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Hell Or High Water (AU)

By linkthehero

It's not love, I swear
It might be closer to despair


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linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   23d ago

[size14 Nolan padded into the kitchen, his socks hardly picking up from the tile. A new post it note on the fridge: [i drink some water]. He let out a puff of hair and took it down, crumpling it in his hand and throwing it away in the nearby bin. He opened the fridge, bypassing the water and going for an energy drink instead. He was already running a little late.

When he turned around, he found a plate stacked high with cinnamon rolls and covered in plastic wrap to keep them fresh on the kitchen island. Another post it note: [i just ONE. love you!] Nolan looked into the living room and down the hallway like Lizzy might be hiding out and waiting to pounce if he broke her rule. He checked the time. 12:43. He knew she was at class. Still, he decided not to tempt fate and took just one. He licked the icing from his fingers when he was finished and made his way back to his room where he had just woken from his sleep.

He debated on a shower. Decided against it. No one looked twice at him anyway. No one looked at the custodians. Not even if he [i was] the building manager. So he threw on a flannel over some worn out jeans, clipping his ID to his front pocket, and set out.

Nolan left the one story house and got in his old trusty truck, now so far from where it started. Spring Valley, Nevada had at first been like hell to Nolan who preferred the small town life. The massive freeways and multi-lane roads gave him a headache and he hated to drive at night now, despite having to do it every day. Too many headlights. He tried not to complain too much, though. He and Charlotte had moved out here for Lizzy. Her early admittance into The Culinary Academy of Las Vegas was the real reason he was here at all. And they weren’t about to let her come by herself. Not with her father still out there.

They’d been here for about six months now. Nolan hardly stepped outside other than to work and Charlotte was worried he was stooping back into depression. He had to wonder if he ever really crawled out of it.

“Just go meet some people. Get yourself out there. Make some friends.”

That was real easy for her to say. She was charismatic. Nolan was every part the aging, blue-collar grump.

“Please cut your hair. You’re starting to look like sasquatch.” 

That was also easy for her to say. Because she loved to pick on him. But he had yet to find a barber and Charlotte refused to help him like she did when they were younger, claiming that what passed for a good haircut in bum-fuck nowhere was hardly going to pass here. Besides, his cowlicks always made her angry. 

Nolan’s trip to the college took about three times as long as it would have if he were traveling this distance back home in Arkansas or Texas because there was a light on every corner and there was a constant stop and go of traffic. The sports cars pulled up beside him blaring their bass and Nolan sat back trying his best to ignore them. “God, I hate the city,” he mumbled to himself.

At least he could retreat into his mind when he got to work. Go through the motions. Complete his tasks and get home. He often compared his work at colleges to his work at hospitals. It was far less demanding at least. After Brady he just couldn’t stand being inside hospitals anymore.

He’d been at work for a couple hours, making the rounds and cleaning up various messes, when he crossed the large courtyard. Some of the students smoked out here when they weren’t supposed to be smoking anywhere on campus grounds, but Nolan didn’t care much unless he was actually asked to stop them by a professor or unless they were throwing their butts on the ground and making a mess for him later. After hours Nolan was even known to take a smoke or two on the grounds.

But when the last quarter of one got flicked into his path by someone completely oblivious to him, that made him stop. He looked down at the butt, then up to the reprobate who had tossed it carelessly, almost into the grass. Shaggy black hair on a head looking away from him. Black clothes. Nolan sighed.

He knelt to pick up what was left of the cigarette and nonchalantly walked over to the offender. He cleared his throat. When he finally looked over at him, Nolan held the butt out, as if to show him what he had. Then he dropped it and stepped on it with his big boot. “I’m not sure if you can read. I’m assuming you can. You must, since you’re carryin’ those books ‘n all.” His voice came out with his usual southern drawl. He hated that it seemed to stick out a lot more since they moved here. People looked at him a lot more when he talked. Nolan pointed to a nearby sign. The black and white cigarette with the red X through it. “If I can’t do it, you can’t do it.”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Late at night Patrick wondered sometimes what it ever felt like to think straight. It had been... so... long... that most events in his life seemed to be blinking in and out of focus. It was probably the depression that made him feel like this but no one seemed to notice. His job was to give. Give. Give. Give.
 
He had been on a rooftop early that morning with Steven who thought way too much. Everything was analyzed in a way that made talking to him almost exhausting but Patrick was the only person he felt he could confide in. In a way, Steve reminded him of work and Mr. Braxton’s teachings. A philosopher like Socrates. So he listened to him. [i Blink.] They were back on the street. [i Blink.] Patrick was back in front of his apartment. 
 
There was a heavy weight that seemed to linger around the front door. The moment he approached it, it fell on his shoulders. [i Blink.] Damian was in the kitchen, leaning over an empty whiskey glass. He was upset and Patrick already knew why. [i Blink.] They were in the living room and he was hearing the same story again. In these moments, Damian reminded him of another teaching. When Julius Caesar killed the former king and gave himself the crown of Rome. [i Blink.] Damian leaned in heavily, making him promise forever again since he was the only one he could talk to. The only one who understood. Patrick needed a drink.
 
[i Blink.] 
 
He hardly remembered what day it was anymore. Class? He only knew when Damian moved off the couch and dressed before him. It helped that he cut his classes this semester. After Damian left and before Damian got out. It left him with time. Preparation was always important. 
 
[i Blink.] 
 
What time was it? Did he remember that research paper? No. That’s right. He didn’t do it. He should have done it Sunday but they were out, as usual. He had a hard time saying no to Damian’s magnetic charisma. Why did he even sign up for chemistry anyway? [i Blink.] 
 
Class, music, smoke. What time was it? Only 12:32pm. Steven, class, music, smoke. 1:26pm. Did he remember to bring his gloves? It was getting chilly for September already and the hoodie he had was wearing thin. But the money he had this week needed to go to dinner. He had to make up for last night. He turned a page in the Shakespeare novel. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He liked this one. 1:34pm. Damian should be here in- 
 
Someone cleared their throat and Patrick looked up. A very shaggy looking man in a flannel held out the butt of a cigarette and it took him a minute to realize he must have just discarded it without even checking for authorities in the courtyard. The badge read [i Nolan Gray, Spring Valley Collage, Building Manager]. He sighed. He was really off his game today. The two hours of sleep clearly wasn’t enough.
 
”I’m not sure you can read,” Building Manager Mr. Gray started in the most southern accent he’d heard in a while. Clearly from out of state. “I’m assuming you can. You must, since you’re carryin’ those books ‘n all.” He couldn’t help it. Patrick had to smile at that accent. It was hilariously out of place in the middle of thick city Nevada. Building Manager pointed to the sign just a few yards away. “If I can’t do it, you can’t do it.” 
 
Patrick closed the novel and felt the grin spread across his features. “I mean, contrary to popular belief Mr. Gray, you [i could] smoke out here and may even start a revolution. Can you imagine? Smoking rights for all.” He took the butt from the Building Manager’s fingers and tossed it in the trash. “I [i promise] I won’t smoke out here again.”
 
He hoped he would be left off with a warning. Getting any kind of punishment wouldn’t blow over well with Damian though if he thought about it, he’d probably end up skipping the punishment all together regardless. Shaggy Hair seemed nice enough with those eyes and all. Maybe all it took was a little charm. What time was it? He glanced down at his phone. 1:39pm.]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   23d ago

[size14 Nolan caught the title of the book in the kid’s hands. Nolan had always been too uneducated to understand Shakespeare. He remembered reading it in high school, but could never imagine just reading the stuff for the fun of it. That’s what was so fun about working at a college. He got to see all these smart, young people that reminded him why he did what he did. Why he never stepped foot in a college as a student himself.

“I mean, contrary to popular belief Mr. Gray, you [i could] smoke out here and may even start a revolution. Can you imagine? Smoking rights for all.” Nolan wanted to smile. Dammit, he really wanted to. But he couldn’t let his mild authority as building manager go challenged. (Whatever authority there was to even be had. It was honestly all Nolan had at this point.) “I [i promise] I won’t smoke out here again.”

“Mhmm,” Nolan hummed, doubting every word. Somehow he figured this kid was smarter than he looked. Promising not to smoke out [i here] didn’t mean he promised not to smoke [i over there] or in the parking lot or over by the restrooms. Nolan sucked on his teeth, debating on calling him out for this specificity. Then he decided against it. His days were bland enough as it was. At least this added some kind of unknown to the coming days, even if the punk decided to obey the rules, Nolan wouldn’t know and he would have something to think about for the following week.

Besides, he hadn’t been expecting the offender to look so tired and out of it when he turned around. Dark circles ringed his eyes in a different way than the usual look of the college attendee. Nolan had seen that look in his own eyes when he was about that age. Perhaps he was going through something.

“Alright,” he finally said, hefting a sigh like it was the hardest thing to do, letting this punk kid get away with his minor wrongdoing. (Which Nolan still didn’t find all that terrible. It was just his job.) “Just don’t let me see it again,” he said, starting to walk away. He specifically left out [i where] not to let him see it. He glanced over his shoulder at him, accidentally letting slip a little grin as he continued his rounds.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The Building Manager paused and Patrick knew he had this punishment averted. The man played it off, humoring him greatly as he made to move away. Patrick watched after him, crossing his arms as Shaggy Hair looked over shoulder and let loose a small grin. 

He mused to himself, watching the older man making his way through the courtyard and out to the adjacent walkway. Curious. He’d never noticed that Southerner before.  

“What are you staring at?” 

Patrick nearly jumped, turning to look at Damian. “Janitor caught me smoking but let me off.”  

He laughed and flipped off the empty space where Mr. Gray had once been. “Fuck em. You probably charmed your way out of it.” 

Patrick scoffed. “It’s the hair. Now come on,” he reached for Damain’s hand and the blonde bristled only slightly. “It’s okay. I’m going to take you out for dinner.” 

Damian pushed the curls out of eyes and raised a brow. “What for? Did I do something to earn such a date?”

“I’m supposed to spoil you, you brat.” Patrick pulled him along, tucking the book under his arm. “Let’s go somewhere.” 

The other softened and followed close. That was good. He would be forgiven. Damian wouldn’t turn down a date especially if it was free... and he knew how much the blonde loved the night life. Damian chose a bar with his favorite burgers and while it was still early in the afternoon, they never shied away from the liquor. There would be no studying done. No papers. No time for a chapter with his book. So... he blinked. 

Bar, restaurant, food. One shot. Then two. Coke and rum. Smoke. What day was it? Did he have something due tomorrow? Thursday was buy one game, get one free at the pool table. So they played. He let Damian win and he laughed, enjoying himself and that kept Patrick content. He was tired but he played well until it was 10:30pm when the live music started. 

Damian hated the band but Patrick thought they did decent covers of the group U2 even though it was a little too pop sounding for his tastes. Once his boyfriend was sick of the people and drinks, they headed back out to the bus stop and he tried to ward off the dark feeling that came over going back home. [i Blink.] 

Front door, heaviness. Make out session. Bedroom. Harder. One shot, two. Then three and King Caesar was onry again thinking about his Father who was coming into town this week. How he’d love to never see the bastard again. Then he whispered he loved him and Patrick said it out of habit. What time was it? 12:54am. [i Blink]  

Damian fell asleep in the bedroom and Patrick was grateful. He stared out the window, a little too drunk to care if the other even awoke to find him this time. He wanted to feel something. Everything just... felt like nothing. 

-.-.-.-

Patrick outright skipped classes that day. It was only two months into the new semester and he knew he was failing. Damian didn’t have to know. As long as he showed up, he never gave a fuck where Patrick was till it was time to go home. 

The younger man walked the outside perimeter of the college campus, careful to find a seat where he thought little people would look... or care if he was smoking. Maybe he should nap instead. 

He lit a cigarette, sliding to the black top ground beside the dumpster. He stared at his worn converse blankly, not really seeing. It was cool but he didn’t mind. He felt like he was running a little hot and hoped he wasn’t coming down with anything. What a crappy time it would be to get sick. 11:31am. This was Damian’s long day. He had time. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream found its way back on his lap and for some time he was okay. Patrick wasn’t sure when he nodded off but when he dreamed he was back in the apartment. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   22d ago

[size14 When Nolan got home that evening, he had forgotten all about the incident in the courtyard. Probably because he had three other fires to put out, one being literal. When his custodians finally showed up, Nolan hardly said a word to them before heading home. His keys jingled in the deadbolt, then he switched them and used another key for a second deadbolt. A third key was for the handle which finally swung open. He immediately turned around and locked all three of them again. This habit hadn’t changed since Charlotte and Lizzy had moved in with him in Arkansas. It wasn’t going to change now.

His tired feet carried him into the kitchen. He heard the shower running and there was a girl with a dark bob sitting at the kitchen counter and watching something on her phone. When she heard him come in she turned her face toward him and gave him a big smile. She had his niece’s face, but not her hair.

“The hell you done to yourself?” he asked, rounding the counter and heading for the fridge to scrounge up some dinner. The Lizbeth he knew had blonde hair like her mother. Not this borderline black, darker than his own brunette. For a second he worried she was turning dark, like the kid he saw today. But that smile was wide and her outfit was still bright and cheerful and the strawberry tarts she brought home from her class today were especially pink. He didn’t have to worry. 

