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David has very specific rules regarding Halloween.

One: Decorations can only be put up after the leaves start changing. He will not participate in the blatant capitalist greed that begins in August and gallops through to Christmas.

Two: Decorations must be tasteful. No bright orange, bright green, or bright purple streamers that are best left behind in a classroom. No cartoon cats or bats or witches.

Three: Absolutely no costumes on anyone over the age of twenty.

He had made these rules clear to Patrick early on in their relationship, for the sake of the store seasonal displays, and reiterates them at the end of every summer. Unfortunately, Stevie is also aware of these rules and, because she is Stevie, makes it her mission every year to torture him.

“Maybe this year we should be Huey, Dewey, and Louie,” Stevie says two weeks before Halloween, standing in David’s way as he’s trying to water the plants by the windows.

Absolutely not,” David says, elbowing past her. She stuffs an entire Reese’s cup into her mouth and blinks innocently. He knows for a fact that she also hates dressing up and is definitely only doing this to drive him nuts. “And that candy is for the kids you told me we had to let in here,” he says, with a hand wave at Patrick.

“I bought extra, just in case,” Patrick says mildly from behind the register.

“Oh, of course. God forbid we don’t give as much sugar as possible to the children coming into my clean, tidy store with breakable and expensive items on the shelves.”

“Our store. Exactly.”

“I can’t believe you’re anti-Halloween,” Stevie says, shaking her head.

“I am not anti--”

“Do you hate all fun, or just fun in October?”

He slams the watering can down on the center display table and glares at her.

“Why are you even here?”

“To spend some quality time with Patrick,” she says innocently. He narrows his eyes and she shrugs, glancing away. “The motel’s been quiet since your family left. I was bored.”

“Uh huh.” He suspects that bored means lonely and lets it go. “Are you sure we can’t just ‘forget’ to put out the candy?” he asks Patrick, giving a sidelong glance at the supremely tacky plastic orange pumpkin bowl of candy in the window.

“Do you really want to give up the sales we get from kids dragging their parents in here for a piece of candy?”

“Okay, it just sounds creepy when you put it like that.” Patrick just raises his eyebrows. David juts his chin and tries to think of a way to argue out of this. “No,” he says eventually.

“Okay, then.”

“Okay.”

“So you’ll wear a costume this year?” Stevie asks, a smile pulling at the edge of her mouth.

“No,” he says firmly.

“Not even for Alexis’s party? We could be condiments. M&Ms. Three musketeers!”

No.” An image flashes in his mind: the three of them walking into a club wearing the tacky neoprene M&M costumes when he’s back in New York for the first time since leaving that life, all his old friends staring and laughing or, even worse, their eyes sliding right by him, just another naïve tourist. No.

“I’ll be an M&M with you, Stevie,” Patrick says, sipping his tea.

“Oh, if we’re doing a two-person concept, that opens up even more possibilities,” Stevie says, grinning at David. His face feels frozen in horror.

“Oh, great!” Patrick says.

“Okay, I’m not loving this,” David interjects. Patrick and Stevie keep smiling at him and he knows they’re trying to rile him up but it’s working anyway. “No cutesy couple or group costumes, please. I have to draw a line.”

“Oh my god, Patrick. Salt and pepper shakers.”

Patrick snaps his fingers. “Yes. That’s the one.”

“Okay, as my husband, aren’t you supposed to be on my side here?”

“Do you want to dress up as the mayo?” Stevie asks, eyes innocently wide.

“Wha-- why am I mayo in this scenario? And no! If I were to dress up, which I am not, I will wear something tasteful and appropriate and not made of synthetic flammable polyester or --” he shudders -- “neoprene.”

“Because that’s what I think about when I think of Halloween costumes: whether it will burn.”

“Okay, David,” Patrick says patiently. “For today, why don’t we just focus on putting up the decorations you said were acceptable for the store?”

“Fine. We have stalks of wheat and corn, garlands of leaves and berries, pumpkins and gourds…”

“It’s all brown, white, or black,” Stevie says, looking through the boxes.

“It’s tasteful.”

“I feel like you’re kind of missing the point of Halloween.”

“Is this a lucite skull?” Patrick asks, pulling it out of the box and kind of answering the question for himself.

“Yes. It goes over there,” David says, waving a hand toward the shelves along the wall.

“Right.” Patrick obediently goes to put it where David indicated. “So you’re really not going to wear a costume to Alexis’s party?”

“Okay, it’s a PR event for an under-attended wannabe goth club in Williamsburg. All we’re doing is supplying some decorations. There is no need for us to dress up in matching outfits like Neil Patrick Harris’s children for a Target-sponsored ad on Instagram.”

“Wow,” Stevie mouths and continues pulling ceramic white pumpkins from their styrofoam packaging.

“I mean, she did place the order here as a sort of favor for us, and it’s a big invoice. The least we can do is show our support at her event,” Patrick says in his I’m-the-reasonable-one voice that can be really sexy or really grating, depending on David’s mood. He curls his lip.

“And I am supporting her, by providing her with the chicest decorations that her very limited budget can buy.”

“What about Popeye and Olive Oyl?” Stevie asks, scrolling on her phone. The bell above the door dings and Ronnie walks in. “Or, ooh, angel and devil.” David grimaces and Patrick laughs.

“Who’s the angel and devil?” Ronnie asks, though her tone is disinterested.

“Stevie and I are planning our costumes for Alexis’s party in New York,” Patrick explains.

“Did you two break up?” Her face brightens with delight as she points between Patrick and David. David forces a laugh.

“No. No, we did not,” he says, tilting his head to the side. She shakes her head in disappointment and goes to pick out her face wash. “You see?” he asks Patrick, flicking a hand in the air. “You see what you’re doing?”

“It’s just a costume, David,” he says.

“Fine. Just don’t expect me to participate in your childish dress-up games.”

“Oh, we won’t.”

“Wait, Patrick,” Stevie says, still looking at her phone. “I’ve got the perfect one.”

“What?” Patrick goes to look over her shoulder and David refuses to give them any more of his attention.

“Hi, Ronnie, how can I help you?”

“Do you have one of these that doesn’t have mint in it? I don’t want my face smelling like food.”

“The mint reduces puffiness, though.”

She raises her eyebrows, unbelieving, and he sighs.

“I’ll see what we have in the unscented range.”

“So you’re going back to the big city for Halloween,” Ronnie says, following David into the back room.

“We are.”

“Interesting.”

“And what does that mean?” He pulls open the cabinet with their unscented product and kneels down to look for the face wash.

“Do you really think Patrick can handle that kind of thing? I mean, look at him.” She gestures through the doorway, where Patrick and Stevie are talking lowly at the register, their heads together over her phone. “He looks like a piece of wonderbread.”

“I think it’ll be fine, thanks.” He pulls out the bottle of face wash and hands it to her before standing up.

“I don’t know,” she says skeptically. “Your sister told me a lot of stories about her old friends there. I don’t see wonderbread enjoying that scene.”

“Thanks,” he says again, scrunching a smile at her. It had been Alexis’s idea, but Patrick hadn’t said no. It’ll be fine.

“Just saying.” She raises her hands in the air in a nonchalant shrug. “So how much do I owe you?”

