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Dan wakes up with a cotton-stuffed mouth and the headache of the century. It feels, quite literally, like someone’s smashed up his brain tissue with a meat grinder. When he slits one eye open, he finds he’s drooled all over the sleeve of the person next to him.

“Oh my god,” the person says.

“Ngh,” Dan says back. He wipes his tacky mouth on the back of his hand and rolls away, leaving the drool-covered t-shirt in his wake. “Kyle?”

“A-ffirmative,” Kyle says from beside him, putting extra emphasis on the ‘a.’ “I need to puke. Several times.”

Dan concurs. He runs his tongue over his teeth and tastes the film of whatever alcoholic concoction they’d consumed last night, his stomach swirling like a too-fast merry-go-round. He closes his eyes again and tries to breathe through it. “Same. You can go first.”

“Gentlemanly even whilst hungover. You put me to shame, Dan.”

“Too many words,” Dan groans.

“Says you!”

It takes far longer than it should for the mattress to shift, signaling that Kyle’s made his way to the toilet. Meanwhile, Dan rolls into the warm spot his friend has left behind and drags the duvet over his head to block out the worst of the light. He can still hear the faint sound of Kyle retching, but at least it’s somewhat muffled. Hello darkness, his old friend indeed.

When he wakes up the second time, the room is blissfully quiet. There’s still a fork prodding at the inside of his skull, but not so forcefully that he’s worried his head might crack open. He counts that as a win.

His memories of the night before are splotchy the way his skin gets in his sun. He does his best to piece things together: They’d played a gig to a room full of people who hadn’t given two shits about them or their music—that part comes back to him almost too clearly. Then they’d gone out, because it had been eons—a whole pandemic —since they were in Vegas. Then they’d had drinks. Too many drinks. Everything after that is like a blank sheet of notebook paper during a songwriting session.

God, they’re too old for this shit.

He pokes his head out of his blanket cocoon and chances a look around. The room is an absolute tip: empty champagne bottle on the nightstand, crumpled In-n-Out wrappers strewn across the floor, and for reasons unbeknownst to Dan in his current state, a half-eaten cake—straight out of the bakery at a grocer’s—sitting on the dresser next to the telly. The covers from the opposite queen bed are a rumpled mess, the sheets stripped from the mattress and lying discarded on the ground. Well, that explains him having woken up with his nose in Kyle’s armpit, then.

Speaking of—

“This isn’t half bad,” Kyle says. He’s sitting in the armchair by the window, eating a lopsided slice of cake from a tissue. There are little specks of frosting in his mustache.

Dan’s stomach lurches in rebellion. Food—ugh. Just the thought makes him shudder. “Why did we buy an entire cake?”

“Funny story, that.” Kyle dusts some crumbs from his shirt. “It’s our wedding cake.”

Dan doesn’t have the energy to muster a smile. “I’m too hungover for your jokes, mate.”

“Wish I was joking.”

“Kyle.”

“Look.” Kyle holds up the hand not cradling a rapidly deteriorating cake slice. “We’ve even got the rings.”

Kyle’s taking the piss. Dan is suffering from a hangover straight out the deepest depths of hell and Kyle is taking the piss out of him. He’d be angrier if his combo dehydration/nausea weren’t currently taking up the majority of his attention. Scowling, he drags himself into a sitting position and reaches up to run his fingers through his hair. It probably looks like a bird’s nest. Smells like one too, no doubt—

He pauses with his hand halfway to his head, eyes catching on something silver. And shiny. Right there. On his ring finger.

“Oh, fuck,” he says.

“Yeah,” Kyle agrees, popping another bite of cake into his mouth.

 

*

 

Dick just about chokes on his coffee. “You did what?”

“We committed to one another in the holy act of matrimony. Keep up, please,” says Kyle.

Behind them, Charlie’s high-pitched laughter shrieks through the tour bus. Woody mutters something that sounds like bloody hell. Will is already back in his bunk, asleep. Dan shrinks down in his spot on the sofa and pulls his hood up over his head, still feeling rather queasy—from the lingering hangover, the jostling of the moving bus, or this conversation, he isn’t quite sure.

“Christ,” Dick says, almost to himself. “I don’t get paid enough for this.”

“We’ve been in America for twenty-four hours and you two have already gone and had yourselves a drunken wedding.” Charlie sounds borderline gleeful. “I love tour. I really do.”

Dan flips him the bird. Kyle sits down next to him and pats him on the knee as if to say there, there. “So,” he asks, “what happens now?”

“What happens?” Dick parrots. “You get a divorce. That’s what happens.”

“Now, that’s awfully rash—”

“You got fake married and you want to talk about rash decisions?”

“Fair point.”

Dan’s brain, like always, is whirring too fast for him to keep track. “We can’t just run to the courthouse and file the divorce paperwork. These things take ages.”

