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“I’m making a caffeine run,” Charlie announces to the room at large. “Anyone want anything?”

They’re backstage at the latest venue with a couple of hours to go until soundcheck and he might actually decapitate Woody with his own drumsticks if he has to listen to him bang out Smoke on the Water against a table one more time. 

Will grunts. Woody waves him off. Kyle perks up and says, “can I have one of them frappuccino things? The extra chocolatey kind.”

“Extra chocolatey frappuccino. Got it. Dan?” 

Dan’s sprawled across the sofa with his giant headphones on and his eyes closed, oblivious to the world. Charlie taps him on the shoulder and waits for him to rejoin the land of the living.

“What’s up?” Dan asks.

“Coffee. Want something?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ll come with.”

There’s a Starbucks a few blocks away, so they head there. Dan’s thrown on a baseball cap in a half-effort to avoid getting recognized. Charlie hasn’t done anything because no one would ever recognize him anyway. Thankfully it’s quiet inside the shop, so they get Kyle’s sugary drink of death, a latte for Charlie, and a tea for Dan (for someone who doesn’t own a hair brush and generally refuses to put on any sort of shirt with a collar, he’s surprisingly dedicated to taking care of himself before a show), and hide out at a table in the corner.

“Ready for the show?” Charlie asks.

“Yeah. Guess so.” Dan sips his tea. “It’s just—this is when it gets hard. You know?”

“Oh?”

“We’re, what, twenty shows in? With a million more to go. I’m tired just thinking about it.”

“Yeah,” Charlie says, even though he has no clue what Dan’s on about. He feels like he’s been living a dream this past year—playing massive festivals, selling out arena shows, lingering over the opening chords of Icarus every night. He’s only just gotten a taste of what real, big-time touring life is like. He can’t imagine stopping now. “You gonna be okay?”

“Always am.” Dan tries on a smile. “I love it, I do. And I’m so grateful. But—I’m human, too. Gotta take a break once in a while.”

“Well, if you ever need someone to take over lead vocals, I bet I’d rock the shit out of Two Evils.”

“Bet you would,” Dan agrees, smiling wider.

They sit there, talking about everything and nothing, until Charlie’s burned all of his taste buds thanks to his too-hot coffee. He basically lives with Dan these days—spends 24/7 with him on their cramped bus—but this is the first time they’ve ever really hung out just the two of them. It’s cool. Feels more normal than Charlie would’ve thought. Just a couple of mates hanging out, number one hit song about volcanoes notwithstanding.

They burst back through the venue doors only six minutes after soundcheck was supposed to start, chests heaving from having run the last three blocks. Will takes one look at them and raises an eyebrow.

“Have a nice coffee date?” he asks.

Charlie grins and says, “Splendid, thanks. Kyle, we’ve got your diabetes in a cup for you.”

“Wicked,” says Kyle, taking the cup and slurping down a quarter of it in one go.

 

*

 

They’re between shows and Dan wants to go check out some bookstore downtown because he’s the world’s biggest nerd (Woody’s words—not Charlie’s). 

“Do I look like I read books,” Kyle says when Dan asks if anyone wants to accompany him.

“You read books when we were in uni,” says Dan.

“Yeah, because I had to. Plus you were always moaning about James Joyce this and Shakespeare that.”

“You studied English Lit?” Charlie asks Dan, surprised.

“Yeah. You didn’t know?” Dan laughs, a bit sheepish. “I figured it was common knowledge by now. Someone put it on my Wikipedia page ages ago.”

Charlie wonders what that must be like, to have strangers uncover your life story and post it on the internet. Uncomfortable, that’s for sure. 

“I’ll join you,” he says. “Not like I’ve anything better to do.”

“Oh.” Dan sounds pleasantly surprised. “Alright. Cool.”

Rittipo and Johny tag along, so the four of them spend the afternoon sampling cheese in some fancy shop, loitering on park benches, and perusing the stacks in Dan’s beloved bookstore. Charlie’s busy poking around the new releases table when someone touches his elbow.

“Find anything good?” Dan asks.