“I can ring you up over here.” He leads the way to the cash register and shoos Patrick to the side.

“Hi, Ronnie,” Patrick says, smiling hopefully. Hell, Ronnie might have a point: he really is too nice for that crowd. He’s sky-blue where David is black, and there’s the stone-in-your-shoe niggling discomfort that maybe this isn’t something he wants Patrick to see. Ronnie grunts at Patrick in response and doesn’t say another word.

**

Later that night, when Patrick is prepping the brussels sprouts and chicken for dinner, David sits at the kitchen table with the laptop and Patrick’s phone, since he deleted his own social media accounts a while back. He uses Patrick’s phone sometimes for the store because it has the Apothecary’s instagram account on it, and generally David’s the one taking the pictures and coming up with captions and Patrick just posts them. But tonight he’s using the account to snoop.

He searches for his old friends’ accounts and scrolls through them painstakingly, primarily looking for their Halloween posts over the past few years but also glancing through what they’re up to now. There’s still the old draw of yearning at the group photos he’s not in, but it’s tempered by the comfortingly familiar sound of Patrick’s humming over the cutting board, the easy crunching rhythm of his knife chopping off stems one way and halving sprouts the other.

He recognizes an Ethiopian restaurant in one of the photos and remembers that the food had been amazing, and that the group he’d been with had barely spoken to him all night and then expected him to pick up the bill. He vaguely wonders if Patrick would like Ethiopian food.

“What are we doing over here?” Patrick asks, peeking over his shoulder, looking cute and domestic as hell as he wipes his hands with a dish towel.

“Checking up on some of my old friends,” David says absently. “A few years ago ‘the costume’ —“ he hooks air quotes — “was apparently the Arthur cartoon, but I can’t figure out why. I have to be prepared before we spend a weekend in my old life.”

“Oh,” Patrick says, and his voice is oddly strained. David twists in his chair to look around at him.

“You know we’ll probably run into some of these people while we’re there, right?”

“Well,” Patrick says, and his mouth opens and closes like he’s still trying to put the next part together. “Yeah, I figured.” David narrows his eyes at him and Patrick shoots him a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes before returning to the counter to drizzle the sprouts in oil.

“You really don’t have anything to worry about. I’m just seeing what the trends have been the last few years. It would be mortifying to show up in a costume that half the city wore last year.”

“Sure,” Patrick says, his tone forcefully light. David starts to ask him what exactly is bothering him, but then his own phone buzzes with a text and the oven’s preheat setting dings, distracting them both.

“Oh my god, it’s Byron,” he says, and the text is nearly incomprehensible with textspeak: “Heard you’re -- spelled ‘u’ ‘r’ -- coming to -- the number two -- town for -- the number four -- halloween. Hang for -- spelled out this time -- old time’s sake, question mark, tongue sticking out emoji?”

“This is one of your old friends?”

“Well, ‘friends’ is a loose term.”

“Ah.”

“How did he even find out that we’re going to -- oh my god. Alexis did this. She’s telling people I’m coming back to the city. Now I have to text with fucking Byron.”

Patrick slams the baking trays into the oven, sets the oven timer, and comes to sit next to him at the table with an opened bottle of beer. David picks up his phone and starts tapping over to dial Alexis’s number to ask her what the hell she’s thinking, but Patrick covers it with his hand and sets the beer on the table, the same look in his eyes as when he had to tell David that he’d accidentally gotten a spot of bleach on one of his Neil Barrett sweaters. He’d gotten a new scarf and a pretty stellar blowjob out of the deal that time, so it wasn’t the end of the world. Half apprehensive and half interested to see how far he can take Patrick’s apology this time, David sits up to listen.

“I have to tell you something.”

“Okay.”

“I wasn’t going to tell you about it because it seemed like the kinder thing to do, but now... I think I need to.”

“Oh my god, what?”

“Do you remember when your mom was promoting the Crows movie during the time before the wedding when you…” He makes a very confusing hand motion. David furrows his brow, trying to place what he’s talking about, and then feels the blood drain from his face. He starts shaking his head. Patrick winces. “She may have accidentally posted about it on the Interflix account.”

“Oh my god.”

“We took it down,” Patrick says hurriedly, “and I don’t think very many people saw it. But you should know before we walk into this if your old friends are going to be there and they might have seen it.”

“Oh my god.” He leans back and tenses his hands, horror rocking him in his chair. They might have seen it, this secret, humiliating thing he thought he’d buried, they might know --

“Do you want to just skip it? The decorations are all being shipped and Alexis is hiring people to set them up so we don’t really need to go. We can just tell her that something came up here.”

There’s a nightmare that David used to get back when they first moved to Schitt’s Creek: his old friends standing around him in a circle, mocking his clothes, the motel, him. Sometimes he was in the middle of the circle, the target, and sometimes he was outside, invisible. It came back after the incident, and he kept seeing it whenever he closed his eyes. The trick was this: he’d argue back. He’d tell the ghosts that he has a husband, a family, a best friend, a business, a home; he’d prove to them that he’s won, and the nightmare crowd grew smaller and smaller.

“I will do whatever I can to make this better for you,” Patrick is saying, his eyes round and solemn, and David breathes.

The panicked heat in his veins starts to fade a little with Patrick’s calm voice, Patrick’s sweet face through the blur of David’s wet eyes. Patrick knows, and loves him anyway; loves him more, even, than he did a year ago.

And it would be so easy to stay hidden and safe here in their little cottage, but he looks down at Patrick’s wedding ring and there’s a clarity: he has this. He needs them to know that he has this, that he’s earned this, that he’s worth this.

“You took it down,” David repeats. Patrick nods. “And you married me.” A smile flickers on Patrick’s face. He clears his throat, blinks hard, tries to set his spine straight. “These people are assholes, anyway. Half of the ones I invited didn’t even bother to RSVP to the wedding.”

“So you’re… okay?”

“I mean, no. This might be the single most humiliating thing that’s ever happened to me, and that includes the time Lily Allen locked me out of our suite at the Bowery without any clothes.”

“Okay.” Patrick rubs a hand over his mouth.

“But I need them to know that I’ve won.”

“You’ve won?”

“Yeah, you know, at life.”

“And… and how are you going to do that?”

“By being better than them in every possible way.”

“Oh. Well, at least that’s doable and realistic,” Patrick says into his beer. Whatever; David’s already picturing it in his head.

“Okay, first of all, none of us are going as candy or any other food substance.”

“Got it.”

“And my costume will be impeccable and expensive-looking and the products we’re supplying the club are, obviously, miles above the novelty skeletons and whatever other kitschy crap everyone else is using and everyone is going to rave about how great this club looks.”

“Obviously. I just… I don’t want you to get your hopes up too high,” Patrick says carefully. David shakes his head.

“I know these people. I can beat them.”

“Okay,” Patrick says skeptically. “If that helps you.”

David’s brain whirs through to the hellish night looming: he wants an outfit that will make him feel powerful, that makes a statement, that no one else is going to be wearing. He barely notices Patrick pressing a kiss to his head as he gets up to check on dinner. David glances at the book he’d left on the kitchen table a few days ago, meaning and forgetting to take it back to the library. The ancient Greek helmet on the cover sparks an idea, and he pulls Patrick’s laptop closer and starts googling.

