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Bon Hiver

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❄️❄️❄️

It’s the coffee mug that does it.

As last straws go, it’s not the most subtle, but it’s also about the least of them. The mug itself is nothing special. It’s white, with a flat base, and blue serif letters in a perfectly inoffensive font that wrap around one side and read: “World’s greatest fiancé.”

Patrick stares at it while his father clears away the breakfast things and his mother talks about … well, something. He can’t really hear her for the rushing in his ears.

It’s weird that the mug has turned up here, really. The last place he saw it was at his place—his and Rachel’s place, really, back when it was his and Rachel’s. In fact, it might have been present that morning, the one where he had finally told her the truth, that he was suffocating and he didn’t know why, that he was terrified and he wasn’t sure of what, and that whenever he looked at his future he knew, with a certainty that he hadn’t felt in years, about anything, that he didn’t want it.

He’d framed it a little less bluntly than that. Tried to, anyway. It’s not you, it’s me. Something in that vein. He knew it was true, too, or he wouldn’t have spent the last decade or so (on and off) hating himself for not feeling like the luckiest guy in the world. Rachel was, well, Rachel. His first kiss, his first girlfriend, his best friend. She was kind and witty and beautiful and clever. He loved her. He just didn’t …  wasn’t … couldn’t

He’d tried to explain it to her, but it had all come out tangled and messy, and anyway, she was far from stupid—she’d known he hadn’t been happy, hadn’t been “himself” for a while now. She had said as much. He wishes he was as confident that he would recognise himself if it ever showed up. He’s tried on more than one occasion to pinpoint the last time he felt like himself, but he just ends up feeling more lost.

It hadn’t seemed right to stay there anymore, so he’d done the Right Thing and come back home. Which brings him to now, sitting at his parents’ kitchen table, staring at a mug he hated from the get, bearing a label he knows he’s never really deserved—least of all now. He’ll have to get another mug. A different label. “World’s worst ex-fiancé.” Or “Biggest idiot in Ontario.” Or “Patrick Brewer: holiday downer.”

That last one feels especially apt. In a few days the family will gather around ridiculous amounts of food prepared by people who promised not to bring anything, cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and neighbours and friends. His chest feels heavy, already exhausted just at the thought of all the explanations he’s going to have to give, all the different instances of the same conversation he’s going to have to navigate with a self-effacing smile while people offer their unasked-for advice, their consolations, their opinions. Yes, I broke it off. Ha ha, yes, again. No, for real this time. Yes, I’ve said that before, but this time I have the panic attack to back it up.

With this prospect stretching before him, Patrick buries his face in his hands and groans softly. As he drags his head back up, he catches his parents looking at him, their familiar, loving faces expressing tentative concern. He hitches up one side of his mouth in what he thinks might be a vain attempt to reassure them. He hadn’t been able to find any more answers for them than he had for Rachel, after all.

He shakes himself and stands, bringing the offending coffee mug to the sink. He can sense them behind him, conducting a wordless conversation in that way they do, that shorthand they’ve perfected over years of knowing each other as well as anyone can know anyone else.

That, he thinks. I want that.

It’s never been clearer that what he had with Rachel … wasn’t that.

“Think I’ll go for a run.”

Both parents turn their surprise on him.

“Again?” His mom is smiling, but the worry is still there. He hates that it’s there. “Didn’t you go running this morning?”

“I won’t go far,” he says, dodging the question. “Just around the block.”

His dad squeezes his shoulder briefly. “Don’t forget you’re helping with dinner.”

Patrick manages a proper grin at that. “Chicken ala Clint, I remember. I’ll bring my spatula game.”

He ducks upstairs for a quick change, grabbing his jogging clothes from the floor near the hamper (because it had only been this morning). Minutes later, he’s in the hallway looking for his Jays hat when he hears his mom’s voice drifting out from the kitchen.

“… might be best just to cancel.”

Patrick turns his cap over in his hands, exhaling slowly.

“We could ask Jude and Sonny to host instead. Minimal fuss, but it gets him an out if he wants it.”

He shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve been thinking along the same lines. Part of him wants to go in there and just hug them. Instead, he crams his cap on backwards and heads out, but not before he hears one more thing.

If that’s what he wants …”

The air is cold and the ground hard. It’s not exactly pleasant conditions for running, but physical exertion seems to distract him long enough to prevent his thoughts from getting tangled up in his head. And so he runs. Past houses and gardens he knows almost as well as his own, barely concentrating on his route, propelled more by muscle memory than intention. He keeps running until the streets are no longer familiar, and only then, lungs and legs burning, does he stop to breathe.

It feels like the first time in months that he’s been able to do so.

He needs to get out of town.

As soon as he has the thought, he feels his shoulders sink in relief. If only he could. Just slip out of town, get some distance from everything with Rachel, find some space to figure things out, and just … breathe. There’s a pull in his gut. It’s new.

He turns and heads back.

 

❄️

The television is on and Marcy and Clint are, per holiday tradition, watching the Blackadder Christmas Carol. Patrick, however, is in his room, on his laptop. It’s nothing scandalous (not with his parents in the house, Jesus) but he doesn’t want them to know what he’s thinking about until he’s got a plan. He’s looked at hotels in Toronto, in Niagara, even New York, but at this time of year there’s not a lot of choice, and anything on offer comes with a “special holiday price” that doesn’t quite feel in the spirit of the holiday. There are a few private rooms available on Airbnb but the thought of having to hide away from a different family while they celebrate Christmas is not appealing. He’s about to widen his search parameters when a link on a site advertising “off the beaten path” last-minute accommodation options catches his eye.

It’s not a typical house-for-hire situation. It’s a house swap. He almost clicks the back button—even if he could convince his parents to let someone stay in his old room, it wouldn’t really qualify as a fair swap—when he remembers: he has an apartment in Toronto. Rachel has moved out. It’s a nice size and it’s in a good location. He’s taken all of the things that are important to him, so there’s nothing in it worth stealing except the TV. The only reason it’s still there is because it’s screwed to the wall and he couldn’t be bothered. He figures if someone feels that strongly about taking it then they’re welcome to it. (Also, it’s insured.)

He selects Toronto from the “swap with” menu.

The first decent-looking place is actually in Thunder Bay, and he hurriedly scrolls past it. A couple of options in Vancouver look okay—he’s trying to remember how much flights there cost when a photo of a cottage catches his eye. It’s set back from the road, with stone walls and red shutters, lit up and welcoming. It looks quiet, and the photos inside depict a cosy lounge, a somewhat dated but serviceable kitchen, a comfortable-looking bed and … it has a fireplace.

Patrick taps his fingers lightly on the laptop’s palm rest and chews his lip. It’s a crazy idea. Letting a stranger stay in his place, living in theirs … But it’s about five hours’ drive away, which seems manageable. And there’s something about the cottage, quiet and still, nestled amongst a well-kept garden in a town neither he nor anybody he knows has ever heard of … there’s that pull in his gut again.

Before he can process the odds of the owner also looking for an eleventh-hour escape over the Christmas season, he clicks on the message icon and types out a quick note.

Hi there,

I know it’s a long shot, but I was wondering if your cottage is still available for a house swap over Christmas? I’m just looking for a week or so. I’m clean and quiet and honestly kind of desperate not to be around people I know this year. I have an apartment in Toronto, and I’m not above sweetening the deal with a bottle of something.

Patrick

PS—is the fireplace working? I think I’m going to need a fireplace. I’ve got a lot of marshmallows.

He leans back, satisfied. After a beat he heads downstairs to join his parents, and spends the rest of the evening trying not to run back up to check for responses.

By the time he actually lets himself turn in for the night, it’s late, but it’s still only been a few hours. He toys with waiting until morning, but that doesn’t last long. When he opens the account, he has a message.

Patrick,

I guess we’d better put this down to a Christmas miracle, because I’ve been looking for a place in Toronto so I don’t have to stay with my cousin over Christmas. I would say you’re doing me a huge favour, but I kind of want that bottle of something you’re offering, so instead I’m going to act like it’s the other way around.

I took over this cottage from an aunt, and she used to let it out whenever she wanted to go slightly further afield than Elmdale. I’ve attached a copy of her agreement details.

Stevie

PS—the fireplace can accommodate all your marshmallow needs. If you can manage not to burn the place down, I’d appreciate it.

PPS—the town is a million miles from anywhere, so you’re almost guaranteed not to run into anyone you know. It’s our biggest selling point.

Patrick leans back on his bed, smiling. This time it’s genuine, even if it’s just for himself.

 

❄️❄️❄️

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me at Christmas.”

David Rose is stretched out on Stevie’s bed, staring at the ceiling while she packs. And yes, technically, he’s supposed to be helping, but he also, technically … doesn’t care.

“I can’t believe you’re complaining. Thought you were Jewish.”

He twists his head into an uncomfortable position so he can raise a haughty eyebrow at Stevie.

“I’m a delightful half-half situation, thank you so much. And you’re leaving me to fend for myself with those halves, one of whom is planning on throwing what is bound to be a really sad Christmas party in our motel room.”

Stevie just smirks. “Trust me, I’m not exactly itching to spend the holiday with family members.” She throws up her hands, which are gripping two mismatched socks. “Who gets married over Christmas anyway?”

It’s David’s turn to smirk as he turns back to face the ceiling. He’s going to miss her cynicism over the next week. He’s considered asking to come along, in fact, because he’s not above inserting himself into situations where he’s not exactly invited. But Alexis and his parents have been slightly clingy lately, and his dad is really getting into this party idea and … okay, he’s a little curious to see what a stripped-down Christmas with his family might entail. He blames his lack of anything better to do for the vague feeling of familial regard that seems to have settled over him.

Added to which, he and Stevie are about six months along from the point where their friendship stopped being weird after the whole friends-with-benefits thing, so maybe it’s best not to risk making it weird again by fifth-wheeling on her vacation.

“Are they, like, Christmas people?” He grimaces.

“Oh god,” Stevie groans. “I bet they are. They’re probably going to play carols at the reception. Remind me why I said I’d go to this thing?”

David shrugs. He’s still not sure. “At least your accommodation is free. I mean, so some axe-murderer comes to burn down your aunt’s cottage—at least you’ll be enjoying Toronto during the holidays.”

“Axe-murderers don’t burn down buildings,” she deadpans, not even looking up from her packing. “You’re thinking of arsonists. Most this guy will do is chop people up and hide them in the walls.”

David glares. “And thank you for the nightmare I’ll be having later.” As Stevie gets up to grab her things from the bathroom, his phone pings. He sighs.

“Again?” Stevie walks back out with a raised eyebrow.

He checks his phone but very carefully doesn’t open the message from Sebastien. It’s the fifth time he’s messaged him in two weeks, which is officially a better ratio than when they were actually dating. Reminders like that are why David hasn’t answered any of his texts.

“What is it this time? ‘I miss you and I swear I’m gonna change’?”

David smirks, impressed. “Nothing so eloquent.” It’s been almost two years since he last saw Sebastian, but still there’s a depressing predictability to the content of the messages: no apologies, no actual acknowledgement of wrongdoing, just professions of missing “us” (ugh) and lots of wank (for want of a better word) about the season being ripe for “convergence” and “unexpected beauty” (actually, it’s the perfect word), and the odd, barely disguised invitation for sex (ugh, again). David has no clue what has sparked this sudden interest in getting in touch, but knowing Sebastien it’s nothing good, and probably full of self-interest.

“So what, he’s looking for a holiday booty call?” Stevie holds up two dresses, and David chooses the black one—it’s classier, and shows off more of her cleavage. As she puts the rejected dress away, she cocks an eyebrow and a smirk. “Might not be the worst thing.”

David rolls his eyes. And, look, she’s not entirely wrong. Right now he’d really appreciate some sex—anything to make him feel a little less … lonely, even if it’s only an hour or two. The trouble is …

“It’s Sebastien. It’s always the worst thing.” He has to keep telling himself this, has to remind himself of the bad parts, because otherwise he’s afraid he’ll give in. And though he didn’t see it until after the fact, he knows how miserable he got, especially at the end.

“So tell him to fuck off,” Stevie suggests, not unreasonably.

“It’ll just encourage him.” It’s true. He’s always liked knowing he’s gotten under David’s skin, sees it as a challenge. “Safest just to ignore him. Is that my Saint Laurent?” Like it could be hers.

She hesitates only slightly before folding it (correctly and carefully, he’s relieved to see) into her suitcase. “We had a deal.”

Ah yes, she can borrow his things whenever she wants. Granted, she doesn’t take advantage as much as he feared she might, but it still sends a shiver of concern through him to think about her wearing his beautiful, expensive, limited-edition things around … people.

“I bet they’re going to make the wedding party dress up as elves or something.”

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Stevie’s head come up fast. “What?”

David props himself up on his elbows. “You’re a bridesmaid, right? Have you seen what you’re wearing yet?” Stevie turns a satisfying shade of pale.

“No …”

He keeps his grin as hidden as he can, which is not very. “Did they ask for your hat size?”

Her eyes go even wider. “Oh my god. Are they going to do that? Why would anyone do that?”

“I don’t know, they’re your carny family!”

It takes him a while to talk her down. Especially because he spends a few minutes suggesting other costume ideas. His favourite is the look on her face when he points out that there are the same number of bridesmaids as there are reindeer.

 

Chapter Text

The drive is a long one, but with every mile under his tyres Patrick feels something in his chest loosen another notch. Despite the cold, he actually lets the window down at one point to let in the wind. He’s whistling along to the music and laughing at himself—it’s all very cliché, but he feels too good, and feeling good feels too rare, to be all that embarrassed. For the first time in a long time, he feels like he’s on track, like he’s heading in the right direction.

Of course, he’s so distracted he misses the turning, and has to find a different road in. He spends the next few minutes chastened and trying to get a grip on himself.

When he pulls up at the cottage, he stays in his car for a minute or two. It looks as cosy and welcoming as it did online but, after all, what it really is, is breathing room. Also … without putting too much responsibility on one holiday, he doesn’t want to just use this grace period to hide out; he wants to figure out what he wants, what he needs to fix, where he needs to go from here.

He might need to start making a list.

First things first, he unpacks. The cottage interior is all bare stone walls and slightly dated furniture, but there is the occasional pop of luxury—a throw pillow in mustard yellow, a copper light fixture that scatters warm light over the walls, a thick, woven blanket that’s so soft Patrick can’t stop running his hand over it every time he passes the couch. Someone with particular taste has left their fingerprints all over this place, and Patrick smiles each time he finds something new, like he’s recognised a new acquaintance.

He sits on the edge of the bed for a while, trying to corral his thoughts, but despite his earlier talking-to, he still feels wired. Eventually he decides self-examination can wait one more night. He’s going to find the bar.

 

❄️

It doesn’t take long – he’s always had a sixth sense for this kind of thing. It made him a popular road trip companion. The Wobbly Elm is a complete dive—a scuffed-up pool table, dark booths and a sticky bar—and filled with strangers. Patrick takes one look and can’t stop the grin from splitting his face. He settles at the bar and orders a beer.

He spends a while people-watching. The people are much the same as you’d find anywhere, at least in essentials, and he likes trying to figure out their stories. He’s just decided that the two women in the corner booth are on a first date when someone sits down next to him who is nothing like anyone he’s ever met.

The guy is dressed all in black, which should make him blend in, but Patrick can’t think of anyone who stands out more in a crowd. He’s tall, with dark, skilfully styled hair and a leather jacket that Patrick … likes. All of his clothes scream luxury, his expression aloof, everything designed, Patrick thinks, to entice and intimidate, to beckon at the same time as it holds you at arm’s length. And yet … there’s something else in his bearing that to Patrick says defence, not offence.

He deliberately doesn’t stare, but can’t help some more covert peripheral glances. The man wears four wide silver rings, spread out over both hands, and every time he gestures they catch the light.

“Excuse me, can I get your dirtiest vodka martini in the biggest glass you have?”

Patrick clamps his lips together to hide his smile. The bartender doesn’t seem hugely surprised, although he does hesitate.

“Do you want olives with that?”

“Four please.”

“Whoa,” says Patrick, under his breath.

“Excuse me?”

Or maybe not quite under it. The man is facing him now, somehow frowning while one thick eyebrow is raised in challenge.

“Sorry, just … that’s a lot of olives.”

The man seems to appraise him for a second, then turns away. “Yes,” he says, tersely. “It is.”

It’s quiet for a moment, and the other man seems okay with keeping it that way, but …

“Bad day?”

“Mhm.” It’s all he says, and he keeps facing forward, but Patrick thinks he can see a smile at the corner of his mouth. So Patrick nods, thoughtfully.

“Figured.” He lets a beat or two go by. “So what’s a four-olive day entail? Is it more, ‘your car broke down’ or ‘you created a man from living parts and it’s backfired horribly’?”

This time he’s sure of it—the man is trying very hard not to smile. Patrick straightens his spine: he likes a challenge.

“I’d say it’s more, ‘my friend has skipped town for Christmas and now there’s no one to commiserate with when my family does something ridiculous’.”

“Oh, so, much worse.”

The man actually laughs—it’s brief, and it’s interrupted as the bartender brings over his drink (the glass does seem to be larger than usual), but Patrick celebrates with an internal cheer.

“I’m surprised you haven’t just asked for vodka to be poured directly into an olive jar.”

Two laughing eyes look his way. “I’ve asked, they say it’s against some kind of food service standards.” He makes a face like this is ridiculous, and when Patrick laughs he looks pleased.

Before he knows what he’s doing, Patrick has extended a hand. “Patrick,” he says.

The guy looks a little quizzical, but he takes his hand before Patrick can feel too self-conscious.

“David.”

The win he feels at learning this most basic piece of personal information is worth an eye-roll, but he supposes he’s always been competitive and, well, he’s fascinated.

“Do you live around here?” It sounds a little … well … and David blinks at him, but he also looks a little amused. “I didn’t mean …” Patrick laughs at himself. “I just got here. I haven’t had a chance to look around yet but—”

“Oh this is it,” David says definitively. “It’s this and the café, and Bob’s garage. And, like, fifty businesses that Ray runs out of his home.”

Patrick is lost but enjoying himself. “Ray?”

David waves a hand, rings glittering. “He has about a million ideas and the enthusiasm of a dolphin on uppers. And maybe the world’s most delusional sense of taste.”

Patrick’s eyebrows must be skimming his hairline. He bites his lip to hide a smile. “That’s quite an indictment.”

David grimaces a little, and he looks a little uncertain. “He’s a nice person, just … okay, you know those people who put plastic over their sofas? Okay, so imagine a man in his forties who unironically thinks that is the height of interior design.”

“Good god,” Patrick says, letting only a trace of teasing colour his tone. He thinks David catches it, though, because he narrows his eyes at him a little and crowds his smile into the corner of his mouth, as though he’s trying to hide it. “What about you?”

“Uh, my taste is impeccable, thank you.” David looks affronted, sweeping a hand up and down his person.

“Oh I can see that,” says Patrick, before he can think about how it sounds. “I meant, what do you do here? When you’re not working for the tourism board, that is.”

“Oh, you know.” David fiddles with the rim of his glass. “Lately that’s sort of a full-time job?”

Patrick nods, recognising the subject change. “I get it. I quit my job a couple of weeks ago,” he says, and he can only think it’s to make David feel less self-conscious about whatever is making him look like that. It works; David shoots him a curious glance. “Kind of needed a break, so, as you can imagine it’s sitting really well with what my high school guidance counsellor used to call ‘an actuary’s sense of accountability’.”

The face David makes is quite a sight—torn between a grimace and a belated attempt to school his response. It makes Patrick chuckle. When he sees that Patrick hasn’t taken offence, he offers, “That’s limiting.”

It’s not what he’s expecting. He furrows his brow. David hesitates for a moment, and then he shrugs.

“Okay, look. The only thing a guidance counsellor ever told me was to pay more attention in class, but I mean, what if you didn’t want to be accountable all the time? Seems like maybe you shouldn’t be that definitive when you tell a kid who they are?”

Patrick’s mouth is hanging open, but it takes him a moment to close it. He stares as David takes a sip of his drink, and it’s the faint trace of smugness there that rouses him back to the present.

“I never … thought of it like that.” It has honestly never occurred to him that being named responsible wasn’t necessarily the compliment it had seemed at the time.

David looks a little more comfortable, a little more smug. Patrick narrows his eyes.

“All right, smarty pants. Why all the olives?”

“Sorry, what did you call me?”

“What’s got you solving the problems of strangers at this time of night?”

David is trying to hide that smile again. “Maybe I’m just a genuinely nice person.”

Patrick has only had the one beer, so he can’t blame it for not being able to hold back his laughter. David gapes at him. “I’m sorry, David, but –”

“Um, we just met!”

“David, you just—”

“It usually takes at least fifteen minutes for people to get that snippy with me.”

“Well I’ve always been ahead of the curve,” Patrick says, and his smile gets wider at the flash of surprise in David’s eyes. He jumps back in before David can recover. “At least that’s what my guidance counsellor told me.”

And finally, David lets his smile go. It’s a little dazzling, and Patrick feels that thrill again, or whatever it is.

“Are all actuaries this sure of themselves?”

“Please, David. I’m a business major.”

“And that’s different?”

So different.”

David raises a lofty eyebrow. “Mhm. How, exactly?”

And he can’t think of an answer. It would be frustrating if David’s eyes didn’t kind of light up in triumph.

“Whatever.”

“Oh, whatever.”

Patrick smiles into the neck of his bottle while in his periphery David squirms with the satisfaction of proving his point. His knocks his leg against Patrick’s, and Patrick nudges back, feeling a little freer to be playful here, where no one really knows him. He downs the rest of his beer and …

David’s leg is still pressing back against his.

Hm.

He glances down at the source of the warmth there. It shouldn’t be as arresting as it is, and he can’t quite explain why the heat seems to have spread to his stomach. The beer must be stronger than he thought. Glancing up with a questioning smile, though, Patrick finds his breath catching in his throat. David is already looking at him, calm, intent, mouth pursed in the barest hint of a challenge, watching to see what Patrick will do next.

It’s a good question.

What he should do, what he would normally do, is smile and move his leg away, no hard feelings, flattered, unoffended, but ultimately not interested—Sorry, I’ve got a girlfriend.

Except … he doesn’t do any of that. And the warm feeling is spreading up the back of his neck now. And something is coiling in his stomach. And …

Sorry, I’m not interested.

David’s eyes are reflecting the light from the bar, dark and dancing. His mouth, once again crowded into a corner, is somehow smiling at the same time.

Sorry, I’m not … um …

This is a long time to be looking at someone without saying anything.

Someone drops a glass and a roar goes up, and it’s like the volume has been turned back up in the bar, even though Patrick hadn’t noticed it die off in the first place. The noise is jarring, he feels hot, and shaken, and somehow embarrassed, though he’s not sure why. He’s jolted away, or David has, and either way they’re not touching anymore. And Patrick … doesn’t like that.

“Everything okay over there?”

David is still looking at him, only now there’s a hint of uncertainty. Patrick can well believe it, if the chaos going on inside him is even partly showing on his face. Because he thinks … he thinks he wants … he wants …

Oh, fuck.

Mortified, he shifts his seat to try to hide it, and only succeeds in almost falling off the stool, catching himself just in time and stumbling to his feet. David shoots out an arm to steady him but stops short of touching him and he’s relieved. And disappointed.

“I, um …”

He jerks a thumb over his shoulder to where the bathrooms are, but he still can’t quite look away.

“I’m just going to … I’ll be right back.” For a second or two, he hovers awkwardly. David’s eyebrows furrow slightly, as though he’s trying to puzzle him out. Patrick sympathises. Stricken, he swallows and turns away. Flees, his brain supplies, sarcastically. But it’s not like that, he just needs to …

He closes the stall door behind him and leans heavily against it. His face feels hot – he’s flushed and agitated. Or, not agitated, not exactly, more … excited? Scared? Both?

Guys have flirted with him before. Usually it has been when he’s out with Rachel, but occasionally he’s just stepped away from his friends to grab a round and someone, a man, has started chatting him up. Some have been more subtle than others. And most of the time he’s left those interactions unruffled—somehow energised, in fact, which he’s put down to a boost in self-esteem, a lift that stays with him for the rest of the night.

But this …

This is different.

He thinks he was flirting back.

And maybe it’s because he’s on his own. Maybe it’s the beer. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s no one within 100 miles who knows him, no one here who knows that he’s only ever dated women, that he’s recently left his fiancé and run away to hide out for the holidays in a town with a strange name and unexpected charm.

Or maybe it’s the man at the bar in the leather jacket with the dancing eyes and the broad shoulders and the deprecating wit and the impossible smile …

His stomach flips. How long had he been staring at David, anyway? Had he noticed? Did he mind? Does Patrick want him to mind?

He scrubs his hands over his face and shakes out his arms. Can’t hide in here all night. He exits the stall and washes his hands out of habit, but he can’t look at himself in the mirror.

 

❄️❄️❄️

David leans back against the bar and sips his martini, surveying the crowd without much interest.

He’s … unsettled.

