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Breathe Again

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Bunbury is like a vacation.

All-expenses paid and officially counted as "work," and Patrick feels like he won the lottery.

While he doesn't hate touring, he'd much rather be in the studio to create music, where all the tools and technology and tightly-controlled inputs and outputs exist to make the sounds in his head match what ends up in electrons on digital audio track masters. Especially at this point in his life, where the constant nomadic life has sort of lost its appeal. There are little people he misses and little moments he wants desperately to be there for, and wishes he didn't have to fight to make happen (but that's apparently out of his control).

But Bunbury, booked back during the MANIA tour and fitting in with the perfect amount of time-passed beyond the main touring cycle for them to rest but not enough to be forgotten, feels like a vacation from the downward pressures of that stable life Patrick has always romanticized just a bit (more fool him).

The joyful moments he will never regret, but the spaces in between--growing cool, isolated, wearying--it's nice to step on that chartered flight (ridiculously reasonable for a private plane, seriously, given what they have to travel with, it's practically a bargain these days). And if the smell of airplane air is slightly different from bus air, it's still the scent of the road, and for Patrick, that does something to his brain. Wakes up the parts of him that hibernate at home to make him think he's been settled when they truly are just biding their time.

*

Pete knows he needs this like he needs air. Touring for him is what he needs to keep his skin from splitting open and the rest of him flying off into space. Nothing is quite like being a Dad for him and he wouldn't trade it for the world, but he's been at it long enough now to recognize that it is a fluid state in which to exist. Believing that its place in the psyche is or must be static is a recipe for disaster without a mental health diagnosis. With, it's magnified tenfold. He can only be the best parent when he also recognizes an identity outside of being "Dad."

The lesson was hard-won, and he has to keep re-learning it every day living in the Land of Illusion (never mistake your Instagram for your reality). He's made the mistake before of believing the tabloid-fairytale would be the reality even while he (very emphatically) wasn't living it. Now he knows--really knows--that it's the spaces between that make your life. The Instagram tiles are pretty, but the patchwork of people is the net that holds you up (and sometimes drags you down, and sometimes just defines the holes through which you fall). Not just one person (except maybe Patrick. He knows that Patrick is and always will be Home, but he cannot allow Patrick to be his whole Home. It's too much and not fair to Patrick, and he loves Patrick too much to ever crush him like that again).

But as they climb the stairs of the charter plane to take a low-stress plane ride to Ohio for a lone show after a long winter of separate, mundane lives full of everyday events that seem to need more and more (separate) space, Pete feels an undeniable easing as Joe's arms go around him in an affectionate bro-hug. He meets Lake-Effect eyes, sees shadows there. "Wanna talk about--" "No." He's not sure which of them speaks and who replies and it doesn't matter. Whatever lives in the layers of smog hovering over the 405 gets left there. The four of them share greetings and the mere act of Pete just inhaling in the presence of his bandmates loosens a tight band around the inside of Pete's ribcage--he can take deep breaths again, the kind that clean you out from the inside.

*

Patrick is alive during the show in ways he isn't in the tour cycle. One show, in a vacuum, means he's not thinking three dates ahead or saving his voice, trying to stretch it to the end of the set while leaving enough to get through the following night, or holding back so that he only needs a day on the road to recover. They're headlining day one of a three-day festival, and most of the crowd is here to see them. They've been holding up the barricades for at least two other lead-up acts, and some of them have been there all day holding their patches of damp grass in the humidity while Pete and Elliott went to the butterfly garden at the Conservatory and Patrick got lost in the aquarium across the river and would gladly have slept with the fishes if he thought he could get away with it. He took hours of video for his kids and wished they were here.

But when he went on stage, the rest fell away. It didn't matter that the humidity gave him about three notes before buckets of sweat began pouring off him and made him reconsider the beard (only briefly. People took him seriously with the beard--they didn't see the fat kid from Thanks Fr Th Mmrs). The energy of festival crowds was a little more hit-and-miss than the fans who signed on to see them at concerts. In the aggregate, they cared less, and that made Patrick a little less under-pressure, a little more of a showman.

And Patrick is feeling it tonight. A concert would allow for some more banter between them, but in lieu of that, there's a stage to work with. Joe is feeling frisky, fresh off a short tour with The Damned Things and he's playing it up with Patrick. Patrick doesn't mind it in the least. Pete's antics are well-known, even though he's dialed it way back in recent years. Sometimes, though he would never admit it, Patrick misses that time before, on Pete's behalf. The SRAR tour saw Patrick take more of a center-stage with the new showmanship he'd learned touring for Soul Punk and Pete has given Patrick stage-space to explore that simply by drawing back his own presence to bare essentials.