**

“How did you have the energy to travel everywhere all the time?” Stevie asks, panting as she drags her suitcase up the steps of the brownstone their one-bedroom AirBnB apartment is in. “I’m exhausted.” Her flannel is tied around her waist and David briefly considers removing his own sweatshirt; it’s very warm for the end of October in New York and they’ve had to drag their suitcases up the block from where the Uber dropped them off.

“We paid people very generously to do this part for us,” he says, and groans as he pulls his admittedly very heavy suitcase up the steps behind her. “You’re welcome to go stay with Alexis instead.”

“And her multiple roommates? No, thanks. At least I know you two won’t force me into small talk about the weather or your latest hookups.”

“Oh, no, I absolutely plan on doing that.”

“David?” Patrick interrupts. “What’s the code for the key?” He's waiting for them to catch up at the door, which has a little real estate lock box for the key on the doorknob.

“Don’t you have it?”

“No, you said you wanted to ask whether the shower had a rain setting so we used your account to book it.”

“Right. Yes. Yes, I do have it.”

“David?”

“I do! Hold on.” He hands Patrick his holdall, which Patrick takes with a grunt, and pulls up the app on his phone to try to find the code.

When he finally gets the box open and unlocks the door, he’s assaulted with bright purple and green paper garlands hung all around the small apartment; upon closer inspection, he realizes that they’re little witches on brooms and Frankenstein's monster heads. As if that’s not enough, there are also shining orange and black tinsel garlands hung up around the windows.

“Oh my god.”

“It’s festive,” Patrick says, looking around.

“If by ‘festive’ you mean ‘hideous.’”

“David.”

“What?”

“It’s nice that they decorated.”

“Is it, though? Wouldn’t it be nicer to have, like, a private terrace looking over the glittering lights of the city, or a full-service cocktail bar in the room, or a marble soaking tub…”

“Oh my god, I’m so tired,” Stevie groans, wheeling her suitcase over to the couch. She drops onto the faded green couch and immediately stretches out on it, one arm over her head; from experience, he knows she’s about to pass out. David blinks his own gritty eyes and Patrick rubs his back as he passes him to the bedroom.

“We should think about getting ready,” Patrick calls. David makes a face; it’s the same tone Patrick uses when he thinks David’s going to make them miss their dinner reservation, which has only happened twice, thank you.

“Okay, can I see your outfit now?” David asks, following him into the tiny bedroom. He closes the door behind himself so that they don’t disturb Stevie -- she didn’t sleep at all on the plane and he really needs her to be at her best tonight for moral support.

“Yeah, just give me a minute.”

David sighs and lays down on top of the bed, trying not to itch with airplane air still on his skin and clothing. The Halloween decorations carry over in here, too, with orange string lights around the windows and jack-o-lantern cling-art stuck to the walls. The bedding is simple and definitely polyester but seems clean enough; the room is sparsely decorated with chipped flatpack furniture, emphasizing that it’s only ever used for temporary stays and that no one actually lives here or put any effort into making it a nice place to be. His ears ring in the sudden quiet after being on the go all day, but traffic rolls by unceasingly outside the window; had he really lived with that constant noise for so long? In the corner, Patrick shucks his pants and shirt and pulls on clothes from inside his suitcase.

“Okay,” Patrick says after a minute, turning with his hands on his hips. David sits up and blinks at him.

He’s wearing all black, his short-sleeved collared shirt unbuttoned to his sternum, and his hair is still ruffled from pulling his sweater off. David’s mouth drops open; it reminds him of something, but he can’t place it.

“What am I looking at?” he asks, shaking his head with a smile. Patrick holds his hands up by his shoulders and does a slow shimmy and David laughs out loud. “Johnny Castle?”

“Look, Spaghetti Arms,” Patrick growls, and David laughs again, his shoulders shaking.

“You did not.”

“It was Stevie’s idea,” Patrick says, grinning, letting David pull him in to straddle his lap. “She found a wig and everything.”

“Is this because I made you watch Dirty Dancing with me?”

“You made us watch it twelve times this summer, David,” Patrick says. David grins and leans up to kiss him, threading his fingers through his short frizzed-out curls.

“Absolutely worth it,” he murmurs against Patrick’s mouth. “I will not be calling you Johnny, though.”

“Understood,” Patrick says with a pleased smile and kisses him, his mouth soft and gentle, his thumb tracing over David’s ear. Patrick’s lips slide from David’s and place kisses along his jaw; David holds him, hands spread across his beautifully broad back, and breathes him in, trying to enjoy this in the face of the evening ahead.

“Do you think the decorations arrived in one piece?” he blurts. Patrick sighs and presses one more kiss to the side of David’s neck before sliding off his lap.

“I think they’re fine and I’m sure Alexis would have let us know if there was a problem. We’ll be there soon enough -- we have enough time for a shower or a nap before we have to go.”

“Wait, I wasn’t finished here,” David says, reaching out for him. Patrick turns around, patient, and David smiles hopefully up at him. “I still protest the idea of group costumes. But I don’t hate the idea of my husband dressing up as a romcom leading man.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Mm. It’s working for me.”

“That’s totally unexpected,” Patrick says, his eyes twinkling. He brushes a hand through David’s disgustingly greasy and dishevelled hair. “But I was going to take the first shower and then get us some coffee while you take yours.”

“That’s nice of you. Please have sex with me first, though.”

Patrick’s eyes crinkle and he kisses David firmly. David holds onto his shoulders and hums happily against his mouth.

“Welcome back to New York, David.”

“Mm, welcome to New York, Patrick. Although it’s not really my New York if we’re staying in an Ikea apartment in a multifamily residential block in Brooklyn.”

“Okay, David.”

“Really, we should be browsing Saks and then having a quick drink at the Waldorf before getting dinner somewhere with deconstructed fusion food and then heading out to, like, a speakeasy or a rooftop bar.” The worried tightness between Patrick’s eyes reappears; why does David let his mouth run away from him like that?

“Got it. I’m going to go jump in the shower and you should probably start getting ready, because we are leaving in…” He pauses to check the time on his phone. “Forty-five minutes.”

“Fuck!” David jumps up and hurries to his suitcase, which he hefts onto the luggage rack and unzips. He’s vaguely aware of Patrick taking the toiletry bag that David gave him for Christmas last year and leaving him with a gentle hand on his back.

He pulls out the helmet from his suitcase and runs a hand over the bristles. He’d been concerned about its weight since he’ll be wearing it for hours, but he’d been able to find an artist on etsy who could do a rush job on a realistic-looking lightweight foam helmet and thankfully it had arrived in time. The rest of the outfit he’d had to venture onto comic con forum boards to source and had cost… quite a bit. But it will be worth it, he’s sure. It has to be.

“Patrick is singing in the shower,” Stevie complains as she pushes her way into the room. She flops face-first onto the bed and then rolls over to look up at David with a reproving frown, her dark hair fanning around her. He winces.

“Okay, there’s nothing I can do about that.”

“You married him, which I think makes him your responsibility. Also, FYI, the walls here are thin. I could hear your entire conversation.”

“He doesn’t even realize that he does it. And you’re the one who wanted to stay with us!”

“Like I can afford to stay somewhere on my own.” She closes her eyes.