“Nah,” says Charlie. He glances at the stack of books under Dan’s arm. “I’d ask you the same, but I feel like that’d be a dumb question.”

Dan’s face goes a bit red. “I’ve got a lot of time to kill.”

“I’m not judging,” Charlie says. “Got any recommendations?”

Dan takes a step forward so he can get a better look at the display. He ends up right in Charlie’s space, their shoulders bumping, but Charlie finds he doesn’t mind. He waits while Dan eyes the options for a moment, then leans over to pick up a copy of The Girl on the Train. 

“You read this yet?” he asks.

Charlie shakes his head. “Been meaning to watch the film.”

“Read the book first. Then we can watch it together.”

“Okay,” Charlie grins. “Deal.”

When they clamber back onto the tour bus a few hours later, Charlie with his single book in hand and Dan with an entire bag full, they find Kyle sitting in the kitchenette up front, stuffing pringles into his mouth. 

“Hi,” he says, spewing crumbs everywhere. “How was it?”

“Good. We bought some fancy cheese,” Dan says, setting his bag on the table.

“Ooh. What kind?”

“Dunno exactly. It’s got little blueberries in it.”

Kyle pulls the bag towards him so he can peer inside and rummage around. “So, did you bust a nut when you stepped foot in that bookstore?”

“Ha ha,” says Dan, deadpan. “Good one, Kyle.”

“He helped me pick out a book,” Charlie says. 

“‘Pick out a book’, gotcha.” Kyle wiggles his eyebrows at them, then finally unearths the cheese from the bag and holds it up in victory. “Ah, a goat cheese? Nice!”

Charlie blinks. He looks over to Dan, who shrugs, seemingly just as confused, then goes to fetch some bread to have with their new cheese.

 

*

 

Charlie’s never considered himself to be the “outdoorsy” type. In uni he was the skinny emo lad beatboxing at pubs on the weekends, and not much has changed since then. He’ll still take the cozy warmth of his studio and the hum of the questionable wiring in the walls (comes with the territory of being your own handyman) over nature any day.

Which is why he isn’t particularly surprised when Tom—who has, of course, joined them on their impulsive hike through the Canadian wilderness so he can document every moment of it—interrupts their excursion with a sudden, obnoxious laugh that startles Charlie so hard his foot catches on a tree root and he ends up faceplanting in the dirt.

“Ugh,” Charlie complains from the ground.

Tom laughs harder while Charlie brushes the dust from his forehead and curses Planet Earth with all his might.

“Oi,” Dan says, offering out a hand to help Charlie up. “What’s so funny?”

Tom wipes the tears from his eyes and heaves for breath amidst his hiccuping laughter. “Please tell me you knew about this.”

He points at something behind Dan’s shoulder while Charlie clambers to his feet. His eyes then follow Tom’s finger toward a wooden sign post stuck in the ground that reads: Clothing optional beach ahead.

“I already felt bad about third wheeling you two. If I had known this was some weird form of seduction—” Tom starts.

“I wasn’t—I’m not seducing anyone,” Dan exclaims. He fiddles with the backwards cap on his head and shoots Charlie a mortified look. “I just wanted to go on a hike.”

That’s when Charlie realizes he still hasn’t let go of Dan’s hand. He looks down at their joined palms, then up at Dan, who stares back at him with wide eyes. They’re awfully blue. Charlie’s never paid that much attention before, but now that he’s noticed, it’s sort of hard to look away. That’s normal, isn’t it? Mates notice these sorts of things. They’re just eyes—

Charlie jerks back to reality and pulls his hand away. “And I wasn’t planning to be seduced,” he says, a bit too late to be convincing.

Tom raises an eyebrow and looks back and forth between the two of them. “Right. Well, we came all this way. Shall we see if the nudists are out and about?”

 

*

 

“So, are you two ever going to officially tell us you’re dating, or are we supposed to keep pretending we don’t know about it?”

Charlie misplays the next chord on his guitar, sending a sharp noise echoing throughout their makeshift tour-bus-space-turned-studio. He winces. Beside him, Dan blinks up at Woody in the doorway. 

