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17. Persistent Fans

Isaac’s plan lasted seven hours.

He was proud of how well he’d done to start. He was careful to smile and meet Beau’s eye as much as usual, but slowly increased the distance between them, positioning Adelaide or Mark between them and keeping himself constantly busy throughout the day. Beau seemed adequately distracted by their next panel, and Isaac didn’t pick up on any tension in the air between them.

But when they were leaving the convention floor, once their slot at the official autograph booth had ended, everything started to crumble.

The day had felt too long. They’d been on their feet for hours, both physically and mentally, as they waded through a full hour-long panel of fan questions. Then they’d headed straight for the autograph booth, where hundreds of their viewers had lined up to get a selfie and signature from the trio.

The fans kept coming, and their excitement never waned. Their enthusiasm snowballed as the afternoon dragged on, while Isaac’s began to drag its feet. He was exhausted, and he needed it to end already. His concentration stumbled with each fan that passed, the swaying in his mind quickly turning into an anxious vertigo.

It wasn’t until their time in the booth was up that Isaac checked his phone and saw he had a missed notification.

Alarm: TAKE MEDS (2pm)

He inhaled sharply and a pang of nausea hit him. It had been ringing silently in his back pocket for hours.

Adelaide shuffled over to him, having finished scrolling through her own notifications. “Hey, this lot seem pretty keen to keep it going,” she nodded her head towards a crowd of fans who had continued to hang around the booth after already receiving their autographs. “Did you wanna…”

She trailed off when she finally noticed the tense square of his shoulders, of his fingers pressing into his brow.

“You all good?” She asked instead.

Isaac shook his head and held his phone up to show her the screen, as Beau approached with Mark in tow. The four of them stood together behind the booth, shielded from the fans by stacks of boxes filled with stock from nearby stalls.

“I need to leave,” he trembled. Suddenly his exhaustion made sense, now that he recognised the cause of the twisting and thumping in his head.

“Is Isaac alright?” Mark asked, only just realising there was an issue.

“He’ll be fine,” Adelaide said quickly as she slung her arm around his shoulder, her tone strained. “We’ll just get him back to the motel and find him some food.”

Beau exhaled and his eyes softened when he realised what had happened. “I thought you were clacking like crazy today,” he noticed.

Isaac frowned as Adelaide led him out into the crowd of con-goers. It was only after Beau said something that he realised why his tongue was sore and tender to the touch – he hadn’t even realised he’d been stimming with his piercing all afternoon.

“D-do you need me to do anything?” Mark asked nervously as he rushed along behind them.

“Can you go order us something for lunch?” Beau turned to him. Mark quickly nodded. “Like a sandwich, something nice and hearty.”

Mark peeled off to find a vendor and the three continued on. They didn’t make it far before the cluster of awaiting fans found them, cheering and babbling excitedly on all sides. They seemed oblivious to Isaac’s distress as they leant in close and fought for his and Adelaide’s attention. It took seconds for them to be surrounded.

Adelaide exchanged a nervous look with Beau over Isaac’s shoulder. Beau frowned, quickly scanning the convention hall to look for some kind of escape while Adelaide focused on placating their excited questions. When he spotted a slim hallway between a row of vendor booths, he looked back at her and nodded.

They had a rushed, silent conversation with their eyes and subtle gestures until Adelaide figured out the plan.

“Thank you all so much for coming to see us!” She suddenly announced, unslinging her arm from Isaac’s shoulder. “We can totally keep this afternoon going, but we should make some space for the rest of the convention. Let’s head outside!”

A few of the fans clapped excitedly as she waved her hands and started to lead them in the opposite direction from the hallway. But some of them lingered back, hovering around Isaac.

“I’ll be right there,” he lifted his head and assured them, forcing a weak, joyless grin. “Just gotta pick up a coffee order. Don’t wait up for me!”

Beau grabbed his arm and pulled him away before Isaac’s stans had a chance to protest. He glanced over his shoulder as they rounded a corner between the booths, eyes narrowing when he saw the fans lingering back, tempted to follow.

As soon as they were around the corner, Beau paused and started to untie his hoodie from where it was wrapped around his waist. Isaac jumped at it eagerly, slipping his arms into the sleeves where Beau held it up for him, then pulled the large hood over his face. Then they continued, rounding another corner just before the fans managed to catch up to them.

Beau instinctively wrapped an arm around Isaac’s shoulder, holding him close and shielding him from all the noise and eyes within the hall. It was times like this he felt grateful that he hadn’t quite caught on amongst the fandom, and only a few people already recognised him. It gave him the freedom to escort Isaac away, guarding him like a bodyguard from the unabashed fans who grappled for his attention.

