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You Can Still Be Free

Chapter Text

The discovery of the curse rolled slowly in like an ominous storm.

It went unnoticed for some time, in part due to Johnny and Moira’s emotional and physical absence from their children, and in part due to the relative innocence in the kinds of commands David was forced to follow in those early years.

Come and give your dear mother her sleeping pill, Moira would command.

David, choose a tie for me. Something your mother would like, Johnny would order.

There were certainly prescient hints about David’s obligation to follow all commands given to him. For one, his own irritability over wanting to say no sometimes but seemingly being unable to do so.

There was also David’s 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Bellini, who seemed to phrase just about everything as an order. David would find himself unable to speak for hours after she’d command him to stop talking, David!, and he would be physically incapable of uttering a single word until she made a command that required him to speak; only then would he be able to use his vocal cords again, quite abruptly, as if a spell cast over him had been broken. He learned to rebel against her commands to stop talking by making as much noise as he could without talking, like drumming his hands on the desk or tapping his feet.

He tried to explain it to his mother, but she was all too often in a haze of pills and various substances, impossible to converse with even about the weather. His father was frequently away on business and, besides, was far too practical to believe David’s insistence that he couldn’t say no to any commands whatsoever.

Of course you can say no, son. We’d never punish you for saying no.

But, Dad, I can’t.

It all came to a head when David was in the 5th grade. His classmates stumbled upon David’s issue during one lunch recess, in the midst of a game of Simon Says. They laughed at David for always, without fail, following the non-Simon-sanctioned commands. But quickly they noticed he would obligingly do whatever they told him to.

Touch your toes. Do a somersault. Punch yourself.

David dealt with the taunting silently for weeks, until after school one day when a few kids cornered him away from prying eyes and made him pull his pants down, simply by ordering him to. When Adelina arrived to pick David up from school, she found him bawling in a corner of the school yard, wracked by sobs so violent he’d thrown up. He explained on the way home, tears streaming down his face. It took several minutes to get the words out through his tears.

“I didn’t want to, but it was like I had to,” he sobbed.

When they got home, Adelina gave him three chocolate chip cookies. Then she asked him, “Do you want a glass of milk?”

“No. I don’t like milk,” David reminded her impatiently. Adelina knew he didn’t like milk.

“David, drink the milk.”

David grabbed the glass and put it to his lips, face pinched up from anticipation of the disgusting taste.

“Stop,” Adelina commanded, and David froze. He couldn’t move a muscle.

She apologized and told him she would never do that again, but that she had to be sure. Then she asked him what he wanted to do until dinner, gave him five options, and said it was his decision. He fell asleep in front of the television in the home theatre, until Adelina roused him and brought him into the dining room where Johnny and Moira were seated at the table for the evening meal.

Adelina told them what had happened at school and in the kitchen.

The storm had nearly rolled in, but evidently Johnny and Moira did not notice the thunder and lightning crackling above their heads. They pronounced the idea ridiculous, insisting it couldn’t possibly be true.

But Alexis, with her 6-year-old, innocent wonder, found the matter fascinating. She promptly ordered David to stand on the table, and David scrambled to do so at her command. Then she ordered David to jump off the table, and Johnny and Moira watched in shock as David did so without hesitation, wobbling on his feet when he landed.

They were in the eye of the storm.

Johnny and Moira handled the disturbing news in the only ways they knew how: by throwing money at it and having a nervous breakdown. Johnny organized appointments with top doctors and specialists the world over, determined to find out what medical condition was plaguing their son, while Moira took to the closet in her room, sobbing that her first born child was cursed.

Moira would be the correct one in the end.

David only went to school for two days after the discovery of his… situation. Two days was all it took for the Roses to realize David would not be able to attend school, because David had needed to be treated by the school nurse for a sprained ankle after he’d thrown himself out the first story window of his classroom.

“Perhaps a visit to a child psychologist?” the school principal, Mr. Samson, suggested as he met with Johnny in his cold, barren office. Johnny had been summoned to collect David at school. “Clearly, David is showing serious signs of disturbance.”

“I’m not disturbed! Luke and Jeff made me do it!” David exclaimed.

“Be quiet,” Mr. Samson declared gruffly. “Let the adults handle this.”

David’s mouth snapped shut with the force of the command. But he crossed his arms, turning away so Mr. Samson and his father couldn’t see the tears of frustration forming.

“I don’t like the way you just spoke to my son, Keith,” Johnny said, calm and quiet. “I’ll be pulling David from the school. The money we spend on David’s tuition should include at the very least the utmost assurance that you’ll take my son’s safety seriously. It’s lucky David’s classroom is on the first floor.” He stood up and came over to help David to his feet, checking that he could put his weight on his injured ankle, before pulling David to the door. “You’ll be hearing from my attorney,” Johnny announced over his shoulder.

After that incident, Johnny expanded Adelina’s hours to include homeschooling David. He explained that it was simply too dangerous for David to be around people who could take advantage of his situation.

When Adelina wasn’t teaching David algebra and French verbs, she was telling him how careful he needed to be. “People will hurt you by accident, and they’ll hurt you on purpose,” she warned him. Years later, long after Adelina had left, David would look back on these conversations and wonder if Adelina had had personal experiences with curses.

Despite Johnny summoning every doctor and specialist he could find, none of them could find anything physically wrong with David. Not one of them had heard of any sort of condition that compelled a person to follow the commands given to him. David was referred to one child psychologist after another, all of whom said he was making it all up out of whole cloth or that David must be suffering from a delusion.

Neither theory fit. One psychologist in particular, Dr. Markham, had made David do a series of complicated, physically demanding tasks, testing whether David followed commands even while distracted, even while exhausted and virtually unable to move. David complied with every order, no matter the surrounding circumstances or the details of the order.

After months of tests and evaluations, the collective recommendation from the many specialists was continued therapy, the promise of a future diagnosis of a delusion-based disorder (David was too young to be diagnosed with anything definitive yet), and a trial-run of medication to treat the delusion.

But the medication made no dent whatsoever in David’s compulsion to follow the demands of those around him. When David stayed in bed for two days because the medication had no delusion to interact with, instead sapping him of any bit of energy or motivation he had, Moira put her foot down and insisted they contact a different kind of expert, one in cursed magic. And thus began the search for the right kind of expert, a search that would last several years.

With so much time on his own, cooped up with so little interaction with the outside world, David took to the library in his home, where he disappeared into worlds he could freely explore without fear.

It certainly would have been wise for the Rose family to provide David with some sort of human contact outside of the (admittedly very large) house they owned, an outlet beyond the safe world they were able to buy and construct for him with their money. But with no self-help books on how to help a child who had to follow any order given to him, and with their own parental instincts not especially honed, David’s resentment and frustration and loneliness were left to fester as the years passed with no substantial knowledge about the precise nature and cause of David’s condition.

Sadly, the knowledge the Roses sought would not grant David freedom from the prison that was his life within the grand walls of his family home, nor the prison inside of him, inside the body he was encased in. David’s seclusion would go on well into his adult life.

Throughout his 20s, David lived at home with his parents, reading for solace and writing in his leather-bound journal, which David used regularly to document his experience and his lonely, melancholic emotions.

David hated his prison, even if it had been erected to protect him.

On his 30th birthday, after his birthday cake, after his parents went up to bed and after Alexis left for the airport to gallivant around Thailand for the rest of the summer, David walked upstairs, packed a bag, and left the house with only a note to explain his absence.

I can’t do this anymore. I’d rather be made to do everything than be unable to do anything.

-

David used the trust fund set up and maintained by his parents to start his new life in New York City. He spent the summer getting his apartment ready and adjusting to a very different sense of loneliness than he’d grown accustomed to throughout his life.

After a couple of months, David grew tired of sitting at home and rented a multi-purpose co-op space that he made into an event space, bookshop, and cafe all in one. David used all of the social media knowledge Alexis had shared with him over the years to get the word out in the right places, and soon David had a small but loyal group of hipsters and haphazard others who came and went on a consistent basis.

David soon found himself months into a life outside of the prison that had been his parents’ house, completely without incident. He sought experiences he’d never had, overwhelmed at the pleasure he received from physical and sexual connection. He revelled in the release that alcohol and drugs provided from the cloying loneliness. What had everyone been so worried about? How could David have deprived himself of this freedom out of fear?

Later, David would recognize that he’d forgotten the cruelty even children had shown themselves capable of inflicting upon him.

Sebastien Raine glided into his co-op space one quiet evening while David was writing in his journal. Sebastien stalked the space slowly, taking in every detail, and then he turned to David himself. David found he was unable to look away, and it had nothing to do with the curse. Sebastien introduced himself, and David did as well, drawn to the striking man before him.

“Would you join me for dinner?” Sebastien asked him, and David happily agreed; there was something irresistible about the man.

At dinner, Sebastien ordered for him. David didn’t mind. Sebastien’s fantastic stories of his life’s adventures were gripping, and David couldn’t keep his eyes off him. By the time Sebastien asked David if he could kiss him at the end of their date, David was all in.

Sebastien love bombed David hard over the course of the next few weeks. He brought David out on romantic dates. He took pictures of David that forced him to see himself in a whole new light. He showed David the beauty of the city.

David had never wanted anything or anyone as much as he wanted Sebastien. In truth, he had never really been permitted to explore the things he wanted due to fear of what others’ wants might do to him.

After so many dates with nothing but chaste kisses, Sebastien invited himself into David’s apartment and bed, and gave the first of what would be many orders.

Make me feel as good as you’d want me to make you feel.

His body scrambled to do what he’d been ordered with a desperation so fierce he could not determine what was him and what was the curse. David wanted to make Sebastien feel good, so he gave in to the pull of the command. It wasn’t against David’s wishes, and, besides, he didn’t want the curse to taint their first time really exploring each other.

In the morning, Sebastien kissed David awake and told him, “Go brush your teeth and then come right back to bed and suck my cock.”

Never having been a morning person, David said, “Um, give me a minute? It’s a bit early...” even as he was diligently getting up and walking across his apartment to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Buying himself time, David brought the toothbrush with him, knowing that holding it in his hand with the toothpaste on it might stave off the curse’s call to complete the second half of Sebastien’s command, at least for a few moments. He knew he’d soon feel the insistent tug, so David did something he would find nearly impossible to forgive himself for.

He clenched the hands that were already trying to follow Sebastien’s order like the curse demanded, and said, “There’s this thing I have. It’s going to sound crazy, but I promise it’s real. I was cursed when I was a kid. I’m forced to follow any command I’m given. No one knows, besides my family and my childhood nanny. But I feel like I’ve finally found someone I can trust to respect me and what I want, so… so I’d rather wait ‘til after breakfast to suck your cock, but I literally can’t because you ordered me to brush my teeth and then come here and do it.”

Sebastien’s face journey was difficult to read, even as David searched it for the slightest hint of a reaction, heart careening in his ribcage. “Oh, David,” Sebastien finally said, voice sweet as pie. “Thank you for sharing that with me. You can forget about my other command. Please come here and kiss me.”

So David kissed him, because Sebastien had told him to and because he wanted to.

David was happy to follow such a lovely command, especially one so politely phrased.

Subsequently, David buried feelings of frustration and slight concern when Sebastien said he needed to test the curse out. He made David play a game of Simon Says (without the ‘Simon’ part) that gave David memory whiplash and left the taste of vomit in his mouth as he carried out the various stupid commands Sebastien gave him. (“You must understand, David. It’s just so hard to believe. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”)

But Sebastien also showered him with affection and kindness following David’s confession, which made David feel like he’d been right to tell him. Six weeks to the day of their first date, Sebastien told David he loved him under the stars in Central Park. David’s lonely, love-starved heart whispered in the dead of night that he needed Sebastien.

And Sebastien assured him of his love even as he made David do things. Make me a cup of tea, he would order, voice sugar sweet.

A reasonable request, except it wasn’t a request.

Pick up my dry cleaning. Take out the garbage this time; it’s your turn.

As the frequency of the commands grew, David realized he needed to say something. But he had let it go for far too long; he should have said something way back when Sebastien had ordered David to kiss him, however politely he’d worded it.

When David finally worked up the courage to speak, it came out as frustration. He was just beginning on a new journal entry when Sebastien, from across the room, ordered David to rub my feet, babe.

David joined him on the sofa and began the foot rub, feeling inert and powerless even as he snapped, “You know, it’s still an order when you say it nicely. Even if you say please.”

Sebastien had an answer for that. “I wouldn’t make you do something you wouldn’t want to do, David. Don’t I do these kinds of things for you? I’m asking you to do things that you do for someone you’re dating.”

But you’re not asking, David wanted to say. But if he said it, would Sebastien leave him?

Of course, it only got worse.

Put your phone down and pay attention to me.

What are you wearing? Don’t wear that again.

One evening, at one of Sebastien’s art shows, David began to explain a featured artist’s oeuvre to a group of guests, only for Sebastien to steamroll over him and order him to shut up—stop monopolizing the conversation.

It was painfully clear. As David’s peers chuckled over Sebastien’s command, David realized he’d been very stupid. He could see with clarity how damning it all was, rendered silent for the remainder of the night by Sebastien’s order. He’d been explaining away each individual order, but now he could see the commands for what they were, all stacked on top of each other.

Domination. Control. Sebastien was coercing him at every turn.

The initial sweetness and politeness of Sebastien’s commands had served as a smokescreen for the manipulation underneath them. David had wanted so much of what Sebastien desired, so each command and fulfillment had seemed reasonable on its own. And any time he’d had misgivings, Sebastien had been there to correct them.

It was becoming all too clear that David was three months into a relationship with a man who enjoyed making him do things against his will, and David had been doing whatever Sebastien ordered without any real objection.

David wondered if it could be fixed. If they could start over, but with clearer guidelines around the curse and what was considered an order.

The final straw came in the form of a client of Sebastien’s named Elliot.

Sebastien brought Elliot with him to David’s apartment, introduced them to each other, and kissed each of them in turn, making his intent extremely obvious. David ripped himself away, taking several steps back to clear his mind. He felt like he was surfacing from a deep fog.

“David,” Sebastien laughed. “Come here.”

“I’m not interested,” David said firmly, as he obediently went to Sebastien.

“That’s not true,” Sebastien said with a flippant hand wave. “David, tell Elliot you’re very interested.”

“I’m very interested,” David spit out, unable to stop himself. Hating himself.

Then Sebastien told David sit on the bed and let Elliot kiss you; let him touch you.

David tried to resist, tried to get around it even as he knew with sinking horror that he had no choice but to do what Sebastien was making him do. “Sebastien, please—don’t do this,” David said, sitting on the bed. But he could hear the hollow acceptance in his own voice, the quiet acquiescence, and he knew what was going to happen now. There had been signs right from the beginning.

“Hey hey. Don’t talk, just let it happen,” Sebastien murmured in his ear as Elliot kissed David.

When Elliot was gone and Sebastien finally asleep, David stumbled to the bathroom and emptied his stomach of its contents. He could hear the kids laughing at him in the playground, could smell the stench of vomit in the present moment and in the memory viciously pressing in on him.

David began packing his bag. He gathered what he could from his studio apartment that he loved so much, his sense of freedom since he’d left his parents’ house. But as quietly as he moved, Sebastien stirred while he was still fitting his skin care products in his bag, as if he could sense David’s agitation.

“David?” When Sebastien saw what David was up to, he tore out of the bed. “What are you doing?”

“Just going to my parents’ place for the weekend,” David lied, keeping his voice as airy and light as he could.

“No, you’re not. Tell me the truth,” Sebastien ordered him.

“I’m leaving,” David obligingly told him, heart hammering in his chest, voice trembling with emotion. “I don’t deserve this. You have no respect for my autonomy.”

He decided to forego the rest of his packing, zipping up his bag and hurrying toward the hallway. He could leave things behind. None of it was important. He knew only that he needed to leave right now. There was a feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. He could hear Sebastien’s footsteps trailing him down the hallway, his pace slow but steady; unrelentless.

David got the door open.

“Stop. Put the bag down,” Sebastien ordered. David snapped to a stop in the doorway, so violently he felt dizzy. He put his bag down. “Come back inside and close the door.”

Gone were the pleasantries and the niceties.

“Come kiss me,” Sebastien commanded, and it was clear this was no plea for emotional closeness. David crossed to him and kissed him, bile in his throat.

“Please,” David whispered. “I’m breaking up with you.”

“No you’re not. Don’t go anywhere that isn’t home or work unless I give you permission.”

David could feel the command already working. The idea of leaving was suddenly excruciating and impossible.

“And don’t tell anyone what we’re doing.”

David shoved Sebastien hard in the chest. “What we’re doing? You mean what you’re making me do?”

“I’m not making you do anything. You obviously want it, or else you’d just say no,” Sebastien said with a dangerous smile. “And no further aggression from you. Don’t put violent hands on me ever again.”

“You are a fucking unbelievable piece of shit,” David hissed.

“Now, that’s not nice,” Sebastien said coolly. “But don’t worry; I think we can train that right out of you.”

And so began the second stint of prison in David’s life. A period that would last 6 months and 16 days.

-

It took three years after the discovery of David’s situation for Johnny to finally track down an expert, a woman named Leslie. She agreed to evaluate David and was therefore able to confirm that he was indeed cursed.

