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all roads will lead me back to you

Chapter Text

David

David gripped the steering wheel, skin still hot with tears as he blew past the town sign.

Part of him felt a catharsis leaving it all behind; but the other part knew he was just trading one set of problems for another.

“I like you. I don’t want to like you, but I do.”

He pinched his eyes closed and tried to bury the memory. David was always on the receiving end of pain and hurt - it was the reliable pattern that followed his long string of failed relationships. He wasn’t used to being the one who inflicted disappointment on someone else.

“And so sharing a space with you as roommates isn’t gonna work for me.”

He had liked her too. He still did, really. Stevie was beautiful and fun, sharp and quick. He hadn’t expected to meet someone like her in this town, but she really had been the best thing to come out of the whole mess.

David knew he could have kept sneaking away to empty motel rooms, drinking and smoking and laughing about the absurdities around them. He could endure the embarrassing lectures from his parents if it meant more time with her, feeling closer to someone than he probably ever had.

They were so alike, with biting wit and an aversion to all things sincere. It bolstered him to know he could lean on someone like that; a friendship that wasn’t held together with what David now realized were tenuous threads like money and status. They’d simply enjoyed each other’s company - in bed, yes, but outside of it most of all. He’d never had anything like it; it was so unfamiliar that he didn’t even know how to hold it, as though it was scalding hot and could burn him if he kept it too long.

He thought drawing a line in their relationship would preserve the friendship they had, that he could keep it special and safe and take it with him to New York. He hadn’t thought it through.

Now he’d ruined it, which certainly tracked when considering his past. He’d hurt his one friend - and how pathetic did that sound? - and then he’d disappeared.

It’s fine, David thought. So they didn’t sell the town. He could still get out. This whole year had been an aberration anyway; Schitt’s Creek was just a place where he’d been forced to land to survive the shock of losing their money. But David still had connections; people owed him. He could drive to New York, get his bearings and call in some favors. He didn’t need his parents or their money.

But although this nebulous plan kept his foot on the gas, the doubts of it panning out needled at him. If he couldn’t pull it off, where would he go? He had some cash and still hadn’t quite hit the limit on a few credit cards - but beyond that, David would need more. He needed this to work.

He turned up the radio and wiped his eyes. Just keep driving, and don’t look back.

***

David had been driving for nearly six hours straight through the night; he needed to get gas and he needed food.

Taking note of a few signs, he veered off an exit in the middle of nowhere and found himself at a truck stop, huge and bright sitting in a sea of darkness. He slid out of the truck and stretched, grimacing at the beat-up pickup. Certainly not his first choice, but it had gotten him this far.

It wasn’t exactly busy inside, but after hours of driving without seeing a single car, it was a little jarring to watch the people milling about the store. David’s stomach growled at the sight of the fast food counter where a family on some leg of their vacation journey had gathered, the parents doling out burgers to their sleep-addled children - but even that seemed too expensive. You still need to get to the city, he reminded himself.

David opted for a yogurt and some peanut-butter crackers, mentally patting himself on the back for making healthy and financially responsible choices. Still, he winced at the cash when he had to pay $70 to fill the tank.

Back in the truck, David allowed himself a few quiet moments to eat and think about his next moves. It had been nearly a year since he’d spoken to any of his friends from New York; no one had even sent so much as a text to check in on him.

He wasn’t a fool - not long after moving to Schitt’s Creek it had become painfully obvious he couldn’t call them friends, especially not after he’d found Stevie. But he knew how transactions worked, and he hadn’t been on the receiving end nearly enough. Virtually every friend had spent time with him so they could get into the hottest clubs, run up the Rose bar tab, meet the celebrities who ran in David’s circles - it was high time that he collected on his end of the bargain.

The obvious place to start was of course with Sebastien; the most clear-cut case of all. Not only had he used David’s gallery connections to grow his reputation as a photographer, he’d flat-out borrowed money to wine and dine his patrons, purchase equipment, and travel for his shoots.

Borrowing was a generous way of putting it, though, since he’d never paid him back.

David didn’t mind it when they were together, because it had felt like they were building something, a power couple in the eyes of New York’s art world. It was so easy to help Sebastien when they’d show up together at parties, gallery openings, premieres - David in his designer suits and dark hair perfectly coiffed, Sebastien with his well-manicured scruff and linen shirts. David had felt strong and powerful knowing the world saw him that way - that someone like Sebastien would proudly take him by the arm and smile for the cameras.

It was nice while it lasted, anyway.

David pulled out his phone and scrolled through his contacts. He’d wait to see Sebastien in person; surprise him even. David didn’t want to give him a chance to run and hide. He took a deep breath as though it might infuse him with confidence, hoping he could make it last until he got to New York.

He briefly let his thumb hover over Stevie’s name - he should call her, explain himself, tell her he was safe. At the very least he could send her a text. But cowardice won out, and David let out a tiny cough before finding his sister’s name instead.

 

He wondered if Alexis was as worried as he’d been all those times he had to track down diplomats at embassies or send her colored contacts. Had his family even realized that he was gone, or were they still consumed with the disappointment of the failed town sale?

Alexis

Today 3:02am
David:I’m going to New York. I’m almost at the border. I’ll text you when I’m there.

It was three in the morning, so he was surprised to get a response so quickly.

Alexis

Today 3:02am
David:I’m going to New York. I’m almost at the border. I’ll text you when I’m there.

Alexis:David, did you really steal Roland’s truck?

Not his finest moment for sure, but what choice did he have? David had needed to get out, and there was no time for planning.

Alexis

David:We’ll sort it out once I get there.

Alexis:Mom and Dad are gonna kill you

Alexis:She won’t shut up about some bag you took.

So much for concern. David closed his messages and opened his GPS, tapped in Sebastien’s address, and started the engine.

***

Another hour in and David felt his eyelids growing heavy. He hadn’t slept in nearly a day and the emotional rollercoaster he’d endured had finally caught up with him. He should have gotten a coffee at the truck stop.

The highway stretched on, dark and open, still a few hours until daylight and even longer to New York.

Somewhere up ahead David could see a figure rising to its feet on the side of the road. As he got a little bit closer, the truck’s lights revealed a man standing next to a huge bag, thumb kicked out.

He didn’t know why he did it - David was no stranger to true crime documentaries, and even if this guy wasn’t a serial killer, he was at best a smelly vagrant that David shouldn’t choose to share a vehicle with.

But David was alone, and he was tired.

He pulled over just past the man, who promptly lifted his bag and tossed it into the bed of the truck.

“Wow, thanks man,” the hitchhiker greeted him, slamming the door shut and reaching for his seat belt. “I haven’t seen anyone for hours. Almost put up my tent right along the road there.”

David started driving, sneaking a quick look at the man from the corner of his eye.

He hadn’t accounted for this. His new companion was unfairly attractive for someone wearing a toque on his head, a red windbreaker and cargo shorts, and he did smell like he could use a shower or three - but David didn’t even mind it.

“Yes, well,” David cleared his throat. “Where are you headed?”

“Down to the states, then out west. But wherever you can get me between here and the border, I’d be grateful.”

David felt a pang in his chest that he couldn’t quite name. It was something akin to jealousy as his brain began to supply his own narrative about the stranger next to him, someone with the time and wherewithal to wander his way out west.

But that wasn’t the only thing making David feel off - there was something else.

“I’m driving down to New York. I can get you across the border.”

“Amazing!” David looked over at the man’s wide grin, sincere and bright, and he wanted to hate it because David was most certainly none of those things, but instead that uncomfortable knot in his chest turned into something warm and satiating.

Goddamnit.

After a minute he realized the man was sneaking his own glances, and even had the gall to look bashful when he was caught.

“So what’s your story?” The man asked, his tone a mixture of genuine interest but also - amusement?

“My story?” He stalled, trying to think of something that didn’t include the words broke, ruined, desperate...lonely.

“Don’t get me wrong, I really do appreciate the lift. But I can’t say I was expecting you to be the one driving this truck when it pulled over.” His eyes raked over David’s black Zara sweater, leather-shouldered and pulled over a white collared shirt.

“Mmm. Well - I’m taking that as a compliment. I have a business opportunity in the city, but a...man in the town where I was staying, he leant me the truck so I could get down there. Not exactly my aesthetic, but what can you do?”

The man nodded, but still looked skeptical.

“What kind of business opportunity?”

“I’m a gallerist,” he blurted out quickly, because that’s what he was. At one point. And maybe that would be an opportunity once he got to the city. Sebastien was still connected to the scene, and he owed him.

“Wow, what kind of art?”

“What about you?” David deflected. “What’s your story?”

“Oh, I - I guess I’m sort of working through an early mid-life crisis,” he replied with a self-deprecating laugh, running his hand along the back of his neck.

“Okay.” David wasn’t going to press him on that, but about a thousand questions had stacked up in front of him.

“I needed a change - a big one,” he continued. “My cousin works for a state park in the Redwoods, so he got me a job out there. A total 180 from what I’ve been doing. It’s perfect.”

“And you couldn’t just book a flight?” David asked, truly shocked that someone with such a specific plan had chosen to cross the continent by foot.

“Like I said,” the man went on, somewhat guarded now. “I needed a change. And I needed to clear my head.”

“Fair enough,” David answered. He still didn’t understand it, but it had him intrigued. “Anyway, I’m David.”

He shrunk into his seat at the notion of putting himself out there, as though this person even cared what his name was.

“Patrick,” the man replied, settling in and looking out the window.

And that was that. They sat in comfortable silence and David kept on driving, tearing across the empty highway, the sun just starting to paint the night sky with strokes of blue and gold.

***

They made it through the border crossing with ease, and Patrick pulled out his phone.

“I might have you bring me to a bus station so I can shoot out west a bit more before I hitch again.”

“Okay,” David agreed, because Patrick was mainly talking to himself, and David was simply a ride.

He peered over and noticed Patrick’s body had tensed, knee bouncing nervously, bottom lip caught between his teeth.

David wanted to bite it himself.

No, nope. He couldn’t go there.

“I saw a sign for a diner,” Patrick began. “Want to grab a bite before you drop me off? My treat...for the ride.”

David hated the thrill that shot through him, so much that he almost declined. But he would have been an idiot to turn down a free meal.

“You don’t have to do that,” he replied.

“No, I’d like to.”

David couldn’t tell if he imagined Patrick’s shaky voice, or if it was just wishful thinking.

“Okay, yeah. Thanks.”

They found the diner sitting right off the exit. David braced himself for unwelcome locals and cold stale coffee, but when they stepped inside it was quite busy with both townies and travelers, and his mouth watered at the smells of bacon and pancakes wafting through the air.

Patrick settled across from him in the red vinyl booth, heaving a sigh of exhaustion and pulling off his hat. David watched the mop of curls spring loose; and then he watched Patrick run a hand back through them, looking down and examining the menu.

“What do you think you’re gonna get?” Patrick asked, still scanning his options.

David’s eyes dropped quickly. He cleared his throat. “Well, I could go for an omelette. But those pancakes smell really good...”

“Get both. My treat, like I said.”

Before David could argue, a waitress stopped by for their orders, looking at him expectantly.

“I’ll have the Greek omelette with french fries instead of home fries, a stack of blueberry pancakes, and the biggest cup of coffee you can carry.”

“You got it,” she replied, scribbling onto her notepad. “Would you like whipped cream on the pancakes?”

David desperately did not want to be seen as a child here, but also, the answer was obviously -

“He would,” Patrick replied, shooting him a smirk. “And I’ll do the same, but a tea for me.”

Patrick brushed away the curls that had fallen over his forehead again, still smiling. He really was good looking.

“So do you have like, an apartment or something in New York? What’s happening when you get there?”

Begging my ex for money and a place to crash, David thought.

“I’ve got an AirBnb until I sort that out. Just excited to get back to the city.”

“So you used to live there? Why did you leave?”

“Oh, well, my family -- well we wanted to take a little breather from the busy lifestyle. Reconnect with our Canadian roots.”

“Can’t blame you there.” The waitress walked by and dropped off their drinks, and Patrick took a long sip from his mug. “Where abouts have you been staying?”

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t tell this beautiful, curious stranger about staying in Schitt’s Creek, living in a roadside motel, sharing a room with his sister.

“Elm Lake.”

There had to be one around there somewhere.

Patrick eyed him carefully, taking another sip. David squirmed in his seat under Patrick’s gaze, for more reasons than one. He had an itchy feeling that he’d been caught in his lie, but did that even matter? In a few hours, this guy would be on a bus headed for California.

Finally Patrick shook his head. “Nope, don’t know it.”

David let his shoulders fall and took a long pull from his own mug. He really needed this caffeine.

“So, I’ve got to ask again - why are you making it so hard on yourself? California is just so far.”

Patrick folded his hands on top of the table. “It is,” he agreed. “But I’ve always thought the journey was part of the adventure.”

“So...you like hitchhiking? And lugging that huge bag around with you everywhere?”

Patrick laughed. “I like meeting new people, and no I don’t mind the bag. There’s just a lot to see out there, you know? There’s something nice about taking your time, not knowing how each day will play out and what stories you’ll walk away with.” He shrugged, looking down at his mug. “Besides, I’ve lived my whole life with a road map, every detail marked for me. I’m over it.”

“I understand,” David offered knowingly.

But David didn’t understand. He’d lived a whole year of uncertainty, met a lot of new people, and gathered plenty of stories (that he wholeheartedly wanted erased from his brain).

“So,” Patrick continued. “I’m just going to get there at my own pace. I’ve got the time. I’ll probably grab a few nights in hotels for the clean shower, but I’ll get in some hiking, camping...check out some towns I’d probably never find if I just took a plane.”

As far as David was concerned, this plan seemed objectively miserable. But Patrick’s face lit right up, so who was he to judge?

Their food arrived and David abandoned all sense of manners, digging into his pancakes first, then dousing his fries in ketchup before shoving them into his mouth three at a time. It was probably too long before he looked up from his ravenous eating to see Patrick staring at him, a playful look in his eye.

“When’s the last time you ate? You’re like a feral dog.”

“Well that’s rude.”

“I agree.”

David wanted to retreat, hide under the table even, but the playfulness hadn’t left Patrick’s expression, so he met his gaze and sipped his coffee.

“I haven’t had a full meal in a while, close to a day. It’s been an emotional...departure for me.”

Patrick softened a bit and then took a bite of his omelette.

“I know how those go,” he nodded. David was curious about that, but he wasn’t going to pry.

They finished their breakfasts wordlessly. Their plates were cleared and David sat back, satisfied and bone tired. Patrick pulled out his phone.

“We’re about an hour and a half from the bus station I was thinking of. Is that okay?”

David nodded, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back.

“When did you last sleep?” Patrick asked, his voice rising with concern.

David wasn’t used to people being concerned for him.

He shook his head, opening his eyes. “I’m not sure. But I’m only a few hours from the city now.”

Patrick dropped his hand on the table, palm up.

“Let me have your keys. You can at least get a little sleep until you drop me off.”

David could barely think anymore, so he complied. Patrick put his toque back on (a crime, to be honest), went to the front counter and paid their check, then summoned David. They returned to the truck and David buckled himself into the passenger seat, letting his head fall against the window.

Somewhere in the back of his head he thought, maybe letting a stranger take the wheel of your car isn’t the safest plan. But Patrick seemed honest, and he was taking care of him, and David couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt cared for by anyone.

***

He woke up to Patrick gently nudging at his shoulder.

“Sorry David, but we’re here.”

David blinked a few times and sat up straight, looking around the parking lot. “Okay. Thanks for taking over, I guess I needed that.”

“No problem.” Patrick grinned at him, warm and genuine. “Had to turn the radio up though to drown out the snoring.”

David’s stomach dropped. “You’re joking.”

“I am,” Patrick confirmed, and then laughed, so loud and clear and joyful.

It was for the best that he was leaving.

“Anyway, thank you for the meal as well. That was...kind.”

“Cheaper than airfare,” Patrick replied, and the guy actually winked.

They both hopped out of the truck, David returning to the driver’s seat and Patrick grabbing his bag from the back.

Patrick seemed to hesitate, then stopped by the open window. “Good luck in the city, David.”

“Good luck with the trees, Patrick.”

He disappeared through the doors of the bus terminal. David punched Sebastien’s address back into his phone.

Patrick

Patrick blew into the lobby, looking around frantically for a schedule so he could buy a ticket and just move.

If he didn’t, he’d be too caught up in his head, and at the moment that was a bad place to be.

He bought a ticket to get him through Pennsylvania, which he’d heard felt like a pretty long stretch of road. Then he went to the bathroom and pulled off his hat to wash his face.

Patrick glanced at the mirror, and Jesus, it was a sight. He looked tired and ragged, face sunburnt and hair untamed. Had he really spent hours in the car with David, who looked like a fucking model?

Maybe David was a model. He had clearly lied when Patrick asked about his story...but instead of feeling bad about it, Patrick was only more intrigued. A super hot guy in designer clothes with no money driving a run down truck on no sleep? There had to be a hell of a history there. But Patrick wasn’t ever going to find out.

He returned to the main terminal and collapsed on a bench, leaning into his pack. He’d bought it for backpacking through Europe when he graduated high school, and used it on hiking and camping trips every summer since. It was once bright orange, but time and wear had dulled the color. It was filled with all he’d need to start over in California - Patrick didn’t want to drag along anything else from his past.

His knee vibrated anxiously. It had been a good start to his trip - he’d seen some beautiful stretches of road and forest on his trek to leave Canada, met some characters, and cleared his head, which had been the whole point.

Now, his head was not clear. It was instead full of regrets and bad memories, uncomfortable moments and painful arguments. He wasn’t quite sure what had stirred them up, but he couldn’t shake them. Patrick looked down at the ticket and considered hours on a bus with nothing but those thoughts - no way.

He ran to the booth and collected a refund before throwing the bag’s straps over his shoulders and cinching it across his waist and chest. Grabbing his phone, Patrick pulled out a map and followed the roads that pointed west.

***

“Redwoods, huh? What are you going to do there?”

Patrick sat in the passenger seat of the sleek BMW, still shocked it had stopped for him. The man driving was a corporate type in a pricey suit, dark hair slicked back and eyes hidden behind a pair of aviators. He was handsome and stylish, but not in the same way David had been, and not nearly as quirky or interesting.

“Whatever they need me to. It’s for a state park, so I’ll help with trail repair, park maintenance - maybe some work with the public, I’m not quite sure.”

“And you quit an accounting firm for that?” His tone was definitely judgmental, and yet the man’s expression seemed wistful.

“Life isn’t all about work,” Patrick replied firmly. He knew better than anyone that stability didn’t always bring happiness.

“Hey, whatever - you do you. So where exactly am I dropping you off again?”

Patrick scrolled through his phone until he found a campground and plugged it into the driver’s GPS.

They drove for a few more hours until the sun went down and they finally hit a brown and white road sign for camping pointing towards an entryway on the right.

“Thanks again, man,” Patrick offered his hand to shake.

The guy took it. “Good luck out there.”

“Thanks. Have fun visiting your parents. I hope that lasagna’s as good as you remember.”

He nodded and laughed, and Patrick pulled his pack from the trunk. The office was like every campground he remembered, small and quiet and covered in framed maps and nature photographs. The woman at the desk pulled back her frizzy hair and set him up with a map of the camp sites, circling his with a pink highlighter and drawing a route to find it. He bought a bundle of firewood and made his way out.

The site was private and surrounded by dark forest, but he passed a few car campers on his way in. Once he began to set up his spot, he could hear distant sounds of children playing and parents trying to wrangle them in for bed.

He dug through his pack for a lantern, then set to work finding his tent and some clean clothes. Once the wood had caught and the fire was burning, Patrick threw on a hoodie, pulled down his toque, and dragged the picnic table near the firepit. He lay flat on his back across the bench, chewing on beef jerky and letting his eyes find the stars peeking out above the leafy branches that hung overhead.

Patrick had had a fucking year. He’d had plenty of trying years in the past, but this one certainly took the cake. After coming out, he’d ended his engagement, bought a condo, and started dating men. It had been good, better than good really - all of the discomfort he’d felt throughout his life was finally making sense, though that discomfort wasn’t totally gone.

And then he’d quit his job.

It happened fast, and he knew it was impulsive, but after all the other changes - the mundanity became so glaring. Patrick had taken stock of his life, and decided he needed even more time to reevaluate. And space to do it. So he called his cousin Josh, got a tenant for his condo, and prepared to venture out west.

“But what’s your plan?” his mother had asked, practically pleading when he kissed her goodbye.

“I need to not have a plan for a while.”

“I don’t understand it. You had such a good job - you have so many friends around here. This is your home.”

Patrick had rubbed his eyes, trying to gather his patience. “I - I don’t know if I fit in here anymore. Or if I ever did.”

It was the wrong thing to say. His mother’s lip began to tremble, and his father moved in to put an arm around her shoulder.

“It’s okay, Marcy.” He turned to Patrick. “Go find what you need. Just make sure you come back.”

Patrick didn’t make that promise, but he did leave, setting out with nothing but his hiking boots and his pack.

He’d been on the road for two weeks now, walking and hitching his way out of Canada. There’d been a full day on his feet until he got a ride - spoiled, really, since it was an RV, empty save for the driver and his golden retriever who kept Patrick company. Then he’d gotten a lift from an SUV full of teenagers, who he promptly lectured for picking up a hitchhiker, though he certainly appreciated the ride.

And then he’d walked again, along an endless strip of highway, until he’d found himself riding in a rundown pickup with one strikingly attractive guy.

David. How goddamn typical. In another scenario - like, if they weren’t both in the middle of nowhere, heading in opposite directions - he would have asked David out for a drink, or at least gotten his number. He was hot, but there was a sweetness about him that he tried to hide, and in the short time they were together, Patrick had been delighted to try and pry it out of him, watching him get flustered by every teasing remark. It had been fun, and he’d been good company. And yeah, there was his strong brow and dark eyes, tall figure and broad chest...well. It didn’t matter now.

Patrick let the fire die down before he killed it entirely, then crawled into his one-man hiking tent to sleep. The next morning he hit the road early and quickly hitched a ride with a guy in a moving van.

They drove and drove until they’d made it to western Ohio, and Patrick decided he’d probably never get picked up again if he didn’t shower. He routed the driver to a hotel, said his goodbyes and thank yous, and rushed inside to grab a room.

It was a little strange to have the comforts of clean bedding and running water after two weeks on the road, but it didn’t stop him from taking his time in the shower, and it didn’t stop him from napping through the afternoon on the queen sized bed.

When he woke up groggy and disoriented, Patrick decided to treat himself to a drink and a hot meal. He found some presentable clothes, a blue button down and jeans, and did his best to brush down his hair.

There was no bar or restaurant in the hotel, so he asked the woman at the front desk - she pointed to the left.

“Head on out the front, there’s a steakhouse right next door. That’s where everyone usually goes.”

Patrick took her suggestion and headed to the steakhouse - it was huge, with a bar right by the door, and two rooms filled with tables and lined with deep booths. It smelled good, like beer and fried food.

He scanned the bar, looking for a spot to sit - and there he was: David, just sitting there sipping a cheap glass of red wine, barely six feet from where Patrick stood.

“It’s you.”

David looked up, and a huge grin escaped him - it punched the wind right out of Patrick’s chest. He stepped closer and watched David try to hide the smile.

“It’s me,” David agreed.

Patrick pointed at the stool next to him. “So...is this seat taken?”

David shifted his leg and kicked it out.

Chapter Text

Earlier that day...

David

A quick change and washup in a public restroom was less than ideal, but David didn’t have many options. He still looked good, he smelled good, and enough adrenaline was pumping through his system that he almost felt confident.

He hit the buzzer for Sebastien’s apartment and waited.

“Yes?” The unaffected drawl crackled through the speaker. He sounded like he’d been sleeping.

“It’s David.”

A yawn. “David who?”

Rose. Let me up, Sebastien.”

“What are you doing here, David? How are you even here?”

Seb.”

Finally, he heard the door buzz and muscled his way into the foyer. He followed the familiar route to the elevator, to the seventh floor, down the hallway. Sebastien was out before he could knock, wedging himself into the doorframe.

“It’s seven in the morning.”

“Hi to you too.”

“What do you want, David?”

“What do you think I want?”

A trace of compassion flitted across Sebastien’s expression, but it was fleeting.

“Yes, well. It was a tragic fall for your family. I don’t know what I can do about that.”

David took a deep breath, prepared to swallow his pride and beg. But why were they having this conversation in the hallway?

“Can I come in?”

Sebastien turned his head to look back into the apartment, then met David’s eyes.

“Probably not a good idea.”

“Sebastien!” A woman’s voice sang from inside. “Come back to bed.”

David folded his lips into his mouth and nodded to himself. Right. This was a mistake.

“Sebastien, I need money. To get myself back on my feet. You owe me.”

“Oh David. I can’t do that.”

The faux sympathy made David’s skin crawl. How he’d ever bought any of this, he didn’t know.

“So that’s it then? You realize you’d be nothing if I hadn’t paid your way.”

Then Sebastien’s eyes turned cold.

You didn’t pay for anything. That was your parents’ money. And you’d have been nothing without them, seeing as they paid your way.”

David’s eyes narrowed. “They’re my parents. Of course they gave me startup money.”

And then a wild grin spread across Sebastien’s face, like a lion who’d stumbled upon its prey.

“They paid for everything, David. They bribed all of your patrons. Everyone knew it. And now I’m realizing everyone knew it but you.”

David’s throat went dry. That couldn’t be true.

“Well, you’re lying,” he charged.

Sebastien folded his arms over his chest. “If I gave you money, you’d make nothing of it without your parents there to back it up. I’d be throwing it away.”

“Fuck you.”

David turned around and stalked off to the elevator, barely able to see in front of him. It couldn’t be true - he couldn’t have missed that level of deception. This was classic Sebastien, weaving a tale expertly designed to fuck with David’s head.

He found the truck where he’d left it after an epically complex parallel parking attempt, already pinned with a ticket. David groaned loudly, startling the people walking up and down the sidewalk.

He leaned against the bed of the truck and scrolled through his contacts once more, landing on Marie, the second most obvious person to track down. She’d been his assistant, and after his family’s downfall had quickly jumped ship, finding work with other galleries and networking her way into more substantial roles. David had given her the experience, the first stepping stone on her resume. She owed him. He tapped her name and called.

