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gravity

noun

  1. The force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass.

         Similar: attraction

  1. Extreme importance; seriousness.

 

It should have come with a warning: this party has zero chance of being anything other than painful, and no amount of alcohol will change that. Then again, if he hadn’t come tonight, the same would be true for the next party; it was always going to suck.

It’s been more than four years since he’s done this kind of thing, gone somewhere without backup, without Stevie or someone else to effectively hold his hand through the socialising and leave as soon as “painful” turns into “unbearable”. If he wants to leave this time, he’s going to have to make his own excuses. Or not, because he’s not sure anyone would miss him. He feels a bit like a spectre at the feast. At least they’re mostly strangers – around friends he just feels bad for bringing the mood down. Here, no one knows him well enough to feel bad on his behalf, so he’s only depressing himself.

Patrick sighs into his beer and takes a long sip. Twenty more minutes. Twenty more and he’s allowed to go home, safe in the knowledge that he tried, that he “got back out there”. He’s had discussions with Stevie about what constitutes being “out there” and after some argument they settled on 100 minutes – long enough to have been seen, not long enough to get too drunk and make a fool of himself. But he’s forgotten, somehow, how to function in social situations. So he mostly hugs the wall, nods and smiles at the edges of group discussions, and, if pressed, makes small talk around the beer fridge. Speaking of which …

“Just going to get another,” he mutters to the others in the circle, forcing the corners of his mouth upwards in what he can only assume is a completely unconvincing smile. But they’re not bothered, and Patrick is grateful, so he heads off to the kitchen.

It’s empty, and there’s more gratitude for that. If he plays his cards right, he might be able to wait out ten of the remaining twenty minutes in here by himself. He grabs another beer out of the fridge and looks around for the recycling bin.

“Empty?”

Not alone, then. A man stands framed in the opposite doorway, holding a bottle of something and watching him. Patrick blinks.

“Uh … yeah. Do you know where the—”

“Here.” They guy has his hand outstretched, and after the briefest of hesitations, Patrick hands over his empty bottle by the neck, careful not to brush fingertips. He’s not sure when he started doing that. He knows it’s been a while, though.

Unbothered, the guy takes it, and bends down behind the bench to place it in the plastic bin underneath. Patrick’s bottle clinks loudly against the other empties.

“Thanks,” he offers awkwardly. His instinct is to leave, but he’s just noticed something about this guy. “I know you …” he says slowly, uncertainly.

It’s hardly flattering, but the other guy chuckles. It’s a nice sound, Patrick thinks, cautiously.

“Yeah,” says the guy, his grin sliding into a smirk. “I think you, uh, tried to flirt with me once.”

And now Patrick recognises him. Vampire Shirt. A million years ago, at a party he hadn’t thought twice about, before everything really took off, this guy stood in a kitchen, not unlike this one, wearing a shirt blazoned with a mouth and bloody fangs, teasing Patrick.

The guy’s use of the word “tried” is correct; Patrick can recall it vividly now. To his surprise, though, he huffs out a laugh at the memory. “Right,” he says, looking down at his beer again. “Sorry about that.”

Vampire Shirt is still smiling, though. “No apologies necessary. It was, uh …” he ducks his head and looks up at Patrick from under his lashes, “… it was cute.”

Patrick feels his smile falter. He swallows. “If I remember correctly, you told me I had no game.” Vampire Shirt laughs again, and there’s a tightening in Patrick’s chest. He wants to leave, now, to escape the discomfort, but this is what he’s here for, after all. Just get through one conversation and it’ll be easier the next time.

Or so he’s been telling himself. It never seems to get easier.

“If I remember correctly, you were giving out some low-key stalker vibes,” says Vampire Shirt, leaning against the counter, looking so at ease with himself that Patrick feels a pang of envy shoot through him. He takes a sip and adds, innocently, “Which is not no game …”

This time Patrick feels himself smile without prompting. It’s novel enough to make note of, even if it’s tempered by everything else that’s going on. “Just not good game,” he agrees, wanting despite himself to make Vampire Shirt laugh again, if only for the comfort it brings that he’s functioning at a somewhat normal level.

He’s successful in making him laugh, but isn’t sure he’s completely happy about it. He takes the moment to really look at him; he’s striking, with dark hair, wide eyes—brown, he thinks, or black, but somehow still bright—broad shoulders, broad chest …

He needs to stop now. He clears his throat, ready to make his excuses and leave (it’s close enough to 100 minutes, surely, especially if he hits the bathroom before he goes, and this feels like progress) when Vampire Shirt speaks first.

“Feel like getting some air?”

Something inside clenches, and suddenly Patrick’s body is thrumming on high alert, because he’s unpractised, sure, but he’s not an idiot. He can read the vibe in a room as much as the next guy, and, well, the next guy is asking him to step outside. What’s interfering with things is that he thinks he could do it, thinks he might want to. It’s not a big deal, he tells himself. And turn around and leave, now. And oh, fuck.

Eventually, aware of how awkward he must look, he manages to nod slowly, and the guy turns and tilts his head towards the sliding doors, smiling back at him. Patrick takes a drink to hide his swallow, and goes after him, stepping out into the night air.

It’s a little colder than it was earlier, and Patrick wishes he’d brought a jacket. He looks up and keeps his eyes fixed on the stars as he hears Vampire Shirt close the door behind them. He should call him something else in his head. Lightning-bolt Shirt. Sweater. He can feel the weight, the crushing weight of expectation, but stubbornly refuses to allow that anything is different: they’re just standing in a different location.

“I’m David, by the way.”

Patrick looks down at the hand offered to him. It’s just a handshake. He’s given a thousand of them.

“Patrick,” he nods, taking David’s hand and letting go after a second or two.

“So would you say the music’s gotten better or worse since we got here?”

Patrick chuckles, glad for the levity. “Oh I don’t know. I think the food is really the more concerning aspect.”

David laughs, and Patrick thinks again that he likes the sound. “The cheese sticks.”

“The cheese sticks!” Patrick agrees, his face lighting up for the first time as he feels the tension slip away. “Who serves cheese sticks outside of the 1980s?”

“Same person who thinks devilled eggs are correct party food,” says David.

Patrick grins. “Don’t tell me.”

“Oh yes, thankfully in short supply. Especially once I put them in the compost bin.”

Patrick laughs, takes a sip of his drink.

“Almost as bad as the beer selection,” David adds, nodding at the bottle in Patrick’s hand. Patrick pauses with the mouth of the bottle still at his lips. He can feel a laugh bubbling up in his throat.

I brought this beer,” he says, deadpan, and he can almost feel David laughing at him.

“Oh, I figured,” he says.

Patrick can’t help it. He turns to look at David, whose eyes are sparkling with unapologetic mirth, and his cheeks kind of ache from the grin spreading across his own face.

“Can’t all be, what …” he tilts his head to check “… ginger ale men!” The last is delivered with glee and triumphantly raised eyebrows, but David just laughs and takes a long swig while Patrick … watches. Hm.

Back to star-gazing, then.

“Not a drinker?” he asks, steering to safer waters.

“Not tonight.” Out of the corner of his eye he sees David is looking up at the sky too, shaking his head. “My place is in Kensington, so it was easier to drive out here,” he adds by way of explanation. “Plus my sister said she needed to, and I’m quoting, ‘get drunk enough to lower her standards’ tonight.”

“Ah,” says Patrick. “So you’re designated driver.”

David snorts. “So I was informed, until I got a text from her about ten minutes ago letting me know that she’s found another ride. Single entendre very much intended, if the accompanying emojis are anything to go by.”

Patrick bites back a grin. “Elegant.”

“Isn’t she?” David cocks his head at Patrick, his face scrunched-up in amusement.

“Last week my friend Stevie took me out to celebrate me getting my MBA, insisted on paying, then conveniently forgot her wallet.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah, which she also neglected to tell me about until after she’d ordered the second bottle of champagne.”

David’s expression is one of barely suppressed amusement. “And it was just the two of–”

“Just the two of us, yeah. I also paid for cab fares.”

David laughs openly at that. “I mean I guess it’s the thought that counts?”

“Is it, though?” Patrick counters, and his grin widens as David laughs again. In a flood of good humour, Patrick holds out his beer bottle. “To friends like these,” he says.

David clinks his ginger-ale. “To friends like these. What would we do without them?”

“Have more money, maybe?”

“I’ve seen the pretentious craft beer you spend your money on, so, I think we both know that’s not true.”

This time Patrick’s laugh is one of surprise. It’s been a while since someone’s jabbed at him like that.

“Guess you’re stuck getting abandoned at parties, then,” he slings back.

“True,” David concedes, looking back up at the stars. After a pause, he continues: “Could be worse, though.” Patrick turns a questioning eyebrow his way. David, whose smirk is tucked into a corner of his mouth, glances down at him, and the teasing in his eyes has been replaced with … something else. “Current company is pretty great.”

And just like that, Patrick’s thrumming again. His insides do a complicated swoop, and he’s not sure if it’s the beer or the mood lighting or the fact that this is the first person he’s connected with in a very long time, but …

Don’t look at his mouth. Do not look at his mouth.

Patrick’s gaze drops to David’s mouth.

His body is reacting without permission from his brain. In fact, his brain appears to have momentarily gone offline. There is thunder in his ears and his mind is blank except for I want. All he can feel is every nerve ending pushing him closer to the man beside him, the man who is leaning in, who is raising a hand to Patrick’s neck …

It’s his first kiss in four years.

It’s his first kiss in four years and he feels it right down to his toes, feels the goosebumps race from where David’s fingers brush the short hairs at the base of his neck, tastes the ginger-ale on his lips, presses closer for more, wants to reach out, but his hand is clenching on his beer bottle and it’s new, and it’s different, and it’s really fucking good, and it’s all too much and—

“Sorry,” he gasps, stepping back and looking dumbly at where his beer bottle has shattered onto the deck.

David doesn’t seem worried, although Patrick can hear him breathing hard. “It’s fine,” he says, softly, but Patrick’s brain has rebooted, and his hand is shaking where it rubs his mouth. He can feel the pressure building behind his eyes and turns away, willing it to stop, willing everything to stop …

“Hey …”

David’s voice is gentle, and Patrick hates it, because if there’s one thing that’ll make him lose it … Out of the corner of his eye he sees David move as if to reach out towards him, and he tugs his arm in before they can touch.

“Everything okay over there?”

Patrick hears the strangled sob before he realises he’s the one who’s choked it out, and that his cheeks are already wet, and oh hell.

Patrick groans through a heaving breath, scrubbing his face with his hands. “I’m sorry, this is …”

There’s a hand on his back, and the pressure is grounding if he doesn’t think about who is providing it.

“You’re okay, it’s okay …”

But it’s not, is the thing. It’s not okay. It’s almost laughable how not okay it all is. Oh god, he’s laughing now, a sort of unhinged, mirthless sound, and this poor guy.

“I’m so fucking sorry,” he gulps out. “It’s not … I’m not normally …” The pressure on his back increases gently, slides soothingly across his shoulder blades, back and forth, back and forth, and the rhythm helps slow his breathing. He takes a deep, shaky breath, wipes his face, and forces himself to look up.

David’s dark eyes are filled with concern … and a little alarm, but Patrick supposes that’s fair enough. He deserves an explanation, though. Oh god, he hates this part.

“My …” His first attempt gets stuck in his throat, so he swallows and tries again. “I haven’t done that since …” he hates what David’s face is going to do in a few seconds, but he has to explain, needs him to know that it’s not him … “… since my fiancé died.”

 

*

Patrick tells him everything then. Well, not everything, David supposes, but the salient points. The guy, the relationship, the engagement, the accident. He can see Patrick pulling himself together to get through it, and while normally David would be employing a ten-foot pole, to his surprise he feels his heart aching for other man. And yes, he is relieved that it’s nothing that he did, because, well, there’s always a chance.

It’s been a long time since David has admitted any allegiance to the cult of true love. In fact he remembers many an occasion in which he has stated with certainty and in front of witnesses that love happens exclusively in fairytales, not in and around the greater Toronto area, and specifically nowhere near David Rose.

Deep down he suspects that he hasn’t quite learnt to walk the walk. Each time he’d met someone, and with plenty of evidence to the contrary, a seedling of hope lifted its naïve little head. In spite of himself, his hopes have remained elastic, but not effortlessly so. Really, it’s taken a lot of willpower (and Alexis’s nagging) to come here tonight, and he hadn’t expected to enjoy it, but then he’d gone into the kitchen for one last drink …

He hadn’t recognised Patrick at first, just a vague sense of familiarity, and then those eyes had widened at him and something like a current had rushed through his body and god, David wanted him. Wanted his teasing wit and his deprecating smirk and, yes, if he was being blunt, his arms, shoulders, thighs … so he’d put out the offer to join him on the outside deck. He was only mildly surprised when Patrick had accepted, more so to discover that he … liked him. If it were possible to warm to a person instantly then Patrick is like a fucking fireplace. This strange mix of confidence and uncertainty, of sarcasm and wit, of kindness and vulnerability underneath it all …

And so David had kissed him. And Patrick had kissed him back. And time had stopped just a little, not to be too melodramatic, as it focused on Patricks lips, and the light tug of his teeth on David’s lower lip, and the heat of his skin under David’s fingers, and then …

Well. Then.

David is perversely reassured to find that enough of his character—such as it was—remains that he still feels the itch that has always preceded running away. But the fact also remains, novel though it is, that he needs to make sure that this man is okay. So, odd though it is, here he sits, on a deck he has kicked clear of broken glass, with his hand on Patrick’s broad back.

“I’m, um … I’m really sorry,” he says weakly, wishing fervently that he could think of something more helpful, more original, just … more.

Patrick shakes his head, with a half-hearted smile. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay, but it’s not your fault. Really.”

David winces and rolls his eyes. “No, but you probably didn’t need me to kiss you right now.” His arm is still attached to Patrick’s shoulder blades, rubbing in idle circles. He wonders vaguely if he should stop touching him.

His comment elicits a choked kind of laugh. “It’s really all right.” And he does sound a little better, for all that David can tell.

“Well. It looks it,” he jokes, relieved when Patrick laughs again, this time more naturally. “And don’t worry. This is actually not the worst reaction I’ve had to a kiss before.”

It’s Patrick’s turn to wince. “I don’t think you should take this as a reflection on your kissing,” he says in a low voice, and David actually sways towards him a little, drawn in by his gravity.

Whoa, boy.

“So you’re … I mean …” he waves his hand around descriptively, “okay?”

Patrick looks at him as though David has said something much more touching, as though he’s done something truly of note.

“I’m okay,” says Patrick, and to David his voice sounds raspy in a way that does something ridiculously pleasant to his insides. For a moment their eyes lock, and when Patrick looks down again David realises he’s been holding his breath. “To be honest,” Patrick continues, though it looks like it takes some effort, “that was the first time in a long while that I haven’t felt completely miserable.”

David tries not to let his face light up. He isn’t sure he’s succeeded. “Well,” he mutters, tempering his own inappropriate reaction, “there’s a ringing endorsement.” Another laugh from Patrick, another thrill up David’s spine.

“Believe me,” says Patrick, more steadily, “if you knew what I’ve been like you’d be glowing.” David’s eyebrows fly upwards. “I mean—if you—Jesus, what is the matter with me …”

As Patrick scrubs his hand over his face, David can’t help smiling. He likes this guy.

And it’s just that David wants to make him smile again, make him feel okay, make him feel … not completely miserable … it’s just that he thinks he might actually be able to help for once …

“Patrick,” he says softly, aware of how fragile this feels, aware that it’s probably a bad idea, aware and completely indifferent, because those eyes … “It’s okay to need something that makes you feel …” —Jesus, the air is getting heavy again— “I mean I don’t know what you’re thinking right now but if you …”

If you want me

From Patrick’s expression, it looks like he’s filling in the blanks in David’s inarticulation. His expression changes from confusion to understanding to interest to extreme interest before reverting to confusion once more. Hoping it’s not coming across as sleazy, David lifts his hand off Patrick’s shoulder and rests it on his own knee, palm upwards, offering.

“I’m not trying to get you to do anything, I’m just saying … if you’d like to …” He trails off as Patrick, hesitant and somewhat dazed, reaches out his hand and puts it in David’s, slowly linking their fingers together. It’s warm, and there are callouses on his fingers.

David’s heart races, his body vibrating, and this is such a bad idea for him …

Then Patrick seems to fall towards him—as though drawn by the same inexplicable gravity—until his lips meet David’s.

David feels Patrick’s hand tighten in his own, feels his other hand at his neck, pulling him closer. Testing a hypothesis, David licks his tongue out to Patrick’s lips—the other man whimpers softly and opens his mouth to David, and the feeling swirling in his stomach triples and rushes throughout his entire body, and he’s never felt—

Patrick draws back, but only so far as to drop his forehead against David’s. David can feel his breath on his lips, can see his chest heaving. He can relate; it’s been a long time since a kiss has done that to him.

“What do you need, Patrick?”

He doesn’t mean for it to come out as a whisper, but he hopes that it at least hides some of the desperation he knows is radiating off him.

God, he wants him.

Patrick lifts his forehead from David’s, and for a long moment just searches his eyes in silence. Then, in a quiet, broken voice, he says, “I just need to feel … good … for a while.”

David, shoving down the last of his own cautionary thoughts, nods steadily and gets to his feet, still holding Patrick’s hand. He helps him up and, with a deep breath, murmurs, “Okay.”

 

*

Patrick can’t say how long it takes them to get to David’s apartment. He‘s fairly sure they take a cab, but he doesn’t think they speak the whole way there, or at least he doesn’t—his head too foggy, too consumed with want, too reluctant to think about whether he should be doing this, whether he’s ready, whether—

Nope. He cuts off that thought with a shake of his head, refusing to think his way out of this. For one moment back there on the deck—two moments, really—he felt free of the weight that has taken up residence in his bones, and he wants to cling to it, to chase it, to know it better. He turns his thoughts back to that last kiss, to the way David’s tongue had danced against his, how alive he’d felt. He hasn’t felt like that since—

Nope.

Before he knows it, though, he’s following David up to his door, his heart in his mouth, his nerves jangling.

Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think.

He focuses on David’s back, his soft sweater, his broad shoulders, his height, the back of his neck … the fog settles again, and follows them inside.

While David locks the door behind them, Patrick lets the interior of the apartment distract him. It is warmly decorated, tasteful, spare but not minimalist, with an eye towards beauty, perhaps even over comfort. Textures everywhere: exposed brick, smooth boards underfoot, a pristine fluffy white throw across the back of the couch.

David brushes past his shoulder and immediately Patrick’s body is thrumming again. The taller man settles in front of him and, smiling, reaches up to gently squeeze Patrick’s shoulder; Patrick closes his eyes and leans into the touch. Then they are kissing again, and he’s back in that fog, nothing but the two of them and the feeling of David’s lips and tongue, and the swoop in his belly … he feels his hand start to shake, and reaches out to bury it in David’s sweater.

And David is guiding him now, gently pushing them deeper into the apartment, down the hall, the heat in their kisses increasing, Patrick’s heartrate following suit. This is happening, they’re doing this, he’s—

The backs of his legs hit a mattress—

“Wait, wait, I don’t—I don’t know …”

David stops immediately.

Patrick feels his face flush with heat, equal parts arousal and deep embarrassment. His eyes clench shut, hand gripping David’s arm tightly, though whether to pull him in or hold him back Patrick doesn’t know.

“It’s okay,” David murmurs, with a squeeze to Patrick’s shoulders. Patrick finally looks up to see him pressing his lips together—lips swollen from contact with Patrick’s—his brow furrowed, dark eyes a little lust-cloudy but concerned. Patrick wants to apologise, to try to explain, but before he can, David has let go of his shoulders and is gesturing to the bed behind him, gently urging him to sit. He does, and David sits beside him. Leaning forward onto his knees, Patrick sighs.

“Sorry,” he says quietly, feeling foolish. What kind of man goes home with a stranger—practically begs him to fuck him—and then chickens out the minute they reach the bedroom?

It’s just sex, for god’s sake.

He should have known better; he’s never been one for hooking up, not even when he was in college, back before he knew he was gay. But tonight—tonight he had thought he could run a little, get a little further away from himself, try to lose himself in the fog.

No such luck.

“It’s okay,” David is saying, and he doesn’t sound annoyed, or frustrated. “We don’t have to do anything, you know. I can call you a cab if—”

“No!” It comes out more forceful than intended, but despite everything Patrick does not feel ready to leave just yet. He tries again: “I know, I just …” He huffs in frustration and tries to think of what to say. He settles on, “I’m in my head,” because it sounds better than I’m freaking out because I haven’t had sex in four years and I think I want to and I’m terrified, but I want to just get it over with. He rubs his hand over his mouth to stop himself saying anything close to the latter.

“So … so we should talk for a bit,” says David, sounding calm. Patrick looks up in surprise, but he just shrugs. “Get you out of your head for a bit.”

Patrick gives a doubtful smile. “Talk about what?”

David rolls his eyes and appears to give it a bit of thought. “I don’t know. What do you like to do on the weekends?”

What is it about this man, Patrick wonders, feeling his smile widen as he watches David’s hands twist in the air to illustrate his words. What is it that made him feel completely knocked off his feet but at the same time so … safe? He’s like a walking display of contradictions: all hard angles and soft expressions, delicate gestures and unmistakeable masculinity.

“On the weekends?”

“Mhm.”

“I don’t know, David,” he admits with a faint laugh. “I catch up on laundry, go grocery shopping—” amused, he watches as David rolls his eyes again, waving his hands to hurry him through what he obviously thinks of as the boring stuff. A chuckle rises out of Patrick’s throat, unbidden. “Then it’s all performance art and jello wrestling,” he adds, and felt a tiny thrill when David smiles at him.

“Sounds very hygienic.”

Another laugh. Since when does he laugh this much?

“I watch baseball. I read. I go on hikes.”

David quirks an eyebrow. “You’re an outdoorsman. Figures.”

Patrick has a vague thought that he should be insulted, but he just feels charmed. He smirks right back at David.

“Figures what?”

David waves his hand again, but his smile undercuts the dismissive gesture. “Your shoes,” he says simply, as if that explains it. Patrick looks down at his shoes: rubber soled, engineered for walking. He glances sideways at David’s pristine sneakers and feels his smirk widen as he compares the two.

“Can’t fault you on that logic.”

“Mhm.”

“All right then, David, what do you do on weekends?” He’s beginning to enjoy this back and forth. It feels … it feels like flirting.

“The usual. Watching trash TV. Spending hours filling up shopping carts online only to discard them because I can’t actually afford all the things I want. Eating my weight in pizza.”

Patrick grins. “Wow. That’s a lot of pizza,” he teases, and thrills again at the sharp look David shoots him to let him know the jab has landed.

Okay. Please don’t try to tell me you’re a health nut, because this?” he says, gesturing wildly at Patrick’s general person. “Isn’t the body of a vegan.”

Patrick looks down at himself and then up, feigning innocence. “Too much muscle?”

David laughs and raises an eyebrow. He runs a hand up and down Patrick’s arm, squeezing a little on his bicep, with a knowing smirk that serves to bring Patrick’s awareness back to what has brought them here in the first place. He feels his body wake up again, but this time the thrumming is contained to a low hum, his heart pounding a more manageable pace. Swallowing, he reaches out to touch the lightning bolt on David’s sweater.

“I like this,” he says softly. He doesn’t meant it to sound … well … seductive. He doesn’t mean anything. He just wants to touch it. But he hears David’s breath hitch a little. So he rests his palm against David’s chest, let the pads of his fingers press into the fabric and the firmness underneath … He looks up.

David’s eyes are dark and glittery, black pools of banked heat. Patrick feels himself tighten, shuddering softly on his exhale. They stay like that for a moment, close but not close enough, before Patrick decides it’s his turn to make a move. So he leans forward, pausing with his lips an inch away from David’s, glancing up to see his eyes have closed in anticipation.

“David …” he whispers, and removes the distance between them.

 

*

David understands sex. He loves sex. It’s one of the few aspects of his life in which he feels comfortable in knowing how to handle himself. And while he might not be too good for seduction and incitement, even a dash of manipulation, he also isn’t interested in trying to change anyone’s mind, or in sleeping with anyone who doesn’t express the gold standard of enthusiastic consent. And it isn’t as though he hasn’t ever encountered second thoughts amongst his partners; in such cases they usually either stammer out an excuse or leave without a word.

But … as has been proved time and again tonight, Patrick is different.

When his hand presses into David’s pectoral muscle, a disproportionate jolt of longing shoots straight from that part of his chest to his groin. And then Patrick just looks at him like that. And David knows that those eyes are going to be the death of him.

Or maybe it will be that mouth … because they’ve somehow managed to arrange themselves on the bed, Patrick on his back and David leaning over him, engaging in some truly spectacular making out. And then Patrick kicks the intensity up a notch, manoeuvring David’s head just where he wants him, and he hears himself moan—moan, for god’s sake—and David is gone.

Nope, none of that. Remember why you’re here. Just make him feel good.

Reluctantly, he turns away from Patrick’s mouth to drop kisses down his jawline, down to his neck. Unable to help himself, he bites softly at the skin there, revelling in the soft hiss that it draws from Patrick before soothing the spot with his tongue.

“Patrick,” he whispers breathily, moving to the skin below his ear—a whimper from Patrick momentarily shorts his thinking— “Tell me what you need.”

Patrick, whose hands have not been idle, and are currently sliding under David’s sweater to drag along the fabric of the t-shirt underneath, sounds dazed. “I don’t … I don’t know, I just … I want … god, I want …”

Fuck. David briefly draws his earlobe into his mouth. “Tell me,” he whispers. “I’ll make you feel good.” God, he wants to make him feel good. He wants to take him apart, slowly, carefully, ease the weight that has settled on those beautiful shoulders, draw those sounds from that pale throat.

“Oh god, David,” Patrick breathes, and the sound of his name uttered like this goes right to David’s cock. He isn’t the only one so affected, either, if the way Patrick is slowly thrusting upwards is any indication. “I just … I want to feel you.”

Patrick tugs again at David’s sweater, and he leaves his ministrations to relieve himself of it. It isn’t enough, evidently; Patrick sits up and reaches out to make quick work of the tee underneath before pulling David back to his mouth for a kiss. David lets him steer the kiss as he slides Patrick’s sweater and t-shirt up his chest and over his head as one, tossing them to the side. Then he presses forward to encourage Patrick to lay back, repositioning himself so they are chest to chest.

Patrick lets out a sigh at the contact, and now it’s this that’s going to kill David off. Wildly, he imagines he could come to that sound alone, given time. As it is he just wants more, more of everything, but forces himself to rein in and let Patrick set the pace for now.

And he does: his hands are everywhere at once, sweeping over David’s back, fingers dragging up across his chest hair and sliding into the thick hair on his head to card over his scalp. David bites gently against Patrick’s lower lip, hears him growl deep in his throat, and shivers.

Okay. Time to take back control. Now. Now, now, now.

“Patrick …” is as far as he gets before Patrick grinds his hips upwards into David’s, and oh.

Control. Now.

“Do you … do you want me to make you come, Patrick?” David manages at last, and oh god, the groan that answers him sends his own eyes rolling up into his head. Fuck. Fuckitty fuck. Death, slow and utterly satisfying.

“Please,” follows, more whimper than word, but enough to get Patrick’s point across.

Okay then. He can do this. But first … “I think maybe you … maybe it’s best if we steered clear of anything too … intense.” David grinds out the words as Patrick kisses his neck slowly, hungrily.

“Mhm.”

“But, if you want, we can take these … off?” He lowers his hand to the button of Patrick’s jeans, looking up to gauge his reaction. This part matters, the consent. It’s something David hasn’t always been granted, and he’s damned if he isn’t going to make sure Patrick knows exactly what he wants and what they’re doing.

Patrick’s eyes, dazed and hooded, follow David’s hand to his fly, and flicker back up again. David watches him draw in a shuddering breath before he nods, slowly at first and then with more conviction. David stops him with his mouth while his fingers set to work, and with more haste than grace has lowered Patrick’s jeans. He stands to slide them off his legs, and, noticing that Patrick is watching, slowly rids himself of his own jeans.

Now that they’re both naked save for their boxer-briefs, David hesitates—it might be best for them to keep some kind of barrier between them for now—they’ve only really just met, after all. He’s about to articulate this when Patrick reaches out and his fingertips brush David’s thigh, and, well, David is only human.

He lowers himself carefully, pressing the length of his body along Patrick’s, eyes slipping shut as he hears that sigh again. He joins their mouths once more, hungry now for the taste of him. And then Patrick’s hands slide to the small of his back and press down firmly as he raises his own hips to grind against David—

“Oh fuck …” Patrick is hard. Really, gorgeously hard. And neither of them are going to last long, not if Patrick means to keep up this pace. But it’s his pleasure they’re chasing, after all, and so David leans into it, pressing back down against him.

He’s had plenty of practice in making other people feel good, and Patrick’s responsiveness makes it pleasurably easy to navigate his wants and needs, to find the rhythms and pressure points that will push him closer to the edge, will draw those sounds from him. He likes it, draws gratification from being able to take someone apart like this, and Patrick is coming apart so beautifully beneath him.

And yet … usually there is a clear delineation between giver and receiver. Usually, David’s enjoyment is safely humming below the point of no return. But with Patrick … every time Patrick groans against his lips he feels a tremor go through him, and it’s blurring the line between them. He isn’t used to having his composure be so easily shaken, to be so close to losing—or worse, giving up—control in this kind of situation. Right now it’s a struggle to hold onto it, like peering over the edge of a thousand-foot drop and feeling the temptation to get closer. It feels … to be honest it feels exhilarating, but that’s scary in and of itself.

“Patrick … oh my god, Patrick,” he hears himself growl, knowing he would never have sanctioned those words if his brain had had a say in it. But it doesn’t. They drop from his mouth into Patrick’s without his permission, and it shocks him enough to wrest back control over his own mind. He takes over the rhythm, increases the pace gently, begins to deepen his hips, to press more intently against Patrick’s cock and linger on the grind. On cue, Patrick starts to pant against David’s mouth.

“Oh god … that feels … you feel … feel so good.”

That’s better. David reaches between them and closes his hand over Patrick’s erection through his underwear. The noise from Patrick’s throat is drawn out and guttural, and David starts stroking in earnest, still rocking his hips down against him. He picks up speed, changing his thrusts to short, strong movements, until finally he feels Patrick’s whole body shake beneath him, and he’s coming and coming and coming against David, a delicious, drawn-out moan lifted from his throat. David rocks him through his orgasm, slowly steadying the pace until Patrick stills beneath him, eyes closed, chest heaving. Short of breath himself and not a little proud, David is about to get up and take care of himself when Patrick, eyes still closed, tightens his arm around David’s waist, sliding his other hand down to his groin—he finds David’s aching cock and with languorous intent presses his palm against it. It’s so unexpected a move that David moans, finds himself pushing back instinctively. Patrick’s hand tightens around him through his underwear, and David bites his lip against a whimper. That gets more difficult when Patrick fixes his mouth to David’s shoulder, biting gently against the skin there as he kisses his way along to his neck.

Oh my god …” David breathes, rocking harder against Patrick’s hand.

Distantly, he considers backing away from it, back over that invisible line, but it’s too good, Patrick’s hand too delicious, his mouth too insistent, and it isn’t long before David’s own body is shuddering its release, harder than it has a right to from this kind of contact.

As the haze of his orgasm lifts, David sighs. Giddily, he wonders if Patrick will mind if he stays here on top of him for the rest of the night. Instead, he reluctantly pushes himself off Patrick’s panting chest and heads for the bathroom. A quick clean-up for himself, and then it’s back with a warm washcloth to take care of Patrick. His limbs are pliant and sex-drunk, and it’s easy enough to rid him of his boxer-briefs. As he deposits the cloth in the hamper and joins him on the bed, David notices Patrick’s shoulders are hitching, a sound bubbling from his lips in a surprised sort of laugh. David smiles, bemused, and is about to start teasing when the chuckles take a turn into something else. Something wrong.

Oh god.

Patrick is crying.

And not just tears, but heaving with it.

Horror-struck, David fights against his natural reaction: panic. Uncomfortable with displays of vulnerability at the best of times, the sight of his one-night stand coming unglued like this should send him running. Like, out of his own apartment, running. Instead he freezes in place, an intensely uncomfortable sensation coiling in his stomach as he tries to think of how best to act. He rakes his mind frantically back over his actions, trying to see if he’s misunderstood, has missed a cue, something that should have told him to stop. But … no. He’s pretty sure they’ve negotiated clearly enough, and Patrick certainly seemed to enjoy himself until a minute ago. Some people have experienced regret, sure, but it isn’t usually until at least a few hours afterwards, and it isn’t as though either of them are cheating on—

And as Patrick buries his face in his hands, now shaking with body-wracking sobs, David finally gets it.

“Oh Patrick.” All thoughts of running vanish, replaced with a deep sadness, and before he can think better of it, he’s pulled the other man into his arms, holding tight and enveloping him in all the warmth he can gather. He’s never heard a man weep so uncontrollably, so full of grief, and it squeezes his heart to hear it come from Patrick.

He has no idea whether he’s helping or hurting, but Patrick is sinking into David’s embrace, so he keeps going, running his hands up and down his back in what he hopes is a soothing manner. “It’s okay. I’ve got you,” he murmurs over and over in time with his touch. “I’ve got you.”

By the time his body has stopped shaking, Patrick is asleep.

 

*

He feels so heavy.

Not painful, but weighted, as though he has sunk into the mattress in his sleep, like all his muscles have given up trying to keep him afloat and have let him sink down, down into oblivion. Waking is like rising gently up through warm treacle, and when he breaches the surface Patrick feels his body jolt slightly at the difference.

He doesn’t recognise this bedroom.

It takes a moment for the events of the night before to rush back into the white space in his mind, culminating in the memory, before he fell asleep, of—

Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Oh god no.

A wave of heat and shame floods his cheeks and down his chest and he squeezes his eyes shut against it. The sheer embarrassment of crying—Jesus, sobbing—in front of someone you had just slept with, feels horribly juvenile, even despite the fact that they are strangers. He doesn’t think he can face it.

“Morning, sunshine,” comes a teasing voice on his right.

Patrick groans and covers his face. He hears the man beside him chuckle, and in spite of himself he feels the corner of his mouth curl up in something like a smile. Rubbing his hand down over his chin, he takes a deep breath, makes himself turn his head to look at David.

All the things he’d first noticed are still there, just softened by the aftermath of sleep and by the forgiving early light. Dark, laughing eyes, thick black hair and eyebrows, full lips and a knowing smirk. All hard angles and soft expressions …

Patrick swallows back the thoughts that rise, lets them be overshadowed by the feelings of guilt and shame, because at least those are familiar. He makes a valiant attempt at a smile, because, well … Patrick Brewer is nothing if not polite.

“Morning,” he croaks out.

There is a pause as Patrick tries to think of something else to say.

“David,” says David with a smirk, and Patrick actually laughs. “Just in case you …  you know … forgot.”

“I remember, David,” Patrick manages.

Tell me what you need.

He feels himself blush, but it’s already less uncomfortable. He wants to thank him, somehow, for managing once again to lessen the awkwardness he knows he is radiating.

Speaking of which …

He turns to face the ceiling; having to look David in the eye for this is asking too much. “I’m sorry about … last night … afterwards, I mean.” He feels pricking at the corners of his eyes—

No, absolutely not.

“Well, you were … going through a lot,” says David in his quiet, hesitant way, but Patrick gets the feeling he’s trying to be kind about it. It helps a little. “Are you feeling … okay?”

Patrick looks at him now. There is something almost nervous in David’s expression, which is a little surprising. He hasn’t seemed to find any of this awkward, not even Patrick’s obvious embarrassment. But now there is an anxious edge to his voice, and Patrick feels an unexpected urge to reassure him.

“I’m okay,” he says, hoping it’s enough to convey that while, yes, there are certain aspects of last night that Patrick regrets, the decision to have sex with David is not one of them. Then, because he wants to know, Patrick asks, “Are you?”

David’s eyes widen, and he blinks as if in confusion. Patrick blushes, and wonders if he’s just made some naïve faux pas. He toys with apologising—for what, exactly, escapes him, but it seems to be his default—when David nods slowly.

“Mhm.” He looks at Patrick for a moment, then seems to recover himself. “Did you want a shower?”

Patrick hesitates. Objectively, he does—nothing like a hot shower to gather one’s bearings—but if he says yes, does that mean that David will join him? Because he definitely isn’t ready for that.

“No, I’m … I’m okay, thanks.” He can already feel his body tensing, the burden of being his regular self—of being the man he has become—settling back into his bones.

“So …” he croaks out, wincing at his own voice. “I know this must come as a shock, but, uh … I don’t really, uh … do this often?” It ends as a question, and he wonders if he could sound any more pathetic. But when he sneaks a glance at David, his lips are still quirked to the side in a barely controlled smirk, softened by the expression in his eyes.

“Well, you hide it well.”

Another laugh huffs its way out of Patrick’s throat, and it sounds as surprised as he feels. If he’s ever imagined being in this particular situation, the last thing he would have envisaged is being able to laugh. Especially after humiliating himself so thoroughly.

He nods at the ceiling, chewing his bottom lip. Eventually, he tries again. “I’m sorry, I’m not exactly sure—”

“Of the proper one-night-stand etiquette?” says David, his tone light and teasing. “Relax. The guidebook is pretty vague on the morning after.”

Right, a one-night stand. He’s never been one of those before. He’s always kind of hated the idea of skipping out at the crack of dawn, or under the cover of darkness—it seems … rude. Then again, maybe it would be less uncomfortable than whatever this is.

“If you need to leave, you can,” says David, his voice soft again, and Patrick squeezes his eyes shut against the kindness there. Because he does need to leave; his skin is itching with discomfort, like he’s stuck in a body that’s the wrong shape, in the wrong space, because Patrick Brewer doesn’t sleep with strangers, Patrick Brewer doesn’t sleep with men who aren’t his fiancé.

And yet …

Right at the edge of things, and for a reason he can’t really point to, Patrick thinks there’s a part of him that might want to stay a little longer …

He turns to face David. He wonders if he—or a part of him—might want him to stay, too. It seems unlikely. “I do kind of have to get going,” he murmurs apologetically.

But David doesn’t seem offended, his smile still tucked into the corner of his mouth. “Sure.”

“I’m—”

“It’s really okay,” David says, and now his eyes are laughing at Patrick, who shoots him a look that says he’s noticed. David only smiles wider, so Patrick nods and sits up.

The covers fall from his chest and he sucks in a breath as the cold air hits his bare skin. He flushes again at the realisation that he is naked, but short of stealing the sheet to wrap it coyly around himself—which seems a bit redundant, among other things—there isn’t anything to be done about it, so he forces himself out of bed. He finds his clothes and gets dressed, trying to ignore the fact that David is watching him, trying not to think about whether that makes him feel better or worse. By the time he’s tying his shoes, though, David has risen from the bed and wrapped a robe around himself, and when Patrick straightens up he finds himself face to face with the taller man.

He is taller, but Patrick doesn’t feel towered over or intimidated; he gets the feeling that David makes sure of it, that he relaxes his posture to keep people comfortable. He shakes his head a little, unsure where that thought has come from, or whether it’s even true.

“This way,” says David, and walks off down the hall. Patrick follows, and soon they are standing in front of the door, facing each other with an odd sense of déjà vu. “Did you want me to call you a cab?”

Patrick looks down at his feet to hide his grin, shoving his hands in his pockets as he shakes his head. “No, I’m … I’m fine.” He looks up again to meet David’s gaze with a smirk. “I’ve got these great walking shoes on, see.”

He watches David glance down at the shoes he insulted the night before, his face instinctively contorting into a spectacular grimace, and Patrick’s laugh is bright and incredulous and once again unexpected.

“Well then you’re all set,” says David with light acidity, his eyes back to teasing.

Patrick isn’t sure how he’s ended up going home with the rudest and kindest stranger at the party, but though the heat of his embarrassment hasn’t really gone anywhere, and will likely boil over again before too long, he’s suddenly not sorry to have done so.

Shit, though. He’s staring, and David is beginning to look self-conscious.

“What?” he asks, eyes darting uncomfortably around them.

And before Patrick can really understand his reasons for doing it, or whether he is once again breaching etiquette, he leans forward and wraps David in a hug. He feels the other man hesitate before returning the embrace. He is tall, and strong, and soft, and it feels … nice.

“Thank you, David,” Patrick says softly, trying to communicate in those few words how grateful he is, not just for bringing him out of his grief for a few hours, but for his kindness, for not laughing in his face, for actually … holding him while he cried (oh god, he’d cried).

“You’re welcome.” It drifts softly over his shoulder, by his ear and barely there, but it helps Patrick feel a little understood.

Pulling back, he takes a deep breath, turning to reach for the doorknob. As he pulls the door open he turns back, ready to offer one last joke, but before he can, David places his hands either side of Patrick’s neck and kisses him.

Too stunned to think of anything else, Patrick responds, willingly but unfamiliar with the energy David is now projecting: hesitant, reaching, almost tender. Patrick feels David sigh into his mouth as he pulls back, feels himself sway a little, as though he’s lost his footing, comes to rest against David’s forehead. He blinks, trying to read David’s expression, but his eyes are closed as he murmurs, “You were amazing.”

Before Patrick can think what to say to that, David lets him go and walks back down the hall.

He stands stock still, hand still on the doorknob in an awkward half-turn. He makes a couple of false starts towards the door, half thinking that he should go after David to make sure he’s okay, to ask what the hell that meant, but it seems stupid to follow someone who has literally walked away, especially considering … everything else. As dismissals go, it’s… well, confusing as hell, actually. Ultimately, he settles on a faint, “Goodbye, David,” —because Patrick Brewer is nothing if not polite—before walking out and closing the door behind him.

 

*

As soon as he hears the door close, David holds a pillow up to his face and groans into it. Loudly.

I mean, WHAT. The ACTUAL. FUCK.

He had been so close to getting through it all with his dignity intact. And then, those fucking eyes

He can count on one hand the number of times he’s let himself be that vulnerable with someone, and he loathes everything about it. Mortification pools in his stomach and expands into the rest of his body, making him want to expel it as soon as possible.

He goes and tries a few experimental dry retches in the sink, hoping to get it out that way.

The really annoying thing is that other than his brain aneurism at the door this morning he had been really enjoying himself. Like, a lot. More than he had expected to. More than he has in a long time. And sure, Patrick’s breakdown the night before wasn’t ideal, but this morning, watching him try to navigate a situation while so clearly out of his element, while so obviously trying to do the right thing … it really shouldn’t have been as charming as it was. And yet David is charmed. A wildly uncharacteristic part of him had even considered suggesting they go for breakfast or something, which is immensely troubling, but at least that madness was short-lived. Anyway, it had seemed kindest to put Patrick out of his misery and let him go home—

And that was another thing: since when has David started going so far out of his way to be kind to his one-night stands? Or indeed anyone? The only answer he can scrounge up is that Patrick was … nice. And he’d wanted to be … nice to him.

Hm.

As for his actions at the door … he really can’t account for them. Maybe it has just been too long since he’s had sex. At least, since he’s had sex that good.

Fortunately, he is well-versed in humiliation, and so he sets to work brushing it aside. This, after all, is the best part of one-night-stands—you never have to run into them again, never have to explain awkward actions or find a way to get past it, so there’s no point in worrying, and you can just let it go, let it leave through the front door and down the stairs.

And so by 11 am David is showered, dressed, and on his way to the gallery, feeling that special mix of ego-boost and bone-deep satisfaction that only amazing sex with a gorgeous stranger can bring.

 

*

Chapter Text

coincidence

noun

  1. A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent connection.
  2. The fact of occupying the same space at the same time.

 

“I had sex last night.”

Patrick hasn’t intended to wait until Stevie’s mouth is full to let the bomb drop, but he still ends up passing her napkins to help clean up the mess she’s made of her eggs.

“Oh my god, Patrick!” She gapes at him as he mops up the juice spots on the table between them. “With someone else?”

He can’t help laughing. “You think I’d go to the trouble of buying you breakfast to tell you that I masturbated?”

She wrinkles her nose in disgust, which makes him laugh again, and he waits for her to settle herself, watches her filter through all the questions in her head.

“Who?” she asks finally.

Patrick looks down at his own plate. “His name was David. I met him at Derek’s party.”

Stevie face looks like a bunch of expressions are fighting for the upper hand. “Wow.” He feels a surge of gratitude for Stevie Budd, who knows everything about him, who knows without him having to say anything just how big of a deal this is.

“Yeah,” he agrees, sighing heavily.

She raises her eyebrows. “Was it not … good?”

Patrick sighs. Part of him really doesn’t want to tell her this part, because even her capacity for understanding doesn’t mean that she’ll let him hear the last of it. But he owes her this much, and in a strange way he wants to talk about it anyway.

“I may have … gotten a little … emotional afterwards.” He bites his lip, brows furrowed and eyes fixed on his plate, before raising his gaze reluctantly to see Stevie’s reaction.

“You got …” He sees the moment when it hits her, when her eyes widen with shock and not a little amusement. He watches as her instinct for teasing wars with her attempts to be kind: she clamps her lips together, her face twisted into a grimace. “You mean you … cried?”

It’s the humour leaking through her attempt at sympathy that allows him to relax, and he finds himself chuckling ruefully as he drags a hand across his mouth. “I uh … I think ‘sobbing’ is a better fit, really.”

Stevie makes a noise that might have been compassion, her shoulders drooping as her expression morphs into one approaching sadness. “Oh, Patrick …”

“Yeah, it was, uh …”

“Embarrassing?”

Mortifying,” he clarifies, and she snickers. He groans and rests his head in his hands. “God, Stevie, what is the matter with me?”

“I assume that’s a rhetorical question.”

He snorts. “You assume correctly.”

“Was he, I dunno … nice about it?”

Patrick remembers the way David wrapped him tightly in his arms, and held him, and …

You were amazing.

“Yeah, he was,” he says quietly, unwilling to think too much just yet about how that had felt.

They sit in silence for a while, Patrick prodding idly at his food with his fork.

“You know you have nothing to feel guilty about.” Stevie’s voice is soft, and she’s looking at him carefully.

“I know …” he says, unconvincingly.  “I just …” How to articulate something like this? He remembers the rawness of the guilt, the sadness that felt like it was going to break him in half. And he can tell himself all day long that he’s done nothing wrong, but the truth is it still feels like it. Because they’d never actually broken up, and he’s never going to get Ben’s okay, and even though that makes no sense, it’s still how he feels.

“When Ben proposed, I thought … I thought that he was the last … that we ….” His eyes are burning, and he swipes in frustration to stop actual tears from falling. Stevie, complicated saint that she is, pretends not to notice.

“It had to happen sometime right?” Stevie offers gently. Knowing how uncomfortable she is with this much honesty, he loves that she’s trying so hard for him. Still, he crosses his arms against the pain that her words inflict.

“I guess,” he says, a little petulantly. He takes a couple of slow breaths, trying to push past the anger the way his therapist has taught him. “Maybe it was good to get it over with,” he tries, and even as he rebels against it he has to admit that it’s probably for the best. Healthy. That’s what everyone says. For the millionth time, he wants to not deal with any of it. “God, I’m so tired,” he exhales, the last word a frustrated groan. “I know it was never going to be a walk in the park, but …”

“Maybe a little less sucky?”

That draws a wry laugh. “At some point. Yeah. Maybe.”

“Well, I think this deserves a celebration.” Stevie sits up straighter and lifts her glass, and this time Patrick’s laugh is a little lighter.

“What, like, ‘Happy first one-night stand’?” He shakes his head, but he clinks his glass with hers anyway. “Not something I’m particularly proud of, to be honest.”

Stevie smirks. “You could call him? Stretch it into a double?”

He tries to glare at her, but is feeling too fond to keep it up. “While that’s a solid metaphor, thank you for that—” Stevie nods graciously “—I couldn’t if I wanted to. I don’t have his number. I don’t even know his last name.” He watches her eyes widen in glee. “Oh, what?”

“Nothing! I’m just,” she pretends to get choked up, raises a fluttering hand to her chest. “I’m so proud of you!”

“God, you’re going to make a great mom,” he jokes, flicking a piece of toast at her, ducking as she glares and whips it back at him.

“You know where he lives, though,” she says after a moment, with a teasing lilt to her voice. “You could go over there, knock on his door, and—”

“Go full Fatal Attraction?”

“Does he have a pet rabbit?”

Patrick lets himself laugh, leaning back in his chair. Of course Stevie was going to make him feel better about it all. He doesn’t know how he doubted it.

“So …”

Then again. He feels the blush rise, knows exactly what she’s going to ask, what she has been dying to ask since the moment he told her.

“So?”

She tries to look casual; he knows, because she isn’t meeting his eye. “So, how was it?”

Now he’s the one who can’t look at her, engulfed in the memory of Tell me what you need and I’ll make you feel good and Patrick and Patrick and Patrick

He takes a careful breath.

“It was … good.”

She raises an eyebrow. “And that’s …”

“All the descriptors you’re going to get right now,” he says with finality, draining the rest of his juice. Yes, last night was a big step, but he’s nowhere near ready to open that particular box just yet, not even by himself.

“Okay,” she says finally, nodding. “Good.”

He glares at her, but it comes with a smile.

 

*

That afternoon David borrows the family car and drives out to Brenda’s to pick up the first batch of her skin products for the store. Despite the anxiety that always takes hold when talking to unfamiliar people, this is also store business, and that helps. The bottles are fairly nondescript, but they feel solid and of decent quality, and he can work with that. He unscrews the lid of one jar and breathes in the scent of lemon myrtle. Perfect.

When the money had gone, two and a half years ago now, it had taken with it any sense of control David had over his life. It also took a lot of preconceptions, or maybe just shone a spotlight on some things he had tried hard to turn a blind eye to. Like the people he had surrounded himself with, as protection from the harsh parts of the world, whom he had called friends but who had evaporated almost immediately as soon as they found out they were no longer being bankrolled. Like the idea that he was happy, or if not happy then content, or if not content then numb. Like the idea that he didn’t need anyone, including his family.

Secretly, proudly, he feels like he has grown a little; he is softer, he thinks, a little less selfish, maybe, and definitely closer to his family. But the lack of control, that has taken a while to get used to. Even realising that he had never had as much of it as he had thought was a blow, so he has grasped at occupation and distraction to counteract the panic. Like his clothes; it may seem incredibly shallow to an outsider, but to David it’s one of the only anchors keeping him from drifting out to sea. And once he learned to be a little more comfortable with himself (minus medication), his artistic curiosity had raised its timid head, and that’s how he has found himself with a store.

Oh, he still panics about it, on and off, but it’s all going ahead regardless. And he’s still anxious about all the things he doesn’t know, all the things he can’t predict, but he’s determined not to ask anyone for help with that. Once bitten, twice shy, being very much the watchword.

In the meantime, things like the products that he’s going to stock and the look of said products are things he can control. Order and pattern make it easier to take on those harsh parts of the world from which he is no longer insulated. Lately, he has tried to apply that thinking to other aspects of his life.

So he no longer accepts (or tries not to accept) people into his life who take advantage, who exhibit the asshole tendencies that had been so prevalent in his past associates. And on the (okay, rare, he can admit it, rare) chance that he hooks up with someone, he tries to go into it with clear parameters: no expectations, no acquaintance past 24 hours, and get out as soon as it feels unsafe.

The store helps with this, too. Because it’s a more long-term and, usually, much more interesting, thing to focus on. And unlike people, it will still be there in the morning.

All this, of course, makes it slightly concerning that he is wearing a limited-edition McQueen, is out on store business, and yet is still thinking about the way Patrick had hugged him before he left. And the way he had asked if David was okay this morning. And the way he had kissed him out on the deck the night before. And all the other things.

It’s annoying.

He frowns at the bottle in his hand. Maybe it has been too long since someone was nice to him. Maybe he needs to get laid more often.

Maybe he’s just really fucking lonely.

He sighs heavily and picks up a box to put it in the car. Maybe Alexis isn’t busy tonight.

 

*

Operation Keep Getting Back Out There is a pain in Patrick’s ass, but he supposes it isn’t all bad. Drinks with Stevie and some of his teammates has been surprisingly fun. Heather is a pro at telling an anecdote in a way that makes everyone laugh, and though there is an awkward moment when Charlie brings up the latest Star Trek movie, forgetting that it was Ben and not Patrick who was the Trekkie, it has been easier than expected.

Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t feel Ben’s presence in every moment, potent enough to almost feel like another person at the table. It’s not a new thing, but it’s frustrating: like being haunted, but without the benefit of being able to see or talk to him.

Mostly, he tries to be unobtrusive.

He's kind of proud of himself when he's still there as they call it a night. It isn’t that late, but they all have work in the morning, so Patrick says goodbye to Stevie and heads to the bar to close out his tab.

“Oh, just so you know,” she calls out, as if it’s an afterthought, “I may have ordered an extra round when you were in the restroom.”

Patrick just rolls his eyes and gives his sigh some extra volume as she darts away with a wave. He lifts a hand to get the bartender’s attention, waits for her to finish up with the person down the end of the bar as he mentally crosses off another line on his to do list. Item 13: start hanging out with friends again in normal, neutral settings (not your apartment). He feels pretty confident in also crossing off item 17: stay out past bedtime (Stevie’s contribution, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t have a bedtime). As the person next to Patrick finishes their beer and leaves, his gaze follows them, which is how he finds himself looking straight at David.

People talk in hyperbole about the blood draining from a person’s face, but Patrick swears he can feel it happen. Frozen in place, he can’t escape—couldn’t have even if David hadn’t been looking right at him.

“David …” someone says. He thinks it’s him. He can’t tell, he’s busy looking at that black leather jacket. Wanting to know if it feels as soft as it looks. He clenches his fists.

David, who seems remarkably unruffled, tilts his head. “Oh! It’s, uh …”

“Patrick,” says Patrick, feeling the blood rush back to his face. Faaaantastic. His name hasn’t stuck, and now he’ll always be That Guy Who Wept Into My Shoulder.

“Right.” At least David is smiling, even if it’s in a slightly knowing way that makes Patrick feel a little off-kilter, like he can tell what Patrick is thinking. Which is especially disconcerting because he isn’t too clear on that himself.

“I, uh—how—how are you?”

Good grief, Brewer.

David’s smile twists into a smirk, and he chuckles. “I’m fine. Although I have just realised that this is the bar I embarrassed myself in two years ago by attempting to go all Coyote Ugly on the bar.”

Patrick fails spectacularly to bite back his grin. “That’s unfortunate.”

David shrugs. “Depends on your point of view. I happen to do a rousing Leann Rimes.”

This time Patrick laughs, an honest-to-god belly laugh. “I have no doubt.” He’s still reeling from seeing David in this environment—surely he belongs in a club somewhere, or among the glitterati … whoever they are. And yet he doesn’t look uncomfortable. Patrick, on the other hand, is getting dangerously close to staring, but he can’t help it. There’s just … something.

Funny thing, though: David seems to have the same problem. Right now he has a smirk tucked into the corner of his mouth, and he’s nodding methodically to himself as he looks at Patrick like he’s cataloguing him, like he’s remembering all the places he’s kissed him. Something is steadily pooling in Patrick’s belly, and that thrumming sensation is back again.

“Settling up?”

Patrick blinks and turns the waiting bartender. “Oh.” Before he can overthink it, he turns back to David. “Can I buy you a drink?”

David bobs his head from side to side as if he’s thinking it over, and Patrick is holding his breath, willing him to say yes, half-hoping he says no. David waves a hand. “Sure.”