David bites his lip and shakes out his outfit before carefully hanging it up on the garment rack. “Do you think he’s feeling weird about being here?” he asks finally.

“What do you mean?”

“Like, here in New York.”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“I don’t want to stir up anything that’s not there if it’s just in my head. But what if I’m just being selfish, wanting him here with me when it’s just making him uncomfortable?”

“Okay, David, let me just remind you that Patrick is a grown man who tells you when things are bothering him and will give you a straight answer if you just ask him.”

“I know.” He rummages through his holdall but can’t find his phone charger. “Fuck, I think I left my charger at home.”

“I can’t believe Patrick spoiled our costumes,” she says, ignoring him. “I was really looking forward to seeing the look on your face.”

David pulls open Patrick’s backpack to look for his charger; there’s his folio in case he wanted to do work on the plane, the magazine that David bought at the airport but couldn’t fit into his own carryon, his mouth guard case, his nose thing, the headphones David gave him for his birthday, and packed tightly at the bottom is a spare change of clothes, probably in case the airline lost his suitcase. He doesn’t see the charger, though, so he digs underneath the clothes until he feels the cord.

“Aha,” he says triumphantly as Stevie watches and doesn’t offer to help at all. He tugs at it and the plug at the end pulls the clothing out a little; once he frees it he goes to pack the clothes back in as they were but pauses. “He literally packed a backup button-down shirt in his carryon for our weekend trip to New York.”

“Of course he did,” she says with a yawn. “He voluntarily goes to tax seminars, too. You picked a weird one.”

“Thanks, Stevie,” Patrick says, coming into the room with a towel around his waist. “Why are you going through my bag?”

“I forgot my charger at home so I needed yours.”

“And what’s mine is yours, huh?”

“It maybe wasn’t explicitly in our vows, but it was implied.”

“Mhm.” He kisses David’s cheek. “I’m going to get dressed and then go get us some coffee to stay awake while you two get ready. You’ve now got --” he checks his phone -- “thirty minutes.”

“Fuck!”

Stevie bolts upright and she and David stare at each other for a split second before he grabs his toiletry bag and races her to the bathroom.

**

Over an hour later, they’re climbing out of the Uber van in front of a limestone building in Williamsburg, the bass thumping inside audible from the sidewalk. The first floor, half underground, is a taquería advertising happy hour margaritas, and the second and third floors have honest to god blinking orange pumpkin lights in the dark windows.

“Ugh, Alexis,” David says, making a face. He straightens his black tunic and the black leather breastplate and leather-strip skirt that go over it, then puts on his helmet. “Pumpkin lights? I explicitly sent her instructions --”

“David,” Patrick interrupts.

“I can’t put my name on this!”

“It’s Halloween,” Stevie says, a touch condescendingly. “Everyone’s going to be so blitzed they’ll never notice.”

“Great.”

“Come on. Let’s face the music.”

People dressed in costume push past them in small groups and David lets the tide of the youngish crowd pull the three of them up the steps. At the door, there’s a woman in a decent Cleopatra costume carding people and a bouncer dressed in black at her side.

It feels like everyone is staring at him; the four-inch plume on his helmet stretches above everyone’s heads, and he feels self-conscious of his bare knees. He’d never really worn shorts or skirts until Schitt’s Creek. The silver body paint on his heel keeps catching his eye and he starts to feel foolish, which is not a common or comfortable thing.

“Okay, there should be a second line for those of us on the list,” he hisses to Patrick. “Waiting in line with everyone else is not a good look.”

“David,” Patrick says patiently, “we’re here to support Alexis, not get photographed for a tabloid.” David crooks his jaw and nods. It’s not the tabloids he’s worried about. He flicks his eyes to Stevie, who looks almost like a different person in her bushy blonde wig and pink dress that swirls around her knees, and she raises her eyebrows at him.

When it’s their turn, David approaches Cleopatra and she holds up a hand.

“Next two only,” she says, pointing at Patrick and Stevie.

“Oh, we’re all together,” Patrick says. She frowns and then rolls her eyes, which David does not appreciate.

“Whatever. Fine. Three next.”

David tells her before she asks, his hand on Patrick’s shoulder, “If you need to see my ID, my husband’s carrying it.” His costume doesn’t have pockets and Patrick’s does, so Patrick is currently carrying both their IDs and credit cards and cell phones, which at this point in their relationship Patrick has accepted without too much complaining.

Cleopatra glances up at him with heavily lined eyes, bored, and then says, “No, you’re good. Cover’s ten each.” Stevie snorts a laugh.

“I don’t think anyone thinks you’re under twenty-one anymore,” she tells David under her breath.

“What?”

“We’re with Alexis Rose,” Patrick explains to Cleopatra, ignoring them. “The PR consultant?” Cleopatra raises her eyebrows and shakes her head.

“Ten bucks each,” she repeats.

“Oh my god,” David says.

“Fine,” Patrick tells her, smiling tightly. “I think I have thirty dollars on me.” He pulls his wallet out and hands her two twenties; she gives him ten back and marks each of their hands with an orange stamp of a pumpkin outline. It does not go with David’s costume.

Stepping inside is like stepping back into his past; he can almost feel coke gritty under his nose again and the exhaustion of having to be on all the time, of holding himself up to be judged without relief. They’re enveloped in the dark and the noise, bodies packed in around them, the air almost sticky with humidity and enough beer and liquor spilled on the floor that it smells like it’s being pumped in through the HVAC.

But his store’s decorations are up and he has to grab Patrick’s arm as he takes them in: black bat and crow garlands along the wall, lucite skulls and little haunted trees on the bar, black spiderwebbed candelabras hung on the walls, black roses in the windows; all of these things that David had picked out and Alexis put up for all of these people to experience. It’s not quite what he’d imagined -- his leather huaraches are sticking to the floor in an incredibly gross way and he keeps getting shoved by co-eds on their way to the bar -- but it’s better, because it’s real.

“Oh my god, David!”

David turns automatically at her shrill voice to see Alexis hurrying down the stairs that lead up to, apparently, the second floor of the club. She hugs David and he hugs her back as tightly as he can while still trying to avoid getting any glitter on himself. She’s dressed in a tiny white dress with tall feathered white wings, and her cheeks and eyelids and collarbone shimmer in the low light. She looks ethereal and happy.

“I’m so glad you guys came!” she says, hugging Patrick and Stevie next.

“We did not agree on the pumpkin lights in the windows,” he tells her. “Also, your doorkeeper charged us the cover.”

“Ugh, David, support my career, please. Hold on, meet one of my new roommates -- Hannah! Hannah!” She waves over someone wearing round grey ears and a grey mini-dress with whiskers drawn on her face. “Hannah, this is David, Patrick, and Stevie.” Alexis beams at all of them. Hannah waves and her eyes land on Patrick and Stevie.

“Oh my god, you’re from that movie! The dancing one!”

“Yeah, Dirty Dancing,” Stevie says, plucking at the skirt of her dress.

“Oh my god, that’s too cute. So vintage!” David grimaces. “And you’re such a cute couple!”

“Okay, hi, no,” David interrupts, unable to take it, ignoring Stevie grinning at him. “I’m David and this is my husband, Patrick.” He drapes his arm over Patrick’s shoulder and holds up his left hand, rings glinting.