Patrick wishes Pete didn't have to draw so far into himself to share the stage with others, but the media that follows them has been well-trained. Now, Patrick has to give Pete permission to approach. Permission to engage.

The thing is, he would.

The days where their stage-presence scraped up uncomfortably close to their backstage presence are, for the most part, behind them, though there will always be an open door on either end. It's a strange sort of brothers-in-arms kinship that defies understanding from the outside but there will always be an emotional closeness between them that stands independent from the rest of their lives, but critical to their survival. The connective tissue of them has become pliable with age and maturity.

But it has never been pliant.

Pete no longer seems to feel the need to possess Patrick as much as he used to. He's maybe finally internalized that if the worst thing would be that Patrick left him, Pete's already survived it once and he could again.
Now Patrick is the one who's not sure he could survive leaving Pete. This performance is giving him a jolt of life he didn't even realize he needed. He's nodding to Pete and Pete has just a hint of swagger to his stride as he approaches during the bridge in GTA. There's only a brief meeting of their eyes--a grounding, a confirmation, a promise--before they're spinning away towards their respective stage spaces.

Pete is charming the crowd by singling out a kid whose mother is looking like she's going to be the one telling everybody about the festival come Monday (and it's weird but their fans are always "kids," even when they have kids of their own. There's something eternal and endless-summer in that performance-space between dreamers and dream).

But it's Patrick himself who takes over the mic during the bridge in Arms Race when Pete usually reminds everyone that his dick pics are still out there on the internet in a sly indictment of both the crowd and himself. Patrick shouts out to the city and the crowd cheers for their hometown on cue. He's been away from the stage long enough that he's happy--eager, even--to address the crowd in this short interactive pause of bridge and chorus as a thank you for the privilege of performing (something they've never forgotten as a band, and that which lies at the foundation of everything--even when the crowds hated them). He's having fun and it feels like the first time in too long of a while where it really is just--fun.

*

To Pete, Patrick sounds like he's delivering the gospel in a tent-revival preacher's voice, calling all the faithful to feel the holy fire. For Pete, this is not an optional invitation, it's mandatory attendance and he's happy to believe with his whole soul just to hear that growl in Patrick's voice when he's let loose.

Pete checks in again during Hum. When the mood is just so and the veil is thin enough, the timeline gets a bit wobbly and Patrick sometimes forgets to be here and now instead of there and then. It's up to Pete to remind him when he is. But tonight is not one of those nights. The fireworks are going off behind them as if the whole city--including its so-so baseball team--is celebrating Fall Out Boy's return to the live stage. Pete has learned some deep lessons about living in the moment (ones that don't fit on an Instagram tile with a picture of a beach) and he can feel this moment, buoying them up. High enough to overcome the pull of the gravity well of that other moment in their history when they almost lost everything.

Tonight, they are weightless.

Saturday sees Pete out in the crowd on the runway, exchanging holy communion with the people who adore him for this one night (and maybe a handful of old regulars who persist in adoring him in spite of knowing him). Then the confetti cannons let loose and the stage goes dark. They exit, stage left, seeking out towels and water bottles and cooler air from the massive fans blowing backstage in the ridiculous humidity. The sweat, the thick air, the buzz beneath the skin--this is home country to them, no matter the location on a map, and the discomfort is irrelevant.

What is not so home country to Patrick is the itch behind his eyes. The sting of sweat is familiar, but the prickle of tears is strange. It doesn't belong, except for the swelling of his heart telling him these emotions aren't the destructive kind. The thrum of Pete's baritone as he thanks the tech for unhooking him from the mic pack sets off a radar ping that pulls Patrick to his side after handing off the Stumpomatic. Patrick's fingers curl around Pete's forearm, sliding down the sweaty, inked, tanned skin until they circle his wrist and he squeezes once, briefly, before slipping off further into the shadows of the maze of the tents that make up the backstage area, lit only by the occasional violet glowstick or LED task light.

There's a curtained-off area that served as a changing area for one of the earlier acts--the girl in the blond wig and the light-up catsuit, he thinks. There are curtains obscuring a small space between stacks of cases that stretch up over seven feet. It's enough. Patrick slips in between them and finishes off the last of his water bottle. The crackle of the thin plastic is enough of a beacon to draw Pete in the right direction and he's there, next to Patrick, in the time it takes Patrick to wipe the moisture from his beard one more time. The little area is barely big enough for the two of them, and in the chattering background noise of set breakdown and the sounds of tens of thousands of people trying to clear out of a park, Patrick can only feel Pete's voice vibrating his body when he says, "Hey."