“So we start the process and you stay fake married until it’s done,” says Dick. “Just don’t go rambling about it to the entire world, alright?”

Kyle gives him a thumbs up. Dan grunts a noise that he hopes sounds like agreement. Then he closes his eyes, buries his nose in the collar of his jumper, and tries to wish away everything that’s happened since they first landed on American soil.

 

*

 

It’s not really any different, being married to Kyle. 

They still interrupt each other every five seconds and take stupid photos when the other one isn’t looking. When they make it to Memphis for the first real show of tour and the humidity turns Dan’s skin into a dripping wet dishrag, Kyle has no qualms about mocking him for it. They’ve agreed to ditch the rings for appearance’s sake, so all in all, everything is normal. It’s chill. Dan’s even sweated the last of the alcohol from his system, which took way longer than it would have three years ago. His metabolism just isn’t what it used to be these days.

The venue in Memphis is on the same grounds as Elvis Presley’s mansion, which is wicked. Playing there should feel like a dream come true. And it does, for most of the day anyway, until one song into their set when Dan’s earpiece goes kaput and suddenly he can’t hear anything except the beat of his own heart thunk-thunking in his chest and his breath whooshing out of him. 

He gestures frantically at the sound team—louder, louder, please, he can’t hear a goddamn thing but it’s no use. He’s like a dingy drifting at sea, all on its own, cast out to be consumed by raging waters.

Everything blurs together after that. It’s like their night in Vegas, except he’s conscious this time, which makes it worse. His mouth moves and he sings words and bangs drums but it all happens outside of him, like someone else has taken over his limbs. 

Afterwards, he can’t get offstage fast enough. He rips off his mic pack—stupid, useless piece of shit —and makes a beeline for the green room without checking to see if the others are behind him. He needs space. He needs air. He needs to wallow in the aching disappointment inside of him, the hollow feeling of having let everyone down. He can’t even begin to think about what he sounded like up there. Offbeat and off key, no doubt.

“Dan? It’s alright, hey, just take a breath.”

Kyle. He’s followed Dan into the green room. He drops into a crouch in front of the chair Dan’s deposited himself in and waits while Dan leans forward and wheezes into his knees.

“Sorry,” Dan croaks. 

“None of that.” 

Kyle holds out a bottle of water that seems to have appeared in his hands by magic. Dan sits up, a little bit steadier now, and takes it. 

“This always happens,” he says. “I always fuck it up.”

“We’ve been in a band together for how many years now? If you were a fuck-up I would’ve bailed ages ago.”

This is exactly why Dan could never, ever, ever do this on his own: he’s too locked inside of his own head. He needs someone else there to talk sense and yank him back to reality—and nine times out of ten, that person is Kyle. Always has been.

Dan takes a small sip of water. “Well, we’re married, so you’re really stuck with me now.”

Kyle puts a reassuring hand on his arm. The touch lingers there for the faintest of moments—just a beat too long, so fast that Dan could almost pass it off as normal, if not for the strange look that crosses Kyle’s face before he moves to stand.

“Doesn’t sound so bad to me,” he says.

 

*

 

“Dan, you’re our resident plant dad,” Woody calls over to him. “What’s this one?”

Dan sighs and looks up from the patch of flowers he’s been admiring. He points at the placard situated in front of Woody’s fern in question. “Says the name right here…just like every other plant in this place.”

Woody grumbles something unintelligible under his breath and squints at the placard. “Yeah, but that requires me to read .”

Right, so—maybe checking out the botanical gardens before their show in Oklahoma City had been Dan’s idea. And maybe the others had only agreed to accompany him because it’s hotter than a sauna outside (seriously—what is wrong with the American South) and he’d promised them cold pints afterwards. He likes his plants, okay. Sue him. 

He leaves Woody to decipher a paragraph about the peruvian maidenhair fern and wanders a little further down the path to Kyle, who’s busy taking a selfie with a small, orange-and-green leafed tree. He flashes his front-facing camera a thumbs-up just as Dan approaches.

“Check out these little flowers,” Kyle greets him, capturing a few petals between his fingers. “Aren’t they ace?”

Dan shuffles closer to take a peek. The orange color is quite nice. “Good find.”

“I know, right? Orange you glad we came to the gardens?” Kyle waggles his eyebrows. 

“You’re an idiot. And you don’t have to fake it—I know plants are lame.”

“Excuse you.” Kyle’s hand flies to his heart in mock-offense. “I’m excited. So excited I’m bricking it. Plants are awesome. Look at these!”

He holds out his phone for Dan to see and starts to flip through his camera roll. Most of the snapshots are selfies of Kyle with the plants, but still, the various sections of the garden are all there: trees, flowers, and bushes galore. There’s even one of Kyle in front of the Myriad Gardens sign, the camera strategically positioned so that his head takes the place of the first ‘a.’ It’s cheesy and so very Kyle. Dan can’t help the laugh that bursts out of him.