“Decided I wanted something different,” she said, her accent not as strong as his or Charlotte’s, but still there. 

Nolan looked at her again. “I like it,” he finally decided. “Not that you ever needed my approval.”

“But I like it anyway,” she said, fiddling with her phone and making a face. “By the way, Mom let me get an Instagram.”

“A what?” Nolan nearly spat out his first bite, thinking this was some kind of new piercing or something.

“An- an Instagram, Nol. You know. That app with the pictures?” 

“Oh, right.” It was coming back to him. Nolan had an old smart phone with a cracked screen. He used it for texting and calling and photos. That was it. Charlotte often joked that he was actually twenty years older than he really was. “Wait, it’s social media?”

Lizzy nodded tightly. “But it’s on private!” she started to defend. “I’m only adding my friends and no one can see anything if I don’t add them.”

Nolan didn’t trust any of it, but he had to let Charlotte start making these decisions. It couldn’t be easy being Lizzy and not having everything her friends had just because her dad was a stalking prick. Nolan sighed. “Well, if she says it's okay.”

Nolan had found the balance between uncle and caregiver a long time ago. Lizzy saw him as a kind of father figure. She already asked him to walk her down the aisle when the time came and she wasn’t even dating anyone yet. But Charlotte was a great single mother. She made all the decisions. But when his sister had been living with him for safety since her baby was a toddler, sometimes he had to make choices she wasn’t too happy with. But that had been back then. When the danger was worse and there had been an actual kidnap attempt.

Now… If Charlotte said Lizzy could have a private Instagram, then who was he to say no?

The next day, Nolan made his rounds again.There were significantly less fires, but Patrick would need to have a talking to his employees. Some of the trashes were overflowing which meant they weren’t taken out the night before. Nolan grabbed them and stuffed them into a larger trash bag and made his way around the building towards the dumpsters.

He was about to slam the side door of the dumpster open when he saw the pair of converse. Sticking out from the other side. He set the bag down, not wanting to frighten the poor fool who decided to rest beside a dumpster, and made his way around it to find… the degenerate smoker from the day before.

He was leaning against the wall, an open book in his lap and a cigarette between his fingers that was mostly ash.

“Hey,” Nolan said, but there was no movement. He toed one of the converse, not ungently. “Hey, wake up,” he said a little louder this time, but keeping his tone gentle. He’d found people dumpster diving back here, sure. Never had he found someone sleeping. When there was movement, Nolan pointed at the cigarette in the student’s hand. “You’re gonna burn your fingers,” he said flatly. “And besides,” his finger rose to a sign right above where he was sleeping. Another no smoking sign. For the second time with this kid Nolan sensed that something was off, so he asked, “You alright?”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick’s breath caught, stiffening instantly from the knock to his shoe. He half expected Damian but when he looked up... it was the Building Manager Mr. Nolan Gray. 
 
He pointed to what was left of the cigarette between his fingers and Patrick instantly pushed it against the black top, glancing up at the sign right above his fucking head. Of course, he had to make it so easy for Mr. Gray. He really, really needed to sleep more. 
 
What were the odds of bumping into the same man twice in two days anyway? Patrick hardly ever talked to anyone out of the small social circle he had, much less strangers. Coincidence? The poetic part of him wanted to say the contrary. Maybe this was a bad omen. Something telling him he should go to class instead of poisoning his lungs. 
 
“You alright?” 
 
Patrick smiled at the stupid question, flipping back his hair as he closed the book and stuffed it in his backpack. No. He wasn’t. 
 
“I’m fine. Just,” he gestured at the building. “Avoiding class but I highly doubt you have the jurisdiction to write me up for that. If I had a car, I’d be smoking in there instead but, alas, I don’t.” He gathered to his feet and single shouldered his bag, brushing a few hairs behind his ear. He was hot... but it was overcast today. What time was it?
 
“So Mr. Gray,” Patrick started, pulling out his phone. “Is this my second strike or, if I’m going to be written up, can I at least light one more?” 12:46pm. He swapped the phone for his pack of cigarettes and one pulled out, glancing up at Shaggy Hair. He... looked different then other superiors. Maybe he really didn’t care. Just had a quota or some shit to keep up appearances. 
 
He wasn’t really sure what compelled him but he held out the pack, offering one to the Building Manager. He looked like he could use a pick-me-up and Patrick liked the nicotine high this brand gave. “For yesterday,” he said, trying to cover up his strange course action. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   21d ago

[size14 Nolan hated how charismatic this guy was while also seeming to be completely easygoing. Whatever front he was putting on t get out of trouble, it certainly worked with Nolan. Maybe it wasn’t a front at all.

No car? Nolan ran through the options. Either he stayed here on campus then or he got here by some other means. Public transport, a friend, walking. He didn’t see a bike.

“So Mr. Gray,” Nolan scoffed quietly, so quiet the other could hardly hear it. He hated when people called him that. Especially when young college punks said it with that inflection. “Is this my second strike or, if I’m going to be written up, can I at least light one more?”

Nolan’s brows rose, watching as the younger man pulled out his pack of cigarettes. [i Wow. He just doesn’t care anymore, does he?] His surprise turned into a grin, which turned into a low chuckle as he was offered one. “For yesterday,” the punk said.

Nolan thought this was an odd gesture. Thanking someone for not writing you up for smoking by giving them a smoke in a no smoking zone. Genius. And yet… Nolan reached out for it. He saw the label and it was a good brand. In fact it was the same brand he bought and the same brand that was waiting for him back in his truck. If he was caught with it on school grounds, he'd be disciplined.

Nolan shook his head in disbelief at himself as he pulled out his lighter and gestured to light up the stranger’s first, then his own. At least he could claim to have a lighter for other uses.Burning frayed edges on rugs and tapestries and ropes. Absolutely not for sneaking smokes in this exact spot.

“Thanks,” Nolan said around the cigarette after taking a long drag. “What’s your name? Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna write you up.” Nolan circled back around to the garbage bag and finally threw it into the dumpster. When he returned, he continued. “Honestly, I can’t even imagine getting through a day of college, no less a semester. And they want you to do it without smokin’ between classes?” Nolan shook his head. “What’s the world coming to?”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick chuckled as Shaggy Haired Building Manager took a cigarette and pocketed the rest. Ha, he had a hunch and he was right. Nolan Gray wasn’t the normal run of the mill authority figure. He was like Mr. Braxton in a way. He knew that they were all just people trying to survive... and Patrick still took that man for granted. 

He leaned in with a small smile as the older man took out his lighter, lighting Patrick’s before his own. “I knew you were a smoker.” Must have been the aura. 

Patrick narrowed his eyes a little as Nolan Gray engaged in small talk, asking for a name but promising not to report him. A strange call. Usually strangers who looked at him always assumed he was up to no good or required particular straight forward treatment. Black was his color, as Damian liked to reiterate from time to time. 

The young man let his guard down a bit, relaxing with the smoke billowing circles around his head. “It’s Patrick and school’s not for everyone.” He shrugged. “Sometimes I have to think if it’s even right for me. Just money going down the proverbial toilet.” 

He scrunched his features. “You know, it wouldn’t be such an issue, this whole college thing, if old people and fucking parents didn’t think that getting a college degree was the end all be all of a child’s existence. Like what if I want to be a garbage man? You know how much they get paid? What if I want to be a Janitor? Did you know you can work your way up? It’s fucked.” 

Patrick was exhausted. Maybe that was why he felt so calm and chatty around this Nolan guy. He was not his usual type to spark a conversation with but it was refreshing to speak to someone else that wasn’t Damian or Steven. This heavy accented smoke police wasn’t radiating the doom and despair he was used to. It was... something different. Despair was plenty around Mr. Gray- around everyone really- but... 

“How long you worked here, Mr. Gray? I’m not good with faces but I think I’d remember hearing that funny accent before.” He wiped the small beads of sweat that were beginning to form on his brow. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   20d ago

[size14 Patrick. The name surprised him. He was expecting something young and hip. Like Axel or Draco or something. He came to find out that he and this Patrick had a very similar cynical take on college institutions. It probably went against his contract somewhere to speak ill of the school, but he doubted it said he wasn’t allowed to speak badly of colleges in general… So Nolan nodded and leaned against the side of the dumpster. 

“What if I want to be a Janitor? Did you know you can work your way up? It’s fucked,” Patrick finished, making Nolan grin a little.

“That’s what I did,” Nolan said. “I started cleanin’ for a livin’ and now I manage an entire college campus. I hardly clean a thing now and my crew does the bulk of it after hours. They don’t care if you have a degree for this shit.” Nolan pulled more smoke into his lungs and held it while he tipped the ash off the end of his cigarette.

“How long you worked here, Mr. Gray? I’m not good with faces but I think I’d remember hearing that funny accent before.”

Patrick looked hot. The sun bouncing off the dumpsters wasn’t helping any. Even Nolan was feeling the beads of sweat. He should get back to work, but he had a strange sense that Patrick hadn’t spoken to anyone for a while. Or if he did, it wasn’t just about nothing like this. Sometimes Lizzy got like this, coming into the living room just to talk because she was lonely. Or she thought he was… [i Fuck, I hope that’s not what this is,] he thought.

“‘Bout six months,” Nolan answered, glancing over at his truck. He parked around back so he didn’t take any student or faculty parking. It would be so easy to get inside and turn on the AC. It wouldn’t be too long now before he would be hoping for this heat again. “They had an opening and I needed a job here, so I took it.” He narrowed his gaze. “And whose accent you callin’ funny? You really think it’s wise to be pokin’ the bear that could write you up?” he asked with a small, teasing grin. 

He wiped his rolled up sleeve over his own brow and nodded at the truck. “I probably ain’t supposed to this, but you look like you need to finish that smoke and it’s too damn warm to stand out here anymore.” Nolan gestured to the old truck. “It looks old, but I promise the AC works like a champ.”

Why was he doing this? He scolded himself for even offering. This rulebreaker should get to class. Or go home. And stop distracting him. Nolan found his feet approaching his truck. “I got- uh-” He opened the driver’s side door and glanced inside, reminding himself what Lizzy had made for him today. “Slices of lemon cake in here, too if you want some.” He made a face, brows drawing together, mouth slightly open. “And I’m now realizin’ how this looks. Strange, crazy-looking man you just met inviting you into his truck for cake.” He made a dejected face and shrugged, as if accepting that this was all falling apart. “Look, I won’t report you for smoking if you don’t report me for accidentally trying to kidnap you,” he said nonchalantly, climbing inside, turning on the truck, and rolling the windows down. The AC came to life and started to blow the hair away from his face. He held up the plastic bag with the slices of lemon cake inside. “My offer still stands, though.”

[i Here you go again, Nolan,] he said to himself, unable to feel embarrassment at this stage in his life. [i Always trying to take in the strays.]

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost He didn’t know what it was about this Nolan Gray but there was a sense of experience that hung off him that drew Patrick in to be strangely curious. This... situation was probably not okay despite his earlier thoughts about Mr. Braxton. Braxton made sure Patrick knew the line between friend and mentor. Nolan Gray on the other hand, talked to him like they were sharing drinks at the bar, not standing outside a college dumpster with one of them on the clock. 

“I probably ain’t supposed to do this, but you look like you need to finish that smoke and it’s too damn warm to stand out here anymore.” The older man gestured to a truck across the lot. Something his grandpa would probably drive. “It looks old, but I promise the AC works like a champ.”

Patrick felt his defenses come up again as he watched Nolan Gray move across the parking lot. Who even does that? Invites someone clearly younger than themselves to sit and smoke in their truck during school hours? He thought of Damian and wondered what he’d do but... the longer he thought about it, the heavier the weight seemed to be on his shoulders. Would he care?

Nolan Gray was still talking. “And I’m now realizin’ how this looks. Strange, crazy-looking man you just met inviting you into his truck for cake. Look, I won’t report you for smoking if you don’t report me for accidentally trying to kidnap you.” 

So what if he did, he thought darkly. Fuck it. If this was how he died then so be it. 

Patrick adjusted the bag on his shoulder and crossed the space quickly. He could feel his emotions retreating a fraction and thought it best not to blink through this moment. He glanced up at the sun, cursing it for coming out in the middle of fucking September before opening the passenger door. 

The AC blew back his hair instantly and he squinted, getting himself comfortable in the seat. The other knocked the AC down a notch as he unzipped his pack, searching for an Advil bottle. He felt better in the cool air but he knew that his body probably had a check engine light on somewhere. He was starving anyway, might as well have the cake. 

“Thanks,” he mumbled, unzipping the plastic baggie to grab a slice. He pulled off a corner, popped the pills and was pleasantly surprised how good it was. He chuckled slightly. “So Nolan- may I call you Nolan since I’m now sitting in your truck during class hours? Kind of makes us like acquaintances or something rather than strangers if you trust me in the intimacy of your car and I you, to not kidnap me. It’s great.” 

He shrugged his shoulders, eating another piece of the square. “But if that’s the case, luring me in within a smoking zone and fucking delicious cake is a good tactic. You must have a very cute apron to be making confections like these.” Hell, he knew the difference between store bought and homemade anyday. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   20d ago

[size14 For a long moment, Nolan thought he’d scared Patrick off with his friendliness. He had no problems standing there debating the situation as Nolan smoked with the windows down. Nolan tried not to stare, but it looked like this was more than just a choice about getting into a truck with a stranger. 