He likes to think he’s pretty good at reading signals. There has been the occasional misstep. He still cringes internally when he remembers the time he thought Mutt was coming onto him. And, okay, his ability to get a read on people has been a little off lately, especially here, in the outside world, where people don’t seem to be operating under the same rules as in New York, whose many social cues and layers upon layers of sarcasm he had spent so much of his life assiduously studying. But he’s pretty sure this is … he’s fairly certain …

The thing is, the look in Patrick’s eyes when he’d glanced up from where their thighs were touching—okay, where David was causing their thighs to touch, because he has some game, thank you very much—that had not been the look of someone who was not interested. Mild inquiry had changed to realisation and then surprise, but he had not looked away. Except when his eyes had dropped to David’s mouth. He’s pretty sure that happened.

Right before he ran off to the bathroom, that is.

David takes another sip and sighs. A woman with pale eyes and blond hair looks him up and down as she walks past, and he watches her shift her gait as she does so, all the better to display herself to him.

Patrick’s eyes are warm, like whiskey. They tease and brighten in amusement. They soften and watch closely. They grow wide, searching, and they darken with infinitesimal flashes of … something. Probably. Maybe.

A sip. A sigh.

“David!”

He almost slips off the bar stool, reflexes immediately on high alert as Alexis sits on the stool next to him in a flurry of hair and sparkling jewellery.

“What are you doing here?” he scowls, eyebrows flying up towards his hairline in affrontery as she picks up his glass and takes a sip. “Excuse me!” Efforts to retrieve his glass are batted away, and he gives up with a flap of his hands and a roll of his eyes.

“I’ve been here for like, twenty minutes,” she says, mimicking his pose and surveying the room.

Where?” David snaps, reverting easily to pissed-off sibling.

“Um, over by the pool table, and then at that little table by the windows.” She shoots him a knowing smirk. “I’m not surprised you didn’t notice, though,” she says, and David ducks as she tries to boop him on the nose. “Who was that sexy little guy you were drooling all over?”

He’s about to protest the descriptor “little”, but bites it back just in time. “I wasn’t drooling.” He turns to face her, pointing a finger in her face, annoyed when it doesn’t annoy her. “And I wasn’t all over him. We were just talking.”

Probably. Maybe.

“Talking,” Alexis repeats with an eye roll. “Please, David.”

“I don’t …” He trails off. It occurs to him that Alexis might be the closest thing he has to a sounding board right now. “He’s like, a nice person.”

Alexis’s eyes go wide, and she sits up straight, giving him her full attention. It makes him smile, despite himself, so he rolls his eyes to dampen the effect.

“Is he …?”

“Not sure. Maybe.” He remembers the look in Patrick’s eyes right before the glass had smashed.

“Oh my god, David, look at you.” She points in delight, and he realises he’s been smiling to himself like an idiot.

“It’s nothing,” he says, trying to tamp down the flicker of … hope, or whatever. For some reason, the fact that Alexis can see it scares him. Damage control, now. “He’s just nice, that’s all.”

“You like him,” she says, decisively, like she knows, and his stomach clenches.

“Whatever,” he says, signalling the bartender, because he needs to do something with his hands and he’s not getting his drink back. “He’s not into me.” He can’t help glancing her way again, though, and her raised eyebrow tells him she’s not buying his act.

“Well, all I can say is you looked pretty cosy over here together,” she says lightly, downing the rest of his drink and looking pleased with herself. “Could be good.”

She’s wrong, though. He has the trail of destruction that is his romantic history to prove it. The string of people fate seems to have hand selected to make him as miserable as possible. They were all the same, really: painfully on trend, cold and selfish, beautiful or powerful or popular, or sometimes just convenient—like himself, in fact, or at least like the person he strove to be back then. And he knows, with a shame that makes his insides blush, that back in New York he would never have seriously considered someone like Patrick, and for no other reason than a desperation to impress the assholes he used to call friends.

Sometimes he really hates himself for being that person.

“Trust me,” he tells Alexis, hiding this unwelcome emotion behind the drink the bartender has placed before him, infusing his words with a loftiness he doesn’t feel. “He’s a business major in mid-range denim. He’s not into me.”

He knows he’s fishing, but he sort of wants Alexis to keep trying to convince him, needs that boost of self-esteem. Instead, her gaze slides over his shoulder, her eyes widen, and David feels a cold hand clench his stomach. He turns to look over his shoulder … at Patrick, standing there with a strange expression and a smile that for the first time looks forced. He huffs a little laugh and looks down.

“I think that’s my cue,” he says with a faint smirk, and picks up his jacket from the chair on David’s other side.

Grimacing, skin prickling with mortification, David tries to explain, but can only get out a few vague sounds. “I—that wasn’t—”

“It’s okay,” says Patrick, and he’s being kind, and that just makes it worse. He nods at Alexis and finally, briefly, glances up once more at David, and he looks …

Resigned. Deflated.

Confused.

“It was nice to meet you, David,” he says, not even doing him the favour of sounding sarcastic. And that smile, that look of resignation, leaves him winded, with nothing to do but watch, open-mouthed and helpless, as he leaves the bar.

David can hear Alexis making vague buck-up-little-camper noises, but he doesn’t care. His skin flames and his stomach is leaden. He feels shitty, and awful, and he hates it—anger lashes out like a cat backed into a corner, and he has just enough self-awareness to know that he’s only really angry because he can’t blame anyone else.

Ugh. Feelings are the worst. Thankfully, he spent years figuring out that the most efficient way to dull self-hatred is to drown it. He turns back to the bar and downs his new drink in one, clenching his teeth against the acidity as he signals for another.

He’s going to get drunk.

 

❄️❄️❄️

It’s four days out from Christmas and it’s going to snow any day now, but Patrick thinks his burning cheeks are going to keep him warm all the way home.

He doesn’t think he’s ever felt like such a fool.

Every few steps it circles back around and he wants to cover his face with his hands and scream in mortification. It takes every bit of concentration and the desire not to be committed for disturbing the peace to get back to the cottage without actually doing it.

Once he’s inside, however, there are only so many lights to turn on, so many gloves and jackets to be hung up before he has nothing left to distract himself. He makes it to the bed, deflates, sinks down onto the edge of it, and sighs.

He was an idiot to think that he could travel five hours and escape the assumptions and labels that even he has had about himself.

Because it’s been there, right in his field of vision, ever since he finally mustered the courage to break up with Rachel. He’s been doing a pretty good job so far of not looking directly at it, but it’s still there, like a great big elephant in the room.

A great, big, gay elephant who likes men and wonders what it would be like to kiss them.

He’s not entirely sure why he’s been so afraid, but he thinks it’s to do with the way that no one, including him, has ever questioned that he might be anything other than straight. Patrick Brewer loves baseball, hates olives, and dates women monogamously. It’s so obvious, in fact, that it’s never even been worth pointing out. So obvious that it’s taken him thirty years to even look at it as a possible source of what has been stopping him from feeling … well … right.

It’s a frightening thing to find out that you’re not who you always thought you were.

He knows that after the break-up—yeah, the last one, smart ass—the question of his sexuality had been getting slowly more prominent, whispering onto the end of every analysis that he would run through his head, ending every hypothesis with: Yeah, that, or maybe you’re just not into women? He’s a little ashamed that his courage hasn’t been enough to follow that thought through to conclusion, not even after all the effort sex had required, not even that time in the shower with his hand on himself when an image of Jensen Ackles had flashed into his head and … things had ended rather more startlingly than anticipated.

Now, though, it’s just him. In fact, he realises, there’s no one within 100 miles who knows anything about him. It’s … a liberating thought. Perfect conditions for some thorough self-examination.

So who is Patrick Brewer?

Patrick Brewer loves baseball, hates olives, and … is probably not straight?

He sighs. Not good enough. Because tonight in the bar, free of the weight of prior knowledge, he had been able to wipe the slate clean, shake some of those assumptions and be … whoever he wanted to be. Not Rachel’s fiancé, not even Marcy and Clint’s son, just … Patrick. A Patrick who was mesmerised by one tall, dark-haired stranger with striking eyebrows, expressive hands, and dancing eyes …

All this newfound liberation, of course, is somewhat dampened by the memory of what David had said later, to that girl, the one who looked much more comfortably placed next to him, like she made sense in his world. Whereas Patrick … Patrick is a business major in mid-range denim.

It stings. He had thought … he thought …

Taken on face value, he knows, it’s nothing but the truth. But to Patrick it feels like a dismissal, like a hand placing him back in his box with the wife, the house and the two point five kids. And the truth is it has always frustrated him when people are so cavalier about assuming that’s a box he wants to live in. For the first time, entwined with that frustration is a rush of nascent certainty, blooming hopeful but strong, surging up to fight back. For the first time he isn’t going to let himself be told.

That’s not who I am.

He grabs hold of that thought. Thinks about Rachel, how from the first time he kissed her it was nice, how their friendship had always been such a comfort, had made it easy to ignore things like the fact that their closeness seemed, in a strange way, conditional. How sex was something Patrick had to prepare himself for, overthink, work though, until he actually preferred it if the focus remained on Rachel because it meant he couldn’t let anyone down. How lonely it had felt hiding in the corners of that relationship, hiding his fears and doubts from her until his misery was so complete that he had to run away at Christmas just to stop himself from sinking back into it.

And David … even now, just turning his thoughts in that direction makes Patrick’s heart beat a little faster, which is already terrifyingly, wonderfully different. He’s never met anyone like David. Sharp and quick and animated and so beautiful that it’s almost too much to take in at once. The precisely fashionable clothes and aloof expressions are, Patrick suspects, so much meticulously constructed armour, intended to dazzle and deflect, to keep the focus on the exterior. If you want to come any closer, David had seemed to say, you’ll have to work for it. And yet, far from feeling deterred, Patrick had wanted to work for it, was desperate to know what he was guarding, to be the one to tease out those glimpses of softness underneath, to dance with his wit and words. And god, when he had, and David’s eyes had just … lit up with pleasure … well. Something inside Patrick had woken up, had responded with such feeling, such excitement. Too new, too wonderful, to be mistaken for mere liking, for admiration, for any similarly lukewarm sentiment.

Patrick wanted him.

Him.

He lets himself sit with that for a moment.

The trouble, thinks the methodical part of his brain, is that thoughts like this are all he has to go on. There’s no actual data, no experience that he can look at and analyse. It’s all hypothetical. If he could just know for sure, if he could get his hands on some empirical scientific evidence …

Or you just want him.

He spends about five minutes sitting there on the edge of the bed, tapping his fingers idly on his leg, before he makes his decision. It’s rational, and methodical, and definitely something his friends back in Toronto would mock him about if he ever, ever told them. But it’s just him here. It’s just him. So he changes into his pyjamas, turns down the light, lies back on the bed and tries to get comfortable.

Already there’s anticipation vibrating through him, tightening his stomach, tensing his limbs. He tries to slow his breathing, to relax his muscles, rubs a hand idly up and down his sternum. Eventually, he feels looser, the anticipation lowers to a hum. He closes his eyes.

He thinks about David.

He doesn’t intend to – he’d planned to think of a random man, but David’s face is what rises in his imagination. His eyes, glittering and amused as Patrick teases him, his eyebrows drawing up to a point of concern in the middle of his forehead, his hair, dark and soft in a way that has Patrick wanting to know what it feels like between his fingers …

He swallows and blinks. He’s barely started, and it’s already something. He’s a little scared of how something it is. But he draws a deep breath and closes his eyes again.

Data must be gathered, after all.

David’s mouth is there behind his eyelids this time, tilted to one side in a smirk. Patrick wonders what his stubble would feel like under his fingertips, beneath his lips …

Warm thoughts are stirring warm feelings in his solar plexus.

Patrick lets his hands drift downwards, slides them under the hem of his t-shirt and drags his fingertips lightly across his skin, just above his hips. It’s enough, it turns out, just to imagine David’s hands here, and isn’t that interesting? So he lets his hands slide a little lower, over his pyjama pants, avoiding contact with his crotch at first. He imagines it’s David’s hand on his thigh, David’s fingers brushing over his erection, David’s grip squeezing slightly …

This time his hips actually jerk off the mattress, his cock twitches, and a warm flush licks its warm way up his chest. His breath is coming out in huffs as his (David’s) hand starts stroking, slowly, firmly. He imagines David’s breath on his neck, soft lips under his jaw. He imagines the way his name might sound in David’s voice, low and breathy, and the soft ache below his navel kicks up a notch. His hand (David’s hand) is twisting with every upstroke, and a sudden image of David’s face, hovering above him, breathing laboured, white teeth biting down on wet lips, draws a hoarse groan from his throat as his movements speed up (please don’t stop), and the ache builds and his hips jerk and oh god, it feels so, so good.

He comes, hard and sudden, with a strangled cry and a tremble that shakes through his whole body. He’s never felt anything like it.

Fuck, he thinks, eyes wide, chest heaving. So that’s where you’ve been hiding.

Patrick Brewer, it turns out, loves baseball, hates olives, and is definitely, definitively, gay.

 

❄️❄️❄️

The problem with getting drunk in Schitt’s Creek is that the only Uber driver in the vicinity who operates after 11pm is Ray Butani, and David just doesn’t have the energy right now. He could always call Alexis, he supposes, but it took long enough the first time to convince her that he didn’t need a ride home, was fine playing pool with some strange friend of Ronnie’s while sucking down whatever cocktail he could convince the bartender to make.

He lost at pool, which reminds him of Stevie, which reminds him of how pissed he is at her leaving him alone here with only his thoughts and his own trashy actions for company. He gets out his phone and fumbles her a text.

[David:] Briiiiiiidesmaaaaid.

He snickers as he falls back against the bar. He’s landed at the same spot where he met Patrick, and this foggy realisation puts an end to his good mood. He wants, suddenly, to go home, to forget about tonight, about Stevie, about business majors and their thighs. He was only trying to get Alexis off his case. If anything, it’s her fault.

God, he’s lonely.

He manages, in the end, to snag a lift with Ronnie’s strange friend, but he almost reconsiders when he has to wait for them to round up their friends, one of whom is snogging the blond woman from earlier by the jukebox. When they’re all finally crammed into the truck, he’s longing for quiet, and when Ronnie’s strange friend asks him where he wants to be dropped, he has a brainwave and directs them to Stevie’s aunt’s cottage. Stevie won’t be there, after all, and he’s pretty sure the spare key is in the pot plant, or under the mailbox, or something.

They make it there in one piece, but once he’s poured himself out onto the pavement and gotten back to his feet, the truck is pulling down the street and he almost misses the rowdiness. They weren’t so bad, he thinks. People aren’t so bad. Sometimes they’re nice. Sometimes they’re surprisingly sexy, with pale skin and mischievous eyes and warm, sturdy thighs.

Mm.

He’s winding his way up the driveway when he suddenly needs to pee. There’s a light on inside, though, and with a jolt of relief he realises Stevie must be staying here tonight—he doesn’t know why she still lives at her apartment, to be honest, but she has stubborn ideas about inheritance, and there was some business-y reason to do with upkeep or subletting or something. He wasn’t listening.

Man, he really needs a bathroom. Hoping Stevie hasn’t passed out in front of the fire, he stumbles up to the door and knocks.

 

❄️❄️❄️

There’s a thumping in Patrick’s head, but it doesn’t feel like a hangover. Also, he only had the one beer. At the … place. He blinks awake. It’s dark, and it takes him a disoriented moment or two, actually, to remember where he is, let alone identify the noise as coming from the front door.

“LET ME IN!”

Yeah, he thinks groggily, rolling onto his side and sinking into his pillow, I’ll get right on it. He still feels kind of heavy-limbed, and the bed is warm and comfortable.

“STEVIE I SWEAR TO GOD, I NEED TO PEE!”

He chuckles sleepily, wonders how long it’ll take this guy to realise nobody’s home. Or nobody named Stevie, anyway.

“FINE, I HOPE YOU’RE NOT ATTACHED TO THIS DOORMAAAAAAT—”

Patrick’s eyes snap open. Oh crap.

He jumps out of bed, hopping awkwardly around the corners as he hurries towards the front door.

“YOU ASKED FOR IT—”

“No no no no …” Patrick skids across the floorboards, the practical part of his brain already trying to remember where Stevie keeps the bleach.

“T-MINUS 15 SECONDS BEFORE I—”

Patrick flings open the door. “DON’T!”

And stares.

It’s an odd way to find out you have superpowers, Patrick thinks, dumbstruck. To be thinking so much about someone that you literally conjure them onto your doorstep. But it’s definitely himDavid—a little dishevelled and none the worse for it, in those expensive-looking slim-fit jeans and that … jacket, the one that’s making Patrick’s fingers twitch.

He’s staring.

He shakes himself, but before he can say anything—

“What the fuck are you doing here?” David blurts out, apparently before he can stop himself.

Patrick blinks. “I’m sorry, what am I doing here? You do realise you’re the one threatening to pee on my doorstep, right?”

“I—I didn’t—” He jerks his head around, as if he’s trying to figure out if he has the wrong cottage. “Where’s Stevie?”

“Stevie? You mean the person who’s letting out her cottage?”

With the slow realisation of the very tipsy, David’s mouth forms an “O”.

“I assume she’s a friend of yours,” Patrick wriggles his bare toes at the onslaught of cold air, “but if you wouldn’t mind holding off on scent-marking the place until she comes back I’d really owe you …”

David is looking at Patrick’s feet, but at that he snaps back into focus. At least he has the grace to look a little embarrassed. “About that,” he grimaces, shifting and generally looking awkward. “Um. I don’t suppose …”

Patrick sighs and steps back, biting down a smile and gesturing him inside. “Be my guest.”

David hesitates only briefly before darting past Patrick and into the hall. A second later his head bobs back around the corner. “Um. Thanks …” he says, as if he’s had to remind himself to say it. For whatever reason, it makes Patrick chuckle, and as he re-bolts the door he’s smiling again.

There’s a boy in his house.

It doesn’t mean anything, not really, and yet at the same time, it feels … different.

He tries not to think about earlier this evening, and busies himself boiling the kettle. When David walks back into the living area, looking a little shyer, Patrick smiles.

“Tea?”

“Um, I don’t—you don’t have to …”

Patrick grins. “It’s okay. Have a seat.”

David looks around. He seems on edge, skittish. “Okay …” He slides out one of the bar stools and perches on the edge of it. Something about how uncomfortable David looks makes Patrick feel more at ease.

He can still tease him, though.

“Stevie didn’t tell you she’d let out the cottage?”

“I may have temporarily forgotten.”

Patrick smirks to himself as he carefully transports the mugs to the counter. “You had fun at the bar, then?”

David shoots him a glare, but then looks away. He clears his throat. “It’s possible I made some … questionable choices.”

Something about the self-deprecation in David’s face makes Patrick feel … fond. He’s not sure whether David’s talking about the drinking or anything else, but either way, he shakes his head. “Nah, I’m sure it’s all fine.” When David glances up there’s a hint of a question in his expression, and Patrick smiles softly. He’s glad to see David look a little relieved, glad he can let him know, even in this roundabout way, that there are no hard feelings.

And now he wishes he’d phrased that differently in his head.

David breathes in his tea, but doesn’t drink. “So what are you doing here? At Christmas, I mean. Don’t normal people have … family and stuff?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Kind of have special dispensation this year.” David raises an eyebrow.

“You didn’t want to be with your family? Because, believe me, I get that.”

He laughs and settles in the barstool on the corner, so they’re perpendicular. “No, not exactly. I, um … thought it might be easier to figure out some … stuff. On my own.”

“How’s that going?” David’s expression is soft, and with an ache Patrick realises he wants to lean towards him.

He swallows. “Okay,” he hedges, then shakes his head. “To tell the truth I’ve been wondering if I should just go back and deal with it there.”

David cocks his head to one side. “There must have been a good reason you came here in the first place.”

Patrick looks at him, considering. He could tell him, he guesses. He kind of wants to.

“I broke up with my fiancée.” He’s holding his breath, he realises, like he’s bracing for judgement. David just waits, so he exhales cautiously. “I guess I didn’t want to be surrounded by people who knew everything about me, for some reason.” Before he can think about that properly, David chuckles. Patrick lifts his eyebrows in question.

“Sorry, it’s just that … okay, my family used to be a slightly big deal in a past life—not like, Kardashian-level, maybe, more like a much more fashionable version of the Osbornes?” Patrick decides not to tell him that he doesn’t know who he’s talking about. “A couple of years ago we kind of lost all our money to a dodgy business manager. And when we had to leave New York and come here … the thought of no one knowing who I was seemed like the worst thing in the world.”

“And now?”

David looks thoughtful. “I’m starting to think it might have been a quality/quantity thing?”

Patrick is noticing that David seems to end a lot of his sentences like they’re questions.

“I’m sorry about your business manager.”

David shrugs, nods, scoffs—the poster child for detachment. Patrick doesn’t buy it, but he lets it go.

“Were you and your family close before …?”

“God no. I mean, we weren’t even always in the same country most of the time. Physically and emotionally speaking, to be honest.”

Patrick bites back his smile. “And now you’re all in the one house?”

“Now I share a motel room with my sister and a wall with my parents,” David declares through an exaggerated grimace. “And none of that is a euphemism for familial intimacy.”

“Ah,” says Patrick. “So that must be nice. Like camping.”

And David laughs, which was Patrick’s intention. “Thank you for letting me know that we have absolutely nothing in common,” he chuckles.

Patrick ducks his head, a secret smile. “I don’t know about that.”

“So, what, you’re going to spend Christmas all alone? Like Bob Cratchit?”

“You’re thinking of Scrooge.”

“Donald Duck’s uncle?”

“Yes, David. I’m channelling Donald Duck’s uncle,” Patrick deadpans. “Ducktales always was my favourite Dickens novel.” David rolls his eyes.

“I liked Great Expectations. I think I saw a lot of myself in Miss Havisham.”

And that startles a laugh out of Patrick. “Really?”

David nods, animated. “Um, who hasn’t wanted to hide in their mansion eating cake and refusing to change out of a wedding dress while you create drama by pitting your relatives against one another?”

Patrick’s mouth is hanging open. Ultimately, he can do nothing but agree. “Who indeed?”

Who are you?

They talk about their favourite books. He tells David about his last camping trip, mostly to see his face when he describes his cousin’s brush with poison ivy. In turn, David tells him about his sister, Alexis, and the time he had to help her escape from the Iranian embassy. He’s a little livelier than he was back at the bar, which Patrick puts down to the alcohol he consumed in the interim, but he’s a captivating storyteller, funny and expressive. At one point, though, while he’s miming the way Alexis air-kissed the border guards, Patrick finds himself struggling not to focus his mouth, blushing because he remembers how it felt the last time he thought about David’s lips in the context of kissing …

David isn’t talking anymore. He’s looking at Patrick. He’s smiling at Patrick. There’s a quiet moment when the air seems to crackle with potential …

“I should let you get back to bed,” says David at length, tapping his silver rings on the long since empty mug in his hands.

“Oh. Right.”

As someone who only recently started really paying attention to his body, Patrick is a little taken aback at how loud it’s being right now, because a veritable baseball stadium is yelling at him to not let David go just yet. David, who is looking at him with slightly hooded eyes, and oh god, Patrick wants him to look at him like that some more, except now David is standing and Patrick’s nerve endings are twanging. He springs to his feet, and it must look as weird as it feels, because David’s eyebrows arch in surprise.

Stay. Just five more minutes.

He opens his mouth, but the words just won’t come out. The chasm is too big, he doesn’t have a plan for what to do after he leaps.

“Uber?”

“What?”

Patrick clears his throat. “You sure you don’t want to call an Uber?”

He almost misses David’s reply, can’t quite keep his mind off the way David’s mouth quirks upwards at one corner.

“No, I think Ray shuts down after 2 am. It’s not far.”

“Ray drives for Uber?”

“I told you he had a lot of businesses.”

There’s another odd little pause, and then David is walking over to the door. Patrick darts forward to open it for him, even though he wants nothing more than to stop him, somehow, to think of something innocuous, some safe remark that might convince him not to leave just yet …

There’s still wine.

It’s too cold to walk home.

I need you to get something down out of the top cupboard.

I need to kiss you. It’s for science—

David stops in the doorway and turns to face him. “So,” he says, smiling softly. It feels oddly suggestive, like the end of a date, which of course, it isn’t.

Stay. Stay here.

“Sorry again for waking you.”

“Anytime. Although if I don’t answer right away I’d really prefer it if you didn’t piss on the doormat, because that’ll annihilate my guest rating.”

David tucks his grin off to the side, eyes dancing, and oh fuck, Patrick is so into him. He could do it, he thinks. He could lean in, wrap his fingers tightly around the lapels of that leather jacket and pull David towards him, and … and they’d be kissing …

“So …”

… and what if he’s wrong, not just about David but about him? What if he’s built it up in his head? What if it’s another empty promise he’s latched onto because he’s confused and lonely and just wants something to feel right, goddamn it?

Fuck it.

David makes a movement—he might not be turning away, he might just be scratching his leg, but even the thought that he might leave, might walk away without Patrick having kissed him, has his body taking unilateral control … before he knows what he’s doing, Patrick’s hand darts out to touch his fingertips to the cuff of David’s jacket.

The next second seems to last forever. All he can do is hang on.

“Patrick …”

Pulse racing, heart thudding, he looks up. But David … David is looking at Patrick’s mouth.

Patrick leaps.