“Oh.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Patrick says. “What are you dressed as?” he asks politely.

Someone pushes past David, tugging his skirt to the side, and he pulls it back so that it’s straight.

“I’m a mouse, duh,” Hannah says proudly, pointing at her ears; David wrinkles his forehead and her face falls. “Mean Girls?”

“Mkay.”

“Okay, well, I’m so glad you’ve all met now,” Alexis says, all false cheer, widening her eyes at David. “This is going so well, but unfortunately I have work to do. Um. Don’t embarrass me, please. Have fun.”

The music shifts to a remix of Bad Blood and Patrick shouts over the noise that he’s going to get them drinks. David and Stevie wait off to the side, taking in the sheer volume of people packed into the room.

“This can’t be compliant with the fire code,” Stevie says, looking a little shell-shocked. David looks around anxiously, both hoping that he does and hoping that he doesn’t see anyone who knows him.

“Do you think anyone recognizes me?”

“What? No. Why --”

“David!” someone calls.

“Oh my god,” David says under his breath, dreading this.

“Who’s he?” Stevie mutters as someone dressed in a pale blue 1920s suit weaves through the crowd toward them. He doesn’t have time to answer.

“Byron!” David says when Byron reaches them, faking a smile. He lets Byron kiss his cheeks.

“Tonight, I’m Nick,” Byron says, thumbing his lapels. “You know, like in The Great Gatsby. Everyone thinks Gatsby’s the main character but, like, it’s Nick’s story, you know?”

“Mhm.”

“So good to see you, David.” David scrunches a smile at him. “Who’s this beauty?”

“Hi, I’m Stevie.” He can’t be sure but she looks like she’s blushing.

“Nice. You look... ravishing. A gladiator, huh, David? Yeah, you always liked a spectacle,” Byron says, staring at David’s helmet.

“It’s Greek.” Byron peers down at his phone; David’s not sure that he’s listening at all. “Gladiators were Roman. This is Greek.”

Patrick steps around Byron and holds out three drinks balanced in his hands. David and Stevie take their cups carefully so he doesn’t drop the third.

“Hey,” Patrick says, nodding at Byron.

“Hey there,” Byron says, looking Patrick up and down. “What are you dressed as? The man of my dreams?”

Patrick’s eyes widen and David forces a laugh.

“This is actually my husband,” David says loudly.

“Oh, no, I get it,” Byron says, ignoring him, waving his beer at Patrick and Stevie; some sloshes on the floor and David winces. “You’re from that Swayze movie! Sorry, man. Didn’t realize she was taken.”

“Hi, no, he’s my husband,” David repeats, waving a hand in front of Byron’s face. Patrick smiles and settles an arm around David’s waist. Byron frowns, confused, and then laughs.

“Husband? I mean, I just assumed -- wow. Your husband.” David bares his teeth in a smile. “So where are you guys living now? No, wait, let me guess. You’ve got a pre-war on the upper west side. No, a loft in Soho.”

“Not quite,” Patrick says. He’s got that wary look in his eyes, which makes David nervous. He squeezes Patrick’s arm and Patrick looks back at him, his eyes softening.

“Whatever,” Byron says, looking at his phone. “I gotta go. Hey, David, do you have any party favors on you?”

“Not tonight.” His voice goes high and he doesn’t look at Patrick, doesn’t want to see the expression on his face.

“Alright, fine. I’ll go find Jitney; I’m sure she’s got some.”

“Okay,” David says weakly to his back. “This is not going the way that I wanted it to.”

“He seems fun,” Stevie says drily.

“Mhm.” David looks down at his outfit, the armor of the warrior Achilles, and feels a little inadequate.

“You look great,” Patrick says, reading his mind, and what did David do to deserve him? “Do you want to wander around a little?”

They fight their way upstairs, just to look around, and David spots Alexis’s wings above the crowd and leads Patrick and Stevie over to where she’s holding court with a small group off to the side of the bar.

“So did you know that Byron and Jitney are here?” he asks loudly, fully interrupting her conversation.

“I know, I invited them,” Alexis says, annoyed.

“What? Why? Byron is the worst and Jitney is the biggest gossip I have ever met.”

“Well, exactly, David!”

He shakes his head at her, baffled, but the guy next to her, his face, arms, and shirtless washboard abs painted blue and his nose painted yellow, waves and cuts them off.

“Hi, I’m Lexie’s boyfriend Jay.” Lexie, David mouths. “I’m a bluejay,” the guy explains, a disarmingly upbeat smile on his face. “Get it? I’m a blue Jay!”

“Oh my god, is this your type now?” he asks Alexis incredulously. She squints at him and scratches her nose with her middle finger.

“Hi, I’m Patrick. This is Stevie. It’s nice to meet you.” Patrick shakes Jay’s hand and then stares at his blue palm. David reaches between some finance bros to grab a cocktail napkin from the bar and hands it to him to wipe it off.

“You guys look great,” Jay says, beaming. “I love a good couples costume.”

“He’s my husband,” David says, his voice going shrill. Stevie laughs, twisting to the side to try to hide it.

“Can you guys do the lift?”

“Oh, no, we’re not doing that,” Stevie says quickly. Patrick shakes his head in agreement.

“Oh hey, Jitney!” Alexis shouts. She waves over a small redhead dressed as a black cat, whom David hasn’t seen since they lost everything.

“Oh my god, David!” Jitney coos. She leans up to air-kiss his cheeks. “What have you been up to? It’s been forever!”

“Mhm, yes, well, I got married,” he says, holding Patrick’s hand tightly.

“Oh my god, no way!”

“I know, right?” Alexis says, touching her shoulder.

“Who would’ve guessed that you’d be off the market?”

“Um.”

“Sadie! Sadie!” Jitney calls through the crowd.

“Oh god,” David mutters.

“This is awesome,” Stevie says, watching with wide eyes over the rim of her cup. “I’m so glad I came. It’s like being in an episode of one of those Bravo shows.”

Sadie comes over and with her is fucking Sebastien, not wearing a costume at all, dressed only as himself.

“David got married,” Jitney tells them. Sadie, all in white like Alexis but with BOO written across her chest, looks Patrick up and down. David rubs Patrick’s shoulder, the firm muscle he would know even lost in the dark. “Unbelievable, right?”

Sadie just lifts her eyebrows, but not enough that her forehead would wrinkle. She wraps her hand around her drink and an enormous ring glints on her finger.

“Well, it’s not that unbelievable,” David says and forces a laugh. Sebastien just looks at Patrick, his face inscrutable, and David is really really regretting every decision that led him here. He wants to step in front of Patrick, just to stop him looking. Patrick isn’t for him.

“I like your costume,” Stevie says loudly, leaning toward Sadie.

“It’s ironic,” Sadie says flatly.

“Oh. Sure.”

“You look really great, David,” Sebastien says, eyeing his half-bare arms and legs. “The homely life suits you. This handmade warrior energy would look amazing juxtaposed against, like, a junkie alleyway backdrop.” David’s run through a thousand scenarios in his head of what he would say if he ever saw him again, but all he can do is stare back dumbly.

“You’re cute, too, though,” Jitney says, tilting her head at Patrick. “In, like, an innocent corn-fed Kansas sort of way.”