“David?” She sounded groggy. “Is everything okay?”

“Um, is everything okay with you?”

“I was sleeping.”

“The question stands. You’ve usually made six trades and two sales by 7.”

“Eight trades. And I’m in LA, David. It’s not even 5am here.”

“LA? Oh…”

“So what can I do for you?”

She sounded annoyed now, but David’s annoyance had crept its way in too. What could she do? Literally anything would have been better than ghosting him when he lost everything.

He tried to steady his tone. “I’m in New York. I thought maybe you knew of something - I’m trying to get back into the scene. I can’t stay away forever, obviously.”

Marie was quiet.

“I’m done with New York,” she finally replied. “But if you’re willing to come out here, I might have some options for you. It would be pretty entry level, if you could stoop to that.”

She sounded bitter, but David was in no position to worry about why. Could he do it? Go to LA? The thought of working below his former assistant was less than appealing, but still...

It was better than going back to Schitt’s Creek.

“Okay. I’ll let you know when I’m there.”

He hung up, and texted his sister that plans had changed.

***

David grabbed a bagel, a real New York bagel sandwiching an inch of cream cheese and caked in sesame seeds, since it would be his last for a while, and splurged on a caramel macchiato. He took stock of his funds - down to only a few hundred dollars in cash, and a couple thousand left on his credit cards. It wasn’t the best solution, but that was a problem for future David. Between gas, food, and one or two hotels, he’d just be able to make it to California.

California. Same as that hitchhiker, that Canadian boy who’d bought him breakfast and let him sleep while he took the wheel of Roland’s truck. David wondered where he was now, what other drivers had picked him up. But he’d never know.

David finished his breakfast unceremoniously in the truck and then drove off. He snaked his way out of the city, across the bridges and hectic highways branching out in all directions, and stayed zeroed in on heading west, until he was driving straight through Pennsylvania.

At first he found himself whizzing across the highway deep in the forest, tall evergreens and spidery oaks reaching over the road. The darkness inside the tunnel of encroaching branches matched his mood as he second guessed his whole plan. New York had been one thing - that was a known entity. LA was something else. He tamped down a pang of homesickness - for what he didn’t even know.

You’re getting out of that town, you’re getting back to your life, he reminded himself. You’ll have your status and your money back soon.

David turned on the radio and blasted the volume to drown out his thoughts. He kept on going, driving and driving, stopping only for fuel and a cheap gas station sandwich. And in no time the road opened up, blue skies and sunshine, flat land and cornfields as far as the eye could see.

***

Now

Patrick

David. How was he here?

Patrick joined him at the bar and tried to school his expression to stay neutral and contain the chaotic mix of excitement and confusion threatening to show themselves.

“I thought you were going to New York?”

David took a thoughtful sip of wine, suddenly avoiding eye contact. He’d changed from his black sweater, now wearing a short sleeved shirt, navy with streaks of white bursts scattered across the fabric, right to the collar buttoned tight around his neck.

“I got to New York, but my contact there redirected me to LA. We’re - opening a new gallery and apparently it’s a better fit.”

There was a lie in there somewhere, but all Patrick could think about was that smile when David saw him standing in the doorway.

“So then - we meet again.”

“I guess we do,” David agreed, finding his eyes.

“I’m going to buy you your next drink, if that’s okay.”

David looked pleased, but also like he was trying to hide it. Patrick found it way too endearing.

He ordered a beer and another glass of wine for David, and in no time they were onto another round.

Patrick told David about his journey after they departed, the decision to hitch again, camping the night before.

David shook his head. “Why would you sleep outside when you can clearly just pay for a hotel?”

Patrick smiled, because he couldn’t help it. “I like camping, David. You might too, if you tried it.”

“Bugs and dirt? No bathrooms or clean water? No thank you.”

“Right, the cab of that ancient truck is preferable.”

David eyed him as he took a sip of wine. “Like I said, you can clearly pay for a hotel.”

Not for the first time Patrick was confronted with this strange contradiction - David was involved in upscale art galleries and wore these expensive designer clothes; he was from a world unlike anything Patrick knew. But he had no money. It was obvious - his mode of transport, the way he tore apart his breakfast at the diner - that he’d just accepted a third glass of the cheapest wine, but hadn’t once mentioned dinner.

“Well,” he replied carefully. “For one thing, lots of campsites have bathrooms, running water, even showers. And a stay there is much cheaper than a hotel.”

“But you also like it?” David asked, a hint of genuine curiosity in his tone.

Just then the bartender stopped by, tossing a blonde ponytail over her shoulder and dropping off some water. Patrick put in an order for two steaks and a plate of fries. David looked at him questioningly, but Patrick instead returned to camping.

“I do. There’s something really...nourishing about spending time out there. For me, anyway. It’s quiet, and I can focus on little tasks to get comfortable instead of whatever else usually gets me stressed out and anxious.”

David dropped an elbow to the bar and let his chin rest on his fist, looking at Patrick like he didn’t quite understand, but wanted to. His eyes were a little glassy from the wine, his features more relaxed. He was fucking beautiful.

Patrick took a big swig from his pint glass, and leaned in a fraction closer.

“How can it be comfortable? Doesn’t it get hot, and aren’t there mosquitoes and doesn’t it sometimes rain?”

Patrick bit his lip, holding onto his smile and crowding even closer into David’s space.

“You’re wound so tight,” he breathed, voice low. David remained still as Patrick reached up to run his thumb over the button sealing David’s collar snug at the base of his neck, and popped it loose.

He watched the faintest flush crawl up David’s neck, and, well - he hadn’t been expecting that.

David swallowed. “So? Isn’t it actually really uncomfortable to camp?”

“It can be,” Patrick agreed, moving to the next button. “But sometimes it’s muggy just up until the night, and then a cool, dry breeze rolls through, and you’re bundled in your tent and surrounded by cold, clean air. There’s nothing better.”

“That does sound nice,” David whispered softly, distractedly.

Without allowing himself much time to think over the decision, Patrick let a hand move to cup the back of David’s head, and gently pulled him into a kiss.

After Patrick had come out, he’d charged headfirst into dating, and sex, making up for lost time. He’d felt like he was on fire the first time he was with a man, and it seemed to only get better and better. He’d missed out, he’d known he was inexperienced - but Patrick was nothing if not determined to meet a challenge.

This kiss, here with David, though - this was new. David kissed him back immediately, but to Patrick’s surprise it was soft, tentative even. He traced David’s bottom lip with his tongue and let his fingers creep up and comb through the waves of his hair. David parted his lips, just briefly letting Patrick lick inside enough to taste the tart traces of wine.

Forget feeling on fire - Patrick thought he might actually combust. He could feel the kiss thrumming beneath his skin, from his lips to his finger tips, matching the rhythm of the hammering deep inside his chest.

He pulled back, panting a little, suddenly viscerally aware they were still in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

David’s eyes met his, wide and dark and maybe a little awed.

Just then David reached down and gently placed his hand on Patrick’s knee, which he’d barely realized had started bouncing rapidly. Patrick looked down, his eyes drawn to David’s silver rings.

“You do that a lot,” David whispered, voice raspy and shaken.

Patrick lunged for his mouth again, messier and far less gentle, because fuck, he needed to chase down that feeling...because he’d never been kissed like that before.

“Steaks and fries?”

David backed off this time, clearing his throat and nodding at the bartender, who left them with a knowing smirk and their dinners.

Still feeling unsteady, Patrick started to eat, chewing his food but not really tasting it.

“So, do you think you’ll need another ride tomorrow?” David asked as he got to work cutting up his steak.

“Are you staying here?” Patrick countered, his blood heating again just imagining David sleeping somewhere nearby.

“Um, not exactly. I’ll stick to the truck. In case you haven’t noticed, I have limited funds.”

David’s face reddened as he studied his wine glass.

Patrick didn’t know what to say, so he instead kept things light, asking David easy questions about his taste in movies and favorite foods and places he’s traveled.

David happily ticked off lists of rom coms and pizza toppings, and gushed over obscure places he’d shopped and eaten in Paris and Tokyo.

Patrick took in every cadence and expression, watched David sheepishly order one more glass of wine, let their fingers fumble together as they reached for the same fry over and over again.

“I can’t believe we ran into each other here,” Patrick mused, not even quite realizing he’d said it.

“Mmm,” David agreed. “I wonder where our paths will cross next. Utah?”

Patrick laughed, but also thrilled a bit at the prospect of running into David for a third time in another state. “Nevada, probably.”

“Maybe I can just drive you the whole way.” David looked at him - cautious, maybe hopeful.

Patrick froze. Just the idea of spending more time with David, this total fucking mystery of a human being that Patrick wanted to unravel in more ways than one…

“I’d love to, David, but I still -” He took a deep breath, hesitating. “I wanted to get in at least another week or two. I don’t want to rush it.”

David nodded, body tensing. “Of course, I just wanted to offer a lift. I get it.”

Patrick grabbed his forearm. “You can join me, if you want.”

David’s tongue darted out to lick his lips, mulling it over. Patrick couldn’t look away.

“I don’t think I could afford to lengthen my trip that way.”

“I’ll pay for you.” Oh God. What was he doing?

“That’s too much,” David pulled away. “You don’t even know me.”

He was right of course. But still.

“I’ll cover gas and fees wherever we end up staying. Think of it as payment for getting me out west.”

“So I’d have to camp, then.”

“Or keep sleeping in your truck. Just at a campsite.”

It probably wasn’t the best deal for David, extending his trip and spending all this time with a stranger, but maybe he really was that strapped for cash.

Or maybe he wanted to spend more time with Patrick, too.

David stood up quickly then, making a move to leave, and Patrick’s heart sank.

“Okay. I’ll chauffeur you along on your little expedition, as long as you can shoulder the costs.”

Patrick blinked in surprise. “Of course.”

“I’ll be right back, just heading to the restroom.”

Patrick let out a long exhale and finished his beer when a loud buzz vibrated across the bartop.

David’s phone. It was lit up with a text message, and though Patrick wasn’t one to snoop, he was starving for any crumb he could learn about David.

Stevie

Today 8:23pm
Stevie:You’re such an asshole.

Well, that only added more questions to the mix.

David returned to his seat and offered a small smile before grabbing his phone. At the message, his whole posture changed, shoulders slumping and face falling.

“Everything okay?” Patrick asked.

David simply shook his head. “It’s nothing. I should probably get ready for bed.”

Patrick settled their bill and walked David to his truck, parked in a dark corner of the lot beneath a canopy of tree branches.

“What time will you be down tomorrow?” he asked, unlocking the door.

Right. They were heading west together now. Patrick’s personal reimagining of On the Road had taken a decidedly different turn.

He wasn’t upset about it.

His hands found David’s hips, his mouth the soft skin of his neck.

“You can come upstairs with me, if you want,” he murmured.

David groaned before he grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him roughly, all tongue and teeth, and Patrick felt it again, a kiss that radiated from his toes to the faint tips of his eyelashes and down into his bones that had gone weak and wobbly.

He could barely breathe but he didn’t want to stop, not ever. But David finally stepped back, dropping his hands and straightening his shirt.

Patrick could feel his chest heaving as he caught his breath, eyes wildly searching David and settling on the two little buttons he’d undone at the bar.

“Okay, so I - don’t think I should go upstairs with you.”

Patrick’s thoughts jerked back into focus.

“Are you sure?” Patrick didn’t want to sound desperate, but this - it was good.

David let his arms go slack and shook out his hands.

“This is either the smartest or stupidest thing I’ve done, but - I’m probably a little too emotionally fragile for wherever this is going. And believe me, I’d go, but - I shouldn’t.”

“Yeah, okay,” Patrick nodded, now incredibly confused. David looked nearly as perplexed by his own words. “You can still come up though, you don’t need to sleep in the truck.”

Across the parking lot the start of a car’s engine rumbled, and its headlights flashed on, cutting through the dark. Patrick watched David’s expression shifting in the flickering light, finally landing on something stoic.

“If you’re still fine with that, I would appreciate it.”

Patrick wasn’t sure at all, really, but he ran a hand through his hair and stood up straight. “Absolutely.”

They grabbed David’s bags and made the short walk next door to the hotel.

His confidence quickly faltered when they stepped into his room and were assaulted by the quiet intimacy inside.

“There’s only one bed?” David asked, looking at Patrick as though he’d caught him in a trap.

“I forgot about that,” Patrick admitted, and he had. “Sorry, I’ll take the floor.”

“It’s your room, don’t be absurd. I’m going to take a shower, if that’s okay.”

“Of course,” he told him, but his mind betrayed him and began to supply visions of David, slick skin and dark hair beneath the running water.

Patrick changed into sweats and took off his button down leaving only a white undershirt, then crawled onto the bed and turned on the TV.

What the fuck was he doing? He’d never been this attracted to another human in his thirty years on earth, and that attractive human had drawn a firm boundary between them. For some reason.

He should just go on his way, finish his trip, start his new job. This was a truly unnecessary test of his own willpower.

He tried to shake it off, think about the trip itself - getting to California. Patrick was an adult - he could handle a crush. He could try, anyway.

Trying wasn’t made any easier when David emerged from the bathroom ahead of a cloud of hot steam in a black t-shirt and grey joggers while scrubbing his hair dry with a towel.

He could try. “You know, we can just share the bed. It’s no big deal.”

David looked at him skeptically. “I don’t know.”

“I’m fine with it if you are.” He stood up and shrugged before walking past him to wash up.

When he came back out, David was rummaging through the closet. He pulled out a spare blanket before settling in next to Patrick, who promptly turned off the TV and light on the nightstand.

They lay there quietly in awkward silence before Patrick quietly reassured them both.

“See, it’s fine.”

David

It wasn’t fine. Patrick was right there, all competent and in control, and that combination had always worked really well for David.

He gripped at the covers, fighting every urge to roll over and resume their kiss from earlier.

And what was that, anyway? It was good...so good.

David has kissed like, a thousand people - but he’d never felt heat quite like that before. Patrick’s lips, his hands grasping at David’s waist…they ignited something that seemed to set his skin ablaze.

He wondered if maybe it was just good because nothing else was; because David had possibly blown up his life to an even greater extent than Eli had. He’d certainly made some questionable choices recently. Grand theft auto, for example.

But it wasn’t only that; Patrick seemed so good-natured and kind, buying him that meal at the diner, and now dinner…offering to help pay his way out west. It was genuine and selfless and David simply wasn’t used to people like that.

He thought about Stevie’s last text. You’re such an asshole.

Right. For once, he would make a responsible choice.

Still, David had thought he could use a second shower after walking out to find Patrick sprawled across the bed in his sleep clothes. It took every ounce of strength he had now to pretend that he was elsewhere, anywhere, even the cab of Roland’s truck.

***

The next morning David awoke to an empty bed. He probably could have slept another five hours, but it appeared that Patrick was an early riser. Sure enough, Patrick stepped out of the bathroom showered, dressed, and chipper. It didn’t annoy him as much as it should, which maybe annoyed him more.

David rolled onto his back with a childish whine. “How long have you been awake?”

“A couple hours. I grabbed you some breakfast and a coffee,” he told him, pointing to a spread of muffins and bagels arranged on the dresser.

“Oh,” David replied quietly. “That’s nice of you - thank you.”

He grabbed a chocolate chip muffin and his coffee and returned to bed as Patrick did some work repacking his massive bag.

David’s phone vibrated.

Stevie

Yesterday 8:23pm
Stevie:You’re such an asshole.
Today 7:10am
Stevie:So now we’re not only leaving the country, but ignoring texts as well?

David's stomach dropped. He had to respond.

Stevie

Stevie:So now we’re not only leaving the country, but ignoring texts as well?

David:I’m sorry. I had to get out of there

It wasn’t because of you, he thought, but didn’t say it, because he couldn’t.

Stevie

Stevie:Cool. Hope you have fun in the Redwoods. Strange choice.

Stevie:But I know you, and I know you won’t, which is providing me with a small amount of satisfaction

David:Alexis told you?

Stevie:You may not give a shit, but there are people back here who are worried for you.

It was too much, too real. He closed his messages and returned to his breakfast, watching as Patrick clipped and cinched the straps around his pack.

He looked up at David. “Shall we?”

“Mmm, I think you need to adjust your expectations for morning routines here. I need at least forty minutes for my skincare and that’s not counting my shower and outfit selection."

“Guess that means you’re getting up at least forty minutes earlier next time.”

“Or you’re sleeping in?”

Patrick gave him a fond smirk. “Get moving, David. I’d like to drive through to South Dakota today if we can.”

“Well if it’s South Dakota, yeah I better get moving!”

“You joke, but you’re going to love it.”

David couldn’t possibly imagine that being true, but still - a warmth flooded his insides at Patrick’s assumption - that he knew what David might love, that he’d thought of him at all.

***

“Do you want me to take over driving yet?” Patrick turned to him with those big, earnest brown eyes.

“I really don’t think it’s fair for you to drive at all. And anyway, I’m fine.”

David started to fiddle with the radio. The truck’s sound system barely worked, let alone having bluetooth or any way to hook up his phone. So music on their long trip meant scanning for new radio stations every few hours, usually finding the 90s stations to be the most palatable.

It wasn't long before Patrick piped up again.

“You know, I don’t even know your last name. Maybe we should exchange a little information.”

David spared him a quick glance.

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” Patrick replied, shifting in his seat. “What if there’s an accident, and I need to tell your family?”

“Patrick, that’s morbid as fuck.”

“My last name is Brewer,” he offered, ignoring David. “My parents are Marcy and Clint, so if there’s an emergency, you can find them in my phone.”

David sighed. “Rose. I suppose if anything happened - and by the way this is still incredibly disturbing - you would look for my sister, Alexis.” He paused. “Or Stevie.”

For some reason, Patrick whipped his head around to face him. “Who’s Stevie?”

“A friend, why?”

“No reason.” Patrick turned back, looking out the window.

They kept on driving through Indiana, flat highway cutting through alternating patches of forest and huge fields. After barely four hours, David’s stomach grumbled loudly.

“It needs food!” Patrick declared with some sort of monster voice, and David wanted to hate him, he really did.

“No, we can wait.”

Patrick grabbed David’s phone from its spot propped in a cup holder to display the map. “I’ve got an idea.”

After maneuvering through a few different highways and exits, they found themselves driving right along Lake Michigan and up to Chicago. Patrick pointed David toward a park along the water. It felt good to get out and stretch, even though it hadn’t been that long in the truck yet.

“Find somewhere to sit - I’ll get us lunch.” Patrick followed the sidewalk that curled alongside the water’s edge while David settled on a nearby bench.

He’d been to Chicago before, but he’d never been out here, sticking mainly to high end restaurants, galleries, and clubs. It was a bit jarring to look out over such a large body of water that wasn’t the ocean.

The air was drier than back east, but the summer sun was still searing. David was wearing another short sleeved shirt, black with the collar buttoned up. He loosened the top two buttons like Patrick had done last night, sat back, and closed his eyes.

“Here you go, David!” Patrick announced as he dropped down onto the bench beside him.

He held out a box filled with hot dogs overflowing with toppings - David’s stomach growled again at the sight of it.

“I’ve never actually had one of these,” he admitted, taking a photo before reaching into the box.

“Me either,” Patrick mumbled through a mouthful of food. “Always wanted one, though.”

David did his best to make sure each bite had an even ratio of toppings, hot dog, and roll, and let out an embarrassing moan as he tasted the combination of mustard and relish, onions and pickles and tomato and peppers. Before he could devour a second, Patrick shoved a can of Coke in his hands, and all David could do was reply with a meek thank you, again taken aback at the easy care and generosity.

“Was this on your list for the big journey out west?” David asked between bites of his second hot dog.

“Sort of? I guess I went in with some ideas depending on where I ended up.” He took a sip from his drink and scuffed his shoe against the ground. “I figured I needed to be open to the unexpected.” He quickly looked at David before taking another sip.

Well, that wasn’t terribly subtle.

“What’s in South Dakota, then?”

“Mount Rushmore,” Patrick replied, tipping back his can and finishing his soda.

“No.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“But that’s not what we’re driving all the way out there for.”

“Oh, no. But you asked what was -”

“Ok, I got it.”

Jesus, he was no better than Stevie. David collected himself and tried again.

“So Patrick, where specifically are we headed?”

“Badlands. It’s supposed to be a pretty stunning place, and we can camp there.”

David forced an approximation of a smile. “Sounds great.”

Patrick gave David a reassuring pat on the shoulder and collected the trash.

***

Pretty soon they were on the road again. Patrick had weaseled his way behind the wheel, explaining they’d have to take turns since they wouldn’t arrive at their camp site until after midnight. David stifled a whine, because he’d agreed to this arrangement after all, and Patrick was steering the ship.

He pulled out his phone and found Stevie’s last text, the one he hadn’t answered. He added the photo of his lunch.

Stevie

Today 7:17am
Stevie:You may not give a shit, but there are people back here who are worried for you.

David:IMG_1802.jpg

David:Chicago hot dogs…you would like these

He knew he was dismissing her anger, her hurt. If she sent him another angry reply, well - he deserved it.

Stevie

David:Chicago hot dogs…you would like these

Stevie:save some for the other tourists

David snorted. Then he exhaled a sigh of relief. It was a start.

Chapter Text

Patrick

The truck rolled into the campground late, but Patrick still managed to find a site. David had fallen asleep hours ago, head tucked somewhere between his shoulder and the window. He’d started to snore, a quiet snuffle rattling in the background. Patrick turned off the radio so he could hear it better.

He found their spot and hopped out of the truck to grab a flashlight from his pack. David startled awake, looking all adorable and confused and distracting Patrick from the tasks at hand. He dropped a ham and cheese sandwich from the last gas station stop in David’s lap and then got to work setting up his tiny orange hiking tent, spreading out his sleeping bag inside and folding a sweatshirt into a pillow.

Patrick guided David toward the bathrooms to change and wash up, shuffling behind the dim beam of his flashlight. Fortunately David was still so tired there was minimal complaining about the restroom’s state of cleanliness. When they returned to their spot, he unzipped the opening to the tent, lifted back the flap and ushered David inside.

“Where are you sleeping though?” he asked, groggy and a bit delirious.

“It’s a nice night. I’ll sleep outside.”

“That’s a thing?” David’s voice went up in concern.

“It sure is. Go to bed, David.” Patrick watched as he snuggled into the sleeping bag, and zipped the tent back up. He spread a sheet on the prairie grass between the truck and the covered picnic table, pulled his toque over his hair, and sprawled out onto his back.

It was only then he realized how far west they’d already come, the enormity of the black sky stretched above, encompassing the space around him like a domed ceiling. The stars were dazzling and vibrant, as they often were when he got away to camp, but here it was so clear he could see even more stars, further away - so many, so bright they blended into a distant fog.

Patrick wanted to keep stargazing, but his eyelids were growing heavy. He rolled over on his side, eyes shut tight, ears searching for any whisper of David’s gentle snore.

***

He awoke only a few hours later; other campers across the field were stirring and the sun was already casting its light above the towering ridges and canyons in the distance that made up the Badlands.

Patrick zipped up his windbreaker, pulled his hat snug on his head, and drove the truck down to the visitor center to get some breakfast. In his short time with David he’d learned he preferred fancy coffees that were more like desserts, was embarrassed to ask for them because he had so little money, and would gladly take his gas station coffees with a heavy portion of cream and sugar. That was the kind of coffee Patrick prepared for him this morning, carefully balancing a bag of pastries with David’s coffee and his own tea as he returned to the truck.

It wasn’t lost on Patrick that he’d taken to....caring for David. Maybe he was overcompensating since he most definitely wanted to take care of him in other ways, but there was something else. David was capable and smart and headstrong in ways that Patrick found incredibly appealing, and he moved through the world with a confidence he truly envied. But David also seemed - lost - and it wasn’t clear why.

Back at their campsite Patrick found David on top of the picnic table, swimming in a massive black sweater and drop-crotch sweatpants, hugging his knees close to his chest.

“Good morning.” Patrick handed him his coffee, which David grabbed at with hands still tucked into his sleeves.

“Did you know there are wild animals out here?”

“It’s a National Park, David.”

“I saw a herd of buffalo.”

“That’s amazing!”

“Is it?”

“Wait.” Patrick felt a smile stretch across his face before he could stop it. “Are you trying to hide from them on top of this table?”

“What if there’s a stampede and they trample me in the tent?”

Patrick looked around at the other tents and campers across the field, going about their morning routines. “I think that’s unlikely, but whatever makes you feel safe.”

David’s eyes flicked toward Patrick but instead of a snide response, they lingered for a moment. Patrick cleared his throat and sat down on the table next to him.

“They’re bison. Did you know they were nearly extinct for a while? You should consider yourself lucky that you get to see even one.”

“That’s me, the luckiest,” David replied dryly.

Patrick threw him a concerned look, but David was sipping his coffee, gazing off into the distance.

“Well,” Patrick continued, “aside from the bison, what do you think?”

David was quiet, but looked thoughtful. “I’m still not sold on sleeping outdoors, but...I don’t hate the aesthetic.”

“I thought I’d spend the day driving the loop around the park, if you don’t mind me taking the truck.”

“Of course.” David pulled out his phone. “I should have enough charge for most of the day.”

“Or, you can come?”

David stretched out his legs and slid off the table.

“I suppose I can do that.” He acted put out, making a show of getting himself ready to go, but of course he didn’t have to...he wanted to. Patrick hoped, at least.

***

David had changed back into one of his collared shirts, white with black brush strokes across the chest, but he’d loosened the buttons at the neck and rolled his sleeves to his elbows. They drove with the windows down, and Patrick let his hair hang loose in the warm, dry breeze.

It was nice having company, listening to David complain about intermittent phone service and the heat and the dust kicked up from the tires, but also noting his sincere wonder at the otherworldly rock structures and vast prairies.

And even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to, Patrick wanted to kiss him.

When they stopped at an overlook and marveled at the peaks and deep canyons extending far below, and David’s lips parted ever so slightly, Patrick wanted to kiss him.

Or when David became engrossed in an educational plaque about the colorful layers striating through the stone, reading about how each layer was deposited at different points in time, millions of years ago, and reported what he’d learned like a dutiful student, Patrick wanted to kiss him.