“Okay, I stand corrected. I’ll allow Woody to bestow upon you the title of ‘plant dad’ as well.”

Kyle woops and pockets his phone. “I’m honored.”

They putter around for a little while longer—as in, Dan studies the plants while Kyle takes a few more selfies and the others wait on a bench out by the front entrance—until it’s time to head back to the venue. Before they leave, Kyle drags Dan to the gift shop, insisting he needs a souvenir ( ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ means nothing these days, he says solemnly).

“Ooh, succulents,” Kyle exclaims upon entering. 

A display of them sits in front of the window, the tiny cacti all lined up in neat rows. Kyle picks up an artichoke-shaped one in a yellow pot and holds it up at eye-level for inspection. The plant is small enough that it fits perfectly in his palm.

“Bit hard to transport a succulent in your suitcase, isn’t it?” Dan asks.

“If we’re going to be plant dads, we need a plant child,” Kyle explains. He extends the pot to Dan in offering. “It can be my carry-on. What should we name it?”

Dan blinks at the succulent in surprise, then up at Kyle, who stares back at him expectantly.

“Um,” Dan says. “Laura Palmer?”

Kyle heaves a sigh. “Predictable. Alright. Marriage is all about compromise, innit? So how about…Laurie?” 

They’re married. And now they have a (plant) child. And Kyle seems to be taking all of it very, very seriously. And Dan—well, Dan isn’t too sure what to think about that. 

“Fine. But I’m only taking her on weekends,” he says.

“The divorce paperwork hasn’t even been drafted and you’re already talking custody arrangements.” Kyle shakes his head and clutches the succ— Laurie close to his chest. “He doesn’t mean it, Laur. He’s just cranky. Your dads will always love you equally, I promise.”

 

*

 

After the show that night (which turns out to be mildly less panic-inducing than Memphis), Will announces he has a “genius” idea. “I want to see the wedding photos.”

Charlie slaps his palms against his thighs in excitement. “I second this motion.”

Dan shoots Kyle a deer-in-the-headlights look, which Kyle returns in equal kind. 

Do we have wedding photos? Dan tries to ask via his wide, panicked eyes.

Fuck if I know, Kyle returns with a frantic shrug and shake of his head.

Will looks back and forth between them. “Have you…not checked your phones to see if there’s any photographic evidence?” 

“I’ve only seen Kyle’s plant selfies,” Dan admits.

“Romantic,” Woody says.

“Well, let’s have it, then.” Charlie gestures at Kyle. “Anything good in that camera roll of yours?”

They all huddle together in the bus’s mini kitchenette while Kyle pulls up his photos for the second time that day. He scrolls past flowers and his coffee from the morning and the back of Dan’s head inside Graceland Mansion until—

“Now that is beautiful,” Will declares, straight-faced.

It’s the cake. The sweaty, half-eaten one that had been sitting in their hotel room when Dan had woken up the morning after their supposed wedding. Kyle scrolls back further: a selfie of the two of them shoving slices of said cake into each other’s mouths. A photo of them posing with…a Dolly Parton impersonator? Another photo, this one of the inside of a hokey wedding chapel, everything decked out in the most hideous shade of red, from the carpet on the floor to the flowers adorning the altar. One last photo: the happy couple in front of the altar, Kyle holding Dan’s face steady while he kisses him square on the mouth.

Charlie lets out a string of obnoxious hee hee hee’s that leaves him breathless. “Wow. You lot really went all out.”

“I’m actually a bit sad we didn’t get an invitation,” Woody says.

“You’ll be first on the guest list when we renew our vows,” Kyle promises, crossing one hand over himself.

Dan’s only half paying attention, his gaze stuck on that ridiculous final photo. In hindsight, it’s obvious: of course Kyle would have kissed him. That’s what people do at weddings, even impulsive, drunken ones in the middle of the Nevada desert. For Kyle to have kissed him and Dan to have zero recollection of it, though— that’s the part that doesn’t make any sense. The cool metal of Kyle’s rings against his cheeks and the taste of alcohol on his breath—those seem like things Dan should remember. They seem important. 

(Which is stupid, because kissing Kyle has never been important to him before. The thought has never even crossed his mind. Well, maybe not never, but—rarely. Rarely enough that Dan’s been able to squash the idea like a bug under his foot. Now the idea is bigger than a bug. It’s a lion staring him straight in the face.)

 

*

 

They have the following day off, so Dan locks himself in his bunk (AKA keeps his privacy curtain closed for a solid twelve hours) and sleeps like the dead. When he finally surfaces sometime around midday on Monday and checks his phone, he finds a series of increasingly capslock-y texts from Dick sent to him and Kyle in a group message:

What did I tell you???