“We own a business together,” David says uselessly, trying to claw back the conversation. Why had he thought this would work?

“So, like, is your dad an exec or something?” Sadie asks Patrick, tilting her head shrewdly. “You don’t look like you’re the type.”

“Um. No, he teaches middle school math.”

“You must make a lot of money, though, to keep this one happy,” Jitney says, tugging on David’s leather breastplate.

“We’re doing fine, thanks,” David says tightly. Patrick shifts at his side and he needs to go, needs to get them out. “Will you excuse us? We’re just going to step outside for some air. Stevie, you good?” She raises her glass and gives Sebastien a critical look.

Down the stairs and out the back there’s a small garden set up with tables and chairs for the smokers. David finds the least-smoky corner and stands there, rubbing his arms, looking up at the buildings around them that reach up to the clouded stars. He used to find comfort in them, like he was being held in the city’s cupped palm, but now he just misses their backyard, the quiet shushing of the trees, Patrick bringing him tea.

His ears ring at the relative silence; he’d stopped noticing how loud the music was inside. Patrick stands quietly at his side, arms folded, taking in the drunk masses spilling out onto the patio. David feels so separate from them and he’d thought -- well. It was stupid, coming here.

“Are you doing okay?” Patrick asks finally.

“Um. Not great?”

“I’m sorry, David. See, this is what I was worried about, coming here.”

“What?”

Patrick rubs the back of his neck. “I was worried that these people would just let you down again. I mean, from what you’ve told me, none of them treated you very well in the past and I guess I just… I didn’t want you to have to go through that again.”

“Oh,” David says blankly.

“And they’re up there saying all those things about you like it’s nothing, like I’m too stupid to get what they’re really saying, and insinuating that all you are is some gold-digger, and I was just getting angrier and angrier because -- I love you, David, and I know you, and they’re just… wrong. They’re just wrong. They have no idea who you are.”

The fierce fury lights Patrick’s eyes like burning coals and he feels like he could cry.

“I can’t believe I thought this would be a good idea. I’m so sorry. I thought I could just come back and make them see that I’m better than who I was,” he says, his throat tight. “This life, my old friends…. Um. I think I’d papered over it in my head? I didn’t think it would be like this. I thought it would be fine now, with you, but I think it’s worse.”

“Worse?”

“Now you know who I was,” he says, shrugging his shoulders, holding his arms tightly. “That was me.”

“I love you,” Patrick repeats, holding onto David’s shoulders, looking him right in the eye, all earnestness and fierce love and it’s Patrick. “All of you. Even the part of you that makes me carry your phone all night because pockets would throw off the aesthetic of your costume.” David rolls his wet eyes and Patrick’s mouth twitches. “I know who you are, David. And if they can’t see how amazing you are, that’s their loss. Although I am judging you a little bit for having dated Sebastien. That guy seems like a creep.”

“He’s a smooth talker when he wants to be, though.”

“I’ll take your word for it. But are you okay?”

“Keep telling me nice things and I think I will be. Are you okay?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Patrick says. He smiles fondly and straightens David’s breastplate. “What can they do to me with you at my side?”

David touches his forehead to Patrick’s, breathing in the clean rich scent of him, and he does feel better, like the jagged edges have been worn down enough to stop hurting.

“I love you,” David murmurs against his mouth and their lips brush before he kisses him for real. Patrick returns the kiss with a gentle hand on David’s back, not pushing for more with a herd of drunk twenty-somethings two yards away.

“Are you okay to go face them again?”

“Mm, we should probably go rescue Stevie.”

“Just a minute,” Patrick murmurs, and kisses him again, his hand broad and warm on David’s neck. “My brave Achilles.”

They stop by the bar for some water on the way back upstairs, where Stevie is staring at Sadie as she drones on about something, a highly dubious expression on her face.

“You willingly hung out with these people?” she mutters to David when he’s back at her side.

“It was a dark time.”

“Oh, David,” Sebastien says, a cold smile curling his mouth. “We all saw your mom’s movie, by the way.”

“That was nice of you.”

“Oh, right,” Sadie says, and she starts to smile too; it’s the first time David’s seen her smile all night, and it’s a little eerie. She almost looks like a normal person. “It was so weird, like someone filmed a bad trip.” David curls his lip; he doesn’t necessarily disagree, but his mother had been so proud of it. “Hey, didn’t you do your mom’s PR?” Sadie asks Alexis, like she already knows the answer.

“Mhm, I did,” Alexis says. Her shoulder has blue body paint on it from where she’s been standing too close to Jay. She flicks her eyes to David and widens them slightly, but he can’t tell what it is she’s trying to say; he shakes his head minutely and she widens her eyes more.

“The crow attack at the premiere in that rustic little town was honestly inspired. Quite the promo stunt.”

“Oh, well, you know,” Alexis says with a little laugh. “I am a PR professional now.” She flips her hair and David can’t help but smile, even if it does feel like they’re swimming with sharks who’ve caught a scent, circling just out of sight.

“That’s right! You’re both so hard-working these days. It’s adorable,” Sadie says. She turns to Sebastien, asks with her head tilted and a small smile, “Hey, wasn’t there another promo video that came out? Do you remember, Seb?”

Here it is. David’s lungs tighten and his face starts sweating and vaguely he feels Stevie step closer to his side, Patrick at his other shoulder.

“Which one was that?” Sebastien asks, his gaze steady on David, drinking in his reaction. David tries not to move a muscle, but he’s out of practice. Jitney watches with hungry eyes.

“Oh, you know the one.” Sadie sips her vodka soda. “Moira walks into, like, an empty store and the camera’s on David and his friend here. It goes dark but you can hear her talk about your nose job and the -- what did she call it, David?”

David’s mouth drops open but it’s dry and his vocal cords don’t make a sound; air roars in his ears as they pull him under.

“It was like, whoops-I-peed or something,” Sebastien says, and Sadie tilts her head back in a silvery laugh, her even white teeth glowing.

“Okay,” Patrick cuts in. “We have to go, actually.”

“Are you talking about the oopsie daisy?” Alexis asks loudly, a fake smile on her face. “Oh my god, can you believe that people actually thought that that was real?”

Sebastien finally looks away from David and for the first time Sadie looks surprised, but she quickly pulls her expression back to its cool detachedness.

“It was fake?” Jitney asks, clearly disappointed.

“Duh! Of course it was fake. It was a strategy. Oh my god, it got so many hits that the head of Interflix PR sent me, like, twenty bouquets as a thank you. I was being headhunted before I even got to the city. It was insane.”

“And you just went along with it?” Sadie asks David skeptically.

“Isn’t he the best?” Alexis coos, bopping his nose. He makes a face at her. “And then you went and got married to this hottie!”

“Mhm,” David manages, starting to breathe again.

“Aren’t you lucky,” Sebastien says, his lip curling in a sneer, and the switch flips: David could almost laugh at him, his insignificant ignorance.

“Mm, I am, thanks so much.” He sets his shoulders, feeling the armor settle, fitting the way it should. This he can do. “It was such a shame that none of you could come to the wedding.”

“Oh, yeah, it was beautiful,” Stevie says.

