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Damage Report
AK's Fanfic Archive
Fic: The World's Not Waiting (For Joe Trohman to Stop Being a Pussy...) - Joe/Patrick [19/?] 
4th-Sep-2016 06:31 pm
FOB: Patroh
Title: The World's Not Waiting (For Joe Trohman to Stop Being a Pussy and Start Going For What He Wants) [19/?]
Summary: AU Timeline - Teenage angst and Crayola Rainbows. Or, Joe saw him first.
Author: rosiedoes
Betas: shiny_starlight, Alberyeol & Swiss-Army-Romance (Tumblr)
Rating: R at absolute max.
Pairing: Joe/Patrick
Words: c. 6,500 this chapter.
Author's notes: This fic is written in a slightly AU timeline, where Andy joins the band straight away. One or two formerly key players may also be conspicuous by their absence...

This chapter is somewhat transitional - no great strides in plot are made, but it aligns things for them to progress to the next phase of the story.


Disclaimer: Get me a Dolorean and I'll make it real; until then, sadly not true.

Previous Chapters:
Part One: Paperbacks and Sexuality
Part Two: My Heart is On My Sleeve
Part Three: Your Secret's Out
Part Four: No Less Defeated
Part Five: Place Your Hand Between
Part Six: My Badge, My Witness
Part Seven: Knocking Boots in the Back
Part Eight: The Battle's Only Halfway Done
Part Nine: Kiss Safe Thoughts Goodbye
Part Ten: Snitches and Talkers
Part Eleven: My Reputation's on The Line
Part Twelve: Things I'll Never Finish
Part Thirteen: Thank Your Lucky Stars
Part Fourteen: Stop Making Plans, Start Making Sense
Part Fifteen: Our Hearts Are Leaving Home
Part Sixteen: To Make It Out Of This Disaster
Part Seventeen: Concentrating On Falling Apart
Part Eighteen: A Lie We Can Both Keep


The World’s Not Waiting (For Joe Trohman To Stop Being A Pussy And Start Going For What He Wants) [19/?]

Kisses on the necks of best friends

"But for what we've become, we just feel more alone."


Joe was sitting on the couch in Patrick's mom's living room when Andy's text arrived. Patrick tilted his head, cheek pressed against Joe's shoulder and tried to hide his smile when he read it. He'd been smiling all day, though, so it was hard to tell if the two were related.

How's it going?

What Joe wanted to say was, I fucked up and I don't know how to tell him. Or, I think I might be a bigger asshole than Pete. Or, His family are being so nice and I don't deserve it.

Instead, he stuffed his phone back in his pocket without responding.

His plan to be an adult and have some restraint and not fuck things up more than they needed to be, had disintegrated. When Joe woke up, sweaty from nightmares, Patrick seemed to have forgotten all his promises about nothing changing. He'd looked the happiest he'd been in months, kissing him good morning before Joe was even fully awake.

He could have stopped it at the kiss, the night before, but Patrick had seemed so desperate for something - almost anything - it had been too hard to keep saying no. And Joe hadn't wanted to stop either, really, even though he knew he should - that he should stop it and apologise and volunteer to sleep in the basement. It hadn't taken much more than kissing and grinding against Joe's hip before Patrick was giggling and apologising and scrambling out of bed to retrieve wet wipes that he'd evidently planned far enough ahead to pack in his rucksack. When he crawled back under the covers, his skin chilly, he curled against Joe's side and pushed his fingertips under the waistband of his underwear, palm resting on his stomach.

"Do you want me to…?"

"I do, but we probably shouldn't..."

Even as Patrick knelt back on his heels and lifted the blanket over his head, he half-heartedly protested, telling him it was cool, he didn't need to, but they both knew it wasn't about what either of them needed. Patrick knew him inside out and if he'd thought Joe really wanted him to, he would have stopped. But Joe hadn't - he'd wanted every second of it - it was the guilt he could do without.

When they'd fallen asleep, it was with Patrick's back against his chest, Joe's arm tucked around him and his hand clasped in his fist. And it had been Patrick in his nightmares, demanding to know why he was good enough to make out with but not to date, and Patrick there when he started awake, soothing him and asking what he'd been dreaming about. It made it hard to distinguish which moments where real and which ones weren't.