Silence descends, like a blanket of snow, and everything slows down and … and he brushes his lips gently over David’s, and his lips are soft, so soft, and oh god

Oh god.

David is kissing him back.

Patrick’s fingers climb up the sleeves of David’s jacket, seeking purchase. Feeling braver, he rocks forward onto his toes, leans into a definitive, stomach-flipping, heart-thumping, life-altering, proper first kiss.

It’s warm, and slow, and perfect, and it turns out all the poets were onto something, because Patrick wants to stay here, for as long as he can, for the infinite time it takes him to know all he can about how it feels to kiss David Rose. It feels electric, and scary, and wonderful. It’s butterflies in his stomach and warmth in his chest and soft leather under his fingertips.

It’s everything he’s never felt before.

 

❄️❄️❄️

It’s been a long time since David Rose was thoroughly kissed.

He’s not even comparing it to past kisses. And he loves a good ranking—that’s how good it is. Patrick is slow and deliberate, warm and soft, like he wants to take his time, like he means it … it’s a little dizzying. He slides a hand around Patrick’s neck and is gratified by the soft noise that he breathes into David’s mouth.

Too soon, though, Patrick is pulling back, and David stills, studying him for signs of regret. But Patrick’s hands are still clenched around the lapels of his jacket, his eyes are still closed, his lips parted as he seems to catch his breath. A faint smile tugs at the corner of his mouth, but it’s gone before David can understand it. And then Patrick’s tongue darts out over his lower lip and his teeth bite softly down on it, as if he’s tasting their kiss again, as if he’s tasting David again, and it only lasts a second or two but David has to swallow down a groan of his own because holy fuck.

Patrick looks up, and he almost has to do it again because he’s honestly not sure anyone has ever looked at him quite like this—his wide brown eyes are dark, a little dazed, filled with something David’s finding difficult to identify but which pulls at him, sends a flare of arousal buzzing through him. He feels himself smiling, unable to help it. Gently, he nudges his fingers up the nape of Patrick’s neck, inviting him to move closer. Patrick’s hands tighten on David’s jacket, his jaw sets with determination—David’s stomach flutters again—and he tips his chin up to meet David’s mouth once more. This time, David coaxes Patrick’s lips apart, lets him dirty it up if he wants. Apparently, he does want, and now David is the one moaning into Patrick’s mouth. It turns out Patrick kisses like he seems to do everything else—earnest and strong, teasing, with a surprisingly fiery edge that David wants to explore further.

It’s too soon again when Patrick pulls slowly back and rests his cheek against David’s, and for a moment they’re both catching their breath.

“Do you want to stay?”

Patrick’s voice is low and gravelly and good fucking lord.

“Mhm,” is all David gets out before he’s got his mouth on Patrick’s again and is walking him back through the doorway. He feels Patrick laugh against his lips, but the next moment David has the door closed and Patrick crowded up against it, and that laugh turns to a whimper. Smirking to himself, David slides his thigh between Patrick’s legs and presses the length of his body against him. It has the desired effect—Patrick’s head thunks back against the door and he gasps out a throaty sort of moan. His hands grab at David’s waist, and the next second Patrick’s hips are rolling instinctively towards David’s. He’s feeling pretty damn pleased with himself, body thrumming, head buzzing—

“Wait, wait a minute—”

It’s the hand on his chest that stops him, his reflexes a little delayed. He stops, though, and pulls back to blink at Patrick, feeling a little dizzy, a combination of the kissing and the alcohol still fizzing in his system.

“Sorry?”

Patrick still has his hands at David’s waist, though, and a smile still on his lips, although he looks a little … David struggles to remember the word …

“I just … I haven’t …”

Nervous. Nervous is the word he’s looking for.

“I’ve never done this before,” Patrick is saying.

“Oh,” says David, stupidly.

“With a guy, I mean.”

David blinks. He’s figuring out some stuff. Patrick’s face is reddening, but he’s wearing that determined look again; David can see the nerves behind it, now, can see him fighting them.

“And, uh … I want to, I really—” he tips forward, like he can’t help it, and kisses David twice, “—really want to, I’m just telling you now in case I’m …” A nervous laugh, a hand clenched in David’s jacket. “In case I’m really bad at it or—or something.” He looks up at David through his lashes, and Jesus Christ, he’s so fucking adorable that David can’t quite hold back a groan as he crashes their mouths together again.

“Not possible,” he murmurs, moving to kiss messily along Patrick’s jaw and down his neck, and god he tastes good, and Patrick’s hands are running all over David’s back, like he can’t touch him enough, and David shivers a little, thinking about that, and …

Wait, though.

It’s that conscience, the one that’s been following him around since he got to this stupid town. The one that keeps wanting to make him a better person or something.

Wait.

He squeezes his eyes shut, because god, he wants so much to keep going, to be kissed by this man, to see what else he’s surprisingly good at, and damn it, he deserves something good, deserves to forget his own life for a bit, the way he used to when he … before he …

Wait.

Ah, fuck.

He pushes himself back, holds a hand to Patrick’s chest—good lord, you could search for years and never find a build like this—to stop him following.

“We … this isn’t a good idea.”

Patrick is frowning in confusion, lips pink, chest heaving against David’s palm (he drops his hand before he does something stupid, like rip Patrick’s t-shirt off) as he searches David’s face with those wide, dark eyes.

“It isn’t?”

No.

Yes.

Fuck, fuck, fuckitty fuck.

“No,” says David’s stupid mouth. “We shouldn’t be—it’s your first time. You should be sober for that.”

Patrick quirks an eyebrow, and the corners of his mouth turn down in an amused, teasing sort of smile. “I’m not drunk,” he whispers conspiratorially, reaching towards him, and David’s heartrate kicks up a bit because he only has so many reserves of good judgement, and they’re all going to disappear if Patrick keeps touching him.

“I think, maybe …” fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck “… maybe I am?”

And Patrick freezes. “Oh.” Eyes wide with shock, he brings a hand up to cover his mouth. “Oh my god. I’m sorry.” He almost stumbles in his haste to move out from between the door and David, like he wasn’t the one who was pinned there in the first place.

David grimaces. “No, that’s not—”

“No, you don’t have to explain.” Patrick turns and runs his hands through his hair, and it’s distracting. “I’ll call you an Uber.”

Suddenly, he’s over at the coffee table, holding his phone, and David is frowning, struggling to catch up—maybe he’s a little tipsier than he thought—but he’s fairly certain Patrick has misunderstood.

“It’s really not necessary—”

“Right, no service after 2am.” Patrick’s eyes are darting back and forth as he thinks, and he’s biting his lip and it’s distracting, which must be why David still hasn’t explained himself. “Did you want me to drop you home?”

“No!” David does not want that, because he’d never hear the end of it from his family, and he still needs to—

“Right. Of course. But … you can’t just walk home, I know you said it’s not far, but you can’t really—”

“I really can, but—”

There’s a bit of back and forth after that, and for some reason he seems to be arguing quite emphatically that he’s fine walking home from here. It’s all a bit of a blur. Before he knows it—and he’s not entirely sure how, exactly—he’s standing back in the open doorway, and it’s awkward. For a moment they just look at each other, and then …

“Goodnight, David.”

He stammers out a reply, and then … then he’s standing on the doorstep in the middle of the night, on the complete opposite side of the door to where just a moment ago he was really fucking enjoying a kiss with a decidedly mis-labelled business major who now thinks David was accusing him of trying to take advantage when, if anything, the opposite was closer to the truth.

It’s dark out here. And cold. Added to which he now has an odd, uncomfortable sort of gnawing in his belly. He doesn’t like it.

Fucking conscience. Fuck it all to fucking hell.

 

 

Chapter Text

Patrick honestly isn’t sure how he gets to sleep, but when he wakes up it’s as though no time has passed—his head is full of last night. And there’s a lot to process.

One: he’s gay. He should feel different. He should feel like a different person. But he just feels … lighter. The big gay elephant has left the room, and there’s so much more room to breathe now. It feels good. “Good” is an understatement, and barely even scratches the surface.

Two: he kissed a guy. David. He kissed David. And it … it was … Jesus, it was amazing.

Three: if David hadn’t stopped them, he probably would have done a lot more. Even now, the memory makes him a little dizzy. He’s never hooked up with someone he doesn’t know, and it’s a little startling to realise how close he came, how much he wanted to. He’ll have to come back to this later, though, because …

Four: David had stopped them. He’s so foggy on the details, though, so caught up in items one through three that he can’t remember with any clarity whether he missed the signs that David was drunker than he had seemed to be. Maybe he’d got it wrong, bringing sex into the equation at all. Either that, he supposes, or David had been completely turned off when he’d found out exactly how little experience Patrick had.

He covers his face and groans into his hands. It isn’t lost on him that, despite how much has happened, he was in almost this exact same position—physically, at least—at his parents’ kitchen table. Maybe, he thinks, with a sigh of resignation, he should just go back. It’s not like the trip has been a waste—in a way, it’s been more edifying than he could have dreamed. So maybe it’s served its purpose. Maybe it’s better to have … whatevered, et cetera.

He feels like he’s trying too hard to convince himself, but he also feels foolish, and embarrassed, and discombobulated, and while in a way Thunder Bay is the last place he wants to be right now, at least it’s familiar. Maybe it’s the grown-up, responsible thing to do.

He starts tidying up first, like it’ll stall the actual packing, but there’s not much to do, and before he knows it he’s packed up the car and is driving out towards the town line. He's gripping the steering wheel so hard he has to keep reminding himself to let go. He feels like ... like he's heading in the wrong direction. Even though he's checked the map three times, something is still nagging at him, some tension tickling the back of his mind. It gets worse each time he thinks about pulling into the familiar streets of his hometown, past the places he spent his childhood, the house he's always called 'home', even when he started living in Toronto. He felt like this before—he thinks it might be an anxiety spike. It's just that he can't remember ever associating it with going home. It's just ... that his hometown doesn't feel like 'home' right now. The thought makes his eyes sting.

He doesn't want to change. He doesn't want to be a different person. But everything seems like it's in a state of flux right now, and he's having trouble finding his feet.

The towering structure of the town sign approaches, and it’s not until now that he thinks maybe he should text Stevie. He’s headed back h—back to his parents’ house, so she doesn’t have to leave his place in Toronto, but it might be good to let her know that no one is going to be in her cottage, in case she doesn’t want to leave it empty. He pushes away the thought that maybe David will end up staying there, in the space that Patrick has occupied.

Pulling over to the side of the road, he picks his phone up from the seat next to him. There’s a text from his dad there, just well wishes, but it tweaks uncomfortably at his gut, and he wonders if he’s ever going to stop feeling like he’s letting someone down. He’s got five hours to figure out how to tell his parents—if he’s even ready to do that—but it still feels daunting, especially because this whole thing is still such a new concept, even to him.

Leaning back against the headrest, he glances out the window, up at the town sign. He frowns. A second later he erupts into a belly-clenching laugh.

Don’t worry: it’s his sister.

Every time he tries to make sense of the sort of town that would erect such a sign, he starts laughing again, until he’s clutching his side and tears are welling in the corners of his eyes. Since he’s come to this town he’s been hit with surprise after surprise, shaken out of the fog he’s been living in for the last few years, and honestly, he thinks it’s all been just what he needs. Grinning up at the faded paintjob, he catches sight of the town’s motto.

Where everyone fits in.

The underline catches him. Everyone, it seems to say, even you. The rest of the sign is still ridiculous, but this sentiment makes him the smallest bit envious. He feels, suddenly, like he’s been trying to fit in for his entire adult life—doing a good job, yeah, but trying. And all that effort, it’s … exhausting.

He looks out at the road ahead of him and thinks about what awaits him at the end of it. He glances back up at the sign to his left. He thinks about how long he’s spent doing things he thought he should be doing, how little he’s spent doing what he wants.

He wants to be brave.

 

❄️❄️❄️

David stares at the fruit parfait in front of him and wishes it were bacon.

He’s just hungover enough to feel nauseated, but not enough to justify a fried breakfast. Or so he’s telling himself. He already regrets his decision to take the high road.

The café’s holiday decorations are … something. Inconsistent is probably the kindest description he could bestow upon them. There are delicate glass baubles and ratty ropes of tinsel and neat wooden ornaments and other things below the craftsmanship of popsicle sticks. Twyla has set up a miniature jukebox on the counter, and he’s already fallen victim to the novelty. They’re serving cinnamon in their hot chocolate and every other item on the special board includes the word “log”. George is wearing an elf hat. The funny thing, though, is that he kind of doesn’t hate it. It’s started snowing outside, so maybe the ambience has something to do with it.

His phone buzzes.

[Stevie:]  Dress fitting today. I hate you.

He smirks despite himself.

[David:] Tell me when I’m getting warm.

The smirk widens a moment later when his phone buzzes with an incoming call.

“Was I close? Send me a picture.”

“We’re not even at the dress store yet. Also I’m not sending you anything.”

“Why not? Come on, I need Christmas entertainment!” He pokes at his fruit, looking for grapes.

“What, you didn’t find any at the bar last night?”

He freezes, and has to remind himself that Stevie’s not a mind reader.

Unfortunately, he’s paused too long, and that gives her all the ammunition she needs.

“Uh oh,” she sing-songs, voice filled with the glee that only the dark and twisty really exhibit. “Did I hit a nerve?”

“… No.” It’s too little, too late, and he knows it.

“You know I can always call Alexis, right?” Oh god, she’s right. Alexis will spill everything, unprompted, and probably with exaggeration.

“Fine. Suffice it to say I completely humiliated myself with a guy from out of town.”

“Details, please.”

He gives her a basic rundown, because yes, she’ll get it out of Alexis, and also he kind of wants to tell someone. He can turn it into a funny anecdote, a remember that time. And it’s definitely not the worst thing that’s ever happened to him in a bar.

“So you were about to do it and he stopped you?”

No, we were maybe about to do it and I stopped us. Because I was drunk.”

There’s a nonplussed pause on her end of the call, and he can’t blame her. It doesn’t sound like something he’d do. He’s still not sure it wasn’t the dumbest thing he’s ever done.

“You stopped it.”

“Yes,” he says, indignation rising to cover his embarrassment.

You did.”

Okay—”

“You like him,” she drawls. He rolls his eyes.

“I …” Inconveniently, the denial gets stuck in his throat. And he can’t let her think that, because then he’ll start to think that, and then he’s looking at another night regretting his uncharacteristic good judgement.

“Oh my god.”

“No, not ‘oh my god’. I think you mean, ‘Congratulations, David, on being mature and considerate’.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound like me.”

“God, I should’ve just peed on your doormat when I left,” he mutters.

“On my doormat?”

Oh. He hadn’t told her that part.

“I don’t have a doormat. The cottage has a doormat …”

David bites his lip. “Um …”

“David, did you hook up with the guy staying in my cottage?”

“No, I tried to hook up with the guy staying in your cottage, but I did not.” His voice has adopted that whiny tone that it does when he gets defensive. “I did the right thing, for once, so can we just—”

He doesn’t even trail off, just stops talking in the middle of the sentence. Stevie is trying to get his attention, but he’s not listening, because unless he’s hallucinating he’s pretty sure Patrick has just walked into the café. He’s wearing a blue sweater under a black peacoat adorned with rapidly melting snowflakes, gathered during the walk from his car. He pulls off his toque and runs a hand back through his hair, looking like a goddamn winter fantasy. He should be appearing in slow motion, while sparse piano plays in a minor key.

David takes a moment to kick himself once again.

But he must be hallucinating, or at least daydreaming, because he doesn’t think it’s all that realistic that Patrick would spot him and sort of … light up like that, like David’s who he’s here looking for.

“… going to burn all your sweaters.”

“I can’t—wait, what?” But Patrick’s heading his way. He looks nervous, and if he’s gearing up for a confrontation then maybe it makes sense that this is happening after all.

“Yeah, didn’t think you were listening. Should I just hang up now?” Stevie asks, sounding impatient.

“Yes. I mean, no. I mean … I’ve gotta go.” He manages to hang up just as Patrick reaches the table. At least he’s smiling, even if he looks like he’s steeling himself for something.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” David echoes, stupidly, not even greeting Patrick so much as repeating what he’s just said while the rest of his brain is occupied trying to figure out whether it should employ fight or flight.

“I’m sorry to interrupt—”

“Oh, no, that was just—” he’s about to say “Stevie”, but then he remembers that Patrick’s renting Stevie’s cottage, and might put two and two together and figure out that David’s talking to her about him, so he lands instead on “—over. Um. Did you want to …?” He waves at the seat opposite him.

Patrick looks relieved, and sits. “Thanks.”

David shifts, no longer sure how he normally takes up space. He’s a little annoyed at his lack of composure—he’s not normally this fidgety. But it seems that even his wide experience with unusual and awkward social situations hasn’t quite prepared him for a situation this … unusually awkward.

“I thought you were leaving,” he blurts, and it’s immediately more accusatory than he wants it to sound.

“Oh, uh …”

David winces. “It’s just, you mentioned something about going home, and—” he barks a poorly executed laugh in an attempt to lighten the mood “—I figured you’d have set out at dawn, tires screeching.” He bites his lips together to stop himself.

But Patrick is smiling, like he gets the joke and is leaning into it. “Right. And I would have, but you know,” and now he flashes a tentative grin, and David’s body reacts before he has any say in it. “I hate packing.”

David swallows and fails to prevent his own smile from surfacing. “Sure. Sometimes I just leave everything behind and start from scratch with a whole new wardrobe.”

Patrick laughs, and the sound tugs at the corners of David’s mouth. For the briefest moment they just smile at each other, and he forgets to be mortified. It’s a nice moment. Then Patrick seems to collect himself and rubs the back of his neck sheepishly, and that gets a reaction too.

“I, uh … I actually wanted to find you to …”

David tries not to fill in the blank. He really tries.

“Press charges?”

Patrick blinks. “What? No, why would I—” The surprise punches a laugh out of him, but he also looks a little less nervous. “No, not that.” He looks down for a moment, taps his fingers on the table, before his eyes flick back up to David’s. They shouldn’t make his breath catch, but they do. “t’s just I think I owe you an apology.”

David’s eyebrows leap upwards. “Sorry, you—uh, that’s not—um, what?” He can’t be serious.

Patrick looks it, though. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it and … I think I was so caught up in … in everything …” He takes a slow breath, looking right at David, and his eyes sort of … flicker. There’s something heated in his expression that reminds David of the way he’d looked at him just before he’d kissed him for the first time. He stifles a shiver. “That I maybe wasn’t reading your cues all that well.”

And. Well. David has stories to prove how far from true that statement is.

But Patrick is looking a little pink, and that’s making David’s smile difficult to hide. “I’m, uh … I’m really embarrassed.” He huffs a short, nervous laugh. “I think I maybe made some assumptions about … I’m sorry if I kind of presumed that … that you just wanted to … to sleep with me or whatever.” He trails off with a big exhale, as if he loses confidence halfway through the sentence and is trying to keep David from hearing it.

And, well. The thought that Patrick is apologising because after everything he thinks David hadn’t wanted him … it might be the most fucking adorable thing David has ever witnessed.

“Or whatever”, indeed.

He tucks his lips in between his teeth in a vain attempt to hide the way his smile is stretching into a grin. “Well that’s not—that wasn’t—” He hums, tries again. “You weren’t exactly … off, with that assumption,” he says, noting the way Patrick’s worried expression skips over something interesting on its way to relieved. He tries to choose his next words carefully. “But, um, I think maybe I was the one who wasn’t at full mental capacity, and … you probably deserve better than that.” He looks down and takes a breath before continuing. “I just don’t think I would have … liked myself very much if I’d messed things up for you.”

And he’s in trouble, because Patrick’s face is softening, like he’s about to say something really nice, or sincere, and there’s been quite enough of that already, and David’s not entirely sure he can handle any more just now. He clears his throat and splays his fingers out on the table between them.

“It’s just something I’m trying?” he jokes lightly, cocking his head and smirking. “The whole ‘not hating myself’ thing?” Patrick’s mouth curves into a smile, and David’s relieved, but … there’s something in his expression, though, that makes him think Patrick knows David is deflecting. And instead of calling him out, he’s playing along. Which is … something.

“And how’s that going?” Patrick asks innocently, while his eyes tease.

“It’s new,” David says, but it sounds a little less aloof when he’s grinning like an idiot. And when Patrick chuckles and ducks his head David finds himself using facial muscles he hasn’t used much—the ones that make his smile too open, make it too obvious …

“Well I’m glad that you didn’t do anything that you might have come to regret,” says Patrick. And David wants to assure Patrick that he wasn’t the one who would have regretted anything … but then he would have, if he’d gone through with it, if he’d given Patrick anything less than he deserved for his first, if he’d done any of the things that David wishes people hadn’t done to him.

“Mhm. You too.”

There’s a brief, awkward pause, before Patrick clears his throat. “Which brings me to the second reason I came looking for you …”

Uh oh, thinks David. And: he came looking for me.

“I wanted to thank you.”

David stops his internal preening. Because that’s … what?

Out loud, David.

“Sorry, what?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says slowly, wincing a little. “I know this probably sounds stupid …” He huffs another laugh around that last word. David is curating quite a list of his laughs, just for fun, whatever. This one is a little self-censuring. “It’s just that last night … that was kind of a big deal. For me.”

“You mean … kissing a guy?”

Patrick blushes, a flush of pink across the apples of his cheeks.

“Yeah,” he murmurs, almost to himself. He exhales slowly, then looks up, determined. “I’ve never … um. I don’t think I ever really thought about whether I might be … whether I was straight or not. I just assumed.” The corner of his mouth twitches in a brief ghost of a smile. “I didn’t even think to question it until recently. And then … and then I came here, and …”

His eyes do that … flickering thing again. It’s a lot.

“When I kissed you,” Patrick’s voice is pitched low, soft, nervous, just for David. “All the things that people talk about, all the things you’re supposed to want and feel … I’ve never really felt them before … that. But. I did. Last night.”

David feels warm. Not the sharp flush of embarrassment, though, or the boiling heat of rage. This is … quiet. Like a mug of hot chocolate. Like a fire in a hearth. Like a denim-clad thigh pressed against his.

He thinks the difference is that Patrick doesn’t seem to be telling him this with any kind of agenda. He’s not angling for a favour. He’s not trying to flatter David into bed (more’s the pity). He’s just … being honest.

So why is David so flustered?

It’s Patrick’s face, he thinks. It’s so open David can barely stand it. His own alarm bells are ringing through his body, begging Patrick to take more care, to shield himself, the way they’ve been telling David to do the same since he was little more than a child. Patrick wears his sincerity like someone who sits comfortably in the world, and David longs for it, envies it, wants to be closer to it. At the same time, he recognises the signs of someone who keeps some things—deeper truths—hidden. There’s a whole story being told in those warm brown eyes, a thousand confidences just there below the surface, waiting to be heard.

“So …” Patrick clears his throat, blushing again. “Thank you, for that?” He delivers it with an upward inflection, like it’s a question, and a crooked, self-deprecating smile as he glances up from under his lashes, like he’s acknowledging the awkwardness. It all conspires to make David feel more relaxed than he usually does, like Patrick has brought him into his circle, making it okay to be in this weird space together.

“Um. You’re welcome?” It’s a question too, and Patrick chuckles. Quite frankly, it’s a little ridiculous how much delight he derives from making Patrick laugh.

“Think we could still be friends, then?”

David thinks about it, rolls the word around in his head to see how it feels. Friends. Huh. Before he came to this town he would have numbered his friends in the hundreds. Before Stevie he wouldn’t have been at all mortified by how wrong he’d been. And now …

Two friends? Wonders will never cease.

In as much as one can be friends with someone whom one is actually quite captivated by. Is really quite attracted to. In fact, has thought about more than once in the past twelve hours, like how that friend’s bottom lip had tasted, about how energetically he had pressed one up against the front door to Stevie’s cottage …

It’s not what Patrick needs, though. It’s not what he’s asking for.

“Friends,” he agrees, nodding.

He’s rewarded with a wide smile. “Thank god. You’re the only person I know in this town. Apart from Ray, I guess.”

He narrows his eyes. “Okay, that was uncalled for.” Patrick just widens his eyes, innocently, and it makes David want to smile, and why is it so attractive? “Just for that, you can buy me a drink.”

Patrick’s eyebrows quirk, but he isn’t giving in that easily. “You know, customarily, it’s the person living in the town who buys the visitor to that town a drink,” says Patrick, gesturing from one to the other to remind David which is which.

“Okay, but customarily the person who lives in the town hasn’t just had five dollars eaten by the jukebox because he tried to select All I Want for Christmas by Mariah but accidentally chose five repeats of the Bieber version.”

Patrick winces, sucks a breath through his teeth. “Sounds like you might owe everyone in the café a drink for that.”

And David laughs, an honest-to-god belly laugh, so surprising that he has no time to catch it. He’s smiling his real smile, and it’s too late to pull it back. Patrick is grinning fit to split his face in two, and in that moment he’s so beautiful that David can’t even feel affronted at how deftly he’s been bested. He rolls his eyes to cover it, because he’s David.

“Fine,” he sighs. “One coffee.”

“Green tea,” Patrick corrects. “With the bag in.”

That gets another, more honest eye-roll. “Oh god, you’re a tea drinker.”