Leslie explained that such a thing was extremely rare. She believed it had been placed upon David when he was 6 or 7, and she traced the origin of the curse to a magical residue belonging to one Eli Roberts, Johnny’s old corrupt business manager. The theory was that Eli had placed the curse on David when Johnny fired him for trying to embezzle their fortune after Johnny noticed something suspicious in the books.

According to Leslie, only Eli had the power to end the curse.

The years of searching for Leslie were just the beginning of the seemingly endless waiting. David’s father financed dozens of private investigators to track Eli down, but months and eventually years passed yet again, and still David remained unable to resist obeying others’ commands.

David therefore had a lot of time by himself to explore the constraints of the curse. He soon discovered that commands had to be followed to the letter and within a very short time frame. There was no way to resist the curse. He could, on the rare occasions when it happened, play with an order if it had two parts to it by taking longer with the first part of the order to delay completing the second. He couldn’t say the word “no” to an order but he could say “I don’t want to” while following the order or explain why he hadn’t wanted to follow a command after the fact.

David and Alexis frequently tested the parameters of the curse. For instance, Alexis could override her own commands, but could not override a command from someone else unless it was vague (like stop or go away). They’d worked that out when their father had accidentally ordered David to set the table, instead of asking as per the household rules of giving David control and choice in his own home. Alexis had tried to correct their father’s error, but it was impossible; the command was too specific to be overridden unless it came from the source.

In those early years, Johnny and Moira tried to set up playdates with other kids, but it always ended the same way, with David helplessly following his peer’s unthinking commands. When the daughter of one of Johnny’s associates dared David to slide down the banister but phrased it as a command, David’s broken arm and concussion stopped any further playdates. His parents had been quite shaken by such a close call, and that was that.

The only interaction David had with someone his own age was with Alexis. She was the only person he could really talk to, and she protected him and spent time with him when she wasn’t out exploring the world. Johnny and Moira had money to provide David with lavish experiences in some parts of the world, like private resorts. They could buy privacy and seclusion, but they could not buy trustworthy people, so the family’s worldly adventures did nothing to address the gaping loneliness in David’s life.

When Adelina left, David was lonelier than ever. Her parting words to him had been a severe warning. She’d pulled David aside before she left, to say goodbye and to say, “Be extremely careful with who you tell about the curse.”

David watched from the sidelines as they grew up together, as Alexis matured and started to talk about boys at school and about grand parties with friends and classmates. Alexis was very popular, and David watched her lively experiences with envy and sadness.

Eli was nowhere to be found, and as the years and decades crawled by with David but a passenger, it seemed unlikely that David would ever be free from the curse that made him fulfill every command.

-

Sebastian moved in.

David tried shouting. Sebastien made him stop. He tried pleading and crying. Sebastien only ordered David to act like he wanted to be with Sebastien, ordered David to be positive around him.

David tried tricking the curse. Sebastien had ordered him to be at work or at home, so he tried to apply for a job in the hopes that it might be considered an extension of work, hoping that might crack open a loophole. But the curse knew better; he could not step foot in any place outside of the co-op space and his own apartment, now their apartment, unless Sebastien had given him permission to do so.

David was well and truly fucked, and he only had himself to blame. Adelina had warned him.

There were two things that helped David survive his time as a prisoner in his own home.

First, he came up with a mantra in the first few weeks of his imprisonment. This is not my choice. The mantra allowed him to check out when he needed to, especially when Sebastien forced him to have sex. David saw himself, in those moments, as a robot who was simply doing what he’d been programmed to do. The shame was less potent when he viewed his situation in this way. The self-hatred for his deluded naivety remained, but it helped him not to hold on quite so much to the shame.

Second, with no command forbidding him from doing so, David recorded every one of Sebastien’s commands on a page of his leather-bound journal, and he stashed that journal under a floorboard in his co-op space. For a few hours each day while Sebastien was working, David was guaranteed privacy. He would take out his journal and read it out of sight of the front door, making sure to stay where he could still hear the jingle of the bell by the door should Sebastien appear unannounced, as he sometimes did.

David scoured the commands in his journal for a way out, for a loophole. Sebastien had made it so he was forbidden to reach out to his family at all, forbidden to tell them or anyone else about Sebastien’s exploitation of the curse. Sebastien also ordered David to act naturally on the phone if his parents ever called, to say nothing that would invite concern.

After three months of David not calling, as per Sebastien’s order, Johnny reached out. He sounded worried, and David’s stomach churned with the understanding that he should be worried, that he’d been right all along when he’d said it was too dangerous for David to be out in the world. Per the curse’s parameters, David said there was nothing to worry about and talked about his co-op space and his plans for it, even as he struggled against the curse, trying desperately to break it and ask for his father’s help.

Of course, David had tried time and again throughout his life to shake off the curse, but never before had he done so all day, every day. He experimented daily with how long he could put off following an order. His record was 12 seconds, before his body would take over for him. The punishment for his resistance was a migraine that lasted hours, sometimes days.

David’s only hope was to find a way around one of the commands so he could escape, but Sebastien was a sociopathic shitbag whose orders were seemingly airtight. David needed Sebastien’s permission to go anywhere except his place of work and his home. On an individual basis, Sebastien would permit him to run errands by commanding him go to your dentist appointment and then go straight to work or stop for dinner on your way home. In an attempt to circumvent the latter, David had stretched his dinner out the entire night, until the restaurant closed and David had no choice but to return home.

To make matters worse, David wondered if Alexis might be dead. There were no more posts on her Instagram or Facebook feeds after the second month of his prison sentence with Sebastien, and David could not help fearing the worst with no way to reach out to anyone in the family, unable to find out where she was and if she was safe. In a fit of desperation, he’d called Stavros, Alexis’ on-and-off again boyfriend, since there was no command expressly against it. Stavros informed David that she had gone off the grid somewhere in Bolivia.

A few days later, Sebastien confronted David about the call to Stavros after looking through his phone. He made David reveal what he’d done. “You’ve broken my trust, David,” Sebastien told him, teeming with condescension. “You’ll have to earn it back again if you want your phone.”

But as weeks and eventually months passed with no sign of David’s phone, it became clear Sebastien had no intention of returning it to him. So, David endured the abuse with only his journal and his mantra, holding on to these smallest slivers of self-determination in his hindered life.

Chapter Text

At the 6 month mark of his nightmare existence with Sebastien, David found his loophole.

Sebastien had never made an order that forbid David from ending his own life.

It was not a nice loophole. It was one David did not want to resort to. But his dark, endless days of depression and anxiety were catching up to him. His skin crawled when Sebastien touched him; the mere scent of Sebastien made him sick to his stomach. He was running out of options and running out of the will to continue existing with only Sebastien’s whims to follow.

David began to make serious plans in his journal. He could not write about what Sebastien was doing, as Sebastien had closed that loophole on day one, but he’d been able to write the commands themselves and he could formulate poetic language about it.

David decided he would write a poem that would communicate some of what had happened to him, and he would call it The Curse. His family might not understand completely, but perhaps they would comprehend that ending his life had not been entirely his choice. It would break them, but at least they would know why he’d done it, that there was nothing they could have done.

He could only hope that he would be able to leave the journal somewhere for his family to find, that the curse wouldn’t prevent him from doing so in order to follow Sebastien’s command that David tell no one what Sebastien was doing.

He was nearly finished with the poem when Alexis walked through the door of the co-op, 6 months and 14 days into his enslavement.

“Ew, David, what are you wearing?” she asked, horrified, taking in his Sebastien-selected prison garb. Sebastien now controlled what David wore, which was typically an extremely pretentious hipster look instead of David’s beloved designer clothing that he had hand-selected online with the ample free time he’d had throughout his 20s.

David dropped his coffee mug and slammed into Alexis so hard she yelped and stumbled back. He let out a sound that was at once one of utter misery over his situation and sheer relief over her presence. “Oh my god,” he gasped, pulling back to drink in the sight of her. “Fuck! You’re alive!”

“Of course I’m alive,” Alexis scoffed. “Kind of ironic to hear you saying that when Mom and Dad were convinced you were dead. You ever heard of a phone, David?”

David clenched his hands in her jacket, heart plummeting at the mention of his phone. Sebastien had never returned it to him. “What are you doing here?” David asked her shakily. “How did you find me?”

“You know Richard can find someone if he really wants to.” Richard was the private investigator his parents had on retainer for when Alexis disappeared or, apparently, when David all but disappeared. “When I got back from Bolivia last week, Richard was still looking for you. He finally tracked you down yesterday. Apparently he found you through your dry cleaner.” David tightened his hands desperately on Alexis’ shoulders as she spoke, and Alexis gave him a searching look. “What happened? David, we’ve been so worried. When Richard told us where you were, Dad was ready to come here and order you to come home, but I said I’d come instead.”

David hugged her again and heaved another ghastly sound of agony and relief into her hair, overwrought by the realization that his parents had known something was wrong, that they’d tried to find him even though he’d frozen them out.

Alexis pulled away just far enough to hold his face in her hands, her expression deeply alarmed. “David, what’s going on? Tell me right now.” She never resorted to orders; obviously she felt it was necessary.

David gasped through his tears, “I can’t.”

“You can’t,” she repeated, then shook her head in disgust. “Someone’s… someone’s made it so you can’t tell me. Who did this?”

A wave of dizziness hit him hard as the curse fought to force him to follow Sebastien’s order, to say nothing about what he was doing to David, to not even mention his name. The curse held his body immobile so as to give no indication even with his body language that she was correct in her assumption.

Alexis’ eyes widened with horror. “Oh my god,” she whispered. “Okay, I am getting you out of here right now.”

David shook his head, tears blurring his vision. He blinked them away. “I can’t go with you.”

Alexis’ lip trembled. “Tell me what the order is.”

David opened his mouth and the words, miraculously, came out. “The only places I’m allowed to go are here at work and home.” David clenched his eyes shut on a fresh wave of tears. He was able to say that much!

“But don’t you see?” Alexis said triumphantly. “You can just come home!”

David shook his head again, miserably. “When I left, I guess…” He swiped impatiently at the tears on his face. “I guess it’s not my home anymore.”

Alexis looked properly terrified now. “Okay, but I—I can just give you a new order! Come with me!”

They both knew that wasn’t true. David clenched his eyes shut all the same, biting his lip and hoping against hope that her order might cancel out Sebastien’s, that it might somehow work. But of course, it didn’t and couldn’t. How many times had they experimented with the curse, trying to override one command with another?

He’d gone over every part of this so many times. There was no other way out.

“Someone knows about the curse,” Alexis said, and it wasn’t a question. “They’re using it against you.”

David could say nothing. He hoped his silence was answer enough.

“Oh my god,” Alexis gasped, tears spilling over. “You’re trapped.” David remained silent and motionless, but she read into that again. She appeared to succumb to despair for a moment, letting out a couple of pained sobs, but then she rolled her shoulders back, clearly trying to rein in her emotions. “No. No, there has to be a way to get you out.”

David did not have it in him to tell her about his plan, about the only way he would be able to get away, the one thing he wasn’t cursed to hide. The truth would crush her. “I’ll be okay,” he told her, but his trembling voice said otherwise.

“When I find out who did this to you? Going to kill him,” Alexis said sharply, savagely. David startled; she seemed to know, somehow, that they were talking about a ‘him’… Alexis hugged David again before pulling back fiercely. “I have to think about this. I’ll tell Mom and Dad what’s going on, and we’ll figure something out. Don’t worry, David, we’re not gonna let anyone do this to you.”

He didn’t tell her that it was already being done to him, and not just because he was bound from doing so.

David didn’t want to let her go, but he knew she needed to go. He couldn’t help feeling a glimmer of hope as they hugged again, and Alexis dashed out onto the street and hailed a cab. But David immediately picked up where he had left off with his poem; he was not going to be foolishly optimistic.

David was still working on his poem when Alexis returned two days later with her game face on. His heart rate doubled as she wrapped him up in a hug and said, “There’s no time to waste. We need to leave right away. I spoke to Mom and Dad, and we figured out a loophole.”

David’s hands began to tremble. “Alexis…” he whispered, terrified.

“It’s gonna work,” she said insistently. “For your 16th birthday, Dad bought you a town.” David blinked, but she didn’t let him interrupt. “The town is called Schitt’s Creek.”

David’s heart began to pound so hard he was sure Alexis could hear it. “Oh my god,” he breathed out.

She nodded. “It’s yours, which could make it home. No, it will make it your home. It has to work, David. You own the town, there’s a real deed and everything. It’s legally binding. Look, there’s a car waiting to take us straight there. We just have to get in the car and stay in it until we get home. I’m going with you now, and Dad’s going to handle everything from here. I’ll explain once we’re in the car.”

David couldn’t see her anymore through his tears. It was too much. He was too scared to try. He grabbed his bag and his journal, but he couldn’t make himself move toward the door.

Alexis took his hand and pulled him forward and through the door of the co-op, then gently escorted him to the car. Trembling uncontrollably, David knew it was working; his body would be rebelling already if he couldn’t do it.

-

David cried for the first hour of the drive. Alexis put the partition up between them and the driver, and then she just held his hand and looked out the window as he sobbed and sobbed, giving him space to grieve and process.

Freedom felt so good. It also felt terrifying. And temporary.

When he was steadier, Alexis explained the plan. The two of them were going to live in Schitt’s Creek for the time being, while Johnny and Moira would play the grieving parents whose grown children had gone missing. Alexis would stay for a while, for as long as it took to get David settled in, and she would eventually resurface, confirming that David had disappeared and she’d been searching for him.

David spent some of the drive making plans so he would not have to think about the 6 months of miserable fog he was leaving behind or the completely terrifying unknown ahead of him.

This would have to be a new start. If it was discovered that he was still alive, he was certain Sebastien would try to find him.

David couldn’t risk getting close to anyone ever again, that much was clear. He would share no more than vague pleasantries with the strangers in this town, his new home that they were rapidly moving towards.

His family would have to be enough.

For the last remaining hours of the drive, David slept. It wasn’t a restful sleep exactly, but it was markedly different from the fitful sleep he had barely managed while held under Sebastien’s fist.

Sleep was a welcome reprieve from his dark thoughts.

When they arrived in Schitt’s Creek, Alexis took care of signing them into the rundown road-side motel. They took all of the suitcases out of the car, and the driver went on his way. Each of them took one of two conjoined hotel rooms. David noticed Alexis let him have the larger room with just one bed without any comment or argument. He kind of wished she would fight him like usual, so he wouldn’t have to feel so strange and different right now.

David took the poem out of his journal and hid it in the desk in his motel room, the poem he’d never finished. He didn’t want to see it in his journal, but he was going to keep it as proof of what he’d been through, as evidence of his ordeal.

-

To the rest of the world, the Rose children were tragically missing.

The news made a very meagre splash in the tabloids during the first week of their mysterious disappearance, as per Alexis’ intel. The official story, if anyone cared to check, was that they had gone on a trip to celebrate Alexis’ birthday and never returned.

In reality, they were hiding in plain sight. Johnny and Moira Rose had paid quite a lot of money for their children to essentially disappear. Alexis produced one burner cell phone for each of them that could only make and receive calls, and one encrypted laptop they could use for emergencies. (“I just asked Mark Zuckerberg for it and he sent it over in three hours.”) They’d reserved rooms indefinitely at the motel in Schitt’s Creek, under the pseudonym Sloan.

They were encouraged to keep a low profile for the first few months, to dress in clothes that allowed them to blend in. David never left the motel property, and Alexis only went into the town centre when there weren’t many people around. So far, they’d been easily overlooked by the locals.

For days, David’s guilt ate at him. He finally said something one evening, over sandwiches Alexis had picked up from the local cafe just before it closed for the night.

“You don’t have to stay here,” he told her. “You should go back. You shouldn’t put your whole life on hold here for this.”

Alexis rolled her eyes. “David, can I just do this for you? How many times did you bail me out of some crazy situation? How many times did you cover for me with Mom and Dad?”

“Yes, but this is very different, Alexis,” David pointed out sharply. “It’s not your fault I got cursed like this.”

“It’s not your fault either.” Her voice was gentle, rational. “You shouldn’t have to handle it all alone.” She was quiet for a while, at least a minute. When she spoke again, her voice trembled. “You’re, like, really important to me, David. More important than any stupid socialite life.”

David swallowed around the lump in his throat. “If you hadn’t shown up when you did…” he trailed off, scared to finish the sentence. But he owed her honesty, after everything she’d done for him. “I don’t think I could have taken another week of…”

Alexis pressed her thumbs underneath her rapidly tearing eyes. “God, David. Do you even realize what that would do to me?”

“I know,” David whimpered, burying his face in his hands and letting the regret and grief take hold. “I knew what it would do to you, and to Mom and Dad. But it was… those months were like…” But he was incapable of describing it, the curse forbidding him.

“He really made it so you can’t say anything. Fuck, can’t you give me his name?” she asked desperately.

David opened his mouth to try. Could he say his name now, if he really concentrated? He could easily recall the commands since he’d committed them to memory. Don’t tell anyone about us. Don’t tell anyone who I am or about our relationship. If anyone asks who I am, don’t tell them. Don’t even mention my name.

David tried, but his voice wouldn’t cooperate. He shook his head gravely. She sniffled, getting up to bring the box of kleenex over from the bedside table. They each took one and blew their noses, chuckling sadly.

