pairing: joe trohman/patrick stump
rating: r [adult situations and language]
summary: patrick had been gone for over a year.
warnings: it's kind of creepy. /o\
author's notes: thanks to my betas (k, l, and m). thank you to jae_w for organizing the challenge again. to my recipient, this came out a lot more somber and is kind of a departure from what i have written lately. i hope you like it. lyrics and title are from leonard cohen's "by the rivers dark".
word count: ~5800
The first time it was a misunderstanding. Furrowed brows and a brief shake of heads and then the finality of footsteps on pavement.
The door shut and no one said anything.
The diner was brightly lit and Joe felt the rush of warm air against his face before the sound and the smell of burnt coffee hit him. It was as if diners across the country had a manual and a code of conduct about the look and smell of a place. Maybe it was just the way Joe saw things.
Or it could just be that Joe was higher than fuck.
Either way, Joe wanted pie.
Joe saw that the place was packed even at this late, or maybe it was early now, hour. He raised a hand in a wave to get Patrick's attention. He frowned when Patrick just raised his cup to his lips and took a long slow drink. Joe wondered what he'd done to piss Patrick off now. Pie would cure Patrick's ills and Joe was sure that whatever Pete had done to piss Patrick off it could be fixed.
The press of bodies in the narrow walkway from the door to Patrick was jammed with people. Joe just shook his head again and laughed to himself. He edged around an older couple who were looking at each other with so much love Joe was a little embarrassed for himself that he caught the look.
"I've missed you so much, Virginia," the old man said pulling a tiny little woman from the booth and hugging her tightly.
Joe just barely managed to squeeze around him. He nearly knocked off the guy's hat. "Excuse me, sir."
The couple barely noticed Joe intent on each other. "I waited a very long time for you, George." The tiny woman reached up and took the man's hat and perched it on her head and winked. "You always were horrible at directions."
Joe shook his head and briefly admired the shiny medals on the guy's uniform before plopping down in the booth across from Patrick. "So, what's good?"
Patrick look startled when Joe sat down and now he looked wary. "What?"
"What's good? The pie looked okay. I didn't know they'd have strawberries this late in the seaon. Getting cold for it," Joe said feeling the edges of his vision fuzz out a little. He laughed to himself. He must have had more to smoke than he thought.
Patrick's hands shook a little as he set his cup down. "Joe?"
Joe looked up from Patrick's hand and then back to the menu. "Uh, Patrick?"
"You came for me?" Patrick asked in a small voice. The word 'me' shook a little at the end.
Joe frowned. "Well, okay. I mainly came in for pie. You know how long we're going to be? I forgot to ask when I got off the bus."
"Bus?" Patrick parroted back.
"Ye-ah. Bus. It's what we ride on. All our shit is on it. Uh, you okay, man?" Joe asked and then looked at Patrick's coffee cup. "Did someone slip you something in your coffee? You're looking freaked out."
Patrick laughed. Joe knew that laugh. It was the laugh right before Patrick lost it. "Seriously, Trick. What's up?"
"Up or down," the waitress said setting down a thick wedge of strawberry pie in front of Joe. "Time for you to go, Joe."
Patrick reached across the table and grabbed for his hand.
Joe winced at how cold it was. "Fuck, your hands are like ice."
"Ah, ah," the waitress said cracking her gum and all Joe could smell was fake watermelon and Marlboros. "You wasted time, Patrick. You should know better by now."
Patrick's fingers tightened on Joe's forearm. "You can't have him."
The waitress rolled her eyes and stuck her pencil into her ponytail where it rested among a small forest of other pens and pencils. "Silly, man. I just want to give him some pie and see that you're taken care of."
Patrick looked at Joe and breathed out hard. "Wake up, Joe. Get out of here if you can."
"What are you talking about? Wake up? I am aw-."
Joe sat up in bed breathing hard to the scream of his alarm.
Patrick had been missing for over a year.
Joe sat down and x-ed out another day on the calendar. He rubbed at his face and debated between a bowl of cornflakes or the entire pot of coffee sitting on his counter.
