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You can fall

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fall

noun

  1. (music) A downward turn in a melody
  2. (North America) Autumn

verb

  1. To drop or descend under the force of gravity, whether voluntarily or not; to lose balance or collapse - fall apart; down; behind; together
  2. Be captivated by someone

 

One day in the not too distant future.

 

Patrick smiles as he treads carefully along the trail, making sure to leave a clear path for David to follow him. The low-level grumbling is still there behind him, but it’s dropped off a little, and now it’s mainly performative, he thinks. The air is cool and the bugs are minimal—he wouldn’t have suggested this trip in summer—and the cabin they've just left, with its cosy furnishings, oversized bathtub and little fireplace, had done a lot to win him over. As had the host’s gift basket, and maybe it was the suggestion that they burn off a few pre-emptive calories that had convinced David to come on this walk in the first place.

A few steps further through the pines and they breach the clearing Patrick read about in the trail guide, which it turns out has wildly underestimated the phrase “picturesque”. Patrick stops to catch his breath, eyes wide. Behind him, he hears David stumble to a halt as well.

Oh,” he breathes, and when Patrick turns to look at him the expression he sees there rivals the view before them.

They’re about twenty feet from the edge of a stony cliff that drops away sharply into a vast valley that stretches into the distance beneath a darkening sky. The space between is filled with trees, most of which are still green, but some have already started to turn to red and orange and gold, and fog weaves among the dips and hollows. Directly below is a quarry filled with deep blue water, and birds of prey swoop and hover in the updrafts.

“Wow,” Patrick agrees, sliding a hand around David’s waist as he comes level with him. David leans into him instinctively, his arm falling naturally into place around Patrick’s shoulders.

“Well this is nice.” He sounds surprised.

“I told you it’d be worth it,” Patrick chuckles, partly because he already knows that David will refute it.

He does, scrunching up his nose and tilting his head. “I’m not sure the sweat stains on this sweater will agree with you.”

“I said you could borrow a t-shirt.”

David actually grimaces. “And I … politely declined that generous offer.”

Patrick’s laugh is loud and joyous, and it coaxes a smile of satisfaction from David, who turns back to the view.

“Want to get a bit closer?” Patrick knows he’s afraid of heights, so he waits for David, watching as he bites his lip a little, cranes his neck, and with a small smile, nods slightly. Patrick’s heart swells at his brave, brave boyfriend, who likes to think he's nervy, but who constantly steps outside his comfort zone. He takes his hand and gestures forward, lets David steer them a few steps closer to the edge of the cliff.

Cold wind gusts out of the valley and fills Patrick’s nostrils with the scent of water, and fir trees, and the promise of rain.

“We should’ve brought a picnic,” says David, a little wistfully.

“Not sure the rain would have held out for a picnic. You hungry?”

“I was actually thinking this is all very photogenic, but … yes, now that you mention it.”

Patrick smiles. “Well, I might be able to help with that …” He fishes in the pocket of his fleece and brings out a few little foil-wrapped chocolates. “I grabbed these from the gift basket before we left. Figured you might get snacky.”

David is looking at him with an odd, wondering sort of expression, and he takes the chocolates from Patrick’s proffered hand with a smile that’s almost shy. They turn back to the view, and Patrick slides his hands back around David, like he has no choice but to touch him.

“Thanks for doing this with me,” he says, squeezing a little. He likes that they both like different things, but every now and then they both try to do what the other wants, and he appreciates it every time David acquiesces, even if he’ll complain. More than that, he loves it when he can see David having fun doing Patrick things, loves that he can still surprise him, be surprised by him.

David hums and slides a hand up Patrick’s back, idly sinking his fingertips into the base of his hairline. It sends a light shiver down Patrick’s spine, and he breathes deep. Somehow, even without looking, he knows David’s tucking a smile into the corner of his mouth, deciding whether to tease him or not.

“I may not have hated it,” he says, and Patrick can’t help smirking. “It’s kind of beautiful up here.”

There’s a slight hesitance to David’s tone that he’s noticed a couple of times in the last day or two. He turns to face him now, sliding his hands into place around David’s waist, studying his face. “Anything wrong? You’ve been kind of on edge today.”

David bites his lip, and there’s that hesitant look again. Patrick tries to catch his eye, but David’s darting glances around them, the way he does when he doesn’t trust his emotions to stay hidden if he makes eye contact.

“It’s fine,” he says, plucking nervously at Patrick’s hoodie but not moving out of his grasp. “I just, um …”

Patrick frowns a little, concerned. He hasn’t seen him this anxious for a while, but it’s rare that he has no idea where it’s coming from. He watches as David takes a deep breath, and then another. He rubs his thumbs over his hips, trying to remind him that he’s here, that he’s not going anywhere.

“Did you know I once broke up with someone in the middle of their birthday party?”

Sometimes, Patrick thinks, he wishes David would build up to things a little more. His head spins and his brow furrows as he tries to connect dots. While he knows David isn’t telling him this to garner sympathy, he still feels a pang of protectiveness for anything, anyone who has had the audacity and cruelty to hurt this man that he loves. He slides his hands a little further around David’s waist.