It all seems choreographed to be nonchalant, but with a flash of heat to his gut Patrick realises that it might be a little contrived. He thinks … yeah, he thinks that’s a good thing.

David orders a soda and lime, and Patrick decides to follow suit. Ginger ale. Soda and lime. He’s already making lists. They find a table and clink glasses.

An hour later their drinks still have about half an inch each at the bottom, and Patrick is grinning as hard as he ever has at the fact that he has made David laugh.

“Never run so fast in my life,” he says, feeling pleased and not a little proud as David bends over double in mirth.

“I would have paid good money to see the look on your face when you realised you were naked in the wrong house.”

“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t have seen it, I was just—” he sweeps his hand out in a whoosh gesture “—kind of a blur. And I wasn’t naked, I was wearing my ninja turtle boardshorts.”

David snorts.

“Hey, I was ten. The turtles were the height of fashion.” He laughs at the grimace on David’s face. As he glances around the room, though, he realises the crowd has thinned considerably. “We should get going before they kick us out,” he says, then wonders at his use of “we” and “us”. But David seems to agree, and before long they are on the pavement outside. Without either of them saying anything, they begin to walk in the same direction. And oh, Patrick is aware of it.

He shoves his hands in his pockets just to have somewhere to put them.

“So …” David begins, quietly. “How are you … feeling about everything?”

Patrick hopes his blush isn’t obvious in the glow of the streetlights. “I’m doing okay,” he says. After a moment, he adds, “Thanks.”

Out of the corner of his eye he sees David shrug. “It was nothing.”

Patrick shakes his head. “No, you … you were really … kind.” He risks a glance at David, who is carefully not looking his way. Patrick knows he’s making him uncomfortable, knows the smart thing to do is let it go, but … whether David realises it or not, that night was a big step for him. And if this is his only chance, he can’t leave without saying something. “David I can’t imagine a more uncomfortable situation for you, I just don’t want you to think that it had anything to do with you.”

David hums quietly. “Okay, so … I didn’t do anything to make you—”

Patrick grabs David’s arm, turning him so that they face each other. “No, of course not! You were …” He swallows the rest of that sentence and drops his arm. But he has to say it, this thing that’s been solidifying into truth since he had first felt David’s lips against his own on that deck under the stars. He has to say it, to someone other than himself.

Deep breath in.

“That night … David that night was the first time in the longest time that I’ve felt like myself. Like I was just me. Not Patrick Ben’s fiancé, not Patrick the widow, not … Patrick of four years ago, but … me.”

Deep breath out.

Finally saying it aloud feels … freeing. Like something has released its hold on his chest, like he hasn’t been breathing properly for years. He looks up at David, who to his credit is still watching carefully.

“So the whole—” no way to get out of mentioning it “—crying thing was me trying to deal with about a million different things, but … it wasn’t about you. You make me feel like myself. That’s not nothing.”

Something inexplicable is happening on David’s face, but it eventually settles into something that Patrick thinks might be understanding. With a small smile, he nods, and turns slowly to keep walking. Patrick does the same.

They are quiet for a moment, and Patrick settles into himself, gets used to how it feels—for a little while, at least—to be out from under the weight of his old self. Then David bumps into Patrick’s shoulder, and he catches a smile on the corner of his mouth.

“You’re wrong, you know.” Patrick raises an eyebrow. “I’ve been in much more uncomfortable situations. Plenty of room on that scale. You could, for example, have requested that your wife come home with us to—and I quote—‘Hang out afterwards’.” He grimaces as he lowers his air quotes.

“Well that sounds … disturbingly specific.”

“Mm,” David agrees. “Disturbing is one word for it.”

“So on a scale of one to ten …”

“You were a solid seven.”

Patrick has to look away and bite his lip. “Seven,” he repeats once he can trust his voice. “Wow.”

Waves of embarrassment are coming off David now. “That’s … that’s on the scale of … discomfort.”

“Right,” says Patrick, still fighting a grin. “Not … any other scale.”

David’s face is going on quite a journey. “Nope,” he manages finally. “Nope, that was … not … that.”

“Mhm,” Patrick nods. He waits five more seconds. “So if you had to pick a number—”

Okay!” David’s arms whirl around wildly, and Patrick finally starts laughing. “Just for that, I’m raising you another point—on the discomfort scale!” he adds hastily as Patrick opens his mouth again.

Grinning like an idiot, Patrick holds up his hands in surrender. “Okay, David, okay.”

“You know, you’re not as nice as you look,” David grumbles, but Patrick thinks he’s trying not to smile.

“I never said I was nice,” he says, wondering when he got the guts to be that suggestive.

“Oh no, you’re nice,” David shoots back, and when Patrick glances over his eyes are narrowed and that amused, knowing look is back on his face. “You’re just … tricky.”

They hold each other’s gaze for a few steps, and Patrick feels something winged swoop around his stomach, woken by the heat in David’s eyes, and walking down the street has never seemed so … intimate.

“We’d better stop,” says David abruptly, coming to a halt. Patrick turns back to face him, feeling his breath hitch with disappointment.

“Oh,” he says, dimly wishing he was better at hiding it. “Okay … Did I—?”

“No, it’s uh …” David tilts his head to indicate the building to his left. “This is me.”

Patrick stops and looks dumbly up at the brick complex, and suddenly his insides are churning again. He swallows. “I remember …” His voice sounds hoarse.

When he looks back at David they are somehow closer, and the thing in his stomach swoops again as he looks into those dark eyes.

“So would … would you want to come up?”

“Yes.”

The word is out of his mouth almost before David has finished the question, but though he wishes he sounded a little less desperate, he doesn’t want to take it back. He can’t quite catalogue everything he’s feeling right now, but one thing he knows for certain is that he wants to stay in this man’s company.

He wants this man. Still. More.

A flash of something like surprise in David’s eyes is quickly replaced by a familiar heat, and Patrick is unable to look away as David turns and walks up the steps to the building.

Deep breath in.

He follows.

 

*

If David has been expecting Patrick to display the same hesitancy as the last time they entered his apartment, he is pleasantly surprised. As soon as they are in the door, Patrick grabs the lapels of his leather jacket and crowds up against it, claiming David’s mouth with his own, kissing with all the heat he’d seen in his eyes downstairs when he had gasped out that achingly sincere “Yes”. David is happy to match his enthusiasm with some of his own. He has, after all, been wanting to get his hands on this man since he’d seen him at the bar.

Pretending not to remember his name had been an attempt at hiding that desire, and maybe to empower himself against a little lingering embarrassment re their last encounter, but it just ended up making him feel like a colossal jerk, so he had tried to redress the balance a little by relating that humiliating Coyote Ugly story. Which, okay, wasn’t his finest decision. It hadn’t seemed to repel Patrick, though. And yes, he’s thrilled that he happened to be wearing his leather jacket, especially given the way Patrick’s eyes had widened when he saw him in it. By the time they’d left the bar David had been buzzing on his company, and reluctant to let him go. He had suspected—hoped—that the sentiment might be reciprocated, but he hadn’t been sure, not until the last moment.

Which brings him to this moment, in which Patrick’s hands have already swept under David’s t-shirt and are running across the skin of his back like he wants to touch every part of him at once. Kissing him like he’ll never get enough of it, like he’s a starved man presented with a banquet. David gives in to all of it. And when Patrick murmurs “Bedroom?” into David’s mouth, well, certain parts of him stand to attention, and he has to swallow a groan before he starts backing them once more down the hall.

Patrick divests David of his jacket and tee by the time they enter the bedroom, and David manages to grab them before they hit the floor and drape them quickly onto a chair before he is tugged back into Patrick’s glorious arms. He hadn’t been able to truly appreciate them the other night, but now he can’t stop running his hands up and down, tracing over flexing muscles beneath warm skin. Patrick has already shrugged off his own jacket by himself, though, so David gets it together enough to rid him of his t-shirt. Patrick immediately pulls David towards him, and oh, there’s that unbelievable sigh that seems to emanate from Patrick’s throat each time they come together like this.

Before he can think of the best way to get them horizontal, David finds himself being manoeuvred so that he tumbles back onto the bed. Patrick follows him, pushing him gently onto his back as he chases David’s mouth with his, brushing across his skin to kiss his jaw, his neck, the hollow beneath his throat, employing liberal application of tongue and teeth. Too dazed by this display of confidence—and how fucking sexy is Confident Patrick?—David can do little but drown in the attention as Patrick drifts slowly south, down his torso, lingering wonderfully at his nipples, down, down, to the waistline of his jeans. Here, he stops, and looks up at him with honey-dark eyes and a bruised mouth, and it’s all David can do to stammer out a “Yes. Yeah. Yes.”

He gets another request for permission to take off his underwear, but this time he can only nod jerkily.

God, he’s so hard. How is he so hard this quickly?

The answer to that question pauses once more before rasping out in the most deliciously wrecked voice David has ever heard, “David can I put my mouth on you?”

David’s head falls back onto the pillow as he groans out—whimpers, even—a sound vaguely in the affirmative. But Patrick, it seems, is just as much a stickler for consent as he is.

“Gonna need you to say the words,” he says, and David can hear the smirk in his voice before he lifts his head to confirm suspicions.

“Yes. Fuck, Patrick, yes.”

And then … and then … there is nothing but Patrick’s hands gripping his hips, his shoulders brushing David’s thighs, and his mouth … oh, his mouth … He starts out softly, dropping slow, wet kisses along his length before taking in just the head, licking it into his mouth to taste before settling into something more determined.

Looking back, once his brain has started up again, David realises that no one has ever paid such close attention to his body before. It’s like Patrick is recording every noise, every sigh, every twitch of every muscle, and putting all that data together to come up with the perfect way to take David completely apart. His tongue curling hard against his slit on the upward stroke, his hand wrapping firmly around the base and following every movement, his cheeks hollowing around him as he lets out a hum that vibrates throughout David’s entire body.

For his part David seems to have lost the ability to control himself. Though he manages, with the help of Patrick’s strong arm across his hips, not to thrust too strongly into his mouth, the rest of him arches as growls and moans escape his throat with wild abandon. He hears himself saying Patrick’s name over and over, unable to stop. At length Patrick’s hums grow louder too, his movements more insistent.

“Patrick … I’m gonna … I’m so … oh fuck, Patrick …”

And Patrick takes him, swallows him, empties him, ruins him …

David feels drunk. His head swims as he imagines endorphins rushing and flowing into every corner of his body, lying heavy on his limbs and eyelids and making his heart beat double. Dimly, he watches Patrick climb up onto the bed and collapse onto his back beside him. His breathing sounds just as laboured as David’s.

“Just gimmie a minute and I’ll …” David says, his voice thick and slurred. He huffs a laugh. “Maybe two minutes.”

“I’m … I’m okay.”

David turns to look at him, frowning, trying to focus on his face; Patrick’s eyes are closed, his face flushed, his chest heaving. As though he feels David’s gaze on him, though, he opens his eyes, heavy and dark, and he looks …

“I may have … got carried away.”

David likes to think he would have gotten there faster if his brain had been working properly. As it is, he glances down to see that Patrick’s underwear and jeans are around his ankles, which he definitely would have remembered doing, only—

“Oh holy fuck.”

Patrick gives a breathy laugh, looking embarrassed. “How’s that discomfort scale looking now?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” David demands, eyes wide. “That’s …” Instead of finding a way to finish that sentence, he reaches over and pulls Patrick’s face towards him, kissing him hard and deep. When they part, David sees him trying to hide a bashful smile. The contrast between that shyness and the fucking heat in his eyes as he had asked to put his mouth on him sends a delayed shudder through him, and he wonders, not for the first time, where on earth this man has come from.

“Bathroom?”

“Hm?”

Patrick gives a slight grimace and gestures awkwardly. “I’m a little …”

“Oh. Just through there,” David says, waving weakly at the door. Patrick rises and, after detangling his clothes from his legs, disappears inside. “I’ll just wait here,” David adds lazily, and smiles as he hears Patrick laugh.

Lying there on his back in the dim light cast from behind the bathroom door, David hums contentedly. He feels relaxed, and really, really good, not to mention extra glad that he let Alexis talk him into going out tonight. It has been wearisome, really, trying to pretend all week that he hasn’t been thinking about Patrick, that he can’t recall with perfect clarity the way they had felt together, that he hasn’t wondered if he’d left a similar impression …

Wearisome, but necessary.

If he had been following his own rules, he would have left things alone, let Patrick stand as one unexpectedly lovely encounter that he could look back on fondly and think: at least I didn’t screw that up. But seeing him again had cast a fog over all of his ideas of self-preservation, and with each minute in his company those ideas had seemed more and more insubstantial.

On the other side of the door the tap is turned off, and David rouses himself long enough to scoot up the bed, taking the pillow furthest from the bathroom. He waits, deliberately expecting the worst so as not to be taken by surprise. However, a minute or two later Patrick shuffles back to the edge of the bed. David holds his breath, but after a brief hesitation, he climbs back onto the mattress, lying back and resting on the pillow next to him.

They are silent a moment. David tries to think of what to say, unable to articulate a way of asking him to stay that doesn’t sound pathetic. Eventually Patrick clears his throat.

“So is there a social etiquette for two-night stands that I should be aware of?” His tone is light, but David thinks he can hear a nervous undercurrent beneath it.

“No, this one’s wide open,” he quips. Truth be told, he hasn’t experienced many second nights. He does, however, have a bit of experience with people who in hindsight he wished had limited themselves to only two. He wonders if one day he’ll have the same regrets about Patrick. He can only blame himself, therefore, for adding: “You can stay, if you want.”

As soon as he says it, David squeezes his eyes shut and grimaces. Trying to even out his features, he turns back to face Patrick. Patrick, who is already looking at him, eyes wide.

“Yeah?”

God, does he really not get it?

He shrugs, but it’s like he’s forgotten how to use his shoulders. “Sure.”

Don’t go.

Patrick hesitates. “I have to work tomorrow …”

He holds his breath. Patrick seems like he’s searching David’s face for an answer, and David wonders why he doesn’t just leave. It doesn’t feel like he’s making an excuse, though. And if he didn’t want to stay he’d have just gone, right? Amid the cacophony of thoughts racing through his head, David makes sure to keep his expression neutral. Nobody has as much practice hiding his feelings as David Rose.

“That’s okay,” he says with practised nonchalance. “You can leave as early as you need to.”

Don’t go yet.

“Okay,” says Patrick softly.

Now David has a different emotion to hide. He turns away before his smile can tug at the corners of his mouth, but he isn’t sure he gets there in time.

He is in so much trouble.

Taking the opportunity to get some space, he escapes (nonchalantly) into the bathroom to go through his skincare routine as usual, returning to his side of the bed and settling on his back beside Patrick. There is a moment or two of silence, and David wonders if he has just invited himself into a really awkward eight hours or so.

“I gotta say, you’re taking a chance.”

David blinks, and turns so quickly his neck cricks. “Excuse me?”

Patrick is looking at him innocently. “I mean, for all you know, I snore like a chainsaw.”

David clamps his lips together, his eyebrows shooting up.

“Um …” He hasn’t thought of that. “Do you?”

Patrick shakes his head, affecting concern. “Hard to say.”

David’s eyebrows drop immediately, and he sees the corner of Patrick’s mouth tick up. He tries his best to glare.

“Okay, I take it back. You’re not nice.”

“But what if I’m an aggressive cuddler?”

“All right—”

“No, like, aggressive.”

“Shut up.”

“Like I just … launch at you when you least—”

David slaps his hand over Patrick’s mouth. “No more talking.”

“Mmmph.” David can feel him laugh against his palm before he reaches up to move it. “Hey,” he says, quieting down, though David isn’t letting go of his glare just yet. “I’ll try to contain myself.”

And David’s not sure he’s ever seen the expression on Patrick’s face before. Part of him wants to flinch away from it, but … he doesn’t. He glances down.

Patrick is still holding his hand.

And then he isn’t.

“Goodnight David.”

David rolls onto his back, biting back a smile.

“Goodnight Patrick.”

So much trouble.

 

*

Chapter Text

proposal

noun

  1. A plan or suggestion put forward for consideration by others.
  2. An offer of marriage.

 

Falling asleep wasn’t the impossible task Patrick had thought it might be. In fact, when his watch vibrates him awake at 6 am he has no memory of lying awake, only a sense that he would like to stay here in this warm place a little longer. Except …

Oh, right.

David is still asleep, his face soft, his mouth open, emitting a faint snuffling. Patrick watches for a moment, smiling.

Focus, Brewer. Get up.

He finds his clothes easily enough, and is tugging his sweater down over his stomach when he hears David stir. Looking over, he meets his sleepy gaze, and even though they discussed his leaving last night, Patrick still feels a clench of discomfort in his belly. But David just blinks slowly, his lips stretching into a small, lazy smile.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.”

He looks so comfortable that Patrick can’t help raking his eyes over him, from his broad, bare shoulders to his dark hair, which has lost some of its careful structure. 

David sees him, and pulls his smirk into the corner of his mouth. “Mm. It’s okay.”

Patrick remembers that look from last night, and it brings with it an echoing shiver. He makes an effort to pull himself together, but fumbles as he picks up his phone where it tumbled from his pocket last night.

“Okay, so …” he says, rubbing the back of his neck nervously, as if he might erase the blush creeping along his skin. He looks from his phone to David. Takes a step towards the bedroom door. Turns back.

“Listen, this might be against the rules, or—or it might not be something you’re interested in, but—”

He grabs David’s phone from the bedside table and thrusts it at him. “Here, can you open this?” Sitting up and looking wary, David seems too taken aback to ask questions. Hesitantly, he presses his thumbprint to the sensor and hands it back.

Before he can overthink, Patrick begins typing. A second later his own phone pings.

“I just sent myself your number, which—maybe I should’ve asked first—but …” his determination wobbles, and he wrenches it back into place. “I’d really like to see you again. If you’d like.”

David still looks stunned.

It’s not a great reaction.

It also isn’t an outright no. Patrick grabs onto that and uses it to straighten his spine. He looks straight at David and nods. “I’ll text you.”

Without waiting to see how this lands, Patrick hands back David’s phone, fights an urge to kiss him goodbye, and walks out of the bedroom before his confidence fails completely. Pulling his coat from the floor near the door, he feels the rush of fear and nerves and doubt and sheer exhilaration … and gives in to a cautious grin.

He has no idea what has gotten into him. He thinks he might like it.

 

*

David stares at his phone. Distantly he hears the door open and close, hears Patrick’s faint footsteps as he moves down the hall. Still he stares.

Well, fuck.

 

*

Patrick thanks his lucky stars that none of his work that day is too complicated, because his mind just isn’t there. It’s elsewhere. A couple of places, really. And he’s trying to sift through the data to figure out exactly where he stands and what he’s doing.

God, what is he doing?

Back when he was halfway through his degree at the University of Toronto, when Rachel was talking about them moving in together, when that kind of pressure and threat of commitment and responsibility had pressed and pressed onto Patrick’s chest until things had finally come to a head … well, back then he remembers wondering if anything would feel easy.

He’s still wondering.

Because realising that he was gay hadn’t really thrown all the doors in his life open. He had felt freer, absolutely, more himself, certainly, but navigating what to do next was still … confusing. Eventually, and probably through sheer determination, he had gotten through that confusion and began dating. And then, just out of college, sharing a house with his friends and starting his real life in Toronto, he had met Ben.

They had met through a mutual friend, and things had been easy between them from the beginning, revelation after revelation as Patrick got to know his new self. Which isn’t to say that they hadn’t had their share of speedbumps. Ben had skeletons in his closet like anyone else, and one particularly hurtful run-in with an ex had derailed them for a little while, but it had shaken out. Things had been good. Very good. Engagement good.

And then, four years ago, the world had ended. But only for a split-second. Because after that, when it felt perfectly unreasonable to Patrick for everyone to still be breathing and talking and walking around, life had gone callously onward.

Patrick remembers thinking, in his numb state, that he must have been dreaming; that someone else who looked like him was getting dressed in his clothes and going to his work every day. Someone else, but surely not him. Because there was no such thing as him anymore.

Eventually, he had started to come back to his body, to defrost. His family, his friends—especially Stevie—had been unfathomably good, coaxing him back, letting him talk, letting him sit in silence, letting him grieve. And he had begun to find solace in talking, to his parents, or to Stevie, or to his therapist, until collectively they must have known every thought he had ever had.

With one notable exception.

So it had happened slowly, that Patrick had found himself again, or at least, a new version of himself. He was different, yes, in some ways irrevocably, but at least he’d started to recognise himself again. And it had seemed like it was time to re-join the rest of the population.

And then, in a kitchen at a party, he had met David. And the world had … shifted.

He still can’t quite fathom how he had ended up in David’s bed that night—and as a one-night stand, of all things. If you had gone back to just-engaged Patrick, or just-out-of-college Patrick, or just-out Patrick, for that matter, all versions would have scoffed at the notion as unlikely. But he had done it, and it had been both a lot less and a lot more awkward than he had expected it to be. And he is almost certain that this is because of David. He feels … different with David.

The thing, though, is that if this—whatever this is between him and David—is no longer a one-night stand then … what is it exactly? The idea of calling it a relationship makes Patrick’s chest tighten painfully, but thinking of it as “fooling around” just makes him feel uncomfortable in his skin. It isn’t just that he’s never had casual sex before now—it’s that he’s never liked it. Even the idea of it. Not knowing the person he’s being intimate with just does not appeal to him. It never has.

And … he doesn’t know David. He still doesn’t even know his last name. (Jesus, why hasn’t he asked for his last name?) He’s spent a lot of time that morning looking at David’s number in his phone, confronting each and every fear, wondering if this is all just his way of cancelling out a mark he wishes he didn’t have on his rap sheet; that if he starts something with David it will mean that he had never gone home with a stranger, fucked him in his bed, left the morning after. The thought leaves a sour taste in his mouth, a weight in his stomach.

And yet …

When he’s around him he feels … good. Among other things, yes. Because it has been a long time since he has been with someone, but also since he has felt that kind of swoop in his belly, that fire in his fingertips, that magnetic pull towards someone. But there is something else, too. Something unnameable. Like they are two melodies operating on the same wavelength, dancing around each other in complementary, if not harmonic patterns.

He’s out of his comfort zone. Because his world has shifted a little, just enough to make him feel off kilter. In a good way. A … really good way.

It doesn’t feel casual, is the thing.

Which makes him feel just the smallest bit like shit.

By two-thirty he has crafted the following text:

David

Hi David, it’s Patrick. Giving you a chance to block my number. If not, how do you feel about getting lunch this week? TCT is close to my work, and I can vouch for its mozzarella sticks, but I can meet you wherever.

He grimaces. It sounds too eager to please.

He sends it anyway.

 

*

David is absolutely certain that Patrick isn’t going to text him. He tells himself so.

He tells himself so as he showers later that morning, treating his hair to a deep-conditioning treatment, and not just because he wants a few more minutes under the warm water.

He tells himself so while he walks to the gallery, grabbing a cruller and a coffee on the way, because it’s cruller day, or thereabouts.

He tells himself so when he turns his phone on silent and leaves it on his desk in the back room, stepping out onto the floor with a rigid spine and a perfectly conditioned head of hair.

He is, in fact, so good at telling himself this that partway through the day he actually forgets about it for a while. It isn’t until he needs Estrelle’s business card from his desk draw that he spots his phone, momentarily surprised to see it there instead of in his pocket.

And that’s the moment it becomes clear that despite preventative measures, he is still very much hoping that Patrick will text him anyway. Ugh. He toys with leaving his phone where it is, just to spite himself, but it seems stupid to do so to the extent that it will mean missing stakeholder calls about the store. And Instagram notifications.

In fact, David has an awful lot of evidence backing up his reticence. Roughly 90 per cent of the time when he is waiting for a text or a call, he can comfortably add at least 24 hours to the promised deadline, and much of that time will usually be spent pretending he isn’t waiting for it. The rest is taken up by fighting off anxiety and the resulting self-esteem spiral.

He remembers, in particular, waiting for Lara to pick him up and take him to the airport for their trip to Fiji. She had said she was coming round on Saturday morning, but David later decided that she could have meant “the weekend”. She hadn’t, and the next time he heard from her was on Monday, when she responded to his growing number of texts to say that she was already in Fiji, and hadn’t meant to mislead him that they would be going together, even though David had text evidence to the contrary.

On another occasion, in more naïve times, David had waited two weeks for a promised phone call before running by chance into Dominic and his wife—whom he definitely hadn’t mentioned—whereupon Dominic had resolutely pretended not to know him at all. And then texted him late on Friday night to suggest they hook up at David’s apartment.

So this is … not a big deal. In fact, he decides that, in light of his new resolution to avoid awful situations, he is going to check his phone just once, and then put it all behind him. Try to, anyway. One look, and then back to business of usual. He picks up the phone.

Nothing.

Huh.

It’s fine.

He’s fine.

And now he’s going to put the phone down and—

PING.

And all of his posturing is rendered utterly and embarrassingly and obviously pointless, shown up by the rush of endorphins that floods his system as he sees Patrick’s name pop up on the display.

He so doesn’t want to feel it. It’s far too much and far too soon, and he knows better. But it seems that not even David’s brain is listening to him. Even that has been hypnotised by kindness and quick wit and honey-coloured eyes.

Is he really going to fall for the first person to ever treat him with kindness?

He reads the text and smiles.

Unknown

Hi David, it’s Patrick. Giving you a chance to block my number. If not, how do you feel about getting lunch this week? TCT is close to my work, and I can vouch for its mozzarella sticks, but I can meet you wherever.

TCT isn’t the Ivy, but for mozzarella sticks I might just make the trip. I can meet you there Thursday at 12.30.

He puts the phone in his pocket and heads out onto the floor, but he feels the vibration that heralds a reply before he has reached the Heller tapestries. He smirks.

At least he might not be the only one.

 

*

On Thursday at 12.15, Patrick is tapping out a nervous rhythm on the window table at TCT. It’s more of a café than a restaurant, really, but it serves good food in eclectically furnished comfort. And yes, knowing David’s stance on cheese—it had come up at the bar, and Patrick had tucked it away in the file he had started labelled “things I know about David”—he had wagered that the mozzarella sticks would be a selling point.

The nerves are ratcheting up the closer it gets to 12.30, and Patrick starts taking some deep (and hopefully imperceptible) breaths.

“Hey.”

His eyes snap up to see David taking the seat opposite, his smile crooked. Patrick feels himself lift at the sight. See, he tells himself, this isn’t nothing.

“Hi. I took the liberty of ordering the mozzarella sticks.” He pushes the plate towards David, whose eyes widen in delight as he selects one. After assessing the temperature, he pops it into his mouth whole, and chews for a moment before rolling his eyes back and moaning.

Oh my god, that’s delicious.”

Patrick does not blush. “Glad to hear it was worth the trip.”

“Absolutely,” David mumbles, his mouth full of cheese. Patrick waits until he’s done, trying not to laugh. “So! What else is good here?”

They order, David declaring himself unimpressed with Patrick’s choice of salad, Patrick expressing concern over David’s consumption of fried food vis a vis him making it to the end of the meal.

“I mean, have you ever been treated for scurvy?”

“I had a pineapple-guava smoothie this morning, thanks so much.”

“Oh, well. You’re fine then.” Patrick bites down on a grin.

David waves his hand in a flourish. “So not that I’m not enjoying this, but is there a reason you wanted to meet me for lunch today?”

Right, yes.

His insides clench, and suddenly all the easiness is gone and the nerves have returned with reinforcements.

Just do it, Brewer.

“I just … um …” Not looking at David is imperative, but he’s still there in the periphery. “I guess I wanted to see if …” Christ, is he wheezing? He sneaks a look—David is watching him with wary eyebrows, but Patrick can’t think how to reassure him. “… how you might feel about …”

“I said will you marry me?”

“Are you serious?”

“Patrick, I’m always serious.”

“Ben, you just spent all day answering the phone like a pirate.”

“Patrick. Focus.”

“… about whether you would want to … go. Out. With me.”

He’s sweating. He is honest-to-god sweating.

David watches him for a long moment. “That … looked like it hurt.”

Patrick drops his head in his hands. A strangled sort of noise comes out.

“Did I just pass out? I feel like I passed out.” He thinks he hears David laugh, and wills himself to look back up to confirm it. He isn’t exactly chortling, but he doesn’t look upset, either. And … oh, thank god, he isn’t pitying him. It’s something less painful than that, something kinder, like he’s actually worried. About Patrick.

How many times is this man going to pick him back up?

David bites his lips together and glances away. “So I’m thinking maybe you’re not ready? For that?”

And Patrick feels his shoulders sag. Strings cut, foundation crumbled. He hadn’t realised how tightly he’s been holding himself until he finally lets it go. He feels like weeping. He isn’t ready. He’d tried so hard, had really thought he might be. And despite the doubts and the nerves he had been so optimistic, so determined that he might finally be ready to step away from all the pain. That he might be on the way to being normal again. God, he thinks, squeezing his eyes shut, why can’t I just be normal again?

“I want to be ready,” he whispers. He wants to look up, to meet David’s eyes, to apologise (yet again), but suddenly he feels exhausted. Dimly, he wonders what will happen if he just slumps over the table and doesn’t ever get up again. He feels the warm weight of David’s hand come to rest on top of his, and he wishes he could reciprocate. He just … can’t move just yet.

“It’s okay,” David says softly.

“It’s not,” says Patrick, shaking his head. Without looking up, he turns his hand under David’s and lets the other man’s fingers curl gently around his own. He draws in a deep breath, and lets it out, along with: “I just … I like you, David.” It’s easier to say it in an exhale; it’s like he hasn’t really said it.

They both sit in silence for a long moment, not looking at each other, and Patrick lets himself breathe into it, lets David’s hand ground him, pull him back slowly to himself.

“I might … have a suggestion?”

Patrick finally looks up. David’s expression is nonchalant, or most of it is. He looks like he’s holding something back.

“A suggestion?”

“I mean, you’re obviously still getting your head around things, but … maybe you’re putting too much pressure on yourself.”

Patrick frowns. “I don’t …”

“Maybe you don’t have to do anything other than what you’re already doing. Maybe you just need a bit of time to figure it out.”

“And what, uh …” Patrick sits up a little, still not getting it. “What am I doing?”

David shrugs, and Patrick gets that feeling again, like David is trying to hide most of his emotions. Doing a decent job, too.

“You said that the other night you felt like yourself. Like the person you are now.” Patrick stares. “What if you just kept doing whatever makes you … feel like that?”

He blinks. “Oh.” Oh. “You mean … what if we kept—” David looks straight at him then, and Patrick feels the rest of his words die in his throat.

I can’t do that.

Can I?

“I can’t ask you to … I don’t know how I’d be … how long it’ll take me to …”

“Finish a sentence?”

Patrick laughs. Actually laughs. And it feels so good that he leans into it before he can stop himself, watching David with something warm beating against his chest. That. That feeling. That’s what he wants to feel again. But …

“I think I’d feel like I was using you …” he says, forehead creased with how uneasy the idea makes him.

But David shrugs again. “As someone who has been on the receiving end of that kind of treatment before, I can say that you don’t seem the type. Besides, it’s not like I wouldn’t be getting …” here he presses his lips together to hide a brief smile, “… something out of it.”

Patrick wonders why he isn’t shutting this down immediately. “I don’t know if I’d be any good at being casual …” He lets his voice trail off before he finishes: with you. “Never really got the hang of not feeling anything.” His mouth feels dry, and he reaches for his water.

But David is shaking his head. “Believe it or not I’m not suggesting robot sex.”

He spends a moment or two spluttering while David smirks.

“Well … good,” Patrick manages at last.

“I just mean we don’t try to push anything. You just do what you need to. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

Patrick stares at him. “And … you’d be okay with that?”

David nods, watching him closely. Not judging. Not demanding. Just waiting. And suddenly what has seemed so impossible seems so straightforward, like all the expectations have been lifted.

It’s just the two of them here.

“So if we … were to do this …”

“I think it’s good to start with some clear ground rules,” says David, and Patrick straightens up. Rules. Rules are his wheelhouse. Rules he can handle.

“Okay. Like what?”

David taps a ringed forefinger with one from his other hand. “First thing’s first. I’m happy continuing on with what we’ve already done, because, I mean, it’s amazing—” (Patrick is blushing. How is David not blushing?) “—but either way it might be a good idea if we both got tested.”

Oh my god. “Of course,” stammers Patrick.

David nods, like they’re choosing a wine or something. “Okay. Second.” He taps another silver-ringed finger and seems to hesitate for a moment. “I don’t know if you’re planning on seeing any other people, but I’ve, uh, been kind of out of the loop on that before? And I’d prefer—from a safety standpoint, I mean, it’s not—”

“I don’t want to see anyone else.”

Patrick wants to roll his eyes; can he not be cool for one damn second? Not that it isn’t true. Hell, he can barely manage to see one person. He forces himself to look back at David, though, and catches the tail end of his expression just before he hides it behind a mask of nonchalance.

“Okay then,” says David, a little too late, a little too lightly. “So—”

“—Do you?”

Once again, Patrick’s mouth has bypassed his brain entirely. He tries to look as though a) he had meant to ask, and b) he isn’t so concerned about what the answer might be. David looks at him, and the moment stretches, or maybe it just feels like it does.

“No,” he says, finally. “I’m not planning on seeing anyone else.”

Patrick puts everything into looking normal, keeping his eyes fixed on David’s. “Okay then,” he says.

There is a long pause.

“Was there a third?”

David starts, and blinks in rapid succession. “Hm? Yeah. Yes. Third is … well, just that we keep communicating. Tell each other if anything changes. If anything’s not working. I’d really … appreciate that.”

One day, Patrick, a handsome stranger will come into your life and offer you mind-blowing sex without demanding anything from you but open communication.

He has to make sure he’s got this right. “So we keep seeing each other, we keep having sex—”

“Amazing sex.”

He can’t keep a chuckle from escaping, even as he feels his neck flush. “Amazing sex,” he clarifies, fixing David’s gaze with his own to let him know that, whatever else, they are on the same page about that. “And we don’t see other people.”

“Unless—”

“Unless one of us stipulates a change in circumstances.” David nods. Patrick cocks his head to one side. “And in what way is all that not … dating?”

His smile gets away from him again as David rolls his eyes. “Because,” he huffs, waving a hand. “It’s not dating. It’s whatever you need it to be. There’s no label on it. No expectation. We don’t have to do dates.”

“What, like, lunch?” Patrick points out innocently, glancing at the food in front of them.

David narrows his eyes, but there is a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Well, I mean, with all the sex, I’m going to need some sustenance.” Patrick is sure David said that just to get him to blush.

“Okay,” he concedes. He looks at David. Wondering. Part of him is still hesitant. Another part, the part he has been listening to more and more since he met David, is propelling him forward, steadily, closer to the edge. “Okay,” he says again, softly this time.

David nods in that way of his, slowly, steadily, like he’s assessing. “Okay.”

“But before we get to anything … else … there’s something I need to know,” Patrick says, leaning forward and looking serious. He waits until David begins to look anxious. “What the hell is your last name?”

 

*

When David makes it back to the gallery he is still smiling. It’s getting embarrassing. People are going to think he’s happy or something. Luckily, the sight that greets him in the main space puts paid to that complication.

“David!” Alexis waves, bracelets jangling, from where she is taking pictures of the artworks.

“Stop doing that,” he grumbles as he approached, trying to nab her phone. “You’re breaking copyright.”

Duh, David. Relax, I’m here on business,” she says, rolling her eyes and pulling her phone out of his reach. “I’m just trying to get an idea of what directions the new owners might want to take with the space.”

David grunts, but inwardly concedes that something of what he is feeling might be pride in his sister. She has really worked at this, and while he still questions some of her aesthetic decisions, he has to admit she’s done a good job on brokering the sale ahead of starting work on the new owners’ takeover campaign. And he doesn’t really care what they do with the gallery. Not now that he has the store.

A muted thrill washes through him. The store. He wishes he was there now. It’s the one place that he has complete control over. Sometimes, that thought isn’t so soothing; having sole control means bearing all the consequences of failure, after all. But most of the time it’s a safe space, where everything is carefully selected, carefully arranged according to a careful vision. Each time he steps through the doors it’s like taking a deep, slow breath. A reset.

Right now, though, there is still the gallery. And Alexis.

“Where have you been, anyway?” she asks, eyeing the back office with an assessing eye, no doubt wondering if the walls could be knocked through. She has been talking a lot about knocking through. David suspects she’s seen one too many renovation shows.

“What? I had lunch.”

“With who?”

David pretends to be straightening a frame. He doesn’t want to talk about this with her. Unfortunately, and as always, his vote counts for nothing.

“David?”

“Hm?”

She has her hand on her hip, her shrewd gaze levelled at him. “You were with him, weren’t you.”

“Him who?” He doesn’t know why he bothers pretending he doesn’t know who she means. He knows. She knows. He knows that she knows that he knows. All this will do was delay the inevitable, but he’s feeling petulant.

“Him the guy. The sweet little widow guy you had the magic sex with.”

David grimaces. God, he really should have toned himself down.

“His name is Patrick,” he mutters, hating to give her any more information, but loath to let her keep calling him that.

Patrick,” she says, her grin widening with her eyes as she watches him. He has a suspicion he knows what that look means, and he doesn’t like it.

“Okay, yes, we had lunch,” he says dismissively, hoping in vain that it might hose down this conversation.

“Oh my god, David! Are you two, like, dating—”

“No. No!” He whirls towards her, hands waving to cut her off. “It’s not … dating, it’s just … we’re friends.”

Friends. The word feels weird. Would have done even if there weren’t other factors. David doesn’t have friends. Not anymore, anyway.

“Friends,” Alexis echoes, still eyeing him in that infuriatingly knowing way.

“Yes,” David says, trying to sound more certain.

“Right. Well, take it from someone who knows. Pretending something isn’t happening doesn’t mean it’s not going on anyway. Just ask Robert Pattinson about the time he told me nothing was going on, even though I saw Kristen wearing those earrings she got from Rupert.”

David tries to ignore her, tries to put his concentration on the Jill Smith sculpture. He’s stubbed his toe on it twice this week, and it's difficult not to hold it against the artist.

Anyway, he isn’t saying nothing is going on. Something has been going on since the moment he wandered into Derek’s kitchen. It’s just that they aren’t … dating. And David, frankly, is relieved. He harbours no illusions that if they were to try anything like that it wouldn’t burn out sooner rather than later. David would forget not to be needy and Patrick would get frustrated, or Patrick would crack under the weight of all the expectations he’s carrying and David would freak out and blow things up before they had a chance to do so by themselves. So they aren’t dating. They’re just … seeing where things are going.

Underneath this carefully constructed mantra, of course, runs a black line that says: this could hurt; and a dark blue line that says: I don’t care.

His phone pings.

Patrick Brewer

Hi David Rose. Feel like doing something Saturday morning?

And pings again.

By which I mean 2pm?

David grins. He can’t help it.

“Is that Patrick?” Alexis is peering over his shoulder. He shies away, aghast. “Oh my god, David, look at you! You’re giddy!”

“Um, excuse me, I’ve never been giddy in my life!” he squawks, employing high dudgeon.

“Mhm,” she says, trying to wink at him and landing somewhere nearer blinking. He grimaces. Intolerable.

“Okay, you have to stop that,” he says, gesturing in a wide circle at her whole self before turning back to the room at large with a sigh. His hand itches to text back. He definitely can’t give her the satisfaction. So he waits.

Alexis is being suspiciously quiet, though.

He can’t stand it.

“It’s not serious,” he blurts out finally, pretending to be occupied with his rings. He can feel her looking at him, but keeps his gaze averted.

“Isn’t it,” she says, clearly not believing him enough to even frame it as a question.

“No,” he insists. He thinks he sounds pretty confident. But she’s taking a long time to reply, which doesn’t seem like a good sign.

“You like him.”

Her voice isn’t mocking, isn’t gleeful, it just … is. He wants to deny it, to roll his eyes and scoff, to tell her to mind her own business, walk away, anything, but … he doesn’t. Can’t. He just stands there, not looking at her, twisting his rings around in a move they both know is anxiety-based. And before he can muster anything resembling a reply, she just lays a brief hand on his arm and walks away.

Fuck, he thinks, tipping his head back and wincing. If Alexis knows, if she can tell, then he really is in trouble.

 

*

Chapter Text

confidence

noun

  1. The feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.
  2. The telling of private matters or secrets with mutual trust.

 

“So is this okay?” Patrick asks as they stroll past the fresh produce and towards the upper level.

They are deep in the St Lawrence markets, wandering between the stalls and the afternoon crowd, which isn’t as bad as Patrick had feared it would be. He’s used to the earlier starts, but assumed (correctly, he has been informed) that David would not have been so amenable.

“Markets? I’ll have you know this is one of my happy places. Particularly the bakery with the good cinnamon buns.”

Patrick chuckles. “We’ll get there, I promise.”

“He promises,” David mutters, with a mock eye-roll.

Patrick ducks his head and smiles. He had been relieved, and a little proud, to see David’s eyes light up as they entered the building, glad that they shared a liking for this.

“Yeah, I was actually referring to … this.” He waves a hand, vaguely. “Spending time together like this.” Outside of the bedroom, he thinks, but doesn’t say.

David arches an eyebrow, a shrewd look on his face, and for a horror-struck moment Patrick wonders if he did say it.

“I mean, when you said you wanted to do something today I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t imagined us wearing a lot fewer clothes.”

Patrick looks away and rubs the back of his neck to try to hide the flush he knows is rising there. God, he’s already screwing this up. He’s gone back and forth on the idea so many times he’d needed a second shower this morning just to calm down. Ultimately, it had seemed worse to try to force himself to act like he was someone else, someone who wasn’t beset with anxiety over a hook-up.

“Yeah,” he says with a wince, shoving his hands into his pockets. “I told you I was going to be bad at this.”

But David shakes his head. “I don’t think that’s true,” he says, almost to himself, and something about his smile is secretive. Patrick wants to know more about that smile.

“I just … thought it would be a good idea to get to know each other a little better. Hope that’s okay?” He steals a glance to gauge David’s reaction, but he just nods thoughtfully as he stops at a flower bin to start rearranging a bouquet.

“I thought we agreed that we are doing whatever you feel comfortable with.”

Patrick frowns, reaching out idly to toy with a branch of silvery gum leaves. He doesn’t like the way that sounds. “Right, but … I guess I kind of hoped that we would be doing things we were both comfortable with.”

“What?”

Patrick looks up to find David staring at him.

“David, I don’t want to do anything you’re not okay with. I mean,” he tries a lighter tone. “Ideally, we’d be aiming for something we’d both actually enjoy.”

David is still staring. Patrick feels the familiar flush creeping up the back of his neck.

“Is that not … was that really stupid?”

“No,” David says finally, and frowns at the arrangement in his hands. Patrick waits, still not sure he hasn’t made a mistake. “I guess I’m just not used to … weighing in on … that sort of thing.”

Now Patrick is frowning. “What sort of thing? You mean no one’s—” David cuts him a sharp look, and Patrick finally clicks. David isn’t used to having his opinion considered. Has no one ever asked him what he likes doing? Has no one … what kind of people has he been with who haven’t even considered him? Even with Patrick’s inexperience when it comes to … whatever this is … he can’t imagine being that blasé about another person.

David is looking down again, and Patrick spies a fierce blush on his cheeks. He remembers David’s hint the other day that he has been used before, and bites back a swell of anger, forces his tone back into the upper atmosphere.

“Well, I’d definitely like you to weigh in. For instance.” He pulls up a random bouquet of yellow daisies. “These? Tacky?”

David wavers for a moment, and then Patrick sees him give in. He grimaces and shakes his head. “Beyond tacky. And they should at least be wrapped in brown paper. Cellophane is so …”

“1997?”

“Incorrect,” David supplies, tucking his smirk into a corner of his mouth. Patrick is really starting to like those smirks.

“Incorrect,” he repeats, as though taking notes. They turn away from the florist to head down the hall.

They spend a happy half hour at the food stalls, where Patrick watches and listens as David holds forth on the merits of cinnamon buns, and lemon curd, and properly made ciabatta bread. David buys a loaf of the latter, and his expression as he pressed his nose to the crust and inhales is something to behold. On catching Patrick watching, he clears his throat and looks away.

“Want me to shut up about the bread?”

Patrick grins. “Never,” he says, and wonders if that sounded too … much. “You ever thought about teaching a class?” David laughs, and Patrick’s smile automatically widens. “Because I feel like I’m learning a lot here.”

“Yeah, well. You’ll be quizzed at the end of the lesson.”

“I mean it though,” says Patrick as they move on. “You seem to really know what you’re talking about.”

David shrugs, the way he always seems to in the face of compliments.

“I have very firm opinions on food,” he says. “Also I’ve been researching a bunch of produce specs lately.”

Patrick blinks. “Like, for fun?”

“Like, for business,” David snips, quirking a playful eyebrow. “I’m …” he squares his shoulders, as if trying a feeling on for size, “opening a store.”

“Wow,” Patrick says, in open admiration. “That’s big.”

“Is it?” David looks like he’s trying to play things down, but Patrick thinks he’s pleased.

“Yeah. What sort of store?”

Patrick spends the next while listening while David details his plans for the store—locally produced artisanal goods sold on consignment in what he refers to as a “branded immersive experience”. And beyond the buzz words Patrick sees the vision of what he is creating, sees the gap it fills in the market, sees how someone inventive could make it into something.

“So you’re stocking Toronto manufacturers only?”

“Mostly. There are a couple of really nice vendors a little further out that I’d like to get on board, but, we’ll see.”

“It sounds like a great model,” says Patrick, contemplating the potential. “You could end up expanding, sourcing different local products from each location …” He stops at the baffled look on David’s face. “What?”

“Nothing, I …” Brow still furrowed, he seems to be holding back a faint uptick in the corners of his mouth. “I think that’s the nicest reaction I’ve heard so far, that’s all. So … thanks.” It’s like David is trying on the word and has found it an unfamiliar fit.

“Your family and friends must have been proud,” Patrick ventures awkwardly.

David scoffs a little. “Well. Since we lost most of our family fortune a year or two ago, friends have been a little thin on the ground.”

He gives what Patrick imagines is the barest outline of his last few years, and now David’s reaction makes sense. Patrick has seen that look on his face before, like he’s wondering why Patrick is being so nice. Wondering what he wants in return. Patrick wonders how many people around David have an agenda.

What an awful way to live.

They haven’t really had any physical contact since they’ve met up that afternoon, but now Patrick can’t stop himself from reaching up to place what he hopes is a comforting hand on his arm. David sort of glances in his direction without looking at him, and turns away almost immediately, radiating discomfort. So Patrick squeezes lightly and let go.

“I think it sounds great. Really sustainable.”

This time David’s look is critical. “Sustainable,” he repeats with a grimace.

Patrick chuckles. “I’m a business major. It’s part of the lexicon.”

“Hm.” He’s smiling a little, chewing his lower lip, like he’s thinking about his next words carefully. Patrick stays silent, walking beside him and waiting. “Did you … would you want to see the space?”

 

*

The sun is low, casting that kind of idyllic, golden afternoon light across the wooden floorboards that David loves so much. The little bell, which has only just been installed, tinkles as he opens the door, nervous about letting another person into this place. Alexis has been by, yes, and various delivery people and labourers, but this is the first time he’s willingly opened it up to someone for their opinion.

He wants to soften his nerves with a joke, or a quip, or a long-winded explanation about what it will become once everything is finished, but can’t seem to get the words out. So he just folds his arms around himself and tries not to look conspicuous as he watches for Patrick’s reaction out of the corner of his eye.

He’s looking carefully at the products, eyeing the layout and running his hand over the shelves, as though taking careful stock of each part of it. His touch is gentle, as if he might get how precious it all feels to David. Finally, he turns to face him with a wide smile.

“David, this is incredible.”

David takes an easier breath, allowing his smile to mirror Patrick’s. His face is so open and unequivocally appreciative, his eyes catching the light and turning a deep gold … David swallows and looks away, reaching out to run his fingertips along the counter that is to house the cash register and card machine (as soon as he figures out how to install it).

“I still have to finalise a lot of vendor contracts, and there’s a bunch of things the electrician needs to do but …” he hears himself diminishing it and makes an effort to stop. Patrick likes it. Patrick is a business major, and he thinks this is a good idea. Sustainable. He looks out at the store again, and like always it infuses him with an immediate sense of satisfaction. “It’s coming together.”

Patrick is glancing around, eyes drifting from the shelves to the centre table, to the partially constructed window display. He shakes his head. “It’s more than coming together, David. This is really impressive. It’s high-end without being unwelcoming, it’s streamlined but doesn’t feel empty, it’s warm but …” He trails off, and in the light his cheeks look flushed.

David tenses. “What?”

But Patrick just smiles. “It’s you,” he says, as if it’s a perfectly normal thing to say, a perfectly easy thing to hear.

David, on the other hand, is David, and so he turns his back on Patrick, bites his lip, and forces his eyes not to water.

“David?” He can hear Patrick edge closer. “Did I say something wrong, or—”

“Uh-uh, nope.” He tries to surreptitiously wipe his eyes before half-turning back. “I’m just, um, not used to that kind of … compliment.”

“Your family not big sharers?”

“Dear god, no.” David spends a horrifying moment imagining it. “To be fair, it’s a mutual problem.” He picks up one of the body milk jars and runs his hand over the label. “Although we’re better than we used to be. Which isn’t saying much, now that I think of it.” He puts the jar back down and rests a finger on its lid. “I used to run a gallery. Back before the whole …” he waves his hand around illustratively, “… money thing. Except, as it turns out, I didn’t, really. Because my parents were actually paying everyone to buy the art. So.”

He doesn’t know why he’s saying this to a relative stranger.

“Wow. That’s … I mean I’m sure they had good intentions, but …” Patrick looks right at David. “That must have been really hard.”

Once again, confronted with such validation and sincere compassion, David is unsure what to do. He clears his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, it was … hard.” He makes an effort to brighten his voice. “But! You don’t need to hear about my problems.”

To his surprise, Patrick looks a little sad. “I’d like to. If you want.”

David frowns. “You’d … like to?”

“Yeah, uh …” This time David recognises his expression. The faint smile, the averted gaze: whatever he’s about the share is deeply personal. And instead of wanting to extract himself, David finds he’s leaning in. “Time was I used to be the first person my friends came to for advice. Or just to vent. I’ve always been a person who likes to fix things, or I try to. I tried to. So they’d come to me for help. Or maybe they just liked the fact that I always had beer in the fridge, but …”

“They don’t come around anymore?” David frowns, trying to picture the type of person who has Patrick as a friend and chooses not to spend time with him.

“No, they still come around,” says Patrick. “Just uh …” he smiles in a way that twists David’s insides. “Just not for my support.” He looks like he’s struggling with the next bit, so David takes a leaf out of his book and waits. Finally, he looks at David with that same painful smile. “I’m broken, you see. Gotta be treated carefully.”

David feels an actual ache in his chest.

“Don’t get me wrong, most of them have been great, really. It’s not their fault. I just … being the person my friends came to was such a big part of me … of who I used to be … it’s just hard to get used to not … being that anymore.”

To his surprise, David knows precisely what he means. It sucks when people have such low expectations of what you’re capable of. Even if it comes from good intentions. It really sucks.

And oh, he really doesn’t want Patrick to feel like that.

“Well, I mean … I could definitely use any support you have going spare …” He wishes he sounded more articulate, more like Patrick, wishes he could tell him that he understands, that he doesn’t think Patrick is broken. “I mean if you’re sure you want to hear about my crazy family.”

Patrick gives a surprised sort of chuckle. He ducks his head and looks up at David with a lopsided smile. It does … something to David.

“Go ahead,” he says, in a warm sort of way, and right then David understands exactly why people would go to him for comfort.

“Where to begin …” He taps his chin in a mockery of deep thought. “Have you ever seen Sunrise Bay?”

 

*

Patrick had every intention of keeping the day platonic. After the café, a couple of things have been made clear. One: he is not ready to be in a normal relationship. Two: whatever it says about him, he doesn’t think he can handle a casual-sex relationship either. He doesn’t have to be in love, but he needs a bit of connection. A bit of trust. And while for whatever reason he has trusted David this far, he wants to know a little more before they keep seeing each other. Or whatever.

And that’s what today was supposed to be about. Seeing David’s store, though, talking about his family, means that soon enough it’s getting dark, and so they go for pizza at a nearby hole-in-the-wall that David knows. And before Patrick knows it they are standing once again in front of David’s apartment building. And this time, David leans in and kisses him. And Patrick kisses him back, because he wants to, and because he can’t talk himself out of it.

Rather than the flurried groping and kicking-off of clothes that marked their last time here, their movements once they’re inside the apartment are slow, deliberate, as they make their way to the bed. Such a novel thing, Patrick thinks, to do what makes him feel good, what he wants to do. But David has said it’s okay, and so Patrick drags his mouth along David’s neck, focusing on the taste of him there, in that spot where he seems to fit. He hears David sigh, and he smiles against his skin, sliding his hands around him and pulling him close, pressing their bodies together, feeling his firmness and strength and relishing it.

“God, I love that sound you make …” David breathes, and Patrick slows a little.

“I make a sound?”

“Mhm.” And David rolls them over, sinking back into the mattress and tugging Patrick on top of him.

Patrick braces himself up on his hands, looking down at the man beneath him. His lips are pink and parted in a smile, his eyes dark and glittering, lit with a knowing gleam that makes Patrick’s stomach flip. Whatever you need.

So he leans back and fingers the hem of David’s sweater, looking up in a silent request, because he meant it when he said he wants them both to have a say in this. David nods, so he lifts it carefully over his head. Even in their limited interaction he has noticed the care David takes of his clothes, so he makes sure to place it gently on the chest at the foot of the bed. He is rewarded with a flash of surprise in David’s eyes, and he grins as he pulls off his own sweater before leaning back down to reclaim David’s lips with his own.

God, he likes kissing him. He makes the most of it, slow and languid, teasing, deep, chasing each other back and forth while trying to make room for breath … while David’s hands roam Patrick’s back, sliding over his muscles, carding fingers up into his hair and pressing him closer, closer.

All this necessitates a break sooner than expected.

“I think …” Patrick gasps, pulling back with effort, “I think I’m going to need to take your pants off. If that’s okay?”

David’s eyes are cloudy with heat, his lips swollen. Patrick imagines that he must look pretty similar.

“Yeah,” David nods frantically. “Yeah, yes to that.”

He grins and kisses his way down David’s torso while his hands busy themselves at the buttons of David’s jeans. Once they are open Patrick hooks his fingers around the waist, ready to pull, when he pauses. He hooks his fingers around David’s underwear as well, and looks up. David is smirking.

“Mhm,” he hums, and Patrick keeps his eyes locked with David’s as he pulls. And then there is David, naked beneath him. Patrick takes a moment, resting his palms on David’s thighs, dragging them slowly upwards, past his hips, over his belly to his chest.

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmurs. He hears David suck in a breath, and meets his gaze with a smile to soften the compliment. He leans back down, bracing his hands on the bed, heading back to David’s mouth.

“Wait.”

Patrick jerks back, but David is still smiling, arching an eyebrow at him. He looks down pointedly at Patrick’s jeans. Oh, right.

“I mean, if you want—”

“Oh, I want to,” Patrick says, and something flashes in David’s eyes.

He gets to his feet so that David can have his turn ridding Patrick of his jeans and underwear. Now that both of them are naked, but before Patrick’s nerves have a chance to muster, David pulls him back down and rolls them again so that now Patrick’s back is pressed into the mattress, and David’s body is pressed into his.