He rinsed one of the cleaner mugs out in his sink and set the still damp cup on top of a stack of papers. The investigators hadn't turned up anything in a year's time. It was as if Patrick had just vanished. Joe thought that it was a bunch of bullshit. It didn't follow logic. No one can just vanish. Joe'd watched enough tv to realize there was no way this day and age you could just be gone.
Joe took the first too hot sip and winced. He needed more sleep. He needed to eat more. He needed all those things that his mom kept nagging him about, but his needs were coming in at second.
What he wanted and needed was for Patrick to not be gone.
Joe pushed open the door to the diner. It was like every other diner he'd been to on every tour they'd been on from every other state. He eyed the pie and wondered how they were getting strawberries in the middle of winter. He raised his hand to flag down the waitress and sat down across from Patrick.
"You look like shit," Patrick said setting his cup down and staring at Joe as if he hadn't just seen him on the bus a minute ago.
Joe snorted out a laugh. "Yeah, well you try sleeping when Pete's up half the night doing God knows what on the internet." He looked up with a frown. "You're looking pretty shitty yourself, Trick."
Patrick glanced around him before he leaned forward. "You're not the first person who's showed up here."
Joe looked around at the crowd of people in the tiny space. "Good observation, man. This place must have good pie."
"Fuck the pie," Patrick said thumping his hand down on the table making the salt and pepper shakers tremble. "Listen to me, Joe. For fuck's sake, listen and remember. You're the only one who's showed up more than once. Andy showed up for a minute then left. I didn't even get to talk to him. And my dad was the same. Hell, my entire family just walked by the window and." Patrick took a breath before leaning in toward Joe. "Pete came once and it was disjointed and a lot of cursing and I couldn't get through to him. You have to listen and remember. Do not come back. Don't come back, okay? Stop looking for me. I'm going to be back, but you have to remember and not come back."
"I don't know what you're on, man. But you should share," Joe laughed and then grimaced when Patrick grabbed his arm. "Damn, you're hands are cold."
"Remember, Joe. Come on. You have to remember."
The alarm clock fell to the floor when Joe tried to turn it off. He groaned and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. "Damn it."
Chicago was cold, but New York seemed colder.
Joe hunched down into his coat and tried to find the park pretty. It was somewhat, but all Joe could see was that it was colder than shit outside and he was where it was cold. The cab that had dropped him off didn't seem to listen when Joe had said downtown and just dropped him off at this tiny park in the middle of what looked like the Upper West Side.
He desperately wanted a cup of coffee and a cigarette, but he'd left the house without his wallet for some reason.
It'd seemed like a good plan at the time. Leave his apartment and clear his head from the weird dream.
It had seemed like a good plan at the time when he'd been dry and warm in his apartment. He'd been dodging calls all week from people who wanted him to stop looking.
Joe couldn't though. Marie had been supportive at first, but the long nights and the distance and the silences seemed to fill the cracks in their already breaking relationship. It just took the right amount of cold to shatter it completely.
Joe meant to call her and ask her how she was doing, but he kept forgetting. He knew they'd parted on good terms, as good a terms as people can have after been together for more than a third of their lives. He cursed at himself for not remembering a hat.
The snow crunched under his shoes and he remembered how Patrick had liked the snow back home.
He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. He kept thinking that he should move back. New York wasn't home really.
He knew that what kept him here was that it was the last place he remembered seeing Patrick.
Joe stepped off the platform and pushed his way through the crowd. He'd forgotten his jacket and there were so many people jam packed in the halls that it didn't seem to make a difference. The station was oppressively hot.
He smiled as he saw Patrick leaning against the far wall. He raised a hand in greeting and waved. "Yo! Patrick!"
Patrick looked up startled and smiled a little before turning and disappearing onto the train.
Joe couldn't reach him through the crowd. He pushed and ducked and wound his way through and around the surge of bodies, but each step forward seemed to push him back.
"Fuck it," he muttered and stopped moving waiting for the crowd to thin. As soon as he stopped he realized he was right in front of the open doors of the car.