Christmas Day, when he was trapped with Patrick's family and no car to get home in, didn't feel like the best time to set him straight about what had happened and what it did or didn't mean. He fleetingly considered walking to his parents' a couple of miles away, but even if he'd been willing to let Patrick down on that front, too, he wouldn't have been able to explain why he was there. So, he did his best to behave normally; dutifully signed his name on the Christmas cards for Patrick's parents and siblings before Patrick led him down to join the others for breakfast by the hand, didn't duck away when he kissed him, wrapped an arm around his shoulders when they all settled in to watch Home Alone on TV and Patrick curled himself in beside him. He thanked them for their gifts, feeling guilty that Patrick's dad would give him a $30 gift card for the Music Exchange and that his brother had remembered talking to him about a movie a year ago and got him a copy on DVD, when Joe hadn't even known what Patrick had got them until the gifts were unwrapped. He made a note to give Patrick the giftcard when they got home. It wouldn't have felt right using it - he almost couldn't accept it, but knew that if he hadn't it would have blown their cover and humiliated Patrick entirely.

Patrick's mom had got them a joint gift - hotel vouchers, like she thought they'd appreciate the time away from Pete. She wasn't exactly wrong, in Joe's eyes, but it was the only time during the day that Patrick's smile faltered. When she left the room, later, he mumbled something about using them in an emergency to get some cheap rooms when they next went on tour.

All day Joe felt like he was on the verge of falling, panic caught in his chest. Sitting there, elbow to elbow at the dinner table and curled together on the couch in the presence of Patrick's family - which they'd never really done when they were actually together, because they'd been too self-conscious - reminded him how much he'd given up. While the others talked and celebrated, he ran through scenarios in his head, wondering whether it would be worse for Patrick to expect this to mean they were back together and to have to tell him, or if it would be harder to find that Patrick knew exactly that, and all of this had really been for Patrick's mom's benefit.

Patrick's dad and stepmom dropped them home on the way through town, that evening. It was late and it had started snowing again by the time Patrick was fumbling with the door key with frozen hands until Joe nudged him out of the way and opened it himself. They trudged up the stairs together and Patrick leaned sleepily on his shoulder as Joe stopped to open the apartment door. In spite of himself, Joe wrapped an arm around him and guided him into the hall.

"Thanks, Joe," Patrick yawned, pulling him into a hug and resting most of his weight against him. "For everything."

Joe shrugged awkwardly. "I promised." You also promised yourself you'd be a responsible adult, but that didn't exactly pan out.

"No, I just…" Patrick pulled away a little, looking up at him with his glasses half-fogged out and his knitted cap askew. "It meant a lot, y'know? That you'd do that for me. In the circumstances."

"We made a deal, dude," Joe reminded him, gently taking off his glasses for him and wiping them with the sleeve of the hoodie poking out from under his parka. He gave a downcast smile as Patrick grinned and turned his face up to him for the glasses to be put back on his nose, his eyes closed. Joe carefully replaced them and dropped his hands limply at his sides, trying to avoid doing something stupid, like stroking the flushed pink of his cheeks. He shrugged off his coat, instead, and hung it on the rack beside them.

"Thanks."

"Yeah."

"Joe - "

"Listen, about last night…"

"What?"

"I just, like, wanted to say I'm sorry if I got weird."

"Don't be - I like you weird," Patrick laughed softly, reaching out to knock Joe's knuckles with his own.

"No, but, none of that was supposed to happen, basically, and I didn't want you to feel like I was kind of like jerking you along, or anything…"

He sighed, taking a long breath and exhaling it deliberately. "I don't. I mean, I hoped it might change things, y'know? But… I kind of have the feeling you're saying it doesn't and I guess I asked for it, right?"

"You sort of did, actually," Joe told him, trying to suppress the little burst of relief in his chest, although he couldn't help smiling. Maybe things really would be okay - maybe Patrick was the most understanding and forgiving person he'd ever known. If the situation had been reversed, Joe wasn't sure he'd have been able to be quite so accepting. He wasn't even sure he could be accepting of it as things stood.

"And you let me, in case you forgot - I actually hoped it was a little more memorable than that," Patrick complained, but he was pulling his cutest petulant face.