Patrick’s eyes widen incredulously, but he’s biting down on a smile, and David doesn’t think he’s offended. “Something wrong?”

“No, no,” he says airily, shuffling out of the booth. “I’ll get your overpriced hot water. But if I knew it was going to be this expensive to be your friend I would never have agreed to it.”

He gets another thrill-inducing glimpse of Patrick’s laughing face before he spins on his heel and heads for the counter. And yes, he’s aware there is table service, but he needed a dramatic exit. And maybe a break from all the smiling.

While Twyla steams the milk for his macchiato, he fiddles with the sugar packets on the counter.

Friends.

Being friends is a good thing, he reminds himself. Just because a holiday fling sounds a lot less intimate and dangerous in its capacity for vulnerability doesn’t mean it’s not the healthier option. In fact, it’s probably a lot healthier, considering. Besides, he likes Patrick, whatever he tells Stevie and Alexis.

When he makes it back to the booth with the drinks, Patrick gestures to David’s phone, which is lying face down on the table.

“It’s been buzzing,” he says, accepting the tea.

[Stevie:] Are you trying to ruin my host rating?

[Stevie:] Like, there wasn’t anyone else available?

[Stevie:] I know for a fact that Jake is in town for the holidays.

And then …

[Stevie:] I’m going to need a lot more details.

He can’t help a smirk at that last message, until he realises Patrick is watching him. He has that same amused smile on his face, and for a moment David can’t think of anything to say. Eventually, Patrick holds out his mug of tea, an offering. And some of the tension leaves David’s shoulders as he clacks his macchiato against it in a toast.

To better decisions, he tells himself, hoping that’s what he’s doing.

 

❄️❄️❄️

David tells him about Stevie’s bridesmaid woes, and they spend a while scouring the internet for the worst possible costume options, laughing and swapping stories in between each find. Eventually, tea and coffee turns into lunch, and by the time Patrick realises he’s got to get going if he’s going to make it to the grocery store before it shuts, it’s actually nearer to dinnertime than lunch. It’s been a few hours, but it doesn’t feel like it.

They step outside. It’s dark, but it’s stopped snowing. Patrick stalls under the eaves, pulling on his gloves and his toque while David gives him directions into Elmdale that Patrick knows are wrong.

“It’s a personal choice, but I’d avoid the so-called ‘Fresh Food Market’, because … it isn’t.”

“Thanks for the tip,” he laughs, and David looks pleased. It does nothing to quell the rolling swarm of butterflies in Patrick’s chest, and he’s going to have to rein it in if he doesn’t want to overstep this friends marker he’s drawn between them.

Someone exits the café behind David, and as he steps forward to allow them to pass it means he’s crowding Patrick’s space, just enough that Patrick has to tilt his head up to look at him properly. He smells like the cinnamon from his after-lunch hot chocolate, and Patrick smiles at the memory of David’s fervent explanation of why it should have included peppermint instead. He can’t explain why this makes the back of his neck feel warm.

He could ask him back to the cottage for dinner, right? Friends have dinner together all the time.

Before he can convince himself of the wisdom of this, David’s phone pings.

“Busy guy,” Patrick jokes half-heartedly.

David shoots him a brief half-smile before he checks the screen. This time, though, he doesn’t grin, doesn’t try to tuck a mocking smile into the corner of his mouth. Instead, he’s frowning, and something about his expression feels familiar to Patrick, but he can’t pinpoint why. He wants to ask what's wrong. His fingers twitch, tugged forward by an invisible thread.

But David pockets his phone without answering the message, and the moment is gone. “So I’ll see you around, I guess, if you’re staying.”

“I guess you will,” says Patrick. Something still tugs at him, but he shoves his hands in his pockets and forces himself to take a step back, to start the process of leaving. “Good luck curating those bridesmaid outfits. I hope Stevie appreciates your attention to detail.”

And there’s that tucked-away smile. Patrick stifles a sigh.

“Goodnight, Patrick.”

“Goodnight, David.”

He's still smiling when he climbs into his car. This time, when he points it towards the next town over, he doesn't feel anxious at all.

 

❄️❄️❄️

[Stevie:] Stop it.

[David:] Not until you confirm or deny.

[Stevie:] Fine. Deny.

[Stevie:] Oh my god.

[David:] That’s not a denial.

[David:] Dad wants to know where the motel Christmas decorations are.

[Stevie:] I think Nana Budd had a box of stuff in the attic, but I doubt it comes close to your exacting standards.

[David:] Oh so do I, but I promised I’d ask.

[Stevie:] You could help out, you know. Maybe then it wouldn’t offend your delicate sensibilities so much. Might even look nice.

[David:] Your flattery needs to be better if you want it to get you anywhere.

[Stevie:] There’s going to be wine, right?

[David:] And Roland. There’s also going to be Roland.

[Stevie:] So invite Patrick. Impress him with your event-planning expertise.

[David:] Funny.

[Stevie:] You know you want to. Some strategically placed mistletoe might get you to third base.

[David:] Ugh.

[David:] I don’t do mistletoe. It’s tacky and gross.

[Stevie:] Fine. Just tell him the dress code requires pants that emphasise the thigh region.

[David:] I should have known you’d use that against me.

[Stevie:] I just know what I’m told.

[David:] In that case, I also told you we’re just friends.

[Stevie:] So? The whole town is coming, right? It could be the one charitable thing you do this year.

[David:] I stayed friends with you, didn’t I?

[Stevie:] Other way around, amigo.

[David:] UGH.

[David:] Maybe.

[David:] We’ll see.

[David:] Night.

[Stevie:] Sleep tight. Don’t let the sexy business majors bite*

[Stevie:] *Unless they’re REALLY sexy

Chapter Text

Patrick stands in front of the open fridge, taking inventory.

It doesn’t take long. There’s milk, butter, a scattered selection of condiments, half a loaf of bread on the counter, an ancient-looking bag of rice in the pantry, but that’s it. Oh, and booze, both in the freezer and on the shelf above the microwave. He doesn’t trust it, though—someone (Stevie, presumably) has drawn lines in black felt-tipped pen to record the volume of contents.

The marks are already an inch or two above the liquid.

He’s going to have to go shopping. He wants to go into Christmas with a fully stocked snack menu, some easily prepared meals, and alcohol that he doesn’t have to feel guilty about drinking.

He hadn’t made it to Elmdale last night. Or at least, he’d made it there only to find everything was closed—even the Fresh Food Market. A small sign outside had indicated that holiday hours were shorter here. With no alternative, he’d turned around and driven the 40 minutes back to Schitt’s Creek. He hadn’t really minded—it wasn’t as though he was short of things to mull over.

Oddly enough, though, what he had thought most about was Rachel. Him and Rachel. The good parts of their relationship weren’t difficult to recall—there were a lot of them. After all, there was a reason he had kept letting himself fall back into it. They had met at a highschool party thrown by a mutual friend, and had bonded over their sense of humour and the fact that neither of them felt emboldened enough to drink any of the alcohol someone’s older sister had procured for the occasion. A group began to form between their friendship sets, and they spent more and more time together. Just before the summer break, he had kissed her on the baseball diamond after a game.

It was a nice story. He’d always thought so. Now, with the clear vision of hindsight, he can make out the holes in the plot, like the fizzing feeling he’d had around that pitcher from the next district’s baseball team, like the way that feeling had given him the idea to meet Rachel back on the mound after everyone had gone home, like the way it hadn’t reappeared when he kissed her.

Like the sex.

The official line he eventually adopted was that his libido just wasn’t as strong as other guys. That while he was a romantic person, and loved being there with her in all the important ways, he didn’t need sex all the time. It had sounded like as good an explanation as any. He still liked pleasing Rachel, so their sex life was never really non-existent. Every now and then, though, he’d felt the pressure build up beyond comfortable levels, and he would make a plan, set his focus, and they’d have penetrative sex.

What he remembers most is that afterwards, even when he’d been able to come, he’d felt … really alone. Rachel would be in his arms, pressed skin to skin, and yet he felt lonely. And, increasingly, anxious, guilty, frustrated. When it turned out to be the same with the handful of other girls he dated between the different iterations of him and Rachel, he’d begun to feel agitated. Like something might be wrong. With him.

Since spending a few hours with David, after the all-too-brief moment he’d spent pressed between him and the cottage door, he’s been starting to rethink things.

He writes a list and grabs his coat. The market at Elmdale is fairly crowded, it being Christmas Eve, so he covers his list without too much delay. He’s on his way out through the coffee aisle when he gets an idea that makes him smile, and he makes an impulse purchase.

When gets back to the cottage, he looks around the cosy living room, thinking. He’s edgy. Fizzing.

Pulling on his sweats and runners, he tells himself he’s burning off energy, burning off pre-emptive calories. He’s only jogging into town because it’s close. He’s definitely not going as far as the motel. He’s not looking for anyone in particular.

Lies. All lies.

He knows this, all of it, but he still almost slips over when he catches sight of exactly who he’s not looking for, standing in the window of an empty building opposite the café. His stumble draws David’s attention, and then they’re both looking at each other through the glass. Something flutters inside Patrick’s chest, and he lifts his hand in a little wave. David looks surprised, too, but returns the wave and, after a tiny hesitation, points to the door.

Patrick almost trips again as he hurries inside.

“Hi,” says David, softly. He’s wearing a … sweater. It’s black and white and looks so soft Patrick wants to touch it, and it has zebra stripes drawing his gaze down his chest towards …

He wrenches his eyes back up to David’s face. Maybe he should have kept running. “Hi.”

“What are you doing?” There’s more than a trace of judgement in his voice as David looks at what Patrick is wearing, but it still makes Patrick smile.

“Going for a jog,” he says simply, because something tells him it’ll annoy David. He’s right.

“On purpose?” David grimaces, but Patrick can only laugh.

“Yeah,” he says. “You know, some people like to look after their bodies.” He’s a little surprised at his own confidence, but the payoff is worth it, because David rakes his gaze over Patrick, and he only just manages to hold onto his composure.

“Excuse me, I take very good care of my body,” David says indignantly, sweeping a hand down the length of him. Patrick bites his lip before he can say anything.

He wants to, though.

 

❄️❄️❄️

David sort of wants to disappear. He kind of wishes he knew how to stop himself before he spoke, to censure his thoughts just a little. He remembers being told, once, that he should think about being a little less. Patrick is still smiling, though. He’s not sure how to take that. It’s unprecedented.

A lot of things have been unprecedented when it comes to Patrick.

He clears his throat. “So, uh …”

“What are you doing in here?” Patrick has already turned and is looking around the space, strolling over to the counter with that ease he has, the one that has David twisting towards him without thinking.

“Oh, um … I’ve been thinking about maybe doing something here? Maybe?” He’s not sure why he’s admitting all this, when he hasn’t even really run it by his entire family yet.

Patrick is watching him, though. “Yeah? Like what?”

He considers telling him. Something about that open expression, maybe. That smile that teases but feels safe all the same.

“Like … a store.”

Patrick raises his eyebrows, like he’s a bit surprised too. But he’s still smiling. He nods, just a little. Go on.

So David … tells him. About his ideas for local producers and artists, about his plans for the colour scheme, about the floorboards and how he thinks they will catch the morning light. It’s when he’s gesticulating at the subway tiles that he sees a look on Patrick’s face that stops him in his tracks. His eyes are bright and wide and filled with something that doesn’t make any sense. Like he can’t believe David is real, but … in a good way?

Patrick catches David looking at him and turns away, but the tips of his ears are pink.

“Sorry …”

“No, I …” Patrick rubs the back of his neck and chuckles. “I like it. It’s a really good idea. I think it’s going to be great.”

Something warm blooms in David’s chest. He feels suddenly shy.

“Hm. Well.” He pretends to check for dust on the windowsill (pretends, because he already knows it’s dusty).

“I mean,” Patrick says, and he sounds shy too. “I’d be happy to take a look at your proposal from a business perspective. Answer any questions you might have?”

David blinks. Instinctively, he wonders what the catch is. He manages to talk himself down to: “Seriously?” It’s a struggle.

“Yeah,” says Patrick with a gentle smile, like he might have heard David’s unasked question anyway.

“I … you don’t have to …”

Patrick’s smile widens; David is being teased now. “I know.”

“Well that’s very …” he searches for the word, “… nice of you.” It’s not particularly gracious, and David wants to roll his eyes at his own inability to be a Normal Person. There’s another silence, until Patrick clears his throat.

“So what are your plans for tomorrow?”

For a wild moment David thinks Patrick is asking him out, but then he remembers tomorrow’s Christmas. “Oh, nothing big. Traditionally, I spend the day hungover and trying not to interact with people, but … this year my dad has had some sort of epiphany and wants us to have a big family party tonight.”

“That sounds nice,” says Patrick, because he’s never met Johnny and Moira Rose.

“In theory, I can see how you’d think that.”

Patrick chuckles. David takes a deep breath. He’s asked a million people on dates, this is no different. Except that it’s not a date, that is.

Why does that make it feel like it matters more?

He blames Stevie.

“You should come,” he spits out finally, trying for nonchalance.

Patrick’s face does something odd: his eyes widen for a fraction of a second, and then he’s shaking his head and looking away. “Oh. You don’t have to—”

“Pretty much the whole town is coming, I think, so you’d really be getting your money’s worth on the whole Schitt’s Creek experience,” he adds hastily, so Patrick doesn’t think this is anything … else.

And now Patrick’s grin is reaching his eyes again. “Well,” he says, “in that case, how can I resist?”

David nods, pleased, and lets out the breath he was holding.

“Can I bring anything?”

“Alcohol,” David replies immediately, and Patrick snorts. “Sorry, that’s a reflex. But probably not a bad idea if you’re at all picky about what you put in your mouth.”

Oh god. He wants to die.

“Um …”

Patrick doesn’t let him squirm for long. “I am a fan of overpriced craft beer,” he says, and when David chances to look again, Patrick has that innocent look on his face, and David can’t quite tell if he …

“Hm,” he shoots back with a quirked eyebrow. “No accounting for taste.” That gets a laugh, and David buzzes with pleasure. “It starts at 7.30 at the motel.”

“Can’t wait,” says Patrick, still looking innocent as he backs towards the door to leave. “I’ll start preparing myself for a lesson on real taste. I’m sure David Rose’s parties are unforgettable.”

David grimaces internally. “You really might want to lower your expectations,” he says, and he’s not sure if he’s still talking about the party.

“Oh, they’re already sky high, trust me,” says Patrick just before he ducks outside, and David’s not sure if he is, either.

 

❄️❄️❄️

The moment Patrick pulls into the motel parking lot, his heart is in his throat. He’s had far too much time to overthink this—the back of his mind has been throwing up all sorts of scenarios, from finding out the whole thing was an out-of-towner hazing to the insane fantasy that David was lying about the party just to get him over here—but when he sees the fairy lights strung along the gutters, hears the music and laughter spilling from the end rooms, he realises with a pang in his chest how much he actually wants to be around people. Normally, he’d be catching up with his cousins, eating his mom’s raisin cookies and watching hockey with his dad, and it kind of lifts his heart to hear the sounds of family and friends together tonight.

His fist barely makes contact with the door to room seven before it is flung open, and a girl—all dazzling smiles and twinkling jewels—is beaming at him.

“You must be Patrick!”

He’s a little taken aback, especially when he realises he’s seen her before—at the bar, the first night he met David.

“Yeah,” he says, shaking her proffered hand and wondering how she knows his name. “Hi. You’re …?”

“Alexis, David’s sister and life coach,” she says, pointing to her gold “A” necklace, and suddenly all the stories fall into place.

“Ah,” he says, grinning warmly. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” She beams.

“Likewise,” she returns with a laboured wink, and though he’s surprised he can’t help laughing. “I think David is off complaining about the food or something, so,” she takes him by the shoulders and turns him towards the kitchenette. “Grab yourself a drink over there, and then I want to hear everything David hasn’t told me.” She punctuates the last few words with the tap of a glittery fingernail to his nose, and then she’s pushing him in the direction of the bar.

Over the next hour, he chats with Alexis, meets Mr Rose—who seems sentimental and sweet and awkward, and is delighted to trade business school gossip—and Mrs Rose—who is aloof and dramatic and clever, and tells a good story. And though he realises that with their designer clothes and complete lack of connection to the real world they must have cut somewhat ridiculous figures here when they arrived, he likes them immensely, admires their individuality and tenacity.

He also meets the famous Ray, and Roland and Jocelyn, and a man that—okay, Patrick may be fresh out of the closet, but even he knows an attractive man when he sees one. He thinks his name is Jake. He also thinks he’s being hit on, but although it’s not an unwelcome boost to his ego, and although he can recognise now that his stomach flutters a little when Jake looks him up and down in obvious appreciation, it’s still not really what Patrick’s looking for. Or, who he’s looking for.

He’s talking to Twyla from the café and sipping on some truly awful eggnog, wondering where he can dump it without being obvious, when he finally finds him. Across the room, by the little Christmas tree that Alexis tells him is mostly glue and loadbearing fairy lights, is David, all glittering dark eyes and crooked smile. There’s an intensity to his focus that Patrick hasn’t seen before, at least not at this volume. And he’s looking straight at Patrick.

Patrick knows that song lyrics, poetry and novels have been going on for centuries about two people’s eyes meeting across a crowded room, but he’s not prepared for the way it knocks his breath out of him. It’s the first time he understands the thunderbolt-to-the-heart metaphor. It’s the first time he thinks, God, he’s beautiful.

Without even thinking, he’s already taken a step towards him, but then Moira is knocking a fork against a plastic champagne flute and calling for a round of carols. He doesn’t want to be rude, but he also kind of needs to get out of here, so he moves as covertly as he can around the edges of the room until he reaches the door, and slips outside.

The air is colder than he had anticipated, the kind of bite that comes in the advent of snow, but the sky is clear and the stars are out, blanketing the darkness in silver. He shakes out his arms as he steps over to the picnic table, leaning back against it and looking up. The muffled sound of music and laughter carries on behind him, and he smiles. He’s happy he came, glad to be invited into this messy, eccentric company of people, and he’ll re-join them in a minute, but just now … just now, he’s relieved to step outside it for a moment, to make space for this thing. This new, wonderful thing, that keeps hitting him in waves.

He likes David. More than likes him. It’s impossible to pass off as anything else now; he’s not sure he can keep telling himself they’re just friends. Seeing David watching him with that look—that look—in his eyes, like he might … Patrick takes another deep breath, exhales slowly.

There was something very non-friendlike about that look.

The light changes briefly, and the noise from inside the motel swells and fades as someone opens the door behind him and steps out into the dark. He feels a light shiver that has nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with the person whose footsteps he can hear approaching softly across the grass to the picnic table. It’s David. He knows it is.

“Everything okay?”

Only now does he turn to look at him. Half in darkness, half alight with the glow from the motel, David is stunning, and Patrick’s heart skips.

“Fine,” he says, trying to sound it. David moves to settle next to him against the table, close but not touching. David leans back against the table, mirroring his stance, only where Patrick’s hands grip the wooden edge either side of him, David’s arms are folded firmly across his chest. “Must have drunk the eggnog too fast,” he offers as an excuse.

David nods, biting his lips in a smirk. “Mhm.”

He knows. He has to know.

Patrick keeps his gaze on the sky, searching in vain for something to say. He could almost laugh. For the first time in his life, his palms are clammy, his heart is thumping, his mind is a blank—all because of the man standing next to him, whom he likes, so much. And he can’t think of a single thing to say to him, even though … even though he’s almost sure that David likes him too.

Almost. Maybe.

“I can’t get used to the stars out here,” he says finally, desperate for something to keep things from getting awkward, to keep David from leaving.

But David doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. “I know,” he says. “When we first moved here, I hated … well, just about everything.”

Patrick can’t resist looking over at him, face upturned, smirk softening, but in place.

“Including the stars?”

“Oh, especially the stars.” Patrick laughs, and it seems to be the right response, because David grins at him. “Just, like, way too many of them. Made me feel … small, I guess. Invisible.”

He thinks about how lonely it must have felt to come from a world like David’s, that world full of people, full of noise, to suddenly find yourself in this town, open, quiet. Nowhere to hide.

“And now?” he asks softly.

David looks at him, and whether it’s that his inhibitions have been loosened by the eggnog, the stillness surrounding them, or … something else … he looks more open than Patrick has ever seen him.

“Now it’s just beautiful, I think.” He shrugs, which Patrick is learning signals an attempt to distract from sincerity. Sure enough, he adds: “Comforting, or whatever.”

And maybe he’s not the only one ducking sincerity, because it’s suddenly imperative that Patrick look at his shoes for a moment. “I think I know what you mean.” A quick glance shows him David’s quizzical expression. “Everything’s changing so much lately. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really sure who I am anymore, but …” He looks up, and waves vaguely at the galaxy above them. “I don’t know. This is the same sky I saw when I used to go camping with my dad, or when I’d sneak out with my cousins to drink a six pack of warm, cheap beer on the baseball diamond …” He hears David’s faint huff of laughter, and he turns to smile at him, to shrug again. “Same sky.”

“Same person,” says David, and something swells in Patrick’s chest.

There’s that wave again. Only for the first time in his life Patrick feels like he’s not just treading water. David’s smile is small, shy, and Patrick’s heart is racing. It must be obvious, but David … isn’t moving away. In fact …

The music from inside the motel has changed. It’s a familiar tune, recrafted but still recognisable. It’s about being powerless in the face of your feelings for someone, about rushing in despite reservations because you just can’t help it. Somewhere in the back of his brain, a little voice says, Oh.

David turns to look back at the motel, and there’s something fond, something shy in his expression. Patrick can’t stop looking at him.

Wise men say …

“What is it?” he asks aloud, softer than he means to—almost a whisper.

Only fools rush in …

“My parents,” says David, and now Patrick knows he’s trying to hide his affection, the way he always seems to when it comes to his family. “This is kind of their song. They’d, uh …” he turns back, looks down with a soft sort of smirk. “They used to close out our Christmas parties back when …” he waves a dismissive hand.

But I can’t help …

“That’s sweet.”

David is biting off his smirk, but he nods.

“Alexis and I used to try to find the weirdest versions, but they’d still dance to it. The dub-step mix was interesting.”

Patrick is so out-of-his-head crazy about this man.

Later, he wonders where he gets the courage. Maybe its the crisp air, the warm buzz of alcohol, the glowing lights, the music—maybe it’s just knowing who he is in that moment, but … he can’t help it. One minute he’s watching David smile, the next he’s pushing himself off from the table and saying, “Did you want to dance?”

Instantly he feels a flush up the back of his neck, his mouth is dry and his stomach is full of butterflies. But he’s in it now, and somehow he manages to extend a hand, putting a lot of effort into not letting it shake.

David blinks, eyebrows skimming his hairline, and for a moment it feels like he’s going to decline, but … then he rolls his eyes a little and huffs a laugh and takes Patrick’s hand.

“Why not?” he says quietly.

Relief is overtaken in giddy joy, and Patrick’s grin threatens to split his face in two. He has a flash of panic as he realises he has no idea how to dance with a man—and another as he recalls that he’s never been very good at dancing in the first place—but then David is stepping closer and, purely on instinct, Patrick’s other hand come to rest at his waist. They’re so close Patrick can feel the warmth of him through his sweater—chests almost touching but not quite, and it’s not enough. He’s sure David must be able to feel his heart thumping, as though even that is trying to get closer to him.

They start to move to the music, tentative, hesitant, but as they catch each other’s gaze David snorts and the tension breaks. Patrick grins, bashful, and ducks his head, but he relaxes. They sway together, and it’s still a little awkward, but it couldn’t matter less because somehow, somehow, Patrick has David in his arms, has found himself in David’s, and it’s the most alive he has ever, ever felt.

Of course, none of this makes him a better dancer, and at one point Patrick stumbles a little over a clump of grass. The sight and sound of David chuckling at him, though, is so intoxicating that Patrick seeks out ways to coax him into it again. It works when he lifts their arms to twirl David beneath them, giving him an unparalleled view of David’s head thrown back in laughter, his neck golden in the yellow light from the motel. For his part, Patrick is grinning fit to burst. He thinks he might never have been happier.

“Ready for a dip?” he teases.

“Um, don’t you dare.” David’s indignation is warring with his amusement, though, so Patrick summons all the steps he’s ever learned to turn them around—one, two, three, and then—

Agh!

It’s something of a blindside, and the look on David’s startled face makes Patrick bubble over with laughter, but he’s managed a halfway decent dip, holding David carefully while he leans over him. He has such an urge to press his lips to David’s throat, to drag his mouth along the stubble of his jaw, that it’s only the fact that he’s concentrating so hard on not sending them both tumbling to the ground that prevents him from doing so.

“Let me up!” David manages through his laughter, too weak with it to do more than dig his fingers into Patrick’s shoulders, and Patrick, who is not much more composed, relents and heaves them both back up with more effort than elegance. David stumbles into him a little, and it takes them a moment to find their footing.