“It was, thank you. We got to have an intimate, bespoke, exclusive ceremony with our closest friends and family,” he tells them, and they shrink a little before his eyes. “We had white flowers everywhere and a capella singers and everyone we love in one room, and Patrick….” He pauses to look at Patrick with a suddenly watery smile and Patrick smiles back. “It was probably the best day of my life,” he adds softly, too honest for this crowd, but Patrick is smiling at him and they don’t even matter. “We have a thriving business and a beautiful home and everything is basically perfect.”

“That’s great,” Jitney says, her smile stretching the whiskers drawn across her cheeks, even while Sadie and Sebastien remain stony-faced. It reminds David of why they were friends; she’s incredibly annoying and the absolute worst person to confide in, but she can be sweet, too. “I’m happy for you. Oh, I love this song!” She hops in place a little as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sing, Off with your head/Dance till you’re dead. Sadie rolls her eyes but lets Jitney tug on her hand. “Heads will roll, on the floor! Come on, let’s dance!”

David looks to Patrick, who shrugs, and Stevie grins, backing up towards the dancing masses.

“Oh, loverboy!” Stevie calls, beckoning at Patrick with a crooked finger.

“None of that!” David shouts, fully regretting introducing her to Dirty Dancing, but he follows them into the writhing crowd. Someone’s arm flies up and knocks his helmet askew. Patrick, pressed in so close that David can see the faint freckles sprinkled across his cheekbones, straightens it for him and kisses him right there on the dance floor.

“My brave Achilles,” he says again. David flushes and Patrick smiles. “I’m so proud of you, David.”

“Come on, loverboy!” Stevie says, tugging at Patrick’s sleeve.

“Stop that!” David complains. She grins and Patrick laughs, letting her pull him forward.

Alexis appears at David’s side, blue and yellow smeared across her cheek and chin, and he bursts out laughing, elated at just about everything, a helium balloon of relief released.

“You’ve got a little something, Alexis,” he tells her, gesturing at her face. “It kind of looks like you’ve been necking with a smurf.”

“What? Ew! Jay!” She takes a napkin from the bar and rubs at her face, smearing the blue and her shimmer together.

“Sorry, babe,” Jay says cheerfully. The music changes to something David vaguely recognizes from Rocky Horror and Jay’s eyes light up. “It’s astounding,” he sings along, making jazz hands. He might actually be even geekier than Ted was, not that Alexis seems to mind. “Time is… fleeting. And madness… takes its toll.”

“No,” David insists, dismayed. “No group dances!”

It’s a lost cause, though; even Alexis gets into it, singing along fully offkey right in his face, “Let’s do the time warp again!”

Stevie is surprisingly coordinated taking a jump to the left and a step to the right on cue, but Patrick is just as awkward as he’d been trying to learn the choreography for Cabaret, nearly stepping on David’s foot more than once. He glances at David and laughs self-consciously; David can’t help but join in. Off in the crowd, Jitney is trying to force Sadie to dance and it’s a losing battle but her optimism, at least, is making Sadie smile while Sebastien sulks at the bar.

There are so many people dancing in unison that David’s briefly afraid of the floor collapsing. It’s so hot that Patrick’s sweating, his hair curling damply onto his forehead and beads of sweat clinging to his bared collarbone; David wants to lick it.

Instead, Patrick takes Stevie’s hand and twirls her under his arm, her dress flaring around her, and she laughs, delighted. Alexis takes David’s arm and beams up at him, watching them dance. They’re all happy, here, in this moment; his three favorite people on the planet, dancing and singing and laughing together, and David wishes he could scoop up the moment and keep it in a corked bottle, somehow. Just to hold them all here with him a little while longer.

When the music changes to something David doesn’t recognize, Jitney and Sadie say goodbye and, thank god, take Sebastien with them.

“You seem happier,” Jitney tells him while Sadie and Sebastien are at the bar closing out their tab. “Lighter than you used to be. I’m glad.”

“Thank you,” David says genuinely. She touches his arm and smiles and then they’re gone.

It’s late enough that the crowd starts to thin, people heading out to other parties or just heading home.

“You did a good job tonight,” David tells Alexis, shouting over the music. She beams at him and taps his helmet. “Thank you, also, for what you said to them about the video.”

“Of course, David. And now Jitney will tell literally everyone that it was fake, and no one will want to admit that they were gullible enough to believe that it was real. So you’re welcome. Although it was a little bit my fault to begin with.”

David wrinkles his forehead and opens his mouth to make her clarify what the fuck that means, but Patrick cuts him off, his hot arm around David’s waist, his sweaty chest against David’s shoulder.

“Hey, wasn’t there a taquería downstairs?” Patrick asks, leaning into David’s ear.

“Hello, husband.” He smiles as Patrick presses a kiss to his shoulder.

“Want to go get some? I’m kind of hungry.”

“Um, yes!” he says, nodding emphatically. “Stevie? Tacos?”

“God, yes.”

“See you tomorrow for brunch, okay?” David kisses Alexis’s cheek and realizes too late that he’s probably got glitter on his face now.

“Come back if you get a second wind! I have to be here till after closing time and I’ve missed you guys, like, a lot.”

“Sure,” David says, but then while they wait for the crowds to move out the door he realizes that he’s exhausted.

They step outside of the club and it’s a literal breath of fresh air. There are also youths all over the street, costume pieces and plastic cups strewn everywhere, people yelling drunkenly at each other. Ah, New York.

The taquería is doing a booming business downstairs and David suspects they must make half their revenue on people spilling out of the club upstairs.

Patrick keeps checking his phone as they stand in line and refuses to hold David’s helmet for him while they wait for their order, so he and Stevie hover as annoyingly as possible over a table of people just loitering there until they leave.

“Oh thank god,” he groans when he’s finally off his feet.

“I can’t wait to go to bed,” Stevie says, closing her eyes, her chin propped on her hand. Because he loves her, he won’t remind her that there have been an untold number of butts on that couch. Maybe he’ll put an extra blanket down so she’s not sleeping directly on it. He really is growing as a person.

“Tacos,” Patrick announces, carefully carrying a tray of six tacos and tortilla chips and salsa over to their table. “Barbacoa, pescado, carnita.”

“Yum, thank you, husband.”

“Yeah, thanks, Patrick. Do you want me to pay you back for these?”

“Nah, they were like fifteen dollars altogether. Just think of it as restitution for having to keep David company.”

“Hey!”

“Kidding,” Patrick says, and he gently brushes a hand through David’s hair.

“Ugh, don’t. I’ve got helmet hair.”

“Yep,” Stevie says. “You do.” She takes a big bite of her taco and moans. “God, this is good.”

Patrick bites into his and juice drips down his chin; David passes him some napkins and Patrick wipes his face and hands. The tacos are really good. He wonders if he can get Patrick to make him some like these at home.

“Are you glad we came?” Patrick asks eventually, dropping his hand to David’s thigh under the table.

“Mm, I think I am.”

“Good.” Patrick smiles and rubs his thigh, his fingers brushing up under David’s skirt. “What time are we meeting Alexis for brunch tomorrow?”

“We’d said ten-ish, but she runs on Alexis time, so who knows.”

“How is that any different from David time?” Stevie asks. He makes a face at her.

