Patrick has always been a tactile person.
It comes with the territory, growing up with Clint and Marcy Brewer as parents. Their home is filled with affection, free with hugs and kisses and easy touches. They‘re the sort of parents who wanted a brood of children and ended up with one, and they pour an entire brood’s worth of love into their joyous curly-haired boy.
(Though they don’t mean to and would be horrified to realise they did, they place a brood’s worth of expectations on his shoulders, too. It will take thirty years, a failed engagement, a cross-province move, a disastrous first date and a perfect first kiss for Patrick to start figuring out how to let go of those expectations.)
The shoulder massages start as a silly little joke, a way for ten-year-old Patrick to try and weasel out of drying the dishes like he’s supposed to. He settles in behind him mom, says something like you look stressed, let me help and will rub away the tension while his dad rolls his eyes in the kitchen with a knowing smile. But he gets good at them, genuinely good, his thumbs learning how to chase down knots and ease them out with the sort of precise, determined gentleness he will later use on his guitar strings. You have healing hands, honey, his mom tells him more than once, and Patrick takes the praise to heart.
When Patrick is in high school his massages become a running joke. Let Brewer give you a back rub, his teammates will say to girls at parties. He’s really good with his hands. And Patrick will laugh along, pretend it’s all a ruse to touch pretty girls and never examine the fact that it feels just as good giving them massages as it does on the occasions when he places his hands on other parts of their bodies later, when he kisses them in dark corners.
Rachel teaches him how to be good with his hands in a whole different way, and unlocks an entirely new way for Patrick to feel satisfaction; making her feel good stokes something deep within him. She revels in the easy way he touches her, the casualness of fingertips stroking her arm or pulling her feet into his lap. When they sleep together he lets his hands roam every last inch of her body, creating a roadmap in his mind of everything she enjoys. Your hands are fucking magic, she moans, muffled into the pillow, and Patrick feels the compliment deep into his bones.
He thinks about studying physical therapy. Healing hands, his mom still tells him even now, and he wants to channel that somehow.
The first time he breaks up with Rachel is when he realises he’s coming up with excuses not to touch her. Bringing his hand to rest in the dip of her waist no longer feels like homecoming but rather playacting; his fingers become restless even as they’re pressing into her skin. He holds her hands when he tells her that he wants to break up, apologetic and guilty, and feels the way her hands tense and tremble under his own. He thinks, for the first time, that his touch isn’t healing but hurting.
When he applies to university, it’s as a business major.
He asks Rachel to dance at prom, and she slips into his embrace as though she never left it. He’s missed her, loves her, and it shouldn’t be a surprise when the end of the night finds them in the back of her car, his hands reacquainting themselves with the intricacies of her body as she arches up into him.
The second time they break up it’s a mutual decision, though that doesn’t make it hurt any less. But they’re going to university on opposite sides of the country and everyone knows long-distance relationships are doomed before they start, so they spend one last night curled up on the divan in Rachel’s parents’ basement with Patrick’s hands rubbing soothing circles into her back, the gesture as comforting to him as it is to her.
It lasts a semester before they find their way back to each other, and at first it feels good. Patrick’s hands know her body in a way they never quite became accustomed to with any of the other few girls he’s dated, and he’s always been a bit of a perfectionist. He feels the way she relaxes into his touch, and wonders if the thrumming, ever-present anxiety under his skin is because he lets any calming energy he might have radiate out from his palms and into the people he cares about. He doesn’t understand why other people’s touches never seem to settle him the way his apparently do for them.
He stops giving massages, irrationally worried that they expend more tranquillity than he can afford to lose.
The back and forth with Rachel becomes a pattern. Over and over, for years, they struggle and they fight and they break up and they get back together, until one day Patrick takes Rachel’s hand in his own and slides a ring onto her finger.
Six months later she’s standing in the kitchen, tears streaming down her face as Patrick tells her I can’t marry you, I’m sorry. He reaches out to touch her face, an instinct borne of thirteen years of letting his hands bring her comfort, but she flinches away. You have no right to do that anymore, she tells him, and she’s right. Still, his hands feel unbearably useless at his sides. They’ll get plenty of use over the next few weeks, as he packs boxes and shakes his boss’ hand and hugs his parents goodbye and grips his steering wheel all the way to southern Ontario as though clutching it as tight as he can is the only way to ensure he doesn’t turn around.