Eventually Patrick decided and he made his way over. The old truck door groaned as he climbed inside. Nolan mumbled a “welcome” when Patrick thanked him for the cake. He watched him take some pills from the corner of his eye.

“So Nolan- may I call you Nolan since I’m now sitting in your truck during class hours?” Patrick was pulling apart the square of cake. “Kind of makes us like acquaintances or something rather than strangers if you trust me in the intimacy of your car and I you, to not kidnap me. It’s great.” 

Nolan chuckled. “That’s fine,” he said, amused. He watched him pull apart another piece, oddly captivated by the rings on his long fingers. 

“But if that’s the case, luring me in within a smoking zone and fucking delicious cake is a good tactic. You must have a very cute apron to be making confections like these.” 

Again, Nolan laughed. “Oh, I didn’t make ‘em. My niece just started culinary school. She especially likes making desserts and pastries and stuff like that,” he said, hanging over the other slice when Patrick was done with the first one. “Here. No, seriously. There’s more at home.” When the bag was gone from his hands he went back to smoking. 

“I can’t cook to save my life,” he admitted. “Well, that’s not completely true. I’m pretty good with the grill, but that’s about it and that ain’t rocket science.” He looked over at Patrick after a short moment of silence and cleared his throat awkwardly. He returned his gaze out the window. “Sorry for bein’ so forward just now. Six months ain’t a lot of time to adjust to city life. Everywhere I’ve lived you can just pick up strangers off the side of the street to be helpful.” He shrugged. “I forget sometimes that people ain’t so trusting out here.”

Still, there was something about Patrick that drew him in. Everyone he met so far had been superficial in one way or another. Patrick seemed genuine if not a little detached. Charlotte [i had] wanted him to meet new people. She probably didn’t mean someone like Patrick, though. [i Fuck it,] he thought. 

“You said you don’t have a car. I’m assumin’ you have a ride? I hear public transport is shit around here,” he said. He pulled out one of his cards and handed it over. Maybe it was because Patrick reminded him a bit of himself when he was younger and needing a place to fit in, but he was watching himself like an outsider, right now. [i Nolan, stop. Nolan, don’t.] “I’d rather my employees don’t find you smokin’ on campus. They’ll actually do somethin’ about it. So next time, just text me and I’ll… I dunno. Come around or keep an eye out. Just don’t go tellin’ your friends, alright? This is between you and me and the lemon cake.”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The niece made the cakes, that made more sense. When Nolan offered him more, he took the bag without hesitation, carefully pulling out a second piece. 

Nolan explained his forwardness, claiming that in smaller towns it was more natural to help another person out versus the city. People were so selfish and Patrick had a hard time finding a friend or co-worker who didn’t want something back from him. “It’s fine,” he said, patting his fingers free of crumbs. 

“You said you don’t have a car. I’m assumin’ you have a ride? I hear public transport is shit around here.” 

“I usually take that shit transportation,” he laughed. He glanced over, Nolan holding out one of his business cards. Patrick hesitated but only for a moment and took it, reading essentially what was on the name badge but with a phone number and email. 

“I’d rather my employees don’t find you smokin’ on campus. They’ll actually do somethin’ about it. So next time, just text me and I’ll… I dunno. Come around or keep an eye out. Just don’t go tellin’ your friends, alright? This is between you and me and the lemon cake.”

Patrick wondered if he should be worried but dismissed the awkward feeling as being judgemental himself. Maybe Nolan was lonely and was looking for a way to reach out and make a difference or some shit. Maybe it was a form of flirtation but never had he encountered that with someone older than himself. [i Don’t even entertain the idea.] 

“You and me,” he repeated, already feeling that Damian wouldn’t like this in the slightest. This would have to remain a secret. That he already knew. 

Patrick pocketed the business card, tempted to give in to the kindness of a stranger. What would it be like to meet up in secret... to take a risk? Would it make him feel something? Would it keep him from falling deeper into the dark or would it end up killing him in the end? Nolan was a strange specimen in the city world. He wondered what the Southerner knew that he didn’t.

“What is this?” Patrick asked outright. “Are you trying to make friends? I ain’t exactly in your age group you know. It might look funny to someone on the outside.” He leaned his head against the headrest, tired eyes studying the rather handsome- minus the shaggy hair- looking man. No... those thoughts are from someone disloyal. “Or do you want to help me cause you think I look like I need help?” He wasn’t going to accept charity either. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   19d ago

[size14 Nolan noticed that Partick looked a little conflicted. This was probably a stupid idea anyway. And as if to prove his point, Patrick eventually turned to him and called him out. 

“I don’t usually concern myself with people [i on the outside],” Nolan replied after only a moment of thinking. And it was true. He’d been through far too much to worry about what others were thinking of him. Growing up gay in a small texas town where everyone knew his dad beat him to falling apart in an Arkansas hospital, yelling and cursing and denying a death one minute to falling apart and sobbing like a child the next in front of half the people in the place… He’d gotten over appearances a long time ago.

“And like I said,” he continued. “I’m just used to talkin’ to people. Askin’ if they need help. I ain’t givin’ it. Just askin’.” He could tell Patrick was a little proud. Too proud for a hand up. He sure took that cake fast enough, though. “You just don’t look good,” he said honestly. “You got real dark circles under your eyes and most students don’t start skippin’ classes till way later in the semester. Used to be human nature to check on other people, ‘specially the ones we keep runnin’ into, but I guess here in [i Nevada],” Nolan said the name in a more western accent, dropping the Texan twang from his voice, “y’all don’t take too kindly to that.”He raised his eyebrows, waiting for the other to challenge this statement with a little twist of a smile.

Then he checked his watch. “My guys are gettin’ here soon. Gotta meet them in my office. I trust you won’t steal my truck if I leave you out here?” Nolan got out, stepping on the butt of his cigarette where the black top ended and kicking a little dirt over it to hide the evidence just in case. “‘Sides. It’s a stick shift,” he joked, implying Patrick probably didn’t even know how to drive one.

He really didn’t know why he was so eager to help Patrick, even if it was just providing a safe place for him to smoke. Something was intriguing about him, but Nolan warned himself to call it quits after this. He had his car in case he wanted to smoke, but that’s it. He wasn’t back home. Patrick was right. He had to start caring about what people saw and thought. At least just a little bit…

He gave a half wave over his shoulder as he headed back around to the nearest door.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick couldn’t help his smile. He liked the way Nolan talked like he was truly a fish out of water. A genuine nice guy type of person. He pressed the cigarette back to his lips, laughing slightly at the way Nolan said ‘Nevada’ as if he was on another planet. 

“Okay, I’ll give you that, Nolan. Human nature.” Maybe Nevadians weren’t human in the slightest. They were the most selfish pricks indulging in the most selfish things.

Patrick noticed Nolan checking his watch and instinctively checked the time on his phone too. It was almost one pm. He still had time. 

“I trust you won’t steal my truck if I leave you out here?” Nolan asked, cutting the AC as he pulled the keys from the ignition and stepped out of the truck.

Patrick smirked, watching the older man through the window. “Yeah, wouldn’t dream of stealing a truck I couldn’t drive anyway,” he joked half heartedly. He’d been taught [i once] by his Dad but that really wasn’t a productive lesson. 

He watched the Building Manager leave, waving briefly back as he made his way back to the college campus. Patrick allowed himself a deep sigh, adjusting the passenger seat back to relax a little while. He finished the cig till it was nothing but a butt and tossed it out the open window. He was beginning to feel a little better, breathing in the scent of the cigarette brand in the seats and the musky smell of the man that owned it. He was so calm in fact that he found himself unconscious again. 

There was a continuous buzz that eventually awoke him. He opened his eyes, noticing the sky had completely changed. His heart jumped out of his chest, reaching for the phone on his lap. Twelve missed text messages, two from Steven. Four missed calls all from Damian. 4:37pm. How the fuck did he sleep through all those calls? He was usually a light sleeper and never missed a text especially from [i him]. 

He grabbed his bag and hurried out of the truck, slamming the door and booked it back to the campus, flipping through the text messages. 

[i Where r u?] 
[i Where r u?] 
[i R u mad at me for something?] 
[i What the fuck Pat? Where r u?]

And so on and so on. He could feel his anxiety rising with every read text.

[i Fine. Fuck u. I’ll see u at home if u show up.] 

He stopped, just barely past the dumpster from earlier. Damian was no longer here. What was he going to say? His finger hovered over the text box. He could tell him he went to work early but that seemed very unlike him. Damian knew he was a creature of habit and knew his schedule inside and out. He drummed his fingers against the screen before deciding on. 

[right [i sorry. I fell asleep. I have to be at work in 20. I’ll see u later.]]

[i This fucking sucks] but he pushed the send button anyway. He checked the time again, realizing he missed the bus going back to his old high school. He could ask Nolan for a ride but he was still on shift. No, he was going to have to walk. 

Buzz. [i We’ll see.]

It took him three times as long to get the work as it would have to take the bus. Mr. Braxton was courteous and understanding as usual, not making a big deal about the situation at all. He organized the books in the classroom as he wondered what the apartment would feel like when he got back. Regardless, he knew it would be another long night. [i Blink.]

He didn’t go home immediately when his phone read 9:26pm after Mr. Braxton closed the classroom. [i Blink.] Patrick found himself at a small hole in the wall restaurant with a beer, reading the last of A Midsummer's Dream. [i Blink.] Three drinks. Four. [i Blink.] He was back at the apartment front door.

Damian was already drunk and in a mood. Where were you? Why didn’t you call? Did I say something? Why won’t you fucking look at me? Hands. Pain. Raised voices. He wasn’t sure why he was arguing back. What time was it? Get out. Get out. 

[i Blink.] He was sitting on the curbside of the apartment, tapping his foot into the parking lot black top with a cigarette between his fingers. He wondered what Nolan was doing this time of night? 12:15am. Did he go to sleep early? He had a night shift. He wondered if the truck was still available for him to smoke in even in the early hours. No. He wasn’t thinking straight and it was cold.

He pulled the business card out from his pocket from earlier, looking long at the number printed. Should he ask? He knew the apartment door was locked and he left the keys inside. He meddled with the cut from the night before as he thought and after another twenty minutes and feeling the numb sink into his toes, he texted the number. 

[right [i Hey, it’s Patrick. Is the truck available for a smoke?]]

He waited, letting his swimming head sink into the bend of his arm.]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   19d ago

[size14 Nolan’s shift varied day by day depending on the work load. He was just glad he wasn’t paid hourly. There were a few things around the building he had to fix while his crew got started on the usual clean up for the day. A lock had broken on one of the bathroom stalls. One of the clocks needed batteries changed. One of the professors complained about a computer chair that refused to stop sinking every time he raised it. Sometimes Nolan got so engrossed and consumed by crossing items off his to do list that he forgot that time existed. It wasn’t until about eight thirty that his phone started ringing. It played the generic, default ringtone it came with all those years ago when he bought it.

It was Charlotte, asking what time he was going to be home. It was Pizza night. And she had some news.

When he got home and settled in he reminded her that he hated waiting for news. Brady had made him wait to hear the bad news. Ever since he just wished people would tell him shit right out.

“I’m lookin’ for an apartment,” Charlotte finally confessed. Lizzy was in her room. She apparently didn’t know about this yet. 

When he asked her why, she claimed that she had been taking advantage of his generosity for far too long. About fifteen years to be exact. And now that things were working out well with her job and for Lizzy, it was time to let him be free again. 

Nolan didn’t know how to tell her that he [i enjoyed] her presence. That Lizzy was perhaps the most important thing in his life. That he felt he had no reason to get up and go to work if he wasn’t doing it to support them. So he stayed silent. 

“It won’t be right away. It’ll be slow going. There’s not much around here right now. But I just wanted to let you know.” She stood up and rounded the counter to wrap him in her arms. Nolan returned her hug, but he was feeling hollow. He supposed he knew this day was coming. It had been so long since her ex had last contacted her. Still… Without Brady. Without Charlotte or Lizzy to come home to… Without serving any kind of purpose to the people he loved, he wasn’t sure what he would do with himself.

She left him there to think it over. He spent most of his night in the living room with the television on, but he wasn’t really watching it. He stared into space, trying to think of how this would be a good thing for the girls. But the hollowness remained. Then his mind went blank and that spot on the wall held his stare for so long he stopped existing altogether. He did this a lot after Brady died. Just stared and became nothing. 

He wasn’t sure how much time passed before he was pulled out of it by his phone chiming. He jumped a little, then pulled it from his pocket, confused about who would be texting him other than Charlotte or Lizzy. The time said it was well after 12:30. The text was from an unknown number. He opened it.

[i Hey, it’s Patrick. Is the truck available for a smoke?]

At first Nolan just stared. Was the text somehow delayed? Patrick knew he meant on school grounds, right? His eyes flicked between the time stamp and the text. He remembered the dark circles. The hesitancy to trust. Something told him this was less about a place to smoke and more a cry for help.