"On or off?" Patrick asked and Joe smirked.
"You asking if I'm getting off, Trick? Kinda personal there," Joe said trying to step up next to Patrick.
Patrick's face smoothed out and he pushed a hand into Joe's chest. Joe bit back a yelp of surprise. Patrick's hand was burningly hot. He rubbed at the spot on his chest and glared at Patrick. "Ow, motherfucker. That hurt!" He tried to step up again and this time Patrick shoved at his shoulder. "Ouch! Fucking quit it, man."
"On or off?" Patrick asked again and there was a commotion behind Patrick.
"You should move. I think those people want off," Joe said looking at Patrick strangely.
A shadow passed over Patrick's face. "Yeah. They tend to want to get off here and stay. But they can't."
"What are you talking about?" Joe asked in confusion.
Patrick stepped back into the car just far enough for the doors to close. Joe watched the car pull away down the tunnel. He kept eye contact with Patrick till the doors were swallowed by the dark.
"You have to snap out of it," Pete said and there was a muffled disjointed collection of sounds before Pete got back on the phone a little out of breath. "You really have to," he blew out a breath into the receiver and Joe rested his forehead against the wall. "You have to move on."
"It's been a year. One year, Pete. He could, I don't know, have gotten knocked over the head and amnesia," Joe said with his eyes closed the dark apartment just felt better. At least this dark was his choosing.
Pete sighed and Joe made himself not end the call. "If he wanted to be found, he would be by now."
"Fuck you, man. Seriously. Am I the only one who cares?"
"Because you're my friend, I'm going to not tell you to fuck off. Patrick was one of my best friends. I miss him like a fucking limb, but I can't keep waiting."
"He still is. He's still here, Pete. I know he is."
There was a beat of silence. "I need to go, Joe. I'll call you. Same time next week."
"Yeah, yeah. You do that."
"Back again, sugar?" The waitress asked leaning over the speckled counter top cracking her gum. It smelled like smoke and watermelon.
Joe laughed a little. "I guess?" He didn't remember stopping at this diner before, but then again they all tended to look alike after a while.
He found Patrick in the back booth. Patrick usually preferred the ones in the front with the biggest windows. He had a thing about the big trucks moving in and out. It also gave him a prime vantage point to see if Pete was getting into shit. "The pie looks good. It's got the sugar on top. I think I'm going to get a piece. You want to split one?"
Patrick's eyes looked hollowed out and like he hadn't slept in days. "I haven't figured it out yet, Joe. You can't keep coming back." His hand shook hard raising the cup to his mouth and the steam wreathed around his face, fogging his glasses with the faint outline.
The shadows reminded Joe of dusk when the sun was setting and settling behind the horizon. "What are you talking about?"
"You have to stay away. I'll figure it out and come back, but you gotta not come back," Patrick's voice shook slightly more than his hands. Fatigue was making the hollows on his cheeks stand out.
"Are you losing weight, Trick? You sick or something?" Joe asked reaching across the table to touch Patrick's forehead.
Patrick ducked away from Joe's hand. "Listen to me. I'm trying to find a way back. Remember okay? Don't forget me."
Joe frowned and rubbed a hand over his forehead. His eyes were starting to smart like the light in the diner was too bright. The beginnings of a headache were starting behind his right temple. "You're giving me a headache, Trick. What the hell are you talking about?"
Patrick pressed the palms of his hands onto the table, so hard the edges were whiting out. "I--."
A smiling girl stood by their table with a bright red balloon in hand. She smiled at Joe. "Hey, I know you."
"No, you don't," Patrick growled and started to stand up.
Joe knew that look and he tried to grab at Patrick's shirt to haul him back down. "Ease up, man. You need to eat something. You look like hell." The pain was strumming behind his eyes now at a steady beat. He tried to focus on the little girl. Her hair streamed behind her in a wave of yellow gold. The balloon floated next to her with its string in her hand. "I don't think I know you, honey."