Even when they stopped to snack through lunch, and David picked up cell service and walked off to text in privacy, like he’d done on and off the whole trip - even then, watching David in his personal moments, smiling at his phone and sticking his tongue out in concentration as he typed - Patrick wanted to kiss him then, too.

But he couldn’t, and he told himself that was okay.

***

“So we can’t have a campfire here,” Patrick explained. “I think we might just want to go to the visitor center for dinner. There’s a restaurant.”

“Michelin rated, I imagine.”

“3.5 on Yelp.”

David gave him an amused half-smile, and in no time they were seated at a booth ordering frybread tacos and local beer and wine. Patrick thought it felt sort of cozy, like a diner. He sipped his beer and watched David read something on his phone before finally putting it down on the table.

“So,” David took a long pull from his glass. “Tell me about your midlife crisis.”

“My what?”

“That’s what you told me when I first picked you up in Canada.”

Huh. That was probably a weird thing to say. Now that he knew David - well, sort of - he wasn’t sure what he wanted to tell him.

“You need to share something too, then.”

David suddenly looked uneasy. “Like what?”

“Um, anything? I’m still not clear on why you were in Canada, why you have this truck, why you had the sudden change of plans from New York to LA.”

“Okay but I did tell you all of that,” David replied, eyes focusing on his wine glass.

Patrick licked his lips, unsure how to proceed. “I was just looking for some elaboration. But that’s okay, David. What about who you keep texting?”

David paused. “My sister, Alexis.”

“So you’re close with your sister?”

David barked out a laugh. “No.”

“Okay - ”

“Sort of.” David looked up. “I mean, she’s the worst and has left me a nervous wreck worrying for her my entire life. She’s a little too adventurous for her own good.”

Patrick could see it - the tiniest crack in David’s shield, something real finally escaping. He wanted to reach out and pry it open. “Tell me about her.”

“I don’t think this place has enough alcohol for that.”

Their food arrived and the two took big bites of the fluffy frybread, topped with ground beef and piles of vegetables. David slathered his with salsa and sour cream and they ate contentedly until Patrick wiped his hands on the paper napkin and finally spoke up.

“I came out a year ago.”

David’s eyes darted up. “Oh - okay. You don’t need to - ”

“I was engaged to a woman, my best friend from high school. I was living in my hometown, still spending most of my time with high school friends. Anyway, coming out sort of blew up my life out there.”

He’d never put it quite that way to anyone before, but it had been the driving narrative in Patrick’s own head for so long - it was a relief to share it.

“Um, I’m sorry?”

“Is that a question?”

“No. I am. Sorry. I just never had that experience - I never had any negative reactions from friends or family, not about that.”

“Oh, I didn’t either, not really. It wasn’t like that.” Patrick rubbed the back of his neck. “It was just a big change, and I felt - different, but everything around me was the same as it had been.”

Patrick thought back to ending his engagement and coming out to Rachel, and how understanding she’d been, almost frustratingly so. The way she’d seamlessly shifted from fiance to friend, helped him work through the nuances of coming out again and again to his parents, his friends.

He thought about those first few months, how good it felt to be seen - to have the people in his life know so much more of him. The relief was euphoric.

And then the dating apps, driving hours to gay bars, the sex, feeling alive, feeling free.

The long work days, the same happy hour he’d gone to since university, Sunday dinners with his parents, and Rachel at the table, still.

“Anyway,” he continued. “I quit my job, and I didn’t know what else to do. I still don’t. But that’s okay.” He hoped he sounded convincing.

David’s dark brows pinched together, considering Patrick’s story. “So you’re newly out, and a little isolated in your hometown - and you’re traveling across the continent to live out in the woods?”

Well when he put it like that, it didn’t sound great.

“I think - I just need a break from what I was doing,” Patrick tried to explain. “This will definitely be a break.”

David didn’t look convinced, but he nodded. “Well, I hope that works out for you.”

Feeling a little exposed, Patrick finished his drink. “Want to take a drive? I’ve heard the sunsets are pretty great around here.”

David was watching him now, searching his face for something - Patrick pulled off his hat, raking his fingers anxiously through his hair.

“Okay,” David finally agreed. “Let’s go take another drive.”

David

David buckled himself into the passenger seat, because that’s what he’d been doing since they left Chicago. Patrick drove.

Patrick took David from place to place. He bought him food and tried to make him feel comfortable and keep things clean for him.

It didn’t feel right - he didn’t feel like he was offering enough in return. Plus it was unfamiliar, someone being so kind. But Patrick was capable - he liked to take charge, and David enjoyed letting him.

The truck rolled along, picking up the same loop they’d followed earlier that day. They glided past the golden fields and cliffs overlooking the canyons and rock formations. Millions of years ago it had all been underwater, David’s brain recalled from their first trip around the loop. He’d probably never have seen any of it if not for Patrick.

David turned toward him, Patrick rigid in his seat, hands gripping the wheel firmly at ten and two. He looked unsettled, still, from their conversation at dinner.

David had been a little taken aback listening to Patrick’s story - he’d just seemed so sure of himself up until now; getting a glimpse into his personal struggles was surprising, not only because they didn’t quite fit Patrick’s persona, but because he was sharing them with David at all.

Vulnerability made his skin itch, and this was no different, but for some reason, with this, he found it...not so bad.

The car had gone quiet. “Thank you for dinner,” he told him. David should have been saying it more.

“You’re welcome.” Patrick kept on driving, and at some point David realized the sun had already set. The sky was glowing pink, deepening into purple, and even though none of this had been David’s idea, and really, he didn’t care...he kind of wished they hadn’t missed it.

“Um, should we pull over at the next lookout?” David asked carefully.

“Yeah, okay.” Patrick veered off the road and turned off the truck. He unbuckled his seatbelt and looked at David, those huge brown eyes suddenly lost and uncertain. David held his gaze.

He really liked him.

He liked the take-charge Patrick and the snarky Patrick; he liked the one that doted on him and even this one, the one that had gone all quiet after opening up about himself.

David was a mess; he always had been. A thousand painful relationships had left him damaged goods. It was no wonder he’d stolen a car, run away from his family and broken his only friend’s heart.

He liked Patrick, and wished he could be the kind of person who could offer him advice, lighten the mood, share something personal from his own past that might make him feel better.

But David wasn’t that person. He peeled his eyes away and folded his hands in his lap.

Patrick nodded as though he’d suddenly won some internal debate with himself and reached for the handle to the door. But David felt a jolt of panic, like something was slipping away, and grabbed Patrick’s wrist. In one swift series of movements, David pulled, and Patrick’s face whipped around just as David leaned over to kiss him.

Patrick kissed him back, soft lips firmly pressed against David’s, instantly reaching to hold David’s face with his free hand. It was almost sweet, like he thought David was something fragile he needed to handle with care. He most certainly did not need to do that, David thought, and dropped Patrick’s wrist so he could instead find his waist. He used his strength to pull at Patrick’s torso, nudging him to turn more toward David, using his grip for leverage to close the space between them. David licked at the seam of his lips and Patrick responded just as he’d hoped, opening for his tongue and letting his fingers trail up into David’s hair, tugging and scratching at his scalp.

Any need to be gentle seemed to fade away, and Patrick kept kissing him, harder and deeper, as though David had finally given him permission and he couldn’t hold back. The idea of it made him dizzy.

They were still too far apart, though, and Patrick began to lift one of his knees, awkwardly attempting to crawl across to David’s side of the truck, still kissing him hungrily. David let out a groan, and began kicking for the lever to move the seat. After some truly wild stomping, he slammed the bar and sent the seat flying backwards, and Patrick, who had valiantly gotten half his body over the center console already, fell into the dashboard, elbow leaning into the steering wheel and consequently, the truck’s horn.

David was mortified, but Patrick erupted in a loud laugh, body twisted and limbs crumpled at David’s feet. David’s chest swelled with something - something gratifying, that he’d pulled that joy from Patrick’s lungs. Suddenly they were both laughing as Patrick pulled himself up, and David had to catch his breath to stop. They regained their composure, if that’s what it was, and Patrick settled in and straddled David’s lap.

“Hi,” he greeted, still smiling.

“Hey,” David breathed before kissing him again. It wasn’t long before Patrick’s fingers had rediscovered David’s hair, and David’s own hands found Patrick’s thighs.

His brain kept on supplying images of them - ugly cargo shorts removed, bracketing David’s ears, slung over his shoulders. His hips bucked up involuntarily, just as Patrick had started to kiss at David’s jaw, traveling across the tender skin of his neck, settling behind his ear.

He rolled his own hips down in response, using one of his hands to press David’s shoulder into the back of the seat, holding him in place.

Jesus,” David groaned, or at least he thought he did, his brain so foggy from the feeling of finally having Patrick like this. He could barely think as Patrick held him down, biting and sucking into his neck, breath hot against his skin.

His hips thrusted upward again, and this time when Patrick pressed his own down in return, he picked up a rhythm, grinding against him, over and over.

They were still completely dressed, and though David desperately wanted more contact, more skin, he didn’t want this to end either. He tried to swallow his moan while Patrick continued rolling his hips with more intention. David wanted to help, open his jeans and take him, but the space was too cramped; so he slid a hand up under Patrick’s shirt, palming at his smooth chest.

“Oh my god,” Patrick choked at the press of skin, just before David rubbed a thumb over his nipple - and then, in more of a shout, “Oh my god, what the fuck is that?”

The window had darkened with the presence of matted brown fur pressed against the glass. Patrick scrambled back to the driver’s seat, and David sat up straight and watched a small group of bison slowly moving past their car.

“I think that’s enough sightseeing for the day,” David huffed as the bison ambled off.

“Agreed.” Patrick was still breathing pretty hard, but he started the engine and turned the truck around, back toward their campsite.

David’s head pounded, trying to process what the fuck had just happened.

***

They didn’t talk about it. They got back and Patrick wordlessly hurried himself to the bathrooms. David picked up his phone.

Stevie

Today 8:22pm
Stevie:Roland wants you to text him to work out a plan for the truck
David:ew.

Stevie:While I understand that response, you did sort of steal it.

She had a point, but something about adding Roland as a contact in his phone made him cringe.

Stevie

David:can’t you just tell him I’ll have it sent back once I’m in LA?

Stevie:I’m not your messenger pigeon

David:thank god, I’ve had enough wildlife for a lifetime.

Patrick returned, toque pulled over his curls but not his ears, which sort of defeated the purpose, and anyway David hated it, except he really didn’t hate anything on Patrick.

“I’m gonna go to bed,” Patrick informed him, voice tight, maybe even embarrassed.

David didn’t understand it.

“Yeah, okay. Me too. I just need to change.”

David grabbed his bag and went to the bathroom. It hadn’t been as bad as he expected, but he still carefully avoided contact with most surfaces, placing sheets of paper towel down beneath his bag and the countertop where he carefully arranged his skincare products.

He looked in the mirror, grazing his stubble with the heel of his hand. He needed a shave. After changing into his sleep clothes and applying his standard routine of serums and moisturizers, David made his way back to the site, using the flashlight on his phone.

The screen lit up.

Stevie

Stevie:I sent Roland your number. Expect a call tomorrow <3.

His face battled between smile and grimace, which honestly had been happening a lot lately.

Back at their campsite, Patrick was flat on his back, stretched out over the sheet he’d slept on the night before. David was rendered somewhat immobile, torn between retreating into the tent and talking to Patrick.

Was all that in the truck - had that not been okay? It certainly seemed okay at the time, Patrick clinging to him with his hands and his mouth, writhing against him, but now...

If David were a different person, he might join him, crawl over and nestle under one of Patrick’s arms. He might kiss him sweetly, maybe even not so sweetly, and tell him that David was a fucking mess too, that his whole life was a midlife crisis. He’d tell Patrick it was fine if they kissed, kept on kissing until they got to California and went their separate ways, because he liked him and he liked kissing him.

But he wasn’t that person.

Instead he crept into the tent, adjusted the sweatshirt-pillow Patrick had made for him, and wiggled his body into the sleeping bag.

It was lumpy and uncomfortable, but he couldn’t complain, not with Patrick sleeping outside, braving the elements. David closed his eyes, imagining LA. He’d have an apartment, fall asleep buried in a big, soft comforter and Egyptian cotton sheets.

He’d have a social life again, reclaim his position in the art world; just thinking about it helped to tame his concerns about Patrick and Stevie and the rest of it.

A little. He reached for his phone.

Stevie

David:If you don’t hear from me by tomorrow afternoon, assume I’ve been flattened by a herd of bison

Stevie:Who is this?

Chapter Text

Patrick

Patrick had unpacked his bag, tossing its contents across the ground and onto the picnic table, ready to rearrange everything before they finally left the Badlands.

“What’s all that racket?” David poked his head out of the tent, hair disheveled and eyes half-closed, looking far too cute for Patrick to deal with right now, or possibly ever again.

“Let’s get moving David, I’d like an early start today.”

Early start. He’d barely slept at all.

David scrambled outside, only slightly more alert, looking around at the chaos Patrick had unleashed on their site.

“Um, okay, I just didn’t realize that was the plan. But yeah, okay, I’ll start getting ready.”

Patrick couldn’t even look at him.

Last night, in the truck, fuck – kissing David had been intoxicating those first two times, but to really touch him, press into him and smell his cedar cologne and taste his skin —

David had been clear back in Ohio – too emotionally fragile, he’d said, and Patrick wasn’t going to push him. He’d been there himself. But last night – David had started that, right?

He swiftly broke down the tent, neatly dismantling the poles and carefully folding until everything was small enough to fit inside the tent’s little bag.

The truck was packed and ready by the time David strolled back, having showered and changed into a long-sleeved white shirt, no buttons or collar this time. His black jeans were wrapped at the waist in some sort of black skirt. His hair was styled and he was clean shaven and even smiling a little and he looked so good, Patrick wanted to scream.

He stopped last night for a reason, Patrick reminded himself. He went into the tent alone.

As he approached Patrick, clutching his bag with one hand, David extended his palm toward him.

Patrick swallowed.

“What?”

“The keys. You’ve done enough of the driving.”

“Right.” He fished them from his pocket, tossed them over, and walked around to the passenger side.

“Where to?” David asked, his voice oddly bright as they settled into their seats.

There had been a plan, but now…

They weren’t going to talk about it, that was clear enough, but he still had to ask.

“Do you, um, want me to come with you? I understand if maybe you’ve changed your mind. I bet I can hitch my way out of the park.” He wasn’t sure what answer he wanted to hear.

David studied him, holding eye contact far longer than he normally allowed himself to. Patrick watched as he opened his mouth to speak and closed it again.

“I mean, if that’s what you want. But I don’t mind. We can keep going.”

Part of Patrick felt relieved; the more time he’d spent with David, the more he wanted to just be near him. It was a little unnerving, if he was being honest. But he liked him, and keeping that to himself – trying to – wasn’t easy.

For whatever reason, though, David looked hopeful, and Patrick was in no position to crush that.

“We’re about six hours from some hiking I’d planned to do in Colorado. Maybe we can camp out there for a while.”

David pursed his lips, but to his credit he didn’t complain, instead letting Patrick handle the mapping while he started the drive out of the park.

“So tell me about...hiking.” David glanced at him briefly before returning his focus to the road.

“Uh, what about it?”

David let out a frustrated exhale. “Like are we talking about rock climbing or a walk through a charming English countryside?”

“David, you don’t have to come on the hike. But for the record it’s not going to be like either of those things.”

And Patrick was officially at a loss, because David looked disappointed. After a few moments of silence, he spoke up again.

“So Colorado is known for having a lot of peaks that are at least 4,000 meters high – I’d definitely like to get at least one of those.”

He watched David’s face adjust as he absorbed the information, but he still looked upset about something.

“Right. Well, that sounds like a nice challenge. I’m sure I can find something to do at the campground.”

“We’ll be right near Denver, David. There’s plenty for you to do out there.”

He offered a terse nod, eyes still trained on the road.

“If you’re interested in a hike, I’ll probably do something a little lighter when we get there today, just to get acclimated to the altitude.”

“I don’t really have anything to wear,” David responded immediately, and Patrick wasn’t sure if he was more confused by the quick response or the fact that David was now seemingly trying to dodge the invite.

“We can stop and grab a few things.”

“You’ve paid for so much already...” David replied, hesitating.

“I honestly don’t know what you want right now,” Patrick shot back, an edge to his voice.

“I’m just getting the impression you’re upset with me?”

“I’m not—” he started; he wanted to tell him he wasn’t upset at all, that he’d be more than happy to pick things up where they left off before a wild bison had interrupted their plans. He grabbed the phone that was mapping their route. “I’m going to look up the nearest outdoor store.”

***

Inside the store, Patrick hustled toward the boots. He hoped he might find something on sale, ideally designed for the easier terrain they’d be practicing on that day. Patrick knew quality boots were important, but David wouldn’t let him pay for anything too pricey, and who knew if he’d actually ever wear them again.

Fortunately he found some discounted pairs that could work, so he piled up the boxes next to a bench. He looked around for David, who had wandered off to look at clothes. Patrick took a seat and indulged himself as he watched David peruse the shirts on the other side of the store.

He walked from rack to rack, pinching the fabric of the clothes between his fingers, assessing their quality or aesthetic or some other David-esque set of standards. A group of men in their twenties walked by him, arms full of supplies for some camping trip, laughing and joking in a way that reminded Patrick uncomfortably of his high school friends.

David looked over briefly to acknowledge and then dismiss them, grabbed a shirt from the rack and flung it over his shoulder, holding it by the hook of the hanger. He strode past the group, owning the space in his skirt and chain necklace and silver rings, heading straight for Patrick.

How did he do it? Patrick had picked up on things that made David self-conscious, like his truly inhuman sweet tooth or his current lack of funds, but at the end of the day his ability to navigate the world as David Rose seemed effortless. Not for the first time, Patrick ached with jealousy for that particular confidence that David wore like armor.

“What?” David asked, and Patrick had to reset his expression, realizing he’d been staring.

“Nothing,” he croaked, and tried to mask it with a cough. “I found you some boots.”

David began to survey his options, and after an animated monologue about finding the right pair to complement his new shirt’s color and texture, they were at the counter ready to pay. Patrick had thrown in some socks and convinced David to grab some shorts. When they got their total and Patrick pulled out his credit card, David hesitated, reaching for his wrist.

Patrick turned to him. “Look, I’ll start you a tab, okay? Anything beyond our original arrangement you can pay me back once your gallery picks up.”

David lowered his hand and nodded. “Thank you.”

Patrick smirked. “Don’t act all solemn. You’re the one who wanted to hike.”

A corner of David’s mouth turned up ever so slightly, and Patrick grabbed the bag of new gear with both arms to stop himself from kissing it.

***

They drove a few more hours, stopping briefly for snacks – Red Vines and Cheetos for the rest of the drive, granola and M&Ms for the hike. Still behind the wheel of the truck, David lowered his dark sunglasses as he took in the massive mountain range in the distance.

“Wow,” Patrick breathed. “That’s something.”

The truck headed straight toward them and chugged its way up the steep hills, winding around the curved roads. They pulled into a campground and Patrick got to work arranging the tent, fumbling to change into his hiking clothes inside.

David returned from the bathrooms in his new gear looking sheepish and uncertain, but his black t-shirt clung perfectly to his chest and shoulders, and the charcoal shorts were surprisingly fitted and revealed more of David’s legs than Patrick had yet seen.

David stopped in front of him as though awaiting a sentencing.

“I don’t think I thought this through.”

“I think you look very cute.”

Patrick briefly wondered if he’d crossed the line with that one, but David tried to hide his pleased smile, and anyway, it was true.

He filled up some water bottles at the nearest spigot, packed his day pack with their snacks, and took the keys from David before they were off, driving toward the park he’d found during the last leg of their drive.

The parking lot was nearly full and crawling with kids and families. Slipping his bag onto his shoulders, Patrick caught David studying his face.

“Are you wearing sunblock?”

Patrick rubbed his forehead. “No?”

David rolled his eyes and went back to the truck, returning with a tiny tube of sunscreen.

“Look at the sun Patrick!” He waved his hands in the sky’s general direction. “I don’t see a whole lot of shade on this hike.”

Patrick looked out at the hills of red rocks and scraggly trees, and yes, maybe he should have thought of that.

“Come here,” David huffed, and to Patrick’s surprise he pulled him by the arm, bringing him close and face to face. David began gently applying the sunscreen to Patrick’s forehead with the tips of his fingers, spreading it down his cheeks. David’s thumb swiped some more across Patrick’s chin, and he had to close his eyes and steady his breath at finding himself in David’s proximity like this again.

His fingers continued to rub into Patrick’s skin, smoothing below his eyes and the tip of his nose and even his earlobes. When Patrick opened his eyes, David was still there, studying his work. Patrick took the moment to appreciate David’s dark lashes and clean shaven face up close.

Seemingly satisfied, David stepped back a fraction, and before Patrick could stop himself his eyes had dropped to David’s lips and back up again. They stared at each other for another second, or maybe an hour, and felt the space between them charge with that familiar energy.

“Are you coming or going?”

An SUV full of screaming kids had pulled up beside them and the driver, an exhausted and desperate-looking dad, leaned out of the driver’s side window.

“Oh, sorry, just got here,” Patrick replied, his throat dry. The dad nodded in acknowledgement and tried to put on a brave face as he continued his search for a parking spot.

Patrick took a step backwards. “Okay David, let’s go.”

***

The hike was fun. It wasn’t very steep or technical, but it helped Patrick acclimatize, and he had no complaints watching David scramble up and down the big red boulders in his new athletic wear.

For the most part they hiked together, stopping every now and then to catch their breath and snack. Patrick wasn’t sure why, but David seemed to be bursting with questions about hiking and camping. He told Patrick about his own outdoor memories from Coachella and Lilith Fair – Patrick wasn’t quite sure they were comparable, but David seemed to be reaching for any sliver of common ground.

“Actually, I went hunting recently.”

That one stopped Patrick in his tracks.

“How did that happen?”

“Oh, my friend Stevie was going. Kind of a tradition, I guess.”

Stevie again. Patrick shook it off.

“And did you – kill something?”

“Yes, and hopefully I’ll never have to do anything remotely like that again in my life.”

Patrick tried his best to stifle a laugh. “What did you shoot?”

“I shot a turkey in the neck.”

“Woooow,” Patrick murmured through his smile. David narrowed his eyes and resumed the hike, Patrick chasing after him. “What? I’m impressed.”

“You’re mocking me.”

“No, I’m just relieved. I mean if we get lost, I know I’ve got a real survivalist to help keep us fed.”

“Ew, imagine?” David’s whole body shivered adorably.

“I’m just saying, I’ve never killed a turkey.”

“And I never will again.”

“Noted.”

“That being said,” David put a hand on Patrick’s shoulder, “we should discuss dinner.”

***

David grumbled a bit at the prospect of going to the grocery store still wearing their sweaty clothes, but once inside he grew distracted. Patrick grabbed some sausages and vegetables to cook at their campsite and threw in the package of chocolate cupcakes David had been eyeing in the bakery aisle.

They returned and showered and changed into their warm sleep clothes before Patrick got to work on the fire. David used Patrick’s pocket knife to chop up some peppers and onions at the picnic table while Patrick skewered the sausages; it all felt so domestic and comfortable Patrick had to remind himself it wasn’t real, or at least, it wouldn’t matter beyond the next couple of weeks. If he could make it that long.

It was dark by the time they could eat, tearing the sausages apart with their fingers and sharing the cooked vegetables from the tinfoil Patrick had wrapped them in. He sat on a rock facing David across the fire, who had claimed the bench from the picnic table.

When they finished, Patrick reached into the bag from the grocery store and held up the cupcakes triumphantly, and David shot up to grab them.

“You’re always so thoughtful,” David thanked him in a small voice, returning to his seat.

Patrick shrugged in response, but still felt quite gratified that he knew how to make David happy in these little ways. He’d always liked that part of his relationship with Rachel. After his year of hookups it had been awhile since he’d been able to enjoy the feeling.

“So tell me more about your new job,” David prompted before popping the last piece of cupcake into his mouth.

“Well, I’m not totally sure to be honest. I’ll be living in a lodge there, figuring out how they run things, making myself useful.”

“Long way to go for something you’re not even sure of,” David mused, kicking some brush into the fire.

“I don’t mind that,” Patrick replied, and he really didn’t. It was kind of the point.

“Oh?”

“It’s just that I wasn’t exactly happy back home.”

“I thought you said you wanted to try something new?”

Patrick looked at David through the blurry waves of heat and smoke curling above the firepit. He was holding a long stick, tracing circles into the dirt, eyes fixed on the ground.

“It can’t be both?”

“I suppose. But you could do literally anything else.”

“It’s an opportunity.”

“Sounds like you’re running away.”

Patrick sat up straight. “You’re one to talk.”

David’s eyes shot up to meet his. “We’re not talking about me.”

“Of course not. Are we ever?”

David’s lips curled up into the tiniest smile, but his gaze stayed fixed on Patrick.

“So what are you running from?”

Patrick felt defeated, struck down by David’s ability to see through him.

“Everything,” he finally admitted. “The pressure to reinvent myself but still remain the same guy to the people in my life. Trying to please everyone. Forcing myself to make some actual decisions and think about what I really want. I guess running was easier.”

Patrick looked away, grabbing around for twigs to toss in the fire so he could keep his hands busy. It felt good to say it, but still – not really the image he’d wanted to project for David.

Fortunately, David appeared willing to let him off the hook.

“I think I understand. And I mean, I can kind of see why all this outdoors stuff might be a nice distraction for you.”

“Yeah?” Patrick smiled. “It’s growing on you, huh?”

“I wouldn’t say that, but…it’s...this has been nice.”

“You can do it any time, you know. You even have your own boots now.”

“Mmm. Let’s just say this isn’t the typical scene for most of my friends.”

“What about Stevie?”

And David laughed – a real laugh, clear and bright. It was gorgeous; Patrick filed it away to remember for later.

“Actually,” David looked thoughtful. “She might like it.”

The mysterious Stevie. Patrick needed to know. “Who is she, anyway?”