Nolan’s thumbs hovered over the small keys, wondering what to say. It’s not like he would be going to bed soon. But still, perhaps drawing some boundaries should be in order. He shewed on his lip, remembering how he hardly set any boundaries earlier that day and how hypocritical would that be? He could just not respond…

Nolan backed out of the text and set his phone aside and glanced back at the wall. The house was silent. The ticking clock on the wall was going to drive him crazy, even over the sound of the TV. He took a shaky breath, turned off the television, and picked up his phone again.

[right [i Where are you?]]

It was simple. He grabbed his keys and his jacket. The nights were cold, the days were hot. He wished things could just stay consistent. He wished lovers wouldn’t die. Sisters wouldn’t leave. He left the house in silence, locking all three locks behind him. Then he sat in his truck and waited for the text.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Minutes had passed and Patrick figured he was out of luck. He started thinking about a good place to sit for the next few hours until there was a small buzz. Surprised, he picked it up, looking at the message almost like it shouldn’t be there and he was in another dream. 

He paused, looking back at the brick building as if somehow Damian would remember he was still there and open the door. But nothing happened. No one came. He debated a little longer before replying quickly with an address. Not his but the street corner at the mouth of the road. 

The young man peeled himself off the curbside and slowly walked to the corner of Cedar and Kingston street. He leaned himself against the coffee parlor wall, keeping his eyes low not to catch the attention of any other strangers passing or driving. One was good enough. 

Patrick wasn’t sure how much time had passed but his cigarette was almost finished. There was the rumbling of a loud motor and the old pick-up from this afternoon paused at the street lamp. The idea of warmth spurred him to move out of his creaky position, stomping on the cig before opening the passenger side door. What was Nolan going to say? [i This is inappropriate- we just met. Why are you out here? Don’t you have any friends? Why didn’t you call your landlord to let you in? Why? Why? Why?] 

He closed the door and felt instant gratification with the heater, putting his hands up against it. “Thank you,” he said, trying to keep his voice as even as possible. “I’ll pay you when I get my wallet back.” The last thing he wanted was for Nolan to assume that he would do this all the time, especially drunk. This evening was a mistake. He fucked up. He shouldn’t have slept in this truck and let the time slip past him. What was he thinking? ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   19d ago

[size14 Nolan sat in his truck for another few minutes, wondering if the reply would ever come. Maybe he waited too long to text back. Maybe he found someone else.

Then his phone chimed again with the street corner. Nolan knew it. The only way he had felt comfortable moving to a city had been to study the map so he knew he’d never get lost. He wasn’t surprised Patrick didn’t give him an exact address. If it was his home, he wouldn’t want to give Nolan an excuse to see where he lived. He knew he wasn’t that trusting. And if he was out and about, he probably didn’t want Nolan to see the places he frequented.

Nolan couldn’t care less. If Patrick only knew the places he hit up in his twenties he’d stop worrying so much.

The streets were only a little less busy at night. At least he hit more green lights. He eventually found the street corner. At first he almost missed Patrick waiting there because his black clothes blended in with the darkness so well. Nolan pulled up to the curb and unlocked the doors. Patrick was inside and instantly making nice.

“Don’t worry about it,” Nolan said. He could tell Patrick was a little drunk from the way his words blended together. Maybe this was a bad idea after all. “You alright?” He looked at him with concern as he soaked in the heat. He must have been out there for a while. No jacket. No wallet. Drunk. Locked out or kicked out, Nolan would wager. It wouldn’t do any good to question him about it.

“You hungry?” he asked, putting the truck back in drive and moving on. He was parked illegally anyway. Some nights when he got home late from work and he was starving, he would hit some of the 24-hour diners. Maybe that’s what he needed. Nolan could assess the situation and see if Patrick needed a place to stay for the night over some midnight pancakes. 

He thought about that and how Charlotte might react. Waking up to a stranger on the couch might freak her out a little, but as long as it wasn’t Lizzy’s father, he figured she’d be alright with it.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick shrugged at the question, sniffling a little as the cold slowly seeped out of him. Alright, not alright- did it matter? He didn’t think saying anything would help the situation. The less shared the better. He already felt pathetic and fucked up as he was. 

“You hungry?”

“Starving,” he answered immediately, totally missing the point of keeping his mouth shut. He shook his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose as Nolan pulled off the street corner. 

They sat in silence for a few minutes, allowing Patrick the luxury of a bit of peace. [i Blink.] He looked up and they were parked outside a small restaurant [i Vigil’s Diner] in neon lights. He rubbed his eyes and stepped out of the truck as Nolan did, following slowly into a faded red booth and looking over the detail menu. 

What was everyone thinking? What did he look like? Long sleeved, tired skinny kid with this upstanding, shaggy looking country man. 

An older waitress paused by their table and asked for their order. With a brief look of approval from Nolan, Patrick glanced back down at the menu. “Uh, coffee and the pancake special.” It was cheap and he was craving bacon. With a smile, she took Nolan’s order as well and claimed the menus. 

Patrick met Nolan’s gaze this time. “I [i will] pay you back. I’m not trying to take advantage of you,” he said, hoping to make his intentions clear. “Sorry you had to pick me up like this.” ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   18d ago

[size14 “Starving.”

That was that then. Nolan took him to the closest diner he knew of. It happened to be the one he frequented most. Vigil’s Diner after a certain hour made Nolan feel more at home. The waitress had gotten to know him, giving him a false sense of community. It had that old 50s aesthetic with a jukebox in the corner. They served pretty much any american food you could want, but after midnight to about 10 in the morning it was breakfast only. And the coffee reminded Nolan of a place they used to live down the street from in Arkansas. 

When he stepped inside, the gray-haired waitress who seemed to work most night shifts gave him a nod and a friendly smile and he made his way to a booth. There were only a small handful of other folks in the restaurant and none of them paid them any mind.

The waitress came over. She never wore a nametag so Nolan didn’t know her name. He never gave him his. They both seemed to like it that way. If she was surprised that he was with someone tonight, she didn’t show it. Nolan nodded for Patrick to order.

“Same,” Nolan said, keeping it simple and handed her his menu. He hadn’t had much of that pizza earlier. The news about Charlotte apartment hunting had killed his appetite, so it was probably best if he ate. He turned his attention back to Patrick who was determined to not be in anyone’s debt it seemed.

Nolan nodded. “If that’s what you want,” he said, seeing that it was clearly important to him to pay him back. He wouldn’t force the issue.

“Sorry you had to pick me up like this,” Patrick added, looking rather small and awkward in that moment.

“I didn’t [i have] to do anything,” he pointed out just as their coffee came. Nolan pulled the little container of sugar and cream over from the edge of the table and added one of each, then stirring it in with the spoon she provided. He could see the steam rising still, so he waited before taking a sip. “I wanted to. Seemed like you must have been in some kind of situation and if I was the only one you could contact, then I didn’t want to let you down.” He stirred a few more times. [i Great,] he thought. [i Can’t find purpose with my family anymore, so now I’m looking for it elsewhere.] “Are you safe?” he asked, trying to keep his eyes trained on Patrick’s face. He wouldn’t be able to see bruises anyway. Not with those long sleeves. 

But Nolan also had to ask. This entire situation stunk heavily of a memory close to home. He’d been whipped across the back and told to spend the night away from home. 

“Do you need a place to stay?”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost “I didn’t [i have] to do anything.”

That part was certainly true. He could have easily ignored his text, feigned sleep or some shit. The waitress put down the coffee and for a moment he watched as the steam swirled from the cup before warming his fingers around the ceramic. He listened to Nolan, grateful that he did have the good conscience to understand that he was a last resort call. “Yeah, I, uh, don’t have many friends in the area. Not in walking distance at least.” That’s what fucking sucked about the city and having no transportation. Buses stopped running at 10pm. 

“Are you safe? Do you need a place to stay?”

[i Coherent and calm sentences,] he reminded himself as he sipped at the coffee, trying hard to force himself to be a little more sober. The last thing he wanted to do was alarm Nolan. He felt like he was walking on a thin rope already with someone he just met yesterday and Damian was already pissed at him for this exact thing.

“I’m fine. Me and my-” He paused, remembering that not all strangers were as open minded. Did Nolan ever tell him where he was from? He couldn’t for the life of him recall the words said at their earlier encounter clearly so he decided to let it go. 

“My boyfriend,” he continued, shaking his head. “Got in a fight. He kicked me out of the apartment and I just... spaced grabbing anything I needed like my fucking keys... Glad I had a phone in my pocket at least.” He forced a smile and sipped the coffee again. “I know it’s the middle of the night and all, but I was hoping I could borrow your backseat for a couple hours then I swear I’ll get out of your hair.” [i And never text you again.] 

The waitress made her way back to the table, dropping the full plates of classic breakfast essentials in front of them. Patrick’s mouth watered just looking at it. He waited till Nolan and apparently the familiar waitress pleasantries were over before he picked up the fork and bit a piece of bacon. And fuck in that moment, did it taste like the best fucking bacon he ever had. Pathetic. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   18d ago

[size14 Nolan finally took a sip of his coffee. It was still a little too hot, but it didn’t burn his tongue at least.

“I’m fine. Me and my-” Patrick stuttered and evaluated Nolan for one second. It was that pause that gave it away. Nolan already knew what he was going to say. Nolan knew that one second could feel like an eternity in conversation with someone you were unsure about. And Nolan didn’t exactly scream “safe”. With his southern accent and appearance, he hardly wore “gay” on his sleeve. Patrick, however, he had a little suspicion about.

“My boyfriend,” Patrick confirmed and Nolan kept his face neutral. He further proved Nolan right by stating that he’d been kicked out. Needed a ride. A place to sleep. Asked to use Nolan’s truck.

Nolan let out a sigh and ran a hand down his face with a bit of weariness. He had several decisions to make now. He held off as their food arrived.

“You need anything else today, honey?” the waitress asked. “You want the check now, like usual?”

“Sure, thank you,” he said.

“One check or two?”

“Just one.”

She walked away and Nolan turned to look at Patrick who was enjoying his bacon. Nolan was glad the night hadn’t ruined his appetite at least. He took the syrup she provided and drizzled it over his pancakes before cutting out a huge bite to allow himself some time to think. Decisions. Right.

The first one was easy. He wasn’t about to let Patrick sleep in his truck. Not when it was this cold out or he could at least set him up somewhere. Done. The next was a little more nuanced. Patrick had clearly been a little hesitant to come out to Nolan just now. And for good reason. It was hard to tell if a Paul Bunyan look-alike was going to be friendly. So did Nolan return the favor without any kind of lead in? Would that be weird? Nolan hadn’t had any real reason to come out to anyone for years. He almost forgot what it was like.

When he was finally done chewing he looked over at Patrick and decided it was the best way to at least make Patrick feel safe. He was already locked out of his house by a shitty boyfriend. (Nolan had already come to this conclusion about the mystery man. There was nothing that could justify kicking your significant other out of the house, even in the heat of a fight. Nolan had enough experience with drunken arguments to know that much.)

“Look,” he started, not quite sure how to broach the subject. Perhaps it was best if he related to the situation. “Someone else might be alright just lettin’ you sleep in their truck for the night, but that ain’t me. I’ve been right where you are, you know. I’m glad you reached out.” He swirled his syrup on his plate. Maybe he wasn’t that hungry after all. “I don’t normally tell people this, but my dad was a prick. He locked me out of the house a few times and I feel like it’s important for you to know that most of those times were because he couldn’t handle the fact that his son was gay. So you can trust me. Your options are my couch or I set you up in a motel, though short notice nights can be expensive and I know you’re gung ho about payin’ me back.” 

Somehow he didn’t think Patrick had all that much money to be throwing around, but he’d let him make the call. He leaned back in his chair and looked at Patrick. He pushed his plate forward, offering him his bacon since he seemed to love it so much and Nolan’s appetite was gone again. At least he could sip on his coffee.

“I live with my sister and my niece, so you won’t be alone in a house with me if that’s what you’re worried about,” he added. “I’m gonna crash as soon as I’m back, anyway.” He rested his tired head in his hand. “But I ain’t gonna half-ass helpin’ you.”

The waitress came back with his card and he tipped her well as usual. She gave him a polite smile and a thank you before going to tend to the other customers. He knew they could sit there for as long as they needed to now.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick was sure that pancakes never tasted better than in the middle of the night. Nolan took a couple minutes to reply which he didn’t mind. It gave him room to relax, wait for the negative reaction if one came and still take advantage of the sweet and savory goodness that he was blessed with on a plate. Thank god for American diners. 

“Look.” 

Patrick paused his chewing, glancing up through the bangs as if Nolan was about to tell him to get up and leave. First, he stated that he wasn’t going to let him sleep in the truck then branched into a small story that eventually revealed that Nolan was like him and for some reason he was utterly surprised. His demeanor alone stated the contrary but... it did make him feel better and more inclined to listen when he offered a couch or a motel- out of his own expense of course. 

Patrick thought of last night’s ‘date’ and how much left his pocket in a single evening thanks to his ‘generosity’. In reality, he couldn’t really afford to buy a night anywhere, especially this close to Las Vegas. 

Nolan pushed his plate across as he finished his pancakes, offering the bacon as he explained his current living situation. Patrick thought for a moment. 