They’d made it a short way down the hidden hallway before Isaac was slowing and pushing a hand against Beau’s chest. “Stop,” he panted, leaning his weight heavily against him. “Let’s stop for a minute. Are they following us?”

Beau checked over his shoulder, then shook his head. They were surrounded by empty trolleys and janitorial equipment, but thankfully not a single person.

Isaac pulled the unzipped hoodie tighter around himself and turned to lean his back against the wall. His eyes were squeezed shut as he chewed his lip and tapped his fingers against his palms.

“How are you feeling?” Beau asked weakly, feeling useless.

Isaac looked up at him, still gnawing his lip. His tongue was too sore to keep fiddling with, but he couldn’t keep his mouth still. “Just, all over the place,” he tried to explain. “I can’t believe I missed my alarm.”

Beau exhaled slowly. “Well, our routine is all kinds of fucked up right now,” he tried, and Isaac nodded in agreement. “We’ll just be sure your phone’s on loud from now on.”

Isaac nodded again and shook his hands out so the hoodie sleeves would fall up his wrists, then rubbed his face tiredly.

“Mark’s getting food,” Beau added, not sure what else to say.

“I heard,” Isaac replied. “Thank you. Did I thank anyone yet? Fuck.”

“Hey,” Beau laughed dryly and gave Isaac’s head two quick pats. “It’s fine. Let’s just get back to the motel. Unless you’ve got your meds on you now – can you take them late?”

“Ah!” Isaac exclaimed, already having forgotten that was an option. He dug into his pockets, scrounging around for his pill case. He popped it open and pulled out a small white tablet, throwing his head back to swallow it dry.

“What would you do without me?” Beau laughed.

“Fucking die, probably,” Isaac muttered as he pocketed the case again.

“How long will it take before that kicks in?”

“Not long,” Isaac shook his head. “But I’ll still head back for lunch and a snooze.”

Beau nodded and took a step down the hallway to continue on. Isaac delayed at first as he pulled Beau’s long sleeves over his hands and tugged the hood forward to cover his face. Then he stepped forth, instantly leaning into Beau’s side in preparation for the roadie’s arm to encase him again.

Beau startled, but slung his arm around him as requested. He hunched over his co-star, keeping him hidden beneath his own large stature as he led him down the rest of the hall and out into the open air.

They walked all the way back to the motel like that, Isaac’s hand even bundling in the front of Beau’s shirt when they paused to cross a street. He only let go once they reached their door, for Beau to pull away and find their key.

He stood in the doorway as Isaac entered, watching his host cross the threshold while flapping his hands restlessly at his sides. Beau remained there when Isaac sat down on the edge of his bed, shifting his weight against the door frame while Isaac fiddled with the cuffs of his borrowed hoodie.

He cleared his throat, ready to say his goodbyes and check if there was anything else Isaac needed before he left. But Isaac whipped his head up at the sound, and his brow furrowed when he saw Beau standing there ready to leave.

“Ah…” he murmured. “If you’re not busy… would you stay for a bit?”

Beau frowned. There was no question about it. “Of course.”

Isaac rubbed his hands over his face again. “I just... Talking was nice. It distracted me in the hall. Can we talk some more?”

Beau nodded as he slipped into the room and shut the door behind him. “Course we can,” he replied earnestly. “Whatever you need.”

Isaac kept his head low, but watched Beau up through his lashes as the man crossed the room to sit beside him on the bed. He kept a good foot of distance between them, but his weight still made the mattress dip towards him.

Isaac did not care.

Isaac’s brain felt like a tornado in a thunderstorm, and the only thing he wanted was to feel grounded.

If his plan to keep his distance from Beau had been written down on paper, those papers had flown out the window and were busy twisting and tearing in his mind’s storm. He would write it out again tomorrow, once the winds had calmed – but for now, he accepted that they were lost.

He let himself lean with the dip of the mattress, and paid close attention to how he felt when his shoulder collided with Beau’s. Yes. That was okay. He’d felt flighty and restless all afternoon, so the warmth and pressure of another person up against him was a welcome change.

It had been different before – sometimes he’d be so frazzled that a hand on his shoulder felt like flames biting at his skin and overwhelmed him further. But not today.

“Hey,” Beau suddenly spoke, his tone much firmer than Isaac expected. “That’s my favourite hoodie, don’t ruin it.”

Suddenly hands were encased around his own, and he realised his fingernails had been scratching and pulling at a thread on the cuff. “Eep, I’m sorry.”

But Beau laughed, and Isaac was relieved that he hadn’t caused any real damage. “Are your hands feeling fidgety too?” Beau asked as he adjusted his grip around Isaac’s hands. “How’s this? I keep playing with it today, maybe it’ll be satisfying for you too.”