They’ve been tucked away working on a song for Charlie’s yet-to-be-named upcoming project. He’d been thinking about getting Dan’s voice on a song for ages and had finally worked up the nerve to ask him a few days ago. Dan had agreed more enthusiastically than he’d predicted, and now here they are, sitting cross-legged on the floor with their knees touching while Charlie strums a riff on his guitar and Dan hums into a microphone. Not the most compromising position—but apparently compromising enough, if Woody’s grin is anything to go by.

“What are you on about?” Dan asks.

“You and Charlie. Dating.” Woody gestures between the two of them. “It’s fine, you know. It’s not like we have some archaic no-shagging-other-band-members rule.”

“Me and Charlie—what?” Dan says again.

“We’re not—” Charlie starts.

“You didn’t think we’d be, like, homophobic or something, did you?” Woody drops down to the floor beside them and claps a hand to each of their shoulders. His firm grip makes Charlie sway slightly in place. “I’m totally cool with it!”

“That’s great,” Dan says earnestly. “But Woody, listen—me and Charlie aren’t dating.”

“Ah.” Woody nods. “Okay. So we’re still pretending. Got it.”

“What about this—” Charlie waves a frantic hand to indicate the mess of sound cables and sheets of notebook paper with half-finished lyrics scattered around them. “—makes you think ‘ah, yes. Romance!’”

“Now, it’s none of my business what you two get up to when you’re alone,” Woody says. “All I know is that you’re alone together a lot. Good on you. Wish I had that kind of stamina.

Dan growns and buries his face in his hands. Without thinking, Charlie reaches out to rub a comforting hand between his shoulder blades. He doesn’t realize his mistake until Woody lets out a drawn-out sigh from beside them.

“Young love,” he says, wistful.

 

*

 

The bus lounge is dark save for the soft glow of The Girl on the Train playing on Dan’s laptop.  Charlie yawns and adjusts the device so that he can scoot a little bit closer to Dan, who’s got his arm thrown over the back of the sofa. His fingers keep rubbing absently at Charlie’s shoulder. It’s cozy and nice and that’s when Charlie realizes.

“We’re dating, aren’t we?”

Dan’s fingers freeze against Charlie’s shirt as if he’s just now noticing they were there in the first place.

“Shit,” he says. “Are we?”

“You did buy me lunch last week.”

“Mates buy each other lunch all the time.”

That’s fair. But— “You fell asleep in my bunk the other night.”

“It was a long movie, and I was tired—”

“I lent you my sweater. The Sia one,” Charlie interrupts. “You never gave it back.”

Dan is quiet for a minute. “Well, fuck.”

The bus rattles beneath them as it continues down the highway. Charlie reaches out to shut the laptop, shrouding the room in near-black. He’s too nervous to voice his next question in the light.

“How do you feel about that?” he asks.

“About dating you?”

Charlie nods, then remembers Dan can’t really see him. “About dating me,” he clarifies.

Dan is terribly, gut-wrenchingly silent for a long moment. As the seconds tick by, Charlie starts to contemplate yanking open the window behind them and throwing himself out of it just to avoid the humiliation that’s no doubt coming.

“Never mind,” he says, moving Dan’s laptop to the ground and sliding away on the sofa with his heart in his throat. “Just forget I said anything—”

A hand suddenly encircles his wrist, rooting Charlie in place. 

“I think it’s been going well so far,” Dan says. “The dating thing, I mean. I like hanging out with you. I want to keep hanging with you.”

Charlie’s pulse jumps inside Dan’s grip. “Well, that’s a relief, because we still have about five months of touring to go.”

When Dan tugs on his arm, he goes willingly, until their thighs are pressed together and Dan’s other hand has found its way to the base of Charlie’s neck. His breath is warm against Charlie’s chin. “I do have one request, though.” 

“What’s that?”

Dan’s mouth finds his in the dark, a soft press of lips on lips. It might be the most natural first kiss Charlie’s ever had. “More of that, please.”

“Works for me,” Charlie agrees, then leans in once more.