“Thanks for sharing that with me,” he started, retrieving the bacon. “I can’t really afford the motel right now so... if your ladies don’t mind a strange man on the couch, then I would be grateful for your help.” Patrick sipped on the coffee, only wondering now if he should have added cream. He snapped his fingers, recalling a random fact from earlier in the day. “Your niece, the baker.” Geez, he was fucking exhausted. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   18d ago

[size14 Nolan really had no idea how Patrick was going to react. Hell, he might even get up and walk out and refuse to accept any more of his hospitality. But it seemed he understood he had little choice if he wanted to be comfortable for the night, so after thinking it over, Patrick accepted his offer.

Nolan nodded like that was that, thankful they finally found a solution. He was finishing off the last dregs of his coffee when Patrick snapped his fingers, making Nolan look up at him, eyebrows raised. Then a chuckle escaped him and he nodded.

“Yeah, my niece. The baker,” he repeated. Patrick was seeming a little more sober now, especially if he was recalling details like that. Nolan was honestly surprised. “Lizzy- Lizbeth. She just started culinary school.” He had to stop himself from gushing about her. Patrick didn’t care that she’d gotten in early or that she liked to play music on the side, so he stopped himself. “My sister Charlotte- she heads to work early and takes Lizzy to classes. If they see you they won’t say anything. They’ll know it’s my business.” [i Though she'll definitely question me after you're gone,] he thought. He paused, knowing there was one last thing they had to figure out before they headed back to Nolan’s.

“Tomorrow morning. You think things will have blown over by then? I can give you a ride back or…”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick couldn’t help a smile, the first since the start of this evening's incident, stirring his coffee absentmindedly. He could tell just by the expression that Nolan loved his family and a small part of him was a little envious. Sure, Damian loved him but he wondered what having a sibling would have been like. 

“Tomorrow morning. You think things will have blown over by then? I can give you a ride back or…”

Patrick stopped stirring, thinking back on what usually occurred when fights like this happened. Tomorrow or rather later today… No, Damian would play the game between them and he would play it longer, better. Patrick always let him win. That boy had enough fights for a lifetime. What kind of confident would he be if he just created more chaos?

“No but that’s my business, Nolan,” Patrick brushed a few hairs behind his ear. “I won’t forget the keys next time so please don’t worry about it. I can catch the-“ The bus? Without his bus pass? He rubbed the bridge of his nose again, defeated. “I may need a ride tomorrow if you have time.” His wiry fingers fiddled with the cup. If [i any] luck was on his side, this situation, this argument would never happen again. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   17d ago

[size14 Patrick’s answer was blunt and put up a barrier. Nolan couldn’t blame him. This entire situation had been a breach of boundaries on both their parts. So he nodded, then waited for Patrick to give into one last little bit of help. As he suspected, he would need a ride.

“I got time,” he said. It was the willingness to drop someone off with a boyfriend who had kicked him out of the house that was the issue, but Nolan kept telling himself that it wasn’t his business.

With that settled and nothing much else to talk about, Nolan waited for Patrick to finish his coffee. Then he grabbed his keys and they made their way back out to the truck.

Nolan drove in silence. He was afraid he might say something stuipd, so he just kept his mouth shut, no matter how awkward it was. When he pulled into the driveway next to Charlotte’s car, he cut the engine and got out to lead the way up to the front door.

They didn’t have guests often. Nolan wondered if Patrick would notice the extra lock. The door swung open and he guided him inside. He flipped on a small lamp next to the couch before heading to the hall closet to fetch a couple of blankets and a pillow.

He knew they had just had coffee, but Nolan was exhausted. The caffeine seemed to have no effect on his tired body. “Feel free to watch some TV,” Nolan said. “Shouldn’t wake anyone with the volume low. They’re used to me bein’ up at all hours.” He cleared his throat, standing there in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips. He gestured for the kitchen. “There’s water. Tap or bottles in the fridge. Bathroom is down this hall on the right.” He pointed. 

He was trying to remember what it took to be a good host and was failing miserably. 

“I’ll uh, set my alarm for sometime tomorrow morning. If I ain’t up by the time you want to leave, just come wake me. Throw somethin’ at me. My rooms the one at the end of the hall.” Finally, he turned, hesitant to leave Patrick there in the living room, trusting that he could make himself at home and assuming that he would hate feeling catered to. 

Still, he felt weird leaving him to his own devices. He’d hate leaving anyone just sitting alone in his living room. He couldn’t remember the last time they’d had someone over for more than a couple hours, even in Arkansas. Even growing up in Texas.

Nolan changed, shedding his shirt and putting on some lightweight sweatpants to sleep in. He completely forgot to brush his teeth, his mind far too distracted for routines, so he fell asleep with the taste of coffee and pancakes in his mouth.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost “I got time.” 

And that was that. No more talk. In a matter of minutes, they were back in the truck and driving away from the depths of Spring Valley into the suburban areas. Patrick tried to remain intrigued by the window but he felt the exhaustion hit him like a train muddled with anxiety for the morning. 

Nolan parked outside a small one story home and led Patrick through the driveway, front door and soon paused in the living room. It was nice, cozy, clean. He felt awkward, dirty and dark. The older man left him briefly to gather a blanket and pillow, soon returning with a brief explanation of the amenities they had to offer. It was a lot and Patrick felt like he didn’t have enough to give back. 

Nolan was fumbly for some reason despite it being his own home. He requested Patrick to wake him if he needed to leave early and he knew immediately that he wouldn’t do such a thing. He supposed he used every excuse to delay the inevitable. “Thanks,” he mumbled. 

Once he was left alone, Patrick sunk down into the couch, burying his head into his hands. There wasn’t much he could do here about anything but he checked his phone one last time before laying his head on the pillow. 

There was a small clatter and hushed voices that frightened him awake. A soft light came from the kitchen and Patrick assumed it was the other two tenets. Caroline..? Leslie? Nah, those didn’t sound right. A small giggle. Hushed words. Patrick closed his eyes and scrunched up into a ball. Too soft. He wanted to be anywhere but here. Maybe the back seat of the truck.

He awoke again to a buzz on his phone. The house was silent again and he hurried to look at the text. 
[i Where the fuck r u?] 

Patrick threw his legs over the seat, a knee bobbing slightly. [i Feign sleep.] He couldn’t answer it now. 9:15am. He stood up, unable to remain still any longer and faltered slightly, dropping back into the cushions. What’s wrong? Hot, tired, dehydrated, headache? All the usual symptoms. He touched the spots below his shoulders but nothing extremely unusual. 

He shook his head and stood up again, fully able to remain upright and patted over in socks to the fridge for water. Fuck, there were so many delicious things in the fucking fridge. Their apartment fridge was never this full. That would be the day. 

With a groan he closed the door, fiddling with his rings as he looked around the house with fresh eyes. Cute color scheme. Modest backyard. Why were there so many locks on the front door? High crime rate? Their TV was bigger than theirs. 

Patrick paused beside the backyard window and stared at nothing. He thought of excuses, scenarios, words to say, things to pretend to feel and not really... [i Blink]. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   16d ago

[size14 Nolan’s alarm went off at ten like it did every morning. He slept too much. Even on nights he stayed up way too late. He was about to hit the snooze button and roll over like he did most mornings, something nagged at him. Then he remembered he had a guest. Bit by bit the pieces from his midnight run to the diner with Patrick came back to him through his half awake state. 

He pushed the covers off him and got out of bed. He half expected Patrick to be gone. Maybe he found another way home. Maybe he made amends with his boyfriend and got him to pick him up. He didn’t seem like the type to want to stick around long. 

Yet when Nolan came into the heart of the house from the hallway, tugging on a t-shirt, there Patrck was. He looked a little spaced out, staring out through the sliding back door. Nolan cleared his throat softly, just in case he hadn’t heard him come in. 

“Hope you haven’t been up long,” he said apologetically, stepping into the kitchen and looking over at his overnight guest. "You sleep alright?" He hoped the girls were quiet on their way out the door. “Coffee?” he asked, setting the pot to make a new batch.

He realized he must have looked a mess. Bed head, sweatpants, a wrinkled shirt from the top of his clothes pile. He didn’t exactly look like he belonged in this house that his sister kept so pristine and decorated to her liking. He assumed most of that would go with her. “Or we can leave now if you need to. I just gotta get dressed… I can pick up some coffee later.”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Someone cleared their throat and Patrick saw the window again, remembering where he was. Where he was supposed to be present. 

He turned, looking back at Nolan in… well, the most wholesome morning appearance he’d seen since he and Damian’s first week together. He kept his expression blank but didn’t shy around the thoughts of wondering Nolan’s place among his sister and niece. Did he own the house or did they? He looked a little like a… mess among all the clean…

Patrick shook his head at Nolan’s comment, stepping away from the window and following the older man into the kitchen. “Slept fine,” he lied, “No, thank you, I’d love a coffee here. I’m in no rush… though I’m not sure if you work on the weekends. That would be a real bummer.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, taking a seat on one of two bar stools next to the island counter. Thank goodness it was Saturday. He wasn’t sure how he’d manage getting to class after last night. Maybe he’d just skip them again. 

Patrick watched Nolan fill the coffee machine and put in a filter, wondering if Damian managed to do the same without him this morning. “If I may ask,” he started, setting his phone on the counter to track the time. “Is this your house or your sister’s?” [i Blue mugs, silver spoons,] he thought, trying to keep himself in the moment.]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   16d ago

[size14 Nolan got to work on the coffee, thankful that Patrick wanted to stay for coffee. He wasn’t awful company and Nolan needed the caffeine. Not that it had done much for him the night before…

“Fortunately not,” he said about working weekends. “Wouldn’t have taken the job otherwise.” He wasn’t sure how his sister did it. She was a nurse and they needed her quite a bit in a city this big, but still. Lizzy too, with all her extracurricular classes. Even before Brady died and Nolan fell into that first depression he had never been so driven.

Nolan watched the coffee drip for a moment, spacing out until Patrick spoke again. He turned around and leaned against the counter, facing where Patrick sat on the island. The question was forward. Not something someone would usually ask. A little impolite. Nolan found it a breath of fresh air and he smiled a little. He hated the uptight stuffiness of the city. In the country people just said what the mean, asked what they wanted to.

“It’s mine on paper,” he said. “But Charlotte runs it. Why?” He smirked and looked around the place, crossing his arms. “You don’t think I’m a throw pillow and flower vase kind of guy?”

Nolan had no idea what his house would look like if Charlotte wasn’t living with him, but he was sure it wouldn’t be this. There would probably be a couple pizza boxes on the counter. Some crumbs on the coffee table. A big dent in the middle of the sofa where he usually parked his ass because he would never have thought to rotate the cushions like she did.

“They’ve been livin’ with me since Lizzy was four or five. At first she just stayed home to take care of her until money got tight.” Nolan didn’t know why he was telling this to Patrick. Perhaps it was because other than the girls, Nolan really hadn’t connected with anyone since they moved here. No one knew anything about him and he figured he knew a little about Patrick now. Even if Patrick might not have wanted him to know about his boyfriend and living situation, maybe Nolan thought giving up some of his own life story would put him at ease. [i Stupid.]

“She pitches in when she needs to, but now she uses most of what she makes for LIzzy’s school and…” [i Apparently saving up to move out.]

He cleared his throat, turning to the coffee when it was done. He took two blue mugs and filled them, handing one over to Patrick along with some cream and sugar, just in case. He couldn’t remember him taking any the night before, but he had also been out of it. Nolan added a spoonful of cream and a dash of sugar. He drank it the same every time. Just sweet enough to drink, just bitter enough to wake him up.

Nolan felt greasy hair fall in his face as he drank some. Would it be rude to shower? He skipped his last one thinking he had no reason to look presentable. “If you’re not in a rush, you mind if I shower?” Besides… He was trying to figure out if Patrick was even ready to go home yet. He wasn’t texting anyone and didn’t seem too eager to leave. [i I wouldn’t be either,] Nolan thought.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick smiled at his answer, humored that [i Charlotte] really did seem to ‘run’ the house as Nolan put it. No, he didn’t think Nolan was the type for pillows and dainty decorations but he wouldn’t say that outloud. That would be rude to say to someone who gave him a roof for a night.

Strangely, Nolan began to share little bits of his life about Charlotte, Lizzy, their close sibling bond and his niece’s huge ambitions. Again he felt the envy that made his mouth sour and the tips of his fingers feel dirty. Though if he thought about it it wasn’t as strange as it seemed given with the small details he shared about himself last night. Last night... 

The blue mug entered his vision again and he reached out for the handle, setting it carefully down on the counter. [i Cream pitcher, sugar, tiny silver spoon.] Patrick reached out for the small spoon and took a single scoop of sugar, just enough to allow himself the forgiveness of something sweet but not enough to erase the bitterness of coffee. Nolan on the other hand had a tablespoon of cream and a line of sugar. His brows met, wondering briefly why such a little detail would stick out to him when Nolan spoke again. 

“If you’re not in a rush, you mind if I shower?”

Patrick realized he hadn’t said anything the whole time and took a sip of his coffee, nodding to Nolan’s question. “Yeah, course, do whatever you need. I can be ready whenever you are. Thanks for the coffee.” 

[i Buzz.]

[i Why aren’t u answering? Where r u?] 

Patrick pulled the coffee closer, inhaling the robust scent before smiling at Nolan. “It’s still okay to take that shower you know.” 

[i Buzz.] 

[i I’m sorry. Come home.]