With nothing to do, Alexis soon applied to work a few hours a week at the veterinary clinic and became friendly with the owner, calling David every two hours to check in. David spent his first weeks in Schitt’s Creek just trying to become accustomed to having control of his body. He couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time, convinced he would wake up to Sebastien at the door with orders and commands that he wouldn’t be able to get around this time. He dreamed that his family hadn’t gotten him out in time, that he’d had no choice but to end it.

He was especially restless at night, so in lieu of sleeping he took to sitting out on the picnic table beside the motel, going over those months with Sebastien in the hopes he would be able to eventually tell someone about what he’d endured, what Sebastian had done to him. The fact that Sebastien had made it so he could keep the truth only inside himself was perhaps the most disgusting part of the enslavement. David wasn’t sure he’d be able to talk about it even if he weren’t bound from doing so, but he wanted the option.

His senses were frequently assaulted by triggered memories of his time under Sebastien’s control, so he spent his days watching television, reading books, and writing. Drowning it all out. There was nowhere for all of the pain to go, besides his journal, and even that felt like an obstacle when he couldn’t write freely about Sebastien or what he’d done, and so the pain stayed where it was.

It occurred to him at one point that if he could just show Alexis his journal, the page of commands would at least answer some of her questions. But when he tried to do just that one morning, he found he could not extend the journal to her to indicate she should take it nor could he tell her to read it.

One night, when sleep evaded him yet again, he pulled out his journal and went to sit at the picnic table, by the flickering of the motel emergency light. He pushed at the spot where the curse seemed to nestle, trying to make himself write but unable to do so even at this long distance from Sebastien.

As he sat, he pushed and pushed at the curse, and slowly managed to write S on a blank page. He then felt so violently ill he bent double and puked beside the table.

Just let it happen.

Make me come.

“Hey. You okay?”

David jumped, heart racing, and stood up. The memories that had flooded in were blinked away as he took in the motel clerk, who Alexis called Stevie. She was standing a few feet from him, in a flannel shirt and jeans with a leather jacket pulled over her shoulders and an unreadable expression on her face. David let out a breath, his heart rate still jackknifing. Remembering his promise to himself in the car ride over, David was torn between the urge to retreat, to make excuses, and the urge to stay and talk. To just hold a normal conversation.

The latter won out.

“Not really,” David confessed quietly.

“Hard same,” said Stevie with a chuckle. She moved carefully, not quickly, so that she was perched on the top panel of the picnic table, on the opposite end from David and thereby giving him lots of personal space. David liked that about her immediately, that act of respect. Despite every self-preservation instinct telling him not to, David copied her so that he was sitting on the table, too.

Neither of them said anything for some time, both looking up at the three-quarter moon and listening to the crickets. Then she said, “I’m Stevie.”

“David,” he told her softly.

Stevie was nodding; he could see her out of his peripheral vision. “Yeah, I know. Uh. Full disclosure? I know who you are. I mean, your real name. And I don’t give a shit, by the way, your secret’s safe with me. But I… just thought I should mention.”

David let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “Thanks for telling me.”

She shrugged. “I just didn’t want you to think you had to hide in your room all the time. If you wear a hoodie, most of the people who stay here won’t look your way a second time. The rest won’t even look the first.”

David laughed. A genuine laugh. It had been… oh god, he didn’t even know how long since he’d last… “I think you’re funny,” he said.

“Thanks?” she said, smiling. “Hey, um, don’t be a stranger. I figure you must have a pretty good fucking reason to go off the grid, and I respect that, but I also have weed if you’re ever interested.”

David laughed again. Her offer sounded… honestly amazing, but he couldn’t trust her. He couldn’t trust anyone. “Thanks. I’ll… keep that in mind.”

“Alright, have a good night. And I find ginger tea really helps with stomach issues.” As she said it, she climbed back off the table and sent him a wave over her shoulder.

David laughed for a third time. “Thanks. Good night.”

“Night.”

When David lay down in bed a few minutes later, he fell asleep instantly.

-

Pulling his hood up to be more inconspicuous, David ventured into the motel lobby so he could find some caffeine. He’d run out of K-Cups and was desperate.

Stevie was at the main desk reading when he walked in. She raised an eyebrow at him, then grinned as she shut her book. “Ooh, very covert,” she said dryly, nodding at his hooded sweater.

David scrunched his mouth up, biting his lip on a smile. “Okay. You know, when someone’s hiding in plain sight, maybe it’s not such a good idea to draw attention to it?”

“What, you worried this place is bugged?” Stevie joked, leaning back in her chair. “You can check me for a wire if it’ll make you feel better.”

David rolled his eyes. “I’m not worried about law enforcement,” he said, then immediately regretted it. What are you worried about? was the obvious follow-up, but Stevie didn’t ask.

“So, uh… you interested in some of that weed I mentioned the other night?” Stevie said, clearly changing the subject but also apparently genuinely offering. “And I’m not an undercover cop, in case the wire thing seemed suspicious.”

“Yes,” David lobbed back, “it’s very not-suspicious to mention you aren’t an undercover cop.” She smirked at that, but said nothing, clearly waiting for an answer. Part of David wanted to say yes. But he couldn’t. “No, thanks, just looking for coffee. Do you have K-Cups?” Hastily, he added, “But I appreciate the generous offer.”

“You’d better,” she said. “I am never this generous.” Then she gestured behind him. “K-cups are right over there. Grab one.”

David complied with the order, grabbing the K-Cup as he had to, but he felt panic flooding through him as he did. “Hey, don’t—don’t fucking tell me what to do,” he snapped at her, and with that, he whipped the K-Cup into a corner of the room and stormed out. He caught her expression of shock as he did, guilt and shame crashing over him as he slammed the door behind him and all but sprinted back to his room.

Once there, David jumped in the shower, trying to get rid of phantom hands all over him, trying to clean the wrongness from his body that wasn’t external and therefore not so easily washed away. His breath came in short gasps, his skin tight like it was being stretched over his bones.

Staring at his reflection in the mirror after he stepped out of the shower, David realized he must be having a heart attack. Racing heart, shortness of breath, a cold sweat breaking out over his skin. He clutched the bathroom counter in his white-knuckled grip, unable to take a proper breath in.

Stumbling out of the bathroom, David found Alexis eating yoghurt at the table after her run. She saw him and immediately made him lie down, gave him water, and called her vet friend Ted to come over. While they waited, Alexis had him breathe in and out to match her own breaths, and it helped a bit.

When he arrived, Ted spoke calmly to David, checking his blood pressure and listening to his heart. He phrased every part of the process as a gentle question. Do you think you can sit up? Would you mind taking a deep breath?

That nearly set him off again. Had Alexis told Ted about him? But no, she wouldn’t do that. It was too risky.

“David, I think you were having a panic attack,” Ted told him. “Have you been dealing with extra stress lately?” David exchanged a quick but significant glance with Alexis over Ted’s shoulder. David nodded. “From what I know, the best way to handle these is to slow down and focus on your breathing. You can try the 5 count, where you breathe in for 5 seconds then out for 5. And you do that for a few minutes until you can even out your breathing. I’m going to give you the number of a therapist here in town; I really suggest making an appointment so you can find a way to handle your anxiety that works for you. And they can work with you on the underlying issues causing the stress.”

“I’ll be fine,” David said. To be polite, he took the number Ted had written on a Post-It but he knew he’d never use it.

-

Stevie found him that night at the picnic table. She gave him a warning this time, a “hey” from nearly ten feet away. David looked up from his journal, where the shaky S had been staring at him for hours.

“Hey.”

“Can I sit?” she asked. David nodded, and Stevie slowly closed the distance, to sit across the table from him this time, but on the other end of the bench. “So, I definitely touched a nerve today. Sorry.”

David’s leg bounced under the table. “Mm. I mean, I appreciate that, but I’m not sure an apology is warranted here. I overreacted. Panic attack, apparently.”

“Of course you had a panic attack,” Stevie said reasonably. “But you didn’t overreact. You’re cursed,” she said, matter of fact.

David’s ears began to ring, snuffing out all sound as his heartbeat pulsed in his head. Holy. Shit.

“What—what are you talking about?” he asked, his voice high and panicked.

“Curse-baggage. All of us cursed people have it.” David stared at her, his breathing taking on a ragged quality. “There are a few of us here in town,” Stevie added.

David stood up, then sank back down again, knees knocking violently together. “Fuck,” he said, but no sound actually came out. “How—how did you…? There’s a few…? You’re cursed?”

Stevie nodded. When she spoke, the words were such a balm to David’s lonely, tattered soul that David’s hands started to shake from the first word. “Yeah. Like I said, there are others in town, and when you spend time around other cursed people, you start to notice it in others. It’s like a… sense thing. I should have told you. I didn’t mean to trigger your curse like that, so... yeah, sorry.”

David swiped uselessly at his face as the tears welled again and again. He felt so seen that he couldn’t catch a breath.

His whole life. He’d thought he was the only one.

When he could breathe properly, David raised his head. Stevie was politely looking off into the distance, giving him a moment. But she glanced over when she saw him straighten up.

She cleared her throat. “I was going to say something soon but I didn’t want to spook you. That worked out well.”

“It’s okay,” David said quickly. “I’ve never met… God, I had no idea there were others.”

Stevie chuckled grimly. “Yeah, we have to be pretty secretive about it, don’t we?”

David clutched his chest, feeling dizzy with the tilting-axis sensations cascading over him. “Oh my god,” he whispered. He wanted to talk to her about it, even if Adelina’s warning and Sebastien’s actions were strong reasons not to. But would he even be able to talk about it, with all of Sebastien’s commands holding him hostage? He started general. “It was too dangerous for me to be around anyone outside my family, so I was kept away from people for pretty much my whole life. I thought it was just me,” he rasped out again, blinking away fresh tears.

Stevie met his gaze steadily. “My aunt’s shitty ex-boyfriend cursed me when I was 15.” David stared at her as she spoke. “After that, I couldn’t touch anyone without both of us feeling excruciating pain.”

David was overcome with emotion. The knowledge that they shared this connection allowed David to trust her, to let her in. Maybe she would hurt him, but he could only hope that this time his trust wasn’t misplaced. “I—I can’t say no,” David said, heart hammering at the notion that he was willingly telling another person again, and that he could speak about the curse despite being barred from divulging Sebastien’s specific cruelty. “I have to follow any order or command someone gives me.”

“Fuck!” Stevie said, harshly. “So when I told you to take the K-Cup…”

David nodded, sighing. “Any command, no matter how trivial.”

Or not-trivial hung in the air unspoken.

“I won’t do that again,” Stevie said, severely. “I’m so sorry, David.”

For some reason, he believed her. He was so incredibly grateful, both for the reassurance and for everything she’d given him tonight. “Thank you.”

“Not something you should have to be grateful for,” Stevie sighed, in a world-weary sort of way, like she knew what he’d been thinking. “Anyway, tomorrow I’ll introduce you to the others.”

“The others?” David gasped. “Oh my god!

Stevie grinned, and David could only grin helplessly back.

He felt shaky with this new, life-changing information.

David managed to write the E before bed, his hands trembling and his teeth chattering from the shivers ripping through him. He had to run to the bathroom to throw up again, but when he came back to bed, SE sparkled up at him like the brief glimpse of a naked truth that he hoped one day to fully reveal.

-

When David awoke, it was the middle of the afternoon. He felt like a bundle of exposed nerves. He could feel the beginnings of an oncoming panic attack, which he controlled by slowing down his breathing and concentrating on the feeling of the carpet under his bare feet.

When he could breathe again, David got up and began to dress himself.

He was meeting other cursed people today. He wanted to look his best, but he couldn’t risk standing out too much, so he donned his drop-crotch pants and oversized black hoodie. But he did take some time with his hair. That much he could do.

Stevie arched an eyebrow when he came in. “I was wondering if you were in a coma or something.”

David smiled nervously. “I haven’t slept that well in months.”

They exchanged a look of high significance, and then Stevie took a key from the rack behind her. “We’re meeting in Room 5. I’ll let them know we’re good to go.” She took a moment to tap a text out on her phone, then put it away. “So, uh, how do you want to be introduced?”

“Oh.” David’s nerves ratcheted up. It was hard to put into words just how overcome he was. It must have shown on his face because Stevie came around the desk, and in her hands was a box of K-Cups. She held the box out to him, and he took it with a smile. “Just David.”

She nodded and led the way outside and to Room 5. There were several chairs arranged around the circular table at the edge of the room. Stevie held up a joint to signal that she would stay outside for a few minutes, and David nodded and went inside on his own.

To pass the time, he wiped down the table with a damp hand towel from the bathroom, too nervous to just sit there. Then he wiped down the chairs, too. Next, he made himself a coffee and sat primly at the table.

The quiet in the room gave him a moment to freak out. But there was excitement mixed in with his anxiety, too. He could not help but wonder what the others would look like, and of course he wondered what they’d been cursed with. The internet had always turned up the vaguest of references to curses, spells one could apparently do to curse others, and urban legends that were impossible to distinguish from reality.

His thoughts returned to the realization that had struck last night in bed, about Adelina and how aware she’d been of David’s problem, how careful she’d been to avoid ever making David do something against his will. He wondered where she was now.

The door opened and David instinctively stood. Stevie came in and behind her followed two women and a man. He assessed them as they surveyed him, until Stevie broke the silence. “So this is David, my second cousin. He’s new in town.” David somehow, inexplicably, managed to rein in his shock over Stevie covering for him, smiling nervously instead. “David, this is Twyla, Ronnie, and Ray.”

“Hey,” they all greeted him in varying shades of enthusiasm.

“Hi.” David gave them an awkward wave but didn’t move to shake their hands; Stevie’s curse made him hesitate. Stevie came to sit beside David and then the other three joined them at the table.

Ronnie started talking first. She had a no-nonsense air about her that he liked immediately. “Good to meet you, David. You’re lookin’ at the Schitt’s Creek Cursed Support Group.”

David only just stopped his jaw from dropping. His voice shook as he spoke. “Is—is that just a thing here or is it a thing all over?”

“They’re all over,” Twyla said. Her smile was kind and her voice clear as a bell. “They’re secret, so you have to be referred by another cursed person to join.”

David wrapped a shaking hand around his coffee cup. “How many of us are there?” he breathed out, awestruck at the implication.

“Estimate’s about 3% of the population,” Ronnie answered. “We don’t have a clear number, though, since a lot of curses necessitate extreme secrecy.”

David looked down at the table at that. No kidding. “And—and is there any hope at all of…?”

He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“That’s rather complicated,” said Ray. “As I’m sure you know, curses can’t be reversed without finding the originator—at least not yet—but they can be managed, to certain degrees. These support groups are designed to help people find workarounds and to not be so isolated.”

David’s eyes were stinging. He was too scared to say it out loud, in case he was wrong. Maybe the S and the E were all he’d be able to manage. It was too soon, too important to say out loud just yet. He steadied his breathing.

“So, David,” Twyla said, and gosh her voice was just incredible; it was soothing beyond description. “You are not under any obligation to tell us the details of your curse. But we do recommend sharing the gist of it. Being up front helps us help each other. There’s also a safety aspect to it, because if there’s anything we need to accommodate it’s really for the best if we know about it. We’ll tell you about our own, to start.”

“Okay,” David said, surprising himself. He’d come to this town expecting another lonely existence, and now he was sitting across from four people who were like him, who wanted to know him and help him.

“My curse makes it so I can hear people’s thoughts,” Ray began, his voice incredibly cheerful for some reason David couldn’t fathom. David knew his face must be betraying his discomfort with this news; the one area of his life where he was safe was in his own thoughts. The idea that this man could be hearing them, right this second even…

“I know what you’re thinking,” Ray said brightly, “and it’s not because of the curse, but because it’s the first thing anyone would think. I can hear your specific, individual thoughts if I concentrate on them and pull them forward, but I find it unpleasant and invasive to do so and have found a way to tune the thoughts out for the most part. Thoughts with strong emotions are harder to tune out, but the vast majority of thoughts are like background noise, like a radio you can just hear in the background.”

David wasn’t sure it was polite to ask questions, so he nodded and kept silent.

“I’ll go next,” Twyla said. “I’m… basically a siren. You know, from Homer’s Odyssey? My voice has the power to influence people, whether positively or negatively. I manage it using grounding techniques and meditation, and by keeping a journal where I can express my negative emotions so they have less impact on others. I do slip up sometimes, but I’m able to remove myself from the situation because I know the signs really well.”

Her voice really was calming, but the words were far more affecting. He snagged a tissue from the box on the table and wiped under his nose, sniffling. He took a deep breath and nodded, letting out a shaky breath. That both of them could manage the curse… even a little bit… god, it was indescribable relief.

Ronnie went next. “I’m cursed to feel the physical pain of the people around me. Pain meds don’t work. But the radius is much smaller than it used to be. At one point, I could feel the pain of anyone within a kilometer but now it’s about the length of a couple of football fields. It’s manageable.”

David wished his eyes would stop leaking. He had not expected to be so moved by the sharing, by the hope they were offering. “Sorry,” he whispered, embarrassed.

“David, we completely understand,” Ray said kindly. “It’s your first support group meeting. I’m sure you can imagine that we’ve seen many reactions. It’s quite normal to be emotional. I myself laughed. Some become very angry. It’s quite a lot to process, and whatever you’re feeling is okay.”

David nodded numbly, wiping at his streaming eyes. “It’s just…” He took in a wrenching breath, and tried again. “I’ve been so alone.”

