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It isn’t at all the place Virgil imagined for him. The flower pots all sit in a row on the steps, red ivy climbing up the fence like spider webs and a garden hose curled up on a perfectly manicured front lawn. Everything about it is picturesque—almost to the point of insanity—and as a butterfly floats by and lands delicately on a ladder leaning onto the fence from the backyard, Virgil wonders what in the world could have changed Patton so drastically to have led to this.

There’s an image, in his head, of teenage rebellion—of 2 am milkshakes and stolen bicycles, of broken glass and laughter, so much laughter, as they took advantage of what time they had left to live. It doesn’t fit in with this pastel blue sky in this pastel blue neighbourhood full of pastel blue people but he knew that it wouldn’t. He knew things would be different.

Though, that doesn’t make it all that much easier to comprehend.

Vaguely, Virgil hears the sound of excited squeals coming from the yard and he ducks his head over the fence just a bit, catching sight of a young girl flying off of a trampoline at a hundred miles an hour—hair a mess and grin bright.

The kid must be Patton’s—it’s unmistakable, that dark skin and reckless look, like she’s ready to take the world on at any moment—and Virgil can’t help but remember the nights the two of them spent drinking and talking and vowing to never tie themselves down to anyone or anything. 

He supposes no one really does know what they want when they’re young.

It takes Virgil a while to gather up the courage to knock—he’s all too aware of his leather jacket and patches, his dyed hair and piercings. He couldn’t feel more out of place in this suburban neighbourhood and he hadn’t thought that around Patton he could ever feel out of place.

In the end, though, the choice is taken out of his hands. The young girl throws open the door, clearly looking to haul ass across the street to the park—the kind of place he and Pat would have smoked, once upon a time—but is stopped short as she notices Virgil standing in her way. There’s a moment where he’s afraid she’s going to scream or cry or something else he would have no clue how to deal with but instead, she just grins cheekily.

“Dad!” she yells, barely turning her head to face the soft white interior of the house, “There’s a man here for you!”

The sound of footsteps pad across the landing above and for a moment Virgil is so afraid that he’s gotten the wrong house or that Patton won’t want to see him and though he’s come all this way he’s struck with the feeling that he’s not ready. It’s been 15 years since they’ve seen each other; so much can change in 15 years.

“Riley, what do you mean? What ma-”

And then, there he is.

His face is void of any of the makeup he used to wear, his hair faded from turquoise to its natural black and left curly in a way he wouldn’t have been caught dead with once. And, over the top of a graphic t-shirt displaying some characters Virgil doesn’t recognise and unripped light-wash jeans, Patton had thrown a familiar blue flannel.

Virgil remembers that flannel, worn under heavy coats to help fight the evening windchill, tied around Patton’s waist as they scaled fences just to see if they could and left in a pile on the floor in his room as they finally escaped back to comfort and warmth. Honestly, he’s just surprised it still fits.

Patton does nothing but stare at him for a moment, his lips parted in shock and his eyes big and wide and god, looking at him now is like falling in love all over again.

“Virge?” he breathes, a melody of disbelief in his voice. Virgil can’t exactly blame him—it isn’t as if he’s someone Patton was expecting to see.

Virgil rubs over the fabric of his jacket, a nervous tick he’d had even back then. “Hey, uh… surprise?”

And in an instant, has Patton pitched forward right into his arms. Virgil catches him—of course, he catches him, he’ll always catch him—and Patton laughs, displaying some level of joy Virgil hadn’t known he’d needed to hear until now. He can feel Patton breathing against his neck as they hold each other and, distantly, the sound of light footsteps echoes away and up the stairs.

They pull apart, eventually, the separation like trying to peel a sticker off of a concrete wall—the easiest kind of graffiti to enact while still being tricky to remove. The distance Patton puts between them seems almost reluctant and Virgil wishes he had the courage to tell him to stay.

“What are you doing here?” Patton asks. It’s soft, like the white fuzzy carpet of his new home and Virgil realises suddenly he’d been so caught up in him that he’d forgotten that this him wasn’t the same.