"I'm not gonna forget it any time soon, dude, trust me."

Patrick bit his lip mischievously and looked up at him through his lashes, eyes sparkling. "Well, there's more where that came from, if you change your mind."

"Don't do the face!" Joe ordered, obscuring his view with both hands over Patrick's eyes. Patrick knew that look could get him pretty much whatever he wanted and Joe was virtually powerless to stop it. "It's not fair to use the face, dude. I'm vulnerable and it's cheating."

Laughing, Patrick tugged his hands away and held them lightly. "I'm serious, though. If you change your mind, I'll always say 'yes', y'know?"

"Yeah," he replied, studying their fingers rather than look him in the eye, because it would be far too easy to fall into that trap. "I know."

For a moment, they stood together, neither of them speaking until Patrick opened his mouth and then closed it again, in favour of a vague, 'ummm…'.

"What?"

"Could… Okay, look - I kind of have something to give you," he confessed, adjusting the knitted cap on his head and pushing his hair out of his eyes. "I got it kind of a while ago and I wasn't sure it was still a good idea or anything, but… I dunno. If you want it, you can keep it, if you don't…" Patrick looked up at him with a small, coy laugh, and shrugged, "I guess I'll find somewhere to hide it and try not to feel like an idiot."

Joe blinked a few times, unsure what to say. Patrick had already given him a live album of Joy Division at Les Bains Douches, he didn't think there needed to be anything else, given that they'd broken up.

He moved to the doorway as Patrick walked into his room, switching on the lamp on the bedside cabinet as he did so, and watched him crouch on the floor to pull shoeboxes out from under his bed. The third one he opened and pulled out something in a folded paper bag. He hesitated, clutching it close to his chest as if having second thoughts, and then unceremoniously held it out to him, explaining, "I didn't think I was gonna give it to you, y'know, so I'm sorry it isn't wrapped."

Dropping his bag by the door, Joe stepped into the room to take it out of his hand. "Thanks."

"Don't thank me until you've opened it," Patrick told him with a nervous laugh.

Carefully, with slight trepidation, Joe unfolded the paper and pulled out the gift inside. Immediately, his heart skipped and seemed to drop into his belly, a small lump rising to his throat. It was a picture frame, simple, dark stained wood with thick, blocky edges. But it was the photo inside that caught him - he didn't know when it had been taken, although it was clearly in the back of Andy's van. The two of them lay asleep on piles of sleeping bags, Patrick's nose tucked under Joe's chin, his arm half under his t-shirt. Even in sleep, Joe was smiling, one arm under his head, the other wrapped tight around Patrick's waist.

"Dude…"

"Is it weird? I mean, I thought it was kind of cute and funny when I did it, y'know? I think it's from like a year ago. Pete had an old roll of film he just got developed and he gave it to me… There's a couple more, but I liked this one."

"No, it's… it's really…" It's fucking heartbreaking, basically. "Thank you." Stiltedly, he leaned in to wrap Patrick in a hug, feeling him move into it too quickly and hold on too tight. He rested his forehead on Patrick's hair and tried to remember being as happy as he looked in the photo.

"Pete thinks it was when we did that show in Minneapolis," Patrick told him, mouth pressed against his shoulder. Joe wasn't sure - he wasn't sure it even mattered. "I really hope that one day we can be that way again, y'know?"

"One day," Joe murmured back, and it felt more like an agreement than an appeasement. They stood there, holding each other tight for a few, lingering moments, before Joe forced himself to pull away. "I should go to bed. I have to be in work early - sales and stuff…"

Patrick gave him his bravest smile and nodded, backing away a little.

"Oh, and hey, I want to give you that giftcard from your dad," Joe told him, scrambling to get it out of his bag. "It doesn't feel right to keep it. Like it's dishonest or something, basically."

"No, dude - it's yours."

"Please? He gave it to me because he thinks I'm still, like, his son-in-law, or something and… stuff changed. Take it off my hands, dude, or I'm just gonna feel bad."

Reluctantly, Patrick pulled it out of his fingers. "I'll put it somewhere, in case you change your mind, okay? Or, y'know… for if it becomes true again."