David was quiet for a minute. “Stevie’s my friend. Maybe my only friend. I mean I have other friends, but she’s not like them. We met during our family’s...vacation. Anyway, we tried to be more than that, and I called it off. I thought I was doing the right thing but...I probably ruined it.”

“Is she the one you’re actually texting all the time?”

David let out a sigh. “Yes. I’ve been trying to smooth things over.”

“So is this why you’re running?”

“No,” David replied firmly. “I’m not running. I’ve been taking a break with my family, but now I’m returning to work. My other friends. My life.”

He was lying, again.

“Okay, David,” Patrick replied gently.

“I told Stevie she could join me,” he continued. “She didn’t want to...to come just as friends.”

David wasn’t sharing everything – Patrick still had a thousand questions. But it was something, and Patrick thought he could see David just a little bit more fully.

He wanted to see more.

David was tracing lines into the dirt with that stick again, and Patrick just watched, trying to figure out what was going on in that beautiful head. David’s skin glowed in the light cast from the fire, golden flecks flickering across his cheeks and forehead.

And even though he’d been trying to keep those feelings tied up and tucked away, trying to respect David’s boundaries...all he wanted to do was kiss him.

“I hope that you two can fix things,” Patrick finally said.”People who really know you, who see you, they’re hard to come by.”

Their eyes met for a minute. Then David looked back down.

“I think I need to get to bed.” David stood up. “I’m going to sleep in the truck tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow, Patrick.”

Patrick offered a sad smile and nodded. David had given him just a little too much. He really had to stop prying.

Over the last few days he’d fallen hard, and Patrick wondered for the hundredth time why he was putting himself through this. Whenever David pulled away, he just wanted to follow him, piece together more of the mystery.

But when David opened up, just the smallest bit, or showed Patrick the slightest interest, he grew so hopeful the feeling could barely fit inside his chest. What he was even hopeful for still wasn’t so clear.

He waited until David returned from the bathrooms, washed and moisturized and ready for bed. Patrick brushed his teeth and got himself situated in his tent, burrowing into his sleeping bag and trying not to focus on the smell of David’s products still lingering from the last couple of nights.

He shut his eyes, thankful for the long hike he had planned tomorrow. Patrick had some tough decisions ahead of him.

***

David

The next morning Patrick woke David up early, much too early, but he apparently needed to get them moving so he could drive back out for his hike. He’d found David a coffee shop in Denver and drove the truck down to the city.

“You’ll be okay out here for the day?” he asked again, pulling the truck in front of the cafe.

“There’s legal weed and plenty of restaurants, I’ll be fine,” David assured him once more.

He’d gotten to sleep last night, but it had taken some time. The truck wasn’t terribly comfortable, for one, but it was more that his mind was racing. He liked this guy, so much, but David was incapable of sharing something like that, and besides, what would be the point? He’d been lying to Patrick all along, keeping his family and Schitt’s Creek and his real reason for this journey to himself. David couldn’t imagine that changing.

He wanted Patrick, though, and maybe he’d played it right that first night, but they weren’t strangers anymore. He’d tried to show him his interest, he even went on that hike, but Patrick didn’t seem to be picking up any of his signals.

David had no fucking clue what he was doing.

He handed Patrick his moisturizer with SPF before unbuckling his seatbelt. “Put that on today. I don’t want to see that pretty face of yours sunburnt when you pick me up.”

And to David’s delight, Patrick’s pretty face turned crimson anyway as he tucked the tube into his pocket and let out a tiny cough.

“Thanks. I’ll call you when I’m on my way back.”

David nodded and fought a very real urge to kiss him goodbye before he hopped out and shut the door.

Inside he ordered a caramel macchiato and pulled out his phone, assaulted by the reminder that Roland had been texting him. He’d slowly added the name into his phone as though every letter was inflicting pain.

roland

Yesterday 3:34pm
Roland:Dave, it’s Roland

Roland:we need to talk about my truck

Yesterday 8:11pm
Roland:DAVE RESPOND

He’d been ignoring the messages since yesterday but supposed it was time to deal with them.

roland

Today 7:01am
David:Hi, I’ll be in California within the month. I’ll pay to have it sent back once I’m there.

He hesitated for a moment before adding:

roland

David:sorry

Good deed of the day now accomplished, David began tackling the listings for apartments. It was not promising. In his old life, $3,000 a month would have been pocket change, but now – he wouldn’t even have enough for a deposit. This wasn’t going to be easy.

He sent another text out to Marie, asking if there was a place he might be able to stay until he could afford his own. David wished he could swing into this new position without so much begging, but that didn’t seem to be how this was going to go.

Feeling a little pathetic, David spent the day spending money he didn’t really have. He treated himself to a hefty lunch and grabbed some supplies at a dispensary, shooting a quick text to Stevie with a photo of his haul.

By the time he heard from Patrick, David had already settled in at a Mexican restaurant and ordered himself a margarita.

“Hey, how was your day?”

It may have been the edible, but David’s limbs went a little weak at the sound of his voice.

“Good, good. Just getting some dinner. How was the big hike?”

“It was tough but worth it. I’m about a half hour away, would you want some company?”

“Yeah, sure,” David told him, trying to sound casual, because he very much did want his company. “I’ll text you the address.”

A half hour later Patrick strode through the entrance, toque attempting to cover his disheveled hair sticking out at the bottom, a black hoodie and cargo hiking shorts looking worn and baggy. He still looked far too good.

He walked with a little limp, sore from his hike, past the walls of wood siding pinned with colorful string lights and assorted southwestern art and pulled a chair out across from David. The two shared a smile before David promptly downed his second drink.

The waiter appeared with paper menus and tall glasses of water.

“Another drink?”

David shrugged. “I probably shouldn’t.”

“He’ll have another,” Patrick clarified. “I’ll grab a Corona.”

“I daresay it appears that you’re trying to get me drunk,” David charged as the waiter left.

“I’m driving. Enjoy yourself.”

His voice was dripping with sincerity again, which still brought up David’s hackles – but he was getting used to it.

So he enjoyed himself. They drank a few more rounds and ate chiles rellenos, recalling stories from their trip and reminiscing like old friends, since now they’d been traveling together long enough to have some of that.

Sufficiently full and tipsy, David collapsed into the passenger seat of the truck, and for the first time the question finally hit him – did he really want to go to LA?

Maybe it was the smallest hint of homesickness for his family, or feeling drunk and stoned and missing his nights with Stevie.

But he was pretty sure it was mostly Patrick.

His thoughts were a little fuzzy, but there was a vaguely familiar voice urging him to lean into this thing – there was something there. Something real, that could matter beyond this trip.

A different, much more persistent voice intruded too, reminding David that every time he leaned in, the other person inevitably leaned away.

While he tried to hush both voices, he let his eyes wander over to Patrick, sure and steady behind the wheel, taking them back to their campground. Patrick, so take-charge and confident, who had entrusted David with all his insecurities. Patrick, who had come pretty close to pulling the truth of David’s past and his family’s embarrassing downfall from him.

It suddenly occurred to David that he hadn’t felt so seen, so comfortable with anyone as he did with Patrick...not since Stevie. The thought sobered him abruptly, and all he could do was worry about how he could keep whatever small thing they’d built together from slipping away.

But he couldn’t tell if that meant leaning in or holding back.

Almost on instinct, he lifted his hand, reaching over to take Patrick’s – when a booming thunderclap rocked him back. The sky opened up and though it was already dark out, the sheets of rain pouring down made it nearly impossible to see.

“Shit,” Patrick groaned, squinting and leaning forward to try and see the road. “I think I put the rainfly on the tent.”

Once they finally made it back, Patrick pulled out his phone, assessing his next move.

“I don’t think this rain is going anywhere tonight,” he declared. He craned his neck to look around the cab of the truck. “I don’t think you should stay in here.”

“Why not?”

“It’s just going to get really steamy and uncomfortable with the rain, and you can’t open the windows.” Patrick let out a nervous huff. “We can share the tent, I guess.”

David perked up at that. “Yeah, okay.”

They did a long and awkward shuffle between the truck and tent to change and get ready for bed. By the time David was laying down, insides swimming with excitement and nausea and frankly – lust – Patrick crawled beside him, flashlight in his mouth to keep his hands free. He looked around, paused on his hands and knees, before adjusting his sweatshirt pillow next to David’s feet and clicking off the flashlight.

Head to toe. Well, that was a choice, and probably a message. But it didn’t help to calm David down at all.

He tried to sleep, listening to the loud pattering of rain slapping down on the tent. He steadied his breathing through his nose and closed his eyes.

But really, every thought and nerve ending just focused on the length of Patrick’s body, firm and warm and pressed up against David’s side. The tent was just so small – there was no way to put any space between them.

Maybe Patrick had put them head to toe for David’s benefit; he was the one who stopped them to begin with.

David could sit up to readjust, lie down again to face Patrick. He could listen to that one voice in his head, the one that told him to lean in —

“David?” Patrick called out, a little loud and uncertain.

“Yeah?”

“I think – I think maybe we should start heading to our destinations tomorrow.”

Oh. So it was that voice he should have listened to after all.

Chapter Text

David

It’s fine, it’s fine.

Just keep driving, and don’t look back.

That was the plan from the start, and David didn’t have to stop now. He’d hit some roadblocks taking this trip with Patrick, maybe taken a detour, but all roads were still leading him back to his old life. He could have it all again.

He called Marie first thing that morning – an assistant at the gallery had a friend with a spare room he could use until he found his own place. Not ideal, but he’d get there.

Patrick had been...pleasant, but stoic, focused on mapping their final route while David drove. The plan was to head straight out of Colorado, through Utah and Nevada.

“We can probably do it in one stretch if we switch off driving, but maybe one more stop tonight would be safer.”

David simply nodded in agreement, because what choice did he have? None of this was his idea, anyway. He’d always just been along for the ride, even if he had supplied the truck.

“It’ll still take you a good twelve hours to get to LA after that,” Patrick added, examining the map on his phone, his other arm draped outside the passenger side window.

“Fine, no problem. Though you do have a gift for finding the rest stops with the best snacks and cleanest bathrooms, which will be trying for me.”

He shot Patrick a quick glance, enough to catch that teasing sparkle in his eye.

“Mmm, do you think you’ll make it though?”

“Unclear–– unclear on whether I’m gonna make it through or not.” David strained to hide his smile.

David still felt the sting of rejection from last night, but Patrick didn’t seem upset with him or cold - just determined to keep moving. Which was the whole point of this, David had to remind himself.

Still, David couldn’t help but feel like he’d lost something; Patrick was an open book, but David...he lived in a world where keeping himself closed was safe. He’d built his walls for protection, and thus far they’d treated him pretty well.

That didn’t mean there weren’t fantasies about tearing them down, imagining the release of sharing his burdens and anxieties and fears with someone else. But the concept was so foreign, so unfamiliar that it physically pained him to entertain the prospect.

When he let Patrick worm his way into those fantasies though - it thrilled him but also made him sick with nerves, because if anyone could guide David gently and safely beyond his protective walls, it seemed like Patrick could. And that was just too real.

It also didn’t matter anymore, because David had dismissed every chance he’d been given, and he wouldn’t even know how to do anything with those chances, and now…

Now their time was almost done, the two of them on track to go their separate ways.

His phone vibrated, flashing a quick text above the map on his phone. Unable to read and drive, Patrick grabbed it.

“Oh my God,” he whispered.

David’s heart rate started to pick up. “What?”

“Just–– an amusing text from your friend Stevie.”

“Well don’t just leave it at that!” David barked, now genuinely alarmed at whatever Patrick had seen.

“It appears to be a junior high photo of you...on a ‘missing’ sign?”

David groaned loudly, then sharply veered the truck off the road to park.

“Let me see that,” he ordered, snatching the phone from Patrick, who just stared at him with some combination of fondness and curiosity.

Sure enough, there it was – a photo of some flyer his parents had put together, complete with an old headshot and a frankly judgemental description of his clothes.

Stevie

Today 12:05pm
Stevie:I meant to show you these – they were circulating around town right when you left.
David:BURN THEM ALL
Stevie:But this is all we have left now that you’re gone

David let out an annoyed growl, propped the phone back into the cupholder, and started driving again.

“So…” Patrick started.

“Yes, yes, mock away. Just remember that was before my nose job.”

“Okay, not where I was going with that. But certainly something to return to.”

“What then?”

“David…” Patrick’s voice was soft and consoling, and David truly wanted to exit his body. “It’s just, you said you weren’t running away, but those signs kind of point to the opposite.”

“Just because I didn’t tell my family I was leaving doesn’t mean there wasn’t a plan. We just aren’t close like that.”

Even as the words came out, they struck David as false. Because no, they weren’t always close like that. But in the past few months that had started to change, just a bit.

“I see,” Patrick replied. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. They’ll be fine without me.”

And even though David was driving, focused on the road ahead, he could feel Patrick’s eyes boring into him with concern. He shifted in his seat, the weight of the attention making him feel important and cared for, exposed and raw all at once.

He was again getting dangerously close to spilling everything, but before he could, the truck began stuttering, slowing down in quick jerking movements. By the time David pulled it off to the side of the road, it had shut down entirely.

“Shit!” He whipped his seatbelt off and hopped out of the truck, circling it as though he had any idea what he was looking for.

Patrick soon joined him, inspecting the exterior with his hands on his hips.

“Well, let’s have a look.” Patrick swiftly pulled off his hat and unzipped his jacket, leaving only a fitted white undershirt.

David nearly blacked out, forgetting about the breakdown and the fact that they were alone in a massive desert, as Patrick lifted the hood of the truck and propped it open. He poked around for a while fidgeting with parts David didn’t understand, looking very capable and strong, a sheen of sweat starting to form on his skin in the hot sun––

“David, can you grab my water bottle?”

“Yup–– sure,” David nodded, lingering just long enough to watch Patrick swipe the sweat from his forehead with the back of his wrist.

Patrick took his water gratefully, and David again felt all his focus zeroing in on the movement of Patrick’s throat as he swallowed.

Walls or no walls, David still wanted to get his hands on him again.

“Does your phone have service?” Patrick asked, pulling David back to reality. “I think we’re gonna have to get this looked at.”

Finally acknowledging their predicament, David let out a groan and looked at his phone. Fortunately they did have service even though it seemed like the middle of nowhere.

“What do I even search for?”

Patrick smirked, closing the hood and wiping his hands along his jeans. He walked over to grab David’s phone.

“I got it.”

***

Patrick

He felt bad about ending the trip early, he really did. Patrick actually didn’t want to part from David at all, but the whole ordeal was becoming far too painful. They kept dancing around it, whatever there was between them, and it was driving him insane.

Time was running out, and frankly he just needed to rip off the band-aid and move on.

But then he’d think about David saying he had a “pretty face,” or coyly accusing him of trying to get David drunk.

This was why he had to leave; if he didn’t call it, he’d just find a reason to drive around the country indefinitely. So he’d told his cousin to expect him by the end of the week, and David had presumably made similar plans. It was for the best.

Now Patrick sat in a tiny waiting room that smelled of cigarettes and motor oil (a terrifying combination when he thought about it). They’d gotten a ride from the tow truck driver and now had to wait for the single mechanic employed at the shop to look at the truck.

He kept peeking out the window to see if they’d taken it in yet, but it seemed like there were several jobs ahead of theirs.

David sat across from him, legs crossed, scrolling his phone. This was going to be a long wait.

Patrick glanced over at the basket of magazines on the side table next to his chair, looking for something to help pass the time. The piles seemed old and wrinkled, but maybe something would catch his eye. He started leafing through – a few National Geographics that could be contenders, a Sports Illustrated, and a whole lot of tabloid magazines that he had no interest in. But then – something very much interested him.

David.

Patrick felt like all of the blood had drained from his head. David’s face was on the cover of one of the tabloids. He checked to make sure David was still engrossed in his phone, then snatched the magazine and quickly slipped it between the pages of the Sports Illustrated. He got a closer look at the cover.

There he was, all designer clothes and styled hair, at some sort of gala, standing next to an older couple with similar expensive fashion and a young woman with long waves of blonde hair. Alexis.

Below the photo a headline in big block letters read:

The Rose family fortune has gone the way of Rose Video – bankrupt!

Patrick tried to keep his expression neutral as he flipped to the story. He read about everything – how their business manager hadn’t paid their taxes and fled, leaving them with nothing. How it was rumored they escaped to a small town in Canada, but no one knew for sure. That everything else: careers in acting, modeling, and reality television had come to a screeching halt. How David Rose’s galleries had closed.

All of Patrick’s questions, everything that hadn’t seemed to add up when it came to David – suddenly it all made sense.

He tried to swallow, but his throat was too tight. He tossed the magazines back into the basket and looked at David, still focused entirely on his phone. It struck him that David had been hiding all of this – he was ashamed, and it broke Patrick’s heart.

David didn’t want him to know, so he wouldn’t let on. But still...

Patrick had worked at a Rose Video in high school. This was a lot to process.

Before he could, though, the mechanic stepped in through the front door, wiping his hands on an old cloth.

“You’re here with the truck?”

“Yes,” David replied quickly, standing up.

“Yeah, sorry, I’m just not gonna get to it today. I can look it over first thing in the morning though.”

David sighed. Patrick sprung from his seat, more eager than ever to try and help him out.

“It’s just one night, David. Let’s grab some things from the truck, find some dinner, and we’ll track down a place to stay tonight.”

David nodded, resigned to their situation. The mechanic pointed them toward a diner within walking distance, and they spent the next couple of hours eating sandwiches and sipping on some terrible beer, the only booze available.

Once the sun started to set, Patrick led David toward the road and waited for a car to drive by, sticking out his thumb for a ride.

After a few tries they were packed into a pickup with a local named Jimmy, who drove them twenty minutes to the nearest place they could crash.

“Here you go, only motel in town,” Jimmy said, bringing the truck to a stop.

“Thanks so much, man,” Patrick said, slipping him a twenty.

Jimmy looked at the bill in surprise and offered a nod of thanks before driving off.

Patrick turned around and watched as David pulled out his phone, taking a photo of the building. It was pretty run down, with brick siding and a blinking neon “Motel” sign whose “t” appeared to be busted. He could hear David laughing under his breath, texting Stevie.

At the front desk they found an older bearded man in a blue flannel shirt, disinterested and chewing on a toothpick. He glanced over his book when they walked in, looking confused.

“You boys lost?”

“We’re just passing through, but our truck’s in the shop,” Patrick explained.

“Where’re you from?” he asked, slapping a check-in form on the counter and reaching for a discolored copper key from a nail on the wall.

“Canada,” Patrick replied, signing the paper.

“New York,” David chimed in at the same time.

Patrick’s heart sank, knowing that’s what David still wanted; that it had been torn from him so unexpectedly.

“Hmm,” was all the clerk said in response. “Well, you’ve actually come on one of our busy weekends. Big county fair in town. Only got the one room.”

“Lucky us,” David said with a bright but sarcastic smile.

“It’s a queen, but there’s a cot if you–– uh, need another bed.”

David glanced at Patrick with an unreadable expression before Patrick grabbed the key.

“Perfect, thanks a lot.”

The room was pretty bleak, even by Patrick’s standards, with a tiny stall for a bathroom and orange and white bedding spread over the mattress.

“I know he said there’s a cot,” Patrick hedged. “But...we could share again, if you want.”

David let out a slow hiss that Patrick took for distaste, until he felt his hands pressed firmly at his waist, pulling at him from behind.

“Yes, we’re going to share.” David spun him around and kissed him, pressing their lips together firmly and licking into his mouth.

Patrick’s hands reached for David’s back, digging into the fabric of his shirt.

Finally.

It happened quickly – David’s mouth sucking on Patrick’s neck, Patrick’s knees giving out as he collapsed onto the bed, letting David’s weight settle above him. Somewhere in the back of his head he wanted to stop, talk things out, let him know––

David’s hands crept up his shirt, palming his chest, kissing open-mouthed and eager. Patrick arched his back to meet him, forcing his tongue into David’s mouth until he pulled back to look at him.

“Do you have any idea how good you looked fixing that truck?” David asked.

“I didn’t actually fix it though.”

“But you thought you could, and that was really fucking hot.”

Patrick grabbed the back of David’s neck and pulled him in for another messy kiss, David clutching at the hem of his t-shirt to yank it over Patrick’s head. Patrick let his head fall back to the pillow, looking up at David straddling his hips, chain necklace hanging loose from his shirt. He could feel his chest heaving as David ran his palm over the skin, watching as he dragged it down to the waistband of Patrick’s jeans.

“Okay?” David asked, running a thumb over the button.

“Yes, fuck,” Patrick breathed harshly, pushing his hips off the mattress, searching for friction.

David shot him an amused smile before leaning in to kiss him again, running his lips down Patrick’s neck, his tongue down his chest and stomach, until he’d unbuttoned his jeans and tugged them off.

He lifted his head just enough to see David take him in his mouth, then let it fall back again, shutting his eyes tight. He tried to focus on the feel of David’s lips and tongue, the perfect heat as he took him further down, but Patrick’s whole body seemed impossible to control. He tried to pin his hips to the bed, grabbing at the comforter with one hand and David’s hair with the other, but it was proving too difficult.

It’s just a blowjob, he told himself, trying to relax.

But it wasn’t, not really – it was David’s mouth and David’s skin and David’s hands suddenly pressed to Patrick’s hips.

“You can let yourself go,” he whispered, his voice rough. “I’m okay.”

That was all he needed to hear. David’s mouth was on him again, and Patrick let himself go, writhing in all directions and thrusting his hips upwards – gently at first, until David’s moans encouraged him to let go completely.

He could hear himself babbling and making noises, and just hoped it was normal sex sounds instead of something embarassingly sentimental.

Patrick gave David’s hair a final tug of warning before he came, finally able to still his body. He melted into the mattress as David crawled above him, letting his weight drop onto Patrick. That served as a swift reminder that Patrick needed David in his mouth, right now.

He flipped David over onto his back and got to work undressing him, fumbling with his skirted fabric.

“You don’t have to,” David suddenly croaked, squeezing one of Patrick’s bare thighs.

“I think I do,” Patrick smiled, finally able to pull off David’s black jeans.

David seemed genuinely pained now, looking at him with uncertainty. “You’ve done so much for me already – it’s fine.”

Patrick sat back.

“Fuck, David. You think this is part of some exchange?”

“It’s happened before,” he told him with a small shrug.

Patrick’s heart broke a little at that, especially considering all he knew about David now.

“Well, that’s not what this is.” Patrick clutched both of David’s wrists together, pulling them above his head, bringing his own face down to David’s. “Do you realize you are equal parts the most insecure and arrogant person I’ve ever met? How is that possible?”

“I used to have a therapist try to crack that one every week.”

Patrick smiled and kissed him, sweetly at first, then not so sweetly as he reached down and took David into his free hand, starting to take him apart with sure, steady strokes.

Once David seemed sufficiently distracted, he let himself slide down his body, kissing the inside of David’s thighs and breathing in the musky scent of his skin. He wanted to linger there, but he knew it would be weird, so he instead got to work trying to make David feel as good as he possibly could; as good as he’d been to him.

It didn’t take long until David was grasping at the sheets, his hips stuttering, and Patrick was swallowing him down.

They both collapsed on their backs, side by side, descending from their respective highs and finding their breaths.

After a while Patrick turned to look at David.

“So what was that all about earlier?”

“What?”

“David…”

David hesitated, “Look, you’re just – you’re good – and I’m not used to that.”

“I don’t really think that answers the question.”

David let out an exasperated huff and pinched his eyes shut.

“I’m pretty sure we’ve both wanted to do that for some time now.”

“Since I got into your truck in Canada,” Patrick agreed, turning onto his side and draping an arm over David’s stomach.

“And then you just go and say shit like that.”

“Sorry,” Patrick smiled, pressing a kiss to David’s shoulder. “Keep talking.”

He watched David’s eyes open but remain fixed to the ceiling, choosing his words carefully.

“I’ve been burned a lot. It’s kind of my default relationship. Which is–– fine. I kind of got used to it.”

Patrick took in a sharp breath, because that was most certainly not fine.

“It was different with Stevie, though. To be able to be so close to someone physically and emotionally...yeah, I’d never had that. I had to end it, be the one who burned her I guess. It wasn’t going to work if I wanted to keep her as a friend. But it was a glimpse of it – what something like that could be.”

“Okay?” Patrick replied quietly, unsure how David had gotten here…unsure what he was trying to tell him.

“I’m still sort of adjusting to the idea that maybe - not everyone is awful.”

David slung an arm over his eyes, retreating from wherever this conversation was going.

Patrick didn’t understand it. “Do you not trust me?”

“No, no, I do. I told you, you’re good. You’ve been so kind and open with me. I’m–– not that. It’s me. I’m the problem.”

“David, you are good.”

David let out a laugh, but it wasn’t a joyful one. “I’m not. I don’t know if you can understand this, to be both too much and not enough at the same time. But that’s me.”

“David…” Patrick began, bringing his lips to David’s shoulder again. “I’m so sorry you feel that way. But that’s not how I see you.”

“Not yet,” David replied. “But it doesn’t matter, because this is our last night, right?”

Patrick's throat tightened. You really messed this one up.

“It doesn’t have to be.”

“Yes it does. I’ve got an AirBnB booked and a room waiting for me in LA.”

“Oh, right.” Patrick rolled over onto his back again, feeling the room cave in on itself.

“Hey,” David tried, reaching out for him. “I’m glad we were able to make this happen. It was fun–- it was really nice.”

Patrick nodded. “Yeah. Nice.”

It all sounded quite final, but still – somehow he found himself surrounded in David’s arms, their skin pressed together beneath the sheets, drifting off to sleep.

***

David

“I’m sorry, the part you need won’t be in until tomorrow morning. The earliest I can get you out of here is tomorrow afternoon, maybe evening.”

David rubbed his eyes in frustration, before shooting back a quick, “Okay.”

He ended the call and tossed his phone across the bed, just as Patrick emerged from the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist.

Fucking tease. He couldn’t handle another night of this.

David had woken up that morning holding Patrick close, nuzzling his face into his auburn curls.

And then it all came back to him – everything he’d shared, so openly. He felt sick. He’d pulled away so he could run and hide in the shower, wishing he could wash away the memory of last night.

Well, maybe not all of it.