The way he first realises he has feelings for David Rose isn’t in his head, or his heart, or even in his dick. It’s in the way his fingertips tingle when David is around; the instinct to soothe away the frown lines that sometimes appear between his eyebrows; the urge to get his hands on David’s shoulders and unknot the tension that Patrick can see even under those ridiculous sweaters. When David finally kisses him he doesn’t just feel it in his lips but everywhere, radiating through him; his hands ache, actually physically ache with the need to touch but David is pulling away before he can.
The next day after the store closes he learns that if kissing David is like waking up, touching him — really, properly touching him — is being jolted out of bed by a fire alarm. Every part of his body that comes into contact with David’s burns hot, spreading through his nerve endings and making him tremble. David, who apparently takes go slow to heart in a way Patrick couldn’t have anticipated, soothes him with long, gentle strokes along his arms and if this is the way being touched by Patrick has made people feel, relaxed and settled in his skin in a way he can’t remember ever feeling before, he understands now why they’ve been so complimentary.
Soon, Patrick starts putting together a new roadmap. He sets to learning David’s body with the same kind of determination he brings to everything else in his life; learns where and when and how to touch if he wants to make David beg or whimper, make him scream or render him non-verbal. No one has ever touched me like this, David tells him once under cover of darkness, and Patrick knows deep in his soul that he will spend as long as David will let him bridging that gap.
The first time Patrick tells David he loves him, it’s with his hands. David doesn’t hear it, of course, or doesn’t understand it, because David has learned over and over again in the hardest of ways not to trust what his heart is telling him. So instead of saying it, Patrick pours the feeling into his guitar, the declaration made as his fingers form each familiar chord of a beloved song.
David won’t let Patrick touch him after Rachel turns up, and that is by far the most difficult part of the whole situation. He watches David fold in on himself, hears damaged goods come out of his mouth and wants nothing more than to smooth over the cracks. Respecting David’s need for space goes against every instinct in his body but he does it, loads up a plate for him before walking into Rachel’s room with the kind of nervous energy he thought he left behind when he moved to Schitt’s Creek. She listens to his explanations, has a few questions and more tears, but when she accepts a hug from him before he leaves he thinks the familiarity of it brings them both the closure they deserve.
A week later, he’s taking David’s face in his hands and trying not to think about how terrified he was that he might never be allowed to touch David again. You’re going to sit here and think about what you’ve done, he says, but he thinks the joy and relief that’s bubbling through him must pour straight through his fingertips because David’s grin is uncontainable — and infectious, though Patrick manages to keep a lid on it until he leaves, at least.
When he finally works up the courage to say l love you with his words and not his actions he knows that even his hands on David’s shoulders won’t be enough to calm him down so he lets them fall away, giving him the space he needs to regroup. An hour later, David’s reciprocation comes accompanied by the sort of embrace where it’s impossible to tell who is doing the soothing and who is being soothed.
Maybe it’s both. He thinks it’s both.
The first time he truly understands the power of being on the receiving end of a calming touch is when his parents arrive in town for a party that turns out to be more of a surprise than anyone could have anticipated. It’s the first time Patrick has ever allowed himself to just be held, without trying to give something back; he lets David’s love and comfort wash through him, chasing away as much of the fear as it can and leaving courage in its wake.
A few weeks later Patrick is carried up a mountain by his boyfriend, and down it again by his fiancé. They return to even ground to a series of voicemails that start with ‘heart attack’ and end with ‘heartburn’, and after the initial shock of those is over they spend the evening twisted up in the bedsheets, David’s left hand never leaving Patrick’s body, the cool metal of the rings branding promises into his skin.
David is more upset than he lets on that their engagement announcement goes off the rails, so when they get back to the apartment Patrick crawls onto the bed and makes space for David’s body between his thighs. He pulls David into position, tugs his sweater gently over his head and gets his hands on David’s shoulders, thumbs working gently into the tension there. It’s only when he hears David’s shocked gasp that he realises he hasn’t done this in years, not since he moved away. How, in all the ways he touches David, has he never thought to do this?
I don’t know how you do that, David murmurs. It’s like every bad feeling just floats away when you touch me.
Months from now, Marcy will come up to them at their wedding with smiles and hugs and kisses and admiration for how well Patrick was able to pull the last-minute wedding arrangements together, how he Midas-touched it into a golden day. I always thought Patrick had healing hands, she will say to David with a laugh. Patrick will look at his husband (husband!), expecting to see politely hidden disbelief but David will be looking back at him, his overly expressive face showing nothing but love and joy and deep-seated contentment.
You know, Marcy, David will say softly, I think he does, too.