Twyla leaned closer and gave him a warm smile. “You won’t be anymore.”

David let out a wet laugh and pulled himself together. “Thank you.” He breathed slowly in for 5 seconds, then out for another 5, marveling at the fact that he had so adamantly insisted he would never again tell another soul about his curse, not when the first time had nearly destroyed him. But they had all so kindly and bravely shared their curses with him.

Dave began to speak.

-

With so much time on his hands, David found himself eager to keep busy so as to keep his mind similarly so. He approached Stevie to ask if he could work at the motel to help fill up his time during the days and evenings, and Stevie agreed to pay him in weed and wine since cash was tight and David didn’t need it. David took to cleaning rooms and complaining loudly about the disgusting habits of human beings. Stevie also gave him a key to the office in case anyone staying at the motel ever needed anything urgently or if a guest arrived past usual booking times. David liked having work to do, and the job was calm since the motel seemed to have just a handful of guests at a time.

Alexis had struck up a strong friendship with Ted. It was quite obvious they had feelings for each other, but Alexis was unwilling to cross that line. “I can’t even tell him my real last name. That’s, like, such a bad omen.”

Alexis occasionally got a faraway look in her eye, like she was off on one of her wild adventures in her head, but otherwise she expressed no malcontent with her life in Schitt’s Creek. David suspected the quality time with Alexis was in fact borrowed time, and that she was itching to get back to her old life. Yet whenever he tried to bring up the matter, Alexis flat-out refused to consider leaving and insisted that she was happy.

Life seemed almost bearable, which David wasn’t remotely used to. Which is precisely why David should have known the other shoe would drop eventually.

And it did drop, partly in the form of Stevie’s excellent weed. They were hanging out in a ridiculous room of the motel with mirrors on the ceiling and truly hideous red sheets. They were very high, and one minute they were cackling and falling against each other and the next they were kissing, hard. It felt good and nice, and David chased those good, nice feelings as they rolled around in the bed, making out enthusiastically and lazily.

David ducked his head, then paused and looked up. When Stevie nodded, he dragged his mouth down between her breasts, his fingers working on the buttons of her shirt. He had nearly reached the bottom of the shirt when a dulled throb of pain settled around his temples.

Stevie’s curse.

It was barely noticeable; David ignored it as he slid the shirt off her shoulders and brought his hand up under her back to start removing her bra. Stevie’s hands settled on his hips, and she pulled his shirt up with caresses of her hands along his sides.

A memory of Sebastien’s hands on him assaulted his senses. David shot away from her, his legs flying over the side of the bed. David swallowed thickly. “Fuck,” he rasped out.

“Shit, was it my curse?” Stevie gasped, sitting up. “Are you okay?”

David shook his head. “No, it wasn’t that—I—” he stopped, fury settling into him as he realized he couldn’t even explain. “I…” David concentrated and tried to think of a way to put it, and when it hit him he laughed humourlessly. “It’s, um, curse-baggage.”

David couldn’t bring himself to look at Stevie as he said it. But he looked over when Stevie threw her legs over the side of the bed and settled beside him, her gaze straight ahead, which made it easier for him to roll his shoulders back and take a deep breath and prepare an explanation. He still wasn’t sure how to explain, but it turned out he didn’t need to.

“A few years back,” Stevie said, “before I found out the weed dulled the pain, there were… a few times where people touched me on purpose.”

David felt his eyes welling with emotion. “That’s awful,” he said wetly. “I—” he concentrated again, then realized that the stuff from before Sebastien was accessible. He hesitated, then told her about the time in the playground.

“Fuckin’ assholes,” Stevie growled in a low voice. David was quiet, and then Stevie frowned. “There was something else. Something worse?”

As ever, David could only remain silent in the face of something he was expressly forbidden from talking about.

“Can I come a little closer?” Stevie asked. David looked up in surprise, then nodded breathlessly. Stevie scooched over. “Can I put my hand on your knee?” At David’s nod, she touched his knee.

“Can I kiss you?”

“Yes,” David gasped.

The sex was slow and careful, Stevie asking permission every step of the way.

Afterward, David cried a little. Stevie made him a cup of coffee and they sat up on the headboard and watched a marathon of Whose Line is it Anyway? on tv. David couldn’t quite fathom how much Stevie meant to him, her friendship and her respect. And that night, at the picnic table, the other shoe stomped down as those thoughts crowded in.

He’d had sex with Stevie. Which suddenly seemed like it had been a colossally bad idea. He messaged her, even though it was late. When she arrived and sat down across from him, he met her gaze steadily. “I like having you as a friend. I’ve never had one before.” He couldn’t seem to form the next words, to explain that he didn’t want to mess this up.

“Me neither,” Stevie said. Then, inexplicably, it was like she was responding to David’s unspoken words. “It’s okay, David. I understand.”

David let out a long breath. “Thank you.”

“Not something you need to thank me for,” she said, like she had that night at the picnic table, and then she stole one of his pepperoni sticks.

Chapter Text

Time was trundling along, but for the first time in David’s life he didn’t feel like it was dwindling. As the four-month anniversary of their arrival in Schitt’s Creek came and went, David couldn’t believe how quickly time had passed, compared to the glacial pace of the past.

The weekly support group meetings were incredible. David finally had people he could talk to about his curse and the challenges that came along with it (the ones he could talk about, anyway). Their own shared experiences had a two-fold effect: they made David feel less alone and they made him hopeful for a future where he might be able to manage his own curse the way the others could.

A source of much less optimism was his actual ability to manage the curse. The group had provided suggestions and techniques, but their advice didn’t seem to work for David. He had made almost no progress in writing Sebastien’s name in his journal or talking about what Sebastien had done to him after months of trying. He had only managed to write half of the B, so that it looked more like a P, taunting him and making him feel like a complete idiot. He couldn’t write one stupid fucking letter.

David was out at the picnic table, trying to draw the rest of the damn B, the night he met Patrick Brewer.

He heard a car pull into the parking lot of the motel. David’s curiosity was piqued; there was no one else staying at the motel right now besides David and Alexis, so this couldn’t be a visitor. And the office was closed, Stevie already home by now.

David took his journal and wandered over to peer around the edge of the building to see if the driver had used the parking lot as a turnaround, but no. There was a car parked about midway along the strip and a man peering inside the office window. David watched him for a moment, then started toward him.

“Hey,” he called.

The man turned to him. “Hey,” he replied, as David closed the distance between them. “I guess they’re closed for the night?”

Up close, David could see the man was dressed in business casual attire, wore his hair cut short, and that he had expressive, open eyes. He was cute. Not that David really noticed. “Yes,” David said, “but I can get you a room. I’m on-site to help when the office is closed.”

“That’d be great,” the man said, relieved. “Thanks. Wasn’t thrilled about the possibility of sleeping in my car.”

David acknowledged the man’s joke with a quick smile and rummaged in his pockets for his keys. He unlocked the office door, flipped the light on, and held the door open for him. Behind the counter, David tapped the space bar to coax the ancient computer from sleep mode, and then went about selecting a room for the business-casual man before him.

“Name?” he asked, his voice jarring in the silence of the room.

“Patrick Brewer,” the man said promptly.

David nodded and recorded his name in the slot for Room 3.

“That’ll be 53$ for the night. Credit or cash?” he asked softly.

“Credit,” Patrick replied, holding out his card already.

David went about processing the transaction, waiting for the old machine to connect to the motel’s lousy wifi. “So, what brings you to this dazzling town?” David asked to pass the time. And maybe he was a little curious about this stranger, who David had not noticed was cute.

Patrick seemed to struggle for a moment before he spoke, his expression pained. “I—I broke up with my fiancée last week. And then I couldn’t take everyone’s disappointment and judgement, so I ran away.”

David froze as he was reaching for the room key, then recovered quickly. That had been… a startling amount of information from a complete stranger. Which wasn’t unusual for people who stayed at this motel, but Patrick didn’t seem like the type to overshare. Moreover, Patrick hadn’t shared the information unbidden, as most socially awkward guests did. And Patrick now looked embarrassed, like he hadn’t quite wanted to say that.

A strange feeling of familiarity washed over him. “Well,” David said, handing the key to Patrick, “I hope you enjoy your stay at this fabulous establishment. It’s definitely the kind of place you can really successfully wallow in your great life failures.”

Patrick snorted. “Good to hear.”

That feeling of familiarity was still poking at him. It was strong and persistent, but David brushed it aside and jotted down a Post-It for Stevie about the new guest, which he stuck on the computer monitor.

“Check out is 11:00,” David said. “I’m in Room 7 but please don’t knock unless… I don’t know, the ceiling caves in? I really like my sleep.”

Patrick seemed to give David a proper look at these words, a once-over of interest. Not that David noticed, because he didn’t. “Oh, got it,” Patrick said with a smirk. “So, knock on the door if the bed is too lumpy?”

“Exactly,” David nodded. He followed Patrick out of the office, hit the lights, and locked the door.

“Thanks again,” Patrick said, out on the paved walkway, and he jingled the key like he was waving, rather adorably. Not that David noticed. “Good night… ?”

“David,” he offered.

Patrick nodded. “Goodnight, David.”

“Goodnight,” David replied, and he walked to his room without looking back. Which was easy because he didn’t want to look back at the only-slightly-cute stranger he’d just met.

It was only when David was lying in bed and on the very precipice of sleep that he realized what the feeling of familiarity could be.

Was Patrick cursed?

The possibility made it very difficult for David to sleep. He finally managed some, but not before going over the conversation in his head several times, and recalling what Stevie had said about being able to sense other cursed people. Was this what she had meant?

David tried not to think about how they were both runaways. Had Patrick been telling the truth about his situation? Was he running from the effects of a curse like David was? Maybe he would talk to Patrick tomorrow, if he caught him before he got back on the road and continued running. Or maybe he wouldn’t say anything. Maybe Patrick wasn’t cursed. Maybe he wouldn’t want to discuss the matter, even if he was.

David found himself wide awake far earlier than he normally liked to rise. Stevie was reading at the front desk when David let himself into the office.

“I see that you signed a guest in last night,” Stevie said, putting the splayed-out book down on the counter.

“Mhmmm,” David said, approaching the desk with his much-needed coffee. “I do expect a bottle of fine wine as payment for my services.”

Stevie smirked. “You’ll have to settle for some general store wine, which is indeed fine.”

David bit back his smile. “I accept those terms.”

“I might even give you a second bottle, since you signed in a guest who just came in an hour ago to reserve his room for the full week,” Stevie said. “That’s more business than this place has seen in months.”

“Oh?” David tried to keep his voice even, like the subject wasn’t very fascinating to him. “The full week, wow.” Stevie nodded, and David nodded. Then David caved. “So, hypothetical question. If I were to, say, meet a person and I got a strange feeling like I’d met them before even though I definitely haven’t because I’ve spent most of my life inside the same walls… Would that be what you meant by being able to ‘sense’ other cursed people?”

Stevie’s eyes sparkled. “Hypothetical answer: yes.”

“I knew it!” David crowed, nearly sloshing his coffee in his excitement.

“Need help with that?” Stevie snickered.

“Just fine, thank you so much,” David said in his best fake customer service voice.

Snickering, Stevie gestured to the couch in the lobby, and they curled up on it.

“I don’t actually know what to do with this information,” David said quietly. “I can’t talk to him. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Stevie knocked her knee into his. “Okay, hear me out. Maybe you could stop assuming you have to do everything on your own?”

David blinked rapidly to root out the sensation of being seen so deeply. “Damn, okay,” he grumbled. “Just call me out, why don’t you?”

Stevie shrugged. “I have a lot of experience with that, so.” She moved so she was sitting with her legs crossed underneath her and grimaced. “Alright, I’m gonna do something I hate, which is talking about myself. I refused to join the support group for years. Ray and Ronnie met on Town Council and decided to form the group, and they approached me about it. I’d been handling it alone for years by then, so I said no. Ronnie only asked the one time, but Ray was particularly relentless. But every time he asked, I insisted I didn’t need it. And then Twyla got cursed, and they recruited her right away. Surprisingly, she was the one who finally convinced me. That was two years ago.”

“Wow,” David said. “What did she say to convince you?”

Stevie’s expression morphed into a facsimile of Twyla’s infectious smile. When she spoke, it was with Twyla’s equally infectious air. “‘You’re so strong, Stevie. I don’t know how I would have managed all of this by myself. You’re really inspirational.’ Well, after a few days of getting very stoned to try and… drown out all the sincere emotion, I finally admitted that I was not managing by myself at all.”

David let out a slow breath. He honoured Stevie’s vulnerability with some quiet, and when he finally spoke, he could think of only one question. “Do you think… Patrick’s managing by himself?”

“Why else would someone come here?” Stevie said, shrugging. And that did seem to sum it all up.

The idea of Patrick managing on his own made David abruptly and deeply emotional. What David would have given not to have managed his curse alone all these years… and yet, here he was, still trying to hold people at a distance, still trying to close himself off.

Sebastien still had control. Maybe it was time to take it back.

“So,” David said briskly. “How do we do this?”

Stevie stole his coffee, ignoring David’s yelp, and took a sip. She grinned. “I have an idea.”

Stevie’s idea was to invite Patrick to a barbecue. She took care of inviting Patrick and brought David with her to buy supplies, and soon David found himself pacing nervously between Stevie grilling at the barbecue and the picnic table where he could anxiously snack on sides.

Patrick showed up with a bottle of wine. “Thanks for the invitation,” he said after he’d shook their hands. David noticed Stevie didn’t hesitate to do so, even though he knew for a fact she hadn’t smoked today. It settled David’s resolve.

When they were settled with food and wine, Stevie broke the silence. “So, what do you do, Patrick? You strike me as a business type.”

Patrick smirked. “What gave it away?” he asked, looking down at himself. “Was it the shirt or the shoes?”

“Both. And the very firm business-y handshake,” Stevie replied easily.

Patrick chuckled. “Well, I am indeed a business type. Consultant. What about you? Do you own the motel?” he asked politely.

David phased out of the conversation. He felt like he should probably say something, anything really, to contribute. But a lifetime of very little human interaction made the prospect challenging. He knew about small talk in theory, from watching television and movies, but not in practice. Should he mention the weather?

He didn’t need to think of a topic, though, because Patrick turned his attention to David and asked, “You work here at the motel?”

David hurriedly swallowed his bite of slider. Patrick’s very adorable face was distracting.

Stevie snickered. “Work might be a stretch.”

The teasing was comfortable. “Excuse you,” David said archly, “but I believe I managed to successfully remove the stench of cigarettes from those ancient bedsheets. I’d call that work. Although if you’d just invest in some new ones, with proper thread count…”

“You mean the sheets that were two thousand dollars each?”

Patrick let out a low whistle. “My business acumen would suggest that might be a bad investment for a road-side motel.”

Stevie grinned and held up her plastic cup for a cheers. “I like you.” Patrick clinked his cup against hers.

“This is fun for me,” David said, sardonic. “Are you suggesting you wouldn’t enjoy some quality bed sheets, Patrick? Do you have something against comfort?”

“You can be comfortable and still cost-effective,” Patrick replied, and David did not like how much he enjoyed that amused expression on Patrick’s face.

Support! They were here to support a fellow cursed person.

“So, how long are you staying in Schitt’s Creek?” he asked, changing the subject.

Patrick adjusted to the topic change with a frown. “I don’t really know,” he said. He looked like he was warring with himself. “I was just planning to keep driving, but something made me stop here.”

David exchanged a look with Stevie, and then Stevie said, “Hey, Patrick, are you cursed?”

David felt his jaw drop at her forwardness. His gaze snapped to Patrick, who looked confused.

“Cursed?” Patrick echoed. “Is that a… euphemism for something?”

Stevie’s eyes widened. “Fuck,” she said forcefully. “You don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?” Patrick said, and he turned his head toward the parking lot, like he was debating an exit strategy.

Holy fuck. Patrick didn’t know.

“Oh boy,” Stevie said. “Alright, you seem like the sensible type so I’ll just try to say this quickly. Magic exists. A small percentage of the population is cursed, and I’m sorry to say that you are one of them. So are we. That’s how we know you’re cursed, because we are.”

In his infinite wisdom, David cut in. “It’s a sense thing.” He winced. A brilliant contribution.

Patrick looked highly alarmed. “Um. I should… probably get back to my room. I have a…” He stopped talking, looking frustrated about something. Patrick stood up, and David realized there was only one way to convince this very sensible person that this was real and that they were telling the truth.

“Patrick? Wait,” he said, and to his surprise, Patrick sat back down, though his gaze flitted again toward the path in front of the motel. “This must be a really huge shock, and it’s totally understandable that you don’t believe us. I’d want proof if I were you.” He swallowed thickly and expelled a nervous breath. “I was cursed by my father’s business manager when I was a kid. I’ve had to follow any command I’ve been given for the last… 25 years,” David ground out.

Patrick’s mouth was ajar, but he snapped it shut and David could read the skepticism on his face like he was fluent in it. Because he was.

“I know,” David said. “It sounds ludicrous. Every doctor and specialist who has treated me has had the same reaction you’re having right now.” David watched Patrick glance at Stevie, who was wearing a very sober expression. He looked back again, and David could see something like fear in Patrick’s eyes now. “I’m going to show you, but I know it might not be enough to convince you. It will be so much easier to think I’m full of shit, or acting, or that I’m crazy.” David turned to Stevie. “Do the honours?” he asked grimly.