“What’s the good word?” Patrick asked while he rummaged through that massive bag of his, pulling out some clothes.

“It won’t be ready until tomorrow. I understand if you need to go earlier than that, though.”

To David’s surprise and extreme delight, Patrick unwrapped his towel right there in front of him as he started to get dressed.

“Nah, I can wait. I’d rather ride with you than hitch.”

Right. “Okay, well – there’s not much to do around this town, I’m guessing. Might be a long day.”

Patrick pulled up his jeans and then raked his fingers through his hair in a weak effort to tame it.

“The guy at the front desk said there’s some big county fair this weekend.”

Visions of clowns and carnies and wild children running underfoot played out in David’s head.

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s for me.”

“You’ve never been to one?” Patrick asked, looking genuinely surprised.

“No. I don’t see what I’d get out of an event like that.”

Patrick sat down and joined him on the bed. “Oh, David. I cannot wait to show you fair food.”

Then he leaned in to kiss him, like it was the most normal thing in the world; and David decided he’d probably follow Patrick anywhere.

***

“Yes, I agree we need to try the fried Oreos, but your hands are kind of full,” Patrick explained, gesturing at David.

He looked down and yes, maybe he was hugging a basket of cheese curds so he could hold on to a corn dog and a drink, but fried Oreos sounded really good.

You have some free hands,” he nodded at Patrick, who just laughed fondly. Which was always a wonderful sound, but also, he was sort of serious.

“We have plenty of time. Pace yourself.”

It was the right move, obviously. They finished eating and walked around to get the lay of the land. The center area seemed to be where most of the food stands were; radiating outward were barns and fenced areas where local farms showed off their various animals and equipment.

Beyond that, on the far side of the fairgrounds, was a more classic carnival with rides and games. David declared the animals were a hard pass, so before he could eat his weight in funnel cake, they decided to explore the carnival.

David stopped at a station where a group of teens were rolling balls toward a series of tiered rings with holes.

“What’s this?”

“That would be Skee-Ball.”

“I could do that,” David announced, watching the teens toss the balls haphazardly.

“Hmmm,” Patrick mused as he pulled out some cash.

The two of them stepped up and received nine balls each. David held one to get a feel for the weight, then rolled it up the lane, watching it bounce in the air and drop into the 10 ring.

“Not bad, David!” Patrick praised after hitting the 30. David preened a little but also, he could do better.

He rolled the next one and hit the 40.

“Whoa,” Patrick breathed. From then on, David never got below the 30 ring, and even hit the 50 twice.

For his high score, the man attending the booth held out a bucket of tiny plush toys.

“Take a prize!”

David looked at Patrick who was biting back his laughter before plucking a tiny pig and holding it up for inspection.

“I really don’t need this,” he told him, handing it over. Patrick stuffed the pig in his pocket and took David’s hand, pulling him away from the game.

“Are you actually trying to tell me you’ve never played any fair games before? Was that beginner’s luck?”

David shrugged. “I don’t know, it looked easy.” If there was one skill David was confident in, besides his taste, it was his precision.

“Let’s try another.” Patrick led them to a different booth, but David was more focused on the fact that Patrick was still holding his hand.

They arrived at a ring toss game with trays of glass bottles packed together tightly. Patrick bought him a stack of rings.

Just like last time, David gave an experimental toss – he watched the ring bounce off the top of the bottles. But now he knew how much to dial down his throw.

He rolled up the sleeves of his sweater and tossed another ring, which hooked the neck of one of the bottles with a satisfying clink. After that he hit every one.

Once again he was offered a prize – this time it was a larger stuffed animal, some horrifying octopus – but he handed it to one of the children waiting in line for the game.

“What the hell, David?” Patrick whispered, grabbing him by the hand again. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I really wasn’t expecting you to be this good.”

David knew it was silly, he was just winning some games, but he reveled in Patrick being so impressed.

They played some more, and each time they passed from booth to booth Patrick reached for him, until it was just natural, walking through the carnival with their fingers laced together.

The day started to turn to night, so they grabbed some burgers for dinner and sat at a little picnic table, watching the fairgoers bustling around them. The lanterns and string lights began popping on as the sky darkened, and David found himself incredibly torn once again.

He needed to go to LA. David’s only other option was returning to Schitt’s Creek, and that didn’t seem like an option at all.

But part of him could wander the country with Patrick forever. He knew that Patrick had plans, seemed set on starting this job in the Redwoods – but something about being there at the carnival had drawn out an entirely different side of Patrick.

No – that wasn’t it. He was the same Patrick; still positive and joyful, confident and strong, but it was elevated in some way.

He was just comfortable. He moved with ease, holding David’s hand and squeezing his shoulders, occasionally pulling David close by hooking an arm around his waist. Like they were actually some kind of couple.

Oh. That was it. The clarity of Patrick’s issues back home hit David in a sudden rush, remembering everything he’d told him. Patrick was a small-town guy, and all he wanted was someone to live that life with him; which was why the string of one night stands had become too much, why his friends and family didn’t know what to make of him anymore, because that didn’t fit their assumptions.

David ached for him, and more than ever wished he could help – they were both happy here. He was making Patrick happy, comfortable in his skin – and that terrified and thrilled and pleased him so much.

But David knew it wasn’t really him, just this version of himself that Patrick thought he knew. He didn’t know about the epic collapse of his family’s wealth, that David had been sharing a motel room with his sister for a year. That he was on his way to start a job as an entry-level assistant instead of a gallery owner himself. All the joy they’d been sharing together – this wasn’t real life, it was simply a detour the both of them were taking.

Still, he could indulge in the detour while it lasted.

“Can we get a few ride tickets?” he asked Patrick, who was sipping contentedly from the straw of his soda.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” he smiled, soft and genuine.

They stopped for tickets and cotton candy and walked arm in arm, munching on the tufts of spun sugar and assessing the rides.

Patrick stopped at the ferris wheel. “Let’s do this one.”

David gazed toward the top of the ride and his heart rate picked up, because ever since that time with Anderson Cooper, heights were a solid no.

But making Patrick happy was like a drug, and he needed as much of that feeling as he could get.

They got situated in the gondola and in no time it was moving, climbing higher and higher into the sky. Every time it stopped they pointed to parts of the fairgrounds they’d been to that day – finding the food stands they’d gorged at and the big barns they’d walked right past.

Once they were at the very top, David’s nerves caught up with him, but before he could spiral Patrick took his chin in his hand and kissed him.

David scooted closer, kissing him back, chasing the taste of sugar on his lips and tongue.

And a new voice spoke up inside his head, one he didn’t recognize, rocking him to his core––

Are you really going to give this up?

Chapter Text

Patrick

Patrick awoke the next morning wrapped in David’s arms. It was the second morning in a row, and probably the last.

He tried to savor it, clocking every point of contact where skin met skin: David’s arm hugging Patrick’s chest; David’s chest pressed firmly against Patrick’s back; their ankles intertwined at the foot of the bed.

He wanted to stay that way all day, or as long as David slept – which could very well be all day. But David’s phone started buzzing, and he rolled over to grab it, leaving Patrick cold and David-less on the other side of the bed.

“Yeah?” David answered groggily, and Patrick wanted to bat away the phone and kiss him.

“What?” David sat up, leaning against the headboard, the ugly orange blanket falling over his lap. Patrick wanted to rip it off and straddle him.

He let out a shaky breath, still waking up. “Okay. Yep, I guess we have no choice. We’ll see you at 5.” He tossed his phone onto the nightstand and moaned dramatically. “This saga is never going to end.”

But Patrick couldn’t be mad, not if it meant more time with David.

“I don’t know, I’m sure we can find some way to pass the time.” He rolled over to slide an arm across David’s stomach.

“I don’t think my body can handle more fried food,” David told him, looking down at Patrick.

“Yeah, that’s not what I meant,” he replied, meeting David’s gaze with a smile before crawling beneath the blanket and between his legs.

David had no more complaints about waiting for the truck.

***

They spent most of the day in bed before they were able to hit the road again. Patrick drove, because he needed to do anything to distract himself from his thoughts.

Not that it was helping.

Patrick felt truly battered from the week. He should have seen it coming – he did see it coming – the powerful attraction he’d felt, how it had intensified after kissing David back at the very start of their trip.

And despite David’s boundaries, he’d stuck with it, and fallen deeper and deeper into this thing. He’d tried to cut it short, but then the truck…

Now he was too far gone, because he’d really gotten a taste of it – not just David, but whatever it was that Patrick was searching for in the first place. David felt – right. And he knew the circumstances were less than ideal, and he shouldn’t be feeling this way so soon, but how could he not?

Patrick drummed nervously on the steering wheel, trying not to think too much about what was going on in David’s own head. They’d decided on one more night so that Patrick could arrive at his new job during the day.

They found a tiny cottage on a lake, right over the California border. It was a barebones structure, meant for campers, so Patrick thought it was a decent compromise.

But now, driving there, Patrick’s heart hammered as he sorted out what he could do, what he could say to keep this thing with David from slipping through his fingers. If there was anything he could do.

“Hey,” David spoke up, interrupting Patrick’s spiral. “Can we pull off up there? I think I better take out some cash since I won’t have you around when I drive to LA tomorrow.”

Patrick’s heart sank, but he took the next exit, following David’s directions to a bank in a strip mall. He stepped out to stretch while David went inside.

An armored truck pulled up alongside the curb, and Patrick stood watching in the parking lot, curious at whatever transfer was about to go down. Someone stepped out to open the rear doors as another man wheeled out stacks of boxes from the building, and Patrick couldn’t help but stare wide-eyed at all of the money getting tossed around right in front of him.

Money wouldn’t solve his problems back home – but it could help him if he wanted to keep running.

Without even realizing it, he’d taken a step toward the armored truck, eyes fixed on the boxes being loaded in through the back.

Patrick imagined some sort of diversion – a commotion inside the bank, a car backfiring in the parking lot – just enough time to leave one of the cash boxes unattended…

Patrick ran and grabbed one, heaving it into the air and running back to the pickup. He set it down at the foot of the passenger seat, flipping open the lid.

So much money.

David strolled back, hopping into his seat and slamming his feet into the box.

“What is this?” he asked, eyes darting to look at Patrick.

“Buckle up quickly David, I think we need to move.”

Patrick began to drive, heart pounding, wondering if he’d be caught – there must be cameras, but maybe in the commotion he’d be obscured…

“So what’s going on?” David was still staring.

“I–– David–– will you stay with me, just keep driving with me?”

“What? We have places to be, jobs to start––”

“What if we didn’t need to worry about the jobs, or the money?”

He glanced at David who’d gone quiet.

“We always need to worry about money.”

“Maybe we don’t.”

David finally looked down and opened the box of cash, sucking in a harsh breath.

“What did you do?”

“David, I know you don’t want to go back to your family right now, and I know you don’t really want to go to LA. Will you stay with me?”

He was pleading, and it was desperate, but this was it, his last chance.

“Yes,” David finally replied firmly.

“Good.”

Patrick got back on the highway, but instead drove in the opposite direction, east again.

He reached for David’s hand and held it up to his lips, kissing his knuckles frantically...gratefully.

They drove and drove, eventually picking up a northern route, and kept on driving some more. Patrick didn’t even know where they were, he just needed to get far away.

The longer they drove, the emptier the roads became, until they found themselves winding through deep forests, darkened by towering trees.

Patrick pulled the truck over and turned to David.

“Is this crazy?”

David smiled at him, his dark eyes pinching at the corners.

“Yes, obviously.”

David unbuckled his belt and then leaned in to kiss him, cupping the back of Patrick’s head with one hand and gently squeezing his knee with the other.

Patrick had no choice but to melt into it, breathing out a deep sigh of relief, memorizing the way it felt to have David smiling against his lips…

“You’ll really stay with me, out here on the road?” Patrick asked, sitting back.

“Every Bonnie needs a Clyde,” David grinned again.

Patrick let his head fall forward to David’s chest. “I can’t believe I found you.”

“Twice,” David added, running his fingers through Patrick’s curls.

Twice, Patrick thought. That’s right. That had to mean something, didn’t it?

He lifted his head to kiss David again, because he could, and now, somehow their time seemed limitless––

“Um, Patrick?”

David shook his shoulder, snapping Patrick back to the strip mall parking lot. He cleared his throat.

“You with us?” David asked again, looking concerned.

Shaken from the fantasy, Patrick simply nodded. He followed David back to the truck in a daze, started it up and began to drive. He found the highway entrance and hopped on, headed west.

***

The cottage was a tiny thing with wood paneled walls, a full sized bed and stripped mattress, and a bathroom separated by a standing room divider.

They’d stopped for dinner before they arrived...their last dinner. Patrick had ordered steak and fries, just like their first night when they found each other at the bar in Ohio. He’d watched David across the hightop, sipping on his wine. David mused about the LA-based artists who he’d first target and the designers he wanted to update his wardrobe.

Patrick nodded encouragingly, still not sure where David’s lies and truths began, but he felt an unsettled mix of pride and pain tugging at his insides. He didn’t want this trip to end, now that he sort of had David – now that he knew what that could be like. And yet, David deserved his second chance, and there was something brave about him taking this leap on his own.

This doesn’t have to be one or the other, he’d reminded himself. And sitting across from David, listening to him share his ideas and plans, Patrick vowed that tomorrow wouldn’t be a goodbye. They had all night, all morning, one last drive – he’d confess to reading about the Rose family, tell David he didn’t care, that he liked him with or without his job or fortune. So much.

Now, at the cottage, Patrick unloaded his bags and gathered his strength. He could do it.

He laid a sheet on the bed and unrolled the sleeping bag before sitting down, beckoning David to join him.

“You’re going to need to burn this,” he remarked, pointing at their bedding before settling in close to Patrick. He looked down and started to pick at his baggy sweater, black with a heart sketched in white over the chest.

Patrick leaned toward him cautiously, running a finger beneath his collar and pulling a ragged breath from David.

“You were all buttoned up tight when I met you, do you remember?” he asked, pressing a kiss to David’s jaw, pushing more of his hand beneath his neckline.

“I just–– ” David actually shivered as Patrick ran his thumb along his collarbone. “I’ve found my sweaters to be more comfortable for travel.”

“In the middle of the summer?” Patrick laughed, lips moving against David’s skin, that crook between his neck and jawline.

“Fuck off,” David laughed in return, gently bending his head back to provide more access.

Patrick removed his hand but kept kissing him. “You’ve really opened up.”

“I think you’re projecting.”

“I’m really proud of you, David.”

And then David froze, so Patrick pulled back.

“For what?” he asked skeptically, and that was a loaded question, because Patrick was brimming with reasons he admired this man.

Patrick swallowed.

I know all about your past, and I don’t care, and you’re so strong, you’re perfect...let’s not say goodbye...

“Sleeping in a tent, for starters.”

“Oh, right.” David relaxed and offered his tiny side smile.

Patrick suddenly felt the smallness of their space, the air around them thick and stifling.

“Want to try another new activity?”

David bounced a little bit on the bed. “Can this handle it?”

Patrick felt a shot of lust in his belly, but shook his head.

“Let’s go for a swim.”

***

David

David was not going to swim in a fucking lake.

Maybe if it were a pool, or even the ocean, if it was clear enough that he could actually see the bottom.

But here, in the dead of night, the lake’s surface still, its color dark and murky – God only knew what could be waiting for him in that water.

Well, Patrick.

Patrick was waiting for him. He’d gathered the two towels they’d been using (David didn’t want to think about how many times) from his pack, hurried outside and tossed them onto the dock.

Then he’d stripped down to nothing and leapt off, cannonballing with a loud splash that echoed across the lake.

David sat down, letting his legs dangle off the dock, watching Patrick swim, his body gliding through the water, further and further away.

David had always avoided the quiet – it left him too vulnerable to his intruding thoughts, where he’d dwell on his loneliness and insecurities. True, more often than not he was lonely even with other people, but still – he’d always found distractions then, whether it was drinking or sex or spending his money.

Here, the quiet was good. It was soft and gentle, wrapping him up in the darkness. Here his thoughts didn’t turn on him, no voices intruded – he pulled up his legs to hug his knees close to his chest, watching as Patrick’s pale skin bobbed up and down in the dark water, illuminated by the moon and stars above them.

David had gotten used to the stars this past week – he probably wouldn’t see them, not like this, once he made it to LA.

He shut his eyes, willing that thought to drift on by. He couldn’t unpack it, not right now.

And then he was assaulted by a cold splash of water and a loud cackle from Patrick.

“Get in here, David.”

“Absolutely not!” he yelled in return, standing up.

“It’s not too cold,” Patrick pressed, rolling to float on his back.

“Not really the issue.”

Patrick let his head loll in the water and arched his back, his naked torso rising to the surface.

Fucking troll.

David finally caved and lifted his sweater over his head, holding Patrick’s amused gaze.

“You win,” he spat, hopping awkwardly on one foot and peeling off his black jeans.

“And you put up such a fight,” Patrick smiled back at him.

“You play dirty.” David finished undressing and lowered the ladder folded up on the edge of the dock. He slowly descended each rung, trying not to think about how much of his body he was exposing to Patrick.

“Fuck, you said it wasn’t cold!” David was up to his shoulders now, wading toward Patrick and his shit-eating-grin.

“You’ll get used to it,” he replied, drifting backwards with one deft stroke of his arms.

David started to swim toward him, realizing that if he stood too long he’d fixate on his feet sinking into the muck at the bottom of the lake.

He flipped over to float alongside Patrick, his body weightless as he looked up at that vibrant night sky for the last time––

“Getting your hair wet and everything,” Patrick looked at him. “Such growth, David.”

David tried to hide his smile behind an indignant scowl, but he couldn't really do it – so he took the most logical next plan of action and sent a heavy splash toward Patrick.

Patrick’s retaliation was swift, lunging toward him and attempting to dunk his head fully. David shook him off, but this continued until they were both out of breath and moving back to the dock so they could stand in shallower water.

Patrick grabbed at David’s wrist to pull him flush against his chest and gazed at him with those eyes, so open it knocked the wind out of him.

“I’m going to miss you,” he whispered. His words sent warmth shooting through David’s limbs, and it was everything – but it was also too much.

Patrick wouldn’t miss him, because Patrick didn’t know him, not really.

David thought back to the moments that kept him up at night, the ones that made him question whether he should lower his walls and just lean in––

Patrick undoing his buttons at the bar in Ohio; opening up to him about life back home over dinner in the Badlands; the coffees, the drinks, the meals; the cupcakes in Colorado; trying to fix Roland’s truck; hands clasped walking through the carnival just last night, as though they were actually boyfriends…

But he couldn’t question it anymore. He had a job to do, and he couldn’t stay so hung up on this fling.

It was a pretty amazing fling, though.

These were the intruding thoughts he needed to bury.

David wanted to freeze time and he also wanted to climb out of the water and run. He felt goosebumps rippling across his skin, but before he could deflect Patrick’s words and complain of the cold, Patrick leaned into his space. He pressed his lips to David’s softly and pulled his body closer, impossibly close.

It was still too much – but David could work with this.

He deepened the kiss, coaxing Patrick’s lips to part. David dug his fingers into Patrick’s curls, wet and tangled from his swim. He scratched at his scalp, tugged at his hair and pulled a guttural moan from Patrick that was deeply gratifying.

Patrick began to match his pace, biting at David’s bottom lip between kissing him and gasping for air.

This is good, David thought as Patrick sucked at his neck. The sentimentality, the feelings – that might kill him tonight. This, he could do.

Patrick lifted a leg and hitched it around David’s waist, which – yes, David was into this. He grabbed hold of Patrick’s thigh and let out a whimper that should have embarrassed him more than it did. He pulled his other hand from Patrick’s hair and reached into the water until he was hoisting Patrick up, both legs firmly wrapped around David’s body.

They continued their frenzied making out as Patrick began to grind against him, and David felt him hard against his stomach.

The want David felt, coursing through his blood – he didn’t know what to do with it. He wanted – he wanted to keep him, keep Patrick; he wanted Patrick to keep wanting him, like this right now; he wanted to empty his head and slam Patrick up against the ladder.

David brought his hand back to the base of Patrick’s neck, holding him firm and kissing him with everything he had, fucking his tongue into his mouth.

He began to move, ignoring the slimy sediment beneath his toes, dragging Patrick along as he continued to cling to him, until David’s back was up against the ladder. He pushed Patrick off and spun him around, bringing his back to David’s chest.

Patrick let his head fall as David gently bit at his neck. He tasted like cheap body wash and lake water, but David couldn’t think too much on that either. Instead, he kept one arm across Patrick’s chest to anchor him in place, and let his other hand slip down beneath the water.

“Jesus, David,” Patrick groaned as David wrapped his hand around him, stroking up and down with purpose, teeth still grazing along the curve of Patrick’s neck.

Fuck,” Patrick rasped again, squirming against David’s chest. God, he loved how responsive Patrick always was, loud and incoherent and impossible to still.

David continued to take him apart, reveling in every gasp and shiver and all the whispered profanities he pulled from Patrick’s lips.

When Patrick finally jerked forward, panting and just barely breathing out David’s name, David felt his stomach swoop with longing and want and tender feelings he wanted to drown in the lake.

Before Patrick could turn around and level those doe eyes on him again, David twisted positions, pressing Patrick against the ladder. They both gripped at the rungs as David rutted into him, not even sure what he was doing, just feverishly searching for skin and friction and an orgasm to black out his thoughts.

He pressed into Patrick’s thighs, thrusting forward and biting down on his shoulder. Patrick’s breath was ragged as he parted his legs slightly. David clutched at his hips and drove between his thighs, but it wasn’t enough.

He needed lube to do this, he knew he did, but there wasn’t any. Of course.

“What do you want, David?” Patrick asked him, voice broken and raw.

I want to fuck you so hard I forget about you.

David stopped moving but he didn’t dare speak, because he couldn’t possibly answer that question. So Patrick turned around in his arms and began to kiss him, like it was the easiest thing, and took David into a tight fist.

David let his head rest on Patrick’s chest, inhaling through his nose to steady his breath. Patrick’s touch was strong but gentle, slow and steady. David wanted to scream, because this wasn’t what he was after, but it still felt so good.

It was a typical end to this whole week, really. Patrick had always been hot, and a good fuck – David should have been able to get through the trip without catching feelings. And yet here he was, trying to tamp them down, hold them beneath the water, but it was no use – because Patrick was undoing him with every stroke, kissing into his hair and whispering things like “you’re doing so good” and “it’s okay”.

He felt the pressure stirring low before he pressed his forehead deeper into Patrick’s chest, choking back a groan.

“That’s it honey,” Patrick murmured softly, wrapping him into a wet embrace.

In the end, that was all David needed to wipe every thought from his head.

***

The next morning was a quiet one. Patrick seemed particularly anxious, and David understood, he did – but this was always how it was going to end.

David drove them, stopping just once for gas and snacks, cruising up the coastline toward Patrick’s park.

As they curled around a bend, Patrick swatted at his shoulder. “Pull over, David.”

It was clear why he wanted to stop – the coast had opened up into a stunning beach at low tide, all creamy sand and smooth rocks getting thrashed by waves of deep blue water and crisp white foam.

Patrick hopped out of the truck and jogged over, already taking a flurry of photos with his phone. David pulled his out to do the same, carefully following the rule of thirds to frame it correctly.

“Hey, come here.” Patrick gestured with his hand and grabbed ahold of David’s sleeve. “This has been a crazy trip – we need at least one picture together.”

This was exactly what David didn’t want, but it was Patrick, so he pressed their cheeks together as Patrick reached out with his phone, offering a small smile behind his black sunglasses.

It was a good picture, scenic with the waves crashing in the background, and they were both smiling – but David could see there was sadness behind it.

They finally approached the Redwoods, and David had never seen trees this massive in his life. The truck rumbled into the park, Patrick directing him off the map on his phone. Even though David knew Patrick was running, that he’d probably end up back home again someday, this beautiful place – it suited him, and David felt just a bit better about leaving Patrick to find himself in the depths of the forest.

He pulled up to a visitor center and parked. Patrick looked at him, sad and nervous.

“Well, this is me,” he laughed sheepishly.

David kept his expression steady.

“Good luck, Patrick. I really hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Patrick swallowed. “You too.”

David waited, having hoped they could avoid any teary farewell, but Patrick just sat there, wringing his hands.

“You know, you can always call me.”

David nodded. “Yeah, okay. I mean, I’ll probably be pretty busy, but thanks. For everything.”

He looked away, wincing at his own words.

Patrick got out, swinging around the back to grab his bag from the truck bed. He stopped one more time at David’s window.

“You’re a good person, David Rose.”

He leaned forward to kiss him, but David turned to offer his cheek instead.

David smiled and waved his hand to shoo him away, like it was all a joke. Because it was. Patrick’s shoulders fell with a heavy sigh as he waved goodbye before disappearing through the entrance.

And so David drove. He made it out of the forest and back to the highway, headed south. He drove as fast as the beaten-down truck would let him, blasting the radio and focusing on LA.

His phone vibrated with a message from Patrick – it was the picture they’d taken.

David could delete it later.

Just keep driving, and don’t look back.

Chapter Text

Patrick

“They need ten cords by the end of the week. Let’s just finish this pile.”

Josh dropped some more wood at Patrick’s feet. He nodded, pulling up the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe the sweat from his brow.

“Want to grab a beer after?” Patrick asked, fitting a log into the splitter and pulling the crank. He watched the heavy metal wedge drive into the wood with a satisfying crack.

“Obviously,” Josh replied, tossing him some more logs. “Here or out?”

Patrick thought about it. If they went out to the local bar, there might be some entertainment – drunken brawls, pathetic pickup attempts, lost tourists grabbing a polite drink before running.

Then again, Josh was younger than he was; he’d drink, and Patrick would be stuck driving.

“Let’s stay here.”

They finished and retreated to their shared bunkhouse, which wasn’t much different from the cottage where Patrick had spent his last night with David. They each had a bed and shared a kitchenette and bathroom. There was a covered sitting area outside the front door, where they kept a charcoal grill and dug out a fire pit a few meters away.

Most days were like this one – chopping wood or fixing up the hiking trails or cleaning up campsites until darkness fell and they could finally rest their tired bones. They spent a lot of time in their bunkhouse, drinking beer and playing cards, reading or streaming movies on their phones.