Weren’t my exact words “DON’T GO RAMBLING TO THE WHOLE WORLD”???

I SWEAR I’LL SEND YOU BOTH BACK TO BRITAIN

Had someone witnessed their succulent adoption the day before? Hacked Kyle’s phone and leaked their wedding photos? Used the power of telepathy to read Dan’s mind and discover his sudden fixation on Kyle’s mouth? None of the possibilities leave Dan feeling any less anxious than the last.

He opens up a separate text addressed solely to Kyle: What is he on about?

Kyle responds with three monkey-covering-its-eyes emojis in a row. A moment later, their group chat with Dick pings again.

Take the photo down or I’m revoking your Instagram privileges, Dick’s typed.

Dan’s never opened up an app so fast in his life. Right there at the top of the screen, Kyle’s profile picture is lit up to indicate he’s posted a new story:

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Well…it’s not a wedding photo, at least. That’s good, right?

As if on cue, his privacy curtain rips open to reveal Dick standing outside his bunk. His forehead is pinched with an intensity that Dan normally only sees during his crowd walk every night.

“Band meeting,” Dick tells him. “Now.”

The atmosphere in the bus lounge is decidedly less cheery than it had been a week ago when Dan and Kyle first broke the news regarding their surprise nuptials. This time, Charlie, Will, and Woody are nowhere to be found; the ‘band meeting’ just consists of himself, Dick, and Kyle, who is sitting on the sofa with Laurie in his lap, smiling like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Dan takes a seat beside him. Dick frowns down at him, then at Kyle, then at the succulent in his hands. 

“Laurie’s lips are sealed,” Kyle tells him, miming zipping the plant’s non-existent lips shut.

Dick closes his eyes and rubs a hand over face. “Look,” he starts. “I know this is all ha-ha, very funny for you, but I don’t think you’ll be laughing if you end up in the tabloids.”

“I post rubbish on my socials all the time.”

“Yes, but this time there’s truth behind that rubbish.” Dick tosses a manila folder at them, which Dan tries (and fails) to catch. He bends down to rescue it from the floor as Dick continues: “Divorce papers. Please sign them before I lose the final, lingering thread of my sanity.”

Dan stays quiet until Dick stomps away and the front door of the bus hisses to signal it has sealed shut behind him. Then he picks up the manila folder and whacks Kyle none-too-gently on the shoulder with it.

“Here I was thinking you’d gone and posted our photos with Dolly.”

“I was tempted,” Kyle says, huffing. “But I didn’t! What’s the matter?”

“You called me your husband on Instagram for all the world to see.”

“You are my husband. It was a factual statement.”

Dan shoots him a pointed look. “I know that—but we’re accidental husbands, Kyle. And we said we wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Kyle seems to deflate at that. His shoulders slump and his next words are quieter, lacking the easy confidence that his voice normally carries. 

“Is the thought of being married to me really that terrible?” he asks.

Dan hasn’t spent much of his 30+ years on this planet actively thinking about what his life would be like if he were to marry one day—that’s never been his M.O. Instead, he thinks about his favorite films. His houseplants back home. The latest song he and Mark have been working on. The inevitable end of society as we know it. How mad it is that they went from playing Pompeii to no one at pubs to hearing it chanted back at them by crowds of thousands.

Kyle would be a good partner. Even without having imagined it previously, Dan knows it to be true. Kyle’s loyal. He’s funny. He knows when to give Dan space and when to offer him company. He can’t cook to save his life, but he keeps his space clean and always helps with the washing up when he comes over. He balances Dan’s introspection with his brashness, is grounded when Dan’s mind drifts off into space, and he props Dan up when he’s at his lowest. He’s the best friend Dan’s ever had. 

“It’s not terrible,” Dan says. “I just—I hadn’t seriously thought about it before.”

A pause. “...but now you have?” Kyle asks.

“I mean.” Dan rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “Haven’t you?”

When he meets Kyle’s eyes, he finds that the hesitation and hurt there have drifted into cautious hope.

“Dan Smith,” Kyle says slowly, “are you saying you want to marry me?”

“Well…we need to get divorced first. But then maybe we could start with, like—a date?”

The corner of Kyle’s mouth ticks upward into a smile. Dan copies the motion.

“Hear that, Laurie?” Kyle looks down at the yellow pot in his lap. “Your dad wants to take me on a date.”

“We’ll have to hire a sitter.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t want her to see our…activities and be scarred for life.”

Dan raises an eyebrow. “Activities?”

With careful hands, Kyle takes Laurie and moves her to the ground, a safe distance away from any stray movement of their feet. Those very same hands then take Dan’s face between them. Kyle’s palms are warm and his touch is steady, and when he leans in to press their lips together, it tastes like mint toothpaste. Even if Dan could remember the last time this happened, it wouldn’t matter—he’s already decided this is way, way better.