And oh.

“Oh my god,” Patrick breathes, his head falling back at the heat that immediately rushes through his groin at the contact. Something about the weight of David on top of him. They are both well on their way to being fully hard, and the sensation of David’s cock rubbing against his is sending his synapses into overload, limiting his coherent thoughts to a circle of the same three words: Good. More. David.

David grinds his hips slowly into Patrick’s, and his head jerks up off the bed with a gasp. David dips down to cover his mouth, and Patrick uses the kiss to try to calm down, get a hold of himself. He slides a hand up David’s neck, tangling his fingers into his thick, dark hair, keeping him where he wants him. His other hand grabs David’s hip, squeezing encouragement as he resumes his slow pace.

“Hang on.” Suddenly David’s weight is gone, and the absence makes Patrick blink. He manages to focus enough to realise David is reaching into the bedside drawer for a bottle, squeezing something into his hand before he is back where Patrick needs him. Then his hand is on Patrick’s cock, and it feels so fucking good, the lube faintly cool but accompanied by David’s warm fingers. Patrick arches his back at the sensation, at the sight of David’s hand wrapped around him.

Fumbling for the bottle that David has dropped on the bed, Patrick squeezes some lube into his own shaking hand and reaches out for David.

“Now you,” he says breathlessly.

David’s eyes flash with something very interesting, and he nods.

Jesus, Patrick thinks as he works at David’s cock to meet the rhythm he is setting on his own. He’s wanted this more than he realised. Wants David to touch him, yes, but also to be touching David, to feel him hard and wanting under his hand, to know that he wants this too. David shifts so that they are pressed together, and when he wraps his large hand around them both, Patrick lets go and curls his fists into the sheets to stop from bucking up into the sheer pleasure that it gives him. He feels it thrumming through to his toes, his fingertips, spreading out from the delicious swooping warmth building in his groin. Dimly, he hears someone let out a deep, guttural groan, realises it was him.

“Fuck, Patrick, the sounds you make …” David gasps, and this evidence of his arousal, of Patrick’s effect on him, sends another, intense wave of pleasure rushing through Patrick. He hears himself groan again, deep and raspy and unfamiliar but, he thinks, perfectly indicative of how David is making him feel.

“David. Holy fuck, David,” he grinds out in response, the feeling building, building (how is it still building?), as David ducks his head to Patrick’s shoulder and moans long and loud into his skin. Patrick grabs at his shoulder blades, his hip, desperate for more, feeling the wave start to crest within him.

“I’m close, I’m so close,” he hears David mutter, and Patrick nods against him, gasping for breath.

“Do it,” he pants, and slides his hand around David’s hip to knead his fingers into his ass. “I’m right behind.”

David growls, and his movements become erratic, as desperate as Patrick feels. Finally, his hips stutter, and he bites into Patrick’s shoulder as he comes. Patrick cries out— “Oh god, David, David” —and his vision goes white, all his senses giving themselves over to this, to them.

At length he becomes aware of David’s dead weight on him—not heavy but grounding, sheltering. He runs the flats of his hands up and down David’s back, assuring himself of his presence, bringing him back to himself, breath by breath. He feels, as much as hears, David hum against his skin, and the sound tugs the corner of his mouth into a smile. He wants to stay here as long as possible, luxuriate in the afterglow, in the feeling of right that settles in these moments, before his brain inevitably starts overthinking.

In reality, of course, certain tasks need to be completed.

“Hey,” he murmurs, tapping David on the shoulder. David only grunts in response, and Patrick chuckles. “Okay, if you let me up I’ll grab a washcloth.”

A groan, but no movement.

“So lazy,” Patrick mutters, rolling his eyes. He braces his aching muscles to push off the mattress and roll David over onto his back. From this vantage point he can see David’s face, muscles slack, eyes closed, the growing hint of a self-satisfied smirk. Patrick shakes his head. “Unbelievable,” he says, but he drops a kiss onto that smirk before levering himself up and into the bathroom. Truth be told, he doesn’t really mind.

 

*

David frowns in his sleep.

Something is pulling him out of his dream, and he can already sense that it’s too early. He whines in frustration, rebelling against the idea of waking. As he breaks through the fuzz in his mind, however, he becomes aware of the sounds emanating from the man beside him, and blinks hard to try to focus.

Still asleep, Patrick is shifting uncomfortably, his mouth curved in a frown, his forehead creased. His breath is coming out in short little huffs. Before David can decide on a course of action, Patrick jerks violently awake, half rising onto his elbows with a harsh gasp, as though emerging from the water, starving for breath.

He stays like that a moment, clearly trying to calm down, but when it doesn’t seem to be working he sits up. In the dim light, David can see his hands trembling.

Crap. He recognises these symptoms. Wincing, he supposes it’s nice to get a chance to use his expertise for a good cause. He sits up, making sure that they aren’t touching. “Hey,” he soothes. “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

Patrick nods automatically, but his eyes are squeezed shut and his hands are balled into fists and he still seems to be having trouble catching his breath. This, too, David recognises.

He shuffles around so he can see his face a little better. “Patrick? Can you breathe?”

Patrick starts to nod, but as his gulping breaths became more frantic he presses his fists to his face and shakes his head.

“It’s okay. You’re having a panic attack,” says David, trying to make his voice as even and calming as possible. “It feels like a heart attack, but it’s not, I promise.” Well, he hopes it isn’t. Think positive. “I’m going to touch you now, okay?” Patrick nods, and lets David take one of his hands and pry it open, linking their fingers and pressing it gently to his own chest. “You’re all right. Just try to match my breathing.” He breathes deep, in and out, steadily and slowly, the way he’s been taught.

Patrick finally looks up, locks his eyes on David’s, tries his best to follow along, and after a while it seems to come easier. David keeps up the rhythm until Patrick takes one huge shuddering breath and lets it out slowly. The tension seems to leak out of him, and his whole body sags as he lets himself fall back onto the bed. David goes to let go of his hand, but Patrick is still holding on tight, so he leaves them entwined and follows suit, laying down beside him.

“Nightmare?” he ventures after a while. They've talked a lot today. Maybe all the reminders of his past were a bad idea.

“Yeah …” Patrick nods and lifts his other hand to scrub his forehead. “It was … you were …”

And David is dying to hear the rest of that sentence. But Patrick just shakes his head a little, and for a long moment they don’t speak. David chews his lip.

Don’t ask. Don’t ask. Don’t you dare ask.

“God, I hate this.”

It’s so quiet that if he wasn’t right next to him David thinks he wouldn’t have heard it. Of course, his first instinct is to assume Patrick is somehow referring to him, but a quick glance shows Patrick’s face screwed up in anguish against a swell of emotions, and David knows the signs of self-loathing when he sees them.

Patrick’s hand is still locked tightly in his; he seems unwilling, or unable just now, to surrender that contact. David isn’t used to holding hands, especially in bed. In the past it has been made clear that cuddling and touching outside of sex are not always welcome, are considered clingy, in fact. So he has learned to hesitate before offering, and eventually stopped doing so altogether unless expressly asked for it. He gets it. Some people need space.

But Patrick is still holding his hand.

He’s also still clearly unsettled. David’s own experience with panic attacks always leaves him feeling a bit lost, a bit untethered, so his instinct, for better or for worse, is to wrap his arms around Patrick, make him feel safe. He just isn’t sure it won’t make things worse.

He glances at Patrick, whose forehead is still creased, his breaths still heavy. Patrick, who is the first person his friends come to for comfort. Or was once. He goes over their earlier conversation in his mind, how Patrick thinks he is broken, how sad it makes him that he can no longer offer comfort, how he wishes he could go back to being the person he was, who supported others, who had found reassurance in that part of himself. David wants to give him a little of that back.

“Here,” he says, gently tugging his hand from Patrick’s and turning his back, hoping it isn’t a spectacularly stupid idea.

“What are you—” Patrick breaks off as David backs up into him, but he automatically turns and opens his arms to accommodate him. It’s an encouraging sign, so David reaches for Patrick’s other hand and pulls it around him to press against his chest, hoping Patrick will get the idea, hoping that he might feel David’s heartbeat and be soothed.

For a moment Patrick sort of hovers, awkwardly, hesitantly, but eventually David feels him relax, feels him lean against David’s back, feels his arm press gently against David’s chest. His breathing evens out. And then he lets out the deepest sigh David has ever heard from him, breath warm against his neck, and Patrick gives in entirely, unwinding that last coil of anxiety, burying his face in David’s shoulder and letting himself melt against his body.

David allows himself a quiet sigh of relief. He lets his own body relax—you’re doing this for him—lets himself be lulled back into sleep by the warm weight of Patrick against him, by the gentle pressure of his hand against his chest, by the slow rhythm his thumb strokes over his heart.

 

*

Chapter Text

use

verb

  1. Exploit a person or situation for one's own advantage.
  2. Be or become familiar with someone or something through experience.

 

Patrick’s day hadn’t started particularly well, woken as he was by his neighbour’s car alarm, but it’s only when he’s halfway down the tea and coffee aisle that it tips over into being properly bad. Until then it has been relatively normal: he’s finished work a little early, and Stevie is coming over to have dinner, watch a movie, and, no doubt, grill him about his personal life. Or, to be more exact, David. He’s not quite sure what to tell her.

When he’d woken up in David’s bed on Sunday morning he had felt unexpectedly comfortable. In fact, he had found himself unwilling to move too quickly, turn too sharply, lest he burst this strange bubble of intimacy in which they had found themselves. It must have been an after-effect of the day before, of the opening up, of the way they had spent the night curled around each other. He wondered where it all fit in their unlabelled non-relationship, but couldn’t quite figure out how to ask. Instead, he had found himself following as David beckoned him into the shower, where they had moved languidly, taking their time with each other, the whole morning played legato.

Smiling to himself, he selects a packet of English Breakfast.

“Patrick!”

Almost before he can register who the voice belongs to, his insides have gone cold. For a moment he stays frozen, as if he might vanish from sight if he just doesn’t move. For just a second he contemplates running out of the store, but his innate politeness is already turning him around and pasting what passes for a neutral expression on his face.

“Hi Mrs Martel.”

It’s Ben’s old neighbour, and Patrick thinks immediately of the sugar cookies she used to drop round every Christmas. Buttery and crumbly and slightly too sweet for Patrick’s taste. Ben had once eaten ten in a row and spent the afternoon groaning on the couch.

“I was just thinking about you two the other day,” she’s saying, unaware of the pit that her choice of words opens in Patrick’s stomach. “Isn’t that funny? Oh, he was such a nice young man …”

Patrick reconsiders just making a run for it.

“And you two were so perfect together! Just perfect!”

He tries not to flinch. Tries to stay detached. Reminds himself that she doesn’t mean to be tactless, it’s just that it’s a pleasant memory for her. Whatever grief has touched her has been felt, processed, and boxed away, and now she just remembers the good things. He’s honestly not sure what’s worse, being hit over the head with the idea that he’s lost something “perfect” or the assumption that it was “perfect” to begin with.

But he knows what is coming next, has learned to anticipate the switch in countenance, and all he can do is wait for the moment when it catches up to her. And there it is—her eyes fill with pity.

“Oh, you poor thing! How are you getting on? With everything?”

Patrick almost laughs at how impossible that question is to answer, but he also knows that she’s just trying to be kind.

“I’m doing okay, thanks Mrs Martel.”

“Of course you are,” she soothes, patting him on the arm, and he resists the urge to pull away.

“How are you?”

“Oh fine, fine. Can’t complain. You should come by for tea one day, we can chat …”

Another impossibility, but even though he would rather walk barefoot from here to Vancouver than sit in her living room, eat sugar cookies, and chat about his dead boyfriend—or worse, pretend nothing has changed at all—he’s still his mother’s son, so he forces a smile and agrees that they’ll have to do just that. He suspects she knows he’s lying; she pats his arm again, but before she can say anything else, he makes a show of looking at his watch.

“I’m so sorry, I have to get going. It was nice running into you.”

He’s already shuffling away as she returns the pleasantry, and he abandons the rest of his grocery list to rush through the checkout and out to his car, locking the door in some vague attempt to seal himself off from the outside world while he tries to breathe.

It’s not a full-blown panic attack; it only takes him a moment or two to get his breathing even, but his head is another matter. Memories are jockeying for position, flashing past too quickly to focus on, and he feels dizzy from the sheer number of images filling his mind. It’s not just the memories, either, it’s the way Mrs Martel remembers him—will always remember him—as Ben’s boyfriend. Fiancé. It’s the box that she’s placed him in, specifically to fulfil those expectations. It’s suffocating.

He pulls out his phone and scrolls through the contacts to Stevie’s name, but hesitates before calling her. He could call her. Certainly has done in the past. She would understand.

But something stops him. Maybe it’s because she knew him and Ben as a couple. Maybe he’s worried that she, too, has a box to put him in. It’s not entirely fair to Stevie, but he’s wound far too tightly to try to be the bigger person just now. He feels crammed into a shape that doesn’t fit him anymore, like he’s wearing a different face, and he doesn’t remember what his real one looks like. He needs something to ground him, to tether him back to earth.

Almost without thinking, he’s scrolled back up to David’s number. And hesitates there too, but for different reasons.

He's never been in a—had an arrangement like this before. He’s still not entirely sure if he feels okay with it, although he also can’t bring himself to stop. If he just knew for sure what his part was here …

It’s whatever you need it to be.

What he needs is to stop feeling like he’s disintegrating. He needs to feel like himself. Turns out he’s got his own box, and to be honest he thinks just being around David could lift him out of it. It’s only by clinging to this, by pretending that David’s company is all he’s really seeking, that Patrick manages to force back the guilt threatening to overcome him and actually send a text.

David Rose

Hey, are you around?

He waits, tapping out a frantic beat on the steering wheel and contemplating sending another text to call it off.

Just got home. Everything okay?

Yeah

Not really.

Sorry, it's nothing. I just ran into someone and I think I'm just having a bit of a freak out.

He’s going to cancel, tell him it’s fine—

Do you need to come over?

Patrick squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t quite believe he’s doing this. He can’t quite believe how much he wants to.

Come over.

It feels like a hand extended, and it feels so good just to be offered it that he pushes through all the doubts and fires off a final text.

Okay. Be there in ten.

*

David is very familiar with the dilemma of trying to house too many warring thoughts in his head. He’s never seen it on Patrick, though, so when he opens the door he forgets to school his expression.

“My god, you look—” He catches himself, clears his throat, and lands on “Uh, tense.”

Patrick sort of laughs, but it’s not a real one. He’s jumpy, and when David ushers him in he hesitates before crossing the threshold. Once inside he continues to radiate discomfort and indecision as he starts pacing the entryway. David is so alarmed at the way his hands are shaking that he misses a lot of the explanation. He gets the gist, though.

“She kept saying we were perfect together, and … it wasn’t—it wasn’t like we didn’t—” He huffs a frustrated sort of laugh and scrubs his hands over his face. “Jesus, sorry, you don’t want to hear about this.”

David hesitates. Patrick’s not wrong, is the thing, but he doesn’t want to come out and say it.

“Well. Okay. What do you need?”

And Patrick looks so pained that David can’t help feeling like he’s made things worse.

“I don’t—I just … honestly, I don’t know. My head is just all—” he makes a clawing motion at his temple and groans. Then, with a heavy sigh, he looks up, almost guiltily, and adds, “I just wanted to see you.”

David tries to tuck away the glow of pleasure this sparks in him. He doesn’t quite manage it.

But Patrick’s face is in his hands again. “I’m sorry, that’s not what you want to hear either.”

“Okay, first of all? That’s not true.” He could count on one hand the number of times he’s heard that from someone and believed it. In fact, it’s one of the best things to have happened to him today. This week. Not that he’s going to tell anyone that. “Second of all …” With a quick glance to judge that it’s okay to touch him, he rubs his hands up and down Patrick’s upper arms. “Breathe.”

Patrick does, long and deep. When he opens his eyes he looks a little calmer. David squeezes his shoulders.

“Good. Now. If you feel like you want to be here, then I’m glad you’re here. Keep breathing.”

Patrick looks doubtful, but does as David says, all the while watching him with troubled eyes.

“I’ve never done this …”

And David has no idea how to answer, because … yes he has?

“Um …”

“I don’t mean …” and he actually chuckles. “I mean …”

Ah. “Called someone up just for sex?”

Patrick sighs. “Yeah.”

David smiles a little. “You know I can say no, right?”

Patrick blinks at him. “I—of course I—”

His smile broadens, and he squeezes his arms again to stop him stammering. “Relax, I’m not trying to—all I’m saying is I really don’t feel taken advantage of. Promise. So. What do you need?”

He looks like he’s going to spiral again, so David decides to change tack.

“Come with me,” he says, taking his hand and pulling him down the hall and into the bedroom. Once there, he slides off Patrick’s jacket and places it on the chest. “Sit down,” he says gently, and after a brief hesitation Patrick sinks down on the bed. David places his hands on his forearms, smoothing them up to his shoulders before coming to rest on either side of his neck, where he lets his fingertips play with the short hairs at his nape. He nudges Patrick’s knees aside so he can stand between them, then bends down and kisses him gently, slowly, smiling against his lips when he feels him respond. He keeps the kiss going until he feels Patrick relax. When he lifts his hands to David’s hips, though, he breaks away and kneels between his legs. Though Patrick looks pleasantly dazed, the uncertainty is lingering in his expression, so David rubs his palms up and down his thighs.

“Do you want me to make you come?” It’s a call-back to the first night they spent together, and David means it to be, wants to remind him that it’s okay to need this. And just like that night, Patrick groans.

“Yes,” he breathes. “Please.”

David smirks. “So polite.” He’s pleased when Patrick’s mouth twitches in a faint smile, and he runs his hands up his thighs again. “Can I take these off?”

Patrick nods dumbly, watching as David unzips his jeans and pulls them and his boxer-briefs down his legs. David allows himself to take in the gorgeous sight before him for a moment before he rises up to meet Patrick’s mouth in a deep, slow kiss, smiling at the shudder in his breath.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you,” he hums, and pushes him gently onto his back before sinking back down to his knees. Lifting up Patrick’s t-shirt to expose his lower torso, David kisses his way down his stomach; he pauses only to smirk briefly up at him before gently taking the head of Patrick’s cock into his mouth.

“God, David,” Patrick pants, arching off the bed, but David keeps his movements languid. He takes his time, stroking his inner thighs slowly as he feels him harden, hears his breaths grow shorter. He hums when he feels Patrick’s shaking fingers sink into his hair, and begins to work his hand around the base of Patrick’s cock while letting his tongue attend to the head in a manner that has proven very popular in the past. When he finally sinks down the length of him and sucks hard on the upward stroke Patrick groans out his name again and his fingers clench into David’s hair.

“Sorry,” he gasps, letting go almost immediately, but David pulls off and shakes his head.

“Keep going,” he croaks, and takes Patrick back into his mouth. After a moment he feels the tug at his scalp again—it’s just hard enough, and David loves knowing that he’s drawn that desire out of him, loves knowing that Patrick’s lost control, even a little bit, because of him. He hums in pleasure, and the vibrations make Patrick moan and do it again. He keeps this up, sucking and swallowing and licking until Patrick is squirming beneath him and his hand is tugging more insistently.

“David—” he gasps. “David I’m gonna come …”

David doubles down, and with a long, drawn-out, deliciously raspy sound, Patrick comes down his throat. He swallows and swallows, until Patrick’s fingers finally relax and card shakily through his hair. He finishes cleaning him up with his tongue, lingering until Patrick twitches with oversensitivity, and then climbs up to join him on the bed.

For a while he lays there comfortably, listening to Patrick’s laboured breathing. It should feel more awkward. It has felt more awkward, with other people. In the past he’s spent this moment beset with anxiety, hoping he had done enough, worried he’s done too much, given too much away. And always, always, he’s ended up regretting letting himself be used.

But this … maybe it’s the way he’s never in doubt about how he’s making Patrick feel, the way he responds so unguardedly to everything David does, the way he gasps out his name like he can’t keep it in …

It’s the most fun he’s ever had going down on someone.

Beside him, Patrick gives a start and pushes himself up, turning towards David.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry—”

But David puts a hand to his chest to stop him. “No, no I’m good.” He’s not, really, but it feels like this needs to be about Patrick. It will probably trouble him later, he thinks, how much he enjoyed being the one to give him what he needed, hearing him call out his name over and over. For now, though, he tries to be a little better than his past self.

But Patrick is frowning at him. “But …”

“It’s okay. Obligation blowjobs really aren’t my thing.”

Patrick reddens a little, and though David’s pretty sure he’s correctly guessed where he was headed, he regrets being so blunt about it. But he has priors. Back in the New York days there were one or two people who believed in tit for tat (so to speak), and it had never felt particularly good to him, no matter what side of it he was on. And as his experiences over the last few years have cemented his decision to raise his own standards and stick to them, the less appealing it’s become. It feels too much like a transaction.

He tucks away the thought that it might not have felt so obligatory coming from Patrick.

“Mine either.”

David looks over; Patrick is frowning at the ceiling, chewing on his lower lip. And David is confused, because somehow the silence has shifted from comfortable to incredibly awkward. That ratchets up a notch when Patrick sits up to pull his jeans back on.

“You know, before I came out … before I knew I was gay, I had a girlfriend, Rachel.”

David is lost. He opens and shuts his mouth a few times, but thankfully Patrick keeps going before he can have a go at answering.

“We’d been together since high school, on and off. We cared about each other, it just wasn’t …” He sighs, the memory obviously weighing heavily. “We would have sex, but I couldn’t always … last.”

“Makes sense,” David offers after a pause. Patrick turns to look at him curiously, and he shrugs. “Because you were gay.”

Patrick’s response is unexpected: he huffs a surprised sort of laugh, and looks at David like he’s almost in awe of him.

David is immediately apprehensive. “What?”

“Nothing, I just …” Patrick is still looking at him like he’s said something really … nice. David wonders if he should disabuse him. “It took me a long time to condense all my insecurities down to something that simple. Stop thinking it was something wrong with me.”

God, David wants to find that Patrick, who was frightened or confused or whatever enough to think that anything could ever be wrong with him.

“I started dreading it. Spent a lot of time getting really good at oral—” David bites his tongue “—just to make sure she was …” Another heavy sigh. “So, I get it. I never want anyone to feel like that with me.”

Oh.

“Wait, you think I didn’t like doing that for you?” He bolts upright. The last two words might have been too much, but he’s too shocked to catch them before they leave his mouth. He watches the flush sweep up the other man’s neck, watches his cheeks redden, and this has to stop right now. “You think I wasn’t—” He just stops himself from saying “hard as fuck” and instead protests, “I was trying to be nice.”

“I don’t need you to be nice to me, David,” Patrick says, and it’s tense and guarded and David hates it. “Not if you don’t—”

“Okay, no, I do, I definitely do. I meant I was being nice after that.”

Patrick frowns at him for a beat. And then he laughs. Hard enough for David to narrow his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Patrick finally manages, “you were being nice by not having an orgasm?”

David rolls his eyes and flops back down on the bed. “Everything sounds stupid when you say it like that. I was trying to say that you don’t have to. Reciprocate.”

He looks away from Patrick’s expression, which is going all … soft. It’s difficult to stay irritated when he does that.

“You know I can say no, right?”

Well that’s just … fuck.

Patrick lays down next to him, rolling onto his side, and given everything else that’s happened it’s a bit of a shock that David’s heartbeat picks up significantly at how close he is.

“David …”

His hand is on David’s side, rubbing slowly, almost chastely. So why is every muscle in his body tensing in anticipation?

Patrick drops his head to brush his lips over his cheek, and there’s no explanation for the little sound that escapes David’s throat at the touch. He shuts his eyes.

“David,” Patrick murmurs again, and oh, the way he says his name is going to break him. “Let me do this?”

And David doesn’t know what is happening anymore, because somehow his act of selflessness has been turned on its head, and he’s so hard, just from some gentle touches and, okay, not just, but now Patrick’s hand has drifted down his hip and his lips are on his ear, and holy fuck

David …

“Yes. Okay. Please. Yes.”

“So polite.”

He can’t even respond to that, too busy gripping the sheets beneath him as Patrick’s hand brushes over his erection, closing gently around it through his drop-crotch pants, and maybe it’s the embarrassing way David whimpers, but he opts not to make him wait. Instead he slides his hand under the waistband, under his boxer-briefs, and pulls out his already leaking cock to start stroking it.

“David, is this okay?”

He wants to open his eyes and glare at him, but the pressure is perfect, and the voice in his ear low and soft, so instead he nods his head too much and mumbles “Uh-huh,” and it sounds desperate.

He feels desperate.

That feeling doesn’t go away, because Patrick’s hand keeps stroking, his thumb keeps flicking over the head, and his lips keep brushing David’s neck, and when he eventually murmurs “Come for me,” David groans long and loud and does exactly that.

He’s vaguely aware of Patrick reaching for the box of tissues on his nightstand, cleaning off his hand and the parts of David he wasn’t able to protect, and all David can really think about is how hard he just came from a fucking handjob.

Patrick is wiping at the bottom hem of his t-shirt. “Sorry about—” He gestures awkwardly, and David cuts him off.

“Nope, don’t you dare apologise for any of that.” And he catches Patrick’s eye with a wide grin, and suddenly he’s laughing. It’s too contagious for Patrick not to join in, and for a while they lean into the mirth, filling the room with it.

As it subsides, David looks over to enjoy the sight of Patrick’s smiling face. “Feeling better?”

This time the smile doesn’t falter as he closes his eyes and sighs. “Yeah. Thanks.”

David bites down on his smirk, and is getting ready to tease him when the familiar chimes of his phone ring out from the living room. “Ugh.” He gets up and pads reluctantly out to find it on the coffee table. He grimaces to see there are already three missed calls. From Alexis. Knowing that she’ll just keep calling, he answers before it rings out again.

“David, thank god, I’ve been trying to call you for, like, an hour.”

He rolls his eyes. “It has not been that long, and excuse me for being busy having a life.”

Instant regret. And sure enough, she notices.

“Um, excuse me, are you busy with someone?”

He'll never understand how she does this. “… No.”

“Oh my god, David! Are you with Patrick right now?”

“Stop yelling!” he yells, hoping that her shrieking isn’t somehow carrying to his bedroom.

“He’s there, isn’t he?”

“He’s just—I’m not—what do you want, anyway?”

“I want to talk to the guy who’s somehow made you rethink your No Second Date rule.”

“Well, that’s not happening.”

“Come on, David! I’m just looking out for you! You know you haven’t always had the best judgement in people—”

“Go lick an outlet, please. And no, I’m not subjecting him to your insane questions just because you’ve suddenly decided to act like a sister and get protective of me over the guy I'm—” Gesturing expansively, he freezes when he turns and sees Patrick standing at the entrance to the hallway, leaning against the wall, watching David with an amused sort of smile.

Because he heard that.

Alexis is still talking. “Ugh! I’m not going to say anything embarrassing. I just want to make sure he's not some kind of psych—”

“I have to go.”

Clumsily, he hangs up. For a moment he just stares at Patrick, trying to come up with something to say to soothe over this latest disaster.

Patrick’s still smiling, though. It’s odd.

“Um—” It’s as far as he gets before his phone rings again, making him jump. He fights the urge to throw it out of the window. He’d give it a try if they weren’t painted shut. And if he could afford a replacement.

“Your sister?” Patrick says, raising an eyebrow.

David nods. “It’d be nice if she had been this interested in my personal safety back when I was fifty feet in the air being dumped by Anderson Cooper.” He trails off as Patrick starts walking towards him, and David literally doesn’t know what to do with this absence of running and excuse-making. He blames this lack of sure footing for the fact that he doesn’t snatch the phone away when Patrick reaches for it. He does wait to see if he objects, but David is too busy trying to get his brain working.

“Hello?”

Patrick is on his phone now. To his sister. There’s a strong possibility he’s having a stroke.

“Yeah, it’s nice to finally talk to you too, Alexis.”

He listens for a moment, but he’s still looking at David with that crooked smile.

“Well I hope at least some of them are good things.”

Then Alexis says something that makes Patrick go red, and David snaps back into himself.

Give me that!” he hisses, grabbing for the phone.

But Patrick blocks him with a protective hand, mock-frowning at him and whispering back, “Do you mind? I’m on the phone.” And David can do nothing but gape at him as he steps out of reach and turns away.

“I don’t actually own an axe, but I guess I could borrow one …”

He’s not responding to David’s glare; if anything, his grin gets a little wider.

“No, it’s nice of you to look out for your brother, but we’re just friends,” he’s saying. Another pause, and then he looks at David again, but his smile is fainter. “I know,” he says softly, and David desperately wants to wake up from whatever the fuck this is, thanks very much. He looks pleadingly at Patrick, who nods slightly. “I know. I’m going to hand you back to David now, okay?” And David all but lunges at him to take the phone back.

Alexis is babbling away, but David just growls “Die,” into the phone and hangs up. He squeezes his eyes shut for a second, willing the ground to open up beneath him. He’s not that lucky, of course, so he turns back to Patrick. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’ll tell me—”

“Relax, David,” Patrick says, the easy grin back on his face. “She just wanted to know if I plan on chopping you up and hiding your body in the walls.”

“Okay, but—”

“I told her no. But I guess that’s also what a real axe-murderer would say—”

“You think this is funny, but—”

“David,” he places his hands on David’s shoulders and squeezes, and something about this just knocks his anxiety spiral off course. “I promise, she just wanted to look out for you.”

David doesn’t really believe that’s all, but it also doesn’t look like Patrick’s going to run screaming for the hills. And despite what he still thinks of as a gross invasion of his privacy, he feels oddly … touched. Not many people would have taken a call from Alexis for him. Fewer would have teased him about it afterwards. But another squeeze to his shoulders gets him to smile.

“So we’re just friends, huh?” He’s teasing, but Patrick blushes anyway.

“I didn’t think you’d want your sister to know the details of what you just did to me.”

David bites down on his smirk and lifts his hands up to grasp Patrick’s forearms. “Mhm. Correct. Or what you just did to me.” For a moment, heat flashes in Patrick’s eyes, but then he gives a start and they go wide.

“Shit. Stevie.” He winces and drops his hands from David’s shoulders. “I’m supposed to be having dinner with her in …” he checks his watch “… twenty minutes.”

And for a change, David doesn’t immediately jump to conclusions. The man just talked to his sister, after all. And he’s looking at David like he doesn’t entirely want to leave.

So he just smiles and says, “You’d better get going, then.”

Patrick hesitates, looking at David with that searching expression. “Thanks,” he says finally. “For letting me be here.”

David doesn’t tell him that he thinks he’d let Patrick be a lot more.

“Anytime.”

There’s a look on his face that David can’t quite make out. But then he steps into David’s space and hugs him, and David lets him. And, mortifyingly, may or may not surreptitiously breathe a little deeper to inhale the scent of him.

“David,” Patrick says softly, over his shoulder. “I know you said it’s okay, but … I don’t think I could ever feel okay about using you.”

It’s things like that, David thinks. Who wouldn’t risk a little heartache for someone who says things like that?

 

*

Chapter Text

move

noun

     An act that initiates or advances a process or plan.

verb

     Arouse strong feeling in someone.


 

Friday afternoon Patrick is at work when he gets a text from David. This in itself isn’t unusual; they’ve been texting on and off since he’d left the other night. It’s helped with Patrick’s second-guessing of himself. Sort of.

He’s caught himself smiling every now and then, thinking about it, at which point the guilt has crept back in, and he’s once again pulling himself in check. Careful. Be careful.

So when David’s name lights up his phone display, his instinctive grin is still tempered by a concurrent thread of worry. Soon, though, both are overtaken by confusion: David has sent him a document, which hasn’t happened before. He opens it, hoping David isn’t the kind of person who forwards jokes and chain letters, and frowns at the screen for a moment before he takes in the heading:

Rose, David: test results.

Holy crap.

He stares at the screen for a ridiculously long time. Finally, because he can’t think of anything else to do, he scrolls down and forces himself to read it properly, to take in the facts that he barely needs confirmed. And just like that he isn’t at his desk anymore. He’s back in the kitchen of Ben’s old apartment.

“What’s this?”

“Read it.”

Ben is extending a piece of paper, his eyes fixed on Patrick with that infuriating calm of his. Part of him already knows what it is, what it means. He looks it over anyway, maybe to stall his response. And then he makes a joke, watches Ben laugh.

“You know it’s not like exams, right?” Ben says. “You can’t actually outscore me this time.”

He hadn’t felt afraid. Nervous, yes, but not afraid. There had been nothing to be afraid of, nothing to second-guess. Because all that had been Before.

And now it is After.

Now he is afraid. He’s done enough therapy to be at least that self-aware, but he's not quite sure what it is he’s afraid of. Not of the physicality of the next step, not really—it isn’t like they haven’t already had sex, after all (he remembers redefining sex for himself all those years ago)—but maybe for what it represents. The next step forward, after all, is at the same time a step away from something else.

He can’t even pretend he isn’t on the same page as David on this. After all, he'd received his own results yesterday. He had planned on holding onto them for a little longer, partly to put off taking that step, partly so as not to make it quite so obvious that he had made an appointment immediately after their discussion at the café last week. But then … so had David. The thought sends a little shiver through him.

What am I doing?

Careful.

Be careful.

He drops his phone on his desk and puts his head in his hands. He contemplates calling Stevie. She will tell him he’s being an idiot, and he’ll agree with her, but it won’t stop him feeling like this. For the millionth time since Before became After, he feels the frustration build, lets himself sit with it for five seconds, counting silently, before trying to let it go. It works sometimes.

Among the coping strategies he’s learned and tweaked and employed over the years—and he has taken a kind of fire-all-weapons approach, trying each on for its effectiveness against whatever enemy he happens to be facing on a particular day—is the theory that his fear is a symptom of powerlessness, and that the best way to fight that is to be proactive. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to do that in this particular case. And so with a deep breath he throws himself into his work, putting everything else on hold until he's ready to think about it properly.

 

*

David is chewing his nails and Not Thinking About It, which is a blatant lie if ever there was one.

The sense of playfulness and expectation he'd felt when he had sent the email this morning, deciding to do so without comment, in a mockery of casualness, has pretty quickly been replaced with his old friends Doubt, Panic, and Self-Loathing. He is pathetic. Patrick will know how long it takes for those tests to come back, will even now be doing the math on how soon he'd had it done. What, he wonders while stifling a groan, is the point of going through all the romantic (and not-so-romantic) misadventures that he has been unfortunate enough to endure if it means he hasn’t learned anything? How many times is he going to dive into something when he should have dipped a toe?

God, it’s infuriating being him.

Locking himself in the gallery’s bathroom to breathe for a good fifteen minutes helps some, and the rest of the day passes blankly, David conducting himself about his business without really being conscious of anything happening around him. He catches a few puzzled looks levelled at him by Ronnie, but no one has actually mentioned anything, so he counts it as a win.

On his way home he stops off at the store, in need of tranquillity, and it delivers: he spends a good hour calling tradespeople, unpacking products, positioning and repositioning them on the shelves until he’s satisfied. At length, though, there isn’t anything else left to distract himself with, and so he wanders disconsolately home, where those old friends are waiting for him. They know where he lives; they have the keys, after all.

He’s toying with the idea of ordering food, wondering if he can really justify a pizza when he had one just yesterday, when the knock comes. He frowns: no one he knows would ever just drop in unannounced—it’s in total breech of modern social etiquette not to at least text first, give the poor sap upon whom you’re launching yourself a moment to get him-or-herself together. He wonders if he should even answer it, but curiosity, as always, will be the death of him, and so he drags himself up and to the door, readying his annoyance.

“Hi.”

He’s forgotten. He does know someone who isn’t really au fait with modern social etiquette.  

“Patrick.” Even in his shock, David’s self-preservation instincts kick in enough to go over his mental checklist: clothesperfect, facesolid, hairoperating at about 79%. “How did you get—”

“Followed a delivery guy inside.”

“Nice to know the building’s security is up to scratch,” he mutters and folds his arms around himself. “Um. What are you doing here?” He hasn’t come all this way to tell you he doesn’t want to see you anymore, he tells himself sternly.

But Patrick just holds out his phone, and David takes it gingerly. When he stands there uncomprehending, Patrick’s mouth tweaks down into a smile and he looks pointedly at the phone in David’s hand. David looks too.

Oh.

Oh.

His head snaps back up from Patrick’s test results to see him watching.

“Any chance you haven’t had dinner yet?” he asks.

Dumbly, David steps aside to invite him in. As he passes, Patrick shoots him a sideways look that, combined with him turning up on the doorstep with that particular bombshell, sends a shiver down David’s spine.

There’s absolutely no point in pretending he hasn’t thought about it, hasn’t been thinking about it for a while now. Every time they’ve been together so far has been so good; he can only imagine what it might be like if Patrick decides he wants … more. And he has imagined it. More than once, in fact. Which means he has a whole host of mental images jostling for prominence in his head right now.

Whoa, boy.

He follows him through into the kitchen, where Patrick shoves his hands in his pockets and leans against the counter. His body language, all tense shoulders and diverted gaze, tells David instantly that he is a lot more nervous than his actions so far have indicated—so no, now is probably not the moment to start ripping his clothes off. Instead, David turns to the subject of dinner, and allows Patrick to steer the conversation into shallower waters for a while, letting him relax. All the while, though, he knows they are due a serious conversation. That’s why Patrick is here, after all, even if he hasn’t said it.

David has always been comfortable talking about sex, reasoning that openness is the best way to avoid misunderstandings. He views it in the same vein as he does his queerness: there’s simply no point in hiding it. But he has also been with a lot of people, and he knows that everyone has a different comfort level.

Patrick’s level, he has the growing impression, is on the low end of that scale. And while David can understand that, he also knows that avoiding these types of conversation only make them worse when they inevitably come to a head.

So he waits until they’ve finished their pizza, until Patrick is laughing, and then he leans his chin on his hands and fixes him with a look that will not be avoided.

“So, we need to talk about what kind of sex you like.”

And yes, maybe David has timed it so that Patrick has just taken a sip of his water, and yes, maybe he enjoys the way he chokes and splutters as he tries to clean up the mess. He is definitely enjoying the blush creeping up Patrick’s neck and onto his cheeks.

“I—um—what—?”

David raises an innocent eyebrow.

“Do you like anal sex?”

More blushing. “David—”

“It’s fine if you don’t, you know. It’s not for everyone.”

“Okay, just … let me catch up a little.”

Smiling, David shrugs. “I just think it’s good to get things sorted out early. Saves awkward conversations.”

“This conversation isn’t awkward?” Patrick jokes, rallying admirably, even if he’s still quite pink.

“Better to have it now than in the moment,” David says smoothly.

“Can’t argue with that.”

He smirks a little. Not getting out of it, Brewer. “So?”

Patrick squirms, still obviously uncomfortable but trying not to show it. “So … uh …”

The smirk widens. “Do you like anal sex?”

Patrick shoots him a look, as though he knows that David is doing this on purpose. “I … yes.”

David slams a door shut on the flutter of mental images that kicks up in his brain, and tries not to look too pleased. He can’t quite stop himself, however, from giving a little shimmy. “Okay then. Do you prefer giving or receiving?”

“David,” Patrick grimaces, rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not as …” He sighs, and seems to make an effort to pull himself together. “Traditionally, I haven’t been … great … at asking for what I want.”

What a shame, is David’s first thought. Because who has been lucky enough to have this man to themselves and not tried their hardest to find out what he wants and then shower him with it day after day? Sometimes, and he is not proud of it, David finds himself questioning this Ben person’s priorities.

But his admission makes sense. Granted, they haven’t known each other that long, but David already knows that Patrick likes being able to give as well as get. He told him as much when they set the ground rules for this … thing. And even though Patrick is fairly unencumbered and direct about consent when they are in bed, he does always seem more confident asking David what he wants than the other way round.

Unfortunately, some questions still need answering.

“How about I list some things and you tell me—no obligation—if you’re comfortable with them?”

Patrick looks determined to force himself through this. He nods.

“Okay. Do you like rimming?”

He flushes, but nods again.

“Do you like penetrating?” David fights a smile as Patrick’s blush deepens a little. He keeps David’s gaze, though.

“Yes,” he says quietly. Something flickers in his eyes, and David quashes a shiver.

“Do you like being penetrated?”

Patrick hesitates. “I’m … not sure.”

David leans forward a little. When Patrick doesn’t elaborate, though, he takes up the lead again. “Have you ever done it?”

Patrick nods slowly. “Once or twice.”

Ah. David has an inkling of what’s behind the hesitation, and suddenly he wishes he didn’t. “With Ben?” he hedges, squirming. They haven’t really talked in depth about Ben; quite apart from his own discomfort, he gets the feeling that it makes Patrick shut down a little, that there is guilt lingering there. One of those big, grown-up emotions that David has absolutely no experience in handling.

“Ben wasn’t … a fan. And I … wasn’t a fan of doing things he was uncomfortable with.”

David nods, wincing inwardly to think about the many people he has known who gave him no such consideration. And it isn’t as though David has ever made anyone do anything they didn’t want to, but he has also had plenty of sex where consideration of the other person was lower on the priority list. He wonders what that says about him. He wonders what Patrick would think if he knew. Shaking off that thought—not about you right now, David—he refocuses.

(Also, because he’s still him, he makes a mental note that this wasn’t an outright “no”.)

There’s more to unpack, but he is already feeling the itch of discomfort that comes with heavy emotional content, and he figures now might be a good time to let them both off the hook. It’s enough to be going on with.

“Okay,” he says, and stands up to start collecting plates.

Patrick blinks. “Oh, we’re done with that now?”

“Mhm. Hand me that glass?”

Patrick does, joining him at the sink. “Got all the info you were after?”

David bites down on his smirk. He loves this, the banter. There’s something about finding someone who can meet you on your level, who can give and take in equal measure. He hasn’t encountered it much, and certainly not like this, with this zing of something else, something unnameable, something unknown.

“For now,” he says airily.

“Uh-huh.”

Patrick is smiling, but sceptically. David gets the feeling that he’s looking for something in his face, and he tries not to squirm under the scrutiny. At length, Patrick seems satisfied, anyway.

“Okay then. What now?”

David turns, leaning his hip against the sink. “What do you feel like doing?”

It’s a loaded question, perhaps, especially given what they’ve just been talking about, but he wants Patrick to have control over what happens next. He watches a few expressions flit across his face.

“Feel like watching an episode of Bake-off?”

Yes, yes he does. “Always.”

So they settle on the couch, close enough that their thighs are touching, that David is thinking about the fact that their thighs are touching. About Patrick’s thighs, specifically. It’s another battle with his mental images before David can get lost enough in the show to stop trying to curb himself. He tucks his feet up under him, leaning a little against Patrick. When Patrick shifts to stretch his arm along the couch behind him, David lets himself lean into it, because he likes it and because Patrick doesn’t seem to mind.

At some point David is aware that Patrick’s fingers are tracing slow circles onto his shoulder. The air feels thicker.

“You know,” Patrick mutters softly, his eyes still on the TV, like nothing has changed, like he has no idea what he’s doing to David. “You never told me what you like.”

Zing.

“Didn’t I?” His voice is not as steady as he’d like, but Patrick is nosing into his hair, his breath ghosting over the skin behind his ear, and David has to close his eyes for a second.

“Uh-uh.”

He turns to face Patrick, who is smirking back at him with those soft eyes that David is slowly learning to read. And if he’s reading things right … he leans in and brushes his lips against Patrick’s. He feels Patrick light up, lean in closer, and soon they are making out in earnest.

Most of David’s relationships—if the word “relationships” can apply to the grab-bag of hook-ups and out-and-out mistakes that have comprised his love life—have centred almost exclusively around sex. Any kissing has been there to move the situation closer to that conclusion, and most of the time it has felt like it. Patrick, though … the way he kisses David now is almost like he would be content doing that and nothing else for the rest of the night. It confuses him a little, particularly because he thinks he might be content doing that as well. Because Patrick kisses like he does everything else—focused and intent, playful and sincere, teasing and passionate, and he responds to everything David does with such enthusiasm …

It’s a lot. Maybe too much. Suddenly, sex seems safer. And so David turns and climbs onto Patrick’s lap, pushing him back to lean against the arm rest. After all, there’s also something to be said for moving beyond just kissing. Especially when Patrick’s arms are tightening around him like this, pulling David down into him.

“You know,” Patrick says in between kisses, “when I came over here, I didn’t mean we had to—”

“I know,” says David, dipping his mouth to Patrick’s neck. “Do you want to, though?”

“Yep.”

Even David is surprised at how quickly it happens, but Patrick seems to have hit a patch of determination, and before he knows it he is stretched back on his bed, naked, under a similarly disrobed Patrick, pressing his lips to the flush that colours his collar bone. He feels like he can’t touch him enough, hands sweeping along the beautiful skin of his back, digging into the muscles there.

“You still haven’t told me what you like,” Patrick murmurs, hands braced beside David’s head, hips grinding ever so slightly downwards.

“I’m not bothered,” breathes David, his words unconvincing even to him, given how tightly he’s clinging to Patrick’s shoulders.

Patrick buries his face in David’s neck, dropping slow, hot kisses upwards. His lips brush David’s ear as he whispers, “Tell me what you want, David.”

David’s hips jerk, and blunt nails dig into Patrick’s skin. “Oh ffffuck,” he gasps, sinking his teeth into his lower lip. Get a grip, David.

“David?” Patrick is biting gently at his earlobe now. Not helping, David thinks desperately. “Tell me …”

“You,” he gasps at last, unable to resist any further. “I want you to fuck me.” He feels Patrick still, but barely has time to wonder if he’s misread the situation before he is confronted once again with those whiskey-dark eyes.

Those fucking eyes

“Yeah?” Patrick’s breath is shaky, and David knows he’s read him right.

“Mhm. Yes,” he whispers, and reaches up to kiss him. Patrick responds eagerly, and everything begins to move a lot faster. Patrick grabs David’s hips and moves him bodily up towards the bedhead, and David is a major fan of that—he wants that again, wants to surrender to Patrick’s strength.

“Jesus, you’re incredible,” Patrick is saying, looking down as he drags one hand up David’s thigh, brushing his thumb against the base of David’s cock, already hard against his stomach. “So beautiful.”

When he meets David’s eyes again it’s with such heat that something clenches in his stomach. He grabs a bottle of lube from his nightstand and, after helping himself to some, pushes it into Patrick’s hands. He takes himself in his hand and begins stroking, watching as Patrick slicks up his fingers and reaches down to press them against David’s perineum, rubbing in slow circles, inching lower.

David aches. His hips rise up, trying to meet Patrick’s fingers, but it doesn’t do any good; Patrick is methodical, determined, focused, and David loves and hates it in equal measure. Loves and hates how he caresses the sensitive skin at David’s entrance, touching but not penetrating, over and over, until finally, finally, he pushes a finger inside.

Patrick prepares him with the same steady determination, and oh, it’s amazing. The heat builds slowly, growing with every inch claimed, with each finger added. The only problem is that David wants more, so much more, and all at once. Of course, he's already decided to give Patrick control here, so he bites his tongue and forces himself still under Patrick’s thorough ministrations. And despite himself, he finds he's enjoying the ache of desire kept just out of reach, holding back even as he longs to chase it. He grips the covers either side of him, longing for completion, hoping it will never stop.

“David …” This murmur is accompanied by a nip on the soft inside of his thigh, and the absolute vision of Patrick looking up at him from between his legs. “Ready?”

David groans, and reaches blindly back towards the bedside table, pawing at the drawer. Patrick laughs and knocks his arm away, moving across to do it for him. As he does, David gets a clear view of Patrick’s erection, flushed and upright and beautifully hard. Fuck. David grabs the condom from him and rips the packet open with his teeth, making Patrick laugh again.

“Eager, are we?”

“Fuck yes,” David growls, gratified to see him stop laughing as David rolls the condom down Patrick’s cock, squeezing it just to watch his eyes slip shut, to hear the noise he makes low in his throat.

And when Patrick finally positions himself, pushes in slowly, groaning as he fills him, David feels like he might weep for the wanting of him.

Once he’s fully—finally—inside him, Patrick pauses for a moment, eyes shut, arms trembling, breath shaking as he gathers himself. David reaches up to flatten a hand against his chest, and Patrick blinks slowly.

“Okay?”

Patrick just nods, and gasps softly when David lifts his hips to grind down against him. He takes the hint and begins to roll his hips, slowly at first, then withdrawing almost all the way out before sinking all the way back inside, drawing a moan from David that even to his ears sounds desperate. Patrick’s movements even out, pressing more firmly into him with each thrust. David responds in kind, trying to increase the pace but unable to get enough purchase. He can feel Patrick holding back, he’s sure of it, and he doesn’t want that. If anything, he wants the opposite. He whimpers, and Patrick dips his head to kiss him.

“Tell me what you need,” he murmurs, and David has never heard anything sexier in his life.

“Harder,” he gasps, grabbing desperately at any part of Patrick he can reach. “Harder. Please, Patrick.”

And, as though David has lit a match, Patrick ignites. Curling his arm around David’s thigh, he heaves the leg up against his chest, leaning into the new angle with fervour. He drives his hips forward into him again and again, faster and faster, letting loose moan after guttural moan that sounds like David, David, David. Each thrust sends a current of electric pleasure shooting through David, edged with a kind of wild roughness that he knows will echo in his body for days.

It is fucking gorgeous.

He fumbles for his cock, now painfully hard, and begins to stroke in time with Patrick’s thrusts, gasping out yes after yes as everything rises to a crescendo around him. Through the noise he hears Patrick cry out, feels his fingers digging bruises into his leg while another hand lands heavily on his chest. It all happens far away, though, because David is gone, gone, gone.

Eons later he comes back to himself, blinking up into Patrick’s wide-eyed gaze above him. He reaches up a shaking hand to touch his cheek but at the last moment drops it to his shoulder instead—he isn’t sure why. Patrick just holds his gaze and turns his face slightly to press his lips against the inside of David’s knee.

David swallows. Hard.

And then Patrick is pulling carefully out of him (David winces to hear himself whine at the loss), waiting only to dispose of the condom before falling back onto the bed beside him. For a moment the only sound is their breathing, deep and ragged as they fight to catch their respective breaths.

David huffs out a loud, wordless, declarative noise.

Patrick nods, covering his face in both hands and exhaling heavily before he lets out a noise partway between a laugh and a whimper. David turns to look at him, because right now there’s nothing he wants to do more than look at Patrick; face flushed and muscles loose, hair messy, bare chest rising and falling, a slight smile tugging on the corner of his mouth. He swivels his head to face David, and his expression is so open, his pleasure so blatant, that David can’t help grinning, and Patrick joins him.

David has had a lot of sex. He’s not ashamed of it (although—okay, yes, there is a percentage of that number that he does regret). And, obviously, plenty of it has been great; lots of it has been fun, and occasionally it has even been mind-blowing. But this … even setting aside the sex—and Jesus, the sex—it’s the way Patrick doesn’t ever seem like he wants to be anywhere else, it’s the lack of requirement to maintain a facade, it’s the absence of that slightly detached, slightly lonely sensation that has tended to find him in the aftermath.

It’s … exposing.

“You okay?”

He blinks at Patrick, who is watching him—not in concern, maybe, but with interest.

“Are you kidding?” he chuckles, turning back to the ceiling. “That was … you were … Jesus.”

Patrick clamps his lips together in a smile that sets off an alarm in David.

“I was … Jesus?”

David winces, and looks sideways at Patrick, who is clearly trying hard not to laugh. “Okay, before you—”

“Oh, it’s too late for that.”

“This is going to be a thing now, isn’t it?”

“I mean, I’m flattered, but—”

“You’re going to make it a thing.”

“Then again I’ve never actually tried turning water into wine …”

“I hate you.”

“What a thing to say to your Lord and Saviour.”

David groans, and hears Patrick laugh, bright and joyous. It’s beautiful, and David thinks this is what Patrick means when he talks about his real self, the one buried under the years of grief and despair. And despite the fact that he’s being teased right now, David’s heart swells a little.

“David?”

He grunts.

“Would you like me to pretend that you never said that?”

David nods as emphatically as he can. He tries not to notice as Patrick’s eyes fill with … something. Amusement, certainly, possibly even delight, but something else as well. He turns back to the ceiling and closes his eyes to block it out, because there’s only so much he can take right now.

In direct defiance of this intention, Patrick reaches for David’s hand, and lacing their fingers together he brings it up to his mouth to press a kiss against his knuckles. Then, as though this is something completely unextraordinary, as though he hasn’t just shorted David’s synapses, he lets go and pushes himself off the bed.

Stunned into silence, David watches him disappear into the bathroom, then as he returns with a cloth and cleans David carefully, then as he climbs back into bed. And all the time he watches, he thinks: David Rose, you idiot.

He tells Patrick he has a skincare regimen to uphold (and he does, after all), disappears into the bathroom, and glares at his reflection.

He is an idiot.

Once upon a time he had enjoyed casual sex, preferred it, even, because the time limit was built into the definition, and therefore cast no aspersions on his inability to keep someone around. And, usually, it had felt great in the moment, a brief period of respite from the loneliness that he now knows coloured so much of his life before the money disappeared. It simulated closeness, and he’d told himself that was all he needed.

More and more, though, it’s been losing its appeal. Chalk it up to reluctant personal growth.

And then he’d met Patrick. And he can’t seem to stop wanting him.

The trouble is, he’s softer than he used to be. He’s out of practice. He’s failing to self-protect, to talk himself back from the edge. And back there … he’d lost his cool momentarily, that’s all. And no wonder, really. Because it had been perfect. Patrick had been perfect, had given David exactly what he’d needed. And then he had asked if David was okay.

Jesus.

The trouble is he’s is in very real danger of falling for this man. This gorgeous, kind, wry, damaged man with whom he should never have come into orbit in the first place. Whom he has somehow talked into beginning a casual relationship that is starting to feel slightly un-casual. And as worried as David is that he might hurt Patrick, he knows that if he doesn’t walk away soon he might risk hurting himself. Badly.

The trouble is he’s not sure he can make himself walk away just yet.

Hm.

Fuck.

But not even this chastisement can get its hooks into him right now. Right now he is too exhausted, too cared for, too sated. It’s too easy to feel safe in this moment, too easy to leave his inhibitions behind, too easy to shut out the voices that whisper “needy”, and “difficult” and “too much”. And so he goes back to bed, and lets Patrick curl around his back, lets him run his fingers soothingly up and down his side, lets him kiss the space below his ear.

He falls asleep.

 

*

Patrick blinks. His apartment is tidier than usual, which is not how he remembers leaving it. He also doesn’t remember falling asleep in the green chair, but here he is.

“So you fucked another guy.”

He whips his head around—

Ben.

Or Not-Ben, to be more accurate. He’s dreaming.

It’s happened a few times before, but not for a few years now, so it’s a bit of a jolt to see him animated and in the flesh again, wearing his old Star Trek tee and leaning back against the windowsill.

Except it isn’t him. He has to remember that. It’s not the man that loved him. That he loved.

Not-Ben cocks an eyebrow, an unpleasant smile on his not-face. “Soo,” he sing-songs. “How was it?”

Patrick hates his brain right now. It’s one of the bad dreams, where it tries to convince him that Ben is some spectral purveyor of guilt. As though he’s been waiting until Patrick is feeling okay, good even, just to throw a bucket of cold water over it all and dance around laughing at the idea that he had thought he could do this.

He knows it’s just his insecurities plaguing him, but he still glares at the man across from him.