“Couldn’t resist,” Patrick admits, still grinning, still drinking in the sight of him. David is still gripping his shoulders tightly, and they’re pressed up against each other in a line of warmth that, in the cold surrounds, Patrick wants to cling to. He looks up just as David does, and their eyes meet …

The moment stretches, filling the space between them, and it feels to Patrick like time must stop, holding them here in the cold beneath the stars, and he wants … he wants so badly

David’s mouth curves up slightly, like he knows, and Patrick doesn’t care, because David is holding him so tight, and smiling, and his gaze flickers to Patrick’s mouth. Before he can stop himself, Patrick licks his lips, and David’s eyes widen slightly as he looks back up, flashing with something that sends heat spreading down past Patrick’s stomach, and he knows that if he loses control then David will feel it, and he’s not sure he cares right now because oh god he wants him …

“David!”

With a violent rush the noise from the party thrusts them back into the present, as Alexis bursts out of the motel door.

“David, what are you doing, it’s freezing out here!” she exclaims, hugging herself and hopping from foot to foot as she approaches.

Patrick freezes. He feels like he should drop his arms and step back, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t. He just waits, heart in his mouth, to see what David will do.

David doesn’t step back right away either. He turns back and gives Patrick a small, almost wistful smile, and slides his hands down to give Patrick’s biceps a squeeze.

“It’s like, below zero or something out here, I swear to f—”

“Oh my god, WHAT?” David finally releases Patrick and whirls around to face his sister, hands flying in frustration, and it’s so entirely, adorably David that Patrick bursts out laughing.

“Oh my god, chill, David!” Alexis returns, rolling her eyes and flapping her arms in a fair mimicry of her brother. “I only came out here to warn you that Mom is showing everyone a video of you doing the Number, just thought you might want to get ahead of it, but if you’re going to be all—”

Patrick is watching David already, so he has a good view of the moment his annoyance switches to horror.

“She what?”

“What’s the Number?” Patrick asks.

Both Rose siblings turn to him, as if they’d forgotten he was present: Alexis’s whole face lights up, like she can’t believe her luck; David is the opposite. Horror-struck, his eyes widen even further.

Nothing!” His voice is shrill, and breaks on the last syllable, and Patrick, delighted, smells blood in the water. It must show on his face, because David looks even paler now.

Alexis is beside herself. “Oh my god, Patrick, wait until you see it—”

“No—no!” David is getting desperate now, arms flailing first at Alexis, then at Patrick. “You are not going to watch it. No one is going to watch it—”

There’s a burst of raucous laughter from the motel.

“I don’t know, David, it sounds like some people are watching it,” Patrick says in his most innocent voice. Alexis makes it to his side and takes his arm, beaming in amusement and batting his shoulder in gleeful approval. David’s eyes have narrowed, his brow furrowed, and Patrick feels a little thrill of delight at the way he’s riled him. He always likes knowing he’s gotten any kind of reaction out of David, and this is particularly satisfying. Maybe it’s because it means David cares what he thinks of him. Maybe it’s because trolling has always been something of a love language for Patrick. Maybe it’s baser than that—maybe he’s just hoping David will grab him again.

Now, though, Alexis is the one tugging him towards the motel, and he lets her, shrugging at David as he goes, biting down his laugh as David gapes in indignation and runs, ungainly, after them.

“Patrick. Patrick!”

He laughs again as Alexis pulls him back into the party, back into the warmth and light. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t regret the interruption, but he also doesn’t feel like the moment—because there had definitely been a moment—has been lost. It feels like they’re both just putting it away for now, to be revisited later. Patrick vows that, if it’s the last thing he does, he will make sure they revisit it. Soon.

For now, though, it sounds like there’s an excellent opportunity for some playful teasing waiting inside, and that’s just too good to pass up.

 

❄️❄️❄️

By midnight, David has to admit that the party has been a success. To himself, at least. He might keep his father hanging on his opinion a little—can’t have him getting too pleased with himself or who knows what he might do next. But it’s impossible, with his mother shining in her element, his father grinning proudly and fit to burst, and Alexis laughing at Ted as he tells her a (no-doubt, pun-laden) story, to feel too cynical.

Also, Patrick.

Given the choice, David would be saying goodbye to Patrick under a glowing streetlamp, or alone by his car, or—fuck it—in the dark up against the back wall of the motel. What he gets is a group goodbye in front of the motel, as everyone heads home at once. David tries to keep his focus on wishing Twyla a sincere Merry Christmas, but Patrick is just next to him being hugged by Alexis, and his nerves are twanging.

Finally, finally, Patrick steps in front of him.

“This was amazing. Thanks for inviting me, David,” he says, and David has an irrational urge to sink into Patrick’s warm, open face.

“Thanks for coming. Hope it met your expectations.”

Patrick looks right at him and smirks. “Mhm, and then some.”

David contemplates dragging him around the back of the motel anyway.

“So I’ll see you tomorrow at the storefront?” They’ve made arrangements to meet up so that Patrick can take a look at David’s proposal for the store. It is absolutely not a date.

“Mhm,” David nods, biting his lips together. “Tomorrow.” It feels like a date. There’s a beat, just one, where they sort of smile at each other.

“Well. Merry Christmas, David.”

“Merry Christmas, Patrick.” And before David can move first, Patrick has stepped into his space, and they’re hugging. Patrick’s hand slides once up and down David’s back, and David tightens his arms around Patrick's shoulders, and it goes on a beat too long and nowhere near long enough.

It’s a heady feeling, the knowing and the being known.

The four Roses wait outside the motel until the last car has pulled out of the parking lot. Johnny and Moira are first to turn in, Johnny’s arm around Moira’s waist, guiding her with the practised ease of a thousand happy nights. David wants to stay out here a little longer, for some reason, and he’s not annoyed that Alexis stays with him. He wonders if they’re both thinking about how different their lives are now. He wonders if she liked tonight better than the Christmas parties they used to throw.

“I don’t know how you did it, David, but you found maybe the sweetest guy in North America. Not counting Ted, that is.”

He wants to deny that he’s found anyone, contemplates playing dumb, but ultimately just doesn’t feel like putting up the fight right now—not here under the same stars beneath which Patrick asked him to dance.

“He’s only here a week.”

It’s a warning to himself more than anything. It’s also only the bare bones of what he really feels—relief that he won’t have time to wade out into the too-deep water, disappointment for the same, fear that he’ll be swept out to sea without a life vest …

Alexis slips her arm into his. “Could be a good week.”

And oh, it could be. But the cost … he might never have had to worry about money outside of the last few years, but David Rose is intimately acquainted with the way that nothing good ever seems to come into his life without something bad sneaking in as well, just before the door closes. He envies Alexis in this regard—she’s always got an exit plan, while David always seems to get stuck in the corner with his head in his hands. Instead of answering, he draws in a deep breath and sighs it out.

She’s watching him, and despite his better judgement, he turns to look at her. She doesn’t say anything else, but she beams at him in full technicolour and at high volume, and he can’t muster up more than an eye-roll before he’s smiling too. He sways into her. She boops his nose before he has a chance to twist away.

“Merry Christmas, Alexis.”

“Merry Christmas, David.”

 

❄️❄️❄️

Most recent texts from Sebastien Raine (saved in David’s phone as “DO NOT RESPOND”):

October: U up?

November: Just lying here remembering that hotel in Venice with the XL bathtub.

December: How long until you msg me back this time, gorgeous?

December: Today I watched a flock of geese flying overhead, and I thought how sad it was that human beings are the only animals that regret the past.

December: Happy Hanukkah, David. Call me if you’re lonely.

December: There’s something about rural Canada this time of year that makes me remember how it used to be with us—the bleak convergence of austerity and unexpected beauty.

December: Got news … info will cost you.

December: Missing your hands. Making do.

Chapter Text

Patrick wants to laugh. He’s standing in an empty store, going through grants spreadsheets with a prospective business-owner—sorry, branded immersive experience conceptualist—and it’s absolutely the most wonderful Christmas Day he thinks he’s ever had.

David has borrowed a fan heater from the town hall, so the space is warm, if a little lacking in seating. Patrick has set up his laptop on the counter, and the two of them are leaning on their elbows beside the empty coffee cups as Patrick takes David through his ideas for grants proposals. But they’re also teasing each other: Patrick bats away David’s hand whenever he tries to touch the laptop; David nudges his shoulder against Patrick’s whenever he insinuates that Patrick is being particularly nerdy. And the butterflies are storming up a tempest in Patrick’s stomach.

Between the flirting—he is definitely flirting—Patrick thinks he’s managing to offer some decent advice. Mostly, he’s trying to find a way to make it click for David. It’s like solving a puzzle, gathering intel: David will snap if he thinks he’s being condescended to, but he’ll shut down if something is too technical. So Patrick keeps asking questions, keeps looking for ways in, and when he finally sees the mix of understanding and relief on David’s face when he gets what Patrick is talking about … he wants to take a victory lap.

It all feels like it’s building to something. He feels it. All the teasing and the soft smiles and the not-quite-accidental touches are ratcheting up Patrick’s anticipation in a way that makes him feel giddy. It’s like falling towards the water—you’ve already jumped off the cliff, and now it’s just gathering speed while your stomach jumps to your throat and the wind steals your breath, and the water rushes up …

Patrick is enjoying the heck out of the fall. Yeah, he wants what comes next—like, wants—but right this minute he’s in no hurry to stop hanging out here with David, feeling the way he does, the way he thinks they both might.

He still has a plan, though, and opportunity opens up when David’s stomach growls loudly. They immediately turn to each other, David’s face wary, Patrick’s gleeful.

“Jesus, David,” Patrick says over the laughter bubbling out of his throat.

“It’s lunchtime,” says David, indignant. “All I’ve had since breakfast is a cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee.”

Patrick puts on a mock pout. “Is that all?”

David narrows his eyes and gives him a look that says he’s planning to make Patrick pay for his cheek, and there’s just enough edge to his expression for it to tug at a place below Patrick’s navel. He swallows.

“Fine. Want to grab some lunch across the road? We can go through what is and what is not a business expense.”

“I should never have told you about the write-offs,” David grumbles half-heartedly, folding his arms across the white heart on his chest and leaning back against the counter.

“Oh, you absolutely should have.”

“You’re a lot snippier than you look, you know that?”

Patrick grins, but he lets the banter fade a little. He wants to do this right. “So,” he starts, and looks up from under his lashes. “Lunch?”

As though he’s picked up on Patrick’s tone, David’s face softens. Tucking away a smile, he nods. And Patrick maybe doesn’t need to let his arm brush against David’s back as he reaches behind him to collect the empty coffee cups, and David definitely doesn’t need to skim a hand across Patrick’s shoulder blades as he goes to turn off the heater, but he does, passing so close that Patrick can feel the warmth of him, and his blood pumps a little faster from his heart to his face.

“So I’m thinking I might order off the back of the menu today,” he says, hiding in a return to levity.

David, on his way to the door, turns round and smirks. “Think you’re reckless, don’t you.”

“Please,” Patrick quirks an eyebrow, slinging the strap of his laptop bag over his head. “I’m nothing if not reckless.”

David gives a little shimmy as he takes the next couple of steps backwards. “Reckless would be ordering off the specials board.” Patrick laughs. As he does, the door opens and an artfully rumpled-looking man steps inside.

“Sorry, man, we’re just leaving.”

David spins back to face the door and immediately freezes.

“Well if it isn’t my favourite Rose,” says the man, his tone too sarcastic, undercutting his words and turning them into something sharper, something that stings. Patrick half-expects David to fire back, but before he has the chance, the other man steps in and kisses him on the lips.

Patrick’s heart plummets.

David doesn’t push the man away, just stands there, stiff-backed, his expression hidden. The other man, though, turns his attention to Patrick. He looks him up and down, but it’s not meant to be flattering—it’s meant to make him feel uncomfortable.

Patrick has met people like this—people who put down others in order to feel more secure. It’s never worked on him—in general, he has no time for game-players. Normally, he just removes himself from their vicinity, but right now he’s too stunned to do more than recognise that he doesn’t like this person at all.

“Who’s this?” the man asks, as if Patrick isn’t even standing there. Patrick wants to roll his eyes, but then—

“Nobody,” says David quickly, with the briefest of glances in Patrick’s direction. “Some tourist.”

The blow is almost physical, and hits Patrick right in the gut. He blinks.

But David isn’t really looking at him. He’s different. His voice is cool, his face shuttered. He’s even holding himself differently, somehow—deliberately, almost like he’s posing. The man is looking from Patrick to David with a smirk. Patrick hates this smirk—it’s not teasing, like David’s; it’s patronising. Cruel.

“You’re sure I’m not interrupting anything?”

“No!” David blurts out. The man’s smirk widens and he turns towards Patrick.

“Hi,” says the man, holding out his hand. “I’m Sebastien Raine. I’m David’s boyfriend.”

The silence should be deafening. Instead, Patrick is painfully aware of the tick of his watch, the wind-blown rattle of the windowpanes, the slow, heavy thud of his pulse.

Boyfriend.

He shouldn’t, but he glances at David; his eyes are squeezed shut and his head is tilted back, the picture of discomfort. Suddenly, Patrick needs very much to not be there.

“Well I’d better leave you to …” he can’t quite finish that sentence, but he makes sure he doesn’t shake hands with Sebastien, either. Instead he hitches up the strap of his laptop bag, steps around them and opens the door. Before he leaves, though, he catches David’s eye—it’s only a moment, before David looks away, and it doesn’t help him answer any of the questions that are clamouring within him.

“It was nice to meet you,” is the last thing he says, and even he’s not sure which one of them he’s saying it to.

Out in the street, he pulls his coat tighter around him and, bereft of any other ideas, heads absentmindedly for the café. He barely cares; he’s too confused, too busy scouring his memory for a hint that David had mentioned having a … boyfriend.

Abruptly, his face burns with shame at his own stupidity, at his giddiness this morning, at his own shy flirting. And all the time … all the time, was David just letting him … No, he can’t bring himself to believe that David would be that cruel. And yet … and yet Sebastian Raine is, he’s certain of it. So why is David with him? Why is he with him and not …

Fuck.

Right. Here’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to open the door of the café, he’s going to head straight for the bathroom, and stuff his gloves into his mouth to muffle the unpreventable howl of frustration and humiliation that’s rising in his chest. And then he’s going to have lunch.

At least he has a plan.

 

❄️❄️❄️

So it turns out the fight or flight response has a subset: freeze, and get innocent bystanders as far away as possible by insulting them to their faces. He doesn’t have time to feel bad about that right now, though, because Sebastien fucking Raine is somehow here. In this town. From the beginning, the best part about this place has been the absence of monsters like him. Now, that honour will apparently have to go to the lack of pervasive and obnoxious smells (not counting the dumpster round the back of the motel. And Roland.)

But Patrick is safe. He’ll probably never talk to David again, but he’s safe.

Suddenly, he’s aware that Sebastian has his arm around his waist. He jerks away like it burns him. “What are you doing here?”

Sebastien, unbothered, just laughs. “I told you I had news. If you’d bothered to text me back you’d have known I was coming here.” He starts walking around the store, and when he reaches out to run a finger along the windowsill David wants to grab him and stop him touching things. He has no idea what’s happening, but he does know that he doesn’t want Sebastien … touching things.

“But why are you here?”

“What, I can’t drop by at Christmas and surprise my boyfr—”

“I am not your boyfriend,” he manages, finally, to correct the record, but it doesn’t come out as strongly as he’d like it to—it sounds petulant, and it shouldn’t.

But Sebastien just smiles that condescending smirk, the one he used when he thought David was being ridiculous. “It’s been a long time,” he coos, and David remembers starkly how that voice used to make him melt. It’s not doing that now, though, and even Sebastien seems to notice. In a slightly sweeter voice, he adds. “I just missed you.”

David looks at him for a long time. He’s trying to remember something, but everything is so surreal right now that he can’t think properly.

“At least let me buy you lunch,” Sebastien adds, and … well, David knows he’s not getting rid of him until he does whatever he came here to do. Might as well get a free meal out of it.

“Fine,” he says, and fuck if he doesn’t unconsciously suck in his stomach and do that little wave he used to do when he was being deliberately coy around him. The sooner they get this over with, the better.

 

❄️❄️❄️

Patrick isn’t generally someone who mopes.

He plays team sports. He doesn’t throw tantrums. He doesn’t like losing, but he likes to think he takes it with grace. He’s been known to sulk on occasion, but he tries to make those exceptions rare. Right now, though, seems like one of those times to make allowances.

He’s running over everything from the last few days, trying to apply his rational mind to the situation, hoping like hell that at some point it’ll make sense. At the moment, however, all that happens is that he keeps bouncing between two things: surety that he can’t have misread things quite this badly, and mortification as he can’t help but wonder if he has. He’s second-guessing everything.

“Where’s David today?”

He jerks his head up. Twyla stands there, her face bright and cheerful as always, and he bites down the flash of anger that he knows has nothing to do with her and everything to do with the complete 180 his day has taken.

“Oh. He’s ...” across the road with his boyfriend “… busy today, I guess.” God, the whole town seems to know just how far gone Patrick is on David. He wonders if they all knew he was with someone else (no, David had been too surprised, and surely Alexis would’ve said something). Struck with the idea that people have been pitying him, he suddenly wants to be back at the cottage. “Can I grab a cheeseburger to go?” She smiles and heads off to place his order.

Picking morosely at the Formica countertop, he can’t stop replaying David’s words. Nobody, he’d said. Some tourist.

Tourist. He can’t help giving that word extra meaning. He doesn’t want to—really doesn’t—but he can’t help wondering if it was more pointed, more cruel. As if, to David, he’s someone playing a part, dabbling in a different sexuality while he’s passing through town. It doesn’t quite wash with the David he thought he knew, and that means either that David is the one who has been acting a part, or … or Patrick doesn’t know him, after all.

The door opens, letting in a gust of frigid air, and before his instincts have a chance to kick in and warn against it, he looks over to see David and Sebastien entering the café. His eyes lock with David’s for a split second, and then the latter is looking away, and Patrick turns back to the counter, trying not to look as disappointed as he feels. He considers cancelling the burger, but from here he can already see George grilling away.

For better or for worse, Patrick’s position at the counter gives him a clear view of the whole café, and he watches furtively as David moves towards a booth at the back. Sebastien, however, takes a seat at a table in the middle of the space instead. He doesn’t even look back at David, just sits there and waits, like he knows he’ll join him there, out in the open. David hesitates for a moment, but he has little choice in the matter. Patrick still feels an irrational pang of something in his chest when he sits down opposite the other man.

He tries not to watch, not to imagine what they’re saying, not to look at his watch and wonder how long it takes to put a cheeseburger together. He tries, but he can’t seem to stop fixating on their body language. Part of him thinks David looks miserable, but it has to be his own projection, because there are a dozen other gestures that show a familiarity between them that has Patrick aching with envy. He also notices when Sebastien reach out a hand to David’s face, as if it caress him, and David flinches away so sharply that his chair skids back across the linoleum.

Before he’s even aware of it, Patrick has jumped off his stool at the counter so forcefully that it topples over behind him and crashes to the floor. The whole room jumps and turns to look at him, standing there, fists clenched …

He is mortified.

A fierce blush rushes up the back of his neck, and he manages to unclench his fists. Everyone is still staring, and he’s going to have to move sooner or later …

“One cheeseburger, extra fries.”

If not for recent revelations, he thinks he could kiss Twyla for her timing. He gratefully accepts the Styrofoam container she’s proffering, can’t even thank her for including the fries, which he definitely doesn’t remember ordering, and all but runs out of there.

He can’t believe he just did that. Who, after all, does he think he is? Even if … even if they’re friends, it’s absolutely not his place to do that, and what kind of machismo was “that” anyway? He has no answers, only that David had looked threatened, and his body had reacted. He shakes his head as he strides across the street towards his car, telling himself over and over to get a grip.

He drives back to the cottage, thinking about how, just before he’d slipped out the door, he had glanced one last time back at David, whose face had been still, unreadable, masklike, but whose eyes had been wide and dark and already fixed on Patrick.

 

❄️❄️❄️

Sebastien is still talking, but David isn’t listening. Couldn’t care less, actually. He’s trying to remember the last time someone stood up for him. And, sure, maybe he hasn’t done that much in the last decade to deserve it, but … look, he’s as self-sufficient as the next damsel. Okay, before he came here he’d never actually earned his own money, and okay, his parents’ lawyers had been on the family payroll for damage control, but he’s also never once asked somebody to rescue him. He doesn’t particularly like being treated as though he can’t handle himself.

But.

“… ultimately, I thought I’d come here and really lean into the whole desperate beauty motif,” Sebastian drawls, draped artfully over his chair like he’s on camera himself, like he’s presenting his best angles to his captive audience.

God, what an absolute wanker.

And with that thought, David’s shock at seeing him here exits stage left, making way for anger, a much more confident performer.

“I’d really love to do a whole shoot here one day. There’s such an air of …” (pause to try to look contemplative while really only achieving “gormless”) “… melancholy and despair.”

David, who has had similar thoughts at several points since he got here, nevertheless feels a very unwelcome surge of defensiveness on the town’s behalf.

“So I thought you could put me up, show me around, tell me all the tragic stories of the—”

“No.”

Sebastien raises a put-upon eyebrow. When David doesn’t back down, he sighs heavily. “David …”

“I can’t believe you came here thinking I’d want anything to do with you.” The more David looks at him, the more his face, objectively handsome, nevertheless loses its appeal.

Sebastien shifts gear. “See, there you go again, focusing on the negative. I could show you this technique I learned from Djokovic’s acharya—”

“What. Are. You doing. Here.” David claps his hands with each word, like he’s getting a child’s attention. Which

Satisfyingly, Sebastien just gapes at him. It’s very unattractive.

“Seriously. What, you’ve run out of ideas and thought you’d shoot a think-piece on us? The Rose family: how the mighty have fallen?”

Sebastien’s eyes widen, and suddenly David knows he’s hit on it. And even though it absolutely tracks, it still stings like a bitch to know that someone he’d once been so close to is trying to use him and his family. He wonders, not for the first time, what he ever saw in this man. It’s exhausting having your expectations met over and over.

“Look, I know you’re still disappointed that things ended—”

“Uh, thrilled they ended, actually,” David corrects, keenly. “Less happy about the manipulation and the cheating.” He’s not sure what’s gotten into him, and he’s not sure how long it’ll last, so he needs to wrap this up. “So you might want to try the next town over for your ‘melancholy and despair’.” And, okay, he’s not proud of using air quotes, but this is still going brilliantly.

“You know,” Sebastien is frowning now, and he looks petty and small. “Spite is not an attractive quality on you, David.”

A big, exaggerated eye-roll. “Yeah, well, I don’t actually have to listen to you telling me how to be more attractive anymore, so …” Realising with surprise that this is … actually true, he stands up. Sebastien follows, with a little less of his usual grace. “Oh, and if you were hoping to get a room in town, I think you’ll find the only motel has a pretty zero-tolerance policy on pretentious assholes.”

Starting to shake a bit with the effort of his grandstanding, David decides on a judicious exit. As he lets the door slam behind him, his stomach grumbles, reminding him that he still hasn’t eaten lunch, but, well, a grand exit is a grand exit.

 

❄️❄️❄️

When he gets back to the cottage, Patrick can’t sit still. He needs to move, needs to burn off the self-recriminations. He digs out his thermal running gear (after a second thought, he pulls a pair of sweats on over the top), yanks on his sneakers and heads out once more.

This time he heads away from town, towards the pine forest that butts up against the cottage’s back fence. He picks up the running trail he discovered on his first day here, and sets a steady pace. The air is biting cold in his lungs, and it feels great—he picks up speed, needing to force the last thoughts from his head, relishing in the way the trees rush past him, the way his feet land surely on the pine-needled path. He keeps going for as long as he can, until the trail curves around a frozen natural well and out into a clearing.

Here, he stops. Lungs burning, he leans forward to brace hands on knees as he catches his breath, which puffs out of him in white fog, dissipating slowly in the chill air. Straightening up, takes in the clearing, ringed with pine trees and brambles. Icy water clings to the ferns and the long stems of grass and the pine needles, and there’s a crystalline quality to the air, sharp and biting. He gulps it in, letting it cool him, letting his heartrate settle. Everything is still.

Or, not quite everything. As he watches, a single snowflake drifts into his field of vision, brushing past his nose as it falls slowly downward, so close he swears he can feel it ghost over his skin like a kiss. There are others, now, all around, descending silently. Soon the clearing is like the inside of a snow globe. Patrick holds himself still, as though he might disturb the spectacle around him, as though it could all disappear. It surrounds him, this soundless flurry, closing off the world outside and slowing time itself, so everything feels like it’s moving at half-speed.

Patrick surrenders to the cold, the silence, lets it shield him, lets it soothe the heat of embarrassment and sting of disappointment. The ache is still there, but he can breathe through it here, give it space. He feels better, and not just about earlier. It’s more than that. It’s the fear and pain that has been there, in his bones, for so long now that it’s felt like part of who he is … it’s gone, a weight slipped off his shoulders, leaving him breathing more deeply than he has in a very long time. He knows himself better now, he thinks.

What a wondrous, miraculous, magnificent thing.

There never was much hope for him and David, he supposes. Even if he were staying here more than a week, the chances of someone like David feeling anything like what Patrick felt—feels—were, realistically, never very great. He wonders if it would hurt less if they’d never kissed, if they hadn’t danced under the night sky in the glow of the motel lights, if he’d never had that spark of hope ignited in the first place … but he knows that, even though it hurts, he wouldn’t take it back. In the space of a few days, David has given him a life-changing realisation, a breath-taking kiss, a friendship he knows he’ll never forget. He can feel grateful for that, even as he longs for more.