Joe nodded. Better that than arguing over it. "Thanks."

"Maybe we can watch that 13 Ghosts DVD together, sometime?"

"Yeah, dude. We should."

"Tomorrow night? Maybe we can watch it before Pete spoils it or something, y'know?" Patrick suggested, and Joe found himself nodding, a tugging in his stomach encouraging him to agree to pretty much anything Patrick wanted.

"Okay, but you're not allowed to take advantage of me, again, dude."

"Hey, who got blown, you or me?"

"You might have if you'd kind of like waited, dude."

Laughing indignantly, Patrick gave him a poke in the ribs and gently shoved him out of the room. "Well, apparently I need to work up my tolerance, so get out, unless you want to help."

Joe walked over to his own room, glancing back to smile at him before opening the door. "Night."

"Night, Bambi."

For a moment, Joe stayed, gazing at the closed door, contemplating striding in, throwing them both down on the bed and finishing what they'd started, but he lacked both the nerve and the finesse to pull it off, so he settled for jerking off by himself in his own room, the photo still clasped in his free hand.

---

On the way home from work, the next day, Joe stopped at the store and bought some microwave popcorn and snacks for their film night. He'd been quietly looking forward to it all day, because it had been the first morning in a long time that he'd woken up without a weight across his chest. He felt lighter, like he didn't have the world's expectations on his shoulders. Maybe tonight he could just spend time hanging out with Patrick, watching a movie and starting to normalise being friends, making it work like he'd wanted them to.

When he got home, though, the apartment was empty. He knocked on Patrick's door, already knowing from the feel of the place that no one was in.

There was a flutter on the carpet when he walked into his own room, and he looked down to find a hastily scrawled note on the back of half a utility bill.

Had to go to the hospital with Pete. I'll explain when I get home. Don't worry.

Sorry.

P x

Joe stood on the threshold, re-reading the note, wondering what could be worth going to the hospital for but not serious enough to worry about. He hadn't finished work until 6pm, and wasn't home until after seven, so unless Patrick and, presumably, Pete, got home soon, there wouldn't be a lot of time left for watching a movie anyway. So, he went to take his shower and then sat in the kitchen, eating instant ramen out of the pot, picking the strands up on his fork one by one and letting them slop back into the broth.

At nine forty-five he gave up and went and sat in his room, tinkering with the band website he'd been working on in the small amount of time he had between homework and work and the band and Patrick, before giving up on it. They'd sat together at the desk, a couple of months earlier, Patrick perched on his knee answering stupid little questions for the bio page, while Joe typed around him, chin propped over his shoulder. He re-read them, smiling to himself a little. They'd had to delete some of the answers because they were too revealing.

Maybe he should have taken an IT course,instead, at least that would have been useful.

He froze at the sound of a key turning in the lock. He could hear voices - both Patrick and Pete - so he got to his feet and opened the door to peer out to the hall.

"Everything okay?" he asked, looking first at Pete, who seemed fine, and then to Patrick, who just looked tired.

"Yeah," Patrick nodded. "Just a near miss."

Pete shrugged and gave a guilty grin. "Sorry I ruined your night, kind of."

Reflexively, Joe thought, No, you aren't, and then mentally reprimanded himself for being suspicious and mean. "What happened?"

"New medication, bro. They changed the dosage, I kind of forgot, overdid it. Rickster noticed and took me to the emergency room to get checked out." He wrapped an arm around Patrick's shoulders, pulling him close while Patrick stuffed his hand in his pockets and shrugged.

"It seemed like the sensible thing to do. I don't know… maybe it was over cautious or something."

"My little guardian angel."

"It's really not a big deal," Patrick insisted, shying away from the hug. He turned his attention to Joe, glancing at Pete meaningfully, as if hoping he'd leave them alone. Pete stayed exactly where he was. "Sorry about tonight, dude. Maybe tomorrow we could -"

"I'm on stock check," Joe replied, hearing it fall out of his mouth too quickly and too sharp. Hurriedly, he tried to soften it, seeing the look on Patrick's face and regretting making him feel bad for being a good friend. "But we can try another day."

"Totally." Patrick's enthusiastic nod made him almost crack a grin, but it was quickly cut short when Pete spoke.