Patton had always been soft but not soft like this. He’d been soft in redirected conversation and distractions, in Virgil’s favourite TV show on in the background and stolen chocolate bars in his pocket, guiding hands mimicking steady breathing. This Patton seems soft around the edges—worn down, almost—and Virgil feels those 15 years as more of a lifetime.

He doesn’t answer the question—truthfully because he’s not sure how, not sure where to start with the mess of events and near-misses and regrets that finally brought him here to Patton’s doorstep—and instead replies with one of his own. 

“My mom died. Did you know that?” It’s a stupid thing to ask, they hadn’t spoken to each other in 15 years, there was no way he could have known. Virgil asks it all the same though. “I have her money now. Didn’t write me out of the will even after everything we went through. Guess she didn’t want how much she hated me and my “lifestyle” to come out even after she’d kicked it.”

Patton just looks at him. There’s something sad in his eyes, maybe, something regretful or sympathetic, something holding years worth of apologies and love confessions in not so many words that every night they’d pretended they hadn’t said.

Maybe not, he isn’t sure. He’s never been very good with stuff like that. 

“You owe me a party,” Virgil continues impulsively. Patton grins and shakes his head and the urge to kiss him is so strong for a moment Virgil can’t breathe. “You promised me when she was dead and I didn’t have to worry about her anymore we’d have a party. With cheerio sausages and expensive liquor and-”

“Sparkling juice and bad karaoke,” Patton interrupts, “I remember.”

Nobody speaks. Patton doesn’t invite him in and Virgil doesn’t ask for fear of being turned away. 

He knows there’s an element of worship in the way he looks at Patton. It’s worship like the way farmers pray for rain in a drought, worship like how sailors are drawn to the rough turn of the sea and worship like teens relishing in the night when they’re bored and alone and angry, yearning for freedom that only comes in years they feel they don’t have left.

But now, dark eyes gazing at him and breath catching in his throat, Virgil thinks maybe he isn’t the only one who feels it.

“I have a kid now, you know?” Patton asks and Virgil knows instantly that question isn’t about the party but everything that comes after it—all of the hundreds of possibilities that stem from this decision that neither of them can quite voice out loud, “Single parent. I made a lot of bad choices in those 15 years—gave myself away to a few people who didn’t deserve it, maybe—but she’s… helped. I want to be better for her.”

Virgil nods. It’s a little hard to reconcile teenage Patton with this one but he tries anyway. He has to; he owes him that much.

(In truth, he owes him so, so much more than that but right now this is all he feels he can give.)

“Yeah, uh, Riley, right? Seems like a sweet kid, if not a bit mischievous.” Virgil smirks slightly, somewhere between teasing and nostalgic. “Kind of like you were.” 

At that, Patton grins and he laughs and it feels right—feels like early morning rainfall and crackling log fires, like the burning in your lungs as you run and the way your eyes slowly drift shut against your will when you’re up too late, like every ending and beginning in just a moment. 

He shakes his head again, almost affectionately chastising and there’s a stuttering of Virgil’s hand as he goes to reach out, to brush a strand of hair away from Patton’s face but stops himself halfway through.

Patton doesn’t seem to notice. Virgil once thought Patton never noticed—never saw the longing in his eyes and the flushed red of his cheeks as they sat side-by-side on a park bench in the middle of winter, running from the heat of harsh words and high expectations.

He wonders if maybe that was naive. 

“Well, I’ve gotta make sure to raise her right,” Patton jokes and his smile is amused—fond and familiar like the worn leather of Virgil’s jacket between his fingers, “If she’s not questioning authority and getting me called down to the office at least once a term then I’m doing something wrong.”

With that, there’s a flash—just a moment—of principal visits and angry rants, of cutting class to sit with the other in the silence of the school office and knowing, that outside of the two of them, there was no one else to come. And he thinks of Patton—this Patton, not his Patton—taking up the empty space of that office with kind reassurances and defensive words, protecting and protecting and protecting, fighting for Riley the way he had Virgil.

Parenthood suits Patton more than he’d first thought, perhaps.