Her laugh was soft and her eyes were an odd color. Joe couldn't place it really. They weren't hazel or green or blue. He couldn't really tell what color they really were.
"Get out, Joe," Patrick's said his voice strained.
Joe tried to grab for Patrick's shirt again but it was like grabbing at smoke.
"He'll be back," the little girl said and she tried to tie the balloon to Joe's wrist. "You will."
His wrist ached from the sudden impact of the fall. He looked up in confusion finding himself on his bedroom floor with the alarm blaring out the morning news report.
The first time was a misunderstanding and Joe kept not remembering the things he was supposed to remember. He marked off another day on the calendar. The ache in his head and wrist continued to haunt him the entire day. He wandered over to the window and looked out at the white gray landscape and thought that the skyline looked like monster teeth eating away at the afternoon. He should call the investigator and do a check.
He should do laundry and eat something with less MSG, but it felt like so much work to move.
He sat on the edge of the couch and recalled the last time he'd seen Patrick.
They'd had an argument. He remembered grabbing Patrick's wrist, fingers tight on his wrist. Patrick's arm was muscled like his was. Corded from years of playing guitar but Patrick's skin was soft and paler than his.
Joe had wanted to apologize to make amends. To make a joke to make it better, but Patrick had just looked at him and shook his head.
Joe couldn't tell who moved first, but Patrick's mouth was on his. The years of watching and not doing and waiting were forgotten at least by him.
It was Patrick who pulled back and he gripped Joe's arm tight. "Remember that. Just remember that, okay?"
Joe could hardly forget it. He even remembered Patrick walking away and shutting the door behind him.
Joe met Patrick, really met and knew him one hot summer night in Chicago. It was after one of their first shows together. Joe sat with a joint in one hand and the other arm curled around Patrick's waist as they leaned against the hot side of the van. The party was loud behind the wall that the van made, but Joe was content to talk about music and watch the way Patrick's mouth shaped the words.
He felt the warm pulse of wanting in his stomach, but he didn't do anything. The next hit went down smoother than the last and Joe let himself drift along on the sound of Patrick's voice and his heat a warm line against his side.
It was nice.
Whatever had happened in the diner it was bad. There were tables overturned and the cases smashed. Joe had second thoughts about pushing open the door. The patrons didn't seem to mind. There were couples everywhere milling around each other like moons around planets. Joe shook his head slightly at the metaphor and laughed at himself.
"You don't get him," Patrick said throwing a chair.
Joe rushed in pushing people out of his way to get to Patrick. "Whoa, whoa! What the hell is going on?"
The waitress looked at Patrick sadly. "You're a sad little shit, Mr. Stump."
Patrick glared at the waitress and crossed his arms over his chest. "Fuck you," he said succinctly. "You don't get him. You want someone. You get me."
"I don't understand why you keep fighting. It's not like he'll remember. We can make it so that it won't hurt so much. We'll make it so that you fade with time."
Patrick stepped in front of Joe. "No. That's all I've got. He's what's keeping me here, but you're not keeping him. I'm holding on to him."
Joe looked over at the waitress and he shook his head a little. "You, you look really familiar. I don't think. I mean, I've never been here before, have I?"
Patrick's eyes never left the waitress' but Joe caught the way she pursed her lips slightly and he wanted to cough at the smell of fruit gum and stale cigarettes. "Pete's been here a couple of times. Andy's only ever passed by. You, you shouldn't be here. Should he?"
The waitress sniffed slightly and she stuck a pencil in her hair and Joe noticed that there were a lot of them up there. The back of her head looked a little like one of those cactuses his Aunt Gertie had on the top of her tv back home. Joe blinked and shook his head. There was a buzzing in his head. "He can be here." The words were careful and the waitress set a plate in front of Joe on the counter. "Have some pie, sweetie."
Patrick glared at Joe. "Eat that and I'll kill you myself."
Joe rubbed at his head and wished he'd thought to take some Tylenol for his headache. He glanced outside to look for where the buses were and frowned when he couldn't make them out. "My head hurts, man."