Stevie looked sick. “David, I can’t—that’s too much, you don’t have to—”

“It’s okay,” he said, gently. “I’m asking you to do it. It’s different.”

Stevie visibly swallowed. “I don’t know, David,” she mumbled, looking genuinely horrified.

David felt kind of sick, too. “I need another slider,” he tried to joke. “Tell me how to dress it?”

But Patrick said, “No, that’s—you don’t have to do that,” and David and Stevie startled at the interruption, their attention diverted to Patrick. He looked miserable. “I don’t need proof.” He swept trembling hands over his face and through the short strands of hair on his head. “About three months ago, I—stopped being able to lie. I have to tell the truth.” He looked at them each in turn. “I thought I was going crazy.”

Stevie broke the heavy silence by holding up her wine glass. “Welcome to the Cursed Club.”

They all laughed, Patrick’s laughter tinged with the kind of mania David recognized completely, and they clinked cups. The rest of the barbecue was spent on much more innocuous discussion topics, the mood lighter and more intimate.

After cleaning up and packing away the leftovers, just before they parted ways, David said, “There’s a support group. If you’re interested.”

Patrick’s responding smile was so beautiful it took David’s breath away.

Patrick made for an excellent member of the support group. He blended in seamlessly during his first meeting. He was polite and funny and charming, which made David feel better about being so charmed himself. Ronnie didn’t seem quite as charmed as the rest of them, her arms crossed stoically as she took him in.

While David and Stevie had spent a few evenings with Patrick, David was careful not to be alone with Patrick until late one night when he was out at the picnic table, where so many important conversations seemed to happen for David.

“Oh,” Patrick said, stopping short. “Sorry, I—I was just—I couldn’t sleep, I’ll let you—”

But something made David extend the proverbial hand. “It’s okay,” he said, even though he wasn’t sure it would be okay, not when Patrick made him feel things. “You can sit, if you want.”

Patrick sat down across from him. “Couldn’t sleep either?”

David shook his head. “Insomnia: the gift that keeps on giving.”

Patrick laughed. “Is insomnia part of being cursed too?” he asked dryly.

“Just a nasty side-effect,” David replied, in the same jesting tone Patrick was using.

Patrick laughed and looked down at the table. “Writing a memoir?” This was also said with light humour.

“Something like that,” David replied sincerely instead. Then, heart pounding, he found himself able to say, “Trying to write a name.”

“A name?” Patrick repeated.

David nodded and then pushed at the place where the curse was embedded and miraculously managed to nudge his journal forward ever so slightly.

Patrick reached out and flipped it around, then pulled it toward himself. “Sep?” he read, his voice soft in the silence around them.

The panic attack was swift. He couldn’t grasp on to anything real, not until Patrick’s hand settled on top of David’s across the table and his voice burst through David’s clouded senses. His name. “David? What can I do? What do you need?”

David closed his hand around Patrick’s and forced out, “Count. To five.”

And Patrick did. Slowly, David found his way back. “Thank you,” he said.

“Of course,” Patrick whispered. “Do you need water? Food?”

David shook his head. “I’m good.” He pulled his hand away. “Sorry about that. Curse-baggage,” he said.

“Not sure why you’re apologizing,” Patrick said. “I had one of those when my fiancée asked why I didn’t want to get married, and the curse made me answer that I’m gay. It was as much a shock for me as it was for her. So, panic attack.”

David only just managed to keep in his shocked gasp. What a way to discover something so fundamental about yourself. “Seems like an underreaction,” he said gently.

It clearly took a moment to register, then Patrick laughed heartily and ducked his head with a ridiculously adorable smile. “Thanks. Gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe yours was too?”

The lump in David’s throat was more like a golf ball. It probably should have scared David a lot more that he suddenly very much wanted to kiss Patrick. He resisted the impulse and said, “Really wish I could find a less exhausting way to underreact.”

Patrick’s laugh was beautiful. “Tell me about it. I immediately packed my bags, hit the road, and it… kind of just feels like I’m having one extended panic attack.”

David couldn’t think of anything to say. And Patrick seemed to take this as a signal for them to just sit quietly because he pulled his legs up so that he was sitting sideways on the bench. He stretched out and leaned against the table, looking up at the stars. David did, too, for a moment, but soon his gaze returned to watching the gorgeous silhouette Patrick made in the moonlight.

David picked up his pencil and wrote the rest of the B and the A with no difficulty at all. Then he closed his journal, knowing instinctively that was enough for tonight.

He cleared his throat. “Tell me about your hobbies, Patrick. For obvious reasons, I was extremely sheltered so my hobbies can fit on a postage stamp: reading, writing, and watching television and movies.”

Patrick laughed. “Well, besides those excellent hobbies, I enjoy sports.”

David pretended to get up. “Oh, nevermind. I’ve heard quite enough.”

Patrick’s cackle echoed through the quiet night. Patrick’s laughter and his dumb cute face were quickly becoming addictive, but David ignored the internal voice of warning as he settled back in his seat.

Thus began a nightly routine of sitting out at the picnic table with his journal, and Patrick across from him with a book, both of which they ignored in favour of teasing conversation that David was pretty sure counted as flirting. But David also had very little experience with flirting, so it was hard to tell. Even once Patrick had found work through Ray as a business consultant, he continued staying at the motel rather than take the room Ray offered him. David wondered if he should read anything into that, then decided it was best not to.

David had so little life experience to really offer in the way of discussion topics, especially topics that weren’t also off limits due to the curse. He found he didn’t really want to talk about those horrible months with Sebastien; it felt like any discussion of Sebastien in these beginning steps of friendship (and flirting, possibly) would ruin this connection he could feel building between them. It was just as well that David couldn’t talk about it anyway.

As nights turned to weeks of a kind of connection David had never known, David knew he was well past the point of return. The promise he’d made to himself in the car on the way to Schitt’s Creek was well and truly broken.

Somehow, David found himself opening up. He talked about those first few months of freedom before Sebastien, and about Alexis’ adventures, and about his parents and Adelina. He talked about those years of trying to understand the curse and about those long, miserable years under his parents’ roof.

Patrick listened with interest, asking good questions and responding with a kindness that threw David completely.

The night he knew he was falling for Patrick came when, without prompting, Patrick stated, “You know, you’re really amazing.”

David shook his head firmly, leaning away. “Amazingly deficient,” David countered.

Patrick’s jaw dropped. “You really don’t see it. David, all I’ve heard these past few weeks is how you managed a curse that was given to you as a punishment, out of some jerk’s anger towards your father.”

“Managed?” David’s voice rose in shock. “I didn’t manage anything!”

“Uh, you’re managing it every day. Your curse is cruel and unfair, but somehow you’re still so open. You’re quick to laugh. Looks like managing from here.”

David wrote another letter in his journal that night.

David also listened. Patrick talked about his time in high school and college. He talked about Rachel and the engagement and how he was suddenly realizing, as he looked back, that there were some key moments of clarity he’d missed or ignored over the years. He talked about being frustrated that it had taken him this long to work it out, that it had taken a curse to make him realize the truth.

David’s world tilted on its axis one evening after they had finished a dinner of take out from the cafe. They were sitting on the picnic tabletop, on the same side, watching the sun set slowly in the distance, and David realized he wanted this to be a date. It felt like one.

The increasing desire to bring their mouths together was getting harder to resist. David had spent many a late hour fantasizing about what it would be like to date Patrick, to kiss him, to have sex with him. He believed somehow that Patrick would not make David do anything against his will, that Patrick would ask and check in and make David feel safe. But the fear that he might be wrong, just like he was wrong about Sebastien, held him back every time.

Tonight, Patrick was talking about his parents, whose calls and messages he’d been ignoring, he told David, because then he would have to truthfully answer every one of their questions, some of which he was scared to discover the answers to.

“I know they’re good people,” Patrick told him, voice trembling with emotion. “But I just can’t help but think that it might change how they see me.”

David closed his hand around Patrick’s between their bodies, which he suddenly realized were extremely close to each other. “Well, coming out is very personal and something you should only do on your terms,” David said softly, catching his eye. At the look on Patrick’s face, David pulled away gently and made a joke. “Which is why I printed out five different articles on pansexuality, gave them to my parents, and told them to deal with it.”

They sat there long after their food was finished, and David found himself telling Patrick about his own journey of discovery, the realization that he was attracted to all kinds of people. He divulged how, for a while, he’d simply believed that was how everyone felt until he’d consumed enough media to realize most people were apparently only attracted to one gender.

“I went a little wild when I first left my parents’ house,” David confessed under the emerging stars that seemed to permit openness. “I wanted to try everything, with everyone. And some of it was fun and new and interesting, but most of it just didn’t feel…”

“Right?” Patrick answered softly. David nodded, pulse racing in his ears, and when he looked over, he saw Patrick’s gaze cut down to his lips. Though it was terrifying, it was also thrilling when David leaned forward and Patrick mirrored him.

“Would you kiss me, please?” David asked, unable to speak above a whisper.

Patrick kissed him. The kiss was so brief it could just as well not have happened. But Patrick was beaming at him when they pulled away, and David knew his own smile must be enormous.

David sighed. “Thank you,” he said.

Patrick inclined his head. “For what?”

David sighed. “I don’t know if I would have had the strength to—” He stopped short. “After everything—” David paused again, the curse holding him fast.

“After everything?” Patrick repeated softly.

David let out a slow breath. “I can’t say.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Patrick said easily. “You don’t have to tell me.”

David gave a grim laugh. “No, I very literally can’t say.”

Patrick was quiet for a long time. “When you say you can’t.” His voice was slow, cautious. “Is that because someone commanded you not to?” When David said nothing—could say nothing, like fucking always—Patrick met his gaze steadily and said, “Can I hold your hand?” At David’s nod, Patrick picked up David’s hand and held it between his own in his lap. “That someone… Is that the name you’ve been writing?”

David’s eyes swam with tears, which he tried to blink away quickly. He looked up at the stars and wished that he was cursed to tell the truth no matter what. Up until this moment, he’d wanted to keep Sebastien far away from this blossoming… thing between them, but now he wanted to tell Patrick. He wanted Patrick to know.

David reached down to pick up his journal and pencil where they lay on the table beside him. He opened the journal to the correct page, where all but one letter were shining up at him. This, he knew, was the result of weeks of incredible conversations with Patrick, which seemed to have emboldened David’s defiance of the curse.

David perched the book on his knees and wrote the N with a shaky hand, forced to briefly stop halfway through. When he’d finished, he dropped the pencil because his entire body was shaking as he stared down at SEBASTIEN, written in his shaky but legible handwriting. He held his hands up and away, hoping Patrick might get the picture, and he didn’t have to wait long; Patrick immediately took the journal, pulled it close, and read, “Sebastien?”

David bent over and away so he could dry heave less visibly to the man he was quite taken with. When he could finally catch a breath, he gasped and sat up, sweating and shaking.

He realized Patrick was still holding his hand. “He really hurt you,” Patrick said sadly.

Before either of them could say another thing, Alexis turned the corner at a run. “David!’ she called, voice frantic. She stopped short when she swept her gaze over the two of them at the table in the twilight. They clearly looked like quite the picture, because she faltered. “Um, sorry to interrupt,” she said, and it sounded very strange with fear radiating off her. “David, I—I need to talk to you. Right now.”

Her panic sent David’s heart off on a frantic drumbeat. David stood quickly and started to follow her. Patrick stood, too. “Do you—is there—?” Patrick asked.

Alexis was already back on the path and out of sight. David shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry, I have to—” he managed to say through the pounding of his heartbeat in his ears, and then he hurried after Alexis without another word.

As soon as the door of the motel room was closed, Alexis turned to him with a sober expression. “Something’s happened. Apparently, Us Weekly published a piece on our disappearance last week, and Mom and Dad have been getting all kinds of calls and messages about us.”

“Okay,” David said inanely.

“Dad just sent me footage from the home security cameras,” she continued, her breathing unsteady. “Someone came looking for you today. A man. He said he’d read the story in Us Weekly and he wanted to know if he could help. Dad told him the official story, obviously, and he left, but the fact that he was looking for you… that he found Mom and Dad…”

David sat down heavily on the bed. He couldn’t speak because he was on the verge of a panic attack. Alexis talked him through it, and after long minutes with his head between his knees counting breaths with her, he straightened up. “Show me the footage.”

Alexis handed him her phone. There he was. Sebastien was talking to his parents in the entrance way. He was crying, the manipulation recognizable to David even through the grainy footage. After a few minutes, Sebastien left and the clip ended. He wished there was audio, and yet he was also grateful there wasn’t.

David handed her phone back with numb fingers. As usual, the curse thrummed through him, demanding he maintain a neutral expression when it came to Sebastien.

“He didn’t give a last name, but Richard tracked it down in minutes,” Alexis said, linking one of her hands with his. “Sebastien Raine.”

David gasped and the tears overwhelmed him, tears of relief and pain and every possible emotion, fuck. His jaw trembled as he unclenched it and repeated, “Sebastien Raine.”

Alexis held him as the emotions spilled over. It seemed like hours before he could do anything more than snot all over Alexis’ shoulder, and it was a mark of the severity of the situation that Alexis said nothing about him destroying her Proenza Schouler.

When he was calm again, when he had no tears left, he pulled away. “Where is he?” he asked.

“They don’t know. Richard tracked him down - apparently, he was staying at your apartment all this time.” She looked thoroughly disgusted. “By the time Richard found your place, the bastard had cleaned the place out. He’s disappeared, David. His gallery is closed, and his friends have no idea where he went. Richard’s going to keep looking, but…”

David nodded, still feeling numb to his bones. “He’s going to find me, Alexis.” It was a fact as obvious to David as the brilliance of Neil Barrett. David couldn’t even find the emotion to care at the moment; he felt strangely empty. And yet he was also certain there was only one option. “I have to leave. I have to—to keep moving, or—or he’ll find me.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Alexis said firmly. It wasn’t a command, though. “There’s no way for him to track you down here, and if he ever did, I’m not gonna let him take you. We’ll have him arrested.”

David shook his head minutely. “There’s no proof, Alexis,” he said flatly.

“You underestimate me,” Alexis replied brightly. “Let’s just say I know how to frame someone for a crime. Nothing serious, just grand theft auto or larceny. Please, I want you to stay.”

David felt bizarrely calm. “Okay,” he lied. “I’ll stay.”

He had a bag already packed and ready to go, after the last time he’d utterly failed at escaping. All David needed to do was pick it up and leave. He scanned the room quietly, taking in what felt more like home than any other place he’d ever known, and then he opened the door to the motel room and walked out, closing it silently behind him.

He couldn’t stay here. Now that he had hope, he couldn’t let Sebastien reappear and quash it like he had before.

He had to keep moving.

-

David knew there was a bus station in Elmdale, so he started walking in that direction, which he’d worked out since quite a number of motel guests had asked for directions over the last few months. He walked briskly along the dirt road, duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

As he walked, holes sprung up in his plan so that it became clear he actually had no plan at all. Would he even be able to leave Schitt’s Creek? Sebastien’s command rang out in his mind. Don’t go anywhere that isn’t work or home.

Additionally, he didn’t have much money. There was his trust fund, but he couldn’t use the card in his wallet since Sebastien could be tracking the account. He might even have stolen David’s money by now; he’d frequently done that during all those months David was in captivity. And he’d always known where David had been during the day and what money he’d spent, so it was quite obvious Sebastien had found a way to track that.

David had just 300$ in cash on him, which Alexis had given him last week, withdrawn from the account their parents had set up for them under the Sloan pseudonym. Even if he could have taken the card without waking her, he would never do that to Alexis after everything she had done for him.

He’d only been walking for 10 minutes when his phone rang. It was Alexis. He ignored it, heart leaping in his chest. It immediately began ringing again. After the third ring, which he silenced too, the phone lit up again. It wasn’t Alexis this time, Patrick’s number on the display screen. David put the phone away and ignored the ringing, chest heaving with guilt and uncertainty.

David had not even reached the edge of the town before Patrick’s car pulled up beside him. Alexis was sobbing in the passenger seat, and that sight alone made David get in the backseat silently, dragging his duffel bag inside with him and closing the door. Patrick excused himself and stood outside, leaning against his car door. The silence was deafening until Alexis turned all the way around in her seat, and when she spoke her voice was severe and her sobs had subsided.

“How could you just leave like that!?” she shouted. “I am as close as I have ever come to commanding you to come back with me! There are too many of us who care about you and want you to be safe, and this is the thanks we get? Stevie is driving in the other direction in case you went that way! We all care, and it’s bullshit that you seem to care so little that you’d just—you’re seriously just going to run away again?”

“Hey! You have no right—!” David tried to shout back.

“I do have a right,” Alexis interrupted angrily, “because I had to sit there and watch Mom and Dad losing their minds thinking you’d died, for days, and I couldn’t even have an actual emotion myself about my brother maybe being dead because I had to be strong for them and—”

“I thought you were dead too!” David yelled. Quivering, he lowered his voice. “You have no idea what it was like for me, Alexis! I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“They were trying to protect you! Was it so bad that you had to punish them by running away?”

“They kept me away from everyone and everything like fucking Rapunzel!” David snarled. He took several deep breaths to calm down, to stem the rage flowing through him. “I wasn’t running away—I was getting freedom.”