Probably.

It still hurts.

Swiping a gloved hand under his eyes, he shakes out his limbs, breathes one last breath from this quiet space, and jogs on. Once he circles back to the road he has to watch his step—the snow is heavier out in the open, has settled in drifts along the roadside, forming puddles of slush that threaten to seep into his boots. He’s paying such close attention to his footfalls that he doesn’t notice the car ahead of him until he’s almost upon it. It’s half off the road, lights pulsing as the driver tries to turn the engine over. It’s a lonely place to be stranded, and Patrick knows lonely. He slows to a walk and approaches the car. If nothing else, he can distract himself from his own thoughts by exchanging small talk with a stranger.

He tries not to remember what happened the last time he tried that.

 

❄️❄️❄️

“Fuck, fuck, shit-itty fuck!”

David tries pumping the gas, tries turning the key again, knows it won’t help but what else are you supposed to do when your car just … STOPS in the middle of nowhere? Because he’d one hundred percent rather freeze to death than get out and look under the bonnet.

He feels personally affronted.

He’s still tired from the energy that seeing and speaking to Sebastien took out of him, and the prospect of what his dad is going to say when he tells him he’s somehow broken the car makes him want to hide in his bed for a week, but he can’t do that, not until he talks to Patrick. Patrick is leaving the day after tomorrow, and for whatever reason he can’t bear the thought of that happening before he has a chance to undo a little of the latest stupid thing he’s done.

Which is odd, because he’s been known to have skipped the country rather than apologise to someone.

He’s looking at his phone and putting off calling Alexis when something raps on the window and he nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Motherfuck—"

Patrick looks almost as surprised as David feels. For a second or two they just stare at each other through the glass, then David winds down the window (by hand, because this car is ancient). Snowflakes gust inside and stick to his OAMC mohair sweater.

“Car trouble?”

Despite himself, despite everything, David’s mouth tugs upwards.

“Um, no, just enjoying the scenery, thanks.”

“Well, in that case …” Patrick straightens up and walks on. But he turns at the front of the car to face David back through the windshield, and taps on the bonnet. It takes David a moment or two to find the lever, but he manages it, and Patrick disappears behind the hood. David makes sure the car is in park and gets out to join him. Hugging himself for warmth, he hovers next to him, watching as Patrick checks various points and tests valves, or whatever. At length, he straightens up and surveys the engine.

“Well?” David asks, when an explanation doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.

“Well,” says Patrick, putting his gloves back on. “I’ve checked the four things I know how to check, and it’s none of them.”

There’s a tiny smudge of grease or something on his cheek. “My lucky day,” he tells the schmutz, and then he gets a grip and looks away. “Guess now I get to have a conversation with Bob.” A gust of wind whips a flurry of snow around them. David shivers and takes out his phone.

“It’s starting to pick up a bit,” Patrick says. “Come back to the cottage, if you like. You can call from there.”

There’s nothing suggestive about his manner, none of the easy flirting that ricocheted between them just a few hours ago. He’s pleasant, nothing more.

David does not care for it.

“Oh, that’s okay …” he starts, already questioning the wisdom of his refusal. The snow really is getting thicker.

Patrick gives him a look, like he knows his hesitation is half-hearted, and instead of arguing, he walks around to the driver’s side door, opens it and pulls out David’s satchel. He hooks it over his head and sets off down the road, and David hurries after him before he loses him in the snow.

The walk back is quiet, and only partly because the weather is worsening by the minute and they need to hurry along, keeping an eye on the road to avoid slipping. David is just about to lose the battle not to complain about ruining his clothes when Patrick turns up the driveway to the cottage and then, not a moment too soon, they’re inside.

As Patrick heads immediately for the hearth to start building a fire, David stamps off his shoes in the entryway, lining them up next to Patrick’s. He looks at them a moment, sitting neatly next to Patrick’s sneakers, and swallows a lump in his throat. He pulls of his socks, too—he would object to bare feet, but his socks are soaked through, and Stevie keeps a basket of slippers under the coat hooks (it was his idea, one of several pieces of decorative input that she grudgingly accepted when she did the place up for guests) so he avails himself of a pair and carefully drapes his socks over his shoes to dry.

He steps timidly into the living area as Patrick straightens up at the hearth, drags the fire guard in front of it. The fire is small as yet, but it’s already throwing a small orange glow about Patrick’s silhouette. David only lets himself look for a second or two before he drags his eyes up to Patrick’s face … and sees Patrick doing the same thing. His eyes linger at the hem of David’s sweater, on the two white “moth hole” patches by his hips, before they dart upwards again.

Hope kindles, a tiny flame in the dark.

“Do you want a drink of anything?” He’s back to being pleasant, but his expression cracks a little as he raises an eyebrow. “Hot chocolate?”

“Yes, please,” he says, almost before Patrick has finished speaking (because hot chocolate). He looks bemused for half a second, and then his face breaks into a grin, a real one. And that, David thinks, is not nothing.

“I’ll be right back,” says Patrick. He turns to head to the kitchen, but glances back over his shoulder at the last minute, all pink-cheeked from the cold, and adds, “Have a seat.”

The little flame flickers and grows brighter.

David perches on the couch, close to the fire, and holds his hands out to warm them. He calls Bob and leaves a message, but his hopes aren’t high. His blood is buzzing again, now that he’s here, now that he remembers why he came. Right. Apologising to Patrick. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes for a moment, dreading it.

“Bob not picking up?”

David jerks his head up to see Patrick approaching with two steaming mugs. He hands one over, and David tucks his hands into his sweater sleeves to accept it with a whispered, “Thanks.” Then, realising he was asked a question, he adds, “His answering machine was very unhelpful.”

Patrick snorts softly. He hovers for a moment, then, instead of sitting next to David on the couch, he sits on the coffee table, a thick, rustic affair that David doesn’t hate, especially once he’d rid it of the crocheted coasters. It means Patrick is sitting opposite him and off to the side, close but not ideally so. David sips his chocolate, humming softly as it spreads warmth down his throat, unlocks a little of the tension he’s carrying. It’s very good.

“I’ll try again in a minute. To call Bob.”

Patrick fidgets with the handle of his cup, and then he says: “You might as well stay on the couch.”

David blinks. “Oh. No, it’s okay, I can just walk back to—” Patrick cocks his head at him. He looks amused.

“Have you even looked outside?”

David does. The world is a flurry of white. His fingers curl automatically around the cuffs of his sweater, as though protecting it from even the thought of being outside in that. “Oh.”

Patrick chuckles. “It’s fine, David. It’s not a problem.”

He nods, because there doesn’t seem much point in demurring. But he can’t help but think this is the second time he’s forced his way into Patrick’s home without a real invitation. He feels … bad? Not bad enough to leave, of course, but …

They sit for a moment in silence, just the wind and the crackling fire, and then they both start to speak at once. Then they laugh, shyly, like it’s a goddamn holiday special—and, he reminds himself, it really, really isn’t—and David, whose sparkling attempt at conversation was probably going to centre around the weather, gestures for Patrick to go first.

“I was just going to ask how it went with your friend,” he offers, neutrally. His eyes are fixed on the cup in his hands, and though he’s wearing a faint smile, it feels strained. David doesn’t blame him.

“Oh,” he says, feeling his face flush. “He’s gone.”

Patrick’s eyes flick back up to meet his.

“It was, um, a misunderstanding.” He cringes inwardly, and thinks: coward.

“Oh.” Patrick is looking down again.

And David is done trying to think of a smooth way to explain himself. “He’s not my boyfriend,” he blurts out, sticking to the salient point. Patrick doesn’t look up right away, and David can’t quite place his expression when he does, but he barrels on. “He’s my ex. I haven’t seen him in two years, and he’s just started texting me over the last month or so. I never wrote back. I didn’t know he was coming here.”

He hears the defensiveness in his voice and tries to calm himself, but now that he’s started he needs to get it all out.

Patrick’s eyes shift, like he’s remembering something. “You got a message the other night, outside the café.”

David bites his lip. He hadn’t realised Patrick had noticed. He nods. He feels like he should apologise again for something. Patrick is looking at him intently now, but he’s definitely not angry. Just … listening. Suddenly, David wants him to know, even if he has to reveal an ugly part of himself in the process.

“He’s a monster,” he confesses, feeling his cheeks heat up as he remembers how long he knew that and put up with it anyway, rather than be alone. He has to duck his head before he goes on. “He’s manipulative and cruel, and he uses people … and when we were together I wasn’t … I wasn’t very nice either. I wasn’t … a good person.” Now he makes himself look at Patrick. “I’m sorry I said those things,” he adds, almost in a whisper. “I didn’t want him anywhere near you. You don’t deserve that.”

At that, Patrick’s expression softens, and he looks more like the person David knows, the person who looked at him like that this morning in the store, who stood under the stars and talked with him last night. He nods, thoughtfully.

“Neither do you.”

And David has to swallow a sob. It’s sweet, and utterly misguided, but it’s also vintage Patrick.

This man is going to be the death of him.

“I thought …” this time Patrick looks away, and he huffs an awkward laugh down towards his lap. “When you said I was a tourist …”

David will be the first to admit that he doesn’t always pick up on subtleties, especially when he’s trying so hard to avoid vulnerable conversations, but suddenly it clicks for him what that word could have sounded like to Patrick, and his heart twists with the urge to touch him. Instead, he leans forward and deposits his mostly empty mug on the coffee table, then shuffles along the couch so that he’s in front of him. Patrick looks up in surprise, and David hooks his gaze and holds it, willing him to hear him.

“I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Patrick looks at him, warm brown eyes searching, and David tries to telepathically send him back what he needs to find in him. Finally, with a too-small smile, Patrick drops his gaze.

“For the record, um …” He is looking at his hands, squeezing his fingers one by one, and David has a sudden urge to twine his own fingers around them, to soothe, to still his anxiety. Instead, he waits until Patrick looks back up, nervous, but steady. “I am. Gay.” He holds still for a moment before a deep breath shudders out of him, ending on a soft laugh, like he’s surprised himself.

David can’t stop himself. He smiles, a warmth filling him up as he watches Patrick discover, resolve, declare this small-enormous-significant truth about himself, settle a little more comfortably into the world. It’s beautiful to watch, and the trust extended is overwhelming, and he tries not to think about how dopey and … fond … his face must look right now, how many secrets it might be giving away.

“Okay,” he says quietly, and Patrick’s own face softens into an easy smile before he ducks his head, nodding to himself. David can’t stop looking, though, at the way his damp hair curls slightly at the edges, at the muscle pulsing at the corner of his jaw, at the pale skin of his collarbone where it disappears underneath the neckline of his running top.

“That’s the first time I’ve said it aloud,” Patrick says softly.

David takes a chance and bumps his knee against Patrick’s. “How does it feel?”

The smile that has been playing around Patrick’s mouth gets wider, and he knocks his leg lightly against David’s in turn. “Good,” he says. “I feel …” he lifts his head and lets out a deep, cathartic breath. “I feel like I’ve finally figured out how to let go of this weight I’ve been carrying around.” And he does looks lighter, David thinks.

“I’m really glad,” David offers, wishing he could be a little more eloquent. But Patrick smiles as though he’s said the right thing, and the now-familiar urge to lean forward and bury his face in Patrick’s neck, to kiss him, to touch him, swoops through David’s chest.

“Me too. I think I’ve spent most of my life not knowing what I really want, and …” he drops his hands to his thighs, looking determined, as though he’s ready to go after it right now. “I finally know what I want.”

“And what do you want?”

It’s the wrong thing, this time. He knows it even as the words are leaving his mouth. Too suggestive, too direct, too flirty, and even if it wasn’t, who is he to demand such a secret from Patrick?

Patrick, who is looking up at him now, those wide brown eyes are fixed on him, warm and open and …

Confused.

Of course he’s confused. Of course he is. David put that confusion there—with his constant stepping closer and pulling away, with all the unintended insults that Patrick keeps overhearing, because the universe has always hated David Rose, no doubt for something he did in a past life. He wants to explain, to take away that doubt, but … he has no idea how. He can’t seem to find a way to tell him that he still remembers every second of how Patrick’s mouth felt pressed against his own, how his whole world seems to blur when Patrick is around him, how his stomach is flipping over and over because no one, and especially not Sebastian, has ever looked at him like this, with that unconcealed fondness, unguarded longing. How he feels like Patrick’s not the only one who never knew what he really wanted before now.

And other, mushier, scarier things.

The air between them is cloudy, charged, and they’re so close, and David vows that if Patrick leans in then he’s going to meet him halfway and he’s not going to pull away first this time.

Please lean in, please

Patrick clears his throat and looks down at his hands.

“To stop talking your ear off,” he finally answers, and his voice is bright, louder, doing an effective job of changing the mood. He’s smiling, but it’s wrong, somehow. “You’re probably exhausted. The shower’s yours if you want it.”

Oh.

“Right.” His voice sounds strange, thick, forced. He swallows. “Thanks, I’ll just …”

They both stand up at the same time, and there’s another awkward shuffle, as if neither of them know where to put themselves. And Patrick is definitely avoiding his gaze now, or trying to, because he keeps darting little glances his way. It’s doing nothing to restore David’s equilibrium.

I’m sorry.

You think I don’t want you, but I do.

I want you. And I like you. And that’s not normal.

“There are towels in the—”

“Hall closet, right.”

Patrick smiles faintly. “Right. I forget you’ve been here before. With Stevie, I mean. Before me. Um.”

And David knows he’s just been rejected in the nicest possible way, but it doesn’t seem fair that Patrick can stand there and blush and expect David not to want to get him out of that weird, synthetic thermal running top which nevertheless does a decent job of outlining the muscles David knows are underneath and just, like, devour

“I’ll get out of your way.” Patrick heads for the hallway, but just before he disappears he catches the edge of the doorway with his hand and hesitates, glances back at David again with that wide-eyed, confused look, like he’s torn between jumping him and walking away …

He walks away.

Fuck.

 

❄️❄️❄️

Sinking down onto the edge of the mattress in his room, Patrick buries his face in his hands and wants to kick himself.

Down the hall, the bathroom door closes quietly, and a moment later the shower turns on. It’s only now, knowing the hiss of the water will hide it, that Patrick lets himself whisper, “Fuck.”

 

❄️❄️❄️

David tucks the sheets around the couch cushions, trying to force them to form a mattress. He’s slept on this couch before, but he’d been drunk then, with lower standards. Thank god he’d already left some sweats here, and that Stevie stocked the store’s products in the bathroom.

It’s been a strange Christmas, complete with the arrival of the Fuckwit of Christmas Past, a reminder David realises he didn’t really need that his old life, whatever the comforts and however glittering the experiences, was ultimately cold, and heartless, and really fucking lonely. The fact that he has clothes stashed at a friend’s house—the fact that he has a friend—makes him wonder how he ever convinced himself to accept so much less than that.

And now … it’s only been five days. And yet Patrick is his friend too. And it doesn’t even matter that David wishes he was more than that, because he’ll honestly take anything he can get. Patrick makes him feel liked, and wanted, and … safe. He cringes to think how he’s always equated “safe” and “kind” with boring. Because they are the furthest things from boring—they are warm, and inviting, and ultimately, strangely, paradoxically, freeing.

He tests out his makeshift bed, and it isn’t bad. He’s furnished it with the soft, chunky-knit cream blanket he made Stevie buy (as “an investment”, and definitely “on sale”) and as many cushions as he could comfortably fit on the sofa, and as he wriggles experimentally he thinks he might get a decent night’s sleep. You know, if he can stop thinking about the fact that Patrick is sleeping down the hall.

So close, and yet so far.

“Looking cosy.”

Patrick is in the doorway, and sleep might not be a possibility after all. He’s freshly showered, his hair is damp, his skin pink and warm, and his sleep-tee is stretched across his chest, and David has never been so jealous of a piece of clothing. He hovers in the doorway, hands in the pockets of his pyjama pants, forearms (FOREARMS) flexed. Lit up by the rosy glow of the fire, Patrick is strong, capable, brave, and David curses himself yet again for ever thinking he was also anything other than utterly, achingly gorgeous.

Jesus Christ, David, put your tongue back in your mouth.

“Just checking if you need anything else?”

You, is one of the many things David deliberately doesn’t say. It takes effort. Instead, he cocks an eyebrow, going for amused and aloof, and it draws a chuckle from Patrick, which doesn’t exactly help.

“Extra blankets? Pillows? Glass of milk?” This last is delivered with a hint of the old innuendo, raised eyebrows and a look that’s just this side of too innocent, and David has to clench his toes to keep from lunging off the couch and across the room. Because he’s Making Better Decisions.

Instead, he laughs shyly, pats the pile of blankets awkwardly. “Um, no thanks. I think I’m good.”

Patrick’s smile softens, and the silence stretches, and god, David wants him. Want me, he pleads silently. Please want me again.

But the silence goes on, too long, and neither of them move.

“Well. Goodnight, David,” says Patrick finally, his voice low, and again David gets that desperate feeling that something else, something significant is being said … he just doesn’t know what.

“Goodnight, Patrick,” he all but whispers back, and even in the dim light he sees another flash of confusion cross Patrick’s face briefly before he smiles, nods, turns to leave.

In the space of about a second, this is what David’s brain thinks:

What the fuck are you doing?

I’m making better decisions.

You’re letting him leave. You’re letting the fact that you’re too chicken shit to admit you want him get in the way of you actually having a shot with him. And yes, he’s only here for a couple more days, and yes, it’s always scary to make the first move, but for FUCK’S SAKE.

If he wanted to, he’d say something …

He kissed you. He asked you to dance. He’s never done this before. What’s your excuse?

I …

You’ve been thinking about him almost non-stop for three days, your endorphin levels go into hyperdrive every time he so much as wanders into the general vicinity, and, not to be indelicate, but we both know those forearms (FOREARMS) are going to be a recurring feature in your imagination for the foreseeable future. Are you seriously going to let him walk through that door without letting him know that he makes your heart race? That you’ve started living for the way he teases you? That within a few hours of meeting him you knew nobody had ever seen you the way he sees you, known you the way he knows you, stimulated you the way he … okay, you’re going to need a different word, but COME ON, DAVID, ARE YOU A FUCKING MORON?

Better Decisions, he thinks, gathering all his courage and hoping that he’s got it right this time.

“Wait.”

Patrick, who hasn’t even had time to get through the doorway, twists back around. David forces himself off the couch before he can chicken out again, and he hopes Patrick doesn’t notice the way his hands are shaking as he crosses the room, one step in front of the other, pushing through the fear and the cruel memories and the walls he’s constructed.

Patrick doesn’t move, just waits for David to get to him—and David has the wild, insane thought that Patrick has been waiting for longer than just these last few days—and then David is there, curls his hand around the back of Patrick’s neck …

The minute their lips touch, Patrick seems to come alive, as though all he’s been waiting for is permission. He inhales sharply and leans into David, his hands immediately curling around his waist, pulling him closer. His tongue licks against David’s, and holy fuck it feels good, like he’s been starving for something specific and has finally figured out what—it’s the way Patrick kisses him, deliberate and intense, focused and warm, like honey, like music, like no one has ever kissed him before. David surges forward, pressing himself against his shower-warm body, and the resulting moan this draws from Patrick has David gasping for breath.


❄️❄️❄️

“Just for the record,” Patrick says between kisses, “I’m not even a little bit drunk.”

He feels David smirk against his mouth, knows the teasing has landed. “Stop talking,” he murmurs, and the next thing Patrick knows David has him pressed up against the doorway, and … he has a point.

David kissed him.

Is kissing him.

And he doesn’t have a boyfriend.

He is also running his hands all over Patrick’s upper body, like he’s mapping it out. Patrick moves his hands to David’s hips, tugs him closer. Their bodies crowd against each other, and David hisses at the contact. He pulls back, but only so far as to press his forehead to Patrick’s.

“Could we maybe—not that we have to do anything—I mean, if you want, I just—”

“David?” Patrick’s head is foggy, but he still finds this man delightful.

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to come make out with me on my bed?”

David is nodding rapidly now. “Yes. Yeah, let’s do that.”

They stumble down the hallway, bumping periodically into the walls as they refuse to stop kissing, tugging at each other’s clothes without removing them, hands sliding under t-shirts and over skin … Patrick has never felt this alive, this awake with desire—

“Oof!”

“Sorry,” David breathes through a grin as he pulls Patrick forward from the doorway he just backed him into.

Patrick shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter,” he murmurs, before he claims David’s mouth again, and Jesus, he loves it when he laughs against his lips like that.

It’s David who tumbles them onto the bed, but Patrick is a willing enough participant, especially when David climbs on top of him. He moans into his mouth: he loves the feel of him pressed along his body, the weight of him, every inch of contact evidence of the fact that David actually wants him, too. The thought makes him bold enough to tug at the hem of his t-shirt. David looks up for just a second before he’s sitting back on Patrick’s thighs so he can draw it over his head.

Patrick is transfixed. He reaches out to press his palm against David’s chest, drags the pads of his fingers against the hair there. It’s … it’s really …

He is so gay.

He’s also staring, but when he glances up, David is doing that tucked-away smile thing. And Patrick isn’t letting him have the upper hand that easily.

“You want to laugh at me or you want to get back down here?”

“I’d really like it if I could do both,” David smirks. “But first …” he digs a finger into the fabric of Patrick’s t-shirt and flicks it.

Patrick tries to glare, but he still pushes himself up into a sitting position, forcing David to shift further down on his thighs while Patrick rids himself of his tee. He holds his breath as David looks at him, and his stomach flips at the look in his eyes.

David leans forward to kiss him again, and it’s slower this time. Leisurely, David drops his mouth to Patrick’s neck, making his way down his collarbone to his chest, and Patrick leans back on both hands to keep his balance.

“Is this okay?” David mouths into his skin. He’s still moving lower, and Patrick is on fire.

“It’s okay,” he manages to croak out, marvelling at the complete insufficiency of the word. David keeps crawling down his body, kissing down his torso, but when he gets to the waistband of his pyjamas he stops and looks up. Patrick, who has never been in this position in his life, has absolutely no hesitation in nodding his assent.

David looks like he swallows before he gets to work, but it’s a matter of moments before he’s throwing Patrick’s pyjama pants and boxers over his shoulder … and now there’s a whole new look in his eyes as he takes in Patrick’s cock, which is already half-hard. He rests his hands on Patrick’s thighs, squeezing gently, and brushes his thumbs over the skin there in a way that makes Patrick’s muscles twitch because it’s not enough, it’s nowhere near where or how much he wants David to be touching him.

“David …” he whispers. And with his eyes on Patrick, David wraps his hand around his cock. His hips jerk up involuntarily (David is touching his dick) and he sucks in his breath, but David strokes him through it, looking at him all the while, and oh god, it’s a lot to take in. His arms are shaking a little, and he drops down to his elbows, but he can’t tear his gaze away, which is why he stops breathing for a moment or two when David leans down to press his lips into the crease of Patrick’s thigh.

When he speaks, his voice is hoarse, his eyes glittering. “Can I? Please, Patrick.”

Patrick lets out a little whimper as he nods, and there’s absolutely no time to feel the least bit embarrassed because David is lowering his mouth onto him like he needs it and …

Oh god …”

His head drops back onto the bed. He’s never felt anything like it. Yeah, the mechanics might be the same, but the feeling … He’s aware, so aware, that it’s a man, that it’s David with his mouth on his cock—his tongue swirling around the head, his cheeks hollowing out as he sucks—and oh god, it’s so much, so much …

So much more.

God, he’s aching already.

But he’s not ready for it to be over just yet. Pawing at David’s shoulders, it takes him two tries to get his words out. “Wa—wait, David, hang on …”

David lets him go immediately, but when his head comes up to look at Patrick he licks his lips, his eyes are dark, burning, his hair … not as tousled as Patrick would like it to be, but untidy, and the whole thing does nothing to calm his situation. He growls out a string of curses and flings an arm across his eyes, burying his face in the crook of his elbow.

“Patrick?”

He peeks out from under his arm. David’s expression is the same, if a little tempered by concern. He raises one thick eyebrow.

“Fuck, you’re so gorgeous,” Patrick groans, and covers his eyes again. He hears David laugh, feels him squeeze his thigh, and can’t help smiling in response. “Not helping.”

He’s not being very articulate, but David seems to understand. He’s started stroking his thumb again and again over Patrick’s hip, and Patrick focuses on that, because although bright tendrils of electricity are branching out from the touchpoint, it’s manageable. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He moves his arm and opens his eyes.

“Okay?” David’s voice is gentle, and so is his face—not patronising, just … asking. Because he wants to know. And Patrick trusts him. He couldn’t explain why, but he does. Has done since the beginning.

So okay,” he says, breathing through another grin.

David matches it. He’s so evidently pleased with himself that it makes a laugh bubble out of Patrick’s throat. God, he hasn’t laughed like this during sex since … ever?