"I know. I've got it almost figured out, Joe. Just you have to keep remembering me. This place too maybe. Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe you're supposed to be here. Anchor me."
The waitress coughed and she yelled something at Patrick. Joe looked up in time and he swore he saw her eyes darken.
The sun was cresting over the edge of his window a few seconds after the alarm had gone off.
His phone was angry with him. The voicemail was full and so was his inbox, both on his phone and email actually. He wasn't answering any of his lines, dodging family and friends and everyone in between. He didn't have the energy to deal with them.
He was angry too.
"I don't understand how they could just move on and forget?" Joe asked no one and sat on his bed. His hair was damp from his shower and the sheets smelled faintly of detergent. He'd changed out the sheets to his last set of clean ones. His stomach growled slightly reminding him that the last time he'd eaten a real meal had been days ago.
He looked at the calendar and amended that to at least a week ago.
He closed his eyes and laid back telling himself that he'd only visit Patrick for a little bit this time.
He sat up slightly eyes slitting open. "Huh."
The memories of the dream came forward like a stop action film - the diner, the waitress, the couples, the smoke, the cold, and Patrick. Patrick was waiting for him.
"Shit," Joe whispered. He wasn't sure what it meant really. The ache was gone. The persistent ache behind his eyes was gone in that moment.
"Took you long enough," Patrick said.
Joe blinked looking around and there they were sitting in the booth. Patrick had a cup of coffee in hand and he was smirking over at Joe.
"What the hell is going on?" Joe whispered looking around for the waitress. The couples around them drifted together, finding each other and hugging. It reminded Joe of the waiting area at an airport.
"Not Hell," Patrick said then paused thoughtfully. "Pretty sure at least."
Joe didn't have a headache just yet, but he was pretty sure he was getting there. "Patrick, you are not dead. I am not dead."
Patrick made a small sound as he sipped.
"Trick, seriously. We're not," Joe said desperately. He'd been resting his eyes, lying on top of his blankets and thinking about Patrick. "Oh fuck. I've finally lost it."
Patrick snorted out a laugh and reached for a napkin to wipe at his chin. "Not yet. Still a possibility." His lips were pale and his skin was ash colored.
"You're dying," Joe said feeling his stomach bottom out.
Patrick didn't answer him and sipped at his coffee. "I did not know, and I could not see. Who was waiting there who was hunting me." He sang the words softly and he tilted his head to look at Joe. "You know how I don't believe in God?"
Joe nodded slightly.
"Sucks when no one believes in you," Patrick said in reply. "I've got a choice, Joe."
"Stay here and wait for you or go back," Patrick said simply.
Joe looked at Patrick and then sat back. "Okay? Why me?"
Patrick gave him a look and sighed. "You know the answer to that."
Joe waited for himself to wake up, but he still sat there looking at Patrick. "No, no I don't."
Patrick cursed loudly and glared. "Fine."
This time Joe woke up, hair still damp from his shower, with no need for an alarm.
"Pete told me you were avoiding his calls," Andy said holding up a cloth bag of what was probably groceries as he stepped into Joe's apartment. "Not that it's surprising. It's Pete."
Joe locked the door behind Andy and he rubbed his hand over his jaw. "So, you're the intervention?"
Andy shrugged and started putting things away in the fridge. "Pete wants to know if you're coming back out. You know, ever."
Joe snatched one of the cans of soda from the bag and popped it open. "I'm not hermitting myself. I see people."
"Pretty sure the guy at the corner bodega doesn't count," Andy answered dryly.
Joe took a long swallow of cola and then belched.
"Well, good to know that living like Howard Hughes hasn't curbed your manners, fucker," Andy said grinning. "You do look like shit though."
Joe sat down at one of the stools in front of Andy and the fridge. "I talked to him."
Andy crossed his arms over his chest and Joe was distracted by the swirl of color and the dance of patterns. "Really?"
Joe rubbed a hand through his hair and sighed. "It's going to sound crazy."
Andy just raised an eyebrow. "I'm still listening."