“No,” is all he says, waiting for him to go on.

“I’d planned it for them, which is even sadder, although we hadn’t been dating long. Rented out a nightclub for the occasion. I was behind the bar trying to find the maraschino cherries when I heard them talking to someone else about me. Long story short, they were very happy to wait until the end of the party before telling me they had no interest in being with me any further.” Before Patrick can voice his specific and particular review of this piece of human garbage, David waves his hand to stop him. “So I went up to the microphone, told everyone they were rubbish in bed and that the party was cancelled.”

Patrick can’t help it, he kisses him. There are a lot of different emotions wrapped up in that kiss; pride and sorrow and pain and love, always love. David makes a surprised noise, but he also smiles into it, and it’s a moment or two before he pulls away.

“Mm, thank you for that.”

“Thank you,” Patrick teases softly. “Sorry to interrupt.”

“Well. Please hold all further displays of affection until the end,” David grins, but dips in for one more quick kiss before he squeezes Patrick’s hands and lets go, stepping back to put some physical space between them. “I’m trying to be serious here, you know,” he adds, chiding.

“Sorry,” says Patrick again. He shoves his hands in his pockets to keep them at bay. “What’s got you thinking about this?”

David plays with his rings for a bit, “That’s the first time I remember ending it with someone before they could end it with me. It was … a relief, I think. That I could hurt someone before they hurt me. Which when you look at it is a pretty horrible thing to feel relief over, but, well … I was a pretty horrible person back then.”

Patrick shakes his head, wants to reassure him that this isn’t true. But he doesn’t want to distract him again if this is something David needs to get to the end of.

“I don’t know when I stopped believing that it would ever happen … that anyone would ever stay. But I did—stop, I mean, or I wanted to. I think at one point I started seeking out horrible people just so it wouldn’t hurt so much … in hindsight losing the money meant a clean break from all that, because I stopped having any relationships at all after that.” He takes a deep breath, eyes fixed on his silver rings. “And then I met you, and …” He sighs, blinks a couple of times. Patrick’s fingers twitch. “I didn’t want to hurt you. Which only left one option, really. Told myself if we kept it casual it wouldn’t be that bad when it ended. I thought I could get through it without falling for you … but you … nobody has ever made me feel as safe as you do. Nobody has ever made me feel loved. Loved me like you do. And I fell.”

I love you, Patrick wants to say, to shout out across the quarry, have it echo throughout the wide forest.

“Of course, as soon as I realised that, I tried to run, but … you wouldn’t let me. And. I never thanked you properly for that. Thank you for not letting me run.” His dark eyes find Patrick, wide and shining, his face open in a way that he doesn’t allow often. “I think you saved me a little.”

Patrick’s heart aches, the way it only ever does for David. It’s one of those moments he can’t quite believe he got here, can’t quite understand how he got so lucky to have a chance with this man, a chance to fall for him, to care for him, to be entrusted with all the parts he kept safe, kept protected, kept hidden from the world. It seems ridiculous, but he doesn't think he’s ever felt quite so in love with David as he is now, in this moment, hovering between the forest floor and the sky, just the two of them. He wants to wrap him in his arms, to kiss him, to make sure he knows just how loved he really is. 

“You are so much braver than you give yourself credit for,” he says softly, watching with a pang as David’s eyebrows fly up in surprise. “With everything you’ve been through …” he shrugs, helplessly in awe. “I think you’re amazing.”

For someone so practised in hiding his emotions, David is incredibly easy to read when you make the effort to learn how, Patrick thinks. He’s spent more than a year studying the language of David’s face, and he never wants to stop. Right now he looks like he wants to protest the interruption, but is caught between that and sheer pleasure at Patrick’s words.

But before he can continue with whatever he wants to say, though, Patrick jumps in first, because if David thinks that Patrick’s the one who saved him then he needs to know …

“You know the night we met—properly, that is—” (David smirks a little) “That was the first party I’d been to in a while. Part of my attempts to re-join the world a little. I was … I’ve told you it was hard, but—you know when your glass keeps getting topped up in increments and by the end of the night you don’t notice how much of the bottle you’ve gone through? Well … that was me, I think. I thought I was doing okay, going through the motions, living as best as I could, but I wasn’t, really. Living. I was surviving. For the longest time I was just getting from one day to the next.” He looks up at him, fixing his gaze and holding it. “And I couldn't see the difference. I didn't know … until you kissed me. David you made me feel alive again.”

David is staring at him with that warm, determined expression that he remembers from that day in the store, right before he’d kissed Patrick and told him he loved him for the first time. And before Patrick can do it, David steps forward and reaches out to take his hand.

“Patrick, I want to—what the fuck?!”

It’s almost comical, how suddenly the rain has begun; like a meteorological switch has been flicked. It must have been creeping up the valley without either of them noticing, and they’ve been caught abruptly and inescapably in its path.

“Shit,” Patrick mutters; the first thing he thinks is how much David will hate it if his sweater is drenched, so he shoulders his way out of his fleece and flings it over David’s shoulders. Grabbing his hand, he turns to pull them back down the path as quickly as the muddy ground will allow—

—but he is jerked to a halt, jolted back by David’s unyielding grip. Confused, he turns back, blinking the rain out of his eyes to see what’s stopped him. David is standing firm, brows furrowed, looking … well … annoyed.