Sometimes they left the park and went to the bar for some cheap food and drinks. Since moving out west, Josh had met a girl, Kristen, who joined them more often than not. She was sweet and bubbly and easy to talk to.

Each week they’d get one day off, so Patrick would drive the beat-up old car he’d bought out to the movies or the grocery store, sometimes exploring the hiking nearby.

It wasn’t a bad existence, really. Josh had made it work for a couple of years now and seemed happy enough. For Patrick, it was the perfect pivot from his life back home – the work wasn’t too mentally taxing, but it also wasn’t easy, and he felt satisfied that he’d accomplished something by the end of each day.

Josh and his friends were good company, even if they made Patrick feel like an old man. He knew he couldn’t do this forever, but he really was enjoying the escape of it all.

He still hadn’t escaped his thoughts of David, though. Not that he wanted to. It had been a month since they parted. He’d tried to keep in touch, but David seemed determined to move on.

Patrick was not.

Each time he thought of their goodbye, and David turning away from his kiss, he felt the same sting as the moment it happened. But he couldn’t hold it against him – he’d grown accustomed to David’s walls.

Fine, they’d only been together a week, but it was a pretty intense week. It was hard not to feel like there was unfinished business between them, that they’d started something that had been cut short.

He tried to tell himself that maybe it was just one of those things, one of those stories you tell your friends and family back home about that crazy road trip and the fling you had along the way.

But it was hard to convince himself that’s all it was.

“Here you go.” Josh handed him a beer as they settled into the wooden chairs in front of their bunkhouse. Patrick pulled a tiny metal table between them and set up a game of cribbage.

They played for a bit as Patrick let his limbs relax from the day’s work and took some heavy swigs from the bottle, letting his thoughts grow fuzzy.

He listened contentedly to the night sounds of chirping insects and birds, and Josh as he chatted on and on about work and drunken shenanigans with his friends, until his voice shifted into something more nervous.

“So, Kris wanted me to bring this up – just tell me to fuck off if it’s too much.”

“Ok…” Patrick put down his cards.

“Well, she has an older brother, Luke. He’s uh— you know, into guys. I mean he’s bi, I think?”

“Uh huh,” Patrick replied dubiously, leaning back in his chair.

“Look, it’s not like we’re trying to pair up two guys just ‘cause they happen to be gay, I think you actually have a lot in common.”

He sounded defensive, so Patrick shot him an amused smile. It wasn’t as though this hadn’t happened before – when he first came out, suddenly everyone he knew had that one gay friend or cousin he just had to meet.

“Like what?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Josh went on. “Like, he hikes and camps and stuff. He watches baseball and has a good job.”

“Sounds like soulmate material,” Patrick replied, deadpan, before finishing his beer.

“Whatever, I told her I’d ask. He’s a good dude, if you want to hang out sometime. We could all grab a drink.”

Patrick sighed. He hated the idea of a blind date, especially one arranged by his cousin. He had no interest in any stories that came of it – good or bad – getting back home. But he knew his real hesitation stemmed from David, still feeling as though it wasn’t quite over between them; even if all signs pointed to the opposite.

Maybe this was his chance to try and move on.

Patrick let out a low groan and stood up to get another beer.

“I’ll think about it.”

***

David

Patrick

Fri, Jul 25, 10:31pm
Patrick:Did you make it down there safely?

Thu, Jul 30, 8:10pm
David:Yes. Thank you again for helping me get out here.

Patrick:How is the gallery?

Patrick

Sun, Aug 9, 8:34pm
Patrick:Went on a hike today - I even wore sunscreen

Patrick

Thu, Aug 20, 9:12am
Patrick:I got the check you sent me
Patrick:You didn’t have to pay me back, but I’ll take it as a sign things are good.

Patrick

Sat, Sep 5, 1:16am
Patrick:i know your avoifng me
Sat, Sep 5, 12:30pm
Patrick:I drank a few beers, sorry about that last text. I hope you’re doing well, David.

***

Patrick

After the two filled up on a dinner of leftover spaghetti, Josh left to stay over at Kristen’s and Patrick enjoyed a little peace and quiet on his own.

His parents called him before bed, a routine they’d been slowly establishing over the last few weeks. They were concerned, and Patrick understood; still, he hated having to defend his decision to leave.

“Hi, my sweet boy,” his mother greeted when he answered. “How is it out there?”

“Getting cooler.” Patrick stretched out on his bed, letting his head rest on his free arm.

“I thought California was supposed to be warm.” It sounded like an accusation.

“I’m pretty far north, Mom.”

“Mmm. And how’s Joshy?”

Patrick closed his eyes.

Joshy is fine. He’s at his girlfriend’s place tonight.”

“Oh, well that’s nice. You know, Rachel was here for dinner last night. I made a pot roast.”

Interesting segue.

“Sounds like fun.”

“She misses you, you know.”

“Well, who wouldn’t?” he tried to deflect.

She ignored it. “Have you spoken?”

“A few texts,” he lied. “I’ll give her a call soon.”

“Let me talk to him!” His father’s deep voice boomed from the background and Patrick heard some muffled shuffling as the phone passed hands.

“Hey, son. Catching any games out there?”

“Just on TV. Maybe I’ll get to something next year. Oakland isn’t too far.”

Patrick sat up, mostly to break the uncomfortable silence that followed.

“And, um. Have you met – anyone? Spending time with someone besides Josh at all?”

He met David.

“Actually, Josh is trying to set me up with his girlfriend’s brother.”

“Oh, a blind date?” The volume of his dad’s voice went up at that, and he knew his mother was hovering nearby.

“Yeah. We’ll see. Seems like an okay guy.”

“Well that sounds great, son.”

“Where is he from? Does Josh know him from back here?”

Patrick could hear his mother’s attempt at whispering questions into his father’s other ear, no doubt fretting over the prospect of Patrick falling in love and permanently settling down on the other side of North America.

“You can tell her I don’t know a thing, but I’m pretty sure he’s American and from the West Coast. And I don’t even know if I’m going.”

His father let out a low chuckle. “I’ll tell her.”

They finally said their goodbyes and Patrick started getting ready for bed. It wasn’t that late, but it had been a hard day of work.

These calls with his parents were good – they kept him connected to something. But they weren’t very practiced at hiding the fact that they wanted him to come home, even though he couldn’t do that yet. Maybe ever.

Patrick brushed his teeth and settled back into bed, pulling out his phone. Opting for a little self-torture, he scrolled through his last, mostly unanswered, texts with David.

Before he could change his mind, he shot a text to Josh.

Josh

Patrick:Fine. I’ll meet him.

He leaned over to turn off his lamp, sparing a quick glance for the tiny plush pig David had won at the fair perched on his bedside table.

***

David

Stevie

Fri, Jul 31, 3:21pm
Stevie:Roland won’t shut up about the truck.

David:It’s not like it was fresh off the lot when I took it! I also paid for REPAIRS

Stevie:He’s telling everyone how many kilometers you added

Stevie:He won’t leave your parents alone

David:jfc

Stevie

Wed, Aug 5, 5:50pm
Stevie:So how’s life at the park? I still don’t really believe that’s what you’re doing

Mon, Aug 10, 6:43pm
David:It’s fine, a desk job until I get the money to return to New York.

Stevie:Pretty sure you could have found one of those back here.

Stevie

Mon, Aug 14, 6:13pm
Stevie:Have you spoken to your sister

David:not recently, is everything okay?

Stevie:Apparently she’s sleeping with Mutt

Stevie:maybe they’re actually dating

Stevie:But she also broke off an engagement with Ted?

Alexis

Mon, Aug 14, 6:25pm
David:Mutt, huh?

Alexis:so what

David:Finally made that happen I see

David:didn’t you break him and Twyla up

Alexis:Shut up David

David:gladly

***

Patrick

Okay, so Luke wasn’t so bad.

In fact, he was incredibly fit from all the hiking, had sandy blond hair that he kept swiping from his eyes, and a smile that belonged in a Crest commercial.

“I’ll get you another beer,” Luke offered, flashing said smile and leaving Patrick at the high top to ogle him from behind. He tried not to let his eyes wander too far down the bar, where Josh and Kristen were undoubtedly studying their every move.

“Thanks.” Patrick accepted his drink once he returned, taking a long pull from the bottle. He couldn’t help but notice Luke stealing glimpses of his mouth, his throat, as he swallowed.

“So did you grow up in town?” Patrick asked.

“Kris and I are from the Bay Area. I got a teaching job up here and she followed me after college.”

“I should have moved after university, but I went straight back to my hometown.” Patrick started to peel the label from his beer as his thoughts wandered down that familiar path of regret and loneliness he’d begun to associate with home.

Luke shrugged. “There’s something to be said for that. And I mean, we aren’t that far away. Plus, you’re here now.”

“That’s true,” Patrick agreed, taking another swig. “Though I may have saved myself and a lot of other people some grief.”

Luke sipped his own beer thoughtfully. “Maybe. But I’m of the mind that all of it, the good and the bad – it’s all part of the journey. You’re doing just fine now, and whatever happened before got you here.”

Patrick sat up a little straighter, startled. It was a sentiment he knew well, and tried to live by – it was why he wanted to take the long trip out west, and it was how he’d tried over and over again to convince himself that it was okay if he never saw David again.

If Patrick had met Luke even two months ago, he would have been impossibly thrilled – the guy was good-looking, kind, and they did share a lot of common interests...

He just wasn’t David.

But maybe the David leg of his journey was over – he was here, now, still going. That could be a good thing. This could be good.

“You’re right,” Patrick smiled, tipping his bottle toward Luke’s. “To the journey.”

Luke met his drink with a clink and grinned.

“Okay, so— I’m guessing you’re a Blue Jays fan?”

***

David

Alexis

Wed, Aug 21, 7:33pm
Alexis:we broke up

Alexis:he shaved his beard

Alexis:we also have like nothing in common apparently

David:you ok

Alexis:yeah

Alexis: I mean, no, I’m making Twyla come over for a sleepover so

Alexis:But I kind of think it was good for me? To let him know me?

Alexis

Sun, Aug 30, 11:21am
Alexis:Did you know we’re like actually broke David?

Alexis:btw Ted came back and he looks really good.

Fri, Sep 2, 11:20pm
Alexis:Ted got me a job!

Wed, Sep 4, 11:01am
Alexis:So you’re just going to ignore all my calls and texts?

***

Patrick

“Um, can you just— move your leg? Yeah, that’s good.”

Patrick complied, falling against the window in the back of his car as Luke hovered over him, bending forward to kiss him.

He reached up to brush Luke’s hair from his eyes, then slipped a hand beneath his t-shirt, running his fingers along the lean muscle and tugging him closer.

This was their second date post-setup, and as far as Patrick was concerned, it was going quite well.

Luke was objectively hot, and this was a welcome distraction from his usual pining. He kissed him back, hard; Luke’s stubble grazing against his chin. Patrick grabbed at his shirt, lifting it over his head and resuming the kiss.

Luke’s hand dropped between Patrick’s legs, palming him over his jeans. Their eyes locked, and there was a question there – Patrick nodded. Luke made quick work of loosening the button and zipper, reaching beneath the band of Patrick’s boxers.

Fuck.

“Um—” Luke pulled back, body suddenly stiff. “Is everything— I mean, can I...?”

Patrick cleared his throat to mask his embarrassment, shifting uncomfortably. “No, this— doesn’t normally happen.”

“It’s okay,” Luke assured him, kissing at his neck, letting his hand slide between his legs again. Patrick closed his eyes tight, willing himself to get out of his head, but this – it wasn’t working.

“Sorry, sorry,” he huffed, gently pushing at Luke’s chest.

Luke nodded, sitting up. He rubbed a hand behind his neck, avoiding Patrick’s eyes.

“Josh said you’re kind of, newly out—”

“I’ve done just fine, thanks,” Patrick cut him off, also readjusting to a seated position. “I had too much to drink.”

“Right,” Luke replied, biting his lip.

Full of self-loathing, Patrick twisted toward the door. “Maybe we should call it a night.”

“Yeah, okay.” Luke moved to do the same. “We can try again another time.”

***

David

Alexis

Sat, Sep 5, 8:04pm
David:You know Alexis, I heard a rumor from Sebastien that mom and dad had been financing my galleries the whole time I was in new york. Did you know about this?

Alexis:so you are alive

Alexis:no, I had no clue

David:Well, Marie just confirmed it. So it seems like everyone knew.

David:did you really not?

Alexis:no offense David but that was never my scene

Alexis:when did you talk to Marie?

Mon, Sep 7, 9:24am
Alexis:are you okay David?

***

Patrick

“Luke said you broke up?” Josh asked – or really stated – as he joined Patrick by their fire pit.

Patrick kept his eyes fixed on the fire.

“I mean, I don’t know if there was enough to call it a breakup. But no, it isn’t going to work out.”

Josh moved the burning wood around, repositioning each log with a long branch.

“I think he really liked you,” he said simply.

Fuck off, Patrick thought. He didn’t need a guilt trip.

But also, fuck.

He truly wished the timing had been different, but it wasn’t – his move west was still too fresh and he hadn’t given himself the space he needed. It wasn’t fair to get into anything serious with someone right now.

Well, almost anyone.

“He’s a great guy. Maybe a few months down the line, when I’m more settled.”

And then Josh laughed.

“Nothing about you wants to settle.”

Patrick could feel his brows pinching together. Is that what he projected?

It wasn’t true. He did want to settle, he desperately wanted stability – but he also wanted a future he could shape on his own terms instead of other people’s expectations.

“I’m working on that,” he told him, and tipped back his bottle to finish his beer.

***

David

Stevie

Mon, Sep 7, 6:43pm
Stevie:Ghosting your sister I hear

Thu, Sep 10, 6:27pm
Stevie:Is everything okay?

Stevie:Can you please answer your phone?

Sat, Sep 12, 4:23pm
Stevie:You are the worst person.

Mon, Sep 14, 5:01pm
Alexis:I swear to fucking god I am going to come out there

Alexis

Sat, Sep 12, 10:07pm
Alexis:David, sign of life please?

Patrick

Sun, Sep 13, 8:45pm
Patrick:I’m not sure why I’m texting you again, it’s pretty clear you’re not interested in talking. But I still think about our trip together.

Patrick:I really hope you’re doing okay

Patrick:Please stay well, David.

***

Patrick

The September nights were chilly, but Patrick still returned to his bunk each evening a mess of sweat and dirt from the day’s work. On this particular day, the sun was searing, cutting through the cool breeze, while Patrick hauled a few cans of paint back to the shed behind the visitor center.

Swinging back around, ready to grab a shower, he caught a piece of conversation from inside that stopped him in his tracks.

“David Rose – he’s probably wearing a crocheted blanket and a skirt to chop wood.”

Patrick figured he must have misheard – David laid claim to so much of his brain that it wouldn’t have been the first time.

“Nope. Not this park anyway,” he heard one of the rangers reply.

Patrick crept toward the doorway to peer inside.

A tall blonde woman hovered by the front desk, looking beautiful and wildly out of place in tall heels and a mini skirt. Something about her seemed vaguely familiar. Beside her a dark-haired woman in a blue and white flannel tapped her fingers impatiently on the counter.

The blonde turned to her. “Are you sure this was the right address?”

“This was the name of the park he gave me. But it’s David, and he excels at being confidently wrong about things.”

Patrick stepped forward before he could stop himself. “You’re looking for David? Here?”

Both women stared at him.

“You know him?” the dark-haired woman asked, arching an eyebrow, reminding him of David.

“He isn’t here. David gave me a ride across the country,” Patrick explained weakly, the description feeling more than a little inadequate. “So, yeah, I know him.”

She looked him up and down and he watched her eyes widen slightly, her lips quirk into a knowing smile.

“I bet he did.”

The blonde began to study him now too, head tilted curiously, wrists bent high at her chest while she played with the rings on her fingers.

And then he remembered the tabloid from the mechanic’s office.

“You’re Stevie and Alexis,” he blurted.

Stevie put a hand on her hip. “Wish I could say I knew you, but…”

Patrick couldn’t hear her though, he couldn’t even think, because if they were here, looking for David—

“What’s wrong?” he finally asked.

Alexis stepped toward him. “We haven’t heard from him in weeks…this is all we had to go by to find him.”

“Why would he tell you he was here?” Patrick asked. “He’s in LA.”

“Motherfucker,” Stevie growled, already moving for the door.

“We can’t afford another flight!” Alexis whined, chasing Stevie in tiny steps as they both blew past Patrick.

He followed them outside to their car. “Wait, let me come. I’ll drive you!”

They both stared. “Who are you to David, exactly?” Stevie asked after a minute.

Patrick swallowed. He thought back to everything David had told him about Stevie, the fragile relationship they’d been trying to repair after breaking up. He needed to tread lightly.

“I’m Patrick,” he began. “I hitched a ride with him back in Canada, and somehow we ran into each other again in the States. We decided to finish the trip together.”

“Awww,” Alexis cooed, and Patrick realized he hadn’t come across as disinterested as he’d hoped.

“I don’t know,” Stevie shook her head.

“David and I—” Patrick started again, not even sure what he wanted to say. “We…I’m worried too, okay?”

She hesitated, then opened the car door. “Fine. Follow us, we’ll return the rental.”

Patrick hurried back to his bunk to quickly wipe himself dry, change, and pack a bag.

Then he sent a text to Josh.

It was the second job he’d quit within the year.

Chapter Text

David

“Here’s your coffee,” David announced, handing it over to Marie’s assistant, Chad. Chad nodded approvingly, combing his long red hair back with one hand and taking his drink with another.

“This looks like milk,” Chad stated, lifting the plastic lid from the cup and peering inside.

“That was the order,” David huffed in response. These motherfuckers.

Almond milk, David,” Chad corrected. “It’s fine, I can make this my dairy cheat for the day.”

David bit his lip until he nearly tasted blood, holding back the string of expletives dying to escape; then he spun around to find Marie and receive his next menial task.

“Measure that wall, David? But between the doorframe and where the exposed brick starts. I’m still not sure how I want to display these,” she mused, gesturing toward the pieces still carefully packaged.

They were preparing for a new exhibit, which David did find exciting despite his minor role in its development.

“Why not include the brick? Could be an interesting backdrop for some of these, based on what I remember.”

Marie turned and looked at him sharply, tucking her short blonde hair behind an ear.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Just a thought— ” he explained defensively before she cut him off.

“Not your job here, Rose.”

This wasn’t the first time he’d overstepped since taking on this position, whatever the hell it was, a month and a half ago. It was deeply frustrating, because David did know what would work – he still had taste, even if his career had apparently been a sham.

He folded his lips into his mouth and nodded, letting his eyes drop to the floor. Chad snickered to himself across the gallery.

Marie was quiet for a moment, then stepped toward him.

“Do you have dinner plans, David?”

“I might,” he replied coolly, knowing full well that his current plan was to order a pizza and steal several White Claws from his roommate’s shelf in the fridge.

“Let’s go out. There’s a tapas place you’ll love with rooftop dining and pitchers of sangria the size of a keg.”

David considered it for a minute, because that did sound lovely, but he’d tried going out his first few weeks here – it didn’t take. Not when he’d spend half his paycheck in one night and, frankly, didn’t care for the company.

He shook his head. “No thanks, but have fun.”

Marie looked at him seriously, “It’ll be just us, David.”

Was he getting fired? Fuck, that would really complicate things.

Well, at least there was a last supper.

“Okay, if you insist,” he agreed, flailing his arms to emphasize his indifference.

***

The rooftop patio sported minimalist wooden furniture with colorful pillows, tiny floral arrangements on each table, and tall plants and potted trees that enclosed the space. The string lights somewhat made up for the lack of stars. David briefly wondered what Patrick would think.

Don’t go down that road again, he thought.

Marie arrived and greeted him with an air kiss, then flagged down a waiter and took her seat. Before David had even glanced at the menu, she’d rapidly listed off an order for drinks and tapas and then finally settled in.

“So am I getting fired?” he asked, deciding he shouldn’t wait until he was too drunk to take the news maturely.

Marie smirked at that, but shook her head.

“No, David, but we should probably discuss…your future here.”

He sat back in his chair to show he was listening, just as the sangria arrived in a massive glass pitcher. She’d been right, that thing was fucking huge.

“I’m going to apologize, because I know I haven’t been the most supportive boss, and I need to get over my own shit.”

David wasn’t going to disagree – since he’d arrived, Marie’s vibe hadn’t been very welcoming, and he never could quite place why that was.

“You probably don’t remember this,” she continued, “but you weren’t always the kindest boss either.”

David bristled, because he actually respected Marie – he always had – and was fully aware that she’d kept his galleries thriving with her intensity and drive.

“I didn’t know that,” he replied in a small voice.

She watched him thoughtfully, taking a sip from her glass.

“That being said, I can tell you’ve— changed. A little. I don’t know if losing everything finally humbled you some, but I’ve noticed.”

Humbled is an understatement.” David considered the myriad of changes he’d experienced over the past year: losing his money, living in the motel, all the new people that had somehow become a part of his life…the trip out west. The waiter swung by to drop off small ceramic dishes filled with olives, chorizo, and mussels.

“I can’t say my confidence hasn’t taken a hit,” David went on, scooping food onto his own plate and pointedly avoiding Marie’s eyes.

He felt it every time he looked at his texts, at the unanswered messages he was too ashamed to respond to.

“Look, David, back in New York – yes, it was an open secret that your parents were buying the patrons. That doesn’t mean no one thought you had talent. You do have a keen eye. You must know that.”

David swallowed, still looking at his food.

“You don’t seem that interested,” he finally pointed out.

“I know you have good ideas, and I know you work hard. But this is my gallery – you’re never going to run it.”

There was no cruelty in her tone, though it still cut David down at the knees.

“If this is what you really want, you can get there again, on your own. You know the drill – network, get out more, work your way up from being an assistant.”

“I’m not even an assistant,” David countered. “I’m like, the assistant of the assistant’s intern.”

“Like I said, if this is what you really want.” She popped an olive in her mouth and watched David take that in. “I’m not convinced you haven’t subconsciously moved on to something else altogether.”

She wasn’t entirely wrong. The move out west had clearly failed to fill the void David felt after leaving New York for Schitt’s Creek. If anything, it seemed to only stretch it out at the edges, leaving him walking around with a wider and deeper chasm.

“Maybe,” he agreed, picking up his drink.

“You can keep this shitty job as long as you want to put up with me,” Marie smiled. “Just think about what might be next.”

***

Despite devouring the delicious and delicately flavored meal supplied by his boss, David still promptly returned home and ordered himself some trash pizza. The whole evening had stirred up some uncomfortable questions for him; his roommate was out for the night, and he knew he could shame-eat in private.

He awoke with a start, his pounding headache echoing the pounding of fists that slammed against the front door. David looked around the dark room at the open pizza box on the coffee table, the empty cans of White Claw strewn across the floor.

Jesus,” he muttered, before turning on a light and gazing through the peephole.

He wished he hadn’t.

Stevie and Alexis huddled by the door, both knocking furiously now, and behind them stood none other than Patrick Brewer.

“Fuck me,” he growled loudly, rushing to clean himself up in the bathroom.

“Let us in, David!” Stevie yelled from the other side of the door.

“It’s four in the morning!” He returned with his toothbrush in his mouth.

“Yeah, we’ve been driving all fucking night!”

David gave himself a once over in the mirror, flattening out his bed hair and running a hand over his sleep shirt.

“Coming,” he finally replied, exasperated.

The second the door opened, Stevie marched inside, hands clenched in tight little fists and eyes ablaze.

“What is wrong with you?” she demanded, shoving him in the chest, and David thought she might honestly be on the verge of tears.

He shrugged, eyes scanning the room slowly as though that would provide all the answer she needed.

Alexis looked at him with pity in her eyes, “You couldn’t call?”

He shrugged again, the humiliation washing over him fully now. “How did you find me?”

Marie,” Alexis reminded him.

Oh, right.

David nodded to himself. And then his eyes found Patrick’s – he still stood awkwardly in the doorway. His curls had been trimmed a little since they parted ways, but they tumbled softly down his forehead, just as they had before. His red windbreaker was wrinkled and his jeans were smudged with dirt, that toque of his stuffed into one of the pockets.

He was still the most beautiful person David had ever seen.

His first instinct was to run to him, get his fingers back into those curls and kiss every part of his face, because he’d missed him more than he could put into words. But then it hit him that Patrick had spent hours in the car with his sister and Stevie; in their apparent concern for him, they no doubt surmised all the various possibilities as to why David had withdrawn from them.

Which meant that Patrick knew the whole degrading tale of David’s life. His stomach felt like he’d swallowed lead.

Then again, Patrick had come to him anyway, which should count for something…

But because he was David, his tendency toward self-sabotage reared its head.

“Why is he here?” he asked, with a little too much heat, and Patrick’s eyes fell to the ground.

“Oh no,” Stevie stepped in between them. “You’re not doing this.”

He turned his gaze to her instead, puzzled by the defensiveness in her tone.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Stevie began. “Patrick and Alexis are going to go and book some hotel rooms, because when I’m done with you, I’m going to need to sleep for the next 48 hours. And you’re going to pack a bag, and we’re going to talk.”

Lacking any real energy to argue, David agreed, mumbled a goodbye, and watched his sister and Patrick close the door behind them.

Finally alone, Stevie glared. “David, what the fuck—”

“I know, I know.” He spun around, already on his way to his room as Stevie stomped behind him.

He began to collect some clothes, folding them carefully because that was the proper way to handle them, but it was also a task to harness his attention. His emotions were threatening to let loose, eyes burning and hands shaking; he needed to keep them in check.

“David, I am not one for sincere conversations, so don’t put me in the position to do this on my own.”

He finally looked at her – really looked. She was so gorgeous, and it was no mystery why he’d been drawn to her in the first place. Her raven hair was a bit of a mess, falling down her slight shoulders; she stood straight and stubborn, shoulders back and arms crossed. Her dark eyes silently interrogated him, angry and sad and hurt.

“I’m sorry that I left the way I did,” he tried, sitting down on the bed.

“Usually when you tell someone that you have feelings for them, and the next thing they do is drive out of town with no plan to return, you hope you never have to see them again,” she stated bluntly – brutally. David flinched.