“Come on, Pat, we tell each other everything!” Not-Ben laughs, an unkind edge to it that was never really present in real life.

“Don’t call me that,” he grinds out. And he has to look away from the look of triumph that covers Not-Ben’s face.

“So tell me! Did you like it? I mean, he seemed to like it. So did you, from the sound of it. Tell me how it felt when you were inside him!”

Patrick squeezes his eyes shut and clenches the arms of the chair, as if it’ll wake him up. “Stop it.”

“You know he’s using you as much as you’re using him, right?”

“Shut. Up.”

Not-Ben just laughs again, and advances on him. “You’re kidding yourself if you think this is a relationship,” he mocks, reaching out to place his palms on the arms of the chair. Patrick snatches his own hands back before he can be touched—he couldn’t stand it, not like this. But Not-Ben just leans in further, forcing himself into Patrick's whole field of vision, trapping him there. Memory fills in the gaps with painful realism, and he can feel Not-Ben's breath on his face as he adds: “You don’t even trust him enough to tell him the truth about me.”

Patrick forces himself not to flinch, tells himself over and over that it’s not real. A familiar pressure is building up behind his eyes, but it’s anger as well as sadness.

“Why are you doing this?”

“I just want to know! Was it better than—”

Stop it!

“But I’m interested—”

“Jesus Christ, why can’t you just—”

“What?” Not-Ben cocks his head. “Leave you alone?”

And he’s gone. And Patrick hates himself. Because while part of him did want that, another part still just wants him to stay. That part gets less and less the more time passes, and he’s never sure if it’s a good thing.

He curls his arms around his chest and wills himself to wake up.

 

*

Chapter Text

open

adjective

  1. (of a business, place of entertainment, etc.) Admitting customers or visitors; available for business.
  2. Not concealing one's thoughts or feelings; frank and communicative.

Patrick Brewer

I hate technology.

He says in a text from his iPhone.

Oh excuse me, I'll send you a letter this evening.

I mean, if you don't have a pigeon, I guess.

You're making it really difficult to vent right now.

My apologies. Damn technology. I'll go kick a traffic light in solidarity.

Thanks VERY much.

Any particular aspect that's got you riled up, or is this general rise-of-the-machine paranoia?

Do you by any chance know anyone with the degree required to know how to set up a cash machine?

I had a buddy who majored in answering machines. Man, does he regret that now.

So helpful, thanks.

Problems?

Just some exposed wires, nothing big.

Glad to hear it.

I mean, why, in a world that has IKEA, are these instructions not more intuitive?

Hey David?

?

Want some help?

David hesitates, his thumb hovering over the screen. He’s been pretty vocal about the fact that he doesn’t need anyone’s help. Hell, he gave a whole, slightly sanctimonious speech to his father only a few weeks ago.

He looks at the tangled mess of cables on the counter. He wonders how important a point of sale is.

I mean, if you want.

He sets down his phone and chews on his thumbnail for a bit. Then–

On my way.

 

*

Patrick plugs in the last ethernet cable and double checks the pamphlet.

“Looks like …” he flips a switch, and grins as the lights blink on. “It’s finished,” he declares, not without triumph.

David looks over from where he is setting up the window display. “It’s working?”

Patrick does a receipt test, and grins up at David when the paper rolls through. “Looks like you’re in business.”

David raises an eyebrow. “I’m assuming that was with no pun intended.”

“Oh no, pun definitely intended,” he says, just to watch David roll his eyes as he comes over to the counter to inspect Patrick’s handiwork.

“Okay, you’re far too pleased with yourself.”

“‘Thank you, Patrick, for helping me put things together even though you were under no obligation to do so’.”

David crowds his smile into the corner of his mouth. “Mm,” he hums in mild agreement.

Patrick shakes his head, still smiling. He’s under no illusions that David isn’t occasionally selfish, but he also knows now, from personal study, that he isn’t nearly as bad as he pretends to be. He suspects it’s part of his defence against the world at large, following nature’s law that spiky creatures are more often than not left alone. Patrick, who has seen glimpses of the David that lies beneath the spikes, just finds it captivating.

Also fun. A lot of fun.

“So I’ve set up the cash, the card machine, and the computer,” he says, leaning back on his heels and ticking off the items on his fingers. “Oh, and you’ve put a bunch of those little spoons near the window.”

David looks indignant. “Okay, those are handmade wooden coffee scoops,” he sniffs, “and the window display aesthetic is actually a vitally important part of a business.”

Patrick holds up his hands. “If you say so, David. I’m just the business major.”

“You see, you think you’re being funny—”

“I know I’m being funny—”

“—but when it comes to aesthetics it’s my word we’ll be taking.”

Patrick gives in, letting his grin break out. “No argument here,” he says, and looks around. “It looks great, David. Everything’s really come together.”

David leans back on the counter and surveys the room as well. He nods. “I think it’s working.”

Patrick hesitates. He’s gone back and forth on bringing this up—he doesn’t want to impose himself, especially when he knows what the store means to David, but he’s itching to do something to help. He knows he can.

“You know, speaking of the store,” he begins in a lame sort of segue, “I could take a look at your projections, if you like.”

David turns, surprised. “Projections?”

Patrick clears his throat, feeling his neck get warm. “Yeah, I mean, I know how hard it is to get a small business up and running and … for example there are a bunch of grants out there, and not many people think to apply, but they could really help boost your start-up capital. Which, you know, is really important in the first year of operation.”

He finishes by looking at David nervously. David just stares, his expression unreadable.

“Only if you want, of course, I’m sure you have—”

“That, uh …” David looks just as awkward as Patrick feels, his fingers plucking at the edge of the wooden counter. “That’s really nice of you to offer …”

Patrick waits, unsure in which direction that sentence is headed.

“I’ve been kind of doing everything on my own,” David begins, looking anywhere but at Patrick. He waves a hand in the air beside him. “Because of, you know, the whole … gallery situation, but …” He takes a deep breath. “But there might be a few things … a few hundred things that I don’t know much about. So.” Finally, he looks at him, and in a quiet, tentative sort of voice says, “If you’re sure, then … yessss. Please. To looking over the projections.”

Patrick, entranced, can’t help teasing. “That looked like it hurt.”

David rolls his eyes. “You have no idea.”

Patrick decides to let him off the hook. “Okay then. Show me what you’ve got.” And he laughs when David shimmies at him before leading him into the tiny office.

 

*

David watches nervously from the doorway as Patrick leafs through his papers. More than once he’s given David a look and asked him if he’d like to do his lurking elsewhere, but David can’t help it. He nibbles on his thumbnail and worries about all the ways that Patrick could tell him it’s over. The store, that is. One crisis at a time.

He wonders if he’ll be able to keep any of the products.

Eventually, Patrick leans back in his seat and looks at him, impassive.

And says nothing.

And nothing.

Fuck, he’s annoying.

“WELL?”

Now he’s laughing, fucking laughing at David’s wild and indignant hand gestures.

“Okay, I really don’t appreciate the—”

“David, David, calm down,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s fine, it’s all fine.”

This is nowhere near enough to assuage David.

“‘Fine’? ‘Fine’ is something you say when you want to end a conversation about your day! It’s not—”

“Okay, okay.” Patrick holds up his hands, grinning. He waits for David to lower his arms and leans forward onto the desk. “It’s a solid business, David. Everything looks good.” He makes a gesture at the papers in front of him.

“It does?”

Patrick nods calmly. “It does.”

“Okay.” The coil in David’s stomach starts to loosen.

“But—”

Crap.

“—like I said, you could use some more capital. I mean there are things you could do to extend your overhead, grants you could apply for …”

David feels the coil retighten.

“Hey …” Patrick is on his feet and walking cautiously towards David, his hands raised as if approaching a spooked horse. “It’s okay, you’ve done a great job here.”

David nods and clamps his lips together, tries to focus on Patrick’s words, tries to breathe slowly.

“I mean it,” Patrick is saying. “You’ve got a great business model. You’re doing everything right.”

The coil is loosening again, and David gulps in a deep breath.

“So the other things …”

Patrick shrugs. “I think they could take some of the pressure off, shore up your first year or so.”

You’re doing everything right. He clings to that like a lifeline. The store is solid. The model is sustainable.

“Okay, um … I don’t know anything about grants, though. Is there a …” A what? he wonders. A Wikihow? A very short YouTube tutorial? A picture book?

“Well, I can help with that,” says Patrick, in that calm, even way of his, eyes still fixed on David, as though he knows he needs that. “I can walk you through the applications, show you the basics and get you started. Or.” For the first time, he hesitates, and David notices, more surprised than anxious. He watches him take a deep breath. “Or,” he goes on at last, “I could come help you out. For a little while. As a consultant.”

David blinks. “You’d … you’d do that?”

Patrick still looks hesitant. “Would you be okay with that?”

David doesn’t answer right away, tries to give himself a moment to think, but … the odd thing is he thinks he would be okay with that. Odd because, historically speaking, David has had a hard time trusting anyone, even his own family, and that has been going on so long he might as well have been born that way. Eli’s actions hadn’t helped—he distinctly remembers, when his Dad had told him what had happened, thinking “What did you expect?” (Every time he thinks about it he cringes and thanks whatever it was that stopped him from saying it out loud. Still.)

Why, then, does he have zero doubts about Patrick coming on board? At the store, of all places? The one thing in his life that is his, the one thing (outside of his family, he supposes) that matters most.

Okay, not zero doubts, because he is still anxious about exposing his mistakes to Patrick. He has questions about exactly what it is he wants (though, to be fair, he could just as easily turn those questions on himself). But in terms of Patrick’s competence, Patrick’s honesty … if Patrick tells him to do something, then it will help. He knows it. He had no idea how he knows, or why, but … he knows it.

Hm.

“I … yes?”

The way Patrick’s face relaxes, the way his eyes crinkle into a smile, is already worth it.

“Okay then.”

“Okay, except, you’ve seen my capital, so you know I can’t afford to—”

“Yeah, see, if the grants came through you would have the money to pay me.”

If you get the money.”

“Ohh, I’m gonna get the money.”

With a smirk back on his face, Patrick turns and walks back to the desk. David swallows.

Good. Fucking. Lord.

 

*

It’s becoming a welcome little routine: for three days this week Patrick has gotten to work a little early, cutting out shortly before five and heading to the store, where he meets David. He has quickly carved out a little space for himself in the back room and started going through the books, building spreadsheets and shortcuts, working methodically through the list of grants he’s found for which the store is eligible. Every now and then David will get him a tea, and sometimes Patrick will take a break out on the floor, helping David move furniture and test product placement.

Nothing … else has happened. Not that there haven’t been opportunities, times when the air has seemed to buzz with possibilities. But Patrick is … he’s taking a moment. And if David asks, well, he plans to say it’s so they can focus on the store.

David doesn’t ask. They focus on the store. There’s plenty to focus on.

At around seven o’clock on Wednesday, the first email arrives. Patrick sits up straight, fizzing, but makes himself read it through carefully before he prints it out. Snapping the lid off a highlighter with his teeth, he scans it once more, swipes at a few key phrases and, gripping the edges of the paper excitedly, all but bounces out into the main space.

“Mail call.”

David looks up from where he is unpacking and arranging the stationery to his exacting standards. Glancing at the printout in Patrick’s proffered hand, he makes a face.

“Any chance you could summarise it for me?”

Patrick grins, but he shakes his head. “No, this one you need to read for yourself.”

David sighs loudly, and plucks the paper out of Patrick’s hand as though he doesn’t even want to touch it.

“You know,” says Patrick as David frowns over the email, “as the actual owner of this business you might have to get over your aversion to paperwork. Just my opinion.”

Instead of taking the bait, David’s head snaps up, his eyes wide. “Is this ….?”

Patrick’s grin broadens. “Congratulations, David.”

David covers his mouth with one hand. “Oh my god.”

“That’s just the first to come in, but it’s a solid amount,” says Patrick, enjoying the sight of David looking from him to the paper and back again, eyes alight. “I’m expecting to hear back from a couple of others early next week.”

“This is …” It’s the first time he’s seen David speechless, but his expression has changed now from pure excitement to something softer. “Patrick …”

Patrick holds up his hands. “Hey, all I did was fill in the applications. It’s your idea they’re backing.” He moves one hand to David’s shoulder and squeezes. “This was all you.” It was, he thinks. No one is doing David any favours, no one is paying him off, no one has rigged the game for him this time. Patrick has just been there with the assist.

David eyes are a little shiny. He shakes his head, lips clamped together, but then with a choked kind of laugh he pulls Patrick into a hug.

“Congratulations,” Patrick says again, wrapping his arms around his back, smiling as David leans into him. Over his shoulder, he glances around at the store, glad to know that its future has become that much more secure, that David’s vision is a bit safer. And happy—happy that he has had some small part in it, has some small claim to its success. He isn’t sure anything else he’s worked on in his professional career has come with this kind of bone-deep satisfaction. He wants to feel it over and over.

 

*

David knows he should probably let go, but he’s working on getting his expression under control before Patrick sees it. He also knows that this wouldn’t have happened without Patrick, but that doesn’t seem to lessen his own sense of joy at the news that someone out there thinks this idea of his is worth supporting. He recalls, years ago, the smug, entitled sort of satisfaction he’d felt on selling a gallery piece, and he knows that, even before he’d found out it actually had nothing to do with him, that feeling was nothing compared to this. Not even his name has gotten him through the door this time, just him. Him and his business consultant.

Whom he is still hugging.

David steps back, feeling a little sheepish, swiping under his eye quickly while Patrick glances away and generously pretends not to notice.

“So Monday’s the big day!” he says, and David is grateful for the opportunity to change subjects.

“Yep, grand opening,”—five days, it’s only five days away—“although now I’m wondering if I should keep it a little more … intimate. Friends and family, that sort of thing.” He thinks about that. “And now that I’m picturing Alexis and my parents in here, it might be best if I rethink the ‘family’ aspect.”

“So, just ‘friends’, then.”

“Hmm.” David wrinkles his nose. Any “friends” he’d once had, he doesn’t want here anymore. “Maybe just the cast of Friends,” he muses.

Patrick chuckles. “Or, you know, you could go big. Take out an ad in some local newspapers, do a mail drop.”

“Yeah. But …”

What if nobody shows?

“Hey.” Patrick is watching him. “It’ll be fine.”

David blinks. He’s almost sure he hasn’t voiced his fears out loud, which means that either Patrick is psychic and hasn’t yet told him, or … or David is just that easy to read.

Nobody has ever really been able to read him before.

Nobody has tried.

Hm.

“I guess … I guess I could get Alexis to help.”

“Your sister?”

“Mhm. She’s started doing some PR consulting. She’s … don’t tell her I said this, but she’s pretty good at it. Even when she screws up she usually manages to make it work out in her favour.”

Patrick is looking at him with a lopsided smile. “You know, if your family didn’t work so hard to make it looked like you hated each other, you might really get along.”

“Mm,” David nods in agreement. He is fully aware that the way he and his family interact is not what anyone would call “normal”, but even after the tumult of the last few years, after all the changes, old habits are sometimes hard to break.

Speaking of.

“Listen,” he starts, “you’ve been … none of this, the grant money, would have happened without you, so …” God, sincerity is hard. Maybe he can just let it sit there, let Patrick fill in the blanks. Hopeful, he sneaks a glance his way.

No such luck. Patrick is smirking at him, waiting with folded arms and raised eyebrows. He’s going to make him say it. David rolls his eyes, but can’t quite hide a smile.

“So thank you. For. All your help. And if you show me how to do it, I’ll put your check in the mail.”

Patrick laughs. “Tell you what. I’ll waive my payment for the last few days if …” He shoves his hands in his pockets and ducks his head, something he seems to do when he’s nervous or, judging from the look on his face, bashful. It’s a good look on him.

Despite this, of course, David can’t help but imagine the worst-case scenario. “Um, if?”

Patrick glances up from under his lashes, and, well, that’s a good look too.

“If I come on board on a more regular basis.”

David blinks. “You want to … work here?”

“Well,” Patrick laughs, but he still looks nervous. “I was thinking more along the lines of … of a part-time business … person.”

David bites his lip. Instinctively, he shies away from the thought of anyone else taking a stake in what he has been so proud to begin on his own, but he might as well face the facts: the business side of things is not his strong suit. He just doesn’t have the head for it. Style, trend-prediction, big-picture thinking—these are all things he likes, things he is good at. The idea of balancing the numbers, of having sole responsibility for keeping those plates spinning … well, it freaks him out.

And Patrick … Patrick does not freak him out.

“Like a partner?”

Patrick seems to be casting through his mind for the right response, and David realises with a small, secretive smile that he’s trying to avoid any words that might trigger David’s anxiety.

“Like a … permanent business investor.”

This time David smirks. “Like a partner.”

Patrick sighs, conceding. “Like a partner. On a trial basis. You’d have total discretion. If that’s something you felt comfortable with.”

David thinks about what his father would say if he knew he was considering a partnership with someone he’s known only a month or so. Someone he is sleeping with, for that matter. And a business consultant, to boot.

It’s not sensible business practice, David.

“Okay, well. I will … consider your investment offer. Thank you.”

He’s never had much of a head for business.

 

*

Patrick hands over the last tote bag to their last customer and waves them out through the door as the bell jingles its adieu for the last time that day. He rolls his shoulders, the tightness there a welcome marker of the day’s success. He looks over at David; he’s over by the hand cream, dragging his hands down his chin and looking around, as if taking in everything the store has been through, cataloguing the empty spaces, watching as it finally settles into the quiet.

And Patrick is staring now, but he can’t help it. Watching the satisfaction paint itself guardedly over David’s features, seeing the hint of a proud smile tug at his lips, knowing what it means to him … it’s all too good to miss. So he watches, leaning back against the wall behind the cash register to give David as much space for reflection as possible. And he smiles.

 

*

David looks over the depleted stock and disarranged remains. Part of him is already itching to put everything back to rights, but he makes himself take a moment to appreciate what it all means. Tentatively, but with growing happiness, he lets himself name today for what it is: a success.

A laugh bubbles out of him, surprised and slightly emotional. That’s when he remembers that he isn’t alone. He turns to find Patrick watching him, a soft, lopsided smile playing out across his features in the dimming light. He finds himself grinning back.

“Well, that was …”

Patrick’s smile widens, and he pushes off the wall to lean his forearms on the dark wood of the counter. “A really good opening day,” he finishes for him.

David walks over to lean back against the counter, taking in the store from Patrick’s position. He nods to himself, surprised at how much he likes having someone share in it with him. After the money, and the gallery, and all the rest of it, he had found bedrock in the certainty that he wanted—needed—to see if he could make it without anyone’s help, to own something that was his and no one else’s. But … over the past week or so he has been forced to acknowledge that there is help—and then there is help.

Maybe it’s because Patrick is taking the same risk that David is, putting his effort into creating something and watching as the outside world judges it. Maybe it’s seeing him work just as hard today to make the customers see value in the store, to appreciate it as much as the two of them do. Maybe it’s because of all this that David doesn’t feel diminished by sharing ownership of this day, but elevated.

Or maybe it’s just Patrick. That strange brand of magic he carries that has infiltrated David’s life, bucking expectations and settling comfortably inside it, like it’s making itself at home.

Maybe, when this whole arrangement inevitably fizzes out, Patrick might stick around to keep being his business partner. Maybe they could be friends.

He shakes his shoulders vigorously, trying to dislodge these thoughts.

“Pizza?” he suggests.

Patrick chuckles, and David leans back into the sound, resting on his elbows on the counter and stretching his legs out in front of him.

“Yeah. Then you can restock while I close out the cash. And—” David looks over his shoulder to catch Patrick in a yawn, and he doesn’t even try to hide his delight. “—tally up the receipts.”

“Tired?”

Patrick hums in assent, eyes slipping shut. His dark lashes brush the pale skin underneath, and the sight of this makes something warm twist inside of David. At this angle, him arching back while Patrick leans forward, their faces are only a few inches apart, and in the protective quiet of the store it feels to David like something precious, something familiar, as if they are always pulling towards each other.

It’s a nice thought. Naïve, but nice.

“Right,” he says, straightening up and shaking out his arms, while Patrick rubs his hands over his face to rouse himself. “I’ll order. Start your vetos now or forever hold your peace.”

“Anchovies. Chicken. Olives. Anything else is fine.”

“And how set on those embargos would you say—”

Veto, David.”

“Okay, okay,” he mutters, pulling out his phone and scrolling for the number. “Just I noticed you didn’t say pineapple, so—”

“Oh, extra pineapple.”

Veto.”

 

*

Chapter Text

absence

noun

  1. The non-existence or lack of.
  2. The state of being away from a place or person.

 

It is absolutely not a big deal.

Patrick has been telling himself that once every ten minutes or so since, after a long first week at the store, he asked if David wanted to come to his apartment for dinner. And for most of the time it took him to walk home. And almost all of the time between that and when David knocked on his door.

And none of it makes a difference, because this is the first time Patrick has invited another man to his place, and suddenly all he can see are the things that remind him of Ben. They’d never lived here together, had been saving for a bigger place, and this fact had proved a bit of a lifeline in the immediate After, when reminders were thick on the ground and threatening to drag him under. Over the years Patrick has worked to change this, taken them all away, brought a few back; it’s still in a state of flux, of balancing out the things he wants to hold onto without drawing him back into the Before. Currently, there’s only one photo, in amongst the others above his fireplace, but there is also the cushion that Ben had spilled hot chocolate on. There is the book that he’d recommended but Patrick had never been able to finish. There is the Blue Jays jersey that he’d bought Patrick one birthday and that Patrick hadn’t been able to bring himself to throw out because it felt like sacrilege.

He’s terrified that he won’t be able to stop listing things.

And so when David does knock on his door, Patrick feels like he’s vibrating with the tension of bringing the Before and the After into such close proximity, and it all feels like a big mistake. But it’s too late now, and so he opens the door and tries to act like himself as David sets down his bag and surveys the apartment. Patrick stands in the kitchen, clutching the edge of the counter behind his back as he watches David, tall and striking, the orange flames on his sweater suddenly the brightest things in the room, too bright to get too close to.

Finally, David turns to look at him, with a sideways smirk and smiling eyes.

“There’s not as much blue as I would have thought.”

Patrick laughs, and while it sounds a little strangled, he is able to lessen his grip on the counter. “And here I was afraid that you wouldn’t have any remarks to make about my artistic choices.”

David sways his hips a little as he considers, and Patrick has to tear his gaze away. “Well, don’t think I haven’t noticed the guitar in the corner,” he says, waving his hand towards it. “Which, I mean, playing guitar is one thing, but if that falls into the category of an artistic choice—”

“Oh don’t worry, I only bought that to go with my fringed vest.”

He laughs again at the look on David’s face, but next minute the latter is swaying towards the kitchen and Patrick’s heart is kicking up a notch.

“Hungry?” he blurts out, because he needs some space to remain between them for now.

David, though, seems happy enough to be distracted. “Mhm,” he hums eagerly, pulling out his phone. “What did you want to order?”

“Well, I know it’s unorthodox, but I thought I’d cook.” He motions to the pot already on the stove, the chopping board littered with the remnants of tomato, onion, peppers, and fresh herbs. David’s eyes widen.

“Oh!” And all at once he looks like he’s been thrown off-kilter, like this was not only unexpected but never even considered. “Oh.”

His disconcertion helps Patrick relax a bit, step into his space a little, armoured in amusement. “Is that okay? I promise to taste it first if you’re worried about being poisoned.”

“No, that’s …” David is still staring at the evidence of food preparation like he’s never seen a kitchen used for that purpose before. “I don’t think anyone’s ever …” he takes a deep breath, and Patrick thinks he’s going to leave it at that, but— “… cooked for me.” David leans a little towards the bench, like he’s curious to see what this looks like, and Patrick’s feels a swell of fondness.

“Want to help?” he offers, just to see the look on David’s face. He is rewarded with a grimace and a wide gesture to the flame-covered sweater.

“I’m sorry, this? Is Givenchy? It does not pair well with anything …” he bats a hand towards the tomato juice on the chopping board, “… like that.”

Patrick laughs, again, and it’s coming more easily now. “Understood. How about you stick to boiling the pasta.” He picks up the packet of spaghetti and pushes it into David’s reluctant grasp, then takes him by the shoulders and points him at the pot of boiling water. “Just stick it in there with some salt for eight minutes and give it a stir every now and then. And I’ll get you a bib or something.” With a squeeze, Patrick lets go and heads over to start grating the parmesan.

David shoots him a glare over his shoulder, but he walks over to the stove anyway, and tentatively starts to follow Patrick’s instructions. And when dinner is on the table Patrick can’t help his ear-to-ear grin at the mix of satisfaction and pride in David’s face as he eats, and not-so-subtly demands feedback on the quality of the pasta.

Hours later, there’s a wobble in Patrick’s equilibrium when David offers to help wash up, but he tries not to let it show as this familiar role of mundane domesticity is filled by a different man, as David takes up the tea towel that Ben used to dry the dishes (even though David spends the whole time critiquing Patrick’s washing up). He tries not to let it show, especially once they’re done, and David leans his hip on the counter to look at him with a knowing smirk and dark eyes glittering. When his gaze rests on Patrick’s mouth his smirk widens, but before Patrick can ask why, David reaches out and swipes his thumb over the sauce that had been resting below his lip.

Patrick’s breath hitches.

“Thanks for dinner,” David says, his voice low, and Patrick can’t help his tongue from darting out over the skin that he’s just touched.

“Thanks for coming over,” he replies as steadily as he’s able. David quirks an eyebrow in invitation, and despite the fact that he’s wound so tight he can feel his legs shaking, Patrick finds himself leaning in. David meets him the rest of the way.

As soon as their lips touch, the tension starts to dissipate, and the more David kisses him, the more he relaxes. He tastes of tomato and basil and pepper and him, and Patrick can’t help but draw David’s lower lip between his to savour more of it. He steps in to press David against the sink, sinking his hands into the soft folds of his sweater, feeling the shiver roll down his spine as David rubs his own fingers over the short hairs at the back of Patrick’s neck.

When he had made the decision to start “getting back out there” one of the things that had worried Patrick the most was that, even if he ever managed to meet someone he liked, and even if he managed to do something about it, he’d end up thinking about Ben the whole time.

That thought seems laughable now—David is all-encompassing, filling up his senses and leaving no room for anything else. Right now, for instance, he feels the softness of David’s sweater under his fingers, the warmth of his body beneath it, the yielding touch of his lips and the contrasting roughness of his stubble. He slides his leg between David’s and hears him moan softly, smells the faint citrus of his cologne, and tastes, and tastes, and tastes.

And suddenly the problem is not that he’ll be thinking of Ben, but that he’ll never be thinking of anyone but David.

A bolt of fear shoots through him and he shudders back from David, whose eyes are filled with the same heat that covers his sweater. It’s more than Patrick can resist, and when David closes the space between them again and again he fields the kisses sent his way, trying to wrest his mind back to where it should be, where he wants it to be. He’s so focused on not spinning out that David has steered them halfway across the apartment before Patrick realises that he’s nudging them back towards the alcove that holds the bed.

His legs hit the mattress. He grabs onto David’s hips to stop himself from falling backwards.

And then David’s lips are brushing his ear. “Shall we …?” He gives his shoulders a little shimmy.

But the fear has its talons in Patrick now, and though he does want to—and isn’t that the problem, because god, he wants—that panic is too strong to ignore, and he might actually shake apart if he doesn’t do what he needs to do.

“Uh, do you mind if … can we just …” David is kissing his neck, and Patrick fights against his baser instincts and weaker impulses to grab hold of the fear, to use it for once to stop himself from going somewhere that, for whatever reason, he isn’t ready to go. “Can we just … sleep?”

David’s surprise is immediate. He takes an awkward half-step back, as if he doesn’t know which direction to move in.

“Oh. Um. Okay. Of course, of—of course—”

He lifts his hands off Patrick’s body, but still seems unsure what to do with them, plucking at his own sweater. He is looking anywhere but at Patrick.

“David—”

“Oh my god, of course, that’s fine, um …”

He’s trying so hard that Patrick feels awful. He sinks to the bed and puts his head in his hands.

“I’m sorry, I—” He huffs out a groan of frustration and feels like he’s right back at square one, right back in David’s apartment on that first night. Fuck, he hates this. Hates that this is so hard, when it used to be easy, or at least easier. “God, David, I’m sorry.”

The mattress dips beside him as David hesitantly sits down. “It’s fine, really. It’s absolutely not a big deal.”

Patrick laughs at that, but it’s a strained sound, devoid of mirth. “If I told you it’s not you, it’s me, would you believe me?”

“Uh, no, absolutely not.”

This time Patrick’s laugh is a little more genuine, and he finally looks at David, face awash with shame.

“It’s not you.”

David bites his lip and nods, uncertain. “Mhm. Okay, but—”

“It’s not,” he says again, and as the truth of that hits he drops his head with a sigh. “I’m just … a little overwhelmed, I guess.”

David hesitates, as though he’s putting two and two together. “You’ve … never had another guy over here, have you?”

He wishes he could refute it, that it wasn’t so obvious how out of his depth he is. “… No.”

“Well then this makes sense.”

He lifts his head in surprise; David is looking back at him, a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.

“Does it?” Patrick asks, because he’s not sure he understands.

“Mhm.”

He almost tells him the truth, that it’s precisely how much Patrick wants him here that is causing the overwhelm. But that would provoke a lot of questions that he’s not sure how to answer, so he stays quiet.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable—”

“Hey, no. Me feeling uncomfortable is so not the issue here. I mean, it’s basically my default position, so …” Hesitantly, and with a few false starts, he lays his hand on Patrick’s and squeezes it. “I’m glad you said something.”

Patrick is sceptical. “You are?”

“Mhm,” David nods again. Haltingly, clearly uneasy, he continues, “I may have, in the past, been in situations where I was … not entirely comfortable, and … may have regretted not. Saying something. And I would hate it if you felt like that. With me.”

He is avoiding Patrick’s eye, facial muscles clenched in a grimace. Patrick squeezes his hand, wants tell him how much he wishes David had never felt like that with anyone, how Patrick never wants him to feel like that with him, either. Maybe some of it gets through, because David glances over just long enough to share a half-hearted smile. He pats Patrick’s leg.

“Um … should I … I should go, so …” He starts to get up, but before he can leave the mattress, Patrick’s hand darts out to circle his wrist.

“Wait, no—” David stops, and a brief silence is filled with Patrick’s skittering pulse as he tries to formulate his words. “Please,” he adds, less urgently. He makes himself loosen his hold on David’s wrist, but can’t quite let go completely. “I mean, yes, if you want to go, obviously, just …”

He swallows. Searches for a truth that’s utterable.

Say it.

“If you want to stay, then … I’d like you to stay.”

And yes, he realises that it’s a poor offer, to spend the night and not have sex, but—

“Okay.”

Patrick lets go in surprise. And though David looks nervous, he also isn’t leaving. He’s staying, just because Patrick asked him to, and Patrick can’t think of anything to respond with.

“So …” David clears his throat. “I’m going to start on my skincare, so …” He makes a brief, aborted move that Patrick thinks was going to be a hand on his thigh, before he settles on an awkward pat on the arm … and then he’s taken his bag into the bathroom, leaving Patrick to sift through the mess of emotions swirling through his head.

 

*

David tips back his head, unable to even look at himself in the bathroom mirror, trying to forget the last ten minutes, and in particular that little burst of unintended vulnerability. Nothing more alluring than a reference to regretted sex!

Speaking of which … during the week it had been a lot easier to ignore, but once the flurry of activity was over there was no escaping it: Patrick hasn’t initiated or really hinted at wanting any … closeness since last Friday. Hasn’t even kissed him until tonight. They’ve still been texting, and after Patrick started helping at the store they’ve seen each other just about every day, but …

Look, it wouldn’t be the first time someone has reached their limit with him. It’s just that usually the other person doesn’t stick around. Patrick has stuck around. Found ways to be around more, in fact. If David hadn’t been stressing so much about the opening, he thinks he’d have been driven a little crazy at the so-close-but-so-far nature of it all. So maybe Patrick’s been giving him space. Or needs space. Or wants more space.

He shakes himself and picks up the first bottle of serum, grounding himself in the familiar routine. And yes, pretending not to look around for traces of Ben.

He’s been doing it all night, really. Battling curiosity and his own imagination in an attempt to find out what mark this man left on Patrick’s life, how deep it runs. He’s interested, that’s all, like he would be in snooping into anyone’s background, and he is definitely not doing anything so laughable as scoping out the competition. And if he is, there’s not much in the way of evidence, although he hasn’t yet found an excuse to examine the pictures on the mantle without giving himself up. Ducking his insecurity by having sex with Patrick had seemed like the perfect plan, but … he feels a little guilty now, because he clearly hadn’t been thinking enough about Patrick’s point of view.

In his defence—and it should be obvious to anyone—he is very, very selfish.

And while he’s relieved and glad and impressed that Patrick was self-assured enough to put a stop to things, he’s also a tad flustered, and not surprised that the voices in his head are sounding alarms like this is too hard, and get out, and what are you doing here? Because he wasn’t lying when he said discomfort was a default position; he can’t remember the last time he was in a social setting without feeling at least a little … itchy. Like he didn’t quite fit in, like he was just that little bit removed from everyone else, just that little bit off tempo.

He’s not sure about Patrick’s tempo, though. Maybe that’s why he’s still here.

Eventually, he finishes up, and Patrick, already changed into soft, worn, plaid pyjama bottoms and a white t-shirt—looking cosy and touchable and fuck, David wants to touch him—takes his turn in the bathroom, leaving David alone. And horny.

He decides on the lesser of two evils, and, seeking to distract himself from thoughts of Patrick’s forearms, he pads over to the fireplace to finally get a good look at the photos on the mantlepiece.

There are pictures of people David assumes are Patrick’s family, Patrick and a group of laughing friends at a bar, with a sports team of some sort, and … there. Patrick next to a man with sandy brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles. Who is kissing Patrick on the cheek.

David stares hard at the figure in the photograph, as if he might be able to glean some secret information about the man who used to be Patrick’s. It’d be hard for him to look less like David—even his t-shirt with the superhero logo has a hole in the neck. But they look easy together, young and carefree. A quick glance at their hands tells David it was taken before the engagement. Patrick’s eyes are closed and he’s smiling. It’s a nice photo.

David hates it.

Well, he hates the way it makes him feel. He’s envious of their happiness. Possessive of the man with the auburn hair and easy smile being kissed by someone else. And angry. Angry that he’s never once felt the kind of happiness these two have. Angry at himself for being himself and not someone Patrick could have been this happy with. Angry at Ben for dying, for leaving and turning this untroubled, happy Patrick into one who feels broken.

This last thought is so out of character for him that it brings him up short. Before he can dwell on it, though, it occurs to him that Patrick’s skincare regimen probably takes about a tenth of the time that his own does, and when he hears the bathroom tap turn off he races back to the bed and dives under the covers. Arranging himself on his back, he tries not to look as self-conscious as he feels, and a moment later the bathroom door opens again.

Patrick turns out the lights as he approaches, and joins him in the bed. He flicks off the bedside lamp and plunges the room into darkness. And silence. The two of them lie there, not moving, not touching, not talking.

It’s excruciating.

He tries to focus on what he knows: Patrick doesn’t want to have sex. Patrick asked him to stay. Patrick had kissed him … kissed him back, anyway, but David knows that wasn’t a thanks-but-no-thanks kiss.

So. He’s staying.

He doesn’t know how to do this. What is he even doing here? Sticking around in awkward situations hasn’t been his thing since he accidentally ended up watching his mother’s love scene in Not Without My Cousin—with his parents in the room. Not to mention how woefully unqualified he is to try to help anyone through a difficult personal moment. He imagines all the reasons Patrick must be regretting everything about their arrangement right now, and he wants to set himself on fire just to make it bearable. At least then they’d have something to talk about, if only regarding the nearest hospital.

“So this is awkward.”

David blinks and looks over at Patrick; there is just enough light for David to see he is frowning at the ceiling. And this, of all things, makes David smile.

Really awkward,” he confirms. Patrick snorts, and David’s nerves subside a little. The following silence is a little less itchy, but David still feels the need to fill it. “If it helps, I’ve never been very good at this either. Historically speaking.”

Patrick sounds amused. “What’s that, David?”

“Genuine human emotion.” It feels a strange thing to admit, and when he glances at Patrick he can see a smile to mirror his own.

“Harder than it sounds,” says Patrick, and David nods in emphatic agreement. In the dim light Patrick’s face is soft, his eyes smiling, his mouth quirked up at the corner. He is beautiful.

David really wants to kiss him.

Instead he forces himself to turn back to face the ceiling, to swallow the smile that seems to pop up every time he thinks like this. He jumps a little when he feels Patrick’s hand close over his own, but, not wanting him to pull away, recovers himself enough to entwine their fingers. It makes him a little braver.

“So tell me about this fringed vest.”

They talk for a little while, voices soft in the stillness of the apartment, and David feels more and more at ease. It’s … nice, lying here in the dark, like he can say anything and have it just be heard without judgement. He finds himself burrowing into the covers, relaxing into the warmth provided by Patrick’s presence. He must drop off to sleep eventually, because the next thing he knows he’s on his side, and Patrick is pressed along his back, his arm looped around David’s waist and resting on his stomach.

David smiles, letting himself lean back against Patrick’s chest. It feels good to be enveloped like this, to feel Patrick’s warm breath on his skin, his lips against his shoulder, and when Patrick nuzzles sleepily into his neck David is too comfortable to stop himself letting out a sigh that betrays just how good it feels. And Patrick’s answering sigh sounds the same—

And David is hard.

He blinks awake into a very different energy. Though he’s taken aback that this has happened so quickly, it’s not a problem, he’s perfectly capable of managing it … or he would be, if Patrick weren’t rocking his hips into him. Because Patrick is hard too, and after a second or two his body gives a little jump that David thinks means he’s suddenly not asleep anymore.

The two of them lie still, bodies frozen in matching hesitation. And because David is just the worst, he can’t help shifting his hips a little … just to make sure.

And Patrick sways back.

“David …”

It’s barely more than a breath against his neck, but David shivers with it. Especially when Patrick starts to press slow, sleepy kisses along the back of his neck.

“I thought …” David croaks out, trying and failing not to push back into him, “I thought we were just sleeping?”

“We can if you want,” says Patrick softly, and David knows with more certainty than he ever has that he means it, that he will stop and go back to sleep if David says the word. For some reason, this makes his eyes sting, and he forces the feeling into submission in favour of another, much more pleasurable one.

He laces his fingers between those Patrick has pressed to his stomach. “I think I’m more interested in this,” he says, and pulls their hands downwards to show him exactly how interested. When Patrick squeezes lightly, he arches back into him, but remembers to add, “If you are.”

“I am,” is Patrick’s response, murmured into David’s shoulder, where he is nosing aside his t-shirt to gain more access to his skin. David rolls his ass back into Patrick’s groin, and smirks at the gasp it elicits.

He is content, though, to submit to Patrick here, lets him set a languid pace, rocking slowly but firmly into him. For the next little while he lets himself sink into the sheer comfort and safety that he feels wrapped in this man’s arms, lets it drown out the buzz of anxiety and doubt until it disappears. And then Patrick slides his hand inside David’s boxer briefs and takes hold of his cock, squeezing gently, swiping his thumb over the head to spread the moisture already there. His hand settles into the same, lazy pace as his hips, and it’s so utterly delicious that David feels like he’s melting into him. He moans softly.

“Jesus, David …” Patrick whispers again, and now his breath hitches as he rocks his hips with more purpose, dragging his erection against David’s backside. Part of him wants to suggest they change gear and get naked, but it already feels so good, in this half-awake space, and the idea of moving out of it quickly evaporates.

“I can’t stop … wanting …” Patrick breathes into his neck. For a split-second David wonders if he’s been trying to stop, but when the other man presses against his back with that beautiful sigh, rocking into him with that slow, sleepy pace, David moans out his name like it’s the answer to some vital question. His whole body is humming wonderfully, and Patrick’s hand on his cock is slick and ceaseless, and soon David is incapable of speech.

His orgasm, when it hits, is like a slow, warm, wave that sweeps up and down his entire body, filling him up and leaving him heavy-limbed and utterly satisfied. Patrick’s hand leaves his cock before it becomes too much, but before he can think about stopping anything else David reaches back and, finding Patrick’s flank, digs his fingers in.

“Don’t stop,” he slurs.

Patrick’s hips quiver a little. “Yeah?”

David twists his neck to meet his mouth in a slow, languorous kiss, smiling at the shudder in Patrick’s breath. “Don’t stop,” he says again, wilfully ignoring any other meaning this might have. He grinds back against Patrick’s cock, pulling clumsily at his thigh to encourage him to keep going. Patrick groans against his shoulder, and starts to rock into him again, slow and firm and lingering, and it feels so good that David can’t help pressing back into him. It’s not much longer before Patrick’s own orgasm takes hold, and he leans hard against David’s back, huffing irregular breaths against his skin.

For a long moment they just lay there, breaths syncing and slowing. Eventually, Patrick presses his lips to David’s neck, and whispers, “Oh god …” and David nods in sleepy agreement.

Slowly, David lifts the hand holding tight against his stomach and slips out of the covers to take off his underwear. He briefly contemplates finding a towel for a cursory clean-up—he’s too still too light-headed for anything else—but Patrick is clumsily shucking off his pyjamas and boxers, so he abandons his own sleep clothes instead and crawls up the bed, collapsing face down into the space beside Patrick. Turning to face him, he is rewarded with a dozy, eyes-closed smile. And David snakes his hand down to find Patrick’s, links their fingers together, watches that smile broaden.

And falls a little more.

 

*

There is a man in his bed.

This hasn’t been the case for so long that it takes Patrick a moment to wrap his sleep-addled brain around it. And while, yes, there’s an initial frisson of alarm, it’s overtaken by the fact that the man is David, and before he can think too much about it, he’s smiling softly at the sight of his slack face, lined with crease-marks from the pillow, eyelids fluttering in REM sleep, dark hair soft and curling a little.

And while he’s sure that once he’s properly awake he’ll agonise over what it means, it can’t be ignored anymore: he likes waking up next to David.

Careful not to disturb him, he slips out, grabs some clean boxers, and heads to the bathroom. He can’t help but feel a little proud of himself: he feels like he’s taken a real step here, and even though he’s definitely more than once bitten when it comes to forward progress, he’s cautiously optimistic. Not just because he had a guy spend the night, but also because he managed, against the odds, to enjoy himself.

On cue, his half-conscious, mid-sex thought—which he's pretty sure he said out loud—returns like a gut-punch, and he immediately winces and feels the heat rush up his neck—no, he thinks, he’s not going to feel embarrassed about that. He’s just not. Not right now, anyway.

Cautiously optimistic.

He shoves aside the nerves that hint he might be overdoing it, and starts making breakfast. He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t notice when David makes his way out of bed and over to the kitchen.

“Is that bacon?”

Patrick swallows the way his breath hitches, reels in the smile that’s tugging at his lips, and finishes loading up a plate before turning around.

“Yep,” he says, and hands it to David. He’s back in his pyjamas, looking more dishevelled than Patrick has ever seen him. He wants to slide his arm around his waist, kiss him on the cheek, but he catches sight of a small purple mark bruising David's shoulder, the edge of it just visible from underneath the neck of his t-shirt and ... for a moment he can't seem to move, feels inexplicably shy.

David looks a little timid too, and there’s an awkward moment where they just smile bashfully at each other.

Patrick clears his throat. “Coffee's on the table,” he says, and turns back to prepare his own plate. Behind him he hears David draw out a chair and pick up a fork from the caddy on the table. Kicking himself for not being able to lean into the scene of comfortable domesticity in his head, he squares his shoulders and sits down with his food.

They start to eat in silence, but when David takes in his first forkful and groans in satisfaction, Patrick can’t stop the grin from taking over his face, and suddenly the tension lifts.

“What?” David asks, frowning.

“Nothing,” says Patrick. “Just thinking I should’ve bought more bacon.”

David narrows his eyes. “Very funny.” He picks up a rasher with his fingers and takes a bite. Then Patrick sees him take in the fact that he’s only been given two. Brow furrowed, he asks. “Wait, really?”

Patrick swallows his chuckle, and affects a sigh as he slides his own bacon onto David’s plate. For a moment David’s eyes widen and he looks—if Patrick were to guess he’d say “touched”. He feels a surge of fondness, watching as David gives a little wriggle of pleasure before tucking in.

“Double portions next time,” says Patrick, hoping it comes across as off-hand.

David just nods. “And pancakes,” he says.

Patrick just grins.

 

*

David looks up at the house. It’s modest, by their standards, but a decent size considering that it’s only his parents living here, and without the household staff they once managed. Bought with the Sunrise Bay reboot money. They’d made noises about buying David and Alexis their own apartments, but both of them had rebelled against that idea, to everyone's surprise.

Back in the day, they hadn’t really gotten together for holidays, excepting Christmas, and that was really about networking and free Michelin-quality food than anything else. This Thanksgiving, though, they had agreed to spend it together at the Los Angeles house—although that hints at a reality in which there are houses in other states and countries, and there aren’t. Not anymore.

He doesn't miss that reality. Certain aspects of it, perhaps. Having a clothing budget is unpleasant.

But mostly he’s not not looking forward to Thanksgiving.

He walks up to the door, adjusting his skirted pants and making a mental note to corner Alexis first thing, so they can trade through the things they will be keeping shtum about in front of the parents—if you don’t let anything slip about that little snafu with the coast guard, I won’t tell them about how you were the one who took mom’s Percocet, etc.

He’s already making a list of the things he has on Alexis, things he can bargain with. He suspects he’s going to need all the leverage he can get.

 

*

“You look different.”

From her spot next to him at the bar, Stevie frowns as she looks Patrick over. He raises his eyebrows.

“Has that phrase ever been used as a compliment?”

“Probably not, no.”

“Thanks.”

It’s been a while since they’ve been out together, even before Thanksgiving. Mostly they’ve been grabbing a quick coffee, with one or two movie nights sandwiched between workdays. Patrick knows that the absence is mainly his own fault, given that he’s been spending so much more time at the store both during and after working hours. And with David.

But David is still with his family for the holiday, and won’t be back in town for another week. According to him, it’s something of a new tradition for the Roses. And Patrick has no reason to think that he’s staying away for any other reason, certainly not because he needs some space from Patrick now that they’re working together in addition to … everything else.

“I mean it, though.” Stevie is still appraising him over the rim of her glass. “You’re, I don’t know, lighter or something.”

Patrick laughs. “Wow. You should make fun of my haircut next.”

She rolls her eyes. “I mean you seem lighter. Like, happier.”

And just like that his enjoyment falters a little. “Huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Well that’s …” He fidgets with the coaster in front of him. “I mean, it was good to go home for a bit.”

Spending time with his family had been great, although it’s still surrounded by the slight pall that seems to colour all major holidays now. New Year’s always seems to be the hardest, because Ben had laid claim to that with an energy that no one else had really shared but that everyone had gone along with anyway. But his parents have always been a tonic for a weary heart, and he and David have been texting fairly frequently. Which … has also been good.

And complicated.

“Patrick? You’re going all inner monologue again,” Stevie says, tapping a finger to her temple. “The whole point of coming here was for dialogue.”

Patrick attempts a smile. “And here I thought it was the alcohol.”

Stevie nods, taking a long sip. “Yes, alcohol and dialogue. And to make you uncomfortable with perfectly innocent observations.”

He chuckles, still spinning the coaster.

Stevie’s fixed him with narrowed eyes and a crooked smile. “You know, I’m no expert, but I believe nine out of ten scientists believe that being happy is supposed to be a good thing.”

“Yeah.” He exhales slowly, and tries to school his expression into something more light-hearted.

“What?”

He looks at her, wondering how many times he can turn what’s supposed to be a fun hangout into a dive into his damaged psyche.

“Spill it, Brewer. I’m not going anywhere.”

Oh right, because she knows about that neurosis of his. She knows everything. Almost everything. He takes a deep breath.

“I think I just feel guilty,” he says vaguely. “Like I shouldn’t …” He trails off and tries again with a lighter tone. “Sometimes I forget about my devotion to misery, you know?” The joke sounds lame even to him.

Sure enough, Stevie rolls her eyes. “Right. You sure you’re not Catholic?”

He chuckles. “Pretty sure.”

“So does this guilt arrive whenever you’re enjoying yourself, or …?”

“Or?”

“Or just when you start thinking about why you’re enjoying yourself?”

This time he doesn’t laugh. The barb has come too close to its mark, sending his heartrate skittering. He sets his beer down on the bar and lays his hands flat on the wood. It’s reassuringly solid and tacky under his fingertips.

“Why do you … what, uh …”

He can’t get the words out, and it couldn’t matter less, because he already knows what she means.

David.

The name is here, hanging in the air between them, might as well be engraved on a sign around Patrick’s neck. Because even though he hasn’t seen him in a week, even though he’s only known him for a month or two, the silver strands of David’s name are already entwined in the threads of Patrick’s life, catching the light and making the whole tapestry come alive again. It’s distracting him from looking at the rest of the picture, and when he remembers to look, well, then he feels like this.

Everyone talks about how important it is to move on from grief. They don’t realise how hard it is, how unappealing it can be, like letting go of a life raft.

But Stevie is Stevie, and she knows almost everything about him. So she brings her glass over to clink softly against the beer before him.

“Cheer up,” she says helpfully. “Maybe it’s just the natural high from getting regularly laid.”

It’s enough to make him laugh again. “Thanks, Stevie.”

“Hey, I’m here to help.”

 

*

Patrick Brewer

Battle stations.

Uh oh. What's up?

My mother's wigs are getting steam cleaned. You could eat the tension here with a spoon.

I hear that pairs well with maple syrup.

And wine. It pairs especially well with wine.

David Rose, are you drunk?

Not enough.

Well when you sober up you could always distract yourself by getting started on those vendor contracts.

Yeah, yeah. I'm halfway through them. Keep your pants on.

Oh, David. Sometimes you make it too easy.

Sometimes YOU make it too easy.

Badoom-tish.

What are you up to, anyway? Rearranging your sock drawer?

At a bar with Stevie. (As if I'd ever let them get out of sequence in the first place)

No fair. I like bars.

You already have wine.

But YOU'RE in a bar.

David sighs and lies back on his bed, casting bleary eyes over the ceiling. He’s not really as miserable being here with his family as he’s making himself out to be. He had to bribe Alexis with the promise of free lip balm to cement a promise not to tell their parents about Patrick, but she failed to specify a number, so he might come out on top. But the wine was a mistake, maybe, because now he’s thinking about Patrick at a bar, laughing, drinking, being noticed by other guys …

He’s just a little bit drunk, a little bit horny.

Missing me, are you?

He blinks. Re-reads the text. Then the one he sent before it.

Oh shit.

Missing hanging out with anyone who's not my family.

Well when you get back in a week you can go out to a bar to hang out with people you're not related to. Let me know how it goes.

David bites down on a smile.

You could come too, I guess.

Such generosity.

I'll have you know I'm a very generous person.

I know

Oh, I know.

Hm. A little bit hornier. But …

We're not doing this.

Not doing what?

Patrick, you're in a bar and I'm sharing a wall with my sister. We are NOT doing this.

There’s a pause. The dots appear and disappear.

No, you're right, David.

I'm going to frame that text and hang it in the store.

Too bad, though.

Guess I'll have to pay back your generosity some other way.

David smirks.

I'm sure you'll think of something.

Maybe flowers. I hear daisies are in.

Troll.

Or one of those "live, laugh, love" posters to hang in the store.

TROLL.

With a kitten wearing a flower crown.

I think we should see other people.

He drops the phone on his stomach and reaches for his glass. Carefully, and with the practised hand of someone who knows how to keep drinking while not spilling on designer clothes, he drains it and sets it back on the side table. It warms his throat, and dampens the lingering worries—not worries, concerns—that he may or may not have about Patrick being ogled by the entire population of Toronto. Intellectually, of course, he knows that he’s out with his friend, knows that he’s not planning on hooking up, but David is David, and he’s a little drunk, a little horny, and if he were to pay attention to facts then his anxiety would have nothing to do. His phone pings again, and he blinks at the screen.

Hey David?

He pauses. Bracing for another hideous gift suggestion.

What?

Don't see other people?

At least not for the next week or so.

David squeezes his eyes shut. It shouldn’t be this easy for someone to annoy him and stir up a storm of butterflies in his stomach.

Only if you never buy me anything with a cat on it.

*

Patrick is still smiling at his phone when Stevie climbs back onto the seat beside him. He tucks the device into his pocket and turns to face her.

“The same?” he asks, raising a hand to signal to the bartender.

“The same,” she agrees, and he orders them another round. While they wait, she raises an eyebrow. “Texting David?”

It’s a little too knowing for Patrick’s liking, but he keeps his expression casual as he drains the last of his beer and nods. For a moment, she just looks at him, the way she does when she’s wondering whether to call him on something. It reminds him a little of a look David has. Eventually, though, she just nods.

“So are you ready to suit up, Brewer?”

He groans. “Come on, Stevie, after last time?”

“Okay, that was awkward, but—”

Awkward. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a wingman.”

“I mean, technically, it worked.”

He laughs. “Yeah, except technically, I ended up having my junk grabbed by a guy who thought we were orchestrating a threesome.”

“He really was a class act,” Stevie half-grins, half-grimaces as she sips her martini. “At least he was an equal opportunity letch.”

Patrick grins, remembering the elbow she’d thrown when the man had groped her breast, how she’d remained innocently apologetic for her “muscle spasm” as she’d grabbed the pitcher of sangria he’d paid for with one hand and Patrick with another, pulling him over to a different table like nothing had happened. He still admires the way she’d shaken it off and moved on to flirting with another guy at the pool table—admires it because he knows that the disappointment still catches up with her every now and then. He never really doubts that she can look after herself; it’s only when the hurt piles up that he steps in and she lets him take care of her for a bit. Of course, it’s Stevie, so “taking care” mostly means hanging out and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race reruns until she cheers up.

He hasn’t forgotten that she’s decided not to grill him about David. It’s one of the qualities he likes best about her—whether it’s her aversion to deep conversations or she’s actually more tactful than people give her credit for, she’s someone he can just be with, without having to talk things over all the time. He’s worn her down a little on the talking—and she really stepped up in the immediate After—but he appreciates the absence of it just as much. Because even though he sometimes worries about boxes and labels, she’s never really treated him any differently to the way she always has.

“Okay, fine. I’ll commit to three conversation starters, but I’m not getting assaulted for you again, Budd.”

Stevie smirks. “You’re a prince among men, Brewer.”

 

*

Exactly a week later, Patrick opens the door, and it’s only through sheer force of will that David does not moan at the sight of him, because he’s wearing (tight) running shorts and a (tight) tee, his cheeks are flushed, and his hair is damp and curling a little at the front. It’s definitely those things, but maybe it’s also because, despite it being only a month or two, David is exactly as pathetically into this man as he suspects he is.

But Patrick’s smile spreads across his entire face, his honey-brown eyes light up, and that helps.

“You’re back.”

“Thought I’d see if you were busy,” says David, leaning an arm against the door frame and affecting nonchalance; he can tell from Patrick’s face that he’s not buying it, and he doesn’t care. “Are you busy?”

Patrick reaches forward and grabs him by the shoulders. “Get in here,” he growls, and the next minute he has David inside and pressed up against the closed door, and David has his head in his hands and his mouth on Patrick’s.

“Yeah but—are you sure you’re not—busy?” he teases between kisses, and god, he wants to kiss him for at least the next twelve hours.