"So, we need to get to bed, dude."

"We?"

Patrick sighed heavily. "I need to camp out in his room to make sure he doesn't die in his sleep or something. I dunno. The doctor didn't want him to be alone overnight, and it was this or they made him stay in."

"Right. Well, I guess I'll kind of like... see you tomorrow, or something," Joe said, trying hard not to sound like he wanted to slam his bedroom door in their faces, even though he kind of did. "Night."

He closed the door carefully and turned to lean against it, shutting his eyes. No right to be jealous. No right to be jealous. No right to be jealous.

In the hall, there were murmurs and then the sound of Pete's door opening and then Patrick's opening and closing. The apartment fell quiet. Joe waited for a moment, then opened his door to cross the hall and brush his teeth. He'd only got a pace outside when Patrick’s door reopened and he shushed him silently and beckoned him in.

Confused, Joe followed, finding him naked from the waist up, his T-shirt bunched up in his hands, anxiously. Patrick quickly closed the door behind him as Joe walked in, and he was really starting to wonder what the fuck was happening.

"Dude?"

"Um, sorry - I'm kind of supposed to be getting ready for bed," Patrick explained, awkwardly. "Do you mind?"

"Um, I guess not, man, but…?"

Patrick was already unbuckling his belt from the hip, his hat tossed on the bed, his glasses next to the stereo. "So, I'm really sorry about tonight, y'know? I really wanted us to hang out, but -"

"Pete."

"Yeah. And I mean, maybe I overreacted, but he'd literally just got done talking about how his doctor upped his dosage but lowered how many he can have, or something, and I was just talking about how yesterday went okay and everything, and how we'd made plans or whatever, and he's just popping this bunch he took out of the bottle, one by one and I'm kind of thinking, 'geez', y'know? So, I asked him how many he was meant to take, and he read the bottle and was like, 'oh, crap - I thought it was four in every two hours, but it's two in every four,' or something. Turned out that since Christmas Eve, when the last batch ran out, he took like two and a half times the prescribed dose."

"Shit, that's pretty bad."

"Yeah. I mean, I know he sucks at this kind of stuff, but even by his standards, that was dumb and risky, y'know?" Patrick's jeans were tossed on to the bed while he dug clean pyjama pants out of his drawer.

Joe watched, not really sure what to say.

"I mean, it was a mistake, but what if I hadn't picked up on it?"

"Yeah… that could have been pretty bad, man."

Patrick wobbled on one foot as he pulled on an old pair of flannel pants. "But, y'know, you're not too mad, right?"

"No, dude, of course not. Someone has to take care of his stupid ass."

"Yeah." Patrick paused, lightly shaking out a folded t-shirt as Joe's eyes wandered over his pale shoulders, feeling guilty for looking. "The staying in his room thing is kind of annoying, though."

Joe looked up to meet his eyes, weary and uncertain and a little unfocused without his glasses. "Hm."

"I'm serious. He's just gonna talk all night, and I won't get any sleep, even though I have work tomorrow, and -" He paused again, pulling on his shirt, and not coming back to meet Joe's gaze. "What if he did die, dude? I don't want to wake up and find my best friend's body in the bed!"

"He won't. Honestly, dude, I think he could probably have like, taken the whole bottle without there being any kind of effect, basically. He's been taking them since he was like thirteen or something."

"Those things can kill you."

"But they didn't, dude, and they wouldn't have sent him home if they were that worried, would they?"

"I guess not," Patrick sighed. He stepped forward and tentatively reached out his hands to Joe's waist, waiting for him to respond before wrapping his arms around him and resting his cheek against his chest. Joe let him, folding his arms across Patrick's back, comfortingly. "I just really wish he hadn't done this today. I was looking forward to our little thing."

"Yeah, me too," Joe said. "But we can do it another night. The snacks'll keep, I think."

"You got snacks?"

Feeling a little embarrassed, like he was making a big deal out of it, Joe shrugged and dismissed it as much as he could. "Just popcorn, basically, dude."

"Well, thanks - I promise we'll hang out one day this week, okay? Before New Year. We have like a week of shows coming up, so…"

"I forgot about those." He was supposed to quit his job in advance, because he was on a seasonal contract and wasn't supposed to take vacation. He hadn't even thought about looking for a new one, yet. Touring in the Midwest in January wasn't exactly an idea he relished. The van was going to be an icebox.