“But,” she went on, “I was just worried. You disappeared, and then reappeared with your weird text updates…and then you just stopped. Why did you do that?”

David inhaled harshly, still trying to hold back the sob wedged at the base of his throat.

“I mean, look around,” he whispered, waving a hand, inviting her to take in their space. “I made such a big deal about leaving the town, getting back to my old life. I couldn’t do it. And what even was my old life? A joke.”

Stevie finally found his eyes, searching.

“Who are you trying to impress?”

And really, he wasn’t sure how to answer that question. But it was the one that broke him, and his hand shot up to catch the tears falling down his chin.

“Why is Patrick here?” he choked out quietly.

Stevie’s lips tightened and she began to nod to herself, joining him on the bed.

“You gave us his address, so that’s where we thought you were,” she explained evenly. “We ran into each other, and he was pretty concerned. Just like us.”

David had forgotten that. Of course that’s where they’d look – though he’d never assumed they’d be looking for him at all.

He took another shaky breath before asking, “What did you tell him? About me— the family?”

“David, Patrick already knew everything.”

And that was news to him.

“What? How?” he asked, sitting up straight and roughly wiping at his tears.

“I don’t know, he just knew. He didn’t know about Schitt’s Creek specifically, but— yeah, he knew.”

For how long? David’s head began to swim, replaying all of those painfully tender moments, all of the times Patrick looked at him and lit up as bright as the stars – did he know the whole time? Did he know when they finally got their hands on each other, their lips, their mouths? Or when they walked hand in hand through the carnival, when Patrick kissed him on the ferris wheel? Did he know when David refused to kiss him goodbye, and left him at the park?

Oh,” David moaned, bringing his hands to cover his face.

“What’s going on there?” Stevie looked at him.

David hesitated. “We just spent a lot of time together, you know? It was a long drive.”

“And that's all?” she asked leadingly.

He didn’t want to hurt her, not again – but David was tired, genuinely exhausted from keeping it all inside.“Okay, fine. It was more than that. But it had an expiration date. There’s nothing there anymore.”

“You should talk to him,” she replied simply.

David shook his head. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

She shot him a knowing grin. “I like this for you.”

David arched an eyebrow. “Really.”

“Yeah,” she shrugged, still smiling. “You don’t have to keep tiptoeing around me, I’m over it.”

“Over it?”

“Yeah, I don’t like you anymore. I mean, like that.”

“Okay,” David was thoroughly confused. “I suppose that’s good…”

She nodded, biting her lip, and bravely reached for one of his hands.

David cleared his throat. “It’s not like I didn’t think about what you said. Um…after we spoke I thought, well there goes my one friend. Try saying that one out loud, it is very dark.”

“Well,” she looked at him, wiping a stray tear of her own. “You’ll just have to come home then.”

***

Alexis returned about an hour later and the three of them silently stuffed Patrick’s car full of David’s bags. She brought them to the hotel – it wasn’t luxury by any means, but there was an actual lobby with lemon water and fresh coffee. It was infinitely nicer than the last motel David had slept in – let alone the Schitt’s Creek Motel – but he actually had good memories from that one, tangled up in coarse sheets and Patrick’s limbs.

He followed Alexis into a room on the second floor. It was sparse but clean, with two queen-sized beds facing a wooden writing desk, which at the moment was completely covered with food.

David’s stomach grumbled as though he wasn’t still digesting half of a pizza, and so he perused his options: muffins, bagels and some fruit, but also chocolate cupcakes and packages of Red Vines, bags of chips and all the cheesy snacks David had gorged on throughout the road trip.

He paused, staring at it, just as Patrick came through the door balancing a tray of hot drinks and stopping short at the sight of David. Though the tips of his ears had gone pink, he took a breath and charged forward, doling out the cups and saving David’s for last.

“Caramel macchiato, skim, two sweeteners, and a sprinkle of cocoa powder,” he offered. David watched him, a little awed by his gestures – though not entirely surprised. Patrick’s cheeks continued to redden under his gaze. “There’s a coffee shop next door,” he explained, and then coughed nervously.

David glanced over at Alexis, who was watching the exchange with an amused smile. Stevie rolled her eyes and lunged for the food like the monster she was.

David wasn’t sure what he wanted to say to Patrick, but he knew he couldn’t go on like this, after all these little olive branches he’d been sending his way.

He cleared his throat. “Patrick? Can we talk for a minute?”

Patrick nodded eagerly, leading David out into the hallway and through another door.

“This is my room,” he provided as an explanation, even though David had figured that one out.

“What are you doing here?” he asked before the door was even closed. Patrick was ready for it.

“David, you lied and told everyone you were at my park. You lied to all of us about why you didn’t stay in New York and what you were doing out west. None of us had heard from you. I was worried— no, I was terrified.”

David had thought, had hoped, the time and distance would make him forget and move on. But once again Patrick Brewer was the exception to every rule.

Instead of addressing that fact head-on, because frankly he couldn’t, he went with a simple observation.

“You bought all our road trip snacks.”

Patrick lifted his shoulders weakly. “I don’t know what you’re dealing with right now, but…I do remember the little things that made you smile.”

And what the actual fuck was David supposed to do with that?

He shook out his arms, trying and failing to gather strength. “I know we need to talk, but um, can we just shelve that for later? I can only handle so much right now.”

Patrick nodded slowly, eyes locking into David’s with a deep intensity. He forced himself to hold his gaze, against every impulse urging him to run.

“Okay. But David— can I just— can I kiss you?”

“Yes,” David whispered.

Patrick stepped forward and lifted his chin, pressing his lips softly to David’s; it was a greeting, a warm hello, and I missed you; but he lingered just enough that David also knew it was an offering, a reminder that he was a safe place to land.

It didn’t hold the same heat he’d felt before, those unyielding flames licking across his skin. This was something more measured and steady, like gently fanning a warm bed of coals. David could practically feel it glowing deeper and deeper at the core of his chest as Patrick kissed him, stoking the fire back to life.

Why did he ever let this go?

And because Patrick did know him so well already, somehow, he stepped back.

“Okay,” he said quietly, looking fond and maybe a little smug. “Let’s get you fed.”

***

Patrick

Falling asleep was easy after a night on the road and a heavy breakfast; waking up in the early evening not so much. There was a text from Alexis informing Patrick they’d be getting dinner at a nearby pub at 7PM. His insides squirmed with excitement and nerves at seeing David again, but he finally dragged himself out of bed, showered, and threw on his blue short-sleeved button down and jeans.

He tried not to let himself be burdened by a sense of pressure, but it was difficult not to – it seemed like he’d been given one more chance with David, and he didn’t want to ruin it. He’d tried to act strong and confident, to let David know it was all okay; but the truth was Patrick had no idea what he was doing. All he knew was that they had a brief window together, tonight, and he needed to make the most of it.

Patrick ventured into the hallway and found Alexis wearing a short, velvet pink dress with tall brown boots that went up past her knees; she scrolled through her phone, leaning against the wall. Stevie had simply changed from a blue flannel to a purple one and tied her hair into a bun on top of her head.

“Let’s go, David!” she yelled into their room before looking toward Patrick. “Was he this slow getting ready on your trip?”

Patrick smiled, digging his hands into his pockets and joining them. “I got used to it.”

“Do not rush me, I have a system— ” David snapped as he barreled through the door, stopping abruptly at the sight of Patrick. “Oh, hi.”

“Hey,” Patrick breathed softly, because he couldn’t say much else. David had styled his hair and gotten some much needed rest; he’d also changed into the familiar black jeans and black skirt, but his sweater was unlike anything Patrick had seen him wear before – instead of black or white, it was painted all over with bright orange flames. He looked bold and poised, soft and vulnerable all at once.

Patrick’s skin seemed to ignite at the sight of him, remembering the way it felt beneath David’s touch.

David gave him a shy smile before charging forward, Stevie and Alexis flanking him on each side. There was still an awkwardness there, but maybe something hopeful too. Patrick took a fortifying breath before taking another step, trailing behind the little group on their way out of the hotel.

***

The conversation was light, which Patrick thoroughly appreciated. He thought David probably did as well.

Patrick tilted back in his chair, drinking a beer and listening to the various updates from this little town called Schitt’s Creek. He knew the name from growing up – how could you not – since it was only a few hours from his own hometown.

There were stories about raw milk and some hot young vet, their father trying to start a bagel shop and their mother’s audition for the town’s acapella group. There seemed to be a whole cast of characters: a busybody realtor, a sweet though maybe slightly damaged waitress, the mayor and his wife…

It was a curious banter that the three of them shared; annoyance and disgust tempered by what seemed like genuine fondness for the place.

“Oh! Mom’s running for town council!”

Patrick watched David’s eyes go wide and nearly choke on his martini.

“Come again?”

Alexis nodded. “Yup. She’s campaigning against Jocelyn. Can you even imagine, David?”

“You’d think she’d avoid something that might further tie her down there.”

“It’s a spotlight,” Alexis shrugged, poking at a salad with her fork.

David paused for a moment. “So besides Mom wanting her bag back, did they even notice I was gone?”

Alexis looked over at him. “Hey,” she started, swatting at him lightly. “They’ve been worried too, but you know…they’re still figuring the parenting thing out.”

David gave a small nod. “And what does Dad think about this campaign?”

“Seems supportive,” Alexis replied, spearing a cucumber.

“It’s gonna get dirty,” Stevie chimed in knowingly, a tiny smile playing across her face as she piled more nachos onto her plate. “There’s already some talk of missing lawn signs.”

“This must be fascinating for you,” David said sarcastically, looking at Patrick now. He took another big gulp from his martini. He was joking, but Patrick could see he was still guarded, embarrassed, even.

“I’m no stranger to small town politics, David.”

“Oh God, you’re not like the town treasurer or something are you?”

“Not yet.”

David barked out a laugh. “I actually can’t tell if you’re joking.”

“I’ve never considered it, but there’s something nice about getting involved, connecting to your community— ”

Stevie cut him off with a gagging sound and shot up from her seat. “I’m going to the bar. You want another beer, Brewer?”

He laughed. “Sure.”

“I don’t get another drink?” David asked petulantly.

Stevie turned back to Patrick, ignoring David. “Let’s make it a pitcher.”

David popped all three olives in his mouth and stood to follow her.

Suddenly, Alexis moved her chair so she was facing Patrick. “So, what’s your plan after this?”

“Oh— well, I guess I’m headed back to Canada,” he admitted. “The trip’s been good for me, but I don’t think working here is the right fit.”

There was no use in staying, not when he knew exactly what he wanted…who he wanted.

“I mean, I get it. I stayed at this guy’s cabin in the woods for like a month once, and it was not for me,” she told him, leaning in close. “Although, that was more of a cult situation. But still.”

Before Patrick could fully wrap his head around that, she booped him right on the nose.

“I hope you keep in touch with David. He won’t be too far away. And you seem good for him.”

Patrick downed the last of his beer. “So, David’s returning with you then?” He tried for casual, but there was no missing his voice breaking on David’s name.

She opened her mouth to reply, but then Stevie was slamming a pitcher of beer between them and David was sitting down with a fresh martini in one hand and a plate of soft pretzels in the other.

“I’ve already sampled the beer cheese and it’s fucking amazing,” he reported happily, squeezing Patrick’s thigh. Patrick sputtered, startled by the familiar touch.

David pulled his hand back quickly, nervous eyes darting to Patrick’s.

He reached over and returned the gesture.

“Well let me try it then,” Patrick replied, grabbing for the plate with his free hand. He could feel David relax, leaning just a fraction more into his space.

And you seem good for him.

God, he hoped that was true.

Things started to get a little fuzzy after that. The drinks continued to flow and hands continued to wander cautiously. The dinner crowd fizzled out and they used the brief window to snag a booth, drunkenly tumbling into their new post for the night.

“I’m getting shots!” David announced, and somewhere in the depths of Patrick’s brain he knew they didn’t need more booze…but he was having too much fun to argue.

When David returned from the bar, he began passing the glasses around quickly. “Okay, we’re drinking these and then leaving.”

“What, David? No!” Alexis yelled, and immediately threw back her shot.

“They’re bringing in equipment for karaoke and I will literally die from secondhand embarrassment if we stay,” he explained dramatically.

Patrick looked across the pub and could see the karaoke jockey setting up speakers and a monitor. The place was filling up again, too. Patrick swallowed his drink (“why does this taste like mouthwash, David?” “It’s a polar bear shot!” “Again, I ask why?”) and went to retrieve the songbook.

Two rounds of shots later David had dragged Stevie to the front and was delivering a lively performance of Mariah Carey’s Fantasy. All the pretense of embarrassment was gone and David was working the crowd, who loved it – not least of all Patrick and Alexis, who stood on the seat of their booth to clap and whistle and cheer them on.

All of Patrick’s thoughts were too blurry to really dissect, but he felt warm and happy, and hopeful. And watching David light up the room with his ridiculous singing and sweater engulfed in flames – he felt want and pride and determination to do this right with him.

The one thought that rang through with perfect clarity – don’t let him go again.

David and Stevie returned to the booth, and David scooted right up against Patrick, draping an arm around his shoulder as he attempted to catch his breath.

“Not bad,” Patrick praised, leaning in closer.

“I can’t believe you convinced me to do that,” Stevie complained, reaching for her beer.

Alexis leapt from her seat. “I’m next!” she announced, returning the wave coming from the guy behind his laptop.

“Oh no,” David spat out through a hiccup.

Patrick laughed and took a chance, pressing a kiss to David’s cheek. David found his hand and laced their fingers together.

Across the room Alexis struck a pose, microphone in hand. “Are you ready? Let’s do it.”

David released his hand and clutched at Patrick’s arm, squeezing far too tightly.

NO.”

Then Toxic by Britney Spears came on and Alexis started to sing and bop around, incredibly off-beat.

“Oh thank God, I thought that was going to be…something else.” David relaxed again.

It was definitely something, but what she lacked in choreography she made up for in enthusiasm.

“I’ve definitely seen much worse,” David told him, watching Alexis with a somewhat wistful expression. Then, a bit more quietly, “I missed her.”

Patrick kissed him again, ignoring Stevie’s not-so-subtle eye roll.

“My turn.” Patrick stood and met David’s horrified eyes looking up at him.

“Um, are you sure?”

“Oh yeah.” Patrick knew the song well, had performed it during open-mic nights back in high school and university with his guitar.

“It’s just, I know the music you listen to, and I don’t think it’s the right vibe for this right here,” David argued.

Patrick knew that was probably true, but the lyrics fit and he was going to sing it.

“Oh, it’s the right vibe.” He left the booth with David grabbing for him and high-fived Alexis as they passed each other.

Pretty soon the music came on and the words began to scroll down the monitor in front him, but Patrick didn’t need them.

I’m sittin’ in the railway station, got a ticket to my destination

On a tour of one-night stands, my suitcase and guitar in hand

And every stop is neatly planned, for a poet and a one-man band

Patrick searched for David on the other side of the room and found him, his dark eyes fixed on Patrick and a tiny smile off to the side.

Homeward bound…

I wish I was homeward bound

Home, where my thought’s escapin’

Home, where my music’s playin’

Home, where my love lies waitin’ silently for me

Every day’s an endless stream of cigarettes and magazines

And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories

And every stranger’s face I see reminds me that I long to be

Homeward bound

I wish I was homeward bound

Somehow, Patrick had commanded the attention of the whole pub, but everyone else faded into the background; David was the only one that mattered now. He wondered if he was conveying this to David as he sang and tried to keep himself steady.

Tonight I’ll sing my songs again, I’ll play the game and pretend

But all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity

Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me

Homeward bound

I wish I was homeward bound…

He played the song out to the end and stumbled back to the booth. Stevie and Alexis looked a little stunned, David hummed and kissed him chastely, and they all agreed it was a good time to call it a night.

When they returned to the hotel, David followed Patrick to his room, grabbing one of his bags along the way – they hadn’t discussed it, but it wasn’t a question either.

Patrick was the one who suggested a shower, though maybe it was David…everything was a little muddled. They undressed a bit nervously before stepping beneath the hot water, standing there for a while, pressed together until their skin turned pink from the heat. David fumbled for his body wash, using a generous amount to clean them both. The earthy scent transported Patrick right back to the summer, and all the wonderful and complicated things that came with it. He nuzzled into David’s neck, slipping as he stepped forward.

David caught him and let out a laugh, breaking into an open grin, and it was so affecting that Patrick couldn’t do anything except laugh along with him. They were far too drunk and emotionally wrung out to do more than make out, dry one another off, and collapse naked onto the bed.

The room was spinning, but not for the first time Patrick found that David’s presence helped slow down his thoughts, mooring him to the present, securing him in place until everything went dark.

***

David

David was going to be sick.

No, his head was actually too heavy for him to even get up and be sick.

He rolled over onto his back, breathing deep, keeping his eyes closed tight. He let out a long exhale through his mouth, mentally kicking himself for all those polar bear shots.

Shots at karaoke of all things.

Oh. Oh God.

And then it all came flooding back – his sister and Stevie showing up at his door, and they’d dragged Patrick along – or maybe it was the other way around?

David’s heart slammed inside his chest, his mind whirling in all directions. His stomach lurched in response, so he swallowed and pinched his eyes shut even tighter.

His memory of the night was hazy at best, but there was a warmth to it, spending time with these wonderful people, watching his sister and best friend…and Patrick, throwing back drinks, joking together and dancing. Maybe it hadn’t been so bad.

There was something about Patrick finding out about the Roses, but he hadn’t cared – more than anything he was mad at David for ghosting him these past couple months.

No, that wasn’t right either, because more clips of the evening flickered through his memory: holding hands, kissing, smiling, Patrick singing to him…

“Fuuuuck,” David groaned out loud, his embarrassment taking hold all over again.

He remembered Patrick’s lovely voice from their long drives together, singing quietly along with the songs on the radio – but to have been on the receiving end of it like that, the sole focus of his attention in such a public way…it was so much. He’d wanted to run and hide from it all, but David couldn’t do that forever, and why would he want to keep hiding from Patrick?

Another flicker – Patrick returning to the booth, and David kissing him gently, Stevie standing up to close out her tab and pointing down at Patrick from behind, offering a thumbs up, eyes as soft and sincere as he’d ever seen them on her.

David finally opened his own eyes, not sure if he wanted Patrick to be there or not. But then the door swung open and there he was, of course, wide awake in sweatpants and a white t-shirt with coffee cups and grocery bags in hand.

Once he closed the door the room was dark again.

“Hey,” he greeted softly. “How are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” David croaked, but he smiled.

“I figured.” Patrick set a coffee on the nightstand and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I got you some Advil, and water too.”

Patrick had been doing things like this for him since they met, since he bought him a meal at a diner back on their first drive together.

“Thank you,” David told him, hoping he could tell it was for more than just this morning. He sat up against the headboard, a reminder he was undressed. He wrapped himself up in the blanket and took a sip of his coffee, relieved that it went down easily. He was already starting to feel better.

“So, are we up for that talk?” Patrick asked cautiously.

“Yeah, okay,” David agreed.

Patrick kicked off his shoes and joined David on the bed, cross legged and keeping a distance, but eyes alert and focused right on him.

“So, I’m heading back to Canada,” Patrick began. “You were right – I was just running. This isn’t where I need to be right now.”

“Okay…” David wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say to that.

“I just need you to know that I don’t regret a single part of it, though, because this whole trip, it’s how I met you.”

David froze. “So, you’re just gonna drop that on me right now. No easing into this chat I see.”

Patrick’s lips curved into a tiny smile, and David would have given anything to make him do it again.

“Look, David, I know these things don’t come easy to you. But I just— you’re so— ” Patrick grabbed at his hair, unable to get the words out, and David had never seen him so off-kilter.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” David reached for him tentatively.

Patrick took in a shaky breath. “I’ve been trying to make sense of this new life of mine, trying to figure out what it means to be me, really be me. But no matter how hard I’ve tried, it just never felt right, and I couldn’t figure out why. Until I met you. I see you, more than you realize, and I know you care what people think of you, I’m not an idiot, but David - you’re also just unapologetically yourself no matter what anyone else may think. I can’t tell you how much I admire that. But more than that, you make me feel right, David. This here, with you – it’s what I’ve been after, all this time, I just didn’t know.”

And, okay, holy shit.

Stay put, David told himself. And he did. He stayed put, completely and utterly still. He wanted to return the sentiment, and he knew it would be the truth, but David – he still wasn’t built like that. Maybe Patrick could get him there eventually, but no, not yet.

“How long have you known?” he blurted out instead.

Patrick’s expression turned puzzled. “How I feel about you?”

David shook his head. “No, no. About my family, and our money? How long have you known I’ve been lying to you?”

“I saw a story about it in a magazine at the repair shop.”

The repair shop? That was before their first night together, before the fair and the cottage on the lake…

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You obviously didn’t want me to know, David. I just thought I should respect that.”

And that…well. No one had ever cared enough for David to protect him like that, to protect him from himself.

“Oh,” he replied inadequately, taking a long sip of his coffee to keep himself from exploding into tears.

“But why couldn’t you just tell me?” Patrick asked.

David shrugged. “I was ashamed, I suppose.”

“Why would you ever think I’d care about that?”

And finally, the words came spilling out before David could second guess it.

“I— I lost everything, you know? I lost my job, which I found out was bullshit to begin with, my friends – who turned out to be horrible people – my status, my name, my money…maybe it’s shallow, I mean, I know it is, but that was who I was. And I’ve had to cling to what little I had left this past year in a very off-brand town and it hasn’t been easy.” David swallowed, barely believing he was sharing so much. “So I guess meeting you, I could pretend things weren’t so bad, since you didn’t need to know, and then you actually liked me, so it seemed to have worked...”

“Okay, okay,” Patrick cut him off reassuringly, scooting closer on the bed. “That is all incredibly valid, and David, I’m sorry you felt the need to— I don’t know, conform to this other version of yourself for my sake. But please know I mean it when I say you have nothing to worry about.”

David’s eyes had found a spot on the wall long ago and remained there, avoiding Patrick. He finally let himself look at him.

“I read about your family in the repair shop, but I knew you weren’t being totally honest from the minute you stopped that truck to give me a lift. I thought you were complicated and mysterious and, frankly, from some other world back then, and maybe I still do, but you’ve let enough of the real you through— I just need you to know I do see you. And I still— ” he inhaled sharply, looking away “—want you. In every way…all the time.”

David still didn’t know how Patrick could just say these things like it was nothing; David certainly couldn’t. But he did know that Patrick had put himself out there and he needed to meet him somewhere in between.

“Well,” he cleared his throat. “You said you’re returning to Canada?”

“Uh, yeah,” Patrick nodded, still looking down at the bed.

“I am too,” David told him. “In case it hasn’t been painfully obvious, this hasn’t quite worked out for me here either.”

“Yeah,” Patrick agreed distractedly. “I mean— ” he suddenly scrambled. “I just mean, I know you’re moving back.”

“Another road trip, then?” David asked quickly, the pitch of his voice rising. It was what he wanted. He could do this.

Patrick’s eyes shot up to his, and David’s stomach swooped at the sight of them, wide and soft, narrowing as his face broke into a bright smile.

“I’m just not ready to say goodbye again,” David went on, his reflexes already steeling for rejection.

“We don’t have to, David.”

Patrick crawled over to him, and David barely had time to sit up straighter before Patrick’s lips were on his, his hand skating up the back of David’s neck and carding through his mess of hair.

David opened his mouth, swiping his tongue against Patrick’s and deepening the kiss.

Patrick knelt back a little, letting his lips travel down David’s neck, and began to peel back the blanket.

David was keenly aware that he’d just bared more of himself than he ever had before, and felt even more exposed as Patrick tossed the blanket to the side.

But it was Patrick, after all, and David knew he’d be okay.

He carefully dragged David down so he was lying flat on the bed and hovered above him, bracing himself with one of his forearms. His other hand ran up and down David’s chest, his collarbone, back down to his hip. Patrick’s eyes followed his hand, looking like he didn’t know where to start. Then he leaned toward David’s ear, voice raspy. “All the time, David.”

Patrick kissed him again, hungrily, and the slow smolder from yesterday was gone. Instead every stroke of his fingers felt like Patrick was branding his skin, claiming David as his.

David used his heels to begin pushing Patrick’s sweatpants down, tearing off his shirt, until they were both just skin and lips and tongues, rolling against each other in a steady rhythm.

Patrick began thrusting more urgently, his intentions quite clear, then slowed to bury his face below David’s chin.

“I know we haven’t done this yet, but if you want— ”

“Yes,” David nearly shouted, because it was more of a need than a want at this point.

Patrick found his mouth again, kissing him before launching off the bed. David could hear the zip of a bag, then the soft click of the lube and condom dropping onto the nightstand.

When he returned, Patrick slowly moved down the length of David’s body, leaving small licks and gentle bites along the way. David did his best to stay in the moment, to let himself enjoy this, remind himself it was okay.

Patrick settled between his legs, lifting one and placing a pillow beneath David’s hips, before dropping down.

David felt Patrick press a kiss to his thigh, and then to the curve of his ass, and heard him murmur “tell me if you want me to stop,” before he felt the heat of Patrick’s tongue licking him open; he swallowed hard, torn between relaxing into it and craning his neck to watch.

After a quick glance down, he landed on the former, letting his head fall back as heat and pleasure coursed through his limbs. Time moved both impossibly quickly but also slowly after that – the snap of the lube opening, Patrick slipping in a slick finger, and then another, and another until he drove David into a sputtering mess.

There was a ripping sound from the condom wrapper, and Patrick drifting above him, watching him carefully as he pushed forward. And fighting against his instincts once again, David kept his eyes locked with Patrick’s, wordlessly urging him on in answer to his own silent questions.

It was so easy, so good; David strained to be sure he was coherent enough to burn the moment into his memory, a reminder for later that it could be like this.

He wasn’t coherent for long, though, as Patrick began to move, and David begged him to move faster, and the two of them were lost in their own groans and cries and whiteout bliss.

After, they showered again and returned to bed, exchanging quiet kisses and knowing smiles that would have made David cringe in his past life. But here, now, they were both secure in their shared assurance that more was to come – it wasn’t goodbye.