“Actually,” Patrick returns, making a soft noise as David bends to mouth along his throat, “I’ve just been on a run.” David can well believe it; his skin is deliciously salty, and David wants to taste it all.

“Gross,” he murmurs, nuzzling into his shoulder. Patrick laughs and brings his own mouth to David’s neck, and his whole body thrums.

“I was about to have a shower,” says Patrick, and he pulls away to look at David, those warm brown eyes alight with heat. “Join me?”

Fuck. Yes.

Patrick laughs again, and David realises he’s said it out loud. But it couldn’t matter less, because Patrick is taking his hand and pulling him down the hall.

It takes some manoeuvring to get into the bathroom, divest themselves of clothes, and step into the shower all while kissing as though they haven’t done so in, well, in weeks, but they manage it. David backs into the warm spray with a sigh; it becomes a gasp when Patrick crowds in so that he hits the wall. His body presses all along him, and David starts uttering a litany of embarrassing but unpreventable noises. While Patrick’s hands reacquaint themselves with David’s body, David reaches out for the shower milk (from the store, and yes, he insisted that Patrick buy it), squeezes some into his hand and takes hold of Patrick’s cock.

Patrick falters, leaning hard against David, burying a groan in his shoulder.

“Damn it, David,” he all but growls.

“What?”

Patrick just huffs out a deep breath and leans back—he looks wrecked, and David hopes the noise of the water is enough to hide the whimper that he lets out at the sight. But Patrick presses a hand into David’s chest and steps away. Confused, David tries to follow, but Patrick keeps him in place, pushing him back against the wall of the shower, urging him to stay put. As he steps out, David tips his face up into the water, combing back his hair, catching his breath. When he opens his eyes again Patrick is stepping back inside, holding up a condom between his fingers.

David’s eyes jump from the condom to Patrick, and he starts nodding so hard that water flicks from his hair. Patrick smirks and hands it to David, then reaches past him for the body milk.

And then David’s back is against the shower wall again, and Patrick has hooked an arm around his thigh, pressing it up around his own hip as the fingers of his other hand slide inside him, and David can’t remember a time when he was this turned on, not since the last time, anyway, and—

“Jesus, David, I haven’t stopped thinking about you like this since you left,” Patrick groans into his ear. Incapable just now of a coherent rejoinder, David just moans in response, rocks into his fingers, grabs at Patrick’s shoulders to pull him closer, ever closer.

“Want you,” he finally manages. “Now. Ready.”

Fingers shaking, he makes quick work of the condom wrapper and next minute is sliding it down Patrick’s cock, closing his hand around it and stroking it, once, twice …

A hand grips his neck, forcing David’s gaze upwards, and like this, whiskey eyes pinning David in place, Patrick enters him, and oh

David’s head tips back against the wall, and he feels himself laugh with the joy of it, the sheer pleasure of being joined like this, of the ache and stretch, of Patrick’s hands on him, of his mouth by his ear, murmuring his name over and over …

David, brow creasing with the effort, can only gasp out the faintest words as the tension ratchets, higher and higher: “So good … how is it so goodPatrick …”

And David is coming, and coming, and Patrick’s hips are stuttering, and wave after wave of warmth spreads through David, drawing his strength out and leaving him loose-limbed, shaking, spent.

He clings to the afterglow, conveniently shielded from the creeping anxiety that follows when he lets himself get carried away like this, carried away in how sex with Patrick feels like more, carried away with how fucking much he likes him. For the moment, he can feel all that without listening to the voice in the back of his head. He can feel exhilarated, and weak, and sated, and cared for, and utterly exhausted.

God, it’s gorgeous. Patrick is gorgeous.

He’s still pressing heavily against him, one hand gripping David’s thigh, and every now and then his hips shudder and jerk with an aftershock. David—eyes closed, smile wide, every other breath an aborted laugh—soothes his hands up and down Patrick’s back, bringing him back to earth. Eventually, he relinquishes his grip on David’s leg, which drops, boneless and marked with bruises in the shape of Patrick’s fingertips. He raises his head to look at David, eyes hooded and spent, and kisses him softly, slowly, before resting their foreheads together. The moment stretches out, neither of them saying anything, but it seems to David as though the air is thick with words, intentions, confessions.

It’s one of those moments when he feels something he can’t give voice to.

Patrick is the one who finally breaks the silence.

“I’m glad you came over.”

David smiles and nods. “Me too.” His hand lifts instinctively to Patrick’s cheek, but before it can land he snatches it back and turns to grab the body wash instead, conveniently hiding his grimace. He isn’t sure why he keeps doing that, what it’s about. He can only imagine it’s his instincts trying to self-protect, like he’s seen Pretty Woman too many times but likes kissing on the mouth too much. He squeezes out some body wash and rubs his hands together.

“Have you had dinner yet?” he asks, focusing on lathering up Patrick’s shoulders.

“Hungry, are we?”

“Mhm. Starving.”

Patrick chuckles. “We’ll see what I’ve got to help with that.”

Patrick makes him coconut curry, and they follow it by curling up on the couch together to watch TV, David leaning back against Patrick’s chest, and it’s so fucking domestic and peaceful and all those thrillingly boring things that David holds locked in the vault with his most secret desires. He wonders what the hell he’s doing here, wondered how he’s ever lived without it.

He blames this cosiness, the dinner, the sex—all of this for his weakened defences, and for what he says next.

“I missed this,” he whispers, as though it isn’t colossally embarrassing.

I missed you, he thinks, and that’s worse.

There’s a pause, just a little too long.

But eventually Patrick just presses his lips to the back of David’s head, and says, “Me too.”

 

*

Chapter Text

care

noun

     The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.

verb

     Feel affection or liking.


 

Patrick shifts the grocery bag to a more secure position and knocks. After a moment or two David opens the door and immediately grimaces.

“Nooooo,” he whines. “I don’t want you to see me when I’m snotty and gross.”

“Ship’s sailed on that one, sorry,” Patrick grins. David’s skin is pale, his eyes and nose are red, his hair limp on one side of his head and sticking out in all directions on the other.

David tips his head back to wince at the ceiling. “Uhhhhhhh.”

“Okay, let’s get you something to eat.”

Patrick deposits David on the couch in front of the TV and spends some time preparing and putting together a tray of soup, a jug of water, a glass, some orange juice and the box of pills. He has to sit behind David to push him up so that he can be convinced to eat and swallow the pills, complaining all the while.

“Just one whole glass of water and I’ll leave you alone.”

“Promises, promises,” David grumbles. But he drains the glass, and as soon as Patrick grabs it off him he slumps back against him, effectively trapping him on the couch.

“Okay then,” Patrick mutters, twisting awkwardly to place the glass on the floor. He sits back up and shifts until he’s comfortable beneath David's weight. David wriggles around for a while, then seems to relax against him, closing his eyes with a sigh. Patrick looks down at him, allowing a fond smile to take over his face now that it’s hidden from view. When he feels confident enough that David will be too far gone to object, he lifts his hand to start stroking through his hair, slowly, carding his fingers over his scalp.

David moans softly.

Patrick smiles. “Too much?”

David shakes his head slightly, and snuggles a little more into Patrick’s chest. “No,” he murmurs, his voice thick and slurred. “You can keep going. If you like.”

“Thanks.” And he does like, both the stroking and the warm weight of David against his chest, one hand gripping his sweatshirt. He likes the way he looks as he falls asleep, mouth open, long lashes dark against his cheeks. He wonders how many people have gotten this view, have understood their luck in being allowed to see David Rose absent his usual defences.

Patrick spends another hour or so watching TV, listening to David’s snuffly breathing, before he judges it time to move him to bed.

“David, wake up,” he says softly, tapping him on the arm and pushing him gently into a sitting position.

David turns his back on him and lets out a long, long whimper that increases to a frustrated groan as he’s forced up, letting his head drop back over Patrick’s shoulder and not helping in the slightest. Patrick’s body shakes with silent laughter.

“Come on, time to get up.”

“Mean.”

“Up.”

No,” David whinges petulantly, and he makes himself go limp.

“Jesus, David,” Patrick laughs, lurching to catch him from falling off the couch. When he has him upright again, he thinks for a moment. He needs a plan. “What about your skincare regimen? And you’re so dehydrated already …”

A brief pause, and then, with a noise that makes it clear he’s doing so under duress, David allows Patrick to help him up and into the bathroom. He keeps up a litany of noises signalling his reluctance almost the entire time, but Patrick finally gets him to brush his teeth and take some more pills and drink another glass of water before coaxing him into his bed. Exhaling heavily with the effort, he settles on top of the covers beside him for a moment, taking the opportunity to let his gaze drift some more over David’s sleepy form. He lifts his hand and begins stroking his fingers through his hair again.

David makes a hum of pleasure that Patrick logs away for later. “Mm. You’re nice.”

Patrick smirks. “Yeah, we’ve been back and forth on that, haven’t we?”

“Uh-uh. You’re niiiiice,” he sing-songs, half-asleep already. “’S’why you scary.”

Patrick frowns. “Scary?”

“Nice people leave,” David slurs, barely audible. “Don’t want you to leave.”

Patrick’s heart squeezes. Amid the slight guilt that he’s been privy to a confession that sober David would have been horrified by, it fills him with the same sadness, the same wrongness that arises whenever he learns something about how people have treated David in the past. Haven’t respected him. Haven’t considered him. Have used him. (Am I using him?) To Patrick it feels like a smear of black across the sky; it just doesn’t make sense.

He leans in to place a kiss on David’s warm forehead, and murmurs, “I don’t want to leave either.” It isn’t the full extent of what he wants to say; he’s just not brave enough for anything that might promise something he can't quite come through on. But even if it isn’t the whole truth, even if David probably hasn’t heard him, Patrick wants it said aloud.

He pulls the covers over David and quietly sets about clearing up, switching on the humidifier, refilling the jug of water and placing it by the bed. After all that he settles on the couch with a book and a pillow, ready for the morning, when he looks forward to explaining why coffee isn’t a substitute for water when fighting a cold.

 

*

“You look a lot less Night of the Living Dead today.”

Mm, you too.”

Mm, welcome.” Impervious to the insult, Alexis leans over to sniff at a basil and sea salt candle. Her mouth tilts into an unimpressed moue, and she moves on.

When she had volunteered to come with David to the markets to check out a few new potential suppliers for the store, he hadn’t put up much of a fight. He blames it on his recently weakened immune system, but the truth is Alexis has a sixth sense for predicting trends among the socialite set a second or two before they take off, and he likes having someone to bounce ideas off. He also knows he’ll need help loading product into his car if it goes well. And Patrick is busy.

“So where’s that cute little business partner of yours, anyway?”

He flinches. She’s always had this unsettling ability to make him feel like she’s a bit of a mind reader.

“He’s back at the store. Stop inhaling the candles and come tell me what you think of this diffuser.”

She joins him at the diffuser, but isn’t taking the hint. “You two’ve been pretty tight with each other lately.” She smirks and blinks twice in his direction. It makes David glad he’s managed not to tell her about Patrick bringing him soup while he was sick.

“Well, he’s my business partner.”

“Sure, David.”

“What?”

“I’m just saying, for someone who hates making nice with others, you seem pretty okay with Patrick being around you, like, all the time.”

“It’s not all the time.”

“Whatever, David,” she says, and David doesn’t duck in time to avoid the nose-boop. “I’m just happy you’ve finally got a boyfriend who treats you well.”

There’s a lot about that statement that makes David uncomfortable, not the least of which is—

“He’s not my boyfriend!” It’s a bit louder than he means it to be, and he grimaces as a couple of people look up from their browsing. He moves away to hide his embarrassment in a row of scented olive oil soaps. Alexis steps in beside him. “He’s not,” he says at a lower volume. “We just … have sex sometimes, that’s all.”

He doesn’t mention that “sometimes” is becoming more and more of a regular occurrence, or that they do spend an awful lot of time hanging out and not having sex. If he did tell her, he’d have to admit how much he likes the hanging out. Almost as much as the sex, he thinks, fighting the smile that’s risen to his lips at the thought of the last time …

David.”

All thoughts of Patrick, Alexis, and olive oil soap vanish at these two lazy syllables. His eyes go wide, his insides go cold, and he sends a quick prayer to any god that might be listening that he’s imagined it.

Of course he hasn’t. Because standing there behind him, too close for comfort or to avoid the smell of his all-natural deodorant, is the last person David ever wants to see.

“Sebastien.”

He hears Alexis gasp softly beside him, and fervently hopes she doesn’t plan on leaving. Sebastien, as always, looks unaffected by the coldness of David’s greeting, the same lofty, entitled look on his stupid, handsome face. An unwelcome hand clamps down on David’s shoulder, and he flinches.

“It’s so good to see you,” says Sebastien, blithely unaware of the way David’s muscles have clenched at his touch. Or maybe he is aware, and doesn’t give a fuck. Probably the latter, thinks David, especially when he actually leans in and brushes a kiss on his cheek. It’s all David can do not to wipe it off immediately.

“What are—what are you doing here?”

“Oh, just looking for inspiration,” he says vaguely. He gives David a once-over that’s both impassive and lascivious, and its effect is exactly what’s intended: he feels diminished and sullied. At least he doesn’t feel desperate for his approval anymore, he thinks, loathing himself.

“You look … tired, David,” Sebastien continues sorrowfully, like he’s been faced with a faded beauty. Which, again, is just what he wants David to feel like. It’s an old game. “I heard you’re trying to open a business in Kensington.”

David bristles. “I have opened a business,” he snaps, even though he doesn’t want Sebastien within a city block of his store.

But Sebastien is already bored. “Alexis,” he sighs, palms turned up to behold her, “you look ravishing. I’d love to photograph you sometime.”

Another old game, heaping praise on others to get a rise out of David, to make him work to win favour. He hates himself for the Pavlovian stab of jealousy.

But Alexis has a spine made of titanium. “Ooh, sorry,” she says, in the same patronising tone their mother has used to address crewmembers whose names she doesn't remember. “I’m a bit picky about the photographers I work with. Bad experiences with the paparazzi. You understand.” She flashes him a blinding but empty smile, and David feels a fierce wave of love for her. He stands a little straighter himself.

“Yeah, sorry to run, but,” he waves a hand in Sebastien’s face, enjoying the sharp pleasure of seeing him taken aback, “we have a lot to do today. So …” So you can fuck off and take your garbage-chic wardrobe with you. He lets Alexis take his arm and is ready to turn away when—

“Of course, take care, David—”

—the hairs on the back of his neck lift, as if they sense the lighting that's about to strike.

“—I hope you can let yourself be happy one day.”

He stops.

A few years ago, he might have left without saying anything, gone off to lick his wounds.

But he’s not that person anymore. His spine may not be titanium, but it has had reinforcements.

He faces Sebastien head-on, and gives him his own once-over, imbuing it with all the boredom, all the cool disinterest, all the fucks he gives about Sebastien’s “hopes”.

“You know,” he says, tilting his head as if in thoughtful examination. “I think you might need to rethink this.” He waves his hand to encompass his whole person. “What do you think, Alexis?”

“Mhm, totally.”

“I mean the look is okay, I guess, if you’re going for a kind of … late-nineties, depressing, vagrancy vibe.” He keeps his voice tranquil, unruffled, like he’s actually offering constructive advice. “But I’m just not sure the world really needs another entitled, talentless asshole’s complete misinterpretation of ‘juxtaposition’. You know?”

And he leaves, lets Alexis’s vice-like grip steer him safely around the corner, where she ignores the “staff only” sign to drag him into the back room. He manages to wait until the door clicks shut before he starts hyperventilating.

Alexis is rubbing his back and gushing over his performance. Somehow, she has managed to conjure up a bottle of water, and is pushing it into his hands and encouraging him to breathe.

David can’t remember his first Christmas, or the first time he tasted chocolate, and he’s a little hazy on the details of his first kiss, but he remembers with blinding clarity the moment he first saw the photograph of himself hanging in Sebastien’s exhibition. It’s so seared in his brain that he could probably manage a decent likeness in pencil, though it wouldn’t quite capture the ugliness of his unconscious, naked form, unflattering lighting throwing his bony limbs and knobbly ribcage into stark relief. Difficult to recreate the drug-induced glaze to his half-open, unseeing eyes, the sheen of sweat on his upper lip …

He should have known better than to go to the opening, after everything had imploded so spectacularly, but curiosity had well and truly killed the cat on that one. He thinks that, naively, part of him was hoping to confront him over the cheating (dressed up as a “mutually beneficial open relationship”, naturally), to win one small victory that might help mend his shattered psyche.

I hope you can let yourself be happy one day.

It was a masterful final parry.

 

*

Patrick says goodbye to the last customer, flips over the closed sign and locks the door. He glances up and down the street, on the off chance that he’ll catch sight of David pulling up to the curb, but there’s nothing to see. He sets about completing the tasks necessary to close out the day, keeping an ear out for his arrival.

It still feels significant, being in the store as a partner, knowing that this is his space too. Even though the aesthetics are all David (not counting the small decorative wooden duck that Patrick keeps hiding in amongst the other products just to annoy him), he knows that he’s leaving his own fingerprints in every deal they finalise, every form completed, every grant that comes through. The thought makes him feel more fulfilled than he has in almost his entire professional life. This is what he wants, to be part of something good.

He’s just locking up the day’s earnings in the safe when he hears the key in the lock and the jingle of the bell above the door that signals David’s return. A smile already on his face, he makes his way out to greet him, ready to tease him about his lateness, when he’s brought up short.

David looks exhausted. Still immaculately put together, sure, but there’s something in the droop of his shoulders, the listlessness of his limbs, the redness of his eyes, that radiates defeat. Patrick frowns.

“Everything okay?”

David waves his hand dismissively. “Sure.” He begins circling the space, setting bottles back into alignment, adjusting the scarves so that they hang evenly. Patrick has seen him do this often enough, but it feels different today, like he’s looking to centre himself in the details, like it gives him a sense of control. Patrick watches him, letting the silence settle over them.

At length David leans back against the back shelves to survey the room. He wraps his arms around himself and lets out a deep sigh.

“Better?” Patrick asks softly. David starts a little, like he’d forgotten Patrick was there. But he presses his lips together and nods shyly, before turning back to look around the store again. Then he stops, eyes narrowed. He crosses to the front window display and fishes the little wooden duck out from among the buckets of lavender. Holding it up accusingly, he strides over to the counter and sets it down between them.

“You’re a menace.”

Patrick grins, glad to see this glimpse of his usual self. “I don’t know how it keeps getting everywhere,” he says in mock-consternation. David rolls his eyes, and Patrick’s grin widens.

“Mhm. Just for that, you can bring in the boxes from the car on your own.”

“Nice try, David.” But he does most of it, letting David unpack and fill up the stock room while he empties the car. David still looks rattled, and as they work Patrick tries to think of ways to help. He knows him well enough now to know that a direct explanation is unlikely to be forthcoming while he’s this deep in whatever it is that's bothering him, but he still wants to try to ease the burden a little. So he teases him, gently, and makes him huff and smile, and each time he succeeds he buzzes with pleasure.

Once everything is done inside, and they’ve locked up (and Patrick has surreptitiously slipped the little wooden duck into a bowl of homemade honeycomb), they stand in the cold while David wraps his oversized shawl around his neck. And for whatever reason, this mock-donning of armour makes Patrick’s heart ache a little.

“You had a rough day,” he says softly.

For a moment David looks like he might deny it, but then he nods, burying his nose in his shawl. Patrick reaches out and takes his hand.

“Come home with me?” he asks as David blinks in surprise. “I’ll make you feel better.”

 

*

David is seeing stars. He has always thought that was a figure of speech, yet here he is, his body thrumming so loudly that there are actual pinpricks of light dancing across his vision.

Patrick held his hand all the way back to his apartment, David’s heart thumping the entire time. As soon as they were in the door, Patrick had started kissing him, slowly, tenderly, and David had felt himself floating, lifted off his feet. He’d made a half-hearted attempt at reciprocating, but stood no chance in the face of Patrick’s determined attentiveness, so he’d given up and did his best to hold on as Patrick had unwrapped him gently, garment by garment, laid him on the bed, and covered him with his mouth, his body. He was gathering data again; every touch so careful, as though he was deliberately seeking out the things that turned him on before leaning into them.

No one has ever paid him this much attention, and he doesn’t know what he’s done to warrant it, but right now David is happily drowning in it.

“Oh god, Patrick,” he breathes, sinking his head back in the pillow as Patrick’s fingers and tongue do amazing things elsewhere.

“Good?” He can hear the smirk in his voice even without looking down.

Incredible. Don’t stop. Please don’t stop.”

Patrick complies, and David wants to tell him that he doesn’t have to, that David doesn’t deserve it, that Patrick is wasting this on him, but … well. You know. So with those deft fingers, and that beautiful mouth, Patrick brings David slowly, deliciously to the brink; quivering, gasping, and completely undone.

After what feels like hours of mind-numbing bliss, his muscles contract, his legs quake, and his back arches as though borne upwards by the rolling sweet sensation of his orgasm. And all the while, Patrick, above him, inside him, all around him, bearing him over the impossibly high crest of that wave and gently into shore.

Once all the disparate pieces of himself have drifted back down and settled into place, David devotes a good few minutes to just lying there with a stupid grin on his face.

“Not that I’m in any way complaining,” he finally manages to slur, “but what was that for?”

Patrick, who has crawled up far enough to rest his head on David’s stomach, laughs, his breath fluttering David’s chest hair, the sound vibrating against his chest. “Just wanted to.”

“You just wanted to.” David thinks about that, about the fact that all of this (and here the word “this” might just encompass one of the best orgasms David has ever experienced) has happened for no other reason than that Patrick wanted him to feel good. No quid pro quo. Just … because he wanted to.

His chest feels tight. Who does that? Who can survive being that open with someone? David can’t think of anything more terrifying. Even the decades’ worth of protective layers he has painstakingly cultivated and wrapped so carefully around himself never seem to be enough.

“Hey.”

Whoops. David blinks down at Patrick, now propped up on his chin as he watches him, brow furrowed.

“Anything wrong?”

Yes. “No.”

Patrick looks unconvinced. David can’t blame him; he’s struggling to figure out what he wants, too.

He’s in over his head.

Not all of his relationships have been complete clusterfucks. Yes, the bell curve has been pulled pretty far in that direction, but there are one or two instances that he can still point to and say, “That wasn’t so bad.” But even in that small sample he can’t remember ever really feeling like he was getting as much as he was giving.

This is different. Patrick is different. And David likes him. A lot. More than likes, if he’s being honest, and he has no intention of being that honest.

He needs to stop this. Now. An hour ago. Yesterday.

Patrick is still watching him. Oh god. He bites back his groan and rubs his face. “Okay. You need to stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“And doing things like … that.”

“Oh, so you didn’t like it?”

David groans again. What a fucking troll. “That’s not the point. You … you’re too nice. You need to stop being so nice to me.”

Patrick’s expression is stuck between teasing and confusion. “Why?” And for some reason it makes David angry. Because Patrick has no business being this naïve. Because if he keeps going through life being so earnest about things then someone is going to hurt him. And right now the most likely someone is David. And he really doesn’t want to do that. He doesn’t need it on his conscience.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you to self-protect? You can’t just go around being—”

“Nice?” Patrick teases.

“Stupid!” David snaps. Patrick’s eyebrows shoot up.

“Hang on. Are we actually fighting about this?”

“Yes!” David squawks, wriggling out from under Patrick—suddenly, he can’t stand to be touching him. But Patrick is getting up too, looking stunned, and David’s insides itch. He starts pulling on his underwear. “You shouldn’t be so … it’s infuriating!”

“That I’m … nice to you?” Patrick tries, obviously trying to keep up. David winces; he hates himself for this, but he can’t stop now. Jesus, where are his pants?

“Yes!”

“And you don’t want that?” Patrick is frowning now.

“No!” he all but shouts. Ah, there they are. He tugs his jeans out from under the bed, where Patrick had left them after he’d … before he’d …

Patrick is on his feet too now, standing wide-eyed in front of David, blocking him from the doorway, hands up as if to calm him.

“David, please, just talk to me. I don’t understand what’s going on.” There’s a note of something in his voice that tugs at David’s heart, and he needs to get away from that feeling immediately. He tries not to look directly at his face, can’t risk those eyes right now.

“You don’t get it,” he mutters, yanking on his jeans so hard he’s in danger of ripping them. “You think everyone is as good as you, and they’re just … not. I’m not! And you’re going to let me fuck you over, and then I’m going to feel like shit.”

“David, you’re not going to—”

“You don’t know that!” He gestures wildly, almost hitting Patrick in the process. Why isn’t he getting it? And where the fuck is his sweater? “You don’t know me, I’m just some guy you’re fucking.” It’s like he’s trying to be an asshole, now, like he’s barrelling down a dark motorway without his lights on, knowing collision is inevitable but unable to stop. “You’ve only ever been with people like you. The only reason your relationships ended was because you were gay, or because they—”

He screeches to a halt. Oh fuck.

“Died?” Patrick’s voice is different now. Short, sharp, unfriendly. David has never heard this tone. He looks over at him and wishes he hadn’t; sure enough, his face has gone stony, his eyes warning.

Fuck.

“Sorry,” he gasps quietly, rooted to the spot in mortification. But even he knows it’s a bad moment to point out that nice people don’t use the death of someone’s ex to get out of an uncomfortable situation.

His jaw working furiously, Patrick holds his gaze for a long moment. Then he looks down. “David I feel like I’ve done something to upset you and I don’t know what it is.” His tone is still sober, but quieter, more controlled. Guarded.

David’s insides twist. This isn’t working. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Patrick is supposed to throw up his hands, yell, storm out. David wishes he would leave. He wishes he hadn’t said anything. Wishes he could explain.

His chest feels tight again.

“It’s not—you couldn’t—how do you not see it?” he wheezes out haltingly. How can he convince Patrick that he’s wasting his (considerable) talents on David, who has never been more than a phase that people got over? “I’m not a nice person, Patrick. I’m damaged goods. I’ve done things that … if you knew, you wouldn’t …”

Thoughts race, images flash. Of things he’s gone along with, situations he hasn’t gotten himself out of. Of every selfish moment. The time he had dumped someone because they refused to take him to the club he wanted to go to. The time someone had dumped him for being “too much work” because he had left seven long messages on their machine. Of the really bad times, those marked with pain, humiliation, betrayal. Of so many years filled with empty people, empty spaces, empty experiences.

Of cruel assertions and black-and-white photographs of times he can’t remember.

I hope you can let yourself be happy one day.

Faced with the lurid regrets of his past, David feels the fight abandon him. He sags down on the bed and buries his face in his hands, wanting to disappear, wanting to not be here, to never have been here …

Patrick’s arms are around him.

“It’s okay,” he’s saying softly, over and over as he rubs up and down David’s back, and David doesn't have the strength to resist. He stays there, helpless under Patrick’s embrace, listening to his soothing voice until the anxiety has leeched away, and the feelings of panic and pain dissipate.

“Sorry,” he mumbles eventually, and it comes out peevish.

“It’s okay.” Patrick is still rubbing his back. At length he adds, “You’re wrong, you know. You’re a good person, David Rose.”

“Says you,” he sulks. But Patrick just laughs.

“Yeah, well, I’m an excellent judge of character.”

David looks up, eyes narrowed. “You don’t know me,” he gulps out again, but this time it’s not an indictment. It’s fearful, quiet.

Patrick just looks at him. “What makes you think that?”

David flounders, suddenly bereft of words.

“I know you’ve got a past,” Patrick says. “Everyone does. Maybe there are some bits you’re not so proud of. I get the feeling … people haven’t always treated you the way you deserve to be treated. Maybe they were really good at blaming you for it. Maybe you started to think you did deserve it, but I know you didn’t.” David is stunned; no one outside of his therapists has ever said anything like that to him, and he’d never really believed them. But Patrick is just … saying it. Like it’s nothing. “So no, I don’t know everything about you, but …” —he presses a palm to David’s cheek, holds him there, fixes his gaze— “I know you’re a good person, David.”

“How?” It comes out as a strangled gasp, but he’s hit a wall with embarrassment by now.

Patrick smiles at him like he’s an idiot. “David—” For a moment he looks speechless, too. “From the instant I met you, you haven’t once judged me for the mess I am. Jesus, I cried on your shoulder the first time we had sex, and you just … held me.”

David doesn’t understand the wonder on Patrick’s face. Directed at him.

“You never ask for anything more than I can give you. Never make me feel bad for it.” He sighs. “David, I’m dragging an SUV full of baggage behind me, but you let me in anyway. I feel … safe, with you. Like I don’t have to pretend to be anyone, or anything. Like I can just feel … good.” He ducks his head, looking sheepish. “That’s what I was trying to do for you. To show you. Maybe I—I didn’t want you to make you feel uncomf—”

“You didn’t,” David blurts. “Well, you did, but not because I didn’t like it. I did. I really did. I mean, Jesus Christ—” despite everything, he feels an actual shiver just thinking about it. Catching Patrick’s expression, he clears his throat. “It’s just … no one has ever just … I’m not good at accepting compliments, let alone …”

“Genuine human emotion?” Patrick asks. David glances at him, but the teasing is dialled down, and his eyes are soft.

“I’m a lot,” he whispers. “Like, too much. People have said. More than once.”

Patrick places his hands on David’s shoulders and turns him so they’re looking eye to eye. “Then those people—and I don’t think I’m being harsh here—were assholes.”

Something swells in David’s chest. In the past, the responses to his tales of romantic woe have mostly been the same: David should have known better, should have made different choices, should have stood up for himself, should have stopped drinking back at the bar. But … Patrick is defending him. Without even trying.

David tries again, still clinging to the thread of this narrative without knowing why. “I’ve got receipts,” he says, weakly.

Patrick laughs softly.

“What?”

He just shakes his head and smiled with that open, soft expression. “What are you holding onto that garbage for?”

 

*

Chapter Text

trust

noun

     Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.

verb

     Allow someone to have, use, or look after someone or something of importance or value


 

Sunday night’s closing up always takes a little longer. Since the store is closed on Mondays, they spend an extra hour sweeping up, dusting, checking to see if any stock needs to be replenished or reordered, and rearranging the window display. Right now David is busy with the latter, because tomorrow is Halloween. He’s laser-focused, eyes narrowed, placing pumpkins and leaves with care, and Patrick is at leisure to watch him while he sweeps.

They’ve been a little shy around each other since the other night. Patrick gets the feeling that David has needed a little space, so he’s been trying to grant him that, but today he’s been more tactile than usual, brushing his hands around Patrick’s waist as they pass each other, walking his fingers up Patrick’s arms whenever they talk, squeezing his biceps. It feels like things might be building to something, like the tension that gathers in the air before a storm breaks. And Patrick is very, very here for it.

He’s been thinking about the other night, before David’s anxiety hit, the way he was so pliant and responsive beneath Patrick’s mouth and fingers. It hasn’t escaped his notice that David isn’t always so unguarded—often it feels like he’s biting his tongue, trying to hold his response back a little. But that night felt different, and Patrick had glowed with the exhilaration of finally being allowed past whatever barrier had been placed between them.

He thinks he understands now why David reacted the way he did, but for a moment there … It had shocked him how quickly, how hard it had come, the cold clench of fear squeezing his heart at the thought of David walking out, that this thing between them might be over … Whenever he thinks about it he remembers the helpless feeling, like he’d done something wrong but had no idea what, and he has to clench his hands into fists to keep them from shaking.

He wants so much to earn David’s trust, to show him that he deserves more than he’s been willing to accept in the past. The strength with which he wants this scares him a little. Because he’s wounded, but he’s not stupid; this thing between them, this thing they still haven’t labelled, it isn’t really casual anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time now.

Not for Patrick, anyway.

“I think that’s good.” David is surveying the arrangement at the front of the store. “What do you think?” It’s mostly a rhetorical question, Patrick knows, but he also knows that David still likes the validation, so he always answers.

“I think it’s great,” he says, coming to stand next to David, confident that the little wooden duck is behind them, hidden amongst the notebooks. “I like the flowerpots like that.”

“Mm.” Like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it, David’s hand finds purchase on Patrick’s shoulder, squeezing gently before rubbing along the blade of his back. Patrick feels the storm gathering.

“Want to come over for dinner?” He watches David’s eyes light up as he nods, feels that glow warming up his insides.

 

*

On the journey back to Patrick’s place, David is quiet. Thinking.

He’s pretty sure of what he wants to do, having done little else but think about his little freak out since he’d finally left Patrick’s place. That night he’d ended up staying over, just sleeping, letting Patrick envelop him, ground him. It had been a little awkward the next morning, but probably not for the reasons Patrick thinks. Because what Patrick doesn’t know is that David—his jaw still clenches against it every time he thinks it—is falling for him. Hard.

The thing that scares him most—okay, one of the things, and that’s a long list—is how much Patrick seems to understand him. Without even knowing about his run-in with Sebastien, he knew, somehow, that he had needed to feel cared for, knew just what to do to help him feel that. It’s hardly Patrick’s fault that David wasn’t emotionally equipped to handle his reaction to said feeling.

But he hadn’t run. Hadn’t let David run.

Which is … probably why he’s so scared. This is uncharted territory.

Another thing is that David is pretty sure he’s not the only one holding tight to the handrails here. He knows there are things Patrick isn’t letting him see. Nothing scandalous or dishonest, he thinks, just things he’s protecting in a box sealed tight, afraid to let anyone else scrutinise. And David gets that, especially with everything Patrick’s been through, what he’s still going through. Normally, he is of the opinion that if something has that much security around it then it’s dangerous, and best avoided. But he thinks … he thinks he wants to know Patrick. To let him know that he’ll be as careful with him as he is with David.

Most people, he suspects, would probably sit down and have an honest conversation about all this, but that hasn’t really proved easy for him—for either of them. So he has another idea. An extremely David sort of idea. There’s a strong chance it’s also an extremely bad idea. Anyone else would definitely misconstrue it for something it wasn’t.

Patrick isn’t like anyone else.

 

*

The walk back through the cold evening light to Patrick’s apartment is quiet; David seems to be deep in thought, so Patrick follows his lead and walks in silence, darting glances his way every now and then to make sure things are okay. And while he can’t quite get a read on his expression, he doesn’t think it’s anything too bad. Once they’re inside his apartment David seems to relax a bit, only now the sense Patrick has had all day that something has been building—it feels different. Now, every time David touches him incidentally, or looks at him, Patrick can feel the air buzz with something charged. Electric.

“I want to try something. If you want to.”

They’ve just finished dinner, and Patrick turns from the sink to see David leaning against the back of the couch, biting his lip. He wants to walk over and kiss it.

“Are we talking an adventurous dessert, or—”

“Nope.”

The look on David’s face is a new one. Patrick studies it. It isn’t exactly nervous, but there’s something very … un-shuttered about it. Open. Honest.

Something twangs in Patrick’s gut, and he’s not sure why.

“I’d like to try fingering you.”

Instant heat.

Oh.

God.

That’s why.

“What?” Patrick says thickly. It must sound strange to David, too, because he’s actively and unsuccessfully trying to hide a smile. Patrick feels his whole body tense.

“I think you heard me.” He pushes himself off the couch and walks slowly over to Patrick. “Do you think you’d like me to do that?”

Patrick’s back hits the counter, and he grips it as David stops about a foot away, not touching but somehow too close. He swallows. “I … I, um …”

David reaches up and, after the briefest of hesitations, lays his hand on Patrick’s cheek. Patrick blinks; he’s seen him abort this move a few times, as though it’s a step too close, as though it would reveal something too vulnerable. But something has changed; he’s crossed whatever line he’s had drawn up inside his head. The fact makes Patrick screw up his courage.

“It’s not like I hate it, uh … it’s just, I haven’t … always gotten a lot out of … that,” he admits, feeling the blush spread. But David just smiles and rubs a thumb over his cheekbone.

“Okay,” he nods, looking thoughtful. “You can say no, obviously, but …” he leans in and presses a soft kiss to the corner of Patrick’s mouth. Patrick’s eyes close instinctively. “I think I could make you feel good. If you’d like.”

These echoes of their first night, of their second, of all the others … Patrick feels dizzy. Suddenly he wants whatever David is offering. He nods.

“Okay.”

Through a widening smile David lets out a slow, careful breath, and there’s a tightening in Patrick’s belly. He lets himself be led to the bed, too dazed to do more than acquiesce as David removes his clothes and arranges him how he wants him. He lies there on his back, one arm slung over his forehead, watching as David places a towel under him, as he fetches a bottle of lube, calmly, so calmly. He tries hard not to panic.

He wants desperately to be good at this. It is, he knows, a fatal characteristic.

His therapist once pointed out that he seems to derive a lot of joy from bringing pleasure to others. He thinks this was a pretty generous interpretation of a people pleaser, which makes sense to him when he looks at how hard he had tried with Rachel, how long it had taken him to leave her and start thinking about what he wanted. It even makes sense on the rare occasions he applies it to his relationship with Ben, prodding at the memories to see if they fit the theory, backing away if he hits a bruise. He suspects the analysis could be developed more brutally, too, into a diagnosis of a fear of letting go of control. Because that’s what this would be.

Normally, he would be putting his nerves to work on preparation—what to study to pass the test, what chords to master on the guitar, what drills to practice to improve his performance on the diamond. He isn’t used to being passive, but in what they’re about to do … in what David is about to do to him … he isn’t sure what his role is apart from to relax and enjoy it. And what if he doesn’t enjoy it? What if he fails?

Because no, it hadn’t been Ben’s cup of tea, and since Patrick had been hit and miss about it all he had been happy to find other ways that they could be together. It hadn’t mattered; he’d never had any complaints in that department. And yet … he’s afraid. Not of trying this with David, exactly. These nerves, they aren’t really about that.

This kind of insecurity runs back to before the Before, back to being with Rachel, before he really knew anything about himself and what he really wanted. Back to those miserable years, when the shame of his body letting him down—and worse, letting her down—by not reacting enough, or in the right way, or at all, was first planted deep in the parts of himself he hated most. Not knowing what was wrong with him, not knowing why he was so unhappy.

Add that shame to his competitive nature and you have quite a lot for a therapist to unpack.

He’s getting tangled up in his own head now, and he forces himself to fight against it. Because David has asked for this, and he’s still Patrick. He wants so badly to be good for David, wants to enjoy it, but can’t stop thinking of the times this kind of thing hasn’t been enough.

As though he’s sensed his anxiety, David taps his hip.

“Relax,” he smiles. “It’s okay. I’m not going to ambush you.”

Patrick huffs mirthlessly.

“How about this,” David begins, his voice low as his palms travel up and down Patrick’s thighs, soothing and inciting at the same time, trailing goosebumps and bringing him out of his head and back to his body. “I’ll go slow. We keep talking. You tell me the second you’re not comfortable. That’s important. To me. And if you don’t like it then we just move to something else.”

Just.

Like it’s easy. And maybe it is.

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

“Hey?” David’s voice is soft. “Do you still want me to?”

Feeling less apprehensive now there’s a plan, he nods.

David settles between Patrick’s legs, his hands dragging upwards in slow strokes, closer and closer to his cock. Then he dips his head and takes him in his mouth, and Patrick’s hips flex. This he knows; this is good. Much, much more than good. He anchors his fingers in David’s hair, revelling in the sweet headiness, feeling more and more relaxed. And when David’s hand cups his balls, his thumb stroking the sensitive skin behind them, he moans out his pleasure.

Too soon, David pulls off him. Patrick looks down, brow furrowed, to see him grinning and shaking his head. I’ve got plans, his expression says. As if to illustrate this, he sweeps his thumb back to brush against Patrick’s hole.

Right.

“How are you feeling?” David asks, his calm demeanour at odds with what he’s doing.

“I’m okay.” Not the whole story, but Patrick can’t manage any more just now. David raises an eyebrow, so he nods and adds, “Keep going.”

David’s eyes flash, and next thing his thumb is pressing against Patrick’s entrance; he hisses and covers his eyes with the crook of his arm. David’s free hand squeezes his thigh reassuringly, while his fingers keep pressing and releasing, firm but not breaching. Patrick breathes deeply through the sensations blooming beneath David’s touch. So far, he knows this, likes this, but he’s still very aware that it’s the precursor to something bigger. So to speak.

He concentrates on the feeling itself, on the growing notes of arousal beginning to resound across his body. But once more, just as he is relaxing into the sensation, David’s hand disappears, and Patrick lifts his head up with what can only be described as a whine.

David laughs, and holds up the bottle of lube he’s just squeezed into his hand. “Just getting started, honey.”

Honey.

Patrick’s toes curl into the bed.

David resumes his position between Patrick’s legs, and then his fingers are back, rubbing with intent, coating his hole liberally with lube. He does the same to Patrick’s cock, closing his hand around it and setting up a slow, stroking rhythm.

“Ready?”

Hypnotised by the sight before him, Patrick nods. “Ready,” he croaks. His brain is emptying with every touch, every word, every look from those glittering dark eyes. Filling with nothing but warmth, and want, and yes.

“You’ll tell me if you want me to stop?” David looks right at him, firm. That’s important. To me.

Another nod. “I’ll tell you,” Patrick promises, and he’s proud of the steadiness in his voice.

And then David’s finger pushes inside him, and steadiness is gone. He blinks at the sensation, not unpleasant, no, just … unfamiliar. Unusual. David works slowly, inching forward and pausing, letting him get used to the feeling before pushing forward again. He does this until Patrick feels his knuckles brush his skin, and he is all the way inside.

Inside him.

God.

“Feeling okay?”

“Mhm,” Patrick manages, trying not to clench.

“It’s not hurting you?”

“No, no it just feels … different.”

“Different,” David murmurs. “Hm. Okay to keep going?”

Patrick thinks about it. If he had been doing this himself, he probably would have shrugged and given up. But this is … interesting. And David is talking like they’re only beginning, like he is sure, like he’s headed somewhere specific, and … he trusts David.

Huh.

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. “Yep.”

David laughs softly. “Okay then.” He pulls slowly out, pushes just as slowly back in. He does it again. And again.

Also different. Good, even. His cock twitches in David’s hand.

“Do you think you can take another?”

Patrick immediately clenches, so much that he hears David give a little yelp.

“Sorry. Yes. Yes.” And he means it. It isn’t yet the mind-blowing sensation that David has brought out in him in other ways, but it’s … mesmerising. It’s going somewhere. He wants to chase it. He wants to know it better.

David’s hand leaves his cock and the bottle cap snaps open again, and then David is inserting a second finger, just as slowly, and oh, that’s interesting.

He hums at the slow stretch and the feeling of fullness, hums louder when David begins to push in and out. The base of his spine tingles.

“How’s that?”

“Good,” Patrick gasps, letting his head drop back and his hips rock experimentally towards David’s hand. “Really good.”

“Jesus. You’re doing so well.” The low rumble of David’s voice goes straight to his cock. “I think I can do a little better, though,” he adds, and before Patrick can ask him what that means—

His whole body wakes up with it, as though a switch has been thrown that lights him up all over.

“Holy fuck, David!” he gasps. He tries to lift himself up on his elbows, but he’s shaking, his movements clumsy. “What the hell was that?”

David is watching him triumphantly, a smirk wrestling to get free. “That, Patrick, was what we’re here for.”

Patrick pants, trying to catch his breath. He feels as though, in an instant, he’s been shaken apart and put back together.

“Do it again,” he rasps faintly.

David’s eyes widen, burn darkly, and he complies. Patrick hears a long, low moan escape his own throat as the lights fill him up again.

“You’re so good,” David is murmuring, still stroking into him, every now and then lightly brushing against that spot. “So good. Lie back. Just relax.”

Patrick might have argued, and part of him doesn’t want to take his eyes off David, but his words are soothing, and everything is starting to feel really different, and a slow warmth is licking up his entire body, so he drops back down and tries to relax.

It isn’t easy.

Past a sensation that feels a little like needing to pee, it soon sinks into something entirely new, something that is entirely about Patrick’s pleasure. Each time David’s fingers hit his prostate they apply a little more pressure, and the waves build a little higher. Without meaning to, he’s started to make little noises in time with the rhythm. He no longer cares about giving up control; he has none left.

“Patrick?” David’s voice is low and soft.

“Huh?” He lifts his head to see David, flushed and grinning; he’s evidently tried more than once to get Patrick’s attention.

“I said how are you doing?”

Patrick barks out a weak laugh and lets his head fall back once more. “Oh, you know.”

“Tell me.”

“I … it’s so … I’ve never …”

Another press, another wave, a bigger one this time.

“God, David.” He reaches down instinctively for his neglected dick, but David intercepts him, his fingers curling gently around Patrick’s wrist.

“Not yet. Trust me.”

Jesus,” Patrick growls, but he raises both hands to the bed frame behind him, gripping hard. “I trust you.”

“Fuck, Patrick, look at you,” David groans heatedly. “You’re so fucking beautiful.”

Back when he’d been able to form words, Patrick knows he would never have thought to describe himself like that. Strong. Sweet. Maybe he could have got on board with handsome. But now, helpless in the delicious heat of David’s attentions, he believes him. David’s words, the sound of his voice, the touch of his hands, the thick, heavy air around them—everything is surrounding Patrick with sheer pleasure. He is no longer consumed by want; this is just immeasurable, uncut arousal, pure hedonism, and he’s powerless in the face of its enormity. He can hear himself moaning with abandon now, sounds he’s never heard himself make.

And then.

And then.

And then.

Heat. Pressure. And bliss, utter bliss. Wave after wave is flooding out from his groin to the furthest reaches of his body, and Patrick is shaking. Everywhere. He feels it everywhere.

And it’s still going. Helpless against the tide, he can feel himself coming—how is he still coming? His eyes roll up into his head as he feels himself shudder and spasm around David’s fingers, gripping the bed frame so hard that if he had the capacity to do so he might worry about breaking it.

Gradually, the waves ebb, but Patrick is still trembling, feeling drunk and dizzy. It takes him a moment to realise that David is kneeling up beside him. Blinking to focus, Patrick realises that—

“Holy fuck.”

David is watching him, eyes dark, chest flushed, cock hard and glistening as he fucks up into his own hand. Patrick looks up, eyes wide, and as their gazes meet David bites his lip, tilts his head back, and whines.

Patrick groans; something about David’s obvious desire for him makes his pelvis jerk upwards reflexively. This seems to trigger something in David, whose movements become faster, more erratic.

“Oh god, Patrick …” he keens, and it’s all Patrick can do to watch as David comes over his fist with a guttural cry. Another shudder rocks through Patrick’s body, and fuck. He can’t move anymore, can’t even open his eyes; he just lies there and marvels, soft noises escaping his throat with each heaving breath.

Distantly, he feels David’s weight leave the bed, feels him return, feels him clean up his oversensitive skin (yet another shiver). Finally, he feels his warmth stretch out beside him, and manages to turn his head to look at him.

“So that was a success,” says David, sounding breathless.

Patrick gazes, incredulous. “Oh my god, David. I mean oh my god.”

David’s unchecked smile spreads across his face. A little smug, maybe, but then Patrick supposes he’s earned the right. That was … it had never …

I didn’t know it could feel like that.

He rolls onto his side, reaches up to rest his hand on David’s cheek, caressing it slowly. David closes his eyes and leans in until his forehead is pressed against Patrick’s. For a moment they just breathe together.

“Thank you,” Patrick murmurs softly. It might sound silly, but he is filled to the brim with it, needs David to know it, just a little. He feels him shake his head, and Patrick tilts up his chin, finding David’s lips and brushing them with his own. He kisses him again and again, languidly, dreamily. It isn’t meant to go anywhere—they’re both far too spent for that—it just feels … right, and at this moment Patrick is all about things that feel right.

After a while, exhaustion means that even kisses are out of the question. Patrick can feel himself getting heavier, drifting lazily towards sleep. But David is too far away; he needs to be touching him. Focusing hard while he still can, he slides a hand across David’s waist, nudges one of his legs up to hook weakly over David’s. It’s different to how they usually fall asleep, and though he knows there’s a chance David might find it too much, he has to try, because it feels so right.

He looks up. David’s eyes are shut, his face relaxed, his breathing evening out.

“This okay?” Patrick whispers into the quiet.

“Mhm.” David sighs, nodding slightly, and nuzzles a little closer.

Patrick sighs too. “Thank god. I don’t think I can move anymore.”

David huffs a sleepy little laugh, and Patrick’s arm curls a little further around him. Thumb stroking gently back and forth across his skin, still wrapped in the warmth of the afterglow, Patrick lets sleep take him.

 

*

They don’t usually kiss after sex. Not like that. Once or twice Patrick has kissed him, but it’s been more of a period at the end of a sentence. Not a whole new paragraph.

It was … kissing him like that was …

He needs a new word for what that was.

David tilts his head just a little to brush his nose along Patrick’s. When he hears his breath catch softly in his sleep, he smiles a small, secret smile to himself.

The truth is, he’s been paying attention. He knows enough of Patrick’s body by now, his likes and dislikes, to hazard an educated guess that this was something he might respond to under the right circumstances. And yes, David had really wanted to be the one to take him there, to show him, so it isn’t like it was a selfless act. The depth of his response, though, that took him a little by surprise. Watching him fall apart, watching him give up control, when David gets the feeling he’s just the type who finds that difficult, was …

More words. He needs more words.

Right now, though, he can’t think of any. Too tired. Too sated. Too … something.

He nuzzles deeper into Patrick’s arms. He falls asleep.

 

*

It’s just after dawn when Patrick wakes.

They’ve barely moved during the night; Patrick’s leg is still draped over David’s, his hand is still curled around his waist, and David is still nuzzled into his shoulder. He takes a moment to look at him, to sit with all that happened last night, but he keeps getting lost in the lines of David’s face, the soft whistles of his breathing.

He needs to put a little space between them if he’s going to have any chance at getting his head around this. So he carefully extracts himself from David’s embrace, and pads off to the bathroom.

Minutes later, Patrick leans his forehead and hands against the shower wall, letting the hot spray beat down on his head, neck, back, as he closes his eyes and processes.

One of these days he might not find his world a little tilted off its axis after a night with David, but it’s not going to be today.

And yes, most of what is clouding up his head is the memory of how it had felt, how David had made him feel, when he hadn’t expected to feel anything other than discomfort and a healthy dose of embarrassment. The usual feelings of guilt still linger in the background, but he can drown them out for a while. Because down in the footnotes to the adjectives that describe his reaction to … everything … is something a little different. Unnerving.

It’s the trust thing.

He trusts David.

Today’s panic attack, Patrick thinks with a chuckle, is brought to you by the fact that you aren’t panicking.

He leans back under the spray and rubs his face. It’s too early for this much circular thinking.

“You’re up early.”

He shakes himself and turns to see David, looking rumpled in his borrowed pyjama pants, rubbing one eye with the heel of his hand. Patrick smiles.

“Look who’s talking.”

David yawns. “I’m not up.”

Patrick smirks. It’s too easy. He opens the shower door and reaches out a hand. “I can help with that,” he teases. David rolls his eyes, but he’s trying not to smile, and Patrick loves doing that to him. He crooks his fingers to beckon him forwards, and David huffs in mock-duress and takes his hand, letting Patrick pull him into the warm, heavy spray of the water.

He yelps and ducks back out again to take his pyjamas off, but comes back in with only a little grumbling at Patrick for trying to ruin his clothes.

Instead of reminding him that, actually, they’re his pyjamas, Patrick stops him with his lips, immediately licking into David’s mouth as he tightens his arms around his back, pulling him close. David’s arms drape over his shoulders, fingers carding up into his hair against the grain, making Patrick groan, and it’s more than enough to pack away any and all problematic thoughts and just be kissed. Just be touched.

Just be.

 

*

Chapter Text

mistake

noun

     an act or judgement that is misguided or wrong.

verb

     be wrong about


 

This time he’s sitting on the bleachers at the baseball diamond he plays at on weekends during the summer. It’s one of those perfect warm late-afternoons, where the sun is low but not hot. There’s no one else here—not in the stands or out on the field.

Well, someone is with him on the bleachers, but he’s not real.

“This is nice.” Not-Ben is leaning back with his arms spread along the bleachers behind them, legs stretched out in front. “Reminds me of that day you hit a game-winning home-run.” He waits, but Patrick’s not playing. “Come on, you’re supposed to say, ‘Which time?’”

“Why are you here?” Patrick bites out.

“Whoa, what’s with you?”

And suddenly Patrick is furious. He wheels on him, arms spread.

Why are you here? Seriously. Is it just garden variety torture? What? Are you going to ask me how it felt? Because if felt fucking incredible!”

Not-Ben blinks. “You’re angry.”

He almost laughs. “Of course I’m fucking angry! Do you have any idea—four years! It’s been four years of absolute hell! And now I’m … I finally start to feel … something, and you’re just …” Quick as it rose, his fury ebbs, leaving him slumped with his head in his hands.

This time, though, the guilt is not the only reason he’s angry. The rest is difficult to articulate, even to himself. Aside from the obvious, aside from the fact that each time he dreams like this it feels like another step backwards, it’s that … it’s that he didn’t know. He didn’t know how good it could feel to be touched like that. And he doesn’t want to be mad about that, it’s just … now there’s something that he has with David that he never had with Ben. He’s so torn between soaring joyousness and crushing guilt that he feels like a piece of human taffy.

“Do you remember that time we went away?” Ben’s voice is amiable, unaffected by the frustration that’s making Patrick clench and unclench his fists. “It was pretty early on, I think it was around Easter …”

And Patrick knows exactly what he’s talking about. Obviously he does, because it’s his own subconscious. He sighs heavily, lowers his hands and just leans his elbows on his knees.

“At the hotel in Niagara Falls.”

“Yeah,” laughs the Not-Ben, and it’s bright and free of recriminations. “We were tipsy on champagne and I tried to fuck you.”

And Patrick can’t help laughing. “Tried, being the operative word,” he says, forgetting his anger for a moment. They had been so careful, so eager to check in with each other, but things had gotten more and more awkward, until it had become so frustrating that they’d had no choice but to admit that neither of them were having fun, and suddenly that had become the funniest thing to have happened all weekend, and they’d laughed until tears were streaming down their faces.

It’s a really good memory, and the smile it leaves on his face takes a while to fade. Beside him, Not-Ben leans forward, matching his posture. The light on the baseball field is golden, painting everything with a nostalgic warmth.

After a while, Not-Ben says, “He seems nice.” There’s no trace of animosity; just stating a fact.

Patrick thinks about that, and now there’s a different smile on his face, one that Ben isn’t a part of. “I don’t know about that,” he answers at length. “But he’s good.”

 

*

“Caramel macchiato, skim milk, two sweeteners, and a sprinkling of cocoa powder.”

Patrick’s doing that thing where he’s trying not to look too amused. David rolls his eyes.

“Fine, I’ll order it myself.”

“No, no, I got it.”

“You say that, but then later you’re going to tease me about it.”

Patrick is definitely laughing now.

They’re at the High Kites coffee cart in High Park, taking advantage of the unseasonably bright November weather to, as Patrick had put it, “enjoy the outdoors” and, as David had put it, “showcase some knits”. He’d been a little reluctant when Patrick had suggested a walk in the park, but on assurances that this was much more of a “stroll” and definitely not a “hike”, and on the further promise of coffee, he had agreed. On arriving, his mood was brightened by the reds, oranges, browns and yellows, colours that transform a mere stroll into something a little more special.

Of course, Patrick being Patrick, that fairytale shit is over pretty quickly.