He flipped the phone over. “Can I still watch the TV while you’re getting ready? I’m in the mood to watch today’s forecast. It’s been fucking ridiclous how bipolar the weather’s been.” He pocketed the phone and picked up the coffee and sort of ‘cheers’ Nolan’s cup by clicking their mugs gently. “Love the coffee.” 

Patrick flipped his hair and shuffled back to the living room, sinking back into the cushions and reaching for the black remote on the coffee table. He felt a little rude leaving Nolan in what seemed like a friendly casual conversation but... he just wasn’t all here. He wanted to close his eyes, fast forward till tomorrow and see what happened then. Fuck, he was too disconnected this morning. 

[i Black TV. Color TV. Voices. Blue Mug. Texting buzz. Headache. Forecast. Sunshine. Texting buzz. Scar. Fingers. Pain. Texting buzz. Door opening. Headache. Hot. Voice. Voice. 

Patrick blinked. That voice was talking to him. He turned, looking over at Nolan standing at the end of the couch, still with wet hair and a blue flannel today. He looked better like a simple shower brightened the lines and features around his long face. Did Nolan always look this sad? “Sorry, can you repeat that?” ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   15d ago

[size14 Nolan tried to keep his shower brief and reflected on Patrick’s odd behavior. Of course he didn’t have much to compare it to, but he’d gone from curious about the house to instantly deflective. And it started as soon as his phone started buzzing with texts. It didn’t look like he’d answered a single one despite having the time as they drank their coffee.

Nolan wondered what kind of guy this boyfriend was. He knew it wasn’t technically any of his business, but he’d made it his business when he kicked Patrick out without any alternative place to stay.

He ran a towel through his hair, drying it as best as he could and dressed in his usual jeans and flannel. He looked at himself in his mirror as he fastened his belt, wondering why he felt so much older than he really was. It didn’t always used to be that way. He knew the answer, of course.

Nolan grabbed his phone from his bedside table and his boots from beside his door and headed out into the living room again. He looked at Patrick, zoning out at the TV. He looked like a zombie. Dark circles, pale skin, distant stare. 

“You look like you could use a smoke,” Nolan said. He didn’t want to further insult Patrick by asking him if he was sure he was ready to go back. Patrick had already made it clear that it was none of Nolan’s business. To be honest, Nolan was thankful for the boundary, even if he did worry. He worried about everything. Just because he didn’t know Patrick didn’t mean he shouldn’t care.

Patrick was apparently so out of it that he hadn’t even realized he was there. He looked up in confusion. “Sorry, can you repeat that?”

Nolan let out a gentle sigh. There was no way to know that this wasn’t just normal Patrick behavior, so he approached the chair that Lizzy usually took and sat to pull on his boots. “I asked if you wanted a smoke,” he said, “I figured you probably forgot them, too.” He laced them up and then sat back in the chair looking over at Patrick. “I’m ready when you are,” he added.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost “Oh, yeah,” he replied, clicking off the TV and pulling his converse from their resting place on the side of the couch. “Funny, I always seem to have cigarettes in my pocket which is admittingly, probably not a good habit,” Patrick mused, tying his shoes. 

He stood carefully this time, leaning over to grab the blanket and folding it quickly into a small square setting it atop the pillow. He retrieved the coffee cup, passing Nolan and placed it in the kitchen sink. Fluffing his hair, he followed Nolan out, crossing his arms anticipating a little chill. It was mild compared to yesterday. Thankfully that would make his walk back to the apartment bearable. 

“Same corner,” he said, pulling on his seatbelt and shimmying out a pack of nearly empty cigarettes in a crumpled carton from his pocket. He rolled the window down a crack and took the light the other offered. 

“Got plans for the day?” Patrick inquired, trying to keep the conversation light and involved. 

He wasn’t sure he entirely cared to know the answer but Patrick knew he had to be- [i wanted] to be more polite and inclined to know about Nolan, the surprise hero of the night. Even through the lingering smoke in the car and small smiles, Nolan seemed to give off a sort of... stand off-ish vibe? It gave him the impression that maybe he was just helping because it was the right thing to do and that being friendly was just part of the clockwork that made up Nolan. He wondered if there was a moment between the first time they met and now that was truly genuine kindness. Geez, what a fucked up thing to think about a person. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   15d ago

[size14 Nolan joined Patrick in smoking, one hand on the wheel, the other occasionally poking his cigarette out the cracked window. He never used to smoke in the car. Especially when Lizzy was young and Charlotte didn’t have a car. He’d gotten back in the habit again lately. 

Nolan headed for the same corner he had picked Patrick up one. It felt awful and informal just dropping him off there, but he supposed he had no other choice.

“Nah,” Nolan replied to Patrick’s question, somehow knowing he was just asking to make small talk and to keep the awkward silence from creeping up on them. He did have plans of course, but nothing that he would talk to Patrick about. He needed to talk to Charlotte about this moving away nonsense. But she wouldn’t be home until later and he knew as soon as he got home he would fall asleep on the couch string at that place on the wall.

He was just about to open his mouth to say something as equally polite to fill the silence when his phone started ringing. The grating ringtone in the confines of his truck cab always made him wince, but he never changed the damn thing, afraid that if he did he would never hear it again. He adjusted his position and reached into his pocket to make sure it wasn’t Charlotte. He always answered when she or Lizzy called- just in case. 

But it was neither them or work. He might have answered work, too, just to give him something to do. But instead the name on the cracked display read: [i Dr. Larson.]

“Aw, fuck,” Nolan mumbled, setting his phone up in the catch all over the dash of his car and waited for it to stop ringing. [i Man is getting clever now, calling me on the weekends,] he said, his mouth forming a straight line. [i Dedicated to his work, I’ll give him that.] He suddenly wondered if Charlotte had anything to do with this. 

Nolan turned a corner just as the phone stopped ringing. A moment later it chimed and he knew he had left a message. Nlan didn’t call attention to it. Patrick didn’t need to know any more about his life than what he needed to. Especially since he seemed to be holding Patrick at arms length as well.

They finally got to Patrick’s corner and Nolan slowed. “You sure I can’t take you to the door?” he asked. He already knew the answer, even before Patrick was climbing out. “Hey. Don’t be afraid to reach out again,” he said, horrible at setting and keeping his own boundaries. He just wanted Patrick to know the offer was there. He wished he had had someone to go to when he wandered his town alone at night. He knew it was different, but still, the ache remained.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost The awful ringtone of Nolan’s cellphone rattled him out of whatever lulling state he was in. Patrick glanced over, trying not to be too obvious as Nolan reached into his pocket to read the number. By the look on his face and the brief curse, it was someone the other wasn’t too keen on speaking to. Regardless of Nolan’s dismissal, it had him slightly curious. 

And why was that? 

Tablespoon of cream and a dash of sugar in a blue mug. 

They pulled up to the corner and Patrick smiled at Nolan’s offer. “Trust me, the walk from this corner and my apartment is really not that far.” He unclicked the seatbelt and inclined his head to the driver. “Thanks Nolan, I’ll... keep that in mind.” And with that, he slid out of the seat and shut the door. 

The cigarette dangled on his lips as he finally checked the text messages on his phone all either angry or pleading. He hoped Damian was still in the latter mood when he arrived and when he paused at the front door, the blanket was there again. Heavy.

[i Blink.] Damian engulfed him in a hug the moment he was through the door. There was smoke in the air lingering from a cigarette still sitting in the ashtray and tears were soaking through his shirt. Patrick was happy it was the latter reaction. [i Blink.] Food? Coffee with malibu. Talk. Talk. Talk. Where are you going? Why won’t you talk to me? Talk. Talk. Black coffee cup drink two. [i Blink.] Makeout. Bedroom. More. Hands with nails. Let’s talk. 

[i Blink.] It’s tomorrow already? Sunday. He had to try and get homework done. There was too much. What did he really need to do? He was going to fail and the money. [i Blink.] Damian’s hungry but they don’t get paid till Tuesday. He works today then there will be silence. [i Blink.] He didn’t go. Why didn’t he go? His Father was in town. That’s right. He has dinner with his Father this evening. Clean. Homework. God, it felt like he could just throw up. 

[i Blink.] The door slammed and the venting began. 9:46pm. Why did his Father have to come? Why couldn’t he leave Damian alone? Patrick wanted to pull his hair out every time Damian bitched about his parents. [i Blink.] Why are you upset? Can I not vent anymore? Fuck, all I need is for you to be there for me. Give. Give. Drinks. Give. [i Blink.] Sometimes he wished it hurt more. 2:27am. Sometimes he wished he wasn’t so numb that the air would sting. He wondered if Nolan was asleep but he never picked up the phone. 

[i Blink.] Classes. He had work today. He felt fucking sick. Steven wants to talk but he didn’t have the energy. Not today. He wanted lemon cake. He was craving it like he was craving the silence. He wondered what Lizzy made for culinary school. He wondered if she was going in for more than just baking goods. Did Nolan watch her cook? He wondered- Why was he wondering? [i Blink.] Half assed assignments. D. C. F. Grades he couldn’t pass with. Here’s a make-up project. You look tired. Do you need help? [i Blink.] 

Patrick opened his eyes, the clouds swirled in the sky with the mild temperatures. He was laying in the bed of Nolan’s truck, hoping the older man wouldn’t mind if he happened to find him out here. He didn’t need AC today but he liked the secluded spot that the pick up provided. No one knows but the two of them. 

He had ten dollars, not enough to cover the expenses but enough to cover the pancakes and coffee. Patrick heard boots approach and he knocked on the metal frame, hoping to maybe startle the man alerting him of his presence. He held up the ten dollar bill, a little swirl of smoke rising up. “This is for you,” he called, hoping it wasn’t someone other than Nolan. That would be embarrassing. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   15d ago

[size14 Nolan watched Patrick walk away, hoping to perhaps keep an eye on things until he got inside at least. He was worried he was delivering him back into danger. Then a vehicle honked at him to get a move on and he had to leave. [i None of my business,] he reminded himself.

When he got home he pulled out his phone and listened to that voice message. “Hi, Nolan. It’s Doctor Larson. Not sure if you remember, but you said you’d reach out to me after you canceled our last monthly appointment… four months ago.” There was a little humor in his voice. At least he hadn’t gotten to the point of completely reprimanding Nolan. He knew that Charlotte hadn’t missed a single appointment with him, even since the move. He’d been perfectly willing to start taking their appointments over webcam considering how long they had been with him. 

Nolan didn’t know why he was flaking out now. He felt like he was doing fine. Even with the move, he felt like he had no need for therapy. He had his job. His family. His… His… He could practically feel Charlotte looking at him expectantly. He did nothing else with his time. He spent most nights staring at the wall. Perhaps he didn’t want to admit that something was wrong. He called Doctor Larson back.

The next day Lizzy wanted to out to eat. She invited a couple new friends from her class and Nolan almost refused to go. Not because he would feel out of place among four girls in a restaurant of Lizzy’s choice (where he never had any idea what to order), but because everything with Patrick and Charlotte moving and admitting that he might need more help than he realized was weighing on him.

He went anyway, because it’s what they wanted. He always did what they wanted.

Come monday and he had to peel himself out of bed early to make his appointment on time. Doctor Larson asked him about work. Nolan said it was fine. He asked about Lizzy. He said she was fine. He asked about Charlotte. He said she was apartment hunting. Of course this got his attention. Larson knew Nolan thrived on serving others. He needed a purpose and that purpose was being taken away. They spoke about what he might do to cope with the empty home when that happened. Nolan had no idea.

“What else has happened since we last spoke?” Larson asked. “Any more dreams about your father?” Nolan made a face and shook his head. Strangely those dreams stopped when they moved to Nevada. Maybe the city suffocate the memory of his father. “And you know I have to ask…” he started again carefully. “What about that box of Brady’s. You said you were going to go through it after you moved. Have you done that yet?” 

Nolan’s face became distant and he shook his head. “No… I just… been too busy,” he lied. He couldn’t even make himself look at the box, even now. He thought moving would make it easier.

Larson nodded and Nolan knew he had expected as much. “Anything else?” Nolan met the friendly gaze of the doctor through the screen. He used to be a lot more open with this shit. When Brady was sick. When he died. Nolan had cried in front of this man more times than he could count. Why was he being so standoffish now?

“I met a student,” he said. “At the school. Kept findin’ him smokin’ places he shouldn’t be. I let him smoke with me in my truck. Gave him my card. He looked… out of it. Lost. I don’t know why I did that.” He paused and Larson waited for him to continue. So he did. “Turns out he must not have many people in his life. His boyfriend threw him out and he called me around midnight the other night to see if I could pick him up.”

“Did you?”

Nolan nodded. “I thought about ignoring him. But I fed him instead. Let him sleep on the damn couch like a stray dog.” He shook his head and ran a hand down his face. “I don’t know why I did that, either.”

“Nolan, you’ve always been a giver. Sometimes even to your detriment. Was this? To your detriment?”

Nolan thought about it for a moment before shaking his head. “No. I would have been up anyway and… it gave me somethin’ to do other than stare at the wall for hours.”

“Just because your father made you feel weak for caring, doesn’t mean you [i are] weak for caring.” Nolan let those words sink in. Or at least tried to. Then Larson continued. “Could it be that because you feel like you’re losing grip on one aspect of your life, you are looking for something else to take care of?”