Speaking of sex …

“Do you want to keep—mphh!” David is interrupted as Patrick grabs his arm and pulls him up the bed, pulls him down to cover his mouth, and they’re both laughing again. Patrick finally gets his fingers into David’s hair, buries them there, combs blunt fingernails back against his scalp, and David responds with a pleased little growl and by tilting his head to lick further into Patrick’s mouth, and it’s so, so good … David is claiming his mouth, now, hungrily, so it feels like he might be as desperate for this as Patrick is. His lips are soft, insistent, focused, drawing back, surging forward. He sucks on David’s lower lip briefly before welcoming his tongue in to dance with his own—they nip at each other, chase each other back and forth with smiling, eager mouths. Patrick’s never been with someone like this. He’s never wanted anyone like this. He feels it all over, in the tips of his fingers, in the race of his pulse, and god, he doesn’t want it to stop.

“How do you want—do you know what you—what you want?” David gets this much out around Patrick’s need to keep kissing him. He finally pushes himself up out of reach, propped up on his hands and hovering over him. “Patrick,” he chides gently.

Patrick tries to think, tries to catch his breath but, irony of ironies, he has no clear idea how to answer. He’s definitely thought about it. He’s thought about little else since he met him, really, but there’s far too much happening to his nervous system for him to get a schematic together. He latches onto the one certainty he can find.

“I want … can I see you?” David looks surprised, and Patrick wishes he had better words to get this out. “I just—I want to know it’s you.” And maybe it’s the wrong thing, because David’s eyes go even wider, but … he wants to know it’s David, is the thing. Not some guy, but David. And even he knows that’s too much to admit right now, so he just watches David’s face, hoping he hasn’t screwed up.

David is still staring. He shakes his head a little. “Where did you come from?” he whispers.

Patrick’s not sure if he should be flattered or offended. “Is that—”

This time he’s the one who’s interrupted, and he sinks into the kiss gratefully.

David ducks around to kiss his neck, his stubble scraping against Patrick’s throat (oh, he’s so done for). He smells like citrus and sweat and something … unnameable, something that he’s only ever known around David, something that tightens the coil in his belly and pulls. Suddenly David feels too far away, and Patrick needs more. He glides his hands down the planes of David’s back, down past his waist, curving over his ass—he thinks they both gasp at that—and presses downwards, lifting his own hips up shakily to meet him, hoping it gets his point across.

It seems to work. David growls into his shoulder, and then he’s lowering himself, letting his body rest along Patrick’s again. He rolls his hips slowly, and Patrick can feel him, hard and hot, through his pyjamas. The thought of David being hard for him, because of him …

“Like this?” David is teasing him while he’s biting gently at his collar bone.

“Yes,” Patrick rasps, his own hips rolling upwards automatically, “just like—just like this, except …”

“Except?” David lifts his head up, but Patrick’s attention is busy at the drawstring of his pyjama pants. He glances up briefly. “Oh.”

“Off,” he suggests, pleads, demands. David is laughing again, and has to get up off the bed to do as he’s asked, but finally, finally, he’s standing before Patrick …

Naked.

Beautiful.

Patrick has to swallow. Twice.

He looks up to where David is watching him, an amused smile crowded into the corner of his mouth. His hands, though, are hanging awkwardly by his sides, clenching and unclenching. Patrick feels that same push and pull in himself—even as he wants more there’s a steady need in him to slow down, to pace himself. He wonders if it’s obvious. He wonders if it’s the same for David.

Patrick moves slowly to sit on the edge of the bed. He reaches out to brush his fingers over David’s, waits for him to take his hand before tugging him gently closer to stand between Patrick’s legs. Patrick slides his hands around David’s waist, closes his eyes, tips forward until his forehead rests against David’s abdomen. He buries his face there for a moment, running trembling hands up and down David’s thighs, and David lets him, and he’s grateful.

“David …” he whispers, wishes he could tell him all this without sounding …

He lifts his head and looks up. Anchoring one hand on David’s hip, he slides the other around to rest high on his thigh.

“Can I?”

David’s lips quirk, but he nods. Patrick reaches out, fingers hovering for a moment … and closes his hand gently around David’s cock. And Jesus, his skin is soft and so warm, and he’s so hard, and Patrick licks his lips, visited with a sudden urge to taste him. He hears David’s breath catch and glances up again—David’s eyes are dark, amusement gone, replaced by unmistakable arousal. Patrick holds his gaze as he begins stroking him, slowly, with steady pressure. He watches carefully, feeling a ridiculous flush of pleasure and pride each time he sees him respond to his touch. When he runs his thumb up under and over the head, catching a drop of pre-come there, David whimpers and his eyes slip closed, and he stumbles forward—he stops himself by gripping Patrick’s shoulder, and … it’s the hottest thing Patrick has ever experienced.

He reaches up with his free hand for David’s face, and David complies, bending down to kiss him. Patrick lets him do so for a moment or two, before he moves—curling his arm around David’s waist, he turns the two of them, using his body weight to roll them over, and in a matter of seconds he has David tumbling back onto the bed, while Patrick swings his leg over to settle his body over him.

David gapes at him, and the thought that he’s done that, that in some way he’s caught him off-guard, is satisfying.

“Well look at you,” David teases weakly.

Patrick smirks and sinks down to kiss him, to taste him again. David’s hands drift over his arms, his shoulder blades, the dip of his back, applying gentle pressure there. Patrick rolls his hips down into him experimentally, and his cock rubs slowly against David’s. Someone groans, long and low, and Patrick thinks it might be him.

David thrusts his own hips upwards. “Keep doing that …” His voice has a rasp to it that Patrick feels in his bones. “Please, Patrick …”

Jesus.

He can’t help it, his head drops to David’s neck, and it’s all he can do to brush his lips to the skin beneath his ear, to press David’s name into his pulse point, over and over again, as they move against each other.

“God, Patrick … I need …” Before he can ask, before he can even lift his head, he feels David stretch his arm out, hears him fumbling at the side table. And then his hand is sliding between them, and then it’s grasping both of them, slick and wonderful.

“Fuck, David,” Patrick whimpers. He drags his head from David’s neck to look down between them, he needs to see … “Oh fuck …”

He almost comes there and then, from the sight of David’s hand around both of them, his cock sliding along Patrick’s while he strokes them both … it’s … oh Jesus. He whimpers.

“You’re so good,” David rasps, his free hand grabbing at Patrick’s upper thigh, pulling at him. “You feel so fucking good.”

Patrick’s body is moving on instinct now, grinding into David, rutting up into his hand, a base need to chase this feeling, to follow it as it climbs higher and higher, and he’s trembling so much he thinks he might vibrate out of his skin. He’s going to come, oh god, he’s going to come, and he knows it, can feel it building to an impossible crescendo within him, and he wants, needs to know …

He lifts his head so he can look down into David’s face, and the sight pulls a primal, aching noise from his throat. David looks exactly how Patrick feels: wrecked, desperate, cloudy with arousal. And then the hand that’s pressing delicious bruises into his thigh flies up to grip Patrick’s neck, pulls him down so their foreheads touch, steadies him there.

“Patrick …” he murmurs, and when Patrick can only moan in response David smiles faintly and nods. “I’ve got you.”

The wave, it breaks.

Patrick tumbles along inside it, shuddering and soaring, and when he thinks it can’t possibly keep going he feels David’s hips stutter beneath him, hears him gasp out his name, and it’s so much more

“God, David …” It’s barely audible, a confession exhaled into David’s neck, from where he has found himself unable or unwilling to move. David’s hands are stroking circles along his back, and Patrick tries to pull himself together. It takes effort. Stiffly, he half-twists, half-rolls himself off David, but can’t quite let go, so all that happens is that he drags David around with him. They end up on their sides, facing each other, legs tangled, messy, sweaty …

Amazing.

A hand slides gently around the side of his neck. “Hey, you with me?”

His eyes stay closed, but Patrick’s mouth automatically hooks up in a smile. He wonders if David’s voice will always have that effect on him. “Yeah.” His voice is gravelly.

Deft fingers scratch gently through the short hair at the nape of his neck, sending faint, echoing pulses of electricity down his spine with every movement.

“That feels nice,” he murmurs. He twists to let his lips brush the delicate skin of David’s inner wrist, presses slow, grounding kisses over the pulse point there. He hears David hum low in his throat, and it turns out that sound makes him smile too.

“I’ve been wanting to do that from the moment I met you,” David whispers, so softly Patrick almost doesn’t hear it. But he does, and with a wave of relief, the last bit of uncertainty lets go its grip around Patrick’s heart. He buries his smile in the dip at David’s throat, makes a half-hearted attempt to rein in his feelings.

He suspects it might be too late.

He lifts his head and lets himself look at David, at his dark eyes and darker lashes, runs his fingers up through his hair, brushes his thumb over his cheek, smiles softly at the sight of his perfect, bruised lips.

“What?”

David’s mouth is quirked in amusement, but there’s more than a hint of insecurity about his expression. Patrick presses the pad of his thumb to the furrow between David’s eyes, trying to smooth it away. He smiles softly.

“I just … I like you so much.” It’s too simple, too obvious and unsophisticated, to encompass everything Patrick feels right now. It sounds innocent, which … okay, maybe it’s all a little new to him still, feeling so much. He laughs softly. “I didn’t mean that to sound as grade school as it did.”

But David is grinning, a lazy, dazed curling of lips. Patrick wonders briefly, wistfully, if that’s an effect he has on David, too. He shakes his head slightly, eyes roaming Patrick’s face. “I like it,” he says softly.

They stay there a moment, grinning like idiots. Then …

“We need to clean up.”

“Yeah.”

Patrick gets up and heads to the bathroom for a towel. He catches sight of his flushed, grinning face in the mirror, hair messy, eyes bright. Back in the bedroom, as he cleans up David, he can’t help teasing him.

“You knew there was lube in the bedside table?”

“You didn’t?”

Patrick laughs incredulously, tossing the towel in the hamper and climbing back into bed. “Why would I know that?”

David shrugs. He doesn’t look the slightest bit abashed. “Don’t you go snooping through the drawers as soon as you arrive?”

Something swells in Patrick’s chest, and he leans in to kiss him—because, he thinks with a thrill, he finally can. David slides his hands up to grip his biceps, and for a while they make out, lazily, while Patrick’s heart rate slows and his eyelids droop.

The last thing he remembers is David planting a soft kiss on his nose as he drifts off. And in the whirl of colours and music that eddy through him, a thought rises to the surface. He doesn’t feel different. He feels more like himself than he ever has.

Chapter Text

David is so comfortable. As he drifts upwards towards wakefulness, he realises this is because he is resting on a different mattress to the one he usually wakes up on. Which means either he’s still dreaming, and his dreams have gotten way smaller, or …

Oh yeah.

There’s already a flush of warmth surrounding him when he opens his eyes. It’s dimmed slightly by the realisation that he’s alone in his bed, and he has a flash of panic that he’s actually been dumped by someone in their own bed before he gets a grip on himself.

There’s movement in the hall, and he combs a quick hand through his hair before Patrick comes through the door. When he does, his face breaks into a wide smile as soon as he sees David is awake.

“Good morning.” He’s only wearing pyjama pants, so he can’t have been awake too long. When he reaches the bed there’s the briefest of hesitations, but David scoots over to make room and he climbs under the covers. Once there, he wastes no time folding David into his arms and planting a series of soft kisses on his lips. David would object to this before he’s brushed his teeth, only …

“You’re minty.”

Smooth. Suave. He blames the fact that he’s only just woken up.

Patrick chuckles and ducks his head, and David doesn’t even care that he’s being laughed at. “Yeah, well, I wanted to make sure I could kiss you once you woke up.” He looks up at David from under his lashes, and … yep. David leans forward and presses his smile to Patrick’s, but when Patrick leans back in, he’s met with air.

“Wh …?”

Because David’s suddenly very aware that he has not yet brushed his teeth, and clamps his lips shut. Patrick smirks and starts planting soft kisses on David’s jaw.

“Feel like you need to get minty?

He probably does. But he still rolls his eyes. “And get out of bed at this hour? I believe I was nice and cosy here until you showed up.”

“Oh, well by all means, let me leave you alone,” says Patrick, but David has him by the forearm before he can get far, and this time they’re both laughing into the kiss. All the same …

“Nope, sorry, I can’t stop thinking about it.” Now David’s the one trying to get up, but before he can, Patrick hooks a leg around his waist and … he blinks, and he’s flat on his back with Patrick leaning over him.

“My god.” He’s sure his obvious delight is undercutting any attempt at indignation, but he can’t bring himself to rein it in because yesyesyes.

“If it bothers you, I can think of a few things we could do where morning breath won’t be an issue.”

David wriggles in pleasure beneath Patrick’s warm weight. “Excuse me, I’m very selflessly thinking about you.” It’s mostly true.

“And I appreciate that,” Patrick says, moving slowly down David’s neck to his chest. He comes to a stop at his sternum, buries his face there for a moment, breathing in. Then, raising his head to lean his chin on his hands, he looks up. For a moment they just look at each other, and the strangest thing about it is David doesn’t feel the urge to look away.

“I feel like I need to preface this by saying I’ve never done it before.”

David smiles, and can’t stop himself from carding his fingers through Patrick’s hair. “If you want to think about it some more—”

“Ohhh I’ve thought about it,” Patrick interrupts with a glint in his eye.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Struggling to keep his face even, he shrugs. “Well then by all means …”

Patrick sends him one last, knowing smirk, before he resumes kissing his way down David’s stomach. He shifts to get comfortable and then starts placing soft, slow kisses along the crease of David’s thigh … then switching to the other side while ignoring David’s hardening cock completely.

David groans. “You’re such a bastard.” He can feel the huff of Patrick’s laugh against his skin, and stretches his muscles in pleasure.

And then—oh Jesus—Patrick’s mouth is on him, just taking in the head of his cock, closing his lips around him and tasting him for a moment before dragging his lips back off.

It’s barely even started, and David can already feel the heat building in his groin. He glances down to Patrick, and actually makes an involuntary noise at the sight of him. There is a faint smile playing on his lips, like he’s just realised something. At David’s embarrassing whimper he looks up, and his smile widens, before he sinks back down onto him.

Patrick is feeling his way through, trying things, testing theories, and David, to his amazement, feels so much less anxious about everything. He was supposed to be the one with the experience, but he feels like Patrick is the one grounding him through this—he laughs when he misses the mark, doubles down when he feels David respond, and generally makes his enthusiasm and intentions abundantly clear. David has a wild urge to stop him, to tell him he’s got the wrong guy, that he deserves better than this, than him …

“Patrick …”

It’s as far as he gets. Patrick’s hand is steady around the base of his cock, fingers brushing his balls, tongue swirling with curious enthusiasm, and David is … David is …

David is in big fucking trouble.

He can’t think about that now, though. Patrick isn’t letting him. Patrick, it turns out, already knows too much about what David likes, and he is merciless with that knowledge.

Helplessly, David's eyes roll back as Patrick starts to suck and swallow around his cock. He's not trying to go too deep, favouring quality over quantity, it seems, and oh god, it's good. It's so fucking good ...

He manages to warn him a second or two in advance, but Patrick just looks determined and stays where he is, swallows him down as much as he can, and makes sure he cleans up every drop of come that he’s missed.

And David can’t do it, he can’t lie here with Patrick while he’s in this vulnerable state, so he all but heaves him up the bed and rolls him over so he can get to work repaying the favour with the best of his considerable ability.

Patrick rasps out his name, again and again and again.

And somewhere in the recesses of David’s mind, a clock starts to tick.

 

❄️❄️❄️

Lying in bed, dozy and sex-drunk and waiting for David to get out of the shower, Patrick can’t stop laughing. Just little bursts of wondrous laughter muffled into the pillow each time he thinks about what has happened over the last five days. He keeps uncovering parts of himself that he didn’t know were there, and it’s difficult to try with any real seriousness to curb his thoughts. What he knows for a certainty is that he’s never felt like this before.

It’s not just the sex. It might have been, that first night, with the rush of endorphins accompanying a significant revelation about his sexuality. But it isn’t. It just … really isn’t. And his thoughts are rushing ahead of him now, and the fact that he’s driving back tomorrow makes his stomach clench—now that he’s aware of things like what he wants and what he doesn’t, it’s like it won’t shut up.

I’ve only just found him.

It’s not fair. And that doesn’t matter, because he’s still driving back tomorrow and … it’s going to hurt.

What he had, what he felt with Rachel was real, he knows it. It just wasn’t … this. And the pain when that had ended had been cloaked in shame and disappointment and guilt, but this … if and when this ends, Patrick knows he’s in for something different. He’s already in too deep, it already means too much.

But he refuses to spend what little time they have worrying. For whatever reason he’s found himself here, in this strange, magical little town at Christmas, and the odds of that are so … wild that he’d need a thousand spreadsheets to make sense of it. But he’s waited his whole life to feel like this, to feel giddy and happy and out of control and so, so right. So even though he doesn’t know how this will end, even though he has no idea what he’s doing, even though he’s terrified that he might never feel like this again … he’s damn well going to make the most of it while he has it.

 

❄️❄️❄️

When he comes back in from the bathroom, dressed in what he’s now apparently (and disgustingly) referring to internally as his “friendship sweats”, David is welcomed by the beautiful sight of Patrick, naked on his stomach, arms wrapped around his pillow and displaying his shoulders to their best advantage. A sheet is pooled low on his hips in haphazard, tantalising, flowing waves. He lets his gaze drift over the pale skin, the corded muscles, the dips and rises of a body he wants to study until he knows every inch, until he's felt and tasted every part of him. The fact that he has the opportunity to study him like this at all is something of a miracle. He takes an appropriate amount of time to really appreciate the view.

He maybe takes a little longer than that.

Eventually, Patrick shifts and rolls over to blink at David.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” David perches on the edge of the bed.

“You’re not leaving, are you?”

David tries in vain to hold back his smile. “Um, no. I don’t think it’s really safe to ask Bob to come tow my car in a snowstorm.” He bites his lip. “Is that okay?”

But Patrick smiles. “That’s okay.” For an idiotic moment they just grin at each other. Then … “Breakfast?” Patrick offers, and David brightens.

“Yes please.”

“Eggs? Bacon?”

David gasps in delight. “You’re cooking?” And Patrick laughs and nods as he sits up, prodding David until he moves off the bed.

They spend the next half hour in the kitchen, David getting in the way and not helping while Patrick fixes them breakfast. He could have waited by the fire, or anywhere else, really, but it’s such a novelty that he doesn’t want to miss a moment of it. And rather than getting annoyed with him, or ordering him out of the way, Patrick just laughs and teases him and, every now and then, grips him by the waist and kisses him lightly before moving him out of his path.

He can’t be sure, but he thinks he might be slightly … happy.

Patrick does actually manage to cook a good spread, but David eats some of it before it gets to the table (it’s bacon—what else is he supposed to do?). And Patrick isn’t even annoyed by that. He just teases and jabs and generally meets David exactly on his level. And David is so impressed by this that he ends up offering to do the dishes, except …

“It’s just … this is a white sweatshirt.” It’s not even designer, he just likes the “wild aloof rebel” slogan, but … still.

“Okay,” Patrick huffs through a grin, and while David braces himself for the moment Patrick asks him to leave, instead he places his hands on his shoulders and looks straight at him. “Why don’t you grab a blanket and go set up on the porch, and I’ll be out in a moment.”

Ah yes. Sitting outside. He’d agreed to that during breakfast, but he’d been hopped up on bacon and figured he’d able to wriggle out of it later.

“Are we sure it isn’t too cold out there for—”

Patrick kisses him. “I’ll come warm you up.” He kisses him once more, and it goes on for a while, until Patrick gives a little growl and pulls back. “You gotta go. Dishes aren’t gonna wash themselves. Apparently.”

“Mhm.” David nods, but he goes back in for another kiss. This time Patrick’s growl is a little more grudging, but he pulls away anyway and gives David a little slap on the ass for good measure.

“Go. I’ll be right out.”

David’s toes curl in his slippers, but he clamps his smiling lips shut and goes to find a blanket or two. He ends up with three, settling onto the loveseat and squirming around while he tries to find a comfortable spot where Patrick can still fit. He’s just managed it when a soft footfall alerts him to Patrick’s presence.

He’s balancing two steaming mugs of something and a heat pack slung over his arm. David reaches out for both mugs so that Patrick can settle himself, before handing one back. It’s hot chocolate, and when he takes an exploratory sip, he tastes peppermint. He looks up to find Patrick watching.

“You talked so much about how much you liked it, I picked up some peppermint flavouring in the store the other day.” When David just gapes at him for a moment, his brow wrinkles. “Did I add too much?”

“No,” he assures him, hastily, going back for another sip to hide the flush in his cheeks. “It’s perfect.”

They find a comfortable arrangement of limbs, and David leans into Patrick as they watch the snow fall gently over the garden. Everything is silent, the rest of the world walled off by the blanketing whiteness, by the crisp, cold air. They talk a little, but mostly it’s quiet, and peaceful while David’s mind turns over and over. He’s trying to recall if anyone has ever wanted to just sit with him before, just spend time doing the normal things. He’s spent a lot of relationships going to the best clubs, the best restaurants, the most exotic locales … he’s never questioned that that’s what relationships entail: a series of adventures and experiences that stretch and stretch until the desire for beautiful things no longer outweighs the drawbacks of being together. And while he’s never going to dismiss the allure of beautiful things—because he’s always going to want those, he thinks—he wonders if all along he’s wanted something else, too, without even knowing it.

“Hey,” Patrick says softly. “You okay?” It’s only the concern on his face that tips David off to the fact that he has tears leaking down his own cheeks. He wipes them away quickly.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he says, shaking his head. He can’t think about all this right now, so he just tucks his head into Patrick’s shoulder and cuddles closer, wanting time to stop, praying to something he doesn’t really believe in to let him stay here a little longer, to give him the strength for when he’ll have to leave.

Patrick noses a kiss into his hair and holds him close.

 

❄️❄️❄️

Patrick cooks dinner, too, but he makes David clean up afterwards this time.

“I’m not entirely sure about this,” he says, plucking at the floral apron Patrick found hanging in the pantry and looped over his head before he could protest. “Do you have something in a higher thread count.”

Patrick fights back a grin as he pulls the knot tight with a deliberate and unnecessary yank. His grin widens when it makes David yelp in surprise. “Sorry, we’re all out of those. You’ll have to slum it.” He hops up on the counter and kicks his legs softly against the cupboards while he watches David wash up and then pretend he knows where everything goes. His amusement grows as David wanders around the kitchen, item by item, and every now and then he cracks and turns to Patrick with a frustrated sigh, and Patrick dutifully points.

Meanwhile, he answers David’s questions about his family, what he does back in Toronto, even about Rachel. It hits him halfway through how hard David is trying to learn about him, and that realisation makes something big bloom in Patrick’s heart. He grabs David as he passes by with a spatula (in the wrong direction, incidentally) and he tugs him in between his legs so he can kiss him, long and deep and filled with what he may as well call adoration.

David clears his throat and blinks, gratifyingly dazed. “What was that for?”

And he can’t tell him, so he just shrugs and pulls him in again. “Just wanted to.” It’s honest, at least.

“Oh?” He’s smirking now. “And what else do you want?”

In response, Patrick tugs him closer and kisses him again. He keeps it lazy, lingering, revelling in the taste of him, in the scrape of his stubble, the softness of his lips, the hardness of his body. The butterflies in his stomach swoop into an impressive series of aerial acrobatics, and he alternates teasing caresses with something deeper, dirtier. It’s addictive. Kissing David is like riding waves: playful teasing gives way to heady arousal, needy desperation, lazy pleasure.

“God, I like kissing you,” he says before he can stop himself. David chuckles into his mouth.

“I got that,” he says, and Patrick can tell he's smirking.

“David …”

“Yes, Patrick?”

“Can I …?”

“Mhm?”

David is intoxicating, and he knows—knows—he’s going to change things, maybe even ruin them, but he has to, he can’t leave without at least trying

“Can I see you again?”

David stops. He takes a step back, and Patrick lets him, even though he aches not to.

“Why?”

He almost laughs. Why? Because It’s been less than a week and I think I’m falling in love with you.

Jesus.

“Because I want to.”

Something too close to dismay crosses David’s expression, and Patrick feels like the bottom of his stomach has dropped out. David takes off the apron and folds it slowly, not answering.

“David …”

“I don’t think we should go down that road.”

Patrick keeps his voice steady, although he doesn’t feel it. It all feels precarious, and he doesn’t want to misstep. “Why not?”

The more agitated David is, the more he tries to hide it and the tighter his voice gets. “I mean, you’re going home tomorrow.”

“I know,” Patrick says, biting his lip. “But—”

“It’s a holiday, Patrick,” David says, softening his voice. “And this is ... what happens when you know you’re never going to see someone again.”

That stings, and David winces, like he knows it. Patrick ducks his head so his hurt doesn’t show any more than it has. “Is it?” he says softly. He wonders if it's even possible to feel so close to someone one moment and the next feel like they’re completely out of your reach. Even after everything, even now he knows what David sounds like when he comes, knows what it feels like to have his warm weight lean against him in the cold … right now he feels like David has stepped away from him in more ways than one.

“I mean … I just mean …”

Patrick rubs the back of his neck and tries to smile, tries to get out this painful truth. “I know I’m not … really your type, but I just—”

“Who told you that?” David just looks confused now, but Patrick’s not sure why.