“You say that like you don’t like the teasing,” he says now with, frankly, a lot more swagger than is appropriate for a public space. But before David can collect himself enough to say so, Patrick has been called forward by the barista. When David had spied the coffee cart and insisted on stopping, Patrick had hesitated, and David suspects he has a bit of an itinerary planned—he’s beginning to discover that he is an itinerary kind of person. But after he’d explained how much more amenable he would be to said itinerary with caffeine in his system, Patrick had relented.

“One small green tea, one regular caramel macchiato, skim, two sweeteners and a sprinkling of cocoa powder.”

It’s infuriating, really, how easily Patrick pivots from trolling to doing nice things like memorising his coffee order. Truth be told David still feels a little whiplashed every time Patrick does something considerate, which is a lot of the time. He’s getting better at not expecting a secret agenda, and at not freaking out so much, but he doesn’t think he’s quite managed to mask his surprise. He’s fairly sure Patrick has noticed, and is beginning to suspect that the trolling is his way of making David feel less awkward with all the sincerity.

Which in itself is unsettling.

“Did you want whipped cream on the macchiato?”

David opens his mouth to object, but Patrick beats him to it.

“Oh no, that’d just be pretentious.”

Troll.

“Well then Patrick, here’s your order. Have a High day.”

David cringes. He makes a mental note to never introduce a catchphrase into the store’s vocabulary.

“Thanks,” Patrick is saying, as usual far more polite than David’s inner thoughts. He grabs both cups, and without looking extends one back to David. “Have a high day, Ben.”

David has already reached out for the cup, but now he freezes, fingertips halted an inch from the cardboard sleeve. Patrick’s arm remains outstretched, immobile, still half-turned away, and David sees the colour draining from his face.

So he hasn’t imagined it.

David looks around anxiously; there’s a line, and people are starting to stare. Pulse racing, stomach roiling, he forces himself into action and takes the cup. Patrick’s hand hovers there a second too long, before his fingers curl into a fist and he finally draws his arm back.

Fuck. Fuckitty fuck fuck.

The world grinds to a halt as David panics. Just what the hell is he supposed to do now? Pretend it hasn’t happened? He feels sick. His skin his prickling, his insides are full of cement.

The funny thing is, despite all his issues—and yes, he knows there are many—he’s never actually thought that Patrick would be imagining Ben in his place, but now—now he can’t stop thinking it. And every kiss, every touch, every word that has taken up residence in his—oh fuck—in his heart is suddenly shaking on its foundations.

Fucking irony. He’s just stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop. Well, he’d been considering it. And now here it is, the other shoe, stomping down with a vengeance.

He curses Patrick for doing this. Not for this moment—which after all has seemed somewhat inevitable to David from the beginning, so he can’t really blame him—but for all the good ones, all those that have come before. For knowing him. For staying this long. For breaching walls that should never have fallen.

Hard to run with a belly full of cement. Not impossible though.

He legs it.

 

*

Patrick turns; back beyond the line he spots David hurrying down the path.

“David, David!”

The tea in his hand, just this side of scalding, splashes across his fingers as he darts between the few parkgoers, gaining on the man in the black sweater with the white geometric design.

“Wait, please!” He manages to catch up and swing himself into David’s path, holding his unburned hand up pleadingly. Something cold squeezes at his heart; David’s eyes are red-rimmed, he’s looking steadfastly upwards as he tucks his lips between his teeth—he’s trying not to cry. “Please, David,” Patrick begs, his voice wavering. “Let me explain.”

He has to explain. He’s afraid that if he doesn’t talk to him now, before David has a chance to sink into whatever is going through his mind at the moment, he might not get another opportunity. He lowers his hands a little, not wanting to invade his space, praying for David to hear him out.

“Please,” he says again, trying to sound steady.

After a nerve-wracking moment, and still not meeting his eye, David looks over at a nearby bench and nods once. Patrick lets out the breath he’s holding and follows him over to it. David sits down at one end, as close to the edge as he can be, and Patrick tries not to crowd him. He still won’t look at him.

“David I’m sorry. It was … it was a mistake.”

It sounds lame, and he can’t blame David for snorting his scepticism.

“I know. I …” Where to start? He puts down his tea and leans back against the bench with a sigh. “I shouldn’t have brought you here today,” he admits at last. Out of the corner of his eye he sees David glance his way. “It’s my fault.”

“What is?” His voice is quiet, but not without bite.

Patrick closes his eyes. “Today is … today was Ben’s birthday. It’s not the first one since … obviously … So I thought it would be fine. I thought I would be fine.” He draws a deep breath and let it go. He finally glances at David, nods back the way they’ve come. “We used to go to that coffee cart. I’d … forgotten.”

He had forgotten. Hadn’t realised until David had pointed them towards it with the determination of a caffeine addict. And that was a thought he’d have to deal with later.

“It’s the stupid thing they say. When they give you your coffee, you know. ‘Have a high day’.” He shakes his head, feeling like an asshole. “I didn’t even think, it’s like … like a song lyric, you just sing along without thinking.” He sighs heavily, trying to tamp down the thoughts that are rising.

They rise anyway: who is he kidding? It’s laughable, really, that he ever thought he could give David what he needs, that he could navigate a new relationship, even one they still haven’t labelled (and it doesn’t matter, because Patrick knows exactly what they’re doing, what they’ve been doing for a long time), without getting tangled up in all the different impediments and hazards strewn across his path. What had deluded him into thinking he was getting better at this? That he’d been finding his feet, gaining ground, when one simple coffee date has sent him skidding straight back down the mountain?

This time, though, it’s worse. This time he’s hurt someone other than himself. He’s hurt David.

David, who isn’t saying anything. He’s looking straight ahead, out at the park, and it’s hard to read his expression from here.

“David—”

“I’m just, uh …” He sounds guarded. It hurts, hearing those walls go back up. “Wondering how many times you’ve been with me, but … thinking about, or … wishing that I was—”

Never,” he says, as quickly and as firmly as he can. David looks surprised at his tone, but Patrick holds his gaze fiercely. “Not once.” He wants to grab his shoulders, to kiss him, shake him, make him understand that, even though he has fucked up—is fucked up—even though David might well be better off running away, every second they’ve spent together has been real. David has to know that, has to. If nothing else, even if he can’t fix this—he is going to fix it—Patrick will make certain that he knows that. He opens his mouth, ready to launch into it all, when David closes his eyes and nods.

“Okay,” he says softly.

Patrick blinks. “Okay?”

“Mhm,” says David, looking down. “I believe you.”

He gapes at him, not understanding. Before he can stop himself, he blurts out, “Why?”

David gives a wet sort of laugh. “Are you trying to talk me out of it?”

Patrick shakes his head quickly, dumbly. He knows his mouth is hanging open, knows he must look like an idiot, but can do nothing to remedy matters. That David, who has so little reason to trust anyone, who bruises so easily but so privately, is willing to accept this … well, it’s humbling.

“What are you doing with me?” He doesn’t mean to say it out loud, but the wonder and disbelief and relief have, it seems, gotten the better of him.

David raises an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth tugging into a smile. “Sorry?”

“I …” Patrick falters, lost in that expression, in this man, in his sharp angles and soft edges. “You could have anyone,” he says, finally giving voice to some real fears. He can hear how unworldly he sounds, like a country boy faced with the big city, but … if he’s honest that’s a lot like how he feels in David’s presence sometimes. “Someone who wasn’t … going through all this. I don’t …” He shakes his head again, bewildered.

For a moment David looks just as bewildered, but he ducks his head before Patrick can make sense of it. When he does speak, his voice is so quiet that Patrick has to strain to hear. “I guess … I think it might be worth it.”

God, this man …

“You deserve better,” he says softly.

But David shrugs, toying with the cuff of his sweater. “You are better. You’re nice. And. Good. To me.” Looking as though even this much is causing him immense discomfort, he shakes himself. “Trust me, you’re miles ahead of the competition.”

Patrick winces. He’s not sure he agrees. The pang of sadness returns, the one he always feels when David alludes to his past relationships, all of whom seem, to Patrick, to be world-class dicks. Today he doesn’t feel a million miles away from them. He chokes out a pained kind of laugh.

“I feel like I’m clearing a really low bar here, David.”

David smirks a little. “Yeah, well. But there’s like, a lot of space between you and the bar?” He gestures an awkward mime to accompany his metaphor, and Patrick can’t help smiling weakly. “Plus, I … like you.”

It should be a small thing. It shouldn’t hit as hard as it does, given, well, everything. But Patrick feels his stomach flip, the way it had when David had looked at him all those months ago, out on the deck under the stars at Derek’s party. Remembering that night, he lays his hand on his thigh, palm facing upwards in invitation. And to his relief, David takes it, lacing their fingers together. Patrick lets out a shaky breath and feels his body slump as it releases the tension that’s been holding him up. He’s not leaving. The fear dissipates, laying bare the depths of its reach. He blinks back the tears welling in the corners of his eyes and squeezes David’s hand.

“I’m really sorry,” he says, quietly. This time when David looks at him he’s smiling softly.

“I know. It’s okay.”

“Is it?”

“It will be if you buy me a doughnut from the bakery on Queen Street.”

Patrick’s laugh bursts out of him before he can stop it. “Okay David,” he says, shaky with relief. He stands and pulls David to his feet. “Let’s get you a doughnut.”

They walk through the park towards the north-east corner. Patrick doesn’t let go of David’s hand; he feels like he came so close to losing him today, and can’t bring himself to surrender this link just yet. He needs David to know that he doesn’t plan on going anywhere, doesn’t want to be anywhere but here. David doesn’t let go either.

They make their way down Queen Street.

“What was he like?”

Patrick looks up sharply. It’s out of context, but there’s no one else he could be referring to. “You want me to … tell you about Ben?”

David shrugs. “If you want to.”

Patrick searches him for signs of discomfort. He knows he has to be feeling it—who wouldn’t?—but although he looks a little hesitant, he’s still working hard to hide it, and that is touching. Patrick considers. It’s been a long time since he’s talked about Ben to anyone who hadn’t known him. A long time since anyone has asked.

“Well,” he begins slowly, thinking, “he loved giving presents. And he was kind of scary good at it. Which made him a pain in the ass to buy for. He loved New Year’s, and that was annoying, because he’d always want to do something special, and everyone knows it’s the year’s biggest anticlimax.”

“Amen to that,” says David with a snort.

“Every now and then he would declare that he was going vegetarian, start getting really patronising and holier-than-thou about it, but by the end of the week he’d be elbow deep in ribs.”

“Now that part I can relate to.”

Patrick smirks, and squeezes David’s hand gently. “He had worse taste in clothes than I do,” he says, waiting for David’s grimace and chuckling when it appears. “Lot of fleeces. Much polyester.”

Ew.”

“He was incapable of finishing a jigsaw, but didn’t like anyone else to help. Could not keep his hands out of things. He played lacrosse—”

“God, he was a jock, wasn’t he?” David teases.

“Kind of. It’s sort of how we met,” Patrick adds, grinning at David’s uncertain look. “I’m sorry to tell you this David, but I’m bit of a baseball tragic.”

David clamps his lips shut. “Hmm.”

“I play in a league and everything. I have a mouthguard.”

“My god.”

Patrick laughs. He can’t remember the last time he’s laughed when talking about Ben, when it hasn’t felt unbearable. The pain is still there, but it’s muted, like a base note that plays under the melody, grounding the tune without overwhelming it. Even here, even holding hands with another man, one who makes his stomach flip and his eyes light up, he feels the gnawing guilt relax its hold a little, and he wonders if this is the sense of perspective his therapist has talked so much about.

He glances at David again, squeezes his hand. It seems an insufficient gesture to encapsulate the gratitude he’s feeling. He hopes David understands a little of what he wants it to mean. Thanks for asking. For listening. For not leaving.

For showing me what I’ve been missing.

David squeezes his hand back.

 

*

They’re at the store when it happens.

David has just rung up a customer, but his usual service is a bit distracted. He’s too busy watching the cute, wiry guy with the glasses and the polo shirt and the easy smile flirt with Patrick over by the bath salts.

Maybe it wouldn’t bother him so much if the memory of the coffee cart incident wasn’t so fresh, or if the guy’s build didn’t remind him of the photograph of Ben he’d seen in Patrick’s apartment, and if that didn’t make David wonder if this guy was Patrick’s real type. Maybe it wouldn’t, but he doubts it. Because when the other man walks over and asks David for a pen and paper he wants desperately to say no, to snatch it out of his grasp, to stride over and stick his tongue down Patrick’s throat just so he’ll get the hint.

He doesn’t do any of that, of course. No. He wildly overcompensates.

“You should call him!”

Patrick rolls his eyes. “Why would I do that?”

He leers a little and shimmies in Patrick’s direction. “To find out what he’s hiding beneath that polo and that million-dollar smile!”

Now Patrick is frowning at him like he’s lost his mind. “David, what—?”

“I’m just saying, if you wanted to, you could!” Jesus, he’s overdoing it on the bright and shiny persona. No wonder Patrick’s looking at him like that. But he also seems hesitant about something, and before he can say anything that David can’t unhear, he barrels on. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind.”

Patrick looks like he’s been slapped, like these words have stung, and David turns to adjust the counter display so he doesn’t have to see it.

“Well …” (David holds his breath) “I mind.”

It doesn’t feel as reassuring as he’d expected it to; it’s too quiet, too perplexed, and David grimaces to himself before summoning his sunniest façade and turning back around.

“Whatever you like,” he says, smiling and winking breezily as he picks up an empty box and takes it into the back room so he can thump his head against the wall.

 

*

Patrick goes home alone after lunch, feeling unsettled, uneasy, and more confused than ever. Although he’d tried all morning, he couldn’t manage to find a way to get things back to normal between them, and the effort has left him drained. By the time he’d left David to the afternoon shift, he’d seemed … weird. Overly genial and skittish and very unlike himself.

He thinks he was clear that he had no intention of calling Ken, but the whole thing is still troubling him. He can’t stop stewing on why David has been trying to push him on it, either. Because what if it means—what if he—

Down goes the shutter on that thought.

For the hundredth time, Patrick curses himself again for his slip at the coffee cart. It had been an honest mistake, yes, but David has told him a little about his exes, and mistake or not it obviously hit a very real trigger. He’d thought they were okay, the rest of the day had been fine, but what if …

He takes a deep breath and mentally shakes himself. He isn’t going to catastrophise (he’s missed something). They’ll have to talk, that’s all (said something wrong), get to the bottom of whatever it is that has David spinning out (done something wrong), before he assumes the worst-case scenario.

But what if?

Sinking onto the couch, he rubs his hands over his face. There’s no way he’s going to be able to not think about it unless he has a suitable distraction. He turns on the TV and finds an old baseball game to try to lose his doubts in.

 

*

David is an idiot.

That much has been made clear on more than one occasion in the past, but it’s coming around for another showing, this time in flashing neon, just to really drive it home. He drifts disconsolately around the store, adjusting and readjusting things at random, looking for something to occupy him, hating how he’s left things with Patrick. He itches to call him, to try to explain, but … he just isn’t sure he knows how.

He’s given in and started eating a damaged-out bar of butterscotch fudge when the bell above the door rings, and he has to try to unstick it from his teeth in order to greet the customer. Turning with a (hopefully) un-fudged smile, he feels the sugar turn to lead in his stomach. It’s that Ken guy again.

“Back so soon?” he says, his voice too high and reedy.

Ken smiles, but it only makes David’s insides clench again.

“Yeah, I uh …” He’s looking around the store. For Patrick. “Is your partner around?”

A snarling beast awakens in David’s belly. “No, he’s gone home,” he says, a little too curtly. He tries to compensate by smiling, but he’s afraid it’s coming across as more of a grimace. “Can I help with anything?”

“Well …” Ken looks sheepish. It’s cute, or might have been in any other situation. “I don’t want to trouble you—”

“It’s no trouble!” David neighs, and somewhere inside even the snarling monster rolls its eyes.

“It’s just … there’s a French film festival on at the Royal tonight, and I thought I’d see if Patrick wanted to go.”

David has always found jealously to be a thoroughly ugly emotion, and that’s exactly how he feels when he hears Ken say Patrick’s name: ugly. He wants this feeling gone, immediately, which is the only excuse he can give for what he says next.

“I’m sure he’d love to.”

What the actual fucking fuck?

“You do?” says Ken, brightening, clearly under the mistaken belief that he’s speaking with a sympathetic party. “He’s, uh … he seems pretty great. I’m reading the signals right, though? Like, he’s into guys?”

Signals. Patrick gave him signals.

And then, someone—some idiot who looks and sounds like David—says, “No harm in giving him a call!”

 

*

Patrick is halfway through a beer and an old Jays game when his phone rings. He’s so preoccupied that for a moment he forgets the weirdness of this morning and smiles, thinking it’s David.

“Hello?”

“Hi Patrick, it’s Ken. We met earlier at your store?”

Patrick waits just a beat too long—it’s so far from anything he was expecting to hear that he has to recalibrate in order to think of what to say. “Oh yeah, hi! Uh, how are you?” He makes a face—he sounds ridiculous.

Ken chuckles. “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?”

“Fine, I’m fine …” Patrick babbles, still scrabbling for purchase. There’s something about this that doesn’t fit, but his brain is being uncharacteristically slow on the uptake. “Is there, uh … anything I can help you with?”

“I was just wondering if you like foreign films? There’s a festival being run by the Royal at the moment, and …”

As Ken starts laying out the merits of the various films, it finally clicks for Patrick.

Ken called him.

“Sorry, Ken, sorry to interrupt, but I was just wondering …” he searches for a way to sound less accusatory. “Um … how did you get my number?”

“Oh! Guess I’m busted …” Ken starts sheepishly. “I stopped by the store again looking for you, and your business partner gave it to me. He seemed to think you’d be interested, so I thought, why not take a chance?”

Patrick can’t even react to the suggestiveness there, can’t even feel annoyed at the presumption.

David gave him his number.

He feels numb.

 

*

There’s a rapid-fire knock at the door, and David groans inwardly. It’s probably Alexis. It sounds like her “David I need to borrow your car/your products/your apartment” knock, and he’s not sure he has the energy just now, what with him currently using it all to berate himself about what a fucking moron he is. And to stop imagining Patrick on a date with Ken. And seeing a movie with Ken. And kissing Ken. But he knows from experience that ignoring Alexis only makes things worse, so he opens the door.

It’s not Alexis.

It’s Patrick.

He looks furious.

“What the fuck, David.”

David actually recoils a little at the uncharacteristic word choice, not to mention the barely contained anger with which it is delivered. His deep-seated survival instinct wants very much to slam the door in his face and go hide in the bathroom until he goes away, but he feels it would be poorly received, so instead he stands aside and lets Patrick stride into his entryway.

“What, um … what’s up?”

David breathes through the cold thrill of dread clutching at his chest as he watches Patrick lay his coat over a chair, pace up and down a few times; his whole body radiating with tension. There is a moment of awful, awful silence, and David hates, hates himself.

“You gave that guy my number,” Patrick says at last, voice shaking. And David longs for the silence.

“I didn’t think you’d mind …” he tries, aiming for light-hearted and landing precariously on manic.

But Patrick eyes are flashing. “No. Not buying it. I said I’d tell you if I wanted to see other people, and I told you in no uncertain terms that I didn’t want to.”

“I thought you might just be nervous—”

“Bullshit,” Patrick declares, crossing his arms. “You were giving me an out.”

Shit. Sometimes he wishes Patrick couldn’t read him quite so well.

“Well …”

“I don’t like being tested, David,” he says in a tight, low voice that lets David know just how livid he is.

Fuck.

It’s exactly what he’s been doing, of course. Of course it is. Sure, it’s more about self-preservation than it is about trying to make Patrick prove anything to him, but still. Fuck.

“I told you I didn’t want to call him. I don’t …” Patrick is clenching and unclenching his fists, like he’s literally trying to get a grip on himself. His voice is getting louder, too. “You know, I wasn’t always as sure of my sexuality as you were, David. Not at first. I spent years, decades, doing things I didn’t really want to do, trying to make myself want things I didn’t really want. That other people thought I should want. And it was killing me. It was fucking killing me.”

He turns away from David as he almost shouts out the last part, as if, despite everything, he doesn’t want to direct it straight at him. And David feels like shit as the full extent of his actions lands. Stricken, he watches Patrick screw his eyes shut and inhale deeply before turning back to face him.

“After I came out I swore I would never do that again. And this—”

“I didn’t—”

“I told you, David.” Now he looks hurt and confused, as well as angry. Fuuuuuck.

“I know, I just thought that … you haven’t really dated since …” Patrick’s eyes widen, and Jesus Christ, could David feel any more like a complete asshole? “And you might want to know what’s out there.”

“So you thought you’d take it upon yourself to …” Patrick cuts himself off mid-sentence and closes his eyes; he looks like he’s taking deep breaths. David wonders if he’s counting to ten. Finally, with obvious difficulty, he asks, “Is this … are you trying to get back at me for the thing at the coffee cart?”

“No!” David can’t really blame him for thinking it—it isn’t even historically off-brand for him—but although he knows his insecurities around that incident have probably not helped in his decision-making here (such as it is), he really hadn’t been trying to hurt Patrick. “I wasn’t—I’m not.”

It doesn’t have the result he expects; Patrick just clamps his lips together and looks away, nodding, jaw muscles twitching, like he’s steeling himself.

“Are you …” His voice is strange. David hasn’t heard that tremor in it before. “Are you trying to tell me that we’re done?”

David stares, horror-struck, to see tears gathering in the corner of those beautiful eyes. His skin immediately breaks out in a cold sweat. Before he can unfreeze his vocal chords, Patrick goes on.

“Do you want to stop what—” his voice is definitely breaking, “—what we’re doing?”

Oh god, oh god, oh god.

David shakes his head frantically, and his voice finally bursts free. “NO!” It comes out as more of a shout, but sheer panic has taken hold, and his hands are shaking and there’s a roaring in his ears. “No, of course not! I don’t—we’re not done, I’m not—I don’t want us to be done!”

And the relief that finally settles over Patrick, the way his shoulders droop and he rubs his hands down over his face, help to soothe David’s mortification at how completely desperate he sounds. Feels.

Patrick takes another deep breath and turn back to look at him. He seems a little steadier—the hurt is still there, but he also looks a lot less likely to leave without an explanation, and that’s better than nothing.

“Why did you give him my number?”

“I don’t know …”

David.”

“Okay, okay …” He didn’t really think he’d get away with that, but he also really, really doesn’t want to admit the real reason. Oh god. Honesty. “Ugh. I just … it’s possible. That I was trying. To drive you away. A little bit.” He can’t look at Patrick now, can’t see the hurt in his face anymore.

“Why?”

And perfect, because it’s there in his voice anyway. He feels like he’s going be sick. He wonders if that’s his body’s way of trying to get out of this conversation. He wonders if it’ll work. Glancing at Patrick’s determined face, he doubts it.

“Why, David?”

“You’re not the only one with baggage okay?” he bursts out, finally. “I’m talking multiple stretch limos full of LV’s Fall collection.” He accompanies this weak attempt at a joke with a sweeping gesture and braves another glance at Patrick. He isn’t smiling. He isn’t even close.

“Why?” he asks again, evenly, brooking no nonsense. He wants an explanation, a real one, and he deserves it.

He swallows the lump in his throat. Fuck. Fucky fuck fuck.

“Because …”

“Because?”

“Because I’m not used to people sticking around this long! By now either they’ve changed their minds and gone back to their ex, or gone off me and found someone else, or I’ve managed to scrape together enough self-respect to leave, and either way I’m at the stage where I’m shame eating an entire pizza.” He knows how he sounds—self-pitying and irritable—but there’s no other way he knows how to get through it.

And Patrick is still here. Waiting. He groans inwardly.

“And I guess I thought that … if you were going to find someone else … I’d rather you did it now.”

Go, he thinks. And, please don’t go.

“Why.”

This time it’s soft, less like a question, more like a gentle encouragement to go on, like he understands. Patrick always seems to understand him.

Right at this moment it really pisses him off.

“Because,” he spits out, petulantly, “I like you. A lot. Like, a lot.”

Patrick folds his arms. “And?”

And? And it’s terrifying, okay? Happy now? I’m scared!”

“You think I’m not?”

It’s like a record-scratch, effectively ending David’s entire train of thought. He looks at Patrick properly now, eyes wide. “What?”

Patrick just looks back, all determined earnestness and wide eyes. “David you scare the hell out of me. Ever since we met, I … god, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted someone the way I want you.”

David feels his legs buckle. Honest to god, buckle.

“But I’m also … I’m scared because of how much I like you. I like you. So much, David.” A tell-tale blush peeks up over the neck of his Henley. David tries to stop thinking inappropriate thoughts, like about how deep that blush runs. Something is swooping wildly all through his insides, but he can’t think about it properly, because Patrick is getting that look he gets when he’s struggling to get his words out. “David, I think I’m … I’m falling—” He falters, swallows, tries again. “I’m—”

He breaks off and turns away, hands clutching at his face, and when he looks back at David there’s a sheen of alarm in his eyes. Without thinking, David reaches out and grabs his upper arms, running his hands up and down his biceps, and Patrick squeezes his eyes shut and actually sways towards him slightly, tugged forward by an invisible thread. His hands are shaking, and he’s breathing slowly in and out, like he’s fighting the beginnings of a panic attack. And here is David, not only knowing Patrick well enough to be recognising the signs but also wanting instinctively to step in and do whatever he can to stay and help. He wants to stay. Especially when Patrick is telling him … what David thinks he’s telling him.

Shit. Shit.

Come on, David. Come the fuck on.

Tell him.

Just fucking tell him.

“If it helps, um,” he begins, his voice thick, “you’ve got company. So …”

So it’s not perfect, but at least it’s honest, and a heck of a lot more than he’s ever let himself admit to anyone before. He hopes it’s enough.

And Patrick looks up at him with those eyes, those fucking-death-of-me eyes, and David thinks it might have been enough.

He heaves out a sigh and sort of collapses into Patrick’s arms without waiting for an invitation—he just needs it, needs his body to know that he hasn’t screwed everything up, that he hasn’t lost him. And Patrick’s arms circle his waist like they always do, and David buries his face in Patrick’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry about Ken,” he says softly.

He feels Patrick sigh against his neck. “I know. It’s okay.”

It’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.

“This is a really long hug, now,” Patrick teases after a moment, and now David knows that things are back to normal. He wraps his arms a little tighter around him, though.

“Just one more minute.”

 

*

It turns out both of them are a bit exhausted by such a display of honesty and vulnerability, so it’s early when they admit they’re too tired to keep watching TV. By silent assent they’ve shelved their conversation, so it’s a little awkward, those two half-uttered confessions hanging in the air, but they also haven’t really broken contact with each other since. Patrick thinks they’re both too in their heads, and when he asks if it’s okay that they just go to sleep, David only hesitates a little.

So they’re just sleeping. Well, David is sleeping, pressed up warm against Patrick’s back, one hand curled round his stomach.

Patrick is thinking.

He’s thinking about why David gave his number to Ken. David has told him enough about his romantic history to make it clear that he has trouble trusting people, with good reason. And apart from the coffee-cart thing, Patrick doesn’t think he’s done anything to spark this sudden pang of doubt in him, but … the more he thinks about it, the more he suspects that his lack of action might be the problem.

Because he doesn’t tell David how he feels that often. Every time he even thinks about the extent of his feelings for David, he cuts himself off. Every “I’ve never—”, every “this is the most—” gets a heavy door slammed shut on it before he can finish. Because every time these thoughts rise in him it feels like a betrayal. Like he’s drawing a line between him and Ben, saying “This is different, this is better,” even if that’s not exactly what he means.

And he realises that David has been slowly opening up, admitting to parts of his past, sharing the store with him, sharing himself. He thinks about I think it might be worth it and I like you and you’ve got company. He thinks about Halloween, when he’d asked Patrick to trust him as he took him apart—he’s been distracted by how amazing it had felt, but now he thinks that maybe David was trying to show him that he could be trusted to put him back together afterwards. He’s been telling him, in a dozen little ways, that he’s invested in this. But Patrick … a big part of him is still firmly closed off.

No wonder David got scared. No wonder he’s worried that he’s the only one who’s feeling like this.

But Patrick does feel it. Whether he can bring himself to admit it or not, he feels it. He likes David, likes being around him, likes who he is when he’s with him. And suddenly he’s so tired of trying to hold onto who he used to be, even the miserable parts. He wants to let that weight go a little. Wants to stop feeling guilty for every good feeling, for letting himself be the person he is now. He’s not entirely sure he’s ready, but he wants to try. He wants to tell David the truth without panicking, to let him know how invested in this he really is.

He just has to figure out how.

 

*

Chapter Text

revelation

noun

  1. The making known of something previously secret or unknown.
  2. Used to emphasize the remarkable quality of someone or something.

 

Patrick has his serious face on.

“There’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” he says, and David is immediately on guard.

“Uh-huh …?” he says slowly, mentally checking for the fire exits to this conversation.

They’re ensconced in at a rear booth at TCT, and although at first it seemed like a nice reminder of a past conversation, suddenly it feels like a bit of an omen, like an unwelcome bookend. He has a wild thought that Patrick’s brought him here to tell him he’s met someone else. That he and Ken have decided to make a go of it. To keep himself from accidentally saying any of this out loud, and even though he’s full, he shovels another mozzarella stick in his mouth and chews, not tasting it.

Patrick looks nervous too, which isn’t helping, although he chuckles slightly at David’s reaction. “It’s not—it’s nothing bad, not like that, it’s just … I think you know I’ve been pretty bad at talking about certain aspects of my past—”

David makes vague dismissive noises, but he has noticed. From the wry look he gives him, Patrick is not fooled either.

“—and I think I owe you an explanation.” He finishes on a heavy exhale, and David tries to remember the last time anyone admitted they owed him anything.

“I mean, you don’t have to …” he ventures. It’s a weak effort, as he very much wants to hear the end of this. But Patrick looks so serious. Which might well be a bad sign.

“I do, though. I want you to know.”

David’s breath hitches, heart quickens, palms sweat. All hidden beneath what he hopes is an impassive expression.

“Right,” says Patrick decisively. “So I’ve mentioned Rachel, right?”

Not what he was expecting. “Um, the girl you dated in high school?”

“And a couple of years after that, yeah. We broke up a bunch of times—it was always because of me—but somehow we kept getting back together. I don’t know, we always just kind of fell back into it. We ended up going to the same university, and she started talking about us getting serious and … suddenly I could see my whole life in front of me, and I didn’t know if I wanted it.” He sighs and rubs his forehead, as if he can't help being transported back there. “One night she suggested we move in together and I thought I was going to hyperventilate—” He pauses. “Thinking back, that was probably my first full panic attack.”

“Not the best sign.”

He’s gratified to hear Patrick chuckle. “Not really. Obviously, it all got clearer once I realised I was gay. Suddenly I didn’t have to try so hard to feel happy. Especially …” he looks up with a faintly apologetic look “… when I met Ben.”

“Obviously.” David keeps his grimace internal as much as he’s able; yes, he thinks he’s a better person than he used to be, but he’s not sure he’s evolved enough to want to hear the details of Patrick’s and Ben’s perfect relationship.

“Everything was different. Everything suddenly made a lot more sense to me, felt a lot more right. And then … Ben proposed, and I guess I was expecting that to feel different too. Only …”

“You … didn’t want to get married?”

“No, I did. I—I did. I said yes.” He sounds the tiniest bit defensive, and David swallows any further questions. For a moment Patrick fiddles with the edge of his cup. “It wasn’t the same as it was with Rachel, it was fine, but I just … I wasn’t sure. It’s not like I was expecting fireworks, but … I also wasn’t expecting to feel …”

And now David thinks he understands. “Fine?”

“Yeah,” Patrick sighs. “I thought it was just taking a while to sink in. So we started planning, just mapping things out, talking about what we wanted … and then we set a date. I remember looking at the calendar and thinking: that’s the day. That’s the day you’ll get married. And I felt … fine.”

David hates the shadow of anguish on his face. He wraps his hand around his coffee cup to keep from reaching out and interrupting.

“And maybe it was nothing. Maybe it would all have been okay, we’d have talked and figured things out. I don’t know. Because … before I could talk to him about it a truck hit a patch of black ice on the 401.” Patrick’s jaw is clenched, as if that alone is holding him together now. “Ben’s car was waiting at an intersection, and he …”

Now he can’t help it; he grasps his hand, rubbing his thumb softly over the back of it. And Patrick’s fingers curl around his.

He draws in a ragged breath. “Afterwards everybody kept saying … kept talking about us like we were … perfect.” David winces—he’s had that same thought. About two minutes ago, in fact. “We loved each other, I know that,” he says, and that defensive note is back again. “But they were all talking about me like I was the world’s best boyfriend, saying that I was … was the love of his life, and … and if I was then why … why didn’t …” Tears are falling unchecked now, painting his cheeks in salt. “I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t tell anyone that I wasn’t … that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to marry him.”

Before he can think twice about it, David is out of his side of the booth and sliding in next to Patrick, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him close. And Patrick slumps into his side without hesitation, leaning his head on David’s shoulder. It’s not wracking sobs this time, just a steady stream of tears and shaky breaths. Once upon a time, David knows, he would have been mortified at being seen with anyone displaying this much emotion in public. Now he feels like he could fight the entire café if they dare so much as raise a judgemental eyebrow at Patrick.

Still pressed into his side, Patrick takes another deep breath. “Ever since it happened, it’s felt like there were all these versions of me. Like I’d split apart into all these different people: the Before Patrick, the After Patrick, the Patrick everyone thought I was—and I had no idea which one I really was, or even who I wanted to be. I don’t … I don’t think I’m any of them anymore.”

David squeezes his arm. “You’re Now Patrick,” he says, and Patrick wipes his face and looks up curiously.

“Sorry?”

David smiles a little. With this feeling, at least, he’s familiar. With how an event can change you in ways you didn’t expect or want, send your compass spinning so you don’t even know which direction you’re facing anymore, let alone what sort of person you are.

“You’re Now Patrick,” he says softly. “Most things are probably the same—your inexplicable love of pineapple on pizza, the way you get so excited about the baseball. I’m guessing you’ve always been a bit of a troll, or is that just for my benefit?”

The corner of Patrick’s mouth twitches. “You do tend to bring it out in me.”

“Wonderful,” David rolls his eyes. “Look, I’m not an expert it anything that doesn't relating to fashion, interiors, or where to find the best crullers in the city, but ... You’ve gone through a … a really horrible thing. You’re dealing. Of course you’re going to feel different. So you’re all these new things now, too, and that's okay. The fundamentals are the same. You’re still a good person. You’re … incredibly kind. And generous. You’re still you, you’re just a bit … different.”

Patrick sits up a little, although he doesn’t move out from under David’s arm. He looks at him for a long moment, that searching look. Thoughtful, but—David hopes—maybe a little less troubled.

“I’ve never told anyone,” he says at last. “Not my parents, not even Stevie.”

David’s heart breaks a little. He can’t imagine carrying the burden that Patrick has carried for more than four years now—crushed under the weight of a secret kept from everyone you know, wearing that mask even though it pinched, too afraid to confess, to ask for understanding, no one knowing the whole you.

He presses his lips to Patrick’s temple. “I’m glad you told me.”

 

*

Without acknowledging that it’s becoming a habit, they’ve spent the last few Sunday nights at Patrick’s place, since it’s a little further away from the store and they don’t have to open the next day. The weather has turned towards its more customary icy chill at nighttime, but his apartment is warm and cosy. And Patrick wants to be as grounded as possible in the familiar tonight.

He’s steeling himself for something.

“Hey David,” he begins, his voice muffled against David’s mouth as the latter bends down for kiss after kiss. They’re on Patrick’s bed; the couch having proved too small to accommodate them any further, and both of them far too roused to consider any alternative course of action.

“Hmm?”

“Do you remember Halloween?”

“Mhm,” David smiles against his mouth, and Jesus, Patrick likes it when he does that.

He’s not really sure how to go about this, and he’s half hoping David will somehow guess and take the task off his hands. Unfortunately—and understandably—David is completely failing at mind reading right now. Besides, he grudgingly admits, the asking is kind of the point.

“Because I’ve been thinking about that, and …”

“And?” David slides his hands up under Patrick’s sweater, and for a moment he lets himself get distracted in how good that feels. “Want a repeat performance?”

He swallows. “Not exactly …”

“Tell me,” he murmurs, ducking in rhythmically to kiss him. “Tell me what you want.”

“You,” Patrick breathes, as David’s lips travel down his jaw to his neck. He moves his hands to sweep up and over David’s shoulder blades, holding him close. “David I want you to fuck me.”

A little more abrupt than he’s intending, but it certainly gets the point across.

David freezes.

He pulls back sharply, searching Patrick’s face with something like alarm.

“But … you said that …”

Patrick tightens his grip a little, holding David in place in case he’s thinking of going anywhere. “Yeah,” he says, keeping his voice even. “I know. I’ve never been that into it in the past. But when you were … David that night, with you … with your fingers … I can’t stop thinking about it. About you. About … how you’d feel.”

Abruptly, David sits up, kneeling astride Patrick’s legs and burying his face in his hands. Patrick lays a hand on his thigh, giving it a quick, comforting squeeze.

“You okay up there?”

David drops his hands and tilts his head back, eyes squeezed shut. “Yup, yup, just …” he waves his hands around in little circles. “I keep having to recalibrate what the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard is, and, um … it’s a lot of …” He finally looks back at Patrick, whose mouth is trying to contain a grin. “Re-cataloguing.”

“Lot of admin,” Patrick agrees quietly, swallowing down the immense fondness that is bubbling up in his chest.

“Yeah.”

Patrick takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Ask for what you want.

“I mean it, though,” he goes on, looking down, because he can only be so brave. “It feels … different with you. Everything’s different with you.” Even admitting that much makes his insides tighten. He scrubs a hand over his face. Ask for what you want. Another deep breath, and he meets David’s eyes as steadily as he can. “I want … god, I want you.”

And David looks … hesitant.

Huh.

Well, this is humiliating, he thinks, biting his lip and wondering how to convince himself that, just because he’s been shot down the first time he’s tried to ask for what he really wants, it doesn’t mean he should stop trying.

David still hasn't said anything, and Patrick can’t quite look at him anymore, not if he’s about to feel like the world’s biggest idiot. “I mean, that is, if that’s something … if you … want me.”

He squeezes his eyes shut, willing himself not to have said it. But he said it. Oh, he said it. It had sounded small. Nervous. A tiny bit desperate.

“Patrick.”

His voice is soft, and Patrick wants to curl into the sound. Instead, he bites his lip and looks up. David is smiling, that smile that Patrick likes so much, twisted to one side and knowing.

“Of course I want you.”

A thrill shudders up through Patrick, toes to head; his hand tightens reflexively on David’s thigh, and he grinds out an involuntary, throaty whimper. Flushing, he shuts his eyes again.

“David,” he whispers, helplessly. And then, as if he understands what Patrick wants when even he doesn’t, David’s lips are back on his, gentle, calming.

“Hey,” he says after a moment. “Look at me.”

Powerless in the face of such a request, Patrick does so. David’s face is soft, open, but … there is something heated in his dark eyes that kindles a matching fire in Patrick.

“If we’re going to do this,” David begins, and Patrick is sure his heartbeat must be audible right now, “then we need to establish some things.”

“Okay,” says Patrick, eagerly. Too eagerly.

David grins again, like he knows. “Traffic lights.”

“Toasters,” says Patrick. “What are we doing?”

An eye roll. “No, traffic lights. Red, yellow, green.”

Ohh.”

“I need you to let me know where you’re at.”

Patrick runs his hands up and down David’s thighs, thoughtfully. “We can’t just keep checking in? Like last time?” He blushes. God, he needs to stop bringing up last time if he’s going to get any blood below his neck.

“Mhm, it’s just, um … this is different. I’m, uh … going to get to a point where I’m too, uh, focused? To remember things? So I’m going to need you to take the lead on … checking in.”

Another shudder. But Patrick gets the point.

“So I’ll be … checking myself in?”

David leans back, groaning in frustration. “God, why do I like you so much?” Patrick grins.

“It’s my cooking. I’m a fantastic cook.”

David rolls his eyes, but Patrick is already pulling him down to claim his mouth, kissing him slowly and with purpose, opening to invite him in. They stay like this for a while, and Patrick feels both steadier and more keyed up, somehow. When David pulls back, he just looks at him.

“You sure?”

And in amongst the want, he’s nervous, but it’s not paralysing; he knows that they can just stop and move on to something else. So he smiles and says: “Green.”

David wants to be prepared, so Patrick waits while he lays out a towel, lube, condom, washcloth. He would take the time to get naked, but when he starts to pull on the hem of his t-shirt David stops him with a squeeze to his forearm. So he waits, and when David stands at the foot of the bed and starts removing his leather sweater, dark eyes glittering and smirk firmly in place, Patrick knows this man’s got him right where he wants him. By the time David is naked and crawling up the bed to him, Patrick is breathing heavily, overdressed, and so, so turned on.

It’s much easier to relinquish control this time; he holds himself still as David slowly drags his long sleeve tee over his head, as he runs his hands up and down Patrick’s chest, in a manner that might be soothing if it wasn’t so fucking arousing. Eventually his fingers come to rest on Patrick’s crotch, thumbs pressing downwards, fingers tapping on his waistband, and Patrick has no idea how he’s going to last through this if he’s already this stimulated.

“Green?” David smirks.

“Green, you asshole.”

David laughs at that, but he finally, slowly, pulls off Patrick’s sweats and underwear, and finally, finally presses his body along Patrick’s, and Patrick sighs as he feels his whole body relax, as though this is all he’s been waiting for.

“There it is,” David hums against his throat.

“Hm?” Patrick slides his hands up and down David’s back, fingertips dragging on his warm, soft skin.

But David just shakes his head and sets out to plot a trail of slow kisses down his chest, sucking gently at his skin with each one, and oh god it feels amazing, especially when he pauses to pay particular attention to Patrick’s hipbone. Patrick just sinks his hand into David’s hair and tries to stay still, to enjoy the delay.

The snap of the lube bottle brings his eyes open again, and when David raises an eyebrow he nods and bends his knees. He can’t help arching off the bed when David finally closes his hand around his cock, already mostly hard just from this, from him. This time he keeps stroking him, slowly, as his other hand drops to press gently against his hole.

Patrick groans. He doesn’t know if it’s the memory of last time, or the anticipation of what’s coming, but it feels so damn good.

“God, you’re gorgeous,” David mutters. Patrick reaches clumsily for the hand that’s attending to his erection, grips David’s arm and squeezes.

“Can I—do you need anything?”

David gives a little smirk, but he shakes his head. “Not yet, honey. I’ll let you know.”

And somehow even that is ridiculously sexy to Patrick right now, and he covers his face and groans into his hands, hearing David’s breathy chuckle. The fingers at his entrance are still probing gently, applying a little more pressure, sending tendrils of warmth out and upwards. Finally, Patrick can’t be patient anymore, and he pushes down against them.

“David,” he murmurs.

“Ready?”

Patrick nods emphatically, laughing a little, but it turns into a whimper when David’s index finger finally breaches him.

It’s a little different this time, both in how it feels and in the course David takes—it’s about preparation this time, and oh god, Patrick is aware of it. He finds himself watching David’s face as he stretches him, and the anticipation is kind of getting to him. When David looks up, his eyes a little wild and biting his lower lip, Patrick’s hips jerk off the bed despite himself.

“Fuck.”

And David is moving up to lay down beside him—he’s removed his fingers, but his other hand is still stroking his cock slowly.

“Hey,” he says softly.

Before he can ask, Patrick nods. “I’m okay.” He knows David can see his nerves, though, so he adds, “Kiss me?”

He does, letting Patrick ground himself, letting him card his fingers through his hair and clench a little—David moans softly against his mouth, and this, too, calms him a little, as if he needs to know David wants him, as if it weren’t clear enough already.

Eventually, Patrick leans his forehead on David’s and lets out a long breath.

“Ready for a third?” David asks, and Patrick can’t believe he’s found himself here, in the care of this man, the most beautiful man he’s ever met …

Instead of getting hung up on that thought, he lets it settle, and then he nods. “Yes. Yes please.”

“So polite,” David croons, and with a kiss to his cheek leaves his side to reposition himself. As he reapplies lube, he adds, “Let me know how it feels.”

It feels really fucking good.

“Patrick?”

“Jesus Christ, David.” Then he remembers to add, “Green.” And because he’s a little closer now, and because he wants to, Patrick reaches out and curls his fingers around David’s cock. It’s hard, so hard, and leaking a little, and Jesus, Patrick loves that.

Ffffuck,” hisses David. “God, that’s so good …”

Patrick groans and rocks down into David’s hand, chasing the spot that he hasn’t gone after yet.

“Please, David. I want—” he breaks off to groan again as David pushes in even deeper, and it’s still not enough. “I need you.”

David whines. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“Not before I know what you feel like,” he smiles, but David’s face creases in a kind of anguish.

“That’s it,” he growls, and in a moment his fingers are gone and he’s knocking Patrick’s hand away from his own erection to roll the condom over it. Patrick’s heartrate picks up at the blatant desire on David’s face, and his hips flex upwards into nothing, and now there’s absolutely no doubt in his mind about how he’s going to respond to this.

David leans over him, holding himself up with one hand. When he looks up, face flushed, eyes black and glittering, Patrick sucks in a gasp. And then David is positioning himself at Patrick’s entrance, and he has to stop himself from tensing.

“Breathe,” David reminds him. He follows his advice, telling himself that this isn’t his first time, that he knows what to expect, that it’s okay, because it’s David. That settles his nerves a little, so he keeps his focus on David.

“Green,” Patrick huffs. “Green.”

And then David’s holding his gaze as he pushes slowly in, and it turns out it’s so much more than anything Patrick expects. He feels full and tight and David is so warm and he’s shaking and suddenly it’s all too much—

“Yellow,” he gasps. “David wait—yellow, yellow.”

David stills immediately, eyes wide and searching.

“What is it?” he demands. “Did I hurt you? Do you need me to—”

Patrick grabs his hips to stop any ideas of pulling out. “No,” he grinds out, “no—fuck—I’m okay, I just need … need a minute.”

“Patrick?” David is smoothing his hand over his abdomen, looking concerned.

“I’m okay,” he says again, and draws in a slow, shaky breath. “It’s just … it’s a lot.”

David quirks a suggestive eyebrow and glances downwards, and it makes Patrick laugh—soon they’re both giggling. It does a lot to relax him, and with another deep breath or two he nods and squeezes gently at David’s hips.

“Slow.”

David nods too, and gradually, achingly, he inches forward, pressing in and filling him up until they’re finally flush together. David leans down carefully, bracing himself on his elbows either side of Patrick’s head, and they stay like that for a long moment. Patrick closes his eyes and surrenders himself to the feeling. Because now he knows what it feels like to have David inside him, knows what it means to be joined with him like this.

It’s utterly breathtaking.

“You feel so good,” he breathes. Looking up, he lifts an unsteady hand to slide around the back of David’s neck. “God, David, I can’t—you’re amazing.”

David swallows. “Patrick …” he whispers, and closes his eyes.

“Hey,” Patrick says softly after a moment, and David blinks at him. “What’s your colour?”

The corner of his mouth tugs into a faint smile. “Green,” he says, and his eyes are a little wet. “Thanks.”

Patrick’s not sure what he’s thanking him for, but David stops any further conversation by leaning down to kiss him. And then he starts to move.

The first time he pulls back it actually drags a kind of aching rasp from Patrick’s throat, and when he pushes in again he feels engulfed in that same sense of fullness as before, but instead of too much it’s just shy of enough. David sets up a slow rhythm, alternating long strokes with rocking hips, and soon everything starts to feel really, really good.

“I can’t believe you thought for a second that I wouldn’t want you …” David breathes, mouthing at his collar bone, “… that I haven’t thought about this … Jesus, Patrick … I’ve wanted you …”

“Oh my god,” Patrick groans, toes curling into the mattress. And still he wants more. He flexes his hips to meet David’s next thrust—David lifts his head up and blinks at him, eyes wide. Patrick manages a lopsided grin, and says, “I won’t break.”

David’s answering look is so plainly you asked for it that Patrick laughs. It quickly becomes a grunt, though, as David and drives in a little more forcefully, and then he’s shifting to change his angle and oh

Patrick is lit up with all the lights.

Fuck, David!”

David is smirking, knows exactly what he’s done. “Green?”

“Green, green, so fucking green.”

“Noted.”

He hits that spot again and again, and Jesus, Patrick is close, has no idea how he hasn’t come yet because it feels like every part of him is ablaze with pleasure, like David is plucking every string at once. He wraps his legs around David’s, trying to pull him closer, and moan after helpless moan is lifted from his throat.

“Jesus … I’m so … oh, David I’m so close … you’re so … fuck …”

“Oh my god, Patrick—do you have—any idea,” David gasps haltingly, “how fucking gorgeous you are?”

Patrick can’t answer, because David’s hitting his prostate with every stroke now, and their stomachs are gliding so deliciously along his cock, and Patrick’s clenching around him …

“Come for me, Patrick, I need you to come for me …” David groans, like he feels it too, and Patrick has to bite his lip against all the things that want to get out—

White. Everything is white.

Somewhere in the roar of the waves crashing down around him, Patrick hears David sob out his name, feels him jerk and quiver against him, and it’s like it all starts again—the lights, the roar. His limbs have locked themselves around David as though he’s a life-preserver, and he’s shaking all over, and every few seconds a shudder rolls through him, over and over and over …

David has to remind him to let go.

 

*

That blissed-out look on Patrick’s face is going to stay with him.

David takes advantage of his indisposition to memorise it, the softness of his features, his bruised lips parted slightly to release gentle breaths and the occasional—and, frankly, adorable—little sigh. He brushes his nose along Patrick’s, smiles lazily to himself as the man beneath him instinctively raises his head to follow suit, even though he still hasn’t opened his eyes. He’s managed to relax his legs, but his arms are still gripping David’s shoulders, and as David watches another tremor vibrates through him. He blinks.

“Just an aftershock,” David murmurs, trying not to sound too pleased with himself, which is frankly quite difficult given how warm and vivid and fucking content he feels right now.

Patrick nods dazedly, and finally loosens his grip, sinking heavily into the bed, and though much of David would like to let him stay there—stay there with him, in fact—he needs him awake.

“Get up,” he says gently, dropping a kiss on Patrick’s chin. “Come shower with me.”

Initially unresponsive, Patrick’s eyebrow quirks at that. “Can’t move,” he grunts.

David rolls his eyes. “Come on,” he says, getting to his feet and tugging on Patrick’s arm until he reluctantly lets himself be pulled off the bed. He wobbles a bit, and David grabs hold to steady him, and now Patrick’s face is close, eyes open now—dark and warm and fixed on him. David forces himself to breathe through it and starts to guide him into the bathroom, adding, “You’ll thank me later.”

Patrick is heavy-limbed and pliant, and he seems happy enough for David to clean him up as long as he’s allowed to kiss him lazily around it. It takes David by surprise, actually, but decides he can blame the redness in his face on the heat from the shower, so he lets him keep going while he gets to work. And maybe it means he takes a little longer than he needs to; maybe he spends a few superfluous minutes lathering up Patrick’s forearms, biceps, shoulders; maybe his neck ends up within kissing distance more than is strictly necessary. As he rinses off the body wash, he catches Patrick looking at him, all soft-faced and whiskey-eyed, and even though David has to look away pretty quickly, a smile keeps tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Soon Patrick is revived enough to want to help towel David off, and it’s … it’s a lot. He’s always been shyer after sex than he is during. Especially with Patrick, who is tactile and affectionate and ultimately behaves like no one he’s ever known. He’s able to withstand it for a little while before he dispatches Patrick to bed while he tones and moisturises and generally catches his breath. Though it’s a bit of a lightning application, he still half expects to find him asleep once he rejoins him in bed, but Patrick is awake and watching him, and again David feels shy as he climbs in beside him. Almost immediately, though, Patrick turns and slides an arm around his waist, pulling them together, legs tangled, to brush his nose gently along David’s in an echo of the earlier gesture.

“Hi,” he says softly.

“Oh hi,” David grins. “Everything okay?”

Patrick hums quietly in the affirmative. “You?”

David wriggles his shoulders in a truncated shimmy, making Patrick chuckle. “Mhm.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“I think if I gave you a number right now it’d just go to your head.”

Patrick blushes even as he breaks into a wide smile, equal parts bashful pride and amusement. “Not actually where I was headed, but, uh … thanks.”

David is too smitten to be embarrassed just now. “So where were you headed?”

“It’s stupid.”

“Hm. Then you should definitely ask.”

Patrick chews his lip for a moment, and David fights the urge to kiss him. “I guess I was wondering … is it always like this?”

David frowns. “For everyone?”

“For you.”

Oh. Oh.

He wishes he was brave enough to give him the whole truth. “Not … not always.”

Patrick just nods sleepily. “I just … I want to make you feel like … like this feels.”

You do, David thinks. Every time. But before he can muster the courage to say it aloud, Patrick kisses him, unhurried and soft. By the time he pulls away, his eyes are closed and he’s half asleep, and David feels close behind. He wants to say something, though, to let him know …

“It was perfect,” he whispers. “You’re perfect.”

This is rewarded with a slow, beautiful, eyes-shut smile from Patrick. “That’s my line,” he murmurs.

David yawns, nuzzles closer. “Mine too.”

 

*

Chapter Text

resolve

verb

  1. To come to a definite or earnest decision.
  2. (music) To progress from a dissonance to a consonance

 

It’s early, and Patrick is so awake.

He’s rolled onto his back during the night, but he and David are still wrapped up in each other, and it’s so good, and warm, and comfortable that part of him wants to work harder to abandon his train of thought and try to get back to sleep.

The dim grey light is enough to see by, but he’s keeping his eyes fixed on the ceiling, trying to make sense of the jumble of thoughts bouncing around inside his head. And yes, he’s largely distracted by the ache in his muscles, by flashes of the night before—he’ll be in the middle of untangling a feeling when suddenly he’ll recall the way David looked at him, the way he sounded, the way he felt—

But there are a lot of half-begun thoughts that keep rising, and he thinks … he thinks it’s time to finish them.

He’s going to need some help.

He glances at the bedside clock; Stevie’s not exactly a morning person, but her work means she’s generally up early in spite of that. First, though, he needs to extricate himself from David’s warm grasp. It’s tricky, and for a moment he thinks he’s woken him, but then he’s letting out those snuffly little snores again. Patrick lets himself watch for a little while, then grabs some clothes and heads out to the living room to find his phone.

Pulling on jeans and a sweater, he texts Stevie.

Stevie Budd

Breakfast meeting?

It’s an old code, one they use only when there’s something that won’t wait. The unspoken agreement is that they’ll listen to whatever the other person wants to talk about, no matter how early, no matter how small or how big, and in return they get a free meal. Patrick will admit he’s the one paying more often than not, but he’s tried to use it sparingly, and he never complains when Stevie orders extra to go.

You're lucky I'm already up and dressed and a sucker for the ricotta pancakes at TCT.

Meet you there in 20?

Ricotta pancakes AND home fries.

Smirking to himself, Patrick shoves the phone in his pocket and looks back to the bed, where David is still slumbering. After only a moment’s hesitation, he walks over and bends down to kiss his forehead.

“Hey,” he says softly.

David growls and tries to burrow further into the covers. Patrick shakes his head and smiles; he drops another kiss on his forehead, which furrows. Then David is peeping over the edge of the quilt, eyes narrowed in sleepy irritation.

“Early,” he croaks.

“It is,” admits Patrick. “I’m just heading out to meet Stevie for breakfast.” David groans again, louder.