"Maybe we can use the vouchers from Mom, one night…" Patrick said, catching his eye and slipping his fingers under the hem of Joe's t-shirt, pressing thumbs and hips into Joe's. They felt hot against his skin and he gently writhed away before it got awkward.

Fuck. Too late.

"Dude…"

"Sorry." Patrick's cheeks flushed dark pink and he tucked his arms around himself in embarrassment, stepping back.

"I should, like -" He waved in the direction of the bathroom.

Patrick nodded, jerkily. "Yeah."

"Night."

Joe locked himself in the bathroom and rested his head against the cool surface of the mirror. He felt weird. Frustrated and lightheaded and the tiniest bit angry with Pete for fucking it up. Pete was smarter than that - he was sure he was. Or maybe Pete's smartness was the problem. Maybe Pete knew exactly what to do to get his own way and Patrick had fallen for it.

When he went back to his room, he could already hear the low rumble of conversation. Voices both deeper than his own, making him feel like a shrill little kid. Perhaps he shouldn't have shrugged away Patrick's advances. Maybe he should have returned the favour from Christmas Eve to make sure he wasn’t in the mood for Pete's attention, before letting him in there to share a bed with him. But maybe that would have made it worse. He was under no illusion that his pasty, scrawny body was any comparison to Pete's firm, tanned one.

Every time he closed his eyes, he pictured them, stretched out on Pete's bed, Pete leaning into Patrick's personal space, grinning like a great white. It made his heart rate rise in the worst kind of way. He thought about getting up and knocking on the door, asking to hang out with them, imagining the look on Pete's face as he made excuses about wanting to sleep. Instead, he got up and turned on his stereo, placing Les Bains Douches in the tray and letting the terminally bleak strains of Joy Division ease him to sleep.

---

By the time Joe got up, the next day, Patrick was already well into his shift at the record store. He wandered into the kitchen to get coffee and then shuffled drowsily into the living room, where Pete was eating cereal in his boxers and Patrick's hoodie, watching The Simpsons. Joe tried not to be irritated - Pete wore or used everyone else's stuff whenever he felt like it. It was lucky for him that none of them were wildly different builds.

"You okay?"

Pete glanced at him, and then grinned a double-take. "Morning, lil' bro." He shifted so there was more room on the couch for Joe to join him. He waited for him to sit before answering. "I'm pretty good, dude."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"So, no side effects of accidentally, like, overdosing on brain pills?"

"Nah. Patrick was just freaking out over nothing, kind of. He worries about me, dude. It's kind of adorable."

Joe swallowed and nodded slowly. "Yeah, he is."

"So, how are things with you guys, anyway?"

"I figured you probably asked him, already."

"I don't need to, he just kind of like, tells me, anyway. I wanted to know how you think things are, dude. You basically avoided me for like three weeks."

"I wasn't," Joe lied. "It's just been kind of rough, dude. I didn't want to speak to anybody, basically." That part was true, at least.

For a few moments, Pete stared at the side of his face and Joe studiously focused on the TV, knowing that he was a weak liar. He took a sip from his mug even though it was too hot, just for something nonchalant to do.

"I wanted to tell you I'm proud of you, little bro," Pete said finally, and his voice had that soft edge it took on when he was saying something important; private.

"For what?"

"For doing the right thing. For thinking about the band and how the shit we do affects everyone. For having principles, kind of."

Joe focused intently on the bubbles popping on the surface tension of his drink. He didn't answer. He didn't think he could, without choking on the words. Maybe you could do with some of those, too, dude.

"I know he sucks at accepting it, right now. But he will. Eventually, you're both gonna get over it and everything's gonna work out, and you'll be better friends for it. Trust me."

Silently, he nodded. He wasn't sure Pete was exactly the ideal person to give relationship advice.

"Look, I've always been there for you, haven't I? I kicked dudes' asses for you, Troh. I'm on your side, and I know how fucking hard it is. Sometimes the most painful thing is the right thing to do. But you gotta be strong, 'cause he isn't. He's had a tough few months, right? What with getting kicked out of home and stuff. All he wants is for some kind consistency, or whatever, so he can't keep himself from trying to get what he knows back. I don't think it's even totally about you."