It's unnecessary. There's no need to speak between them. They've already communicated non-verbally. Patrick wraps his arms around Pete's waist and presses him against the stacked-up equipment trunks. "Hey," he breathes back, just before Pete's mouth opens under his.

It's cinnamon Altoids and sweat, fire alarms and losing you. It's I've read about the afterlife but never really lived. It's the fourth of July and the missing you in the one-hour-until-June gloom and Versailles at night and all the extra fireworks from the baseball game next door. It's I miss missing you and Patrick knows that there are whole other lives that wait for them back in California. Obligations and interests and professions and people that keep at bay the need for possession and obsessions and Patrick and Pete would both say they were happy about that.

But here and now, they're twin skeletons, stripped down and bound together. Pete opens under him and Patrick can't help but want to push inside until they're swimming in the same sins again. Pete pushes back, a light tease to relieve the gravity of Patrick's onslaught. Pete's heart is beating against his, and the thin t-shirt he's stripped down to isn't enough to rein in his body heat. Patrick is himself drenched--has been since two minutes after leaving the A/C of the green room tent, but he's happy to burn--no, he needs to be close enough to be scorched by Pete's own overheated presence.

Pete's hands--hot and dry--move up to cup Patrick's bearded cheeks as he deepens the kiss. His entire body shudders with the sudden tension relief as he melts into Patrick's embrace. It seems to unlock a complementary reaction in Patrick as well when the younger man shivers against him. They're sticking to each other under their sweaty clothes. Pete's fingers card through Patrick's damp hair, lifting off his hat--the fedora, god, he's missed it--and he places it on top of the stack behind Patrick.

Patrick issues the invitation, but it's always up to Pete how far he goes inside, and tonight the energy of the crowd has reset his brain to a configuration that reminds him that he was made for this. He pushes Patrick--gently, mindful in a way his younger self couldn't be because boundaries are there for a reason--against the stack of cases and crushes his mouth against the lips that were once an obsession for him and are now simply a part of him.

The point is not the kiss. The point is to reconnect--rejoin--remember how to breathe, how to find his way back to the center of gold and sunshine riptides and violet tides. Burning bridges lighting his way back home.

The music to his words, the soundtrack to his heart. Lips and tongues and breathing in sync. He swallows Patrick's breaths the same way he swallows down the overwhelm of his feelings for Patrick. They've always been huge--too huge to contain sometimes, spilling out over his words and his notebooks and his boundaries (for both good and ill). Pete is better now when he's finally grown big enough to manage those feelings.

No, not manage, he realizes as Patrick's presence pulls him under and spits him back out baptized anew. It was never really about managing them, was it? This isn't something that can be managed or tamed. For all of the waves that ebbed and flowed around them over the past seventeen years, none of them were the true expression of force energy.

It's always been the riptide underneath.

*

Patrick is well aware of the tastes of Pete over the years. Intoxicating, sweet, harsh, stale sour beer and too much candy, chemical aftertaste, and the tang of restlessness and hormones. Bitterness and resentment with hints of manic panic underneath. Ink and sleepless nights. Pete in his mouth now tastes like natural high and gunpowder smoke and music peppered with the feedback from amp stacks twice as tall as they are. For Patrick, it's finally finding the right layer of harmony without the dissonance, without the bullshit, as Butch Walker would call it. Stripped down and built back up to keep the strongest elements without the clutter pretending to be complexity.

The beat locks into place, the complement of harmonies and melodies create something that is more than the sum of its parts. The atmosphere thins. The clouds clear. In the darkness and 99.9% humidity, there's always a single moment in time where the saturation point is reached. The balance is critically tipped over into condensation, where the aerosol condenses to something heavier than the air around it and succumbs to the pull of gravity.


Patrick feels a raindrop.


Even undercover, as the mist crawls up from the darkened river nearby and the smoke from the fireworks hangs too close to the earth while the confetti from the cannons remains stubbornly airborne by the updrafts, Patrick feels a raindrop. His hands--damp where Pete's are dry--tangle in the escaping tendrils of Pete's hair that have slipped out of his man-bun.

He knows the way forward. He knows how the rain only falls on what's real.

Keeping the real will hurt in complexities that don't belong in liminal backstage spaces where only the dreamer and dream exist. It will be a struggle to separate the illusion from the concrete, to cast out what no longer fits and side-step what blocks the way ahead. They will have to fight to maintain compositional integrity, to not diffuse into each other or to evaporate from each other.


But for this moment between the breath before the rain and the rain itself, he can think again.

He can breathe again.