Chapter Text

Patrick

David’s mouth hung slightly open, his bottom lip pressed into the pillow, fluttering slightly with each breath. Patrick lay on his side, tracing the features of David’s face with a feather light touch. He smoothed out his eyebrows and brushed the hair from his forehead, stopping just short of kissing the dark lashes resting against his skin.

A faint snore filled the quiet room, and Patrick basked in the sound, smiling to himself when he thought back to their first drive together, when he’d seen David’s mortified response at the mere suggestion that he’d heard it. Patrick had lied to him, denying it all because he hadn’t wanted David to be uncomfortable, even back then.

Patrick loved it though, finding the sound oddly peaceful. There was something about David being at ease, that anxious brain of his finally getting a rest; a brief respite from the work he made of hiding behind his walls…pure vulnerability. For Patrick, it was the highest privilege that he got to see it at all.

He dropped a kiss to the edge of David’s cheek, right up against his ear.

“Hey,” he whispered against his skin. “We need to check out in an hour, and I know you need some time to get ready.”

David mumbled adorably and rolled out of bed. The two of them padded around the room, David getting dressed and washing his face, applying creams and serums from the array of bottles he took with him everywhere. Patrick got to work on packing, but every time he stepped past David he couldn’t help it – he’d pinch his waist or kiss his chin, soaking in every touch he could.

David didn’t seem to mind, which was encouraging; Patrick was hopeful. David hadn’t been entirely clear on where they stood, what might happen once they got back to Canada – but at least they’d have more time.

Just as they’d both finished getting packed and ready, there was a knock at the door, and Patrick stepped back to let Stevie and Alexis inside.

“So, what’s your plan, David?” Alexis asked, a tinge of annoyance to her tone.

“You haven’t told them?” Patrick turned to look at David, who seemed just as put out with one hand on his hip and his phone in the other.

“I’m sorry, but this has been a very emotional few days and I can only handle so much at once.”

“Okay, not the most sincere apology for those of us who flew across the country to rescue you David, but fine—”

Rescue is a bit much coming from someone who’s been kidnapped as many times as you have.”

“And how many of those times did I manage to escape?”

Stevie finally jumped in. “What your sister is doing a poor job explaining, is that she and I have return flights tomorrow that we’ll have to change so that we can leave from LA – do you need us to get you a ticket?”

David’s eyes darted to Patrick’s, then back to Stevie.

“Um, nope. I’m good.”

“Cuuuute!” Alexis cried out, and David sent her a fierce glare.

“David and I are driving back together,” Patrick explained.

“You’re taking that death trap of yours across the country?” Stevie asked, a wry grin appearing.

“Hey!”

“It can’t be worse than Roland’s truck,” David stepped forward.

Alexis lifted a hand beneath her chin, giving off a look of mock thoughtfulness. “Didn’t that truck break down, though?”

“When’s that flight of yours?” David growled in return.

Patrick leaned backwards against the door with a smile, watching the three of them tease and bicker, feeling oddly nostalgic for home. He didn’t have siblings of his own, but he did have a family, and they should know his change of plans.

Patrick excused himself, borrowing a key card to slip into Alexis and Stevie’s room. He pulled out his phone to Facetime his mother.

To his surprise it wasn’t her that answered, or his father, but Rachel; all smiles and big eyes and long red hair twisted into a side braid.

“Hey stranger!” She greeted, and Patrick, having tensed on instinct, softened.

“Rach,” he replied in a warm voice. “What are you doing there?”

“Sunday dinner. I came early to help your mom cook.”

“Oh, nice. What are you making?”

“Beef stew, per Clint’s request.”

It was good to see her – better than he’d thought it would be. Patrick had been so focused on his own journey that he’d forgotten how easygoing and relaxed Rachel was, and it pained him that he’d been avoiding her these last few months.

“Sounds good. How are my parents doing?” Rachel lifted the phone above her head so Patrick could see his mom and dad in the background, chopping and stirring and even pouring glasses of wine. They paused to wave at him and shout their “hello, my sweet boy!” and “hey son!” before Rachel lowered the phone.

He’d been so eager to leave his hometown, so fixated on the need for change, he never thought he would miss it. But now he imagined being back in that kitchen, talking sports with his dad and catching up with Rachel, feeding David tastes of his dad’s tomato sauce from a wooden spoon while he chatted with his mom over glasses of wine…it wasn’t so bad.

Maybe, he thought.

“Well, I have some news,” Patrick began, still unsure if he was ready to have this conversation.

Rachel looked behind her as his parents both huddled in close.

“I’m coming back.”

To their credit, everyone kept their expressions even, waiting for him to continue.

“Is everything okay, sweetheart?” his mother asked, doing a poor job of holding back her relief.

“Yeah, everything’s fine. It’s— not working out.”

Wasn’t it, though? Patrick suddenly realized he had no explanation – there weren’t any issues at his job, not really; and nothing was pulling him back home. So he settled on the truth.

“I met someone…out on the road. We sort of reconnected recently, and he’s from Schitt’s Creek actually, and he’s going back—”

He paused to take in Rachel’s soft smile, his father’s kind eyes and his mother’s hands reaching to cover her face.

“That’s not too far from us at all,” Rachel pointed out, still grinning.

Patrick couldn’t help but grin right back. “No, it isn’t.”

“What’s his name? Can we meet him?” his mother asked, lowering her hands.

“I hope so,” Patrick told her, and he really, really meant it. But he knew David would probably need time.

His father put an arm around Rachel and his mother, who both seemed like they wanted to cry. Patrick could relate. “Do you need to come stay here? I know there’s still a tenant in your condo.”

“Maybe, but don’t go making up a room for me yet. We’re going to spend some more time on the road I think.”

“Oh, I’m just so happy!” his mom finally shouted, pulling laughs from everyone. “Tell me, how exactly did you meet?”

“That, Mom, I will save for when we come to see you. It’s a great story.”

David

“I cannot believe that he got you to camp,” Stevie laughed.

The three of them had found their way to the room’s couch, David and Alexis sprawling out together, Stevie cross-legged on the floor as they waited for Patrick.

“It’s pretty bad,” David agreed.

“Must be true love then, David,” Alexis winked, sort of. He felt his stomach plunge at the word…a word that always made him tense, that was far too heavy to consider this soon. If ever.

“Oh my God, look at his face!” Stevie grinned.

David’s hand flew to his cheek. “My face is fine!”

“You’re all flustered!”

David did his best to sneer, but he was flustered.

“Calm down. I like him.”

“Me too,” David replied quietly.

His sister turned to him. “Well, all I know is that Patrick is a sweet little button face, David, so don't mess this up.”

“Thanks for the added pressure, Alexis.”

The door beeped and swung open, and Patrick stepped inside. He unleashed his fond smile, the one that was kind of upside down, and David melted further into the couch.

“We’ve made up, I see.”

“And we’re leaving,” David added. The three of them stood up and began the rounds of hugs and goodbyes.

“Thank you for coming,” David whispered into Stevie’s ear.

“I’ll see you at home,” she replied simply, standing back.

David straightened his sweater, turning to Alexis. “Tell Mom I’ll be back in time for the election, so she can count on my vote.”

“She’ll like that I’m sure.”

“Oh, and give her this,” he told her, grabbing that old brown bag, empty after he’d poured his toiletries from it. “I don’t know why she missed this so much, it looks like it hasn’t been used in a hundred years.”

They finally filed out of the room, Alexis and Stevie headed to try and book another night, David and Patrick making their way to the parking lot.

Patrick expertly arranged the bags to fit in the car’s trunk and then joined David, still standing outside.

“Well, are we ready to do this?” Patrick asked.

David grabbed him by the hips, spun him around against the car, and kissed him with everything he had.

Then he smiled and murmured against his lips, “Open the door.”

***

Once again, they drove – they passed through the salt flats in Utah and back into the Colorado mountains before dipping down south. They ate barbecue in Austin, and Patrick dragged David from place to place to see the city’s live music before they set off again.

They bought a new tent, lasting a few nights at a time outdoors until David would demand a break at a hotel. They caught one of the last baseball games of the season; David was introduced to competitive Patrick, who he maybe didn’t need to meet again, but also the glorious sight of baseball players in their baseball outfits, and the even more glorious food options offered at live sporting events.

They camped in the Smoky Mountains, and spent a day at the beach once they finally reached the east coast. David relaxed into the sand, soaking it in before he had to return to the long Canadian winter, and fought a losing battle with the sun as he tried to keep his boyfriend’s alabaster skin lathered and protected.

Not your boyfriend, he reminded himself, although that’s certainly what Patrick felt like.

Along the way they stole kisses whenever they wanted and fucked in hotel beds and the back of Patrick’s car and yes, even the tent. They talked, a lot. David shared bits and pieces of his past; his relationships, yes, but also his complicated feelings about losing so much, finding it just a bit easier to share a little piece of himself each time. Patrick told him more about why he’d left, and his guilt about distancing himself from home. He told David about Rachel, how close they still were, which had torn David up inside until he finally had to talk it through. He could test that now, feelings and sharing and openness, because Patrick was safe – even though it all still made him squirm.

They sang in the car and ate good food and spent a lot of time in the fresh air. Sometimes Patrick got away for a hike, and David would sneak off to call his family or catch up with Stevie, but for the most part they were together.

David hadn’t thought it was possible that someone would want to spend so much time with him, at least willingly, and the closer they got to home, the more he worried that maybe they were tempting fate. But then Patrick would return from a hike and kiss him like he’d been gone a year, or surprise him in the shower and drop to his knees. Sometimes David would yawn in the car and Patrick would take the next exit to find him a coffee, or turn up Mariah without being asked when she came on the radio.

Sometimes, somehow, it just felt right.

***

Their last stop was New York. The plan was a straight drive up north, so they splurged on a hotel with a hot tub and a pool; one last night of comfort before a long stretch on the road.

David couldn’t afford to show Patrick all of his old haunts, and he really didn’t want to – but he was still excited to be back. They spent the afternoon at the Met so David could visit his favorite wings, and meandered through Central Park hand in hand on their way to dinner.

They found a tiny Italian restaurant barely bigger than David’s room back in Schitt’s Creek, and managed to get seated without a reservation. It was long and narrow, with brick walls and soft lights, and smelled like garlic and basil.

They were seated and promptly put in an order for a bottle of wine. Patrick leaned back in his chair, hands folded at his chest as he looked around. David couldn’t help but stare a little at that kind face, lit up from the candle on their table, curls tumbling in all directions. He still wore that one blue button up whenever they did anything “nice,” which David found incredibly endearing – but he also couldn’t wait to help dress him in some new clothes.

If he had the chance. It was the one thing they still couldn’t talk about – life after the road. Tomorrow. He took a sip of wine.

As if reading his mind, Patrick turned his focus to David.

“We should probably talk about, you know. After the trip. Us.”

David swallowed another big gulp of wine. “That sounds ominous. Can we delay the bad news until after the entree at least?”

Patrick tilted his head. “And why do you assume it’s bad news?”

“I don’t know, I think it’s just a habit,” David replied, nervously twisting his rings.

Patrick licked his lips, a tick David had learned meant he was trying to tread cautiously.

“I think I’ve made it more than clear I want to…to be with you after this trip.”

David’s heart rate started to pick up. Whatever this conversation was, it was important.

“Okay,” David whispered softly.

“We’re great together, on the road. I’ve never been so happy, David. And I think it can get even better.”

David nodded. “Where will you be staying, though?”

Patrick shrugged, reaching for his glass. “My parents’ place, I guess? For now. I need a new job. But it’s only a few hours from you.”

He looked so hopeful that it almost gave David the same confidence.

“I don’t have a car,” David pointed out.

“I can drive to you,” Patrick countered.

David shook his head. “I live in a motel room with my sister. What would those visits be like?”

Patrick pulled out his phone and began typing something. “What’s the nearest city? Elmdale?”

“Would we call that a city?”

Patrick smiled at that but continued tapping and scrolling.

“There’s plenty of hotels,” he finally announced. “I know it’s not ideal, but I mean—” He looked up at David suddenly. “You want to do this, right?”

And David realized this was one of those times he had to step up, because maybe he was petrified of long distance, that leaving their little bubble on the road would ruin everything; but he saw the tiniest tremble in Patrick’s lip, and he couldn’t stand for that.

“Yes,” he stated firmly, and reached for Patrick’s hand.

Patrick’s answering smile was everything.

They put it aside for the rest of dinner, devouring a plate of arancini before exchanging bites of their meals and finishing the bottle of wine. Patrick dragged David outside as he continued to beg the waiter for their tiramisu recipe and grabbed them a cab back to the hotel.

David kissed him up against the door the second they returned, but Patrick slipped from his grasp. David pouted.

“I didn’t pay for a place with a hot tub not to see you in it,” Patrick told him, which mollified him some.

They grabbed some towels and made their way to the pool area. Patrick had his swim trunks but David hadn’t packed anything like that, so he slipped into the hot tub in just a pair of black briefs. Judging by the way Patrick’s smile faded and his eyes darkened, he didn’t seem to mind.

Fortunately it was late, so they had it all to themselves. David let his head fall back to rest on the edge, arms spread out along the side. Patrick leaned against him beneath one of his arms, his own head nestled on David’s shoulder. The gentle bubbling sound from the jets, the warm steam floating around them – it was pretty nice.

“I don’t know if we’ll find these accommodations in Elmdale,” he said with a small laugh, but it was met with silence. Patrick sat up.

“David, I know what you’re doing.”

“What?”

“You’re trying to poke holes in this. You’re looking for an out.”

David sat forward too. “I’m not!”

“Yes, you are. I’ve seen it before. And I’m telling you right now, I can’t go through what I did in August again.”

To be fair, David couldn’t either.

It was impossibly hard to admit, to throw himself out there, but—

“I’m just scared, okay?”

Patrick’s eyes softened. “You don’t think I am?”

David was relieved to hear it, because he didn’t want to be alone in all his trepidations, but it didn’t calm the aching worry he’d been carrying in his chest.

“I hate this! I think we can make long distance work. But what if it doesn’t? What if I only see you once a month, and in between you get a new job and make a bunch of new friends? You’re like the nicest person on the planet. And what if you meet someone new? I mean I trust you, but there’s lots of guys out there who don’t live in a shitty motel with their fully adult family. And then I’d have to face Stevie and Alexis and tell them my boyfriend left me because there’s nowhere for us to be alone and connect in this fucking town—”

“Sorry, what did you just say?”

David paused abruptly. “I said I’m really nervous about long distance.”

“Something about your boyfriend leaving you?”

Fuck. David leaned toward him. “Wipe that smug look off your face before I do.”

“Make me,” Patrick smirked, but before he could, David’s boyfriend was moving into his lap, kissing him furiously and dragging his fingers just below the seam of his briefs.

“Not here.” David rasped as he pulled back, his boyfriend pawing at his legs indecently as he tried to stand. Despite his desperation, David couldn’t help but feel a little pleased with himself at the way Patrick paused and raked his eyes over him as he stood at the edge of the hot tub, eyes lingering.

They threw on t-shirts and wrapped themselves in towels, hurrying back to their room. The elevator ride felt like a year, especially with Patrick all keyed up, pushing David against the wall and reaching below his towel.

“We’re almost there,” he laughed, finally pulling his boyfriend by the hand, through their hotel room door and into the bathroom. They stripped their towels and barely got their shirts off by the time they’d stumbled beneath the cascade of hot water.

Patrick’s trunks were wet and stuck to his thighs, so it was no easy task for David as he tried to peel them off. It was also incredibly distracting; he needed this to be a quick rinse.

But Patrick was no help, because by the time he’d stepped out of his trunks, he was on his knees, pupils blown out as he looked up at David with a wicked grin. David really wanted to move this to the bed, but Patrick’s hands began to wander up and down his legs, and he had that look in his eye…

He leaned forward and pressed his lips to David’s hipbone, kissing and gently grazing at his skin. Suddenly he bit down harder, and David realized he’d grabbed hold of his briefs between his teeth and was tugging them down. David let out a loud groan, because it was insanely hot, but this was supposed to be a quick rinse.

“You’re trying to kill me,” he huffed, pulling them off himself.

Patrick smirked and stood up, hands still roaming over any skin he could find. “Is that what I’m trying to do?”

David kissed him soundly, backing him into the tile wall. “This might be our last time in an actual bed together til God knows when, so dry off.”

There was a flash of sadness there that David couldn’t quite read, but Patrick complied. The intensity he’d been radiating since the boyfriend slip slowed into something more gentle, and they buried themselves beneath the covers, making out lazily. It was tender and unhurried, two modes David was still getting used to.

Patrick eventually pulled back and looked at him. “I know you said you were scared David, but I’m not going to leave you.”

He wanted to argue, but bit his tongue for once. David had to believe him.

“Okay,” he whispered, reminding himself he wasn’t alone in this. “Then what are you scared of?”

Patrick shrugged weakly. “Missing you.”

David grinned so wide it actually hurt, and he hated it, but the returning smile he got from Patrick, shy and pleased…well, maybe he was doing this right after all.

“Come here,” he breathed, even though they were already pretty close. But Patrick obeyed, curling into him as David kissed his head, curls still just a little damp.

David sat up against the headboard and pulled him gently, beckoning Patrick to roll over so his back was pressed against David’s chest. Patrick fell into him and started to relax, and David’s hands took their time kneading at his chest, rubbing soothing circles into his skin.

He wasn’t used to this kind of intimacy, especially if he had to take the lead; but Patrick hummed contentedly, so he figured that was a good sign. After so many years of relationships that left him feeling used and lonely, David felt like he’d unlocked some new superpower; this ability to make another person feel good and happy and safe.

“I’m going to miss you too,” he breathed into Patrick’s ear, barely recognizing his own voice.

David…”

“I’ve got you.”

He pressed a kiss to Patrick’s temple, digging his fingers into the tender muscle below his collarbone. Patrick groaned softly before finding one of David’s hands, silently guiding it between his legs.

“Hang on,” David whispered, reaching for the lube still on the nightstand after their initial…arrival. He drizzled some into his palm and dropped it down to replace Patrick’s hand, which was stroking lazily in the absence of David’s.

At the first touch Patrick’s whole body jolted backwards, already writhing the way David loved. He took his time, listening to Patrick’s breathing turn harsh and ragged, feeling the weight of him sliding through David’s grip.

He brought his free hand back to Patrick’s solid chest, holding him as still as he could, kissing lightly along his neck. David picked up his pace, meeting the rapid rhythm of Patrick’s heart hammering against David’s palm. He was so hard himself, but all he wanted to do was take care of Patrick.

David shifted positions just slightly, but Patrick knew; that he was always so attuned to what David needed still surprised him every time.

“Here.” Patrick slid down the bed and rolled over onto his side, grabbing around at the sheets to find the lube. David wondered if he should argue, keep going like they were – but he was only human, so he sidled up behind him. Patrick took a quick minute to slick his inner thighs, and David gently thrusted in between them. Biting down on his moan, he reached an arm over Patrick to wrap his hand around him again.

“Is this okay?” He asked, breathing against the back of Patrick’s neck, trying to coordinate his movements.

“God, yes,” Patrick choked out, his voice hoarse.

He thrusted forward and started to move in earnest, losing himself to the sensations all around him – the slick slide of them together, the sounds of slapping skin and moans of pleasure, the taste of sweat and the faint traces of chlorine still lingering in Patrick’s hair.

“You’re so beautiful,” David heard himself say between thrusts, which was something, because he never offered things like that to anyone.

“Yeah?” Patrick’s voice cut through, somewhere in the distance.

“Yes,” he insisted, tightening his grip around him. “These thighs, all of it, you're so fucking gorgeous.”

He continued babbling until Patrick hit the edge, his body stiffening and then relaxing.

“You’re so good,” David murmured before finally meeting him there, panting and cursing and then collapsing halfway across Patrick’s body.

Patrick slipped out from beneath his arms and began to clean them off, giving David’s brain some time to slowly crawl its way back to the present.

When he returned to the bed, Patrick pulled the blankets over them both, nudging David to roll onto his back so he could kiss him.

David looked up at him through heavy lids, exhausted and warm and satisfied in a way he wasn’t sure he’d ever felt. It wasn’t like that was the wildest sex he’d ever had, but the way he’d been able to clear his head, get out of his own way…David could get used to that.

“I’ve never heard you so…complimentary before.” Patrick bit back a laugh.

David’s eyes opened wide at that, his walls almost instantly activated. He threw an arm over his face and turned away, but Patrick wasn’t having it. He laughed, but there was no malice to it, just warmth.

“David, I’m just teasing…I loved it.” He kissed David’s shielding arm, and then his chin and his hair, until David was on his back once more and peeking up at him.

There was that word again. It was still far too scary, but David let himself hold it, examining its pieces and meanings and all that it could imply before setting it down for another time.

***

David requested bagels for breakfast before they embarked on the final leg of their trip. They sat at a table outside the shop, eating and sipping on their coffee and tea as scores of people hustled past them on the sidewalk. The traffic was busy and the cars were loud, but David never minded any of that. Patrick seemed similarly unconcerned, sitting back, legs crossed and scrolling through his phone.

David stole as many glances as he could without staring, the knowledge that they were going to part that very day finally sinking in. He felt better, more secure that this wasn’t over; he felt strong too, knowing that he had some control here. He could be there for Patrick; he could put in the effort to make it work – he didn’t need to wait for it to all fall apart.

Patrick looked up from his phone to take a big sip of tea.

“What kinds of businesses are there in Schitt’s Creek?” he asked.

“Not much,” David told him, a little confused by the question. “There’s a cafe and a bar, I think there’s a car shop? A vet’s office, a general store. Why?”

Patrick shook his head, returning to his phone. “No reason.”

“Date nights will be pretty limited,” he joked before catching himself. “But we can probably find more in Elmdale.”

Patrick nodded, eyes still glued to his phone. Finally, he pocketed it.

“Well, we have a long drive ahead. Want me to take the first shift?”

“I got it,” David offered. They walked back to the car and followed the roads out of the city until they’d found the highway, driving north.

Eventually the traffic thinned out, and the big buildings gave way to trees just starting to pop with the colors of autumn. They were still hours away, but they cruised along, David humming with the radio and Patrick alternating between reading and resting his head against the window.

“It’s nice out,” Patrick observed quietly, and he was right – the sun shone bright, and the blue sky barely held a single cloud. “Hey, where does Stevie live in town?”

“Hmm,” David thought about it. “You know, I’ve actually never been to her place. We spent most of our time in town or at the motel. I kind of always pictured her living underground, but she definitely has an apartment.”

“You guys have a strange friendship,” Patrick laughed. David smiled. Maybe that was true, but it was the best one he’d ever had.

They drove a few more hours, stopping for lunch and finally crossing the border. The sun was getting low, but they still had a drive ahead of them. Patrick had taken over and it was David’s turn to unwind, watching the trees pass by in a steady blur. They had a plan, but there was still an uncertainty to it; David practiced reminding himself that was okay.

He looked over at Patrick and noticed his knee vibrating up and down nervously, a habit he’d largely abandoned.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, turning to face him.

Patrick tore his eyes from the road briefly to meet David’s.

“Do you mind if I pull over for a minute?”

“Okay…” David agreed, trying to keep the anxiety from his voice.

Patrick slowed the car, parking on the grass along the highway. He unbuckled his seatbelt and looked at David, taking a deep breath.

“Can I run something by you?”

“You know I need some food in me before you start conversations like this.”

Patrick’s eyes dropped to the bag of Cheetos in David’s lap.

“I mean like a meal,” he clarified.

Patrick looked up, then licked his lips before trying again.

“Do you know a guy named Ray?”

“In Schitt’s Creek?”

“Yeah.”

David felt his head tilt. “Sure. Not well, but his face is plastered on practically every business card and surface in the town. He’s…friendly.”

Patrick nodded and took another deep breath. “Okay. So, Stevie sent me a link to a job posting. He needs help with like, several businesses he seems to be operating.”

“What?” David asked, startled. “Stevie sent you that?”

“She did,” Patrick replied, studying David carefully. “What do you think?”

“You actually want to move to Schitt’s Creek? On purpose?”

“I want to move near you, David. Is it…too much?”

Too much? David thought about it, whether he would do the same for Patrick. He knew without a doubt he would, but he also knew he’d be incredibly paranoid that it was just another instance of him coming on too strong.

But that wasn’t how this felt.

“No,” he assured him, leaning closer. “I think that would be really nice.”

Patrick smiled then, wide and bright, and David watched the tension fall from his shoulders. He leaned forward to kiss him, and it was soft and sweet and hopeful, not the sad goodbye he’d thought was coming.

Patrick sat back to look at him. “Okay, I’ll give him a call tomorrow. Also…” he continued cautiously. “We’re going to be passing by my parents’ place on the way to Schitt’s Creek. Would you want to stop in, before I bring you home? I know that might be too much for you…actually probably anyone. But I know they’d like to say hi.”

David shifted in his seat. “I didn’t realize it was so out of the way to drop me off.”

He didn’t usually meet parents - that hadn’t been something welcomed by his past partners. David wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea, but the pressure of impressing them, when he’d just gotten a handle on being with Patrick like this —

“Your head is spinning,” Patrick laughed. “It’s fine, we can do it another time.”

“No, no. I’m just thinking.”

Patrick reached over and took one of his hands, tracing his fingers along David’s silver rings.

He could do this. Patrick was his boyfriend, he was moving to be with him, and meeting the parents - that was a normal boyfriend thing to do.

“Okay, I’ll come in and say hello.”

Patrick lifted his hand and kissed it. “Thank you, David.” Then he sat back. “Okay then. We should get moving, otherwise they’ll force you to stay the night if it’s too late.”

David nodded and reached for his seatbelt, but suddenly that didn’t sound so bad. He pulled out his phone and opened his messages.

Stevie

David:Thank you.

Patrick pulled back onto the highway and they picked up speed; the sky was bright orange now, the road empty and open as they traveled on. David fumbled for Patrick’s hand again, lacing their fingers together and squeezing tight. His phone buzzed in his lap.

Stevie

David:Thank you.

Stevie:See you soon.

David finally closed his eyes, and a new voice spoke up inside his head. It took the place of all the cruel ones, the wary ones, that always seemed to hold him back.

Sometimes it does work out.