Nolan cleared his throat. They were getting dangerously close to that sweet spot that made him fidget. Larson picked up on that and moved on with the session. 

For the first half of his shift, Nolan was distracted, thinking that appointment over. He knew he should have just kept his head in the sand. Kept pretending he was alright.

He sighed, heading out to his truck to take perhaps his fourth smoke break of the day. He needed more than usual. He already had a cigarette to his lips as he stepped close to his truck, digging for his lighter in his pocket. There was a knock on the side of the vehicle and Nolan looked up, brows drawn together. Then a hand shot up, a bill between two pale fingers. 

“This is for you,” came the familiar voice. Nolan let out an exasperated sigh, relaxing. He put his cigarette in his front pocket and approached the side of the truck, peering over into the bed. He took the ten dollar bill and looked down at Patrick. 

“You don’t need this?” he asked, his brows rising like he didn’t quite believe it. “I really don’t want to take this from you, because I’m doin’ just fine and can afford to take someone out for pancakes,” he said. “I hear college is [i real] expensive, though.”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Nolan’s face appeared over the metal ridge, taking the bill and raising his brows as he inquired about the need for ten dollars. As if being ten dollars richer would have made any difference in this stage of his life. 

“You’re right, Nolan. College is expensive but that’s what loans are for. Spend the money now, pay them back later.” Patrick pushed himself up onto his elbows and studied Nolan more clearly, the etches of a frown still prominent in those features. 

“Looking pretty worn today, Mr. Gray. The ladies getting on your nerves at home?” he joked, knowing full well that either Nolan was going to lie or play on the joke as well. The relationship was still a bit onthordox and maybe the older man didn’t want him to come back... If it were so, he wished he would just come out and say it. He already did enough sitting in suspense on a day to day basis. He glanced at his phone. 1:14pm. 

He maneuvered himself to sit up and lean over the edge of the truck, taking a long drag from the half burned cigarette. “Of course, it’s none of business as well and it’s fine if you want me to fuck off.” What was with all the plaid and flannel?]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   14d ago

[size14 Nolan tucked the ten dollars into his shirt pocket seeing as it didn’t look like Patrick was going to take it back, even with persuading. Nolan met Patrick’s intrigued gaze and did not look away. He never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. He wondered if that was just because he didn’t know him all that well or if that was just his nature.

“Looking pretty worn today, Mr. Gray. The ladies getting on your nerves at home?”

[i Maybe it makes him feel like he has control when he throws people off?] Nolan thought, then realized his therapy might be getting to him. He needed to stop therapizing other people. He shook his head with a small, amused grin as he watched Patrick sit up, smoke pluming out from his mouth and nose. 

“Of course, it’s none of business as well and it’s fine if you want me to fuck off,” Patrick added and Nolan realized he was being a bit standoffish. Maybe he did look a little worse for wear.

He remembered what Doctor Larson had told him. He pulled his cigarette back out and lit it up before making his way back around to the back of his truck and hopping up into the bed with Patrick.

“Sorry,” he said, looking Patrick over now that he could see all of him. He looked just as tired. “It’s just been a long day. I like your company, though. And ‘sides. I told you you could smoke out here.” [i Technically I told him to tell me when he was out here, not to climb into my truck,] he thought, but saw no harm in it. 

Nolan opened up the sliding window to the cab of his truck and reached inside. He pulled out a plastic bag with two huge croissants inside. They clearly had some kind of filling and were a perfect golden brown. Nolan opened the bag and set his cigarette aside, handing one of the treats over to Patrick silently.

He wanted to ask him how things went when he got home the other night, but he knew the answer he would get. It was none of his business. 

Nolan sat looking at the chocolate leaking out of the croissant in his hand and wished there was more he could do. To make Charlotte and Lizzy stay. For Patrick. For himself. Fuck, he had to cheer up.

“So, what do you do, Patrick?” Nolan asked, taking a huge bite. It was clear from previous conversations that college was a sore subject for him, so he didn’t want to ask about that exactly. But he figured if he was going to keep using his truck to smoke in, he might as well get to know him better. “What do you like?”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick felt his mouth twitch up as Nolan joined him in the bed of the truck. “Glad I can be enough company for a man who should have so many friends.” 

He watched Nolan open the sliding window and reach into the interior to pull out yet another plastic bag with croissants this time. Patrick tapped his cigarette and set it aside before taking the pastry handed to him. There was a chocolate filling teasing him from the side and instantly he felt his mouth watering again. He had to meet this Lizzy... or he needed find a fucking bakery near his apartment with how much he was craving sweets all a sudden.

“So, what do you do, Patrick? What do you like?”

He licked his fingers of fallen chocolate and smiled at Shaggy Hair. [i Making friendly, I see.] “I go to college sometimes. I enjoy reading when I have the chance since I work at the North Ridge High School a few blocks from here. The man I work for is a history and literary teacher so he has a lot on hand.” Patrick retrieved his cigarette and took a long drag. “I occasionally find time for music and...” He shrugged. “I dunno, Nolan. I do a lot of spacing out if I’m being honest.”  

Patrick flipped his hair back and gestured to Nolan, analyzing the creases around the other man’s eyes. “What about you? I daydreamed that you may actually learn some cooking skills from that niece of yours. I have been craving sweets ever since that fucking banger of a lemon cake.” He put up a hand before Nolan could speak. “Wait, wait, wait. I wanna guess. You work on cars, look at gay magaizines in your bedroom and go square dancing on the weekends but you’re too embaressed to tell anyone about it.” He was joking, of course, and he hoped Nolan would see the charm instead of being offended. It felt good to be here and he wanted to be himself.]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   13d ago

[size14 Patrick seemed to enjoy the croissant, which was good for Nolan. He needed to cut down on all the sweets he was eating. At least now he knew he could count on Patrick to help out, at least when he was around. 

Patrick’s answer on the other hand was less than satisfactory. Unlike the treat he was licking off his fingers, it lacked substance. But Nolan supposed it was something. [i Reading. Music. Working for a teacher doing what?] As for the spacing out, Nolan had witnessed that first hand. And it seemed to be something they had in common.

Nolan finished the pastry and crumpled up the plastic bag, setting it aside to throw away later. He could feel Patrick studying him. His gaze was often direct and it was hard to miss when he was looking at him. A crooked grin came to Nolan’s face as Patrick made his assumptions and poked fun. He chuckled and nodded a bit, like he might be onto something. He avoided his first inclination of teasing Patrick for [i daydreaming] about him. It would come off too much like flirtation. Not only was Nolan out of practice, but knowing what he knew about Patrick’s predicament, he wasn’t about to step on anyone’s toes, even if it was in lighthearted fun.

“That sounds a lot more entertaining than the live I’m leadin’ actually,” he wound up saying instead. “I burn half the things I cook. I ain’t bad at huntin’ though. I can limp a car along, but I can’t fix it completely. I actually used to be a groundskeeper at a graveyard. Then I got a job as a building manager for a hospital. Then-” he cleared his throat. “Well, then I switched to schools and now I’m here.” He picked up his cigarette and drew in a long breath. “I don’t have a lot of hobbies,” he admitted. “Other than work I just stay home read my gay mags,” he joked with another grin, lightening the mood. He tossed the crumpled up plastic bag at Patrick. When his chuckle died down, he added, “No, but to be honest, I do a lot of spacin’ out, too.”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick found it funny that Nolan didn’t take advantage of the personal cooking protege living in his house. As for everything else, the older man talked himself down to be just as average or plain as everyone else though the pause between hospital and school remained open to Patrick’s interpretation. There had to be more than that though, he supposed it was just on par with his own plain answers.

Nolan picked the conversation backup, joking back with him and throwing the plastic bag which he kicked back to the center. “Spacing out is not really that healthy,” Patrick admitted, his gaze falling back to the cigarette between his fingers. “Maybe on my next paycheck, we can hang or something- if you’re not weirded out.”

Patrick scrunched up his features in thought. “You like music? There’s this bar that has live bands every Friday night closer to downtown. It's seen better days but they have a basement that is just made for acoustics.” 

[i What are you doing?] He heard Damian say. Why was he acting like Nolan wanted to be friends or something? Was he that desperate for new interactions that he just... threw himself at a stranger after one crappy ass evening? Regardless of Nolan’s earlier offer to reach out, maybe it was just something he felt he needed to say at the time. Patrick had to be more self aware just as he had to be with everyone else in his life. ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   13d ago

[size14 Nolan’s brows shot up. Patrick was asking him to [i hang out]? Patrick, who was so secretive about his home life. Who really didn’t seem to be the type to want to hang around with forty-two year old janitors… [i Or am I projecting?] he wondered. [i Why would anyone want to hang out with me?]

Nolan realized he was riding a fine line. He had never met Patrick’s boyfriend, had really only heard one or two things about him, but from those couple of things he could almost tell he wouldn’t exactly like Patrick going out with someone else, even as friends. And why did that make Nolan so angry? Patrick should be able to do what he wants. 

So should Nolan. He had never had an issue with Brady going out with other men because he trusted him. Without trust, there was no relationship. 

“Yeah, I like music,” he heard himself saying. Nolan hated downtown. Why was he agreeing to this? “Even if it is a little dingy, I’m sure it’s better than half the places I’ve been in before,” he said with a half grin. “Sure beats sittin’ around at home and starin’ at my favorite place on the wall.” He put out his cigarette on the bed of the truck and tossed it over the side before glancing back up to Patrick. [i Fuck it.] “So. You’ll have your paycheck by Friday or will you be throwing another bill at me?” he asked, standing up and hopping over the side of the truck and into the dirt. He peered over the side. “Cause I know you’re good for it, now.”

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost “Yeah, I like music.” 

Patrick wasn’t sure if those were going to be the best words he heard all day. He smiled, putting out his own cigarette as he watched Nolan throw his own over the side of the truck. [i Look at this one, being a rebel.] 

Nolan made a quip about having the money this time or leaving the old man with the bill. Patrick laughed lightly as the other jumped out of the truck, assuming his ten minute break was over. “Ha!” Patrick leaned over the side Nolan was on. “I’m always good for it. My money pays for my food and my drinks though. Can’t be running around paying for another man’s tab being already taken and all.” 

He leaned his head against his forearm, adjusting slightly as he remembered what was recently there. “Hey and next time, tell your niece I’m putting in a special request and I’ll pay her forward for one serving.” Patrick held up a single finger for emphasis. “A strawberry jam filled almond sugar cookie- max is five dollars though so if she’s charging more than that, I’m out.” 

Patrick liked bringing a smile to that sad man’s eyes. It was the same feeling of gratification he used to get cheering up Damian and now Steven. It was just... the other two required that attention all the time. Nolan at least returned all his quips with a dash of humor or a fake smile. Kind of like a light. No one was really happy but it was the little things... ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   12d ago

[size14 “Wouldn’t dream of it,” Nolan said, glad they were setting some clear, distinct boundaries at least. He gave Patrick a wave as he turned on his heel to head back to work, expecting he’d get a text or a call come Friday. Only a few steps away, Patrick’s voice drew his attention again and he turned back to find him leaning over the edge of the truck looking at him.

Nolan laughed, hearty and deep. Patrick had no idea what he was getting himself into. “I’ll pass it along, but she’ll make you more than a serving and she rarely asks for payment. Also what the hell kind of name is a- a strawberry jam- sugar- almond- you know what, just text it to me,” he said with another genuine grin. “She’s always lookin’ for excuses to trash the kitchen.”

Nolan back away again and pointed at Patrick. “Friday,” he said, like he wouldn’t forget. Besides, how could he? It’s not like he had any other plans to keep track of.

When Nolan told Lizzy about the mysterious cookie-craving smoking partner she immediately asked if it was the couch surfer. Of course he wasn’t going to lie so he told her the short version: that Patrick was a friend and he got locked out of his house overnight. He hadn’t even told Charlotte the full truth because it wasn’t his to tell. Patrick seemed closed off. Private. He wasn’t going to go airing his troubles to people he didn’t know.

Charlotte still insisted that Nolan ask Patrick out, no matter how many times he told her that he was taken. She kept asking him why Patrick hadn’t gone to his boyfriend for help when he got locked out and Nolan couldn’t come up with a consistent answer for her. She’d probably already deduced that the boyfriend was the problem.

Lizzy made Patrick some cookies (two batches) and put them in a large tupperware container. She wasn’t afraid she wouldn’t get it back since apparently he and Nolan were seeing each other almost every day he was on campus to smoke now. Nolan had to admit he was a little worried he was becoming a part of Patrick’s slacker equations, but he also figured he’d be cutting class somewhere else if it wasn’t in the bed of his truck and who the hell was he to judge? 

Nolan delivered the cookies and refused payment on Lizzies account. “I told you, she just likes to bake,” he said with a shrug as he handed over the tupperware container. “She says feeding people you care about is an act of love… or somethin’,” he shrugged. “She does want that back, though,” he said and pointed to the container. “Or she really might come after you and all that love will be gone,” he added with a chuckle.

When Friday came around, Nolan waited for Patrick’s text. Or call. He hated to admit that he’d been looking forward to going out all week. He couldn’t tell if it was the company or the change in routine that made him feel a little alive again.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost Patrick’s chest filled with a long overdo sense of mild joy. Fucking cookies and a Friday night hang out. “Friday,” he repeated. 