Alexis made an ‘ugh’ sound and clutched at her hair. “Okay, David, maybe the first time it was about getting freedom! But it’s not about that now, and you know it. What was your plan exactly? Be some disgusting grody vagrant on the run for the rest of your life? That’s your idea of a solution? How dare you think I won’t fucking protect you from that asshole if it’s the last thing I do!”

“And what if it is?” David snapped wildly. “I don’t know—” he swore loudly into his hands and threw every emotion storming inside at the curse. “He is a sociopath, Alexis! He could order me to kill you!

The intensity of these words rang out in the car’s interior. When Alexis finally spoke, it was with purposeful calm. “Here’s the thing, David,” she said quietly. “It’s up to me to decide if I can handle that. I’m a grown adult. God, you need to stop believing you have to handle this on your own. He’s gonna have to get through more than me if he wants to get anywhere near you. Now, please. Will you let Patrick drive us home? You are safer here than you are wandering around forever with, like, no money.”

When David could find no counterargument to this, and had very little strength left to argue anyway, Alexis tapped on the window and Patrick got back in the car.

Patrick cleared his throat. “Stevie says it’s not an order but she would like you to get your ass back to the motel. I have to agree with her.”

David bit back the sting of tears, but it was no use. “Okay,” he said.

He let go.

Chapter Text

Back at the motel, Stevie slugged David on the arm, said she’d bring him coffee in the morning, and went off to grab a key for the room next to David’s. Patrick was hovering, and Alexis gave them both a confused look before it morphed into one of understanding. She headed over to her room, but not without pointing aggressively at David, who nodded wearily.

When it was just the two of them, David could see that Patrick was nervous, which made him feel better about his own nerves. Patrick cleared his throat. “So, I hope you weren’t running away because the kiss was that bad.”

In spite of everything, David let out a small laugh. Then he shook his head. “Very nice kiss, actually.” He looked away, embarrassed. “But I’m not sure courtships generally start with quite this much drama, so I’d understand if you were thinking of backing out and pretending that very nice kiss didn’t happen.”

“No!” Patrick said quickly, suddenly. “No, I—turns out my life got pretty dramatic when I was cursed, actually. So, not really down to you.” He smiled, expression shy. “Could we talk tomorrow?”

David bit his lip on a delighted smile. “We can talk whenever you’d like. Just, not before 10:00 am because…”

“You really like your sleep, I remember,” Patrick said softly, his voice fond in a way David just did not understand. “Hope you’re not planning to run away again.”

“Seems like you’d all just track me down anyway,” David replied, trying to joke, but his voice wobbled embarrassingly. Patrick nodded firmly and David huffed out an emotional breath.

Patrick took a step closer. “Can I—?” and David didn’t wait for the rest of the question before nodding eagerly. Patrick leaned in and kissed David’s cheek. “Good night, David.”

“Good night, Patrick.”

-

David jolted awake when the door to his room opened from Alexis’ side and she flounced in, with Stevie following at a slower pace.

“So, you and Patrick?” Stevie asked as she bounced down onto the bed next to him.

Alexis planted herself in his bed, too. “He was so worried about you last night, it was the sweetest.” She smiled mischievously. “You looked quite cozy on that picnic table, David.”

David groaned, but he couldn’t hold back a persistent smile at the idea that Patrick had been worried about him. “You woke me up for this?”

“Uh, yeah!” they said in unison before grinning at each other.

David groaned again and leaned against the headboard. “Where’s my coffee?” he grumbled.

Stevie held it up, just out of reach. “Just as soon as you tell us what’s going on there.”

David rolled his eyes. “We… kissed. But there’s not much to say.”

Alexis slapped David’s leg in excitement. “Oh my god! Oh my god. Deets, David.”

“Okay!” David relented. “I asked him to kiss me, and he did.”

“Ugh, so adorable! Well, how was it?” Alexis demanded. “Was it, like, super hot? Or very sweet? With his cute little button face, I’m sure it was the sweetest little kiss ever.”

“No comment,” David said, rolling his eyes. “Button face?”

Stevie smiled at him. “I like this for you.”

David twisted his mouth to prevent himself from showing too much happiness. It wouldn’t get him coffee any sooner. And David could not help feeling like the other shoe was going to drop any second now. When had he ever been allowed to just enjoy something?

“It was a nice, sweet kiss,” David admitted.

Stevie handed him his coffee, and David hummed appreciatively. But then she cleared her throat, and David knew the coffee was also meant as an enticement for the conversation that was about to happen. “So, did you really think we’d just let you wander off in the night?”

David shifted against the headboard and sipped his coffee. “How did you notice I’d gone?” he asked softly.

“I check your room every two hours,” Alexis said, like she had added a ‘duh’ at the end.

“What?” David gasped. “How are you getting any sleep at all?”

“Well, I’m not out flirting with cute boys on picnic tables all night.”

David flushed. “I don’t need you to check up on me like a warden, Alexis!”

“Okay, obviously I do, since you ran away?”

“I thought we talked about how it wasn’t running away.”

Alexis tsked. “Whatever. Besides, like, I wasn’t taking any chances considering Sebastien Raine closed out every damn loophole of your curse and made it nearly impossible for you to leave. That’s someone I figured might be a little bit fucked up and willing to track you down.”

“Which is exactly what I said last night,” David said in a strangely triumphant tone. “Thank you for proving my point.”

“Um, wasn’t your point that you should just be a complete loner until he tracked you down?”

David huffed. “Ugh, go away.”

Alexis made a sound of deep annoyance. “Yeah, right. Not happening.”

“Okay, can we maybe table the sibling squabble for later?” Stevie piped up. “We obviously need a gameplan, in case this motherfucker does show up.”

“Good point,” Alexis agreed. “Okay, I think that you shouldn’t be alone anywhere, at least for a little while.”

David’s mouth dropped open. “Are you joking?”

“Well, if he manages to track you down here, which I’ll add is extremely unlikely,” Alexis began, “then he might see you on your way back from the cafe, or he might figure out you’re staying here, and if you’re alone, we won’t be able to help you.”

“Alexis,” David said in falsely cheery tones. “Let’s think about this for a second.” He thought carefully about how to explain the issue without discussing Sebastien, and it came to him after a few moments. “Okay, say Stevie ordered me to go to the lobby right now and stay there forever. What exactly could you do to stop that? If I’m ordered to… I don’t know, leave Schitt’s Creek, there is not a single thing you two can do about it, even if you’re standing right next to me.”

Alexis’ expression clouded over, and she seemed stumped.

“I mean, I could kill him,” Stevie said with a shrug, and it did not seem to be a joke.

“And go to prison for the rest of your life because of me? Thanks but I’d rather not have that on my conscience.” David scrubbed his face with his free hand. “Face it. I fucked up when—” he paused and pushed at the curse, looking for a loophole. But even after all of his progress, and even though they all knew Sebastien’s name, he couldn’t directly address it. “There’s nothing I can do,” he said finally. “Honestly, I’m not even sure I would have been able to make it to Elmdale. I don’t own that town, so.”

There was a knock at the door at that moment. Alexis got up to answer it, and Patrick was standing there looking very handsome. He hesitated, but David waved him in, stomach flopping embarrassingly.

“Well, I should get back to work, ugh,” Stevie said. “Hey. Don’t bail, alright?” She slapped David’s knee and got up, leaving through the door before Patrick could close it.

Alexis stood, too. “Yeah, I have to be…” Her voice trailed off as she went through the door that connected their rooms and firmly shut the door.

David watched all of this with flustered amusement, and when they were alone he smiled, shy. “Hi,” he said, and he motioned toward the table, getting up to move there.

“Hi,” Patrick greeted warmly as he sat down. “Um, you forgot this last night,” he said, placing David’s journal on the table. David’s mouth went dry. “I didn’t read it, I promise.”

David swallowed thickly and pushed again at the curse. “P—page…” he let out a frustrated groan and put his coffee down with a violently shaking hand.

“Maybe I should open it?” Patrick asked, meeting David’s eye firmly. David tried to nod, but he couldn’t. Patrick watched him for a moment, opened the journal to the first page, and moved his chair over so they could both see it.

“This is a nice sketch,” Patrick said casually, glancing over the rough drawing David had made of his vision for the co-op space. “Probably not the page I’m looking for?” He flipped to the second page, and David’s heart started to pound hard in his chest. “Another sketch. Very nice, might I add,” Patrick said lightly, and they both laughed off the tension. “Page 3, maybe?”

David could say nothing, but page 5 was where David had recorded Sebastien’s commands in order to find a loophole. Because Sebastien had not forbidden him from writing his commands down, he’d been able to do that much. Patrick silently turned to page 4, which contained a shopping list, and then to page 5.

David curled into himself and groaned, pain lancing through his forehead. Patrick’s hand moved to David’s shoulder, a solid and significant weight, and David used his calm support to take the journal in trembling but resolute hands. Then he carefully and methodically ripped the page of commands out of the journal, tossing it to the side and leaving the page perfectly centered between them.

David staggered to his feet and into the bathroom, where his stomach rebelled against what he’d just done. When his stomach was empty, David righted himself on quaking legs and stood before his reflection. He stared at his pale face, shiny with sweat, and then he smiled at himself. He washed his mouth out and cleaned his hands, then walked steadily back into his room and over to the table.

Patrick held his hand out and David slid his own inside the strong, reassuring grip. Then Patrick pulled the page closer, looked over at David to check one more time, and they both read in the silence and stillness of the room.

When David looked up and over, Patrick somehow managed to look, not like he was pitying David, but rather feeling some of the pain David had been enduring for the better part of a year. David felt entirely stripped of his carefully constructed walls. He didn’t know what to say or to think, and the shame and the feeling that Patrick might see him differently now flooded to the surface.

Patrick squeezed David’s hand. “I can’t imagine what it took to show me this. Thank you for trusting me.”

David felt a sob welling in his chest, but he took in a fortifying breath. “Will you come lie down with me? Only if you want to.”

And they moved, without words, to lie curled towards each other. “Can I—?” Patrick asked, and when David nodded, Patrick lay a shaking hand on David’s cheek and whispered, “I’m so glad I stopped here. It’s an honour to know you.”

David put his hand on Patrick’s cheek, and he tried not to think about all the ways this connection with Patrick might be stolen from him, exactly like his agency and his voice had been so violently taken.

David kissed him.

-

In the days immediately following those highly charged hours of defying the curse in small ways and discovering Sebastien’s attempts to find David, the looming possibility that Sebastien would find him was never far from his periphery. Still, Patrick proved to be a very pleasant distraction from those fears.

While David spent his days with Stevie or Alexis, his evenings were reserved for Patrick. They had yet to transition beyond making out in one of their beds, and although David knew a discussion was warranted, he kept avoiding it in favour of enjoying their time together. Patrick was incredibly good at kissing.

But when their kissing grew especially heated one evening, David unthinkingly ground his hips into Patrick’s, and their mutual hardness made David pull away. “Okay,” he said shakily, gasping up at the ceiling. “I—I’m gonna need to take this slow.”

And Patrick laughed breathlessly. “Oh, good, me too.”

They laughed and nuzzled into each other’s necks for a few minutes, and then David sighed and said, “I think it’s quite obvious that I have some pretty serious hang-ups around this, and I—” He shoved past the awkwardness he could feel worming in. “I don’t know what kind of landmines we might hit here. I don’t… I don’t want to ruin the mood with my issues, but it’s bound to happen.”

Patrick rolled over on to his front and propped himself up on his elbows. “Okay, how about we don’t think of it as ruining the mood, because that’s not what it is?”

God, David liked him so much. “I don’t know what to do with all these feelings,” David confessed, voice breaking. “I want to trust you, and I do—somehow, I do, even after… after everything. Part of me knows you would never take advantage of the curse, but I also don’t know if I can really trust my instincts when I was so wrong before.”

Patrick’s expression was deeply serious when David managed to face him after saying so many very honest and scary things out loud. Patrick reached over to run his hand through David’s hair and over his hairline, scanning David’s face. David wondered what he was seeing there.

“David,” Patrick said, like an exhale. “The fact that you even want to trust me after everything you’ve been through? That’s already so much. And for what it’s worth, I can’t lie. I’m an open book, for better or worse.” Patrick ran one finger over David’s eyebrow (David shivered), and his voice was sincere, full of conviction. “I have no desire to make you do anything you don’t want to do. The idea is disgusting to me.”

David sat up with a sharp breath as the truth of Patrick’s words hit him hard. Patrick couldn’t lie to him and manipulate him like Sebastien had. While Patrick could make David do what he wanted, his compulsion to be honest rendered his assurances that he didn’t want to control David all the more powerful. These weren’t just empty words; Patrick had to tell the truth.

David had somehow found the one person whose trust he could be sure of.

There was a bit more making out that day.

It was over pizza from Elmdale at the table in Patrick’s room one evening that David first realized the challenge they faced with Patrick’s curse.

“What are your parents like?” he asked, unthinkingly, and though Patrick’s expression did not shift, it hit David like a punch to the gut that he had just taken advantage of Patrick’s curse by asking a question Patrick had no choice but to answer honestly.

David immediately spiraled into a panicked babble. “Oh my god! How can I ask you personal questions without tripping up your curse? I can’t take advantage of your curse like that! You have to answer truthfully, and that—that’s not fair! How is it any different than someone ordering me to answer truthfully?”

Patrick put down his slice of pizza and did some rapid blinking. Then he smiled. “David, I want to be honest with you. There isn’t anything you could ask I wouldn’t want to answer truthfully.”

Patrick’s earnestness made it impossible for David not to kiss him. “Okay, that’s very sweet, but what if I ask you something you don’t want to answer? Would you be able to stop yourself from answering? How does that work?”

Patrick looked thoughtful. “I think there’s about a five second delay between a question and my compulsion to answer it honestly. Worst case, I could run from the room.”

“Patrick.” David rolled his eyes. “I’m serious.”

“So am I!” Patrick laughed. “You know, it’s actually pretty freeing not to have to fake anything. Maybe the very definition of a blessing and a curse.”

“How can you be so casual about this?” David demanded. “You can’t even tell a white lie! What if I ask you how I look and you have to answer honestly, even though you’d rather lie to me about it?”

Patrick’s thin eyebrows rose with confusion. “And why would I want to lie about that?”

David scoffed. “Well, if I look disgusting, you might not want to be straightforward about that.”

Patrick shook his head slowly, grinning more broadly by the second. “Do you have any idea what you look like?” he asked. “Okay, why don’t you just ask me what you look like, then.”

“But my whole point is that you can’t answer untruthfully, and that’s not fair.”

“Yes, but I want to answer truthfully.” Patrick gave David’s forearm a very gentle stroke, which was decidedly distracting. “You can ask me anything.”

David hesitated, conflicted. But when Patrick only smiled encouragingly, David asked, “How’s my hair?” He’d struggled with it that morning, trying to tame it into its usual pompadour, but it was getting a little long on the top.

Patrick’s answer was prompt and succinct, his eyes settling on David’s hair. “Perfect.”

David blushed. “That can’t possibly be true,” he argued.

“I can’t lie, remember?” Patrick reminded him, smirking. “I have to tell the truth, so you’ll just have to understand that I mean it when I tell you that you’re the most attractive person I’ve ever met.”

David squirmed under the combined weight of his joy and discomfort with these words. “Okay, we’re getting off topic here,” he said, shying away from Patrick’s honest gaze. “I don’t want to put you in a position where you have to say something you don’t want to.”

Patrick’s hand moved to rub David’s shoulder. “And I appreciate that. But it’s kind of impossible for us to have a relationship built on trust and honesty if you can’t ask me any questions, David.”

“Well, I guess if you’re gonna be all reasonable about it,” David sighed. “Will you tell me if there’s something you don’t want to answer?”

“Yes,” Patrick said, kissing the corner of David’s mouth. “And I’ll run from the room if it’ll make you feel better.”

David playfully elbowed Patrick and stole his slice of pizza just to watch Patrick’s face shift to exasperated amusement.

-

Their dates mostly consisted of dinner at the motel and sometimes a movie in one of their motel rooms. Patrick brought his laptop over most nights; he had a portable hard drive that contained an extensive collection of movies and television shows.

On a sunny afternoon, about a month after their first kiss, Patrick took David on a different kind of date, taking David to hike a trail in the forest. Although David made a show of grumbling about all the walking and the potential for bugs, he found the beauty of the forest enchanting. It became less enchanting when Patrick stepped on a branch that went right into his foot, and David had to piggyback him the rest of the way up the trail.

The view was worth it, though.

Patrick took David’s hands in his own.

“So I used to come on this hike a lot, when I first got here,” Patrick said. “And I was uh, I was developing feelings for this guy I had just met who made me want to be honest in a way I’d never experienced before. And... I didn't know what to do about it because I didn't know if that guy had the same feelings. Or if I'd ever be able to muster up the courage to—to let him know how I felt. And I just… I wanted to show you this place that’s made me grateful for my curse… because it brought me to you.”

The expansive beauty of the forest and Patrick’s honest, romantic reveal left David very emotional, his body so accustomed to enclosed spaces and isolation that David could only wrap trembling arms around Patrick and kiss him, slow and deep.

When they arrived back at the motel, David tugged Patrick inside his room, pushed him gently against the closed door, and kissed him. Patrick’s hands settled on David’s lower back, and he hummed into their kiss, low and intimate in a way that made David’s cock throb. He brushed his hands over Patrick’s shoulders as he pulled away, shivering, and asked, “Do you—?” He paused, heart pounding. “Do you want to shower with me?”