"We almost… I mean, stuff got kind of intense," Joe confessed, not sure why Pete had any right to know this, but wanting to tell him, regardless. Compelled to confide in him, even though deep down, he still felt like he and Patrick might never have wound up here without Pete's input. "On Christmas."

"I know. He told me. He tells me basically everything." Pete paused to set his bowl on the floor beside his feet and Joe watched him out of the corner of his eye. "I feel like I know more about your relationship that you do, kind of. I mean, he told me that he tried to get in your pants again, last night, and that you didn't want it, and that he's kind of embarrassed. He thinks you're mad at him, which I told him was dumb, because that's not how you work, but he's kind of insecure about the whole thing."

"I'm not mad at him and I did want it," Joe admitted, surprised that that was even in question. He hated the idea that Patrick would think he'd get mad at him for wanting the same thing he did, when he'd spent a couple of hours afterwards gazing at the ceiling and imagining all the scenarios in which he hadn't pushed him away. "He's kind of like… I love him dude, but I just, like… don't want to make things harder. He knows that. I told him."

"Yeah, well, sometimes it doesn't matter what you say, man, he's never gonna hear it. That kid doesn't know half of what he's worth to anybody and won't believe it when you tell him, kind of."

"Yeah."

"It's good that you're hanging out, though - I guess eventually the feelings are gonna wear out, or whatever. Then we can move on."

"We can?"

"Well, yeah, dude - it's like I said, when it affects you, it affects all of us."

"I just don't wanna fuck everything up. That's why I even thought about breaking up with him, basically. Things have been so shitty, the past couple of months, I know that one day it's just gonna like - " he gave a grim snort of a laugh into his mug, thinking of the album he'd been listening to when he fell asleep, "- 'tear us apart' I guess. I mean, there's other stuff, too, because I kind of felt like everyone expected me to give a hundred percent to everything and like, zero percent to me, and I just needed some room, basically, but that doesn't mean I don't totally wish things were better. It's not that I wanted to be broken up, or not be with him, I just… I just didn't feel like I could breathe with the way things were, and then there was that whole thing with that band who broke up around Chanukah when we did the show, and I really didn't want that to happen to us."

"That's why I'm proud of you, dude. You made a decision that went against what you wanted, for the good of everybody else. That's a really grown up thing to do, kind of."

"I just wish it didn't have to feel so shitty or hurt him so bad, dude," Joe told him.

Pete slung an arm around his neck and pulled him close, almost slopping hot coffee across both of them. "I'll take care of him, don't worry. I'll take care of both of you stupid kids, until you work it out." He grinned at Joe, all teeth and crinkled eyes. "Just talk to me, man. I'm not Hurley, but fucking love you like he does, okay?"

"I thought you wanted us to break up," Joe told him, feeling a little stupid. "I mean, you and Patrick…"

"Me and Patrick are best friends, man. What I wanted was for him not to get strung along by someone who was over it, kind of."

"I'm not over it." I'll probably never be over it, basically.

"It takes time, buddy. One day you're gonna wake up and it'll just be Patrick, y'know? It won't hurt anymore."

Joe wasn't actually sure he even wanted that day to come. He couldn't imagine a day when Patrick didn't mean everything to him.

---

Patrick was still up when Joe got home from work, that night. He was sitting at the kitchen table, lit only by the light on the extractor fan over the cooker, nursing a can of Coke.

"Hey."

He seemed to jump a little when Joe pulled out a chair and dropped his weight down into it. "Hi."

"How was work?"

"Fine."

"Good," Joe nodded, waiting to be asked the same. When Patrick didn't, he decided to tell him anyway, to try to get some conversation going. "Mine was fine, too. I can categorically tell you that modern kids have no respect for He-Man toys, dude. We still have like twelve crates of the damn things."

He was rewarded with a small chuckle and an amused glance that didn't quite meet his eyes.

"So, I kind of talked with Pete, earlier," Joe tried again.

"He told me."

"Right. So… we're cool, right?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Just 'guess'?"