“Ah, office visits.” Virgil nods sagely and can’t resist the quirk of his lips as Patton giggles. “A hallmark of a punk child. Next thing you know she’ll be dyeing her hair, running off to the park in the middle of the night to meet up with boys.”

It’s obviously a joke but still, Patton quietens, taking on a more contemplative look. It seems as if he’s remembering something and Virgil needs, all at once, to make sure he’s more to Patton than simply that expression on his face in the midst of just another day.

“Yeah,” Patton finally says, “Yeah, she was thinking purple actually.”

Virgil doesn’t reach up and drag a hand through his own purple hair but it’s a near thing. He hums—soft and low. “Good taste.”

A heavy silence rings in his ears—an echo of all the memories they share and all the memories they don’t, a collision of black and pastel blue on a canvas already painted with teenage angst and first love—and Virgil can’t stand the way it feels like it may be too much to overcome. It isn’t; he won’t let it be.

He takes a step closer and Patton doesn’t move away, just lets Virgil crowd him against the doorframe till their chests are pressed together and each shuddering breath is a joint effort.

“I’d like to get to know her. If you’ll let me,” he murmurs and he’s so close that he can hear Patton’s heartbeat pick up as he slides a hand up to brush at the strands of hair against Virgil’s neck.

The air between them is tense and pulled tight—gazes tracing over freckles and foundation, their skin warm with each point of contact and the rushing of blood in Virgil’s ears drowning out the pounding of his heart. Each second that goes by without comment feels to Virgil like sinking into quicksand, like fingers losing their grip on the edge of a building and threatening to let him fall.

But, before he can draw away, throw up his walls and stumble his way through apologies like they’re nothing more than kids again, Patton tugs him forward and, softly, he brings their lips together.

The kiss is a teenage fantasy come true, the culmination of every moment—under streetlights or under blankets or under nothing more than the cover of night itself—where Virgil longed to reach out and tell Patton that he wanted to kiss him until the world faded away and all that he could focus on was the taste of cherry red lipstick and the joy and love pounding in his chest like a second heartbeat.

It’s the comfort in late-night knocking, Patton taking Virgil in and patching him up and holding him as he cries because he has a mother that doesn’t love him and a father that’s always absent and a world that doesn’t care, muttered reassurances a quiet backdrop to his sobs.

It’s the warmth in drinking their way through meagre retail paychecks, Patton’s soft touches like fire against his skin and the thread of restraint holding Virgil back from blurting out a love confession worn down to something as thin as a spiderweb and just as delicate.

It’s the exhilaration in grocery store runs with no money and bags filled with spray paint cans, their gloved hands clasped tight as they race against the biting evening wind, giving in to the urge to let out a cry of victory that bounces off the empty alley walls.

So, yes, it’s the culmination of years of pining but it’s more than that too. It’s an apology, it’s acceptance and it’s an offer of a future, to stay here with them. 

“I think I’d like that,” Patton gasps as he pulls away and Virgil’s so enamoured even after all these years that he barely knows what to say, “For you to know her, I mean. She’d like you. She’s like you, or at least the way you used to be—always a bit loose with self-control.”

Virgil doesn’t tell Patton that all his self-control had been going towards keeping himself from telling him he loved him. He doesn’t think he’d know how.

Slowly, Virgil blinks and he nods and it’s all he can do to keep himself standing as Patton beams up at him with a smile reminiscent of stars colliding—bright and beautiful enough to take his breath away. And suddenly Virgil feels like maybe he can fit in here, that maybe he can fit in anywhere he needs to if Patton keeps looking at him like that.

He smiles back, smaller than the one he’d received but the way Patton’s eyes light up makes Virgil feel like maybe that doesn’t really matter. “Okay, yeah. I want that; I want to stay.”

“Okay,” Patton parrots and he’s barely holding back giggles, Virgil can tell. It’s okay though because he feels it too—that sense of happiness and disbelief that has almost no other way to present itself—and giving in feels more like an inevitability.

So, laughing and hands joined together, Patton pulls Virgil inside to the soft white of his suburban home. And he closes the door.