Patrick visibly swallowed and his hands swept over David’s back until they came to rest on the nape of David’s neck. “I do,” he breathed in the space between their mouths, and his lips brushed David’s, light as a feather. David’s hands shook as he moved to the first button of Patrick’s shirt, and he looked quickly at Patrick’s face. “Can I?”

Patrick nodded, lips pressed together, breath coming out harshly through his nose. David slowly undid the buttons of Patrick’s shirt and pushed it carefully off Patrick’s shoulders, stroking over the revealed skin with soft and silent awe. Patrick’s hands stroked over the short hairs on David’s neck, and David’s whole body broke out in goosebumps. “Ah!” he gasped, palming Patrick’s chest. He felt Patrick’s rapid heartbeat under his hands, and it made David shiver.

“Is this okay?” David whispered, his hands on the belt of Patrick’s pants. Patrick nodded, and David moved quickly to unbuckle his belt and unzip his pants. He put his hands on Patrick’s hips. “Can I take these off?”

Patrick groaned. “Please.”

David dragged Patrick’s jeans and underwear down, then laughed when he realized Patrick was still wearing his shoes. He tapped on them teasingly, and Patrick laughed, too, and kicked them off, then stepped out of his jeans and his underwear until he was standing in front of David, naked and beautiful. David looked Patrick over, his gaze stopping briefly at Patrick’s hard cock, hard for him. David shivered and kissed him, sweeping his tongue across Patrick’s and exhaling a frantic breath when Patrick moaned.

Patrick broke the kiss. “God, David,” he whispered. “You’re—you’re so gorgeous.”

David’s breath hitched. “Patrick,” he rasped out.

Patrick bit his lip and said, “Can I—?”

“Yes,” David said immediately.

Patrick huffed out a gentle laugh and stroked his hands through David’s hair. “Can I kiss your neck or your shoulder?” he asked.

Choices. David closed his eyes, willing himself not to cry. Patrick was perfect. How had David gotten so lucky?

“Shoulder, please,” David whispered.

Patrick kissed his shoulder. “What do you want? Another kiss?”

“My sweater,” David sighed. “Will you—?”

Patrick nodded and carefully removed David’s sweater, placing it on the bed. Then he smiled. “What next?”

“My shirt,” David gasped, hard and leaking in his briefs. Patrick took David’s shirt off with smooth, gentle hands, and then he cast his eye over David’s bare chest, breathing roughly.

“Is this okay?” David asked, all breath.

“This is extremely okay,” Patrick said immediately, blushing. “I’ve never been so turned on in my life. I—I think I’m gonna be saying some very honest things,” he added, hushed, expression so earnest and sweet, David swayed into Patrick.

He wound one hand tight around the back of Patrick’s neck and sealed their mouths together, kissing Patrick until they were out of breath and trembling. David mouthed at Patrick’s throat, his breath coming out in short, frenzied bursts. He pulled back enough to meet Patrick’s gaze. “Will you take the rest of my clothes off?” David asked.

Patrick did so with shaking fingers but steady hands. When Patrick straightened back up, David shivered at being stripped so bare and vulnerable. Patrick stared at him. “David, I—I’ve never been this attracted to someone. I didn’t know it could be like this.”

David kissed him again, overwhelmed. He couldn’t get enough of Patrick’s mouth; he clung desperately to Patrick’s shoulders as they rubbed against each other, panting and groaning into the scant space between them.

Eventually, they moved to the bathroom. Once David had tested out the water and declared it ready, Patrick took David’s face in his hands. “Hey,” he said softly. “You don’t have to ask if you want to touch me or kiss me. I promise I’ll tell you if I don’t like something you’re doing, and I would like you to tell me if you don’t like something I’m doing.”

“Okay,” David said shakily, stroking a hand down Patrick’s chest.

Patrick kissed him, then stepped under the spray. David followed him willingly.

When they’d finished washing each other’s hair and had got their fill of exploring slick skin, laughing and kissing under the stream of water, they toweled off and made their way to the bed.

Hovering over David, Patrick kissed him and asked, “Will you tell me what to do?”

And that was enough to make David’s brain short-circuit. No one had ever… David had never…

Trembling, so turned on he thought he might pass out, David said, “Kiss me,” and Patrick did. Slowly, David directed Patrick, who followed his commands with no hesitation, only breathtaking intent and care. “Put your hand on my cock,” David whimpered, achingly hard against Patrick’s thigh.

Patrick did. With Patrick’s permission, David closed his hand around Patrick’s length, and they kissed and stroked each other, their shared moans and gasps a precious music David intended to learn by heart.

David would never know who came first; it was all wrapped up in a joined act so intimate and consensual that David could only shake and shout and sigh.

Later, Patrick slid his mouth over David’s cock. The vibrations of his moans made David cry out as he tried, with difficulty, to praise Patrick for how good it felt. And after, when Patrick begged for David’s fingers, David willingly and without reservation sought to make Patrick feel good and safe. He gasped at the warm grip of Patrick around his fingers, and basked in the heat of Patrick’s hands over his skin, using his mouth to draw out quivering sighs and guttural moans.

Finally, David fell asleep in the arms of a person who made him feel utterly safe and cared for.

-

In the morning, David awoke to someone’s hand on his hip, and for a moment he forgot about Patrick and how happy he was, and he was immediately and utterly convinced it was Sebastien in the bed with him. He was up and across the room in seconds, teeth chattering.

Patrick sat up, blinking sleepily. “David?” he rasped out.

David lowered himself into a chair at the table, in the midst of emotional whiplash so strong he couldn’t stay on his feet. David wrapped his arms around his chest and breathed, trying to relax and come back to the present. When he looked up, Patrick was beside him at the table, close by in a supportive gesture but gaze averted, as if giving David space. David grasped for his hand. “Sorry,” he said.

“David,” Patrick said sadly. “You don’t ever have to apologize, okay? Not for that. Is there anything I can do?”

David leaned in and kissed him. “You’re already doing it.”

When David was ready, they got back into bed, and they didn’t leave it for the rest of the morning. David spent a long time just exploring Patrick’s body with his hands and mouth; he wanted to memorize Patrick, to replace every memory of Sebastien, to always know the difference.

When Patrick let out a tremulous moan and asked David to replace his fingers with his cock, David took the condom Patrick gave him and rolled it on. David locked eyes with Patrick and slid inside, trembling, heart pounding free and alight in his chest. Patrick shook and moaned with pleasure, and David drank it in. “You’re so beautiful,” David gasped. “I feel—” But he couldn’t speak. He moved until he was pressed all the way inside and frantically pushed his wet face into Patrick’s throat. He cried out, the pleasure so blissful it was almost agony.

Patrick’s breath hitched with a frenzied sob, and his hands came up and into David’s hair as Patrick kissed him, moaning. “You feel so good, David. I’ve never felt anything—anything like it.”

David pulled out and pushed back in again, gritting his teeth at the intensity of the sensation, wrapping Patrick in his arms and trying desperately to convey what an absolute treasure Patrick was, to thank him for his kindness and show how deserving he was of exquisite pleasure.

The mood shifted to something passionate and frantic, and David felt they were moving as one. David rolled them so that Patrick was on top and gave himself over to the tight grip of Patrick around his cock, the comforting weight of Patrick as he ground down. David took Patrick’s cock in his hand, and Patrick seemed to find the spot that lit him up. Patrick cried out and snapped his hips down again and again, coming hard over David’s fingers with a guttural moan.

“Patrick!” David moaned, and he held Patrick on his cock as he thrust deep inside and came.

They took another shower, and then they had sex again with Patrick bent over the table and David taking him from behind, sucking a deep mark into the skin of Patrick’s shoulder to silence his shouts.

Patrick went wild. “Oh god, can you—harder?”

“Yes! Fuck, I didn’t know it could be this good,” David sobbed through his rapid thrusts.

“Me neither,” Patrick gasped, and he angled his hips for more.

Their nightly dates became very singularly focused for the next couple of weeks. David understood what it meant to feel insatiable.

-

David was watching Patrick snooze away their Saturday afternoon, too restless himself to nod off, when he heard his mother’s voice outside. “A ding-a-ling!”

And his father’s. “Kids?”

David tore out of bed, heart careening in his ribcage. He whipped the door open and burst out into the parking lot.

He hadn’t seen his parents in nearly two years, and the sight of them brought David to a standstill. There was his father, decked out in one of his suits, and his mother, looking her very best.

His mother swept him up in her arms, and David’s complex and mixed emotions burst out of him in an accusatory tone. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“We could stay away no longer, David,” Moira sighed into David’s shoulder. “It has been entirely too long.”

His father hugged him next, the scent of his aftershave so comforting it released a knot of tension in his shoulders he hadn’t realized he’d been carrying. “We needed to see that you were okay, with our own eyes,” Johnny said when he’d pulled away. “It’s so good to see you, son.”

“What are you doing here!?” Alexis demanded from the door of her room, but she, too, came to join their embrace.

They ended up in Alexis’ room, and David quickly said he’d be right back and went into his own room. Patrick was gathering his things, and his smile at David’s entrance made David a little weak. He went right over to kiss him and said, “My parents are here.”

Patrick kissed him back. “That’s great,” he said. “I’ll leave you to it. Ray’s got a few projects he wants to run by me.”

“Sounds fun,” David said with a barely contained grimace.

Patrick chuckled, and they kissed again before Patrick made his exit.

When David returned to Alexis’ room, his family were talking at the table in hushed tones, and they all looked up at him with similar expressions of being caught. “What are you all saying about me?” he asked as he crossed to the fridge to steal one of his sister’s yoghurts. The last one, actually.

“We were just inquiring about your health, dear,” his mother said. “That’s hardly a criminal offense, is it?”

“You shouldn’t have come,” David told them, ignoring her. “It’s dangerous.”

Alexis rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind David’s dramatics. He’s convinced we’re all in danger from that little twerp and we should just leave him to handle it on his own.”

“That seems awfully foolhardy,” his mother said, sipping her tea in her usual dignified sort of way.

“Safety in numbers, David,” his father said in a tone that felt very condescending.

David rubbed at his temples, eyes clenched shut. “None of you seem to realize that you can’t protect me forever. If he…” David felt a fury like nothing else bubbling up, fury at his continued inertia. “I can’t stay holed up my whole life, and neither can any of you! What kind of life is that?”

David watched his family exchange a heavy look. They didn’t seem to have an answer to that.

“Has Richard had any luck?” Alexis asked.

“Not a lead exactly,” Johnny replied. “But one of his sources says there’s reason to believe he’s back in New York. Something on Tweeters, I think?”

David and Alexis made and quickly broke eye contact, biting their lips on smiles. “Well, should we get some breakfast?” David asked, against his better judgement.

His parents’ answering smiles of relief and joy were uncomfortably sweet, and David hurried to grab his bag so he could escape from the sincerity before they all headed off to the cafe, his mother’s arm linked in his own and Alexis’ linked in their father’s.

David and Alexis showed their parents around the town. Though David knew they were attracting stares due to his parents’ clothing, he found he couldn’t be too worried about it when it was really quite comforting to have them there.

It was a nice day in a long string of nice days lately.

Chapter Text

David’s parents got a room next to David’s. They dropped in at all hours of the day and night, whether or not it was convenient timing. It was both trying and strangely sweet.

After some pink-cheeked discussion about ‘defining the relationship’, David introduced Patrick as his boyfriend, and they all enjoyed an introductory barbecue beside the motel.

David talked in Support Group about his conflicted feelings over his parents’ presence in town. “I’m glad they’re here. I missed them. But I’m still so angry at them. I know they did the best they could, but that doesn’t mean it was what I actually needed. And I know that it would have been dangerous to expose me to other people, but maybe I wouldn’t have been so goddamned naive if I’d had experience interacting with people outside my family before the age of 30.”

His support group members held space for him to work through his emotions on the subject, not telling him how he should feel or trying to comfort him with empty words.

He finally sat his parents down part way through their visit. “I know you didn’t know what to do. I know it was confusing and that you were trying to protect me, but I was so lonely.”

They apologized and confessed they’d realized their mistake when David left, that his absence had made clear they’d done him a deep disservice.

It would have to be enough.

Johnny and Moira stayed one week before they finally declared, regrettably, that they needed to return home if they wanted to continue maintaining the official story. David ignored the panicky feeling in his chest and hugged them as they packed their bags and set off on the road, his mother peeking out a hand to wave at them through the open window as they drove away.

Alexis and Ted were dating now, and David found himself frequently banging on the wall between their rooms to get them to shut up. He fully ignored Alexis’ reminders that he and Patrick were quite loud as well, “Oh my god, David!”

In the days after his parents’ departure, David found himself longing for something, and it wasn’t immediately clear what that could be. But soon, he realized that he wanted purpose. And the only good thing he’d managed to create—mostly on his own—was his co-op space in New York.

He told Patrick about it late one night under the covers. “It was nice,” David told him. “It was a general but also specific space. I liked that there were so many different people coming in, sometimes just to be there.”

“It sounds great, David,” Patrick said, his fingers trailing dizzying circles over David’s skin.

“I think I want to create that here. For all the people looking for a place they can be themselves.”

Patrick loved the idea. “I can help you with the business proposal, and there are grants I’m sure you’re eligible for.”

David hesitated, warring as ever with the compulsion to do everything on his own, and then found the strength to ask. “Would you consider being my business partner?”

“You’d want that?” Patrick asked, eyes wide.

“Patrick,” David said. “I’ve never felt as safe as I do when I’m with you. You’re the only person I’d want to make this space with.”

“David.” Patrick’s smile was so beautiful David couldn’t look directly at it. “Of course I’ll be your business partner.”

“You really want to?” David asked.

“I do,” Patrick said, kissing the skin over David’s heart. “David, I’ve spent most of my life not knowing what right was supposed to feel like, and then I met you and everything changed. You make me feel right.”

David had to admit that was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard. If it made him cry, just a little, at least they were under the covers where no one else could touch them.

With Patrick’s help, David found an open space that could serve as the location for their co-op. They filed incorporation papers for The Rose Garden and put in a lease application. Ronnie greased the wheels with Town Council and got the application approved within a day.

David didn’t really know what to do with all his happiness. He was unaccustomed to such a state.

In retrospect, David should have known it couldn’t last.

-

July brought several consecutive days of hot and humid weather. David spent those days at the picnic table, where he often sketched and made notes for the co-op space.

On the evening that his happiness was thoroughly upended, David sat in his usual place at the picnic table and listened to the cicadas, thick in the cloying and stifling humidity. He shrugged off his sweater and leaned back on the table, watching the birds soar over the trees. The sun kissed his skin, and David tried desperately to soak it all in and remember the sensation. He was starting to feel like he might not need to memorize these kinds of things.

David was just considering returning to his room when Patrick pulled up with dinner, his usual tuna melt and a BLT for David.

He had a really good boyfriend.

“Are these arms?” Patrick joked when he saw David’s bare arms, stroking them reverently. David rarely went without his sweaters.

David kissed Patrick’s nose, charmed.

They ate quickly so they could make out for a bit before Patrick said he had to go. “Is Stevie around? I’ll only be gone an hour; Ronnie asked if I’d help a friend of hers put together a last-minute proposal. Trying to get on her good side.”

David laughed. Ronnie was the only one in the support group who didn’t seem quite so charmed by Patrick. He reassured Patrick he’d kill some time with Stevie until Patrick returned from his mission to ingratiate himself to Ronnie.

David stopped by the office to see if Stevie wanted to hang out. He found the ‘Back in 15 minutes’ sign in her stead, which was odd, but David didn’t give it much thought. He decided a nap was in order.

When David returned to his room, the first thing he noticed was that his phone wasn’t where he’d left it charging on his bedside table. The pulse in his ears drowned out any sound for a moment as David scanned the room, unmoving where he stood by the foot of his bed. A feeling of unease hit David in the gut, and he was back at the door with his hand on the knob when Sebastien’s voice slammed into him like a freight train from behind.

“Stop.”

David froze, trembling. “Fuck!” David shouted.

“Turn around and come here, now,” Sebastien commanded.

David was powerless. He followed the command, and his stomach turned at the sight of Sebastien as his legs traitorously brought him closer.

Sebastien laughed and caressed one side of David’s face. David squirmed, nauseous. “Stay still. Gotta admit, David. You didn’t make it easy to find you. I’d nearly given up until I saw the article in Us Weekly about your disappearance. And to think your parents went to all that trouble, and they just gave up the game by showing up here. I was almost disappointed how easy it was after all.”

“Why are you doing this?” David demanded brokenly. He wanted to say I don’t want you. I can’t stand you. But Sebastien’s previous commands to be positive around him and to act like he wanted to be with Sebastien pulled him up short.

“The way you submit. You’re a work of art, David.” Sebastien wrapped his hand around the back of David’s neck and squeezed tightly. David gritted his teeth and tried to turn his face away, but he was immobile. Sebastien moved his face this way and that like he was a ragdoll, and then he kissed him. David’s hair stood on end. There was nowhere to go, no way out.

Finally, Sebastien pulled away. He smirked and led David to the table. “Found your poem squirreled away. Seems like a fitting goodbye—it’s going to be very useful, actually. They won’t even know to go looking for you. But you stopped mid-sentence. Finish it, and then get your bag and come with me.”