The young man felt like he was somewhere else most of the day... from meeting up with Damian, taking him home, gathering his things for work, saying all the sweet things Damian wanted to hear once he got back. Patrick focused on mending the rift the rest of the week, avoiding touchy topics and even getting away with seeing Steven a couple times in between. Everyone was happy or some sort of version of it. 

On the other end of the spectrum of dark apartments and rooftops was the bed of Nolan’s truck where they met almost everyday now thanks to Patrick's total lack of enthusiasm for the college studies and Nolan’s addition to cigarettes around eleven am. Wednesday came the real treat. Thumbprint strawberry jam filled almond sugar cookies. One of his favorites when his grandma was still alive. He had a feeling that the Gray family was all about giving and never taking which, of course, Patrick felt super awkward about. 

That didn’t keep him from eating them selfishly, hiding them in his backpack where Damian never looked. It was like a little bit of sunshine and tasted so good with a white wine. Who knew? 

Patrick sent a quick text to Nolan Friday morning with an address and time, seven pm. He gave Damian money for rent and groceries before deciding today he would attempt class and skip over to work early. Damian had no qualms with his plans and decided to pick up a shift himself. [i ‘I need some time for myself.’] he told him and for once, his boyfriend looked like he understood. There was a tension growing that made them both uncomfortable. 

Patrick finished his shift around six pm, took the bus home, changed and arrived at the Tate’s Garage Bar a little after seven. He felt a little strange at first, making such an effort to look sort of nice for his meeting with Nolan. Styled hair, earrings and rings that accentuated his features with- of course, all black. 

He grinned, recognizing the long, shaggy hair of his friend amongst all the other punks on the street. “Color me surprised that you actually found a place to park.” He nodded at Nolan. “How are you feeling about it all?”  ]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   12d ago

[size14 When Nolan found the dive bar that evening he was pleasantly surprised. Of course he wasn’t expecting much when he heard the name of it: Tate’s Garage Bar. But the neon sign was nostalgic and Nolan had a feeling that the inside would reflect the usual dive bar and not the stuffy high end bars in Las Vegas. He reminded himself who he was drinking with. Of course it would be relaxed. He felt some of his nerves go. He’d forgotten how to be out in public just for the fun of it.

He found a parking spot a block or two away. He worried for a moment about someone breaking a window to search his truck, but realized he was parked right next to a Mustang and between the two, he was sure the person looking for anything of value would search there instead of his old, beat up, rusted hunk of metal. 

As he neared the bar again, Nolan straightened his jacket. He wore his usual jeans and boots, but changed out of his work flannel and threw on a dark button up he hadn’t worn since the last time Charlotte asked him to look nice. He was glad he went with black. That seemed to be the color around here, but he still managed to stick out like a sore thumb. 

It was hard finding Patrick among the others, like a punk game of Where’s Waldo. Luckily, Patrick saw him first and spoke, drawing Nolan’s attention to his voice. He found him leaning up against the building. Nolan took in the hair, the outfit, the earrings. He looked like he stepped right out of a fashion magazine.Or he assumed. Nolan hadn’t seen a fashion magazine in years, but Patrick had to be hitting all the right qualifications. Didn’t models usually have that gaunt, tired look and those long, slender fingers?

“Yeah, I’m a little further away than I hoped I’d be, but at least it’s free parkin’,” he replied, finally remembering that Patrick had said something to him. He shrugged and looked up at the sign. “I’m not sure why I thought this place was gonna be bigger. I think this suits me a lot better,” he admitted with a little grin. “What about you?” he asked. It was clear that this was new territory for the both of them and Nolan was trying to avoid asking if his boyfriend knew they were out together. Not because he had any ulterior motives, but because the last thing he wanted was a call from Patrick when he got home saying he'd been kicked out again.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost “It’s not the biggest place,” Patrick agreed, glancing up at the brick building. “But I’d rather be in a smaller joint than a large club or something near Las Vegas. Overcrowded and overpriced.” His smile widened as he thought back. “This used to be one of my favorite places to go before Damian got his migraines. He can’t handle loud music anymore but it’s nice to have someone else willing to listen to a bunch of nobody’s singing into a microphone.” 

He pulled out his wallet and nodded to Nolan to follow. They presented their IDs to the security guard by the door and Patrick led them down to the second floor basement hall via a set of narrow stairs. It was packed for a Friday night but the floor had tall enough ceilings and an open seating plan. Patrick found a round table for two and pulled himself onto the bar seat. Shows didn’t start till eight and tonight’s band was still setting up equipment on the far left stage. 

Patrick flipped out his credit card. “First round’s on me and I can put in a food order for you too.” He pushed Nolan a paper menu without glancing at it. Once Nolan had picked something from the menu and a starter drink, Patrick slid off the stool and shoved his way through the shoulders surrounding the bar. 

He returned minutes later with the two drinks. “I got your meal this time to make up for the gas from the other night. Now we’re even.” The coke and rum tasted sweeter this evening and he wasn’t exactly sure it was his brain fooling him or the difference in atmosphere. 

“So you say you [i like] music but what kind of music do you like? You don’t seem like a Metallica kind of guy to be honest, unless you’re just here to hang out with me.” Was he flirting? Maybe he was just a naturally charming kind of guy or... maybe he liked the unscripted dialogue between them. No predictable contexts. No eggshells to step on. Just two people sitting at a table with nothing in common besides their sexuality. 

But no, he was not that kind of guy.]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   11d ago

[size14 [i Damian. Migraines.] Patrick was sharing a little and that made Nolan feel a little better. Nolan accompanied him inside, amused that he had to show ID, but he didn’t say anything. Of course he would have to, here. He wasn’t in podunk Arkansas or Texas where the establishment knew you by name or just trusted you and screw the authorities.

Patrick moved to snag a small two-seater some people had just left. Nolan took a seat and let his eyes wander the room, taking in the people, the band setting up, the decorations, and the bar. 

Patrick was eager to start drinking and frankly so was he. So they looked over the grimy menus. Nolan saw the whiskey was extremely overpriced and he wasn’t about to make Patrick pay for it, so he just told him to make it two of whatever he was getting. He could go back for something else later if he felt like it. For food he ordered the cheapest thing on the menu that was still a meal so that Patrick couldn’t say he was being purposefully frugal on his behalf.

When Patrick returned, Nolan took the drink with a polite “thank you” and took a sip. “I told you not to worry about it,” he said, but he already knew that it was Patrick’s plan to repay him somehow. He wondered if he always measured deeds and favors. When was the last thing Patrick let anyone do anything for him for free?

Nolan smiled a bit at his next question and ran his fingers over the sweat dripping down the glass. “Well, I wouldn’t be here without you,” he admitted. “I like a little of everythin’,” he said. “Some things more than others, but I’ll listen to just about anythin’.” He took another sip, wondering whether to just let that be it, but he and Patrick hardly knew each other. Shouldn’t they use this time before the band got loud to get to know each other?

[i Why does this feel like an awkward first date?] Nolan wondered. Then he shoved the thought out of his head. It had just been so long since he made a friend that he’d completely forgotten what this felt like.

“My dad growing up only listened to the old folk and country legends. I started to branch out when I got older, but it wasn’t until way later that I really opened myself up to all kinds of music. My-” Nolan glanced into his drink. He never knew what to call Brady. Not ex. They never broke up. Boyfriend didn’t feel right, either. He’d used that title long after his death but now it just felt like he was calling a ghost of a ghost his lover. And they never got the chance to marry, despite being ready for it, so Nolan wasn’t even technically a widower. He felt robbed of the title for a long time. “Well, someone I dated for a long time collected all kinds of music. He made sure I heard the entire scope. So, sure, I’m not really a Metallica guy, but I can appreciate them,” he said, meeting Patrick’s gaze with a grin and taking another drink.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost A little bit of everything was usually his line and while he was certain Nolan would leave it at that, the older man continued pulling in Patrick’s interest again as he explained a father and the ‘someone he dated’. The pause in between the distinction of what he assumed would be ‘my ex-boyfriend’ and ‘someone I dated’ was too obvious. It was like he was choosing what to call the guy rather than just saying what he really was... Former. He was a former lover that still lingered on Nolan’s mind by the way he spoke. Patrick wondered what having an ‘ex’ actually felt like. 

And as Patrick muddled this as he practically inhaled his drink instead of just sipping in like he should have done with someone he never drank with. Signs of an alcoholic, his mother once said. He had to pace himself, keep at the forefront of his mind who he was sitting with and not become a total asshole. [i Not Damian, not Damian.] 

So his fingers fiddled with the glass of ice. “I think old country is perfect for late nights. Like when you’re sitting on a park bench and all you can see is desert or laying in the back of a truck on a summer night staring at the fucking sky.” His eyes met Nolan’s. “Though hard to get those kinds of views this close to Las Vegas. You’d really have to drive a couple hundred miles to get out of the fluorescent haze but that was probably never an issue where you came from.” 

He really wished he hadn’t lost his car last year then maybe they wouldn’t have been in such a tough predicament with rent and the apartment. “So you’re in the market for a new man, huh? I’m sure there’s one or two eligible bachelors out there amongst all these people- you just gotta scope them out.” The bartender dropped off their food as he passed and Patrick took the opportunity to add another drink to his tab. Regular cheeseburger. Couldn’t beat the budget life. 

“By the end of the night,” he started between bites. “You’re gonna at least ask one guy out and if they turn you down, then at least we have a story to tell tomorrow.”]]
linktheheroNolan Gray [AU]   10d ago

[size14 Nolan was glad he hadn’t ruined the conversation with his strange use of language. Patrick was surprisingly easy to talk to, especially about the subject matter at hand. He seemed to really enjoy the topic of music and seemed to have perfect scenarios for when it was best to listen to each genre.

Nolan grinned, able to picture his summer night listening to country classics a little too easily and Patrick seemed to guess as much. “Yeah, growing up in small town Texas there really wasn’t much else to do other than listen to music and sneak out at night. I ain’t seen the stars quite so bright since.” It was worth trading, though.

There was a short pause in conversation. Nolan drank a little more. Patrick was already halfway done with his drink and the food wasn’t even there yet. [i Nerves, maybe?] Nolan wondered, though he knew differently from experience. He didn’t let himself dwell on it.

Patrick broke the silence. “So you’re in the market for a new man, huh? I’m sure there’s one or two eligible bachelors out there amongst all these people- you just gotta scope them out.” Nolan’s mouth opened. The food was dropped off and he was so caught off guard that he barely had time to mumble a thank you. 

“By the end of the night,” Patrick was saying between bites of his burger, “you’re gonna at least ask one guy out and if they turn you down, then at least we have a story to tell tomorrow.”

Nolan looked down at his own burger. He faked a smile and chewed on a fry as a way to buy him some time. [i In the market?] No not really… [i A new man?] Even years after Brady’s death the thought was still rather nauseating. [i Ask someone out tonight?] Now that was just absurd.

“You sound like my sister,” Nolan said, swallowing a large chunk of fry and trying not to grimace as it hurt going down. He wished it was socially acceptable to tell someone you just met that your previous boyfriend had died of a long, drawn out illness and that any time you even thought about moving on, you felt like you were betraying him, even if he [i did] tell you he wanted that for you eventually. But how could he tell that to Patrick without completely ruining the evening? He decided on a different approach.

“Look at me, Patrick. If I saw me approachin’ my table I’d run for the hills. ‘Sides. I’ve never been the type to just… what…? Walk up to someone and ask them out?” He shook his head and took a bite of his burger. “No, no,” he said, amused. “I’m the hang back, stare longingly, get to know him over the course of a few weeks. Months… Maybe years. Let my emotions finally get the better of me and hope for the best as I finally tell him that I have a secret dream life in my head where we live together with three dogs,” he joked.

[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Jost] [size15 [Jost “You sound like my sister.” 

That brought a smile to Patrick’s face as he bit into his burger, glad he wasn’t the only one who saw that in the older man. A member of the bar staff dropped off his second drink and he took it gladly, listening as Nolan continued, criticizing himself. Patrick scrunched his features, turning to look at the other fully with a small chuckle. 

“Let me get this straight. This same man, the one with a beard and flannel shirt that approached me behind the dumpsters and talked to me, someone who is usually assumed to be nothing but trouble, can’t go out there and ask out a good looking man because he thinks he doesn’t look normal?” He took a long gulp of his drink. “You would rather stare and daydream about someone all day hoping that someday they’re not swooped up? Where is the life in that? How do you live?” 

Patrick leaned forward and pushed Nolan’s drink closer. “Loosen up a little. Life’s too short. I mean look at all the people.” He nodded to the groups around them. “Everyone is going from one place to another, taking shit for granted. Any one of us could just die tomorrow.” 

He let his eyes fall back to his plate, thinking back to an evening last week. Patrick gave Nolan one last side smile before diving back into his burger. “Don’t worry. I’m here to help you out of your comfort zone tonight. Even if we have to both stare at a dude until he turns to look at [i us]... very awkwardly.” 

Nolan may have been uncomfortable but Patrick was enjoying the company already. “Maybe we can hit up the pool table behind us if you’re in the mood after the show starts.” ]]

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