Patrick’s phone buzzes and he clearly fights a grin when he reads the message. “Our car is around the corner,” he says, fake-casually. He hands over David’s phone and cards, warm from being in Patrick’s pocket all night. “I’ll just go get it. You guys sit tight.”

“Kay,” David says, beyond caring as long as it means that he doesn’t have to walk far. “Can I have your last taco?”

“Go for it. Be right back.”

He unashamedly watches Patrick leave, the heft of his ass in those black jeans as he climbs the steps to street level, until Stevie throws a balled-up napkin at him.

“Gross,” she says sternly. “I’m eating.”

“I can’t help it! He’s my --”

“Husband, I know. You don’t have to keep repeating the word,” she says, smirking. “We get it. You snatched up a good one.”

“Well. Just so you’re aware.” She sucks sauce off her finger and he wrinkles his nose. “Did you wash your hands?”

She flips him off. “As I was saying, he’s a good one. He loves you an amount that I, personally, cannot comprehend.”

“I know,” David says, a small smile pulling at his mouth.

“And meeting your past in person didn’t even scare him off. So, um. Are you rethinking moving here at some point?”

“I don’t know,” he says slowly. “I kind of feel like I’ve gotten what I needed.”

Her smile is relieved and she takes off her wig, setting it next to David’s helmet, and scratches at her scalp.

“God, that’s so much better.” She props her feet up on the chair next to him and taps at his arm with the toe of her shoe. “I liked your costume, by the way. You did read the book then? Achilles and Patroclus, epic lovers. I told you you’d like it.”

“I did.” He picks at a tortilla chip, breaking it into small pieces into the wax paper bowl. He thinks of Patrick with him on the club’s patio, fiercely protective, and Patrick with him on the dance floor, proud and loving. They haven’t even been married two months yet and already the love he has for Patrick feels like it eclipses the word husband, but he uses it because nothing else comes close. He gets why Achilles half lost his mind after losing Patroclus, his most beloved, the best of the Greeks. It’s a sinew-woven certainty, a visceral knowledge in the pit of his heart. He eats a piece of chip and the salt on his tongue brings him back. “You looked great tonight,” he tells Stevie honestly. She blushes and smooths out the skirt of her dress.

“I’d never wear something like this in real life, but it was fun for a night. Thanks for lending me your husband to wear it with.”

“Okay, I never actually agreed to that. In fact, I remember specifically saying no couples costumes.”

She grins and wipes a spot of sauce from the corner of her mouth. David’s phone buzzes with a message from Patrick: Outside with the car. He shows it to Stevie and stands up slowly, wincing as he puts weight on his aching feet, wishing he were already in bed with him.

They have to push through a crowd of people to get out onto the sidewalk, and when a scarecrow and a vampire finally step aside, David sees a goddamn vision waiting for him in the street.

Patrick, still dressed in black with his collar gaping, is leaning against a beautiful black antique car. He lifts a hand in a wave when David sees him and then slides it back into his pocket.

“Oh my god,” David says blankly.

“Oh shit,” Stevie says with a disbelieving laugh.

“Oh my god,” David repeats.

“Do you like it?” Patrick asks, grinning. A yellow taxi honks at him as it maneuvers around the car and David reflexively flips it off. “It’s not exactly the same as the car in the movie, but it just seemed like too good a moment to pass up.”

“I love you so fucking much,” David says happily, looping his arms over Patrick’s shoulders. Patrick’s hands come up to rest on his hips, easy as anything, and Patrick kisses him.

Someone clears their throat on the other side of the car and David pulls away from Patrick’s mouth to see a legitimately Hemsworth-looking guy in a zip-up hoodie standing in the open driver’s side door.

“Hi,” the guy says. “Not to ruin your moment, Paddy, but it’s kinda late.”

“Sorry, Ben.” Patrick clears his throat and takes a step back. “David, Stevie, this is Ben, my college roommate who decided his biggest dream was to work in finance, for some reason. Ben lives in the area and he said he’d give us a lift home. Ben, this is my husband, David, and our friend, Stevie.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ben says with a nod. “Ready to go?”

“Shotgun,” Stevie says immediately. David presses back a smile.

“Cool,” Ben says. “Love your dress, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Stevie says. She turns her back on Ben and mouths Oh my god at David and Patrick and David has to hide his laugh against Patrick’s shoulder.

“I think you might have a secret talent as a matchmaker,” he says once Stevie and Ben are in the car. Patrick laughs and shakes his head.

“Come on, baby,” he says. He kisses David’s cheek and opens the door to the backseat.

“You can’t quote the movie at me when we’re somewhere we can’t have sex,” David hisses back at him.

In the front seat, Stevie sighs.

The motion of the car combined with the exhaustion of the day knocks him out within a couple of blocks, his head drooping towards Patrick’s comfortable shoulder, and he only wakes when Patrick gently shakes his knee and presses a kiss to his forehead.

“I’m going to go get a nightcap with Ben,” Stevie says, twisting around in the front seat, her dark hair falling out of the bun she’d put it in to wear under the wig. “So you guys have about an hour to do whatever it is that I don’t want to hear.”

“Is that safe?” David asks Patrick under his breath. “He’s not a serial killer, is he?”

“No, I’m not a serial killer,” Ben says loudly. David winces.

“It’s fine, David,” Patrick says. He collects David’s helmet and helps him out of the car. “Have a good time, guys. Thanks again, Bennie.”

“My pleasure,” Ben says, winking at Stevie.

“Oh my god,” David mutters. They watch them drive off and then David follows Patrick up the stairs to their little temporary apartment.

The hum of the refrigerator in the quiet apartment is strange, different from the one he’s used to, and purple witches and green monsters wave a little on their garlands in the breeze from a cracked-open window. The shoebox bedroom is still as they’d left it, but it seems different, now; he’s not settling for a bargain version of his old life. They’re just stopping here until they return home.

Bent over his suitcase next to him, lit up only by the tacky orange Halloween string of lights in the window, Patrick pulls out the matching pajama set that David had bought him for his apartment housewarming party. It’s very cute and the shadow of his eyelashes fans down over his cheek and David falls in love with him all over again.

“So how many other hot friends with actual working cars do you have?” David asks as he removes his body armor. He sets it carefully on the garment rack and feels a strange kind of sadness that he won’t ever need it again.

“David.”

“Kidding. There’s only one Johnny Castle I want in my dance space.” Patrick laughs and David grins, pleased with himself, adoring him.

“Hey,” Patrick says softly, stroking back David’s hair.

“Hm.”

“You were beautiful tonight.”

David ducks his head, says, “Thank you for coming with me.”

“Thank you for letting me,” Patrick murmurs. He tilts David’s head up with a nudge of his nose against David’s and kisses him tenderly, lovingly.

David lets him walk him back to the bed and he pulls off his tunic and underwear, dropping them into the floor. He lays there naked and vulnerable on the cheap polyester Ikea bedspread, watching as Patrick silently undresses above him and then carefully climbs over him on his hands and knees, the smeared pumpkin stamp on his hand by the ring David slid onto his finger at the beginning of September, his hands gentle on David’s bare skin, his wonderful face tinted orange in the dim light. Patrick kisses him, touches him, and David’s spine arches, his heart reaching to meet Patrick’s.