“Fuck,” he spits out, feet shuffling as he twists on the spot in agitation and indecision. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“David, what’s—”

The sentence is never finished; Patrick’s mouth hangs open, his eyes wide, as David drops to his knees, and once again his first thought is that David hates getting his clothes dirty, so he must have slipped or something—Patrick sinks immediately with him, trying to brace him, as if he can try to cushion his impact, but … that’s not what’s happening …

It takes him a minute.

Oh.

Oh.

Oh my god.

“I had a whole thing planned, I—” David winces, shouting a little over the noise of the rain “—Jesus, where the fuck has all this come from?”

“Storms come up real quick in the mountains,” Patrick mumbles, still staring, eyes impossibly wide, because this can’t be real.

But David huffs and sweeps his hair off his face—one lock falls immediately back over his forehead, water dripping off it, and for half a moment it’s all Patrick can think about. Only half a moment, though, because David is saying things again.

“I was going to do it back at the cabin, but you wanted to go for a walk, and it was such a perfect spot, so I thought I’d—” He shakes himself, looking determined, like nothing, not even a thunderstorm, is going to get in his way just now. Patrick’s in no state to interrupt; it’s all he can do to follow along and keep his hands from shaking too much.

“When you told me you loved me,” David says, “you said you didn’t need me to say it back, you just needed me to know it. So I … I need you to know that, even if your answer’s no, I need you to know how much I love you. This might be the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I still need you to know that. Because you’re it. For me. I want you to be it.” His voice is shaky, and Patrick is pretty sure he's crying now, even though the rain is doing a good job of hiding it. He swallows. “And I know you might not be ready, you might never want to get married at all, I don’t care, I just … I love you, and I want you to be married or not married to me. Forever.”

“David …” It’s more breath than word, and he has no idea—absolutely none—how to finish that thought. Maybe it doesn’t need finishing. Maybe David is the beginning and end of any thought running through his head right now.

The next moment lasts a lifetime, long enough for Patrick’s past to flash before him like a rapid-fire Rorschach test. Thoughts race, a flickering timeline of all the people he's ever loved: Mom and Dad and Rachel and Stevie and Ben and … the images narrow to a mere point, a tiny light in the dark. From the safety of distance he recalls that darkness, how it surrounded him, how he had felt, really believed that he might never escape, might never feel happy, the full extent of his depression not visible until he had started to climb out of it.

But he had, slowly, painfully, and through the darkness that tiny light gets bigger and brighter and warmer, and then it’s all David, David, David

Maybe David hadn’t saved him, exactly, but he’d made him look up, made him want to keep climbing, to haul himself over the edge of the pit, to get to his feet and breathe in and connect with the world again. This man. This beautiful man. And here he is now, the love of his life, asking for forever, however long that might be …

He half expects to feel scared. He knows as well as anyone how brutally, how suddenly and painfully things can end. But it’s David who’s taught him how precious and wonderful and worthwhile the moment can be.

He thinks about the next moment: they’ll stumble and slide their way through the mud and back to the cabin, and Patrick will light the fire, and they’ll shower and change out of their wet clothes, and when David is warm and comfortable once more Patrick will kiss him, and undress him again, and they’ll make love on the bed, or on the floor in front of the fire, or anywhere, really, slow and deep or hard and fast, and once they’ve recovered, once Patrick has stopped shaking, they’ll curl up together in front of the fire, Patrick reading, David on his phone, happy to just be with each other. And then tomorrow …

Tomorrow …

“Patrick?”

… who knows?

David is looking antsy, shouting over the deluge. “I know this is kind of sudden, but the rain is getting … places and … are you ever planning on answering me?”

Patrick grins, because he can’t help it, because he loves to tease him, because the raindrops are mingling with the salt on his cheeks and hiding his own tears. “You ever planning on actually asking?”

David rolls his eyes hard. “Such a troll,” he mutters, then straightens himself, and the rain is really coming down. Patrick reaches up and combs back the sweep of David's hair again. It’s only because he knows he hates to look untidy, even when no one else is watching, but David’s face goes soft again, like he’s touched, like Patrick’s just done something incredibly sweet instead of instinctual.

And his beautiful mouth hooks up into the soft but still knowing smile that Patrick first fell for.

“Patrick Brewer, will you marry me?”

Patrick just looks at him, his beautiful, petulant, generous, sarcastic, soft-hearted, impatient, hilarious, good boyfriend, whom he loves, more than anything, more than he knew he could love someone, who is kneeling in the mud and letting it ruin his clothes just to ask him this. He thinks of the first time he saw him, leaning against the wall in the corner, hugging his Vampire Shirt. Thinks of the first time he kissed him, pressed against a lightning bolt under a blanket of stars, thinks of how it felt, like waking up from a long, dark sleep, like breathing free air, like falling. He thinks of their life together, what it is, what it could be, warm and fun and challenging and imperfect and right.

And Patrick smiles. He fucking glows.

 

*