Sebastien let him go and went to the door. David gasped at the minute freedom from Sebastien’s grasp and picked up the pencil in hands that shook, not with fear, but opportunity. Sebastien wasn’t even going to check what he wrote? He looked at his poem, where the final line simply read:

don’t

David finished the poem. He could only hope that Patrick would understand he hadn’t left of his own accord.

don't fret.
like the cicada, i'll emerge again
after a time underground

-

On the drive, Sebastien made David tell him how he’d managed to escape. Then he bragged some more about how he’d found David. “Had to take a flight out to LA, but it was a breeze to find their house. They had quite a bullshit story about how you and your sister disappeared months ago, and they were starting to lose hope. And I thought you said your mother was an actress.”

Go fuck yourself! David couldn’t say.

“I knew as soon as that picture of them showed up on Instagram, and it was tagged with Schitt’s Creek.” Sebastien snorted. “God, why else would anyone show up there?”

David hated him. He stewed silently as they passed field after field.

“Why are you so quiet over there?” Sebastien asked when they were at least 10 minutes out of Schitt’s Creek. When David said nothing (it wasn’t an order), Sebastien made a noise of impatience. “Tell me why you’re so quiet.”

David laughed, hollow. “I have nothing to say. You once commanded me to act like I wanted to be with you and to be positive around you. So silence is what you’re gonna get from me."

David caught Sebastien’s frown in his peripheral vision. “Okay, forget that command,” Sebastien said. “I want to know what you’re actually thinking. Be honest about your feelings towards me from now on.”

The relief he felt at being released from that command was enough to make David start shaking. He realized that a little gratitude might curry favour with Sebastien and allow him to keep this small freedom. “Thank you,” he said softly, summoning a smile to his face with difficulty.

It was just after 8:00 when Sebastien stopped at the Sherwood Motel. They had dinner at a restaurant across the street, where Sebastien made sure David was forbidden from saying anything incriminating to the wait staff or other customers. David had already eaten dinner, but Sebastien ordered for him and subsequently commanded David to eat.

“You’re not gonna get away with this,” David said after he’d choked down his salad. He tried the only thing he could think of to get Sebastien to see reason. “My family will figure out I didn’t leave on my own. And they know who you are. They’ll call the police. What happens when they put out an arrest warrant for you?”

Sebastien did not look remotely concerned. “They’ll have a hard time tracking us down in Europe. And if they find us, you’ll tell them it was your idea and that you definitely did leave of your own volition. Right?”

David clenched his shaking hands in the vinyl of the booth seat underneath him. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” he demanded. His next words burst out of him desperately. “How long are you going to do this?”

Sebastien leaned back in his chair, examining David with infuriating amusement. “I don’t know, David. As soon as I get bored with you, I’ll let you know.”

Repulsed, David couldn’t look at him anymore; he cast his gaze on any spot besides Sebastien’s loathsome face. Sebastien noticed. “Look at me. Tell me who you were kissing back there.”

David winced at the pang of pain in his chest. He didn’t want to give that to Sebastien, to talk about Patrick at all. But the curse was as relentless as always. “Patrick.”

“Did you tell him about the curse?”

It wasn’t a command. David said nothing.

Sebastien leaned in and said, severely, “Tell me what you told him.”

“I told him about you,” David spat. “He knows exactly what a fucking piece of shit you are.”

“Tell me how you did that,” Sebastien commanded, gaze hungry. “I ordered you not to tell anyone about me.”

The curse commanded him to reveal himself, but David fought back, highlighting the open-ended nature of the order. He wanted to hold onto his months-long journey of writing Sebastien’s name and showing it to Patrick. The less information Sebastien had about David’s defiance of the curse, the better. David pushed past the throbbing pain in his head and chose a different answer.

“You left a loophole when you didn’t stop me from writing your commands down,” David revealed. “I showed him the commands.”

“Clever,” Sebastien replied. “Obviously, I’ll have to be a lot more careful with how I word my commands from now on.”

David clasped his hands together and propped his chin on them, expression sarcastically cheerful. “Or, alternatively, you could try not being a manipulative, sadistic predator who gets off on making me do things against my will.”

Sebastien’s eyes flashed with anger. “Mm. Did you tell Patrick how desperate you were for my attention and affection? It was embarrassing how much you were panting for it. I’m almost nostalgic for those days. Remind me, David. Tell me how much you love me.”

Not for the first time, David wished desperately that he wasn’t bound from violently lashing out at Sebastien. His hands shook with the desire to strike him, to put his fist into that smirking face.

The words were pushing their way to the surface at the curse’s direction, but Sebastien had just left an opening, and David wasn’t going to take Sebastien’s shit anymore. “I love you as much as I love the K-Mart menswear line.” Curse satiated, David sneered. “I can’t believe I ever mistook that for love. I know the difference now.”

“Is that right?” Sebastien narrowed his eyes. “Tell me what you let Patrick do to you.”

Horror and disbelief at the brazen violation of Sebastien’s command overtook him. But just as quickly, he transitioned to resolute calm; there were so many ways he could fulfill that command. Sebastien was getting sloppy.

“I let him know me,” David answered defiantly. “Every part of me.”

At that moment, their waitress passed by the table. Inspired, David said, “Excuse me?” and she paused with an attentive smile. “Can we get the check? I think we’re done here.” He revelled in Sebastien’s look of shock and frustration as he took his own wallet from beside Sebastien’s plate and paid the bill.

Once they were inside the motel room Sebastien had purchased with cash from David’s hastily retrieved wallet, Sebastien locked the door. A patently symbolic gesture.

“Just in case you go getting any ideas, don’t leave the motel room,” Sebastien commanded. “And don’t call anyone. We’ll get back on the road at 5:00. Get an early start.”

David went into the bathroom, slammed the door, and locked it. He turned the water on immediately to drown out any possible commands and stripped down, trembling under the spray, tears welling at the memory of showering with Patrick.

The idea that he might not see Patrick’s face again, or hear his laugh, or feel the somehow tangible weight of his gentle yet solid presence… It was intolerable.

When he could bear it, David left the safety of the bathroom and went to face his jailer.

Sebastien took what he wanted.

Afterward, David went to the bathroom to vomit and quell the impending panic attack, and took another shower. Then he returned to lie silently on the bed while Sebastien watched a Lifetime movie on the television and, eventually, scrolled on his phone. Hours and hours passed, throughout which Sebastien mercifully ignored David completely.

David occupied his time with thoughts of Patrick. Had he understood David’s message?

When Sebastien finally passed out, it was late enough that David was worried there wouldn’t be enough time. David got up on unsteady legs. He tried to telegraph to the curse that he wasn’t going to make any calls, hoping he would still be able to touch a phone if he didn’t plan to use it for that purpose. Then, silently, holding his breath, he took Sebastien’s phone from where it was charging on the bedside table.

He looked down at Sebastien for a long moment before crossing to the jeans Sebastien had carelessly tossed aside. He found his phone in one of the pockets and crept quietly to the bathroom, where he slowly poured a glass of water and promptly dropped Sebastien’s phone into it.

Then he sat down on the lip of the tub with his phone. Heart pounding, he stared down at dozens of frantic texts from Patrick, Alexis, and Stevie. The tears began to fall as he read the words, biting his lip painfully to contain the welling sobs.

He pulled Patrick’s name up and typed Sherwood Motel, room 13. Don’t text back.

David deleted the outgoing text and left the bathroom. He put his phone back in the pocket of Sebastien’s jeans and perched on the end of the bed, mind spinning. It was 4:07 am.

They’d only been driving for about 30 minutes before they’d stopped; Sebastien had reasoned that in the unlikely event that someone might go looking for David, they wouldn’t look so close to Schitt’s Creek. Would Patrick get here in time? David watched the minutes on the cable box tick slowly by.

When 26 minutes had passed, David startled at a frantic pounding on the door.

“David? David!”

David gasped, heart racing, as Sebastien jolted awake. “Don’t move. Who is that? Tell me right now.”

“Patrick,” David whispered breathlessly, still as a statue. “It’s Patrick.”

Sebastien’s expression shifted to fury, and he dragged David to his feet with a wrench of David’s arm. “What did you do? Tell me.”

“I texted him,” David obliged. “You said I couldn’t call anyone.”

“You—” Sebastien swore, and his hold on David’s arm tightened painfully. “Get rid of him. Tell him it’s over. Tell him he means nothing to you, that you never gave a shit about him. Tell him—tell him you were following commands while you were with him, that it wasn’t real. Break his heart.

David felt the pull of the curse to obey, and cried out; the idea was excruciating.

Please. No, he pleaded with the curse.

Do it, the curse commanded, sounding like Sebastien’s voice in his head.

David’s heart clenched, and a wave of dizziness and pain hit him as he struggled to remain standing. He fought back. No. I can’t do that to him. I won’t.

Do it now. Tell him it meant nothing. Tell him you don’t care about him. Tell him it was all an act. Break his heart.

No! I won’t.

Stomach churning with nausea, trembling, David drew himself to his full height. “No,” he said firmly, and let out a full-body shiver.

“Do it right now!” Sebastien whispered furiously, shaking him.

David wrenched himself from Sebastien’s hold and broke free. He crossed to the door, looked back at Sebastien, who was pulling on his jeans, and then he opened the door, closing it behind him and fixing his tired gaze on the man he loved beyond expression. “Patrick,” he sobbed immediately.

Patrick snatched David up in a bone-crushing hug. “Oh fuck, David,” he rasped out, shaking like a leaf. “I was so scared!”

David soaked in Patrick’s perfect embrace, heart aching over Patrick’s terrified tremors, and pushed him gently back, scanning his beautiful face. “It’s over,” David whimpered. “I’m sorry, Patrick, but it’s over. I—I—”

But as David considered the second part of Sebastien’s command, as he prepared himself to say what the curse had urged, he realized that the place where it had always lived was vacant. There was no pull or push guiding him, no pain or dizziness.

There was no curse forcing him to break Patrick’s heart.

“Tell me to do something,” he whispered urgently.

Patrick looked shocked, then horrified. “David…”

“Do it, please!” he begged.

Patrick hesitated. “Okay. I don’t know what—oh, give me your phone.”

David searched inside himself for the curse and came up empty. He grinned. “No.”

Patrick stared at him, shocked, and then it connected. “Give me your phone,” Patrick repeated, reverent, beaming.

“No. I won’t,” David refused, heart soaring with elation.

David kissed Patrick, the first thing he wanted to do with his freedom.

After several long moments, Patrick pulled away, sniffling, and stroked his hands over David’s face. “God, you’re amazing.”

David flushed with pride, and then he said, “Stay with me?”

Patrick squeezed his hand. “Of course.”

David took the lead as he opened the door. Sebastien was standing right in the doorway, and David let go of Patrick’s hand so he could place both of his hands on Sebastien’s shoulders and shove him bodily inside the motel room.

“Well, Sebastien,” David laughed. “Looks like I’ve broken the curse. So, I mean this with every fiber of my being: sit down, shut the fuck up, and listen.”

Sebastien sat down. David went into the bathroom and got the drenched phone from the cup. “This is yours,” he said when he’d returned, handing it to Sebastien. “Give me my phone.” Sebastien appeared to hesitate for a moment before diligently digging into his pocket and handing it over without a word, expression bewildered but rapidly shifting to frustrated. “Give me my fucking wallet.” Silently, Sebastien dug into his back pocket and gave David his wallet, irritation evident in his jerky movements.

David beamed down at him. “Fuck off. Take your shit and get back in your car. Drive in any direction, don’t care which one,” he added cheerfully, “and get the fuck out of my sight!”

Sebastien opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. He grasped at his throat, clearly trying to make his voice heard. Wait. David… David had told Sebastien to shut the fuck up... and he was complying. Sebastien couldn’t speak!

Whatever Sebastien wanted to say was lost as, with a horrified expression, he complied with David’s order, walking directly to the chair where his bag sat. Incredibly, inexplicably, Sebastien obediently took his shit and walked right out of the room. David trailed him, Patrick at his side, and watched with shock and amazement as Sebastien walked doggedly in the direction of his car. Then he got in, started the ignition, pulled out of the parking lot, and indeed fucked off.

They were outside, David wrapped in Patrick’s lovely, perfect arms, when Stevie peeled into the parking lot, Alexis in the passenger seat. They both threw themselves at the pair, Alexis asking five questions in a row and clutching David’s bicep, and Stevie pressing her face into David’s shoulder for a second.

“I’m so sorry,” Stevie whispered, stricken. “My aunt passed away. I was only gone for a few minutes, I swear. God, David—“

David smoothed her hair back. “Oh my god, you’re not my keeper. It’s okay. Seriously, forget it! He would’ve found a way.” He grimaced. “Sorry about your aunt?”

“Never mind that,” Stevie said impatiently. “Where is he? What happened?”

“Come on. Let’s get breakfast, and I’ll… try to explain,” David said. His face was already sore from smiling.

“The curse must have transferred to him,” David said, a while later. His bacon was the perfect mix of crisp yet not burnt. David shook his head, mystified. “I didn’t know that was possible, but… he did exactly what I told him to do.”

“It certainly seemed like he had to do it,” Patrick agreed.

“Damn,” Stevie said, succinctly. “Serves him fucking right.”

“I think it happened when I said no. I’ve never been able to do that before. He told me…” here, David glanced at Patrick, blushing. “He told me to break your heart, and I couldn’t do it.”

The look Patrick gave him made David’s chest swell with emotion.

“Ew,” said Alexis, but her eyes were shining with tears. “So, you really aren’t cursed anymore?”

“Try it,” David said. “Give me an order. Anything.”

Alexis thought for a moment. “Oh! Drink this milk,” she commanded, pointing at the milk pitcher on the table.

“Fuck off, Alexis,” David said brightly. David drank his orange juice and let the laughter and love of his favourite people surround him, closing his eyes to bask in the rising sun piercing through the window of the cafe.

~*~

David’s breakthrough was astonishing news to every member of the Schitt’s Creek Cursed Support Group. In fact, according to Ray, the information would no doubt prove invaluable to Cursed Support Groups across the globe.

“There were always rumours of being able to break a curse on one’s own, but never any confirmation,” Ray explained, as cheerful as he had ever been. “This is wonderful news! Perhaps I won’t have to hear Roland’s thoughts anymore!”

Alexis decided to stay in Schitt’s Creek for a while. “I’ve always just gone wherever the wind blows. I think I want to stay still for a while.” If David suspected Ted had something to do with her unwillingness to leave Schitt’s Creek just yet, he didn’t say so. He understood something about feeling like this town and its inhabitants had something special to offer.

When David wasn’t busy preparing to open The Rose Garden with Patrick, he was writing freely in his journal, able to tell his story now without obstacle or reservation.

Patrick had his own story to tell, about what it had been like when he’d returned to the motel and David hadn’t answered the door. About how he’d found the poem and understood immediately.

Patrick’s voice shook with emotion as they held each other in Patrick’s bed. “I realized that I might not ever get the chance to tell you how I feel. To tell you that I love you.” David gasped, and Patrick added, “And you don’t have to say it back right away, only when you’re ready. But I’m all in, David.”

David simply curled his arms around Patrick and kissed him, unable to hold back his tears. “I love you.” It was easy to say; he’d loved Patrick for a while, for an embarrassingly long time.

In his spare time, Patrick was helping Stevie work out the kinks of being the sole manager of the motel, which she’d recently inherited from her aunt. David helped by bringing wine, and they would sit on the couch in the lobby and make plans for how to improve the motel. Plans that were, David had to admit, a bit easier to apply than 2000$ bed sheets.

His parents’ joy over David’s breaking of the curse was profound. They called a few days after David’s news to let him know that Richard had tracked Sebastien’s licence plate to an apartment in Brooklyn belonging to one of Sebastien’s pretentious artist friends, whose name David recognized. Johnny and Moira wanted David to take out a restraining order on him, but David explained it wasn’t necessary. He put the kibosh on any further discussion of Sebastien Raine; he had dominated quite enough of David’s precious time and energy.

His thoughts were another story. Although he was free from the curse, there were days and nights David was visited by memories of Sebastien and the damage he’d caused. But his life was beginning to settle, and David knew that with time he would stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. While David’s journey of recovery wasn’t linear, Sebastien’s looming figure was gradually becoming less defined, less central. And David could talk about it now, what Sebastien had done, what David had survived. He could talk openly to the people he’d invited into his life.

David knew for a fact now that he didn’t have to do it all on his own, and that his journey of healing from Sebastien’s abuse was not a solitary one.

David’s hard fought autonomy was something he would never take for granted. He enjoyed being contrary just for sake of it, of refusing even the simplest unthinking commands. It was breathtakingly thrilling to have full control and agency in his choices. He relished in the joy of being able to say no whenever the fuck he wanted.

David was in charge of his own life.

Five weeks from the day David had broken the curse, David and Patrick finally finished setting up The Rose Garden. Patrick suggested they host a Grand Opening event that very weekend, but David suggested a more intimate soft launch and insisted they wait. He pulled Patrick close in the space they’d created together.

“Let’s put it off, just for a few days,” he said, his hands on Patrick’s shoulders. “Now that we’ve broken my curse, I think it’s time to tackle yours.”

In the car on the way to Patrick’s past and, with any luck, their future, David turned his head to watch the town sign shrink in the distance.

David was free to choose his home, and he’d chosen Patrick.