Sighing heavily, Patrick shrugged and settled back in his chair, tipping his can from side to side pensively. "I'm sorry about last night."

"Don't be. I'm not."

Patrick cast him a sharp look.

"I mean, I'm not sorry you… whatever… not that I'm not sorry for backing off. Was everything okay, babysitting Pete?"

"He wouldn't shut up until like, four this morning. And I woke up to him spooning me."

"Oh." Joe frowned, starting to second-guess his recent confidence in the platonic nature of Pete's feelings. "Did you say anything?"

"No."

"Oh."

"He was still asleep."

"Maybe he, um, didn't mean to? People do weird shit in their sleep."

"Yeah."

"When I was like, nine, my mom found me asleep in the garage in my dad's car."

Patrick laughed again, small and distracted. It just made Joe all the more desperate to get through this weird mood, whatever it was, and make him genuinely smile.

"So, I checked my rota, today and I'm free the day after tomorrow, if you want to watch that film or something."

"That would be good."

"Good. I'm like, seriously looking forward to it."

"Me too," Patrick told him, looking up and properly catching his eye for the first time since he'd sat down. He looked faintly confused and a little sad and Joe didn't know what to say to make him feel okay again. He didn't even really understand what the problem was.

"Dude, are you sure that's all that's bothering you?"

"Yeah. It's just been a long day, y'know? And I didn't want to go to bed without apologising or anything."

"I told you, we're good," Joe assured him, reaching out to catch his hand and give it a squeeze. It was carefully slipped back out of his grasp a second later. He tried not to read anything into it. Patrick was probably just being cautious after what happened. "So, did Pete say anything about what that dude from Powered by Ramen, or whatever it's called, thought of the show?"

"He hasn't heard."

"Well, that's reassuring."

"It's Christmas, dude, nobody's working right now."

"Except us."

"People with cool jobs are not working right now," Patrick amended. "But Sean still hasn't said anything about when we can get 'Evening…' on sale, either."

"But I thought that was like, coming out in January?"

"Nope. Delayed again."

"Dude, at this rate, the next album's gonna come out first!"

"Yeah, seriously. We kind of need to start thinking about new material, y'know?"

"Maybe we could write a song for our fans or something, dude," Joe suggested, thinking of the annoying girls who had been at the last show. Something like, 'Back the fuck off, lady, you paid for a ticket but you don't get to hit it.'

"Fans? Wouldn't that just be, like, 'Hey, Chris…'?"

Joe laughed an embarrassing snort of a guffaw, which made Patrick laugh, which made them both laugh harder and finally the tension that had been hanging over them since Joe got home began to dissipate. He couldn't help smiling to see Patrick's face finally brightening a little.

"'Thanks for coming to shows and being fifteen years older than everyone else so you look like a creep.'"

"'Thanks for keeping track of Pete so we can, like, make out in back.'"

Patrick's laugh faded to a self-conscious grin. "'Thanks for jumping on the grenade to get us somewhere to sleep, because me and Joe are exempt.'"

Joe's laugh also petered out to an awkward smile, as he tugged at his wristband and pulled a thread loose. "Are we still exempt?"

"Dunno," Patrick shrugged. "You might be. Pete won't want everyone to know about the whole gay thing. He thinks it's unmarketable."

"Lucky me," Joe joked, although it didn't feel very funny. It made him feel like a dirty secret, even though he kept himself as one by choice, at work and in the scene.

Patrick didn't say anything, he just bumped their ankles together under the table and gave him a commiseratory half-smile. Neither of them had ever considered the prospect, because they'd always been able to play the 'No, it's cheating and I refuse' card. It definitely hadn't occurred to Joe that this might become a problem, before now, especially as until recently getting either of them to have sex with strangers for favours was probably not far from child prostitution in the eyes of the law.

It also made him uncomfortable that Pete seemed to already have discussed this with Patrick, because he clearly knew Pete's views on the subject.

"Do you… I mean, would you?" he asked, not wanting to hear the wrong answer and bracing himself against it, picking at a scratch in the tabletop with his nail, so he didn't have to look him in the eye when he replied.

Patrick shrugged, hunched over his empty can. "I guess it depends, doesn't it?"

"On what?"

"On whether there's anything to stop me."

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