“So early.”

Patrick can’t help chuckling. “Stay here. Go back to sleep. I might go for a quick run afterwards, but I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” He leans in and kisses him between the eyes.

“Sure?” But he’s already nuzzling back under the covers.

“I’ll see you later,” Patrick laughs, getting up. Before he reaches the door, he hears one last sleepy request.

“... Bring me back some bacon?”

 

*

He tells her about Ben.

As her eyes widen, he can almost see her thinking over the past half-decade.

“Jesus, Patrick, why didn’t you tell me?”

He’s been expecting that, at least, but it still takes him a moment to get his thoughts into words. “I think … if I’d told anyone, it would have felt … real. I didn’t want it to be a big deal. So I pretended it wasn’t. And then he … he died. And then it was too big, I guess.” He shrugs. “I didn’t want anyone to think that I didn’t … that I didn’t love him.”

She’s watching him with a mixture of sorrow and distress. “I was there, you know,” she says at length. “I know you did.”

It’s something he’s been trying to cling to, tossed amid the doubts that have plagued him for so many years, so the fact that she is offering him her own certainty actually relieves the pressure that weighs down on him when he thinks about this. He exhales heavily and nods.

“So is there a particular reason you’re sharing all this now?” She’s watching him shrewdly, and he rolls his eyes slightly. She knows. She always knows.

“David,” he sighs, in answer.

She nods in quiet triumph. “Hm. Things are getting serious, then.”

Without looking at her, he nods slowly.

“Okay,” she says after a pause, “I know I haven’t met him yet—”

“Yeah, that’s not an accident.”

It’s her turn to roll her eyes, but she does so much more dramatically, and snorts “Figured,” under her breath. “Well for what it’s worth, you seem … really happy with him. You know, when you’re not being an idiot and overthinking everything.”

He offers a faint smile at that. They sit in silence as Patrick works up the nerve to give voice to the thing that’s been clawing at him for months now.

“Here’s the thing,” he bursts out suddenly. “I know—I think I know what I’m—what I’m feeling … and I don’t want to be afraid of—of moving forward, but … I can’t stop thinking that if I do, then that’s like … like admitting that I don’t … that I didn’t …”

“You think if you admit what you’re feeling for David it’ll negate everything you felt for Ben?”

He sighs. Stevie has always had a way of cutting through the tangled mess of his doubts and apprehensions—

“Well that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said.”

—with the bluntness of a two-by-four in a sock.

“Don’t sugarcoat it, Stevie, not on my account,” he grumbles.

“Oh come on,” she says, unfazed. “You wouldn’t be talking to me about it if you didn’t want a kick in the ass.”

She’s right, of course. It rankles.

“Sorry, what was that?”

“I said fair enough,” he snaps, but there’s not much bite to it. He rests his head in his hands for a moment, then straightens up and faces her, determined. “Okay, lay it on me.”

She smirks, and watches him for a moment. “Okay. I get it. I mean, obviously I don’t exactly, but … I get you. I know you feel guilty about being happy, like you don’t deserve it. And I don’t know where you’re getting that from, because you’re a good person. You might even be the best person I know,” she adds with a brief grimace, just to let him know she thinks that’s gross.

“Well that’s not saying much,” he teases gently.

She narrows her eyes briefly, before her face softens a little. “But here’s the thing … you’re acting like this is a choice between Ben and David. It’s not. You know that, right?”

He does know it. Logically speaking.

Stevie focuses on her pancakes for a moment, weighing her next question. “Is he in love with you?”

Patrick’s insides swoop. It only takes a moment for every scrap of evidence to flash through his head, every layer of subtext to ring in his ears.

“I think … I think he might be,” he says, approaching the words cautiously, constructing caveats he knows he probably doesn’t need. But just admitting this much aloud makes him feel hot, cold, elated, terrified.

And now he wonders if he’s finally broken Stevie, because her eyes are suspiciously shiny, and she looks equal parts angry and affectionate, like she might as easily punch him as hug him.

“You’re an idiot,” she says, and he recognises the endearment for what it is.

He also knows what she’s really telling him. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks,” he says, placing his hands flat on the table. He feels suddenly full of energy, zinging through him like electricity, and he needs to move, to burn it off so that he can think clearly. Before he can voice this, Stevie puts on an annoyed face and swats him.

“God, get out of here,” she says, rolling her eyes again. “Go trek up the side of a mountain, or whatever.”

He loves her for that. For knowing him, or part of him, so well. He fishes out some bills and lays them on the table—enough to cover breakfast as well as a takeaway box of doughnuts. Before he leaves, he stops to press a quick kiss to the top of her head, and though she squirms a little, he knows it’s mostly for show.

 

*

He ends up driving to Taylor Creek Park.

There aren’t many people around at this time of year. By now the sun is peeking through the trees, cold, but glinting with the golden and copper of late autumn. It hasn’t snowed yet, and he’s equipped with the toque and gloves he always keeps in the car, so it’s a relatively easy jog along the trail. He breathes in the cold air and fallen leaves and the familiar scent of the creek itself, warming up his muscles and calming his thoughts. Making lists.

He doesn’t run for long—he’s not really here for a workout. Soon he stops by the water, a tiny clearing next to a fallen tree, and spends a minute or two puffing vapour clouds into the air around him. Then, coming to a decision, he does something he hasn’t tried in years.

He talks to Ben.

It’s something his therapist recommended at one point, just a way of remembering, of saying things he never got to say, of sorting through his thoughts. Back then it had been too painful, so he’d moved on to other techniques. But now he thinks he can handle a conversation.

He imagines Ben lounging carelessly on the fallen tree, grinning. “Long time no see.”

“God, your sense of humour is weird.”

The Ben in his head shrugs. “You just don’t get it.”

Patrick rolls his eyes. “That’s what you said about anything that you liked and I didn’t. God, I hated that.”

“Is that why you didn’t want to get married?”

Patrick cuts his eyes towards him; Ben isn’t angry—of course he isn’t, he’s a figment of Patrick’s imagination—he just looks interested, and there’s an easy smile on his face.

“That, obviously. And … maybe some other stuff.” He takes a deep breath. Now is the time to actually confront this, to say all the things he hasn’t been able to say. “I didn’t want to,” he admits at last. He’s been pretending otherwise for too long. “Not right then, anyway.”

“You said yes.”

“I know …” he winces. He’s thought about that a lot, too. “We were … you know we had problems. As much my fault as yours. Maybe you thought getting married was a way to get past some of them without having to deal with them. And I … maybe I thought so, too.”

Ben smirks. “So what you’re saying is that what with me acting like nothing was wrong and you not wanting to disappoint me, marriage was inevitable.”

Patrick laughs, a little sadly. “Maybe. Wouldn’t have been the healthiest start.”

“You could’ve just said no.”

“I didn’t want to break up.”

“We might not have.”

He scuffs his feet in the dirt by the creek and sighs. “Maybe,” he says again. “Not the best reason to go through with something I didn’t want, though.” He takes a moment, works up to the things that he’s kept the most hidden, the things he still hasn’t told anyone. “I think I thought that … Rachel used to talk about getting married. Or about being together, at least. Down the line. It always felt … wrong. Didn’t fit. So when I realised I was gay I figured that explained it—that was why. Then you asked and … I didn’t want to. So I started wondering … if I couldn’t see a future with a man, then maybe … maybe there was something wrong with me.”

The last part spills out all at once, as though rushing it is the only way he's getting it out. It's like releasing a held breath. Now he’s admitted it, it doesn’t feel so scary.

“Couldn’t it just be that you weren’t ready to get married?”

It’s something Patrick has said to himself a thousand times. Trouble is … “Ever notice how it’s a lot easier to believe the bad things about yourself?”

After a moment, Ben shakes his head. “Nah,” he says decisively. “You wouldn’t have let it happen.”

Patrick frowns. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you always stepped up when you needed to. Knew when to walk away from a bad situation.”

“It wasn’t a—I wasn’t walking away—”

“Not from me, no,” Ben concedes. “But you didn’t stay with Rachel. Took courage to walk away from a relationship like that.”

Patrick snorts. “Courage, right. Ten years of complete obliviousness followed by one panic attack. Not exactly bravery.”

But Ben is smiling and shaking his head. “You always had this idea in your head that you were a coward. I never understood that.”

It’s only the Ben in his head. And yet it feels like something he might have said. Patrick sits down on the log, leaning his forearms on his knees.

“I was going to talk to you about it.”

“I know. And we would have argued, I’d have said something unintentionally cruel that I’d have had to apologise for later, and eventually we’d have cooled off, behaved like adults and actually talked about what we were feeling.”

Patrick smiles slightly. He thinks maybe he’s right.

“And I’d have told you that just because you didn’t want to marry me—even though I was clearly an exquisite specimen—did not mean there was—everanything wrong with you.”

The tears that well up are unexpected, but Patrick doesn’t try to stop them. He hasn’t realised how much he’s needed to hear that, even if it’s just from the Ben in his head.

After a pause, Ben says: “Stevie’s right, you know.”

“She often is,” he admits, brushing the salt from his cheeks. “What about?”

“It’s not a choice you need to be making: me or David.”

It’s not even real, but just the thought of talking to Ben about David feels like infidelity, like a cold clench in his stomach—it’s just that for the first time it feels like he’s being unfaithful to David.

He needs to get through this. He wants to.

“I think I’m afraid.”

“Of what?”

“Of … of losing him. Hurting like that again. I still worry that maybe I’m not … I don’t know, capable of it, somehow—”

“That’s your shoulder devil talking.”

He huffs a laugh at this old construct of Ben’s. “Right,” he says. “Rodrigo.”

“Not sure why I made him Spanish. I wonder if that’s racist.”

“Definitely,” teases Patrick.

“Ah, so that’s why you didn’t want to get married.”

He’s kind of amazed that he can laugh about it. “That’s absolutely why. Didn’t know how to break it to you.”

“Maybe I should have taken a tolerance course or something,” agrees Ben, but when he goes on he drops the teasing tone for one more thoughtful. “And maybe we would have broken up. Maybe not. Doesn’t really matter now, does it?”

“Not really,” Patrick says softly. He’s not that person anymore, after all. He’s Now Patrick. He lets himself remember, really remember, how it was back then. Not just the good times, but all the things that had made him pause at the brink, hesitate before the jump. “I loved you,” he all but whispers to the Ben in his head, the one he’s imagining is sitting on the log next to him.

Ben smiles. “I know you did.”

And Patrick blinks. And he’s back in his body, back on the trail, back in real life.

He lets out a wistful sigh. “God, I hope you knew it.”

On the walk back through the trees he thinks about versions. About the Before Patrick, who fell in love with Ben. About the After Patrick, who was so afraid that he hadn’t loved him properly. About the Now Patrick.

Stevie is right, he thinks. It’s never been a choice between Ben and David. But if it was … if it was, he knows—with a certainty that he realises he’s been searching for most of his life, that winds all the way through him, in every strand of the tapestry that makes up who he really is—that if Now Patrick were presented with that choice …

He would choose David.

 

*

By the time he hears the door open and close David’s really just dozing, snuggled under the warm weight of Patrick’s bedding, protected from the cold and waiting for Patrick to come home.

There’s a bit of rustling in the kitchen, and then the mattress shifts as Patrick crawls onto the bed. David tries to stop the smile that tugs at his mouth as he feels his weight—he climbs slowly upwards, pressing into the quilt periodically as he does so, like he’s kissing his way up David’s body, even through the covers. When he’s far enough along, Patrick tugs the quilt down so he can press his mouth to David’s shoulder. David scrunches his nose as though it’s anything other than adorable.

“Morning, sunshine,” Patrick says, placing small kisses up his neck and onto his cheek. The tip of his nose is cold.

David groans, but it’s not convincing; he’s already smiling. He lets Patrick kiss his face all over for a while, then he rolls onto his back so that Patrick can fold his arms on David’s chest and settle there. He finally opens his eyes and looks down at him.

And blinks. Maybe this is what he always looks like after a run, but Patrick’s eyes are sparkling.

“Well you look far too good for this early in the morning.”

“It’s ten-fifteen, David.”

“On your day off.”

Patrick just smiles at him, and there’s something … David has to blink a couple more times, and shift up the pillows a bit so he can see him properly, but …

He’s spent a lot of time curating an internal gallery of Patrick’s smiles. The wide, laughing kind that happens when he’s caught by surprise. The lips-pressed-together, laughing-eyes kind that happens when something amuses him. The lopsided ones, sometimes accompanied by a glance up through his lashes, that make David’s stomach flip, like they’re just for him.

The way he’s smiling at him right now is blinding. His honey-warm eyes are clear and bright, his expression open, his mouth wide. He’s fucking glowing.

“What?” Something is bubbling away in David’s insides, and he doesn’t recognise it, is unsure if it’s good or bad, if he should prepare himself or not.

But Patrick is glowing.

And with no warning, with just a little shake of his head, he says, “I love you.”

Wait.

Wait, what?

His eyes widen, eyebrows fly up towards his hairline. “Huh?” he whispers, squeaking a little.

Patrick continues to smile that smile at him.

“I love you,” he says again. Simply. Easily.

Happily …

David doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t think he could speak even if he did. His heart is pounding. His eyes are burning. The corner of his mouth keeps twitching upwards without his permission, like he’s having a seizure or something.

Maybe he is having a seizure. It seems more plausible.

“David?” Patrick asks, and he’s closer to that amused smile now. “Blink twice if you’re still with me.”

Slowly, David blinks twice. Patrick’s eyes crease a little deeper, fondly.

“Listen to me,” he’s saying softly. “I don’t expect you to say anything now. I just … I needed to tell you. I want you to know.” His eyes are so warm that David could bask in their gaze. Could burn.

He has to ask why. Has to know what the hell happened between last night and this morning. Has to explain his reaction somehow.

“Did you bring me any bacon?”

And Patrick laughs, brightly, beautifully, and kisses David firmly on the cheek before he rolls off him and goes to fetch the takeaway box from the kitchen.

 

*

Patrick is a psychopath.

He must be. Who else would do something like this? Who else would say something like … like that, and then go about the rest of his morning like it was anything even approaching normal?

And because psychopaths must be treated gently, David eats his bacon quietly, listens as Patrick talks—just small talk, because oh, now he’s a rational human being—watches as he tidies up. Eventually he comes back to the table, pulls his chair close and sits, looking at David.

“Hey.” He doesn’t look irritated, or worried, or awkward, just … soft. It’s so normal, so like the Patrick he knows, that David feels himself relax slightly. “Everything okay in that busy head of yours?”

David opens his mouth. Closes it. Bites his cheek. Nods.

Patrick just smiles a little. He takes David’s hand and runs his thumb over the back of it. It’s calming.

He tries again. “I …” It’s a start, he supposes. “It’s not … I just …”

Good lord. But Patrick nods, like he just spoke in full sentences or something.

“It’s a lot,” he says softly. David nods. He can’t seem to look away. But Patrick’s eyes stay locked on his, and he’s grateful for that, feels like he might spiral completely without it. “I mean it, though. I don’t need you to say anything. And I’m not going anywhere. I just …” He breaks off with a smile, like he knows David can’t hear it again just now, is still dealing with the first two times he said it.

He hears it anyway.

“Okay?”

David takes a deep breath, and nods slowly, but a little more firmly, on the exhale. “Okay,” he says.

Patrick squeezes his hand. “I’m going to take a shower. Then I’ll make the bed while you use up the rest of the hot water, and we can talk about what we want to do today.”

A little smile twitches at the corner of David's mouth. Patrick makes plans to keep calm; he’s giving David a plan.

He nods again, and when Patrick kisses him lightly he leans into it a little.

Once he’s alone, he gulps in two or three deep breaths, shakes out his arms.

Think. Think think think.

He could leave. Abandon his toiletries and duck out the door while Patrick’s in the shower. He’d have to leave the city or something, sell his apartment, give up the store, but it’s doable.

It takes less than five seconds to dismiss the idea, but it still feels kind of nice to know he has options.

Of course he’s not leaving. And not just because his products are expensive.

He stands up and paces, trying to get his thoughts under control before Patrick finishes up in the bathroom.

Patrick would make a list. Maybe he should make a list.

  1. Patrick told him that he … nope, it’s not any easier to think it.
  2. Unless he has suffered a spontaneous aneurism, Patrick wouldn’t say that unless he meant it.

A brief pause to take a few deep breaths. He of all people knows how hard Patrick has found it to tackle feelings of this kind of magnitude. The fact that he doesn't seem to be freaking out about it in the slightest ...

He's going to need another minute. Suddenly Patrick's convenient capability for lightning-quick showers doesn’t seem so convenient.

  1. Patrick is not freaking out.
  2. David has said absolutely fuck all in response.
  3. This doesn’t seem to bother Patrick. Yet.

The really fucking hilarious part of this is that, tangled in the messy threads of his panic, is the knowledge that David knows how he feels. Sure, he can’t touch on it for more than a second or two, but it’s still there, trapped behind a wall of neuroses. What’s more is that he trusts Patrick. And yet … and yet he still needs to convince himself that it’ll stick, that it won’t be taken back, before he lets himself say it. He needs to do that for himself, for the part of him that has been hurt too many times to count, the part that has watched that seedling of hope grow and be crushed over and over again.

So. He’s going to use up the rest of the hot water, and spend the day with Patrick, and try not to panic.

Or something like that.

 

*

David doesn’t feel up to doing anything much, so Patrick suggests they stay in. This is perfectly fine with David, and they settle on the couch, Patrick with his book, David scrolling idly through his phone. They’ve automatically arranged themselves in a typical fashion—Patrick by the armrest, legs stretched out in front, David lounging along the couch with his head in Patrick’s lap. It’s comfortable, affording David a little space without them actually being apart.

They venture out for lunch, hands linked as they make the short walk to the nearby taco place, and it’s familiar, and the conversation is easy, and step by step David relaxes a little more. So much, in fact, that he forgets to freak out for the rest of the afternoon, caught up in watching Bake-off and making bets with Patrick on whose showstopper will look the least like the planned sketch. In fact, if you didn’t count the giant heart-shaped elephant in the room, it would be a perfectly ordinary, perfectly uneventful, perfectly perfect day.

It’s still there, though. Every graze of Patrick’s fingers against his skin, every time he rests his hands on David’s hips to move him gently out of the way—David seems to be in the way a lot, today—every brush of his lips on David’s cheek—it’s all a little heightened. It’s also the extent of things. Patrick is giving him space, without him even asking.

It’s incredibly sweet.

David thinks he wants a little less space, though.

He contemplates it as they do the dishes, as they get ready for bed, and finally, almost vibrating with nerves and determination, he plants himself outside the bathroom door. Patrick jumps a little when he opens it to find him there; his eyebrows fly up in surprise, but he must be able to see by David’s expression that he has something specific on his mind, because he doesn’t say anything, just stands there and waits.

David takes a deep breath. “Tell me again?”

It’s not the smoothest. In fact he thinks he should probably feel a little more embarrassed about it, but he’s so on edge with the effort of not backing down that he just can’t, and he’s going to need Patrick to go with him on this.

And Patrick … Patrick’s face softens, like he gets it, like he understands, and with a lopsided smile he lifts a hand to rest it on David’s cheek, to hold him steady.

“I love you.”

David’s breath catches a little, but he feels a piece of the wall inside him fall away. He steps forward to capture Patrick’s mouth in a kiss, letting it turn a little desperate, and that’s all it takes for them to be clawing at each other’s clothes and stumbling back towards the bed. David pulls Patrick on top of him, smiles against his mouth at the sigh that has tattooed itself on David’s brain. The dance is familiar now, honed, and still exhilarating; they’re chasing each other’s pleasure, trying to outdo each other in giving as much as they can … but ultimately David needs Patrick to take charge, needs to feel him. Patrick is only too willing to give him that, and when he presses inside him, David is utterly helpless against the way he moves, the way he feels, the way he sounds.

Without thinking, he whispers, “Tell me again?”

And Patrick tells him.

 

*

It’s a fairly mundane Thursday. Foot traffic is picking up as the holiday season approaches, and they both shorten their lunch breaks to take care of the rush. By four o’clock it’s finally thinned out a bit, and David has some time to sip his macchiato at the counter while Patrick deals with a customer over at the centre console. He makes it look easy, the way he grins and engages, making them laugh as he extols the virtues of selecting the proper skincare, and David is so lost in the look of him in his oxford-blue sweater, eyes smiling, that it takes him a moment to realise that he’s heard this spiel somewhere before.

“… important not to skip the sunblock, even on overcast days, because that’s what will really affect the overall appearance of your skin …”

They’re David’s own words. Words that he’s said to Patrick, in fact, and possibly more than once. One particular evening comes to mind; Patrick leaning back on the hamper, watching David apply his myriad toners and cleansers and serums, teasing him while David lectures him about the proper order in which they should be employed.

Patrick, he realises, has listened to him every time he’s waxed lyrical, and not just to humour him. He’s trusted David’s opinion, enough to take it to heart, to pass it on to their customers as important information. He knows this, because Patrick has refused on more than one occasion to peddle anything that he thinks is, in his words “empty pretention and meaningless buzzwords”.

The customer ends up buying three items, and David rings them up and sends her on her way while Patrick fills in the gaps with more stock. David folds up the vendor receipt carefully, tucks it in the special drawer Patrick has assigned for the purpose, and closes it, thinking.

“We might actually need to ask Heather for a bigger order next time,” says Patrick, walking up behind him and leaning against the counter.

David turns and places his hands on Patrick’s shoulders, slides them up and around his neck, pulls him closer and kisses him soundly.

Patrick makes a surprised little sound, but his hands go straight to David’s waist and he responds eagerly to the energy he is projecting. It’s a little more heated than is really appropriate for work, but David can’t care less about that right now.

When he finally pulls back, Patrick blinks at him, his face a little pink, his honey-warm eyes enamoured, questioning. David’s eyes are welling up, and he doesn’t have much of a window there, so he takes a deep breath.

“I love you.”

It’s breathy, and a little damp, but he’s proud of it just the same; it’s not shaky or hesitant.

And Patrick lights up, and that beautiful goddamn smile takes over his face, and David feels like he could say it again and again, if he could just look at that smile.

Of course, he’s still David, so he has to look away after a second or two, but it doesn’t matter, because Patrick pulls him in for a hug so tight it’s just short of too hard. As it is, David doesn’t want him to let go.

That night, as they rock against each other, as Patrick kisses him all over, as the heat and the waves of pleasure build between them, David hears him whisper: “Tell me again?”

And David tells him.

 

*

Chapter Text

meet

verb

  1. Make the acquaintance of
  2. Fulfil or satisfy

 

“So what do you think?”

Alexis, perched on the edge of the counter in direct contravention of David’s wishes, is showing Patrick the contract she has drawn up for a potential consulting client. Her bracelets jangle as she points to the tablet’s screen.

“You’ll notice I’ve colour-coded the parts that apply to this financial year …”

She certainly has. But beneath the accoutrements, which after all don’t take away from anything, it’s a decent document she’s put together. He tells her so, and she looks pleased and boops him on the nose.

“You’re so sweet,” she says, and he can’t help smiling at her.

He likes Alexis, the way she’s immediately inserted herself in his space like they were already friends. He’s not sure if this is the way she is with everyone, or if he’s passed some kind of private test, but either way, he’s glad. He also thinks she’s smarter than the boho-socialite image she projects might indicate, so he takes her through a few things she could consider altering, others she could customise for each client. He also corrects her spelling.

She listens intently and asks a few questions, and when she finally hops off the counter she bounces on her toes a little.

“Thank you so much! That’s like, super helpful.” Turning, she calls across the room to David. “David! Isn’t Patrick sweet?”

“I’m with a customer!” he barks back at her, causing the elderly woman with him to jump. Patrick has to duck his head to hide his grin.

Alexis just rolls her eyes and picks up one of the lip balms by the register. “Anyway, Patrick, I’m really glad you and my brother are friends,” she says, blinking hard at him in a way that he thinks might have been meant to be a wink. This is only the second time he’s met her, but she keeps teasing him about that. He grins, not minding in the slightest.

“Oh me too,” he says. “You want me to ring that up for you?” He gestures at the lip balm she is currently sampling.

“No, I know,” she says, not bothered in the slightest. “I always level them off so no-one will notice.”

“Huh. All the same, I’m just going to put that through,” he says, plucking it out of her hands and scanning it before giving it back. “Family discount,” he adds with a wink.

She sends him a brilliant smile. “Aww!” she says, popping the item in her bag but making no effort to pay. He didn’t expect her to; he’ll damage it out later.

“Did she pay for that? Because we can’t keep haemorrhaging lip balms.” David has rejoined them at the register, and glares at Alexis while Patrick rings up some aloe cream for the customer he’s brought over.

“Ugh, relax David. Patrick and I have sorted it all out.”

Patrick is getting a good idea of how Alexis has managed to talk herself out of the dozen or so international incidents David has told him about.

“Have we, though?” he asks—rhetorically, it seems, because neither Rose sibling is listening.

“Can we help you with anything else?” David says in his best condescending voice.

“No, thank you,” says Alexis blithely, and Patrick sees the way David’s lip curls a little at her lack of reaction. She picks up her tablet and tries to tap David’s nose, but he veers out of the way. “Patrick, thank you so much for all your help, and David,” she waves a finger between the two of them, “try not to screw this up.”

“Your face is screwed up!” David snipes as she trips out of the store. “Ugh!”

Patrick steps up to his side, sliding his hands around David’s waist and planting a kiss on his shoulder. He feels David relax a little, and it sends a rush through him; he likes being someone who relaxes David, who helps soothe the things that cause him distress, even the little things.

“I think she likes me,” he says, because he also likes teasing David.

“Lucky you,” he says, but he’s turning to drape his arms over Patrick’s shoulders, and Patrick takes advantage of the position to kiss him.

They’ve been more publicly affectionate lately, now that they’ve admitted how they feel, and don’t seem to be able to curb it. It’s as though neither of them realised how much they were holding back before. So more than once this week they’ve had to separate quickly to serve an incoming customer, and the less said about the time they got carried away in the back room the better. Both times, in fact.

The funny thing is it feels a little like the start of a relationship, all the excitement and butterflies that get attributed to early days. Which it obviously isn’t. But Patrick’s given up wondering why and is happy to be drawn along. He still gets twinges of doubt, but they’re never about David. David is something he is sure of, so sure.

“So I was thinking,” he starts, pausing to keep kissing him.

“Mmm?” David wiggles in pleasure, and Patrick laughs against his mouth.

“How would you feel …”

David kisses a little deeper now, drawing Patrick’s lower lip between his. “Yeah?”

“… about meeting Stevie for a drink this Friday?”

He grins as David stops, thrown by this change of tack.

“Um.” He leans back a bit to look at Patrick, brows furrowed. “Really?”

“Really.” Patrick ducks around to press his lips to David’s neck; an apology of sorts for the fake-out.

David plucks at the shoulders of Patrick’s shirt, nervously, but he doesn’t move away again. Patrick spies warring expressions on his face; he’s anxious about this step, but pleased, too. He places his hands either side of David’s face, forcing him to meet his gaze.

“Is that okay?”

Pleasure appears to win out, and Patrick has the satisfaction of watching him trying to tuck away his smile.

“Mhm.” He nods, and slides his hands back around to Patrick’s shoulder blades to pull him closer. For a long moment they just kiss, swaying together slightly to the soft music that plays over the store’s speakers.

“David,” Patrick murmurs as they come up for air. David’s eyes are dark and purposeful, and Patrick feels an answering swoop in his stomach.

“Back room?” mutters David, planting his lips on Patrick’s throat. Patrick considers demurring—he’s a professional, and there are still ten minutes until the close of business, after all—

But …

“You get the lights, I’ll get the door.”

Within seconds David has him pinned up against the wall in the back, mouth on his collar bone, hands busy below his waist, and Patrick … Patrick is consumed, conquered, overcome.

And so, so sure.

 

*

“Are you sure this is a good idea? What if we start out with a group chat instead?”

Friday has arrived alarming quickly, and now that it’s here, now that they’re at the bar, David’s not sure he wouldn’t be better off sneaking out the bathroom window.

“David,” Patrick grins, resting his hands on David’s shoulders and rubbing his thumbs in soothing circles. “It’s going to be okay.” He kisses him lightly, but pulls back before David can lean into it, seeking to distract himself from the inevitable. “I’ll be right back.”

His anxiety rockets back up. “Right back? Where are you going?”

“To the bathroom,” says Patrick, pointing a thumb behind him.

“To the bathroom?” David echoes, thinking for a wild moment of Patrick climbing out the window and leaving him here. “Well. I’ll come—”

But Patrick gives him a strange look as he backs away. “David, relax.” And, yeah, he has a point.

He swings back to face the bar, tracing the condensation on his glass with a nervous finger. Soda and lime: a while ago he learned the hard lesson that getting drunk when important conversations are happening just isn’t a thing that works for him. More than the alcohol eases his inhibitions, he values knowing exactly what he did, where he was, and what he said the night before. It’s not always as much fun, but it’s worth it for the lack of trouble he’s gotten into lately.

It’s not lost on him that he’s never been concerned about meeting a partner’s friends before. Most glaringly because he’s never really had a partner before, not in any real sense of the word, let alone one who cared enough to introduce him to their best friend …

“Waiting on a hot date?”

A girl with dark hair has just sat herself down on the stool to his other side. It’s testament to how out of sorts David is that he doesn’t just send a curt nod in her direction. He doesn’t do small talk with strangers. Usually.

“No, just … meeting someone.” He chews his lip. “I mean, it’s not a big deal.”

“So that’s why your hand is freaking out?”

He looks at his hand, which is tapping a nervous rhythm on the bar. He starts twisting his rings instead. “It’s fine. It’s just I don’t have the best luck meeting new people? I once got stuck next to JayZ on a plane and he spent the whole time trying to get me to tell him which of his songs I liked best, though, so you’d think meeting my boyfriend’s best friend would feel a little less … a little less … uh …”

“Less?” she says, but David is staring at nothing.

“Sorry,” he says, and it takes him two shakes of the head to pull himself out of it. “Just haven’t … used that word yet. Which is weird, considering how much sex we’ve had.”

He takes a sip to stop himself talking. She leans forward and calls out to the bartender.

“Two Polar Bear shots.” He sneaks a look at her. She’s cute, and in another situation he can’t say he wouldn’t have been interested, but …

“Uh, that’s very flattering?” he says as the two drinks are placed in front of her. “And in another universe—” he catches her look, and thinks that hasn’t come out right. Clearing his throat, he adds. “I’m not drinking tonight. So …” She looks at him with wide but definitely not innocent eyes.

“Oh they’re both for me,” she says, and he can’t help smirking as she downs one of them. “So what’s the big deal anyway? You meet this friend, you wow them with what I’m assuming is your stellar personality—”

“Excuse me, I’ll have you know I make a … very … interesting … first impression.” Hm. He’s rethinking the decision to stay sober.

“Absolutely no argument here,” she says, downing the second shot.

He narrows his eyes at her, appraising, the corner of his lips twitching. “I think you’re kind of rude.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she says with a smile.

“Oh you should.”

Her smile gets wider. “Look,” she relents. “Don’t worry about this friend. In my experience they mostly just want to know that you’re treating their friend right.”

“Right,” he says, taking a big swallow of soda and lime. She was probably right. And he thinks … he is pretty sure that he is treating Patrick well. He’s certainly trying to. Wants to. He wonders what other tips she has. “Out of interest—”

But her gaze as fallen on someone behind him, and she grins. “Patrick!”

He frowns at her in alarm. “Patrick?” Spinning around he finds Patrick sliding up next to him at the bar.

“I see you already met Stevie.”

Stevie!”

Whirls back to see the girl grinning.

“I was just getting to you know your boyfriend,” she says, ignoring David’s wide-eyed death-stare.

“Boyfriend?” Patrick repeats, and David spins around again. He’s got to stop this, he’s going to get whiplash. But Patrick is smiling at him with gentle amusement, and his hand is warm on his back, so David’s denial sticks in his throat. Especially when Patrick kisses him lightly and, under his breath so only David can hear, murmurs, “I like the sound of that.” He gestures at the bartender while David’s cheeks flush.

But Stevie’s not done. “Yeah, he’s been telling me how much sex you’ve had.”

“Okay, she is taking that out of context—”

“Did he tell you about the time we were asked to leave PG Clucks?” asks Patrick, picking up the beer he’s been handed with a grin. David can’t help returning it, especially after Stevie rears back in discomfort.

“It was Mother’s Dumplings, and you know it,” he says, because if he’s going along with this hypothetical he’s going to make it a bit more on-brand (he loves PG Clucks, but he doesn’t need everyone to know it). He smiles wide and bumps noses with Patrick for good measure.

“Ugh,” says Stevie, and when he turns back to face her David throws her a triumphant look. She looks surprised at first, and for a second David freezes—he’s supposed to be winning her over, after all, not scoring cheap points and being obnoxious—but then she laughs and raises an eyebrow at Patrick.

“Your boyfriend makes an interesting first impression.”

“He does, doesn’t he,” says Patrick, sliding an arm under David’s and resting it on his chest, leaning his chin on his shoulder; somehow, he’s made David feel teased and secure all at once. “Ask him about the correct way to wash cashmere.”

He rolls his eyes. “Okay, first of all, I won’t be mocked about fashion by someone who owns a baseball jersey.”

Stevie snorts. “Ha!”

“And second of all, I happen to be a lively conversationalist.”

“Tell that to JayZ,” says Stevie with wide eyes. David glares, but for some reason finds it difficult to maintain. “I’m going to get us a booth,” she announces, hops off the barstool and disappears.

David spins around to face Patrick. “Well this is a disaster,” he exclaims, only partly joking, hands flying out in tense illustration.

But Patrick just laughs softly and catches his hands, lacing his fingers in David’s. “David, it’s fine.”

“Yeah, well, you need to be faster in the bathroom from now on.”

Patrick’s eyes dance with laughter. “Sorry, you want me to be faster—”

In the bathroom,” he all but snarls out before Patrick can look even more amused. He doesn’t stop smiling, but he leans in and kisses David, and lingers there, and … it calms him.

“It’s fine,” Patrick repeats when he leans back, keeping his voice low, just between them. “She likes you.”

“That’s what people say about their illegal pet leopards, and before you know it they’ve ruined your limited-edition Rick Owens.” Before Patrick can formulate an answer, a loud whistle shrieks out across the bar.

“Guess Stevie’s found us a booth.”

To David’s relief, the rest of the night goes well. Since he’s already sort-of insulted Stevie several times without, apparently, fucking anything up, he is able to relax a little. He’s also able to watch Patrick and Stevie together. They have a very similar sense of goofy humour, and a comfortable kind of rhythm together, but David can see the fondness running beneath their teasing. He should feel more jealous, maybe, of the bond between them, but Patrick’s hand stays in contact with him throughout—rubbing his back, squeezing his thigh, playing with his fingers on the table—and it grounds him.

And he likes Stevie. Likes her self-assuredness, her wit, her sarcasm. Or that’s what he’s thinking when Patrick goes to order another round, right before he finds himself facing down an abruptly humourless stare.

“He gets pretty good service, so we’ve got about three minutes for me to give you the speech.”

“Um—”

She shakes her head. “I’m not good at this, so I’m going to need you to shut up for a second.” David is happy to. He closes his mouth dutifully as she takes a breath. “So you know what he’s been through. And whatever he’s told you about how bad it got, well, multiply that by three.”

David feels a cold lump form in the pit of his stomach at the thought, and it must show on his face, because Stevie softens a little.

“He’s okay. It just … it was hard for him. And the very fact that he’s chosen you speaks volumes, so … I’m predisposed to at least try to like you.”

It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

“Patrick likes you,” she continues, looking at him appraisingly, “so I’m going to need you to hear me when I say that he is hands-down the best person I know, and if you hurt him … well, you should know that I will never forget it.”

He wants to make a joke, but even though there’s no specificity to her threat, right now she’s actually pretty frightening. Also she hasn’t said he can speak yet. He nods.

She examines him for a beat longer, hesitating. “I guess, in the spirit of honesty, I should also tell you that he’s been happier these past few months than I’ve seen him in a long time. And I think that’s mostly because of you. So. Thanks for that.”

Well, fuck.

Stevie downs the last of her drink, like she’s just as glad they’ve got that over with. He swallows.

“I—”

“Soda and lime, dirty martini, beer.” Patrick is back, depositing their drinks. He takes his seat next to David and immediately slides one arm around the small of his back, and even this small gesture makes breathing easier, is enough to draw some of the tension from his shoulders. “What’s going on?” Patrick is glancing between them.

David straightens up. “Stevie says you get great service here because all the bartenders love to watch your ass as you walk away.”

Patrick splutters a little, and Stevie grins at David before raising an eyebrow at Patrick.

“He’s not wrong.”

 

*

There’s a warmth buzzing through Patrick as they settle up and get ready to leave, some hours later. He hadn’t really been worried—his natural optimism not as dormant as one might have thought—but it’s useless to pretend he wasn’t nervous. However, as soon as he’d seen David and Stevie sparring together, he’d felt his muscles loosen up and, with a hint of giddiness, had relaxed into enjoying the night.

When he’d asked Stevie to come, she’d gotten a glint in her eye, and in alarm he’d made her promise to behave herself. Neither of them had believed her, and he’ll lay bets on her having given David a tough-guy speech at some point when he wasn’t looking, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because far from just knowing they’d be civil in the same room, he can see the three of them cheerfully hanging out in the future.

This fledgling vision is strengthened as they say their goodbyes. Before he can follow David out the door and onto the street, Stevie grabs his arm.

“Hey,” she says, and before he can answer she’s pulled him into a hug. Surprised, he goes willingly, but when they part her eyes look suspiciously shiny. She waves a hand at his concerned expression, and says quietly, so only he can hear: “I like this for you.”

And he can’t help himself—he hugs her again, filled with gratitude for her blessing, for her friendship, for everything she has done and been for him. He lets himself feel it, all the gratitude and fondness and love for her. Before he pulls away, he whispers, “So do I.”

 

*

They’ve been spending a lot of nights at each other’s apartments. Not every night, but a lot of them. And yes, David has been counting, because it’s rare and astonishing enough of a trend to make note of. Some nights they don’t even have sex. Okay, it’s only been twice, but the point is David isn’t anxious about it. Every time he feels the tendrils of anxiety start to inch their way around him, all he has to do is think about dialling things back to know that he doesn’t want to do anything of the sort. Even on the nights they’re not together, Patrick is still the last person he wants to talk to before going to sleep, and sometimes he’ll text him goodnight.

Alexis thinks it’s super cute. David thinks he might be a bit disgusted in himself if he weren’t enjoying it so much.

Tonight is a random Thursday night, it’s raining, and they’re settled cosily on David’s couch. He’s rewatching an episode of Planet Earth II with his head in Patrick’s lap, while the latter makes notes on some sales printouts from the store. They’d brought takeout home, but somewhere between the egg rolls and the chow mein David had been unable to resist crawling onto Patrick’s lap, and a wine glass had been overturned. It was only a sweet white, left over from the store, but Patrick had insisted they get David out of his clothes before they stained, and then they’d agreed that they might as well wash themselves while they were at it, and then Patrick had pinned David against the shower wall and … well.

David wriggles a little under the black-and-white throw he’s commandeered, smiling to himself. He feels relaxed and loose, contentment radiating off him in waves.

“So,” says Patrick thoughtfully, as he runs slow fingers through David’s hair. “Christmas is coming up.”

Because Patrick can’t really see him from this angle, David lets his lips twist into a pout. They’re each going to their respective parental homes on Saturday morning, back in Toronto on Monday night. And while he’s actually looking forward to the time with his family, he also knows that it means a long weekend away from Patrick. Even he is a little embarrassed by the fact that this makes him reluctant to go at all.

“Mm,” he says noncommittally.

“I’ve been thinking about us taking a couple of extra days.”

All David can manage is a too-late, too-high-pitched “Oh.”

“I think the store can survive it, and uh, I’ve okayed it with my parents.”

Well thank god for that, thinks David, the bitter, snarky thought escaping while he pushes back at the ones that tell him Patrick is pulling away. They don’t put up as much of a fight these days.

“Okay, um …”

“Yeah, so … do you think might be able to change your flight back?”

David contemplates being stuck with his parents for an extra two days. “That’s okay, we all just saw each other when my parents came to visit,” he says, thinking with a grimace of the gleam in his mother’s eyes when she’d met Patrick—it had been too hard to avoid, given that they’d wanted to see the store. And while it hadn’t exactly been a disaster, he could certainly go another few years without sitting down to a dinner where Johnny Rose tried and utterly, utterly failed to walk back a comment about boning a fish. Still. “I think I’ll just come back here when Alexis does, that way at least the store will be open, but you should take a day or two with your parents, you’ve been—”

“No, David—” Patrick huffs a little laugh and rubs a hand up and over David’s chest, coming to rest over his heart. “I’m not doing this right. I wanted to ask, how would you feel about flying back into Thunder Bay instead, and spending a couple of days with … me and my parents?”

The smile is almost immediate, as is the effort to get it back under wraps. It’s with kind of a half-success that he twists to face him.

“Really?”

“I know it’s a lot to ask, you don’t have to—”

“No, I …” he sits up, keen not to have this walked back. “I think I could do that.”

Patrick’s eyes light up, like David’s done something incredible. “Yeah?” When he nods, Patrick surges forward and kisses him. “It won’t be a big thing, I promise, I’ll be there the whole time—” This time David kisses him to stop him overthinking it, and it works. When they part he’s calmer, looking up at him all warm and bashful. “I just want them to know you.”

David has to bite his lips together for a moment, and even after that all he can manage is “Well …”

Thankfully, Patrick lets him off any further hooks, and eventually David ends up wriggling back down onto the couch, this time with his fingers twined in Patrick’s. He’s not so far removed from his old self that he doesn’t see himself stressing over this in the future, but for now at least he’s glad he’s made Patrick happy. He’s starting to suspect that he’ll do anything to make Patrick happy.

 

*

Patrick is fairly sure he hasn’t stopped grinning since he got up this morning.

Boxing days in the Brewer household are usually fairly laid back affairs. They eschew any attempt to join in the sales rush in favour of a nearby hike, weather permitting (though Patrick can’t remember a year they haven’t ventured out for to at least trudge around the neighbourhood), and watching the WJC game that night.

This year, though, he bounces through the morning hike before thoroughly annoying his mom by “helping” to get the house ready for a guest. He’s dispatched to the local store for milk and bread, and other things he suspects were invented to get him out of the house, and leaves earlier than necessary to fill up the car on the way to the airport.

He knows he’s overdoing it, knows he’s been talking too much about David to his parents already, in what must, frankly, be quite a confusing array of anecdotes, but he just can’t help it. He oscillates between conviction and nervous anxiety, but through it all the one constant running beneath it all, beating a steady pulse, is that he really just wants David here, with him.

He focuses on that steady pulse all the way to the airport, all the way to the gate, and when he finally sees him step through the doors it’s practically a drumroll that ends when he gets his hands around him.

“Happy Christmas,” he says, and kisses him soundly.

 

*

The flight is a nervous one for David, and no doubt for the person sitting next to him. The way he shreds his napkin can’t be comforting. It’s not until he sees Patrick waiting for him at the gate that the weight temporarily lifts, not until he kisses him hello that he stops overthinking.

The calm doesn’t last, of course; even the way Patrick keeps grinning over at him, one hand on the wheel of the car, one hand locked in David’s, can’t distract him completely from the situation he’s walking into. And when the car pulls up in the driveway of a well-kept two-storey house that to David’s eye might as well be straight out of Well-Adjusted Families Monthly—love seat on the veranda, shutters on the windows, wreath on the door—he feels his nerves return in full, with reinforcements.

“Hey.”

He turns, almost surprised to see Patrick sitting there. He’s raising his eyebrows and he glances down, and David follows his gaze to see that he is squeezing Patrick’s hand so hard it’s white. He makes himself relax.

“It’s going to be okay,” says Patrick, but it’s far too late for David to stop his anxiety from bubbling over.

“Okay, but what if they think I’m rude? What if they’ve Googled me? What if—” he hiccups, words tumbling over themselves as they spill out, “What if they don’t think I’m as good for you as Ben? What if—”

David.” Patrick catches one of his gesturing hands, and with a low grumble David grinds to a halt. “It’ll be okay,” says Patrick, and lifts their intwined hands to softly kiss David’s knuckles. David nods, a little erratically, trying to breathe deeply. Patrick keeps dropping kisses on each of his silver rings as he continues. “They won’t think you’re rude. They barely know how to use email. And they won’t think you’re not good enough.”

It helps, this combination of Patrick’s soothing and his gentle, methodical kisses.

“Hey,” he says again, and David looks at him; Patrick’s eyes are warm, his smile soft. “I love you.”

Like magic, David feels himself relax—how can he panic with those eyes looking at him like that? He squeezes Patrick’s hand back, dips his head forward to briefly touch foreheads. “I love you,” he whispers. For a few seconds, Patrick lets him stay there.

“Come on,” he says then, unbuckling his seatbelt. “Mom’s probably watching from behind the curtains.”

David takes one last fortifying breath, and opens the car door. And Patrick must have been on the money, because no sooner are they out of the car than the front door flies open and a woman with Patrick’s earnest face is hurrying towards them, followed at a more sedate pace by a man wearing one of Patrick’s smiles. David has just enough time to catch his boyfriend’s mischievous grin before his mother has engulfed him in a hug that’s quite strong for such a small woman. David, unused to hugging at the best of times, has no chance to be awkward, though; somehow, Marcy Brewer has the ability to bypass any of that, and he finds himself leaning into her embrace with surprising ease.

“David, honey, we’re so glad to have you here at last!”

And he’s not sure if it’s Patrick’s “I love you” echoing in his ears, or the sheer goodwill that his mother radiates, but his shoulders finally relax.

So far, so good.

 

*

Patrick knew his parents would receive David with open arms, but even he is touched by how warmly his mom and dad have welcomed him into their home. He’s kept close, making sure to be there with a comforting touch whenever David looked overwhelmed, filling any gaps in the conversation and letting him open up at his own pace. And now, fresh off a triumphant Canadian WJC win over Russia—and he only sort of wishes he had been in Toronto to see it live—sitting on the living room couch with a view through to the kitchen, where his mom and David are at the sink washing up and chatting away, Patrick feels aglow with love for everyone under that roof.

“This is a good look on you, kid,” his dad says, sitting down in the chair opposite him. Clint Brewer is as easy around people as anyone Patrick has ever known, but he’s also watchful; right now he’s looking at Patrick’s grinning face with a warm smile.

Patrick chuckles, thinking about the happiness that must be colouring his whole face right now, unable and unwilling to hide it. “Yeah, it’s wearing well.”

A laugh from the kitchen draws Patrick’s eyes back there, softening to see David so relaxed.

“He’s quite a guy,” says his father, quiet enough so that it won’t carry.

Patrick just looks, watches his mom hand a plate over to David, watches her squeeze his arm briefly before returning to task. “He certainly is.” Turning back to face his father, Patrick raises his eyebrows a little expectantly. A lifetime of familiarity means his dad knows exactly what he’s asking.

“I like him,” says Clint, grinning. “I like him a lot.”

With a mirroring grin, Patrick says, “Me too.” He lines up his next words, scrutinising them; there’s still a vague sense of residual guilt, but now it’s all too easy to recognise that feeling and let it go, focus instead on the truth, on what he knows to be true with his whole heart. “I, uh …” he begins, with a breathy laugh, ducking his head. “I love him, Dad.”

He looks up, a little bashfully, but his dad’s expression is not one he ever wants to miss. Ever since Patrick can remember, his parents have been there with their understanding, their unconditional love. But this is, somehow, even more. Eyes shining with unchecked emotion, he looks like he’s battling tears, along with a smile that threatens to split his face in two. A thousand loving words go unsaid, and instead he claps his hand on Patrick’s shoulder distils it to a salient few.

“I’m so happy for you, son.”

Patrick, feeling teary himself, says, “Me too, Dad.”

“… need all the beauty sleep I can get.”

Rising with a ready grin to greet David as he and his mom enter the living room, he moves immediately to his side, slides one arm around his waist and kisses his cheek.

“You look pretty good to me,” he says, enjoying the faint blush that decorates his boyfriend’s cheekbones.

“Well if you want me to keep looking this good, I’m going to need at least eight hours,” David retorts, and Clint laughs. “Thank you both so much for a lovely dinner,” he says, turning to Patrick’s parents. “I don’t even regret my third helping.”

Clint beams. “Marcy’s apple crumble is famous around here,” he says, and Marcy squeezes David’s arm with a wink.

“You boys get up to bed, I’m sure David’s already exhausted from having to sit through the hockey.”

David demurs that it was “interesting”. It’s unconvincing, since he was on his phone almost the whole game. But he had also seemed more than happy to lay back between Patrick’s legs on the couch, uncomplaining when his human headrest would shout and raise a fist in triumph. And having him there, seeing him so relaxed in the place Patrick had once called home, was more than enough to dispel any and all desire Patrick may have had to be watching in the Air Canada Centre instead.

Now, he releases his hold on David’s waist and squeezes his hand. “You go on up, I’ll be there in a bit.”

With a flurry of goodnights, David heads up the stairs. Patrick has barely turned back to his parents before his mom envelops him in a hug. Drawing back, she looks at him with shining eyes. “Patrick … sweetheart, he’s wonderful.”

It’s not relief that washes through him, it’s joy.

“And he loves you so much!”

Blinking, Patrick rubs at the warmth spreading up the back of his neck. “What, uh … what did he say?”

She waves a hand at him. “Oh, it’s as plain as anything, you only have to look at you two in the same room.” She beams up at him for a moment, before pulling him into another hug. Patrick feels his dad’s hand on his shoulder too, and for a moment the three of them stay, suspended in this bubble of happiness, made more precious and not diminished by remembered pain.

 

*

David comes back to the bedroom to find a sleepy, rumpled Patrick, propped up on the pillows, waiting for him, and it may be the best thing he’s seen all day.

“Feeling better after a shower?”

David takes a moment to take in the slow, lopsided smile, the way his soft white tee stretches across his chest, the way the sleeves ride up, exposing the muscles of his upper arms.

“Much better now,” says David, with fond suggestiveness, swaying his hips a little and grinning when he sees Patrick’s eyes drop to follow the movement. He climbs under the covers, lets Patrick wrap around him as they settle facing each other, marvels at how easy it is, now, to let himself be so relaxed, so unmasked.

“So tomorrow my parents are planning to visit a bunch of friends,” Patrick says, while David runs his hands methodically across his chest. “We should have most of the day, if you want to go out, or just have a bit of time to yourself, or …”

“Or?” David smirks. He kind of loves that he can still elicit that blush from Patrick. Kind of loves that Patrick’s willing to give him space, even if he doesn’t want it.

“I had some ideas,” says Patrick with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.

“Oh yes?” But Patrick is already pressing his mouth to David’s neck, pushing him gently onto his back, and marking a course down his chest, and David surrenders more than willingly, letting his head drop back, his hand card through Patrick’s hair as he takes David’s cock in his mouth and proceeds to coax him gently, resolutely, deliciously to a devastating orgasm.

When Patrick eventually crawls back up the bed, David drops his hand from where it had been muffling his cries and returns it to its place on Patrick’s chest.

“I can’t believe you did that with your parents in the house,” he huffs.

Patrick just smirks. “Couldn’t help it.”

David is feeling more than a little drained, but he pushes weakly on Patrick’s shoulder. “Need me to return the favour?”

“Nah,” says his troll of a boyfriend, tightening his grip on his waist. “Too tired. Besides, obligation blowjobs aren’t really my thing.” And David is too sleepy to hold back his laugh.

“Thank god,” he says, and nuzzles closer.

Patrick kisses him softly on the forehead, and David tips his face up to meet his mouth. A long, languid moment later, Patrick whispers into the quiet, “Thank you for coming here.”

David smiles; as if there is anything that Patrick could ask for that he would refuse. “Thanks for inviting me. I kind of love your parents.”

He watches Patrick’s eyes crease with fondness. “They love you too,” he says, and heat blooms in David’s cheeks. Patrick brushes his fingers down David’s arm, soothing, catches his hand and brings it up to his mouth to kiss his wrist, his palm.

“You make me so happy, David.”

A surfeit of expressions swell and swirl; he’s not sure he’s ever been the reason for somebody’s happiness before. He’s also never felt quite so safe, so loved, and if Patrick weren’t here holding him he might not be able to withstand it. As it is Patrick reaches up and gently swipes his thumb over a tear that’s escaped without David’s knowledge.

“You make me happy too,” he whispers, so softly, just for Patrick.

 

*

Over New Year’s and into January is a busy time, and although it soon tapers off as people huddle inside out of the winter, the store has done well enough that it sees them through. So much that they’re expanding their vendor list, and that’s where David is on this cold and bright February day, sampling product and wooing clients while Patrick closes up. It’s a short day, and he’s glad to be going home while it’s still daylight for a change.

When he reaches the doorstep to his building he finds Stevie waiting outside. Patrick welcomes her with a grin.

“You know loitering is illegal.”

“I thought if I brought down the tone of your neighbourhood you’d get a break on rent,” she says, cuffing him on the shoulder as she follows him inside.

It’s movie night, where he, David, and Stevie get together and watch whatever the designated selector has chosen without recourse, if not without complaint. Tonight is Stevie’s choice, which means a B-grade horror flick, and David criticising her taste in between jumping and clutching at Patrick at regular intervals.

Patrick loves movie nights. David and Stevie seemed to recognise a camaraderie in each other almost instantly, and have quickly settled into a friendship based on sarcasm, brutal honesty, and the occasional moment of reluctant sincerity. They fit together well, the three of them, teasing indiscriminately and fairly evenly across the board, so nights like these are fun and easy and comfortable.

Patrick pulls a bottle of Rose Apothecary red out of his satchel and places it on the table, emptying his pockets of phone and keys and scraps of paper while he’s at it, and Stevie follows up with a bottle of her own and some take-out; the person picking the movie is also in charge of dinner.

“What are you subjecting us to tonight?” Patrick asks over his shoulder as he walks back to the door, hanging their coats and dropping his satchel under the coathooks.

“Are you ready for this, Brewer?” She holds up a USB drive, eyes alight with mischief. “I present … Zombeavers!”

She outlines the plot (such as it is), and Patrick shakes his head, laughing. “I’m beginning to think you’re just looking for things that will provoke certain people.”

She shrugs. “Well certain people have put an embargo on any more Godzilla movies, so this is what he’s left with.”

“I warned you not to pick the one with Mothra.”

“Yeah, that was a mistake,” says Stevie, though she’s grinning ear to ear. Patrick shakes his head and walks off towards the bedroom alcove to fetch some sweats. As he lifts them off the shelves, his eye catches on the cubby that holds some of David’s clothes—a couple of sweaters, some jeans, underwear, pyjama pants and a black t-shirt that has the word “lover” printed above the pocket. They’ve been leaving some stuff at each other’s places lately, and every time he sees something belonging to David on his shelves, in his bathroom, on his couch, Patrick finds himself grinning. He likes seeing the physical evidence of their lives entwining, likes that David feels at home here.

It’s a feeling he definitely wants to spend some time unpacking, but David should be here in the next half hour, and he has dessert to make.

 

*

David is going to be late.

It’s not really his fault—right as he was getting ready to leave, Ivan mentioned that he had an old piano he was tuning up, and did David know anyone who might be interested in taking it off his hands? In fact, David was very interested; Patrick has mentioned recently that he used to play, and it looked compact enough to fit … well, somewhere. He’s not entirely sure where, but the image of Patrick seated at the keys appears very easily on his future vision board, so he asked some questions and promised to be in touch.