“Well … you, actually. That first night …” A business major in mid-range denim. He sees the moment David remembers: he squeezes his eyes shut and tips his head back.

“I, um … that wasn’t … that was more about me trying to stop wanting you, actually.” Patrick's head is spinning, and he wants to go back to that, but David gives a breathy, awkward laugh. “Typically, my type has almost exclusively consisted of people who are so self-obsessed they have the depth of a paddling pool, so that’s …” He draws a deep breath and exhales loudly.

“Does that … what does that—”

“I mean what would that even look like?” David is gesturing wildly now. “What? Are you going to move to a town you’ve never heard of just because w—just because you—”

Patrick’s heart skips a beat and his stomach flips.

“Besides,” David barrels on, his voice pitched slightly too high. “There’s a world of hot, wholesome, unproblematic men out there waiting to like, adore the fuck out of you, and I think,” he clears his throat, “you should let them.”

This time Patrick is pretty sure it's defensive. He takes a deep breath—he's taking a risk saying this, but, Jesus, if he doesn’t—

“I don’t want anyone else but you.”

David stops moving about the kitchen. He’s facing away slightly, and Patrick can’t read him.

“I ruin things,” he says quietly. “Always. Every time. Fuck, I’m doing it right now.”

“You don’t,” says Patrick, steadily, and David turns to face him. Before he can refute it, he shakes his head and fixes David with his most earnest expression. “You’re not.”

For a moment they just look at each other, unwavering. David is biting his lips together, and his eyes are shining, and Patrick wants to grab him and tell him that he’s wrong, tell him all the ways he’s ridiculously, stupidly wrong.

“David …”

Abruptly, David surges back into him, and Patrick is opening up to welcome him like it’s instinct; his arms and legs tighten around David unconsciously, drawing him as close as possible. David is kissing him insistently, desperately, like he needs to. Patrick tries to keep up, but when they part for air, David’s face is pleading.

“David—"

“Can we just table this … just for now …”

Part of Patrick wants to push him on this, but ... he nods slightly and retakes David’s mouth, carding his fingers into his hair and tugging slightly, swallowing the groan he utters into Patrick's open mouth. It's so much—already—and his legs wrap instinctively around David’s waist, pulling him closer. David gasps against him, and Patrick knows he can feel him through his joggers, can feel how hard he is already. He tightens his legs, letting his head fall to David’s shoulder as the friction sends a shudder through him.

“What—what do you want?” he breathes, faltering as David rolls his hips into him so that he can feel him, too.

“Whatever you need,” David murmurs against his neck.

Patrick frowns slightly even as his head tips back at another press of David’s hips. “But … what do you want?”

“Anything,” David hums between kisses. It feels so good, so fucking good, but Patrick can’t let that go. He pulls back, holding a surprised David by the shoulders.

“David,” he says as firmly as he can between breaths. There’s a cloudy sort of stand-off: Patrick isn’t loosening his hold, though. He ducks his head around to kiss David's neck, sucking lightly as he plants slow, soft kisses up the arch of muscle, towards the delicate skin under his ear.

David lets out a soft little sound. “I want—” It seems to escape without permission, because he sucks in a breath and pulls back, biting his lips together. Patrick’s heart gives a little jump; he holds his gaze, hoping his expression is encouraging. He lifts a hand to David’s cheek, runs the pad of his thumb over the corner of his mouth, until it relaxes. He looks torn. “You might not be … I don’t want you to feel like …”

Patrick shakes his head. “I’ll tell you if I’m not ready. I promise.”

David swallows, but when Patrick drags his thumb across his lower lip, he breathes out: “I want you to fuck me.”

For a fraction of a second, Patrick freezes. An echo of fear, a memory of how it was with Rachel, flashes across his mind, followed by an immediate, overwhelming desire that blazes through him like a flame. That newfound compass that points to what he wants is going haywire, filling his body with exclamation points and pulling him towards David.

“Will you—” He has to swallow, hard, as he tries to rein in the thoughts racing and tangling through his head. He fixes his eyes on David’s. “Will you show me how to make it good for you?”

 

❄️❄️❄️

David blinks.

He was all set to regret asking in the first place. He hasn’t done this in a while—not, his brain helpfully supplies, since Sebastien. And maybe that’s part of why he wants it, to erase a little of that from his memory. The other part, and this is painfully obvious, is that he wants this with Patrick. He wants to leave Patrick with a piece of him, for him to carry a memory of this with him when he goes. And, much more pathetically but just as strongly, he wants to press Patrick into him, wants him to leave an impression that won’t fade, that he can remember once in a while, how good it felt to have someone like him, to feel like this, however briefly.

But then Patrick said … that. And before he can think twice, he’s lifting Patrick off the counter and carrying him down the hall. He has no idea where he gets the strength, chalks it up to hormones, and he only makes it to the bedroom door before he has to let him down, but they barely break contact, kissing all the way to the bed and then some more as Patrick follows David up the mattress. Here, Patrick stops abruptly, and David whines.

“I don’t have any condoms.”

David smirks. “You need to be nosier. Bottom draw,” he says, pointing to the bedside table behind him. Patrick shakes his head and leaves the bed to go where David has pointed. David makes himself useful as well, and jumps up to fetch a towel from the hall cupboard. When he comes back, Patrick is standing there waiting for him. He looks a little nervous, David thinks, but there’s a determined set to his jaw, too. “Are you sure?” he asks anyway, because he needs to. “If you want to think about it some more—”

To his credit, Patrick doesn’t really hesitate. His mouth curves into a lopsided smile. “David, trust me. There’s not a lot I haven’t thought about when it comes to you.”

Well, fuck.

He barely knows what comes over him then, but he crosses the room in an instant and wraps his arms around Patrick, kisses him hungrily … and Patrick seems just as desperate as he is, turning them around and backing David down onto the mattress once more while the hand that’s not propping him up pulls deftly at the drawstring of David’s pants. David follows suit, yanks Patrick’s t-shirt over his head and claws down his sweats until they’re both naked, chest-to-chest. He slows their kisses, skimming his hands over the pale skin of Patrick’s back, across his beautiful shoulders, feeling a pleasing rush as the muscles contracting under his touch.

Patrick must have found the lube with the condoms, because David finds it next to him on the quilt. He hands it to Patrick.

“More is more,” he quips, and watches as Patrick moves down to a more convenient position before popping the cap. He looks up, eyes dark, eager. “Just one finger to start,” David says, brushing past the way his voice wavers a little. He circles a hand around his cock, starts a steady rhythm.

Patrick stills for a moment, transfixed by his actions, then he seems to shake himself and coats a finger with lube. After a brief hesitation, he also squeezes some into his other palm, and reaches out to take over from David, who is only too happy to oblige. Patrick picks up his rhythm and, with that determined set to his jaw, touches his finger lightly to the place just above David’s hole.

He is methodical, which comes as no surprise, circling his target with determination and slowly increasing pressure as he feels his way. David feels his mouth curling into a lazy smile as the heat builds pleasantly in his pelvis. Patrick adds some more lube to his finger and presses right at the centre of the target he’s been circling.

“Okay?”

David grins at what is apparently their understated language of consent. “Okay,” he says, and Patrick slides his finger slowly inside.

It’s been a little while, and he hisses slightly. “Keep going,” he breathes, in case Patrick was thinking of stopping. It doesn’t take long before that heat returns, and his cock is growing harder beneath Patrick’s hand. “Another,” he croaks out. “If you—you can—”

Thankfully, Patrick gets the gist, and after the application of more lube, he’s adding a second finger. He goes slowly, and part of David wants to tell him to hurry up, even as he’s enjoying the fuck out of this. He feels heady, drunk, and Patrick’s fingers are steady, determined, like the rest of him, and—

“Jesus Christ that feels amazing.”

“Good to know,” Patrick murmurs, his voice low and gravelly, and good LORD. “Instructions on what happens next?”

David groans. “Well, you can—fuck—you can stop if you like, or you can add another—another finger.”

“But David, what do you like?” David looks up, and Patrick is dark-eyed and teasing.

“I mean, I’m easy either way.” He’s smiling. He can’t remember smiling this much during sex.

And then … Patrick stops. “Well if you can take it or leave it, I’ll just …” And the bastard, he’s actually pulling his fingers back. David heaves himself up on his elbows to give Patrick the full force of his indignation.

“What are—what, you want me to say it?” He smirks, affects a mock-sultry voice, shimmies a little. “God, you’re one of those guys, aren’t you? You want me to beg for it.”

He thinks he’ll get a blush out of Patrick for that, but he’s underestimated him again. Because Patrick just looks up at him, smiling, unfazed. He shakes his head.

“Just trying to get you to tell me what you want.”

It knocks the wind out of him for a moment. Not just how sexy it is (because, yes) but also because he’s painfully aware of how few of his romantic partners have done that—insisted on him asking for what he wants. But Patrick is … kind. And how the hell did he end up in bed with someone like that? He needs exactly zero fingers to list the number of people who have asked him what he wanted and actually meant it. It has always been easy—too easy—to deflect and jibe and shimmy his way out of having to answer.

How many people have let him get away with it?

His mouth is hanging open, and it takes him a second to close it again. He drops back on the bed and groans, unwilling to concede just yet, but the sensation beneath Patrick’s fingers is too much, this almost but not quite

“Fine,” he says as petulantly as he can. “I want you to give me another.”

He can hear Patrick chuckling, knows exactly the grin he has on his stupid face, and he wants to glare, he really does, but it’s so difficult when he’s smiling like this.

It’s impossible when Patrick’s fingers return to press lightly against his hole, his other hand squeezing gently around David’s cock.

“Wasn’t so difficult, was it?” he says, and the stretch is wonderful, so much so that it draws a groan directly from David’s throat.

“Oh god …”

Patrick sets up his rhythm, steady and strong, and then … then the little fucker sinks his mouth down onto David’s cock.

“Holy fuck, Patrick …” Patrick hums in answer, and the combination of the vibrations, his wet, hot mouth, his eager tongue, and his fingers is so delicious that David is rendered speechless. When he tries again, it’s a struggle to be coherent. “Curl your … fuck … curl your fingers up a little—”

Without pulling off him, Patrick complies, and the resulting lightning strike has David’s hips jerking upwards. Patrick, caught off guard, makes a surprised sound, but keeps his mouth on him.

“Sorry!” David gasps, but he’s almost laughing with the joy of it (he really needs to get a grip on himself) and Patrick is stroking and licking him in earnest now and it’s just … it’s so …

“Patrick, sweetheart, you have to—you have to stop.”

Patrick pulls gently out, and cleans off his hand before climbing gently up David’s body to hover above him.

“Everything—?”

“So fucking okay,” David exhales, pulling him down to kiss him, hot and messy. Patrick huffs a laugh into his mouth, and there’s a tension in it that alerts David to the fact that he can feel Patrick’s erection against his hip, slick with pre-come. He releases Patrick and looks at him. “You ready?”

Patrick cocks an eyebrow. “So fucking ready.” Nevertheless, his hand is shaking as he rips open the condom, and David helps him slide it on, unable to keep himself from giving it a firm squeeze that has Patrick groaning. He falls forward onto his hands, kneeling over David, letting his head hang down between his shoulders. His forearms (oh, FOREARMS) are shaking a little, and David lets him breathe for a while. Then, raising his head, he fixes David with dark, flashing eyes, and reaches one arm down to curl around his thigh, pushing it up towards David's chest. He quirks his eyebrows in silent entreaty. David, heart racing, nods like a goddamn bobble-head doll.

And then Patrick is pushing slowly into him, and with every inch gained the beautiful stretch of him has David arching upwards, breathing his name, until he’s fully seated inside him. From under hooded lids, he finds Patrick’s eyes, warm and alight and smouldering. He’s breathing hard and his arms are trembling, so David lifts a hand to his cheek. Patrick closes his eyes and leans into it until his breathing has evened out, and when he looks back at David again there’s an expression there that he can’t name, but which brings a lump to his throat.

“You can—you can move if you …”

In all the times he’s been fucked, David has tended towards the hard and fast. He liked it that way, for a variety of reasons.

Patrick goes slowly.

He dips his head to capture David’s mouth, presses his lips to his collarbone, to the sensitive spot below his ear, amid soft moans and whispers of “David …” It’s overwhelming, and intense, and unexpected and … a lot. And maybe this is why he’s always done it hard and fast, to protect himself from all the feelings that are threatening to drown him now. It's so good, so intensely good—he feels like he might start crying. He doesn’t want to give in, but Patrick is beautiful, and wonderful, and he can’t, he can’t help it …

So he gives in.

And it’s incredible.

When David comes, it’s with a slow, aching arc, a guttural moan and his fingers in Patrick’s hair.

 

❄️❄️❄️

When Patrick presses into David, he honestly thinks he might pass out. He’s shaking all over, and David is so tight and warm around him, and he feels … oh god, he feels amazing. Beneath him, David looks up, dark eyes glittering, lips pink and parted slightly, and Patrick thinks he’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He swallows. When David rests his hand on his cheek Patrick sinks into it like he needs it to ground him, to keep himself from floating away. And he knows, in the marrow of his bones and the depths of his heart, that it’s not just his heart anymore: it’s David’s.

He’s not sure he’s hidden it completely by the time he opens his eyes again, but he can’t dwell on it, because he’s aching to move, and David’s hips are rising against him, and holy fucking goddamn fuck, it’s incredible. Each roll of his hips draws forth a moan of pleasure, and when David tips his head back and lets out a raspy, high-pitched whimper, Patrick has to bite down onto his shoulder to smother the laugh of triumph bubbling up in his throat. He draws three more such sounds from David before things start to blur, and Patrick is coming harder than he ever has in his life.

When he blinks his eyes open he’s lying on top of David, rising and falling with each breath. He finds the reserves to slide his hand between them and gently pulls out, tying off the condom with trembling fingers and tossing it in the trash, before returning to the more pleasurable activity of kissing his way up David’s torso. When he reaches his mouth, David slides a hand around Patrick’s neck and brushes the short hairs at his nape. He smiles up at him lazily, exhausted and content, warm cheeks and dark eyes.

“I can’t believe you thought you were going to be bad at this.”

Patrick gives in to a breathy chuckle, and he kisses David once, slowly, and words are overrated anyway. He manages one last nuzzle into David’s cheek before he rolls clumsily onto the bed beside him. David immediately turns towards him, tangling their legs, and Patrick’s hand goes instinctively to his waist, his thumb brushing a steady rhythm over the skin of his hip.

He needs to follow up their conversation from earlier, needs to make them talk. But sleep is coming for him, and he has time for only one more confession.

“I never knew it could be like this,” he whispers into the darkness.

And, just before he slips into unconsciousness, he hears David’s soft reply.

“Neither did I.”

 

❄️❄️❄️

He’s going to give himself five more minutes.

Five more minutes of lying here next to Patrick, watching him sleep like some kind of pervert, but nevertheless enjoying the unencumbered freedom of just looking at his face: his perfect lips parted slightly, lashes skimming the pale skin of his cheeks.

Five more minutes of pretending this break in the weather could be real, that they could have this beyond this strange, magical week. That he could have this. That Patrick could want him beyond the holiday.

He’s got to leave now, or it’s going to swallow him up, the wanting.

He sighs, and doesn’t move.

Five more minutes.

 

❄️❄️❄️

[David:] Where's the spare key to your front door again?

[Stevie:] Depends. Do you mean MY front door or PATRICK'S?

[David:]

[Stevie:] FUCK IS THAT???

[David:] Your bridesmaid outfit. I assume.

Chapter Text

In the morning David is gone.

Patrick knew it was going to be bad, but it still takes him by surprise. It hurts—actually aches to feel so close to having something incredible. And it’s entirely his own fault. David as good as told him this would happen, told him that this was just for now, that it was only ever going to be a brief, lovely, perfect thing. And he’d known, last night, that fucking David, being inside him, was going to cost him, but … he hadn’t cared. All he’d wanted was to give David what he wanted, and the trade-off had felt worth it—the chance to leave David with something permanent, to press himself into David’s skin like a tattoo that reads: Patrick was here.

He imagines that mark will fade for David, will be covered with others, but it lessens the ache to know that it is there.

He packs slowly, probably a vain wish that if he lingers long enough, David will come back through that door. He doesn’t really expect him to, but he wishes all the same. The procrastination is familiar, although the difference in leaving this time is that he knows exactly what he's driving away from. It would have been easier back then, but ... but oh, what he would have missed. And underneath the pain is an unshakable gratitude at all the little moments, all the rash decisions, all the choices that led him to this moment.

There’s a line from a book he once read running through his head like a song lyric.

It’s late, now. Standing in the living room with nothing left to delay him, he takes a last look. His eyes fall on the guest book resting on the kitchen counter. It’s open, with small spaces for comments and reviews. He sits down at the table with a pen, thinks for a while, and writes:

Thank you, Stevie, for letting me stay here. It changed everything.

PS—extra marshmallows and wine in the pantry.

It’s not enough.

A brief rummage in the draws of the little table in the hall produces a notebook, and Patrick writes for a while. When he’s done, he rips the page out and folds it, placing it on the open guest book above his comment.

With nothing left to do, he shoulders his bag and makes himself walk out.

 

❄️❄️❄️

‘Tell me again why you just left him without even giving him your number?”

David flops back onto his bed in the motel and immediately grimaces at the difference from the one he woke up on. He groans.

“Just as a rough estimate, how long are you going to torture me about this? Just, like, so I can plan my day.”

He imagines Alexis is rolling her eyes. He knows she isn’t going to be put off by any number of snide remarks, but it’s a tradition of a sort, he supposes.

“David, Patrick was a sweet little button, and don’t try to tell me you weren’t just as into him as he was into you, because I saw the way you looked at him.”

He sighs. Backed into a corner, he admits, “I like him.” A lump rises in his throat. “Liked him,” he corrects. Lies, really. Kind lies that he'll tell himself until it stops feeling like this, like he's just made a colossal mistake. But how can he have, when he didn't have any other choice?

“And?”

He turns, surprised at the soft tone to her voice. She’s looking at him with what, if he didn’t know better, he’d call sisterly affection. Suddenly he’s too tired to push her away anymore.

“He was here for a week,” he says firmly, and it’s not lost on him that she’s not the only one he’s trying to convince. “What am I going to do? Ask him to move here? For someone he’s known a grand total of six days, just to see if he might want to … date me, or whatever.” It sounds ridiculous. Is ridiculous.

Alexis raises an eyebrow. They are a family well versed in the language of eyebrows, and he knows exactly what she’s telling him.

“It doesn’t matter," he insists. "It would have ended sooner or later anyway. Plus I’m the first guy he’s ever been with, so …”

“So?” She sure is getting a lot across with facial expressions and single-syllable questions.

“So there are a lot of guys out there. And he’s …” Perfect, supplies his treacherous mind. He needs to stop thinking about him like that. He needs to start rebuilding the defences Patrick found his way through before the whole structure keeping him upright crumbles. He needs to reconstruct the narrative before he thinks too hard about what he's lost. "He'll be fine. The most I could do was try to make things good for him. Uncomplicated.”

He can feel Alexis watching him for a moment before she says, doubtfully, “And you’re sure that’s what he wants? Uncomplicated?”

He has no idea how to answer that, but is spared the attempt by Stevie’s sudden arrival. She bursts in without knocking, trailing a flurry of snow. David sits up, alarmed.

“Ew! Stevie, what the fuck—”

But she’s brandishing something, waving it in his face so that he goes cross-eyed trying to focus on it. He grabs it from her. It’s a piece of folded notebook paper.

“You,” she bites out through clenched teeth, “are an idiot.”

Which is a fine fucking how-do-you-do.

He's about to berate her for kicking him while he's down, for leaving him alone at Christmas—look what happens when she leaves him alone!—but before he can, he catches sight of his name written on the paper in his hand. Curiosity trumps indignation, so he unfolds the paper and reads it.

David,

I don’t know how to tell you this so that you’ll believe it, but you have changed my life. When I think of everything that came from you sitting down next to me at the bar, I'm not entirely sure I haven't dreamed it all, except for the fact that I couldn't have imagined anything like you. I know it hasn't even been a week, but I can't help feeling like it was the best week of my life. And I wouldn't take a single second of it back, except I wish I'd told you how much it has all meant to me. How much you meant, and will always mean, to me. You’ll have to forgive me the dramatics, but pathetic as it is, you are the most dramatic, wild, wonderful, best thing that has ever happened to me. I mean it. More.

And someone should tell you more often—and why not the person you met only six days ago?—that you are kind, and clever, and beautiful. You are a good person.

Patrick

Under that, a phone number. And on the reverse, just one line:

“I went to the well, seeking the alchemist.”

He frowns.

“What does that mean?” Alexis, reading it over his shoulder, jabs a finger at it, but he’ll have to be mad at her later. He’s too busy pulling out his phone and typing in the quote. He thinks he’s heard it before, or read it before, in a book he thinks he actually liked …

The shitty hotel wifi does its job painfully slowly. But he recognises the book title, and clicks on a link to find the quote he’s after. Then he reads the rest of it.

He swallows.

“Stevie, can I borrow your car?”

 

❄️❄️❄️

As Patrick drives towards the town limits, trying to wrestle his pain into something more manageable, he feels a now-familiar tug in his gut. It’s the same one that told him not to let David leave the cottage that first night, that made him turn around at the town sign and head back the next day. Once again, it feels like he’s moving in the wrong direction. Only this time he can’t do anything about it.

It won’t go away, the feeling.

Once again, when the town sign hoves into view he slows to a stop and puts the car in park, as though once he crosses the border he'll never be able to find it again. He almost regrets leaving David his phone number, but he couldn't help it. He never can seem to help himself when it comes to David.

He can take it all as a lesson, he supposes, go back to Toronto, or Thunder Bay, and try to live along more truthful lines, try to find what he found here again.

It seems impossible. It seems stupid to try.

He has nothing in either of those places that he wants as much as the possibility that will always be here in Schitt’s Creek. He knows in the deepest part of his heart, in his very bones, that what he and David had—have—isn’t something that comes along every day. The idea that all the planets could align like that once more is laughable. But what, after all, can he really do?

You could stay.

Ironically, it’s the practical part of his brain speaking. He lets himself follow this train of thought, knowing it will go nowhere. Yes, he could stay. He could find work, maybe with the hyper-entrepreneurial Ray. He could find an apartment.

It's supposed to be something to scoff at, a ridiculous scenario to jolt him into leaving it all behind.

He gets out of the car, hoping the cold air will make it easier to focus. It’s starting to snow, just a few flakes, hardly anything, but it makes the world look softer, more beautiful. Maybe he's trying to stave off the moment he leaves this rose-coloured (yeah, yeah) wonderland, the moment he's alone with his heartache, trying to be grateful that he's finally had a chance to be heartbroken. Trying to stop looking for ways to come back, to stay, to pine after a man who doesn’t want him.

Except … except David never actually said he didn’t want him.

He goes over their last conversations. David asking about Patrick’s life. David burrowing into him on the porch. David calling him “sweetheart” (yeah, he heard that, thank you very much). And the vague memory of an echoed confession.

As someone who has only recently discovered what he wants—what he really, truly wants—he knows it’s taken him a while to get to this moment. It feels momentous. It feels like it should come with a musical score. And he might have it all wrong, and it might not work out, but ... he wants to risk it. He wants the risk more than he wants the regret. The chance, he thinks, is worth it. David is worth it.

He gets one step back to the car, mind already reeling with the beginnings of a plan, when another vehicle races up, skidding slightly on the icy road. Patrick doesn’t recognise it, but it screeches to a halt in a flurry of newly fallen snow about thirty feet away, and the driver gets out.

David. David gets out.

For the second or third time this week, Patrick thinks he must have thought him into existence.

“Patrick.” David is out of breath as he stamps up the road towards Patrick, who is rooted to the spot.

“David,” he whispers. Then, louder. “What are you doing here?”

David is waving something small and white, and it takes Patrick a second or two to recognise it. It’s the note he wrote and left in Stevie’s guest book. He swallows.

“How—?”

“Did you mean it?”

David’s eyes are blazing. He stops about two feet in front of Patrick, and his whole energy is so intense that Patrick’s not sure whether he’s about to be yelled at. It won’t change the answer.

“Yes.”

David turns away in apparent frustration, pacing a few feet away before wheeling back around.

The Alchemist, Patrick? Really? Couldn’t think of anything more fucking obscure?”

There’s a smile tugging at David’s mouth now, and Patrick feels himself start to mirror it, cautiously.

He knows. He knows, and he came after you.

“Well, you know,” he says, his voice sounding thick. He thinks he might be crying. “I couldn’t find anything from Ducktales.”

David laughs, wetly, and Patrick is never sure who moves first, but it doesn’t matter, because David is in his arms again, and their lips crash together in a messy, desperate, perfect kiss, and it feels so fucking right. The wind picks up and David holds him tighter, as the snow falls softly down around them, and tiny flakes skim across Patrick's cheeks like kisses. He slides his arms around David's waist, sinks into his warmth. And Patrick feels, for the first time in a long time, like he’s come home.

 

❄️❄️❄️

I had a dream, and I met with a king. I sold crystal and crossed the desert. And, because the tribes declared war, I went to the well, seeking the alchemist.

So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.

-- Paulo Coelho