides to care." He walked out, flipping Pete off in response to his suggestions that he intended to jerk off.

The book was definitely old. The typeface was strange and all the pictures in it looked like etchings. It talked of tinctures and infusions and the only kind of infusion Patrick was familiar with was his mom's herbal teas. He curled up with it propped on his arm and read every single page, then flicked back through it again to try to find the parts that sounded like they might be helpful.

There was a particular spell that was described as 'opening the heart' which seemed like it sort of fitted the bill. The way Patrick looked at it, he wasn't trying to control anyone, he just wanted there to be a chance, or for some opportunity for to find out what Joe was really thinking.

"A month?!" he muttered at the passage detailing the instructions. Seriously? A whole month? He wasn't sure he had a month before this whole thing got too weird. How was he supposed to brew this potion for a whole month without someone getting suspicious? Where would he keep it where it wouldn't turn nasty?

Sighing at the inconvenience, he made his list of ingredients, grateful that the hardest thing to get hold of was likely to be fresh, food grade lavender, and not eye of newt or something horrible. It might be time consuming, but none of this was beyond the realms of possibility. He had to at least try.



Title from Florence + The Machine's song 'Various Storms & Saints'
Quote from The Smashing Pumpkins song, 'Tonight, Tonight'
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