Anyway, that set him behind for the pick-up at Heather’s, so when he pulls to the end of her driveway he’s already calculating how long it will take him to get to Patrick’s in time for movie night and coming up short. He idles there for a moment, pulling out his phone to send a quick text.

There’s a weird shadow advancing across the dashboard, though, and it takes him a moment to figure out what it is. When he finally sees the car skidding off the road towards him, he has just one thought:

Patrick is going to be so pissed.

 

*

Chapter Text

shock

noun

  1. A sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience.
  2. An acute medical condition marked by cold, pallid skin, irregular breathing, rapid pulse, and dilated pupils.

 

The blackberry pie is his mom’s recipe, though he’s added some apple as well. Patrick is pretty sure he can’t screw it up too badly, so long as he doesn’t let it burn.

For now, he’s enjoying pressing Stevie for details on the guy she went home with on their last bar visit.

“I can’t believe you stayed for breakfast! You’re getting soft.”

“Yes! This is what I’m saying!” She points an accusing finger at Patrick. “I blame you and your boyfriend.”

“What are you talking about? We were nothing but supportive—”

“Yeah, literally cheering from the bar as we walked out was not the aphrodisiac you might have thought it was.”

Patrick grins. It had been a good night. He and David had got giggly on beer and polar bear shots, and ended up making out messily in the taxi home. “Doesn’t seem to have slowed anything down.”

“No, you and your healthy relationship are interfering with my plans to hook up.”

He can’t help the fondness in his voice. “Aw, Stevie, are you saying you want a relationship with bar guy?”

She wrinkles up her nose. “God no. He had a lava lamp.”

“Ooh,” he winces. “That’s unfortunate.” He makes a note to tell David. He wants to see that expression.

“Speaking of home interiors,” she says, leaning into the segue without embarrassment, “what’s with the fancy mirror in your bathroom?”

“That’s David’s. I did ask, but I got a little lost in the explanation. It lights up.” He takes a swig of his beer, but is distracted by the look on her face. She’s smiling, like she’s found something to tease him for.

“Look at you.”

Patrick raises a sceptical eyebrow. “Yes?”

“So domestic.” She winks, dramatically.

He rolls his eyes. “Something in your eye?”

“No, no, just wondering if there’s anything you want to tell me.”

“I’m not pregnant, Stevie.”

It’s her turn to roll her eyes. “I’m trying to be sincere here,” she says with exasperation.

“Oh, sincere!” he repeats, hitting his forehead with the heel of his hand. “My mistake, I figured from that wink that you were asking me if we’ve frenched yet.”

“Forget it,” she grumbles, throwing up her hands.

“We totally have, you know,” he grins. “Like, more than once.”

She looks like she wants to be more annoyed with him, but she can’t seem to hide a smile. “Such a dork,” she mumbles, shaking her head.

He watches, feeling his smirk grow into something more fond. “I know. You’re checking in.”

She quirks her eyebrows: well?

“It’s good,” he says, and when she rolls her eyes, adds, “okay, great. We’re happy. I’m … happy.”

He wonders if she’s thinking about how easily those words come these days.

“You look it,” she says with a crooked grin. And maybe it’s weird, but he feels really good to be able to give her that, to not be a source for concern anymore.

The timer goes off on the oven, and Patrick gets to his feet. “Maybe this weekend we’ll get to third base!” he gasps with mock-excitement. She launches a throw pillow at him and he dodges it. “Hey! You’re going to lose pie privileges.”

As he busies himself in taking the pie out of the oven his phone rings from the table where he’s left it.

“Get that, would you?” he calls, hands full and navigating an unsteady hold on the hot pie tin. Should’ve gotten an oven glove instead of a tea towel …

Behind him, he hears Stevie answer his phone.

“Patrick Brewer’s office, Stephanie speaking.”

He rolls his eyes as he nudges a loaf of bread off a chopping board to make way for the tin in his hands. Once he’s managed not to burn himself or anything else, he reaches for a butter knife to poke into the middle and test the pie’s temperature. Satisfied, he turns the oven off and places the pie back inside to keep warm.

“This one’d gonna be good, I know it,” he sings as he turns and does a little shimmy as he swaggers back to the living room.

It’s weird how you can get a sixth sense about things.

Even before he sees her expression, he knows something is off; she looks like she’s kind of frozen in place, awkwardly posed. His smile starts to fade, and when she looks at him it’s like all the sound has dropped out of the world. His skin prickles. His brow beads. His stomach lurches. Because he knows that look. He’s seen that look before.

No.

No, no, no.

“Stevie.” His voice is small, so small and far away.

Stevie eyes are wide, terrified. She opens her mouth, and suddenly Patrick knows, he knows, and the force with which the panic hits is like a punch to the gut. Winded, he thinks his legs are about to give way, that he will sink to the floor if not for the fact that he’s going to—

“I’m—” It’s all he manages to croak before he flees to the bathroom, sliding onto his knees and hurling the contents of his stomach into the toilet. He retches and retches, half-glad that he can’t stop, thinking wildly that it might keep Stevie from telling him—

“It’s David.”

 

*

It doesn’t hurt. Not at first.

No, at first it feels like he is smothered underneath something heavy, like the time he had tried to help Alexis flip her mattress. Irritated, he pushes against whatever it is holding him down. And gradually, like someone turning a dial, the sound comes back into the world, only it’s full of alarms and sirens and rough voices.

And then it hurts.

 

*

Patrick has no idea how Stevie gets him in the car—can remember exactly none of it. One minute he’s hunched over the toilet with the worst news he can imagine ringing in his ears, and the next he is in Stevie’s passenger seat as she straps him in. Straps him in, like a child, like someone who has gone catatonic. He forces himself to be present.

Oh god, he doesn’t want to be present for this.

“… me to call for you?”

He realises Stevie is speaking to him and he blinks. She’s glancing at him while she manoeuvres the car around. She’s pale, he thinks, distantly. Paler than usual. He wonders what he looks like. Worse, if her expression is anything to go by.

“Patrick?”

He swallows. “I don’t … I don’t know.” He looks down to see he’s holding his phone in his lap. Feeling dazed, he turns it on, and automatically scrolls his contacts for his parents’ number. Still numb, he holds it up to his ear.

“Hi sweetie!”

The present rushes in.

Suddenly that gut-punch feeling is back, along with fear, so much fear. Something crumbles.

“Mom?”

He hears his voice, broken and already wavering. His cheeks are wet.

“Patrick? What’s wrong?”

This can’t be happening. It’ can’t.

But he of all people knows that of course it can. It’s happened before.

“I …” Another wave of fear hits, and he wrenches himself back, but it feels wrong, so very wrong. “It’s David. He’s … been in an accident.”

God, he could laugh at the ridiculousness, at the déjà vu of it all. If only it were remotely funny, instead of the thing that’s sucked all the air out of his lungs, all the feeling out of his hands and feet. His chest hurts.

He hears a gasp on the other end of the phone. He feels his face crumple.

Then, his mother’s voice, full of pain and understanding and grief and love. “Oh sweetheart—”

And he begins to sob.

 

*

“Mr Rose, you need to—”

“No, you need to listen.”

Finally, the nurse stops and blinks at him, surprised and more than a little annoyed. She lifts the needle away from his arm and raises her eyebrows.

“I really need to not die, okay?”

“Mr Rose, we—"

He shakes his head. “No, no, it’s not for me. My—my boyfriend. His fiancé died in a car accident five years ago. He died, and Patrick … he’s come so far, and he’s so strong, but he won’t get through it again. He just won’t. Like, not completely. And he’s so nice. Nicer than me. I promise, he’s just …” He swallows hard. “So. You need to promise me that you won’t let me die.”

She looks at him for a moment, and David searches her face, needing her to understand. He sees weariness in her eyes, and pity—oh god, maybe he really is dying—and … hang on …

Is she laughing at him?

“Mr Rose,” she says slowly, not wholly unlike the way Patrick does when he’s talking David off a ledge. “As I said, you’ve got a pretty deep cut on this arm, and we’re going to sedate you while we suture it up. Otherwise we’re looking at a bad bump to the head, a broken rib, and some decent cuts and bruises.” Then she smirks—smirks at him— “We’ll monitor you tonight for concussion and internal bleeding, and you won’t feel great for a little while, but you can tell your boyfriend not to worry; chances are you’re going to make it through.”

And oh, the relief. Partly for himself—because no, he really doesn’t want to die—but mostly for Patrick, who will no longer have to suffer through being haunted by David for eternity, because he sure as hell wasn’t about to not see him anymore just because he was dead

Also, mortification.

But mostly the relief.

“Now count back from a hundred.” The nurse’s no-nonsense tone is back in force as she replaces his mask. To spite her, he doesn’t count, but instead enters sedation drowsily reciting his mantra: It’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.

 

*

Patrick manages to retain some of what Stevie has told him. Heather had called him from the accident site at the end of her driveway, having seen David off in an ambulance. He was groggy and bleeding and out of it but she had no more information on his status. They were taking him to the nearest hospital, something local, the name of which he didn’t catch.

After a disastrous few minutes of trying to talk coherently to his mother—he’d ended up gulping out a promise to call back when he knew more—Patrick tries to summon the courage to call Alexis when Stevie points out that the hospital will have done that already. Also his hands are shaking too violently to use his phone.

He doesn’t start crying again. Can’t afford to. Suddenly it’s imperative to get to wherever David is, to see him again, and he can’t collapse until that happens, because if he does, if he lets go of control for even an instant, he’s done for.

Stevie gets him to recite musical theory for the rest of the trip, and though he could do this in his sleep, and Stevie wouldn’t know the difference anyway, it keeps a thread of distraction running through the nightmarish hour (closer to forty minutes with Stevie driving) it takes to reach the hospital. When they pull to a stop in the parking lot, though, that thread snaps.

He looks down at his hands; they’re trembling, and he feels scared, so scared. “Stevie …” It’s that small, faraway voice again. It’s not fair to expect her to know what he should do next, but he so fucking frightened …

Stevie grabs his hand and squeezes it. He squeezes back, hard, and breathes in and out. His phone rings, making him jump; it’s his father.

“Are you at the hospital?”

He and Stevie exchange a tense glance and start unbuckling. “Just got here, we’re headed in now.”

“Stevie’s with you?”

Patrick follows her blindly through the parking lot. “Yeah, she’s here.”

“Good. Just say the word and we’ll be there as soon as we can.”

“Yeah.” As they get closer, he feels his heartrate picking up; he desperately wants to know that David is okay, that he’s safe, but right now it feels like it could go either way, and he’s afraid of what he’ll find out once he walks through those doors. He wants badly for his mom and dad to be there with him. “Dad?” he gulps.

“Yes son?” Clint Brewer’s voice is steady, strong. He has never been anything but a support, and Patrick leans into it heavily now. His steps falter, slow to a stop.

“What if … what do I do if …” His voice is breaking. Broken.

What do I do if I lose him?

“It’ll be all right, Patrick. Take a deep breath.” He does. “Remember what your therapist says: thinking of what might happen won’t help you just now, so one foot in front of the other.” Patrick nods, as if his dad can see. “Be strong just a little longer. David needs you to hold it together just a little longer.”

He draws that thought in through his lungs, uses it to bolster his spine, to stop his wheels from spinning, to lift his head. Stevie has stopped and is looking back at him, worried. He sets his jaw and nods at her.

“Okay. Thanks, Dad. I’ll call you when we know something.”

He can fall apart later. He can wait.

He catches up with Stevie, and they walk through the doors and up to the reception desk.

“We’re here for David Rose,” he tells the woman at the console, as steadily as he can manage. “He was brought in about an hour ago.”

Fingers clack on computer keys, clocks tick, ages pass.

“Yes, he is being treated here.” The receptionist looks up, and her gaze drifts from Stevie to Patrick, where it lingers.

“Are you Patrick, by any chance?”

Patrick’s stomach lurches. “Patrick Brewer, yes. David’s my boyfriend.” The words jumble a bit in his mouth, as if he hasn’t quite mastered speech.

She smiles at him gently, and when she speaks her voice sounds a little muffled, as though he’s hearing it through a pane of glass: “He’s told us to look out for you.”

Stevie grabs his hand, and she is smiling too, but he’s still catching up.

“He’s … talking?”

“Oh, he’s talking,” she says with an odd quirk of her eyebrows, but her professional demeanour is back in an instant. “He’s awake and stable. I’ll notify his doctor to come and find you. Just take a seat over there.”

He’s awake.

Stevie is thanking the woman behind the desk, but Patrick is not able for anything other than that small, vital thought: David is awake.

He feels dizzy, but when he blinks he’s sitting on a hard hospital chair, and Stevie is grasping his hand and saying his name.

“Hey, are you still with me, or should I get you a doctor?”

“I’m okay,” he manages at last; the feeling is returning to his limbs, his brain is coming back online, and suddenly everything that has been blurry around the edges is sharp and clear again. “He’s awake,” he says out loud, just to hear it.

Stevie has tears in her eyes, and he grabs her and pulls her to him. She laughs, wetly, and hugs him back tightly. His hands are shaking a little with relief, and he gives a strangled sort of laugh.

“I know I should wait until we find out more details, but—”

“It’s okay,” says Stevie, “I think we can take this as a win.”

He finds himself agreeing with her; he’s too grateful to temper his relief right now. “I should call my parents. I should call Alexis.”

“I’ll take your parents,” says Stevie quickly, and that makes him laugh again, because he knows she’s a little terrified of Alexis.

He takes a moment to lean back in his chair, feels Stevie slump against his shoulder. He wipes at his face with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, and a swell of love rushes through him—for everyone, really: David, his parents, Heather, the hospital staff, Alexis, Mr and Mrs Rose … and Stevie. Lots of love for Stevie right now. He bumps his shoulder against hers and brings out his phone.

“I’ll flip you for it.”

 

*

The drugs had been fun, but they’re wearing off enough for David to feel less sluggish, and a little antsy. He’s missing his phone, but can’t figure out how to call someone to get it back. There’s a button beside his bed, but he doesn’t know what it does, and he doesn’t want to accidentally call a code blue on himself. There’s also a landline sitting on the nightstand, but who remembers anyone’s actual phone number anymore?

He’s wondering if operators are still a thing when a person appears in the doorway, and it’s the person he knows he’s always going to want to see more than anyone else, in any given situation.

“Patrick!”

His boyfriend pauses on the threshold for a moment, and David sees him take a deep breath, taking in the scene before him. He thinks he sees him flinch a little when his eyes drift over the various machines and the tubes and wires connecting them to David, but when David starts making grabby hands he crosses the room in an instant and he’s there, he’s there, he’s there …

“Hey, it’s okay,” Patrick is stroking his hair, looking worried, and that’s when David realises he’s crying.

“Is … is it bad?” he chokes out, gesturing at his face. He feels conceited and selfish; he’s made such a big deal of being self-effacing in front of the nurses that he hasn’t had the nerve to ask for a mirror, but he doesn’t have the strength to pretend he’s not worried about it in front of Patrick.

He could have teased him, but Patrick just smiles tenderly and shakes his head. “No, it’s not bad,” he says softly, and tentatively brushes his thumb over the parts of David’s face where the glass must have cut him. “Just a bunch of little cuts. Less than shaving.”

David slumps in relief. “I know it’s shallow—”

But Patrick shakes his head again. “It’s not shallow. It’s your face, David.” David nods, sniffing, and Patrick holds his arms out a little, hovering. “Can I?”

David nods eagerly and Patrick sinks into him, wraps him in his big, strong, Patrick arms.

“That’s a new one,” Patrick chuckles against his shoulder, and David realises he said the bit about his arms out loud. Maybe the drugs haven’t worn off completely.

David breathes him in. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry—I would have called but they took my phone, and—I wasn’t even on the road, I was still in the drive, and this station wagon just came—"

“Are you seriously apologising to me for being hit by a car?”

“I just—I knew what it would—what you would be thinking, and I’m so sorry, I didn’t want you to worry, and the doctor said I’m basically fine, so you don’t have to—“

Patrick pulls back and lays a hand on his chest, stopping him. David closes his eyes, feels the gentle weight, and breathes. Patrick waits until he meets his eyes again, and of course there’s no anger there; he hadn’t really thought there would be, but ... he breathes out a long sigh anyway. Patrick smiles faintly, as if he knows what David has been thinking.

“David,” he says, fixing him with his serious face, the one he uses when he really wants David to listen. Only he’s a little less put together just now, and his eyes are red. “I love you,” he says. “More than I’ve ever loved anyone. And if something happened to you …” He halts; David can see his jaw working hard, can hear his voice catch. “… I don’t know what I would do. So …” A big, shuddering sigh. “So yes. I accept your apology.”

David laughs wetly. Patrick gives a weak smile and leans his forehead against David’s.

“Don’t do it again?” he whispers.

David nods and closes his eyes, as much with the relief of having Patrick here as with the weight of his words. More than I’ve ever loved anyone. He knows what that means, and it feels too big for his heart, his chest, this room to hold. He wants to cry, to hug him so tight, to kiss him, to reassure Patrick that he understands, that he feels the same, that he takes that responsibility seriously.

Instead he just grips Patrick’s arm and presses his forehead back against his.

“Okay,” he promises; that and so much more. They stay like that for a long moment, just being together. David imagines he can almost feel the fear and relief and love wash through them both, realising he knows exactly what Patrick is feeling, because it’s what David would have felt if their roles were reversed. He shivers and grips Patrick a little tighter.

The moment is eventually broken by the nurse at the door, clearing her throat and informing them that visiting hours are about to end, and something about the patient needing to rest. He wants to object, but this is the same nurse who smirked at him, and she’s capable of doing it again. Patrick thanks her, though, because Patrick Brewer is nothing if not polite, before turning back to David.

“So the doctor says they’re keeping you overnight for observation, but I can come get you tomorrow morning.”

“Come early,” David says, and Patrick smiles.

“Six am sharp,” he teases, and David grimaces. “Okay, 8.30.”

He grumbles a little, but it’s all for show. Patrick places his hands either side of David’s face. He holds his gaze for a moment before kissing him, so gently, and pulling back to look him in the eye again.

“I gotta go. Stevie’s going to be pissed I hogged all the visiting time as it is. So. I’ll be back in the morning.” He leans down and kisses him again. “Do everything the nurses tell you.” Kiss. “Rest up.” Kiss. “Come back to me.” A longer kiss this time, and another lingering forehead lean.

“Promise,” David manages. God, he loves him. But he glances at the nurse, who looks like she’s reached her limit for the two of them and is about to clear her throat. “Go. Tell Stevie I did it to get out of movie night.”

Patrick huffs a soft laugh, squeezes his hand and stands up.

“I love you,” David says before he can leave. It seems very important to say that as often as possible.

Patrick pauses in the doorway, looking back with that honey-coloured expression, full of warmth.

“I love you,” he echoes with a smile, and leaves.

 

*

Patrick’s fingers itch to touch him.

He knows he’s hovering too close as they leave the hospital; he only just stops himself from buckling David’s seatbelt for him. He remembers almost nothing of what they talk about on the way home, only that his mind is racing and he’s trying very hard to appear normal, which just about guarantees the opposite. When he pulls the car up in the parking lot of the apartment building he actually half-tries to lift David out of his seat before he finally huffs in frustration.

“Patrick!”

“Okay, I know, I know.” He backs away and tries to draw in a breath, but it only goes halfway down his chest. “I’m … gonna go open up,” he says, and when David nods his approval he hoists the bag with David’s things in it and forces himself ahead to open doors and brew tea.

All the while, he itches.

He and Stevie had crashed immediately after they’d gotten back to his place yesterday, but he’d woken up again at five am and spent a few minutes riding the emotional rollercoaster as he dealt with the events of the day before. By the time Stevie was awake, he felt more like himself, so he’d assured her he could manage, promised to call her later, and driven off to bring David home.

They take longer than usual to make it up the stairs, and Patrick spends the whole journey actively not shoving himself under David’s arm like a living crutch. Once they’re safely inside, David settles on his couch, and Patrick tries to regulate himself, to not fly about the place as he arranges pillows and fetches blankets and painkillers and anything else that David needs. The price of keeping his pace steady, though, is that all his muscles are knotting up tight, and by the time he sits gingerly down next to him, he has to grab one hand with the other to keep from shaking.

They have a few abortive false starts to settle in together, until finally Patrick can’t do it anymore. “Can I … can I hold you?” His voice is smaller than he intended, but David’s face softens, and he nods eagerly. Exhaling shakily, Patrick finally, finally lets his arms wrap gently around him, lets his hands slide haltingly up David’s forearms, along his biceps, across his shoulders and back down again, like he has to check that he’s really here, home safe with him.

He feels dizzy with relief, his chest looser, like he’s starting to breathe properly again.

“Are you feeling okay?” he asks at length.

David smiles a little and nods, leaning a little more weight against him, and Patrick accepts it gratefully. Out of sight, he squeezes his eyes shut for a moment until he trusts himself to speak.

“Lunch?”

“Not yet.” David’s voice is quiet, and Patrick wonders if he, too, wants just be here, be still. He draws in a deep breath, tries not to hold him too tightly. He clears his throat and tries to sound positive.

“So the doctor said you should take it easy, let things heal before you try to—”

“Patrick …” David pulls back, rolling his eyes with a slight smirk. “I was there. I heard.”

“Okay,” is all he can say, anything to draw him close again, to keep holding him here. But he’s too on edge—he only lasts a second or two before he jerks back to look at him again: “I’m sorry, no, I have to—I know myself, I know what … David, there’s a strong chance I’m going to be really clingy for the next little while. Maybe a long while. So … I’m going to need you to deal with that. If that’s okay.”

David relents, his smile softer, fonder. He nods. “I can do that.”

Patrick lets out a deep breath, feeling a little less tight. “Tell me to get a grip if you need to.”

David’s smile tips sideways into a gentle smirk. He lifts a hand to rest on Patrick’s cheek, leans in a little closer and kisses him once, softly. And it’s like this small act has turned a vital lock, because something in Patrick just gives way: the full extent of all the fear, worry, and imagined nightmares he’s been holding at bay suddenly flood through him, manifesting in a desperate, gasping sob. He bows his head onto David’s shoulder, his hands shaking, clutching his sweater to keep from squeezing him too tight, and again and again his throat chokes out these strange, frantic sounds, tears spilling unchecked as he tries to tell himself over and over: he’s here, he’s here, he’s here.

David is stroking up and down his back, his other hand settling on Patrick’s neck, brushing with a calming rhythm through the short hairs at his nape. And all the while murmuring, “I’m okay, we’re okay.”

It takes a while for Patrick’s mind, his body, to believe it, but gradually the sobs ease, and he slumps a little against the couch, against David, whose arms tighten around him. Absent the tension that’s been holding him upright for the past nineteen hours, Patrick feels exhausted.

“Sorry,” he murmurs. “I should be comforting you.”

He feels David shake his head emphatically. “Don’t be silly.”

Patrick lets out a deep sigh. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared,” he whispers into the quiet.

“I know,” says David softly, and to Patrick it doesn’t sound like hyperbole; David knows him, may be the only person who really understands him right at this moment. At last, Patrick lifts his head and kisses him, partly with desperation, partly to reassure himself, but mostly because he loves him. So fucking much.

“I kept thinking, if I’d just been with you—”

But David shakes his head. “Then you would have been in the passenger seat,” he says shortly, and now Patrick realises what else he meant when he said “I know”. It really wasn’t hyperbole.

It’s easier to be brave when David needs him to be.

He spends a few moments smoothing a hand through David’s hair, dragging his fingertips gently against his scalp until he feels him relax, until the air feels less heavy. “I meant to check, why did one of your nurses ask us for the address of our store as we were leaving?”

“Ah.” David’s eyes flit away to the side. “I may have offered to bribe them to keep me alive for your sake,” he says sheepishly, and it gets a laugh out of Patrick, which is nothing short of miraculous.

“What’d you offer?”

“I think I said they could have all the skin products and lip balm they could carry.”

Patrick laughs again, smile wide, face wet. “That’s quite a haul. And is this for the whole hospital or just your medical team?”

David shrugs. “I’m sure we can negotiate.”

Patrick just looks at him, runs his gaze over every beloved feature, even the little cuts and marks, the bruises and the red-rimmed eyes, which nonetheless are warm and full of affection.

“I mean it, you know,” he says softly. “I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you.” It’s every truth he has, and when he sees David’s whole face light up he wants to say it again and again, for as long as David will let him.

“Same,” says David, a little shyly, and Patrick loves him. He leans in and presses a dozen small, soft kisses to his smile, to his chin, his cheeks, his nose, his eyebrows. He hears David sigh, and lets the last kiss linger on his lips, sweet, slow, unhurried. David tips forward to lean against Patrick’s forehead, and they stay like this for a long moment.

“Do you remember one night early on,” Patrick begins, smiling a little at the memory, “back when we were—”

“Not dating?” David supplies, and Patrick laughs softly.

“Exactly,” he agrees, accepting the irony. “We’d spent the day at the markets, you showed me your store, we had some amazing sex …”

David hums, like he’s trying to remember, but the smile tucked into the corner of his mouth tells him that he remembers just as well as Patrick does.

“And I, uh, had a nightmare,” he continues, and just for a moment he has to look down. “Woke up in the middle of a panic attack.”

“I remember,” David says slowly. He’d never asked, but Patrick is sure he’d wondered at the time what it was about. Right now he can practically hear him waiting, thinks he’s holding his breath for it. He considers teasing him a bit with it, but … ultimately he just wants him to know.

“I dreamt that you …” —he takes a deep breath in, expelling a residual shiver of fear— “… that you were in a car accident. I dreamt that you—”

It turns out he can’t finish that thought, even now, even when David’s right here, when he knows things are okay. He looks up, and David’s face is brimming with love, with concern, with pain on his behalf.

“Patrick …”

But Patrick smiles shyly. “Even then I knew … not everything, maybe, but I knew that I didn’t want to lose you.”

David’s eyes are shining, and he opens and closes his mouth a few times before he clears his throat.

“Regrets?” he croaks, and Patrick’s smile spreads across his face without any effort at all.

“Not a one.”

He watches as David looks anywhere but at him, watches him bite down to try to hide his smile, watches as he drags on a smirk just to get through it. “Well this is the most romantic accident I’ve ever been involved in,” he says, and they both laugh, and Patrick loves him for doing that, for grounding them in humour. He loves him for that and for a million other reasons.

He loves him for no reason at all.

 

*

If it weren’t for the fact that his meds are making him drowsy, David would be content to stay on the couch, wrapped in Patrick’s arms, for the rest of the night. But it’s not a bad compromise to let Patrick help him to the bathroom, to lean back against the hamper while Patrick gently applies his night serum and moisturiser to specific instructions, to be coaxed between the covers, where he discovers he can lie quite comfortably on his back with Patrick tucked along his side.

As he drifts foggily towards sleep, he thinks about the past. The worst thing about the money disappearing, about being thrown so violently from the course his life had been taking, was confronting how hollow all the constructs of his existence had been. The sudden lack of access to luxury items had been hard, yes, but this was painful. The way people had disappeared, the way relationships he had thought he could count on were suddenly and laughably dissolved, it had made him feel like ... nothing. Like he was nothing.

Patrick makes him feel like he’s everything.

“Listen,” he says now, and David hums in pleasure. “We’re both coming down from a lot of adrenaline, and I’ve been reliably informed that the aftermath of a traumatic event is not a good time to be making any big decisions, but …” David feels him sigh and press his lips to his shoulder. “Hypothetically, how do you think you’d feel if, in a couple of weeks, I asked you to move in with me?”

Warm and happy and, for the moment, completely at ease with being loved like this, David lets a sleepy, love-drunk smile take over his face. “I think,” he mumbles, with his last conscious thoughts, “hypothetically, you’ll be amazed at how quickly I say yes to that.”

 

*

Chapter Text

comfort

noun

  1. A state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.
  2. The easing or alleviation of a person's feelings of grief or distress.

 

There’s not really anything to explain it. It’s just that one morning David wakes up feeling … adrift. It’s been a long time since he’s felt it, but here it is again anyway. Patrick is up already; David can hear him moving around in the kitchen—in their kitchen—but it’s not the fact that he’s currently alone in the bed that’s making him feel like this. It’s just how he feels. It happens sometimes.

It’s like he’s woken up to a world empty of people, of anyone with whom he might connect. Intellectually, he knows that’s not true; there’s his family, Stevie, and most of all the man in the next room. But his anxiety is hard at work on convincing him that he doesn’t deserve them, that they’re not real, suggesting a separation between him and them that’s not actually there. The mere the fact that he feels this way is alienating—how could anyone possibly understand feeling this alone when yesterday you didn’t?

The thing is, there’s no way out of it but through.

He pulls Patrick’s pillow towards him, hoping that it will help; sometimes it’s good to have something to wrap his arms around, to occupy his hands. The fact that it smells like Patrick helps too. It brings with it the memory of Patrick’s housewarming gift to David, a set of ridiculously soft bamboo bedding, presented on the day he moved in.

David’s apartment had won out—it was bigger, closer to the store, and had more closet space. They’d paid a local pair to ferry over the boxes and the pieces of furniture that had fallen in the Venn diagram of things Patrick wanted to hold onto and things that had received David’s approval. He’d held firm on his rejection of his childhood beanbag (it must have previously been buried in a closet somewhere, or beneath the bed, because he was certain that they would have had a memorable conversation if he’d ever actually seen it) and it was easy to ignore the slight grumbling that this provoked because of what was coming. Sure enough, the look of wonder and delight on Patrick’s face when he’d seen the piano tucked into the corner of the living room was immediately and permanently etched in David’s memory as one of his top five.

He’d inched towards it, reaching out tentatively for the keys, and David had a brief flash of what he must have looked like on Christmas morning as a boy. On the other hand, the way he'd let his fingers brush along the keys, low to high, not playing, just caressing, actually sent a light shiver down David’s spine, as though it was recalling exactly how that touch felt. And before he’d played a chord, Patrick had looked up at David and … honestly, there was absolutely no point in having a top five anything when it came to Patrick.

And that night, lying in bed with Patrick warm and close beside him, the place had already felt like theirs.

Today, though, the warmth that this memory provides is a little fainter than usual. Still there, just … distant. He sighs heavily and reaches out for it anyway.

“Hey.”

Patrick is standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame, arms folded, a small smile at odds with the concern furrowing his brow.

“Everything okay?”

David is about to use some variant of the word “fine”, when Patrick walks over and sits next to him on the bed, resting a palm on David’s leg. David wants to cling to it, wants to cry, wants to disappear—he feels pulled in every direction; something is just wrong, but he can’t explain it, can’t point to a reason for it. He feels like a burden. It’s a word he’s heard in the past.

But Patrick just sits there, slowly moving his hand up and down David’s leg, waiting.

“I just feel a bit …” He’s about to brush it off, but Patrick is listening so intently. “Lost.”

He feels a flush of embarrassment—what has he got to feel lost about?—but though Patrick’s eyes are troubled, he is still sitting there, letting the word settle between them, letting it be okay.

“What can I do?” he asks softly, and David loves him. So much that right now it hurts, that feeling battling with his anxiety for control, putting up a hell of a fight. In previous instances, his default has usually been to deflect, to endure, but this time …

“Could you just …” David bites his lip, but he shifts across the bed, creating a space for Patrick.

Patrick gets the hint immediately, and without hesitation crawls in beside him, wrapping his arms carefully around David and letting him cling to his side, to rest his head on his chest. The way he holds him so willingly, the solidness of him, around him, beneath him, is grounding.

They lay there for a while, and somehow David doesn’t apologise, or promise to get up soon, or tell Patrick that he should go. He’ll have to tell his therapist, he thinks. They’ll be so proud.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Patrick asks softly, fingertips brushing a steady rhythm along David’s arm, over the faint line of his scar, catching on the long sleeve of his top on every upstroke, thumbing along his skin.

David shakes his head, burying it further in Patrick’s t-shirt. He flattens his palm against his chest, over his heart; the beat is steady and strong, and he feels stronger for it. “You can talk for a bit, though, if you like. Just tell me something.”

“Like what?”

Anything, really. “Tell me something about you. You growing up.” Because he’ll never stop wanting to know more.

Patrick hums, and maybe he’s laughing a little. “You mean like, ‘Once upon a time, there was a baby, and he was the most perfect baby ever born’?”

David snorts. “I bet. I’ve seen the pictures.”

“And I believe you were sworn to secrecy,” Patrick ribs gently.

“Little paddling pool …”

“Okay,” he cuts him off, but David can hear his smile. “I don’t know that there’s much to tell. Not anything that interesting. I had a pretty good childhood, I think. Lots of long summer days, walking in the woods, snowball fights, baseball games …”

“So outdoorsy.” It’s meant to elicit a laugh, but David would be lying if he said the image of outdoorsy Patrick wasn’t also doing a little something for him.

Patrick, unaware of David’s inappropriate thoughts, chuckles, his fingers still sweeping their soothing rhythm up and down his arm, up and down.

“Then there was school. More baseball. School musicals. Started dating—”

“Sorry, go back one?”

“Another time, David, another time.”

David hums, lets him go on describing the scaffolding of his school years, his relationship with Rachel, up to university, and their breakup. As he talks the anecdotes spill out a little more easily. He’s been doing more therapy in the months since the accident—they both have—so David guesses that his communication muscles are being flexed a little more regularly these days. He listens contentedly, lets Patrick’s voice pull him from the hollow feeling he woke up with.

“I knew I couldn’t avoid facing it anymore; things had to change or we’d just end up back where we started,” Patrick is saying. “So I—I don’t know, I did some pretty deep thinking and, as part of logical analysis I … considered it. That I might be gay. It made sense. It made a lot of sense.”

A small smile hooks the corner of David’s mouth. He can just imagine a younger, similarly analytical Patrick sitting down with determination to solve what he thought was a problem. He wonders if he made a list.

“Things felt better after that. I felt better. There were some pretty hard conversations—well, with Rachel. I didn’t tell my parents until later. I think I wanted to …”

“Test your hypothesis?” David smirks.

Patrick chuckles. “I guess, yeah. The next party I was at, I saw this guy …” he stops to huff a bashful sort of laugh. “Kind of aloof. Beautiful. Way out of my league, but man, I couldn’t stop staring. He was standing in the corner looking so sure of himself, like he knew exactly who he was. Maybe a little defensive with it.”

David snorts a little; he can relate. He’s lost count of how many functions he’s spent standing apart and trying to look like he didn’t care.

“He was the first guy I’d ever consciously let myself be attracted to. It was, uh …”

Thinking of what he can remember of his own first crushes, thinking of what he knows of Patrick, David smirks. He thinks the word “intense” might apply here.

But Patrick just clears his throat. “Anyway, I spent a lot of that party pretending I wasn’t hyper focused on where he was, but at some point I thought, this is ridiculous, just go and talk to him. So I made myself follow him into the kitchen, no idea what to do once I got there. But he was standing there waiting for me, like he knew I was coming. And before I could even introduce myself, he looked at me, winked, and said—”

Wait a minute.

“—‘Is this the part where you slip me a rufie and try to harvest my organs?’”

David twists up to stare, wide-eyed. “Oh my god!”

Patrick is laughing at him, looking gleeful at David’s continuing realisation.

“That was me!” It’s half-gasp, half-incredulity.

“Hey, yeah!” Patrick returns with gentle mockery. But David can’t stop gaping at him.

“But I was so—”

“Charming.”

“—rude.”

Patrick laughs. “Nah, you were pretty good about it.”

David’s not so sure. It was before the money disappeared, and while he can’t remember everything he’d said that night, he knows what he was like back then. He grimaces, remembering. And then something catches up in his mind …

“Wait … that was … that means I was the first guy you—”

Patrick just continues to smile that fond, amused smile, and he leans in and presses a kiss to the tip of David’s nose.

It’s the most adorable thing David has ever encountered, and he’s nowhere near capable of handling it like a normal person. Next thing he knows his eyes are spilling over.

“Hey,” Patrick soothes, pressing his lips to David’s wet cheeks, letting him sit safely with the abrupt oversupply of feelings welling in him.

“I just … I can’t believe …” He stops gulping, realises something else, and when he is able he looks up into that face, those eyes, that smile … “So all that time … I could have had you … we could have had this …”

The sheer scope of years he spent not having Patrick in his life, not knowing him … it makes his vision swim a little.

But Patrick’s eyes crease fondly and his smile widens, calming the coils of regret in David before they have a chance to take root. “I don’t know, David. I don’t think either of us were really ready for this back then.”

Looking up at him, at the man he has somehow, against all probability and his own expectations, fallen in love with, and by whom he is lucky enough to be loved, David thinks, not for the first time, that Patrick is being generous. That it was David who wasn’t ready for Patrick back then, hadn’t yet learned the value of people over money, hadn’t stopped being afraid of his own vulnerability, hadn’t stopped pretending he was okay with being lonely as long as nobody really knew him.

He thinks of that David, the David before he knew Patrick, the Before David …

“Maybe you’re right,” he says. “Maybe we came together at the right time.”

“Thank god for that,” says Patrick, and David nuzzles even closer, feels him wrap him up in all his Patrickness. He feels safe here, with him. After a lifetime of never feeling like he quite belonged anywhere, after all the work he’s put in on the parts of himself he’s struggled to accept, he feels now like he belongs anywhere Patrick is.

Patrick is his home.

“Thank god for that.”

 

*

On Patrick’s birthday, he wants a baseball game. David offers alternatives: a fancy dinner, an upmarket hotel, a trip out of town—but Patrick just wants an ordinary day, and some of it spent at bat.

It’s the ordinariness he’s chasing: he has what he wants, and who he wants. He’s happy, and he wants to spend a perfect day with that happiness. He wins David over with promises of barbecue.

It’s a pretty perfect day; the weather is warm, the field full of friends and friendly competition, the air sweet with the smell of grass and dirt. And David … David is in the stands, cheering for him, bonding with his friends, laughing and making others laugh. Towards the end of the day, stretching in the outfield, Patrick shields his eyes from the low, golden light, and looks at him there: he is animated, vivid, stunning. So much that the light may as well be emanating straight from him.

Patrick’s team manages a narrow and extremely satisfying win, and it’s such an endorphin rush that he can’t stop grinning as his teammates embrace him, even though his cheeks ache along with his muscles, and the scrape on his elbow smarts from that one slide into third. He kisses David right there on the field, arm slung loose around his waist, not as close as he wants, but not wanting to get dirt on his boyfriend's clothes. They crowd around the grill, talk and eat and laugh, and at one point Patrick feels a hand slide into his back pocket. He looks up to catch David smiling that gorgeous, knowing smile, his dark eyes raking across Patrick’s face, down to his shoulders, chest, arms, back up again. He feels a swoop in his belly.

They leave pretty quickly after that.

When they stumble into the apartment Patrick is tearing off his dirt-covered clothes as quickly as possible so that he can shower the grime off him. The look in David’s eyes follows him under the spray and spurs him on through the motions so he can get back to it as soon as possible. He’s barely dried himself off before he’s back in the bedroom, but he never makes it to the bed—instead, David pins him against the wall, naked body flush along his, arms resting either side of Patrick’s head.

For a beat they just look at each other, and Patrick thrums with the joy of the whole day, of the pleasant stretch in his muscles, of the way he can still smell the grass of the outfield, of the thrill of the win … and of where he is now, in this quiet, exultant moment, in the cosy, dim light of their home. Of the man he loves.

Speaking of which … David looks animated and focused, like he has plans he’s eager to carry out. Patrick has never been so happy to surrender to someone, marvels at how with David he can give up control but never feel more powerful. His head is giddy, and he can barely follow the thread of his thoughts, but he’s safe here, with the beautiful boy he trusts to hold his heart.

David quirks an eyebrow: Mind if I try something? Patrick lifts his brows in return: I’ll go where you lead. He grins when David’s eyes brighten.

Patrick is spun around, raises his hands to brace against the wall. He sighs as David presses along his back, something about the solidness of him, how it surrounds him, wraps him up and steadies him even as his blood heats and his pulse lifts. David’s mouth latches onto his shoulder, kissing his sun-warmed skin, and Patrick can’t stop smiling. He leans back into him, feels him hard against the base of his spine. One of David’s hands curls around to hold his chest, the other grabs at the nightstand. Patrick takes himself in hand and soon David enters him with a deep groan, and holy fuck it feels good.

It feels even better shortly afterwards. Collapsed against the wall, with David’s weight crowded along his back and his breath huffing over his skin, Patrick is still shuddering. After a while the wonderful weight disappears and David turns him gently around so he can lean back against the wall as he winds down.

“God, I love you like this,” David murmurs as he skims his hands up over Patrick’s shoulders and chest.

Patrick is only partly present. “Hmm.”

“All sex-drunk. Like you’ve had six shots of vodka.” Patrick blinks at him slowly, and thinks he’s probably right. He can never seem to get over feeling like this with David: dazed, stunned, complete. David is grinning at him, fond and amused and loving all at once. “You’re anyone’s, Brewer.”

Hazy but determined, Patrick shakes his head. “I’m yours,” he murmurs, and a smile tugs at his mouth when he sees David’s wide-eyed response. “Only yours, David.”

David raises a hand to cup his cheek, still looking at him with a wondering smile. “You’re mine …” he whispers, as if he’s tasting the words, seeing how they feel in his mouth. It’s not possessive, it’s recognition and desire and delight all at once.

Patrick manages to slide a hand up around his neck, clumsily pulling himself closer and pressing his smile to David’s, slow and dreamy. Breaking away, he leans his forehead on David’s.

“I’m yours," he murmurs, soft and sure. "And you’re mine.”

 

*

They don’t fight much, but sometimes they do argue: David will be careless, Patrick will bottle things up, or one or both of them will just have a genuinely bad day. Today has been a mess, and long, and by the time they get home they barely have the energy to finish dinner, let alone sort through the tangled knots of conflict between them. But it’s painful. This is the first time they’ve still been angry at each other by the time they go to bed.

David is miserable as he lies under the covers, waiting for Patrick to turn off the light and join him. There’s a part of him that’s afraid he won’t, and he’s trying to manage that without spiralling. He wants to make things right, but … he doesn’t think he’s entirely wrong. He just hasn’t figured out how to explain himself. And Patrick … probably isn’t wrong either. He sighs.

Eventually, the bathroom light is extinguished, and bare feet pad over the floorboards to their bed. David is on his side, facing away, slowly curling in on himself, and Patrick isn’t touching him. He wishes he knew how to do this part, the hard part. Maybe they just need a good night’s sleep.

Behind him, he feels Patrick roll over onto his back, hears him sigh in frustration. Tentatively, David turns onto his back too. He hates having him so close, feeling so far away.

He’s working up the nerve to say good night, trying to deliver an inflection that doesn’t sound like a parting shot, when Patrick reaches out and finds David’s hand, lacing their fingers together.

“I love you,” he says quietly into the dark, and suddenly David is breathing properly again.

He squeezes Patrick’s hand, tightens his hold on what feels like a lifeline. “I love you too,” he echoes, relieved, warm, safe. He feels Patrick’s body relax next to him, feels his own muscles do the same, and slowly they bend towards each other, hands reaching out and limbs tangling, pulled in by each other’s gravity, the way they always are, always have been.

“I’m sorry,” David hiccups softly.

“Me too,” says Patrick, and kisses him softly, and David feels like everything else—everything that had seemed so important earlier—could dissolve into the background and he wouldn’t care, so long as Patrick will still kiss him like that.

He knows they’re not done with it completely, that in the morning they’ll talk it through with clearer heads and calmer hearts. But the way that Patrick won’t let David run, won’t let him go to sleep, or leave the house, without making sure that he knows that he loves him … it’s one of the many, many things about Patrick that he loves most.

 

*

On David’s birthday Patrick takes him out for dinner at DaiLo—completely ruining him, he says, for any other birthday—before whisking him back to a moderately fancy hotel room for the night, where it’s David’s turn to ruin him. The next morning, he admits later, is a bit ambitious, and possibly the result of overexcitement.

“And now you just … hang on—”

“David, I don’t think—”

“Move your leg, over here—”

“Yeah, it doesn’t really bend that way …”

“And then I—”

“AH!”

Fuck! Sorry, sorry!”

“It’s okay, just—Jesus, ouch!”

“Okay, this is clearly … this was clearly a mistake, so we should give up and go back to … Patrick? PATRICK ARE YOU LAUGHING?”

 

*

One night in early autumn, Patrick waits until after dinner to point out to David that tomorrow’s their one-year anniversary. He is met with unexpected resistance.

“No it isn’t.”

Patrick laughs. “Yeah, it is.”

“No, because we didn’t start—” He stops, mouth hanging open. “You’re counting from the party?”

Patrick leans back on the kitchen counter, folding his arms and trying his hardest to tame his grin at the expression on his boyfriend’s face. “I’m counting from our first kiss,” he says, and waits for David’s eyes to soften, for his mouth to tick up at the corner, for him to shake himself and pretend to be unsentimental.

“But that wasn’t—that was before we were dating. We weren’t dating. I distinctly remember a whole conversation about how we weren’t dating.” And David’s teasing him a bit now, too. But Patrick has plans for tonight, so he just walks towards him, slowly, with quiet purpose.

“Of course not,” he says, gently mocking. “We were just friends.” David is onto his body language now, eyes wide, posture alert. Patrick reaches out for David’s hips, tugging slightly, and leans in to kiss him. He keeps it soft, lingering, promising.

“Mm.” David sways a little towards him when he breaks away, and Patrick is content for a few moments to be kissed in return. “So you’re saying …”

“One year, David,” Patrick murmurs, between more kisses, slow but increasingly warm. “Twelve months. Fifty-two weeks—”

“Okay,” David cuts him off, but his smile is ear-to-ear as he tightens his arms around Patrick’s shoulders. “So what did you have in mind to celebrate?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” says Patrick, but he’s already started backing David down the hall and towards the bedroom, unhurried, like they have all the time in the world. “I have some ideas …”

David chuckles, deep in his chest, and Patrick feels it vibrate against his own. “Oh?” And Patrick pushes him once more so that he tumbles onto the bed; he follows, crawling up his body to continue his soft assault on David’s mouth, chin, neck. He shifts his hips so that they line up with David’s, feels his breath huff against his neck.

“Do you remember our first night?” Patrick murmurs into the skin below David’s ear.

Another chuckle from David, breathy this time. “Of course I do.” He arches into Patrick, stretching like a cat. “God, I wanted you …”

“Me too,” Patrick breathes, beginning to roll his hips, a slow, aching tempo. “So much. You were so real … so beautiful …” He lowers his mouth to David’s throat, scrapes his teeth gently against his warm skin.

David whimpers a bit, rocks up into Patrick, seeking more, but Patrick just grins and holds his rhythm.

“You asked me what I needed,” he whispers, “took me to your bed—” David’s breath hitches, and quickly, Patrick dips his head to kiss him, to suck gently on his lower lip. “You made me feel so safe. So good.” He drags his lips over the skin at David’s jawline, up to his ear, where he sucks briefly on his earlobe and whispers: “And then you took my clothes off.”

“Yes,” David gasps, but he still whines when Patrick sits up to pull his t-shirt over his head. Once he does, though he gets sidetracked by the sight beneath him.

“God, you’re so beautiful …”

“Yes, yes,” David makes impatient grabby-hands at Patrick. “You next.”

Patrick laughs and gets to his feet to divest himself of his sweats, while David wriggles out of his own. When Patrick starts to take off his underwear, David frowns a little.

“Excuse you? I believe we both kept our underwear on that night.”

Patrick stops, thumbs hooked in the waistband of boxer-briefs that are halfway off, and looks down in mock-consternation. “Oh my god, you’re right, I’ll just—” He goes to pull them back up, but David just growls at him and lunges forward to finish the job. “But David, we’re recreating!” he barely manages to chide through his laughter as he stumbles and almost trips over.

“Shut up,” David advises, having somehow managed to rid himself of his own underwear before tugging Patrick back down on top of him. He lands with an oof, still laughing as David claims his mouth once more. They spend an excellent few minutes just making out, and when they come up for air David whispers, “What then?”

“Then …” Patrick hums, remembering, “you asked if you could make me come.”

David groans, and Patrick’s cock jerks in response; he’s started rocking his hips again, slow, languid. He buries his fingers in David’s hair, pulls gently to get him to open his mouth to him. “Jesus, David,” he breathes, mouthing clumsily back down his neck. “God, I was so hard …”

“I remember,” David grins, eyes closed, dark lashes fanning out above his cheekbones.

Patrick laughs, a hot, breathy chuckle against David’s collarbone.

“And then you …” He grinds his hips down firmly into David’s, head half in the present, half in that astonishing first night, and it’s so fucking delicious.

David hisses and arches up into him. “Fuck, Patrick …”

“You felt so good,” he gasps against his skin. “God, David, you have no idea …”

“Think … think I do,” David manages, tightening his hold on Patrick and pressing up into him, somewhat proving his point. “Gonna need …”

“Yep …” Slightly dizzy, Patrick leans up to fumble with the nightstand, grabbing the bottle of lube they keep there and doling out a generous amount into his hand. “Which is good timing, because—” he reaches down and with exaggerated slowness wraps his hand around David’s cock “—then you put your hand on me.” The noise that David makes next means Patrick has to gulp back his own whimper. He strokes him a few times, swiping his thumb over the flushed head once or twice before dropping his hand to cup him while his hips pick up the rhythm again. They’re both slick now, just enough.

“That’s so … so fucking good … Patrick …”

Patrick is lost in the fog, lost but not alone. “You felt so … damn … good … you were all … all I could think about …”

David’s head drops back, and Patrick latches onto his neck again, hungry for the taste of him, the salt of his sweat. “Jesus, Patrick … please …” His hands are gripping Patrick’s shoulder blades, and he’s bucking up to meet him.

And Patrick moves his hand back up David’s hard length, holding him with just the right amount of pressure, just the right twist of his wrist, the way he has learned that David loves.

He whispers, “Come for me, sweetheart …” because David loves that, too, and so does Patrick, and when he increases his pace David has no choice but to oblige, with a high, breathy whimper, and he’s so fucking beautiful that Patrick can barely stand it. He coaxes him through it with words of adoration, trails soft kisses along David’s shoulder as he trembles beneath him, burying the fingers of his free hand in his thick, dark hair, soothing him back into shore.

And then David’s long fingers wrap around his own hard, aching cock, and his hips jerk in surprise. He looks up.

David is smiling up at him, eyes hooded, lips curled up lazily at one corner.

“Did you think I forgot what happened next?”

Patrick gasps as he squeezes. “Fuck …”

“Because I haven’t.”

“Oh, Jesus …” He has to bite his lip as David demonstrates how well he knows Patrick, too.

“You were so fucking gorgeous,” David whispers as Patrick moans and drops his head onto his shoulder, arms shaking a little with the strain of holding himself up. “You are so fucking gorgeous …”

Without thinking, Patrick is grinding down into his hand, desperate noises escaping each time David squeezes on the upward thrust.

“Patrick, the fucking sounds you make …”

“David—David I need it—please—”

“Yeah?”

Patrick just groans, helpless. “Please, David …” And then David twists his wrist, sinks his teeth into the skin at Patrick’s shoulder, and Patrick shakes as he comes, comes, comes against him, and it’s all tied up in memory, and touch, and in the distance they’ve covered together, and as he collapses into David’s arms, feeling spent, feeling safe, it feels like coming home.

He manages to roll off David and lie next to him on the bed, and David leans across and grabs the wipes they’ve also started keeping in the nightstand, and he cleans them both up, and through the drunken fog of his orgasm Patrick thinks it’s the sweetest gesture. When David falls back next to him, he opens his arms automatically, and they curl into each other.

“So anniversary number one is, uh …” A laugh bubbles out of him, joyous, relaxed.

“It really is,” David sighs, content, and Patrick loves those. “That was it,” he says after a moment. “That night. I was such a goner.”

Patrick can’t stop smiling. He skims his fingers up and down David’s arm. “Yeah?” David hums in assent, and Patrick kisses the top of his head, burying his nose in his tousled hair. He thinks back, remembers the morning after, how David had kissed him, how even through the panic and the discomfort part of him had wanted to stay … Maybe that was it for him, too, in a way. The beginning of it.

“How did I find you?” he wonders aloud, still amazed at the course of his life, at all the choices that led him here.

“I think I was the one who found you,” says David softly. Then, stretching and nuzzling closer, he whines a little. “Do we really have to open at nine tomorrow?”

Patrick smirks. They’ve had this conversation before. This time he relents. “How about I open up and you come in later with coffee?”

David rumbles an adorable little growl into Patrick’s neck. “See, this is why I love you.”

“Wracking your brains for a reason, were you?” Patrick teases, laughing and jumping a little when David pinches his hip. They wrestle for the upper hand, until Patrick hooks his leg around David’s thigh and rolls them over, pinning David beneath him. David’s eyes glitter—he’s made no secret of how much he enjoys being manhandled like this—and pretty soon he and his lips have Patrick relaxing his hold enough to take advantage and flip their positions, and now Patrick’s eyes are alight, and any inclination towards sleep is pushed back in favour of tangled limbs and lips and tongues.

“So,” Patrick says, kissing David between every other word. “Do you think—you’d like to join me—in the shower?”

“Mmm,” David’s hum is long and low. “I could be persuaded.”

“Good. Because I have some other ideas on how to celebrate our first fifty-two-weeks.”

David grimaces, but he’s smiling too. “Mm. I like your ideas.”

 

*

When David wakes the next morning, Patrick is gone, and a muffin sits on a plate with fifty-two candles shoved into it, rendering it no longer structurally sound and virtually inedible. David rolls his eyes and, ignoring the matches sitting mockingly on the table next to it, starts plucking them out to see what he can salvage. He’s going to have to nip this kind of behaviour in the bud before it becomes a thing, he thinks, but a smile is already trying to escape the corner of his mouth.

 

*

Patrick waits.

He’s been at the store since eight, and it hasn’t been particularly busy, which is not to say he hasn’t kept himself occupied. But he’s promised David a late start, and later he’ll call a couple of vendors, transfer some funds, and line up the books while David takes over the shop floor. So he waits.

He moves through the store, through their space, serving customers, giving explanations when they ask, bouncing on his toes as he restocks, tilting each bottle, jar, tube so that their labels face the directions that David wants them to. They’re getting some good word of mouth and a bit of customer loyalty, especially now they’ve started running wine tastings and skincare workshops, and there’s been a lot of interest in the flyers for the open mic. David had resisted that particular event at first, but Patrick has worn him down; he has an idea for that, too.

Finally, just after noon, he spots David walking up. He’s holding two coffee cups, and Patrick knows already that one of them is a caramel macchiato, that the other contains his green tea, and that the paper bag dangling from David’s other hand probably holds a cruller from the place down the street, or parts thereof. If he could grin any wider, he would.

The bell tinkles as David steps through the door, brightening at the sight of Patrick behind the counter. But he’s barely taken two steps inside before he freezes, as though alerted to a sudden shift in the wind. He lifts his head, tenses, and his eyes begin darting, in increasing agitation, from the register to the central console, to the shelves housing the sweets, to the window display. He twists sharply, head whipping around and eyes widening at each glance, aghast.

“Patrick fucking BREWER!”

Wreathed in an ear-to-ear grin, Patrick waits with bated breath and utter, utter delight for the rant that’s coming, for David’s barely suppressed consternation as he clocks the fifty-two little wooden ducks that Patrick has placed at various points around the store, one for each week they’ve been together.

 

*

Chapter Text

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.

 

*