"So, I've been having these dreams. Creepy ones. Except I didn't start remembering them till well. Yesterday."
Andy nodded and leaned back against the fridge waiting for Joe to keep going.
"I'm at this diner. It's usually the diner. Patrick's there. Lots of people are there. I think," Joe blew out a breath. "I don't think it was Hell or Heaven. Or whatever. I'm not sure what the hell it was. It felt like a waiting room. Except it was a diner."
Andy drummed his fingers against his bicep. Joe counted out the beat in his head waiting for Andy to say something.
"So, it's a place between being here and not?" Andy finally said.
Joe shrugged. "I guess. He looks pretty bad."
"Let's say I believe you," Andy said softly. "What's the difference between believing you and you being crazy?"
"I already feel crazy. How many people feel crazy and admit it?" Joe asked crushing the empty can in his hand and tossed it at the overflowing trashcan.
"Point," Andy said and sat down on the other stool.
Joe looked out the window at the snow and blew out another breath. He really didn't have any idea what he had to do now.
Andy hadn't left his place since he had gotten there a week ago. He'd ordered and bought up as many books and comic books on Hell, Heaven, and everything in between. Joe didn't know whether or not he was relieved that Andy was at least entertaining the idea that he wasn't insane. At least the years of not believing in the status quo had paid off somewhat. "Man, if there are other realities or something better than this? Then at least I have something to look forward to," Andy had simply said.
"I have no idea where the hell he is. I mean, all of it's religious text that don't make sense. Even my Google studying isn't letting me understand some of these concepts. Best I can tell you is that someone's stuck there for a reason. Waiting around means that they're there for a specific reason. The suffering is maybe a payment or something?" Andy said looking over his notes. "I have no fucking clue. I don't even think there is one answer."
Joe hadn't gotten much sleep really in the days that had followed. He dreamt about the diner, but he stopped trying to get in. He could see Patrick there, watching out the window for something. The people changed except for a few that seemed to be waiting in booths just like Patrick.
"What do you think it means?" Joe asked waking up as Andy shook him awake to the sound of his alarm.
"That he's waiting for you?" Andy asked sitting at Joe's tiny couch. "Nothing really. He's always been waiting for you. Just never worked out for you two. Everyone could see it, man."
Joe gaped at Andy. "What?"
Andy rolled his eyes at Joe. "Everyone out there talked about Pete and Patrick like it was some foregone conclusion, but that was them and not us. Hell, sometimes I think Pete played it up so that Patrick would have someone who." Andy shook his head slightly. "He's always been waiting for you, man. Waiting for you to say something. Make a move."
Joe left him there in the living room with weak winter light filtering in through his dirty windows.
Joe took a deep breath and let it out slow. He took another and held it in till his head spun slightly. He reached over and yanked his alarm clock out of its socket and tossed it across the room as he laid back and closed his eyes.
The world receded and the darkness ate at him.
"Back again. It's--."
"Shut the fuck up," Joe said and slammed the diner door. He walked right by the waitress and the crowd parted for him. People tugging their partners with them in an almost too quick dance away from Joe. He stood in front of Patrick and glared down at him. "You are a stupid fucking asshole and I should beat your ass."
Patrick set aside his cup and laughed a little at Joe's face. "Like to see you try." There was a bluish pallor under his skin and the set of his shoulders were stooped like he was holding the weight of the world on them.
"Tell me what happened," Joe said, his hand clenching tightly. He could feel the muscles there aching from the force. "Tell me, Patrick."
Patrick looked up eyes hollow. "Against the rules for me to tell you without you asking first."
"I just did."
"So, you did," Patrick let out a little breath and cocked an eyebrow. "Glad to see you haven't smoked away all your brain cells."
Joe didn't answer. He could feel the ache in his head coming back. It was worse this time, an icepick of pain so cold it was hot around the edges, burning off the edges of his nerves. "Patrick," he said shortly.