Isaac’s eyebrows shot up when Beau led his hand up to the side of his head where Isaac had shaved the day before. He placed his fingers there, then pulled his hand away. Isaac’s eyes widened.

“Oh,” he mumbled, digging his fingertips into the fresh buzz cut. A little smile pursed the corners of his lips. “Oh no. That’s really fun.”

Beau laughed and titled his head forward so Isaac could run his fingers back and forth over the stubble, revelling in the way it prickled and vibrated against his skin.

When he started to calm down, Isaac had worried that the energy in the room would feel strange with just the two of them. After all, Beau had just confessed his attraction for Isaac the night before; wouldn’t it be on Beau’s mind? Wouldn’t he feel shy, or guilty, or determined to bring it up? But to his surprise, Beau had carried the conversation casually onwards, chattering and gossiping about everything and nothing in particular.

It almost felt like one of their old slumber parties, when Isaac’s parents would let him invite no more than two friends over for his birthdays in high school. Adelaide wouldn’t be allowed to stay the night, so it would just be him and Beau with their feet kicked up as they chatted about everything and nothing in particular.

When the conversation finally shifted to something more serious, they were both lying down with Beau on his back and Isaac on his stomach. He propped himself up on his elbows, as his fingers traced quick, mindless patterns into the fuzz on Beau’s temples.

“Can I ask you something?” Beau had asked, and Isaac nodded mindlessly. The tone of their conversation up until that point gave him no warning that it would be a serious question at all.

But then Beau paused, and his gaze shifted from the ceiling to look directly at his host.

“Why’d you invite me to stay on?”

Isaac paused. His brain stuttered, searching for context in his memories, as he forced his fingers to start stroking again so Beau wouldn’t pick up on his hesitation.

“Like, on the show?” he asked quietly.

Beau nodded, his eyes still fixed on him. Isaac was looking down at his own hands, but could feel Beau’s gaze in his periphery.

“Are you really surprised that I wanted to keep working with my mates?” he asked, in an attempt to dodge the question.

Beau pulled his lips into a half smile and shrugged. “It’s not that. This just seems like a huge opportunity, you know? They’ve given us so much funding. And I know this show is like your baby, so I just figured you’d want to give it all the love and attention possible.”

Isaac frowned at him and stilled his hands more purposefully, rerouting the energy used from stimming to help him verbalise his thoughts.

“You think my end goal is some big flashy hollywood production?” he asked, and Beau shrugged again.

Isaac shook his head. “The show is exactly where I dreamed it would be. I mean, it’s further than I initially dreamed it would be, and in front of way more people too. But you know what my favourite part is?”

Beau’s brow furrowed nervously and he shook his head in response.

“The fucking memes, dude. Us. We haven’t found a single ghost, but my favourite episodes are the ones where nothing happens. When we make each other laugh the hardest.”

Isaac was finally looking Beau in the face when he saw a sheen glisten over Beau’s eyes. He quickly blinked it away as he took a deep breath in.

“So… If you want to know why I invited you to stay, instead of swapping you out for a team of cameramen I’ve never met… It’s ‘cause of chemistry, mate. No one can do what we do. Not the way we do it. That’s the whole integrity of the show, for me.”

His hands relaxed where they sat against Beau’s head, and he lowered his gaze to them again. He flexed his fingers once more, running a fingertip along the soft edge of Beau’s hairline.

Beau stayed quiet, letting Isaac’s words settle in the air between them. It left Isaac’s mind free to wander, to where he stumbled immediately into an intrusive thought.

It was kinder than his usual intrusions. But it was an intruder nonetheless. Stroke further down, it whispered. He blinked slowly at where his finger traced his hairline, repeating the words in his head. Stroke his face.

So he did.

The pad of his index finger made one last swipe against his prickly buzz cut, then trailed over the top of his cheekbone, following the contour of his face, down to his jaw.

He was interrupted by Beau shifting on the bed and sitting up in front of him. Isaac’s eyes widened and he cursed himself, wondering how the fuck he had fallen so quickly from wanting to create distance between them to longing to get closer.

But Beau didn’t look smitten. He didn’t look mad, either. He just looked at Isaac with a small smile, but there was a glaze over his eyes like he was deep in thought.

“Thank you,” Beau murmured, but it felt curt. “You’re a huge sap, you know that? Wait till I use this against you and start asking for pay rises.”

He chuckled at Beau’s joke, but something pulled at him inside. Why were they joking?

All too soon, Beau was on the other side of the room. He clicked on the electric kettle, clinking fresh mugs down onto the counter with an offer of coffee. Isaac nodded, continuing to fight the frown that wanted to spread across his features.

If Beau liked him, and Isaac had just leant further into their relationship than he ever had before, then why was Beau pulling away?

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