Patrick looked out the window, answering the pane of glass and not Joe. "You ran after me. I was planning on going over to the hotel. Clear my head. I'd finally made a move and then." He paused to look down. "I realized that it wasn't what I wanted. I wanted something you had to give me. So, you ran after me. We argued about something. You not listening to me or seeing me and you shoved me right into the side of a meter. I was dazed. But you."
Joe felt the ice form in his stomach. "I fell too."
Patrick looked up, eyes glassy with tears. "Slipped and cracked your head against the side of the curb."
Joe sat down heavily. "So, I'm dead?"
Patrick shook his head and laughed. "No, no. I made a deal."
"A deal," Joe said and his eyes widened. "You stupid fuck."
Patrick crossed his arms over his chest and looking so much like the fifteen year old guy he'd met in a bookstore that Joe wanted to laugh, but he couldn't. "You traded you for me."
Patrick swallowed and his arms tightened around himself. "I get to go if you stay. Or you figure it out."
"Figure what out?" Joe asked and the pain heightened behind his eyes, blurring Patrick's figure in front of him. "Patrick?"
"You have to figure it out now, Joe. Or," Patrick shrugged.
Joe took in how wasted away Patrick looked and he shook his head. He didn't know what it was he was supposed to figure out. He couldn't think through this pain. He wanted to tear out his hair.
"You're out of time, Mr. Stump."
Patrick stood up, knocking the coffee cup onto the floor. Joe barely registered the shattering ceramic. "I still have time left."
The waitress rested her hand on the little girl's shoulder and sighed. "Not much. Might as well let us make it easier for him. Would you like something to ease the pain, Joseph?"
No one called him Joseph, Joe thought as the room swam slightly as he turned to the voice. "Fuck you and whoever the fuck that is."
The waitress tsked softly and covered the little girl's ears. "Such language in front of children."
"That's no kid," Joe said through gritted teeth. It felt like there was something burning in his chest and he rubbed a hand over his heart and realized it was where he had gotten hit on the train platform. "Oh God."
The waitress smirked. "If you wish."
"No, I still have time," Patrick said desperately and Joe could see the blood seeping from the crack in his lip. "Joe, come on."
Joe shook his head again trying to clear it. The pain made him want to puke. "Fuck, Patrick. Tell me what I need to do."
"I can't," Patrick said and Joe could hear the tears in his voice.
Joe reached over to try and grab onto Patrick. "I'm going to die," he said with the clarity of pain making his voice shake. "I'm going to die," he said again. "Fuck you. You don't get him, okay? It's my fault. Mine. I should have said something. Should have told him that I wanted him. That I should have made the first move. Should have done so many other things. But I'm going to do this. So listen. You're not taking him. You want me? You got me. You let him go though. He's not some debt payment, okay?" There was this white noise in his ears. He couldn't tell if he was spinning or the room was.
His hand finally grabbed Patrick's, skin surprisingly warm.
The waitress smiled as did the little girl. The balloon was sky blue this time.
"Okay," she said and Joe closed his eyes.
For the last time, he thought.
It was comfortable. Joe sat up slowly and looked around. It was his bedroom in New York. He let out a breath and noticed that his alarm clock was set back on the end table. The alarm was set but Joe had woken a minute before it was set to go off. He reached over and unplugged it.
He should have been startled to feel the warmth next to him, but he wasn't so much.
"Did they not accept my offer?" Joe asked his voice scratchy from sleep and he looked down at Patrick's face. It was still horribly pale and his lips were still cracked in the corners.
"They did. You ended up figuring it out," Patrick said licking his lips. The color was coming back into his cheeks and he reached over to touch Joe's arm. "You made the first move, man."
Joe carefully laid back down and let out a breath. "So, what do we tell everyone?"
Patrick shrugged and Joe was comforted with the feel of the fabric of his shirt rucking up between them. "We'll figure it out."
Joe nodded and looked up at the ceiling with the fingers of light painting morning shadows in the corners. He reached across the small space between their bodies and put his hand in Patrick's and squeezed. "Yeah. We will."
By the rivers dark, I panicked on.
I belonged at last to Babylon.